Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places



Facebook Free

For the past three Fridays, I’ve been trying to be Facebook-Free. (If you haven’t already figured it out, I like my alliterations.)

Yesterday marked the first time I’d been successful. (I had set WordPress up to automatically post to Facebook on my behalf, so that wasn’t me checking in.) All this effort only serves to highlight how sadly addicted I’ve become to social media. And as it turns out, I’m not alone. I was reading A Pendulum World yesterday, and she too was working through her habits and actions when it comes to blogging and social media engagement. Her post resonated with enough women to garner 21 responses and counting – all of them bemoaning the fact that they have difficulty switching off.

It’s very much a problem of the age. And before some of us start mounting our high horses about the generations after ours (in my case, Generation Y, Millenials, and iGen), let’s just say that the Corporate world – currently dictated largely by older Gen Xers and those before them – have a lot to answer for, too. We are now expected to be On Tap and fully accessible through the myriad of technologies availed to us. You can now get your emails through your desktop, your tablet AND your mobile, and for the more progressive companies, they’re pushing documents and news through instant chat apps and the like. The influx of information – whether prescribed to or subscribed by us – can be unrelenting.

And then there’s that big lie about multi-tasking, and how women are built for it.

“Contrary to popular belief, human beings cannot multitask. What we are capable of is handling a number of serial tasks in rapid succession, or mixing automatic tasks with those that are not so automatic. That’s one of the reasons that the NTSB reports that texting while driving is the functional equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. You just can’t effectively attend to two things at once – even the superficially automatic ones.” ~ From Psychology Today

“It’s a common belief that women are better at multi-tasking than men. After all, productivity studies show that women continue to do the lion’s share of household and childcare tasks, while also holding down part- or full-time work. So this must mean women are better multi-taskers, right? Not necessarily. For a topic that causes so much heat in the kitchen, there’s surprisingly little scientific evidence to declare a clear winner.” ~ From National Science Week 2011. The study goes on to prove that women look like better multi-taskers, because they are better at planning and strategy.

I speak purely for myself when I say my Facebooking is compulsive. If I have a free moment with the gadgets, that’s the place I’ll go. I may not be the type of Facebooker to post a pic of every meal I’ve had, repost every news article I’ve come across, or give a blow-by-blow of my hourly movements (unless I am pathetically trying to do A Photo An Hour). But if I posted a series of photos, you’ll be sure I’ll be checking in to see how the numbers are climbing. And don’t get me started on blog posts. Every blogger I’ve met not-so-secretly watches their stats climb after they publish a post. And that is something I have come to actively repress because of how narcissistic it is.

The scariest thing of all is that it’s become a reflex – I don’t know I’m doing it, until I’m already there. That’s when I knew I had a problem.

The biggest losers in all of this, of course, are the relations in my life. Specifically, the daughter I deliberately stayed home most days of the week to blog about. The Art of Being Present has started to elude me. And yet, I watch Arddun and all she does is live in the present. No casting back on the past, no organising about the future. Yet somehow, as we grow older, we take on this odd paradigm that thinking ahead is sagacious and living in the Now is indulgent.

There are a few posts meshed in this untidy one – multi-tasking, living in the present, turning things off – so I’ll try and focus just on the one for tonight.

Here’s a few things I’ve been trying out lately to discipline my social media-checking compulsion.

  1. Getting Alarmed
    I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned my FitBit One, but I went and got a nice maroon one from ebay early this year, and it has evolved into my Life Reminder – mostly because I can program several alarms on it and it vibrates against my body discreetly. My three main FitBit alarms are for waking up, for reminding me to sleep, and for my 3pm cup of tea – which is the permission I give myself to check personal emails and Facebook. This worked out great for about a month, until I stopped wearing it from the middle of my second trimester due to the lack of pockets in maternity wear. You read that right.
  2. Finding a replacement
    I think part of the reason I click on Facebook is the unthinking need to connect to someone, or to feed the mind. And so I’m starting to pick up my mobile and call others for a chat if I have a block of time. Or sit and plan for the next day with paper and pen. Or write an actual letter, stamps and everything. Or read an ebook borrowed from the library. Or write a summary of my day in a journal. All this takes conscientious effort and self-awareness. And it’s about unlearning an old habit, at the end of the day. I can still be in the middle of checking Facebook before realising I had defaulted to that without thinking. But at least the self-awareness is growing.
  3. Going cold turkey one day a week
    So like I said in the beginning of this post, Friday is supposed to be my Facebook-Free day. And yesterday was the first time I succeeded. Some of the things that helped – planning in advance. Resolving the night before that Friday was Facebook Free. Coming up with the alliteration in the first place, so I’d remember. And then moving/hiding the app icon, so that muscle memory wouldn’t kick in. I tried not to binge today after a day of Facebook fasting, so building in new rules for regular days of the week have been crucial for me. I get to check Facebook in the mornings, before I’m out of bed. I’m still sticking to my 3pm as far as possible — even without my FitBit One — and then after dinner to unwind.

