Wednesday, June 30, 2010

17 years later, I still don’t wash my hair on my birthday because I miss her

Little Miss loves to sing. Well, technically, she’ll make a request “Bus!”, I will sing her current obsession, “The Wheels on the Bus,” and she’ll chime in where she can,  “roun roun” and “aaahh tooo taaahn” (all through the town), right on cue. Not quite pitch-perfect, but she isn’t self-conscious about it either - in fact, she sings her little heart out despite her inability to say most of the words. Suddenly this vision of my daughter transports me back to one of the stories of me from my past.

Often recounted by my favorite aunt, my “Kuma” (elder aunt in Cantonese, pronounced koo-mah), who passed on 17 years ago, it involves watching Grease in the theater with her when I was barely three years old. Apparently, during the song and dance scenes, I stood on my seat (a.k.a. my stage) and sang loud enough for everyone to hear. Embarrassed, she tried to coax me to sit but to no avail, so the audience in the theater had to sit through two John Travoltas and two Olivia Newton Johns that day.

It’s one of my favorite stories about me, not because I particularly enjoy being obnoxious (that’s later, Justine - The College Years), but because it was my Kuma who shared this moment with me. While it wasn’t ideal, it was certainly memorable for her, as she always laughed at each retelling. It’s the echo of that laughter in the back of my mind that floods me with longing. I miss her.



Kuma was the eldest of eight siblings, and she was more the matriarch of my dad’s clan than her mom, my grandma. Widowed when her only daughter was eight, Kuma was the first mother I knew who single-handedly raised her child. Uneducated, she taught herself to bake and made cakes out of her home that she sold to friends, neighbors and department stores for a living. To do that, she rose before the sun every day at 2:30. While everyone’s in deep slumber, she toiled in the heat, exacerbated by the ovens, stopping only after the city was bustling with life.

However, baking wasn’t her passion, cooking was. She loved laboring in the kitchen by herself, creating meals that rivaled the best restaurants. I feel a little guilty but my most treasured memories of her involve food - the fried pork patties, the sweet and spicy anchovies, the silky smooth savory egg custard. She could elevate a dish as simple as fried rice to a sublime experience just by adding golden caramelized shallots and Chinese sausage. Needless to say, she was a profound influence on me in the kitchen despite my inability to replicate her masterpieces from my childhood.


CNYdinner We’ve never taken pictures of meals with her, but this is the closest approximation to what it looked like.


I admit, I resent her for not allowing me to watch her as she cooked, which was how we usually learned in our non-recipe-keeping culture. Now I have about two dozen Chinese condiments and sauces in my house that lead to good, even delicious dishes but they are never truly satisfying because they aren’t hers. Had she lived longer, she might have left her legacy behind, but as it turns out, life (or rather, death) had a different plan for her. At age 59, she suffered complications from hypertension and died while doing laundry - alone - in her flat. I was 18. Everyone was shocked as she had always been a picture of health. Naturally, we were all devastated.

We didn’t just lose an amazing human being, we lost the glue that held my dad’s side of the family together. We often gathered at her place to dine on meals she happily made for us. The last time I saw everybody again was at her funeral. No food. Just tears. It was the first real loss that had impacted me directly, but I did not feel the weight of it then.  It wasn’t until 15 years later that I would feel the enormity of my loss - when I became a mother myself. That’s when it clicked. Though she never said it, in her own way, she loved me as her own.



Now I mourn for three – for me who looked up to her and was entrusted in her care as my parents worked full-time jobs, for my baby who will never meet the woman who played an essential role in shaping the person I am today, and for my aunt who will never be able to delight in the way my daughter’s smile lights up the room.

Kuma’s quiet determination and strength carry me to this day, but I remember her laughter the most. I recall being a night owl even at a young age, and she was my late-night TV partner - we watched hours of Chinese soaps as well as “The Benny Hill Show” and “Three’s Company”. She didn’t know any English yet she chuckled at the antics all the same, which made me laugh even harder. But apart from the occasional crystalline memories of her randomly triggered by a scent or a ghostly taste in my mouth, recollections of her seem to diminish in intensity with age. Honestly, that is why I am writing this post, as difficult as it is, hoping to capture what’s left before they too are ravaged by time.

I also subscribe to superstition and adhere to traditions that are rather uncharacteristic of me because Kuma did. My Guy makes fun of these beliefs for which I am too pragmatic, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized I hang on to them because it’s an extension of her life. She is why I refuse to wash my hair or sweep the floor on auspicious occasions like birthdays and New Year’s for fear of bad luck; I always have ginger in the house to help soothe ailments, opting instead for ginger-chicken soup or rice porridge when I’m ill rather than the ubiquitous chicken-noodle soup favored in this country; I won’t sleep with a mirror facing my bed and I won’t live in a house whose main entrance faces the end of a street for feng shui reasons; I will always celebrate Chinese New Year with mandarin oranges, raw fish and noodles as symbols of prosperity and longevity, and I will always depend on the healing properties of food to achieve a balanced chi – forbidding yogurt when one has a cold or encouraging herbal remedies for common discomfort, remembering the dead wasp as an ingredient floating in my medicinal tea that my aunt swore would heal my sore throat (and it did).

