Friday, October 31, 2008

Scary movie musings

Sonny had an early appointment at the polyclinic today for his hepatitis B inoculation. So it was midmorning before Pa brought him to the infant care centre - where the eerie shock awaited.

The place seemed strangely quiet. When Pa hefted Sonny onto his shoulders and strolled in, not a single toddler raised his head or sucked at a bottle. A member of staff materialised and said softly (too softly?): "Sleep time". Pa's imagination was churning as he was led into a room where a row of cots awaited. In each lay a baby, either bundled up in a blanket or sprawled on a mattress. All were asleep. At the end of the row lay an empty cot, where the member of staff was even now plumping up a mattress and readying a fitted sheet. There was a chill going up Pa's spine. Goose pimples were trying to launch an all-out assault. Pa deposited Sonny - eyes already shut - onto the mattress and scooted.

Why was Pa behaving in this peculiar fashion? Well, he had watched one too many cheap horror films on television, in which - absurd as it may be - rows of beds in a sterile surrounding, with everything in order, bespeaks an asylum where a mad killer is inevitably about to begin a murderous spree. Not that Pa believed that there was any sort of threat to Sonny's life. But there are times when one's imagination takes over, with excessive input from the world of filmdom and the idiot box. Mum, for instance, can't survive five minutes of a slasher flick before she starts jumping at shadows - not because she seriously thinks Chucky or Jason or your maniac of choice is coincidentally sharpening his weapon, but because the atmosphere conjured up by the film has taken psychic hold.

All of which is to say that we need to keep careful tabs on Sonny's TV intake from the get-go. Though we noticed months ago a certain propensity towards leggy models (click here for that post), he doesn't normally seem very interested in what's playing. Yet since we tend to spend an hour or so late at night before the boob tube (after Pa gets home from work), he'll presumably start to pay closer attention. And sooner rather than later, he might pick up enough cues from eerie music, the depiction of violence and shock-value editing to begin to be disturbed by screen images. It won't do for us to just continue to utterly ignore his presence.

Yet, even as we begin to play censor, there's a case to be made for making use of television for educational purposes. A programme on telly can be a great jumping point for discussion, it seems to us: A thoughtful exploration on some historical topic, say, is enhanced by wise use of visuals and other trimmings. One strike against the idiot box is how viewers can become utterly passive inhalers of whatever is broadcast, failing to engage their critical faculties or imagination. Yet with practice and parental help, active TV-watching is entirely achievable - though there's a time to just let the brain idle and catch something devoid of redemptive value. Which - to return by our roundabout discussive route to scary movies - is the only way to watch B-movies and their ilk: If you try to bring to bear your would-be movie critic's eye or import the rules of logic and common sense, you'll likely either start throwing things at the screen or at least become a nitpickety irritant to your viewing companion.

Such pleasures, of course, will remain completely foreign to Sonny for the immediate future. Once he is old enough for such things to register, his first exposure to even vaguely disturbing imagery - fictive or via a news channel - will call for careful explanation about how reality relates to screen depictions. Just letting him "work it out on his own" is an option too scary to be contemplated.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Obama should be nasty and nice

There are still a few days to go before the new US president is decided by popular vote, but there's little doubt now that Barack Obama will become America's first black leader. Youthful and untested, he is less impressive for what he has shown himself able to achieve than for how his oratory and life story have captured the yearnings of his nation - and beyond. Now, he needs to take a leaf from the book of anyone with a young child (and, reassuringly, he's a daddy too, of course).

We're referring here to how a parent should not typically either be thoroughly vicious or entirely kind to one's progeny. Too nasty, and the child can become confused, hurt and rebellious; too nice and he'll walk all over you. Though Sonny is only a week into his seventh month, we are already trying to set boundaries to go along with the coddling. Obama, then, should play both good and bad cop pretty much straight away. Here are two obvious areas in which this strategy would play out.

International affairs: Obama should follow through with what he has promised and initiate contacts with a range of people who have been in the bad books of the Bush administration. He has been campaigning on a platform of change and much of the world has bought into the mantra. Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea - they could all be reached out to: Not by a presidential pow-wow or photo-op, but at some meaningful level through the State Department. The new president should also signal lound and clear that the US would rather initiate action through multilateral groupings than forge its own lonely path.

At the same time, however, Obama needs to make it clear that the US is not going to roll over and play weakling. The best way to do that is to launch a hefty blow at some terrorist objective. He need not publicly acknowledge the move - the hapless John McCain was at least right to say that you don't tell the bad guys your game plan - but nonetheless the message of resolve will be conveyed to those who will have no trouble understanding it. One place that's ripe for such an action might be the Iraq-Iran border, through which succour for militants flows unhindered. A well-aimed strike - not just a couple of fire-and-forget missiles - would put everyone on notice.

The economy: Obama is going to raise taxes. That's a given, though he'll make sure that the majority of voters conspicuously escape the pinch. He's probably also going to increase spending on various social programmes and push for some form of universal health care. What he needs to do is make some bold gestures that would show that he's not the enemy of economic innovation and entrepreneurship that his political enemies make him out to be. His choice of Treasury Secretary would be one way to make a substantial stand: Someone like Warren Buffett would reassure the markets, though choosing a big-name Fortune 500 CEO (rather than some think-tank wonk) might also do the trick. Ideally, this person would be a Republican and someone that Obama conspicuously backs up, so that he doesn't end up a mere token figure bereft of true policy-making heft.

This is especially important since it is far from obvious that the global economic crisis has run its course. A steady, pragmatic hand on the tiller will be critical - one that will fairly deal out economic pain to all, if necessary, without playing favourites. The performance of the US economy will affect the rest of the world, so missteps will be painfully magnified globally: Obamania will quickly die down if protectionism, for instance, spreads unchecked.

Apart from these two areas, the 'nasty and nice' principle should also apply as the new president tackles immigration, education and the restructuring of the country's social safety net - all of these are potentially divisive topics where there is no obvious national consensus. Chances are he's going to have hefty majorities in Congress friendly to his agenda: This will help speed things along, but will also make it tempting to give in to partisan leanings when crafting legislation. He'll have to curb some of the inevitable excesses - and will earn respect (along with howls of complaint from his own party) if he does so.

'Nasty and nice' has to apply across the board if it's to apply at all.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Efficiency is in rolling as well as walking

Sonny is well and truly into crawling now (we've been steeling ourselves for this, as blogged about in 'Preparing for Bandit Sonny'), except he does a lot rolling sideways too. It all adds up to a unique approach that looks wildly inefficient: Instead of plodding from Point A to Point B, the little fella will roll leftward sort of in Point B's direction, then crawl towards it, than roll rightward... you get the general idea.

