Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Simple Pleasures, Lifetime Treasures

We all have our guilty pleasures. Mine are chocolate in large quantities and the inability to pass up a bargain book sale. In the days BB, (Before Baby) I spent hours trawling the stacks at secondhand bookstores. Certain friends knew me as a treasure hunter and looked forward to birthdays and Christmases when I would gift them with out-of-print titles or books they'd long wanted, all found at unreasonably reasonable prices. My nieces, nephews and godchildren call me the Book Aunt, for I am the one who sweeps up a year's worth of age and gender-appropriate quality children's books at the sales and distributes them evenly, spreading the bounty like a Book Fairy.

Since I gave birth, however, my book-buying has been limited to online purchases, using my discount card at bookstores I frequent, lightning-fast browsing and maybe 2 trips to the used bookstores that used to be my homes-away-from-home.

Recently, thanks to the au pair and a lot of pixie dust sprinkled my way by the Book Fairy, I have been finding bargain books in abundance. Each trip to the mall, and these are not that frequent, has yielded surprise treasures - newly replenished bargain bins at the regular bookstores and undiscovered treasures on the lower shelves of secondhand bookstores. A rummage sale held at our apartment building and the departure of a friend of a friend for foreign shores allowed me to purchase plenty of once-read books at giveaway prices. I also bought some of my wishlist titles online at auction sites and discovered the best thing of all - an international book-swapping website.

My bedside table is now groaning with the weight of books to be read, an amazing thing considering that just two months ago I was rereading old favourites, which is just as satisfying as reading a new book, really.

Naturally, I am still spreading the bounty. My husband and sister have been the lucky recipients of books they didn't know they wanted until they were given to them, and my stockpile of books for presents has grown again. Best of all, the titles I reread and decided could be disposed of to make shelf space for new ones have found new homes all over the world, and I've gotten fabulous books in exchange for them from equally far-flung corners of the globe. It's certainly true that one person's literary trash is another one's treasure. And as Walt Disney once said, "There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates' loot on Treasure Island."

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

My son's sleep patterns have been very strange these past few weeks. Never the longest straight sleeper to begin with, (he still has to log in a full 8hour stretch at 21 months and counting) he was already clocking 6 followed by 3-4 hour night-time stretches and 3 hour naps with a fantastic schedule of 10pm-8am and 1-4pm or so. This allowed my husband and I to go out on a number of dinner dates with friends, provided I was home in time to put Little A to bed. For a while, we resumed what was almost a normal couple's life.

But then our son started waking up after the 6-7 hour stretch, sometimes at 4 or 5am, and not going back to sleep for another 2-4 hours. This meant a second nap in the late afternoon and an active toddler running around the flat til midnight or 1 am. Not only that, he would alternate - one night sleeping just 7 hours (in 2-3 hour stretches) and the next, 11 or 12. The naps were constant at 2-3 hours long, but the time he would go down for one depended on what time he'd woken up earlier in the day. Sigh.

Strangest of all, Little A seems to enjoy sleeping sitting up. This may be due to having slept in his stroller, which has no recline position but must be comfy enough nonetheless as he's had marathon naps in it, and the car seat. Some nights, he prefers to fall asleep sitting up, or shifts into this position from lying down. Curiouser and curiouser.

We've put down the schedule adjustments to a couple of factors - his back bottom teeth are coming in at last and perhaps he's had another growth spurt. Hopefully things go back to normal soon, and he finally starts sleeping through the night. I'm keeping my fingers crossed as I can't remember the last time I had a full night's sleep.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice

Little A's godmother from Edinburgh was recently in town with her husband for the Easter holidays. Apart from hitting the beach and catching up with as many friends as they could see in their fortnight here, I also helped her get some work done while our husbands went golfing.

She and her sister-in-law are starting a UK-based luxury organic children's clothing line that will be distributed around Europe and eventually in America and maybe Asia. The product line looks lovely, but there are still some details that need to be finalised. While here, she met with a couple of printer friends to discuss packaging and marketing collaterals. We also met with a lady who may be tasked with some of the production, whose daughter runs the playschool Little A attends. 

In turn, my friend gave me a potential writing job as they require some quirky copy to make their designs come alive. She specified "nothing too sickeningly sweet," preferring a dark side and plenty of alliteration a la the Lemony Snicket books.

Task in hand, I set about "gathering research material"; in other words, rereading my Roald Dahl collection and revisiting classic fairy tales.

I quickly realized that dark and twisted children's verse is actually more traditional than sugar, spice and all things nice. A glance at any Mother Goose collection reveals misfortune left and right, from irreparable eggs and children tumbling down hills to slap-happy foster mothers and cleaver-wielding farmers' wives. Which begs the question, are children meant to be exposed to violence from the time they are in the cradle?

When we were young, it was common for nannies and babysitters to scare children with threats of mystical creatures from local folklore when they misbehaved. As we grew older and begun to read on our own, Grimm's grim tales and Hans Christian Andersen's sad stories, even when sweetened for young sensibilities, still struck some fear into the hearts of those who had not yet learned to suspend disbelief.

As a parent of barely two years, I try to avoid exposing my son to violence because I don't want him growing up thinking that the use of fists, guns or bombs is easily justifiable. Certainly, there will be bitterness and disappointment even in his young life, but hopefully he will find other ways to deal with them rather than resorting to hitting or throwing things. And yet much children's reading matter suggests otherwise. Wicked stepmothers wanting hearts cut out and poisoning fruit or children fattened up to be eaten by witches or giants makes one wonder what message young minds really receive from the telling of these tales. The good characters often get their happy endings, but even so, do the ends justify the means? I wonder.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New Shoe Day

Yesterday, everyone in the family bought a new pair of shoes.  It wasn't intentional at all. My husband discovered his driver's license needed to be renewed and since the nearest Land Transportation office was adjacent to a shopping centre, Little A and I went along for the trip. 

Once there, I found a make-do cheap pair of shoes for my son as he is currently in between sizes of everything, it seems. He's about to move up a nappy size, his shoes are getting tight but the next size up is still too big and his shorts and trousers are uncomfortably snug around the waist. Add to that the 3 hour naps and increased milk intake of late and there's no doubt about it, my little boy is growing again. 

My husband and I recently celebrated our birthdays as well (we were born 5 years and 4 days apart) so a shopping trip was inevitable as we'd not bought each other presents. He'd been looking for a new pair of trainers for the past month or so to replace the ones he's had for 3 years now. The pair before this pair he wore from 2001 until 2006, so it was about time he bought some new ones. I, on the other hand, was hoping to find a reasonably-priced pair of rope-soled wedges for the summer. 

Once Little A had conveniently fallen asleep in his stroller in a store's fitting room, (I could practically see his thoughts prior - "Oh Mum, watching you pick and try on clothes is sooo boring!") and while Big A was still at the Land Transportation office, I found my summer shoes. When we met my husband for a quick lunch, he was proudly sporting a new pair of trainers, having left the old ones in the shop on purpose. Successful shoe shopping day all around then.

The best part about the trip was that Little A spent close to two hours napping in his stroller and then woke up and ate a large amount of Japanese food while behaving perfectly in his seat. Once finished, he ran madly about the mall while I chased after him with his stroller, but that was to be expected. By the time Big A came to meet us with a valid driver's license, we had done all the errands on my list. After a quick stop for a box of chocolate doughnuts, we got into the car and headed home. What a lovely day.