2 and double the birthdays

Keaton turned 2 recently! Though, I think he must think it’s his birthday every day, since for days past, we’ve been showering him with incessant birthday love — and happily so!

I’m so glad to say that after two years of pandemic stagnancy, we finally gathered with my brother and his family. Keaton has finally met his uncle, auntie, and two cousins. They, in turn, have finally been able to physically visit us and hug and hold our little man — all unmasked. I’ve been missing my brother and his family for so long, especially my nieces. It hurts to think that the last time the girls saw Keaton was the night that he’d arrived home from the hospital. Now, seeing how much they’ve grown makes me so proud of them. They’ve grown so beautifully, intelligently, and kindly.

When my parents (Kong-Ma) and Auntie Mel Mel, Keaton’s BFFs, arrived at our place, he was ecstatic. But when he saw my brother and his family, of course he cried. He didn’t know them. It was at once a funny, cute, and sad sight to see him crying when we all sang “Happy Birthday” to him. To him, there were strange faces cheering him on. We felt for him and all his fears and uncertainty. We felt for everyone at that moment, too. Two years is a lot of lost time. But it didn’t take long. Shortly after warming up, Keaton was already playing with his uncle on the floor with his gifted toolbox and trucks. He also developed a deep liking to his older cousin, who he proceeded to playing with all night.

Keaton loves trucks. He’s loved them his whole existence — he even knows the names of different types of vehicles and trucks — so for his second birthday, we decided on a truck/vehicle theme. My husband and I decorated the apartment with banners and balloons the night prior to the celebration, when Keaton was deep asleep. It brought back nostalgic memories of us decorating for his first birthday in our old apartment in Verdun, which I miss immensely. And now, our little dude’s already two.

I love the custom cake topper most of all. I had it customized and handmade by a talented Etsy seller, who breathes life and love into her creations. She brought my vision and all the details to life, and it turned out perfect. I’m so thankful for her effort and work. It’s become the centrepiece of Keaton’s birthday.

The cake was a lovely lemon raspberry flavour. It was light and fluffy, with a hint of citrus lemon and raspberry tartness that were beautifully enrobed with sweet buttercream. Heaven galore!

Keaton’s second cake, on his actual birthday. A fun funfetti vibe!

After we celebrated Keaton’s birthday with my family over the weekend — it was the ideal time for everyone to drive down, as the adults and kids were on break — of course we also celebrated his birthday on his actual birthday. This time, it was just our little family plus my parents, his Kong-Ma.

Keaton’s a lucky little guy. He got two birthday celebrations, two cakes, twice the gifts, and double the love and blessings! But it was just right and perfect. He’s so wonderful; he deserves all the love and more.

I’ve been anxious for a long time leading up to Keaton’s birthday. There had already been cancellations in the past due to the pandemic and restrictions, and each time, my heart broke. I crossed my fingers and toes that everything would be OK for our little guy’s birthday this time.

After two years, I’m so, so grateful that after all this time and uncertainty, it was a success story for everyone to finally meet. For my parents who are getting older by the day, I could understand and empathize with how joyous they must’ve felt to see all their kids and grandkids together, gathered under one roof for a full celebration of love. My family, my parents, my sister, my brother and his family — all of us together — I couldn’t ask for a more happy time in my life.

***

Happy Birthday to my sweet baby boy, who’s a source of happiness and refuge for so many of us. I love your sensitivity and compassion; I love that you’re a resilient problem-solver; I love that you possess a moral and ethical compass, and that you do right by others; and I love that now, we can reason and communicate with you. Your love for trucks and “meh meh” is the cutest thing of all. We’ll try to keep your long curly hair strand for as long as possible, OK? Don’t let daddy convince you otherwise. – Mommy

Meuh-Meuh-Meuh to the New Year

Our Christmas was a Christmas of three: daddy, mommy, and Keaton. It was another Christmas in isolation; after all, the Omicron variant had shockingly started ripping across the country, and at a very fast rate. So to be safe this year, our families and us decided to celebrate in our own respective bubbles. It was a sad time for everyone. One or even two Christmases in isolation isn’t so bad for us youngsters, but for my parents and all the elderly, lost time in isolation is lost time. The future is uncertain.

Last year, we had a low key Christmas, but it was also very heartwarming because my sister (Auntie Mel Mel) joined us. Keaton had his BFF there, so it was an exciting moment for him. I fondly remember him opening his Fisher Price car gift — his very first car. He crawled towards the neatly wrapped box — a large one at that — and with a smile, knew that it was his gift and began tugging at the paper. We missed our parents of course, but we were still hopeful that next year would be normal again — that we’d all be able to reunite for the holidays. Yet who would’ve thought that this pandemic would last for almost two years?

This year, as we’ve reached a level of acceptance and normalcy in our lives — there’s no way but to co-exist with COVID-19 — we decided to reunite with my whole family. After all, we’ve all been careful and vigilant throughout this whole ordeal, and all adults and kids are vaccinated — except for Keaton, who doesn’t go to daycare anyway. As a pandemic baby, Keaton hasn’t socialized or travelled much at all, so I was really looking forward for him to finally meet his cousins after almost two years, and their new doggie addition, Snow. I miss my nieces tremendously. But plans fell through because at this point, the Omicron variant had began transmitting at a very rapid rate, and everywhere. On top of that, we all succumbed to a raging cold. Even if it wasn’t COVID-19, we all felt it was safer to remain home and not spread more viruses around than necessary.

I think the most heartbreaking moment was Christmas Eve. My sister had driven over two hours to drop off gifts for her nephew. Seeing her show up at our door, only to leave with a visibly tearful “Merry Christmas” — no hugs or kisses — was shattering to me. I felt myself tearful when I saw all the beautifully wrapped gifts for Keaton, the Blues Clues chair, and even the Christmas clothes she’d washed for him to wear on Christmas Day. There was heartbreak in knowing that as Keaton was napping, his auntie, his favourite person in the whole world, showed up — but she couldn’t see or kiss him, nor would he know that she was there.

“I think it’s best that Keaton doesn’t see me,” my sister said. “He might feel sad that I leave right away.”

When Keaton woke up and saw all the gifts under the tree — Santa did arrive this year, or rather Auntie Mel Mel — he grew fascinated. I let him open one gift that night, and he was very good and patient when I told him that he’d have to wait to open it on daddy’s break. When he finally opened his gift and saw the handyman toolbox kit that we’d bought him, he got really excited. It was perfect for him because he’s always been enamoured with tools and “fixing” the wheels on his trucks. It was a beautiful sight to see my husband showing him how to use the tools, and him following his daddy’s instructions.

On Christmas morning, when it was time to open gifts, we video-called my parents and also took videos for my sister to watch later. Keaton had numerous gifts — all so very fun and meaningful at the same time. He was so stimulated, that he even refused to nap that day. I loved watching him opening his gifts and seeing the excitement on his face. Yet I can’t soften the truth: I still felt a deep-rooted sadness within me that wouldn’t go away. There was the sadness in knowing that my sister and parents were respectively alone, and that the moment could’ve been so much sweeter if everyone had been present. Keaton could’ve actually given his grandparents and auntie kisses for all the gifts. I, in turn, could’ve witnessed their smiles at that very moment.

Sure, Keaton was amused with all the gifts and toys. But I could see in my son that he was also sad. I’m aware he knew that Auntie Mel Mel had dropped by. Yes, I mentioned it to him; but more importantly, he felt her presence. He’s always been an intelligent and sensitive young fellow, who’s in touch with his emotions and surroundings. It’s no surprise, then, that he felt a deeper sadness than meets the superficial eye. I, myself, couldn’t bear to see the Christmas tree after Christmas was over. Even though I grew up keeping the tree up way beyond New Year’s — I’ve always loved seeing it longer than necessary — these past two Christmases I couldn’t. I felt too depressed to see it knowing that it was a sad Christmas. I told him Keaton to say “thank you” and “bye bye” to the tree — he waved with gratitude — and proceeded to taking everything down.

