Friday, October 30, 2009

Girl power

I don't often think of myself as a feminist- I have my opinions about gender (in)equality, the role of women in society, and stereotypes and glass ceilings that have to be shattered, but I don't necessary feel the need to have to advocate vociferously about them. But maybe it has to do with living too long in a country where women are more likely to be raised to be independent and strong-willed, or it comes with being mother to a daughter, but lately, the issue of gender roles is being thrown into sharper relief for me. Particularly with regards to fairy tales (I know- stay with me, here...)

As many of you know, we've been reading to Sophie since she was a couple of weeks old- she doesn't always look at us or listen to us intently when we read but it's all about exposure and not so much comprehension at this point. Which is why I really shouldn't be bothered by this, but I am. After weeks of Make Way for Ducklings, Fish Is Fish, I Love You Through and Through, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, I decided to move on to a book of fairy-tales that we got at one of our showers, namely Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Frog Prince, and The Ugly Duckling. So there I was, reading Sleeping Beauty merrily along to Sophie, changing the princess' name to Sophie to make it fun for her, until I got to the end of the story:

"The king was so grateful to the prince for waking them all, that when the prince asked to marry Aurora, the king agreed happily. Aurora and the prince lived happily ever after."

OK- am I the only one who thinks there's something not quite right with this? It was instinctual almost, that when I started reading this line, I actually felt kind of offended. Is this what I want my daughter to be internalizing? That she can be presented as a reward to the most worthy contender? That she is pliant, willing, and submissive, subject to the decisions of the men around her? Snow White and The Frog Prince aren't any better- Snow White is rescued from certain death by a prince, and the princess in The Frog Prince only marries him after she kisses him and turns him back into a prince. So much for valuing inner beauty- ribbit... I know what you're thinking- these are just fairy tales, Mom, take a chill pill. But no, they're not just fairy tales. Stories send messages and I'm not sure if this is a message I want Sophie to take away with her. I don't want her growing up haunted by the Princess Syndrome (see here for tongue-in-cheek, though not wholly inaccurate deconstruction of the Disney princesses), waiting eternally for her Prince Charming to come save her from her dull and dreary life, sweep her off her feet, and believe that they will live happily ever after. We want her to have a mind of her own (she already does actually), be strong in spirit, and have faith in her own sense of self that she doesn't need another person to validate.

I read these stories when I was growing up and you can say that I'm none the worse for wear because of them. But that's also because I had enlightened parents who didn't necessary indulge these fantasies. And Sophie will be the same- she'll read her fairy tales and watch her Disney movies-- we're not going to deprive her-- but she'll also be taught to know them and know that they're just stories, not a manual for how to live her life.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"It's so so obvious that there's so much love going on here."

And that was the nicest thing anyone said to me today. I love that Jude was the first to wish me happy birthday last night; I so appreciate the phone calls I got this morning and evening from home, the countless Facebook Wall posts, the many emails, the e-cards from my cousin and Jude's mom, and one trans-Atlantic text message from my best friend- thank you, everyone!! But this simple sentiment from a complete stranger probably moved me most. So Jude, Sophie, I were sitting in a booth at Northside Grill this morning for my free birthday breakfast. I don't think we were doing anything particularly special- just talking to each other like we always do and watching Sophie, making sure she was warm enough and sleeping OK amidst the morning radio playing. Then halfway through our meal, a woman walks up to us and says, "You don't know me, but I just wanted to come over and say how wonderful it is to look at you two with your baby. It's so so obvious that there's so much love going on here!" She was so sweet and genuine, and so generous with that comment that we were both truly and deeply touched.

