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.

Trust the Magic of New Beginnings

Lily 1

Dear Baby Lily,

I had all the feels to write something on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. But the festive season can get so busy. And just like that, the days have blown past me like a hot clammy breeze – they are gone now, never to return.

Now it’s almost the end of the second day of the new year. Like most ‘second days of the year’, today’s a bit of a letdown from the exuberant promise of New Year’s Day. After all that toasting and feasting, most of us don’t set out on anything resembling a grand adventure.

Life hands us a blank canvas. We write a few New Year resolutions on it. And then, we trek to the nearest cafe for a comforting coffee to resume the life we’ve always known.

Which is so scary. Because, the years pile on insidiously. Sometime in your 30s, time starts to chase you like a psychopath with a machete in a bad thriller – the kind with no clear plot and 2 hours of gratuitous screaming.

If you’ve watched a bad thriller, you’ll know that it’s a losing race. Each year, you can buy a new calendar, buy a new set of face creams, change your wardrobe and pretend you are starting afresh. But slowly and surely, time chips away at you with that machete. Each year, it takes a little of your energy, your glow, your body, and past a certain age, the lucidity of your mind.

If this sounds gloomy, it is not.

Because last year, you came into my world. Out of nowhere, you appeared and utterly flipped the script.

I named you Lily after your decreased grandmother not because I knew her well (she passed away when I was four). I named you after your grandma because to me that signifies life coming full circle; it signifies renewal.

You see, your grandma has been dead for 33 years now. She didn’t really bring me up. I didn’t really get to know her. All I know is that she desperately wanted to have me. She had fertility issues, and went to see several doctors. She later discovered something wrong with her fallopian tube, and had an operation before she got pregnant with me.

Because she had me, today, I have you. You carry within you, a piece of her DNA, her spirit and her hope. Because of you, she is never ‘dead’. She is renewed again in you – Lily.

To me, you are a daily reminder that the love we give blossoms in ways beyond our understanding. It reminds me that things that seem to have withered and faded may be infinitely revived.

As I turn the page on 2018, I would like to share with you what a crazy year it has been. I have never been busier in my life. When you first arrived, you were the klutziest little thing I’ve ever met. One time, you pulled your hair so hard, but didn’t know you were pulling your own hair, cried in pain, and pulled even harder… As I was trying to extricate you, I was so afraid you’d pull your scalp out.

Because you couldn’t help yourself, I made 2018 all about you. I dedicated 100% of myself to you. And that left me with so little for myself or anything else. I had to learn to let go of things beyond my control.

But you’re almost nine months old now – you’re a big girl. I can see you gaining independence and confidence each day, and I’m so proud of you.

And because of this, I also think it’s time to reclaim myself a little.

So in 2019, there will be lots of times mummy can’t be there for you 100% like before. Because mummy is not only your mummy. I am also a friend, wife, daughter, traveller, writer, and proud human to two cats and a chihuahua.

This year, my only resolution is to continue to nurture those things, so I can become more than I was before… so that when you grow up, you may get to know me as a multi-faceted person, not just your mum. That I should be able to have a meaningful and interesting conversation with you not just when you’re 5, but when you’re 25, 35 or 45 (if I should live long enough).

You’ve given me so much in 2018, baby girl. You taught me the power of hope, renewal and new beginnings. And because of you, I no longer fear time with its stupid machete.

I know the pieces of us that time chips away are renewed in ways beyond our imagination, and transfigured in beauty. You are a living manifestation of that.

Happy New Year, baby girl! I can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store for us.

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.

The wound is the place where the light enters you

The wound is the place where the light enters you

Exactly 8 months ago, a lot of light entered me.

At that time, as I lay paralysed, half-naked and fully conscious in a room where masked men were cutting me open, it felt like a blood-red full-coloured reenactment of an old black-and-white horror movie.

Surprisingly, it probably only took 5 to 8 minutes to cut through the seven layers – skin, fat, the coating outside the abs, the abs, that layer surrounding the organs, the loose peritoneum, and the uterus. (But then again, it only takes 18 seconds to debone a chicken, according to YouTube.)

Through the crack, they pushed you out – wet, wide-eyed and wriggling. You were such a funny little thing. They lay you in my arms even before they stitched me up. There was still a gaping hole in my middle. I craned my head forward to kiss you but I forgot to smell you. I should have memorised your smell.

You felt so small – almost weightless – it felt unreal. But you seemed to relax in my arms, as if you trusted me. And I think it was at that very moment that I decided I’d do my best for you. In the passion of the moment…… theoretically…… yes, for you, I’ll always do my best.

