We Survived the Flight

[written at 3:45pm local time Saturday afternoon]

I am in a foreign city, looking out at a skyline of white and grey buildings, animated signboards and moving cars as I type this. The cosy apartment is quiet, adorned only with the muted sounds of traffic, the light snoring of the husband and the heavy breathing of the kids as they nap. It is the most peaceful 15 minutes I have had over the last two days as we took two semi long-haul flights and a night stayover in an airport hotel in making our way here.

We are in Seoul.

As the plane was landing yesterday we were greeted (very luckily) by a heavy snowfall. The kids’ very first snow sighting! My daughter’s eyes lit up and she started humming to the tune of “Let it Go” (because of the snow, get it? :)) The air was cold and crisp and as the cab drove us to our destination I observed how the place seemed strangely familiar with glimpses of landmarks seen only from dramas and people spoke the language which I so frequently heard spoken at the lunch table with my husband and his family every Sunday afternoon.

The flight here was interesting to say the least, now that we are travelling with a toddler who has just turned (“terrible”) two. We did not expect an easy journey and we did not get one either; not with a child who would not stay buckled in his seat, whinged for juice and chocolates every 15 minutes and demanded to sit with Daddy one minute and Mommy the next. We survived though and at least for now I can still say that it has not put me off travelling for the next 5 years.

For moms and dads who will be flying with a restless child in the near future here are some lessons which we learnt on our way here and things that worked for us:

1)     Call up the airline and pre-book your seats early especially if you are flying in a larger group. There were four of us and for the longer leg flight from Singapore-Incheon we were able to get the four seats in the middle which made the trip easier than the 3+1 seating arrangement we had on the Perth-Singapore flight.

2)     Airplane toilets are small, and the space would seem even smaller when you have to change the soiled nappy of your squirming two-year-old in there. Be prepared with all that you need before you go in, together with a toy that would distract your kid while you go about cleaning him in a cramped uncomfortable space. And go right before the long queue that takes place each time after the stewardesses clear all the meal trays – they are always kind enough to make way for you when you walk down the aisle with a kid in tow.

3)     Lollipops saved our sanity, more than once. Initially I brought them to get the kids sucking on something on the way up and down so that it would help relieve the ear pressure; however every time my son became a little crazy and screamed to be let out of his seat (when the seatbelt sign was on) we would offer him one and he would relent. And as one lollipop would leave him contented for about 10 minutes, that gave us the break we needed to recharge for the next challenge.

4)     The in-flight entertainment system did nothing for our restless two-year-old (worked wonders for the four-year-old). What worked better for him was a tablet with pre-recorded favourite shows and age-appropriate games which kept him occupied for a while.

5)     If you are doing a long haul flight consider booking in flight times that would allow you to spend a night in a transit hotel and recharge (for you and your kids). Despite my pre-conceived idea of what a transit hotel would be like the Ambassador Transit Hotel at Terminal 3 of the Changi Airport actually turned out pretty good. The room was clean and spacious and the hotel was right next to the food court. The best thing is that you do not have to clear customs and pick up your luggage which gave us another hour to sleep in the next morning before catching the final leg to Seoul.

6)     Go on the flight prepared, with the mindset that you probably will not get to watch a whole movie nor eat your meal in peace – if the kids happen to fall asleep for a couple of hours (which they might) then consider it an extra. Just try your best to be conscientious of people around you but also realise that you might come across unsupportive aircrew or difficult passengers who would balk at being sat next to children on a plane ; if that happens just ignore them and remind yourself that there is nothing wrong about travelling with your loved ones and that you are there on a holiday to have fun.

7)     And finally, parents, if you are travelling on Singapore Airlines, have a Singapore Sling. They do them unbelievably well and it makes the whole situation more bearable.

Final note, I have not travelled on anything other than MAS and SIA for international flights with my children because from all that I read online SIA seems to be the preferred choice for parents. I have to say that they have not let me down to-date and what makes it better is that you get a lot of other families travelling on the same airline which means that you do not end up feeling like your child is the only one causing a ruckus and that there are at least 10 other families who are in the same boat, ahem, I mean plane.

Bad Mom Confessions

I have a few confessions to make:

  1. I bribe my kids at dinner time with the tablet.
  2. I let my daughter stay up with us most nights of the week.
  3. Sometimes I let the TV help babysit while I work (or write) at home.
  4. When we go out I do not always make sure that my kids’ clothes match their shoes.
  5. I take them to McDonalds once a week where they can have chips and soft serves and play in the playground.

Yea I know, pretty bad right?

Or is it relatable?

We are living at a point in time and place where it is tough to be a parent. It is not because our kids are different now, but it is because of the expectations that are being placed on parents.

