Sunday, August 31, 2008

A matter of (terrible) timing

Strolling about in Pa's hometown, we decided today to buy a teething aid for Sonny - who's been gumming away at anything he can get his hands at (as related in 'Mad mouth alert'). The young fella's grandmother figures that it's because he's about to sprout his chompers, so we got a star-shaped 'teether' that we were supposed to refrigerate briefly before handing over. Happy visions of Sonny enthusiastically biting away, emitting happy yelps, filled our minds on the way home, and we hurried to carry out the instructions.

So far, Sonny will hardly give it a passing glance. After giving the teether a few exploratory mouth-feels, he went back to snacking on his own fingers. We snatched it up and stuffed it into his mouth. He politely worried at it a few times, like a dog testing a substandard rubber bone, then moved on.

We should have seen it coming. He may only be a week into his fifth month, but he's already worked out the natural order of things: Babies are supposed to reject whatever it is that their parents try to palm off on them, then strike out on their own paths. This applies to sleeping patterns, food as well as toy preferences and - a little later on - the friends they hang out with. It even applies to crying-session timings, we've found. Yesterday, we were at a mall for a few hours and Sonny unfailingly set to bawling only when we were plumb in the midst of the largest crowds. We therefore had to beat off sundry strangers offering unsolicited advice ("You must have scared your baby somehow"). The only profit we reaped out of the ordeal were quick seats on the crowded train home, since Sonny's grumpy and distressed face led a couple of commuters to leap up in sympathy.

Not yet convinced? The day before, on the flight home too, Sonny had waited till we were in a nice enclosed space - inside the plane - before breaking out into 'song'. There were a couple of other babies too, all no doubt co-ordinating with each other using some mysterious infant signalling system, so the passengers were treated to a full-on cry-concert. Some babies would stop for a quick breath while their compatriots kept up the aural bombardment. Then there would be switching-over of roles, a rest for those most recently exerting themselves, before a grand finale in which everyone joined in.

We're hoping that, once Sonny can understand what we are saying, we can fool him with a few cunningly-employed instances of reverse psychology ("We don't really want you to come home on time"). Right now, however, we can only grit our teeth and grin.

And maybe go find a better teether.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Unleashing your inner monster

It may be true that having a child to care for mellows some previously insensitive individuals, turning them into gentler human beings. But it could be just as true that some previously soft-hearted folk are instead hardened - as their inner monster is unleashed through the crucible of parenting.

For instance, as Sonny's uncle was saying earlier today, parents who must contend with their offspring's wail-happy ways can come to lose any sense of sympathy for the travails of children other than their own. When they hear some young 'un begin to scream, or kick up an unholy fuss, their reaction is not to wonder if they might help, but to think, "Good job that's not one of ours". Over time, relief could be magnified into actual glee over the predicament of the affected family.

We might wonder how many of the famously cruel personages of history were parents gone wrong, who begin as sweetie pies but had some weird moral flaw activated after becoming dads (or mums). Admittedly, we've had no time to substantiate this revolutionary theory, and would welcome researchers with data to offer. But for anyone who think the suggestion is simply off the reservation, here are three words in response: The Corleone family.

That's right, the notorious Mafia clan may have been fictional, but it's fairly well accepted that Mario Puzo in The Godfather was basing his plot and milieu on the realities of the Italian Mob. In the classic film adaptation directed by Francis Ford Coppola, too, observe how the Godfather, Vito Corleone, is fanatically attached to his own kin and goes on and on about the importance of "family". Could it not be the case that an excessive fixation on one's own children insulates you from sympathy for the suffering of others outside the linkages formed by blood ties? Generalising from this, of course, we enter familiar territory in politics - where shady demagogues have always tried to sway crowds by turning every issue into a matter of "us" versus "them".

You mightn't agree, of course. Parenting is all about becoming ever more inclusive and giving, you insist. But we don't care about what you think any more - we've got to nip off and change a diaper.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A bully behind every tree

Big countries are forever bullying smaller countries.

That's the rap, anyway: Most recently, the Russians have been violently bossing around the Georgians, while the Georgians thumped the Ossetians (whom they admittedly consider part of their national family. For on earlier post that touches on the Georgians, click here). The Singaporeans are forever crying 'Uncle' and saying the Malaysians are playing big brother.

It must be a a holdover from infancy, or so you'd think from the dire warnings we've been receiving these last couple of days. We're flying over so Sonny can meet his older cousin for the first time. The cousin is the elder by over a year, and we've had acquaintances alert us about the likelihood of Sonny getting bashed.

"Watch out! Your son is still so young, the older boy may poke him here and there," went one typical admonition. One has to wonder whether even a gentle finger-stab would qualify as "bullying" by some folks' lights. After all, when two dogs meet for the first time, there's often a ritual mutual sniffing and even a quick lick. Apparently, this licking is a friendly gesture. But a hyper-sensitive owner might construe it as an aggressive invasion of personal canine space, or possibly a "landing of a blow".

Babies and very young children, too, may not have full control of the strength of their curious pokes or exploratory jabs. So there are times when what seems like an attack could be no more than an excessively-enthusiastic welcome. One can only assess intentions over a period of time: A sustained series of eye-gouges, for instance, could indicate that the perpetrator truly is a psychotic starting young.

As it is with babies, so it is with countries. Part of the accepted vocabulary of inter-state exchange are grandstanding, the exploitation of the media for trial-balloon statements and fuzzily-worded warnings, along with quiet negotiation, fulsome praise and hard bargaining. So what can seem like a malicious attempt to wickedly intimidate another country could be no more than the employment of such tools - in the full expectation that the other will "push back" utilising the same toolbox.

Where does such statecraft end and genuinely nasty bullying start? Alas, it's a bit of a gray area. When people start dying, it's a pretty good guess that it's getting really serious now - but things aren't normally so clear-cut. As with babies, one can only make an assessment over a period of time, not with any one or two incidents taken in isolation.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Yurk... this stuff tastes like water!"

In old movies featuring a washed-up sailor, there's usually a scene in which he takes a swig from a shot glass, then spits it out, snarling, "This stuff tastes like water!"

Sonny isn't quite a well-lubricated old sea dog, but yesterday he was spewing out water (albeit laced with Paracetamol) like a champ. The poor thing came down with a bit of a fever after getting his most recent vaccination, so Mum and Pa were pounding up fever pills, then mixing them with water before spooning the concoction into his mouth. The liquid didn't seem particularly vile ("Rather nice, actually", Mum opined), but one reason came to mind for Sonny's highly negative reaction.

It turns out that he's never tasted water before. All these four-months-and-a-week, he's imbibed nothing but milk. The closest he's come is some doses of instant formula (since discontinued), which is made with water and powder but of course tastes nothing like H2O. Yesterday, however, he was getting the real thing - and even the sweetened taste of Paracetamol-for-babies wasn't enough to compensate for the shock. We don't know how much of the medicine reached the little fella's gut, but we'll have to arrange a happier introduction to to water by and by.

Actually, yesterday was a day of two milestones reached: It was also the first time Sonny had run a temperature. Though fighting a cold for about a week now, our ear thermometer had always given the all-clear. If, a few days ago, we had complained about his ability to wheeze on demand (mystified? Click here), he's now consistently panting like a dog that's just wildly dashed for a mile. His nose is blocked and his eyes a little watery. Yet he's still carrying on like a trouper, not being any more clingy than usual and all in all just remaining a much noisier version of his normal self.

Except when we try to feed him water, of course.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mad mouth alert

We were at the polyclinic again today so Sonny could get his jab, and to keep him warm Pa draped a blanket over the little fella's lap. But in less time than it takes to say, "Greedy guts", he was stuffing the cloth snack furiously into his mouth. His arms were working energetically to scrunch the blanket into a nice dumpling shape, the easier to sample with, when Pa snatched the prize away.

Obviously, a new front has opened in the unending parent vs offspring wars. It was bad enough when our four-month-old just liked to suck his thumb (click here for more on these ongoing skirmishes). He still enjoys it, but these days he's widened his chomp-worthy sights to anything he can get his fingers on. These yummies have included:

1) Parental fleshy bits: Our shoulders, our thighs, our elbows - Sonny doesn't discriminate. However we may be holding him, he always finds something he wants to enthusiastically gum at, usually while overflowing with saliva. At the moment, he hasn't a tooth to his name, but this could get a little painful with time, we reckon - though we should also note that, for these illicit mealtimes, our clothes count as part of our body and are part of a standard serving.

