Sunday, 19 February 2012

For Ellie

 I was sure my sister was having a baby boy.

For the last couple months of her pregnancy, she endured more painful swelling and discomfort than she ever had during her previous two pregnancies. Those both ended up being girls, so baby number three just HAD to be a boy! I was sure of it! He's tormenting his poor mother already, I would think to myself, hating the fact that my sister wasn't feeling well, but somehow smiling just the same as I pictured a highly energetic little guy rolling around in her belly, wreaking havoc on her poor legs. So typical of boys...

But what I mistook for a spry, mischievous little boy was actually a sweet and very sick little girl.

Baby Ellie was born eight weeks early, and even though the doctors and nurses did everything in their power to keep her alive—even though my family, friends, and people I had never even met prayed ceaselessly through the night and all the following day—Ellie was unable to overcome her illness, and passed away less than forty-eight hours after she was born.

There is really no way to describe—or in words to do justice toward—the feelings associated with the death of a child. I've lost other family members in the past, but they were my grandparents. When they passed away, I grieved, but I also took great comfort in knowing they left us with hundreds of wonderful stories to tell—stories that continue to keep them alive in our hearts, and several of which still make me laugh out loud to this day.

But what about Ellie? She passed away without any stories to tell. And that, for me, is the most tragic aspect to her death. It's something that claws at my chest and presses against my heart. It's what makes me suddenly burst into tears, usually at the strangest and most inopportune times (like while watching Dagny give high fives to an Indian couple seated next to us on the train).

I try not to ever ask, Why did this happen? Beyond the medical diagnosis (it turned out Ellie had Fifths Disease), I think this is a dangerous question to contemplate. The reason is as simple as the answer: We don't know why. The death of an innocent child never makes any sense. To ponder the question beyond that means risking a terrible fall into depression—the kind where a person can view God or even life in general with a sense of hostility. So even though I am devastated over the loss of my niece, I also make sure to take daily comfort in knowing that my sister is okay. Her health, as it turns out, was also in jeopardy during the time of Ellie's birth. And as strange as it may sound, I am so incredibly thankful that Ellie passed the way she did—surrounded by family, comfortable in my sister's arms, and lovingly adored by hundreds.

A lot has happened in the past six weeks... a trip to Thailand, a visit from my parents, Chinese New Year... but I'm not ready to write about any of it. Not yet. A few times I've tried, but my fingers always seem to fall limp on my keyboard before I even type one sentence. When I plug in my camera to download my photos, I immediately unplug it again. I honestly don't know when I'll be ready to post another blog entry. Maybe when it doesn't hurt so much to breathe. Maybe when my world doesn't feel quite so consumed by Ellie's absence from it. Maybe then... but not right now.

Right now is for Ellie, a tiny rose bud in her mother's arms, unable to bloom, but still breathtakingly beautiful in all our eyes. We will love you always, sweet Ellie.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
May angels carry me through the night,
And wake me up in Heaven's light.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Happy New Year

2011 will certainly go down as being one of my most adventure-packed years on record. It's difficult to wrap my head around all that has occurred in just twelve months... Sipping coffee while watching Charlie Sheen implode on the Today Show seems like ages ago! Ahhh... I do miss those mornings. Thank goodness we still have the Kardashians to make fun of.

The holidays this year were quite overwhelming for Brad and me. It all started with a trip back to the States for Thanksgiving, which included lots of food, lots of rain, and lots of catching up with friends and family. We were frequently asked if it felt strange to be back... and for the most part, it didn't.

Of course, there was the initial shock of seeing so many Caucasians when we first landed in Chicago. As I glanced pie-eyed around the terminal, the first words to leave my lips were: "Everyone's so big!" Yes, I do mean overweight, but I also mean tall, broad-shouldered, and, for lack of a better term, big-footed. I've grown accustomed to living in Singapore, where my 5'6" height could place me in a premier basketball league (even without any hand-eye coordination), clerks shake their heads when I tell them I wear a size 9 shoe, and my 128-lb. frame gets ushered to the XL and XXL racks in clothing stores. Even Dagny seemed a little overwhelmed by the Chicago crowd. While waiting for our flight to Cleveland, she looked cautiously around at everyone seated by the gate (not at all her usual, bubbly self), then after a minute or two, she let out a gleeful shriek and ran straight into the lap of the only Asian woman in the entire terminal. No joke. The look of shock on the woman's face was priceless, and Brad said it might be time to hang a mirror up in Dagny's room... Does she know she actually has blonde hair and blue eyes?

Other obvious differences: It felt odd to be in a car again (I waited almost two weeks before deciding to attempt driving... don't worry, everyone is still alive and my mom's car is un-dinged) and more specifically, it was a little unnerving to see so many SUVs on the road!

But all the daily aspects of Stateside life soon became routine. Sprawling suburban neighborhoods with backyards and barbeque pits were once again normal, walk-in pantries stocked with Fritos and Dr. Pepper no longer made my hands tremble, and I stopped drooling over the Jetsons-esque dishwasher in my parents' kitchen. After a couple of days, it started to feel like I'd only been in Singapore for a few weeks, instead of 8 months.

I didn't like this feeling. Not one bit.

