Me Time

metime

Dear husband and the girls are off to Jakarta for a week while I, with my ever growing belly, am staying behind. As I kissed them and waved goodbye from behind the departure glass door, I thought to myself, “I am officially on leave! (Hooray!)”

I love my family, I love having my “me time” too.

We all need a little time off once in a while. It is healthy, it is necessary. As a young mom with young children to care for, things can get overwhelming, and very fast. So fast that I don’t get to pause and “figure out where I am now.” There is always the next thing to do: toys to pick up, meals to cook, dishes to wash, school-work to guide, playground trip to make, books to read to, and on the list goes. It’s no wonder that many mothers reported they started having difficulty falling asleep after becoming mothers. We just don’t have the time to think our own thinking throughout the busy day, and then and only then, when everyone else is asleep, our ticking brains keep us awake. So yes, having a break where we can rest and rejuvenate, think and reorient, is important.

Having said that, I would readily admit that often I misplace my need for “me time” in the similar way we may misplace our need for food and recreation. We know the axiom “Man eats to live, not lives to eat,” yet how often we behave as if we live the latter. And in this sense, I think, I need to guard myself. Because it is scarily easy to look at the kids and think,

“It is their fault I am so tired and undone!” or
“I used to be so free and fruitful, but now they take and take and take from me I have nothing left for anything else!” or
“These people rob me off my real identity — my hobby, my career, my ‘thingy.’ I can’t wait for the day I am finally myself again!”

It is scarily easy to let resentment sip in. It is scarily easy to look forward to “me time” as the time I can find and be myself again, uncontaminated by and away from these “little nuisances.”

Yet, is the real me to be found somewhere out there? Have I lost it in the trenches of motherhood?

To the mothers struggling with and searching for the same thing, I want to share some words of wisdom from Rachel Jankovic. She wrote in her book (at which time of publication she had five kids under five):

“…The world has a very muddled perception of “self.” They think and tell us to think that we are all little separate entities who might need to go off somewhere to get to know “ourselves,” or that a mother needs to get back to her corporate job to be herself again. Marriages break up because people don’t know who they are anymore. They need to find themselves.

But the Christian view of self is very different, and you need to make sure that it is the one you have. We are like characters in a story. Our essential self is not back in the intro, waiting to be rediscovered. Who you are is where you are. When you are married, your essential self is married. As the story grows, so does your character. Your children change you into a different person. If you suddenly panic because it all happened so fast and now you don’t recognize yourself, what you need is not time alone. What you need is your people. Look out-look at the people who made you what you are—your husband and your children…if you want to know yourself, concentrate on them.

Those women who try to find themselves by stripping away the “others” will find that they are a very broken thing. This will lead them to resent the people who they think made them that way. She may say, “I used to be so energetic, but all these people take, take, take from me and now I have no time to just be me!” And the world gathers around and comforts her and says she needs some time to follow her dreams.

But the Christian woman needs to see, “I used to be so boring! Now my character has some depth, some people to love, some hardships to bear. Now I have some materials to work with.” A Christian’s woman view is always forward and never back….As married Christian women, our identity is in our husbands. We are their helpmeets. Our calling is people-oriented. It follows that you cannot know what your calling is until you know who your calling is. Until you are married, you are not tied to a specific person. Marriage reorients you entirely. Children do even more. Then it is your calling to help your husband by raising these little people. People, people everywhere and no time for yourself. But remember that this is your calling. It belongs to you. They belong to you.

If you want some quality “me time,” make a date with your husband. Do something special with your children. These people are you. Your identity is supposed to be intertwined—that is the way God wrote the story, and it is the way He intends us to read it.”

Loving the Little Years, pp. 60-62.

“Me time” is important, but not in the sense that I need it to rediscover my true self. The real me is right here, she is a mother to two lovely little girls and a baby boy due in May, a wife to a great husband, she is a daughter, she is a friend, she is a part of her church community, she is someone to somebody, she is a sinner saved by God. She is blessed and called to bless others with her life. And she is given “me time”s as a means to rest, rejuvenate and reflect in order to serve others more effectively.

Knowing this, I can look forward to “me time” eagerly, enjoy it thankfully, and go back to serving joyfully.

“You Are Not My Friend!”

