#5: Apology

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Dear Sarah,

It has been a while since Mama wrote to you. I’m sorry.

The past few months have been a roller coaster ride of emotions. With the house renovation in full gear, Mama had little or no time for you. I only wanted to make sure our first house was perfect. It will be, in any case, a new chapter in our lives. During this period, Mama became lost in her own world. I left you with Popo on most of the weekends so that I could pop over to the new flat to check up on the renovation works. At the same time, Mama dropped by to say hi to neighbours already staying there. Soon, Mama started to love freedom, the thought of doing whatever things I want, at my own pace, at my own time. Something I haven’t done in a year, after you were born.

With this in mind, Mama became impatient. I wasn’t the “good” mother anymore, all I hope is for you to sleep so that I can start doing the things I like. The antics that once made me laugh now became a sign of your naughtiness & disobedience. I started scolding you at the slightest “mistake” – falling down while inside your playpen, tearing up magazines, spitting out your food, grinding your teeth, sucking your fingers etc. What happened to me?

And everytime after scolding you (till you cried yourself to sleep), I felt remorseful. Guilty. Then I told myself never to do it anymore. But the cycle continued after that. I was the Monster Mama I never wanted to be. I couldn’t help it. I was too stressed & you were, sad to say, a channel for me to de-stress. I specifically remembered I scolded you in the middle of the night for wanting to drink milk. I was crazy. What was wrong with a toddler wanting milk? Yes, tooth decays & cavities. And guess what, you were crying or fussing not because you wanted milk, you just needed comfort. Gosh. I am a bad mother. The next day, instead of apologizing, I scared you for grinding your teeth. You were frightened, I can see. You cried & screamed & ran around the playpen. You wanted me to stop but I continued. I didn’t know what I was doing. As usual, you sobbed in my arms after that & slept.

I hated myself. I knew I had to change. I prayed. I asked for forgiveness. I needed strength & peace.

Alhamdulillah. Little by little, I began to see the joy of looking after you again. The way you lean on Mama when I showed you how Ducky “peed” in the bathtub, the way you tilt your head & smile everytime I do the same. Even when you spit out your food, I stopped scolding. I started thinking why. Was it because it was too bland? Did you hate chicken? Was the broccoli too hard? We started singing silly songs & I can see you enjoyed yourself. Your laughter is so infectious.

Sometimes when Mama has a breakdown & started to cry, you crawled over & looked me in the eye & patted me. It was as if you were saying, “Don’t worry Mama, Sarah is here.” It just melts my heart. I became stronger, better all because of you.

Sorry Sarah, for all the things Mama did to make you cry. I pray it won’t happen again.

People always say a mother’s love is priceless, yes, I agree, but it’s priceless only because my child taught me how to love unconditionally.

Love,

Your Mama

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#4: The word I hope I’ll never hear

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Dear Sarah,

English: this is my own version of what bullyi...

Bullying ain't cool

Today, Mama is going to introduce a word to you – bullying. This word may look innocent but the action behind it isn’t. Be very careful, little one. Mama doesn’t want you to be on either end of this word.

Before I continue, let me tell you a little bit about Mama. Though I am only in my 30s, I have white hair. I can see the question mark in your eyes, Darling. Let me explain. White hair is usually associated with old people, people who are in their 60s or 70s, like Ah Gong and Popo. However, Mama has white hair since I was 7 years old or maybe slighter older. I don’t know why but I figured perhaps it’s in the genes or something else that’s so complicated I can’t be bothered to find out. So anyway, that’s it. You just need to remember: Mama has white hair.

So let me share with you a true story: When Mama was still a primary school student (about 9 or 10 years old), I hated school. I would feign illness (tummy ache was the easiest) in order to get a medical certificate. Popo noticed it after a while and questioned me. I don’t know what came over me, I just cried. She got a shock, so did Aunty Lil (though I’m sure she can’t recall a thing now). I confessed that I was indeed, faking a stomachache to avoid school because this boy, though much smaller in size compared to me, kept teasing me about my white hair and how I was old and ugly. It didn’t help that my family name ‘Lau’ has the same pronunciation as ‘old’ in Chinese. So everyday, this boy (let’s call him M), would come over and called me, “Lau Lena, Lau Lena! Look at your white hair! So ugly. No wonder your family name is Lau because you’re old.”

Popo was shocked that I didn’t let her know about this and it had been going on for several weeks. She told Aunty Lil to speak to my form teacher because your aunty was in the same school as Mama. The next day, Aunty Lil did exactly she was told to and soon, Mama’s form teacher, Mrs. Lee told M to apologize to me in front of everyone. He was embarrassed. From then onwards, he didn’t say anything about my hair or tease me anymore.

