Personal · Singapore · Travel Tales · Traveling with a Kid · Two Cents

An open letter to my one-year-old, on the occasion of his first trip abroad

My dearest M,

I’d been looking forward to our trip to Singapore for about a year. I’d pictured nineteen-month-old you seeing up close all those animals you’d only seen in your picture books — the elephants, giraffes, lions. I’d wanted to see you gleefully running around in open spaces, which is quite rare in our part of the metropolis, where well-kept grassy land is also part of supersized malls. Also, I’d been raring for travel; there’s only so much traveling I could do as a teacher, and especially as a new mother.

But as in everything about you, no matter how many articles I’ve read about raising a child, I’ve always had to readjust my expectations. In Singapore Zoo, I didn’t quite expect that you’d be more interested in pushing your wagon than seeing the giraffes (so much for that SG$15 wagon rental). In S.E.A. Aquarium, you did seem to like the exhibits, but there were just so many people that you were always on the verge of a meltdown. There are explanations to these, of course: toddlers prefer doing things than just seeing them, and, well, no one in our family likes crowds.

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The struggle is real.

As for me: Booking seats with wider legroom on legacy airlines has become preferable, because you will be kicking and crawling and crying. No more cheap hostels with shared bathrooms — your comfort should always come first. I cannot pack as many activities as humanly possible in one day anymore. I can only make room for one major activity for the day, and the schedule has to depend on your nap time. Looking at maps means looking for the nearest nursing room. I cannot take quick, long walks, and I cannot pause for too long to adjust my camera and take pictures.

I suppose this teaches me a lesson on traveling: that I need to walk slower, maybe take fewer pictures, and just take in the sights. And a lesson on motherhood as well: I should not be in such a hurry to show you the world, because perhaps all you really want is simply to run around on Singapore’s wide walkways while yelling “Car! Car!” at the double-decker buses.

And so, when you show interest in something, it gives me nothing but pure joy. We may have bad pictures of our encounter with the chimpanzees, but only because they were more interesting to look at than the zoo staff with the cameras. The elephant show provoked only the slightest smile from you, but you chuckled and chuckled when you watched the feeding of the giant tortoises. You were mostly “meh” at the sleeping white tiger, but you were so excited at seeing the lizards that you smacked the glass so hard and I had to pull you away.

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It was quite funny, seeing the tortoises munching at their sweet potatoes slooowly. Oh, but look at Mommy’s hand not letting go of your shirt, lest you go over that rope.

Maybe (hopefully), someday, you will ask about wildlife, history, and architecture, and we will explore answers together. Maybe we’ll give elephants baths in Chiang Mai. Maybe we’ll take hikes and go scuba diving together. Or maybe you’ll be more content lounging in the beach, thinking of stories to write. I don’t know what you’ll like in the future, but for now, I’ll enjoy watching you grow up and travel on your own terms — whatever that means for a restless toddler at this moment.

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Love,

Your Mam

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