Becoming an Expat Tai Tai

“Will you be a tai tai?!”

That was the most frequently asked question I got after announcing my family’s relocation to Hong Kong. It turned out that I had no say in the matter as the label was automatically bestowed on me upon arrival. If I had the means to be a housewife, it was assumed that my husband made enough to qualify me.

Yay?


Life of a Tai Tai

Becoming a tai tai, as a wealthy housewife is known in Asia, is a legitimate life goal for many. Whether envied, disdained, ridiculed, or pitied, these women are societal staples. Some are bred because they come from money while others have to climb their way into the club. Even if opportunities in higher education and professional advancement for women are changing that mindset, some only see these as credentials to check-off on their resume. Top prized trophy wives are socially, culturally, and intellectually adept in navigating high society.

There is not a definitive guide to tai tai-ing, but it seems that a woman at minimal must marry into a family with enough financial mean so that she does not need to work. While housewives and stay-at-home-moms are common in the U.S., this prerequisite is actually not attainable for many in Hong Kong given the city’s high cost of living and large income disparity. The median monthly income for an employed person is approximately HK$18,000, but with the median cost for public rental housing at HK$17,800, most families need dual earners to put a roof over their heads.

Source: Quarterly Report on General Household Survey (Census and Statistics Department Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)
Source: The Cities With The Highest Cost Of Living (Forbes)

There are different tiers of tai tai-hood. Various factors move a woman up and down the ranks, such as the affluence of her neighborhood, amount of leisure in her day, quality and quantity of her social connections, extravagance of her consumption, etc. At the top echelon are the daughters of Asia’s elites — tai tais of the 0.1% (think Crazy Rich Asians) sleep in past 9:00 AM, employ multiple maids, never do housework, go on international shopping sprees, indulge in regular spa treatments, dress in the latest designer fashion, etc.

Expat wives are an unique breed of tai tais who rarely call themselves as such. Simply self-identifying as an expat already oozes a certain status. Composed of outsiders, the ones I know are mostly trailing spouses of executives, lawyers, pilots, bankers, or consultants. Although they do not boast lineage from Asia’s political nobility or flash F.U. money like China’s nouveau riche, expats flaunt their elitist Western upbringing, education, and values like some kind of non-monetary currency — from enlisting their children in private international schools, to assuming that everyone understands English, to decrying the locals’ treatment of their maids, to being morally outraged by the use of plastic straws and bags. Some of these initiatives are well-intentioned, but also patriarchal. Mostly found in pockets of expat neighborhoods with coffee houses, yoga studios, and imported organic food, expats do not adapt to local culture; they insist that locals cater to their bougie ways. (I am Exhibit A.)


To Tai Tai or Not Tai Tai?

I may be in the minority, but I absolutely hated being called a tai tai. Having grown up in Boston and worked in New York City, I came of age in the Sheryl Sandberg era. No one in my social circle aspired to be housewives, even after having children. Giving up my career, therefore, felt like a betrayal when I moved to Hong Kong; I did not want to be a stereotypical tai tai on top of that.

I held out, doing menial chores myself for a year, before I finally brought in a full-time helper — a maid, cook, nanny, and personal assistant rolled into one. The benefits are life changing: no more cooking, washing dishes, folding laundry, or doing chores…period. After messy activities with the Dumpling, our workstation would be miraculously cleaned by the time we washed our hands. Tasks as simple as refilling the water pitcher, making a grocery list, or changing hand towels are no longer on my mental to-do list. Impromptu social outings are now possible because I have a babysitter on-call six days a week.

I naturally gravitated towards meeting other expat moms. Through play dates, community outings, school events, and coffee meetings, I learned the ins and outs of daily life, built a support network for my family, and made amazing new friends along the way.


First World Problems

Even as I reap the benefits of living a life of relative comfort, the transition was not easy. Loneliness was overwhelming at first because jigg regularly works 14+ hours a day and is sometimes away on business trips. Walking away from my career was a blow to my ego. In a culture where being a housewife is a status symbol, there is still a sense of sadness, even shame, when I tell people that I am a one. My days can be monotonous and mindless if I do not push myself to remain productive since I no longer have engaging projects, demanding deadlines, or ambitious colleagues to challenge me at work. Every year that I am unemployed, I become less employable; I may even be obsolete one day. I am entirely dependent on my husband’s income, so I face huge financial risks if we were to ever separate.


