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Let It Go

“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.” - Psalm 127:4

While the early morning’s heavy rain had lightened up, the sky was still pealing with thunder and dark clouds. I wanted to take the train with Anne and shelter her with an umbrella because she needed to walk without the cover of shelter from the MRT station to school.

“It’s ok, you don’t have to go with me to school,” she said. “I have my umbrella, and it might not be raining when I get there.”

I was still a little hesitant, in part because I wanted to make sure she would be ok, and also because I didn’t like the feeling of not having done everything humanly possible.

As we walked towards the train station I looked at her and realised how much she had grown. She had been taking the train to school on her own the last six months, and though today’s weather added additional inconvenience, it didn’t dampen her spirits. Ok, she did laugh about how she wished it were Saturday so she could sleep in on a rainy morning. :)

Like an archer, this was one arrow I had to learn to let fly. And I didn’t want to deprive her of the opportunity to find her own strength and build her resilience.

It’s a lesson I’m still getting used to. As thunder fills the skies, I’m continually praying her flight be buoyed by the grace of God.

The Better Part of Me

It is one of those seasons — where there is so much to do my head is spinning and the daily grind threatens, at any moment, to pull me under a current filled with fear, self-doubt and flat-out exhaustion. Yet here I am, 4 in the morning, unable to sleep as a thousand thoughts run like a sped-up loop in my head.

I get out of my futile attempt to sleep, because there is something deep inside that needs to be written; a thanksgiving that needs to be shared.

My workday — and I suspect many of yours out there — goes something like this: the first part of the day is spent laying tasks out, and then you get about your work, crushing the to-do list. You start to feel the immense weight of your in-tray at around 4pm, where your plan to “go home on time” faces inevitable vapourisation when pressed against the reality of deadlines. It is that moment where you take a deep breath and dig in, and if the road has been inordinately long, you find nothing. You’ve been running on fumes so long that there’s really nothing left but a dark and empty void at the pit of your stomach.

But this isn’t what I want to share. It is about the measure of grace — the light that Tolkien wrote about.

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

My wife has been the bringer of God’s grace for me during this time. Just when things threaten to overwhelm me, my phone buzzes with a message from her. A short video of Joshi trying to haul his humongous behind in an attempt to stand; Caleb doing a hilarious interpretation of his sister’s Chinese Wushu sequence; Anne’s voice in the background, excited at whatever activity they were embarking on.

Faith, like many other homemakers, sometimes feels that she isn’t contributing as much as she could because she isn’t out there “earning money”. Those are such foolish thoughts, implanted into minds by an irrational and (dare I say it) demonic drive towards materialism. We have devalued the invaluable and traded in the priceless for the worthless. The little moments that Faith sends me — these moments of my children’s lives, can never be bought, redeemed or clawed back once they are gone.

I am so blessed that she is there for these moments, and that my children have their mother with them. She is the better extension of myself, the best part of me, and there is nothing greater I can provide for my children whom I love more than life itself.

Carefully Throwing Cushioned Caution to the Wind

I don’t know how I evolved this way — perhaps too many years in the public-sector — but I have become a little too risk-averse when it comes to parenting. Before Caleb takes a leap my mind would have computed the 21 ways he could fall and hurt himself. If he does indeed fall, I’d have a “I told you so”. This severely inhibits their growth, and I’m making a conscious effort to let them calculate their own risks and leap forward.

When Polliwogs asked if I’d like to take Anne and Caleb to visit their new outlet at Vivocity, I jumped at the chance. Not to much for the children to explore, but it was more for me to disengage my risk-assessing brain. It helps that Polliwogs’ playgrounds put a lot of consideration for the children’s safety: every possible surface is cushioned, every corner covered. Even the balls that fly out of the pneumatic cannons are made of soft foam (doesn’t hurt upon impact), while the balls in the children’s ball pit (at the bottom of some really awesome slides) are larger and made of plastic (easier to keep clean).

But children — let me qualify this: my Caleb — have a way of finding ways to make your heart palpitate. Just minutes into playing, Caleb was already seeing if he could leap off one platform, grab on to a hanging thingimajig, climb and sit on it without touching the ground. As he leapt, a group of mothers around me shrieked. He failed to mount up said thingimajig, swung around and knocked his back on some supporting pillars. Good thing they were cushioned. He got off, gave me a big smile. Now at least he knew how close or how far he was from achieving the stunt he had envisioned. Nothing beats learning things firsthand, I suppose.

Anne spent most of her time trying out some new-fangled trampoline contraption (I clearly do not know the names of theses things), bouncing up and down on the different coloured strips. Caleb, still training to be the next Indiana Jones, fell in love with the zipline. He was too short to reach it so I carried him up. After that he was very sure he could jump up and catch on to it if he had a running start. His first few attempts were one-handed grabs, and he came back with rope burns on his palms. Seeing that I wasn’t particularly concerned about them, he continued playing with the zipline.

I think there were many learning opportunities within the Polliwogs playground. The foamball cannons, situated at a height, had to be fed foamballs by other kids who were at the bottom level through a series of pneumatic tubes. The kids (well most of them anyway) learned to give and take. My kids also learned that they sometimes had to share their Dad: I was on zipline duty for quite a while, hoisting every interested kid who was too short.

But most importantly of all, I think it was a good place for me to let go of my own inhibitions. Risks here were tolerable and I could allow my children to exercise their creativity a little bit more. I still had to consciously bite my tongue from time to time, but it was nice knowing that for the most part, they’d land on cushioned surfaces.

Deconstructing Education

There has been quite a bit about the education system on the news: whether or not our children are all expected to have private tutors in order to keep up with their peers. There is the general sense that we have gone too far, and the stress we place upon our young has reached levels tantamount to torture.

As Anne navigates herself through Primary school, she exhibits signs of stress: she quite often has problems falling asleep, worried that she isn’t adequately prepared for the next day’s classes; she has stopped drawing as much simply due to the lack of time. I am glad that she now reads very voraciously, so much that I tell her that her obsession isn’t that much different from her brother’s insistence that the iPad become an extension of his arm.

She chuckles. Somewhere inside she knows that I love my little reader of a daughter too much to mind.

Like every parent, Faith and I are concerned about the education our children receive. Having both worked in education we know that the system Singapore has is borne out of good intentions, and most of our teachers are really trying their darndest to ensure that every child is given the necessary guidance towards a quality education.

It is, however, the yardstick of what makes a “good” education that I have an issue with. I believe that education ought to equip our young with the tools and attributes necessary to operate effectively in the world. Our children’s educational journey should not be viewed as confined only to the school system, but should also include the home.

My observation is that two events conspire to rob our children of the best education they can have: one, that the education system, designed for the masses, is simply too massive to adapt to a world that is changing faster day by day; and two, parents have all but vacated their roles as educators. The home is devoid of education. Back then it was the television, these days we have the mobile devices. But I remember parents putting up more resistance back in the day. Most of us are simply too tired to fight the onslaught of our children’s demands, and the iPhone or iPad buys us relief.

With whatever little spare brain cycles at my disposal, I have been thinking about the skills and traits that are essential for my children to navigate the world today, measuring our education system against the list, and seeing if I can complement the system, or even replace it if absolutely necessary.

  1. Lateral thinking. These days we have so many tools at our disposal that the old one-problem-one-solution model is totally outdated. We need people who are able to wrap their brains around problems and forge solutions from every available angle. We need to be able to express ourselves laterally as well, not just with written text as our forebears did, but fully utilise the tapestry technology offers us: audio, video, interactive elements, informational graphics, serious gaming, industrial design…the list goes on. Our communication no longer lies solely in reading and writing - it is essential that we be able to take the abstract idea and fashion our expression transmedia.

  2. Be a manipulator of technology. Future generations will undoubtedly be comfortable with technology, never for a second knowing that the world was once without internet, imagining it to be dark and void; where we remember those days to be filled with more light and joy than they could ever imagine. While everyone would be adept at using technology, it is the ones who are able to manipulate technology — to code — who are able to solve new problems. The clichéd phrase “there’s an app for that” takes a whole different meaning for these guys. There’s an app because they can build the darn solution. They are the masters of technology, not customers waiting to pay for someone elses’ imperfect solution.

    Tynker looks interesting.

  3. A heart for the world. The education system our children are put through emphasises a lot on the acquisition of knowledge, but pays little heed to the identification of problems. We need to be able to not only look at the world around us, but feel deeply for it, channel that into prayer, and then into action. It is sad that so many of our best and brightest carry with them the knowledge of the ages, only to walk into swanky office lobbies, slaves to someone elses’ capitalistic vision.

  4. Courage tempered with discernment. Knowing the problem and feeling deeply for it is one thing, but action often comes at personal cost. I say this with some guilt as I wonder if I have been brave for my children, or if I have walked too safely. It is a fine line, and we need to be able to discern the things we can and ought to change, and the things we have to humbly accept. Humility is unfashionable these days, but it is so important to come before God for a dose of perspective.

The list goes much longer and the points all intertwine. As it stands I fear the education system does not fully address the development of these qualities, but we need acknowledge that we, as parents, are the first keepers of our children’s well-being.

It is our duty to equip them as best we can to solve the problems of their time, and live full, meaningful lives before God.

Day nor the Hour

Faith and I sat in front of Dr Soon, our gynaecologist.

“How? You want to do it now?”

We sat there, totally stunned and unsure. The baby had grown quite a bit over the last few weeks, and his size had become a little bit of a concern. Our previous two had always come unannounced, so having a choice in when the baby would be born was a decision we had never made.

“Erm…tomorrow?”

A quick phone call was made, and things were set in motion. I sent out text messages to the necessary parties. It was odd telling my colleagues that we were having the baby tomorrow. Seemed almost prescient.

As we wind down for the night I look at Faith and tell her I’ll be cheering her on. As a husband, the birth of your children is one of those moments you stand so helplessly by.

“Wish I could do it for you”, I say, a little too quickly. “Erm…maybe not.” Even chivalry had its limits.

We both laughed.

It’s a new day tomorrow. The cold night air is tinged with excitement, but also fear and uncertainty. Grandma transferred from the hospital over to the hospice today. A poignant moment in our lives, standing at the start and end of life’s circle.

Five

My dearest Caleb,

I grew up with two younger sisters, whom I had to look after, and then there was Anne before you. I can’t say that I knew what it would be like to have a boy, and now 5 years later I realise that it is everything the movies make it out to be and more.

It’s odd that you’re the one I turn to when I want to talk basketball, and that you, at the age of five, know more about the NBA than pretty much anybody else I know. You have familiarised yourself with the names of players, of all the teams, even the playing styles of individuals. I can’t wait for the time we can be on the court together.

While Anne brings with her a quiet grace, you are the very definition of sunniness. How your huge eyes and big smile - oh those cheeks! - light up the room and cheers our hearts is always something to behold. You have brought so much happiness into our lives, and I feel bad that some times I’m a little hard on you.

I know I need to give you time to grow and find your own way. Looking back at my own life, I sure took my own sweet time, and it is only by God’s unending grace that I am not in a much darker place. May God’s grace shine upon you always, and that your heart may contain His joy.

Sleep tight, my little boy. I’ll work hard on being the example I’d like you to have.

Eight

My dearest Anne,

Exactly 8 years ago, Mummy’s water broke and she looked at me standing beside her and asked, “so what do we do now?” It’s been a whirlwind of a ride ever since. You have brought so many firsts into our lives. It doesn’t seem that long ago when I held you in my arms, unsure as to whether we could do this, given the enormity of the task. And yet here we are, and you’re still bringing new experiences into our lives.

You held my hand tonight as you slept, and I know that you dread the morning when you will find me gone to serve my reservist obligations on the other side of Singapore. You told me you wished today would not come because it meant that we’d be apart. I tried to reassure you that it would only be for a few days, but I know in my heart that every day apart is one day too long.

You handed me a short letter and told me to read it only when I was in camp. The front of it said “Bye bye Daddy”, with little hearts around it. My heart breaks, you know? To not be there for your birthday.

But there are so many things we have to be thankful for. All the moments we enjoyed exploring Singapore as a family; the little routines that we have; the evening walks down Stadium Boulevard. The smallest things are always the most important, when it comes down to it. And so tomorrow I’ll put on my army uniform, knowing that together with other husbands, fathers and sons, we’ll be protecting the right to many more of these moments with family and friends.

Happy birthday, my most precious daughter. I know right now, as you’re reading this, you’re rolling your eyes and saying, “I’m your ONLY daughter.” You’ll always be my only Anne.

Love. Always. Daddy.

Sunrise of Your Smile

My dearest children, I have been holding on to a song in my heart for almost two decades. These beautifully written lyrics have been waiting for you.

From Michael Card’s “Sunrise of your smile”:

Reject the worldly lie that says,
That life lies always up ahead,
Let power go before control
becomes a crust around your soul,
Escape the hunger to possess,
And soul-diminishing success,
This world is full of narrow lives,
I pray by grace your smile survives.

Caleb Smiling

For I would wander weary miles,
Would welcome ridicule, my child,
To simply see the sunrise of your smile,
To see the light behind your eyes,
The happy thought that makes you fly,
Yes, I would wander weary miles,
If I could see the sunrise of your smile.

Anne smiling

Now close your eyes so you can see,
Your own unfinished memories,
Now open them, for time is brief,
And you’ll be blest beyond belief,
Now glance above you at the sky,
There’s beauty there to blind the eye,
I ask all this then wait awhile,
To see the dawning of your smile.

Kneeds

Caleb lies awake in his room, Faith watching over him while I take a breather from night duty. We’ve just sponged him with tepid water in an attempt to cool the fever. He endures the procedure, though he clearly hates it, muttering soft “I don’t want”s, his voice quivering as he shivers.

I’m barely able to hold myself together at this point, my heart shattering in a thousand pieces, crying out in anguished prayer for the suffering to be taken away from him. My faith flickers in the wind, believing that God knows what He’s doing, even though I do not.

These moments are real. Real in that they strip away the games we play; the facades we navigate as adults in a world we constructed. It is these moments we are left with nothing except a stark, pure, unadulterated look at life and its meaning, where thoughts find their utterance in prayer. Life in its raw form.

This is the real reason why we need children in our lives. Forget the economic argument or talk of lineage and continuance. There is nothing on earth more worthy of our protection, our most unselfish hopes and our self-sacrificial love than our children. In our very hearts it matters not if the children are mine or yours; they are ours, and the deeply engrained need to protect them from harm and nurture them to fullness is a universal one that unites us.

We live in a society steeped in the culture of competition, and its poison is seen all around us. It has tainted the value of hard work, and it has introduced many cracks in our society. Hierarchies such as social status, income levels have clouded our judgement; discrimination and xenophobia have become commonplace behaviours.

20 minutes ago as I curled up behind my boy, holding his hands and feet to keep them warm, nothing else mattered. As I left the room to catch some sleep he waved his little hand and managed a “bye bye”, his voice still trembling.

Seven and Four

My dearest Anne and Caleb,

I had meant to write this a few days ago, but erased the draft I had because I couldn’t quite find the right words to describe what I felt watching the two of you sleep, hours after your birthdays.

We’re all in a different phase of life now. The two of you are no longer babies.

My beautiful Anne, my daughter. I know that it is not easy going to school. I feel a pang reach into my deepest of hearts when you sometimes weep at night, not wanting to face the cold hard reality of school the next day. You say there are too many rules, and that you fear unintentionally breaking any one of them. I wish I could tell you to disregard them, because life isn’t made up of silly rules; and more importantly, life shouldn’t be lived in fear. School, above all, should be the one place you ought to be able to make mistakes safely, and experiment with solutions bound only by your imagination.

