Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Our Christmas Stories.

I was looking forward to spending a whole week at home with Little Miss, enjoying my staycation and prepping for the festive season together. I planned to make cookies (check), shop for gifts (check), create holiday cards (check), listen to Christmas carols (check) and burn some festive candles (check) to get into the holiday spirit with her. Sounded so...1950s housewifeish. All I needed was an apron. Besides, wouldn't it be exciting for a one-year-old to experience the sight, sound, and taste of the holidays? I found out, not so much. This is the same kid who only sings Baa Baa while I complete the rest of the Black Sheep song, why did I think she’d chime in on "Jingle Bells" and partake in cookie-decorating merriment with me?

On Christmas morning, she did open her gifts with just enough fervor to make me think she enjoyed unwrapping them. Most of the time, that's all she cared to do before moving on to the next shiny object, not really affected by what lies beneath the pretty packaging. This is probably the only time that's ever going to happen because after this, she will not only anticipate what comes in the box, she will come to expect or, even worse, demand it. I know I paint the worst picture of my someday daughter, but I’m just trying to prepare myself for it.  I was no angel myself, and as we all know, payback’s a bitch. 

Unsurprisingly, the whole Santa thing was lost on Little Miss too. When we went looking for him and relieved to have found him at Navy Pier (he’s a busy guy after all), much to my chagrin, she refused to sit on his lap. But then it hit me: good for her! I’d rather her leery of strangers than flock to them willingly. Especially strangers whose most famous quote, ho ho ho, borders on harassment. Hiding presents until Christmas Eve night (“when Santa comes to town”) didn’t make a difference to her either. And Rudolph? Let’s not even go there. At this point, the reindeer is either a cat or a dog (“dah”) to her, thanks to her limited lexicon.

In the end, all the holiday prep that I was excited to get into just for her went by unnoticed. She was too busy exploring unlocked cabinets and the magical wonders of the universal remote. But I guess I expected that. Next year, though, the Santa myth will come alive in her imagination as we regurgitate age-old tales of this ruddy old fellow with a pristine white beard on a sleigh with jingling bells (which seems rather counter productive to his need for secrecy, if you ask me). Maybe we’ll even spice things up a little, just to give it new life. Maybe Santa is friends with Captain Jean-Luc Picard. How else can we explain that he can send presents to all the children in one night? Forget the treacherous chimneys, “beam me up, Scottie!” Maybe instead of elves, Santa has Ewoks help him in the toy factory – they seem a little better equipped for the Arctic chill with all that hair anyway. Oh, oh and Buffy (the Vampire Slayer, you lame-o) will accidentally get a Prime Rib for Christmas, instead of her usual request for a brand new “stake” (get it? get it?). By the time we’re done improvising, it’ll be a brand new myth. Perhaps even a better one.

Undoubtedly, she will also stumble upon the nativity scene someday, and when she asks about baby Jesus, her agnostic mama will make her ask her atheistic daddy. I have a feeling Xena, Wolverine and Frodo Baggins will all make an appearance in this one. 

Now that is going to be some story.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mommy Guilt.

I'm off all week for Christmas, and I was looking forward to spending some quality time with Little Miss at home but being the procrastinator that I am, I also had a bunch of Christmas shopping and general errands to get to this same week. I was ambitious enough to think that I could drag her along with me on my adventures except things quickly went south after I hatched my plans. Little Miss started with Pink Eye last Thursday and just when she got better, she came down with a cold and another tooth was erupting. Quite the jackpot of a weekend. She learned the word up to signal she'd like to be picked up, which is normally the cutest thing but when she's sick, she's extra needy (aren't we all?), and so she's been following me around the house, demanding "Uh!" "Uh!".

When the week was here for us to spend time together, all I wanted to do was find a hole in which to hibernate. Sans baby. And of course I felt guilty about that. Her daddy made me promise that I would take her to daycare on Monday just so I could have the time to run my errands without her and to take some time just for myself. What an alien concept. I had never done this before - left her at daycare when I wasn't working - and it was undoubtedly difficult for me. Like riding a bike for the first time. However, she was still that same needy kid this morning, and I really just wanted to enjoy her and our time together, and when her daddy came home, I wanted him to come home to a happy, unfrazzled me.  So I did it. With a heavy heart, I dropped her off at daycare, but I also managed to get everything done and even went home to take a shower before going back for Little Miss.

