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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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When your daughter gets called a Bitch

It happened when I least expected it. We were at a small indoor playground at the local mall we frequent. We had just finished lunch. I had groceries to grab. Atticus was due for a nap but he had been hankering for the playground, so there we were.

Continue reading “When your daughter gets called a Bitch”

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The Christmas Letter

I received 3 Christmas letters this year, and it got me thinking that the Christmas letter is a dying art form that will be missed a decade down the road and will see some kind of a revival through an app, no doubt. But it also reminded me that I haven’t done any sort of Family Summary in recent years. We all gasp and groan about how quickly time flies, and every November hits us rudely that Christmas / New Year / Chinese New Year is “just around the corner”. I don’t know if it’s age or mundanity that prevents me from remembering what I did last week, let alone what I did in January this year. And yet I remember how I used to savour dates and moments as a teen – relived the special ones over and over through dear-diary entries and long phone conversations and letters to friends secretly penned during Math classes. I remembered everything in minutiae, with excruciating detail. I swore to myself that I’d never forget. And indeed some of those moments are still scorched into the lining of my brain, images vivid as when I was thirteen.

I say all this, because I don’t want to forget this year.

I first came across the concept of Brutiful from Momastery, who probably got it from a Death Metal band that apparently first coined the portmanteau. Brutiful – this exquisite, tortured mix of the brutal and the beautiful that makes you want to cry for too many reasons, and so you do.

Well, Life this year has been Brutiful.

The centrepiece, of course, has been my mother’s death – except it wasn’t just the death we survived, but the dying. My cousin Andrea had asked me very recently how I was holding up, and we both agreed that there is a distinction between Okay and Happy. I’m okay. I cannot say I’ve been happy. I am coping. I have been surviving. But I’m not quite sure about thriving.

I’ve certainly been moving as fast as I can to get the practicalities sorted – the house packed, sorted and cleared… the estate lawyered up and managed… the thank-yous written, the friends hugged and comforted. The giant upheaval of jumping into the unknown and foisting a mini-migration on my family, only to move back 3 months later and do the reverse. The logistics of shipping back 10 moving boxes into a house already full, and unpacking all over again.

The idea was to start the healing process by ripping off the bandaid quickly. I come from very pragmatic stock. But I had not been prepared for the internal injuries that come about from actually watching a beloved die.

I don’t know why it hadn’t dawned on me before, but watching any death take over a life is traumatic. I know my mother didn’t get bludgeoned to death by an axe murderer or hit by a bus before my eyes, but the moment of her death touched the very core of me and something in there shrivelled up and died with her in that moment. For months now, I’ve found every memory of my mother very painful – all the good bits, all the neutral bits, all the horrible bits. Just simultaneous excruciation for the mind and the heart that is constantly there. I cannot stop thinking about her. She is in everything I do and see and touch. But I am constantly shaking my thoughts – and sometimes, literally my head – because it hurts like nothing I’ve ever felt before.

I’ve realised that I’m still traumatised. It’s not a dramatic thing, this trauma. But I just can’t separate the moment of her dying from everything else about her. Sometimes, I can’t even breathe.

Wooden folding chair
Right: My wooden folding chair. Split down the middle and not worth the hassle with Australia’s Customs department, this was one of many childhood relics I had to leave behind. At least Arddun got to use it while she lived in Singapore.

In other news…

I managed to injure our brand new car twice in a matter of weeks at the beginning of the year. Once in January, when a random Real Estate sign on a picket flew across the road during 70kmh winds and hit my side door while I was driving, and then a few weeks later when I backed into a sign post because I couldn’t hear the reverse warning beeps over my music collection of Screaming White Females.

I had to have my root canal redone by an endodontist, and then stop treatment halfway to race back to Singapore to be with my mother, and then resume the second half of my treatment when we returned in June. And then get a tooth cap done by a family friend – and Queensland’s smiliest, chattiest dentist – when we visited Tony’s parents shortly after.

