Protecting our Daughters

I love having a daughter.

I always knew I wanted a daughter. When I became pregnant with our first child and even before we found out the gender, I was already having mental images of a mother and daughter hanging out, of me dressing her up, tying her hair in different styles of ponytails and French braids, of us going shopping together for shoes and pretty dresses and sharing many slices of indulgent cakes and desserts.

I wanted a daughter whom I could mould into a better version of myself and to pass on my life-long lessons of growing up as a girl and then a woman in an evolving world where traditional meets modern, where the value of women are starting to be recognised in the workforce and society and where ample opportunities are being made available.

And then when Maya came along, she turned out to be the daughter and the little girl that I have always wanted – sweet, beautiful, intelligent, funny, cheeky, slightly quirky and a little too defiant. I watch quietly in pride as she grows up and I quite often thank the powers that can’t be seen for gifting me with this precious girl.

However, as much as happiness and pride as this little girl has brought me, at the time she was born was also the time when I started experiencing fear and anxiety like I have never experienced before in my life. For the first time, I was experiencing the feeling of overwhelming love that a person can have for another being – and I started to realise that the more love you have, the more fear that results from the potential inability to protect that person whom you love.

From when she was a baby I was constantly worrying like a new parent would and I saw safety threats in all aspects of everyday life – is her cot safe, is there a piece of cloth covering her face, will the heater in her bedroom overheat, is she playing with toys that she might choke on, is there a cup of hot water that is too close within her reach, is every cabinet in the house secure in its place – and this list could go on for another two pages.

As she grows up and I see my baby turning into a little girl, I started to worry about all the horrible and unthinkable things that can happen to girls and young women, imposed on them against their will, as we have seen in all parts of the world from as long as history has been recorded and continue to witness. Are we making progress? I’m not sure; but it has certainly gained more visibility.

The recent incident of the rape and murder of a young woman in Melbourne as she was walking home from work at night has brought about various emotions in me. I felt sadness; at a death that was so senseless and unnecessary. The girl had only just entered adulthood and she would have had so much ambition, so much dream, so much to look forward to in her life. I felt disappointment; that a crime like this could still take place in a country which I thought was relatively safe and civilised. I felt anger; at how someone felt like they had the right to violate another human being and then proceeded to take away her right to live.

But most of all, I felt fear; fear knowing that the incident could have easily happened to any other women, and by how little else that young woman could have done to save herself. Women had always been made victims but not been equipped with the strength to be able to fight back – even before we start, we are already behind (yes, I guess I was a little disappointed in God too). I felt fear because I have a daughter and I will not always be around forever to protect her in a world where women are continuously being made victims of crime just for being women.

As a woman I have felt anxious in many instances in the past were I had to walk in quiet places by myself, and now it clearly strikes me that my daughter also has to go through the same experiences growing up. The world has not changed much. In advance of women’s independence and freedom, I wish I am able to say to her that she should live her life without worrying about what others might say or think or do, and that her life is hers to live, but unfortunately I know that is not the case. What we say, how we dress, how we act, will affect our lives and I cannot see this changing in my lifetime or hers.

How can I best protect her? If I could I would hold her hand at all times and walk with her by my side, I would keep her under the roof of our house for as long as we can in order to protect her, but I know that at some stage she would have to (and would certainly want to) learn her independence and the ability to look after herself. As a mother, I feel that the only thing I can do for her is to provide her with the advice and the skills and the tools to be vigilant, and to reiterate to her again and again, the need to be so.

And until the day that we can trust all men would do the right thing by all women, I will continue to worry and to pray that she will always remember the advice and that she will not cross the path of people who seek to harm her.

The Life that Might Have Been

Hey lady, you, lady, cursin’ at your life
You’re a discontented mother and a regimented wife
I’ve no doubt you dream about the things you’ll never do
But I wish someone had a talked to me like I wanna talk to you

Over the last weekend for what was supposedly a quick family trip away, I found myself stuck for an hour in a cramped and dirty McDonald’s toilet cubicle somewhere between Busselton and Dunsborough, with a screaming constipated child and this song in my head. (If you have not heard of the song before it was a 1980’s ballad titled “I’ve Never Been to Me” by Charlene.)

