Monday, November 23, 2009

Why we've 'gone quiet'

Nuclear submarines disappear beneath the waves for months at a time to prowl undersea and play war games.

We're obviously not a nuclear submarine, but we have gone quiet for a while, so we thought we'd put up a quick post to say that we are - as alluded to already in some responses to comments - on sabbatical. The blog hasn't died, it's having a rest, but we have every intention of reactivating it once the circumstances are right.

Hopefully, the appropriate circumstances will come by soon and we can surface dramatically - splaash! - with turbines churning.

Meanwhile, thank you for your messages, notes, inquiries and comments. Sonny is very well and babbling away every day, fair scuttling around and even trying to climb up playground ladders (giving Mum little heart attacks each time). His favourite word at this time is 'Mummy carry', which is a bit of toddler blackmail which really means 'Mummy, pick me up now or I'll commence loud protestations of the teary variety'.

All the best and bear with us just a little longer, everyone!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Alphabet Kid emerges

It has been said that young children have a prodigious memory, learning at a rate that will never again be equalled in their lives. Everything from language, social rules and power structures to basic math and motor skills gets assimilated at warp speed.

Which may all be true, though as far as we can tell Sonny - who's punched through to almost 15 months with us - is devoting much of his memory power to the alphabet. To be exact, the alphabet chart that Mum drew up eons ago and then hung on the wall. The little fella's devotion to the letters is remarkable: At least once a day, he will demand to be lifted up to it and to chant through from A to K (beyond which point things still get hazy) as he chirrups his mangled responses to "[Fill in letter] is for...?]" Thus, he knows that 'A' is for 'air-pull' (apple), 'B' is for 'bole' (ball) and is for 'cap' (cap). Admittedly, it isn't really clear if he's just guessing ('D', which is supposed to elicit the response of 'Desk', perpetually draws forth 'Dett') and the pronunciation is often comical: 'I' is, apparently, for 'I-kim' (ice cream).

The strongest proof of Sonny's alphabet-mania is the way it can be exploited to disrupt one of his sobbing fits. If he's noisily protesting the snatching-away of some toy, recitation of the alphabet-object pairings will result in a remarkable suspension of bawling - at least long enough for him to wheeze out 'air-pull', before teary service is resumed. At times, the trick whisks away the crying jag altogether - and Sonny will toddle over to the chart and begin to agitate for a run-through.

It is obviously far too early for us to conclude that the little fella will be particularly attached to words and their meanings (even though both his parents are writers of a sort). It could be he simply enjoys the singsong nature of the alphabet 'game', as he may conceive of it: All the serious pedagogical activity that we attempt to interest young children in is probably seen in their eyes simply as 'fun'. Or, in some cases, 'not fun' - at which point the child will brutally end his engagement and scamper off in search of something else to do.

In the present case, we're hoping Sonny will retain his interest until he's gone from 'L' to 'Z'. Maybe after that, we could work a bit on his pronunciation...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Who's car-crazy, buddy?

Toddlers are supposed to get overwhelmingly curious fairly early on, but our experience with our particular edition is that he gets fixated about certain categories of objects.

Like cars. And cars. Oh, and cars. The little fella will ignore the garishly-dressed gorilla screaming his name in his ear (we could of course here be merely drawing a less-than-flattering verbal portrait of his father), yet be instantly transfixed by a whispered mention of 'car' at the other end of the room. He'll scamper in that direction, shoving aside anything or anyone that may be in the way, and gibber 'Car, car' as he approaches the approximate location.

In fact, these days, pretty much the only surefire way of distracting him, or grabbing his attention, is to claim that a vehicle is passing our windows or entering the compound. His grandmother is especially skilled at enthusiastically declaring "Hey, look at the big car" with total conviction. You can sometimes play the same trick by invoking "Airplane!", except Sonny is rather scared of aircraft and will sometimes be seized with terror when one is too boisterously reported.

Anyway, one is led to wonder why children - and, or so we are conventionally told, boys especially - develop an early fascination with cars. Mum and Pa can't remember any fixations from their toddlerhoods, but then again they can't remember much of that period of their lives. Maybe it's that motorised rumble, or the way cars zip along enticingly with the sun glinting off the hubcaps and illuminating all those curves. Someone who can only crawl along at 3 miles an hour, or at best totter precariously forward at double that speed (allowing for the odd tumble and slip) is perhaps especially mesmerised by how cars can glide smoothly on their way, accelerating as needed with utter ease.

This is something that many adult would understand, of course. Many of us are all but defined by the extent to which we are in thrall of things, structures or people that are more powerful, stronger or more impressive than we are - so that we are consumed by envy or hunger, and are always seeking an extra glimpse, a closer peek and a fuller view. Looked at from this perspective, a child's car-craziness takes on a more sinister aspect. It begins to sound like a symptom of a character flaw, a covetousness that seeks power or gain to the exclusion of virtue.

We ought to hope, therefore, that Sonny takes a greater interest in the humble ox-cart, for instance, or becomes entranced by the mere mention of a bicycle. Perhaps that would signal a humbler worldview, less grandiose dreams and a healthier mental state.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Cot-free and ready to roam

Since Sonny's arrival just over 14 months ago, our little fella has spent his nights in a collapsible cot in our bedroom - initially in a shallow bassinet, then later making full use of the available space. But as longtime readers of this blog will know, he absolutely detests every waking moment spent in the cot (click here for some of our efforts to 'cure' him). He would howl down the house, toss out every toy and otherwise make it perfectly clear we were violating whatever childcare version there may be of the Geneva Conventions against cruel and inhuman punishment by keeping him thus confined.

Over the weekend, therefore, we folded up the cot and stowed it away. A futon took its place - and Sonny has now graduated to sleeping on the floor, free upon awakening to immediately embark on sundry adventures. In doing so, of course, we are taking a calculated risk. Despite every precaution, he might conceivable steal out of the room while we are slumbering and start parachute training using our settee, for instance. Or he might begin to carefully to chomp on the newspapers, or make a meal of sundry trash bags.

Still - and there's a broader moral here - you can't keep a child caged away from all danger forever. Soon enough, he'll have to take such vast risks as submerge briefly in water (if he is to learn to swim) and a little further on - gasp - cross the road on his own steam. There's no getting away from it, though we may throw up as many protective barriers as possible, from swim lessons to road-crossing coaching. With a bit of luck, nightmare scenarios will not come to pass: In the present case, when we are in the room the door will be securely shut and Sonny can't really reach the doorknob yet. Of course, there'll come a day the door is left ajar, and the little fella might revive at precisely the wrong moment and slip out to do a bit of wrecking.

