Scars

An aspect of motherhood that is often glossed over is the drop in standard of appearance. I never knew what I was willing to put up with until at 8 weeks after birth, my uncombed hair turned into dreadlocks. I think my hairdresser cried when she worked on my hair. Now I sport a short hairstyle that takes 5 minutes to blow dry at most.

Every time I look in the mirror I see a whale staring back. Maybe that is an overly dramatic comparison.  In the past, when my identity was linked to being fit, healthy and stylish, seeing me now as a puking, pooing, peeing, and milk bag for a baby was overwhelming and depressing. The weight gain was obvious even when I hid under baggy clothes. Three different people have asked if I am having a second baby while they stared at my stomach. A million compliments afterwards won’t erase those insults.

Meanwhile, other colleagues who returned from their maternity leave had compliments showered on them about how quickly they got back in shape. They swan around in dresses that look good only on stick figures while I was wearing clothes 2 sizes bigger pre pregnancy. Envy and jealousy are ugly monsters that spilt onto my behaviour towards these so called lucky mummas.

Rather than solving my issue in a practical manner, I sought ideals in new feelings and experiences of more positive nature. As usual, I clung on; afraid to lose control and thinking that it was the solution to my problems. But the answer is always simple. I made excuses. Where do I find the time?

After 3 months at work, I got into a regular pattern. Lunch breaks are the best time for my new gym classes. With F45 training, I drastically lost weight within 4 weeks. At 7 weeks of the program, I welcomed back some of my pre pregnancy clothes. The scars of childbirth still exist so it’s bye-bye, bikini body. I’ll cover up at the beach but hey, building a strong physique equates to being emotionally stronger so that sort of shit doesn’t bother anymore.

As a mother now, what value do I pass onto my daughter about the concept of beauty?

Because when she grows up, the world will do enough damage with assessment on her appearance alone and many times she will face rejection because of that judgement. So be aware that if you shove a random baby in my face and gush over him or her, I will stare at you blankly. On the other hand, I find all my friends’ babies adorable.

I need to teach my daughter the truth; that beauty is a woman well loved.  So let’s not start randomly judging people on their appearances. My critics will say I am over thinking because a cute baby is a cute baby. The rest of the world will simply ignore my opinions. But I am not here to make friends or love.

Ah, love! True love makes anyone beautiful. Like many esoteric insights, the practical application of this principle is to start within. Accepting and loving oneself sounds corny but is probably the best weapon to destroy the demons of insecurities. Otherwise, without such a foundation, no amount of external love and validation will be enough.

 

Being A Parent

me-to-you-12-plush-bear-padded-mum-letters-5902-p Being a parent is a beautiful struggle. And the struggle is in the swing between melancholy, anxiety, anger, relationships issues, time management and loss of identity.

You give and give and even when you think you have nothing left, you still give. For when both baby and I fell ill (almost dying for me), and she only wants Mummy to comfort her, there was no question as to what I had to do. Tip: keep family network around so they can take care of you in such situations.

The physical changes are simply signs that I have given everything to be a Mum. Scars, stretch marks, and a rounder stomach are all part of having a Mummy body. Feeling sad about it doesn’t help. Eating salads and tiny dinners is easy when I’m busy force feeding a baby during the meal because the doctor had become slightly concerned about her small weight.

Being a parent also means living with contradictions. As mentioned in my previous post, I can’t imagine being in love with another human as much as I do with my daughter. In return, I will never be deeply and truly loved by another human being again. With so much love around, it also means I am capable of murder if required. I can snap at the slightest hint of judgement on my parenting style but my Mummy side will also notice that you haven’t slept in a while and ask you about it.

However, the greatest paradox is feeling emotions of both fear and gratitude. What will the future hold for her? Will she grow up ok? But today, she is smiling happy and healthy. So I thank the Universe quietly.

Then there is the exhaustion. Or the EXHAUSTION! The daily struggle comes in choosing between caffeine, naps and sex. For me, after caffeine, naps are great.

Like everything else in life, the exhaustion eventually becomes a part of you. Bone weary, husband and I wake up every morning, prepare for work and get her ready for day care with military precision so we can arrive at our office on time. If this means letting her cry in the play pen or the cot while we get ready, then so be it. The rat race for financial freedom is truly brutal.

