Saturday, January 19, 2019

Mommy rules

It was around 2 years ago that I came across the concept of 'mental load' when this comic strip by French cartoonist Emma was going viral. Something clicked into place. Mental load! That was it. There was such a thing as mental load. Suddenly things started making sense. Why, in spite of Viv being very particular about sharing all chores relating to the household or Xena, sometimes I felt exhausted, but not in a physical way.

I had taken on all of the mental load, you see.

Without us realising there was such a thing, there was no way I could split that with him. I viewed myself as the ultra-efficient manager of job, house, husband, and child. I had a plan, you see. Everyone knew what they had to do. It was all divided equally. Of course, I did all the thinking and planning, but that was not actual work now, was it?

It was. In a big way.

Like Emma says, "The mental load is almost completely borne by women. It's permanent and exhausting and invisible work."

So then I started to look at things a little differently. I realised that the fact that I LOVE planning and getting stuff done was sometimes getting in the way of my own sanity. When you have a kid around the house, it becomes infinitely more difficult to keep things tidy. You can give your husband or kid chores to do on an ad-hoc basis to help you, but what needs to be done is to be able to shift not just the physical chore itself, but some of the mental load as well. (See this.) Instead of telling Xena to refill the hand soap when I was busy, I needed to get her to do it whenever it was time to refill it. the last person to use up the last drop of soap refills it. That's it. But of course, that is not as straightforward as it seems. If soap-refilling became everyone's job, I would have no idea when it was time to buy the next batch of soap. Because I'm always the refiller, I have a clear idea of when to add it to the shopping list. And we would suddenly have a situation of no hand soap in the whole house!! You see what I mean? So it just seems like the easier path is to do it all myself... that of taking on the physical load (refilling the hand soap) and the mental load (remembering to add it to the shopping list). Now multiply this tiny example by ALL the 238748926589624085734 things that need to get done in a typical household. It's a lot more work than what you would associate with a typical works-half-day-from-home mother-of-one-kid who also happens to have 3827483947 hobbies. But I did it anyway. Because I was the girl who wanted to do everything, and did it. (Ooh, cool phrase for my epitaph!)

Last year, when I was in discussions with my publisher about taking up the full-time position, I had many many other things to consider. What would we do about breakfast? When would I go to the gym? How would I do laundry, considering I'd totally miss the sunlight hours? How would we keep the house tidy? I used to make an elaborate breakfast every day, a different item daily. And cook and pack two boxes for Xena's recess and snack break. And go to the gym before I started work. And do laundry and drying and folding and ironing almost every day. And when taking breaks from work, because I had no colleagues to chat with at the water cooler, I'd go around the house tidying up. Though we have generally taught Xena to be tidy, we have probably not done a great job at enforcing it. She may remember to put her uniform in the laundry hamper after school, but she would read books all over the house and I'd find a Tintin in pretty much every room. Sometimes I'd wait till she was back from school to get her to tidy up, but sometimes I'd just do it myself. After all, I was the one spending most of the time in the house and I needed it to be moderately tidy at least. I'd be amazed at how, in spite of my daily clearing up, every table in the house would disappear under stuff. Every single day. It didn't happen all that much when it was just Viv and me, but ballooned to crazy proportions once Xena was old enough to carry and leave stuff around. And doing all those things was no longer making me feel efficient; it was making me feel exhausted.

A lot of the time, I would sacrifice my me-time to do it. I'd think of catching a Koffee with Karan episode over lunch, but there'd be something that needed my attention more so I'd have a quick 5-minute lunch and get on with the task. I always told myself that I was only forgoing stupid Bollywood nonsense, but you know what? Sometimes you badly need some stupid Bollywood nonsense in your life. I know I do.

Once I signed the contract with my employer, I knew we had to start doing things differently. It might take a while to find a way to split the mental load equally, but with me being away at work all day, at least the random physical loads had to be readdressed. We had to learn to do things without being told to. Some things had to be a given, like putting things back from where you took them.