Perpetuating my Kuma’s passion and beliefs is my way of keeping her close since that is all I have left of her. Sadly, I don’t even have a picture of her. As I lovingly peel, slice and dice an apple for Little Miss, I remember the countless apples and oranges that Kuma prepared for me as it was the only way I would eat fruit, and it made me smile.

She is alive. In me. And Little Miss may never meet her, but she will certainly know her. Through me.


Click on image for source.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A thing of beauty is a joy forever. As long as you mulch.


This weekend, I did something I’ve never done before - I mulched. If you know me well, you’d also know that those two words don’t really belong together. This city girl grew up in concrete; it’s no surprise that my thumb is more brown than it is green. But something came over me this weekend. My backyard, overgrown with weed from lack of attention, needed some TLC. I walked over to lament its sorry state and found myself pulling one giant weed from the ground. Surprised at how easily it came away from the soil, I pulled another. And then another. And another. And the next thing you know, I weeded, pruned, mulched, and brought the landscape back to life.

Two buckets of sweat later, my backyard became a place in which birds were no longer too embarrassed to be seen. In fact, I think I hear them chirping for their fellow avian friends – there may be talk of a party. I have to say, I am proud of my work, especially since I’ve never done anything like this before. I usually dabble in potted plants (that don’t often last a full season), but an entire backyard is a bit of a challenge. These perennials come back to life without my help, and they just keep growing and growing and growing as long as there’s sunshine and rain. But it’s up to me to give it a little guidance and love so they will beautify our space instead of looking like it’s eating our house.

However, I am still new at this gardening thing. How much water is enough? What’s Miracle-Gro? Do I need weed killers? Fertilizers? Plant food? (What?! I need to feed them? Like goldfish?) What happens when it rains for three days? Will they drown? How do I resuscitate them?

So many questions, but without my fingers in the soil, I won’t really know just how much is too much or too little or just enough. There is no perfect plant to water ratio. No certainty about the weather (heck, even the meteorologists can’t get that right). My action plan for the yard in arid conditions needs to differ from when there is overzealous precipitation, that much I know. But what’s the plan? When there are unwelcome critters, I will yell for My Guy. And he’ll call some other dude (because we’re both equally squeamish city people). I have faith that I will eventually get the hang of it. I’m not aiming to be gardener extraordinaire here. My goal is to not kill my plants before the end of summer. How’s that for baby steps?

Speaking of, gardening is not so different from raising kids is it? They will grow irrespective of what we do to them, but with guidance and love, they may just turn into the kind of people of whom we can be proud. Along the way, we just have to be open to change, unexpected events, anything and everything that life may throw our way. And when it’s time, they bloom into a John Keats poem* - shy petals open to an explosion of beauty, and with it, a joy both fleeting and forever.

But then again, judging from the sad state of this plant, I just hope my parenting skills fare a little better than my gardening skills.




* A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever.

This post is in response to this week’s creative prompt, “Open”, over at Maegan’s blog, Madeline Bea. Click on the button below for more information as well as other entries this week.

The Sunday Creative

Friday, June 25, 2010

Help you help me

Two weeks ago, Little Miss shot up three inches in front of my eyes. Figuratively, of course. It would’ve been weird otherwise. She was having trouble opening the trash can and she looked at me and said, for the first time, “Mama, hap!” and I knew immediately what she meant. She asked for help. I froze in my surprise because up to that point, she was mostly naming nouns and requesting to be lifted or fed. I didn’t think she was capable to ask for help as it involves a somewhat complex thought process (for a toddler anyway): Stupid trash can! I can’t open this, but maybe she can. I should ask her. And she did, which made me really proud. Not because she could say the word, but because of her astute assessment of the situation and consequent search for a solution instead of struggling needlessly by herself.

It may be because I’m a first-time mom that something as simple as a 19-month-old asking for help amazes me. But it may also be because she did with ease what I usually couldn’t myself. She may have learned from my daily refrain of “would you like mommy to help you with that?” but ironically, I’m the one who find it incredibly hard to seek assistance - at least from people outside of My Guy and my mom. When I found out that Little Miss’ daycare was closing for a week for vacation, and we needed to find an alternative, I panicked. As with most daycares, we still had to pay them the weekly fee despite the closed doors so to employ a full-time sitter for a whole week on top of that would hurt our budget.

With family so far away and having exhausted our other options, I had to fight my natural instincts and ask for help from our friends. I realized that if my toddler could do it, I could too. I convinced myself that it’s not a sign of weakness, and that it wasn’t an imposition - if they couldn’t do it, they probably wouldn’t. But they did. While I toiled away on the computer, they took turns entertaining and feeding my little girl, going out of their way and above and beyond. I am warmed by their kindness and magnanimity. These are people who have their own family or live a long drive away or don’t even have kids of their own, but they found the time and energy for mine. For that, I’m truly grateful.

Had it not been for them, this would have been a horrendous week. As much as I would have loved spending the extra time with my daughter, I also knew my obligations at work would make it impossible for me to enjoy her. Full-time job and full-time motherhood are difficult enough to manage on their own, but to combine the two would have driven me up the wall. As you can see, I’m still sane. Even somewhat coherent. (I hope.) All because a sage little girl showed me that it’s OK, even smart, to ask for help.

I am glad that I taught her so she can teach me.


