SAHM – A Year On

Feb 18 came and passed quietly. Well, maybe not quietly, there were fireworks at midnight. It was Chinese New Year Eve after all. But it also happened to be one year since I left my job and became a stay-at-home-mum(SAHM).

I thought a year on would be a good time to take stock of my decision. The year flew past. And I guess that says a lot about how I feel. I still think it was the right thing to do. So, no regrets leaving my job.

When fellow mums find out I left my job when my elder child was in Primary 2, I get a lot of knowing nods. “School is getting more difficult these days, wise to start preparing early for PSLE.” Or “It’s better to teach your child yourself, don’t just trust any tuition centre.”

No doubt, ensuring that Jason keeps up with his homework is part of my “job scope”. After all, he’s a playful nine-year-old who would rather be playing soccer than doing school work. But over and above schoolwork, exams and tests, here are some things I really relish about being a SAHM:

1) Hearing about his day in school

My time with him after school starts from the moment he walks out of his school gate. He scans the crowd for me, his face lights up the moment he does, and he eagerly waves and crosses the zebra crossing, running towards me. I wanted to note this down in case he thinks it’s not cool to be so eager to see Mum as he grows older. (I see many older kids who don’t look too excited as they walk out of the school gate.)

I don’t cook lunch, because I now do my work in the mornings while he and Shannon are in school. So I usually pack food from the economical rice stall nearby or we have leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Leftovers are rare, I’ve honed dinner down to not having any leftovers!

Over lunch, he tells me about his day. The highlight is always recess. 5 minutes for food, 20 minutes for play. It’s usually playing ‘catching’ with his buddies from his Primary 2 class. They’ve managed to arrange it such that they each get 5-10 mins to eat, before meeting in front of stall no.2, and proceeding to the sheltered sports atrium to play catching with whoever’s ready first.

Then he tells me about his friends, his teachers, and about how he has this homework and that homework. Sometimes he tells me about lessons or assembly talks. I love that he goes on and on.

In return, and without any prompting, he has started asking me about my mornings. Shannon and I are usually still asleep when he leaves for school. So he asks: Did meimei cry in the morning?(She used to cry about going to school last year) What did you do after you sent meimei to school? (Marketing or freelance work or housework or exercise)

2) Being there to answer his inane questions

There are always questions and help needed, especially when he has Chinese homework. But being at home with him has meant he has an outlet if and when he has non-school related questions (and he always has questions). It could be about people, our weekend, weird science stuff which I’m unable to explain.

3) Getting his homework out of the way

We have a routine. He bathes immediately after lunch, and starts on his homework right after. No ifs, no buts. There was some resistance initially, but it’s become a habit now. During the first week of school when we were still finding our feet and getting used to the new school year, I let him watch some TV after lunch and it went downhill from there. He whined about having to do homework after that, procrastinated until dinner time. So now, it’s homework first, and anything else later.

The schedule in Pri 3 is unlike the last two years. There is more homework, there are occasional tests. There is also CCA – soccer, twice a week, for almost three hours each time. So getting homework out of the way after lunch, is my way of ensuring he has time to play after that. Being home with him means he can get help with his school work, if needed. Then he gets the rest of the afternoon to play his Legos or read. Strangely, he hasn’t asked for TV on weekdays anymore.

4) Bringing Shannon to the playground

I have been doing this since last year, bringing Shannon to buy groceries, or to the playground after I pick her from school in the afternoons. Such excursions have been fewer this year. She is finally settled in school, enjoys playing with her friends, being with her favourite teacher (who taught her in nursery), so much so that she asks for me to fetch her later so she has more play time with her friends! I’m relishing the extra me-time. We still do the playground routine occasionally, especially on days when her korkor has soccer which ends past 6pm.

5) Dinner with the family

Apart from Thursday evenings which I spend in NTU teaching a journalism practicum class, we have dinner together every evening. I sometimes feel guilty about Thursdays, especially when I see Shannon’s crestfallen face, but have decided it’s something I have to do for myself. And it’s just once a week. Hopefully, when they grow up, what they will remember are the evenings when we sat round the dinner table, when we talked about our day or when they bickered over the littlest things. Occasionally, they help with washing up or wiping the table. Sometimes, we make a smoothie as an after-dinner treat.

So yes, while there have been trade-offs from not working full time, there are also many other things to be grateful for!

Jason turns 9

Sometimes I find it hard to believe my first-born is now 9.

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Wasn’t it just yesterday that he was just a couple of months old?!

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This year we had a combined do with both his grandmothers. Our talented baker friend, Weiwei, is back in action, so instead of his Mummy’s homemade cake, he had a beautiful, professional, fondant Captain America cake!

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Check out the paparazzi… If you think they were taking pictures of the birthday boy, think again. They were aiming at the cake!

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Weiwei yiyi asked him what cake he would like to have and he decided on the spur of the moment that   it would be Captain America, when he spotted his Captain America stuffed toy (below). That set the stage for the rest of the party.

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We had some time to plan the party, and since I didn’t have to think about baking the cake, I decided to get a little crafty with the favours. There are many free Captain America printables online, so one could just print and stick them on. But why make the job so easy for the kids?!

I decided they would work for the party. So instead of printing the Captain America shields in colour, I found outlines of the shield and had them colour it in. Jason is lucky that his sister is REALLY into colouring now. Because if he had been the only one doing the job, we might not have had many goodie bags with coloured shields!

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She painstakingly outlined them, before colouring them in with marker. She kept at the job until it was all done!!

