Letter to Olivia: Four looks amazing on you

Photo credit: j.judisun photography
Photo credit: j.judisun photography

My dearest Olivia,

Your birthday letter this year is way overdue as we are already on the last day of February. As you know, the past month has been challenging and mama is preoccupied with one thing or the other. Yet, this letter for you has been at the back of my mind and I can't quite rest till it is written.


The word that I will choose to describe the past year's experience with you is phenomenal. You continue to blow my mind with how much you are learning, understanding and expressing. People were often surprised when they learned that you were 3-year-old because you spoke well.


2016 started out with great hope and anticipation as you were going to have a sibling or so we thought. You were so thrilled to be an older sister as you have been talking about becoming one. When the news of the miscarriage came, I shared it with you with a heavy heart. Initially, you denied it and said, "no, you are still pregnant, there is still baby".  We left it as that and didn't talk much about it. A few days later, as we were walking to the bus stop to go to school, you said the following to me: "mama, baby is not here anymore. Baby is in heaven." I was taken aback at that random pronouncement as we had never really spoken about baby being in heaven. Somehow, that brought me much comfort and it helped me tremendously in my grieving and healing process. Following that, you continued to show kindness, empathy and hold space for me, as I cried for the loss. When I cried, you would hold my hand, take the tissue and help wipe away my tears. To receive such level of emotional support from the 3-year-old you was not something that I had expected. Yes, I have known you to be a child with high empathy and to experience that support first hand touches me profoundly. Mama is so very  grateful for your unconditional love and support, my darling.


Major changes continued to happen in the first quarter of last year. Firstly, our dear Kakak D decided to leave us and return to her home country. In fact she left exactly a year ago. Incidentally, Aunty K left our employment today as well. You shared a a really close relationship with Kakak D and she was totally an older sister to you. I was very sad when she first told me of her intention to leave. It took me several weeks to get over my sense of loss. Surprisingly, you took it well. We went to the airport and spent the last few hours together. You managed to hold back your tears and it was us, the adults who broke down and cried during the farewell.


When Aunty K came to work for us in March last year, you welcomed her with open arms. She was a little reserved and quiet unlike Kakak D who was more extroverted. Your loveliness and warmth finally opened her up to you. We had to let her go because of unforeseen circumstance. Again, you demonstrated such maturity when you said your goodbye to her this morning. I learn a lot about letting go by observing how you do it. It has been our blessing to have had good helpers thus far. Now, it is time for us to be responsible and take ownership towards keeping the house neat, clean and tidy. It will be an adjustment but we will get there with time. 


The second major change that happened last year was that we transferred you from a childcare center to a kindergarten. What a tremendous change! From a small class of 15, you transitioned to a class of 18 with assembly and prayer in the morning together with all the students in the school. Not only that, you have to take the school bus to the kindergarten as well. To get ready for the school bus, we had to wake up much earlier at 6.15 am. That's very early for someone as little as you! Yet, you gave me little problem and would cooperate, most of the time. Of course there were times when you procrastinated and said that you didn't want to go to school but all in all, I think you did brilliantly.


It took you some time to adjust to the school set-up, understandably. In your childcare, you were among the oldest in the class since your birthday is in Jan. When you transferred to MK, you discovered that there were other older students, those who were in kindergarten one or two. In fact, your level was the youngest in the kindergarten. It wasn't easy for you at first as I suppose from being the jiejie, you became the meimei in this environment. Gradually, you adapted to going school independently on the school bus and you made new friends in the class. Mama is very proud of you and I have been impressed at your adaptability and openness. What I miss most is our time in the morning when I used to send you to school on the public bus. That time ended sooner than expected. Now, I savour the time when I bring you to the void deck to wait for the school bus. We do our little ritual of saying the morning prayers together and hearing you pray is truly music to my ears. This is precious time that I keep close to my heart because I know that in a few more years, you won't even need me to send you off to school.


As I reflected on the last year, what stood up most was how much more activities and outings that we did compared to when you were younger. At 3, you were ready to start going for classes unaccompanied and we decided to expose you to those areas that you've shown interest in. One of them is performing, both singing and dancing. We signed you up with Kids Performing and you stayed with them for two semesters and you did a total of four performances - two in schools and two with public audience. We were so thrilled to watch you perform the first time!  You sang 'Everyday Hero' for your first performance. While you didn't remember most of the the dance steps and lyric, it was great to see you confidently performing in front of the audience.