The truth, however, is that the perks are hard to give up. Between returning to the grueling grind of New York City or living a life of leisure in Hong Kong, there is no competition. I may despise the title, but being a tai tai, semantics aside, is amazing.

Why I Dislike Guardian-Accompanied Playgroups

When we first moved to Hong Kong, it was a rude-awakening to discover that daycares are not popular. Many working parents have grandparents or live-in nannies (they’re extremely affordable in Asia) for childcare, so guardian-accompanied playgroups are more prevalent for non-school aged children. They were a regressive step for the Dumpling because she has attended a drop-off since she was six months old back in the U.S. As we waited for a spot to open at an unaccompanied program, however, accompanied playgroups were our only immediate options at the time.

The one we joined was typical. For two hours, one to three days a week, parents or caregivers bond with their toddlers through engaging, educational activities, such as circle time, singing, dancing, arts and crafts, and sensory trays, led by an experienced teacher. The children will have opportunities to develop social skills, confidence, and independence—soft skills needed for an easier transition into drop-off classes.  

Sounds promising, right?

I hated the fact that I needed to be there—not because I did not want to spend time with my daughter, but because I did not want to be her security blanket. This particular program allowed kids to join and unjoin any time, so the lack of continuity and familiarity made friendships difficult to form. The Dumpling naturally gravitated toward me instead of exploring on her own because I was the easier option.

The teacher functioned more as an activity prompter than a leader—she would not intervene when a child was disruptive, acted inappropriately, or did not participate. Adults were solely responsible for their children, which was problematic as each toddler saw his guardian as the main authority figure instead of the teacher.

With a dozen adult-child pairs in class, it seemed like everyone operated under different “playground rules”. When the Dumpling snatched a toy from another child during one session, that child’s nanny lunged and aggressively snatched it back from the Dumpling before I could react. I was shocked that a grown-up behaved this way. I guessed she believed in “an eye for an eye”.

The differences in everyone’s parental values and styles were apparent. During an arts and crafts activity, the teacher presented a cherry blossom painting created by dotting pink paint on a tree silhouette—an example of what the class was to replicate. I did a demo for the Dumpling on our sheet. She dotted maybe three or four flowers before she smeared the paint around with her hands instead. I shrugged and looked around to see what other pairs were doing. Most adults were taking their kids’ fingers and dotting for them; the rest were completing most (if not all) of the activity on behalf of the children, who either lost interest or did not want to touch paint.

When the paintings were placed on the table to dry, I noticed that all of them fell within the spectrum of the teacher’s sample…except for the Dumpling’s. The others depicted delicate, tranquil blossoms blooming, while my kid’s tree looked like a typhoon bulldozed its way through.

The Dumpling was so proud of her work, and I was proud of her. I was proud that her piece was different…that she was different. She was not afraid to explore, completed the painting on her own, and did not mind getting dirty along the way.

I often reflect back on this moment. In an age where “over-parenting” is normal, I was glad that I did not interfere. But did I overvalue her independence and creativity? Under different circumstances, these traits could be viewed as insubordination or arrogance.

Painting a cherry blossom was trivial in the greater scheme of things, but what if it metaphorically represented a different activity (say baking or playing a team sport), could the Dumpling’s “tree” be viewed as a failure?
Was the process that much more important than the result? Should I have encouraged her harder to follow instructions? Or guided her fingers (like what some adults did) instead of letting her go rogue? If she had refused to paint at all, would it have been acceptable to return home with nothing? If the stakes were higher, would I have completed the project for her (like what a few others did)?

The other adult probably judged me as I had judged them, so only time would tell whom made the right parental choices. We strive towards grooming our kids into happy, smart, successful, good people, but even our best intentions could produce a variable of unforeseen effects.

