To my Bersih baby

A compilation of Facebook statuses to record the 4th Bersih rally, my first rally after RJ’s birth. Introduction to Bersih 4.0 by ANU lecturer Dr Gerhard Hoffstaedter (more reading available at the end of this article.)

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RJ learning how to “guling”, hold up her 4 fingers

Dear baby,

During the first Bersih, I was 24 and a new lawyer too afraid to stand up for a cause.

During Bersih 2.0, I organised a group of friends to attend. We didn’t dare wear our yellow T-shirts, but brought it along and put it on after getting hit by water canons in Tung Shin.

During Bersih 3.0, I went with my housemates and met up with your daddy at Masjid Jamek in time to get gassed together. This was a month before his brain injury.

You were born, three years after that day, on 28 April.

Tomorrow, daddy and I have decided to leave you with your grandparents, while we go to Bersih 4.0.

We are older, slower, and have seen much more since then. Still, we will go. Why? Because we have so much hope for this nation and love for this land.

Because to keep hope alive, we must speak words of life and walk humbly.

Because the only way to teach you to be brave is for us to be strong and very courageous.

We will take a stand at such a time as this. We will speak up that justice and righteousness must rise in our nation. We walk tomorrow, so that you won’t have to in future.

I hope when you look back at history, what this generation fought for will not be in vain.

Let mercy and justice flow like a river.

Love,
Mummy

(Ed: This story was picked up and published by the folks at Greater Malaysia)

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10.30am, August 29 (Bersih 4.0, Day1)

Packed, on the way out of the house to drop anak off. Suddenly, she had a diaper emergency.

Er, sebelum bersihkan negara, kena bersihkan anak dulu…

I realise that personally, my MO for this rally changed a lot this time compared to all the previous ones.

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11am, August 29 (Bersih 4.0, Day1)

So we were carrying all of RJ’s barang-barang to the car. The lift doors opened to reveal a lady around our age, carrying a little girl. Both were dressed in yellow. We smiled knowingly at each other.

Lady to us : “wow, everyone is wearing yellow today, ”
Me, nonchalant : “yeah”
Lady: “are you going to the rally? “
Husband, cautiously: “yes we are”
Lady: “my husband is already there. you gonna dump your baby with mother before you go to rally is it? ”
Me, surprised :” yeah, something like that… ”
Lady, nodding : “I wanted to do that but my mother doesn’t allow… “

Thank you parents for enabling us to do this.

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7am, 30 August (Bersih 4.0, Day 2)

After scrolling the exciting Bersih updates for the past three hours and trying to calm an excited four-month-old, we put on our Bersih tees to head out to breakfast before church.

Husband happily hoisted baby over his shoulder as we exited the bedroom. We were discussing the impact of the rally and where to go for breakfast when, mid sentence, RJ vomited.

Oh well. There goes the Bersih shirt. Good thing we have a few…

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11am, 30 August (Bersih 4.0, Day 2)

For some reason my short post about attending the rally got picked up by a portal (without asking for permission) yesterday. Although I’m embarrassed by the unwarranted attention, I’ve decided to let the post remain.

Because I believe that stories matter. I could write a thousand word essay about theories, but your eyes would glaze over. Instead, stories resonate with people, because it makes us recognise the humanity in each other.

Our story is not remarkable. We only asked our parents to babysit while we went to the rally for a few hours.

It pales in comparison with many friends who slept on cold tarmac along Jln TAR last night, including a certain 74 year old man.

Or the neighbour I wrote about who couldn’t go, but dressed her children in yellow and told them about it. Or the hawkers who couldn’t close their businesses to go, but donned Bersih4.0 tees while selling curry mee. Or those who disagree with the rally, but are willing to have a conversation with those who went.

Stories like this make us who we are, Malaysia. If all of us have that same passion and love for the nation, it doesn’t matter how you choose to express it. We can start (and continue) this national conversation, and the nation will be better for it.

What’s your story? Will you share it with someone, today? I would love to tell it to RJ.

