Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A birthday letter to my one-year-old


My dearest Thumper,

You are one. And this letter to you is my fourth draft. I just can’t seem to find the right words to convey my sentiments for this day. I am a ball of emotions. With your sister, I couldn’t wait for her to hit the next milestone, turn one, then two...I was always looking forward to what’s next.

Well, she’s already shown me the what’s nexts. With you, I just want to be able to savor the now. Because at 3.5 years, she’s also proven how time flies.

On your birthday, I celebrate the little girl you have become, but I’m also nostalgic for the baby that you once were. As rolls and chunks slowly melt into gangly appendages and angular cheeks, I can’t help but give in to moments of anxiety, desperately looking for the pause button and yelling, stop! wait! I’m not ready!

But that’s just it; there is no such button. You will grow and be who you need to be, whether or not I’m ready. I can only be grateful that I’m there to witness these breathtaking moments as you blossom into that person. Of course, I don’t know who you will be in the next few years, but I know and am proud of who you are now.

You’re the baby who loves food (just like mommy!). You eat like you’re storing reserves for the winter, and sometimes, you eat more than your sister, which is impressive. And a little scary.


You’re the baby who isn’t in a hurry to hit your milestones. At one, you’re just now pulling yourself up and taking tentative steps, and honestly, that makes me deliriously happy because that prolongs your babyhood for me. Apparently, you’re the baby who’s considerate and accommodating like that.

You’re the baby that makes me second guess myself: How can we possibly stop at two kids? This is so wonderful! And you’re also the baby who makes me sure: There’s no way we can top this. Let’s just end on a high note.

Even with a boisterous three-year-old bossing you around, you do your own thing and willingly share the center stage with your sister. You’re happiest when she’s around, and it’s uncanny how she can make you laugh better than anyone.

Bath time with her is probably everyone’s favorite time of the day. You play well together, and you sometimes climb on her like she’s Kilimanjaro. Because you’re not quite as strong or graceful yet, falls are inevitable, but that’s often the best part as you both break into a giggling fit when you topple onto each other.

At one, you’re not quite mastering words, but your index finger is your best friend. I swear I’ve heard you say, “I’ve dropped my pacifier on that side of the crib. Please get it for me” (the “please” may be a projection on my end) with just a point of your finger and infant gibberish.

“Da ba!” is your current favorite phrase, and it could mean anything from ball to I hear my sister; make her come inside - I want to play with her! The best part is, I can tell exactly what you’re trying to say most, if not all, of the time. We could chalk that to your superior communication skills or it could be that having me home with you has created this bond that allows me closer into your world. I’d like to think it’s both.

When I was pregnant with you, and your daddy and I hit a rough patch in our relationship, I was afraid that all the sadness and pain would affect your disposition. That maybe you’d turn out to be an angry, sullen child. Or that you would be especially difficult, with sleepless nights and inexplicable crying spells. Blame my Chinese-Indian genes for thinking that way, but as it turns out, my fears were unfounded.

You sleep beautifully, sleeping through the night since about a month ago, and apart from teething episodes, you rarely cry. However, you’re a rather serious baby - your smiles reserved only for the familiar or deserving – but you still make us laugh with your antics every day.

You’re also totally laidback and sweet. When I think about how I have changed as a parent with you, as I’m less apt to be apprehensive and unsure myself, it makes me wonder - chicken or egg? Am I more laidback because you are too, or is it the other way around?

Either way, being your mom is such a privilege. An absolute joy. Your sister may have taught me how to parent and pushed me to parent better, but it is you who showed me how to really enjoy it.

Thank you, sweet girl, for showing me how amazing it can truly be.

With all my heart,
Your mommy.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The village people


Sunday morning

At a little past eight on Sunday morning, we walked into the cafe half a block from our house - the only one open in the area. We spied other parents and their early risers and exchanged knowing glances and smiles. You too, huh?

We also bumped into neighbors who live in the same building as us. Their son is a couple of months older than Thumper. In our conversation over coffee, pastries and fidgety kids, I somehow got invited to a morning yoga class with the mom. Yoga? Me time? With a fellow mom? Hell yeah!

On our way back to the house, we bumped into another family from our building and Little Miss asked to join them so she could play with the boys. The mom assured us it was fine, and off my eager three-year-old went with barely a goodbye to us.

