Category Archives: character

Advent-uring together

Where has the time gone?

As a full time working mom again, I find that I have more focus as my daytime schedule, work and family priorities are very straightforward (sick days and school closure days aside). I also relish the me-time, especially when I’m travelling and am grateful that all the transition and support planning has worked out. When I was away for 10 days on an overseas trip, I was completely reassured that B is in good hands even though we both missed each other. What can’t ever be replaced though is TIME together. Our weekday mornings and evenings now just feel so rushed!

Speaking of time (or the lack of), I’m keen to carve out some quality mom-and-B time as we count down to the Christmas and New Year holidays.  Last year we learnt about the gift of Christmas, that the season is not just about gifting but also the act of giving, and God’s ultimate gift of life.  As B had just turned 2, he learnt Christmas carols, art and craft, how to pray for others and joined us in his first community service visit. Now that he’s 3, we’re trying to be more intentional to cultivate his faith. We started by including him in our weekly cell group fellowship this past Friday night. B was so excited before and after – though I’m not sure if it was due to extended time playing, hanging out with mommy and friends, or the extra special late bedtime 🙂

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Meanwhile, I’ve also been compiling ideas to try this Advent season, though as usual, my wish list is far longer than in reality:

1) Devotional: Reading the bible is now a regular bedtime routine. B actually takes his beginners bible out and asks (insists!) on a story or two every night.  As we’ve read through the Old Testament and most of the New Testament stories, this December, we’ll move to the One Year Devotions for Preschoolers book that we got from a friend.

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B’s beginners bible and a sample page from the preschooler’s devotional

2) Truth In The Tinsel: Designed for 3+ years, we’re trying it now as B has been introduced to the kids bible (see above) and can stay engaged on a home project over several days (see what we did for Teachers’ Day).  Also, the Christmas tree is quite bare as I did a bit of spring cleaning and I’m sure B will happily oblige to add more stuff to it. The idea is to read a passage of Scripture, make a Christmas ornament and talk through the related narrative every day. The story or activity can be adapted as needed – to match B’s level, attention span, and our time together. We did a “trial” to replace the star for our tree, loosely based on a sample page from the e-book:

Our new Christmas star using foam and paper stickers
Making a star using foam and paper stickers
Sample page - Star
Sample page – Star

3) Advent Calendar:  Last year, I recycled B’s artwork to make a wall calendar with clear plastic pockets to mark the 24 days till Christmas. Each day, we prayed for specific family, friends, those in need, our country and world, ending with the fruits of the spirit in our own lives. Although this calendar has since been used as a fun Letterland upper and lowercase matching game, we could always just repurpose this once more if I run out of time…

2013 advent prayer calendar
2013 advent prayer calendar

HOWEVER, I’d love to make a new advent calendar which could double as a festive decoration too.  Here are two DIY ideas that I like and find age-appropriate for toddlers: Toilet Paper Roll House and Scrapbook Gift Wrap Paper calendars. These could contain simple clues (for Truth In The Tinsel), scripture verses (from daily devotion), or just a list of fun yet meaningful activities or items each day.

4) Christmas books:  This year, I hope to check out the titles in this reading list as we’ve found quite a few (still) available at the public libraries in Singapore.  B also received a beginners Christmas piano song book from his aunt in California – and we look forward to incorporate that into our regular home music sessions 🙂

Unwrapping the gifts from  California :)
Unwrapping the gifts from California 🙂

Even if you don’t celebrate Advent but are keen to get some crafty time with the kid during the holidays, feel free to try these out, visit my pinterest board for more ideas, and of course share what you’re doing with us too. Happy Advent-uring!

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The Magic Three

My darling B:

You are now 33 months. Just 3 months to go before you turn 3 years old! Everyone warned me about the terrible twos, but the year turned out to be pretty terrific instead. Hopefully I don’t jinx the remaining months 😮 You had your moments of wild, irrational flail-on-the-ground tantrums, but through it all I kept the 3 Ts in mind:  Tank up on love, Transition gradually, and Timing matters!

In light of your and mama’s developments this year, here are 3×3 things to celebrate about you!

3 THINGS I LOVE ABOUT YOU

1) THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE: You love reading. You bring books  to our bed in the morning, want to read at mealtimes, and negotiate the number of stories for bedtime.  You are ever curious. You’ll ask “What happen, mama?” when I’m reading the news or listening to the radio. The library is like your second home where you can occupy yourself flipping through books or telling stories to friends (imaginary or anyone nearby). Your face lights up as you associate what you read with what you see in real life. When your gears start spinning, you turn to me to say “Remember the [book/event/person/item]?” and a wonderful process of discovery ensues. When you see text, you track the words with your fingers as you “read.”  You like to call out numbers, upper and lower cases that you recognise from Letterland phonics, and even Chinese characters.  It’s truly a delight to watch you learn!

