Typical Days

As soon as Penny started school, I began to get the familiar sensation of weeks just passing by. For me, routine has always made time more seamless. School beginning also meant Harper and I had pockets of time to fill for just us two, and we’ve been busy creating our own routines.

A large part of my daily routine has always been exercise. What works best for our family now is that when Penny hops on the school bus, I head to the gym. Jonah hangs out with Harper. This will never stop feeling like a gift. Child free time to exercise is a game changer for my mental and physical well-being. Crossfit is also a great way to join a community. I unfortunately can only make it to established class times over the weekend right now, but on weekdays I take advantage of the open gym space. That said, the staff there is awesome and I’m beginning to sort out all the names and faces.

I’ve also finally nailed down a meditation practice by stacking it on top of my exercise habit. I always felt like meditation and me just weren’t compatible. It’s very difficult for me to slow my thoughts down. I tried a Headspace subscription, but guided meditation just put me to sleep. That said, as early as college I noticed that after a sweat session I possessed a mental clarity that came close to a zen-like state. It’s scientifically proven that exercise is a mood booster, but I’ve only recently discovered that this post-exercise influx of neurotransmitters is the optimal time for me to sit and reflect.

My practice is adapted from the mindright framework. For roughly a minute, I circle through things I’m grateful for. With the next minute, I picture someone dear to my heart and visualize all the things I want for them. With the third minute, I try and define what success would look like for me today. And in the final minute, I just let my mind wander, seeing if there is any message the universe wants to send me. I have a song I play that’s the perfect length. I can do this eyes closed sitting on the gym floor, but I’ve also taken myself outside to a bench and watched the wind flutter the leaves. I never would have believed that four minutes could have such an indelible impact on the rest of my day, but I’ve found this practice invaluable. Occasionally I’ll share details of what I hope for with the person I’m lifting up in my mind and that aids connection in a time when I’m physically far from many I love.

When I get home, shower and feed Harper, we still get at least two hours together to move at baby speed. She loves a good stroller walk, but is also really into cruising around our house and pulling up on everything. She’s a speed crawler and expert climber and I know she’ll be walking before the holidays roll around.

Screenshot of the monthly newsletter announcing my bookish blog post (link below).

We’ve found two groups to join that keep us just busy enough and serve all our interests. The first is NMSG, a support group for those new to mothering or new to being a mom in Singapore. Dads are welcome too. I stepped up to host the play session for babies at Penny’s school once a month. They have a beautiful infant drop-in space and it lets me check in with her teachers at same time. As a board member, I attend monthly meetings with Harper in tow and I wrote a piece on libraries for their blog. They have almost daily free or discounted events you can attend and many of them are appropriate for Penny too. We’ve also made some awesome friends from the group.

Together in song. Hidden from view? The stroller with a sleeping Harper that I’m jostling back and forth with my right arm.

The second activity we discovered together is Numama, a women’s choir that welcomes babies and kids. The spin on traditional baby classes here is that the moms get to collaborate and work towards a concert, while the enrichment for the kids is limited to listening to the singing and playing together. I’m a thoroughly mediocre singer, but there’s something beautiful about the communal nature of a choir, where my ability to roughly stay on note is transformed into something worth listening to because of all the other voices. Numama has been around for ten years, which means that members ages vary broadly and it’s been a great opportunity to meet amazing women.

The final community we’ve been drawing from is that of our condo. Between the pool and the two playgrounds on the property, getting outside “downstairs” is a part of our daily routine. Our closest condo friends happen to live one floor up in the adjacent building, which means our porches face one another. Though their children are a bit older, Penny is enamored with them and loves to scream “HELLO!” as loud as she can when she spots them across the way. It reminds me of something out of a children’s book and is a delightful perk of apartment living.

Penny threw a mini-birthday party for our condo buddy, who turned eight a while back. She spent hours decorating cards and party hats and we had to introduce them to a Jones tradition – the birthday chair.

In all honestly, something that appealed to me about relocating was parsing down the quantity of things in each day. Before kids, I loved my long days that began with a five am workout and contained twelve hours at work between classroom duties and running extracurricular activities. I’d drive students home and even watched the occasional tv show before sleeping like the dead from 8-4 so I was ready to do it all again the next day.

But when Penny was born, the hours in each day felt woefully insufficient. If I went to the gym, it meant I missed a morning hour with her. If I stayed for XC practice, it meant she was logging up to twelve hours a day at daycare. I clung to my Wednesdays off, our Penny-Mommy days, as a life raft, a way to navigate with the frantic pace of Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays without drowning. All the while, I knew I was so lucky to have an employer willing to give me that flexibility and the financial security to take a commensurate pay cut. As far as working moms go, I was incredibly lucky and unspeakably overwhelmed.

I noticed my colleagues all approaching the second kid milestone with trepidation. Even as well-paid teachers, day care costs can swallow up most of take home pay. Some people had a spouse who worked evenings. Some people chose to leave the workforce. Some waited till their first child hit kindergarten before having a second. All grappled with the same tangle of tension where work and life never ever actually feel balanced.

So in many ways, coming here felt like a way to press pause in lieu of solving that particular problem. When we return in two years, Penny will get to attend a wonderful public kindergarten. Sure, we’ll have to navigate multiple drop offs and pick ups, look into before and after care, sort out the same mundane logistics as countless American families. But I won’t have to add up the astronomical cost of two kids in daycare and subtract that from my take home pay and ask myself if I love my job enough to justify being away from both my kids all day for minimal monetary gain.

Here, Penny can be a part of a great school community and have open afternoons to spend with her sister and me. Here, we can allow for serendipity. Here, nobody expects you to do even this without support in the form of another person helping you tangibly. I swear, the first time Jonah took Harper so I could sit down at our table and eat an actual meal, my eyes filled with tears. I was used to a rushed dinner of whatever was edible in the fridge while standing at the kitchen counter. Feeding myself definitely wound up on the list of things I could get away with half-assing when so many others felt too important to do so poorly. Like many teacher-parents, I found ways to take short-cuts with myself so that my children and my students still got what they deserved from me. But this wasn’t a sustainable bargain indefinitely.

