the littlest notebook


He said that?!
September 11, 2011, 10:24 pm
Filed under: Children

my little kitchen helper

My son Ian is such a joy to be around these days, especially now that he is speaking so well. I get glimpses into his mind when he talks. Just so I don’t forget, here are some of the funny things he said:

I always ask Ian to clean up his toys after he’s done playing with them. Of course he pretends he cannot hear me. One day, I was rather exasperated with his mess and said, “Ian, the house is so untidy!” He looked at me and replied, “I need to go somewhere cleaner.” Yup, that would be a good solution! Just leave the mess. Out of sight, out of mind. Only if you’re a three-year-old!

I tell Ian that his toys have to go back to their families every night so that they do not go missing (meaning I will confiscate them mwahah). I told Ian to put his train-set parts into their box, and when he did, I said, Good! Now the trains are all safely in the roundhouse. Then my son looked at me and said, but Mama, the box is rectangular!

I’m trying to teach Ian how to tell time. One day, I pointed to the clock and asked him, “What does the clock say?” He looked at the clock face for a long time and said, “Tock, tock tock.”

Illinois is known for its tornadoes, and we get tornado warnings now and then (most of them are practice drills). One day, one of these sounded. Ian came up to me and looked at me very seriously. He said, “Mama, I hear a tomato warning!”

Two nights ago, he couldn’t sleep well. The next morning, I asked him why he had trouble sleeping, he said that he was afraid of something. When I asked him what was it that made him scared, he said he had a dream of me in the kitchen holding a knife and chopping tomatoes. Well, my son hates vegetables and now that he is coming into the kitchen to “help,” I always make it very clear to him that knives are dangerous things and that only Mama and Daddy can touch them. Well, all that somehow became this strange nightmare he had. (Or was it just an excuse for him to climb into our bed?)

Before he started preschool, we wanted to neaten his hair. The only way we could get him to sit still is if we let him watch YouTube videos of the bullet trains in Japan. We cut his hair outdoors, so we dressed him and CW took him out. The seasons are changing so it can get cold these days. CW asked Ian repeatedly if he was cold. Ian, being crazy about trains, refused to admit he was cold even though he was shivering; he wanted to keep watching the train videos. CW decided Ian needed his outer coat, so they went back indoors to get it. Once Ian was safely home, he refused to budge. He said, “I don’t want to go out because our home is nice and warm!” CW found it so funny that Ian could give such a coherent explanation for his choice. We cut his hair indoors that day lah.

Although it is nowhere near Easter, my son still wants to play Easter Egg Hunt. I write a secret message in each egg and add a little snack before I hide it. One day, I wrote “Mama,” “loves,” and “Ian” on three separate pieces of paper, with a heart to represent “love.” Ian found the eggs, enjoyed the snacks of course, and made the message “Ian loves Mama.” That really was an Awww moment 🙂

If there is anything I want to remember, it is Ian’s first independent prayer. Yesterday, he was being rude to Daddy, and I was cross with him. I told Ian that it makes Daddy sad when Ian is rude. I asked him if he loved Daddy; he said yes. I reminded him that God’s word says love is not rude. Then, to my surprise and delight, he said he wanted to pray to God! He clasped his hands together and said, “God, please help me to be nicer.” Wow! Praise God!

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Good job, Mei-mei!
September 6, 2011, 4:05 pm
Filed under: Children
I moved it!

Our little Mei-mei is amazing. Just after she passed three months, she started sleeping through the night. CW heaves a sigh of relief since he was taking all the night feeds (yup, my husband loves me) and he was starting school. Ibby always had good timing. When she was a newborn, she seldom needed waking up for her three-hourly feeds–in fact, she’d wake up on the dot. When I was giving birth, she put me through less than thirty minutes of active labor even though my OB-GYN predicted hours. She was supposed to arrive at midnight but soon after CW and I decided he should go pick Ian up from our babysitter’s place and head home for the night, Ibby shot out. It seemed as though she could hear our conversation and wanted her Daddy present at her birth!

By Ian’s standards, Ibby is a relatively easy baby. She is slow to cry, and unless she is overtired or hungry, she is easily placated. She is happy to stay in her baby gym long enough for me to wash bottles and make a cup of coffee, or even have lunch. When she fusses at night, she tries to soothe herself back to sleep. She also loves to “talk.” We grunt and coo a lot. Yesterday, I thought she said Hallo (I must be imagining things). She smiles with pleasure when we play with her–she especially likes acting out Humpty Dumpty on my knee–and she tries to sing along with me (I am imagining things again) during music time. She is starting to roll over, and can push herself on her side. She is your regular curious little baby: she sucks on her fists and fingers and tries to eat her toys. Whereas Ian is always very task-oriented with his milk, it is taking longer to feed Ibby these days, now that her eyesight is developing and nearly everything distracts her from the bottle: Ian pretending to be a kangaroo, the TV, the leaves rustling outside our window.