That’s the end of my story, Sarah. What Mama wanna let you know is bullying can happen at any age, at anytime and at any place. During Mama’s time, bullying was either physical or verbal. However, with technology so advanced now, bullying extends to the cyberspace, which is a worrying trend. People, who were victims of bullying, had committed suicide because of negative comments which were posted online.

So my little girl, one piece of advice to you: Bullies only target the weak. Be strong and stand up straight, because the moment you bend your back, people may crawl on top of you. Never cower in the face of bullies (what Mama did was wrong because I just kept quiet and let the bullying continue). Let your teachers know, let Papa or Mama know, we will help you. At the same time, never be a bully because nobody likes them. They are the ones who’ll lose out in the end.

Love,

Your Mama

Parentalk: Chasing for the best – have we gone too far?

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Certain things are easier said than done. I once wrote this on my Facebook status: If you hate being compared to others, then quit doing the same to your child.

The moment I posted this, I saw a video of my friend’s daughter, who at 10 months then, started walking on her own. Wait a minute, something’s not right. Sarah is 1.5 months older than her and all she can do is walk with support. I immediately scrolled down her timeline and saw her daughter being able to stand at 7 months, take her first steps at 8 months.

Hmmm, is Sarah a tad… slow? I quickly got into the playpen and attempted to make her stand… unsuccessfully. I panicked and shouted at her, “Why can’t you stand? Look at her (pointing to the laptop)! She’s younger than you and she’s walking now.” Sarah, obviously not getting anything, just stared at me with her big round eyes. She looked at the laptop, then back at me, then crawled away. I could see she was hurt (and I was sure I wasn’t imagining it).

Bad Mama. I became one of the many parents who can’t help but compare.

*****

Comparing what your child can/can’t do with other children of the same age is common. More often than not, I hear friends (who are not even parents themselves) telling me that Child A can read and present himself so well compared to Child B because the former attended playgroup at a younger age.

Well, if non parents can see the difference, then it’s little wonder why parents are busy putting their child in such learning centres. The good ones are often full, and the waiting list is pretty long. And they also charge pretty high too. A 1.5 hour playgroup (where children learn through music, drama and play), twice a week can set you back by about a few hundred bucks per month. Apparently it is not high enough to deter parents from wanting to give their child a good headstart before the real academic schooling kicks in.

And I can’t blame them. We are a nation obsessed with rankings and “elitism”. We, as parents, want to provide the best for our kids, to make sure they get good grades so they can be accepted into branded schools, so they can get high-paying jobs. In a bid to do that, parents often enrolled their kids in classes, from play-based learning to phonics to speech-and-drama lessons, once the kids turn 6 months. Some may argue that their purpose is to hone the little ones’ social skills, okay, I don’t disagree with that but surely there are cheaper ways to achieve the same result. For example, organize a get-together with friends who have kids around the same age, or join a parent group or hunt down your neighbours!

The craze just doesn’t end there. There are reports of parents queuing up overnight at famous kindergartens just to register their child. Well, nothing surprising since our national pastime includes queuing as well. Oh, what about volunteering your time at popular schools (read: schools that are constantly high in the rankings) so that you’ll increase your possibility of getting a slot there for your child? Remember, the word is increase, it isn’t GUARANTEED, mind you. So you can be wasting your 40-50 hours in the end.

Okay, if this doesn’t work out, one can always move. Not move on, but move house. Yes, you can shift your entire family closer to the school of your choice (not your kid’s choice) and this will also, up your chances of securing a spot there. Never mind if the school is far away from your work place, as long as your child dons that uniform when he turns 7 (the age where children go to primary school).

This, sadly, is only the beginning. If you don’t already know, Singapore is also called the “tuition nation”. Primary school students having tuition is now a norm. (For those who haven’t heard, even 5 year olds have tuition nowadays. Yes, apparently, it has drawn flak from parents as the kids are deemed too young. Later the school explained that it should be “enrichment classes” and not tuition instead). All the money spent just to prepare their child for the big PSLE. The aim? To get into prestigious (aka branded) schools. How about the neighbourhood schools? Not good enough. Don’t even mention it because all you are gonna get is a big frown from those parents. In fact, the trend is so serious that recently there has been some talk that we should scrap the term ‘neighbourhood schools’. Will this work? Sure, perhaps when Sarah becomes a parent, which is, some 20-30 years down the road. We need that amount of time to erode this thought (which has been deeply entrenched in our brains).