This full routine leads to more stress piling on an already thinly stretched mental faculty. I can’t afford to function on an overly sensitive and emotional level like I did before. Trying to interpret people’s behaviour saps so much (soul) energy which I do not have to spare. Focusing on a demanding baby, I turn away from regrets, past hurts and imagined slights.

What parents can’t run away from is our relationship. Nobody fucking talks about it but as parents, you can get to a point where you give everything to your children until you have nothing left to give your partner. So when arguments flared up as it inevitably does when we haven’t slept in over 3 weeks, then snide comments, sarcasm, and personal insults (bordering on verbal abuse) come easily and with an intensity I haven’t previously felt. The calm silence after these explosions doesn’t feel so much like a truce but more like cold indifference. Death comes slowly I suppose.

Continuity comes with a cost and it is thus: acceptance that there is a gap between reality and expectations, between ideals of loyalty and obligation, intimacy and duty, being loved and settled for. Only when we can no longer pay the price that true annihilation follows. But for now, the traditional nuclear family remains stable.

Truths About Parenting

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So I stopped blogging for a while because of a baby girl. I am slowly returning to writing, for me. Though it will be very sporadic as time becomes a precious commodity when you become a working parent.

I think this post had to be published. Parents (especially new Mums) everywhere need to know the real truth of parenthood.

A TED talk that I recently watched particularly resonated. Titled, “Let’s Talk Parenting Taboos” it exploded the myths surrounding parenting. It was one of those things that made me nod my head like a rag doll as I mentally said “yes, yes, yes” to (almost) everything they say.

Before I even heard of this talk, I was already experiencing and had inexplicable feelings that no one told me, let alone discussed with me. Taboos? More like uncomfortable truths. Here they are:

Truth #1: the self-sacrificing, accepting, unconditional love for your child will NOT happen right away. I repeat – it will NOT.

My first thought when seeing my newborn lying on top of my tummy was “her face is all wrinkly” and then “she came out of me?” How surreal!

Then when she was all wrapped up, and I saw how tiny she really was, pity overcame me. Compassion, protectiveness and possessiveness all followed. There is no refund once you have baby. Thus, I committed myself to a relationship that is stronger than marriage itself.

Truth #2: being a parent, especially a Mum, is painfully isolating. Even with a hands- on husband to help out. (I cannot appreciate enough the work he put in. If I had to describe what he did, it would be similar to what Sam did for Frodo in Lord of the Rings.)

However, when I am nursing bubba at 2am or even at 2pm, that feeling of isolation would fall on me. When I failed to notice certain symptoms about baby, cue the guilt music. After all, I spend the most time with her; shouldn’t I be all over this attentive mothering thing? (Note: that guilt feeling never goes away. It simply becomes a hazardous issue of being a mum)

When she cry incessantly (oh my goodness, the crying!!), and I am the only one who can hold and calm her, then the isolation in bearing that sole responsibility weighs heavy.

Circling back to truth number 1, after the first few difficult months when we had to overcome a list of issues: jaundice, eczema, cradle cap, baby acne, breastfeeding issues (I could write an essay about it), colicky crying, loneliness, and despair, compassion finally turned to love. Unending and overwhelming, I now pledge my life to my little one.

Truth #3: as a couple, (I suggest that that even as individuals), the level of average happiness goes down. That’s right, folks! Contrary to what Hallmark would have you believed, children do NOT make your lives happier.

Forget date nights (what is that concept again?), fancy dining, listening to adult pop music, long baths (I’d settle for a shower longer than 5 minutes), and eating with both hands. Husband and I now discuss diaper contents in great lengths, eat frozen dinners and have memorised almost every nursery rhyme song that exist…ever.

However, where moments might have been a blur because they were all the same, with a baby, each hour, each day are different. Where a moment might make you smile before, you will now laugh. Where a moment may make you frown a bit with worry, you now bite your teeth in anxiousness. Parents know those moments. The good developmental milestones of rolling over, sitting up, standing up, chatting and the bad ones: teething, sleep regression, eating solids (think poo explosions) and separation anxiety when starting day care are all experienced with intense emotions.

