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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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monday me

{Monday Me} Sleepy, hollow

Atticus’s latest party trick is to fight bedtime from 7pm to 9pm, and then wake up at 2 or 3 am to fight sleep for another two hours.

And while he gets to catch up with his beauty sleep in the day, I of course do not get that luxury because I have this whole other child to stay functional for.

This is why I look like this lately:

Lying in bed, looking exhausted
The face of a jack-of-all-trades who is seriously jack of it.
Christian women are told a lot that they should aspire to that wonder woman in Proverbs 31 who, among other things,

  • is a savvy property magnate,
  • probably could win the annual Great British Sewing Bee if she was
    • a) British, and
    • b) had wool, flax, linen and something called a distaff at her disposal, and
  • feeds the needy.

She also has a slew of female servants whom she apparently dresses up in fiendishly expensive garments, and she tarts up pretty well herself. She apparently likes purple. Woman after my own heart.

In the past, every other criterion had me going, “Yep, yep, doable, doable…”. All except for the sewing (no talents or inclination there), and that bit where she “gets up while it is still night” to provide for her family. As someone who is more night owl than daybreak do-gooder, that wake-up time used to intimidate me. It used to be the one thing that shamed me about my work ethic – the fact that I’m not a morning person.

Then I had Atticus, and the truth finally dawns on me: Proverbs 31 Wonder Woman isn’t sub-human. She’s just a mother of a baby boy who friggin’ won’t sleep through the night.

I am definitely getting up while it is still night to provide sustenance and comfort to this family member. It’s been 8 months and counting. And while I know you’re not supposed to compare your children, I just want to explain that this has all been a rude shock for me because Arddun had slept from 7 to 7 every day since she was 4 months old.

Never underestimate the soul-sapping realities of chronically broken sleep, people.

Arm-across-eyes
Can’t… sleep… Gotta do school run soon!
Because of the hours we keep, I haven’t been able to blog. Or write. Or pore over my roles in several church-related projects. Ironically, I haven’t been able to do what I’ve been meaning to do for months – get more organised by waking up at 5am every day. Staying ahead of the game by carving out some early morning time when I’m fresh and the batteries are fully charged, so I can write and meditate and think. So I can jump in the shower before the kids awake. So that I’m ready and able when the day officially begins.

But it’s nigh impossible to wake up at 5am every day, when I’m lucky if I get back to sleep at 4:30am after spending 2½ hours settling Atticus. And it’s incredibly frustrating when I wake up to find half the morning over, but my body is still weary and yearning for sleep.

And in case you are wondering, yes we’ve been trying controlled crying, no it doesn’t seem to be working – in fact, it seems to be getting worse. It isn’t for want of steel and effort, folks. I’m not running into the room at every whimper. But this boy has determination, stamina, and a set of lungs that would make a howler monkey think, “Hot dang!” Meanwhile, I feel guilty about possibly frying precious baby neurons in the process, and I feel defensive about the youngest member of our family turning dictator of our nights. Even while I believe that we should give our babies every reassurance of love. Even while I am patently aware that the sleeps of my husband and firstborn are also at stake. Even while I wonder if the concept of “sparing the rod = spoiling the child” should even apply this early. Even while I believe that our children shouldn’t become the all-consuming focal point of our marriage. Even while I suspect that my health is important too. 

I know this is a passing season, and perhaps I’m being unrealistic about the number of outcomes I’d like to knock out of the park while mothering two young children. But right now, I just feel like my whole day revolves around this boy when I need to pack So Many Other Things in my day yet I can’t, because I have no reserves left. 

They say that I have to treasure these days because he won’t stay my baby forever. That these lonely stretches with him, just the two of us alone in the dark, me cold, exhausted, and – dare I say it – bored out of my mind, are actually precious, fleeting times. I know this. But gee, a part of me would really like my body back.

He’s still a very cute kid, though. And innocent. And I love him to bits.

(Want my body back!)

Love him to bits.

