Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas tree, nightmare tree

The fear was as disturbing as it was out of place.

The Christmas tree was cheery and colourful, adorned with the customary decorations, faux presents and assorted shiny bits. But the little child shrank back in what was quite clearly terror, his eyes little moons as his body shuddered convulsively.

Mum looked on in puzzlement. She was in the foyer of the infant care centre where Sonny spends his weekdays, and the little child - perhaps eight months older than our seven-month-and-a-week-old - was usually one of the friendlier inmates. Yet unless the staff had been tossing him into the pine cones again and again in some sadistic game, Mum could come up with no explanation for his behaviour. Most young children, after all, love Christmas trees and must be sternly warned not to mutilate them. Terror, however, was definitely animating the situation.

Eventually, after subtly questioning a couple of caregivers, we learned that the child in question had previously brushed up against the pine needles. Somehow, this had left him with a memory of great discomfort. Yet presumably every other child in the centre must have had tactile encounters with the tree. Why did just this one react so negatively?

We took away from this mystery a reinforced sense of the essential strangeness of children. They take fright at inexplicable things, with emotional residue attaching unpredictably to chance encounters. A tot will become fixated with some gewgaw or other and spend weeks trying to penetrate parental defences in order to gnaw at it (we're thinking of Sonny's unceasing charges at Pa's slippers here). They find someone to be terribly fun, and someone else deadly boring, with no rhyme or reason to the distinction.

And how different are we, as adults? We like to imagine that we are much more logical, far more able to behave in accordance with preferences lashed all about with tendrils of reasoned thought. One sometimes wonders whether this is as much an imagined characteristic as the child-feared horrors of the Christmas tree.

Friday, November 28, 2008

India the latest weak spot for world's terrorists

Amidst the chaos in Mumbai, as the military tries to mop up the last of the terrorists who launched outrageous attacks that have killed over 120 people, one thing is showing up clearly: The world's terrorists have found the latest weakness to exploit. Awfully sorry, that's you, India.

The general philosophy of all recent terrorist attacks, shorn of local variation, is basically this: We'll kill as many people as possible, preferably foreigners, to send the message that the corrupt West must be rejected and America condemned. But a philosophy is one thing. Execution is something else altogether: When a country's security establishment cracks down hard, it is actually very difficult for militants to ply their murderous trade.

The United States, despite being the heart of darkness as far as these Islamo-fascists are concerned, has been hard to penetrate after the stunning September 11 2001 attacks in New York and Washington. The Americans revamped their entire security architecture and hasn't been struck since.

Then came Europe, where Madrid in 2004 and Britain in 2005 saw co-ordinated bombings. Again, the security and intelligence forces, put on notice, have been able to disrupt attempts at large-scale attacks.

On the other side of the world, Indonesia shuddered again and again as tourist paradise Bali (2002 and 2005) and Jakarta, the capital, (2003) were targeted. But the country learned. Safety measures have been boosted extensively at potential targets and, though there are still nests of militants, major terrorist successes have been averted.

Now, we have India. In these things, patterns cannot be set aside as just coincidences. In just recent months, there has been a series of horrific attacks in different cities, including in Jaipur (63 killed in May), Ahmedabad (45 in July), New Delhi (18 dead in September) and now - most stunningly - the Mumbai outrage. In India's commercial and entertainment capital, some 10 sites were targeted for infantry assaults. Attackers slipped in by boat and, two days on, there are still foreigners trapped in two luxury hotels as terrorists fight army commandos.

As each region in turn has convulsed from terrorist flare-ups, local extremists may have been the tip of the spear. But there can surely be no doubt that militant masterminds from abroad extended assistance, planning help, funds and perhaps manpower. The "global terror network" can be conceived of as a mass of interconnected tentacles: Once a weakness is found anywhere, resources and succour are poured in to exploit it. When a tentacle is cut off or weakened by government responses, the probing continues elsewhere for a weakness.

India, reeling from so many atrocities in succession, will eventually get a grip on the security situation. But the tentacle will withdraw, and somewhere else, a tentacle will lash out. Where this next place will be, only time and sudden tragedy will tell.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More than just wakeup woes

Just when you think things are getting better, they get worse.

That pretty much summarises our plight with Sonny at the moment. He may entered his eighth month, but the little fella's now a right nightmare upon waking up. From the evidence of his infant care centre carers, it seems he will immediately start bawling at the top of his voice, rousing every other baby unless food is rushed to him. We've noticed this turn ourselves: He's sleeping less (apart from one thankfully extended snooze during the wee hours) and vindictively vocal once his eyelids flutter open.

The thing was, there was a time when Sonny learned to husband his energy. Left to his own devices, he would suck his thumb and peer about, choosing some new item on which to lavish his attention and saliva. But with greater maturity comes greater crankiness, or so it would seem. But perhaps there is more going on here than we realise - that there is some fundamental language barrier that he is becoming dimly aware of as his mind gains potency.

