Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hiding from the Eye of Doom

In any number of science fiction or action films, there will be a fraught sequence in which the hero is confronted by the preternaturally alert, ever-swivelling gaze of an enemy sentry or surveillance camera. He must duck, hide and think up distractions, since alarm klaxons and certain doom will follow if the "enemy eye" catches the merest glimpse of him.

It sometimes seems to us that we are living out this drama on a daily basis. Sonny may have wriggled and crawled his way into his ninth month of babydom, but he's certainly not showing any signs of becoming more able to function on his own. On the contrary: He now seems to insist on the conspicuous attention of at least one adult at all times. If left to sift through his generous sprinkling of toys, he'll almost certainly ignore them all in favour of loud wailing. The chance of this happening increases to 100 per cent should he spot either his mother or his father in the immediate vicinity, doing anything other than paying court upon him.

What this situation has brought about is a chilling cat-and-mouse game. As we wheel him about on Mac the stroller, for instance, we make sure we keep out of Sonny's line of vision, even if he were to suddenly look about with his feral acuteness. If at home in our bedroom, with Sonny peeking about in his cot at the foot of our bed, we scrunch up our bodies so that he won't spot us when his gaze burns its way in our direction. When we are trying to gobble down some food, we try to position the little fella in his rocker so that a convenient settee blocks us from view.

The reader may feel there is something rather odd about parents trying to conceal themselves from their offspring (chances are said reader isn't a parent himself, but that's quite all right, quite all right, you'll get your... that is, you're entitled to your opinion). We should clarify that we are normally quite willing to expose ourselves to his attentions, and have been known to spend many minutes drawing his chuckles and keeping him more or less clean. But if you think about it, there's a broader case to be made for absenting ourselves on occasion.

For instance, we wouldn't want Sonny to become totally bored with us, as might happen if we were to be perpetually hovering at the edge of vision. At the same time, we want to ensure that he is able to interact cheerfully with as many adults and children as possible, which might be tricky if we were to monopolise his time. It may even be helpful to the cultivation of good child discipline to have him undergo short bouts of stress and deprivation, so that he is better disposed to respond to our orders and instructions over time.

Plus, perhaps he actually takes Spot-your-Parent to be a splendid game that is a highlight of his days. Might as well make a virtue out of necessity, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Why do we care how we look?

"Hullo, it's me again, Sonny.

"The other day, my grandmother trimmed my hair so I would look more "presentable". It was all bound up in a concept that is hard for me to understand: That how I appear is terribly important.

"If you ask me (and nobody ever does), if I were concerned about somebody's well-being, then it is that person's health, good humour, contentment and all that sort of thing that would engage my attention. I would inspect him carefully the way the nurse gives me the once-over at the polyclinic, but in this case I'd try to see if he's laughing freely, moving without discomfort and not expressing any deep worries or frustrations. Would I be worried that he didn't look as natty as a TV presenter or as well turned-out as a model? I don't think so.

"The thing is, adults would probably tell me about what they call "societal expectations". This seems to mean that because Person A, Person B and so on expect Person Z to behave in a certain way or dress in a certain manner (or cut his hair in a certain style), Person Z is more or less obligated to do so. If he does not, he is somehow deviant or 'not quite there'. There does not seem to be any need for further reasons to be given for why such attire, conduct or hairstyle is independently a good idea at all.

"I have to say (but nobody much cares what I say), such a state of affairs is pretty potty. I can tell that my parents have already begun their campaign to keep me looking the way "I should look" - all combed and outfitted and patted-down. Then, in a few years, they will probably expect me to maintain that sort of appearance on my own - simply because that is the way I would have been "brought up". If what adults call "science" proceeded in this circular manner, we'd surely never have gotten past inventing the wheel.

"Of course, you might point out to me that fashion and hairstyles do change with the seasons. But that's neither here nor there. Really, it makes the whole business even more frightening: First, a certain critical mass of people think that a certain look is "in", so loads of other people follow suit... then, the first lot of people change their minds - for no good reason, mind you - so the followers migrate their appearances accordingly.

"What's going on? Why should it matter that my appearance is "different", if my intentions and my conduct is above reproach? You would probably tell me that I "will understand when I grow up".

