Archive | April, 2011

The Boy Everyone Wanted to Have Dinner With

29 Apr

High school was an awkward time.

You’re either one to fondly reminisce or discreetly sweep it all under the carpet of adulthood – never to utter a mention of puberty or pimples again.

I have mixed recollections.

There was a time where I was probably a carpet sweeper.  But  living overseas kept me distant and removed from all teenage memories.  Stepping into adult life, there were moments of nostalgia, wondering what happened to those who influenced you when you were vulnerable and young.

This is a story about an unlikely friendship.  But one that has stood the test of time.

It’s about the boy that provided fun and laughter while jamming in the music classroom – me bashing away on the beat up old piano and him strumming on a cheap nylon stringed guitar.

My Guitar Buddy.

Whether we were talented or not, that didn’t matter.  We both just loved playing music.

My Guitar Buddy and I weren’t in the “popular group”.  Although, neither did we hang out with the nerds.  We both happily coasted along in the happy medium.

We were amongst the students who diligently completed homework, never got into trouble with the teachers and were involved in swotty extra-curricular activities like playing the clarinet in the school orchestra or singing in the choir (Glee, much ?)

In the beginning of his budding music career, my Guitar Buddy was an oblivious figure.  Floating through the school corridors in anonymity.

As for girlfriends ?  None to really speak of.  Just his musical platonic partner in crime – yours truly – who he had*ahem* tentatively promised to take to the Year 10 formal.

Then, like all legendary rock stars, he landed his big break.

Assigned to play in the high school rock band for the annual high school musical – he of course was the main guitarist, and I took over on the keyboards – my Guitar Buddy shot up in the popularity stakes.

He became an overnight sensation.  Our yearbook voted him as “The Guy You Would Most Like To Have Dinner With.”

Then came every male rock musician’s ultimate dream: the female fan club.

Playing the blues on the guitar snagged the chicks.  And there were plenty.

With an abundance in choice created by his sudden fame, decisions on who to take to the Year 10 formal became somewhat tainted.

No harm done.  I ended up having an awesome time with my girlfriends.  While apparently at his after party, he drank so much that he threw up near the host’s backyard fence…almost all over his pretty, blonde date.

20 plus years later, when he found me, his initial email message also included a heartfelt apology for not taking me to the formal.

Life works in mysterious ways.

Even after a 20 year hiatus, there must be an explanation why we have mutually gone to great lengths to become reacquainted – his visits to Sydney and our recent trip to Tasmania.

We can still share a laugh.  We can still talk about music.  As adults, our values in life are closely aligned.  Even our families get along.

I guess it’s only natural that this post, a tribute to our lasting friendship, is written on – of all days – his birthday.

There’s a few things about high school that I would gladly leave in the past – my peacock 80’s hairstyle and obsession with hairspray; my bedroom wallpapered with posters of Duran Duran; my gaudy hot pink tube skirt.

There’s barely a handful of high school friendships that I will commit to.

But my Guitar Buddy and I ?  We’re solid.

Take that.

I’m still friends with the boy everyone wanted to have dinner with.

We’re all going on a Tassie holiday

27 Apr

It’s taken almost a year and a half, but finally, we went on our very first family holiday.

We’ve been on loads of road trips to The Big Roundabout but they don’t really count, do they ?

It had been high time that we applied ourselves to the intrepid traveling with toddlers test and stepped up to the challenge. You know, pick a destination far enough that required a plane ride to get there.

So, we decided on Tasmania.

Well, actually it was my idea.

Truth be known, my initial reasons to go there were kinda selfish.  There was little regard as to whether it was a kid-friendly place or an easy journey for a young family with toddler twinlets.

Going down south to Van Diemen’s Land was in fact, ultimately for the sake of a dear old high school friendship.

I’m sure you’re all thinking that was terrible planning on my behalf.

Just arrived: "I don't think we're in Sydney anymore..."

Yet, it was a pleasant surprise when first stepping foot in Hobart.  Instantly, it felt laid-back.  Comfortable, even.

Wide, spacious roads.  Clean, crisp air.  Pockets of yellow and deep orange leaves of the trees, showing the early signs of autumn.  Driving into town, I knew I got it right.

