Wednesday, March 31, 2010

And so it begins

Little Miss received this purse as a party favor last week and she has been parading around the house with it ever since. I shudder at the hot pink, but more so the Disney princesses that adorn the flap. Surely she's not into princesses yet? The glass slippers and tiara - are they next? Where does one even go for those? I am obviously ill prepared.

I don't remember my own princess days - or if I ever had those - but my apprehension at this nascent partiality to hot pink purses is a little unsettling. After all, she is a girl - why does it bother me that she acts like one? But my Women's Studies background immediately retaliates with and how does one act like a girl? I have worked hard to fight the gender stereotypes. I am woman, hear me roar, that sort of thing. I lift my own 35lb-container of kitty litter, thankyouverymuch. And I also loved Transforners and Voltron while growing up. But why did I have to look for a Transformers t-shirt for myself in the men's section?

Don't even get me started on the pink and blue. Many of Little Miss' pink items are either gifts or because our choices were paltry - pink, sickly sweet lavender (which I loathe even more than pink) or boring-interview-suit navy blue. Really? With a gazillion colors in the world, that's the best they could came up with? When Little Miss was born, we chose the surprise route so everything was in a neutral shade - her bedroom is in shades of orange, light blue, rust and chocolate brown. Now that she is girl, hear her whine, we have given in to some pink, but we made sure it's counterbalanced by a myriad of gender neutral or, pardon the flagrant irony here, "boy outfits" that we had to look for in the boys' section - her Star Wars t-shirt being one of them. When I was perusing the girl's section the other day, I only found Dora and Hello Kitty gear. Needless to say, I was not pleased.

But as I was about to turn away in a huff, making a mental note to myself to fire off a letter of complaint when I get home (but to whom?!) I caught my own reflection in the mirror and saw my purse slung across my shoulder the same way Little Miss had hers. Suddenly, comprehension dawned, accompanied by a colossal sense of relief. Ohhhhh....False alarm! Little Miss Prancing with Purse isn't toting her hot pink accessory because of a Sleeping Beauty enchantment. She is doing it because she wants to be just like her mama!

I guess I can save my tirade on gender stereotyping for some other time - as I'm sure that day will come as well. For now, the initial relief has been replaced by an even bigger concern, such as the immense burden of being someone my daughter looks up to. I spend so much time trying to be something else, someone else that it's perplexing why anyone would want to be like me. But there she is, adoring me with those doe eyes, and seeing only me. Not the imperfections, the bed head, the tired eyes. Not even the person I was, the person I want to be, and the person I should be. Just me.

Now why can't I do that?

Maybe I should. Instead of the relentless pursuit of some nebulous ideal - perfect partner, mother, daughter, friend - maybe I should explore this person I already am. Perhaps it's because she doesn't know any better that I am idolized, but when she does, I hope she continues to see me, and if I dare hope, even look up to me. For that, I first have to make peace with myself. Raised (and I use this term loosely) by a father who drummed in me that we should only strive to be the best, I am constantly mired in self-doubt, afraid that I will never be good enough.

It is time I stepped out of that, away from the shadows and into the light that my daughter - in her childlike wonder - has cast upon me. Now I have to live up to this task of being not just her mother (as if that isn't hard enough), but her guide, her inspiration. It won't come easy, as I have to earn all of that. Every day. But I can do this. More importantly, for her, I will.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Meals for Tot

I've cooked for Little Miss since the day the experts say she was ready for solids. Cooking is a passion, so I was thrilled when the moment came, although steaming and mashing green beans and carrots weren't exactly the high point of my kitchen accomplishments.

As Little Miss graduates from infancy to toddlerhood, her meals, thankfully, do too. My Guy and I are fans of bold and spicy flavors and while our daughter already has an adventurous palate, we really don't want to deal with the aftermath of shrimp vindaloo on her delicate belly.

On those days, I make Little Miss her own dish, which takes no more than an additional 10 minutes of my time, usually using ingredients that appear in the "adult meals" as well. With barely enough time for sleep, good food fast is a motto I've adopted in the kitchen (thanks, Nigella). And yes, healthy is important too. In fact, it is the driving factor of why I take that extra effort. At least that way I get to control and know exactly what she consumes. I also try to use all natural ingredients with no preservatives, and if possible, organic. If I can't, I don't beat myself up over it. She'll live.

