Archives for category: Imperfect Mom

Yesterday, I attended my daughter’s preschool monthly parent ed class.

The topic was Unplugging Power Struggles. You know, those delightful little scenarios that have you pulling your hair out on a daily basis? Jan Faull, the speaker, was both enlightening and entertaining, a potent combination that makes all SAHMs glad we chose this career path – if only for one evening.

As usual, I came away feeling rejuvenated and so full of knowledge and information and hope that I was all ready to go forth into the world and become the most emotionally there mother in the universe. I was, in my mind, springing lightly from foot to foot, fists up and rolling, going OKAY WE CAN DO THIS! BRING ON THOSE POWER BATTLES! I’M READY! COOOOOMMME OOOONNNN BITCHES!

You can always predict what happens with this sort of enthusiasm.

After a relatively good night’s sleep (I’d spent an hour training jewelcrafting and mining and cooking. Those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about don’t need to), I woke up this morning still determined and motivated to apply all that I’d learnt. In fact, I was all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed for a challenge, but nothing interesting happened. Rae chose to eat cereal and she chose to wear her jacket and she chose to put on her warm socks. Hmm. C’mon power struggle, wheeerrre aaaare youuuu?

We had a make-up gymnastics class to go to and Rae looooves her gymnastics. Loves it. So she was all singing and humming and talking in the car all the way there, and we get there, we get her into her gear and she goes into the gym thing and they start doing their warm-ups, and I go outside to make coffee as I always do, when not even a minute later, a parent calls out to me.

Oh, m’am? We got some tears here.

I look over and there Rae was, having a Complete. Meltdown.

She is sobbing as though I’d abandoned her, and through her heart-wrenching sobs, are words only her own mother can discern.

Mohhohommmmyyy! IHH-HH-HHT’S NOOOHOHOHOT THE SAAHHAHAME TEEEAAACHHEERRR!?

Raeven, remember? Mommy told you this was a different class and it’s just for one day. Remember?

I DOOOHOHONNN’T L-L-LLIIIIKKEEE HI-HI-HIIIIMMM!

I look over and there was this young man covered in tattooes with metal things sticking out of his nose and ears. Okay, that’s definitely not Coach Christina.

Okay, what do I do? 

Raeven, listen. I can see you’re upset that he’s not Miss Christina but this is only for today. It’s a special day today, and we’ll have Miss Christina again okay? This is just for today?

BUU-HHU-HHUT I DON’T WANNNNNAAA!

I feel a stirring of frustration. Gee-whiz, my daughter is a teacher snob. What is with her? Sheesh. Okay, focus. I take a deep breath, bite back all the threats I want to issue, and look at her squarely in the eye.

Do you want to stay here at gym, or go home?

Tearfully, she looks at me, and looks over at her teacher and a bunch of four-year old strangers.

Do you want to go home?

No…

Do you want to stay?

But I don’t know this…person, she sniffs pitifully.

It’s just for today, sweetie. We’ll get Miss Christina back after today.

More furtive glances at Scary Pierced Teacher Man.

Okay…

And with that, my little girl walked slowly back to her class, and proceeded to sit out almost half the session, shaking her head at Mr Tattooed Man once in a while, saying words I could not hear that made Mr Bitchin’ Body Art leave her alone.

For 40 minutes, I stood, watching, drinking my coffee. The whole time, half of me wanted to yell, “C’MON! YOU’RE WASTING DADDY’S HARD-EARNED MONEY BY SITTING ON YOUR ARSE, YOUNG LADY. STOP BEING A WUSS AND GET TO IT!”

The other half was proud that I’d actually maintained my cool, and gave her those choices as much as I’d hated to drive all the way home again. And that in the end, she’d actually chosen to stay.

And whaddya know, in the last 15 minutes, Rae finally decided to join her class on the trampoline and the back flips and rolls, or whatever else you call the scary-looking maneouvres gymnasts do.

This whole thing with power struggles and letting our kids build their self esteem by gaining some control through choices they can make safely, has not so much to do with the child, as it has to do with you as a parent.

