Things things things

If everything goes according to plan I will have another child at some point in time.  With this in consideration I’ve made a mental check-list of things that I would do differently.  Isn’t it great that we often have opportunities to be better the second time around?  As someone who likes her world to be orderly and calm it bothered me that I was all over the place after I gave birth to my son.  Some of that can be attributed to the pressure of experiencing motherhood for the first time but in other ways I was ill-prepared.  So let me take away some of the guesswork and advise you on how to be a pro.

This is not a new concern of mine and you can find my post on baby clothes here.  The main principle that both articles emphasize is that part of being ready means that you don’t skimp on the necessities.  I was too careful and always felt that I could manage without.  You know what the reality of it is?  That person advising you to focus on the basics is not the one nursing at all hours of the night.  So put in the time to do the research with mommy blogs and others who offer valuable insight into not making it harder on yourself.  Please, the next time around I will ask for the epidural shortly after changing into my dressing gown and know that everything will not go smoothly, but it’s my reaction to these situations that matters.  So here’s some baby gear that I could not live without and other products that are the first on my shopping list when the occasion calls for it.  I’ve categorized them as now and then, and though it’s far from comprehensive, it is a start:

NOW

1. Sleep Sheep

Because infants hear your heartbeat and swooshing of blood while in the womb, they are not particularly fond of silence.  This little lamb will provide soothing background noise for the first few months and many years to come.  My son is two and half and still falls asleep to the sound of rain each night.

2. Robeez

Made of genuine leather and a team of talented artists, these little slippers will help keep socks on when they’re young and keep their toes warm once they’re more mobile.  Because they stretch as their feet grow, you will be able to use a pair for even longer than you intended.

3. Baby Bjorn

My son has always liked human touch and is a snuggle monster still.  So he loved to be right next to us when we were out and about.  The reality is that I’ll be caring for our child mostly on my own next time so I will also think of getting a body wrap for when our next child is very young.  Bjorns should be used only when they reach the specified weight.

4. Bogs

These boots are comfortable, waterproof and durable.  Toddlers will love the shorter ones for their first winter and the taller boots are great for the boys.  Their lovely designs are also winners in my book.

5. Pottery Barn furniture

Their pieces are well-constructed and certain items, like bookshelves can be in your child’s room right up till university.  If their tastes change you can also transfer them to the guest room and not be too worried about it.

THEN

1. Aden & Anais

These breathable swaddlers made of 100% cotton will not overheat your newborn.  Though they are on the pricier side they literally are first on my shopping list for when the time comes.  About two sets should do it.  They’re excellent for wrapping your child when they’re transitioning to sleeping on their own.

2. Bouncer

They love to lounge and this gives you a chance to fold some laundry or just chill out.

3. Bassinet 

I would get one both for my stroller and for placing in our room for the first few weeks.  I believe that Health Canada recommends that newborns stay by their parents’  bed for the first six weeks.

4. Stroller organizer

This allows you to not have to carry a purse when you’re out and about.  There are pockets for your cellphone, credit cards and coffee.

5. Pottery Barn bedding

My next nursery is going to have a theme and a Pottery Barn sheet set.  We love our current Peter Rabbit collection sheet and pillow sham and will complete it with the quilt and bumpers.

6. Comfortable seating

You truly need a comfortable seat in the nursery.  Whether you choose to nurse or bottle-feed it’s important to have a chair that you can hold the baby in.  Buy one that you wouldn’t mind using in another room.

7. Dresser/Change table

I would not have a separate change table but instead have a change-table item to place on top of a dresser.  That way you can remove that item when it is no longer necessary.

So there you go.  And remember no matter what, enjoy this time and know that you are so very loved.

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Two for tea

One of the more “intense conversation” I’ve had with Andrew took place in the most decadent of places: a lovely tea salon in Paris.  Hey, if you’re going to have a fight you might as well do it with white linen.  We disguised it as a discussion about the French theorist Pierre Bourdieu and on the theme of taste regimes but really we were arguing.  Apparently that’s what nerds do, they use theory to get at each other.  He’d say that he won but I’ll call it a draw because the hot chocolate was really, really good.  In any case, after taking a nap we were buds again.

