Dear Faith: And You Are Four

Dear Faith,

I am not sure why but I feel like the mother of the bride on the eve of the wedding. As I put you to bed this evening, I struggled to hold onto your last night as a three-year-old. Tomorrow, you will be four and my heart aches a little at the thought of that. I am pining for you already, like a mother missing her newly-married daughter. Yet, I am looking forward to see how your growth might lend you room to embrace and explore this world, to experience joy and all that life has to offer (even amidst trials and tribulations), much like how the mother of the bride yearns for her child to experience and contribute to the joys of marriage and life after that.

The past year has zipped by much too quickly for my appetite. Your little brother, Ethan, was only a little over four months old when you turned three, and I have been spending a lot of time taking care of his needs, making sure that we are all fed and alive. I am sorry that you had to spend the same amount of time pottering about on your own, telling stories to your bears, singing to no one in particular, waiting for what must seem like an eternity when I ask you to hold on as I hastily complete the tasks at hand and generally, growing up so that I can cope with two children. 

As much as I have noticed your new quirks this year and caught on the most astounding conversations with you, I am convinced that I have missed out as many precious moments and I hope that if you have ever resented me for not being there 100% of the time, that you would forgive me. Because I have tried my best to be as present as I could be, my love, and I will strive to do that for as long as you want me to. 

Speaking of those moments that I have had the privilege of sharing with you…there are so many quirks of yours that I wish I were the most prolific writer to document every bit of you as a three-year-old, because you are worth celebrating over and over again.

You’d surprise me with the passionate and incredibly cheeky girl you have become (a far cry from the shy tot you once were), parading traits which are reserved for us and only us. Like how you would suddenly drop your toys, run towards me, cup my saggy cheeks in your tiny hands, grit your teeth and exclaim, “Arrrgggggh, I love you soooooo much!” And when I ask you how much is much, you’d shout, “TWENTY TIMES!” (If you must know, twenty is the largest number you can understand in the concept of math right now, and I know that you are trying to tell me that you love me with everything you have.) Or when you shake your booty in the most comedic fashion (like a waddling duck!) whilst wearing a duck face complete with slitty eyes to make your father and I choke on our laughter, before you collapse in giggles. Or when you ‘host’ TV shows and insist that Papa and I watch you whilst you cue us to applaud or laugh hysterically at the most appropriate moments.

At times, you’d show maturity beyond your years and lead by example on how we should live. Like when you chide us for wasting water because you have been designated a part of the ‘water police’ in school, and “Mama, it is very important, you know!” Or when you remind me firmly that I mustn’t shout when I lose my temper at Ethan because, “Shouting is wrong, Mama. You must talk nicely to Didi, just tell him not to do it anymore.” Or when you use your smarts to sneak into our bed more than once a week. “But Mama, Papa is working late again, so I can sleep in your bed tonight, right?” Or when Ethan screams in the car seat and as I check on how you are whilst I drive amidst the ruckus, you calmly announce, “Mama, I am being patient.” And then there’s the bedtime prayer, which you lead every night. “Dear God, thank you for the food. Thank you for our home. Thank you for Papa, Mama and Didi. Please take care of us, keep us healthy and safe. Please take care of E from N1 (your schoolmate who has leukaemia), Teacher J (who is pregnant) and baby, Teacher N (who is also pregnant) and baby, and Aunty S and baby F. Amen.” And your empathetic heart would always make special mentions of people whom you think need God’s help depending on what has happened on that day. 

Of course, there are those tender moments that tug at my heartstrings when you remind me that you are really just a three-year-old and still my baby deep down inside. Like when you get awoken by thunder and lighting, and cry inconsolably for us to comfort you before winding up in our bed so we can cuddle you to sleep and make you feel safe from the storm brewing outside. Like when you insist that you don’t ever want to get married and have babies because “I only want Mummy, and I want to be a baby.” Or when you insist on reading the same bedtime story (It’s Time For Bed by Mem Fox) even though we have been putting you to bed with the same lines since you were nine months old, because it makes you feel safe. I, too, recall on many occasions that you would sob quietly in a corner after you spot my white hairs, “Mama, are you going to die? I don’t want you to die, Mama. I don’t want you to die…” How about the nightly requests you make of us after we turn off the lights? “I want bubbles and (to go to the) playground and (to go) swimming, I want Papa Mama (to) come. I want chocolate milk and chocolate bread and cornflakes and milk. Goodnight! 我爱你,爸爸。我爱妳,妈妈。” 

All these moments, told and untold, are slipping away as you approach the grand age of four. And my heart…I am not sure if I am ready to let it all go just yet because I haven’t had the luxury of savouring every moment with you this year. 

But I know this. That I yearn to make new memories with you and I will hold on to them as tightly as I can until the day I draw my last breath. That I will try my best, however daunting it is, to help you make sense of and navigate the world that can be at times cruel and brutal like the thunderstorms that strike fear in you at night. That I will live out my grey hairs loving you and watching you blossom, if God would give me the time and opportunity to do so. Time and tide waits for no man. Yes, you will be four tomorrow, and we will say goodbye to the years behind us and look forward to what’s to come; it’s not going to be easy on my heart but I think I am feeling a little braver because we are doing this with your not-so-little hand in mine. 

I love you twenty times, darling. Until you know what thirty means. 

Mama

  

Shopping, Mummy-Style, with Agape Babies

[*SPONSORED POST] I have said it before and I will say it again, that I LOVE online shopping. I didn’t care for it before I became a mother though; I much preferred taking a walk, running my grubby hands carelessly over the terrain of merchandise on display, and feeling the thrill of actually bagging items upon checking out at the cashier. 

BUT. Becoming a mother has changed my lifestyle on many fronts; I have to be careful about spending, and I have neither time nor energy to lug kids (who seem to choose to be exceptionally cranky when I need them to be un-cranky) to the stores.

I have been shopping online at Agape Babies since just before I had Faith four years ago. My very first purchase was the Medela Freestyle breast pump set, which I bought for 50% off the retail price and remains an incredible steal now. Since then, I have found many more fantastic deals for products that are crucial to our parenting needs. I have saved so much money on Laninsoh nursing pads, California Baby products, Melissa & Doug toys, books, you name it, and I hardly go to brick-and-mortar stores for things that the kids and I use. It no longer makes sense to go through the hassle of lugging the kids through the crowds when I can save tonnes of money shopping online at Agape Babies in the comforts of my own home. 

