Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A letter to Nathaniel (Fall 2013)

My dear little boy,

I never thought I would have a blond child. And here you are. People have looked at you and commented on how light your hair is and how unusual it is coming from a child with a Chinese mother. I guess this is a hint that there might be some Dutch blood somewhere in my ancestry back when they colonized Taiwan, huh?

You are a mommy's boy at this point. Sometimes, in my arms, you would lean back and look at me for no apparent reason, as if just so you can peer into my eyes. Flirt. At almost 17 months old, you don't have as many words as your sisters did at the same age. The term you used most, though, is Mama. Ma~ma, you would call in a singsong hi-low tone, sometimes to get my attention, sometimes just for fun. You'd call me from on top of our little indoor slide, as if asking my permission to slide down. You'd call me from a couple steps up our stairs when I accidentally left the stair gate open, as if tell me trouble is afoot if I don't come stop you. You'd call me again and again from the back seat of the car, as if... I don't know, why DO you do it? It is very cute. You don't like it if someone else is in my arms. Jealously would drive you to push the person, or pull their hair while you loudly protests. You don't even like someone taking my place. I sent Lauren into our bed the other day as I shower. You woke up, was not happy seeing her in my spot, and tried to push her off. Child, territorial much?

You love to climb. Evelyn has caught you sitting on top of our high dinner table. Without help, you climbed onto a dinning chair, and then made your way up to the table. You have no problems with stairs, and, if I read you correctly, you placed your sisters' bunk bed ladder and the kitchen stool next on your to-be-conquered list.

You love to play in water. Whenever we start a bath, you'd be the first to report for de-robing, impatiently trying to swing your leg over the lip of the tub. Once in the tub, you fill toys, splash water, kick, stomp, and have a grand time. Water on your face does not bother you a bit. You'd sit there with water drops hanging on your eyelashes, nose, and cheek, look up, and give me this big, happy smile.

I am not sure how interested you are in learning to speak. I have not been able to make you repeat sounds that I make. You have very specific ideas on what words you would like to master, such as hi and bye, please and no, and "go", as in dog in Chinese. Even so, you are able to express yourself quite well through the use of gestures and signs. Formal signs, like more, and your own inventions, such as patting your chest with both open hands to tell me you want, or patting at your bottom to tell me you need a diaper change. And if you need help, you would come grab my hand, lead me over to the specific spot, and pull my hand towards whatever it is you need help with. Though without many words, you do love to sing. Not yet a chatter box, you hum and sing all day long, especially on car rides. More impressively, you've gone from being loud to testing out tunes.
"Baba" from Ba-Ba Black Sheep, and "E-I-E-I-O" from Old McDonald are frequent snippets you repeat. When I sing, you'd stare at my lips, as if studying how I am making the sounds. Last night in bed, all you want is the first line of Ba-Ba Black Sheep. "Ma~ma, baba," you'd order, and I will sing you the lines. "Ma~ma, baba," you'd ask again. Sometimes, you'd switch it up by signing for more. But if I sing another song, you would kick your legs to tell me I got it wrong. So back to Ba-Ba Black Sheep it went.

Other than songs, you also love books and stories. With very distinct preference, too. At bed time, you'd fetch books over for us to read. Sometimes, you'd look for specific pages, or flip through sections you don't like. Favorites include From Head to Toe, Hop on Pop, Dr. Seuss's ABC, and King Bidgood's Bathtub. On the mornings when I have to leave for school early, your daddy can often get you settled in with your sister for a book or two while he takes his shower. I love the sight of you and Evelyn snuggled together in the big green chair, or rather, you falling into her because of the curvature, light streaming in from behind, a book opened in front, and your eyes trained on the pages. Lauren running around in the back ground gathering things from the dresser or playing with a doll.

