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 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, 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 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.