In Their Own Time

One of what I treasure most about motherhood is what I get to learn in the process – about my child, about myself, about life. And the most recent lesson is this –things will unfold in their own time.

I recall a particularly challenging period when Isaac was younger. He was not sleeping well at night and I was all up in arms about nurturing good sleep habits from the start. Wakeful babies are always challenging but the difficulty was compounded by the fact that I was in a constant dilemma. Should I nurse him? Should I let him continue crying? If I stuck at this sleep training will it get better? Each day and night were full of doubt and indecisions.

In the end, I went with my instinct. Quite contrary to what all the books and sleep experts claimed, the length of crying did not reduce each time we left Isaac to “cry it out”, with shush-patting or otherwise. Instead his crying escalated over the few nights we tried the method. Ultimately, we decided it simply did not work for us – it may have worked for many others but we all have different babies. I continued to nurse him to sleep, and to nurse him whenever he wanted at night.

So it took time, eighteen months, before Isaac had any semblance of sleeping through the night. And then, miraculously, Isaac weaned from night-feedings, almost by himself. It took only a few nights, and unlike our previous attempt, he didn’t cry for hours, merely whined for minutes before falling asleep. Most recently, he seemed to have self-weaned from nursing – again with no fuss. He simply asked for nursing less and less before dropping off entirely.

Last night, Isaac did not ask to nurse, making it the fourth night since he last nursed. When it was bedtime, we switched off the lights, I told him a bedtime story (it was the crow and the pitcher from Aesop’s fables last night) and then decided I was not going to pat him to sleep for a change. So I told him, Mummy is here and I am going to lie facing you but I am not going to pat you, and we will both close our eyes and sleep ok? Of course, he did not sleep immediately – he sang and chatted for a bit but finally fell asleep. And it struck me. There was no nursing! No patting! Didn’t we somehow stumble into a great routine? Bedtime play, lights off, bedtime story, then sleeping without fuss.  We didn’t have to make Isaac cry, or make him upset. We used none of the tactics proffered to be necessary for cultivating good sleep habits. All we did was to work with Isaac, and gently nudged him along when he was ready.

In the same way, we went from worrying about Isaac’s lack of reading habit to marveling at how he would say “iPad off!” after a few minutes of videos for “Mummy read thicker book!” and then proceed to read his thousand-page encyclopedia of plants and flowers. He went from a squirmy, inattentive child, to one who would stop crying for snacks to listen to our explanation that on why eating before bedtime would cause bacteria to attack his teeth (oops not fully accurate!) and result in his teeth falling off, and then really stop crying and asking for snacks. He went from an almost hyperactive boy to one who can lie still to listen to my bedtime stories – which are very boring because I make them up on the fly and try to insert lessons like three steps to problem-solving learnt from the crow. From a silent toddler, his speech development is now catching up at an astonishingly rapid pace.

We did nothing remarkable to engender this transformation – we provided exposure gently (almost lazily) and in Isaac’s own time, he came to develop these habits and characteristics by himself.  When I look back now, I think, yes eighteen months was a long long time to endure without a full night’s night. But mothers are so splendid at rising to the occasion and I came through. Also, eighteen months is such a brief time out of the years and years – I won’t quibble with Isaac for these months when he needed me.

Most of all I came to understand – no child at this age is out to make life difficult for me. What was difficult for me then, what is difficult for me now is just very young, very tender need from him. I am happy to give it to him. He will never need me this way again. I am happy to have been gentle and patient with him, I am happy to be gentle and patient with him.

Even more than meeting “the one” – what did it take for Isaac to come to us today? I had to meet Ning, of all the people in the world. We had to fall in love. We had to decide to have a child. Of all the infinite genetic possibilities contained in millions and millions of sperms and hundreds and thousands of eggs, it was one particular sequence that met another particular sequence and created this child Isaac. What are the chances I would have this particular child if I lived my life again – frighteningly, vanishingly small.

So I love this child and I am happy to be gentle, and patient, and wait and watch him grow in his own time.

23 months!

Happy 23 months old Isaac! Exactly one year ago, an important man died, and it was also exactly the same day when Isaac stopped crawling and started walking for good! 

One year on, Isaac is cuter than ever and makes us laugh all the time! He is finally sleeping better — though probably not as well as his peers — and has developed his little habits. For instance, spot his sleeping gang! Every night he cuddles with Miffy the Bolster, Star the Mochi Pillow and Cat-Cat the Cat! He would sometimes carry all three when approaching me to nurse! 

His gross motor skill is progressing quite well — perhaps the best of all his skills. He’s been walking confident up and down stairs for a couple of months now, without holding on to anything for support. Last Sunday when I brought him out to the sports stadium, he was racing down a fairly steep slope, and then immediately ran up the slope when I challenged him to!  

Socially, he’s also a very very sweet boy. He is generally good tempered, very cheerful, and general listens to instructions and lectures. We try to always give him up to five counts to calm down when he’s emotional, then explain things patiently to him. So far it has worked — hopefully the terrible twos won’t change this too much! 

