Archives for category: Imperfect Family

Around a year and a half ago, I blogged about why my parents should not be raising my kids.

It is an opinion I’m sure not many people agree with, given how Malaysian society is all about family support and all that. In fact, it even sounded a little cruel.

A few days ago, before the arrival of my in-laws, Lokes and I talked about the importance of a grandparent’s role in their grandchildren’s lives. Given my beliefs, this is a hot-button subject. And yet, after all that, I still believe that there is an undeniable value that grandparents bring to the overall upbringing of one’s child.

Read on.

Having lived here in the US for over a year, I’ve witnessed a sad fact in American society (which may be common knowledge), and that is that people here generally do not care a great deal about their elders (and vice versa).

While I do know quite a few moms who are in constant touch with their own parents, the latter’s presence in the lives of the former’s children is one of cordial civility, with bouts of affection demonstrated during Christmas and Thanksgiving via gifts, postcards and emails from a tolerable, respectful distance. Visits are kept at a minimum and as short as possible, and phone calls are few and far between. Independence asserted. Privacy understood. Respect maintained. An arrangement I myself appreciate on many levels.

Want to know how it’s done in Malaysian Chinese society?

The moment one’s baby is born, one’s parents and in-laws descend en masse upon one’s household like hens fluffing their feathers importantly, clucking orders on all things maternal, feather-dusters at the ready. Add to the mix a superstitious confinement lady for one month and a girl of 17 (or so your agent says) from Indonesia, herself a mother of two, and you have a cacophony of females in the house, one contradicting another on the best way of placing a sleeping infant without flattening the back of its head and thus cursing it to a life of flatheadedness, without accidentally suffocating it.

One month, dear readers.

At least

As horrific as this may sound, such stifling, all-encompassing support is a comfy arrangement for the new mother. For one, she has the choice of going back to work without worrying about daycare. For families who depend on dual incomes, this is more than just a convenience. It is necessity.

While both camps of thinking have their own nice little plusses, there is one intrinsic value of having the grandparents around that I fully agree with, and that is by involving our own parents in the raising of our children, we are teaching our children to involve us when we face our twilight years.

Don’t get me wrong. Malaysia is not immune from cruel abandonment and neglect of senior citizens by their own children. Such plights are published almost on a daily basis in our Chinese newspapers (such is the level of what is considered news back home. This and people being eaten by snakes). But by and large, I believe, estrangement from one’s parents is a sin more serious in Malaysian society than in America.

And I’m not saying I want to impose upon Rae’s or Sky’s lives in the future. Nor am I suddenly recanting my earlier views about grandparents being not suitable for raising kids. But to be able to have my in-laws or parents over for a few months a year so that the kids might appreciate them, and hence appreciate our love for them is itself I think a crucial lesson in life.

For it is unfathomable that I may never see my children until and unless invited, as though I am but a friend. It is incomprehensible that I will deny my in-laws or my parents a chance to play an active role in my kids’ lives.

And while I will strive very hard not to be a burden and to keep out of their hair as best I can, it is inconceivable that I might be raising children who will not give a whit about their own parents once independence is gained and when we’re no longer needed.

Is such independence a natural next step in evolution? Is it enlightenment? Is this what it means to be adult?

If so, it is quite sad. What does that make us if we do not care for our old? What kind of principles will we impart on our children when we cast away those we do not need?

And so, I shall face the next six months, and all other six-month visits in the future, with this purpose in mind. That by showing my children how we welcome our elders into our lives, that hopefully in the future, they will welcome us into theirs.


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Didn’t really have the mood to post anything today. Also didn’t have much to blog about.

Took the girls for storytime at the library today, and then spent the afternoon reading and basking in the love of my babies. They never fail to make me feel loved just when I need it most, especially with their sudden hugs where they sort of throw themselves around my legs. Especially Skyler, who only comes up to my lower thighs. I’ll find her suddenly in between my legs, tripping me up sometimes, and she doesn’t care. She just grabs on for a moment, pressing her little face hard onto my thigh, as if to say, “Here you are, you chubby pasty leg of Mommy! Where DID you go?!”

This is what having a family means. Don’t get me wrong. I love friends. But family = unconditional love.

Thanks for all the kind posts (so glad you’re here, Nis!), they really made me feel all better.

*yawn* Must…finish…Steinbeck…tonight!

My friend Min from the SAHP Malaysia Yahoo group was just featured in The Star (one of two leading national English papers in Malaysia) where she was interviewed regarding her hobby – sewing – that she’d recently turned into a business.

Branded Mama Min, these handsewn traditional games, some of them native to Malaysia, will take most Malaysians who are reading my blog down memory lane. I’m talking Five Stones, Snakes & Ladders, Checkers and the like.