I sound like those parents I used to loathe when I was working at the Ministry of Education: the ones who thought they knew better than the system. Like them, I believe I do. Because you are mine, and the world has never seen anyone like you. I know good parenting is learning how to let go, and I pray I’ll have the wisdom to do so when the time comes.

For now, your hand grasps mine while you sleep. You tell me that it helps you fall asleep, but you won’t mind if I need my hand to type this post. I clasp your hand in mine. Times like these are too precious.

My wonderful Caleb, my son. You refuse to be thought of as more little than your sister, and your little legs propel you so quickly forward, out of toddlerhood and now you’re a boy. There’s a certain sweetness about you - the way you tilt your head back and forth, the goofy grin and how you trundle about. I know it won’t be long before your male pride prohibits me from kissing you, but till then, your mother and I cannot resist planting our lips on your face, our hearts holding on to the last vestiges of baby that slips through the sieve of time and memory.

My children, it is customary to pass you some words of wisdom on your birthdays, but any honest parent would confess that we learn more from our children than they’ll ever learn from us. Living with the two of you, watching you grow from infants to the amazing kids you now are, I’ve learned a great deal about life.

As you grow in your consciousness and become more aware of the flaws of your parents, the lesson for me is this: it is imperative that I live an example; the best gift I can give you is that my life be proof of the things I implore to be true, because anything less is hypocrisy. And you, my dear children, deserve the best parents we can be. Even if we fear you may end up hating us for it.

If we believe that life is more than the acquisition of material things, we ought to live it. If we believe that God will supply our needs, we ought not to worry so much, not to safeguard so much, we ought to trust more. We might have less, but we will have more.

You deserve parents that love God with all their hearts, and prove that He reigns over us all, and that there is peace and joy in unconditional submission unto Him.

Your mother and I want so much to be those parents for you. It frightens us, and has been the source of tears. We’ll be brave for you.

Take me to your leader

My daughter Anne asked her mother, “How did you know that Daddy was the man you wanted to marry?”

My wife, caught off-guard, gave what I thought was a decent answer. “Daddy is a good man who loves God very much. He’s a good leader of the family.”

Anne: “…but I thought you were the leader of the family.”

-_-‘

Re-education

I often wonder if my role as a parent lies not so much in the education of my children, but in protecting them from the process of “growing up” which seems to rob them of the many wonderful attributes they already intrinsically possess.

When Anne used our bathroom two nights ago, she used the last scrap of toilet paper on a used roll, when the rest of us adults had already moved on to a brand new roll. When she was done, she picked up the toilet roll core and laughed aloud with glee — she now had another to add to her huge collection of handmade toys.

Her table is strewn with them: used toilet rolls fashioned into binoculars and telescopes; old Yakult bottles carefully painted over and decorated, each holding a different prize she placed in them; used pieces of cardboard formed into a treasure chest, complete with sticky tape hinges and a rounded cover. She lives in this bohemian paradise created by her own two hands, a pair of scissors and her unlimited imagination.

This very moment of reflection has me a little embarrassed to find myself struggling with a depleted sense of self-worth. I find myself wanting things I don’t need, whether it is a condominium so the kids can go swimming whenever they like, or a car that’ll open up new places and adventures for us. The fact that I can’t quite afford these things gets to me a little, and I sometimes wonder if all this “serving the people” kool-aid that I’ve been feeding myself to a life spent in public service will eventually leave me bitter.

It is also in these moments God speaks to me through my children, reminding me that joy is not found in possessing things, but in creating things. Creating things that make others happy, creating things that communicate beauty and goodness. Creating things, whether words or music, photographs or living memories that fill the moment with such abundance brings true happiness. Coming back to where it all begins — to the Creator — and being thankful not just for the things we have, but for the things we can share.

Head to Head, or Hand in Hand with the System

It’s Anne’s fourth day in Primary school, and she cried before bed last night. It was a culmination of small reasons, and it was a little heartbreaking to see my little girl have to deal with so much change. Faith and I understand that it is a necessary part of growing up, but it is also shocking how quickly one can turn from teacher advocate (“parents, please give the teachers space to do their job!”) to demanding parent (“of course I know my child better than her teacher!”).

To see her tears flow down her cheeks as she sobbed, recounting in mortal fear how the Primary One level manager told the kids that they had to learn the National Anthem at home or they wouldn’t be allowed to join in the flag lowering ceremony at the end of the school day, or how the same manager threatened the children with detention after school if they didn’t keep quiet, opened old wounds for me.

Like many of my very closest peers, the Singapore education system was a bad fit for me. I spent years — a whole decade, now when I come to think of it — dreading school. There were only a half a handful of teachers who understood that I never did homework not because I was lazy, but because handwriting was painful and extremely tedious for me. The production of homework into written form seriously impeded the speed of my learning.

Anne, at the young age of 6, has had to face so many new mental constructs the past few days. Where at home Faith and I try our best to ensure she is given real reasons behind our decisions, it is unlikely she’ll have that luxury in an education system designed for mass-production of compliant students. For example, at a very young age, Anne was given a lollipop. She came to us asking for permission to eat it. We gave her our permission but told her that lollipops weren’t very good for the body. Much as she wanted it, she walked over to the trash-bin and threw it away.

Now in school, she will be told to do many things, without reasons explicitly communicated because it is not expedient to do so when catering to hundreds at a time. She will be told to obey, “because it is the way it is”, or “because I said so”, and I secretly hope she won’t until she gets a good reason. We will need to teach her how to derive good reasons through observation, and not expect it to always be spoon-fed to her. There is so much we will need to teach her as parents, but we also need to keep an eye on the school system and what it teaches, and whether those things build her up, or tear her down.

Little Time

Zero gravityIn the midst of all the hustle and bustle of things that cry out for our attention, there is no greater reminder of how quickly time slips through our fingers than that of our children. They graduate from phase to phase, so fast that by the time we parents learn to deal with the challenges of a tantrum-throwing toddler, we find them asking questions on interpersonal problems at school.

So such it is with Anne and Caleb, our two little stowaway adventurers who’ve become fellow journeymen and constant companions of our lives. It seems only yesterday Anne was born; how silently 6 years have passed! Shy Caleb has turned to rambunctious Caleb to well-mannered Caleb, and even as I write this, he’s already morphing into some new phase of cognitive development, complete with new challenges and joys.

Age is really beginning to catch up with us. For the first time in my life, sheer force of will is no longer enough to overcome the lead in my legs as I insist on chasing down kids less than half my age on the neighbourhood basketball court. I stretch to go in one direction, but there’s this perceptible lag between what my mind wants and what my body performs. I stubbornly refuse to accept the fact I’m past the age some professional basketball players retire, but the symptoms are undeniably visible.

We’re also starting to come face to face with our mortality, and even more immediately, that of our parents.

Blessed 70th, dad.

Dad just celebrated his 70th, a momentous milestone by any measure, but I must admit in my heart that there is a growing worry. The assumptions of life and health of our family and ourselves — assumptions that we so carelessly took for granted in our youth no longer stand up to the stark reality that everything earthly eventually atrophies.

As friends and colleagues around me deal with their parents’ declining health, I brace myself for the same eventuality.

It dawns on me that time is short for us all, and we ought to spend it wisely. For all the words that I should have said and not said, all the things I should have done and not done, there is no time for regret, only swift decision.

To love, to share, and to serve.

Pause and Give Thanks

Things happen so quickly around here it takes an act of will to put on the brakes, if only to figure out where we are.

Faith and the 2 kids have been battling a wretched cough for a while now. Just the other night, Faith was in a coughing fit. Anne went out of the bedroom and came back with a glass of hot water and handed it to her mother with a small smile. I panicked a little at the thought of the little girl lifting a heavy jug of hot water from a counter a little too high for her and pouring it into a glass. So I hastily told her not to do that by herself again.

Crestfallen, she walked to the corner and wept. Our hearts shattered in a million pieces. Compassion is such a fragile thing and is easily destroyed by cold hard pragmatism. Faith and I held the crying girl until her tears turned to laughter at one of the many jokes I had to spontaneously think up to turn the tide around. I dried her damp cheeks and marveled at the girl God had put into my life.

In the background, Caleb was still jumping up and down on the bed, going “bang bang”, pointing at everyone else with the broken toy airplane wing that passed off for a gun.

Faith and I looked at each other. No words were needed.

Only hearts of gratitude.

Anne and the Polar Bear

Feeding Time

Catching Up

I took the afternoon off to spend some one-to-one time with Anne. Ever since Caleb was born Faith and I have always expected her to be all grown up, and for the most part she’s been very gracious about it. It was so nice to give her space to be herself, and not have to be Caleb’s older sister.

I received an invitation to bring Anne for a special session with CBeeBies’ Mister Maker, an art and craft programme on BBC for kids. I wasn’t sure if she was familiar with the show. It was only then I discovered she had ditched Playhouse Disney a couple of weeks ago, and now exclusively watched CBeeBies. When she heard that we could go meet Mister Maker live, she pretty much went nuts and started counting down the days to the event.

When she finally did meet Mister Maker, she took a while to warm up.

The kids with Mister Maker

She put her usual diligence into the art project,

Anne hard at work

finally warmed up a little,

Anne trying on her "Alien headband"

and it took a bit of coaxing, but she gathered up her awestruck self and went up to the stage for a photo with her favourite CBeeBies personality.

Anne and Mister Maker

You should have seen how long the smile lasted on her face.

Admission

Caleb going for x-rayIt’s odd how deep we sink during the low times of our lives, and how quickly the mind forgets them all when things get better. And yet it is in the remembrance of these times where we learn to truly treasure what we have and understand how futile our attempts to hold on to them. And ultimately at the heart of it all, that we depend solely on the grace of God.

Caleb was admitted into the hospital last week. He had been suffering from a fever that refused to go away. We had spent nights sponging his forehead trying to get the temperature down, and finally after a week Faith decided to take him to a pediatrician. It was recommended that Caleb be hospitalised immediately, so we did just that.

Because Caleb’s digestive system wasn’t taking well to the antibiotics, we had no choice but to supply his medication intravenously. I placed him on the steel table, where he was bound tightly with a huge blanket, exposing only one arm. He kept looking at the pediatrician, unsure about what was to come. And I was frantically fiddling with my iPhone, trying desperately to pull up an episode of Postman Pat from Youtube. The 3G network kicked in, Caleb was distracted for a moment, and the doctor slid the needle in without so much as a confused whimper. I glowed with pained pride — my brave boy.

His arm was placed in a splint so he couldn’t bend his wrist for fear the embedded needle would fall out. His other arm was also placed in a splint so his couldn’t claw at the arm with the needle. So there we had it: a boy who flapped his open paws, upset by the fact he couldn’t do the one thing he loved the most: play Plants vs Zombies on the iPhone.

I spent the first 2 nights with Caleb. Holding him, telling him that everything was going to be ok. There were moments I wondered if it was; the doctor couldn’t tell us what he was suffering from, and the fever didn’t subside. We had baths in the middle of the night whenever the fever got too high, and even then it only provided very temporary relief. The most difficult part of it all was having to constantly distracting him from the fact Faith wasn’t around. She was busy looking after Anne, and both of them also seemed to be coming down with the bug.

“Mummy. Mummy. Mummy.” went the endless refrain. Amid the tears, he would kick himself free from my grasp, trying to get to the floor. And there I was desperately trying to hold on to him, knowing that if I lost my grip, he would bolt, and the intravenous tube would rip the needle out the back of his hand.

That was only a few days ago, but it seems like a faraway dream. Now that the adrenaline has worn out, a new work week has begun and I have little time to collapse in a pile. Caleb has totally recovered and is back to his mischievous self. Anne and Faith are on the mend.

I put Anne to bed, kiss her on the cheek, think about my brave boy and my beautiful partner of a wife. And I take a moment to breathe it all in.

There’s a sweetness in the air, and I can scarcely grasp on to it as I could the elusive smell of flowers in the morning. It is the smell of grace, and of God’s mercy for today. We cannot hoard these things, but we can share them with others who are undergoing their own low tides in life.

We do not lose any light when lighting another person’s candle with our own.

Ebenezer

Anne kissing Caleb on their birthday

A few hours ago, exactly 5 years from that moment, Faith’s waterbag broke and Anne was born. I remember very distinctly those first few nights, totally unsure if I could last a single week of this incessant wailing, I penned down “Surviving Day Three”, a post of utter exasperation and fatigue.

This evening as I sat beside her, Anne asked, “How was your work?” My little daughter is now taking care of me, and everything — all the hair-pulling and sleep deprivation — is forgiven.

My daughter loves me, and that is God’s grace made sufficient for me.

A few hours from now, exactly 2 years ago, Faith’s waterbag broke. In the midst of epidural that didn’t work, Caleb was born. Truth be told, it took me a while to get to know and love Anne. I wasn’t sure if I had a heart big enough for both my kids. And over the last 2 years, in his own bumbly way, Caleb bowled us all over with his smile.

Tonight he read the words “bus”, “apple”, “orange”, “nose”, “ears”, “banana” and “hand” off his flashcards, learning a new word (“toe”).

Faith and I constantly look in amazement. There’s a little twang that comes with the reminder of how quickly they’re growing up, and that every moment lost is a moment lost forever.

I wish I wrote more, photographed more, tasted more, loved more, breathed in more of life. And I wish words were better suited to articulated the fullness that God has laid therein.

God watch over you, my two little ones.

In and On Itself

Anne smiling

“Are we in Singapore or on Singapore?” Anne asked last night while in bed.

“In Singapore, I guess.”

“If we’re in Singapore, why is it we’re on earth?”

Whoa. My 4-year old just set me up for a tough question. I struggled with that one, not because I didn’t know the answer, but I didn’t know how to explain it in a way a 4-year old would understand.

You know, maybe I didn’t have to dumb it down. After all, she was the one who asked right?

So here goes.

When we say we’re in Singapore, we refer to its national boundaries which we remain physically within. We do sometimes say we are on the island of Singapore, which would refer to the actual piece of land we stand on.

Likewise, when we refer to Earth, we do not mean an invisible boundary (not until we start parceling out plots of space for condominiums anyway), but the planet itself. Therefore we are on the planet and not in it.

Unless we’re spelunking.

You think Anne’ll understand spelunking?

Boys are for punching

This morning my 4 year-old daughter Anne picked up a small notebook that had a flower on the cover.

“This is for girls”, she stated.

And that’s how my notebook became hers.

“What would be on the cover if the notebook was for boys?” I asked. “A ball? A toy car? An aeroplane?” I suggested.

A cheeky smile spread over her face.

“Trash.”

Retrospective

Dearest Anne,

It is amazing how fast time has passed us by. I was there, for the most part: your entrance into the world, your first word, the time your hand got caught in the elevator door.

Look at you now.

Anne at the Esplanade

I couldn’t be any prouder.

Woosh

I’ve been doing a really poor job at chronicling the growth of the two kids. So much as changed so quickly that it’s really hard to keep up.

All I know is that every morning when we haul the 1 comatose and 1 wide-alert body down to the grandparents’ car it never fails to elicit a sigh from me. Nothing tells you that time is fleeting with the same profundity as watching babies turn into children, and children getting all grown up.

Anne is now 4.5 going on 14. She has an amazing grasp of the spoken language and has a more extensive vocabulary than I did when I was 9. She rattles on and on about girly things, like which hairclips she should put on, how she wished she had longer hair because there was this beautiful girl who had waist-length hair and how she wants to be a cartoon on tv so everyone in the world could watch her. She clearly has no lack for showmanship, that’s for sure.

