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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

Month

November 2012

That will teach me

I don’t know about you, but I have an email address for everything. Spam. Work. Lucky draw prizes. Secret pseudonym just in case I become a successful romance writer but am too sheepish to tell anyone. Just in case.

Anyhoo, I had created an email address for this blog so I could maintain some level of privacy (haha) and manage inbox sizes… but I still wanted important mail to flow through to my main Gmail account. Except I had set up the autoforwarding function, but didn’t do some final step. Which meant that I’d been under the impression I was getting email about my blog for months, when they’d all been sitting pretty in a secondary inbox.

Until today.

Long story short – I found out I had three completely random strangers drop by to say they liked my blog enough to want to engage with me. Okay, one of them dropped by just to say that she liked my writing – which made my day burst into even more sunshine in today’s 36°C heat. But the other two also wanted to do bloggy stuff with me. ME! I am stoked beyond comprehension. I am also kicking myself while wearing imaginary stud boots because the emails are all at least 6 months old. Which means I doubt either offer will still be standing now, given my extreme tardiness and inadvertent snubbery. But if you’re reading this, you and you, and don’t already think I’m desperate, please get in touch.

Moral of the story: do not set up an email account and a call to action at the bottom of your blog, and then blithely go on your way thinking no one is ever going to take you seriously. Always be thick-skinned enough to hope and expect.

 

A photo an hour

Came across a blog post last night where someone took a photo an hour for about 12 hours. She’d joked that she was too “boring” a subject to make her day seem exciting through photos, but I thought, What a fabulous idea!

I’ve had Paula Spencer’s Momfidence! as my bathroom reader and it has been such a great pick-me-up because she’s such a funny writer and an even greater encourager. Anyhoo, one of the things she wished aloud in her book was that she documented more of the Everyday through photos and video. That it was one thing to take happy snaps of memorable events, but they’re usually staged and everyone is trying to smile in the camera.

That isn’t real life, though.

REAL life is spending a lot of collective family time wondering what’s in the fridge. Having slightly chaotic 17-way conversations around the dinner table. Dealing with mess in the sink. Receiving impromptu kisses from your toddler. Doing the laundry together.

These are scenes I may not think of documenting right now, but I’ll bet that one day, I’ll look out my front door to the hills and struggle to remember what that had looked like 5, 10, 15 years ago. What my everyday had been like 5, 10, 15 years ago.

So here’s my effort to document the mundane in my camera phone. I’m aiming to take and post a photo every waking hour today – mostly through my phone, so excuse photo sizes.

Ready?

7:16am – Little girl is up. Me, not so much

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8:07am – Arddun decides that not having bubbles Right This Minute is dreadfully unfair

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9:21am – Getting dressed to do some Christmas shopping. It’s going to be hot today!

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9:53am – Postman brings some Peter’s of Kensington goodness

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11:00am – Scored a $29-blackboard for Arddun

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12:05pm – Sushi lunch

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1:10pm – Owing to time spent lost in carpark trying to locate teeny tiny door to Kmart’s customer collection centre (which turned out to be the same colour as the surrounding walls, BTW), we didn’t get home quite in time before Arddun fell asleep. Decided to embark on part 2 of Christmas shopping.

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2:20pm – Arddun and I enter a store to secure Tony’s Christmas present! And then we stood outside and took a picture of the store, and OH WHAT A SHAME. My finger got in the way. I guess Tony will have to wait till Christmas.

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3:14pm – Connect Cafe, cooling down from the searing heat with an ice-cold

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4:13pm – Last-minute grocery shopping for church thanksgiving potluck, and Arddun scores a helium balloon while sussing out the new hair shop opposite. Very special gift.

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4:57pm – Puttering around the courtyard with a small bucket of water while I prepare her dinner.

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6:08pm – Cooking a chicken curry for tonight’s Thanksgiving with the church that starts at 6:30pm. Unfortunately, Tony isn’t home yet. Oh well. Better late than never, eh?

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7:13pm – Church and food! When many gather in His name here, somehow there’s always food.

