Category Archives: Motherhood

Family Photography: Grow Old With Me

Moments. The biggest ones that make your heart leap. The most insignificant ones that escape your consciousness. The ones when you laugh till your belly hurts. The ones that you’d rather others not know about. There are, too, the quiet ones when time stands still, and those pauses that seem to take far too long to skip. They make up our lives, our passage here in the world we know, and they make more difference, in the lives of the people who love you, than you think they do.

When I was on the cusp of my teens through to my twenties, I hated being photographed. I didn’t know how to smile for the camera and I certainly didn’t like the way I looked. All that changed when I started dating the love of my life. Suddenly, I was desperate to record every waking moment spent with M, determined not to let those times slip away because…really, I have the memory of a goldfish and I don’t want to forget the moments that we share. Never mind the huge cystic pimple on my nose when I headed to London to visit him, never mind the crooked teeth, I just wanted to capture as many smiles (awkward ones too) as possible.

When I moved to London, I dabbled in very (very) amateur photography. It started with food photography and styling, and then I tried my hand at taking travel shots. M often rolled his eyes at me for trying to take photographs of him too, but hey, good or bad, we now have tonnes of memories to fill the album with.

Now that we have children, I make it a point to do a family photoshoot once a year, much to the horror of M initially. “A few hundred bucks spent on photos?!” That’s what he used to say until he saw the coffee table albums I put together and realised how precious it was to be able to thumb through beautifully captured moments of the kids growing up and of our family just hanging out together. It has come to a point where he goes, “Let’s get A (our usual family photographer) to take our photographs again this year!” Because you see, sometimes when life gets tough and discouraging, M and I often snuggle up in bed at night to look at our family photos, and that is all it takes to get us back up on our feet again.

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Not all photoshoots are created equal though. I had one where the photographer physically moved our body parts (can I just say we were absolutely stiff and it was hard for the photog to move us too) so that we looked perfect for the shot; while that works for people who aren’t as stiff and are more intuitive at posing for photographs (I am absolutely envious of people who know how to work the camera), M and I just end up looking and feeling ridiculous and self-conscious because we aren’t naturals in front of the camera.

When Gideon from Grow Old With Me approached us to do a photoshoot, the first thing I did was to check out his portfolio to make sure that our styles align. As we aren’t good in front of the camera, we needed a photographer who can coax genuine emotions out of us and that’s what I saw in his work with other families. Eyes squeezed shut amidst hearty laughs, flailing arms that end in the biggest hugs, thoughtful, quiet exchanges, knowing smiles. And that’s exactly what we got out of the hour we had with Gideon.

He made an effort to get to know us, what we do, who we are, how we parent; he even knows what makes us joyful and what makes us tick. My kids usually take pretty long to warm up to people but they took to Gideon very quickly. He has a way with children, getting to their eye levels, asking questions and playing games with them; that is pretty much how he worked his magic to get Faith and Ethan to be at ease and just hang out as they usually do with us. It didn’t matter if two cameras were clicking away. The entire session was easy, comfortable and it felt like we were catching up with an old friend. Many shots were taken while we were still chatting away with Gideon, some were taken in the midst of a guided conversation we had with the kids, and others were captured when we were just having a grand ol’ time being outdoors. Sure, the children did whine a little because of the heat, but that’s to be expected anyway.

The best thing about Gideon is he wants to be there. He shared that Grow Old With Me came about because it was a natural progression to grow with the newlyweds that he has photographed, as they begin their journeys in parenthood. He recognises the ups and downs of parenthood, and sees each photoshoot as an opportunity for the family to bond. It is this that drives him to capture the moments that might have otherwise gone unnoticed in our daily lives, and I am thankful that he shared this ethos with us. Our exact sentiments, really.

We really like how the photos turned out; in fact, I just spent two hours grinning like a goofball while reliving the moments we shared that day (someone’s got to do the hard work of picking out photos to put up on the blog, there are too many good ones!). I shall leave the photos with you (it’s a slideshow and may take a while to load) and don’t forget to check out the promotion below!