Imagine if there is now stuff that Sonny would like to say, if only he possessed the linguistic tools with which to construct thoughts. We all know how frustrating it is to have a thought linger at the very anteroom of our mind, refusing stubbornly to cross over to full exposure. We stamp our feet, grind our teeth and say, "There's this idea that's at the very tip of my tongue". And everyone showers us with sympathy and cloying advice like, "Oh, leave it and it will come of its own accord". But at least, for us, there's a chance that it will come.

For a child, however, things are far worse. He encounters so many weird things, and sounds, and sights - and with time, there must be this urge to say something about some of them. Except, of course, he lacks even the ability to express something as primitive as "I like that", or "That's no good". He can smile or turn his head or tear up, but these are pretty much instinctive responses. A baby cannot congratulate himself on having communicated his annoyance or pleasure.

If such is his predicament at just over seven months old, we must imagine Sonny waking after each sleep bursting with the inchoate wish to talk, without being able to nail down what it is he desires. This mental netherworld must drive him wild, and we would do well to forgive him his temporary testiness - while awaiting the time when he begins the climb to language mastery.

Then again, of course, he could simply be a grumpy baby...

Monday, November 24, 2008

The great eruption

Our apologies if you thought we were going to blog about the latest volcanic disturbances in Indonesia or John McCain's temper flaring someplace.

This is all about teeth: One tooth, to be exact. Yesterday, at about 8:30 pm if you want specifics, Mum rang Pa at the office in high excitement. For most of the afternoon, she had been bedevilled by an especially troublesome Sonny, who was acting extra-needy and getting teary at the slightest provocation. But then he got hold of Mum's finger and began his usual gumming operations. And Mum realised that something rather sharp was gnawing away. She yanked open the little fella's month, and there it was.

A tooth.

Well, the tip of a tooth (lower jaw if anyone is keeping track). No celestial music began to play, no dramatic visions of Sonny growing up and gobbling steaks flashed across Mum's mind. But she was still tickled enough to dial Pa's office line. Just one more milestone, with many more to go. But as far as teeth go, that's probably the end of the programe for some years, until we reach the 'first milk tooth to fall out' item, to be followed in quick succession by the 'first adult tooth to erupt' number.

We've mused before on the artificiality of some of child-rearing milestones (Click for that post). After all, Sonny looks the same today as he ever did. At the infant care centre, when Pa made a quick second visit this morning with a just-bought pack of cereal, the little fella sped a couple of quickly flashing-by metres to say hello, which might qualify as 'First crawled greeting' if anyone was keeping count. But that's the thing, isn't it: We can generate as many or as few of these 'significant occasions' as we like, but we they don't necessarily amount to much, except as another tired reminder that Time and Tide stop for no man and all jazz.

Then again, there's the occasional unexpected benefit: We were reminded yesterday evening that we've not been taking nearly as many photographs as perhaps we ought to. A case could be made for taking more snaps rather than too few, since you can always weed out the stuff you don't want, but you can't really hop into a time machine to get "a few extra from the first year".

So there you go, the same thought might apply with our store of milestones. If they prove to be useful pause-points to question ourselves as to whether we're missing out anything that we oughtn't, it seems harmless enough to indulge in a few extra.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sullen Sonny versus Cunning Camera

It seems just a day ago, though it's probably a few months now, that we were congratulating ourselves on Sonny's newfound ability to recognise a few key people in his life. We're referring to his parents, the staff at the infant care centre and - with a little help - his grandparents. But our dirty little secret is that the little fella obviously established, earlier than any of the foregoing, a relationship with our camera. An adversarial one, at that.

No, that's not quite right: It should be 'any camera'. Somehow, Sonny grasped before he could crawl that any number of cameras would be pointed at him with the avowed aim of capturing him in the midst of smiling. Well, we don't know whether he'd rather retain licensing control of his facial representations or just enjoys squaring off against an opponent. In any case, he simply refuses to be photographed looking cheery. It's not as though he's a typically sullen chap. On the contrary: These days, he's perpetually breaking into cackles and favouring us with flashes of good-naturedness.

But whip out a camera and suddenly the expression changes. Out comes a pout. Seriousness reorders his facial muscles and reconfigures his mien. In the two seconds it takes one to aim a point-and-click and press the button, the little fella goes from sunny to dour - or at least studious. The number of photos we have of him actually smiling favours unfavourably with the number of times we've been pleased with our stock portfolio's performance this year.

By now, it's hard to deny that amping up mere swiftness in pulling off the money shot has failed against his impressive facial reflexes. We haven't quite upped the ante yet and tried more sophisticated techniques like disguising our cameras as bowls of porridge and the like. But that's probably the next thing to do, along with employing diversionary tactics: 'Look there, Sonny...' (click). Of course, if we pursue this battle too zealously, and make it too clear that we're winning, we run the risk of ruining his mood and actually slashing the smile-quotient of our days.

That wouldn't really be worth it...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mythbuster: Mess, what mess?

