An Ode to My Boys

July 11, 2013 in Best Of, Misc, Parenting by pacejmiller


Well…guess what? I’m a father again!

After one of the most emotionally draining experiences last time (which I describe in excruciating detail here), the second birth, less than 19 months later, was surprisingly nonchalant.

This time, we opted straight for the C-section, though there were a few occasions in the lead-up to the operation where we felt we wouldn’t make the scheduled date. But we got there — just — and the feeling of “been there, done that” was strangely empowering and soothing, so much so that we weren’t even nervous in the final hours.

Well, at least not consciously. I did go to the toilet about five times.

While you can never be fully prepared for it, being as prepared as you can be, both physically and mentally, helps a lot. That we went to a specialist clinic this time also made a world of difference. And when I saw the little guy for the first time, there were no concerns about how I should be feeling, no concerns about whether I was bonding with him properly — I knew all of that will come naturally, in due course. Right now I am simply thankful that he and his mother are both safe and healthy.

I never expected to be a father this young, and certainly not a father to two boys. I still have no idea what I am doing most of the time (OK, all the time) but all I hope for, with all my heart, is to be the best father I can be; to be there for them whenever they are in need (and probably even when they don’t want me around); and help them lead happy, healthy, fulfilling lives without ever letting them forget how fortunate they are.

Sentimentality is not my strong suit, so on that note, I’ll post a song that embodies my feelings at this point in time. A song that my wife and I loved listening to a decade ago but had little idea what the lyrics meant because…it’s in Japanese. Now thanks to the Internets, I’ve got a translation here for ya. Here’s the song and the translation is below.

Hero (by Mr Children)

Supposing that the world could be saved 
by one person giving their life in exchange 
I would be the man who waits until someone else has volunteered

All those dear to me have made me a coward

I don’t expect to be like my idols
whose actions and mannerisms I imitated as a child
But I’d like to be a hero
just for you
To reach a hand out to you
when you stumble or fall

To make an awful movie more exciting 
They casually kill off people on screen
But they’re wrong, what we want to see is a light full of hope

The slightly smaller hand in my hand
silently melts away the gloom in my heart 

The many spices that one needs to really taste life’s full course
are prepared for everyone 
Sometimes they’re bitter
and you’ll think the taste astringent
And then you’ll eat your last dessert with a smile
I want to be next to you

Through the cruel passage of time 
surely even I’ve become adult enough 
I’m not sad, and it doesn’t hurt
Just having kept going, and keeping going
is enough to make me happy, is precious. 

I always want to be a hero 
just for you
There’s nothing mysterious about it 
At this point there’s nothing to hide 
But I want to be a hero
just for you
To reach a hand out to you
when you stumble or fall

PS: I know nothing in this post is structured like an ode. I just thought it sounded good for the title.

Freelancing is lancing my free time

February 19, 2013 in Blogging, Misc, On Writing, Parenting by pacejmiller

Anyone recognise where this is from?

Anyone recognise where this is from?

You may have noticed that things have been a little slow on this blog lately. It wasn’t supposed to be. In fact, I was supposed to be posting up a storm over this recent nine-day Lunar New Year break in Taiwan. Instead, I took up a freelancing gig, and it’s been killing me. Killing me, I tell ya. As the great Tommy Wiseau would say:

Freelancing jobs are always a dilemma when you also have a full-time job. On the one hand, it’s nice to get a bit of extra cash, but on the other, you are voluntarily adding all this pressure on yourself and destroying whatever free time you might have. When you have a one-year-old baby to look after like I do, free time is more precious than diamonds, and if you’re not desperate for money it’s always tempting just to say, “No thanks, I’d rather sleep, or read, or watch The Walking Dead or a movie, or exercise, or play video games, or do whatever the hell it is that I’d rather be doing.”

This is why I’d actually been turning down quite a few freelancing opportunities as of late, though this new one that I took on was from a regular client that paid relatively well and was a good opportunity to establish more crucial contacts. Freelancing, as I learned from that ultra-successful, US$600K-a-year  freelance writer Robert W Bly (I reviewed his freelance guide here), is all about connections and getting repeat business. You can be the best freaking writer in the world, but you’re not making any money if people don’t know who you are. That’s why there are all these horrible, horrible writers and editors earning great money doing freelancing full-time, while decent or even very good writers and editors prefer to work in steady jobs and not worry about where their next paycheck will come from.