Humans tend to be far too adaptable for our own good. While this protects us in hard times, it can also allow us to habituate quickly to the good shifts in life. That hasn’t happened for me here yet. Maybe it’s because in my daily mediation, I’m constantly thankful for this time with my children, I’m constantly defining success each day as finding ways to connect with them in the way I can only when I’m also taking care of myself.

Our “solution” to the two kid, two working parent problem is hardly replicable. I am aware the opportunity we have is fairly extraordinary. But if there is one thing that I can confidently say to all the families with small children making it work in the states, it’s this: if you feel overwhelmed it’s not because you are failing or falling short. Its because you don’t have sufficient support. Now I can already hear the protests – “but I chose to stay at home so we can’t afford to get help” or “my family already helps by taking the kids two days a week” or countless other particulars that seem to suffice in America as proof that you’re lucky and shouldn’t yearn for more. But the truth is that we will always be yearning if we haven’t found a way to meet our own needs, our professional obligations, and our responsibilities to our kids. And I just want to tell you that there are places in the world where that yearning is solved systemically instead of thrown back into the faces of exhausted moms and dads as their burden to bear alone.

An Interview with Penny

It’s been two months since we boarded our plane, so to commemorate the occasion I sat down with my older daughter to ask her opinions on this grand relocation experiment.

What do you like about our apartment?

We get to take an elevator. And I like when we get to go swimming in the pool.

What do you miss about our house?

My old bed. And the crib you got me for my baby dolls.

What do you like about your school here?

Riding the bus. It has an atelier where I can be creative. I have long days and short days. Sometimes my short days feel long and my long days feel really short!

What do you miss about your old school?

MacKenzie. And Aarna. And Lily.

Where do you like to go most in Singapore?

The library. I like riding the bus there because we get to read our stories. If we ride the subway and we don’t have our stroller than we get to ride escalators!

What don’t you like about Singapore?

When the haze comes and we can’t go in the pool.

Who do you want to come visit us?

Grandma. And Nanny and Da. But Grandma because she still has to get her tickets.

Get on that, Grandma. 😘

The Ugh List

Wise ones often caution that the geographical cure isn’t a best practice. A drastic change to the where doesn’t promise to shift the who all that much. That said, while I’ve personally found relocating to be a positive experience that has given me a net happiness boost, there are some things that just aren’t all that great about our new setting. Here’s a quick list of five bummers.

5. If I’m on the MRT, I’m toting a stroller. And this means I can’t make use of the escalators or stairs. While each station has elevators, I’ll often wait forever simply because seemingly able-bodied individuals insist on clogging them up. I know not all disabilities are visible but the extent of the backlog transcends my ability to give my fellow commuters the benefit of the doubt. I’ve never seen anything like it in other cities and it frustrates me every time we go anywhere.

An often ignored but clearly visible reminder.

4. The time zone. Being exactly 12 hours off from most of our loved ones is hard. There are narrow time windows in which to take advantage of the miracle of FaceTime each day, and right upon waking or right before bed aren’t usually my children’s optimal hours. It also means that all day long, I don’t have many people to chat up; especially this week with Seb functioning in EST, mid-day can feel a little lonely.

3. The constant construction. Buildings are demolished and resurrected here at a breakneck interval, and this means that a straightforward walk you took a week ago suddenly includes endless detours and earsplitting fracas that will definitely wake your sleeping baby.

A familiar Singaporean sight

2. Bugs. I don’t actually encounter that many, though every time I do spot a mosquito bite on a member of my family, I start to panic about Dengue Fever. The other problem is how they keep the bugs away. Most condos will spray the perimeter regularly. While they post when this will be happening and you can try to avoid being around, nothing clues you into when neighboring residences are about to spray. Having been caught unaware in a plume of noxious chemicals twice already, I’m certain each instance has taken a year off my life.

1. The smoking! The only place I’ve visited recently where I’ve had to hold my breath as often was New Orleans. While they attempt to relegate it to certain areas, the sheer number of people puffing away continues to shock me on every walk I take. I’d like to import those harrowing advisory stickers I once spotted in New Zealand to help combat this epidemic.

Pretty ingenious labeling if you ask me.

What didn’t make my list? The heat. I know many disagree, but I love warm weather. It’s still cooking here and we expect it to stay in the high 80s all year long. We’ll see if I’m still digging it in February.

Together on a Journey

“Learning and teaching should not stand on opposite banks and just watch the river flow by; instead, they should embark together on a journey down the water. Through an active, reciprocal exchange, teaching can strengthen learning and how to learn.”

Loris Malaguzzi

As humans, our default tends to be that we parent the way we were parented and we teach the way we were taught.

As a kid, I loved school. I excelled in school. I was frequently reprimanded for being chatty when I finished my tasks, but boy did I ever love completing the tasks themselves. My favorite thing was always stories – reading them, writing them, illustrating them, but over time I came to realize I could teach myself anything by playing on this strength. My college notebook for Neuroscience is a testimony to this – scientific concepts turned into doodles, processes rewritten as narratives. Even numbers have their own personalities like the cast of a play.

It took me a while to see that excelling as a student was actually a limitation as a teacher. Initially, I expected to be able to teach the way I was taught. If I just passionately lectured about great texts, the kids would be sure to catch my enthusiasm, right? Listening to someone who loved books rant and rave always did it for me. It didn’t take me long to see that this approach completely failed to consider the varied learners in front of me. And teaching without considering the kids in the room is the very definition of a fool’s errand.

Now my daughter reminds me a lot of me. She loves stories, has no difficulty sitting criss-cross applesauce on command. She loved her first “school” and I loved the care she received and the friends she made. But if I’m honest with myself, we chose her daycare because of our needs. One opportunity that I saw in relocating, and no longer working, was that I could throw myself fully into the school search in Singapore. School expenses are covered by Seb’s company and Singapore has every early childhood education option under the sun. Since it’s a small enough island, you’re not really limited by geography, especially if you’re open to busing and/or have one adult with a flexible schedule.

