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.

A Lesson in Philosophy

Do you on some days feel that there is too much noise, distractions and interruptions in your life?

The kids crying, begging for TV and candies. The dog barking. Your phone ringing. Your husband asking you to check that the door is locked. Your mother telling you to clean up the kids’ spills on her floor. People at work demanding that certain things be done urgently. Little arguments between family members. The floor getting dirty after you have just vacuumed in the morning. There is no milk left in the fridge. The TV remote control is not working. And this is only a small fragment of the list.

These daily distractions used to irritate me, a lot, especially on days when I needed to get things done because it felt like I would never get there. At times the noise level got to a certain point that I just wanted to shut everything out. I found that these instances climaxed for me after I returned to work – I guess it goes in hand with the number of things you have to tend to in any given day, the more expectations and responsibilities the higher the noise levels and the lower your tolerance levels.

After a while I realised that unless I was contented to just let myself slowly turn into an angry, miserable human being over the course of time, there is something that has to change. It was not only affecting my health, but also my relationships with the people closest to me. I was snappier and losing my temper quickly. But I couldn’t stop people from expecting things from me, for example people at work are always going to demand priority on things that matter to them. And I couldn’t stop most of the events from happening in my life, for example, the floor is always going to get dirty again within the same day with the dog and the kids running in and out.

And then I realised that the only thing that needed to change was myself and my way of thinking. I was letting external events affect me too much.

A (very) wise man named Epictetus said 2,000 years ago, in relation to how one should live:

It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.

And he also said that:

People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them.

So that is what I set out to change. I need to be clear in my mind about what my true goals are and focus on them – my health, my family, my career, all and aspects of them. This year I am breaking them down into achievable periodical goals (for example, successfully transitioning my daughter into kindy and getting her enrolled in swimming classes, getting another article published, moving back into our new home); and then let the rest be what they are supposed to be i.e. noise and distractions. I will either still deal with them because they matter to other people, but I do not let them affect my mood and well-being nor distract me from the goals I set out. I will handle them calmly as they come up, to the best I can, communicate accordingly and move on. Or alternatively I can sit on them for a while and do nothing, because sometimes things resolve by themselves without me having to do anything.

I can’t say that I am already doing this all the time, but just by being conscious of my thinking has already brought me more calm. Here, to being a better me in 2018.

Where has my Baby Gone?

A few days ago, I started a conversation with my daughter. This was a couple of hours after an argument and an ensuing tantrum (with tears and the works) over why the Frozen theme song, which had been played several times a day every day for the past two weeks, should not take precedence over Christmas songs on the family car radio.

I told her that she had been naughty, and that if she was selfish and threw a tantrum again, I would have to report it to Santa Claus the following year.

To which she replied “I will never sleep with you again. I will sleep with Popo i.e. Grandma tonight.”

What? I looked at her. Did she just say that? 

I asked her to repeat what she said, and she did.

My mind was trying to comprehend this. My daughter – who up until now was still relying on me to dress and sometimes feed her, who up until a couple of weeks ago was still a sweet little girl trying hard to show Mommy that she was a grown up, who I could still so distinctly remember as a baby in my arms not that long ago was now not only understanding my weak point but actually using that to threaten me. How did this happen overnight?

My brain tried very hard to work out the best way to respond. Instinctively I demanded that she was not to talk to me like that ever again. That was met with a why, and I could not see how any reasoning I gave at that point would be met with true understanding on her part. So I retorted that it was because I was her mother and that she should always listen to me. Even as those words left my lips, I knew that this was not going to work in the long run. From my end I wanted to raise a child who could think for herself in the future and not just followed orders. Also this was a rationale that did not sit well with any inquisitive child, so it only resulted in more why’s and a whole heap of mumbled lecturing on her part which only she understood. 

I then tried another tactic. I threatened / bribed her back. I said that if she went to sleep at Popo’s, I would have to give her toys to her brother. Now as you would know, you should never threaten a child unless you were really going to carry out your threats otherwise she would very soon learn not to take you seriously. Which was exactly what happened. She considered it for 2 seconds and then laughed it off.

My last attempt was to distract and leave the conversation, with the intention of talking about this with her again in the near future when she was in a better mood and I, better prepared. I went off and prepared a bubble bath for her and her brother and she soon forgot about our chat.

That night I went to my friend Google to ask how I should deal with a defiant four-year-old. There were quite a few websites that posted about this topic, and this article was one of my favourites.

Ah, the wonderful age of four.

I now come to realisation that the first era of parenting has passed for me – gone are the days when most of what I have to worry about are her physical needs, gone are the days when all she wants from are cuddles and my singing; gone are the days when she would take my words as gospel and trust what I tell her without questions.