Then I brought you home, and the first couple of months became the most difficult two months of my life. I know some mothers are naturals. Not me. I was (am still) a mess. You were too small to latch, you were not drinking enough, you were not growing healthily, I was sleeping one hour at a time, I was still recovering from my wound, I still had work obligations, and Daddy started quarrelling with the nanny.

You know, those images that show mothers in an otherworldly Goddess-of-the-earth Gaia-like glow? Lies! Either that, or they have superior DNA. Because I’ve never felt uglier in my life.

I had probably put on 18kg and was sweating like a middle aged man. But because of a list of archaic confinement beliefs (see number 4 on this HoneyKidsAsia list), I could only take a herbal bath once a day and was not allowed to sit in front of a fan. As you can imagine, at 33°C, I felt and smelt like a decomposing piece of very fatty pork.

Another confinement practise I absolutely hated – I had to blow my hair dry every day. Who gets a blowout when they don’t have time to sleep? – I ask you. I just rushed through it, putting the hairdryer way too close to my strands that I emerged from my confinement with fried locks. So if you would, please add to your mental image a decomposing pig with burnt frizzy hair that stuck out in all directions. (Click here for furry pigs that look like sheep if you need a pictorial representation)

There are other visible scars. The wound, which I was afraid to even look at, was at first, a weird shade of mangosteen purple. My eye bags and dark circles looked like a bruised fruit that’d been dropped too many times , and no matter what I wore, I always smelt like spoilt milk.

I felt grotesque.

But it wasn’t just that my body had fallen apart. My old life, my world, seemed to have fallen to pieces too. My new weight and the heat made me feel completely exhausted, all the time. And it didn’t help that I didn’t have time for self-care, for self-repair, and to do the things that helped create my old sense of self. Things that I liked, did, watched, read and thought were suddenly effaced.

Because there is less time in a day, everything I do seem to come at a heavier opportunity cost now. Now, I’d think – if I met a friend, I’d miss my only chance to get some exercise this week. If I read a chapter of this book, I’d miss my evening walk with you. During the first few months, I struggled with this sense of confusion, helplessness, loss, guilt and self-loathing.

Despite my self-loathing, you blossomed each day, and your laughter and squeals now fills the house like a tinkling bell. How could someone like me bring such a spontaneous, happy, angelic creature into this world?

Because you are so happy, your joy and delight also seep through my cracks and fill me up. So that my imperfections are no longer just grotesque – they are also beautiful.

We are beautiful not in spite of imperfections, but because of them, right?

That’s what I’d hope to tell you when you feel insecure or inadequate in future.

And as I slowly pick up the pieces and continue to navigate this new world and new life, I am learning to embrace my cracks, imperfections and inadequacies; and cultivate a deeper sense of beauty in my life.

Because the wound is the place the light enters you.

(My first diary in 5 years – dedicated to my baby girl #LilyRaisin.

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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Olfactory Journeys

Photography by Tim Walker
Photography by Tim Walker

Beauty writing is really an exercise in synonyms. Read three consecutive issues of any women’s magazine, and you’ll see what I mean – you can almost picture a beauty writer straining beneath a pile of potions and salves, trying to squeeze out a new word to describe season after season of hydrating moisturisers, red lipsticks and blushers – in various hues of pink and orgasms (think: NARS’s famous Orgasm Blusher – http://www.narscosmetics.com/iconic-nars/cult-classics/~/orgasm-blush?d=true).

Sadly for me, 50 shades of seduction later, I still can’t tell the essential difference between chilli red and temptress red. And I’m not sure the equally bewildered man in my life can distinguish between a post-exercise and a post-coital blush either – God save his undiscerning soul.

Well, despite all this beauty blasphemy, I do, however, have an enduring love affair with perfumes – not the bubblegum juice of prepubescent celebrities or the saccharine launches of bargain brands, but those with real Florentine iris, sundrenched bergamot, Grasse jasmine and exotic woods.

Here’s why I strongly believe everyone should choose their juice with as much care as they choose their books…

Photography by Tim Walker
Photography by Tim Walker

It’s like choosing a theme song for the day

I love mornings when I have enough time to run through my fragrance wardrobe the same way I’d scroll through my iPod playlist. It always prompts me to do a mental forecast of my day ahead, set my intentions, and then visualise the perfect notes for it.

Like good music, the right perfume sets the tone for the day right.

Just as I firmly believe nothing great will ever happen when Justin Bieber is playing on the radio, nothing inspired can ever occur when you are wearing Justin Bieber’s Girlfriend – yes, that’s what he calls one of his perfumes…

It’s an inner journey

As skin-deep as makeup is, perfume is profound. Unlike makeup, it will not announce to every other passerby, “I am an indie-chick” or “Nicki Minaj is my latest not-so-secret guilty indulgence”. On the contrary, it is a more subtle language that you have to first discover for yourself, and then divulge to those select few that step into your aura. The goal is not to transform (like makeup) but transfigure – I always find that the best fragrances lend a certain vitality and depth to a woman’s intrinsic beauty.