For your first performance for the public, you did two shows on the same day!! I was concerned about how you'd cope but you did it. I imagine that there was plenty of waiting and doing nothing as your segment was just a couple of minutes. It is not easy being a performer as there are lots of rehearsals and waiting period. It requires patience and perseverance. These are important virtues that you will need to inculcate. At this stage, the focus was really on exposure and we didn't really expect you to perform perfectly. And you tend to get distracted by the bright lights and people and not so focused on performing. That seemed to improve as you get older because on your last performance with them, you did so much better and appeared to have a lot of fun. At MK, your level also did a year-end mini concert and I thought you participated well and enjoyed yourself.


Other than the performing class, we also started you on swimming and an IQ/EQ class with People Impact. The latter is to develop your social skills and emotional management in the class setting. The classes are done mostly through games and over time, i started to hear you use words and phrases like "team work", "you are in my team, mama", and "we help each other". Team work, communication and people-skill are of course important skills that one needs to develop. I am glad that you're learning the lessons. While there was a period of time when you were not interested to go for the classes and the reason you gave was that you wanted to be with me. I am glad that we persevered because now you are benefiting from the classes and you no longer resist.


In addition, we did a lot more play dates with your ex-classmates from PSH. After all, these were your first friends in school so it's really wonderful that we live close by and could meet fairly regularly. We watched your first theater performance -, "The boy who cried wolf" -  and i think it left a deep impression. You knew the story and when the interpretation of the story was slightly different, you asked about it. It gave me the opportunity to explain how the same story in the book can be interpreted in different way through play. The other shows that you really enjoyed were Grandpa Cherry Blossom, 3 Little Pigs and 3 Billy Goats Gruff. Along with this, we've watched more movies as well. The first two times when you went to the cinema, you would be frightened and asked to leave. For example, you watched The Good Dinasaur with Yiyi, and had to leave the theatre when she saw you tearing. When we watched Finding Dory, you watched the whole show but left your seat at one small part. Now, you've gotten use to the idea of sitting down and watch the whole show. It is quite interesting for me to note the progression that you have gone through.


Oh yes, we went for the first mall show in September. To be honest, mama hates crowd and going to the mall for a show is not really my idea of fun. But I suppose being a mother changes me. Whatever that I can do to bring you a new experience and pleasure is something that I endeavor to do. So the show that we went for was Paw Patrol as you enjoyed the show quite a fair bit. Not surprisingly your favourite character is Sky. During live performances like these, I actually enjoy watching you more than the characters on stage. To see you actively participating and enjoying the performance brings me delight. Other new experiences that you have had in the past year include bowling, karaoke, playing badminton, sauna, onsen and ice-skating.


We did fun activities like visiting the fire station, going to the museums, the zoo,  different playgrounds and hiking in nature. Towards the second half of the year, I notice that you have better control of your body. You started to scoot more confidently and climbed more structures in the playground. You were no longer tentative and seemed to enjoy physical activity like running and climbing. This is very different from my own childhood as I wasn't permitted to explore the outdoor much.


Our favourite place is of course Bishan Park and mama is so glad that we have such a great park just a stone's throw away. I still remember the first time you scooted at Bishan Park. You were so thrilled. Initially, you were fearful of the small slope, and then i saw your eyes brighten up as you experienced the thrill and and the sense of achievement in overcoming your fear. And you would repeat it. What I love about you is that you don't let fear stop you from trying and that's exactly what I want you to embrace. Courage is not the absence of fear but taking action in spite of it. You've proven that you understood this since young. I remember the time when you fell off the swing when you were about 15-18 months old. You cried and then asked to be placed back on the swing immediately. You weren't afraid of the fall. In fact you countered the fear by going back to the source of fear. I really like that about you.


We started to do more baking and cooking at home as well. You are a good helper in the kitchen, always eager to help me with the pouring, stirring and cracking of eggs. You many not always eat what I make but when you do, you are usually generous with your praise. While I have tried doing art and craft with you, this is not something that I do well in. I know that I sometime frustrate you as I can see how my comments might be a dampener to you. I promise that I will learn to let go of my expectations and let you take the lead. I've also realised that you don't do well with pressure and "testing". When i tried to teach you the alphabets or numbers, you tend not to show interest. To be honest, I don't really enjoy drilling you because I believe learning will come naturally from interest and curiosity. You will know your alphabets and numbers eventually.


You are someone who is creative and indeed there is no limit to your imagination. Everything is possible. Your stories are often funny and sometimes a little dark. You talk about death easily. This is intentional because I believe that death is not a taboo subject and in order to live well we must be mindful of death. Ah, you also enjoy toilet humour! All in all, you have continued to expand in your creativity and what a good story-teller you are! Recently, you have also started to tell stories in mandarin and I am just so pleased to hear you speak in the language. Your favourite activity currently is pretend-play. I can understand how this is fun for you as it is so open-ended.