As usual, I have underestimated how difficult this current freelance gig would be. When I first saw it I estimated roughly four days — mostly during my “spare” time at work. Instead, it has killed almost all my free time from the Lunar New Year break and I’m still not finished. Part of the problem is me being slow and too meticulous and distracted with other things, but it’s incredibly frustrating nonetheless. This one gig has essentially derailed the longest holiday I’m probably going to have this year. It’s also set back my plans to start exercising regularly again by at least another week (I really need it too, after eating like a pig over the break). And don’t even get me started on the PS3 games I’m supposed to be playing. I have literally not switched on my PS3 since finishing Sleeping Dogs in late November. Meanwhile, my food and movie blog posts continue to pile up. At this rate, I’ll never get back to working on what I really want to take another stab at — my novels.

It has me wondering whether I’ll ever take on another freelance case. Well, I’m sure I will, and I’m sure I’ll be bitching about it like I am now once I do.

I’m back, and I’m looking for motivation

June 6, 2012 in Blogging, On Writing, Parenting by pacejmiller

It’s been around 2 weeks since I last posted, a pretty darn long, lousy hiatus by my standards.

I kind of have a good reason for not posting, apart from being lazy, that is. I’ve been sick for about just as long. First it was your run-of-the-mill flu, or so it seemed. Very sore throat, runny rose, that “sick” feeling. Things gradually got better, until Saturday, when I inexplicably came down with a fever. That lasted a while, and it turned out to be a vicious stomach virus that has forced me to live on a diet suited to a rabbit monk. On the bright side, I lost so much weight and belly fat that I ended up with abs! Forget about all the crunches and core exercises — all you need is very serious gastro.

On a more serious note, this killer virus is kinda still hanging around. I’ve gone back to normal eating today, but the wife is still struggling. It’s hard to get better when you haven’t had a decent nights sleep in about 5 months. Oh, and luckily, despite the all the crap that we’ve been through the last couple of weeks, the baby has been healthy. Thank goodness.

But the truth is, notwithstanding the health issues, I’ve had time to write. I just haven’t. I realized I’ve been lacking in motivation lately. First of all, I write every day at work. It’s not the same as the creative stuff I want to do, but it does take a fair bit of energy out of me. I’ve also done a little freelance translating work in the last few days, plus a book review for a publication. I did these things, however, because I had to, not because of any burning desire.

And so I ask myself. What is going on? I’ve still got literally several dozens of posts to be written. My restaurant and movie reviews are backed up by about 4 or 5 months. I’ve got a zillion books I should be reading, books I actually want to read. My writing projects are dying to be worked on. And yet I haven’t been doing any of these things. To be fair, I have been busy with work and a rapidly growing baby and all (who makes me want to hug and kiss him all day), but am I getting too comfortable for my own good? Am I happy just going on like this and letting my personal goals sit idle for god knows how many more years?

I guess ultimately, it’s a matter of priorities. I have the time, or at least I know I can make the time. I just need the motivation to get into it. Hopefully, this post is a start. I intend to go on a blitz very soon and rekindle some of that fire I know is champing at the bit to be relit. Letsth do it.

Feeling kinda destroyed

April 21, 2012 in Blogging, Misc, Parenting by pacejmiller

This poster describes how I feel perfectly

It hasn’t been easy lately. Not that long ago I posted about what a challenging stretch it had been when my four-month-old boy contracted acute bronchitis. Both my wife and I were infected too, and together we struggled through a week of exhaustion and little sleep. That was followed by a couple of weeks of bliss, marked by great sleeps (relatively speaking — once you have kids everything becomes relative) and an increasingly active and reactive boy who started smiling and playing a lot more. It looked like we were finally turning the corner.

Of course, that was short-lived. About eight days ago, the little fella got sick again and had a fever for a day or two. But the worst part was his cough, which was getting worse by the day and contributed to us getting virtually no sleep at all. He had been acting up a bit in the nights leading up to the day symptoms began to show, and including last night we have now had 10 full days of torture.

To make matters worse, all that coughing and sucking his hands and rubbing his eyes gave him conjunctivitis, meaning he would wake with his eyes virtually plastered shut every morning. It’s excruciating watching any small child battle illness like that, let  alone your own.

The cherry on top was that my wife has gotten it too, and had to try looking after him with a fever for a couple of days while I was at work. Our immune systems were shot from getting horrible sleep for days and it was only a matter of time it was going to happen despite taking all the precautions we could. The worst part is that it becomes very difficult to recover when the baby must rely on the mother to get better but the mother can’t get better because she can’t get any decent rest.

