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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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Needing patience now

So far, Motherhood has been a long exercise in patience. No surprises there, huh.

Except… I’d always thought that the patience was needed for the baby. That the love, compassion and long-suffering was about dealing with the baby, you know?

The endless crying during Arsenic Hour.

Her uncanny ability to create the biggest mess juuuuust after you’ve slid the soiled diaper away, and before you’ve had the chance to jam the fresh one under.

The fights before sleep time.

The clumsiness, hand-in-hand with baby stubbornness.

The house in perpetual mess.

The fact that it takes 50% longer now to do everything you’ve done before – like leave the house for a walk or a drive, for example.

The fact that you have 90% less time to do things that used to be important to you before – like brushing your hair and matching your clothes.

I mean, all this is true. And it requires patience. But the patience for such things comes naturally, ungrudgingly. With little grumbling or complaint. Effortless.

No. The kind of patience I’m talking about – the kind of patience that needs to be wrung out of me – is patience for others.

Because until I had Arddun, I hadn’t realised how stupid and inconvenient people and things around me can be.

BECAUSE it takes such effort to cart a baby around, BECAUSE she is vulnerable and defenceless, I’ve turned into a grouchy mother bear. It is a fight every day not to growl at strangers for being obtuse to the needs of my poor defenceless baby and her struggling mother with the pram and the 21 other things hanging off it.

Things that threaten to set me off include:

  • Competitive, selfish, boorish, impatient drivers who delight in cutting you off, who turn every roundabout into a drag race and/or come within a hair’s breadth of dinting the side of your car where the baby is seated. RAAAWR!
  • Big Fat Cars parked willy-nilly beside you so you can’t open your car door to get baby in or out.
  • Mothers who don’t wipe down baby chairs after they’re done.
  • Smokers near entrances and exits so when you walk through, it’s like entering the Vortex of Baby Lung-Blackening Hell
  • Customer service with Attitude (I’m already growing my own teenager. I don’t need your angst or sarcasm. Especially if you’re paid to help.)
  • Shopping trolleys left inside the last convenient parking lot, so you and 38 other cars before you were deprived of the one good lot nearest to the lifts (near lift = less time with pram on road with impatient drivers)

etc etc.

And sometimes, it’s manageable. Sometimes, you just grit your teeth and soldier on. But other times, you just want to freeze everything around you so you can get to that selfish stranger (with your crying baby on your hip), and with your free hand, grab that selfish stranger’s neck and shake it so hard you can hear his or her teeth rattle, while yelling,

“You see this shopping cart? You know where it goes? THERE! WHERE THE OTHER SHOPPING CARTS LIVE! GROW A BRAIN AND A HEART AND  TAKE A SHORT WALK AND PUSH IT INTO THE SHOPPING CART BAY SO THE REST OF US CAN USE THIS LOT, YOU SELFISH, LAZY, UNTHINKING DONG-KAY!”

(Which is, you know, a euphemism for Ass.)

And while things like that used to bug me before, THEY REALLY BUG ME NOW. Because I have more to lose. Because I’m her protector. Because it’s harder and because I have less time. Because Arddun doesn’t understand, doesn’t read a clock, and doesn’t have patience.

And yes, I am aware of the irony – that while I’m jumping up and down about the supreme selfishness of such acts, I am in fact making it all about ME. I have, in fact, grown a huge entitlement complex. It came free with the stretch marks and permanently widened hips.

And so I try not to take things personally, because that’s half the issue. I’m not suddenly special because I’m a mother, and I’m not suddenly a target because I’m a mother. I’m just a mother.

And so I try to slow down. Do one less thing while multi-tasking. Bear to be late for events. Give 4WDs, Utes, taxis and Audi drivers a wide berth. Smile at rude sales staff after they’ve insulted me, and let them think I’m simple. Because the cure for impatience isn’t patience – it’s submission. I am not in control of everything or everyone and never have been. The universe is large and my troubles, on balance, are trivial.

If we’re having a bad day, pull over and hug the baby. Both of us might feel better after the time out.

Peace like a river, baby.

What that cockroach says about you

This morning, to my absolute horror and disgust, a teenage cockroach came traipsing across my kitchen floor, bold as brass. It thought it could hide under my electric kettle, but its miserable feelers gave itself away.

It’s been ages since I’ve  had to spray anything, but I knew exactly where that Mortein was. It’s one of those “new improved fragrance” ones that try and smell like a deodorised toilet, and apparently it’s a “multi-insect killer”. It also promises “fast knockdown”. Whatever. After removing Arddun far, faaar from what I thought would be the dead zone, I found that brazen cockroach and gave it a nuclear winter. I sprayed it so hard, I think it drowned.

I think I overreacted, mostly because I felt rather insulted. And guilty. Because the cockroach felt like some living testament that I was a dirty, dirty housewife. And therefore a bad, bad mother.