You get the TV, internet, magazines and other mothers (even non-mothers) telling you what to feed your kids, what time to put them to bed (and how), what activities to do outside of school hours and what not to let them do. Then when people do share some insight with others about their family lives on Instagram, like giving cinnamon scrolls to your kids for breakfast, you get the judgmental ones who would react as if you have just let a kid starve for days.

We may not all be perfect parents but we all have our own ways of showing love to our children. I am not saying that mine is right or better, but it reflects what is important to us and works in our situation. In our family with young kids, my number one priority now is safety and then fostering a balanced and positive environment for them to grow up in. I also want them to spend lots of time with both my and Will’s families as I want them to understand family values and also get a strong and proud sense of their cultural roots.

Although my craft skills are far from perfect, I attempted to make a Grug outfit for my daughter on her very first book day at daycare (which someone mistook as a doggy outfit). I don’t spend hours researching and making healthy meals for the kids, but I try to make sure they get fruits and vegetables in their daily  diets. I want them to understand that it is not about being perfect, but it is about trying. And when things do not work out, it is ok to be able to laugh at yourself (even if I have to make a fool of myself trying to make this point).

I take time to look after myself because I believe my own mental state is the foundation for me to able to care well for my children. Will and I also time to work on our relationship because we believe that if we can demonstrate our love to each other in front of our children, that is how they will learn to love.

So although I am not doing all the things deemed necessary to be the model mother, I feel comfortable we are on the right track. Of course all this might change one day if our kids grow up to be obese adults who spend all their time watching TV into the wee hours of the mornings, but for now I think we are ok.

Do you have a bad mom confession to share?

My happy village

A couple of people at work have commented that I make balancing work and family look so easy, like I am fleeting seamlessly between one and the other without ever dropping a ball (as least not one that’s been noticed anyway).

Well, that is very nice and thank you for making that observation. I try to do my best, but I would though like to respond by mentioning these three points.

Firstly, what you see is just an illusion which I admittedly try to put up when I walk out the door. Sometimes anyway. There are days when I feel exhausted even before I step into the office and I would have had two cups of strong coffees before 9 am. And there are definitely days when I come home at night and I would be too tired to even pour myself that glass of wine which I so deserve. There are also days when I would only do the minimum at work just so that I would not drop a ball. However given that I deal with both internal and external stakeholders on a daily basis I do place value in looking professional and giving people the confidence that they can work with me. And through my many years of experience being a woman I conclude that there is nothing that good foundation, lipstick and a cup of coffee can’t fix on any given morning.

Secondly, I try to give myself a break and not be affected by little things around the house; which I think has made me a calmer person. Initially I would let a lot of things get under my skin, like dog bringing sand into the house, plates piling high in the basin and kids throwing toys everywhere. It drove me nuts. After several episodes of just losing “it” and then collapsing into a crying mess (which my poor husband had to bear the brunt of) I convinced myself that these are things which I can’t just control and since I do not really want to be vacuuming the house five times in a day, I decided to change my own outlook instead. It is ok for us to leave a few dishes to be done in the evening after we come home; it is also ok to only vaccum once in the morning and another time before you go to sleep since the dog will be coming in and out all throughout the day anyway, and if the kids’ room looks too messy, just close the door beind you (ps. if you are a bit of a control freak like me do read this article on Kidspot, it is rather entertaining).

And finally and most importantly, you know how they say you need a village to raise a kid? Yes, that is so true and I have a wonderful village whom I rely on day-in and day-out to look after our kids and the occasional home issues when husband and I are at work. Our village is also big, comprising of both my own family and my in-laws who lovingly, diligently and unconditionally take care of our kids when they are not at daycare. It is not without challenges though, these kids who are raised by dual (and even triple households) as values are being taught from all directions (try telling a kid that they can’t have something which Grandma has already promised earlier on) and your No. #1 position in their hearts gets consistently challenged, but at the end of the day it gives us reassurance and a peace of mind when the kids are not with us which means that we can focus our attention on other things like work and not get distracted. It also allows us kids to see that there are different ways to living and hopefully give them a wider perspective to life.

So yes, we are who we are and we can become who we want to become because of the circumstances and people surrounding us (with a bit of change in attitude and mentality and a lot of tolerance). And yes, we are lucky but we are also grateful and we do not let ourselves nor our kids forget that. 

Happy Sunday everyone.

PS. Lastly, I have to share this funny post which a friend put up on her Facebook which I can relate so well with.