This time round, I managed to stock up on the Laninsoh nursing pads (been using them for as long as I have been breastfeeding), California Baby Bug Repellant (our go-to spray when we are out and about), and carted two Handwriting Practice books from Letterland for F as she has been asking me to get them. And I did all this on the mobile phone! 

 

For an avid user of the mobile phone like myself, the mobile-optimized website makes for a great shopping experience on the go. I don’t have to power up my laptop, and all I have to do is do quick searches and cart the items on my phone, even as the kids are pulling at me or glued to my hips. Major win. 

Fans of Jujube, the poison of many mums, will be glad to know that Agape Babies has 
expanded its brand & product selection to include more hot brands like said poison and 3M. Agape Babies now carry over 250 brands and 6000 products in over 10 categories at incredible prices, so it’s really a no-brainer for parents, newly-minted and seasoned alike, to shop on the site. 

If you are a first-time customer, you get to enjoy $10 off your first purchase on top of getting a free gift. VIP customers get to enjoy special price reductions and also lifestyle privileges. If you’d like to save on shipping, which isn’t costly by the way, you can opt for the one-click self-collection from 3 convenient locations – Newton, Sengkang and Old Airport Road. Smaller parcels can be picked up from 72 locations across the island as well. 

To sweeten the deal for you, Agape Babies is giving my readers 5% off all items except milk, diapers, wipes, Jujube, Medela breastpumps, sale and clearance categories. All you have to do is to enter the coupon code pleasuremonger5% upon checkout (valid from 22 Aug to 12 Sep 2016).

I am not sure what else I should say to convince you to give Agape Babies a shot in changing your mummy-and-me shopping needs, but seasoned mums who have tried will tell you that shopping at Agape Babies is a lifesaver, as it has been for me all these years!

*I was gifted shopping credit and paid for excess amount incurred from the items I picked. All opinions expressed are entirely my own and written according to my experience in using the products/services. Sponsors have been notified that I am not obliged to write a review upon receipt of sponsored service/items, should I find the products/services unsuitable.

BoxGreen: Delicious and Healthy Snacking

[*SPONSORED POST] Mothering is hard work and I often find myself starved of time for a proper meal. It’s non-stop action from daybreak in this home and I often have to wolf down a slice of plain bread and a glass of water whilst trying to stop my incredibly active toddler from diving off the high chair at breakfast, and then have pathetic morsels of lunch whilst carry out the same heroic act of saving said toddler from potential injury. The only time when I can really sit down in peace is after E has gone to bed. That’s when I have dinner with my preschooler, F, who is quite good at staying put during mealtimes, and my husband, M. It comes as no surprise that I have been eating the less healthy way, as I load up on disproportionately larger dinner portions than that for breakfast and lunch.

Owing to a lack of fuel from pathetic breakfasts and lunches, I usually am famished by the time the clock strikes three. That’s also when E is done napping by my side (yes, little one can’t nap without me), and when we need to leave home to pick F up from school, so I only have time to manage a few sips of water and wolf down some individually wrapped pieces of chocolate or biscuits. Nope, I don’t like to have fruits on a near-empty stomach as I tend to feel nauseated and gassy after that, so I only munch on fruits at dinner. And the lack of solid meals in the earlier part of the day has left me craving for sinful foods.

Often times, I dream of having a good tea break. I know it will get me through the day in a much better mood to last until the kids’ bedtimes, but there just isn’t any time to stop for a breather, lack alone for some healthy grub. I know the sugar from biscuits or chocolates doesn’t help in stabilising my glucose levels, but they are the most convenient AND yummy snacks I have!

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When BoxGreen contacted me to try out their healthy, portion-controlled snacks, I agreed, more for my husband than for myself though, because I thought they would be blander than the sinful stuff I like to munch on. Who knew that I wound up liking the snacks so much that I told my husband off for finishing everything that came in my subscription box?!
BoxGreen2 Each subscription box (for individuals; $19.90 per box) comes with 4 types of snacks made with natural ingredients, with 3 controlled, nutritionist-approved portions each. All packs are sealed for the snacks to stay fresh, and they are super handy to bring around. One can choose from over 3o types of snacks (they really do sound delicious; I wish I could have tried When Life Gives You Yuzu, Smoky BBQ Crunch, Rocky Pecan Brittle, just to name a few) and can opt to have the box delivered to you once a week, once every fortnight, or once a month! Here’s a rundown of what I received:

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1. Quirky Quinoa Puffs & Friends (Organic quinoa puff, honey sunflower seed, pumpkin seed, baked almond; 30g ; 154.0 cal): These taste like rice crispies but are obviously healthier as the puffs are made from protein-rich quinoa. I love, love the slightly salted honey sunflower seeds which add good flavour to the toasty bits.

2. Raspberry Choco Rhapsody (Freeze dried raspberry, baked almond, white chocolate; 25g ; 139.4 cal): I absolutely love this! The slightly tart raspberries tempers the sweet white chocolate, bitter cocoa and nutty almonds. An exploration of flavours was what this was! The chocolate-coated freeze-dried raspberries were melty, and provides a lovely textural contrast to the crunchy almonds. Thumbs up for this one.

3. The Amazing Amaranth Cluster (Puffed amaranth, raisin, raw sugar, gum Arabic; 20g; 68.2 cal): To be honest,  I am little skeptical about this as I don’t appreciate the flavour of amaranth and I am not a fan of raisins, but the textural contrast between brittle amaranth clusters and nougaty raisin is its saving grace. But husband and kids love this, and the biggest of the lot says it tastes good with yogurt. The youn rugrats were fighting over the last clusters. Well, not for me.

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4. Twilight Cherry Express (Freeze dried cherry, dark chocolate; 30g; 156.6 cal): The cherries are wonderfully tart and the freeze-dried texture encased in melty dark chocolate is right up my alley. I can’t decide if I like this more than Raspberry Choco Rhapsody!

The portions are nutritionist-approved and controlled for. They are on the smaller side for someone who eats with wild abandon like me, so I’d imagine pairing them with yogurt would work better for me until I get used to having smaller snack portions.