You love playing with Lauren. You often follow wherever she goes. When your shorter stature prevents you from catching up, you'd stop and call her back. Often times, you'd play chase, her running for you to catch. Being four, she is much bigger and much faster than you, easily overtaking you, which means the chasee is lapping the chaser, yet that never breaks the game. You would continue to run, doing rounds around the house, sprinkling the air with laughter. Sometimes at bed time, you would want to snuggle into bed with her. When you are able to lay still for a minute, you'd turn towards her, close enough to touch noses, and laugh. Except you can't lay still. You'd kick and pull and toss and turn until she calls out to me to "take him away! Take him away!"

You are quite good at learning things from your sisters. You'd happily go "me!" with them when asked who wants certain things. And yesterday, we played a humming game in the car. Evelyn would tell us "ready, set, go!" and everyone would start humming. Whoever needs to take a breath first loses. After a couple of times, you were right there humming with us. By the time we got home, you were going "Go! M~~~". And of course, we need to give them credit for helping you learn how to defend for yourself. If someone is coming for something that you are not willing to give up, you'd instinctively hold it close to your body, turn slightly away from the person, and shake your head no. If the person does not back off, a scream will emit from your tiny body, shrill and ear shattering.

You love animals. Often fascinated by these moving bodies be they big (tigers) or small (caterpillars), close (doggy leaping by my feat) or far (guppies in the fish tank).  You love the iPad. A true digital native, you know how to unlock it, what to do, and already have preferred apps. I can go on and on about every little thing about you. Faults on me. I have neglected these journals and left so much unrecorded, and now, I must stop this ever growing entry.

In your bed, after I turn off the light, we'd sometimes look for the moon when it is extra bright. Side by side, we'd peer through the windows to find the silver disc. If I lean away to look at you, you'd pull me back to make sure I'm seeing the moon as you are. The moon may be beautiful, but it is not more beautiful or magical than this sense of your cheek against mine, and our breath misting up the window in one foggy patch. I love you.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Happy birthday, Lauren

Happy birthday, dear Lauren. Today, you turn four.

You are the little imp who can't help but mug the camera when it's focused on someone else but would hide away if the camera is on  you; who would occasionally feel the need to see how loud you can yell, especially when you are in a car with windows all rolled up; who loves to find your sister's buttons and press them, one by one, deliberately. At home, you are exuberant, quick to laugh and sure of yourself. But out in the public, you are reserved and cautious. When you were little, you would cling to my side. I never needed to worry about you being lost, for you would never go far on your own. This summer, you started to venture out. You would run as far as you dare, laughing all the time, until I beckon you back, or until you are far enough that I must fit between your thumb and index finger when you look back, you would than do your crazy run back, big steps, swinging arms, hair swaying wildly, laughing all the way.

You love your siblings, and I love watching you play mommy with your older sister, or chase with your younger brother. You are quick to defend yourself or hold your ground if someone encroaches on your space or take your things. But you are also willing to let your sister persuade you or keep your brother happy. Often times, you can be reasoned with. You would be on the verge of tears and rein it in, blinking hard, wiping your eyes with the back of your hand, if we present you with a logical reason to do so. It is quite a feat to witness. You are, after all, just four. When the hurt or unjust is too deep for you to resist, you would succumb to emotions and let it out, sometimes even asking to go to the bathroom so you can cry and scream in earnest. But it never lasts too long. Once you are done, you'd wipe your eyes and on with life again.

You have very clear ideas of what you want to achieve, and how you want to do it. You have yet deigned to humor my attempts to get you to practice your letters. You've learned to sign your name, however. When you want to, you will sign your name one alphabet at a time, slowly and deliberately, once, and that's it. No matter how they turned out, you are done. The van's door needs a bit more strength to open than a four year old could easily muster? You pull at it with all your might, using your body weight, straining and leaning away from the van. If one try doesn't work, you pull and pull and pull at it again in quick succession, using your whole being to operate it. Finally, you found that if you leap while you pull, you are able to trigger the door opening sensor in one go. That is how you do it now. With a leap. It is hilarious to watch.

One day you decided that you want to learn to a piano piece, so I taught you Mary had a Little Lamb. An easy piece that mostly uses only three fingers to play. The day we did this, you practiced on the piano by yourself for about 40 minutes. Long after I left your side and refusing your Nanny's request to stop. Over and over you played. Sometimes half-closing the lid so you can see the note name on far end of the piano key, E-D-C, you'd search, placing your finger with beautiful form on the correct keys.