Reading the article did the same to me. Suddenly, I remembered taking long post-dinner walks down the road where my mom’s ancestral home was in Batu Gajah. The street was line with Saga trees, and they littered tiny hard red seeds that begged to be picked. And we would, gathering them by the dozens and using them generously in two games: Seven Stones, except that instead of small rocks, we would ask Mom to sew sacks filled with the seeds as they were softer on the hands; and this game the name of which escapes me. It is not unlike a game boys used to play with bottle caps. We would throw a bunch of seeds on the floor and then find two seeds between which we would ‘draw’ an invisible line with our pinkies without touching either of the seeds. This was called ‘marking’ the seeds. After the ‘marking’, we would need to hit one of the seeds with the other by flicking them with our fingers. If we succeeded, we could keep the seeds. The objective was to collect as many of the seeds as possible.

These two were easily my favourite two games because firstly, my mom taught it to my sis and me. And for many evenings, it locked our small family in fierce friendly battles for those blasted saga seeds.

Mom, because she’d been playing the game for God knows how long, was the reigning Champion of the Saga Seeds, whereas dad, the only man in the family, would be the undisputed loser. He’d blame it on the fact that his pinkies were the largest in the family and therefore, could not possibly mark the seeds properly without touching them, whereas Mom, with her long, elegantly manicured digits, had the advantage of narrow, sharp nails with which she could mark all the closest seeds (that were the easiest to flick and hit).

And when it came to Seven Stones, dad’s hands were again his bane. The man just could not catch. How it goes is that after you finished each match, you are given a bonus round where you have to throw all seven ‘stones’ up in the air and then try to catch as many as possible using the back of your hand. To do so, you’d need to sort of curve it into a bowl, the way traditional Thai dancers do, so as to catch as many of the seven as possible.

After that, you’ll need to send them up again, before trying to catch every one of the stones that’d made it on the back of your hand, to finalise the score. Obviously, the more you caught, the higher your score.

The problem was that Dad simply could not ‘curve’ his hand as flexibly as we ladies could. Because they were taut and hard, the tightly-packed sacks would often bounce off with ridiculous frequency. Often, he’d end up without even one stone. It was both painful yet hilarious to watch.

And that is the undeniable value of such games: their ability to bring the family together. Not only do they cost nothing to own, they were ingenious in their simplicity yet rich in the lessons they taught, from simple arithmetic to the importance of teamwork. Most of all, they were fun.

I wish I could share with Rae the joy those saga seeds had brought us. You know what? Perhaps we could substitute them with acorns. Fall is on its way.

Watch out, Lokes. Let’s see how those chubby, soft hands do as we open up our own chapter of The Champion of the Acorns!

After my wonderful weekend of rest and relaxation, I am once again at peace with the world.

And that’s no small feat. I remember just last week when the slightest small thing would tick me off. Another spot on the carpet. Rae not finishing her meals. Skyler’s incessant whining.

Today, I am suddenly Mother Teresa. I woke up smiling and ready to take on lions. I sang and danced and hugged the girls. Nothing was wrong, and everything was good.

The one thing I used to get really irritated about was Rae’s loitering, especially when we’re about to go out. She loiters down the stairs. She fiddles with her sandals, her mind most likely on some other planet. She stops to explore the garage. Last week, it would’ve made my head boil. But today, I simply ignored it. It’d never occured to me to do that.

That’s my daughter, I’d even rationalised. She loiters.

Lokes though, looked as though he was on the verge of collapse. Had trouble waking up this morning after two days of intensive parenting.

“You look like crap,” I’d told him on the way to work.

He simply grunted behind his Raybans.

“Is everything okay?” I asked, genuinely worried that he might not come home this evening.

“They’re just…so loud,” he mumbled.

I muffled a grin.

Since I was in such good spirits, I even signed up for more Meetups, to make MORE new friends. I find the best way to know a place is through its people, and so, I packed the girls up this morning to meet some “Redmond/Eastside” moms at a park we’d never been to. Meadow Park is a secluded little place tucked in between residences off Redmond/Woodinville Road. Met Julie and Whitney and Lana (?), all moms to newborns and preschool-aged kids, which is perfect for Rae. Talked about nursing and babies and schools.

It was just nice to be meeting people again.

Sometimes, I wonder when I’ll really find someone I can connect with in the US. It’s not easy to ‘make friends’ at this stage in life when you have so many responsibilities and so little time. When I see how easily some of the women I’ve met have become friends with others, I cannot help but feel a tiny pang of jealousy, and I begin to miss my friends back home. I mean, it’s been seven months and last Saturday was my first day off. How conducive can that be for a fledgling social life?