***

New Year’s Eve was better already. We all healed from our colds — my parents included — so we had my parents over. It was a very simple and low key evening. I was in my pyjamas and bath robe all night. Perhaps in an alternate reality, I would’ve put effort into looking cute for the night, but in all frankness, I couldn’t mask the turmoil that boiled within me, and a bathrobe and pyjamas paid honest tribute to that — and I liked that a lot. We also didn’t have champagne on hand, so we just ordered a bottle of white wine instead from UberEats. After my parents left at around 10PM, I knocked out shortly after. I felt like an old granny. Even old grannies do better than me, let’s be real.

Keaton also slipped and fell — so hard, that his teeth cut his upper lip what looks to be almost in two. Blood was gushing, but to his and our relief, after holding a cold and wet cloth to his lip and rotating cloths religiously, the blood stopped. My poor little guy’s upper lip was very swollen. Overall, though, he’s been doing OK and hasn’t been bothered by his little bobo. He’s also been breastfeeding well and eating well. I was afraid it would be a nightmarish scenario where he wouldn’t be able to eat anything.

Keaton loves the playground at the farm. I do, too! There’s even a mini train and barn that kids can enter and enjoy.
It was a comical and endearing sight to see the farm workers walk these donkeys to their enclosure here; it took quite a while for them to make it! One of the donkeys was very playful and almost cinematic to observe.
I love that all the cows had names. In the other barn, we also saw the names of the calves’ parents. There was a calf that was born on Christmas Day, and he was the most handsome little dude ever!
We stood here watching the tractor transport the hay on the wagon. I think it was one of Keaton’s favourite moments, if not the favourite moment.

New Year’s Day was much better already. I was at a better place mentally and emotionally. Maybe it’s because Christmas was over. We took Keaton to the farm, and luckily, the weather was very mild for a winter day, so we were able to spend a few hours outside enjoying the animals and the playground. Our little guy had a good time. It was magical for him to go from watching farm tractor videos in the morning, to actually showing up at a farm and seeing tractors in live action. It’s his second time visiting the farm, and I appreciate that it’s within walking distance of our abode. One thing I appreciate about this city is, even though it’s a car kind of city, there’s still a lot of nature and parks that abound.

It’s difficult having a toddler, or kids in general, during a pandemic. Social experiences, activities, and adventures have become more limited. Apartment living and being without a car has also presented us with additional challenges. Yet for my husband and I, we try our best to give our son as many experiences as we can possibly muster. No matter the circumstances — rain or heavy snow — we’d walk our son in the stroller to our destination, even if it was an hour’s walk away. We’ve taken him to Christmas markets, museums, malls — many places on foot. There was no other way. Public transportation is unreliable and risky with COVID-19, so walking was the answer. Yet I have no complaints. I’ve spent most of my life walking for hours on end, even until my ankles bled, so naturally, I have a lovely appreciation for it.

As a parent to a toddler during this crazy period, making decisions is always difficult. While we make decisions based on our values and priorities, which, in essence, is our son’s health and well-being, we’ll still never know if these were the right or wrong decisions. We know that Keaton longs for connection with other children — it pains us to no end — and even if he’ll most likely be OK if he caught COVID-19, we’re still unaware of the long-term repercussions of the virus on his health. Is it worth the risk? Not for us. Every parent has their own risk threshold that they’re willing to adhere to — us included. I don’t think many of us know what the fuck we’re doing throughout all of this mess. There’s got to be some kind of cost-benefit analysis, and something’s always got to give. But we’re all trying our best to do the right thing for our families. My only regret in my life right now, is that I wish I were able to be a happier, healthier mother for my son. I’m beaten down.

Salt & pepper shake

Keaton’s fun and imaginary play these days is centred on his new kitchen. I’m very glad that we decided to invest in this kitchen, because it gives him something to do these long, cold winter days, that doesn’t have to do with him watching “meh meh” or TV shows. It’s also very rewarding to see him exercising his imagination and engaging in pretend play. While his nose is a running faucet these days — momma here is sick with an unforgiving cold, too — he’s content with his kitchen.

The cutest moment is when the three of us are playing together and he serves up food for us. He loves adding salt and pepper to his dishes; he’ll even make the “chhh chhh” sound when he shakes them. The microwave is his favourite, though, and he’ll ask me to put oven mitts on him (actually his winter mitts). He’ll also make the “beep beep beep” sound. I’ve noticed that he finds it more enticing when daddy makes kitchen sounds and serves up food; he’ll try to emulate it. It makes all the sense in the world because he’s always observing what his daddy does in day-to-day life!

Building blocks!

Our little guy is highly energetic and easily distracted — I know most toddlers are — but Keaton has always been extraordinary in his extremes. He’s very aware, loving, gentle, perceptive, and kind; but he’s also very demanding and strong-willed. He’s always been a difficult baby — very high needs and hyperactive. I find myself defeated and beaten down most days, and not knowing how to entertain him. While I take him to the park, sometimes twice a day, even in the coldest of winters — we’re always the only crazy ones there — it’s always been challenging to entertain him at home. He’s never been interested in his toys or painting or crafts, or in the activities that I actively set up for him (I appreciate all the online tools that parents have put out there).

One day, as he was napping, I searched online for some DIY toddler activities and stumbled upon poking spaghetti or pipe cleaners in a colander and “pom pom whisk,” two of which are great fine motor skill activities for a toddler. But instead of pulling out the pom poms one by one or threading the spaghetti or pipe cleaners into the colander individually, he took the smart and easy way out: he continuously banged the whisk against the floor and table, which prompted all the pom poms to fly out faster and more efficiently, and he turned the colander right side up and just deposited the whole batch of spaghetti in it, rather than threading them into the holes. I was at a loss for words and just laughed. Clearly, my child wasn’t one to waste time; he had smarts and a will of his own nature.

But another day, I had this crazy idea to buy him blocks — shoutout to Dollarama for a well-spent $4 — and lo and behold, it’s become one of his new favourite activities. My husband has been raving about what a great idea it was. That’s when I know I’m beat tired: little obvious details surpassed me completely. How could I have not thought of blocks before? It’s a fantastic toy for him, of course, because he always loves stacking and organizing objects; and now, seeing him so concentrated makes my heart elated. He’s thinking, he’s analyzing, he’s focusing, he’s learning. Win! It warms my heart to see him sit and build blocks; he looks like a little boy.

Today, I tried teaching him the alphabet and lined the letters with their respective cards. Instead of being interested in the colourful line of alphabet letters that I set up for him, his imagination instructed him otherwise: it was to be used as a trail for his vehicles! Momma here laughed out loud. Again, my son is a contrarian and always has his own agenda. Frankly, I respect that. I love his independent and stubborn streak. He’s a visionary, and I admire that about him very much.

Our Christmas tree is very dynamic, if I may say, because it’s constantly changing appearances and identities. That’s what happens when a toddler is constantly removing ornaments and stealing candy canes!

I’m sad to say that Christmas is only a few days away, and there are so many activities that I hadn’t had the time and opportunity to experience. In fact, days scurried on by so fast that it’s hard to believe that while it’s my favourite time of the year, it hardly feels like it. This year is the saddest holiday season thus far for me, and I’m sure many people out there share this sentiment. For me, it’s the financial strain; it’s the lack of time and resources, and the constant exhaustion; it’s missing family and social connections; it’s the stress of not being able to feel free and in control in my own living environment. Oh, and hey Omicron, you raging, sexy beast. I’m giving you a shoutout, too!