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On Bersih

From The Guardian (UK)
Al Jazeera Report
Coverage by The Wall Street Journal
No More Mr Nice Guy, says The Economist

Tougher days 

I’ve not been able to write anything new here for awhile thanks to being so busy with Jamie. He’s been having a fussy week or two, and has been rearing his grumpy side at home more than usual.

In general, Jamie is mostly a fuss free baby, so it’s a bit surprising for me to see him behaving the way he has lately. Initially, I chalked it down to the after effects of his last round of vaccinations, since I noted that the fussy spells started to happen more often after he recovered from a bout of fever after getting his shots.

But then again, it could just be him reaching another growth milestone. I’ve read that babies tend to become a bit more on the fussy side on growth spurt days. What made this round more unbearable, however, was the fact that I was experiencing Growth Spurt Week rather than just a couple of Growth Spurt Days like how it had been in the transition period between the first and second month of Jamie’s life.

Now, in his third (and soon reaching his fourth, in fact), his overall behaviour seems to have drastically shifted gears.

Not only is he more active, he is more likely to display drastic mood swings where he can be really happy one moment and terribly grouchy in the next. He is also more likely to get distracted during feeding times, much to my dismay.

Whenever he fusses, it is hard to figure out what he really wants and even when I do, it’s disheartening to realise that what he’s asking for is to be constantly carried around the home. If I try to put him down in the cot or bouncer or anywhere at all, he will make lots of noise to make sure I know he disapproves.

Some days, he naps really little in the daytime. He also has greater trouble falling asleep at night. And although he can now sleep through the night on certain days, on other nights he wakes up for at least two feeds (thus confusing my poor boobs who continue to produce milk faithfully every night regardless of whether Jamie is there to lap it up or not. Sigh).

He also has this terrible habit of grabbing bits of my hair in his fists and not letting go.

But at the same time, Jamie is more expressive and vocal, which are things that have been wonderfully amusing to experience with him. That also means though that when he is upset or seeking attention, he will not hesitate to tell us so. Something that I don’t always enjoy at times, as he can now complain really loudly. Never mind that I cannot understand what he is saying, the sheer noise he makes is enough to compel you enough to want to pick him up just so he will quieten down).

In addition to dealing with his fussiness, I am almost always fretting about whether anything Jamie does or his appearance is an indication that he is unwell. Most times, it’s just me being paranoid, but presently, Jamie really is sick and is down with a flu.

The worst part of it all is that I’m pretty sure I was the one who passed the bug to him since I myself had been similarly unwell a little earlier in the week.

But as unsettling, tiring and inconvenient as it is to take care of Jamie in times like these, there are still redeeming factors to keep me going. His smiles and the way he always looks around the room for me (even when others are carrying him) are certainly among them.

While going through this slightly more difficult season with Jamie, I got round to re-examining why we want certain things as parents.

Most parents of infants just can’t wait for their little one to start doing certain things. Stuff like sleeping through the night, feeding from a bottle (as opposed to directly latching onto the breast), taking longer naps and being able to sit up on their own and hold their head upright.

If we dig deeper into why we want our babies to achieve these abilities, we’ll often find that one of the underlying reasons is that it will ultimately make our lives easier. That’s nice and all, but didn’t we sign up for parenthood knowing all along that it would be hard at times? Why do we then keep wishing for the easy way out?

Well, I’ll admit that it’s good for the baby himself too in the long run if he is able to achieve these things. But what I’m questioning here is more of why we are always wishing for our child to be something else other than what they are right now. The danger here being that we may focus too much on wishing for the day when they are less troublesome to us to the point that we miss out on cherishing who they are at present.

Jamie can’t sit up on a high chair yet. He still doesn’t really like drinking from the bottle so I have to feed him by letting him latch on directly to my breasts for all of his meals. He wants to be found in my arms and to suckle at the breast every night before he falls asleep. He interrupts nearly every meal I have each day so he can have his feeds and also delays my trips to the toilet for the same reason.

