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.