Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Year in Review

Christmas came and went in the blink of an eye. It was a busy one this year, with the usual round of dinners and parties and spending time with both sides of the family on Christmas Eve and Day. The week between Christmas and New Year's flew by equally fast, with time spent seeing old friends from far away and new ones closer to home. 

Little A, at barely 18 months, coped quite well with the social whirl, and has now moved his internal clock so that he sleeps well past midnight and wakes up mid-morning. Hopefully we can readjust to more reasonable hours when the New Year begins.

Another year has gone by. 12 months, retrospect, can be summarized as follows:

The Good - 
- our health; may it continue to be good in the years to come.
- two trips to Hong Kong and one to the mountains with the family.
- witnessing Little A's growth from a 6 month crawler to an 18 month old toddler.
- my husband's job, which made our bank balance healthier even as it kept him away from his family much of the time.

The Not-so-Good - (though each has a silver lining)
- not being able to bring in any income this past year. 
- my husband losing his job, though the amount he was paid in severance will keep us afloat for many months, and now he spends much more time with us.
- not being able to spend much time with friends, though this was time spent with my son.

While 2009 may look bleak in terms of the world financial situation, we can do our part for ourselves and the world by being more generous, less selfish, more eco-friendly and less materialistic. Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Baby Teeth

Two days before Christmas, I took my son to the dentist for the first time in his almost 18 months of existence. The reason? My little boy has a cavity.

A cavity - something I never had until I was 28 years old, with a second appearing only last year. Both were so minor that they hardly needed drilling or filling. My husband's teeth are equally hardy. Yet our 18 month old son who was breastfed from birth, has never had formula and dislikes sweets, has a cavity. I can hardly believe it.

Compared to other babies, his teeth came late. The first 4 appeared just 3 weeks before his first birthday, at the rate of one a week. His molars have yet to erupt. Other kids his age have mouths full of teeth already. The pediatrician prescribed fluoride drops when he was 10 months old, but my dad said he'd read that too much fluoride in the system was like poison, so I stopped giving it to him (without doing any background reading on the matter myself, tsk tsk.)

Another dentist said that breastfed babies have very strong teeth since they get a lot of calcium. A pediatric dentist friend said babies should be taken for their first checkup shortly after their first birthday. My sister said there was no need to take my son for a dental checkup until he had all his milk teeth. So many different words of advice!

Brushing-wise, I would rub my son's gums with a washcloth from 5 months onwards or so. He would also watch us brush our teeth and copy us with his little toothbrush. Once his teeth started coming out though, I noticed a yellowish stain on the top left one, near the bottom, that wouldn't rub off. He became more active and then it was more difficult to brush his teeth, especially since he wouldn't open his mouth willingly. So I haven't been able to brush them as thoroughly as I would like, and the idea of flossing, which I'd read should be done as soon as teeth come out if they are close together, which my son's are, is an impossible dream at this stage.

Still, I consoled myself with the fact that he didn't drink formula, dislikes ice cream, cakes and cookies, and only started on graham crackers last month, plus comes from two parents with very healthy teeth, to make up for the lack of thorough brushing. Big mistake.

Last weekend, since Little A had a cold, he napped with his mouth slightly open to help him breathe. My husband, who takes the time when our son is still (only when he is asleep, in our case) to examine him closely, noticed that there was a chip on his tooth. I looked and saw that there was a small hole where the enamel had completely gone. Despite my resolve to be more vigilant about brushing, a black spot in the hole a few days later prompted the immediate trip to the dentist, whose office is just downstairs on the ground floor of our condominium building.

There is little one can do to examine a crying baby's 8 teeth. With the help of a pair of nurses to hold him down, the dentist just looked at the teeth and said the best we could do was brush twice a day, religiously, and start using a fluoride toothpaste. Apparently, fluoride drops are to help with the calcification of permanent molars, which begins when a child is 6 months up to 3 years of age. Right. Back to fluoride drops then. Fluorinated toothpaste is to help coat the actual teeth and make them stronger.

We're scheduled for a second visit in 3 months, when they start "proper" dental care. By then Little A will be 20 months old. Let's hope he's learned to sit still by then, and will open his mouth and say "Aaah."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Jingle Bells

The days are rushing by so quickly I can barely catch my breath. Seven days and it's Christmas. Another Christmas. Where did the year go? A blink of an eye and it will be 2009.

These days, Little A's 2 hour naptimes, which is usually my time to eat, do household-related chores and sit quietly in front of a laptop for a little while have been turned over to organising Christmas presents. Checking the list, over and over again, and the budget, online browsing and shopping (thank heavens for this!), and this week, wrapping presents.

Given the limited space in our small flat, Little A's wardrobe has turned into gift central. A box and many large carrier bags now house presents waiting to be boxed, wrapped or ribboned and sent off to their destinations.

Ever the green gift-giver, my presents for this year range from wonderful organic soaps and wooden soap dishes, adorable recyclable shopping bags made from flour sacks to wooden or educational toys and native sweets. Wrapping is minimal and, where possible, reusable.

It is my son's second Christmas, but he still isn't at the materialistic stage, thankfully, and only sees presents as colorful boxes to play with for a little while. What he does enjoy is taking ornaments off the tree and rolling them on the floor. I, on the other hand, am loving the food presents from friends and relatives. My husband is enjoying the time off work to catch up with friends, play golf, and spend plenty of time with his family. Truly, it is these simple pleasures that are making our Christmas season a merry one. May everyone and their families be similarly blessed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Squeezing the Creative Juice

I was a highly imaginative child. My most often played games involved packing up changes of clothes for my favorite doll and running through the backyard to somewhere far far away where we would start new lives together. (How watching Sesame Street inspired these types of make-believe scenarios is a mystery, but there you go.) Later, I would read books and imagine myself as one of the characters, thereby necessitating the writing of alternative endings or sequels.

Some of my favourite writers are those who can continually create new worlds, because the very ability to do so is something that seems to disappear as we get older, the way seeing fairies and sprites as a youngster goes away when we immerse ourselves more and more in the "real" world. It amazes me how grown-ups can keep their imaginations so active, making up entire new existences, characters and events.

That said, I do believe real life is more interesting than fiction, particularly considering those whose lives inspire books and movies (though they are often highly embellished by the time they hit the big screen.) It was my own real-life events that had me writing in diaries over the years and starting this blog.

Still, I feel my imagination has been stifled as a result of over 3 decades of real life. Where it used to be as easy as breathing to write a completely fictitious story, I now find myself hard-pressed to make up an interesting enough bedtime tale for my young son.

Even harder is having to produce fiction for money. After nearly 2 years of not writing anything besides grocery lists and this blog, I suddenly had to come up with material for a press release on very short notice. Suddenly, crafting a unique spin on high end luxury products was more difficult than making up an imaginary world, plot and characters.

Deadline past, the material was submitted. Hopefully it passes muster as approval for publication means the first (albeit modest) bit of income I have brought to the table in over 18 months. In the meantime, I will lose myself in the worlds of Neil Gaiman and Enid Blyton in the vain hopes that my imagination starts to work again in time to make up decent stories for playtime when my son is old enough to appreciate them.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Counting Our Blessings

The last Thursday in November marks Thanksgiving for all Americans (citizens of the USA, that is, not the entire continents of North and South America.) We are not American. And yet, I was surprised to find out just how many of my non-American friends celebrated this day by roasting turkeys more than counting their blessings. 

We live in a predominantly Catholic country, so giving thanks is something that should be done every Sunday (or every night before going to sleep, depending on how often one says their prayers) instead of on a special day each year. It was rather ironic that it was on Thanksgiving Day that the American investment bank my husband works for decided to take away his job.

Given the current economic situation, layoffs are expected, and have been happening already over the past few months. But now the crunch is making itself felt worldwide, the foreign offices of these American banks need to reduce their head counts. It's not a matter of whether the person is a good performer or an asset to the team. Heads must roll, so it's not a personal thing. 

My husband and I were prepared for this eventuality. We'd talked about it, and when he got the axe yesterday (after the stock market had closed and all his orders were executed, naturally) it wasn't much of a surprise. The best we hoped for was a decent separation package, and in that much our prayers were answered.

After 18 months of working 12-16 hour days, he can now enjoy a well-deserved rest, and more importantly, spend quality and quantity time with his son. Little A was overwhelmed this morning when his dad was not only there when he woke up, but walked him across the road to school and then took him swimming afterwards. 

While the severance package ensures we will not starve in the next few months, we do have to keep budgeting carefully and thinking of what to do next. Starting our own business would be ideal if we could agree on what type of venture to put up. In the meantime, we are glad to be able to spend more time together as a family and very grateful of the fact that we are debt-free and in good health. Things could be much worse. Really, there is much for which we are thankful.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Trouble with Teething

In a healthy baby's life, few things must be more traumatic than teething. Learning to use one's limbs to roll over, sit up, crawl, stand and walk is challenging but not painful. Developing fine motor skills and starting to talk are the same. Discovering food is an adventure for the child and a challenge for the parents, but teething, now that is difficult.