I scoured glossy magazines, did countless google searches, stalked social media accounts, and conducted four school visits only to ultimately choose the place that first spoke to my heart.

Penny helping herself to the dress up corner at orientation.

The Blue House is a Reggio-Emilia inspired early childhood education center that actually respects that children can drive their own inquiry and believes that despite their diminutive size, they deserve to be respected as full human beings.

There are countless schools here that claim to be Montessori or Reggio, but a visit to the facility makes it clear that for many, if not most, these labels are more buzzword than guiding principle.

As a educator myself, it’s pretty easy to tell when instructors value kids and love working with them. I’ve been lucky enough to see this combination in my colleagues and it’s the kind of thing that makes you fully trust other humans with your babies.

However, as I stepped farther down the road as a parent and an educator, I began to feel prickles of cognitive dissonance when a practice I encountered at work didn’t seem like something I’d choose for my own child. I’ve always felt that my students are my kids, and as such they deserve the same opportunities I’d want for my own progeny. I’m so grateful that my former school continues to evolve and become increasing progressive, that it’s not afraid to question things that have always been done a certain way if they no longer sit right with us.

This is the first year that I’m heading into a September as just a parent, and being able to fully focus on this side of the equation has given me more insight to what a school looks like when it fully embraces the individuality and worth of each child, when it truly believes that children are indeed humans worthy of respect.

Two concrete examples:

  • Every place frequented by children in Singapore has a huge bottle of hand sanitizer by the door. They also screen the temperature of every adult, child, and baby before entry, and inspect the hands for traces of HFM. This is a practice that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Infectious diseases are transmittable before any of these telltale signs. Blue House refuses to greet kids this way, citing both the faulty science behind the routine and that they do not want the first experience of the children each day to be something so clinical and dehumanizing. They go on to add that they respect that parents will know if their child is out of sorts and make the right decision about whether or not to send them to school.
  • Uniforms. Sigh. Every school I’ve taught at has had them and I understand that they are intended to alleviate the pressure for kids to be trendy or feel shame for what they may not be able to afford. That said, uniforms are often expensive. And they always mask individual expression. I often think students feel the need to differentiate themselves in more outlandish ways when you take away their right to self expression through clothing and accessories. Yet, they are ubiquitous here, and I feared they were unavoidable until I noticed that the pictures at Blue House depicted kids dressed as…kids. Yes, this means sometimes Superman comes to school every day for a week straight, but is there really harm in that? Penny has taken such pride in picking out her own clothing for the day from an early age. I had zero interest in taking that age appropriate autonomy away.

The truth about our policies in education is that they are a coin, and on the flip side, they communicate our beliefs – about kids, their potential, their families. When we take a child’s temperature upon arrival, we are telling them that our acceptance is conditional and we are telling families that we don’t trust them to know their child and/or to consider the other children in shared care. When we mandate a uniform, we are telling children that they are interchangeable, a collective more than an individual. We are saying that we aren’t interested in giving them choices and honoring personal preferences if those things make our lives more chaotic. And we are creating situations that inevitably become power struggles as children develop and start to feel rankled themselves by policies that are at their core disrespectful of their individuality and autonomy.

When my own children were abstract, a lot of this was harder for me to clarify. I never wanted to take recess time away from a kid struggling to behave, but I didn’t really understand why. Now, I know firsthand that play is important work, and it’s the very place where kids build their capacity to self regulate. Yet, schools withhold recess from the children who are struggling most to regulate themselves in the classroom on a daily basis. I wouldn’t want my child to get this kind of reactionary, illogical treatment and I will no longer be a part of meting it out to other children.

I used to spend days in the summer beautifying a classroom, only to have daily conflicts with kids who didn’t care for it like it was a sacred space. Sure, most kids recognized the love that went into the work and did their part to keep things neat, but I now see that those who left trash behind were probably communicating that this space felt more mine than theirs, and that perhaps me leaving them out of its creation was a part of the reason why.

I hope and expect to return to the classroom and so I’m eager to use this time to do the kind of critical reflection that is so hard to fit in each day when there are thirty plus living, breathing, feeling people expecting you to lead and love and keep promises to them. I’m paying close attention to precisely what it is at Blue House that made me say “THIS! I WANT THIS FOR PENNY!” so that I can seek to replicate it for all the kids I hope to teach.

Blue House has an art-based atelier that students can elect to spend time at during the school day. During orientation, Penny found her way there and created a string of beads on her own volition and the teacher promised it would be hanging from a branch outside her classroom for the first day.

Currently, Penny is enrolled from 9-12 most days with 9-3 occasionally. We’ve already talked about how doing this for term one will let her give us feedback on what she prefers. She came with us on all school visits, and while she was enchanted by every nice playground, it was only when leaving Blue House that she asked “Mommy, when can we come back here?” She woke up Saturday after our Friday orientation and spend the morning asking me why it wasn’t Monday yet.

I feel so lucky to let her voice and her needs have a seat at the table because for a long time they really didn’t. It lets me feel that we are together, with her teachers and classmates, on this journey as equals, as individuals collectively striving for a common goal: that she learns to lean into her natural curiosity, to trust her capacity to learn on her own terms and define those terms for herself – for the work of education isn’t memorizing theorems or dates, it’s learning how you learn so you can continue to immerse yourself in anything that interests you, beginning with the passions of childhood and extending beyond your retirement.

The teachers I respect most are quick to point out how much they learn from their students. The parents I look up to always help me see that when I’m feeling challenged by my children it can be traced back to a lesson I’ve yet to wholly master. Age simply means we’ve had more at-bats, but life is infinitely complex and nuanced and if we’re honest with ourselves we are all always learning alongside one another.

I’m confident that I’ve found the optimal place for Penny’s formal pre-K education to commence and even though I’m actually not in the classroom in any capacity myself, I’m still excited for all I’ll learn this school year too – about education, about my children, about the world, and about myself.

A Hopeful, Tentative Yes

It’s been one month since our plane took off, and I’ve been thinking about the true beginning of this journey.

