Friday, March 02, 2018

back to work.

Mabel at 4 months old. Photo: Kandise Brown

Yesterday was my first day back at work since Mabel was born and I have so many feelings and thoughts about it. But let me back up a bit first and tell you how lucky I am.

I work at a Canadian school in Beijing and as part of my contract, they follow Canada's maternity leave policy, so I am entitled to a year off. Mabel was born last year with 3 weeks of school left, and on my intended return date this year, there would also be 3 weeks left. Instead of working those 3 weeks full time, my principal proposed that I work 1 day/week for the rest of the school year beginning yesterday. Yes, it means leaving Mabel 3 months earlier, but only 1 day a week! And I can come home at lunch to nurse her (our apartment is on the school campus)! And I was home by 3:45! Lucky!


I still cried 4x yesterday though.

The first was as I was walking to school and a colleague asked how I was and I said, "I'm okay" and then started to cry. I tried not to, but it couldn't be helped. Thankfully that person handled the potentially awkward walk to school with grace and made me feel better about my crying.

Then I cried when the teacher I was supplying for asked how I was.

I don't remember the third time I cried, but I know it happened.

And then I cried when I got home from work at the end of the day and saw Mabel, who smiled so big and threw her arms up in the air when I walked in the door, as if to say, "Yay! You're back!"


When T and I got home yesterday for lunch (we take the same lunch break), Mabel was excited to see me but it was clear that it was only for my boobs and the milk they contain. When she was done eating, she only had eyes for her baba, just like every other day when he comes home for lunch. I was like, "Hey kid, I was gone all morning, too! What am I, chopped liver?"

It hurt a bit that she didn't seem to care, but I was also glad about it. Obviously our time apart isn't bothering her too much. And I guess that's been her lunchtime routine almost every day from the time she was two weeks old: Baba comes home! Yay!


I forgot how exhausting teaching can be. I forgot how fun it can be. I forgot how much I love "my kiddos"—even when they're students I just met for the first time.

I didn't know how exhausting teaching can be when you're still waking up through the night with a baby. I didn't know how hard it can be to feed your baby and pump and feed yourself on a lunch break. I didn't know how I'd feel leaving my baby to teach other people's babies.


I applaud—standing ovation level applaud!—all of you moms who have had or will have to return to work when your baby is a few weeks or a few months old. I know if I had to I would, because moms specialize in doing what needs to be done, but man, it would be HARD (understatement).

Monday, August 14, 2017

a look back at 2016.

This is definitely the latest that I've ever written one of these, but I figured I'd rather have the record 7 months late than none at all. So here it is, a look back at 2016... in August 2017:

1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?
Made the switch to natural skincare, cosmetic, and cleaning products—including deodorant! Went to an ice and snow festival. Won $2000! Used eyebrow products. Took a cooking class, and then another. Curled my hair with a straightener. Traveled on a sleeper train and saw the terracotta warriors. Celebrated our wedding anniversary. Went to a Pride parade and visited Peggy's Cove. Got pregnant.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions and will you make any for this year?
I didn't make a resolution for 2016, other than telling T I want to be more intentional. And that's something I'm still working on and probably always will be. I want to be more intentional about how I spend my time, what I eat, what I say, everything really.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Haha I almost said, Me! But then I realized it's 2017 now and I'm writing about 2016. See what happens when you put something off for so long. So the answer is, I don't think anyone close to me gave birth in 2016, but I might be forgetting. Sorry if I am!

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, thankfully.

5. What countries did you visit?
South Korea! (We were supposed to go to Sri Lanka for Christmas but last year's heart problem + being pregnant meant no traveling. Womp womp.)

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
More chill. I can always use more chill.

7. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory and why?
October 19 because I found out I was pregnant. October 21 because we saw the little appleseed for the first time and it became real!

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
See, I almost said having a baby, but again—we're talking about 2016, not 2017. So let's go with getting pregnant.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Same as the last 3 years: Getting caught up in the little things. Gossip, small arguments turned into small fights, overthinking everything. When will I learn?

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
2016 is actually the healthiest I've ever been! Chalk it up to prenatal vitamins?

11. What was the best thing you bought?
At first I couldn't think of anything and then I remembered we paid to upgrade my insurance to cover maternity, just in case. Phew. Yup, best thing we spent our money on.

12. Where did most of your money go?
I can tell you that because I've kept up a budgeting app since 2016! Most of our money was spent on eating out (that includes ordering in). And wow, the amount we spent is sobering. Embarrassing to say, but I hadn't realized it until now. Definitely something we should look at.

