Thursday, November 25, 2021

Our First Thanksgiving with Zoe

We celebrated Thanksgiving right before Zoe turned ten months old!  On this day last year, she was no more than a shadow on a sonogram, a rumbling wave in the pit of my uterus, a ray of hope during a difficult year.  I can't believe that time has gone by so quickly--here she is, sitting before us and gnawing on the wrong end of a turkey leg gripped in her greasy little hands.  The house is full of laughter and different languages being spoken in various accents.  We're all surrounded by loving uncles, aunts, and grandparents.  Cousin Maddie bounces a ball while Zoe watches in wonder before rolling over in giggles and spit bubbles.  The countertop is once again filled with the usual decadent Thanksgiving dishes that the Wongs like to make.  Assorted mugs cheerfully dot the dining table.  In place of what used to be our coffee table and accent chairs is a sprawling foam play mat surrounded on three sides by Zoe's fortress of a baby gate.  After a year of social distancing and living in the unknown, we couldn't be more grateful for this lively atmosphere.

The timing of Thanksgiving was so good this year--Zoe has reached the ripe old age of nine months (ten months tomorrow!) and she's been naturally sleeping through the night for the past five nights, napping for over an hour at a time, and eating solids foods.  She also doesn't crawl yet, so she's pretty low maintenance during her awake time, too.  Therefore, I actually had the time and energy to make a few things for our feast: shingled sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, cornbread, and honey whipped butter.  Okay okay, I used a box mix for the cornbread and a store bought pie crust, but I finally did something in the kitchen that was more involved than washing pump parts or making oatmeal!  On that note, I cannot be grateful enough to Wes for having been simultaneously the cook, the cleaner, the laundryman, the yard guy, the tech troubleshooter, the product researcher, the baby supply manager, and the family entertainer through the past year.  He's been the best househusband and Daddy.  We're very fortunate as a family to have everything we need and to have the means to provide for Zoe so easily.  To our parents and grandparents, I am thankful because if it weren't for what they did for us when we were children, it wouldn't be this way for our daughter.  

I had the week off from work today and was able to spend these precious few days just focusing on soaking in the present and what we have.  Maternity leave was rough because those first few months postpartum are so hard.  I tried to appreciate it as much as I could, but at times it was just hard because of how all-consuming it was for me physically and mentally.  After returning to work, I've been super busy and often feel like a chicken running around with my head cut off, but I somehow have more energy to pour out to Zoe when I get home because it's like switching on a totally different part of my brain.  Still, that "mom guilt" gets to me and I always find myself craving more time with her after she falls asleep for the night.  So this weeklong break in my work schedule has been a great way to reconnect and sort of relive those days when I was home with Zoe 24/7.  I've realized that things are so much easier now, partly because she's more mature (and allowing me to sleep!), but also partly because I have come to accept what my role is in life now without feeling sad about what I've left behind.  During one of Zoe's extra long naps, I sat down and reorganized some old things that I had kept over the years--cards from friends, handwritten journals, small mementos saved from various trips, awards I had won.  It was an unintentional act of self reflection that came at a good time.  Through these windows into my ten-year-old and twenty-year-old self, I saw how my current mindset took shape.  I never quite knew why I'd held onto all of these bits and pieces, but I'm glad that I did.  A part of me also hopes to move past placing so much value on words of affirmation and tangible prizes.  Admittedly, adults need a pat on the back from time to time, too, but as a mom (and a human), I am seeing that true fulfillment is attained only through how much I believe in myself to be doing a good job and not through forms of external validation.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Zoe's First Trip to Mammoth

It was fated that the first place we'd take Zoe would be Mammoth. We've had so many good times here together through all of the four seasons, from snowboarding in the winter and spring to backpacking in the summer and fall. Going to Mammoth for the weekend used to be our thing, before we had kids. We always knew that having a family would never stop us from returning time and again to these mountains, though. It was just a matter of when, and how to make it go as smoothly as possible. As always with a baby, things are never predictable, and her needs must come first. We didn't know what to expect, but we figured that now that Zoe can sit up well and can sleep on her own, we could venture out on our first "vacation" to show her one of our favorite places on Earth.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Eight Months: She's So Human

