And Then There was Us..

[written at 8:32 am local time on Wednesday]

It was -3 degrees last night when the two of us walked along the streets of Yeouido looking for a place where we could sit down and have a drink. We were looking for somewhere that was not a fried chicken and beer place which seemed to ninety percent of places selling alcohol. Nothing wrong with Korean fried chicken (in fact they do them well – always crunchy on the outside and moist inside) but at that stage we could no longer stomach fried chicken after a big meal of fresh raw fish, barbequed salmon head and hot steaming seafood soup at the biggest fish market in Seoul. We were just after a drink and a bit of a night-life experience in Seoul.

Where were the kids, you wonder?

Ah-ha. My parents took them so it was our night off. We all happened to be conveniently travelling in the same place at the same time.

The financial district of Seoul was still bustling at 9pm last night; many people had only just got off work and were having dinner and drinks with their friends or colleagues. The area was brimming with a variety of colours, a combination of busy neon shop lights and also still star-like lights which lined the street hedges in anticipation of Christmas.

After 15 minutes of walking we finally found a place where we could have a stout and a cocktail – and good timing because my legs were starting to feel like frozen matchsticks. We scurried quickly into the well-heated pub like mice to cheese.

Last night reminded me of our trip to Seoul seven years ago, not married and with no kids. Just carefree individuals then, taking a trip together and doing whatever we wanted to do.

What was the one thing that changed the most for me after children? Not my body although it will never the same again. Nor is it my sleep pattern although that does come close. It is my relationship with my husband.

Having kids changed us in ways that we could not have anticipated; as individuals but more so as a married couple. The hormonal changes from the time of pregnancy, the changes in your body as your baby grew within you, your perception of your new role as a mother, the development of an instinctive protection towards your child – it changes you and therefore also alters your expectations of your husband’s role. Whilst you were able to be a good wife to your husband before by doing things like making all his meals, this was no longer the case once the baby was born. In between breastfeeding, night soothing, nappy changing and bathing the baby, you would be lucky if you even get time to feed and clean yourself. You expected him to be able to help out more. Naturally you expected him also to be around more.

At times you did not get why he did not understand what you needed and what you considered important. You also felt like there was a gap that was widening between the two of you. If initially it felt like men was from Mars and women from Venus, after kids it felt almost like we were from completely different universes. (E.g. the year in which our daughter was born, Will said that he was going over to his parents’ house by himself on Christmas day to spend the day watching old movies because that was his personal tradition. BY HIMSELF. I blew my lid.)

The other thing with the kids is that you spend all your time doing stuff for and with them and more often than not you forget to spend time together as husband and wife. It is easy to “accidentally” de-prioritise your relationship with your husband for the benefit of your kids as everything is now about them, and less about you.

So it was tough, initially. With a lot of potential misunderstandings and not a lot of time to understand each other it is easy to see how things could have gone pretty bad. Eventually with time and some frank discussions we decided that we needed to spend more quality time with each other again. (I have my husband to thank for that, he is the one with the good ideas and the cornerstone of our relationship).

So with some conscious effort, we started doing things together again. Then we started talking and communicating again. After a while, we started to work more closely together as a team. While we were previously just two people who enjoyed each other’s company, we were now becoming true life partners – who would pick up the kids; who would grab the milk on the way home; where would the kids go to school; what values do we want to teach them; what are the career moves that would best progress individual opportunities but at the same time accommodate the family unit. It did not just happen by itself, we made it happen. At the same time we progressed from merely tolerating each other’s odd habits to truly embracing each other for their strengths and also help strengthen their weaknesses.

We reminded ourselves that in the beginning, there were the two of us. Your love and trust in each other is what brought to life the kids and then one day when the kids are older and they leave the nest, there will still be the two of you. So we do need to try and make time for each other even though that may very well require a lot of extra effort – complacency is what stops a relationship from growing.

So last night as we talked and laughed about everything kids and non-kids related and sipped on our drinks in a warm pub in a city far from home, we were enjoying each other’s company again. It felt good, it reminded us why we are a good match for each other and it would serve as another memory for us to relive on many occasions to come in the future.

