The Diaperbag family.

We are the Diaperbag family. There are Jordan, Evan and Dylan (also known as Muffin) and they are fondly known as JED. We are their parents. Ondine and Packrat.

This is JED

Always playing or planning and plotting to take over the world. Always up to shenanigans.

This is Jordan, our first born

Actually she's part of a twin set. She was known as Twin 1 in-utero. She loves to draw what she dreams, dances what she draws.

This is Evan, reluctantly the younger twin

He's Twin 2 by two minutes because it took the doctor that long to find him. We don't think he'll ever forgive the doctor!

This is our youngest, Dylan (also known as Muffin)

He fancies himself the Lion King. His favourite activities are to climb, jump, pounce and roar at the world. The world is his Pride Rock.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

History hungry

We've always talked about how Jordan is Mini-Me because she's athletic, competitive and high strung. A girl after my own heart.

Evan has always been Packrat's doppelganger. The geek interests, the introvert and the mild endearing disposition.

A few months ago, I received confirmation of my genetic contribution to Evan. Our regular pick up ritual is the boys get into the car and mutter salutations before requesting for their audio book of the day to be put on. One day, this routine deviated. Evan got into the car and asked to talk rather than listen to the audio book.

He went on to tell me about Social Studies in school and Singapore during World War II. My mind flashed to me, having these conversations with my parents, when I did Social Studies in primary school. I was exactly the same age as Evan. I learnt from my mother how their house got requisitioned by the Japanese High Command. That they all ducked under the dining table when there were air raids; the same dining table I used for studying and now sits in my brother's house. I learnt then that my grandfather would set traps in the drains that had water flow in from the sea at high tide and how he caught fish and crab for the family that way. I learnt about the gory sight of heads put up on spikes as a warning of disobeying the Japanese.

I also remembered having discussions with my dad about the war, on the way to uni, where I spent a semester reading Singapore history.

In an instant, all this seemed relevant as my 10 year old fired a million questions about Singapore during the war. And I told him all the stories that my dad and mum as well as my grandmother told me about their lives during the war. I answered his questions about the European Theatre with what I could remember from days in freezing cold lecture halls 20 years ago. Perhaps, a primitive instinct 20 years ago pushed me to do all those course in preparation of a son not yet even a thought.

And the boy lapped it all up. He asked for books, more books and has started reading obsessively about war. War literature (it's amazing how much good juvenile war literature there is out there), fact books, a whole bunch of "I survived..." books and an old abandoned copy of a secondary school history text book. He literally paced the house waiting for the Amazon order to arrive with more history books in there. When it did, quiet descended upon the house. I let homework slide because I saw how he was devouring the books. There was always tomorrow for homework.

I didn't understand the obsession when it was Pokemon where he inhaled facts about Pokemon and could spit them out with such precision I wondered why he didn't put that much effort into his school work. But it's just how an obsession works. He's doing the same thing now for WWII history though because human nature and cruelty are involved, he doesn't get all of it himself and has questions that bother him somewhat. So we sit and chat about it. He asks questions, I try my best to answer it. I pull on things that he remembers, like visiting the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbour when he was little. And it makes more sense to him now. The attack, why it was surprising, why the Japanese did it. How that coincided with the attack on Singapore. Bit by bit, he's figuring it out.

He draws the line, though, at media. He'll read, he'll listen to stories about it but he won't watch it. Pity, I thought. I would have loved to have taken him to see Dunkirk.

But it is true. When there is interest, passion lies and the curiosity to know.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

I Wanna Grow Up...

There's been a lot of talk about puberty lately.

For Jordan at least.

It came about because they had a talk in school recently about when it was necessary for girls to wear undergarments. The bits of information she came home with were hilarious and sometimes bordering on misinformation rather than information.

She read the Judy Blume books that deal with it; her favourite being Margaret who wants and NEEDS a bra and talks about getting periods. After the talks in school, she's gone back to reading them again. And I re-read it too because all I remembered from it was the chant, "I must, I must, I must increase my bust!" The charming thing about the book is that even though it's more than 40 years old, the anxieties mirror so clearly what goes on in the mind of a tween today.

Last week, Jordan got into the car and was very, very giggly. Her teacher had passed around a bra for the girls to look at and fiddle with. She went into great detail. One would have thought she had never seen one before!