Little Miss stayed with them while I was at yoga, where I did my first modified headstand in four years! Her sister napped and her dad continued to recuperate from his ailment (that I so generously shared from a couple of weeks ago). I fetched Little Miss from her impromptu playdate, which involved a romp at the beach and lunch at our neighbor’s house, and soon it was naptime for everyone. Including me.

What a great, serendipitous morning, thanks to generous neighbors.

Familiar faces


We’ve been in this building for a year, and after a few potluck brunches and playdates with neighbors, these familiar faces have become a big part of our lives. I’ve lived in this fair city for 12 years now, and it’s the first time that I’ve ever felt like I belonged to a real community.

Before kids, everything was done behind closed doors, and I rarely knew my neighbors. When we spent most of our time in front of one screen or another, it didn’t leave us much face time with the people next door. We exchanged polite greetings and comment about the weather, but that was the extent of our relationship.

It’s different now. The moms in our building have formed a babysitting co-op so we could watch each other’s kid(s) when we need a night out without the kids. Sometimes we supervise a playdate while the other parents tend to their tasks or simply take a break. We borrow plates for parties. Fine, I borrow plates for parties, and we congregate for conversations at the beach or park by our building at any given time.

When we hear familiar voices in the courtyard, we look out our window and wave. Sometimes we even engage in a quick exchange from our windows, like Romeo and Juliet minus the melodramatic romance and awkward death scene. Okay, so it’s nothing like Romeo and Juliet, but you get the picture.

Neighbors being neighborly. Imagine that.


My village

When I decided to make my life here, I also realized that it meant leaving my family behind. With 13 siblings between my mom and dad, I lost count the number of cousins and extended family I have. There were certainly many, but even then, I was used to seeing them often as there were always celebrations and festivities that glued us together.

I was raised by both sets of grandparents who happened to be next-door neighbors - that’s how my parents met. When I was born, my parents left me with my grandparents on weekdays while they worked full time. At my grandparents’, I learned to be fluent in both my mother tongues (Cantonese and Tamil), and I was constantly surrounded by an aunt or uncle and neighborhood kids.

Even though I was an only child, I was never lonely. When I finally lived with my parents, we stayed with an aunt and her daughter who was like an older sister, which means we fought. A lot.  I also played with the Chinese kids next door. There were eight of them. All girls. Safe to assume their dreams for a son ended with the eighth girl. Five of them were my playmates, and my days were often interspersed with role play and real-life drama.

My paternal grandmother later moved down the street from us and became a nanny so after school, I would help her with the kids. Not because I had to but because I wanted to. I loved babies! By eight, I was a pro at changing cloth diapers and entertaining wee ones. 

Even though I grew up in the capital city (the size of Chicago), it never really felt like a city to me. I was a street rat and roamed about the area with my neighbor friends. We looked for tadpoles in stagnant water during the monsoon season, and I was often in a neighbor’s home, getting back just in time for dinner. I’ve been a city girl all my life but as a kid, it felt like a village.

You know the saying, it takes a village to raise a kid? My parents certainly had that.

Our village
When Little Miss was born, we had no village. We reached outside our neighborhood in search of new friendships with likeminded parents. We had established great connections, but with proximity as a barrier, it just wasn’t the same.

But after we moved to our current building and made our place in the neighborhood, I am seeing promising signs of that village life I craved. Familiar faces. Friendship. Trust. Peace of mind. Plates for parties.

When we go out at night, Little Miss gets excited when one of the neighbor moms get to tuck her in instead. I am warmed by that. Goosebumps even, because when they’re here, I never worry when I’m out. I know my girls are in good, loving hands the same way theirs are, in mine.

There really isn’t much more we can ask for, apart from good schools and nutritious meals, to positively influence the development of our kids. We plant roots to help our children grow with the idea that the deeper and stronger the root, the lovelier the flower, the better the fruit.

So here we are. In this little village in the middle of a vast city. The soil is rich. The roots are succulent.

And my girls are blooming, blooming, blooming.


* * *

Do you have a village? What does it look like?

To the people in my village: Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for turning this neighborhood into a community for us. We feel immensely fortunate to be here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

50 words


Sleeping in. Cinnamon rolls. Going back to bed after breakfast. Tulips. Not-so-secret cards. Happy, healthy girls. Glorious sunshine. Shopping. Downtown Chicago. Cute dresses. Iced caramel latte. Millennium Park. Chili cheese dog.  Curly fries. Family nap! Marvel’s The Avengers (O.M.G – Go watch it!). Beer-can chicken. Collard greens. No cooking for me.

That was my Mother’s Day in 50 words or less.

