Happy Birthday, Daughter

The football game had me tore out the rest of my hair, a fitting coincidence to my plan of shaving my head for good. Perhaps I could bring forward the plan. A game like that with a unjust result normally kill my mood for the rest of the week. I had gone for weeks without blogging just like that. However, this time proved to be different.

Since the birth of the baby boy, I have been sharing Albany's room to increase my chances of sleeping through the night by leaving Jen with Puipui. That makes Albany and I room mates. It was difficult at first because she could be demanding, such as expecting me to sleep in every 7.30pm with her when we expect her to do so alone. The compromise was me sitting outside her door by the short corridor leading to it, often watching anime while waiting for signs of Albany sleeping. Then I would apply blanket (when applicable during colder nights) and get back to the living area to ease my sore back due to the posture earlier.

During some lazy Saturday afternoons, we would interview each other. She would reveal to me that she needed conditions to be right before she could sleep. She needed music, the fan switched on and hearing me snore loudly nearby in the same room. I would ask her why she invaded my bed during the night, often waking me up when I found her head right under my arm pit. She would feign ignorance and claimed she wasn't aware she did that. As we sleep on the floor without bed frames, Albany never get to train her awareness so she could be an untidy sleeper. Often, particularly during Summer, she would end up sprawling across the carpet at random angles. Lately, she was spotted sleeping awkwardly on my mattress when I entered the room to call it a day. Fortunately, she would continue her sleep when re-position her in her rightful place unlike the past with a good probability she might wake and start wailing.

Over time, I grew to enjoy being room mates with little Albany. I never grow tired of catching her wake at the right moment a few times on Saturday mornings. Due to adequate sleep, she would normally be in great spirits when she wake in the morning. Soon her laughter would ring through the house, cracking silly jokes and poking fun of her dad. For a child at that age, I saw big changes in her every 6 months. The last 6 months had been especially significant. By now she could take a bath alone, under the supervision of one of us. She could relief, clean herself and flush rather expertly. She learnt how to squeeze her toothpaste and brush her teeth without assistance. Finally, she could draw clean clothes or pajamas from her personal pigeon holes, change herself and place the clothing in the laundry basket. I am not aware if little children would have accomplish all these at an earlier age but I have no interest in comparing or setting bench marks. I am proud of Albany for taking pride in learning how to take care of herself. I will give Jen the full credit for that.

We were first time parents who had no clue what parenting was all about. Till today, I am still wondering what I should or should not have done on various issues. Two incidents came to my mind.

The first one was during a visit by my parents when Albany was only 1.5 years old or so. My father made a big fuss whenever she saw Albany climbing down the stairs herself. We must have been irritated enough to buy a child gate to install at the top of the flight, much to the annoyance of little Albany who till today, still tell me she likes our tiny place because of that flight of stairs. My mum ended up barking at my dad at the end of their trip, "Your grandchild can climb that stairs better than you!" The child gate was removed right after they went back and remained a white elephant since.

The second incident involved my mother-in-law. It took place just a day before our second child was born. That evening we had "Mian fen guo" for dinner. We normally cook a pot of broth in the steamboat pot. Then we divide the main dough to smaller pieces, knead or stretch them before throwing them into the boiling soup to cook. Albany would join us to do exactly that. Not surprisingly, my mother-in-law chided us for endangering a child because she would be easily scalded if something goes wrong.

Little did mother-in-law know Albany helps us cut fruits and vegetable (with a blunt knife), wash plates and other fun stuff like kneading cookies and wrapping popiahs. We know that if things had gone wrong, we would be having a kid with amputated fingers, permanent third degree burn marks and a broken hip bone or something. It was not that I had little care in exposing Albany to danger. In fact, I do not hesitate to dish out harsh punishments when I catch her perform dangerous actions, such as trying to plug a mini USB port into an electrical socket on the wall. Such things still make me cringe whenever I recall it but it is part and parcel of parenting. The challenge is always about balancing between danger and positive learning. Jen told me my mother-in-law had always shooed her out of the kitchen even into her adulthood and claimed that was the reason why she couldn't even fry an egg after I married her. Should I succumb to protectionism and deny Albany a worthy life skill to pick up? That is the big question mark no parent has the same answer to.

Albany remains the main protagonist of my migration story. My emotions throughout my 4 years here revolves around her. The worries of a clueless dad-to-be when he landed in a strange land without a job, with a wife 5 months into her pregnancy having absolutely no chance of finding a job in her condition. The panic of dad handing the life of his wife and child to a group of unfamiliar looking medical staff in an unfamiliar place under an unfamiliar medical system. The weariness of a dad literally grinding out his first dollars by working night shifts in a metal fabrication yard. Acquiring assets, witnessing little Albany said, "Da da, da," as her first words on Saturday morning, watching her walk, witnessing how many friend and strangers alike take a liking to her, it filled my coldest Winter nights with warmth knowing that such an aloof, untactful man like myself can produce such a fine daughter. My only goal now is to make sure my children become better people than I ever am. And I will die in peace. Other goals are secondary.

When baby Anthony grows up, I will make sure he has his sister to thank for. For if she was a difficult child, I would never had considered having a second children. Since birth, Albany has been doting and fussing over her baby brother, showing no signs of jealousy that I always worry about.

May you grow up to be a fine woman, well respected and loved. You are my pride, love and painkiller.

Happy birthday, little Albany.