At that point I closed my eyes and imagined what that moment would have been like for me in another lifetime long long ago – when a vacation would have been like a real vacation, and time away would actually be relaxing. Instead of a toilet door that seemed to be closing in on me by the minute, I would have been staring at the ocean which had no end. Instead of the flushing sounds of the next door toilet, I would be listening to the gentle lapping of waves and gawking seagulls. And instead of alternating between standing in a small room and squatting and comforting my child who was on the toilet until my legs and back hurt, I would be lying down with a book in one hand and a cocktail in the other.

So Charlene, you were right.

On some days I dream of a life that would never be. When the demands and responsibilities of everyday life take its toll I wonder what it would have been like to just be free. To not have to be stuck in a routine of waking up early, going to work, picking up kids then making dinner, to not have to clean up toys, poo and vomit, to not have to be confined to office space for eight hours a day so that the mortgage and private school fees can be paid off, and to not have to be always concerned about whether your actions and decisions might start a fight with your spouse or someone else in your household of ten.

To travel whenever and wherever I want to and see the world, to meet new people and talk to interesting strangers, to pursue a career and a life that is plagued with uncertainty but full of excitement. To be responsible only for me.

What would my life have been like then? Where would that take me? What kind of person would I have been?

But.

I do not let those thoughts linger for long or otherwise consume me, because I know they are not real and the trade-offs have would been unimaginable. When the mind fog clears and I look into the face of a smiling child (my smiling child), I know that these moments, these so-called hardships, are short-lived and in return for something better. Like good investments. You give up a life free of responsibilities and put in the effort in return for things that you now realise you cannot live without once you have experienced them; for those moments when you pick your children up after work and your heart melts when you see their grubby, smiley faces; for the nights when you lie in your husband’s arms, watch Gogglebox and talk about your day; for the family dinners when you sit around, enjoy good food and exchange life stories; for love; for the genuine laughters.

You do it, usually without question, for the certainty in your own mind and your heart that you have given all you can to the people you love most and that you would have them by your side when you need them and when you get old and lonely and you can no longer run freely.

After all what else could life be about?

So listen to the rest of the song. Charlene would tell you the same.

Rethinking the Goal Posts as a Part-Time Working Mother

One source of stress I find working part-time as a mother is this:

Before kids I was used to working longer hours than average in order to achieve my goals and a bit more. So when I return to a corporate environment where most people are working full-time and very full days, it is difficult not to be self-conscious when as a result of personal reasons, I am leaving before 4:30pm each day and not coming in on the alternate day.

I am very conscious of the potential impact of my work arrangement may have on project schedules and demands of other colleagues. If I miss an important activity today, it may be another two days before I can get around to it. Therefore to make up for it I try to be the most effective I can be when I am at work (minimising chit-chats, working through lunch etc) and when I am not there, I am checking and responding to emails to ensure I don’t hold things up. I am used to thinking about and carrying out preparatory work that I can do while at home to make my hours in the office even more productive. I try to plan in advance to ensure that my hours do not place additional burden on my colleagues and I am painfully conscious of the times when I have to decline meetings on the days I am not in or leave early because I have to go pick up my children.

At times I feel exhausted and burned-out, mentally juggling and managing all these aspects. I care about workload equity and I care about meeting my work goals and people’s expectations. I also care about how other people may perceive as the attitude of working mothers and part-time arrangements in general.

But the reality is this, in trying to meet all these expectations, how many of these are actually real and valid? Unless expressed in concrete terms, how would I know or measure how others may think of me and my personal circumstances? Like many situations in life, are these expectations, really, just set on myself, by myself?

Of late I have come across some materials, incidents and self-revelations that are making me rethink the way I have been approaching things.

1) I do not have to feel guilty about my work-life preferences.

It took me a while to realise this but just because others have different work-life priorities and preferences, does not mean I have to guilty about my preference to spend more time with my family. I do not have to make excuses or justify why I wish to spend more time at home than at work because it is my prerogative to choose how I use my time and set my work-life boundaries.

This is not applicable just to parents – if you love surfing and want to leave early every Friday to catch the waves, that is up to you to decide.

It does mean that I have to manage it proactively, but this is no different to when I was working full-time. I still have to deliver what I say I will deliver but it is about understanding my own constraints and setting realistic expectations. Good organisations would generally respect individual preferences as long as you are communicating them and still achieving your goals. And if they are not, well, that is another different issue altogether.