Yet my husband and I take full responsibility for where we are now in our lives, and the current circumstances that encase us. There are certain moments when we feel like we’ve failed our son — when we wish we could’ve done better. It’s an uncomfortable experience, and we don’t shy away from the realities of our shortcomings. But what I’m proud of — and I say this loud and clear — is that in the midst of all the tidal waves, we’ve still created a home and safe space for our son. We make do with what we have, and in the best ways possible. Our Christmas tree is a symbolic representation of our lives: there’s beauty, there’s hope, and there’s love and joy.

When I quickly assess our apartment, of course I’m reminded of the constant discomfort and anxiety. There’s the structural inadequacies of the unit and the building at large, the neighbours downstairs whose noise levels prohibit us from even hearing our own thoughts, and the inconsiderate maskless folks who believe that the Sun revolves around their sorry asses. Yet, my heart is full and grateful. We have what we need and we’re cozy. My husband’s proud that I’ve transformed our abode into a warm, fun, and inviting place. I love Keaton’s play space most of all. Seeing his Nana’s paintings on the wall, his house and the stickers that adorn it, and his kitchen and food truck — they all make me feel happy and blessed. And I know that Keaton feels this way, too.

Blogmas: Mwuah, Rudolpho

Here’s our Christmas tree! It will be our first Christmas here at the apartment, and adding a festive tree adorned with sentimental ornaments and lights really makes our abode cozy and warm. We did resort to moving all the candy canes to the upper half of the tree, though, because Keaton will grab them and run off into the sunset otherwise! If not by reaching up for them himself, then with the swift movement of his sassy broom.

This year will be extra fun because Keaton is now a bit older, so he’ll be able to enjoy Christmas and have a better understanding of the festivity. When we put up the tree, he even helped us put up the ornaments. But he didn’t want to do it himself. He just wanted to hand the ornaments to us, and demand where they go with unswerving knowing and conviction. I have a feeling that by the time Christmas rolls around, the tree will either be naked and the ornaments missing, or it will have gone through many identity crises thanks to Keaton.

This doggie or “meh meh” ornament is special — it makes me smile so much — because it’s Keaton’s first ornament, which he chose himself. When his daddy showed him the display of ornaments at the Nutcracker store and pointed to them one by one, he made a sound to gesture that this was the one he wanted.

The doggie is a West Highland Terrier. When I look at it, it looks just right — as if it really is Keaton’s doggie and buddy. It looks and feels like his personality, and he knows it.

My husband, Bruno, and I also have our annual special ornament for Christmas, and this year we chose this Jack Skellington and Sally ornament, which symbolizes the early days of our dates — the sweet cusp between Halloween and Christmas — and the fruits of our relationship.

My husband and I are renowned elves. It seems that every year we spread the Christmas cheer by putting up a tree in someone’s house, who otherwise wouldn’t have bothered. This time, we chalked up my parents’ holiday spirit and brought this tree — once in my work office — over to their home.

When we began setting up the tree and decorations, my parents’ faces lit up with joy. Mom even went to the basement to take out my childhood ornaments and other decor. Dad himself helped put up the ornaments — I could see that he was at peace. They really enjoyed this moment of shared family tradition — this time with their grandson. It had also been a long time since they put up a tree, probably since their children were living with them.

We also gifted them this special mouse ornament because it symbolizes Keaton, their grandson.

Besides putting up Christmas trees and decorations, another fun part about the holiday season is taking out Christmas mugs. These are two new ones that we recently added to our collection. With their Christmas-y nature, they make coffee ever more tasty and soul-satisfying! (Or bitter, if you’re a morning coffee Grinch.)

A cute-as-a-button gingerbread cookie from the Christmas Market! I told my husband that my ultimate goal this year is to find and eat a classic gingerbreadman cookie that’s been decorated, and here it is! Keaton also had his own cookie that day at the market. It was so heartwarming that he ate his gingerbread cookie as he was holding my hand and walking around.

The next evening, my husband and I returned to the Christmas Market. While the day before we’d done a family trip there with our son, we also wanted to have our own date night there, especially after dark when the fairy lights begin romancing our souls. It was a cold night, but oh so beautiful. The music, the smiles, and the celebration — I felt happy. For the first time in a long time since Keaton’s birth, my Love and I had a date (thank you to Kong-Ma), and I felt like myself again. I also couldn’t help but start dancing to the music, too.

Today, we also adopted Rudolpho, our new reindeer friend, from our local Christmas Farmer’s Market. Keaton loves him with such sweet gentleness. When he arrives home, he’d greet his new buddy with a hug and a kiss. It warms my heart to no end!

Happy Fall & Thanksgiving

This year’s pumpkin cream cheese bundt cake, which has been Keaton approved.

Happy Thanksgiving! Here in Canada, it’s Thanksgiving weekend. Yesterday, we celebrated with Kong-Ma, and it was a big success. While it wasn’t my first time clumsily patting down and cooking a big bird, it was my first time celebrating Thanksgiving and hosting it myself. (My first exposure to turkey, and naturally, to panic itself, was a few years ago, when we hosted a traditional turkey supper for the meeting of my parents and in-laws on New Year’s Eve.) I’m quite proud of myself. I spent a whopping day in the kitchen — thank you to my husband who took Keaton outside so that I could cook — and even spared some time to clean the floors before Kong-Ma’s arrival. Everything was cooked and prepared on time — and just as Keaton-ai was starting to get hungry for supper after having played and laughed so much with his grandparents.

And there they were on our rustic wooden table, reminiscent of past celebrations: a juicy turkey fresh out of the oven, buttery mashed potatoes and carrots, broccoli, some gravy and cranberry sauce, and soulful red wine. Plus my all-time favourite autumn bake: pumpkin cream cheese bundt cake. (Between you and me, I completely skipped out on all the traditional pumpkin spices both out of pragmatism and laziness, and instead just used a generous heap of cinnamon and extra pumpkin puree.) It turned out so heavenly and delicious! The texture, the moisture, the shape, the taste. I think it was my best bake so far. It looked like autumn, and felt even more like one of my husband and I’s early dates. “Did you forget the flour?” my husband joked. Keaton had some of the pumpkin cake earlier that afternoon, and he loved it. When he arrived home from his walk with daddy, he kept pointing at it and asking for some. (He has an eye for the good things in life.) I broke off a chunk from the back of the cake for him, and next thing I knew, my little guy was getting first dibs on Thanksgiving dessert. (Shhh, no one knew that that part of the cake was broken or could see the back, anyway.)

Kong-Ma had a good time. Mama especially enjoyed her red wine and rum and coke, as well as all her turkey bones and innards. When you come from a family like ours, you’re aware that if it’s part of an animal, it’s fair game. All is edible and delectable. We know Mama had a good time when her eyelids were beginning to retire down yonder, her cheeks were becoming rosy, and she was laughing more than usual. (I’m laughing as I write this, because we all know how serious and militant my mom is.) Keaton also enjoyed his Thanksgiving meal and had a good time. It’s as if he was aware that it was a special meal and occasion that we were celebrating. I also appreciate that Thanksgiving supper always means leftovers to share with loved ones, and to enjoy ourselves the following day. Today, hearing my husband express just how scrumptious the meal is, brought me all the joy in the world.

While Thanksgiving was already plentiful and joyous, the cherry on top of the day was a surprise visit from my brother and his family. After one and a half years, I finally had the chance to see my nieces again. It felt surreal. The last time I hugged them was the night that we brought Keaton home from the hospital. So much time was lost. I didn’t get to watch them grow — kids, and especially pre-teens, grow and change a lot in a year — and they didn’t get to witness or hold their baby cousin, Keaton, either. I felt grateful and elated to see them, even if it was a short visit of a few minutes. It was also heartbreaking that Keaton cried — both for him and for them. Of course he cried. It had been over a year since he was born, and he didn’t recognize them, who, to him, were masked strangers. It was an unfamiliar sight. Yet there was peace in having my son and my beloved nieces finally meet. And for me, I felt like a proud aunt. I could see that my nieces were growing to be intelligent, mindful, and loving ladies.