So I came up with two rules/resolutions for the family -- the 5% rule and the black box rule.

The 5% rule
The 5% rule involves completing each task 100%, and not leaving the first 5% (Mama, can you give me a glue stick for my craft project?) or/and the last 5% (putting the glue stick back in the craft drawer, where everyone knows it belongs). Or removing only enough dry laundry to make space for the exact load you're currently washing, but not removing the rest. Or folding all the clothes but leaving them folded on the bed. Or tackling a messy room but leaving some items on the floor because you didn't know where to put them. Or taking something from the wardrobe but not sliding the door back. I want to ask, "So who is supposed to do this last 5% and why can't/didn't you do it?" So according to the resolution, Viv and Xena now have to make sure that anything they do is done 100%. No, I will not be the one bringing them the tool and no, I will not be the one putting it back. When we renovated the house a few years ago, we Konmarie-d the hell out of it -- enough to make sure everything has a proper place that everyone is aware of.

The black box rule
The biggest hindrance to a tidy home is all the stuff that doesn't make its way back to its original resting place. So now I have a black box in the storeroom where anything not in its correct place will be put away and not returned for a week. If it's something unsuitable for the box (dirty clothes left on the chair, for example, will of course not be put in the black box (omg!) but something valuable to the offender (say, one Tintin comic for Xena) will be taken in lieu. And it's not just for Xena's stuff (though to be honest, it mainly is); she has also been given the right to 'black box' any of Mama's or Daddy's items that have not been put back in their correct place.

When I first introduced this, Viv was all up for it, but I did get some groans from Xena who, as I mentioned before, likes to keep one Tintin in each room of the house (for easy access?). So we gave her a grace period of 2 weeks where we would point out her black box candidates but not implement the rule. Last week, the grace period ended, and now I've fully gone into evil mode. The first day itself, I black-boxed 7 (let me say that again...  SEVEN!) Tintin books. I haven't seen an out-of-place Tintin book since then.

Let's see how these rules work out for us. I am giving all of us a year to reach the stage where we will not need these rules anymore because they would have become second nature to us. Fingers crossed.

And then maybe my epitaph phrase could be changed to 'The girl who did everything she wanted to.'

PS: Sharing Emma's comic strip once again, because that's how important it is. Whether you read my post or scrolled through, whether you're a guy or a girl, do read what she says about mental load. It will change you. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Back to the mothership

So yes, I have gone ahead and done it.

I've joined the full-time workforce again.

After 8 years of working from home.

I'd made the decision to quit the corporate world in 2011 when all the complications with Xena's health began. To someone who was very ambitious and driven about climbing the corporate ladder, it was quite a shocker to consider a break like this that could possibly never end. But I knew it was the right thing to do, the only thing to do, and to this date I've not had a single regret about giving up my career for Xena. What I did know was that I needed to continue working, in whatever capacity, to retain my sanity during those dark and difficult days. Just something else to fill my head with other than my seriously sick kid. I am grateful that my publisher (my first employer) always had enough writing/editing/freelance projects to keep me busy. And all these years, they had also been patiently waiting for me to join them full-time, telling me every year that they will always have a place for me.

This year, I finally gave in. I'm back at the mothership, the company where I started my first real job. The job that gave me a chance to permanently lock up my engineering degree and do what -- in Marie Kondo's words -- sparks joy in me.

It was been such a strange experience going back to the same office building I left 12 years ago. So much has changed and so much is still the same. So many new faces and yet, so, so many familiar ones. Many editors have come and gone and come back and then gone back again, but some of the illustrators and designers are still there. They never left. It was so lovely to be greeted so warmly by all of them.

My ex-big-boss who's also my current big boss saw me working at my cubicle and said, "It's like you never left." I know exactly what she meant. It does feel like I never left. I merely moved into the cubicle adjacent to my old one. In fact, quite often, I find myself turning into the wrong lane, towards my old place! How can muscle memory still function after 12 years??