Promotion:

I heard from Gideon that Grow Old With Me is looking to plan some activities that would help parents better capture moments with their children, and I honestly can’t wait to see how that pans out. While that is still work in progress, if you are looking to do a family photoshoot, you might be glad to know that Grow Old With Me is offering a 20% discount on the hour-long ‘The Family Bonding’ package (usually priced at $328), which which suits a family of 6 people (max). All photos will be processed and returned in high resolution (digital format) within a week. It’s a pretty amazing deal, if you ask me, so hurry and book a slot with Grow Old With Me! The promotional code GOWM is valid until the end of April 2017.

Like Grow Old With Me on Facebook and stay updated on Instagram over @growoldwithmesg as well! 

Mine

I nursed my little boy for the last time on 27 February 2017. There were no tears from the 23-month-old the next day, but boy, did Mama weep.

It all started a few weeks before that, when the husband and I felt that he could do away with the morning and pre-nap feeds as I noticed he was merely comfort-sucking and not actually taking in any milk. Those feeds were, surprisingly, incredibly easy to wean off. All I had to do was plonk him on my lap in the mornings and tell him that there was no need for Mama’s milk, and he would happily run off to the living room to rummage through his toys. For naps, I used to lie down beside him on my bed and have him feed until he drifted off to sleep, but when it came to weaning the pre-nap feed, I told him that he could hug me instead and we could fall asleep together, and he happily did just that too. It all seemed too easy.

I didn’t think too much of weaning E off those two feeds, because I still had the opportunity to nurse him at bedtime and I didn’t really mind doing that except for the fact that he was due to start school soon; from our experience, we reckoned it was just better to at least plan to wean him off completely before he embarked on the next phase in life. I didn’t have a date or plan in mind, in part due to my lack of experience in actively weaning a child (F weaned herself off the final morning feed at 21 months old, she simply ran into our bedroom while we were holidaying in Hanoi and watched cartoons before breakfast was served) and also my reluctance to let go of my baby, who seemed to have sprouted overnight, far quicker than what Mama’s heart could cope with.

I don’t know what prompted me to start weaning E off the bedtime feed on the last day of February. M was working late that evening, and I had just cleaned the kids up after getting them fed at dinner. Before I knew it, I whipped out the bedtime story (Time For Bed by Mem Fox)  that I have been reading to F for years and told E that Mama’s milk was ‘spoilt’, that we could read a book instead and I would cuddle him as he falls asleep, and he…said, “Okay!” He was clearly ready. I wasn’t, and I still don’t know what possessed me to wean him off before I was done.

This went on for a few nights and that…was it. No tears, no drama, just my boy reading (what is now) his favourite book whilst sitting on my lap, and me cuddling him to sleep. A week after the final feed, E even said this a few times while we were in the car on the way to F’s school, “No more Mama milk. Spoil spoil. Read book, okay? Sleep sleep.”

Oh, how my heart broke.

Breastfeeding had been a part of my life for the past five years. It’s almost all I know about feeding a child. You see, both my children refused the bottle and I latched them on for 99.98% of their milk feeds (0.2% being the bottle feeds which failed spectacularly). I had felt trapped at first. I couldn’t go anywhere without them. I barely slept because no one else could bottle-feed them. If I went anywhere without them, it was for my annual haircut, and even then, I was anxious the whole time and sped home just to be back in time for the next feed. Both F and E had painful reflux too, E being the one who suffered from a more severe form than F did. E, especially, screamed hysterically and arched whenever I tried to feed him; for two months, I thought he hated me. Every feed had me wrestling him (not kidding) until I perspired and both of us ended in tears. He was underweight (completely off the chart, not even on the lowest percentile) and yet, was pained by nursing. I was devastated and exhausted and at my wit’s end as to how I should help him put on weight without causing him pain. It was cruel and punishing to go through this, even as I fended off naysayers who had much to say about my breastfeeding. Our paediatrician then put him on MUPS and much too slowly, breastfeeding grew to be a mildly better experience. But it was too late, breastfeeding had scarred me physically and emotionally. I was bone-tired, resentful, and I felt unattractive, having to bear witness to what pregnancy and motherhood had done to my body over the past five years.

Yet, I didn’t want to stop nursing my children. As much as I felt tied down, it was the one way I knew how to mother. If I couldn’t meet their other needs, I could still nurse them. If nothing else went right in motherhood, there was nursing to count on. And there were plenty of occasions when they smiled and cooed and played peekaboo with me as they nursed. Breastfeeding, as gruelling as it was, forged unbreakable bonds between my children and me, and weaning felt like some sort of an un-welcomed rite of passage.