I find it hardest to defer the beliefs and system of values I was brought up on, to what may be more important for my child today, such as her self esteem and her development as a little person.

To reconcile the values of my childhood (eg. not waste money by sitting around during a gym class) and what should be the values of my child’s upbringing (like empathising with her discomfort and obvious fear of new faces) is possibly the biggest hurdle that I, as a visitor here in the US, am facing.

And this makes me wonder: What kind of a parent would I be today if I was still in Malaysia?

When I was first pregnant, and I knew I was going to have a girl, I sat down one evening after another huge meal – half of which I’d proceeded to empty into the latrine 20 minutes later – and thought of a list of things my daughter would NOT wear or do when she became of age NOT to wear or do…things.

First of all, no flouncy, ballroom dresses. I was determined to raise a tomboy, one I would dress in sensible clothes and sensible shoes befitting sensible little girls.

Second, no Barbie dolls or Barney stuff. I don’t know, but Barney gives me the willies. A purple dinosaur with a voice like a grown man trying to be a child? Nuh-uh. Really, I do not get the appeal of some of these children’s shows and characters. Four grown men behaving like lunatics – who can guess which singing group this is?

The thing with the Barbie dolls is, I just think they’re expensive. You buy the doll and then you need the clothes and then Barbie needs a boyfriend, and pretty soon little Barbies and Kens. It just goes on and on, and it just becomes…wasteful. So, no.

Third, no make-up. She will have plenty of opportunities to plaster her skin with product when she gets older.

Of course, the experienced mommies among you now know I was just another naive mother-to-be, thinking that my daughter would be this obedient, programmable little person with buttons I could push to make sure she walked and talked and ate right without protest or tears or kicking AND screaming as though she was being fed spiders.

There is not a day that goes by that my four-year old does not take off the warm, sensible clothes I help put on her so she can climb and run and crawl with ease and comfort throughout the day, and instead don a shiny halter-neck pink cheongsam that barely even fits her (we got it two years ago), or one of the very many pink babydoll dresses with ribbons at the back and the flounciest of skirts – if that is even a word (gifts from my mother-in-law).

By noon, her face and hands are covered in costume makeup, so much so that I sometimes leave them on (to the horror of my in-laws) just so that she wouldn’t need to put too much more on the next day. Which doesn’t really make my task of scrubbing her face clean any easier, but still.

On the good days, her crazy long hair stays organised for about four hours. On the bad, in under two hours, it becomes matted in make-up and yogurt and egg yolk and rice and sometimes, even chapstick she’s managed to get her hands on even though I tell her it’s NOT lipstick and won’t show on her lips.

It don’t matter. It feels like lipstick.

Before we came to the US, she had ONE Barbie, because my cousin had completely disregarded my ‘rules’ and had gotten her a bridal Barbie, no less (thank you very much, Janice). And so, it began. Today, she has around five, thanks to McDonald’s and her friends from school. And three My Little Ponies. A Ponyville tree house. A Hello Kitty doll house. And countless little items on her birthday wishlist because these are things we HAVE to buy because not owning them would mean the end of our fair world. 

What happened? What happened?!

Life happened. She simply became this little girl I myself never was. And while Sky does seem to follow her big sister around a lot, doing everything she’s doing, I won’t be surprised if she turns out to be quite the opposite.

Or one can hope.

Since coming to the US, I have learnt to be a lot more accepting of things. That even though Barbie may be expensive or that Barney’s still as creepy as he was back on Malaysian TV, that we as parents are really powerless when it comes to our children’s likes and dislikes, which really have NOTHING to do with what we ourselves like or dislike. To respect these choices allows us to see our kids for who they are – and perhaps a small preview of the adults they may turn out to be.

Two years ago, I would’ve balked at the idea of ‘allowing’ my daughter to turn into this girly girl, so full of colour and expression, singing Twinkle Twinkle on her Barbie karaoke machine or strutting around with a tray on her mary janes pretending to be a waitress at a restaurant where she gets to wear her little skirts and a ponytail “all the way down and not up high”. Today, I simply shake my head and tell my husband, “This is all your side of the family.” I would’ve rather she be sitting quietly in her warm clothes, reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace or finishing a 5000-piece puzzle or beating her father in chess. Alas, my daughter isn’t an 80-year old man.