Thanksgiving was one of the most heartwarming days I’ve had in a long time. There’s a boiling volcano within me, to be sure, and life is filled with challenges for us — and more so than ever — but we have each other and we’re surrounded by love, support, and abundance. I’ve always appreciated the little fleeting moments in life, and it’s still true for me today as a grown woman with a family of my own. This is why moments like these — eating food for which I’m grateful, spending time with my family and in nature, and loving and being loved — are enough to sustain me. I’d even argue that these, as well as purpose, really are the only pillars that we need as a human species to survive and thrive.

Serene foggy morning, and an eye candy at that.

These days, I feel my soul longing to reconnect with nature. In a way, I’m glad we’ve been experiencing constant mind-numbing construction noise and explosives next to us, even if they’ve made life for us unbearable, especially with a toddler. Our mental health has also taken a deep dive. Life is bizarre these days, to say the least. It’s as if we have a home and don’t at the same time. Yet there’s beauty in adversity. While it feels as though we’re escaping our home every day — and there’s pain in that, because it’s supposed to be our safe haven — it’s also, in essence, a blessing. We get to go out and breathe in the morning fresh air and feel the crisp autumn breeze against our cheeks, all before the streets are filled with the scurry of morning traffic. We were lucky one morning. When we exited our abode, we were greeted by fog — the most beautiful I’d ever seen, and it was even more sightly by the lake. Just the sight of it was enough to make me feel some calm and healing in my heavy heart. It felt good to be alive, healthy, and able.

The fog continued along our morning walk, or, shall I say, we accompanied the fog on its morning delight.

Have autumn leaves been tickling your feet where you are? Where we live, it’s taken quite some time for the leaves to transform into their majestic reds, oranges, and yellows. I’m unsure if it’s just me, or if this year autumn really is taking its time. It’s only recently, right at Thanksgiving, that we’ve really begun to see the true spirit of autumn. And what a sight. I can’t wait for more, and to splash around with leaves like a kid all over again. The first time I had this much fun with leaves under a tree — almost like an excited teacup puppy, if you will — was on my husband and I’s first wedding anniversary, which was a few days before Thanksgiving. My son studied me curiously and then joined in on the fun, and in his spirit of support, dropped a leaf in my hair. In retrospect, rather than celebrate our special day, we simply acknowledged and honoured it. With a demanding toddler and fits of tantrums, our only goal that day was to survive. Funnily, life for us has become so raw and unedited, that, what’s become romance to us, is equipping ourselves with shields and armours against our son, our most beloved arch-nemesis, and resuscitating each other back to life in the battlefield. (That’s about as much lip action as we’ll get. That’s also love, commitment, and unity.) We’ve learned that we’re not entitled to special days — life doesn’t work that way — but it’s up to us to choose the road of least resistance, which, in essence, is presence itself and gratitude.

Our Halloween gingerbread house! Featuring Keaton-ai’s stickers. Always gotta have stickers with me.

Now, we’re looking forward to Halloween. We already have our stash of chocolates and candies ready for the 31st, and have even begun our nightly marathons of horror films that my husband chose for us. I can’t wait for us to all dress up as the “Bat Family” in honour of Batman. Keaton will be “Baby Bat,” of course. He looks so stinkin’ cute in his costume — all those baby muscles! Hopefully, my husband and I will also have some downtime to ourselves. If our wedding anniversary wasn’t on our side, hopefully Halloween will be. It’s us, after all.

Rawr! Here’s to 18 months of tigredom

“Go get em tiger” pays tribute to Keaton’s orange and vibrant tiger summer hat. Every time I see it, I’m reminded of him.

It was with a heavy, yet loving and trusting heart that I painted this rock for Keaton the other night. It was the day when he’d experienced his first heartbreak at the park — my first heartbreak as a parent, too. When he went to explore his usual playhouses — they’re his favourite, as there are sit-in kitchens and doors that he loves to open and close — another little boy, perhaps two to three years old, claimed his territory and angrily told Keaton to “get out,” and even gestured repeatedly for him to leave. Keaton stood there, looking confused and sad. I could tell that he knew in his sentimental heart that it was a different encounter. It was his first experience with an unkind situation, and seeing the sadness in his eyes and him not knowing what to do, broke my heart to pieces.

I felt paralyzed at that moment, too, as a parent who’s new to a situation like this. Thus, I led Keaton by the hand elsewhere. But my heart wasn’t, and couldn’t, be still. I couldn’t allow a kid who was still learning about social interactions himself, to get away with his unkind act, especially when his parents only paid lip service and took no concrete action to ensure that their son was mindful of other children. (I see many of those at the park.) So I took Keaton back to the playhouse to stand our ground, and rightfully so. The little boy was enraged that my son was back; but this time, I told him calmly yet firmly that the playhouse was public, and that my son could be there too. It was only then that the little boy felt himself unable to intimidate and began telling me about his imaginary coffee machine, which I played along with to normalize and de-escalate the situation. I didn’t like the kid, and I sure as hell didn’t like the parents.

As a parent now, I’ve learned that the park isn’t all that much of a fun and innocent place; it’s also imbued with its own dark moments. And jeebus, can it be a dog-eat-dog world there. I’m taken aback by how brutal it can be, especially for young ones who are just starting to explore the world and social dynamics. Right now, Keaton is still so young, so it’s important for me to support him at all costs, especially at a time in his infancy when he doesn’t have the tools and skills to support himself yet. It’s equally important that he knows that his mommy and daddy will always be by his side, and that he mustn’t ever back down in life because of others’ intimidation. While the situation broke my heart — frankly, I wanted to cry that night because Keaton’s eyes told me everything I needed to know — I was also glad it happened. Life’s not all roses and will always be full of paradoxes. Thus, it’s important for Keaton to learn as much in order to develop his character as he grows older, because there will come a time when we won’t be there for him any longer and he’ll have no choice but to fend for himself. And I trust that in due time, he’ll have the tools and wisdom to do right by himself and his loved ones.

This is why I painted him this rock. He’s a little tiger. He’s our little tiger. It’s in his nature and blood. He’s strong, brave, perceptive, and instinctive. And insanely quick at prancing at his target (why we’re exhausted to pieces). This rock is dedicated to him. It’s a reminder to him that he’s a tiger, and that he has the innate skills and strength to channel his experiences wisely and compassionately, and with conviction and courage, if he so chooses. To experience fear and uncertainty, yet to charge forward boldly in the midst of it, with the utmost bravery and spirit… this is the philosophy of a warrior of life.

Keaton enjoying his playhouse the morning after it was built.

It’s kind of funny how life plays out. Perhaps it’s synchronicity, but his daddy happened to order him his own playhouse; and it arrived just a day or two shy of the unpleasant encounter. It’s as if the universe was on Keaton’s side and nudged to him that all was fine — that he’d have his own little playhouse, in his own safe haven where he knows that he’s loved and cared for. Having this playhouse in our abode is also healing for us; we know the universe has balanced itself. It’s universal and karmic law. And Keaton is so happy in it, too. It was so sweet to watch his reaction when his daddy started assembling the pieces. He was also trying to help his daddy build it. And best of all, Kong-Ma were there to witness it all. The joy and love.

What’s new in our household besides my usual contemplation on ‘parks and parents’, as my husband would sarcastically put it? Rocks, of course. When life is tough and the future is unpromising and unpredictable, and hope is bleak and forlorn, sometimes, it’s the little things that sustain an individual. For me, my happy place is currently painting rocks, a simple activity that’s amazingly meditative and that brings me so much peace and happiness.