They are growing up much too quickly for me to play catch-up. I am losing them.

For both F and E, I checked on my supply each time I was in the shower after they weaned. It took more than a month before my supply dried up for F. It took two weeks in E’s case. I cried in the shower that evening. We were holidaying in Bali, and there I was, standing in the shower,  relieved (and feeling guilty at the relief) that I need not sacrifice my body that way again just to keep my children alive, mourning every single night when I had the opportunity to hold them close to me and comfort them, wincing as I tried to forget the hurtful remarks that people had hurled at me for breastfeeding my children, trying desperately to recall that twinkle in my baby’s eye as he or she nursed, stroking my fingers absent-mindedly as I struggled to remember how they clung onto my index finger with their tiny, tiny hands. Five years went much too quickly, but the days were so very long and at times, painful indeed.

A month has since passed and E has cheekily asked for Mama’s milk on a few occasions. Sometimes, I catch myself lifting up my top when I hold E in my arms as I put him to bed, only to stop halfway and realise that I have nothing left to give. But I guess we still have cuddles. I will always have cuddles, so long as they let me.

And when that is no longer, the memories are forever mine to keep.

 Photography: Grow Old With Me

The Things Faith Says #8: What’s Tickle in Chinese? 

We have been making a conscious effort to practise speaking Mandarin with Faith. She understands much better than she speaks and we thought to help her along by speaking the language more frequently to her. M is more fluent in Mandarin than I am, so I tend to only remember to practise with F when he’s back home from work.

I was cuddled up in bed with F yesterday night, watching SING on the iPad when M came home from work. F loves to get us to tickle her and she asked her daddy if he could do that.

M (in Mandarin): Try speaking in Mandarin, Faith.

F: Mama, what’s tickle in Chinese?

I turned to M, who turned to look at me as well, and I grew tomato-red before bursting into laughter.

Me: Errrrr…..(laughs hysterically) GOO JI?!!!!

(For those of you who aren’t familiar with dialects/slangs, ‘Goo Ji’ means to tickle but it’s definitely not Mandarin!)

M glared at me and then started laughing as well.

M: It’s 搔痒 lah!!!

I mean, seriously, did you guys not think of ‘Goo Ji’ too?!

I think 冯老师 (my Higher Chinese Language teacher in secondary school) is going to throw my desk out of the classroom (she used to do that with students who weren’t okay in her books). I came from a reputable Chinese school and I think it’s safe to say that I am now a disgrace to my alma mater.

(Well, I know this should belong to the category ‘Things Mama Says’ but I hope I don’t make that many bloopers to fill up a new category, so I am just going to archive this conversation here.)

Nourish Your Skin with the Rose Whipped Hydra Mask from Botáni

Some of you may remember that I suffered from facial eczema patches for more than 1.5 years and was cured of them after I started using natural and organic Botáni skincare products, available at Love Organic. It has been more than 6 months since I started using Botáni products religiously and I am happy to report that I have been free of eczema.

My skincare routine has been very nicely cleaned up, and so is my skin! I rarely suffer from irritation or breakouts; even the monthly hormonal surges barely aggravate my skin now. In fact, I love the Botáni products so much that I bought some as Christmas presents for my friends last year!

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Over the past 3 months, I have also had the opportunity to try the Rose Whipped Hydra Mask, gifted by Love Organic. I have been using it once or twice a week as an overnight mask (one can also clean it off but I like to leave it on for pampering nights). I was a little concerned about the scent at first, as I am very sensitive to smell but the mask proved to be very soothing indeed, so long as I apply a thin layer (which is more than sufficient for adequate hydration in an air-conditioned room) to my face. I wake up with smooth and glowing complexion, and my skin feels soft and plump, even after a night of sleeping in the freezing cold (M likes the room chilled…’sufficiently’). On the eve of date nights or functions where I would like to look my best, the mask is my go-to for an overnight perk-me-up as well!

The Rose Whipped Hydra Mask is packed with nourishing botanicals such as natural Betaine, Mountain Pepper Berry, Olive Squalane (the natural, best alternative to the squalene in our skin) and Olea Europaea Fruit Oil. It boasts hydrating and antioxidant properties, and help to deliver moisture deep into the skin while strengthening the skin’s barrier at the same time. Before you go wondering if the mask is oily, thick and much too rich for our hot and humid weather here, it is really quite like that delectable, whipped cream, one that is lighter than many night creams and masks, as its name suggests. I have normal-to-combination skin (it used to be very polarised with a disgustingly oily T-zone and dry patches on the periphery, but my skin has since calmed down after the switch to natural and organic skincare) and while the mask works very well for me, it is said to be suitable for all skin types.

