Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bad buzz

A little bug was spotted last night taking a breather on our wall. And all at once, a storm blew up.

"Mosquito!", we adults cried with one voice, before - as first-time parents and second-time grandparents are wont to do - wildly overreacting.

Mum lunged after the insect with a viciousness she usually reserves for queue-jumpers, litterers and child rapists. Pa called for blasts of toxic insect repellent in every room, while Sonny's visiting grandmother twittered aloud everyone's unspoken fear: That, somehow, a mosquito would penetrate our defences and - the audacity! - sting our almost-six-weeks-old son.

Oh dear. Might that not leave an itchy bump on his precious skin?

Several dead mozzies later, we could look back a little sheepishly on our conduct. Admittedly, we find ourselves in a part of the world where deadly pathogens are transmitted by winged nasties with sinister names like Aedes (which, to supply your useless factoid of the day, means 'odious' in Greek). But since our apartment rises fairly high - and our condominium management mandates regular applications of insecticide - mosquitoes, flies and the like seldom enter. Last night was an anomaly. And as for the chance that a random mosquito should also be the bearer of scary diseases, well... we've admitted to being paranoid at times.

But there's more to this. What you seldom encounter, you fear the more. Pa remembers the time in his childhood when the hum of the mosquito was part of the standard symphony of the evening, and when murdering a fistful of the critters before supper was par for the course. But time dulls the memory, presumably.

Also, of course, it's never quite the same when it's your own little one that is in danger, however remote. And so do we all sometimes lose our perspective: It is not often enough that we reflect - in chuckling at the absurd antics of others - that there, but for the grace of God, go we.

Showdown: Sarong vs Snugli

Call it a clash of two eras, of old against new. Few things have been more effective in pacifying Sonny than Mum's placing him in her sarong, or cloth carrying sling. In a recent post, we exulted in its effectiveness - but we're not putting all our eggs in just one basket (or carrier technology).

Today, therefore, Pa tried out his Snugli, which looks like a rucksack worn front-to-back, with slits for Sonny's limbs to protrude from. This is modernity we're talking about, when compared to the time-worn sarong, and it certainly has its positives. For starters, Pa will look a lot less ridiculous than if he had a cloth bundle crossways across his chest: The sarong is traditionally for women, while the Snugli comes with no such cultural baggage. It is also more hardy, being made of fancy fabrics, and boasts all sorts of straps and buckles to improve the ride.

That said, the first Snugli trial - a fortnight back - had ended ignominiously; Pa spent an eternity fiddling with the straps and buckles, and while Sonny did not bawl out disapproval, he did leave a liquidy deposit that short-circuited the no longer dry run. Today, again, the buckles and straps were confounding. Over a couple of hours, Sonny broke out into tears a time or two, seemed at times uncomfortably squeezed out of shape and also found altogether too many jutting-out bits to suck at, or knock against.

Meanwhile, more strengths of the sarong seemed to emerge in counterpoint. Being cloth, it is more forgiving of tropical heat. It more effectively swaddles the child in a comforting embrace and converts with a swish of cloth into a modesty-protecting breastfeeding bib.

Still, as Mum and Pa become more practised in using sarong and Snugli, the balance might shift. The buckles and straps will cease to confound, an older Sonny may prefer the ergonomics of the Snugli. Perhaps. Anything might happen. It might snow in the Sahara.

Yes, our sympathies are admittedly more with the sarong (and no, we have no stake here, no investment in a sarong-making company). There's always a kick to be had seeing the upstart outmatched, the old-timer confirmed in his relevance.

Even if it's not quite yet a wrap.

Friday, May 30, 2008

How big a deal is a name?

For those who invest much effort into choosing a name for their child, Indiana Jones may serve as a warning as they agonise over a patron saint, cast horoscopes or analyse the number of brush strokes required.

Us? Keen to embrace the great corporate trend of our time, we had outsourced. A committee comprising Pa's mother and Mum's aunt offered up candidates - and we quickly settled on one with decent symbolic heft (to translate from the Chinese, it means 'heaven's blessing') and a certain musicality to the ear.

Good enough, we felt, but you may disagree. Feeding Sonny, moulding his character and all that jazz may seem like a big deal today, you concede. But a few decades on, it might well be the name we gift him, and which he bears, that is the most tangible mark of our devotion.