2) I do not always have to be 100%.

This came up in a conversation with a woman whom I have a lot of respect for. She asked me, “Women sometimes feel like that they have to achieve 100% in all aspects in their lives. Why not try for 80%? That is still pretty good and you may find that it is more acceptable than you realise.”

What a simple statement, but what an impact that can potentially have.

As someone who has always liked having control, I am finding myself in more and more uncomfortable situations as I venture more into new and unfamiliar territories, made worse by time constraints – this is what puts my mind into overdrive trying to contemplate all the varying situations and balls that I can potentially drop. At some point I have make myself comfortable with the fact that my resources i.e. time is limited and the notion that I cannot control everything. If I am doing all I can within the means I have (and maybe a little bit more), I have done enough.

And to my point earlier, how do I know that 80% is not good enough? If I don’t answer that email today, will there be a crisis when I get in tomorrow? Most likely not.

3) Work-life integration and focussing on priorities at the time.

I recently read an article on Thrive Global about an interview with Denise Morrison, President and CEO of Campbell Soup Company (if you have not heard of the website Thrive Global, I would highly recommend it. It was founded by Arianna Huffington – also the co-founder of Huffington Post – and is a wellness site created with a mission to end the stress and burnout epidemic plaguing the workforce by proposing sustainable, science-based and purposeful solutions to achieve success).

In describing a book that changed her life, Denise talked about the “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” which debunked the concept of work-life balance and discussed the concept of work-life integration instead. She also talked about being able to set clear priorities in the moment as life happens.

I liked how clearly she articulated that – whilst still coming to terms with the concept of work-life integration I am starting to apply her point about setting priorities. Through the last year I learned very early on how a meticulously planned daily or weekly schedule can be quickly derailed by a sick child, an injured dog or someone at work approaching with an urgent situation. Whether it’s life or work, or a muddled juncture of the two, if something unexpected jumps out it is about clearly understanding and setting priorities to focus on at the time. It is not about trying to do all and doing a lesser job at each.

I realise that this a marathon and I am only in my very beginning stages. To ensure my own well-being is in check, I will have to rethink and revalidate my goal posts from time to time to check that they are still in sight. And at times when I feel like I am losing sight of them, I will refocus and revert to asking myself this question – if I am on my death bed today, what is it that I am likely to regret or wish I had done more of? I do not think that answering emails would be one of them.

The Lunch Box Challenge

Every once in a while a new hobby or interest comes along that I would allow myself to get immersed into.

Two years ago it was baking; triggered by my desire to bake a birthday cake for the kids (which was no doubt triggered by the many instagram photos of crazily creative but somewhat unrealistic birthday cakes posted by other very talented mothers). I am now reminded of that each time I open the kitchen cabinet to find rows of baking trays and tools in different shapes and sizes, many of which have only been used once. There was also that time when I went a little overboard after receiving an email from daycare informing me of book week dress-up day – which resulted in me fretting for weeks trying to think up an appropriate costume that would resonate with my then two-year daughter without costing me a fortune in terms of money and also time. She ultimately ended up going as Grug, which no one recognised, and I still have leftover confetti paper of various colours in my store room.

Each time this happens I would spend hours every week trawling through Pinterest and magazines researching and gathering ideas, and then spend more hours trialling the ideas before ending up with the final output. Nevertheless I do like these little bursts of projects; they inspire the creative part of the brain which I believe is not used often enough and create distraction from an otherwise hectic lifestyle and at times stressful work environment. Life can’t always be about words, numbers, schedules, negotiations and managing people’s expectations right? What fun would that be?

So, what currently hogs up my time? There are two – firstly, planning the interiors of the house that we are building and secondly, planning what to put into Maya’s school lunch boxes. Both very challenging and equally fun (although driven by vastly different budgets). However this post will only be about the lunch box, the house can come at another time.