13. What did you get really excited about?
Having a baby!

14. What song will always remind you of 2016?
I can't think of any, which makes me a little sad because I love music.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder? Thinner or fatter? Richer or poorer?
Happier because I have a baby, but also, being a mom is hard so...  Fatter because baby. Richer—thank God for insurance.

16. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Same as last year: Enjoying the moment.

17. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Same as last year: Worrying, always. (Guys, I'm sensing a pattern.)

18. How did you spend Christmas?
With T, in our apartment in Beijing. It was cozy and our first time spending Christmas at home, just the two of us.

19. What was your favourite TV program?
I didn't watch a lot of TV this year—I'm behind even on my usual faves—but I fell in love with This Is Us and The Crown. T and I also started watching an oldie but a goodie: Mad About You. (This is what made me think of the name Mabel.)

20. What were your favourite books of the year?
From looking at Goodreads, I know that I read 57 books in 2016 and my faves were To Kill a Mockingbird, The Nightingale, and Secrets of a Charmed Life.

21. What were your favourite films of the year?
I'm sure I watched movies in 2016 and I'm sure some of them were great, but I don't remember them. Let's blame that on the baby, too? Baby brain is a thing, guys! (But also, it's August 2017 now so...)

22. What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
Oh man, I was 7 or 8 weeks pregnant, but no one knew and I was so sick and never wanted to eat anything but T forced me to go to dinner with friends anyway, where I barely ate anything and drank ginger ale and left my own birthday dinner early. But I'm glad I went haha. I turned 27.

23. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Less worrying.

24. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?
I do not have a personal fashion concept. And again, almost said maternity clothes, but I didn't need those until 2017. This is why you should fill these things out in January and not August. Ooh, but I just remembered I bought a romper in summer 2016 and loved it!

25. What kept you sane?
Tony, Melissa, my Nan, and surprisingly, social media. Well, some people on social media. I was intentional about that.

26. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.
If you're able to, buy insurance. Also, worrying doesn't help anything, so just don't. (I probably still will.)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

july book report.

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham / I was still thinking about this book days after I finished it. While I was reading it, I had a long conversation with Tony about it—the characters and the events—and I found myself starting to say things like "back then," but would catch myself because the truth is, not much has changed about the way Black people are treated, and this book does a good job illustrating that fact. I'm pretty sure it's meant to be a Young Adult novel, but I'd recommend it to anyone. And if you do have a young adult in your life, share this book with them and then have a conversation about it. Heck, if you don't have a young adult in your life, share this book with someone and have a conversation about it.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware / This was a bit hard for me to get into because it reminded me of The Girl on the Train at the beginning, but I kept reading and got sucked into the story; I had to find out what happened! Not the best mystery/thriller novel I've read, and I had a hard time keeping all of the minor characters straight, but a good story in the end.

Night Road by Kristin Hannah / Not one of my favourite Kristin Hannah novels, but I enjoyed reading it. It made me think back to when I was a senior in high school, the parties I went to, and the parenting choices my mom made. And of course, as a mom now myself, it made me think of the choices Tony and I will have to make as Mabel grows older.

It's Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort / I loved this book! It surprised me, because I thought it would be mostly about Nora's husband's death and how she dealt with it, and it was, but it was so much more than that. The Goodreads description describes it perfectly: "A love letter to life, in all of its messy glory, and what it’s like to still be kickin', It’s Okay to Laugh is like a long chat with a close friend over a cup of coffee (or chardonnay)." I felt like Nora was giving me a pep talk for life. One of my favourite quotes from the book: "It's harder than it looks, for everyone. If you ask me how I am, I'll tell you reflexively that I'm okay and it's true for the most part. And when you tell me the same thing, I'll know that it's mostly true for you too, because you're working hard to be that way, not because it's easy."

The Leavers by Lisa Ko / I did not love this one and while I did hover between a 2 or 3 star review, I think that's only because I live in China so found some details interesting. Then again, if you don't live in China, you might find it interesting. The whole book felt slow, especially the first half, but the second half was better.

Paper Towns by John Green / Chose this as a lighter read after a couple of heavier reads. It was okay; I think if I was a teenager (the intended audience), I would have liked it more. It's been awhile since I've been in high school (10 years to be exact), but the dialogue and plot felt relatable to high school-me.

What have you read lately?

P.S. More book reports here.

