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Lazy, Happy Mamahood

Hello, my name is Jaye, a first time mom to a little boy born in February of 2018. Let me say this upfront: this is not going to be a blog about how magical motherhood is (it is), how much it has changed me (it has), and how I am now this rock-steady pillar of fierce love and gentle grace (not sure, but trying :)).

This is a blog about learning how to be a lazy, happy mama. That is to say, achieving optimal outcomes with the LEAST amount of energy, effort and resources expended. That is to say, navigating through the crazy jungle of intensive,  FOMO (or FOMKMO – Fear Of My Kids’ Missing Out) parenting and figuring out what our kids truly need so that they can be the happy, thriving, kind human beings we want them to be. There’s nothing wrong with giving our kids what we think is best, especially if we see them enjoying it. What’s wrong is when it becomes a competition — a competition of how young our children were when they started kindermusik, or how long we managed to exclusively breastfeed, or how many hours baby can sleep straight at night. Then I’m too lazy for that kind of oneupMOMship. I say no thanks.

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I’ll also use this blog to share tips and hacks that worked for me, as well as those that didn’t. Those with littler babies will learn from my mistakes, and those with bigger babies can laugh at them and maybe see themselves in me.  I’ve had enough of toxic mommy groups filled with sanctimonious mommies with dogmatic parenting philosophies. I believe in kindness and safe spaces, in equality and community, in not not judging moms because motherhood is f&%#ng hard enough as it is.

If these are things you believe in too, come, join my village. Let’s be lazy, happy moms together.

Pregnancy and Childbirth

Changed

Nothing, absolutely nothing, in my obnoxiously-easy and sheltered life has prepared me for that early morning of Sunday, April 26 when, covered in sweat, consumed by grief, and shaking from the rivulets of pain wounding around various parts of my body, I delivered my dead baby. Alone. Well, not alone, if you count the lone nurse tending to a ten-bed hospital ward whose face underneath the mask and goggles I never saw. Not alone, if you count the other women in the other beds — either bringing new life in, or, like me, saying goodbye to eternally-sleeping children. But more alone than I’ve ever been, or ever felt.

Like most wards around the world at this time, the delivery room ward was extremely understaffed. I told myself I wouldn’t call for help unless absolutely necessary. It had been a few hours of contractions, with the time intervals  getting shorter and shorter. I tried to summon the breathing exercises from a birthing class three years ago, but couldn’t remember anything. When the pain became unbearable, I begged the nurse for some painkillers, a request she gently declined. The resident doctor came to check on me and perform an internal exam. I was told it would not be long anymore, and she would call my OB-gynecologist. Suddenly, a searing bolt of pain came and I felt something slip out of me. “Nurse, nurse,” I screamed at 5:00am. I could not recognize my own voice.

 The nurse was at my bedside quickly and took a look under the thin hospital blanket. The changed expression on her face confirmed what I already knew. “Let me just get the doctor,” she said. It took a few minutes before the resident doctor came, and I lay there waiting with my legs spread, tasting my tears and sweat, struggling to reconcile the gelatinous mass on the sheets with the baby in my tummy I sang tender lullabies to just a few days before. “The products of conception have come out,” the resident doctor calmly said to me when she arrived at my bedside, uttering a phrase that sounded as alien as her protective gear made her look. My husband Jan was in our home, sleepless and waiting, prohibited from being by my side. I would soon realize this was only the first of multiple cruelties that COVID-19 would visit upon my family.

Only sixteen hours before, I was happily pregnant and watching Netflix with Jan while chomping on chocolate chip cookies I had baked. Lockdown in Manila, where we live with our two-year-old son, is severe and militarized. On the one hand, I was – like many people in this country – alarmed at the disproportionate impact of this lockdown on the poor; on the other hand, I was admittedly grateful for the time to rest and protect my pregnancy from a rampaging virus. We were overjoyed to learn that we had managed to conceive a child during our holiday in Venice to celebrate our 5th anniversary, and two successive ultrasounds confirmed the heartbeat. “Your baby is so cute and hyperactive”, cooed the radiologist during the last ultrasound before lockdown. We had passed the ten-week mark and the statistical risk of miscarriage was nearly-negligible. COVID-19 caused me stress, but for the most part, we were happy and eager. New life was on its way. My two-year-old would be having a sibling.