Why? Because of deadlines. As a work-from-home mom, the work part is threatening to engulf the other parts of my life this week. Hence this abbreviated post. And that was exactly 50 words, in case you’re wondering.

PritzkerPavillionThumper’s first Mother’s Day. At one of my favorite structures in the city – Jay Pritzker Pavillion

However, even if I had the time to write 500 or 5,000 words, it still wouldn’t be enough to capture all  that I want to say to the people who turned all these things, mostly ordinary on their own, into one extraordinary day for me.

But since I made up the 50-words rule, I guess I could break it. Actually, I’ll make an amendment: Mother’s Day in 52 words or less. Just so I could fit in two more really important words to my family: Thank you.

For this day. For this life. With you.

Fine. Make that 60.

MyLoveseverything I love, right in front of me

*  *  *

How was your Mother’s Day? Do you have a family tradition or is it something different every year? Do you have a favorite memory, whether it’s celebrating your own or your mom’s special day?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I am mother, hear me brag!


“Learning you were wrong…”
You know the theme song from the Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast, that begins with “Tale as old as time…”? That came on today on Pandora while I folded laundry as Thumper crawled from toy to toy. I memorized the lyrics when the movie came out, and I found myself singing along with it. Don’t you love singing to songs from yesteryears? It’s like a surprise visit from an old friend.

But this old friend had another surprise. It unleashed brand new emotions I hadn’t felt before when I sang these lines:

“…bittersweet and strange, finding you can change, learning you were wrong…”

Something in me yelled, Yes! Yes! Yes!

These words, once mere lyrics from a movie about change and redemption, now hold so much more meaning to my life. I was once that girl who held steadfast a belief that I could never change my past, so the demons it brought me would always be tied to me.

I didn’t like that part of me much, but I didn’t think I could do anything about it either. 

At age 20, I thought it was too late – I was too old to change. And I thought that at 22, 23, 24… 30, 31, 32… I didn’t think it could ever happen.

But it did. I was 35.

Little victories
I changed so I could keep my family. My Guy did the same. We both fought our demons and won. And we’re proof that change can happen.

As a result, other than having this amazing family in my life, I also quite like the person I’ve become. I’m also unbelievably grateful for the chance at this sweet, new beginning.

Of all the things that I have done as a mom (and partner), this change has got to be one of the things of which I’m the proudest. I couldn’t have done it without my family. Not only were they the reasons I needed to change, they were also the ones who helped me get there.

You know what else I’m proud of as a mom? The fact that my daughters love food and that they aren’t picky. Maybe it’s DNA, but maybe it’s how we’ve been with them at mealtimes, but when I see Little Miss requesting shumai, mussels, broccoli, rainbow chard, curry, or shrimp, I beam. And I can’t help but take some of that credit.

I also love that they sleep well at night. I fought my own urge to eschew sleep training (how cruel, as some would say, to leave a baby crying in the crib) but it was the best decision for our family, with both girls. Now they’re happy little sleepers (when they rest, they’re the best!), and that means everyone’s happy. 

Also, despite my incredibly rough start with breastfeeding (both times!), I managed to stay on course and nursed Little Miss until she was 13 months. My aim was 12. I worked full time so I mostly pumped because we were apart for the bulk of the day. And boy did I hate pumping. Yet I held on. It was important to me. Thumper is almost one now, and she’s still going strong.

As a working mom, I barely saw my Little Miss but in the two hours we spent together each week day, I made sure it was the best two hours of our day. And I still managed to make dinner for the family every evening and get her to bed on time.

Last week, because of a killer sore throat (which lasted 12 painful days, by the way) I made a conscious decision to be better about the way I communicate with my daughters. Less yelling, more speaking. More kindness. And you know what? I’ve not yelled once since.

Tough gig
Wait. Sorry. Does this make you uncomfortable? That I am going on and on about what an awesome mom I am?

I didn’t mean to make you squirm. I just spend a lot of time beating myself up about how I can be better, how I could have done something differently, how I always aspire to rise above where I am, that I think I need to give myself a little break. Cut me some slack, and turn my focus on the positive.

This parenting thing? It’s H.A.R.D. You know that. And we make it worse sometimes by feeling guilty about everything. I often feel that I don’t do enough, and I overlook the moments when I do. And that I am. Enough. Or good. Heck, even wonderful for my girls.

Somehow, when we’re proud of something we do as a parent, it’s not kosher to “brag”. We don’t like people who pat themselves on the back. Sometimes though, if we don’t, no one will. That’s another parenting truth.