For those who have not done this before, do not underestimate how much thought and planning actually goes into that cute little compartmentalised bento box. I started thinking about it a couple of months even before she started school. Those dreadful news on how parents get chastised for packing chocolates into a lunch box. That school information evening where teachers specifically tell parents NOT to put junk food into your children’s lunch boxes. Those television programs that tell you that basically almost EVERYTHING you buy pre-packed from supermarkets these days are laden with sugar, salt and preservatives. And to top it off you have a fussy and slow little eater, you are limited to what you can pack in that lunch box without it getting rotten by midday or it getting all over your kid’s front shirt, and you must be conscious of all the other kids who might be potentially be allergic to nuts, eggs and etc etc. What else is there that you can pack?!

Well, a lot actually, as I eventually start to find. And it is extremely fun! I now love looking up new healthy recipes, making them and then forming them into shapes that she would willingly eat. Nothing feels better than checking her school bag at the end of the day and finding an empty lunch box.

Six weeks into the routine, and here are some things I learned about the process that makes it easier and more enjoyable:

  1. The box matters. Yes, having a good and cleverly-designed lunchbox helps. Think lids that can be easily opened by a four-year-old, think compartments that will separate your savoury from your sweet (and wet-tish from dry), think lids that are attached so that the kids will not lose them, think size that would fit nicely into a lunch bag or their school bag. There are so many cool options out there right now that makes shopping for them quite fun.
  2. It’s good to have varieties. Put different types of food into that lunch box – main meals (e.g. sandwich, pies, sushi etc), snacks, vegetables, fruits – whatever makes sense. This not only increase their nutritional intake, but it also makes it interesting for kids who may be fussy eaters. And in case there is something in there that they do not like, there is always something else that they can eat.
  3. For a working mom I try to stock up the pantry with essentials to avoid the mid-week night supermarket run. Rice, bread, wraps, puff pastry, carrots, cucumbers, cheese, ham and eggs are good staples to have throughout the week – you can make so many combinations out of these ingredients. Sliced cheese, rice crackers, seeds, dried apricots and any other type of dried fruit are also handy to have on hand to be added as snacks.
  4. Think up fun lunches that are easy to prepare and can be done the night before so that you don’t have to wake up an hour earlier in the mornings: Sushi, cucumber and cheese sandwiches, banana and peanut butter wraps, rice balls with fillings, mashed potatoes with peas, quiches, hot dog/sandwich. I usually make them mini sizes (e.g. half a seaweed slice for the sushi or sandwiches cut into 4 mini triangles or quiches made in muffin pans) because Maya finds them easier to eat and loves the idea that they are made just for her.

Have fun lunch-making, and please share your ideas!

Below:

Spinach balls recipe from Good Chef Bad Chef

Easy Date Slice recipe from Chef Not Required … recipes from a home cook website

Apricots – pre-packed from Coles

The Image of Me

The other day I was sitting at the edge of the swimming pool, just looking and observing my daughter as she splashed and kicked around in the water and followed her instructor’s directions. I noticed how now she is starting to understand most verbal instructions and has developed enough dexterity to be able to replicate others’ movements – things that I had not noticed she was able to do about a year ago.

Of late I found myself doing that a lot – marvelling and at the same time surprised by my daughter’s progression, and her ability and eagerness to learn and absorb all things new to her.

What a wonderful age.

At this age there is a lot of excitement; for all things new to her young mind which our old minds have taken for granted for so long. Blow bubbles, and she will squeal. Pick her some flowers, and she will treasure for days. Sing a song, and she will sing and jump along. Show her a see-through Lego block, and she will pretend that it’s gold and keep it by her side as she sleeps. Tell her a made-up story, and she will sit on the bedside with delight and conjure up images of fairies and fireflies in her head.

At this age there is so much curiosity but yet so little judgement for people around her. There is no discrimination from where and whom she learns. She does not notice the differences in people’s skin nor eye colours; she does not notice whether you are wearing Prada shoes or a plain t-shirt; she does not question if a person does not possess all the physical characteristics that she does. There are things she can learn from everyone.

Her mind is like a sponge – which is incredibly exciting for me to watch, but also makes me nervous at the same time. You are starting to see what you consider as your own good and also bad characteristics reflected through her – your positivity and your negativity, your generosity but also your selfishness, your (weird) sense of humour, your temperament, your superficiality, the way you want others to see you, down to your careless eating habits – all being mirrored through the thoughts, words and actions of your child.

