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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

Month

July 2015

Atticus is 8 months old!

Poor second child. Sporadic monthly photos, even fewer videos, hardly any blog posts waxing lyrical about the tiniest milestone or developmental leap. So sorry, son.

Atticus drooling by the window
Poor Second Child

So what can I tell you. He drools a lot. We were wondering where on earth the next tooth was, when it suddenly popped up beside his other two on the bottom front. He’s got a third tooth! And he loves gnawing on anything – fingers, bibs, telephone cords if he gets a chance, wool rugs, table legs… ANYTHING.

For the longest time, Atticus had been perfectly content to lie on his playmat and contemplate the ceiling. Attitude adopted for the previous 7 months had strongly been along the lines of, “I could roll over I suppose… but I really can’t be bothered.” Couldn’t even sit on his tushy without keeling over and face-planting from lack of effort. If he did roll over to his front, his modus operandi had been to sob pitifully into the carpet until his sister hollered at me to do something.

In the last two weeks, however, he’s suddenly decided that life outside the playmat is pretty grand. He’s finally getting mobile! Leave the room, and I might return to find him under the coffee table. Or commando-squirming towards my ankles while I’m preparing dinner. All with the sheer delight and gungho of a baby with oodles of determination and muscles, generously padded by adorable baby fat.

Atticus looking out of window
The world out there is huge! I gotta have me some.

Most of all, he’s got a great temperament and just loves to laugh. He is the quintessential Happy Bubba, determined to spread the love. Time and time again, I’ve watched him stare up into the faces of perfect strangers from his pram, just willing them to glance at him. And as soon as they do, he flashes his biggest and brightest goofy grin. And about 8 out of 10 times, said stranger turns into putty.

Atticus smiling widely
Flirt.

He tries the same things in the middle of the night but at 2.30am and completely sleep addled, I remain rather impervious to his charms. It helps to sit with him in the dark and not make eye contact.

But the one person who consistently cracks him up at least once a day is none other than his sister. He coos and chuckles at his daddy and me but when his sister enters the room, he turns into a fan boy.

Atticus laughing
I look like an emoticon. This one :-D
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{Monday Me} Doorstep

Sitting on my front steps

This is me, sitting on our front step. It was getting really late (almost 5pm in Winter), hence the graininess of the image. It’s been an usually wet winter, with long stretches of the kind of dank and cold that seeps into your bones. On those days, I’m especially grateful we have a nice, warm, dry house. (Not warm by any Singaporean standard, but I’ve definitely acclimatised to Canberra so an average temp of 20°c is fine by us.)

We’re preparing our house for sale. By the time we move, we will have been at this current address for ten years. It’s hard not to get sentimental about it, even as we prepare to move into an exciting new bespoke home.

I’ve been slowly taking pictures of our surrounds, views that I currently take for granted but that I know I’ll grow to miss. There’s so much development going on in the Gungahlin district, I really ought to get my butt in gear and take photos of the wide open spaces near us before all those new malls get built.

{Thursday’s Three Thank-yous} Ye merry gentle men

I grew up without a father for most of my life, but I’ve always had several father figures. There were many to be found within the church I grew up with in Singapore, and God has this wonderful way of providing different ones at each stage of my life.

My children are deeply loved by their daddy, but they are also very blessed to grow up around other men of character. On Sunday, anticipating a mini milestone, I took my camera along so I could introduce you to some of the men in Atticus’s life.

1) Raymond

Arddun, for reasons only her young heart knows, refers to Liz as Aunty Liz but to Raymond as Mr. Ray. Even as a baby, Arddun has never been afraid of his big bushy beard and loud, hearty laugh. I still have fond memories of Arddun reaching out tentatively to pat his bristly chin like it were a curiosity. He may look a very little bit like Gimli from LOTR (or a garden gnome, depending on beard length) and in many ways, he can be just as courageous in fighting for what is right. Always generous, always opinionated, deeply in love with God, Raymond is a teddy bear.

And Atticus adores him.