But, as we were saying, don't forget Indiana Jones. Referring, in case you've been living under a rock, to the fictional swashbuckling archaeologist who has featured in four movies - with the most recent, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, currently playing in cinemas. Jones (played with deadpan elan by Harrison Ford) was named Henry, after his father - but preferred to annex the moniker assigned to the family dog. Indiana.

Skipping nimbly over the vast potential for over-psychologising here, the bald point is obvious: Children don't necessarily hold on to the names selected for them. They might go the official route by deed poll, or they may just adopt alternate first names for everyday use. Perhaps on a whim, or out of religious fervour - it hardly matters. Parents might simply be best off not getting too hung up on the name of their dreams.

Eventually, the child gets to cast a deciding vote. Or veto.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Talking the walk

It comes down to having chosen the wrong hobbies.

Such was the gist of a grumpy meditation earlier today. Imagine, it ran, if our preferred pastimes had been stamp collecting, bridge or even jogging. The arrival of Sonny in our lives would then have made hardly a ripple in such activities. Sure, we would have had to find time to pursue them, given how the realities of caring for an infant can eat up spare hours. But with a little spousal tag-teaming, it could have been done.

As it happens, what we go in for is long-distance walking. This involves concerted hiking (nothing too heroic, mind), ideally spread out over a few days and ideally in remote locales. Relaxing. Revitalising. And utterly incompatible with attending to our constantly-mewling bundle. And so, concludes the griping interlude, the activity must be sacrificed.

Which reminds us, of course, to pay minimal heed to gripefests, since the basic situation can be as easily seen as a welcome cluster of opportunities. First, it'll be a chance to cultivate new hobbies, into which Sonny-minding can be seamlessly integrated. Blogging is one that has already been launched; there may be others. More generally, impetus is given to better organising our overall time-energy balance, so that couple time, family time and personal time all get their due. The balance was likely out-of-kilter, pre-Sonny.

Finally, while long-distance trailing won't be possible for a while, it will not be long before judiciously scaled-back alternatives become feasible. Whether we're talking about Sonny-in-a-childpack jaunts, or gentle meanderings that a child mastering the art of walking can cut his teeth on, we can slowly rebuild the foothold hiking had in our lives. Except it'll be an even more secure hold.

And those multi-day walks? Ah, Sonny'll be up for them before we know it - and then he'll be leaving us in his dust.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Seeking that bath time breakthrough

Sonny loves baths. Or maybe he hates them.

We haven't quite worked it out yet, since our five-week-old child is being rather mercurial about the matter.

For now, he's getting two baths a day, the same routine applying to both: After his eyes, ears, hair and face are cleaned with a wet cloth, he gets a quick splish-splash and rub-down in a shallow tub of slightly soapy water. Then he's towelled off, the odd cream or lotion is applied and he is dressed. Ten minutes' work, no more.

At first, Sonny seemed really to enjoy these little set pieces, especially as the water lapped around his knees. Then he began to get seriously cranky, especially in the evenings. This escalated into full-scale howling, and in the mornings as well.

These last couple of days, he's changed tack again, alternating placid sessions with teary regressions. If we didn't know better, we'd say he was playing us like a fish: We've been driven to vary tactics, from the use of a small blanket to keep him wrapped up, to tweaking the intervals between feeds, snoozes and washes. But each time we think we've distilled the factors explaining his behaviour, the pattern changes - or so it can seem.

Dispiriting? Well, if this is a taster of mood changes, morphing preferences and behaviour switches to come, perhaps it is a useful toughening-up exercise. Might as well look on the bright side - while girding ourselves for the worst.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Worrying stuff

Today, we stuffed Sonny into what was effectively a sack, and he looked happier than a hog in mud. Though an ostrich might furnish a better comparison - but more on that later.

It was a sallying-forth to the coffeeshop and library that led us to deploy our sarong - a piece of cloth cunningly twisted about a pair of rings to create a snug depository for baby, and worn across the caregiver's chest. Sonny at once contorted himself into a teardrop-shaped blob, his head just visible above the cloth. The position looked impossibly uncomfortable, but his eyes slid shut and he was instantly asleep.