For now, I have miraculously escaped with just bad headaches and dizziness from the lack of sleep, but I think I have been able to stay away from the virus because my body knows it can’t go down too (touch wood). However, to continue the string of bad luck I (and I alone) suffered a bout of bad food poisoning last night (was on the verge of passing out) and as a result feel absolutely destroyed at the moment. But to give my wife the time she needs to rest over the last couple of days I’ve been taking early morning and night duties (up until about midnight) — she must take the overnight shift for feeds, giving me around five hours of (generally) uninterrupted sleep in the spare room, which I can’t believe I now think is the best thing ever!

Funnily enough, work has now become my “rest” time. I usually get a splitting headache by the end of it but I actually find it somewhat relaxing to be able to get out of the house.

Later on we’re heading back to the hospital for more meds. Initially we thought this time wasn’t as bad as the last, but it’s turned out to be worse. I can only hope that this phase passes quickly and things can get back to normal. I’ve had no exercise for a week and I can feel the previous months of hard work melting away. The only positive I can take out of this is that due to taking my son to the hospital last Friday we had to skip our plans of watching Battleship, which, from most accounts, means we dodged a massive bullet.

As for this blog, I’ve actually had a few completed posts saved up from before which I haven’t yet posted, so I’ll release those to keep some activity happening.

PS: No freelancing work as helped a lot, but I do have to finish a couple of books and write reviews for them in the next couple of weeks. Ordinarily I would be thrilled as the books are awesome, but right now it feels like a burden. Man, just can’t seem catch a break.

Book Review: “Save Our Sleep” by Tizzie Hall

March 31, 2012 in Book Reviews, Misc, Parenting, Reviews by pacejmiller

Every parent of a baby wishes to be able to sleep through the night without interruptions. According to renowned “baby whisperer” Tizzie Hall, the author of the popular Save Our Sleep, you can.

I received this book as a gift from my darling sis, who had been recommended by a friend who swears by it. They had used Hall’s “self-settling” methods on their three kids and they apparently all sleep like logs throughout the night. From what I hear, when the clock strikes 7pm, they go off in a single file to their bedrooms, and are not seen again until 7am the next morning.

Sounds brilliant, right? So what is the secret? And does the book really work?

First of all, I should say that I think every parent has the right to teach their child the best way they know how and I don’t believe there is a definitive “right” way to do things (even though there are probably definitive “wrong” ways). It’s hard enough being a parent without everyone telling you what to do, so I think we should be forgiven for doing whatever we feel is best under the circumstances (in most cases).

Secondly, every child is different and will respond differently to the same parenting techniques. What works for one child might not work for another. That’s not an opinion.

Now, as I understand it, there are two broad schools of thought when it comes to parenting. At one end of the spectrum is the “attachment parenting” method which is essentially doing whatever it takes to please your baby. They are considered too young to develop manipulative behaviour (up to a certain point, which I believe is somewhere between 3-6 months) and you should do whatever you can to make them feel loved, safe and comfortable at all times, even if it means getting no sleep or rest yourself.

At the other end is the “cry to sleep” method, which is directed at making the lives of parents easier. As I understand it, parents who follow this philosophy believe children should adapt to the parents’ schedules, not the other way around. This means if it should be their bed time then you just put them down in bed and close the door, no matter how much they may be screeching their heads off. Soon enough, they will learn to sleep at the allotted time and you’ll be able to get your rest too.

There are parents who swear by one method and believe the other is complete rubbish. There are supposedly studies that support both sides. I don’t intend to get into a debate over.

Hall’s method of teaching your kids to “self settle” lies somewhere in between. It is based on the generally accepted notion that children are generally easier to look after if they are trained to have set routines. She doesn’t advocate allowing children to cry themselves to sleep, which she believes is harmful – but at the same time she allows an infinite amount of what she calls “protest crying” — that is, crying which is unrelated to the baby’s needs, such as hunger or a wet nappy. By distinguishing your baby’s cries, you should be able to ignore the protest cries, which will eventually cease if you let them do it for long enough. Eventually, the baby will learn how to self settle, which means falling asleep (or at least not cry) when they are left in their beds during the allotted times in the schedule. Soon enough, your baby will learn how to “re-settle”, which means not crying and learning how to fall asleep again when they wake up in the middle of their allotted sleep slot, and most importantly, in the middle of the night (which is bound to happen). Baby happy, parents happy.