And then I tell myself that it’s only been seven months. Does time matter for real friendships to foster? Perhaps.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m foreign. Like, where on earth is Malaysia anyway? For all they know, I might be come from a long line of barbaric headhunters.

Well, I most certainly am not.

Before we came to the US, I had envisioned a lot of things about our new life here.

Some of these things didn’t really pan out.

Firstly, we thought the weather would always be cool and windy. I knew about the famous Seattle drizzle (or ‘light rain’ as the Americans call it here) and didn’t mind it as long as it was cold. But NOONE told me how hot summer would be. And I come from a country where it’s a 100 degrees all year long! Humid and hot is bad enough. Dry and hot is just…it saps you. And it hasn’t ‘drizzled’ in more than a week. Still, not a cloud is in sight. COME ON!

Secondly, I’d totally expected to lose weight because I thought it would be hard to get hold of the ingredients needed to make the dishes I like. Malaysians love their hot and spicy cuisine and I for one cannot live without my curries and braised stuff. Well, it turns out that one CAN get most of ‘the stuff’. Suffice to say, I am feeding my family, and me, better than I should.

Thirdly, I had expected to meet a lot more Malaysians. So far, I know two, and both I met from back home. And it’s been what, Six months? I’d heard that there are like 200 Malaysians working for Microsoft or are at least in the Seattle area. Where the hell ARE all of you?

Which brings me to this time I went to the beach with the kids and a Taiwanese friend of mine. It was a Friday and man, was it PACKED. It was a miracle we could find a spot at all.

So we finally settled between like five other picnic parties under some shade and as we were setting up, I could not help eavesdropping on a group of Asian women next to us. And as I was slathering sunscreen on the girls, words in English spoken in a familiar accent came wafting towards us. I was like this hungry crazy woman, trying to catch more of it by inching closer, stealing glances and wondering obsessively if I should go and introduce myself and ask if she was Malaysian. 

Since we were just seated next to them, I’d caught much of the conversation (Mia, my friend, must think I’m such a nosey parker). The Malaysian-sounding lady was Chinese, and looked like she was about seven months pregnant, and was giving her friends a crash course on all the things we are forbidden as Chinese to partake in when ‘with child’.

“…especially yellow watermelon! Anything yellow, we cannot eat! Yes, tar-boo!” she said, and none too softly so I didn’t really have to rubberneck at all.

I am almost certain she is Malaysian. And judging from the subject matter, I am positive she’s Chinese. We have quite a few pregnancy taboos encompassing not only nutrition but also practices. I didn’t know about the yellow food thing except perhaps for pineapple and that’s because it contains high enzymes, but I was forbidden from eating any form of beans or sticky rice because my child might come out ‘sticky’ and in Cantonese, the word for ‘sticky’ also means ‘stupid’.

I was also banned from sewing on my bed. Not that I sew a lot (lest you think I’m a mom from the 50s) but I remember having bought a cross-stitch hanging of the alphabet I’d intended to make for Rae but because my mother-in-law had (many times) voiced her concerns over my sewing anything at all, particularly on the bed, I’d given it up. Apparently, whatever shape I’d sewn would appear as a scar on any given part of my baby’s body. So in this case, Rae might’ve been born with some big red letters on her bottom or worse, her face.

The thing is, I never took any of these taboos seriously. But I’d observed them (miserably) nonetheless, because I am Chinese. To do otherwise would be disrespectful both to my elders AND unborn children.

“This is not for you! This is for your baby! Imagine having to live with alphabets on your face for the rest of your life!”

Despite having witnessed the turn of several centuries, we Chinese still insist on holding on to beliefs and customs that have been time and again been proven to be nothing but utter nonsense. It is that paranoid kiasu (which means “scared to lose” in the Chinese Hokkien dialect) mentality of “you never know!”.

Imagine having been given this heirloom of say, two enormous wooden chairs from like the Ching dynasty or something, and your mother says because it has been in your family for generations, it is now your duty to carry them into perpetuity. And whaddya know, it also brings luck and good health and wards off evil spirits.

The problem is, you have this Zen, minimalist thing going at home. And boy, do those chairs NOT fit in. What do you do? You stick them in the garage somewhere, hoping your mother doesn’t visit in a while. Or in the guest room, although it’s super creepy expecting your friends to sleep acrosss from two chairs that don’t look like they’ve been occupied since having been removed from The Forbidden City.

