Dear Deh-dy…

Dear Deh-dy,

We overhead Mommy talking to her friends the other day. And she said you’re not like the other dads. 

  • She said that you won’t babysit us.
  • She said that you’re bad at tracking when it’s ‘your turn’ at diapers or cleaning up the kitchen.
  • She said that you don’t read us stories before bed. 
  • She said that you rarely make us dinner at night. 
  • She said that you keep us away from her sometimes and that other times, she’s the one that leaves work to pick us up from school.
  • And she said that you don’t even take us to Daddy & Me play dates.

You do so many things different from the other dads. And Mommy notices. And we notice. And science people notice. They even think that because you treated us different, that we’ll be different from the other kids too. And sometimes that’s just how luck works.

Sometimes you lose, but sometimes you win. And we hit the jackpot!

  • Thank you for spending every minute you can with us as special Dad time; even when Mommy can’t come too. It’s extra cool that “Daddy raining” time has built us a reputation in hot and humid Singapore with our double running stroller!
  • Thank you for teaching us that there’s no need to keep score, that it’s everyone’s job to help out with the house so that we can all play more once the laundry and dishes are done.  
  • Thank you for trying so hard to tuck us in every single night, even though we act like werewolves. We will always love you more for the flying game, though. Don’t worry! It’s just that at bedtime…. Mommy has magic.
  • Thank you for managing all the grocery shopping so our helper can have dinner ready. And for not only making us breakfast every morning, but for taking the time to sit down and enjoy it with us before you go to work. Someday we will back in America with a deck and backyard where you can teach us your grill master skills for dinner too!
  • Thank you for taking Mommy out on dates without us. You always have so much fun and so do we; even getting to watch movies some nights!
  • Thank you for dropping us off at school every. single. day! And even though picking us up is your favourite thing, thanks for letting Mommy do it sometimes too!

And someday, when we’re big and you’re an old grandpa, we hope we can be exactly like you. Except we hope Daddy & Me will actually be a thing so awesome Dads like you don’t have to feel silly with all the Moms. 
Someday, Dad, we’ll be able to tell you how truly thankful we are that you weren’t like the other dads. 

Until then…. Do it “‘gain!” (and don’t forget to remind us about that time we talked with a British accent…..) 

Love you!

“He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” ~Clarence Budington Kelland

Balinesian Backpacking Babies

Bali; tropical honeymoon destination and island oasis for surfing and yoga retreats.

…or ya know… The bucket list must-do of hiking up an active volcano with a 2 and 22 month old to watch the sunrise! Obviously.

But packing was quite different than what I originally envisioned when I thought of visiting Bali… Obviously making sure we had our passports, flip flops, and sunnies was as expected. But due to delays in life and a healthy dose of Zika floating around SEA (South East Asia), by the time we got around to booking the trip, we swapped out the surf board for trekking poles and the yoga mat for diapers and Peppa Pig pajamas.


And once Nana arrived, it was off to the airport we went for our way-too-fast 48 hr tropical escape from the big city.

Monday was spent lounging at the infinity pool with our much awaited fufu drinks and a few hours exploring the local market. And what a market. Asian markets in general are well worth exploration…. But Let. Me. Tell. You. Nothing says Bali quite like a bouquet of huge wooden……… bottle openers. I’m serious – those things were EVERYWHERE!

After an early bedtime, our day 2 alarm was set for 2am, where we would head off to spend the day with our (highly recommended) private driver and guide for only $150 USD.

We were a bit conflicted as to what to wear for the hike. Because reviews from Singaporeans made you expect something akin to Denali in December, but others did the thing in flip flops??! After doing it ourselves, our attire recommendation is to realise you’re climbing an active volcano for about 3-4km distance and 1000m elevation each way. You’ll slip and fall a lot less with hiking or trail shoes of some kind. As for the temp to workout attire, we were all pretty comfortable in shorts/capris, a short sleeve shirt, and light (read: fall) and wind proof jacket or pullover for at the top. Or when in doubt, a fleece blanket, Crocs and your favourite Peppa jammies will do. (Mom of the Year forgot kid socks though, so her feet also got wrapped in our buffs.)