We are now entering the realms of emotions, independence, defiance, imagination and understanding of concepts; and it is only the beginning. I cry a little inside for the baby girl that is no longer, but at the same time look forward to the excitement and new challenges of welcoming a little girl who is starting to understand and question the ways of the world. What we teach and show her now would more important than ever in helping her become the adult that we want her to be.

The Women in My Life

Tonight I am sitting down and finally having some time to gather my own thoughts in quietness. The naughty little one has gone to sleep early. Things have also finally settled somewhat at work. It has been relentless in the past few months. Today, close to 4pm when the deal was finalised, I just sat in my chair and stared into space for about 10 minutes. For the first time in weeks I felt like I could let my mind rest.

My, has it been a big year.

Apart going back to work part-time in a new team where the environment is constantly challenging, we also kicked a few big personal goals. We designed a new house and signed a building contract. We moved out into an interim house and demolished the old one. We travelled and flew four times (unplanned) – three times with the kids. The kids saw their great grandmothers from both sides of the family, and played with snow for the first time. We witnessed close friends getting married. I became Australian. I started a blog and got my first article published.

I then started reflecting on the friendships and relationships that I have started to build and share with some remarkable women in my life in the past year; some continuing, some only just budding. Each with their own life story, their personal victories, their personal struggles. From the one who tries untiringly to get pregnant, to the one who built a successful career but feels at guilt for not spending enough time with her child, to the confident one who is happy to be by herself, to the one who got pregnant and tried to do everything the natural way, to the one who always makes parenting seems so easy and wants to have everything under control, to the one who is contented to put her career on hold for a few years while raising her young ones, to the one who is supporting her family financially while her husband takes the responsibility of caring for their child.

The one thing that bonds us together is that we are all modern women, trying to make sense of our own role in a society that is rapidly changing. On a daily basis we do what we need to do to get through the day, but in our minds we are having constant battles trying to reconcile the ideals with which we were brought up, where the traditional role of the women are to be dutiful wives and mothers, to the very expensive world we live in now where women are also expected to share the financial responsibility of raising a family. We are more educated and given a lot more opportunities than our mothers so we feel like we should not be wasting them.

What if you work too much that you will not get to spend time with your children in their best years? What if you do not work enough that you are not able to save up the funds for yours and their future? What if you work too much now and leave getting pregnant to much later that you have missed the opportunity to have a child? What if putting your child in daycare from three months onwards leave them permanently scarred? What if you give up your career now to care for your children and find that 5 years you are no longer about to catch up in the workforce?

It is a constant challenge. The struggle to find the perfect balance never stops. We work just as hard, some would argue harder, but sometimes we ourselves and others of the same gender doubt our own capabilities. For each of these women I see their self-doubts, but I also see their strengths and I admire them for it. How each of them chooses to deal with the situation in their lives provides me with the context to help me find the balance in mine.

So thank you. I thank you for your friendship and for sharing your stories with me and for helping me see the various angles in every situation. I appreciate it with all my heart. I just hope that by sharing mine I am able to do the same for you.

Signing out now. I had to type this out as I was thinking it but even the untroubled mind needs to sleep now.

That Jolly Time of the Year

Another 9 days until Christmas.

You see and feel it in every corner – Christmas tree in every building and shopping centre, ham and prawns lining the supermarket fridges, bakeries framed with gingerbread houses, TV channels playing Christmas themed shows, city bars filled with office workers having a drink with their mates. It is a lovely time of the year and it seems like people are generally happier and more approachable.

What is Christmas to me?

When I was younger all I knew was that it was just another public holiday. I was not brought up a Christian and I did not grow up in a country where it was widely celebrated. Although I knew the meaning of Christmas and why it was celebrated I never truly understood the significance of the day.

Many years have passed since then. I am still not a Christian, but it is somewhat different now. In between then and now, I have moved to a different country, grown up, married a devout Catholic with whom I have two beautiful kids. As families do and with most festive seasons we started developing our own traditions and our own interpretation of what Christmas is to us – how we feel about it, what we like about it, what activities we associate it with. As such to us Christmas symbolises more than just a religious occasion, it is a time of year where we make time for and do things to show appreciation for each other.

So what does Christmas mean to me now?

  • Putting up a Christmas tree and decorating it with the family and lining it with lots and lots of presents (although this year we are putting a hold on the tree until we move back into our house).
  • Taking the kids to see Christmas pretty lights in the city and around the suburbs.
  • Going to Christmas markets and street parties to experience the feeling of community.
  • Getting to get into work later and leave earlier and still get lots of things done because most of the office is out on leave.
  • Christmas shopping (and always, always last minute despite my best intentions).
  • Sweltering hot weather.
  • Christmas eve dinner with his family and Christmas day lunch with mine (or vice versa) and eating ham, sumptuous seafood and salads and drinking cool drinks like beer and punches.
  • Building a gingerbread house for my daughter (and this year I plan to let her help me decorate with smarties, candies and all things sweet).
  • My husband going to church and maybe taking the kids with him this year – last year we tried but it did not turn out too well.
  • Watching the Pope and the catholic church on TV on Christmas day.
  • Watching It’s a Beautiful Life and Mr Grinch – this used to be my husband’s personal now turned family tradition.