I can’t say that these inconveniences do not irk me at times, but I’m learning to appreciate who he is in spite of these challenges. Some day he’ll grow up and be so independent that he’ll not need to live in the same home as I do or even relate to me anymore to get by. And when that time comes, I want to make sure I have no regrets.

Much ado about a tutu

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Who cares about tutus!

It was RJ’s first time wearing the t-shirt tutu dress that cousin A gave from Singapore, and her eyes radiated indifference at the frilly, flamingo-colored garment. A passing stranger spotted the baby over my shoulder and exclaimed,  “oh, what a cute baby. Boy or girl?”

*insert appropriate emoticon here*

All dressed up and nowhere to go

Now I am by no means a “girly” kind of mother, I am at best ambivalent about fancy (though admittedly, so darn cute) clothing for babies, which they will outgrow in a matter of weeks.

People usually give two different types of reactions when I tell them I have not purchase any item of clothing for RJ since she was born.

(a) What, none at all? How could you resist, they are so cute! (yes they are)

(b) way to go. there’s no point buying clothes, kids grow so fast. (yes, they do)

Maybe when she’s older I’ll be really excited about getting her hairclips, tights and matching shoes. Right now, I think she’s too young to notice. So the hand-me-downs and gifts from friends will do just fine. In fact I think there’s enough of them to last til she’s a year old!

She hates the inevitable moment after her bath when we put on her clothes over her (slightly large) head. The prettier the dress, the harder it is to put it on! The shrieks and tears are hardly worth the “reward” of the cute visual effect.I suspect nice clothes are more for the parents’ enjoyment than anything else. My own mother can still remember and is able to describe in minute detail the dresses I used to wear as a baby, three decades later!

But I digress.

Clothing = gender identity?

Despite my misgivings about overly feminising my baby girls’ clothes, I must admit it does irk me a tiny bit when asked if she’s a boy or girl.

I’m not sure if parents of boys feel the same way. Maybe it’s “worse” for a boy to be mistaken for a girl, but this assumption seems to smack of gender bias.

Where did we get the notion that gender specific behaviour should be prescribed from infancy? Not only do we dress our tiny tots in mini versions of adult clothes which deliberately highlight their gender, we go one step further by telling them how to behave “appropriately”.

I find this particularly true for girls.

“Shame shame, don’t pull up your dress!”
“Close your legs when you sit, don’t be such a tomboy…”
“Don’t climb and run around so much, you’re a girl!”

We make such pronouncements to baby girls even two or three months old who are hardly capable of controlling their limbs, let alone be cognisant of societal gender norms.

I caught myself myself such statements once or twice, before stopping and reflecting on my choice of words. I asked myself, by speaking to RJ this way, what message I was sending her? What mindsets was I subconsciously passing on to her?

At this age, she is learning to develop gross motor reflexes. Much as we want to encourage good manners and form graceful habits, that can come later.

So I will strive to focus on building confidence, competency and allow room for the process of learning and failing.

What does “you’re a girl” actually mean?

If we are so keen on writing the gender narrative, we may end up restricting our children’s natural aptitude and curiosity.

What if Jimmy Choo’s parents had told him not to play with shoes or that fashion was “for girls”?

What if Marie Curie’s teachers had told her not to bother studying science because “It’s a boy’s subject”?

What if my parents had told me not to study law because they deemed it not a suitable career for my gender?

Thankfully, they didn’t. My father demonstrated car repair, carpentry and plumbing to both my brother and I when we were growing up. Although I never showed much aptitude for these pursuits, I’m glad my parents didn’t confine me to playing masak masak with Barbie dolls.

In fact, I only owned one doll toy, which my brother helpfully decapitated. Yep, I grew up playing with the boys and joining in with their games, rough-housing and all.

When I was in my early tweens I went through a phase where I loved wearing baseball caps and vests (hey, this was the 90s!),  no wonder I was mistaken for a boy occasionally.

No harm done, I’m still a girl, no gender confusion there. Eventually I grew up and discovered dresses, heels and other trappings / perks of feminity.

Fast forward 20 years.