Why am I even wanting to do this? Because Being Present with Arddun is my greatest gift to her at this stage. Quality time IS Quantity time. The two are intertwined. And while Being Present isn’t just about not Facebooking (I have many other distractions like housework), it is at least a good start.

What a girl wants, what a girl needs

Okay. So we’re almost at the half-year mark, which means we’ve waded through all the baby paraphernalia we’ve received as generous gifts, or gone and bought ourselves. So here’s my low-down on what we’ve found Very Very Useful.

1. Pram

Versatile, easy to use and comfortable as!

Duh, right? But to elaborate, we’ve found our Mamas & Papas Urbo gor-geous to use and look at. For one thing, it’s dead easy to assemble and collapse. For another, it’s got a basket you can actually use and easily access. It’s also really compact – tight turning circle, narrow frame, and perfect for zipping around shopping aisles and squeezy restaurants. And did I mention that it’s a rather handsome beast? Every time I see another Urbo, I think to myself, “Corr! That’s a good-lookin’ pram. Oh waitaminute… I HAVE THAT PRAM! Hoo-ah!” Seriously.

NOT one for bush-bashing, though. And definitely not a jogger. But it handles long walks around the lake and even longer walks around the shopping mall just fine. Which fits me to a tee.

2. Cot

Sleeping babies make good procreation ads.

Also another obvious one for the modern mommy, but I’ll explain – we didn’t get a crib/bassinet/cradle. Since Day 1 at home, Arddun’s been sleeping in her own cot. Seems cruel perhaps, and the SIDS people will probably have something to say about that, but we’ve been careful with blankets and swaddles, and monitor her sounds like a hawk. (Lindam Baby Monitor is therefore part of what we find Very Very Useful.)

As a result, Arddun’s always understood that the cot is her Zzz-Zzz land, and we haven’t had to read her the nursery immigration policy come Bassinet Emigration stage. Many trudges to and from our bedroom in the early days, though. But at least one of us (Tony!) got to enjoy a good night’s sleep.

3. Breastfeeding cover

Possibly the most used travel accessory for us – yes, both Tony and I. I’ve really enjoyed the ability to hide in plain sight when feeding Arddun, since I’m still not comfortable enough with my body to whip ’em ladies out in front of perfect strangers. (“You don’t know me, but hey! Here’s my bits.”) For Tony, it’s proven useful to wear so that Arddun will focus on the other important task at hand – falling asleep in a crowded room with many distractions. LOOOOVE my breastfeeding cover. Thank you, thank you ElilyMommy!

4. Change table

In Singapore, we used to place a rubber mat on the cot mattress and change the baby on it. While it’s space-saving and practical, it can fast turn into back-breaking work – especially when both parents are blessed with height and a rather *regular* baby. I thought it unnecessary at first and tolerated it, only because it came free with our second-hand cot. Now I’m so thankful we’ve got it.

5. Pouch

Up close and personal

Specifically, the Ergo. Got the Performance version, and really like it. True, it’s no Bjorn so Arddun can’t face front and take everything in… but in many ways, I’m thankful for that because I usually use the Ergo to get Arddun to fall asleep when we’re out and about. The last thing I want then is for her to have too much to look at. Also, the Ergo has a built-in hood so it’s a quick and easy sun or rain block, and it keeps Arddun’s head from lolling about when she finally does fall asleep. Which she almost invariably does in the Ergo.

PLUS, the weight of the baby falls on the hips and not the back so provided I haven’t put the straps on wrong, I can have her sleeping in the pouch while I do the grocery shop without breaking a sweat. The real test will be when she starts putting on the pounds as she gets older, but I have no complaints for now.

6. Capsule

Cannot put a price on sleep

Borrowed a Safe n Sound baby safety capsule from ElilyMommy, who bought hers second hand. Oh my word! I know the initial outlay for a brand new baby capsule seems extravagant, considering you can only use it till bub grows to 70cm or weighs 9kg or turns 6 months old, whichever comes first. But it turned out to be ridiculously convenient for us. Fewer trips to and from the house, as we threw nappy wallet, handbag and toys into the capsule along with baby… make-shift cradle for when Arddun fell asleep outdoors… Also, Arddun – like many babies, would fall asleep in the car, so taking her back into the house without waking her was a huge bonus. Now that she’s out of the capsule and in a Safe n Sound Meridian (veeery cushy), I spend a lot of time sitting in parking lots and garages, waiting for her nap to end. I miss the capsule hugely – you cannot imagine how much of a time saver it is.

