’tis the season…?

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My sister, Witty, and our “Christmas tree” circa sometime in the 1980s.

Thinking back on my childhood, I struggle to come up with something that I can consider a family tradition. Almost every Saturday night growing up, we went out to eat at our favorite restaurant in Alhambra – a steakhouse run by a Burmese man who knew all of our orders by heart, only faltering when it came down to what flavor ice cream my sister and I wanted at the end of the meal. I remember years where we spent our Christmas break taking long weekends in either Las Vegas or Big Bear – one year spent amongst the neon lights and boardwalk games, the next riding a plastic sled saucer down a mound of snow. We did Thanksgiving dinners, but only once my sister and I were old enough to insist on it and took on the work of cooking it for our family, inevitably serving our dry, overcooked turkey at 9p. For Christmas, we got real trees most years, until our mom insisted we get an artificial tree because the real ones were so messy and wasteful. My sister and I would decorate it with plain red and green ornaments, hanging strings of silver tinsel and candy canes from the branches. We even convinced our dad to put up Christmas lights on the house for a few years, and subsequently died of embarrassment when he failed to take them down before March.

But eventually, we grew up and got busy. The Christmas vacations fell off the calendar, and even the Saturday night dinners became less frequent. My sister left for college and went on to spend holidays with her husband’s family in Wisconsin. And eventually, I got bored of decorating the Christmas tree on my own, until finally, both the tree and the coils of green and red lights stayed in the garage gathering dust.

For pretty much all of my childhood my parents worked hard and had long, impossible hours – my father’s face lit by the glow of his computer screens well into the early mornings, week in and week out. Despite this, I know they did everything they could to make our childhood fun and memorable. Maybe we didn’t have a house decked out in Christmas tchotchkes and presents overflowing from under our tree, but we did have annual passes to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm and received red envelopes with cash for every birthday and Christmas.

Evita's first birthday cake
The beginning of my life-long relationship with cake.

So, where exactly does that leave me – a first time mom and second-generation Taiwanese-American, married to a second-generation Chinese-American, both raised by parents that didn’t pay all that much attention to the American holidays that are so emphasized by the culture we grew up in? How do I reconcile my practical, immigrant upbringing with my desire to create feeling and meaning around the holidays for Emmy?

Ugh, I have no idea. And honestly, like most parenting-related things, the plethora of options is overwhelming. There are personalized stockings I could hang and fill, Elves on Shelves, advent calendars, Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, deciding if we should pretend Santa is real, matching pajamas for Christmas Day…it goes on and on. So, instead of me obsessing as I usually do, we’ve decided to instead focus on a few basics this first year, and see where it takes us. After all, as I keep reminding myself, traditions take years and consistency to build – and at least in this instance, we have the luxury of time. There’s no rush for us to figure out exactly what we want to do every year for the rest of our lives, right this very minute (despite my innate desire to be “good” at Christmas NOW).

The year Alex and I got married, we hosted our annual Friendsmas at our apartment. We asked our friends to bring us ornaments for our Christmas tree since we had none that were meaningful. We have been married almost 5 years now, and it is still my greatest pleasure to hang them all, one by one, on our tree each Christmas. I had never understood how a simple ornament could be special until that year, and we hope to show Emmy how meaningful they can be too. This year, we will make an ornament from her hand print, and we hope that next year she will pick her own to place on the tree next to the tiny hand print she likely won’t register as her own until much later in life.

This year, I’ve also broken with my normal Christmas protocol with my parents and have requested an actual gift rather than the red envelope I would typically receive. I’ve asked for my own hot pot set. I don’t think we’ll ever be a spiral ham on Christmas kind of family, but I do think we could be the type of family that gathers around a communal hot pot, warmed by bubbling soup and each other’s company.

So, that’s where we’ll start. And I’m excited to watch Emmy experience the holidays as she grows, to see her look forward to the things we do as a family that will eventually shape her perspective of the holidays. Maybe someday she’ll even ask me for her own hot pot set – but, of course, that’s getting ahead of myself.