Blurt a foul word, and you hear that echoing through the little one’s mouth almost instantaneously. Tell her that she is not to speak to you loudly, and you see that being repeated as instructions to her father and her little brother some days later. Let her know when you are angry, and she takes it as an acceptable emotion to be portrayed back to you and others. Where does it start and where does it stop? How can you be angry at or disappointed in her actions when you realise that you are one of the biggest influence in her life and major source of her learnings?

I am starting to feel the paradigm of parenting (and my being a mother to my daughter) shifting. There is so much you can teach her but you realise it is so important that you pick the right methods, lessons, messages and timing. It also causes you to constantly re-think and question about your own behaviours and choices you make as an adult. Do you want her to see you losing your temper, or would you rather her see you handling situations calmly? Do you really want her to see you reaching out for that chocolate bar every time you are stressed? Do you want her seeing you speak loudly to her dad when you disagree on a matter? And it may only be actions and words for now, but as she gets older she will also look to you to form her thinking on bigger issues like social ideals, acceptances, norms and boundaries, self-image and self-worth. Even from a young age, can you afford for her to see your insecurities, your self-doubt, the days when you feel that nothing matters?

Nothing has made question myself as much as parenting has. But it is ok; in fact I think it’s a good thing. It feels like I have been given me another opportunity to look hard at myself and question whether I am the best person I can be for my child to learn from. It begs me to ask the question that in twenty years time, regardless of who my princess grows up to be, can I truly allow myself to say that I have done all that I could for her and let her be the best she can be?

Generations and Traditions

Close your eyes.

Now picture yourself as a young child again, celebrating your most favourite festival. What do you see? The sights, the scents, the noises, the music, the people – young and old, the food, the excitement swelling in your heart.

It is only 5 days until the start of the next Lunar New Year. My sister recently wrote on her Facebook page the wonderful memories she has of it from when we were young. The things she mentioned – from the month-long preparation prior to the festival (baking, cleaning, shopping) to the red packets, the new clothes, the firecrackers, the somewhat noisy Chinese New Year songs being played repeatedly on major channels, days of visiting houses of friends and relatives, days and days of feasting on rich, decadent Chinese dishes and home baked cookies, I think she forgot to mention the gambling (oh yes…. do not forget the gambling) – are all as etched into her memories as they are mine. In my mind I can still see and feel it, and every year around this time I would reminisce those days.

As a species, we do not like staying still – we migrate, we move away far from our homes to meet new people and explore new opportunities. As we do that time and time again, generation by generation, we move into and adapt to new environments and shed off and move further away from the histories and cultures that define us (more out of necessity and limited by resources). Like us, we love Australia and now call it home, but I am always acutely aware at this time of the year that we are now in very different environment from the one we grew up in – there is no holiday, no loud music, no excited little children, no crowds milling around shopping centres and no special programs on TV to remind you that somewhere else in the world a major festival is being celebrated.

So increasingly more these days we yearn for and need cultural festivities like these to connect us back to our roots and bring people back together. It is during these festivals that we have the opportunity to celebrate and continue to pass on traditions that our ancestors from thousands of years ago taught us to do (like the art of performing lion dances and the lighting of firecrackers to ward off the evil spirits). It is also during these festivals that families get together and sit down for a nice dinner and those from afar travel to be with those they love.

Within the family here we try to do as much as we can to revive those traditions – which may include taking a day off to visit relatives and spending a weekend making cookies and withdrawing a large sum of money and putting them into red packets ready to be handed out to eager little hands. I would really love for my children to have the same experiences and fond memories of cultural festivities as part of their childhood as I did and I also realised that it is entirely up to us – myself and Will – as to whether that happens and the impact it would have on generations to come if we are too complacent to make it happen. 

Like my mother would say, we should not use the excuse of busy modern lives get in the way of doing something we are serious about doing, and this is one of them.

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Generational traditions

Diversity and Inclusion, a case for change

In recent weeks I together with some other colleagues have been asked to think about and consider what diversity and inclusion means to us in the workplace. This has been an interesting exercise to me so I thought it is worth sharing.

So to lay the context, what do we mean when we say diversity? Think about this. Are you a working mother? Do you belong to a minority race or religion? Do you look different to most other people, or not really but do not share the same values? Do you have a different sexual orientation? Do you speak with an accent? Do you have a physical handicap, or do not think like how others do? I believe most people would fall into one of these categories or another, or maybe even multiple, and that brings about diversity to the workplace.