Now that Arddun is half-crawling and into semi-solid meals in a big way, I’m torn between building up her immunity and sanitising the hell out of anything and everything she comes into contact with. It actually takes a degree of self control NOT to blitz anything that has touched the floor and MIGHT go back into her mouth. The worst is food. Two-second rule – do you or don’t you apply? See, now that my immunity has worn off in her, she’s on her own and there’s the whole chicken-and-egg deal about her depleted immunity and yet the need to build it up through resistance to “dirty” things.

And in the midst of all that, I see a cockroach and want to give it – and myself – hell. Because it signifies. It whispers that I haven’t given Arddun a safe and clean environment. It’s silly because it’s the first of many lessons that I’ll have to learn: I won’t always be able to shield her from the icky. As much as I’d like to Martha Stewart the house into respectability, I don’t always have the time or – let’s admit it – the care factor.

And Arddun will be fine. Because the fact is that the little bugger (pun intended) says only one thing: that it’s summer. That all the creepy crawlies are up and about and alive because it’s finally warm enough for them to get their kicks. That said creepy crawlies have probably lived in my ducted-heating vents and in my shadow for months but only had the temerity today – in 35ºC weather – to poke their little heads out and say hello. And maybe it also says it’s time I wet-vacuumed my floor again. But Arddun and I will live.

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.

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

I am trying so hard not to be that parent already, but oh lordy – I HAVEN’T ENROLLED HER ANYWHERE! I AM A CRAP PARENT! AND ALL BECAUSE I’M NAIVE ENOUGH TO ‘WAIT TILL SHE’S BORN, AT THE VERY LEAST’! WAAAAAAAHHHH!!!

<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. :)

You can always tell a book by its cover

What I’m trying to read before Week 37:

  • Juju Sundin’s birth skills with Sarah Murdoch
  • On becoming baby wise: giving your infant the gift of nighttime sleep
  • Kidwrangling, by Kaz Cooke

What I’m actually reading before Week 37:

  • Jump! by Jilly Cooper

While vacillating between both classes of books, I’m getting the distinct feeling that I’m setting the tone for the rest of my stay-at-home career. I’m also getting the stinkin’ suspicion that I’m leaning towards the lazy side of mommyhood. I think I’m quite ensconced in the at-risk group anyway.

The nesting period that’s supposed to descend on me come the second trimester? Either it came and went over a tummyache, or bypassed us altogether like the Angel of Home Decor repelled by the million cobwebs draping our doorposts. In fact, ever since we trundled into Trimester Three, my overall domestic-goddess quotient has taken a nosedive. I do enough to get by, but most days I get home with just enough energy to cook, and the rest is spent trying to unwind from work.

And unfortunately, reading up on baby sleeping theory and optimal birth positions still feels like work.

The thing is, every project manager bone in my body is screaming at me for not applying my professional skills at home. And in the forefront of my mind, in the part of the brain that is wired to feel guilty and assuage said guilt with Connoiseur cafe grande ice cream heaped on a meringue nest, is the understanding that if I want something enough, I’d make time for it. 

Which brings me to the ugly truth: while I love this baby growing and kicking and twitching and bodyslamming inside of me… I obviously lack some sort of selfless passion that governs my being and propels me to devour every book in my path that could lead me to some sort of Mommy Nirvana.

Instead, I’m reading a very thick chick lit about horse racing.

The scary thing is that I’ve blown the second trimester. It’s gonna be downhill from here. Both Blobette and I are doing all we can to keep comfortable, but we’re fighting a losing battle as she gets bigger each day. I’m losing my fight with water retention. I’m losing my grip on quality sleep. And I’ve never been so sick of sneezing in my life, because that’s all I seem to do now. 

You know the force is getting dark when you find yourself at home with a head cold, wearing

  • a fire engine-red knitted poncho, over a
  • grey T-shirt, text shouting Hello! Lovely Silly, over a pair of
  • sky-blue flannel pajama pants with printed giraffes gripping pink roses in their teeth, over a pair of
  • Monty Python killer bunny slippers

and you actually answer the door clad in such when the Jehovah’s Witnesses come by.

And that’s the problem. I’ve crossed over into the I-don’t-give-a-stuff zone – right when I really need to give a stuff. It’s Week 30 from next week. It’s crunch time, baby. But if I love you, why oh why can I not get my act together?

Love that knows no bounds

“So will you love me, even when I get stretch marks?”

“I already love you, even with your flat nose. And your flat butt. Stretch marks aren’t going to make any difference.”

“Thanks, hun. Go away now.”

P.S.: Got a bagful of stretch mark samples from ShelfEelf that she had been steadily collecting since day dot. I feel rather honoured that she’d decided to bestow them all on me. And even as I’m mostly convinced that the stuff doesn’t work anyway, it’s still nice to hand a sample to Tony and order him to rub my belly.

Cocoa butter. Mmmmm…

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