elijah

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paul and i found this shirt at nishimatsu-ya, a baby clothes shop in japan. my mom and my sister-in-law, mayumi-chan, kept telling us to go check out this shop — lots of cute baby clothes, with reasonable prices.

so one day we dropped in to do some shopping. we were happy to find that most of the clothes they carry have awesome engrish on them. we had such a great time we ended up going back there again and again.

elijah seems a little skeptical, but that’s his usual face so we don’t worry about it.

rainbow world very wonderful
nice the sky happily
we are all well so special
smile big sky

on the back of the shirt, it says ‘highest’.

(photos:: seven month old elijah)

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elijah’s separation anxiety began when he was eight months old. in japanese, we call this period ‘ato-oi’, which literally means ‘after-follow’. he began to follow me around wherever i would go. even when i was in his sight and someone else was holding him, he immediately would start crying and reach out to me. it is/was really, really touching and awfully adorable.

i try to stay close to him so he won’t feel insecure. he wants to be picked up and held all the time, so i do that. when i need to go to the next room, i let him know that i’m going. i try not to disappear without saying anything. he always stops what he’s doing and crawls after me. for some reason, if i get down on the floor and crawl out of the room, he doesn’t react anxiously. maybe he thinks i’m off to catch some salmon. it’s all part of the bear game, my friend.

recently, he started to follow after paul, too. he chased after paul when he entered the bathroom. so i thought it might be a time to teach him that papa and mama are around even when you can’t see them.

it’s kind of embarrassing to tell you this, but i’ve been leaving the bathroom door open when i take a shower in the morning. i put elijah in the playpen and move it down the hall in front of the bathroom so that he can see me. as soon as i would get in the shower, he would start crying, and he’d keep crying his head off the whole time. from time to time, i would stick my head (covered in shampoo) outside the shower curtain and say “daijyo-bu! mama kokoni iruyo!” (it’s okay, mama’s here!). he would cry even harder. :D after a couple of try, i stopped hearing his crying. he started to play with toys.

this is one of the drawings for ’100 stories’ at hosfelt gallery in NYC.

100 stories

photographs by crystal liu
& drawings by crystal liu, ruth marten, rachell sumpter, yuka yamaguchi

11 april – 31 may 2008

hosfelt gallery
531 w 36th street,
new york

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you probably know this, but babies cry. they don’t just cry. they cry like the universe is ending and our life is actually a total farce. elijah barely cried at all during the first couple of days, while we were still in hospital. paul and i were saying to each other, ‘hey, our baby doesn’t cry!’. needless to say, we were fooling ourselves. he started crying hard in our car driving home from the hospital. his face was so red that i thought he was feeling pain or something. it was probably him feeling something different in the air that would tell him he was no longer in the womb. it must have been pretty shocking — i thought he’d blow out the windows. i’m pretty sure his crying voice reached the top of mount everest.

when he was hungry, he wouldn’t cry too hard and his crying would cease when i fed him. but as the night fell and he got tired, he would cry harder and harder. building from loud crying up to ‘i can’t believe anyone is capable of crying this hard’ crying. paul used to say it was like a gear shift; 1st gear: mild conversational crying, up to 5th gear: unbelievable death-metal crying. i was thinking it was more like 28th gear. i used to visualize being blown away by the sound of his screaming and floating in the soundless universe.

he would start crying around 8pm. he was very punctual – true yamato spirit. paul and i used to joke around by counting down to 8pm and bang! he would start crying. it wasn’t that precise but close enough. we looked for an on/off switch or a volume dial in his body, but we couldn’t find anything like that. i guess babies in canada don’t come with such features. so we did our best to calm him down and make him comfortable by rocking and walking and cuddling etc. some people said he was colicky, but i think he was just sensitive and punctual. after pondering why he was crying that hard, paul and i came to think that he needed to get his extra energy out to help himself fall asleep.