As for inclusion, well that is the interesting one. In a general context inclusion means that regardless of how you are different from others, you deserve the right to feel included and not be isolated in any way. As a result inclusion can mean different things to different people because people can be, or feel like they have been, isolated in different ways.

Now back to me. What does diversity and inclusion mean to me personally? To help me think about that I have to first think about who I am, what makes me different and then think about the various situations at work that have made me feel uncomfortable, or vulnerable, or stressed in the past . If I am to define myself in that context, I see myself as a woman of Malaysian and Chinese background and values who works in a large multinational oil and gas organisation. I am also a daughter, a mother and a wife to a Korean man (with Korean values) and pride myself in those roles more than and above anything else. Throughout my working life I have been referred to as the wrong name and sometimes even the wrong person and there were times when I was automatically assumed as the note taker in meetings. In more recent times I have felt time pressure at and outside of work given my part-time arrangement and have to leave the office by a certain time to go pick up my kids.

Now don’t get me wrong, in the overall scheme of things, I realise that I have been fortunate because the companies and people I work and have worked for are diverse in nature and have been generally inclusive and accepting of me and my work and if I was to bring some of these issues to their attention, I have no doubt that we would work towards resolving them. However there were still times and situations where I felt uncomfortable or pressured given my who I am and my alternative working arrangements. To me, being inclusive is a simple concept – it means respect and understanding; that means respecting your colleagues and their ideas and their work-life preferences regardless of their looks, background and values. Nevertheless it is not about entitlement. For me it does not mean that I have to be ranked, promoted or offered the exact same opportunities as my full-time colleagues, but it is simply for others to understand and respect that I am now a mother to two young children but I can still contribute meaningfully to the organisation, just not in the conventional ways.

Simple concept, but not so simple to execute, because making people “exclusive” is not usually done consciously. People are not intentionally malicious or discriminatory; however people, myself included, are naturally used to their own thinking, their own routine, their own ideas, their own biases and prejudices and do not often realise the impact of their actions on others. Having gone through this thinking process, I identified situations where I would have preferred to have been treated differently, but it also helped me identify situations where I should have treated others differently. It has to be a two-way conversation – for the giving end to acknowledge and accept that the other person is different, and for the receiving end to inform the other of their own preferences and boundaries.

Diversity and inclusivity in the workplace (and in society) is a complex issue, it would take a huge amount of consciousness and proactivity over layers of organisations (starting from the top) and potentially over years and decades before it will get to a stage where it should be, but realising that there is an issue is the first step to realising that it needs to be fixed. And as cheesy as this is going to sound, that realisation will have to start with each one of us.

Finally I will leave you with this video for your own thoughts (with credit to Accenture who has artistically and cleverly created this).

Little and Big Kids

It was Australia Day two days ago.

We all had a sleep-in. I made croissants for breakfast while the kids played around in their room. We then met up with my mom and sister and went to the Merrywell for an early lunch where we had ribs, steak sandwich, garlic mashed potatoes, fish and chips and we adults shared a jug of sangria (yes at 11am) and the kids juice. At that hour we had most of the place to ourselves and did not have to wait long for our orders; it was pleasant.

It was still hot in the afternoon so after a bit of a rest at home, we packed up for the beach. We laid out the rug, had a dip in the cool waters and let the kids run around. Dinner was take-away fish tacos from the shop across the beach. We went home, finished up dinner before 7:30pm and then drove around to look for a spot to watch the fireworks (walking to the shore was not really an option with a sometimes temperamental two-year-old). We ended up in a hilly spot in a residential area close to our old place where we saw lots of families huddling by – we parked our car and got out to join them just as the fireworks started. The kids loved it, and they fell asleep in the car on the way back home.

It was the best Australia Day I had, ever.

This year is different than the last three because our two kids are now of ages where we can take them out and do stuff together without risking a melt-down. And this year is different from the last ten because we actually went out and spent the whole day doing fun things (some planned, but mostly impromptu decisions).