When I walked in the house without Little Miss, my cleaning lady, who was there all morning, was alarmed, "Where's baby?" When I told her I dropped her off at daycare, she nodded, feebly hiding her disapproval. I wanted to defend myself -- her dad made me! -- but really, why did I even need to bother? Don't judge me. Wait till I sic her on you as you're trying to get your shit done and she's following you around, demanding "Uh!" "Uh!" "Uh!". Of course, that thought of "unleashing my baby on someone" made me feel guilty too -- geez, I might as well be Catholic!

So here I am, freshly showered, with all my errands for the day accomplished. I smell good, the house is clean, and I am ready for Little Miss. She may still be a bear, and she may still want to attach herself to my hips, knees or whatever body parts she comes in contact with, but I will have all the time in the world for that and I wouldn't have it any other way. Sure, I failed at being super mom, so I feel a small pang of guilt but honestly, I'd rather be a little less superhero and a little more human just so Little Miss can see and savor the best of me.

I'm glad I did this. I realize now that not only did I save my own sanity with a few hours of me time, in the end, I also saved my family.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Joneses Schmoneses.

I say one…two… and Little Miss chimes in with “thayyyy” (her adorable way of saying three). Genius! This girl knows her numbers. Well, number. She started this a couple of months ago, and she has since steadily been adding to her repertoire with other cheek-pinching-bear-hugging-worthy “tricks”. At last count, she has topped the family dog with what she knows, although she’s still a little fuzzy on the roll over part.

And then I met someone who knows someone with a little girl who, at Little Miss’s age, could point to various flash cards when asked (Where’s a triangle? Where’s a circle? Where’s red? Where’s blue?). I also found out someone else's kid can make various animal noises (what sound does a cow make?), which puts me in a panic—Little Miss, we have work to do! So I get the flash cards out and start with triangle, circle and square. As I approach her with them, she takes them from me, one at a time, and proceeds to put them in her mouth like she would know the answers better if she tasted them first. Circle is sweet…triangle is tart. Got it. No, no, no, Little Miss, this isn’t mum-mum (our word for food; one I used when I was little). Who am I kidding? Everything’s edible to her. Some are just harder to chew than others, like the grocery cart. And obviously much, much more revolting too.

I give up at the sight of the mangled, soggy flash cards, disappointed I didn’t help her reach her Einstein potential sooner. So I resign myself on the couch in the living room and call to her to come to me from her play area. She walks over gingerly, each step a calculated move with her hands up in the air like an aerial acrobat. When she reaches me she demands, “Uh!” with an inflection that unmistakably means “Up!”, her arms outstretched and poised to be lifted, and so I do. She signs water with her hand, and I comply by offering her the sippy cup. After a few sips she makes an exaggerated, audible “ahhh”, grinning coyly at me because she knows it makes me laugh as she sounds like me after I down a huge glass of water. I ask, “do you want more?” and she shakes her head and uses her hands to sign “all done.” She then points to the door and says “dada”, probably missing her daddy who usually comes in through that door to throw her up in the air like a volleyball and make her giggle deliciously in the way only a one-year-old can.

It suddenly dawns on me, circle, square, oink and moo be damned. I can actually communicate with Little Miss! It was a challenge for the longest time, and I kick myself for not appreciating the fact that it’s no longer a constant struggle to decipher her tears. Hungry? Poopy? Gassy? Sleepy? Now she is better equipped to tell us just what she needs, which has curbed the frustrations for both parties quite a bit. Every day we make new discoveries together as we abandon the structured play so she could learn something for more mommy and baby laugh, cuddle and sing time where she still learns something.

So screw the Joneses and what their kids can do. My daughter knows telekinesis! No lie – all she has to do is look at me and smile, and I will move all the way across the room towards her to give her tiny frame a squeeze. And when I ask, “Kiss mama?” she responds enthusiastically with her mouth wide open, planting a big wet one on my lips and my heart melts instantly.