The view of Hobart from majestic Mt. Wellington

Then, there was my actual encounter of how friendly the people are there.

Simple good ol’ small town kindness.

Towards the late afternoon of our first day, I had to hurry to the supermarket to stock up on our holiday’s supply of nappies and baby food.  Despite the near perfect instructions from my friend on how to get there, I still managed to inconveniently park the car half a kilometre away from the shops.

What resulted in a box of nappies and seven bags of baby food, milk and other heavy groceries, I had promised the lady at the counter that although I would need the shopping trolley to cart all my stuff back to my car, I was sure to place the trolley back in its rightful place, back at the supermarket.

Of course, I was stuck with one of those trolleys that despite having all four wheels, one had a mind of its own.  No matter how hard I tried to steer the wretched contraption back on the path, it would inevitably sway towards the main road.

Nearing the Witching Hour, I was certain I was going to arrive back at my friend’s house, having hungry, screaming toddlers to contend with.  The stubborn cart was not helping my situation.  Time was slipping and I was having second thoughts about keeping my dutiful oath to return supermarket property.

Mysteriously eerie yet breathtaking: Port Arthur

What saved me was the involuntary assistance from strangers at separate instances.

I counted.  Three of them.  Within no more than 500 metres.

From the perspective of a Sydney city slicker, those were impressive statistics.

By the time I reached the car, I decided that if the universe was going to throw me so many benevolent bones to get those darn groceries to the car, I could surely return the favour and race back and place the shopping trolley back to where it came from.  So, in a mad rush, that’s what I did.

On the stroke of Crazy Hour, I finally made it back to the house.

However, when I arrived my expected scenario was not to be.  No wild toddlers tearing down my friend’s house.  Instead, there was my friend’s wife – who had just arrived home from work herself – happily cooking up a batch of veggies for my children.  Just in case I didn’t make it back in time.

A much more relaxing shopping day at the famous Salamanca Markets

Karma, man.  Totally believe that it’s out there.

So, that was my hectic, but welcoming first day in Hobart.

The rest of our stay was, I will cautiously say, had its moments.

The boys were restless the first couple of nights, causing major sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprived: The morning after another restless night

It was a tricky situation of getting over the hurdle of unfamiliar surroundings before the twinlets could figure out in their little intuitive minds that yes, we weren’t in the comforts of our own home.

However, this is what we’ll be doing once in a while:  Going on a h-o-l-i-d-a-y.

As we had predicted, they were sleeping peacefully by the second last night.  The baby version of Murphy’s Law.

Then, there was the fun stuff in between.  Every day was jam-packed with breathtaking sights, rugged, beautiful nature, fabulous local wine and of course, the much treasured and valued company of an old friend and his gorgeous family.

Watch this space for more Tassie tales of family adventures…

Tahune Forest Airwalk


Like Bread For Rice

20 Apr

1979 was a big year for my Indonesian migrant family.

We obtained our Australian citizenship.

Well, actually, I didn’t have a say in the matter as I was only eight.  Too young to do the paperwork, but old enough to know what that piece of paper meant.

Kinda.

When my parents showed me the freshly printed document with the Australian coat of arms and all of our names neatly printed, I started to cry.

Looking so official and scary, I thought that citizenship meant a complete conversion to all things Australian.

According to my eight year-old logic, that meant I had to stop eating rice…and start eating bread.

Stupid, I know.

Alas, my world was collapsing.

Yes, the drama started even back then.

I thought that it meant having to surrender what was familiar to me.

Rice wasn’t simply a staple – it was a big part of my identity.

In the kitchen, as I sobbed, my mother pointed to our ten kilo sack of rice and explained that I could eat it whenever I wanted.

No one was going to forbid me from eating it.  Certainly, no one would ever have to force me to replace it with bread.  Ever.

It took me a while to believe her.

Thus began my own personal battle of being first generation Australian.

Unfortunately, school children tend to find themselves as victims of cruel taunting and teasing in the playground and the classroom.

I found racial slurs and discrimination affecting me most.

Being bullied or ridiculed for having slanty eyes and darker skin colour.

Told to get back to the rice fields.

Gladly.  

Yelled at for coming over on a boat.

Actually, it was a Qantas flight from Jakarta.

Suffice to say, growing up in Australia wasn’t easy.