When it was just me and Will (or myself), all we wanted to do on a day like Australia Day was laze around (well it’s a public holiday!). We might have enjoyed a brunch somewhere, had a few drinks amongst ourselves and watched the fireworks on TV from home. We were not interested nor motivated to go out and be amongst lots of other people, doing things like going to the beach and watching fireworks. Those are for kids, right?

But the kids have changed us. They force (and guilt) us to get out of our comfort and lazy zone and to go out and do things. Be it the beach, the zoo, the Sunday markets, having a picnic in the park, driving out at night to get a frozen yoghurt, spending a day at an amusement park, walking around the city during Christmas to see the Christmas lights, driving up to the ski slope when we were in Seoul just to see the snow; they make us constantly think of all the things that we can do and enjoy together as a family, and to actually go out and do them.

And yes at first I thought it was a bit of a drag, but now I am now quite enjoying these little activities. To be able to get out there and enjoy good weather and the beautiful nature, to enjoy yummy (but unhealthy) food, to share the spirit of special celebrations with others, and sometimes, to just be reminded of the feeling of being able to experience life again without the burden of responsibilities and hindrance of everyday life stresses.  Our days do not have to be 100% planned, they do not always have to be practical nor productive, they can be just fun and we can do things just because we want to and worry about consequences later.

My kids have made me feel like a kid again, and I love it. Just when you think that age is catching up and that things are getting a little too serious, these moments are precious in reminding you to take a step back and appreciate the world for what it is again. And now I have the added pleasure of having them to enjoy these moments with.

Hush-a-Bye Baby

I haven’t had to say this in a long time, but man, last night was tough.

It was 10 pm when we called it a night and as we started to tuck the daughter into her little bed next to ours, we heard the son started crying in his room. It was difficult trying to get him back to sleep so we took him into our bed. However the daughter wanted to sleep with the bed light on (because she is now suddenly afraid of the dark) so that woke the son up. And of course he then wanted to go sleep in her bed with her, and they both took that as an opportunity to cause some ruckus. Ten minutes later he was starting to get tired so he wanted to climb back into our bed and to turn the lights off, to which she screamed in protest. And so on. And so forth. This went on about an hour before somehow we were all able to miraculously drift back to sleep.

Sleep. The word that scares all to-be parents, and the word most googled by parents of children aged between 0-2.

Before my first one was born I often wondered about how I was going to cope with the sleep (or the lack thereof) because I used to cherish my sleep time a lot and could not function on anything less than 8 hours a night (or so I thought). After she was born, I went through months and months of very bad sleep because she was a difficult baby came night time. I still remember the nights of lying next to her in a crampy small bed in her room, nights of breastfeeding her until she fell asleep only to have her wake up again when I gently put her back onto the bed, nights of listening to her scream and cry as I tried desperately and unsuccessfully to train her to sleep. Then my son came along and he is a much better sleeper, but we still had a few rough nights especially when the two of them decided to take turns being difficult.

However we survived it and most nights now we do get a full night’s sleep. Occasionally I get asked by other parents about how we dealt with the sleeping issue, so here I would share my own top three tips:

  1. The cry-it-out method is not the only method to sleep-train your baby. It is one that works for many parents, but if listening to your baby crying makes you want to bawl your eyes out yourself (like me) there are other gentler approaches that can work. It takes patience and determination but eventually you will find one that works for you and your baby. Cry-it-out did not work on Maya because she was a stubborn baby who would cry for hours until I gave in. What I did in the end (and she was about 10 months at that time) was to use something like a phase-it-out approach, where I would slowly replace her breastfeed-to-sleep routine with something else which in our case was rocking her to sleep while singing. It was not any easier in the beginning but what it did was break her association between breastfeeding and sleeping. I started off by having to hold and rock her for at least half an hour before she would drift off to sleep but it got better over days up to a point where I could put her in her cot just as she was about to fall asleep, and I would pat her until she did.
  2. As I mentioned my son is a much better sleeper, and this might have been because we were a lot more disciplined with him from the beginning. My daughter is the first baby in the family so she received a lot of attention; everyone was fighting for turns to hold her to sleep from when she was born. However with Maxy, we made it a habit to let him fall asleep in the bassinet by himself from when he was a newborn and if I was breastfeeding him I would always detach him from the moment I noticed that he was about to fall asleep.
  3. And most importantly be kind to yourself and be flexible to accommodate whatever the situation may be. There will be set-backs, sickness, teething, over-tiredness and generally just bad days and bad luck sometimes. If all your meticulous planning fails, be prepared to do what you need to do to give yourself the rest you need. After having spent weeks training Maya to fall asleep in her own cot, her room got infested by rats so we had no choice but to sleep her in our bed. That seemed like the worst thing to do at the time but it gave us sleep and rest and that did wonders to my well-being and sanity.