Watching the night sky from our balcony got him intrigued about space so we’ve borrowed many books about it (like this one).  Here he’s simulating the moon rotating around the earth 🙂

2) A SONG IN YOUR HEART:  Since you started carrying a tune, you  haven’t stopped making music. Even as a baby, you’d often hum and move to the rhythm and beat.  These days, we don’t need alarm clocks because you wake us up with your singing at 7a or earlier! You make us laugh with silly adaptations and lead your friends in rousing renditions of songs from Majulah Singapura to Wheels on the Bus to “一步一步走啊走”.   This year we tried some structured music learning at home, and we’ll continue to look for ways to help you hone this gift now and beyond.

3) PASSION FOR VEHICLES: Be they in the air, on the road, on water, in print, real or toy, rides or stickers – you like them all! You  observe routes, recall directions, names of roads and who stays where. Your pretend play is getting more creative too. You manipulate everyday things at home, LEGO and wooden blocks, toy vehicles, tracks and figures to form construction sites, accident and rescue operations, traffic jams on the highway, neighbourhood multi-story carparks – all with sound effects and commentary.

One activity you initiated is to lay out your vehicle flash cards and we take turns to find the right one as we play “I Spy” and 这是什么?”

Sometimes I need to set time limits so you don’t get too obsessed (i.e. kick a fuss when it’s time to stop or leave). But this shows me  you’re capable of focusing and innovating on what interests you. If only we could figure out how to replicate this for other stuff  😉

3 AREAS YOU’VE GROWN IN

1) (SELF) HELPER: Although I still prompt you to eat faster or finish up, I’m thankful that you continue to help yourself at meal times and have a healthy appetite, drink well, (mostly) eat greens, fruits and are willing to try variety – Asian, Western, Middle Eastern, mild herbs and spices. You even ate durian!

Since we started our first sticker chart on toilet training, you also have less accidents and better control.  You let us know when you want to pee and poop instead of us asking or taking you regularly.  There’s still occasional overnight bed wetting and leaks (esp. when you’re too excited or shy) but you’ve made great progress that we’ve moved on to a new chart for wearing/undressing clothes and shoes.

Out with the old, in with the new sticker chart

Lastly, although you need reminding, you do help to clean up after play, unload dirty clothes into the laundry bag and bring your dishes to the kitchen after meals. Well done!

2) FINE MOTOR SKILLS:  Thanks to your current preschool, you’re constantly encouraged to experiment and express yourself through art and craft. Mama is so thankful for the amazing teachers there!

Our little artist at his first school exhibition

Although there’s less opportunities for us at home together, I cherish the times when we play simple number and finger games and do crafty activities that build your fine motor skills.  Of course, you still treat glue like paint, colour all over the page, use brushes, pencils, markers and crayons like stamps, wield the scissors and chopsticks with two hands when your fingers are tired… But you’re getting there. Just persevere and keep up the great work!

Our art wall is constantly full even though mama recycles often

3) THE GREAT OUTDOORS:  We now do more things outside and for  longer before you ask for a “抱抱“!  You’ve always been a cautious toddler and not a big fan of being under the hot sun.  Yet as you grow, you now scoot with more confidence and speed, are eager to get wet and play in the sand (caveat: area must be “clean and cool” enough), jump in the pool at your weekly swim class, pedal the tricycles at school and ride your balance bike to deliver items and messages from place to place.  I only wish you’d wear your safety helmet more often so mama doesn’t worry … too much.

Getting out and about

So here’s to you, my little big baby, who’s becoming a big little boy. Love you to the moon and back!

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Special Review and Giveway: Six Karen Katz Lift The Flap Books (Bilingual)

Your boy is playing with his favourite bus/water gun/thingy.  His friend eagerly comes over and tries to snatch it away.  “B, please share?” “No!  Don’t want!” Tantrum ensues. Sound familiar?

Toddler hitting, screaming, biting and throwing are common behaviours that they’ll need to (un)learn – but that process can be challenging! Karen Katz offers some help with a series of delightful little books filled with adorable, true-to-life illustrations, and clear, simple and repetitive text. Thanks to Read With Me Mommy, this series is available in a compact set of six bilingual books in English and Chinese: I Can Share (我可以分享), No Hitting (不打人), No Biting (不咬人), Excuse Me (对不起), Best Ever Big Brother (最好的大哥哥), Best Ever Big Sister (最好的大姐姐).