The thing is, after some mental calculation and much bemused observation, we've realised that this uncoordinated cross-training routine gets Sonny places remarkably quickly. His knees-and-hands crawling isn't yet a very refined affair: Loads of energy is expended so that, if the distance to be traversed is more than half a metre or so, he needs to rest up and recharge along the way. On the other hand, this rolling business doesn't tire him at all: After the briefest of moments to angle his body, he just tips over and barrels along. He doesn't get him anywhere in a straight line, of course, since it's hard to control the trajectory in mid-roll, but he gains so much mileage, the required repositioning is worth it.

Right there, if you think about it, is a lesson for all of us on how the most effective way of reaching a given goal doesn't necessarily mean picking the most direct route. To take something as innocuous as gaining information from someone (something Mum and Pa did a lot of as journalists): Barging right up and saying, "Hi, we'd like to know x about p" is seldom the best way to go about it, though it saves on saliva. You have to put your mark at ease - perhaps offering some information yourself as a gesture of good faith - before phrasing things to avoid setting off landmines.

Of course, after a quick roll and before reorienting himself, Sonny often finds himself faced with something new and intriguing that he hadn't been aiming for to start with. This not infrequently captures his interest, so that his original goal is ignored. This, too, is par for the course in the adult world - and not necessarily a bad thing. 'Tunnel vision' is the phrase we use for when we become so focused on a particular objective, we fail to notice anything else around us. It is not unhealthy for us to be presented from time to time with possible deviations from the plan. If the original goal was as important as all that, we'd get round to it eventually, perhaps after a brief delay. But the potential new diversions could well enrich our journey. They might even equip us to better handle that goal, when we get to it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Carrots today, tomorrow the world

Fine dining it ain't, but it must still be a nice change. And at least the young 'un hasn't choked and required an application of the Heimlich maneuver.

It's been about a month now since Mum started Sonny on solid food (click here and here for previous posts on this subject). She began with powdered rice out of a carton, mixed with milk: About four or five spoonfuls as a starter before the milk main course. Sonny slurped it up so enthusiastically that he's already graduated to the next stage: Boiled carrots mashed into a pulp. Sure, it sounds dreadful, but the little fella has been attacking it with gusto. Mum makes up a big batch, then pops an ice-cube tray's worth of carrot cubes into the freezer for daily use.

Back when we were growing up, we were sold the idea that carrots were so good for your eyes, chomping on a few would all but give you x-ray vision. These days, our understanding of nutrition is slightly more advanced. By introducing carrots, therefore, we mainly want to get Sonny used to eating different sorts of things as early as possible. Mum's already plotting sweet potato next, plus rice and even egg yolk. We've heard more than our share of horror stories about children who - at the ripe old age of 3, 4 or more - insist on mother's milk direct from the 'tap'.

In a way, our dietary strategy mirrors our broader parenting plan (this sounds grander than admitting we're muddling along with little more than an amorphous skein of strategy points). "Mixing it up" would be a handy shorthand: The idea is that the little fella should be comfortable with constant change, a variety of inputs and strange new things invading his space with regularity. Life, after all, throws us surprises almost every day. We wouldn't want fear of change - whether it is in food or cast of familiar characters or much else - to become ingrained through maintaining too controlled an environment.

Mind you, we all know that children require certain bedrock assurances to keep them emotionally rooted and secure. They must know, for instance, that their parents will always be there to provide for their needs, dispense advice and clarify things when confusion threatens to swallow them up. Until they are seven going on 18, in other words, it will all be about maintaining a balance of unshakeable certainties and constant variation: Such are the emotional nutrients that will be needed to raise a well-balanced young fella.

That, and plenty of carrots.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fat thighs and a dangling foot

Sonny is less forgiving these days regarding excursions in which he is strapped into Mac the stroller and must wait in boredom while his parents have breakfast. So long as he's on the move, and we can work up a decent head of speed, he deigns to suffer in silence. He even seems to enjoy the breeze. Otherwise, it doesn't take long for him to commence protesting.

For our part, we've increasingly noticed what a disreputable figure he's cutting when we install him in Mac. There are three factors that come together here:

a) We generally dress Sonny in rompers, which tend to leave everything below the waist pretty much exposed
b) Sonny is on the plump side - but especially so around his thighs, which bunch up in medallions of unsightly fat
c) Once trapped in Mac's embrace, he tends to kick about for a bit, so that one thigh ends up splayed to one side and the foot dangles outside the stroller.

We don't actually have a photograph to upload, but in any event the effect is sufficiently unattractive that there could be some Internet laws against such displays. Just this evening, during our stroll to the doughnut shop, we tucked that darn foot back in no less than four times. In each case, after a minute or so, it kicked its way out and Sonny slumped further, leaving him looking even more disreputable, like a fat opium addict far gone in a drugged-up haze.

Apart from leading us to keep an eye out for bargains in more covered-up items of clothing, our experience has left us wondering how old a child must be before he can learn a few basic rules of deportment and posture. We've not come across any 'Good breeding for infants' operations - and might still fight shy of enrolling Sonny if we did. But some days, we wish he could be posed like a shopfront mannequin - and have the joints somehow locked in place - before being wheeled out. We're figuring that he's only a few months to go before the 'cute baby' effect wears off altogether and people start avoiding him as a barbaric little monster.

Incidentally, even if you've never met us or seen Sonny's photo, you'll now have zero difficulty recognising us if we ever meet up. We're the parents who are cringing and trying to conceal our faces as our baby stretches himself on one side in his stroller, so that his thigh bubbles up in little rolls of fat and one foot completes its escape from the stroller altogether.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Silent cry

There are little tragedies, often preventable, happening all around us; calls for help that we do not hear because we're too cocooned in our own worries.

Actually, none of this sententious tosh is relevant to what happened just a few minutes ago, except that it also featured a Silent Cry. We'd just gotten home from an excursion and were pottering around, on engrossed in our domestic errands, when we suddenly realised that Sonny was uttering regular yelps that seemed halfway between howl of anger and peevish whimper. As we drew near, however, something very dramatic - and completely unprecedented - happened.

His mouth opened into a frozen expression of great anguish. His neck elongated and his eyes shuttered as though in the throes of huge torment. Yet not a sound, neither peep nor gasp, issued from the little fella. We both stared. Pa picked Sonny up. The seconds ticked by, and still, there was not a sound.

Mum and Pa were having hasty consultations. "Is this crying?", he whispered. "I think he's crying... look, there's some clear liquid pooling at his ear lobes," she replied. "Yes, but I don't see any teardrops or tear-tracks near Sonny's eyes," he countered, adding: "And in any case, who turned the sound off?"

We both agreed that whatever was going was almost cartoonishly dramatic. And still, as Pa clutched our six-month-old baby, he was frozen into an endless second of silence. It was as though someone had hit the 'Pause' button, except we weren't characters in a DVD. Or maybe Sonny had somehow been transformed into one, going by his stock-stillness. We were beginning to wonder if, completely out of the blue, he had gone utterly crazy.

