Babies Hate Car Seats. Period.

We are here again, you know, at that dreaded car-seat-loathing phase. It lasted 18 months for F, and part of the reason why it took so long was probably because we didn’t head out as frequently as I do with the kids now.

I was a pretty noob driver then, even though I received my license in 2000. I didn’t dare to drive until I was forced to do school runs with F when she started pre-school at 19 months old. School runs were pretty well-oiled after months of ‘practice’ (more like on-the-job training, really); but E comes along with us now, so it’s two hours of commute (read: screamfest) everyday and man, am I stressed!

(As if there isn’t enough stress trying to get all three of us fed, bathed and out the door by 8.30am. And E has to take one nap before that. Pfffft.)

I have tried everything from playing different kinds of music, to blasting the air-conditioning, to white noise, to dangling toys from the backseat mirror I installed, to freeing his hands from mittens so he can self-soothe, to beat-boxing. YES, BEAT-BOXING. Nothing works. The minute I hoist E out of the sling, he knows it’s car seat time and screams at the top of his lungs as I secure him in the car seat. Then, it’s twenty-five minutes of a million decibels going at my ears as I try to pacify him with my voice and I struggle to hear what F is trying to tell me over the wails. I hastily park my car just so I can rescue him and pop him back into the sling for 5 minutes of comfort, and then it’s another twenty-five minutes of watching a positively livid eggplant scream whenever I get the opportunity. My poor mother’s heart.

Some things just don’t change and I am not sure how long it will take for E to get used to the car seat….

BETTER SOONER THAN LATER.

Hands up, those of you who face this much too often like I do. (BIG HUGS TO YOU)

“That’s My Dream Job!”

The stars aligned and I was able to go out for a haircut yesterday afternoon. Instead of paying my usual stylist a visit, I decided to head to another salon, one that has proven its worth with my sister who now sports a banging new look, one that is nearer where I live.

Unfamiliar as the salon may be, the semi-annual hair-pampering bonanza is packed with salon chatter, something that I don’t care for but awkwardly engage in for more selfish reasons than for the sake of being polite. Yes, I am that stoic or (worse) sour-faced person with bushy, unkempt hair that would give Granger a run for her money, that keep-her-eyes-closed-to-avoid-conversation aunty with a resting bitch face who occasionally doles out forced smiles just to keep a cursory, friendly-enough relationship with the stylist, all in the name of ‘whatever you do, please don’t screw with my hair’. That afternoon, the conversation was peppered with remarks on how dry my hair is and how I need to take better care of it, and it remained very much a monologue (as usual) until my new and very chirpy stylist asked, “Are you on maternity leave now?”

“No. I am not working. I am a stay-at-home-mother.”

I expected all sorts of replies, you know, those that have been thrown in my face all these years (including how I have wasted my PhD on *just* being a SAHM and not contributing to society) but hers.

“So lucky!!! That’s my dream job! But I don’t have any children, lah!” She quipped with childlike innocence and an even more childlike squeal. “Do you bring your children to Polliwogs? It looks like so much fun!”

I wanted to say something really snarky but held my tongue, and managed a pained smile instead. Nothing to ruin a budding relationship with a competent stylist like insolence and a smidgeon of assumption, I figured. I wanted to tell her that I’d like to see her try being a mother for a day or two before telling me if she still thinks it’s a dream job but I was being presumptuous on her motives and that was wrong on my part. Once I got that *coughs*bitchiness*coughs out of the way, I spent the rest of the afternoon feeling rather curious about her enthusiasm.

Perhaps, my stylist was poorly informed on what a SAHM does. She could be thinking long siestas and pampering manicures whilst playing with angelic cherubs who sleep/eat/poop on their own, no thanks to the pretty facades of motherhood extolled by parents on social media. Perhaps, she does understand what being a SAHM or a mother (period) entails and she yearns to be one. Or perhaps, she didn’t mean to label motherhood as a job; she simply dreamed of becoming a mother and wanted to share her dream with me. Anyhow, it got me thinking…

A job is a paid position of employment. My dream job would have me doing what I love and getting paid decent bucks for it. I would bake the most kick-ass treats and people would happily pay to fatten themselves up on my bakes, even if they are on a diet. But a job as a SAHM or a mother? No, honey, you can’t work as a mother because (a) there isn’t a salary or medical/dental benefits to speak of, (b) the hours are unbelievably long, it’s 24/7 the last time I checked, so…nope, no paid or unpaid days off, (c) it’s a hamster wheel you can’t get off, or to put it simply, it’s a role you can’t quit, and (d) you would be hard-pressed to find ‘Mother’ in the drop-down list of occupations when you fill in your particulars for a lucky draw to win that top-of-the-range vacuum cleaner. Housewife, yes, (much to my annoyance as housewives don’t get CPF too, do they? Why is that an occupation then?). Mother, no.