It was a bit foggy the morning we went up, but still absolutely breathtaking. As was the view from where we had breakfast afterwards (top photo) looking back at the peak. The crater (2 lower photos) is riddled with stray dogs and monkeys ready to dig through your bags or jump on your head during selfies. So we held kids close, smiled quick, and had trekking poles at the ready for batting practice if needed (only once), and let the less informed tourists take their pictures while actually holding or touching the raccoons of Asia. In case no one ever told you…. Macaques are not cute. They’re annoying and disease ridden. 

Total trip was 2:30am – pickup | 4am – start | 6:30am – summit | 7:30am – start decent | 11am – finish! 

Despite having sunlight in our favour, going down was harder and slower than going up. The misty rain made things a bit slippery, had to pause for a few trail side diaper changes, and navigated a detour due to trees down over the original return path. But overall, an excursion well worth it that I’m sure our guide had no expectation of finishing when the 5 of us crawled out of the van that morning.

After breakkie with a view, we made it back to our hotel, found some rendang for lunch, and headed off to the airport for home. Of all the places we’ve visited in three years so far, Bali is up there on the must-do-again-before-we-leave list. What a fun and fast few days. And all the better to spend it with my mom, better half, and two munchkins. 😍

“My father considered a walk among the mountains as the equivalent of churchgoing.” ~Aldous Huxley

Life in Zikapore

I didn’t truly understand what a major life choice was until I lived in Singapore. During the Zika outbreak. While 6 months pregnant.

Miami, according to the news, was basically on lockdown after 49 cases in as many months. Whereas, Singapore springs up  242 cases in the first week and some people were still very “meh – the symptoms seem mild” or “I’m not worried because dengue is worse, you could die.”

What?!?

I mean, I hope they’re right. I hope when the science finally catches up and we’re looking back on this in a decade that we laugh at how much we overreacted. And that the one article about Brazilian pesticides or Asia being a different strain were actually spot on. But so far, it’s not *proven* that this bug doesn’t cause severe brain defects. And I’m not about to bet my kid’s life on that one.

So why not just go back to the US like some women are doing? Well…. Because I have a job. And so does my Husband. And we are supporting – and growing – a family. 

“Just going home” for 3 months really means

  • Relocation, not vacation, back home
  • New job for me, potentially no job for him
  • Expat status and benefits gone
  • US lack of mat leave means no pay and only a few months to financially figure out a new house, car, life, etc…

Not a fantastic plan A.

So since the little shits haven’t officially reached our neighbourhood yet (or even close), we have opted for plan B where I morph into Rapunzel (or Fiona, depending on your fairy tale of choice) and stay locked away in my tower for a trimester. Only difference is that my tower is surrounded by tiny little disease filled dragons and I can’t kiss my prince to make them go away…

Bring on the prevention!

First, most bug stuff in Singapore is citronella based… Which, newsflash, doesn’t work when you’re looking to use it outside! Wait … What?!? Yes, you heard me. Citronella doesn’t actually repel bugs, it just camouflages your smell for a certain radius. So a light breeze will blow it away. And the radius is about this big…


So for everything other than my left shin, and to accompany my essential oil stuff so I can be out for longer than an hour, I had a special care package of Picaridin and DEET flown in from a dear friend (ironically who lives in Miami) who was tuned in on what a miserable quarantine I was in for.

Picaridin and EOs for me and #1 | DEET for him


A typical day means

  • Checking websites and newspapers for new reports of cases in case we needed to venture out – is it by our neighbourhood? Is it by day care? Or his work? Or our 1 place of refuge – the CrossFit gym?
  • Going outside means my new favourite perfume – Eau du bug stuff – and long pants/sleeves.
  • The office was next to a dengue red zone, and I wasn’t about to be the first Zika casualty for that area. So immediately started working from home (thankfully had a very supportive boss!) and went in on a few key days for meetings, but it was taxi driven to the front door, and no more walking between buildings a block apart.