And then there's the emotional dinosaur part of me. The one that has preserved all the memorabilia from the good old days. I have an A-3 sized poster that my designers made by photoshopping my face over Priyanka Chopra's body in Krrish so I'm in (sheesh!) Hrithik Roshan's arms (they knew me as that crazy Bollywood fan so they thought this would make an apt card), a mock cover of my precious magazine (I worked on it from 2003 to 2018 till it ceased publication) with me as the queen bee and my team members as the other busy bees, and here's the most hilarious one -- a 'mass resignation letter' bearing the signature of 17 editors, which was presented to me when my team found out about my resignation. There's even a tiny footnote: 'If Management is reading this, it is just a joke. If Sayesha is reading this, it is for real.' And they had all tried to "jump off the building rooftop" if I left (I had blogged about it; there is a even silhouette picture of them on the rooftop!) The Krrish designer came by my desk today and you had to see how his jaw dropped when I showed him the poster he had designed all those years ago. At times, I feel so silly and foolish hanging on to these little things, but I am also happy that these precious little memories have a proper home now.

Quite a few things have changed greatly. The IT lady came over to 'set up my computer' and she was armed with a MacBook Air "I won't get a desktop?" I asked. She gave me a funny look. I have never in my entire working life, worked using a laptop. So it has been rather strange getting used to it. And there are so many systems and databases and spreadsheets to learn about. But I have to say it's exhilarating to be back in the thick of business decisions.

Another big change is the sheer number of people in my life right now. I'm not used to having so many adults in my everyday life, and boy, is it a welcome change! All these years, it had been me+comp for the first half of the day, and me+Xena for the second. This sudden swarm of adults around me is exciting and sometimes scary at the same time. But I have to say it is nice to dress up in my formals (just a few weeks ago, I was looking at them and wondering if I should Konmari them away) and take the bus to work and spend the day working on stuff I'm passionate about and go for lunch with colleagues (OMG colleagues -- I have real, human colleagues!!) and then end the work day and really end it (well, so far), unlike my freelance days where I would work every minute that Xena was away (at school, sleeping, art class, etc.) so that I could be fully there for all her awake moments.

Come to think of it, everything has really gone according to the new plan. *touchwood* I wanted to give Xena all my time during her early years and then get back to a full-time career once I was assured that she would be okay. So far so good. She seems to understand that this is important to me and has been very supportive.

Because I had waited so long for this and sincerely paid my dues, I bounce into the office every morning like an excited fresh graduate and not someone who's worked in the industry for 16 years. The jaded folks at the office must really be wondering what's wrong with me. Especially since I have to wake up at 5:45 am so I can make and pack Xena's recess and snack boxes and send her off in time for me to catch the 6:45 am bus to work. (Yes, I literally watch the sunrise every morning... from the bus!) I've made my work hours start really early so I can pick her up from studentcare as early as possible so we still have some time to play and share about how our day went.

My schedule is a bit bonkers at the moment as I try to get used to this new development, and I'm hoping that things will be smoother soon. I still want to make time and do all the things that I don't want to stop doing, like reading and cooking and baking and gymming and... blogging!

Wish me luck (and please pardon any typos or grammatical errors -- this post was written in a I'm-kinda-sleep-deprived-but-I-wanna-blog-now state)!

Friday, January 04, 2019

Annual report - 2018

2018 - what a year! Here are some key highlights.

- Since Xena started primary school in 2018, all three of us had to be up really early in the morning. 6 am to be precise. (Ouch. I know.) Luckily, the khadoos mommy that I am, had made it a rule that in 2017, we would wake up at 6:30 in preparation for 2018, and honestly, it made waking up at 6 am a lot easier for all of us. I wake up a little earlier, in fact, to cook and pack the two snack boxes for Xena's school, and I've found great pleasure in making all sorts of things for her snackbox -- broccoli patties, atta pancakes, pizza-dosa, wholemeal sandwiches, etc. etc. I baked a whole lot in 2018, with a keen focus on wholemeal stuff. After many unsuccessful attempts, I finally found a wholemeal bread recipe that works for me, and now it's a staple in our home.