Atticus and Raymond seeing eye to eye

Raymond tickling Atticus

2) Peter

Before children, I was never one of those at church who would scan the room for cuddly babies. And on looking back, I wish I had been because at the very least, I could have provided something that many mothers of young babies are always thankful for – a bit of reprieve from baby, just so they can sit down for 5 minutes with a hot cup of tea for a change.

Peter is another gentle man in Atticus’s life. He just loves children, and Atticus has been a great and ever-willing beneficiary of his cuddles and walks around the room during our Sunday morning teas. I love watching someone else light up when they see a child of mine.

Peter with Atticus

3) Mark

Mark has three children of his own, two of whom Arddun loves playing with on Sundays. Miles (the youngest), I’m eyeing off as a playmate for Atticus in the years to come.

Being a father of two boys has also called on some resourcefulness when it comes to haircuts. Thanks to YouTube, Mark has learnt to cut his own boys’ hair. And with Atticus’s own wispy baby strands now falling over his eyes, I’d called on Mark to exercise some YouTube hair-cutting wizardry.

Atticus eating arrowroot biscuit in highchair
Arrowroot biscuits, a fabulous distraction for a first-ever haircut!

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Atticus's face getting squished during haircut

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Atticus with Mark
A handsome result. Thank you, Uncle Mark, for taming my unruly baby locks! Can you YouTube how to build a cubby house next?

{Monday Me} New home office

We’ve just had a month off school, so Arddun was back in school today while I caught up with housework and house building errands. Atticus had thankfully gone down for a longish nap, which allowed me to work out of my new “home office”.

Before Atticus, the guest room doubled up as my home office (the other way around, really), but ever since he and his cot moved into the guest room, I’ve found myself spreading out in our bedroom – the furthest room from his – so I can put my Secretary’s hat on, and make those phonecalls.

Home office in master bedroom
Scheduling the fortnight’s appointments with tradespeople, cleaners, and babysitters. We’re working up to crunch time!

If I’m looking sleepy in that pic, it’s because I was.

The kind of parent, the kind parent

I woke up this morning to find an article on Brain Pickings that seemed to crystalise at once my many strands of recent reflections and ah-hahs. There was so much that resonated in that article so I’ll give a taster, but I sincerely hope you read the rest because it places a finger right where it’s most tender and sore in the world we live in.

(A)lthough kindness is the foundation of all spiritual traditions and was even a central credo for the father of modern economics, at some point in recent history, kindness became little more than an abstract aspiration, its concrete practical applications a hazardous and vulnerable-making behavior to be avoided…

The most paradoxical part of the story is that for most of our civilizational history, we’ve seen ourselves as fundamentally kind and held kindness as a high ideal of personhood. Only in recent times… did the ideal of independence and self-reliance become the benchmark of spiritual success.

Today it is only between parents and children that kindness is expected, sanctioned, and indeed obligatory… Kindness — that is, the ability to bear the vulnerability of others, and therefore of oneself — has become a sign of weakness (except of course among saintly people, in whom it is a sign of their exceptionality)… All compassion is self-pity, D. H. Lawrence remarked, and this usefully formulates the widespread modern suspicion of kindness: that it is either a higher form of selfishness (the kind that is morally triumphant and secretly exploitative) or the lowest form of weakness (kindness is the way the weak control the strong, the kind are only kind because they haven’t got the guts to be anything else).

Eddie Legg, during his recent visit in Canberra with his lovely family, had mentioned how he had done a dipstick survey one Sunday morning during a sermon. I wasn’t there in Perth, of course, but this is my best understanding of what happened: when asked if they seek help from others, a fraction of the congregation had put up hands. All of those who did had been of foreign extraction – they were neither born nor bred in Australia.

That’s right. None of the Australians had raised their hands.

It’s unfair to generalise of course, but even in my short 12-year experience here, I have found the same. Australians are kind, by and large. Big hearts, big hands that help. But many are very reluctant to accept help rendered in kindness. The Galatians admonition to “bear your own load” is one that Australians take seriously, whether they’re Christian or not. And the concept of rugged individualism (as opposed to collectivism) is something that runs deep and strong in Western ethos and pathos, whether or not they’re Liberal/Republican or Labor/Democrat.