It all started when he refused to wait an hour to gain entrance.  I don’t really blame him because I don’t see many men lining up that length for tea service.  I normally wouldn’t be so insistent but after reading accounts in a couple of travel books, I was not about to leave the city without having had a taste.  So, I told him to head back to the hotel and that I would eat alone.  Now, some women might say this and then pout about it later.  I’m not one of those women.  When I say that I don’t mind being alone, I don’t mind being alone.  Early in my pregnancy I remember watching The Help on my own in a cinema with tears flowing freely down my face.  The whole thing started to go awry when he attributed his impatience to Angelina being a tourist trap.

I don’t deny that it is, but hey, this certainly was not an issue when we lined up for an hour and half in front of the Musee d’Orsay in the pouring rain earlier in the day.  Apparently, impressionists makes certain popular attractions more palatable.  Truly, I’m the first to run to the museum in any new city precisely because of the way that works of art makes you feel.  I will never forget seeing Klimt’s “The Kiss” in Vienna, in person, after having seen it day and night in my university apartment.  You never have to ask me twice.  But experiencing the beauty of food made with such care and skill is so visceral and important too.  Also, the whole concept of the “tourist trap” bothers me.  That statement reduces something meaningful to something flimsy like mesh.  Of course you would never catch me outside of a wax museum and certain tall structures, but certain “traps” are popular because they are pretty enjoyable too.  A gagillion people can’t all be wrong right?  I’ve never defined myself as someone who is afraid to be part of the crowd.  Being open to taking on any activity that means something to you is never a failing.  So next time you’re out and about don’t be scared to join the queue.  Plus, you just might have some fun.

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I just called

When we first arrived in Canada, calling my family in Burma used to be a huge production.  The long distance charges were expensive, the wires in Yangon were often frayed or broken and we phoned early in the mornings because of the time difference.  This resulted in short conversations where much of it consisted of inquiring about their meals and asking if they could hear us.  I was also often half-asleep.  This was unfortunate because I missed my family terribly and wanted to connect with them.  However, this situation helped to shape my philosophy on relationships.

There are few individuals I love more than my extended family in Burma.  Their love is vast and they love affectionately, openly and well.  It’s very easy to care for them because we are there for each other unconditionally and without judgement.  That’s what being a close-knit family means, not the minutes you clock in each other’s company.  It’s also because the connections are honest and we’re not desperately trying to avoid conflict.  People fight, people forgive, people share a meal.  Leaving them was very difficult and I always feel that it’s better when we’re together.  But we’re not together and that’s the point.

It’s almost comical to expect relationships to remain just as they are when there is an ocean between you.  You don’t even need physical space for partnerships to shift.  The saving grace is that after the initial shock of missing loved ones the flow of life starts to mold your days once more.  With that rhythm, landmarks and people become familiar and gradually you move on.  It’s alright you know.  You just start to have these pockets of networks in different locations.  They are all beautiful even if they’ll never overlap.  Because strangely enough you learn very quickly as a seven year old that pining for a former life doesn’t bring it back.  It’s painful but you just have to let go and fully embrace those times when you are lucky enough to meet each other again.  Be here now.

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Shhh

The first rule you learn in the sandbox is that you don’t engage the haters.  How did we forget such sage advice?  Haters will hate, people will talk, what can you do?  The principle behind it is that you can’t offer them an advantage.  As soon as you give them a reaction, which is the only thing they seek more than attention, they’ve already won.  For example, Renee Zellweger.  Jesus Christ, you are an Academy-Award winning actress.  It is nobody’s business what you do with your face.

Here’s the thing though, activism, open-mindedness, and defining yourself as a liberal generally means that you know when to play ball.  Being a caring individual demands it.  So often we want to stay quiet because it’s inconvenient, we don’t want to get in trouble or become an outsider.  In the face of any form of hatred, when someone else’s human rights are being compromised, it is our duty to speak up and to bear witness.

That is all the heavy stuff but in the more superficial realm of someone not liking you, well who really cares.  The best possible tactic you can take is to pay them no mind.  It’s always so easy to laugh behind a keyboard or with a group of girlfriends right?  Just remember that the person you’re ridiculing is someone’s sister, son, daughter or brother.  With all this in consideration, it takes a great deal of will-power not to involve yourself in these situations, especially when you’ve thought of something particularly witty to say.  Practicing radio silence is not easy.  But seriously, expend that energy somewhere else more productive and on someone more worthy.

Everyone is different.  Some provide a play-by-play of their daily life, others don’t.  But I guarantee that 99.9% of the time, both parties are doing just fine.