Tired jokes aside, the reason why being a mother can hardly count as holding a job is…you have to be one, grow into one and live as one. Whether one delivered her child in a drug-free water birth, opted for a C-section, used a surrogate or adopted her dearest, a mother is born. Like it or not, our DNA changes in ways that were previously unfathomable once we are made mothers…and motherhood becomes us, regardless of who we are, where we are or what we do. One could be labouring through countless tasks at work and STILL be worrying about her child who had a fever yesterday night. One could be cuddling her child who is feeling poorly and STILL be worrying about said child. Motherhood is not something you take on, hold or do, but it is one fulcrum of a meaningful relationship that you quietly grow into, and that in so many ways, is much more complicated, yet simpler than a job.

I became a mother when my daughter was born, and again when my son arrived. Based on our circumstances and preferences, I chose to stay at home to look after my children for now. I have been learning to mother to the best of my abilities (that includes teaching myself to accept that I will falter at times) and to foster a relationship with my children for the past three years. It is a pretty neat dream to live in, most of the time, when I don’t feel like my bones are falling apart or when I am done being chased by dinosaurs. But a job…? No. It isn’t a job to begin with, and it never will be, even if it involves very tangible (and menial) tasks like cleaning out poop from the car seat…because raising children is not akin to working on a project and children are not things to be done. It is a relationship that is forever bound by the ebbs and flows of interaction between mother and child, and I doubt the word ‘job’ describes this appropriately.

A job…? Nah, not really. A dream? Yes, I think I can hardly refute that. Lucky to be a mother? Definitely.

What The Orange Car Taught Me

With two kids under my charge, it is challenging to have good and long conversations with F as I often have to attend to E. I can’t quite sit down and properly interact with her, nor can I read books after books and do craft with her without getting interrupted; it is a far cry from when we were a family of three. School runs are therefore so much more than commutes of late; we often yak up a storm on our way to and from school, and we enjoy talking about the things we spot on the road or events that happened at school or at home, and F ensures that we make time for as many songs as possible in DJ Mama’s repertoire. It’s all very merry (maybe except when E wails to express his utter distaste for the car seat) and we love the time that we get with each other, even if it’s spent confined to our seats.

Yesterday morning, we hit the road as usual and F decided that it would bring her much joy to spot vehicles of certain colours.

“Black car, Mama! Let’s look for another black car!”

“Look Mama, one, two, TWO BLACK CARS! Let’s look for a white car now!”

Two black cars, three white cars and two silver cars later, F was utterly delighted at the game we were playing and she semi-shouted whilst flapping her arms like a chicken on the loose, “Mama, ORANGE! Let’s look for a(n) orange car!”

I froze and thought, ‘Jialat. We are almost reaching her school, what are the odds of spotting an orange car?!’

As I drove around the bend that leads to her school, I gently suggested that orange cars are rare and we may not spot any. I mean, I told her ‘may not’ but I was thinking more along the lines of ‘will not’ as we were just thirty seconds away from school. F was a little disappointed to hear that and her enthusiasm waned but she remained quietly hopeful.

As I filtered right, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“FAITH, LOOK! ORANGE CAR!” (I truly felt and beamed like I won the lottery.)

“Mama, ORANGE CAR!! Let’s look for another one!” (And F was beyond elated.)

Ten seconds left as I turned into the carpark…well, let’s just say that I was not hopeful at all even though we spotted (rather miraculously, if I might add) an orange car towards the end of the school run.

Then, it happened again.

“OH MY GOSH, Faith!! ANOTHER orange car!” (Never in my life have I thought that I would get that excited over an orange automobile.)

“YAAAYYY, Mama, YAAAYY!” F exclaimed with unbridled joy.

And there I was, trying to protect her from potential disappointment and doling out measured doses of pessimism to my daughter. Unconsciously teaching her to think about what’s impossible rather than focusing on what’s possible. Stifling her sense of wonder and quest for limitless possibilities.