I painted this one recently. I love the starry night sky and I long to witness it atop a mountain, surrounded by the shadows of sleeping trees. I’ve always wanted to witness the Aurora Borealis, too. So this painting is a reminder to myself of where my dream lives. The three figures in the middle symbolize my husband, myself, and our son; we’re all holding hands and looking at the sky. I look forward to experiencing this sightly moment with my family.
My husband painted this one. This is the front side.
Here’s the back side! When he found this rock with a crack, he knew exactly what he wanted to paint. I also knew. It turned out so cartoonish and artistic, haha! I love how he’s an explosion of ideas and creativity. I can’t for the life of me come up with creative ideas; it takes me a whole astronomical light year.

Besides painting rocks, I’ve been finding pleasure in decorating our abode with autumn and Halloween decor. (It’s September, guys. No judgement, please. I have every right here.) I’m also enjoying wearing cardigans, pant leggings, and my Converse shoes. There’s something comforting about sweater weather: I feel safe in my clothes, like I can hide in them as if they were a big blanket. Unlike summer, I feel every justified reason to be cozy and comfortable, and I’ve always loved that; and as a mom now, I love that more than ever. I’m looking forward to transitioning from my colourful feminine summer dresses to wearing my all-black attires. “I like them dark like my soul,” I tell my husband. Whereas summer garnishes smiles and laughter — even then I’ve always felt a large discrepancy between the clear sunny skies and my own internal landscape — autumn nudges me towards my introversion and to retreat and look within myself. Autumn feels honest, raw, and wholesome. The leaves never hide their true colours, nor does one’s soul.

Keaton now calls the cat “mew mew” to repeat after me. But he only says words once, so we always have to listen carefully. He likes to keep us on our toes.
My kitchen table can’t stay organized for more than a deep breath… here’s to the only time it’ll look this cute.
Our basket of painted rocks. The other ones are already washed and awaiting painting!

Also, a very happy 18 months today to our dear Keaton-ai! 18 months of pure growth and learning and exhaustion. And a boy so energetic, meticulous, perceptive, sensitive, and atypical… we consider ourselves blessed. There’s no other version of him we’d choose to have. We love you, our sweet love.

Bubbo & Paint

Keaton loves exploring toy cars at the park. Always gotta check the wheels and the mechanics of all the parts to make sure that they work!

We discovered a new park recently, and so far, it’s our favourite park. (We’re park hoebeans.) Not only is this new one close to our home, and the walk there a quiet and pleasant experience without heavy traffic, but it also has all the kiddie fun of a park, plus more. Besides the usual play structure, this park also has many car toys and trucks that littles ones can ride or play with. There are even bubbles on the picnic table for kids to enjoy. (This is how Keaton learned how to say ‘bubbles’, or what is actually ‘bubbo’ to him.) I’m not sure if all these additions were left as donations to the park from families or the community, but I’m very thankful. They make the park ever more vibrant and exploratory for kids, and my son loves them. For myself, I also love that the park has wood shavings instead of sand. I’ve lived my whole summer in a hot sandbox, so this is such sweet relief for my tired toe beans.

The park is also imbued with nature’s gift: rocks. It looks as if the park rains rocks, because there’s just so many all around; and they’re all so shapely, smooth, and lustrous. Almost idyllic. One day, my husband picked up a few, popped them in the stroller, and came up with the idea of painting them; and thus started our journey towards rock painting.

Keaton’s first painted rock! I’m so proud of and in love with it, because it’s him and it’s his first. I guided his hand a bit, of course. Otherwise, he would’ve painted everything but the rock itself.
This one is my first painted rock. Featuring daddy, mommy, and Keaton-ai. These are the same little fur characters that I’d draw on my husband’s lunchbox napkins back when we started dating. I painted our family over a rainbow here because in the midst of eighteen months of memorable yet gloomy times, we fought with strength, togetherness, and will. There was no other way but to appreciate the joyous fleeting moments that made life more bearable. And this was our family’s journey with all its imperfections — yet sealed with love.
My husband painted me a lady turtle. She even has a red bow. Super cute because she also reminds me of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” — a true homage to our first dates. We painted our rocks together at the dinner table when Keaton fell asleep one night. It was a simple date night, but through painting and the creative act, we were able to connect with each other and with our own soul.
This one turned out spontaneously Christmas-y. Perhaps subconsciously I was craving the colder winter months. “You skipped on Halloween!” my husband roared. A true betrayal on my end.
Our painted rock collection, so far.

I’ve already had so much fun painting the few, and I can’t wait to paint more. I think rock painting will now become my new hobby. It’s quick and easy; it’s mediative and creative; and the rocks add so much colour and happiness to our home. Mama here is on cloud-9! I just have to be mindful not to steal all the rocks from the park.

I painted this one for my parents. It’s Kong-Kong (Grandpa), Keaton, and Ma-ma (Grandma) together, holding hands. The balloon that Keaton’s holding, as well as the colourful birthday ribbons and decor, all symbolize the times when Kong-Ma would sing “Happy Birthday” to him. It’s their theme song together.

Besides my new interest in painting rocks, we’ve also started introducing Keaton to painting in general. I must admit that the set-up takes more time and effort than the painting itself, which is frustrating because he only plays with the paint and for one minute at a time, and then resorts to throwing his brushes and paper on the floor; but nevertheless, I enjoy these moments very much. He’s such a contrarian; there’s no other way with this kiddo but laughter.

Keaton’s first official painting. My father had always kept our art work and scribbles and dated them since we were mere nuggets, and now, I’m doing the same with my son. I’ve stashed it away safely, and I look forward to the day when he’s old enough for me to show it to him and for us to look back at his childhood with nostalgic warmth.

Beep beep to possibilities

We discover a new park!
So many vehicles, so many possibilities

My husband often tells me — sweetly so — that I’m always talking about the park. It’s true, I do melt his ears off about it since I’m always sharing my observations and analyses with him. I can’t help myself; I’m hard-wired to be observant, contemplative, and analytical. A nuisance as it can be in my life at times — queue all over-thinkers in the room — I actually appreciate this aspect about my personality, because as a mom now, it allows me to always be aware of my son, especially as complex words for him are still left unsaid at his age, and emotions and thoughts only felt and experienced.

Keaton is almost 18 months now and he’s only starting to interact and socialize with other children. My husband and I sometimes wonder if the pandemic has somehow affected his social development and his sense of belonging, or lack thereof, in the context of the world around him. I think it’s a fair question that many parents have asked themselves, and will continue to ask themselves, especially as the pandemic progresses to play an unfeeling game of yo-yo. We’re all living in unprecedented, uncertain, and abnormal times when even the thought of our kids being next to each other, can concoct a crippling sense of anxiety and unease. Life’s not normal as we know it, and even our parenting values and styles have had to adapt to fit with the times and circumstances.

It’s hard and it’s heartbreaking. For my husband and I, there’s something unnatural and deeply wounding to ourselves as parents, and especially to our child, that we’ve had to shield him from fellow children and peers and the world at large — and for so long. There’s a heavy amount of guilt and self-blame that we carry on our shoulders on a daily basis for what may come of our child — or had already come of our child — as a result of our decisions and fears. And Keaton isn’t at the toddler age either where we could explain complexities to him as to why he can’t hug or touch other kids or vice versa. All he sees and understands is that he can’t, and that it’s a bad thing because we pulled him away. We could see the confusion and sadness in his eyes, and this burns our soul to no end. We feel ourselves to be monsters.

We’ll never know if we did the right thing or not. Our number one priority since his birth at the start of the pandemic was his safety, thus we kept him home from daycare, and, up until recently, have social distanced him and ourselves from every other human being possible on this planet (save for family members). The decision to withhold our child from other children is so unnatural and inhumane that it’s a crippling experience to behold. But as parents, like every other parent out there, we’re learning as we go. Some parents have been comfortable with their kids interacting outside at the park, and have been laissez-faire since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, some parents still aren’t ready for this kind of commitment. We’ve been the latter sort since the beginning of it all, but it’s only presently that we’ve started taking small, manageable steps towards being less cautious. While we’re still vigilant and mindful about keeping our child safe, we’re now OK with Keaton briefly interacting with others outside in the playground. And we’re enjoying this immensely. It feels refreshing. It feels free.

