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Monday, November 11, 2013

Of School Buses & Coffee Shops - The Grandpa I Always Loved

Like Grandfather, Like Grandson.
The house looked exactly as I remembered it before - a quaint semi-detached building surrounded by a garden of cow grass. The oddly-shaped mango tree remained in the corner of the garden; and where the tree lacked in beauty, it made up so much more in terms of the juicy and succulent mangoes it produced - easily the best in the land. The delicate orchid blooms were also there, lining the sides of the house; each of them a labour of love, individually cultivated to produce their resplendent shades of purple, yellow, red and white. All at once I saw him; and the tears welled up in my eyes. I had a sense this was goodbye, but I couldn't bear to say the words. 

"Grandpa...." I began without being able to continue.

A broad smile emerged on the face of the elderly man, his eyes as gentle as always. 

"Why can't you let me go?" he asked. "Don't you want me to join your Mama?"

I burst into tears, for I knew that was exactly what my Grandpa had been waiting for all these years...

The above sequence of events took place just last week. I had awakened from my sleep with tears flowing from my eyes, sobbing uncontrollably for another good 10 minutes. And the dream seemed so real to me - it was almost as if I was talking to my dearest grandfather, even though he had passed away exactly five years ago, during the latter half of 2008. 
Grandpa with Baby Mark

I loved my Grandpa deeply. 

From as far back as I can remember, I always cherished the time spent at my grandparents'. I remember that there would be times when I would refuse to go home with my mum, and my Grandpa and Mama would have had to hide. Only then would I reluctantly go home, my eyes still wet from the copious flow of tears. I know now that part of the reason why I loved them so much was that they spoiled me to the core. My grandparents didn't have much financially, but Grandpa made it a point to buy a board game for me every single week, while Mama would spend hours playing these games with me. 

During those childhood years, it was Mama whom I loved more - definitely because of the time that she spent playing games with me. But Grandpa was never far away. My mum recounted how Grandpa would ride with me on the school bus each day to make sure that I would get to and from primary school safely. One day she decided to chide him for doing so, and he never again followed the school bus. A few weeks later she happened to walk down to the void deck of my HDB flat, and she saw Grandpa waving goodbye to me as I returned home from the bus into the waiting hands of my domestic helper, before walking away silently. He was afraid that Mum would scold him, and made it his duty to wait at the void deck everyday until he was sure that I was safe.

My Mama passed away just before my transition to the teenage years. This affected my Grandpa deeply, as he was so very much in love with her. As the years went by, Grandpa became more and more broken emotionally, and he was never the same as before. This did not affect my relationship with him; in fact I believe I grew closer to him during this period of time. Our relationship deepened over numerous visits to the coffee shop, during which he would share his views on life and tell me story after story about his childhood, his working years under the Japanese occupation, and about how he romanced and courted my Mama.  


Grandpa - so proud to witness his grandson's
graduation.
I grew to know a man who lived life with the shadow of his past haunting him - his parents' early death and adoption by a rich uncle always made him feel inferior to others. But it was this same man who selflessly gave his own money to people from underprivileged backgrounds. He had never forgotten his past, and continued to use his life to be a blessing to others.

Reflecting on my relationship with my Grandpa, I have learnt two major lessons. 

Firstly, it is crucial that children have a deep relationship with their grandparents. I don't mean a once-a-year superficial meeting premised on Christmas or Chinese New Year. In Singapore this occurrence is not uncommon given that people are so busy with the numerous stressors of life. It is therefore so easy to allow oneself to be immersed in individual pursuits, neglecting the important ties with one's family. To this end I am very thankful for the strong bonds that my children have with their grandparents. Both children visit their two sets of grandparents weekly, and it is evident that they look forward to these visits. Z, for instance, has been vocal in asking if he could stay at Mama's house, or if he could go see the Flyer with Nai Nai. 

Secondly, I have realised that grandparents should be allowed to be grandparents. In an entry written in November 2011, I shared the initial difficulties we had with our children's grandparents. Back then, I wrote that we sometimes differ with our parents in terms of how to discipline our children. This is still a struggle for us, given that grandparents in general tend to "give in" more to their grandchildren. We have however come to a common understanding with regards to the major disciplinary issues. For instance there should be zero tolerance whatsoever if any child hits his sibling or another person. However, in terms of some of the minor issues, we have decided that we should respect the wishes of the grandparents - after all, each caregiver's role is different. Parents have the final responsibility of taking care of their children. As such, they can afford to be stricter, even as they demonstrate their love for their kids. Grandparents, on the other hand, have a different responsibility. Their "job" is to love the child and to provide the strong familial support necessary for the child to thrive. Ultimately the child must know that he or she is deeply loved by everyone - parent and grandparent alike. 

The house my grandparents lived in will forever be etched in my mind's eye; as will the fond memories I shared with my Grandpa. Sue shared similar experiences with her Mama, and like mine, these have been cultivated over the years, with much quality time invested in the relationship. If I am to desire such a deep relationship for my children, it has to start early. Like any other relationship, the grandparent-grandchild bonds have to be strengthened over a prolonged period of time. This, I believe, will be what my children's memories will be made up of.