Some people believe that very painful or traumatic memories are blocked out by our subconscious. This may explain why people who are in life-threatening accidents or have near-death experiences don't always remember exactly what happened. Babies, however, must not understand what's going on when teething pain starts. I imagine (since I can't remember) it must be irritating and uncomfortable, to say the least. It's no wonder teething babies are fussy, have trouble sleeping, and can get fevers, diarrhea and rashes. Poor things.

How can parents ease the pain and discomfort for their little ones? We can give them cold and hard things to chew on, baby paracetamol for fever, and lots of distractions and cuddles. But for my little one, Bonjela is what works best. 

Many mothers swear by it, and I never bothered trying any other kind of teething gel once I had the little blue tube. Unavailable locally, it is easily found in the toothpaste section of any pharmacy in nearby Hong Kong, thankfully. It doesn't cost much, and one tube goes a very long way. It was a godsend when Little A and I had hand, foot and mouth disease, and every time he starts chewing madly on his fingers, drooling nonstop and getting irritable at bedtime, one swipe of a tiny bit of gel on his gums calms him down. It's actually quite funny the way he stops crying in mid-sob once he feels it in his mouth.

All women have emergency medicine kits on hand once they become mothers. And even if they don't have teething infants, a tube of Bonjela should remain in the medicine cabinet of every household, as it works on any form of mouth ulcer from those caused by braces to dentures and simple mouth sores. I have nothing but good things to say about it. 

As for my little one? His 8 front teeth came out right before his first birthday, but the back ones have yet to come through. Lately I've been seeing the signs that they may start erupting soon. The little blue tube is ready and waiting. 

Monday, November 10, 2008


Last week, my 16 month old son started attending "structured play group," a prelude to preschool. Three mornings a week, we walk across the street and take the lift one floor up to a small room where up to half a dozen children about 2 years old are left in the care of three very competent teachers.

Nannies and parents wait outside the play area as classes are only an hour and a half long, and snack time takes place midway through, during which time they need to assist their respective charges.

Most of the children who attend these classes live in our condominium complex, as does the owner herself, who has a son just five months older than mine. Little A seems to be the youngest in the class, and it shows in the way he flings himself about with total abandon and doesn't sit still or follow along with the structured activities like the hello and goodbye songs and the prayer before meals.

My main goals in enrolling him in these classes are: 1) to get him used to interacting with other caregivers (and children, of course), 2) to expend his morning energy while hopefully learning new skills and honing others, and 3) to move forward in what is turning into a long and seemingly impossible weaning process.

So far, things seem to be going well. The first day, he was challenged by the new environment and enjoyed having other children around him. From time to time, he wanted me to come into the play area so that he could show me around, or just have me nearby as a comforting presence. Other nannies were in there too with their charges, and there was one boy who was 21 months old and absolutely refused to leave his father's side, nor have his father even stand up to make a telephone call.

Seeing this boy made me realize that Little A's separation anxiety issues were nowhere near as serious as I'd thought. My son runs into the play area willingly and only looks for me 10-15 minutes later. Once he gets his cuddle or has me near him for a minute or two, he busies himself with another activity and doesn't notice or mind my leaving the play area again.

The second day, we started attending the mid-morning "class" as it was more convenient for both his wake-up time and my morning routine. However, he was borderline sleepy this time, and as there were only 2 other kids (and therefore less distractions?) he insisted I stay in the play area most of the time and interacted with me more than his teachers. He tried to nurse a few times, but was didn't really complain when I prevented him from doing so.

This morning I only had to enter the play area once, for about two minutes. He took my hand and led me to the toys, and once distracted, I stepped out and let the teachers do their work. During snack time I sat behind instead of next to him, and only intervened to give him a drink of water. He still didn't follow instructions during the movement activities, but neither did he look for me again, nor try to nurse at all. At the end of the session, I had to pick him up and take him home or else he would have continued to play through the teachers' lunch hour.

Almost immediately after each morning session, he sleeps. For these three mornings, at least, partial weaning has been accomplished. Hooray! While I realize these "achievements" are only baby steps, they are a good start. There may be some backward slides, but on the whole there's nowhere else to go but forward.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The First Haircut

In the Philippines, there is a tradition that a child's first haircut should only take place after his or her first birthday. What the reasons behind this are, I don't know, but as my son wasn't born with very much hair, his first cut took place when he was nearly 16 months old.

It was the day before Halloween, and I took him to a salon around the corner from where we live. His hair was long enough to brush the nape of his neck, but since it grew so nicely, I imagined a trim, maybe some layers. But with a highly active little boy, it's a bad idea to have scissors so close to his face, so when the stylist said she would use a clipper, I agreed. Big mistake.

Five minutes later, amid much crying and screaming, my baby looked like a concentration camp survivor. Whether or not the stylist intended to take off that much hair, I don't know. But my son now has a genuine buzz cut, so he looks like he's ready to go off to the army. Luckily, he's too young to really care what it looks like, and it will grow back, but I do miss the baby softness his head once had when I brush my cheek against it.

My husband was sad. He wanted to be there for the first haircut, documenting it on video. I didn't know that! He just told me to go get Little A's hair cut, and so I did. He thinks our little boy looks like a little boy now, not a baby anymore, but we are agreed that succeeding haircuts will never get this short again. Next one being when he is old enough to sit still, that is.

Trick or Treat

Halloween again. How time flies. A year ago, I sewed black lines and boxes onto a white onesie so that my then 3 1/2 month old son could be R2D2 for his first Halloween party (which he mostly slept through). This year, I wasn't in the mood to make another costume, so he wore his Chelsea football kit to attend an alternative Halloween activity - a classical music concert for kids.

With a former professional ballet dancer and ballet workout instructor for a mother, it was only natural that my child would be raised, from conception, on classical music. This interactive Halloween activity allowed costumed children to touch and play the different instruments while collecting treats from each booth, and ended in a concert where they danced and conducted along with the music. 

Little A's first treat, after seeing a violin, viola, tuba and flute at close range, was a yellow plastic star that hung around his neck. When you pressed a button, the star would flash in different colors. Another press turned it off. Perfectly happy with this toy, he sat down in the middle of the theatre foyer to enjoy it, and didn't even notice the xylophone, cello and bass nearby. 

Before the concert started, he was a little restless, so we moved from our perfect seats in the center of the theatre to an almost-empty row right next to the fire exit. While the instruments were introduced, he fretted, but once the music started, he was still and perfectly attentive. The sound of applause made him turn to look at the rest of the audience each time they clapped. 

During the last number, he decided he wanted to get a closer look. He carefully made his way right to the foot of the stage and stared up at orchestra. The ushers and usherettes stood nearby, ready to grab him if he tripped or slipped, which my sure-footed son never did. I stood at the side too, but as this was the same theatre I'd rehearsed and performed at countless times in the past, I knew nearly every inch of it and was sure he'd be fine. And he was. 

At the end of the show, he decided it would be a good idea to explore further, so he made his way to the backstage entrance and then took all the stick-on decorations off the walls in the foyer. Considering he usually gets fretful after a certain length of time in enclosed spaces, he seemed to tolerate the theatre quite well. Truly, he is my son. 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Baby Love

Sometimes, when he's having a hard time falling asleep, my son wraps an arm tightly around my neck, pulling me close to him so that my cheek is against his on the pillow. His other arm goes around my shoulder, keeping me close. When I try to turn my face or lift my head to breathe, he clings on tighter. All the while staring at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to take him.

I cherish these moments because I know a day will come when he will no longer want to wrap his arms around me and hold me tightly. For now, in bed, I am more than happy to be his human teddy bear and he is more than happy to be mine.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Green Christmas

It's that time of year again. Time to make the list, check it twice, and sort out presents for the naughty and nice.

This year I don't feel the Christmas spirit yet, although considering Halloween is still one week away, it may be too early to say. The swelteringly summery weather may have something to do with it as well.

Summer was short this year, and not as hot as it usually is. But then, maybe I spoke too soon because the so-called cool months have not yet come upon us. The days are back to sultry and warm, and evenings are no better unless it rains. Thankfully we live right next to a golf course, so any breeze on the air blows our way.

Could this be due to global warming, or is it just regular tropical weather? It's hard to say, but one thing is for sure, this year's holidays looks like they will be very green - environmentally green, that is. The situation with the world's economies and rising living costs mean that most of us will be thinking carefully about our Christmas spending in the days to come. I know I will be.

The Colour of Money
About 2 decades ago, when I was first at school in England, I discovered a wonderful shop that sold bath and body products made with very few chemicals and using ingredients that helped foster community trade with poorer countries. Anita Roddick's The Body Shop first opened in Brighton the year I was born. Today, it has branches all over the world. Some of the items it stocks have long been on my list of favourite things, though sadly, others have been discontinued (more on that later.)

Back in the 1980s, there was only Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund that actively campaigned to save our planet. I eagerly supported their causes, wanting my future children to have fresh air to breathe and trees to climb.

Today everyone in the world must be environmentally aware, and this is a good thing. A group of friends recently started a livelihood project that provides jobs to disadvantaged women while fighting the plastic bag war. Their products are wonderful, and are on my present list already. Another friend from college never gives presents at Christmas time, preferring to donate the money instead to a worthy cause.