Monday, August 07, 2017

dear mabel / 2 months.

Dear Mabel Xiaoxuan,

That's what I often call you, your first and middle names—something that most moms use when they're angry. I guess when you get older and I get angry with you, I'll have to think of something else. Or I can stick with Mabel Xiaoxuan but it will be more like MABEL XIAOXUAN!

But for now, it's just Mabel Xiaoxuan, real sweet-like because baby girl, you are so sweet. You'll get tired of hearing this, but your Baba and I love you so much and we tell you and each other that all the time.

Girl, you are growing! Oh, how you are growing. Look at those chins! You've gained almost 3lbs since your 1 month checkup! Yay!

After that checkup, you were finally big enough for the Ergo, and your baba loves carrying you around in it. We go for walks whenever the AQI is below 100 (sorry about the air, baby) and that's your usual mode of transportation. You hang on so tight in the beginning but after awhile you relax and fall asleep. It's the cutest thing.

Another thing you're finally big enough for are the velcro swaddles your grandma sent us. You sleep so much better in those little straight jackets! You hate when we put you in it—it takes both me and your baba to wrestle you in—but as soon as it's fastened, you calm right down. And you're sleeping in your crib now! You have been since you were about 5 or 6 weeks old—no more stroller sleeps for you!

I was getting worried (I'm always worried about something) that you weren't making enough eye contact (really, what do I know; your doctor told us last week that can take up to 3 months) or smiling yet. On July 17th I was googling "when do babies smile" for probably the 5th time and then I realized I was being ridiculous. I looked at you laying beside me on the couch and I said, "Mabel, I am done looking things up. You will smile at me when you're ready. You will do everything when you're ready. I'm sorry, babe." And I put my phone down.

Mabel, I am not kidding; 5 minutes later you were staring right at me! And then you smiled! I started to cry (happy tears!) and messaged your baba, "She smiled! Mabel smiled! A real smile! Not gas or sleeping or milk! A REAL SMILE!" You smiled at me again the next day when I said, "Wow! What a big burp!" (Your burps and farts and sneezes sound like an adult's, not even kidding. When your baba's holding you and I hear one of the above, I always ask him which of you it was because I'm never sure.) And then you smiled at me again a few days later when you pooped and I said, "You're a stinky girl!" (Am I embarrassing you again? Sorry.)

Your baba spent the next week doing everything he could think of to get you to smile for him—silly voices, singing, tickling, bouncing, asking you to smile for baba (and I know that this is so not the same, but I can't help but think, here it starts, a lifetime of men telling you to smile). And on our 2nd anniversary, right when your baba and I were in the middle of a fight and he was holding you, he said, "She just smiled. She was looking right at me! She just smiled at me!" And he almost cried, too. We love you so much.

So far I wouldn't say you're a daddy's girl, but you definitely love him. The other night after your bath, he walked into the room and you turned your head and stared right at him the whole time I was putting your diaper on.

And another change is that you don't fall right asleep after I feed you in the evening any more. That was our routine: bath, swaddle, eat, sleep. Now it's: bath, swaddle, eat, baba rocks you, sleep. Most of the time you fall asleep quickly, but not always. You still wake up 1-2 times every night to eat, but instead of staying up for an hour, you're usually only up for 15-30 minutes.

You love baths now. Your baba and I bath you together and you stare at us or look around, so content to be in the water. If you're fussing or crying, you calm down as soon as you hear water running or we put you in the bath. One trick we learned that I think has helped is that we put one wet washcloth over your body to keep you warm while I wash you with another one.

Other things of note:
+ You met your aunt and your cousin—Xiaoxuan, your namesake. They came to visit for a week and held you as much as possible. Xiaoxuan uses her baba's phone all the time to message us asking for photos and to find out what we're doing.
+ Your arm movements are much more controlled now. But you still scratch yourself once in awhile.
+ You got your first diaper rash, and that made us sad, but didn't seem to bother you.
+ When you were 6 weeks old, your baba fed you your first bottle. Now he feeds you at least one a week while I take a break—I take a long bath or go get my nails done. Mabel, it really does make me a better mom for you; when I get back, even though it's only been 3 hours, I swear I love you even more.
+ You've grown out of your newborn clothes and are wearing some of the smaller 0-3 months onesies we have. (And you'll be happy to hear, your baba and I are MUCH better at putting onesies on you! ;)

We love you, Mabel Xiaoxuan.


P.S. Dear Mabel / 1 month.
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