Once they get into a prestigious school, the cycle continues. More tuition for the weaker subjects. More money poured into the tuition industry (it’s a lucrative business, I tell you). And the results at the end of 4 years? 11 A1s out of 11 subjects. Perfect score. Yes, that’s what the top students for the GCE ‘O’ Levels are getting. So what have we created, you ask? Distinction scoring machines, I say.

With school, tuition and co-curricular activities on the child’s plate, he still have time for more. Throw in piano, ballet, drawing, swimming, abacus, taekwondo etc. Being good academically is not sufficient anymore. We want a child who is an all-rounder. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Yes, you’re right. It also makes Jack a sleepy boy too, with so much going on that he doesn’t even have time to snooze.

So parents, I can’t discourage you from doing all the above because I too, want the best for Sarah (and I will blog about this in another post, there’s a little tiger mum in me as well). However, while you’re busy searching for the best playschool/primary/secondary schools/tuition centre (I wish you all the, erm… best) for your little one, do stop in your tracks and ask your child, “Darling, have you done your best?”. That, in my opinion, is the only best thing you should search for.

Mama Lena

#3: Sleeping Beauty

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Dear Sarah,

Mama has a confession to make: I love watching you sleep, partly because of the serene look you have while doing so. Another reason is because I love to see your many funny positions while you are sleeping.

Based on my 12 months observation, here are your common sleeping poses:

1) The starfish: This is the first position you adopt because that’s how Mama put you down after patting you to sleep. Your hands and legs will automatically spread out and with your head, you look like a starfish resting on the beach. My precious shiny little starfish.

2) The Chanel: Sometimes you like to turn to your side, and curl up like the letter ‘C’, either the right way or its mirror image. Hence, Mama coin it as Chanel (just like the logo).

3) The stretching cat: Have you seen too many cats, Darling? Because that’s how you sleep on certain days. You’ll straighten your outstretched arms, then bend your knees. And sleep. Just like that. I don’t know about you, Sarah but Mama finds it very uncomfortable.

4) The tortoise: This is, by far, your favourite position. You sleep on your front with your back facing up. Your limbs are positioned at the sides (at right angles too). You’ll either tilt your head to the left or right. On some days, you sleep face down but only for a while because you know you can’t get enough air that way. Oh, and I must add, if you are hungry by then, you’ll get up on all fours and start rocking back  and forth. Mama calls this as the rocking tortoise.

And out of all, Mama loves the following most:

5) The Humpty Dumpty: Once a while, you get up in the middle of the night, sit upright and slowly… you close your eyes and plop! You fall to the front, face down, back to your slumber again. A few times I witnessed this, I giggled.

You bring smiles to my face, little one, even when you’re sleeping.

Love,

Your Mama

Parentalk: Things you should know before taking the plunge

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I thought being a full-time mum was easy. I was wrong. If you noticed, there are no manuals on being a parent. No dummy guides. Because every child is different and every parent is also different. What I’ve realized over the past year as a stay-at-home mum (SAHM) is I need plenty of patience. On bad days, I wish I could throw in the towel and go back to work. However, on good days (most days actually), I wish Sarah can grow up slower, so that I can maximize my time with her, take in and digest all her lovely smiles and awesome laughter. Or I secretly wish I will have another baby, and another and another… So I can get to re-live the wonderful moments over and over again.

If you’re thinking of becoming a SAHM (welcome to the club!), here are some of the things I thought would be useful (even though you would have known most of them already):

1) You work 365 days a year or 366 if it happens to be leap year. No sick leave – there’s always something called painkiller, take 2 tablets and pray that it’ll cure everything.

2) You work (almost) 24 hours a days, with little or no breaks in between. If you think you can take a breather when your child’s sleeping, you’re wrong. Sleeping time means time for you to do the household chores. If you’re lucky (or a fast worker), you get a few minutes (or hours, if you are really lucky) to do stuff that you like (e.g. blogging).

3) You get no government subsidy because you’re deemed as not contributing to the nation’s growth, even though you have done your part by increasing the birth rate and you’re still helping them by nurturing the future leaders.

4) You get no pay unless you consider the allowance that your husband gives you as your monthly salary. Or if you are already (quietly) setting aside some of the money intended for buying groceries or paying the bills, take that as your pay, you sneaky fella.

English: Photo of a step ladder

Yeah, that's the only ladder you'll be climbing

5) You watch your friends or ex-colleagues climb the corporate ladder whereas the only ladder you can climb is the step ladder in the kitchen when you’re cleaning those hard-to-reach areas.