And that's what defined my first birthday as a Mom- schmaltzy, cheesy, gooey love- the intense and profound love we have for Sophie and the exponentially-multiplied love I have for the man who is her father. People asked if I was doing anything special today, and honestly, I didn't. And I didn't have to. I have the two things that make me the happiest birthday girl in the world and I didn't need anything else :)

1. Birthday snuggle from Mama, 2. Dancing to "The Thong Song" while watching Glee, 3. Serene's birthday "cake", 4. Birthday snuggle from Mama

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pretty in pink

These days, I live for moments like this :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Hi everyone,
This is me hanging out with my new buddy, Moosey. We're so tight right now... :) Moosey's from Canada- apparently that's somewhere even colder than Ann Arbor. Mama gave him his name and I don't think she thought about it too hard- I would have called him something else but no one consults the 10-week old in the house (except when I cry- ha!). Daddy's professor, Steve, bought him for me and I think he's fascinating (Moosey, I mean...). I can see colours now and I love looking at him because he's all big and blue.

Every girl needs a stuffed animal bigger than them!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sophie wears her first dress

People warned us before Sophie was born that with a girl, we'd break the bank buying her clothes just because there's so much more adorable stuff out there for girls. Couple that with parents (ok, a mother...) who love to shop and we've got a serious problem... Like the time before she was born when we spent what was to us a small fortune at the Oliebollen sale, or how instead of a proper birthday present for myself, I ask my sister to get Sophie this reversible pinafore instead... Dresses are the hardest to resist although Sophie hasn't actually worn one since she was born. She was too tiny in summer to wear anything that wouldn't end up looking like a nightgown, but now that's she's a little bigger, the weather's turned chilly. She only wore her first dress this weekend to our friends' Christine and Jason's wedding, and we think she looked exceptionally F-I-N-E :)
The night before, we realized that while Sophie does have several dresses in her wardrobe, none of them were appropriate for both the occasion and the weather. And so we had to make a mad dash to the mall to get her something nice to wear. After whizzing through Baby Gap, Macy's, Gymboree, and The Children's Place, we settled on this chocolate corduroy dress from Baby Gap. It was the fantastic medallion print that sold us on it and we figured we could layer it with a million different coloured-tees because of how bright it is. Which we did- to make the outfit a little more fun, we layered a striped tee underneath and put Sophie in a pair of Babylegs leg-warmers and she was all ready to style the wedding, 39F (4C) or not... :)

I love shopping dresses for Sophie and several things I avoid:
1) whatever makes her look like a poodle (lace, fluff, stiff petticoats underneath);
2) anything too prim and fussy (heavy velvet, sashes, bows and ribbons everywhere, starched collars)- I think children should have fun in their clothes; and
3) anything too pink

Things I look out for:
1) Thoughtful details like a pretty lining and snaps at the shoulders for easy wearing (the clean mod design doesn't hurt either...):

2) Interesting designs (no matter how simple):

3) Vibrant prints (I would buy all of Sophie's clothes off if I could):

4) Whimsical fabrics (who says children shouldn't wear black and white?)

I'll be so screwed if Sophie grows up and wants only to wear jeans...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pure happiness :)

It's all in that first ten seconds...

Yup, our daughter, our love :)

Where the Wild Things Are II

One of the many things we've had to sacrifice since Sophie arrived is watching first-run movies. The last movie we saw-- and loved-- was (500) Days of Summer. I was totally planning on Julie & Julia being our last baby-less movie but clearly did not figure that Sophie would be early. Since then, I've really not minded not being able to go to the movies as often as we did- nothing's playing that I can't wait for the video. Until this week. Two words: Spike Jonze. Five words: Where the Wild Things Are. Another two words: Arcade Fire. And what do you have? A sad Serene Koh.

Since the trailer was released in March, I've watched it at least 20 times. And my breath catches in my throat every time. I can't bear the thought that I won't be able to see it in the theaters now that the movie has officially opened. I even bought the 25th Anniversary special edition of the book last night just so I can have a copy of it here (I think I might have lost my tattered 20 year-old copy in the midst of moving), and downloaded the soundtrack barely 10 minutes ago. I think I'm going to snoop around and see if any of the theatres in Ann Arbor will allow me to bring a sleeping-- I promise!-- baby to a matinée showing of the movie. Sophie takes good afternoon naps if I put her in the Baby Bjorn so it might not be too hard.