We always talk about how Zoe is so human like she isn't a human, haha.  And I feel like we've made this comment off and on at different specific times in her life, like when she started rubbing her eyes with wrist rotation.  Yes, it's definitely the little things.  But now, she's actually spending a lot of her day upright, sitting on her bottom, taking in the world from our angle rather than from the ground.  She's eating real food, like broccoli and mooncakes, sitting with us at the table.  She has actual mood swings and she expresses frustration now, especially when she can't reach something or when we change her diaper before feeding her.  She has some cheekiness about her too, like dropping things on the ground from her highchair or swiping the spoon against the side of her head and watching for our reaction.  She also has sprouted a tooth (as of yesterday!), and we see the shadows of three others coming in soon.  She doesn't laugh at the same stuff anymore, but she has an updated sense of humor.  Kissy sounds and neck kisses don't quite have the same effect, but now she gets a kick out of us making eating sounds and getting her hands washed in the bathroom sink.  She also is squealing and shouting a lot, which is fun and interesting for us to guess what she must be thinking about.  She loves swimming on her tummy and leaving puddles of drool everywhere she goes.  What's great though is that as of this month, she has learned how to fall asleep on her own, and we are all in a better place because of it!  I still wake up when she cries to feed her, but there is no more of that 45-minute rocking shenanigans to get her back to sleep after that.

I am feeling so much more human, too.  I never thought that going to work would feel so liberating.  I feel so much more like myself, and less like the zombie that I was during maternity leave--a loving zombie, but still a zombie.  Now, I get to put on actual street clothes, socks and shoes, a touch of eye makeup, and my watch every day.  I get into my car and listen to the radio while driving a nice, 15-minute tree-lined commute to my school, and I get to talk with tons of adults and kids.  It's definitely draining because it's been so long (including the whole pandemic shutdown!) since I've stepped foot on an actual school campus, plus this is a new school for me this year, but man is it nice to get away from home.  I do miss our little human at home, but I know that she's in good hands with Daddy and Grandma, and usually when I get home we still have two really great hours to spend together.  Her night wakings don't even bother me as much as they used to, because I get to see her one extra time.  Even though I'm doing so much more each weekday now as I split my time between being Mom and OT, I feel farther away from burnout than I did when I was just focused on mothering.  I think it's helpful to be back on some kind of a predictable schedule and to get plenty of socializing in.  I don't wish that I had gone back to work sooner though, because I still look back on Zoe's first few months of life as the most precious time that could never be recovered.  So sweet, so vulnerable, so hard.  It's a rite of passage for every mom, and I think I've made it through the hardest times now.  

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Seven Months: Back to Work

This month, Zoe has learned to live without me.  I don't mean to sound self-important, but she's been relying on me for survival since she was born... er, conceived!  So naturally, the separation was not easy.  I would say that it went as smoothly as it could have gone, though.  She and Wes have a strong bond and he's still at home with her every day.  Luckily, she gets to stay at home in familiar territory because Wes's mom has been coming over to take care of her.

I'm sure that it has been a very hard few weeks for Zoe, but she must feel so much more independent now.  She's learned to do so much: bottle feed, fall asleep on her own at night, sit in a high chair to eat solid foods, digest and poop out the solids, roll over from back to belly.  She may now also understand some Cantonese!  We also have learned how smart babies can be.  It took her a lot less time than we had anticipated to take the bottle, even though previous attempts have all been failed.  I think she was more perceptive than we could tell--she knew that if I was there, she had no reason to take milk in any other way.  Also, she has never slept in, but I had to actually wake her up on my first two days of work (yes, of course I was late because of this!).  I am not sure if there was something in the breast milk or if she can sense my impending absence, but she definitely knew and wanted to prevent me from leaving the house.  It sounds far-fetched, but she woke up at her regular times on Saturday and Sunday, but come Monday, when it was time for me to go to work again, she slept in again!  

Sunday, August 8, 2021

The Invisible Load of becoming a Dad

Sidelined.  Demoted.  Nonessential.  New dads aspire to be so much, but quickly realize when their baby is born that they are all of the above.  In the hospital, Wes had to ask for permission to hold the baby.  The nurses quickly obliged, realizing that they had forgotten to include him.  The extent of his labor and delivery duties was to hold my leg up in the air and do the honorary snip of the umbilical cord, which grossed him out until the very last minute.  After that, he looked on as Zoe was placed onto my chest for comfort, watched as nurses taught me to feed her from that place.  From the start, expectant fathers come to the uncomfortable realization that they are just not very important.

