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Commentary

Parenting while injured

Blessing in disguise for this mum with a torn tendon feeling sidelined on first day of school

On the first day of school this year - while many parents with children starting Primary 1 were helping them get ready for a new phase in life - I hobbled out of bed to catch a glimpse of my own six-going-on-seven-year-old, already clad in his school uniform, cheerily wolfing down a bowl of Coco Pops. Giggling, Lucien put on his shoes with his elder brother, Julian, worldly-wise at 10 years. I barely had time to grab Lucien for a photograph, before he was off and running downstairs ahead of his dad, who walked both boys to school.

Me? I stayed home, laid up by a foot injury, feeling left out of the Primary 1 party.

"How was the first day of school?" I texted the Spouse eagerly, after he had picked the boys up post-Lucien's first day and taken them to their Chinese tutor's. I waited for photo updates and experienced everything second-hand ("Brothers walking home together!"; "Lucien seemed to have enjoyed his first day!"; "Lucien tired out and napping!").

Parenting, while nursing some bodily damage, can be like a strange dream. You feel as if you are sitting in a row boat on a lake, tethered by a rope to the dock. You can see and hear your family, going about their lives on the dock, but you are forced to bob in the boat, hands folded in your lap.

A few days before Christmas last month, I had torn a tendon under the most ridiculous circumstances. While clearing out the shoe cabinet, I decided to try on a barely worn pair of towering platform heels, just for old times' sake, before throwing them out. No sooner had I stood in them than I felt a "pop" in the arch of my right foot. By that night, my right foot had swelled up and a bruise had formed on my sole. By the next day, I was unable to put any weight on it.

Parenting, while nursing some bodily damage, can be like a strange dream. You feel as if you are sitting in a row boat on a lake, tethered by a rope to the dock. You can see and hear your family, going about their lives on the dock, but you are forced to bob in the boat, hands folded in your lap.

A desperate trip to the A&E later (the orthopaedic specialists I called for an appointment all seemed to have gone on holiday), I had a bandaged foot, crutches and instructions to stay off my injured paw. The tendon, partially torn, would heal by itself - but slowly. I had to do RICE: Rest, apply Ice and Compression on the affected area, Elevate the foot.

So much for shimmying at any festive countdowns.

Since then, the Supportive Spouse has been the sole (pun unintended) functioning parent. In between work appointments, he takes the children to and fetches them from school. He takes them to their Chinese enrichment classes, music lessons and to friends' homes for gatherings. My menfolk even went on shopping sprees without me - hunting down a geeky game shop to acquire new Dungeons & Dragons campaign kits and dice. They travel by taxi everywhere - I am the only qualified driver in our household, but, now, stepping on the brakes causes pain to shoot up my leg.

What started out as a minor injury, or so I thought, has turned into a long-drawn period of not-quite-recovery. The foot stubbornly refuses to get better. On top of that, I was recently accidentally elbowed in the forehead. A few days after the slight bump had subsided, I started feeling some weakness in the muscles that lift my right eyebrow and numbness in my face. My eyesight became a little wonky. These days, I stay in bed. A lot.

Meanwhile, the children have been out of the ken, on adventures all their own. Lucien comes home with tales of strange and exciting lands, like how he discovered a "saints' heaven" in school, where movies were screened and free snacks were provided during recess. He is proud that he has been made English captain in class. He tells me that he and his brother wave - cool and collected - when they run into each other at the toilet or library with their separate posse. I feel increasingly isolated and detached from my offspring, marvelling in my bedroom at how primary school has become a wonderful, exotic continent since I last attended. But I am also amused how the roles have been reversed. I am now the cloistered child, while my son forges new paths as an independent being.

At times, I feel frustrated that I am not able to be more there for my children. I am physically at home, but running on much-diminished capacity, less mobile, unable to concentrate fully on the business and pleasure of raising boys.

One night, Lucien requests I visit him in school, so I can meet his buddy, the Primary 4 pupil tasked to show him around for the first week of term. "Will you come, please?" he asks. "You can meet us at the canteen, where all the other daddies and mummies are during recess." When I tell him sorry, I shouldn't walk around so much, he buries his head in his pillow in disappointment. I feel useless.

But then, there are little moments that remind me how lucky we are to be together, even in injury and inconvenience: curling up together to watch my latest obsession, television programmes about tiny homes of 500 sq ft or less; setting up a small tent for the boys in their bedroom, which Lucien loves "because the aliens cannot find me in there".

Perhaps, being injured has been a blessing in disguise. It has stopped me from getting in the way of and cramping my husband's parenting style, which has worked wonders. Without my flighty, spur-of-the-moment input and silly impulses - "never mind that it's a school night, let's watch a movie!"; "forget homework, let's go out for dinner!"; "oh, let them stay up for just one football match on TV!" - the boys have settled nicely into their back-to-school routine.

Most of all, this temporary situation is a lesson for the children in empathy and appreciation. Lucien is conscientious about not accidentally touching my "bad" foot, and supports me when I inch my way down the stairs at home. Older brother Julian, not given to spontaneous outbursts of affection, mumbles a very gruff but sincere word of thanks when I roll up in my castor-wheeled chair to play a board game with him.

There is no need for guilt over the time I'm losing to properly be with them now. They continue to grow, without my active presence, and I am thankful.

•Clara Chow is a freelance writer and co-editor of literary journal WeAreAWebsite.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2016, with the headline 'Parenting while injured'. Print Edition | Subscribe