Little did he know, a fellow toddler would later come play with his sand toys, and he sweetly shared. He was actually pretty shy, too, and watched from a distance.

So far, Keaton has had a few adorable and pleasant interactions with other kids — some younger and some older. It makes my heart smile seeing him this way. He’s never been at a daycare or interacted with other kids before, so I felt anxious about how he’d behave and intermingle with them at the park. After all, we could only teach and show him so much; he needed his own life experience. What we witnessed was how gentle, sensitive, and mindful he was with other kids. Today, for example, when he saw a little girl his age, he approached her and waved and smiled so sweetly, and then proceeded to sharing his ball with her. His movement, gesture, and body language — so gentle and kind. Shy, too, but oh so cute. I guess that would’ve been a normal occurrence for the everyday parent who witnesses these things on a daily basis, but for us, it was monumental and profound. It was one of the firsts of him interacting with another child. I felt emotional. We felt so proud of him. We also felt like we did something right in the midst of all this self-doubt. There was a sense of healing and peace that ensued in us.

As time goes by and Keaton begins interacting with other children, I also begin to understand myself better, especially my anxieties regarding parks. For one, as an introvert, the park is literally the bane of my existence. There are so many tiny humans that I must be physically aware of — I call them little COVIDs — that it feels like I’m playing Minesweeper with my feet. (Not that I’m any taller by contrast. I’m a gnome.) Then there’s the inescapable reality of handling social situations that are part and parcel of park dynamics, which is debilitating for my old, tired and introverted soul. This is true when I’m compelled to acknowledge or socialize with tiny humans — and therefore, potentially their larger human counterparts — if my own tiny human approaches them. It’s a challenging phase for me right now as a first-time parent, too, because I’m learning to navigate situations where by my own value and principle, discernment is needed to assess whether I ought to step in and guide my child away from another or not. For example, if I see that Keaton and another little one are expressively open to greeting or even playing with each other, as indicated by a smile or a wave or a physical approach, then I let them be. But if, say, Keaton approaches another child and I see that the child is unresponsive or is perhaps shy or reserved and shows no obvious indication of want of interaction, then I’ll gently guide my son away. Something I’d like to teach Keaton is that while it’s important to always be aware of other people’s emotional landscape and body language — it says a lot more than we think — it’s still not his place to decide or to guess what other people’s intentions are, and that includes whether they wish to befriend him or not. If he’s in a situation where he’s unsure, it’s best policy to not force a connection and to give space for others to exercise their own agency.

It’s strange to say, but even if as an introverted parent I’m thrown into situations that are uncomfortable for me, paradoxically, I do find peace and healing in it, because I understand that I’m learning and evolving in the process. Even more strange of all, and perhaps the sweetest note, is that it’s actually my son who’s the one holding my hand and bridging me with others and guiding me to live life more daringly. It’s through him interacting with other kids that, I, too, feel open to and interested in also interacting with their parents, and therefore with the world at large. Sometimes there’s nothing more to it than simply addressing that my child was interested in their child’s activities, which often garnishes warmth and smiles. Frankly, it feels good. It feels good to feel myself part of something greater than myself — a community. In spite of myself and my introversion, I love most of all when we share smiles and laughter with other parents, and when I see Keaton and another child sweetly exchanging connections, if but for a brief moment in time. I think what this pandemic and the postpartum period has done, is made me forget how to open myself up to the world and to assert myself in society the way I had pre-COVID and pre-motherhood. I’ve lost confidence in myself along the way. Now, I feel like I’m getting back up on my feet again and learning alongside Keaton, and there’s something ever so raw and human about that. This little guy, so small in stature, is already my wise teacher; and I have much to experience.

Splash pads, wading pools, and parks have made up the majority of his life here so far, and I’m grateful for these moments as summer comes to an end.

The curl of wisdom and demolition

I love that he now holds our hands as we walk

Every time I try to take a photo of Keaton or “Chou,” I always end up getting a photo of him in motion instead. He’s just too quick for me to take a still photo of him. Yet these photos, where he’s in action and being himself, are indeed the perfect kind of photos because they’re authentic and true to the moment. In fact, they depict who he is very much: a little guy in constant motion in such a big world. It’s no surprise that I have countless photos of the back of his head, which I find so cute and funny, especially with his one big curl.

“Chou” is French for cabbage. We’ve been calling him “Petit bout de chou” (little cabbage) since he was a baby.

These days, I enjoy frequenting the coyote park with my husband and Chou. It’s actually a nature trail next to a lake — not exactly a coyote park — but we like to call it as such because we know that sometimes, though more rare, there are coyote sightings, which, although can be a worrisome phenomenon, is actually not that odd of an occurrence given how, for a long time now, they’ve been coexisting in the city amongst us. (I still laugh when I think of the couple who brought a coyote home thinking it was a dog, and bathed it.)

This trail is currently my favourite place. We’re lucky, too, because it’s so close to us, so while it’s walking distance from our home, every time we tread there, I always feel as if we drove a long way to hike somewhere in the mountains. And that feels expansive. I have my husband to thank for discovering the trail out of curiosity. I’ve lived here my whole life and have walked in the vicinity numerous times, but never have I thought to venture to that side of the lake. And now, I’ve discovered someplace wonderful: quiet, serene, and full of possibilities. (Except when a dog appears out of nowhere and slobbers all over me, thinking I’m a chicken of some sort.) I can’t wait to see it in the autumn with my family. Romantic!

There he goes, running off
I can’t deal with the cuteness of his head and physique. Unfortunately, you can’t see the curl… it’s been brushed and tamed.

Keaton loves being there; he’s always been a nature boy. He loves brushing the trees with his fingers, picking up leaves, and grabbing branches and walking with them, as if he were an elderly gent. The only paradox and bummer for us is that he’s at the age where he wants to be held constantly. Do I blame him, though? I think it’s pretty smart. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be held cozily by mommy and daddy, and feel that much closer to the towering trees and sky? Though, if that’s really his intention, he better choose daddy to carry him, because at gnome height, mommy is not going anywhere far, or high, with him.

Chou is now over 17 months old, and he already feels like a mini adult. How one little guy — I actually hear he’s quite tall from fellow parents — can harbour so much responsibility on his little shoulders and can be so perceptive, and at such a young and tender age, is beyond me. The other day, I didn’t have my wedding ring and when he found it on the kitchen floor, he looked worried and rushed to my husband to show it to him, as if to say “this is mommy’s,” and then he ran over to me in the bedroom and handed it to me and gestured to me to wear it — that it was important for me. My heart expanded. He’s always been wildly analytical and detail-oriented since he was a baby, and very in tune with our emotions.

This little guy is always trying to analyze and understand the people he loves and his surroundings. He tries to understand how we feel and why, and how things work. For example, when he was just a baby — not even at the crawling stage yet — rather than playing with the toy at hand, he’d obsessively flip it upside down and back and forth to understand the mechanics of it; and if he sees that we’re doing something technical, he’d try to emulate it, too, with his own toys. Yesterday we got him a bike, which he approached slowly with gentleness and appreciation, but as we expected, rather than riding it, he enjoyed flipping it most of all to see how the wheels and structure worked. He also took daddy’s tool, which he studied intently, and tried to tighten the seat himself with it.

He went from studying the mechanics of his bike to studying the mechanics of the door of his truck

He makes us laugh often because he’s just his own person, and we’re constantly in awe of him. (He makes us cry and tear what little left we have of our hair, too, to be sure.) We love how amazingly helpful he is, most of all. He even makes coffee for us in the morning. He knows how to open the Keurig lid, pop the pod in, close the lid, and press the strong and largest size buttons. He also loves to bring the cleaning supplies to me when he knows I’m cleaning. He’ll even sweep the floor next to me, with his own mini broom, as if to copy me whilst also giving me moral support.