We find our own way, we make our own way. “Can you bear it? Can you take it?” “I got it, I got it, I got it!”

I say “we” because in this regard, I’ve always identified more strongly with “Western” ideals than “Eastern” ones. In fact, most Singaporeans do. Singapore is a society that largely believes that hard work pays off, and if you’re not successful in this world it’s because you couldn’t hack it. (Subsets of our society can also be very eager to dispense advice without taking it. I’m talking about the I-don’t-know-you-but-I-need-to-tell-you-you’re-fat Aunty culture that I simultaneously love and loathe.)

But the Singapore fabric is still largely cut out of close family ties and the reliance on relations and domestic helpers for assistance. The village is still alive and kicking, intrusive and kind. And above all, allowed in.

It is with all this in mind that I’ve come to assess how I parent.

In the last week and a half, I’ve had three friends tell me (in mostly admiring and incredulous tones) that they couldn’t believe I’m mothering two young children on my own. This is to say, no maids, no family, just us. Between Tony and I, we cook, we clean, we parent. We juggle a house sale while building another. In telling you this, it sounds like the humble brag, and maybe it is a little. I am proud of our little family and our resilience. Personally, I’m almost relieved that I’m holding up; my house is mostly clean, the kids are still alive and healthy, the husband is fed, the nitty-gritty of selling, packing for, and building houses dealt with in between school drop-offs and play dates.

I know we can do this by the grace of God because we are allowed to have good health and a stable income (for now). And because He knows what an obstinate cow I can be, my inner rebel has been given the most benign outlet: that of co-managing my own household without maid or kin.

Thing is, what I do isn’t extraordinary by Australian standards, not really. Because of its huge land mass, many nuclear families are separated from their relations. For us, the medium-term plan had always been for my mother to live in Canberra while I go back to work. Tony’s parents are ensconced in Queensland with his other two siblings, although we love their frequent visits. Domestic live-in helpers are not affordable, and contracted house cleaners are a luxury. Childcare fees in Canberra easily surpass $100 a day. In fact, childcare fees are a crazy balancing act; earn too little, and it’s not worth going back to work.

It is against this backdrop that Tony and I are flying solo. That said, we have an excellent community of church and mother’s group. But like other Australian families around us, we feel that we need to “bear our own load” without counting too much on others. Even though I’m pretty sure others would jump at the chance to help us.

There is a cost for this self-reliance, this stoic resilience. There always is. There is the physical toll – Tony and I don’t exercise much, if at all. I haven’t slept for more than 7 hours in consecutive days in years – until recently, I’d been operating on a daily average of 5 hours’ sleep. There are spiritual ramifications; all this self-reliance has made me more insular, introverted, and distant from God.

And then there’s my capacity for compassion.

In the last little while, ever since Atticus’s birth, I’ve been growing uneasy about my relationship with Arddun. And yes, I know she’s turned 4. She’s developed a more independent will as she tests the walls of her boundaries. She dreams more, negotiates more, rebels more. All that.

But I haven’t been kind.

With the birth of Atticus, all the stereotypes seem to be rushing to the fore because suddenly, Arddun is the Big Girl. She is the older, the elder, and suddenly much is expected of her. I find myself less tolerant of her childish foibles. I want, need her to pick up some of the slack. In parenting circles (and especially in Christian ones), we talk about teaching responsibility and other-centredness. And it sounds good on paper, and maybe that’s true of the intention.

But oh, there are days when my reserves are low. When I can feel myself running on empty. And it can be a culmination of things – housework undone, packing undone, decluttering unaccomplished, husband not doing what you think in your mind he ought to be doing in the sequence your OCD brain has determined without actually communicating the same to him. Because, you know, we are one flesh. Why shouldn’t he read my mind and know better? All that.

But the trigger point ends up being something Arddun does. Like picking at her dinner for 90 minutes. And then before I can even reason some perspective within myself, my tongue lashes and she bears the brunt of a day’s frustration.

And oh the regret after.

I seldom see myself as a kind person. Kindness doesn’t come naturally to me, because I am a selfish person. I really have to make an effort, almost plan to be kind to others. I have to sit there are diarise it.

