Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Take one, take two, take 35

What do you get when you put a toddler who never sits still together with a camera on a tripod and two parents who’d like to somehow get our Christmas greetings out on time? Frayed nerves and blurry pictures, that’s what.


So after about a gazillion attempts, this is the only one that made the cut, where no one is out of focus, cross-eyed or looking dopey.


But I didn’t like the color composition. No matter how hard I tried to de-yellow-fy (my least favorite color on human skin, especially mine), it just didn’t work, completely beyond my area of expertise. In the end, I realized I could either live with a jaundiced Christmas picture (which I honestly couldn’t), or this:


Guess which one I chose. 

Have a wonderful holiday season. With love from our family to yours.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

She says Jesus, I say...

When I was growing up, there were three adults in my home: my mom and dad, and my Kuma (my dad’s older sister). My mom's Hindu, my dad's an atheist and my Kuma was a Buddhist who also prayed to our ancestors. And thanks to the influence of another aunt who was the only Christian in my family, I went to church. It started with the Sunday school down the street from us at the local YMCA. At the same time, I also attended a Methodist Girls’ School, so I frequented Christian fellowship meetings, met more Christian friends and followed them to Sunday service occasionally. By the time I was 20, I’d attended services at Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Mormon churches. I’ve also prayed at Hindu and Buddhist temples as well as to my ancestors at home. The gods in my head were a motley crew, but none better than the other. Just different. And equally revered.

My parents had no qualms about my church-going activities, and in return, I happily followed my elders to the house of worship of their preference. To me, these sacred places brought me peace and serenity. And I had faith in all of them. After all, weren’t they all there to teach us to be good and kind? However, the older I got, the more I identified myself as a Christian, perhaps because services were conducted in the language in which I was most comfortable - English.

However, all that fell apart after the death of my Kuma. It didn’t happen overnight – it was a couple of years down the road when I was told that only the ones who accept Christ as their Savior would go to heaven. I thought about my Kuma, the woman with a kind and gentle soul, and it absolutely sickened me that someone like her couldn’t be in that same heaven just because her beliefs were different, not because she’s cruel or that she’d been a terrible person. It seemed so wrong to me for a God to be so merciful yet so…
petty. That was the beginning of the end.

I thought,
Really? You’d rather accept a murderer who asked for forgiveness into your kingdom, but not one who has been decent and kind all her life who just happens to believe in some other kind of good and not you? That was the first of many questions that followed. Soon, there were more questions than answers. Eventually, I began to look elsewhere. And I haven’t looked back since.

Fast forward many, many years later

The mural along the school hallway

At the school secretary’s office this past summer:
“We have about 15 minutes of Jesus time each day”
“Jesus time, where we share stories about Jesus. And they also go to chapel every Wednesday.”
“I see.”

I stifled a smile. An agnostic and an atheist with a daughter in a Lutheran preschool - what did we expect? It was a matter of time before Little Miss came home with little bits and pieces Jesus. They sent home the coloring paper she was working on one day, and it was a mass of red and blue crayon over the nativity scene. One day I asked Little Miss, “What did you learn in school today?” and my two-year-old paused to think before responding with “Amen.”

I was a little surprised, even though I knew they prayed in school. I personally have no issue with her exposure to Christianity (or any religion) at this age. My Guy and I both think that right now, it’s akin to her learning about Santa and the Tooth Fairy, which are fairly innocuous, except the atheist in him thinks someday “she’ll know the truth” about Jesus. I know what he meant, but I don’t share his sentiment.

Whatever that truth may be, I think it’s important that it’s one that resonates with her. I would love for her to explore the world with her own curiosity and questions, the way I was allowed to by my parents. What they gave me was more than just the gift of religious freedom – they gave me the capacity to observe without judgment, to understand multiple perspectives and most of all, to respect and tolerate the differences in beliefs and opinions. And I am grateful.

Because of my own upbringing, I’d like to encourage my kids to find their own paths as long as they know not to put down those who choose to walk another. That is more important to me than trying to indoctrinate them with my own beliefs, because I just don’t think it’s fair. We are all different people – even if we’re related – and choice is a very personal matter. The same way none of my parents’ beliefs were imposed on me but merely shared, I hope to accomplish the same with my own children.

So it starts with a little Jesus time at a Lutheran preschool, which we happened to choose because it’s a great school and they had a spot available for her. Someday someone will offer to take Little Miss to a temple where she will open her eyes to the beauty of the Hindu gods. And perhaps her ears will perk up to the teachings of Buddha. It doesn’t matter to me.

As long as her ears and eyes are open, there will be little room for blind faith and more for questions. I hope that it’s her quest for answers that leads her to her beliefs, whatever they may be, and not because someone says she so.

As for me, I may not have all the answers myself - in fact, I have none - but my eyes are wide open and I’m willing to listen. Always.

