Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Birthday Letter

My Darling Emma

Today you turn 2. It is with some amazement and surprise that we have somehow, by God's grace, survived all this time. We are still struggling with the everyday routines and last night was another classic night of wakes and starts, and lots of tears. I don't think you understood when I told you it is your birthday today. Anyway, I thought I'd pen down some of the wonderful growth we have seen in you over the past year. 

The first half was marked with lots of physical progress - in height, in your progression from walking to running and in activities like being able to feed yourself, take off your shoes and hold a toothbrush. 

We were blessed with having your grandmother look after you at home. You started to go to some play groups, to the local museum and to the library. Often she would also take you on the tube to various places in london - to the tower, to concerts, to the park at Greenwich. You gained a healthy affinity for books and loved to read. Your understanding was opened and you appeared to comprehend everything we said to you, though you didn't say a word. 

You were slow to speak, preferring to listen and observe the world and people around you, but my, have you caught up in the speech department. More on that later. 

We went to Cornwall over Easter, and it was a long car ride, but I don't remember you being too much trouble in the car, though you have categorically refused to be in your infant car seat pretty much all the time. We had a pretty rubbish holiday because it rained everyday, and you were so clingy to me that I had to have breakfast on my own, though we did go swimming which you loved, remembering some of the routines from the swimming class you used to attend. You had your first ice cream in the town of Polperro? 

I had the privilege of a few weeks off work around April, in between jobs. We did quite a lot - went to the British library, the Satchii Gallery, and the Singapore embassy to write in the books of condolence for Lee Kwan Yew, a man you will no doubt learn about. We also took a girls trip to the Cote d'Azure, which was really nice. Mummy was overly ambitious as usual and wanted to see everything between Cannes and Monaco, so we ended up on long bus rides and no time for food which you handled like a trooper, so did Ah Ma. You loved the sea and played with sand for the first time. You have pranced on the red carpet in Cannes, taken the open top bus in Nice and trampled on the grounds on the Monaco palace and casinos. 

And then in June you started Nursery. It must have been so tough for you. From being at home all the time and constant attention to pretty much having to fend for yourself, first for 4 full days a week, to 5. On many days your hours were longer than Mummy's or Daddy's and you did not like being one of the last to be picked up everyday, starting to cry when you see other parents come for their children. But we have been blessed with a good team of teachers and carers who you grew to love and rely on. They also loved you because you were "just so cute", until... One day you decided that you'd misbehave and not follow instructions like the angel they had gotten accustomed to. You have also made some friends. A few months ago I noticed that you could name all your classmates by their photos, now you are more cheeky and would point to a picture, ask me, "who is this?" Before replying your own question with "it's so-and-so". You are now graduating from your first class, "Bumblebees 1" to the next age group "Butterflies 3". We pray that you will find equally good teachers and love the environment, until it changes again. 

If the first half was marked by physical progress, the second was definitely filled with intellectual leaps. You have always been an independent little person, from a very young age, wanting to do things by yourself and your way. And so you refused to learn when we tried to teach you things formally (or at least you would pretend that you're not learning). Instead, you choose to learn through observing and by pressing the buttons on your ABC "iPad" repeatedly. This "teaching" was reinforced through endless hours on YouTube, watching and re watching the same nursery rhymes and shows until you could recite verbatim. That fact I'm not so proud of, because we were determined not to become "iPad" parents and to expose you to too much technology. 

Perhaps it is inevitable in this day and age, and these devices are so intuitive that you figured out how to get to YouTube and play your favourite channels, switching from one to the next and getting rid of distractions along the way like a text that has come in or an advertisement before the real thing. You've also learnt through observation how to make a phone call, which buttons to press and how recognise your daddy's name to phone him. But this will become a stumbling block, dear Emma, we are trying everyday not to feed that "instant gratification" gene in you and to instil ok you the concept of time and tantrum management. We've noticed that you don't like playing with stuffed toys, possible because they are non-interactive or that you're like me and not very good at showing affection. 