It's no surprise, on reflection, that a baby should enjoy the way such cosy confines, located next to his mother's beating heart, simulate a return to to the womb and a walling-out of all outside distractions. But it occurred to us that there are folks with many more birthdays under their belts who behave analogously. In the face of challenge or threat, they bury themselves in the sand like the proverbial ostrich (real ostriches being too intelligent to suffocate themselves in this manner), entering a cocoon that might be fantasy, the words of sycophants or some other version of Sonny's sarong.

Would this mean that we should avoid too many sarong sessions for Sonny, for fear that it may reinforce the instinct to retreat to convenient hideaways, ignoring clear and present danger? At least a real ostrich will run to escape perceived predators.

As it happens, we couldn't quite make it home before Sonny shook himself awake and began demanding more than just the comfort of a fake womb. After all, as we should all know, hiding away from trouble can only work for so long.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sound advice, sound control

They say you are what you eat. But you're also what you hear, at least going by how parents of even babies will try to fine-tune their little ones' aural environment.

We're not utterly innocent here. Our little radio alarm clock is tuned either to a classical music channel (Bach & Co. can apparently heighten mental development) or the BBC World Service (for some perfectly-pronounced linguistic imprinting). We keep the volume dialed low, but there's always some quality background noise to be had. When around Sonny, we also eschew baby talk or inane cooing - and make a concerted effort to introduce at least some Malay and Mandarin, along with English, into our conversation - so he won't come to consider any of these tongues alien later on.

That said, we never ran with the reading-to-the-unborn-child crowd. We part company primarily on motivation: We're not trying to give Sonny a head start in the rat race, as many of these parents aim to. Rather, we have certain ideas as to the sort of values and traits that are appropriate, or desirable, and these are what we hope to instil. Whether or not school grades or employability gets boosted is, for us, secondary.

It follows from this that, even as we tweak and nudge to control the sort of sounds that wash over Sonny, we will not go out of our way to expose him to anything that we ourselves would balk at, just because it might give him some sort of 'edge'. For instance, when it comes down to it, we rather enjoy classical music, so we want an appreciation of it to be implanted early on: It's only a bit of a bonus that it may sharpen thinking skills. Were it to be announced tomorrow that heavy metal had the same effect, we wouldn't rush to hunt for a relevant radio station: We are not fans of such music, for various reasons, so Sonny will have to do without.

Are we being completely consistent here? Probably not. But since when has strict consistency been a sine qua non in parenting?

Plumber's guide to childcare

When damp began redecorating our wall, we called in two plumbers.

The first quoted us a reasonable sum, saying he would drill a few strategic holes, run in a new set of pipes and otherwise have us showering safely again with minimal fuss. The second hatched about the same plan - but slipped in a few pleasant extras. He would replaster our wall, to remove the offending mould. And he would open a panel to drain any excess water still lurking.

We've since gotten to thinking about how the comparison relates to our hopes for Sonny. In one child-rearing scenario, we might implement a decent-enough care plan, delivering all the food, shelter and clothing he requires, providing plenty of stimulus and piping him into good schools. Or we might go further and - much as with plumber number two - improve the deal with, oh, special tutors and better holidays.

The twist is that, when it comes to raising a child, we may want to be extra-careful about not overdoing things. It's not just that, for instance, a plumber wouldn't have won our favour by willy-nilly suggesting prettier new wall tiles, or a snazzier bathtub: Here, the general lesson would simply be that merely because something can be done doesn't mean it should be.

Parenting, however, is likely an even trickier business than plumbing, with apologies to any insulted plumbers. And a child that has had the very best served up on a silver platter might learn quite the wrong early lessons, however much he might otherwise benefit. So why not, to stay with our example, tell the plumber to leave the mould be? We would then have to fix it ourselves, and improve our home decoration skills. The old-fashioned phrase is that it 'builds character'. It's a phrase we still like.

Hey, not all old pipes are leaky and need replacing.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Thank heavens for the chicken strangler

Right off, let's acknowledge that there are wonderful, tolerant babies who don't much mind how they are picked up, but will just bask in the glow of being held. Unfortunately, Sonny is a more contrary one-month-oldster.

