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Mummy Musings is a fortnightly column where Elisabeth Lee navigates the ups and downs of bringing up her daughter.
We’ve been back in Singapore for just over a week now and already, surprisingly, little A is taking to life on this island. While we’ve made a few trips here when she was younger, I think this is the first one that will stick in her memory. A knows that she has been to Singapore before – I’ve told her so, often – but she only has a hazy memory of the previous trips.
As a result, every experience on this trip is pre-empted with “Mummy, have I tried this before?”, followed by “Did I like it?” I try to be truthful, but I’m so keen for her to enjoy this precious time we have here that sometimes I tell a white lie: “Yes, you loved it.” For the record, nope, she didn’t like carrot cake, nor tau huay nor chwee kueh. But I am determined that she will, eventually.
I try and put myself in her shoes – how odd it must be to not be able to rely on one’s memory, to know that there are things you have done but do not remember, and that there are likes and dislikes you have but aren’t aware of. In this context, it is doubly impressive that she tries everything with gusto (“Is that a noodle, mummy? Then give me a bite!”), and that she’s willing to give every experience a fair shake.
It reminds me of a concept I learned about in a yoga class – the Zen Buddhist idea of the “beginner’s mind” or shoshin. It refers to having an attitude of openness and eagerness, devoid of any preconceptions, just like a child’s.
Little A brings her delightful spirit of shoshin to everything we do here – from riding an escalator and taking the MRT, to trying weird foods and coping with the sensory overload that is Orchard Road. Everything is new, and everything is different, and that’s totally alright with her. I like to think that it’s because we’ve never punished her for having an opinion – that we have accepted her for who she is – but, more likely, this is simply how she is.
It is captivating to watch her try something – the look of concentration on her face as she looks at it, sniffs it, tastes it delicately with the tip of her tongue, takes a tentative bite, and finally, her intense reaction. Sometimes pleasure (bak chor mee), sometimes disgust (curry puff), sometimes indifference (Nyonya dumpling).
Each experience is new to her – it is not weighed down with the burden of expectation like mine is. She isn’t comparing it to some previous time; there is no nostalgia for her, no rose-tinted wish for what the experience was or could be.
I think that’s why I’m really enjoying our trip back to Singapore this time. Instead of going through the motions of eating our way through the city’s gastronomic delights, through A we have had to put on our beginner’s mind and take each day and each experience as it comes. Instead of fighting our way through traffic for a particular favourite dish, we simply do what we want to do, and eat when we’re hungry, wherever we may be.
And maybe that’s why we travel, after all, to see the same thing from a novel perspective. To let go of our need to optimise every experience and to embrace the pleasure of simply being right here, right now.
Elisabeth Lee is proof that it is never too late to consider a second, third or even fourth career, having come to both motherhood and writing late in life. She occasionally freelances and can be reached at bethgoeswriting.com.