Not only do our lives have greater depth, they also became harder. Physically and mentally draining, a baby will demand… and demand… and demand, through the monotonous cycles of feeding, cleaning, changing diapers, playing, and sleeping. Finally, she focuses us on our long term financial goals so that sending her to Harvard for a $250,000 course would be possible if she wanted.

According to the TED talk, happiness will increase after children have left home. Dear G*d, we have 20 years left to go!

So why would I be thinking about having another child? Simply put, I don’t want her to grow up alone. At this age, she looks around for me, crawls towards me and seeks attention. Indeed, she seems happiest when I sit next to her while she plays. I will never be so loved again. And THAT is worth all the struggles for me.

Unity in Diversity

Workplace-diversity

Certain people at work know that I keep a blog. Therefore, when a chance arrived to write an article on our company’s online newsletter about our team under the concept of Diversity, they volunteered me.

Writing styles are like fingerprints. Each of us has a set that can’t change and asking hobby writers to fit a certain mould is akin to altering our fingerprints. Writing is just writing. There are no right or wrong except for grammatical errors, misspelt words or weak sentence structures.

Below is a different article to the one published on the company’s intranet. The published one had to comply with communication manifesto and consistency in company’s style. I will not bore you by posting it here.

All names and personal references have been edited and/or removed for privacy reason.

Good ideas come from everywhere and a diverse workplace drives the best outcome. The X team is an example of a diverse team.

The X team sits within the Y business unit and looks after the financials of its products and services. Even though this is a team of accountants, we join the company with different work experience and from different industries (airlines, telecommunication, hospitality, science research, etc.).  The breadth and range of our experience makes us more than just “bean counters”.  We work with different teams within the Y business to drive the performance of its products and services. The diversity of our experience has contributed to the success of our team. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, we are different individuals, but when we collaborate, the picture is of one.

Similar to our work experiences, our ethnicity is equally diverse. We have team members who were born outside of Australia or whose parents migrated from places like India, Pakistan, Singapore, China, Korea, Vietnam, Ireland, Greece, Syria, and France.

Indeed, our colourful backgrounds were well demonstrated on two occasions when we got together to celebrate our cultural diversity and brought along a dish from our country of origin. We had baklava, curries, potato noodles, chilli chicken, bananas in sago pudding (my own creation – ahem), lamington, Armenian pizza, falafel, satay chicken and more. There are many benefits of having diversity in teams.  Whilst each of us has a different way of thinking, blended together, we come up with a more superior solution than if we all come from the same mould.  We share the same passion for the business and a common goal.  We innovate through diversity. We succeed through unity.

Now, when is my next promotion?

Untouchable

 

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For the few readers following my recent posts, you would know that when I started my fitness journey 6 months ago, my long-term goals are to develop mental discipline and emotional resilience. I was going through a tough time dealing with a couple of personal issues at home and physical training was therapeutic to me.

However, there are only so much punching and sweating in a darkened gym before I was forced to drag my demons into the light and face them straight on. As much strength and power as I am gaining in muscles, I had to translate it to my psyche as well.

In a recent Chinese film, ‘Wu Xia’, loosely based on Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserable’, a brilliant but cold detective asks ‘when does the law, which demands justice, ends and humanity begins?’ On a personal level, when does our internal judge, who demands truth, revenge and closure stop talking and inner peace begins?

In my previous post, I wrote about the story of Ms M. One of the struggles she faces (and which I identify with) is the memories that sometimes flash in her mind are false. Forgiving is hard when you realise the other person was not who they are in the beginning. I think she could have accepted him changing his mind or his character even, so that those times spent together become purer because they are rooted in some form of sincerity.  

Maybe though, forgiveness is not about believing the other person into a better human, but about letting go of negative emotions associated with them. So that we can still think ‘he is a d*ckhead’ without hatred or anger.

In Buddhist philosophy, karma is a connection. This connection feeds off our emotions. That is why meditation is an important tool in training our minds to recognise and step away from emotions whenever they arise.

Understanding this concept, we see that to forgive or not to forgive is still to care. This creates a connection with the other person. When a mosquito bites us, we (may) feel annoyed, but not personally offended. Shrugging off the sting, we move on.  This is what being emotionally untouchable (invincible) really means.

