About My Baby’s Nose…

Baby 3
Note: This baby does not come with a free Photoshop App

Last week, when we were on our regular walk in the park, an elderly lady came up to us and pinched Lily’s cheeks. We exchanged greetings and as she walked away, I heard her mutter softly under her breath (not for my ears, of course): “She is cute, but her nose is too flat.”

At that time, I didn’t think to react. She seemed like a kindly lady, and she is of course entitled to her opinion. But that night, I found myself telling my husband about it. And over the next few days, it simmers and stewed in my mind.

Yes, the minute they placed Lily in my arms, she became the most beautiful thing on Earth I’ve ever seen. I’m sure other mothers can relate to this feeling. But of course, I don’t expect the world to feel the same way.

Without my special mummy lenses, Lily is a regular baby. Many people still can’t tell if she’s a boy or a girl. If you really want to run a physical audit like that elderly lady, you could also say her nose might be sharper, her eyes could be bigger, and her thighs a little thinner.

But couldn’t you say the same thing for just about 98% of us – non-babies included? If you were to look at me, I know there are at least 10 things that you could change for the better. Scratch that – probably substantially more than 10 things.

And I’ll be the first to admit that throughout my teenage and early adult years, I was fixated on these imperfections. At an unconscious level, I have always felt ugly. If you told me that I could fix my imperfections non-surgically, I’d sign up in a heartbeat.

Thinking back, I realise that ironically, at a time in my life when I was supposed to experience the most freedom, I was instead shackled to this overwhelming sense of imperfection and inadequacy. Before I ran in the rain, I’d worry about whether my dark eye circles would show after my concealer washes off, or if I was wearing the right bra for getting wet.

And I suspect it’s inevitable that my baby will feel this way in her teenage years as well. But she certainly shouldn’t feel this way at the age of ten-and-a-half-months old, not at the age of five, not even at ten!

What I want for Lily is to experience freedom in her childhood. To run till her clothes stick to her back, and she smells of salt, sunshine and grass.

To dash through the rain, splash across the river in our park, and roll on the floor with my chihuahua and cats. To know unbridled happiness, and free-spirited beauty without worrying about what others think of her and the way she looks.

I hope that even when she grows up, and even if the world catches up with her and she’s buried under makeup and corporate politics, she will always keep this sacred space inside her. Somewhere in her heart, she will always remember what true beauty is, and what real happiness feels like. And anytime she gets tired of the flavour of bullshit the world is serving, she can always return to this.

If I do this right (and I really hope I can come close), this is what I wish for her.

So for the moment, I really wish to protect her from debilitating self-consciousness. From criticism on how she might be prettier if her nose were sharper or her eyes were bigger. But I also want to protect her from well-meaning physical compliments – the most common one being how fair and translucent her skin is – which in my opinion, is a totally archaic standard of beauty in Singapore. I don’t wish her to concern herself with such vain and superficial things.

What I wish for her to know is how beautifully her eyes twinkle when she’s happy – like the fairy lights at Christmas; and how bright her laughter rings – like a wind chime just before rain. I want her to know how perfect she is in every way – because I am her mother, and I am allowed to be biased. And with that knowledge and security, I want her to explore the world with more confidence than I had.

An Open Letter to My 8-month-old Daughter

An Open Letter to My 8-month-old Daughter

Pick a flower on Earth and you move the farthest star.

Dearest Baby Lily,

The day you were born, a star in another galaxy shifted. Nothing seemed to have changed in our world. But yet, in every meaningful, mystical way, nothing could ever be the same again.

It was a terribly ordinary day in April. On our way to the hospital, the taxi driver was listening to some Mandarin FM chatter punctuated with terribly unsubtle ads. As I was suffering through my contractions while waiting for my cervix to dilate, I remember feeling a little let down because the hospital Subway had run out of peanut butter cookies.

That was it. The day my world shifted ever so imperceptibly and irrevocably on its axis.

I’m sure that in cubicles everywhere, no one even sneezed different. Nobody’s heart skipped a beat. No irate driver whose lane had just been cut felt the magic in the air.

Why am I writing this, baby girl? Because I want to tell you that some of the most extraordinary things in the world can seem so ordinary to the naked eye. Just like the day you arrived like an astronaut, an alien or a budding flower from another galaxy to light up my world.