For people who are looking for convenient and healthy ways to snack, whilst taking the brainwork out of going through what is actually healthy in the market, I reckon the BoxGreen subscription box service will work wonderfully. It is inexpensive, and one can control the frequency of subscription. It doesn’t hurt, at all, that the snacks are actually delicious and that they are far, far removed from tasting like hamster feed. BoxGreen has convinced me that healthy snacking can be delicious too, and that we don’t have to succumb to sugary or sinful treats to satiate our appetite for tasty food! You would be glad to know that with every BoxGreen sold, the company donates a meal equivalent to Willing Hearts, a soup kitchen that helps out the less privileged in Singapore. Double win! You can also pool your resources with your colleagues or friends and get the BoxGreen Team Box; it can be a group or custom one, and everyone can get snacking together!

If you would like to give BoxGreen a try, use my code pleasuremonger to get 30% off your first subscription box. This code does not ever expire and applies only for your first box, and if you are getting the individual subscription, your first box only amounts to $13.93 for 12 packs of snacks. Seems like a pretty good and wholesome deal to me!

*I was gifted a BoxGreen subscription box for the review. No additional monetary compensation has been received. All opinions expressed are entirely my own and written according to my experience in using the products/services. Sponsors have been notified that I am not obliged to write a review upon receipt of sponsored service/items, should I find the products/services unsuitable.

Prison Break 

4.20am

I woke up to Ethan’s soft cries and thought he needed to nurse again. After all, he has been waking up in the middle of the night for the past two weeks, and I thought this was just like any other night.

As I approached his room and groped for the handle to the door, I was puzzled by the amplitude of his cries.

Why does he sound so loud when his cries sound so muffled on the monitor? He sounds like he is…just behind the door?! But it can’t be, right…?!

I opened the door gingerly and peeped. Wasn’t sure why I did that because I did tell myself that I was just sleep-deprived and that I was just thinking too much. And lo and behold, two very large, round eyes that were brimming with tears were staring back at me in complete darkness.

OMFG HE GOT OUT OF THE COT AND HE *IS* BEHIND THE DOOR!!!!

!!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!

I yelled for M because I couldn’t contain that leaping (in a bad way) heart of mine. How in the world….how did he…he is only 16 months old…but the base is pretty low on the cot…Faith never did…he can’t even walk consistently yet…it’s pitch-black in here with the black-out blinds and drapes…how did he…OMG MY SON PRISON BREAK LEH WHAT THE!!!

M was in disbelief, and he semi-shouted, “Is he hurt? Is his head okay? CHECK HIM NAO.” Then he ran outside with the torch he grabbed from E’s room and came running back after a few seconds, muttering that we have to lower the cot first thing in the morning. (M clarified that he went out of the room because he thought there might be an off-chance that someone broke into our home and wanted to kidnap E, and because E cried, the badass left him sitting behind the door. Say whutt?!)

F, who was sleeping in our bed, stumbled into E’s room, rubbed her eyes and was utterly confused, “What happened to didi?”

I wish I knew what happened!

Needless to say, I slept with one eye open after I put E back to bed. I Googled a million videos of babies doing the great escape and couldn’t believe that my baby, the one with the manja longan eyes, is as fearless as these Youtube babies.

So. We lowered the cot to the bottommost rung, even though it was already on the second lowest adjustment. We plonked the very large playmat right under. We removed all dangerous objects, even knobs on drawers, drilled the chest to the wall, and hung up all loose blind and curtain cords, waaaaay out of (even my) reach. The sockets are all sealed, wires all kept, and we are going to monitor E’s bedtime shenanigans for a while. He is still too young to be transited to a floor mattress, so let’s hope these changes contain him until he is ready to sleep in a big boy’s bed like his sister did at 29 months.
Doodle courtesy of Gong Gong, who calls him Ninja Kid. 

How I Protect My Skin From The Sun: NAÏF Protecting Sunscreen

[*SPONSORED POST] When I was in lower primary, I was often teased for having fair skin. I was called all sorts of things, including a vampire, and man, did I detest having a fair complexion.

When I grew older, I was still at the receiving end of this mockery and I didn’t embrace what I have until I was in my mid-twenties. I remember going out to the beach on weekends during my late teens, just to get a tan, but funnily, all I did was to turn into a lobster and then revert to channeling Morticia Addams. I must add that I sunbathed without sun protection, and I regret it because I do have a few spots on my face now that I am in my thirties. Had I known that exposure to the sun will cause hyper-pigmentation later in life, I would have been more consistent about sun protection when I was younger.

It’s a little late to start anti-ageing skincare routines in my late twenties it seems, because those spots had shown up on my face by then, but I guess it’s better late than never! I apply sunscreen on my face and body everyday, even when I stay at home; reason being our apartment is flooded with natural light and I get exposed to UV rays even when I am indoors. I also make school runs and the sun hits my arms and the right side of my face whenever I drive, so I am rather strict about applying sunscreen before I leave home.

For years, I wasn’t too concerned about using chemical sunscreens and I have unconsciously leaned towards those that do not leave a white cast (which means they are likely to be made with chemical UV filters), but lately, I have been reading up on greener and safer skincare options and realised that it is just better to use physical sunscreens (stable in sunlight, good balance between UVA and UVB protection especially if it contains zinc oxide, generally do not contain harmful additives). You can have a read about the general differences between a physical and chemical sunscreen over here. The dreadful thing is physical sunscreens are thick and opaque, and are known to leave a white cast even after you have had a good workout rubbing the product into your skin. I don’t mind it at all if I were just going for a swim but I don’t really want to be walking around looking like a splotchy plaster wall when I am out and about.

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About two months ago, Tim invited me to give the NAÏF Protecting Sunscreen a try. It boasts an SPF of 50 and protects from both UVA and UVB rays with its physical filters (15% zinc oxide, 5% titanium dioxide), is preservative-free, and is touted to be incredibly moisturising. I couldn’t say no after learning about its benefits, and it helps to know that the NAÏF line of skincare products is formulated with babies in mind, are dermatologically tested, hypoallergenic, pH skin neutral and the products are made without any harmful ingredients. Yes, you heard right. The products do not contain mineral oil, parabens, phenoxyethanol, SLS/SLES and harsh chemicals. Indeed, a quick check on the EWG site reveals that the ingredients of the Protecting Sunscreen are ranked low in hazard scores.

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I have been using the NAÏF Protecting Sunscreen on my body since then and it is amazing! It is runny, wonderfully emollient and incredibly easy to apply compared to other physical sunscreens I have tried; seriously, it takes only ten seconds to rub it in and the sunscreen does not leave a white cast. It keeps my skin moisturised, and I come off smelling clean and fresh. Have I mentioned that I am super-sensitive to smells and feel dizzy upon inhaling most scents? This, I have no qualms whatsoever!

