I had a quiet lunch but it felt so empty

Today I had a quiet lunch before I set off for work in the afternoon.

Having the chance to sleep in later, to walk around the market at leisure, to sit down and quietly enjoy my hipster cafe lunch.

It felt like I had my old life back. And it felt strangely empty.

A mama walked into the cafe with her toddler in a Tula, and sat 2 tables away from me. I watched their interaction and it made me smile and feel an ache deep inside my heart.

A glimpse of my life not too ago.

I missed my Little Foot sorely (she went to her childcare preschool as usual). Her demands, her constant “why?”, even her tantrums which disrupts my meals a lot.

I really missed her presence at this meal.

And tonight, she will reach home to find biscuits and the papaya I just bought for her. And no mummy. And she will wait in vain until her eyelids are too heavy. Only Papa will be around.

For the umpteenth time, I wondered what I had gotten myself into, this job that takes me away from her more and more.

And I have no answer… really.

Sigh

Motherhood makes me feel like a wise old granny some days

If anyone ever asks me if there ever was a life-changing, coming of age moment for me, my simple answer is Yes, the day Emma came to be.  

I had a chat with a colleague I’ve known for quite some years recently, and during the conversation, she shared a little with me about the stresses from every part of her life that was simply just not within her control and it’s taking a toll on her health.  She too is a mother. 

What I can say is that, as she spoke and I visualised myself in her shoes, it simply felt impossibly exhausting. 

A working mother,

A supervisor holding a heavy portfolio at work. 

An only child of two retirees.

A mother of a young child taken care of by her parents who regularly sends her on emotional roller coaster rides. 

Bills and mortgages to pay, and she is the one bringing in more dough.

I sense her frustrations and her tension. And it’s apparent to everyone as well.

I finally told her my take on this whole work thing — we just do what we can. No point putting up fights and resistance unnecessarily. And the work, it never ends. We are always hard on ourselves and we feel so overwhelmed by the deadlines and the worries that something bad will happen if we don’t try to get things done asap. 

And I said, “it (the work) can never be finished. Tomorrow if we die, someone else will take over the work. We are not indispensable.  We are only indispensable to our children.” 

I’ve never been clearer about my priority in my life. 

I was trying to slowly get her to wrap her head around the idea that if we let all the work and the other stresses affect our health. If anything bad happens to us, what will happen to our children? So take it easy, learn to let go and go with the flow at work. 

Whether anything I said got through, I  don’t know… but at that point, I felt like an wise old granny. And I wonder where the old me went.  

Thrown away with the placenta I suppose. 

The current me stood, staring at the sky, holding a chocolate chiffon cake I had bought for Little Foot. 

At that point, nothing could be clearer. Unspoken.

Breaking the free spirit…

No photos today.

Day 5 of school; Day 3 of leaving her with the teachers.

Dropping Little Foot off is becoming more tricky, obviously the baby knew what was coming — Mummy was going to pass her to someone and walk out. She insisted on carrying her backpack (bear bear!) and her toy dog (Ah-Ah!) around the class, refused to lose bodily contact with me. In a last ditch attempt to reject this arrangement, she packed her items, held my hand and walked to the shoe cubbyhole, took out her shoes sat down and attempted to wear them.

A clear signal to Mummy to “lets get outta here”.

Heartbroken to see her in this state. I stayed with her as we waited for familiar faces to arrive (Gong 老师 has taken ill, and the other two teachers were not in so early). By 9am, it was clear I was going to have to really move off. So I did. Poor Little Foot cried big tears. Seriously distressed.

As I crossed the road and walked up the hill to my office, I reflected on her old weekday routine:

  • Breakfast/Milk
  • Morning visit to the market/playground with Aunty
  • Playtime
  • Bath time (bubbles time!)
  • More playtime, Barney, books, anything she wanted to do, she was free to roam around the house.
  • lunch
  • Nap
  • Milk
  • Playtime
  • Visit to the playground again with Aunty
  • Dinner
  • Playtime/reading time with mummy and papa
  • 2nd dinner with mummy and papa & Korean Drama time
  • Bath time
  • Playtime in the corridor (sometimes before bath time)
  • Get ready for bed.

Breaking her free spirit, breaking this old routine is heart-wrenching for me.

My 19-month-old doesn’t quite understand why there needs to be this change, and she certainly didn’t see anything wrong with the old routine, where she made all the little decisions – what clothes to wear, what shoes to wear, which toys she will pick from the boxes and cupboards, when it is a good time to have some biscuits or bread… which room she will explore in the house.