I left this playgroup after a few weeks and tried another one—it was just as chaotic and dysfunctional as the first. My biggest critiques with the accompanied programs are their continuous open enrollment and the mandatory presence of a guardian, which in combination hindered the development of soft skills they claim to foster. Luckily a spot opened up for the Dumpling at a drop-off class soon after. (Hallelujah!) In the end, she did not benefit much from attending accompanied playgroups, but at least I learned something about my parenting values.

Inside My Two Year Old’s Toy Box: Quality Over Quantity (Part 2)

Despite my love for wooden toys, it’s not realistic for our family to escape plastic ones entirely. They are everywhere because the truth is that there is a lot to love about them—they’re affordable, easy to clean, and come in so many vibrant colors and shapes. These are the ones currently in our toy rotation because the Dumpling and I play with them so often!

Plastic Pit Balls

They are a huge crowd pleaser when we host play dates, but I normally keep just few out and hide the rest…otherwise they end up everywhere—under the couch, on the beds, inside the washing machine, etc. The balls are great for gross motor skill activities: we toss, roll, and kick them around the house since they’re too soft to do any damage.

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Play Idea 1: Paint the balls. This was a recent Earth Day activity we did with a blue ball and washable green paint.

Play Idea 2: Scoop the balls with a ladle. Variations of this busy activity include color sorting and walking across the room without dropping the ball.

Play Idea 3: Roll them down the stairs. I know this sounds asinine, but it kept the Dumpling entertained for solid 30 minute blocks when she was between 18 -24 months old. We also included other sensory balls of different size and weight and observed how differently each one moved.

Magnetic Doodle Board

I don’t let the Dumpling have free access to crayons or markers (for good reason), so we have a magnetic doodle board instead. It is a staple and has never left our toy box (our second one is currently on its last legs). We use it to free draw, review shapes, letters, and numbers, and have drawing contests!

Magnetic Foam Alphabet

Given the Dumpling’s obsession with the alphabet lately, we use this to review letters quite often.

Play Idea 1: Use the base board as a shape sorting puzzle.

Play Idea 2: Because the pieces are made of foam, they float and make great bath toys. Once they are wet, they also stick on glass!

Play Idea 3: Use the magnets as stamps on a magnetic doodle board.

Water Drawing Alphabet Flash Card Book

I love these water “magic” pens because they also provide mess-free coloring. While the Dumpling initially didn’t pay attention to the alphabet on top, she “colored” the pictures so often that they were always in her peripheral vision.

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Play Idea 1: “Clean” the animal/object. I give the Dumpling a wet sponge, and we make a game out of wiping the cards.

Play Idea 2: Match uppercase and lowercase letters. Did I ever mention that I love flashcards? I can arrange them any way I want and use however many I want. I usually start with four or five so my toddler doesn’t get overwhelmed and build up the difficulty level from there.

Duplo Sets

We love open-ended toys because our imagination is really the limit. The Dumpling just builds and builds and builds…I’m pretty sure she constructed something like the double decker couch once.

Cutting Food Set

The Dumpling loves pretend play in the kitchen, so I’m looking to replace the set (which was a hand-me-down) with a wooden alternative since she actually tried to lick some of these.

This wraps up what is currently in our toy box. I will continue to update what is in our rotation once we shake things up a bit!

When we have guests over, all of her toys slide neatly into our corner side table. Clean up is easy peasy! (Psst, our Grimm stacking rainbow is new!)

Paradoxical Expectations of the Working Mom

Working moms today are often harshly criticized because we are held to almost impossible standards—we are expected to work like we don’t have kids; and we are expected to raise children like we don’t work. Even when fathers are assuming more child rearing and household responsibilities, they are praised as doing extra while mothers are seen as only doing par. The home is still seen as our primary domain, and it’s up to us to figure out how to level the playing field if we want to be with the big boys in the corporate world.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Like many female colleagues of my generation, I was encouraged to “have it all” and look up to women who seemingly found a way to balance work and motherhood. I found myself struggling to sustain my career momentum, however, once the Dumpling come into the picture. In a fast-paced city like New York, where nine hour days are the minimum and anything above is normal, the grind can be especially gruesome. Compared to my colleagues who come in earlier, leave later, and participate in after-hour social events, I often feel like I’m not a team player because I dart out of the office at 5:30 pm.

