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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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Planning ahead

My list of essential baby-in-car gear

It's the little things that count.

Okay, so perhaps the previous post stated the obvious a tad. (“A pram? No kidding! A cot? Wow. You’re a walking controversy, woman.”) So I dug a little deeper and decided to come up with my even shorter list of essential baby gear… for the car.

No, I won’t add “pram”. And no, I won’t add “car seat” either, although I will go off on a tangent here and talk about Backward Babies.

There’s heaps of evidence to suggest that keeping baby rearward facing for as long as possible is heaps safer in the event of a front-end collision. Stats differ – I’ve been told 5 times safer, I’ve been told 12 to 14 times safer, I’ve been told 70% safer… whatever.

The point is, when the car brakes suddenly, the last thing you want is your baby slamming into those unforgiving straps at 80kph. They can break bones. If the straps are twisted, they can cut flesh. So yeah, Arddun’s going to be seeing the world go by in reverse for about 4 years. Longer, if I can help it.

Off my soapbox now. And – go!

1. First aid kit

After attending the carer’s first aid course, I went and bought two first aid kits – a comprehensive one for the house, and a smaller travel one for the car or the pram for walks. Not that I plan to do CPR every day, but it’s useful to have a stash of band aids and paracetamol nearby anyhow. And as Arddun gets older, I expect to add other things for insect bites and scraped knees and other (hopefully minor) misadventures. If they sold children’s band aids with Veggie Tale prints, I’m so there.

2.  Window sock

This one assumes that your car windows aren’t tinted, of course. We’ve got a 1997 Mazda, and it’s now showing its age so we’ve had to block the sun using less sophisticated  methods. I’ve tried those stick-on window sunshades which unfurl, and used them on the window nearest to the baby car seat. Useless, useless, useless. Hardly blocked the sun, kept falling off, lots of window and sun still streaming through. But I’ve moved on to the window sock and if you get a well-fitted one, it works a charm. No matter where I park, I know that Arddun’s seat is in the shade. But it’s still see-through enough for me to check my blind spot.

3. Rear window sunshade

Again, baby car seat-related. If the sun is streaming in from the back, you don’t want to come back to a toasty car seat and blistering hot car seat buckles – especially in summer. Protect the car seat. It may take a few more seconds to put up, but it saves time in the long run. Much better than standing around waiting for your car to cool enough so you don’t feel like you’re putting your baby back in the oven. Again, this assumes that your car windows are not tinted. But even if they are, I’m sure this will help.

4. Picnic mat

Great for impromptu picnics, sure. But the number of times lately we found ourselves hiking up a small green and laying out our picnic mat for an impromptu Big Diaper Change… yeah. Surprisingly handy, especially on a road trip to some country town where Parent Changing Rooms might be mistaken for an episode of Wife Swap. Even in Canberra, my mom and I have pulled over to Lake Burley Griffin to give Arddun’s bottom a fresh start, with Captain Cook’s fountain a fantastic and distracting backdrop. I’ll admit this works slightly better where I am than, say, in Singapore.

5. Spare nappy wallet

Because you never know when your nappy bag might run out. Even the most prepared mother might find herself a diaper short with one explosion too many. And sure you can run out to Target and buy a box of nappies, but then you’d have to fork over $37 and lug the whole thing thereafter. Might be easier to nip into the car and retrieve the extra nappy. Redundancy upon redundancy, my friend. Include an extra change of clothes, because if you’re reaching for your emergency stash, chances are it’s a big smelly one.

6. Spare bucket hat and sunglasses

Yes. I am one of those mothers who buys sunglasses for her baby. Plural, by the way. I keep one in the bag, and I keep one in the car. I figure if I need sunglasses in order to stop squinting into the sun, then by golly, Arddun must be having it even tougher. I don’t know what it is about the Australian sun, but I promise you it’s brighter and harsher than the sun in Singapore. Besides, she looks way cuter than that baby in The Hangover. Pity she keeps yanking them off, only to squint and complain the rest of the way home. But we try.

