20 August 2013

A newer normal

Last week, after the Bird Park, we retreated to the terrace house in Taman Sri Minang, licked our metaphorical and literal wounds and repeated the Malaysian mantra: never mind, la. Never mind. Let's try again, let's be better today than we were last week. The girls are at an age where they adore me. When push comes to shove, of course, they prefer their mother, they will go with their mother, but they still want to held and carried. They think daddy is brilliant and strong and capable. The other parents will know how hard it is to appreciate this when it is happening, rather than after it has passed; life has a way of never allowing you to appreciate the moment, except as a memory. Still, this last week, I was able to appreciate it. A blessing. A mercy.

Sometimes stepping back gives perspective, a lack of focus on a series of negative moments to find the good ones. Yoko and I and the kids, for example, sit in Starbucks in Midvalley and for a moment I think of Malaysia as it is intended to be: an outside terrace with fans. Arab men with veiled women and smartly dressed Chinese Malaysian men in black leather shoes. I sit back and try not to think too much about what counts as a place I can relax. The girls are nothing but happy, 'Today also a lucky day?' they say as I take three days off after the long weekend to buy them candy. Yes, today also. 

Naomi has the most concern for the family: like my older brother, she mediates the world of the children and the world of the adults. When my brother went to college, in 1998, the house dissolved without him. The weekend that Diana was killed in a car crash, yes, I can remember it all now if I think about it. Naomi is becoming this person in our family. Reasonable and careful. She pestered Neal, who came this last week, to ask her questions — quiz her spelling ability and then asked for praise, 'I'm good at spelling, right?' 

Now, next week, we will abandon her again at a new school, and I wonder how long it will take her to adjust. I keep thinking that something will happen that will mean she doesn't have to go and can stay at the neighbourhood tadika until the end of the year, that the ticket out of Malaysia will come in a chocolate bar wrapping that I discover walking home from work. It hasn't and isn't coming this week or next, so we will keep going through the motions, lying to her that stability is coming. The truth: No, sweetheart, you will have to do this again, I imagine. At least one more time. I promise we'll settle next time.

The readjustment wears on me more than on her. Kids are resilient, or at least we all say to each other, but no one really knows what they mean or has any empirical evidence for it. Children forget like I've really forgotten how it was when my brother left. I remember sitting around the kitchen table and everyone being profoundly sad and angry, but I can't remember if we shouted or what we said or what was said. 

I suspect the children will remember candy and the massive mall here — how daddy promised to buy a ukulele at Christmas and how we were always planning on going back to the UK anyway. Yoko and I will remember the uncertainty and the pressure to keep more money coming in than going out, but Naomi and Mei and Mia, with some luck, will remember how their daddy picked them up in the crowd and kissed their cheeks: told them, 'I love you. I love you' again and again, like it was a promise for a better future.