But until I had kids, I had never realised how Unkind I can be.

In flying solo, I wonder if I’ve willfully bitten off more than I should chew. All things are allowable, but not all things are profitable. Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. I don’t know what I can change, but I know I need to change some things. Carving out time to sit and distill through writing and praying is one way to start.

My dearest girl, today I resolve to do better by you. xx

{Monday Me} Face grab

For today’s portrait, I had actually bothered to set up the tripod. The idea was to take a picture with Atticus, using the timer function in my camera.

Let’s just say… a lot can happen in 2 seconds.

Atticus grabbing my face
Ever since Atticus started eating solids, everything seems fair game.

We’ll do better next week.

{Thursday’s Three Thank-yous} Brother, Bank, Building

Okay, no more awkward photos. I promise.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about what I’m thankful for. I used to take a breather every day at 3.00pm and again at 11:15pm to take stock of how my day is going over a hot cup of tea. One of the things I used to do at both those stops was to reflect on the big and little things I was grateful for. Free parking, for instance. New job. That sort of big and little. If I paid enough attention to what was going on, I could even mark the moment with a photo.

That habit had, sadly, shrivelled up in the wake of our new and more hectic home routine, what with Arddun’s preschool and Atticus as the newest kid on the block. Now that we have more of a routine going, I’m hoping to put some Mindfulness stops back in my day.

Like a muscle that’s fallen into disuse (see Velle’s Abs for further reference), identifying and celebrating things to be grateful for takes practice and doesn’t come as easily as one would think. So in coming back to this Thursday meditation, I struggled a teeny bit before the following came to me.

1. I’m thankful Arddun and Atticus have each other.

We had Mandarin playgroup again today, and the three of us had rocked up extra early. The playgroup is held in a children’s gym at the community health centre, so Atticus soon found himself in a cheerful corner of the room surrounded by age-appropriate toys. He was rapt enough that I could sneak over to the kitchenette on the other side of the room to grab a tea and bikkie.

And then I heard it. Volley after volley of that unmistakable belly-laugh.

Lately, Arddun has made it her mission to make her brother laugh. The moment she leaves her bedroom in the morning, she makes a beeline for her brother. She does everything from fart sounds (already a hit with the boy) and tickles, to bray-laughing like a donkey and general slapstick. I didn’t have to look up from my tea to guess what was going on back at Atticus’s playmat. His big sister had settled herself down beside him and was jiggling the levers and bells on the toy in front of him to get a reaction. Another mother who attends the playgroup sidled up next to me and marvelled at how wonderfully they play together.

Giving Arddun a sibling was a big part of why we had Atticus. But making a loving, gentle and kind big sister out of Arddun has turned out to be a wonderful blessing for Atticus.

Arddun kissing Atticus on couch
Yes, yes… I am adored.

2. I’m glad banks understand Mummy Brain

Atticus and I went to the Canberra Centre yesterday to catch up with some of my old colleagues for coffee, and to get some errands done. About two minutes before said coffee-date, however, I realised that I had left my wallet at home.

I wasn’t too panicked – the ATM machines lately have this feature where you can retrieve cash without using your card. I was also going to try and get some cash at the bank, although it wasn’t until one of my colleagues pointed out that I would need my ATM card for that, that I blanched. Oh dear. I had parked my car within the Centre, and there was no way to pay to get it out. I still needed to do my errands. What now?

Turns out, banks understand. In fact, it seems to be such a common occurrence that the teller could finish all my sentences.

“Hi, this is a little awkward, but I just found out I left my wallet at home…”

(Eyes the gurgling baby in the pram squeezing out every ounce of cuteness from his chubby cheeks and shiny eyes.)

“How much do you need?”

Less than two minutes later, I was out of there with enough cash to pay for parking AND get what I needed from Officeworks.

3. We have a slab!

After a lot of drama and rain and waiting and more rain and banks and then finally losing our tempers, our house has both slabs. It feels like we’ve gotten over a hump in the project. It hasn’t been a straightforward process, and it’s also turned out to be a complicated build… but at least we have a nice view.

Slab
Never thought I’d be so happy to see so much laid concrete.

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