I’m taking about almost a year ago when my husband first mentioned this possibly to a quite pregnant me and I literally scoffed at him. Not because had anything against Singapore or even knew anything about Singapore, but because I had chosen the life we had deliberately and I still felt all kinds of uncertain and scared about adding a second child to our family. I loved my job. I loved having a flexible enough work schedule. I loved our town. Especially our local bookstore and walking there with Penny. Why would I risk sure things for something so uncertain?

Can you tell I’m not a big risk taker by nature? I was actually once christened “fun wrecker” in high school. This sticks with me not because it’s a particularly deep wound but because it’s kind of true. Early bedtimes are my jam. I prefer books to moving images. I have one alcoholic drink every few years. (Yes, you read that right.) The most adventurous thing I’m comfortable doing is loving people a little recklessly.

So, how did I go from a firm no, to someone who willingly, even enthusiastically signed up for this? It happened in pieces.

First, I had a lot to learn about what this experience would look like. I needed concrete details. Talking to people who had done it really helped. Literally no one mentioned any regrets except that they eventually had to come back.

More importantly, I needed to deliver a healthy baby. I refused to commit to anything until Harper was safely here. I do not possess the boldness that just expecting everything to work out requires, and I remember tearing up at her one month appointment as I asked the pediatrician if there was any prudence in staying in the states, any avoidable risks I would be taking on by relocating a six month old. She assured me there weren’t, and I could no longer convince myself that I was saying no to honor anyone or anything except my fear.

Lastly, I had to reframe my thinking. In the period of a few years, life had delivered several successive punches that put me permanently in a state of vigilance about what could go wrong. My first rodeo as a new mother was a maelstrom of grief and anxiety. Then I read something that pushed me. It said something simply along the lines of instead of imagining what it would be like if everything went wrong, try and imagine what it would be like if everything went right.

To be fair, they are equally likely (while still unlikely) scenarios. But it allowed me to see the fullness of the spectrum in the middle. It allowed me to imagine that this world is a place where some things are still mostly good. It pushed me to see that a no uttered in fear may actually be more risky than a hopeful, tentative yes.

Now that I’m temporarily out of the workforce and living in a place with one consistent season, time has gone a little wonky. I can’t believe it’s been an entire month and then I think of all the things that have happened and I can’t believe it’s only been a month. I always believed that two years would fly by, simply because my experience of life has mostly been that the older you are, the more paltry a year seems as a unit of measurement.

Seb mentioned at bedtime yesterday that Penny asked if we could stay here for a long while. She’s wondering who she will invite to her birthday party this year, but open to my answer that she’ll make new friends when school begins next week. I do feel sadness that I can’t hop in a car and bring her to see those she already loves dearly, but I’m no longer letting myself believe that she’s traumatized by the upheaval. People are adaptable, kids especially so. If experience is the only teacher, then new experiences just have to provoke new understandings about ourselves and our world.

And maybe, just maybe, my daughters, one of whom clearly has the telltale signs of my inborn prudence, will learn from this early experience that they have hearts big enough for bold choices and wild adventures. They can feel free to wreck all the fun they want, in fact most of me would prefer that to their father’s bungee jumping and disregard for speed limits. But I do hope that if they have opportunities in the future that scare them a little, they don’t let fear take up all the seats at the decision making table, that they don’t need to read it somewhere to consider that some risks are worth taking, that sometimes things can for the most part just work out.

Feels Like Home

After about ten days, it began to get clear that this was a relocation and not a vacation. A big part of this was beginning to make our space feel lived in by us.

While our IKEA trip felt like a clusterfuck, it did result in some furniture being delivered and assembled mid-week. Penny’s room began to be a place she actually wanted to spend time.

That said, the delivered goods hinted at our exasperated states of mind at check out. We somehow received:

    One seated bench for the porch, but double the cushions, largely because we didn’t understand that when we ordered 2 of something, we’d actually wind up with what on the floor looked like one product. It was essentially two chairs that could and were combined into one bench. Over/under on how long it takes us to return the extra cushions is currently set at a full calendar year.
    Three Trofast shelves, but only enough drawers for 1.5 of them. We only intended to get one to store toys. No idea how the quantities got so screwed up. They were assembled already so we found closets to stick them in and ordered more drawers online.
    Two end tables instead of six. They apparently ran out. Apologies to our early guests as the guest rooms are more spartan than intended as a result.
    A lamp, purchased in Singapore, with a plug that does not work with Singapore outlets. Why they even sell this is still baffling to me.

When our relocation support offered to take me to legitimate furniture stores that didn’t include anything that would need assembly on arrival, I was eager for the opportunity. The items we got on this trip felt much more personal to who we were which went way further in making the house feel homey.

This piece sits behind our couch and displays the week’s current library haul. Keeping library books separate from personal books is a big sanity saver for me. It saves me from having to dash around the house, frantically recounting to sixteen endlessly. (Can you tell someone is going through a serious fairy tale phase?)

This poster with ingenious poster hanger makes me smile every time I see it. And Penny also picked out a panda clock and this amazing cloud lamp set.

I splurged on some cushions and throw pillows in the color of my soul.

The final puzzle piece was the arrival of our seventeen boxes from the states, after more than three weeks in transit. Our beloved Nugget reclaimed its place as the perfect spot to read and snuggle. Our bookshelves began to fill up. We were able to replace the plane markers which had almost entirely dried out from cap replacement negligence. My stockpiles of Tubby Todd and Beautycounter sunscreen were replenished. And Penny was finally reunited with her blocks, puzzles, games, and baby doll accessories.

Hanging things on walls seems to be more trouble than it’s worth, so we’re utilizing the universal 3M line of wall friendly adhesives and I’m still waiting for some cork boards and push pins to be delivered. Washi tape has also been a big win for sticking things to unpainted surfaces.

We even had some of our outdoor furniture delivered for our balcony. It’s been a great state change when Harper starts the day at 5am.

