Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places



Welcome to 2015!

My 2013 was horrible for the most obvious reason (mother’s death, for the uninitiated) but last year really blew for many of my friends, and for Malaysia’s aviation industry. There were quite a few good-riddance-to-this-rubbish-year posts on my FB news feed, and I’m glad for them, at least, that we have reached 2015.

For us, 2014 was largely a calm year. A winding down from the emotional roller coaster that was 2013. There were a few points for anxiety – the sale of my mother’s home being one, haggling with financial institutions on two continents, being another – but on the grand scheme of things, they proved paltry compared to the addition to our family. Atticus signaled a new chapter to our family life in late November — and a welcome focal point. We rounded off the year largely sleep deprived while being surrounded by family, and feeling older, slightly melancholy and stressed, but not sad. And after the sorrow of 2013, being not sad was a great step forward.

There was a study on “workplace happiness” conducted in Singapore between April and August last year. And the grand reveal was that Singaporeans are Under Happy – that vague, lukewarm, non-committal, soggy middle ground between the state of being Happy and being Unhappy. Under Happy was last year’s Meh, and the punchline for many Singaporeans still secretly seething about being ranked the Least Emotional Country in the World in 2012.

And it got me thinking. Although I had many things I’d been grateful for, and felt largely content with my lot in life, there was still a lot of Meh left in me last year. I’m wondering if it’s a self preservation thing, or the natural trajectory one follows after being shot out of the Emo canon that was 2013. Numbness is comforting. It allows one to function well and to even feel episodes of muted happiness. But although a bland life can be a happy one, happiness isn’t blandness.

I know this is a blog largely about my children and a little about my personal life. But some of the things I keep circling in this blog seems to be Life organisation and finding the Happy – whether it’s about some habit tracking app I find useful, or whether it’s about reflecting on my list of gratitudes every Thursday. I know I probably appear to be overthinking things, or maybe I’ve reached some kind of 40%-life crisis that induces me to contemplate my life and purpose. Perhaps I’m still trying to define myself, since I’ve currently parked my Career Woman persona. Or my cousin’s and mother’s early deaths have shaken me to the very core, and what you see here are the aftershocks.

Or perhaps, if I can indulge in some hubris, my soul resonates with the likes of W.H. Auden, who observed that “between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are…”

I don’t know. I just know that I’m searching for… something. Every New Year, I pounce on the chance to reinvent myself to some extent, and this year is no different.

I had started out last year reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, and then got sidetracked. I had planned to explore my year like she did with a theme for each month, but that intention got seriously derailed by January, when I decluttered the house (just like in her book) for our anticipated move (which didn’t happen), only to pack her book in the process in one of 70 boxes now sitting in a storage unit four suburbs away.


Anyhoo, I’ve gotten hold of an electronic copy and I’m trying her book out again. This is my Eat Pray Love, except I don’t have to leave my husband and children, and swan off to India to learn how to meditate. I’m still plotting my game plan for 2015 in between innumerous breastfeeds and rocking and shushing and diapering and cleaning and cooking and soothing and playing and including… so wish me luck.

What are your New Year resolutions, by the way? Made any this year, or cannot be bothered?

Breaking the habit

The unfortunate thing about this world
is that good habits are so much easier to give up
than bad ones.

The whole point of getting out of the house and going away somewhere is the change of scenery. But as parents, we secretly loathe change. We loathe change, because as much as we want to boast about how adaptable our little tykes are, the truth is that children are fanatical creatures of habit.

This means that the majority of parents who need their sanity will, upon reaching their new far-flung destination, turn around and try desperately to replicate what happens at home as much as possible.

Unbeknownst to ourselves, Tony and I had already started instilling a long list of habits and routines in our girl’s short life thus far. This includes the habit of feeding herself at least 30% of the time each meal, the habit of sitting quietly while being read to, the habit of sleeping through the night, and of playing on her own (i.e. without demanding to be entertained) for about an hour a day, in total.

Yes. All that went com-plete-ly out the window during our time in Singapore.

Creativity is very much a skillset all parents need – and I’m not talking about knitting sock puppets and decorating a nursery. It takes quite a bit of brain power to improvise and re-create a semblance of what you’re used to back home. We achieved semi-success with the feeding amidst many raised eyebrows for doing BLW (I hear of Chinese mothers who still cut up their son’s meat for them when their sons are 22.) Minimal book-reading – mostly because I kept forgetting and it’s only my lonely bee in my bonnet. Terrible sleep record – she only started sleeping through the night, 4 days before we left Singapore. Which meant we had broken sleep for a month.

But the play-on-your-own time was the biggest failure – Arddun had no shortage of willing playmates throughout her stay and by the end of our trip, I’m convinced she thought the world was filled with friendly, playful grown-ups. (This illusion was partially shattered on our flight back to Sydney but my daughter remains an optimist.) I loved that she got so much cuddle time with friends and family, but I knew that we were going to pay for it when we got back.