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It’s a Christmas miracle – we’re all looking in the same direction.
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is it too late to apologize?

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The me on the left (childless, circa 2010) says sorry to the me on the right and to all the other mamas out there for being judgy and not helpful.

Ah, perspective. Don’t you just love it when it comes around to bite you in the ass? When one of my closest friends had a baby the year before we did, I was genuinely confused by her new mom attitude. I, of course, understood that having a newborn was hard, but didn’t things level off after awhile? After several failed attempts to get her out to different social events, I remember how hurt I felt when she said something to me along the lines of, “You just won’t get it until you’ve had a baby yourself.” Well folks, I’m reporting to you now from the trenches of early motherhood – no, I would not have gotten it, even if she had spent hours (not that any mother has that much extra time) explaining to me what she was going through.

To all of my friends who became mothers before me – I’m sorry for the not helpful (but well-intentioned) things childless me said and did. This post is for you. Thank you for still being my friend.

I’m sorry I said you should disrupt your baby’s napping schedule and routine because coming to our house to see us and all of our friends is important

No. In no world is coming to a house party worth disrupting baby’s nap and daily routine just as you’re starting to get into the swing of things. Nap schedules, I’ve learned, are part wishful thinking, part superstitious voodoo magic, and essentially up to whatever the baby feels like doing that day. If yesterday baby had the perfect nap day, you can bet that I am going to do everything exactly the same today in an attempt to replicate that one perfect day. And you know what I didn’t do yesterday? Go to a house party.

And yes, friends will always be important, but if you’re looking for me to just come out and say it – my priorities have changed. I will always love my friends, I will always lean on them and count on them for their support, but my world, at least for now, revolves almost entirely around the tiny human that holds my heart in her hands.

I’m also sorry that when you attempted to explain some version of the above to me, my response was to tell you (magnanimously, may I add) that baby could sleep in our guest room.

Nope, the baby is not going to just nod off to sleep without her blackout curtains, 2 sound machines, sleep sack, crib, lovey, and just right ambient temperature. Nice try though.

I’m sorry for all the times I was annoyed you couldn’t hold a normal conversation with me.

This used to be one of my pet peeves: I’d be talking to a mom friend and as I chattered on about this or that, I’d see her eyes slide away from mine and to her child. “Uh huh,” she’d say in response to whatever I’d just said, as she checked for the millionth time in a 5 minute span that her kid was okay.

Now I know that if my child is in the room, you should expect at worst 30% of my attention, at best 90%, because there will always be a part of me that isn’t paying attention to you and is instead focused in on my kid, no matter how juicy the gossip you’re sharing is. Now one of my favorite pastimes is trying to have a conversation with an equally distracted mom, both of us attempting to juggle a conversation, a glass of wine, and our squirming children.

I’m sorry I didn’t acknowledge and celebrate what an absolute BEAST and sheer force of power and strength you are each and every time I saw you.

No matter how you did it – medicated, unmedicated, c-section, in a tub in your living room – labor and delivery is hard, scary, and unpredictable. And before that, you gestated that baby in your womb and experienced the bizarre feeling of your body becoming distinctly not your own and unrecognizable to you. Then, when that baby finally came into the world, you operated on less sleep than you probably ever had in your entire life – not to mention the crazy levels of hormones coursing through your veins – and then likely attempted to suction that child onto your breast to provide sustenance for her with just your body. All while still recovering from the physical trauma of this little person’s exit from said body.

Why this level of badassary doesn’t get daily recognition and praise from the masses I’ll never understand.

I am deeply sorry and regretful that I secretly judged you when you expressed your desire to be a stay at home mom.

This is definitely one that I could not wrap my mind around before having a baby. Why would any feminist woman, highly educated, working on her career for practically a decade or more EVER want to give up (or even pause for a year or more) all that she’s built to stay at home with her baby? I am actually very ashamed that this used to be my attitude, and that I so discounted the value of the work a mother puts in when she is with her child full-time. As I’ve shared in the past, I still struggle from time to time with the label of SAHM, and a lot of it stems from my own misconception that work that pays monetarily has more value.