I knew something was wrong when I woke up early in the morning of April 25, Saturday, to go to the bathroom, and there was blood on the tissue paper after wiping. I had miscarried in 2016, and déjà vu swept over me. My gynecologist told me to go to the delivery room of the hospital immediately. It was my first time out of the house since March 12 and it was a hospital that had recently announced it would no longer accept COVID-19 patients because of overcapacity. I pushed the thought of miscarriage out of my head and worried about exposure to infection. When I got there, the nurse got a fetal doppler to look for the heartbeat. “I can’t find it, but let’s wait for the resident doctor.” Then resident doctor then came. “I can’t find it, but sometimes at this stage, it’s still hard to find the heartbeat.” They recommended me for an ultrasound. Finally, certainty came. “I am sorry, there is no heartbeat,” the radiologist said. I was told that they would induce labor and when my cervix was ready, the extraction would be performed. I had given birth to my first child via caesarian and my first miscarriage was a blighted ovum at five weeks, so I knew nothing about labor.

“Do you have any questions?” my doctor prodded. “Will it hurt?” I asked, choosing the dumbest, easiest question from the universe of questions in my head. “Yes, it will,” she replied softly through her mask, looking into my eyes.

First though, I needed to take a COVID-19 PCR test and a chest x-ray. Routine protocol, the nurse told me, preparing the long stick to be used to swab my nose. “I probably don’t have it,” I told her, sharing that I had never left the house since mid-March. I also had no cough, no fever, no shortness of breath. I was told that the result of the PCR test would come in a few days, but the chest x-ray took only minutes. If the chest X-ray came out clear, I can be placed in the delivery room with the general population. The X-ray did come out clear, which was how I found myself in a bed at the ward until I got discharged on Sunday afternoon. All I wanted was to go home, hug my son and lie next to my husband in our own bed.

Three days later, I got the call from the hospital informing me that my test results came in and I had, in fact, tested positive for COVID-19. I was asked if I had symptoms – none – and then was told I immediately needed to isolate in a room and have no further contact with anyone. My household was required to get tested too.

We’ve seen how COVID has changed the contours of our world and our modern life in big ways: transportation, work arrangements, health systems. But I did not know how COVID also changes how we grieve and how we comfort the broken — until I was one of the grieving and the broken. When I had my first miscarriage, I asked Jan to take me to a sushi restaurant and I marked the end of a pregnancy with raw fish and wine. When we went home that time, I curled myself in a ball and breathed out my sorrows onto his chest. My mother rushed to my side and held me while I cried like a child. My colleagues came for a visit bearing flowers. My best friends and I met up for coffee. This time, I found myself alone in a room, recovering from the emotional toll of a sudden, painful, late-term miscarriage away from my husband and son and everyone else.

I now understand when people in some form of isolation say that the hours blur into each other and each day melts into the next. I busied myself with social media in the daytime and feared the silence the night brings. I started, but could not finish books. I explored foreign films and series on Netflix, but I’ve found it to be difficult to read subtitles through one’s tears. Yoga has been recommended, but it reminds me too much of the prenatal yoga I used to do right before I miscarried. Grief is a virus; physical isolation incubates it. I wanted to grieve as I have grieved in the past: physically enveloped in love, with the cultural rituals designed to remind the grieving of the temporal nature of pain and the constancy of family and community. COVID19 said, not yet.

I tested negative almost two weeks to the day that I received my positive results. Each day after that was a step closer to the “normal” I remembered. I could fold myself into my husband’s chest again. I could hug my two-year-old again and feel his tender and sticky fingers on my face. It was a relief to putter around in the kitchen once more. I was grateful to stand outside in the balcony and get just a little bit of fresh air on my face.

