Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Onward to the Next Decade

Another year nearly over. Wow. Lately I've not had much time to post, with a new business to manage, a flat to run and a family to look after. Christmas came and went without my once feeling the holiday spirit. I did get all the presents bought, wrapped and delivered, but that is all in the course of a woman's work.

The past two months have been a flurry of activity. In mid-November, Little A visited a developmental pediatrician to assess the cause of his speech delay and see what course of action would be best to take. The doctor advised Occupational Therapy for behavioural modification and sensory integration, as Little A is very sensitive to textures - hating grass, sand and most forms of fabric upholstery, refusing to wear shoes - and does not respond to instructions nor interact much with others.

We visited a couple of therapy centers and managed to choose one and squeeze in the evaluation before they closed down for the year. Little A also started preschool two mornings a week at this same time. Yesterday, we took him for a sleeping hearing test called the BAER, which measures the brain's response to sound at different levels.

Little A's left ear was fine, responding from a level of 25 up to 90 decibels. His right ear, which the neurologist in charge of the examination told us is normally the dominant side, was less responsive, only showing a reaction to the sound at a high 95 decibels.

The formal report on the test will only be released next week (or next year, depending on how one looks at it) and will be explained to us by Little A's pediatrician, who will also recommend a suitable course of action.

It is a small load off my mind to have seen that there may be a physical reason why Little A isn't talking yet. We still don't know what the final diagnosis will be, but whatever it is, we are praying it is something we can address early and well enough to give him the chances he deserves as he grows older.

I have much to be thankful for for the past year, but even more to hope for in the one to come. Here's hoping a good decade for our family is up ahead.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ring Bearer

A week ago today my little boy walked down the aisle, hand-in-hand with his father, bearing not the pillow with the rings but his favourite Baby Einstein DVD case.

I was very proud, like all mums must be when their children first take part in a bridal march. When we were first asked if Little A would be the ring bearer at my cousin's wedding, I accepted with great trepidation and told my aunt in all honesty that I doubted he would cooperate. At that stage he was refusing to wear shoes, not at all given to following instructions and rarely walked but mostly ran.

In the months leading up to the wedding I tried on a couple of occasions to make him walk down the hallway of our little flat carrying a small pillow but had no success. If he walked, he would throw the pillow aside. If he carried it, he would hug it to his chest, run down the hall and crash into the couch, laughing.

Two weeks before the big day, I borrowed the top he would wear from my best friend from childhood, the same top her son wore to my wedding. The native Filipino dress top, called a Barong Tagalog, was long-sleeved and made of slightly scratchy cotton. Every time I tried to put it on Little A just to check it for size, he would pull it off. I was already unsure he would walk down the aisle, let alone with the rings and now half-dressed as shoes were still a no go.

On the day of the wedding, we had to wake him from his nap to get to the church on time. He had slept two hours and woke up cheerful. Always eager for a car ride, he enjoyed the trip to the church but weekend traffic meant we arrived just in time. I ran him into the church where the march had already begun, and got him into his top with surprisingly little fuss just in time to push him down the aisle. A little confused, he looked at me with a puzzled expression, as if to ask what exactly he was meant to do. Right then, Big A came up, took him by the hand and off they walked, just perfectly.

Later on, I helped him deliver the rings for the priest to bless, and this time he wanted to climb the stairs to the altar. During the photo session following the ceremony, the other little boys and girls stood at their places obediently while Little A had to be chased away from the priest's chair and hauled back bodily to the steps where the photos were being taken, several times as he attempted escape more than once.

Nevertheless, I considered the event a huge success. Next on the list, performing at the school end-of-term concert. That one is still a dream.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Meme Time

I am really not a tech-savvy person. Honestly, I don't even know what the word "meme" really means, but gather it's kind of like the Internet version of an old-fashioned slam book. Mushamommy tagged me, and while I have no idea how to tag anyone back, I do have a few minutes to get through the questions, so here goes:

Do you think you're hot? Thankfully, my husband does, but as for me myself, it depends on what I am wearing :)

Upload your favourite picture and explain why you love it - for now, this one of my happy little boy.

What was the last song you heard? Old MacDonald Had a Farm

What are you doing while working on this game? Alternating between working and trying to put my son down for his nap.

Favourite nickname - The one my husband uses, which I will not repeat here :)

What kind of person are you? - An impatient one. I'm all for efficiency and can't stand red tape or incompetent people. I have few friends, but those I do have are good ones whose relationships I truly value. I'm quite practical and love a good bargain. I've learned that having few good quality things is far better than dozens of cheap ones, so my closet is not like the average woman's and contains less than two dozen pairs of shoes. I try to live life without any regrets.

Favourite song - Top 3 - Prince, When Doves Cry, Dire Straits' Your Latest Trick and The Cure's Love Cats.

Favourite food - Chocolate and raw fish. I can eat sashimi every day.

Most stressful thing for me - Juggling work, family and worrying about finances

3 Items that must be in my purse - Wet wipes, wallet and keys. Mobile phone instead of wet wipes if I'm not with my son.

Favourite colour/s - neutrals

Not-yet fulfilled dream - having a book published

Favourite city - London, if it wasn't so bloody expensive to live there.

Since I do not know how to tag anyone, I hope the few people who read this blog will consider themselves tagged.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Busy Busy

Another month has just flown by, and I have found little time to write the things I've wanted to post about. Ah, well, such is life and a working mother's priorities.

The past few weeks have been crazy, and I've survived by reducing my number of sleeping hours per night to 5. I actually forgot to pay my au pair and day girl last payday, and only realized this when they had to ask my husband for money for their twice-monthly market trip.

A Day in My Life before mid-November:
8am - Wake up, read paper while Little A plays, check email, make work calls, have breakfast, do laundry if Monday or Thursday
10am - Off to the supermarket, bank, Gymboree or whatever set of errands need doing, usually with Little A in tow.
1pm - Home for lunch and Little A's nap. Time online, working and surfing.
Afternoon - meetings if there are any, more errands if needed, snack time for Little A and more play. Reading time for me if he has a long nap.
730pm - Dinner, bathtime then downtime until bed.
1030pm - Lights out
12pm - Everyone usually sleeps

A Day in My Life since mid-November:
630am - Wake up with Little A, turn on laptop, answer emails, pay bills online, make calls. Do laundry if I have time to load the washing machine or laundry pile threatens to overwhelm the flat. Ignore newspaper. Have a quick breakfast when I can squeeze it in in time to -
1030am - Take Little A to preschool if Tuesday or Thursday, otherwise off to the mall to open the store if needed, or do errands or have meetings. When we are faced with imminent starvation, go to the supermarket and race through the aisles throwing things into the shopping trolley while simultaneously texting suppliers or work partners and making calls.
1pm - Drop Little A off at home for lunch and nap, head to the store to put in a few hours training and overseeing the staff, interviewing new applicants, handling all the admin work, dealing with both the mall management and customers and doing all sorts of retail business things without once sitting down, until -
730pm - Home for dinner and to see my son, who by this time thinks he has done something horrible and is being punished by not being able to see his mother. Watch Little A play or eat while frantically answering emails, printing reports and the like. (The laptop and printer now live permanently on the dining room table). Perhaps get to play with him for 10 straight minutes if I'm lucky.
830pm - Back to the mall to close the store if needed. Otherwise, bathe Little A and go back to paperwork, as the inventory updating is even worse than laundry pile.
1030pm - Lights out. Shut Big and Little A in the bedroom and continue work, or pay bills online, make Christmas lists, organise presents etc. Spend half an hour putting Little A to sleep, then sneak back out to the laptop.
1am - Turn off lights, pack away whatever messes Little A has left in his room and the living and dining room. Shower and fall asleep with hair soaking wet.