Rockstar.

Caleb smilingCaleb is the sunniest 1.5 year old you’ll ever find. He certainly knows how to work his dimple, and the gurgling laughter often reminds Faith and I of Sir J.M. Barrie’s quote about laughter being the beginning of fairies. Caleb isn’t speaking extensively yet, though he understands most of what we tell him. I suppose with Anne talking so much he reckons his contributions there aren’t necessary.

It’s only been a few years on paper, but Faith and I feel ourselves growing older. It is the best thing in the world to come home to each other, then when we see the two children going hysterical with joy at seeing us in the evenings it truly brings meaning to the phrase “my cup overflows”.

Scratch That

I run my fingers over the calloused skin for what feels like the millionth time, denying her desire to scratch her skin to ribbons with her nails. There are about a dozen of these zones of rough skin covering small areas of Anne’s skin — behind her knee and elbows, the outside of her ankle; the back of her neck. Her eyes are closed, but her hands take on a life of their own, alternating quickly between the zones, hoping to find a lapse in my defense, endlessly thirsting for the temporary relief of carving new scars on her skin.

I open up the almost-empty jar of calendula cream and apply another coat.

This is one of those nights I keep vigil over Anne’s eczema in the hope that God grants me enough patience to provide my daughter sufficient passage to a good night’s sleep.

Why We Need the Children

In an era where we’re all about choice it seems inconceivable why anyone would surrender their individual freedoms to have children. After all, children are viewed as a shackle; a ball and chain that ties you down for at least 2 decades if not more. This view isn’t erroneous, as many parents will attest to the fact.

Frankly, the commitment level of having a child ranges somewhere between “the hardest thing I’ve ever done” to “the hardest humanly possible thing”. Faith and I are blessed enough to have parents who are more than willing to take care of our two younguns. Even then, a good night’s sleep has become an alien concept and a faraway memory.

Anne kissing CalebBut the rewards! Being so intimately intertwined with another life is an indescribable experience. And this small person will reveal the crust of cynicism and jadedness you’ve accumulated over the years of dealing with adults. This child of yours has no agenda, yet in the most gentle and stark of ways shows you how things really ought to be. Spending a day with my kids resets the priorities of life. They remind me of the simple and inexpensive pleasures like a good conversation or the sound of laughter.

Just moments ago Anne cried. She had spent a good portion of last night cobbling together a present for her brother Caleb using scraps of paper carefully cut with her pair of scissors and held together by scotch tape. It had fallen on the ground and broke apart before her brother could do the official unwrapping. Looking at her crumpled countenance, I could empathise with her pain at watching her hard work fall to pieces, and am reminded to similarly apply myself to my craft, regardless of whether management will eventually break it.

There are so many lessons we learn in parenting, and I would venture to say that they teach us more than we teach them. My only hope is to hold on to these valuable lessons they impart to me, that I may one day impart it back to them.

Asleep

Anne turned 4 yesterday. Caleb turned 1 today.

Life has a way of passing you by. There’s the daily grind where minutes turn into hours, and yet in retrospect, it would seem that everything flew by. Our children have passed huge milestones in their lives.

We pushed Caleb’s celebrations to this Saturday, which turned out to be a good thing ‘cause the boy has been fighting the flu the past few days. It’s amazing how quickly babies turn from needy little bundles of endless wanting to individuals with their own little idiosyncrasies and flair.

Caleb walked his first steps about a week ago.

He’s shown an affinity for putting objects together, unscrewing the tops of bottles and initiating endless rounds of peekaboo on his own (usually behind a chair or under a table).

It’s a humbling experience, this parenting gig. You find yourself awestruck so much of the time as a whole person is formed before you. The big secret of it all is that the children emerge beautifully in spite of our parenting. Every parent who’s honest will confess that despite our best efforts, we suck at this. Every child is different, every child pushes us to the limits and we often do not have all, or any of the answers. Yet somehow, by the grace of God, our children love us.

More than we ever deserve. And our only response is to love them back.

Blessed birthday, my little boy. Thanks for the little hugs. I need them more than I realise.

Day Out with Number One

20090404-029Faith had to work last Saturday, so I decided to take Anne to the Singapore Flyer.

Though technically 3 years of age (she turns 4 tomorrow), Anne was an amazing companion who never once complained at how far we had to walk to get to the Flyer. We took a bus to Suntec City, missed the free shuttle bus, was given wrong directions by the information counter staff, but Anne called it “a wonderful adventure”.

She would break out in occasional dance, pirouetting through the cavernous halls of Marina Square. We grabbed an iced Milo along the way and it was only when her two small hands held the side of the large cup that I realised how small she was. We often take her maturity for granted, expecting her to act rationally like an adult.

Tickets to the Flyer were exorbitant, setting us back $50 for a half-hour’s worth of sight-seeing. It was a pleasant experience, and we rounded off the wonderful adventure with lunch at Sizzler’s with Faith, a Saturday tradition we picked up.

It would be Anne’s last time eating there for free. 4 year olds pay.

Our little girl is all grown up. Yet somehow, she never really comes across as very little. She’s just who she is - Anne. Our Anne.

Needed

It was only last week when I was in charge Anne’s bedtime routine. I’d brush her teeth, read her a few stories and then put her to bed. Somewhere, somehow she took a preference to me doing all this and would ask Faith to “go outside please” when it was near bedtime.

Faith was initially glad for the reprieve, but as the days turned to weeks, Faith began to feel a little excluded. It’s not easy to have your child ask you to leave the room so she can have an exclusive powwow with someone else.

One night, about 2 weeks ago, Anne bade Faith goodnight as she normally did. Just as Faith was about to leave the bedroom, Anne explained, “I like Daddy because he is warm. You are not warm enough.” She paused for a second before adding, “but I still love you”.

You wouldn’t believe how much that meant to Faith at that point in time. We were thankful that this little 3 and a half year old was sensitive enough to reassure her mother that she was still very much loved. And Faith, almost ten times older in years, needed to hear those words from the kiddo.

The bedtime routine has changed this last week. Faith now handles bedtime stories because according to Anne, boys and girls shouldn’t mix. She overheard me explaining this last December to a group of campers regarding dorm rooms. But she still insists that I be there to pat her back while she settles down to sleep.

Final Tadah

A couple of weekends ago Anne and Seth performed flower-girl and page-boy duties. This was their second time.

During rehearsal Anne was practicing the throwing of her flower petals, then carefully picking them up and putting them back in the basket. What we had neglected to tell Seth was that during the actual ceremony itself, the flower petals were meant to stay on the ground.

So you can imagine the pandemonium of our little girl throwing her flower petals as Seth screamed “no!” while frantically trying to pick all the petals up and then running forward to put them back in Anne’s hand-basket.

Anne, in performance mode, was totally oblivious to the disappearance of her partner who had embarked on his quest to undo her blatant act of littering. She just walked down the aisle, smiling for the camera. The only time she sensed something was wrong was when she reached the front only to find that she had so many petals left.

When Ronald and Stephanie marched through the aisle as man and wife with the bridal procession following them, Anne (now the last in the procession) took the opportunity to finish the sacred task of emptying the hand-basket of flowers.

Colour Conscious

In Anne’s world, everything has to be pink. She’s even promised to buy a pink car and drive us around in our old age.

A week ago we bought her a nightlight. A pink nightlight.

“Why isn’t it called a daylight?” she asks.

“Do we turn it on in the day?”

“No.”

“And we don’t turn it on in the day because…”

“Because we’re going out,” the little girl answers.

Wanting to Fly

Anne asked for a pair of wings last night. Not a pair of bird wings covered with feathers, but the girlier ones - the fairy ones.

“I want to fly real,” she said.

Living in a small apartment 8 storeys from the ground, we can’t help but get a little alarmed at her obsession with wanting to fly. It would be a natural reaction to explain to her that people, unlike birds, can’t fly because we were never made for flying, but I would also like to be careful not to stifle possibilities.

After all, where would we be if the Wright brothers hadn’t defied all odds, armed with the same vision my 3 year old daughter has?

We weren’t made for a lot of things. We were made to cover great distances, achieve great speed, or dive to great depths, yet we have done all these things because the Jonathan Livingston Seagulls amongst us refused to accept the status quo.

Little Tomato

Anne had her second school concert this morning, where she played the part of a tomato in a presentation of a vegetable soup song.

It has been a year since Anne’s first public performance. Back then, she stopped performing when she saw us in the crowd in order to point out to her friends who her parents were. This morning, she told us that she’d be pointing at us again. I wasn’t quite sure if part of her dance required her to point, or she was determined to do a repeat. I told her to concentrate on the choreography she was required to perform.

In order not to distract her, I shot the video of her performance from the side of the stage. She was the one of the few kids who actually focused on doing the required actions. She did catch a glimpse of me midway, and yes you can see her pointing at me on the video, but she goes back to doing her actions pretty seamlessly.

She carried out her task well, but I can’t help but feel that she lacked a joy that came with the spontaneity of throwing all plans away and enjoying the moment. I know that it is part of education to develop our children to perform pre-defined tasks, but I also believe strongly that workers ought to enjoy their work - like it were play.

It’s been a year, and she’s grown up so much. I hope we’ll be able to protect the spark of individuality and spontaneity in her.

She’s not a clockwork orange. She’s a tomato. Organic.

Out of the Box

Anne, like most children her age, throws tantrums when things do not go her way. One thing she does is threaten to “throw away” the obstacles that stand in her way.

For example, if she wasn’t allowed to go swimming because of the rain, she’d say “I’ll throw away the rain! Then it won’t rain anymore!”, complete with imaginary hand gestures.

Just the other night she had wanted to watch Oswald, but I explained to her that it was too late to be watching telly. She threw a small tantrum, and then uttered her signature phrase, “I’ll throw away…I’ll throw away…”

“You’ll throw away…what?”, I taunted. The concept of time was intangible. You can’t throw away lateness.

“I’ll throw away the moon, and put up the sun!”

I was shocked. Just when I thought I had her checkmated, her little brain found a physical representation of late night and used the metaphor correctly. I was outwitted by a 3-year old, and felt oddly proud of being her dad.

And no, she still didn’t get to watch Oswald.

Schooled

It seems the fashionable answer, when someone asks you when you’ll start having children, to casually comment on the sorry state of the world and how you can’t imagine bringing a child into this mess. But a world without children is far worse off. A world without the sound of children’s laughter or innocent questions only leads to a downward spiral.

Anne has been trying hard to clarify the definition of the word “neighbour”. She often asks, “is he my neighbour?” or “are we neighbours?” without realising that her very question is the linchpin of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). It is such an apt question as we step into what looks to be a serious recession ahead. It is also apt as the uncle who stays alone next door to us seems to have taken a turn for the worse healthwise.

I ought, like Anne, to constantly ask who my neighbour is, and how I can help him or her.

Wonderful

Bridal March

After a long day fulfilling our duties for John and Michelle’s wedding, I lay beside Anne who was about to sleep. I kissed her head and told her,

“You’re a wonderful girl.”

She whispered a reply,

“You’re a wonderful daddy.”

The puddle you see on the floor is where I left my heart.

Break

Faith did a great job sleep-training the kiddos while I was away. Caleb now pretty much sleeps through the night, but the amazing thing is now Anne goes to sleep without needing us in the room. She actually tells us to leave while she settles herself to bed. We don’t know what goes on in the bedroom, but the scene in the morning is normally one of hilarity.

On a normal morning, we’ll find Anne sleeping in the midst of what looks like a disaster zone. Pillows strewn around and the rolled up mattresses toppled over. These nights I kiss her goodnight then topple the mattresses so she doesn’t have to get out of bed to do it. Just yesterday night we went in to see her fast asleep wearing a pillow-case like a crown. It reminded me of the time when she was a baby in the pram, and the youths at church put a makeshift hat on her that made her look like the Pope.

After a day at work, my normal home routine consists of getting everyone fed, bathing Anne and reading her bedtime stories before tucking her to bed. Faith makes sure fat boy there loads up on lactose before heading off to his night-long (hopefully) voyage into slumberland. It’s only after everyone’s tucked in when we sit beside each other, like comrades after a hard day’s work. The company is great, and tonight we had vanilla ice cream.

The awkward moment of the night came when Anne popped out of the bedroom to pass Faith her blanket and caught sight of our little tub of sin.

“What’s that?”, she asks, knowing exactly what she saw.

Faith and I felt like we did a million moons ago, teenagers sitting in front of the television while her parents popped in every now and then to make sure we weren’t engaged in some forbidden activities like holding hands.

We ‘fess up, offer her a spoonful of ice-cream. She skips back to bed. I tuck her in again and kiss her goodnight.

She doesn’t speak; mouthful of ice-cream, and savouring every last melting drop.

Worldview

We’re watching the Olympics and Anne says,

“Mummy and Daddy, do you know something?”

“What is it, Anne?”

“The whole world is good.”

Wow. My 3 year old has a better grasp of the Olympics than many adults.

Conversations

Me [to Anne]: What you are painting?

Anne: I’m painting a bird’s nest!

Me [to Seth]: What you are painting?

Seth: erm…I’m painting birdshit!

Anne: WHY?!? It’s yucky!

Omnipresence

Anne (pointing to her heart): Jesus is in my heart.

Anne (pointing to Faith): Jesus is in your heart.

[pause]

Anne: Why so many Jesus?

G-loc

Though many describe parenting as instinctive, Faith and I discovered how important it is to be conscious about the reactions we exhibit to our kiddos behaviour.

Two days ago Faith fell asleep. Anne continued her doodling, or so she thought. When Faith woke she discovered a lock of her hair on the floor. Anne had decided to play hairdresser on her sleeping mother.

What Faith told me that night was an important lesson. She had decided to be angry at Anne’s actions, hoping to prevent any further snipping exercises, but in retrospect realised that being angry was the wrong course of action to take. Anne wasn’t defiant as she sometimes is when in the wrong, but confused. After all, her grandmother cuts her hair on a regular basis, and she was just mimicking what adults do with a pair of scissors.

This evening Anne wanted a piece of buttered toast. After toasting and buttering it, I put it on her plate, and she took the plate out to the living room. On the way she fumbled and the bread fell unto the the floor. Buttered-side up, thank goodness.

My initial reaction was a groan of frustration - it was a fair amount of work getting that slice of bread toasting to perfection. Anne immediately looked down and whispered “I’m sorry”. It would have easily been out of earshot if I were going through the typical parental tirade of how hard life is…but I heard it because I was at the crossroads of making a decision on how to deal with this.

I squatted down, opened my arms and asked her to hug me. You should have seen the smile on that face. As we embraced I told her that it was ok, and that accidents happen. I brushed the piece of toast, which she duly consumed, butter smeared over her face and all.

I was too lazy to toast another piece of bread. :)

Juno

Anne just told me a minute ago:

When I grow up, I’ll have a baby.

Time to take that shotgun out of the storeroom.

Control Phreak

The extremes of parenting styles, from least draconian to most:

  1. You and your spouse adapts to the newborn’s schedule
  2. The newborn learns to fit to your schedule
  3. You all give up your schedules and adopt Gina Ford’s timesheet

Pooh Bear

Faith brought Caleb to the doctor’s for his medical examination. At one month old, he weighs 4.6kg. He was 2.75kg at birth. That’s a 70% increase. Scary.

A few moments ago, he deposited a significant amount of that weight into his diaper. Where Anne craps like a World War 2 sniper, Caleb simply lays down the law. I’m sure he changed the total amount of matter in the universe with that last poop.

Oh, the other difference between boys and girls: pee is now omni-directional. Every diaper change is a potential hosing down of the changing surface, your clothes and the car in the garage.

