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Gift-giving season is here! Throughout the years, we have been lucky to receive well-thought-out gifts for the children. Through that, I have also learnt to be a better gift-giver. After all, gifts are expressions of love, care, and connection with the child and their family.

1.Books! Books! Books!

You can never go wrong with books. Books are great presents because you can bulk buy age-appropriate best sellers during book sales for the children you will be gifting throughout the year. My personal favourites are poetry books for children. Books that encourage children to try new things creates opportunities for quality family time – origami books, children’s cookbooks that have great fail-proof recipes, gardening books are also top of our list.
If you are concerned that the child may already have the book, here’s the secret, it can be regifted or donated. A book is never wasted!

2. A day of play

It could present itself in a ‘voucher’ where the holder of the voucher is entitled to a whole day hanging out with [insert best friend’s name].  I used to stress over making it the perfect playdate until I realised that the children were just happy being together. The house, the park, the swimming pool is their ‘happiest place in the world.’  Getting them to pop their own popcorn is an additional memorable treat. For ideas of where to go, you could check out our lists of outdoor spaces or 50 Top Things  to do in Malaysia with Children.

3. Legos

For many hours of creative building and play, Legos make age appropriate gifts that can be bought  online for the time pressed. For the environmentally conscious gift giver, you will be happy to know that these blocks will soon made from plant instead of petrol based materials! If you search early enough, you may get sets on preloved sites on Facebook or Carousel  for a fraction of the price.

4. Board Games

These are great gifts that will help  develop children’s collaboration and communication skills. Apart from mastery and strategy, another life skill children learn through board games is  the art of winning and losing gracefully. Well, most of the time.

There are many games to suit the child’s interest.  Pictionary for drawing,  Mathmagic and congkak for numbers. Scrabble is a fun game for the whole family to learn new words. Just as Uno, Connect Four, and chess  is great for strategy. A mega compendium of 30 games will definitely keep them occupied for ages.

5. Gardening starter kits

Who know where the spark will lead to? Perhaps an edible garden project?

There are many  benefits of gardening for kids, from encouraging them to eat healthily to doing their bit for the environment. Thanks to Daiso and Mr. D.I.Y,  spades, pots and watering cans need not be expensive. Seeds are also easily available in supermarkets and hardware shops. Or you can just save them from your fruits and vegetables. The Free Tree Society  organises plant giveaway days where you can get free saplings. The gift of lessons in  care and appreciation of the environment is one that the child will carry for life.

6. Cooking starter kits/equipment

An apron, a baking tin, a set of cooking utensils will be a surefire way to ignite a sense of curiosity in the ‘adult world’ of cooking. Throw in a cookbook and ingredients to make a meal, the meal they made  will give the gift of pride and confidence. It is also a great way to create some  quality family time.

7. Scooters

Photo credit: Micro Scooters Singapore & Malaysia

Scooters are a good starting point for kids to be comfortable with being on wheels. When shopping for one, ask if the spare parts are easily replaceable. A good scooter can be handed down and be the source of joy for many kids, for many years, in the family.

8. Bicycles

Photo credit: Stryder Malaysia

The children spent many hours zooming around the park and the neighbourhood with bikes bought by their grandmother.  Getting them second hand, and a trip to the bicycle shop will also do the trick as my mom did for those bikes. And please remember to get a helmet!

9. Sports Equipment

Footballs, basketballs, badminton rackets and shuttlecocks are gifts that will get the kids outdoors. With stores like Decathlon and Sports Direct providing good quality equipment at a reasonable price with delivery service, your gift might just create our next Nicole David!

10. A gift of experience

Photo credit: Sunway Lagoon Malaysia

I once mentioned to my son’s godmother that he was interested in tying knots and that a challenging solitary activity would benefit  him. She thoughtfully gifted my son rock climbing classes and also a book about tying knots.

Other gifts of experience could be tickets to a musical, the science centre, zoo, waterpark, a movie outing. There are many free activities in the Klang Valley as well that you can take the kids to. The key is to listen, and appreciate the interest of the child and gift accordingly.

What matters to those receiving your present is not the size of the price tag, but the gift of presence, effort and thought. Happy gifting!

Strong woman

I was never one of those women with a ‘maternal instinct’. Whilst I was good with kids, the odd, brutal truth was I neither liked kids nor wanted any of my own. Much like Margaret Cho, who once joked she “ovulates sand”, I just didn’t feel that having a child was the key to a fulfilling existence. On top of that, I had the overwhelming fear of screwing up my child through bad parenting (Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin permanently scarred me) and that I was just too selfish to put the needs of a child before mine.