Now we’re just waiting to see who will be the first set of guests to make us make up the guest beds. In the meantime, Penny’s toys that she wants drool-free have taken up residence on one of the spare queens and the other is home to that extra set of IKEA cushions. We’d much rather have visitors. ❤️

The Last Days Without A Double Stroller

If there was anything our first week in Singapore had shown me it was that we needed a double stroller. Since Harper’s birth, I had been mostly wearing her and pushing Penny around in our trusty Britain B*Agile. We had gotten a kickstand for the stroller that made it kind of like a double, but this only worked for short jaunts around Glen Rock.

Singapore required a different approach. Infants don’t regulate their own temperature well and I felt like I spent my first week here perpetually dripping. I had given up on Penny being ready to walk because the closest anything gets is a 20 minute, hilly trek. While the thought of careening it on to the city bus made me shudder, I conceded that it was necessary. After the gym on first Saturday morning, I headed out determined to purchase a double stroller.

Determination wasn’t enough. I found only one overpriced option and was pretty tempted to pull the trigger just so that I could feel like I accomplished something. Then the sky high sticker price was revealed to not even include the second seat that was clearly installed on the floor sample with aforementioned sticker on it and I bolted, frustrated that I’d be walking home with Harper still attached to my body. I was given the name of a few other stores that “might” have more inventory, but the promise of next day delivery from an online retailer had me motivated enough to create a new e-commerce account.

I had caught wind of something called the Big Book Giveaway that was happening at one of the dozens of malls a stones throw away from our apartment. We had about a dozen books from our luggage, but I could feel our collective enthusiasm for them waning. It would still be days before I got my library card, and free books sounded too good to pass up.

Part of our cultural immersion training had included that Singaporeans love to queue. The length of a line alone seems to indicate that there is something happening that is worth waiting for. As an American, standing in line is usually the bane of my existence. Plus it can be logistically taxing with two small children. Yet, the promise of free books had Penny pretty compliant and Harper was settled into a deep sleep. so we joined the end of an epic line for a chance to sort through boxes of the library’s discarded picture books and take five home with us.

They did immediately give Penny a balloon, which was a brilliant diversion. I chatted with the European couple in line behind us and rocked side to side hoping that this all wouldn’t be a colossal waste of time. We probably stood in line for 45 minutes and upon gaining entry we were told that it was permissible to queue again for the chance to get another five books. No thanks. Penny had spotted an obstacle course set up in the mall and she insisted that she get the chance to test it out before we headed home.

Our afternoon included a taxi ride to IKEA where we were eager to leave Harper behind with Jonna. Penny had impressive stamina for the endlessly winding showrooms. It was identical to every IKEA experience I’ve ever had in that I left exhausted and wishing to never again return.

Sunday we got both girls in the pool and I set out for what I believed would be my last solo outing without a double stroller. Seb went to his weekly soccer meetup and I had a mostly successful time with both girls at the park, ordered some incredible Thai food for dinner, and even managed to detangle Penny’s hair without having the Singaporean equivalent of child services called on me.

I went to bed fully expecting the double stroller to be delivered that evening, but I had another lesson to learn about the different between the US and Singapore. Twenty four hour delivery here means “twenty four hours after we get the chance to process your order, which is something that does not happen on Sundays”. So, alas, I would be without a double stroller for at least two more days.

Our mission for Monday was to head to a photo printing kiosk where Penny could print out some of the pictures she had taken during her final days in Glen Rock. It was located in yet another mall that was walking distance from our home, but the walk was yet again anything but straightforward. Construction had shut down one side of the street and the only way to access the other side was by trekking up an overpass. I had a moment of gratitude that I only had a single stroller to collapse while trying not to wake the baby sleeping on me. Penny was a trooper about all the stairs.

These overpasses are all over the city and while they certainly work for a pedestrian, they are a nightmare for anyone with a stroller, and would be absolutely useless to someone in a wheelchair. Often there will only be an escalator option leading to an essential destination and I’m stuck backtracking and rerouting until a lift or inclined plane appears.

Pictures printed, we stuck to our condo for the rest of the afternoon as I researched tomorrow’s adventure. I was feeling bizarrely optimistic and intended to take both girls to our farthest destination yet – the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden. It promised much to explore, and was only 25 minutes on a single bus line. I showed Penny some pictures and she was quickly on board.

Everything started off smoothly enough. I found the right bus stop. We boarded in the right direction. Despite ongoing construction, I could see the gates when we got off and felt confident we were in the right place. Until I walked up to a signpost and didn’t see the Children’s Garden listed. What was going on? I checked the address. It matched my location. Except, I wasn’t at the Children’s Garden.

My trusty “Moovit” app had let me down. Yes, I was in the Botanic Gardens, but I was at the Tanglin Gate. The Children’s Garden was next to the Bukit Timah Gate, 2.3km away.

I had one pretty disappointed kid and one overtired one, so I just started walking. I defaulted to Apple Maps and discovered that the quickest way to get there would actually require me to leave the park and walk through the city a bit. So be it. I forged ahead, constantly checking my dot on the maps app, trying to settle Harper for her nap. It looked like I could exit the park through the “Rainforest” path, and so I headed in that direction, marveling in the dense tree cover and the tropical bird cacophony, trying to focus on anything other than Penny’s persistent questions on how much longer it would take and Harper’s intensifying screams. But then the exit wasn’t where it was supposed to be. I was lost in the rainforest with two upset kids and the whole experience felt so ludicrous my looming tears of self-pity were trumped by my need to laugh at odds of all this. Past me had never thought to imagine this present reality, and I’m certainly not short on imagination.

Harper finally drifted off. Penny found a butterfly and began to babble about that. We eventually exited the rainforest only to find that despite 20 minutes of apparently circular walking, we were still 2.1km from our destination. Oh well. I’d stick to the main park pathway from here. We passed some truly beautiful flora and fauna. I didn’t pause to take a single picture because I had one overarching goal: get us to our destination before Harper woke up.

The layout of that Botanic Gardens here feels so much to me like that of NYC’s Central Park; meandering pathways with several offshoots ensure that you’re never entirely certain where exactly you are, and certainly not on your maiden voyage. I lit up like a Christmas tree when I saw the sign to the Children’s Garden and immediately convinced myself I could totally handle the reverse walk home.