Still, we have to weigh against this prospect the daily protestations by Sonny upon waking up in his cot, the increasing difficulty of conveying him there after he falls asleep elsewhere without his coming to and the like. And much the same calculus will have to be applied as he is progressively exposed to more and more 'dangers'. On the grandest scale of things, he'll have to be an independent operator in the big ole world sooner or later - and sometimes, it's the parents who need to do the most adjusting to come to terms with that terrifying prospect. Over-cocooning, if we might use that ugly but apposite phrase, only postpones the inevitable and ultimately results in a child unprepared for life.

What's a parent to do, but to begin the incremental letting-go earlier rather than later? The dilemma of 'but there's just the teeniest prospect of danger...' has to be confronted on a daily basis.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dancer, singer, one-hit wonder

We've been watching re-runs of that excellent programme, 'Dancing with the Stars', in which celebrities who have not so much as spelt 'rumba' in their lives are transformed into dance-floor delights thanks to the maniacal efforts of professional partners. Neither Mum nor Pa has ever ventured into the realm of ballroom or Latin dance - but it looks as though Sonny can't wait to give it a try.

A day or so ago, Pa was just tapping his toes in his own painful impersonation of a crippled dancer possibly half-asleep when our little fella stepped up. With a self-important air, he began raising and lowering his right foot more-or-less rhythmically, while glancing up at the hdults in the room as though expecting a storm of applause.

There was no doubting it. He was trying a bit of soft-shoeing! Granted, a bit of leg-raising does not prove that he's bound for stardom, but one has to start somewhere. Unfortunately, the season of 'Dancing' that we've been following has just ended, but just as soon as another one gets underway, we'll be plumping our son in front of the TV and encouraging him to do a few lifts and wobbles here and there.

Meanwhile, we have had another smidgen of evidence of a certain musicality. The little fella's grandmother has been singing 'Twinkle twinkle little star' to him, and after a bit of coaxing, he's learned the right juncture (just after 'Twinkle twinkle little...' or 'How I wonder what you...') at which to bawl out 'STAR!' or 'ARE!'. Well, actually, he just shouts out 'ARRR' both times, but at least he's not randomly interjecting, but instead waiting for a logical rhythmic climax. If we switch to a different verse, to boot, Sonny will stay silent - as though he has enough of a grasp of the lyrics to know that different words need to be slotted into the pauses.

Unfortunately, after one year and two months, that's all we harvested by way of proof that he isn't going to be leaden-footed, tone-deaf shower-singing disaster. But it's better than nothing - or so we keep telling ourselves.

Quite possibly leading ourselves on a merry dance of self-delusion.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Pa Pa Pa problem

The other day, Sonny managed to get his father skip-hoppity happy when he blurted out 'Pa' as the said parent was entering our flat after work.

"Aha, so he recognises me," said Pa, puffing up his chest ever so slightly and casting a pitying glance at Mum.

Strangely, Mum did not seem particularly put out. "Go on, ask him who Sonny thinks he is," she responded. So Pa poked the little fella in the chest and said, "And who are you?"

"Pa!" chirrupped our one-and-two-month old creature enthusiastically, causing a sneaking suspicion to dawn on his father.

"And who's this?," he demanded, pointing at Sonny's grandmother.


Apart from bruising egos, of course, the incident does make us wonder exactly what concept of identity toddlers can possibly possess. Could Sonny believe there is some sort of 'Pa' club to which both he, his father and his grandmother belong (Mum, typically, is addressed as 'Milk' or a garbled 'Mpagh')? If so, where could he have derived that idea? We've spent quite a bit of time pointing at ourselves and trying to attach the appropriate signifiers: Somehow, the signals got crossed.

Actually, it's even more confused than that. A couple of weeks back, Pa was able to get Sonny to thump his chest (that's Pa's chest, not Sonny's) by barking, 'Who's Pa?'. So, to all intents and purposes, he was clearly on the right track to recognition. Even more mysterious is why Mum should have been left out of the big happy 'Pa' club.

Apart from crossing our fingers and hoping the arrow signs get sorted out in his little brain, we're also now waiting to see when Sonny will call himself by his first name. This would seem to be a fairly significant moment, since it would clearly signal a deepening of self-awareness.

He'll probably start working on that knotty issue once he understands that he's not his father.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sleep, the final frontier

Once upon a time, there was a nice little boy who went to bed every day at about 8pm, made no fuss about having to turn in and drifted off to dreamland without the need for any parental encouragement.

Sonny, however, is nothing like that nice little boy (who may not even exist, though Pa claims he used to be 'no trouble at all as a toddler'). Our little fella is temperamental when it comes to bedtimes. Some days, tuckered out from a full day at the infant care centre - bullying younger infants, or so we strongly suspect - he is yawning mournfully by 8pm and asleep by 8.30pm. On such days, Mum - who is left to handle him with Pa at work till 10pm or so - can simply deposit Sonny in his cot and then skip away to surf the Internet or do a bit of quiet reading.

Most of the time, however, the little monster has vast resources of energy and is still wide awake at 10pm. Pa will typically let himself in, creep into the bedroom - and find an exhausted Mum spreadeagled on the bed with Sonny prancing to and fro between her limp limbs. Mum's first words will be "He wooon't sleeeep!" or some variation on the sentiment, even as Sonny gains extra oomph from seeing his other parent return, and scampers cackling forward.

As it happens, Mum knows full well that with Sonny now almost a 14 months old, he should not need 'liquid encouragement' (a spot of breastfeeding) to transition to sleep. But nothing else really works - and, as you would have realised, filling the fella up with milk doesn't necessarily work either. Reading is useless, since he doesn't understand much of whichever nursery rhyme or silly story Mum starts on. Indeed, the book itself may prove an additional distraction. We don't have a rocker, and Sonny's getting rather too heavy for any handrocking - not that that works either!

For now, therefore, we remain mired in quiet desperation. Eventually, after multiple milk sessions and much quiet time tucked into Mum's side, the little fella will drift off and his rejoicing parents can sidle off. Our earlier efforts to just 'let him cry himself to sleep' (as chronicled in an earlier post, which you may access by clicking here) have been largely abandoned due to Mum's soft-heartedness and Sonny's obstinate bawling: Despite initially hopeful signs, he is still fully capable of wailing for over an hour and then immediately going silent once picked up.

Wilful sort of fellow. We just wish he could will himself to sleep.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A child can definitely wave too much

Early this morning, Pa woke up and blearily saw a little hand flapping enthusiastically at him. He knew at once that Waving-Sonny was at it again.