You can’t auction them off because you will be cursed if you do. You can’t hide them because it’s disrespectful. You can’t really use them because they’re hideous. And because you KNOW all the intents and purposes of OWNING them (good luck, duty, the warding off of evil spirits etc), you can never, EVER get rid of them.

Until the time comes for your kids to get them. And that is the real reason why those chairs will still be passed on down for generations.

Like Chinese taboos. Since you’ve suffered through the ordeal of having them, it is your solemn duty (and only fair), that you pass them on. Don’t want your kids and grandkids to miss out on all the good luck, do you?

Since we’d come to the States, I’ve become a little more, um, religious than I used to be.

In that I would make sure to pray, especially with the girls at bedtime. I figured that now would be a good a time as any to introduce to Rae the concept of Someone being up there Somewhere, looking out for us – even though Daddy thinks it’s more of just an unfortunate human condition when things don’t work out.

Strangely, Rae has never asked me who this God was and why it is we always ended our prayers ‘in Jesus’ name’. Granted we’ve never been to church or I’ve never read her the Bible, although she does have a picture one she thinks is a story book so Jesus is probably as real to her as Peter Rabbit or Ariel. And I’ve never actually explained to her why it is we pray even. It was just something we did before sleeping, like brushing our teeth and reading a story.

Oh, we pray for the usual stuff. Bless everyone we know, especially Daddy when he flies. Bless little Skyler because she’s little. Bless Raeven so she’s also safe and doesn’t make Mommy too angry too much of the time. Bless Mommy with more patience. Bless our family and friends all over the world. We used to name everyone I could think of. It just got too long and by the time we got to Daddy’s second aunty in Teluk Intan, Skyler would be pulling her hair out, and I’m not even kidding about that. That’s what she does when she’s REALLY bored and Mommy’s got her in a gridlock because ‘praying time is a serious time’.

The one thing I really appreciate is how Daddy, the self-proclaimed atheist in the family, actually sits through the whole process. I always expect him to slip quietly out of the room but most of the time, he just sits there quietly, looking at both his daughters with their heads bowed, eyes closed, and their hands folded in prayer (you should see Skyler, she doesn’t quite know how to lace her fingers through properly so her little digits are like, all over the place – very cute).

And he even pays attention.

One time, as I was going through the ‘bless list’, he even interrupted.

“You forgot to bless Raeven!” he whispered loudly. He sounded shocked even, this man who believed that religion was a psychological catch-all for when human beings rationalise the unrationalisable, and how science explains the unexplainable.

Although I don’t think Lokes is ready to thump a bible yet, I think it’s sweet that he tries to respect my beliefs. Of course, during many of our ‘debates’, I have reminded him more than once “DO YOU KNOW I’M GOING TO HELL BECAUSE I MARRIED YOU?! I AM UNEQUALLY YOKED!”

Perhaps one day, he might even send the kids to Sunday school as per my request some years back and sit with me at the back of a church, interrupting me when I forget to ‘bless someone’.

You never know.

Finally, finished with all the editing and fine-tuning and what not!

A little background: The Jenn & Lia Podcast is a tiny little Malaysian talk show with women, particularly mothers, on a range of topics from parenting to relationships to cooking, for women of all ages and professions.

Our guests are drawn from Lia’s Yahoo group members at the SAHP Malaysia community (please join!) and we started the show with the topic of how parenting can change your life – and not always in a good, tidy manner!

This debut podcast is for women who are planning to have kids and want to know what to expect. Our guests for this show are Min, a 30-something work-from-home mother with a six-year old daughter in kindergarten, and a two-year old son, and Topaz, a Malaysian stay-at-home mom living in New York with two little girls, one eight-months old and the other four. Lia, my co-host, is a mother of twin boys and another 14-month old boy.

You can post feedback to the podcast here or at the SAHP board.

Click here (.wma file so you will need Windows Media Player) to listen (or from the Shockwave player on the right of this blog – right-click to download but be warned, it’s about 53MB in size!) and be sure to comment on the show so we can improve it (I know it’s very rough and amateurish, but that IS the nature of podcasting!)

Just to let y’all know that I’ll be gone with the family for our first official vaca in the US tomorrow, so no updates for a while. Hopefully I’ll come back rejuvenated (right…) and full of stories of our road trip.

FYI, we did our first Jenn & Lia Show Skypecast yesterday entitled “And Baby Makes Three” and it went really well. Not without a few technical difficulties, but I for one really had fun (Skype rocks!). We had a good discussion with Min and Topaz, our two guests from SAHP Malaysia (which Lia started!), where we discussed the realities of having kids, the challenges a stay-at-home mom faces, and more.

I’m gonna be editing and doing all those lovely post-production work today when I get the time. Hopefully can get it live by end of the day!