PlaydatePicture sent from a friend while she was watching Little Miss at her house, who, as you can see, was getting along really well with her daughter. It takes a good friend and mom to recognize that it was just the peace of mind I needed.

Thank you to all who helped. You know who you are.



Bigger Picture Moment

This post is part of Bigger Picture Moments. Click on the button, find out what it’s all about. Or you can read the other Bigger Picture Moments from this week here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

She beds strange fellows

As an infant, my daughter never formed attachments. It was incredibly easy to wean her off the boob and bottle even though she seemed really fond of them, and I was never concerned about the pacifier or a particular blanket - she didn’t favor those either. And while most parents were fretting over their kids forming deep attachments to inanimate objects, I was worried that I don’t have to worry about this. Yes, shoot me now; I am just that crazy. I honestly thought something might be wrong with her. But then one day, it all changed.

To help her sleep through the night when she was almost a year old, we decided to introduce a friend, a stuffed Curious George monkey. And it worked. She slept better, and she began to expect her little friend in bed, tucked under the blanket with her. But there was no real attachment outside of bedtime. He was replaced a couple of months into their relationship with not one, but FIVE others. Yes, my little over-achiever takes on five loveys at a time. (No, my daughter does not get that from me.)

Five seems perfect - one to guard each corner of her crib while she cuddles with the lucky fifth as she sleeps. And if you’re just dying to know who the Famous Five are, you’re in luck, because they are finally ready for the limelight:


Mac the Cat (her favorite because it resembles our cat, Macavity a.k.a. Mac - Little Miss’ favorite animal in the house. After me of course. Rrrr...)
When she’s upset and yelling for Mac, we’re never quite sure which she means so we scramble around and pick up the one closest to us. It never is the right one of course. When we get the cat, she means the toy. And vice versa. Sometimes I think she just likes to mess with us. Because it is her job. And hobby. And ambition.

Baby Doll (goes by Baby or Doll, depending on my daughter’s mood)
Baby brings out the nurturing side of Little Miss who loves sharing her snacks and drinks with Baby. She also brings Baby in a mini stroller with us on our evening walks. Since Baby’s vinyl head is the hardest of the Famous Five, Little Miss gives head-banging a literal definition with Baby when she is frustrated and wants out of the crib. So much for her nurturing side.

Elmo (very recently rose to this rank due to my daughter’s exposure to Sesame Street)
Little Miss watched Sesame Street for the first time last week - I know, what rock have we been under? It’s a big one, folks, a meteorite, OK? - and went berserk over the live action Elmo. She couldn’t sit still. In fact, she stood right in front of the TV and called at the top of her voice, “EL-MO!” each time he was on screen (and he was on A LOT), as if to say, “You can talk?! All this time? And you haven’t said a word to me? What the Big Bird!”

Ah-Ah the Monkey (short for oo-oo-ah-ah, as in the sound monkeys make)
It used to be her favorite until the other three came along and replaced it. Pink monkey, red hearts. A gift. We’re not fans of the overtly girlie, so we’re secretly glad it’s on its way out. Perhaps by the time you read this, it’ll be voted out of her crib. Fingers crossed.

Pig the Pig (Nothing wrong with practical names. The French call some of their men Guy...)
Right now, Pig is the only one of the Five who gets the foot of the crib every night while they others get a turn at being her snuggle buddy. The poor thing has been working hard to get promoted to the top of the bed but its unwieldy size is a disadvantage. Perhaps when Little Miss is older, Pig will find its way into her longer arms. Or as an extra in Toy Story 4. Not a bad alternative.

So there you have it, the Famous Five that keeps her safe and slumbering at night. God forbid should one of them be missing because there will be no sleep for her - or for us. But it’s endearing when we’re away from the house without her buddies, she would name each one of them to me out of the blue, as if to inquire about them - “Mac? Baby? Elmo? Ah-ah? Pig?” I would assure her that they’re at home, in bed. And that they’re all fine.

In finally seeing my daughter’s attachment to her strange bedfellows, I realize, so is she. Now I can go on to worrying about other important things. Like her penmanship and what it says about her personality.


As it turns out, they’re also wonderful playmates

ElmoHeroIf you want them, you’ll to have to go through me!



IWantItAllHah! You’re not so tough, Elmo. You’re all my bitches now.



BeGoneDammit! I just said the B word. Time to dispose of the witnesses.



EvilSmileUh-oh, I said the D word didn’t I?



This is a Wordful Wednesday post.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Same ol’ same ol’ is the new wonderful

daily planner Quick, she’s asleep - what should I do now? Watch TV? But that would mean getting up from this chair, and I don’t have it in me right now. Surf the web? Better not. That usually means buying something we don’t need because I’ve memorized my credit card number. Write a post for my blog? I’d like to but after spending the weekend single-parenting the little one, I’m exhausted. I’ve a new appreciation for those who do this every day. Maybe it’s because I’m her mama (and a pathetic pushover in my overcompensation for our time apart because of my full time job) that she tests her limits with me, unlike the saint that she is with her no-nonsense daddy. With him at a nerd fest for Father’s Day weekend, I’ve been left to navigate landmines with a toddler who fights me every step of the way. She doesn’t want to be changed. She doesn’t want her dinner. She doesn’t want sleep, and that’s always the toughest battle - with me anyway. With daddy it’s lights out at 7pm and not a peep for the next 12 hours.