You, whose little body fills up with so much personality each day that it periodically bursts forth in rippling laughter. You, who taught me everything I thought I knew but didn’t — love at first sight, all-encompassing love, how to throw my head back when I laugh, how to crinkle every inch of my face when I smile, how to sing out-of-tune lullabies when I’m nursing a cough, how to dance till I can’t catch my breath…

Why am I writing this, baby girl? Because as I see you learning to take your first fearless steps, I imagine the day you’ll spread your wings and go forth alone into this world – this wonderful, magical world; this (sometimes) unimaginative and unkind world.

I’m so excited for you, baby girl. But I’m also scared… scared that someday, you’ll want something that seems a little out of your reach, fall in love with someone who doesn’t love you back, or lose faith in something you’ve always thought you wanted. That the world might break your heart and your spirit. And, for a moment, you just might think you are (and life is) ordinary.

But if you could see yourself through my eyes, as you are today, chuckling uncontrollably on your baby mat, you will know that that can’t be true.

You, life, the entire universe you brought with you when you came to this world, is anything but ordinary. Even if I may not be around then to catch you, kiss you and rock you to sleep, you will always be my most beloved, beautiful little girl. Even when you can’t see it, like the stars, my love for you will follow you wherever you go.

And you will always be special, irreplaceable, un-dimmable, no matter what they say.

Lily, the day you were born, you moved the farthest star in another galaxy. Nothing will ever be the same again. Mummy was there, and I swear it’s true.

Annie’s Artisan Human Milk

Annie’s Artisan Human Milk

Sometime in April this year, I became an artisan. I began to produce small batch, preservative-free, single-origin, so-hip-that-it-hurts unpasteurised milk.

I started breastfeeding.

Why is breastfeeding such a monumental endeavour for many new mums like me? Because in a world where most people eat imported processed food straight out of plastic boxes that we blast in microwaves, we forget what it’s like to create food from scratch. And when I say ‘from scratch’, I mean ‘from scratch‘.

Making your food from scratch is actually a somewhat messy and very intimate experience. In fact, breastfeeding takes experiential dining to a whole new level. You meet the ‘chef’, you meet the ‘cow’, and after dinner, you, chef and cow sleep together.

As someone who rarely even goes out to buy her own food and prefers to shop for groceries on iherb, I had never considered making food from scratch. However, after they placed the most angelic creature I’ve ever seen in my grubby arms, I really wanted to try to give her this whole ‘ultra-intimate experiential dining experience’.

Understandably, being an artisan of any sort is an arduous learning experience. First, I had to endure a few mortifying breakdowns. I actually came up with a list of 10. But in the interest of time and because my baby takes short naps, I’ve cut it down to two.

#1 Being Milked By 10 Different Strangers

So I’ve just been cut open, stitched up and thrown back into my ward. Trying to sleep is like trying to sleep after a Category 5 hurricane demolished your tiny little ship, casted you into crashing waves, washed you onto a strange beach. To put it mildly, you’re still trying to catch your breath. A mere hour later, a nurse brings your newborn daughter, who also miraculously washed onto shore with you. Then, she asks you to nurse her, and when you fail, helps to milk you.

This is the exact sequence of events.

In all normal social situations, I’d balk at the idea. But my too-small-to-latch baby was wailing like an injured kitten, and my boobs were becoming as hard as rocks. So I allowed myself to be milked.

If you’ve ever gotten milked, you’ll know it’s no fun. It feels like you have a huge abscess and someone is trying to squeeze the pus from your wound. Regardless, over the two days of my hospitalisation, ten different nurses had the unpleasant task of milking me. By the fifth one, I didn’t even flinch anymore.

#2 Syringe Feeding My Baby

Usually, when you think of breastfeeding, you’d conjure up this (heavily edited) picture of a mother dressed in white flowy clothes bent lovingly over a tiny infant, literally radiating love. Well, nobody looks so pretty and pulled together while their uterus is still contracting.

Breastmilk (if you’re lucky enough to be well-stocked) leaks, squirt and sprays. A strong jet of breastmilk could wet your infant, your pet or if you’re not careful, an unfortunate stranger sitting in front of you on the bus. I imagine getting sprayed by milk is as annoying as (and even more awkward than) getting sneezed on.

There’s also the problem of getting it into the tummy of your shrieking struggling infant. If your baby, like mine, can’t latch well, lactation consultants might advocate syringe feeding. Because if you use a milk bottle right from the start, your little one might get nipple confusion, and won’t know how to ‘use’ your nipple anymore.