However the latter can't be true, because we have also seen a surprising trait of kindness in you. One day last month we were snacking on grapes and you were busy picking them one by one out of the bowl and offering the next one to us the moment we finished one. Since then you have been very concerned that your daddy also gets a piece of your snack. You are generally able to try to share and play with other children - unfortunately your efforts to give them hugs (on command from us) and play together often get repaid with your toys being snatched away (because most children at this age not play alongside other children, not with). I hope you never give up caring and sharing. 

You started talking in earnest around 18-19 months. It started with just a few words but quickly progressed to 2-word full sentence remarks and replies (I'm ready, what happened). You had somehow learnt the difference between me/I and you and now can somehow add the 's to signify possession. Of course, a lot of it comes from copying words we say, but you seem to apply them correctly in the right situations. We are just missing a few conjunctions now ("I want go home now"). We haven't fared so well in Chinese though. apparently we have one more year till the brain nodes stop developing as rapidly in the language department, so we need to work on that with some urgency now... 

We're also starting to experience the start of the "terrible twos". The next year will be a trying one, I can feel it. But it will also be filled with much adventure and much more interaction, as well as many more firsts. How exciting is this journey of life, and how amazing. There is so much in store at every single step. 

Happy 2nd birthday, darling daughter. Thank you for being such a blessing in our lives, and we pray that you will soon come to recognise that the many blessings bestowed on you are from the Giver of all good gifts, your Creator, and also your Saviour. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Of the twelveth day of july

This day, 6 years ago, I left everything I knew for an unknown future in a foreign land. Today, 6 years on, we are moving on, not from a country, but from a church fellowship I have grown used to, and mostly quite fond of.

It was slightly emotional, but then again, London is a transient city, people understand when people move on. Everyone puts on a brave front, so true emotions are hard to read. There was a small presentation, which I didn't want but understood that would help prevent any misunderstanding. Quite honestly, I don't think I have done my best in my service over the last 6 years, why they were thanking me so profusely. Looking back, I could have put in a lot more effort, but then that's one of the reasons we had to go. Nonetheless, I felt people were genuine. We took some photos, everything was quite surreal. I keep thinking of what P said, it will be a bigger loss to us than a gain to them. Were we being selfish? Yes, definitely. Does it mean it's not God's will? No I don't think so, if this move will mean an awakening of our spiritual lethargy.

I will miss the people who have made such a big impact on my life. I never told them, but I never want to forget. They looked after me and made me feel like I belong, as we were in the same family of Christ. They celebrated milestones with me, and I with them. They invited me into their homes despite knowing nothing about me, they gave me rides in their cars, and they included me in their plans. They shared generously of their material and spiritual blessings, their time and their love, these constitute a debt I can never repay. I have learnt so much from their godly examples, and also more generally about the way of life in this country in terms of culture, practice, sayings, etc etc. Outside of a church setting, I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that the British people are one of the most difficult to get close to, but I can confidently say that the common bond in Christ surpasses that. The only thing I can hope to do is keep in close contact and then extend the same hospitality to others. I feel bad that after all the effort on their part, I'm walking away and turning my back. I had a few solitary tears which I blinked away, as I did on my last Sunday in church on 12 July 2009. The situation was so familiar yet so different.

We will rush through the busy week, and next sunday will arrive sooner than I expect. Time to make a fresh start, on a clean slate. It's a tough process, involving considerable emotional investment. Leaving is a hard thing to do, but so is arriving.

Also, we can maybe start thinking about the next big move after this. There are so many things in life to move on from, and to; I pray that our faith will be the one thing that defies that. 1 Cor 15:58.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Music, a language

Dearest Emma,

You turn 16 months tomorrow, and the pace of your development has been nothing short of extraordinary. We like to think that you're special, brighter than most toddlers your age, but most parents probably think that of their children.

