My Lily Needs Me

As we face Lily’s 2nd year of life, it has come to my attention on more than one occasion that parenting is a wild ride. Yes, you’ve heard it from me, folks: parenting is hard, confusing, emotional, revelating, and everything in between. I know, I know, it’s not exactly rocket science that I just discovered this, but well, this is my first time doing it and while I know that there have been countless others who have done this before me, it doesn’t exactly make it easier for me.

I struggle on a daily basis with being a parent. Everyday I have questions about whether or not I’m being the best mom I can be. Everyday, I think about how I can be better for her — more loving, more patient, more there for her. During the first year of her life, it was difficult, to say the least. Transitioning from being a two-person family to being a three-person family was hard for us, though enjoyable and beautiful at the same time. Every step of the way, I had questions all long the path. Questions about what to feed her, when to burp her, when to stop breastfeeding, how long I should breastfeed, when her naps are, when I should go back to work. If it were up to me, I would still be at home, on a full time basis, with both Lily and her daddy.

But alas, like 99% of the world out there, we can’t just dedicate our complete attention to raising our child(ren), unfortunately. I know I don’t talk about it a lot, but when I went back to work when Lily was only 6 months old, I struggled with a lot of emotions. The guilt, the shame, the idea that I was letting her down. The fear that she would lose that connection with me, or she would forget me, or she would not attach as much to me. I feared that I wouldn’t be as big a part of her life as she is in mine, and I feared that I would miss out on all the little daily milestones she had.

And for some parts, I was right: I missed out on a lot of the daily stuff, but I’m grateful that her daddy could be there when I was not. I still struggle with this all the time. I want to be the best mom I can be, and sometimes I feel like I fall just short of this. Where I felt my mother had failed in her parenting me, I want to correct those mistakes the second time around, in my own parenting with Lily. I want to not only be completely physically there, I also want to be completely emotionally there. There have been sacrifices that I have openly and honestly and happily made for my Lily, because the decision to have her was a miracle decision, and one well planned through and well thought out. She was a planned baby. We wanted to create her. We wanted her here to make this world — our world — a better place. And sometimes I feel that by not being there all the time, I am letting her down.

I was the eldest child. Naturally, or maybe not so naturally, I am used to being the caretaker. When my family isn’t doing well, it is a reflection of me. I take a lot of inner responsibility for how happy my family is. When we struggle, it is because of my failure, not anyone else’s. Because of this ingrained characteristic in me, sometimes I feel that I am letting my family fail because of my own failure.. by not being there enough for them.

It wasn’t Lily’s decision to be born, and it wasn’t her decision to exist in this hard world. We try to give her everything she is worthy of, and more. Not just all the Christmas presents or the Birthday wishes. Not just all the toys and the games and the awesome singing and videos we let her watch. Not just all of that, but also the many things in life that she should have merely because she exists. The constant love, the constant attention, the constant play therapy that she should be getting. The lessons in life that she should grow up with — knowing that she is special, that she is loved, that she should be confident in her very existence because she is meant to be here, because she is meant to exist, because she is meant to be alive. The lessons that we try to instill in her, ingrain in her, that she is one of a kind, and she can be proud of who she is and where she comes from. We want her to be constantly, at least while we can control it, be filled with love around her. We want her entire world to be filled with love. We want love to encompass her every breath, her very existence, her every environment and setting that we put her in.

Because I am a daughter of a mother myself, I realize how important the relationship is between a mother and a daughter. The daughter takes away with her everything from her relationship with her mother. The good, the bad, the neutral. Everything from that relationship helps shape who she is, who she becomes, who she will become, and what she is capable of becoming. I’ve witnessed both damaging and beautiful relationships between mothers and daughters. I have firsthand experience on what the relationship between a mother and daughter can do to a soul. I have firsthand struggles out of this relationship, and I’ve grown up wishing my mother could have done things differently. While I have come to forgive my mother for the many unintentional mistakes she made, and even have come to love her for them, I fear of making similar mistakes — or even overcompensating for them — on my little Lily.

It took me close to 30 years to forgive and love my mother for everything that she is, and everything that she is not. And still, I have my bad days where I regret the life I grew up in. I don’t want my Lily to spend 30 years of her life in that same journey. And sometimes — well, I should be honest: MOST of the time — I wonder if my life experience has come to haunt me in my new journey as a mother. I don’t want to be the highly anxious, hyper-vigilant mother so that I can over-compensate for my mother’s own journey. But I don’t want to make the same mistakes. The cycle has to end somewhere.

Everyday I struggle with this. Everyday I am painfully aware of what kind of mother I want to be, and what kind of mother I don’t want to be. Everyday I have moments where I think I am doing her more harm than good. Everyday I have moments that I have failed my family. Everyday I struggle with this. Everyday I struggle with not being there for my family, for my baby, for my husband. Everyday I struggle with not being a good mother, or a good wife. Everyday, I struggle with this. This is not easy, and this does not come easy.