Somehow on paper it looks less hectic than it actually is. Maybe I'm missing something out. Don't have time to think about what it is. Little A is down for his nap and I've got to man the store now.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Frequent Traveler

I am amazed at how some mothers can blog so frequently. Just looking after my one child, keeping our small flat in order and having partial charge of a new business venture leaves me with little time to eat, sleep and even breathe. Still, all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl and Jill's toddler and husband sad people, so time must be alloted for "recreation."

With a trip to Hong Kong that needed to be taken before mid-November, (originally scheduled for a trade fair some months ago, the sudden onset of H1N1 worldwide required a postponement of a trip booked on what should have been non-rebookable, nonrefundable tickets) we found ourselves airport-bound for Little A's 5th overseas adventure.

Since he was born in July 2007, our son has been to Hong Kong twice a year. Two October journeys were Big A's business trips that we tagged along on, and the January trips were family ones for my parents' wedding anniversary and Chinese New Year, respectively. This one was partly work for me, and partly a nice break.

This trip also marked a couple of firsts for our little family. It was the first trip taken after Little A was completely weaned and since he decided to stop wearing nappies completely. With visions of wet pants dancing in my head, I packed three sets of trousers and shorts and a couple of nappies just in case, plus his favourite non-spill sippy cup, an assortment of books, and an entire box of his favourite biscuits for a half-hour car ride, two hour airport wait, two hour plane trip, half-hour train ride and ten minute taxi.

Amazingly, Little A did not have a single wee accident the entire 3-day trip. While at home he had to be taken to the toilet periodically or he would pee on the floor, all throughout the long weekend he would indicate when he needed to go, or go to the toilet himself and pull his shorts down and wait for someone to lift him up to reach the seat.

I was overjoyed. Perhaps it was the layout of the hotel bathroom, or the blue water in the loo (the toilets in the hotel were treated with disinfectant that turned the water bright blue), or even the fact that there were less distractions in the form of toys, videos and the like. Whatever it was, I was the proudest mum on earth.

Apart from the toilet training, Little A was perfectly behaved on the aeroplane both ways. He sat quietly in his seat, watched his Mickey Mouse videos, read his books and ate his snacks. Granted, the flights were short and he did do his share of sprinting in the airport and on the train into Hong Kong city, where he refused to sit anywhere but the luggage rack. Still, we were expecting much worse and were pleasantly surprised.

We have been back home a week now, and apart from one accident the night we arrived and another the next day when his nanny didn't take him to the toilet in time, Little A has kept his pants dry. He still needs to be taken to the loo every couple of hours, but I am hoping that soon he will be just like he was in Hong Kong and walk to the bathroom himself when he needs to go. Next week he will do a trial class at preschool. If that goes well, he will start attending twice weekly sessions. My little boy is not so little any more.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Best Buys

With November just around the corner and a soon-to-open small business that should see plenty of demand as the Christmas holidays approach, I am trying to finish up my Christmas shopping before the seasonal rush begins.

I normally begin this shopping in July and August, when the local bookstores have their annual sales. Little A's wardrobe gets more and more packed with presents until the time comes for them to be wrapped and distributed to boys and girls both naughty and nice.

Needless to say, majority of my presents every year are books. And while some may be unappreciated (and hopefully re-gifted) by those for whom reading is not a huge priority, others are read and enjoyed, some of them time and time again.

For my nephews, nieces and godkids, I get titles I have loved from a young age and still do, books that I think should be on every shelf. A few of these are not often available in local bookstores, so it is always pure luck to find them at my favourite secondhand bookshop. Some of them can be had for a song, and I snap them up eagerly.

I hope this year's recipients enjoy their books. After all, as Carlos Ruiz Zafon said, "Presents are made for the pleasure of who gives them, not for the merits of who receives them."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Growing Up

About a month before he turned two, I was determined to get Little A sleeping through the night and weaned, if it was possible to do both at the same time. Up until that point, he still nursed to sleep every nap and nighttime and managed 2-3 feedings a night plus one upon waking up in the morning. It was starting to drive me crazy.

The first few nights of denying pre-sleep nursing meant plenty of crying and throwing himself about the bed until Little A collapsed with exhaustion. Within a fortnight though, the crying decreased to whining and then to just cuddling next to me until he fell asleep. Hooray! The nighttime and morning feedings continued, though, as did the naptime one unless we weren't home and he fell asleep in his stroller or car seat.

I then applied one of the techniques detailed in Elizabeth Pantley's No-Cry Sleep Solution, decreasing the length of nursing time with each nighttime feeding, and eventually just refusing to feed at all. At first, Little A would go from half-asleep to more awake and protest loudly, but within a week or so, he learned to put himself back to sleep because there was no boob to be had, and then, joy of joys, he simply started sleeping longer until he was making it through the night. Hooray!

Morning feedings were quickly eliminated by taking him out for breakfast before he could complain too much, but surprisingly, the naptime feedings were the last to go. Perhaps Little A wanted to hold on to this last bonding session as long as he could.

When we are at home, at naptime Little A comes up to me, takes my hand, leads me to the bed, lifts his arms up to be carried onto it (though he is perfectly capable of climbing up himself) and then pulls me down next to him. He cuddles into my side and makes sure I do not leave until he is well and truly asleep.

Even when he no longer nursed to sleep, I had to be there every time it was naptime, unless I was not home, in which case he fought off sleep as long as he could before giving in and sleeping in his stroller. Some days he simply refused to nap at all.

Last week, my growing boy managed to fall asleep twice on the bed for late naps without my being next to him. The au pair let him play quietly on the bed until his eyes shut from tiredness.

Today, I was sitting at the table reading while Little A finished his lunch when he just walked off down the corridor. A few minutes later, I peeked into his room but didn't see him playing there. When I looked into our room, where Big A was on the bed watching tv, I saw Little A at the foot of the bed, reclining. Big A waved me away and called me in two minutes later to show me our son sleeping quietly. Little A had climbed on the bed by himself, held on to his favourite dvd and lay down. He turned his head to look at his dad and then shut his eyes and was asleep instantly. He knew I was there ready for the regular naptime routine, but chose to grow up today and go to sleep without mum, on his own.

I looked down at my sleeping son, feeling a mixture of pride and sadness for the little person who once depended on me for nourishment and comfort and is now well and truly on the way to being all grown up.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nighttime and Nappies

An old schoolfriend recently had a baby boy. At six weeks she was marvelling at how he slept through the night in 6-hour stretches and at three months he is sleeping 11 hours a night.

