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.