The NAÏF Protecting Sunscreen really is a godsend, and I will purchase it once I run out as it is remarkable and convenient for daily use. Baby Pure Singapore, exclusive distributor of NAÏF products, also gives back – the company sponsored $10 vouchers for approximately 6500 Hair for Hope participants and it also donates a dollar to the Children Cancer Foundation for each Protecting Sunscreen sold. I can’t think of a better way to protect myself against the sun AND to do good at the same time.

NAÏF Protecting Sunscreen retails for a very reasonable $35.90 online and you’d be happy to know that one gets free delivery within Singapore with a minimum purchase of $60!

*I was gifted the NAÏF Protecting Sunscreen for the review. No additional monetary compensation has been received. All opinions expressed are entirely my own and written according to my experience in using the products/services. Sponsors have been notified that I am not obliged to write a review upon receipt of sponsored service/items, should I find the products/services unsuitable.

Imagine|Native: Creative Fest for Kids

ALL HAIL THE SCHOOL HOLIDAYS!

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When school is out, I reckon that parents and caregivers have to gear up. We all know how cabin fever turns holidays into ‘horri-days’, and I thought it’s the perfect opportunity to share our experience at Imagine|Native, a creative festival for kids at the Maritime Experiential Museum (also home to the S.E.A. Aquarium) well-worth visiting this school holidays!

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Sharing a moment with the Ang Ku Kueh Girl. How adorable is she?!

Imagine|Native runs from 27 May to 12 June 2016; it hosts a variety of live performances, workshops, book reading sessions, talks, educational activities all set to a marine theme, as well as a sizeable book fair featuring many titles from the local book scene. This educational fiesta aims to promote the love for reading among children and to inspire them to learn more about marine life and conservation.

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“Courtesy, it begins with me!”

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Edmund Chen, sharing about his book, My Little Red Dot

We were treated to a performance by the Fin-tastic Fishy Friends, got up close and personal with Ang Ku Kueh Girl and Singa the Courtesy Lion, sat in while local children’s book author, David Seow narrated Sam, Sebbie and Di-Di-Di: At the S.E.A. Aquarium to children beneficiaries and the media, and actor-turned-illustrator, Edmund Chen shared about his book, My Little Red Dot, and even had a go at the touch pools (sea cucumbers, starfish, etc). We also stood in awe of the staggering display of the 10,000 books donated by the public and RWS staff in a book donation drive organised by RWS and People’s Association, and were heartened to learn that these books will go to children of low-income families in Singapore.

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The activities at Imagine|Native differ daily and I can’t list everything down to the last detail because there’s so much going on. One can expect guided craft workshops, colouring sessions, storytelling by local authors, book launches and book signing, photo ops with mascots of our local icons, and more! It’s best to check the Event Calendar, so you can identify the activities (and authors/characters) that you are most interested in before making a trip down at the timings suggested.

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It doesn’t look it but Faith was thoroughly enjoying the activity at the S.E.A.A Babies station! She just didn’t want her photo taken and gave the poor attendant the stink-eye.

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Learn more about the Manta Rays and head over to the aquarium after to take what you have learnt further!

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Meet Mai the Manta!

There are also a few interactive stations at Imagine|Native. The touch pools are wonderful for all who would like to get up close with marine animals such as the starfish and sea cucumber. The Manta Station educates one on how best to identify Manta Rays and I love that one can pick some information up over here and head to the aquarium after (tickets sold separately or in a bundle, more information below) to spot Manta Rays for real! Don’t forget to take part in the lucky draw at the ‘Name the Manta’ station to stand a chance of winning the grand prize of a Ocean Suite staycation for two and two S.E.A. Aquarium passes. One can also colour the marine animals on the mural, and learn more about the new marine babies bred by the aquarium and the life cycles. Again, a perfect prelude to the S.E.A. Aquarium if you are planning to visit the latter.

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Great local book fair with books going at 15% off!

The book fair is a must-visit, with books from various local authors going at 15% off. The admission tickets for adults come with vouchers that can be used to offset your purchases (terms and conditions apply), so it’s an absolute win-win situation! I spotted the Timmy & Tammy series, which we love, the books by David Seow which are beautifully illustrated by Soefara Jafney, The Magical Dragon Playground, a new book by Wang Shijia detailing the adventures of Ang Ku Kueh Girl & Friends, and many more!

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Rounded off the festival with a visit to the S.E.A. Aquarium. Don’t forget to purchase the bundle if you want to head to the aquarium too!

Judging from what we experienced at the launch, it’s well-worth stopping by Imagine|Native, especially if you were planning to visit the S.E.A Aquarium during the school holidays. It’s a great way to tie in what your child can learn from workshops, book readings and the interactive stations at Imagine|Native, and putting it in context for them at the aquarium. Simply pick out the events that you would like to be part of, and purchase your tickets online or onsite for your day of visit!

TICKETS TO IMAGINE|NATIVE (do not include admission to S.E.A. Aquarium):

Adult One-Day Pass: $6 (onsite), $5 (online). Includes 1 $5 Imagine|Native voucher

Child One-Day Pass (4 to 12 years old): $3. Includes $25 Goodie Bag

There are bundle promotions for tickets to S.E.A. Aquarium + Imagine|Native, Adventure Cove Waterpark + Imagine|Native, as well as discounts for Maybank Card Holders.

More information on tickets can be found by clicking the Promotion tab over here.

Thank you, RWS, for inviting us to Imagine|Native and the S.E.A. Aquarium!

Dear Ethan: And You Are One

Dear Ethan,

You…are one. Just like that. If I thought time had flown by with your sister growing up so quickly, then ‘fleeting’ is just about the right word to describe your first year.

A little more than a year ago, you came into our lives, achingly tiny and definitely quieter than your sister was at your age. As I cradled you in my arms after you slipped out, I couldn’t believe that you were mine, that you were finally here, even if I was deathly afraid of becoming a mother of two. Back then, I knew that labour, whilst painful, would be easy because it is transient, but parenting…that’s an entirely different matter altogether; what I do today, tomorrow and forever more will influence the both of you, and even at this point, three and a half years after becoming a mother, I am not sure if I can say that I have done a decent job of raising you two. I…can only try.