I have to say that I rarely use masks because they are expensive and/or they don’t do very much for me. As much as I am vain, I don’t like sleeping with a thick mask slathered all over my face just to look better either, but the Rose Whipped Hydra Mask is something that I look forward to using for its hydrating, soothing and relaxing properties. I consider it to be a very affordable mask to add to one’s skincare routine as well, given its efficacy and I’d be a fool to not purchase another tub when my current one runs out.

You can shop for Botáni skincare at Love Organic.

*I was given the Rose Whipped Hydra Mask 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.

 

The Girl On The Airplane

Credit. Something that I generously give everyone but myself.

Each time someone pays me a compliment, I’d immediately blurt out, in a manner akin to a knee-jerk reflex, that the stars, moon and sun aligned at the exact time I reached up to scratch an itch on my right cheek to cause things to turn out so marvellously. You get the picture…I’d honestly believe in any cause other than my efforts or talent, and this is the way I have been since I was a little girl. I didn’t know how to say thank you to people who said nice things to me, until M told me that it was rude to  brush off people’s compliments; after all, they went the extra mile to voice their opinions when they didn’t have to. That’s when I started to practise saying thank you, but only because I want to be polite to others and not because I truly believe in what they say.

I know I don’t make sense. I think the world of people who have done something good out there. Mamas who go to work just because. Mamas who stay home just because. Mamas who know when to let their hair down because they deserve a breather. Mamas who refuse to take a break even if they are on the brink of a burnout. Mamas who hold it together in tough times. Mamas who sob into their knees in their bathrooms when the kids are asleep. I see so much good and strength and resilience in people, especially after becoming a mother, but I fail to give credit to yours truly where credit is due. Each time I may have done something worthwhile, I brush it off and believe that it is something that others could and would have done (and they would have excelled at it instead of scraping by just like I was) if they were in my position. No biggie, is what I’d say.

Now, I didn’t realise what a slippery road that mindset has led me to. Up until yesterday, I had discredited myself so many times that I have unknowingly reduced my self-worth to zilch over the years. And it took a heart-wrenching, tearful conversation with M after our weekly brisk walk  for me to realise that.

It all started when I told M I overheard someone telling a mother that she was incredibly brave to drive her two young children out on her own. I thought the mama deserved a pat on her back too, and I thought that friend was very sweet to have pointed it out to her. Two minutes later, it dawned on me that I have been doing that since E was born. Many mothers would be home with their newborns during confinement and even in the first few months while their partners or family members help take the older kid(s) to and from school, but after M’s week-long paternity leave was over, I was driving a screaming newborn and a petrified F (because she didn’t understand why her new brother was crying) for a total of two hours everyday, come rain or shine. I didn’t have help to ferry F around and I just had to step up to do it, even if I were exhausted, scared, confused and recovering from the physical trauma of childbirth. I remember the days when all three of us would arrive at F’s school soaking wet because I didn’t know how to balance an umbrella whilst fishing E out of the car seat to pop him into the sling and getting F out of the car with her bags in tow. I remember the days when I would cry as I drove a screaming E home after dropping F at school. I remember the days when I just wanted to curl up in bed and not confront the fear of having to anticipate E’s crying (in crescendo, no less) that comes on cue whenever I loosen the sling to pop him into that damned car seat. It is easier these days, having had almost two years of practice in juggling two on school, errand, clinic and fun-time runs. But when I was in the midst of all that and taking deep breaths to dive headfirst into my fears and worries that accompany what others might think is a ‘damn simple school run, liddat also cannot handle ah’, all I could think of was how I failed whenever I broke down or leapt into wishful thinking that help would come in some form. Or when I got the kids all drenched because I couldn’t work out whether it was best to get kid number 1 out of the car first or kid number 2 into the sling before anything else. Many times, I felt defeated by what I thought must be the easiest thing to do (heck, I don’t even have to do that on public transport, I have a car, for crying out loud), and I didn’t dare tell anyone I was feeling that way about a simple school run for fear of wagging tongues and pointy fingers. And shame.