That's right. Our little fella has caught the Hello-Goodbye bug. That is to say, after months of imperiously ignoring anyone who tried to gain his attention, he can't stop greeting folks, as well as bidding them goodbye (often before said folks are ready to retreat). And it goes further than that:

- At one year and six weeks, we're figuring he ought to be able to snap off immediate one-word tags for people and things that he encounters on a daily basis ('Tree!', 'Dog!', et cetera). Instead, however, Sonny has taken to cheerily waving at lamp posts, park benches as well as all manner of flora and fauna. He's perfectly indiscriminate in dispensing his favours, and the ability of the object of his attention to actually wave back appears to be completely irrelevant.

- Sonny even goes in for 'generic waving'. In its more innocuous form, this is basically what royalty or big-deal politicians are wont to do: Confronted by crowds howling their adoration, they daintily move their fingers without singling out any one in particular with their gaze. Our little fella does pretty much the same, and even throws the odd blurted nonsense-phrase (or irrelevant word, such as 'Ball!' or 'Go!') for good value. At the same time, he takes this sort of thing to its logical conclusion and can often be seen waving at nothing. Mind you, you might think he's directing his fluttery-digits at some distant person. But scientific analysis - that is to say, Pa looking very carefully - has confirmed that Sonny is pretty much vacantly waving into space, or possibly Harvey his invisible friend.

Overall, we're pleased enough that he's learning some manners and deigning to acknowledge the presence of others. Ideally, we would whisk him into close proximity with friend or relative, allow Sonny to wave about cheerily (collecting 'how cute's and 'how friendly' observations) and then rapidly toss him into a bush or basket before the visitor realises Sonny is actually transmitting 'hellos' to everything within visible distance and beyond.

What next for our inveterate royal greeter? Well, he must next learn to verbally welcome those who are granted an audience with him. Something tells us that, if he performs true to form, he'll be chatting to trees, bees as well as everyone and their second uncles within a few months.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Case of the Two Sonnys

This is going to sound pretty wild, but we're beginning to suspect that there are actually two Sonnys running about, substituting for each other at critical points of each day.

Here's why this bizarre notion has occurred to us: When our son gets to the infant care centre, his behaviour apparently changes drastically. For instance...

(i) At home, he prefers to crawl from place to place, albeit with a unique high-backed gait. Yet when he gets to the centre, he transforms into an inveterate walker. The staff uniformly report that Sonny toddles upright for minutes at a time, confidently cackling as he shows off to all and sundry.

(ii) As far as we can tell, Sonny has a vocabulary limited to 'Mum-mum' (which refers to both his mother and food of any description), 'flower' (go figure) and a few other snatches. At the centre, however, he somehow accesses a hefty vocabulary and is able to count from one to two, identify various parts of his anatomy and even sit on demand.

(iii) Come mealtime, Sonny apparently prefers to hold his water bottle by himself and slurp away contentedly. At least, the Sonny-at-the-centre does. The 'home edition', on the other hand, insists that one of his parents wait on him and play water-carrier - though he is as likely to disregard H2O altogether and imperiously call for good old mother's milk instead.

You get the general idea. The little fella has two separate personalities, which assert themselves respectively when he is with his parents and the infant care staff. Which leads us to suspect that he has already learned that grand old secret of human existence: Get away with as little work as you can and slosh around in as much luxury as you can insist on. Presumably, the tough professionals at the centre are strict and unbending - insisting that Sonny pull his own weight and recall lessons taught with fidelity. Mum and Pa, however, are considerably more indulgent - so the little monster cuts himself some slack and operates at 'idling' power settings.

This may seem rather amusing now, when he can't get into much more trouble than tossing raisins to the floor or upsetting his water cup. But the stakes obviously rise with time. We must therefore come up with a strategy to run a tighter ship and try and merge the two Sonnys together. A psychiatrist's help is probably unnecessary - we think we know what our crafty 13-month-old is up to - though the little fella's divergent personalities is driving us a little batty.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A stroll too far

It's been a long while since we last posted, thanks to the flu breaching our family defences. But Sonny has fully recovered and seems raring for another stroll.

Stroll, you say? Remembering, of course, that the little fella can't actually walk more than a few steps?

Well, actually, Mum and Pa 'helped out'. Several days ago, we ventured to one of Singapore's ubiquitous night markets and bought a pair of little shoes. We slipped them onto Sonny's feet, then lowered him to the ground - one arm per parent - so that he was standing upright. He didn't need any time to orient himself. We trotted off in the direction of the library, all three of us, and he was cackling with glee. It was his first shod trod!

A few minutes later, we had to hurriedly remove the shoes. Not because they were too tight or were causing discomfort, but because Sonny was trying much too hard to lick them as though they were lollipops fresh from the fridge. Which led us to this stunning realisation: Everything is food to a one-year-old. Any object, however much it may be associated with various activities (counting, walking, bashing, et cetera) also doubles as a snack.

That said, the Sonny we know today is actually an improved model from the Sonny of just a few months ago. Back then, the scamp would simply slobber and chomp at anything that came into range - to the exclusion of all other forms of exploration. Slipper? Yum. Piano pedal? Gnaw gnaw. Pa's finger? Bite. You get the idea. Nowadays, however, a broader approach is being taken. He'll fiddle, twist, manipulate and dismantle with glee for some time - then, only as a sort of grand finale, move in for a bit of gobbling.

Anyway, Sonny's spending more and more time upright these days (especially over at the infant care centre, or so we're told) and he's swaying toddlings are becoming more confident by the day. So, as a sort of 'opposed gauge', we're expecting his need to chomp to correspondingly dwindle. At that rate, by the time he is a steady walker, he will have begun to reserve his sprouting teeth almost exclusively for what his parents would acknowledge as 'real food'.

We can't wait.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Enter the baby-whisperer

Horseflesh enthusiasts speak in hushed tones of so-called 'horse whisperers', amazing individuals who can commune with horses and soothe, placate or otherwise communicate with steeds.

We are now wondering if such people exist in the childcare world, where they would presumably be elevated to the title of 'baby-whisperers'. The notion struck Pa the other day as we were in a busy train station and Mum had to pop into the adjacent supermarket for some veggies. For some reason, Sonny struck up a humongous screaming symphony - complete with streaming tears, howls and piteous groans.

Pretty soon, a crowd gathered of concerned passers-by, many of them offering such precious advice as "Maybe he needs feeding". Anyway, this embarrassing situation persisted after we escaped into the shopping centre next door: The little fella just would not let up... until she appeared. A middle-aged woman of no special distinction to look at, but who needed only to gaze into Sonny's tear-rimmed eyes before he magically shut up. She crooned a few incomprehensible sounds at him - presumably special words in the hidden language of babies - and he was entranced, staring transfixed and silent.

