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.