Clothes Caleb and Anne peed on, washed and hung to dry

That’s the washing and rinsing we’ve had to do yesterday night. Caleb hit the sheets twice, and Anne didn’t make it to the toilet bowl on time.

Woohoo.

All Consuming

Caleb as of this morning.

Caleb at 1 month old

Compared to Caleb at birth.

Caleb at birth

It’s been exactly 1 month. God has been gracious to us. He’s drinking three times the amount Anne consumed at the same stage, and has put on what feels like a metric ton. By my calculations, if he continues at this exponential rate, our universe would be consumed by the time he’s 4.

Second Thoughts

Taking care of Caleb, Faith and I remember how it was taking care of Anne.

We were first-time parents, driven close to insanity by a child that refused to sleep.

We’ve done a lot of things differently with Caleb. For starters, he sleeps in his own room. Anne continues to occupy our bedroom. As our bedroom and Caleb’s room is quite far apart, Faith and I have taken to sleeping in the living room. I run the age-old joke about how I finally get a television set in my bedroom.

We’re also a lot more structured when it comes to Caleb. Where we carried Anne whenever she cried, we’re quite ok with having Caleb holler for a little bit before attending to him. He’s learned to amuse himself lying down and falls asleep on his own. He drinks a whole lot more milk than Anne ever did, hammering 100mls each feed on his first week. Anne took 40mls for many months.

There’s so much to thank God for. Anne’s growing up so quickly. It’s beautiful to watch her and talk to her as you would an adult. Looking after Caleb has become a family affair, and Anne is as indispensable a part as any of us. She’d run in whenever Caleb’s awake, pat him on the head and say “Baby Caleb, you’re so cute!”

The New Sister

Before Caleb arrived the largest question on our minds was “how would Anne take to having a brother?” It would be a different experience. How would we handle having to divide our attention between the two? More accurately, how could we show Anne that she’s still an important part of our lives when Caleb’s first few months would consume almost every waking moment?

We decided that involvement would be the best alternative. Rather than treat the second child as a second separate “project”, Anne would be heavily involved in Caleb’s formative months. We’d look at it as a team of 3 bringing up a new baby, rather than a pair of parents juggling.

Anne’s been most wonderful. She’s taken on the role of big sister, often running to Caleb the moment he cries (though it’s not our prescribed course of action). A few times she’s asked us not to go to Caleb’s aid.

“Don’t come in”, she tells us. Then turning to Caleb, she says in a sing-song voice, “Baby Caleb, I’m here!”

A few moments would pass and Anne would run out of ideas while Caleb continues crying. “Ok you can come in now!” She’s bossy. But which big sister isn’t?

The nights are a different matter. In her semi-comatose tiredness, Anne transforms from big sister to daughter. She demands Faith’s attention, and you can see it in her eyes that she doesn’t understand why Mummy needs to be somewhere else.

It’s tiring for us, having to deal with two children whose bedtimes sometimes collide. Anne, with her psychological eczema that fires up whenever she’s put to bed. Caleb who always falls asleep halfway through his meal, meaning he’ll wake up a lot sooner and more frequently.

But somehow God gives us sufficient grace. It isn’t a walk in the park, but we’re discovering that we wouldn’t learn as much if things were easy peasy. We wouldn’t learn as much about God’s timely provision or the need to pray. If the road wasn’t this hard, I certainly wouldn’t have realised how wonderful Faith has been - how resilient and loving a partner, a wife and mother she is.

So in these days of sleeplessness it is good to take time to marvel at how life goes on despite the little control we really have; that God provides just enough, and somehow just enough is more abundant than excess.

Helium-filled Fish

Faith’s parents bought Anne a Nemo (from Finding Nemo, not 20,000 Leagues) balloon. Though once the domain of clowns, the balloon has managed to work up quite a scare, especially when I’m working the night shift tending to Caleb.

Last night Anne was howling non-stop for Faith’s attention, which was taken up by hungry boy Caleb in the other room.

“I want Mummy! I don’t want Daddy!”, an extremely familiar refrain for fathers who have the audacity to think themselves adequate substitutes to motherly affection. She screamed and cried, then stood up and pointed to the door behind me.

Relief, I thought - Faith must have finally placated the younger child and was coming into the room. I turned around and instead of seeing my wife’s silhouette walking through the door, a huge bulbous shadow loomed in its place. Chills ran up my spine. Stupid Nemo!

Just a few moments ago I was washing milk bottles at the sink, which overlooks a bar counter and into our dining room. Nemo floated from under the bar counter and stared at me with its dead, painted-on eyes.

Nemo Balloon

Holy crap, I exclaimed to myself. The darned balloon has got to be the scariest thing in this house.

Oh wait - there’s that eerie doll that Anne got for her birthday…

Eyes Wide Open

Why do we keep giving birth to nocturnal babies? Are we living in the wrong time zone?

Coming of Caleb

Baby Caleb

Caleb arrived, 3:46am in this morning, exactly 3 years and 1 day after his sister Anne. His eyes are huge and he didn’t really want to cry even as the nurses sucked out the mucus from his mouth.

We're Off!

Faith’s water broke! We’re off to the hospital!

Stroke of Midnight

Anne at 3

Happy birthday Anne. It’s been an amazing 3 years.

Transience

It is not often you get someone who’s thick-skinned and deep at the same time. I’ve got a 2 year old version in my house.

After prayer, Anne pats both my cheeks and says, “I’m the cutest.”

“Who?”, I ask.

“Me. I’m the cutest. But when I grow up, I won’t be the cutest anymore.”

Asleep

Coming home after you two are already asleep, I wonder if you shared laughter tonight. Even asleep you bring me so much joy.

Dad's Little Helpers

For Aunty Audrey.

Faith took these videos with her phone.

Sinatra

Singapore Idol

Anne turns to Faith and says, “I like it when you say ‘I love You, God’”.

“I love You, God”.

Anne then turns to me.

“Say ‘I love You God’,” she implores.

“I love You, God.”

It was such an apt reminder from a little child; the simplest of phrases carrying the most complex expression the human heart can muster unto the most infinite and intimate Creator.

Anne looks at me with those clear eyes.

“Pray”, she says.

I ask to hold her hand so that we can all pray together.

“No. Cannot pray now. God is going away.” She pulls up her blanket, wears it like a toga and walks off.

I think she just conned us all. We spend the next few minutes laughing our heads off while trying to explain how she cannot play-pretend to be God.

Week 2

It’s the first Monday of the year, so here’s Anne with a song expressing your work blues.

Man Enough

The scans confirmed that number 2 going to be a boy. Faith and I are a little overwhelmed at the thought - we’ve only ever had sisters and a daughter. I’ve always been a little harder on guys. I notice that while taking care of the kids in church.

Although girls engage in frivolous stuff like painting their nails and brushing their hair, boys do genuinely stupid things that result in people (mostly themselves) getting hurt. They’ll be climbing, kicking, punching, making a lot of noise, high from the nail-polish fumes coming from the girls’ corner.

The only experience I have bringing up a boy is my own childhood, and it’s the furthest thing I’d recommend to any parent of a boy. I fought my way through primary school, never did any homework and even wrote hate notes to my mother. They weren’t exactly “I hate you”, but snippets of 80s song lyrics that expressed my melodramatic oh-so-hurt inner child.

I wouldn’t know how to deal with me, and that scares me silly.

Full Rack

We just got home from the Children’s hospital. Anne started shivering badly (not epileptic fits) at about 2 in the morning. Upon arrival at the hospital she registered a 40.1 degree fever. We spent the next hour and a half putting cold compresses on her forehead and neck, much to her disagreement, which she made known to all in the waiting area.

The temperature subsided and she was back to her normal self. This little girl was jumping, skipping and chatting non-stop. Oddly enough, a few other children were too. The hospital, often a last resort for parents, doesn’t always tell the full story: the agonising few hours before the parents decide to go to the hospital. Oftentimes the children get well on the way there, and many get the shuteye they needed while waiting to see the doctor.

Our ordeal tonight looks to be over for the most part. Thank God she’s fine.

Hurt

One of the most difficult things to explain about the Christian faith has to do with Jesus being the Son of God, while at the same time God Himself. To be quite honest, I don’t get the whole mechanics of it. Had a small revelation tonight as I was washing poop out of Anne’s PJs.

Anne has had a problem with constipation, and it’s gotten worse since our return from New Zealand. The last time she pooped she cried, and we found a bit of blood. She had probably gone too long without pooping.

Tonight she kept telling us that she was scared. We initially thought it was the television show she was referring to, though both of us weren’t sure American Inventor fell under horror, unless Anne meant the terrible “suspense” music. We then realised she was terrified that she had to poop.

It totally wracks your heart to see the little two year old girl walk around listlessly, rubbing her tummy, constantly coming to you for a hug and telling you she’s scared. She didn’t want to sit on the potty, so we let her stay in our bedroom. She told us to wait outside. When we turned American Inventor down we could hear her whimpering in the bedroom, but everytime we popped our head in, she told us to wait a while more.

“I love you,” I told her.

She tilted her head to the side, holding back tears, and said “I love you” back.

My baby. My daughter. My love.

She’s now sleeping. The poop did eventually make it way out, down her left pant leg and unto the floor, but we’re thankful that there was no blood. She returned to her normal self soon after. Faith read her her bedtime story while I did the necessary laundry.

The revelation? I never understood why Jesus had to be “God’s Son”, but I’ve always known that Jesus came to earth to show us the extremes God would go to bring us back to Him. It would have been one thing for God to suffer on the cross; it would have been infinitely more painful for Him to helplessly watch His Son suffer and die.

Just so we’d know how much.

Alone Time

The moment we landed Faith had to rush off for Tom and Dawn’s wedding. We decided to have Anne sit out the wedding as she wasn’t 100%. It was the considerate thing to do as there were other kids at the wedding who might contract whatever she was having.

It’s been forever since I’ve explored a new place with a companion in tow. When Min came to Tucson, I’ve had already been there a year. When I visited Min in New York earlier this year, she’d already been there a while. So here we were, Anne and I, discovering Auckland for ourselves.

Thank God she was amenable to the idea of sitting in her pram. Carrying her would have torn my arms off, especially now that she weighs a hefty 11kg. We set out twice that day - the room at the hotel was a little too boring and you could only watch so many re-runs of Barney, even for Anne.

We walked around downtown a bit, then found a pram-friendly way into Albert Park. Anne was asleep by now, but I was really enjoying the park. The foliage was a little more “raw” than Singapore’s Botanical Gardens. Trees were allowed to grow low-hanging branches which made for great climbing. It also helped that the weather was a lot cooler and less humid. The air was nice and crisp. The kiddo was asleep.

Oh yeah. It was here I realised why people buy those $400 prams - the ones that have inflatable tires, suspension systems and all that. The inclines in Auckland are crazy steep, the pathways not always baby-butt smooth. Anne’s Sungei-road pram held its own, but only because Anne was almost totally comatose.

Continue reading Alone Time »

Sick Birds

Tomorrow night we’ll be flying to New Zealand to attend Tom and Dawn’s Wedding. It’ll be Anne’s first time on a plane. There’s that little apprehension - like a roller coaster at the apex of its tracks - probably due to the fact we’re facing another new, unknown experience.

Thing is, Anne and I went down with the flu last night, and the prospect of flying ill is more scary than exciting.

Keep us in prayer, yah?

Hope

Practically everyone is predicting the coming baby to be a boy, simply because Faith’s pregnancy this time round brings about very different “symptoms”. “Oh it must be a boy…” goes the chime. Just because I’ve the rebellious streak in me, I’m going to say the baby’s a girl.

The scan isn’t until December, but I read somewhere that the father decides the gender of the baby. So here I am, deciding. Girl.

Faith and I were sitting around the other day thinking of baby names, as most expecting parents are wont to do. If you haven’t already guessed, we like short names, simple ones. Where many kids now sport frankensteined names like Shauntinice, we’d like to give our kids a head-start by having them be the first in class to know how to spell their name.

For almost all of Faith’s childhood, I remember adults coming up to her and asking “so where’s hope?”, an overused har-har on the clichéd Christian phrase “Faith, Hope and Love”. Faith’s sister happens to have the word “love” in her Chinese name, so all hope is lost.

If we named the next kiddo Hope, what of Anne?

“Faith Anne Hope”. Heh.

Non-conformist

Anne's first public performanceAnne’s first public performance.

There she was, in her little red boots and carrying her little red umbrella. She looked shell-shocked that unlike previous rehearsals, a full-house sat before the small group of performers. At least 2 dozen image capturing devices were pointed at the kids.

The music came on and it took a while for the kids to realise that it was the cue to perform what they’ve practiced the last few weeks. A few get into the groove, the others see their more alert classmates and follow suit. Anne holds the umbrella firmly over her head, not swaying it like the rest, possibly because we’ve always told her to “hold it properly so no one would get wet”.

Just as she decides to get into gear, she catches sight of us and begins pointing. Forget the actions, Mummy and Daddy are here. She smiles radiantly, still pointing. She turns to the nearest classmate and begins to tell her, rather loudly, that Mummy and Daddy are here. Faith and I can barely hold our cameras still, half embarassed that our daughter, who stood stage centre, was destroying all efforts at putting up a synchronised performance. We were also immensely proud that she stood a distance from us, her very own person, acknowledging our presence.

And that our presence made her smile.

This is the first time I’ve ever been to Anne’s school. Even as I type this I’m apalled at my lack of involvement in such a critical area of her life. I can name her friends - only because we have her class photo and Anne waxes lyrical about each and every one of them. Whether they cried today; or who didn’t want to share his or her toys.

Have I spent too much time at work?

Will I have time for her when #2 comes around? It becomes clear to me that there’s a lot less sand in the hourglass, and I do not have to wait till she’s 21 to lose my little girl.

It’s an odd feeling watching her grow and come into her own, and suddenly realising she’s growing up too quickly.

How independent is she? Faith and I discovered that one of her toenails was almost pulled off in those little red boots. And she kept smiling through it all.

And pointing.

Needed

Faith told me that when I left the house last night to play ball, Anne went to the front door, crestfallen that I had left without her. She then started to cry silently. When she went to bed she broke into sobbing “I want Daddy”.

I came home late, oblivious to what had transpired when I was away.

Anne seemed to be having problems sleeping, endlessly tossing and turning. When I finally got to bed at two, the little girl sat straight up, looked in my direction and said “Daddy come home”. Besides the obvious need to teach her proper grammar, I realized how needed I was in her life, and although we sometimes think the kiddos are distracted enough for us to slink away to our own activities, being a parent is a full-time, all-the-time commitment. I’m not saying that I’ll never play ball again, but I felt that I should have stayed.

On Vapour

It’s the time of the year when everything you do feels like a slow trudge uphill. Significant inroads have been made on the upcoming redesign of the Ministry of Education’s website. It’s due for launch 1Q 2008, but has to undergo some IE-proofing. Thank you, Microsoft, for making web design a lot more tedious than it has to be.

Anne has been acting up lately, waking up in the middle of the night and taking a really long time getting back to sleep. She’d demand that we scratch her “itchiness” (she made that word up for wherever itched), or pat her back ad perpetua.

My prayers have become so mundane, and I’m learning what it means to pray for one’s daily bread. It always seems more “right” to pray for things like knowing God better, or growing in His likeness or submitting to His will - the higher, nobler things, but I find myself praying for bread and butter issues like “please help Anne sleep through this night, Faith really needs the sleep”. It seems so primitive and base of me, and I wonder if it’s a sign my faith has waned, or if God’s breaking me down to the bare essentials.