I am very grateful for my children. I put myself in their shoes and I get an inkling of how hard it must be to be a child. My kids go where we as parents decide to go and they have to fit their routines to ours. So much of how happy they feel relies on how well we read their signs or interpret what they are saying; if you are a three-year-old boy just learning how to say M&Ms (Ian says M-m-Ms, with the right inflections), you don’t always get what you want; if you are a three-month-old baby, lagi worse! They must feel a disorienting lack of control over themselves and their circumstances. Because I am the older child in my family, I remember how it was like when my brother was born, and I am (overly) empathetic towards my son. There was a moment in my childhood when I distinctly felt that my world was falling apart. I know at some point, many firstborns must feel this way; the crucial thing is that we as parents have to change that situation into an opportunity for learning and growing. We explain to Ian that Mei-mei is young and helpless, and we need to care for her so that she can grow big and strong. We tell him that Ibby wants to do things on her own but she still is not able to. We tell him how much she wants to be like her kor-kor, to be able to run and jump and eat all sorts of things. I try to make time alone with Ian, and I want to be the one who puts him to bed at night. We always tell Ian how much we enjoy spending time with him and that we love him because he is our one-and-only Ian. Just the other day, I asked him if he knew I loved him and he said yes. I asked him, do you know why Mama loves you? He said it was because he was a special boy. Curious now, I asked him how he knew he was special, and he said “I am your son.”

In more ways that one, my children have made me a better person. Because they are so reliant on me, I have to be strong for them. And when I am weak, I have to show them where to find hope. They have definitely saved me from being the self-indulgent, pessimistic victim that I thought I was. They have shown me that I have a God who cares, and who guards His own. It is mind-blowing to come face-to-face with the marvel of creation every day as I look upon the faces of my little ones. And in each smile, each milestone, each I love you, I am touched again by how lovingly and intricately and wisely our God has made each masterpiece.



My Beautiful Girl
September 1, 2011, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Children
All sweetness

I hear people say that Ibby has my flat nose, CW’s small eyes (which aren’t really that small lah–they just disappear when he smiles), and his face shape (round cheeks and pointed chin) and I start to worry. It is hard enough for an attractive girl to grow up in this world with her confidence intact–how much harder would it be for my daughter! I reassure her (and myself) that her Creator ranks a quiet and gentle spirit and the fear of her God above charm and beauty, but I know she would need the long-sightedness of age to see this.

I am a woman so I will always think that men have it easier. I mourn the years I spent trying to be what the world said a worthy woman should be and how she should look like. I remember groping my way around life, not really knowing what I wanted for myself. Even in church, I so often hear that the best thing I could aim for was to be a Proverbs 31 woman. And if I took that literally–which many of us do–that meant that my life and efforts had to revolve around my husband and my family and our household. But I know in my heart that Jesus didn’t create us to be Marthas, and that He looked on Mary with favor. She who sat at his feet and seemingly did nothing but hang on to His every word, had chosen what was better; she chose to fix her heart and eyes on Jesus.

So how can a girl live through life unscathed? If I examine the women I know who radiate an unassailable beauty, I suspect I will find one common trait: self esteem. As a Christian, my self worth is always found in the cross of my God. As fellow traveller on earth, I would define self esteem as the confidence I have in my competency to face challenges and self respect. As a parent, I know I have to work hard to nurture strong roots in my children that will ground them regardless of where their wings take them. Is our home a safe place to grow up physically and emotionally? Do they know they are special and valuable and beloved even if their friendships fail? Do they believe they can surmount life’s problems, or at least have steel enough to learn from their failures? Do they love themselves enough to trust their own instincts? Do they live with purpose (by God’s grace, His purpose)? Instead of just focussing on report cards, I want to keep asking myself these questions. And honestly, even if they ended up as taxi drivers (Singaporean mothers shudder), I would be content if Ibby and Ian can say yes to all of the above.

Many in the generation before us had children and then waited for them to become sensible adults. The world we live in today doesn’t allow us to adopt the same childrearing methods. There are so many voices and value shifts that it has become ever more difficult to discover and decide what really matters. I am terrified for my young ones. I cannot bear the thought of them confused, bullied, and jostled by the world’s untruths, but I know I can only keep them safe for that long. And I know that they will have to turn the corner themselves and find their own way. So for now, and forever more, I will love them with all my heart and respect them as human beings made in the image of God and live, with His help, a consistent, God-fearing life. If there is one thing I will ask of them, it will be that they love Jesus. Then, everything else will fall into place.