This evening, after I shut the door to her bedroom, I am a vegetable. One that has been picked and left to wither in the sun. To write seems a monumental task; my thoughts expire before they take shape. In the back of my mind, I search for reasons for Little Miss’ difficult behavior, but I know of course. I pushed her. I wanted to share a special mother-daughter weekend with her so I decided that since it’s special, we could do things a little differently. Stay up a little later for some extra cuddling. Have more juice. Watch another episode of Sesame Street. Read bedtime stories on the daybed in her bedroom instead of our usual chair. Add a few more stuffed animals in her crib per her request. Not too much out of the ordinary, but these changes, a mere ripple in my daily rhythm has formed a tidal wave in hers.

You see, my daughter is not the type to deal well with disruption. She thrives wonderfully with a set routine. And for two busy working parents, it’s a dream. We have come to depend on the cadence of our routine to flourish, but the difference between us and her is that we crave spontaneity and change so we could tolerate, even appreciate, the predictability of our schedule. Not so much for Little Miss. She does fine with the occasional straying from our pattern, but I admit, in my zeal for a “fabulous mother-daughter” weekend, I had overestimated her.

Where I’m from, parents don’t really work around kids’ schedules. They schlep their kids in their pursuit of a robust social life, so it’s not surprising to see sleeping kids in strollers at the mall late in the evening and cranky ones in restaurants acting out because of over-stimulation. We couldn’t do that to her. And frankly, to ourselves. We find that having a tired, cranky, needy toddler in our hands is not our idea of a good time. Some parents chalk that behavior to toddlerhood and that it’s an inevitable part of parenthood, but we don’t agree.

When following a set routine, right down to her meals, bath and bedtimes, she is the most delightful little girl, shining with resplendent smiles and giggles. Why wouldn’t we want this all the time? It’s a great reason for the small sacrifices we make - when invited to a dinner that begins at 7pm, we politely decline. Yes, we would miss out on a good time, but getting her to bed on time today means an easier, happier toddler the next day. Two hours of merriment for us at dinner (assuming she doesn’t raise holy hell while we’re eating, which is likely since we’ve already pushed past her limits) versus twelve hours of a jovial toddler that spells an all-day high for all of us the next day. Hmm... No. Brainer.

It makes me a little sad that we can’t just decide to snuggle in bed to watch TV until she falls asleep one night, or that we can’t indulge in an all-day trip but that we have to work in four-hour blocks of time around her nap. But then I remind myself, she’s only 19 months. Those occasional late nights and long days will come. If a regimented routine brings me a thriving, happy and healthy little girl, we can deal with a little inconvenience and sacrifice for now. This is the version of parenthood we can get behind.

Oh look, what do you know? I did write a post after all. I think I may even have enough energy for a shower before snuggling in bed with a book, two cats and a dog. Tomorrow is a brand new day. Of the same old routine.

And I can’t wait.

Click on image for source.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Photo Friday: For Fantastic Father (I can alliterate!)

For Father’s Day, My Guy gets to enjoy his weekend sans family. Yep. That’s his Father’s Day gift from me (because I’m cheap like that). He gets to pack up his clothes and his computer and join a band of his nerd friends for a LAN party (I can already hear the echo of the “woot!” from all the way here). For the uninitiated, LAN stands for Local Area Network, and it basically means they’re hooking up all of their machines together for a computer-game orgy that lasts about three days, at which time they’ll be shooting, stabbing, bombing, pounding, dodging, driving, running and drinking a LOT of caffeine. Occasionally, they may even remember to eat and sleep. But shower? Forget about it. Why do you think he’s there and I’m here? Essentially, it’s a lot like a bachelor party in Vegas minus the booze and the gambling, and the only strippers they’ll encounter are probably virtual. I’m OK with that.

With all these miles between us, I thought I’d dedicate this post to him, celebrating the many roles of daddy in our house, so he can come back to this anytime he misses his Little Miss. You know, just in case the 324 pictures of her on his brand new phone aren’t enough. 



Daddy the goalie



Daddy the hugger



Daddy the hoister



Daddy the tickler



Daddy the upsidedowner



Daddy the Eskimo kisser


Happy Father’s Day to the most kickass daddy in the world. You so deserve this weekend.

Now go kick some virtual ass!


To everyone else, enjoy your weekend with the special someone(s) in your life.


PhotoStory Friday
Hosted by Cecilyand Lisa

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Do you eat dog?

I was running errands in Little India on Sunday and found myself really frustrated with the traffic in the area. It’s usually crowded on weekends with the mass exodus of Indians from the suburbs who come to these parts to replenish their groceries for the week but that day was especially brutal. Pedestrians were constantly weaving in and out of traffic, and the drivers seemed to be operating under different traffic laws altogether. It was NOT pretty, and we weren’t getting anywhere. That’s when expletives flew out of my mouth, and along with them, these words, “Oh, these Indian drivers!”

