Of goodbyes and see you laters

Image credit: iStock

Mummy Musings is a fortnightly column where Elisabeth Lee navigates the ups and downs of bringing up her daughter.

The wonders of modern travel never fail to impress me. It seems like only yesterday that I was sweating buckets, slapping at mosquitoes and drinking as much kopi peng as I could, while A stuffed her face with bowl after bowl of wanton mee. Today, I’m writing this draped in my favourite cosy blanket, while snow falls outside.

Dressing A takes significantly more time in the mornings now. She goes to a preschool that places an emphasis on outdoor play, no matter the weather, so a typical winter day outfit includes base layers, woolly socks, a fleece, vest, waterproof jacket, waterproof pants, hat and mitts. On really cold days we add another layer. With an exuberant almost 4-year-old, getting all this on takes forever.

And it’s even harder after spending the first month of winter in tropical Southeast Asia. We skipped a mellow month of cool rains and overcast skies and have returned to howling winds and blankets of snow. Coaxing A into her outfit takes all the patience my jet lagged self can muster – every item of clothing requires more negotiation than multilateral climate change talks. While I’ve really enjoyed A’s burgeoning independence in many other ways, it’s frustrating that I can no longer simply pick her up and dress her against her will.

This morning, she refused to get dressed at all. And then she refused to brush her teeth or wash her face. She was simply not having any part whatsoever in this winter. She ran to her room and slammed the door. I followed and found her curled up in a corner, sobbing.

“What’s the matter, sweetheart? This usually isn’t such a big deal. Is there a bigger problem you want to talk to me about?”

“I miss nai nai!”

And then, after more sobbing, “I miss gong gong and por por!”

And then it all came out. She misses Singapore. She wants to go back. She misses everyone there. “Even the swimming pool!”

As someone who regularly bursts into tears in the Changi Airport departure immigration hall, I totally understand where she’s coming from. Goodbyes are hard. Goodbyes when the people you love are scattered all over the globe are even harder.

It’s a hard concept for a 4-year-old to grasp. I’m almost 40 and I still have trouble with it. Some days I find the world too small, and some days, it feels impossibly huge. I wonder if goodbyes were easier a century ago, when you had a month (or more) as a passenger on a trans-Pacific steamer to process the change. I wonder if future space travellers will have a word for the emotional displacement caused by crossing vast distances of time, space, culture and climate in a blink of an eye.

I try and reassure her that we haven’t really said goodbye – it’s more of a see you later. I tell her we’re going to go back to Singapore in about a year’s time, and that some of her family will come to see her. And another wonder of the modern world – FaceTime – is here to help us. So we dial up nai nai on the iPad and say hello.


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

to top