Thursday, June 23, 2016

Public Transport In Singapore With Kids

Before I became a parent, I've had the privilege of living in the States with a car. When I first moved to Singapore and could no longer afford to drive due to the high cost of car ownership, I gladly took to public transport since I happened to live within a 5 minute sheltered walk of an MRT station. That was when I was single... Sure, it bothered the impatient me sometimes that it would take over an hour to get from one end of the island to the other, but how could I have reason to complain when the transport system here doesn't smell like urine, is sufficiently air-conditioned and is fairly reliable compared to the NYC subway?

Things took a drastic left turn once I became pregnant. When I was single, I would sometimes sit in the handicapped seats but always give it up whenever I saw an elderly person get on the train. Sometimes I gave up my seat when I wasn't even in a handicap priority seat. However, I hardly ever found myself giving up seats to pregnant women. Why? It wasn't because I didn't want to. It was mainly because I couldn't identify them until they were much bigger.

I'm 5'11" and very skinny. When I was 6 months pregnant, you could hardly tell if I were wearing something baggy. But I remember the first time I really needed a seat and there was none. It was when I was just 3 months pregnant that nausea symptoms came over me like a dark cloud. I probably looked like a teenager with my backpack and track & field T-shirt on with a pair of exercise shorts. Desperately, I looked over to the handicapped seats. They were filled with other young people playing on their phones or "fake sleeping", as many Singaporean commuters are infamous for doing. I tried to suppress the feeling of vomit and my head started to go black. Oxygen wasn't reaching my brain. I found myself sliding down to the floor and squatting just in case. Thankfully, a seat became available at the next stop and somebody offered it to me instead of taking it for herself.

I found myself becoming increasingly resentful as the months rolled by and my tummy grew in size. I naively thought that as my physical body expanded, that my inward suffering would become more apparent to the world. People should become more sympathetic right?

Wrong. I was so wrong. Even with my stomach bulging and just a week to go before Brendan was born, I found myself standing for a full 45 minutes on the MRT. My feet were so swollen by the time I got to my destination that I couldn't walk out of the station until I had taken off my shoes and rested my legs. My shoulders were aching from carrying a small bag because I had to hold on to an upper handrail. But it wasn't the physical pain that hurt the most. It was those uncaring eyes that sat in front of me- the eyes of the young, healthy, working professionals that closed the moment they saw me standing over them. The eyes that looked down into their phones and nothing else as other old people and pregnant women came on board the same carriage. It was the most ironic sight I'd ever seen- seats filled with young men and aisles filled with the elderly and pregnant carrying heavy bags. I felt so heartbroken, I went home and cried. How could people be so unfeeling?

Occasionally, I encountered posts on Facebook that would shame people who did not give up priority seats to the needy. The comments left on those posts completed the sense of utter sorrow and hopelessness that I felt.

"Why don't you open your mouth and ask someone for a seat instead of complaining next time?"

"Can't afford a car? Don't have kids!"

"Take a taxi and stop whining!"

"Do you know that other people feel tired too? Some people have illnesses that you cannot see and they need a seat too!"

Over and over again. As I scrolled and read these sentiments, they pierced my heart like icy arrows. I realized that giving up seats to the needy was an ideal that only a minority shared. How did this society end up like this?

My first pregnancy was just the beginning of an endlessly terrible relationship with Singapore's public transport.

When it rained, I would have to take a cab. This could set me back at least $30-60 a day. I can't tell you how difficult it is to board a taxi without anybody helping you, a baby in one arm, having to fold a stroller and put it in the back and get all your belongings in the car... Quickly, I might add.

To take a bus, you're required to fold your stroller before boarding. Sounds simple enough, if you had four arms that is. One for the baby, one for the stroller, one for your things and one to hold on to the rail to keep you all from flying to the back of the bus. Bus drivers usually don't wait for you to get seated before driving off. It's dangerous, but they're on a schedule. I get it. For everyone else's safety, the stroller has to be folded nonetheless. Moms and babies can always put a bandaid on if they get hurt I suppose.

In the span of a year of taking buses with Brendan and having to fold and carry my stroller on board, I have only ever had ONE kind young man help me to carry it on board. Most other people just look at me struggling sadly or avert their eyes- as if you could look away from a suffering person and their suffering would just evaporate. Not a single bus operator has ever helped me to carry my stroller on board despite it being part of their job to do so. They routinely help wheelchair-bound people get on the bus though. I'm not sure why this is the prevalent practice.