That night, the first night you were brought to my ward whilst Papa was fast asleep on the makeshift bed, I drew up my legs and had you recline on my thighs. You were sleeping soundly and made the cutest gurgles as you fluidly but slowly moved your head around, as if you were still in my watery womb. I took a good look at you and marvelled at how every bit of you is a little bit of us, and by us, I mean Papa, your sister and me. I whispered I love you, and asked  you to forgive me if I should ever let you down, because the days ahead would be tough. From the day I found out I was pregnant with you, I knew that I would not be able to have as much time alone with you as I did with your sister, and that guilt has faithfully shadowed me to this day. I suppose that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because the guilt, whilst crippling at times, mostly motivated me to be more of a mother than I already was to the both of you.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope. Of course, I didn’t. Do I pay more attention to your sister because you wouldn’t remember a thing? Or do I pay more attention to you because you need me to survive and that it is only fair that I spend one-on-one time with you, having had 2 years and 7 months of alone-time with your sister? I’d be honest with you, my son, it has been a little bit of this and a little bit of that to get us through to this day, and by God’s grace, things fell into place. I crumbled…more times than I care to admit, whilst trying to cope with chores, caregiving, postnatal depression and a severe lack of sleep. I flared up much too often, I cried so hard I thought I wouldn’t stop, and I…was truly lost. But God went ahead of me and gave me two children who would make our family of four work when I fell short. Your sister has never ever been jealous of you, not for a second; she, somehow, set aside her own needs and wants, and grew up overnight to be a true-blue jiejie to you. And you…you wait in the wings for me. You always do. I should have known, from your gentle cries back when you came into this world, that you would be this way.

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You wait. I can see that you yearn to be with me through those piercing eyes, and I know that you try your best to hold off the crying until your tiny being can’t cope any longer. Of course, as you grow older, you make your demands known a little louder than you used to, but you wait with great patience that I have yet to see in a child your age. “Mama? Mama? Mama?” You would go on umpteen times, rather gently so in a hopeful manner, until I get a breather from what/who I am busy with and call out cheerfully, “Yes, Ethan?” You would then break into the biggest toothy grin, one that seizes my heart, with your sparkly eyes disappearing into happy commas on your ‘meatball’ face and that cute wrinkle on your nose. I wish I could respond more promptly, Ethan, and God knows that I try. But maybe, I have yet to try my best, and I am deeply sorry for making you wait much too often. I promise to try harder.

To be honest, I had been concerned that I wasn’t interacting with you sufficiently in the past year. Whilst you are a lot more active (and infinitely more fearless!) than your sister was at your age, there were times when I thought you were a lot less verbal than she was. I thought that it was because I didn’t read or sing or talk as often to you but lately, you have been yakking away so much that I struggle to keep you quiet, so I guess my concerns of shortchanging you are unfounded! We skipped all the baby talk, as with your sister, and just as I thought I should have gone down the ‘mum mum’ (baby talk for eat) or ‘xu xu’ (baby talk for pee) route, you demonstrate a sudden understanding of what we have been saying to you. We would ask, “Do you want to eat orange?” You then scan the dining table until you spot ’em slices of oranges tucked away in a box, and you do that comma-eyes-toothy-grin-wrinkled-nose thing to mark your way of saying yes. You have yet to learn how to say ‘more’ but you indicate that you want more of something by pointing with your stubby little index finger and sounding, “Mmm?!” Aside from Papa and Mama, you have also learnt to address your sister (Daa Daahhhhkr), name the ball (BAW), light (wight!), clock (awh!) amongst others, all in a matter of one to two weeks! The one thing that you are so very resistant to learning is taking no for an answer. You would wriggle out of ANY seatbelt on all types of high chairs we have put you in, stand up and climb onto the dining table, and be purposely oblivious to calls of stern disapproval. You would dive headfirst from the bed, only to be caught in the nick of time by us, and meet our pleading ‘No’ with a death stare. ‘No’s do not work on your repeated attempts to pull off plugs and yank off wires, and we know you are choosing not to listen to us because of your defiant, pursed lips and cold eyes as you do what must not be done. At times, you even scream at us, as if to rebel against us, when we are stern with you. Oh, the thrills of making peace with a toddler who doesn’t.ever.stop and must lay hands on everything he sees. Having said that, it’s still fun being able to interact with you as you begin to understand more of our world, because you see, Mama sees the world through your eyes when we do that and it’s l i k e m a g i c.

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Of course, my heart aches each time I realise how much you have grown. I took a photo of you for every milestone you made, and for every week that has gone by since you were born, and I can’t help but wonder if this is the last of the first. You know, the first of everything that marks a baby’s life. I am pretty sure that I have no room left in my heart for another child, and that any traits required of a mother to do this gig will be left wanting in me because I know that I am incapable of caring for the two of you properly, let alone three. As your firsts are likely my lasts, I try to hold onto whatever moments I have with you, relish in the joy and tears that come with being your mother, and remember every part of you that makes you a baby, less of a baby and more of a toddler, but perhaps I am old and befuddled, most things…everything is slipping away from me like sand through desperately clenched fingers, and the only thing I have left is not the past, but your here-and-now with me.

So here and now, it is.

I will hold you for as long as you would let me. I will smother your meatball cheeks with wet, slobbery kisses for as long as you do not push me away. I will call out cheerfully, “Yes, Ethan?” for as long as you need me, even when you find me a nag. And I will love you till the end of time, even if you stop loving me. Forgive me if I am not a perfect mother, my son, it is true that I will never be one. But I…will be the one who loves you the most, and I hope I will, more often than not, be more than enough for you.

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Love always,

Mama

The Things Faith Says #7: On Girly Things

At 3 years and almost 8 months old, Faith has taken a very keen interest in my belongings. Makeup (lipstick, which she refers to as lip balm, in particular), shoes, imaginary bags (I don’t carry any except for a burly knapsack for diapering purposes).

She likes to watch me put on makeup when we head out on Sundays, always wondering out loud why I do that then, and not on other days.

“Mama, why are you putting on makeup? Where are your spectacles?”

And, she would rush to rummage through her handbag for a natural lip balm that I have given her, before smearing her lips with it. I would remind her not to do that, and to only apply the lip balm once around her lips.

“Mama, one time only. One time, okay?”

She has also, somehow, staked a claim to my belongings.

