Once a woman of culture with ample time to discuss politics and watch documentaries with her husband, Rebecca is telling me that she has only watched three movies in the past four years. Two of them were superhero movies while the third, predictably, was Despicable Me, which she watched with her husband, Timothy, and their own minions.
For this couple, home is a 4-room flat in Bukit Panjang. It’s also where their children (Dylan, 12, Thaddeus, 4 and Audrina, who’s turning 1) wreak havoc day in, day out.
Inside, the walls are covered in stickers of cartoon characters. There is so little space to manoeuvre, with children’s books and toys strewn all over the floor, you could play the easiest game of ‘the floor is lava’.
“When you have children, the number of things you have just seem to multiply. Books, toys, bags, it’s endless,” Rebecca sighs.
If you don’t already know, being a mother of a young child is no mean feat, and requires an inordinate amount of sacrifice. But multiply this by three, and throw in the fact that Rebecca has to juggle a full-time job, and only then will you realise the full scope of her responsibilities.
After a few hours with the Kwok family in their humble, chaotic abode, I am convinced that there are few things worse than being the mother of three children.
A typical weekday is nothing like this. Instead, it’s something closer to this:
Straight out of bed, Rebecca has a quick breakfast, and starts pumping milk for Audrina before leaving for work. Meanwhile, Timothy sends Thaddeus to school before heading to the office. Upon knocking off, she picks Thaddeus up from school, and brings both him and Audrina downstairs to the playground.
As both Rebecca and Timothy work full-time jobs, weekdays are often a challenge. Outside of work hours, everything is planned around the children, leaving little time to themselves.
Since Audrina is too young to traipse around the playground, she looks for other ways to entertain herself.
“I just leave her on the ground where she likes to sit and play with the grass and leaves. She can just sit there and do that for very long,” Rebecca laughs, almost thankfully.
As the owner of a young puppy, I can almost empathise. When I’m home during the day, there is hardly a moment when my puppy Kaiser won’t be badgering me with licks and pleading eyes, at least not until I take him to the park where he expends all his energy running in circles.
Only after we’re home do I get any time to myself.
Which makes me wonder: is the time spent at the playground meant for Audrina to be exposed to the elements to cultivate her curiosity, or is it a time for Rebecca to unwind?
“From any point in my house, I can just look from any angle and I will see either children’s toys or books,” she laments.
As someone whose obsessive cleaning and organising of her home was once a therapeutic hobby—before Marie Kondo made it a multi-gajillion dollar lifestyle—you would think that Rebecca would flip out at this very sight.
But being a working mother means that any time you have for yourself is spent trying to sleep. When time for yourself is scarce, you will go to the ends of the Earth for that one extra minute to chuckle at some joke in Reader’s Digest while taking a dump.
Likewise, when it comes to cleaning up any mess created by the children, it needs to be done quickly and efficiently. Everything is in pursuit of having more time to herself.
Because Timothy doesn’t get home until 10 PM every night due to the nature of his job, he isn’t able to help out as much at home. When he does get home, any time he has left is spent reading with his children.
“His wife insists that he spends time with the children,” Rebecca jokes.
At the Kwok household, working 12 hours a day is not a good enough reason to be excused from family bonding time.
“The only time we try to do anything is during the kids’ afternoon nap time on weekends,” Rebecca tells me.
“By the time we try to get intimate, we will start to hear screams outside the door, so we just give up and get dressed.”
On weekdays, she doesn’t even consider spicing up her love life because getting sufficient rest is the priority.
“Sleep is more attractive at this point,” she laughs. “My kids are very attached, so sometimes my daughter will latch onto me and we will both just fall asleep until the next morning.”
What strikes me throughout my interaction with the Kwoks is that even though their schedules are constantly jam-packed, with soccer practice, tuition lessons, and even swimming classes for 11-month old Audrina (HOW IS THIS A THING?!), not once did either parent complain.
And so I find myself leaving the Kwok family home with a bittersweet feeling. At 25, I might not be ready to be a parent. But should I get the opportunity, I would hope that I remember how a mother’s love is undying and unconditional.
After all, I’ve seen how Rebecca might be in a constant state of fatigue, but how it’s also clear that she wouldn’t change a thing. Not even if it means being able to going out for a movie or supper on a whim, without children to worry about.
Cheesy as this sounds, it would appear that there are few things better than being the mother of three children. Well, maybe except three children AND a clean home.
“I just hope that the children can help out around the house soon,” Rebecca smiles in agreement.
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