While other moms are more understanding, there are a few who think every woman should make the same sacrifices they did. There’s the successful female executive with the “I-did-it-and-so-can-you” attitude who thinks the rest of us are just a bunch of complainers. Then there’s the stay-at-home mom who questioned my judgement in putting the Dumpling at daycare when she was only six months old.

Although progress is headed in the right direction, corporate America still isn’t too family friendly. Maternity leave is not mandatory and left to the discretion of the employer. Americans also clock in more hours per week (special shout out to New York!), have fewer holidays, and vacation days compared to most of our European counterparts. While taking holidays and long lunches are culturally acceptable in Europe, it carries a negative stigma in the U.S. The higher up the corporate ladder the we climb, the more we are expected to be accessible 24/7 and available to travel regularly.

Meeting the Demands of Modern Day Motherhood

Even if moms are willing to grind it out, childcare is a common challenge. The core U.S. household is typically made up of only the parents and their children. Therefore, extended family members, like grandparents, do not play major roles as caregivers on a daily basis, and most working parents are forced to seek outside help. Day cares often have long wait lists, are expensive, and penalizes heavily on late pick-ups. jigg and I pay $270 a week, and we are fortunate to have our in-laws do the evening pick ups and babysit for about an hour until I get home. Otherwise, the current local rate for a nanny runs anywhere between $15-$25 an hour. While live-in helpers are common in Asia for many middle-class families, they are entirely out of reach for most in the U.S. For example, a cost of a live-in helper in Hong Kong, who helps with not only childcare, but also cooking, cleaning, errands, and general household chores six days a week costs approximately $4,010 HKD per month, or $514 USD. That’s about a week’s pay for a nanny in the U.S.

Modern parents also need to be very involved. Child experts recommend a barrage of activities that parents should do with their toddlers to develop their sensory, gross motor, fine motor, social, and communication skills. Once school starts, parents are expected to review homework assignments, attend parent-teacher conferences, volunteer for funds raises, etc. Most of these responsibilities inevitably fall onto the mother.

Society in general has expectations (often hidden in a form of unsolicited advice) of how our children ought to behave by cherry picking from the best practices across different cultures. My elders brag about how they managed to put dinner on the table every night, do chores by hand, and raised kids without the fancy gadgets. I’m told to admire the French, who cook sophisticated meals for their children and are firm in their discipline. Compared to Americans, we have raised a kiddy population of obese, picky eating dictators. My Chinese relatives bring up how so and so enrolled their children in swimming, piano, and Mandarin classes and advised I should look into them as well before my daughter falls behind.

Time Scarcity

Capture

It’s no wonder that I always feel like there’s not enough time; I’m working two full time jobs on a daily basis. In the span of 24 hours, “work” and “commute” take up approximately 12 hours of my day; there’s not much I can do to easily change these unless I quit my job or move closer to the city. “Sleep” takes up eight hours (Do I really need eight hours? Yes, I do), which leaves me with the remaining four to do everything else under “other”.

“Other” is a category that includes getting the Dumpling ready for daycare in the morning, then feeding, cleaning, playing and putting her to bed at night. Somewhere in between, I also have to eat, tidy up the house, and make time for jigg and me. I’m scratching my head trying to find time to do everything else I’m supposed to be doing as a “good mother.” If I attend that happy hour, I would miss tucking my daughter in bed. If I cooked in the evenings, being in front of the stove would take away from time spent reading to her. If I enrolled her in weekend classes, she would be spending even more time with outside caregivers than her parents.

Learning from my elders and parents in other cultures should serve as an inspiration. But when their best practices are used as baseline comparisons of how I ought to parent, it’s easy to become disheartened. I remind myself that while they face challenges that I cannot relate to, I have career aspirations and societal expectations that my mom didn’t have, or work hours and childcare costs that my mommy friends from other countries don’t face. As a result, I pick and choose my parenting battles and accept that I do some things better and fall short on others.

My Halloween Mommy Fails

Halloween was never a big deal in my family while I was growing up, so I’m having a tough time being a spook-tacular mommy. My attempts in doing a few Halloween activities with the Dumpling didn’t end quite well, but that’s parenthood! You win some and lose some.