We played in a treehouse, smelled various herbs, got “lost” in a maze, climbed trees, dug in sand, and stuck Harper on a seesaw for the first time. It was all delightful and there was ample shade and I had the perfect kid-bait to get us back out the gates without tears. I had spotted an adjacent open air restaurant that had a TOY AREA.

Harper had recently gotten really attached to crawling and this looked like a safe place to let her go for it. Penny was asking hourly when our boxes from home would arrive and in their absence any toys took on a larger than life appeal. This restaurant served yogurt and French fries and mango smoothies and fruit cups and god, this was beginning to feel like a mirage. It seemed too darn good to be true.

Food for Tots is exceptionally good at being what it is – a pit stop for families on a day out. We ate. They gave me an iced beverage. They had a bookshelf so I could indulge my daughter and read to her between bites. And the play area was simple but it did not disappoint. We lingered until Harper would need her next nap.

With her sleeping soundly, I ordered a to-go ice cream scoop for Penny, and set out to walk the 2.3km back to our bus stop. Yes, I could have taken the subway from the entrance we were at, but this required a transfer and felt like pushing my luck. I hadn’t yet braved the subway with them on my own. The devil you know, and all that.

All in all, I returned home feeling like the circumstances of the whole day certainly one-upped my prior 5k personal record in terms of stamina required. I was drenched. Harper was glistening, but revived after an epic nap. Penny was even pretending to sleep in the stroller in hopes of conning me into a later bedtime. And best of all? Later that evening, the double stroller was actually going to arrive.

Our First Week

Once we made it through security and claimed our bags, it was somehow Saturday afternoon and I became worried about how we’d get from the airport to our home. Singapore has a bit of a cavalier attitude about children in moving vehicles, and it doesn’t sit right with me. We had brought Harper’s bucket seat with us on the flight, checking it at the gate with the stroller, but Penny was another story. She’s three, but small, and I was not comfortable with the idea of her riding in taxi unrestrained, legal or not.

Thankfully, we were able to secure what’s known as a Grab:Family, the Singapore equivalent of Uber with the added bonus of promising to have a car seat for your small child. The girls and I traveled in this car, and Seb followed behind with the rest of the luggage. As anyone who is a parent can imagine, the twenty-five minute drive felt like nine years because Harper had simply had it and screamed the entire time. It was the first time I got to alternate between worrying about the welfare of my inconsolable child and fretting about the ability of this poor driver to concentrate despite her wails.

Our helper, Jona, was waiting for us in the lobby of our new home and assisted with getting what baggage we had inside. Since Seb had preceded us in this dwelling, we had the luxury of coming home to actual beds and some legitimate furnishings, which sure was nice after a day long journey. We investigated the apartment and then explored the condo, the whole experience feeling slightly less surreal now that there were concrete places I could picture the next two years unfolding.

My expectations for sleep were nonexistent, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the kids were exhausted enough to go to bed at a traditional bedtime and that they stayed mostly asleep for much of that first night. Jet lag is unavoidable, however, and the inadvertent napping that happened during the next 48 hours was the biggest indicator that we were all out of sorts.

When we woke up on Sunday, we were on our own, as federal domestic workers receive all Sundays and Public Holidays off. Our to-do list for the day included getting my cell phone sorted. While I know that people used to navigate unfamiliar cities without the assistance of GPS, I certainly did not feel equipped to use a paper map while dragging both girls around by myself the next day. We had discovered back home that Verizon was positively unhelpful when it came to preserving our US numbers, but AT&T offers a seldom advertised prepaid phone plan that allowed us to purchase a small block of data to use when we are home and preserve our US numbers at the same time. This meant that for my last day in the states I experienced a strange sort of dejavu when I received a notification after each SMS text sent or received that I had spent $.10 of my prepaid balance. 2007, anyone? But this allowed me to get a Singapore number on a separate Singapore SIM card without having to use an entirely new device.

We then set out to find a playground for Penny, embarking on what I would come to learn is a staple of traveling anywhere in Singapore for the first time. We were instructed by our technology to take a route that does not factor in things like sidewalk accessibility or steepness of hills. We arrived drenched after having the collapse the stroller at least twice to carry it up and down stairs to compulsory sky high overpasses and were thrilled to find a beautiful playground that made me long to be a kid again.

I have since discovered that this playground, part of what is known as Fort Canning Park, can be arrived in through two much more direct routes – a straightforward, downhill twenty minute walk down a single street, or a seven minute bus ride. This is the benefit of being able to stay in a place – the initial hapless jaunt stings less knowing that it will be the outlier in terms of overall experience as you sort out the streets that abruptly end and the hills you have no business pushing a double stroller up.

The following day, I had promised Penny we would check out the library, but I had to warn her that we’d be leaving without any books. Securing a library card as a foreigner requires you to have your official documentation, which for me, as a non-working spouse of someone on what’s known as an Employment Pass, is something called a Dependent’s Pass. Penny and Harper get the same designation. This wouldn’t be sorted out until I had my appointment at the Ministry of Manpower in a few days.

I always feel most confident on my own two feet, so I decided we’d walk to the library and trusted Apple Maps to guide me. Big mistake. I trekked up this ungodly hill only to find that I had to reroute myself to avoid darting across what felt like a minor highway with Harper sleeping against my body and Penny in the stroller. I arrived exhausted but absolutely certain that there must be a better route I could find when it was time to head back.

The National Library was equipped with a Parenting Room that set my soul at ease. While I googled and found that it was indeed legal to publicly breastfeed, I had yet to see anyone actually do it, and having a quiet space to feed your child becomes really important when they are in the developmental stage of being distracted by an errant breeze. Once I found someone to unlock the space, the respite made me feel like we could rally and endure the trip home.

Once back, we settled in to read a few stories and all of us inadvertently fell into a sleep far too deep for mid-afternoon. When we woke, evening was settling in and Seb would be home from work soon. All things considered, it was far from a momentous first day, but there was a victory in getting through it all the same.

