Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places


July 2013


Apparently, this week has been Superheroes week. Tony, who usually does the drop offs and pick ups, didn’t get the memo so we were rather bemused when we turned up on Monday, and there were little Spidermen walking around nonchalantly, and playing with blocks. Two little girls were also dressed as ladybugs, which was cute and all, but NOT to theme.

“The boys usually get to dress up at Superheroes,” explained the room leader. “But the girls… they usually get dressed up as fairies or ladybugs because there just isn’t as much choice for them out there.”

Well. Challenge ACCEPTED.

To be fair, the room leader had a point. While I’m not averse to shopping in the Boys section for Arddun’s clothes, I’m a bit thingy about dressing Arddun up as a male superhero. Because Arddun is a girl. And she’s super. And I don’t see why super-little people costumes have to be so MAN. SpiderMAN. BatMAN. Teengage Mutant Ninja Turtles (admittedly turtles, but young MAN turtles.)

The trouble is, female superheroes have largely been drawn by men with a fixation on long legs and large, high breasts, and a penchant for drafty wardrobes. I really didn’t want to sexy up my toddler.

So I did a call for ideas on Facebook, and got the following suggestions.

  • Wonder Woman
  • Xena Warrior Princess
  • Invisible Woman
  • Drafty
  • Bat girl
  • Super girl
  • Greek Goddess superhero
  • Anxiety Girl
  • Mega Mindy
  • Any character from Heroes, because they wore everyday clothing
  • Cat toddler
  • Me. Because I’m a superhero. :)

All had great possibilities, but in the end, I remembered a onesie of Arddun’s that had a cape. After rummaging through Target, I found the tights and a matching skirt to hide the fact the onesie is at least a size too small, and voila! I present to you….

Arddun dressed as superhero
The T-shirt says it all
Arddun dressed as superhero, looking down at her shirt
“Super wha?”

And here’s the Super Girl in action.

Yes. It would appear that one of her many superhero powers includes Turning. When done repeatedly and to music, this superpower gets boosted to the more stupendous Twirling. It is one to watch, because it mostly involves getting Daddy – a usually serious and dignified man – to twirl also. Super, indeed.

So, how was your day?

So we’ve been waiting all morning for the delivery guy to come with our 10 moving boxes from Singapore. He’s an hour late now, and it’s not his fault – a customer before me had insisted that this one lone driver not only deliver her bed, but also ASSEMBLE the darn thing.

And so he’s late.

The kitchen trash bin isn’t full but is at risk of stinking (banana peels will do that to anything), so I unlock the back door and step out. We don’t have a rubbish chute because we live in a townhouse. We have a private courtyard between the house proper and our garage at the back, and off to the side, we have a yellow bin for recycling, and a green bin for all other trash.

So I take my kitchen bin out the back, when it seems all of nature suddenly perks up looking real guilty. Two Common Mynas look up in mid diarrhea from my clothes line, while Yet Another mangy neighbour’s cat shoots straight out from our hedgerow to freedom beyond our squeaky back gate. I am actually a lot more annoyed about the cat, and wonder if it’s time for another visit to the RSPCA.

All this takes about 20 seconds, perhaps. I walk back to my door. And realise that it’s closed.

She did not…

I squeeze the bottom round doorknob, turn, and push. Yes. Yes she did.

My toddler had closed the door behind me and flipped up the deadlock. And then promptly gone back to our couch to watch ABC for Kids.

There are many, many thoughts running through my head at this point, chief of which are “I am going to KILL her!” followed closely by “PLEASE DON’T TOUCH THE STOVE!” and then a distant “She’s not a teenager yet. You don’t have to kill her.”

Meanwhile, I am thanking GOD that I had built in a contingency.