I was very envious of her non-sleep deprived state. Little A only started sleeping 6 hour stretches just before he turned two, and sometimes that was a single stretch per night, meaning he and I were up incredibly early while he played for a few hours before napping. Slowly though, he learned to sleep longer. Coupled with the end of night-time feedings, he can now sleep the full night through, and if he does wake up, he goes back to sleep without needing to wake me up.

This victory was not yet celebrated when he decided, for the second time, (the first being when he was about 20 months old) that he no longer needed nappies. The first refusal stage lasted a few weeks and was solved by switching to pull-up nappies. This time, we thought he might be ready to start toilet training.

Little A quickly learned that the bed, couches and rugs were no-wee zones, but would go on the floors instead, stubbornly refusing to make it to the bathrooms unless he happened to already be in there for a bath. Night-times, however, he has generally remained dry, allowing him to sleep without nappies most of the time. He only wets the bed at night if he is very tired and has had a long day that is different from his usual schedule.

In the morning and after his nap, Little A pees in the bathroom, but we are still working on regular daytime wee times. I hope that this continues to work as forcing him into nappies now results in two-year old tantrums, and anyone who has raised a child will know how tiresome these can be.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Searching for Greens

Two weeks after back-to-back storms lashed the northern Philippines, flooding an island slightly smaller than the size of England and causing landslides, massive population displacement and now, leptospirosis, I went to the supermarket to find many areas empty.

The tinned meat section was cleared out, which was fine by me as most of that had gone to relief goods, but the produce section was woefully vegetable-free because most of the vegetables we buy are grown in the north, which at the time was inaccessible by road due to the floods. Parts of the south had flooded as well, so the salad greens normally sourced there were absent as well.

What veg there was was marked up by about 4 times its regular price. Three layers of price stickers showed massive price increases in the span of a few days. I purchased only what was absolutely needed, and went home with bags full of meat and fish but very little vegetables. No carrots, no potatoes, no greens.

One good thing brought about by the floods was an abundance of fish, and while prices of these hadn't decreased, supply was better, giving a wider variety of choice.

Weather reports warn of a new typhoon headed our way, due to make landfall tomorrow. With most of the country still reeling from the last two storms, we pray that this one will sweep by with a minimum of damage.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

After the Rain

Last Saturday started out as a regular day. Since the Philippines has only two seasons, wet (June to November) and dry, (December to May) rain at this time of the year is not unusual.

By midday though, it was clear that this wasn't your average rainy day. It had been pouring steadily since Friday night, and at noon of Saturday, the area around the corner from our apartment building was cordoned off because the reservoir underneath had overflowed, causing waist-high flooding on the street and submerging the cars parked in the basement of the nearby buildings.

When Big A went online and turned on the tv to a news channel, we saw the flooding was widespread. In two more hours, water engulfed the metropolis, leaving thousands stranded in traffic, at work or home or on their rooftops. Tropical storm Ketsana, named Ondoy in the Philippines, was larger than 2005's Hurricane Katrina and left just as much devastation in its wake, albeit on the other side of the world and in a country with nowhere near as much resources as the mighty USA.

For the past three days, people have volunteered their time, SUVs, boats and personal services to rescue those still stranded. Centers have sprouted up in each city to collect and distribute relief goods to those in need. Stories of modern-day heroes are being published, along with images of despicable politicians and next year's political hopefuls using the tragedy for their own publicity purposes.

It is a sad, sad thing to think of, and see, so many people who have lost their homes, their belongings and worst of all, their loved ones. Let us do all we can to help.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Guides to (Parenting) Life

While I love to read, as any one who knows me will agree, I am not much of a how-to book fan. I prefer to get such information online, where it is usually more current and contains helpful testimonials of other people's real-life experiences, not to mention the opportunity to communicate with them. I am also an avid researcher, usually reading reviews of a product or book before purchasing it.

When I was pregnant, I was the only person I knew who did not buy or read what is recently considered the ultimate pregnancy bible. Reviews of this book said it was too technical and tended to scare parents-to-be by detailing all the possible ailments and problems that could crop up in the course of a pregnancy. I signed up for an online weekly pregnancy newsletter towards the end of my first trimester, and this combined with my prenatal checkups seemed to be enough.

A friend gifted me with a slim volume on pregnancy and the homeopathic alternatives for dealing things like morning sickness and the like, and I found it very informative, especially since I firmly believe in natural medicine, particularly when one is pregnant. I also found a book on breast-feeding at a used bookshop, and purchased this as I hoped to do what my two sisters had failed to with their eldest children and breastfeed purely for at least six months. This book contained plenty of testimonials, but in the end I found that real-life experience was my best teacher.

At a baby shower, another book was given to me, and I read this anxiously as my due date drew near and I realized I did not know how to deal with crying, burping, bathing and all the rest of it.

Once Little A was born, I found little time for reading between monthly visits to the pediatrician, endless nappy changing, colic, crawling, walking and feeding. We had one book, given as a present at Little A's christening, and I did refer to it from time to time to be sure he was on track in terms of growth and development. Lately, I've acquired a couple more books to help get him sleeping through the night and toilet trained. This small collection completes our baby and toddler reference guides.

However, as with all things baby-related, the books will be outgrown as Little A gets older. I've already passed on the natural pregnancy and breast-feeding books to one mum-to-be and the book covering baby basics to another new mum friend. The sleep book will soon be mailed out to another parent in need, and the toilet training book still has to prove its worth. As every mum and dad discovers, the art of parenting cannot be learned from a book but must be experienced in the light of each parent and child's uniqueness.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Walking Down the Aisle

In one of my earlier lives, (or so it seems as the me-of-now is so unbelievably different to the me-of-two-and-a-half-years-ago) I was a wedding planner. On weekends, while Big A played golf, I would put on a dress and heels and assist a friend who was a full-time wedding coordinator. She did the phone calls, follow-ups and all the rest of it, and I served as the much-needed second body on the day of the actual event. It paid good money to supplement my day job and I enjoyed it, despite the aching feet that inevitably came at the end of the 8-12 hour day.

One of my duties was to make sure everyone got down the aisle. My partner stood at one end, cueing each person on when to start walking, and I stood at the other, making sure they smiled, knew where to sit and, in the case of the children, walked sedately without any major meltdowns. I saw many a tot and toddler all dressed up, and in my memory of four years' worth of weddings, there were no tantrums, refusals or other like incidents.

Then I became mother to a small boy and realized how truly amazing this phenomenon actually was.

A few days ago, I found out one of my younger cousins will soon be getting married. My aunt called to ask if Little A would be the ring bearer. I was flattered and thrilled, but wondered secretly if I could manage to train my son within 3 months to a) follow instructions, b) walk while holding on to a pillow containing two of the most important items needed for a wedding without throwing it in the air or on the ground, and c) actually walk down the aisle of what will certainly be a crowded (by Little A's standards, seeing as there will be more than 10 people present) church.

Unlike his 18 month old cousin who is as obedient as they come and performs on cue, clapping, smiling, scowling and reciting things, 26 month old Little A only follows instructions if he feels like it, which is when his father shouts or when I lose my temper. He has yet to talk properly as he babbles constantly but still doesn't form proper words. Instead of pointing to objects when asked, he takes the asker's finger and places it on the objects he wants named. He still does not like loud, tight or crowded places and always makes a fuss until we leave when we are in one.