“Mama, when I grow up, when I am a big girl, you share with me, okay? You share your shoes with me, okay? You must also share your lip balm with me. Mmm, okay, GOOD.”

Most days, she would be so used to me looking like I needed some severe grooming, that she would go, “Mama, I want you to wear spectacles. And I want your hair up, not down (referring to how I wear my fringe up with a hairband and tie the rest up in a ponytail).”

Man. Can she stop growing up so quickly?

 

Ethan’s Birth Story 

TALK ABOUT LATE.

This post must have shrivelled up in the draft folder, almost a year after Ethan was born, and nothing kicks my arse into penning this properly AND publishing it, like his first birthday approaching at the end of this week. EEEPS.

(Son, please don’t take this the wrong way; Mama has been far too busy cuddling you to even pay much attention to this space anymore. Please don’t ever think that the glaring absence of your birth story over here means that Mama loves you any less.)

SO. When I was about to pop Faith out of my hoo-ha back in 2012, it was barely a brain-teaser. All I had to do was to show up, scream in pain and push. SIMPLES. Okay, maybe I packed and re-packed my hospital bag a little too often, and I freaked out about what labour might be like. But with Ethan, I went through a gazillion plans in my mind (along with another gazillion back-up plans) as the due date approached, as we had to make sure that Faith would be well taken care of, regardless of where, when and how labour kicked in. I had every route to my parents’ and to the hospital from possible locations of where I might be mapped out according to different times of the day, and briefed everyone (shy of barking instructions at the neighbour’s dog) on what to do with Faith when the time comes. Her well-being was all I could think about in the weeks leading up to the due date, as I had not spent a night away from her prior to giving birth to Ethan and I was nervous about how she might react…being away from me and all that.

Amidst rehearsing plans over and over during waking hours and in my sleep, a few nights before Ethan’s birth, I thought I was going into labour. I was 38 weeks along then. I had felt cramps in the lower back which grew into aching contractions that came around every three minutes and lasted 30-60 seconds each. They were painful enough for me to know that those were not Braxton-Hicks. This went on from when I picked Faith up from school at about 4pm until 9pm. Ethan was also strangely not moving at all during this period, and that freaked me out. After we put Faith to bed at about 8.30pm, we were pretty certain of getting my parents to stay over at ours whilst we headed to the hospital, when the contractions suddenly stopped at 9pm and E started cartwheeling in my uterus again. That was when I decided to just sleep it off, but I had diarrhoea instead and I was horrified that I couldn’t tell a bad tummy ache apart from labour. Anyhow, all of our bags, including Faith’s school and home things, were packed and we were ready to put the plans into action should I go into labour.

Two nights later, on the eve of the day that Ethan was born (also the day I was scheduled to go in for a CTG and VE), the contractions came back. They were similar in frequency and length to what I had experienced two days ago, and the episode lasted for about five hours again before calling it quits on me. E also barely moved until the contractions stopped. Once the episode was over, I had diarrhoea and by this time, I was extremely frustrated at myself for not recognising the signs properly. I mean, I SHOULD KNOW THIS, HAVING HAD ONE KID BEFORE AND SHAT SO MANY TIMES IN MY LIFE, SHOULDN’T I?! GEEZ.

All this time, I was hoping to labour naturally, even if it meant chaos would ensue in terms of making sure F was in good hands before we headed to the hospital. But, E had been small throughout gestation and Dr K was concerned about getting him out before the womb became too stressful an environment for him. After all, he had shown signs of stress and I had bled during the pregnancy. Dr K had mentioned a C-section by 38.5 weeks if he was still in breech (he turned a few days before that, thank God) or to induce labour if the amniotic fluid volume decreased and if his weight didn’t get up to a decent number. Getting cut up was something that I was very reluctant to go through owing to the slow recovery time (I wanted to bounce right back and be able to carry and cuddle both of my children after giving birth). I was also resistant to the idea of getting induced again this time round, as I was induced with F and the rapid escalation in highly intense contractions that didn’t pace well with the lack of cervical dilation, had me cave into getting the epidural. I was banging on a drug-free birth with E, and I know that I wouldn’t stand a chance of doing that if I were to be induced.

Morning came around (it was the eve of Good Friday), we stuck all of F’s bags in a corner of our house, dropped F at school and headed to the clinic at Mt Elizabeth with the hospital bag in tow. We didn’t get good news. Well, I didn’t get the news that I wanted. Dr K was certain that E would face unnecessary stress should he continue to bunk in, and strongly recommended for me to be induced. The amniotic fluid volume was thinning out and I experienced long hours of painful, frequent contractions in the days before. The discussion was peppered with lots of choked-up and feeble ‘but’s’ from me. M, however was supportive of what Dr K suggested, and somehow, I agreed to her plan even though it was killing me to say yes. Dr K sent me out for a big brunch and asked me to be admitted at 12.45pm, and I walked out of the clinic simmering with anger and disappointment.

M took me to Paragon to hunt for lunch options, and as we walked to PS Cafe, I broke down. Yes, I did a really ugly cry in public, and everyone who was early enough to do some shopping at Paragon that morning saw this pregnant lady bawling like a baby. I couldn’t accept that I was going to be induced, that I was going to be a mother-of-two when I was not mentally ready (though, on hindsight, one will NEVER be ready). I WAS GOING TO LABOUR NATURALLY AND GO FOR A DRUG-FREE BIRTH AT 40 WEEKS, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, YOU TWO EVIL DOCTORS WHO ARE CONSPIRING AGAINST ME, AND YES, I MEAN YOU TOO, HUSBAND! I started going on and on (gesturing wildly, if I might add) about how Dr K must have suggested an induction because she didn’t want to come to work over the Easter weekend, about how no one respected my decision and what I wanted, and about how E wasn’t really under stress. M grew from being extremely patient and empathetic, to slightly mad when I got hysterical. He said that if I didn’t want to be induced, he would march us back to Dr K’s clinic and we would call it off. For some reason, I calmed down just enough for him to take me to PS Cafe, and as I bulldozed the fish and chips, I asked him why he agreed with Dr K and I listened intently as he explained his stance. He said that he could understand my concern as a parent and as a patient with a desired birth plan, but he also said that Dr K has decades of experience under her belt and that we, of all people, having been taken care of by her when we were expecting Faith, should know that she would never push for me to go for an induction just so she didn’t have to come in to work over the Easter weekend. As a doctor, he agreed that the signs (couldn’t remember all the jargon he blabbered on) pointed to the fact that it was better to get E out via natural birth (even if it is induced) than to end up in a emergency C-section if something went awry. Also, with an induction, we would  know exactly how, where and when to place F, and my parents need not be stressed with middle-of-the-night calls from us to help look after F. The instant he mentioned emergency C-section and F, I was sold. 12.45pm to the labour ward, it was then. Between the fish and chips and 12.45pm, M and I rang our parents to let them know that we were having Ethan that day, and my folks knew to pick F up from school and to care for her for a night as Dr K expected E to be out in the late evening.