Every bottle of perfume contains a world

A nose once told me that a perfume has to be worn by a woman, otherwise, it’s just like a dress hanging on an empty rack.

A good fragrance evolves with the woman who wears it – every book she reads, every city she visits, every time she fall in love or gets her heart broken, it gains new depth.

It conjures up subconscious images and forgotten memories, and teleports its wearer to undiscovered worlds only as rich as one’s memory and imagination – cotton fields, beach shacks, a perfect sunlit childhood vacation?

As I grew older, I began to lean towards such timeless scents that were complex and simple enough to age well with me – not those that represented a superficial marketing vision of sensually, as depicted by purring models in their ad campaigns.

…And, every once in a while, I would wear a ‘jasmine garden’ to bed and pray for a magnificent dream.

Photography by Tim Walker
Photography by Tim Walker

More beauty features at: Bucket List Spas and Beauty Beauty Advice From Mum

My Ashram Experiment

My Ashram Experiment
Sivananda yoga ashram after a morning walk
Sivananda yoga ashram after a morning walk

Right off the bat, I’ll admit that:

One: Two weeks in an Indian ashram was my ‘cheap shot’ at accelerated self-discovery.

Two: I was your textbook epiphany-seeker (no thanks to Eat, Pray, Love, which I never read).

Three: I now have firsthand experience of living out an old cliché, indulging a quarter-life crisis, trying a headstand with close to zero yoga experience, and dangerous chocolate-deprivation for two weeks.

Well, I’m still not sure why I went.

I guess, in a world measured out by Foursquare check-ins and cardboard cheeseburgers, the threat of unreliable wifi and a strict vegetarian diet might have just stricken me as refreshing at the time… Or it might have seemed like one of those trips that would give me granny-cred when I’m old and toothless.

In any case, I packed three of my oldest T-shirts, an insect repellent, iPhone and concealer into a 10 litre Deuter backpack and left for Sivananda Kerala, India.

15 days of curry vegetables, eight unsuccessful headstands, and a close encounter with a hairy palm-sized tarantula later, here’s are three random things I’ve gleaned:

#1 Everybody’s in some kind of crisis

The interesting thing about a clichéd vacation is… well, everyone else was thinking exactly the same thing – everyone in a short-term or chronic crisis seemed to converge at the ashram. I’ve never met so many people with quarter-life, mid-life, three-quarter life crises. There were people who couldn’t get jobs, people who hated what they were doing, tired people, confused people, people who were unhappy for no particular reason…

And perhaps it just seemed like the place for it, but well, people just shared their stories more freely.

The thing was, it wasn’t ‘solidarity of the miserable’ at all. On the contrary, what I realised was that everyone’s got some kind of half-formed plan too. I met a girl who wants to start a sustainable community in Costa Rica, a woman who lost a job she’s had for 19 years and suddenly decided to be life coach, and an ex-banker reinvented as a stopgap-hippie prepped to take on India.

Through their eyes, I saw a vast world of infinite possibilities, only limited by my imagination and courage. And somehow, I started to believe that all we need is a half-formed plan, and then we’ll make the rest up along the way.

#2 Epiphanies are over-rated

I may be saying this because I didn’t have one spectacular ‘moment’… like in the movies. No lightning spark went off, no ‘highlights-of-my-life’ flashbacks occurred – sorry to disappoint.

On my first day, our yoga teacher took us down to the river to mediate. Because every tree, every rock, every weed, he said, has vibrations and ‘memories’ that can heal the mind and soul, and so we’ve got a secret stash of positive vibrations right in our backyard.

This may sound a little new-agey, but I did feel just a tad calmer for that, and it made the crucial difference. I’m starting to think that perhaps, sometimes, instead of waiting for life-changing epiphanies, all we need is to calm our mind and think quietly.

#3 The monsters are really just in our head

No surprises – Monday is the day I hate most – it’s the day the world drags you out of your warm bed and across the street in your sleeping clothes, your hair bedraggled and your knees scrapping against the pavement, and makes you do a stupid tap dance.

The ironic thing was, Monday morning chased me right up to the ashram in India. I had no forgotten deadlines, no early morning meetings, no embarrassingly stupid powerpoint slides, and yet I felt the same sense of anxiety, the sense that I was somehow late for something, had forgotten something, had missed my shot – don’t ask me at what.

Maybe because, as they say, we can run halfway across the world, but we can’t run away from our own demons, fears and anxieties.

And of course, the other ironic thing was that I had to run halfway across the world to truly appreciate that.

More on why I love to travel: Wanderlust
And other Places On My Bucket List