Sigh.

{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.

{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.

{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.

{Monday Me} In the eyes of the beholder

I can’t remember where I read it, but a blogging mother recently dared to post a picture of herself that her son took. It wasn’t a flattering shot. She was lying in the sun in her bathing costume, one arm thrown over her face at an awkward angle, and a very white bare leg in all its post-pregnancy cellulite splendour stretched out front and centre.

Why did her son take that shot, right at that precise angle, in that unguarded moment? Was it to prank his mum? Embarrass her? Build some counter-ammo for that proverbial threat about silly stories making it to the 21st birthday speech?

No. He had taken it because he thought she looked beautiful. Out there, resting and relaxed in the sun.

I don’t know if Arddun had thought I looked beautiful when she took this one, but this is my unguarded-moment photo that I’m rather embarrassed about:

Velle changing Atticus's nappy in bedroom

EEEEEAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH! Avert your eyes!!! Do you see it? DO YOU SEE IT? My muffin top! My post-pregnancy, too-much-chocolate-too-many-late-nights-too-tired-to-exercise muffin top. The secret body of a woman who doesn’t live in Hollywood (or Asia) and who grew and birthed a 9-pound bubba 7 months ago. My body hasn’t bounced back, and my preschooler outted my disgrace with her new camera.

Except all she saw was her mummy doing a diaper change. All she captured was my joy with the mundane. That look on my face was one of surprise and pleasure — I was thrilled that she was starting to get the hang of her camera, and touched that she wanted to take photos of me. In fact, she took lots of photos of me because she adores me. Just as I take lots of my children because I can’t take my eyes off them.

She sees my body, cellulite and all, every day. They both do. But they don’t see the stretch marks, the bags under the eyes, the freckles. They don’t look at my body and think that I’m fat. They don’t wish I have a sharper nose or a butt that looks great in jeans. They don’t think I’m ugly. I’m Mummy. I have pretty hair. I give good cuddles and tickly kisses. I sing silly songs. I am like no other.

In a sermon two Sundays ago, Paul had suggested that we do massive clean-ups of our house before guests come over, all because of pride. And I had disagreed out loud – mostly because I do massive clean-ups because I’m trying to spare our guests having to wade through our filth (imagined or real). But there is an element of pride – of course there is. We want to be seen as put-together. Civilised. In control of our environment.

And it’s the same with our bodies – we don’t want to seem slothful. Slovenly. Ill-disciplined.

Being Chinese puts me in a slightly more *unique* position than my non-Chinese friends in Australia because my body is always held to a higher standard in some ways. For whenever I meet an Asian woman – even a complete stranger – there’s more than half a chance that she will comment on my body. I’ve been told I looked fat and that I should get a corset a mere fortnight after giving birth, while my body was still swollen from shock and water retention. I’ve been warned that I shouldn’t let myself go (the inference being that I already have). For my birthday this year, I had bought myself a full-length navy blue dress peppered with sweet yellow-white flowers, with an empire waistline. I absolutely love it because it’s pretty and comfortable… but every other time I’ve worn it, some Chinese woman somewhere was bound to pat my tummy (for real) and ask if I was pregnant and if not, that I therefore needed to lose weight. Never mind that I was jiggling an infant in a pram while they were doing and saying so.

It’s almost enough to develop an eating disorder.

I’m almost used to it now. It’s definitely cultural, this kneejerk reaction to tell another woman why she isn’t trying hard enough. And it’s not just looks – it goes into childrearing, housekeeping, you name it. But the looks are where it starts, because it’s the first and most obvious thing when you meet another person. I don’t know why my culture perpetuates this cycle of women crushing other women with the weight of vanity and expectation, even with those we love. I know it’s very seldom done maliciously. I know it’s done unconsciously.

(Or perhaps it happens in all cultures, except Asians lack subtlety. Certainly true, if the nastiness of parenting forums are anything to go by.)