For one thing, since he likes plenty of room to thrash about in, the standard cradle maneuver - in which he is held crosswise with head tucked into the crook of the adult's elbow - can send him kicking dangerously towards lift-off. Nor may he be placed face-up on the knees, with legs facing the adult. This may be a traditional favourite, but, again, there's not enough kicking room - although, for reasons not known to science, Sonny's grandmother can employ it without ill effect.

For us, not similarly favoured, there are two murderous-sounding grips that do keep Sonny cheery. First, there's the guillotine, in which he is placed on the caregiver's shoulder, head tucked so that it cranes past the adult's neck (as though in readiness for dispatch). Indeed, there is some risk of the head lolling about dangerously - but we're still talking about an almost guaranteed calming device, one that can instantly snuff out a wail-fest.

Then, there's his father's preferred method, whereby Sonny is balanced on the arm with his neck supported so that his head can be swung left and right by Pa's hand. The result calls eerily to mind a chicken about to have its neck wrung, but leaves Sonny with ample kicking space. An even better advertisement for the chicken-strangler is that it can be work, at least for short periods of time, with just one hand, leaving the other free to flip a page or raise the coffee mug.

Presumably, there are many parents out there with superior custom baby holds. We'd always be happy to add to our arsenal. And it's no surprise that the right grip can turn fussy-infant into happy-camper: After all, even adults can all too often be kept pliant and docile, if handled just so.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

We need Freud down here

The gnawing in the chest begins amidst utter darkness.

It's gentle at first, then fiercer and fiercer, like a ravenous rat. The pain level shoots up. Finally, there's a flash of light and the vicious nibbler is revealed... to be our son!

And that's about when his father wakes up from his bizarre dream, one that seems especially suited to half-baked coffeeshop psychoanalysis. Perhaps Pa fears that the child he must devote so much energy to will eventually turn around and betray him. Or, more implausibly, might he be haunted subconsciously by a sense of inferiority over being unable to breastfeed? The location of the gnawing might be instructive, after all, along with the way it grows in intensity, like that of a suckling child unable to draw milk.

This is rather fun, so let's consider Mum's dream too (yes, we both had dreams on the same day). In hers, she meets a lineup of young babies, some of whom are mysteriously mature and can even speak. She is drawn to one adorable orphan in particular. In short order, however, he starts work at a haberdasher's!

Surely, the 'orphan' is Sonny, the child whose fate is linked to Mum's - but who will, all too soon, grow up, get a job and move out of his parents' orbit. Why a haberdasher's? Perhaps Mum simply has a deeply-buried dislike of people selling bits of clothing.

All right, maybe a dream is sometimes just a dream. In any case, we don't think we're seen the last of these child-centred fantasies, if so you choose to term them. Guess when there's an addition to the family, even dreamtime is never quite the same again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

And then there were three

Today, Sonny becomes just that little bit more our son.

Our confinement lady, who has largely been the first port of call each time he commenced bawling, is bidding us farewell. For a month, she's done her darnedest to keep him in good spirits and hygiene - on top of handling the housework and dispensing lashings of advice.

Now we'll be left to manage things on our own, with Sonny fully our responsibility. To an extent, of course, we are sorry to see her go, and are certainly grateful for her contributions. We've learned many a trick just watching her in action, and even a recipe or two to boot. But it'll also be a relief to have our little abode to ourselves again, to reclaim some of our lost privacy. No outsider has ever stayed that long with us: It has been an experiment in live-and-let-live. She, too, has had to bear with Mum's ignoring some of her professional suggestions: Traditional Chinese strictures against reduced showering post-delivery, for instance, have not been heeded. She's taken this with good grace, no one has pulled out too much hair, and we've enjoyed chats about childcare and her colourful former life, which included stints in the restaurant business and rubber tapping.

Sonny will surely notice the handover today. It will be felt in the assuredness with which he is clasped, or bathed or changed. Too bad if you preferred the premium service, kiddo: Normal service, so to speak, has just resumed. But if we are to be honest, lurking somewhere within us is the hope that, somehow, he's always liked the ministrations of his own parents best.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It's curtains after technical faults

Of late, there's been a riot of technical problems - the sort of stumblings that come with learning, or so we tell ourselves.