The principle of separating the wants and needs of a baby seems to be sound. If you keep giving them whatever they want, chances are they’ll come to expect it and get used to it. By servicing only their fundamental needs, you are teaching them that they won’t always get what they want just by crying.

However, as always, it’s easier said than done. For starters, not all parents can listen to their babies cry, sometimes for potentially an hour or more, especially when it sounds like they are being tortured. Some babies might settle into it after a few days, but others might take weeks, or more. Hall stresses the importance of toughing it out in the beginning — then longer you wait before you go back into the room the quicker they will supposedly learn. It’s important to realise that the book is a guide, not a miracle cure, and it will take a lot of hard work before you see results, and might take some more effort maintaining it in the long run.

The other key part of the book is the routines. Hall provides detailed daily routines from newborns until they start taking solids, which she believes is 4.5 months as opposed to the generally recommended 6. The great thing about these routines is that they let you know exactly what you must do at every hour of the day — ie, when you should be feeding and when the baby should be sleeping. She provides two sets of routines, one for breastfed babies and one for bottle fed babies. Bottle feeding by formula and expressed milk are presumably the same.

The downside of the schedules is the inflexibility. They all start at 7 in the morning and roughly end at 7 at night, though for younger babies you still have to give them a “dream feed” (ie, feeding them while they are half asleep) around 10pm and then subsequent night feeds as they require throughout the night. It is only when the baby can go without feeds for longer periods of time that the routine will really make your life a lot easier.

So that presents a big problem for a lot of parents. If one parent leaves early for work and doesn’t get home until around 7, then he or she basically won’t have any time to spend with the baby. If parents like to sleep late and wake up late, that’s also a problem, especially since it is a daily routine, including weekends. But I guess you need to make sacrifices somewhere.

My biggest problem with the book is learning the difference between a distressed cry, which Hall says you should attend to immediately, and a protest cry, which you can leave alone. She provides some broad guidelines on how to tell the difference between the two, but to be honest neither my wife nor I could figure it out on most occasions. It creates a dilemma — should I go to the baby or not? What if he is just protesting and I end up screwing the plan up? Or what if he is genuinely distressed and I allow him to cry for ages unnecessarily?

To Hall’s credit, she does provide a lot of valuable information and has a FAQ at the end of each chapter, but as expected, it’s impossible to cover every question a parent might come up with. She tries her best to cover all areas, such as parents with twins (or more) and babies with disabilities. There is also a lengthy section on solving common sleep problems, which includes teaching parents how to make slight modifications to the routines. There is also a chapter on special situations, such as times when you want to go out for dinner (god forbid) or have guests over. But we still had a lot of unanswered questions. The solution is to find someone whom has used the book before or go on her online forum (but I believe you need to pay for it). I’m sure there are other free forums where parents discuss their experiences with the book but you’ll have to look for them yourself.

One issue I had was with this whole deal of resettling the baby once they wake up after the first sleep cycle, something which I did not feel was dealt with very clearly. The book says that the first thing is to teach the baby to self settle, and once that happens they will soon learn how to resettle. But I felt like there was a gap there that wasn’t really explained properly. Hall recommends picking the baby up as soon as they start crying upon waking up, but doesn’t that rob them of the chance to learn how to resettle? And then she recommends trying to put them back to sleep until the next part of the routine (which is likely a feed and some awake time), but if the baby doesn’t fall asleep before then then doesn’t that mean they’ve hardly slept at all? We kept having this problem where it would be virtually impossible to wake the baby up during their supposed awake time and virtually impossible to put them to sleep during their supposed sleep time, to the extent where parts of the routine started eating into one another. It could be unique to us, but I am willing to bet it’s quite common.

Accordingly, I am not going to review the book on the basis of it’s efficacy, because clearly different families will have different results. I have heard some parents swear by it while others say they wish they tore it up right from the beginning. My score is hence based on how well the book operates as a guide, in particular in terms of its completeness of information and flexibility. In that regard, I have to say the book did quite well, although I wished it had more flexibility and spent more time on some of the more complex issues.

3.5 out of 5!

PS: for those wondering, we are no longer using the routines in the book for various reasons, but this does not mean I don’t think it doesn’t work. As a friend of mine told me, a lot of parenting is instinctive, and some aspects of it just didn’t feel right to us. That said, we have not ruled out returning to it at some point in the future, depending on how things develop and whether we feel the baby is up for it.