Parents out there, listen up. One thing I’ve learnt repeatedly from friends with kids is that Children with Locks/Keys is just a combination begging for a crisis. No matter how careful you think you are, they will find a way to make you completely regret having introduced Mr Jangly Keys to them. The first time that Tony let Arddun play with his keys? Nothing happened. Having successfully lulled her daddy into a false sense of security, Arddun then proceeded on her second outing with Tony’s set of keys to make them disappear into the ether. They were eventually found in a boot on the shoe rack nobody uses because it has too many shoes nobody wears.

Caution, my friends.

After once walking out of the house with nappy bag, pram and baby in tow but no Mummy Handbag, I’d built in a contingency to retrieve keys to my house quickly. This is the first time I’ve actually had to fall back on my emergency keys. So even though I know exactly where each key is, I’m digging around frantically trying to find each one, and praying that nothing else freaky and unexpected has happened like the birds making off with them or me having a false memory of the old hiding places when in fact,  I had actually moved the keys again but forgotten their new hiding places, and…


I get into the house and Arddun is so alarmed by the way I’m looking at her – this awful combination of relief, fear, crazy mommy anger resulting from combination of relief and fear – that she starts crying and running to the front door to let the complete stranger in (because hey, someone is such a pro with deadlocks nowadays…), and to score sympathy points. For at the front of the house stands my patient delivery man with my 10 boxes, and I have only gotten into my house just at the nick of time before he thinks to disappear.

So that was my afternoon.

Nothing much happened in the evening. Oh wait. Except for the time we went out to the grocery store and I ducked into the disabled toilet cubicle/nappy change room because it was the only one big enough to put some distance between Arddun and I while I… powdered my nose. Which means the entire time, she’s standing there in her corner cheering, “Very GOOD, Mummy! Well DO~ONE! You (something unintelligible) BEEG GIRL! Toilet paper? Mummy flush?”

She was pretty loud.

Still Relevant memos to self

While going through my computer folders, I found my notes from when I gave a short devotion at a mother’s group meeting at Audrey’s home in Singapore. Had a flick-through and true enough, all of what I had pondered over then is still relevant today.

1. Growing Dependent Kids

I had mentioned before how Tony and I are big on Arddun gaining independence early. It’s in the small things, like minimising the spoon-feeding, getting her to self-settle instead of rocking her to sleep, teaching her to put away her toys and to clean up her messes, instilling in her the focus and contentment required to play independently… The only thing we haven’t been as successful in the Get Independent Quick parenting scheme  is potty training. But still, there is that inner dialogue hurrying me along, ever conscious not to molly-coddle, not to breed bad habits…

Except I think I might have lost sight of the ultimate goal. Because the ultimate goal isn’t about giving a child life competencies and a sense of her place and role in her environment, although those are great things to strive for. The ultimate goal isn’t about enabling my child to stand on her two feet and know her own mind.

The ultimate goal is to move my child from dependence on mummy and daddy to dependence on God.

I didn’t get to say this at the actual sharing because there were eleventeen babies making friends with one another at the time (and eleventeen equally loving mothers trying to keep them out of trouble), but I had read a blog post that week written by a mother who wanted her newly school-attending daughter to gain more confidence by remembering that God was there with her at school. And that just shifted the paradigm for me. I will not always be there for Arddun. As she gets older, there are going to be play dates, and classes (we think dance classes at the rate she’s going), and school, and sports, and a whole other world that is going to be mostly hers. I will always be there for her emotionally and the rest of it, of course. But I won’t be by her desk at school when the soi disant school queen bee comes around, or leaning against the bleachers when she is tempted to cheat at softball. (Because of course, we’re hoping she’s going to do softball. And when I say we, I mean Tony.)

In all those cases, her best bet is a keen sense of right and wrong that comes from understanding who God is and why He loves her.

REALLY helps if she learns all that through example, of course. So I’d best buck up.