And so when I go off to work, I count down the hours to when I will be finished, so I can go home to my family, so I can just be there. I count down the minutes when I can be good to my family, when I can be better for my family. I wonder if I have been gone too long. I wonder if she would resent me for going back to work (and yet, there was no other choice in the matter). I wonder if I am doing her a disservice by not giving her a mother for so many hours out of the day. I wonder if I’m not being a good wife by being away from my husband. I wonder if I’m not doing enough for my family. My beautiful family who I live and breathe for.

And then, I look at my Lily, who greets me every morning with kisses and hugs, and a big smile on her face. Who runs to the top of the stairs when she hears me open the door every evening, and exclaims, “MOMMY!!! MOMMY!!!!!” Who excitedly tells me to “SIT!! SIT!!” as soon as she sees me after work, so that we can instantly play, or spend time together, or sing and dance, even before I can get out of my work clothes and into my pajamas, even before I can take off my jacket, even before I can put down my bag. Who starts babbling about what she did that day and who she saw, and what she ate for lunch. Who almost always starts singing a favorite song to me that she’s been singing with Daddy all day long.

My sweet husband, the father of my Lily, always tells me what she is doing everyday while I am away. Sometimes I even get pictures and videos of their day together. Their dances, their games, the new things she’s learned to do. And I feel like I haven’t missed so much after all, being a voyeuristic fly on their wall while they spend their days together. And I feel less guilty, but shamed that I wasn’t part of their life during the day. I feel proud that they have such fun, great days together, where he can dedicate his entire being to her existence, and pick up where I have left off. Yet at the same time, I feel ashamed that I can’t also do that. I feel proud that he is helping me raise her and be there for her. I feel proud that he is the Daddy who had an integral part in teaching her to read. The Daddy who sings and dances with her. The Daddy who taught her the alphabets and how to sing the ABCs’. And yet, sometimes, I feel like they are growing right in front of me, and I am missing the beats entirely to their song. Sometimes, I feel a little left out.

I often wonder if this is just me, or if all parents who work feel like this. I wonder if fathers who work outside the home feel like this. I wonder if this is my intense struggle alone, or if others feel like this.

I look at how happy my Lily is, how healthy my Lily is, how cheerful, sensitive, kind and compassionate my Lily is. I look at what a firecracker of a personality she has. I look at her strong sense of self and her proud confidence of who she is and who she belongs to. I look at how she is so sure of her presence and existence in this world, where others have fallen short even after so many years of living. And I think… I must be doing something right, if she is this happy, this healthy, this confident in her world.

I must be doing something right, even if I’m not doing everything I want to be doing. And I must learn to feel solace in this. Because my Lily needs me to be happy, and my Lily needs me to take care of myself, and my Lily needs me to be happy for her.

Starting 2010 Well

Lily hit off 2010 with turning 18 months old, as I mentioned in the previous post. So far, 2010 is going great. We’re not a “New Year’s Resolutions” type of family, but this year, it was sort of forced upon us. For one, we were looking to get into a new house after the (what seems like) spontaneous sale of our current home. After a roller coaster ride with the first offer and having it fall through within 48 hours of making an offer and having it accepted, we were discouraged, freaked out, stressed, and tired from the whole house hunting scene. So, when we found this house, we were over ecstatic, and we didn’t want to jinx it. After an excruciatingly long week of having an offer accepted and then waiting for all the “conditions” to fall into place before the closing date (today), we finally, finally can say that we are officially home owners! Of this beautiful, brand new house:

It’s a 3-story split-level home. The first two stories belong to us (3 bedrooms), and the 3rd story is actually a basement suite, to be rented out. We also have a coach home above the garage, also to be rented out. It is a great thing to be able to have income every month to help us pay for the mortgage. Besides that, as we grow as a family, we’ll be able to reclaim the basement suite again and make it our own. It will be sweet!!

Of course, Lily’s favorite part of the house is by far the stairs. She wants to climb up and down it every time we go and visit and have another look. That’s all she wants to do. Stairs is the big thing in her life right now.

In other news, seeing that Lily is now 18 months old, we decided to mark this awesome time in her life with a hand print in plaster. She loved being part of the mixing, and she was so good at paying close attention and following directions. She only put her hand in the plaster when I asked her to, and then she was so excited about what she did, she couldn’t stop talking about it (or rather, pointing to it over and over again, saying, “Hand! Lily hand!”). Then she had to drag Daddy into the kitchen to show him what we just did as well.

18 Months Old

Our Lily is 18 months old. Everyday is a new day, everyday she learns something new, everyday is becoming harder and harder to catch up with her. Soon, at this rate, she will be smarter than us by the time she’s five!! Not only has she been reading since she was 10 months old, now she also knows all of her colors, her shapes (even “half circle” and “crescent”), her phonics, she can count from 1 to 20, and she is now a singer too!