I don’t know. I suspect the Looks thing has a lot to do with vanity and that notion of Saving Face that is endemic to our culture. And my shame in showing others my flabby bits is part and parcel of all that. But I reckon if I see myself through the same lens that my children use, I’d be a lot happier with myself and my body. And in turn, I’d be teaching my son and daughter valuable lessons about looking right past the outsides so they can recognise true love and real beauty.

Here’s to breaking free.

Monday Me

A wonderful Mommy photographer I just stumbled upon on Pinterest had put up a post to encourage mothers with cameras to get in front of them once in a while. I really needed that boost. For one thing, I’m never satisfied with how I photograph; I don’t have a symmetrical anything — even my eyebrows are different — so seeing a mirror image of what I look like in the mirror throws me all the time. And of course, I always think I’m looking fatter with each photo — and maybe I am. But that really shouldn’t matter, if the bottomline is about documenting my family life for my family. Because if I should get hit by a bus tomorrow, I want to leave my children and husband something a little more lasting than a hazy memory of a Chinese woman with a DSLR where her face ought to be. It’s not just about me… even if it’s all about photographing me. So yes, here’s another Good Blogging Intention that I will no doubt end up breaking, like my Thursday’s Three Thankfuls. I should start by not promising that this will be a weekly thing. But I’m going to try and get in front of my camera more often when photographing family moments. Here was my very deliberate start; after going trigger happy at Ivy’s party, I handed the very lovely and obliging Sara my camera, and asked her to take a photo of Arddun with her bestie Leila, and Leila’s mummy, Fam — one of the sweetest, most thoughtful women I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting to know. :-)

Fam, Leila, Arddun and me at Ivy's 4th birthday party
Enjoying Ivy’s 4th birthday party. Arddun, struggling with the harsh idea that the Lollies After Lunch rule still applies at parties.

{Monday Me} In the beginning

Diane Mc had started a little fun at church on Sunday by displaying some of our baby photos in black and white so we got to guess who’s who.

This was my submission:

Phwoar! Check out that '70s mattress!
Phwoar! Check out that ’70s mattress!

Until I found this photo, I hadn’t realised how much my children look like me. Their mouth is all Tony, and that’s the first thing about Atticus, especially, that those who know all of us notice straightaway. But yes… there’s no questioning who their mama is.

1-month-old Atticus sleeping
Atticus at one month
Arddun-month-1
Arddun at one month

Looking at my baby photo brings out the goosebumps as I contemplate God’s twists and curls. I don’t know what my mother envisioned of my life when she took that photo of me. I doubt it included emigration to Australia and a planned retirement in Canberra. I doubt it included not being part of my children’s lives, or growing old together with me. We always imagine the very best outcomes – a long life, a happy home, an almost utopian version of life as we currently know it to be.

When I was 15, I always thought I’d meet a nice Chinese Singaporean man not so very different from me, and we would settle down, after a respectable time of courtship, somewhere in the southwest of Singapore, not too far from my birth home and Orchard Road. And that was as far as my dreams went. I couldn’t imagine being a mother, although I had a vague conviction of never wanting a live-in maid/nanny. I couldn’t imagine leaving the church I grew up in, the friends I know and love, the food, the shopping, the safety, the predictability.

But exactly 12 years ago today, I stood in Changi Airport surrounded by friends and family who came bearing goodbye gifts and prayers. And then I did the unthinkable – I walked away. I was 24 years old, searching for answers and yearning for new beginnings. I was in a spiritual abyss, cynical and numb, furious with myself, stuck in bad habits, and feeling the walls closing in on me in this claustrophobic, gorgeous, sweaty, crowded, man-made, materialistic, idealistic, pragmatic, predictable hamster wheel that was home. Singapore.

It remains the most selfish decision I’ve ever made, although I didn’t understand it at the time. It broke many hearts including my own. But it brought me to Tony, and gave me my children. And now I have two homes that I will never completely feel I belong to. Which is more than what most people in this world can ever hope to have, so I’m not complaining.

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