Bringing up kids in Singapore

Some friends from Singapore are in town and they very generously trekked over to East London for dinner last night. Lucky me as I wasn’t sure my 36-week pregnant self would take me very far these days. We went Turkish and headed for Mangal on Kingsland Road.

As they have two children, conversation automatically steered towards the topic of children. Typically.

I am always curious about my Singapore friends’ childcare arrangements. Just for background information: Singapore’s a city-state in Southeast Asia famed for its high standard of living. Low crime rate, good food and an education system that regularly tops global league tables. The streets are so clean you could even lie down on it – although why anyone would want to do that, I wouldn’t have a clue.

Back to the topic of childcare. Nursery fees in Singapore average $700 (Montessori nurseries probably about $1400) a month, which comes to roughly £350. The majority of families with kids have live-in help. Filipino maids are paid about $600 a month (£300), but you can find cheaper ones. For $400 (£200) a month, my friends’ Burmese maid looks after their two kids, cooks for them and baths them. Both parents work, and long hours (10 hours) is normal. Leaving just weekends for family time. A typical week day for my friend would be reading bedtime stories and none of the chores that come with bringing up children.

A part of me is envious. But the more time I mull over a set-up like that, the less I think it suits me. Peel away my daily grumblings and frustration, I do actually enjoy being able to do the basic things for the kids like picking them up from nursery and slaving over a hot stove. How often do I wish I could be relieved of these chores so I can concentrate on work or have an hour of time to myself? All the time.

But without a family life routine consisting of boring chores which the kids are integrated into, I think I’d feel very disconnected from reality.

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Happy Mother’s Day

I’ve been tagged by More Than A Mum for her Mother Day’s meme, so here goes.

Describe Motherhood in three words.

Tiring, relentless and challenging.

Does your experience differ from your Mother’s – how?

Very different. She was a SAHM while I work. Our parenting styles and attitudes are very different.

What’s the hardest thing about being a mum?

Doing/saying the right thing.

What’s the best thing?

When you see their big smiles, losing themselves in whatever it is they’re doing.

How has it changed you?

I’ve become less of a workaholic. It’s also made me much more focused. Surprisingly, I’ve also become much better with money.

What do you hope for your children?

That they grow up to be happy, well-rounded adults. And that they will always have the courage to follow their dreams.

What do you fear for them?

Their safety. Emotionally and physically.

What makes it all worthwhile?

Seeing them make sense of the world: the wonderment, connecting the dots and enjoying themselves.

I tag: Pret-a-Mummy, mother.wife.me, Aging Matron, The Perfect Bad Mummy and Bibsey Mama.

SAHM is hard work

This weekend, while looking after the children, it hit me that being a SAHM is much harder work than working. On Saturday, while older had his tennis lesson, younger was throwing the mother of all tantrums and refused to stand down. At that moment, I thought, “Gosh, this is much harder than working.”

After a weekend of family time, I always feel like some recovery time is necessary. Work gives me that space. It’s nice to drop the kids off at school and nursery, watch them skip off into their classes, happy to get away from mum for a change.

If younger stayed at home with me, I’d worry that she’d turn feral. I’d never be able to give her the stimulation that nursery gives her. Socialising with her little mates, clear behavioural boundaries, set meal times, a variety of stimulating activities. A mother’s love is wonderful, but from the ages of 2 to 5, I think my younger needs much more than that.

She’s only at nursery from 10am to 4pm, so we still have plenty of quality time together. Through years of experimenting (my older is now 7), I’ve found that a mix of flexi-work and nursery is the healthiest option for my kids and me.

My conclusion: Hats off to all SAHM. I could not do what you do.

Do we need to entertain our kids all the time?

Half-term’s finally over. Whew. The last week has been tough. It was my first time juggling having the kids at home with working from home. If not for the Younger’s nursery staying open, it would have been utter torture.

I had my first taste of what was to come last Sunday, when I took the kids to the South Bank Centre. The Imagine Children’s Festival was on and there were tons of activities. The one we wanted was the David Shrigley’s workshop at 12.30pm. We got there about an hour early and stumbled on an arts and crafts activity.

When it was time for David Shrigley, a long queue had already formed. Younger, being 2, of course would have none of it. Older was grumbling. It was nearly lunch time and the kids turn into monsters when low sugar levels hit.

Two lessons I learned that Sunday.

1) Never ever sign up for an activity starting around lunchtime. If I do, then always feed the kids first.

2) Majority of London’s kids is also on half-term. Expect anywhere with any kind of kids’ activity to be crowded. Especially when it’s free.

Then I wondered, why did I have to fill my children’s schedule with activities every single day? Why did they have to be ‘entertained’? My holidays as a child meant freedom. Free of adults, free to do whatever I wanted. I still can recall the excitement at the beginning of every holiday.

A new tact was necessary. Apart from Monday and Wednesday, where we had already made plans, I was going to leave my 7 year old, just to be. TV and computer were banned. He had to learn creative independent play.

There was Lego involved, drawing, some reading and several tantrums.

I survived the week. So did my son. In fact, I think be broadly enjoyed it. Because on the first day back to school, he said, “I don’t want to go to school. I want to stay home.”