The orange car is not so elusive after all. It can be found, so long as we have hope and look hard enough, even in the most unexpected places. Now, let’s look for a purple car, shall we? (Or so F requested after we spotted the second orange car.)

***

An acquaintance, Tim, shared a lovely quote with me after reading this post. It resonates well and I thought I would share this with you too. 

“That all are born radiating light but that this light diminished slowly (if one was lucky) or abruptly (if one was not). The most charismatic people – the poets, the mystics, the explorers – were that way because they had somehow managed to keep a bit of this light that was meant to have dimmed. But the shocking thing, the unbearable thing it seemed, was that the natural order was for this light to vanish. It hung on sometimes through the twenties, a glint here or there in the thirties, and then almost always the eyes went dark.” – Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation

The Big Small Mercies

The nasty bug that F brought home from school hit me real hard a few weeks ago. We all know that ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’, right? Well, this bug was trying its darndest to kill me.

I was very sick on a Sunday, threw up a couple of times and had to wrap myself up like a burrito. It didn’t help that I had to get up and nurse E a couple of times in the night; I was unrested and practically died when I had to care for the children the next day. As the week progressed, I got better, in that I no longer threw up, but remained flu-ish throughout. Just when things were looking up, I lost my voice from the sore throat and I became very ill again on Friday. I was nursing E before putting him to bed for the night, when F zipped in and out of the room. As I looked up to whisper to her, the room tipped as if I was drifting on a rough, choppy sea. Everything went downhill thereafter and M said it was best for me to skip putting F to bed, and hop into the shower instead. So I did.

After M was done brushing F’s teeth, they stopped by the bathroom to say goodnight to me and I happened to be gagging from the dizziness. Little did we expect that to take centrestage in the conversation F had with M before she drifted off to sleep.

F (having caught M yawning): Papa, you tired? You want to sleep with Faith?

M: No, I am okay, Faith.

F: You want to sleep in your bed?

M: Yes, Faith.

F: Okay, you sleep with Mama, okay? But I think Mama is not feeling well. Mama wants to vomit. Mama is sick. You take care of Mama, okay?

Now, this…took us by surprise. F usually cries hysterically if I don’t put her to bed. I had expected much tears and resistance that evening, and I was reluctant to skip her bedtime routine, but…small mercies, small mercies.

I had a pretty rough night thereafter. E felt very hot to touch from 3am onwards, and I was up to nurse and soothe him till morning. I was worried sick, on top of being ill, and when I finally had a half-hour window to crash before F woke up, I couldn’t fall asleep. I wished that M could take emergency leave from work to help me out but he couldn’t, and so I was left stranded.

Eight weeks into being a mother of two then, I would say that the most challenging parts of the day are getting both to nap without one waking the other, and getting them to bed on time before they are overtired. I was certainly dreading naptime because synchronised napping is a mythical beast and it didn’t help that I needed some shuteye badly to recover.

I managed to nurse E and put him down for a nap before rushing F through lunch so that she would start napping before E wakes up. Luckily, F went down pretty quickly, and I was horizontal (Finally! Even if I wasn’t sleeping…) for 45 minutes before E cried. Then, F woke up and I cursed as I wondered how I was going to get her to go back to sleep lest she be overtired. When E finally fell asleep after feeding, F was much too awake. Of course. So I asked for the impossible.

Me: Faith, Mama is sick. Can you please let Mama sleep for a while?

Faith: Okay, Mama. I (will) wait for you.

And she did. For TWO glorious hours. A toddler in the throes of terrible twos-to-threes, my daughter, actually waited patiently by my side for two hours while I tried to get back up on my feet. She did kiss me a couple of times when my eyes were closed, in a bid to get me up but…small mercies, small mercies.

Heck it. Make those big small mercies.

(Now, if only they were more of a mainstay, than a delightful, rare occurrence.)

This Season

Sometime between putting my firstborn to bed and waking up in the middle of the night to nurse my secondborn, I felt that I couldn’t go on.

That inertia, the dead weights that are my body and mind, snuck up on me very quietly and ousted whatever will I had left. And I thought this to be very weird indeed.

It wasn’t an exceptionally bad day. I have gone through worse. In fact, there were only two tantrums, a couple of very challenging nursing sessions and the usual lack of sleep, all part and parcel of the new-norm since I became a mother of two. There was absolutely no good reason to be flat out of motivation, but I was. In that moment of surrender, I knew that whatever bogged me down wouldn’t last forever. Yet, in that moment of surrender, I didn’t want to budge and move out of transience into logic. I simply wallowed.