This applies to everything else. I just don’t give myself credit where it is due. I don’t pat myself on the back when an awfully long day is over even though I managed to feed the kids and keep them alive. When people tell me I made a great meal or baked some lovely cookies, I’d say thank you out of courtesy and silently wonder, “Really? I think they are just being polite and they didn’t want to hurt my feelings.” When others marvel at how I manage to take care of the kids and cook and bake, I’d be thick with guilt and shame and say, “I don’t need to go to work and I have help with cleaning and chores, so that leaves me time and energy to do the rest…” Because, somewhere in my pea-sized brain, I have come to think that all I do is the bare minimum that is required of human civilisation, that even if I succeed, it’s luck, that everyone can do what I do and they are stronger, better and just so damn awesome while I have been reduced to some kind of a weak sauce because I can’t drive my screaming newborn around without feeling anxious, for instance.

Then, M said, “You are not weak. Not at all. You are one of the strongest people that I know, and I am not saying this because you are my wife. Remember the day when we were at the Uncle Ringo fair, and Faith suddenly walked straight up to the airplane ride and said that she wanted to go on it, much to our surprise? Remember how she sat there so stiffly and quietly, with her lips steeled in absolute determination and her eyes brimming with fear? We all know that she has always been terrified of rides like this, and yet, when you asked her why she went on the ride without any of us prompting her to go on it, she said, “I was trying not to be scared, Mama. I really try.” She fought a battle that would seem insignificant to others, but she is far from weak. So what if you have help with chores and cleaning? You don’t have to put meals on the table but you do it regardless. You are talented and you bake the most beautiful things, and that has nothing to do with whether you have help or not. You can leave the children and go out and have fun but you refuse to because you want to be the one taking care of them even if it overwhelms you. You could have forced me to squeeze in school runs or made our parents do it and caused them much inconvenience but you stepped up and now you drive yourself and the kids around just so you become independent. No one is stronger than another, dear. The strongest person is one who fights a battle he or she fears most, however trivial it may seem to others, and that is what truly matters. That is why you are one of the strongest people I know. Believe me.”

I was in tears by the time he finished. I knew he was right. Any protests that I had worked out in my mind  before he started talking fell silent and I was completely thoughtful after that. In the evening breeze, I sat by the pool and recalled countless things that I admired other people for, and realised that I too have overcome similar challenges. For the first time in many, many years, I see myself in new light. I have been giving myself so much pressure, and thinking that everything I am doing is a norm that I have taught myself, unknowingly, to forget that I have actually done some pretty wonderful deeds in my life, that I am more than decent. That I am more than what I think I am, that I am not that weak a person or that lousy a mother. Perhaps, this seems pretty obvious to most people, the fact that one is still getting up to do something that trips her in the smallest or biggest of ways is an effort that is worth applauding. It is such an astounding revelation to me and today, I woke up feeling better and calmer than I have in a painfully long time. And all I had to do was to remember the look on my four-year-old’s face and her white knuckles as she held on tightly to that ride at Uncle Ringo’s. She tried…I try.

That courage, and this lesson…I will never forget.

Love Me. Love, Me.

Valentine’s Day is a bit of an alien concept to me. Through the years I had been single, depending on how old (or young) I was, I either spent the day feeling ostracised by girls romanced by eager boys bearing bountiful blooms, or feeling like it was perfectly okay to be alone.

Then, I met and married a very practical man.

We have never celebrated Valentine’s Day, gazing into each other’s eyes with our knees touching in dimly lit restaurants. He was either away in London for his studies, or we would have a home-cooked meal together (a part of our daily routine, anyway) and that would be it. It has been an unspoken tradition every year since we settled down in the same country. Flowers, chocolates, jewellery and gifts are not usually what we do. I would be lying if I say that it didn’t bother me when I was all of 25 (and brimming with naivety), but now that I am in my mid-thirties and have become a mother of two, I have come to realise that love need not be shown in ways prescribed by the society, and that love is much more than a day and the biggest bouquet.

As the years passed us by, we learnt to subtly show our appreciation for each other. Get up a little earlier than the other to tend to the kids, so that one of us gets more sleep. Change out a particularly offensive diaper. Offer to clean up the toddler who has a newfound, screaming hatred for bath time. Hold out on gobbling down the last piece of wagyu steak because the other half loves it but is too frugal to have more. File tax returns. Take the kids out for a walk so the other half gets a break from the ruckus. Offer hugs, lots of them, and naturally offer comfort during painful moments that need not be told to be understood.