Society tells the dad to look out for his family, to wait on his wife, to be that loving hero to his daughter, to be the image of strength to his son, to be the one that everyone can and should depend on during such a fragile and volatile time.  It is assumed that the father has no emotional needsno guilt, no sadness, no fear.  There is undeniably more support for women postpartumcourses designed for mothers to relieve burnout, podcasts run by women painting a one-sided perspective of parenthood, social networks for new moms.  For dads, the available resources and outreach are few and far in between, but that is no indication of the level of stress that men shoulder as well.  Plus, many men are not disposed to advocating for themselves emotionally anyway, especially not when it's time to "man up."  I have to say that Wes has made it all look easy, but that does not mean that it was easy.  I just wanted to intentionally reflect on and write about the invisible load of modern fatherhood from his perspective.  Of course, like every mother's experience, every father's is unique.  This does not do justice to the beginning of every fatherly journey out there, but it's one in a million hidden stories that never get the spotlight.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Letter to Our 6-month-old

Dear Zoe,

I have been waiting to meet you my entire life.  Now that you've been here for six months, I still feel like I'm just barely getting to know you.  Are you still getting to know me, too?  It's crazy to think about how you must think that I'm everything to you right now.  You came out of my body and you survive off my body.  But I still know very little about you, and this is probably how it will be for our entire relationship, because you're always changing and growing.  Just when I feel like I've figured you out, you throw me in for another loop.  I'm not sure that I can ever keep up.  It's both amazing and sort of crushing.

You're just a little baby, but you're tougher than you appear.  You've tolerated so much of my bullshit already, at such a young age.  Remember how I didn't brake the stroller and it rolled off our front steps and you fell onto your face?  And all of that blundering through breastfeeding in those early days, the awkward rocking/bouncing/pacing/shushing, the tears that dropped onto your innocent face as I held you all alone because I felt like I wasn't good enough to raise you.  You've had to deal with Mommy and Daddy's screams of horror (and sometimes elation) when we opened your diapers, our unintentional reversing of your digestion by putting you on your tummy too soon after you ate (eek!), that time you had a diaper rash because we didn't use the right butt cream, the times that I trimmed your finger flesh along with your nails (you didn't even flinch, don't worry), those awkward first baths, wiggling you into strollers/carseats/carriers/high chairs at funny angles until we got it just right... thank you for your patience!  You still look into our eyes with utter trust every time after you've cried, even when we were the cause of your frustration.  You're such a tender and innocent baby.  

You are so young and dependent on us now, but you will soon be your own person.  You have a whole life ahead of you, which is really crazy to imagine.  Already, I see you pushing away the breast, tearing off your hat, or snatching the Nose Frida out of Daddy's hand.  You will soon be annoyed because my drive to protect and nurture you will make you feel like you're being controlled.  You'll realize that we are not all-knowing, so you will test the limits and find your own answers.  It'll be so cool to see that fire ignite within you, but I know that it will also be so hard to let you go your way, especially since you have been nothing but ours up until now.  I'll miss these days of innocence, but I know that it's going to be beautiful and wonderful when you gain the insight to be able to actually question us and set yourself apart.  I'll try my best to listen with an open mind, remember to apologize, and let go willingly.  I'll try to put myself in your shoes, because I was there once, too, and it isn't easy being a kid. 

We only have a few more days left together before I go back to work.  I hope you feel that we had an overall good time together, just you and me and Daddy, before I go back to my job.  Six months is a lot compared to what others get in terms of maternity leave, but it's such a small fraction of your life.  I know you won't remember this time by the time you can talk about it, but I hope you feel safe and happy now (and forever).  It makes me sad to think that you still have no idea that everything you've been used to is going to suddenly change, and there's no way for me to really prepare you.  As a mother, a part of me feels like you're not ready, but if I'm not careful, this will become a theme for the rest of our lives.  You are ready.  You are a strong-willed, observant, and curious girl.  You, my little darling, will soon learn how to get along without us and you will discover that your world is not limited to us three.  You'll start by falling asleep without our rocking, getting nourishment without my breast, rolling over by yourself so that we cannot dictate the length of your "tummy time" anymore.  This is only the beginning of your long path forward, and we can't wait to see what's around every corner with you.  Thank you for giving us this amazing journey to be on and for the many opportunities to mess up and learn!  You are exactly what we hoped for and you always will be, no matter where life takes you and what you do.