Two days after, a growth spurt miraculously occurred in class and spread like wildfire across all 40 girls. All of a sudden, she was reporting that every other person in class had started wearing a bra too. I think it had to do very little to do with hormones and very much to do with all the discussion in class. Words are indeed powerful. So naturally, Jordan asked if she could have one too.
                                   Image result for are you there god, it's me margaret

I gave her the same spiel my mother gave me. She'd have her whole life ahead of her to wear a bra. It would be hot to wear one under two layers of uniform as is. She didn't need to be in such a hurry. But there was no stopping her.

I guess if I thought hard enough about it, it was like that for me too, dying to be all growed up and wanting to have all the trappings of being a grown up. Envious of those taller and more mature than I was at that age. And like Jordan, I didn't listen to my mother when she tried to caution haste.

So, here we are. I have a Margaret at home now and I'm pretty sure she's asking God the same questions that Margaret did and promising to be good in exchange for some growth in that area.

And to counter all the misinformation she seems to be getting at school, I have ordered her some books to set the facts straight. The American Girl series for puberty is aptly titled The Care and Keeping of You which I really like because it really does normalise the entire process and answers questions in ways that make sense to these tweens.

While we wait for the books to arrive, I shall just sit back and watch this unfold, quietly lamenting the loss of my baby girl and the appearance of a full-fledged tween. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Note leaving

The whole family has taken to leaving notes for each other.

There are various functions for the note-leaving.

For me, it's a case of expediency.

It's convenient, it stops me from nagging till I turn blue in the face and the little reminders do in fact act as little triggers for them to do things. Sometimes we  do it because it's funny and it gets a rise out of them.

Sometimes, it's purely to remind me to do something. Regardless of how much we remind them to pass us stuff to sign the minute they get it, they often only remember just as they are going to bed or when I'm not home. I take comfort in the fact that Evan is very responsible and will remember things told to him so occasionally, I take advantage of it and ask him to leave a note to remind me to for instance, "pick his sister at 3 pm".

Tangentially, Evan needs better handwriting because he wouldn't really know if I 'sighed' on the form.

Other times, they do it because they've done something wrong and it's easier to confess it on paper than to face the music. Muffin has recently discovered the joys of procrastinating. So he'll read and sit and play even if he has work to do. A few days ago, despite the fact that he didn't do anything else and spent a good 4 hours just sitting at his desk (only to get up for the bathroom and have dinner) he hadn't finished his Chinese homework which included a five pages of exercises and two pages of writing. His siblings, having more experience with the wrath of mom 'orrhhed' at him to the point that he trembled with fear and then ominously warned him of imminent punishment i.e. (Mummy is going to kiiiiiilll you). In an attempt to pre-emptively placate a potentially angry mummy and avoid sudden 'death', he left a note on his board with multiple "very"s to highlight his recalcitrant behaviour. 

Procrastination at work

Unlike her brothers who leave notes for purely functional reasons, Jordan leaves me notes for everything. To tell me what happened in the day, to recount something bad that had happened, prayer requests, to apologise to me for sassing me, everything.

Funny how they don't leave Packrat notes.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Visiting Melbourne: Through JED's eyes

As promised, this post is Melbourne through the eyes of JED. Or it could be titled "What to do with Melbourne with children" because this post is about what JED loved about Melbourne.

I shall state from the outset that the twins are very infatuated with Melbourne. Jordan is ready to move there. Forever. She wants to go to school there and go like now, now now.

To JED, Melbourne was about 7 things.

1. The cold weather

This was the most important. That is, once they got used to it. Muffin was the one that took the longest to relish it. It went in order of the amount of insulation they had in their bodies. And Muffin doesn't have any, at all.

But once they climatised, they ran around with jackets and even ventured as far as going to the beach twice. Something I wouldn't have even considered no matter how mild the winter was.

2. The animals. 

JED love animals. But as with most urban kids, they are scared of them. So it was funny when Evan wanted to feed ducks (his favourite animal in the world) and run away when the ducks approached him for more. It was similar with the guinea pigs that they could play with at the petting zoo. Evan wanted to have the guinea pig but was squealing about it being ticklish because of its claws. I liked the Open Range safari type animals more than the local Aussie ones and while I understood that it made sense for the joey to be head in in the pouch, I was grossed out by the fact that there were a pair of legs sticking out of Mama-Kanga's belly. No one got why I was grossed out so I was left alone to make faces.