Now that I'm about very obviously 5 months pregnant and traveling around with a 15 month old, you'd think that things could possibly get better. I'm sorry to say that it only gets worse. Just yesterday, a journey from Khatib to Newton saw me walking and pushing the stroller 15 minutes to the MRT station (I can't take the bus because of the stroller folding rule), stand 30 minutes on the train (no seats were offered) and walk another 15 minutes to my destination (again, no bus).

Let's just say I'm getting used to feeling faint in the heat of the sun these days. This is me, a former cross-country runner (my fastest 5k was run under 20 minutes) and I'm having fainting spells from bringing my toddler and pregnant self around this little tropical island. Do I count my blessings because I do not have pregnancy complications? What about those who do?

It's ironic that those who are the most willing to give up their seats are usually the elderly and pregnant women themselves. I say usually, because I have encountered parents who did not give up their seats to others as well- and I refer to the dads sitting next to their wife and kids.

Most days, after a trip on public transport, I come home feeling completely drained mentally and physically and it takes a full 24 hours for the accumulated swelling and cramping to go away. Also, being pregnant means frequent peeing. But being pregnant and taking public transport with a toddler means frequently having to hold your bowels.

I think what I wish for the most isn't physical rest, but just sympathy and an understanding. It is one thing to suffer physically, but it is another to be made to feel as if raising a family were some disease you brought upon yourself. Since when did children and mothers become such burdens to society? Why am I looked upon as a bad mother since I must struggle taking public transport daily instead of being able to afford an outrageously priced car?

I really don't think living in a first-world country definitely means comfort in every way. People talk about Singapore being one of the safest countries in the world but nobody sees the anxiety us females go through when we stand in a crowded bus or train surrounded by males. Who will stand and speak up for a molestation victim when none will even stand up for a pregnant woman?

What Singapore's public transport has given to me is something very valuable. I will never look at the swollen ankles of an old woman the same way again. When I see her shift her weight from one foot to the other, I can feel her pain in my body. When I watch other people turn a blind eye to a heavily pregnant woman and her eyes turn a watery pink, I understand how she feels. When I see people rush past the handicapped to take their places in the lifts, I sense their frustration. All of this gives me the strength to speak out for others and also patience to regard the plights of others.

These days, I've given up waiting around for my physical pain to end. I tell myself that I have to be strong for my kids and that strength cannot come from anyone else but God. Whenever I feel exhausted, a scene from the movie China Cry of a very pregnant Nora Lam always encourages me (see 1:28:43)

I shall trust my body to Him and not to people.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

What Life Has Been

Brendan is now 14 months and 3 weeks old. He used to take two 1.5-2hr naps in the day, but I decided to drop one nap a few days ago and consolidate them into one 3hr nap in the afternoon. So far, so good. My baby quickly is growing into a toddler...

He's currently in love with his blankets and Megabloks. If the blanket is within his reach, he will try to pull it out from between the slats of the crib and crawl with it everywhere. I really don't like when he does that because his blanket would be dusty later on. So the moment I spot him with his blanket outside the crib, I will take the blanket from him and put it back in an unreachable spot. Thankfully, he won't cry or protest when I do that. He knows when mommy means business!

The guitar is another source of fun for Brendan.
Sometimes, I leave it lying on the couch and he will crawl up to pat the strings or examine the various little parts of it.

He's been taking little steps on his own since he was 13.5 months old. But like his extremely cautious INTJ dad, he prefers to do everything the "safe", "proper" and "certain" way. Despite obviously being able to walk on his own, he's still taking his time to master his balance- almost as if he wants to be an expert in standing alone before venturing onto the next step. I love that I'm able to observe this part of his analytical personality so early on!

My second Mothers' Day was filled with flowers, smiles and cake. My dad actually came by HOB earlier and dropped off (our favorite) strawberry cheesecake from SSC without telling me. It was a really pleasant and delicious surprise!

I wished my mom were in town. I would have gotten her something to eat too... Haha

When the weather's nice, I'd take Brendan to the playground downstairs where he can meet other babies and practice his standing/walking. He usually spends his time standing in a corner observing the other children play or walking round the poles.

Everyday is a new day of discovery and mastery for him.

Sometimes I am (not so happily) surprised by his new abilities.

But mostly, I love the daily smiles, cuddles and kisses that I get from him :)