We also love that he’s very communicative and expressive. If he’s hurt, he’ll communicate to us where his “bobo” is on his body and proceed to show us where he hurt himself. For example, the other day, he hit his face on the corner of the kitchen table and he went to show us the exact place of origin. Also, if we hurt his feelings, he’ll let us know by expressing it to us using his unique sounds and gestures. In a similar vein, he’s very meticulous and detail-oriented. He’ll tell us where objects go if they’re in the wrong place. The funny part is when daddy can’t sleep on his side of the bed — not because he’s mean or doesn’t want to share — but because he knows that daddy belongs in his big adult bed, so he’ll roll him off and away!

Little Keaton has little quirks that are adorably unforgiving for the faint of heart. So far, I can see that he’s very perceptive, obsessive, and resilient like me, and very energetic, distracted, kind, and social like his father. I know that if he learns to embrace his strengths and weaknesses as two sides of the same coin, and to embrace the light and dark parts of himself and to channel them healthily, that he’ll be OK in life. I hope he remains true to himself as he gets older. Self-awareness and self-knowledge are key to his personal evolution, if he’s to assert himself as a wholesome individual in the world; and as his parents, we wish for nothing more than to provide him with the tools and confidence to navigate the maps of his own soul as he grows and walks through life independently.

As parents now, our job is plentiful, dynamic, and multifaceted. It’s continually learning our son — who he is, how he works, his temperament, and his joys and pains — and continually learning ourselves as individuals, as a couple, and as parents. It’s also continually learning and creating our role within the social fabric of society, whilst also providing our son with the tools to find and create his own place within this social strata. Daily parenting, whether done through conscious efforts and actions or through our own unknown subconscious makeup, is often times an under-appreciated and low-key yet mountainous task, and the effects are deep and long-lasting.

Although most parents wish to raise good individuals in society, in practice, the seemingly clearly defined line between raising kind, compassionate future adults and creating wounded and hurtful individuals is so thin and complex, it’s enough cause for pause and self-reflection. We all hold the future of humanity in our hands, and it’s both empowering and dangerous — especially the latter if we’re wounded and not self-aware. Anyone can teach their kids what to do, or how to behave or share or be kind. That makes for well-behaved children. But character and critical life skills are more complex to cultivate — they reflect our own personal evolution and who we show ourselves to be as individuals, and therefore as parents. To be able to think critically, to be able to feel others, to be able to discern between contexts, to be able to exercise discipline and strive for personal excellence, to be able to learn oneself and to admit fault and defeat but still rise from the ashes — these are the traits of warriors. Self-mastery is a mastery of life itself.

I think the best gift we could give our child and future children is our self-awareness as individuals. My husband and I tend to discuss our role as parents, the evolution of our relationship, and our strengths and weaknesses. We’re constantly evaluating and re-evaluating our identities, and our opinion of ourselves and each other. For us, it only makes sense: there’s no growing without being aware of or coming to terms with the dark aspects of ourselves, and continually so. If we wish to cultivate the best version of our child(ren), then we, too, must cultivate the best versions of ourselves first and foremost. Yet for individuals like us who constantly keep ourselves in check, it becomes a blessing and a curse in day to day life. The playground, a seemingly innocent and relaxing place, is a prime example of our constant hyperawareness because we’re constantly aware of ourselves and our behaviour, and of other people’s behaviour — even if they’re not aware of it themselves.

The park or the playground is my arch-nemesis. While I take my son there every day in order for him to exert his energy and to learn to co-exist with other children, especially since he’s not in daycare, and of course, for him to have fun, it’s actually a highly stressful environment for me. I’m constantly on high alert because for one, my son is a tornado of sorts and is bound to fall or hurt himself; secondly, it’s a pandemic, and no matter what anyone says about kids’ superhuman immune system, no, I’m not going to risk him catching the virus. Moreover, as someone who’s hypersensitive and hyperaware of my surroundings and other people, all the stimulation at hand is a lot for my brain to deal with. Considering safety and handling interactions, while it tends to be a normal and mundane everyday occurrence for many people, is an exhausting feat for me. Not only is my natural aptitude towards human psychology a big enough burden for me already, but it’s also my nature’s desire to take care of other people, that makes me feel the weight of the world on my shoulders.

Taking care of others in this context is synonymous to me being aware of them and how they’re feeling, especially when I’m at the park with my son. I’m always reading other parents’ body language and emotional landscape. Often times, people have contradictory thoughts and emotions without even realizing it on a conscious level, and give themselves away through their microexpressions and body language; and it’s important for me to catch that in order for me to better accommodate them. (I guess it’s human decency.) The park is an interesting environment where order and chaos co-exist peacefully and subtly. It’s also a fickle place where one could feel one’s faith in humanity being restored one day, and shattered the next. It’s a sweet sight when Keaton and another child lock eyes and muster a shy smile and show interest in each other. It’s also a pleasant experience when I exchange smiles and interactions with fellow parents and have light conversations with them. I live for these fleeting, yet humane moments in time.

One of the most genuine moments for me is when I see Keaton waving at other children and curiously observing them. He frequently does it when they turn to leave and can no longer see him, which is amusing because he can be quite shy about it. I also find it super adorable when he follows a fellow child — often times older — and watches what they’re doing. I habitually let him observe, and after a while, I’ll hold his hand and take him away, and explain to him that the child is doing their thing and that it’s mindful to give them their space and privacy. (Unless of course the child clearly is fascinated by Keaton, too, and wishes to interact.) It’s always important to me to observe and assess children and their parents’ body language and level of comfort. Again, it’s another jarring experience for me, because while I appreciate my son’s experience that’s very natural to him at his age — that is, learning another child and observing their activities — I can’t help but also take the other child and their parents’ experience into account. This is why simultaneously parenting my son and naturally being in tune with the world around me — more so than normal — can be so taxing.

Sometimes, it’s also heartbreaking for me when I see my son waving at a fellow child for want of a brief interaction, and it’s overlooked. I understand it’s without malice, but it’s still sad for me nonetheless, especially when I see how Keaton knits his eyebrows with sadness (even if he tends to move on rather quickly). As time goes by, I’m already beginning to see visceral moments that are shaping Keaton’s self-image and his understanding of the world at large. Everything, big or small, has an enduring effect. Keaton is so young and the playground can be a brutal and ruthless teacher — and an asshole at that (excuse my language). Yet for my husband and I, he’s never too young to learn boundaries or to learn that other people needn’t like him or wish to befriend him, and that it’s their choice and right. But that it’s his responsibility to himself to live his truth, and to have enough self-respect and integrity to stand upright even if the ground beneath his feet shake and shatter. This is self-love and self-respect.

Even comments from the most well-meaning of strangers and passersby — and said long and repeatedly enough over the course of his life — can affect his sense of identity within the social world. Something I don’t appreciate is when strangers greet him and expect him to be a smiling kid who waves back at them like a happy clapping seal. My personal favourite is when a neighbour, through no mean intention, would often say, “Oh, he doesn’t look too happy.” While I don’t feel like justifying my child’s social persona to other people, much less strangers, I now feel comfortable telling them, with my own smile and politeness, that he’s simply analytical. And frankly, I like that about him very much. I like that he assesses a person deeply before deciding to smile at them, or to even like them for that matter. Society tends to reward those who are extroverted, social, outgoing, and friendly. And as a parent now, I see that it starts early, and in very subtle ways. A child gets comments from a well-meaning stranger (who’s more pitifully untactful than anything else), is demeaned by a teacher for being introverted or quiet, or is told to be someone else by a parent who’s self-absorbed and downright ignorant.