Complete set of 6 bilingual books
Complete set of 6 bilingual books

What we like: It’s bilingual!  So you get a double 2-in-1 deal – reinforce behaviours AND learn key phrases in English AND Chinese as you enjoy reading it over and over together 🙂 As with other Karen Katz books, the text is separated from the pictures, each in their own page, making it easier for kids who are learning to read. Many tots actually memorise the story or conversation based on pictures, which is a great start to language development, but books like these take it one step further by helping them to focus on and recognise words, letters and characters. The whole page flaps cleverly reveal the right response, which usually involves “magic words” for proper manners or positive redirection for sticky situations like sharing and self-control. Note: This is best for 18 months to 4 years as it’s not in a board book format, so turning the pages and lifting flaps require a bit more control (and care).

As a bonus, the set also includes two books on growing up from the perspective of a 哥哥 or 姐姐, ideal for older siblings who are adjusting to a new baby at home. But even if you don’t have a sibling (yet – like us), it’s still relevant for your tot to read about big boys or girls who eat, sleep, read and go to the potty on their own 🙂

I'm a big sister
I’m a big sister

Read With Me Mommy is a user-friendly online bookstore which is conveniently organised by age (0-3 years, 3-6 years, 6-10 years, 10+ years) and book type (sets, board books, cloth books, etc.). There is currently a 5% discount promo for all DBS/POSB cardholders and free local mail delivery for ALL purchases.

As a special giveaway, Finally Mama readers stand a chance to win a brand new complete set of 6 bilingual lift the flap books worth SGD$24.90 with FREE local delivery.  Giveaway closed!  Just CLICK HERE to enter the giveaway and follow these steps:

1) Like Finally Mama on Facebook
2) Like Read With Me Mommy on Facebook
3) Comment below on who you’d like to get this for and why!

World peace begins at home

What does it mean to live a peaceful life? IMHO, the key is to work towards peaceful relationships in your home – with your spouse, kid(s) and if you have any, your domestic helper. But how to do this when we’re struggling with being at peace in our own lives? As parents, we’re often busy, stressed, sleep-deprived, sick whenever the kids get sick, and lacking any personal time or space. Here are some thoughts:

With your spouse: Sometimes, a little time out gives much needed perspective when emotions are frayed. There are days when I still struggle with giving up a traditional corporate career and the (seemingly lack of) ROI on all my years of education – resulting in a rather bitter attitude towards my constantly away hardworking hubby. I’ve been trying to reflect and approach situations with a more peaceful and rested heart. Also, as parents, we should TRY not to let our issues (anger, disappointment, concern, etc.) with each other surface too frequently in front of the kids. The very young ones can pick up on the emotion but may not understand the context or even think it is about them, i.e. something they did wrong. For me – someone who often wears her heart on her sleeve – this is hard. Just as we teach our kids to use their “indoor voice”, I too need to remember that being peaceful means to talk and not shout, to smile and not frown.

With kids: Give our kids the foundation to develop and learn to be a child of God – peaceful, cheerful and contented. As B adjusts to nursery drop off and soon, taking his mid-day nap there as well, we’re trying to re-establish a routine that provides comfort yet fosters independent growth. Kids thrive in a secure environment with familiar surroundings, playmates and caregivers, regular healthy meals, designated quiet times with spaces to play/read on their own, unique yet diverse experiences AND perhaps most importantly, adequate sleep – ideally by 9p. I’ve ALWAYS been asked about B’s early bedtime, as in “why can’t he come out, stay later, wake up later instead” To me, sleep is sacred. When kids sleep well, we all sleep well, so why change what ain’t broke?

With the helper: Let’s face it. We are lucky, spoilt even, in Asia to have foreign domestic workers who assist us in chores and if you need, babysitters and nannies at a reasonable rate, be it part time or live in. Yet too often I find employers who do not treat their helper in a way that leads to a peaceful living and working relationship, while they maintain high expectations on their deliverables and attitude. B asked me once: “mama, daddy, ama, kong kong is family. What about aunty (our helper’s name)?” I told him “We live together in this house, we should treat her like family too.” I wonder if he understood that, but he does now include her in his prayer requests at night and asks where she is when we go out on our own or on her days off.