Here’s another video of her reading a bit more clearly:

From the get-go, we’ve been singing to her a lot. I think somehow, this has ingrained in her the love for music and harmony. We’ve also noticed in the past couple of months that songs are connected to emotions for her. We were stunned when one day, Daddy decided to sing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” to her after not singing it to her since she was about 6 months old, and she started tearing up at a high note. We thought something was wrong, but she looked at her Daddy and asked for a hug and kiss, and asked him to sing the song again. So he did, and sure enough, at the certain high note, she teared up again and suddenly started full blown sobbing, asking him to finish the song. She clung onto him, giving him a huge hug, and gave him teary kisses. What a sweet girl. We were stunned that a song can bring such emotion out of her, and equally stunned that she remembered this song from her very early babyhood months.

We’ve recently found that certain songs will evoke out of her strong, emotional responses as well. For example, the way Sarah McLachlan sings “Silent Night” makes her teary-eyed, and she demands cuddles with Mommy while she listens to the song. When I sing “You are my sunshine” to her when it’s not bedtime (it is our routine bedtime song before I put her down to sleep), she tears up and sings along. She is quite the sensitive child. Such beautiful, emotional responses. We are stunned, and so proud.

Then, out of nowhere, she decides that she can sing the songs we’ve been singing with her. Word for word, in her own baby accent. It started with just the end words of the verses, and suddenly she just went for it and sang whole songs while we were singing them.

Here she is singing the “ABC” song in its entirety:

Here she is singing the Railroad song with her daddy:

We also went through a whirlwind of a Christmas holiday. Our house sold right before Christmas, and we spent the majority of December house hunting for a new home! In the midst of all of that, we almost forgot about Christmas! But, we were right on time to putting up our Christmas tree (about a week before Christmas):

The haul we got for Christmas was absolutely ridiculous. Most of this stuff belonged to Lily, of course. We couldn’t stop ourselves from getting her more and more and more and so much more. And apparently, neither could all her aunts and uncles and grandparents!

One of the coolest things Lily got this year for Christmas was her rocking horse!

This year, like last, my sister Sophie, who is Lily’s Auntie “Bopee,” visited for Christmas for two weeks. Lily had the pleasure (much to my sister’s grunting dismay) of waking her Auntie Bopee up every morning with a kiss and a lot of loud toddler talking:

For Christmas, we all went to Nana’s (my mother-in-law) house for Christmas Eve dinner and opening presents from the aunts and uncles. On Christmas Day, this was our first year hosting Christmas dinner!! It went so well, and we even cooked and prepared food. We may have a repeat of this next Christmas as well! I was nervous about it, but it went without a hitch! Lily loved having people over, and she was ecstatic to be a hostess. Unfortunately, amongst all the craziness, I forgot to take pictures for our Christmas day dinner, but here are some from Christmas Eve:

Lily with her great-granny, Lilias (who she was named after, and who she affectionately calls “Ganny”):

One of the things we did while Auntie Bopee was here (one involving ME going SKIING.. I know, crazy, right?) was go to Vancouver’s Chinatown. It’s one of our favorite places to visit because of its familiarity to our roots. Lily loved the Chinese and Japanese zen garden!

The holidays have come and gone, and now we are just wrapping up the first month of 2010, hopefully with some positive news about a new house to be moved into at the end of February! We have something in mind, but nothing is finalized yet, so we are hoping for the best. Lily has gone to every house hunting escapade with us, and has given her own version of a seal of approval (does it have STAIRS that she can climb up and down on?!) on several homes. Here’s us keeping our fingers crossed!!

In the meantime, our Lily continues to grow… and grow… and grow. She is sleeping 11-12 hours a night. She still has her regular naps every afternoon around 1pm. She eats voraciously and she gives hugs and kisses openly. One day I tried counting how many words she can say, and I lost count at about 9am after about 80 words. So who knows how many she can say. It seems like her growth is exponential. She follows directions really well. She sometimes has tantrums. She definitely has a mind of her own and can be very, very stubborn. She’s a little firecracker and a little bulldozer. She is ALWAYS, always on the move. However, our Lily shows us constantly that she is kind and compassionate to others’ needs. She shares wonderfully and she likes to include other people in what she does. She has opinions about what she wants to read and what she wants to play. She greets people openly when we’re out and about. She knows several words in Vietnamese and affectionately calls my parents “Ngoai” without an accent (except her baby accent, of course). She says her “please” when she wants something, and is learning to say “thank you” every time after she gets something. She is our little sweetheart. She is loving, and we’re amazed at what a warm spirit she is. However, she also definitely has a mind of her own. We’re amazed how much stubborn she can be when she wants something, and she seems to have a very clear sense of what is “right” and “wrong.” We have so many speculations about what she would be like as she gets older, but most of all, we are just so excited and ecstatic to be able to be part of her world and see her grow.