After a good 10 seconds had gone by, there was a shudder. A great big tear rolled down. And things returned to something approaching normal. Sonny became crying wildly, Mum hurried to supply more milk while Pa collapsed into the computer chair, asking himself wildly, "Will anyone believe us if I blog about this?" It was one of those "lost-time" episodes that people who believe in extra-terrestrials and flying saucers like to talk about. Except it had happened to our son.

As these words are typed, the little fella has fallen into a deep sleep. Maybe the imminent eruption of his teeth has played havoc with his hormones, or psychic wiring, or whatever keeps him tethered to infant normalcy. At all events, if this Silent Cry episode recurs, we'll have to start doing some serious research into what's going on, which should involve reading medical texts... and probably watching selected episodes of The X-Files.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Big Time Toy still eludes us

One of our more egregious failures in recent months is a lapsed quest for a Big Time Toy.

Sonny, freshly embarked on a seventh month with us, is by now quite capable to fiddling and having fun with little playthings (though he mainly tries to eat them). The kindness of friends and relatives, along with Mum's odd sally into a shop, has left him with options ranging from a furry donkey to Rainbow the fish (pull a fin and it shudders awake) and some cloth books. But we're aiming to score big, literally, with a larger-scale item that can engage and entrance the little fella, so he can both develop skills and amuse himself. Pa's code name for the project is 'Operation Big Time Toy'.

The closest we've come so far is what might best be described as a suspended super-rocker. Supported on poles, its seat allows Sonny to bounce about with no fear of falling while he tackles the myriad delights built into the dashboard. Depending on the make of the super-rocker (yes, there's a variety) these include flashing-bleeping things, twirly-whirly gewgaws, a selection of half-hidden animals for him to suss out and much more besides. Such a contraption would appear to offer hours of fun, during which his powers of co-ordination, spatial recognition and assorted other '-ions' are surreptitiously boosted.

The problem with Operation Big Time Toy is that we have a sneaking suspicion the little fella will soon lose interest in whatever we buy him, leaving us with a bulky white elephant with no discernible function. The name of the game these days, after all, is 'dual use'. This has relevance to deadly-serious things like restricted technologies. These, if purchased by dubious regimes like those in power in Iran or North Korea, could be turned from peaceable uses (making better lightbulbs, say) to dangerous ones (superweapons). Somewhat less momentously, with Sonny, we try to procure things that pass the dual use test. For instance, we have a nifty high chair that will allow him to eat at the dining table by and by, but also converts into a desk-and-work-chair set.

Big Time Toys, for some reason, tend not to pass scrutiny when the dual use test is applied. So we'll just have to see how things go. Sonny's having plenty of fun with his Small Time Toys, and there'll be less heartbreak or wallet-linked rage in case of breakage or equipment malfunction. But the quest will continue. Fitfully.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sonny hits the six-month mark

Incredibly, six months have flitted past.

It's now officially half-a-year ago that Sonny emerged to torment... that is to say, brighten our lives. There Mum was, worried to all heck because the doctor had been just a little too generous with the epidural and she couldn't feel the lower half of her body at all. Push, the doctor and nurse had said... and all she could do was sort of heave, except she didn't know if her muscles were responding at all.

Luckily, she did enough. Sonny duly arrived - looking (if this makes any sense at all) initially impossibly big, and then impossibly tiny. He's been making up for that ever since, staging a still-astounding demonstration of accelerated growth powered solely by the rather thin-looking milk that Mum produces. By now, he moves much more, yells much louder and responds far more readily to stimuli than just a couple of months ago. "Things will be pretty good till he's about two years old," a friend told us the other day. Obviously, he hadn't spent much time with our little fella, who's by now enormously more of a hassle than before.

The weird thing is, though it's only been a half-year, it's really not that easy for us to remember what life was like without Sonny. Sure, we can pack him off to the infant care centre and zip over to Starbucks for lattes, telling ourselves 'Ah, how we miss this freedom'. And we do, sort of. But Sonny still lurks as a mental presence in our minds, an inner clock is always ticking down towards when he must be picked up from his caregivers. There's a perpetual reminder of the Sonny-fication of our lives, whether it's the photo in Mum's wallet or the overflow of toys and clothes at home. He can't be gotten away from, we wouldn't really know how to start - and it's not as though we'ld ever want to (save during the odd stressful moment).

Looking forward, too, a whole host of fresh milestones are already swimming towards us (including, literally, Sonny's first dip in the pool; Mum's already bought the infant trunks). His teeth are impatient to erupt and get chompin': We know because we can feel them when Sonny decides our fingers will make a nice snack. His full-bore crawling days are almost upon us, and he's half-way towards being able to sit up. Mad mumblings and burblings point to the life-changing moment when he will utter his first words. By the way, Mum and Pa are still vying to see if he'll say 'Mum' or 'Pa' first. Place your bets if you like.

Now that we think of it, that competition was brought up in our very first post (click here to revisit it). And all the coming milestones, trivial or momentous, will continue to be chronicled in these ill-disciplined ramblings. Of course, the blog is just another appurtenance of Sonny's baby-faced takeover of our lives. Six months down... a lifetime to go.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tagged! Seven random facts

The estimable Ruth, whose Ruth the Mom delivers jolts of humour as regularly as an expresso machine produces good java, has linked us into an entertaining round of tagging.

The rules, as reproduced on the left, require that we offer seven titillating - oh, all right, just random - facts about ourselves (we're counting Mum, Pa and Sonny as one virtual person). Then we'll tag seven other bloggers - who may or may not wish to keep the ball rolling.

So here are the facts:

1) Sonny has been perfecting the art of dry-eyed crying. When he wants attention, he sits there looking crafty (you need to work on an expression of injured innocence, youngster), and sends out exploratory howls that increase in volume the longer he is ignored. He did that for 45 minutes straight last night, until Mum caved in.

2) Mum does a good interpretation of a zombie. That's because she is very tired these days and will call Pa on the way to work to moan, in tones that invoke the living dead: "I'm sooo sleeepy". Why? See item (1) above. Our efforts to steel ourselves and not rush immediately to Sonny's aid have robbed Mum of much shut-eye.

3) Pa comes from a line of heavy sleepers. His father before him napped so incessantly that Pa's brother once wrote in a primary school essay: " My father's hobby is sleeping". Now Pa is carrying on the tradition - aided by drowsiness-inducing medication that he regularly takes. The upshot is that he can sleep through anything: Ringing telephones, traffic noise and even the phenomenon addressed in item (1).

4) Pa has ten toes. To be more exact, he is presently wondering why it is that nature has given humans ten, as opposed to six or four. He can understand that an even number makes better evolutionary sense, since it presumably allowed primitive humans better balance as they fled sabre-toothed tigers or whatever menaced them thousands of years ago. But why 10? In fact, why does this tag game stipulate seven, rather than eight, or nine, random facts? Such inane thoughts are fairly typical of frustrated philosophers, or possibly people who - despite claims to the contrary - are sleep-deprived due to the phenomenon addressed in item (1).