"The thought that I might come to accept this sort of mind control leaves me almost in tears!"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Learning to laugh

We've mentioned before that Sonny can be a cheery fellow, dispensing smiles liberally when the mood is upon him (and as long as nobody is trying to take a photograph; click here for more on his adversarial relationship with cameras).

Recently, however, he's progressed to the next level of humourdom: He's begun to giggle. Not only that, he's even learned to giggle in response to someone giggling. Just the other day, he and Pa had a few good minutes mutually sparking chuckles. Of course, it quickly became a pretty empty exercise: There wasn't really anything funny for us to be giggling at. Still, it was a pretty good simulation of a great leap on the part of the little fella: The ability to first apprehend a specific situation, then discern in it something specifically amusing about it.

Anyway, the mildly puzzling episode set us thinking about whether Sonny could actually have been practising to laugh. Now, we haven't boned up on any deep sociological studies regarding this, but the whole concept seems odd, somehow: One can practise to stand or walk (the little fella is hard at work on the former), even to talk. But if this is a case of a baby simply mimicking what his parents or other adults are doing, then his giggling sounds are of no more consequence than his shaking a rattle because of the odd sound it makes or licking a piano pedal on account of the cool sensation on the tongue.

Suppose, however, there's something about laughing that is hard-wired into the human psyche, so that - once we stumble upon some of the specific neurological and thought-muscle subroutines that trigger a chuckle - it makes us feel good. We want to laugh some more, and so we start off simply making the relevant sounds, but pretty quickly adapt to the thoughts and activities that best spark them.

We're not trying to overthink all this. After all, spontaneity is a key ingredient to a really good chuckle. But it's nice to know that Sonny could be acquiring another of the truly human traits that make us who we are... even if at the moment, he hasn't a clue about what he's actually doing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

High chair, high jinks

Mum and Pa clambered all over the floor, aligning bits of wood and laboriously inserting screws and dials.

No, we weren't building some sort of escape-from-the-child raft; they're stuck with Sonny, for all his infuriating quirks. Rather, they were setting up for another one of those 'conventional milestones' that pepper these ramblings (see, inter alia, 'Milestones, not millstones' and 'The great eruption'). In this case, it was Sonny's First Time in A High Chair. Said seat (a discounted number from a department store, with assembly instructions squeezed into one sheet of double-sided paper) took the little fella's parents half a day to put together.

So, naturally, when we popped Sonny in, he nearly slid right out, like - to sanitise a famous comment by World War II general George Patton - 'food through a goose'. He was a tad too small to safely occupy the space. But that wasn't going to stop the party. No sirree.

Mum hauled up a cloth mat provided by Sonny's aunt and slid it in to pad things up. The gap was reduced, and then it was once more into the breach for Sonny. This time, he stayed put - for all the good it did us. After a few minutes, he began to subtly hint at his disapproval (though the neighbours might have suspected extensive chicken-slaughtering activities). When Mum tried to feed Sonny with the little fella ensconced in his new seat - since it was the idea of anchoring these feeding sessions that had sparked our assembly of the chair - he stoutly refused to play along.

We're still trying. But perhaps we were just a little too quick off the mark, and that Sonny simply needs a few more weeks to reach an optimal height or size for high-chair dining. Parents are apt to hope that their children reach their "targets", whatever these might be, with all possible speed when, sometimes, they just aren't ready. Apply too much pressure and a backlash could develop, and we're talking here not of anything as innocuous as feeding patterns as of educational achievements and the like.

In any case, it's not as though we're ever going to run out of new targets emerging even as the original ones are satisfied. We need to remind ourselves to just relax, lean back - in any sort of chair - and enjoy the parental ride.

Monday, December 15, 2008

False alarm as first-word drama begins

The grand occasion dawned dramatically - and then clouded over double-quick over its actual significance. One minute, Sonny was playing happily with his parents and grandmother. Just another day at the office. Then, suddenly, he began babbling, 'Papa, papa'.