Just four, you are filled with big, big questions. Where did people come from? How did the world start? Who taught the first people how to do things? Why are you a girl and your brother a boy? The scope of your questions are so big I often don't know where to begin, or how to explain it to a preschooler.The questions surprised, challenged, and delighted me. They offered me a glimpse of how you are observing the world, reflecting on what you know, and wondering about how things fit or work together. I've come to recognize your I-have-been-thinking tone, and wait for your question with bated breath not unlike a child on Christmas morning waiting to see what Santa has brought them.

The other day, on our way home from school, you all of a sudden had a scary thought. "Mommy," you cried, and I can hear the urgency in your voice, "what if I don't know how to go home?" "You can call me and I will go pick you up," I told you. "Even after I have a baby and I am a mommy?" you followed. "Even after you have a baby and become a mommy." Silly girl, don't you know that no matter how old you are, no matter what you became, when you need me, I will go and bring you home. We love you. For all your questions, never question that.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dobby's in the house

"I TOLD you someone comes and moves things around."
Lauren lectured as we went in search of her little stuffed panda bear. For a while now, she is convinced that some one comes in the middle of the night to move things around, namely, to put them away. 

I don't understand why it never occurred to her that I am the culprit. The one who, you know, would try to straighten things up after she goes to bed. Like a good house wife doing her bit. Create some structure in an (almost) organized room. When I told her I am the person who "move things around", she refused it. It was not a valid answer. Is it that I just don't look the straitening type? That the laundry may wait a day or two (or five) before they get folded and put away? Is it because I look too relaxed when hurricane Evelyn and cyclone Lauren whips the room into disarray? Should I make more noise when I clean up? Should I do a time sheet and sign in every time I do so? 

It is very cute how she skips over the obvious and came up with a romanticized version of explanation.

We eventually found the panda on the floor of the room covered by two blankets. "See, I told you," Lauren continued, "when I went to sleep, I hug her like this on my bed!" She showed me how she laid in bed with the panda snug in her arms, three inches away from where we found it. "Okay," I told her with a smile, "perhaps Dobby came and moved it. Naughty Dobby."

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

A letter to Evelyn (Fall 2013)

Time goes by. Here and gone. If I don't do something to capture the moments, the present becomes memories that will be easily lost or distorted with time. So, here we are, already fall again.

Evelyn, where and how should I begin. Big E, little e, what begins with E? Six going on seven, hardly waiting to become a teenager. You are still such a little girl, playing adventures and family with your friends (it used to be hedgehog adventures, but since scooting around is a bit hard on a big play ground, you've ditched the hedgehog act and moved on to human adventures). Yet on the same time, princesses are of the past. You can't wait to turn 7 and 8 and on to a teen. Which means you love to put on chapsticks, wear cool cloths, and pretend you have a phone while climb trees and hang on monkey bars. Once, you got five blisters across your palms hanging on the big red wheels during recess. You are so easy to make laugh. Gross bathroom humors gets you, just about every time. I sold you the Captain Underpants series just by mentioning that one of the villain is a giant poop.

Following behind you on our family bike ride last Sunday, I watched as you paddle as fast as your just-about-too-small bike would go just so I can maintain a speed that allows me to keep my balance, your two pig tails streaming back under your pink helmet, I hear your laughter that gets send back with the wind when I say something silly, and my heart just does this strange thing. It feels as if it is growing too large and burns inside my chest. The sight was the pure, innocent childhood writ large. My love for you over flows. But this love is sometimes hard to express, for oh-my do you try me some times. My instructions to you were seldom followed the first time they were given. Raised voice does not guarantee your attention either. I have yelled until I was red in my face with veins throbbing in my neck and got a "Mommy, why are you so loud? Other people will hear," in return. I've clapped my hands so hard when I'm trying to make a point, that my hands stung. What you didn't get is that I was afraid if I don't hit my own hands, I would hit you instead. None of this threatens you though. It does not light any fire under your bum and make you hop to where I want you to hop any faster. You'd be on your meandering way, smelling the flowers and smiling at birds along the way. Which is all fine and well, except it's eight o'clock and you should be getting ready for bed already. Until I finally played the Santa Claus card. If I need to ask you three times before you do what I told you to do, I'll send Santa a note and tell him about it. Oh boy do things finally become more urgent.

