Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Panicking too soon won't stave off swine flu

Something very akin to panic is sweeping much of the world as a mixed-bag strain of swine flu spreads from Mexico outwards.

Mum and Pa have been trying to keep things in perspective, by telling ourselves
(a) there are no confirmed cases yet in our neck of the woods
(b) despite a climbing death toll in Mexico, no cases outside that country have resulted in deaths
(c) we can't live our lives in terror anyway, since we could also be run over by a bus tomorrow.

Nonetheless, we are exhaustively scrutinising news reports as a planned two-day trip to Malaysia next week draws near. If there are incidents of infection along our travel route or at our intended destination, we might decide to pull the plug, absorb the cost of already-booked tickets and rooms - and just play safe.

People, after all, aren't always the most rational of creatures and we're as human as the next Joe. Applying Reason only gets you so far, and then instinct, or the fear factor, or the unconscious exerts its own insidious pull. Yet in other things, this fact shows itself in less than chilling ways. For instance, though every parent knows that his child is not likely to be much more than just averagely adorable, he is also typically convinced that Junior is the cutest critter the species has ever produced. Deny it if you will, but that sort of sentiment festers in virtually all mothers and fathers.

It is therefore probably true that, to the extent to which some phenomenon strikes close to our own lives or our near-and-dear, the sway of Logic is that much more likely to falter. No wonder, then, that growing concern over swine flu - however overblown if assessed with cold rationality - is pulsing as we contemplate the possibility of our own clan being struck down. Of course, if we don't destabilise other people's lives, we are free to overreact as we wish - whether it is by avoiding pork (even though there is absolutely no evidence that diet is relevant to the outbreak) or locking ourselves in our homes. Should we have especially vulnerable souls under our care, we are perhaps more justified in building in an additional margin of safety: Why venture into large crowds for no reason, say, if there have been known swine-flu cases in your town? But if worry-wartism extends to hunkering down with tinned food at home, even though no one within thousands of miles has fallen sick yet, absurdity is surely knocking on your doorstep.

Besides, one is led to finally note, if we work ourselves into such a frenzy of fear even when the scourge is not yet in sight, how are we supposed to react if it does emerge? Are we then more likely to become dangerously unreasonable, causing harm to others as we cross the line into utter paranoia? One hopes not.

The bare facts about this outbreak are frightening enough.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Five steps into danger

It's been a while since we've known that Sonny was capable of stringing together a few unsteady steps (click here for a relevant earlier post). But it was only yesterday that some switch was thrown and the little fella began walking on the wild side in earnest.

Suddenly, he can't get enough of flinging himself on his parents - upright. With a bit of help, he'll get into a stable starting position, then toddle rapidly for five or six steps into an adult's waiting arms. He'll cackle delightedly, clearly luxuriating in the triumph (and his parents' claps) before promptly preparing for a further effort. The problem was that for every two well-executed walk-throughs, there will be one or two spills, near-falls and football-star-style dives. Clearly, a dangerous era has dawned, with an increased chance of harmful collisions or painful injuries.

So what are we to do? On the one hand, we obviously want to encourage the little fella's advance into ambulation. He's a year old now and shouldn't be held back from new adventures, among which toddling about is a key one. At the same time, Sonny's strolling skills are extremely basic, yet he is launching himself into high-risk activities. Instead of confining himself into carefully negotiating a path right next to a quick-grab wall or bannister, he scuttles forth without caring for what might happen if he loses his balance. And instead of advancing at a sedate rate, ready to trim and adjust, he blazes along as though in danger of missing the Number 106 Bus.

At the end of the day, this is a false dilemma. There's actually very little we can do to retard Sonny's walkabouts, since he's not even with us for half his waking day and is terribly good at seizing any stray unsupervised moment to practise some forbidden sport. We can of course move away dangerous obstacles, check for sharp corners to blunt with babyproofing gear and keep the little fella under observation as much as possible. Beyond that, though, we'll just have to steel ourselves for the occasional typhoon of crying from a nasty trip - and tell ourselves that the little fella will quickly master the art of walking. He'll be sashaying along soon as though born to it, we might tell ourselves again and again.

At the moment though, as he blunders his way along with a fey laugh and far too much unearned confidence, that seems a long time away.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Time-travelling with Sonny

It's a sentiment completely lacking in originality, but time can really play tricks with you.

Yesterday, Sonny - or rather, we his parents - celebrated his first birthday. Since the little fella hadn't a clue what was going on, we restricted ourselves to a small little cupcake with a candle on it and a small rubberised toy car. His two-year-old cousin - or rather, his parents - couriered over a much larger toy car while the folks at the infant care centre surprised us with a few designer togs.