This past weekend, when we stayed home for all three meals, this was what I made for her (or poured into the bowl, as the first case may be).

(Favorite adult weekend cereal, so Little Miss got a few bites too, sans the sugary Charms - all things in moderation right?)

(Udon noodles in miso broth with broccoli and carrots)

(Rice with spinach and egg, garnished with fried shallots)

DESSERT (for both meals)
(Her favorite: Blueberries)

Judging from the above, it's no wonder she can say the word "bowl".  And "hot" because the Chinese in me believe in serving food while it's warm from the stove. We're working on "delicious" next - not so much for her vocabulary as it is for my ego. Sure, I'm raising a healthy kid with all this good-for-the-body food, but really, what's in it for me?

What's your favorite meal to make for your family? Or just for your kids? If you have something that will help me expand my repertoire, I'd love to hear it. So would Little Miss.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


One day I'm tearing my hair out with this little monster that has taken possession of my daughter, and the next, I am sitting on the porch swing with her, wordlessly enjoying the sounds of the birds singing their odes to spring in trees still barren from winter. Except for the swaying, we were still. It was perfection. 

So now I'm back to full-on gushing mode: My daughter is the best! Of course, as you can tell from my last post, that isn't always the case. Some days are harder than others, and some kids more difficult, so what do we say then?

I overheard a conversation on my commute the other day between two women who were exchanging stories about their kids. “Lizzie loves to paint…Jim Bob can say his ABCs” (real names withheld, or more accurately, forgotten), and I laughed to myself. It's not that I was amused by their kids’ mad skills – knowing their ABCs by age two is nothing to scoff at since, you know, Harvard looks for these things on the application—it’s the way these parents were talking about them. They weren't just trying to keep up with the Joneses, they were trying to be them.

See, my career in marketing has honed my ability to spot BS from a mile away. Using euphemisms (and sometimes flat out lying) are very useful tools of the trade, and I have to admit, I use them unapologetically in my line of work. So, when this conversation took place, I heard words that raised all kinds of flags on my BS-o-meter. It made me think about my own past conversations, and I realized that while marketers have their own jargon, we parents have ours too.

Here’s a sampling of the lingo used to negotiate tough situations and what I think they actually mean: 

What we say  -  What we mean                   
He’s strong-willed  -  He’s a brat
She’s independent  -  I can’t ever get her to listen to me
He is energetic  -  Hide anything in the house that breaks, including your grandma
She can be bossy  -  She's the playground bully
He is happy as a clam  -  He is a little slow on the uptake
She knows what she wants  -  Have you seen her temper tantrums?
He has a healthy appetite  -  He is the childhood obesity poster child
She is a picky eater  -  I’m forcefeeding her
He does XXX for the most part  - He really isn’t getting it. At all.
When she's ready  -  When I have the time and energy to spend on this
He is complacent  -  He is very dull
She is boisterous  -  I can't take her anywhere. Seriously.
He can be a handful  -  He has one foot in the Juvenile Detention Center
She is very creative  -  She loves hiding my jewelry in the kitty litter bin

Of course, I've taken some liberties here. And I'm not saying that everyone does this. Most parents are pretty honest about their offspring - and kudos to them because it isn't easy to do, especially when the truth forces us to face our reality head on. But they may also be the same parents with manageable, even great, kids (I'm told they do exist).

As for those who don’t – well, now they have this cheat sheet.

(Today, Little Miss is the best)


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Monster, Inc.

It’s been a week since we got back from our trip to Malaysia, and things are finally status quo around here. I came home to packages from on my front porch (online shopping, how I love thee), a soup spoon under the rug and a little girl attached to my body. Well, almost back to normal - that last part is new. I think Little Miss is still in a jet lag funk – or so I hope. At least I know that will eventually fade. She has lately been incredibly needy and clingy, wanting to always be in the same room as us or to be picked up every other minute even though prior to the trip she was perfectly capable of being completely independent. Sometimes overly so.

She has also been displaying more aggressive behavior, grabbing toys from playmates and pushing them, and the burgeoning temper tantrums - where did those come from?! Surely jet lag can’t be blamed for all of these…can it? (Do you hear the wistfulness - or is that sheer desperation - in my voice?) She has asked for her paati (although she says "taat-is" - close enough) a few times so perhaps she is missing my mom and is acting out because of it? How about her molars? They must be the culprit.