If I could do things over, I would get a Maxi Cosi to click straight into our Urbo. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve hoisted her around in that capsule when it would have been so much easier to slide her out of the car and click her straight into the pram. You know what they say – don’t ever wake a sleeping baby. Amen to that.

7. Baby play gym mat

Bye-bye coffee table

If you’re trying your darndest not to let Thomas the Tank Engine or The Wiggles be your child’s babysitter, then please run out and get yourself some play gyms. I got myself 3 to rotate Arddun, just to stretch things out a little.

They cost heaps, however. Upward of $80 easy, so a few of them will put you out of pocket by a few hundred quid. We got all of ours through second-hand places, ranging from $5 to $20. But I tell you what – absolute life saver for when you need to cook and clean but baby ain’t mobile yet, which means she gets bored super-easily. Also, GREAT for Mother’s Group and entertaining Arddun’s little friends.

8. Smartphone

Preferably one with apps. I’ve read countless library books, read the bible, played too many Boggle and Monopoly rounds, chinwagged on Facebook, blogged, learnt baby sign language, and done the Christmas shopping – all while breastfeeding and/or waiting for Arddun to wake up in the car. Time moves slowly rather quickly in Mommyland. It’s a paradox, but it’s true. If you get to do three things outside your routine, it’s been a good day because man, the day slips by you lightning fast. Most times, you’re just biding your time in the name of providing excellent care for your offspring. It helps to keep in touch with the outside world through one free hand, at least.

It was especially crucial and comforting in the early days. You want answers fast, when your newborn baby is screaming her tiny lungs out all hours of the morning and you don’t know why or what’s triggered it. The number of hours Tony and I have spent sitting in our respective armchairs in Arddun’s nursery and frantically Googling baby websites on our iTouch and iPhone respectively… Don’t know how parents did it BC (before computers).

9. Nappy wallet

*Demo baby not included.

Or as I call it, Nappy Bag Lite. As much as I love life’s safety nets, I live dangerously close to the edge now and then by packing only the bare necessities in a nappy wallet – 2 diapers, small tube of nappy cream, 1 onesie, 1 face cloth, 1 small pack of baby wipes, 5 nappy plastic bags, and my breastfeeding cover. And I just throw this nappy wallet under the pram and saunter off to the shops or around the lake. More often than not, that’s all I really need.

If I really want to push this whole Minimalist Mama thing, I leave the handbag at home and chuck credit cards, mobile phone and cash in a stroller caddy. Wild, huh.

10. Muslin wrap

Meditating... *zzz

This is like the Mother’s Spit of all baby linens – it helps everything!

Need to settle your child to sleep? Swaddle your baby! Need to block off the world for a sleepy baby? Throw this over the pram! Settling the girl/boy confusion? Make sure it’s a hot-pink one!

It also makes a great emergency spit cloth, rain cover, sun shade and blanket. But get the big ones (120cm by 120cm) – you’ll get a lot more mileage out of them. I keep one in my pram basket always.

The muslin wrap is also first cousin to the Very Very Useful terrycloth squares.

11. Bag hook

I love my Brica

Another gem. If you’re like me and will notoriously walk into a shopping mall, only to do the Baa Baa Black Sheep (three bags full)… then this is most helpful. Provided you don’t overload your pram and have it tip over backwards from the baggage of your retail therapy. Also great for when you’re grocery shopping and run out of trolley space once your groceries are in green bags. I also use mine to hang my handbag off the table when I’m out to lunch.

Brica makes better ones than the one that looks like a camping snap hook.

12. Cushion insert

Extra cushion for life's bumps

If your pram or baby seat/capsule is still a little too roomy for your baby, we recommend getting one of these. We used one when Arddun was brand new, so she didn’t look so tiny and lost inside her capsule. We’re still using one for her Urbo. Not only does it keep her snug and comfortable in her capsule or pram, it helps keep her secure with the safety harnesses on, AND helps keep the mess away from the actual seat because it’s washable. We liked it so much, we went and got two Snuzzlers.