I let the exhaustion overwhelm me as I crept into my son’s nursery. My shoulders burned with weariness as I hunched over a shrinking will. I hid my teary eyes from no one in particular behind a curtain of greasy, tangled mass of unwashed hair. As I nursed my son, my heart ached for him, for he had no idea how much I wanted to be someplace else at that instant. His mother was giving up on the most ordinary of days.

I prayed for my children.

Then, a twitch on my secondborn’s milk-drunk face spread into the widest smile, and everything changed. I knew that this is where I am meant to be. This season of seemingly mindless child-minding (the irony) and that much-dreaded loss of self will pass once I get the hang of being a new mother of two. And another season will dawn, when my children will play, fight, cry, argue and throw their heads back in unrestrained laughter, and I will have the privilege of breaking up fights, watching them kiss and make up, and witnessing the making of precious memories that they will thirst for one day. Then, they will grow up and no longer need me to be part of their lives. So, this season, however trying and joyful and overwhelming and blissful, is mine and mine to live, and it will pass. Its passing will herald the commencement of another.

This season, which I get to be part of now, will not last forever. 

The gravity of how wilful time is finally sunk in. My shoulders still burned, but only from wanting to go on. My eyes still welled up, but only because I was mourning the loss of permanence when the smile on my son’s face withered in his sleep. It was 3.45am and yet another day has passed. My children were one day older. My hair stank, but who cares about hair when I know that, one day, my children will no longer be babies, that I will no longer get to ‘kiss, hug and pat-pat’ the five soft toys that F insists on having on her bed when we tuck her in every night, that I will miss perspiring each time I nurse/wrestle a very wriggly E.

And so I choose to hang on to this season, even if I yearn for it to end on some days. Because this season, this night, will slip away to a time when only vague memories can be recalled, to a time when this season and I will no longer be.

201505 Faith putting on sock for Ethan

Enough, Sometimes

It’s been a rough couple of weeks, and I feel a little out of sorts, what with mummy’s guilt and a poor sense of day and night overwhelming me.

I am not going to lie and say that I am holding up perfectly. When there comes a moment to pause and reflect, I know I am very blessed to be part of this family of four and I smile at the thought of us. This love, one that evokes warmth and a sense that we are complete, however, sprouts stabbing pangs of guilt. Guilt of not being able to meet all the needs of the little people (and a certain big person) whom I love so very much. The sort of guilt that gnaws at me silently. The sort of guilt that reduces me to a watery mess when no one is looking. But, life has to go on, even if the guilt paralyses. My children need me to do what I have to do, to care for and nurture them, and I need to be strong for my husband. So, I wipe away my tears, hold my head up high and focus on getting through every good and bad moment that I have the privilege of sharing with them.

That said, there are moments of doubt that trail in the wake of guilt. When the going gets tough, it is not unusual for me to wonder if I have done anything right for my family. Should I have gone back to the workforce? Have I been too proud to ask for help? Or perhaps, I should step up and do more? I may have given birth to my children, but does it make me the best person to care for them? Why, oh why did I not rein in my temper? Do I have to be so hung up on the boundaries that I have set for my children? Could I have done things differently so I can attend to everyone whom I love when they need me simultaneously, without having to sacrifice one for the other? Do I have to be so stubborn on some of the things that I set out to do for my family?

These questions beg for answers, from when I was a new mother to when I became a mother of two, and it took me two children to learn that there is no right answer. With my firstborn, I subconsciously allowed these doubts to crush me one too many times. Now that I have two children, the challenges I have faced, even in such early days, have keenly illustrated just how crippling these questions can be if I choose to dwell on them. As I plough through these doubts that come a-knocking on a daily basis, I learn that I can only do my best for my family and hope that my best is good enough. An overly thorough dissection of those questions would only feed my obsession over getting things ‘right’ rather than encourage me to do the necessary; after all, parenting two very young children and being the main pillar of emotional support to my husband with limited help, energy, resources and sleep often mean that one has to delve deep and just do it

So, I learn. I learn to let my doubts keep me on my toes, just enough to help me make the best choice for my family in a given circumstance, but not too much to make me keel over. I learn to acknowledge the guilt and appreciate that it is born out of love, which is a good thing, really. I learn to roll with the punches because my loved ones need me to be there for them, regardless.