There’s a bird at the bottom of the garden

Instead of making Stressy Mummy’s salted dough this afternoon, I decided to brave the grey skies and head for the local garden. Never mind that it was drizzling and wet, my two children skipped all the way. (Salt dough has been postponed to tomorrow afternoon instead.)

Our local garden is the wonderful Dalston Eastern Curve Garden. The lovely Marie has typically planned a week of fun for the kids this half-term. Today’s workshop was themed Fantastic Feasts for Birds.

The kids made cupcakes for the birds, made up of bird seeds, oats, currants and stale bread crumbs mixed in melted lard. The pliable mixture of cooled lard was scooped into paper doilies – or any grease-proofed paper will do. A short piece of twine strung through the cupcake and then left to dry. Before hanging up the cupcakes on the trees, the doilies were removed. The nutritious cupcake feed was important for birds over the winter season, we were told.

The Garden has lots of kids-tastic fun throughout the week. All you need to do is round up the kids and pop in.

Tuesday 14 February 2-4pm: Fabulous Fabrics
Learn how to design and print funky textiles with textile designers Emamoke Ukeleghe and Yemi Awosile, which will be used for dressing up the Eastern Curve scarecrows in Friday’s Scarecrow Catwalk workshop.

Wednesday 15 February 2-4pm: Magpie Mobiles
Gather natural treasures from around the garden to hang from twig and wire mobiles, led by artist Nicola Plant.

Thursday 16 February 2-4pm: Giant City Bird Feeders
Design skyscraper feeders with recycled packaging with artist Nicola Plant.

Friday 17 February 2-4pm: Dalston Scarecrow Catwalk
Using printed fabrics from Tuesday’s workshop, sew them on to T-shirts, skirts and trousers for the scarecrows.

My one big busy messy life

English: An artist's depiction of the rat race...

“Human lifetime is less than 1,000 months long. For only 1/3 of those 1,000 months will you have time for serious thinking, serious loving and serious acting – that gives you only 300 months.” (The rest of the time you’ll spend doing things like sleeping, eating or being stuck in a traffic jam)

It’s a quote from Prof. AC Grayling, who teaches philosophy at the University of London, at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2012. He was arguing for the return of philosophy.

You read it right. We live for only 1,000 months (or less!), and then we are no more; we return to dust. The big question hits me, like one of those anvil dropping on your head moments in cartoons. How many of those 333 months do I spend them unhappy in a job, complaining or wishing I were doing something else other than what I’m doing at that moment. What kind of life am I living? What kind of life do I want to lead?

Carine Roitfeld said in an issue of Gentlewoman magazine, when asked how she juggles her work/life balance, ‘what is that?’ She only understands that there is one life, her personal and work life criss-crossing into each other. This division between work and life is a modern phenomenon which keep mostly the British and Americans awake all night. Tons of books are devoted to this subject, about how to help one ‘get more out of life’ or ‘have a 4-day work week’.

I’ve tried all kinds of productivity methods. From prioritising inboxes, scheduling meetings in the afternoons, to synchronising my Gmail calendar with to-do lists. Any newspaper or magazine article with the words get-things-done has my attention. What happened is, I just worked harder and faster. Not necessarily happier. And falling on the old cliché, I became a ‘human doing’.

Nothing was working for me. So in a last ditch effort, I decided to dispense with achieving the ideal work/life balance. To hell with it. So my life now is just one big busy messy existence. Moving from working at my desk and cooking dinner, school runs and work meetings, there are no boundaries. I even write in spurts of 15 minutes, when the children are in the bath or in that lull between them finishing their tea and bedtime.

I do work in the day. But what I’m saying is that my working doesn’t have a clock-out time. It just goes on even after picking up the children  from school. Of course this is only possible because I work for myself. The kids and I have fun together and I get to work.

An unexpected outcome of this big messy way of living is that I’ve learned how to live in the present. Concentrate hard on whatever it is I’m doing before moving to the next thing. It’s much more pleasurable than referring to my to-do list all the time then stressing over how much there’s still left to be done. Because I’m chipping away at things in 15 minute bursts, things just end up getting done. Like magic.

I don’t stress because I’ve sat at my desk for four hours and only produced two sentences. I get off my chair, do something else (probably some boring household chore), and then go back to work with a clear head and some solution would have worked itself out. Actually, sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

It’s messy, it’s busy and it never stops. But weirdly, I am content. And this is how I choose to live my 333 months.

How I got round tea time tantrums

Wait until the meal finishes before you light up

Tea time always strikes fear in me. As the hour hand creeps towards 5pm, my heart slowly reaches a standstill. The terrible hour is nearly upon me. Where the children, if not fed on time, rip into each other with a kind of vehemence uncharacteristic of them. Tears, screams and malicious shoves are par of the course.

Then we hit critical point where it’s mum versus children. Equally tired, I have to play peace negotiator, cook tea and do general domestic chores (which I hate by the way). Shouting and barking ensues. From my direction of course. Many a time I have reached out to that glass of wine in a bid to soothe frazzled nerves.

Low blood sugar levels and end of the day tiredness makes for a deadly cocktail. We’re all ready to kill one another by 6pm.

So about three weeks ago, I decided something had to change. Or I risk going stir crazy living every single day – for the rest of my life or until the kids left home – like that.

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