But I was not pregnant anymore, and normal was back but at the same time, normal could never be back. I thought nothing could be more emotionally heart-wrenching than feeling my lifeless child slip out of me like the end of a whisper  — it turns out that watching my other child toddle up with a big smile, carrying the home fetal doppler and demanding excitedly, “I want to listen to the baby” comes very close. While I was in the hospital, Jan busied himself by hiding all the small accompaniments and accoutrements of pregnancy. But there would always be that one random thing. That bottle of prenatal vitamins hidden in the far corners of the medicine cabinet that comes up in one’s search for eye drops. That pamphlet for blood cord banking stuck in the pocket of a bag you accidentally see while looking for someone’s business card. Yesterday, while replying to some work messages on a Telegram group, a message pops in. “Hello pregnant mommies, discounts on so and so, if you do so and so.” And the grief that you thought you’ve done a fairly good job of keeping at bay comes hurtling back, like a battering ram.

When Jan and I were talking to each other in tears after the ultrasound, we both agreed that we did not want to know the sex of our baby. At eighteen weeks, the sex would be discernible already. It seemed the right decision at that moment,  we clung to any way that might be able mute the grief and loss we were feeling with so much intensity. “Please don’t tell me,” I whispered a reminder to my OB-gynecologist again, right before I was put under sedation.  I wonder now though if it would have been any different if we knew. If we would have grieved differently. And on some particularly difficult days, I wonder if we had been disloyal to the memory of our youngest child – making them less human just to make ourselves less sad. And on those days grief and guilt and regret swirl like a toxic cocktail in my head.

“It gets better,” I’ve been told the past weeks, hundreds of times. “You’re getting better”, “you’re back”, I’ve also been told, diagnosed by well-meaning people who see the side of me that functions, the side that bakes and brags, the side that writes policy briefs for work, the side that comes up with social media posts on this or that political shitstorm of the day. “COVID didn’t get you, lucky girl” they also would say.

And maybe they are right, maybe I am. Lucky. Getting better. Back. But I wake up each day still knowing that longing and memory will color my mornings, and I go to bed feeling the weight of loss on my heart, the emptiness bearing down on a belly that is no longer growing. Grief on some days, is a battering ram, you don’t need to do anything, it charges fast and furiously, and there is no escape. On other days, it is a landmine, one misstep triggers it by accident. Yet other days, it is Pied Piper, and sadness is a seductive song you follow and follow and follow, as all other paths seem to be invisible or illogical. But all days and all the time, it is a gray mass hanging over you, changing you forever.

Baby Love My Baby Love

“Not scared”

It’s only been two months, but it feels like the world I was in when I first found out I was pregnant with my second baby is completely different from the world I am in now. In January 2020 B.C. (Before COVID), my husband and I could step out and celebrate our growing family in any restaurant of our choice. My parents could come to our house and my Mom could yell at me in person not to go up and down the stairs too much. I know I can see my doctor anytime anything felt wrong, and the hospital that’s been my family’s go-to would always be there to welcome me with piano music at the lobby and the rhythmic — never chaotic — movement of patients and doctors. In January 2020 BC, I was reasonably certain of how the next few months would look: me, still going to work daily but with perhaps a more temperate schedule, some weekend excursions, regular doctor’s check-ups and ultrasounds to monitor my growing belly, perhaps a couple of baby showers, and a worry-free childbirth in one of the best hospitals in the city.

March 2020 AC (After COVID) and that image has been razed to the ground. On March 17 — incidentally the same day I turned 40 — the government put the entire Metro Manila under Enhanced Community Quarantine. Everyone save for frontliners were asked to work from home, malls and restaurants shut down, public transportation stopped running, cars were disallowed on the street for all but the most essential of movement. All to halt the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve. I know that I am luckier than most: quarantine, for me, means staying at home in a relatively-comfortable flat, with the capacity to work from my laptop, and with the reasonable certainty that my family and I would not go hungry.