And there you have it – twelve baby essentials. List by no means exhaustive – didn’t even get into the baby bottle bonanza. But at least it’s a start. :)

You can’t make friends with salad

There’s a verse that goes something like this, “…then we will no longer be like infants, tossed by every wind of doctrine.” And while the context of that verse is all to do with what happens once one reaches maturity in Christ, I’d like to say that the imagery is a vivid one and I’d like to steal it for what I’m about to say.

Except, I’d like to replace the word “infants” with “n00b parents”. And I’d like the promise that every n00b parent will no longer be tossed like a greasy Greek salad, each new leaf of information sending us into more turmoil than ever before.

I am in completely new territory. Usually, I can get thrown into something big and new, and I’d try and wing it. New job. New industry. New country. New church. New network. New man. Marriage. Hit me, and I’ll find a way to survive and get prayerfully comfortable with my choices. Small (by Chinese standards), rustic wedding. Three-bedroom starter townhouse in suburbia. Settling down with a foreigner in a foreign land. Changing churches. Leaving and cleaving. Many, many others may have tut-tutted at these choices but for the most part, I’ve shrugged and breezily gone on with my life.

It’s not so easy with this parenthood shindig.

I’ve been thinking (oooohhhh!), and there’s a couple of reasons I’ve temporarily lost my mojo, and ability to think for myself and pee into the wind.

  1. The stakes are so much higher because it now involves someone completely helpless and important. Not just someone important.
  2. The consequences of not following parenting doctrine is usually couched in terms of the rebel being completely selfish and the effects, rather dire. (“You are teaching your child that you do not love her and that she cannot trust you.”  “Your child may develop life-threatening allergies and will swallow a legume one day and die a terrible death.” “You will spoil your child rotten and she will become one of THOSE children. Your friends and church will shake their heads in shame.” “Child services should really be bashing down your door and escorting you off the premises now, you selfish buffoon.”)
  3. The advice is always, always personal.

The third point is the hardest to wade through, and calls upon good growing of thick skin and fantastic discernment. I was reading a parenting forum that was discussing the use of a certain parenting method. A few parents had started complaining about the method’s limitations, when a mother stepped in and basically said that the methodology in question was fantastic and the reason everyone was wrong and sucked was because they “didn’t try hard enough”. And even though that comment wasn’t directed at me, I was itching to jump on the forum and tell that woman to bite me. Because if there’s one thing we don’t need in this tremendously challenging terrain, is one woman oppressing and rubbishing another’s efforts.

Parenting is ALWAYS personal and emotional. It is not like any job I’ve ever had, because it isn’t one. It’s not even a career. For the most part, corporate life sets professionalism up to be the antithesis of emotionalism. But I can tell you right now that parenting cuts right to the emotional core because it partly answers the question of Who You Are.

And the advice out there. The literature. It’s riddled with labels to help us along.

Are you an Attachment Parent? You are either very flexible and attentive to your child’s needs, or you are incapable of saying no to your child and will bring up a spoilt brat who has no understanding of routine and rules.

Are you a Hyper-Scheduler? Then you’re either a very organised person, or that’s pig latin for anal-retentive control freak who treats her child like a robot.

I suspect some opinions are put forward so stridently because the adviser, rather than the advised, stands to be the main beneficiary. If you need to feel confident, perhaps the first place to start is by sounding very confident. The truth is, all of us have the answer – which is that none of us knows best. But all of us have been blessed with a sense of good-enough, and the rest… the rest is providence, baby.

Last week, I started putting away books that advocated any parenting methodology over another. I just didn’t want to be picketed at anymore, and I needed my mojo back. Those books may work for others, but I could feel my confidence getting leeched every time I did something – like pick Arddun up after she’d been crying an ocean – only to feel guilt on both ends of the spectrum. Enough. Maybe I am building a rod for my own back because I did the whole “controlled crying” thing wrong. Maybe she will be a head case twenty years down the track because I didn’t pick her up fast enough and she cried two minutes too long.

Whatever. I’m here now. I’m her mommy. And like my little girl, I am peeing into the wind.

Handover notes

We’re home! And it’s taken us longer than expected to get to this point. Long story short,

Jaundice = sleepy baby

Sleepy baby = poor feeding

Poor feeding = >10% weight loss


Jaundice = Eating heaps = >10% weight loss

Which meant Mommy and Daddy about went crazy, trying to get as much breast milk stuffed into a stomach the size of a child’s playground marble. Which resulted in a meltdown at one point when you’re trying to fight the Zzzz monster that comes with the jaundice. But we can talk about that in another post.

Our long hospital stay coincided with a mass exodus of excited new moms and dads, which meant that the Executive Suite got freed up. So we went from

Small ward N12
Your typical hospital ward. Tony's mattress is set up on the left of my bed.