Some people just expect well behaved children. Expect emotional intelligence in kids. Expect them to grow into responsible adults who contribute to society.

Well, what do they think helps to make sure all that happens? Magic? Sesame Street?

Yet we’re not allowed to congratulate ourselves for all the work that goes into this. 

So yes. Tough gig. Let’s give ourselves a break.

Talk, shout, roar!
But in honor of Mother’s Day, let’s do more than that. Don’t just give ourselves a break from all the bad; let’s celebrate the good.

Let’s do that by talking about it. Ourselves. Right here. Right now.

Tell me your proudest moments and accomplishments as a mom. Brag. Feel good about what you do or did.

You are woman. You are mother. Now let’s hear you roar.

* * *

Happy Mother’s Day!

p.s. if you don’t feel like roaring, no worries. Chime in any way you like. Tell me about your own mother. We’re celebrating all mothers here after all.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012



There were high heels. There were pressed shirts. There were long lines. There were velvet curtains and mixologists. Candlelight and cocktails.  Beautiful people everywhere.

Many of them, our friends. All of them unmarried. No kids.

Except for My Guy and me.

Friends we don’t see regularly gathered to celebrate a birthday. Weeks, sometimes months, would pass before we saw each other, so there was much to talk about. Conversations flowed freely.

That is, until they asked me what I was up to. And I didn’t quite know what to say. Or how. So I mostly fumbled because I didn’t realize I wasn’t quite ready with the answer either, as the decision was still new.

“Not much. Just hanging out at home with my baby and working on whatever freelance gig that comes my way.” Heads bobbed. This part they knew. This was my original plan - work from home; spend more time with the girls.

Then I found myself revealing the next part, words clumsily strung together like a school kid making excuses for forgotten homework: “I’m also looking forward to the summer when I have both girls home with me. I’m giving the stay-at-home-mom thing a try. You know, just to see…”

My voice trailed off into the awkward ether. The general response ranged from “Oh…” to “That’s nice.”

And we went no further beyond that.

I guess that’s definitely one way, if not the way, to stump a bunch of young, unmarried people with no kids.

It’s interesting. Now that I’m excited that I can finally do this – to stay at home with the kids – talking about it out loud made me feel like I shouldn’t be. Like, is that it, really? Like I gave the wrong answer.

After cupcakes, cocktails and conversations, we reluctantly left the group, the deafening sound of the babysitter clock tick-tocking in our ears. We went home to slumbering babies unaware of their parents quietly slipping into their respective rooms in the dark of night.

I removed the necklace I wore and placed it on Little Miss’ night stand as a surprise for her to wake up to the next morning. As a little something to let her know I was there. I also planted kisses and gathered sprawled limbs to tuck neatly back under the blanket.

As I wearily climbed upstairs to my own bedroom, where the snoring infant will be curled in the furthermost corner of her crib, my eyes took a quick scan of our place, to make sure doors were locked, windows closed, and cats where they belonged. But I also noticed other things.

There were garish plastic toys. There were shoes for tiny feet. There were empty sippy cups and scattered board books. Projects from preschool. A random crayon.

As tired as I was, I still managed a smile. The nagging doubt in my heart from the evening dissipated. Perhaps not fully, but enough. A realization sang me to sleep.

It wasn’t that I gave the wrong answer. I was just in the wrong crowd.


image: Radio Bar for Tenu by gwen

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Kindness begins at home

LittleMissWatermelon I give her the look and she freezes. With just enough edge in my voice, I can almost feel her pulse quicken. Sharpened to a point, it can almost cut.

That tone. That look. The lingua franca of parents demanding obedience.

Then there’s the yelling and threatening of course.

Don’t do this, don’t do that. If you do this, I will...

No Pain No Gain

This is the sixth day of my ailment - my throat continues to feel like an army of Orcs forging minions and weapons with lava. I’ve become dependent on painkillers to numb the throbbing ache of the inflammation, and it all sounds terrible, until I realized that this has also curbed my yelling.

I don’t have a choice. It hurts to talk, let alone yell. But it’s a good thing.

Actually, it’s a wonderful thing. I’ve been meaning to work on that for a long time now - speak, not yell - and haven’t quite mastered that yet. Now that I’m physically incapable of raising my voice, I’m learning the joy of taking a deep breath before conveying my point in a calm, steady tone.