But this quarantine period, as well as this pervasive threat of COVID, brings its own set of difficulties for a pregnant woman. I am anxious everyday. I realize now that I have not completely gotten over the trauma of my miscarriage in 2017, and some days I wake up in cold sweat scaring myself with the thought that my baby has died inside of me. In Life BC, I knew that I could step into an ultrasound facility whenever I wanted, swipe my credit card, and I could see my baby right in front of my eyes. Bit alien and jelly-like in form, yes, but still my baby. And still moving and breathing. Now, I don’t know when my next appointment will be, when I can go to an ultrasound next, or if I can actually go to an ultrasound at all before giving birth. I bought a homemade doppler from someone selling her old one on Carousell, and freaked myself out further because I could not hear the heartbeat (my OB-gyn friend told me not to worry, the baby is still too small at 14 weeks for an untrained hand like mine to find the heartbeat quickly). I watch the news and see footage of hospitals in Italy completely overrun by COVID patients, like World War 2. I wonder how it would be like here in September and worry about where I would give birth if we escalate to Italy-levels.

A fellow mom reassured me that all will be fine and that it’s no different from 50 years ago, when you don’t really get ultrasounds and you only find out the sex of the baby when you give birth, yet everything still works out in the end. But I don’t want it to be 50 years ago — I want it to be 2020, where you can get an ultrasound right before a movie, and see the results on your mobile phone an hour after; or when a drop of blood from your finger can check your child for 35 different genetic disorders, and then some. Or rather, I want it to be 2019, where life is normal and death via respiratory droplets is not a shadow casting itself on literally every aspect of daily life.

My son, he is two. And he smells of cupcakes and promise. Like many two-year-olds, nothing fazes him. One night, however, he and his dad were tinkering with a camera app on his dad’s phone. It was a camera app that distorts your features and morphs you into a monster or a dinosaur or whatever. I guess it was a particularly scary distortion, because he suddenly cried out and hugged both of us. It was the first time I saw my brave little tarzan really scared of anything. I whispered softly, “are you scared, love?” He looked at me with big, watery eyes and then after a few seconds suddenly sat up and pursed his lips. “Not scared!” he yelled. “What did you say, love?” I asked again. “Not scared, not scared, NOT SCARED!” he repeated over and over.

And in that snippet of a moment, I got just the image I needed to tide me through my fears. It was my son — so innocent, so pure — deciding that his conviction was bigger than his fear. That he can talk down to whatever it is that makes his afraid.

And as he does, so I must do.

To a virus so virulent it can kill thousands and ground modern human movement to a halt, to a government that uses a public health emergency to silence its enemies and consolidate its powers, to a present so uncertain and a future even more so: we say, in the stillness of our hearts, or together as a community, we are “not scared, not scared, NOT SCARED.”

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Work-away-from-home Mom (and happy to be)

My son goes to a baby class every Saturday. Many times I join him, but the nature of my work sometimes requires me to work on weekends. So there have been times when only my husband goes, or Leizl, Jan’s trusty Tita-yaya.

Last Saturday, I was there, after many Saturdays not being there. The teacher assistant, with a bright smile, told me: “So good to see you today, Mommy! I guess you have no work today! It must be so hard for you when you have to work on weekends.” I think she meant nothing by it, of course, but it gnawed on me nonetheless. I felt reproached, attacked, and — most of all — guilty. Because, well, I realized that it has NOT been particularly hard for me when I have to work on weekends.

In 2019 in the Philippines, or at least in the urban middle-class section of it, work-away-from-home moms (my boss gently corrected me when I described non-stay at home moms as Working Moms, because all moms are working moms 😊) are the norm. Women don’t get judged for pursuing careers. But it seems that women still get judged for loving their careers or overtly coveting professional success. It’s like, yes ok you can work, but please be pained about it, please fulfill our social expectation of you as a reluctant, agonizing, guilty career woman. (In contrast, men are told to be as driven and as ambitious as they can possibly be.)