it must have been hard for him to get used to a different situation – from the womb to the outside world. as an experiment, i sank my body in a warm bath and got out from it and saw how it would feel. it felt very cold and alone since there was nothing wrapping me anymore. maybe that’s how he felt too.

once he fell asleep, he usually didn’t cry hard in the middle of night, only when he wanted to be fed (every 2 to 3 hours). but suddenly, when he was four months old, he started crying all day and all night. his first tooth was coming in. no wonder he was putting his fingers or whole fist in his tiny mouth a lot. it must have been very painful and uncomfortable. after a few days, he settled down back to his usual pattern.

the magical day came at the beginning of the fifth month, in november. he just stopped crying that — cold turkey. he was like a different person. he still cries when he can’t get what he wants, but now he doesn’t just cry and cry for no reason. nowadays, when he cries, he sounds angry, not helpless.

to be honest, it has been pretty hard to get used his crying voice and to have to deal with all of the things he wants every single day. i didn’t want to get too stressed out because i didn’t want elijah to get a negative feeling. so i’ve had to find a way to go through this period somewhat positively.

mentality-wise:

  • i used to ask elijah to cry even harder. since it’s an endurance game in a way, if i tried to stop him from crying, it would just accelerate my stress level because sometimes he just didn’t stop crying. so i said to him, ‘go ahead and cry. i know it’s a tough life. it’s okay to cry’. he would go ahead to cry even harder, but wish granted, i didn’t feel as bad as before.
  • paul would pretend to cry even harder than elijah could. elijah realized he was not the only one who was crying – no prince treatment. he seemed shocked by it – rival!
  • i would use his crying time for my exercise hour. since i had to rock and walk him for awhile, i might as well use the time for my own sake. i would work on my legs by doing squats. the longer he cried, the better. i got some exercise done – hurrah!
  • teamwork. when i thought i couldn’t handle it, i gave elijah to paul and got the hell out of the room and be alone. paul was working long hours so this chance didn’t come very often, but even a few minutes of alone time refreshed me a lot and felt energized to go back to take care of him.

equipment and technique:

  • hot sling. i used this a lot when elijah was very tiny. it wrapped him as if he was in the womb. he looked comfortable and right down to sleep. he outgrown this very quickly. i probably used it for a few months only.
  • baby bjorn. this was useful since paul was able to put it on too. very comfortable. shoulder supports let us carry him without much pain. i used it to go for a walk everyday. he would stop crying once he was outside — once again, uchi-soto yamato spirit! and also we used it whenever we took him with us to buy groceries.
  • bouncing ball. i have a big white exercise ball that i bought for decorative purposes. turns out this was very useful to rock elijah as i was able to rest my arms on my lap.
  • swing. we should have bought one earlier — we got it just a month before he learned to sit up and pull himself out of it. elijah seemed to like being rocked to sleep — he had a few afternoon naps with this.
  • making white noise by saying gentle and rhythmic ‘shhhhh’ sound in his ear. this was maybe the best trick. it always helped him calm down. but now that he’s older, if i try this he just cries harder.

if you are new parents and going through this tough period, hang in there. it’s tough, but this period won’t last forever. soon, you’ll be seeing happy baby smiles all around. ganbatte kudasai!

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elijah is now on video! we bought a camcorder last week to record him. we could see elijah was almost ready to walk.sunday, elijah grabs his pushcart and off he goes! his first steps on his own. we were so surprised.

eeeeee~~~~!!!

paul made it into a video and uploaded it to vimeo. music: willis jackson – nuther’n like thuther’n

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this drawing is called “mighty righty”. i drew it for a group show called “100 stories” at hosfelt gallery in NYC (april 11th to may 31st).

i’ve been breastfeeding elijah ever since he was born. i chose to feed one breast at a time. that means i would feed from the right breast at let’s say 2 am and the next feeding would be from the left one. nurses told me to feed from both sides about 10 mins per breast, and to always start with the breast that i finished with last time because better milk would come out from it. but it seemed to me that i might as well keep feeding him from one single breast from start to finish. that way, he’d get from thin milk to thick milk for sure. plus i wouldn’t have to interrupt him.

