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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Finally, some downtime...

My friends would know that the reason why this blog has been quiet a while was because of a major life-changing event. This was the birth of my first child, whom I have nicknamed #hamstercheeks for the Internet. 

Everything they have ever said about how much it changes your life has turned out to be true in some ways and not in others. It is true that I paid a lot more attention to what I did and ate just before and mostly after birth, because of breastfeeding. It is also true what they say about Mummy-brains. Maternal instincts kicked in strongly and I was Googling websites like Baby Center and What to Expect for all kinds of baby info, much to the consternation of my husband. (I have been dubbed Tigress Mum for that matter)

It is also true that there no such thing as a Super First Time New Mother. I learned this the hard way after the confinement nanny left and was giving myself all sorts of mental breakdowns thinking of the work that had to be done to keep Hamstercheeks alive, clean and healthy. I also learned the hard way that there is no shame in shamelessly asking for help whenever you need it. I do not need to compare yourself to others nor care about their opinions. 

So making decisions now boils down to answering 2 questions:
1. What is good for #hamstercheek?
2. What is good for me?

For example, take the hiring of a maid. I had all kinds of doubts and questions about hiring a maid at first but it turns out some very major ones had to do with what I thought of myself and what others would think of me. Am I a weaker, less capable person for hiring a maid to do things that I could do myself? Would others think I was a weaker, less capable person for doing so? 

In the end, I decided the mental breakdown and physical exhaustion was not worth it. One, yes, I am a weaker person because I am not SuperMom and nobody is. I cannot simultaneously hold multiple roles of Mother, Wife, Cleaner and Person all at the same time and it is not to mine or my child's benefit if I play a lesser part in each role. So chuck out the role of Household Cleaner and outsource it. 

And in a funny way, once I accepted that I was not SuperMom and that I (like every New Mother) needed help, the universe went out of its way to give it to me. A maid arrived in record timing and so far has turned out to be a good learner with a pleasant personality and also able to handle the baby much more patiently than me. The grandmothers adored their new grandson to bits and were quick to take on babysitting duties. So in fact that week after the nanny left was a relatively painless one since most of the work was done by Grammie and maid. 

Was the move good for #hamstercheeks? I think it did him no harm to be spoiled by Grammie for a week. Also, he can now count on always having clean laundry and bedding thanks to the maid. Was it good for me? I would think so, since now I can focus on his cries for food and attention without fretting that the house would fall apart. Also it's good to have some company in the house other than the baby. 

We do have our good times and our bad ones. On good ones, I find myself able to read, write and watch TV in relative peace and quiet, and even blog a lengthy entry. On bad ones, his cries drive me bonkers and the husband will return from work to find me almost in tears. And since this is a good time, I can say, well, that's life with a baby. Or rather, that's just life. :) 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Loving My Curves

Usually, I like to blog about creativity, craft or art but today, a different kind of article caught my attention in the January 2017 issue of Real Simple Magazine.

This is Rosaliz Jimenez, 42, photo director at a celebrity fashion magazine. You would notice that she’s not a supermodel, in fact, she’s considered plus-sized in the US.

Her story is the one that caught my eye. Like all fat people, she struggled with her weight and her self-esteem. Then one day, she noticed a strange lump on her neck. The diagnosis turned out to be cancer and it progressively got worse, till even after all the cancer treatment was over, she was hit with gallstones and her gall bladder had to be removed. 😱

Why did her story attract me? For one, having been fat nearly all my life, (with one brief respite during puberty) I can identify with her when she says “no one bullied me the way I bullied myself”. It sucks when you can hardly shop for clothes because none of the shops carry your size. Or when you are surrounded by visual reminders everywhere that people should look like supermodels. Even walking on the street reminds you that there are plenty other ordinary people who are not fat.

Worse still is your inner critic, convincing you that all this is your fault and that you are a failure for being this way, a lesser being than all the other size-0s out there. Even if you are already dieting and exercising, you are still a failure because you are still not a size-0 after all that effort. It seems to doom you to being a fat slob for the rest of your life.

I struggled with that inner critic like every fat and skinny woman on this planet but made peace with my body and self-image a long time ago. But, as life went on and I did more interesting stuff and met people who wanted to befriend me despite my size, I accepted that I had many other strengths to define me as a person other than my figure. ( Plus that I wasn’t willing to give up chips for the rest of my life in exchange for the perfect body 🍟) Her story though reminded me how important self-love for your body is.

Let us love ourselves, body and soul before such a medical calamity befalls us. Cancer (or other debilitating illnesses, for that matter) does not differentiate between S, M, L or XXL. Does it have to take such a diagnosis before one realizes that there are a lot more important stuff than whether you can fit into a bikini or not? Even if you are lucky never to get so ill, it is important to appreciate that there are other things your body can do regardless of fat or not.

Thinking of this made me think up this list:

Why I Love My Fat-Ass Body

1.   I’m fat but strong
I know this from the weight-lifting routines I’ve done at the gym. I also know this whenever I lift a backpack full of stuff or a load of students’ books. I’m strong enough to do all this when other slimmer women would have faltered.

2.   I have good shoulders
There are dozens of ways women have come up to beautify their bodies. Hair can be cut. Makeup can be put on. Facial features and even height and weight can be surgically changed. As of yet, though, I’ve yet to see a surgery that can give a woman a good, solid broad set of shoulders that makes all the difference when wearing sleeveless tops.
We pay so much attention to our waistlines we forget there are other parts of the body to be appreciative for. Our shoulders. Our legs which lift us up every time. Long fingers and nails. A wide smile and a hearty laughter and eyes that twinkle in sincere delight.