The more centered we are on Christ and not self, the more we’ll be at peace with others and ourselves.

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I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart

I’m trying to be more intentional about faith with B this year as he’s developing his own childlike understanding from observing people and situations. At our nightly prayers before bed, he started making his own requests (e.g. “pray for dada working, tired,” “Jesus loves ama and kong kong”). So I decided to reinforce the lessons around fruits of the spirit from Sunbeam, our church’s kids programme, with simple activities and practical applications at home.

Here’s what we learnt and applied:

  1. Joyful parenting doesn’t come naturally. It’s not a product of the flesh but the spirit at work, bearing fruit in us. We need to cultivate thankfulness, remember that our child’s identity is in Christ, and look ahead with hope and faith for the fruit God promises to bring through our efforts.
  2. A joyful heart is about attitude, a contagious attitude from having a positive outlook in life. We talked about being joyful and strong even when we’re afraid and upset. I encouraged him to use words, laugh or sing instead of crying and screaming… and it’s been working! In fact, he’s been a trooper during his separation at school and this recent bout of coughing; and he’s also cheered my ailing mom who was hospitalised earlier this month with his singing, dancing and funny antics.
  3. To be joyful is to be thankful. I’m glad that B’s gotten into a habit of saying “thank you” or “谢谢” (if you’re lucky). At one point, he’d even say “thank you” when giving you things 😉 At nights, when we pray together, we also first thank God for each other and the day’s events – no matter how challenging the day has been, e.g. we’ve been sick, tired, angry. I’m still working on teaching him to say family grace before meals to reinforce gratefulness and obedience to God, although this one’s tougher as our family is of mixed beliefs and/or rarely eating together.

Since I’m on a quest to improve both our Chinese lately, I’ll end with these Chinese characters: When you’re happy (开心 kai xin), your heart is open but when you’re sad (伤心 shang xin), your heart is wounded. I’m glad that our son is learning how to turn to God and rejoice in the midst of his terrible two years; and that he is also opening the hearts of those around him.

Nehemiah 8:10 “The joy of the Lord makes me strong!”

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How deep and how wide is your love?

Besides his own name, another word B likes to spontaneously spell is “L-O-V-E … Love!” So I figured Valentines Day was a good reason to look at LOVE as we apply fruits of the spirit at home. Here’s B’s “Thumbody loves you” V-day craft to kick off the theme 🙂

1) Say and show it often. We always wish each other “晚安,我爱你,明天见” (“Good night, I love you, see you tomorrow”) every night. When dad is away for long, we record him a video that usually ends with a flying kiss! Although I wasn’t raised like this with my typical Asian parents, I don’t hesitate kissing, hugging and praising B and find that he soaks it up like a sponge. Rather than being spoiled (as some of the older generation may caution), I find that he becomes more assured and affectionate in return, which has helped during his frequent separation anxiety phases. In the book “The Five Love Languages of Children” the authors encourage parents to keep your child’s emotional tank full, use all five languages (physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service), and pay attention to their behaviour as it often tells you which one speaks the loudest to them. Usually these preferences emerge around 3-4 years on.

2) Love obeys and forgives. We shouldn’t continue doing wrong things and we shouldn’t stay angry with others. Whenever B acts up, I make it a point to look him in the eye and state “Stop. That hurt mama/your friend, made us feel angry/sad”. I’ll then ask him “Was that wrong or right?” When he sees that this is serious and acknowledges “B is wrong. I am sorry,” I’ll say “It’s OK. But don’t do it again!” Of course, sometimes he gets rather cheeky and says “B is wrong, right?” What you say or do must match what’s in your heart. The Chinese character for forgiveness – 恕 (shu) incorporates a heart below a woman and a mouth. When we forgive others with words from our heart, we learn to put others before ourselves, practicing love and “human-heartedness.”

3) Love is selfless. Kids learn by imitation so take every opportunity to demonstrate selflessness. Evidently, tots do a lot of proto-sharing – i.e. they may be willing to show what they hold to others but won’t quite let go (sound familiar?). It’s a big step, so reinforce and reward the act. When B’s friends come by, it’s also quite common to see ALL the boys want the exact same double decker bus (or train) that one of them develops a liking for. When potential tantrums/fights come up, try to offer duplicates or alternatives, and if that doesn’t work, keep the item-in-question and engage them in a fun group project. It’s key to NOT punish your tot at this age for not sharing. Let him know your feelings but don’t make a big deal out of it. They’ll get there and may surprise you one day! Case in point: I’ve been feeling quite down and worn out as everyone was sick or away again, on top of our ongoing failure to conceive #2 despite trying everything we can think of. There’s also been days when I’ve lost my temper and somehow, B knows the best way to diffuse it – by kissing, hugging me and saying “Mama, be happy… So happy” Toddlers may be the most self-centered beings at times, yet their empathy and ability to love others amazes me. They DO listen, share and care!