5) Mum is an inveterate dreamer. That is to say, hardly a night goes by without her embarking on remarkable adventures or braving terrors in her sleep. Of course, this was before the advent of the phenomenon addressed in item (1) and a subsequent loss of sleep.

6) Sonny has sealed an unholy alliance of some sort with the infant care centre. Maybe they're bribing him with an extra-soft blanket. It's the only explanation for why, going by the logs kept by his caregivers, he snoozes for hours and hours over there, depriving them of a chance to earn their salary. Instead, Sonny chooses to stay awake at home, preferably when his parents are trying to get some shut-eye. Should they be impertinent enough to deposit him in his cot, he will immediately commence the activity described in item (1).

7) The economy may be in danger of going to hell in a handbasket, but Mum and Pa are doing some cautious househunting. There are a number of reasons for this: The hope of settling in a district with better schools and taking advantage of market trends. With a slightly larger pad, too, we could deposit Sonny in his own little room at some distance from ours, and let him indulge in the activity described in item (1) while we snooze happily away.

Well, there's the lot. Now for the folks being invited to join the tag party. All have blogs that we enjoy visiting:

I) Enchanted by Scraps
II) Mumsgather
III) Nona Nita
IV) Sheena and Greg
V) Sturgent
VI) Jane
VII) Penny

Righto, it's time for a nap.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Watching next to nothing can be exciting

The other day, Pa and his mother went to the golf course to chase a dimpled ball all around a couple of kilometres of soggy greenery. What we didn't expect to have to do, infuriatingly, was hang about for eons while the folks ahead of us fussed and fiddled, then drove extra balls off the tee.

A few hours later, we were back at home, watching Sonny with almost lurid fascination while the little fella prepared to heave his minimal bulk forward a few millimetres at a time. Length by painful length, Sonny took a heck of a lot longer to get going than those characters at the golf course. Yet watching the young 'un wiggle his posterior, sway sideways and squish himself into a wormlike stance was entirely enjoyable. Waiting for those golfers, on the other hand, was the equivalent of a devilish torture someone should recommend to the kindly folks at Guantanamo.

All of which is to say that there's a certain fascination attached to the doings of babies that imbues their most trivial actions with interest and suspense. Witnessing Sonny master the rudiments of crawling is just one example. Another might be his attempts to grasp a toy that is just out of reach: You can see the little fella flex his fingers and stretch his arm while hooting and howling as though urging on someone at some Olympic event. There's a whole drama encapsulated in the trivial attempt: How he first zeroes in on one item among several, then how he studies it to work out how best to attack. Then comes the huge expenditure of energy that is actually lunging for it, the agony of missing by a finger's length, the gearing up for another charge...

Even at rest and doing pretty much nothing at all, Sonny can hold our attention. His grandmother swears that 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star', of all the kiddy songs in the world, can somehow hold the little fella in a trance, silencing wild sobbing and shutting down his 'non-stop curiosity' chip so that he will quietly park himself and enjoy the music. Why this should be the case is probably beyond science.

Which is probably true of just why we find infant activities quite so entertaining.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Goodbye for the first time

Sonny's a pretty alert young chap these days. His eyes flit from person to person, drinking in our speech, actions and conduct. At the moment, as he's only on the cusp of turning six months old, he hasn't started to consciously imitate us yet. But the day is coming. The only question is just what gesture or odd behavioural quirk he will first adopt and repeat ad nauseum. Here are some of the contenders:

1) 'Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye': Over at the little fella's infant care centre, a 'farewell' virus has been sweeping the (admittedly very small) kiddy population. The slightly older children have all mastered the skill of floppily waving goodbye to all and sundry, sometimes upon first laying eyes on a visitor. It figures that, just like with a flu bug, the whole lot of them will pick up a specific social building block at the same time. Say goodbye even half-loudly, and there'll be a small forest of little hands responding... sometimes accompanied by blank expressions that make it seem as though the limbs are moving through a hidden clockwork mechanism. We're guessing the likelihood of Sonny catching the farewell virus is pretty high, unless it recedes pronto.

2) Kissy-kissy kiddo: Very young children, we've noticed down the years, are always being told to 'kiss' a visitor by way of greeting (or prior to departure). We've not actually been steering Sonny down that route. But since there must be be some hidden kiss-reflex with babies that explains why every other parent ends up doing the 'Kiss [fill in the blank with relevant person]' routine, there's no reason to believe Sonny will be able to resist. It appears a harmless enough gesture anyway: We're not likely to let him get too close to people who haven't been showering for days and would therefore be a health risk.

3) The clap trap: Then there is the not insignificant number of our relatives who've decided that Sonny really ought to learn how to clap his hands. Presumably, this is because there's something irresistible about producing sound on demand, so that clapping is fun to learn and easy to master. Which is a classic case of folks having their fun and then exiting the scene, leaving us to face the horrific consequences: A great spike in noise pollution as the little rascal roams the place clipping and clapping incessantly.

4) Pick-up line: 'Pick this up, Sonny'. For our money, this could be the easiest order for Sonny to obey, given that his fingers are already grabbing at any item that comes into range. Every baby goes through a phase when he is basically a circus pony, and must perform dirt-simple tasks on demand for the amusement of visitors (Correct audience response: "He's so clever"). Given that, we might as well have in our repertoire some undemanding tricks - and, really, the little fella would probably have his hands greedily swishing even without instructions.

5) No go, guzzler: It is Pa's fondest wish that Sonny first learn what is essentially a 'negative' gesture: To spit out whatever is in his mouth upon demand. Part of this is linked to his endless quest to keep Sonny from sucking his thumb, but Pa also points out that we must be able to instantly prevent a baby from swallowing pins, needles and other dangerous but small items. We've already launched enforcement sweeps to spot possible threats, but you can never be too careful. Just like an attack dog must be trained to drop whatever may be between its fangs at a sharply-barked word, so Sonny - explains Pa with just a little too much glee - must spit out any foreign object without hesitation.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

So are you a 'Smallist' or a 'Biggist'?

Here's something you didn't know about the weird old world we live in: Most people, and especially most parents, can be divided into Smallists and Biggists.

Take Mum. A character sketch would take in the fact that she's in her mid-30s, spends a pittance on clothes and likes the colour blue. Oh, and that she's a Smallist.

A Smallist is someone who likes his babies tiny. The smaller they are, the cuter they are - that might as well be his rallying cry. Mum already looks at Sonny - who at a week shy of six months isn't actually reaching elephantine proportions - with a certain regret. From time to time, she sighs as she recalls his proportions when he was just a few weeks old: "He was so helpless", she coos as a faraway look enters her eyes. She's all for expanding the family, and chances are the strongest attraction is the prospect of cuddling a really minute bundle all over again.