2. Be present

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

Be still and know that I am God. Psalms 46:10

Be ever hearing, but never understanding. Be ever seeing, but never perceiving. (Isaiah 6:10 Hebrew; Septuagint ‘You will be ever hearing, but never understanding; / you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ / This people’s heart has become calloused; / they hardly hear with their ears, / and they have closed their eyes)

Be here. Be present. Wherever you are, be there. ― Willie Nelson

How many of these scenarios are familiar to you?

iPads or iPhones at the dinner table.

A young man sitting in the reserved seat on the MRT, engrossed in his Candy Crush while a mother with a young child stands beside him.

A mother on the phone with the Australian Customs Department worrying about boxes, while her child waits to cuddle her and wave good-bye. (That was me, the day before I shared that devotion.)

It is so easy to get busy over the details. To multi-task. To jam as many things in the day as humanly possible. Sometimes it’s because we have to. But many times, it’s because we want to. We want to please God, we want to help His people. We want to fulfil our potential, and we want to maximise the talents God has given us.

But sometimes, in the doing, we sacrifice the best version of ourselves. Quantity is very often NOT the substitute for quality. I get very exasperated when I see how many small things I can accomplish at one go, while my husband seems only capable of doing one thing at a time. But if I were to analyse the attention span I’ve paid each task, I realise that it is often divided, and can be at the expense of someone else. Usually, Arddun and Tony.

The art of being present is the art of shutting out distractions, and having the discipline not to let anything else enter in. The art of being present is in the decision that THIS is what is MOST important to the moment. Encouraging my child as she shows me how well she sorts shapes. Listening – REALLY listening – to my husband when he tells me about his day. Talking to Arddun about disappointing behaviour. Rehearsing how to behave when she opens birthday gifts at her party. Undivided attention shows my daughter — and my husband —more love and gives them more satisfaction than any toy or present I could possibly give them. And yet it is hard not to jump up and answer a message when it beeps, or run off and put a load of washing on before I forget.

But it is crucial. And it is respectful of others.

I am still learning, so please pray for me.

3. Love covers over a multitude of sins

Keep your love for one another at full strength, because love covers a multitude of sins. ~I Peter 4:8

I find it so easy to forgive Arddun and yet so difficult at times to do the same for Tony. And I can sometimes feel myself spiralling downward into a very corrosive blame game that makes me out to be this huge martyr and my husband, a rather obtuse and unthinking duh-duh. Which is complete nonsense, because he’s one of the most switched-on people I know.

But yes. Sometimes, as fathers and husbands, they drive us mad. Things that come so naturally to us – like figuring out how to stack the Tupperware in your cupboard logically or opening a fancy packet of tissues using the perforation marks and not brute force – seem to completely thwart our husbands. Many times, it seems they do it because they don’t respect us enough or care to understand.

And maybe some of our assumptions are spot on. And some of it comes from sleep deprivation and being TOO fussy and particular. Sometimes, the battles we pick don’t need to be battles, but we choose to pick them because they’re more tangible than the other worries and concerns we have with our spouses.

Yet the verse is pretty clear about the effort required on our parts. Keep your love for one another at full strength. If it’s depleted, fill it up. If I’m running on empty, if I’m doing my mothering and wife-ing out of resentment, I’ve personally been remiss. If I am unable to forgive and forget – yes, FORGET – then I am unable to let the “multitude of sins” go because I have not loved perfectly. I have not agape-d my husband.

Like I said, I have yet to fully understand this and see it live in my life. But I can only work towards the prize.

Sharing a short devo at Audrey's house

Every time

Every time I make a prawn tartine
Every time your picture catches light
Sometimes, when I dwell upon a scene
A memory old, a laugh, a cry, a fight

Everything blue
Old or new
I think of you

Three Toddler Tales

So of course, as soon as I freak out about how I broke my kid, Arddun gives me three wonderful days of hugs, kisses, 90% obedience and overall effervescent adorableness to make the heart sing. And so I’m back to feeling that all is mostly well with the world, and perhaps Arddun isn’t going to turn into a rebellious, taciturn punk with ridiculously pierced bits. Yet.