Those words felt as dirty as those other R-rated ones I used. I couldn’t believe I was stereotyping my own people! As I looked shamefully at my daughter in the rearview mirror, herself a quarter Indian, I thought to myself, with my family in another continent, is this all she will ever know of her own background? The rich cultural heritage of two incredible civilizations condensed into a series of stereotypes? To that girl in the mirror, I wanted to apologize, and I wanted to say this:

I know you will undoubtedly encounter certain truths, and distortions of it, about your background that you won’t agree with, and you may even feel ashamed and try to disassociate yourself from your own history – and essentially from me. Your friends may tease you (do you eat dog?) or say hurtful things (you smell like curry!) but that’s only because they don’t know any better.

All they know of us are perpetuated by stereotypes, such as the Chinese produce cheap, bad-quality stuff, they eat everything under the sun (ok, this part is true – but don’t knock it till you try it), they always end their dinner of chop suey and moo goo gai pan with fortune cookies (all American inventions), they run laundromats (actually, many of them are Koreans, and yes, there is a difference), and they’re shrewd business people (what’s wrong with that?). As for the Indians, they’re bad drivers (again, I’m sorry) or taxi drivers (or both!), they’re usually owners of Subway, 7Eleven and Dunkin Donuts, programmers or doctors, they only eat hot and spicy foods (not all of them - mostly the Southern Indians as the Northerners are partial to heavier, creamier dishes conducive to colder climate), and they’re all Hindus (not really – there are Muslims, Buddhists and Christians among them too).

But I want you to know that you are not defined solely by these stereotypes. You are a descendant of people who gave us these:

Great WallChinese: chopsticks (duh!), fork (bet you didn’t see this one coming), lacquer, paper, printing and publishing, wheelbarrows, compass, seismometer, cast iron, the kite, noodles (contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the Italians who invented pasta), the abacus (the world’s first calculator), gunpowder (if intentions are noble, it can be used for good?), and fireworks (where would America’s 4th of July celebrations be without these?), cultivation of rice (duh part 2), use of salt, silk, paper currency, high-alcohol beer (cheers to this!), toothbrush, recognition and treatment of diabetes (essential to us, considering our family history), restaurant menu, tea, toilet paper (bless them), etc.

taj-mahal Indians: buttons (the ones on your clothes, not on websites, although they probably created those too, I don’t know), chess (upholding the stereotype of the Indians’ mathematical prowess?), diamonds, furnace, hospitals, iron, muslin, optical fiber, ovens, plastic surgery (see gunpowder above), private bathrooms and toilets (probably my favorite invention of theirs), puppets and puppetry, shampoo, swimming pools (probably your favorite), urban planning, wind-powered device, etc.

See, we're not so bad are we? We're from resourceful, respectable stock after all. Be proud, my love. It is in our blood. In yours. So when you are made to doubt yourself, hold your head high and remember the blood that runs in your veins and with it, the thousands of years of history – you are all of that. And more.

Click for image sources: Great wall and Taj Mahal.

Monday, June 14, 2010

This was us 29 months ago




Saturday Evening

8:30: We arrive at the downtown wine bar dressed in metallic and blues, with makeup that took more than the requisite 7 minutes (me, not My Guy, who took the usual forever) and not-for-walking shoes.  We are told the wait for a table would be 1.5 hours. It doesn’t faze us; it’s expected at a place like this. We order a bottle of Pinot Noir and stand with the crowd outside, inhaling the crisp evening air intoxicated with perfume and pheromones. Our bodies bathe in the purple-orange glow of dusk as we soak in the atmosphere – the trendsetters, the murderous stilettos, the carefully disheveled sports jackets, the shiny cars, the loud conversations between friends, the quiet, awkward ones of first and last dates, the people-watching, the people-sizing.




10:20: We are finally seated. Dinner past 10 - how European. How downtown. By this time, the bottle of wine is gone. Instead, we indulge in the oh-so-worth-the-wait small plates that arrive one at a time. We share the divine concoctions and revel in the mastery. We are seated across from one another at one of the many community tables, sandwiched between two different couples. Afraid to be heard, we make silent remarks to each other with our eyes about our dining “partners” and conversations we overhear. (What? Don’t judge me. We already filled our two-hour wait with talk about our own life – we needed new material!)




11:47: We finally leave after some Muscat and coffee for dessert. The night air chills my bare shoulders as we walk hand in hand to our car. We head home, and when we walk in the door, my head still deliciously buzzing from the evening, our babysitter meets us on his way out, reporting a quiet evening. We exchange pleasantries, goodbyes and thank yous. I look at the clock – it’s past midnight.

Poof! We turn back into pumpkins.

Back to our reality of dinner at nearby restaurants with the silver-haired crowd before rushing home to the baby’s bedtime. But at least we had this night, with the smile on my face as the glass slipper memento of the evening.


It feels good to be back there, pre-baby, or even pre-notion of a family again, where it was just the two of us with no set plans for the future, other than knowing that we wanted to be together. A night for and about us. It took a little planning and after a week’s giddy anticipation, the execution was better than I had imagined despite the two-hour wait. Actually, maybe even because of it as it prolonged our evening. It wasn’t a rule to not talk about our little girl, who is, of course, the center of our universe, but somehow it worked out that way.

Instead, we savor the inconsequential, the jab at fellow diners, the eyebrow-arching of outlandish fashion. There is a time for serious discussions and deep exchanges about our future and our family – sometimes, essentially the same. But this is not that time. This night is for the youth, energy, lover and dreamer in us.

