The Endangered Singapore Smile

I brought the kids to East Coast Park to try out the Family Bike It’s $30 per hour, and we rented it from the shop at carpark E2. For the novelty, fun-factor for 6 people (including kids), and for the awesome steering wheels at the front, it was $30 well spent!

It was really fun for the kids, and really tiring for the adults who had to pedal! I was surprised that Ethan and his cousin, Gabriel, could last for an entire hour without asking to get out of their seats.

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Family Bike at East Coast Park, Singapore

 

Along the way, we cycled past many other cyclists – children, families, adults, older people. And we thought, maybe it would be nice to wave and say hello as we passed by!

 

In our brief and unscientific, highly biased social experiment, here are my observations on the Friendliest Strangers at East Coast Park

1. The Malay Family

They were always ready to give a wave and a surprised smile back to our little guys.

2. The Ang Mo (Singapore slang for a Caucasian)

Family, couples or children gave warm smiles and greetings. It felt like it was just an every day thing to them!

3. The Local Pre-teen Child

They gave shy smiles, but at least there was some response!

What about the others?

Those friendly park users were actually quite few and far between. Most people that we passed gave blank stares, or stared kept looking ahead, their eyes shielded behind reflective sunglasses.

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For decades we’ve had campaigns aimed at helping our stressed little nation find a little more joy and happiness. There was the 1996 “Smile Singapore” Campaign that gained international news coverage. The Four Million Smiles campaign in 2006, and more recently, the various initiatives by the Singapore Kindness Movement. It seems we still have some way to go if a gleeful child’s greeting is met with cold stares.

But there is hope. Just today, a few strangers made some friendly conversation with Ethan while he was out with me running some errands at the nearby supermarket and 7-eleven. They were genuine. They were kind. They spoke to him like they valued the opinion of a 2 year old.

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Stay calm and Be Kind! A poster by the Singapore Kindness Movement

So, if you were one of those strangers that smiled at my child that day at the park, if you are the man that helped him pick up his shoe instead of glaring at my barefooted toddler at the supermarket, if you are the uncle that took a moment to show him the interesting plant outside your store… thank you.  You made the world a little brighter.

Have you smiled at someone today?

Don’t let the Monday blues dampen your smile! 🙂

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Did you smile today?

 

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Stress-less Sleep Training

Have you tried sleep training?

It’s meant to be a short term measure for long term happiness – for parents and babies!

I used a modified cry-it-out method with Ethan, which worked after about a week. But I was pleased when Elijah seemed like he was able to self soothe and sleep for hours and hours, all by himself!

That changed a few months ago, when Elijah had a bad bout of flu. His nose was stuffy, and his chesty cough was pretty bad. But since he was only 4 months old at the time, there were few medications that he could take to relieve the symptoms.

During those weeks, he started waking up a few times each night.

And the night wakings continued. Even when he got better.

Here we are at 8 months, and at a time when sleep should be getting better, it’s actually getting worse!

So, 2 nights ago, when he woke up at 2.26am, I let him cry. And cry. And cry. For almost half an hour, EJ and I listened to the wails of our little angel baby who hardly cries- ever. And when Elijah finally went to sleep, so did we, with heavy, guilt-ridden hearts.

But guess what? Last night, Elijah slept all the way from about 10pm until 7am this morning! I know it’s getting my hopes up a little early, but for the first time in months, I could sleep for more than 3 hours at one go. And it feels GREAT.

Have you felt guilty about letting your child cry it out? (Or other sleep training methods) A recent study showed that, perhaps, our guilt has been unfounded!

Both graduated extinction and bedtime fading provide significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior.

 

As a psychologist friend of mine said, as long as the sleep training intervention is BRIEF, it is unlikely to cause long-term psychological damage to the child. Children who have attachment issues usually have had long term and consistent experiences of neglect.

So, my fellow imperfect parents, may you persevere through the sleep debt, and emerge from these years with your sanity intact!

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21 Acts of Kindness for Toddlers

No hitting. No biting. No snatching. No pushing. No pinching. No kicking. Share. Be polite. Wait your turn.

Have you had to repeat those words hundreds of times to your egocentric toddler? I have! And so, to challenge him to develop more kindness and compassion to others, here is a list of 21 things we will be doing this week, as a self-declared Kindness Week for the Lims.