We visited Tony’s folks in Brisbane, where Arddun got to meet her cousin for the very first time. And then we went to Fiji for a family holiday, where we stayed at the Sheraton and ended up surrounded by Australians anyway.

I spent, in total, 4 months of the year in Singapore over 3 visits – three months with Tony and Arddun when we mini-migrated there in March to be with my mother before she died, two weeks with just me an Liz to sort out her estate, and a precious week where I travelled alone to be with my mother just a fortnight before she died.

Chevelle and Caroline
Celebrating my 34th birthday with mum. She had said this would be her last chance to celebrate my birthday. In so much pain, even though she was smiling.

We’ve dealt with The Big C twice in our family this year – my mother’s ovarian cancer is the obvious one, but my aunt – her sister – discovered her breast cancer this year as well. And so it’s been an exhausting year for her twice over, and us watching as she goes through her gruelling treatment without her best friend by her side. It’s also meant a lot of visits to GPs and ultrasound clinics for me, as I start the process of attaining genetic counselling. I’ve also seen the inside of my ovaries three times this year. And no, I’m not pregnant.

Incidentally…

Number of times people have asked when I’m going to get knocked up again: 54. That’s more than once a week, people.

I had extended my maternity leave, and then told work that I’d like a change of scenery so they created a new job for me, and then I accepted the job… only to quit the week I was supposed to start because we decided to drop everything to be with my mother . And they were absolutely lovely and loving about me inadvertently stuffing them around like that. Just crazy-understanding and well wishes all around.

Tony changed job scope, and then Australia changed government, so all his work eventually had to ground to caretaker mode, and now everything’s different. Because that’s life in the public service – or at least, that’s the way it is when there’s a changing of the guard.

I started selling Tupperware – partly to get out of the house and wear heels, partly to feel like I can earn some extra cash, partly because I’d like to organise my kitchen pantry with free stuff. But in the meantime, I’ve managed to reconnect with people I haven’t properly spoken to in years, and meet new people from very different walks of life. And I’m now running out of space in the guest room – my one remaining bastion of clear floor with no clutter – because it’s filled with Tupperware.

Tupperware in pantry
Organisation can be a beautiful thing, no?

The day before my third trip to Singapore, I realised the carpet in our walk-in robe was damp. About 7 tradesmen later, we learnt that our shower tap in the ensuite had been secretly leaking into our walls so it got all soggy, and then the shower recesses in both bathrooms were probably also leaking water, and then the insurance company won’t cover any of it because they don’t cover shower recess leaks even though the majority of the damage was caused by the shower taps, and… and… 10 weeks on, we have a gigantic hole in our wall, and a fight with the insurance company whose disputes department has the response time and energy of a drugged sloth.

Big hole in wall
Remember this one? Still there. Still big. Still ugly.

Arddun started dance classes for the first time, and loves it so much that we’re doing it again next year.

Arddun at dance class

Thanks to sleeping arrangements in Singapore, she’s learnt how to sleep by herself on her own bed – even if that means rolling off it in the middle of the night, and then groggily climbing back in.

Lepak on Andrea's bed
Life is pretty sweet when you’re on a Big Girl Bed.

She’s drunk orange and apple juice for the first time, and so now she’s demanding that it’s a staple in her diet even though I’m fighting it because water is so much more important. She brushes her own teeth with REAL grown-up toothpaste that requires her to spit after vigorously and randomly rummaging mouth with brush, and that has a picture of The Wiggles on the tube.

She now also loves skirts, partly because it reminds her of dance classes, but mostly because it’s the one article of clothing she can put on herself without getting it too wrong. She likes dressing herself, and is getting better at it all the time.

Arddun wearing mummy's shirt as skirt
February 2013: The Great Mummy’s Shirt-as-Skirt Experiment
Arddun wearing Tony's sock
June 2013: The Daddy’s Sock-as-Leggings fashion shoot

Arddun also got to see her Poppy and Nanna a whopping THREE TIMES this year – once in Singapore for Grandma’s homecoming, once in Brisbane, and once when they came over to stay in Canberra so I could fly to Singapore with Liz to settle the Singapore estate.