Actually, this sorcerous being was able to stem Sonny's tears for only a couple of minutes: Sonny resumed bawling after we entered a lift. But that is not to denigrate her implausible ability to shut him up instantly with just a look. Perhaps she was an apprentice baby-whisperer, still unable to dominate little ones for more than a few minutes at a time, but striving to learn hidden secrets from some ancient master hidden in a cave. Or perhaps in some dingy flat, though that would sort of spoil the effect.

Anyway, if anyone knows a baby-whisperer, we'd be grateful if you might tackle him or her and glean a few 'scream-shuttering' secrets. We might even be willing to consider some appropriate remuneration (several boxes of infant cereal, say). Specialists ought to be properly valued, we say.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Tossing everything out, trousers included

Sonny has been basically unable to function without at least one adult in the immediate vicinity: The little fella goes into hysterics if left in a confined space and almost always has someone with him, whether at home or at the child care centre. The other day, therefore, Mum - following the strictures from our trusty 'What to Expect' parenting guide - began a programme to teach Sonny some independence.

The idea was that we would deposit him in his cot with fulsome 'Goodnight's and 'Sleep tight's, then vanish for five minutes before reappearing to reassure the little fella that he wasn't being abandoned to the ogres under the bed. We would then reappear after ten minutes, then 15 minutes and so forth until he fell asleep on his own. But Sonny didn't waste any time behaving like an insane rabbit once placed in the cot. Even before we had left the room, he was hopping and yawling and pumping out tears with that vacuum pump he must have hidden away somewhere.

Five minutes later, with his shrieks echoing through our little apartment, we ventured into the bedroom again - to find that Sonny had not only tossed one of his soft toys over the side of the cot, but had managed to strip off his pajama bottoms and hurl them over as well. Here was a mystery! As far as we could tell, the crazy kid - who was standing in exactly the same posture as five minutes ago (his face a picture of rage) - had managed to either calmly sit down for a spell to take off his trousers, or do so upright - a feat even adults might have trouble achieving.

Anyway, we replaced the toy, jammed the pajamas back onto the intransigent little one and then escaped. The screaming followed us. To keep a long story short, over the next one and a half hours, we would return on schedule, find ever more things tossed overboard (pillow, blanket, soft toys, trousers) and Sonny determined to outlast us. In the end, figuring that we had tortured him enough for one day, we rescued him.

Ah, but that's not quite the end of the story. The next day, we recommenced the treatment. Again, there was screaming and howling - but after 40 minutes, silence flooded our condo. We snuck in - and Sonny was soundly asleep still in a sitting position. We straightened him out and tip-toed away in satisfaction. Which is to say that this cruel-sounding technique seems to work. Something tells us that the little fella was perhaps just plain tuckered out from all the yelling, but we'll test out the regimen again soon to see if his newfound 'independence' has taken hold.

Just hope the decibel levels haven't already sparked multiple complaints by our neighbours...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Panicking too soon won't stave off swine flu

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bare facts about this outbreak are frightening enough.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Five steps into danger

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Time-travelling with Sonny

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 17, 2009

Scourge of the babbler

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 13, 2009

Round the world in 5 seconds

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Escaping the bed and other clues

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

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

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

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

It's time to escape.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Our little cleaner

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

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

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

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

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

Know the difference. Ahem.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

So cruel is Pa's lot

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

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

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

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

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

Call it a useful warning.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

An infant and a control freak

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sesame Street not so nice

Hullo there, it's me again: Sonny.

Recently, I've been taking greater interest in the thing called 'the television'. I've been ignoring it up till now since exploring the world around me seemed more urgent - but since my parents give that old box quite a bit of their attention, I figured I shouldn't neglect that part of my researches.

Here's the thing: My parents can't seem to decide whether they love it or hate it. They spend quite a lot of time making dismissive comments and panning many of the programmes ("mindless", "one-dimensional") and even use sarcastic tags like "the idiot box" to refer to it. Yet at the same time, they also seem keen to use it as a form of mind control.

Well, okay, mind control may be a little harsh. But they have bought some DVDs featuring a group of colourful weirdos who live in a place called "Sesame Street" and they've been plumping me in front of the TV and waiting expectantly. So far, I've not been too impressed with these discs: You may find it hard to believe it, but one long segment was basically a full-on musical interlude in which a strange nobleman with fangs, monsters and sundry animals sang up a storm over "The Number 'G'". It's true, I swear it (although I'm not sure what 'swearing' is all about and my parents aren't saying).

If I'm going to be charitable, I suppose I could assume that the TV is something that can "be used for good and ill", as my father sometimes says when he's being especially sententious. It can fulfil some sort of educational function - which is why they can't wait for me to be sucked into the adventures of some puppets and an oversized chicken - but people can also stare in front of it and swap mindless titillation for critical thinking. Secretly, though, I suspect my parents want primarily to use the box as a cheap babysitter. The idea is that I'll be utterly absorbed (picking up words and numbers as a sort of useful by-product) and leave them to do whatever it is they would rather do. I'm not sure whether I ought to be insulted or amused.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll be able to seize control of the TV at some point when my parents aren't alert and look for something that's really interesting. Mum and Pa are getting to be very cagey about what they'll watch when I'm in the room; they don't want me to be 'influenced'. Look, either what you see on TV is utterly fantastical, with no relation to reality (in which case I'd found out soon enough) or it is channelling truth, however painful - and so shouldn't be screened from me. Isn't that obvious enough?

Life seems pretty straightforward for a baby.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Onset of our limpet mine

In wars of yore, a deadly weapon against ships was the limpet mine, which would be deployed by elite commandos. They would swim under a hull and deploy a magnetised explosive charge that would clang onto the maritime metal, clinging on like a malevolent barnacle until the inevitable 'ka-boom'.

These last couple of days, our own 11-month-old limpet mine has been attaching itself to us with a ferocious obstinacy. He's been stuck at home with us (or both of his grandmothers, who rode to the rescue) after he was felled by a nasty virus and had to struggle with a scarily persistent fever. Since then, whenever awake, the little fella can't seem to go 10 minutes on his own before he'll be scuttling along with many a tearful peep, seeking an adult embrace. Not that he used to be stand-offish, but he was never so needy till now, even in previous bouts with illness.