Take this new blog. Anyone who's (unaccountably) been reading or subscribing might have noticed mysterious repostings, feed disruptions or an intermittent rain of ads. We are technologically-challenged folk; there will be more bloopers. Sheepish apologies, therefore, to all affected: Anyone who points out more flaws will be doing us a kindness.

At home, meanwhile, we've had Mum happily breastfeeding by an open window, blissfully unaware of potential over-exposure - and we're not referring to the stiff breeze blowing in from the sea. Sure, the suckling child is a beautiful sight, but we admit that not everyone wants a ringside seat. Pa too has had his less-than-sterling moments, like the time he let Sonny's neck snap backwards like a rubber band. There have been too-slow-to-rediaper catastrophes, various leakages... the list could go on.

It all bespeaks the new elements to our lives that need to be fully integrated. These are exciting developments, and grappling with them can be deeply gratifying. Yet the corollary, so easily generalised as to be almost trite, still bears stating. Where other people are affected - child, neighbours or readers - there is a responsibility to do right by them. At least as far as possible.

Like remembering, sometimes, to draw the curtains.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Not quite the Olympics

Our life has become rather sedentary since Sonny was born, revolving around his constant feedings. We're eating well, too, thanks to the culinary skills of our confinement lady, so getting lazy and out-of-condition might be thought a concern.

Luckily, there is a mitigating factor. Sonny's arrival has inaugurated a set of all-new exercise routines: They won't ever involve into anything of Olympic dimensions - but they've been keeping us from going completely to seed.

To start with, there's the baby lift. This involves lugging the little critter around the home, either one- or two-handed. At its lowest level of difficulty, the baby lift is attempted when he is completely pacified; there's also an inexorable progression to these sets, since he's been sucking in vast quantities of milk and gaining weight prodigiously.

Next comes the shopping sprint. The starter gun goes, and we scoot out the door at top speed, once Sonny's been fed - with a series of of next-door stations to hit (and errands to perform). The time limit is dictated by his voracious appetite; if we don't get home fast enough, a certain trademark howling will announce that we've missed the cut.

The diaper toss, to give credit where it's due, was invented by our confinement lady, who is poetry in motion as she readies Sonny for a fresh nappy, wraps all soiled items up compactly in the used diaper and then tosses the bundle into the bin. Here, failure to score a bulls-eye can result in a most unpleasant spillage, so concentration is especially tested.

Finally, there's the help-me-I'm-feeding relay, which involves both parents - but always has Pa handing over to Mum, never the other way round. This sport commences at regular intervals, and is sparked whenever Mum is breastfeeding. She will, once Sonny has latched on, inevitably want some small item, whether a drink, book or TV remote. Waiting craftily till Pa is about as far away as is possible - no mystery as to who's currently shouldering the writing duties - she then announces her requirements, jiggling the baby meaningfully. Pa then first roots about for the item, which may be artfully concealed for extra entertainment value, then trudges over.

Oddly enough, he'd rather just get back to jogging.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sonny starts to...

Our Sonny, aged one month, has done it at last. After weeks of yowling and grimacing, he's moved up the ladder. He's smiling.

He's not aware of doing so, of course, and heaven only knows what prompts these little turnings-up of his mouth. We've only glimpsed them when he's asleep, or almost, and for now they linger for mere seconds, like fleeting miniature rainbows.

Never mind. These are his first samplings of what are among the most profound aspects of being alive - and being human.

A smile, to start with, is our core expression of contentment. Shelter and a full stomach are fundamental to survival, and a smile tells us that such needs (and many a want besides) have been satisfied. Yet it can sum up something else, on another plane altogether: That we have found something to be just doggone funny. And where, at play or at work, would we be without a sense of humour, without jokes coarse or subtle? These move us to titter, or chuckle or downright guffaw - all three just advances on the demure smile, that basic unit of funniness.

And it will play a yet broader role. It is the conversation-starter, the friendship-proferrer, the wordless icebreaker. With it, Sonny can start plugging into the wider world. And there, from very early on, he must learn that there will be times when he will have to suppress his smile, to look sombre where serious things are afoot. More than that, he will have to learn to fake a smile, and become familiar with the different sorts of smiles he can deploy. The great social game must be played, often in deadly earnest, yet it must always be played with a light heart - or at least the appearance of it.