She will say, fold her arms and pout her lips. Other similar phrases she may hurl at me are “I don’t like Mommy!”, “You don’t love me!” and, my favorite, “You are not my favorite person!” The reason? Sometimes, because I do not agree to giving her what she wants, often, because I need to discipline her over a particular offense.

I like this anecdote about parents my generation (those born in the ’80s and ’90s): we are the last generation who listened to their parents and the first generation who has to listen to their children. While it is so relatable it’s hilarious, I do wonder what happened in between. My parents never bothered themselves with whether or not their kids would put them on the top list for their best friends and I am glad they didn’t. Because they were, after all, my parents. They knew that and were secure in that knowledge.

“It’s easy for me to make you like Mommy,” I always say, “I just let you do as you wish and I’ll instantly be your favorite person, your BFF.” And she will look at me with a “then why don’t you do just that?” look. To which both she and I already know the answer.

“I am your mother. My biggest care is not whether you would like me, my biggest concern is whether you know and are doing what’s right.” Of course it’s never pleasant to play the bad cop, of course all moms would love to please their children. But as her mother, I need to do what a mother should do and that is not something that a friend can do for her. “If I let you do as you wish just because I want you to like me now, that is not love,” I add, at the same time horrified by the thought of such parenting with its inevitable consequence, “then you will grow up hating me.”

There will come the day when children will mature (God help us) into the responsible and sensible adults they need to be. There will come the day these children will be capable of a loving and meaningful friendship with their parents. Until then, we need to be their parents. Precisely because of that prospect, we must be the parents who know their role and carry out their duty faithfully. The duty to love and also to discipline, to nurture yet never neglect to train.

I am not your friend, daughter. I am your mother. In due time, I pray you will see that I love you. And when you know what it means to be a true human, one with wisdom and virtues, I pray for your friendship.

Raising Happy Eaters

First of all, I am not writing this as a trained nutritionist, nor am I any expert in pediatrics. I am certainly not the know-it-all parent. Children’s eating habit is a HUGE concern for almost all modern parents, one that leaves them (me included) scratching their heads and pulling their hair. Despite being told multiple times “Wow, your kids eat so well!” I have had my share of pleading, bribing, threatening, and shoveling food down their throats, trust me.

So, back to the title. I am sharing a compilation of what I think have worked for our family in our attempt to raise the girls into happy eaters who enjoy mealtime around the table. All of these are wisdom from the past generations (the seniors we consulted with) and cultural observations documented in books.

1. Food is relational, it is not merely nutritional.

The table has a special place in community. It is general knowledge that food is associated with fellowship in any culture. A shared mealtime is when people come together sharing not only food but also their time and lives. There is a reason to why it is said “Food tastes better when shared” and “Family that eats together stays together.” Some of my fondest memories are those that happened during shared mealtimes with families and loved ones, I believe this is not singular to my experience. Make effort to create that wonderful association. Eat together as a family.

2. Food is a blessing, eat with gratitude.

I spent a big chunk of my childhood eating with my late paternal grandma whom I dearly called Ah Po. Being a tough woman who had single-handedly raised eight children through the hard times, she would make sure we all understood how privileged we were to have food to eat. Not a single grain of rice was to waste. The same expectation was enforced by my father, and so it was the kind of tables we grew up with. How, you may ask, did they instill such attitude in the children? They guarded against the sense of entitlement. The mantra was always “Ai ciak ciak, mai ciak suak.” A Hokkien remark for “eat if you want and starve if you won’t.” And so they never hesitated to let us go hungry.

When the kids refuse to eat 😛

3. There must be a time for play/work, and a time for meal.

Common sense has it that when one is hungry, one will eat. And a reasonable and good way of how that maxim operates is seen in a healthy cycle of energy exertion and energy re-fuelling. In our home this is translated into a routine of starting the day with breakfast, letting the children play and exert their energy, eating again only at lunchtime, napping for the youngest and quiet activities for the eldest, followed by snack time in the afternoon, outdoor playtime, and finally dinnertime. We do not snack around the clock nor eat apart from the four appointed mealtimes. This way, the children are hungry when they do eat. They will not not eat.