Muted, Weathered, Older

Anne’s been down and out the last three days with a sore throat and a really bad fever. Every night has been a battle for Faith and I, as the fever tries to soar to new heights every night. Last night we got really worried when the reading came in: 40.4 degrees celcius. Anne was still cogniscent, thank God. We quickly sponged her down despite her continuous protest.

She looks worn and a little dishellved, her face raw from the constant rubbing of sponge or towel. She speaks in a whisper, choosing more often than not to communicate through the shaking and nodding of her head. When she goes into her bouts of coughing, you can hear her utter cries of help in between coughs, calling for mummy.

If you had a heart, the sight of Anne in that condition would shatter it. Looking her Anne, I realise that I am looking no longer at a baby, but at a young girl who seems determined to outlast this bug - finding little pockets of comfort to sneak in a smile.

I can only imagine the thousands of parents who have children on hospital beds, in intensive care units, and send a quick prayer their way.

Children's Day

You don’t see many Singaporean fathers alone with their young children.

I had initially wanted to write this post a few weeks ago; about how much fathers were missing out by not biting the bullet and taking their kiddos out for some one-to-one time. I wanted to write about how the notion is scarier than it seems - that a day out with your toddler is absolutely harmless.

Somehow life, and your child, has a way of humbling you. Just when you thought you had a good grasp of things, the rules would change. Whether it’s how to get her to sleep, or your foolproof plan to get some time alone with your Xbox, children will find a way to break your routine.

So I’ve had a few successful outings with Anne. Amazing, wonderful times. And I thought I had it down pat - the whole deal of keeping her occupied, getting her food, scheduling some rest in between activities etc. Then three Sundays ago I brought her to church by myself as Faith wasn’t feeling up to it.

Hell broke loose on the way home.

Continue reading Children's Day »

Roll Over

It’s important to have a good doctor, especially one for the precious kiddo.

There was this one time Anne was ill and our doctor was closed. We went to the clinic next to his. The doctor prescribed antibiotics. It came in powder form and you had to mix it with water. It smelt like rotten eggs. Anne never drank a drop of the smelly stuff, and it took us many months to undo her phobia of medicine.

Doctor Michael Lee at Spring Clinic (Old Airport Road if you’re interested) won over Anne’s heart by bribing her with stickers and a little toy hammer that squeaked. The best part about it is the medicine that tastes great. I know there’s a danger that Anne’ll think it’s syrup and what-not, but honestly, trying to get a child to drink a putrid-smelling concoction is a sure way down the road of absolute frustration.

So, medicine tastes nice. Anne naturally asks for some from time to time. We explain that medicine can only be taken when she’s ill.

She looks at us, rubs her tummy and says, “I think…I’m not well”.

We laugh our heads off. Anne giggles.

She’s not even two and a half years old.

Woosh

Backwards Baseball cap Anne!I remember earlier this year I asked Kat if they were thinking of starting a family. They hadn’t, largely because of the uncertainty having a child brings - life as you know it is never, ever the same. And no one can tell you with any degree of certainty what the future holds.

You’d think the fear goes away after the first; after all, the first time doing anything is always the most fearfully exhilarating right? The whole having-a-kid business is different every single time. This time round, Faith is retching every ten minutes and feeling nauseated 24/7. I feel so helpless watching her bear the burden. I try my best to make sure that everything falls into place - that she gets the food she wants to eat, that Anne is taken care of, that the housework is done, trash is dumped … and with the immense pressure building up at work thanks to a tight deadline and halved resources, I find my grip on everything slipping, and it freaks me out.

I need to, as the old cliché goes, let God and let go.

Number One

When I told Anne that there was a little baby inside of Faith, her reaction was absolutely classic.

She looked at me, thought for a while, then said, “I don’t want”.

Since she loves Addie’s baby daughter, I decided to attack from the flank.

“You like baby Lauren, right?”

She totally ignored the question.

Faith looked at me, and said, “She knows it’s a t-r-i-c-k q-u-e-s-t-i-o-n”.

Deux

It started with Faith wanting chicken chop and chicken wings two nights in a row.

It was then I knew, even though the probability was slim. We took a test even though it was way too early to determine anything. It came out negative.

So on National Day, after the minimum 28 days needed for the hormone levels to be substantial enough for these off-the-counter tests to work, we tested again.

positive on the pregnancy test

It’s almost 3 years to the day when we discovered we had Anne.

Reforge

When you have a child, your heart will be broken many, many times over. The first time you had to spank him; or the look on her face as she stares at you while the grandparents drive her away.

You’ll stand there a little shocked as you slowly begin to recognise the taste of being made incomplete - and the yearning to be with her once more.

You’ll never have felt more profoundly alive or connected.

Music, Dancing and Airplanes

Sunday nights are spent having dinner with Faith’s side of the family. When you put Anne and Seth together, hilarity often ensues.

Thought Aunty Audrey might want to know what a normal Sunday dinner is like, if there is such a thing as “normal” when the 2 kiddos are put in the same room.

Here’s a video of Anne providing the music, Seth dancing and occasionally checking for airplanes that fly in and out of Changi Airport.

When she was good...

We had a visit from Anne Teresa on Vesak Day.

Anne Teresa

She’s growing up faster than I can chronicle. She sang her first “pop” song yesterday. Holi-holiday by Boney M.

She’ll probably regret this in her teens, but my dad had a blast hearing her sing one of his favourites.

Advocating Torture

The funny thing about animal crackers.

Anne looks at me. She had been holding on to the animal cracker in the shape of a camel for the last half-hour. Then she breaks the silence.

“Eat leg?”

“Ok”, I say.

She munches off the camel’s front legs.

“Eat face?”

Anne Updates

Unsolicited AnswerI was shooting photos for Aaron and Belinda on Saturday. When Uncle Ming Seong asked Aaron, “Will you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?”, a voice shouted from the back of the hall.

“No!”

My daughter decided to join in the festivities.

Someone in the crowd commented that she had answered correctly. She had no intention of taking Belinda as her wife.

By the way, the longest word we’ve ever heard Anne say is “parallelogram”. She occasionally makes an irregular shape with her fingers and says “trapezium!”, thanks to Aunty Louelle who thought normal shapes were beneath her niece.

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Anne readingThe kiddo turns 2. We never thought we’d survive 2 weeks, let alone 2 years, but by the grace of God here we are in a very different place from 2 years ago.

Now instead of night feeds, it is the denial of night feeds. And the endless fascination the journey brings - yesterday while Faith and I were discussing whether or not to go to Suntec City, she just walked up and said “hey, wanna go to Suntec.”

It wasn’t a question.

They call it the “terrible twos”. It’s always terrible. But it’s also always amazing, filled with laughter and more joy than any of us ever deserves.

Ooops

To the two sweetest girls in my life, sleep tight. When you wake up, I’ll be home. It’ll be a surprise - for me too. I had miscalculated the date.

It feels like I found a million dollars in my pocket.

Sunday Night Action

For our sisters.

Sunday nights is family dinner night at Faith’s place. It’s one of those magical affairs when the whole family is gathered together around Anne and Seth’s endlessly entertaining antics.

Often as illustrated in the video above, the adults will attempt to hold their own conversations while the two kiddos do their own thing. Most of my videos end with either Anne or Seth discovering that they are being taped and insisting on making sure I shot them looking their best.

Anne, being just four months older, is quick to use Seth for her own amusement.

Pain

I spanked Anne tonight. All she wanted was her mother. All her mother needed was some sleep. I was able to give neither.

She stopped crying and thrashing around, and went dead silent. Then she touched her bottom with her hand, looked at me and said, “Pain”. She did not cry.

I did.

Anne, I’m so sorry.

Update: Dearest Anne, later on in the night Mommy accidentally poked my eye. You got out of Mommy’s comfortable arms, stood up and kissed my eye then plonked back as you were.

Sweetest girl, in that one moment you have shown so much more character than most people, including myself, have in a lifetime.

2.0

I find myself lying in bed, thinking to myself: I’m not sure if I can handle having a second child.

It’s most probably the uncertainty; the having the rearrange everything again that scares me. It’s not just that children are a lot of work - it’s the tight-rope-walking feeling when you realise they are the one thing in life you really don’t want to mess up.

Update: Nope, I’m not writing this because Faith’s pregnant.

New Media Anne-alogy

Anne at BreakfastFaith, Anne and I were having breakfast downstairs this morning. After a few mouthfuls of toast and a few spoonfuls of soft-boiled egg Anne decides to grab a spoon and help herself to the egg. She’s not really making great progress, but manages to smear her face with egg. Things get a little messy and we end up using half a pack of tissue paper to clean up the mess.

A train of thought ensued:

  1. Maybe we should buy toy utensils so Anne could play with them and practice feeding herself without the mess of splattered food.
  2. What if she associates all utensils with play? That’d make a heck of a scene in a restaurant.
  3. Should we stop her from playing with utensils altogether?
  4. But it’s a necessary skill that comes with growing up.
  5. Maybe she already is old enough to feed herself real food, and there’s no need for the plastic toys.

This was, in my own opinion, a perfect analogy of the decisions the Singapore government have before them with regards to online publishing. Are they going to take a sandbox approach? They would have to realise that online publishing has and will continue to step into mainstream media. Will they clamp down on it with an iron fist? This would definitely stifle the maturity of Singaporeans and cause a mass exodus of the slightly more intellectually adventurous.

But the big question is, are we mature enough we feed ourselves?

Anne, with a face full of egg, thinks she is.

Anne Joking

She’s telling jokes only she understands. And laughing her head off.

What Little Girls are made of

While cleaning the house I picked up Anne’s bib. Some bread crumbs fell out of it. I shook it a little and out popped a raisin.

It made me smile.

Hulk Smash!

13082006094.jpg

Shirtless Anne watches shirtless Bruce Banner

She’ll probably kill me for this when she grows up.

Handy Updates

Sorry I haven’t been clear on the latest news on Anne’s hand. It’s healing fine, except for a little scar tissue which we hope will go away. If anyone knows where we can find Neosporin or some other cream that prevents scarring, please drop us a comment below.

As you can see, Anne still hasn’t learned to keep her hands to herself.

Anne putting her hand in Barney's mouth

What a Trooper

Thank you, thank you, thank you. For all the text messages, instant messages over MSN / ICQ / Yahoo and blog comments. I’m not lying when I say I almost lost my mind on the way to the hospital.

All I knew then was her hand was quite badly injured, and all these questions fill my mind. What if she can’t use her hand? How is she going to heal, knowing how much she likes to hit / throw / swing stuff around? A million questions a minute, all waiting to be resolved when I finally see her before she goes under general anesthetic and gets stitched up.

I’ll be honest and admit that who to blame and what to blame whomever for was quite at the forefront of my train of thought. I didn’t know if I could forgive fast enough, or if I’d say something I’d regret later on when I got to the scene.

The first thing I saw when I got to the scene was

Still waving

Anne was walking around the whole emergency department, waving her good hand at whoever she met. The first word that came to mind was “undaunted”. At 14 months, this girl was showing more spirit than I’ve possessed in a long time.

She’d even wave her bandaged hand.

Anne waving her bandaged hand

It was really unsettling to see her receive the anesthesia and go all glassy-eyed and limp. It was so scary to see all her energy, vibrance and fire tamed into an unnatural docility. Faith and I left the treatment room. I wasn’t sure if I could take much more of seeing my girl lying there motionless with her eyes still open. The visual enactment of a primal unspoken fear was too real.

Here’s Anne after getting her stitches, now sleeping from the effects of the anesthesia.

Anne sleeping after getting her stitches

We’re home. Anne’s sleeping. And we don’t know how to get her to drink the horrible tasting antibiotics she’s supposed to take.

Barely Breathing

Ai just called to tell me that Anne’s hand got caught as the elevator doors were opening. They’re now heading to the Accident and Emergency department at KK hospital as it might need stitches.

I’m hardly functioning right now.

Whose line is it anyway

Anne is quite ill. She has been for a couple of days.

When Tolkien wrote about elves, and how immortal as they were, they were vulerable to grief, some even dying from it. He must have meant to describe a sick child’s cry, because there is no sound that rends the heart more deeply. It is the tearing up of your insides in what feels like an infinite loop.

Just when Anne almost collapses from the exhaustion of crying, she coughs herself awake and the crying starts anew. Then there’s the violent coughing that results in her throwing up. She doesn’t speak yet but every fibre of your being knows she is in pain.

And my reaction is to blame everyone for it. To the elderly aunties in church who might have passed her the virus, to the numerous children she meets at the playground who may have coughed in her presence. To the doctor, who said that she was fine but she clearly isn’t. To all our parents who take care of her during the day who may not have washed their hands after coughing in them, and the damn weather for being as hot as it is, to God who could stop all this suffering in an instant but chooses not to. To Faith, who being inexperienced at parenting, may have handled the whole sickness thing wrongly. And ultimately me, for being as powerless as I am, unable to do anything but blame everyone for everything that has ever happened.

It is anyone’s fault but Anne’s. It is everyone’s fault but Anne’s. She did nothing to deserve this.

Then she falls asleep, almost as soon as my mind was about to go into round 2 of the blame game. The ingrate in me wonders how long it will be before she coughs, but she doesn’t. Somehow I’m too proud to thank God for the reprieve from a situation that need not have ever been.

The last two nights have shown me how small I am - in two senses of the word. Small - as in powerless to affect even the smallest of change in the smallest of persons; and small - as in petty and selfish. I do not know where I stand upon this crossroad, or where choosing to depend upon God will lead. Or if it’d change the utterly shallow faith I have.

I’m just glad she’s asleep.

Thank God. I hope to mean it more than a cry of relief from exasperation. But it probably isn’t very much more, little man that I am.

Walk in the Park

Things have been close to crazy around here.

The farmers who had been preparing their crops for the harvest had everything ready, only to find out that the carpenters in the village planned to tear down the barn where the grain was to be stored. It wouldn’t have been so much of a problem if the farmers had adequate time to find other places to store the grain. Everything…everything that the farmers had been working towards now meant nothing if the grain couldn’t be stored for the winter months. What is worse, some of the carpenters were helping out in preparing for the harvest. It didn’t even occur to them that the tearing down of the barn, which they too were a part of, would affect their co-workers so adversely.

In other news, Anne has begun to choose walking as her primary means of locomotion. Everything happens so quickly; life happens so quickly. She walks a few steps, then the next few days we receive word from our parents that she walked more than twenty steps unassisted. We’ve stopped counting. All this happened in a span of a few weeks.

Faith has been thinking of maybe working part-time to spend more time with Anne. Much as I enjoy my job, the reality of it is I am quite significantly underpaid for the kind of work I provide. Money hasn’t been an issue thus far, but it would help if the compensation matched what the stuff I bring to work everyday. I’d love to be able to give Faith the option of spending time with Anne during these formative years.

God has been faithful in big things and small. We just have to trust.

Bouncing Baby Part Deux

Anne dancing, now with new moves!

Oh Baby

I didn’t mean to scare anyone away from parenting, least of all Joan, whom I’m sure will make an excellent mother. But any parent who gets him or herself involved in bringing up a child will attest to the fact that child-rearing is the hardest thing in the world.

It is also the easiest.

You see, parenting is an incomprehensible paradox. In the last twelve months, Faith and I have found ourselves experiencing new degrees of anger, exploring unchartered waters of tiredness and bearing a burden that seemed more overwhelming than the weight of the world. In this time we have also been so utterly blessed by Anne’s laughter and our days miraculously transformed by her smile.