so that’s been my breastfeeding style. it was really interesting to see my breasts’ size change before and after feeding. before a feeding, both breasts would swell like a melon and get really hard. after the feeding, the one i used for feeding would turn soft and rather sad looking. and the other one would start shooting milk to release the pressure, so i had to press a towel over it.

i sometimes forgot which breast i used for the last feeding, especially in the middle of night when i was half asleep. my left breast coped fine with that, but my right one, oh boy. she would get really swollen and bumpy and her veins would stick out. if it went on too long my breast would look like biologically engineered cantaloupe with tumors.

and it would be very very painful — too full and too hard. i could pump some milk out, but i couldn’t empty as much milk with a breast pump or using my hands as elijah could with his powerful drinking.

so i must confess i had to poke elijah’s arm in the middle of night a couple of times, so he’d wake up and want to suck milk from my overfull right breast. luckily he won’t remember…

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(8wks and 3days)


(20 wks ultrasound)
he used to look like this inside me floating around for nine months.


(june 8th, 2008)
this is how he looked when he came out of me. this is literally two minutes after his birth.

and now another nine months later, this is how he looks. it’s hard to believe that he used to be one little cell. he turns out to be a very happy boy who smiles a lot, laughs a lot, cries hard and plays hard.

he’s been…

crawling,

cruising, standing and walking with support,

opening drawers and grabbing mama’s bra, and running around, baby-talking, pointing at things,

feeding himself solid food,

chewing on the cord…

of papa’s headphones,

…and making a mess wherever he goes.

i have been talking to him ever since he was born explaining what i was doing and asking him what he would want to do. when he was very little, i used to get so excited to hear random sounds he made. even when he just made an ‘ah~’ sound, it made me jump. it sounded like he was responding to me.

he started to vocalize more when he was three months old. there was one point where he kept saying, ”blah blah blah” all the time. nowadays, he has started to babble more and more, trying to imitate what i say. when i sing to him and make silly gestures with my arms, he tries to imitate what i sing and do. when paul and i talk in front of him, he waves his arms up and down and say ‘uh~ gguah~ bha~’ etc. i think he wants to join the conversation.

he has started saying ‘da~da’ and ‘mama’ a lot. paul and i have been telling him who is ‘papa’ and ‘mama’. today he kept saying ‘mamma, pappa’ continuously. i almost cried.

i know babies cry when they are hungry. elijah was like that too. nowadays, he’s more direct. he grabs my face and pulls it toward him, opens his mouth and bites down on my lips, then starts sucking them…hard. he’s also saying ‘mamma, mamma’. ‘mamma’ is a japanese baby word for ‘food’. it’s no coincidence that ‘mama’ (mother) and ‘mamma’ (food) sound similar.

elijah has been a very smiley boy, but nowadays his smiles are more deliberate and when he smiles looking into your eyes, he’ll melt your heart. he used to crack up whenever i made some exaggerated gasping sound. nowadays, he laughs so hard at so many things. paul is so good at making him laugh. he’s such a good papa.

paul and i have been crawling with elijah. elijah likes to play a crawling game with us. he starts crawling then stops and looks back to see if any of us are following him. if we starts to chase him he’d laugh and crawl away really fast, or stop and crawl back toward us.

elijah and i play a bear game. we pretend that we are bears. we crawl around the house, exploring, then i stop and pretend i’m sleeping. he’d comes over to me and climbs up on me and starts slapping my body. i “wake up” and we start crawling around again.

the first nine months with elijah were full of happiness, tears, laughter and lots of “holy mackerel!” moments. as a person who had never taken care of any living creatures (no pets, no plants even), taking care of a baby is like becoming a self-taught artist – i have no idea what to do. i had no clue what-so-ever about babies. paul and i did all our best to figure out as things came up. and elijah have taught us what to do.

there were times when it was very hard. but it was worth it, because i can see this smiley face every single day.