See, I love my job. I love it with a passion. I like that I am able to help influence national policy and legislation, particularly for women and children. I know myself enough to know that I cannot be a SAHM — I don’t have the patience for it and honestly, I can only read Green Eggs and Ham a maximum of two times a day (I do not like it Sam-I-Am..) before I go crazy. And yes, I do recognize the privileges I enjoy that allow me to pursue the things I pursue, and I know that these privileges are not available to a lot of women.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s super important to be present in your child’s life. I won’t miss any of his milestones. I’m happy to take a leave from work if he falls sick. I’ll cheer wildly at all his sports games (or spelling bees or master chef competitions). But I’m also going to put on my office clothes and high heels with a pep in my step, not with a huge albatross around my heart.

There’s this famous commercial in the Philippines that asks “para kanino ka bumabangon?” (Who do you wake up for?). And it suggests that people wake up and slug it out in the rat race for their family and the people they love. I’ve always felt ambivalent about that commercial because, well, I wake up for my family, but I also wake up for myself. I wake up to a new day to make me a better person, to be part of the conversations that matter, to improve and develop the parts of me that aren’t necessarily mommy.

And, at the end of the day, doesn’t THAT make me a better mommy?

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Visiting a DevPed: what to expect, how to prepare

When I told some friends that we were going to visit a Developmental Pediatrician for our son, many told me it was a needless expense. There’s nothing wrong with your kid, they all said. He doesn’t have any learning disabilities, they assured me. Yes, Jan was hitting all his milestones, but I was still concerned about what I perceived to be a speech delay and wanted to discuss with an expert how best to navigate a trilingual household with a toddler.

It was just one visit, after all, and we do monthly trips to the general pediatrician to check if all moving parts are working. Shouldn’t we make that one visit to a devped to see if our child is developmentally at par with his peers? I felt that the answer was yes, and after our visit with the devped, I am more convinced that all parents should see a devped with their babies at least once.

We didn’t know what to expect for our first visit, honestly. There also weren’t many resources online, especially for Manila-based folks. I thought this little guide might be helpful for first-timers like us:

1. Set an appointment way in advance and prepare to wait.

There aren’t a lot of devpeds in the country. For a population of 108 million, where young people are the majority, we only have around 51 devpeds as of 2018. When we called to make an appointment for a devped in a hospital convenient to us, I was told that the next availability was February 2020! Good thing we found a schedule with Dr. Melinda Francisco Best. I called in June and got a schedule for August in Pasig Doctors Medical Center. Don’t be picky with the location, as a devped isn’t like a regular Pedia where you have to go monthly.

2. Make sure your child gets lots of rest before the appointment.

There will be lots of tests so it’s not a good idea to come with a cranky child. Make sure he or she gets a long nap before the visit and is well-fed and comfortable.

3. Come early

Coming early means your kid can get used to the environment first. Also, sudden tantrums, hunger issues, diaper issues can be addressed without rushing. This is really important because the child will be given a series of tests to test his skills and he or she needs to be in the right frame of mind.

4. Come with the child’s daily carer

A lot of questions will be asked about the daily routines of the child, questions that can be a challenge for the work-out-of-home parent, no matter how involved or loving. It is important to bring the daily carer of the child — yaya, grandparent, primary caregiver parent. Not only because the doctor will ask questions about the daily routine of the child, but also because advice will be given on how to interact with the child moving forward.

5. Be encouraging but don’t pressure!

The child will be subjected to maybe half a dozen of tests. Shape-sorting, identifying parts of the body of him/herself and of another person, matching household items with uses, grouping together same colored objects — all these tests in quick succession. It can be a bit stressful (naimagine ko na sarili ko pag nag-uUPCAT anak ko lol) but don’t show stress or anxiety to your child. Encourage good work, don’t look disappointed when your child can’t do some of the tests (it’s a diagnostic, not qualifying test!) and most of all don’t pressure.