While my family is very much into gift-giving, I've experimented with other ways of being kind to the planet while doing so. One year I wrapped all my presents in newspaper and magazine pages. Another year I used recycled paper, and yet another year or so only paper that biodegrades easily. And then there is the matter of the presents themselves. Handmade organic soaps and candles, food, things that I hope will be cherished rather than simply used and eventually thrown away. Many gifts are put aside for my daily girl's family, as well as those of other household help. I hate waste.

This year will be more of the same. No doubt Little A will get more toys than he needs, so those will find good homes. Food presents will be eaten, and where possible, the presents we give won't be wrapped at all. Every little bit counts, after all. So hopefully this will be a very green Christmas, weather-wise, environment-wise and budget-wise. Ho ho ho.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Separation Anxiety

My 15 month old son very recently entered the phase where he refuses to be carried by anyone but me. Also, where he used to be fearlessly independent, charging all over the place and leaving me or his father to run after him, he now wants to be in my arms nearly all the time as long as we're outside our apartment. Even old familiar areas by the pool or at the playground seem strange to him now. He is clingy, and refuses to ride in his stroller at all. Even his car seat tolerance has gone down. 

Initially, I put it down to mild trauma from the Hong Kong trip, one that started when he woke up twice from naps to see his grandmother minding him instead of me. Add that to the fact that he was in a strange new place and may have been feeling under the weather (the hand, foot and mouth disease became evident two days later), and there are all the factors for comfort hunting. And Little A's greatest comfort object comes in the form of his constant companion, his mother.

It's two weeks later, but the separation anxiety shows no sign of waning. Yesterday, we went for high tea to celebrate my mother's birthday. Little A fell asleep in the car and slept through most of the tea, which allowed me to eat and drink my fill, but once he woke up he realized that, once again, he was somewhere new and surrounded by the same faces who (it may have seemed to him) tried to take him away from me in Hong Kong. Once again, he refused to leave my arms, save for five minutes when he sat next to the pianist to play the piano. 

My reading on separation anxiety says that it tends to be more difficult for toddlers who aren't used to other caregivers, and Little A is just that. He has no nanny and has never been apart from me for longer than an hour or two as I've given up all attempts at a social life because my husband works such long hours and often needs to entertain clients in the evenings. He sees his grandparents every week to ten days or so, but they don't spend enough time with him for him to feel comfortable being left alone with them. 

How ironic that it is the planned parents, the responsible ones, who have what is perceived to be badly-adjusted children. We who want our own parents to enjoy their grandkids instead of being burdened with their constant care end up making them feel unloved by the same grandkids who see them as slightly familiar but not yet trusted companions. 

Both my sisters and many of my friends' kids consider their grandparents as surrogate parents. These children were all unexpected surprises, and so they either live with their grandparents or are in their care for most of their early years while their own parents carry on with the lives that were simply interrupted by pregnancy and childbirth. 

My older sister would leave her kids at my parents' house daily, and when my younger sister gave birth twice in 10 1/2 months, my parents would stay at her house all day at least thrice a week to help with the babies. Both sisters rely on my parents to pick up their kids from school when needed (which is once a week for one sister) and have them stay at my parents' house when they travel (which is also fairly often.) 

My best friend from school lives with her parents, ensuring that an entire family and battalion of househelp will look after her sons, picking them up and taking them to school, the doctor's and such, when she is busy with part-time work and law school. Another pair of friends drop off their kids (and nannies) at their parents' house every day on their way to work, leaving the grandparents responsible for the 8-6 shift. 

Naturally these kids are completely comfortable spending time in their grandparents' care, and usually suffer from separation anxiety when their nannies leave, not their mothers. But since Little A is an exception, he is suddenly a cause for concern because he seems overly attached to me.

My parents love having their brood of grandkids around, of that there is no doubt. But I also know that they have difficulty rearranging their schedules, tidying up after the kids and get physically exhausted from keeping them entertained for hours or days on end. Not to mention feeding, bathing, nappy changing and the rest of it. They may be young grandparents, but they still don't have the stamina and strength to cope with more than two toddlers at a time. I have a hard enough time coping with just one. 

Little A was, until this year, the newest grandchild, so naturally he couldn't get as much time and attention alone with his grandparents as the others did, particularly as the two cousins prior to him are in their constant care. And with a father who works such long hours and no other caregiver available, it seems only natural that he develop a strong attachment to me.

I know this stage will pass, and I will need to get back to even part-time work soon, which means Little A will have to be left in someone else's care. So we're starting slowly, getting him reacquainted with old familiar places, and seeing if he can build back his confidence. Funny how a few weeks ago I worried that he was becoming too independent too soon. Looks like the joke's on me.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Hong Kong Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

One week ago, we were in Hong Kong. Little A went on his 3rd ever plane ride, all of which have been to the same destination. My husband had work to do, so we tagged along. It was Little A's first plane ride since January and now that he's very much mobile, we were a little worried he'd go ballistic, bouncing off the walls.

We took an evening flight to get settled in before my husband's meetings started early the next morning. Little A hit the airport fresh from a long nap and, as expected, was like a toy with brand new batteries. He ran around while we checked in, while his dad lined up at Immigration, and through the terminal areas. We blagged our way into an Executive Lounge where he calmed down, had a bite to eat, and picked up a spoon that he ended up holding onto until the plane ride home.

By the time we boarded, he was tired. Hooray! The first half of the two-hour ride, he was fast asleep. When he woke up, he got to his feet and ran straight into the galley area, where the stewardesses where packing away the food trays. We amused him as best as we could, and the plane landed shortly afterwards.

At Hong Kong airport, he raced about again as my husband lined up at Immigration. During the train ride into the city he was a little impatient, wanting to get out at every stop (there were 2 before ours.) When we finally got into the cab to go to our hotel, he was very glad to be sitting on his own and not in my lap.

The hotel room was a new playground. As we checked in close to 9pm, we ordered room service immediately while Little A enjoyed dimming the lights, turning on the tv and watching a Baby Einstein video. He then went for a swim in the bathtub and played some more before finally falling asleep at midnight.

My parents came along too, though they stayed at a different hotel, because they wanted to give me a hand with Little A. As it turned out, he was feeling separation anxiety in a big way, and refused to let anyone else so much as carry him. That first morning, we went for a walk and stopped at a nearby bookstore before he went down for his nap. My parents came over and insisted I do some shopping while they watched him, but almost as soon as I stepped out of the hotel I had to rush back as he woke up and cried furiously because I wasn't there. We then left for my parents' hotel, which was atop a big shopping mall. After lunch and a couple of errands, Little A explored my parents' room and took another short nap, whereupon my mother insisted I have tea at the Executive Lounge. Within 10 minutes, she had Little A up there, as he'd woken up again and was looking for me.

The second day was no better. He cried angrily the entire time my dad carried him around H&M, and ended up back in my arms. After a nap (during which time we sat at Starbucks nursing a cup of coffee), we hit a baby store where my parents insisted on buying him a new travel stroller (which he immediately hated). It ended up carrying our shopping. I took him back to the hotel in the mid-afternoon, and my parents went back to theirs to pack, as they were leaving early the next morning.

On Saturday, things were marginally better, though Little A refused to let even his own father carry him. We did our shopping and took him back to the hotel for a proper nap, and when he woke explored the immediate area, discovering an entire floor full of children's stores in the building right next to our hotel. The next day, we would fly home.

On Sunday Little A was irritable, crying as we checked in and throwing a huge tantrum on the train to the airport. He finally fell asleep, right up until it was time to board. The plane ride was a little tense, but I put that down to ear pain and as we were about to land, he fell asleep again, waking up just in time to get into the car and ride home.

That night, he had a hard time sleeping. He woke up twice crying, and I figured that since he was drooling madly, his back teeth may have been coming through. Monday was more of the same - waking from his nap crying three times, and being very clingy. Both days he didn't take much milk, though his appetite seemed fine.

On Tuesday I saw a blister on the palm of his hand. When I saw tiny ones on his feet, I realized my son had hand, foot and mouth disease. My husband left work at once to drive us to the pediatrician's, where Little A had another crazy crying fit after the doctor forced his mouth open to check for sores. She didn't find any, but told me to watch out for them in the next 2 days. Otherwise, he'd be fine within a week.

Wednesday was another hard day, but by the evening, Little A was better. His milk appetite had returned and he was more energetic. Most importantly, he didn't wake up crying anymore, though since the previous day, I'd taken to rubbing teething gel on his mouth when he'd start pointing to his cheeks. I found one sore on the inside of his cheek, a long one.

This morning, he was almost back to his old self, but I woke up with a mouth full of sores. The reading I'd done said adults are generally immune to hand, foot and mouth disease, though it seemed I was one of the few in the world who wasn't. Just my luck.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Meet Little A (1)

I wanted to write something today, and since this blog is mostly about me, this seems like the best place to do it.