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8:00pm – Right on 8 o’clock, this little guy thanks God for me! (Might have been a sympathy vote because I had been blubbering during my thanksgiving, but I’m pretty chuffed.)

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9:34pm – Got home to find that someone had tried to wash her daddy’s clothes, but probably lost interest by the time she got to the door.

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10:02pm – Continue freelance work

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11:22pm – Start preparing for bed

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Reflections

Well, it’s been interesting. I’ve always wondered how people found the time to microblog 8 times a day and thought I could never be one of them. That my most immediate problem would be the lack of content, a close second being the lack of time.

And yet, looky what I’ve done here!

Content-wise, this is chicken feed. I’ve just uploaded a picture of my night face cream, for crying out loud. Not many brain cells were fried in the makings of this post, but it took commitment and time anyhow. I was also surprised by how many moments I couldn’t catch through photos, but that I wished I had.

For instance:

  • 11:53am – Pushing stroller with heavy 17½-month-old and shopping up a loooong stalled travellator – while wearing cute open-toe sandals with almost zero-grip. Got to a point halfway up (after I’d lost momentum from my running start) where I needed to grip handrail and physically pull us all upward. Shoes actually started sliding backwards at 75% mark. Nice young fella saved the day by rocketing stroller (and Arddun) up to the top while I giggled after him like a nincompoop.
  • 4:35pm – Physically getting Arddun into car and strapped into carseat as she hangs on to orange balloon for dear life while repeatedly kissing it. Orange balloon is still attached to shopping trolley.

I seriously doubt I’ll be microblogging my everyday moments from here on end. But this exercise has given me pause about what else I care passionately enough of to be able to write constantly.

To be a time warrior

I had a rather confronting conversation the last time I was back in Singapore, and it had gone something like this:

Friend: So… what are you working as now?

Me: I’m a stay-at-home mum

Friend: Yeah, but besides that?

Me: Um… that’s it. That’s my job. I stay at home and take care of Arddun.

Friend: You mean that’s it? Like, don’t you have a job apart from taking care of her?

Me: That’s enough for now, believe me.

And then I had launched into a mini-spiel about how being a SAHM is a full-time job, blah blah blah. All the while wondering if I had missed something huge. Like, am I maximising my time? Am I inadvertently being lazy? Are most of the other women home alone with toddlers also juggling a lucrative sideline in jewellery-making while studying for a grad dip in business economics? All while keeping the house immaculate, the waistline suitably skinny, and the child untouched by The Wiggles?

Am I not doing enough? Did I miss the secret memo on my obligations as a super woman?

So you know what I’ve gone and done since that conversation?

I’ve

  • renewed my gym membership
  • redeveloped my church’s website
  • taken up a freelance job
  • started baking again.

And what I’ve succeeded in doing instead is

  • see less of my husband
  • lose sleep from working late hours
  • fall sick repeatedly.

I’m not assigning blame to that friend or that conversation. I’m assigning blame wholly to my impatience, my pride, and my inability to bite off less than I can chew. Ever since I started secondary school, I’ve been notorious for triple booking myself. Crazy-eager to please others, crazy-eager to appease the inner voices, crazy-eager to conquer the world.

The first 16 months of Arddun’s life have been so blessedly peaceful because for the first time in a very, very long time, I found myself focusing on Just One Thing. My family. All the noise, all the clatter around the edges faded away. I had found The Happy – or at least what The Happy looks like to me now.

But in the last two months since I’ve worked my mind around going back to work, I’ve opened the floodgates and the busyness… the noise… has started to rush back in.

There is a sense of achievement in amongst it, sure. I’m really enjoying my freelance job, actually. And I’m glad I’m baking again because I enjoy baking for others – even if I’m not very good at it. And the church website has been one of those goals I’d been wanting to kick even before I had Arddun, so it’s great that it’s finally done. And the gym membership… well… at least it’s renewed. One step at a time.

But I’m also bone tired.

When thinking up of a title for this blog post, I thought about being a Time Warrior, and then I googled the term – only to find that someone had already written a book about being one. I’ve never read it, but the book summary seems to imply that one of the keys to productive time management is the letting go of people-pleasing and approval-seeking. And I really tussle with that description.