Unfortunately, we haven't a psychiatrist on staff to explain what's going on here. With such folks, if we are to hazard a guess, the maternal instinct is stoked the more fiercely when the object of attention is in greater need of succour. And all things being equal, the smaller the creature, the more in peril it is likely to be: It's probably some sort of law of the jungle, or at least a bylaw.

Pa, meanwhile, is a biggist. As you might imagine, a biggist is just someone who likes his babies big. We don't mean fat: As discussed months ago in 'So round is our baby', Pa doesn't want Sonny to be carrying too much excess weight and doesn't find chubbier infants thereby more adorable. Rather, there's something about very small babies that gets his worry juices flowing. It's a reverse of the sentiments that animate a smallist: Pa beams with greater pleasure when presented with a baby that is strapping and just the antithesis of breakable.

Chances are, the secret source of biggism is clumsiness. Parents who are more likely to trip while carrying their offspring or crash into a wall while wearing an infant shock absorber are probably equipped by Mother Nature with a strong instinct to gravitate towards the robust rather than the fragile. Truth be told, most folks are surely a mix of both biggist and smallist tendencies. These warring predilections may spill over into realms beyond babies - into preferences for entertainment, vehicles, interior designing and goodness knows what else. Utter 'cosy', for instance - while approving someone's den or compact car - and you are probably in the grip of a smallist spasm. Cry 'hearty', meaning to compliment a dinner spread, and biggism is probably raging undetected.

Where does that leave Sonny? Lucky for him - and this applies to any child, at least in the eyes of his parents - he's for the most part poised in the sweet spot between small and big: Perfectly himself and always the right size however much his physique may alter.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Insurance for infants

In the last few months, we've touched base with a couple of insurance agents, trying to see what sort of life or medical policy we should buy for Sonny.

Some folks might find it rather morbid to be talking about insuring an infant. But there's a definite logic to doing so. Most pertinently, insurance becomes increasingly expensive as we advance through life because the chances of something very serious happening to us increase over time. Which means, of course, that we are increasingly likely to slap our insurance company with a claim. AIG, AXA, Prudential and their like also take into account our prior medical history in deciding the premium (that is, the amount of money to be regularly paid to keep the policy from lapsing). If someone has what are called 'pre-existing medical conditions', these will affect either how much he pays or increase the likelihood that the company will decide it doesn't want to insure him at all. In the case of medical insurance, any such condition runs the risk of being excluded: If it sends you to hospital (or worse), not one red cent is paid out.

A baby starts off with a major advantage since he is much less likely to have any sort of adverse medical history: As a result, he's less likely to attract a stiff premium, or suffer exclusions. Once the policy takes effect, nasty surprises won't be a problem. That is, of course, unless the insurance company goes bust or there is some fine print that can be quoted and used to deny a claim. If you believe half the stuff to read on the Internet (use Mr Google liberally, but wear a bib to catch the spittle and invective that will spring from your screen), an insurance company is about as trustworthy as a car with no engine.

Having no background in finance ourselves, the best advice we've gleaned from our research is that it may be best to to opt for basic policies, with fewer bells and whistles, as a base. If you are one of those who likes having multiple policies, with an "investment-linked" component, cash bonus features and what have you, you might keep in mind that these will potentially erode your policy's subsidiary function as a form of forced, long-term savings.

Your best bet might just be asking around till you nail down an insurance agent that comes with multiple recommendations, and with whom you are comfortable discussing your options. These days, agents double up as financial advisers and will try and sell you any number of products. Those that don't seem to be trying to milk you for every spare dollar are the ones you want to give proper consideration. One last thing: Never lie about medical conditions. You can be found out - and the consequences won't be pretty.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Look weird but exercise right

We had just dropped Sonny off at the infant care centre when the woman with the bizarre gait cantered into view.

Mum saw her first: The woman, who looked to be in her 30s, was pushing a stroller and fair whizzing along. She had her arms ridiculously extended horizontally, her posterior rising like a minor hill, while her legs clip-clopped energetically like a sprightly pony's. She was probably trying to get in a bit of exercise along with transporting her baby (assuming she was conveying one), but came across as either struggling with a back ailment or a devotee of some martial art that prescribes weird training postures.

But best not to make too many snide comments. Since Sonny has entered our lives, we've had to make our own share of posture adjustments. For starters, Mum is convinced that she now has a sprained back that is the upshot of bending down too many times to pick up an increasingly heavy baby. Pa, meanwhile, has carefully worked out just how to hold his back and spine to avoid travelling down the same path as Mum's. The result may not arrest the casual observer, but it involves lowering his centre of gravity and slightly widening the stance of his feet. If we were ever to try and build up a good head of speed while strollering Sonny along, chances are we might end up with a gait at least as eye-catching as that woman's.

And at least she was keeping up her fitness programme. We've seen many parents do the old jog-with-baby routine, though they mostly use those fancy buggies that come with three extra-large wheels for increased stability, speed and (for all we know) built-in afterburner. The best Pa has done - as recounted a while back in 'Stroller: Danger on the left' - is to give Mac the stroller a good shove while releasing, so that Sonny skitters along as though on remote control until Mac's momentum wanes and Pa catches up. He claims it gives his arm muscles a bit of a workout, but nobody else is buying that sorry tale.

Perhaps he'd gain more credibility if he faked some weird gait while releasing...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Chase the vanishing spot

Sonny's skin is normally a sombre pink, but of late, it has been playing a cheeky game of hide-and-seek with us.

Before we get to that, we should to note that the little fella boasts a collection of birthmarks and blemishes. These are semi-permanent splotches that - according to our self-justifying conception - give extra character and uniqueness to what would otherwise be a boring expanse of smooth uni-colour. In addition, he is occasionally preyed upon by a mosquito or other insect, leaving a weal that shrinks and disappears after perhaps a day or two.

However, Sonny's skin also tends to display remarkable patterns of red that arise and recede in unpredictable profusion. They flash on and off like crazy traffic lights, or perhaps that should be Christmas lights. Just yesterday, for instance, Pa was picking the little fella up after an afternoon snooze when he saw unusually intense splashes of red discolouring Sonny's face. Pa stayed calm (in other words, he didn't begin to run around in circles while gibbering like a clown). It must have been the amazing aura of calm he exuded that brought Mum and the young 'un's grandmother running. Yet, once again, the redness had begun to recede within 30 minutes. Instead, rebel patches began to sprout up elsewhere on Sonny's body - on the back of his neck, for instance, or near his thighs.

We've since established that these fleeting visitations usually cluster around the time Sonny is waking up from a nap, or a period of exertion on his day mattress. It is not unusual in young babies, his grandmother opined. Perhaps it's just the result of his sensitive skin rubbing against fabric, we determined. Nothing serious seems to follow, so we'll just be keeping a watch on whether the redness lingers longer over time, or begins to cover larger surfaces of skin. But if things stay as they are, we can live with the changing colour display.