Happily, that’s the distant past.

Thankfully, for my half Indonesian – half Aussie boys, they will be growing up in a different Australia.  A more accepting one.

Since 1979, I see significant changes:  Play School showing Balinese dancers through ‘the Round Window’; a strong Greek accent reading the weather forecast on national radio; a flourish of Asian grocery shops and restaurants beyond the typical surroundings of Chinatown.

Just today, I discovered that a prestigious Sydney private school is represented by 35 nationalities.  Despite being a Catholic  Sacred Heart school, it caters to 23 different religions.  It even has a Buddhist temple.

Every week at their play group, my boys play with other children of mixed ethnic backgrounds.  Namely, a Hungarian-Filipino boy and another boy whose mother is from New Zealand and father is Brazilian.

Too cool.  I’m blown away.

Back in 1979, I was the only Asian kid in my class.

So as you can see, as a mother raising bi-racial children, I am excited about Australia’s future as an ever growing multicultural society.

I’m going to do all I can to ensure that my boys will be confident school children, proud of their own mixed heritage.

That they will also embrace the diverse identities of their peers and school friends.

To see the playground and the classroom free of  discrimination and hurtful comments.


“Harmony Day” is held annually on March 21.

It is a day for Australians to celebrate ethnic diversity.  It is also the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  Managed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Harmony Day events do not receive government funding.  Australian schools are left to their own devices to arrange their own activities to commemorate the day.

Does your local school celebrate “Harmony Day”?  If so, drop me a line.  I’d love to hear about it.

Yesterday’s Memories…

18 Apr

Tonight, I am compelled to write a blog post of reminiscences.

Recently, a friend announced the birth of his first child.  His FaceBook status updates filled with the thrill and joy of becoming a parent for the first time, sent me reeling back to our own first magical days.

It’s hard to believe that it was only over a year ago.  We’re going through that remarkable time when their reaching major milestones at such a rapid rate: walking, running, smiling, interacting, communicating.

As they develop into their own distinct personalities (Little K likes to play rough and tumble, Little N is a sensitive soul) and grow into actual little people, it gets harder to remember all the specific details of when they were first born.

But I just want to cling onto those precious memories.  Even if for just for a little longer.

What I can recall is out of sync.  The brain has no special function to retain any chronological order when you are completely swayed over by unconditional love and exhaustion.

How in one moment, I could feel swirly, swishy movements in my swollen belly, watching it harden with Braxton Hicks contractions.  Then what it seems like another blinking moment – my first born placed on my chest – looking straight into my eyes.  Before I can grasp any sense of reality, there is my second son.  Also, lying on top of me.

Surreal.  Two babies.  Two live beings.  In there.  Now, out here.  This is surreal.

I remember somehow finding the strength to visit the nursery to hold them later that evening.  An excited but nervous new mother.  Holding, helpless innocent little K.

Me holding Little K...just hours after he was born...

Trying to stay patient until the morning – when Little N is cleared from all the close monitoring and allowed out of the humidicrib.

The sense of relief of finally being able to hold them both in my arms, kissing their tiny little fingers, watching their beady little eyes, sleepily opening and closing.

Singing every single Indonesian lullaby  that my mother ever sang to me.  And when I finished singing them all, I would start all over again. Not caring if the nurses or other parents around me thought I was out of pitch.  Or tone deaf.  Or just wanted me to stop singing cheesy non-sensical melodies.

Tiny and fragile Little N

Just happily sitting in my own mummy daze with my very own boys.  Relishing in the fact that it was – at last – my turn to sing these very songs as a brand new mother.

How can one summarise the myriad of deep emotions when becoming a first time parent ?

How does one begin to explain the life-time experience ?

How do you make sense of the post-natal blur with distinct splashes of happiness, delight, nervousness, excitement and anticipation ?

Congratulating my new daddy friend, my message was simple:

Ah !  Nothing like a loved up brand new parent !  Enjoy !  These are the moments we live for.

Today (Little K driving, Little N pushing)

A Letter To My 32 Year-Old Self…

17 Apr

How engrossed – or dissatisfied – I was with the pursuits in my single life depended on how often I wrote in my diary.

The other day, I came across one of the many volumes – one that I had written during my early-30’s.