Anyhoo… I have all these little moments with Arddun that I tell myself I should go blog about, but don’t. And because my memory is like a sieve – more so now that I have a To-Do app on my Android that I absolutely love because I don’t have to remember anything anymore – I forget most of these precious funnies long before it’s late enough for me to sit in front of the ‘puter to blog.

But thankfully, I still remember these three moments.

1. The One with the Slippers

This one happened a couple months ago in Singapore.

But first, a lesson in terminology.

In Australia, Slippers refer to bedroom slippers. They are usually fluffy, worn indoors, and are purely objects of comfort and not couture. The rubber-soled ones worn outside are called Thongs here. Not Flip-Flops, because that’s American and I get scolded a lot when I say flip-flops because it’s so UnAustralian (The fact that half of their TV programmes on their FTA channels are from the great U S of A does tend to escape my critics’ notice.)

Tangent: The fact that the outdoor ones are called Thongs is another valuable lesson in meanings getting lost in translation. It certainly gave Tony and I a good 15 minutes of Awkward in our very early dating days, when he once decided to pop into Cooleman Court after Sunday worship to “get himself a pair of thongs”. And I was left thinking, “Geez, that’s awfully forward for someone who only just started holding my hand.”

Moving along…

In Singapore, Slippers refer to Thongs/Flip-flops. We call the indoor ones “bedroom slippers”.  We think Thongs are what people wear when they want to walk around with a wedgie.


One afternoon during a girlie Wednesday afternoon, I popped into Havaianas and got Arddun her very own pair of hot-pink slippers. And she adored them. Still does, actually. She wanted to go everywhere with them. The trouble is, these are the ones without the strap at the back to hold the slipper on. Arddun had a pretty advanced toe-grip even back then, but she also tends to Not Sit Still, and so they would always inevitably fall off.

Zip over to one morning, when my cousin and her Ben – known to Arddun as Aunty Andy and Ah-Ben – came by to take Arddun out for the day so I could stay in my mum’s house to pack and sort. In our haste that morning, I had forgotten to give them a short tutorial on stroller-folding. Stroller-folding is remarkably easy once you know the catches and the tabs… but ridiculously NOT when you’re frantically trying to fold one to shove into an impatiently waiting taxi at the side of the road.

After a fruitless time, Aunty Andy decided to get out of the taxi with toddler and nappy bag so they can all stand there at the side of the road and figure out the stroller-folding, and let the taxi driver go in peace. Arddun, meanwhile, is half-babbling and half-singing to herself. That’s good, they think to themselves. At least she’s happy.

After what feels like an eternity, Aunty Andy and Ah-Ben finally sort it all out… only to look down at their ward’s chubby bare foot and realise that Arddun is missing a slipper.

And that she’s been half-singing

“Sliiiipper! Where AAAAARE you? Where AAAARE you, Slipper?”

to the impatient taxi fast disappearing over the hill.

2. The One with the Shopping

Arddun and I usually do the week’s groceries together. I think we both love it. I’ve been reading The Educated Nanny’s blog and she had a post about how every moment is a teaching opportunity with a child. And I like to think that Arddun’s picking up concepts in our weekly shop. Since she was very little, I’ve pointed out different fruits and vegetables… even tried to teach her the Chinese words for them, when I remember to… and to understand that Fish can refer both to the live ones swimming in pretty tanks, and the yummy ones sitting on our plates. I don’t know what she thinks of that, but she understands that fish can mean both now.

Sometimes, if we’re doing a mid-week shop for a couple of loose items, we rent one of the kiddy trolleys and she gets to do the shopping. That’s when I get to teach her the concept of turning Left and Right. (“Okay… now turn left, Arddun. Yes… yes…this way… NO NO NO NO, the OTHER left! Yes… good girl…”) If it’s within her reach and if it’s not too heavy, I point out which item to get, and she happily grabs it off the shelf and puts it in the trolley.