- The biggest personal highlight for me in 2018 has to be my inline skating lessons. It literally felt like a rebirth (and still does, with the exception of my old knee injury that keeps coming back). Under the tutelage of my amazing instructors, I am now somewhere between levels 4 and 5. If my knee allows, I hope to pass level 5 and get the coveted black certificate, which not a lot of skaters manage to get. Lately, my instructors have started teaching me more complex slalom moves. Here's one of my favourites.

You're supposed to do it with cones placed on the ground, but I didn't have any so I, um, imagined them.

Our instructors organised an 8.4-km long urban skate-a-thon. Can you spot Xena behind me? The photo was taken by Viv who decided to run alongside us, doubling as the official photographer of the event. 

- 2018 was also the year when Viv broke into the kitchen. Like, seriously. Because of my skating classes on Saturday and Sunday mornings, he decided to take on the task of making breakfast on weekends so Xena and I could focus on getting ourselves and our skating gear (that weighs approximately 897893246793264 kg) ready. It has been both an amusing and touching experience to see him attempt to make new things. We always had very clear roles when it came to food, and they had nothing to do with gender -- I like to cook and he likes to eat. Simple. So to have this system reversed was kind of funny, but a welcome change nevertheless. He's now pretty good at making omelettes, poha and uttapams, and I'm looking forward to newer items in 2019.

- 2018 marked our 20th year in Singapore! I still have very clear memories of landing on this sunny island in July 1998 as a clueless teenager. To mark the occasion, I organised a 'back to school' event for our university friends. We had all landed in Singapore at the same time to pursue the somewhat-loved but much-loathed engineering course. So we spent the whole morning walking all around Nanyang Technological University, telling the not-so-interested kids, how cool we (and the other uncles and aunties) were two decades ago. We even posed against the same backdrops that featured in our old photos. It was fun. For us, at least.

-  We did a fair bit of travelling this year. Early in the year, I travelled to India for my cousin's wedding (my first flight without Xena!). It was weird and nice at the same time. I more than made up for leaving her behind by taking her on a reward/incentive cruise that one of my publishers sent me on -- and they offered to pay for her ticket too! This time, we left Viv behind. Poor guy was absolutely miserable by himself. We need to do a cruise together at some point. In June, we went to Gold Coast, which is now my favourite Aussie holiday destination. In December, we did our big family reunion, which has become a tradition over the last few years. Us, parents, in-laws, all in one place. The first year, we did Mauritius, last year it was Sri Lanka and this year we decided to check Kerala off our bucket list. I'll be writing about it soon on my travel blog.

So that was my 2018. How was yours? 

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

A new start

And a brand new year begins!

So I have this (silly?) belief that whatever you do on New Year's Day is representative of what you will do for the rest of the year. For the last many, many years, I have made it a point to make sure that on New Year's Day, I do a bit of everything that I intend to do all year. Today was no different. Heck, I even went to the gym for just 20 minutes in spite of a very bad knee (that's been giving me hell at my skating lessons).

And of course, I couldn't let this day end without blogging!

I will blog later about the highlights of 2018, as well as share some strange family resolutions I have planned to implement for 2019 (one called the 5% rule and another called the black box rule). For now, I just want to wish all bewdas a very happy new year! Sending you all the positive vibes I can, especially those related to good health and happiness.

See you soon!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Watch out

So the strap of my smart watch broke and I'm really suffering because no matter what, I always track my 10K steps a day and religiously make up for any missed steps over subsequent days. It's an Actxa watch and I can't find a replacement strap anywhere. Viv thinks I should get an Apple watch but I don't want the fancy-schmancy features -- a step counter + heartbeat monitor will do just fine.