2) Cloth: Today's blanket attack was just an especially fanatical example of Sonny's recent appetite for bedsheets, pillow covers, cloth diapers (yawp!) and bolster covers. He doesn't seem to be actually chewing - if anything, there's some sort of bizarre pumping action going on with his cheeks, as though he's blowing up a balloon.

3) Leaving the creme de la creme for last, there's also... Anything dirty: There must be a special radar sense that babies innately have, that enables them to home in on anything that really, really oughtn't be put into the mouth. Today, for instance, it was Pa's backpack strap, which has seen too much action and even managed a worrying colour-change. So, of course, Sonny contorts himself while in Pa's arms and sticks his neck out like a snapping turtle to get a good juicy gulp of the thing. Mmmm, all that encrusted dirt, dissolving in that overflowing saliva... such was 'Today's Special'. If we carried Sonny about the house like a kind of metal detector, we could probably just take note of where he lunges with glee to find the dirtiest spots of our home.

At the moment, we haven't a clue how to stem Sonny's depredations. Fitting him with some sort of mouth guard (a bandanna tied so as to block the passage, say) sounds rather harsh and would probably obstruct breathing. Okay, we jest on that last one. We could, of course, try to keep our house spick and span, with our belongings, clothes and ourselves in immaculate, chompworthy condition.

But since that's too much work, why not blame the baby?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A burglar as a pillar of society?

Parents these days are fond of saying things like, "It doesn't matter what our children grow up to become, so long as they are happy". That's unfortunate, if not downright dishonest.

When we consider Sonny's future, and the chilling moment when he will turn around and tell us, "You know, I want to be a...", it strikes us that we don't want him to be happy doing just any old thing. For instance, even if he loved being a cat burglar, we wouldn't be cheering him on - and not just because he might be caught and sent up the river. Even if he possessed the ring of Gyges, which would render him invisible, we'd still want him to do something that he could be truly proud of, in the sense that he would be doing some good.

Of course, even high school debaters would be able to put up a case for how virtually any job "could do some good". A really competent cat burglar, for instance, if he never stole too much, would alert his victims to flaws in their security systems, which they could patch up. They would then be proof against really nasty thieves who might empty their homes, ravage their womenfolk and even track in mud.

Mainly, therefore, it's about getting the broad strokes of Sonny's character right, so that, whatever his proclivities turn out to be, they will always be corralled and ruled by honour, goodwill and a wish not to do harm. We're not sure that this would rule out all that many jobs, really, since it so often does come down to what someone's intentions are. Think insurance agents, door-to-door salesmen or even soldiers. There are folks who think that such professions are two steps away from being despicable, yet those who take up these tasks could be venal or beneficent, protective or vicious, warm-hearted or calculating...

But what, then, about being happy? Well, it's precisely up to the parent to ensure their child ends up being happy about doing the right sort of things. For example, there is a place for passion, or even aggression - but when one encourages this excessively throughout childhood, without strengthening contrary emotional tendencies, one is surely closing off avenues of happiness in the future. It is true that many of a child's traits are genetically programmed into him, and will rise to the surface despite parental neglect or outright discouragement. But that's no excuse for not doing what we can - before the matter is completely out of the parent's hands.

Now, to get back to the useful cat burglar...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Silliest children's plot ever

Over the weekend, we bought Sonny his first book. Sure, we've been reading him a few volumes that we'd borrowed from the library, and friends or relatives had contributed a couple of cloth books (which should in the papyrus category as far as we're concerned). But these don't count. Stow the 'Ain't that nice!' choruses, though, because unfortunately the book was a disaster.

Now, we have to admit we didn't make our literary choice based on a careful analysis of the likelihood of its stimulating Sonny's vocabulary growth, or flowering of his imagination, or anything like that. We got it because on its cover, there was this ridiculous chicken that seemed more or less mesmerised. Pa has a weakness for amusing chickens. But the next time you see a book with a ridiculous chicken that seems more or less mesmerised, avoid it like the plague. The ridiculous plot involved a fox kidnapping a chicken (the feathery friend featured on the cover) but then taking a break in the forest for a quick snooze. Naturally, the hen escapes from the unsecured cloth bag that she had been placed in - but sticks around long enough to load it with rocks.

Anyway, the world's stupidest fox awakes from his beauty sleep and heads home all unsuspecting, whereupon he builds a cooking fire before emptying the contents of the cloth bag into a pot. We can't resist quoting you the last two sentences of the book: "The stones fell splash! into the hot water. "Ouch!" said Sly Fox. "I really hate that hen!"

Well, we really hate the book. The best thing that can be said for it is that at least the fox used a cloth bag instead of a plastic bag, which is a nice, ecologically-aware gesture. Now, we know that four-month-old children are not yet literary critics with a fine eye for absurdity. But this is a little too much (and we haven't even told you about how Foxy snared the chicken: He ran around and around her until she was so dazed from following his progress, she toppled into the cloth bag).

The worrying thing, and the reason why we're going to be a little more discerning about throwing our money away on dud books from now on, is that young children will swallow any old baloney we give them and take it as an acceptable foundation for further exploration. There's a heartwarming side to it, of course: Even the humblest home will forever be a palace, the ultimate home-sweet-home, and so on. But when it comes to laying down the intellectual, or cultural, or literary foundations for further expansion, we probably want to give them the soundest materials from the start. They can go on and embrace faddish nonsense later, but the basics are important.

And minimally-logical plot devices trump amusing cover chickens any time.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tales of a mini-flood

To think that we had wanted him to enjoy the experience!

Once upon a time, there was a little baby who couldn't decide whether he liked being bathed. As chronicled in 'Seeking that bath-time breakthrough', he would waver between finding his time in the tub delightful and tearfully hating it. With time, however, he came to enjoy these sessions, and 'At long last, bath time is fun time!' captured his parents' pleasure at how he would calm down when lowered into pleasantly warm water.

Now four months old, however, Sonny prefers what you might call too active a form of enjoyment. He's splishing his feet with glee once he gets into the tub, and splashing out great waves of soapiness onto our study table and floor. The writing is on the wall (written no doubt in foam): We're going to have to move our bathing activities elsewhere, except there is nowhere else available in our little home. There's our spare bathroom, but it's so cramped a space that the baby bathtub wouldn't really fit. At the same time, the adult tub is much too large for Sonny's use.

We haven't yet gotten round to asking the staff at the infant care centre how they cope: It seems Sonny gets two baths between morning and evening. Hopefully, they're not mopping up furiously after each watery encounter. Mum then bathes him one more time at night. She tried moving the bathtub to the floor, from the table, but that hasn't curbed his enthusiasm for lowering the water level one bit. It's probably instinctive. Maybe he likes the sound of water cascading onto the floor. And to the wall. And sundry bottles and implements.

And us.

Anyway, our brains trust (assistance always appreciated, given our intellectual poverty) is working on a solution. One possibility is a smaller bathtub that would fit into our spare bathroom, where Sonny can expand his wet wonderland all he likes. But that seems a queerly retrograde move when Sonny himself is getting bigger by the day. We could, of course, strike out into the unknown and actually give the fella assisted showers in the adult tub, using the detachable shower head. Not that we've ever heard of parents doing this with children as young as Sonny, but that's no reason not to be innovative.

That's a part of us, though, that wonders whether it'd be rather cruel to deny Sonny his chance of a splashing good time. Perhaps his unleashing of mini-floods, plus the giggles of amusement this usually engenders (at times, he seems to do it out of spite, but never mind that) help nurture a sense of humour and are stamped out at our peril. A little mopping now and then seems a small price to pay for a balanced personality.

Mustn't be a wet blanket now...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sonny the Showboat

It's premature to forecast a great future for Sonny in the entertainment industry, but he's certainly beginning to show some talent in the scene-stealing department.