Just the thought of her bare bottom scooting away to the far side of the bed while we scamper around trying to change her diaper brings out both frustrated furrowed brow and an odd fatherly smile on my face. Even my facial muscles are muddled.

Parenting is living life to the extreme. It widens the emotional gamut. It is no wonder many fathers choose to take a passive role - the constant energy you have to apply to a million different things (all the time changing) seems to be something women are better at. You don’t solve a child. She is not something you fix. The solution you came up with to get her to sleep last week may not work this week. He may like pumpkin today but not tomorrow. You can’t pass him on to the other project manager, or blame the vendor for shoddy work.

Despite the uncertainties, you will find some things certain when it comes to parenting.

Continue reading Oh Baby »

Cocoon

“Here comes the harder part of parenting,” Faith said. “We can’t just love her unconditionally anymore.”

Anne’s birthday went by with me being in a semi-comatose state most of the day. She didn’t sleep very well the night before, which equated to me pretty much not getting any sleep at all. Throw in the side-effects of my thyroid medication, some balloons, tinsel, a house full of people and some cake, you can only imagine the kind of reality-bending nausea I carried around.

Remember the trailer of the movie X-Men? Where Patrick Stewart talks about how evolution occurs slowly, but every million or so years takes a giant leap forward? He was probably talking about Anne on her birthday.

Somehow this young girl, who’d already been learning things at breakneck speed, transformed from relatively good-natured baby to spoilt brat in a single day. She screams for what she wants, complete with tears, ear piercing shrieks that threaten to tear her vocal chords. She contorts her body into impossibly uncarriable positions, slipping out of your grasp so she can scoot to wherever she wants to go.

It’s like Day Three again, only this time it’s intentional.

Continue reading Cocoon »

Grin

Anne Smiling

I think Anne wants you to smile - and remember her 1st birthday this Saturday.

Alone Time

Dearest Faith and Anne,

during this time I have come to learn some things about myself.

Somewhere, somehow I have come to envy the glamourous jet-setting, high-flying executive lifestyle promoted by the world around us. And tonight, sitting here miles and miles away I realise that I do not seem to fit the mould I admire.

I had initially planned to visit Yosemite National Park with Serene and Min tomorrow, but we’re not going due to unforseen circumstances. Maybe it is because it might have snowed at Yosemite today and we are unaccustomed to driving in those conditions. Or that the time we have here in California is too short to give Yosemite the kind of attention she deserves. But to be perfectly honest, my enthusiasm wanes because the two of you are not with me. It is impossible for me to fathom seeing something beautiful and not being able to turn around to share it with you guys.

But I now know that there is nothing in nature more comforting and right than the simple act of smelling my daughter’s hair or putting my arm around my wife. No gradeur of the mountains or the lure of creating the most beautiful photographs can compare to the pure joy being with family brings. It is a feeling I can scarcely describe, and one I definitely cannot capture in the limited vocabulary of a single photograph.

Beloved Faith, thank you for giving me space to be by myself and mull things over. After the mulling I have discovered that I want no space to exist between the three of us; that if it were at all possible I’d hug us so tight we’d all become one. I cannot wait to come home to you both.

May God watch over you till we meet.

your husband, and your father.

Anne's First Word!

Ok I know this is turning out to be the Anne show, but I can’t help it.

She spoke her first words tonight! Sorta…

Bouncing Baby

May you have music wherever you go, dearest Anne.

Passing Drills

Anne. 10 months old. Catching and passing a basketball.

You got to see it to believe it.

Fast Forward

Anne is growing up so quickly. It doesn’t seem so long ago she was little more than a foot long cotton wrapped package in our arms. These days, she’s a bundle of raw energy that scours faraway horizons for new sofas to climb, new cabinets to open and new medicine bottles to put in her mouth. Faith and I see her everyday, but the changes happen so fast nothing is ever in stasis. By the time we acclimatise to her new habits and behaviours, thinking she’d finally learned some novel trick we’ve been trying to teach her, she moves on. Where once she’d hi-five us whenever we offered an open palm, she now laughs and turns away, turning back occasionally to see if you’d play peekaboo.

Now that she’s babbling a lot, mornings are punctuated by what sounds like her version of singing. Ok, so it sounds a little more like Buddhist chanting, but you forgive her if she doesn’t yet know the words.

Being a parent reminds you of how old you are. I take a quick glance at my life to find many things changed as well. With the hyperactive thyroid, I’m visiting the hospital for regular checkups - something I once thought, not too long ago, was meant only for the elderly. Even right now as I type this I’m typing at the waiting room of Singapore General. Lst time I checked I’m classified as “borderline obese” and still clinging on to the belief that my metabolism can handle whatever amounts of chocolate I throw at it.

Last night, I sat in my computer chair feeling bloated. It’s probably due to the water-retention side-effects of my new medication. But there I was, feeling too fat to want to play basketball - a feeling I never ever thought I’d have. I can now better emphatise with women who feel fat. It is a vicious cycle. Chubby Hubby, while really very good, doesn’t help. But take my word for it, it is very good.

Annemals!

Anne’s first time to the zoo.

Another photo-journey.

Faith and Anne, Singapore Zoological Gardens

Faith and Anne, Singapore Zoological Gardens.

Continue reading Annemals! »

Anne's First Pre-CNY

A photo-journey.

Hours before the reunion dinner Faith and I felt really cooped up at home and decided to head out to Suntec City. It was quite the gamble - the mall could be exceedingly crowded with people doing last minute shopping or that it would be empty, giving us a little reprieve from the hustle and bustle of city life.

We didn’t expect it to be this empty.

The floor of Suntec City, devoid of people

We expected some of the shops to be closed, but not the eating places! After all, what else do Singaporeans do besides eat? And if the eating places are closed, wouldn’t we all lose our national pastime?

Restaurants closed at Suntec City

Restaurants closed at Suntec City

Ok, now we were getting a little desperate. We did come here looking for lunch.

We finally found an open Burger King, had our quick bite and took the bus home to rest a bit before the reunion dinner.

Anne on the bus

Baby Busker

It’s Chinese New Year’s again. It used to be a time of collecting money. Those married would have to give little red packets containing token sums of money. These token sums would inevitably be used to determine whether the giver spent his old age at a resort-style retirement home with his great-grandchildren or in a dilapidated hut, all alone.

Giving out these red packets add up to quite a considerable wallop on the pocket. A off-the-cuff equation is as follows:

Impact on wallet = (number of nieces, nephews, young cousins, household pets and plants) x (how close each respective member is to the giver)

If you look at this tradition as a kind of monetary installment for family ties, the cost of a large extended family would probably be the same as a smaller, close-knit family. Having a large, close-knit family would send you to the bank begging for a loan.

This Chinese New Year Faith and I have concocted a solution to this money-losing scheme:

Anne.

After unsuccessfully training her to put her hands together whenever someone says “gongxi, gongxi”, I’ve decided to bring along some sticky tape. Taping both her hands together should achieve the same effect whenever she waves her arms around. This little gesture, accompanied by her good looks, should make any passerby empty their pockets, safe deposit boxes and off-shore bank accounts.

We’re not losing money this year. I repeat: we’re not losing money this year.

Of Green Gables Fame

memoirs.jpg

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.

On Thursday, Anne was down with a fever. Faith and I thought little of it until she threw up thrice at night. At about 2 in the morning we decided to take her to the children’s hospital.

The roads were empty, and you’d expect the children’s hospital to be quite desolate at that time of night. When the sliding doors open, it felt like we were walking into Disneyland. There were children everywhere, usuallly accompanied by at least one very tired looking adult. Most of the kids looked worse for the wear, some lying down on the seats with their heads propped on the lap of their fathers. Others were asleep in their mothers’ arms. Then there was Anne.

Even with a relatively high fever, this little sparkplug was still the life of the party. She was busy looking around at her fallen (asleep) comrades, occasionally waving her plump little arm vigorously. With so much visual stimulation, she didn’t look like she was about to sleep. It didn’t seem like she needed any, despite having been up all this time.

The doctor required a urine sample, so we sat around waiting for Anne to do her thing in some plastic contraption that looked like a used condom tucked into her diaper. We checked it every five minutes, hoping for rain to fall so we could have the diagnosis and head home.

About two hours passed and the drought continued. We went in to see the doctor to tell him we had given up waiting. He said the probability of Anne having a urinary tract infection was small, then gave us instructions on how to collect a urine sample from her at home if we wanted to bring it in for testing in the morning.

“You have to observe her and wait for her to pee. Then you need to use this sterilised container and collect it mid-stream. You don’t want the pee that comes out first. You have to wait a while.”

I know this guy works with kids on a day to day basis, but does he have any idea how hard that is? Faith and I kinda laughed it off and said we’d observe her. The catching urine in mid-air thing was above and beyond our hand-eye coordination.

Anne’s still running a temperature and is a little crankier at times, but generally fine. Thank you for all your prayers and text messages. You guys rock.

Big Time Anne

Anne’s featured on a two-page spread in the January issue of Young Parents magazine. Next stop: Letterman or Oprah.

You heard it here first.

First Christmas

Anne's First Christmas
Anne's First Christmas

Another milestone.

Anne Update

Thank God Anne slept beautifully last night. There was the routine leg flailing and roundhouse kicks to our midsections, but at least she did all that in her sleep.

IMG_2273.jpgAnne’s now 8 and a half months old. Many things have changed. She no longer takes her bath in her baby bathtub. She now takes showers standing up, hands on a tiny plastic chair we got from Ikea. She’s started babbling, at times holding eye contact and talking to us like we’re supposed to understand her point of view on global politics. She also likes looking at herself upside down in the mirror. She does this by flexing her back backwards.

So maybe it’s overstimulation from the holiday season. It doesn’t help that we have Faith’s office event tonight, a wedding dinner tomorrow night and church activities till New Year’s. Maybe we’ll play the old fogey card and retire at seven or something.

Anna G

To be honest, we haven’t had a good night’s sleep for 3 days. Anne has been absolutely horrible these past few nights. It could be from overstimulation, or that she’s teething. The most probable cause is one that gives us great fear - that we’ve spoilt her rotten.

Match Maid

Whenever people ask me why it is that I don’t hire a maid, my answer is “because I don’t think I’m mature enough”.

Maids (the local word for live-in domestic help, usually from another country) are commonplace in Singapore. Every other family has a maid. I am constantly appalled at how generally ok people fail to see how close to slavery this is. Yes, we pay them. And yes, the pay they receive here is probably better than what they could have earned back home. Does this excuse how we treat them though?

A law was passed recently forcing employers to grant their maids the minimum of one day off a month. I’ve heard Singaporeans extolling their own virtues.

“My maid should be thankful. I give her two days off every month!”

Faith and I have decided not to hire a maid due to a few reasons. The main reason, according to Faith, is the universal law dictating that “we clean our own shit up”. It’s a perfectly legit reason. We made the mess, we clean it up. If we don’t have time to clean it up, we live in it. I’m pretty sure someday down the road I’ll be made to eat these words. When work requires 16 hours a day and I have potato chips all over my couch, it is likely I am tempted to break this self-imposed law.

My own reason for not hiring a maid is slightly different. So called “better pay” aside, we treat them like dirt. It is a common sight to see the mother of the family buying groceries from the market, the father walking a couple of meters behind prodding a stylus on some new-fangled gadget he just bought, and the maid, much futher behind struggling under numerous plastic bags of vegetables, raw meat and canned food. She’s barely able to lift the bags. Her employers shout for her to hurry up. The mother sighs and exclaims loudly that her maid is lazy and inefficient.

I don’t want to be like that. But right now I’m not sure if I have the maturity to treat a live-in domestic help with dignity. Essentially, when you hire a maid you become an employer - a manager. Not everyone has the smarts to be one, especially being one 24/7. I’m just not sure if I do.

Day 3 Seven Months Later

It has been exactly 7 months since I wrote my account of the dreaded Day Three. So much has transpired since.

Anne is now a sprightly young girl who has since learned a great many things. Her immobility has been replaced by a lightning quick leopard crawl, with which she chases down runaway toys, faraway power outlets and any nearby remote controls. A visit to the doctor a few days ago revealed that Anne’s weight is in the 75th percentile while her height is in the 25th percentile. It is nice that medical jargon tries to cushion the fact that Anne is short and fat cute.

My own life has undergone many changes. With the new 9 to 5 I have become a more Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz in “I Love Lucy”) kind of husband, where once I was more of a Tony Micelli (Tony Danza in “Who’s the Boss”). When Anne first arrived, it was hard to put a halt on the career. Oddly enough, trading being with Anne for the career feels like I am trading the wonder of watching her grow up for the cold hard reality of having to be pragmatic.

Like all good hollywood fighter pilots, I have Faith and Anne’s photo in front of me at my desk. But everytime I look at Anne’s picture I am reminded of how fast she is changing - that the photo I have of her is dated; that she is growing up as I am at work.

Fer Cryin' Out Loud

Anne was inconsolable last night. She woke up at 2am and decided that no amount of bouncing on the gym ball and / or patting her back was going to stop her from crying. We tried all the tricks we learned over the last half a year of improvisational parenting. After twenty minutes (it’s a pretty short list of tricks) I gave up and we decided to cross the line.

Ferberizing Anne wasn’t an option I would have considered. Somehow to allow a child to cry herself to sleep seemed awfully cruel. It doesn’t help when the child in question is this cute little girl with pouty little rosebud lips. But it was late at night and we had exhausted our options. I put her back in her crib.

About a week ago, Faith heard how her Vice-Principal, also the mother of a young child, conditioned her kid to sleep through the night. It involved four-hour-long crying sessions, and after two nights voila, baby was sleeping right through.

I looked at my watch. It’d be 7am before this stops. I wasn’t sure if anyone on earth could scream their lungs out for 4 hours straight. And I sure as heck hoped that none of my neighbours owned an axe with which to chop down my door in an attempt to silence the din.

As far as screaming goes, Anne always makes it a point to exceed expectations. When you think it’s impossible for her to get any louder, she kicks it up a notch. Then two. Then three. It’s the parenting equivalent of “chicken” - when two stupid egoistic drivers go full speed toward each other to see who flinches first. Anne literally dares you to leave her be and see how loud she can go.

In these moments a million things pass through my mind. “Will her vocal chords be irreparably scarred?”, “I’m sure I can hear this two blocks away”, “Will she think I’m a bad parent for not ‘being there’ for her?”. I look at Faith, who has the same agonised look on her face. She holds my hand.

20 minutes.

Sudden silence. I’m pretty sure she’s dead. No one could hold a scream that long without breathing. I raise my head a little, in case she’s still looking for a response. Her crib looks like it’s been lambasted by a tornado. But at the corner lies Anne, tired silly from her own effort and sleeping like, well, a baby.

After reading all the online comments on Ferberising, I still don’t know if it’s the right or wrong thing to do. I’m not intentionally trying to “teach her independence”. I’d like to be there for her as much as the next parent. But it is a sad fact of life that parents don’t hold all the answers, and children sometimes need to find their own way. Sometimes all we can do is hold our breath and watch while they do.

The glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicèan barks of yore
That gently, o’er a perfumed sea,
The weary way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.

- “To Helen”, by Edgar Allan Poe

There’s a certain magic to found only in college campuses. Maybe it’s the abundance of grass, or the expanse of sky unhindered by towering office blocks. Or maybe it is how the vibrance of youth, found so concentrated there, makes everything seem more alive. Idealism thrives, untainted by reality.

I went to NUS after work today in hopes of finding a Mecca of basketball to pay homage to. There was the most beautiful golden sunset. It made me miss my days at the University of Arizona.

