Starting Over

Discovering myself, my family and friends in a foreign land, second time around


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My mirror and me

DQ and I attended the university open house yesterday. A scorching dry day in Singapore, filled with the expectation of a much needed rain shower. Thousands of youngsters milled around the information booths handing out brochures and balloons, information and ice-cream, facts and freebies. Loud music buoyed the palpable atmosphere of eager anticipation. Smiles and laughter punctuated the hot afternoon as prospective students did the rounds of the booths while worried parents milled around the financial aid station. DQ and I took the campus tour bus. We added brochures to our goody bags and took selfies with our balloons. We switched moods, sometimes she worried about what was ahead, I laughed at the kid dressed in an oversized mascot uniform. Sometimes I wondered how my tiny newborn had transformed into this budding woman and she seemed jubilant, mouthing the words of the song playing around us. At times, we were both silent, contemplating our own thoughts of what this moment meant to us.

How can I not get sentimental at such times?

My child is my mirror. I should have recognized this truth the week I brought DQ home from the hospital. My mother had come to help me for a few months and one day she stepped out for a few hours to visit Monterey with a cousin. I was left alone with DQ. She fussed and cried inconsolably. I couldn’t tell if she was hot or hungry. Cuddling her didn’t help. Leaving her in the crib made it worse.  With each hour I got more agitated and she in turn became harder to manage. I was in tears, feeling helpless and incompetent when my mom got home. Seeing her, I relaxed and handed over my wailing infant to her loving arms. And from that minute, all was well. DQ became quiet and took a nap. I wept with joy and took a shower. At that time I thought it was mom who had made the difference. Over time I realized that it was my frame of mind that DQ as reflecting, ever the eager untainted glass to show me my inner terrain.

I don’t stand in front of a mirror for long. It shows me gray hair and wrinkles, proof of the years that have passed; years during which I was too busy to appreciate my firm body and unlined skin. I gaze more often at DQ and her transformation. As she rehearses the speech she has to make at school tomorrow, I see her toddler-self trying to reach the bowl on the kitchen counter repeating “stoberry”. I drove her to play-dates not so long ago, now I worry about her going on dates. From focusing on looking presentable, she now focuses on her upcoming presentations. Her growth curve and my timeline are intertwined. But her outlook is not always mine. I am flattered when people say we look alike; she hates the comparison. People ask her if she will pursue a science education, like me and I know she will not. Just as I can’t make my image in the mirror to look like a younger me, I can’t make DQ become a second-generation avatar following in my footsteps. And I don’t want to.

My mirror doesn’t show me what I want to see but what I need to see. So does DQ. Today I am a person who is excited by learning; the prospect of expanding my outlook, which enhances the anticipation of new experiences. DQ seems hesitant. In her I see myself, more than two decades ago, in a new country, figuring out the next steps for graduate school. A little shy; extremely skeptical. I worried about fitting in, being understood, meeting expectations. The opportunity for pursuing higher education in the USA kept me going, the challenges of finding my place in a foreign system kept me engaged and I am forever grateful for that experience. DQ is at a similar threshold now. Looking at the sea of bright faces, hardworking Singaporeans of many races, vying for a seat in a prestigious institution. Not sure of her place in this system, wondering if she can keep up with the high standards.

DQ mirrors my own doubts at finding myself in Singapore subsequent to my choice to marry again. She just followed me. But I am excited to be here. I love being in a place of education and yesterday was no exception. I would like her to catch the contagious enthusiasm that pervades colleges and universities, its irresistible, wave of youthful optimism. I want to tell her what a wonderful time of her life this is, how easily she has found herself in a place where she can choose her course of study in an excellent academic environment, how she must count her blessings. But I refrain.

The best way to change what you see in the mirror is to change yourself. So I allow myself to be carried away by the exuberance of the surroundings, by smiling so much that my face hurts, by feeling excited and peaceful at the same time.

And I see my mirror doing the same.

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