Today Xena decided to contribute to the discussion too.

Xena - Mama, I think you really need a new smart watch.

Me - I know...

Xena - I can buy you one for Christmas!

Me - You can?

Xena - Yes!

Me - How?

Xena - With my tooth fairy money!

Me - Ooh! How much do you have?

Xena - 8 dollars!

Me - Oh, so you will buy me a smart watch for 8 dollars?

Xena - Or less.

Me - Or less?!

Xena - Yeah.

Me - Errr... I don't think 8 dollars are enough to buy a smart watch.

Xena - Hmm... Maybe you can use some money from your piggy bank?
(I have a piggy bank into which I pop stray coins as and when I find them. No one, including me, knows how much money is in there.)

Me - Ooh. How much money do you think is in there?

Xena - 40 dollars.

Me - 40 dollars? Are you sure?

Xena - No. 41, I think.

Me - Oh.

Xena - Or I can make a strap for you!

Me - How?

Xena - With paper!

Me - Oh!

Xena - But you can't let it get wet, ok? Otherwise it will break.

Me - Uh...

Xena - Or we can just take your old watch and tape it to your wrist! I think that will be the best!!

Me - Okay!

Monday, December 03, 2018

Puppy love

I am at the playground with Xena and her friends. All of them are about her age. One of them, Archie*, just can't hold his excitement back. "Xena! Aiden* has been writing love letters to you!" He exclaims. She continues swinging on the monkey bars.

Seeing absolutely no reaction on her face, he turns to me, "You know, Aiden is in love with her." Not knowing what to do/say, I smile and nod. Not satisfied with my reaction either, he turns to Aiden, "Tell her! Tell her today!" Aiden is obviously not ready to tell her yet, so he doesn't say anything.

Archie looks very disappointed with the world, full of such unreactive people. He turns to me again.

"You know, Kyle* also loves her?" He gives it one more shot.

"Oh, really?' I finally say.

"YES." He leans back on the slide, finally feeling validated.

It's getting dark and I tell Xena that it's time to go home. "Bye," she says to everyone.

Aiden starts walking with us. "Xena, I have to tell you something. I am in love with you."

Yep, he declares it right there, right in front of me. I approve of this boy.

Xena nods wisely. The boy doesn't ask or wait for a reply. You can tell he expects nothing. I approve of this boy more. We bid goodbye and part ways.

All this is new to me. I am not sure I am equipped to handle this. I feel old. I can't remember how my head worked when I was 7. Should I ignore this as child's play? Should I talk about it? I decide to be Captain Obvious and simply repeat what we already know.

"So Xena, Aiden is in love with you. And Kyle too, according to Archie." I say casually as we walk home.

"No Mama, Aiden is in love with me. Kyle loves me. So it's okay."

"Oh okay. Are you in love with either of them?"


"Are you in love with anyone?"



"You and Daddy."

"Oh. All right, then."

*names changed to protect the identities of the kids, one of whom Xena might bring home to introduce to us one day, who knows

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Leading Bhai example

They say that couples that are together for too long start to behave like each other. Sometimes, the effects last even after they split.

Today, I saw the proof.

Why does this... 👇🏽

...remind me of this? 👇🏽

Bhai-Kat this song, I say!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Thinking out of in the box

Because eating at the dining table is too mainstream...

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Rolling with it

As promised, here's part II of my earlier post.

Over the last few months of skating, I have encountered a lot of interesting people. This post is about them.