Most of all, I learn that there are good days and bad days. There will come a time when I feel that my family deserves a better Rachel. But, that is okay, because there surely will come a time when I know that my best is truly enough.

On Two

I am a mother of two. TWO.

(Wow…saying this out loud certainly takes getting used to.)

And the truth is…I didn’t think I would be this happy.

I knew being a mother of two would be very challenging, and that the equilibrium we have finally worked out for our family of three would tilt out of our favour in the early months of becoming four; I was deeply concerned about how we would cope, especially when F became more clingy as the pregnancy progressed. Over the past few months, I could barely manage my frustration and guilt when I had to say no to some of her requests (AND face the consequences of saying no); I knew then that becoming four would be an uphill task.

And uphill, it is.

It has been two weeks since E was born. For two weeks now, I feel like I have been thrown into the deep end once again, albeit for different reasons. I had expected the sleepless nights, the much-too-frequent diaper changes, jaundice and challenges that come with breastfeeding. We have been there, done that. But to care for a newborn round the clock, on top of looking after AND looking out for a toddler…now, that’s a different ball game altogether. Often, I wish there were two of me. Yes, I am taking the sleepless nights surprisingly well (starkly different to when F was a newborn…back then, even the first few sleepless nights were akin to episodes of going into shock). Yes, F is adjusting as well as a parent can hope for. Yes, M no longer has to work overnight shifts and it’s really lovely to know that he is around, even if he is unable to help me with E in the middle of the night. Things are more manageable somewhat but having to, at times, choose between my two children is downright awful.

Every morning, my eyes fly open at 6am, either to the cries of my newborn or to my husband’s alarm clock. I curse if I had just fallen asleep after the previous night feed and quickly utter a silent prayer for only one of my kids to be awake/needing my attention at any one time, then it’s all-systems-go. I quickly wash up if E hasn’t woken up, and nurse him back to sleep if he does. Then, I wake F up at 7.30am and begin my negotiations with her. Everything is debatable these days, from what she wants for breakfast to the button on her school uniform that she would like to fasten before all others. By the time I get her fed, showered and dressed for school, I am barely coherent. On good days, E would only wake up to nurse after I am done preparing F for school. Even then, we get to school fashionably late (well, hardly, because I am dressed in pyjamas most of the time) after a tantrum or two…and this counts as a fairly good morning. Evenings can be quite the harrowing experience. I struggle to get E ready for bedtime. Even though there isn’t much of a routine at this stage, I’d say goodnight to E, nurse him in his dim and quiet room before putting him to bed. But, little miss F insists on being in the room, making a ruckus most of the time; she does not always respond to gentle reminders to pipe down and I eventually resort to giving her stern warnings. She also lunges at E a little too enthusiastically and smothers him with kisses whilst I try to nurse E and keep F from crushing him. Sometimes, F jumps on the bed, wrings my neck from behind as she tries to ride piggyback and accidentally pulls my hair whilst she is at it. I count my lucky stars when all she wants to do is to shove books in my face and demand to be read to. All this whilst I struggle to make sure E doesn’t choke and sputter on my overactive let-down, or stir from my conversations (that’s putting it mildly) with F. On good days, after E goes to bed, we get through a tantrum-free rest of the evening. On bad days (which are unfortunately more frequent), F protests at dinner, refuses to brush her teeth and gives me a hard time as I put her to bed. Sometimes, both of us end up in tears. During these struggles, E might wake up to nurse and I get bamboozled by the madness of it all. I am unable to tell you exactly how I get through the night because the truth is I don’t remember anything save for how it feels like I have to jump through hoops of fire to make sure both kids are settled down, but I do make it out alive, somehow.

Regardless, there is comfort in the chaos. Harassed, frustrated and exhausted as I might be when I juggle the needs of my (at times, screaming) children, I relish the love that we now share as a family of four. That love, which I thought I would lack as a mother of two, has surprised me with its power to keep me going during sleepless nights, amidst tantrums and piercing cries, and when I feel the keen sting of having to choose to attend to one child over the other. Yes, there have been times when I walked away from the madness and sat huddled in a corner of my bedroom to weep my guts out, but I always head back to the little dumplings of mine because there is nowhere else I’d rather be. Nowhere else.

Because I am very fortunate to be made the mother of these two, and I cannot be happier.

20150410 Faith and Ethan