Thus, one day, if/when the universe lines up and we bump into the other person, and by some freak luck, they apologise, we can give them a small but incredulous  smile and reply: ‘you still don’t understand, there is nothing to forgive’.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_tj4HqBn6k

Truth and Revenge

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They say truth is an expensive gift and rarely appear in full, unless you happen to be my dear colleague, Ms M (not her real initial).  She agreed I could write about what happened to her but I must leave out details, of course.

Her story started out sweet. Like most love stories. It has boy meets girl, boy chases girl, boy gets girl and boy leaves girl. Two weeks later, boy leaves Oz to return to his homeland and marry another girl. I would have left it alone. He’s overseas now. I say good riddance to a waste of space.

However, Ms M was less fatalistic. Underneath her emotional devastation, she found grit (some say stubbornness) to pursue him and ask for the truth. What happened? Why did he leave? Chased into a corner, he gave up.

For the few months he dated Ms M and intensely declared his love for her and talked of marriage, he was engaged to another girl in a faraway land. He subsequently broke up with that girl during his relationship with Ms M and was happy. Then masculine fickleness came into play and he returned to his ex-fiancée who actually took him back.

When the truth appears, it doesn’t always comfort or heal. Indeed, the truth can stick a knife in you and twist your guts. Stooping even lower, he told of his regret over their relationship.  All this, after she lend him a few thousand dollars. He’s one classy guy.

They also say the only person that cares about your need for closure is you. Nonetheless, that is the point. She no longer cares about his need. Consumed with her own need for the truth and a desire to confront him, she didn’t care about his opinion of her – “she’s weird, she’s a freak, she’s crazy’. These same thoughts that, let’s face it, her friends thought of her too.

Strip away society’s rules on how one should behave in such situations (i.e, with circumspect and calm acceptance); can you see how courageous she is for forcing him to accountability? I do.

The danger is crossing over from seeking the truth to exacting revenge. Unfortunately, the desire for revenge can only be satisfied when we inflict the exact same situation to the other person and they in turn feel the exact same pain we felt. In this case, he would fall in love with her, she would break his heart, and he felt the EXACT SAME pain. Let’s make this clear: it will NEVER happen. So any act of vengeance she inflict is useless. The second best thing is to have him die of unnatural causes. I mean, disappear without a trace. Ahem.

I wouldn’t say Ms M was lucky that she got to see and hear such a rare event – the truth. Her bravery led her to it. She understands that knowing the truth is always better than NOT knowing.  Because if we don’t receive the truth, painful questions like “Was I not good enough?” can haunt us for life.

When this gift is denied, as is the case for most of us, the only things we have left are guesses and rationalisation. They help us cope by opening our minds to the possibility that maybe the truth we so desperately seek are not as terrible as we imagined. Maybe I AM good enough but the timing was just terrible you know. Short of knowing the full truth, this realisation should be enough to accept and perhaps, forgive.

Recovery – Part 2

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Now that I have my IBS issue under control with intermittent fasting, it was time to focus on other areas of my physical being.  At this time, I had a certain exercise routine going with leg raises on the tower, martial arts punches and kicks on the dummy, and running on treadmill. However, I plateaued. The motivation and intensity left me. My routine keeps me in shape.  What more is there to do? How can I look better? I’m slim and hula hooping keeps my waistline down.

Then hubby introduces me to P90X. He asked if I wanted to join him in this scary looking program. Looking at the infomercials and various YouTube videos of graduates (females included) of P90X, I realised that I am nowhere near fit.  While my physique is slim, sexy requires definition. It was time to stretch myself further. It was time to bring it!

First thing, we set up a space in our house for a small gym with the essentials: a tower for pull-ups, resistance bands, weights and dumb bells of various sizes and mats. We also bought a heart rate monitor; new pairs of cross training shoes and for me especially lots of sports clothes. (Any excuse to buy new clothes).

For those who don’t know, 90X program is a series of DVDs of an hour to an hour and a half long of exercise routines and movements for weight training. It comes with a calendar that tells you what disc you should play for each day over 90 days.  The program is actually well balanced. There are 2 days of cardio, 2 days of yoga and 3 days of weight training focusing on different areas of the body.