Truth be told, Mum is still pinching herself (something she normally leaves to Sonny to do) over how speedily it has all gone. "It's really been a year?", she whines intermittently. And truth be told, it really did seem as though it was just yesterday, or perhaps a week ago, that we brought the little fella home from the hospital - only to rush him back in for some tanning in the wake of a touch of jaundice. Quite a few more things had happened since then, from the one-month reign of terror promulgated by our confinement lady - and her ultra-greasy food - to trips abroad with Sonny, bouts of illness and an inordinate number of 'he's hit his head again' episodes. How these could all have fit into the one week they seem to have taken in all is a metaphysical mystery.

Now we'll have to set aside our 'What's to expect: The first year' manual for something that will cover Year Two (and beyond). Though given the rapidity with which Time lays down its markers, we might as well be stocking up on 'What to expect: The teen years'. Then again, just as the watched pot never boils, perhaps expecting things to zip along will guarantee a snail's pace instead. And there are some aspects of life-with-Sonny that we're not really desperate to prolong - from the need to laboriously feed him his meals to his inability to keep himself clean.

The little fella, of course, is blissfully unaware of our meandering musings. He ignored the lit candle for his cake (we had to blow it out ourselves) but was especially interested in ripping to shreds the gift-wrapping for his cousin's toy car. We chanted 'Happy birthday' in the face of blank incomprehension, even if Pa's spectacles attracted his exploratory fingers. Perhaps in a year or two, it will make sense to actually hold a party: Right now, it would be meaningless. Though, come that time, we might again be going on about how quickly the intervening period has passed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Scourge of the babbler

There is, as far as we know - and this, following an exhaustive Internet scan - no such word in the English language as "Deyk". In fact, there is no word in Mandarin, Malay or German that corresponds to the sound - which is to exhaust Mum's and Pa's collective linguistic competence.

Yet strangely, the little fella's favourite utterance has been, for the past few weeks, "deyk". Since he's a week shy of hitting that first birthday, it would have been nice if he were now going "Mamma" or "Pa" or even "Confucius" with monotonous regularity. Yet for reasons unclear to us, "deyk" has captured his loyalty. Here's a typical example of how it is deployed, in all its apparently vast flexibility:

Sonny (grabbing a box of tissues and shaking it vigorously): Deyk. Deyk-doo Deyk.
Mum (indulgently): What have you here, Sonny? Now don't play with that. Have this toy instead.
Sonny (grumpily accepting the exchange): Deyk deyk. Deedee deyk.
Pa: Look, what is the little fella trying to say? Can't he just say, "Toy" or something intelligible?
Sonny (noticing Pa's button and beginning to paw at it): Goo deeeeyk. Deyk?
Pa: Speak properly. None of this "deyk" business. And...
Sonny (yanking the button off): Deeyk doogle. Deeeeyk deeeyk deyk.
Mum: That's pretty impressive finger dexterity.
Pa: It's not impressive. Give me back my button! And for heavens sake say something that I can...
Sonny: Deyk. Deyk deyk? Gum gum deyk.
Mum: Hey, it's actually rather catchy. Deyk. deyk. Ha ha ha. Deyk...
Pa: Aargh, the world's gone mad.
Sonny & Mum: Deyk. deyk.

Anyway, you get the general idea. To rub salt into the wound, Sonny has even forgotten the first few letters of the alphabet that he had managed to learn three-odd months ago. He's also firmly resisted all efforts to teach him some regular English words, though he has on occasion given voice to random "Pa"s and "Ma"s just to keep his parents in suspense. We're spooked enough to suspect that the little fella may be perfectly able to belt out regular words, but is simply of a mind to drag out the drama, keeping us on tenterhooks so that we continue to shower excessive praise over the odd word thrown our way.

Meanwhile, though, if anyone knows of any language in which "deyk" actually means something, do let us know. Perhaps Sonny has a mystery foreign friend and is already fluently speaking some exotic tongue. Wildly unlikely, of course. But then again, so is this weird explosion of "deyk"s.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Round the world in 5 seconds

Toddlers are notoriously curious, and Sonny not only takes the cake in that department, he could single-handedly supply a whole confectioner's. So it's no surprise he's developed his own unique way of quickly taking stock of the world around him, to more promptly identify points for further exploration.

Typically, when plonked into a less than totally familiar environment, the little fella will cross his legs and flex them so that he begins to bounce in a jittery 360-degree revolution. He does this very efficiently, his eyes shrewdly taking in the environs as he rotates. He can even multi-task, perhaps munching at a plastic cup he has filched from some tray, or dramatically waving a walking stick snatched from a stand.