At work, Pa's been preoccupied with how the economic crisis has affected country after country, so the little fella's behaviour has reminded him of the way some populations react. When all is well and the economy is humming along merrily, these folks want their government to leave them well alone so they can go about their own business. But when a financial contagion strikes, they go all limpet-miney and insist on a powerful saving hug from Big Brother, demanding bail-outs, stimulus packages and what have you.

Of course, we know that a limpet mine is so designed that failing to break its grim embrace will be followed in short order by a massive explosion and a speedy one-way visit to the bottom of the sea. Similarly, expecting the government to be an all-powerful life preserver - somehow counteracting problems brought on by unwise economic activity, business foolishness and so forth - can only end in tears. A culture of dependency is swiftly bred, and fiscal irresponsibility could easily take hold.

In our case, Sonny's fever broke yesterday and a fierce rash surfaced in its wake. Seems he had either measles or what is called 'false measles', which may linger for anything from three to seven days. Presumably he can be forgiven for being especially needy - so he's been allowed more than his usual quota of hugs. But once he's well on the road to recovery, the pampering will cease. Which, hopefully, is what will happen with the world's own embrace of big-government rescues.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New tricks for the new kid

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. But if the dog is still very young, learning a trick could be even more of a chore.

We have in mind, of course, not a long-tongued, shaggy-coated canine but Sonny, who at 11 months should be starting to earn his keep, in our opinion. Babies, according to a manual we probably read somewhere, are supposed to learn at least one 'adorable trick' per month of life after the first six months (when they are probably too preoccupied with drinking milk and so forth). This rule is meant to repay parents who toil day in and day out to keep the child in clothes and provender, allowing them to show off a few 'surprises' to relatives and friends. "Oh, by the way," the parent is supposed to be able to carelessly mention, "Junior has learned how to say, 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious'. His pronunciation needs work, though." Or: "Incidentally, Junior can walk eight steps now balancing a ball on his upper lip. Pity he can't make it a round ten steps, don't you think?"

Unfortunately, our little fella seems to have skipped the briefing in which the 'adorable trick' requirement was extensively explained. At the moment, the only thing he can offer in this department is a rather lame "Where's your nose" routine. It is triggered when an adult asks him, preferably in the exaggerated manner usually assumed when addressing an infant: "Sonny, where's your tongue?". This may need to be repeated, or supplemented with a "Sonny, show us your tongue". At a certain point, the little fella - until then either poker-faced or smiling vacuously - will suddenly stick out his tongue. He then cracks a grand smile and awaits fawning praise or breathless clapping on the part of the audience.

Now, you'll have to admit that this is not exactly proof that we have unearthed the next Einstein. And there are two further problems with the routine. First, Sonny apparently has mental storage space for only one trick. Occasionally, after much rote drilling by the infant care staff (who came up with the "Where's your tongue" skit to begin with), he is able to respond to the question, "Sonny, where's your head?" by patting himself on his crown. However, the massive brainpower required for this production means Sonny immediately forgets where his tongue is, and will simply giggle in a silly manner when asked where it can be found. Worse, especially if the audience is larger than usual (where "usual" is a matter of two or three persons), he can become flustered. He will then stick out his tongue when asked where his head is, or nose, or for that matter the location of his kidney or even Osama bin Laden.

Readers may wonder why Mum and Pa should not launch their own crash 'adorable trick' programme. Sadly, it's not as though we haven't tried. Originally, we had high hopes that Sonny would be able to master a goodly portion of the alphabet early on. The little fella even seemed to get a handle on 'A', 'B' and 'C' some months ago. But the 'brainpower for one trick' limitation has since kicked in. Not only has he not learned new letters, but he's clean forgotten 'B' and 'C'. As for 'A' - and, to give credit where it's due, he's forever babbling, 'A' - he seems to associate the sound with anything from food (Parent: "Milk, Sonny?" Sonny: "A. A.") to the meaning of life (Sonny (after seeming to gaze deeply into the future): "A. A.").

The way things are going, the only way we're going to get any 'adorable tricks' going around here is if we get a dog. Old one, young one... it can't be any more challenging than Sonny's been.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Save good money with DIY child distractions

In these economically-challenging times, we've recently found a simple way to shave dollars off the childcare bill. The key insight is this: Basically, kids don't need toys.

That probably needs unpacking (especially since we famously splurged on a 'Big Time Toy' ourselves a while back). The thought crystallised yesterday when we saw Sonny (who's all of 11 months old) converting one of our plastic four-legged stools into his personal walking aid. He was happily pushing it along - making an infernal screeching sound on our second-rate marble, it must be said - and marching from place to place. He managed to stay more or less upright, though at times he ended up on his knees - still manfully shoving his walker in front of him.

It then occurred to us that the same improvisational spirit could be extended to much of the constellation of toys needed to keep the little fella occupied. Remote control units, for instance, seem to hold a special fascination for him; since we have television and air-conditioning controls malfunctioning with boring regularity, a good supply could easily supplied for his delectation. Clean shoeboxes have been known to hold him in thrall for a good spell of time and bottles of mineral water double as 'roll 'n crash 'em' devices as well as handy counting aids ('One bottle', 'two bottles'...). Pa has also experimented with umbrellas, with encouraging results.

Sometimes, of course, a baby will appreciate a purpose-made toy just for variety's sake. Here, the name of the game seems to be 'flexible' (or 'dual use', to use the terminology we employed in 'Big Time Toy still eludes us'). Toys that can only be played one way are quickly discarded. But things that can be come at from different approaches - that make a range of sounds (changeable by pressing an easily-located button) or offer a great variety of textures for happy chewing - are much better value. Then, too, you want toys that can be absorbed into whatever fantasy or elaborate story that the slightly-older child will begin constructing. If you leave the young 'un with more imaginative work to do, he may actually get more fun out of the item.

Naturally, the trouble with DIY toys is that we have to look out for unintended 'side-effects'. For instance, our amazing stool-cum-walker may need to be sparingly used due to the potential for extensive, crisscrossing scratches all over our floor. And some things are just plain dangerous (no plastic bags now! and might Junior gnaw off toxic paint flecks?) for conversion to kiddy-playtime activities. So a good seasoning of good sense should always be on hand - not to mention a good wash to remove any encrustations from the item's previous child-unfriendly existence.

Sounds like more work than its worth? Take it as a parenting game of sorts. How inventive can you get? Everyone can get in a bit of play...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Baby Obama's growing pains

The administration of the new President of the United States, Barack Obama, is poised to hit the two-month mark this week.

A new presidency is very much like a new baby: Everyone is waiting to see if it possesses all the right functioning parts and will tickle it to see how it reacts, trying to work out how clever it's going to be. And of course, early on, any hard-and-fast conclusions would probably be premature.