Syringe feeding needs some explaining because it’s not one of those things you read about in your ‘intro to motherhood’ magazines. During the first couple of days, when you’ve only got 10-30ml of colostrum, this involves manually squeezing out these sticky droplets and collecting them with a syringe (the sort that I use to feed my cats their medicine).

This whole painstaking process could take me and my husband 30-45 minutes of agony and pure frustration. Then we had to painstakingly syringe feed Lily and sometimes watch half of this oh-so-precious fluid spill out of her mouth. Two hours later, we’d repeat this cycle again.

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There you have it. I know this is not an Instagrammable picture of motherhood. But it pretty much sums up the first two weeks of my life as a new mother – hysterical, hilarious; dysfunctional and disheveled. And I refuse to airbrush my experience even though it’s oh so very messy.

Because love is messy. Life is messy.

What’s So Scary, Anyway?

What’s So Scary, Anyway?

What scares me about the latest end-of-the-world sci-fi movies is that they don’t seem at all farfetched. 

So I’ve watched a few more movies than usual this couple of months – mostly ‘end-of-the-world’ types (Pacific Rim, World War Z, and a host of older classics) because I’ve been feeling kind of macabre.

Yes, I adore a well-paced blockbuster with a good director and costume/special effects team. In fact, when I was younger, what really spooked me about these flicks were the special effects. Who can forget the original Aliens of 1986, right?

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Since then, I (and probably the rest of the world) have grown more de-sensitised to all manners of monsters, and today, it’d take more than slimy black raptors to leave an impression. In fact, Aliens vs. Predator was nothing more than a strange kind of sci-fi WWF (World Wrestling Federation) stunt. I can totally imagine Dwayne Johnsone throwing the same moves.

February 16th, 2010 @ 17:59:41

That said, it made me realise that what really scares me about these imaginary worlds today is not so much the acid-dripping extraterrestrials or even half-decomposed un-dead, but the fact that these end-of-the world-scenarios don’t seem at all farfetched.

The premise of harvesting aliens scouring space for a planet to invade (Pacific Rim) is very plausible because we, as a species, are also fast exhausting our earth’s natural resources and habitability. (If you remember planet Earth in Wall E, you’ll realise that it looks exactly like some of the sprawling landfills today.) And when we do finally kill earth, is war of the worlds so implausible?

landfill trucks dumping

As for Zombie flicks like War War Z and Walking Dead, well, three things terrify me most about them:
1) The number of super-viruses today
2) The overwhelming sense of alienation
3) Mass and uncontrolled paranoia
Basically, it’s the “shoot ‘em before they get you” mentality that is really so pervasive in our world. People manufacture guns for kids <link>, countries start pre-emptive strikes, and well, we’re just accidentally killing so many people. I’m really not sure how my future children will grow up, regardless of zombies and aliens.

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Picture from wordsmoker.com

Creepy Superhero Pickup Lines

Creepy Superhero Pickup Lines

What would Wolverine, Batman, Superman and Spiderman say if they met a girl at a bar?

What about these?

If you ask me, they might just work, really. And if they don’t, I blame my warped imagination and immense boredom.

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Note: Listen to Rihanna’s Diamonds and imagine Edward singing it to what’s-her-face.

Waste Land

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Who doesn’t love a transformation? What can be more inspiring than watching an underdog rise from the dregs? Isn’t that how Susan Boyle shot to overnight stardom on The X Factor? If she had been your average, well-adjusted middle-aged woman, who would have given a damn about her old-fashioned musical number? Her magic formula was her visible metamorphosis onstage from classic misfit to soaring songstress, with an apt song choice that accompanied her ‘unreachable dream’.

That is what Waste Land (2010) is about. It is a story about making art with garbage – trash from the largest landfill in the world (Jardim Gramacho) and the ‘human trash’ that dwell in it. It is a land the polite society would love to forget – a land where human ‘scavengers’ lurk around trucks heaped with decomposing dregs the rest of the world throws out.

When you throw out old yoghurt, leftover dinners, films, books, bits and pieces of your past that no longer have a place in your life, they end up there where they are sorted out and recycled, eaten, and sometimes even read and archived in a library somewhere on the sprawling 321-acre open-air dump.