Yesterday, we brought him to the polyclinic for his immunisation shot. He's had a slight runny nose, so we thought we'd double-check with the doctor to make sure it was still fine to proceed with the injection. Still, our four-month-old seemed pretty much in the pink of health - until, that is, we were called into the doctor's room.

Suddenly, as though someone had yelled 'Action' and clapped one of those wooden 'Scene I, Take I' boards, Sonny began to sniffle furiously. The doctor looked up in alarm. Right on cue, Sonny commenced wheezing. Oh, how he wheezed. It sounded as though there was enough phlegm in his lungs to float a small boat. To cap the performance, he eked out a heroic smile, that of an unprotesting martyr to the cause of inoculation. Mum felt as though she had been rebuked for daring to bring this obviously sick thing in the hope of inflicting further injected pain.

Anyway, the doctor suggested very politely that we consider not proceeding till the dear child was better. Out we went, suitably chastened, but you more or less know what happened once we left the room, don't you? Yes, someone we couldn't somehow hear shouted 'Cut', and Sonny's wheezing and snot-blasting ceased instantly. He was gurgling as though the Oscar was his. Which was probably what we deserved, since he quickly switched to his 'I'm so cute, see my dimpled smile' routine, which harvested three 'How adorables' from assorted strangers within an hour.

In a way, though, Sonny has overplayed his hand. It's impossible to say whether he just felt like showing off, really didn't like the idea of a needle being stuck in his bottom (unlikely, you say?) or was coincidentally going through an innocent wheezing/sniffling fit (even more unlikely!). Pa, especially, has always suspected that the young fella was showboating when crying away at being deprived of a thumb to suck, or adult to beam at. Now, the evidence is overwhelming: After that little performance at the doctor's , every exclamation, outburst or pleading session will be tainted with the possibility that it's just a bit of masterful acting.

You've outsmarted yourself, buster!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Psychic powers reveal friends

Sonny's best friends, as the two loyal readers of this blog will know, include a toy mouse and a cloth book (see 'Fantasy friends arriving'). But in a while, he'll be acquiring some flesh-and-blood pals, starting presumably at the infant care centre where he spends his weekdays. However, we're going to exert our psychic powers right now, and reveal that we already know who these friends are going to be. That's right, here - inevitably - are some of Sonny's future companions:

1) The Health Hazard: Whichever care centre Sonny might be at, there will still be one child who specialises in coming down with colds and the flu, then cheerily spreading them to everyone else. If everyone in the place is originally a hearty, strapping monster with an overdeveloped immune system, then a wicked Illness Incubus will fly over the place and zap some unfortunate, who will then become the Agent of Disease. For instance, the care givers at Sonny's current centre have already begun speaking of spreading sniffles. There's no escaping it, clearly.

2) The Bully: In any brood of little ones, one of them will somehow arrogate to himself the role of Mr Throw-his-weight-around (no, we're not offering another Mr Men book title, to join those mooted in 'New Mr Men characters, anyone?'). He - or she, in these enlightened times - will laugh too loudly, play the boss and possibly even shake everyone down for extra lunch money. Typically, he will have at least one sidekick, a snivelling fool who is feckless when the main man isn't about.

3) The Overachiever: Obviously, no collection of kids would be complete without one smart-aleck who'll have started reading ahead of everyone else, knows more and (usually) is better able to get to the right side of the care-giver/teacher. Chances are he'll not be the most physically impressive specimen, so the Bully will be able to exact some measure of revenge - even if constrained by his victim's ability to appeal to the care-giver/teacher.

4) The Nobody: Not everyone has a starring role, but that fact benefits the inevitable fellow who'll be so utterly colourless it proves remarkable. This kid won't be picked on because he's mastered the art of being invisible (whether he wants to or not), but he'll also be forgotten for games and other festive activities unless he literally jumps into the ring yelling. Which, of course,
would be completely out of character.

We'll stop here, though the list could be lengthened. If the pool of children is small - as is likely in Sonny's case - you might think that some of the characters might be go unplayed. Not a chance. Someone will just have to double up and play two roles, though it's hard to imagine someone being both The Nobody as well as The Bully, for instance. However, someone might be both a
bully and still be perpetually falling ill. And which role would Sonny play? We certainly don't want him to be pushing his weight around, and being the smart-aleck attracts too much opprobrium.

In the end, though, the social dynamics will evolve of their own accord. Really, being a quiet Mr Nobody doesn't seem the worst option...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

And the message of the Games is...

Just as soon as Sonny can conquer that great obstacle called Learning to Walk, he'll probably get interested in sport. Great, we say. He'll certainly be up to watching the next Olympic Games, in London, and might even begin to idolise some of the ever speedier, higher and stronger heroes. He'll be able to hold them up as... well, there's a problem here. Exactly what message is being transmitted by the modern Olympic Games?

Sporting competition? Fair play and sportsmanship was always the major subtext to sport. Except that apparently doping and drug use are still rampant at the highest levels, with the cheats thereby deriving a very obvious advantage. Unless, of course, virtually every other competitor is a cheat, which would really beget a moral poser: Some folks have even said that it ain't cheatin' if everyone's doin' it. Hmm, but surely cheats are only bothering to run the health risks of doping because others aren't doing it. If everyone could openly do it, the extra advantage would be eliminated, and what would the point be then? Maybe this is a little to complicated for Sonny. Why doesn't he look instead at...

Sporting achievement? Look at the way world records continue to be smashed. Many of the record-breakers succeed honourably, so aren't the Olympics a showcase of how humans will always strive for new heights? Except that apparently today's athletes are getting some 'legit' help: Anything from high-tech tracks for runners to better equipment to deeper pools for swimmers (presumably this has something to do with better buoyancy). No doubt, fanatical hard work and dedication has something to do with it too. But since powerful interests keen to sustain audience interest (and reap profits) know that people want to see records toppled, they are happy to 'assist'. How then could we conscientiously claim that today's sportsmen are definitively an improvement over those of the past? Best not. Instead, mightn't Sonny glorify...

Sporting amity? Yep, sports can transcend barriers, bring people together and all that jazz. Aren't the Games just the very epitome of that? Well, it's true that we have individual cases of, say, a Chinese gymnast generously giving a gift to the American who's just bested her (albeit only in one event). But it wasn't so long ago that countries would boycott the Olympic Games just to make political points (remember Moscow '80 and Los Angeles '84?). In fact, some folks wanted more of the same this year in Beijing. And could we really compare ourselves to the days of the ancient Olympics, when the Greeks would suspend wars for the duration of the Games? We seem to have fallen behind, if anything. Which seems to leave just...

Sporting profit? Ah, now we're talking. Think of the millions of bucks on the line in endorsements, sponsorships and so forth. Even a mere performer in this year's Opening Ceremony can reap a movie deal (never mind that there was some lip-syncing and not even real singing). Sports was always a way out of the ghetto for many poor athletes. But it's only for the very best, of course - and it's not very clear that material success through sport falls squarely into what sports per se should be about.

But why kvetch, eh? The Olympics are a great show, and honest sportsmen still abound. With any luck, sports will help keep Sonny fit and healthy - without his ever being a good enough sportsman for the shadier side of things to ever worry him.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

He scratches and he scratches

Sonny's taken to scratching his head - and we're scratching our noggins over it.

He usually does it when he wakes up, though sometimes he seems still half-asleep. He'll rake his hand rapidly over his forehead and head, so sloppily that it sometimes isn't clear if his fingers aren't making contact with hair rather than scalp. Occasionally, he'll make little grunting noises, but mostly it's a silent routine accompanied by spring-like contortions of his body. He'll do it five or six times, then the urge will melt away.

Now, if we see an adult scratch his head, a couple of obvious explanations come to mind. One, the fellow has fleas, dandruff or some such affliction. Two, he's puzzling something out and is engaging his thinking-engines, since for some reason, "scratching one's head" is a universal sign of intellectual distress.

But what of a four-month old baby? Our main suspect is cradle cap (read our blog post about our encounter with it by clicking here), the condition in which bits of his scalp, with hair attached, bubble up and then peel away. It's nothing serious, medically-speaking, and our applications of olive oil appear to have had some effect, but it would presumably result in some itching in the scalp.

