This was supposed to be our shortest Chinese New Year trip back to Singapore.

I guess, sometimes Reality and Intention don’t always see eye to eye. As I write this (in mid-May) in my mother’s flat, I tallied and gasped…Today is the 116th day (and counting) that my kids and I have been in Singapore – our longest stay ever since we relocated to Shanghai 12 years ago.

Over the last 4 months, I have been blessed to celebrate my 44th birthday via Zoom, be featured in Her World 60th Anniversary issue (such an honour), witness Singapore’s gradual steps to pause the city in its battle against COVID-19, and croon “Home” in solidarity with fellow Singaporeans.

Zoom birthday during the Circuit Breaker
A Zoom birthday celebration for me this year

Singapore pulled the plug in its historic circuit breaker measures on 7 April. Overnight, the entire nation had to adapt to a whole new way of life. Non-essential shops and services closed its shutters, students were educated online, families under different roofs kept at arm’s length and mouth masks became a part of our wardrobe.

Even before the circuit breaker was over and the city roused from hibernation to enter Phase 2, I found myself torn between emotions of I-can’t-wait-for-this-to-be-over to really-it’s-going-to-be-over?

As I sit in solitude reflecting on the force of this pandemic that has shaken the world to its bones, I can’t help but marvel at the beautiful lessons that has emerged – the only way light can cast through when there are cracks.

Governing is a lot like parenting

As parents to two adolescents, my husband and I raise our children with values shaped by our own upbringing, morals and personal experiences in the hope that they turn out to be good people. Even with our best intentions, we sometimes stumble because parenting at different stages is a terrifying new experience. We are baby parents to teens. One day, we will be baby grandparents. Similarly, fighting COVID-19 is a whole new territory for our leaders. Let’s give them and ourselves grace for we are all flawed individuals doing our best not to mess up.

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Desperation births creativity

This trip home, I stepped into my late mother’s big shoes and cooked dinner for my family of twelve every night. But during the circuit breaker, our nightly gatherings were reduced to packing my dinners into tingkat carriers placed at our doorstep for my family to pick up instead.

Dinner Tingkats for my family to collect during Circuit Breaker in Singapore
Dinner Tingkats for my family to collect
Thank you banner for sister's family during Circuit Breaker
A thank-you banner from my sister’s family when collecting the tingkats

Cooking for a large number requires meal planning and stocking up on groceries – both of which I am horrible at. I don’t usually plan ahead, and I don’t know how to stock up. Like my mother, I buy what I need at the wet market every day to whip up three dishes and one soup for dinner. But all that changed with the circuit breaker, and I have learnt some kitchen hacks.

I learnt that when a recipe calls for coconut milk but the one in the fridge has gone rancid, coconut water with fresh milk works too!

Need pineapples for sweet and sour pork? Mangoes and apples also pair beautifully.

Coffee plunger broke? A sieve doubles up as a strainer.

Ran out of glue? Cooked rice is sticky and nontoxic.

Mouth mask flew away from the clothesline? No one can tell that you are wearing eyeshades.

The Art of e-parenting

Given the abnormality the world is facing right now, I think it’s unfair and cruel to expect my kids to be cooped up at home and be screen free. Since my husband isn’t here, I decided to tap into what the kids do best.

When my son asked sweetly if I could help sew up his torn Barney pillow, I responded with equal sweetness to learn to sew himself via YouTube tutorials. When my daughter suggested I bake her some brownies, I encouraged her to try baking with Google’s help instead (she misread the recipe by adding 25 teaspoons of salt instead of 2.5 teaspoons, but it’s okay, making mistakes is part of learning, yes?).

Thanks to e-parenting, my kids learnt life skills like fixing the vacuum cleaner, cleaning the fans, folding fitted sheets, changing bedsheets, washing the toilets and unclogging the sink.

Reset to what matters most

Recently, I discovered a newfound passion. After hanging my laundry, I enjoy standing at my windowsill and peering into my neighbours’ homes. I know that the auntie above me suns her orange peels every morning. At the opposite block, a young mum leaves for work in the essential services at 8 am every morning. A couple of units away, a young man exercises at 4 pm at the stairway every day. When dusk falls, I gather my kids as we adjourn to the corridor in front of our house to catch the sunset. Before retiring for bed, we look up from the kitchen windowsill and there it is, the moon and stars twinkling above us.

Observing the surroundings during Circuit Breaker period
Peering into the neighbours’ homes

My mother has lived in her HDB flat for ten years but each time I return, I have never once thought to pause and observe the surroundings until now. I was either looking down at my phone or rushing to busy myself during my limited time in Singapore.

Now, when everything is stripped away, what remains is what matters most. Our time on Earth is limited. This will pass as with everything in life. One day soon, life in Singapore will return to normal. We can choose to spend the rest of our life in a flash or we can take this unprecedented period as a reset to mindfully ask ourselves what matters to us most. For me, I am praying for China’s borders to be lifted soon so that my family will be reunited.

This article was first published on Singapore Global Network (SGN). SGN aims to broaden and deepen our overseas networks, comprising of Overseas Singaporeans and friends and fans of Singapore.

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Top Image: Eve Wee-Ang