On the one hand, it really resonates with me. I think we are all inherently approval-seeking and people-pleasing. It’s how we like to get along in the world. And a lot of my people-pleasing stems from insecurity. I don’t like people not to like me, or think critically of my actions. Especially of how I manage my time.

But on the other hand, a lot of my people-pleasing stems from the desire to think of others before myself. I get really bugged that our family isn’t more hospitable, or that we’re not doing more for the work of the church. I also think we are called to be peacemakers – to be all things to all men which does seem to imply a sacrifice of one’s time and oneself for others. So the very idea of becoming a Time Warrior by “slashing out all the people-pleasing” sounds, to me, inherently selfish.

I guess what I’m trying to decide for myself while “thinking aloud” (i.e. blogging) is my motivation for getting busy these past 2 months. Am I doing it because I don’t want to appear lazy? Am I doing it because it’s for the edification of my family and friends? Am I doing it because I really want to?

Because there’s so very many things I want to do and be. I want to be a kick-ass wife. I want to be a kick-ass mum. I want to be a kick-ass asset to the church. I want to be a kick-ass writer, with a kick-ass career in writing and editing. Preferably earning kick-ass money to pay for kick-ass things for loved ones. Like immigration visas. And private tuition in kick-ass Christian colleges. I want to be a kick-ass blogger. With a kick-ass ass, honed by many diligent hours in yoga and pilates. YEAAAAARRRRHHH!

And of course there’s that wise old saying that

I can do it all… it just doesn’t have to be all at once.

I should probably get some sleep.

Paint and Play

We are surrounded by ponds, parks and playgrounds – some within walking distance, others just a short drive away. I had heard about Paint and Play in four of the parks close by since Arddun and I joined Mother’s Group last year, but it wasn’t until today that we decided to drop in and take a look around.

I had pictured a rather lame setting of a small table, some watercolours, and maybe two older kids painting the grass blue. I had also imagined Arddun wanting to eat said watercolours, upsetting the small table, or else getting pushed out of the way by these imaginary older kids armed with paintbrushes soaked with blue watercolours. So I was VERY pleasantly surprised to see the Harrison playground scattered with clusters of happy toddlers busy at work.

I mean, we’re talking about some pretty impressive levels of organisation for an informal weekly morning shindig. There were activity stations – so you could play with dinosaurs, or tinker at musical instruments, or heap dirt in toy trucks, or mold play dough, or burrow through tunnels, or do something else I didn’t manage to look at because we ran out of time.

And oh yes – paint!

Arddun painting in the park with red watercolours
The little artist at work

And the finished product:

Arddun's painting
I’m no art student, but I think this a rather magnificent impression of Dali’s elephants, and will therefore call this one “The Temptation of St. Anthony with Green Tinge and Tea Stain”

Month Seventeen

After Arddun turned 1, I got slack and stopped taking her pictures on her monthversary. Or at least, I stopped taking ones with an A4 sign of the milestone. I don’t think I’ve stopped taking photos of her, really. This digital age makes memory building much more affordable, but it also means I take lots and lots of photos of Arddun doing pretty much the same thing.

For instance, in the last 2 weeks I’ve taken waaaay too many photos of Arddun demolishing babyccinos.

First babyccino Second babyccino Third babyccino Fourth babyccino

But I digress.

THIS was the photo I took for Arddun’s 17th monthversary. No sign saying, “I am 17 months old today” for several reasons:

  1. I forgot all about the monthversary photo till after lunch.
  2. I procrastinated after lunch. And then I forgot.
  3. My baby is now way too cool to pose next to a daggy sign, doncha know?

Observe:

Arddun watching telly with arms folded across her chest
One sock on and one sock off. Just like her mommy.