6) You look like crap on most days and on the only day you choose to dress up and make yourself beautiful, your child decides to puke on you.

Wait, before you start to cringe or head for the exit door at the mere mention of SAHM, it’s not all that bad. If not, then why do some women, including me, still continue to be one? And it’s not because we’re crazy or have no choice. It’s because there are things which keep us going, things which are priceless. Read on…

1) Your husband appreciates you more (at least mine did) – he ought to, simply because he can be assured that his child is in good hands when he’s busy working.

2) You meet the same genuine face everyday – Children are innocent beings. They write their emotions all over their faces – if they’re happy, they laugh. If they’re sad, they cry. If they’re angry, they throw tantrums. It’s nice to be facing an unpretentious person everyday, don’t you agree? To them, you’re the world, their hero(ine), their everything. I love this feeling. If you scold them, they forget it after a minute. They’re not petty…. yet. Treasure these moments.

Laughter

Laughter, the best medicine

3) You get to be a child once again – Admit it, everyone has a little child in him/her. We just forget that it exists after so long. We’re so caught up doing “adult” things, we bounded by rules, we have to live by the adult guidelines. We’re… tired and we forget to have fun. It’s time to let loose and be a child, play like there’s no tomorrow, laugh like you’ve never laugh before (until you get the hiccups) or sleep like you’ve never slept your whole life. See the world through your baby’s eyes. It’s not that cruel anymore, isn’t it?

4) Your child will be close to you. Something we call bonding. A mother-child relationship so strong it can never be replaced with anything or anyone else. She’ll tell you anything and everything from A to Z. Afterall, you’re the first person she sees when she wakes up and the last person she sees before she falls asleep.

and lastly and most importantly,

5) You witness every single milestone of your baby. First smile, first fall, first turn, first step, first day at school, first crush… You play a significant part in her life, you are with her every single step of the way, lending her your shoulder to cry on after her first breakup or giving her a huge hug & kiss when she tells you that she has aced her examinations. She’s your proudest achievement. This alone, is enough to keep me going everyday.

Mama Lena

#2: Mama’s breastfeeding journey…

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Dear Sarah,

Breastfeeding symbol

Image via Wikipedia

If there comes a day when someone asks you if you were breastfed (though I seriously doubt so), tell them yes and no. Yes, you were breastfed but no, it wasn’t exclusive. You were on partial breastmilk.

Does it mean Mama don’t love you? NO, with a capital N. Mama loves you more than she loves herself, don’t let people convince you otherwise.

If I could, I would.

When you were born, the nurses at the hospital didn’t do a good job teaching me how to breastfeed. The hospital was short of manpower so the nurses only had that few minutes to each new mother. Plus, when they pushed you in, you were already crying for milk, so I was stressed.

However, Mama did not give up. I made an appointment to see the lactation consultant during my stay at the hospital. She came, told me how to do it & even showed me how to do it but you were not around. I only had a baby doll to practise with.

And soon, it was time to go home & on the day, your visiting pediatrician said you had mild jaundice but was given the green light to be discharged.

In order to lower your jaundice level, I was told to introduce formula milk so you could pee all the “yellow stuff” out. I saw how you struggled to suck from the bottle because the sucking & suckling motion was entirely different. I didn’t know what to do then but the first thing on my mind was to “cure” your jaundice.

Everything went well until some visiting friends started to make comments about Mama not feeding you exclusively & everything was based on demand & supply. Everyone can do it & breastfeeding wasn’t difficult. Alright, I was determined to prove it to them. I started feeding you on demand, which was every hour apart. I was dead tired but I persevered. I thought you wanted milk often because breastmilk was easier to digest, hence, you felt hungry faster.

Then, Papa noticed you felt very hot one night. You were two weeks old. We rushed you to the doctor, & he said to admit you immediately. I was crying throughout the visit. It turned out that you were dehydrated because of Mama. I wasn’t producing enough milk. And I thought I was. Your cheeks were sunken, you had low pee output. And during this time, I wasn’t even aware of it. Shame on me.

Back in the hospital, you were introduced to formula milk once again but I was pumping out my milk to make sure the volume was enough for you. Sarah, you were discharged on the third day.

Perhaps it was because you were so used to the bottle now, you refused to latch on, Sarah. Mama tried ways & means but you just pushed me away. Stubborn little fella you are, even till now. So Mama’s pumping routine started then & since I wasn’t producing enough, you were supplemented with formula milk.

This time, Mama wasn’t going to listen to anyone’s nonsense again. As long as you are healthy & thriving.