I don’t feel offended if someone mistakes my daughter for a boy, it just makes me raise my eyebrows. Why judge a baby by its clothing or gender? In the same vein, I tend to bristle inside if someone asked if I’m a Chinese.  Ethnic pride aside, I wonder, why should my race matter to a stranger?

I just don’t want RJ to think she can’t do anything because she’s a girl. I want her to be brave to explore and learn and struggle on her own terms. If she fails at anything (and she will), let it be not for want of trying, or from being restricted before she even started.

OK, so I’m making too big a deal out of a small article of clothing. The inevitable boy / girl guessing game is probably the most instinctive question to strike up conversation. Truth be told, you can’t really tell at first glance, because young babies look so androgynous with their sparse hair, unformed physical features and generic baby rompers.

Anyway, back to the less observant auntie whose question sparked this post. She came closer and realised what RJ was wearing. “Oh, pink. She’s a girl. Sorry.” Curiosity satisfied, she then turned away. End of conversation.

Diaper explosions

Diaper changing sessions can be a real mess.
Diaper changing sessions can be a real mess.
I’m enjoying a short moment of respite as I eat my lunch right now and type this.

About an hour ago, Jamie just did his first poop of the day and it wasn’t pretty. As usual, I did my best to salvage the situation by trying to take off his pants quickly and pull up his shirt before lying him down on the changing table to clean him up and swap his soiled diaper for a new one.

But alas, it was all in vain. The poop, being huge in quantity and watery in nature, had somehow already made its escape from the confines of the diaper and was not only smeared across the back of Jamie’s white pants, but had also managed to make its way onto the surface of the changing table as well.

Never mind the mess, just as I’m about to get down to the task at hand, Jamie starts wailing. It’s as if he knows he’s done something naughty which he shouldn’t have and crying was his way of showing remorse.

Well, whether that is truly what he felt or whether it was something else that caused him to be upset, I’ll never really know since the poor tot has yet to be able to converse in a language that I can comprehend.

All I did know was that there was a big, big mess to be cleaned up and it’s really tough to do so with a screaming, squirming baby.

Well, as with all the diaper explosions in times past, somehow the mess is always able to be tidied up despite how extensive the damage caused. It just takes patience and keeping a cool, calm head above all the noise and temporary dirtiness that you have on your hands.

For any childless readers out there who thought diaper changes are a straightforward, quick affair, let me tell you straight: This is most certainly NOT the case.

Breastfed poop can be often watery, hence no matter how recent the last diaper change had been and how empty and clean the diaper was prior to the poop download, leaks will still occur. The most you can hope for is to be carrying the baby in your arms when it happens and not have him lying down in the cot/bouncer/rocker/stroller/etc. Because that would just mean there would be potentially another surface you would have to clean.

But the good news, I guess, is that breastfed poo isn’t as smelly as adult poo. In fact, God was kind enough to make the fecal matter yellow in colour so as to help you distinguish it from your own dark coloured crap.

While I’m on this shitty topic (literally), I might as well tell you also that there’s always the chance that as you’re in the midst of changing a baby’s diaper, he might just decide to poop a little extra or pee a tiny puddle to test your endurance.

In fact, it might even occur just as you’ve placed the fresh, clean diaper under his butt.

Oh, and if like me, you’re dealing with a boy, be wary that the pee isn’t aimed in your direction. Otherwise, you’ll have your own clothes to wash along with your baby’s. Hehe.

I recall a lunch my husband and I had with our marriage counsellors not long after Jamie was born.

“So, have you been baptised in all ways possible by now?” One of the them teased.

We could only laugh in response because we had. I think all parents have. It’s an essential rite of passage to earn you the title of Mum or Dad.

But really, it isn’t so bad. You’ll survive it.

And come to think of it, if you can make it through an infant poop blowout, I think other things in life should be a cinch.

Separation anxiety

That look.
That look.

Dear RJ,

Today you had trouble sleeping. It was daddy’s turn to be home with you, while mummy went to work.