It wasn’t actually that long ago, but a lot has happened since then.  It feels like another life-time away.

Just arriving back in Sydney after living many years in fast-paced Tokyo, I was desperately missing my friends and feeling completely lost. Dealing with the trepidation of starting from scratch but without the luxury of time to get to where I wanted to be: a mum and someone’s wife.

So, here I am today.  Writing back to that confused self.

*****

Dear single gal Grace,

Marriage.  Children.  Family.

You’re constantly racing yourself against that blasted biological clock and you’re wondering if all this pursuing is helpless, right ?

But hey.  Chill.

Life’s going to be okay.  Trust me.

This is going to sound unbelievably crazy, but rather than chase customers all over town for purchase orders; one day you will be chasing two little munchkins up and down the hallway, trying to change their nappies.

Yes, you heard me.  T-w-o munchkins.  

Honey, you’ve never been one to do things in halves.

Hang on tight to those fabulous girlfriends of yours.

They may be far away, but they are your constants.

They will even be there on your wedding day.

Yes, YOU !  A bride !  Get outta here !!!

In all your jitters and nerves, they will cheer you on as you walk down the aisle.

Despite the distance and the time zones, they will also be there for you when you become a mum.

They will see you beyond your daggy mummy Target tracksuit pants and the pumpkin puree in your hair.

Because they remember you as the fun-loving girl in Tokyo who loved karaoke and hopelessly wore her heart on her sleeve.

Then there is your mother.

Yes, unfortunately, she still nags.  Constantly badgering you on all your flaws – like an orangutang picking at nits.

Yet, somehow this complicated, at times volatile relationship finds its way into a somewhat happy medium.

I KNOW !  Shocking, right ?  

Guess what ?  She’s going to be there during moments of despair; when you’re too tired and exhausted to meet the needs of your own children, she’s going to swoop in.  Settling them back to sleep.  Waiting beside them in the dark, until she’s certain her job is done.

Surprisingly, not only will you let her intervene, you will actually be thanking her.

Above all, take it easy on yourself.

Switch yourself off from society’s pressure cooker.

Despite what they say, the odds aren’t against you.

So, enjoy what you’ve got now – your solitude, your independence, your freedom.

Keep traveling.

Enjoy the thrill of meeting new people.

Embrace the exhilarating free fall into love and…heartbreak.

For this letter is your safety net.

A steadfast promise that all – family, love, relationships – will fall into its rightful place.

Chin up,

Mama Grace

Book Review: To Judge A Tiger Mother

13 Apr

When Chinese-American Yale Law professor, Amy Chua released her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” the world of parenting went into overdrive with unrelenting judgement and harsh criticism.  Blogs and random comments on the internet were demanding that she be arrested  for child abuse.  Apparently, she even received death threats.

Woh, people.  Settle down.

From the very beginning, Chua throws herself in the worse light as a mother.

As a high-achiever herself, she had definite ideas on raising her children under “Chinese Parenting.”  Married to a white Jewish man, her daughters, Sophia and Lulu are taught to speak fluent Mandarin Chinese while observing Jewish beliefs and customs.

From page one, Chua jumps straight into her fixed stance.  Under her supervision of “Chinese Parenting” her daughters were never allowed to :

  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A

Chua begins to explain how such iron-fist rules were successful in the initial years of raising their first daughter.

Obedient and submissive, Sophia was the perfect child who was also groomed as a piano prodigy from the tender age of three.

Yet, when it came to her second daughter, rebellious and feisty Lulu, Chua found herself in the midst of raging tantrums and intense, screaming arguments.

Forcing violin lessons on Lulu, Chua had met her match.  Ironically, Lulu was the spitting image of herself: “hot-tempered, viper-tongued…”

In addition, Chua includes accounts of emotional and psychological turmoil.  For instance, using fear to force Sophia to practice the piano (which was on average of five to six hours a day), Chua threatened to burn her stuffed animal toys.

There is another occasion when Chua rejects the birthday cards that her daughters gave her one year.  (Chua defends her actions stating that the family had in fact, forgotten her birthday until last minute and the cards were written in haste, lacking feeling or sentiment).

Amy Chua and her daughters

Being a new parent, maybe I’m still naive.