Insect bites of some sort is another possibility, and we do indeed see some very small red dots on Sonny's forehead, though they don't look like the damage wrought by any insect that we're familiar with. It might even be a case of too much baby shampoo, though the brand we use is supposed to be baby-safe. But none of these theories explain why the scratching only comes just after Sonny wakes up. Surely, the itching wouldn't confine itself to 'after-sleep' dosages?

There's a chance, then, that Sonny is simply evolving another bizarre mannerism to go along with his pesky thumb-sucking, body-flipping and all the rest chronicled in these posts. Even the youngest of us, after all, might begin to differentiate ourselves with unique gestures, peculiarities and actions. "I'm me, indissolubly myself, and I do things differently from anyone else," is the message being broadcast.

A tad too high-falutin' for a little baby, you say? Well, give me a better one and we'll scratch ours.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Some surprises we can do without

We all like an uplifting surprise now and again - but there's a time and a place for it.

The other day, we looked out our front door and discovered that our neighbours, who live not a very feeble stone's throw away, had moved out. Their array of bicycles and other bulky items (which we had huffed about in 'Too much, these cluttersome neighbours') were gone. Now, their use of our common lift landing as a storage space may not have been the most thoughtful move ever. But we had been on decent terms with our neighbours overall, chatting about childcare and comparing baby notes from time to time. Yet they had gone and simply vamoosed without so much as a 'Tootles'. Not that we are so hungry for any sort of social validation, but it seemed to say something about how people today don't much bother about niceties like 'giving advance notice'.

The same phenomenon reared its head a couple of days later, as Mum was picking Sonny up at the infant care centre. "We'll be closed two days from now," one of the staff members announced, as though she was telling Mum the time or wishing her top of the morning. Just like that. "Staff training, you see." So Mum had to scramble to secure a day's absence from work, since we have no reserve care-giver on tap. Would it have hurt the centre to give just a tad more advance notice? We ultimately tracked down a plain-text notice posted on a door several metres away. A little test of our powers of observation, perhaps.

Note that we're not advocating a society where spontaneity is frowned upon and where every action (whether popping round to a friend's for a cuppa or whisking a girlfriend away for a night on the town) needs to be endlessly telegraphed in advance. But there certainly are times when a little lag time is expected and very useful. We did learn later where our errant neighbours had gone off to: Their flat had grown too small for their expanding family so they had bought a larger place elsewhere.

We'd have liked to have been able to wish them well. Hopefully, they are settling in nicely.
Without being thrown off-guard by any nasty surprises.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Four animals in a baby

Pa was chatting with his mother over the phone when she suddenly said: "He sounds like a cat!"

Sonny, who was a meter or two from Pa, had decided to commence bawling - a sound which has of late gone up a register, so as to indeed resemble a kitty's wail. A chorus line's worth of felines, at times, going by how long Sonny can keep at it. He can even fling his irritatingly sharp nails about, in a passable imitation of a cat's unsheathed claws. But the thing is, his repertoire is a little more extensive than that: The little fella could mimic half the denizens of Old McDonald's Farm on his own.

Animal impression number two, for instance, is on display when our young 'un starts feeding off Mum. He's become noisy as a pig at the trough these days, with occasional snorting and gulps as he pulls down the milk. He'll drink too fast, stop to cough and spew out droplets, then set to once more, his fists bunched up and getting in the way like little trotters.

After sating his hunger, Sonny has become especially keen to play with his parents, cracking wide smiles and oozing enthusiasm. In fact, when in winsome mode, he morphs into a frisky puppy. His eyes go large and pleading, like a pet from central casting, his body shudders with eagerness to be stroked. If he had a tail, it'd be wagging six ways from Sunday. At times, his enthusiasm so overflows that Sonny suddenly chokes up milk before we can even pick him up.

Most recently, he's added chicken to his range. He's learning to crawl, you see, but not getting far at the moment. The best he can do, while on all fours, is to valiantly raise his head high, then start to literally peck at the floor as his limbs try in vain to gain traction. Bop! Bop! Bop!, goes his head - luckily, on our trusty mattress - his whole body convulsing with effort. In fact, Sonny's pecking routine can kick in when we are holding him too: For some reason (rather like a fowl who's spotted some corn on the floor), he'll suddenly begin bopping away at our shoulder and chin.

Anyway, we might start a pool on what animal he'll next try to imitate. Pa's guess is a worm, when Sonny succeeds in 'crawling'. Wordsworth once wrote of a young child:
with new joy and pride
The little actor cons another part.

But he can't have been thinking of animals!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A strangely hungry Mummy

Mum's always ravenous these days.

Sure, we know that women are supposed to be perpetually peckish during their pregnancies. But Mum never did have any food cravings, or even a marked increase of appetite, during those nine months. In fact, she had a painfully boring time of it, with no morning sickness, no flashes - heck, not an outbreak of freckles. But with Sonny now almost hitting the four-month mark, Mum's experiencing hunger pangs in the worst way. She'll scarf down a full rice-and-three-veg meal, then murder a burger to boot. A few hours later, it's snack time.

Actually, it's never not snack time.

It's no big mystery, we suppose. Mum's providing a ceaseless supply of milk for our little one, and all those nutrients need replacing. But Pa still isn't used to seeing Mum out-eat him, especially since the time for that is supposed to have passed with Sonny's eviction from her belly. Of course, Mum's careful to tell Pa that she still rigorously schedules gym sessions and isn't feeling any more out of breath after her treadmill runs. But there really isn't any reason for her to apologise for not keeping to the expected "hunger" timetable.

Indeed, broadly speaking, why should we ever feel pressure to conform to 'standard' schedules for all sorts of things, from "good marriageable age", to "childbearing years", to "lunchtime"? All right, at times there are good biological or scientific reasons. But in many things, history has left us with timetables that we are at liberty to vary, so long as there's a leavening of common sense. To give just one example, is there such a thing as "the right time to leave home and move into your own apartment"? There isn't, surely, though there may be excellent push factors in specific cases. Different expectations apply in different societies, and multi-generational households can work well too.

So Mum's going to keep on guzzling, until her appetite returns to normal. That might happen at any time, and abruptly. At that point, she might well look back wistfully on the time she could sample so many dishes in one meal, yet retain space for dessert.

Always look on the bright side, we always say.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Speak properly, please!

The head waiter at our coffee shop seemed friendly enough as she squatted over Sonny, but then she said: "Chak! He's cute. Chak!"

What in the name of tarnation is "Chak?"

Apparently, it's one of those nonsense-words that people like to utter in the presence of babies - meaning, more or less, "Hi, I'm friendly, why don't you smile at me?" - under the misguided impression that:
a) Babies are wired in a way that allows them to understand gibberish
b) Certain nonsense-sounds sound especially engaging to babies
c) One of society's unspoken conventions is that we should never speak to babies in grammatical sentences, with words drawn from natural languages.

It's all hooey, of course, but there seems to be some grain of truth to (c). We've had friends, relatives and complete strangers (not to mention coffee shop waiters) mysteriously switch to nonsense-speech when they encounter Sonny. We've no quarrel with the suggestion that speaking brightly and cheerily, with lots of animated facial expressions, is likely to better hold a baby's attention. But why that should be tied in to "Chak", or "Dada googoo" or "Burble burble" is beyond us.

This is actually one of Pa's pet peeves. He insists on issuing commands to Sonny in proper English and, generally, strung-together sentences. He figures that at some level, the groundwork is already being laid for the linguistic development of our son, and that it's never to early to establish good speech practices. Interestingly, Sonny seems to enjoy listening to Pa babbling about sports, or elections or adventures at work. Mum, who is also under instruction to eschew anything but grammatical English (or Chinese, or Malay, for that matter), isn't deviating from the party line either. Whether the result is a baby with astounding language skills is something that we'll not know for years. Maybe he'll be emotionally stunted from being deprived of the comforting wash of nonsense-talk.

Anyway, here's Pa's theory for why people unaccountably go the gibberish route when they come across babies: Their earliest experiences as infants resurface, and of course, back when they were tots, their elders were also "Chak"-ing and "dada googoo"-ing at them too. But that's a historical loop that extends back generations upon generations to the very earliest humans, back when there was no language to speak of and had to be slowly developed. So in those primitive days of human pre-history, communication was by grunts, facial expressions and social trial-and-error. And even as we've evolved and become fans of Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Li Bai, little-baby-gibberish has been retained as a throwback to our primaeval beginnings.