Still, Obama seems to be making the right moves. A big economic stimulus package has been pushed through and a diplomatic offensive has been launched, with many a hint that a more inclusive, flexible and multilateral approach will be undertaken. To stick with our infant analogy, Baby Obama has a good, clear voice, isn't shying away when made to take his medicine and isn't thrashing about kicking other folks too viciously.

Yet there will inevitably come a time (say, when a nasty stinging gnat flies too close) when the new baby will need to warn it off or, if need be, strike accurately and swiftly. At the moment, Obama's mouthpiece, Hillary Clinton, has issued the usual pro forma warnings for North Korea to desist from a suspected missile test. But suppose Iran refuses to play ball and is seen as coming closer to acquiring nuclear arms. Or the Russians try to assert themselves. We will then see how forcefully and how subtly the Americans will rally allies, marshal their forces and otherwise behave as the sole superpower must.

Then, of course, there's still Afghanistan and Pakistan. The situation, in some ways, is dire - yet heartening too. Some babies, they say, are born old (and if not wise, at least acute), and Obama seems to be approaching this festering problem with maturity and an understanding of its complexity. It is increasingly clear that battling the Taleban can best be understood as peeling off those forces that can be accommodated and isolating the fanatic elements that insist on exporting violence. Luckily, a leaf can be taken from the book of the previous inhabitant of the presidential crib: Baby Bush, who was forced to grow up pretty quick amidst the threat of terror. In Iraq, the once ideologically naive Bush ended up endorsing a strategy of accommodation with multiple armed factions, so that the hard core of the local al-Qaeda was exposed and then bloodied.

Something like that will now be pursued in Afghanistan, along with a surge of fresh troops. We'll have to see if the infusion of new vitamins will boost Baby Obama's defences, so that the rest of the world will be clapping along with his happy gurglings in a year or so.

Precocious little thing, though...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Constipation consternation

We were just trying to fatten him up the right way.

For a few months now, Mum has been joyously loading Sonny up with ever-larger servings of nutritious foods as we've slowly expanded his diet, going beyond milk and entering the realm of chopped vegetables, minced meat and even cheese. After all, we figured, he's about to hit the Big Eleven (months) in a few days' time: It wouldn't do to have him still slurping just the white stuff.

It now appears, however, that we have been a little too adventurous in stuffing him with various solid foods. To be exact, they may have been rather too solid. Over the last few days, the little fella's daily 'clearance' has fallen dramatically. There was even a dramatic episode in which he strained viciously while perched on his little eviction-throne, tears streaming.

Shortly thereafter, our resident wise woman - well, the chief caregiver at Sonny's infant care centre - informed us that we had been feeding the little fella food in excessively-large chunks. Evidently, he had been having trouble digesting; possibly, too, he wasn't drinking enough water, despite our constant efforts to make him guzzle more of it.

Sonny's 'output' has since resumed: We've even cancelled emergency measures like dosing him with prune juice. Still, our plans to wean him completely will now have to be carefully calibrated to ensure that there is a more gradual transition away from purely liquid food. Hey, we've been ambushed once by the Big Bad Diet Monster: We don't want a repeat attack. And who knows what other innocuous changes in the little fella's routine or schedule could portend potential problems?

For instance, he's now sleeping less at night and more during the day: Could this alternation suddenly leap out to somehow bite us? We've noticed little red marks on his back and mouth: They look like a harmless rash, but perhaps danger lurks. Should even his increased tendency to drool (click here for our original lighthearted post) be a disturbing sign that's going uninterpreted? Perhaps it is dehydrating the little fella...

Sure, now we're paranoid. Blame the constipation, won't you?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Big deal, so the fella can walk...

It's one of those critical toddler milestones ranking right up there with the first tooth and first decipherable utterance. Sonny burst past the 'first step' marker the other day, and then some: He managed to plod a couple of footlengths unaided before crashing to the floor.

"Oh," said Mum, who happened to be on hand. Then she forgot about it for the rest of the day. It was only the next morning, on the way to work, that she recalled the occasion - and rang up Pa ("so you'll have something to write about for the blog").

What's this, you cry shrilly? Has some variety of 'parenting fatigue' caught up with us, that we are not prancing about like deer on drugs whenever Sonny ticks one of those 'First...' boxes? Well, it's more like we've become curiously adept at seeing 'the other side' of any supposedly joyous development.

So Sonny has started to walk? Well, break out the party hats and all that, but doesn't that mean there are now even more varieties of 'nasty falls' we need to be guarding against? And it surely means he can poke and pry into even more forbidden zones, necessitating another round of 'moving stuff up higher shelves'?

Or let's take another example. Sonny can now call for his mother by name (assuming her name is 'Maa'). Sure, drinks all round. But the flip side is that he's that much closer to pummelling us with an endless stream of inane questions and demands. We'll also have to attend to him more closely now when he issues his customary burbles, since he might actually be saying something comprehensible. Of course, 99.9 per cent of the time, it's still nonsense.

Want another? All this teeth-sprouting business (nearly forgot: Huzzah, huzzah) is taking a toll on Mum, even though Sonny only has three for now. Each extra chomper is an additional weapon to be deployed in biting down on the poor woman.

Some folks might suggest that we are assuming too much of a sour disposition. So don't get us wrong. It's great - no, it's marvellous - that Sonny is growing up. But if you think about it, that's pretty much the standard programme for babies, right? No real surprise to be had. Ho hum and all that. Not that we're asking for a nasty shock. But we're still waiting for the little fella to do something that flat-out astounds us, that will have us staring at each other and tossing away parenting books in consternation.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tidal wave of saliva

In some ways, Sonny is less messy than he used to be. He's rapidly approaching the 11-month mark with us, and no longer needs as many diaper changes. He is usually fairly easy to feed, and chomps down mouthfuls of porridge and rice - ladled out by Mum or Pa - without spilling excessively.

Unfortunately, however, the little fella's tendency to drool uncontrollably has not been stemmed. Indeed, it has accelerated, and rare is the hour that goes by without a great overflow of saliva gushing forth to drench floor, clothes, sofa and any item that happens to come into contact with him. We've taken to keeping a bib permanently tied around his neck, but the deluge of goo cascades past that barrier with utter ease to spot our nice marble and stain our fabric.

Now, we've been told that the reason for this perpetual high tide is that he is teething. That's just hard to buy, however. If he had a tooth for every bucket of saliva he's unleashed, he would be some sort of gothic monster by now, with teeth cramming his mouth and dotting his nose, chin and lip. As it happens, however, Sonny only has three teeth showing. At that rate, long before he reaches his quota of milk teeth, a giant puddle of saliva would have had us swimming from hall to bedroom.