Perhaps with my very own strict Indonesian, religious upbringing and dealing with a similar version of a highly-strung Asian mother, I didn’t find “Battle Hymn” particularly shocking.

I didn’t finish the book feeling angry or enraged as many others have.

To me, Chua is simply a mother who comes from a humble migrant background, committed to instilling Chinese old-fashioned fundamentals such as:  tenacity, to value education and to be obedient to parents.

Observers, however, have argued that Chua’s daughters suffered from lack of choice.  That her intensity to see her children excel to such obsessive extremes resulted in sacrificing her children’s happiness and freedom.

Such rampant debate eventually led Sophia to submit a letter to the New York Post.  Defending her mother, she reassures the rest of the world that she and her sister just turned out fine.

What’s refreshing about Chua’s style of writing is that not only is she candid, her humour is self-deprecating.

The book is almost a self-reflection – a shining mirror looking back as to how neurotic and oppressive she had let herself become.

Most importantly, she openly discovered that to resolve her volatile relationship with fiery Lulu, something had to give in.

On the flip-side, she is unapologetic for her parenting style.  Instead, not only does she defend and reasons her actions – in shocking fashion – she pokes a burning stick at the flaws of Western parenting.

Calling on Western parents as being too precious and soft when dealing with a their children’s self-esteem.  Offering praise too quickly and allowing failure too easily.

Why she decided to completely expose herself to such scrutiny and merciless sentencing from parenting experts around the world and parents in general, is a burning question left unanswered.

Is Chua right ?  Is she wrong ?  Is she a good mother ?  Is she just down-right crazy and evil ?

Although many parents have taken a firm position on either side after reading her book, I for one, cannot decide.

Still carefully conscious of the fact that I am an extremely inexperienced parent, I can’t say if I’ll be imposing some of Chua’s tough love ideals on my own children.

Then again, come back to me when I have a rebellious, unreasonable teenager on my hands.

Mama Grace with her "Crouching Tiger" and "Hidden Dragon"

I’ve seen better days…

11 Apr

Patience.  Parenting.

Two words that I would love to be able to string in the same sentence when describing myself, but alas, I still have so much to learn.

Today my limits were tested to great fathoms.

Routine is key for any parent.  Especially parents with twins.  All it takes is a hairline fracture in their morning sleep pattern to inevitably cause the rest of the clock-work schedule to crumble.

Lack of sleep causes irritability.  Which creates messy protests in eating lunch.  Leading to hungry, grumpy children.  Resulting in complete exhaustion.

The accumulation of no sleep, no food and constant crying drives us all to the brink of madness.

The irrepairable damage is done.

At 1:30pm, my head started getting that intense dull ache.  You know the kind – when you constantly hear a toddler (well, in my case two) screaming and wailing for an hour straight ?  And that pressure against your skull just gets tighter and tighter and you feel it’s just going to burst.

Then, frantically thinking of anecdotes, you revert to the basics – breathing.

As you try to calm one twin in their cot, you just take deep breaths.

Slow and right from the depths of the torso.

Inhale.  Exhale.  Eyes closed.

Looking away from the other screaming banshee.  Avoiding eye contact at all costs.  Because the moment he catches my glance, the screams notch up extra bizillion decibels.  Taking us back to square one.

What brings back the calm in our household ?

Usually their Papa.

On most days, his timing is impeccable.  Today, was one of them.  He came home at the climax of craziness.  He whisked them away in their pram.  In an instant, changing the scene to one of serenity by taking them for a walk.

I am left alone at home.  Dishevelled.  Left to collect the pieces of sanity I left behind before 1:30pm.

All the parenting, pregnancy and motherhood books do not prepare you for these arduous moments.

Nothing does.

Beyond “making sacrifices” or “holding responsibility for another human being” – the biggest life lesson a parent can learn is patience.

It’s almost ironic that along with this great virtue, parenting is made up of another:  Unconditional love.

The days may be full of mayhem and tears (from both sides), but at the end of the day,when they’re nice and clean,and their little tummies full of warm bedtime milk – all is well in our world again.

As if the chaos never happened, kisses, hugs and innocent smiles are aplenty as they are snuggled tight and tucked in their cots.

I go to bed praying that maybe, perhaps, I’m one step closer to being a patient parent.

During one of the calmer moments...

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