Our pediatrician is giving him a couple more months before having him evaluated for Early Intervention. A lot can happen in a couple of months, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it's all the "right" things that do.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Great Escape

Two days ago, the au pair had the day off. It was errand-running day, so after breakfast the family got ready to leave. Big A was doing some last minute work at his laptop, so I alternated between brushing my teeth, putting my clothes on, packing Little A's bag and checking up on him as he watched tv and played in the living room.

We live in a first-floor flat with two terraces that open out into the building's swimming pool and playground area. On windy days, we open the French doors to let the breeze blow through the house. The living room doors are blocked by heavy blinds, and Little A knows that when he wants to get out, the blinds need to be lifted by a grownup first. Not that that stops him trying to do it himself. It was a windy morning, so one of the glass doors was open.

During my fourth spot check in five minutes, Little A was gone. I called out to Big A while checking the other rooms, bathrooms and kitchen. Big A ran outside to look there. Little A was nowhere we could immediately see, and I heard Big A asking the gardeners and maintenance men nearby if they'd seen him anywhere.

One of the men on a gondola halfway up the side of the building shouted down, "There's a child over there, by the swimming pool!" When Big A turned the corner, he saw our son walking along the edge of the pool the way he usually does while holding on to one of our hands. When Little A reached the shallow part at the corner, he heard his father calling out to him. As soon as Little A saw his beloved swimming companion approaching, he sat down at the edge and lowered himself into the water.

I know the statistics, about children drowning in less than two minutes in less than an inch of water, and I thanked Little A's guardian angel for keeping him from falling into the deep end without anyone to see it happen. What did amaze us though was how he managed this escape.

Besides getting past the window blinds, Little A scaled a fence that was taller than himself for the first time on his own. He'd previously tried climbing this fence but always made sure someone was nearby to help him, and he never climbed up to the top and down the other side, even with assistance. Clearly, not doing does not mean being unable to in this case.

Big A and I didn't know whether to scold or praise our son. I told him that what he had done was never to be repeated without a grownup present, but I know he knows that when grownups are present he would never need to scale a fence because they would always help him over it. Still, he is at the stage where climbing anything is a must-do, and his amazing balance allows him to do this at lightning speed. In two steps he is atop a table that is nearly twice his height. This means he needs to be constantly watched, not just from minute to minute but every single waking second.

Errand-running was then delayed by an hour, as Big A was forced to join his son in the swimming pool while I wondered how on earth Martha Kent survived raising a toddler who must have been quicker and more daring (though also more indestructible) than mine.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Reading Challenge

Since what spare time I have is mostly devoted to reading and I follow a couple of book blogs, I recently became aware of a World War II themed reading challenge. After some consideration (and the fact that I've already read and own more than 5 books set during WWII), I decided to participate.

WWII has always been an interesting subject for me, especially since Nazi Germany was the main subject of my 'A' Level History exam, which I sat (gulp!) 15 years ago. I did hesitate to join this challenge though, because I'm not much of one for writing book reviews. I enjoy reading them, but on the whole feel that reading is such a subjective matter that it's hard to say with conviction that a book is great or awful or something in between.

I've read reviews extolling books I thought were rubbish and trashing books I thought were great. More importantly, rereading books has shown me that perceptions change with time. Certain books that blew me away upon first reading didn't impress me at all when re-read, while other books just seem to get better every time I re-read them.

Still, the WWII themed reading challenge is one I will rise to. My books to re-read between now and the year's end will be:

Suite Francaise - Irene Nemirovsky
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Dancing With Eva - Alan Judd
Number the Stars -Lois Lowry
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes - Eleanor Coerr
Fatherland - Robert Harris
The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro

If I can get a find these books that were left at my parents' house when I moved out a few years ago, I will also re-read:
The Summer of My German Soldier -Bette Greene
Boy At War: A Story of Pearl Harbor - Henry Mazer

My copies of Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Schindler's List were borrowed by different people years ago, and I suspect I will never see them again. This is the saddest thing about lending out books you think are wonderful and want to share with other people. Many don't respect ownership and forget about them, or re-lend them out. I thought I'd learnt my lesson but still have a list of beloved books I hope will some day be returned to me. Others I have simply replaced with new copies.

Time is ticking, and while Little A sleeps, I must get reading.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lady Luck

There is that very well-known saying about a door closing and a window opening. It seems to apply to things other than romantic relationships and employment situations. This year, my family have been extraordinarily lucky when it comes to winning raffle prizes. At a time when both Big A and I are out of a 9-5 job, the little perks that come with winning these prizes make our day.

The Cruise that Could Have Been
A few months ago, my husband and father played together at an annual golf tournament. During the awarding ceremony, families were invited to attend, so Little A, my mum and I trooped along. The food was good, but the place was crowded and it seemed to take far too long to call out the winners. After the announcers said that succeeding prizes would not require winners to be present, we bundled a sleepy little boy into the car and headed home.

20 minutes into the 45 minute drive, Big A's mobile rang. Someone on the other end was shouting "Where are you? You just won an all-expenses paid, business-class return airfare included, 7 day Alaskan cruise! You need to be here to claim it or they'll award it to someone else!"

Apparently, the tournament's major sponsor decided at the last minute to award a special door prize which required the winner's presence to be valid. Special indeed. They had to draw three names before someone actually won the damn thing. Big A's name was the first one called but as we had left, we forfeited this chance.

Consolation Prize
Not long after this wonderful opportunity at a cruise slipped us by, Big A played at another golf tournament. This time he won, and was present to claim, two sets of hotel stays courtesy of the sponsors. One prize was an overnight stay for two with breakfast at a premier city hotel and the other, oh joy, was two nights at a spanking new, beautiful (and extremely expensive) beach resort. Both stays were valid for one year from the issue date, so we have two lovely mini-breaks to look forward to.

Apart from these fabulous prizes, Little A and I managed to win some little treats as well. I submitted a short paragraph to an online contest and won a delicious slice of cake from a charming bakery, and emailed Little A's photos to two entrepremums and won him some stuff without even knowing there were contests ongoing. We won a magnetic wooden puzzle and some great clothes.

We're keeping our fingers crossed and buying lottery tickets every week now. Who knows, we may just hit the jackpot, with the way our luck is going.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Blast From the Past

Lunch at my parents' house yesterday. Little A plus his six cousins, my sisters, our husbands and my mum and dad made for an entertaining Sunday afternoon.

While Little A was being his antisocial self, playing alone upstairs while his cousins were in the pool, I was attempting to sort through the dozens of boxes that filled what was once my bedroom and is now a massive storage area.

My mother is a pack rat. So is my mum-in-law, apparently. I wonder if this is something that is passed on genetically or acquired over time? Big A and I are anti-clutter and live in a flat that is severely lacking storage space, and since I periodically have urges to spring (summer, autumn and winter) clean, things are pretty much in order at our flat. Still, there are things one needs to keep. Mementoes from the past that one wants to look over from time to time. Things you treasure - photos, old letters and such. I found one box full of mine, hidden quietly in a corner of my old room, and took it home to sort through.