Was this Sonny's first word? As absolutely nobody will remember, this blog had kicked off with a post in which the question of what the little fella's initial recognisable utterance might be received some prominence (click here to read). Now there he was, more than a week short of clearing eight full months, making a sound that seemed to settle the matter. But Mum, none too pleased that Sonny hadn't burbled, 'Mama, mama' - and convinced that some cosmic injustice was being perpetrated (given that she has spent far more time tending to our sprightly shoot) - quickly yanked out the referee's handbook. Well, she sort of made it up as she went along, but never mind that.

"He doesn't know what he's saying," she announced, after Sonny started 'Papa'-ing enthusiastically while feasting on a soft toy. "Everything is 'Papa' to him, so it doesn't count". True enough, Sonny has since been observed 'Papa'-ing into thin air. He's also still firing off long strings of nonsense-sounds, in the midst of which the occasional 'Papa' might be discerned: This suggests that his tongue and jaw just naturally form the ejaculation with no attaching of sense to it.

Ultimately, of course, it isn't really important what the little fella's first word is, or when it is that he utters it, so long as he goes on to acquire a decent vocabulary and the means to deploy it (merely parroting strings of real words would be utterly worthless). One swallow does not a summer make, and one word is but a peeping-through, rather a striding through, of the door to comprehension and communication. But we humans place a significant premium on 'first's, whether it's the winner of an athletic contest (and forget the second-place finisher even if he's only half-a-nose behind) or official discoverer of an unknown species of bird. You might even say it's programmed into us by society.

Still, the probable false alarm has given Mum and Pa added incentive to attend more closely to the little fella's brook-like flow of sounds. Since it could be months and months before an irrefutable 'First Word' instance finally emerges, a serious case of parental weariness can be confidently be predicted.

Wonder who will be the first to howl in frustration?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Scandal of the 'Handsome One'

The other day, Mum was rocked to her fingertips to hear one of the staff at Sonny's infant care centre refer to one of the other babies there as 'Handsome One'.

It's not as though we've been telling ourselves that our little fella was especially comely, or even that we've heard many compliments directed at the putative attractiveness of his features. A few 'Cute's, a scatterings of 'Good-natured's and the odd 'Friendly' had come our way, but precious little else. Yet there had been one exception to the pattern.

For a while, certain members of the centre staff had referred to Sonny as 'Handsome One'. Again, we knew that a vast population of infants had not been scrutinised before the title was awarded in open competition - in fact, there were just four other babies when we enrolled Sonny a few months back. Yet the staff had us going for a while. For one thing, they didn't dole out flattering nicknames to every inmate, as far as we knew: There was no 'Model Baby' or 'Beautiful Belle' being lionised. It was nice, though rather irrational, to think that Sonny had at least received some recognition - whether or not we privately felt he was handsome.

But then came the day the 'Handsome One' tag was applied to someone else. By now, the number of babies at the centre had swelled (to almost a dozen) and apparently someone else had passed the secret standard being wielded. Or, we thought vindictively, a sneaky staff strategy had perhaps been finally exposed: Every child was a 'handsome boy' or 'pretty girl' when the parents visited with no other mum or dad about.

Mum's expression perhaps telegraphed a sense of our mild outrage that day. Anyway, she has since been told that Sonny was 'the Original Handsome Boy' (as though he were a venerable recipe at a fast food chain) and his handsomeness is being insisted upon when Pa shows up to deposit the little fella there in the mornings.

Of course, perhaps we are being paranoid. It's just possible that Sonny's handsomeness is waxing furiously, so that the folks at the infant care centre - being professionally attuned to these things - can't help remarking upon it (as with this other 'Handsome One').

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ambushed and bitten (Brutal Babe, Part Two)

We've recently expended so much energy curbing Sonny's more destructive instincts, it was a shock to find that he had become a victim of infant violence - and that he had not held his own.

Mum had known something wasn't quite right when she arrived the other evening at the infant care centre to find a little reception committee. At its head was the parent of a older playmate, profusely apologetic. Her son, it turned out, had bitten Sonny in the arm - and quite viciously too, with a full set of teeth. The encounter left Sonny an ugly welt near the elbow, though thankfully the skin hadn't been broken (in case you're wondering why we've uploaded no photos, it's because the little fella was fidgety for the next couple of days and all the snaps were blurred).