Hello Luxury
Double bed! Couches! Space!
Other side of room
TWO couches! And more space! For stuff!
Microwave and fridge
Our own microwave oven! And bar fridge!
The other side of the room
Change table! Sink! Ensuite!
Huge bathtub! With no safety railings! So you can slip and fall! Or depend on a midwife to help you in and out when your pelvic bone is shot!
Couch of no return
The Couch of No Return. Like quicksand, you can sink in... but you may never get out again.

So yes, our stay was rather unique in that we’d managed to experience both types of wards for a week in Private Maternity.

Along the way, I’d compiled a list of Things I Now Know. So yes, if you’re about to pop one out your fanny some time soon, here’s a list of useful tips I’d cobbled together along the way.

Night light

Hospital wards have lighting that’s a bit all or nothing. You either get drenched in wattage, or you’re stumbling about in the dark – which is always fun when you’re trying to get your newborn to latch at 3:15am. Tip? Perhaps bring your own night light to plug in. One that gives you a happy medium.

Ear plugs

Bring your ear plugs for both you and your partner, especially if he’s staying overnight. Because you’re both going to be bone-tired, which means you both might snore. And even if you don’t, your neighbours next door might. Or the village might turn up to visit the popular newborn down the corridor. Whatever. The doors are pretty good with the sound proofing, but they completely ruin it by having gaps in the walls where you share a window with the next ward. The hospital can supply ear plugs, but it’s one size fits all.

Bring your own pillows

Because ours went walkabout, so between Tony and I, we had only one provided by the hospital. Which proved a logistical challenge since Tony was set up on a mattress on the floor beside my bed. Thankfully, I’d brought two along for the labour. But think about the kind of pillow you’re going to need when you’re staying up to breastfeed. And believe me – newborns take a while over dinner.

Nappy wipes

The hospital doesn’t supply them, so bring your own. If not, you can always use a wet face wash – which means you’ve gotta keep a ready stash of hospital-issue face cloths at bay in your room. I’m glad I brought my nappy wipes, because it was at least one less item to think about when we were trying to gently-but-efficiently scrub sticky meconium in 2.58 seconds flat while our newborn screamed blue murder. And then peed all over Daddy in between cloth nappies.


Don’t bother. You are so not going to have the time to read. I don’t know WHAT I was thinking. Oh that’s right – I wasn’t.

Maternity pads

Unless you’re quite happy to use the hospital grade one – which is uber soft and absorbent but doesn’t do your clothes any favours unless you wear all five at once – BYO. The thicker, the better because you won’t know whether you’re coming out with stitches, piles or worse. The operating word here is Cushion. Yes. This tip is gruesome. But helpful.

Water bottle 

Breastfeeding is thirsty, thirsty business. Sure they offer you a pitcher and a glass to help yourself, but when you’re a one-arm bandit at 3 in the morning, faffing around with pitchers and glasses in the dark gets old pretty quick. Besides – the glasses they offer are teeny-tiny, and you’ll want to down 200ml in one gulp alone. Water bottle, my friend. Slurp-friendly.


Those maternity check lists go on and on about food for the partner and you during labour. But being on tap for baby at all odd hours of the day means your food clock goes silly as well. Be prepared for hunger attacks during times when the hospital’s Food Services have come and gone. If you have a supportive partner who can rummage together a ham and cheese toasty for you at 3:47am, great. If not…

BYO breast pump

Tony and I brought our own breast pump along because we wanted to learn how to use the pump while we were surrounded by wise midwives. Except would you believe they didn’t have/didn’t want to supply sterilisation equipment? So yes – it’s hospital-grade Medela or broke. Thankfully, my breast pump turned out to be easy enough to work out once we got home. But yeah, you might want to leave yours behind.

Take cover

If you know or suspect that you’re going to have visitors drop by, you might want to bring along either a shawl or a feeding cover. Because you’ll never know when Bub wants a breast feed, right when visitors drop by for a quick surprise visit. Also, shawls are great for covering the shoulders when it gets nippy. And hospital rooms can get nippy.

Baby clothes 

If you end up staying in the hospital for the best part of a week, you might want to dress your new kid in actual clothes – rather than a bit of cloth with strings attached, which is what the miniature hospital gowns are in essence. About as drafty as a medieval castle in the Scottish Highlands, and fiddly as heck.

Know thy bed options

If you’re ever given the option for bedrooms in private maternity, perhaps consider these pros and cons.

