Bringing up bébé – the Singaporean way

I don’t know about you but the arrival of my first child was a huge shock to my system.

After that long struggle with infertility, after the many treatments and procedures, we were all ready for our baby boy to join us. Well, we were as ready as one could be – afterall, I don’t really think that anyone can say that they are well and truly prepared to be parents.

And so, the shock. There was resentment, sadness, stress, frustration. There were many, many moments when I burst into tears and sank to the floor of my baby’s room.

Part of it was the lack of sleep, for sure. Exclusively breastfeeding my child meant that I had to sleep in three-hourly chunks. My entire life was broken down into three-hourly chunks. Add to the fact that anxiety over being a first-time mother – am I producing milk? Is he latching properly? Did he drink enough? Are there enough wet diapers? – made me sleep poorly. Nap when baby naps? Hah! (He didn’t nap much.)

Then, there was the sudden realisation that this mewling, helpless, tiny being was entirely dependent on me for survival. What if I didn’t know what I was doing? If he wasn’t sleeping (my first-born hated sleep with a vengeance – even as a newborn!), was his development ruined? Why was he crying? How can I make him stop?

In the days and the months of his life early on, it was just me and him alone in the house. I had no help, my mother was preoccupied with my nephew and we hadn’t had a helper yet. And so, I had to take on the roles of mother and wife and housekeeper all by myself.

That made me miserable. I was struggling to get used to caring for an infant and trying to get everything else done at the same time. Perhaps it was postpartum depression, I wouldn’t know. I had no idea, nobody ever told me that I would feel this way. I had assumed that once the baby was here, I would be glowing with maternal love and motherhood would come naturally to me.

It took me more than 10 weeks before I emerged from the cobwebs.

Thankfully, that gave me enough time to enjoy my newborn before I went back to work. And in that respect, I was really grateful that I had 16 weeks of maternity leave. Those 16 weeks were not only to help me recover from the physical aspect of the birth, they were necessary for my mental and emotional health. I simply cannot fathom how I would have been like if I had to go back to work a month or two or even three after the birth. My anxiety levels would have been through the roof, and don’t even get me started on the mum guilt.

Is 16 weeks enough? To be perfectly honest, I think six months would have been ideal. At four months, my babies were still itty bitty and dependent solely on my breast milk for sustenance so I felt so stressed at work, trying to find time (and space) to express. But then again, even the USA does not even mandate paid maternity leave – 16 weeks is great compared to that.

When I went back to work, I was lucky enough to have both sides of the family pitch in to help with caregiving. And when my son turned 28 months – and had a baby brother by then – we enrolled him in the childcare centre at my workplace. We chose to do so because, honestly, we decided that it was better than having our littles stay home with grandma and do nothing. They can pick up social, verbal and academic skills by being in school – and we have not had an ounce of regret since then.

It was a no-brainer: the school’s proximity ensured convenience in dropping him off and picking him up, and the costs were really reasonable. In addition to the basic $300 childcare subsidy that we receive from the government, we were also eligible for an employee subsidy.

This meant that we weren’t working just to earn enough to pay childcare fees! Plus – and that is a big PLUS – we were able to top up our boys’ Child Development Accounts after we had received the Baby Bonus ($6,000 during our time, it’s apparently $8,000 these days!) so the government matched it dollar for dollar. That sum of money has been used to pay off their childcare centre fees.

I know that when the Baby Bonus was first launched, many Singaporeans complained that the government was trying to bribe us to have children. There were grumbles of how $6,000 is not enough to bring up a child. I was probably one of them, heh.
But I will eat my words here and say that as a sandwiched middle-income group, the $6,000 and subsequent dollar-for-dollar matching programme has come in very useful. Will I have kids just for that $6,000? Nope. But as somebody who’s always wanted to have kids? Yes, that money helps, more than I could possibly have imagined.

Looking back on our five-year parenting journey, I sometimes wonder aloud to my husband if we would have kids all over again, given what we know now. Honestly? I would. It’s tough, exhausting, humbling, frustrating. But it is also amazing and joyful.

I wouldn’t change a single minute of it.

Last Night

I didn’t sleep very much last night. Whatever precious hours of slumber I managed to slip into weren’t restful either.

After nursing a hacking cough for days with no end in sight, the husband had been relegated to sleep in the study. Plus, thanks to another onset of gout, we couldn’t have him hobbling in the dark between rooms in response to calls for daddy.

That left me – with a 3 kg mini-watermelon and 12 kg of miscellaneous pregnancy bodily add-ons – to tend to the girls throughout the night.

Another bigger (yes, there are actually bigger things than a 38.5-weeks pregnant woman) reason that left me sleepless was my pre-occupation with the Mount Kinabalu tragedy that crushed the life out of some 12 year-olds, and their teacher and guide.

My heart broke for their parents.