For the record, I think my little girl is exquisite from the tips of her crazy hair to the ends of her fleshy toes. Small eyes, thunder thighs and all, she is wonderfully and fearfully and lovingly made. I pray that I will never stop telling her that, and that she will never stop believing me.



Falling in love
August 1, 2011, 10:49 pm
Filed under: Life in Illini
Ian feeding Mei-mei

I don’t think I am the first mother to discover that maternal feelings do not come naturally. When I first laid eyes on Isabel, I didn’t immediately think the world of her. In fact, my first thought was, gee, what a wrinkled little thing. I remember referring to her as my dinosaur bird on good days, and on bad days, wondering why I even considered having another child. It is only after weeks of changing diapers, deciphering her cries, and after endless hours of worry dare I say that I honestly do love my daughter. I know it lifts my soul when her eyes light up to see me, and her face scrunches up in that funny little smile. I know I will gladly part with my retirement pennies for her college funds not just because a good education is important for success but just because I gave birth to her. I know I will kill giant cockroaches for her (and those who know me know I have an irrational fear of cockroaches), and I know I will choose, albeit reluctantly sometimes, to spend my days within the four walls of our little apartment so I can watch her grow.

As it did for me, I am sure time is teaching my children how to trust and love. If I am tardy in responding to her, Ibby complains when I finally pick her up. When she hears our voices, she quiets down and waits in anticipation. Ian, once the king of the hill,  is now learning that he has to share Mama and Daddy with this small crying feeding sleeping creature. When she first arrived, Ian didn’t want her in his room and wouldn’t have anything to do with her. Yet recently, I caught him giving her his version of a hug (which means he puts his face very close to hers) and yesterday he said he wanted to carry and feed her. I already know Isabel adores Ian; her eyes follow him whenever he enters her line of sight.

Many believe that blood is thicker than water. I am not one of them. So I pray that as we do the hard work of caring for one another, we will learn love in its most glorious form, and that God will find the treasures of our hearts where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.



Little mercies
July 22, 2011, 9:47 pm
Filed under: Life in Illini

Little Ian and littler Ibby

One good thing about living in a land of seasons is that memory gives you a clearer perspective on things. It’s been almost a year since we moved here, but I remember the heat of summer (although it didn’t seem that hot then as we were fresh out of Singapore), the chill of watermelon, and giving thanks for my wide-brimmed hat as if it were yesterday. I also remember how greatly things have changed. Last year, Ian was barely putting two words together; now he strings whole sentences. Last summer, we were pretty much friendless; now we have friends. And last July, we prayed for another child; now we are four.

In my undeniably mundane life, the big things are always made up of the little things. I see how God has been with us every step of the way. I know He planned that chance meeting at a church camp lunch that linked us to all the good people here, and I cannot count the number of Thank You Jesusus I must have said in the course of each day. I hope I never forget how God was always there when I prayed, incessantly it seemed, during the early weeks after Ibby was born. Even for a second-time mom, things were hard then. Each time I laid my head on my blessed pillow was an occassion of joy.

Today, I celebrate these little mercies. I am grateful that I have a new day to spend with my children each morning, and for the partnership of marriage. I am happiest at 6 pm, when my husband walks through the door after a day at school. I am relieved that my little girl is feeding and sleeping well (she drinks a lot, but that’s better than not drinking yah!).  I rejoice that she smiled at me for the first time today, and that she is learning ways of communication other than crying. I say a silent hallelujah that both my children are napping now  (and I have the time to write this!). And I thank God from the bottom of my heart that it is Friday today.

I am also heartened to see that Ian seems better adjusted to life with Baby Sister, and he is more like his usual sweet, cheerful self again. To me, the hardest part about having another kid is neither the pregnancy, the labor and delivery, the constant feeding, nor the lack of sleep even, but helping the older one adapt. Much as I try to protect Ian and his world, I pray that God will teach his child’s heart understanding and love.

I know all this will pass. One day, Ibby will sleep through the night. And one day, my two children will play and bicker together. Until then, until things get easier, and in the years after, God willing, I pray that His presence will grace each little moment, and be the biggest joy of my heart.



My everyday valentine
March 19, 2011, 10:46 pm
Filed under: Life in Illini

Valentine's Day Chocolate

I never thought I’d say this, but I cannot wait to pop! I do honestly enjoy being pregnant, but being this big is getting a little old. The third trimester must be the hardest lap for me. I can’t see my shoes anymore, and it makes me breathless to put them on. Well, I have another two-and-a-half more months to go!

And I am so, so grateful for my husband. Of the two of us, he is the one whom sleep loves. Me, I need to do stuff, cross things off my list, and check the water faucet again before I can get some shut-eye. I was never a very good napper, but CW can fall asleep standing up. So I recognize the sacrifice when he regularly lets me sleep in in the mornings, even after he’s been rushing that assignment late into the night. Some mornings, he’s up at 6:30, and he only gets to rest past midnight. Maybe there’s something in the coffee they sell here.

