An Unexpected Encounter

On Friday, I returned from an essential grocery run to find the Singapore police waiting for me at my apartment.

Now a global pandemic is certainly a context in which you quickly absorb the differences in regards to governance between your native land and your new temporary home. I’ve been cataloging these since January, making sure I’m always acting with regards to both the letter and the spirit of the law.

Not every edict has garnered my enthusiasm, but I have been continually impressed by how clarity, follow through, and a lack of political posturing coalesce into an environment in which you can count on people to do their part to consider the greater good.

As an expatriate, it’s been important to me to remember that I’m a guest here, welcomed only because of the nature of my husband’s work. Living here, I’ve never second guessed the safety of any member of my family for even a moment and I’ve felt lucky to behold the beauty of this garden city on a daily basis.

I also tend to play by the rules in general. You could say I’m boring. I go to bed toddler early and consider dark chocolate my “drug” of choice. When the police asked for me by name, my brain did a stutter-step, unable to compute what had possibly brought them to me.

I’d been dutifully wearing my mask when leaving the apartment, taking it off as permitted only on my weekly hikes. We only leave the house to go on a daily family walk and occasionally I’ll pop into the supermarket for essential items while Seb does laps with the stroller outside. Our life has been almost aggravatingly small for the past seven weeks, with a wave exchanged from our balcony with a neighbor as a social highlight. All this, we do because it’s required but also because it’s working. Community transmission in Singapore has been reduced to a trickle. The ICU beds are emptying due to recoveries. Only 23 deaths have resulted from COVID-19 since January, and you feel the government regarding each fatality with the appropriate heaviness, knowing these individuals are indispensable to the loved ones left mourning them.

Unfortunately, even in a country known for high compliance, there are those who aim to circumvent the measures. Last weekend, a photo was widely circulated on social media of a group of expatriates congregating flagrantly in a group, to-go drinks in hands as they sat outside restaurants offering food for takeaway. The were socializing in Robertson Quay, a neighbored adjacent to ours. Located along the Singapore River, it’s wide pathways welcome walkers and bikers and families with little kids who can safely toddle where no cars can drive. We walk along the river a few times a week, usually during early afternoon. I had never seen people behaving the way the photo depicted, but the group in question was photographed at 6:30pm, when I’m usually cuddling a tiny human.

The police wanted to know if I had been by the river that day. (I had not.)

They asked if I had seen the photo on social media. (I had.)

The widely circulated photograph.

They showed me an alternate picture from a different angle, clearly showing a few of the participants. They asked if we knew any of them. (We didn’t. Our social circle is pretty limited to neighbors and parents of Penny’s school friends, many of whom live in different neighborhoods closer to her school.)

One of the women pictured was white with dirty blonde hair. This made her look like me but at same time she clearly wasn’t me. The police officers said they were conducting general inquiries and I made an assumption that they must just be visiting all units in our building.

They were professional. They assessed that we understood the severity of this infraction, and we affirmed that it was a flagrant breach of social distancing protocols. Also, we recognized that failure to address this infraction creates a space in which people can argue that the expatriate crowd can skirt rules in a way that citizens can’t. I have not actually found this double standard to exist, but the government is very sensitive to anything that plays into this narrative.

Afterwards, I discovered that their general inquiries were actually fairly targeted. They didn’t check in with any of our neighbors. So why me? Our best guess is that they utilized some facial recognition software and my government issued identification was a close enough match for the woman pictured but not yet identified.

I joked with my neighbor that I may need her to confirm that she sees me close the blinds each night around six when I start getting Harper ready for bed, but deep down I felt angry and unsettled. Angry that someone who looks like me, likely a guest in this country, despite the crystal clear regulations, would feel entitled to sit close to other people without even wearing a mask, and that her selfish actions somehow extend to me because we share a somewhat similar genetic profile. The fear came from having a new degree of empathy for anyone who had ever been questioned by the police. When they asked simple questions, my mind went blank, unable to remember in the moment what I actually had been doing earlier on that Saturday. I was then terrified that my hesitance might make me seem suspicious or untrustworthy.