Today we took you to your first classical music concert. It was held in St Paul's Covent Garden, dubbed the Actor's church, for the number of artistes who are buried there. It was our first time at Bach to Baby, a brilliant start-up by a Guildhall professor to bring live classical music to little ears. I've wanted to take you for one of these since you were 3-4 months, but didn't think you were ready. However, you must have listened to the highlights from Beethoven's symphonies dozens of times via Baby Einstein. Suffice to say that you love music, and appear to have quite a good ear. Sometimes when we start to play a tune (of one of your nursery rhymes) on there piano, you would very quickly pick up which song it is and do the actions.

Well, today you showed me that you can do more than recognise tunes, you can pick out the melody from a piece even when it's in the left hand or in a variation. One of the pieces performed today was Twelve Variations on "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman" by Mozart, which was effectively 12 variations on the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". You knew exactly when the stars appear, when to point up to the sky, and when to make the diamond shape with your fingers. I vaguely recall that one of the tests in the aural exams at grade 6 or 7 requires one to pick out the tune in alto, tenor or bass. Maybe you will find that easier than most.

Sure, you may not be able to speak (which by many standards is quite slow for your age, I think), but you definitely can make yourself understood with your animated gestures and nods at all the right junctures in a conversation, even if it doesn't involve you. You enjoy playing " deejay" with your musical mobile, and farm mash-up toy, complete with dancing along.

Perhaps you have also decided that music will be your first language.

No pressure, darling.

Much love,

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Turning one

Dear baby,

Today we mark exactly one year since you came to us. How life has been made different since then! There will be no fanfare or party this year, mostly because we just got back from Singapore and we are both feeling slightly unwell, but also because we figured that you won't really be able to join in the celebrations anyway and we will have many more birthday parties which you'll be able to enjoy, God willing.

Instead, I would like to reflect and recollect some of the precious moments and lessons from the past year. None of these are revelations but to have experienced them first hand is to have a life changed forever.

1. The whole process of gestation, birth and the early months of growth are truly nothing short of a miracle. Indeed, it is the miracle of life. You have grown so quickly and developed by leaps and bounds that its hard to believe that not so long ago, you could fit in my womb or that even the smallest clothes couldnt fit, or that you lay on your back for hours on end, pretty much helpless.

2. Parenthood has redefined patience and sacrifice for me. I never thought I could survive on prolonged lack of, or interrupted sleep, but here I am still alive after 12 months. (Although it would be really nice if you could please quickly learn to sleep through the night!) I also learnt that it's OK to put someone else's needs ahead of my own, no matter how sorry I feel for myself. The funny thing is, after a while I stopped feeling sorry for myself because I was too busy and butterfly brained.

3. The joy on a baby's face is possibly the purest emotion mankind is capable of. The smiles and laughter I would not trade for anything, and I just hope that the world would not rob you of that child-like innocence too soon. Also, the pure delight you express when you see me makes all the tough times melt away. Not forgetting how you would run (not that you can even walk properly) to me for a cuddle after you get tired of throwing all the Lego bricks out of the box or after trotting around non-stop for a few minutes.

4. On the flip side, it's sad to see that even a baby as young as you are naturally tends towards disobedience. It's obvious that the curse of sin did not bypass you, as beautiful as you are. From only a few months old you have shown how strong-willed you are, and how demanding you can be. Whilst we thank God for his mercies in preserving you from any sickness through the 1st year (tho you now have cough and sniffles the day before your first birthday thanks to me), it is obvious that our bodies are frail and far from perfect.

5. Let's talk about progress. For what felt like the longest time, it seemed like all you could do was lie flat on your back and trail all the other babies. Development is not a competition, but one day you finally flipped over and have been racing ahead ever since. In the last month, you have made remarkable steps such as pointing, recognising words, understanding commands, walking, throwing things and even folding your hands to pray. You amaze us with your perseverance, learning to walk is no easy feat, especially when yoy,'re forced to practice wearing socks or tights on a smooth laminated floor. You would toddle a few steps and then fall, but you would pick yourself up and try again. You would do that over and over and over again, each time gaining a bit more confidence and an extra step with every few tries. I feel so tired for you and wish I could help, but I know the process is important, it is good training ground and i hope you will carry this attitude through life.