I thought the costume just ran small
I bought a Tigger costume for the Dumpling back in September and never took it out of the bag until this weekend. When jigg was trying to put the outfit on our daughter, he called me over because he was unable to button the bottom of her one-sie. I looked at the size on the hanger again, which read 12-18 months. Odd…it should have fit the Dumpling perfectly since she’s on the tiny side.

It was too late to pick up another costume, so we improvised by leaving the bottom flaps unbuttoned and tucking them into a pair of brown tights we found in the Dumpling’s closet. Other than the sleeves looking a bit short, we couldn’t tell that anything was off.

Fast forward to later that night when I was taking off the Dumpling’s clothes for her bath…and saw the tag label that was sewn onto her costume; it read 3-6 months.

I made pumpkin decoration boring
Three days before Halloween, I realized that I needed to put up a pumpkin. I had zero intentions of carving it because de-seeding is too much work. My plan was to stick pom poms on as a mess-free activity.

The problem was that I didn’t have pom poms. After a bit of improvising I made a few dozen by breaking apart a cotton ball and reassembling them into smaller ones. I wrote”BOO” on the pumpkin with a glue stick and asked the Dumpling to help me stick the “pom poms” on. It was a fail-proof in my mind because it really didn’t matter where she aimed; the cotton would only stick to where the glue was applied.

The Dumpling was not impressed; she did one and wanted nothing to do with the pumpkin decoration afterwards.

The Dumpling can’t have her cookie and eat it too
My local bakery sold un-decorated Halloween cookies that came with a “paint palette” the kids can color in themselves. This activity, I assumed, would be a guaranteed hit with the Dumpling because she loves to paint and eat!

Unfortunately the Dumpling thought she was going to paint and eat the cookie at the same time. Waterworks ensued when I explained the sequence of events again, but she assumed I was being the evilest mom in the world: dangle a treat and won’t let her have it.

I had to bribe her with animal crackers before she willingly picked up the paint brush. I guess she got her cookie and ate it too.

My decoration looks almost Christmas-y
I dug out two old “ghost” night lights from Ikea to set the spooky mood. The lights were green and red and way too cute.

Finally a win with the “Cheerios Halloween Play Book”

Grandma saved the day by bringing over a fun Halloween-themed Cheerios Play Book. The premise was to fill any missing graphics with Cheerios. We had a lot of fun finding the missing “O”s, counting, and building up the Dumpling’s Halloween vocabulary words.

Finally there was an activity with instant gratification where the Dumpling can eat and do at the same time.

Kid’s Birthday Parties Are Stupid But I Keep Throwing Them!

The Dumpling is turning two years old in less than a month, and I’m currently in a full party planning frenzy. My dining room table is taken over by scraps of paper, half assembled favor bags, and experimental decorations that are at the edge of becoming either Pinterest wins or fails.

I often question why I invest so much effort into something that the Dumpling won’t remember. Before becoming a mom, I thought that kid’s birthday parties are stupid. Now that I have a little one, I still think they are. jigg is personally against the social extravagance and wants nothing to do with them. As a result, leaving me alone and babysitting the Dumpling are his forms of support.

A Look Back at the Dumpling’s First Birthday

Planning the Dumpling’s first birthday was my first DIY project after an almost two year hiatus. It was also a personal test to see if I still have any creative juice left after exhausting all my energy into motherhood. I always thought having children was another milestone to a fulfilling and meaningful life, but motherhood ended up feeling more like a chore. Since giving birth, my days revolved around nursing, pumping, changing diapers, and working. In a depressing reality that I didn’t want to admit, I felt tied down because of the things I gave up to make room for my daughter. I never thought of myself as an “I can’t” person, but I became one.

“I can’t go to happy hour because I have to go home to take care of my daughter.”

“I can’t meet you for dinner because the Dumpling’s bedtime is 7pm.”

“I can’t go shopping because I have to pump/nurse every three hours.”

“I can’t meet you in the city because I can’t carry the baby, the stroller, and the diaper bag on the train.”

“I can’t leave the baby at home because I want to spend more time with her.”

“I can’t take on this project because I don’t have time.”

“I can’t [insert activity] because I’m so tired.”