Homes are notoriously transformed from tidy pads into Sargasso Seas of toys, pampers clean and used, how-to books and all the detritus of parenting once there has been an addition to the family. Thus runs the conventional wisdom, anyway, and Heaven knows there's truth to it. But before neatfreak parents-to-be run out wailing in despair, we should reveal that there are ways in which Sonny's arrival - almost exactly seven months ago now - has actually upped the hygiene factor in our little abode. Here are five:

(1) Clean surfaces: We always tried to fire up the vacuum cleaner every few weeks or so, and Mum would occasionally receive a message from above and decide to wipe down surfaces. In just this last week, however, she's hoovered the place three times. It's all thanks to Sonny's unstoppable urge to crawl everywhere, and Mum's determination that he shouldn't be dirtying his hands and every other part of his body as he pulls himself along on his explorations. So there's actually less dust about than before the little fella's advent.

(2) Clean clothes: Our clothes usually sat unlaundered for up to a week while we waited for the pile to get high enough to warrant switching on the washing machine. Sonny, however, is a force of nature when it comes to drooling on shirts, soiling shorts and otherwise single-handedly creating a load of wash-soon-please garb. We add our own items on the mix and suddenly our washer and dryer are getting three workouts a week.

(3) Clean home paraphernalia: It's a bit of a grab-bag, this, but our cushions and fans have all been transformed by the little fella's magic touch. By which we mean that we really couldn't have his eager, questing hands get all grubby as they grip our tower fans, chair legs or curtains (well, the curtains are the next project). So Mum's been busy with a wet cloth. Meanwhile, the little fella's penchant for contributing a portion of his just-imbibed milk to the immediate surroundings means the cushion covers are being regularly changed.

(4) Clean study: We used to have a cosy study where Pa would retire to a comfortable chair, laptop and worktable. There would be books strewn about and dust gathered accordingly. Then Sonny arrived, the study became the baby room and suddenly the computer has a shrunken space in the hall, atop a side table. The original worktable has become the depository for packs of wipes, baby supplies and creams. Once a day, it hosts Sonny's little tub for a bath. A spare bed has found its place in the room too, for changing the little fella. The net result is that the room once known as the study is now kept cleaner than before on account of its more sensitive infant-related role.

(5) Clean guest room: Further to (4), the guest room is now less cluttered since one bed has been redeployed for baby duties. The space freed up means the room is more easily maintained too.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sing along to gibberish

They say music hath the power to soothe even the snarling beast, but it can also rouse the gentle one - though describing Sonny as "gentle" is probably a stretch.

Way back in May, with Sonny less than a month old, we had discovered that the little fella could be lulled into somnolence by crooning made-up ditties (click here for that post), even if it was possibly the attendant rocking action that was a crucial factor. Anyway, the practice fell by the wayside over time, replaced by Mum's attempts to introduce Sonny to the world of nursery rhymes, with less than stellar success.

Recently, however, we've found that the young 'un's musical bent has not eroded. Turns out the best way to get him loudly cheery is to balance him so he's almost standing up and begin singing a hearty marching tune. After a stanza or two, he will begin to yelp along enthusiastically. It's not a particularly pretty noise that he emits, and coyotes howling at the moon are more melodious, but it's uplifting to see him having a good time belting out a gibberish classic or the latest baby talk hit. Since the activity does grate, we've never deliberately extended it just to see how long he'd be content to continue torturing everyone's ears. There's been little sign of flagging energy, though: Indeed, he looks as though he can't wait to start bashing away at pots and pans to keep time.

We're aware, of course, that we could be blithely fanning what could become a nasty flame that burns away our quiet time forever. Still, musical leanings should be encouraged, we think. It certainly beats sucking one's thumb (but don't get Pa started on that) or trying to swallow anything that crosses your path. There's also the fact that both Mum and Pa spent several formative years learning the piano and so are fairly well-disposed towards the playing of musical instruments. And this, after all, is to stumble upon a terribly important aspect in a child's development. Babies come pre-packaged with a host of predilections: Adults can only help to selectively encourage them if they know something about the relevant subject matter. A child may be artistic, for instance, or physically gifted in some way. Yet a completely ignorant parent would simply ignore the signs or might even try to innocently snuff them out.

The foregoing implies, if you think about it, that parents have a standing duty to bone up on as many things as possible, so as to be able to recognise childish interests and guide them accordingly - even if it is to steer Junior to a teacher or coach. We could, of course, sit on one's haunches and trust to dedicated staff at school or kindergarten to talent-spot. But that seems just a tad irresponsible.

Call it a discordant note in the symphony of child-rearing.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Yes, today's post is sort of a sequel. To that marvellous record-breaking hit, 'Sleepcrawler alert'. Like most sequels, we have the same star and main character: Sonny, our almost-seven months old baby. But, again like most sequels, the plot - while filled with echoes from the first instalment - offers a new twist.