12.45pm: We arrived at the labour ward. This time, I walked in instead of getting wheeled in. My ward was getting cleaned up by the nurses. Whilst we waited, I could see the charts of other labouring mothers blipping on the screens at the nurses’ station. The ward was unusually quiet. Why is no one moaning? 

1pm: The nurse finally had time to take my documents and admit me properly. The ward looked far too familiar. M was obviously a seasoned pro. He headed straight for the couch, unpacked our bags to unearth the necessary stuff  – camera, phone, charger, magazines – and made himself at home. I hopped onto the bed and played around with the buttons until I made myself comfortable.

2pm: Ethan was super active. There were minor contractions and I had a really bad tummy ache, so bad that I practically ran to the loo. I thought I had food poisoning (sorry if this is TMI) and when I was finished, the nurse came in to ask if I needed to be administered the Fleet enema. Well, let’s just say I cleared my bowels sufficiently for the week ahead, so I told her it wasn’t necessary. When the nurse left, I wondered if diarrhoea could be a sign of labour and Googled it. It turned out that it was, and I started to think that the 5-hour-long painful contractions plus episodes of diarrhoea I had in the days leading up to this point were my body’s way of preparing for labour after all! Mother Nature’s way of reducing the likelihood of mothers crapping while they push their babies out. How clever. And considerate for everyone who would be present at the birth.

2.20pm: Dr K swung by and did a VE. I was 2cm dilated. She broke my water bag and whaddaya know, E was under stress after all! There was meconium in the amniotic fluid. So the contractions, episodes of diarrhoea WERE signs of labour, signs that E was giving me to get him out! At this point, I was relieved and thankful that I heeded Dr K’s and M’s advice. And mildly embarrassed that I cried in public earlier that morning.

2.30pm: The contractions were getting stronger but they were very bearable. 2/10 on the pain scale.

3.20pm: I was given a low dose of syntocin to speed things up by artificially inducing strong contractions. Blood was taken from me as part of the procedure required of cord blood donation to SCBB. The contractions got to above 100 for a few, and I rated them 7/10 on the pain scale, but most contractions were small and irregular.

4.30pm: The midwife came in and upped the dose for syntocin. Having gone through an induced delivery before, I knew I was in for a rough ride and braced myself for the abrupt escalation in pain.

5.15pm: The contractions were unbearable. They were of near maximum amplitudes on the chart, and there were 3 to 4 of them every 5 minutes. This was worse than what I had experienced when giving birth to Faith and there was NO time for rest in between the strong contractions, but I held out and told M I wanted to try and wait until 5.45pm before deciding if I wanted an epidural.

5.30pm: The pain was truly excruciating by now, nothing like what I felt with F, and I cried partly because of the pain and partly because of what it meant.  I asked for a VE and on learning that I was only 3cm dilated, I knew I wouldn’t be able to withstand 3 to 4 maximal contractions every 5 minutes until I was 10cm dilated. With a heavy heart, I asked for an epidural.

6.10pm: The same anaesthetist who hooked me up to an epidural when I was giving birth to F came by again this time. The catheter insertion took much longer and the process was more uncomfortable this time. The contractions were so painful that I trembled. The midwife and anaesthetist had to hold me down to stop me from trembling and finally, the epidural was safely administered. The anaesthetist said that she gave me a very low dose of epidural to take the edge off, instead of numbing everything out. Before the epidural took effect, the midwife did a quick VE and I was already 5cm dilated. At this point, I was a little disappointed that I asked for an epidural, given that I dilated pretty quickly since the last VE. I thought I should have waited but the deed was done and I just had to live with my decision.

6.30pm: 6cm dilated and I felt a very strong urge to push. I was shivering from the epidural. I could still move my legs. Felt nauseated and I stopped drinking water even though I was parched. A catheter was inserted to empty my bladder as I was bed-bound.

6.45pm: 7cm dilated and I felt an even stronger urge to push. I could still move my legs and felt pain in my right bum as baby tried to make its way out. The midwife told me to try not to push, and man, was that a tall order!

7.10pm: I was 9cm dilated this time and if it was even possible at all, I felt an even stronger urge to push. The pain in my right bum was rather intense as baby tried to get out. The midwife had me practise pushing as she gowned up and prepared me for delivery. After a few attempts, I finally got past my fear of pooping and pushed properly. Chin down, bump up, it was!

7.15pm: Dr K arrived and I continued pushing properly as she gowned up and prepared for the final stage of delivery. I felt Ethan crowning, something that I hadn’t felt before with F as I was on a particularly lose dose of epidural this time. There was a burning sensation and I certainly felt like I was tearing apart when baby crowned and his shoulders went past. I was told to relax and to stop pushing once his shoulders were out.

7.20pm:  Ethan was born. Dr K placed him on my tummy and I couldn’t believe how small he was. My heart broke a little at this point. M cut E’s umbilical cord and E was carried to the warmer for checks and to be cleaned. M scooted over to take good look at him and took some videos for our archives. Dr K collected the cord blood and delivered the placenta. Whilst it was whole, the placenta was one-third the size of Faith’s placenta, and suddenly, it made sense as to why Ethan had been so small during gestation. I was relieved to have listened to Dr K to get him out earlier, and felt that I was to blame for E’s slower growth. Was it my diet or something I did? I’ll never know. As Dr K stitched me up, I could feel the pain from the needle and thread but I distracted myself by looking on as the midwife cleaned up and weighed E. After Dr K left, we took a family photo and I asked to have a go at latching Ethan. He suckled and licked but wasn’t able to latch properly. I made a conscious attempt not to be stressed out about this and decided to simply enjoy the moment we had with E in our arms.

