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Motherhood 101

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For those who know me personally, or have known me from reading my blog, you’ll know that both Bry and I are foodies. We love eating and making foods from a lot of different cultures. It also helps that both Bry and I, although we look fairly similar in skin, eye, and hair color, are actually of different cultural backgrounds: he is Korean-American who was born and bred in Los Angeles, and I am Singaporean Chinese. Through him, I got a solid introduction to Korean food (among other foods such as Mexican, which seems to be more of a comfort food to him than Korean – Hmmm!, Southern, and Jewish) and I LOVE it.

Over the years, I picked up a few Korean recipes from his mom and after Benji was born, she wrote me telling me to make Myeok Guk (seaweed soup) which was a staple post-partum dish in the Korean culture. It is supposed to be rich in calcium and iodine, which is said to help with the supply and quality of breast milk. At that time, my mom who flew over from Singapore to help me out with my post-partum cultural confinement was already making me all sorts of post-partum dishes (which were awesomely delicious, by the way) so I did not make it until much later. But OH MY when I did, I just wanted to keep eating it. The Koreans really know what they’re doing, making a winning combination of both healthy and tasty food. My mother-in-law was pleased that I made the soup and enjoyed it so much. In fact, even Bry had some of it and demanded for more. Apparently, this soup is also traditionally served at birthdays. I think in our household it will be enjoyed at anytime, just because it’s so yummy.

It’s also simple to whip up, so busy moms can make this easily. The only trick is getting the seaweed, which would be available at any Korean grocery store if you can get to one. The recipe I used was mostly “by taste.”  Here’s an actual recipe if you want to try it out. In one version, I used ground pork and marinated it for a couple hours in soy sauce, crushed garlic, and sesame oil, then sauteed it, added some chicken stock (was lazy!), then the seaweed, and let the ingredients cook for about 30 minutes, and the soup was done!

(A side note: I’m really into cross-cultural experiences and love how every culture seems to have their own post-partum beliefs and staple foods to help with breastmilk quality and supply. A friend of mine who is Russian Jew swears by cow’s milk and said to have it with tea “mother’s milk tea.” in the Philippines, I believe, it’s green papaya, in Cantonese, it’s red snapper, in Korea it’s seaweed. In the west, it’s milk tea, too, and fenugreek. Here’s an interesting article to read about cross cultural post-partum beliefs. )

Both Benji and I caught the flu/cold bug a couple weeks ago. Things started getting better but after my first day at work, the bug attacked me again – this time even more debilitating than before. For the most part, Benji’s condition remains stable and I’m hoping it stays that way.

Staying healthy is so important especially when your little one depends so much on you to provide care, affection, and education. I haven’t been able to give Benji any hugs or kisses, or play with him for fear of getting him sick again. I’ve also been feeling bad headaches, body aches, and drowsiness, which impede me from properly looking after Benji.

Thankfully, Bry has a rather flexible work schedule and has been able to work from home and watch the little guy while I rest. The silver lining in all this is Bry gaining more experience taking care of him and get to know Benji’s habits better without me. You see, when I’m around, I tend to do most things and tell Bry what Benji wants, not giving him a real chance to discover his son for himself. This might ring true for lots of dads, who want to have a bigger role in their kids’ lives but get sidelined by the moms who, generally and stereotypically speaking, tend to be more sensitive to their kids’ needs and wants and therefore get to them first.

Bry has also stepped up to take care of business around the house like doing the laundry, dishes, and also grocery shopping (not that he didn’t do them before; he’s just doing a lot more now). Yesterday, he even took the little guy for his vaccinations, today, and brought him out for his daycare orientation.

I’m grateful to have a husband who enjoys being such a hands-on daddy. Now, can I get better already! 🙂

In your household, do both parents have an equal relationship with your kid? How difficult is child rearing when you’re not in tip-top condition yourself? 

A major milestone today: I went back to work. Just for one day a week (which will be the case for the next month and a half), but in my books, it still counts. It was the first day I was away from Benji for more than 4 hours in a row, and Bry’s induction to being a stay-at-home dad without me around.

Knowing how exhausting taking care of a little one could potentially be, I got very organized yesterday and made lunch and dinner in advance, cleaned up the house, emptied the dishwasher, etc., to lighten Bry’s load. I also gave him a huge list of schedules, reminders, so he knew when to do what.

All of us survived. WHEW! Bry was also kind enough to provide nearly hourly updates with visuals about how the day went so I could relax and focus on work.