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Religion is always a sticky topic, so I have no prompts for you today. Share with me any viewpoints you like - whether it's about your own life, how you intend to raise your kids, or what you think about what I said here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Soup-Stained Stage Star

I attended my daughter’s stage debut last week. She’s in a Lutheran preschool (more about my thoughts on that in a later post) and the preschoolers led the congregation for Advent service one evening. My Guy and I made plans to be there, even though we haven’t been inside a church since…we don’t even remember the last time. Sadly, he was held up at work that evening and had to miss the event.

Since this was my first gig as a parent to a child star performing at a church service, I didn’t know what to expect or prepare for so after work, I just showed up at her school in my work clothes like any other day and found her in her regular daycare wear thanks to her daddy who dresses her in the morning, which means I never know what to expect. That day, it was comfy pants covered in lint and a long-sleeved graphic tee. On the day of her performance. Lovely.

We dined with and met other parents and their kids prior to the service at the church basement and of course that’s when Little Miss was adamant in shoving soup in her mouth by herself, “No, no, I do it!” when I offered to carefully feed her. Of course she managed to spill chicken noodle soup and jambalaya on the front of the only shirt she had on her that day. I looked around and saw the other kids and their parents in what seemed to be their Christmas outfit, and then winced at my own work wear and her average garb with the glistening stains. Awesome.

When it came time for the service, I dropped her off at her classroom so she could congregate with her friends and teacher while I settled into my seat, waiting for the big moment. The pastor began the service and warm memories of my own church-going days many years ago flooded me. The familiarity immediately embraced me like an old friend. All awkwardness of an agnostic in a Lutheran church vanished as I remembered the prayers, ritual and songs that brought me comfort once upon a time. But the savoring didn’t last as the kids marching towards the altar broke my reverie.

I looked for Little Miss, but she was so tiny among the two to four-year-olds that I missed her in the procession. They filed in obediently in their red velvet dresses, pretty bows and pressed shirts and when they were all on stage, I finally found her. It wasn’t hard - my daughter’s the one in the soup-stained top that says SASSY in bold colors and a velour bottom with a pant leg stuck in her boot. Way to stand out kid.
See the pant leg in boot?

The two-year-olds played the mini tambourine while the older kids sang. My daughter, who loves to sing, mouthed the words as if she knew them. But then again, she probably did as they had been rehearsing this for a couple of weeks now. My heart swelled to see her “on stage”. So that’s what it’s like to be a parent in the audience. We naturally looked like the paparazzi with our phones and cameras, crowding the front of the room. I, unfortunately, only had my phone on me so I did the best I could. Again, way to be prepared mama.

At that point, my head latched on to another memory. It was of my first Christmas play. I think I was around nine and have been attending Sunday school for awhile when I became involved in a Christmas play and was cast as the innkeeper’s wife, the one who suggested to Joseph that he and Mary could stay in the stable. I wore my best dress, which was periwinkle blue with silver embroidery and ruffles, and it was incredibly uncomfortable for our year-round 85-degree heat but I didn’t mind. My mom sat among the audience and watched me utter my two lines. I may have forgotten the words, but that moment was crystallized in my mind forever.

It marked the beginning of my “drama career” in school but that occasion was especially memorable because it was probably the only time my mom had ever seen me perform. It might have been because it occurred on a Sunday and all of my other school productions were held during school hours, which were also the time she was at work. I don’t know what it’s like in Malaysia now but back then, parents’ participation in school wasn't a norm. It was more a luxury as many of us came from working class families who couldn't afford the time off to participate in something that seemed rather superfluous when compared to the food and shelter our parents worked hard to provide. It never occurred to me to mind that my folks were absent from my school productions most of the time; I guess it helped that my friends’ parents weren’t there either. We understood.

Now that I am a parent myself and can afford to be available, it was a no brainer for me to be there for Little Miss’ stage debut. When she was up there that evening, I saw my baby shining, and when she spotted me, her face lit up, so happy to recognize a familiar face in the sea of strangers and to know that the one face out there was smiling with her. At her. For her.  

 You probably can't see it from my crappy phone pic but she was smiling at me

I might be biased but I thought she did really well. After their one and only song, the two-year-olds were dismissed while the others continued leading the service. Little Miss ran to me on the center aisle, hardly able to contain her excitement: “Mommy!!!”

I knew then that I never want to miss any of her performances in the future (and from her demeanor on stage that evening, I suspected there would be many). While I was never upset at my mom’s absence in the audience, I also know, from the one time she was there, what it feels like to have someone in the audience who’s there just for you. And I want Little Miss to always have that.

I could tell that she was so proud. So, so proud. And so was I. Soup stains and all.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The P.R.O.J.E.C.T. and other happier things

What happens when you haven’t posted in almost two weeks? You end up talking too much, like I did here. But no worries, since I won’t be posting regularly during the holiday season, you can read this in parts. A paragraph a day perhaps? Here goes:

I’m so excited. I’m finally out of the first trimester of my pregnancy, and I’m feeling more like my old self again, minus the skinny jeans. The fog of lethargy has lifted, and man have I been making up for lost time! Reviving dormant projects? Check. Creating new projects? Check. Entertaining? Check. Attending parties? Check. Cooking? Check. Baking? Check.