3. The playgrounds
With the benefit of space, the playgrounds around Melbourne were awesome. And I don't mean it in the tween way, I mean it in the "jaw dropping, covet and want to steal it back to Singapore, talk about it all the time" way. 

Every day, we explored a new playground and every evening, there would be the request of going back to the same playground the next day. Because it was just that much fun. It didn't matter that they spent good long stretches of time at the playground, it was never enough. 

Even the adults were hard-pressed to  vote on which was the best playground. 

a. Parkville

Packrat and I loved Parkville because it was behind our old uni and where he lived. We also loved it because it showed great sensitivity to the landscape. It was just a playground plonked into a field. The architectures built the playground into the natural landscape with slopes and trails integrated. Then there was a large hill that we could scale and the Grey's Anatomy fan in me loved the fact that from the playground or the top of the hill, you could see medical helicopters landing on the hospital rooftop across the road. 

JED loved it because it was challenging, sprawling and so open to the imagination. They played hide and seek but gradually settled to play at the dam structure, which in itself was a stroke of genius. The kids could build a network of waterways in the sand and there was an irrigation system that they could work, pump water and dam before releasing it into their waterways. Over and over again, in different permutations. 

My only concern about the playground was that it was so sprawling that you couldn't quite keep an eye on the kids all the time from one spot. But other than that, we spent 2 days and had lunch there. Even then, it was really with a heavy heart to leave. And also to know that should we ever come back, the twins would be too old to enjoy it as much. 

b. St Kilda
St Kilda's a pretty bohemian part of Melbourne and it follows that the playground there is similarly so. It looked like a junkyard with odd pieces of wood structures painted in a cacophony of colours. There was a haphazard feel to it, it was challenging in places for the kids with an adrenaline junkie's dream of a flying fox that whizzed at top speed and only stopped with a mighty clang when it hit the end and caused the kid to rebound or get thrown off into wood chips (though we didn't see any kid get thrown off!)

Similar to the Parkville playground, even though we spent 3 hours there, JED didn't cover every inch of it. They climbed a tree, discovered secret tunnels built under the playground structures and tried to run up a skateboard run which was close to impossible. The playground was run by the city council and there were crates of free fruit for the kids. With places like these where you can see so much love and care has gone into creating it, I was happy that I could put in a donation to keep the place going or to help buy the next crate of fruit.

4. Fake snow
I badly wanted to drive up to Mt Buller for some snow even if we didn't ski. But the men, who were the designated drivers refused to budge. It was too long a drive to see mounds of ice and they couldn't imagine tetchy kids all the way there and disappointed kids back. The next alternative was an ice rink near the hotel that had a fake snow slope.

The cold, together with the speed thrilled JED to bits especially because the only way to stop was to crash headlong into a thick padded wall. Muffin and Jordan were the most adept. I came down screaming while Evan internalised all his fear with a constipated look on his face. It wasn't enough to totally get the snow jollies out of the way but it did go some way into assuaging it.

5. Rowing a boat
If at any time, a child suggests that rowing a boat would be fun, heavily indoctrinated by years of singing that insipid kid song, please say no. Against our better judgement, we agreed to row a boat down the duck pond. With 5 in the boat, the weight wasn't evenly spread out and that meant I spent half the time worried we might truly capsize. And never believe the children when they promise to help row because all they do is splatter water and complain their arms hurt. So rather than rowing, we spun in circles in the general direction of the current, bouncing off both banks and miraculously spun back to where we started. By then, there was water in the boat and JED had all been splashed by algey mucky water that was filled with duck pee.

6. Autumn leaves

There is a Chinese saying about fishing that goes along the lines of "even if can't catch fish, settle for the shrimp". It sounds better in Chinese. That was the philosophy that JED approached Melbourne winter. To them, winter meant snow. We spent the better part of the year dispelling that notion so they settled for the next best thing. Leaves.

Piles of leaves, leaf tracks, just shuffling and rustling in leaves, picking at them, comparing the different shades of yellow, orange and green was interesting enough that they left the adults alone.

7. Friends 
There was always fun to be had where ever they were because they were 5 of them, 4 of them of similar age. There were squabbles and differences but they tried hard to work it out for themselves and figured out the best dynamics amongst them. They didn't sleep together but played together, ate together and even celebrated their birthdays together.