As I groaned outwardly over my 3 year-old’s bedwetting accident and wiped her in the dark, my mind drifted to the parents who would give anything to be cleaning pee instead of blood from their child’s body – and I shut up.

I roused again shortly as my 2 year-old’s calls for mummy wafted through the air and I lay down to comfort her. Wedged in an excruciatingly uncomfortable position to protect my belly from her ninja kicks, I thought about the parents who would have longed to be able to soothe their child’s cry with a mother’s or father’s presence – and I forgot about my discomfort.

Pinned under my body, my right arm fell asleep long before I could (lucky thing). I was thankful when the husband showed up and insisted that the pregnant pretzel that was his wife tried to get some sleep in our own bed.

It was 4 a.m. My stomach rumbled with hunger as the tyrant in-utero grumbled and threatened to rearrange my insides unless I fed her. Heaving a sigh, I trudged downstairs, and blearily consumed some fruit and a glass of milk – all the while mentally complaining to no one in particular about how tired I was. In the darkness, images of the parents who would forever miss serving their ravenous little one a meal floated up – and I complained no more.

After all, I have nothing to complain about. Or rather, I’m grateful to have these little inconveniences to gripe about. Without them, there would be a void in my life.

In the light of the tragedy, skirmishes amongst parents – over birth choices, SAHMs vs working moms, breast vs bottle, whether breastfeeding women should cover up – all become a pointless, tiresome and almost sickening indulgence.

We get to hold our children. That is all that matters.

This morning, I woke to a sweet voice saying “Mummy, I love you”, followed by a butterfly kiss on my cheek. As I brushed my teeth, I heard lilting snippets of childish conversations and girly giggles, ending with a cheerful rendition of “Mr Golden Sun”.

It was the best morning ever.

Remember This

It’s been awhile since I last blogged on Bubsicles.

Things had gotten a little hectic and we got lost in the whirlwind of winter travels, Chinese New Year, a babymoon, jetlag, independent parenting (yes, we survived our first time in 3 years without the luxury of grandparents’ help – albeit only for 2 weeks), work, pregnancy insomnia and coughing husbands.

Even when we finally settled back into the calm of the daily routine, my sleep-deprived brain couldn’t function beyond formulating basic sentences – much less produce a blog entry. I was just relating to my fellow bubsigirls how I wrongly read aloud from a storybook that “The sun is black”. On a separate occasion, I grandly proclaimed that the “Hired” sign on taxis was pronounced as “hee-red”.

The husband and children have yet to stop laughing.

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Well, here we are – 6 weeks or so from No.3’s arrival.

Time is passing so fast that I find it hard to remember. Hard to create memories – in my heart and mind, not in my phone – of precious childhoods. Often, the memories are as fleeting as the moments themselves. Sometimes, they float up in the present – only because Facebook called up a photo on my timeline from a year ago.

So I’ve started making a conscious effort to be present to what life presents to me. To stop constantly formulating To-Do lists in my head. To fight the urge to whip out my phone to note down an outstanding task – because there are more important things to not forget. To stop emptily spacing out in a sort of mental fog (tempting as it is).

Instead, I focus on the image and sensation of a little hand firmly clasped tightly around mine, and marvel at its tininess and softness. Remember this, I tell myself throughout the 20-minute ride home.

I try to file in my heart the expression on Coco’s face as we presented her with her first congratulatory bouquet of flowers at her inaugural cello recital – a mixture of surprise, delight, pride and pure happiness. I drink in the memory of her elfin face and tell myself, remember this.

Much as I fear the girls getting hurt and am proud that they put on a brave front when they take (yet another ) tumble, I relish the secret enjoyment of kissing bumped heads and comforting sobbing babies when they pitifully clamour for me to “sayang my head, mummy” and to “wipe my tears, mummy”. Remember this, I tell myself as I calm their little torsos heaving with childish sobs.

Now well into my 3rd pregnancy, I am plagued by strange aches and pains never before felt in my earlier pregnancies. The little one rolls, jabs, tugs and pushes against me in-utero – and it gets downright uncomfortable at times. I can’t wait to meet her and yet, I feel sad that this is the last time that I’ll feel life blooming within me. I close my eyes, place my hands on my belly and focus on the sensations. Remember this.

Oh, and you know those repetitive conversions about the most mundane of matters such as whether Mickey Mouse has had his bath or what new plastic cuisine they are serving up for the Nth time? I wish my brain could store every report on how good “yai-en” (lion) was for “pinishing” (finishing) his dinner and how “Goopy” (Goofy) can’t have ice-cream because he’s “copping” (coughing). Remember this, I tell myself, while trying my darnedest to squeeze their cute toddler speak into a permanent space in my head.

These are but a fraction of the precious moments that present themselves to me every day. And yet, I can remember so little of them. In a few weeks, life as I know it will change when I transform from a mother of 2 to a mother of 3. Once again, I’ll be wondering where the time has gone and how in the world did we get from June to December in the blink of an eye.