Who needs Einstein when I have my Little Miss?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Cheese and peas.

This isn't my Little Miss. She may talk like her, walk like her and even giggle like her, but this is not her. I know that because she doesn’t eat like her.

The real Little Miss would eat and even enjoy the bananas, avocado, black beans and eggs we put in front of her at breakfast and not spit them out immediately after tasting them. For lunch, out of desperation, I decided to give her pizza. I mean, who doesn’t like pizza right? Apparently, this kid, whoever she is. Instead, she fed it to our very eager dog, aptly named Kirby (after the brand of vacuum cleaner, in case you're wondering).

Desperate act part two: I baked a butterscotch bundt cake and thought, surely she wouldn’t resist this. Wrong again. Now, that’s just crazy! No one in our house has ever resisted the power of the bundt cake. That just confirms my suspicion that she’s a fake. Also, for dinner, I figured I’d feed her butternut squash and ricotta ravioli – veggie, protein and carb in one – to trick a burgeoning, dare I say, picky eater. No dice. She was smarter than that; I was secretly proud but nonetheless exasperated. She finally settled on cubes of cheese and peas for dinner. Cheese and peas? Was it because they rhymed that she ate them together? Should I try potatoes and tomatoes next? Couscous and mousse? (Not my fault not many foods rhyme!)

I demand to know what happened to my daughter. Where’s the girl who ate everything those little carts brought at Dim Sum? And scarfed down Ethiopian food like she was from Ethiopia? Or slurped noodles so loudly that even the Chinese, who view that as a compliment to the cook, looked at her with pride? It didn’t help that my mom confirmed my worst fear. I was just like that at Little Miss’s age. Moi? The one who eats pretty much everything in sight? Who ate and loved raw oysters at age seven? Whose favorite taqueria food is the lengua (cow tongue) taco? Who enjoys pig brains and duck intestines? Head cheese? I could hardly believe it when my mom said she had to sit me down in front of cartoons and waited for me to laugh to shove food in my mouth, which I apparently chewed absentmindedly in awe of 2D animation.

Is this now our fate? Bugs Bunny and chapatti? I am so not prepared for this. She aced the mobility thing—rolling over to sitting up, to crawling, and now walking. These transitions made sense and helped prepare me for the next phase. But waking up one day and turning her nose up at all the foods she once loved is like learning numbers one day and mastering calculus the next! Only less admirable.

Lately, we’ve been playing the “where’s Little Miss” game where she’d gleefully point at herself in response but now…I’m not so sure I believe her. I have faith that my own little girl, the real Little Miss, will someday return to me. Until then, escargot will have to wait.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gilmore Girls

Fridays are the new Mondays for me, when a new cycle of frenzy begins. Little Miss is only one but she already has quite a social calendar, especially on the weekends, where she has some kind of class (e.g. aqua babies, wiggle worms, etc.), playdates, and a trip to someplace My Guy and I normally wouldn’t go by ourselves, like the museum or a conservatory. We also try to meet up with other folks (with or without kids) for dinner or brunch just to prove to ourselves that our lives don’t only revolve around baby, which is rather futile (and ironic) as we have to do all of this around her sleep schedule (morning and afternoon naps and a 7pm-bedtime. Oy!). Perpetual clock-watching on weekends also means that when Mondays roll around, we are completely exhausted. One Monday is bad enough, but two??!

I’ve also been warned by seasoned parents that it doesn’t get better. With older children come even more classes (ballet, ukelele, cross-stitching, karate, how to win friends and influence people...), birthday parties, sports events, etc. I feel worn out just thinking about it. I have so much respect for people who have it together and while a few of us aspire to be a Martha Stewart of sorts, creating homemade candles and marshmallows—it’s not a delicacy; I meant it as two separate items, although to each his/her own—and hand-sewn Christmas ornaments with the kids, I also have to realize that I don’t think even Martha friggin look-at-how-perfect-my-easter-eggs-are Stewart, has the ideal mother-daughter relationship. But then again, who does? Oh wait – the Gilmore Girls!