The reprieve

  • You can order in anything and have it delivered in this city; dinner, groceries, massages… Anything!
  • I could still go for runs along the Marina. The concrete jungle that was downtown was pretty skito-free with the nice breeze we have!
  • I should be safe 61 stories up with zero plants on my balcony because I can’t grow them to save my life!
  • My desk chair at home is a yoga ball – which made the last month of emails a lot more comfortable. 
  • I got to spend more lunch and breakfast dates with #1 when I would’ve otherwise been at an office. 🙂

This also meant cancelling a few vacations though – buhbye Bali and Vietnam – as it probably wasn’t a great idea to go hangout in an actual jungle for a few months. But we will make those up.

~*~*~

Fast forward to December… we made it! I stayed sane, kiddo arrived healthy, and I would do it again if I had to. And thankfully for my other still pregnant friends, the cases are almost gone!


Nice try, Zikapore, but I won this round! 

“It’s better to lose one minute in life than to lose life in a minute.” ~Author unknown

Help… errrrrrrr

When I tell one of my western friends about our S$650/month (~$500 USD) live-in helper who’s job is to take care of the cooking, grocery, cleaning, laundry, and childcare, I get one reaction: “Wow. That’s amazing and I wish we had something that great here! You’re so lucky…”

Not so fast……

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a relief to have an affordable option so that we can both work; and I haven’t folded and put away my own underwear for a year. But everything comes with a trade off. And only once those friends have come to visit, and they too get to live with the live in, do they start to understand that it’s not entirely home sweet home.

Once you get past the entire lack of privacy — where some woman you barely know is within earshot of every conversation, story, smooch, phone call, or fight you have — the biggest challenge is picking the right one. All of their resumes are the same; great with kids, can cook any recipe you hand her, and able to complete housework with little direction. But it’s a bit like picking out a new pet. They all look pretty great at the store; already house broken and love kids, but there’s no way to know which one is going to chew holes in the new couch the second you leave the house. So you hope and pray that you’ve laid down the rules and training will stick. (Note: I’m not comparing a helper to a pet. A far better comparison in that regard would be that you instantly have somewhere between a toddler and a teenager depending on her mood that day. And on good days even the grown up comes to work too.)

But after employing, living with, and then having to dismiss our first helper, there’s a lot we’ve learned in the process this past year.

And since the Internet is usually so full of smiles and rainbows and pictures of perfect beach vacations, I figured a small glimpse into some of the hard parts of everyday expat life wouldn’t hurt too much.

And this in only our experience with one helper… Note the reference to the helper lottery below. 



The Good

I have a couple of friends here who basically won the helper lottery. Never had to set rules. Dinner is always cooked brilliantly. Children adore her. And the fridge is always full and garbage always empty. Every expat dreams of this. I too catch myself also using phrases like “Wow. That’s amazing and I wish we had something that great here! You’re so lucky…”

But not everyone wins the lottery.

We thought we’d done ok though; bought a $5 scratch off and made $4. She was, on the spectrum, exceptionally average.

  • She didn’t steal from us.
  • The house was still in order if we left her home alone.
  • She didn’t bring other people into our home – that we know of.
  • She started earlier that I think most do at 6:30/7am.
  • She was honest with money – always was sure to give receipts and change back immediately.
  • She did well with chores as long as they were explicitly scheduled and micromanaged.
  • She cooked a few Indian and Filipino meals (in the beginning) that were fun to try.
  • She would have never hit or hurt our child maliciously like you dread hearing about in the news.
  • Dishes were always done.

Days like this made having a helper an easily brilliant decision.

The Bad

But like I said… Exceptionally average. Thing is, we both work. We don’t always have the time to micromanage everything. And over the course of the year, things started to slip… transitioning from her job, to ours. Her consistency seemed to wane over time and to this day I’m not sure if that was an intentional sneaky trick to avoid the work, or just skill deterioration. My guess is the former.