A tonne of hard work and the occasional grand gesture fuel our marathon together. We pace, so we don’t fizzle. We hold hands, so no one gets left behind. Now, it sounds like a fair partnership, but before one assumes M and I are equals, I’d go as far as to say that the man has been the better half all this while. It wasn’t a bed of roses but his love for me triumphed and he just…gets me. He is the more selfless, thoughtful one and I often wonder how I can parallel his love for me, for us. And it dawned on me, as I woke up to Valentine’s Day greetings on my phone this morning, that he would be the happiest man if I would just…love myself a little more.

For many years, I have forgotten who I am and I often feel like I am just wandering. It doesn’t make sense when I can’t seem to get out of bed on more mornings than I care to admit, because I am in a such a good place in my life. I have a doting husband who loves me in spite of who I am not, two beautiful children who are so quick to forgive me and smother me in kisses even after I completely lose my shit at them. It just doesn’t make sense.

But it did today. That while I love the people I love with all my heart, and live, breathe and wake up in the mornings for them, I have forgotten how to love myself. To appreciate every strength that I can’t seem to recognise  at the moment, embrace the multitude of flaws that I am all too well-acquainted with, to learn that I am more of a human than a failure in life, and just be kind to myself.

So, on this Valentine’s Day, perhaps the heart I too should have been tending to, is mine.

“Dear You,

Love Me.

Love, Me.”

Happy Valentine’s Day, to all who love and are still wandering, in search for the love within. 

 

Remember Me This Way

Festive seasons are hard for me, especially when we have to gather with people. You know those questions that people get during the Lunar New Year?

“When are you getting married? You are not getting any younger!”

“Har?! Married for XXX years and still not pregnant?!”

“You should have a boy next!” (If you already have a daughter.)

“You should have a girl soon!” (If you already have a son.)

“You should have a third!” (If you already have two children. Or have a girl if you have two sons, a boy if you have two daughters. As if procreation is a service that you can order online and have DHL deliver it to you.)

“WOW, FOUR!” (Accompanied with one raised brow and a smile of a mocking Cheshire cat.)

I have only been subjected to a few of these interrogations as I had the luxury of being away in London for 5 years while I got married and had my first child. Since returning home, however, I haven’t been spared from the curiosity that (unfortunately) didn’t ‘kill’ the cats.

Yesterday evening, I attended a dinner with the in-laws’ extended family and I shed a few tears and lost sleep over what ensued from some conversations. The same, old, tired shit that happens every year.

Catching up:

“So, Rachel, you still taking care of the kids from Monday to Friday?”

“Yes, I am.” (And I wanted to add Saturday and Sunday to the list of days I’m working too.)

“You….don’t go out to take classes to learn something?”

“No, because I need to take care of the kids.”

“You…don’t do anything for yourself?”

“Oh yes, I bake and sell.”

“Oh.”

Being a SAHM, I clearly do not have anything in common with mothers who have high-flying careers. Apparently. From this convo.

When caught not drinking alcohol:

“Why are you not drinking? Are you still breastfeeding?”

“Yes, I am.”

“WHAT?! Still breastfeeding?! OMG, I cannot believe it!” (This was said with disdain, not admiration, mind you.)

“Yeap.”

On sending Faith to XXX primary school:

“So which primary school are you intending to register Faith at?”

“XXX primary, I guess. I am not particularly keen but given the number of phases and restrictions, going via the alumni route seems to be an easier way of getting her into a primary school that is close enough to us, instead of getting dumped into a school even further away. We are still thinking about our options.”

“Har?! Your daughter is just like you, right? If your daughter’s character is like yours, then I think she wouldn’t fit into such a competitive school culture.”

(I had this irresistible urge to point out that I was one of the top students in an elite secondary school and two of the best universities in the world. You know, brag till the cows come home in the name of self-defence, even though I don’t actually believe my achievements at school and at work reflect my abilities; I tend to think all those achievements were flukes.)

It felt like I was stabbed in my heart several times over. I think the questions and remarks made by this relative were innocuous because she is more of a straight-talker who wears her heart on her sleeve than a person who is out to hurt another, but I couldn’t help feeling like I…wasn’t enough after the conversation.