3.   I’ve recovered fairly well from past illnesses and traumas
I wonder if science will ever prove that fat can act as a padding against minor flus and colds. I’m very blessed that I don’t get sick that often and when I do, I know that it’s only a temporary phase with some medication before good health comes again. I'm also blessed that I've never had serious illnesses or injuries apart from a sprained ankle. 

4.   I’ve had a fairly good pregnancy
Before getting pregnant, I had heard plenty of horror stories about morning sickness, cravings, hormonal horror changes, bleeding… Then when I finally got pregnant, I had… none of them. Yes, I’ve had the usual aches and pains but I haven’t had anything so serious that I couldn’t function in normal everyday life or that made me fearful for the life of my baby. I can only thank my fat ass for that. My recovery after birth was also quite good and by the end of the confinement month I felt back to normal with no complications. I even regained my pre-pregnancy weight.

Are there things about my body I would want to change? I still would like to fit into an M at Zara and one day wear a bikini without people gacking, but then I look over this list I’ve written. I’m not sure I would want to give up all this just to look good in clothing. 

I do have days when I think of putting a bit more effort into my clothes and shoes and sometimes I do think about putting on a touch of makeup. Then I think of the time it would take to choose and put on the makeup, plus the time and money needed to shop for nice clothes and shoes. With the stuff I want to do, I would rather race out of the house earlier to live my life than spend it on makeup, regardless of how short a time it takes. Beauty truly is skin deep after all. When I die, I would want people to celebrate the things I’ve done, rather than just look at the nice makeup and clothes on my dead body. 

If you are inspired and curious about Rosaliz, you can read the article and watch a video on Rosaliz by clicking the handy link here.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

What do we learn?

It's been a good long break since the last post, during which there were medical appointments and Chinese New Year preparations, so I've been busy, sorry! Now that everything is done and work is settling down, I finally found some time to do a simple book cover with a greeting card.

The process of doing this is easy enough because all you really have to do is wrap the greeting card with a cover paper of your choice, so while I was making it, I had time to do some musings over the whole idea of crafting.

This particular occasion, I remembered a line I heard a parent say to a child over the taking up of music in school:

"You don't pursue music all the way unless you want to become a musician. If you don't, then there's no point in pursuing it in school to this extent."

That made me a little sad. We don't pursue a craft just to earn money from it, surely. Yes, it would be great if we did and we could live off what we loved. But, even if we don't get to, even if we have to keep our 9-5 jobs, does that necessarily mean there is no use for the craft that we love to do? 

(Here when I write craft, I refer to a interest that we work at for a sustained period of time in order to gain mastery of it. This could include art, craft, playing an instrument, photography, writing etc...)

What then, do we take away from our craft? Do we do it so that one day we could quit our 9-5 jobs? Do we do it just for the end product, to have something pretty to hold in our hands? To have something useful that will serve a meaningful purpose in our lives? 

Then what do we gain when we don't achieve what we set out to do? When we fail at it? When we don't make money or a living out of it? Does that mean our craft becomes useless or hopeless?

Think of your craft then not in terms of the material products it produces. Think in terms of the values and skills you learn and then it becomes clearer.

Real life example: When I volunteered for the violin recital, many people thought I was nuts. Even on the day of the recital, after all the practice I did, I still played nearly half the song off key. It would seem like a total bomb, but I still took away several lessons from my recital attempt:

Persistence - To keep trying even when our first attempts bomb. I thought I knew what persistence meant till I volunteered for this and to my horror realized at the start how far out of my depth I was. I had to keep practising and practising to reach a semi-acceptable level and then I realized what real persistence meant. 

Mindfulness - To reflect on our mistakes, think of what went wrong and what to do about it in the future. Mindless practising would have seen me playing the song wrongly a hundred times a day. I have to learn deliberate practice, in which after each attempt, I thought about the parts that went wrong and concentrated on making those parts right before going on to the rest of the song. Each time I practised, I had to keep a mindful eye (or ear) out for those parts to make sure I got them right.

Ability to withstand failure - To stand with grace under pressure even amidst total failure. When I finished the recital piece, I knew it wasn't good. But more importantly, I learnt that it was ok that it wasn't good. Life still went on, my family and friends were still around me and I could still continue playing the violin (badly). Whether the rest of the audience thought it was good or not didn't matter because they were so temporary in my life, which would go on even long after they had forgotten my performance.

When I looked at my violin playing this way, then it didn't really matter how well or how badly I played. I still learnt and continued to learn these lessons, which would follow me in other areas of life. And when I looked at the rest of the crafts that I pursued, I could see other values that I had learnt:

Meticulousness - To be exact and deliberate in your activities. My first few crafting and painting attempts were very haphazardly done and it showed. Paper stuck out at the wrong angles, paint jobs were done poorly and I felt it was because I tended to rush through my actions without thought for measurement or precision. Now this works well in some instances, but since I wanted a finished job that looked close to professional, I had to learn to be more meticulous and precise in what I did. Now when I make a new journal, I have learnt to be more exact in the way I cut and paste the paper and I'm a lot more proud of the products I produce. 

Patience and self-forgiveness - Things will still go wrong, no matter how hard or often you try. Songs will still be played wrongly, paint will be applied wrongly, paper will be cut or pasted wrongly. At times like this, when I want to throw everything into the rubbish chute in despair, I learn to tell myself to cool down and more importantly, forgive myself for my mistakes. It's ok to make these kind of mistakes and there's always a way to bounce back from them if we are willing to learn. That's important because I also learnt to apply this when I mess up in other areas, like work and tell myself it's ok in the long run, I will bounce back. 

So maybe in a way, this is a practice for when my own child faces the same reactions when he wants to pursue his own craft. There will be people who will tell him there's no use or money in it and that he's better off pursuing his career or his job. When they do, I hope I will remember this blog entry so that someone will tell him, "No, there is purpose, life and love in doing what we love and this is how I learnt it."