dear kiên

ultrasound picture of a beautiful babyMẹ Quỳnh wants me to write you a few words to let you know how things were before you were born.

We saw you for the first time when we were in Da Nang, Vietnam. That’s where your mom was born, so it’s a special place for all of us. One of your uncles is a doctor who helps parents see babies before they’re born, and he helped us see you. You were small, but you jumped and moved around a lot. So we gave you a nickname, Tôm nhảy—or just Tôm for short. From the first time we saw you, we loved you. The first time we prayed for you, we cried—not because we were sad, but because we were so happy you were there. We felt as though God had given us a very precious gift: the gift of your presence.

As you grew up inside your mom’s womb, you took up more and more space, and her belly got bigger and bigger. We were so happy, because we knew someone we loved—that’s you—was in there. You were nice, snug and warm inside her womb, even when it was cool outside. We could feel you when you kicked your mom’s belly. You may not remember all the kicking you did, but you did it a lot. You kicked when you were hungry, when you didn’t have enough space, and at other times. Your mom says you tickled her sometimes.

Soon after you began to grow in your mom’s womb, we met a wonderful lady, a midwife. That’s someone who helps babies be born into the world outside the womb. She was very helpful and loving, and she helped us listen to your heartbeat. It gave us so much joy to hear your beating heart. The midwife introduced us to a friend who helped us see you again, only this time you were much bigger. You still moved around a lot, and you looked like you were folded in two, with your feet near your head—like you were doing yoga.

We prayed for you every night, asking God to help you grow up well. You often kicked when we said prayers, so we knew you were paying attention. Every day we would talk to you, and play music for you to listen to. Sometimes we would sing prayers to you, too. They say that music helps babies to grow well and uplifts their souls. Someday, when you grow up, I hope you sing for your children in the same way, so that they grow up well. Your family living far away would call us up every day to hear how you were doing, and they prayed for you too. In fact, there were many people who prayed for you before you were born—people living in many different places, near and far. With all their hearts they asked God to fill your life with blessings, happiness and love.

As time passed and you grew bigger, we prepared the way for you to be born into the big, bright world outside the womb. We learned all about how to take care of you, feed you, wash you and clothe you. It was a lot of work for us, but we trusted that God would help us take care of you and provide everything you would need. We moved into a cozy apartment surrounded with big old trees and a lovely pond. Lots of friends and family helped us get everything ready for you, because they love us, and they love you too. Just like us, they want you to be happy, healthy and comfortable as you take your first steps into this big world.

Soon it’ll be time for us to meet you and introduce you to this beautiful world. We’re looking forward to it so much: seeing your first smile, your first steps, your first words. You will have developed everything you need for this world in the womb, and in this new world you will develop everything you need for the next one. And we will pray together with you every day, just as we did before you were born.

on impending parenthood

tômThe inevitable has happened! No, not world peace, not just yet. No, I mean Quynh and I are expecting a baby. A baby boy, at that. Congratulations are flowing in from all sides, with hugs and pats on the back from all. No cigars yet, thankfully.

The feeling of impending parenthood is at once joyous and portentous. Sort of like the feeling of having a nice, fresh bun in the oven, and knowing that when the bun’s done baking, it’ll spend months—nay, years—making strange noises nonstop, spilling dough all over your kitchen, and swapping the scent of baked bread for the less delicate fragrance of poo. OK, I know, that’s not all there is to parenthood. I guess I’m just trying to get psyched by reminding myself that the next chapter in our lives will be quite intense.

Pregnancy is its own little roller coaster ride. From the initial lift after discovering “the second stripe”, we descended into the Valley of Nausea, with stops at Morning Sickness, Afternoon-and-Evening Sickness, Overdosed-on-Orange-Juice Sickness, and so on, before rising again to the top of Mt. First-Ultrasound, where we caught a first glimpse of little Tôm (Vietnamese for “shrimp”, since that’s what he looked like at our first meeting). Once past the peak, we careened into the Learning Curve, which was quite steep, and into the 1,000-Decision Corkscrew, before rising again onto the Found-a-Great-Midwife Plateau and Mt. Perfect-Test-Results. At the moment, we’re sailing into ever more ups and downs, including the Heavy-Belly Slide, the Feeling-the-Baby-Kick Lift, the Backache Drop, the Prenatal-Class and Ever-More-Frequent-Checkup Loops—with more to come. And come November, it’ll be a whole new ride—one that lasts a whole new, shared lifetime.

They say that having kids is a transformative experience. For almost ten years now I’ve been aware that educating children is “among the most meritorious acts of humankind”, and I’ve expended a lot of effort in learning how it works through organizing and teaching neighbourhood children’s classes. Becoming a parent, though, is a whole new ball game for sure, and will require a constancy, strength and perseverance that’s never really been required of me before. I’d like to think I feel ready—but who’s ever really ready to become a parent? All I know for now is that I’m willing to learn, and to grow. Perhaps God doesn’t ask much more than that?