4. Food is pleasure, enjoy it.

I had the other big chunk of my childhood spent around the table of my late maternal grandma whom I dearly called Ah Ma. The opposite of my Ah Po, she doted on her grandchildren very much, to the point of indulging them. I cannot recall any memory of her raising her voice at us. She would cook our favorite foods all the time, always whipping up whatever dish we asked of her. She did not make much fuss on nutritions, and from her kitchen we learned that food is pleasurable. Indulge your children sometimes, whip up tasty meals if you could. Also, a dash of MSG and an occasional plate of deep fried processed food will not kill them. Let them taste that food IS delicious.

5. Food is nutrition, eat healthily.

When it comes to food, nutritional value is normally what parents are most concerned about, and rightly so. After all, who wouldn’t want their children to grow up healthy? Our parents believed that there needs to be a wide variety of food served for meals. There were always rice, 2 meat dishes, 1 leafy vegetable dish, and 1 soup dish for lunch and dinner. This, they believed, provides a balance and complete nutrition for the body. The rule was, “You don’t have to eat much of all but you must try all.” In the words of my father, eat more of those you like and less of those you dislike. It is unsurprising to find that the Japanese and the South Koreans, the two cultures with non-picky eating population that boast the lowest obesity rate in the world – at 4 percent (Christine Gross-Loh, “Parenting Without Borders” p. 62), share the same meal philosophy, both in their emphasis on dish variety and their insistence that children should try at least one bite of all the dishes served. Now, I am not saying we must prepare 4 different dishes for every mealtime, I can’t. But we can encourage the children to try out a wide variety of different foods. Children love what they know. And they can know only what they try.

And finally, I have to acknowledge that we Asians often associate a chubby child with a good eater. The logic is a child that eats well must eat a lot and therefore must be chubby. This. Is. Not. True.

Many moms have endured the unnecessary pressure to pump-feed their kids in an attempt to fatten them up and felt like a failure when their kids stay lean. We don’t have to, we should not. The goal is not to produce the most plump little Michelin’s mascots. If they are healthy, are thankful for and enjoy their food, and have a warm table fellowship, they will be happy eaters. And you’ve done well, Momma! 🙂

New Year Resolution

It was “Wake Up at 0600 Everyday” for 2016 and “Learn Latin” for 2017. And three weeks ago I purchased a digital piano and was determined to master the instrument in the next 12 months. Yet, as many can testify, most new year resolutions don’t survive long. At the best, they start on the Western New Year and end on the Chinese New Year, hence the name. This is extra-specially true for moms with very young children, it may not even last a month! Because, plans and children don’t mix. (Parents, let me hear Amen!)

The eldest was still wide awake, the alarm was set to go off in 7 hours, and if she didn’t sleep you didn’t sleep, and the baby was going to wake up intermittently throughout the night, and when you did manage to get up at 6 there was a very high chance your preschooler would too, and if she was up everyone was up and woohoo! the party started early with everyone lacking sleep and cranky by midday. “Wake Up at 0600 Everyday”

60 minutes, was how long the kids took their nap, it was also the maximum amount of time you got to do your stuff without interruption. You have heard the anecdote of how people without kids thought it was blatant lie when their friends with (very young) kids said they had no time for virtually anything. Very truly, they live in two different time dimensions. Without kids, daily housechores take 30 minutes, meal preparation takes 1 hour. Add kids into the equation: You say, “I am going to mop the floor” and you spend the next one hour picking up toys from said floor, settling childish squabbles, cleaning the kids because they poop, and two hours later you are done with the floor looking not much different from before you started that you half-suspect if you have not indeed mopped it. So, 12 months later and I was still at page 10. “Learn Latin”

What do you think children do when they see you sitting before the piano? Right, they climb up to your lap and run their little fingers all over it. When they are finally bored of the piano, they climb onto your back. Every. Single. Time.

It may be hilarious to read, we have all laughed sympathetically as parents worldwide shared how their world is turned upside down by their kids. But I can tell you that at the real time, to our own horror, we have secretly wished that these kids were non-existent. We have decided that they are a nuisance, a burden, they get in our ways to success. No, we will not say it out, but we have believed that they are out to ruin our plans, to scrap our resolutions, to hinder us from fulfilling our potentials. We think they are the reasons we cannot be our best. We bark at them as we see their intrusive coming, we blame them for our failure to achieve the previous year’s resolutions and name them the reason to our hesitation for the new year’s ones.