  1. Give drinks to the construction workers outside our home
  2. Prepare a bag of snacks to give the other children in his playgroup
  3. Make a thank you note for his teachers
  4. Make breakfast for grandparents
  5. Choose a toy from his collection to give to baby Elijah
  6. Give daddy a massage
  7. Give mummy a massage
  8. Read the newspaper and pray for someone who was affected by a tragic event
  9. Pick up litter and put it into the rubbish bin
  10. Bring a welcome gift to any new neighbours
  11. Make a thank you note for the local fire station
  12. Make a thank you note for the local police station
  13. Make a thank you note for our helper
  14. Bring flowers to a nursing home and distribute it to the residents
  15. Bring snacks to the playground for other children
  16. Help to give baby Elijah a bath
  17. Bring some snacks and visit great grandma
  18. Wash daddy’s car
  19. Record a video note and send it his Godparents
  20. Make a drawing for his aunt who is not feeling well
  21. Bake cookies for his cousins

Do you have other ideas for Acts of Kindness that a toddler can do?

Volunteering with a Two Year Old

“The reason a compassionate lifestyle leads to greater psychological well-being may be explained by the fact that the act of giving appears to be as pleasurable, if not more so, as the act of receiving.”  

~ The Compassionate Mind (ScienceDaily, July 2002)

Since I was very young, perhaps about 5 years old, I remember my parents helping the poor and needy. My first memories were when we were living in Hong Kong, and they were involved in St Stephen’s Society – an outreach to drug addicts and homeless people. My mum would cook meals for them, and we would go to the halfway houses to visit them. My dad spent time with them, and counselled them.

As I grew older, I began volunteering at children’s camps, overseas mission trips and local youth work. But in the last few years, with the arrival of the children and the resulting lack of time and sleep, I’ve stopped volunteering. And, sadly but not surprisingly, my worldview has become more myopic. I find myself so caught up in the little things, that I’m grumpier and less grateful than before.

Ethan, being all of 2 years old, is showing a mixture of the typical, developmentally accepted norm of being selfish and concerned only about his own needs. Yet, he is also compassionate. When Elijah cries, Ethan gives him a hug. When his cousin Gabriel vomited the other day, Ethan’s bedtime prayer was that “Gabriel, no vomit. Isaac (another cousin), no vomit. Mummy, no vomit. Daddy, no vomit. Everybody, no vomit”

A study by Lara Aknin and colleagues at the University of British Columbia shows that even in children as young as two, giving treats to others increases the givers’ happiness more than receiving treats themselves. 

So, like a muscle that needs to be built up and used, I want to provide the opportunities for the boys to nurture their compassionate “instinct”.

Finding volunteer opportunities with young children isn’t as easy as I thought. Many organisations have a minimum age of at least 4 or 6 years old. I also wanted to do something that Ethan shows a bit of interest in already.

I’ve found a few that may fit what I’m looking for.

  1. Therapy Dogs Singapore

Ethan likes dogs, and I’m a therapist by training. So this seems like a pretty good place to start. The only problem is… we don’t own a dog! And their website says that they have enough ‘humans-without-dogs’ volunteers, and they need more volunteers with dogs.

2. Meals-on-Wheels or Soup Kitchens

Ethan also really loves food. So he might be excited to provide food to people who have none. TOUCH Community Services, YWCA (which also has a Meals-On-Wheels service for Children), Willing Hearts and ACMI Bread Basket are some options.

3. Befrienders

There are quite a few organisations that need befrienders. But one stood out. The Tan Tock Seng Hospital Mobile Library brings books, magazines and DVDs to patients to relieve them of boredom, and at the same time, break the ice and make some friendly conversation with them. Ethan likes to read, and TTSH of course has a special place in my heart because I worked there for a number of years.

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Ethan reading at the National Library

I’ll start making some phone calls and enquiries tomorrow. Really excited to see how EJ, the boys and I can get involved in serving our community!

What are some ways that you teach your children compassion?

Any tips and advice about volunteering with young ones?

Miracle Birth Story – Born in a Car at 34 weeks (Part 2)

In the delivery suite, Elijah was cleaned up, weighed (2.4kg. not bad!) and measured. A pediatrician came to see him as well. Elijah was breathing on his own, but he was breathing rapidly and it looked like it was a struggle. The doctor gave him oxygen through a mask, and they had to take him to the NICU.

I was relieved that we had reached the hospital and Elijah was in good hands. The gynae came soon after, and was also shocked that I had given birth barely 2 hours after she had seen me and said that I should just “rest at home”. I was also her first patient who delivered in a car! She did some checks, stitched up the minor tears, and I was soon allowed to go to the ward. I was discharged the following day.

Elijah’s adventure lasted much longer than mine.

He was under observation for his breathing, because although he could do it on his own without any assistance, it was getting more and more difficult. The pediatrician felt it was going to leave him completely exhausted. So they started giving oxygen.

Over the next day or so, the medical team tried to reduce Elijah’s dependence on the oxygen that the machines provided, but his SpO2 (the amount of oxygen in his blood) would drop each time, and there was little progress.