In this box were pieces of my life over the past 33 years. Most of my milk teeth and two molars that were removed prior to my having braces at age 18. The tin piggy bank I had filled with coins in childhood. My timetable, GCSE exam schedules and some notebooks from school in the UK. A few old diaries. Still sticky puffy stickers I'd saved of 80s toy characters. Four albums and half a dozen envelopes of stamps. (I wonder if those will be worth anything now, and hope I can find out.) Finally, the little leaflets that came with my most precious toys, toys that would fetch a fair price now on eBay, some of which are still intact.

The brochures I kept were those of my pink rosebud-bodied Fisher Price Mandy doll, Rainbow Brite and her friends (I had Rainbow Brite and Twink, Shy Violet and IQ Sprite, and Starlite), the original Strawberry Shortcake dolls (mine were Apricot and Hopsalot, Apple Dumplin' and Tea Time Turtle and the ballerina Strawberry Shortcake), a first-release Popples plush toy, the Wild Puffalump elephant that sat on my bed at boarding school for 3 years and the birth certificate of my Cabbage Patch Kids doll.

Funny how some habits start young. I still keep the leaflets and instruction manuals that come with Little A's toys, and wonder if one day they will become collector's items too. Time will tell.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Yellow is typically known as the colour of cowardice. For one woman and one nation, however, it is the colour of courage, honesty and a return to democratic rule.

Many years ago, an activist was brutally slain on the tarmac just as he stepped out of an airplane. His widow, a housewife and mother, picked up the cudgels and eventually overthrew a corrupt dictator who had been in power for 21 years. She became the country's first woman President and Time Magazine's 1986 Person of the Year. A yellow dress was her trademark, along with the "L" sign formed using the thumb and index finger. The peaceful revolution now known as People Power has gone down in history books and serves as a benchmark for non-violent protests all over the world.

Today, an entire nation mourns the passing of this amazing woman. While her period in office was not an easy one, and the country she once led still remains largely mired in corruption, what she achieved was rather phenomenal and no easy task.

I was seven years old when Ninoy Aquino was assassinated and nine when Cory Aquino became president. While I may not remember the dictator's rule as well as my parents do, I have a fair few memories of the days leading up to the EDSA Revolution.

I remember going to my dad's office in the center of the business district and throwing yellow confetti straight from the shredding machine into the streets via the fire escape, as the people below shouted for Marcos to step down. I remember walking along that street with hundreds of other people, wearing a yellow Ninoy shirt and chanting "Laban! Laban!" (Fight! Fight!)

I remember my parents stories about guarding the ballot boxes during the 1986 snap elections, especially my mum crying as she told us how my dad and his friend stood up to armed goons by throwing chairs at them to get them away from the ballot boxes while she and the other women hid in the restroom with their boxes, just to keep the votes safe.

I remember my parents telling us to pray, again and again, as we made what seemed like hundreds of sandwiches for them to take to EDSA as they joined the human barricades. I remember spending days at the house of some Australian friends who lived right down the road from the military chief who eventually changed sides, joining the people and helping to bring down the dictator. Later, this man became the 12th President of the Philippines, after Mrs. Aquino's term ended. I remember the impromptu street party thrown in front of this man's house when it was announced that the dictator had fled and the people had won.

This was history, though I was too young to know it. Now, as I recall those days, I feel awed and proud to have been a tiny part of it.

Much work must still be done in this country to make it a true democracy and the nation its people dream it can become. I hope and pray that this happens within my lifetime. Meanwhile, it is safe to assume that this amazing woman, who led a nation, is now happily reunited with her husband in a perfect afterlife where there is no corruption or political strife.

For the nation in mourning, yellow will always remain the colour of courage.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Next Great One

For about a decade now, readers and publishers have been searching for "the next Harry Potter." The HP phenomenon turned a single, struggling mother into one of the richest women in the writing world (and an OBE at that) and drew thousands of children and adults worldwide away from television and videogames and back into reading.

I must admit, in the beginning I wasn't sure if she could do it - sustain and develop plot and characters interesting enough to complete the 7 book series, let alone imagine that the series would join the ranks of such Greats before it as The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings.

The first three Potter books, to me, contained strong echoes of Roald Dahl's work, which I have always loved. I read them in quick succession as the series was interesting enough to keep me hooked. The fourth book was published as the third went to paperback, and from then on, I knew it would only get better.

JK Rowling succeeded wonderfully in creating not only a set of brilliant characters but an entire new world, one readers willingly embraced, as evidenced by the abundance of fansites dedicated to the series, not to mention record-breaking book sales and movie adaptations.

Even before the last couple of books in the series were published, the hunt was on for the next great one. There have been many contenders but in my book (pun intended), none have quite matched up to the hype accorded to them.

Perhaps the most recent popular series is the four-part sparkly vampire story that appeals mainly to female readers. Apart from the fact that this series too was penned by a young woman who shot from obscurity to worldwide fame, there is almost no comparison between the vampire-human romance and the wizard-Muggle saga.

However a reader might view these up-and-coming potential contenders, the great thing is that more books are being published and read, which is really what matters. While I'd love to read them all, there are too many books and too little time (and money) to do so. Here's are the ones I have had the chance to read and my brief take on them:

- Michelle Paver's Chronicles of Ancient Darkness - the first book didn't grab me, so I didn't continue with the series.
- Zizou Corder's Lionboy - a great trilogy, highly recommended for boys and girls aged 8-12
- Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials - this trilogy reminded me of Tolkien's LOTR. The movie adaptation of the first book was not so well-received, but the books are well worth reading, more than once.
- Christopher Paolini's Inheritance series - with an author who was published at age 17, this series garnered a fair bit of media attention. The first book was fantastic, but the second dragged quite a bit, and I have yet to read the third.
- Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl books - I think these are fantastic. Man and magic meet again, but in a very different world than Harry Potter's. Wonderful, wonderful reads, highly recommended to all above age 10.
- Isabelle Allende's Nadia/Alexander trilogy - this 3-book series doesn't have an official name, but the books are Allende's first Young Adult ones and earn a full five stars from me. With her trademark style of magical realism, this author grabs the reader's full attention and presents a very satisfying tale, one I have read again and again.

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan has also been well-reviewed, and is next on my Young Adult fantasy book wishlist.
With the state of our groaning bookshelves and the new additions that will surely come as time goes on, I can only hope my son develops the same passion for reading that I have. They say the best way to teach is by experience, and since Little A sees mummy reading whenever she can, perhaps he will follow suit.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cough Cough

Little A is two now. His birthday party was a smashing success, with all the children enjoying themselves thanks to a big bouncy castle. The birthday boy wanted only one thing - to go swimming, so we allowed him to do so while the rest of the guests played pass the parcel.

Later in evening after his party, he started to cough. A real, smoker's-type cough. His first official not-connected-to-a-cold real cough. Two days later, we took him to the doctor. Our pediatrician, who is also a pulmonary specialist, is on holiday for a month, and the doctor who took her place prescribed Combivent in a nebuliser thrice a day for five days and Virlix syrup at bedtime. The diagnosis was bronchitis - viral or allergic.