A second theory has it that the goo flows especially when he's hungry, so that it functions as some sort of useful pointer to a good appetite. Now, if this is true, Mother Nature sure over-engineered our Sonny: When he's hungry, we usually have no trouble discerning it, since he'll be pawing away at Mum and mewing unstoppably. Salivating needn't come into it. In any case, Sonny can't possibly be hungry all day, yet the overflow seems an all-day thing.

We're left, therefore, with a third theory, that babies simply 'go through this phase'. That leads us to pose this desperate question: When will it end? Just today, for instance, Sonny was tottering about our hall literally splashing gouts of saliva like some modernist painter filling his canvas. One nice new soft toy (with a massage function for Mum's use) is now drying in the hall. Like land mines, a few globules of spit still litter our floor, ready to trap the unwary. We'll get round to mopping them up... but that won't stop Sonny.

He'll just keep pumping the stuff out.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

How not to fight the flab

Pa's aunt and uncle dropped by last week to visit, and also get a glimpse of our little fella. But they reserved a little surprise for Pa's appearance.

"Why... you've... well... grown prosperous," they stammered after a pause, during which you could almost see the frantic mental clawing-about for a polite phrase. As in, alternative to 'fat', 'tubby' or 'lardy'.

Unfortunately, any of those terms would have justifiably applied. Pa has certainly gained a kilogram, or two, or dozen, since Sonny joined us (as has been noticed in previous posts; click here for a refresher). The good news is that he's recently launched a carefully calibrated, come-back fitness routine - which is a fancy way of saying that he's tried to trot round the block at least once or twice a week. In case that sounds rather desultory, Pa explains that he is slowly 'building up' to a proper exercise programme, which will presumably feature extensive high-speed workouts and impressively regular explosions of energy.

At the moment, of course, even the thought of such exertion is liable to leave Pa drained. However, as a gesture towards that glorious future, he has resolutely refused to purchase new clothes - not wishing to load up on sizes that will "fairly soon" prove saggy and excessive. There is something of the noble optimist (if not the fantasist) about all this, yet perhaps this is the ideal attitude to which to approach parenting too. After all, we don't want to linger morbidly on the prospect of months or years of being peppered with inane kiddy requests, tantrums and assorted other headaches, so we simply gaze right through them - as though they were transparent - and gaze into the future vista of well-brought up, exquisitely well-behaved offspring that will also fetch and carry on command.

Of course, this will not make the grunt work go away - whether this be the exercise undertaken on the road to flab-fighting or the child-caring that must go into producing the useful errand-absorbing youngster. The best thing to be said about either endeavour is that the first steps have been taken, with many more to come. Best enjoy the enjoyable parts or just push through the painful ones... though Pa might protest that there really aren't too many 'enjoyable' aspects to the dreariness of self-punishment.

Exercise enthusiasts are welcome to contribute proofs to the contrary...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Parents don't know what they want

Hello there,

It's me again, Sonny, with another griping session. Not that I feel I need apologise for griping, since my parents are the champs in that department, or so it seems to me.

The thing is, most of the time, their whinging seems to centre around me, and in the most unfair manner imaginable. I recall, when I was not a couple of months old, Pa saying that I "wasn't very interactive". Well, what did you expect? I could hardly do much else beyond working out how to ensure a regular supply of milk by perfecting my wailing skills. But there he was, wishing I were able to "move about more" and "engage more".

The thing is, now that I am able to get about more and even manage to blurt out the odd "Ma" or "Pa", my parents are saying they are finding me "sometimes too active". Well, do you people know what you want? I'm not an order at the Subway sandwich shop, endlessly customisable to taste with every meal!

And there's more. When I was really tiny, my mother would go on about how small and fragile" I seemed. So obviously, she wanted me to put on a few pounds and add a few inches to my frame, so I would be more robust, or playworthy, or whatever. But - you can guess what's coming, can't you - a few shirt size changes on, my mother is now saying she longs for a really leetle baby again. Well, I'm sorry, but you can't just throw me into the washing machine and hope I shrink back down between rinse and spin cycle!

Now, I've been trying to do a bit of research using my father's old philosophy text books, and it seems to me that my parents' whinging is symptomatic of the consumerist society today. People want instant satisfaction and just visit the supermarket to pick up whatever they want, all washed and chopped to fit (and you can throw the packaging away afterwards, the environment be damned). Well, we children, we need long-term nurture and we change over time and once we're past Stage A, it's onto Stage B and there's no spare versions of us at the marked-down aisle. So why don't you just appreciate us for what we are like at any particular time, and quit wishing we weren't something we're not (or simply used to be)?

Anyway, back to the play pen again - which is the place where my parents are often wishing I played more with the toys I've just been given, instead of wandering around pulling down sundry items from the chairs. Can't you folks understand that everything's a toy for me?



Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A real stand-up kid

There's definitely something of the entertainer in our son's blood; a desire to seize the attention of others, by fair means or foul.

This trait has become especially pronounced now that he is - at just over 10 months of age - able to push free of any support and stand unaided. Not for very long, mind you: He teeters on the brink of disaster from the get-go. And he can't even begin to take his first step: It's an entirely immobile affair.

Still, the little fella sure knows how to milk his moment to maximum effect. Before unveiling his new trick, he will typically unleash a yell or bark so the audiences can "roll up, roll up", as they said of carnival acts in old books. Then he dramatically frees himself of the wall or rail that he used to pull himself to a standing position. None of this half-crouching business: Sonny presents himself utterly erect, as though ready to march down a thoroughfare. His two arms are outstretched in the manner of high-wire artists. It's so choreographed you wouldn't be surprised if fireworks burst overhead.

After a few seconds, of course, the audience is treated to a baby toppling to the floor, which can be a bit of an anticlimax, though Sonny can sometimes manage to sit down suddenly instead (which is rather more dignified). At times, presumably pleased with the reception (though Mum and Pa are a little weary of the show and may clap with less than fulsome enthusiasm), the little fella will treat everyone to an encore performance. We are led to wonder where he learned his advanced showmanship. Could it be that the other babies at the infant care centre go about showboating, each trying to upstage the other in a frenzy of toddler-level entertainment?

Or is there something innate to being human that just loves attention, the spotlight and the huzzahs of others? After all, we are social beings, aren't we, and part of being social is delighting each other - whether with witty conversation, party tricks or tall tales. There's no need to import "power" analyses that see such displays as ways of stamping one's dominance, exhibiting one's superiority or cowing competitors. Showing off can be an innocent thing, in other words - at least, we certainly hope so, as we settle back for another of command performance of Sonny-Stands-Unaided.