Not long after, the nagging thought that I couldn’t feed directly bothered me so much that I went back to the hospital again. With you in tow. There, instead of showing me how to breastfeed, they did it for me – they positioned you in the right way, the right manner & you just suckled. And I thought I knew how to do it at home. I was wrong. And so, the pumping sessions continued.

Mama found a certified lactation consultant via Google & arranged for her to come but things didn’t improve after that either. You were struggling to get out of my arms everytime. I felt unwanted. Does that mean you dislike me, Sarah?

It didn’t help that everything on the World Wide Web was about how good breastfeeding was & we should at least try to exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months. I felt like I was guilty for a crime I didn’t commit. I was a bad mother. I couldn’t give the best milk to you, Sarah. I cried everytime you refused to come near my breast.

By then, it was time to return to Amsterdam. This was a much-needed change of environment. We were reunited with Papa. With his support, Mama can do anything. We found a good lactation consultant nearby & she didn’t blame me for not being able to breastfeed. In fact, she told me to give formula milk if the problem persisted. I couldn’t keep pumping all the time.

I had a long talk with Papa, he said he’d support my decision. He knew I had tried my best. He knew about the numerous engorgement & mastitis episodes I had. He didn’t blame or scold me. He said not being able to provide breastmilk doesn’t mean I’m a bad mum. That was all I needed to hear. Or rather I needed him. To be there, physically, emotionally & mentally. He did that, and MUCH MORE.

I was about to give up but you finally latched on when you turned 4 months.

Alhamdulillah, I didn’t know what happened. You just did it. I thanked The One up there for answering my prayers. Sarah, I knew it was a test for me. A test of perseverance. And I had passed, with flying colours.

For the record, Sarah, you were breastfed for 11 months & 3 days (both from bottle & direct latch on).

Mama is so proud of you, as always because you’re a fighter, fighting beside Mama all the time.

Love,

Your Mama

#1: Your 1st Birthday

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Dear Sarah,

Mama thought it would be most appropriate to dedicate the first post to your first birthday.

There was no big celebration. No party. No pretty dresses. It was just a simple family affair (after dinner) with your paternal & maternal grandparents. Papa was overseas & couldn’t come back.

Your first birthday cake

You weren’t in your new dress, just a normal set of Disney Minnie Mouse blouse & pants which you wore umpteen times. I figured you should learn from young that your birthday is no different from any other day. You didn’t get a big cake because you couldn’t eat it (too sweet! too much cream! too fattening!) so Nenek (your paternal grandma) bought a little one from the hotel Papa & Mama got married at.

We sang you a birthday song but you were too busy staring at the lit candle to notice the tune. Nenek had to hold you back before you burnt your fingers. You didn’t know how to blow out the candle so Mama did it for you. Next year, perhaps.

Of course, you had to lay your little hands on it (to claim ownership, I supposed) before we could cut it on your behalf. The cake was sweet, too sweet but nothing was as sweet as seeing you grow up everyday.

Has it been one year already? Mama thought time flew by too fast, I can still remember the day I gave birth. After a 25 hour labour. Thank you very much.

The first month was tough. Mama was an emotional wreck. Papa wasn’t here. The second & third month was a trying period. Papa & Mama had no help overseas & we took turns carrying you, patting you to bed. You are an alert one, my dear, crying once we sat down. How did you even know?

After that, it was a breeze. You became more independent, playing on your own, quietly sitting in your rocker while Mama did her household chores. You make noise for milk, for naps & for a change of diapers. We took you out for walks, though not much because the weather in Amsterdam was freezing & you didn’t like your stroller that much.

At eight months, we moved to India but things didn’t turn out too well for you, little one. You felt ill so we brought you back to Singapore. Papa decided that it was best we stayed here while he continued over there, alone. He did it all for us, Sarah. It was the start of the Papa-coming-back-once-a-month routine, just to see us.

You reached so many milestones in Singapore, most recently, your first step. Mama was beaming with pride & joy for you took the longest time to take that independent step. Without support. Without Mama. Without anyone. Now, I feel a tinge of sadness, even though I know I shouldn’t, because it would mean that you’ll start walking, running… away from Mama. You’ll have your own friends, you’ll fall in love, you’ll get married & pretty soon, you’ll have a family of your own. Mama is starting to think you’re leaving me already. I’ve become more attached to you than you to me.

But, I’ll have the next 20 years or so to get myself adjusted. To face reality. So, my little one, go on, explore the world with those tiny feet of yours today. Soon, you may realize that it’s not as perfect as you think but you can be assured that Papa & Mama will always be here for you always.

Love,

Your Mama