Friday, May 30, 2008

The First Year

A big milestone approaches. On July 5th, Little A will turn one. The first year is nearly past, where did the time go?

My sister gave birth to a baby boy two months ago. I've seen my new nephew a handful of times and barely remember Little A being that tiny. Thank goodness for photos. Maybe it's Caesarean section amnesia or overuse of my mobile phone, but my memories of the past 11 months are somewhat blurry.

For the first 2 months after giving birth, I was still working from home, winding up the last of my responsibilities before bidding farewell to my paycheck and simultaneously sorting out the details for Little A's christening. Funny how most women take 2-3 months off work after delivering a baby and then go back to their jobs, and I did the complete opposite. Anyway, most of what I remember of this time is Little A's rapid weight gain (2.9 to 5.3 kilos in 6 weeks), the dreaded colic stage (evening wailing from 2weeks-2months of age) and his rolling over early. Also being truly dependent on my breast pump. I had so much milk that at one point was feeding Little A and two preemies in the NICU.

3-6months - we made 2 trips to HongKong when Little A was 4 and 6 months old, respectively, so vivid memories of this stage are his first fall (rolling off the daybed at the Hong Kong Mandarin Oriental), his sitting up unassisted at 5months (the pediatrician didn't believe it) and crawling and standing at 6months.

This year he was mobile from the start. At 9 months he started walking and now, a week before his 11th month mark, is walking steadily all over the place, although he still needs more practice walking with shoes on.

Food-wise, he started eating at 6months, and is still being breast-fed. I've been trying to figure out what he should be eating at this stage, and in what quantities. Little A's pediatrician insists that milk is still the main source of food for the first year, and that anything additional should comprise no more than 25% of their daily intake. Still, at age 1, food seems to play a bigger role, and I wonder how best to prepare him for this change.

I recently read a list of 10 things not to feed babies before they turn 1: honey, peanuts, cow's milk, shellfish, egg whites, excessive sodium and a few others. This makes me wonder, what magical thing happens on a baby's first birthday that suddenly renders his or her digestive system mature enough to handle things he couldn't eat just days previously? After 12 months of being so careful to avoid certain foods, suddenly the 12 month mark means all table food is okay? Must read more.

Meanwhile, I'll take more photos as the days pass, because he does seem to be growing up very quickly. It's true when people say don't blink or you'll miss something. Every minute with your baby counts.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Food for Thought

Hormones must do something to the taste buds, because there are things I eat now that I would never have touched before. I've not done any research on this, but noticed that my tastes have become more accommodating when hormones have been at work.

The first time this happened was a decade and a half ago, when I was at boarding school in England. Marmite on toast was common breakfast fare, and since we had unlimited quantities of bread to snack on in our common room, it also became a popular tummy-filler in the evenings and on weekends. I first tried it at age 14 and hated the stuff. Yuck! It was salty and sourish and smelled just plain strange. But a few months later, in the throes of PMS, I decided to try it again. And this time I loved it, and there began a love affair with Marmite that lasts to this day.

Always try everything twice. That's my belief, because the first time could be a one-off, and they say everyone, or everything, deserves a second chance. So I generally do try everything twice, from sports to food to even men in my dating days. Epicuriously though, I still never liked tongue or liver, and after a long flight was convinced I could never again stomach smoked salmon after they served it before and after every one of 4 stopovers.

Pregnancy and the Palate
In the first trimester of pregnancy most smells made me feel nauseated, so eating wasn't so much an adventure but a necessity to survival. The second and third trimesters I ate and ate and ate, but was limited by my OB-Gyn - no swordfish, marlin, tuna or salmon because of their mercury content, no raw fish, no raw eggs. That meant Caesar salad and sashimi, two of my very favorites, were on the no-eat list for the next 5 months. Sob.

Fast forward to post-pregnancy, when it was all systems go, although my husband still wanted me to keep away from potential salmonella-carrying foods (namely the raw stuff) because I was breastfeeding. Alcohol and caffeine were to be limited too, and while it didn't matter so much that I couldn't have wine, I would dream of cups of Earl Grey and chai.

As Little A got older, I got braver. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've had raw fish since giving birth, but do allow myself 2 or so cups of decaf or tea a week. I've had a few glasses of wine with no adverse reactions to Little A, and couldn't give up chocolate even if someone held a gun to my head.

However, the hormones had done their job again. Suddenly I find myself eating quantities of pate when any form of liver would previously make me gag. The texture of foie gras is no longer so disgusting either, and I can eat it now when I never could before. Tongues, kidneys and cooked liver I have yet to give another try, but am willing to - for the third or fourth time.