My 10 minute walk ended.

I needed to shake the sinking feeling that was creeping into my soul, lift up my chin and console myself that it will get better, she will like her new friends and new routine soon, and hey, it’s only 3 hours more to go before I go pick her up again during my lunch time.

Back to work, back to emails. Little Foot’s sad face still imprinted in my memory. Juxtaposed with the funny situation last night when she decided to climb out of bed to go on a night adventure to the playground – she’d chose a dress, packed her little bag, wore her shoes, opened the gate and walked out.

Sad. Surreal. 无奈.

Mummy feels like a broken person.

Today you cried, and I cried with you

Day 3 of school… Little Foot was all dressed for Hari Raya celebrations. And she decided that Ah-Ah the dog will be her companion for the day.

As agreed with Papa Long,  today would be the day we exited from class and really let her adjust. 

We left shortly after she has breakfast and was settled down on the rug with the Chinese teacher.  I had to walk out fast, more so that I wouldn’t crumble and decide to stay (that’s what happened yesterday).

My heart was pounding… I know my Little Foot was a brave one, but leaving my 19-month-old firstborn with people she still didn’t quite knew. I know it would be just too much for her.

I had breakfast with Papa and my friend (her son goes to the same school too)… and we waited.

1020am.  I can’t take it anymore!  Dragged Papa back to the school to peep.

“Mamamamama…”
“Mamamamama…”
*sniffles*
“Mama………”

My heart broke into a million pieces as I stood outside the door. I didn’t need to peep… I recognised my baby pie’s voice straightaway. 

She’s not a loud bawler….there was another new toddler crying and tearing the house down. In between I heard Little Foot’s cries and whimpers. 

Nothing, no amount of prep talks, no amount of moral support from everyone around me can prepare me for this moment.

Baby, you were crying in there and mummy’s tears were flowing inside my heart. Mummy was desperately trying to look brave and normal.

Papa was firm.  No, she has to get used to it.

I know… I know…. the theories are easy. Doing it was hard. The same baby I have carried so close to my heart day after day is crying for me. 

Finally we were reunited after diaper change time and it was meals time.

I held back my tears and gave her my biggest smile. She leaped into my arms. At that moment I wanted to carry her and run to a corner and hug her, nurse her and say “It’s ok, I’m sorry, let’s forget this whole rubbish idea of school.”

Instead I carried her back into the classroom.

I wanted to feed her, she wanted to latch. So afraid mama will disappear again. So in need of comfort. So we gave up after 3 spoons of porridge and said goodbye to everyone.

Still holding back my tears, still having to sound positive and encourage her that school wasn’t so bad, still telling her “no no…” not allowed to nurse her. 

Finally in the car. Yay! We survived! She finally got to the milk source. I finally dropped my plastic face.

And I silently broke down as I held her and stared at the skies.

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And this is how it is to really say goodbye to babyhood.

I remind myself, for my Dec baby, I have to grit my teeth and do this now, or her learning curve at N1 would be even more uphill if she has to also deal with the adjustments to being in the system.

Nobody said it was easy. Nobody told me it would be this hard either.

Of working mothers and our unnecessary guilt

…don’t think of working mothers as people who just leave office on time and do less than you. Think of us as people who have to try to do 48 hours of work in 24 hours.

It’s been half a year since I returned to work. As I gear up at work (not really by choice, but one should always have an honourable sense of responsibility), I find that I’m stretched thin when I try to be my best at home and at work.

It’s not just the past two weeks, but it’s a nagging guilt that I suppose every working mother carries.

I think I give myself a hard time too much and too unnecessarily.

I feel bad when I am home later than usual.

I feel bad saying goodbye every morning when Little Foot would sputter and burst into tears, try to reach for me, try to stop me from leaving.

I feel bad when I go do ” me things” like get a haircut after work instead of running straight home.

Heck, I feel bad even about slowly sauntering home instead of brisk walking home from the train station!

Imagine how bad I felt when I had to pry myself from her on Sunday morning while she was kicking up an epic tantrum,  because I have to go be somewhere for work.

Some days I wonder if I’m the only mum in this world that beat myself over every second not given to my daughter.  Maybe not.

As I grapple with my feelings and try to continue to keep work and life separate, I sometimes pause to ask myself “why am I making things so hard for myself?”

And I would remind myself that it’s ok to have “me time” it is ok to still want to excel beyond motherhood. Otherwise,  there is no me left. I cannot simply be Little Foot’s mummy without also living for myself. My hopes, my aspirations,  my needs and wants, they still matter.