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Subtle

When we were recently leaving a furniture store my husband commented that its contents were for Meglomaniacs.  Having heard this term readily but not fully knowing its meaning, I asked for the definition.  Apparently when it comes to matters of aesthetics, Meglomaniacs are obsessed with wealth and markers of privilege.  They lack the soft touch when it comes to displaying their accomplishments.

Now, this got me to thinking about how important subtlety is in our everyday lives.  There is a certain respect I have for straight-shooters.  Their ability to be blunt is much more appealing to me than the ones who are too afraid to say what they mean.  But I feel that relationships are easier to maintain if one strikes a balance between brutal honesty and some finesse.

The problems arise when truth bombs, whether they are warranted or not, can compromise people’s confidence.  These statements are often not precise enough.  Improvements need to be made but there are workable components too right?  But I feel like there is nothing better than having these types of people in your life.  They offer valuable opportunities for self-reflection and keep your wits sharp.  You just have to learn to pick out the useful parts of their critiques and be grateful that they help you build a thick-skin.  You will always gain more from those who push you than the ones who have nothing bad to say.

The other case for the soft touch is that no one likes to define their tasks as being only a duty.  Nine out of ten times I’m sure that people will go out of their way to do something for you.  It’s when you assume that it’s a given that there is potential for conflict.  They just want to be asked and given the privilege of saying “yes.”  I’m pretty sure that everyone is deserving of at least that right?  Also, if someone is doing you a favor, I would try to make their life as easy as possible and to save the non-essentials for when you can do it yourself.

Simplicity is a principle that I return to again and again.  Whether it’s related to fashion or home decor I feel that there is a skill associated with minimalism and something so beautiful about how it leaves room for interpretation.  When it comes to relationships I also subscribe to the notion that the most logical reading is probably your answer.  How many of us have read over texts or emails looking for something that just isn’t there.  So often “simple” is associated with lack but I disagree.  You gain so much by filtering the noise, both in terms of what you give out and what you receive.

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On the road

The first lie that parents-to-be tell themselves is that nothing will change.  Let me give it to you straight, everything changes.  You don’t sleep the same, you don’t eat the same, hell, you probably don’t see the same because you’re so tired.  But they make you better.  You love in a boundless way that you never thought was possible.  I would do anything for my son.  If running in front of a moving vehicle meant that he had more time to reach his potential I would do it gladly because I’ve lived plenty.

One aspect of my former life that I am not willing to part with is my love of travel.  I very much take on Angelina Jolie’s philosophy when she says: “Anytime I feel lost, I pull out a map and stare.  I stare until I have reminded myself that life is a giant adventure, so much to do, to see.”  Being forever rooted sounds like an absolute nightmare.  My husband feels the same way and has consequently chosen a career that is conducive to these types of dreams.  So when we planned for a family these intentions remained.

There are things that you cannot plan for though, like timing and the temperament of the child.  At certain ages it is much easier to travel on long-haul flights.  Granted, they may cry at times when they’re an infant, but you don’t have to walk up and down the aisle for hours on end like you would with a toddler.  Our neighbour once said that our son is full of beans.  He absolutely loves people and draws so much energy from them.  While saying this, he is not the best at waiting and biding his time.  For these types of children, a 12 hour flight is not the best idea till they are a bit older and can rationalize why it’s taking so long.  Hell, I’m 32 and I still find 16 hour flights to be killer.  But, those places will wait for you so bide your time too.

We’ve taken a few vacations and his grandparents have graciously cared for him in our absence.  But moving to Massachusetts has once again changed everything.  We just bring him everywhere now, from the bank to the grocery store.  We do so many more activities in small-town America than we ever did in Toronto.  This has shown us that if we raise our expectations for his behavior, he will rise to the occasion.  Of course it’s a learning process but with every road trip where he doesn’t ask to get up or event that he leaves without a fit, it builds our confidence that he’ll be ready in time for more major trips.

My advice to parents who are thinking of taking on these endeavors is to always have snacks and do activities that work with your child’s personality.  We always agreed that he will join our adventures because it’s an integral part of building his cultural capital.  Seeing the different ways that people live out their everyday lives transforms your perspective on privilege and contentment.  The other day I said to Andrew that when we’re in LA this summer we should take C to Disneyland.  To this, C replied, “We should go to China.  I want to go to China.”  I think he’s game non?