Because when she left us…

  • I had recently taught [the cleaner] how to use a toilet brush.
  • The cooking was almost entirely done by my husband or I. She would heat up lunch or make the occasional egg for breakfast for the baby.
  • After one too many trips where a request for $2.30/100gm steak came home as $4+ (😩), the groceries shifted to our job; and since we didn’t have the time to always get to the wet markets, this meant grocery stores, which means paying more for groceries. And then when we’d forget to stop at FairPrice, but still needed food, we would have to go to the much closer Four Seasons which is basically Whole Foods on steroids. $$$! Bigger 😩😩…
  • Laundry was officially ours to avoid shrinking or too much soap being used if we let her start the machine.
  • The worst part and her conceivably biggest job was that we couldn’t even let her take the baby out alone. She repeatedly doesn’t look for traffic or wait for the green man to cross when we’re with her, and that one alone was enough for me to lay down the law when you live on a major 5 lane road downtown. So the poor kid, to avoid a chance encounter with a rogue taxi, had to sit indoors all day until mom and dad were done with work to go out and play.

On top of the shifting of work from her to us, there was still plenty of instances where we had to ‘sit down and have a talk’ like I’m sure my parents did with me as a teenager; knives are sharp, don’t be wasteful, be careful what you post on the Internet (ie.. Pictures of my kid! 😡), please don’t hang my underwear half out the window on the 61st floor, and plenty of reminders about what the baby shouldn’t be eating (like whole almonds!) or playing with….. Pens… Necklaces… Bags… Small plastic pi— anything!

And it got to a point where we explicitly outlawed the phrase ‘I forgot’ because it was used so much. Here’s a pen and a notebook… Time to start writing things down!

And the… Uuuuuggggghhhhhhhh?!?


Then, in the last few weeks, life came to a decision point. Her visa was going to expire. So do we renew, transfer her, or send her packing?

Insert many many conversations with friends and the Ministry of Manpower (MoM = government) for advice and to confirm our options. Then add a healthy dose of unnecessary Mommy drama and gossip, instigated and/or fuelled by her… Decision made. It’s time to go.

Which is so much easier said than done.

Because aside from the logistics of doing so in a foreign country, you also have to battle with the emotional hurdle of knowing that you’re at polar opposite ends of the economic food chain – and this is *really* going to suck for her.

But for fear of a mood swing and potential horrible reaction with a child in the house (which fast forward is exactly what happened), and by recommendation of MoM, we decided to smile for a few weeks, buy the plane ticket, send the baby on an adventure with a friend, give her just enough notice to pack before the flight, and have… The talk.

What happened next was the most emotionally trying 24 hours I think I’ve ever been through.

  • 6pm: “Today is your last day. We’ve decided it would be best that it’s time to go home to your child you haven’t seen in 4 years.” Followed by about 90 minutes of yelling, tantrums, threats to run, and a stern warning that God is watching us and we will get our payback. By now I’m sitting on a bench physically in front of our door so she can’t leave.
  • 8pm: The police show up. But since her visa is still technically valid, they can’t enforce anything. They recommend she just stays with us for the night, but they can’t guarantee she won’t run. But if she does, they were kind enough to confirm that we would be fined $2-5k.
  • 9pm-11pm: The most amazing friend in the world comes over and talks her off the ledge. By this point she’s acting like a 6-year old; I’m talking actually putting her fingers in her ears and humming so she can’t hear you. But my friend is an elementary teacher and well versed in these kinds of negotiation strategies.
  • Midnight: Everything so far has been recorded on video. Flight has been rescheduled. We have 15 hours to get her on the next plane. Sleep with the baby in our room and 1 eye open.
  • 7am: She didn’t run. Thank goodness.
  • 9-11am: All three of us head to MoM for some rules clarification. She’s informed that we are cancelling her work pass immediately and that if she doesn’t board the plane, she will be arrested. She still says she won’t go. (What?!?) MoM tells us to call the police again if any problems and they will arrest her on the spot.
  • 12-3pm: Packing, lunch, and a few hours of awkward silence before heading to the airport. Bags checked in. Boarding passes in hand. Escorted to and through immigration without incident. My guess is the extra $300 in cash helped.
  • 6pm: Phone confirmation from airline that she boarded the plane. Deep breath for the first time.