Usually, she’s pretty good at following instructions, and only taking things when I give her permission to. This week, however, I had spent half a minute looking at toothpaste prices, only to turn around and find 184 sanitary pads in our trolley.

Within her reach. Not too heavy.

3. The One with the Smart-ass Car

One of the most brilliant and most horrible things I’ve done recently is to introduce The Wiggles in our car CD player. Since then, the moment I so much as turn the ignition, I hear this hopeful little voice at the back go, “Wiggles?” Pause. “Pease, mama? Wiggles?”

I mean, I don’t mind the Wiggles, but it is rather a waste of good technology. We have a relatively new car, and it has a 6-CD player. But we’re mostly stuck at CD 4, playing “Let’s Eat”. It keeps Arddun eerily quiet for most of the car ride. The only way I know she’s actively listening is the odd peep now and then when she knows the words and actions. Otherwise, my drive is usually smooth and whinge-proof.

Until the Wednesday just passed.

So here we are, driving along without a care in the world, and Arddun singing softly to herself. (Track 2 of this CD makes Arddun beam at you in the mirror like you just fed her chocolate for breakfast.) It’s a smooth road, and in a new automatic car, you tend to speed without meaning to. It’s a nice sunny afternoon and I’m singing in the car with my girl, so I decide to be good about speed limits and turn the cruise control on.

Except I press the wrong button on the steering wheel.

The music dies in mid-clap.

"Voice recognition is now on!"

No no no no…

“Wiggles?” Arddun asks, a note of panic in that tiny voice.

"Please enter your blah blah blah..."

I’m clicking buttons on the multi-function display console.

“WIGGLES?” Arddun implores. The word is laced with panic.

"You have not blah blah blah..."

(Translate: Entered the right command. Spoken English. Danced a Scottish jig. It’s not entirely clear, because I’m not listening.)

Now clicking any and all buttons. Wiper comes on.

“WIGGLES?!” Arddun starts to cry.

“It’s okay, Bubba. Wiggles is coming back on. Just give mummy some time, please.”

"Voice recognition is now on!"

“WEEEEGLES!” she wails, like I’ve just killed Dorothy, spooned out her brains, and replaced her with a Droid. “WEEEEEGLES! WEEEGLES!” Her devastation is palpable.

"Unable to recognise command"


"Unable to recognise command"

It took some crazy presence of mind, a hurried prayer, and plenty of suppressed cussing to finally hit the right button. Boom! Voice recognition robot dies. Wiggles come back to life. “Everybody clap…”

Never trying that again.

I have a Two-Year-Old

Now that we’ve celebrated Arddun’s birthday 3 times in 6 weeks and she has well and truly turned 2, Tony and I are starting to realise that we now have a Two-Year-Old.

By that, I mean Arddun has turned into a Two-Year-Old.

In fact sometimes, she turns into that kind of Two-Year-Old.

I haven’t been blogging much at all, but I’ve been working on this post in my head for ages. The fact is, our child has – in a matter of weeks – turned into a souped-up version of her former self. She has sprouted lengthways. She has leaned up. She has a natural hairstyle most women have rather seriously informed me they’d spend good money to have. She has a sense of humour. Her vocabulary has exploded. The light in her eyes glint with more understanding.

She plays with other little girls. Not in parallel – with.

She laughs heartily. She giggles like a girl. She also chucks massive tantrums.

Yes. The latter is what’s annoying and concerning me muchly.

I think most mothers I know try their hardest, and each mother has specialties they hope they especially shine in. I can’t bake glorious birthday cakes, or summon the energy to make yoghurt from scratch, or crochet her winter wardrobe. But I can sing. And I have tried my darndest to discipline Arddun consistently and firmly from the beginning.