But a greater longing pulled at me the entire evening. There I was, on the other side of the island while Faith and Anne were at home. It just felt so wrong. Not wrong as in the guilty sense of the word, but wrong - like something didn’t fit. I took the first cab I saw home.

The sight of Anne smiling upon seeing me made the earth spin under my feet. I run the risk of coming across as clichéd, but the smile of a child makes everything right as rain. I felt so blessed to come home to Faith and Anne; an undeserving recipient of the most beautiful gift. And at that moment I knew that my home is right here in the present and not in a picturesque rose-tinted memory of the past. It is here beside Faith, whose eyes sparkle when she smiles, and Anne, who periodically chokes on her saliva when she laughs too hard.

God, thanks. Help me be faithful in loving them as you’d want me to.

Pinch Test

Anne pinching her tummy

Anne pinching her tummy.

Semi-Anne-newally

Anne at Six Months

Anne at Six Months

It’s been half a year. Time flies.

Return of the Jedi

Anne, after her cough and cold

Anne, much better after bout of cough and cold

Much happier, sleeping much better, overall-good-girl survives to make mischief yet another day. Oh, and her parents are doing great too.

Poor Baby

Anne down with cough and cold

Anne down with a cough and cold

There has never been a more pitiful sight in this household. She still smiles through the yuckiness every now and then though.

Update: Actually there is a more pitiful sight. You should take a look at the 2 dishevelled adults staying awake to tend to her every need.

Sit Up and Pay Attention

Anne is growing up really fast. In the last few days she learned how to sit up unassisted. It’s an amazing sight - her sitting on this huge expanse of a bed, looking so intently before deciding which toy to reach for and pick up. She also discovered that hitting her rattle hard on the ground makes a much louder sound than simply shaking it. Parts of her legs are often unintentional striking points, but she doesn’t seem to mind.

Yesterday, I came out of the shower to see her smiling at me. I cracked a few jokes and she laughed. I’m going to exercise a little more faith and say that she understood (rather than she seemed to understand) what I was saying, and her laughter reaffirms what I always knew: that I should work on my material and be a stand-up comedian down at the bar where they allow bartop dancing. To heck with this web / information design nonsense.

Thank you for your many offers of clothing and stationery (gonna spell it wright this time). For those of you who asked,

Most of all, I think we need your prayers. Things aren’t shaping up the way we hoped, with obstacles preventing many of us from going.

His will be done.

Cinq Mois

Anne at 5 Months

Anne’s now 5 months old. Faith and I are struck by the realisation that people can indeed want a second child.

Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

My parents finally took a swipe at Anne’s hair.

I don’t know if it’s an asian or chinese thing, but everyone (down to the casual bystander) has told us that we ought to shave Anne’s head bald to have her hair grow better. I couldn’t bear to see my daughter bald, even though her hair was uneven in places and growing in clumps. Plus, I like the smell of her head too much to rub brandy or stout, which some swear will give babies a full head of lustrous hair.

So with half a day off for Teachers’ Day, Mum decided to trim Anne’s hair. She was looking around for her pair of scissors and Dad got terribly confused because he thought she was trying to cut Anne’s fingernails. He couldn’t understand why Mum was busting out the gigantic scissors and laying newspaper on the bathroom floor. It was only when Mum took out the comb that he realised they were talking about different things all along.

The trim went fine. Now for her fingernails…again.

More Missing

Dearest Faith and Anne,

the sun sets on another day, and it is oddly painful to know that we share the same golden sunset, but apart. I’m listening to Tanya Chua’s “I’ll Remember You” on whatever juice I have left on the iPod. I use to reminisce over this song while I was in the US.

Everyone tells me how great it is that we made it through the long distance relationship, but I never felt distant even back then. Being with you, however long or brief a time has filled my days and nights with enough laughter and happy memories to sustain me till we meet again, be it weeks or years.

Thank you for making my life so, for lack of a better word, melodious.

By the Temptations

Dearest Faith and Anne,

it is the nights I miss you both the most.

It might have been stupid of me to have forgotten to bring my mobile phone, but somehow the inavailability of instant communication has made clearer to me the things I take for granted daily.

It has been a long time since I’ve had an entire night of uninterrupted sleep, but I know that my place is with the both of you.

My girls. The girls of my life. God has really blessed me with a life of protecting, caring, loving and being loved.

I miss you all. The YF comm especially. I’m reminding myself to cherish serving God alongside such beautiful people, each and every one.

I don’t know if I have the heart to leave Singapore anymore.

Munchkin

You know the familiar, almost clichéd account: baby is born. Father holds the child up to the light like Simba in “The Lion King”. And in that magical moment, the swinging married bachelor or the career-minded egomaniac comes to the sudden realisation that he is now the father of a child?

I didn’t have that. Somehow the nine months leading of pregnancy leading up to her birth made fatherhood a gradual, rather than sudden, process. Even after her birth Faith and I were sort of detatched, unsure why the super-strong maternal / paternal feelings that were supposed to now exist in us weren’t really there. Anne was a baby to be fed and put to bed. A baby that kept us awake at night.

This may sound cruel, but I’ll confess that there have been nights that were particularly difficult, to the point I felt a little trapped by the immensity of bringing her up; that I’d never know freedom again.

I had a taste of freedom today. Anne was taken away from me.

It tasted bitter.

Continue reading Munchkin »

Anne at 4 Months

Anne at 4 Months

The Right and Left of Good Parenting

There are two reasons why women make better child-minders than men.

Boobs. Either you got them or you don’t. If you’re the non-lactating parent like I am (but your baby feeds on breastmilk), parenting is a synchronised dance of keeping the baby fed, making sure you’ve enough bottled breastmilk to last the day till your lactating partner returns, and organising all sorts of attention-grabbing time-burning activities in between.

The lactator has the distinct advantage here. When in doubt, instant milk. No questions like “is the baby hungry enough to finish an entire bottle?” No having to wait for the refrigerated ammo to thaw while juggling rattles, storybooks and chainsaws hoping to live through the five minutes of aural hell.

Of course I’m over-simplifying things. The lactator has to deal with nasty electrical pumps, freezing cooler boxes and white-hot sterilised milk bottles.

There are times when I wonder about estrogen jabs; whether transforming myself into a lactator will simplify things. Then I think about teething.

Testicles shrink to the size of raisins, and I realise I don’t need estrogen to scream like a little girl.

Covert Operations

While most of you were sleeping, I:

It’s a brand new day.

RSS Feeds

In this case, I’m referring to the Really Simple Science of the feed. Feeding a baby, in particular. But I’ll extrapolate futher, because like all good scientific principles, this one can also be applied in a myriad of different realms.

After spending the last hour and a half of trying to feed Anne, I decided to share the obscure science of the feed.

Back when Anne was younger, it didn’t matter if her milk came in the form of a breast or a bottle. She’d even drink milk that came straight out of the refrigerator. Cold breastmilk, of course. Not cow’s milk. Now three and a half months old, her taste has grown more sophisticated. The milk has to warmed up just right, and it better come in the right packaging or there’ll be hell to pay.

So where feeding her was once

Graph of Ease of Feed against Hunger, Anne when younger than 3 months

it is now starting to look like

Graph of Ease of Feed against Hunger, Anne at3 months

As you can see, it is becoming exceedingly hard to find the right time to feed her. Too early, and you’re left with a 98% full milk bottle that’s quickly cooling down to room temperature. Feed her too late, and you’ll be spending the next hour or so on your feet placating the little bugger. Oh, and you’ll be holding a 98% full milk bottle doing it.

Update:

CC wanted to know why I didn’t put Anne directly to the breast.

Since Faith’s maternity leave ended yesterday, the graph for CC’s suggestion would look like this.

Graph of Ease of Feeding Against Hunger, Me breastfeeding Anne

Same for RSS

Now for the extrapolation unto the less milk-related form of RSS. Techical jargon ahead. Reader beware.

There has been a lot of talk about RSS and the giving up of content, the losing of regular site visitors to newsreaders, and whether we should be putting ads in RSS feeds to “recoup our losses”, so to speak.

Like Anne, users used to be easy to feed. A good excerpt of what promises to be great content would have them checking out your site. But users have evolved to become more picky and a sort of power struggle ensues during feeding time. The user, who is used to being the center of attention, now demands full feeds so that he doesn’t even have to visit the site anymore. The content provider would like some revenue from clickthroughs to ads, so the activity of content creation doesn’t have to be an all-out altruistic, self-sacrificial act.

A parallel to Anne’s feeding habits, here’s to the user: Grow up. Just as Anne eventually needs to realise that her parents need sleep, you have to realise that freebies, while they do exist, don’t last forever.

It is hard work producing content. Don’t muzzle the ox when it plows your grain.

Beauty Sleeping

It’s 5 in the morning. I’ve had Anne asleep on my stomach (like here) for more than an hour to kinda settle her in. About fifteen minutes after I put her down, she start rubbing her face vigorously again.

At some point we thought we had it down pat. Anne was sleeping almost through the night and we were feeling really blessed and all. The glimpse of parenting heaven lasted only a week and a half. Anne would rub her face with her mitten-covered hands, kick her way out of any ingenious swaddling restraints and eventually wake herself up in the process. By the morning her face would look like it got hit by a truck.

So for the past number of nights (I say number because I can’t remember how many due to prolonged sleep deprivation, and blogging about sleep deprivation) I’ve been carrying her, walking her back and forth in the hopes of settling her down enough to get her some shuteye. It was like Day Three again.

A few moments ago I decided to try putting Anne to sleep on her tummy. Now before any of you goes postal on me: yes, I know about SIDS. Yes, I know I’ll absolutely hate myself if anything bad happens to Anne. But I also know that she doesn’t get the rest she needs because of her flailing arms and legs when she lies on her back.

Faith said that putting her on her tummy probably doesn’t mean we get more sleep. We’ll just wake up more often to check on her. But it isn’t the issue of getting more sleep; I just don’t want her to wake herself up every half an hour, suffer from a tomato-y red and raw face in the morning or become extremely dependent on having to lie on us in order to get her sleep.

So should my baby sleep on her back or her stomach? All the baby books unequivocally state that I should be putting her on her back. This report in particularly has me all freaked out. But my grandma, who has been a midwife for more than half a century tells us to put her on her tummy. We’ve refrained and “listened to the experts” till now. It is comforting to know other parents face the same problem, and many did the same as we’ve done tonight.

It’s a really hard decision, fraught with a lot of self-doubt and confusing expert advice. I hope I’m doing the right thing. I really, really do.

Baby Blues

Anne hasn’t been sleeping at all well these past two days. The crying fit she threw yesterday was the longest I’ve seen her throw by far. She literally cried till no sound came out of her. No provocation, no drop or rise in temperature, no loud noises were needed to help her start. She just breaks out crying.

Also, she has refused to sleep in the cot on her back. She’d continually rub her face with her mittened hands or punch herself on the noggin, which wakes her up. And waking means… refer to paragraph one.

So Faith and I hold her close to comfort her, and sleep half reclined with her still on us.

One possible reason could be that Anne is ill. She started coughing yesterday night. It has been hard to ask friends and relatives suffering from the flu to keep their distance. Somewhere our vigilance faltered when it seemed Anne had not fallen ill even when coughed on and handled by less than sanitary hands. Faith and I had hoped that common sense and consideration would prevail, and that we would not have to tread the minefield of euphemisms in order to preserve the peace and keep relations going.

Now that Anne is ill (and crying), preserving the peace is a moot point. Preserving our child’s well-being becomes a priority. Our sanity is at stake. We now suffer the consequences of our inaction.

I have to be mad at someone. Right now I’m mad at myself for not having been firmer. Next time I hope I’ll be gentle for your sake, but immovable for Anne’s.

Lol

Anne laughed.

Airborne

Anne Figure Skating Frame by Frame

Anne turned 3 months old yesterday. Thanks to the advanced technology available today, we are able to catch her figure-skating technique frame by frame.

Babe Dylan

Insert your caption.

edit: Image removed. The image in question was one of Anne, seating on a sofa in a reclined position, smoking a cigarette (photoshopped in, of course).

Tempest in a Teacup

Anne has starting articulating a myriad of different sounds. She does every English vowel but “E”, and even throws in glottal stops for good measure. No, it doesn’t happen frequently enough for her to star in “The gods must be crazy 3”. We brought her to church yesterday, where she practically gave a mini-sermon. As Daniel Chia said, “she talks a lot, a lot”.

We’ve got a live one in our hands, I think.

For those actually interested, here’s short video of her talking (332kb, .mov).

61 Days

Anne at 2 Months

2 whole months, Anne. We didn’t screw up too bad, did we?

Gilmore Girls DVD marathon in the background.

Here Fishy Fishy Fishy

Anne looking at fishAnne’s morning after-bath routine: sitting beside the fish tanks for half an hour, trying to communicate via hand signals and monosyllabic grunts.

All Alone in the Moonlight

This can only come from a photographer turned father.

Faith and I are going to a wedding tomorrow, where I’ve been asked to help take photographs. As it is a full day affair, Faith will, at some point, have to express her breast milk or there’ll be terrible repercussions involving painfully clogged ducts and all.

We also recently purchased a more portable battery-operated pump.

Her: Can I use any of your spare batteries?

Me: You better buy a set of your own batteries. I don’t want to have to choose between their memories and your mammaries.

Reeducation

I just spent the last few hours with Anne lying on my tummy. Anne lying on my tummyAll the cushions in the house were employed to help me maintain the physiologically impossible positions I had to contort into so she’d sleep better. So the morning passes, with the first episode of the Transformers, countless episodes of Gilmore Girls, a very hardworking DVD-player and a beautiful girl draping her arms around me.

A little more than a month ago, I wrote about “How to survive day three”. To be honest, during those weeks I had to feign a weak smile everytime someone came up to me and told me about the joys of parenting. I read Kin Mun’s “Reading on a Friday Night” with scepticism, in absolute doubt about whether I would find such parenting nirvana. I wasn’t sure I was cut out for this parenting business; the price of screwing up someone elses’ life scared me.

I remember when Anne was two weeks old. She was in one of her crying fits - the kind that wouldn’t stop accusing you of some apparent mistreatment. It was the dead of night, and the crying wouldn’t stop. I had carried her and paced back and forth for what seemed like an eternity. Then she stopped crying. I put her to bed.

Almost immediately the piercing cries started again. And I spanked her. The sound of my hand hitting her diaper sounded like a gunshot, and she stopped crying for that split second, stunned. The shock of the moment got to me.

I hit a two-week old child. I deserved to be with other low-life scum that shot kittens with steel arrows or those that hunted baby seals. I made up my mind never to ever, ever do that again, but my true colours were made known to me that instant. Hence the doubts of me ever being able to be a good father. Or that the greatest enjoyment I could ever attain from parenthood would be knowing I didn’t screw up.

The best and worst attributes of humankind are both attributed to children. We say a person is childish when every small thing seems to affect them; and at the same time we say a person is childlike when nothing rattles them.

It was barely a few minutes after my violent outburst when Anne looked at me with no recollection whatsoever of the damage I had done to her bottom or the anger I had allowed to act on my behalf. In fact, a few days ago she started smiling. Anne smilingShe smiled and she smiled and she smiled. At me. The father who spanked her when she had neither the means to communicate what was wrong nor the ability to help herself.

So lying there this morning with her arms around and her face pressed tightly against me I realised that maybe there is more than just the dread of middle of the night feeds. Maybe the others were right when they coined the term “the joys of parenting”. It doesn’t seem so improbable to me now that people would actually want to have another kid, having already experienced / endured their first.