Single bed – pro: 
Usually a bona fide hospital bed, which means fancy buttons for messing around with bed height and elevation. VERY useful when you are sore, and/or your pelvic bone has decided to get shifty and/or a myriad other reasons that basically HURT. LIKE. THE. DICKENS. when you so much as move a centimetre to get out of bed to feed your new offspring. Now it’s all, “Come bring the baby to me.” (*bzzzt* adjust bed height and boob-to-mouth distance). Handy.

Single bed – con:
Your partner will end up sleeping on a mattress on the floor. Which means if you need to wake him up in the middle of the night, you might need an assortment of poking devices or soft toys to fling in his general direction. Which by NO means is a guarantee of waking him up anyway.

Double bedroom – pro:
Comes with a double bed. Which is lovely for cuddle times, especially when you’re still basking in the newfound admiration your partner has for you after witnessing Birth in all its gory.

Double bedroom – con:
See Single bed – pro.

Not a mellow yellow

Ah. This is an extra special one, and because I’m now writing this bit past 30 June, what I’m about to point out has become a non-issue. Essentially, Calvary Hospital has renovated its postnatal wards, so if all has gone to plan, Executive Suite that Tony and I had the privilege of staying in will no longer be in commission now. But this tip might still hold true.

Tony was just changing Arddun’s diaper one sunny winter afternoon, when both of us heard an alarm go off. My first thought was that the hospital was conducting a fire drill. Which was a little odd, but hey – health and safety is important in a hospital and maybe our timing just happened to be impeccable. That train of thought got derailed the moment a midwife burst into our room unannounced. Half panting, she took in the scenario before her – our stunned faces, Tony in mid nappy-wipe – before running over to where Tony was standing and jamming a button.

“This button,” she explained, “sends ALL STAFF to your room.”

Tony had accidentally bumped the yellow emergency button.

Strategically placed within elbow-grazing distance
Do not press the yellow button. Unless you want Really Efficient Service.


You have been warned.

Kiasuism for Kids

I love how different languages and cultures can birth unique words or phrases to distill the very essence of complex human behaviour and motivation. That a certain je ne sais quoi of one country can have an entire lexicon of its own in another, replete with well-known examples and long-established machinations.

Kiasuism is one such word and phenomena in Singapore/Malaysia, so much so that it’s finally made it to the Oxford dictionary, would you believe. For my non-Singaporean friends, it describes the attitude that governs the Oh Crap What If  part of the hippocampus – and sometimes manifests itself in rather madcap behaviour such as:

  • the hiding of research books in the National Library of Australia so that you – and only you – can locate them and use them for your 2,500 essay due in 3 months
  • the driving like a demon and the risking of oncoming traffic so you can overtake a person travelling at the speed limit to get a whole car length ahead
  • the queuing overnight for the latest Apple gadget (oh yes)
  • the Bonk and Book.

The Bonk and Book is the rather nerve-wrecking state of schooling affairs in Canberra, a result perhaps of the shortage of childcare facilities in general, a high incidence of dual-income Canberran families in particular, and the greater attentiveness of highly-educated parents to their child’s brain development.

In short, we’re a microcosm of the Singapore Schooling Spirit. Or at least, we’re heading that way.

The first thing my general practitioner told us when we announced we were pregnant was to stand our ground and ignore the breastfeeding nazis if it all got too silly.

The second thing he told us was to think seriously about enrolling our then water flea-like foetus in childcare facilities and/or schools. El pronto.

Barely seconds after grasping that I am a skinny, breathing human incubator, I had to think seriously about my views on public and private school education. I still haven’t gotten out of the habit of referring to High School here as Secondary School and Junior College.

And yet, here we are – me, swollen with Blobette and absolutely clueless about the educational system here, and Tony – a fine product of Brisbane’s private and public school education… except Australia decentralises its educational system and leaves it in the hands of each state/territory, doesn’t she.

So both of us are flying a little blind here.

The thing is, I was educated in a branded school. Actually, I hail from two branded schools in Singapore and no one cares here. And yet, thanks to my hardwiring and 20+ years of academic indoctrination Singapore-style, I feel a little anxious about the idea of sending Blobette to a no-name school. Actually, I quite loathe it.

MommyShorts, whose blog I heart and whose talent I secretly want to zap with a sonic screwdriver, is the queen of funny charts. But one chart in particular made me cringe-laugh so much, I almost shot juice out my nose:

Getting them off to the right start


<end scene>

Birth plans: this century’s oxymoron

The first time I read about drafting a birth plan, I thought, “Geez. Anal-retentive much?” (Don’t get me started on how inappropriate and ironic that statement is. It has dawned on me since.) Birth plans, as it turns out, are tremendously in vogue. They are the done thing in my day and age, part and parcel of the whole pregnancy shebang. Like an internet plan with a new home, so is a birth plan with a new pregnancy. What? Your house didn’t come with ethernet ports and fibre to the premise? Get with the programme, dah-link.