This is all very worrying (other than for obvious reasons) because for the first time, I actually wasn’t looking forward to coming home from work to her. Since I only see her from 5pm to 7pm on weekdays, I selfishly only want quality time together, but instead of Kodak moments, I get the short fuse and the tears. It's also the witching hour, where kids (even adults!) are at their crabbiest, whether from hunger or exhaustion. Lucky me. 

Frankly, I’m not sure how to deal with this personality change. I’ve read that they go through phases, and I’ve seen it happen with her, such as her cheese and peas days. Now she’s back to devouring nearly everything in sight, and that is promising. I had it pretty easy with her as an infant, so is this erratic behavior my retribution? Can parents never just have a proverbial walk in the park with their kids? How can someone so cute be so annoying too? And yes, I did just say that. 

I realize that just because I love my daughter (and I really do, I swear), it doesn't mean I am always going to like her. I just thought that would happen later, like when she hits the big T-E-E-N, not when she's still cute and cuddly. Does that make me a bad mom? Maybe.

Or maybe it’s only human that we can’t deal sometimes. That we say things like “why can’t you be just like that kid?”. That we stress about our kids behaving better, saying more, sleeping well, eating less, (insert wishlist here). That after coming home from a full day’s work to a screaming child, we want to walk right back out that door again. That we can’t always decipher our kids’ needs, and it frustrates everyone. That we want to hide when our little angel turns into a little monster in public. Or even at home. That we possess an inherent flaw that constantly doubts our own abilities as parents. That we flourish and flounder all at once. That we go into stasis just to survive the moment, the hour, the day.

Or maybe I’m just crazy. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Fastest food.

Do you have five minutes? Yes? Then you can make lunch. Seriously.

One of the things I love about my neighborhood is its diversity, providing me easy access to a number of ethnic eateries and groceries. Within walking distance, I could get sundries from a deli or grocer that specializes in items from Mexico, South East Asia, Eastern Europe or Italy, and within 10 minutes of driving, China, Korea, Ethiopia and India. Recently, still groggy from jet lag, I chose the closest: Italian. Coming home to an abysmally empty pantry after a long vacation, I bought a few items we needed, Prosciutto di Parma being one of them, but that's for dinner, and for savoring.

For lunch, I only had time (and energy) for something quick. So tuna sandwich it was. I know, I know, boring, but it's unlike any I've made before only because I was especially lazy, and I really didn't want to putz around in the kitchen when I could be outside, enjoying the first signs of spring in the form of 65-degree weather. (As I prepare to post this, there's snow on the ground. Of course).

So here's what I whipped up. In five minutes.

Opened a can of tuna in olive oil (the oil is key and the ones from Italy, with yellowfin tuna, is especially flavorful)
and drained the excess liquid before emptying into a bowl.
Mixed in capers (for the requisite tang in any seafood dish, although the portion is up to you)
and hot giardiniera (for the punch and additional texture, also in the amount of your preference. Go with the mild version if you're a wuss).
Ate it between two slices of multigrain bread.

Four-ingredient, five-minute lunch. Or dinner, if you will.

Simple. Fast. Delicious.

I'm in love.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Malaysia Series: Sweet home.

(The Thinker at the Petronas Twin Towers wading pool) 

(one of my favorite buildings in the world) 

 (magnificent, especially at night)

After 36 hours of travel, including a 12-hour layover in Seoul where we got a hotel to rest our weary eyes, we are finally home. Exhausted. Three days later, our suitcases are still where we left them as we came in through the front door, the refrigerator is crying out for inhabitants, and our usual routine is still not very usual. But we're happy to be home.

Took us three weeks in another country to appreciate some of the things we took for granted here everyday, such as:
  • 24/7 connection to the Internet (My Guy is a geek, and I've picked up some bad habits from him)
  • customer service (four words: I HATE AIR ASIA)
  • street signs that actually take us to our destination (although we got lost a few times, serendipity took us someplace better)
  • cooler weather (it was scorching hot the first week we were there. A heatwave apparently, like it wasn't warm enough normally)
  • our routine (even if that includes work, although it isn't the part I miss most)
  • our neighborhood (where many things are within walking distance, unlike where we were in Malaysia where we had to drive just to get bread)
  • access to great music (seems like there were only two choices there: contemporary pop or 80s power ballad. what the...?)
  • the four seasons (although there was a blizzard the night we left, we came home to glorious 65-degree weather and flowers blooming shyly on the sidewalk. That always puts a spring in my step!)
  • our pets (even if they do take up most of the room on the bed)
Don't get me wrong. We loved our vacation. The experience was amazing, especially for My Guy and Little Miss. There, we learned that she is quite the aqua baby--completely fearless in the water, loves anything that ends in "ator" (escalator, elevator, etc.), and adapts easily to any new environment, like a chameleon, only cuter.