Singapore is not a place where you’d want to find yourself in a gray area with the law. Foreigners who flouted stay home notices were just told to go home and never come back. Caning and execution are viable punishment options here for the more egregious crimes. It makes sense that I had a panic response to seeing officers in my home, hearing them ask for me by name.

And yet, I’m grateful for their civility. They did nothing to exacerbate my fear. Our conversation was maybe five minutes long. Truthfully, I wasn’t much help. I later heard from a friend that she knew someone in the periphery of the photo, who had just been walking by, and after the police identified her, they questioned her for three hours. I have no doubt in the coming days that an update will hit the news ticker, revealing that the individuals were found and their actions have been formally addressed. There is an efficiency to police work here, aided by high civilian cooperation and a general public belief that rule breakers deserve what’s coming to them. These are tenets that I can get behind in theory, but that are often far murkier in practice back in the US.

Many things on our Singapore bucket list have gone unchecked in this strange new world we all find ourselves inhabiting. But now I can say that I’ve managed to experience something I’d have unequivocally put on my “avoid at all costs” list. And if anyone is looking for me, I’ll continue to be where I’ve always been, safe at home with my kids, falling asleep roughly after the sun sets so I’ve got the energy and patience to muddle through another day of trying to cultivate some semblance of normalcy and predictability in a world that has me perpetually guessing just what will happen next.

My typical 7pm view

Life in the time of COVID-19

I have felt safe here all along. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt worried, just that my worries have not been about myself or my immediate family here in Singapore. As this virus proliferates in our home country, I have new worries, including , of course, some starring those I love.

The reality is that America is a place governed by the bizarre idea that some lives matter more than others. Those in power imply this in countless ways, but for the sake of this blog post, I’ll focus on the way that current healthcare and employment policy creates a situation that makes even the healthy and insured less safe than they’d be here in Singapore.

In America, there are people afraid to miss a day of work. Even though I worked in a job where I had a right to sick days, me missing work made my work fall into the laps of other people, which created a culture in which you had to ask yourself if you were sick enough to justify this redistribution of labor.

Of course, there are people for whom sick days come at a financial cost of lost wages that they can’t afford. There are people for whom taking sick days make them feel like they’re putting a target on their back for the next round of layoffs. All in, there are countless people who are motivated to show up to work even if they feel under the weather.

Sick people pretending they aren’t all that sick so they can go about their business are a way to exponentially increase the magnitude of a pandemic.

Then there’s healthcare costs and uneven coverage which mean that there are people who need medical attention who will be reluctant to seek it. This will guarantee more fatalities as avoiding treatment increases the likelihood of complications developing. It also promises that more people will be exposed to the virus during the time in which those infected delay treatment because they are fearful of the financial repercussions of asking for help.

Of course, I’ve already seen news of American universities hard at work identifying drug therapies. Science may yet allow America to become the hero the world needs. Some drug company will see its stock catapult when it releases it has a vaccine or a treatment. But this won’t erase the fact that people will have lost their lives needlessly. That our country could have afforded to care for anyone with symptoms regardless of their employment or citizenship status and that refusing to do so has made every American less safe. Rhetoric in America currently makes those who are elderly or immunocompromised feel like they are are somehow dispensable, that a novel virus that may only kill them isn’t necessarily one that the rest of the population should give a damn about.

So yes, we feel safe here. We know that anyone who gets sick, whether they are a Singaporean or a federal domestic worker or an expatriate, will be given high quality medical attention immediately. We know that those who have been in contact with the infected will be given orders to sequester themselves that they must follow. We feel like we can fundamentally trust the government and that their response is tactical and scientifically sound, but also ethical and consistent. We feel like we can expect those around us to make decisions that prioritize the good of all over the good of themselves and if they don’t, they’ll be penalized for their exceptionalism.