Fanciful? Better ridiculous than nonsensical!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Baby finally flips

It's happened at last - and it's all been rather anti-climactic.

It was in late June that we blogged breathlessly about how Sonny had managed to 'flip', going from being prone on the ground to facing heavenward (click here for that post). At the time, visions of imminent disaster swam before our eyes: We imagined him sailing over the edge of the bed that we use as a changing station, or thunking his head after catapulting beyond the ground-level mattress that was his daytime base.

After the initial shocker, however, Sonny flatly refused to repeat his feat. We bought a flip-up bed guard which we've been using ever since as a barrier, but the young fella never needed it. Maybe he drank too much of Mum's milk and got pudgy. Or decided there was no need to rush things. At all events, our concern faded away. In part, we had probably become slightly more comfortable with the whole parenting gig.

Then, a day ago, Sonny did flip. It was exciting enough for Mum to immediately ring Pa at the office. And now he can't stop flipping! Every chance he gets, he'll suddenly be heaving along on his belly, seconds after being plopped down on his back. The increased athleticism could be the result of his reduced milk intake while at the infant care centre, which would have bled away excess fat. About time, too: Mum's noticed that some four-month-olds at the centre are crawling all over the place, and Sonny is just a week shy of that mark.

Should we be worried about becoming a little blase over Sonny's personal safety? Actually, it's probably healthy that we're less paranoid than we once were (compare our early post, 'Paranoid parents unite!'). We're still on the look-out for danger: Still aiming, for instance, to stamp out his thumb-sucking, to minimise the chances of him swallowing every other item he comes across once he does commence major crawling activity. But it won't be heart-in-mouth every time.

Just as well. We've years to savour the inevitable emergencies to come.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sudden awakenings

We've blogged before about how it can be hard to rouse Sonny from slumber (click here or here for more). But there's a strange flip side to this: Of late, the young 'un can seem to go from snoozy to sharp in no time at all. It's a pity the president of Georgia never got to meet Sonny, we say... but more on that in a moment.

Neither Mum nor Pa, in case you were wondering, are known for being speedy risers. Mum yawns and stretches and groans, much as Sonny both used to and sometimes still does. Pa could sleep through a complete bulldozing of our flat. But Sonny? On some occasions, we've crept up to our son to find him completely dead to the world, arms stretched out in his patented 'hands-up!' position (see 'An infant's surrender'). Slow breathing, occasional twitching: If he was faking it, he'd have deserved a baby Oscar. But then, in a twinkling, he's completely awake, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. He's looking around, alert for an attacking soft toy. His limbs are cycling about comfortably. The fella is ready for action.

So how does all this link to the President of Georgia, you ask? Well, as you know, Mikheil Saakashvili recently sent his soldiers into a part of his country - South Ossetia - that doesn't really want to be part of Georgia any more. By all accounts, he was hoping to quickly re-establish control. Only Russia, which has been a protector of the South Ossetians, didn't much like the plan, so it unleashed its military and kicked the Georgian forces out in a heartbeat, before threatening briefly to widen the conflict. All in all, it's been quite humiliating for Mr Saakashvili. What was he thinking, to spite the Russians this way?

Well, we're figuring that Moscow has been behaving like Sonny sometimes does: Being a real sluggard at responding, and being so slow to awaken that Mr Saakashvili was hoping to have completed his reconquest before Russia could shake the sleep from its geopolitical eyes. After all, it hasn't done much but growl as the Americans have expanded their military alliance, Nato, to its very doorstep and absorbed countries once considered Moscow's satellites into an anti-missile shield that the Russians find highly threatening. The bear has remained half in slumber.

Only the bear is like Sonny, of course: At times, unpredictably, it comes alive with instant ferocity. And so it was: Russian soldiers, and tanks, and attack aircraft and ships surged out more swiftly than Sonny's mood can change around mealtime - and it was curtains for Mr Saakashvili's clever plan. Only it wasn't all that clever, wasn't it? Just because Russia has been a slow mover at times didn't mean it wasn't going always going to be such a sloth, especially in an area within easy reach of its forces, with little chance of outside intervention and every opportunity to send a firm signal to the world.

Really, Mr Saakashvili should have been able to work that out in his sleep.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

From Whiplash to Olympic gymnastics

Watching the Olympic gymnasts spin and somersault madly on TV brings to mind Sonny's latest, and scariest, parent-torture trick: The Whiplash.

We'll be carrying him in our arms, peaceably working out the latest diaper bill, and Sonny will be deceptively quiet. Perhaps he'll scrutinise his knuckles. Then, suddenly, his entire upper body will bob slightly before flipping fiercely downward. We'll feel the jerk and for a second, it will feel as though Sonny is about to pop out of our embrace and smash to the unyielding concrete.

So far, that worst-case scenario hasn't come to pass. But the young fella's face will lend up perpendicular to the ground, flat against our midriffs and bouncing slightly. He's done it a few times now, and twice over the weekend. Yet Sonny doesn't tear up or even look concerned after these Whiplash demonstrations. As we desperately haul him up and examine him for signs that his upper body might detach or his eyeballs might slip out, he'll gaze wisely at us, a tad disapprovingly. As though to say, why are these adults making such a to-do over a little move like that? Just a little flexing, keeping myself limber: I'm 10 days away from hitting the four-month mark and we gymnasts have to start early, you know!

Of course, we already know Sonny can easily contort himself into a teardrop shape when stuffed into Mum's sling (click here for our post on this ability, though the sling is probably not up there with the pommel horse or rings as standard gym apparatus). So it shouldn't have surprised us that he can do the Whiplash without ill effect. But we're already clutching him extra-carefully and may deploy Mac the stroller more frequently. Who's to say he won't get a little too enthusiastic and spring completely from our grasp - with no foam mattress to break his fall, unlike with real gymnasts? And even these top tumblers occasionally fall from the balance beam, or fumble their vaults, or whatever we call these foul-ups.

Sonny, why not try some infant version of golf instead?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Stroller: Danger on the left

You'd probably be bored stiff reading yet another post about a quirky young thing with a wandering attention span. Except we're not talking about Sonny this time - just the stroller that we've been using to ferry him around in.

Yes, our handy-dandy Maclaren Quest - let's use 'Mac', shall we, since there's something of the naughty boy about the contraption - is rather a prima donna. There's no denying that he's nifty: He has a marvellously tight turning circle and folds up with a friendly 'click'. Lightweight too. But Mac has a tendency to drift to the left. We'll be wheeling Sonny along, and suddenly realise that we've been veering off towards the rose bushes. We need to apply extra pressure on the right arm to keep our direction dead-ahead straight. It's even more dangerous when Pa snaps off one of his patented push-ahead-and-stroll-up moves. At that point, Mac's solo, and before he slows down, the stroller can spin quite a distance away from us - towards a drain, perhaps, or slope.

Now, since Mac's been with us for less than three months, you might suggest we just pop back to the retail outlet and have the staff there sort things out. But here's the tricky bit: Mac's leftist tendencies have a way of suddenly disappearing for days, leaving us scratching our heads. Pa has spent some time scrutinising Mac's wheels (not that Pa's much of a handyman), looking for wads of chewing gum or anything else that might impart occasional spin. Nothing has ever been found. Since we'd feel pretty foolish bringing in a stroller in apparent perfect condition to the shop, we're waiting for Mac's errant ways to become set in stone. But he keeps us guessing.

Mac's other quirk is a stiff neck, so that it's hard to get Sonny to lie back comfortably. There's a latch that needs to be clicked in order to maximise the reclining position and, for some reason, each time we fold and reopen the stroller, the position is reset to an uncomfortably highbacked one. Perhaps Mac likes to have us fumble about in his innards each time, or wants to reminds us who's really in the driving seat.

Not that we should mind too much. In the general sweep of life, after all, we're often in danger of forgetting who keeps things ticking over smoothly, whether it's the maid at home, the cleaners who keep our corridors and roads clean or the service staff in hotels. Mac allows us to dispense with lugging Sonny about in our arms while he slobbers over us, and lets us eat in peace while our son paws at Mac's canvas walls. All this, normally, without a squeak of complaint.