Once the grand tour is complete, Sonny will have gained a grasp of all nooks, hidden crannies or concealed corners worthy of thorough ransacking. Without fail, these will include any place potentially dangerous to a toddler, such as a live power socket with many appliances attached, drawers that can easily be opened and then slammed into young fingers, especially dirty areas that have escaped cleaning and any heavy objects that might be accidentally toppled - causing destruction of expensive antiques or damage to undersized noggins.

As a result of this, Mum and Pa have a painfully wrought relationship with Sonny's round-the-world scan'. On the one hand, it's pretty amusing: A toddler doing a full-circuit while sitting upright earns a few laughs every time. On the other hand, it is the harbinger of nightmarish chases and grab-the-Sonny activities as he plunges after each danger spot, seeking out a new one the moment he is foiled or headed off his original target. Since Mum and Pa have arrived in Malaysia for a weeklong break with Pa's mother, the little fella has suddenly acquired vast reserves of fresh energy. We're not quite sure where from, but he's scampering tirelessly from cranny to nook, pausing only to scan for more places to explore.

At the moment, we're at wit's end as to how to corral these surges of enthusiasm. Undoubtedly, it is better to have an insatiably curious child than a listless, inattentive one. But having to deal with a toddler with his very own Instant Investigative Technique - his spin-round-the-world - is a bit much. Anyone with tips or suggestions on how to slow the rampaging Sonny down are very welcome to write in. And please do so yesterday...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Escaping the bed and other clues

Some of the most truly heart-stopping moments for us over the past year have been when Sonny has wriggled free of our grasp and done a dive from his cot or the bed we use as a changing station. Having no concept of fear, he would crawl right off the edge and topple sickeningly to the parquet.

It's a measure of his growing confidence that the little fella has learned how to escape beds and sofas in a more efficient way. He employs two methods. With the first, he reverses his stance and gingerly lowers himself feet-first with his front facing the chair or bed. He uses his arms to support himself. The second, of course, is the lazy route: If we are with him, he'll simply affix us with his best 'pleading' expression, raising his arms slightly in what we have come to recognise as his 'Pick me up, chop chop' signal.

It is in such small, incremental ways that we are reminded that Sonny is quickly gaining in motor skills, intelligence and awareness. Other clues include the way he has become increasingly skilled in picking up small objects, especially the raisins we strew on his high-chair to try and keep him from clambering out. He can pop them into his mouth at a fearsome rate, though he hasn't yet mastered holding a spoon and can only shovel corn flakes or porridge in flailing arcs. When we are bathing him, too, he has become irritatingly prone to reaching his arms out to grasp the nearest object (usually a just-washed milk bottle, since Pa bathes him on what was formerly our computer table and is now the 'Sonny paraphernalia storage centre'). Coupled with the little fella's tendency to splash and sploosh, this has led Mum to abandon bathing Sonny at the table altogether; she now does so in the bathroom. Yep, he's learnt to play and be playful.

Maybe, therefore, a fixation with the standard yardsticks of baby maturation (his first tooth, his first word et cetera) blinds us to the accelerating rate at which the little fella is blowing past other milestones. Less-spoken of ones, to be sure, but no less significant. If so, we are the ones who are trapped - if not on a sofa or a bed, then in the conventionalities of parenting.

It's time to escape.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Our little cleaner

A number of entries in this series of often-disjointed posts have to do with tidying up after some typhoon-like mess wrought by Sonny, or with salvaging a situation turned parlous thanks to his roving adventures.

Last week, however, came a stunning twist: There he was,
actually helping us clean up. It happened on a day much like any other. Sonny had ruined our neat row of mineral water bottles by playing his own version of ninepins, had scattered some toys and was otherwise working manfully to meet his quota of chaos. Then he saw a discarded wet wipe that Mum had left about (possibly after being drawn away to respond to some Sonny-related emergency). The little fella picked it up, toddled over to our TV console and commenced a diligent wiping of the surface.

Mum and Pa were both present and managed to avoid fainting, crying out in shock or otherwise overreacting. Instead, we both rushed forward to unleash great blasts of "positive reinforcement".
That is to say, even if it was a completely random activity on his part, we had - right then and there - a chance to imprint it onto his neural pathways. If we made enough of a fuss over him, praising him to the skies and clapping madly, he might begin to regularly scrub and rub for fun. In the same spirit, Mum has been played the exciting game, 'Put The Stuff Back To Where You Found It' with the little fella, and Sonny has shown some promise as a practitioner.