7. Rear rearview mirror

You read that right. The mirror you check out from the rearview mirror. Basically, the mirror faced squarely on your child’s face in the rearward facing car seat, so you can figure out if she’s sleeping or not. HOWEVER, I have tried two brands and they both suck. Correction – they don’t suck enough. I’d placed the mirror in the back left corner of the rear window and trained it on the car seat, but it kept dropping off. Short of crazy-gluing the darn thing on, I’m at a loss because I’ve looked at other brands and they look pret-ty much the same. I have to say that when they DO stay affixed to the window, it works a charm. I feel HEAPS better knowing I can see her. So if you find a brand that actually has real staying power, please let me know.

I’m sure there are heaps of other items that could make this list. But these are my top seven in no particular order, off the top of my head. I’m up for suggestions, BTW. Heaps of space in the boot.

Banana in your ear… and other First Aid scenarios

I am a complete wuss when it comes to almost all forms of violence – exploding, shooting, stabbing, spearing, sword-fighting, animal attacks… I even turn away when Itchy ‘n’ Scratchy comes on. WUSS. Just the idea of pain and pointy objects sends my skin crawling, and if I’m made to sit through a particularly violent story or movie, I can feel physically unwell if I’m not allowed to leave the room.  It’s a wonder I ever managed to give birth to Arddun without painkillers.

Which is why it is almost laughable that I enrolled myself in a first aid course – and actually showed up.

Arddun, as it turns out, is one of ’em Active Babies. Started rolling belly to back at four months, the other way at 4.5 months, joined them both together at five months, now moving on to an uncoordinated commando-crawl and caterpillar squirm-flop at 5.5 months. Her legs just DO NOT STOP, unless she’s sleeping – which is the only way I can work out if she’s taking a snooze in the car seat. (Section past belly button no longer a blur.) And while I used to smugly tell others that I aim to house-proof my child, I now realise that I won’t always be fast enough. Or intuitive enough. Or alert enough. Or creative enough. Or obeyed enough. And it only takes the one time, before something drastic could happen. Plus if she has any of my genes, she’s going to be tripping over her own feet and getting her face smooshed by basketballs.

I needed both risk management AND crisis management plans.

Hence $150 2-day course littered with heartening worst case scenarios.

From resuscitation to poisons to dealing with LOTS of blood and embedded objects (pen in eye, knife through hand, ew ew ew ewwwww), I sat in a room with 10 other parents and learnt how to be useful when my child suffers the consequences of silly actions – hers, or someone else’s. It was a special first aid course that was geared especially for treating babies and young children, although the principles and practices are largely borrowed from the usual first aid you administer to adults.

I’m very glad I went, but the course did breathe new life into the saying, “Hope for the best, expect the worst”. I pictured Arddun in every scenario we practised, and felt my insides flop and lurch with anxiety. Every time the instructor gave an example of something her twin boys did (knives… benchtop… fighting over it… blood…), I had to mentally laa-laa-laa. The saddest part of the afternoon was spent practising resuscitation on a dummy baby – its wan, vacant expression and sealed-shut eyes an eerie reminder of cot death and a million things that could make babies go too quiet. And here I was, calmly squishing its hollow chest with my two fingers and hearing a whisper of doll’s breath wheezing out of those rubber lips with each poke.

As if that could ever be me, if I found my baby lying still as death. Not breathing.

Anyhoo – all said and done, I highly recommend the course. For while it made me squirm heaps, it empowered me more. And the last thing I want to be when my baby needs me is a useless, flapping wuss.

Melting point

So I’ve tried baking cookies – twice, and tried baking lemon currant loaves – twice, and made my own pizza dough – twice, and tried making a passionfruit and blueberry slice – once, and none of it bombed, and so I thought, “Hey. I actually don’t suck at this after all. Let’s try and make passionfruit melting moments for tomorrow’s afternoon tea, so I don’t need to run out and buy the ones from Aldi.”

A bridge too far, that. For I bombed spectacularly.

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And while I was initially heartened by a kind friend’s assurance that “a good chef always blames the recipe”, it turns out that the actual quote is “a good chef NEVER blames the recipe”. So I got all geed up to explain to everyone how the butter-flour ratio was totally off in my book, only to realise that just confirms how REALLY bad a chef I am. Poo.

I’m at the stage now where I feel quite comfortable with the whole mother-of-a-baby shindig. Got a lovely routine going, me and my girl get along swell, got a bunch of lovely new mums to swap notes with… And so what do I do? I whip out my list. And try to add to my routine, of all things, an advanced diploma.