Except, I still don’t quite get it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen the templates and the samples, and I can see how some of it can useful. But the biggest thing that’s doing my head in is the fact we’re encouraged to think we can control what’s going to happen, when it happens, how it happens, and why. Some of the birth plans I’ve come across read like Hollywood scripts. The baby emerges with a lusty cry after a natural, calm birth, minimum tearing and no episiotomy. Mother and child bond at once with skin to skin contact. Breastfeeding ensues. Exchange of lovey dovey looks with birth partner. End scene.

But birth plans I’ve come across seldom include the following scenarios:

  • very early arrivals
  • very late arrivals
  • babies in distress
  • mothers in distress
  • birth partner out of action (late, still trying to park the darn car, fainted on the floor)
  • I-didn’t-quite-make-it-across-the-parking-lot-help!
  • emergency c-sections
  • “no room at the inn” (overcrowding at birth centre, private ward)
  • complete and utter exhaustion coupled with zero physical strength after XXth hour

and most importantly,

  • crazy changes of the mind, because you’re in the most gawdawful and intense pain you’ve ever known in your thus-far sheltered life.

Are we in danger of setting ourselves up for a huge disappointment – and literally a world of pain – if it all goes to crap? Are we fooling ourselves into thinking we can control almost every moment of our child’s birth? Every older woman I talk to almost snorts in derision whenever they hear the words ‘birth plan’. “Yeah,” they chortle. “Good luck.” (The polite ones mock you only with their eyes.) I can see why they’re sceptical. The birth stories I’ve heard so far have all to do with reacting to the moment and doing whatever works, and hardly resemble anything the mother envisioned or articulated beforehand.

After a bit of scrounging around, I learnt that the whole birth-plan idea emerged around the 1990s with the return-to-natural-birth movement. Great. I actually like the idea of NOT being confined to the bed, on my back, whimpering softly and breathing like a choo-choo train (hee-hee-hoo!). I think there’s much to be said about birth positions that capitalise on the laws of gravity, and I’m all for involving Tony as much as possible in this tremendous journey. But as with anything the world comes up with, I am inundated with conflicting messages.

On the one hand, we’re told that we are each entitled to a natural birth, that having a baby vaginally is within our control, and that we can each facilitate a less painful birth if only we knew how.

On the other hand, we’re told that natural birth is all about losing control and letting go. Wanna have your while baby squatting on one leg and bellowing the Haka? Whatever works, hon! Wanna have your baby in the bath while the lullaby rendition of Rocky’s theme is playing softly in the background? Whatever floats your boat, ma’am. Take off ALL your clothes while you’re at it. None of us are strangers here. (Except, the doctor, the midwives, the anesthetist…)

So… wrest control and lose control. Got it?

I’ve heard of birth plans referred to as birth wishlists. In some ways, that’s even worse. My wishlist would involve any of the painless births I’ve had in my dreams – with no tearing, no pushing, and midwives in my bathtub with 1950s showercaps on. It might also result in birthing a cuddly black labrador puppy instead of a healthy baby. (Don’t ask. I don’t even want to know where my subsconscious got that bit of inspiration.)

So, where to from here?

As much as I want to bag out the whole birth plan idea, I think there’s merit in visualising success before entering into any challenge. And perhaps our birth plan can help Tony and I scenario-test the less desirable situations and talk about what worries us and what helps us cope. Hope and pray for the best, prepare for the worst. Pray for strength regardless.

As for my preliminary list, here’s a few nuggets.

I plan:

  • not to swear like a sailor, no matter how painful things get.
    This is actually harder than you think, because I can get pretty potty-mouthed like the best of them when under crazy-stress. And this will be crazy-stress.
  • not to take my pain out on Tony through verbal abuse and blame.
    The whole “Deees eees YOUR FAULT!” may be tempting – and practically a given in Hollywood births – but is unfair to the poor chap. And I know he’ll try his hardest to be there for me on the day. It’s going to be a special kind of hell for him while his wife is baying like a wounded animal and he cannot do much about much. He’s going to hate that.
  • to trust that things will work out.
    Am I nervous? Oh yes. We had an antenatal class this week where they passed around the epidural needle and my hair was already standing from that. But I am holding on to the promise that we will not be tried beyond what we cannot bear. So meanwhile, I’ll try not to rule anything out and enjoy as much of it as humanly possible.