To the other folks out there… don’t think of working mothers as people who just leave office on time and do less than you. Think of us as people who have to try to do 48 hours of work in 24 hours. We juggle, we struggle…sometimes we look like we aren’t putting in as much as you.  I beg to differ if you think that way. We are just forced to become more effective and efficient. The work of a mother never ends. At 1am, we may be dealing with a kid awakened by nightmare. At 3am we could be dealing with a dirtied bed because baby puked… we have teething and fevers, flu and vaccinations to deal with. These things don’t make appointments with you. They happen whether a mother likes it or not.

AND we still reply the Whatsapp messages related to work at night, or boot up the laptop at odd hours to get some work done after the baby is asleep.

AND we still turn up for work the next morning (after dealing with a whole set of morning routine with the kid), grab a caffeine fix, and proceed to try to meet whatever deadlines we have, and look sharp at meetings. We would like to dream of our beds, but we don’t.  We tell ourselves not to waste time thinking about the bed. Because then the unnecessary guilt kicks in and we say “Hurry up,  get the work done. Baby’s waiting”.

We don’t bring our moods to work. Because moods and tantrums makes us less effective at work. And we know, we know there is always that one unmarried/childless colleague or boss who is lurking in the corner, waiting to see us trip up and think, “see, these mummies… they aren’t as committed, they aren’t as good….”. So we try harder than anyone else to be professional, because the odds are not in our favour.

Of course, there may be some working mothers who really don’t commit as much as the bare minimum,  those are not the ones I speak for… I speak for those who are like me, trying to be the best on all fronts and always guilt-tripping ourselves unnecessarily all the time because, really we wish we could do more on all fronts. We’ve given up gym and spas and “chill out after work” sessions with colleagues, all so that we can give more to work and home. Think of us while you chill. Have a beer in our honour.

The road ahead as a working mother is long… somehow, I know things will pan out fine. Because when in doubt, I come home to hug my baby and let her smiles wash all my worries and fears away.

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Every morning, Little Foot waves goodbye to me tearfully. A shot taken from the lift landing that peers into my balcony.

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15 months…. of milestones

Little Foot is 15 months today.

Wow… really, where has all the time gone by?

Every month on this day, I ask myself the same question.

Being a working mother is tough emotionally. Same for the working father.  We go through each day trying to run home as early as possible, just to catch that short window of time before baby falls asleep. And you hope in that short 1 to 2 hours before bedtime, she will suddenly crawl, nod head, clap or walk for the first time. It’s heart wrenching when I am informed that she has crawled or taken a step on her own.
At least I can faithfully celebrate every month-niversary. Today we went for a playdate.  I think she had fun 🙂

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15 months…

♡ Little Foot is more steadily standing and walking assisted. Still not quite ready to let go and walk on her own.
♡ Has 7 teeth (the 8th coming out)
♡Recently developed a bad habit of having meltdowns (terrible two starts early?)
♡ Had tried so many different types of food because of our Taiwan trip.

Some things remains the same…

♡ She still needs to be rocked to sleep in carrier for her naps
♡ Still needs to nurse to sleep at night
♡ Still doesn’t seep through the night
♡ Still encounters constipation / hard stools frequently
♡ Still a biscuit and puffs monster
♡ Still a fan of tetrapaks and straws

15 months on, and I am still a breastfeeding mummy… some days I think of stopping, but watching your restless sleeps, I can’t bear to. Don’t worry, mummy’s  not in a hurry. Be my baby a little longer ok?

Love you lots, my silly kissy baby. I continue to pray that you will always sing your own tune in life, and not feel pressured by your surroundings to conform. I know every milestone,  you are going at your own pace, take your time, baby,  the road ahead is long!

15 months together has been a road filled with self – discovery, laughter and tears… and that’s what makes this journey meaningful and memorable.

I look forward to being here for you for many many more months and years ahead… making memories together.

Hope your flu that is making you grumpy goes away soon!

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The Little Girl at the lift landing

It has been a habit of hers shortly after I started working again.

In the evenings, as if prompted by some invisible clock in her, Little Foot would make enough noise to get our helper to carry her to the corridor outside and stick around at the lift landing. They would stare at the numbers changing as the lifts moved, and look in anticipation whenever the lift door opened. To see if it was me.

I gotta say, this is one of the most amazing things to come home to after a long day – to see Little Foot’s face light up like a megawatt Christmas tree when my lift reaches our floor and the door opens.