So my darling, you will very soon cease to be a baby. Before that happens I pray that we will cherish these little moments that God has given us and try to make notes more frequently for we soon forget in the rapid pace of life. I pray that you will be blessed with health and strength so that you can grow in stature and knowledge (per chance coming to saving grace), and I pray that you will always find solace in the arms of your parents.

Happy blessed 1st birthday!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How i spent my last day of maternity leave

Bank holiday with all the family. The day started out as most other this last 4.5 months, giving Emma her morning feed, playing with her for a bit, putting her back to sleep and then trying to catch a few more winks, finally giving up when the rascal indicates that she's up for the day.

Then I ironed some work clothes, as I could no longer procrastinate any further.

With E being taken on a walk with the grandmother, we managed to curl up on the sofa to watch a couple of episodes of "Suits". I then managed to upload some photos from my camera and look through photos from the first 3 months with Emma. Perfect to provide some closure to an exciting time of my life.

For the first time ever, I was free from work, and I had grand plans to accomplish great things. A lot of them remained as plans, but I also took the opportunity to do some things I would otherwise not have had a chance too. Together with my very garang mummy, we managed to explore London by public transport and on tube, and I learnt that Emma could learn to incorporate herself into our lives. We brought the pram out, wheeled it into all sorts of places including a michelin-starred restaurant with unfriendly patrons, carried the heavy pram (and baby) up and down flights of stairs, and also walked a great deal with Emma strapped on in a sling (feels a bit like being pregnant again).

I also returned to Singapore and stayed for the longest time since I left it in 2009. Did a lot and very little at the same time there, probably best left for recollection another day.

I also managed to bake a cake tonight, in preparation for the MIL's birthday tomorrow. Wasn't a runaway success but not a complete trainwreck of a cheesecake, owell.

But just as the day was about to end and I was about to retire to the bedroom, I heard a very loud knock on the door, which sounded very urgent. Now I know that D was on the way back from the gym and he was trying to open the door (I heard the keys). So I thought that either the door was stuck or there was someone following him or something, so I rushed to open it but only slightly. I saw a rather lifeless him at the door, which I thought quite normal for someone returning from a hard workout at the gym, but in the same split second I saw his keys and phone on the floor and a face white as sheet. Like he had been stabbed. I instantly knew he was losing consciousness so I shouted at him to hold onto me. There was no reaction so he obviously couldn't hear me. I wanted to steady him but there was a big problem - I had Emma in my arms. On hindsight, there are several other ways I could have approached the emergency situation better, but what i did was try to grab him with one arm and Emma with the other. Only that I instantly discovered that I cannot support the weight of a man in that position and I nearly dropped Emma in the process, only managing to hang on to her thighs as she did a backflip in my arms towards the ground. Instinctively I pushed D towards the corner wall hoping it would somehow cushion the fall, and rescued the baby. Then I shouted for help. By the time help came (in the form of the MIL to help carry E), D was already on the floor, still white and very dazed. The recovery took a good while. Thankfully he's fine now. He says that he now has more compassion for me when I faint........ *sigh*

A million thoughts race through my mind as I close my eyes to sleep. Apprehension about going back to work, fear of the struggle to balance work load and family, worry about how the baby will be fed from henceforth, etc etc. I am also incredibly thankful to God for preserving D's life and the reminder that we owe everything including our very breath to God. What if no one heard the door knocks, what if he collapsed right outside the door of his own home and never woke up? What if I had really dropped E and D subsequently collapsed on her? We were preserved from any worse outcome. Thank God that it is by His mercies that we are still well, so may tomorrow and tomorrows be lived for Him.