I kissed you goodbye before getting into my car and buried my nose in your neck, a gesture that is supposed to make you laugh in delight. Instead, you scrunched up your face and turned your head away. Your fists were clenched into a tight ball and your eyes looked at me imploringly. “Don’t leave me,” they seemed to say.

Leaving for work inevitably brings a mixed bag of feelings.

There is the elation of getting to spend a day wearing “proper” clothes and in the company of adults.

There is sadness at the thought of probably missing a milestone moment, like the time when you turned over and I wasn’t there to witness it.

There is guilt at the fact that Daddy will have to tend to you, all alone.

There is pride in your growing independence and Daddy’s natural aptitude at caring for you, there is happiness that this time together will be a special Father and Daughter bonding time.

There is confidence that I am doing what is right for our family, that my choice to work is not only for economic necessity but also for my own long term personal growth – and this example will serve you well in the long run.

There is some anxiousness about how you will fare away from me. Will you reject the bottle? Will you make that shrieking inconsolable cry? Do you think that I have abandoned you?

It was a busy day at work today, I barely had time to pump twice, instead of the three times I had planned to. Gone was my 11am, 2pm, 5pm pumping schedule that I told myself I would keep.

Sitting in a quiet room in the office to pump, I tried to assuage any sense of insecurity at the paper-thin blinds that separated me from the pantry. As I sat with my back towards the window, pump dangling awkwardly like a weapon, I felt painfully aware of the few inches of glass between the rest of the office and me.

“Can they hear my pump?” I wondered. “Can they see me?” Under such circumstances, it’s hard to relax and let down.

I browsed videos and photos of you on the phone, and found myself chuckling quietly at your antics as the milk trickled out. Daddy says you have the potential to become a football player, and the video of you aiming and kicking at your toys certainly shows great promise.

I thought about the way your eyes follow me constantly, watching my every move like a wise owl. I remembered the solemn pursing of lips that earned you the nickname “katak”, and the relentless stare that has become your default facial expression.

Two feet behind me, someone washed a glass in the sink. I was in the middle of removing my pumping bra, feeling vulnerable and exposed. At the back of my mind, I tried not to let it bother me. Try not to worry about supply dropping and whether the milk will go bad during travelling time.

Back to the desk to work. Replied emails, trying to rush and finish everything as soon as possible to get home. I told Daddy I would cook dinner.

An hour later, I’m still stuck in office, frantically finishing up. Finally, I’ve tied up all the loose ends. I carefully remove the milk from the fridge and pack everything in the cooler bag. The fridge smells bad. I throw away some old bottles of unclaimed food. Make a mental note to get the cleaning lady to defrost it. Hopefully you won’t notice the smell.

Quickly exit the building. Call Daddy to apologise (again) that I’m late. He doesn’t pick up. Feel guilty and wonder if it’s a good day and he’s cooking dinner, or if it’s a bad day and you’re crying non-stop.

Rush hour is over, but there is still some stretches of congestion. The car in front of me has a problem in the Smart Tag lane. Try not to be frustrated at being held up. Feel guilty. Feel entitled. Feel bad. Promise myself I’ll make it up to you both, later.

Ten minutes later, Daddy calls me back. No sooner do I say “hello” and hear his reply, when you start wailing in the background. My heart lurches to my a sinking pit in the middle of my stomach.

“She was feeding fine at the bottle”, Daddy says, “until she heard your voice. Then she started crying.”

Not sure how to feel. Am I happy that you missed me? Should I be worried about you, My Overly Attached Baby (MOAB)? Are you becoming too clingy?

When I get home, I quickly put the milk into the fridge. I find you both in the bedroom. Daddy is holding you, because you didn’t stop crying since you heard my voice. Your eyes find mine reproachfully, then light up in a smile.

Is this what separation anxiety is about?

Take a deep breath. It’s only the third day that I have left you alone with Daddy. It’s okay. I only go into office two days a week.

One bad day doesn’t make you a bad baby, or us bad parents.

We’ll try again tomorrow.

Love, mummy