Now if we can only find a babysitter for when The Lovely Bones opens in December...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sophie says "hi"

Dear everyone,
This is Sophie blogging for the first time! My Mama set up an email account for me so I can officially be a part of this whole blogging business that Mama and Daddy apparently do a lot of. Next thing you know, I'll have my own Facebook account- watch out :) I'm 2 months and a week old today and I thought to check in with the world to let you know how I'm doing. My life has been simple since birth- lots of sleeping, pooping, and eating. Growing up is hard work. But it's paid of! I'll prove it: this is me an hour after I was born (I'm told I took Mama and Daddy by surprise- I can be a tricky one...):

I weighed 5lbs 12oz (2.6kg) and was 18inches (45.7cm) long. This put me in the 4th percentile of all newborn babies, which means that I was smaller and lighter than 96% of all newborns. It seems this is why all the nurses and my parents dubbed me Peanut. Indeed, I was teeny...

This is me a month later:

Grandpa and Grandma were visiting and I was good for them, making eye contact and letting them hold me without fussing. At my one-month appointment with Dr. Youssef, she told Mama and Daddy that I was 8lbs 5oz (3.8kg) and 19.2 inches (48cm). I was slowly filling into my onesie (I miss that polka-dot cupcake onesie...)- making slow and steady progress. I loved milk, you know... I still do.

Today, I saw Dr. Youssef again. I like this Dr. Youssef. She calls me Precious :) But she has cold hands. She also said I look like "a million bucks". I don't know what she means- which part of me looks like money?

I am apparently very healthy although I had to get two shots which I was not happy about. They were vaccines and supposed to protect me from diseases. I don't care what they were- I didn't like them. Two nurses came in and poked me in both my hips at the same time. Mama and Daddy tired to trick me by putting my pacifier in my mouth before that and holding my hand. How is that supposed to make the pain go away? It did not and I cried bloody murder... :( But only for a while. Really.

Did I say how big I've grown? I've doubled my birth weight and am now 11lbs 9oz (5.2kg)! And I'm 23 inches (58cm) long! Told you I love milk... My Mama's good at this nursing business.

I'll pop in once and a while to check in with you, oh big bad world, but I can't promise you much. There is much to do as a 2-month old: learning how to hold my head steady (I like tummy-time but can someone tell my parents that the play mat they got me scares me a little?), smiling (this must be something really special because it makes my parents very happy whenever I do it. I should try doing it more often...), listening to Mama and Daddy read to me (my favorite book right now is Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Maybe I'll be a bus-driver when I grow up...), watching my mobile (I can finally make out those blurry things dangling above my crib!), crying (oh, I like crying-- not as much as I used to-- but I still find time for it once in a while to keep things interesting for my parents. I feel it clears my lungs and throat and it's a form of self-expression. I don't think my parents share my sentiments) and of course, the holy trinity of eating, pooping, and sleeping. It's hard work being a 2-month old!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My name is Sophie and I am not co-dependent

Despair to a 2-month old is losing your pacifier in the middle of your nap...

Happiness is realizing you can sleep without it just fine :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

Wake up call

We now have our own breathing, eating, pooping, sleeping alarm clock.

When I was teaching, waking at 5.45am everyday was the norm and no matter how late I stayed up grading into the night, waking up that early was never a problem. But since coming to grad school and having a more forgiving and flexible schedule, my mornings have stretched out and waking up early was no longer as easy. In fact, until Sophie was born, I was never quite the morning person, preferring to work late into the night and waking up around 9-ish, sometimes even 10 if I indulge myself enough.