(splish splash)

 (what better way to battle the heat wave?)

For me, the experience was a little different as I saw things from two dichotomous perspectives: why I miss it and why I'm glad I left. And that just wasn't easy, especially when those two collided so often. I am fiercely proud of my culture, my childhood and my family, and I still have such great friends there, so Malaysia will always be a part of me. I mean, where else can I go to croon (badly) at a karaoke lounge all through the night and end with spicy, tongue-numbing mamak food to quell the munchies at 4 in the morning?

 (I won't ever be able to listen to Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" without thinking of this night, and these girls, again) 

(a Wonderwall duet. Something I never thought I'd see in this lifetime! Thank you six pitchers of beer)

But if home is where the heart is, I am here, where I landed 16 years ago. I only hope someday Little Miss will appreciate her heritage - my legacy - as she finds her own place in this world. Wherever that may be.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Malaysia Series: Vacation within vacation

hotel fun - click for larger view

Since my hometown, Kuala Lumpur, is a bustling city of 7 million, and we live in equally busy Chicago, we needed to get away from the concrete and lights just so we can say we actually did some vacationing. We decided to visit Penang for a few days, an island off the west coast of Malaysia that not only has a nice stretch of sandy beaches, it's also full of charm and history. There's a lot to do for such a little place, such as the Kek Lok Si temple, famed for its 19th-century Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas that took 20 years to build, the Penang hill summit for a panoramic view of the area, the Snake temple (yes, there are real snakes lazying about the shrine), and several forts and buildings from the era of the British colonization. But we did none of that.

We did do some things, but not nearly enough. However, that's fine by us as we needed a vacation from our vacation, and we got just that by lounging around our beachfront hotel, ordering room service, going to the pool twice a day (aqua baby's favorite), playing at the on-premise kids' club (Little Miss, not us), jet-skiing, enjoying massages and a facial at the hotel spa and perusing the night market right outside the hotel. Ah, the life...can't we do this every day?

The only time we did leave, we visited Gurney Drive, famous for its local flavors (more food? of course!) and happened upon a Burmese Buddhist temple and a historic row of colonial homes along the way. Thanks to my mom (a.k.a. built-in sitter), we scored a date night, exploring old Georgetown after sundown, in awe of the colonial influence on this little town, and ending the night with a couple of Tom Collins on a busy stretch of night clubs. Night life! Felt like we stumbled upon the Land Before (our current life)Time.  

We got back at around two in the morning, thrilled to feel like a couple of young, carefree adults again. Except, with Little Miss 7:30 A.M., there would be no sleeping in for us.

colonial homes

 Burmese Buddhist temple 

welcome my minions! 

dining at the Gurney Drive hawker stalls 

Georgetown night life

Monday, March 15, 2010

Malaysia Series: Ammadi Ponnu*

We recently had a party that my mom threw for Little Miss so that our closest relatives could see her or meet her for the first time. That’s a gathering of 60 people, and that’s just my mom’s side of the family. That also meant that Little Miss got to don the traditional Indian garb she received as a gift just for this occasion. About a month ago, for Chinese New Year, she pranced around in a samfu to acknowledge another part of her heritage. And now this.

What do you think? Does she make a better Indian or Chinese?

(Click for larger view)

* Translated from Tamil: Mommy’s Girl.

Malaysia Series: Little Trooper

I was fussing a great deal prior to our vacation about the 24-hour flight with our 16-month-old as we learned from her maiden voyage that she wasn’t the ideal traveler, to put it mildly, but when the moment of truth finally came, it blew me away.

We brought little tchotchkes to keep her entertained on the flight, as well as a variety of gadgets (laptop, Zune and an Internet tablet) as backups to the portable DVD player should it (God forbid) run out of batteries. Even though she’s a little too big, we requested the bassinet so she could sleep in it, and that was our best move yet. She actually asked to go into the bassinet to sleep, just like with her crib when we’re home. She was also content hanging out in there.