I am Little A. I am almost 15 months old. Here is a list of things I like and don't like right now:

I like:
- water. Splashing, swimming, drinking. Puddles, faucets, ponds and pools, anything liquid will do.
- climbing. Walking and running are okay now. I don't fall so much anymore, so the next challenge is stairs. I am practising as often as I can, and always hold someone's hand going up or down, but if no one is there I use my hands to help get up safely. Lately I have successfully been climbing chairs and the tv stand. All that is left are the bed and the bathtub.
- books. No one has to read them to me, I like the pictures, but when mom or dad tells me what's on the pages that's fine too. They have boring books with no pictures. The covers are interesting to look at though.
- Baby Einstein and the Little Einsteins. I watch 2 or 3 of these a day. I pick a dvd and mum or dad plays it for me, though I am figuring out how to operate the dvd players already.
- mummy's milk. She keeps trying to give me yucky cup milk. I drink it sometimes but don't like it as much as hers.
- tasting things. I lick everything because things taste different. Mum and Dad don't like it when I eat paper, plastic and rubber, though.
- fresh air and wind. Mum and I play outside a lot in the day, except when she says it's too hot or raining. If I was strong enough to open the doors though, I would still play outside in the sun and rain.

Things I don't like:
- grass. It's prickly and weird on my feet. I will walk anywhere but don't like grass much at all.
- loud, crowded places. When mom and dad bring me to parties, I don't like staying inside the party room for very long.
- people who try to hug or carry me, especially when I don't know them. If I like you, I will play with you, but you need to give me time to get used to your face first. If you just grab me I will push you away or reach for my mum or dad.

That's it for now. I'm going to play.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Working Girls

In the 80s, there was a film starring Melanie Griffith called Working Girl, which in my opinion tried to be the female equivalent to Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen's Wall Street. Working Girl was about a secretary trying to climb the corporate ladder. In those days, it was all about the high-powered career - making deals, raking in money, living lavishly.

I admire women who have built their corporate careers. While I did join the so-called rat race for close to a decade, all I had was a series of jobs.

The term "career" implies staying power, starting at the bottom and working up to the top, or as close as one can get to it, of a particular industry. People have careers in finance, IT or whatever. My employment history is a hodgepodge of work experience across different industries. I started off in corporate banking (to get business experience, as very few big corporations would hire an Interdisciplinary Studies graduate), moved to financial services, then to retail, while moonlighting in events management and teaching, and then ended my "corporate" life to date with a stint in IT services (mobile communications sector).

Hardly a career-making history. No doubt the Interdisciplinary Studies part of me wanted to try different things and see where I could fit in, and while there was one job I truly loved, the practicalities of daily living meant I needed to go where the money was better.

And yet, it was when I quit the jobs that I seem to have found my career path.

Motherhood and the Working Woman
The whole nature versus nurture argument has many sides to it, but since females are the carriers of children, it seems we are predestined to have a career in motherhood, which itself is a lifetime thing. Whether one has a corporate job or career on the side, the womb has a stronger pull. A sick child means automatically means taking the day off work or staying up all night, or flying home from a business trip. Likewise with parent-teacher conferences, school programs, sports days and the like. Fathers can choose whether or not to take part in these activities, but mothers do not have that luxury.

There is very sad news lately about babies in China developing kidney stones from contaminated milk powder. Most of the mothers of these children are farmers who have no choice but to feed their babies powdered milk because fresh milk may be more expensive or less readily available, and manual labour makes breastfeeding impossible.

Certainly many women need to supplement the family income. In my husband's office, majority of his co-workers are mothers. They earn good wages and can take pride in being recognized as formidable financial figures, but there is no doubt in my mind that when they think of their responsibilities, their children and household running fall above making deals and number crunching.

Motherhood is a career unto itself, as every mother knows, although it doesn't bring the financial benefits of a 9 to 5 job. The compensation for work well done is seeing a child mature into a responsible adult, a person who cares for others and has the right values. This is infinitely more rewarding than a paycheck, as children raised properly become tomorrow's world leaders. Mothers of the world, give yourselves a well-deserved pat on the back.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Rising Cost of Living

Up, up and away. Fuel prices, food prices, the sky's the limit these days. My average monthly grocery bill for the past 6 months is nearly double what it was a year ago, but the amount of meat and vegetables purchased monthly has only increased by about 30%. Granted, before Little A was born, we didn't have a daily girl to feed, nor did I have all my meals at home as I have been doing since, but every trip to the supermarket lately sees prices of basic commodities rising.

As a single-income family, my role is to budget our expenses and make sure we stay within reasonable limits. While my husband's job seems impressive, the pay is not at all what people expect when they hear the name of the prestigious bank he works for, and we do have to live as frugally as possible to make ends meet. No expensive holidays or unnecessary purchases, and it was only after much discussion that we purchased a second, and secondhand, car this year.

Value for Money
I am by nature a bargain hunter. In the days BB (Before Baby) my favourite haunts were secondhand bookshops, where I found many a wonderful treasure, from out of print titles to nearly new books that made great presents. Big A and I have not seen a movie in the cinema for maybe 3 years, opting to wait until the DVD comes out or the film makes it to the small screen. While gift shopping is my weakness, I only buy things on sale, or after making sure I've gotten the best price for my purchase. (I'd like to think I'm not a cheap gift giver though, as my presents are always personalised.)

Likewise with groceries. We shop at 3 different supermarkets because certain things are cheaper at one than another, or not available at all. Kitchen towels and table napkins come from one supermarket, where their own brand of paper products is well-priced and of great quality. Meat and vegetables come from another, though we don't sacrifice our health as I buy good cuts of more expensive meat, believing it's better to eat healthier than pay for heart surgery later. Nappies and other staples come from a third supermarket, the one nearest our home. 

I've long since stopped buying fabric conditioner, and have spent the past year finishing off free samples of beauty products that have accumulated in a drawer over the years, meaning there has been no need to purchase shampoo, conditioner or shower gel for a while. Still, despite these "cost cutting" measures, the monthly supermarket bills have continued to go up.

Hand to Mouth
Despite our frugal lifestyle, there are always blessings to be counted. Our health is the most important factor, so costly vaccines are factored into the budget as needed. A detailed spreadsheet of our expenses to date shows us where there is room to relax and when we have to tighten our belts. Gifts from our families are welcomed - my mother and sisters have pretty much supplied Little A with all the toys, books and clothes he needs for the meantime, and my in-laws like to send batches of pre-cooked food every 2-3 weeks, which makes a change from the dishes our daily girl can make.

We are better off than most. Some people are not lucky enough to have a roof over their heads or food to put on their tables thrice a day. We do know how fortunate we are, and my husband always finds a way to help out those near us who need it most. Our failed experiments in giving Little A formula and vitamins have resulted in the building gardener's children being the recipients of full cans (save one scoop from each) of formula that cost more than some people's weekly wages, and Little A's excess birthday presents were passed on to our daily girl's two nephews. In these hard times, we need to look out for each other as best as we can.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Social Death

The saddest thing about full-time motherhood is that you don't have a social life for a while. This period can last as long as 2-3 years, til the little one is in preschool. Among my fellow mothers, though, I don't know anyone who really felt the social death apart from myself as everyone has nannies or lives with or close to their parents.

While fatherhood certainly added to the burden on my husband's shoulders in terms of finances, his life has remained pretty much the same except for the 12 hour workdays cutting into golf and happy hour time. When he wants to, he can still have a drink with friends or spend the day diving or on the golf course. More often, he chooses to spend the time with us, but that is a choice and not an inevitability.

I, on the other hand, have not done anything truly social in 14 months. I've had people over for tea and lunch, but only understanding friends and fellow mothers. Two evenings spent at single friends' housewarmings and a Halloween party were cut short as Little A got sleepy, and one Christmas dinner with friends was spent with my husband and I alternating holding Little A and eating, while the other one we didn't bother going to at all. The friend I used to have lovely monthly lunches with for 3 years has all but given up on me, and last week I RSVP'd no for myself but yes for my husband to attend a friend's wedding. I could have asked my parents to babysit and gone the wedding, as my sisters so often do with their kids, but decided not to, as for one thing, Little A isn't fully weaned yet, and the reception would cut into his bedtime.

When wishing a fellow mother a happy birthday a few weeks ago, she replied by texting, "Let's go out sometime. It's not healthy for you to be with Little A 24/7!" Sigh. It probably isn't, and I do want Little A to get used to being without me for longer than an hour at a time, but as my husband says time and time again, as Little A gets older, he'll only want to spend more time away from us, so we should make the most of the time he wants to spend with us while it lasts.

My social activities of the past year have been limited to christenings and children's parties. There have been plenty of both though, and this weekend starts another round. And if our family does end up relocating, (Big A is being considered for an overseas post) then at least I'm used to staying home with Little A, as I will do there until new friends are made.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Instant Gratification

We live in a time when patience seems to be going the way of the dinosaurs. Nowadays, people rarely have to wait for anything. With the click of a button you can make a purchase, pay a bill, send a note and read its reply. Cable television and the Internet mean that research can be done without leaving your seat and that there is never a shortage of mindless entertainment.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all for advancements in technology, but there's something to be said for the slowdown of the good old days. Back when a journey from A to B only happened by horse-drawn carriage or a voyage over sea, waiting was a fact of life, and the pace of that life was much less frenetic than it is today. More recently, I remember what it was like to hope that today's post contained a letter from home, one with news in it that was two to three weeks old by the time I'd torn it open and read the handwritten pages. It saddens me to think that my son may never write a "real" letter or even know what a stamp looks like. This is why it feels like Christmas when a parcel arrives from his godmothers in Finland and Edinburgh.