Though that could be just because Mac is so new his wheels don't need oiling yet.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Every hero has his weakness...

Even Superman, the Man of Steel, can be reduced to blubbering jelly by a hunk of the green rock, Kryptonite. That's just how it goes: No one, not the greatest superhero, can escape some fatal flaw or weakness.

No wonder, then, that Mum and Pa - conscientious parents though we are - have our bete noirs. Mum can sweetly withstand hours of Sonny's grumpiness and insistence on serial feedings. But she goes all wobble-kneed when he begins to regurgitate food. That's right: Her Kryptonite is vomit. Unfortunately, at 17 weeks, Sonny has become painfully susceptible to upchucking. Mum is exquisitely careful after feedings, trying not to jostle or jiggle, picking him up very gently and setting him down with feathery care so his stomach won't complain. Still - once or twice after a meal, usually - some milk will make like a geyser and squirt back up. Mum absolutely detests cleaning up after these episodes. Yet she has little choice, and wields her little cloth with clenched teeth.

Pa? He has no trouble with Sonny bawling for 20 minutes straight after being tied up in a knot to keep him from sticking thumb into mouth (see 'Our little terrorist understands threats'). But the elimination of bodily wastes sends Pa into paroxysms of terror. Not that he hasn't changed his share of dirty diapers. Urination doesn't faze him. But if it's the other sort, he'll suddenly try to palm off responsibility to Mum. The one time he was caught between nappies when Sonny decided to expunge excess weight, Pa made a big deal of the 'eviction emergency' (click here for that blog post).

Should Mum and Pa be feeling guilty at being unable to overcome their aversions? Well, it's not like it prevents them from doing their duty where necessary. Sonny gives them enough joy that it seems almost just that there are 'payback' episodes. On a more cosmic level, it is said that the people who weave Persian carpets make sure to deliberately introduce at least one flaw: They thereby affirm that they are not aspiring to perfection, since only God is without mistake.

Who are we to take things otherwise?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

We're worth a lot less than our child

According to a recent impartial valuation, Sonny is worth 333 times more than either of his parents.

We're flying back to Pa's hometown in a few weeks' time, to catch up with Sonny's grandmother, uncle, aunt and cousin, who are just back from a stint in Boston. An airline has been dangling the absurd price of 9 Singapore cents per passenger. Sonny, however, doesn't qualify for the special deal, so his ticket will cost us 30 Singapore dollars - a relative fortune - even though he doesn't even rate a seat (he'll be on our laps the entire way) or a baggage allowance.

For the amount of money we'll be shelling out, we could also have chartered a taxicab to pick us up at home and ferry us all the way to Pa's mother's doorstep. It'd be a longer journey (probably four or five hours' driving time), but there'd be no need to make our own way to the airport two hours before the stated departure time, or find our own transport to Sonny's grandmother's place.

So why fly at all, you might ask? Sometimes, we don't do things strictly according to what cold price and time computation might suggest. For one thing, the computation might not be be the most relevant factor, any more than comparing the price of our respective tickets is the right way to assess the relevant worth of Sonny and ourselves. It's been a while since we've visited Pa's home airport (and Kuala Lumpur International is still a visual feast, with its conceptual throwbacks to Arabic desert tents). And the old romance of flying beats comfortably in Mum's breast, so that a trip to the airport is always something she savours - and wants to transmit to Sonny.

That said, there's a place (and it's an important one) for calculation and weighings-up. We'll probably be booking a taxicab for the trip home, since we'll expect to have done a wee bit of shopping and be somewhat tuckered out: We'd be better able, in short, to savour the luxury of door-to-door service. It seems that the taxi driver doesn't give infant discounts either, though. Whatever his age, each passenger attracts the same charge.

Still makes better sense than charging Sonny 333 times more than us.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Parents, showing off and the Olympics

The Olympic Games kicked off last night, so you'll be reading lots of boilerplate about how the sporting spirit will be raging and fair play will be celebrated.

We're not saying that's all a load of crock. But if we look at how some parents love to parade their children in name-brand finery, it'd be easy to understand how showing off is a big part of what this 'festival of sport' is actually about.

China, the hosts this time round, wants the whole world to know that it has arrived on the global stage and can stand tall in the company of giants. How better to do that than by staging a fiesta long on spectacle (and yesterday night's opening ceremony was indeed spectacular) and supreme efficiency? Look at our gleaming facilities, goes the message. Marvel at how far we're willing to go to make sure everything runs like clockwork. It hasn't been easy for the Chinese, who've had to contend with natural disaster and air pollution. They've banned drivers from driving every other day - among other measures to tamp down smog - and even rejigged working hours to tame traffic.

Is there anything wrong with any of this? Well, let's look at the parental parallel. Parents can show off in all sorts of ways. They could present to the world children who are wonderfully well-behaved, intelligent and sensitive to the needs of others. What marvellous child-rearing nous, we are moved to declare. Nobody would really mind, then, if pride figured in the parents' motivations: The child ultimately benefits. But suppose the parents tricked Junior out in the most expensive of attire, lavished him with toys and gadgets and otherwise saw that he more than wanted for nothing. If this is the extent of their showing off, the obvious difference here is, of course, is that the children don't necessarily benefit from such star treatment. They don't need fancy togs or the latest gewgaws to do well. Indeed, it might fray their moral fibre and weaken them mentally - even as their parents derive short-term joy from out-glamming their competitors.

All this applies, then, to the Olympics. If, at the end of the day, the Olympic frenzy throws up net benefits to the Chinese people, provides joy to millions and encourages the growth of sportsmanship, why should we judge too harshly? Sure, there's the politicking: The argument is that somehow, by celebrating the Olympics, we are giving legitimacy to the suppression of the Tibetans and authoritarian rule. But just as we should not blame children for the alleged sins of their parents, we shouldn't import too much of the calculations of politics into the striving of honest sportsmen.

Let them show off their sporting skills!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Our cheery neighbourhood

Think United Nations and throw in handfuls of babies bawling in the background, and you'd pretty much have a mental picture of our neighbourhood.

Our little apartment is getting a little cramped, with baby items peeking out of every cranny. But we'd be loath to move for a couple of reasons. First, life is always boring if everything around you is cookie-cutter similar. Well, we can't complain as to the international flavour of our neighbours. For some reason, we seem to have crammed in representatives of a dozen or more lands into our small 300-family condo community. We've folks from Eastern Europe and Western Europe, Indians, Malaysians and Singaporeans, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans and so on. Not that we're necessarily in and out of each other's homes, and the urban tendency to avert one's eyes is alive and well too. But for all that, it's a cheery microcosm of the increasingly 'globalised' world: Some handy early exposure for Sonny.

Then there are the babies. Every household on our floor has had an addition to the family in the last year (no exaggeration here). There are young children scampering out of every doorway and splashing into the pool. In the mornings, mothers cradling babies jostle for space in the common spaces downstairs, so there's always someone's baby to tickle, mothering tips to be exchanged and sly comments to be whispered. Sonny will not want for playmates, and we parents will form a pooled resource for help and reassurance when things get hairy.

Could we want for more, as neighbourhoods go? Inevitably, there are black sheep about. Someone dumped glue out their window perhaps two years ago, some of which ended up disfiguring the pane in our back bedroom - and which we can't get at to clean off. We did have a problem of neighbours leaving bulky items out on the shared lift landing (as blogged about in 'Too much, these cluttersome neighbours'), but a circular was sent round by the condo management and the offending family suddenly moved, so that problem is now in the past.

Overall, if this were a grade school class, we'd give our little community a 'B+', with 'A' within grasp. Anyone else living in especially interesting communities?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Even infants can learn to gamble...?

We pretty much never frequent the betting shop, but when the top prize for the lottery topped a few million bucks, Mum decided to drop a few spare dollars. So after picking up Sonny yesterday evening at the infant care centre, she ambled into the local bookmakers. But a rude shock awaited her at the counter.

"Hey, you can't be here. You have to go!" said one of the counter staff.

Another, more sympathetic, explained why in a conspiratorial whisper: "There are video cameras here. They can see us!"