Reading with Poppy in pergola
Reading with her beloved Poppy. The red swing was hers and Little Kitty’s very favourite means of passing the time.
Arddun with Nanna
Arddun still yells for “Nina” when she gets in trouble with Mummy and Daddy.

As for our holiday season this year, we took a quiet day trip to Malua Bay, and Arddun got to spend some time “at the sandpit”. We had to teach her that this giant sandpit is better known as A Beach. Her very first time at one!

Arddun holding Daddy's hand at the beach
Beautiful day for sandcastles, Daddy.

We also spent a day at Camp Challenge – Arddun’s very first Australian church camp, and our first time in a decade.

Arddun at Kids worship
Singing “My God is So BIG!” at Kids Worship.

And then we had dinner at Tony’s colleague’s home this evening, where Arddun got introduced to the joys of Atari gaming without needing to shell out a roll of 20-cent coins.

Arddun looking at gaming console
Old school, maaaan.

I’ll be honest: this year SUCKED the BIG TIME. Part of the back of my throat feels perpetually contorted from swallowed tears, like I just snarfed a bag of Super Lemons. It has been exhausting. It has been stressful. Parts of it has even been hateful. I want to say there are lovely bits, because it’s true. I want to say that I’ve been surrounded by some of the best quality people Life has to offer, because that is also definitely true. But I would do this year over in a heartbeat, if it means I can spend more time with my mother.

And yet…

My cousin Shawn, who has grown to become a young man wise beyond his years (and mine), put it most eloquently and maturely when he said,

As i reflect upon the year, i’m thankful for all the pain and uncertainties in 2013, for they remind me that i’m still human and i can still continue to hope and trust in a perfect God who holds my tomorrow.

I couldn’t have said it better. And I probably should. So I’ll leave it as that for now, and bid you a Happy New Year.

Taekwandon’t: the disproportionate response

Arddun has entered a new phase where she doesn’t much care for little boys her age, so it was all rather charming when she made a new friend at the playground today… who happened to be a little older, a whole lot bigger, and a boy.

That is, until he got mad with Arddun. All because she obeyed my instructions and started putting on her shoes to leave the playground. So cross that she dared to leave his company without his consent, the little brute came over, yelled at Arddun, and then shoved her. Hard.

Now. The bully’s grandma did nothing but give a token squawk of reproof. The mothers around me tut-tutted. And all I could do was hold my daughter while she suddenly realised total and utter rejection for something that wasn’t even her fault. That fat kid (and he really was big) had hurt my daughter in a way she had never been hurt before at a playground. Her little feelings were crushed.

The mama bear in me was aching to growl at that kid so hard, he’d wet his pants for a month. A month. And grow up to be a gentleman for the rest of his life. With hopefully less sugar in his diet.

But when it’s someone else’s kid and it’s some other parent – or grandparent – who doesn’t think all this a big deal, it’s hard to rise to the occasion and show your daughter that you have her back, you really do. It’s hard not to feel like you’ve just let her down on a fundamental level.

So the next best thing, I thought, was perhaps to send her to martial arts classes. So the next boy who touches her inappropriately could get Miss Piggy-ed into the next week.

But then I watched this video, and I’m not sure that’s gonna cut the mustard in the self-defence stakes, either.

Super

Apparently, this week has been Superheroes week. Tony, who usually does the drop offs and pick ups, didn’t get the memo so we were rather bemused when we turned up on Monday, and there were little Spidermen walking around nonchalantly, and playing with blocks. Two little girls were also dressed as ladybugs, which was cute and all, but NOT to theme.

“The boys usually get to dress up at Superheroes,” explained the room leader. “But the girls… they usually get dressed up as fairies or ladybugs because there just isn’t as much choice for them out there.”

Well. Challenge ACCEPTED.

To be fair, the room leader had a point. While I’m not averse to shopping in the Boys section for Arddun’s clothes, I’m a bit thingy about dressing Arddun up as a male superhero. Because Arddun is a girl. And she’s super. And I don’t see why super-little people costumes have to be so MAN. SpiderMAN. BatMAN. Teengage Mutant Ninja Turtles (admittedly turtles, but young MAN turtles.)