While I love the convenience of online bills payment and rejoice that email makes keeping in touch with my overseas friends so much easier, shopping is still more of a pleasure when I can see, smell or try on the item before paying for it. Sitting in traffic still drives me crazy, as does waiting in line at the supermarket checkout counter, but maybe that's because I've gotten used to life's frenetic pace, and that's not necessarily a good thing.

Studies done in the 1960s with children and marshmallows indicate that those with higher levels of patience seem to turn out better off than those who without. Looking at my sleeping son now, I wonder what his life will be like in twenty or so years when cars may fly and travel may consist of just thinking of your destination. Will the phrase "The best things in life are worth waiting for" still apply? We'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Road Trip

Last week, we went on our first long road trip. While people in cold countries long for the tropics, those of us who live too near the equator flee to cooler climes on our holidays. Big A, Little A and I spent six days in Baguio City, the Philippines' so-called summer capital, up in the mountains where there are pine trees and fog.

Note how I call this a road trip as opposed to a vacation, as the latter connotes rest, relaxation and spending plenty of time doing next to nothing. The trip was a vacation - for my daily girl. She got a much-needed break from cooking and cleaning up after Little A's meals, and was able to give our little flat the through clean it badly needed. Big A was down to his last week off work (he had 3 weeks' holiday and spent about a week going to job interviews, a couple of days playing golf and the rest sitting at home in front of the tv and occasionally playing with his son) and was the designated driver on the 5 hour journey there and back. A new highway had recently opened and this cut down driving time by an hour, but also meant we missed out on the chance to eat at our favourite roadside restaurant.

I had my usual responsibility of looking after Little A, and without my daily girl had to do more cleaning up after him than usual. However, I did enjoy the change from home cooking, as the arrangement at the country club we stayed at was that the rooms were "free" provided every guest spent a certain amount per day in food and drink at the club's many dining establishments. 

As Little A is at the stage where he likes to feed himself, (i.e. - attempting to put food into his mouth with his hands and spilling much of it on himself, his chair and the floor) we had to order plenty of room service. My husband quickly established a routine (with the help of a few big tips) whereby the room service or housekeeping staff would wash Little A's food tray after each meal while I hosed him down and then cleaned up spilled food from the high chair and the floor. 

The cool mountain air and change from home cooking did wonders for my little boy's appetite, and he ate ravenously at each meal, to my delight. As I am on a weight gain plan, I ate ravenously too. Big A got to play some golf, but a storm midweek meant the course was closed for a couple of days, so he used the rest of his time to bond with his son, the highlight of our week. They ran around the grounds, built Lego towers and knocked them down and we visited a couple of our favourite places, including the butterfly garden where Big A asked me to marry him nearly 3 years ago.

All in all, it was a good trip. We discovered that Little A could tolerate a fairly long car journey provided he wasn't made to stay in his car seat the whole time, (he does so obediently in the city, strangely enough) which suggests that maybe a long plane ride in the future won't be so difficult to manage. 

Weaning-wise, though, we seem to be slipping back. Maybe it was the cold weather, but Little A mostly refused the cold milk in his sippy cup or bottle and preferred it warm from my body. He did, however, eat a lot of good food. So the first few weeks at home will be dedicated to re-weaning, though I have been reading lately that dairy isn't the best thing and as I am lactose intolerant, wonder if Little A might be better off with soy, rice or almond milk versus cow's. Must go and read more on that now.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Perspective is a funny thing. Before my husband and I were married, we lived in a large one-bedroom flat in the city centre. He walked to work, I worked from home, the shopping mall was about 50 steps away and so were many of the happening nightspots. It was the perfect place for a young couple to live.

As soon as we were engaged, my parents suggested we move into a bigger flat in the newest residential/commercial area of the metropolis. Right outside the financial district, it is like a suburb in the city. There's a shopping centre nearby, but no skyscrapers and less noise pollution and smog. The flat is in a building overlooking a golf course, guaranteeing plenty of fresh air. It was the perfect place for a young family to live.

This flat had been purchased by my dad a few years ago as part of a business transaction and took longer than expected to finish, but it was done by late 2005. With our wedding date set for January, 2006, Big A and I went to see the place to consider the move, as we knew it would be a better place to live in once we had a child.

My first impression was that, for a two bedroom flat, it was awfully tight. Despite having another bedroom, a study, bigger kitchen, utility area and a maid's room, the total floor area was only double that of the one-bedroom apartment we were currently renting.

Still, since there would be bills to pay (relatively steep monthly association dues which on top of our rent would mean no money left to pay for anything else, like food or electricity) we decided to move. After some minor renovations and going into credit card debt to furnish the place, (as the one-bedroom had come fully furnished) we moved in.

Strangely enough, once it was furnished, the new flat seemed bigger somehow. Except for the lack of storage space that is common to most apartments, (which we tried to solve by having more closets and shelves built and disposing of as many unnecessary possessions as we could) the flat was big enough to lose each other in. We were no longer within shouting distance of one other - if I was in the kitchen with the door closed and the exhaust fan on, there was no way I would hear my husband calling me from the bedroom.

When Little A came along, we were glad to have the fresh air, outdoor podium area with swimming pools and playground and the second room to put all his toys in. While he does get cabin fever at times (don't most babies?), he has more than enough room to crawl and walk and throw his balls about. When he runs from one room to another and I'm busy picking up after him, it sometimes takes 2 or 3 minutes to find him again. Just last night I was searching the different rooms and found him standing in the back corner of the shower in a dark bathroom.

My husband is currently being interviewed for a potential job in Hong Kong. If that happens, we pack up and move to what is likely to be a much smaller apartment, Hong Kong being the 6th most expensive city to live in in the world, from what I've read lately.

Suddenly, what once seemed like a too-tight apartment with not enough space for all our belongings is like an oasis, and it makes me sad to think of leaving it. Truly, home is what you make of it, and there really is no place better.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A New Look

Today was like Christmas, Mother's Day and my birthday rolled into one. I actually got to spend a whole hour and a half on my own to get a haircut, pedicure and bikini wax. Hooray! In the past year, I've had one haircut. This makes two. My last proper pedicure was in 2005, before my wedding, and my last proper bikini wax was before I gave birth. I am practically a new woman.

The reasons these wonderful things were all able to happen today are:
1) My husband is on his 3 week mandatory leave from work.
2) A new salon recently opened down the road from our apartment building, 
3) It was a Monday afternoon, so there weren't many customers when I walked in, and
4) Little A was asleep in the car on the way back from the pediatrician's office, so I hopped out right in front of the salon, and my husband took him home and amused him when he woke up.

Fully aware of this fortuitous opportunity, I first made sure that there was an available stylist and an available pedicurist before allowing my husband to drive away with my sleeping son. (Imperative that the haircut and pedicure were done together; it's a great time-saver, plus it makes you feel really pampered.) I made sure the stylist would give me a no-maintenance cut and then sat back to read this month's issue of In Style. Ah, bliss.

There were moments in the hour and a half that I slipped back into full-time mother mode: when the shampoo lady was giving me a nice long shampoo complete with relaxing head massage, I had to stop myself from looking at my watch and thinking, hurry up, my son might wake up! Shampoos in my own shower take all of one minute, and another to rinse. Then again when she was blow-drying my hair, I stopped myself from saying, just leave it, it will dry on its own! 

The bikini wax was a bonus: as the haircut and pedicure were just about over, my husband sent me a text saying, Go on and get your bikini wax, Little A is fine here, playing. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I complied. What a treat!

Amazingly, my husband was able to manage on his own with our precocious son, although he did call to tell me that when they came to pick me up, Little A would be shirtless. And so he was, wearing nothing but a nappy. Apparently he'd gotten annoyed with his t-shirt (as you do) so my husband took it off him and couldn't find another one to put on. Everything else was in the wash. It was a hot day, so that didn't matter.

Next week we are off to the mountains for 6 days of golf for my husband, new places to explore for Little A and a change from home cooking for me. Hooray!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Wife in the North

About a year and a half ago, my best friend in Helsinki suggested I check out www.wifeinthenorth.com. I read a few of her entries and was genuinely interested in more, but at the time my workload was massive and I was pregnant and therefore trying to do as much as I could ahead of time because it was likely I would go part time once the baby came. So I checked the site occasionally but didn't have the time to follow her story properly.

A month ago on Amazon.co.uk, I saw that her blog had been published and promptly ordered the book. (Luckily, my parents were in London at the time and could take it home for me, as Manila bookstores aren't likely to get the title in stock for a while.) I am now midway through and loving every page. The best thing about the Wife in the North is that her story is real, and as a mother, albeit of one child, not three, with a fairly absent husband (he works 12 hour days and comes home to shower and sleep and occasionally play with his son for a few minutes) much of what she feels rings true for me too. 