On Tuesday, we woke up with a mission. Seb had purchased only two towels for his solo time abroad, which was simply insufficient for a family of four. So, when it was time for Harper’s first nap, I popped her in the carrier and we trekked on foot to Robinson’s department store. Though we can see its illuminated sign from our bedroom at night, it was a twenty minute walk, located in the heart of the Orchard neighborhood which has more retail establishments than I knew any singular city-sized small country could ever keep in business.

Penny picked out some bath toys, which I hoped would offset the trauma that is washing her hair next time she got in the tub. I needed a pillow that matched my sleeping style and a contraption that would allow me to blend baby food. We also picked out four more towels and an inflatable infant tub, which had to be better than the sink bath I attempted to give Harper that morning, which caused a small flood. I itemize these things so you can perhaps understand the look of incredulity that I got when I made it clear that we had no driver waiting, nor would we be taking a cab. I began to feel that my complete comfort with being a sweaty mess while resembling a pack mule would be the clearest indication that I was not a native Singaporean.

On Wednesday morning, I made my way to check out a local Crossfit and signed on the dotted line the second I finished what I was promised was a bit of an unconventional workout for them – four ten minute intervals in which to accomplish each of the following: 100 burpees, bike 3k, row 1.6k, and run 1.6k. The latent endurance athlete in me was high on endorphins and the familiarity of the Crossfit gym setting.

During my bus ride back, it began to pour, and I arrived home thoroughly drenched, wondering what exactly led me to conclude that shipping our umbrellas was a good idea. The rain here tends to be fast and furious and impossible to predict. Skies will visibly darken and nothing will fall. Weather apps will predict a storm with 80% certainty and we will plan something indoors only to see radiant skies out the window for the next few hours. In my opinion, there’s nothing too terrible about getting doused on when the weather is always eighty degrees – it feels almost refreshing and you dry quickly.

Penny, however, does not agree, so we decided to test out one of the mall playgrounds. It was small and underwhelming and filled with children, but the architects were savvy and placed it outside of several children’s stores. We left the mall with some sand toys and an inflatable raft, and these purchases shaped our plans for the rest of the surprisingly sunny day.

This seems a good place to note that the reason I was able to fully immerse myself in exploring with my kids over these early days is Jona. She prepared every meal and cleaned every room and the reality of having this full time partner in the never-ending gauntlet of what can still feel like the woman’s work was revolutionary.

One of the few television programs I indulged in while on maternity leave was The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and I remember being stupefied by the fact that this woman with young children separated from her husband and then somehow had adventures as a person worth following for a sitcom. The how was abundantly clear – she had a small task force of help and never had to worry about laundry, cooking, cleaning, or even spending time with her kids unless she was in the mood to do so. It made for good television, but it felt so different from my experience as a working mother of little ones. Before kids, I was an efficient worker bee who had time to go above and beyond AND have hobbies. After children, my life was spent in perpetual tension. If I was at work, I missed my daughter. If I tried to be completely present with her, part of me inevitably felt tugged away by the things I needed to do for both my paid and unpaid labor.

Here, I am unemployed for the first time in my adult life. Here, having help in the household is such a norm that coupled people with no kids (and no dogs) still will utilize a live in support. If both parents work and the kids are not yet school aged, hiring two live-in helpers is common place. This isn’t some expat perk; it’s the norm for all Singaporeans. Essentially, Singapore was telling me that the work I had been trying to do in the states (with the assistance of a contracted daycare facility) was the full time work of three human beings.

So yes, we uprooted our children and moved them away from everything familiar, but I had the chance to offer them undivided attention from a happy mother who actually got to the gym that day. Here, someone held the baby so I could actually sit down and eat. Here, I could finally give my firstborn some individual attention, and on Wednesday afternoon, that was what I did.

We simply when down to the pool where I relished in being able to keep my eyes on her and only her. Seven straight weeks of one parent with two kids were recent enough history that we both felt how special this was. I was floored at the possibility that here, it could become almost normal.

Thursday was a bit of a rude awakening. Shortly after waking, I struggled to swallow part of my breakfast and spent the morning hours doing my best not to panic. This is something I’ve sought medical attention for in the past, but the thought of trekking to a hospital on my first week here brought me to tears and panic only exacerbates the fear that comes with not being able to swallow your own saliva. Long story short, after lots of yoga poses and deep breathing, begging my husband to stay home and run interference with the kids, it eventually dislodged itself. Seb went into work and I drank sips of water. Normalcy returned.

It did clarify how far away from home we really are. Tricky esophaguses run in my family and I felt the distance and time zones between me and those who I knew would get it. It also reminded me that life here would still be full of peaks and valleys, some certainly deeper than public tantrums and getting on the bus going the wrong way.

The unpleasantness was offset when a friend we had made at the condo pool spoiled us with a play date. Getting to be around new people (and a fully furnished home with TOYS) was energizing for me and Penny and made this whole thing feel less like a vacation and more like a resettling. We had made it to Friday, a full week from when our plane left Newark airport. The jet lag was behind us. Penny had relented and tried a new brand of yogurt. Everything was looking up.

A (Not Quite) Whole New World

Moving across the world sounds like a big shift, but some things here are more different than others. Here’s a shortlist of five things that had potential to change with our decision.

1. Residence. From our quaint Glen Rock house to a spacious twenty-fifth floor apartment, our actually living space has changed quite a bit. In Singapore, it seems that you need at least a 1:1 ratio of bathrooms to humans dwelling in the residence, so for that reason, we have five. Penny was most surprised at the way the elevator opens directly into our living space and when leaving the apartment, she has a tendency to aggressively click the down button in such rapid succession that I fear it will inevitably stop working.

Our apartment building in the early evening

2. Transportation. Both Seb and I used to have separate Garden State Parkway commutes that could take anywhere from 25-50 minutes depending on time of day. While we settled in Glen Rock because it was a town with a walkable downtown, most days we were a two-car family. Now, Seb gets to work via the subway, riding the local line three stops. I’m a more heavy user of the city buses, which are reliable with a stop conveniently located at the end of our street. We do a ton of walking, which I’ve found to be surprisingly effective supplemental exercise between the temperature, the hills, and the fact that I’m always either wearing or pushing two small children.

