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.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Emperor's New Shoes

I've read that as children grow and learn new skills, they may stop doing, but not forget, old ones. This is certainly true for my son, who recently restarted doing some things he used to do but seemed to have forgotten.

To Poop or Not to Poop
A couple of months ago, I started putting Little A on the potty to poop. Since he isn't talking yet, he can't tell me when he needs to go, but when I would see him assume the pooping position or make his "pushing" face, I would take him to the toilet and let him do his stuff there like a big boy. This was successful for a couple of weeks, but then the au pair came and let him poop in his nappy when I wasn't around. He quickly realized that pooping on the go was more fun than doing it big boy-style and soon refused to cooperate when I would put him on the potty.

A month or so later, I've started putting him on the potty again. It's very early days yet, but so far, so good. I'm hoping it stays this way as he is now 22 months old, and according to my mum I was toilet trained by this age or thereabouts. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this one.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Another thing Little A has recently relearned is his dislike of footwear. As we live in a flat with lovely wooden floors and for a time had a crawling baby about, we go barefoot when indoors. Most of our guests take their shoes off at the door and make themselves at home since our toddler still spends much of his time sitting and playing on the floor.

Little A started walking on his own at 9 1/2 months, with no assistance. My husband and I didn't do the hold-his-hands-and-let-him-practise thing that most parents do, nor did we use a walker. Our son wanted to be mobile as quickly as possible and we wanted him to find his own balance instead of leading him about drunkenly as most learning-to-walk babies are, so we only held his hands to keep him steady when he had already made his first short sets of solo steps.

Naturally, all this learning to walk on his own was done barefoot, and his first "shoes" were those ideal for new walkers with soft suede soles that allowed him to still feel the floor. A former professional ballerina, I know how important it is to feel the floor through your footwear, and I also know the discomfort caused by feet being squeezed into shoes, no matter how comfortable, for long periods of time. At any rate, I love being barefoot, and my son clearly inherited this trait.

Once he was ready for proper shoes, the struggles began. He didn't like the feeling of things on his feet, and perhaps they impeded his ability to walk, or so he thought. No matter how flexible the sole, it still wasn't the same as being free of footwear, so we went though countless attempts to coax him into his shoes, whereupon he would insist on being carried or put in his stroller and refused to walk at all. Eventually though, he capitulated and accepted that shoes needed to be worn when going outdoors. Hooray! Just in time for trips to the mountains and Hong Kong, where the weather was far colder than sultry Manila and shoes were a must.

When summer arrived in February, Little A had just about outgrown his favourite pairs of lightweight, waterproof shoes and the next size up was still too big. Uncomfortable in overly large shoes and complaining about too tight ones, he has taken to being barefoot again, even out of doors and in shopping malls. We force him into a pair of lightweight sandals now, but he still complains about them.

One thing my husband and I have noticed lately though is that when there are shoes on his feet, our dynamo of a son, who normally loves to run, climb and bounce about, turns into the type of child I marvel at when I see one - almost catatonically still in his stroller. Perhaps that is the simple secret to a perfectly behaved child - footwear.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Much Ado About Nothing

I've never been much of a t.v. watcher. Thanks to catching the reading bug at an early age and parents who brought my sisters and myself up to appreciate the myriad of other things life has to offer that are far more interesting than a small box of moving pictures, watching television has never been high on my things-to-do-when-you-have-nothing-to-do-at-home list.

That said, there is the occasional t.v. series that I enjoy, and when I do find one I try and wait until the entire season is available on dvd, buy that and then watch it in as few (or many) installments as my free time allows. Gone are the days when my husband and I could devote entire weekends to marathon viewing of an entire series season, stopping only to eat. He can still do that if he so chooses of course, but I have a son to bathe, amuse and put to sleep.

Two nights ago, we bought the latest season of what has long been the only t.v. series I still follow. As soon as Little A fell asleep that night, my husband and I crept out into the living room to watch at least the two-hour first episode before going to sleep ourselves. Confident that our son would sleep at least three hours before his first possible night wake-up, I was surprised to hear the patter of feet down the hall fifteen minutes into the first episode.

Little A burst into the room as I stood up from the sofa, grabbed my hand and led me back into the dark bedroom. I noticed the front of his shirt was wet and thought he may have overfilled his nappy and perhaps wet the bed. He climbed onto the bed and sat right in the middle, where he usually sleeps between my husband and myself.

When I looked at my pillow I saw two wet spots and a large one on the duvet where Little A normally lay. Grabbing a towel to soak up what I still thought was pee, I then spotted the glass of water that normally stood on my bedside table on its side and empty on the bed. My little boy had woken up thirsty, seen that no one else was in the room and gotten the full water glass himself. He'd spilled some on my pillow but was careful enough to get the glass right to the middle of the bed before drinking some and then spilling the rest on himself and the duvet. Because no one was there to see it happen, he ran out to get me at once.

While my son may be mischievous, he always remains at the scene of the crime when he does something he knows is wrong. If he spills something or throws up, he immediately tries to clean it up with his hands and stays right where he is until someone sees him and comes to help. I hope he maintains this sense of honesty as he gets older. In the country we live in, it seems far more common for people (and politicians) to try and get away with committing figurative (and sometimes literal) murder than to admit their mistakes and try and fix them instead of pinning the blame on someone else.