Let's come clean here: We're hoping that, in the not-too-distant future, our son will be building his character the old-fashioned way, by helping out with a good number of household chores. We've no intention of turning him into a cruelly-oppressed slave, but even a child of - oh, say - four can make himself useful by washing the dishes. Then there's the sweeping and the dusting and the laundry... he needn't be the only one saddled with these chores, mind you, but he can certainly take on his share of them. But more important than that, we want him to be doing so voluntarily - and how better to manage that than by introducing the key aspects of it when he's just a wee tot so he can learn them as play?

Some folks might cynically dismiss us as heartless monsters bent on squeezing every bit of utility out of our child, perhaps even defacing his childhood and robbing him of innocence. That is just so much hooey. Child labour is bad, but a labouring child is one who learns discipline and the joy of hard work.

Know the difference. Ahem.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

So cruel is Pa's lot

If you'd like an object lesson in how whimsical Fate can be, in how suddenly life can turn, we suggest you be Pa for a day. There's nothing like seeing how our little fella treats his father to ram home the point.

Basically, Pa is the Eternal Second-best Man. Sometimes, Sonny will be keen to spend some time with him, crawling all around and whimpering to try and draw attention. Sometimes - especially when peckish - the little fella will come galumphing up demanding a few juicy raisins or a ready-cut square of cheese. Sometimes. Let's spell out the 'sometimes' here: It means, 'when Mum's not around'.

When Mum is around, on the other hand, a sorcerous and instantaneous change is effected. Pa is turned into a teacup, or perhaps a flowerpot (Harry Potter, eat your heart out) and ceases entirely to be an object of interest to Sonny. Instead, the heartless creature will bash his way past Pa like a stampeding elephant (well, a very small stampeding elephant) in order to get to Mum.

In fact, while we're on the subject of magic, we should note that Mum can electrify Sonny in this way without necessarily even being within the little fella's line-of-sight. All she has to do is, say, whistle two notes (presumably Mum's whistling pitch is unique) from, oh, a mile away or simply bustle around the kitchen in her normal manner. Maybe the sound she makes when she slots a fork into a tray is distinctive. At all events, Sonny will perk up prairie dog-like - you'd swear he sniffs the air as though to catch a scent - and then hurtle past the forgotten Pa.

The peculiar tie linking child and mother (especially one who is breastfeeding, or so we're told) is obviously not a discovery worthy of a paper in a scientific journal. But watching Pa go from hero-to-zero can be a sobering thing. Life's like that, too - or can be.

Call it a useful warning.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

An infant and a control freak

Our little fella is turning out to be quite the control freak.

Not that, at 11 months and change, he is already trying to order us around - though he can be wilful enough when he wants to be. No, we're referring here to his enthusiasm for remote controls of all descriptions. It's remarkable, if you think about it: Our TV remote and cable TV control are fairly alike, but they look nothing like our air-conditioning control, which has neither their multi-coloured, multi-buttoned character nor their narrow shape. Yet these three are together pretty much the Holy Grail as far as Sonny as concerned. He will crawl any distance, clamber over any obstacle and make any amount of noise to try and get his itchy paws on them.

Initially, we thought we'd outsmart him by ostentatiously hiding (but not very well) an air-conditioning control that had malfunctioned. The first part of the plan worked a treat: It took Sonny less than a couple of minutes to retrieve the gadget from its 'hiding place', and he promptly began to pound away at the controls. But somehow, he seemed to sense very soon that he was being sold a dud - without even needing to peer at the air-con units to see if any were operating. He began slamming the device to the ground and tossing it about vigorously. If we wouldn't give him a 'live' control, he seemed to imply, he could at least enjoy the oddly-shaped football he'd been granted.

For now, therefore, our evenings are often intricate ballets of control-passing activity, with Sonny enthusiastically pursuing Mum until she manages to deftly flip the control to Pa, whereupon he becomes the new target. At one point, we even tempted disaster when, all tuckered out, we let the young 'un have one of the controls, just to see if he might peaceably play with it. And indeed, he was clearly so overjoyed that he stared entranced at the many buttons, reverently plucking at one, then another, and occasionally letting out yelps of joy. We wondered if he might be safely entrusted with the gadget. Then, of course, a sudden wicked gleam shot through his eyes. There was no suppressing the smasher in his soul, and when he tried to dash the control to the floor we had to quickly relieve him of it. Seconds later, of course, he was flailing away trying to get it back.

Can Sonny somehow sense the magic properties of such devices? How they allow long-distance manipulation of activity and the conferment of power (at least to influence thermostat or TV channel readings)? Who knows. But it may not be just coincidence that leads him to ignore gaily-coloured book covers, colourful toys and the like in favour of our controls.