We Survived the Flight

[written at 3:45pm local time Saturday afternoon]

I am in a foreign city, looking out at a skyline of white and grey buildings, animated signboards and moving cars as I type this. The cosy apartment is quiet, adorned only with the muted sounds of traffic, the light snoring of the husband and the heavy breathing of the kids as they nap. It is the most peaceful 15 minutes I have had over the last two days as we took two semi long-haul flights and a night stayover in an airport hotel in making our way here.

We are in Seoul.

As the plane was landing yesterday we were greeted (very luckily) by a heavy snowfall. The kids’ very first snow sighting! My daughter’s eyes lit up and she started humming to the tune of “Let it Go” (because of the snow, get it? :)) The air was cold and crisp and as the cab drove us to our destination I observed how the place seemed strangely familiar with glimpses of landmarks seen only from dramas and people spoke the language which I so frequently heard spoken at the lunch table with my husband and his family every Sunday afternoon.

The flight here was interesting to say the least, now that we are travelling with a toddler who has just turned (“terrible”) two. We did not expect an easy journey and we did not get one either; not with a child who would not stay buckled in his seat, whinged for juice and chocolates every 15 minutes and demanded to sit with Daddy one minute and Mommy the next. We survived though and at least for now I can still say that it has not put me off travelling for the next 5 years.

For moms and dads who will be flying with a restless child in the near future here are some lessons which we learnt on our way here and things that worked for us:

1)     Call up the airline and pre-book your seats early especially if you are flying in a larger group. There were four of us and for the longer leg flight from Singapore-Incheon we were able to get the four seats in the middle which made the trip easier than the 3+1 seating arrangement we had on the Perth-Singapore flight.

2)     Airplane toilets are small, and the space would seem even smaller when you have to change the soiled nappy of your squirming two-year-old in there. Be prepared with all that you need before you go in, together with a toy that would distract your kid while you go about cleaning him in a cramped uncomfortable space. And go right before the long queue that takes place each time after the stewardesses clear all the meal trays – they are always kind enough to make way for you when you walk down the aisle with a kid in tow.

3)     Lollipops saved our sanity, more than once. Initially I brought them to get the kids sucking on something on the way up and down so that it would help relieve the ear pressure; however every time my son became a little crazy and screamed to be let out of his seat (when the seatbelt sign was on) we would offer him one and he would relent. And as one lollipop would leave him contented for about 10 minutes, that gave us the break we needed to recharge for the next challenge.

4)     The in-flight entertainment system did nothing for our restless two-year-old (worked wonders for the four-year-old). What worked better for him was a tablet with pre-recorded favourite shows and age-appropriate games which kept him occupied for a while.

5)     If you are doing a long haul flight consider booking in flight times that would allow you to spend a night in a transit hotel and recharge (for you and your kids). Despite my pre-conceived idea of what a transit hotel would be like the Ambassador Transit Hotel at Terminal 3 of the Changi Airport actually turned out pretty good. The room was clean and spacious and the hotel was right next to the food court. The best thing is that you do not have to clear customs and pick up your luggage which gave us another hour to sleep in the next morning before catching the final leg to Seoul.

6)     Go on the flight prepared, with the mindset that you probably will not get to watch a whole movie nor eat your meal in peace – if the kids happen to fall asleep for a couple of hours (which they might) then consider it an extra. Just try your best to be conscientious of people around you but also realise that you might come across unsupportive aircrew or difficult passengers who would balk at being sat next to children on a plane ; if that happens just ignore them and remind yourself that there is nothing wrong about travelling with your loved ones and that you are there on a holiday to have fun.

7)     And finally, parents, if you are travelling on Singapore Airlines, have a Singapore Sling. They do them unbelievably well and it makes the whole situation more bearable.

Final note, I have not travelled on anything other than MAS and SIA for international flights with my children because from all that I read online SIA seems to be the preferred choice for parents. I have to say that they have not let me down to-date and what makes it better is that you get a lot of other families travelling on the same airline which means that you do not end up feeling like your child is the only one causing a ruckus and that there are at least 10 other families who are in the same boat, ahem, I mean plane.