Perhaps it was because it took me a long time to achieve a sense of place and belonging in Singapore—to find familiar "me" spots, friends, new comfort foods, and an understanding of the community around me—a time during which I actually felt the weight and drain of every passing week, day, hour, minute. There were times when Brad would say something like, "Can you believe we've already been here 3 months?" and I would burst into tears, certain it was closer to three years. But when I was back in the States, my life in Singapore suddenly felt like a distant and barely experienced dream. Everything I worked so hard to attain was gone in an instant. The "battles" I faced and pulled myself through were nothing more than foggy memories. And like I said, I didn't like it.

Our three weeks in Ohio passed in something of a blur. There was food. Lots of food. There were several trips to my personal Mecca (also known as Target). There were two failed trips to see Santa Claus... Dagny was seriously freaked out, mostly by his beard. Have I mentioned Asians don't have facial hair? I never really thought about that fact or noticed much until I witnessed Dagny's reaction to mustaches and beards over Thanksgiving.

When it came time to leave the States and head back home, I had mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was ready to get back to Singapore. Believe it or not, some of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome have become some of my favorite aspects to living here. Like me not having a car. It actually bugged me that we had to drive everywhere in the States. I missed walking. I missed public transportation, eating outdoors, and interacting with people from all over the world. Whether waiting for the elevator in our apartment building, riding the train, or perusing the wet market, everyone in Singapore is always chatting, always smiling, always waving to Dagny or simply nodding hello to me as we pass one another on the footbridge. But back in the States, I felt a little hollow when it came to interacting with other people. Or rather, the lack of interaction with other people. The space between neighborhood houses seemed standoffish to me at times. At the grocery store, everyone arrived in their own car, with their heads bent over their own agendas, and no one stopped to speak with one another unless it was with someone they already knew. Granted, it was the holidays (we're all in a hurry, right?) and it was winter... in Ohio... which meant cold rain was falling about 80 percent of the time. Not exactly prime conditions to chat someone up in the parking lot.

I definitely missed the "people" quotient to life in Singapore. Though I'll admit, when the tenants above me are renovating their apartment and the ones below me use curry and garlic in EVERY meal they make, the idea of a house surrounded by a yard and a thicket of trees is certainly appealing.

Okay, now for the flip side to the excitement of going back to Singapore... I really didn't want to leave my family. My sisters each have two kids and are both pregnant with their third, and my sister-in-law has a boy who is just 8 months younger than Dagny. To see how much the kids grew while we were away was astounding. To hear them talk and play and laugh was magical. And to leave them felt truly, utterly selfish on my part. Not to mention our parents... I'm not sure I can accurately describe how wonderful it was to be with them again. The burdens I had to shoulder in raising a toddler this past year while trying to adjust to life in a different culture simply flew away when I was with them. Everything felt relaxed. I had no idea how magnificent it would feel to have someone cook for me and occasionally watch Dags while I enjoyed a cup of coffee and a book.

Dagny with four of her five cousins. I love the matching Christmas pj's tradition my sister started!

It was so much fun and also a little hard to see Roxy again! She tried to hug Brad and me the same way a person would when she saw us. It broke my heart all over again to leave her, though I know she's having a wonderful time living with Grandma and Grandpa.

Dagny and Grandma reading bedtime books. Dags doesn't wear footie pajamas in Singapore, so I took full advantage of the cuteness while in the States!

Christmas in Singapore was beautiful, though it felt a little odd to be experiencing it in a sundress. The lights and decorations were breathtaking, and one night we took Dagny to the Tanglin Mall "Blizzard." Every night at 7:30, the square outside the mall is filled with screaming and laughing kids (and adults) being covered in what looks like very pillowy snow, but is in fact soap bubbles. Dagny wasn't quite sure what to make of it all, but she loved looking at the Christmas trees and reindeer that lined the surrounding streets.

Dagny getting pumped up for the blizzard.

Giving daddy a big smooch under the mistletoe.

A blizzard on the equator... this is a first!

It may look like snow, but it definitely doesn't taste like snow.

This girl came prepared, goggles and a swimsuit!

Dagny's not thrilled with her "snow" hat.

Lights along Orchard Road.

On Christmas day, we had a wonderful potluck dinner with other expat friends in our apartment complex. And get this: we ate outdoors! I'm not sure I've ever had Christmas dinner outside before. Everyone brought traditional food that they grew up with, which gave the whole layout a new sense of both adventure and pride. I was so excited for people to eat the corn pudding and carrot soufflé that Brad and I grew up with. (Both were big hits) And I added in a little of our Southern living with a pumpkin pecan cheesecake. It was also delicious, but let me tell you, it is not easy finding pecans in Singapore!

As expected, Christmas day was both fun and depressing. It was difficult being so far away from our families, in an apartment without a stocking-lined chimney or abundantly lit tree. Our tree this year only stood a foot tall, and didn't have any lights or homemade (and WAY overly glittered) ornaments dating back to preschool. Still, I am incredibly grateful to our new friends and their children for making Christmas feel a little more like Christmas than it would have if it had just been Brad, Dagny and me.

A Christmas Eve stroll on the beach.

Dagny opening her Christmas presents. Of course, she was WAY more excited with the box than anything in it.

We hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, and wish you all the best in the new year!