Desperate to stop the cough and fearful of the possibility of pneumonia, we purchased the meds and borrowed a nebuliser. Little A cooperated at first; he likes biting things so we made him practise with the nebuliser mouthpiece before connecting it to the machine. Cooperation didn't last long though. The compressor's noise annoyed him and he would run away whenever we turned it on. In the end, we kept it running and just wafted the smoke in his general direction. This happened thrice out of what my husband and I decided would be 10 doses instead of the prescribed 15.

Since the cough showed no signs of improvement, I took the sneaky route for the next 3 doses. When Little A fell asleep, I attached the inhalation mask to the nebuliser and that way made sure the medicine got into his system.

Then I read up on Combivent. (Note: according to my sister and best friend, our pediatrician only prescribes saline solution for use with a nebuliser. However, since Little A's cough was pretty bad, I figured the doctor knew what she was doing prescribing a stronger drug.) What I read totally freaked me out.

Combivent is an asthma medicine, most commonly used to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. My son does not, to my knowledge, have asthma or any sort of pulmonary disease. Combivent cannot be used by those with soy and nut allergies and can cause severe allergic reactions, including swelling of the face, nose and throat and anaphylatic shock. Furthermore, the dosage given to my son is recommended only for people over 12 years old, and the drug is not recommended for children below age 12.

More frightening still are the possible side effects: chest pain or heaviness, difficulty breathing, dizziness, nausea or blurred vision, loss of feeling in the left arm and shoulder, increased blood pressure, hypertension and death. My son is two years old. He doesn't even say Mama, how can he tell me if he's having difficulty breathing or can't feel his arm anymore?

We stopped the Combivent doses after reading all this, completing 6 doses in all. One week later, the cough is slowly getting better. We are still keeping close watch over Little A - he never had a fever and his energy level and appetite are the same, so we pray this was just a cough brought on by swimming in cool weather or a virus. When our regular pediatrician comes back, we will take Little A to see her.

Meanwhile, I have learned my lesson. Never give your child any meds without reading up on them first, and seek a second opinion if you feel the need.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Logging the Hours

There was a lovely article in the newspaper yesterday that probably didn't make the deadline for the Father's Day issue. It was written by a single father to two adpoted sons. One of the things he wrote was that when it comes to babies and very young children, quantity time is what matters. I couldn't help but agree.

Babies develop attachments to those who constantly care for them. As toddlers, separation anxiety develops with the fear of being apart from these people. The writer mentioned that when his son fell and hurt himself, he ran howling straight past him into the arms of his nanny, breaking his father's heart. While he longed to spend more time with his kids, he couldn't because he had to put in long hours at a demanding job as the breadwinner of his family (unmarried, he lives with his mother, siblings, nephews and nieces, his adopted sons and a host of nannies and househelp.)

Now that he is out of work, my husband has been spending much more time at home, and with Little A. After 18 months of hardly seeing his father, Little is used to having his dad around the house now, and looks for him when he is gone. I am the caregiver, his father is the playmate. Their favourite activity involves my son holding on to his father's hands, climbing up to his chest, then pushing with his feet so that his body is hanging upside-down. This game, repeated endlessly in the evenings, is the source of much laughter and muscle pains.

Sooner rather than later, my husband or I must find a more permanent means of income. This will no doubt involve one of us (Big A, more likely) spending more time away from home and our son. He is older now, but still very much in his formative years, and will certainly suffer some emotional trauma from this change. We will all have to make adjustments and find new ways of maximizing our time together. Until that day comes though, we will enjoy spending all the time we can in each other's company.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Every mother has superpowers. Any woman who has a child will tell you that. Mothers juggle the house, the kid/s, the husband, and the career, or any combination thereof, and do it all well, or at least properly. Everyone in the house eats healthy, laundry gets done, dishes washed and bills paid more or less on time. Multitasking is a woman's specialty; most men cannot manage it.

When the first baby is born, a new mum acquires several new skills while wishing for many more. First, she learns to do things one-handed - eating, typing, going to the toilet and even putting on makeup. Ambidexterity follows, as she learns to do all of these with either hand while the other holds on to the baby. Then comes the wish for elastic arms, so that while holding on to the sleeping or nursing infant, she can also reach for her mobile/book/glass of water/laptop. She also acquires super-speed, the ability to do everything from eating to grocery shopping even more efficiently and quickly (and often simultaneously).

Of course the ideal would be to be able to multiply one's self, so that one can look after the baby, the other go to work and the third take care of the household chores. We can always dream.

On television the other night, they were showing The Incredibles, one of my favourite recent animated films. Seeing it again, and for the first time since having my own child, made me realize how aptly the characters' powers are assigned. Dad is the strong one, protecting the family and keeping them safe from physical harm. Mum is the elastic one, the glue that holds them all together. The teenage daughter is self-conscious and shy while the young son is a bundle of endless energy, much like Little A. Finally, there is the baby who is elemental, able to turn into fire and stone as his emotions dictate.

Little A turns two this weekend. Another milestone. I wonder if this means a whole new set of mummy superpowers are in order.

Why Why Why?

I have just read about Baby Peter, a 17 month old boy who was killed by his mother and her boyfriend in London. Yes, there are people out there who have children without realizing they need to care for them, and there are people who are too selfish and irresponsible to care for anyone other than themselves. But domestic violence is just far too common nowadays. And it is always the children, who never asked to be born and never did anything wrong, who suffer.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Turning Two

In a little over two weeks, my son will be two years old. Two years old! My fellow parents are lamenting that their children are now putting on uniforms and starting "big" school while other friends are just about to give birth or are still pregnant. So it goes, the cycle of life.

Meanwhile, my little boy will turn two and his grandmother is insisting on throwing him a birthday party. So I dusted off all the preparations I made over a year ago for his Knight and Princess themed party, and we are having it this year, weather cooperating or not.

Last year, my husband and I purchased balloons, giveaways, (swords for the boys and fake jewellery for the girls) a tablecloth, cake toppers and designed the invitation. We thought about hiring Shetland ponies for the kids to ride, but the costs were too prohibitive. Then the rains came. July in Manila is well within the rainy season, and last year there were plenty of thunderstorms, monsoons and all the rest of it. Wet, very wet. So we opted for a safe first birthday celebration at an indoor soft play centre, which Little A enjoyed until he got sleepy a couple of hours in.

This year, we will rent a bouncy castle, tents and set up a play area for the babies in my parents' garden. We purchased a new printer and I spent several hours printing out invitations on parchment, cutting the paper to size, burning the edges for the "old" look, and sealing them with wax. I've bought large quantities of spaghetti noodles, tomato sauce and mince, since our local culture requires noodles for long life to be served at birthday celebrations. This weekend, I hope to find an artist to produce the dragon pinata we need and find a baker who can make the cake we want without charging us an arm and a leg.