While it’s not more effective, it certainly is as effective, and it makes me feel a lot better about myself when I don’t have to yell at my kids. How many times have we envisioned ourselves to not be that parent only to fall short all too quickly when our kids push our buttons? And boy are they good at that.

This whole speaking-not-yelling thing is an especially important exercise now because Little Miss will forego summer school and stay home with me and the baby instead this year. I look forward to being home with my girls, but she is, at this point, also the definition of Terrible Three. Oh yes. Three. I was lucky with her at two as she was rather manageable. Turns out, she was saving it for three.

The issue isn’t that she’s frustrated with her inability to articulate her feelings. She can do that just fine. But some feelings are larger than her own diminutive stature. And it consumes her. Sometimes even me.

Her responses begin with an adamant “no!” even before I finish a sentence. So determined she is to lead her own path that her sole purpose these days is to stand on the opposite side of where I am. Mostly to her own detriment.

Me: I feel like waffles. Would you like some?
Little Miss: No! I don’t like waffles!

(But she does.)

When she realizes her error, she recants with an impish grin, but that’s just before she moves on to butt heads with me on the accompanying beverage. It’s exhausting.

My biggest downfall as a parent is my lack of patience. And the one thing I need the most to survive this summer would be patience.

I don’t think she’s trying to piss me off on purpose. She’s three. She’s wondering, testing, pushing, and it’s all within the course of her development, but of course she’s not aware of her limits yet. Or mine, for that matter. And therein lies the challenge.

Second Nature

I understand that every parent goes through this, but what makes this especially hard for me is that I was raised in a culture where parents are always right and responses to kids’ misbehavior usually mean raised voice or hands. I find myself constantly trying to fight my ingrained nature to react the way I was trained. And let me tell you this: It. Is. Hard.

As a kid I was told to obey my parents, my elders and my teachers because they’re older and they’re always right. That reasoning has never really worked for me, and when I found myself saying, “because I said so” the other day to Little Miss, I knew I had to do something. Apparently my own upbringing had a stronger hold on me than I’d imagined.

I grew up watching TV parents speaking kindly to their children and ending confrontations with words and hugs - something that never happened to me. As a child, I yearned for the family relationships portrayed on TV, and while I now know that the Seavers and the Huxtables are not exactly reality, I don’t think it’s unreal to expect respect and kindness. Even from our parents.

But having been raised in a culture that perpetuates the my-way-or-the-highway authoritarian parenting, kindness and tenderness towards our kids are learned skills for me. My parenting toolkit contains sterner stuff, like loud voices and grippy hands, threats and eye-rolls.

And I’m not proud of it.

100 Ways to be Kind to Your Child

When I stumbled upon this list through Pinterest, 100 Ways to be kind to your child, it’s like a light went off in my head. To pick a random few for flavor:

#9 – Tell your child I enjoyed playing with you today

#33 – Pretend you’re explorers in the backyard

#57 – Listen a second longer than you think you have patience for

#78 – Take time to do a task at your child’s pace

#89 – Sit on the floor with them to play

#98 – Give a bath when the day feels long

I know I can do these...More importantly, I want to do these. They sound so simple, yet because of my own history, they’re not quite second nature to me.

And I want them to be.

I immediately printed the list and now it stays close to me as a reminder of all the little things I can do to improve the way I parent and hopefully nurture my relationship with my daughters.

Not only am I trying for a gentler approach in discipline, I’m also trying to be a better parent, hoping it would help me navigate the rough waters of Terrible Three. Using the list as my guide, maybe there will be a Fabulous Four in our future?

I love that we already do some of what’s on the list, but I have ways to go to internalize this. For our summer to be the best one yet, I will have to work on kindness.

Because kindness begins at home. And if I want my daughters to be kind, it has to begin with me.



* * *

What is your biggest challenge as a parent? What did you remember about your upbringing that you’d like to change for your kids?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Oh no, not again…

Yup. That’s exactly what I feel like.

I’ve been sick since Thursday, and have pretty much been homebound since then. Horrible sore throat, chills, and general achiness. The truth is, it’s not the end of the world, but I’m also a baby when I’m sick, which is probably a good thing for everyone that I don’t succumb too often.

Being stuck at home at half capacity with a baby means:

  1. I wash my hands more times than I care to count;
  2. I can’t write worth a crap; and
  3. I take entertainment any way I can get. Even at the expense of other household members.

The cat, however, is not amused. He’s probably thinking, oh no, not again…

Kid #1, Circa 2009




Kid #2, Circa 2012




Even cats experience deja vu. Who knew?