Which is why I need to remember.

To remember this.

Remember THIS.

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The gracious Singaporean

After a week (and more) of mourning, it feels like we should be getting back to regular programming. Somehow, I still feel a little down and out. But one thing is for certain, the death of one of our founding fathers does not signal the death knell for our society.

Last Saturday, the husband and I trooped down to Parliament House to pay our last respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew with our boys in tow. Many of our friends and family told us that we should keep our kids at home if we really wanted to do that. But we felt like we wanted our kids to be there with us (and also, we usually do not like getting our parents to watch over the boys during the weekends because, well, we work during the week and Saturdays/Sundays are precious to us as a family).

So off we went, the baby in the carrier and the preschooler in the stroller. We were armed with sunblock, umbrellas, water and snacks, thinking that there was going to be some waiting to be done.

Once we reached City Hall MRT station, we were ushered to the St Andrew’s Cathedral exit. From there, it was a long walk under the scorching sun – we went across to Raffles City (after crossing the road twice), headed towards the Marina Square direction, went down the underpass again before emerging at Singapore Recreation Club and then walked towards Parliament House. The sun was beating down against our backs and we were each handling a child.

Thankfully, because we had a stroller and a baby, we were ushered to the special queue. In no time, we cleared security and were standing in line outside Parliament House. As we walked in, we bowed our heads, said a silent prayer and were swiftly eased out. It took us no more than an hour from the time we exited the MRT station to bidding our final farewell.

It could have been much worse, honestly, and we were thankful. More importantly, the journey to saying goodbye taught us that there is a lot of good in Singapore.

After paying our respects

We were thankful for the efforts of the marshals guiding the public at the MRT station and along the way.
We were thankful for the volunteers who gave out stickers, water, buns and umbrellas to us. They did so with beautiful smiles, despite the sweltering heat.
We were thankful for the companies who donated these items to the public, just so that our physical discomfort could be eased.
We were thankful for the two police officers who carried our hefty stroller AND the preschooler sitting in it down three flights of stairs when there was no escalator. They smiled kindly and waved away our profuse thanks.
We were thankful for the man who lifted the stroller over the curb for us when I had difficulty manoeuvring it (the husband was baby wearing a sleeping Zac and could not do it for me).
We were thankful for our fellow countrymen, who exchanged knowing smiles as we walked and waited.

So much has been said about Singaporeans, about how inconsiderate and ungracious and sterile and unemotional we are. And being Singaporeans, we typically do not care to refute these observations, preferring to just get on with our lives, not caring about what others think of us.

Well, I think the last two weeks have just shown everyone that we are anything BUT sterile. We are anything BUT unemotional. And I think to myself, this is why I remain in this country, this is why I am glad my sons are growing up here. This is OUR country, this is OUR home.

It is hard being parents

The internet is abuzz with a new name – Amos Yee. If you have been under a rock, the teenager posted up a YouTube video mocking Christianity and insulted Lee Kuan Yee who recently passed, plunging the most of Singapore into a week of mourning. I refuse to watch the video. At time of writing, he was being charged with 3 offences and is out on bail. His father told reporters after the charges were read, that he wanted to take the opportunity to apologise to Prime Minister Lee. His mother, apparently, had also filed a police report as she is unable to control her son.

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(source)

I glanced through the articles written and this picture made me sad. The worry and sadness on his parents’ face got to me. It must be a time of heartache and immense stress, having to go to court because your child is in trouble. And for a mother to report her own child to the police? The situation must have hit rock bottom before such a drastic action is taken.

My heart goes out to Amos’ parents. I don’t know them, nor their family background/history. It seems like their child is channeling his energies and efforts in trying to get attention. Does this stem from not getting enough attention from his loved ones? From some of his “writings”, he writes pretty well for a teenager and at times, almost coherently. Is this a case of misguided youth? Or a drastic call for help?

Many have jumped on the bandwagon and called him an attention seeker.

“Throw him in jail, he’d learn!”
“He must be suffering from ADHD. Seek help.”
“Own parents cannot control, let the laws deal with him”.
“Schools should change their curriculum to inculcate good values and morals.”

I wish strangers would just STFU and stop being bloody keyboard warriors. Schools should change curriculum? Seriously?! My personal take is, values and morals are learnt AT HOME. The home environment is crucial. From parents, guardians, grandparents, adults. School can only enhance, help and guide. As for the ADHD comment, who made you doctor? Such terms being thrown around loosely just creates stigma, both for children who suffer from the condition and their parents.

I think it’s easy to call him a si-gi-na (stupid kid – literal Hokkien translation) which I admit, was the exact term I called him when the news first broke. However, we do not know the full story and more often than not, traditional media present such stories in a manner that creates biasness in our heads.

So let us be kind and keep all pointless comments and judgement to ourselves. As it is, it is hard enough being parents.

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