Nov 11, 2013

    Contentment, in a time of ill health

    A RECENT bout of sickness has had me confined to the house.

    Whereas during past illnesses I'd always welcomed the opportunity to legitimately rest and do nothing, this time, I feel guilty.

    Guilty for not spending enough time with my two sons, aged seven and four. With the school holidays upon us, both have more free time and have been going a little stir-crazy cooped up at home.

    Much as I dearly want to take them out to have fun, a constant headache and an allergic eye disease have left me with blurry vision and I am unable to drive.

    Instead, I lie down in my darkened bedroom all day, wondering when this feeling of fatigue will leave me.

    Occasionally, I totter out of the room to say hello to my boys. We sit in companionable silence on the sofa, watching all six Star Wars episodes on DVD or messing about on the iPad.

    In a reversal of roles, the two boys sit at the desk in our home office, playing games on their Dad's laptop - their backs to me, just like on those days I worked from home and turned my back on them.

    I feel a pang when the boys need something and immediately ask our domestic helper for it, even though I am in the room with them: they have been conditioned not to disturb me.

    I feel sad that I have gone from being too busy to being too weak to do these small, everyday things for them.

    Perhaps it all stems from a frustration that I have so much to do in my life, and that my body fails me.

    At the age of 36, I have developed a horrible form of nostalgia for healthier times that keeps me looking backwards, as though the best days of my life are over.

    "I want my 30-something brain with my 20-something body," I lamented recently to an old friend.

    "It doesn't work that way," came her dry, yet calming, reply.

    In my more hypochondriac hours, I stare at my younger son, as he furrows his brow at some task, wondering if my eyesight might deteriorate to the point that I can't see his sweet face any more.

    Then it's time for my three-hourly eye drops, and I feel a little better and more optimistic afterwards.

    These days, I look forward to putting the boys to bed. In the past, the thought of having to make up bedtime story after bedtime story, while they giggled and refused to sleep, was enough to make me sleepy.

    Now, I revel in the spinning of tales - as many as they want, about outer space, ninjas, manatees, anything - until their eyelids can stay open no longer.

    After they drift into dreamland, I spend another half hour or so listening to the even-ness of their breathing, feeling a little more purpose in life.

    One rainy afternoon, the elder son and I spent some time alone at home, after Papa took the younger brother out.

    I fished out some Kalkitos sheets - those transfer stickers that you rubbed onto blank scenery with a pencil, which kept me occupied for hours when I was a kid in the 1980s.

    At first, my son looked confused at this complicated form of stickers. I showed him how, and he soon got the hang of it.

    Propped up on pillows in bed, we spent a happy couple of hours shading superhero transfers onto a battle scene. Then we took a nap together - a luxury we hadn't had for almost a year, since the boy started Primary 1.

    While watching Star Wars again for the nth time, I remarked to him about Princess Leia's home planet: "Wah, this Alderaan very nice, hor."

    "I was just about to say that," he replied.

    "I think I'd like to live on Alderaan," I added. "What about you?"

    "Aiyah," he shot me a sensible look. "Stay on Earth is good enough."

    I learnt something new about contentment from this child's wisdom.

    Yes, staying on Earth is good enough. To be alive is to take comfort and strength from the tiniest, most ordinary things.