But this isn’t our home. And it’s weird feeling like we might be better off overseas than we would be in our home country, even though as a young family with health insurance, we’d fare well enough in either place. It’s forced me to confront a new kind of privilege that I wish I could drape all those back home in, the privilege to feel protected not just because you are a useful cog in a complex economic machine, but because you’re a person, and that’s all we should ever have to be to deserve dignity. That time to rest when we are ill and medical services that could extend our lives aren’t things you need to earn, but things every last one of us deserves.

On First Birthdays

When Penelope turned one, we had a big party the following weekend. Friends and family flooded in, perhaps sensing how much we needed the fanfare after a bittersweet first year. I had purchased a special outfit for the party and a special outfit for her to wear at daycare on her official birthday. I cried as I drove to work that day, my heart aching because I was unable spend the day with, yet my mind knowing fully that she wasn’t actually suffering, the significance of birthdays utterly lost on kids that young.

Her party was themed to match the cold weather, but the house was full of warmth. I put on a pair of jeans for the first time since her birth. We purchased a single present – a mini Dyson kids toy vacuum, a tongue in cheek nod to the fact that the sound of the vacuum was the only thing that got her to stop screaming in her first six months.

I remember feeling like I had accomplished something simply by enduring that first year, surviving the colic and somewhat figuring out how to return to work despite the fact that I was an exclusively breastfeeding mother to a baby who didn’t take a bottle. I was drowning in guilt that she was starving every day. I hadn’t slept more than three consecutive hours since she was born. I had been pumping at two hour intervals each work day and then nursing her all night long, bed-sharing the only way forward, the pumped milk filling my freezer until I got around to donating it.

Hard babies are hard. Penny had been a tough baby – the six months of screaming giving way to the rocky return to work transition and her first birthday meant that she was no longer technically a baby. The day felt like permission to move forward and embrace the fun stages ahead, leaving behind much of the angst and some of the grief that had haunted me all year.

When Harper turned one, we celebrated with family, lucky to have two special guests from the states to make things feel more festive. We ordered some balloons and I picked up a cake, but much like her sister she had no interest in eating it, vastly preferring to yank down my shirt collar than try any sweet treats offered. She had an adorable birthday dress thanks only to my mother-in-law. I spent most of the day with her, but felt no guilt at leaving her with our helper, one of her favorite people, so I could run to the gym and attend a field trip with Penny. In this first year, I’ve never had to leave Harper long enough for it to matter that she too has zero interest in bottles. The only time I’ve pumped milk has been for my own comfort.

Harper was a shockingly independent newborn, happy to lay on her back and flail her limbs as long as she could sense my proximity. Her cries have always been easy enough to address. Yes, she can reach a pitch that makes passerby’s look over with alarm, but within a few minutes, she’s ready to move on. We had seven really hard weeks when I was alone in the states and we had to revise her tongue so that she could feed properly, in which I instantly regressed to my most fearful, stressed out self, but the rest of her first year has been marked by smiles and joy. She’s shown me that people who love babies aren’t totally crazy, they’ve just probably had easier babies. She’s healed parts of me that I didn’t even know were broken.

Harper got a ton of presents, mostly because Penny insisted on picking out a half dozen, wise enough to realize that if she “gifts” it to Harper, than at least for now, it means she can play with it too. Harper is still endlessly patient with and adoring of her big sister, all too happy to have any toy snatched from her hand if it means Penny is close by. Penny has been one of the constants in this first year of much change, in which the first half was spent in Glen Rock, NJ and the second half was spent adjusting to life in Singapore.

As I write this, I think of them grown up, inquiring about the vastly different circumstances of their first years. How time will likely distill them into bullet points, how I will have to work hard to not give the circumstances that were outside of their control any metaphorical resonance. With Penny, she got 100% of me for most of her first year, thanks to a slightly extended leave and summer vacation and my push for Wednesdays off to be with her. She did have to share me with my career and adjust to a variety of other caregivers at daycare. It took a while for us to find our footing and actually have fun together, but even in the hardest moments, I felt so much love and gratitude for the little lady who gave me the chance to grow into a mom. She didn’t ask to be born to a grief struck mother who expected babies to coo and poop and not shriek and flail. I have never worked harder at anything than I did at trying to rise to the occasion and be the parent she deserved.