Even as my 30th birthday came and went, the only clock I felt ticking wasn’t the biological one. It was one that calculated the years I had left to enjoy my carefree nights out. The clock also centred on whether I was on track to achieving my career goals, and when I would have to start giving up traveling to save for a retirement fund.

Becoming A Mother

Then a man swept me off my feet and wanted to marry me. He wanted children and I thought – hey, why not. Four years later, we had our first child. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed motherhood. But I had a bumpy pregnancy, and later, the daily struggle of syncing my normal routine with a baby’s schedule. This meant that friends, work and a social life soon took a back seat.

A year later, we moved to Australia. I chose to be a stay-at-home mum and was glad to have this opportunity to spend more time with my toddler. But I had no friends. I felt pressured to ‘frumpify’ myself, after getting one too many snide remarks from some playgroup and playground mums that I always ‘dressed up’. I struggled to get on top of housework. My marriage seemed pitifully revolved around our child and housework battles.

Changes At Every Turn

My body had changed. A previously flat tummy now featured a permanent loose skin-pouch. My breasts were less perky, and was down a cup-size. I just couldn’t shed the last 2 – 3kg of baby weight. I stopped bothering with makeup and my staple outfits morphed from dresses and skirts to t-shirts, shorts and ‘active wear’.

I sorely missed my pre-baby life. Clicking through the social media photos of friends back home, I saw girls’ nights out, vibrant OOTD (Outfits Of The Day) and travel inspirations. I couldn’t help but think, guiltily, that there was surely more to life than nap times and toilet training.

Give me break!

One day, I read an essay purportedly written by Brad Pitt about how his demonstrations of love helped Angelina Jolie ‘blossom’ after struggling with illness. It was later proven to be fake, but that snapped me out of my pity party. Before becoming a wife and mother, I was happy with my life and didn’t need a man to define me. I certainly didn’t need a man to make me feel whole. I was responsible for my own sense of well-being.

So I decided to make conscious changes to rebuild my confidence:

Self care

I made time for me-time activities that made me feel pampered and calm. Things like yoga, spa treatments and having a coffee now and then. It helped improve my mindfulness: I felt more in tune with how I think, feel and want, which in turn helped me be a more present mother and wife. I started to feel good again about the state of my fitness and how I looked.

Reframe my perspective

I realised that I hadn’t in fact lost my identity to motherhood. My life had experienced some major changes, and I’ve simply been given the opportunity to redefine my identity as how I truly see myself. I’m a devoted mum, a wife in a healthy marriage and a happy woman who feels comfortable in her own skin.

Finally loving my post-baby body

My post-baby body felt unrecognisable to me. Then my best friend said yes, my body’s changed, but I still looked beautiful and simply needed to adapt my style to flatter it. So I took her advice, found a style that made me feel beautiful, sexy, as well as comfortable. And remind myself that my body bore the badges of someone who had fought hard to bring a life into this world.

Working on my marriage  

I was acutely aware of how my marriage was now missing the flirtatious banter and laughing conversations of our pre-baby days. My husband and I found it hard to reconnect, given our conversations now centred on toddler and household issues. So we agreed to commit to monthly date nights, doing things we used to enjoy and that made us realise how right we were for each other. Soon the laughing banter, flirty winks and cheeky physical contact came back into our relationship. And it felt good because I felt like a desired woman again. I felt seen, heard and appreciated.

Building a good support network

I took time to work on my friendships with ladies and mums whose values resonated with me, women I respected. Whenever we have a gossip and catch-up session, my day brightens up. When any of us have self-doubts, we uplift each other. And we honestly and intimately share details of our lives, without judgment.

Changing my relationship with social media

Sizing ourselves up against other people is human nature. So when a friend posts a happy holiday or chic OOTD snap, I inevitably think about how I wished I had those kind of photos too. And then I realise how silly this sounds in my head. I remind myself that fixating on this is not a productive habit. Instead, I tell myself that all the healthy conversations I have had with friends involve us sharing not just our happy moments but the challenges in our lives. Because that is real life.

It’s so easy to lose your confidence as you enter motherhood and feel like you’ve lost yourself. I only just recently delivered our second child, and I am terrified of experiencing the post-baby feelings of inadequacy again. But having gone through it once, I will just have to remind myself that this too shall pass. With mindfulness and dedication, I will find myself and my confidence again.

 

By Alena Couzet

Alena Couzet is a coffee-guzzling, Ewok-loving beach junky and mother of two living in Queensland, Australia. Formerly in sales and marketing, she is now a stay-at-home mum trying to balance living a sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle with her love for travel, good food and online shopping.