Which in itself was more intriguing than enlightening, but it eventually became clear that there was a strict rule against anyone under the age of 18 entering the premises. Never mind that Sonny is probably a tad too young to be somehow transformed into a problem gambler through a rare exposure to betting-shop goings-on.

Anyway, the staff did ultimately serve Mum, though she was reminded never to bring Sonny in again. But does anyone think the staff were perhaps excessive in their punctilious adherence to the rules? We're not totally sure about this ourselves. On the one hand, if you start making allowances for 'very young' customers, where might you draw the line? A child of just a few years, if allowed in to observe their parents throwing away chunks of their salary, might indeed absorb the implied message that gambling was totally acceptable. On the other hand, there are still clear-cut cases where the child is obviously too young to be aware of anything.

What's clear is that "leaving things to the discretion of the staff" is not going to be the operating principle. That's a rather old-fashioned way of running things in our increasingly decentralised world, where the 'man on the ground' now tends to be seen as the one who has the fullest grasp of the situation and so can make adjustments accordingly.

But how dare he, "when there are video cameras" to stalk his every action, eh?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sharing hobbies with Sonny

We were reading Audrey's wise words on bonding with one's teenagers (click here for the post, on her 'Parenting Tips and Ideas'), and how parents should share an interest in their children's hobbies, and we thought: Very true, but why wait? Admittedly, since he's only entering the 16th week of life, the range of Sonny's activities is greatly circumscribed. But there are some things that we can already participate in together...

1) Read: No, we've not fished out 'War and Peace'. But Sonny seems to enjoy it when we read aloud the cloth books we've borrowed from the library ('Colours', 'Nursery Rhymes', etc). Occasionally, he burbles his approval at an especially exciting episode ('And Jill came tumbling after'!), and is otherwise pretty attentive. He'll even desist from his thumb-sucking, which is something we absolutely won't be subscribing to ourselves, and against which we've been raging (see 'Our little terrorist understands threats').

2) Reflection-staring: We're not just fishing for chuckles here. Sonny especially enjoys gazing into mirrors or any reflective surfaces, so Pa recently decided to find out just why this was so captivating. Now, it's unlikely he's enjoying the same experience as Sonny, but he reports that stuff that you see in the reflection can seem ever so much more interesting than when directly viewed. Try it. How messy my hair is, Pa had thought when he began the experiment. My shirt's so wrinkled. I need a shave. I thought I stowed away that useless rocking chair that doesn't calm Sonny at all. That stool is grimy. Why am I wasting my time staring at... well, we'd best interrupt the stream-of-consciousness here, but you get the general idea. Presumably, Sonny isn't doing as much thinking when he's reflection-appreciating, but the world does seem a weirder, oddity-crammed treasure house.

3) Wriggling: Doesn't our young 'un love this. Put him on his back and he'll flap his limbs and cycle his arms and... well, isn't it just like warming up for fitness exercises, specifically the ones Pa hasn't quite gotten round to yet, despite many vows. The least he could do is to get the arm-swivelling, push-ups and stomach-crunches going, as even Sonny has, so Pa's been shamed into at least minimal action. Mum's not holding his breath on a resumption of the full routine.

4) Conversation: It wasn't long ago that we complained that Sonny wasn't being responsive to our ministrations. But that's begun changing of late, and his grandmother and infant care staff have all noticed that he likes it when he is being spoken to, without condescension. No 'goo-ga-boo-boo' gibberish for this fella. We'll be explaining the principle behind having a fan in the house (for air circulation and all that) and Sonny will be all ears. At times, he'll respond with a stream of nonsense-sounds, which sound for all the world as though he's trying to make a point or refuting an argument. Finding time for some 'serious chat with Sonny' seems to be rewarding enough, and Pa's happy to favour him with his latest philosophical observations.

And Mum's quite happy to relinquish the role of sounding board on that front. Some hobbies, presumably, aren't worth the sharing...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Coffee shop wisdom

Now that we have a stroller in which to deposit Sonny while we eat, we've been sallying out regularly to the nearby cluster of coffee shops. All the establishments are a few minutes' easy stroll apart. They offer pretty much the same sort of food and drink and none is really a culinary discovery worth writing home about. Yet certain ones among them are popular, drawing a steady clientele from morning through till the wee hours of the morning. Others are gloomily quiet and are lucky to have a sprinkling of customers.

What makes one place a success and not another? We can't really put a finger on a solid explanation. One would have to say, after due deliberation, that the capriciousness of fate is in play. More people, perhaps, are in the habit of going to eatery A than to eatery B, but there might not ultimately be a good reason why.

Quite the wrong conclusion to draw from this thought, however, is that 'Life is reducible to a lottery' and allied sentiments. For pointing to fate usually works best as a backward-looking indicator. When it comes to predicting future conditions, the interjection of individual effort, initiative and ingenuity can modify, if not utterly reverse, the initial verdict of chance.

To stick with our coffee shops: In a relatively short time, we'll probably have to start plumping Sonny down into a high chair so he can half-eat and half-fling his food. Now, the provision of high chairs is critically neglected amongst our cluster of coffee shops. If, tomorrow, one of the shops were to go out and buy a few brightly-coloured chairs, and have that fact advertised, we're betting that this would draw a respectable stream of with-young-child customers.

Let's take another example of how fate can be trumped by human action. It's become de rigeur for coffee shops to mount large TV screens on brackets and show soap operas or football matches. Were any of the shops to refuse to install these electronic facilities, they would probably experience a haemorrhage of customers - one that would be very poorly explained indeed by sole reference to 'sheer luck'.

In the same way, Sonny's disposition, his bents and natural talents (if any) are to an extent the gift of the gods. Fate, if you like, casts her vote here. But that's just to look backward. If we orient our thinking to the future, there would be an endless number of things we could do to boost or discourage certain proclivities, cultivate new ones and instil good mental habits.

Ultimately, to think in this manner is the only option if we are to behave as though our personal effort in any field is to count for something. Practically speaking, it's doubtful whether anyone really believes that fate absolutely seals the score in most affairs. But once we allow fortune too much play in our assessment of a situation, it's likely to sap enthusiasm and affect energy levels.

We wouldn't want that. Let's keep fate in its place.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Hair horror

When babies are born, they are pretty things. Their skin is smooth, their digits so small yet so perfectly formed, their hair downy and soft.

Pity it doesn't last. Sonny's prettiness, after just 15 weeks, has been eroded. He already sports pimples, while nappy rash has had to be beaten back a few times. Most distressing at all has been his hair: Strange lumpy chunks of scalp have bubbled up, and little tufts of his hair have flaked off.

Pa's immediate reaction, as the overreacting fear-mongerer he is, was to start pawing about looking for fleas while plotting the mother of all disinfecting campaigns. But we learned after a quick Internet trawl that Sonny was afflicted with something called 'cradle cap', which is believed to be brought on by hormonal changes and is easily treated with baby oil (among other remedies). It was nothing serious and a visit to the herbalist yielded a bottle of rub-on olive oil.

We've been lucky, actually. According to some sites (such as Baby Centre's), cradle cap can spread to occupy the entire scalp, then make forays to the baby's face, nappy area and even armpit and nose! We wouldn't have liked that: At least Sonny's present patch is in an area seldom noticed by others (though this might change if any more hair detaches itself).

Of course, if and when chicken pox strikes, or pustules and boils brought on by other microscopic nasties pop up, we can do little more than blast away with whatever creams science can provide. But in a way, we wouldn't want Sonny to grow up with too perfect a complexion anyway. He might spend too much time admiring himself in the mirror, or grow too big an ego over something as idiotic as his prettiness. So bring on more pimples - in moderation, of course!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Neck on the line

Mum even knows exactly when it happened.

It was about 6 am, three days ago, and she was bending low, about to retrieve Sonny for a feed. Her mind was hazy but it was a completely routine operation, something she performed three or four times a night.

But this go-around, something went wrong. As she straightened, Sonny in her arms, Mum felt something give. There was no loud 'crack', no dramatic shooting agony, but there was a warning quiver in the neck that told her she had stressed her muscles just a tad too much.