Aptly, the wine bar is called avec. It means “with” in French. And this night, all I can think of is the person with whom I am there. With whom I share the bottle of wine and the small plates. With whom I want to spend the rest of my life.

We may not have many nights like these, but when we do, it’s enough to remind us of the people we once were. Some parts of us ache for those days but mostly, we feel recharged. Our faith in each other and in our family renewed. Because when we look into our little girl’s eyes that mirror ours in the morning, we know with absolute certainty: Yes, life before her was fantastic.

But life with her is better.





When you look back, what do you see? What was your life pre-baby, or pre-anything that changed your life recently (marriage, job, move, etc.)? Do you miss it?

Has your life turned out exactly as you had imagined or nothing like it?  Do you ever want to go back to the old you? Why or why not?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Photo Friday: Water baptism

It isn’t summer until a child is soaked from head to toe. A cleansing from previous unforgiving weather. Water hose. Sprinkler. Beach. Water slides. Fountain. Pool. And this here – a little splash table on the back porch. Rites of passage into the hot summer.

Nothing says joy better than a child playing in water. Don’t you agree?




















Looks like we’ll be enjoying a wet and wild weekend. I hope you will too.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

He left me for a hottie

We are a PC family. No, not politically correct, although we try to be that too. PC as in we try not to use Apple products. Try because up until last week, My Guy and I were both iPhone users. Now he has abandoned our family plan, and essentially me, for the HTC EVO 4G. It was like Christmas in June for him. The night before he jumped ship, he could hardly sit still. He was humming, grinning at me from across the room every few minutes, tapping his fingers, even dancing a little jig. It was not pretty. And slightly annoying. But also completely understandable.

You see, My Nerd is not and has never been an Apple guy. He received an iPhone as a trade for his help on a friend’s computer. And when his old phone conveniently broke around the same time, it made sense for him to give the phone a try. He was also convinced that it was the best phone $200 could get at that time, and so for the past two years, he’s been begrudgingly using it. He eventually jailbroke the iPhone to be free of the incomprehensible restraints that Apple likes to impose on its devices. He felt good thumbing his nose at The Man (called Steve Jobs), making his experience somewhat bearable.

However, when they finally announced the new “badass phone” (his words) from Android, he “almost wet his pants”. He could finally be himself again. Having always been an opponent of Apple, the iPhone felt like a betrayal to his geek side. At work, he’s the only creative type among his peers who has opted out of the Mac, ubiquitous in ad agencies, requesting a PC instead. It felt wrong working on a Mac, and when the PC showed up on his desk one day, he was back to being his efficient self. Just like now. With his EVO in hand, and this silly grin still plastered on his face since last Friday, he is whole again. It’s especially useful for when he makes the argument against Apple these days that he no longer has to hide the iPhone in his pocket.

But that’s him. I confess that I wouldn’t have felt as strongly about the PC / Apple war if it wasn’t for My Guy who has very specific and convincing arguments and rebuttals that he has been perfecting over the years. He didn’t have to win me over though. With a career in marketing, it’s apparent that Apple has the best marketing team in the world. They have a pretty product. They can innovate. Their ads are magnetic. I certainly respect their brand and the manner in which they have carved their own niche in very competitive markets. But I’m not impressed by their machines.

I’m also the girl who would much rather dine at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in a strip mall for a flawless execution of the cuisine than seek out a trendy see-and-be-seen spot in a vibrant neighborhood with passable food. And this is how I, the foodie, view Apple products. Edgy decor, great vibe, hip music, mediocre food. Three out of five stars.

I’m not going to go into technical details here simply because I’d just embarrass myself. I realize that when it comes to a non-techie like me, it’s all a matter of personal preference anyway. I’m not here to win an argument or persuade you, the Apple user, why you should switch over to my side. I just think it’s interesting that these camps can be polarizing, even among friends.

The iPhone has come out with its newest version, iPhone 4, to counter the Android’s latest bad boy, the EVO, and I have to admit, I don’t really care who wins this war. Just like My Guy, I have been a Google user and fan for a long time. I surf the Internet with Google’s browser, Chrome. I begin my blog drafts on Google docs. These comments you leave me (and I hope you will) come to me via my Gmail account. I am a Goo-gal. And I will always be.

There are many, many reasons why I adore their products, and perhaps I will elaborate on them someday. This post is already longer than I intended so I will just leave you with this: Google is THE shit. And no, that’s not My Guy speaking. That’s all me.

All I know is, my life is easier because of Google. So come 2011, when my contract expires, I will switch over to an Android phone. And all will feel right with the world again as we rid our home of the last Apple device. It’s been fun, yes. But I’m done with the shiny object. I need a device that does what I need it to do, not one that dictates what I can or cannot do. Just like in real life – I like calling the shots.

I’m not here to judge but since most readers of my post are not usually tech savvy either, I’m curious:
  • When it comes to computers and/or mobile phones, why did you choose what you now have?
  • As you read this post, what are you using? And why? Do you feel strongly about this device?
  • If not this device, is there something out there that’s the quintessential you? One you can’t imagine living without? 

Monday, June 7, 2010

What if the blade was sharp?


I cut my wrist this weekend. Not on purpose. I was making dinner, peeling garlic specifically, and the next thing you know the knife met my skin and sliced it open. There was blood, but not enough to re-enact a Saw III scene (actually, which Saw are we on now? I can’t keep up). Lucky for me, it was a minor band aid injury.