I never thought anyone could miss me this much.

I never imagined anyone could love me so much.

And I much less could understand how much joy and warmth something so simple could bring to my very heart and soul.

Thank you my dear Little Foot.

One day in the near future, you won’t bother to be there at the lift landing when I come back in the evenings…. so for now, I wanna lock in that bright smile of yours into my memory vault. So when the day comes, I know I was blessed to experience this, because your smile washes all my tiredness, pain, anguish, sadness all away.

Your smile gives me a sense of purpose and a lot of courage for anything that comes my way.

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And one day, maybe it would be your turn too, to experience such a simple yet profound love, when you become a mama yourself.

XOXO
Mummy is going to smile in my dreams 🙂

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It’s been a long week…

Today is Friday.

It felt like the week was too long this week, perhaps because I am having withdrawal syndrome after spending a good long long weekend with Little Foot (with two days off last week).

Also because I was called back to office on Monday night.

Unexpectedly, work delayed me from returning home tonight. 

Do I blame work? Not really. Work has always been there.

I just realised that  while it was still in my DNA to be absorbed by my work, and this week was mickey mouse in comparison to how hard I used to drive myself, something had changed at my very core.

Me. My attitude towards work. My attitude towards people.

First and foremost, I am Little Foot’s mother. The pre-motherhood me may have had empathy for everyone under the sun. That’s what my religion taught me… so I apply it. Mechanically.

The me today applies empathy to everyone because as a mother I have experienced a transformation of sorts… I have this “don’t want this to happen to my child” attitude. I apply it to everyone and everything instinctively. 

Motherhood perhaps made me unwilling to be judgemental on others, and also unwilling to impose my views and values on others.

Remembering how I used to assume that because I chiong at work, people in my team should do so too. I laughed at how clueless I was…. there is life beyond work. And some people made it a point to have a different kind of priority list from the chronic workoholic.  I’ve been there and now I’m on the other side of the fence.

Life does have a way of boomeranging back on us.

And so tonight I rushed back in time to catch Little Foot before she slept. We hugged and I nursed her to sleep. I sang to her. I patted her backside.

And I wanted to cry.

How I missed her the whole week… yet I hardly had time to miss her.
I can’t help but wonder what I’ve missed while away from her.

And I wanted to cry. Mentally, it is exhausting, focusing on not thinking about the one person you just want to think about, so I can finish work and get back to her sooner rather than later.

I hope in the course of my work, I don’t have to unknowingly do anything that would take someone else away from their family unless there is really no choice.

As a wise friend once said, we always have a choice. We just assume we don’t.

How true.

Thank God for all the small pockets of time spent together. 

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A quick wefie the moment I walked through the door

Thank God it’s Friday.

Dwindling photos

Because I’m at work for the better part of the times that Little Foot is awake, I find that the number of photos capturing her moments, the number of wefies and random shots have dwindled to a handful, sometimes not even one photo a day on week days. 

I feel sad.

Little Foot, am I missing anything while I’m at work?

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Playtime with Papa yesterday just before bedtime

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Playtime with mummy this evening.

We have a baby cam which I got Papa Long to place in front of her playmat in the house. Watching her playing or zooming past in her walker helps me manage my feelings when I miss my little girl.

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Thank God for technology, but I do miss those sahm days when I could keep snapping photos, watch her play, read her a book and guide her along with whatever she was trying to do.

Still, I take heart that she is in good hands.

I tell myself, chin up…there’s always weekends and lunch dates.

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Just another moment, please?

My Little Foot is pushing her bed time.  Nowadays, she end up trying her hardest to be up till 9pm. An hour later than her usual bed time which she set herself months ago.

My guess is, maybe she just wants a few more minutes and a few more moments with me. For that, I am grateful.

Today, I missed her while I watched her play through the baby monitor. So near, yet so far… I could sit there and stare all day watching her go through all her toys, pulling herself to stand supported, but there is work to be done, and I want to quickly wrap it up and not do OT.

Every working mama goes through this. A sense of wistfulness,  and also a secret prayer to the Big Guy Up there to not let you miss a milestone –“No, don’t take your first steps while I’m not there…”

When I used to have 24/7 with her, I didn’t really maximise the time we had together.  Now that time together is a scarcity,  there are times I rather not take my dinner till we’ve played and she’s fast asleep. Every morning,  I keep saying to myself,  “just awhile more…” before I have to peel myself away from her side.

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I’m sure I’m not alone in this journey.
To my fellow full time working mummies, jia you!