I get to be the main influence and caretaker in Emmy’s life. I am present for her 100% during such an incredible and fleeting time of her early life. I am beyond lucky that we are able to provide this for her – and for me, this has been the most fulfilling period I’ve ever experienced in my life. Also – this work is hard. Harder than any job I’ve ever held, with so much more at stake than a company or manager could ever inspire me to care about in the corporate world. I am so very sorry for ever thinking that making the decision to stay at home is anything less than an amazing opportunity for any woman or man.

But, the thing I want to apologize most profusely for is this – it is absolutely none of my business, nor my place to have an opinion, about what works best for anyone’s family but my own.

For some women, working outside of the home makes them a better mother, or they wish they could stay home, but can’t. Some SAHMs knew since they were young that this is what they wanted to do, and some are like me, who hadn’t considered it before experiencing motherhood for themselves, but are so grateful to find themselves able to be with their kids full-time.

So, for all the badass mamas out there, you deserve daily hero worship for all that you’ve done and continue to do – whether you are juggling a desk job and your household, or spending your days running to doctor’s appointments and doing endless loads of laundry. The old, childless me sends a sincere apology for all of my past blunders and ignorance, of which there are many more instances than what I’ve written above. This work is hard, and it only gets harder when the people around us, intentionally or not, make us feel like less for doing what we know is best for our babies, or think, mistakenly, that they get to have an opinion about the decisions we’ve made for our families. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – we are exactly who and what our babies need. We just need to spend more time trusting and listening to the inner beast that birthed this baby into the world in the first place.

to Emmy, at six months old

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Easy, breezy, beautiful baby girl.

Dear Emmy,

Today you have been in our world for six whole months. On one hand, I can’t believe I’ve only known you for six months, on the other – I can hardly remember how I lived my life before you. I won’t pretend that all of it has been it easy, but I can tell you that every challenge, every heartache, and every minute of lost sleep has been worth it to get to know you.

I wish I could put into words how much motherhood – how much you – have transformed me; how my life and priorities have rearranged themselves around you, how my view of the world has changed now that you are in it. Becoming your mother has made me feel stronger than I’ve ever felt in my life, but also incredibly exposed. I am constantly battling my insecurities, weaknesses, all of my faults and failings, striving to be the best mother I can be for you, and frequently feeling that I’m falling short. I’m working on that though, and I hope someday I can be the role model in self-confidence you will need when facing down your own doubts and fears.

In the mornings your dad gets you out of bed and feeds you your first bottle of the day. You two have these precious mornings to spend together until he leaves for work – both of us framed in the doorway, waving as he drives away. We spend our days together playing on your play mat, or running errands to get out of the house. Sometimes I put a blanket out in the backyard, and we soak in the sunshine while you work on your tummy time and Riley rolls around in the grass next to us. Our daily victories are small but mighty – like getting your pants on in the first try, or avoiding a diaper blow out. We end each day with bath time and songs, and your smile that lights up your face while we (you) splash water everywhere. Then after you’ve gone to bed, your dad and I look at photos of you on our phones, missing you already and looking forward to starting the next day with you. I feel lucky every day to be living this life, to be able to be so present in these first months of your life.

I think a lot lately about wanting to protect you, especially as you grow up and become more aware of the world. I’m not entirely sure how I’ll explain why there seems to be so much hate and anger at every turn, so much pain and disaster. And I wonder what event will shape your young view of the world the way that 9/11 shaped mine as a teenager. I’m thankful we have a few more years before you begin to ask and want to untangle these issues, because honestly, I’m pretty new at this mom thing still, and I’m still struggling to understand the “whys” of the world myself.

So, my darling Emmy, maybe someday you’ll read this letter and roll your eyes because I’m so corny and embarrassing. And then maybe later down the road, if you decide to become a mother yourself, you’ll go back and read it again. You’ll see how I describe myself at the beginning of motherhood and compare it to the mom that you know. Perhaps you’ll marvel at how this can be the same person, separated simply by time and experience. And then, I hope you will look at your own child and be struck with sudden understanding – this is how much I love you, this is how much you have shaped my life, this is how you made me the person I am today.