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Don’t speak

I feel like my love affair with Paris would be complete if I never had to speak a word.  Is that even possible?  To love a place where the thought of speaking to anyone fills me with a slight dread?  Like always, the distant ones get me every time and Paris is no exception.  Her indifference and slight contempt for my lack of proficiency in the official language makes her all the more appealing.  Plus, I plan on slowly but surely building on my twenty plus years of public school French to be able to engage more the next time around.  Well, it’s kind of necessary if we’re planning on staying for a year.

Honestly though, there are plenty of people in Toronto for whom English is not their first language.  When they approach me on the street to ask for directions my first reaction is to be patient and understanding.  Having said this though, I do believe that it’s only respectful that anywhere you go you learn to say the please and thank yous in the native tongue.  In France I want to say so much more.  The key to learning any language is to not be shy and just try to communicate, however broken the sentences come out.  Well at least that’s what my Thai language tutor B taught me.  This man is the most joyful person I have ever met.  He used to use the hula hoop during lessons for “exercise” because he said that’s how you get rid of love handles.  My homework consisted of going to the Sunday night market in Chiang Mai to bargain.  I think I got a great deal on some teak placemats precisely because I accidentally mixed up numbers.  It also made the salesperson laugh so it provided a beautiful exchange.  When I attempt to do this in France however, I get mixed results.  There are those who truly appreciate the effort and others who just want to get on with it.  Whatever, you win some, you lose some.  I’m sure when I’m there for a couple of months and not a few days the experiences will be greater on the side of good.

But the one place I’ve been where I’ve never felt out of place is Buenos Aires.  Being in that city is like entering a freshly-made bed.  We could not speak a word of Spanish but every single person didn’t want to put us out and tried their best to help.  Imagine that, a society that did not want to inconvenience the tourist!  We stayed in a residential neighborhood away from the downtown hub so we ate at ten o’clock like everyone else, with both the senior citizens and newborn babies.  I was just starting to show in my pregnancy when we visited and people would politely offer me seats on the subway and ensure that I was comfortable.  The absolute beauty of this metropolitan city is not found just in the lovely boulevards, pastry shops on every corner, the art and culture being alive and well, but in their openness to difference.  As a racialized female you don’t get to feel this ease everywhere and Buenos Aires, I sure do look back at you fondly.  You are special.

Still, there is nowhere like Paris and I loved it when locals would ask me for directions on the street in French.  It was so thrilling to pass, well at least for those five seconds till I opened my mouth or the valiant attempt to understand registered on my face.  See, fashion does have power.

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Blank slate

I want to buy my first house and paint it fifty shades of grey.  Most people get rid of their IKEA furniture when they move in with someone or buy their condo.  We are finally at that stage and I am so excited.  I’m using the same precision I practice to rid myself of things I do not want, to thoughtfully invest in pieces I actually want to own now.

Furniture shopping with my husband is a constant negotiation.  Ha.  Much like our marriage.  But still I’m pretty forthright when there is no room for discussion.  I think my exact words are usually “that ugly-ass lamp is not coming with us.”  His solution is to always put it in the basement.  If you ever come over to our house you’ll understand why you are not allowed down there.

I am inspired by two schools of interior design because of their warmth: arts and crafts and french country.  These styles look like actual people live in the space and it is not a transient hospital room or airport lounge.  But the reality of making a house functional for a family is that you need clean, minimalist designs with materials that can be easily washed like leather, glass and metal.  Plus, I think Andrew once cited an academic article about the connotations of low cultural capital associated with hoarding.  He’s made his point.

If we’re going with contemporary, which is a melding our tastes, then I am going to work hard to add some humanity to it.  Like with fashion I think rooms look awful when they’re too “done”.  There is always one piece that puts it just over the top and makes it camp.  The most stylish ladies look a bit undone.  Even for the boardroom there is a way to balance your business casual to look like you didn’t come straight from Ann Taylor.

But these design objectives are reliant on us committing to living in a certain place.  One time Andrew mused on how we are not “cottage people.”  Funny thing coming from someone who never had a cottage to run to every weekend in the summer.  But still, we both agreed that we’d rather go to Paris or any other place with museums and restaurants.  I sometimes think that being rooted to one city scares him because we would have to get someone to water our plants or something.