(There's a baby in there somewhere)
At the end of our first leg (15 hours from Chicago to Seoul), the people around us commended her on her behavior.  I was in disbelief. I knew she was doing well when the Taiwanese business man behind us created a paper boat out of his memo pad just for her but aiming for pleasant and ending with great was completely unexpected.  

(Mini Elmo's sweet ride)

I have to say, the fortune cookie was right—we’re having a wonderful time, and Little Miss has a lot to do with it. I gave her too little credit, fretting about how things could go wrong. I never imagined I would be posting about the exact opposite.

While we’re on the subject of pleasant surprises, here in Malaysia, Little Miss is our Little Trooper. We kept her schedule (nap and bed times) intact for the most part and occasionally, we’d push her a little, delaying her nap or bedtime to accommodate get-togethers with friends and family. Her jet lag lasted a mere two days, the heat doesn’t bother her, she enjoys the different cuisines, and while she starts out shy with my family and friends, who’re technically strangers to her, she warms up to them quickly. And she even sleeps through the night in her own room. I mean, come on, how can I not be a proud mama?

I have to admit, before this, I was a little anxious. It was hard for me to think about enjoying our vacation when I was so nervous about how she would adjust to her new environment. I had underestimated her. As the guy behind us on the plane said after we landed, “The flight crew should give her a lollipop for doing so well.”

I agree. In fact, she deserves three…hundred.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Malaysia Series: Sweet sounds

(Pork noodles for lunch at the Kuala Lumpur Chinatown / Petaling Street) 

Back in my home country, where food is king, we are constantly experiencing it in one way or another, whether it’s the waft of a neighbor frying fish coated in spice, or tasting the flavors and textures of different kinds of cuisine on one table, thanks to a multi-ethnic nation. We can’t even go two blocks without seeing food, whether it’s a peddler of curry puffs on the road side or hawker stalls (outdoor food vendor) at the end of the row of shops.  It’s amazing just how much revolves around food, and so it’s no surprise that our vacation so far has been dictated by our bellies.

(Curry Laksa)
(Banana leaf rice - Indian cuisine enjoyed on banana leaf at a restaurant) 
However, despite our four senses being overwhelmed by the taste, smell, sight and feel of food, the highlight of our trip is hearing our baby girl exclaiming, loudly and proudly, “Mama!” and “Dada!” Before this trip, she knew to associate the words with us, but she had only ever whispered them and when we looked up in acknowledgment, she would flash us a coy smile and whisper even softer than before, where only our family dog can hear her.
But when she took that flight with us, I guess her confidence soared with the altitude of the plane that took us from one side of the globe to another, and there, she found her voice. There she was, staking her claim with an audible, “Mama! Dada!” over and over, and while we only traveled from one continent to another, we were over the moon.
With each sweet sound of mama, I feel pride, joy and an immense sense of responsibility. It also binds us inextricably with an implicit promise that no matter how far away she utters this word from me in the future, I will always be right by her side. 

Friday, March 5, 2010

Malaysia Series: Salty-sticky hot

(Little Miss and her grandma and daddy)

My daughter and her dad visits Malaysia, my home country, with me for the first time, and I’m in awe at how much she takes me back to the Malaysia I once knew but hardly remember.  With her, I no longer just see the gazillion malls that sprung up in the last two decades and the network of highways that leave me in a daze. In this oppressive heat, the other extreme of the icy winter that we left behind for this vacation, she parades around my mom’s AC-less apartment in just a diaper, salty-sticky from the humidity.  Watching her play with the neighbor boy, she provides me with a glimpse of what my childhood was like. Through her eyes, I see the girl I once was. I’m swept with a powerful wave of nostalgia for the simpler days, where kids played outside and roamed about the neighborhood, weaving in and out of alleys, parks and neighbors’ houses until their rumbling tummies brought them home. 

Will Little Miss ever know those days? I wonder. I hope. But somehow, and sadly, I doubt it. And maybe that’s why, as difficult as it is, I will always make this trek back to the home of my youth, just so she too can have a slice of the innocence from my childhood. Here in the hot, humid heat of the tropics, where, in some magical pockets, time stands still for some of us.