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PPS. My dear readers, I am asking for a favour. If you know of other women (or men) who would enjoy a weekly light read or maybe benefit from the experience of a fellow mom can you please share my link with them? There is nothing more encouraging for someone who writes to know that people are reading 🙂 With thanks and lots of love.

The Joys of Part-time Work

Are you a part-time worker? If you are then you would probably have heard one too many times about how lucky you are that your company is accommodating this arrangement and that you get to spend time with the kids.

And if you are like me, you would flinch inwardly each time you hear that.

Some people have this notion that mothers returning to work have a sweet deal as they have the perfect excuse to work only a couple of days a week and then scoot off while other people deal with their problems. Well I can tell you that this definitely has not been the case for me.

I have been back at work on a part-time basis for a little over a year now (and another year before my second one was born), and I constantly find myself questioning whether this is the right arrangement for me. A few weeks upon returning to work I found myself checking emails on my off days to ensure that I did not miss out on important memos and that I did not have to spend half a day responding to emails on my first day back in the week. Then as I started taking on more responsibilities I found myself spending hours working from home while the kids entertained themselves. It got to a point that even I was on vacation, my mind was hard at work thinking about how to resolve issues that are due soon after. So even though I was physically with my kids, I was not spending quality time with them.

Of course, some of these issues are attributable to my own personality. But I figured over the two years I have been working part-time that there are a few things that has to marry up to ensure the on-going viability of part-time work.

The suitability of the role

Not all roles are suitable for part-time work. The types of roles that can be fall into one of the following groups:

  1. Where the majority of your responsibilities are contained within the period that you work and do not carry over from day to day – an example of this would be a retail role.
  2. Where you get to work autonomously, or in a consulting basis, or on longer-term projects where you have the ability to control and drive your own timeframe and activities.
  3. If your role does not fall into one of the above categories and you are required to meet short deadlines which involve daily interaction with people, the only way this can work is if you have a back-to-back who covers the same scope, is across the issues and can look after things on your days off.

Unless your roles fall into one of these categories, you will eventually find it a challenge to keep up.

Support from your organisation

This is a given. If you do not work for an organisation with management who supports and sees the value of retaining talented women (or if you are not able to convince them otherwise) then this arrangement is doomed to fail.

The ability to speak up when things are not happening how they should

If you have the support of your management and the right kind of roles exist in your organisation, then it really is up to you to monitor the progress of your work and communicate accordingly if things are not working out. Rather than sitting at home resenting the fact that you have to work on an off day or constantly worrying about things that you have no control over while you are at home and others at work, you need to be having conversations with your supervisor about the issues.

I found that things improved for me when I did that. Initially my role started off by being in the first category, and over time it crept into the third category except that I did not have a true back-to-back support. After having a meaningful conversation with my supervisor my role has now shifted more into the second category where I have more ability to control when I work. It was a learning process for both myself and my organisation to try and determine what works best, as the traditional norm of work in my team has never been part-time.

It is still early days for me to tell whether the current arrangement can be sustained in the future (or even for the next 6 months), and there were days when I thought that it might be easier for me to just return to full-time work. But I also realise that time I can spend with my pre-school kids now is too precious, so I will just have to continue trying to find the right balance until I am ready to give that up.

After all, we are mothers, so isn’t multi-tasking what we do best?

In the Beginning

I was wondering about the content of my next post when my husband suggested that I write about the kids.

“The kids… ?” I said.

“Yes, the kids,” he replied. “Isn’t that what inspired you to start this blog in the first place?”

Ok, that’s true. But … what about the kids? Where do I even start?

After much consideration I decided that the right place to start is from the beginning, from when we decided to have kids. As that would be the start to the story and put context into all that we do and experience from that point onwards.

Our story is not unlike millions of others’. Man and woman meet, date, fall in love, go out for a few years while we pursue our careers, decide that we are ready to start a family and get married. Everything up until then happened in the intended sequence and as planned, but not so much after.

Only after we embarked on this journey that I learnt these few things:

One. It can take a long time for a woman over the age of 30 to fall pregnant. A woman between 30-35 has only about a 15% chance of getting pregnant during each cycle (article) and it is not uncommon for her to only get pregnant after 6 to 12 months of trying (as confirmed by the doctor who saw us at the time and advised that she would not consider any additional tests until after at least 6 months). 

Two. Stress can have a huge impact on your success rate. I underestimated this and only after a year of trying, we decided to take a break from everyday stresses and went on a trip to New Zealand. And that was when I first got pregnant.

Three. 1 in 4 women who gets pregnant in Australia suffers a miscarriage. This happened to us after our New Zealand trip. It was devastating at the time especially given that I wanted it so much and I was not able to talk about it because it happened very early on in the pregnancy, but after understanding the statistics that helped lessen the grief to some extent.