Harper has always had to share me with her sister. She’s had to learn to feed and fall asleep while stories are read, to not get distracted by big sis deciding to jump on the bed. The times when she has 100% of my attention are far more rare, but they feel like gifts we get to open together. She’s never been in a formal daycare and expects either her mom or our helper to always be there. Her social interaction is informal, happens at the condo playground, where the other babies gather in the early morning hour and learn each other’s names as some of their first words. The mother she was given was a little older and so much wiser, but she also continued to flounder with things that were new. But any illusions of perfection in parenthood are long gone by this point so I’ve adopted a lighter touch with myself and with the world around me, always trying to learn more but always knowing that it all boils down to love and forgiveness, to fighting to be your best self for the ones who depend on you, to finding calm in the chaos and knowing your example will outlast any lecture you could ever concoct.

This time, as my last first birthday rolled around, it felt more like an ending than a beginning. My days with babies are more than likely behind me, and I’m so grateful to have had them all.

Our Second Overseas Family Trip: Phuket, Thailand

When we booked our flight to Phuket for early evening on Christmas Day, I don’t think I anticipated exactly how long that day would feel. Though the flight time was less than two hours, we took off at Harper’s bedtime, after a day that started early and included quite a lot of action for small kiddos. Especially because it seemed as if a switch had been trigger for Harper and she was suddenly walking independently and impressively fluidly. She tested this new trick out all over the airport, which made standing in lines a little tiresome and had me scared about the flight. Thankfully learning how to walk takes a lot of energy and she crashed with takeoff.

Overall, from stockings, to presents, to a festive lunch out, packing and schlepping to the airport, and flying to Thailand – it was a long day that led to the two kids arriving at the resort looking like this:

The staff was gracious upon our arrival, offering me a lovely glass of tropical juice and launching into a long winded spiel about every possible thing you could ever want to know, which is exactly what you want to listen to when you have two exhausted children whose nighttime sleep is being interrupted by the check-in process. I know some people have these kids who will like stay asleep as they are carried from the couch to the bedroom, or even as the car seat leaves the car and heads somewhere attached to the stroller. But those are not my kids.

My kids are also usually a part of the wake up before the sun’s up crew, but on our first morning they did both sleep until 7am, which was actually 8am in Singapore, so we chalked that up to an epic win and began to explore our surroundings. I have never been to a place that was more thoroughly landscaped to resemble something out of a fairy tale. The gardens all had this vibrancy and charm that felt like walking through a storybook. And my favorite local flower was everywhere.

We spent our first day exploring the resort. It had a beautiful pool that had at one point apparently been the largest freshwater pool in South East Asia. It sprawled all over the property, with no shortage of shallow spots for Harper to practice her walking. A newly mobile baby in a pool is great fun actually because the weightlessness allows them to move quicker and more fluidly, so she was feeling pretty darn impressive toddling through the water. The resort’s buffet did not disappoint. In addition to the croissant which Penny fell in love with on our last vacation, they also had mini sugar donuts somewhere reminiscent of American munchkins, which delighted my child to no end.

The resort beach was fun for sandcastle building and fascinating from an ecological perspective. It was an intertidal zone that revealed all these interesting rock formations when the tide went out, each one full of sea life forms. But this geological phenomenon made a dip in the ocean a little logistically complicated for little ones and so for our second day, we decided to venture off-resort to the famous Patong Beach. Here the water was brilliantly blue and you could wade right in, but the vibe here was reminiscent of my college break trip to Acapulco. Clearly tourism is a huge industry in Phuket and between stands renting everything from unicorn floatation devices to jet skis and the large crowds hailing from all over the globe, this beach was teeming with activity at 10am on a Friday morning.

