On Friendship

I’ve always valued friendship tremendously. I had a best friend growing up and I’ve been fortunate to always have some good friends in my life. I also had some friends I no longer keep in touch with for whatever reason and some who just drifted apart.

Becoming a parent was one of the life events that often changed the course of many friendships. Being a busy mom, I admit it is hard to have a lot of time for friends. It is even harder to have time for friends who don’t have kids and have no clue of what you are going through. Sometimes, different parenting styles can also separate friends. Being judgmental about each other’s parenting can be a sure way to end a friendship over the long run. I’ve summarized a list of friendships that survived all this below and I have to say, because of these friends, my life is so much richer.

1. The Supportive Mom Friends

If you have recently become a mom and do not have any mom friends, run out now and join a local mom and baby group. Be outgoing and meet someone. You need mom friends. They are the ones you can talk about your baby’s every move and it is a great feeling when you and someone else are cherishing the same experiences together.

When you are worried about certain things, they are the ones that assure you they are going through the same thing, and it is all ‘normal’. The tips exchanged are also helpful. You can vent infinitely about sleepless nights, poopy diapers, temper tantrums and all other subjects that would send your childless friends running for the door, your mom friends will be there to support you and tell you it will get better. The kids also enjoy growing up with friends their own age, and it is amazing to watch both your own and your friends kids grow.

One exception would be someone who is very judgemental and there are plenty of those. Usually, if a mom can’t hold her tongue to lecture others on the harm of formula feeding, or says things like “Kids should be raised by moms, not daycare.” I would run the opposite way. This is not to say that she isn’t a nice person or a good friend to someone, I just personally do not consider these ‘friends material’ for myself. Make sure you are supportive and non-judgemental yourself too. We all have our opinions, but sometimes it is better to keep the perspective that not everyone is the same.

2. The Great Friends Who Happen to be Moms

This is my favourite group: the good friends who are at the same life stage as ourselves. They can act as supportive mom friends, and also just our own friends to have fun without the kids. Kids are not our only connector.

When you meet new mommy friends who just click with you more on a personal level, or you’ve had life long friends who’ve become parents around the same time you have, make sure you make an effort to maintain and keep the friendship going. Good friends are hard to come by.

3. The Childless, Fabulous Friend

We all need a friend who is childless and still lives that care-free, fabulous lifestyle. I have one myself, and from time to time, I make time to have a girls’ date with her. A date with her involves no kids talk, and plain old girls’ fun just like the old days. She reminds me of my own identity¬†and my own interests and that I am not just a mom, but much more.

I cherish this type of friends because they also provide me a different perspective. I can’t imagine my life without kids but sometimes it is easy to lose sight of things such as your old ambition, sense of style, or even hobbies you’ve always loved. This friend will give you a break from mommyhood and also reminds you other things that are also important to you in life.

One word of advice on having such a good friend is that we need to keep in mind that they are childless. The times you feel like you no longer want to hear about her stories of random guys and bar hopping, remember she has to hear about your stories about pregnancy symptoms and daycare dramas. It is a two way street. Be aware they may not be interested in your kids, but they are interested in YOU, that’s why you are friends in the first place.

As I mentioned in my previous posts, we don’t have family help from either side. It is these wonderful friends that make our lives fun, functional and full of joy. We are very grateful to have them (you know who you are if you are reading) and a big thank you for putting up with us!

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Oh That Old Freud

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I’ve always been interested in psychoanalysis, but I do take every theory with a grain of salt. Except from time to time, I feel like Freud is laughing at a corner and telling me: I told you so!

Blake turned 4 this June and he is maturing rapidly. He recently started to take an interest in the opposite sex, especially the ones that were like 6, 7 years of age. A few weeks ago, he was playing at our neighborhood playground, there were some other kids there. He stopped all of sudden, and said: “Mom, I like that peachy haired girl. She is so pretty!”. That afternoon, he kept on saying how he will grow up and marry a ‘peachy haired’ girl and have 5 kids together.

Besides the usually double take when he sees a particularly pretty girl, he also would point out someone ‘he likes’ from my Fashion magazines. The most recent was Katy Perry’s Vogue spread. None of this would’ve gotten his attention a year ago.

