This post is for me and my wife. The picture you see here will mean absolutely nothing to you, and I will not be offended if you close the browser window and read some other site. But if you wish to stay and find out what's the story behind the photo, that's ok too.
This is our daughter Faith, in a pram. She is three years and seven months old, and she is sitting in a pram that is too small for her.
It was the Deepavali holiday and that morning, I had gone to Serangoon North to buy a replacement fish tank for my poor fish. Their two-feeter had leaked some weeks ago, and they have been living in the fish equivalent of a one-room HDB flat all this while. So when faced with the choice of buying them a new tank, I decided to do what most Singaporeans do best, upgrade.
What started as a simple holiday morning late breakfast with mommy, daddy and daughter, at our market, became this mad search for "The Fish Shops Place" in another estate.
Serangoon North is famous for the number of pet shops, especially aquariums, but the town centre looks like it was designed by a madman who was probably drunk and smoking pot. In fact, that would be insulting to an alcoholic madman who smokes pot.
The car park was madness, and when we finally did get a parking lot, we were lost in the maze-like layout. We walked for more than twenty minutes before we found the pet shop cluster. In the process, we ducked into an electrical shop to look for some audio adaptor for my Xbox, and walked out of the store with a new floor fan. It was $79, down from $88, but we got it for $65 because the shopkeeper remembered the price wrongly, but was still honest enough to let us have it for the $65 he quoted. Nice man.
We left the fan behind to continue our search for the elusive fish tank, planning to double back to get the bulky fan after we were done tank shopping. When we finally found Rainbow (yes, the shop with the annoying radio ads), and the rest of the gang, it was already past 1pm. The wife was getting annoyed because it was way past Faith's lunch time. I scouted the shops within fifteen minutes and found one of them selling a two-feet tank that looked like the one I had.
Next to the two-feet, however, was this three-feeter that was selling for $60, less than the two-feet one (because the latter had curved edges). The persuasive auntie told me that my discus will need more space eventually. I looked at the tank skeptically, wondering A, how I was going to carry it, and B, how I was going to mount it.
"No problem, very light, even I can lift it alone," said the store auntie.
She must have been a former member of Dr Xavier's school of mutants, or was in Pro-Wrestling in her previous career, because when I swung the car around (yes, I found the car, and even picked up the fan from the electrical shop along the way), I realised that it was going to take my wife and me to carry this glass monster back to my car.
It was the longest twenty-five metres I have ever experienced carrying a fish tank.
The wife and I had to carry the tank together, while egging our daughter to follow us. Now you may not think that this is a big deal, since most three-year-olds can generally be trusted with walking alongside their parents without their hand held, and without running into traffic. But Faith is not a regular three-year-old. Faith is autistic, has no speech, and has a tendency to sprint away on tiptoe when she sees something of interest.
So picture if you will, a man and a woman struggling with a three-feet fish tank, trying to get it to their car, while coaxing their daughter to follow them, as if following her parents was this great accomplishment that warranted praise and cheers.
Fortunately, Faith found the fish tank extremely amusing, and scampered along with us, giggling and touching the tank like it was a new pet friend. It was good training for her, on hindsight, to learn to walk with us unheld. But it was the most stressful thing for us.
When we got to the car, we found that the tank would not fit in the boot, so we had to put it down on the road, buckle Faith in the front car seat (we could not put her in the car alone earlier or she would have freaked), then proceeded to try fitting it into the rear seat (after removing Isaac's baby seat).
After some huffing and puffing, we got the tank in (oh why oh why, did I not spend the extra $20 for delivery?). We drove home, with a fish tank and mommy in the back seat, Faith up front with me, and a floor fan in the boot. To her credit, Faith did not complain about being hungry, and she was her usual sweet self the whole time.
We spent the afternoon recovering from the morning, and then had the hare-brained idea of going to Ikea to look for a cabinet for the fish tank, plus have our dinner there. Yes, you heard right — Ikea — on a public holiday. It must have been the sun.
So after we packed like, a gazillion things for the kids (plus both their dinners in Thermos, because Isaac was still too young, and Faith was on a Gluten-Free Casein-Free, or GFCF, diet), we drove to Ikea.
We were very co-ordinated in our approach to the whole thing. It was like a military operation. You cannot go to a place like Ikea as a family and not plan your moves.
When my car joined the queue of cars trying to get into the underground car park, I told my wife and maid to stand by to de-bus. I said, "When I say, NOW, take the kids out of their car seats, grab the baby bag, and exit by the door on the kerb side, then go to the restaurant to try and get a table, while I park the car, so we don't waste time. I will carry Isaac's pram up after I park."
"Wait... wait, cars moving, wait... still moving, ok... NOW!"
A flurry of arms, legs, and kids later, my squad was on their way to take the restaurant.
I carried the pram up to the restaurant to meet them after parking and my wife was waiting with Faith outside the restaurant, frustrated at the crowd. They still hadn't found a table all this time.
So I handed the pram to her, and started to look for people finishing their food. I grabbed Isaac from my maid, Celia, to see if having a cute baby boy in my arms would help get sympathy votes. I had hoped use his baby cuteness to counter the phenomenon where people suddenly decide to eat their last spoonful of food very, very slowly, when they spot you waiting for their table.
It was Celia who found the table first, and it was a good roomy one too, enough space for three adults who had to feed two children first.
I waved to my wife, who had been waiting outside with Faith and the pram, and when she came over, she was beaming as she pushed Faith over in Isaac's pram.
My jaw dropped.
I was speechless for a few seconds, but found my voice enough to tell her, "Take picture take picture!"
You see, Faith has not sat on a pram since she was less than a year old. She has not sat on prams, supermarket trolleys, tricycles, and 20-cent kiddie rides, and other moving things that kids love. In contrast, they totally terrify her. Her senses could never deal with the lateral motion. We gave up trying to get her into her pram long ago, and resigned ourselves to carrying her, or later, after she learned to walk, walking with her on our outings. Her pram was mothballed until Isaac came along almost two years later.
But there she was, sitting happily in her former pram, playing with a packet of tissues and yabbering to herself in a language only she understood.
It was hard to contain our excitement. I am sure other shoppers were looking at us, wondering what the commotion was about, or why it was such a big deal that the father had to take a picture of his daughter sitting in a pram that was a little too small for her.
We were almost reluctant to take her out of the pram, in case it was just a one-off fluke. But we had to have dinner and Isaac needed to sit in it to be fed.
"I just decided to try it, while waiting for you," whispered the wife, as if saying it too loud might jinx it. "And she just got in without crying, screaming or fighting."
Thank God for a mother's optimism.
After dinner (gotta love them Swedish meat balls), we put Faith in again, just to see if she was really ok with it.
She was. And we pushed her through the aisles of Ikea, starting from the entrance. I am anal that way. Have to start from the front and follow the arrows, or I will feel that we have missed something. She remained seated in the pram, enjoying the sights and sounds.
In fact, when we stopped to look at something, she would get upset, and swayed herself forward to tell us she wanted us to move. The wife and I just grinned, and silently thanked God for this moment, pushing the pram as casually as our trembling hands could manage.
So that's the story of Faith in her old pram. Like I said, the photo means absolutely nothing to anyone else. It is not even well taken, and the camera phone did the best it could under the poor lighting conditions.
But it will be one of the most profound reminders of life's little miracles that we, as parents of an autistic child, will carry with us to the grave.
That is why what most parents take for granted, like getting their child to sit in a pram, are little miracles for us. They sometimes arrive a little late, but that makes them all the more precious. We cannot wait to celebrate more.