A few nights ago after saying goodnight to the kids and tucking them into bed, I settled in for a solid evening of working on my assignment. It had been a long day and I was feeling kind of moody and headachy. But I knew I had to keep ploughing through my assignments if I was ever going to get through them all in time.
After a few minutes of typing, I heard the soft padding of little feet coming up through the hallway. A little face peered through the door and the little person tip toed up to me.
“Mummy, just now I was thinking about the monster”
“The one on Winnie the Pooh”
“You mean The Backson?”
“Yes. That one.”
“I thought he was a funny monster. And it was a pretend one, wasn’t it?”
“I don’t like it.”
“Okay. We won’t watch that Winnie the Pooh show again, then.”
“Can you come to my room and put the medicine for the monster in my room?”
“We did that already, didn’t we? And I think it’s time you went to bed. Maybe you and Quack-Quack can put the medicine together. Mummy really needs to finish her work.”
“Okay. Can you give me a hug and kiss? A really big one?”
Later on that evening, I was hit with deep remorse agonising over how I should have been a better mother. Putting on some monster medicine was no big deal after all. Had I etched yet another scarred memory of a mother who was too busy to help protect her son from monsters? Hubby dismissed the whole episode and just shrugged it off. I tossed and turned over it in bed for ages afterwards over all my should-haves and could-haves.
My dad recently shared this poem ‘We’d wish our kids were small again’…
If we were granted any wish, I'll tell you what we'd do,
We'd wish our kids were small again, for just a month or two.
To hear their squeals of laughter, to watch them while they play.
And when they ask us to join in, we wouldn't say, "Not today."
To hug again their chubby frames, to kiss away their tears,
and cherish childhood innocence that washed away the years.
Then when it's story time again, we'd stay a little longer,
to answer questions, sing the songs, so memories would be stronger.
But time is callous, wishes, myth, yet God in all his wisdom,
has given us another chance before we join his kingdom.
Your faces may not be just the same, your names are changed, 'tis true,
but yet the smile that radiates, reminds us so much of you.
God must have known that grandparents would need a chance or two.
For many little happy things we hadn't time to do.
So God gave love to grandparents to equal that before, that,
in effect embraces those little lives they bore.
Evidently my dad and mum too sometimes agonise over their should-haves and could-haves. Even decades after we have filed away all our childhood memories in the deep archives right at the back of our mind.
According to this article on TIME Magazine, there are FIVE things your kids will always remember about you. So I decided to perform the test on myself. And I thought about these five things I remember about my own parents.
#1. The times they made me feel safe
Growing up, I remember every night without fail, very late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, my dad would tip toe into our bedrooms to check on my brothers and I. He would adjust the blankets, turn down the air conditioning or switched it off if it was getting to cold and open then windows to let some fresh air in. I was usually lying in bed quietly thinking a million thoughts in my head. But when I heard him come in, I would shut my eyes tight and lay very still as he moved around the dark room. It was reassuring to know he was checking on us to make sure we were all okay.
#2. The times they gave me their undivided attention
My mother dabbled a little bit in sewing from time to time. Although my dad was the official ‘tailor’ in the house who looked after the mending and sewing of pillowcases and sheets, my mother was the one who took the time to indulge us in sewing little things for our toys. One time I asked her to make a dress for my Barbie doll. I explained to her in detail what I wanted the dress to look like. I remember specifically asking for a ruffled hem on the dress. We looked through the box of fabric scraps together to choose a suitable piece to use. I sat next to her and watched her as she cut and sewed the pieces together to make the dress.
#3. The way they interacted with their spouse
There are a number of somewhat intimate details I’d better not share here for the sake of my parents’ privacy. But I do recall asking my dad one time who his best friend was. “Your mummy” he answered in a matter-of-fact manner. I remember thinking what a weird answer it was and pressed him further, insisting that he must have a boy best friend like him. But he steadfastly kept to his answer: “My best friend is my wife!”
#4. Their words of affirmation or criticisms
My dad was a pretty big believer in what I could do. I remember writing an essay or article for the school magazine. I showed it to my dad and he enthusiastically declared “You should be a writer!”. As a child I don’t think I was a big all rounder or had many major achievements. But whatever little thing I seemed to be a little bit good at, my dad was always the cheerleader.
Mum was a bit different. The moments I remember more were about what she didn’t say, rather than what she did. She could certainly give an earful whenever I deserved it. But I will always remember this incident from my childhood when I dropped a mug onto the floor and broke it. I was so certain I was going to get into big trouble. I tearfully told her what happened and braced myself for a scolding. Instead she just gently told me “It’s okay. It was an accident.” I was completely stunned.
Another incident with my mother I remembered was in secondary school. I had just received my final exam results and found out I had not made the marks to progress to the higher level science stream as I had aspired. I was distraught and teary as I got into the car after school. I broke the grave news to my mother and was expecting a big lecture from her. But she held back her words and instead prompted me to share how I felt and just listened. Somehow this memory always stands out so clearly in my mind.
#5. Our family traditions
Interestingly, the so called ‘traditions’ I remember most are not the big celebrations centred around some annual event or festivity. The images that come to mind are things like…
Sitting in the family room after dinner, enjoying a sitcom on TV. My mum would bring out a big platter of fruit for everyone to share. It was always something different. Sometimes the usual apples, pears and oranges. Or sometimes big triangles of watermelon. Or pineapple pieces. Or honeydew lemon. My favourite was always the long slices of papaya we’d eat with a spoon, scooping the flesh out of it like a bowl.
And snuggling up together in the ‘big bed’ in mum and dad’s room in the evenings. Once a week we’d have a family devotion night. Sometimes my brothers and I would take turns to lie down on the floor with our head in my mum’s lap as she ‘cleaned’ our ear with a Q-tip. Lots and lots of talk, talk, talk in between. On weekends we’d watch a movie together. Sometimes we’d beg our parents to let us ‘camp out’ the night in their room. We’d drag our mattresses from our room and set them up on the floor and snuggle down together.
I wonder what will the five things turn out to be for my own children? It can be hard to predict. Sometimes the things we remember most are the little, most unexpected things. But looking at my own list of five things I remember most about my childhood and my parents, things may not be so bad after all.
Now to restock on some monster medicine.
P.S. Another thing to add about family traditions: one of my parents’ favourite games with my brothers and I since we were babies was to swaddle us up tightly in a blanket to test our strength. The aim of the game was to see how quickly we could free ourselves from our swaddle bonds. I’m passing on the tradition to the next generation.