Love you forever,

Mom

formula, let me count the ways…

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Organizing is my favorite.

We are just about 5 and a half months into this motherhood thing, and it’s only recently that I’ve realized how much I’m still clinging onto the early disappointments we faced. I’m guessing it has a lot to do with how little time there really is to process emotions when you’re caught in the intricacies and chaos of life with an infant. Unfortunately, I think that makes a lot of us mamas tend to focus in on the heartaches and ways we haven’t lived up to our own expectations, rather than being able to see the bigger picture and all the ways we have overcome and are completely awesome. For me, when I take a step back and a moment to consider how far we’ve come, I am able to see how much I appreciate being a formula-feeding mama.

So today, in recognition of the mountains I’ve climbed and all of the victories, big and small, I’ve written a bit of a love list to formula – here are the top 5 reasons why formula feeding has been really, really great for us.

1. I have become an extreme couponer.
Okay, I get it, weird one to come out of the gate with and this doesn’t sound “awesome” at all – but I assure you it is. Have you ever felt the rush that comes with stacking manufacturer coupons, store discounts, and taking advantage of in-store bonuses (like, spend $100, get a $25 gift card – thanks Target!)? I hadn’t before, but now I feel like I get to stick it to the man on an almost bi-weekly basis (And I guess “the man” in this situation is Enfamil? Or Target? Take your pick.) My pediatrician encouraged me early on to buy any formula that was on sale, or generic. Of course, I couldn’t bring myself to do that. While I didn’t go the European formula route, I was completely suckered by the formula claiming it is the “closest to breastmilk” that science can achieve – and that comes with a price tag of $39.99 a can. The Asian deal-seeker in me is proud to say that I’ve gone 5.5 months and have never purchased a can at full price.

2. I have control (or as much control as someone with an infant can have).
Emmy eats 30 ounces a day and I prepare all of her bottles in the morning, arrange them in a row in my fridge, and am ready for the rest of the day. There is no mystery, no doubts, no need to weigh her before and after a feed to determine milk transfer – and it is amazing what a relief it has been to eliminate at least that worry from my mind and know with precision that she is getting enough to eat every day.

3. I can eat and drink with abandon.
Well, kind of, I still have to worry about someday getting my pre-baby figure back. But, what I don’t have to worry about is whether the beans I’m eating with my enchiladas will cause Emmy terrible gas later on in the day, or if my fifth cup of coffee will keep her up all night. I also don’t need to worry about timing my glasses (yes, multiple! I deserve it!) of wine.

4. Freedom.
Right around the time I decided to stop pumping, my husband and I went to a wedding in Tahoe and left Emmy with my parents for a long weekend. I had extreme anxiety about being away from her, but I was able to take my first weekend “off” since she was born. I didn’t need to pump while I was away, and all I had to do was leave a can of formula with my mom and dad. I almost felt like pre-mom Evita – and it was nice to see her again. While being away from Emmy was terrifying, it was a reminder for me that my relationship with my husband is just as important as the one I have with my daughter. And, it was a truly glorious thing to have a few days away to enjoy myself without ever once needing to think about breastmilk.

5. My daughter is healthy and happy. I am healthy and happy.

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Just kidding, Emmy is my favorite.

The most important thing and really the only thing I need to say. My daughter is growing, smiling, playing, and chubbier than ever. And being a formula-feeding mama has enabled me to be more present and focused on Emmy, rather than obsessing about what she’s eating. Once upon a time, I worried that Emmy and I wouldn’t bond because we weren’t breastfeeding, and while I have no other experience to compare this to, I am confident that we are as bonded as a mother and daughter can be.

So for all my mamas out there – formula-feeding, breastfeeding, baby-led weaning or purees, whatever it is that is working for you and your families to keep those baby bellies full, I hope you take some time to celebrate and acknowledge all those mountains you’ve climbed that you didn’t think you could – especially if it’s something you never thought you would be celebrating when you first became a mom.