What was revealed in the original movie... er, post, is that Sonny was able to motor along on his own steam while asleep. That was then (we haven't noticed the phenomenon of late). But what's still going strong is Sonny's penchant for drinking without being awake. All Mum needs to do is place him strategically next to her, angle his body just so and suddenly he's latching on and sucking in milk in confident slurps. In fact, she would almost swear that he drinks more efficiently when still in dreamland than when he's totally alert.

Neither Mum nor Pa is aware of being able to get much done while asleep, once we discount snoring and dreaming. But there are a lot of things that we do best when not actually focused on the job at hand. This might even be true for something as unlikely as driving: Once you've spent enough time learning how to, being at the wheel becomes pretty much an automatic business. If you try and consciously control your gear shifts, rear-mirror checks and so forth, you might find the whole process actually becoming clumsier. The same goes for riding a bicycle, walking (do you keep track of which muscle groups are bunching and releasing?) and swimming. It all becomes a matter of conditioned reflexes after a while.

It goes a little further in the case of Sonny's milk-drinking, of course - we're really getting into the realm of instinct now. We can say this because, just minutes after Mum had given birth, Sonny-the-newborn was sucking away as though he had taken special classes while in the womb. And if he could start nursing with such gusto immediately after the trauma of being squeezed into the big mad world, suckling while asleep is almost too easy. Something a little more challenging, please, folks.

Thing is, since sequels typically beget further sequels, we're precisely wondering what skill the little fella will demonstrate next with his eyes wide shut. Will he actually turn out to be a sleepwalker, which entails such dangers as ambling into the path a car? Will he babble and spill his innermost fears while in slumber? Perhaps he'll lash out at us (it's happened a time or two already) while protected by the all-encompassing excuse of 'being asleep at the time'.

We're waiting with some trepidation for the next instalment.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Banana feeding frenzy

Sonny's new best pal has been identified, and it's the banana.

We've never seen him come so utterly alive, see his hands surge forward with such electrifying force, his mouth open so wide, as when we feed him a mashed banana. When he notices either Mum or Pa beginning to peel and crush the fruit, he gets agitated in a hurry. He makes little impatient sounds. His body seizes up and he sways left and right. You'd think he was a Michael Jackson fanatic at the Gloved One's farewell concert.

The thing is, our laundry bill is likely to creep upwards. The little fella is so desperate to chomp down on the gooey snack, he won't allow us to feed him little spoonfuls. Just today - though most of the banana did go down his gullet - a significant part ended up on Sonny's shirt and fingers, Pa's shorts and smeared around the young 'un's lips. And this was only his fifth or sixth banana (we've not been keeping careful count). If this is to be an appetite that is to grow with time, things could get pretty violent. Perhaps we should be investing in infant handcuffs.

Of course, it's just as possible that his banana obsession will fade like John McCain's so-called Palin bounce. After all, we're not using special gourmet bananas here: The ones on sale at our local fruit seller's are sweet enough but not heavenly, as far as we can tell. And, if you think about it, childhood is littered with brief crazes for any number of things, from specific cartoons (Popeye the Sailor Man, in Pa's sepia-toned recollection) to a must-wear outfit to food and even friends. Naturally, as one gets older, the nature of these short-lived fixations can become a little more complex, entering the realm of political philosophy (every other college student has his Marxist phase) and preferred self-help tome.

Some things stick of course. That's why some of us marry, lock ourselves down to a career and so on. As far as Sonny goes, however, we're just wondering what foodstuff is up next.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bruises must not remain mysterious

The media feeds us an endless diet of reports about children who have been abused by parents or other care-givers. In many cases, the youngsters being too young to tell on their tormentors, the truth only emerging after some sharp-eyed adult spotted some telling bruise and began to poke and pry.

It was with a jolt of foreboding, therefore, that Mum yesterday discerned what seemed to be faint bruising on Sonny's shoulders. A careless glance might have put it down to a birthmark, as Sonny has more than his share of these, but something made Mum look more carefully. Our almost seven-month-old wasn't behaving abnormally, yet there definitely appeared to be faint outlines around his shoulder blades.

For now, the most plausible guess is that someone has gripped the little fella so firmly that he was left black and blue. After Mum alerted Pa and we spent a while searching our memories, we could not recall any incident that would supply the explanation. That left us with the distinctly unpleasant possibility that someone at Sonny's infant care centre is being a little too free with her hands. Mum's suspicions immediately fell on one staff member in particular, whom she has always found sullen and ill-disposed towards Sonny.

If we roam the more remote reaches of possibility, other theories could be constructed. Perhaps there is a medical cause, and the bruising is a symptom of some malady requiring investigation. Or, when Sonny fell from the bed the other day, he might have somehow bruised his shoulders (though it's hard to see how he might have, given that the impact was primarily on his head).
Finally, perhaps it really is just a birthmark.