The trouble is, female superheroes have largely been drawn by men with a fixation on long legs and large, high breasts, and a penchant for drafty wardrobes. I really didn’t want to sexy up my toddler.

So I did a call for ideas on Facebook, and got the following suggestions.

  • Wonder Woman
  • Xena Warrior Princess
  • Invisible Woman
  • Drafty
  • Bat girl
  • Super girl
  • Greek Goddess superhero
  • Anxiety Girl
  • Mega Mindy
  • Any character from Heroes, because they wore everyday clothing
  • Cat toddler
  • Me. Because I’m a superhero. :)

All had great possibilities, but in the end, I remembered a onesie of Arddun’s that had a cape. After rummaging through Target, I found the tights and a matching skirt to hide the fact the onesie is at least a size too small, and voila! I present to you….

Arddun dressed as superhero
The T-shirt says it all
Arddun dressed as superhero, looking down at her shirt
“Super wha?”

And here’s the Super Girl in action.

Yes. It would appear that one of her many superhero powers includes Turning. When done repeatedly and to music, this superpower gets boosted to the more stupendous Twirling. It is one to watch, because it mostly involves getting Daddy – a usually serious and dignified man – to twirl also. Super, indeed.

So, how was your day?

So we’ve been waiting all morning for the delivery guy to come with our 10 moving boxes from Singapore. He’s an hour late now, and it’s not his fault – a customer before me had insisted that this one lone driver not only deliver her bed, but also ASSEMBLE the darn thing.

And so he’s late.

The kitchen trash bin isn’t full but is at risk of stinking (banana peels will do that to anything), so I unlock the back door and step out. We don’t have a rubbish chute because we live in a townhouse. We have a private courtyard between the house proper and our garage at the back, and off to the side, we have a yellow bin for recycling, and a green bin for all other trash.

So I take my kitchen bin out the back, when it seems all of nature suddenly perks up looking real guilty. Two Common Mynas look up in mid diarrhea from my clothes line, while Yet Another mangy neighbour’s cat shoots straight out from our hedgerow to freedom beyond our squeaky back gate. I am actually a lot more annoyed about the cat, and wonder if it’s time for another visit to the RSPCA.

All this takes about 20 seconds, perhaps. I walk back to my door. And realise that it’s closed.

She did not…

I squeeze the bottom round doorknob, turn, and push. Yes. Yes she did.

My toddler had closed the door behind me and flipped up the deadlock. And then promptly gone back to our couch to watch ABC for Kids.

There are many, many thoughts running through my head at this point, chief of which are “I am going to KILL her!” followed closely by “PLEASE DON’T TOUCH THE STOVE!” and then a distant “She’s not a teenager yet. You don’t have to kill her.”

Meanwhile, I am thanking GOD that I had built in a contingency.

Parents out there, listen up. One thing I’ve learnt repeatedly from friends with kids is that Children with Locks/Keys is just a combination begging for a crisis. No matter how careful you think you are, they will find a way to make you completely regret having introduced Mr Jangly Keys to them. The first time that Tony let Arddun play with his keys? Nothing happened. Having successfully lulled her daddy into a false sense of security, Arddun then proceeded on her second outing with Tony’s set of keys to make them disappear into the ether. They were eventually found in a boot on the shoe rack nobody uses because it has too many shoes nobody wears.

Caution, my friends.

After once walking out of the house with nappy bag, pram and baby in tow but no Mummy Handbag, I’d built in a contingency to retrieve keys to my house quickly. This is the first time I’ve actually had to fall back on my emergency keys. So even though I know exactly where each key is, I’m digging around frantically trying to find each one, and praying that nothing else freaky and unexpected has happened like the birds making off with them or me having a false memory of the old hiding places when in fact,  I had actually moved the keys again but forgotten their new hiding places, and…

GOT’EM!