Keaton isn’t even one and a half yet. Yet I could already feel and see how the harsh realities of life and people are already playing a role in his life, even if he’s just a mere nugget. There are those who stop to say hello to him and to appreciate him wholly with the utmost presence. (His cuteness is often cause for happy smiles for passersby.) I could feel the warmth emanating from these kind souls, and I’m very thankful for them. They’re the majority of those whom we stumble upon, and it always makes my day. Then there are those who also stop to say hello and to appreciate his cuteness, but also expect him to act the part of their preconceived notion of what children should be. In his lifetime, there will be those who will guide him to his light, and those that will dim his essence. This is a fact of life in all its beauty and imperfections, and it’s his job to carve his place and make peace with the context of the world — and to do so with the utmost conviction and integrity.

I think, what it is for me right now, is that when I look at Keaton and see how smart, kind, and gentle he is, there’s a level of pre-emptive sadness I feel for the imminent loss of his innocence as he grows older and experiences life in all its rays. No, I never wish to shield him from the world in all its beauty and pain. I actually wish for him to learn in the midst of adversity — it’s the only true way to build character, strength, and determination. Yet where I feel sad, is in knowing that one day there’s going to come a time when he may feel broken, and I can’t help the pain I feel in knowing this, because I’ve been there — we’ve all been there — and I love him so much. I do know, though, that when the time comes, I’ll be his pillar of strength and the compass for him to search his own soul. I hope that when the tide passes and the sea finds its calm again, that he’ll be able to look at life again with newfound innocence. From a place of having died and rebirthed, and of having loved and lost. From a place of wisdom, acceptance, and growth. From will and choice itself. And that’s when he’ll know he’ll have become a man.

All the boops

The sweetest sight of my life

My husband and I held hands and tip toed quietly to take a sneak peek at Keaton while he was sleeping peacefully. It was surprising for us to see him fall asleep so early after arriving home from Kong Ma’s (my parents). After screaming in the hallway three times — it seems to be his tradition to tell the world that he, the Little Lord, is home — he fell asleep on his daddy’s shoulders shortly after he picked him up from the stroller. This was so uncommon for us because we expected him to grow fussy and cry for milkies, since it’s often the case that he gets overtired after a long day of fun with his grandparents, and therefore cranky at home.

But tonight was different. He accepted his daddy holding him, and even cuddled against the nook of his neck and shoulder. “Is he okay?,” we pondered. And for good reason: earlier today, he fell face forward at the park and hit his face on the cement. His forehead was badly scratched with spots of blood; a little bit of blood trickled from his nose; and later, a big bruise ensued in the middle of his forehead. When I saw him fall and heard his harsh cries, I wanted to die. I felt the rush of anger towards myself and the self-blame, while lovingly and gently patting him on his back, dancing with him, and assuring him that he was OK, all the while also pointing to his beloved plants and trees so as to distract him from his current pain.

I wish I hadn’t taken him to the park today. After all, it was a rainy day and perhaps we both needed a break, since I do already take him out on walks or to the park daily, sometimes for hours on end. So a day like today would’ve been ideal to just go to my parents’ and nestle inside. But therein lies my weakness and downfall as an individual, and therefore, as a parent: I refuse to take a break or let things go. If I hadn’t taken him to the park and just accepted that today would be a day to rest, he wouldn’t have slipped on the slippery cement. But it was my obsessive thought that he needed to be outdoors every single day, which stemmed from a place of fear, that, in the end, hindered my judgement. If I may psychoanalyze myself, I’d say it’s a major source of anxiety and stress in my daily life.

The greatest hardship right now for my husband and I is seeing him hurt. Yesterday, he also had a rough fall off the wagon in the playground, that ended in him falling forward and banging his chin and jaw — his head jerking back. The scene is still fresh in our minds — a nightmare. “What if he’d broken his neck?,” my husband cried. As parents, we always blame ourselves, even if 99% of the time we’re present and with him. With Keaton, however, we can never drop our guard — not even for a split second, because he’s scarily explosive and quick. All it takes is one second for anything to go wrong. I’m a walking tremor for this reason. Every day my mind is filled with constant worry. My husband and I joke that it might be genetics, for his mother also had to put him in a harness when he was a toddler. We laugh about it, but I do feel a lot of empathy for her and for all parents whose children are the Usain Bolt(s) and David Blaine(s) of toddlerhood.

Little Keaton has experienced many falls on his head and face over time — almost daily. His face is constantly covered with cuts and/or bruises, and often times in the same location. I worry that all the hits and falls might cause damage to his brain over time. So far, though, I feel it’s safe to say that he’s never displayed any symptoms of abnormality. In fact, even after having experienced hard blows, he’d continue playing and smiling. He even hugged his Kong Kong (grandpa) today when we arrived at their house, as if life for him was all sunshine and rainbows. It was an endearing sight and such sweet relief to see him act like himself. I’m always in awe of how resilient and mentally strong he is. Yet there’s something sad about this powerful sight: that even a little toddler has the will to go on, when we adults sometimes don’t. There’s much wisdom in it.

Our little Keaton is a tornado of sorts, on all levels. He’s physically agile and explosive; he’s mentally sharp with an impressive ability to problem solve and utilize his wits; and he’s also very caring and loving. He’s a lot to handle in a small package. In fact, I’d often faint when I was pregnant with him. There were times when I fainted on the street or in my office at work, and those around me had to call an ambulance. As expected, all hospital results turned out normal. Back then, I made a joke to my husband that his energy level in my belly must’ve been so high that it was causing me to faint. Lo and behold, my assessment was quite accurate. After his birth at the hospital, the only cries that the staff and floor heard, were his. No other baby was as vocal as he was, and thus I knew: this child of mine would turn out a tad extra. And every day after that day has been a testament to it.

I’m oh so tired. Sometimes I secretly wish he was more calm like other toddlers his age — whose parents have the freedom to actually talk to each through dinner or enjoy a coffee — but there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t appreciate his very essence. I love him so much, more than life itself. I’ve gone through much pain to see to it that he’s healthy and thriving. The mastitis was the worst pain of my life — worse than labour itself. I felt like my breasts were being cut and sliced open with knives, over and over again. I cried breastfeeding him and scrunched my toes and bit my tongue throughout those days and nights. I also grew a debilitatingly high fever that left me feeling lifeless — I felt like I was going to die. All during a time when the pandemic had just begun and hospitals and clinics were in a panicked frenzy. At a time when I had absolutely no help. No physical or moral support. It was my husband who fed me back to life. But I kept going and going, and never gave up on breastfeeding. When I looked at my son, I knew there was no pain in life that I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, endure.

And 16 months later, today, I feel no different. There’s nothing in this world that could weaken my knees when it comes to my son. Sometimes there are days when little Keaton makes me want to bang myself upside the head with a frying pan so that I could perhaps see stars and retire from life for a brief moment, for want of peace, if anything. There are also days when he exhausts me so much that I want to just hide in the closet and sleep, and not come out for another three decades or so. But as difficult as he (and parenting) can be at times, when I see him sleeping peacefully or smiling at me, I thank life and the universe for this blessing. I feel so incredibly in love with him. And the sweetest blessing is knowing deep in my heart that he was born mine for a reason.

***

To Keaton,

Being your mother has been, by far, the most difficult yet joyous feat of my life. You’ve shaken me from the inside out, and in the process, you’ve brought me forgiveness, strength, and healing. I smile in the midst of it all because I have a very cute little teacher by my side, and every day I feel humbled that you have the power to transform me, just by being who you are. The unwinding road of motherhood and of self can sometimes be unforgiving and ruthless, but never unfair. Don’t you agree? Thank you for continually bringing me back to myself.

With your innate perceptivity and compassion, you bring healing, growth, and love to all that cross your path. I hope you’ll grow to honour your light and soul’s purpose; the world needs it. It’s already more colourful and vibrant with you in it.