The Present of Presence

2012 has been a year of numerous transitions; two of the most momentous being the arrival of our second son E as well as my new job in a different part of the education sector. The arrival of E just over three months ago threw our life back into a tempest just as we were beginning to learn how to negotiate the storms associated with a two-year-old and his tantrums. Back then, we had just returned from a restful trip with our first son Z to Phuket, and had resolved some of the issues of miscommunication and misunderstanding between us and him. Before the trip there were so many instances when we were frustrated with him because of his tantrums (and I'm sure he probably felt the same way about us). But all that changed after the two-week trip; Sue and I believe it was because we gave him undivided attention, and that we had become more sensitive to his needs, understanding more and more the non-verbal signals that he was sending.

Then E came and life has never been the same again. For a start we had to contend with the three-hourly feeds and the dreaded milk runs each night. The initial days were tough and I would often go to work all bleary-eyed and quite in a daze. We are however thankful that those days are now over and E now mostly sleeps through the night, from 12 am to 6.30 am and a few times all the way from 9 pm to dawn!

With the advent of a second child, we also realised that our laundry load had doubled. We not only had to wash the clothes of our older child, but our younger son also contributed significantly to the laundry pile - especially given the regurgitation of milk and the little "accidents" both big and small. And all that in addition to our own regular clothes. We have now resorted to a laundry load every other day; but despite this, our laundry pile still appears to be as high as ever.

What seemed to be the most difficult change for us was Z's reaction to his younger brother's arrival. We have heard of instances of sibling rivalry, but we did not know this phenomenon also occurred at the toddler age. In fact, I'm certain that our older son's difficulty in communicating verbally probably compounded the matter, and he likely reacted because he was not able to convey his frustrations. In such instances he would react by hitting his younger brother, or clinging tightly to his mother, refusing to allow her time with E. That said, we knew he still loved his brother, as he would often pat E fondly on the cheeks, or gesture towards him and say "Didi. Nice!" We were also comforted by our pediatrician, who shared that children take an average of three months to get used to the arrival of their younger sibling. 

Concurrent to the arrival of E was my change of job just last month. My new job requires me to wake up at 6.30 each morning but it mostly also allows me to end work by 2 in the afternoon. I must say that I have been enjoying every aspect of the job except the early wake-ups. And this mainly because I used to be able to carry Z from his cot each morning and greet him - something I'm no longer able to do as I am now at work when he awakes. That aside, it has also been a wonderful thing to get back from work early, as I am now able to spend so much more time with my family.

The first word I often hear when I get back (after Z's afternoon nap), is the word "arbles". That's how Z pronounces the word "marbles" and I know he means that he wants me to play with his wooden architecture block set - I would be required to build the blocks in such a way that it allows marbles to roll down from the top of the ramps all the way down past contraptions like bell towers and musical chime obstacles. This activity is completely not within my comfort zone, but I know it would thrill him tremendously when the marbles hit the bells and musical chimes, and I immerse myself completely in the task as it always brings a squeal of joy from him.

And the day is never complete without the words "walk walk". During these moments, I allow Sue time to cook dinner while I take Z downstairs for a walk around the housing estate. Our time together is always eventful; whether we are playing ball in the grass (this mostly involves him throwing the ball into the drain or into the bushes), or whether we wander to the exercise area and when he climbs onto the railings and attempts a horizontal pull-up or two.

These are the "good" days - the moments when I feel that parenting is all worth it, and that I can have another bunch of children running around the house. But there are also the "other" days when Z refuses to have me carry him, insisting on his Mummy for the entire time we are out. On those days, I contemplate what our lives would have been like if we didn't have any children.

I have been reflecting on what constitutes a "good" day, and the answer was glaring at me in the face. On the days when I spent lots of time with Z, those were the days when he seemed to respond the most. Conversely, the times when I was too tired from work or too tired from just being tired - those corresponded to the moments when I chose not to spend so much time with Z. It was no surprise that he then responded by ignoring me and choosing to spend more time with his Mummy. 

I reflected that being present means so much to my son - more than what he can understand or articulate.

Being present has helped my son cope with the arrival of his brother. It has indicated to him tangibly that Daddy and Mummy still love him, and that we will not ignore him even though there is another person in the house. It will hopefully convey to him that we will always love him, rain or shine, in good times or bad.

Being present has helped me to be more attuned to my son's non-verbal cues and to be more sensitive to his needs. When I spend more time with Z I get to understand when he is tired and when does not want to play anymore. I get to understand when he needs his milk or when he wants his food. And I also get to understand when he just needs a Daddy's cuddle and a big hug to help him feel accepted and loved.

For I know that being present for Z is the best present that I can ever give him.

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