The principle is simple – muscle confusion. A rookie mistake when people train on their own is to repeat the same exercise to work the same set of muscles. After a while, your muscles adapt to that movement by burning less calories and reducing the strain. Thus, that exercise becomes meaningless. This program works on the basis that in that hour of intense training, there are different moves to shock and confuse your muscles into working hard in the same area.  So don’t expect an hour of bicep curls because there are other ways to work that biceps too. This type of exercise is more effective than an hour and half every day of nonsense.

We are now in our fourth week of the program and loving it. I went from doing push ups using both knees to straight legs, my body fat percentage decreased by 3% (while weight remains the same) and my mind also get a good workout for it takes mental discipline to do the movement with correct form, grace and strength.

While training, I continue to practice my 2 days a week of fasting. Yes, I still have energy on fasting days to exercise. It is similar to the energy I receive from caffeine. This combination of fasting and training allow me eat almost anything I want and still maintain a good weight and figure. Of course, if I want an improvement in my fitness level (lower fat percentage and stronger push-ups), I know that eating healthy is the only step.  Therefore, hubby and I are now cooking for ourselves. Roast chicken, grilled meat and salads are now our staple food. Yep, I still join in for morning teas and birthday cakes at work and will always try to say yes to party dinners and lunch invitations.

Exercise and eating habits are like religion. We should never preach or push them onto another nor cause others to trouble themselves on our accounts. Heck, I’d chow down a hot dog and cupcake for dessert with you any day. The only difference is that I know I can burn it off or detox it away. At last, I have freedom from angst around food denial and portion control.  It is liberating because I earned it and continue to do so.

More importantly, I feel a clearer headspace after working out. Far too long, I allowed myself to bruise easily, feel too much and show it too often to other people. But in a darkened gym, I struggle with all that anger, all that fear and all that bitterness and turn them into sweat.  If I could make my body stronger, then my mind would likewise become unbreakable.  I could become impenetrable.

Invincibility is my goal. Now that has a nice ring to it.

The Hope Concept

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One night, when I couldn’t sleep, I went searching for Greek mythologies on the internet as fodder for my imagination and dreams. Besides, I felt astro-physic theories were a bit too much for that time of night. Like a fairy tale, the Pandora story came up on my search.

The following paragraph is what I found on Wikipedia:

According to the myth, Pandora opened a jar (pithos), in modern accounts sometimes mistranslated as “Pandora’s box” (see below), releasing all the evils of humanity—although the particular evils, aside from plagues and diseases, are not specified in detail by Hesiod—leaving only Hope inside once she had closed it again.[

Like a typical Greek tragedy, the moral is that Hope remains for mankind to counteract against the evils that were unleashed.

However, if the box was full of evil, how did Hope get in it in the first place? Furthermore, if Hope is still inside the box, how did it get out into the world as a gift to us?

Further searches yielded no result. Most people would say we shouldn’t expect logic from a story, but most Greek myths actually made sense in its’ explanation of natural phenomena and human experiences. There has to be something wrong with the story of Pandora. It vexed the back of my mind. I’m strange that way.

 Therefore, one day, I decided to ask someone who actually studied ancient Greek – you know, just for fun.  The real story is as follow:

Pandora did open a jar that released all sorts of evils on the world like diseases, war, famine, and pestilence. However, according to some versions, Zeus quickly closed the box before the last evil – Prophecy or Foresight – escaped.

You see, the Greeks used to venerate prophets because they truly believed these beings were touched with divinity. However, they also believed that if every human were to possess the same skills, it would be disastrous. Prophecy is a curse, not a gift.

Imagine that you could wake up every day, knowing exactly what was going to happen to you, how would you feel? I say, you would probably feel indifferent for what do you have to look forward to then? As long as Prophecy remains inside Pandora ’s Box, we humans still have hope.  

The reason we like to plan out our lives right down to when we should meet up with our friends is that we do not know what will happen in the future.  We can plan to go to the library, but we could never plan to meet the one person who has power to brighten our day. Equally true, we could miss the pain of rejection and the disappointment of unfulfilled hope, but we would also have to miss the pleasure of romantic conquests and the joy when a friend organised a surprised birthday party for us.