Healthy Eating
Maybe this is how certain people learn to eat vegetables as they grow up. I wish it would apply to men as well though, because Little A will no doubt ask when he is aware why Dad never eats broccoli or cauliflower (or most veggies, for that matter) when he and I do.

For the most part, we eat properly enough as a family, though I believe we don't have enough fish on the menu at home and fruit is sometimes abundant (when in season) and sometimes scarce. There is a vegetable dish with every meal, and we buy only lean meat. We went through a stage of mixing red with our white rice, but that stopped when polished red rice became hard to find.

Big A though, is not such a healthy eater. Aside from this aversion to vegetables and limited fruit consumption, he eats altogether too much red meat for a man in his mid-30s (client lunches and dinners have him ordering steak as often as he can, when he could opt for lobster instead) and way too much processed food. He has McDonald's for breakfast every morning at work, because he claims he leaves too early to be able to eat a healthier one at home. Grrr.

Growing up, we only ate healthy at my parents' place. An uncle who suffered a heart attack in his early 30s gave my dad a scare, and he promptly gave up red meat. Only fish and chicken were served in our house, with the occasional pork dish. As both sides of the family tended towards hypertension, salt was limited too. Veggies were a must. Since I was slightly anemic, I was encouraged to order steaks or red meat every time we ate out, which I gladly did.

Now I have my own home though, we eat beef 2 or 3 times a week, but I have switched to whole grain bread and veggie pasta and plan to serve these to Little A as well. Big A and I were very fit as young people - he was a national swimmer and I a professional ballet dancer before we both opted to become corporate rats. While we exercise much less now (actually, we don't anymore), we both still sport lean, toned bodies, though that is no indication of healthy arteries.

Goal for the family: to keep making sure we eat a good diet. There is too much pollution in our city's air as it is, so we need the rest of what goes into our bodies to be good for us.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Here Comes the Rain Again

There are those who say it is always summer in sultry Manila, but in reality it's just warm all year round. There are actually two seasons - scorching and soaking. You know the sweltering summer is at an end when the typhoons start coming, one after the other. There's a respite around Christmastime, when if we're lucky there are crisp mornings and cool nights.

This summer, Little A's first, wasn't too long, thankfully. A year ago, 36 weeks pregnant, we had a proper summer with searing hot days and steamy nights from mid-February to June. I actually looked forward to going to work and got in earlier and left later than I normally would, just because the office air conditioner, normally so cold that it required me to leave a jacket at my desk, kept the temperature just right.

This year, due to climate change, no doubt, summer came later and appears to have left sooner than it normally would. Usually by Easter weekend people had been to the beach and were bronzed and lean. But the weather stayed nice and cool until mid-April, when the heat finally came.

Our electricity bill for the month of April was 50% higher than the previous month's, and apparently this held true for most of the people we knew. It was hot hot hot, and with a toddler who seems to have a perpetually sweaty head (despite his lack of hair) and an apartment that bakes in the afternoon sun, we needed to run the air conditioners nearly the entire day.

It's barely mid-May now, but the worst of the heat seems to be over. The past few days have been overcast or drippy, with slow rain falling all day long. Maybe it's a tropical monsoon and the hot days will be back tomorrow, but maybe it's the rainy season come early. Who knows? Little A seems to enjoy watching the rain and doesn't mind the thunder and lightning. Now if only there was in indoor playground or a covered walkway to play under during the wet days.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Becoming a Fairy Godmother

On June 1st, I will be a godmother for the 8th time. Baby G, Little A's playdate from the last christening we attended (when I was godmother for the 7th time) will be baptized on her father's birthday. As she was born 2 months prematurely and my milk fed her for close to a month in the NICU, it's only fitting that I become her godmother. Still, it makes one think: Godparenting - what is it all about, anyway? 

Wikipedia, today's source of all knowledge, defines it as someone who "takes a vested interest in the child's personal development." Traditionally, godparents are considered foster parents of a sort, those who will look after a child and be responsible for its upbringing should it be orphaned. But there are many kinds of godparents, in my opinion, namely:

1. The Mario Puzo godparent - these are the patron sort, chosen for their power and/or wealth, under the assumption that they will literally "protect" the child all their lives. Two of my godsons fall into this category, I think, not that I'm particularly wealthy or powerful. Sons of former officemates, I believe I was named godmother because at the time it seemed I would go far, career-wise. Numerous job changes over the years have left me out of contact with these godchildren, but just to be safe, I always have presents ready for them at Christmas.

2. The best friend/return favor godparent - these are the most common sort, as these godchildren are those whose development you most likely will assume a degree of vested interest in as the years go by. Good friends have children and name you godparent, so when it's your turn you're more or less obliged to do the same, though many times you "return the favor" out of free will. I am godmother to my best friend's son, and she is godmother to mine, likewise with my sister's eldest daughter. 