Last year, we were really blessed to be able to do several trips overseas. We went to Taichung and Taipei in March, Macau and Hong Kong in August, Spain in October, Taipei again in December with yiyi and lastly to Hello Kitty Town in Johor with Gracie's family. We have known you to be a great traveler and that's the main reason why we continue to plan for family trips with you. You are quite the pro in travelling now, no doubt about it. I had to travel solo with you to Barcelona and I was initially concerned. But you were such a trooper as you slept through 8 hours of the flight and woke up fresh when we arrived in Barcelona. Whether we were on land,  sea or air, you have no issue at all. In Taichung we went through winding roads to go to the countryside and you proved that you have no car sickness. The tour guide was quite impressed with you and commented that you have "character". You enjoy taking pictures of papa and me and you would direct us as to how to pose. It's quite hilarious most of the time. Sometimes we do get pretty nice shots from you and I kinda like the idea of having a personal photographer in you.


Ah yes, for a long time your city was Shanghai till we went to Macau. You love Macau because we saw an amazing show there - The House of the Dancing Water. You were engrossed from the start to finish and you loved it so much that we watched segments of the show on youtube very frequently. This was your first acrobatic show of high quality and what a privilege it is that you get to experience it at the ripe age of 3. My first show of such calibre was Quidam by Cirque Du Soleil and I was already in my late 20s.  We are thankful that we could provide you with experiences that can hopefully expand your horizon and learning. Exploring Barcelona and Madrid with you was fun. We made sure there were kids stuff like playground and zoo and "adult stuff" like museums and sight-seeing. I like that when the activity is not so interesting to you, you will choose to take a nap. You still enjoy being in the carrier and mama is grateful that you are lightweight!! Ah my back and shoulders! You have clear preference for me to carry you and have your weird logic about why papa can't use my carrier to carry you. In preparation for our next trip, we have gotten papa his own carrier so you will have no excuse of not letting him to carry you.


We really enjoy traveling with you, my darling.  While it is very tiring, having the shared experience and conversations that connect us more deeply is so worth all the effort. We hope that we can always explore the world together and for that my goal is to work on improving my health and fitness so that I can keep up with you! Speaking about health, we are thankful that your immunity seems to have improve and that TCM and tuina work for you. You are still rather prone to cough and cold but I have noticed that you recover faster now. We hope that your health will continue to strengthen.


Last year, you had your first taste of Hand Foot Mouth Disease. Thankfully, yours was atypical in that you did not present with fever and sores in the mouth. You had a few spots in your hands. The doctor decided that it was still HFMD. I was just glad that you were not badly affected by it. Recently, I've noted that you have an idol and his name is  Joseph Schooling. You watched that historic event when he won the gold medal for Singapore and you cheered along. You know who he is and when you talk about him you have a shy smile which is quite cute. Yes, there's plenty that you can emulate from him. My dear, he is more than his good look; what's more important is what a well-rounded, bright, kind and hardworking man he is. In fact, mama has so much to learn from his parents. Never underestimate the dreams that you might have. What's most important is how you strive to achieve your dreams. Oftentimes,  it is accompanied by hard work, diligence, sacrifices, perseverance and faith.


In the family, you brought tremendous joy to everyone especially to your popo. You are quite adept at understanding what is needed by different individual in the family. It's quite fascinating to observe. I notice that you are very calm for someone your age. Sometimes when I get worked up, you will speak to me with a tone that somehow would calm me down. To my surprise your response will often disarm me. What a gift you have.


To conclude this long letter, mama just want to say how blessed we are to have a child like you. What great blessing it is that I can spend critical this time with you, experiencing the milestones with you and watching you blossom into the beautiful and sweet little girl that you are. Overall, the past year was really pleasant and fun as you got better at managing your own emotions and therefore there were fewer tantrums and meltdown. I am very thankful that you are emotionally literate and have understood that all emotion is acceptable. You are comfortable in expressing both the positive and negative emotions and I take much pride in that. Being able to manage your emotions and that of others is truly one of the most important skills that you want to develop.


This year, I experienced a greater depth of your love, something which I didn't even know was possible. Truly, you are my spiritual director and teacher. By observing you, I learn so much and I am inspired daily to strive to a better version of myself. We influence each other and may the intimate bond that we share will never be broken no matter the trials and tests that come our way. Indeed, four looks amazing on you my baby. Looking forward to what this year will bring. As long as we are together, we will be able to surmount any challenge that life throws at us. We will embrace and use them to transform ourselves and become even more resilient and strong. May you discover God's steadfast love in the coming year and please be free to be you. We ask for God's continual guidance and wisdom in raising you to be the unique and beautiful individual that He has created in you.


Love you to the moon and back,

Your good enough mama