Just this past weekend, I completed a long overdue craft project on a quiet Friday night (go me!) and we awoke to a city in white the next day. It was our first big snowfall of the season. Our little weather girl confirmed it for us every ten minutes, “Look, mommy, it’s snowing!” interspersed with exclamation number two: “Mommy, daddy, lotta snow outside!” as if we’d forgotten since the last time she informed us. Naturally, we had to make our footprints on the pristine sidewalk as I’ve always loved feeling fresh snow under my boots; it’s possibly my favorite thing about winter. Watching my little girl bundled up in winter gear delighting in the disintegration of snowballs in her mittened hands has to be a close second though.

Snowjoy2The snowball crusher

That night we attended an annual Christmas dinner/gift exchange with friends at a steakhouse in the burbs, and even though Little Miss was the only kid there, she didn’t seem to mind as she basked in the attention of her favorite “aunts” and “uncles.” She also blinded everyone as she used the camera for the first time. It was a distraction that kept her content at the table, although I’m sure those with stars in their eyes probably hoped I had remembered to turn off the flash a little sooner. (Sorry guys!)

HandyworkA small sample of my daughter’s handy work. Not bad for a toddler, eh?

The dinner, while lovely, was not the end of the evening for us. After we reached home, we left Little Miss with a sitter and went on to the next event - a white elephant party that lasted past midnight. It’s amazing what a difference the second trimester makes. I’m not just back, I’m back with a vengeance!

Even then, the evening did exhaust me, but thankfully, Little Miss decided to sleep in until 9AM the next day (gasp!). There was definitely an OMG moment when I heard her stirring on the monitor and groggily looked at the clock, expecting to see sevenish only to see nine! On days like these, I love her even more. Yes, it’s possible because there are days when I don’t even like her. So it all breaks even.

A well-rested family meant plenty of energy to brunch, shop and finish trimming our Christmas tree, or “Kisses twee” as Little Miss would say (I think I like her version better), although we completed the tree while she napped because she thought it was more fun to help by removing the ornaments than to place them up on the tree. Now we have to fend off two cats and a toddler from our tree. Joy.

MonkeyOrnament Let’s see how long these ornaments stay up there

We later had dinner with a friend in her house, where our kids could just go crazy while the parents had adult conversations without having to worry about disturbing “the nice people at the restaurant” (although I have my doubts about “nice” when people roll their eyes at a toddler squealing happily, like the two-year-old “should know better” and like we planted her there on purpose, just to piss them off. But I digress...)

After Little Miss went to bed that evening, My Guy and I decided to continue our discussion about our bedroom makeover, a side project we’re tackling to battle the winter blues. Honestly, it isn’t so much a bedroom makeover as it is bedroom making (a.k.a. finally deciding to treat our bedroom as a bedroom and not an extension of the storage room in the basement).

You see, our bedroom is on the basement level, and it’s been pretty convenient for us to just hide the extraneous stuff (there’s always so much STUFF!) around the house in the bedroom because the only time we’re ever there is to sleep, so all the unused space (and there’s plenty of it) became a hot spot for displaced items like Little Miss’ crib, an old rug, an old TV, two empty trunks and a plethora of space-hogging infant toys. The neglect is now painfully apparent, and we could no longer ignore this enormous elephant in the room. Or rather, one that is the room.

So we devised a plan, except this plan involves deciding on design, colors and accent pieces, and between two people with rather different design ideas and preference, it has morphed from a project to a P.R.O.J.E.C.T. My Guy is the “designer type” who leans towards the edgier, more modern lines and I’m the “hodgepodge type” who likes “all of the above” but “it all depends”. This just means I’m picky but I can’t tell you exactly what I want; I just know what I don’t want when I see it.

I once tried an online “What’s your bedroom style?” tool and broke it. When I completed the quiz, it simply said “Your bedroom style is...” and the space below it was left completely blank. Further down, it said, “Please try again.” So yeah, I broke it.

This make-our-bedroom-look-like-a-real-bedroom project started out as fun since there were so many exciting possibilities but these same options are now driving me insane. It’s becoming a laborious process as we keep going back and forth but not really moving forward. How could we when most of our conversations sound like this:

”What do you think of this? Mmm...I dunno. What about that? Well...we’ll see. White? No, too impractical with our puking, shedding cats. How’s this throw pillow? For that price? Are you smoking crack? We can buy a couch with that money! How about this organic design? Too feminine. How about this geometric pattern? Ugh. Looks like a torture device.”
Just like this process.

My energy may be back but it’s dissipating fast with the holidays and the (impossible) projects. As a result, my time in this beloved space of mine is pretty scarce. I miss you guys, but I trust that you’re keeping well, and I hope you’re having a wonderful holiday season with your loved ones.

I should be back with regular programming soon-ish. Unless My Guy and I kill each other first, which, at this point, is looking entirely possible.

So please wish us luck. Although what we really need is a miracle. Who knows, it just might happen. ‘Tis the season after all.


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What craziness is going on in your neck of the woods this holiday season? Pray tell. Misery loves company…