And you know I’ll keep you guys posted. :)

Confessions of a bargain hunter

We had a big shopping spree yesterday – the pointy end of the sudden realisation that

  • I am 3 weeks out to full-term
  • babies can come early
  • I can no longer put on my house socks without resembling an inebriated Sumo wrestler in a dizzy bat race. Very unglamorous.

Prior to yesterday’s shopping spree, I had waxed lyrical about the different kinds of shopping mommies out there, and I’ve learnt I vacillate between The Bargain Hunter and The Accidental Splurger. And truth be told, I hardly splurged – which surprised me very much. The biggest surprise is how much I’ve enjoyed bargain hunting with Tony – who, as it turns out, is great at scouring AllClassifieds for cool deals.

Anyhoo… after months of bargain hunting, I thought I’d compile some tips and tricks we’ve gleaned along the way.

Pace yourself

So you’ve just peed on the stick and you know you’ve got months to get things in order. Don’t start too late. It’s a budgeting thing, really – if you can afford to spend $2,000 at a go towards the end, good on you. But chances are, you’ll need to spread the cost over a few months. Especially if you’re starting from scratch because you have no hand-me-downs.

Decide what’s new, what’s pre-loved

One of the things I struggled with initially was the guilt that I wasn’t being prudent enough with money. So the temptation is to go against your gut and try and buy everything second-hand. Only to go home with dregs and realise that you’ve just wasted $120 rather than saved $170, because now you’re stuck with a second-hand electric breastmilk expressor that you can’t bear to use because you keep picturing some other random woman’s lady bits in them, and faint mooing in the background. Or whatever. And look, it’s an individual thing but Tony and I eventually figured out what we absolutely wanted to buy first-hand, and what we were happy to buy pre-loved. It’s okay to buy some things brand new.

Know what the going rate is

Once I figured out what I wanted to get, what was absolutely necessary to me and what I felt were optional extras, I started a list that has lived in my handbag ever since. I also did a bit of online sleuthing beforehand and dropped in the best recommended retail prices (RRP) I could find in that list. Those RRPs formed my price ceiling. That way, if I happened to walk past a shop or find something online for cheaper, I had a benchmark from which to work. It made impulse on-the-spot buying a lot easier and cheaper. And oh look – I’ve even included my Shopping list template!

Go in pairs

You are a pregnant woman. Chances are, you are going to slow down by 30% by the time you reach 6 months, and waddle by the time you’re 8. So think about your safety, and turn up at the door with someone else who can

  1. yank you to safety, or
  2. have the presence of mind not hampered by Pregnant Brain to defend you if you should come into harm’s way.

If you’re responding to an advert to suss out pre-loved goods at someone’s house, remember that they are strangers – even if they sound lovely on the phone. Also, having someone else with you to bounce off ideas wouldn’t hurt.

Get your code straightened out

Whether you’re turning up at the Baby & Kids Market, or at someone’s home sussing out their wares, it can be hard to walk away from an offer that just doesn’t meet your minimum standards. Especially if the owner (usually the Mommy) is standing there, rocking her gorgeous baby, and sharing how he/she “absolutely loved playing with it”, and how it was his/her “favourite toy”. Couple that awkwardness with your shopping partner and you trying to discuss the merits and demerits of the item in question while the owner listens in, and you’re more likely to find yourself leaving the stall/house with crap you didn’t want. So yes – get some kind of pig latin going between you and your shopping partner. Learn to read each other’s signals – especially if one of you is uncomfortable and wants to say ‘no’.

Bargains can come from anywhere

I’ll relay a recent shopping win that best illustrates this point. Those floor-gym thingies with overhanging toys that encourage newborns and toddlers to get tactile? They are colourful, educational, and freakishly expensive. Tony and I were eyeing a Lamaze one that was retailing for $99.99 on average. He found a second-hand one online for $50 – score! So he set up the appointment… and I happened to waltz into Target, found the same unit, did a price check… and walked away with a $14.84 bargain. Brand new. True story. Very smug still. Moral of the story: just because it’s in a department store, doesn’t mean you can’t find freak deals. Leave no stone unturned.

Plan to recycle

So you’ve made your bargain buys. Now what? Document how much you actually paid for each item. And then keep the packaging. Take photos of how the item came packed, if you have to. Because when it’s your turn to play babyware seller for some other bargain hunter, you’ll know exactly how much to price your stuff and you have a better chance of selling your wares if your packaging looks pristine. And who knows – you might be able to make a tidy profit.

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