Since Elijah was in the NICU, there were very strict visiting hours. EJ and I would visit him a few times a day, going back and forth from the hospital to home, in between work. I was also busy expressing milk to establish a good supply. All of the milk had to be frozen because Elijah could only be fed milk once his breathing was stabilised.

It was heartbreaking to see such a little human being connected to so many tubes and machines. We could see his chest heaving, as he tried to breathe. He was such an amazing fighter.

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The team of doctors decided that progress was too slow, and Elijah’s lungs needed a little jumpstart to start working as they should. He was given 2 doses of lung surfactant, which finally eased his breathing and started him on the road to being discharged. Lung surfactant is derived from calf lung surfactant extract. So, Elijah will be as strong as a bull!

Finally, after about 4 days of just being on an IV drip, he was given some milk by tube feeding- a measly 3ml! But the amount rapidly increased as the days went on. And he got stronger, and started to breathe with less help.

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No more oxygen tubes. Take me home, mummy!

Every morning and evening, EJ and I would wait for a phone call from the doctor, giving us updates about what procedures had been done, and how Elijah was progressing. When he could drink from a milk bottle on day 7, we knew he would be home soon.

Elijah was discharged after 9 days in NICU.

In the past decade, the national rate of preterm births has gone up, from 7.2 per cent to 9.5 per cent, despite low birth rates over the same period.  Reasons are not always known. There are now support groups at NUH, KKH and SGH for parents of preemies. There are Facebook groups like this one as well. The good news is that, with early nutrition and enrichment through physical and intellectual stimulation in the home environment, most preemies show little evidence of their bumpy start to life. It is advisable for us parents of preemies to monitor our child’s development and make sure they are meeting the appropriate milestones.

Elijah still has to go for check ups every 6-9 months for some minor issues that require follow up. Even these should be coming to an end by the time he is about 2 years old.

Today, Elijah is a happy 7.5 month old. He is an absolute angel baby. He sleeps well, feeds well, and is always ready to smile – even when he was having a bout of flu recently! I’ve been incredibly blessed. Grow up strong and healthy, wise and kind, my little one!

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Mother’s Day 2016, at the Singapore Botanic Gardens SSO Concert

 

Miracle Birth Story – Born in a Car at 34 weeks (Part 1)

I’ve been blessed with very smooth pregnancies. With #2, I had mild morning sickness and tiredness, but overall I felt good, and kept active with occasional workouts and running around with my toddler.

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Swimming with Ethan 1 month before Elijah was born

EJ and I always choose not to find out our baby’s gender. So we could only make guesses, and have others use a cocktail of old wives tales to tell us what they thought. About 80% were guessing it was a girl. Even the delivery man! (because Ethan has inverted nipples???)

Ethan’s birth was pretty fast, so we were expecting the 2nd one to also come quite quickly. We even joked about giving birth at home, and I read up about what to do during an unplanned home birth. I started packing my hospital bag at 32 weeks, and we went for the hospital tour so we would know what to do when I was in labour. EJ and I were in discussions with our doctor about how he could film the birth, because there’s a lot of red tape in hospitals. EJ also had to decide whether to take a job that required him to travel the week after my due date. We were still expecting our baby to be born at full term, since everything was progressing normally.

Then when I just hit 34 weeks (on 29 September 2015), we were due for our gynae appointment. That morning, I started having contractions, which I thought were braxton hicks. They were quite mild-moderate but not regular, so I attributed it to overexerting myself the previous day. And I had my appointment at 11am anyway, so I could just check with the doctor then.

Here’s what happened…

11am. As usual, we took Ethan along for the appointment. I told the doctor that I was having contractions. She did the ultrasound, and also did an internal check. All looked good, and she said Baby was going to stay in there for a few more weeks. We talked about medication to ease the contractions, but agreed that we could wait and see if they got more severe. I don’t like taking any kind of medication when I’m pregnant and breastfeeding, because of the risk that it might affect the child.

12pm. We went to my mum’s place, which is where I do most of my work while she helps to take care of Ethan. The contractions became worse and EJ called the clinic to ask if we should come back and get the medication. The doctor said that it may have become worse because of the internal check, and I should just rest at home for a while. EJ almost left to do some errands because I told him that everything would be ok and I just needed to rest. Thankfully he didn’t listen to me and decided to hang around, because that’s when it became like a scene from the movies.