And we’re paying for it.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m convinced we did what we absolutely had to do. I know that was how the cookie had to crumble, given other more pressing needs. But now that we’re back home and winding down to our version of normal… well… The adjustment is tough on us all.

For weeks, even before we got back to Canberra, we’ve noticed how clingy Arddun had become. At first we’d put it down to her reaction to a foreign place, and then we thought it was teething (she left Canberra with 3 teeth and came back with 6!), and then I wondered if it was age-related and she was going through a cling-to-mommy-like-a-limpet phase.

Whatever. We’re back home now, and my daughter has surgically fixed herself to my leg.

It’s cute for about 5 seconds, and then it gets very old, very quick. Because guess what – you can’t bathe, you can’t cook, you can’t eat in peace. She views her playpen as a dungeon now – where once she’d happily play by herself for at least 15 minutes, she now clings to the bars and sobs like a waif, cruelly abandoned by a heartless stepmother. I leave her there to do said sobbing as far as I can, and pray and hope that she remembers what playing by herself is all about. Stern words only exacerbate the situation. In the end, Tony caved this afternoon and took her out for a second walk so I could at least tackle my 50 things.

I am not looking forward to Tuesday, when Tony goes back to work.

I know I needed to do the trip. I wanted to do the trip. Spending time with both our families was great, even if one trip had been cut very short and the other was under very stressful circumstances. But it just feels like all the good habits we’ve built up with Arddun have been too easily unravelled, and it’s hard not to think about it and feel a bit sick.


I swear

It was a pleasant surprise at Mother’s Group this morning that I wasn’t the only one trying to repair my potty mouth. New Year’s resolutions among certain families include honeying up our words. After all, it’ll be hard to explain why Baby’s First Word is “@$&*$^%$&@#”.

But what, technically, is swearing?

There’s the biblical definition, of course. Specifically,

  • “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (James 5:12)
  • “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:33-37)
  • You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)

In short, no oaths (“With my poodle as my witness!”), and no taking the Lord’s name in vain (“OMG!”). And of course, saying the explicit “I swear!” Which makes the All-4-One 1994 hit an awkward karaoke choice. All these, I’m already mindful of and have little trouble committing. Incidentally, whenever I hear someone yelling “Jesus Christ!” as an expletive, I’ve been tempted to run down the corridors screaming, “WHERE?! WHERE?! I’M COMING, LORD JESUS! WAIT FOR MEEEEE!” But in truth, I sorely lack the guts.

Moving along…

I can cuss like a sailor. It’s one of the many things I struggle with, and I’d grown progressively worse with my current corporate job. From the gentle euphemism (“Sugar!” – seldom used), to the alliterative (“Friggin’!”), to the fecal (rhymes with “oven mitt”), to the quiet and copuler (“….”), I can cuss like the best of them. I try to be kind and rewind, and sometimes I stop myself in the nick. But when I am tired or stressed or in sudden pain, it spills over as easily as thick, creamy foam atop the perfect cappuccino.

Always on the brim, always threatening to dribble over on the sides and ruin the moment.

The thing is, cussing is a form of instant gratification and very cheap catharsis. And where does one draw the line? Words that have changed their meaning over time and space? (Bugger.)  Euphemisms? (Shivers!) Gibberish replacement words? (Oh heck!) And what does one say in its place? “Oh dear!” and “Oh no!” are underwhelming, vague, inaccurate in communicating the extent of your excitement or anguish, and about as bland as a four-month old’s diet.

And let’s not forget intention. If you had meant to say “hell” and said “heck” instead, are you still swearing in your heart? Isn’t that teaching our children, all the more, NOT to let our yeses be yeses, and our nos be nos? Is “bloody” an adjective, a cultural insert, or just a word in bad taste to be avoided in polite company? Or do we create a new language? When I was 15, the word “kumquat” became my replacement expletive, because it was inoffensive, had 2 strong consonants, and gave me something to say when things went to putz. “Peanut” is another one that my twenty-year-old cousin and I have devised – its use is more to connote disdain and contempt for an unsavoury situation we’ve found ourselves in. (“Missed the bus and the next one is coming an hour later!” “Peeeea-nut.”)

Your guess is as good as mine. And as I’ve already confessed earlier, I’m no expert on curbing the tongue. But in a real effort to change bad habits so my daughter’s future vocabulary doesn’t suffer, I’ve come up with 3 rules-of-thumb:

  1. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
  2. There is always the option of NOT saying anything.
  3. Imagine Arddun saying what I just said, in front of my in-laws. If it makes me want to burrow a large hole to China, there’s my clue.

Meanwhile, it’s been day 2 of my no-swear endeavour, and I’ve already failed twice. As Ivy’s Mother pointed out, having a swear jar – with all proceeds going to a family holiday – isn’t proving medication and incentive enough. The most difficult bit for me is stopping the reflex. Particularly when I stub my toe, or forget something important, or something explodes. The other difficult bit is being quick and creative enough to fill the swear vacuum with something new and improved. But it can be done, and it has to be done, and by golly gosh goodness gumdrops, I will conquer this. With God’s help, of course.

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