I believe that it was John Green who said, “It is so hard to leave—until you leave.  And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.”  Moving to the States was exhausting not just physically but mentally.  Trying to make sense of all the different bureaucratic circles was harder than taking the MCATS.  But I think in some ways Andrew reveled in it.  During the snow storm last December when half of Toronto had no power, he looked to me and said, “I kind of like this because it means I have to problem-solve.”

We figure we’ll reevaluate things in five years and decide if we just commit and move to Europe.  Some people call it a plan B, we call it an exit strategy.  Furnished apartment, three suitcases, and you’re there.

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Dotted line

There is no better motivator, the thing that gets you down to business, than looking to buy a home.  Yes, please let me go into debt so that I can live out the American dream of owning property.  Where do I sign?  But seriously though, when the price is right and the interior is nice I sometimes say, what, is this house haunted?  All jokes aside though it’s so motivating to see your starter home within reach especially after years of being a graduate student.

I also am living in a town in Massachusetts where housing prices are reasonable and you can obtain some beautiful properties and still not be a slave to your work.  The white picket fences naturally fit in a community where people hold open doors, ask “how you doing?” and smile.  They actually strive to be good neighbors.  God, I come from a city where everyone minds their own business and if someone smiled at me on the street I’d wonder if they were about to rob me.  This place is wearing down some of the cynicism.  Slightly.  It’s nice not to be a big grump anymore.

What I feel more reflexive about is how I used to feel sorry for those who didn’t live in large urban centers.  For awhile Toronto was the centre of the universe and those who were not within her orbit were just dreadfully unlucky.  But the fact is, I would roll my eyes at the old me.  There are different ways of living and being.

There are self-important people who feel that their bleeding hearts do the world a service.  Even if you sent them an email with images of your new house and tell them that your dreams of escrow finally came true, they would find a way to feel sorry for you.  Because you know, you might feel at home but you live in the country.  To these individuals I just want to draw a distinction between empathy and taking away someone’s agency.  Not everyone wants to be just like you.  If someone is struggling, of course be supportive, open and there but they can probably do without your worry.  Because these types of interactions quickly become stale and can even verge on toxic.  They just might take the next flight out of town to not be stifled by the weight of your expectations.  Chill.

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Line em up

There was a time in my life when I wanted everything to be perfect.  You know the phrase “have all your ducks in a row?”  I would be the person making sure that the distance between them was exactly 3.5 cm.  Then I had a child and started adopting the motto “better done than perfect.”  Not only did I become more pragmatic but less of a pill.

The long and short of it is that life is not a three act play where people are going read their lines and behave the way you want on cue.  One of the most exciting aspects of life is the concept of free will and the ability make autonomous choices once you reach a certain age.  Wanting that dinner to go according to plan or that party to work out exactly so will just put you in a tizzy.  Tightly wound people will be the death of me I swear.

This is not to say that I don’t have great expectations.  I am my own harshest critic and expect a certain level of decorum and achievement from myself.  The only thing I take more seriously than my own success is the responsibility of parenting.  I like doing things well and this is one task that I do not want to fail at.  I’ve always been able to remain calm because most of my frazzled self happens below the surface.  Now, this does not mean that I’m not sometimes a spazz.  Highly driven people mostly are.  My husband recalls how most of his childhood friends were spazzes well into high school and they are now all well-adjusted, kind, high-achievers.  They are very good men.  So what can be considered strong-willed can be guided towards leadership and motivation if handled intelligently.  I love C’s spunk, though sometimes parenting him requires the patience of saints.  But, the last thing I want is to raise a mindless follower whose very identity depends on meeting normative benchmarks.  I remember when I was young I always wanted to know why I could or could not do something.  Being entrenched in an Asian household this was obviously defined as being impertinent but it really wasn’t.  I just wanted to reason and determine if what was instructed of me aligned with my values.  There’s nothing wrong with thinking for yourself.

But if there’s anyone that I want to be perfect for it’s for my son.  Hell, I would work three jobs if it meant that he received a private education.  It is up to me to provide him with as many opportunities as possible, to be an enabler.  Gaining high cultural capital is work but it is a form of enrichment and a life-long project.  I’m here to build up the conditions for these engagements.

So of course having a perfectionist as a mother will come with some pressure but those who know C best understand that he already recognizes precisely what he wants.  I don’t think there is a danger of him living for his parents.

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