I think my pregnancy has also brought the awareness of a ‘family structure’ to him. Kids always think what they know is the norm: mom and dad, and one or more kids. I do tell him that not every family has a mom and dad, and now he tells me matter-of-factly: “Some kids have two dads!” ūüôā

Recently, he likes to play the ‘pretend family’ game. Every evening he comes home from daycare, he wants to play the game with me. He pretends to marry me, then he becomes the daddy, and we have a dozen kids who are his favourite¬†plush toys. He either gives me a different name (usually Charlotte), or himself a different name¬†(usually Jake)¬†or he pretends to be Ethan (my husband). He would go through a wedding, down to the details of the party (usually involves his favourite friends attending, and maybe one or two super heroes) and the colour of my dress (usually has blue in it, which is his favourite, not mine). When asked what he will wear, he simply looks at the wedding pictures hung on the wall, and describes daddy’s outfit.

The really great thing was that he always pretended that we had many kids and he always made a point that he would take care of them. Not once he would be ‘irresponsible’. He talked about the details of how he would take care of them, such as feeding, bathing and taking them to museums and teaching them the alphabet. I am very happy to see that this sense of responsibility is already ingrained in his little brain.

Hence for a while now, every night, Blake pretends to marry his mommy. Although I know this is because I am the only female in this family, I can still see the smirk on the old Freud’s face!

I wonder how I’d feel if and when I attend Blake’s wedding. Maybe I’d get really emotional when I think about him saying to me softly last night when I put him to bed: “Mom, you look so pretty with your hair and dress (a pink maternity PJ) even with this big belly!”

Maybe Freud was right!

Don’t forget your partner!

Rose and Ethan

I always tell people that I have won the lottery in the marriage department. My husband Ethan, is the most wonderful husband I ever imagined having. Sometimes I wonder what I have done in life to deserve him. As lucky as I am, we have our moments too. A marriage is always organic; it sometimes blossoms lusciously, sometimes becomes unruly and always, always needs nurturing.

I have to admit that when our son Blake was born, our marriage definitely got sidelined. Blake was borderline colic, we had no family help. We poured both of our energies into taking care of him and paid minimal attention to each other. Although we discovered our groove as a team, there were times we snapped at each other due to fatigue. Most of all, I missed my husband terribly. I saw him everyday, but was unable to spend quality time with him.

When back at work, life was always hectic. Both of us worked full time. Life became a game of logistics. You pick up Blake, I cook. You bath him, I do the dishes. You take him to Mandarin class, I do groceries… Not to mention my driven husband, trying to find every minute of his free time to catch up on work, and completing his MBA program.

As a woman, immersed in this daily routine, I admit I sometimes long for the old, romantic days when I carefully picked out the outfit to go on a date with him and held his hand, shared our thoughts for hours while walking along the lake shore. Occasionally, I let my insecurity seep in and wonder if he would find the attention and intrigue in a different person, perhaps a svelte, smart 20 something at work who will have intelligent conversations with him during lunch time.

We’ve tried the date night thing but it didn’t quite work. We were usually too tired to do anything exciting and the babysitter’s cost really added up. Finance and the lack of help made date nights less enjoyable and we decided to cut them out.

Now I am 8 months pregnant with our second, I do wonder if it will be even harder for us after the new baby comes along. Taking some friends’ advice, I picked up ” The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” from Amazon. I’ll leave the book review for another day to blog, but I do want to mention an exercise I went through with Ethan.

It was one of those ‘how well do you know your partner’ kind of thing, nothing fancy. We picked 20 questions randomly out of a list of 60 and simply tested each other. Questions include “name your partner’s best friends”, “what are your partner’s life long dream and current aspirations” etc. We did very well as expected because we really knew each other. However, there were still questions we weren’t sure of.

When I asked Ethan about his “3 most special events/moments of his life” and “the most stressful event/moment of his childhood”, he had to think hard about them. Then to my surprise, he got emotional when answering. I listened intently (which¬†I am really guilty of¬†NOT doing enough)¬†and felt ever so¬†connected to his tender heart. As I pictured these moments when he described them, I felt his sorrow and happiness which as a typical man, he rarely let out easily. Our son was sound asleep in the room next to us, dreaming of super heroes, and I wrapped my arms around Ethan, sharing his memories and feelings, cherishing this moment of closeness.

That brief half an hour reminded me how connected we used to be, and the moments that made me¬†fall in love with him at the beginning of our relationship. I should’ve never taken that for granted. It also confirms that although life is different now, we still are each others soul mates, and our love for each other runs deep in us. It also gave me a wake up call of the importance of paying undivided attention to the other person. Next time I feel tempted to run the to-do list in my head instead of listening to¬†Ethan when he talks, I will remind myself of this moment.