And this is Little Miss’ own post-accident face.


We went to our favorite playground, and she missed a step while scaling the play structure, smacking her face on the edge as a result. Bloody lip ensued, followed by discoloration on her cheek. There were tears, but nothing some juice couldn’t quell, and it didn’t even ruin her resolve to play, puffy lip and all.

Last, and certainly least (of my worries), is My Guy’s “injury” from the same play structure.


Seriously. That faint little brownish dot on the top right of the thumb? A splinter. Or what’s left of it, embedded into his skin. Yes, the picture is actually magnified 10 times the original size, but if you zoomed in even further, you will see what I’m talking about. He insisted that it hurt so this is what you’re straining to look at - his trauma from the weekend, appearing as an honorable mention because hey, we wouldn’t want to leave daddy out now do we?

So there you have it, our collective mishaps from the weekend. To ponder upon the fragility of life from these incidents would be joke. I mean a cut, a bloody lip and a (miniscule) splinter are hardly newsworthy, yet it did make me pause when I thought about that knife slicing across my wrist. A couple of inches deeper and this would have been a different post.

Ironically, My Guy had made a remark before I started prepping in the kitchen, “You’re using that knife? It’s the worst we have in the house.” I defended my choice, saying it only needed to be sharpened, but as usual, I was too lazy to actually do it so I suffered through working with a blunt tool (as I have been for the past few months due to my incorrigible sloth). I’m just glad that for once, my laziness paid off (See, mom? It’s not always a bad thing). Yet, I shudder to think - what if I had sharpened it? 

But that’s just it – I didn’t. And perhaps I should just walk away from it, grateful for this fate, because there are just too many what if’s in life. To always imagine the alternative that didn’t happen is a futile exercise, yet we all indulge in it to some degree. I have to admit, I’m that person. The one who constantly imagines the worst. In fact, ever since I became a parent, doomsday scenarios float haphazardly in and out of my head, and they make me want to wrap my family up in bubble wrap and crawl into a hole with them. Preferably one with a decent buffet.

The fear of the what-ifs can consume me. What if Little Miss fell backwards and hit her head the wrong way instead? What if My Guy…um…oh wait. I got it! What if the splinter was actually a wooden stake and he was a vampire, and it went straight through his heart? I mean, come on, it’s all possible…ish. Right?

But I have to fight the daily urge to prevent my family from leaving my side because well, we have our lives to live. Places to be. People to become. I’m fully cognizant of the risks in each step we take, every decision we make, but I have to trust that our forward motion isn’t always in the direction of a maelstrom. Things happen. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad. And I will deal with them as they come because frankly, I won’t have a choice then. But I do have a choice now.

The what-ifs will always be there. Life won’t. I don’t want to miss out just because I’m too afraid to live and let live. That’s why, as difficult as it is for me, I’m making myself learn to let go of my fear and just let life happen. Because if I didn’t, it’s not living.

But if I did, it could be a beautiful thing.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Something borrowed, something true

Today, I have no thoughts. None. I sit and stare at a blank screen, waiting for an idea to pop into my head so I can write, edit and struggle over syntax and lexicon. Then hesitate. Second guess. Delete whole sentences. Even whole paragraphs. Start with one idea but end with a different story altogether. One that surprises even myself. I look to half written drafts for inspiration and everything is either too involved for me to get into now or too stale for further contemplation.

I have no strength to create, knead, mold and craft. Not tonight. I’ve been up late these past few nights incessantly thinking, writing and talking about our future, and I think I’ve used up the last of my brain cells at 5:34 this evening. That’s what happens when you don’t sleep enough. Your body doesn’t have the time it needs to repair itself. Thoughts get muddled – you start calling your kid by your pets’ names before you remember hers (which is pretty bad considering I have two cats and a dog), and you don’t remember if you ate dessert. The latter is an easy fix. You dive into that bowl of ice cream (again?) just to be safe.

So all that was my roundabout way of saying I didn’t write a post today. Instead, I would like to share with you something deep from the archives. A post from day one actually (which was a mere seven months ago). If this is new to you, wonderful! And if it’s a revisit, my apologies, but think about that extra time I just afforded you so you could wax your eyebrows or pluck your nose hair (you’re welcome).


I came here from Malaysia in 1994 to pursue a college education, with the intention of going back eventually. 15 16 years later, I’m still here.

I have grappled with my decision to live here in the States for years. Fiercely proud of my nationality and my ethnicity, I felt like I knew who I was as I struggled to make my place in this world. But the more I tried to hold on to the last shred of what set me apart from everyone else, the further removed I felt from the life I left behind. My own Malaysianness lost somewhere inside as I slowly assimilated to a culture I grew up to revere through rose-colored TV screens. Involved, understanding parents. Independent, fashionable women. Architectural Digest furniture. Expansive lawns. What’s not to love?

In the process of pursuing The American Dream, I’ve also inadvertently traded in my own family in Malaysia. So now, not only do I have to deal with my own (now fading) homesickness, I have to live with the fact that my own daughter will never be able to identify with many of the things that shaped who I am today. My Little Miss will not know what it’s like to have a loud, raucous Deepavali or Chinese New Year celebration, playing Black Jack with cousins and uncles into the wee hours of the night, eating delicious meals prepared by women of various generations who woke up before the crack of dawn to toil over a hot stove, but laughing and chatting at the same time.