Four. Lastly, alternative treatments may sometimes work for you (although when I say alternative, what we resorted to was pretty much mainstream in some parts of the world). I am referring to acupuncture. Without trying to mislead anyone; the acupuncturist explained to me that she could only help us if the issue was with the condition of my body and my womb, and not if we had issues with the conception itself. So imagine us trying to grow a tree, she could only help to condition the soil but not to produce nor fix the seeds (which I believed was our case since the tests performed prior did not come up with any other conclusions).

So, 4 weeks after I started the treatment and 18 months since we embarked on this journey, my tests came back positive (I took 3 just to be sure). I continued with the treatment 3 months into the pregnancy and was careful not to take any unnecessary risks e.g. rigorous exercise, travels etc and we carried this beautiful child to full-term.

Every couple has their own story, and this is ours. There were many ups and downs, tears and doubts and really tested our relationship as newly weds; but ultimately defined us as a married couple and how we worked together to resolve the challenges.

And as for the kids, we constantly remind ourselves how fortunate we are to have them (and on some days we just have to remind ourselves harder :)).

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Girls’ Night Out

Last Saturday I went out to dinner with an old friend. We went to Lalla Rookh, where we sat down for an amazing three-course Italian meal starting with raw kingfish, followed by creamy beetroot risotto and finishing off with an amazing chocolate mascarpone dessert. We also had good wine and even better conversations. After that we went for a nice stroll in the city – it was a warm night with a light breeze and there were lots of people about.

And for that few hours, it was as if we didn’t have kids. Imagine that. And that we were just two adults, having a night out.

It has been a while since I did this. This, to be able to go out and just enjoy the night. Almost four years to be exact.

These kids, they change your life. These little creatures who come out completely helpless and dependent on you for all their physical and emotional needs; for survival. And overnight, all things simple in your life, like going out to dinner, are no longer simple.

Why? Because you stop living only for yourself from the moment you realise you are pregnant. For your baby’s well-being you would give up half the things on the menu (the good half) when you go out, including the fun drinks which continues to stay off the diet for the period you breastfeed. If you breastfeed exclusively (like me as my children refused to take the bottle), this means that you have a baby who latches on to you every three hours and increasingly more closer to his/her bedtime, which makes it extremely inconvenient for you to be out in public. Then even as they get older and feed less, there is still the issue of night waking, to the point that you are uncomfortable of leaving them with a sitter in fear that they will not be able to comfort your baby back to sleep should they wake.

So after a while you just give up and stop going out at night altogether. You ask family if you can have dinners at their place instead, and you try to catch up with your friends either over mommy dates at the park or you sneak in an hour over your lunch break. Other nights when cooking gets tiring you become frequent customers of Menulog and Ubereats. At times you yearn for your old life back, and that spontaneity which allows you to decide, 5 minutes before 6pm, where you would like to dine that night.

Then one day, out of nowhere, you realise that hey, I can actually do this now. The kids are a little older and the husband is experienced enough to be left to his own devices. So you call your friend to arrange a date, very glad that you are finally getting some of your independence back.

Then for a brief moment, only very fleetingly, your mind went back to that time when your newborn woke you up at 3am and then fell asleep while you nursed her close to your chest; when you both stayed so still as if you might interrupt the stillness of the night if you moved; when it felt like you were her entire world and she was yours. And you felt a little sad that perhaps it would never be the same again.

Side note: Lalla Rookh is a trendy, bustling Italian restaurant in the heart of the city. It is a popular spot with the city dwellers, and was recently frequented by Rob Broadfield who wrote a neat article about it in the West Australian.

This Post is Not About the Kids

… well, at least not the human ones anyway.

One day long long time ago, pre-human kids, Will and I brought home different kind of a baby. A black and white one with silky soft fur and hazel-coloured eyes. He was only 8 weeks old;  so small that he would sit in the palm of a hand, and so cute that he melted our hearts. All those around us who saw him fell in love at first sight.

We named him Kimchee.

He was scared and unsure as he took his first steps in the house. It took us a week to get familiar with each other, and another couple to adjust to a new routine. Will and I read up all about raising Lhasa Apsos as I stocked the fridge with fresh mince and puppy food. 

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Kimchee as a puppy… look how adorable he was!

There was a painful period of trying to make him understand that he was not to do his dirty business inside the house, which was followed by some fun times teaching him cool tricks. After a while we knew to look forward to our walks together in the evenings and he looked forward even more to making new friends around the neighbourhood.

All in all, that was a beautiful time for all of us as we started to form the initial nuclear family.

