Raising the kids, that is. Looking back, I must say that it was nothing short of amazing. Here's entry dedicated to Mum and Dad.
I am the youngest of three brothers in the family and I am 5 years and 7 years apart from my two elder brothers. Mum and Dad ever told me that my existence was an effort to have a daughter after two boys. And I think they were fined for having me too. Maybe that's why my real name, Shu Yen, came about. But then again, my brothers are named Su Why and Su Yee. The extra "h" in the statutory name is apparently a mess up by the doctors, but that's another story for another time.
So that's the introduction for my family. On with the main topic of parenting.
When I was young, my mum was a full-time domestic engineer. (Ok, that really means housewife)
But the one thing that I remember most vividly then was her sitting at a corner of the kitchen of our old 3-room flat in Clementi, (the kitchen was huge then, you could do a lot of things there.) clipping away wires that were jutting out of electronic chips which she would later solder with a electric soldering iron.
Sometimes, she would be seated at the same place, with a device that looks like a giant exercise wheel. There, she would wrap insulating tape round and round the device till the roll of tape is used up. Then, she would use a 10 cent pocket knife (the kind that flips out from a metal sheath) and make a quick motion through the gaps, cutting the tape into 5cm strips in the process.
Occasionally, I would help in the easier and not so critical tasks, like bending the wires on the chips so that it is easier for Mum to cut and solder. Or I would be wrapping the insulating tape around that device. If Mum wasn't looking, I would do the cutting too. She didn't let me when she was around because sharp objects and little children simply cannot be put together.
Like my father, she had only "O" Levels qualification, but that did not stop her from contributing financially to the family as a housewife. She was "moonlighting" as a factory operator from home! If many like-minded housewives living in the same HDB block did the same, it would be a production line in disguise! It was actually one of the earlier manifestations of the work from home concept!
Not only was my mum making money at home, she was also good at saving money. Every late morning, my neighbour would come by and slip The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao through my gates. In the evening, I would be instructed to bring the newspapers to back my neighbour. Every month, I would be given an amount of money to be delivered to the neighbour as well. Yes, we were sharing newspapers! And the savings are sufficient for a month's supply of rice.
The chain of thoughts from money leads me to another topic: She told me there was already the milk powder money issue then. And yes, there was "branded" milk powder during that time too. And like all parents, she fed the three of us with the best in the market.
When she needed to rest from her housework and factory work, she would put her head on the small curb separating the living room from the kitchen. She told me it was a good place to rest, as with the main door and the kitchen windows open, there was good air circulation in the house and it was cooling.
During her free time, she would be reading Chinese stuff, usually the Lianhe Zaobao. Sometimes, she sketches. My mum had a knack for drawing portraits of ladies in period costumes on the back of tear away calendar pages.
Then there would be times when I need to prepare for weekly Chinese spelling tests. My mum was really good in Chinese as she always read. She would give me mock tests the night before the actual test. That really made a lot of difference at school. I think I made only 2 mistakes for Chinese spelling for one particular year.
As for Dad, well, he didn't have it easy either. He was a supervisor/foreman at the ports. His work involved overseeing the loading and unloading of cargo at the wharves. It was a hectic job; he would go off to work and only return a few days after. It was a round the clock job, tiring and dangerous but during that time, it was good money. I'm proud to say that my dad was one of the many people who contributed to Singapore being the busiest port in the world.
Once, he asked me if it was ok for him to go work overseas. It would mean that he would come home only once every six months, he told me if he went, he could make a lot of money and bring back a lot of toys for me. I didn't know what to answer then and I kept quiet.
On his days off, if it were a weekday, he would be in a deep sleep. I know he was in a deep sleep because I can hear him snore. One time, (Ok, it may be a few times) I tickled his feet while he was asleep, like the way I saw on television, hoping for the same kind of reaction. But Dad still slept like a log.
If he were awake, I would see him sneaking to the kitchen while Mum was at the stove or the sink. He would give her a hug from behind and start a little dance. That always made Mum smile. He still does that now sometimes, just that Mum cooks less nowadays.
On weekends, he would bring the three of us out, usually to the Clementi Swimming Complex to swim. Yes, the three of us are all natural swimmers, meaning my parents actually threw us into the pool when we were only months old. Other times, he would bring us to the old West Coast Park to cycle, fly kite and feed the fish and terrapins at the pond.
So this arrangement went on until the time I got into primary three. Then, seeing the needs of the family increasing, my mum went to take on shift work at a factory in Ayer Rajah. I think the company was called "Peperell & Fuch" or something like that and it had a green logo. My mum just refers to it as "P&F". Hers was the evening shift which goes from 5pm to 11pm.
When I attended the afternoon session, she would prepare breakfast and lunch before school. When I attended the morning session, lunch would be ready when I got back home. Most of the time, lunch would be Teochew porridge with fish, salted eggs and vegetables. Looking back, it was definitely the best lunches.
The beauty of her planning also involved my elder brothers. I would not be left alone for prolonged periods of time at home. My eldest brother would be home just before Mum goes off to work.
Even dinner was planned out too. She would cook just before she goes off to work. Although the food would be cold when we ate, but Mum always believed we should have home-cooked food.
In retrospect, I am extremely grateful for all they've done for us.
My dad sacrificed the opportunity of a higher paying job for something money cannot buy - time with us during our childhood; slogging day and night literally to bring home the bacon. Neither will I forget that the outings he brought us to. They definitely made up a proper childhood to say the least.
My mum subconsciously understood the importance of being around her children. She also understood it was necessary to keep herself up-to-date and learnt so that she was capable of guiding her children in their education, despite her limited qualifications.
To me, they are role models of parenting.