Even as I revisit my reasons now, I still believe they were legitimate and can sympathize with my past self. However, I knew that if I didn’t drag myself out of this mentality, I would eventually lose myself.

My road to self re-discovery started with crafting because it didn’t violate my “I can’t” reasons; I had no excuses. Honestly it could have been anything – cooking, baking, photography, writing, piano, etc. I used the Dumpling’s birthday party as my objective and immersed myself into making it happen. Again, it could have been any occasion; it just happened that the Dumpling’s birthday was around the corner when I had the epiphany. I took every opportunity during the Dumpling’s nap times on weekends to create banners, tassels, favor boxes, and other party decorations. I could have easily bought everything on Amazon or Etsy, but I was insistent on making my own. In the end, I managed to pull together a not-so-scary Halloween-ish themed orange and black celebration.

The truth was that the party was as much for me as it was for the Dumpling. It boosted my confidence and helped me rediscover the things I loved before my daughter overtook my life.

It turned out that I can!

As I undertook new arts and crafts projects, I began merging my hobbies with spending time with my daughter so that I was able to derive fulfillment simultaneously in both. I sculpted with play dough, built a cardboard theater, penned a silly poem, made a board book, turned my daughter’s finger painting into a coffee table book, and started writing again. One project led to another, and I’m now an aspiring mommy blogger who sees the Dumpling as my muse.

As unnecessary and extravagant as I still think kid’s birthday parties are, I will continue throwing them as yearly celebrations of everything my daughter and I have achieved together. I also look forward to the day when the Dumpling is old enough plan and bring her own parties to life. The task my seem daunting for a little girl, but I will be able to teach her that she also can!

My Kid Is A Terrible Dresser

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When the Dumpling picked her own clothes.

Several days ago the Dumpling insisted on wearing this monstrosity of an outfit: a red San Francisco 49ers jersey paired with patterned green pants. She ran around the room with only her diaper on, dramatically screaming “No! Nooo! Nooooooo!” to every alternative except for what she picked out.

Before becoming a mom, I always wondered why parents would let their kids out of the house in cringe-worthy ensembles—jarring color combinations, socks with sandals, dresses over pants, epileptic inducing LED-lit apparels…just to name a few examples.

Like many things, I sing a different tune now that I have a small toddler with a big personality.

Whatever fashion aspirations I had for the Dumpling were short lived. At its height, I dreamed of her living up the kiddy fashion hashtags on Instagram where she would wear trendy miniature versions of adult clothes, or we would twin with mommy-and-me dresses. The reality, however, is that children’s apparel is expensive for the number of wears that she would get out of them. It also didn’t help that the Dumpling hates getting dressed, so my bare standard these days is just to get her to wear pants. At 22 months, my daughter already has strong stylistic preferences that she is vocal about. This often translates to her picking out clothes that have clashing combinations or are out of season (she wore Christmas pants all year round).

The Dumpling may refine her taste as she grows, but in the meantime I implemented a strategy to combat her fashion faux pas. I would have a few pre-selected backup pieces for her to choose from in case she rejects my initial offering. This would give her the opportunity to make decisions under a controlled setting. Sometimes she would go with my first choice with minimal resistance; often it’d be a compromise where I picked the top and she picked the bottom; on occasions she would reject both and put something together entirely on her own.

When I picked the outfit.

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When she dressed for both Christmas and Easter at the same time.

Looking back at her old pictures, I realized that the Dumpling rocked whatever she wore. Her big smile and personality outshone even the most mismatched outfits.

If she asks about her choice of clothing in the future, I will just say that she was an accidental hipster.

Splashes, Smudges, and Spills: The Dumpling is Now a [Self-] Published Artist 

When the Dumpling first started finger painting, I didn’t have high expectations after seeing that her primary techniques consisted of slapping, smearing, ripping, and crumpling paint and paper together. She proved to be a prolific artist and whatever survived the production process was whimsically lauded as “abstract art.” jigg and I proudly framed and shamelessly shared our daughter’s colorful messes with family, friends, co-workers, and anyone who was willing to admire them. They played along in our ruse by comparing her work to modern artists, asking for copies, reserving future pieces, and even offering commission.