In case you are wondering she is still in our room these days but it is not the worst thing in the world and we are starting to transition her to a separate bed (just another part of the journey ahead of us). One of the greatest joys in my days today is still to be able to go to sleep with my child’s face next to mine, to wake up in the middle of the night to kiss those cheruby cheeks and to wake up in the morning and just lie there watching him or her in peaceful slumber. I realise that these moments are numbered and that I will not be able to bring them back as the kids get older, so I am starting to cherish them just as much as I would cherish my sleep.

We Will Always Be Here

I have been thinking for a couple of weeks about whether to write this post.

I don’t usually like writing about depressing subjects and events, not because I do not think about them or that they do not affect me (in fact they affect me much more now with the kids), but because I think that we are all already so burdened by solemnity in our everyday lives that I would rather blog about more light-hearted and uplifting topics.

However I made up my mind in light of what happened 2 days ago.

Will and I recently watched 13 Reasons Why on Netflix. Having read the synopsis and reviews we were considering for a while whether to watch it but we did in the end and I am glad we did. The story was about a teenage girl who committed suicide and she left behind a series of tapes detailing the 13 reasons why she chose to end her life. It touched on prevalent modern day issues like bullying in high school and some others which I would not go into details here because I do not want to ruin the plot for anyone.

It was gripping and confronting to watch; confronting because it shows you the trail of devastation that such an event leaves behind on the loved ones and all those impacted, and you never really realise how easily something like this can happen to anyone of us, to any of our children. I grew up in a very different time and environment – high school bullying was unheard of (you might have kids pulling pranks and cracking jokes at others but nothing like what you see these days); so I haven’t really seriously thought about this issue before. Besides, my oldest is only 4, still very young, not at the age when I should start worrying. Or should I?

Two days ago, we saw in the news that 14-year-old Dolly Everett from NT took her life after being subjected to cyber-bullying. This saddens me tremendously, and frightens me just as much.

It made me ask myself repeatedly, how can we better protect our children? There will always be bullies – we cannot control this – and going into a future world where social media is becoming a core facet of life, it will get easier for bullies to bully and more difficult for victims to escape from it. Bullying now can take such form that it can happen to your children right before your eyes, and yet you can still be absolutely blind to it.

For one you can try to limit, monitor and control how technology is used in your own home, but you will not be able to completely eliminate it, not if you want your kids to be adept with how the world works (in literal term – how else will they adapt in any corporate or work environment?). Also bullying can still happen in the real world, not only in the cyber one.

From all these, what I truly hope is for my children to know and understand that we will always be there for them; to listen to them and to help them when they need our help. That they can come to talk to us anytime they want to. I want to know if they they’ve had a bad day, or if they are worried about something, or if someone’s been mean to them, or even if they just need someone to talk to.

I also want them to know that school and any bad period they go through in life will be just a phase, and that kids will be mean, but that nothing anyone say to them or about them should matter. Do not let words or bad actions of others affect them. They need to be comfortable with who they are and if they don’t like what they are hearing, turn away. When they are older and wiser and successful all the things that happened back in school will seem small and menial.

And lastly, I want them to know that, no matter what happens in life, there is always a way out. Even if they think that all options may have been exhausted and that the days seem bleak, there will still be a way out. Talk to us, to anyone, and if they don’t get the answers they need, talk to someone else. There is no situation that can’t be fixed or made undone.

Of course these are all just thoughts and wishes, nothing that we do now nor later can guarantee that our children will lead the life we hope for them. Like so many other aspects of parenting we can only do our best and hope that it is enough to guide them through what will be a long and difficult journey. My 4-year-old may only be young, but from now I am going to start preaching the above messages to her and cross my fingers that one day if she ever does need them (and I will pray to God that she never does), she will remember and do the right thing.