Waiting for the 54 bus, which takes us to our favorite playground in less than 10 minutes.

3. Support. In New Jersey, we were lucky to live an hour from our parents, which meant the kids saw their grandparents often. This was the arguably the hardest thing to knowingly do without for the next two years. In Singapore, we’ve added a lovely new member to our family, our live-in helper, Jona. She has made the adjustment much easier on all of us and I can’t imagine facing the week ahead, in which Seb is traveling to two separate countries for work M-Th, without her support. Still, we are hoping Grandma and Nanny & Da book their flights to visit us soon.

4. Recreation. So far, we’ve found it easy to continue to do the things we love here. I immediately found a Crossfit affiliate that had robust class offerings. Seb found a weekly soccer meet-up. There’s much less pressure here to enroll small kids in extracurriculars like kickball or soccer, but all the preschools we looked at do offer choice-based supplemental programming in athletics and arts. Penny has been talking most enthusiastically about exploring gymnastics and continuing her love of running by participating in the Crossfit Kids classes which start at age 4. We all definitely do more swimming now. And we still read a ton of books, the library being our most frequented Singaporean destination so far.

Penny browses the picture book stacks at the library@harborfront

5. Culture. It seems so far that by living in Singapore, we can broaden our culture and tradition without forsaking anything too near and dear to us. As a nation, Singapore has their own secular holidays while also observing public holidays for all of the major races and religions represented. Penny will be relieved to learn that even Halloween is celebrated in one particular neighborhood each year, allowing expat kids to have continuity in the annual tradition of picking a costume and overindulging on candy. Our first new holiday is National Day, slated for this upcoming week, which commemorates Singapore’s independence from Malaysia. We hear the fireworks and jet flyovers make it pretty epic.

The World’s Longest Flight

One week ago, we took the world’s longest direct flight from Newark to Singapore with a 6 month old baby who had just started to crawl and a three and a half year old who was actually looking forward to the experience because we’ve convinced her that the iPad that contains downloaded episodes of Daniel Tiger only works on planes.

Having flown with Penny to New Zealand last year, I was less daunted by this undertaking than you might expect. On that trip, I was contending with horrible morning sickness. We had to take three separate consecutive flights, schlepping through four airports before we reached our destination. And we flew economy, though we sprung for the convertible seats on our longest Air New Zealand flight that allegedly turned into a bed. This upgrade was a bit of a bust because my recently concussed husband insisted on finding a way for all three of us to lay down, despite the directions clearly stating that only one adult and one child could safely – and comfortably fit. In short, doing that trip twice in two weeks left me feeling like I knew how grisly things could get and this would just have to be easier than that.

Yes, we have another kid now and no grandparents aboard to offer extra hands. But Penny is far more reasonable one full year of development later. And Harper still needs a nap every 2.5 hours. This was a one-way direct flight. Plus, it was Business Class.

We boarded the plane at 10am EST, with Harper fully ready for a nap. She nursed and slept through takeoff without issue. It was such a smooth start that I saw the man adjacent to us visibly relax. He had been torn between celebrating his luck in securing the bulkhead seat with extra leg room and cursing his luck because this placed him in close proximity to an infant for nearly an entire day.

A dozen rows back, Penny settled into her seat, which seemed ludicrously expansive for her pint size. Seb sat next to her, armed with aforementioned iPad and an entire bag of carefully wrapped plane bribes – sticker books, new storybooks, a headband decorating kit, Crayola Color Wonder pages featuring her favorite characters, new outfits for the baby doll she loves enough to stick in her carry-on. We also lucked out and a kind-hearted man at security opened her lunchbox of yogurt products and waved us through anyway, which meant she wouldn’t starve when her toddler tastebuds inevitably scoffed at the surprisingly sophisticated airline dining options.

After lunch, they immediately dimmed the cabin lights, and a shocking number of people went to sleep at what was essentially mid-day. This did not work on Penny. By the time she was ready to drift off, eight hours had passed since takeoff and the lights turned back on for the second meal service. Alas, this meant she was awake for all but three hours of the flight, a horrific amount of sleep for any human, but it ultimately served us well to get her settled once we landed. EST and Singapore are diametrically opposed – when it’s noon in the NYC, it’s midnight here, so when we had her in bed our first night at a time that should have felt like early morning, she was thankfully more than ready to crash hard.

Harper slept like a baby, which to me means she woke every 2-3 hours and I tried to keep her up for a bit between sleep cycles so she’d also need a consolidated sleep after we landed. She fussed a little here and there. Our feet wore treads in the aisle’s carpet, I experienced the bizarre sensation that accompanies bouncing a baby in mid-air several times. There’s something discomforting about essentially jumping downwards on a plane you need to remain in mid-air. But in all, she only lost her marbles upon landing, too full of milk to nurse and otherwise unable to sort out the pressure in her ears. At that point, everyone is so relieved to be descending that we didn’t even get a single dirty look.

The best part was that the flight clocked in at just about 18 hours, a ten percent discount I was all too happy to accept. I found the service and dining options to be incredible, though it was logistically hard to savor my high-brow wonton soup while holding an infant. My seat ostensibly came with a bassinet, though the reality was more like a cloth basket attached to the wall that zippered baby in like they are wearing a straight-jacket. Suffice to say, it served a purpose as a receptacle for Harper’s medley of teething rings,

Would I do it again? Sure, though I’m certainly happy our next trip across the world has yet to be booked. Not having to do the trip in reverse twelve days later made the whole thing much more tenable. We arrived haggard and tired but also exceptionally grateful that things went as smoothly as they did.

Checking in for our flight.

Lots of tummy time at the airport.

Some plane bribes, pre-wrapping.

Penny and her carry-on.

A “WE SURVIVED” selfie.

Trolly no longer optional. We had to take two cabs home.