Saturday, August 15, 2009

Babies are wonderful, but...

I can still fondly remember what a bundle of joy my first born was. My mother was excited to be grandmother for the first time. My husband and I were overjoyed as we finally had an offspring after 5 long years of marriage. But slowly but surely, the initial euphoria waned as the reality of taking care of a newborn baby hit home and hard.

Gone was the carefree days of a lovey-dovey couple who could decide on a romantic night out on a whim. "Ring, ring." My handphone would buzz when the clock struck 6 pm. There was no need for caller-ID for I knew on the other side of the line was my mother, weary from taking care of the baby and reminded me to pick up my boy on time. As my husband was usually busy at work - at times, I marvelled at my own efficiacy at work - I ended up being the nanny on graveyard shift.

When my second pregnancy came, my mother raised a white flag. "Get a confinement nanny and a maid." she advised. And a confinement nanny stayed for not just a month but two months, I would want her to stay on longer if not for the high charges - it was around $1,700 per month - enough to pay my maid for half a year, and that was not inclusive of the maid levy.

But unfortunately, the maid only stayed for not a day longer than half a year. I would call that emotional blackmail - be it psychological or not. The first thing, we told her was that taking care of my two children was to be her top priority. Housework and the rest was to take a backseat. Little did I know that she followed the instructions a little to zealous. In the end, she carried my baby while I struggled with the shopping bags outside. When I spotted a coat of dust on my window grille, she told nonchalently that my mother told her not to do so - which my mother denied. I supposed in a way my mother and I suffered from a severe form of middle-income guilt. Being just so-so in economic status, we did not have the supercilious ease of the filthy rich. What made it worst was that the memories of being poor remained vivid in our minds. My mother used to be a part-time home cleaner and both of us empathised with the maid having to do the strenuous housework so much so that we were taken for a ride. Then there was my husband who decidedly steered clear from domestic affair from Day 1, loudly advocating that the reports in the papers on errant maids were just the tip of an iceberg.

In the end, we decided that home affairs - as in housework - was easily to manage than human affairs. Having a first hand taste of having a maid, my mother also relented and agreed to be the main caregiver of my second baby while my elder boy was put in the full-day childcare. However, this was not after my valiant attempt to stay home as a full-time mother failed. I was constantly calling her for advice on what to do next with my wailing baby. I must admit that I was then silently revering in joy.

It was with these rich experiences that I coined the term "burden of joy" in place of "bundle of joy" when I wrote a congratulatory note to a friend. I had to apologise that it was not intentionally but my subsciousness getting the better of me. Hey, did Malcolm Gladwell not say in his book "Blink" that our instinct was often true then not?

Having written all these, I must admit that my two boys are such joy to be with especially during my one-year stay in the United States. They have taught me so much to ask questions again and not to be set in my mould of thinking. Being a full-time mother away from home made me stronger. As I knew that my mother would not be able to rush here - she was illiterate and there was no way she could fly to the States alone - I just learnt to be independent.

There was so much family bonding especially when my husband was then a full-time student again, he would be home early - not the usual long after dinner in his working life. He could also help out on a more consistent basis with the floor vacuuming, laundry and grocery shopping. Long weekends meant a short getaway in the nearby states. The longer termbreaks were spent in well-planned driving holidays - the most memorable one was when we drove all the way from Pennsylvannia to California.

I am not surprised that our baby bonus has little impact so far. For one, I value my freedom more than the perks that come with the baby. What I am looking for is my husband to help out more. But he is always so busy with his work. For me, I have made the choice to balance both my family and work. In the case of my husband, his work. Even with my balancing stance, work still spills over to after office hours and into the weekends.

That guilt of not being to spend enough time with my boys especially in the case of my younger son is constantly haunting me. I know I can make a difference after I coach my elder boy in phonics during our one-year in the States. He is a much better English speaker and learner compared to my younger boy.

Yes, babies are wonderful but the demands of being a good parent entail a lot of short-term sleepless nights, long-term sacrifice. And hopefully, also long-term love and care from my children when my husband and I grow old.

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