I once read somewhere that one of the best thing you can do for your child, is to love your partner. When parents are in love, kids are happier and more positive. For all my busy mom friends out there, have you invested in your marriage lately? Not just time, but emotionally as well? Have your complaints trumped gratitude? Have you paid undivided attention to each other lately? When was the last time you felt the feelings you had when you first fell in love with him?

I am certainly going to try harder, the to-do list can wait, but my marriage cannot!

My Dutch Dreams

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It has been an insanely hot, humid week in Toronto! It looks like a hot, sunny weekend is coming our way too, perfect time for me to indulge in some decadent ice cream. Most of my friends have heard me rave about this ice cream parlor near St. Clair West: Dutch Dreams.

I have to admit my love for this place is a little biased. I lived in the Netherlands for 2 years when I was a teen so I am very partial to any dairy that is labeled Dutch; it is simply the best. The beauty of the Netherlands also made such an impression on me I still have dreams of wandering or biking in the middle of tulip fields, passing by cows and swans, eating cheese and apple pie underneath a windmill. The fact that this place is kinda Dutch already had my attention.

I am also a sucker for anything nolstagic. This is a mom and pops store that has kept the same looks and menu for 25 years. All the Dutch trinkets hung on the walls just add to the wimsy of the store. Love it!

Most of all, my husband Ethan took me there for one of our first dates, and¬†I have to say it was a good move. I hope it¬†will still be around when¬†my son Blake grows up and he can take his girl there for a date.¬†He just has to¬†make sure she is ‘Dutch Dreams’ worthy!

If you can’t make it¬†there this summer, don’t worry, they open all year¬†around. We did¬†visit this past February for a cup of hot chocolate, Dutch waffles and ice cream.

Here is the website:

http://www.dutchdreams.ca/.

 

On Hitting

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Ugh! My most dreaded issue has returned: Blake started hitting again!

For a long while, he was doing so well that I don’t remember the last time he did it. I happily classified the past hitting as a phase, and now it is back :(.

He isn’t doing it a lot, but in the past week, he tried to hit (me or dad) 3 times when angry or frustrated. I have heard from the teacher once in the past month but yesterday, I had my embarrassing moment. A few parents were having a chat at Centre Island waiting for the kids to get off the rides. I mentioned that Blake is taller than the average 4 yr old and can get physical, and one of the kids’ grandma slipped out: “I think he does have that problem, because I overheard a kid reporting to mommy that Blake hit, and the mom rolled her eyes and said, how many times have I heard that before!”. Upon hearing the story, I turned beet red, wondering why I have not ever gotten any feedback on this from the teachers and had to find out this way. As I tried to probe a little further, the other moms all chimed in saying how it is so normal that I should not worry about it and tried to change the subject to make me feel better.

The truth is: we’ve tried everything. We’ve tried empathy (how would you feel if someone does that to you), stopping him mid-air and firmly tell him “we don’t hit”, putting him to time-out when he does it, as well as acknowledging his feelings (I know you are upset, frustrated) and teach him to problem solve or communicate using words, I even threatened him at times that if he does it, he’ll have grave consequences such as taking all his Lego away, but none of these strategies worked too well.

He never hits to hurt (it’s usually a pat on our arm while giving us dagger eyes) but rather to use it as an act of defiance. He understands it is wrong, sometimes regrets doing it after, but at the moment, it is I am going to show you that I am not happy. He hates time out, but the consequence alone isn’t sufficient enough to stop this act.

One thing I’ve learned a lot from this is to really understand your child’s personality and try to accept it. I’ve come to the realization that I have to stop wishing or molding my child into the kid I want, but to accept and embrace who they are, good and bad. I know it is important to be in tune with their feelings.

Blake has never been indifferent about what he wants, and he is a very passionate boy. For those who know me, you know the apples didn’t fall too far from the tree. However, he also is very impatient and seems to be lacking emotional intelligence than some kids his age. I have been trying to teach him to better regulate his own emotions by: doing by example, communication and role playing. I know all this effort will have a positive effect down the road, but for now, the results have been inconsistent.

Maybe there isn’t a way to completely stop this kind of behaviour. Maybe he will grow out of it. Maybe we don’t provide him enough outlets to channel his physical energy? Maybe he keeps on doing it because he always gets a reaction, but can you really ignore the action of hitting as a parent?

Why would a boy who shows lots of empathy for others, and has a warm, sweet heart by nature choose to be so testy with his hand? Or is it in their nature to be physical and we are making too big of a deal out of this?

Any advice and feedback?

 

 

My Favourite Photographer

I love photography! I planned to take a serious course at an art school before I had Blake. In fact, I was planning to take it during my first maternity leave because ‘what was I going to do with all that time otherwise?’ How na√Įve I was about motherhood then!