We spent the rest of the day back at the resort, where Penny was delighted to interact with the resort pets. The sweet bunny I placed on her lap happily ate the greens and then bounded off and we needed some help to lure him back to his friends.

We capped off our trip by having dinner at the beachside restaurant on site. It didn’t have French fries on the menu, so we were able to order them from the beachside bar and bring them over. The meal included lots of walking around holding Harper’s hand between courses and Penny completed an entire sticker book, but we got to eat delicious Thai food and watch a beautiful sunset. For me, this was the highlight of the trip.

Watch me go guys!

Our flight back was mid-morning the next day, so we only had time for breakfast and “saying goodbye to the ocean”. The trip was quick, but I honestly think that’s what made it so sweet. It was the perfect length to feel like we soaked up what was easily available, and I felt ready to go home but not overly so. There are no doubt lots of excursions we could have done, but most of the those things are for adults adventuring on their own or families with bigger kids, honestly. My kids right now are happy with time with their parents and a bucket, and I’m more than aware that won’t always be the case.

The only notable thing about our trip home was how crowded the airport was when it was time to board your plane. Passengers were bused from the terminal to their aircraft, and the same departure gate was used for flights as close as 15 minutes apart. It definitely made me want to have one hand on each child at all times.

Overall, this trip felt like a vacation, which is a feat in itself with two children. I definitely left wanting to see (and eat my way through) more of Thailand, but maybe a sleepier side of it next time.

Thavorn Resort Highlights:

  • Great food. A seafood ceviche I had was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while.
  • Landscaping. I was struck by the natural beauty everywhere I looked.
  • Animals! This was unexpected and so fun for the kids.
  • Pool – It was sprawling with easy toddler access.
  • Phuket as a whole felt really eco-conscious. No plastic straws or bags, smart housekeeping suggestions to limit waste.

Drawbacks:

  • The beach wasn’t really functional for family use.
  • Phuket in general has a strong party vibe. Our last night at the resort there was a wedding in progress, which was beautifully to witness, and a rowdy bachelorette party which was less so the kind of thing I want my kids to see.
  • Hotel gym had some of the most ancient exercise machinery I’d ever seen.

Out of sight, but not out of mind

When we discussed this opportunity to spend two years living in Singapore, when we consulted our good old fashioned pro/con lists, when I said yes, trying to choose the “bigger life” and go beyond my comfort zone, I couldn’t do it without contemplating the things that I’d miss.

Because going somewhere new inevitably means you’re leaving somewhere old, and for me that meant leaving nearly everyone I knew and loved. On the spectrum of loving, I trend towards the effusive end and there are no shortage of people who I can picture in my mind’s eye and feel my heart wince.

I made myself mentally list the obvious things I’d hate to miss – from the traditions and occasions that let me connect with those I love, like the annual Girls Running Club race and how last year’s combination of new and old students, family, and friends made the day a pinnacle of perfection, I thought of the Class of 2020 graduating from high school and me not being able to scream their names, names that I’ve been holding near in my heart for eight plus years of coaching and teaching and loving. I thought of the time we’d miss at the family beach house, the lost chance for Harper to grow up alongside my youngest niece in their largely communal first year.

I knew there’d also be occasions I could never predict, and as predicted, this has begun to be true. This past weekend it felt like my heart was attempting to fly away from my body as one of the dearest people to me celebrated a life milestone without me by their side. And there are the more ordinary occasions that mark the forward progress of life – the unfolding pregnancies of people who supported me through mine, the hugs I desperately want to give upon hearing of an engagement, a college acceptance, or a professional win.

Social media lets me channel some of this energy into comments and likes and story replies. If I’m literally the only one who regularly responds to what you post, I hope you’re not sick of me yet. As much as I fundamentally don’t understand the trend towards watching and consuming without interacting, it’s probably intensified by the fact that right now I can’t have the other daily touch points that nurture relationships. I’m just utilizing the heck out of the one I have.