3. The "no choice" godparent - some people either have more children than they do close friends and siblings, or get so excited with the eldest child's birth they name everyone near and dear godparents, leaving no one left to godparent their succeeding children. Suddenly, new friends and virtually anyone they know a little more than casually have equal chances of becoming godparents to children they may or may not particularly care for. The noble step up to the task and take a vested interest in the child, but others just show up at the christening and then vanish into oblivion by the time the child's second birthday rolls around. Sadly, I have a godson in this category who I have not now seen in over three years, but still always remember at Christmas.

What kind of godmother does that make me? My ardent wish, along with becoming a domestic goddess, is to be the Fairy Godmother - the one who makes every godchild's wishes (within reason, of course) come true. As it is, I'm known as the Book Godmother and Aunt - the one who only gives age-appropriate reading matter to nephews, nieces and godchildren, a tradition that started when my first niece was born 13 years ago. It's not that I mean to inflict my love of books onto these children, but that I truly believe in the value of reading and that there is no better time to fall into the habit than when one is a child. Children nowadays watch too much television and play too many video games, so adding to, or in some cases singlehandedly building, their libraries is my personal task. Not very fairylike, but it's a start. I need to keep my magic wand waving (yes, I do have one - when I bought one for each of Little A's godmothers, I kept one for myself) and start making those wishes come true. Bibbidee bobbidee boo!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

My First Mother's Day

This Sunday will be my first Mother's Day. Scary. I'm really a grownup now. Over the years I've bought a present for my mother and wished my friends a happy day, but this year I'm a mom too! Being a mother for just 10 months has made me realize why there is a special day in the year dedicated to us.

Little A is still at the stage where he adores me, and I'm his constant companion. But as the years pass, I know he will spend more and more time discovering the world on his own, and I'm not sure how I'll feel about that.

Looking back at my own childhood, my most vivid memories of my mother are the sacrifices she made. Every weekday, rain or shine, she would pick me up from school at 3:45 pm on the dot and drive me to ballet class in a city that was miles away. There was traffic and I was always stressed about being late - now I realize she must have been more so, trying to get me to classes and rehearsals on time. The same thing happened on Saturdays, only then we left in the mornings. I assumed she would kill the time while I was dancing going to the nearest shopping center to do her errands, as these were the days before mobile phones, laptops and the Internet, so attempting to work from anywhere but the office just wasn't a possibility. After a few hours, she'd be back to drive me home. Sometimes I'd fall asleep in the car, leaving her to complete the long ride home with just the radio for company. I don't remember thanking her at the end of every day, or even now, years later, when I fully realize what efforts she made. This routine went on for years, until at the age of 13 I went to boarding school in England.

Today my mother is a doting grandma to seven lucky children. She shows her affection best with time and presents, and while she tries to laugh it off, it must hurt that some of the grandchildren, Little A included, prefer grandpa to grandma. My husband and I plan to raise Little A to respect and love his grandmothers, even more so than his grandfathers. If he continues to be the observant little boy he is now, he'll realize what motherhood entails, and it won't be such a thankless job.

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Stepford Style

Yesterday on Ludwig Bemelman's Madeline cartoon show, there was an episode about fashion. Miss Clavell remarked to the girls that style wasn't about what designer you wore but about how well you put things together. I love Madeline because it's just so adorably French, and who can resist the luscious voice of Christopher Plummer narrating? And, it must be said, the French certainly know about style.

This afternoon by the pool, there was a woman sunbathing. She was the grandmother of Little A's French friend, here for a visit. This woman was the epitome of French chic. In her late 50s or early 60s, she wore a strapless black maillot, oversized designer sunglasses and red lipstick to match her crimson toenail varnish. Next to her lounge chair was a clear tote and a bottle of Dior Bronze. Ooh, la la! When it started to rain, she got up, wrapped a black sarong (Indian cotton, naturellement) around herself, knotted it stylishly and went on inside.

This woman didn't have a hot mama body - she looked her age, but she looked wonderful. Little A could spot style a mile away, and he was giving her his charming gummy smile as we strolled around the pool. In my utilitarian ponytail, orange Zara shorts from the children's section (age 11-12) and an old tatty top that has seen better days but is one of only 5 I can wear as it has nursing openings, I felt very un-stylish. Sigh.

Realizing that I am now a 32-year old mother, it's high time to go through my wardrobe again. A firm believer in few quality items over many trendy ones, I know there are some wrap dresses and other things my own stylish mother has given me over the past months that have yet to be worn. The red lipstick I am already a firm believer in, though years of ballet leave me few choices by way of toenail varnish (nude or none, to be precise). If I could just leave Little A alone long enough to get a decent haircut, maybe stylish me will put in an appearance before the summer is over.