And most of all, to me, it is a time to give, to show gratitude, to count our blessings, to spend quality time with our loved ones and to reflect on all the good things that have come to us through the year which we never do enough of in our busy lives these days. Amen. Have a Merry Christmas everyone.

What does Christmas mean to you?

And Then There was Us..

[written at 8:32 am local time on Wednesday]

It was -3 degrees last night when the two of us walked along the streets of Yeouido looking for a place where we could sit down and have a drink. We were looking for somewhere that was not a fried chicken and beer place which seemed to ninety percent of places selling alcohol. Nothing wrong with Korean fried chicken (in fact they do them well – always crunchy on the outside and moist inside) but at that stage we could no longer stomach fried chicken after a big meal of fresh raw fish, barbequed salmon head and hot steaming seafood soup at the biggest fish market in Seoul. We were just after a drink and a bit of a night-life experience in Seoul.

Where were the kids, you wonder?

Ah-ha. My parents took them so it was our night off. We all happened to be conveniently travelling in the same place at the same time.

The financial district of Seoul was still bustling at 9pm last night; many people had only just got off work and were having dinner and drinks with their friends or colleagues. The area was brimming with a variety of colours, a combination of busy neon shop lights and also still star-like lights which lined the street hedges in anticipation of Christmas.

After 15 minutes of walking we finally found a place where we could have a stout and a cocktail – and good timing because my legs were starting to feel like frozen matchsticks. We scurried quickly into the well-heated pub like mice to cheese.

Last night reminded me of our trip to Seoul seven years ago, not married and with no kids. Just carefree individuals then, taking a trip together and doing whatever we wanted to do.

What was the one thing that changed the most for me after children? Not my body although it will never the same again. Nor is it my sleep pattern although that does come close. It is my relationship with my husband.

Having kids changed us in ways that we could not have anticipated; as individuals but more so as a married couple. The hormonal changes from the time of pregnancy, the changes in your body as your baby grew within you, your perception of your new role as a mother, the development of an instinctive protection towards your child – it changes you and therefore also alters your expectations of your husband’s role. Whilst you were able to be a good wife to your husband before by doing things like making all his meals, this was no longer the case once the baby was born. In between breastfeeding, night soothing, nappy changing and bathing the baby, you would be lucky if you even get time to feed and clean yourself. You expected him to be able to help out more. Naturally you expected him also to be around more.

At times you did not get why he did not understand what you needed and what you considered important. You also felt like there was a gap that was widening between the two of you. If initially it felt like men was from Mars and women from Venus, after kids it felt almost like we were from completely different universes. (E.g. the year in which our daughter was born, Will said that he was going over to his parents’ house by himself on Christmas day to spend the day watching old movies because that was his personal tradition. BY HIMSELF. I blew my lid.)

The other thing with the kids is that you spend all your time doing stuff for and with them and more often than not you forget to spend time together as husband and wife. It is easy to “accidentally” de-prioritise your relationship with your husband for the benefit of your kids as everything is now about them, and less about you.

So it was tough, initially. With a lot of potential misunderstandings and not a lot of time to understand each other it is easy to see how things could have gone pretty bad. Eventually with time and some frank discussions we decided that we needed to spend more quality time with each other again. (I have my husband to thank for that, he is the one with the good ideas and the cornerstone of our relationship).

So with some conscious effort, we started doing things together again. Then we started talking and communicating again. After a while, we started to work more closely together as a team. While we were previously just two people who enjoyed each other’s company, we were now becoming true life partners – who would pick up the kids; who would grab the milk on the way home; where would the kids go to school; what values do we want to teach them; what are the career moves that would best progress individual opportunities but at the same time accommodate the family unit. It did not just happen by itself, we made it happen. At the same time we progressed from merely tolerating each other’s odd habits to truly embracing each other for their strengths and also help strengthen their weaknesses.

We reminded ourselves that in the beginning, there were the two of us. Your love and trust in each other is what brought to life the kids and then one day when the kids are older and they leave the nest, there will still be the two of you. So we do need to try and make time for each other even though that may very well require a lot of extra effort – complacency is what stops a relationship from growing.

So last night as we talked and laughed about everything kids and non-kids related and sipped on our drinks in a warm pub in a city far from home, we were enjoying each other’s company again. It felt good, it reminded us why we are a good match for each other and it would serve as another memory for us to relive on many occasions to come in the future.