It will not do for us to let the matter soak in the realm of speculation. But we are uncertain as to how we should proceed. Subtle inquiries must probably be made at the infant care centre: Staff there have several times commented on Sonny's inveterate crawling, so it is possible that someone's self-control snapped (there being several persons there, all of whom would automatically become suspects). Perhaps, though, the first port of call should be a doctor, who can verify with his expert eye that these marks are indeed bruises, and dismiss the medical angle from all consideration.

Still, if anyone has a suggestion, it would be very gratefully received.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Letter from prison

"Pssst, it's me again. Sonny. I need someone to - what's the word - bust me out. Hopefully, you believe that even babies have rights. I implore you. Should someone who's not quite seven months old be confined for many cruel hours (well, or several minutes, not excluding sleep time)?

"Well, maybe you have been reading this blog and know that I fell from a bed. But so what if I got thunked on the head? I am fine. Hopefully. But my parents have overreacted. They removed the bassinet attached to my cot, claiming I might climb out, so that I now sleep behind high walls. It doesn't matter that the walls are made of some sort of cloth fabric and are punctuated by many large holes. In fact, it is worse this way: I can see the inviting parquet flooring and my parents' comfy bed. But I can't get to it. I call this deliberately torturing me.

"In one of my parents' blog posts (they are actually proud of this, the beasts!), they told you about the 'play pen' that they bought recently. If you do not believe they would be so wicked, just click here. They lock me up there from time to time as they go about their chores. What chores? What about me (not that I "am a chore", of course)? Inside this "play pen", which is really a "detention centre", I can hardly start to turn my head before I bump into the plastic walls, which are done up in a hideous yellow-blue colour combination. Can I not have at least something subtle, in light pastels? Maybe a mural? And a ghastly sticker of a bear does not count!

"As you probably know, my parents have been recycling this really sorry excuse for confining me: I have learned to crawl in recent weeks. And I crawl good, I have to admit. Not that it was easy. But I picked up a few tips when we were watching the Olympics on television from this swimmer called Michael Phelps. I use his stroke pattern to move faster. No wonder the people at the infant care centre report that I am getting about ever so quickly. What do you expect, since I am the Michael Phelps of the nursery?

"Still, this is no excuse to jail me. I should be allowed to roam free and explore, the way Nature intended young creatures to. At home, I see so many interesting things that I want to pick up and investigate. With my mouth, mostly, since my gums keep itching for some reason (I keep hearing this word, "teething", whatever this means). Anyway, there is my father's fascinating slippers. Some exciting Ikea stools. The pedals attached to the monstrosity my mother calls the "piano". There's so much more. The world is full of exciting things when you are my age. Trust me.

"But I can't do much until I can escape this joint. So someone free me. I'm just a little baby and I need your help. If you insist on payment, I am sure we can work something out."

Yours sincerely,

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Counting casualties, forging ahead

Since Sonny's tumble (see 'A frightening fall'), we've been looking back on our six and a half months of caring for the little fella and trying to compile a casualty list. The idea was to show how parenting has its cost - yet we nearly missed out on the most glaring injury of all.

The fact is that, in this span of time, we'd gotten off lightly, though Sonny managed to scratch himself near his eye ('First blood') and Pa injured his leg in a drain ('The blunderings of a frazzled dad'). As it turns out, the only lasting damage was done to poor Mac, our trusty stroller: We had to hand him over to airline staff before entering the aeroplane cabin with Sonny, and by the time we retrieved him after the flight, a good chunk had been gouged out of the material in the handle. His wheels are also now pockmarked and scarred, the legacy of our time in Pa's home town: We had trundled Mac about - Sonny strapped securely in - along rutted roads. A predisposition to veer to the left ('Stroller: Danger on the left') has become more marked, though for all that he remains a dependable carrier.

What we might take away from our bout of self-examination is a reminder that we can never be sure what sort of damage we are doing as we barge our way around the world. We might try to ensure that persons A through X are not affected by our actions, never realising that there is a Y or Z that suffers blowback. To take a broader example, in these environmentally-conscious times, we are constantly aware that our every deed has ecological consequences, from hiking the carbon count to releasing greenhouse gases.

Of course, if we dwell overmuch on potential harm, we might end up whimpering in our beds and never get any good done. To stick with child-rearing: Our child could be absorbing our every action, comment, attitude or raised eyebrow, perhaps to his detriment, but if we try and control every factor in a bid to be a perfect parent, we'd fall apart. Every course of action would be so full of potential pitfalls that we would never be able to pick an option.

This should not drive us to take refuge in being blase and simply 'doing whatever comes naturally'. Rather, in making decisions and then following through, we should consciously take into account potential fallout or collateral damage (we should always maintain civility in discourse, say, and try to keep Sonny from picking up unsavoury habits). But we can avoid paralysing excess by remembering that we have a safety valve: It is important to keep track of how the young 'un develops. Kinks that emerge, whether through some fault of our own or not, can be spotted - and can probably be put right with early intervention.