Anyway, the staff at the centre, themselves embarrassed over their failure to prevent or at least swiftly disrupt the attack, admitted that Sonny hadn't exactly fought back like a lion after his friend's teeth clamped onto his flesh. Though he has shown great willingness to rip up our newspapers and mail, he proved a flop when a real test came: Instead of biting right back (albeit with his one half-emerged tooth), Sonny had simply commenced loud wailing. When caregivers responded, they found the attacker's jaws still affixed to our son's arm while the victim sobbed ineffectually.

Let's be clear: We are not brawling folk and would walk miles out of our way to avoid unnecessary confrontations. Still, we'd like to think that, if provoked beyond reason, we would be the sort who would counterattack with gusto. Sadly, Sonny's first real chance to prove his genetic mettle showed him a coward at heart. It's a dilemma, really: If one rears a child who is willing to stand his ground when faced with bullies, we would be setting ourselves up for much post-scuffle tidying-up. We might imagine school principals calling us in to tell us of play yard battles Sonny was embroiled in. Much fuss and bother would be saved by encouraging the little fella to always slink from a fight and prudently exit when the fur flies.

Yet would we really be proud of such a character? It isn't fashionable to seem pro-conflict in these peaceable times, when it can seem that no war is a just one and discretion is always the better part of valour. But should there be some worthy principle at stake - even if it is standing up to a schoolyard tough trying to jump a queue - surely there is honour in making a stand?
Ultimately, the appropriate answer is surely that "it all depends on the circumstances, on the winnability of a clash, the balance of principles and the personalities involved". That's anything but a clear, easy guideline - and there'll be no time to play philosophy professor when one is suddenly presented with a scenario crackling with tension.

So how will we guide Sonny on the advisability of not backing down from a fight? We'll have to wait for more of the little fella's inherent character to emerge before deciding how to mould it. If he's a natural scrapper, we'd probably try to dial things back; if, as initial indications are, he's clash-averse, some stiffening might be in order.

Really, couldn't he at least have given that other boy a bop in the nose?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Fan abuser (Brutal Babe, Part One)

Ivy, the battery-powered fan that we carry around so Sonny can enjoy a breeze on demand, is a quiet mousey thing. When her blades whirl, there's little noise even as a cool zephyr springs up; when the batteries give out, there's no loud hum of protest - Ivy's energy gently leaves her.

But such sheer harmlessness couldn't save Ivy from Sonny's viciousness. The little fella, more rambunctious by the day, is yanking and pulling indiscriminately with ever greater vigour. A couple of weeks ago, he managed an especially good grip on one of Ivy's soft plastic fan blades. With one almighty application of infant force, it was ripped away. Mum and Pa fussed over the poor thing, trying to see if it might be reattached - but to no avail. Ivy was scarred for life.

Impressively, however, our little fan is soldiering on. Though now down to two blades, she can still get the air circulating and waft some of the oppressive heat away. We're now much more careful over where we attach Ivy, since if Sonny managed to claim another blade it'd be curtains for sure. The guilty party, naturally, shows no guilt whatever. So far, he has half-destroyed a book of poetry, scratched the marble floor by dragging a stool every which way and severed a (toy) telephone cord. On the plus side, he is polishing the foot pedals of the piano to a fine sheen through licking at it at every opportunity, though we'd much rather he discontinue that unasked-for service. But the scary thing is, of course, the little fella's just getting started.

Mum and Pa have tried to sternly call on him to desist from destructive actions. At a harsh "Sonny!", he'll typically cease whatever he is doing and turn to quizzically gaze upon us. This might seem like progress, but it is entirely possible that he thinks we are urging him on, since he will inevitably resume the verboten activity with extra relish. Nobody can tell us when he can be warned off effectively, though we suspect that the truth is being hidden from us and that the true answer is: "Not till he enters kindergarten", by which time anything that isn't nailed down and covered in protective concrete will have been smashed and scratched beyond recognition.

Though Ivy the fan might still be whirring along bravely...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mini-swimmer makes debut

Yesterday, we finally got around to slipping Sonny into a pair of special diaper trunks and carrying him down to the infant pool at our condo. We'd heard that babies were pool-safe once they hit the six-month mark (with unceasing supervision, of course), but we'd dallied for a month and half before literally taking the plunge.