You are so anxious to grow up. Asking for your Christmas list, you gave me four items: an iPhone, makeup, high heel shoes, and a wedding dress like gown. No, no, no, and no. You no longer pretend to be a princess, you pretend to be a teenager using my iPod as your pretend iPhone, carrying around a Nantucket nectar bottle as your "coffee".  One afternoon during our vacation, I found myself telling you to hang up on your pretend friend on your pretend phone so you can spend some real time with your real family. Totally did not see that coming. For all that you want to be a teenager, your favorite games are still family and adventures. I am thankful for this. You are still so innocent. Gullible sometimes. Often an easy prey to daddy's tease. Trusting. "For real, Mama, so-and-so told me." Innocent. Stay this way a bit longer, please.

You love to create. To make up a dance, a story, or a song. To draw, to write, to make a necklace. You also love to make up scenarios to question about. "What if there are five dozen people in our house, do we need to get five dozen donuts then?" "What if I need to perform tomorrow and I only know about it today?" The "what if"s can keep coming and coming and coming. Sometimes, there are too many of them for me to parley, and the situations can be so far fetched, I am struck wordless. I don't want you to scare yourself with an endless list of "what if's". What I do want though is for you to keep your imagination and creativity. Keep coming up with new songs and dances. Keep making up these scenarios and spin them into stories.

I often fear that I push you too hard. That I am always asking you to do more, to try harder. Know that it's because I love you. I want you to grow up knowing that you can do more, knowing that you can become better if you want to. Life, sadly, is not a walk in the park. I want you to grow up loving and happy, tough and strong, so that whatever gets thrown your way will get hammered out of the ball park.

Like what I told you, I am your mother. My job is to not only love you and take care of you, but also to make sure you grow up tough and strong.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Happy birthday, my dear baby boy.


My dear baby boy,
Last year this time, I was just getting to know you; Counting your fingers and toes, memorizing your face, and wondering what you would be like once your personality starts to show.
You are a loving, lovable boy. On the days that I work, I would step through the door and see you dropping anything you were holding, your whole face blossoming into a gigantic smile, walking as fast as your legs can carry you (at one, you can't really run yet), coming towards me with an enthusiastic "[h]i~~~~~".  It was one of the best sights and sounds in the world. When we are playing at home, you'd be off on your own for awhile, and then run towards me with your arms outstretched for a "mommy recharge". I love to crouch down to your height and let you plunge into my arms for a tight, tight hug.
You are so small and so young, but you demonstrate such interest and curiosity towards the world. A ball and a bucket, light switches, an open window, the thermostat, a water bottle, my kindle. Any thing can spark  and hold your interest for a long time as your chubby fingers touch, feel, grasp, turn, and flick in all ways imaginable. Every time someone starts to play the piano, you'd run right over to it, tip your toes and reach up to play a few keys. Just a few keys, and you'd come back to the rest of us happy. And books. Oh my do you like books. You vie for your turn when we do bed time readings with your sisters, thrusting a book towards us, pointing at it, opening the pages, demanding that it be read to you now. When we comply, you settle down with a huge grin on your face, happily follow along, looking at the pictures and help flip pages.
You love to play with water, too. Every time I draw a bath for your sisters, you'd race to the side of the tub. You'd reach for my hand for support, and then lift up your chubby leg that is still shorter than the side of the tub in an attempt to climb into it. I could never strip you fast enough as you try to get into the water. Water over your eyes or ears bothers you not. The one day that the weather reached the 80's, I pulled the kiddie pool out. You did not wait until it was filled or for me to take off your shoes. In you step to your sister's delight, onesie, diapers, shoes and all.
You know how to ask for help. You would ask for my hand for support or so that you can take me to where something is out of reach. You would tug at my shirt and than point to my mouth to ask to be nursed. You would take your father's hand to pull something that was stuck fast out so that you can play with it. In this way, you are constructing sentences.
You also know how to say no. You'd brush a hand away, push your sometimes overly passionate sister further, or shake your head vehemently at an unwelcome spoonful of yogurt. Determined, that you are. Determined on your preferences, and determined to do things yourself in your own way. You are learning to climb steps. But instead of climbing the stairs on your hands and knees, you'd rather grip tightly on my hands and scale it. Each step on the stair is higher than your knee. Fazes you not, though. Well, you are a child who was impatient with crawling. And I will not be surprised if one day you decide to bend down and do a forward roll.
All too soon, you are one. I held your hand as you lay beside me and nurse, with your legs tucked, you fit right into my curve. Disregarding those rules on nursing, I made a face at you and watch as your eyes sparkled and the corner of your mouth lift into a smile. All too soon, these moments will be but a memory. But you will be running, jumping, talking, laughing, exploring, learning, growing, and fascinate and amaze us with all the wonderful things that you are and do. We love you, baby boy. Happy birthday.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