Our greatest concern would be his speech skills — at almost two, he is only producing around 20 words, far less than the average 100. On the bright side, his receptive language seems fine — these days he is showing signs of fairly advanced inferences, which should mean he has no problem comprehending us. The other saving grace is that in his extremely limited expressive vocabulary, he has a variety of words — adjectives and verbs in addition to nouns. This includes words like ‘on’ and ‘off’, which I count as one word each although he uses them in three contexts — whether something is switched on or off, putting on and taking off clothes and being on or off a surface.

Anyway! Being the geeky parents that we are, we decided to run an experiment on him to commemorate his 23rd month in the world! 

The background of the experiment is this. Recently, Isaac has started pointing out our shoes — he would point to my shoes and say Mama and point to Ning’s shoes and say Papa. We have never explicitly taught him which were whose shoes but he gets them correct so at the very least, it demonstrates his observation skills. He probably figured out who owns which shoes after seeing us wear them many times. 

But! Could Isaac also have recognised certain patterns and developed his own inferences? We decided to test this. Ning and I only wear two to three pairs of shoes regularly each. For me, it’s a pair of gold sandals, a pink and grey pair of Havianas and a brown pair of Havianas. For Ning, it’s a pair of black leather shoes for work and a pair of brown sandals. These five pairs of shoes are what he has seen us wearing. 

We wanted to test this — if we showed Isaac new pairs of shoes he has never seen before, would he be able to infer which belonged to me, and which to Ning? 

So we decided to use two pairs of white tennis shoes in the experiment. We have not played tennis since Isaac was born, and these shoes have been kept in a shoe cupboard so Isaac has never seen them, or seen us wear them. Our initial hypothesis was that perhaps Isaac may have realised that there was a size difference between our shoes — Ning’s were bigger than mine, so if faced with the two pairs of tennis shoes and asked which was mine and which was Ning’s, he might choose to say that the bigger one belonged to Ning. 

So we ran this experiment. The first time we tried asking, which are Papa’s shoes? Isaac immediately pointed to the bigger pair. When asked which are Mama’s shoes, he looked confused and ran out point out Ning’s leather shoes and said Papa. 

The second time we asked, he again pointed to the bigger pair as Ning’s shoes. When it came to Mama’s shoes, he shook his head and pointed to neither. 

So we concluded that he did not make any inference based on size. But! He may have made an inference based on shoe type. While he is familiar with Ning wearing closed-toe shoes, he has never seen me wear them. So that may explain why he was able to point out quickly that the bigger pair of tennis shoes belonged to Ning although the design and colour were different from the shoes he had seen Ning wear. 

In contrast, all that he has seen me wear are sandals/slippers and hence he may have concluded that a sneaker looking pair of shoes could not be mine. Which is not too bad an inference!

[Actually, Isaac also seems to be able to infer who is at the door. If I’m the first one home he would run to the door and say Papa, Mama before he could see who it is. If I am already home with him, he may deign to answer me that it is Papa at the door when I ask but almost always he has zero interest because he is not that fond of Ning. But if both Ning and I are with him and someone comes through, he would run excitedly to the door because then it would be Gong Gong — his second favourite person after me at the door!]

Anyway! With the total sample size of one and limitations on using controls, these experiments are more suggestive than conclusive. But! They are fun and help shed some light on the workings of Isaac’s mind. Especially precious when Isaac is not speaking! 

So! Happy 23 months Isaac, we will think up more experiments for you! 

Goodbye 15, hello 16…


This must be the latest closing reflection so far — mostly because 2015 ended as it started, on an uncertain note.

2015 started with an entire quarter of uncertainty, before a bit of a disappointment. But quite serendipitously, it actually led me to a job that is one of, if not my favourite, so far. And because of it, a very happy and fulfilled second half of the year when it came to work.

Mixed in between was the fact that I finally found some time to write, and had a few pieces of writing published!

But all through the ups and downs, I always had the strong support of friends and family — Isaac is still an immeasurable source of joy in my life, and Ning has really grown into his own as a father, and is just about the best partner anyone can ask for.

It was with that, and two good news for 2016, that I thought I would close the year. In the midst of the year end travelling (again, immeasurably blessed that we get to visit such beautiful places), I was already composing a new year’s eve post in my mind.

But it turned out that the first of the two, perhaps what mattered more to me, didn’t work out. In Maldives, we had a positive on a pregnancy test, celebrated over lobster, spent over a week happily planning for another little one. Unfortunately, it was a chemical pregnancy (or very early miscarriage) and we never got to see the little one on the ultrasound.

This sent me reeling for a bit. With one of my hopes for 2016 taken away, I was worried (perhaps irrationally), that even the second good news would not work out too.

And that was the reason for the wait — I didn’t want to write about it until it was officially announced.

Happily, this second good news did work out and it is this! I will be taking on a new role at work from April this year, as a director! It was very unexpected when I first heard of the plans, and still feels incredible right now.

So in 2016, it’ll be a lot more to take on at work, but also, I know that Ning will provide his unwavering support, and we will still have plenty of time to learn and laugh with Isaac, and with each other.

I don’t have much to wish for, or to resolve for the year ahead. Only that we’ll be able to meet the challenges together with tenacity and fortitude, and have fun through it all =)

Happy 2016!