I recently read two beautiful essays whose writers have connections to Singapore.
“Why can’t you sew?” I shouted. “Why can’t you be like the other mothers?”
Standing there in the middle of the noisy fair, I finally discovered that my mother was quite the homemaker — only she learned to make the wrong kind of home. She grew up in Chennai, then known as Madras, and she went to an Anglo-Indian school. She was just 7 when India became independent, and her school was still a holdover from British times. Many of the teachers were British, and each Indian girl in her class took domestic science. From British ladies, they learned to “manage a home,” in the British way.
They learned to do things that their counterparts in England were taught, despite the absurdities. My mother could make a Madeira cake, though at home she had no oven. She knew how to whip eggs for a blancmange and how to make calf’s-foot jelly in case she needed to feed an invalid. Like most Indians, my mother never touched beef at home. They were taught to make a bed with a top sheet and crisp hospital corners. At home, she slept on a reed mat. She learned how to do a complete spring and summer cleaning, how to air a room and how to make a mustard poultice.
My mother had been holding my pink ribbon, and she handed it back to me. “It’s good you know how to sew,” she said. “Your outfit is beautiful. It’s good to have skills. You never know when you’ll need them.”
Nina teaches at the University of Wyoming. Her story collection, Cowboys and East Indians, was published this month. She was born in Singapore. “I lived in Singapore as a baby,” she told me over Twitter. “I haven’t been back in awhile. In a weird twist of fate, my Irish father was born there. And my grandfather was taken prisoner during the war. He died—but his name is on the Kranji War Memorial. I’d like to go to Singapore and stay for a bit sometime soon. It’s such an enigma to me as a place.”
I’m constantly aware of lost opportunities. I used to think such lost opportunities were beautiful towns flashing by my train windows, but now I imagine they are lanterns from the past, casting light on what’s ahead.
My life is constrained in hundreds of ways and will be for years as my son grows up and my wife and I grow older. I don’t know when I will return to Paris, if ever. I don’t know when or if I will finish my book.
I do know I love eating breakfast with my son. My wife wants us to open only one box of cereal at a time to keep the flakes from going stale, but my son and I get up first, so we eat what we want. We like to change. He gives me a thumbs-up whenever I open a new box.
In our family, we talk about our days and recount our “best part” and “worst part” at dinnertime. Last week, I was reading a bedtime story with my son and was distracted by the laptop and work waiting on my desk, but I turned to him and said, “We forgot ‘best part, worst part.’ What was the best part of your day?”
He pushed his chin into my shoulder and said: “This is, Daddy. This is.”
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To you and yours: Happy 2014! I wish you immense happiness and boundless creativity this year!