And today, neither do I want her to be.

Still, I have a huge problem with the thought that she might turn out to be a cheerleader or someone who might want to enter a pageant or – God forbid – American Idol. If, and when, that happens, I have only one choice, and that is to cheerlead, or enter a pageant or enter American Idol myself.

Just to see what the fuss is all about, you know.

Maybe the shock and embarassment will make her change her mind.

Maybe my daughter will grow out of all this foolish girliness.

Maybe she won’t.

At least it’ll be interesting. 

A lifetime ago, after I’d gathered up the remaining pieces of my life following five years of abuse by a man who, on hindsight, might very well have been mentally unstable, I became a ghost.

For a while, I started to believe that I would be alone for the rest of my life, despite being surrounded by more people than ever.

My abrasive lifestyle began to show in the rings under my eyes and the sallowness of my skin. On my expanding waistline and the jaundiced tips of my fingers. My breath stank as much of cigarette ash as it did of abusive language. The more depressed I became, the more I raged against my body and my soul, battling anything that was strong and healthy and wholesome. Unknown to me, my self esteem had been ripped apart and turned to dust. Every shred blown away without a trace that it had ever existed.

And I begun to waste away.

Of course, nobody who knew me then, knew I’d been that unhappy. I didn’t know, how should others? I thought myself Happy-Go-Lucky Jenn. The good-time girl, living the good life. Jenn, who never took anything too seriously. Jenn, who could still laugh in the face of danger and less than RM100 left in the bank with a RM5k debt.

Jenn, the happiest girl on earth.

Two things kept me going: My job and my friends. I would have loved to add my mother but she had her own problems.

Even after I met and fell in love with Lokes, my self esteem never fully returned. Like an absent parent, she stayed away, unable to face the child she’d abandoned. Each time Lokes and I had a disagreement, I was sure that he would leave. Or worse, that he would beat or humiliate me so I would once again be proven right. The gashes of a battle fought long before, reopened through no fault of his. A cavernulous soul impossible to fill.

But I was half full instead of half empty.

Until June 6th 2002.

In the wee hours that Thursday morning, in a pristine white (overpriced) maternity ward in Pantai Hospital, I opened my eyes and found myself shivering under a thermal blanket. My teeth clattered as my eyes adjusted frantically to the darkness, as though emerging from a freezing lake into the night.

Once I could see, I found my husband in a corner. He stood up instantly as I stirred. Up close, his eyes were red with lack of sleep and worry.

Hey baby. How are you?

C-c-c-cold. W-w-why a-am I-I sh-sh-shivering?

It’s the drugs. You’re under a thermal blanket. It’ll wear off soon, the doctor said.

O-o-k-kay.

And then I caught a small movement. And then a sound. A whimper, as if to say.

Here I am, Mommy.

And there she was. A small pink bundle placed squarely in the middle of little transparent plastic bed, no bigger than a book box, right next to me.

Is that…?

Lokes came over and sat gingerly next to me, my overnight backpack still slung over his right shoulder.

I-i-is s-she o-o-k-kay?

Yes, she’s fine.

A wet gurgle popped, as if in agreement. And then Lokes leaned over to Raeven. I could not decipher the look on his face. Is he happy? Is he ecstatic? Why isn’t he ecstatic? Or taking pictures? And why can’t I talk without shattering my teeth into a million pieces?

W-w-we’re p-parents, I finally managed.

Yea.

That was all he said. And without another word, Lokes kissed me on my forehead, because that was the only part of my body that wasn’t under the blanket. And then I turned and looked at my daughter’s shock of black hair. Before I could ask Lokes to pick Raeven up and bring her to me, the quivering darkness came and led me away.

Ideally, self esteem has to come from one’s self. But what if the only way you could get it ALL back, is if you stopped thinking of yourself, and began thinking of others?

What if the only way you could feel self worth, was to make yourself worth it?

Not just by the money you earn or how you look, but by how you affect the people around you, and the lengths you’re willing to go through for someone else, starting with your own family?