I more or less can put my phone away every day from 11am till bedtime, as the world back home is largely sleeping. The occasional former student pulling an all-nighter at college or a logistical text on the WhatsApp groups that run things on this side of the world notwithstanding, the internet goes kind of quiet and it lets me be extra present in the momentary and ordinary of each day.

But as I explore this extraordinary place, I do wish daily that I could share it with the people I miss, which is why I’m especially excited for our second set of visitors to arrive, my mom and my aunt, later this week. It will be a mix of embracing being a tourist in our temporary home and just enjoying the ambiance of a fuller house for the next two weeks.

And as future visitors are beginning to book plane tickets, whenever I feel homesick, there doesn’t seem to be a better way to mark the passing of these two years than by looking forward to the next set of familiar faces who will make the long trip to Changi airport. So if you’re considering a trip, we’d love to see you. And even if that’s not in the cards, do know that while I may only be seeing you through the highlight reel of social media, I am keeping the real you – complex, multifaceted, with good and bad moments each and every day, in my heart and on my mind even from far away.

Can’t have Rainbows without Rain

To begin this, I have to explain that Penny’s birthday is a bit muddled for me. My father died less than 24 hours before she was born, and every time I think I’ve fully reckoned with this happenstance, I’m surprised by how these two events continue to permeate my consciousness as mid-December rolls around each year.

My dad was young and healthy, until he was not, and his death came much too suddenly.

My daughter was a double rainbow baby, arriving after years of fear that my intent to start a family would not be fulfilled without an alternate, not yet fleshed out plan. She arrived two days late according to doctor’s estimates, but I had been anxiously waiting for so much longer.

Each year, I try to give myself time and space to be sad as the anniversary of my father’s death rolls around. Its proximity to Christmas makes things a bit heavier, as he loved the holiday and his revelry can never be fully replaced. The whole month could easily be a bit somber, if not for the fact that I have Penny to cherish and celebrate.

So we’ve always done a party, and this year, the most logical date seemed to be Saturday, December 14th. The day before her actual birthday. The day we lost my dad.

As a party planner, now that’s she’s older I’ve made a hard shift away from Pinterest/my design desires and towards simply listening to my kid and including her in all the planning and preparation. This part was super fun and did not disappoint. What happens when you let an almost 4 year old call the shots? You get walls that look like this. Yes, that is about six inches of crepe paper hung with some washi tape 😂

Penny’s desires this year were:

  • An art party
  • Inside our house
  • School friends & Condo friends
  • A chocolate cake with fruit on top (She’d eat the fruit, as she doesn’t even like cake)
  • Lots of balloons in ALL the colors
  • Gummies and M&Ms and Skittles

Everything sounded easy enough to accomplish. For the art activities, I reached out to the atelierista at Penny’s school and she introduced me to the goddess known as Meri Cherry. Penny’s school does awesome process-based art on the regular, so I knew I had to bring something special to engage kids that were used to art as experience rather than art aimed towards an end product. We settled on three art activities, all of which utilized recycled materials. Penny and I tested them all out before the big day.

1. Spin Art Rocks (Salad spinner + paint + rocks found around Singapore)

2. Rainsticks (Cardboard tubes + crepe paper + washi tape + dried oats)

3. Salt painting (Salt + glue + liquid watercolors)

We got helium balloons delivered in every color, and I trusted a friend to recommend a cake shop. It’s definitely not the same as a cake made by Grandma but it was delicious and checked all the boxes. Our guest list was a bit lean because of the school holidays. The last day of school was Thursday and by her Saturday fete, two thirds of the class was already on their way home for the holidays.

We expected eight classmates and a few dear condo friends, which felt plenty festive enough. But then one friend cancelled during the week. And another two the day before. Two more on the morning of the party. And one that afternoon. The reasons all made sense, the kind of urgent unavoidable detritus of life with young kids. Some bug was clearly going around the class. But by the fifth cancellation, something inside me severed.