The bus folks
So Xena and I take a bus to the beach where our skating rink is. Ideally, we should be skating from home all the way to class but we are not yet comfortable with the idea of that, given that there are several roads, slopes and an underpass we need to cross. So we take the bus, lugging our skates, safety gear and helmets along. I have a skating rucksack which holds my gear and helmet and has two slings on the outside for the skates to hang from. The whole thing is about 7 kg in weight, and then there's Xena's bag with her skates and gear, bringing the total weight I carry on my back to about 10 kg. Ow ow ow. (Xena carries a small bag with our water bottles and a snack box.) We get a lot of fascinated stares from people as we get in, carrying all that. Most think I am a soccer mom taking my kid to a class before they spot the giant skates and do a double-take. And because I'm mostly dressed in tropical Singapore's national attire (shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops), I do not look like a skater at all. It's very amusing to see the looks on their faces as they try to figure out what's going on.

The magician teacher
When I was in levels 1 and 2, the instructor who taught me was so fantastic, I can easily call him one of the best teachers I've ever encountered. You know how the difference between loving something and hating something can just be that one teacher? Yeah, he's that guy. Extremely patient, totally goofy, and with the eye of a hawk, he can point out little technicalities that make a hell of a difference -- bend your left knee a little, speed up a bit more before you do the move, lean to the right, keep your feet parallel, etc.  I think of him as a magician. Here I'd be, struggling with something, and next thing I thing I know, one quick glance and 4-5 words of wisdom from him and I'd have mastered the move. 

The badass-hardass teacher
My current teacher, who is like a stunt artist on skates, is a toughie. Even though he's probably the youngest of them all (he's still studying), he's the most no-nonsense. Maybe that's why he prefers teaching the higher levels; he simply can't deal with the nonsensical chatter that accompany 3-4-year-olds. Almost all the students (including me) are a little scared of him so when I moved to level 3 and was assigned to him, I was terrified. But I got over it after about two lessons. Somehow a mutual trust had been established. And now I can totally appreciate his teaching style too. It works well for me. He doesn't praise; a 'not bad' or a thumbs-up is all he will flash your way to tell you you're not a complete disappointment. But he's a total rockstar.

The dadsplainer
Some of the kids' dads stand around the rink to watch the lessons. While most are content just watching or proudly taking photos and videos, some will start shouting out instructions to the kids. It really infuriates me when these folks try to dadsplain over the instructor's teaching. Some have the audacity to literally walk into the rink in the middle of the lesson to deliver their lecture! Some leave their kids in tears. (Come to think of it, I've not encountered any momsplainers though. Hmmm.) I can see that sometimes a third person's perspective can help see where you're going wrong but that perspective doesn't need to come in right in the middle of the lesson.

The hubsplainer
Not that there are a lot of adult female students in the rink, but once in a while you do encounter one who's trying her best to learn but simply cannot because the hubsplainer thinks that he's such a good virtual skater that he knows better than the instructors. Someone ask these guys to join the lessons themselves. I think hubsplainers are the main reason why we don't see many mommy skaters. If Viv ever hubsplained to me in the middle of my lesson, I think I'd bop him on the head with my helmet.

The curious mommies
I cannot tell you how many times I have been approached by mommies of my little classmates asking about my experience with the lessons. Most of them seem very keen to join the classes but sadly, it never happens. Some cite age, some kids, some a hectic schedule, some fear. I want to bop them (lightly) on the head too and say, "You want to do it, right? JUST DO IT!"

The 'which state in India are you from?' ladies
Okay, so if there is any group that I want to bop on the head more than anyone else, it HAS to be these Indian ladies. I have always found it irritating when people you've literally just met want to know which state you're from. (Surprisingly, not a single man has ever asked me that; it's always the ladies) I feel like it's an attempt to bracket you in some kinda category before they get to know you. For me, the state is insignificant and maybe more like a 4th date kind of a revelation, if at all. And it has to come up organically, if at all. My face, name and accent probably don't betray any particular state and I guess it drives them mad. But how does it matter which state I am from?? It's infuriating when someone approaches to ask me how I got started on skating and as I'm talking, I can see the gears inside their head turning, not absorbing a bit of what I am saying, but just wondering if I'm from the North or the South or the East or the West or the Centre. And as soon as I'm done talking, they smile and ask, "Which state in India are you from?" Most of the time I immediately drop my friendly demeanour and say, "I'm from Singapore. I came here as a teenager and it's been 20 years now. So yeah, I'm from here." And then they will say, "No, but BEFORE you came here, which state were you from?" Gaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh! And that's when I skate far, faaaaar away from them.