Since everyone seemed to be on-board the “fake it until we make it” boat, I wanted to take the game to the next level: convert the Dumpling’s work into a book and enable her to claim the title of being a published artist. Besides, I have been looking for a good coffee table book lately.

After laying each painting out, I saw how much of the Dumpling’s personality embodied her work, from her obsession with a particular color (she went through a phase where she only wanted blue), to her impatience with dotting paint (she preferred pouring it), to her stubbornness to follow my instructions (hence the mess). The compositions also showed an amusing progression in her thought process. The amount of paint used was indicative of her interest level; white space showed trepidation while total color coverage signified her full embrace of the medium. In one instance, the Dumpling was looking for fresh space as every inch of her work area was used. Without missing a beat, she flipped over her existing piece of paper and continued on her newfound, blank canvas. Although unintentional, it produced an unique effect.

My DIY book binding project.

What started out as ordinary toddler art turned out looking like a legitimate portfolio. In hindsight, we never had to fake it. It just took my mommy goggles time to focus, some proper image cropping, and several hours of my labor (which mommy normally charges a pretty penny for) to bring out their fully glory.

To capture the spirit of her work, I titled her book, Splashes, Smudges, and Spills.

Click here to read Splashes, Smudges, and Spills

I already have plans to have the next edition of her book professionally printed in hardcover. Let me know if you want to get in the pre-order.

(I’m being serious!)

Encounter with Mean Kids at the Playground

The Dumpling’s social development has always been a priority for jigg and me. Ensuring that she has regular interaction with other children was one of the main reasons why we started her at daycare when she was only six months old. Her caregivers have done an amazing job in teaching our daughter the concepts of playing together, asking for permission, sharing, ownership, and boundaries. As a result, the Dumpling generally gets along with most kids and holds her own on play dates.

There have been incidents when one child would act out aggressively towards the other because kids will be kids. The adults, however, would step in to right the transgression. Everyone [eventually] got along because of the mutual understanding that respect and cordiality would be enforced.

Playing in public areas, like the playground, is a totally different game. Unlike play dates, the environment is unstructured, and I have limited control over whom the Dumpling will be interacting with.

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Grandma and the Dumpling having fun.
Last weekend, our family was in Boston where Grandma and I brought the Dumpling to the community playground. One family had set up a tiny inflatable pool in between sprinklers, but their kids have lost interest and were playing elsewhere. The Dumpling, of course, was naturally drawn to it. Every time she got close to their pool, however, the kids would quickly run back, shouted “Don’t touch my water!” and shooed my daughter away by aggressively kicking and splashing water.

The Dumpling would then run towards us for safety while the other kids returned to whatever they were playing with before. The kiddy pool was set up in the middle of the sprinklers, so there wasn’t an effective way to keep the Dumpling away. Within minutes, she would run back and the entire episode would start again. The kids continued splashing even after Grandma asked them to stop, and their guardians idly watched as everything unfolded.

I felt helpless and annoyed. These kids had every right not to share, and it was not my place to tell them otherwise…especially when their parents didn’t feel the need to. They were not bullies (otherwise my claws would have been out); they were just mean.

It was also difficult to explain to the Dumpling why she can’t play with their pool. While my daughter understood ownership, she was also taught that others would share if she politely asked. In return, she would do the same. Reciprocity formed the basis of the Dumpling’s understanding of social interactions. In an environment where everyone abided by the same rules, like at daycare or home, things worked out. “Playing nice”, however, is open to interpretations at the playground.

Luckily the Dumpling has not yet developed the self awareness to realize that the other kids didn’t want her around. Although there was no physical and emotional harm inflicted, it was difficult for me to watch other kids being mean to my own child. A small part of me (actually a huge part) wanted to run into the nearest store, buy the biggest and best inflatable pool money can get, set it up right next to theirs, and bar these brats from going anywhere near it.

I eventually calmed down and brought the Dumpling home. As much as I wanted to be vindicative, it wasn’t an example I wanted to set for my daughter. As recourse, Grandma set up a little bucket of water in the tub where the Dumpling had just as much fun as she did at the playground.

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The Dumpling’s personal pool.