All the emotions I had been trying not to feel about missing my dad and the cyclical dawning of the realization that we had uprooted Penny from all her family and friends and some repressed memories of feeling utterly lonely on my birthday shortly after the one time my family moved growing up brewed into this deep sadness marred with mom guilt. Thank goodness for the sanctuary of the shower. I texted all my biggest fears to a dear friend. I’m afraid nobody is going to show up and it will be like one of those clickbait sad posts on social media. Why did I take my kid away from everything and everyone she knew and loved?

Then I hopped in. I let myself bawl, watching the grief and fear and rawness circle down the drain. By the time I toweled off, I was seeing things more clearly.

As parents, we are often in danger of projecting our emotions onto our kids. Yes, I was sad – about my dad, about celebrating without those who had always been there every other year, about the guests I promised my daughter that I could no longer deliver. But, Penny’s four. Everything she needed to have a memorable day continued to be in play. She had zero use for my sadness – in fact it would be tough for her to understand it. My day might be hard, but her day wasn’t ruined at all.

The guests that did attend our party, which thankfully included two last minute yeses, got my effusive gratitude. When I expressed how much it meant that they were there with us during a hectic time of year, how their participation was what let me silence the voices that spoke up with each cancellation, insisting that we were crazy to move across the world and expect to instantly recreate a sense of community, they all got it. They’d done the same thing to their family at some point in time. We were all in this madness together.

Overall, it was a reminder that quality trumps quantity. The pint size of the party made the art projects easy to manage. It meant every kid got a few stabs at the pull apart piñata. It allowed me to talk with all adult guests. It encouraged the kids to stick around post cake, to spill into the rooms with toys and to just play with one another. Our home felt truly full for the first time since we relocated and my heart pulsed through its shattered places. While the people here in Singapore weren’t there in December of 2015 when my heart broke and then burst in the span of twenty four hours, they were still able to help me honor my amazing daughter and simply get through this tough day all the same.

An American Halloween in Singapore

As soon as I phased out of the trick-or-treating age range, I seldom if ever bothered to dress up for Halloween. But having a kid gave me an entirely new lens for the holiday, and Penny had three Halloweens in the states, a day more magical with each passing year. Halloween 2018 is still emblazoned in my memory because she asked me to recount that day aloud to her at bedtime for months. I knew that if I didn’t find a way to celebrate over here on the other side of the world, I’d be disappointing my bigger little one.

Now in Singapore, Halloween was super proximate this year to Deepavali, or Diwali, which is a recognized as a public holiday. Falling on Sunday, October 27th, businesses and schools were closed the following day. Then, Penny got to learn a lot about the Hindu Festival of Lights when she returned to school Tuesday. She sculpted a diya and made Rangoli from lose parts. I loved watching her horizons broaden and her respect for other cultures deepen. But I also missed the adorable Halloween parade that her preschool had every year. I mean who doesn’t love a string of small children in costume holding on to a rope so they don’t toddle off and get lost? There were definitely pieces of the American Halloween experience that we both wished we could recreate overseas.

While children’s costumes are available in Singapore, the range is limited to the same stock characters. Spider-Man and Elsa are easy to find, but Penny had her heart set on Little Red Riding Hood. In one sense, this was a great choice to bridge any cultural divide – versions of this traditional story exist all over the globe. But it was hard to find from a vendor here, and I’m without even a hot glue gun. Thankfully, Penny made up her mind early enough that I could secure the costume in the states, ship it to my mom, and ask her to forward it along. We haven’t had a ton of luck with the mail here, so I was relieved when this package made it to us intact.

Trick-or-Treating was also a puzzle to solve because we live in a condo where the elevator is a direct line into our home. There are literally no doors on which to knock. I had heard rumors of condos organizing festivities despite this roadblock, but nothing materialized in the condo mom WhatsApp group, so I had to do a lot of internet sleuthing to find what we were looking for. There’s a neighborhood in Singapore that goes all out for Halloween, but I was warned it would be overwhelming for a three-year old. Woodlands essentially throws a giant candy-fueled block party that would delight any elementary age child, and part of me wanted to see it, but it seemed logistically fraught with much potential to backfire.