The fast kid
So there is a 7-year-old boy in my class who is the fastest kid I have ever seen on skates. He's also in level 3, so a lot of times we have our lessons together. Sometimes, towards the end of the lesson, the instructors conduct fun games for the kids to improve their speed and reaction time, like catch or ice and water (if you get caught by an instructor, you freeze till another kid comes along to thaw you) or polar bear (a hilarious game that tests the skill of falling safely; as soon as an instructor approaches, you fall and get into a crouching position with face, hands and legs tucked in; you basically turn yourself into a polar bear camouflaged in the snow so you can't be caught). Sometimes, by virtue of being an adult, I'm made part of the catching team. Initially I was quite slow but I started getting better and ONE DAY I CAUGHT THE FAST KID OMG. I was so pleased with myself. That was the highlight of my day. Can I put it on my skating resume, pretty please?

The blessing uncle
Okay, this is really cute. One of my little classmates' grandpa had come to watch the lessons. During the break, he came over to me, put his hand on my helmeted head and said, "I want to bless you for what you are doing and how well you are doing it for your age. I know many ladies would like to do this and you're setting a good example. I'm really happy that you are doing this." I was a little amused at the "for your age" bit, but I know he meant well.

The people who mistake me for an instructor
As we learn right next to the beach, we get a big audience — joggers, cyclists, dog-walkers, couples on dates, families on beach outings, etc. Many people are curious and fascinated about the lessons and want to find out more. Sometimes, they mistake me for an instructor and start asking me about the class schedule or fees. Normally I tell them that I'm just a student (getting very amused looks) and point them to an actual instructor, but there was this one time everyone was busy and I was taking a water break when this couple approached me to ask about fees and stuff. So I just skated over to get a flyer and gave them all the details and answered all their questions! Muahaha!

Roller-skating uncle
Saved the best for last. Whenever I feel too old in class, I look at this 70-something uncle who glides into the rink on his old-styled roller skates, puts on Chinese classical music, wows everyone with a dance routine and glides back out. What an inspiration!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Wheels in motion

So Xena started inline skating lessons a few months ago.

But this post is not about Xena's skating.

It's about mine.

Xena's skating lessons happen during the weekends next to the beach, and initially I'd arm myself with a book, or take photos and videos of her, or chit-chat with other parents to pass the time while she was in class. Viv would be away at cricket most weekends anyway.

Then one day, as I sat there, my eyes alternating between Xena in class and a (terrible) book I was reading, I asked myself, "Why am I here when I could be there?"

I knew that the minimum age for learning was 3. But was there a maximum age? The lessons looked like they were obviously catered to very young kids, with plenty of fun and games all around. In fact, the instructors do not even go by their real names, but nicknames that feature various food items! You can only imagine how much more fun and approachable a teacher would be if they asked you to call them Watermelon instead of Walter. Some of the instructors, by the way, are about half my age so it was with a beating heart that I asked if I could try it out. They were very welcoming and told me that they taught all ages.

So I went for a trial to check it out. And as soon as I got the skates and safety gear on and started skating, I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be. Even though I was nervous and wobbly, I was high in the clouds. That feeling was incredible and something I still find hard to describe. Maybe it was the first time since Xena was born that I was doing something that was for myself and myself only. Maybe because at that moment, I was no longer Xena's mom. I was nobody's nothing. I was just a person trying to learn something new and fantastic.