Velle BC – Before Child – was convinced that it’d be rather near-sighted to emerge from a year-long maternity leave without accruing at least one new qualification. So she had decided, among other things, to gun for an advanced diploma in program management because hey, it wasn’t enough that she delivered two major projects ahead of schedule while heavily pregnant. And while she didn’t quite promise herself that she’d go through with it, she had her heart set on finishing off the diploma before the year’s end.

Until she gave birth.

Velle AD – After Daughter – is starting to realise three important truths.

ONE – she wasn’t going to accrue one new skill or qualification after maternity leave. She was going to get six. At least. The learning curve of a new mother is steep as, and includes the study of physiology, psychology, diet and nutrition, and the ability to Facebook, cook, watch BBC bonnet drama re-runs, do the laundry, organise Mother’s Group, AND answer the door to get the mail (online shopping!), all while breastfeeding.

TWO – there is an opportunity cost to finishing that list. In exchange for quals that might pretty my CV if people actually cared to read it, I might have to give up precious time playing with my chica. At the risk of sounding like a sop, I love watching this crazy creature grow and change right before my eyes. She is such great company. It seems a rather obvious thing to say, but I’m not lonely when I’m with her. Hanging out with my baby is turning out to be my favourite spectator sport – just watching her figure out the world around her. Who would have thunk.

THREE – all the mothers that laughed their heads off when they first read my good-intentions list? They were right. I wouldn’t be able to get through it. Not because I lack the time – although the days are flying so quickly it scares me. But chiefly because I lack the will.

 

I have changed. When I wrote that list, I didn’t realise how much I would change. And I have. I am BAKING, for crying out loud. And my house is neater. And I am fatter. And I am happy. Cerebrally, I know there’s going to be another switch some time down the road, where I might suddenly wish to be back at work again. Where I’ll be ready and say, “Enough. Let’s pay the mortgage.” Where I’ll want my body back. Where I’ll crave the opportunity to create in a world where grown-ups live.

Here’s the catch, though – would I have evolved into another creature by then? Wanting to accomplish different things? Part of why I’m mulling over this is how I tried this evening to summon the enthusiasm to do my assignment – which is based on the two major projects completed this year. And a large part of me is seriously bored with it. It’s been done – rehashing the details of an old project feels like I’ve stayed back a year at school. This material has been covered. It is FINISHED. Why are we still talking about it? Next better thing, please.

Or is it all excuses?

 

<3 Today

My eyes are actually aching from exhaustion, but I couldn’t go to sleep without piecing together some coherent thought on this heartbreaking article I just read.

Mothers of dying children… There’s a large part of me now that flinches when I know there’s news about death, dying and pain involving babies. I want to run far, faaar away because the mere whiff of what that pain could be like if it were MY child already taps into some black, dark, suffocating place that scares the bejeezus out of me. I don’t want to remember that babies can and do die – some slowly and painfully. And personally knowing parents who are suffocating now… who actually live with a dying child, who know that his or her life will be cut very short, fills me – a mother of a living, healthy baby – with much gratitude and crazy, crazy guilt.

It was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day on Saturday. And as if life didn’t present enough cruel ironies, I had spent much of Sunday and yesterday lining up a stack of enrichment classes and play dates and schools and childcare options for Arddun, instead of living in Today. Schools. She’s 4 months old, but in typical Singaporean/Canberran fashion, I was filling in a small stack of application forms for pre-school and enrichment classes that would take her up to college. Such an optimist. I have to remind myself that I do not believe in karma. That God is not vengeful, and that even if I seem to be building up barns for tomorrow ala Luke 12:18, I pray that He’ll forgive my arrogance and give me time with Arddun anyway. Years. Decades.  Please.

I spend so much time trying to master parenting – but Emily Rapp hit home when she told all of us that parenting is about loving my child today. ElilyMommy gave a great quote on Facebook the other week: When in doubt, love. I am filled with so much doubt constantly –

Is she sleeping enough?  Is she napping too little?

Is her brain given every opportunity to develop properly?

Is she drinking good, fatty milk? Is her poo the right colour?

When should I start baby sign-language? Am I reading enough books to her…

If you were to infer my parenting philosophy through my example, it seems to say “When in doubt, google”.