It turned out to be anticlimactic. True, he didn't take fright in a dramatic manner, rejecting the water or making a big show of disappearing beneath the (mini-) waves with a piteous splutter. But neither that he show early promise of being a natural born swimmer. Mainly, propped up by one of his parents, Sonny just peered about rather lackadaisically, uttering not a peep as he waited for us to propel him from one end of the pool to the other - a matter of a few strides, given how small the pool is. It wasn't the warmest of days, and even Mum was muttering something about being a tad cold, but Sonny seemed unbothered. He just wasn't very engaged: An older boy, playing with a plastic ball under the close supervision of a maid, bounced the ball his way once. The little fella majestically ignored the overture of friendship, and we parents had to toss the ball back.

Overall, Pa figures that Sonny just took the pool to be a rather larger version of the tub in which he takes his baths, and in which his interaction is restricted to gnawing at whichever small toy is offered to him. Accustomed to the narrow boundaries of bath time, he showed no interest in taking advantage of the opportunities offered by a broadened scope of potential play. And that, surely, is a lesson that goes beyond babydom: We are trained to play or work in a certain manner, and - through intellectual laziness more than particular attachment to that activity - fail to strike out and expand the playbook (or workbook) when Chance opens the door.

We'll be encouraging Sonny to partake in water play again, and no doubt he'll come to enjoy his time in the pool - even as we inculcate in him the safety rules and swimming skills that will allow him to participate with little fear of disaster. Of course, in the grander scheme of things, we won't always have a parental figure on hand to act as guide and to reinforce the possibilities inherent in a fresh situation: It'll be up to us to stay alert and ready to blaze a new trail.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mangler of music

When we pass a busker in the street, we are typically likelier to drop a coin or two into his cap if he is producing lovely music. But there's this old fellow who occasionally appears at the train station nearest our place, who upends that rule: He's so bad, we wonder if there's a way to pay him to go away.

Just last night, for instance, he was doing terrible things to his harmonica (going by the jangling discordance issuing from that instrument) and abusing the very notion of rhythm. He was mutilating a well-known Taiwanese number, the lyrics to which refer to the pretty damsels of a certain hill - most of whom might have preferred being sold into slavery had this mangler of music tramped up to their lofty eyrie. As Pa scuttled past, the thin monster in darkly-tinted glasses didn't seem to be receiving a stream of pennies. Had he perhaps put out a cardboard sign to say he would head home once he received ten bucks, chances are Pa and sundry others would have dug into their pockets for change, as our little good deed for the day.

Unfortunately, our station is sometimes preyed upon by a second busker whose musicianship is equally bad and his shtick more bizarre. He plays his harmonica one-handed while the other juggles a tennis ball; he often tries to shuffle his slipper-shod feet to eke out a beat, but the reedy tunes are so appallingly hatched that the tapping's main merit is in slightly obscuring the shrillness.

All of this has led us to the certain grim promise to ourselves. Pa and Mum may both hope to introduce Sonny to the piano and perhaps other musical instruments, by and by. But if the little fella's talent turns out to be severely limited, we are not going to insist he continue his studies - and indeed will gently guide him into some other stream of learning (perhaps tennis lessons, eh?). Sure, you might argue that the musician plays for his own enjoyment in the first instance, but there's something too cruel about visiting hideous sounds on the defenceless world that we couldn't live with the guilt.

Of course, it's always possible that we will somehow become embarrassingly rich and become able to sound-proof one of our rooms. More plausibly, it could be that anyone who is willing to spend some time mastering the rudiments of music will be able to strike up a tune. Not everyone can be Chopin, in other words, but anyone can tickle the ivories or puff at the mouth organ without ruining the neighbours' day. We will carry this optimistic attitude about with us until it is proven wrong in Sonny's case. But with those two manglers of music harrying commuters at our train stop, you can't blame us for nursing a seed of doubt.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Smelly baby woes

Sonny is pretty amenable to baths these days, which is a good thing since he gets three - yep, count 'em - a day: In the morning and afternoon at the infant care centre, then again at night.