Once you learn the basics (rolling, falling safely, etc.), there are five levels you need to pass. There are several skills/stunts in each level, and as you progress, the skills/stunts get harder and harder. However, the process is extremely rewarding. One weekend, you're staring in total awe as your instructor demonstrates something really cool, telling yourself, "Oh goodness, I'm NEVER gonna be able to do THAT!" and the next weekend you're casually doing the exact stunt while chit-chatting with your 4-year-old classmate. It's the perfect combination of awesome teachers and a very sincere student who just really wants to learn. We've all heard the phrase 'practice makes perfect' but this is the first time that I am literally seeing it work. Skills that I struggle with initially become better with practice. The difference is visible, it's measurable. Of course, it's only been a few months, and there is still lots to learn, but I am so excited that it shows. I wait for weekends, I have dreams of skating, I go through techniques in my mind whenever I can. It's like falling in love — I'm constantly thinking about it. And I get depressed on Sundays (not about Monday; I love my work) because the next skating lesson is soooo, soooooo far away.

The classes are split not by age, but by skill level. It's mostly kids, of course, and a few stray adults who turn up once in a while. It was a little strange initially when I was in level 1 and the only adult in the class. Some of the kids would turn and give strange looks to "someone's mommy who has suddenly put on skates and gear and joined the class" while others would earnestly ask if I was one of the instructors. But now, we're all friends and even the littlest ones address this 'classmate' of theirs by her first name.

Except for this one little girl who doesn't. She's not 100% comfortable with me being in the same class, and things took a turn for the worse when both of us passed level 1 on the same day.

That little girl is my kid, Xena.

"But Mama, you joined a month after I did! How could you pass level 1 on the same day as me???"

Oh boy, and here I thought I was competitive.

So I tried to explain to her that as a kid I used to roller-skate (kinda true; I did discover an abandoned pair of roller skates — the old-styled self-balancing kind — during a summer vacation at my grandparents' and that summer they became my primary mode of transport, but only from room to room and sometimes up and down the stairs), that some people already have a good sense of balance that helps (kinda true too), and that some skills are easier for adults to grasp (omg not true at all when it comes to skating), but the most important bit was that she shouldn't compete with me, or anyone else for that matter. She's coming to terms with it, but I have to keep reiterating that her only competition should be herself.

"Don't look at others. You can be inspired by them, but don't compete with them. Think of what you were last weekend. Are you better than that today? If not, work on it." I tell her. She nods. Hopefully she will take my advice. Because this advice will help her loads in adulthood.

In a way, I think this whole skating thing has been a life-altering thing for her as well. It teaches her perseverance, resilience and helps her deal with failure (some skills are really hard and can take weeks and weeks to master and you will fall, and fall, and fall again). It helps her see that age is just a number, as there are kids tinier than her who are at higher levels. And very importantly, it helps her see me as a completely separate individual and not just her mommy.

One of the other significant things that has happened is that I am learning new things about my own body. I have never been very coordinated (ask me to sing but never to dance!) or flexible, and I have a bad knee from a fracture (which actually happened 20 years ago but it was so bad that it still hurts sometimes when I skate or walk uphill on the treadmill). So all these years, I have always slightly favoured the bad knee. However, the thing with skating is that you can only pass a skill if you can demonstrate it using both legs. There are literally checkboxes marked 'left' and 'right' that the instructors will tick for each skill. So that has pushed me into pushing my bad leg a bit more than I usually do, with some very unexpected results. For some skills, I have found myself performing better with my bad leg in charge, something that has surprised even my instructors. Very interesting.

However, I remain the extremely practical person I've been, and constantly tell myself that being surrounded by kids doesn't mean I am one and that I can throw caution to the wind and go ahead and break a few bones like it's no big deal. Like the mommy of my 6-year-old classmate gently reminded me, "Old bones heal slow."

So I try my best to remind myself of my old bones when I feel a little too adventurous.

It's not easy, to be honest.

My first time doing a "fish" — a basic slalom (obstacle) move 

Mommy and baby out for an Urban (skating on the roads)

Stay tuned for part II of this post, where I'll introduce you to the weird and wonderful types of people I have encountered in my two months of skating lessons.