I’d like to think it’s love, though. When we first came to Urbana, CW and I quarreled a lot. I was not used to not feeling useful, and was easily flustered by the then-incomprehensible bus schedules and whatnots I had to negotiate to just live. I felt I had given up my life, my dream job, my friends, and everything I had grown up with. Unlike a project at work, there is no easy, direct correlation between the amount of resources I invest in motherhood and how well my child actually turns out. And it does get hard to give myself a pat on the back when I am faced with a red-faced, crying toddler demanding what he cannot and should not have. Thankfully, many prayers, deep conversations, and a few good books later, I came to see that motherhood can never be a career or any satisfying substitute for one; it is a relationship. I also came to see that my husband cared deeply for me.

It is not easy to make life work here. We have to figure most things out by ourselves, and learn from our mistakes. But I know in the last eight months, I have regained much of the self-confidence I seemed to have lost in my dark teenage years. And our time here has really been beneficial for our family. I will never say our marriage is rock-solid. It is a fragile thing that too many a callous word carelessly left festering can erode, and sometimes the mere tone of how something is said can sour the best ambience. We need Jesus every day to save us from ourselves, and we need His spirit to humble us constantly. Perhaps it is because life is harder, we work harder at it. I realize with gladness that we don’t fight that much anymore, and that I have grown more secure in the knowledge of my husband’s love for me.

CW is not someone who would say mushy things, so in the course of our five years together, I have had to learn how to read his language, and in turn, how to show my appreciation for the person God made in him. And it must be tough being married to the most unromantic woman on earth. On Valentine’s Day, my husband showed up with a box of chocolates. And he predictably retorted, I knew you’d say this, when I predictably said he should have saved the money. CW had chosen the gift very carefully: on the lid, there was a button that you could press for music, so the gift was a toy for Ian as well. I hope he wasn’t really annoyed, and that I appeased him enough when I praised him for being considerate, and for the good value in his choice. Yah, erm, right. There is no end to learning, especially when it comes to the heart.



45 minutes!
February 27, 2011, 10:57 pm
Filed under: Azuki

Playing with trains at the library

I am especially proud of Ian today. He lasted 45 minutes in Sunday preschool! This may not seem like a lot, but it is a big deal if you are a two-year-old toddler grappling with identity issues, and vacillating between wanting out and craving the security of family. As on some days, I greeted him this morning by asking him what day of the week it was. Once he heard it was Sunday, he started to cry. He dreads being left behind with the other little boys and girls when CW and I have to leave for service at church. And he knew that was coming.

When we arrived at church, Ian was a little more cheerful but wary and teary-eyed. We brought him to the toddler’s room, and let him play by himself for a bit, all the while trying to blend into the wallpaper. Ian is not stupid; he kept close to us, knowing we might disappear at any moment. So it was inevitable having to bid goodbye to him. Thankfully, the teachers at Sunday preschool are super understanding and encouraging. They swooped in and tried to play with him when they saw the tears at gush-point. Ms T, Ian’s favorite teacher, carried him to the clock and started pointing out the numbers on the clockface. That took his attention while we slipped off.

We got a pager from across the room, and waited to be paged. Ian barely lasted ten minutes last week, so we kept expecting the pager to buzz. I prayed for him to have courage and to know Jesus was near all through the praise session at service. Minutes passed. Then half-an-hour. CW checked to see if the pager was working. He also slipped out to see if our little boy was okay (CW is a real softie lah). He came back reporting that he seemed to be fine. We got Ms T’s page 15 minutes later, and I trotted out to meet Ian.

Ian was sobbing a little, trying to control himself. He was obviously halfway through snack-time as I could see goldfish crumbs on his lips. Ms T was talking to him, reassuring him that Mommy would come soon. He reached out for me when he saw me and immediately calmed down. The teacher said he did very well, that he tried to control himself although he would cry now and then. We both praised him for trying to be brave.

I went into the room with him and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. I did my best to engage myself in an art-and-craft book on Bible stories, as Ian merrily pasted stickers, colored activity pages with crayons (everything was blue, his favorite color), and played with cars and shopping carts. He did glance from time to time to see if I was there. Other than that, he seemed perfectly happy to be left alone.

I know of kids who separate easily from their parents, and I do sometimes worry if Ian would have trouble going to preschool this year. But I will have to stop myself from wishing that he is something he is not. He is an individual who thinks and feels apart from me, and I have to respect his situation, even if (and because) I cannot understand it totally. By the grace of God, he will someday find friends and the joy of learning in school, and happily say bye-bye to us–and 45 minutes is as good a start as any.