After some consideration, we decided that our inability to come up with one label for the 33-year-old is actually rather telling of what she is exactly: Everything. Everything the modern woman is about; everything she wants to — and can — be. In that regard, she is unquestionably a role model by example.
By day, Aarika is the resident storyteller (or “Chief of Merchantry & Linguistics”) at creative agency Elementary Co. By night, she’s a musician (she sings at The Mad Men Attic Bar every Tuesday). In fact, if you’re familiar with the local indie music scene, you would have heard of SIXX, a nine-piece band of which Aarika was a part. And for all the jam-packed hours in between, she’s also a super-cool and stylish* mummy to her daughter Zola Mae — who guest-starred in our shoot ❤️ — and son Ari Jon (oh yes, quite needless to say, her Instagram oozes cuteness).
Here, this eloquent multi-hyphenate gives us a precious hour of her time and a glimpse into her world of music, fashion and mummyhood, complete with a few tips on how it’s possible to do it all.
*Don’t you wish you could rock a head wrap like she does? 😍 (Move aside, Erykah Badu! Carrie who?)
On your Instagram profile, you describe yourself as being a multi-tasker by day. Can you name the many tasks that fill your day?
Aarika Lee: Sure! It’s quite an extensive list. I think it might be best to give you a quick rundown of a typical day.
7am – 7.30am: Zola wakes me up by coming into our room and asking for cartoons, chocolate milk, or to sleep some more — in our bed. The minute Zola wakes up, Ari is up. He has serious FOMO.
8am: Get the kids breakfast — I either make it or we go to McDonald’s for hotcakes. We usually take our time with breakfast. It’s sometimes the only meal we get to have together in the day, so we enjoy every bit of it. If we’re eating at home, it almost always involves watching a Disney cartoon — Dora The Explore on Nickelodeon or music videos.
9am: Bathe the kids, and then I start getting ready for work. This can take anything from 30 to 90 minutes depending on the day.
10am/10.30am: If the kids are staying home with my mum-in-law for the day, I head for the office or morning meetings. If my mum is watching the kids, I shuttle them from where we live in Sengkang to my mum’s place at Upper East Coast Road.
11.30am: If I’m lucky, I’m in the office by now. I’m the marketing director and copywriter at Elementary Co. Because of my background in music
and vocal recording, some days also comprise of creating new music and recording voice overs at the office store room. As we manage content creation for some of our clients, I also get to wear the hat of stylist or art director, photographer and videographer. I’m also often working on several personal projects at any given time, whether its a partnership with a brand or a creative project with my husband. I set aside time in my day to check off any (and there are many) to-dos on those lists as well.
6pm: Back to the kids. The moment we get home, the kids are our sole priority. We either take them to the playground or we go to the shops to pick up snacks or groceries for the next day. If it’s a Tuesday night, I’m at The Mad Men Attic Bar by 8pm and singing until 11pm before heading home.
9.30pm: Once the kids head to bed, I get to hang with my husband, Kevin. We try to finish up what work we have, or watch a movie/TV series, and then prep for the next day.
12am: I burn the midnight oil sometimes so that I can finish work that’s urgent, or to respond to emails I haven’t had the opportunity to get to. Some of these late nights also involve replying interviews.
2am: I try to be in bed by now. The latest I’ve stayed up to work is 6am.
My favourite thing about mummyhood is getting to be a child again… looking out for the wonder and miracle in the tiniest things.
You’re a musician by night. Let’s talk music for a bit…
How did your love affair with music come about?
AL: I grew up with my parents playing music in the house all the time. My dad would sing to my mum on his guitar, and Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, America, El De Barge, and the Miami Sound Machine would be on full blast at any given time of the day. My mum’s brothers are also all musicians, so music has always been very much a part of my life.
What was the first piece of music you ever heard or were moved by?
AL: I think it was Michael Jackson singing Ben.
The first cassette tape /CD you ever bought was…
AL: Step By Step by New Kids On The Block!
What music instruments do you play?
AL: Keyboards and guitar.
What’s your all-time favourite lyric?
AL: The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. The whole song is amazing, but if I had to pick just a couple of lines it’d be:
And life squeezes so tight that I can’t breathe
And every time I’ve tried to be
What someone else thought of me
So caught up
I wasn’t able to achieve
But deep in my heart
The answer it was in me
And I made up my mind
To define my own destiny.
What about the most empowering lyric/song for the modern woman?
AL: For me it’s the same song. Or the entire Lauryn Hill album.
What tune do you find yourself humming to these days?
AL: The Wheels On The Bus. No lie.
Do you sing in the shower?
AL: Yes I do!
What do you like to sing to your children?
AL: I sing to them songs that we make up together. Sometimes it’s about the clouds in the sky, or the ants on the ground. Other times it’s about how much we love each other: “I love you I love you I love you I love you…” Even if they don’t fully grasp it yet, I know it affects their little hearts.