At 17 months, she (still) loves:

  • Kitty and Monkey, her two best machine-washable pals. In that order.
  • Babyccinos
  • Chasing bubbles
  • Splashing about in her clam shell pool
  • Birds, doggies, kitties, piggies, ducks, and sheep. In that order.
  • Imitating the occasional odd-sounding alert from my iPhone
  • Shoes, because it means we’re going out
  • Eating, although we draw the line at dodgy leftovers and cheap fish
  • Drawing. Or emptying the crayons onto the mat, saying “Oh no!”… and then cracking up
  • Singing Baa Baa Black Sheep. Recognisably.
  • Reciting her numbers and getting up to 6 (!)
  • Wiping her nose and then “blowing” it into a tissue. Except she keeps inhaling deeply. Same noises, only… backwards.
  • The potty. Except she’d really rather sit on it when fully clothed.
  • Saying “Oh no” and “Oh dear” when something goes wrong. Which is INFINITELY better than “Bl**dy” or “Sh*t” or the one starting with the letter F. *phew*

EDITOR’S NOTE, 6:17AM 20 NOVEMBER
For some bizarre reason, I had gotten it into my head when writing the post that Arddun had turned a year and a half. Which is a huge-ish milestone to me (yet apparently not a big enough one to warrant a handmade poster and posing!) Might have something to do with sorting out her clothes yesterday, and thinking I shouldn’t get clothes sized 12-18 months because she’ll hardly get wear of them anymore.

Thanks to my mother who counts dates better than I do, this has been amended.

Seventeen months old, and I’ve lost track already! *Gulp*

Yarni

Friday mornings are when we aim to do the grocery shopping for the week. Friday mornings, I find, strike the happy balance between crowded, stocked shelves and empty, peaceful malls. And so it’s been our thing to browse the aisles together after breakfast on Fridays, and then break for an early lunch before heading home for a snooze.

Today was no different from most Fridays, I suppose. We had just commenced our shopping, and I had parked Arddun next to the broccoli aisle where it’s near enough for her to appreciate nature in all its biotechnological splendour, yet far enough for her not to help herself to a carrot. And then two little old Greek(?) ladies happened to walk past our trolley.

“Oh!” one exclaims, and starts stroking Arddun’s cheek lovingly. She brushes her fringe aside, tucks a lock of her hair behind her ear while my daughter beams and basks in her newfound adoration.

“Oh!” the same one exclaims, and sighs and clasps her hands. She signals her elderly friend over and says proudly, “Look at this beautiful one! Look at her! She reminds me so much of my Yarni!”

“Oh she does!” agrees the other, and they both continue to coo and touch her face and hair. Arddun’s loving it. I’m pretty chuffed myself.

“Is Yarni your granddaughter?” I hazard a guess.

“Mmm?”

“Yarni… you say my daughter Arddun looks like your Yarni. She your granddaughter?”

“Oh no no,” smiles the old lady, love shining in her eyes. “No, Yarni is my [insert foreign word].”

“Pardon?” I ask, shaking my head.

“My… ah… my…” she searches for the word. “My pooch-a. My dog.”

True story.

Preparing the other me

I haven’t been blogging very much lately, although many biggish things have happened. We flew to Brisbane. We flew to Singapore. We had in-laws come over. My mother’s been well. (Hooray!) We’ve been sick. (Boo.)

We ran out and bought a new car so now I need to go back to work.

The last bit isn’t entirely fair, and isn’t entirely accurate. The new car is one of many reasons I need to go back to work. The new car is one of many reasons I even want to go back to work. But I’m still building up to it.

Lately, I’ve been racking my brains to remember what my mindset had been before I had Arddun. To remember the version of motherhood I’d believed myself capable of, Before Child. And it’s blowing my mind how differently I feel now. I remember warning Tony over and over. About how I’m not one of those women who could do the whole barefoot-and-pregnant schtick. About how all the women in my family for at least three generations have been working mums. They’d gone out. Earned the bread and butter. I’ll be like that too, I had told him. In my blood. Can’t help it. I reminded my husband, over and over, how I suffer dreadfully from cabin fever. How being a homebody would destroy me. I pictured a life of spilt dinners, soiled rags, Teletubbies and tedium. And I shuddered at the loss of independence. The seeming lack of mental stimulation. The irretrievable disappearance of personal identity.