The adults vowed that for as far as possible, we will try to bring them away together because these are what make for good memories for them. 

My takeaway from the entire trip was that fun didn't need to be expensive at all. So, no we didn't go and see the penguins. Nor did we take the windy Great Ocean Road or the coal spitting- tear inducing choo choo train round the Dandenongs. And it really didn't matter to JED nor their friends.

Every one needs more of these sorts of holidays. It does wonders for the soul.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Revisiting Melbourne

We've been wanting to go back to Melbourne for a very long time. We moved back to Singapore close to 15 years ago and haven't been back for 10 years. Since JED were now old enough to appreciate Melbourne as where "Mommy and Daddy met and went to school", we thought it was a good time to do it.

We didn't expect to feel as nostalgic as we did when we got there. So this post is basically Melbourne, through our eyes, as opposed to the subsequent post, which will be Melbourne, through the eyes of JED.

What we generally did was to re-trace our lives in Melbourne, right from touch down.

There was
1. Breakfast at Thresherman's. 
We didn't eat here on a daily basis because we were poor students but on the occasion or when there was family in town, we'd come here for brunch. It was a 5 minute walk from our house. I remember giant fruit salad take away bowls, hot soup in the winter and farmer's breakfasts. Incidentally, when we bought the farmer's breakfast for JED, they complained it tasted weird. When we tried it, we realised that their definition of weird was our definition of 'fresh'.

2. Uni of course.
Because we were at Thresherman's, we were close to uni and since we couldn't check in to our apartment, we went to uni for a walk around. That's when all the feels came flooding back.

To humour JED, we recreated a photo we took when we got engaged and we took a photo at the stop light where we first met.

But for us, it was walking around, remembering what it was like to walk through the various buildings and hallways on the way to lectures, marvelling about the things that hadn't changed and the buildings that were new, bright and shiny.

There is something about old buildings, blue skies and trees that makes the heart rate slow and the blood pressure drop a bit.

3. The old apartment

No trip down memory lane would be complete without visiting the old house. We pointed out to the twins where we would BBQ, where we kept our dog for a while, where Packrat and their Uncle's bedroom was. We told them about Barry the neighbourhood cat who would surely be dead by now though it didn't stop us from looking in the same places that he would hang out.

3. Food

I warned Packrat that when it came to food, we might be a bit disappointed because we were students on a budget then and now that we are a bit older and more discerning, it could possibly be a case of "What did I just put in my mouth?".

There was Italian at Sofia's where it was about mass rather than quantity as well as taking up the challenge of the giant gelato. Even with 9 people, we didn't manage to finish the gelato nor the food but everyone was happy and left in a blissfully stupourous state.

There was also Vietnamese many times over, steaks for our carnivorous tribe and some Chinese thrown in for familiarity sake. For Packrat and myself, souvalkis were necessary because souvalkis remind us of our first real date. Unfortunately, it was a truly a situation where the eyes were larger than the tummy because we couldn't finish the souvalkis. We forgot to take into account the difference between 20 year old's and a 40 year old's appetite.

4. Friends

No pictures here but meeting up with ex students who have lived in Melbourne for longer than I did as well as ex-classmates was on the agenda. We visited their homes, ate where they ate and did what they did. Not touristy at all. In fact, it was these meet ups where we learnt of the reality that Melbourne is actually more costly to live than Singapore, that housing, transportation and even food ($3 for a box of plain rice is daylight robbery) is as costly if not more than in Singapore. A nice reality check for the grass is always greener sentiments.

And then, for me, there was
5. Ballet.

Not specifically for me but for Jordan, to meet my old ballet teacher and to take class in my old ballet school. Time stood still in the ballet school, right down to the carpeting and the ballet studios. Even the teachers. Jordan got to meet my old teacher and take some classes with her. What she taught Jordan, watching her teach class and instilling the same discipline and etiquette I remember from all those years ago, I felt I was an undergrad and the years had melted away. But I wasn't.

10 days of re-tracing our steps and then we had to pack up and come back to reality. But while it lasted, it was good.

Some would say that the past should stay in the past. But I think that occasionally, it's a good thing to touch base with the past. It reminds us of simpler times, what it's like to slow down a little bit, not to get too caught up in the things that actually don't matter and laugh some.