As for poor Mac - we'll probably spring for a nice handle upgrade at some point.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A frightening fall

Sonny presented us with our first heart-stopping moment yesterday. Mum had been getting ready to bathe him, so she left him on our spare bed-cum-changing station while she popped into the bathroom to fetch a pail of warm water. She had our plastic protective barrier up, which runs about two-thirds the length of the bed, and took the precaution of facing the little fella away from the edge of the bed.

Once she got the water running, Mum stuck her neck round to see how Sonny was doing. To her horror, he had spun, skedaddled past the barrier and was peeking down towards the floor. Before she could grab him, the little fella toppled headfirst down and slammed temple-forward to our parquet flooring. After a second of stunned silence, the tears began to flow.

The next hour or so was taken up with Mum trying to comfort the little fella (which proved quite easy to do), then worriedly ringing up a doctor friend for advice. The medico was reassuring: Babies' heads are very hard, she said. Just watch for any vomiting, drowsiness or loss of co-ordination - head for the hospital if these signs manifest themselves. Otherwise, your son should be all right.

Almost 18 hours later, all seems well. Sonny is as frenetically active as ever and is presently trying to climb up Mum (we may have a mountaineer in the making here). We can't even find the bruise corresponding to the knock to his head and he never did seem especially in need of a hug - though the doctor had warned that he might be extra-needy. In fact, it is pretty much business as usual, though we remain wary. Still, if we are lucky, the entire episode will prove a useful dry run for future emergencies, medical or otherwise. There's no getting away from surprises in the parenting business, or so well-placed sources insist, so we might as well get used to being dealt a few.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Baby care rooms in Singaporean shopping centres


[This ranking was updated by Mum in February. Please click to visit the new, expanded version]

Having lugged and strollered Sonny all around Singapore for over six months, Mum has investigated the baby care facilities at a good number of shopping centres. Here's how she ranks ten places that she's visited.

Mum's ranking system:
Three pacifiers: Clean, spacious, full facilities. Shopping centre is almost worth visiting just to luxuriate in the baby care room.
Two pacifiers: Adequate facilities. Maintenance could be improved or otherwise short of nursing perfection.
One pacifier:
Sorely lacking. Better than nothing in a crunch, but not good enough in these family-friendly times.

1) United Square, Novena: At the ground floor baby care room, there are multiple changing stations with two sinks for easy cleansing. There is a hot and cold water dispenser for mixing milk formula (or a quick drink), three nursing rooms - each of a good size with comfortable chairs - as well as a bench for fathers to relax on. The place is clean, spacious and brightly-lit, but can get quite busy on weekends when parents throng the shopping centre with kids in tow. Elsewhere in the shopping centre there are standalone changing areas. Three pacifiers

2) Causeway Point, Woodlands: Two good-sized nursing rooms with comfortable chairs, three changing stations, a sink and two chairs in an anteroom for fathers to chill on. However, heavy usage on weekends means you may have to queue up with wailing baby. Three pacifiers

3) Ang Mo Kio Hub, Ang Mo Kio: On the floor that boasts many shops selling baby-related products, there is a baby care room with three spacious nursing rooms equipped with comfortable chairs. Multiple changing stations. No sink, though. Three pacifiers

4) Forum Galleria, Orchard Road: Baby care room on the ground floor. Two good-sized nursing rooms. Three changing stations that looked a bit grubby, possibly due to heavy usage. Two pacifiers

5) Paragon, Orchard Road: Two baby care rooms on different floors. On the fifth storey, the baby care room has one nursing room (a bit tight for space), changing stations and a hot and cold water dispenser. No waiting chairs for dads. Gets really crowded on weekends. Two pacifiers

6) Takashimaya, Orchard Road: Baby care area near Children's Section. Large changing area with plenty of chairs for fathers, but only one nursing room that is meant to be shared by three or four mothers at the same time. Two pacifiers

7) Centrepoint, Orchard Road: Feeding room at Mothercare outlet. One nursing cubicle with a changing station and chair inside. Convenient and clean, thought a little cramped. [A reader wrote in anonymously to inform us that there is also a baby care room on - for some reason - the sixth storey]. Two pacifiers

8) IKEA, Tampines: Two baby care rooms, on cafeteria level and check-out level. The one near the cafeteria level is very small but comes with a chair for nursing, changing station and sink. The other one slightly larger, but is more a toilet. Not enough for such a huge family-oriented shopping complex. One pacifier

9) Junction 8, Bishan: At least one nursing room next to the toilet on one floor. Very cramped, with a bench to sit on and a changing station. One pacifier

10) Northpoint, Yishun: On Basement One near the toilets in the older building. Brand-new nursing room with changing station, but already cramped and shabby-looking. New family rooms on nearly every floor to be ready soon near the toilets in the new Northpoint annex. Mostly, with hot-water dispenser and two cubicles, supposedly for nursing - once the chairs arrive. Hopefully, better than the one presently available. Half a pacifier

Additional notes:

a) Botanic Gardens: Nursing room near the cafe is a cramped broom closet-sized area, perpetually wet but with many cute baby pictures.

b) Changi Airport: One nursing room at Terminal Two, Departure Lounge. Spacious changing station and waiting area for father. Baby care room at Budget Terminal is only available to passengers who have gone through Immigration: Small basic room with pull-down changing station and sink. (Terminal One and Terminal Three should also have facilities).

c) Singapore Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA): We were surprised to find baby care facilities at all. Spacious room with changing station and nursing room. Hot and cold water dispenser and big sink, but with staff and cleaning crew frequently walking in to use facilities.

d) Wheelock Place: Nursing room with two comfortable chairs, sink and fold-down changing station next to toilets on ground floor.

