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.