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nowadays, my mr. man can play on his own for awhile.

especially when he gets a kick out of something, he can go on and on…

we bought him a lot of toys, but he’s more interested in ordinary objects like string. that’s okay — in a way, paul and i ended up buying those toys for ourselves.

what a magical toy the string is! he’s digging into it.

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on our way to see our friends in kyoto, we made a brief stop at kyoto station. paul and i used to go there to take pictures of the new kyoto station.

in the station, there was a small gallery promoting a new drama situated in kyoto. they didn’t forget to make this photo board. i love these thing — so stupid and so good. of course, elijah was the first victim.

we think elijah would make a pretty mr. geisha-san.

sorry, elijah. your papa and mama love these stupid things…

we love you, elijah! don’t forget.

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elijah is big in japan.  i mean it literally.  when we went back to japan over the holidays, we stayed in wakayama, kyoto and tokyo. everywhere we went, people said to us, ‘he’s so big! Soooo big!’.

elijah’s also big in canada. he’s now almost 8 months old and weighs almost 10kg.  he’s on the 90th percentile growth curve.  i can feel it in my arms — more and more muscle.

it’s been a crazy couple of weeks since we got back from japan. finally i have some time to organize photos from our trip.

here are some photos from a subway ride in kyoto.  a bunch of high school girls came up to us saying ‘kawaii, kawaii!’ to elijah. they surrounded us in the subway train and took a lot of photos of elijah with their cell phones.

one of the girls gave him a chiroru choco (a popular bite-size chocolate).  her friends teased her saying it’s too soon for a baby to eat chocolate.  she was very sweet.  she put the chocolate back in her pocket, but then she snuck it under elijah’s leg as we were getting ready to get off the train.

of course, paul and i ate the chocolate. it was the sweetest chocolate.

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i’m doing a show at cafe pause in ikebukuro, tokyo. i’m showing some prints of my favorite drawings. initially, i was planning to show original drawings, but i realized it would be much easier to bring prints with me, especially since i’m travelling with my baby. we all came to japan at the end of december to spend new year’s with my family in wakayama. then paul, elijah and i went to tokyo to set up this show.

this is my first show in japan, actually. i started my art career in canada, years after i left japan in 2000. my work is pretty well known online, with my website and flickr and many links from different sites around the world. i write my blog in english, so my contacts have been mostly non-japanese. i’ve shown work in many different places, but never before in japan.


jean snow and elijah

the person who contacted me to do this show is jean snow. he’s a canadian living in tokyo who writes a blog about design and pop culture in tokyo. he found me after my drawings were linked from drawn!, even though the link was broken (he searched my name on google). jean asked me if i was interested in doing a show at cafe pause, where he sets up events. we arranged the time so we could also spend new year’s with my family on the same trip.

cafe pause is about a 10 minute walk from ikebukuro station. it stands on a corner lot and the two walls facing the streets have big wall-to-wall windows that create an open-air feeling. there are display areas on the pillars and on the walls (but not much wall space because of all the windows). i put up small prints on the bookshelves on the pillars and along one wall, and some big prints on the open wall space. i filled up the space with images tightly, using 44 prints in total (many of them used twice in different places). i made two prints (‘inside of me’ and ‘after all’) so large (18 x 24″) that their heads are bigger than lifesize. someday, i’d like to make huge prints that would swallow our minds and bodies –ultraman size would be nice.

it’s been awhile since i did a show in a cafe gallery – my favorite place to show my drawings. i like my work to be seen as part of daily life. people come to a cafe for a cup of coffee or to meet someone, not specifically to look at art. when they go home that evening to have a bath, if they suddenly remember my drawings and the images come out of the mist of the bath, that would be wonderful.

the show will be on until january 13th. the prints are all for sale, and there are free postcards, too.

cafe pause
2-14-12-1F Minami-Ikebukuro
Toshima-ku, Tokyo
171-0022

Phone: 03-5950-6117
Fax: 03-5950-6180

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