Nothing makes me prouder about me today than my two girls. I look at them and wonder about all the things I did, and how I could still deserve these blessings, not just one, but two.

I wonder about the things they will see, and the people they will become. The friends they will make, and the people they will touch long after Lokes and I are gone.

My girls are here because somewhere, somehow, I’d taken one shaky step towards getting my self esteem back, without even realising it. By embracing the great unknown that is motherhood, I’d invited it back.

No hard feelings.

All scores settled.

And it was as though she’d never left.

My sense of smell is returning.

‘Coz I smell something foul in the room.

Like a forgotten diaper.

NPR has an interview out with Slate’s Emily Bazelon on the latest news headlines about daycare being bad for kids thus adding to the whole mommy guilt epidemic.

This reminds me of the time I sprained my ankle when I was about ten. The doc told me to walk on it after a while. You know, just to get the stiffness out.

My mother, who apparently moonlit as a chiropractor, said that the important thing was that I had to feel pain. If I felt nothing, I wasn’t doing it right.

“You have to walk where it’s most painful! Pain means it’s healing!” were her exact words.

This logic, deeply flawed as it is, has survived millenia, to be the holy grail of supermom wannabes.

The character Liza Hamilton in Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a classic example. A woman who works 18 hours a day for her nine children and husband, never speaks above a hush to get her point across, never complains or gets ill (even if she does, nobody knows), is so miserable to be alive because she believes only pain and suffering will earn her a place in mommy heaven.

Today, moms have it all. We have our careers. We have our machines. In Malaysia, no new mother in her right mind dares to wing it without a freshly minted maid from Indonesia or Cambodia or the Philippines.

But as privileged as we are, deep down, we are all Liza Hamiltons. We want to do it all because we’re just not suffering enough. And because we’re not suffering enough, there grows a ball of guilt in our guts, guilt that’s fed by statistics and studies and news reports that keep telling us that we’re NOT doing enough and NOT doing it right.

That until and unless we let our inner Liza Hamiltons take over, we will never be real mothers.

Look at what happened when someone decided to have cocktails at a playdate. And God forbid that we take an hour off to read a book while the kids watch The Wiggles. Drop your kids off at a daycare so you can earn enough to feed them? What were you thinking?!

If Liza were here today – and real – she would be pursing her lips, shaking her head and fanning the guilt fires with her bellows.

What I wanna know is who commissions these researches anyway? And what the hell use would such data be to parents who have to work? Are there stay-at-home parents out there who send their children to full-time daycare so they can sit around on their asses all day? Is this US$200 million study to tell those parents a thing or two?

I mean, why not use some of that money to fund research on specific kinds of activities and curriculum working parents can use to engage their children after work? Or how about a study on how to improve daycare centers, as mentioned in the ABC article? Or a study on what working parents can do to supplement or neutralise, if any, ‘negative effects wrought by mediocre daycare?

Nobody decides to have kids and then spends money to screw them up unless you’re Courtney Love. We all do what we can to make ends meet, and to be the best parents we can be. I say take to heart the positive aspects of this study, and use the negative stats as a reminder to check and recheck the daycare your child is in.

Do your research. Trust your instincts. Make it work. That’s more than what I, a self-professed SAHM, can claim to do!

Woke up 7.30am.

Appeased crying toddler.

That time of the month.

Dropped husband off at work.

Bought bread for sandwiches.

Appeased crying toddler.

Made sandwiches.

Put crying toddler and whining preschooler in car.

Picked up friend and another toddler.

Appeased crying toddler.

Realised GPS thingie is not in car.

Called annoyed husband for directions.

Appeased crying toddler.

Finally reached playdate.

Ate lots of cake.

Not appeasing wailing toddler.

Ate more cake.

Put sobbing toddler and whining preschooler in car.

Packed up friend and her toddler.

Not at all trying to appease screaming toddler.

Reached home.

Surrendered completely to on-going toddler meltdown.

 

Wishing for a cigarette.

Some days, you just don’t get to win.

Driving home from gymnastics yesterday.

R: That was fun! I wish we could play longer.