I get into the house and Arddun is so alarmed by the way I’m looking at her – this awful combination of relief, fear, crazy mommy anger resulting from combination of relief and fear – that she starts crying and running to the front door to let the complete stranger in (because hey, someone is such a pro with deadlocks nowadays…), and to score sympathy points. For at the front of the house stands my patient delivery man with my 10 boxes, and I have only gotten into my house just at the nick of time before he thinks to disappear.

So that was my afternoon.

Nothing much happened in the evening. Oh wait. Except for the time we went out to the grocery store and I ducked into the disabled toilet cubicle/nappy change room because it was the only one big enough to put some distance between Arddun and I while I… powdered my nose. Which means the entire time, she’s standing there in her corner cheering, “Very GOOD, Mummy! Well DO~ONE! You (something unintelligible) BEEG GIRL! Toilet paper? Mummy flush?”

She was pretty loud.

Still Relevant memos to self

While going through my computer folders, I found my notes from when I gave a short devotion at a mother’s group meeting at Audrey’s home in Singapore. Had a flick-through and true enough, all of what I had pondered over then is still relevant today.

1. Growing Dependent Kids

I had mentioned before how Tony and I are big on Arddun gaining independence early. It’s in the small things, like minimising the spoon-feeding, getting her to self-settle instead of rocking her to sleep, teaching her to put away her toys and to clean up her messes, instilling in her the focus and contentment required to play independently… The only thing we haven’t been as successful in the Get Independent Quick parenting scheme  is potty training. But still, there is that inner dialogue hurrying me along, ever conscious not to molly-coddle, not to breed bad habits…

Except I think I might have lost sight of the ultimate goal. Because the ultimate goal isn’t about giving a child life competencies and a sense of her place and role in her environment, although those are great things to strive for. The ultimate goal isn’t about enabling my child to stand on her two feet and know her own mind.

The ultimate goal is to move my child from dependence on mummy and daddy to dependence on God.

I didn’t get to say this at the actual sharing because there were eleventeen babies making friends with one another at the time (and eleventeen equally loving mothers trying to keep them out of trouble), but I had read a blog post that week written by a mother who wanted her newly school-attending daughter to gain more confidence by remembering that God was there with her at school. And that just shifted the paradigm for me. I will not always be there for Arddun. As she gets older, there are going to be play dates, and classes (we think dance classes at the rate she’s going), and school, and sports, and a whole other world that is going to be mostly hers. I will always be there for her emotionally and the rest of it, of course. But I won’t be by her desk at school when the soi disant school queen bee comes around, or leaning against the bleachers when she is tempted to cheat at softball. (Because of course, we’re hoping she’s going to do softball. And when I say we, I mean Tony.)

In all those cases, her best bet is a keen sense of right and wrong that comes from understanding who God is and why He loves her.

REALLY helps if she learns all that through example, of course. So I’d best buck up.

2. Be present

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

Be still and know that I am God. Psalms 46:10

Be ever hearing, but never understanding. Be ever seeing, but never perceiving. (Isaiah 6:10 Hebrew; Septuagint ‘You will be ever hearing, but never understanding; / you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ / This people’s heart has become calloused; / they hardly hear with their ears, / and they have closed their eyes)

Be here. Be present. Wherever you are, be there. ― Willie Nelson

How many of these scenarios are familiar to you?

iPads or iPhones at the dinner table.

A young man sitting in the reserved seat on the MRT, engrossed in his Candy Crush while a mother with a young child stands beside him.

A mother on the phone with the Australian Customs Department worrying about boxes, while her child waits to cuddle her and wave good-bye. (That was me, the day before I shared that devotion.)

It is so easy to get busy over the details. To multi-task. To jam as many things in the day as humanly possible. Sometimes it’s because we have to. But many times, it’s because we want to. We want to please God, we want to help His people. We want to fulfil our potential, and we want to maximise the talents God has given us.

But sometimes, in the doing, we sacrifice the best version of ourselves. Quantity is very often NOT the substitute for quality. I get very exasperated when I see how many small things I can accomplish at one go, while my husband seems only capable of doing one thing at a time. But if I were to analyse the attention span I’ve paid each task, I realise that it is often divided, and can be at the expense of someone else. Usually, Arddun and Tony.