A smile, then, may be far more than a smile - unless spied on the lips of infants.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Paranoid parents unite!

Don't pity us, but we're increasingly irked by how two well-adjusted, mature professionals are verging on becoming neurotics. It's all Sonny's fault, of course. One day, we're worrying that his complexion is distinctly yellow, and that jaundice may have him in its vise. Then he turns red-hued on us - and we're berating ourselves for not having more assiduously kept his skin from excessive sunlight.

And so it goes. He's crying too much (and what if it's not just hunger?). Until he emits not a peep for hours on end, and mightn't that be a bad sign too? He's not sleeping enough. Or else too much. He's drinking too much breast milk, or else too little. We've even dragged other folks into our little world of paranoia. For a spell, people seem to be underlining Sonny's supposed cuteness a tad too much: Do they secretly think he's pedestrian as babies go? Then the next cohort of gawkers are mum on the subject, and we feel deflated over that.

On anything even remotely medical, we've been consulting our little library of parenting books and making Internet sweeps. Know what? This either reinforces the fear, or else we learn that there is probably nothing to worry about... which isn't definitive enough either for hypochondriacs-by-proxy. Not, however, that we're beating the door down at the local medico, since our chronic worrying is balanced by a obstinate refusal to entirely succumb. We're caught, in short, between two opposed, and very draining, psychological forces.

Apparently, it's just something called First-time Parents Syndrome. Whatever. So long as we don't start seeing monsters under our own beds as well...

Friday, May 16, 2008

The face factor

There's a boxing match raging in our household right now. Our baby is right in the middle of it, but it's his mother who's coolly outpointing his father.

Thing is, neither of us actually lands any punches. That duty goes to the folks, from visitors to relatives, who gleefully comment unprompted on the issue at hand: Who does Sonny more resemble, Mum or Pa?

On that score, the latter has been reeling from blow after blow, as Sonny's chin, eyes, nose and even his limbs have been consistently allotted to Mum's column. She's hardly had to absorb even weak jabs, excepting two persons who were probably trying to be even-handed at the expense of truth. Indeed, the most vicious roundhouse punch so far has been dealt by Pa's own mother, who opined that Sonny lacked any similarity to him whatsoever.

Admittedly, there are more important things in life, but why care at all? Well, apart from bragging rights per se, there's something primeval about wanting to leaving the world a legacy - and a child imprinted with the features of his parent is right up there in that category. At least, for those of us who haven't libraries to our name.

The good news, for Pa, is that the punch-up should continue for years, as Sonny's appearance changes and modulates and presents new facets to compare. And there's still the slugfest to come when we parcel out actual character traits (laziness, athleticism and the like).

Someone sound the bell for Round Two.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Of infants and star bosses

The most effective leaders, whether CEOs or prime ministers, are just big babies. Or so our weekslong experience with Sonny suggests. Consider:

(1) Top bosses know how to focus on a few key goals...
Sonny never lets you forget for long that a regular milk supply is the foundation of the world, along with clean underwear.

(2) Top bosses communicate forcefully with subordinates, laying down the law as needed...
Sonny doesn't bother with flowery vocal variations; once the yelling escalates, we give in.

(3) While a top boss must sometimes mix with large numbers of people, he always reserves the crucial roles for a few picked henchmen...
Sonny deigns to hold court before cooing grandparents, appreciative family friends and tickle-happy strangers, but we're the go-to guys for the dirty work.

(4) Top bosses let others sweat the small stuff and know the value of embarking on creative destruction...
As Sonny flails his messy way through life and gets through heaps of soiled linen, the unnecessary tidiness of our home is a sinking memory.

(5) Yet top bosses set aside time to recharge their batteries.
When Sonny decides it's time for serious repose, to rouse him for a rostered feeding is to fight a war. Yet, cliche though it is, there's something about a happily-sleeping baby that makes all the rest seem worthwhile...

After all, top bosses know how to retain the loyalty of their underlings.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bad music for best results

When Sonny gets too fussy these days, an unlikely ally has been staunching the tears: The muse.