Me: I’m glad you liked it. We’ll come back next week.

R: Yay!

Me: I saw you on the trampoline. That looked like fun!

R: Yea!

Me: You will need to try and keep your legs straight next time though.

R (annoyed) : I know, mommy!

R (perks up): I liked the rolling thing, and the high thing where I could pretend I was Ariel!

Me (hopelessly lost because I wasn’t paying attention): Er..uhuh?

R: Thanks for taking me to gymnastics, Mommy.

Me: You’re most welcome. Do you prefer soccer or gymnastics?

R (without hesitation) : Gymnastics!

Me: Well, you have one last soccer class next week.

R (matter-of-factly) : You can cancel soccer, Mommy.

Me: Why don’t we go for the last one?

R (annoyed again) : No! I don’t wanna!

Me: But-…

R (getting angry) : NO!

Me: Okay, okay…but you will need to learn swimming when summer’s here.

(more annoyed) : No I don’t wanna!

Me: Well you need to learn to swim so you can be safe in the water, sweetie.

R (getting angrier) : No I don’t wanna, Mommy!

Me: Why?

R: The water is scary!

Me: If you know how to swim, it won’t be scary anymore.

R (threatens to cry) : No Mommy!

Me: Well…you need to learn anyway so you can swim with mommy.

R (suddenly intrigued) : Huh?

Me: Yea! So you can swim with mommy (throws in more incentive). Like Ariel!

R: Mmm…(obligingly) okay…

Me (deftly changes the subject): Well I’m glad you liked gymnastics.

R: Yea! I really did!

The topic of adoption once again graced our drive-home conversation this evening.

And as in the past, the subject was met with a mixture of incredulity and guilt, for Lokes is like most Malaysian men when it comes to ideas about raising another person’s child: That by not adopting, he is actually doing the child a favour because:

1. he will never love him or her as much as as his own children so that will be just cruel

2. he will be taking away the chance that this child may have better parents out there waiting for him

I know. It helps that I’m usually slightly drunk when the topic comes up, or I would not be calmly blogging this now but a weepy, drippy mess shaming my husband into admiting that he’s nothing but a selfish, heartless bastard.

Now everyone has a right to their own opinion about adoption. Not everyone feels the need to raise a kid to feel that one has contributed to humankind. God knows that there’ve been many times I’ve wanted to stop raising my children because I think four years is quite enough contribution. Adoption is just not for everyone. It’s a huge responsibility and commitment that a couple without sound financial backing, and sounder minds, should never undertake.

Why do I want to adopt? I’m 33 and am still of child-bearing age. I have no health problems that are stopping me from making another baby. God – and husband – willing, I could have another. And would.

But.

What would be the point?

We don’t need a third child. The whole world knows I have trouble handling just the two. The money situation isn’t really improving since yours truly has not written her bestselling smutty novel yet.

So why would I want to do an Angelina Jolie all of a sudden?

To be honest, I really do not know. Perhaps if Lokes were to miraculously see my point and agree with me, and we are all of a sudden on the road to adopting a child, I would most likely chicken out and persuade him to, instead, get a parakeet.

I mean, even the thought of it scares me at the moment. Three kids below the age of five? I will change my blog URL to TheInsaneMom.

And yet, it is such a practical idea. 

If, five years down the road, when I’m not able to conceive safely anymore, when Rae and Sky are all grown up and not so cute anymore, when I’m approaching 40 and we have a little money set aside, and we want one more shot at being new parents: Why would we need to make a new baby when the world is practically overproducing?

Why would I want to subject myself to hormonal therapy in order to conceive or ensure safe passage for my future child, if I could simply ensure safe passage for one who’s present?

Because I want to? Because I can?

Surely that can’t be the basis of one’s decision to have a child.

Every year, millions of unwanted or unplanned children are born in the world.

And yet, people spend millions of dollars to conceive their own.

So, the question is once again: For those of us who already have children, and want more, what would be the point?

Because I can find no good answer for it, I am willing to consider adoption. It may be a weak reason to some but I think it is as good a place as any to start.

If nothing else, it is a practical one.