Meanwhile, the birthday boy is done with his milk strike, which was followed by a ten day or so food strike, during which time he would eat nothing but cheese biscuits and the occasional slice of pizza. I wonder if he looks forward to the coming year. Two years old means talking and toilet training, maybe even preschool. I sure hope I'm ready.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Little Carbon Footprints

From the time Little A was born, I wished there was a way that his nappies could be treated so they could biodegrade more easily. Babies can go through 8-12 nappies a day, particularly in the early months when they poop so often. And since he became mobile so quickly, it was difficult to put him in cloth nappies as one wee meant he was crawling about and slipping in wet patches. Plus, cloth nappies may not be as ecologically efficient as we think, given the amount of washing they need, which uses plenty of water and laundry detergent.

Recently, chlorine free and eco-friendly disposable nappies became available locally. Not only are they significantly cheaper than their non-eco-friendly counterparts, they are completely biodegradable and hypoallergenic. I purchased some, and Little A has been wearing them for a week now.

While the nappies are not as well-made as their polluting cousins (one in five comes with different tapes on the sides, with one plastic one and one soft breathable side one, some are not too well sealed, so balls of stuffing come out and can be eaten by curious children, and some aren't very absorbent, as the pee just goes straight through the back of them as I found out at a too-early hour this morning) they are, by and large, a good choice. I can't help but think of the massive savings I would have in the bank now if Little A had been using these for the past year and 11 months, but comfort myself with the fact that they weren't available sooner and that by breastfeeding I've saved significantly anyway.

So Little A's Little Carbon Footprint is smaller now, and it should continue to reduce in size once he is toilet trained. In the meantime, we will keep on using the earth-friendly nappies. Now if only they came in pull-up form.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Just Because It's June

The Merry Month of May is gone. With June came the rains. And ten days short of celebrating his 23rd month on earth, my son decided he had had enough of milk. One day he was drinking his usual 2 cups a day, the next he went on what is now going on a two week milk strike.

The first night he refused his milk, I put it down to being too full after a big dinner. Next morning, I allowed it as well, since he ate plenty of breakfast. As the days went on though, he has shown no signs of wanting to ever drink milk again, despite many failed attempts to trick and coax him into ingesting some. (Chocolate milk? Disgusting. My son would rather eat his own poop. Changing cups? He refused them altogether and only accepted water from a clear glass.) Clearly, I am not wily enough to outsmart a 23 month old.

As all mothers will know, parenting is largely a matter of trial and error. From the time of a child's birth, you try new things, different things. Nappies, (some give them a rash, others have sharp tapes that cut their skin, others don't absorb well enough) teats, in the case of bottle drinkers, and sippy cups, (some spouts are too hard, others too soft, yet others weirdly shaped in a way they don't like) soaps and body washes, (some dry the skin, others cause eczema) laundry detergent, the list goes on and on. When a child begins to eat, they will try every type of mashed, pureed, bottled and fresh fruit, vegetable and food combination. Entire sections of baby books are given over to Baby's Favourites, which automatically implies that the process of selection and elimination for each has been laborious and lengthy.

Going back to my son's milk strike, I'm considering the alternatives. He's rejected 4-6 types of formula in the past, and with age 2 coming up certainly won't need it any more anyway. I could try soy or rice milk, but chances are as long as the liquid is white, he'll reject it anyway. But that won't stop me from buying a number of variants nonetheless.

I have a terrible feeling this is the beginning of the Twos, when most children become more active about asserting their independence. While Little A still won't speak, he no longer allows us to make his digestive decisions for him anymore. A box of rabbit-shaped organic cheese biscuits recently arrived from grandmum, which in the past would usually languish on the table to be finished off by mum and dad, but Little A knows they are his, and now looks for them before, during and after every meal. If we take away the biscuits, he'll refuse to eat the food. For now, he is eating both. Fingers crossed it stays that way. Now maybe if I dipped those cheese rabbits in milk...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stories from Stepford

Lately, I have been feeling every inch the housewife. While my husband claims I am very much a hot mama, these days I've been channeling Cinderella more than woman from Wisteria Lane.

After a few months of rest and relaxation following my husband's layoff, a quick look at our bank balance revealed the sad reality of dwindling finances. In an attempt to bring in a few rashers of bacon (as opposed to the whole roast pig afforded by my previous full-time, pre-baby job), I've been stepping up the writing assignments, following up on a long overdue cheque and cobbling together preliminary studies for another potential project. There are other things in the pipeline as well - a two-part event to organise in June and July, some more writing for a couple of websites and a small business my mum has been trying to set up. There's a teaching opportunity too, as a dance school nearby recently lost its ballet teacher and has been wanting me to take her place.

In addition to these, I've been de-cluttering our little flat. Since condominium living leaves no room for excess, nor does it allow for easy disposal of no longer-need goods via rummage sale, I've been selling my old corporate wardrobe on eBay. It's slow going, particularly since a glitch in the system makes posting items to sell virtually impossible at times and tediously difficult at others. Still, a dozen pieces have found new homes already, earning enough to pay our water bill for a month.

Finally, my domestic goddess longings are beginning to be realized. I purchased a digital kitchen scale for a very good price, and seeing as it has three main uses (weighing eBay items for shipping, books for exchange via international book swap website Bookmooch, and ingredients for baking), it's been worth every penny. In the past week, I've made for the first time Thai hot and sour soup, cream of shiitake mushroom soup, mango pudding with tapioca pearls and three batches of mango- filled crepes (regular and chocolate) because we've had a surfeit of the delicious, sweet and juicy fruit in season.

As for the wife and mother roles, my husband is just recovering from a week-long bout of conjunctivitis, the highly contagious nature of which meant he was sleeping on the couch and hardly coming into contact with Little A and myself the past few days. My son demands my attention as he sees the need, but is generally easy to please. His birthday approaches, which means the terrible twos may soon be upon us. I will relax now while all is still quiet on the home front.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Itchy and Scratchy

My son has had eczema since he was a few months old. It started out as a couple of small dry patches on his back and the backs of his armpits that I noticed when bathing him. He didn't seem bothered by them, but when they cleared up two patches appeared on his chest. As he was older by this time and he could reach them, he scratched, which meant they took much longer to heal. When one patch cleared up, another appeared. He had a patch on his cheek, one on each of his lower legs and most recently has begun scratching the insides of his elbows, his neck and the corners of his mouth.

Our pediatrician recommends Dove moisturising soap from birth, so this is what Little A used until he was one. Since then, we've also tried a wonderfully gentle virgin coconut oil-based natural bar soap and three types baby body wash, one of which smelt lovely but dried his skin out terribly. Because of the nature of eczema though, post-bath moisturiser is a necessity.

When I showed our pediatrician the dry patches, she just said to keep them moisturised but didn't specify which cream to use. We tried a cream my sister gave me that her daughters had used, and when that ran out, switched to a colloidal oatmeal-based lotion for extra-dry skin. My mum gave me some hydrocortisone cream, but I was hesitant to use that as the label did not recommend the use of steroid creams of children below two. While the lotions do keep his skin from getting too dry, the eczema patches still need something stronger.

I tried an organic honey and olive oil-based salve that works wonderfully on cuts and scratches, but not so well in clearing up eczema, though it does seem to soothe the itching and stop the dry patches from getting any worse. This has found a permanent place on my nightstand and goes with us everywhere we travel as the pot is so tiny, and the salve is antifungal, antiviral, antimicrobial and seems to promote quick healing for most skin ailments.