Well done, Ms. O'Reilly, for telling it like it is. I congratulate you for doing what I only dream about. With just the one son, my husband and I already wonder if we can handle having another, both for financial reasons and practical ones, (even with a daily girl, Little A keeps me on my toes all day long) but are leaving the possibility open for now. As for the blog-into-book success, well, that is another thing I can only wish for.

As a child, my greatest dream was to become a published writer. Back then, my imagination knew no bounds and I often wrote different endings or continuations of books I'd read. While fiction still provides my greatest escapes now that I am older, I have learned through living that truth is much better, and stronger, and so I admire people who can sell their real stories.

For now, I will remain in obscurity, as a Google search of my blog reveals nothing, even when I use the specific title. Sigh. Cyberfame is not meant for me, then. At least not yet. Who knows what the future holds in store?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Planned Parenthood

I am the only person in my family who married without being pregnant. In January 1973, my parents hastily tied the knot and seven months later, my sister was born. She in turn got pregnant in her last year of university and wrote her final exams four days after giving birth. My younger sister made the announcement in August 2003. I was sitting in front of the television after work when she came upstairs and said to me, "Guess what? I'm going to have a baby and I'm getting married." Even my best friend from school wasn't immune to the charm - in 2002 she asked for the name and number of my OB-Gyn and I cheered that she was finally getting a checkup. Turns out she was midway through her first trimester.

Considering I live in a predominantly Catholic country, it isn't really surprising that so many women rush down the aisle with artfully concealed bumps. (It's amazing what a well-designed dress or a large bouquet of cascading flowers can do.) What is shocking is the number of educated women who are woefully unconcerned about their gynecological health. My own sisters and best friend didn't even have regular doctors when they accidentally created new life.

I, on the other hand, together with my best friend who now lives in Helsinki, were very much "modern" women. We regularly went for Pap smears and had been on the pill since we became sexually active. Clearly, we are a minority. (Her best friend from school walked down the aisle with a bump too, as did her sister and, twenty-odd years previously, her mother.)

My then-boyfriend already had a massive strike against him in my mother's book, as had been previously married. He was in the process of getting his civil annulment when we met, and never made any secrets about his past. However, with our Catholic upbringing, it was considered a black mark equivalent to a woman's scarlet letter to have an ex-spouse in the picture. For this reason, among others, he wanted to do things right, and marry me before we had any kids. 

To be perfectly honest, I was sexually responsible not just out of fear of disease but out of selfishness. I wanted to enjoy my life, travel, see whether I could find some sort of career path, and most importantly, live on my own before becoming someone's wife or mother. I knew parenthood is the biggest responsibility of all, and one that lasts a lifetime, and figured it would be best not to experience it until I was really ready.

So we walked down the aisle and a respectable nine months later, I got pregnant. We figured 07/07/07 would be a great day for a baby to be born and planned our conception accordingly. It was lucky that my ovulation timetable complied, but Little A had his own thoughts on the matter and was born two days ahead of "schedule."

This is one of the reasons for the Stepford mention in the blog title. "Stepford" connotes both positive and negative reactions; planned perfection can be both a blessing and a curse, though Ira Levin seems to consider it as more of the latter in his seminal book. 

Despite being an older mother than most of my friends and sisters are, I am glad we waited until we did to have a child. As expected, parenthood was life-changing, more for me than my husband as it meant giving up, for now, at least, any time for myself, unplanned trips out of the house, and any sort of paid work (forget about the career path!). I embraced motherhood, and did so on my own terms. 

Unfortunately, not everyone was happy about this decision to parent as we see fit. My own parents long for more time with their grandson because unlike my sisters, I don't leave my kid with them at every possible opportunity. As the last member of the family to procreate (and marry), I experienced firsthand what it was like to look after a child, albeit someone else's. Both sisters didn't get the chance to live their single lives fully before becoming mothers, so they made full use of the grandparent advantage. My older nieces and nephew (from Sister #1) practically grew up at my parents' house, and my younger nieces (from Sister #2) spend weeks and weekends there when my sister and brother-in-law go on their regular travels, nights out and the like. 

While I know my parents love grandparenting, it is hard work for them too. I've heard my mother complain about the messes made in her home, her aching back and the like. I believe grandparenting is for enjoying children but not necessarily having to do the dirty work like getting up for midnight feedings and changing nappies. My in-laws visit regularly to play with Little A, but never once have they offered to feed, change or bathe him, or even put him to sleep. The day we brought Little A home from the hospital, they just stood there and watched as he cried his head off while I was having my first shower in five days. They didn't want to carry him until he was at least 3 months old, for reasons of their own.

My parents, on the other hand, are more used to being parents, as they have done most of the feeding, changing and putting to sleep of their other grandkids. They believe babies need to be carried constantly and have strong opinions on how to care for a child. My mother in particular tends to be overprotective to a degree that can drive me over the edge. 

A happy middle would be ideal, but when is life ever perfect? You can't please everyone, I learned long ago. The thing with parenting your own way is that if you make any mistakes, you have no one to blame for them but yourselves. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Few of My Favourite Things

There are many things that make me happy, but most of them are food-related. My parents just got back from a month in Europe and brought back some of my favourite things.

I will be the first to admit I am an Anglophile. How can I not be, having spent five years at British boarding school? Once the education was over, my family kept a flat in London's Sloane Square so we could visit the UK every other year or so on our holidays. My sister went to the Chelsea College of Art and Design in the early part of this decade so the four years she spent there provided great excuses to visit. 

Needless to say, there are many things British that I have grown to love and sorely miss now I am on the other side of the world. Thankfully, there are places to get decent Indian food and fish and chips locally, and I make it a point to cook regular roast dinners, but chocolate Easter eggs and Marmite are hard to come by and need to be brought in by people who visit the UK or sent by post. My favourite shade of lipstick isn't available in Asia, so that has to be purchased in the UK too, and I ordered a set of books to be delivered to the London flat from Amazon.co.uk. A number of those titles will not be available locally for some time, or at all.

It's been seven years since I visited London, and I know so much has changed in the city I knew and still love. We had planned to visit this year during my husband's 3 week holiday time, but the trip has been postponed due to a sudden series of job interviews (for him, not me). The industry he works in is in a downward slump and there have been layoffs, so it is extremely lucky that these opportunities have come about. One is for a senior position with another house, another is with a company based overseas. More on those developments as they unfold. For now, while Little A sleeps, I will sit quietly with a cup of Earl Grey with milk, read my copy of Wife in the North and munch on Marmite on toast with chocolate truffles for dessert. What a perfect way to spend the afternoon.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Pleasant Surprise

Little A and I got a parcel today. Once or twice a year, his godmother sends presents from Helsinki, usually in time for my birthday or his. What made today's parcel extra special was that it was delivered right to our door. Now this isn't unusual in other parts of the world, but in the Philippines, parcels accumulate at the village post office and recipients get a card telling them to come pick their stuff up. Upon arrival, you pay a "storage fee" because your parcel has been sitting underneath many others in a dusty room. The post office people then open it in front of you to be sure there isn't any contraband inside, then you can finally have it.

The 2008 birthday parcel was gorgeously boxed in a Marimekko container, and once I opened it, Little A's two bottles rolled out. He immediately picked them up and put them in his mouth. Also in the lovely box was a set of baby Moomin cutlery, and for me (and Big A) to enjoy, a black nightie set and two boxes of Fazer chocolate eggs! 

Another weird thing about the Philippines is that despite it being a predominantly Catholic country, chocolate companies don't sell Easter eggs during Lent. Having lived 5 years in the UK, I know how delicious Cadbury's Creme and Galaxy Truffle Eggs can be, and crave for them every year. Fazer eggs are one step above the rest. Made for Russian Czars in the early 20th century, these eggs use real eggshells and are filled with a delicious almond-nougat-chocolate filling. To have 8 of them in my refrigerator is a delight that cannot be explained in words. 

The bottles should come in handy once I finally bite the bullet and start sleeptime weaning. This should happen soon, but as Little A has just come down with a cold, we may have to wait until he's well again. At the rate we're going, it will be another month before he's fully weaned. Fingers crossed!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Different Strokes

Last Sunday, we hosted lunch for a friend of Big A and her family, as they were in town for a visit from London. Their two girls, aged 2 and 4 and half-French, were like little fairies, beautiful, well-behaved and soft spoken. Little A enjoyed having company, and while they spent more time in parallel play than interacting, he wasn't so averse to sharing his toys this time.

When they left, Big A remarked that the two little girls were unlike any kids he'd ever encountered before. They were polite and respectful in a way that few children nowadays seem to be. When Little A's cousins come over, there is plenty of screaming - with excitement, frustration or anger. Opinions are expressed loudly, without hesitation. Each room is explored, beds are bounced on and toys and books are tossed about. My best friend's 5-year old likes watching tv or playing games at top volume, and when Little A tries to take a toy from him (as he doesn't yet understand the concept of sharing) he hits back or retaliates.