6. Answer questions honestly.

Most parents’ natural tendency is to brag about their kids, but the clinic of a devped is not the place to overstate or go on and on a child’s achievements. Save that for mommy dates or shindigs with other parents. The point is to diagnose problems, and to diagnose them early. The doctor is trained to ask questions that will ferret out development issues, and honesty is absolutely critical.

7. Disclose.

Nobody wants to be shamed for how they parent, but full disclosure is important in allowing an optimal exchange between doctor and the parents. If your child is exposed to gadgets and TV has become a substitute nanny, that information has to be shared to the doctor. If parents are working through marital issues and they think it has been affecting the child, that information should be discussed as well.

8. Have a list of prepared questions.

Maximize the consultation by having a list of prepared questions. In our case, we wanted to ask questions about our peculiar language arrangement at home, about Skyping with his Dutch relatives and about encouraging speech.

9. Ask for tips

Similar to number 8, don’t be shy to ask for tips. Our doctor gave us a number of tips on how to stimulate our child’s brain development and language skills, considering that he doesn’t get to socialize with other kids. These included enunciating words very clearly, finding opportunities for interaction with other children, reading books several times a day.

10. Make sure you get the written evaluation of your child’s development

Your doctor should give you a written evaluation or your child’s development in all areas tested. It was helpful for us to see the areas where our boy was ahead of the pack (reasoning skills of a 2-2.5 year old, lol, hello future annoying teenager) and where he needed more help. If we come back after a year (our doctor said we might want to, just to check progress) then the written report is a helpful baseline.

***Our devped is Dra. Melinda Francisco-Best. You can contact her through her secretary at 09161128267. For the list of devpeds in the Philippines, check this out.

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There’s a baby on my bed

When I gave birth last year, my husband and I were VERY clear about the fact that we would not co-sleep. Nope. Uh-uh. No, sir. “Our marriage bed is ours alone”, “He needs to learn independence” — these are some things we told ourselves even when our son was a month old. For my husband, it’s the only parenting style he knows. For me, to be honest, after the long days of maternity leave and the rhythm of breastfeeding and baby caring, I welcomed and needed the, well, adult ‘energy’.

We even got ourselves a sleep coach who taught us all about routines and schedules. We knew our son wanted to snuggle in between us and could always sleep faster when burrowed deep in one parent’s armpit or splayed on one parent’s chest, but we wanted him to grow accustomed to sleeping alone in his bed. And for a while, he did. Fast forward to now:

Humble pie, right? 😂 We were as smug as a bug in a rug until we, umm, had to share the rug.

I think I know how it happened, and when. My husband — who had been running our small businesses and previously worked on his own time — got himself a job in BGC and found himself out of the house for long hours. He would come back to a sleeping baby who he had barely enough time to be with in the morning. So when Small Jan would cry for his midnight feed, Big Jan would scoop him up and put him next to us. It was his time with his son.

But sooner than soon, “baby energy” was all over our bed, along with toys, milk and random drops of pee. And of late, this baby energy also moves and kicks like crazy. And bends it like Bekema. (Haha. Yay me, good one.) This baby energy has colonized our bed completely. Husband barely gets sleep — last night, he actually moved to the sofa bed in the nursery after a particularly strong kick from our little tyrant. Me, I wake up earlier than I need to. A baby shaking you at 5am tends to lead to that outcome. And owing to all these, mornings feel stressed and harried.

This is not going to be a post with some big-ticket message at the end on how the nights are long but the days are short blah blah. This is a post about pee on the pillow, a happy meal toy poking up one’s spine, and all the other oddball 2am things about parenthood that don’t get written in hallmark cards.

And a shoutout to fellow harried parents just to say: hang in there, you’re not alone.