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The documentary is about how Brazilian-born, American-based artist Vik Muniz collaborates with a group of catadores – he takes their portrait, magnifies it and projects it on the floor of an art studio. And using a laser pointer, he directs pickers to recreate their own image with garbage, which he photographs as finished artworks. Proceeds from the prints and film (approx USD276,000 ) went back to the pickers.

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Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 8.56.06 AM

You can view the finished artworks here: http://vikmuniz.net/gallery/garbage

That said, it is not the artwork that drives the film, but the lives and dreams of Muniz’s artistic subjects – their hopes and disappointments. Some of them have lost their families, some, their pride. Some of them hope to build a library, some hope to find love…

Ultimately, the film is about the power of art (both the portraits and the film itself) to transform these ‘social rejects’. As a movie, it’s not quite X-Men. The protagonists won’t sprout adamantium claws or grow wings, but I promise you, they evolve into something no less beautiful.

One of my favourite quotes from the film comes at the end. Muniz says:

“A lot of them were low, middle-class people. For some unfortunate event, they just ended having to go there and live in the garbage. On the other hand, when you see the appetite for life that these people have, and the way they carry themselves – it’s just inspiring. Even if everything went wrong, you could still be like them. And they are beautiful.”

In the vein of Forrest Gump and Slum Dog Millionaire, this is the ultimate underdog film. Perfect if you are feeling low and need a pick-me-up. But what do you think about critics’ suggestion that the movie is exploitative? See The Guardian’s review.

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The Escapist’s Atlas

I’m having a gloriously bad week. It’s like the universe chased me to the last known corners of the world and collectively took a dump on me. But because I don’t want to wallow (completely untrue) and also because I know I should do something useful to improve things (like pretending I’m not actually here), I’ve decided to wake up early and plot a grand escape (I’m terribly task-oriented like that). And these are the five best hideouts I’ve found.

Sometimes, you have to roll up your sleeves and prep for battle, and other times, you just need to dream up a fortress and garrison it well. Because if you inhabit a beautiful fortress in an imaginary world, you become impenetrable in the real world, right?

TREEHOUSE in Kamishihoro, Japan

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If griffins were alive (or X-men griffins, for that matter), they’d live here. This bird’s nest treehouse realises all my childhood fantasies of running away from the world, building my own fortress and living amongst the birds. Interestingly enough, it was created by the Nestlé people for a Néscafe commercial and is now off-limited. Incidentally, it also has a lovely spiral stairway, in case you just don’t feel like flying today.

GLASS HOME in Milan, Italy

Glass House

All the white witches of the fantasy world must inhabit a space like this – pure, crystallised and charged with elemental magic. This blue-tinged glasshouse is the vision of architect and glass designer Carlo Santambrogio and sits in the middle of a wooden clearing. Everything, including the floor, stairs and furniture are made of glass. Acrophobes (those who fear heights) and scopophobes (those who abhor being stared at) are advised to stay away.

DESERT HOME between Vegas and LA, US

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As this design blog astutely puts it, this 360-degree home on a dormant volcano looks like the lair of some super-villain – good to note if you have any world dominion or elaborate revenge fantasies. If you’re particularly morbid, turn your thoughts to how some apparently ‘dormant’ volcanoes have erupted again.  The surrounding landscape is an apocalyptical wasteland and conducive to all matters of deep, dark melancholy.

IGLOO VILLAGE in Lapland, Finland

From www.myinterestingfiles.com
Pix from http://www.myinterestingfiles.com
Pix from www.hotelchatter.com
Pix from http://www.hotelchatter.com

In case fantasising is not enough, and you really want to go somewhere, this igloo village is actually part of a hotel open from December/January to end-April. They’ve got traditional snow igloos and futuristic glass igloos, where you’ll enjoy first class seats to nature’s most spectacular dance – the northern lights.

ENTIRE ISLAND in Iceland

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If you really need time out from the world, you may want an entire island to yourself. Interesting story: After Björk put Iceland on the world map, Iceland reciprocated by (literally) putting her on the map as well – they gave her an entire island. Elliðaey, off the southern coast of Iceland, now belongs to the eclectic singer-songwriter, and is only accessible via helicopter, boat or rope. According to a blog post by Maryam Shamlou, the house on it doesn’t belong to Björk though. It is a hunting lodge for puffin hunters.

The question is: if you had an island to yourself, what would your fortress look like?

My other grand escape plans include: Bucket List Spas and My Ashram Experiment.