Sure, we've boned up on the techniques that certain experts proffer for soothing a baby - from shushing to wrapping him up like a sausage. But for an even better batting average, all we've had to do is cradle our young 'un, then croon any ditty of our own devising.

Note that just humming or chatting won't fool Sonny. However, cribbing from known melodies seems acceptable, so long as we make up the words to go with it. Don't ask how he detects cheating, but at least he imposes no other form of quality control: What's required, evidently, is a little originality as opposed to musicianship. Which is fortunate, since we have the combined lyric-writing skills of a frustrated alley cat. Some pretty dire stuff has likely already been overheard by the neighbours - tossed off on the fly and as instantly forgotten. We're talking efforts like, oh let's see...

You love music, kiddo, you know you do
So we'll sing this rubbish all the way through
Then you'll get sleepy, heavens be praised
Snooze now under your parents' gaze.

Why such drivel, sung to any tune or made-up jingle, should be preferable to a gentle rendition of 'Rock a bye, Baby' is beyond us. Perhaps Sonny luxuriates in the wash of utter absurdity we feel over what we're labouring at: The little critter just likes a good joke. More likely, we just gave up too early on 'real' music, and our neighbours may be wishing we'd persevered with approved lullabies.

Then again, cooking up nonsense-rhymes is rather fun - and a great break from nappy-changing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Who's imperfect, baby?

Our son is ugly.

All right, only some of the time - and, of course, he's always numero uno in our overall cuteness ratings. But when people claim to just love every feature of their children (or spouse, though let's not tread on eggshells here), it taps into a certain guilt. Or make that disbelief.

Sonny has an infuriating way of scrunching up his face, just before commencing yowling in earnest, that reminds us of a certain someone we deplore. His facial lines contract into a sour-pear mass of ill will and petulance. And we hate that. His mien when actually bawling is fine. His general 'grumpy baby' demeanour is positively endearing. But that one expression... we've been known to plead with him to wipe it from his repertoire, which is probably nuthouse-grade.

There's no point telling us to 'learn to love the flaw'. And, truth be told, it may well be a good thing that we harbour this absurd dislike. For, obviously, it doesn't really reveal anything about Sonny, whether his character or his looks. Rather, it says something about us, and it ain't anything flattering. We're being unreasonable. Failing to get past trivialities. Yet it's that very fact that's useful: Each time we shudder at our son's petulant face, it reminds us of our imperfections, and that our assessments and parental actions might therefore be infected with unreason. Call it a little warning against hubris.

In Sonny's place, I'd call it a fair trade-off.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Infant Communication 101

He's about three weeks old now, and Sonny is making ever-stranger sounds. There are the scattered coos as his limbs flail gracelessly, queer low grunts and an ululating seemingly linked to a need for attention.

It's been claimed that, if one knows one's baby well enough, one can match each behaviour pattern to a specific demand or need (Soiled diaper! More food!). So we've been analysing Sonny like heartless anthropologists, letting him yell that bit longer to extend the correlation-spotting.

Even with zero success so far, we have come to reject a commonly-heard sentiment: That the very young are, first, particularly hard to make out - and, second, to be pitied for their lack of communication tools. Babies may not be able to express, in so many words, what they are on about. But then, they are hardly able to conceive of any want or desire as a want or desire: It's mostly instinctive reachings-out and callings-forth. And since there are only so many primal requirements, right now, likely to prompt Sonny to wail 'n' flail, our hoped-for 'A means X' handbook is more amusement that need. A feed, or else a change, or else a little coddling, will in all likelihood confirm what Sonny has been trying to transmit.

Just why do older folks need such linguistic arsenals to communicate? The comforting answer (and true, as far as it goes) is that we have so many more things to say. But let us remember that babies also don't fib. We adults cannot seem to stop doing it, whether we're tossing off the odd white lie or spinning whole webs of deceit. Yet to even formulate to ourselves a desire to mislead is to have the ability to think complex thoughts. A language, in short, is needed - and Sonny will be acquiring one (or three) soon enough.

Meanwhile, may he stay innocent just a little longer.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The courage to compare

When our son first emerged, he seemed to us quite a special fellow: Unusually tiny, and endowed with both a particularly fulsome crop of downy hair and unique peculiarities, like a persistent leftward-twisting of his head.