So it’s rather bewildering when my mummy standards, rules and boundaries – which I thought I had carefully put in place and reinforced with 80-95% consistency since day dot – suddenly flops on its proverbial belly like a beached whale on day 731… or what feels like The Day After My Girl Turned Two.

She is contrary. She asks for an apple, then says No when you give it to her. Then asks for a biscuit. Then says No when you give that to her. Then wails Noooooooo all the way to the bedroom where you give her a time out. Then looks at you, eyes wide and shining, mouth straight and obstinate when you swat her on her bum or her leg. Then refuses to cry.

Most days, I battle her at least once. On average, I battle her 4 to 5 times a day. There was one day she got 2 time-outs in her cot before breakfast. There are days when all it feels I do is march her into her cot, and/or swat her.

The swatting was my mother’s method with me. Actually, I’ve tried lots of my mother’s methods on me with Arddun. And you know what? I think we were 2 very different little girls. Because my mother claimed I tried certain things once and never tried it again after my mother took action, but with Arddun? She will try it again.

It gets even more aggravating when she seemingly regresses. She doesn’t want to play by herself anymore. Bad habits such as throwing food and toys on the floor now tries to make the occasional comeback – mostly because she’s watched her peers, and wonders if she can still try the same with me. Ditto throwing herself on the floor and wailing. Ditto running away when I call. Ditto not saying her pleases and thank-yous.

It is, frankly, both vexing and humbling when your daughter’s good behaviour turns so very not. Because it is such a tangible reminder of how incomplete and imperfect my parenting is, and how I really haven’t sorted it out.

In amidst all of this, I am second-guessing the root cause of her behaviour. Is she testing limits because she’s

  • two
  • not comfortable because her eczema has broken out in a major way since we returned from hot and humid Singapore to its antithesis in Canberra
  • tetchy, thanks to a cold and cough she hasn’t been able to shake for close to a month
  • still dealing with the constant changes to her environment and routine this year
  • feeling insecure because of these constant changes
  • all of the above
  • none of the above – I’ve just been a lousy parent.

In the midst of yet another yell-in-my-cot, the last option pops into the mind and heart more often than not.

We’ve all been warned about the Terrible Twos. I’ve heard some mothers refer to the Terrible Fives. I’ve been told by one mother that she didn’t like her daughters from the ages 12 to 23.

And yes, I’ve also been told  that the Terrible Twos is a myth, brought on mostly because the fundamentals had not been put in place. If you put in a firm foundation from the start, you won’t grow a Terrible Two, because Terrible Twos don’t grow overnight – they grow over the months and months before.

To that statement of parenting belief, I now vacillate between snorting in derision and cringing in guilt. Because guess what. My daughter has turned into a Two-Year-Old. And it feels like the changes are happening overnight.

The thing is, I don’t believe I’m a slack parent. And I don’t think Arddun is terrible. She’s testy. And right now, she’s testing. But I no longer buy into the concept that if you set up firm foundations from the start, it follows that your toddler will ALWAYS  transition seamlessly and obediently from babyhood into childhood. I think it still depends on the temperament and nature of the child, and how they manifest each behavioural milestone.

Crediting ALL bad behaviour to a child’s natural temperament is irresponsible… but crediting all good behaviour to parenting skills can be equally erroneous and prideful.

Or maybe I’m just being rather defensive in my delicate, hair-torn state.

To make it that much more complicated, I also ponder the concept of showing grace, forgiveness and mercy to my child. Have I been patient enough? Have I shown mercy and in so doing, translated Christ’s love? Has my punishment been disproportionate to the offence? Have I allowed enough grace?

Conversely, am I parenting strictly because I want my child to learn how to walk a straight path… or am I parenting to please others? To assuage guilt? To save my face?

Because perhaps, in the end, parenting righteously is to

Show justice
Love mercy, and
Walk humbly with my God.

Lord knows I’ve repeated this verse to myself for days because guess what… my daughter is a Two-Year-Old.

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