No skin off our nose. Or Sonny's, really.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

How to (mis)read a photograph

Yesterday, we received a lovely package in the post: A photo album assembled online by Sonny's aunt (presently in exotic Arabia), then printed, packaged and posted to us by the folks at Shutterfly. It features a range of family snaps reproduced in impressive colour and clarity, capturing and memorialising the little fella's first few months.

The magic of digital visuals has made it easier than ever to store and document the lives of even us ordinary folks. But that's not to say we can really trust photographs, since they don't necessarily tell us the truth. Even in the days of the Soviet Union, photographic 'evidence' or 'documentation' was pretty much what the regime wanted it to be. Kodak-moment snaps of groups of national leaders would be touched up and airbrushed until individuals that had fallen from favour magically disappeared from history. This sometimes happened successively, so that a portrait of five people would become one of four, then three, and so on.

So too, when we leaf through someone's photo album, what the owner has chosen to leave out is at least as interesting as what's kept in. In Agatha Christie novels, in what is surely one of the least implausible elements of many whodunit plots, there are always photos on mantelpieces or in drawers that show the killer in a telling pose with the victim. This will seed the realisation that - gasp! - they were actually former lovers, or an illegitimate mother-and-daughter pair, or suchlike. Less dramatically, just imagine you were going through your Uncle Ed's holiday snaps. Who was he hanging out with most? Which places did the posse visit? Which spots impressed them the most? Chances are, perusal of the photos will reveal some clues - and posing such questions can sure make holiday albums more fun to get through.

Yet wouldn't you be interested in knowing which places repelled the holidaymakers the most? Which persons were so weird they were roundly shunned and left to their own devices? What subtle bit of enchantment eluded everyone's coarsened eye? These are the photos that were not taken, or torn up and tossed away, or consigned to the drawer that's never opened. And as it is with our holiday example, so is it with every photo album, from someone's birth to when he is pottering about in his adult diapers. The missing photos are the ones that fill in the blanks in someone's character - and without them, the truth is forever elusive and justice not done.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bad baby: The camouflaged enemy

In the world today, the threat of Al-Qaeda is ever-present: A cunning, ever-changing foe that continually evolves new ways to strike with impunity at its targets. But the same description applies to our dealings with our infant son, who is about a dozen days away from reaching the six-month mark.

You may think we're exaggerating. But as Pa presses his jihad against Sonny's habit of sticking thumb into mouth ('It's just not hygienic!', he howls), we've seen things that have led us to question accepted orthodoxy on how quickly babies can adapt and learn. By now, Sonny - at least when fully awake - knows that open digit-sucking will bring a furious, special-forces-style response from his father: With a barked 'No', adult hands will surge in to harshly separate thumb from mouth. Sonny's first response was to attempt to fight force with force: He would try mightily to keep his digit from being wrested from its saliva-filled cocoon. But, of course, Pa always won these tussles. So he withdrew from open conflict, as reported in 'Our little terrorist understands threats'.

But Sonny then went the guerrilla route instead, with a series of strategies that stressed guile. First came what the anti-terrorist authorities (translation: Pa) dubbed 'the Curl'. The little fella would first reconnoitre to establish where prying eyes were. Then he would roll himself away from them, using as his body as an observational barrier so he could suck his thumb unseen. The strategy has caused consternation among Sonny's grandparents (consider them the innocent civilians that are always caught up in any war). These days, Pa is automatically suspicious whenever he sees Sonny begin to contort his body in such a way as to conceal his mouth.

So the cunning little thing has moved on. These days, his camouflage is more subtle: He will hold a cloth book, or some other bulky object, close to his face, as though nibbling, so his thumb can sneak in surreptitiously for quick contacts. This is considerably harder to spot, since Sonny is forever raising some toy or other to his mouth. Like any smart guerrilla commander, he's also keeping the enemy guessing by widening the range of his depredations: He's taken to sucking his toes as well, arching his lower body dramatically upwards so his mouth comes within striking distance.

Most effectively, however, Sonny is waging the war for 'hearts and minds', as they say in the counter-insurgency trade. He wails piteously when forced to yield, sending trails of tears flowing to accompany the protest. As observed in passing in 'When Mum's a bad influence', he's more brazen about sucking in the open when Mum (or any of his grandparents) is around: Pa thinks the little fella is deliberately provoking a crackdown so as to win sympathy. By now, the anti-terrorist authorities are so assailed by demands that they "at least let the poor thing suck until he falls asleep" that they have beaten a tactical retreat.

The little fella's a veritable Ho Chi Minh in diapers.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A better name, anyone?

This won't be a revelation on par with learning that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's twisted dad, but the truth is that Mum was pretty against Sonny to start with. Or, we ought to say, against 'Sonny'.

About the time we got this blog to its unsteady feet (and it's been reeling clumsily along ever since), we felt especially uninspired over what to call our then-two-week-old. As a stylistic ground rule, we didn't want to use either his or our own real names. Yet while 'Mum' and 'Pa' were easily arrived at, 'Sonny' - to Mum's ears, especially - landed with a ugly thud.

Perhaps there was an unconscious echo of the brutish boxer Sonny Liston. Or a secret dislike of the music of Sonny Bono. Even Pa has to admit there is something of a Yankie oafishness to the appellation. But we couldn't come up with anything better. The main restriction was that we needed something that would be immediately recognisable as a 'child-designator' to first-timer readers. So anything too exotic ('Longlegs' or 'Screamer') wouldn't fly. Consider the small pool of useable options that we were left with: 'Kiddo' was simply too infantile; 'Champ' is a ridiculous sobriquet to apply to an infant.

In the end, therefore, 'Sonny' had at least the virtue of being accurate, direct and succinct. No one would think we were referring to a pet dog, for instance. But since this blog isn't called 'Sonny's the Word', we could still effect a drastic changeover if someone can come up with a brilliant alternative. In other words, we are still trolling for possibilities. Truth be told, though, it would have to be something really spectacular, since over the months we've become rather used to 'Sonny'. It's become like the ungainly neighbour that you get attached to over time.

We even use it among ourselves now once in a while. And, oh well, it sure beats 'Kiddo'.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Impossible advice for McCain

There's still a month to go before the United States presidential election, but we'll stick our necks out and say that there's now no way John McCain, the Republican, can beat Democrat BarackObama. Was there any way he could have held on to a fighting chance? Not really - not any more than you could, for example, train a five-and-a-half month-old baby how to hula-hoop. In other words, one would have to be able to break the rules of time and logic. Get past that minor hurdle, and here's how McCain could pull off a stunning upset:

1) Get younger. Here's a big problem for the man right now: He's 72. And he looks it, through no fault of his own; there's also the baggage of cancer as well as injuries dating back to when he was shot down as a fighter pilot and brutalised by the North Vietnamese. In any election, being portrayed as a doddering old codger would be a liability. But given the scale of the challenges facing the next US President, from the economy to international security, voters are looking for someone with especially enormous energy reserves, perhaps even more than an edge in experience. And it just so happens McCain is facing 47-year-old Obama, who is the personification of youthful promise. It's a perfect storm of defects.