Then we brought him to the paediatrician's. In quick succession, babies were spotted that were clearly smaller, or sported far more impressive natural headcoverings. There was even one, of Japanese extraction, that evinced those selfsame leftward head-twists. We were, if not crushed, certainly brought down a peg.

The moral drawn might seem to be that parents should smother the instinct to compare their offspring with those of others. We would thereby be spared the anguish of relearning, time and again, that there are always cuter, smarter, darngoshweirder little ones.

Taking that route, however, is to do more than just fail in understanding, to not grasp the more important sense in which Sonny is different from all other comers. We dismiss here an almost trite truth: That the specific bundle of multiple traits that he comes wrapped in is probably not elsewhere replicated. Sonny, in other words, isn't just unique in the way a fingerprint is. More profoundly, he is also an open timeline: He will embody a story that will develop in a way none other has - albeit, in the early years, with the multivaried input from his parents.

The follow-up poser is then: How do we ensure that we continue to put everything into providing the richest, most profound and most responsible parental output? Well, it may require us to stubbornly behave as though Sonny were utterly unique... even in the ways that we know he is not. After all, to dim the awareness that something of ours is special (whether a child, a creation of art or a business venture) may be to dial back the intensity with which we invest our energy and passion.

Against that risk, what's a little disappointment now and again?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

It's not the gift that matters, it's who gives it

The basic idea is simple enough: Whoever has visited us to tickle-talk to our newborn, or has sent a present, card or red packet stuffed with money, gets a gift voucher from us - on the occasion of Sonny's first month in the world - entitling him or her to a cake.

But here's the moral dilemma, if you want to call it that: Who should actually be understood to be despatching the voucher? Should it be from us, the parents - thanking the receiver for generous intentions? Or should it be from our son himself (by proxy, admittedly), in his first grateful communique to a well-wisher? Here's what it come down to. We've already set up a bank account where all cash gifts for our son will go; fortune has inflated it gratifyingly. So what we're effectively trying to decide is whether to deduct the cost of the gift vouchers from his nascent savings, or pay it out of our adult pockets.

It's all symbolic anyway, some might sniff. But that's precisely the point: In these matters - and how momentous is birth, and is it not as personally epochal as marriage, or death? - it's the symbolism that counts. We can obviously afford to leave Sonny's little hoard alone, and preen as the happy parents we are. Yet - were he only able to grasp what is going on here - wouldn't he be keen to speak for himself, and make it his own 'Thank you for coming to see me, or giving me something, though I be no more than a pint-sized burbling bundle?'

Surely, he has the right to make that statement, declaring it (via his humbled parents) to the very cosmos itself.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The First Rule: It ain't Daddy, Sonny

This initial post comes as our son hits his first fortnight of life, and finds us struggling over the big question: Should we be calling ourselves 'Mum and Dad', or 'Pa and Ma', or 'Momma and Pops', or what have you?

There isn't really much debate on the mother's side of things (Ma, Momma and Mum are surely much of a muchness), but things are more interesting on the other side of the parental fence. Granted, 'Dad' seems to be in fashion these days - assuming an English-speaking household - but certain weaknesses seem evident:

(1) 'Dad' is too pervasively in fashion. There's something to be said, surely, for inoculating one's child against perpetually sailing with the prevailing wind: Why not start with something he'll notice even in nursery school... to whit, that his friends evince a peculiar sameness in the parental-addressing department.

(2) Dad morphs too easily to 'Daddy', which is dual-syllabic and effeminate if weakly-enunciated. There's even the tri-syllabic monstrosity, 'Daddy-o', which might remind one of either a wobbly dessert or outsized spiders.

(3) Tagging oneself 'Dad' gives the father almost no chance in the Baby's-first-word stakes - that is, the race to see which parent first gets recognisably called. It's usually 'Momma', one understands, for reasons to do with the makeup of the jaw or tongue or language or whatever, but 'Poppa' or some derivative isn't too far off the mark. 'Dad', on the other hand, hasn't a cat in hell's chance. Though we do know of a close relative whose son's first word (or phrase) was, 'Thank you'.

So 'Pa' it shall be, along with 'Ma' and its derivatives, as we refer to ourselves in feedings, diaper-changes and sundry interactions in the child's presence.