May 24, 2009
Mums who have it all
By Lee Siew Hua
Some of my best friends have been stay-at-home mums.
They are dynamos and there's so much I admire about them, starting with their focus, enterprise, hard work, big hearts and, yes, freedom.
When I worked in Bangkok, I spent lots of time with April and her family.
I'd always been career-minded while she married in her late teens and was a young mum of two school-going children at 29.
Every minute of her life was brilliantly accounted for. Yet, she was ever-playful and we were relaxed around her.
She'd bounce out of bed before 6am, then pedal furiously on an exercise bike for half an hour.
Half an hour was also all she needed to whip up dinner to welcome a new family in town. While her driver despatched the comforting porridge and condiments across town, she sat at the piano to play three songs she'd composed the same afternoon.
At the supermarket, she'd decisively fill her trolley in moments while I dithered over which fusilli to buy.
She kept her huge apartment spotless without a maid, volunteered in her children's school and elsewhere almost every day, and had friends over all the time.
All the while, she'd be exquisitely groomed even if we were zipping into the broiling Chatuchak market to choose plants for my place or coloured chicks for her children.
We came from different worlds and that was also why we clicked wonderfully.
For I would have loved to be a glamorous housewife with endless street savvy like her. And April, a rich Penang girl with a public-school background who was accompanying her executive husband in Bangkok, would have relished and thrived in any career she chose.
I imagine we were each a window into an alternative life for the other.
But we grew more akin as our days unfolded in unpredictable Thailand.
Once, we visited a Singaporean over-stayer who was jailed for a day. We saw entire cell walls eerily undulating with roaches. It was a living nightmare.
But April, who is truly phobic about vermin, never wavered as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder to broach our friend's case with a Thai officer.
When I think about it, with best friends like her, we are far less defined by our station in life than our embrace of life.
In the United States, I have a very gentle friend who drives a giant SUV and also lives life richly.
She's a pastor's wife with a non-stop schedule, so she may not fully count as a homemaker.
She, too, does everything on her own. But when I'm her guest, always in summer, she'll make room for fun, whether it's a Scandinavian pancake breakfast or blueberry picking.
We were as delighted as little girls as we walked among fruit-filled bushes. Our harvest was so puny that the kind cashier took one glance and gave us the berries for free.
Here in Singapore, I gather with two stay-at-home mums once or twice a month. They have searching minds and are pretty opinionated, so their discussion of national life is so lively and original.
One of them brings me books, and proffers the freshest cheese puffs or fruity ice cream from her kitchen.
I have yet another friend who quips that she's a 'tai' - half a tai-tai. She is a work-from-home contractor whose life veers between intense and freewheeling.
Recently, we spent a delicious weekday afternoon in Holland Village, where we would meet on Christmas Day for some years.
As we lingered in shops purveying beaded ornaments and fresh pasta, tried on clothes, compared nail salons, picked up DIY items, and sat down for tea and scones, I could pretend to be a tai-tai for a bit.
Well, I had a fairly comparable experience not long ago. I spent one year as a mid-career student followed by three-plus as a consultant for an international organisation in the United States.
Those were intense years, but came with a gift of flexible days.
I might have to read 500 pages a week and hand in research papers. But I could also roast a chicken or sip coffee with a German neighbour in between the study and work binges.
Life was abundant because each day could be creatively structured to overflow with work and rest.
In that time, I finally learnt to host dinners on my own. I sought house-cleaning tips from a friend (clean a little every day), walked a lot, blogged, volunteered and lived a balanced life.
These days, I am embedded in my sister's family. It's amazing to live with two children whose days are filled with learning, play and wonder. They ask for games, stories, a bit of help with studies, and sometimes to be tucked into bed.
This is the small but spirited extent of my housewifely activities.
It's great to be a career woman and a wannabe mum.