Did I choose to be a SAHM because I wasn’t competitive or driven enough?

Is my son still on the breast because I invested too much of who I am in him? 

Am I a poor role model for my kids because I stay home and take care of them, and that I don’t go out and learn new things to stay in touch with the world?

Have I been forgotten by once-friends and the society because I chose to be a SAHM?

Am I a lesser person because I am not a working mother?

Am I now…irrelevant in the age where success is measured by salary, power and the time one spends at work? 

I couldn’t sleep yesterday night. I tossed and turned and cried myself to sleep. Have I gotten it all wrong?

Then, I thought about someone I had visited in the morning. She is bedridden, frail and struggles to open her eyes. Breathing is weak, laboured and a luxury. Her body is eaten up by sickness, and what was once a whole person, a mother, wife and friend, is now reduced to a shell. People would hardly remember what she has achieved or how much she earned or how she struck the perfect work-life balance between her career and her family. Those who gather around her would instead, fondly remember her loving, caring, giving ways that made the world a better place for them. Or at least, that is what I’d like to think it should be when we arrive at the winter of our lives. 

It’s never easy to be questioned about your decisions that were so painful to make in the first place. I don’t always sail through them and quite often doubt what I am doing when Envy, Expectations, Struggles, Comparisons get the better of me. I am a work-in-progress and my thoughts are too. But I hope, working mother or not, I will leave the world a better place for my children and loved ones to live in. That in small ways, where I have been forgotten in a world that sees otherwise as Success, when my breathing is laboured and weak, when my flesh is being chipped away by Time, my children will love and fondly remember me for the mother I have been to them.

 

 

A Super Fun Play Book That My Kids Love + Promo Code! 

I love toys and books that give us good mileage because (a) I don’t want my home to be cluttered with things as seasons change, (b) we save money in the long run, and most importantly (c) the kids learn not to hanker after the next flashy toy they see and learn to explore the same object in different and creative ways.

I am in disbelief at how well the third point has worked out for us but I am beyond glad that it has. The kids, especially F who is 4 years old, have no problem leaving a toy store without throwing a tantrum. Yes, they would be fascinated by all the knick-knacks calling out to them from the shelves, but they are perfectly happy to leave the store with minimal persuasion as they have learnt (with our guidance and then on their own) that they have sufficient open-ended toys at home that are always fun-enough for them.

One thing that I really like is a good quiet book that grows with the child. I have been looking for one since E was born as I had hoped for the book to keep F busy whilst I nurse E to sleep in the evenings. One can get really useful ones online, some of which you can personalise with pages that you like, but holy moly, those can cost USD10 per page and I just can’t bring myself to spend more than $100 for a busy book with sufficient content, no matter how well-made or interesting they are. I managed to work out a way to keep F quietly busy eventually when my secondborn winds down for bedtime, but when the very active E was due to go on his second flight, I searched for one that cost about $60, bought it on impulse, and regretted the purchase because it was completely uninteresting and none of my kids liked it.

When Sapna from Smarter Concepts approached me to give My Super Fun Play Book a try, I was skeptical at first but having taken a look at the book and the company’s vision in detail on the site, I was sold.

The company is committed to sourcing materials ethically and works closely with seamstresses and handicraft producers to ensure good workmanship. Smarter Concepts cultivates homegrown talents, develops skills of underprivileged women in the Philippines, and promotes their welfare by maintaining fair labour practices, and purchasing the play book is an amazing way to support this vision. The book has also undergone stringent tests and conforms to the European standards of EN 71 and ISO 8124, and it is good to know that the book is safe for my kids to play with.

 
I am glad to report that the play book is highly sought after in our home. F and E love to take it from room to room (it’s super portable as it’s made of fabric and not the least bit heavy) and they sit down quietly to go through the activities on each page. The only time when they make a peep is when they fight over it…which is pretty often because the book is fun for kids of various age groups! E is about 22 months old and he loves sorting colours, playing with the finger puppets, brushing the dog’s teeth, or simply taking the accessories off and sticking them back on the pages. F particularly enjoys a game of Tic-Tac-Toe, loves making pizza (and Mama gets a go at teaching her what a balanced diet is using the different ingredients available) and she is very keen on learning how to tell the time, braid hair, tie shoelaces, etc. Have a look at the time-lapse video I have taken of F playing with the book and you will see that it really is a book that grows with the child.