The next morning, Mum woke up with a champion of a neckache. It radiated outward from somewhere around her shoulder, till she pulsed with pain. And she is sure it is traceable to that misstep, or misshold, early in the morning. Maybe Sonny had slowly fattened up till he was too heavy to be casually picked up by her. Maybe her arms had been worn down by her regular put-baby-on-potty try-outs (see 'Mum goes potty I'). In any case, Mum's now one of the walking wounded, regularly crying out "Ooh, my neck!" and scrounging for free neck rubs from Pa.

Of course, we're not blaming Sonny. He has no comprehension that his insistence on regular, small feedings throughout the night - rather than solid, more spaced-out meals, probably visited injury on his mother. We don't load moral responsibility onto those who not only did not mean harm, but had no idea that their actions had the possibility of causing hurt.

Ah, and there's a distinction drawn there, for those of a philosophical bent. Had Sonny been aware of the possibility that these endless nocturnal lifts might have resulted in a nasty sprain, then the fact that he did not specifically wish injury on Mum might not be enough for him to escape some smidgen of blame. After all, were we to order a young child to run across a busy road a couple of times on trivial errands, it is no excuse to say that we 'didn't intend for him to be hit by a motorcycle'. Any half-intelligent person would be expected to realise that there was a risk there, and be guided accordingly.

Mum bought a bottle of sprain-soothing ointment today and, with any luck, she'll be better soon. But of course, if she insists on cavalierly grabbing heavy objects during this delicate juncture - and ends up aggravating things - she'll only have herself to blame.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mum goes potty (II)

Yesterday, in 'Mum goes potty (I)', Mum gave her comments on the first of three books she devoured as part of her campaign to free Sonny of his diapers. Here are her reviews of the other two:

2) The most scholarly read
Diaper-Free Before 3 (by Dr Jill Lekovic)

If you prefer an academic read on the subject, you’ll enjoy Dr Lekovic's book. As the specialist paeditrician she is, she runs through the development of the medical debate on potty training, citing journals and paediatric association guidelines, to explain why experts nowadays discourage an early start.

Dr Lekovic recommends that parents start training their babies on the potty no later than at three years of age. But she builds a case for why starting earlier is better. She acknowledges, with an eye on the grand sweep of potty history, that mothers used to have no choice but to toilet-train their babies from birth, before the invention of disposable diapers. So why should we forgo the convenience of that modern invention? Her reasons, in a nutshell: To help develop your child’s independence; so they can socialise without shame at play school or child care; to cut risks of infectious diarrhea and Hepatitis A; to promote urinary tract development; and just for lifelong healthy bowel habits.

If it’s how-to information you’re looking for, however, be warned that that takes up only about 40 pages of this 200-odd-page book. There are also separate sections on common problems encountered while potty-training and a Q&A for the common queries Dr Lekovic has had to field, which are quite helpful.

3) The most useful read
The Diaper-Free Baby (by Christine Gross-Loh)

Dr Gross-Loh (not a medical doctor; she has a PhD from Harvard) assumes you’ve already decided to potty-train your baby, so she dives straight into what you have to do. It’s a very nifty, user-friendly book. As she spells out in the first chapter, her tome is designed along three tracks: For parents starting Elimination Communication (EC) with newborns, for those with toddlers three to eight months old and finally those with children older than eight months. Just start reading where appropriate, keeping in mind there will be some repetition for those working through the book from the beginning.

Dr Gross-Loh points out some signs to look out for that indicate your child may be ready to eliminate, no matter when you decide to start: When he arches his back, wiggles, has a blank expression or frown on his face, or - in her case - makes the sign for 'potty' using American Sign Language (she taught her children to sign the word before they could speak. Talk about communication!).

This book also tries to address parents whether they are trying to practice EC full-time, part-time or even just occasionally: Dr Gross-Loh discusses tips in general, and has short asides on how to cope for the non-full-time practitioner. She also goes through the equipment you’ll need for training your baby, including the array of potties available as well as gear for mother (slings and carriers) and for baby (diapers and specialised EC clothing). An important feature is the quotes and feedback from other parents that she peppers throughout the book, which are often insightful and inspirational.

Mum sums up:

Mum was very motivated to give EC a try after going through the books. It certainly seemed doable. But with baby full-time at infant care, she can only afford to try it part-time (and this, after centre staff warned that success may lead to constipation if Sonny masters sphincter control. Does this mean it might be pleasurable for him to hold his stool in?)

Alone in her quest - Pa's just observing with amusement from the sidelines - Mum goes through two or three cloth diapers a day after she returns from work, and offers the potty during diaper changes and upon waking in the morning. Mum’s relaxed about the project, so some days she just skips any attempt altogether. Still, she thinks it’s progressing promisingly so far – if you consider 'catching' one or two pees and poops every few days to be progress.

The morning potty trips are the most successful. Otherwise, spotting Sonny when he's about to pass motion is easy as he will squirm and grunt. However, catching it is more difficult as this usually occurs during feeding and so would require positioning a bowl under the little one while he drinks. As for pees, Mum's relentless whistling and shh-shhing has not worked as well for opening the floodgates as just turning on the tap. Seeing the running water inspires him! All in all, it’s a wee bit more laundry and mopping up to take on, a lot of trial and error, plus a huge dollop of patience.

Pa’s just impressed Mum hasn’t given up yet!

(*The books discussed are featured in the sidebar on the right, entitled 'Books Mum Reviewed')

Friday, August 1, 2008

Mum goes potty (I)

For some weeks now, Mum has been on a mission to teach Sonny to mind his pees and poops, as mentioned a while back in 'The Eviction Adventure'. But three months is way too early to start a baby on the potty, you cry. We thought so too, when some well-meaning relatives suggested in Sonny's first month that, as a first step, we 'cue' him to prep him for the toilet. But not long after Mum took to making experimental grunts in the mornings to encourage Sonny’s bowel movements, the young fella hit on the correlation between noise and poop. Now he occasionally make the self-same grunts when his sphincter moves.

Then a friend recently shared that she had weaned her son off diapers by four months. Inspired, Mum did some research. Turns out that, while most mainstream experts believe toilet training should start only when your child is old and mobile enough to tell you when he wants to go (usually around three) there’s a whole community of parents out there who prefer to raise their kids sans diapers. There's a wealth of literature advocating what is called ‘Elimination Communication’ (EC): Developing an understanding with your baby so you can read the signs when he tries to tell you he needs the loo.

For those interested, or who just want to save money and the environment by cutting diaper use, Mum here reviews the most interesting of the three books she read as part of her research. She reviews the other two (the most academic and most useful, respectively) in tomorrow's post.

1) The most interesting read
Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene (by Ingrid Bauer)

This is the classic EC book: Indeed Ms Bauer, an early proponent of the diaper-free movement, was the one who coined the phrase ‘Elimination Communication’. This mother of three encourages you to have your baby go au naturel as soon as he arrives, if possible. While the end result is to break free of diapers, she stresses that EC is more about the process of fostering a connection with your child and bringing up baby without having him endure long periods in a soiled diaper. The idea is to at least offer the potty on a regular basis so he can begin (and then not forget) to control his eliminations. Still, even with efforts from birth, don’t expect miracles: Your child is likely to completely graduate from toilet training only after a year at the earliest.

Ms Bauer also spends a fair bit covering the background of potty training, presenting the information in an engaging manner and often bringing in her point of view. She points out, interestingly, that scientist T Brazelton's famous paper advocating late-start toilet training - on which current US pediatric guidelines are based - came out the same year disposable diapers first hit the market. Hmmm.

Taking from her own experiences, she shares tips on how to start: Cueing the baby, offering the potty at opportune times and reading their body language. The book is also filled with helpful pictures on, for instance, the different ways to hold your baby over the toilet/bowl/potty/sink as well as survival tips for outings and making it through the night with a diaper-free baby. If you wish to follow in her footsteps, you might even take your naked child outdoors when needed so he can relieve himself the way nature intended (it helped that, on Ms Bauer's organic family farm, there was always a thirsty tree or handy bush in need of fertilisation).

Of course, you don’t have to go the whole hog immediately. It’s always possible to focus on EC for just a few hours a day or try cloth diapers and build from there. But you get the feeling Ms Bauer would rather you do so earlier rather than later.
[To go to Part II of 'Mum goes potty', click here].