But as with most things in our life, that's been thrown out the window with Sophie's arrival. The good thing is, I think the little one has got her days and nights all calibrated now and there aren't anymore long day naps and troubled night sleep. The bad thing is, according to Sophie's internal clock, mornings start at 6.30am. She's wide awake and ready to eat and play. And so Mama has to feed and play too, even if it means groggily swinging her mobile or singing an out-of-tune "You Are My Sunshine" as I change her diaper. Or like today when I was counting out loud the number of snaps along her romper- I think I miscounted 3 and 6... In the past 6 years, unless we were catching a flight, recovering from jetlag, prepping for my sister's wedding, or warming up for my half-marathon, I've *never* woken up before 7.00. Sophie, now that is what you call sacrifice... ;)

I suppose I don't mind this schedule too much- she's waking up on her own and so is always in the best of moods. I don't like waking up her when she's not ready because she always gets a little grouchy when roused unwillingly. Besides, she's down for her first nap of the day by 9.00 and that's when I can start clocking in some work. It actually forces me to have to be productive earlier. Jude and I can also have some quality "us" time over breakfast while we watch her nap which is so nice :)

1. Asleep in Daddy's arms, 2. Close-up, 3. Rousing, 4. Fully awake!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Take a chill pill, Mom

I think I need to take a chill pill.

I always thought I wouldn't be a stressed-out mom; I was determined not to be one of those mothers who would constantly worry and fret about every single minutiae related to their offspring, and that I would be calm, collected, and all Earth Mother-like about parenting. Clearly I hadn't had Sophie when I thought that way. As she's slowly maturing and growing more alert by the day, I've started worrying-- albeit unnecessarily I've been told-- about her sleep schedule (she's sleeping about 18 hours a day), whether she's sleeping in the right position (we try to rotate the direction she faces when she sleeps to prevent flattening on one side), whether she's eating enough (judging from the number of poopy diapers, yes), whether I'm giving her enough stimulation when she's awake (I should probably do less and let her play on her own a little more- she got bored with Fish Is Fish after about 7 seconds...), whether I'm dressing her warm enough for the weather (definitely yes), and when I should start signing to her to jumpstart her communication skills (6 months apparently, so I really need to C-H-I-L-L).

The thing is, it's almost like I need to trust Sophie's inner baby wisdom- she knows when she's hungry and when she's had enough; she will sleep and wake up as her body needs to (at this stage anyway); and she sometimes seems perfectly content to lie in her bouncer and stare into blank space rather than listen to me read to her. Babies are smarter creatures than we give them credit for and there's something to be said about not getting in the way of their natural instincts and intuitions. Like last week when I was worried that Sophie was sleeping too much in the day and not sleeping well at night; then she turned 8 weeks old and it was like she had a personal epiphany and her entire routine stabilized almost overnight.

I'm not ever going to stop worrying about her-- that's what Mamas do-- but since this parenting thing is going to take us the rest of our lives, I really need to ease up on fretting over the small things like diapers now and store up my anxiety for the big things like a bad haircut at 13 or boyfriends at 18... :)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Just us

I often wonder how different things would have been had we had Sophie back home in Singapore. We would no doubt have had tons of help from our families and friends and there would be no lack of love and attention showered on Sophie from everyone we know :) In that first two weeks after Sophie was born, there were moments when things did feel a little overwhelming with just Jude and I, and I did think about how good it would be if someone from home would miraculously appear on our doorstep and offer us their loving and unfailing assistance.

There is also, however, something kind of special about what we have now too, just the three of us here by ourselves (although we're not really by ourselves per se, what with being surrounded by awesome and generous friends here in AA...)- it's a little world we've created, a time in our lives carved out and magical like no other will ever be. It hit me in a profoundly elemental way this evening while we were playing with Sophie during one of her two most active times of the day (the other being in the morning after she's taken an hour or so to wake up completely...). There she was, staring at us all smiling and googly-eyed. We're her world right now, and she is ours. Just the three of us. This is us- we're an us. A family. For the duration of our time here, Sophie will wake up, play, poop, bathe, and sleep only to her Daddy and Mama's voices, and that is kind of precious in its own way, like a little blissful cocoon of us-ness before we go home to the riotous torrent of love, hugs, and kisses from everyone else :)

Oh, and Sophie, happy 2-month old birthday! Daddy and Mama love you to bits, punkin'!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

It's playtime, baby!