The French girls played quietly, and they didn't dare to enter our bedroom, or even Little A's room, until their parents said it was alright to do so. When they did, they didn't even think about touching the bed, let alone climbing in. They only played with what was available, and never raised their voices. At the dining table two rooms away, we grown ups could hear each other as we spoke in our regular voices, something that never seems to happen when other children come over. Once in a while, one of us would peek in at the kids to be sure all was well, otherwise no supervision or intervention was necessary.

Seeing those children in action made me more determined to bring up my son "right", as Big A and I define it anyway. Different strokes work for different folks, and everyone's parenting style is unique. I never liked it when Little A ran around screaming. Screaming is only for when you're hurt, or if a stranger tries to take you away. I'd like him to be respectful of other people's bedrooms and not climb on other people's beds. As it is, he does play quietly most of the time, with little supervision required. And as it's been a while since he's played with his cousins, there has been less of the screaming.

Still, as parenting goes, we have a long way to go. It's a learning process for both us and Little A, so let's hope the end result is one that we're all happy with.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mother's Milk and the Fifth Taste

Little A and I are now 2 weeks into the weaning process. I don't know how successful we've been, as those blasted websites make it sound so easy. "Replace a feeding with a bottle once every 3-4 days, and within 2 weeks your baby will be completely weaned." Or maybe it is easy for other parents and we are the exception?

The plan was to replace the afternoon feeding first, then the morning one, and save naptime and nighttime (pre-sleep) feedings for last. But the websites don't tell you what to do when your child has had less than a dozen bottles in his first year and so flat out refuses and just goes on milk strike. Formula was ruled out immediately because any attempt to get him to drink it resulted in instant vomiting. So I moved on to fresh cow's milk. I say "fresh", but I really mean pasteurized, boxed milk. He reluctantly accepts it, but only when heavily diluted with water, and in minuscule quantities. Pre-naptime he alternates between the breast and the cup (a plastic drinking glass, not a sippy,) spending a few seconds at a time with each.

It's not easy, and I have no idea how to address the boredom feeding that happens every time we get into the car, let alone the mid-nap and sleep feedings. But a part of me understands why Little A is so reluctant to give up his mother's milk. It is the best and most natural food for a baby, after all.

Much press have been given lately to the so-called fifth taste, umami. In addition to salty, sweet, sour and bitter, this new taste is what makes us crave for more. It addresses the palate's sense of "deliciousness."

Glutamate is said to be the main ingredient in creating umami, and surprise, surprise, one of the things found to contain a very high content of glutamate is breast milk. No wonder Little A is so loath to give it up, and no wonder cow's milk (which, when given too early in human babies can cause kidney damage due to its high sodium and potassium content!) is such a poor second.

Calves (and all bovine creatures, I presume) have 4 stomachs and a special digestive process to allow them to break down what they eat. Between birth and 8 weeks of age, when they are weaned, cow's milk develops the 4 stomach formation in a young calf. So how can a human baby stomach in its singular form cope with digesting cow's milk, and, for that matter, is it really the best thing to give toddlers from age one onwards? Certainly, it makes them sleep longer, but all of my reading says this is precisely because formula (cow's milk-based or otherwise) is more difficult to digest than breast milk.

I'm on the fence on this one. While Little A's increasing teeth make breastfeeding more uncomfortable, I do wonder if there is a better alternative to cow's milk out there. Maybe the pediatrician will know. When we see her next week, I will be sure to ask.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Wife Vs. Mother

A friend of mine has a fantastic food blog. In the kitchen, she is a true domestic goddess, cooking and baking and even making her own bread. I follow her culinary adventures online and take down lots of recipes, most of which I've not yet had time to make.

When Big A and I first moved in together, our apartment had a tiny kitchen and an ancient oven that made us afraid connecting the gas would cause the building to blow up. Plus, we both hate it when the smell of cooking food permeates throughout the house, and the tiny kitchen was not sealed off from the main living/dining area. Add to that the fact that I worked 3 simultaneous jobs, hence the move into the heart of the city where both of us could walk to our respective offices, meant very little cooking was done in the 2 1/2 years we lived there.

Marriage meant moving to a bigger flat, one with a "proper", though not much larger, kitchen. By this time I was working only one day job with flexible hours, which meant cooking was now possible.

So cook I did. My husband is very unadventurous gastronomically, so I had to make the things he'd been eating at home for years and staple Filipino food for most meals. The 2 days a week he would play golf though, I could push the envelope a little and make myself more interesting food. My repertoire increased from just "survival food" (pasta of all sorts, and roasts) to things like Eggs Benedict, Beef Stroganoff and Spanish-inspired bean stew. I baked banana bread and sticky toffee pudding from scratch, and made my own sangria when friends came over. While there were still many recipes I hadn't tried, I seemed to be on the right path to domestic goddess-ness.

Nine months into the marriage, I got pregnant. One day after the pregnancy was confirmed with our first ultrasound scan, I had some bleeding and was put on a week's strict bed rest. That meant absolutely no cooking, and this was a problem because Big A's culinary abilities are limited to making rice and heating up things that come from a can. I did the cooking and the washing up, but we had a lady come in twice a week to do the major cleaning, laundry and ironing. 

Bed rest meant that in the mornings before leaving for work, Big A would bring me a drink and something purchased from Starbucks the night before, like a muffin or a croissant. At this time, he only worked mornings, so at lunchtime he would come home and heat the food his parents or mine had left in our freezer, then do the washing up (I assumed). Dinner was a repeat of lunch.

A week went by and I was still told to take it easy because bouts of spotting would come and go. I was to spend as little time as possible on my feet, so preparing meals and washing up meant sitting at a stool in the kitchen.

In the second trimester things went back to normal, thankfully, so I continued my progress toward Stepford wifedom. The third trimester meant frantically finishing off my work, or trying to, as I would be officially unemployed once the baby came, and finding a place for all the hand-me down baby items my sisters passed on. In the run-up to the 40th week, I cooked madly, making and freezing as much as I could because all the reading I'd done said that there was little time and energy for housework when a new baby was born. (Little did I know that this would become a longish-term situation.)

Once Little A was born, things changed.

Suddenly I was a mother, and all mothers know that babies are quite demanding. We hired a daily girl whom I taught to cook and clean, as she didn't even know how to make rice, let alone use a toilet brush. As my job had disappeared and Big A started working 12 hours a day, we decided not to hire a nanny, which meant I was a full-time mum.

It was then that I realized that the roles of wife and mother are not particularly complementary. I had to be a mum first, and therefore had much less time to be a wife. Big A and I could no longer go out for meals, see a movie or paint the town red the way we used to BB (Before Baby). As Little A grew and Baby Einstein took over the television set, Big A and I couldn't even watch DVDs together anymore. 

The demands of his new job were such that in spite of the long hours at his desk, Big A had to entertain clients in the evenings at least once a week. On weekends, he wanted nothing more than to rest. Those twice weekly golfing afternoons were gone, as well as time previously spent at the driving range of with his friends. Since he spent so little time with his son, he wanted to make the most of weekends with the family. It was almost a good thing that we never had time to do husband-and-wife things together anymore.

While we both agree that Little A is a fantastic addition to the family and probably love him more than we do each other, there is no denying that the parameters of our marriage have had to adjust. No doubt these will change again as he gets older and becomes more independent, but in the meantime we're taking things day at a time. I look forward to the day when I can be both mother and wife, equally.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Down Memory Lane (1)

Thanks to modern technology and a wonderful thing called Facebook, I have recently gotten back in contact with people I've not heard from in decades. While there are many arguments against virtual social networking, I can only see the positives, maybe because I am home all day, every day, with only a one-year old and a housekeeper for company. Virtual networking keeps me sane, and in touch with the outside world.

Another reason to be thankful for things like Facebook and email is that for 5 years of my life, while I was halfway across the world at a British boarding school, the only means of communication with my family, friends and boyfriend of 2 years were snail mail and occasional long-distance telephone calls. Many people don't remember what life was life before the Internet made the world so much smaller, but I do, all too well. The world wide web has not only made communication infinitely easier, but has also allowed me to rekindle old friendships that petered out when letter writing became passe.

I spent the summer of my 12th year at school. Not summer school, but boarding school in Sussex, England, for a 6 week period that would be my trial run for the five years between 1989 and 1994.

Ballet was my life as I entered late elementary school, and books my parents brought me from the UK about dancers at ballet schools must have had a serious impact, because after sending off a series of photos and a video audition of myself doing a ballet class, I was off to Bush Davies school in the summer of 1988.

I remember feeling both nervous and excited. My mom took me to Harrods to purchase the uniform grey kilt, white blouses, burgundy jumpers, knee-length grey socks and the blazer with the school crest on it. From the school's secondhand shop came two hideous pink and white dresses that turned out to be the summer uniform, and a pair of royal blue smocks that buttoned at the back - pinafores that the first-years were required to wear. For the dance classes, I had enough of my own pairs of tights and ballet shoes and just had to get a few of the uniform burgundy leotards.