I think I need to remember that Arddun is not, ultimately, mine. That she is, like I am, on borrowed time. That the big stuff isn’t always as big as I think it should be. That dwelling on the past can be as unhealthy as living too much in the future. When Arddun and I have Today.

A name is a wish your heart makes

Visited LovesHerShoes and YogaMate yesterday, and inhaled a chocolate mud slice, and breathed in their gorgeous babies, and soaked in their birth stories. The topic of names came up, and both new mothers soon discovered that, had they been each blessed with a boy, they would have both named their young’un “Zachary”.

Which, as it turns out, is a gorgeous coincidence. However, LovesHerShoes then went on to tell us what her doctor had said when he learnt of their chosen boy’s name.

“No,” he said in mock gravity, gearing up no doubt for the punchline.

Which was, “You can’t name him Zachary because then people would say, ‘His face… looks egg-Zachary like his arse.'”

For months now, Tony and I have been asked whether we’ve decided on a name, which would then follow with a slightly expectant air of us telling them. And for months, we’ve politely resisted. Partly because it’s the one surprise we really want to keep for ourselves, now that everyone knows it’s a she. But mostly because we want to avoid punchlines such as the aforementioned. I have a sense of humour, but there’s something almost primal and very, very personal about the naming of a child.

Which is why what I’m about to do takes some measure of courage.

The middle name, Tony and I had long decided, would be a Chinese name. Single character, sounding phonetically like an English name, but with all the weight, symbolism and almost OTT flowery-ness that Chinese names do with such panache. And because I am the banana Asian in this marriage (yellow on the outside, rather white on the inside), the responsibility of such name searching fell to me.

In the end, I found a Chinese character I loved the sound of. I love it even more for how well it balances the meaning of the first name. And if a name is a wish your heart makes for your offspring, then apparently we would like Blobette to be imbued with, among a long list of other fine traits,

the “divine sagacity of sages”.

What does that even mean! I had to whip out a dictionary to confirm I understood half those words. But there we go. Great wisdom, complementing great internal and external beauty. As McDonald’s would say, it’s just a little bit fancy. But I love it.

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>

The unwind

Seven months can fly by scary-quick.

After tying my personal identity inextricably with my corporate life; after delivering a helluva project that proved an exercise in long-suffering and triumph, I cut the cords yesterday at 6.17pm and finally walked out the door. (I ran back in later at 7-something to retrieve my phone charger, earphones and “Well behaved women rarely make history” fridge magnet, which kinda ruined the drama. But you know what I mean.)

Yesterday over dinner, I felt like I had just embarked on a holiday with a wishy-washy start date, and an even more uncertain end. How many times have I been told to savour this freedom for as long as possible because when she finally arrives, I’ll look back on this in wonder. How many times have I been told to sleep, as if sleep were a commodity one could store up and then cash in on later. The body doesn’t work like that.

And yet, sleep I did. I crashed my monthly writer’s group meeting for five minutes to buy a signed copy of a novel that had been brewing since my last meeting with them in September. Had a surprisingly lovely Italian dinner with Tony at La Scala. And then drove home, blogged a list of things I wanted to get to from Monday, crawled meekly into bed… and slept for 12 hours.

This morning, I feel unemployed.

I am wearing a ticking time bomb, if the world is to be believed. My life, as I’ve known it for the past eight years with Tony, will apparently come crashing down the moment we hold her in our arms and make googly eyes. And so I’m slightly stressing over what to do first – get our personal things in order, or run out and manically enjoy my new, temporary liberty like a woman on death row. In amongst everything, I feel resentful of the implication – the expectation, almost – that this will be my last shot at some sort of personal happiness before I lose myself altogether and become a mommy.

How prosaic. And we all secretly protest the pedestrian, or at least fiercely determine that it shall never apply to us. But I’m not getting much positive reinforcement that I will be capable and able of resisting the ordinary.

But! On to more important things… like betting.

Majority of the office folk have dibs that Blobette will announce her arrival this weekend, because I’ll finally relax and my body will kick into gear. I surreptitiously cover where I think her ears are, everytime someone says something like that. But statistically, they say the first baby usually comes after the due date. And if several others are to be believed, I look like I’m carrying a 6-month old, and not a baby due in 3 weeks.

So – when do you think Blobette will arrive?

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