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So bottles like these…

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Were transformed into these. I cut out the shields and pasted them on a piece of construction paper.

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Happy birthday, Jason!

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Pineapple tarts!

IMG_0207It’s that time of the year again when I search out my old pineapple tart recipe. I don’t bake as often as I would like to throughout the year, but I make it a point to do it during Chinese New Year. We can forgo homemade for all CNY goodies, except for pineapple tarts. The mass market ones don’t appeal to us anymore. They are just not worth the calories. The buttery, crumbly, premium ones come with a premium price tag, which I’m not willing to pay for. So the next best thing? Make your own!

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This came from an online recipe I found years ago, which I’ve modified over the years. Now, I only go as far as to make the crust, which, to me, makes or breaks a pineapple tart. Without a helper, I no longer make the jam. I’ve found a decent pineapple jam in the Singlong brand so I’ve stuck with it since.

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Pineapple Tart Crust

Ingredients:

- 400g plain flour
– 250g butter (I used SCS)
– 2 egg yolks (plus one more for egg wash)
– 2-3 teaspoons cold water
– 3.5 teaspoons castor sugar

Directions:

Use a fork to rub butter into flour and sugar until it is crumbly.

Add egg yolks and cold water and mix dough well. I use a fork but you could also use hands.

Shape dough into balls and fill with jam. I prefer closed tarts because the jam does not dry out.

Brush top with egg yolk and bake at 160 deg for 25 minutes.

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Since it’s the Year of the Goat… I couldn’t resist these I saw online. Just add some shaped dough on top, 2 chocolate chips and 2 sesame seeds, and voila!

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The kids have been “helping” me for the last few years, and were previously more of a hindrance than help. Let’s just say their attempt to slip in no-jam tarts along with mine were funny only to them. This year, I decided to go with the flow and told them they could make their own tarts. Their version of the tarts, are just that, tarts. No jam, no filling. They like it plain, and love the buttery, crumbly crust more than any pineapple jams. To say they were pleased was an understatement.

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Their happy smiles were worth the pastry-littered floor, oily table and were a welcome distraction from an otherwise routine task of knead, roll, fill, shape… 
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Fresh from the oven.

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Cooling down. 
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Happy Year of the Goat!

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Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

I’ve been wanting to visit the new Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve extension since it was opened in December, and we finally did so today on a Saturday with nothing on our calendar. Bliss…

Unlike the original park, this extension features many boardwalks leading out to the sea, pods for viewing, and more opportunities to get up close with mudskippers.

There were no crowds. Perhaps the novelty has worn off, or maybe preparations for CNY are underway. We appreciated the space and thoroughly enjoyed our walk. I had been looking forward to this for a while, but the kids were less than enthusiastic. So it was to our surprise that we spent 2.5 hours there, walking and playing (them), and left only at 7pm when the gates were about to close. The weather was perfect. A light drizzle gave way to clear skies. Breezy with some sunlight. Could not have asked for a better day to go walking.

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The round structure? It was called a pod, an elevated space for viewing. Shannon called it a cocoon – (she just finished learning about butterflies and their young in school). I thought it looked like an onion – (no surprises coming from the one who has to cook at home). Jason said it was a hot air balloon (the playful one), and their papa said it resembled a nest (the most practical and logical one!)

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View from inside the pod.

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We made our way through the six lookout spots and covered the whole trail in the more than 2 hours we spent there.

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There were birdwatchers with binoculars and huge camera lenses. We stood alongside them with just our handy Canon camera and squinted into the sky, looking for birds.

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We saw mostly eagles. But there were spiders aplenty. They built their intricate webs across big leaves. Beautiful piece of art…

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The boardwalks reminded the kids of Chek Jawa, and more than once, they called out the similarities. But the ones here are not flat. They meander, go up and down, and are a lot more fun to walk.

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Looking out from one of the pods. Picture by Jason.

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This was one of the best parts of the walk. The tide was low and we walked across these roped bridges to get to the mudflats where we saw mudskippers. The darkened part is where the water level reaches when the tide comes in – I think.

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Two different types of crabs we spotted – pictures by Jason. Horseshoe crab and something else.

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They wondered if it was the same as the fiddler crabs we saw at Chek Jawa. I thought the colour was different.

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So the walk and all was good. But for the kids, this might have been where they spent the most time.

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The two play structures kept them busy for a good 45 minutes, and they reluctantly left only when they were thirsty, and we told them the park was about to close.

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We’re already planning our next visit!

Pioneer heart patient Maureen Lim Gek Lian

I’ve been helping out with The Sunday Times ‘This Week in 1965′ page, that looks back on news events 50 years ago. Last week, I wrote about the first few patients in Singapore who went through an open heart surgery. I tried searching for them but could not find records or contacts of them anywhere. I found the surgeon, Dr N.K. Yong, who carried out the operation, but he, too, had no idea what had happened to them, neither did the National Heart Centre.

This week in 1965 - heart surgery

Then I got a pleasant surprise early last week when one of them, Maureen Lim Gek Lian, contacted me to say she is one of the patients I mentioned. And because I had left ST, she found me through this blog! I met her last Friday, and had a good time chatting with her while my kids were in school. She’s a bubbly, cheerful lady, full of gratitude for life and the people in her life.

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In the last 50 years, she had often hoped she would one day have a chance to thank the doctor who saved her life. While he was unable to meet up with us last week, I’m glad I helped them to reconnect on the phone on Friday.

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Stories like these keep me going (albeit on a freelance basis!), and remind me about why I went into journalism 12 years go – to make a difference in someone’s life.

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