She will never know what it feels like to get together with a family so huge that when everyone stayed over at the grandparents’, they slept on straw mats anywhere there’s space on the concrete floor, but completely contented and exhausted from the day’s play. She will never know what it’s like to speak four languages by the time she’s five just so she can converse fluently with her parents, her dad’s family, her mom’s family, the fish guy at the market and the neighbors across the street. She will never know what it means to eagerly anticipate the arrival of the “roti man” to peddle bread to her family as well as 50-cent treats, such as stale coconut buns and spicy, licorice-flavored hard candy called Hacks, to salivating kids.

I ache for my daughter and all that she will never know from my past. And for her, I yearn for a childhood that isn’t rife with materialism and competition, but in a Hannah-Montana-American-Girl-Doll world, I doubt that’s even possible.

Immigration stories usually involve people escaping persecution, poverty or intolerance to start afresh. So I ask myself, why am I here? What was I running from? I had a great life back home, where overeating scrumptious meals at hawker stalls was my biggest vice. But perhaps I’m asking the wrong question. Perhaps it would make better sense to ask, what was I running to?

As I look at my daughter, and also the life I’ve built with my partner, the answer is akin to Whitman’s “barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world”. I am here because this is where I belong.

Sure, Little Miss may not have her extended family with her, and I probably robbed her of a life rich with cultural heritage. But she’ll at least have me. I know it won't always be enough. However, as she reaches for me, longing for the familiarity of my voice, my skin, my scent, it will do for now.

(originally posted on October 30, 2009)


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I don’t want to be her mommy

This evening, it was bed time routine per usual for Little Miss. Bath, milk, book, water, toothbrush, kisses and hugs. Except tonight, she didn’t let go. She pierced my heart with “Mama! Mama!” and with each mama she held tighter. Her daddy had to extricate her from me, which propelled her into a frenzy. I had to tear myself away from her and left the room on leaden feet because that was our plan. She wanted her mama, but she needed her sleep more – only she didn’t know that.

puffypuffy eyes from crying, fighting bedtime

This was the third night in a week that the bedtime routine was disrupted by uncontrollable crying. We think that the next wave of separation anxiety is upon us, but I also think that she too now knows and feels my own anxiety of the last goodnight. Because each night, when I close her door behind me after our final kiss, I do not see her again until 22 hours later. When she wakes in the morning, I will already be at work, and the next time I lay eyes on her will be around 5pm when I pick her up from daycare after my full day at work. And that’s when the clock starts ticking, in fact, blaring into my ears again. Tick tock tick tock – the countdown to 7pm begins. In these two hours – we sing, we play, we talk, we walk, we dance, I cook, she plays by herself, she eats, and it’s bedtime. Again. I see her for the first time in nearly a day and when I blink, it’s over.

I have to admit, these days, these two hours are getting harder for me. She’s not just forming language, she is forming an identity – she’s becoming a little person right before my eyes, and yet she isn’t because it seems like she’s doing most of the growing away from me. And I fear that I’m missing out. I don’t just enjoy being around her because I gave birth to her – I genuinely enjoy her company. With new words, she can easily tell me what she wants, “mek”(milk) “peas”(please), which decreases the tears and frustrations. We are often silly together but she also makes me laugh with her toddlerese – lately she’s been gravitating towards the p sound, so boat is “boap” and book is “boop”, although it sounds more like boob, and of course that makes anyone cackle.

These new words aren’t just mere nouns, but a statement of her preference. The I in identity. When in the mood for a song, she makes a request: “yayo” (short for Old McDonald’s “ee i ee i oh”) or “bus” (Wheels on the Bus") – two of her current favorites. Sometimes when I’m home with her on days that I’m ordinarily at work, like this past Memorial day, there’s an unmistakable gleam in her eyes when they meet mine – like she knows it’s a special treat. She shoots me a radiant “I’m so glad you’re here mama” smile when I walk in to her room to greet her in the morning that I don’t mind that on weekends I’m always the one to get her as My Guy slumbers away in the early hours of dawn.  In fact, I desperately long for these mornings and would even fight him for them.

Often, when my attention is not on her, she pulls a Stewie from Family Guy on me - “Mama, mama, mama, mama, mama, mama, mama, mama” until I finally look at her, “Yes, Little Miss?” and she giggles before moving on to the next task that warrants a new set of mama, mama, mamas.

Yet sometimes, I am mommy. I noticed that when I’m close, she addresses me as mama, but when I’m out of her sight, she calls out to me, “Mah-mee! Mah-mee!” Every morning (or so My Guy reports on the days I’m not there), the first sounds that come out of the baby monitor are “Mommy! Mommy!” but when I walk into her bedroom, it’s “Mama!” with a big grin. So really the difference in designation is by proximity, or rather, by my presence.

In mama, I hear a deep, tender, trusting love. In mommy, I detect the desperation. The longing. The fear. The uncertainty.

If that’s the case, I don’t want to be her mommy.  I don’t want to be the mommy who isn’t there, the mommy who sees her for just two measly hours a day, the mommy who wants to be there but can’t.

I just want to be her mama.

 Comforted all better with mama