I don't want children

One afternoon, we sat chatting about whatever flew into our heads. Evelyn mentioned mommies having babies. I reminded her that mommies need daddies in order to make babies. "Oh, so they have to be married?" she asked. "Well, yes," I chose to answer her, not wanting to confuse her with too many different scenarios, combinations and alternatives. Lauren piped up and said "I don't want to get married."
"Oh, you don't need to decide now," I said, "you can decide way later. But why don't you?"
"Because I don't want any children."
That, was not what I was expecting.
"Oh... why?"
She answered with a shrug, eyes twinkling.
I decided not to press her for a reason.  "Okay... well, you don't need to decide now. You have plenty of time to decide on that." A safe answer I can offer.
Later on, when we were alone, I brought it up again, and asked why she doesn't want children.
She gave me that impish look and that little smile that seems to hide thoughts unsaid. Finally, she came up with "because I don't want to carry them around."
Hm. When I relay this story to others, people often burst out laughing here. Especially if I told them that prior to this conversation, she just asked me to carry her up the stairs.
Yet I must admit that I am a bit unsettled by this little episode. It might be true that the only reason behind her decision to not procreate is because she hates having sore arms. May be not having children, to her, simply means to not have a child balanced on her hip at all times. After all, she is here to witness how I have gotten creative in say picking things off the floor, make dinner, or even wash dishes when her brother won't let me put him down. But I can't help but read more into her response. What she knows about motherhood, she gets mainly from me. What is she sensing from me that makes the idea of children undesirable? Do I exude exasperation? Do I smell tired? Do I seem stressed? Does my life revolving around them seems trite? It is true that I am often short on patience, on sleep, on organized thoughts, on the freedom to act on impulse (fly to Rome on a whim or drive to NYC for a weekend for example).  But I hope she also sees my joy, my contentment, my happiness that stems from them. From having children. I do not need to travel the world to find beauty and excitement. The sight of their smile, the sound of their laughter, the warmth of their hands in mine make my life so much better. They fill my heart with a joy that I was never able to imagine before I became their mother. I hope she knows that. I hope she understands that even while I may look bogged down by the minutiae of daily life, I will not trade motherhood for anything.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Dear Lauren (2012)

My dear Lauren,
This is a long delayed newsletter/look back from mommy. Not because there is little for me to say. There is too many stories of you I can tell, but I fear that by putting them into words, it would not do your exuberance, sweetness, and feistiness any justice.
You have a mind of your own and quite strong willed. It's much harder to coerce you into doing something than coercing your sister. But then, you let your sister talk you into sharing a toy or playing a game. I can say you are not all that into books, often loosing interest if the book is a tad longer. But then, I'd remember that you are only three and are supposed to have the attention span of a toddler, and see you go through a book and retell the story from memory. I can say that you don't need friends as much as your sister, and are often reluctant to approach an unknown child. But then, once you make the connection with someone, you cherish it and talks about it proudly. I can say that you sometimes see your brother as a threat who will definitely come for your toy and break it. But then, you also come to him for comfort and hugs when things aren't going your way. I can say you are still a toddler not that much removed from infancy. But then, you will use big words (since, perhaps, disastrous, probably, prefer, separate...)  and sound logic to show me how much closer you are to starting school than to the crib (that you seldom used anyway).