Other places with nursing rooms (which Mum has yet to use):
- Isetan at Shaw Centre: Nursing room behind cashier at baby section.
- John Little (opposite Somerset MRT station): nice-looking and little-used changing and nursing stations)
- Woodlands library (a spacious room with comfortable-looking chairs for feeding: No other branch library seems to have any baby care facilities at all)

Friday, November 7, 2008

The name is Bond, Grim Bond

In the new James Bond flick, the super-spy really rations out the smiles. In fact, if this is the way the venerable action franchise is heading, we won't be allowing Sonny a viewing for a while yet.

With Sonny at the infant care centre, Mum and Pa caught Quantum of Solace today after magically squeezing out a few hours of quality time together. There's been a lot of ink split on how it departs from previous 007 instalments: The famous Goldsmith theme music isn't played in full during the entire 105-minute running time, we don't hear either the 'My name is Bond, James Bond' or the 'Shaken, not stirred' catchphrases and there's no appearance by 'Q', the technical wizard of the Secret Service.

There's plenty of action, explosions, gunplay and deaths, though none of it is particularly inventive and the editing is so frenetic you can hardly make out what is going on. But what we also miss out on is Bond being suave or even just breaking into a smile. There was a time when Bond was at least 50 per cent about turning on the charm on the ladies (and staying debonair even in the face of death), and only 50 per cent about the actual derring-do. In these grimmer times - and it's a broader trend in filmdom to be more 'gritty' - Daniel Craig's 007 plods dutifully through the mayhem, so that it can seem he's depending on the carefully-nurtured Bond brand to convince us that he can be slick and a true lady's man when the occasion warrants it.

Of course, the occasion always used to warrant it in earlier incarnations of Bond, from the original Sean Connery version through Roger Moore's to Pierce Brosnan's (with the less said about the Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby detours the better). To be fair, the plot this time round supplies a reason for our secret agent's dourness: He's still mourning the death of Vesper Lynn, the love interest from the previous movie, and thirsting for revenge. In fact, hardly anyone introduced in this movie survives to the credits, a rate of death that - half way through - gets Bond into serious trouble as his boss M (Judi Dench, who does make it, though not unscathed) begins to think he's gone bloodthirstily rogue.

Anyway, as we started off by saying, there was always a certain innocence about Bond that made the series, despite the body count and violence, relatively safe viewing for children. A lot of that came down to the way 007 himself could always be counted to belt out his standard cliches, manage a smile and unload one-liners with aplomb. The new Bond strips away this protective layer of savoir faire, making the world of the international superspy a much grimmer world.

Which may be much closer to the truth - but it's a lot-less kid-friendly.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

It was cute before, but...

Sonny's face, at least, remains thoroughly adorable to us. It's changed significantly from its almost wrinkled sour-plum appearance when he first intruded upon the world six and a half months ago, and has filled out into a rather plump mien with a far broader range of expressions. His smile, conferred freely to all comers, we still enjoy. But there are other aspects of our little fella have not fared so well.

To start with, it used to be adorable how our little infant's hand would automatically grip our
fingers. These days, however, it seizes upon anything that comes within reach, then yanks viciously. More than once, we've seen Sonny scoot along to one of our little four-legged stools, not infrequently laden with drinks, then grab-and-pull. Disaster has been narrowly averted so far, but we're wondering if there's some injection we can give that will relax the little fella's grip, which is so strong that we have to pluck each finger individually away from the object to effect a release.

Then there's his mysterious banshee wail. We're not talking about his bawling or teary howling, which long ago proved a sore trial, not to mention a threat to the glass in our little home. But Sonny also has a gleeful cry that he emits when he finds something interesting - and used almost to serenade us as he proceeded next to joyful gumming. Now, however, the volume and shrillness has escalated to uncomfortable levels, so that his pleasure is our distress. Also, it has taken on a peculiar tonelessness that - could we not confirm by other signs that he wasn't actually unhappy - we might think someone was jabbing him with a needle. It's gotten to the stage that we can't wait for him to start mangling his first words - on the theory that he's not likely to shout them out.

Lastly, it was a joyous moment when it became clear a while back that Sonny was finally responding to his parents' voices, clearly recognising our features and seeking them out among the welter of impressions in a strange place. His grandparents are still hoping (slyly, but we can tell) to imprint their faces with him that way. The problem is that Sonny can't seem to get along at all well without having a familiar face around any more. He can't be left to his own devices for more than a few minutes before the windows start to vibrate with his protestations. There is, of course, a caveat: If there are lots of items lying around that he really shouldn't be getting his hands on (like stools laden with drinks), he'll be happy rooting about and yanking to his heart's content.