Of late, however, even this prodigious expenditure of bath water and baby soap has been unable to tamp down a rather fragrant problem: Sonny smells, basically, and usually within an hour or so of his immersion in the tub. There's no great mystery attached to this, mind. It's not as though he falls asleep freshly-scented and awakes giving off a completely new olfactory vibe.

One major cause is that the little fella is too energetic for his own good. He's forever trying to beat his record in the 5m crawl-dash, or so it can seem from the way he scuttles along towards the nearest slippers or shiny new thing. If we try and grasp him, he will try to squirm free, and can be counted on to attempt to climb any wall of cushions erected to keep him at bay. The perspiration is pretty soon pouring off him, and the inevitable decline in aromatic well-being follows closely behind.

That said, nothing precipitates this process more rapidly than locking Sonny up in our little play pen (so that, not to introduce irrelevant concepts here, Mum can catch her breath). Sonny, as it turns out, was probably a POW in a former life - so fierce is his dislike of being incarcerated. We blogged about this in'Crazed Crawler II: Caged Beast' - unaware then of the pong problem imprisonment would exacerbate. There's no 'scaling up' to the little fella's wailing: Almost immediately, rivulets of tears and sweat come gushing - his nose running furiously too - as he yells defiance. Three minutes of this and he starts to smell as though he hasn't showered for two days.

We've done what we can to ameliorate things. Soft-hearted Mum tries to limit Sonny's time in the pen, though when she's pottering about in the evenings with only Sonny for company, he must occasionally be deposited there so she can tend to her other chores. We can't really ramp up his bath regimen, since he might dissolve if immersed too many times in one day. We are reminded of the story of how enterprising mice tried to attach a bell to a cat, so they could tell by the jangling where Kitty was. With Sonny, if things continue as they are, we'll soon be able to tell by the smell-trail he leaves.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It's hard to keep our blog 'fresh and exciting'

A couple of months ago, these blog posts would be dashed off with little difficulty. After all, we were building up a store of Sonny-related recollections into which we might dip in time to come, and there was always some startling new baby-linked insight or triviality to record.

Recently, however, a certain dozy conversation has been recurring between Mum and Pa. It goes like this:

Pa: Do you have any ideas for a post?
Mum: Hmm, how about [comes up with a suggestion]?
Pa: Nope, we wrote about that one month, four days and three hours ago.
Mum: Really? Okay... [thinks and produces another suggestion].
Pa: Well, that was sort of already addressed in Post No. LXVII, Paragraph 124.
Mum: Are you sure? Well, all right, how about [another assay]? I'm sure we've not touched on this!
Pa: The thing, we've already had 6.2 posts in which we dealt with similar issues. We mustn't repeat ourselves...
Mum: [goes grimly quiet and bustles around with chores. 10 minutes go by]
Pa: So, do you have any ideas for a post?

To be fair, there are still days when an incident so fresh and unexpected happens that it lodges in both our minds as an obvious topic; there are still days when the words flow like a bubbly stream. But there have been more episodes recently of staring into space, fingers poised over the keyboard as we wonder if, somehow, being with Sonny has become a little less remarkable. There have been hundreds upon hundreds of crying jags, diaper dramas and test of wills that don't merit a mention in these records (as one might deem this blog to be). What we are encountering is thematic repetition, and it's rather frightening for a writer who wants to keep things original. We've mined that vein, we tell ourselves, chiselling away through our most recent harvest of experiences, surely there's another seam that has never appeared in these chronicles.

Except there seem to be fewer of them. We don't realistically expect the lode of parenting to be ever exhausted. But could it be, however, that the utter freshness of completely new types of experience can be more rapidly encompassed and catalogued, so that future instalments become refinements and enlargements rather than all-new explorations?

We're figuring there's another, rather more plausible, possibility (leaving aside the likelihood that we've simply become more dulled by the passing months and are missing out on authorial possibilities). It might simply be that a child goes through not one long slope's worth growing-up, but successive stages of development, with each stage providing new sets of surprises for a dogged chronicler to delve through. As one stage is tailing off and a new one is just getting going, it would be entirely unsurprising that the already-mentioned thematic repetition is felt. Indeed, it would only be a symptom that we are merely concluding the earliest stages of the great adventure, so to speak, with an unending progression of stages to come.

Meanwhile, however, anyone have an idea for a post?