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 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

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.

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.