Sometimes, our lives are much better left to chance, don’t you think?

Recovery – Part 1

New definition for recovery from addiction has been released

For six months now, I struggled with one form of illness after another. The first was the flu after my overseas holidays in November last year. After recovery with a drastic injection of strong drugs, doctors diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  This is beyond normal indigestion. I feel constantly bloated full, but hungry at the same. Rapid weight loss is a result and symptom of this debilitating illness. The cause for this medically mysterious illness is stress. Of course, having a regretful conscience in the past year doesn’t help. Now, I just finished with another bout of the flu as Australia enters the winter season while I work 12 hours a day for 6 days a week.

Since collapsing at the office was not an option, I took some time off and spent most of it cooped up in bed devouring almost the entire collection of fiction by Daphne Du Maurier and blogging. I had a lot of time to think. 

A month ago, I lost patience with the way my body was behaving.  At one time, I was taking six different types of medicine for IBS and flu. Furthermore, I was restricted to (get ready for it) a gluten free, lactose free, legumes free, fructose free and onions/garlic free diet, i.e eat lettuce only. As a result, my outlook on eating, health and ultimately life itself, changed irrecoverably.

I became more conscious of what and how I eat and what my body tells me.  Now that I am aware of the effect of food on my physical wellbeing, I can no longer drink more than one glass of wine at any session. I quit caffeine and other hot drinks (stone cold) and dairy products are a turn off. Instead, I am drinking more herbal tea, eating more raw and undressed salads and whenever possible, I will choose the gluten and lactose free option.

Is it working? YES!

Each day, I feel better but I still don’t want to return to normal food completely. I can’t describe the feeling except to say that there is a difference between feeling NORMAL after a meal and feeling GOOD. When there are minimum toxins like gluten, lactose, starch and fructose in your diet, you lose the feeling of sluggishness quickly. Another benefit is that I am bringing more home cooked meals to work thus saving a lot of money.  Mind you, I still indulge in the occasional greasy Chinese takeaways and KFC pieces though.

However, I seek a more permanent solution as I know that IBS is generally a life long illness. In response, the universe arrange it so that I stumbled across “Eat, Fast, and Live Longer’, a documentary showing a scientist undergoing fasting rituals and the subsequent result on his health.

I won’t bore you with every single experiments he saw performed by well-known international research schools and the evidence he produced.  But it does show that modern science is finally catching up to ancient wisdom.

A few years ago, my husband and his Mum were at risk of liver failure. A lifetime of overeating and over indulging took their tolls. Medicine could not help. In desperation, they met up with an old Buddhist monk (living in a grass hut) in the middle of countryside Vietnam who taught them specific techniques on fasting. After six months of regular intense fasting, the doctors declared a clean health. They were puzzled but both hubby and his Mum stayed silent.

I had the privilege of meeting this same monk many years later. Whilst I had no immediate health issue, I was looking to lose a few kilograms. Therefore, I am familiar with the technique of fasting.

I figured fasting is like exercising. We injure our muscles so that it heals back stronger. In the same way, fasting induces the body to rid of toxins quickly and absorb nutrients more efficiently. Furthermore, evidence indicates that our body cells repair itself during fasting because it is no longer occupied with looking after the constant digestion of food. Cell repairs reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other old age related illnesses.

Additionally, back in hunting days, humans were eating sporadically and thus our brains worked hard to find the next meal. Science has proven that fasting creates new paths in neuron activities of the brains. This reduces the risk of Alzheimer and other mental related illnesses.

Indeed, the news recently reported the oldest human being at 116 years of age. When asked for the secret to longevity, he replied, “Eat less, and live longer”. While I agree with the cause and effect, I actually don’t want to live longer. Life is painful and immortality, a curse. However, “old age is inevitable, suffering is optional”, so eat well, fast and live healthier.

Loss Of Innocence

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You were only meant to be a toy to distract me from boredom. But you turned out to be human. With flaws and thoughts. Even worse, I realise I am also human.

I don’t know whether I should laugh at how ridiculous my belief was or cry because I could never be this naïve again.

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