4) Love and forgive others just as God loves and has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32, 1 Colossians 13). Some of our favourite songs to reinforce:
– “Jesus Loves Me”: Our first bible song together, B used to fall asleep to this
– “Whisper”: A lovely song that teaches kids to say “I love you” to parents and to Jesus in a soft voice 🙂 I couldn’t find a video but the lyrics are included below

– “Deep and Wide”: God’s love is like the ocean, never-ending, always forgiving
– Barney’s “I Love You” original and this adapted version: I forgive you, you forgive me. We forgive each other, can’t you see? With a great big hug, and a kiss from me to you, won’t you join us, and forgive too?

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Releasing your child to (pre)school

B has been attending half day preschool at Odyssey for a week now. I drop him off before his 9a class start and pick him up after lunch around 1245p, in time for his mid-day nap back home. He did us all proud, adapting better and faster than expected. There were less tears, increasing confidence and engagement in class, and even “thank yous” and “byes” to his teachers, friends and favourite things in school (i.e. gardens, school bus) by end of the week.

In fact, he coped better than I did after 2+ years of being together (almost) 24/7. In their first week newsletter update, his teachers were clearly pleased with his progress – and probably relieved too!

Once we decided on “where”, I spoke to a few friends, read Elizabeth Pantley’s The No-Cry Separation Anxiety Solution and Stormie Omartian’s The Power of a Praying Parent to prepare for “how” and “what if”. Here’s what I didn’t know or fully appreciate till B started:

1) Visit with your child as often as possible before class starts, taking photos to recall. I made memories by adding little pages for his journal which worked better than any “going to preschool” kid book because they were real, some with pictures of him in them! When day 1 came along, B was familiar with the names and images of his school, class and teachers. Ideally, we’d have loved to accompany him to playgroups at school or with his classmates beforehand, but we didn’t have this option.

2) If possible, ask to be the only new child in the class, say for a 2 week period, and avoid starting after a long holiday as many “experienced” kids still get separation anxiety on the first day back. This ensures sufficient attention and no peer crying effect which stresses out everyone around. A fellow mom friend shared how 5 kids in her child’s class (different school) cried for almost 3 hours until they vomited. Teachers were quite overwhelmed and parents clearly distressed!

3) Crying at drop off is normal. Crying at pick up is also normal. BUT it doesn’t mean your child has been crying all day! The tears usually stop once teachers are given a chance to take over, distract and calm down your child. By mid-week, B cried for less than a minute at drop off and pick up and after that, he was all smiles, no tears. The key here is to TRUST, reflect a positive mood and (the toughest part) LEAVE. I hung B’s water bottle around his neck which also ensured he was hydrated, and always had a towel ready, i.e. his comfort object since he was an infant. I had my doubts too at the beginning as I wandered around waiting for the call or tears which never came thankfully, all the while trying to spy in while not letting them see me. Eventually, I told myself to let go. Let others get to know and take care of him. Grant them your trust and allow them to keep earning yours and his. Also, enjoy the well-deserved morning off, mama!

4) It can feel like your child’s regressing. B was koala bear clingy over the weekend (we started on a Thursday) and had disrupted naps because he’d catnap in the car on the way back and not nap enough once home, or would wake up crying for me and wouldn’t go back to sleep without me holding him. Over the weekend, I reflected and determined to not be hasty – all of this eventually resolved or would resolve. And B would also continue to grow in character, knowledge and imagination. I just need to remember to project love for him, encourage interest in school and model respect for his teachers. Believe he will thrive!

5) Release your child into God’s hands. To quote Omartian: “We can’t be everywhere. We can’t see everything. We can’t know everything. But God can. Acknowledge our Father is in control of our children’s lives and ours, and we will have greater peace.” Amen!

Of course, I miss B everytime he’s in school and am trying to maximise our remaining time together with bonding and NOT mere enrichment – begone you tiger mom urges! Meanwhile, I’m enjoying giving more focus to entrepreneurial endeavours, including the The Whiz Times, and also having ME time for devotionals, pilates, books, brekkie/brunch catch-ups until my schedule changes again 🙂

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