1230pm. I went to the toilet, and out came the mucous plug. That’s when I said we HAD TO GET TO THE HOSPITAL. I asked my mum to get a towel, because I didn’t want to get the car dirty if my water bag burst. She gave me 1 towel (If you are ever in that situation, bring 10 towels!!) In between contractions, I managed to clamber up into the backseat of the Toyota Fortuner. My mum went to get changed so she could come along, but as we waited in the car, things were escalating and I said we really had to go, and we drove off without telling my mum!

Traffic was heavy, and we slowly moved along, trying to get onto the highway. I had very strong urges to push, and told (well, yelled at…) EJ that I didn’t think we could make it! He asked “can you hold it in??” erm. No.

He turned around and saw the baby crowning.

1245pm-ish. I gave a push, and felt a gush of liquid coming out. And, together with the liquid and blood, came a little baby. He kind of slid out. It was incredible. I didn’t really believe what was happening. I hit Baby on the back a few times (like a true ER fan), and baby started to cry. *sighs of relief that he was breathing*

EJ pulled over to the side road, and we looked around to see if there were any neighbourhood clinics nearby. There were none. And there were actually hardly any people on the road! I wrapped the baby in an extra t-shirt that EJ kept in his car, but before that, I took a peek… we had a BOY!

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EJ pulled over into Geylang East Central

EJ tried to call the ambulance, but couldn’t get through (!!). He called his dad, to help us contact the hospital and alert them that we were coming. EJ then got through to the police, who redirected us to the paramedics. I had to hold my newborn son, while also holding the phone and answering many questions about the baby’s appearance, and the pregnancy.

We got to the hospital, and there was a nurse waiting for us. She cut the umbilical cord, took the baby, and an assistant helped me into a wheelchair and we made our way to the delivery suite…

Finally holding my baby again, after they did the initial checks. It would be many more days before I could hold him again.
Finally holding my baby, after they did the initial checks. It would be many more days before I could hold him again.

In Part 2, I’ll tell you more about what happened after that.

But here are some FAQs that people have when they find out about the birth:

Who delivered the baby?

I did! I was the only one at the backseat. Thankfully, Ethan was at my mum’s place. I can’t imagine what he would have done if he was in the car too! I was sitting slightly sideways, so when the baby came out, I could guide him onto the seat and then into my arms.

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Just after Elijah was born in the car

Was the car bloody?

Yes. VERY. EJ spent the afternoon cleaning it up. And even today we sometimes find a few spots of blood which had gone unnoticed.

Why was he born premature?

Since the gynae wasn’t there at the birth, she is not 100% sure. But because of the amount of blood that came out, and also because the placenta came out at the same time as the baby, she thinks it may have been due to placenta abruption, where the placenta lining separates from the uterus. This often causes bleeding and pain before the birth, but I didn’t experience either, so we really don’t know.

After reading up more, I realised this is actually quite a dangerous condition, especially if there are no signs. My baby could have just died from lack of oxygen and nutrients, without me even realising it! Thank God that he came out early so he could get help.

What does his birth certificate say?

Place of birth: “Junction of Paya Lebar Road and Geylang East Central”

You saved a lot on hospital fees!

We saved on doctor’s fees, and I was discharged the next day. Unfortunately, Baby’s lungs were not well developed, and he had other issues. So he had to stay for 9 days in the NICU.

Do you know of an unusual birth story? 

This lady gave birth on Jetstar Airlines… and named her baby Jet Star!! 

 

 

A Village of Mums

It takes a village to raise a child. And it takes a village to raise a mum.

On my first Mother’s Day a few years ago, I received text messages and greetings of “Happy Mother’s Day” and it made me cringe a little. It was almost unreal.

“Mother”? That’s a title belonging to my own mum, or grandmother, or some other strong and capable woman. Or Mother Theresa…Surely, not…me?

I felt so defeated. I often cried because breastfeeding was a painful, bloody experience. I mourned my loss of independence, freedom and being with friends. I resented becoming invisible to some, who wouldn’t even bother to look at me and immediately just took my baby out of my arms.

Then, I received a WhatsApp message from my mum, also wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day, and with the message, came a link to a video about Derek Redmond. It showed the semi-finals of the 400m race at the 1992 Olympic Games, where his hamstring snapped about halfway through the race. In his moment of pain and disappointment, his father barged past security, and, together with Derek, hobbled to the finish line and completed the race.

The video was meant to encourage me to be a like Derek’s dad – a parent who would pick their child up when they were down. But at that moment, I felt more like Derek – so discouraged, and the race ahead looked so difficult and painful. I needed the support of women like my mum and other mothers, who lived positive lives, breathing life and love into their children and husbands.

With the video (and Josh Groban’s ‘You Raised me Up’ playing in the background), it brought a sense of solidarity and strength. We’re in this together. It takes a village to raise a child. And it takes a village to raise a mum.

Happy Mother’s Day.