And in part, some of those “losses” have happened these last 16 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. Or at least bits of me have eroded, faded, or given way to something new. Part of me is infinitely mushier. I used to look at babies and think, “Squished little thing.” And now I peer into the prams of total strangers and sigh adoringly at their precious gifts from God.

Part of me is harder. I understand more. I feel like I have more to lose. I know I have a new great purpose.

And yes, part of me has been put away for now. The self-absorbed me, and I don’t mean that I’m less selfish now because I am still incredibly selfish at times. But I’m talking about that sense of separateness and individualism that free adults enjoy. You lose some of that when you become a wife because your life is entwined inextricably with another’s. But I found I lost a lot of that when Arddun was so very tiny and so very helpless. She came from my body, but I largely became hers.

And so for over a  year, I’ve been very happy to lose myself in Arddun and to lose myself in my family. I feel like I’ve poured myself out, which probably accounts for the constant gooey, liquid feeling I carry around inside of me. I’ve been on a high – I am still on a high.

But now my family might need me in other ways, and so I am at a crossroad. Because I’ve had to re-evaluate what I think motherhood should look like and for 16 months, I’ve been hoping the answer is something like “Stay at home forever! Or at least for 5 years! Have 2 babies! Maybe have an accidental third!”

But the other voices in my head are starting to say things like, “You can’t have your cake and eat it. Money doesn’t grow on trees. You have family you love outside of Tony and Arddun. Your world is shrinking and you’re getting insular. What about your other God-given talents? You have to stop being so selfish.”

What a twisted world we live in.

I look at my friends who’ve chosen to stay at home for their children, and I love and admire them greatly. I acknowledge their sacrifice and selflessness, I applaud their resourcefulness and economy, I love their happy products – their beautiful, Godly children. Their humble, cheerful homes. Their sense of peace and calm. And rather erroneously – even sinfully – I think I’ve been ascribing a higher value to their family choice than the choice of many other beautiful mothers who have gone back to work.

I mean, everyone says that the best job in the world is being a mother, right? So isn’t the best job in the world that of a full-time mother? And therefore, shouldn’t it follow that working mothers are not the best mothers? Isn’t that how the equation works?

That’s the guilt talking. That’s been the guilt talking for 16 months. And it’s been hard, hard work trying to look at it any other way. And then I feel HUGE guilt for inadvertently passing judgement on the many other mothers who have chosen to go back to work.

Because that’s the rub, isn’t it. Whatever parenting choices you make already passes judgement on the other options you rejected.

Very long story short, I’m preparing to re-enter the Corporate World. Which means I’m waiting for childcare to get back to me, which means I’ve talked to my boss, which means I’ve been tuning my brain to think corporatey things and I’ve been spending my evenings writing more corporatey gook. I’ve started working out clothes Arddun can wear to childcare, and ordered name labels to paste on everything she owns. And it’s been hard. Honestly? Part of me is heartbroken I’m even doing this but as the days wear on, I’ve also been getting strangely excited.

Because it feels good to embrace parts of my old self again. To flex those muscles and air out dusty rooms in the corners of my mind. Coupled with my new priorities, I feel a lot more purpose-driven about where I need to be, and where I don’t want to be. And so I’ve taken steps to shift the course of my professionally development. Just one or two inches to the left or the right. Which is more than what I’ve done for my career in the last 5 years.

The lovely thing is that I’m surrounded by many mothers who have already rejoined the corporate world. Who have already gone through the heartrending bit. Who’ve cried in a lonely toilet cubicle when they missed their child’s milestone for the first time. Who are currently managing the whole part-time work schtick really, really well. They have been such an edification.

“I am a better mum for it,” at least two have assured me repeatedly, and I believe them. I don’t think they’re just saying it to make themselves feel better. “I appreciate my child more. Every moment really counts. I’m a better time manager. My priorities are crystal clear now. And the house is a mess but I don’t care.”

And so I’m on my way.

On a completely separate note – the car we’re in the process of buying? Reverse parallel parks itself. PHWOOARRR!

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