Even at three, you are still a mommy's little girl. When we are home, you will request my company by holding tightly on my arms while uttering "I want  you to be with me". Bed times are always a big concern of yours. You like mommy nights, and could start asking about it as early as first thing in the morning. "Is this mommy night?" you'd ask. And if I give you a positive answer, you'd smile a reassured smile and be at ease. If not, you'd pout a bit until the next distraction. And my oh my can you pout now. Turning down the tips of your mouth, out comes your lower lip, combined with a very sincere looking frown, you look adorable. It is very hard to be stern when confronted with such a face.

You and your sister has a mostly very lovely and sometimes very combative relationship. You play fabulously well when you accommodate each other's imaginary arrangements (you are in the ocean, she is on the ship), fictional identity (you are Susanna the mermaid, she is Lily the sailor; you are Ohana's mom, she is the gymnastics teacher), and story line (you are hiding from the storm, she is putting up a performance). But when you got into an argument (you want to be a child, she wants you to be an audience), it can escalate all too quickly. The laughter and animated talks turn into shouts (mostly from your sister) and tears (mostly starting with you). You know how to annoy her (tagging along staying very, very close to her for example, or repeat her every sentence), but also how to help her. One afternoon, she dumped all the toys out from a drawer/tray so you two can play with it. Soon, you begin to fight over it. At one point, you had the basket and she was complaining to me about your hogging. You grew angry. Then, I saw you rushing over to her while swinging the tray into a hitting position. "LAUREN!" I yelled at you. You slowed down your pace, looked back in all innocence, lowered the tray in front of your sister and told me "I'm just putting it down." Moments later, the arguing commenced again. I have had enough. Instead of trying to sort things out, I told both of you to put the toys back in. Your sister got really mad and threw a toy. Not acceptable behavior. I grabbed her arm and told her "now you made me really mad. I am taking you upstairs for a time out." I swung around to march her upstairs, but was confronted by you, all 37.5 inches in your frilly pink princess night gown (it was a pajama day, your favorite). Your arms are crossed, mouth was set, not quite blocking me: "now you are making me mad!" Yes. I made you mad. By trying to remove your sister from the scene. The sister who was fighting with you. The scene in which you are both trying to dominate. I was the bad guy. It was very hard for me not to break form and burst out laughing. You saved your sister from time out that day.

Often, we forget how big you are already. Three. I re-enrolled you into school a few months ago thinking that you'll still be in the 2/3 classrooms this fall. Preschool? That's ways off. Silly me. Often, we forget just how young you still are. You can recognize all numbers and most alphabets. Argue and act like a kindergartner. You look forward to the day when you can have drop-off play dates. Set behavior goals for when you are older (I'll stay in my bed when I'm four). Are you only three? Some nights, when mommy and daddy look back on our day, we'd think we did not push you as hard as we push your sister. On other nights, we'd conclude that we asked way more of you than of your sister. I suppose that is the peril of being the middle child. You have an older sibling that we can use as a benchmark. However, you never cease to remind us how distinct and unique you are. You have your humor (bottoms are still the funniest thing in the world, so is your brother), your deep belly laugh, your quirks, and a sweetness all to your own.

I woke up briefly last night as you climbed, as softly as you can, into our bed to lay between your brother and father. This morning, I watched as you slept peacefully with your hands pillowed under your cheek. One of these days, we will reclaim our bed. As for now, I'll enjoy the mornings when I wake up to you and your brother right beside me. Tranquil and beautiful.