The school grounds were beautiful, and most importantly, located near enough to my guardians' house to allow me to spend the exeat weekend (there was one every 3 weeks of term) with them. As a minor, I was required a legal guardian, and my dad's counterpart at the London office fit the bill perfectly. My parents spent a week or so in London to get me ready for the term's start and make sure I settled in nicely.

The first year girls all slept together in one long room. I remember entering a small building and going up a narrow flight of stairs, at the top of which was a small room on the left belonging to the housemother, whom we called Nanny. Poor Nanny had to wear a uniform even more hideous than ours. The main room was like something out of Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeleine. 3 of the walls were lined with 2 dozen beds, some singles, some bunks, each separated by small lockers in which the girls stored their personal items. I was given a single at the far end, and had a dark-haired Welsh girl called Victoria for a neighbor.

In the middle of the room and along the 4th wall by the door were double-sided tables and chairs, with mirrors at each, which was where we were to do our hair before dance classes. On the table in front of each mirror were fishing tackle boxes, many of which were decorated with stickers, filled with hairgrips, pins, nets, brushes and hairspray.

I was unpacked and settled in by 430 pm or so of the day before term started, and the girls were starting to come in one by one, many bidding tearful farewells to their parents for another 3 weeks. It was only then that I realized that I'd come in the middle of the school year (the start of the summer term, to be exact) and that all the girls had their little cliques of friends already. Luckily, everyone was very friendly to the new and only Asian girl in the year, and I didn't feel left out.

530pm was teatime. I followed some girls down to a big building that housed the dining hall and dormitories for older students. There was a massive, high-ceilinged room filled with tables and chairs (very much like Hogwarts' Great Hall), and along one long wall was the entrance to the narrow serving area, where we lined up with trays for hot food. Along another wall was the window through which we pushed finished trays to be cleaned. The fourth wall opened up into a conservatory, which was filled with yet more tables and chairs. The entire room reverberated with the noise of hundreds of students welcoming each other back.

I dutifully lined up and held out my plate for a slice of cheese on toast. There were plastic mugs at one end of the line and everyone took one and filled it from the drinking jug next to it. I did the same and wondered what on earth the tepid beverage that looked like dirty dishwater could be. Used to drinking glasses of fresh water with every meal, I was about to have my first taste of British tea with milk. I didn't like it at all. It tasted of dirty dishwater, and it was only the next morning I realized that there was sugar next to the mugs. It was much later that I tasted a proper cup of English tea, as the tea served at school had very little milk in it, and realized how delicious it could be.

Once tea was over, I remember asking on the way back to the dorm what time dinner would be served. I was told it would be at 1pm the next day. Here was my first encounter with the language barrier. English in England was not the same as the American English I'd grown up speaking, though I did know some of this from all the Enid Blyton books I'd read.

To my horror, I realized that tea, that insignificant slice of bread with cheese on top of it, was the last meal of the day. Again, I came from a country where tea is an afternoon snack, and dinner or supper at 7pm or so was a full meal that kept one from starving til the next morning's breakfast. But apparently the Brits didn't eat. Woe was me with my lightning fast metabolism and days full of academic and dance classes.

Somehow, I survived the night, maybe because I was nervous about the next day. Breakfast was hot oatmeal and more tea, and this time I discovered the sugar. Then it was back to the building that housed our dormitory, for it turned out that the two big rooms downstairs were the first-years' classrooms. I was assigned to one and muddled through a morning of strange classes. Geography and history were clearly different than what I'd been learning at home. Maths was fine, but it had an S at the end of it (we called it Math where I came from). English was a piece of cake. Science would come later on that week in the labs, which were in another building, as well as Music, which took place in a room behind the conservatory next to the dining hall.

At lunch, or dinner, as they called it in England, I was in for another surprise. The serving line I'd gotten used to from the previous two meals provided a hot lunch, and more of the neverending tea. As I sat down to eat, I saw that there was a second serving area in the conservatory. Apparently this was where cold lunch was served - sandwiches and salads. You could have one or the other, but not both. Clearly, Brits really didn't like to eat.

After lunch, we trooped back to the dormitory to get changed and do our hair for the afternoon's dance classes. As timetables were handed out at the start of the schoolyear and I'd come in midway though, I just blindly followed wherever the other girls headed. I also had the disadvantage of not knowing my way around the campus, as the others had been there two terms previously and knew where they needed to go and when. At this point, I only knew my way to and from the dining hall.

The dance studios were scattered across the different buildings. The main administration building, in front of which was a large pool that had turned into a pond over the winter and spring complete with green water and frogs, housed most of the studios, and I remember having most of my ballet classes there.

Another surprise was learning that ballet wasn't the only dance class we were to do. Having only studied that, it was something of a surprise to realize I also had to do Character, Tap and Modern. For the latter two classes, many of the girls had been studying these already prior to entering Bush, so students were divided into 3 groups according to ability. Naturally, I was put into the beginner's classes of each. Having no tap shoes or Character skirt, I made do or borrowed what I could.

Despite my total lack of previous experience in any other dance form other than classical ballet, I found I enjoyed the other classes. In Character I learned to strip the willow (and now wish I'd learnt other forms of Scottish dance), and tap was a lot of fun. Modern dance was the most challenging, but somehow I muddled though.

As the weeks went by, I found myself enjoying the entire experience. Some nights, Nanny would read a chapter of Roald Dahl's Boy to us. One night there was a fancy dress party, and we had to make ourselves up to look like a particular musician or actress using only what we had on hand. There were girls who cried at night out of homesickness, and most of our spare time was spent sewing ribbons on ballet shoes or writing letters home.

Dorm life was exciting that half-term. One afternoon we couldn't get ready for dance classes because a hive of bees, or maybe it was wasps, had fallen through one of the cupboards and the entire dormitory had to be fumigated, so we couldn't get in until all the insects had been removed. Another morning, we woke up to flapping overhead. A bird had gotten in somehow, again though a crack in a wall or a cupboard, and was flying aimlessly around the room looking for a way out. We dove under our duvets each time it flew above our heads, and in the end Nanny, I suppose, shooed it out a window.

One weekend afternoon, we went to town. Each girl had some pocket money deposited in Nanny's care at the start of every term. We were allowed to take some out and buy what we pleased, but there weren't many shops in town. All I remember is a very long walk in the cold and wet, the highlights of which were a sweetshop and the Body Shop.

3 weeks later, it was exeat weekend, when most of the students went home for a night. Everyone looked forward to this. I was to spend the weekend at my guardians', but their kids had just come down with the chicken pox, and since I'd not had it yet, I had to stay at school. I didn't mind, as this would give me more of a chance to explore the campus.

The grounds were like a ghost town that weekend, and I was the only first-year girl staying behind. Nanny's boyfriend Rupert, as large and cuddly-looking as the bear of the same name, came to visit, probably because she was stuck there that weekend to look after me.

In the dining hall there were only a handful of students. As I was eating by myself, a blond girl came up and introduced herself. She was a second year named KatieJane, and she and her companion invited me upstairs to see their dorm after the meal.

I was surprised to discover that second years only roomed in groups of four, which was nice and cosy. This was my only look into the other dormitories, and it was lovely to see where I would be staying if I came back to Bush after this summer.

After exeat weekend, it was time to wear the dreaded summer uniforms. In reality, it wasn't even that warm, and most of us still wore our burgundy jumpers over the pink dresses, which clashed horribly, particularly on the redheaded girls. Summer uniforms meant first years no longer had to put the blue pinafores on, so we really did look sartorially sad.

The next 3 weeks seemed to go by in a flash, and before I knew it, half-term was coming up. It was then that I realized there was another six weeks of school to come, but I was going home. There were tears all around, as I'd made some good friends in my short stay. What there was to look forward to was the fact that I'd most likely be coming back for good in the third year. (Summer in the Philippines was from March until May, so I had already been enrolled for the coming school year in June.)

My last day came, I hugged everyone goodbye, and we all promised to write. (And we did, some girls more than others.) I went home, and things went back to normal except that I knew I'd survived the boarding school experience, and enjoyed it, which meant I'd be going back for more.

Sadly, that year an announcement was made that Bush Davies was closing down. They had kindly forwarded my application video to several other schools, and I was accepted at The Arts Educational School in Tring, Hertsfordshire, and Elmhurst Ballet School in Camberley, Surrey. The following summer, my parents and I visited both schools, and decided that I would go to Elmhurst in the fall of 1989.

This time the uniforms came from Peter Jones: grey A-line skirts, bright blue jumpers, another grey blazer and a duffle coat for the winters. There was also a stripy blue and white summer uniform that was just slightly less hideous than the pink and white dresses we had at Bush, a grey tracksuit with the school logo on it to wear over dance clothes, and a straw boater hat, which no one ever wore.

Upon entering Elmhurst in September, 1989, I was delighted to discover that many of my friends from Bush (as we fondly called it) were there too. All of us new girls together were dubbed the Bush girls, and I was proud to be one of them. Apart from the Bush lot, the only other new students to Elmhurst in my year were a pair of girls from Jersey.

There began another chapter in my life, but that will be told another time.