The art of being present is the art of shutting out distractions, and having the discipline not to let anything else enter in. The art of being present is in the decision that THIS is what is MOST important to the moment. Encouraging my child as she shows me how well she sorts shapes. Listening – REALLY listening – to my husband when he tells me about his day. Talking to Arddun about disappointing behaviour. Rehearsing how to behave when she opens birthday gifts at her party. Undivided attention shows my daughter — and my husband —more love and gives them more satisfaction than any toy or present I could possibly give them. And yet it is hard not to jump up and answer a message when it beeps, or run off and put a load of washing on before I forget.

But it is crucial. And it is respectful of others.

I am still learning, so please pray for me.

3. Love covers over a multitude of sins

Keep your love for one another at full strength, because love covers a multitude of sins. ~I Peter 4:8

I find it so easy to forgive Arddun and yet so difficult at times to do the same for Tony. And I can sometimes feel myself spiralling downward into a very corrosive blame game that makes me out to be this huge martyr and my husband, a rather obtuse and unthinking duh-duh. Which is complete nonsense, because he’s one of the most switched-on people I know.

But yes. Sometimes, as fathers and husbands, they drive us mad. Things that come so naturally to us – like figuring out how to stack the Tupperware in your cupboard logically or opening a fancy packet of tissues using the perforation marks and not brute force – seem to completely thwart our husbands. Many times, it seems they do it because they don’t respect us enough or care to understand.

And maybe some of our assumptions are spot on. And some of it comes from sleep deprivation and being TOO fussy and particular. Sometimes, the battles we pick don’t need to be battles, but we choose to pick them because they’re more tangible than the other worries and concerns we have with our spouses.

Yet the verse is pretty clear about the effort required on our parts. Keep your love for one another at full strength. If it’s depleted, fill it up. If I’m running on empty, if I’m doing my mothering and wife-ing out of resentment, I’ve personally been remiss. If I am unable to forgive and forget – yes, FORGET – then I am unable to let the “multitude of sins” go because I have not loved perfectly. I have not agape-d my husband.

Like I said, I have yet to fully understand this and see it live in my life. But I can only work towards the prize.

Sharing a short devo at Audrey's house

Ori’s birthday party

(I’m in the process of backdating a bunch of posts, so at least when I look back, I know when the photos were actually taken. So yes, I’ve posted this on the 29th even though it’s dated the 6th of April. Better late than never, etc.)

Melissa and David were so sweet to invite Tony, Arddun and I to Ori’s first birthday party on this date, and were we glad we made it. I was nursing a slight sore throat that day, but that didn’t stop me from hoeing into the cake and mian bao ice-cream…

Arddun at birthday party
Clockwise from top left: Arddun slow-dancing with Daddy; Arddun rocking out on rocking horse; Mian Bao ice cream man in the driveway, coaxed from his usual business spot in the nearby park; Arddun, still rocking out on the rocking horse because let’s admit it – I’m a mother of an active toddler. I don’t have time and hands to take lots of interesting photos!

Mel and David did such an amazing job putting together this party. Usually, they say parties for 1-year-old are really more for the parents than the kids… but I think they had something for everyone. Stupendous cake, champagne, activity stations, music…

Admittedly, the music was more a reflection of Mel getting nostalgic about her youth (hence the many ’80s numbers!) but we weren’t complaining. The personal gosh-aww moment at the party for us turned out to be when Arddun pulled Tony out to the “dance floor” to dance with her daddy.

Observe:

Yes, she did look a little drunk… or high on chocolate cake… And yes, there was a bit of in-and-out-the-cherry-window followed by lots of odd dance moves partially inspired by Bjork… And there’s no denying the wails of children in the background so we are in no doubt that this WAS a children’s party… But there you have it. Arddun’s first slow-dance with her daddy.

Hopefully, they get the steps worked out a bit better by her wedding day, some day.

Photobooth-at-Ori-party
We Are Family

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