The workmanship of the play book is excellent too. E can be pretty rough with things in our house but the play book is so impeccably sewn that it has survived his vicious tugging on some of the accessories on the pages! The stitching and attention to detail is evident on every accessory on every page and this has me wondering how this book of 12 pages can go for less than USD4.80 per page (even cheaper if you use my discount code)!

The book is really affordable for its quality and mileage, and gives even the best quiet book I have seen out there a run for its money. I am planning to bring this book with us for when we travel in a few months’ time; this way, the kids get something (they love) to do other than vegging out in front of the telly onboard!

You may purchase this book over here. Don’t forget to use my discount code thepleasuremonger to get USD10 off the book (that works out to only USD48!) when you check out (valid until 31 January 2017, so HURRY).

*I was given the play book 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.

Heartfelt Makan: Well-Made Felt Food Toys At Its Cutest + Promo Code!

I am usually quite self-restrained when it comes to buying toys for the kids, limiting my purchases mostly to open-ended toys such as wooden building blocks. Most of the other toys that F and E have were gifted by friends and family. But throw me a cute play pretend kitchen and I go weak in the knees. That was how we ended up having a Kidkraft kitchen. Dangle those pots and pans and cake mixer and food toys in front me, and I salivate like a Pavlov’s classically-conditioned dog, complete with hearts shooting out of my lids.

Now, most of the food toys we have are wooden, and I love the quality and durability of these pieces. I don’t have much affinity for plastic ones because they don’t have a good weight to them and the cheap paint and labels often peel, but I have been eyeing felt food toys for a while now, having seen some really gorgeous ones on Etsy. But of course, felt food items are hand-sewn and really quite expensive; I managed to stay level-headed, and resisted the temptation to purchase them. There was no way I was paying $70 for a tiny tart that I can’t eat (or can eat…)!

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I was wondering what I should get my kids for Christmas when Santa swung by early. Heartfelt Makan, a local maker of felt food toys, contacted me and asked if they could send me a set for F and E to play with. I had a look at their social media profiles and their website and practically screamed, “YES, I, err, I mean my kids would love to receive them!”

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Aside from cooking up a storm in the international felt food scene (like the quintessential English breakfast or sarnie essentials or even a roasted chicken with moveable parts!), Heartfelt Makan does lots of makan true to our local food heritage. Chwee kueh, siew mai, char siew bao, potong ice cream, pineapple tarts, just to name a few! All these toys are handmade with high quality felt and polyester fill, and the stitching is solid to the point where the toys don’t tear at the seams even after some seriously hustling by my destructive toddler over the past few weeks.

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F pleaded to have a go at the felt food toys we were sent as soon as they arrived but I told her she had to wait because I would like to have the first personal encounter with them and to style them first. She was sorely disappointed but she stole a sneak peek and was dying to dive into the bamboo steamer to get to the dim sum nestled within. A few days later, I let her go wild with the toys and E snuck up behind her to stake a claim too. There was quite a bit of whinging because nobody wanted to share, and l was pleased as punch to see that nobody wanted to share a few weeks later. It’s proof that these felt food toys have longevity to their purpose. F and E have been playing with them, and this lucky mama has been served breakfast, lunch and dinner EVERY SINGLE DAY. Now, if only those are edible.

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You’d be pleased to know that the felt food toys are holding up well with my grubby toddler; they are in pristine condition, are not discoloured or dirtied, and the felt has not fuzzed.  I love that these toys add a different texture to their play pretend kitchen, the kids love to squish them and mix and match with their wooden food toys. They are really well worth the price and the local makan items are a great way to getting our kids acquainted with our heritage. I do hope to see Heartfelt Makan expand their range to include more of the different cuisines we have the privilege of enjoying with different ethnic cultures in Singapore, so fingers crossed on that!

Lunar New Year is just round the corner, and if you are keen to get those pineapple tarts for your children, or any of the other toys for that matter for someone’s birthday, simply spend $50 or more and take 10% off with the promotional code TPM10. The promo code is valid until 4 Feb 2017. Happy shopping!

Like Heartfelt Makan on Facebook to stay updated on products and promotions.

You can shop online at Heartfelt Makan.

*I was given a set of toys 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.