It felt great to be back at work. It was also even more amazing after a day without Benji, to come home to him. 🙂

Benji chugged down almost 5 half-feeds of breastmilk in two days so I think time to say we have safely crossed over to the bottle feeding stage. I wrote in a previous post about the struggle we had with feeding him from the bottle after a few months of exclusively breastfeeding, and it took us – me – about a week or so to gather the courage to try it out once more. It also helped that my folks were around for more moral support and in case Benji rejected the bottle from Bry, we had more people to help feed him. I was armed with all sorts of ‘tricks’ up my sleeves but the solution was actually not complicated.

We found out that the little guy was simply fussy with the previous bottlefeeding trials not because he hated that his dad was feeding him or that he desperately wanted only mommy to feed him. All we needed to do, and this was one of the suggestions from one of the moms who responded to my post (thanks, discoveranddevour!) was to warm up the milk AND teat just before the feed. Too easy (as the Australians love to say)! Once we hit jackpot, Benji downed the whole thing down without putting up any fight.

Bry who missed getting to feed Benji the last few months I was breastfeeding, really enjoyed getting to reconnect with Benji on that level, too. Benji, however, seem to need a few more cuddles from me during the day and that’s totally understandable.

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We have, like many couples with newborns/kids, scheduled “date nights.” Keeping the marriage alive requires work and even more maintenance with new additions to the family.  After Benji was born, I did not want our relationship to take the back seat because it can happen all too easily once we get caught up with the hustle and bustle of looking after a newborn, and became really particular about having date nights. Truth is, too, our marriage suffered a huge setback about a year before we agreed to have a baby and since then, we have learned to never ever be cavalier about our relationship.

Since we don’t live close to our folks and don’t really have the confidence yet to leave Benji with a hired babysitter, our dates nights have been confined to the home. For the most part, it has worked out as we are mostly exhausted by the end of the day to even think about dressing up and going out somewhere. Most date nights consist of renting a movie or catching up on episodes of our favorite shoes. Sometimes, we just hang out on the couch and talk. The point is to simply spend time and reconnect with each other after Benji has slept, without the distractions of internet and the baby. 

So back to our date night: wow that my folks are in town visiting us, we made use of the opportunity to have our scheduled weekly date night outside the home, which was rather glorious. Okay, so it was a Tuesday night where the night scene around any town is pretty mellow, but when you are new parents, you welcome any time by yourselves. We hung out at George Ultralounge & Winebar in Yaletown, a bar with a quiet and relatively classy ambience. I got a virgin mojito (super fun and actually tastes like regular mojito!) and Bry got an old fashion (which he termed “the Don Draper drink.” You get the reference if you’re into Mad Men like we are).

Two short but super sweet hours went by in a hurry. I was surprisingly not that worried about Benji being a handful. And he was reportedly really well behaved the time we were gone (“slept like a baby!” said my folks). Thanks, mom, dad, and aunt, for keeping an eye on Benji and letting us enjoy a special date night.

Do you and your partner schedule date nights? What else do you do to keep the marriage alive? Do you find it even more necessary after having children?

These last two weeks have seen me returning to some of the things I used to do pre-Benji.

1) Exercise/Fitness: I joined this fitness program for new moms, Fit42 that has classes all over BC and in some other provinces in Canada and started with the least strenuous level as I had not been exercising since Benji’s birth. Overall, the classes have been really enjoyable and went at a good pace: some slightly more strenuous circuits than others. It is a good class to ease my way in to more challenging activities in a couple months, for example, jogging.

20120413-144455.jpgI also started swimming again. It’s an exercise I have always enjoyed and still did when I was heavily pregnant at 36 weeks with Benji. So when I found out that the Vancouver Aquatic Center has child minding services Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays from 9am – 1pm, I went out almost immediately, bought swim gear (did not take it with me from Australia!! How silly!), and hit the pool. Did 15 laps which left me feeling invigorated for the next few hours…hoping to be able to do at least 25 by the end of the month or early next month. Good to have some goals.

2) Sleep: Exhaustion from the swim and taking care of this little guy drove me to stop messing around on the internet or watching unnecessary television and hit the sack early at 9pm. Which was great, because Benji only woke up at 530am and that, if I did the math right, meant I got 8.5 hours of sleep. Uninterrupted. My longest stretch since probably the last few weeks of pregnancy (I had lots of trouble sleeping from about 34 weeks on). Needless to say, the sleep was AMAAAAAZZING. I am so thankful to have gotten good rest.