2) Unchoose Palin. It was a good idea at the time when Sarah Palin, the fresh-faced governor of Alaska was unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. There was an uptick in the polls and her selection as McCain's running mate showcased the boldness and unconventional thinking that he was trying to make part of his political brand. But since then, the world economy has been exposed as precariously teetering on the brink of disaster. At the same time, Palin has been exposed as an ignoramus lacking in gravitas - just when a safe pair of hands (think Joe Biden, Obama's massively experienced pick) seems to become vital. Every time McCain deploys his trademark 'There's no time for on-the-job training' jab against Obama, it whacks Palin too (with McCain's age giving it extra force).

3) Postpone the election. They say a week is a long time in politics, which is certainly true when we consider how dramatically the 'Palin bounce' became a punctured tire. But momentum is also important in politics, and right now, it's Obama who is coming across as a juggernaut. The key swing states that will decide the election are all trending his way and McCain's performance in the second presidential debate didn't throw up enough of a roadblock. Time can reveal weaknesses in Obama's armour, which is still relatively untested. But with just weeks left, it's increasingly unlikely that another Pastor Wright flap is going to surface. Also, by the time the economy stabilises (or people become used to the prospect of a severe downturn), which would rob the atmosphere of some of the visceral anger that is driving voters into Obama's corner, the election will be long over.

4) Replace Obama. This year's Democratic hopeful just happens to be the perfect poster boy for the times: His charisma, inspiring life story and ethnicity dramatically resonate with the chords of hope and sea change that voters are looking for. You could almost believe that someone built him, piece by character piece, as the ideal candidate for 2008. Almost anyone would be easier to beat: Compared to him, Hillary Clinton would be a godsend. She has a ton of baggage, would be a very unconvincing 'change agent' (wasn't she meddling in her husband's presidential musings way back when?) and doesn't have the gift for soaring rhetoric that he is blessed with.

5) Get half of the US to secede. Despite all the preceding factors militating against McCain, most of the country - geographically speaking - is actually still going to vote for McCain come election day. That is because great swathes of the nation, in the south and in middle America, are so conservative they would probably vote for a circus elephant if it was the official Republican candidate. The notorious Red states vs Blue states divide continues to hold true, so that the heartland could be effectively broken off and delivered to McCain to govern. That's fantasy, of course. But anyone who thinks McCain still has a hope of upsetting Obama is trading in wish-fulfilment anyway.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"All adults do is eat!"

"Hello. This is Sonny. My parents spend a lot of time bashing away at this computer (and ignoring me, as if I wouldn't notice it), so I am going to give it a try too while they are away at work. They seem to think that people are actually reading their thoughts regarding me, though no one ever asks for my feedback. Manifestly unfair: I may only be five months and two weeks old, but I ought to be consulted.

"So let me tell you, readers of my parents' blog, what irks me most about living with 'Mum' and 'Pa' (I'll tell you a secret: They have proper names too, just like mine isn't really 'Sonny'). These parents of mine are pigs. I know from the Farmhouse books they read to me that pigs have curly tails, which my parents don't display. But pigs are also said to be very fond of eating, and let me tell you, my parents are really into that.

"They have three square sit-down meals, during which they polish off a confusing mix of different objects of inconsistent colours and shapes and smells. Horrible. My parents are also always snacking. Even late at night, when Pa gets home from work, the two of them will sit down and snaffle biscuits and drink that nasty concoction called 'coffee'. Give me milk any day. Actually, I do get milk every day. But anyway, whenever my parents eat, they will go through this silly ritual exchange: First, Pa will say, "You are eating as much as me these days". Then Mum will look very defensive and say, 'Well, I am eating for two now". I'm not sure what it means, but she will look at me briefly when she says that. Let me tell you, if I ate even half as much as either of them did, I am sure I would burst. My parents seem to think that I am going to be their size some day and be as greedy as them, but I find this very hard to believe. I don't want to believe it. I'm quite happy as I am, thank you. I'm comfortable with my body.

"All I drink is milk. Well, that is not quite right, since Mum has recently been feeding me a few mouthfuls of cereal (not directly from her mouth, but using a 'spoon'). The adults made a big deal of my consuming it and seem to think it was a major occasion. I am surprised they did not put up balloons and have a party. Parents just don't make much sense: The cereal was mixed in milk, and was so diluted it was almost milky. So what was the big deal? Now, if they had tried to feed me one of those chicken drumsticks, I would have shown them how well I can wriggle and choke. They think I can sometimes be what they call 'a handful' (which is also ridiculous since I am a lot bigger than anyone's hand, unless there are some giant adults around somewhere that I haven't met), but I've been going easy on them. They are quite useful to have around, after all. I can't seem to be able to move around very well on my own.

"Anyway, I am sure adults do other more productive things too. Besides eat, that is. And talk. Maybe I'll tell you about my discoveries by and by. Thank you for your attention. You may go and eat some more now."

Yours sincerely,

Monday, October 6, 2008

Take your time to talk, kiddo

Sonny likes to chat.

Since he's not yet six months old, he's obviously not yammering away in any language that you or I can comprehend. But when the mood is upon him, he will yip, yap and yodel away, at times even pausing as though awaiting a response from us. Generally, the little fella will be worrying away at some toy or activity (like trying to get himself closer to a tasty morsel, like a piano chair leg) when he gets voluble. He spends quite a bit of his time closely observing adults in action, so maybe he's picked up on the peculiar human habit of conversing.

We're not necessarily overwhelmed with joy at the little fella's early-onset chattiness. For perhaps it means that he's someone who will want to make his way in the world trading on his verbal skills, which might mean a career as a defence lawyer, travelling salesman or even (if he did something really wicked in his past life) a politician. This last thought, of course, is occasioned by the looming second debate between US presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama, which is exactly 48 hours away as I type these words. The two White House hopefuls will be pounding at each other with torrents of words, buffing up their own policy ideas, casting the other side in the worst possible light and otherwise using language as a fighter pilot uses his missiles, or samurai warrior his sword.

There's nothing dishonourable about such professions, at least not in the abstract. Still, to use words is often to misuse and manipulate them, and Sonny had better have some pretty stiff moral fibre woven into his character if he is to be immersing himself in these waters. Truth be told, however, our biggest concern about our potentially mouthy son is more parochial: He'd be a major annoyance in the near future. Sure, every child is going to have roughly half a million questions to ask about everything and its sister. But now imagine such a creature armed with smart-alec rebuttals to every answer and clever contradictions to place before every parental command.