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It took two hours for us to be done at the labour ward before getting transferred to the maternity ward. As I was wheeled out to the lobby, I was received by my sister, bro-in-law and my in-laws. They stayed on for a while and took photos with E before heading home. M stayed with me that evening and wasted no time in falling asleep. Even though I was exhausted, I couldn’t sleep. I knew I had to get some rest to prepare myself for the two-to-three-hourly feeds, but I was missing F terribly and wondered how she was doing at my parents’. I didn’t want to call my folks and disrupt her bedtime routine, and I was very thankful when Papa sent me a photo of Mama showering her. She looked delighted to be spending the night at my parents’ and I was immensely relieved to know that.

The rest of the night was filled with cuddles with a very sleepy E, latching attempts and checks on my BP and bleeding. I was also in a lot of pain, more so than when I delivered F. My insides felt like they have been thoroughly bruised but I resisted taking meds to relieve the pain as I was breastfeeding. Whenever E was brought to me that night, I took some videos and photos of him in the quiet whilst M snored away, and each time I held him, I couldn’t wait for morning to come. I didn’t know how F would take to E, and rehearsed their first meeting in my mind. Like how I would have E in the bassinet when F arrives, so she wouldn’t feel jealous. And how we would present E’s gift to her (a ginormous teddy bear). I pictured how she would cradle E in her arms and kiss him like the loving big sister I hope she would be, and prayed that we would cope and be happy as a family of four here on out.

Before I knew it, morning came and I was exhausted with nary a trace of sleep but I was so very elated when my little girl stepped into the ward ever so tentatively. I guess she couldn’t fully comprehend why I was away at a strange place. She squealed in delight when she saw me and hopped into my bed to give me a big hug. I took a deep whiff of her freshly washed hair, realising that I had missed her even more than I thought I would. Then, I explained to her that Didi (Mandarin for little brother), who was in my belly previously, finally arrived and that he had a gift for her. She was very shy and reserved when she received the teddy bear, as all eyes were on her, and she was very quiet when we placed E in her arms. I was biting my nails and watching her nervously, but all fears were displaced when I saw her leaning over to give E a kiss on his forehead. There and then, time stood still and I knew that God was at work, that God has been at work all our lives. We wouldn’t have made it to that point otherwise. The sight of my new baby boy in my firstborn’s arms is not something I would or could ever forget.

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Some days, being the human that I am, I wonder what it would have been like if my birth plan, well, went according to plan, or if I had made other decisions in the moments leading up to Ethan’s birth. Many days, I wonder if I had done anything wrong for the placenta to be so small, so much so that it affected E’s growth. But most days, those things don’t matter at all for I am most blessed to be the mother of these two very beautiful and healthy children. Suffice to say that my life is complete, and I am thankful that it is, no matter how we got here today. So there you go, the birth stories of my children. Not quite spectacular births right there, but so precious all the same.

I Don’t Want You To Go To Work

For the past month or so, F has been telling me that she doesn’t want me to go to work. Now, this caught me by surprise because I have never spoken to her about my thoughts about returning to the workforce. She understands that Papa goes to work to provide for us, and that Mama bakes in the night whenever she can to help with minor household expenses.

Being a SAHM was not part of my plan when I gave birth to F. Back then, I struggled with the decision to leave the workforce (a decision made for a few pressing reasons) and it was indeed painful to say goodbye to my career after years of hard work in research and graduate education, as well as time spent working in London. I still struggle with the consequences of my decision today, especially when I get that-taitai-flak for being a SAHM or when people seem to think that I have no aspirations post-PhD, that I do shit at home and bake for fun because I am a Stepford wife or something. But, I have to say that I am better at embracing this decision we have made as a family more than three years on, because this is what works best for us, even if it means making sacrifices that can be unpalatable or very stressful at times.

Now that E is older, I have thought about going back to work (even if my tendency lies with being home with the kids), and if I do, it would be (mainly) to help with the finances. I would love to take the pressure off the husband, but I would be doing it at the expense of my time with the children, something that I have had the privilege of enjoying over the past 3.5 years, and I don’t know if it’s worth it. Sure, there is a small part of me that misses being out there, working on projects, getting back into the kind of research I was doing after grad school, and I miss being in the rush of problem-solving that doesn’t involve getting tangles out of my daughter’s hair, negotiating naptimes or the best way to change my son’s poopy diaper without him kicking and screaming, but that’s not nearly as important to me anymore in the grander scheme of things. Perhaps a part-time arrangement would work better for us, financially, stimulation-wise, kids-wise, or maybe part-time work wouldn’t get any of us anywhere, I don’t know.

These are just some of the many thoughts that tear me apart from time to time, and I do look to the Big Man Upstairs and ask, “What am I to do? What would You have me do?”

Then, out of the blue, F comes along and says, “Mama, I want you to stay at home. I don’t want you to go to work because I don’t want to be alone.” So I guess that’s that. For now. Clarity, closure, an answer to quell the uncertainties I had on where I would be better placed in our current circumstance.

Perhaps, things may change in the future. The children may have different needs. It may very well do the children more good, in one way or another, if I were to go back to work. Who knows? But right now, F’s repeated request makes me feel okay about staying home and not helping out much financially. I don’t feel as guilty about the husband working so hard because F made me realise that I have done something (intangible yes, but) valuable enough for her to want me to be home, and that, I can’t just write off like I typically do with my best and worst efforts. What I do means more than what I give it credit for, and it germinates and nurtures something that I can’t see or measure. It doesn’t make me less of a mother, even if I don’t have the means to provide for their necessities and  nice-to-have’s, and it certainly doesn’t make me less of a role model even though I am not that driven, career woman for them to look up to. If staying home means that we have to make some adjustments financially and that the journey to getting where I want to be aspirations-wise has to slow down, then so be it. I am just thankful that I have the husband’s and children’s blessings to still do what I do, and that we are still living comfortably without having to make huge sacrifices whilst on a single income. I am also thankful for F to say this out loud to me every day; I know her desire for me to stay home is implied and yet, obvious, as with most children who yearn to be with their parents, but listening to her speak up about this issue, which I have never brought up to her, is nothing short of a divine and timely reminder of the importance of what I do.

Most mothers I know, working and stay-at-home alike, go through some variant of this emotional turmoil. It doesn’t matter what form the struggle takes; we have all been torn apart by stereotypes, our aspirations, needs, roles and wants at some point, or for several times in a day. May we continue to do what’s necessary and what works best for our families.