3) Read: Benji has started occupying himself a bit more these days. In fact, sometimes he just wants to be left alone. Good for him AND me! I started reading again in the day and am actually able to get through about 5 to 6 pages at a go while he’s awake and preoccupied with his toy or his feet (he’s now addicted to uhm, trying to put his toes in his mouth. I am VERY concerned and will express that in my next post to come soon)

4) Dine out: Between the 3rd and 4th month, Benji was extremely fussy during the “witching” hour from 5pm-7pm. Taking him out to restaurants for our dinners was impossible because he would cry and scream and demand our undivided attention. However, since his eczema got better and he started sleeping through the night, his temperament also got better and reverted to how he was in the first couple months: relatively mellow. Seeing this improvement, we decided to take a gamble and try a family dinner out at a restaurant in our neighborhood that serves food with gluten and dairy free options!! The food was great,  and I was able to get a gluten and dairy free pecan pie with coconut ice cream dessert (YUM, first dessert in foreverrr!!) AND Benji was totally chilled out. Win!

I’m know this easy ride is not gonna last long but I’m enjoying it while I can…

I’m still amazed at my ability to have gone through days upon days without incident on such little sleep, and even more surprised that I still had the brain energy to blog since Benji was born.

Let’s just start by saying for someone with a graduate degree who has done pretty well in school and has an A+ work ethic, I am actually not very smart. I bet if I took an IQ test, my scores will be in the low average range. And my slowness usually surfaces in social situations when I take FOREVER to get a joke and am probably the least witty person I know.

I have also always hated my writing; I am still quite embarrassed to share my blog with friends and get flustered knowing that my husband reads it (hi!). You see, I’m a Speech-Language Pathologist married to a guy with a PhD who I’m sure I’ve said it somewhere else before, is one of the best writers who really should be writing for the NYTimes or The New Yorker. I should be a better writer. But if you read my posts with just a thick-toothed comb – let’s say a hair brush – you’ll fine grammatical errors, clumsily worded sentences, and probably even spelling mistakes.  Yet, if I spent time cleaning up my posts, I’ll probably be writing one post a month because I am that slow.

Now add on the fact that I haven’t been sleeping properly for months. You can understand now why I am amazed that I can still write somewhat coherently and function daily…somewhat. Still haven’t accidentally set the kitchen on fire (we have an electric stove at this rented house thank goodness!) or over salted our food yet. The only part of my brain that has increased in capacity is the one that organizes. Trying to plan meals n chores n outings n playtimes n quiet times with Bry with a newborn is challenging…and I’m super at that these days.

But here are some examples of how I sound with my brain on no sleep:

Me to Bry: “Hunny can you please…uhm…uhm…put the uhm…dishwashing detergent in the uhm…washing machine and push start?”

—–

Bry: “Maybe we should use a safety pin to fasten the cloth on the strap (in the stroller)” 

Me: “Nah I don’t like using the safety pin what if the pin comes out?”

Bry: “Do you understand how a safety pin works and why it’s called a safety pin?”

—–

Me: “Oh did you buy more pears? Wait they look like potatoes.”

Bry: “They’re potato pears! They’re pears that look like potatoes.”

Me: “Oh I’ve never heard of that. So do they taste like potatoes, too?”

—-

Me: “Benji’s coos are sounding so cute. Somedays he sounds like he’s almost talking…and somedays he sounds like an amateur Ventroquolist.”

Most of the time, Bry is graciously amused by my slip ups and confusions but I would so like to go back to being just. SLOW.

Well, since we got back from Seattle, Benji has been sleeping a good chunk of the night. For instance, he slept from 8pm – 5am last night, and then again from 6am – 8am, allowing me to get decent sleep for 10 days in a row now. I’m feeling more and more revitalized from these good sleeps.

I have been playing word scrabble while nursing and starting to read articles on the NYTimes or WSJ again (and not just getting updates from gossip sites which at times were also too wordy for me. Or relying on status updates from FB friends or Bry to get my news.). In a way, blogging has also been helping to keep my brain in check. I’m gonna start my Brain Training exercises on my DS when we return to Australia and maybe later download a Sudoku app to complement word scrabble games while nursing.

Question is, with more rest now, will my brain go back to the way it was pre-Benji? Most people say it will never be the same again, but I am hopeful.