Alas! How could they be deemed with such apprehension when the Bible has esteemed them to be a blessing from the Lord? Oh they say, time has changed too much from when the Bible was written, the society has changed, children are no longer needed to labor for the family’s finance, modern women have the rights to maximize their skills, hence children – or the absence of children, has become the kind of blessing that is subject to individuals’ interpretation.

Has it? Or can it be that I miss the whole point? What if living better is not mainly about waking up earliest and being productive with my time, what if it is not about acquiring new languages, what if it is not about learning new skills, upgrading my resume? What if to be a better person is all about being more patient and kind; about freedom from envying others’ accomplishments and from searching for reasons to boast in pride; about not insisting that my time must not be interrupted at all costs; and not being irritable or resentful when it does get interrupted; about repenting from wrong doings and rejoicing with the truth; about bearing the little ones in constant hope and trust in God? What if to be a better me means being more like the Love Himself?

That must be it! For how else do children bless us but by presenting us, in their sincere and very forgiving nature, numerous opportunities to be more and more loving everyday, every year? For in God’s wisest providence, they have been put in our lives to mold us into our very best – into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” – Romans 8:28-29 ESV

Unsupervised Childhood

“I stay home with my kids, but sometimes I still feel guilty for not spending enough time with them,” confessed one of my good friends.

I could fully relate with her. When I first quit my job to stay home with my baby, I too had thought that it was my new job to be always with my child, to fully engage her and to always be in tune with her needs. And of course, I wanted to excel in my new career, as all moms do.

It took me a while to realize that my baby had outgrown her newborn phase and as she grew, my constant presence and supervision were no longer as required. In fact, it would not do her good if I kept hovering over her and deprived her of age-appropriate autonomy.

Big Nona climbs the tree.

I remember my own parents were always busy at the shop, as all the adults that I knew in my childhood were. Instead of expecting our parents to keep us entertained, we would find the neighborhood kids to play with. It was an everyday thing for us to run around the alley or to play at one another’s house.

“Auntie, is so and so at home?” The parents usually didn’t bother with what the neighborhood kids did. We’d play upstairs, or outside, unsupervised. I guess, it was just the way things were in the olden days. The particularly good old days with fond memories for me.

I was definitely not the kid with the best behavior in town. Besides getting into fights, I did many funny things I am sure my parents wouldn’t be proud of. I remember leading a few neighborhood kids to knock hard at a neighbor’s door before running away to hide. We would giggle among ourselves as we observed the auntie coming out cursing and swearing. Yeah, I don’t think I will ever let my own kids do the same (who’s the sane parent that would?).

The Nonas putting on lipstick without Mommy knowing.

On other occasions I was messing with my uncle’s pet animals. My cousins and I used to stay at our late grandma’s place after school until my dad fetched us home in the evening, so we had plenty of free time in between. My uncle kept some caged birds in my late grandma’s house. These cages were hanging down from the ceiling. Once, we (okay, I was the one suggesting it) poked at the bottom of those cages because we wanted the birds to flap their wings instead of just perching still in there. They did and it was fun, until I poked too hard and one of the cages dropped on me. Not only the cage but the whole bird’s droppings too! Thank God they were dry! The floor was an entire mess but I was glad the bird didn’t escape or that would have been the death of me. We managed to put everything back up and had the mess cleaned up without getting caught.

I was not always that lucky though. Besides birds, my uncle had pet fishes too. They were kept in two separated aquariums, one at the second floor and the other at the third floor. The smart me assumed that nobody would ever know if I swapped those fishes, they all looked the same to me anyway. So I went ahead and netted out some fishes from one aquarium, went up the stairs and put them into the other, and vice versa. When my uncle came back that evening, I watched as he went up and heard my name yelled out shortly afterwards. How could he have known? Not so smart of me, apparently.

Those were probably some of the less than desirable deeds resulting from my boredom. Other times we would be scouring the ditches for interesting finds, or jumping over wide ‘longkangs’ to see who could or could not make it – my brother once failed and fell; spending pocket money on doughnuts and young coconut water while watching some snake-handler putting up a show was also one of our favorite pastimes.

Doing kungfu while singing Wong Fei Hung’s song.

Despite the many hours of unsupervised childhood, I didn’t grow up as a delinquent, I don’t abuse animals, and at least am a decent citizen who pays her tax; the same can be said of the rest of our peers. My own parents, especially my dad, had very strict and high standard for their children’s behavior, as most Chinese typically were. So I think it kind of balanced out the whole thing. I couldn’t imagine, if he had been supervising me 24/7, we would probably have driven each other mad.

