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Mon, Sep 13, 2010
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The power of goodbyes
by Clara Chow

I SUCK at farewells.

Graduations, last days at work, parties for emigrating people: I avoid them as much as I can. It’s a good thing I won’t be present at my own funeral.
Perhaps, it has something to do with some long-buried childhood trauma, but I don’t deal well with endings.

Deep down, I am anxious about being left alone, or of having to muddle through this big, bad world on my own.

In that sense , my four-year-old son Julian is displaying more maturity than I am.

Of late, Julian has started displaying a special talent for goodbyes.

His are the sweetest, nicest send-offs. In the morning, as I prepare to go to work, he eyeballs me and then offers earnestly: “I choose a dress for you to wear, okay?”

One day, after I’d said yes, he opened my cupboard and immediately picked out a gold-coloured, shimmery, metallic mini-dress with a bare, cut-out back.

“I want you to wear this shiny one,” he chirped happily. Uh-oh.

Not wanting to hurt his feelings, I put on the gold dress, pairing it with ironic flip flops, and steeled myself for a day of weird looks at the office.

Luckily, it was the Hungry Ghost Festival then, and the few people who did a double-take at my outlandish outfit on my commute merely assumed I was very, very early for my getai engagement.

What made it worth it was that, as I left the house, Julian smiled broadly at me and said: “Bye, Mummy! Have fun at work!”

On other days, he stands gleefully at the front door, watching his Papa put on his black Oxford shoes, chattering away, full of promises to be a good boy, and to stand in while the Man of
the House was away at work.

It’s a far cry from a mere six months to a year ago, when Julian would cry and cling when his father left for work (poor Dad had to slip out quietly to bypass the waterworks), or turn
sullen and refuse to look at me whenever I left. Julian also has a very Continental hello and goodbye trick, thanks to the Supportive Spouse’s obsession with The Godfather trilogy of films, of kissing us three times on the cheek: Right, left, right; Muah, muah, muah.

My son’s sunny goodbyes are the memories that sustain me while I’m away from him. Without them, I doubt I can function as well at work; I’d be constantly worrying about whether he
and his younger brother Lucien were all right.

I’m glad for Julian’s latest developmental milestone, even if that means we have moved a little closer to the day when he’ll be the one saying goodbye to me as he leaves for national service, university, or for his own matrimonial home. Long ago, while the Supportive Spouse and I were still dating, we sat through a French film-festival marathon.

One of the films being screened was Tanguy (2001), about a man who was pushing 30 and still refuses to move out of his parents’ home. High jinks ensue as the exasperated parents try to drive their stay-at-home son away. Oh, we laughed then. But, now, with two young sons of our own, my husband and I are already starting to fantasise about the day we finally have the house to ourselves.

So, the sooner we train them to stand on their own two feet, and bid us a cheery, loving farewell, the better.

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