Fashion is clearly your other love. And you’ve got a very unique personal style. What’s your current wardrobe situation like?
AL: It consists of a lot of my favourite colours, comfort, classics, and many many many scarves.
We can’t talk about your style without talking about your apparent obsession with scarves and your super-chic take on the head wrap. How did that come about? Is that usually your starting point when you plan an outfit?
AL: I really just wanted to try something new, and I picked up a scarf one day to see if I could rock a head wrap. It quickly became a way for me to accessorise and express myself. Sometimes it starts with the scarf — this is usually when I’ve acquired a new one. Every other day, it’s the one thing I go to elevate my outfit.
But deep in my heart
The answer it was in me
And I made up my mind
To define my own destiny.
Where do you like to shop?
AL: I love Topshop and Zara for easy everyday pieces. Matter Prints for their awesome scarves and pants, In Good Company and Beyond The Vines for everything, Cavalier for interesting pieces for both myself and the kids, and I’ve recently rediscovered Eclecticism, a multi label store at Wheelock Place.
Flashback: What was your maternity style like?
AL: I don’t think it varied too much from my usual style, to be honest. I would just buy items I loved in a bigger size, or use my husbands cool T-shirts and shirts.
What’s your outfit of choice when you’re on mummy duty nowadays?
AL: A Topshop basic, Matter pants, a head wrap and Melissa sandals.
When it comes to being a mum, what lessons did you learn from your mother?
AL: That every child is different. That you can read all the books, but the most important thing is to read your children. To not sweat the small stuff and embrace every moment of their childhood because they’ll only be little once. To always tell them that you love them.
I grew up with my parents playing music in the house all the time. My dad would sing to my mum on his guitar, and Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, America, El De Barge, and the Miami Sound Machine would be on full blast at any given time of the day.
NEVER LOSE YOUR SENSE OF WONDER.
I try to take public transport over cabs when I can because the travel time on buses and trains gives me just a little more time to think.
What’s your favourite thing about mummyhood?
AL: My favourite thing about mummyhood is getting to be a child again. Not just the part where I get to watch cartoons every morning or sing out loud in public, but also looking out for the wonder and miracle in the tiniest things.
Least favourite thing?
AL: My least favourite thing is having to give up sleep! I love my sleep.
Time is a precious commodity for any working mother. How much me-time do you carve out for yourself? And how do you like to spend that time?
AL: I try to find me-time in everyday things like taking a little extra time in the shower to unwind, or having a drink with my husband at the end of the day. I try to take public transport over cabs when I can because the travel time on buses and trains gives me just a little more time to think. I also have a very supportive husband and family who allow me time to myself whenever I need it, so I honestly don’t ever feel like I’m lacking in that area.
What’s your ultimate guilty pleasure?
AL: Binge-watching Suits and eating ice cream straight out of the tub.
I think a woman can have it all as long as she realises that she can’t always do it entirely on her own.
There’s so much chatter about today’s women juggling their career and family, of having to choose one or the other. In your opinion, can a woman have it all? How do you find that delicate balance?
AL: I think a woman can have it all as long as she realises that she can’t always do it entirely on her own. If she’s willing to make minor compromises and be willing to ask for help when she needs it, I think she can definitely be a successful career woman and a strong and present mother for her children. I remind myself all the time that I can’t always be in control of everything, that everyone else in the family loves the children as much as I do and wants the best for them, so it’s OK to leave them for a while when work needs to be done.
It seems “guilt” is something that most working mother can’t avoid feeling. Not even Indra Nooyi can escape it, and she suggests finding a coping mechanism so you don’t let the guilt eat you up. Do you experience it? What advice can you offer mothers out there coping with the mum guilt?
AL: Yes! The hardest part of my day is leaving the kids to go to work ☹️ But I remind myself that in order to impart and impact their lives, I need to be filling myself up and learning from new experiences, too.
10 RANDOM THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT AARIKA
What’s in your bag?
My iPhone, my Bimba Y Lola purse, lipstick, The Paper Bunny‘s 2016 planner, colour pencils, a set of Frozen lip balm (my favourite flavour is Blueberry Crush).
Top beauty pick(s)?
Allies Of Skin’s 1A All-Day Mask, Shiseido’s White Lucent Lotion, NARS’ Audacious lipstick in Dominique.
Your favourite dessert is…
Homemade pulot hitam with coconut cream.
What are you reading now?
The Goldfinch. It’s taking me forever to complete!
What/who inspires you?
My younger sister Michaela inspires me.
What’s your mantra?
Just be you.
What makes you smile?
Seeing my children together.
What’s your biggest fear?
Where’s your favourite hangout with the kids?
My mum’s garden.
Famous last words:
Never lose your sense of wonder.