Now that we are in the modern age of parenting, leaving children unsupervised even for a short time is seen as a risky and dangerous idea. In fact, in some countries it’s considered as case of abuse where the parents may be sent to jail and the child(ren) to foster care under the charge of parental neglect. We are told that it’s in our full responsibility, or that we are totally in charge of what our children will become in their adulthood. And that’s just a hairline away from assuming that parents can fully control how their children will grow up to be. This in turn, has become an immensely heavy burden on the parents’ shoulders. We even have the term “helicopter parenting” coined. Can this play a part in making our modern parenting so stressful for both parents and children?

Time has indeed changed, but perhaps it would make parenthood more enjoyable for me and childhood more memorable for my children if I could more often just look away and say nothing and let the kids be kids as they do what children do, as if unsupervised.

Little Nonas eating dirt. Just kidding! :p

They Know

“Why did you spank me that hard?”
“No. I know that it was not too hard.”
“But you were angry and that was not the right way of doing it! And you didn’t really like me when you hugged me afterwards!”

Her words sent a chill down my spine. She knew.

When we had our Bible discussions with fellow parents about “how to properly discipline our children,” she had been listening. When I spouted out all the doctrinal truths which I ought to have adhered to, she had been taking note. When I disciplined her without yelling, yet without love, she felt the absence. When the reconciliation hug was just a mere going through the motions, she knew. And, especially as an Asian, if I spank her to “save my face” and not for her restoration, she will know. She always knows.

I like to tell my children that I know them best and what is best for them, but what I didn’t really realize was that they, too, know me best. My day to day attitude, my response to things, my emotions, speech and deeds; my life is always at full display before them. I can write, say or show others what I want others to think about who I am but it’s my closest ones who know who I really am. Or more profoundly, they know whether what I write, say or show to others is what I really am.

Such realization is a constant cause for both trembling and joy. Trembling, because I will inevitably leak out to my closest ones the ugliest side of my sinful-self, and how I am so full of potential to lead them away from the faith I profess. My greatest fear is to have my children see me as a hypocrite and by hypocrisy subject them to condemnation.

But thanks be to God who is faithful and promises victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ. He has not only designed for us parents to be His authoritative representation to our children, but has also set family as a place where gospel is continually portrayed. We are fellow sinners to our children, who constantly offend them in our sins and must constantly repent and seek their forgiveness. I thank God for He made little children very forgiving, they do not hold grudge and they forgive freely. To be forgiven and be genuinely loved despite my failures is a joy unspeakable. It is the gospel.

I wish nothing more than to have my God and my children find me faithful and truthful. May God help!

Homekeeping Freedom

The first thing that came to my mind after a good sweating of scrubbing the kitchen top and the cooking hob was “How wonderfully clean things will stay if only no more cooking should ever be done here!”

The next thing, of course, was to realize how foolish could that idea be. What’s the point of having the kitchen there if there’s no cooking to do?

I see now, I was doing the cleaning with the intention of freeing myself from the cleaning itself. It’s of little wonder why I get disappointed and discouraged by the mere thought of having a mess to clean again soon from the next cooking, or meal, or play. I see now why, especially after a thorough house cleaning, I get easily irritated just by having living beings living in the house.

My housekeeping serves no one but myself. I think that summarizes why. The irony of it all is, the freedom that I am chasing is an elusive one, and is in fact not a freedom. Instead, it binds me and my family away from living freely in our own home. Because every act of living we do will inevitably violate the cleanness and tidyness of the house. And that is absurdly funny, is it not? Having a house that you can’t live in?

I see now the real freedom housekeeping affords me is the freedom to serve my loved ones again and again. And the real reason why there is a need for my housekeeping is because my loved ones are fed, clothed, and taken care of in this house. As the proverb goes, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” In my current season of life, mess is the mark of productivity, and cleaning is the means to continuity.

As sure as there is pleasure in doing others good, so it turns out, the true pleasure that homekeeping gives is the repeated pleasure of providing hospitality, joy and happiness for others (often, the dearest ones). The satisfaction felt in seeing a sparkling clean and tidy house after a good sweating out is then a ‘bonus’.