Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Our whimpering dragons

The thermometer read 103.8. My baby was burning up. It was Day Six of sickness in our house. While Little Miss bounced back from missing a week of school from a horrendous cough, cold and fever combo, it was Thumper’s turn at the wheel of misfortune. First the Pink Eye and now this. Oy.

The conjunctivitis and the cold of the century brought us pink eyes, green snot, and red cheeks - colorful, but in a not-so-attractive way. Luckily there were usually at least two bleary-eyed adults, sometimes three when My Guy wasn’t working, following each kid with tissues and affection.

Yesterday was the first day in over a week that someone didn’t wake up with a fever in our house. I think, apart from the congestion, my girls have bounced back but man, what a week. Working from home to stay close to my girls proved a little challenging as Little Miss pelted me with a constant stream of “Whatcha doing?” “Can I show you this?” “May I sit on your lap?” while I was on the computer.

On the first day, feeling bad for my sick little girl, I padded my answers with patience and sweetness: “I’m working, but let me finish this and I’ll be right with you,” “Sure – I’d love to see what you got there,” and “OK, you may sit on my lap but only for a few minutes and then I’ll have to get back to work. But let’s get the crayons out so you can color and you can show mommy what you did.”

We didn’t leave the house at all while the girls battled their respective affliction so by day four, my answers to those same questions were on the edgy side of, “No” “No” and “No”. So of course, on top of the worry and exhaustion, there’s guilt.

While Little Miss demanded attention, Thumper, the sweet-natured baby that she is, only cried when her temperature rose to a level that would debilitate an adult. Mostly she laid her head on us and wanted to be close, and who wouldn’t love that? I think we each secretly stood in line for snot-stained shoulders.

Alone in her crib, Thumper’s sleep was fitful, her breathing uneven and raspy. When I brought her into the bed with me at night, she slumbered soundly. It’s intoxicating, knowing the effect our presence had on her even when she was barely conscious.

Little Miss, who slept on her own bed, awoke multiple times each night with a coughing fit, and when it got really bad one night My Guy slept outside her door just so he wouldn’t have to wake Thumper and me when he traipsed back and forth the well-worn path between our upstairs bedroom and hers below. I found his side of the bed cold in the morning and him on the family room couch. I don’t think I could love him any more than I did at that moment.

Not surprisingly, when the world celebrated Chinese New Year, roaring into the Year of the Dragon, mine was akin to the whimpering that Thumper did when she nuzzled next to me to settle into her deepest sleep for the night. I could afford neither the time nor the effort to welcome the Dragon with grand gestures so the lone red lantern above the dining table was akin to the spirit of our Lunar New Year. As in, it’s there, only muted. Isolated.

There wasn’t a big feast this year. No shiny new garb. No hung pao (red envelope with money) from parent to child. Only a big fat IOU to my daughters, whose only red (an auspicious new year color) were worn on their fevered heads. We did gather for a small reunion dinner often celebrated on the Eve that I prepared out of a weird obligation to acknowledge the festivities. Once consumed, it was back to business as usual with a tissue in one hand and a thermometer in the other.

The Year of the Dragon is so big among the Chinese  - the best and most coveted of all Chinese horoscope signs – that I felt slightly uneasy with my lack of preparation for it. My deep-rooted and superstitious Chinese half-self worried about the significance of ushering in the Dragon with illness in our home. What could that mean for us? What is to become of the year of opportunity and growth, signified by the Dragon, especially during our time of change?

But I know what My Guy would say to that - “Rubbish!”. He, the entrepreneur that he is, believes in making our own destiny. I will buy that this time, only because the alternative is not an option. Our girls prevailed, the sickness is behind us, and miraculously, the adults are unaffected. Perhaps I should take that as a good sign and run with it.

We may not have started the Year of the Dragon with a roar, but who’s to say we can’t end it that way?

Kung Hei Fatt Choy! San Leen Fai Lok - Here’s to health, wealth and happiness to you and yours. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

PSA: Step away from that telescope

It’s resolution season, so naturally we’re in the mode of looking ahead. Some of us are focused at shorter term goals (“lose five pounds!”) and some at impossible ones (“lose five pounds!”). Either way, the point is that many of us are gazing into a telescope aimed at a future we hope to achieve.

In our house, our list isn’t any different than the wave of goals that swept through the Internet this past couple of weeks; there’s of course the ubiquitous self-improvement mantras in multiple areas: fitness, career, and family. Our list is long – or at least mine is.

We are also still finding our rhythm as a family with My Guy’s recent jump to self-employment. That is in addition to the couple of other changes that are forming as we speak, but because it hasn’t quite taken shape, I am unable to write about it at length. But we will without a doubt be impacted in a big way.

With changes on the horizon and energy invested in our future, I look into the telescope (and some days, the crystal ball) everyday and worry. And wonder. And worry. And wonder.