What people don’t usually understand or know about having a helper is that you’re legally responsible for them. We pay her salary and medical bills, provide her housing and food, and until she’s on a plane or gainfully employed by someone else… We are responsible and liable for *everything*.

So while watching her walk through the immigration gate is a solid relief to know that she’s not in your house nor on your payroll anymore, there’s still a punch in the gut to realise that you have no idea what’s going to happen on the other end of that flight for her. And that sucks.

But it’s my family first.

And now that we’ve learned a few things about how to hire and live with a helper, we’re looking forward to starting fresh next month with our new girl.

And in the words of my parents; things are going to change in this house.

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” ~ Lesley P Hartley

I love you biggest.

Gramma,

Today is the 86th anniversary of the day the world was blessed with a you. And that’s pretty damn awesome.

Not everyone has a role model in life that has accomplished so much.

  • You spent tax season with us for 20 years
  • You swam every summer of you life, went tubing at 75, and waterskiied at 60
  • You travelled the world; Tahiti, Australia, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Okinawa, London, Copenhagen, Canada, Mexico, Hawai’i and even came to visit us kids all over the States well into your 80s. Though good thing you didn’t need a passport to get to my graduation in the UP of Michigan…
  • You taught us manners and respect and good Catholic values like giving up watermelon and waterskiing for lent
  • And then a little over a year ago, you even became my tech savvy Gigi; Skypeing with your great grand daughter half way around the world.

You make me proud. You make me dream big. You make me a better person. 

But then this past February you also decided we needed a lesson in never knowing how good you have it until it’s gone.

On February 7th they told us that the cancer was back; and aggressively. Which makes sense, because cancer is as asshole like that. So, as best we knew how, we started bracing for one last summer… one last visit… one last trip back home… one last weekend at Gramma’s. But I suppose with 86 years of experience, you knew how to be ready sooner. 

Way too sooner.

And on February 28th, 21 too short days later, I had to have one last FaceTime call… one last E and Gigi pigeon noise session… and one last ‘I love you biggest’… 

No one told me then that last fall would be the one last time you sat on my lap… and the one last Chalice mushroom sandwich… and the one last time I would get to hug you close…
So I’m going to take your last lesson and do my damnedest to learn from it. I need to make the most of the time with my own parents and family and life. I wasn’t ready for it to be your last anything, so I’m sure as hell not ready for it to be our last anything either. They have way too much Nana and Grandpa-ing to do and we have too much exploring to do.

So right now… today… that means we need to make the most of our remaining time in Asia. And we need to live up to what this blog was started for to begin with — living in the now. Because one of these days will be our…

  • last 61st floor sunrise with a view of 3 different countries
  • last stroll around the Marina
  • last run through MacRitchie or the Botanic Gardens
  • last sunset at the Barrage
  • last quick long weekend to Thailand or Cambodia or Bali

I have no idea when those things will happen, but I know they will. 

 
I can’t imagine what kind of strength it takes to decline treatment and say goodbye like you did; I know they didn’t give me near enough morphine for this past few months. But if I can live and die with even half of the vigour and dignity and courage and gratitude that you have, I will be proud. I will have done something right.

We were beyond blessed to spend as much time as we did with you growing up and spoiled rotten that you stayed so active and able to keep up with us well into your 80s. I know that so many people don’t get to say that. So instead of being sad, I’m going to have to remind myself over and over that the sad only comes from knowing how great we had it.

Thank you for all the joy. I will always love you biggest. 

“I’m going to spend the rest of my life living, not dying.” ~ Phyllis Rothe, 7 Feb 2016