I still will one day, maybe when the kids don’t want to hang out with me anymore. For now, I have my favourite photographer: Marianne Rothbauer.

There are so many photographers to choose from and many of them are very, very good. The style of photography is also a personal taste; my favourite isn’t necessarily the best, it is just well, my favourite.

Some of my friends call me artsy fartsy, I think I just prefer the ones that have a little more something something than just making the subjects look good. I tend to be very nostalgic and hence am always attracted to images that capture the sentiment of the moment, and are able to invoke the feeling/emotion of the time when looked at later. I like lots of negative space in an image when done well.

Here is one we took with Marianne in 2012 for family portrait. Sorry I can’t share more as I still want to maintain a certain level of privacy.

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Here is her website and you can check it out yourself:

http://mariannerothbauer.com/blog/

Besides family portraits, I am planning on taking some self portraits with Marianne after I get my body back from this pregnancy and birth :).

Have you taken portraits of yourself professionally after you’ve had a child? I’d love to hear your experience.

 

Lean In – Women, Work, And The Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

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So I caved in. I usually don’t rush out to buy a book to read because of hype or controversy but as a working mom trying to establish a career in today’s corporate world, this one is just too tempting.

I heard a lot about this book before I read it, mostly criticisms. After I got it, I devoured the book in a few days (trust me, this is fast when you have a 4 yr. old, self-perceived super hero at home and one in the belly). It was an easy read. So the verdict? I have to say I loved it!

One of the biggest criticism was that Sheryl was giving advice to ordinary women when she herself is nothing but ordinary. She went to Harvard, got amazing internships, and was able to have a career and a family partially due to the great amount of money she and her husband made (so she could hire help). 

I actually don’t see this as a bad thing. While it is true that she came from an impressive gene pool (just check out what her siblings do for a living), and she was extremely smart and focused from a very young age, it does not take away the advice she wanted to give.

I am an extremely ordinary woman, who currently holds a non-managerial job nowhere near the executive level, and I can’t even afford to have a cleaning lady or babysitter for date nights, I still found some of her advice useful and easy to relate. I focused on the actual advice she was giving, rather than her privileged situation. I think we can learn from anyone, not just people¬†in the exactly same circumstances as us.

Here are a few points I really liked:

1. Women put themselves less out there at work. This is true from my own observation although there are always exceptions. I do find men appear to be more confident and always make sure they get their face time.

This is something I have been working on myself. It is great we try to prove ourselves through hard work, but the truth is, if nobody sees you and knows what you did, it is hard to get ahead.

2. Don’t leave until you leave. This one I am particularly guilty of. Sheryl points out that many women start to scale back way before they even have a family in anticipation of becoming a mother in the future, and that results in many lost opportunities.

I got engaged in 2007 and I knew my husband loved kids and wanted to have one sooner than later. I started gravitate toward positions that were more 9 to 5, without people management responsibilities and I wasn’t even married yet. I already assumed that fast career advancement was not doable if I became a mom.

Some women intentionally choose to slow down their careers because that is what they want, then that’s great. But I laid low because I just assumed I could not do it before I even tried. It took me 4 years to reevaluate and apply for a promotion. Now in hind sight, I did not have worse work life balance because of this promotion and I wish I had done it earlier.

3. Ditch the guilt trip. I truly believe this is in every mom’s DNA. We are programmed to feel guilty no matter what. From my doctor friends who do such amazing work to save lives and still manage to spend every night entertaining/breastfeeding their little ones, to the single mom friends who are the only financial source to their kids, no one escapes this “g” word.

Then there is me.¬† My mom worked her whole life, so did my grandmother, my aunts and every other woman in my family. I am proud of my¬†mom’s work (a research scientist) and I¬†admire my aunt’s drive (a physical therapist who now owns an acupuncture clinic) and my grandmother’s work ethic. I learned so much from these women and yet I still feel the sting when dropping off my son at daycare.

I am working on taking Sheryl’s advice on this: believe in the choice I made, and believe in ourselves. I know both my husband and I spend as much quality time as possible with our son and he is thriving. I hope one day he will be as proud of his mom just like how I am proud of mine.

Before I close this post for today, I just want to say that this last point is not just for working moms. For those fabulous stay at home moms I know, they sometimes have doubts whether they’ve made the right decision as well. I think we need to believe in the choice we’ve made and drown out the little negative voices, because we know in our hearts what is best for our children. Be confident, our kids will notice it!