Of course, we're going to be told that we've just described every five-year-old ever born. If that be our fate, we can only practice smiling through gritted teeth. But we really don't need to be reminded of our impending fate every day, as Sonny burbles away oh-so adorably.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

When Mum's a bad influence

There's no doubting it any more: it's not good for Mum to be around our son.

All right, even if we're exaggerating for dramatic effect, this might sound like a sacrilegious sentiment to voice, unless talking about deadbeat parent-types who soak themselves in alcohol each night or abuse their children. Mum, it need not be said, does not fall into this category. But we've noticed that Sonny, who is roughly a fortnight short of being six months old, becomes distinctly harder to handle once she floats into the picture.

Just today, for instance, Sonny was sitting placidly in the tub being washed by Pa. He was pensive, contemplating his toes and how the soapy bubbles obscured different toes in turn (well, this is what you might call a creative reconstruction of the little fella's thoughts). Then Mum darkened the doorway. "How is it that he's always thrashing about whenever I bathe him, but so quiet now?" she said a tad too loudly. Sonny perked up and promptly began to kick at the water, sending spray over the side of the tub (and onto Pa's clothes). Sensing a hostile glare, Mum scuttled off - and Sonny subsided to his customary calm.

Now, you might say this account is unfair to Mum, as Sonny was probably just expressing joy at her presence. Or perhaps it was mere coincidence, you whine, that she was in the room when the young 'un got frisky. Sadly, however, there's a definite pattern that can be discerned: Whether it's an increased propensity to suck at his thumb (and toes) or a tendency to bawl in hopes of eliciting sympathy, Sonny is likelier to misbehave when Mum is present.

On, then, to the 'his/her' preferred explanation segment. Mum's is that Pa is what you might call, to use technical language, a wicked monster who barks at Sonny in such threatening tones that the poor mite is too terrified in his presence to utter much more than a peep. Pa suggests that Mum is indulging Sonny, fuelling a childish cunning that already knows how best to draw fawning attention from susceptible adults. In grander terms, then, one might even see here opposing worldviews: Pa's a darker vision in which we must perpetually avoid being taken advantage of, set against Mum's willingness to embrace a lovey-dovier, everyone's-an-angel universe.

Of course, there's nothing earth-shattering about the situation. Children have been trying to play one parent off against the other since time immemorial. We'll just make sure we firm up a common front in time for when his demands accelerate. As they surely will.

Friday, October 3, 2008

How to inherit a nose nightmare

Parents always hope their children will inherit their best characteristics. For our part, we aren't conceited enough to think that Sonny stands to gain much from us, but we can certainly wish that he is spared some of our worse features. Which is why Pa had a mild fit when he first met Ivy the Fan.

Ivy is a purple and plastic, battery-powered fan that comes with a clip to be fastened to the hood of Sonny's stroller. Mum's idea was to provide some better-quality air circulation for when the little fella is on the move. Pa, however, has a great physical weakness: His nose. It has a tendency to commence sniffling with a vengeance once the air currents around it get too robust. Once an old-style tropical fan or (horrors) modern air-conditioning is added into the mix, Pa's nose can be reliably expected to sound off, then begin overflowing embarrassingly.

It remains to see whether indiscriminate exposure to aggressive drafts will firmly implant in Sonny's nose the great weakness with his father's. The medical case for such a worry could well be highly suspect, but Pa's struggles over the years with his nose has left him jumpy: At various times, doctors have fingered a crooked bone, iffy sinuses and a lack of fitness. So, with Sonny, Pa is always ensuring that the little fella is sufficiently wrapped up, out of any stiff drafts and with socks or long pants deployed if the air-conditioning is on.

For all that, Sonny's nose is showing ominous signs of being an eeny-meeny clone of his father's. He is often to be found snuffling energetically, though it doesn't seem to sour his mood or cramp his style. With no sign that he has recognised a potential enemy, he spends quite a bit of time staring at Ivy the fan when it's switched on, though it's probably because of the little lights that come on as the blades whirl. Careful observation has revealed no link between Ivy's use and any accelerated nose activity.

Still, perhaps having to come to terms with an inherited affliction like a chronically overflowing nose will help build Sonny's character. A grain of sand in an oyster is what brings about a pearl, as they say. Though a pearl doesn't sniffle.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The magical Good-Lah policy

We're going to sound like crazy insurance agents at first, but bear with us while we tell you about a policy that keeps reaping dividends.

We're referring to a mental policy, and it got its start (ridiculous as it may sound) one day at a casino. There we were, throwing away our hard-earned cents at an activity that involved guessing whether the next card in a face-down deck was going to come up red or black. If we guessed red, but black came up, we'd lose our bet. Red, and we doubled our (pitiful) stake. Anyway, we got into the habit of chorusing, "Good lah" whenever the wrong colour came up ('Good lah' being the endearing, Malaysian-accented equivalent of 'Jolly good'). The tenuous logic behind the forced merriment was that, given the law of averages, so long as we kept betting red, each time black came up made it the more likely that red would be next up.

We never did make much money. For one thing, the game didn't use an actual deck of cards at all, but rather an enormous computer-generated stack of decks, which meant that - for all practical intents and purposes - the probabilities accompanying each red-or-black choice were always 50-50 (those who could explain this more succinctly, preferably using easy-to-understand examples, are welcome to do so). But adopting the Good-Lah policy is easily translated into a broader attitude towards life in general: It simply means that, when something comes along that seems to have negative consequences, we may take it as something likely to lead to a positive outcome down the line, so long as we stay the course.

Yesterday, for instance, saw an instance of Good-Lah in action. Our Sonny has been driving us to distraction by his insistence on gumming down on anything he can get his hands on (as reported in 'Mad mouth alert'). No win there, if this was Fate dealing the cards. But we've also been feeling rather anxious over introducing non-milk foods into Sonny's diet. We'd heard of titanic struggles in which the baby energetically spewed the proffered vittles in sundry directions. So we were gearing up with bib and cloths for our first try-out. But as it turned out, Sonny's insistence on chomping everything and anything made the whole process preposterously easy. We spooned up some cereal and he would willingly take it in his mouth. A twist or two of the spoon, as he munched away, and it was mission accomplished. Good-Lah indeed.

Of course, the more cunning (or perhaps just pessimistic) reader will note a corollary of this policy: It's just as likely that, a few turns down life's road, Sonny's rapid acceptance of solid food might lead to some unwanted outcome: Suppose he develops an insatiable appetite and goes from plump to obese before our horrified eyes. To keep the policy viable, therefore, we'd have to keep extending the negative-to-positive scenario into infinity (eg Sonny gets so fat, he learns the joys of exercising, but then...). At some point, we seem to be reduced to just saying that you can never be sure what's going to come up next. It's all about adopting a suitable attitude and enjoying the ride.

Good-Lah. Or make that good enough.