None of this is enough for one to conclude that 'familiarity breeds contempt', since on balance we'd still rather our baby had a good solid grip, coos with happiness regularly and enjoys our presence than otherwise. Still, it's a good thing that a child changes with time, so that there are always new aspects and characteristics that are fresh and marvel-worthy. By way of an unlikely comparison, this is probably why people are always trying to make improvements to their homes and switching the artwork around or rearranging the furniture: What looked just right initially becomes over-familiar, and then dreary and positively hateful over time, until a new do-over restores the newness that arrests the eye and calls forth pleasure.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Crazed Crawler II: Caged beast

The mission was simple, as made clear in 'Crazed Crawler I: Reign of Terror': Our rampaging baby, suddenly gifted with the ability to crawl everywhere with impossible speed and assurance, had to be stopped. So, yesterday, a desperate Mum and Pa combined this critical quest with their previous hope of purchasing a so-called 'Big Time Toy', something that the little fella could really get his teeth into (well, once his teeth emerged from seclusion) and engage with.

The solution then became obvious: A lightweight play pen that could corral Sonny's roaming instincts, but which would feature child-friendly features that he could have fun with. Within a day, we had made a lightning raid on the local Kiddy Palace and lugged home our new purchase, which Pa wasted no time assembling.

In the second photo above, you can see Sonny entranced by some of our new purchase's tactile play features (whirling, creaking, spinning, plastic "telephone", et cetera). What you don't see, unfortunately, is Sonny becoming bored within 30 minutes and howling the house down. He even began ramming his shoulder against the walls of the pen, which fortunately held - thereby saving us a furious trip to the Kiddy Palace demanding a refund.

It turned out that Sonny's hissy fit was partly attributable to hunger pangs. We've since established that, when on a full stomach, he's willing to spend a little while spinning and twisting before deciding this is all too silly for words and so begin yelling for attention. Since we can now safely keep him and his bawling at a distance, the play pen is inevitably on its way to becoming a sort of discipline shack. Soft-hearted Mum, though, has crawled in to spend some time there with the little fella, just so he'll have a warm and fuzzy feeling about the place too.

The tears are still flowing. The whole affair has even gotten us into thinking about how we adults are also caged, by our jobs, monetary obligations, habits and convention - yet are so used to it that it never occurs to us to stage a noisy protest (similar sentiments are expressed in 'Breaking the milk barrier'). At least babies are devoid of such conditioning: Theirs is as honest a response as can be imagined, stripped of even language and issuing as mere wordless cries. In the face of this, there's something tragic about deliberately crushing a child's curiosity, even temporarily: Something heartless and cold.

But, heck, it can be jolly convenient.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Crazed Crawler I: Reign of terror

We're terribly sorry. We really are.

Being journalists at heart, we've tried to keep this blog current, so readers can stay abreast of developments with Sonny. But we've just failed miserably. Not three days ago (click here), we reported on how the little fella's preferred method of moving around was a rather shambolic half-roll, half-crawl combo that was effective but less than pretty. The problem is, our fingers were still throbbing from the furious typing that produced that post when everything suddenly changed.

All at once, Sonny finally mastered the full art of infant crawling. There was no slow progression ala a stereotypical martial-arts movie, in which he would have slowly developed from novice, to apprentice crawler, to half-way competent, to adept, and so forth. Instead, it was a case of him being hardly able to string together a couple of steps one day, then - and we do not exaggerate the suddenness of this - the next, the right blend of foot, leg, chest and arm strength being mastered to a 'd'. There he was scuttling along as though he'd been doing it all his life, with a smooth technique and rapid clip that left us speechless.

It didn't take long before his new mastery was yoked to a burning curiosity that had him barging into chairs in our hall, slurping at the dirty pedals of our piano and advancing with zero discretion towards razor-sharp table edges. Each night, Mum was run ragged picking the little monster up and redepositing him on the mattress, only to have him zip off again with a Red Indian war yell.

Today, Sonny was brought over to Mum's parents' pad for the first time - and promptly wore out, if not his welcome, then certainly his grandparents. The initial response from the two senior citizens was a very warm one: They couldn't wait for Sonny to demonstrate his new crawling competence, and dangled various objects to try and entice him into action. Mum and Pa, seeing an opening, absented themselves for a mere 45 minutes to make a quick visit to the nearby library. By the time we returned, Sonny's grandsires were all but gasping with exhaustion, tuckered out from trying to keep the young 'un from bouncing off the walls as he roamed at will.

You might, perceptively, opine that it all has to end in tears. And you'd be right. This crazed crawling monster simply had to be brought under control before a major accident happened. In tomorrow's post, we'll reveal how we tamed the beast... and at what piteous cost.