While it was never my favorite TV program, I have to admit I enjoyed it. Centered around a mother and daughter and their witty repartees and clever banter fused with heartfelt, hallmark moments, I secretly harbor a desire for Little Miss to grow into a Rory Gilmore, a precocious little teen who reads Proust and eventually graduates from Yale and ends up with a rich man (the lattermost being optional, though it certainly doesn't hurt). But since I’m no Lorelai Gilmore myself—hip, cool, laidback, trusting mom and best friend to Rory—what are the chances that Little Miss and I will arrive at this relationship someday? Probably slim to none, but I suppose it's better that way as (Our last name that does not begin with G) Girls, without the alliterative effect, just doesn't have the same ring to it.

But as I recall, Rory was a cool kid despite the fact that Lorelai never schlepped her around in a minivan to countless after-school activities or even made dinner together, let alone candles. So perhaps even if Little Miss doesn’t have a full social calendar, or if we skip out on a trip to the organic farm to see how pigs are humanely raised, she may still grow into a poised, well-read and successful young lady, just like Rory. And maybe, just maybe, I can ease up on the weekends and not feel guilty about possibly ruining my daughter's future.

I’m so glad I’m grounded in reality.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Body Image

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me. 
      From Phenomenal Woman, by Maya Angelou.

When I first read this poem, I was in college, struggling with the "freshman 20", if you will. Except I was a junior and the poem didn't inspire me to lose weight. It made me quite content with who I was (you know, phenomenal woman and all) until I went home to Malaysia for the summer and all the Maya Angelou confidence got squashed by the first thing my family said when they saw me—"wow, you’ve put on weight!" Fairly straightforward. Fairly innocuous. But definitely depressing--especially when everyone I saw that summer greeted me with this cringe-worthy opener. Cruel world.

So, as most formulaic college-girl-meets-fat story goes, my trip back to the States marked the beginning of two dark and painful years brought on by my very unhealthy relationship with food and my body. Yes, how trite. The details would make a good Life Time Network movie so seeing as I detest that channel, I’m just going to skip that altogether and fast forward 12 years. (Holy shit! Have I really been out of college for that long?!)

When I learned of my pregnancy, it was a little difficult for me to accept that all the work I’ve put into maintaining my post-junior-20 days would be nullified by this growing being inside me. However, after seven hours of labor, a miracle happened (other than the obvious of course)—I no longer cared. I was in so much awe of what my body could do and I was so proud of it that the weight issues became completely inconsequential.

It was only after I was at peace with my own body that the baby weight came off easily and stayed off (at least while I’m nursing), and I’ve never felt so happy. I don’t count calories, and I never stop myself from eating what I want, although I always try to do so in moderation. I don’t stress about how many calories I’m burning and even though I think I should work out more than I have been, I don’t beat myself up over it. It’s pretty funny considering I work for a wellness company. I am constantly surrounded by marathoners and people who weigh themselves and eat salad daily, but even then I refuse to feel bad about myself – “What?! You eat chocolate cake???!” Yes, yes I do. And I love it. Especially with vanilla ice cream...and whipped cream.

However, the reality is, I’m quite certain nursing has helped me stave off the unwanted pounds (your body burns calories as it produces milk), which means Little Miss has inadvertently been whipping me to shape. Now that it’s time to wean her, I am dreading the déjà vu of my daily diatribe with my body, mostly centered on how it wants to do one thing (get fat and lazy) and I want it to do something else (be like Heidi Klum. OK, maybe more like Kate Winslet in Titanic. More attainable and less bulimia-inducing).

But something has changed in my life. Priorities have shifted. While I don’t intend to “let myself go” just because I had a baby, I also realize that the last five pounds that I’ve been eternally agonizing over is just not worth the stress. I can learn to live with it and appreciate it for what it is – fat stores that will keep me alive longer should the canned food run out in the bomb shelter. I’m just sayin’.

Besides, with Little Miss, I have to be cognizant of the influence I will have on her. The last thing I want to pass down to her is body image issues. She has to be confident that we can be women, phenomenally, without society’s unrealistic expectations of us. I hope to teach her that it’s not about how thin, but how strong we are. Well, unless she becomes a poster child for childhood obesity. I may then have to rethink my strategy.

And come up with another poem.