Sophie loves her Baby Einstein play gym! from serene koh on Vimeo.

Now that Sophie's maintaining eye contact with us, and slowly getting used to the mobile we've hung over her crib, we thought it might be time to start exposing her to other developmentally appropriate toys. We grabbed this Baby Einstein Activity Gym at a neighborhood yard sale last month and were initially a little hesitant to take it out since we were afraid it might be too much stimulation too soon for the peanut. She didn't seem to like it last week when we put her under it and we suspect it's because the colors might be a little bright and there's just too much going on...

But this morning, seeing how she was in a particularly chill mood, I thought to try again and voila!, it was gurgles and smiles at first sight! She even responded to the crazy, psychedelic star that scares us. I still don't think she can engage with it too long before it overwhelms her. We don't want to be those parents that bombard their kids with too many toys- the best stimulation is still us talking with her and interacting with her with our voices and facial expressions (see this excellent NYT article that basically vindicates all we've been doing with Sophie so far...). Nothing beats constantly exposing her to language and responding to her, even if it's something as simple as acknowledging her coos, telling her we're walking up the stairs to change her diaper, or counting to three as we pull her onesie over her head, even at this age. That's something no toy-- no matter how well-designed or exciting-- can replace.

Monday, October 05, 2009

What will become of my heart...

OK, so considering the research project I'm on, I really should be using this video to promote the importance of reading and give a whole spiel about how early literacy development is of profound importance to children's futures. But instead, the Mommy in me is envisioning the day when Sophie gets passed a love letter in school and has some boy bemoaning the "unbearable distance" between them... ;) I told Jude it'll be adorable if that happens and that I'll happily give the boy milk and cookies if he comes over for a play-date.

And what does Jude say? "I want to see the boy."

Sunday, October 04, 2009

In gratitude: The Ponseti method

We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the important role that Dr. Ignacio Ponseti and the treatment he pioneered has on Sophie's ability to walk/run normally in the future. It's startling that this treatment for clubfeet is not practiced as widely as we would have thought even though it's been around for almost 50 years. It heartens us to know that we've been able to benefit from this non-surgical and highly effective method to correct what might otherwise be a permanent and painful disability. Dr. Ponseti-- at 95 years old-- is still alive and actively practicing and his mandate now is to spread the use of the Ponseti method to as wide a community as possible.

Sophie has done remarkably well throughout the process- being such a brave peanut through the serial casts and the tenotomy (an outpatient mini-surgery to release her Achilles heel); but now comes the toughest part of the treatment- the wearing of the Dennis-Brown shoes to keep the correction in place. Sophie has to wear them 23-hours a day for the next few months, and then only when she sleeps till she's about 2. The three of us are going to have to be very disciplined to stick to the routine-- no matter how uncomfortable it may initially be for Sophie, or how our hearts break at her cries when we put it on-- or the chances of relapse are very high. We've been reading the forum boards and found out that many parents-- for one reason or another-- give up wearing the shoes and then find themselves having to begin the procedure from scratch, beginning with the serial casts again. There is no way we're going to put Sophie through that again.

If you watch the above video - you'll understand why we are so grateful to Dr. Ponseti and all the Drs. and nurses at UM involved with Sophie's treatment. We couldn't have asked for a better or nicer pediatric ortho specialist than Dr. Michelle Caird. And this is why we are so moved to donate to the Ponseti foundation, to help them spread the method, so that children all over the world can benefit from the treatment just like Sophie.