However, all the worrying and wondering about the future were preempted by the worrying and wondering for my girls today when one awoke with a severe cough and fever and the other with pink eye. Double whammy! Hey, at least they’re not copycats. Bonus points to them for being creative with their ailments.

I stayed home from work to mama them back to health, and in the act of tending to their immediate needs, it forced me to look at something to which I have not been giving much attention lately. Something called now.

In the season of resolutions, I lost sight of what I already have right in front of me. My eyes, cast towards the distant future for some signs, any signs of good fortune, failed to see the blessings that already enrich my life.

Blessings such as these:

I may not have a shiny Mac (as in Apple computer) to work on but I have Mac (as in Macavity, my favorite kitty) to work with when I’m home.


I may have had my hands full by staying home to work while caring for my ailing girls but at least one of them is old enough to keep herself entertained on the computer (thank you while I accomplished a few things on my task list. I am also aware of how fortunate we are to have the technology that allows for that to happen.


At the age where most preschoolers wage war against their parents during mealtimes, I almost never have to worry about what I feed my preschooler. She would be just as happy with a bowl of rice and curry with spicy okra and opo squash as she would with a bowl of mac and cheese. In fact, sometimes she prefers the former.


Speaking of eating, my 7.5-month-old is finally eating solids! As a food-obsessed mom, I always look forward to feeding my family and when my infant refused food, it was a challenge to me. Thankfully, she has come around, which is partly due to the invaluable care she receives from her very patient and doting paati (grandma), who makes sure Thumper gets the daily nutrition, sleep and play she needs while her parents are at work.


My Guy, who moved on from his nine to five job to chase his dreams, continues to spend countless hours at the computer. When everyone is asleep at home, he toils into the night and the wee hours of the morning to meet client deadlines. It’s hard work, but at least there’s work. And clients. 


But he’s no Jack - it’s not all work and no play. Part of giving up the stable income comes with the price of uncertainty but it also means more time with the baby. And when daddy’s around, there will always be smiles, kisses and upside-downs. Now that’s a certainty worth the biweekly paychecks.

Oh, do you see that little sprout on Thumper’s head? It’s her bedhead, which happens from time to time. Whenever she rocks this ‘do, I have a strange urge to call her Petunia. And so I do. My little Petunia, who I also get to see more regularly because of a job that allows flexibility in schedule; something I didn’t have a year ago.


And so with new eyes, thanks to a couple of sick kids (hey I’m all about the half-full), I no longer look wistfully at the future for this mythical wonderful life.

Because really, that life is already here.

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This is a Wordful Wednesday post. Click on over to Parenting by Dummies and/or Seven Clown Circus to join the carnival!

Monday, January 9, 2012

We are happy together. So they denied our coverage.

While shopping for private health insurance for our family because of My Guy’s change in career, we found a serious flaw in the system. Well, one among many in our broken health care system that is.

Because we were seeing a therapist as a couple last year (a.k.a. couples’ counselling), the provider denied our coverage. It didn’t matter that we’re both in great health and good shape - they wouldn’t even entertain any other factors outside of the fact that we were in therapy.

Stressful times
About a year ago, our relationship was at the brink of extinction. It was possibly the scariest chapter of my life. But when My Guy suggested therapy, I was vehemently opposed to it.

I’m Asian. Dirty laundry stays in the house. Preferably in the dryer, where it doesn’t see the light of day because talking about our weaknesses is shameful. And shame likes to lurk in the dark.  

I also had a (mistaken) notion that we were too old to change, so my partner either had to live with my flaws or I could find someone else who would. As you can see, we’re still together, which means we opted for change.

I am reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, and in there she says, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” 

She’s right of course.

Hard work
Change we did. But it didn’t happen overnight. At least not after the first session. Or the second. Or even the third. It took awhile before things finally began to click. We were beginning to make tiny breakthroughs that slowly and eventually lifted us out of our despair.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying therapy is the miracle drug. It’s hard work. Outside of our weekly 50-minute sessions, we had to push ourselves to communicate, to recognize potential threats, to sometimes do the unthinkable - to love and to forgive in spite of the hurt and anger. Basically, we had to drag ourselves through the muck before achieving clarity.

I know some people may think, I have a great network of friends who will listen to my problems; I don’t need to waste my money on therapy. They will understand where I’m coming from and give me the support I need. They will always be on my side.

But that’s exactly why therapy works better for me. I don’t need someone on my side. I need someone to tell it like it is, and someone who doesn’t judge. I also need someone who has no stake in my decisions or my partner’s. Therapists are impartial, and they make us think. But they don’t do the work for us – that’s entirely in our hands.

Not even the best therapist can save a couple who won’t do the dirty work of stripping themselves of ego, shame and discomfort and doing whatever it takes to acknowledge and work through the breakdown. Or if the feelings are no longer mutual, like my previous marriage, all the hours in therapy will not resuscitate a relationship that’s D.O.A.

For it to work, I strongly believe that there needs to be love above everything else. And that was never an issue with us. It was what got in the way that derailed us. Therapy helped us see and move those obstacles. One giant boulder at a time.