Then, fast forward one year, along came the first human baby. It was a confusing time for Kimchee and our routine was disrupted. We were no longer able to go for long walks and he was disturbed by the constant crying due to his acute sense of hearing. Nevertheless we all adapted, including Kimchee, and he eventually got used to, and was even protective of, the baby.

Then along came baby two. And his routine was even more disrupted. Walks were becoming scarce. But he did not complain and often times would just wait expectantly for his turn. And it was around those times that he started getting unwell. A lot. At first it was recurring ear infections and itchy paws. After many tests, we finally realised that he was allergic to various elements in the environment. They developed a vaccine just for him which we have to inject into his back every three weeks over a three-year period. Then as he was starting to get better, a darker period emerged where we saw him retreating a lot to his bed and there he would lie all day, unable to move and eventually unable to even eat. That was when he was diagnosed with Intervetebral Disc Degeneration (IVDD) and a back surgery was to follow. Since then he has had several recurring episodes, but at least now we are better equipped with experience and information to know what to do when the symptoms return and what restrictions we need to place on his day-to-day activities. 

Needless to say, that was a very stressful period. I was at the vet’s more often than all of our human doctors’ visitations combined. Financially it also wasn’t pretty. We would have spent at least $6,000 in vet bills over a period of two years, all of which was un-budgeted for.

But even after all that, giving Kimchee up was never an option. And we would still fork out another couple of thousands to treat him if we have to. Kimchee is very much a part of the family; we love him and the kids had not known a day without their dog.

But if you ask me today if this was what I thought dog ownership would be like six years ago, definitely not. With those cute puppy eyes and droopy ears you would think that it was all fun and warm and fuzzy as long as you feed him well and walk him with the occasional visits to the vet’s. But no, dog ownership is serious business and a life-long commitment. If I had known back then what I know today about raising a dog – the time, the effort, the stress, the money, the guilt of having to place your children first before him, I would have thought twice before bringing him home.

Because at the end of the day it is not just a matter of what we want, it is also a matter of what is fair to the dog. A dog is God’s gift to us as the perfect companions but we have to ask ourselves, even with all the best intentions in the world, are we able to keep to our end of the bargain?

[This post was inspired by this article from news.com.au]

Working Mothers

I was having a casual chat with a colleague the other day on the much discussed (yet nevertheless thought-provoking ) topic of the under representation of females across some levels of big corporates and what the unseen barriers may be. (Disclaimer: This was in general and not specific to a company).

We talked about the usual suspects:

1. Part-time opportunities not always explored for mothers returning to workforce.

2. Young females commonly associated with starting families.

3. Men in management creating social circles that is difficult for women to infiltrate.

He then raised a point which I had not considered before . He said:

Most of the time people do not recognise the skill sets and experience that mothers bring into their professional roles

Hm. Interesting.

When I decided to take two intermittent years off to spend time with my babies, I have always regarded that as somewhat of a temporary career sacrifice. I accepted that because of my decision, I would return to the workforce professionally “behind” colleagues who used to be in comparable levels. Not for once have I thought that perhaps, what I lacked in actual years of professional experience may be compensated by other types of experience that I gained in motherhood which would still be valued in a work environment.

So I pondered. Could this be true? And here is my conclusion.

I agree. Here are a couple of skill sets that I believe I have either acquired or improved on since motherhood.

Firstly, the ability to prioritise. Whilst this skill has always been incorporated in my work, I noticed a marked improvement in how I execute it. The thing is, with only three days a week in the office, plus a strict start and home time, this is one skill that I (and millions of other mothers) had no choice but to improve on. The more time-poor I become, the better I get at prioritising critical and important tasks and either delaying or eliminating ones which I deem low impact, not required or can be delegated.

Secondly, assertiveness. I have always seen myself as a compromiser, very flexible to accommodate people and situations (which can be a plus when trying to advance one’s career). However, since becoming a mother, I find it more of a necessity that I start drawing boundaries and non-compromisable positions for the sake of my children, from things like safety, napping routines, diets, to others like making sure I can leave work in time to pick them up. All these require discipline and daily negotiations with people in your social web – husband, extended families, work, others involved (e.g. clinic, daycare) and the kids themselves(!). Whilst some may see these boundaries possibly detrimental to work, I see it as a plus. My ability to communicate my needs in a clear, concise, actionable manner translates into my ability at work to communicate my thoughts and positions in the same manner. And also, in the long-run, it keeps things sustainable.

So to me, yes, I believe being a mother and its circumstances has made me a more efficient worker. If I think long enough, I am sure there are others that will spring to mind, but for now, because I need to keep an eye on two monkeys who have opened all the drawers in my kitchen, it’s time for me to sign out.