Most recently, based on a catalogue filled with testimonials extolling the efficacy of this product, I purchased a pot of what seems to be the real deal when it comes to battling infant eczema. Since we've started using this cream, (which is also antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiviral, plus hypoallergenic and fragrance free) Little A's dry patches have not gotten any worse, but haven't magically disappeared either. 

As far as the battle against the itchies goes, we've yet to find the Holy Grail of bath and body products that will make the eczema go away forever. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that, as with my nephews and nieces' conditions, it disappears by itself by the time Little A is 3 or 4 years old. Eczema, begone!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Bare Necessities

Last Friday, I co-hosted a baby shower. We were a very small group of five former co-workers who keep in touch but don't see each other as often as we'd like. The mum-to-be none of us had seen since she got pregnant, which made for a lovely reunion. My co-host recently found out that she was pregnant as well, so the evening turned out to be a double celebration.

While it's been less than two years since I gave birth, looking though the registry lists and shopping for new baby presents brought back many memories - mostly of the number of things I got and never used.

I was lucky enough not to have to buy anything for my son as my sisters welcomed somewhere to dump their no longer needed baby things. With five nephews and nieces preceding Little A, there was enough nearly new hand-me-down stuff to open a baby store. A crib, Pack 'N Play, car seats, clothes and toys filled our small flat in the months before Little A was born. Twice as many clothes and toys as I accepted were sent to my parents' much larger suburban house for storage. The rest - stroller, steriliser, baby bathtub and convertible high chair - were given as gifts. When friends asked they could give as shower presents, I asked for nappies.

Until you experience it yourself, you don't realize how quickly babies grow and how few things they actually need. In the interests of saving money, the environment and, in the era of small-space living, precious square feet, here is a a list of must-haves for new mothers-to-be:

Borrowables/Secondhand Purchases -
1. Crib / Pack 'N Play - unless you have a large house, you don't need both. One will do, provided all the safety locks are intact and there are no loose pieces that could hurt the baby, cause suffocation or choking. A Pack 'N Play has the advantage of being portable, so you can take it with you when you travel and move it about your house or flat if you need to during the day.

2. Crib sheets - Two or three sets are all you need, and secondhand ones are actually nicer than brand new as they tend to be really soft from having been washed so many times. (Note - The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend that babies use pillows until they are 2 years old as these can become suffocating hazards.)

3. Crib mobile - must have, as this is baby's first form of entertainment apart from mum's face.

4. Infant bathtub - most baby tubs nowadays come fitted with hammocks so newborns can be bathed more easily, particularly before the umbilical stump falls off and the area needs to be kept dry. As the baby learns to sit up, the hammock can be removed.

5. Wash basin and washcloths - in the first few months, I've learned it's easier to have a wash basin with a divider on hand. One section of the basin holds warm water, and the other holds warm soapy water. With one washcloth in each section of the basin, it's easy to squeeze the soapy water, then clean water, over baby. My sister taught me this the day Little A came home from the hospital and I realized I had no idea how to bathe him. When baby is bigger, the washcloths can be replaced with a cup to pour water over him/her while bathing, while the cloths can be used to wipe up spills, drool and the like.

6. Car Seat - new babies require a rear-facing car seat that usually doubles as a carrier, while from age 1 up toddlers can use front-facing seats. These are bulky and can be expensive, and parents have no further use for one when a child has outgrown it. The covers can be removed and washed, so this is a perfect item to borrow or inherit instead of buying new.

7. Stroller - when shopping for strollers, I wondered why so many of them were designed for babies aged 3 mos. and up. When Little A was born, I realized that he never rode in his stroller before this age because a) he hardly left the house and b) was small and light enough to be carried when he did. As with car seats, the covers of strollers can be washed.

8. Steriliser - a good quality steriliser should last ages. Breastfeeding mothers will find they use them only once a day, twice at most, so there is no need to buy a brand new one, which can also be rather expensive.

9. Baby bottles - BPA free, glass or plastic, at the end of the day, baby bottles, like all others, will end up in landfills. So why add to the world's waste? Bottles need to be sterilised regularly until a baby is a year old, so it makes sense to hand them down. Nipples are all one needs to buy new.

10. Clothes, including bibs, burp cloths and the like - infant clothes come in sizes for ages 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, 12-18 months and then go up by year. From birth until age one, a baby grows extremely rapidly, so many clothes are only worn once or twice before being outgrown. Also, hand-me-down clothes are much softer, having been washed many times. I personally love seeing my son grow up in clothes that his cousin wore 11 years earlier, most of which are good as new. The unisex hand-me-downs are even better for wearing at home as they are comfy and worn, and Little A prefers them to new shirts with scratchy tags.

Buy New-
1. Hooded Towels - your baby can use these well into toddlerhood. Little A is still using his and he is nearly two years old. They come in handy after swimming as well, as the hoods keep little heads warm.

2. Breast Pump - while these are sterilised daily, most mothers maximize their use of one, which can cause wear over long-term use, making them not so suitable as hand-me-downs. I went through two pumps, wearing out a manual after two months of pumping 4-5 times a day and then switching to an electric one. Of course, mothers who opt to give their babies formula will not need a pump at all.

3. Nipples - while bottles can be handed down, nipples should not, as these tend to be chewed on and orally abused by voracious drinkers.

4. Ear thermometer - a must for every home with a child in it. We take ours with us every time we travel as you never know when fever will strike. The only reason this isn't on the hand-me-down list is because no one really lets go of theirs unless it breaks, in which case it will be likely replaced with a new one.

5. Nail clipper/scissors, nasal aspirator and medicine dropper - these will be used again and again, particularly since infant nails need to be trimmed once or twice a week.

6. Shoes - every person's gait is different and as such, we all wear our shoes differently. Children's feet are constantly growing, which makes it more important to get them well-fitted and comfortable shoes that they can wear in (and wear out) the way only their feet can do. That said, given the rate at which their feet grow, hardly-worn shoes and those pre-owned by non-walking infants can be handed down, as can shoes made of rubber-like material, such as Crocs, which don't really change shape with long wear.

Finally, here's a short list of things I found I didn't need at all:
1. Changing table - I was always afraid of these as they are high and a squirmy baby could easily fall off, especially when mum's hands are usually full of dirty nappy, clean nappy, wet wipes etc. It's no trouble at all to do nappy changes in a crib, Pack 'N Play or bed.

2. Mittens - my best friend from school gave the best advice of all: keep your baby's nails short and you won't need mittens. Little A was born with very long fingers, and they just wouldn't fit him. I trimmed his nails the day after he was born and didn't bother with mittens at all. They just end up biting them off or dropping them anyway.

3. Infant shoes - shoes for babies who don't walk yet are just for show. Plus, they constantly fall off, which makes it a hassle to keep picking them up and putting them back on. Socks keep their toes warm enough, and there are plenty now that are designed to look like shoes.

A caveat to the mummies-to-be - don't buy anything until the baby showers are over! Many pregnant women are very excited to shop for adorable little things. But with family and friends equally eager to welcome the new addition, most will be given as gifts anyway.