Baby Love My Baby Love, Special Occasions

“Happy” (A Post for Father’s Day)

In one of my baby showers before I gave birth, we played a game where Jan and I were asked an assortment of questions that we had to answer separately. At the end of the game, we would then see which answers matched. One question, perhaps playing on the stereotype of mixed Asian-Caucasian kids, asked, “if your boy could only be either an athlete or actor, what would you prefer him to be?” I readily scribbled, “athlete” and in my mind thinking, “with two post-graduate degrees”. When it was time to reveal our answers, I found out that my husband (playing fast and easy with the rules, per usual) wrote: HAPPY.

A few months after Jan Andres was born, we were again talking about what we wanted him to be in the future. “Doctor!” I readily said, in full Tiger Mom mode. Jan then said, “he should be what he wants to be. He can be a carpenter, as long as he’s…. (wait for it)…. happy.” I rolled my eyes at him, promptly accusing him of first-world privilege and ascribing his answer to the naïveté of someone born to a country where you can be a carpenter and still be able to send your kids to good schools and not have financial worries.

Reflecting on it further, however, I now see how important it is to be genuinely and truly committed to your child’s future happiness. I know, as parents, we all say “I want my child to be happy”, but have we really unpacked what that means? In the face of hard choices, can we still commit to our children’s happiness? (Parents of an LGBT child who refuse to accept their child’s gender identity probably also said to each other when their child was a toddler, “I want our child to be happy.”) With happiness as starting point, our children have the emotional resources to navigate towards success, self-improvement, social responsibility. They know they have a safe place from which to begin their journey, and to which they can always come back.

Like my Papa was my safe place growing up, I know my son will have a safe place in his Heit. His mom is a work in progress, she will need to be told sometimes to check her Tiger Mama impulses. She’s good for some things too: making sure that Jan Andres becomes the absolute best he can be, that he eats everything on the table without being picky, that he checks his privilege at the door. Oh and trust her to pay for things like Kumon enrichment classes, because well, Asian mom.

But I reckon it is from Heit that he will learn that grades do not define a person, and that life can beat with a slow and easy tempo. He’ll learn from Heit that weekends are for sleeping in and taking long baths, and that sometimes it’s ok to eat meals on the bed when your feet are tangled up under the covers with the one you love. Heit will teach him that in showing someone you care, consistency trumps flash and flourish; and that marriage is about sending buzzfeed articles about farting to each other. He’ll learn to see the perfect in the imperfect, the beauty in the mundane. He’ll learn that safe places are not structures you seek out, but spaces you create for the people you love through the everyday hard work of showing up, being around, staying present.

He’ll learn all these things, because he’ll be learning from the best.

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Sick, sad or scared

When my son was around seven months old, he contracted a fever. It wasn’t really very high, and his pedia told us it was probably brought on by a tooth making its way out. But he was grumpy, woozy and wanted to be in my arms all the time. It’s not easy holding a baby through a long night, it’s harder still when the long night follows a long day at work. But every time I tried to put him down on his crib, he would start crying like crazy. And every time I brought him closer to my chest, his tiny body would visibly relax. He would bury his little self as deep as he possibly could into my chest, as if finding in it an escape from the world.

Two thoughts occurred to me. First was absolute amazement that I — with all my imperfections, insecurities and uncertainties — was all this other human being needed at that moment, nothing more and nothing less. I was his safe place, his perfect home. Second was panic: that this moment will not last forever, that he will grow and be independent. And he will start finding his own way and needing things I cannot provide.

As I was rocking him gently, I found myself making him a promise. I call it the “Three S promise”. When he is sick, sad, or scared — any or all of those three — no matter how old he is, no matter where I am and what I’m doing, if he needs me to hold him, I will hold him. My arms will always be his home.

Whether he is three and scared of a thunderstorm, thirteen and down with a tummy ache, or thirty three and blindsided by life, as long as I am around and as long as he wants it, I will hold him. And he doesn’t need to explain if he doesn’t want to. No questions will be asked. No judgment will be made. He just has to say he is sick, sad or scared, and I will hold him as long as he needs to be held.

It will be our code word for a lifetime.