Anne reminds me to live in the present. Not to hold grudges. To sleep when I need, to eat when I’m hungry. That childlike innocence is the greatest protection one can have against a rather cruel world.

ps. The tissue paper on the right of my chest is not an attempt to imitate old Peranakan women. Anne puked there.

Got Milk?

Faith and I are convinced our baby got swapped with a baby hippopotamus last night. They look and feel the same, but Anne has been feeding every half-hour for the past six hours. That’s a lot of milk.

I know breast milk is easy to digest and all, but at the rate she’s going, I’m half tempted to mix the milk with little pebbles and pieces of tree bark. I’m afraid at the prospect of seeing our refrigerated cache of milk decimated and Faith reduced to a dried raisiny husk in order to satiate this bottomless pit of a baby. I swear she’s developing a fourth chin as we speak.

Facing the Music

We’re planning to bring Anne to church in a few hours. She’s been well-behaved so far tonight, but acting up a little now.

I’ve never been a parent before, but I can tell you there’s a bit of pressure presenting the now one-month-old kiddo to the world. It’s typical Asian fashion for everyone to throw in their two-cents worth of parenting skill.

If I had to use IRC-talk to predict some of the things I’ll be hearing, there’ll probably be a lot of “OMG!!! YOU GUYS HAVE HER ON THE PACIFIER!!!” or in hushed tones, “anne’s gas release is pretty strident. didn’t you use to have gas problems as a kid?”

I guess I’m being overly prepared when I make a mental list of the “you shouldn’t have”s I’m going to have to hear. We’ve crossed many lines we originally didn’t intend you. As an observer the lines seemed pretty solid. At 3am and your eyeballs bloodshot from not having slept for the last 72 hours, it’s “lines, what lines?”.

Anne’s lying on my lap right now (OMG YOU PUT HER IN FRONT OF THE COMPUTER MONITOR!!!) and I’m inclined to do the Chinese parent thing and tell her not to embarass me and pretend to be supercute baby for a few hours. You know what Anne? To heck with it. Be yourself. It’s the best time in your life to. Fart as loud as you want, bawl if you wish. The world will just have to deal with your arrival.

I deal with it every night. And there are moments I see with perfect clarity how great of a blessing you are in my life.

30 Days Later

Exactly 30 days ago, Faith’s water broke and we came home with Anne. After numerous feeds and diaper change, we’re proud to present…

Anne, one day old

Anne, one month old

The Night Shift

I’m in charge of the night shift. That means that for the past month I’ve been sleeping at 8 in the morning, waking up for breakfast at lunch, and so on. I’ve always been a night person, and a morning person. Basically I’ve always prided myself in needing very little sleep to survive.

But staying awake because you’re doing stuff you want to do and being kept awake are two very different things. Taking care of Anne at night means that sometimes I get to do a little work, or put together a butt-ugly redesign while she’s asleep. And sometimes the whole night is spent trying to get her to that point. Either way, my job is to make sure Faith gets her rest. Rest = breast milk. Breast milk = satisfied baby. And satisfied baby = quality of life.

So here I sit in my underwear. My external clothes were casualties in a poop explosion a few moments ago.

Anne’s a smallish kid. But she really knows how to let one rip. Sometimes it sounds like a tractor driving through our living room, and other times it sounds like a geiger counter moseying towards Chernobyl. There was this one time during a routine diaper change, she squirted poop two and a half body lengths away. It almost made it out the door of our bedroom.

Tonight I was bottle-feeding her, her bottom placed firmly on my lap. She lets one rip.

You have to understand that with babies there’s no such thing as a dry fart. They’re all wet. It also means that there’s no way of telling whether it’s a fart or poop till it’s too late.

It’s a long one. Followed by another. And another. Man, this girl was on a roll. Two-and-a-half body lengths of atmospheric pressure pressed against my lap, fired again and again. Something had to give. The seam of her diaper blew and poop flew all over the place. All over my lap, my t-shirt. Mustard. Warm mustard.

Ok, so it wasn’t a fart.

It’s odd how babies teach you that time is relative. The five minutes it takes to warm up their milk while they’re screaming their lungs out is the longest five minutes in the world. Longer than the last five-minutes of a marathon.

It was a long test of patience till the bubble burst. Now Anne’s sleeping and oddly enough I hear myself think: oh it wasn’t that bad.

Questions for One Born Yesterday

A day after we brought Anne home I had my very first heart-to-heart with her. I asked, “What does God look like?”

It becomes apparent to me, now two weeks later, that it would probably be a question she’ll ask me in the years to come.

Flickr of Light

For Anne’s 0th (or is it 0nd?) birthday, I got her a Flickr account. We’ll chronicle her life, as best we can at Annegirl.

I know it sucks that you have to register to add comments, but honestly, Flickr is the coolest photo sharing site out there. You ought to have an account, as long as you take photos.

Surviving Day Three

It has been ten days since Anne was born. To be honest, it’s amazing that ten whole days have passed without Faith and I disintegrating into dust. I have been wanting to write about day 3 for some time now, but while it was meant to be a short tutorial of sorts, being a full-time parent often means that you lose the mental acuity to form and elaborate on ideas. Baby-babble has become my main language, and it is sometimes a struggle to find the right adult words.

Why day 3? The first day is all about the labour. The water-breaking, the contractions, the rush to the hospital. Whether the wife should take the epidural (I see many women nodding their heads). The baby doesn’t yet figure into the equation. I’m sure you read about how fathers who hold their babies for the first time magically transform from beer-guzzling middle-aged frat boys to sensitive, new-age stockbroker types. It’s a lie - day 3 is why they head back to the office to “be responsible and bring home the bacon”.

So you spend the first two days of the baby’s life in the hospital. Nurses tend to your child’s every need, wheeling your precious one in every two hours for the feed. The child’s an angel…yadda yadda. I even said that I was lucky that Anne had a more pleasing-sounding wail than most other babies I’ve heard screaming at the top of their lungs. You start to form plans and dreams.

“Such nice hair, maybe she can be a supermodel”. “He has huge feet, he could be the swimmer our landlocked country has been looking for”. Then before you get too carried away, the baby is wheeled back to the hospital nursery, and the last image you have of the baby is one of a content, well-fed, perfect bundle of joy.

Then comes day three. Day three comes after baby makes his or her inaugural car ride home. The cot you spent three hours assembling awaits, diapers stacked neatly on the side. There are no pillows or blankets because you just read the latest “how to care for your baby” book and it recommends these things. Your bedroom looks like the meeting room of the Scarlet Pimpernel because the books say that babies under two weeks old only see red, black and white. “Bach for babies” is on auto-repeat 24/7. Day 3 passes by, and you are glad that you followed the advice of the experts, even going the extra mile to get the two way $500 baby monitor so you can talk back when you hear little precious crying.

Little precious crying. That’s all you hear the entire night of day 3. You realise that the baby has an assortment of crying sounds, and the not-so-unpleasant-sounding one you heard at the hospital was the movie trailer of what would become the NeverEnding Story.

Anne’s cries that night grew stronger and more piercing as she tested her lungs out on new frequencies that would become more grating and accusatory in nature. There actually came a point I wanted to drop her (on our bed) in the morbid hope that something would break and the crying would stop. I tucked those feelings away, guilty that I could even feel or think a thought like that.

You get so sleep-deprived and flustered that you start spilling milk, breaking glasses, putting used diapers into the fridge instead of the bin. The only background, foreground and middleground noise is the “I didn’t ask to be born!” cry. There are gaps of reprieve in between, but none barely long enough for you to lie down and stretch your vertebre, which by this time have started to smart thanks to the “ergonomically friendly” diaper changing table you spent a month’s salary on.

If you’re the mother, you only start to notice the tears that have been streaming down your face the last two hours. Fathers get to experience levels of stress higher than any shoe-shopping excursions they have been dragged through.

Somewhere in the 45 secs we had to lie down, Faith told me that she felt like shaking Anne, and that she felt horrid about it. I told her I had wanted to drop Anne from a height onto our bed so maybe her batteries would fall out and the crying would stop. I’m glad I have a fellow psychotic in my wife.

In the last 5 secs of the 45 sec reprieve you decide to blog this down, hoping that there are more psychotics out there suffering the same plight. You make a mental note to ask Loobylu how she minds her child, comes up with illustrations, moves into a new home, embarks on Web projects and get this, hand-makes toys for her daughter. I used to think she was amazing, but after day 3 I’m about to set up a loobylu altar in my house.

In the last 5 secs of the 45 sec reprieve I decide to blog about day 3. About how I wanted to murder my child. It scares me to discover I am the person I am, and the parent I turned out to be so early in Anne’s childhood. Even Claire (aka Loobylu) said, “I am not really very good at this motherhood thing”. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.

Why am I only blogging this on Day 10? It took me less than a minute to decide to be honest about it here. I was spending the rest of the time picking up spat-out pacifiers.

By Many Other Names

张惠杰. Anne. Squirmy wormy, honey bunch, sweetiepie.

We register the first two today.

The Big Reveal

Anne Girl, minutes after she was born

Anne girl, minutes after she was born. She likes to do the one eyed wink. Now she opens both eyes under optimal light conditions. She has the clearest, most reflective pupils I’ve ever seen. I want so much to illuminate them with carefully placed strobes, but it’d be really hard to carry her and operate camera equipment.

Sleeping Arrangements

You know you’re a little too tired when you find yourself putting all sorts of weird things in the fridge, and leaving what should have been put in outside.

I need some advice. Anne’s doing ok, I guess. She’s hungry almost all the time, and insists on sleeping right after feeding, pressed up against Faith. We think she just enjoys having a warm body to cozy up to. If we make this a habit, we’re kinda afraid we’ll have to have her sleeping in our bed till she’s 60. We’re not sure if we’re spoiling her and placing ourselves in a precarious position of never ever having space to ourselves.

Or would it be better to tolerate her crying and just leave her in her cot? Didn’t think we’d come to crossroads and tradeoffs so quickly, but she’s learning the rules of the game fast, and especially how to beat them.

Out in the Open

Baby Anne was born on the 8th of April 1:55pm weighting 2.9kg (6.5lbs). She wimpered a little, then settled down almost immediately. She is now finding out many, many other reasons to cry.

Less than 24 hours after her birth, we’ve a ton of photos and short video clips courtesy of my brother-in-law Ralph, who is also going to be a father in four months.

Will post when sleep (and outstanding work) are less of a priority.

God has been miraculously and wonderfully kind.

A New Beginning

Faith’s waterbag broke. We’re off to the hospital!

Sucker

I’ve been extremely busy these past few days, finishing up some sites and doing a little web consulting. I’m still nowhere closer to a redesign of this site, though I’ve been planning one for the longest time. I think Van Tan and I are vying for the record of longest unkept redesign promise.

On Thursday Faith and I went to get an ultrasound of the baby. I can’t even describe the entire gamut of emotions that passed through me as I sat there watching a flickering monitor.

There are so many questions. Questions about the baby’s health abound. Even though I know that God gives us the best, regardless of whether it is what we want, one word from the doctor could change our life as we know it. Or as we envisioned it. I need more faith.

Here’s the photo.

baby_scan.jpg

Those are some really long (and skinny) legs.

In Better

Faith has been feeling rather down these past few days. The nausea has been acting up, and while she hasn’t actually thrown up yet, it pains me to no end seeing how lousy she feels. She’s amazing in that she hasn’t uttered a “this sucks”-type statement yet. Truly a wife of noble character.

Min said not too long ago that they named it “morning sickness” because “sickness” would have been too general. That really cracked me up. Faith normally feels worse come night, anyway. She doesn’t seem to take to sour things that most post-pregnant women swear by.

If you have any pointers that might help, do tell.

Children Dying

Remember what I said about my new pets being my training ground for parenting? And where I said the fish were the first step and the hamster being the next step, progressively getting harder?

I take that back. Fish are very enigmatic.

We used to have eleven neon tetras, along with other fish in the tank. Yesterday we saw one swimming weird. Today he seemed miraculously healed. Or rather, there wasn’t any weird-swimming fish to be found in our tank. A quick demonstration of basic arithmetic concluded that we now had seven neon tetras. There were no remains and no floating fish, but we had somehow managed to lose four of them.

In the other tank that held two redeye (no scientific names at the local petstore), only one was left. Again, absolutely no sign of the other having ever existed.

We are baffled. Much as I would like this to be my foray into being an illustionist, the last thing I need is a missing baby.

The hunt for red eye (and neon tetras) continue.

Je suis en retard

Having children lowers your IQ. It’s not your parents’ fault.

It’s not my fault.

Training Ground

When Vernon, Boon Ping, Jonathan and baby Benjamin moved to the States last month, they left us two tanks of freshwater fish and a bag of maternity clothes. Faith was already pregnant then, but we didn’t know.

It began a routine of Saturday fish-tank cleaning and many trips to the pet shop to buy aquatic plants and knick-knacks to decorate the tank. It was a lesson in commitment; the very first step.

It was Teachers’ Day two days ago and Faith was the recipient of a very generous student who gave her a small hamster. It came in a small disposable cup layered with sawdust.

We spent $120 yesterday buying the most spiffy cage, food, toys, bath powder and sawdust. We swelled (ok I swelled) with pride that we were giving Squeaky (we named her after she squeaked) the best.

I stayed up till 2am trying to show Squeaky the ins-and-outs of her new apartment. It features a Penthouse powder bathroom and neon green wheel that actually rotated round on the horizontal plane as well as the vertical. I just had to give Squeaky directions to the amenities.

Continue reading Training Ground »

Firstborn

The most terrifying day of your life is the day your first one is born. Life, as you know it, is gone. Never to return. But they learn to walk, to talk, and they grow up to become the most delightful people you will ever meet. - Bill Murray tells Scarlet Johansson in Lost in Translation.

There are times, especially like these, watching Lost in Translation alone at night, when I lose it a little. I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I will be a good father like everyone says I will. I don’t know if I am ready to move away from this life. I’m still missing life in the States. Having late night suppers at the Student Union with Matt, Emitt and Justin after a midnight game of basketball at the Rec.

Sometimes I want to move backwards in time, but now I find myself propelled forward. I can’t wait, but I can’t look.

Baby Bear

When we used the off-the-counter pregnancy test and discovered that we were having a baby, it was a very surreal feeling. Faith looked and felt the same, yet our lives would be forever changed by an individual with whom we would be very intimately linked, yet hardly knew at this point. We actually had to consciously remember that we were expecting our first child.

I came back late yesterday after a game of basketball. I spent some time talking with the bunch off tweens (twenty-somethings) who lived in my neighbourhood. When I got home, it was 11:30 at night and I expected Faith to be asleep. Instead, I heard the growl of this half-sleepy, very hungry bear my wife had become.

“I’m dying”, she says, refering to her hunger. I offer to buy some food back. “I want sweet-sour pork ribs”.

Gee. That’s a tall order for anyone at this time of the night. Somehow I instinctively put on my shoes and started running. It didn’t seem like a ridiculous request at that time.

Thank God I was able to find exactly what she wanted at a small eating place near our house. Making a judgement call, I ordered a large rack of ribs to go. She looked like she could eat a cow.

When I got home with my triumphant rack of ribs, she took to the food like a supermagnet. When I stopped her mid-munch to give thanks for the food, there was this whimper of childlike rebellion. I kept the prayer short and watched her tuck in.

She had barely begun when she looked up and proclaimed that she was done with the meal.

Just as well. I helped myself to the food. And while my head was down and I was defenseless she said, “I feel like green peas for lunch tomorrow”.

We had no green peas in the fridge. I doubt anyone sold frozen peas at midnight. That was when it hit me. We’re really having a baby, and it’s going to change our lives forever.

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