One year and many sessions later, here we are - stronger and happier than we’ve ever been. But now that we’re happier (and it’s known that happy people are healthier), our insurance doesn’t want to cover us.

How ironic. And stupid.

Stigma be gone
I wrote this post today for two reasons. One, to join the collective voices in their health care  rant, and two, to come out about our therapy, hoping that it will help dispel its stigma. 

I want to step out of the darkness because shame cannot abide in the place of light (again, thank you, Brene Brown for my ordinary courage). We sought help because we love each other and wanted to find a way to stay together - why should we be ashamed?

As Sheryl Crow says, “sometimes love just ain’t enough”; we needed the guidance to help us navigate the often murky waters of every day living. When two people care enough to want to right the wrongs in their partnership, shouldn’t we be supportive? When divorce is so prevalent in our society, shouldn’t we encourage those who seek the alternative?

Sadly, that’s not often the case. We think that if we seek therapy, it’s admitting weakness, imperfection or failure. But then again, so what? Are we not allowed to stumble? Or even fail? Why do we spend so much time trying to be perfect when things aren’t? If people spent that energy they use to pretend everything’s fine on getting the help they needed instead, perhaps they would be happier?

Let in the light
"There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." -- Leonard Cohen

Recently, a friend asked me confidentially for my therapists’ information. She was secretive and hesitant, and I can understand that – I was her not too long ago. Going to therapy is about exposing the most vulnerable parts of ourselves. And it’s scary to reveal what we spend our whole lives trying to protect.

But as Dr. Brown says, “"I know that vulnerability is kind of the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it's also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love."  

Indeed it is. We can attest to that.

Months after My Guy and I survived our “scary time”, we continued to attend our sessions because we liked the atmosphere it created for us - a neutral ground to assess our progress, and a safe haven to explore our past and future together. We looked forward to our appointments with our therapist.

But now we no longer have that option, thanks to our wonderful health care system.

Thankfully, I think our past work will prepare for us for the hurdles and potholes along the way. And for that, we will always be grateful to our therapist. It’s not always going to be smooth-sailing, but at least now we have some sense of how to weather the storm.



Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Three versions of the same holiday

Our version
Every year during Christmas, we would pack our family to spend the occasion with family or friends. This year, we decided to be low key and stayed in. Then it hit us – we finally get to play Santa! For the first time, we were able to create the myth of jolly St. Nick for our three-year-old, and it was wonderful seeing Little Miss get excited about this man that all kids her age revere.


She was rather consistent with her wish list (“I want a black bunny, a snake and Darth Vader for Christmas”), which we definitely used to our advantage when she misbehaved. “Do you want to get on the Naughty List?” The imminent threat of coal got her to expel the demon inside her pretty effectively.

Made me wonder, why can’t Christmas come every month?

On Christmas Eve, we baked cookies together, and Little Miss completed the last Lego figure of her Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar – needless to say, this family of geeks and would-be geeks were big fans. Little Miss built a figure a day with her daddy each evening before bedtime, except when he was called away to work and that’s when I took over. I got to build an X-Wing one evening but on another, I was puzzled at the structure in my hand until Little Miss simply said, “That’s a TIE Fighter mommy”. Right. Of course.

On Christmas day, after presents, I spent my time on the holiday meal, which turned out much like a traditional Thanksgiving feast because we had a somewhat unconventional one at a friend’s place this year. Truthfully, I really wanted some leftover turkey so I could make soup, pasta, casserole, sandwiches, you name it. I was a fiend for leftover makeovers. And so what did I do? Made Thanksgiving Part II on Christmas.


After everyone else went to bed that night, My Guy and I finally took the time to kick back with some seasonal ale, both happy and grateful for the chance to create part of the wonder of Christmas for our girls. Trying to instill the spirit of the holiday in them helped us see and appreciate its magic ourselves.

And everyone could use a little magic in their lives don't you think?

Little Miss’ version

Daddy got me a Lego "allecalendar” (she never could remember to say "Advent Calendar”) and we made a new Lego toy every day! It’s so cool!

Then we made cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve. I like playing with the flour. It’s so cool!


We left Santa some cookies and milk so he won’t get hungry while sending all those presents to all the little kids, and when I “waked” up, they were all gone! He ate them all up. I “sink” he liked it. It’s so cool!

Then we got to open our presents! Santa got me lots and lots of presents! I got my black bunny, my snake and my Darth Vader! And so many more things. It’s. So. Cool!

Thumper’s version
Well, then. Good. For. Her. Here’s how my holiday went down:

A hand-me-down birthday bib on Christmas? Gee. Thanks. Not only is it a hand-me-down, they didn’t even bother to get the occasion right!


And don’t even get me started on the Christmas outfit. Oh my dignity.
At the holiday table, they thought they’d tease me with a turkey leg.

Except I showed ‘em. Hah!

* * *
How was your holiday? Care to share your version?