The first Halloween-themed event I found was underwritten by a media company that publishes a magazine that is basically an extended advertisement of kids activities in Singapore. It was throwing an afternoon Halloween scavenger hunt at a small shopping center that seemed targeted at the preschool crowd. I signed us up right away and Penny and I gave it a shot. The treats were sparse and the lines were long and it definitely wasn’t an experience I’d repeat.

I later stumbled across an enthusiastic American expat’s facebook event – she had rallied her neighborhood and extended an open invitation to anyone craving a traditional Trick-or-Treat trail. It looked perfect, except it was the Saturday before Halloween. This is definitely a young child-friendly accommodation, but it didn’t settle the issue of how to commemorate the actual day. I decided we’d try it and just take Penny. On the Saturday, they emailed out a map of which houses were participating and suggested a couple routes you could take. We picked one with about fifteen houses on it, which was a perfect length. Penny was super excited to wear her costume and nearly everyone we passed pegged her on the spot. It was just crowded enough that we got the fun of seeing other kids in costume without the stress of feeling like your vertically challenged child will be trampled. I made sure to gratuitously thank the volunteers for a wonderfully orchestrated event and I can easily imagine going next year with both kids.

This left the actual day of Halloween to troubleshoot. My sole stroke of genius was to volunteer to visit Penny’s class this day and read a story. If you know me, you know I’d be happy to do this kind of volunteering on a daily basis, but I had held off on pushing the issue, waiting for Penny to request I visit for story time. She was very exited about sharing one of her favorite Halloween reads – Pig and Pug Trick-or-Treat with their classmates so this worked out perfectly. Her school has a pretty clear policy on not bringing sweets to distribute, so I decorated some mini-oranges in homage to jack-o-lanterns and called it a day. The whole experience lasted less than ten minutes, but at least our American “holiday” got some airtime with an adorable crew of kids who were all too eager to tell me what they were dressing up as. Despite their multi-national heritage, costumes and candy seem to be something most kids want experience first hand.

That afternoon, Penny decorated the pumpkin we had stumbled across at Cold Storage, painting it “rainbow”, which essentially became brownish gray when all the colors blended together. She then directed me to carve a turtle on it, and everyone knows turtles and Halloween are an age old dynamic duo. Oh well, when it comes to things like this, I’ve made the parental decision to give her as much executive control over the things that really in their essence are supposed to be about the child. As much as I’d love to carve an intricate thematically on point pumpkin myself, at $30, we could only afford one.

At this point, I wanted to get Harper in on the festivities in some capacity, so I dressed her in Penny’s first costume and toted both girls to a nearby neighborhood that someone’s Facebook comment suggested was hosting trick-or-treaters that evening. Hardly a fool-proof way to get a recommendation, I had been told festivities began at 5:30, but this gorgeous street is undoubtedly home to many dual-income families and at 5:30, there were only a handful of houses open for business. By 6, we began to see more doors opening, but Harper was nearing bedtime. Seb had intended to meet us but he had gotten held up at work, and when the end of day hysterics started, heading home made the most sense.

In many ways, expatriating has never been easier than at this moment in history. We can fly direct to our native airport. Most companies have a global reach ensuring your favorite brands from back home and on some shelf here. iMessage allows texts to seamlessly travel over WiFi. With a VPN, you can trick your phone into thinking you’re still in NJ and get the same Netflix offerings. There’s FaceTime and social media instead of snail mail and calling cards, and I’m constantly aware of how I benefit from undertaking this journey at this point in time.

But I do I have some anxiety about how the rest of the year will unfold from here. I have zero intention of honoring Thanksgiving properly. Penny will turn four in December and I’m not sure if it makes sense to have the kind of invite the whole class party she’s used to from the states. Then there’s Christmas and Harper’s first birthday and it’s a reminder that much of what makes commemorating these occasions special is the people you share them with.

On the plus side, we have our first visitors arriving later in the week, Seb’s parents! We’ve been getting their guest room ready and can’t wait for them to arrive.