(Showing now for a limited period only. Tickets by arrangement. Please contact Mum and Pa for reservations. Performer may choose to cancel without explanation given. Strictly no discounts.)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Updated ranking of baby care rooms in Singapore

This is an updated and expanded survey of baby care facilities in major shopping complexes in Singapore. Mum has now had almost 10 months to conduct her investigations; the original ranking was drawn up last November.

Mum's assessment system:
Three pacifiers: Clean, spacious, full facilities. Shopping centre is almost worth visiting just to luxuriate in the baby care room. Space for at least two mothers to nurse.
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.

Top-flight facilities

1) Tangs: There're two nursing rooms near the cashier at the baby department on the top floor. These are the only baby care rooms in Singapore where one will find steam sterilisers, along with instructions on how to use it pasted on the wall, are provided. Each room also has a comfy chair, sink, hot water flask, cheery kiddy pictures and even a toy mobile atop the nappy changing station, presumably to distract the little one when you're wiping his bottom (though the batteries were out when mom used the room). The only grouse is that the lighting is too dim, then again, maybe the idea was to put baby in the mood for nursing. Three pacifiers

2) 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

3) Raffles City Shopping Centre: There's an award-winning baby care room on the third floor, where there are four baby changing stations, nicely designed with a trash bin and thoughtful roll of toilet paper provided under each. There's also a sink, some seating - including mini chairs for toddlers - but just one nursing room with a slightly uncomfortable-looking chair. In case more than one mother needs to nurse, there's another baby care area in the basement in the toilet near Shokudo. There's a shared sink, paper and two nursing rooms with sofas. There's even a family room nearby, with toilet facilities for the whole family - a general wash-up area, a kiddie loo and separate large adult toilet. Three pacifiers

4) Suntec City: Baby care room on third floor in tower where all the baby shops are (kids' mall). Brightly lit with sink, changing area and two nursing cubicles with comfortable sofas and separate sinks. Three pacifiers

5) 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

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. Three pacifiers

7) Velocity, Novena: On the third floor there is a baby care room with two nappy-changing station, hot and cold water dispenser and two nursing rooms with comfortable sofas. Paper napkins provided. Three pacifiers

Acceptable facilities

1) 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

2) 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

3) Wheelock Place, Orchard Road: Nursing room next to toilets on ground floor near the lifts. The long room is decorated with kiddy pictures, sink, a fold-down changing station and two comfortable chairs - that can seat two nursing mothers if needed. Two pacifiers

4) Marina Square: The renovated shopping mall has various individual baby care rooms (near toilets where signs show there is baby changing area) littered around - at least two on the ground level. Each is roomy with a comfy bench, sink and baby changing station. The rooms can't be locked but the doors have occupied/vacant sign to allow parents to indicate usage. Two pacifiers

5) IMM: There are at least two baby care rooms: One is near the second floor toilets opposite Best - it is rather small, with just a small bench seat, baby change station and sink; another is in a sectioned room next to the toilets near the mama magazine shop on the ground floor - it's much more spacious, with the same facilities plus a hand dryer. Two pacifiers

6) 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

7) City Link: Near Godiva Shop. You'll have to get the keys from the information desk opposite New York New York restaurant before HMV. Otherwise, a nice private room with sink and separate nursing cubicle. Two pacifiers

8) Thomson Shopping Centre: Baby care area on the top floor, next to the toilets near Swensen's. Section for nappy changing, a huge toilet and a nursing room with bench and uncomfortably hot lamp. Two pacifiers

9) White Sands Shopping Center, Pasir Ris: Baby care area near toilets in basement. Sink, changing area but only a pull-curtain to draw when using single sofa for nursing. Two pacifiers

10) Parkway Parade, Katong: There is a baby care area inside Isetan that's very nice - two spacious nursing cubicles, two diaper changing stations, hot-water dispenser and sink. Rather crowded though on weekends. Also a baby care area in the basement, with a rather stuffy nursing room and two diaper changing stations. Two pacifiers

11) 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. Two pacifiers

Substandard facilities

1) 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

2) 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 adjacent to the toilets in the new Northpoint annex. Hot-water dispenser and two cubicles, supposedly for nursing - once the chairs arrive. So far, only the family room on library level has chairs. One pacifier

3) Plaza Singapura, Doby Ghaut: One nursing room on level 3, with two nappy changing stations - one in the room and another just outside in case room is used. Not enough for such a large shopping centre. Parents can be heard waiting outside for turn. One pacifier

4) IKEA, Tampines: Baby care room on cafeteria level. It's very small but comes with a chair for nursing, changing station and sink. Another well on Level 3, but more a toilet. Not enough facilities for such a huge family-oriented shopping complex. One pacifier

Baby care facilities in public but non-shopping areas:

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: Lots of baby care areas in T3. The one on arrival floor is spacious with sink, hot-water dispenser and pull-down changer; and a comfortable separate nursing cubicle. Terminal One has only one, a new room near toilets on western end of arrival wing that is of similar design with the one at T3. 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. Inside T1, a baby care area up the escalator near Harry's that is complete with TV area with sofas that have in-built speakers, playground and of course, two or three nursing rooms and changing area. Also other baby care areas scattered throughout the check-in areas.

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.

Other places with nursing rooms (but 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)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Super-hearing can be super-annoying

Mum has been known to enjoy superhero comic-books, but their eruption into our daily life is proving rather a chore.

The other night, Pa got home from work at around 10.30pm to find the hall very quiet. He gently let the door clack to, then padded into the bedroom. But it was too late. Mum had been trying to lull Sonny into sleep - and it seemed for a while that she had succeeded. However, though she had hardly heard it herself, the sound of the door being unlocked from outside had apparently resounded like a loud crack for the little fella's super-sense of hearing. His eyes flicked open and he was promptly energised as though ready to go save someone trapped in a burning house (though he dispensed with a too-fast-for-ordinary-eyes costume change into tight-fitting spandex).

To keep the account brief, let's just say Sonny spent the next 15 minutes bouncing mercilessly around the bed, as his parents tried to convince him that it was past bedtime. Superman draws his powers from the sun, but since it was plenty dark, our very own mighty-tot must have been leeching vigour from starlight. In any case, it was clear that certain lessons needed to be learned.

Mum and Pa are now trying to polish up our whispering and sneaking powers, as we remind ourselves that the little fella has gained uncannily acute senses. In order to preserve oases of peace and quiet, once Sonny has drifted off into la-la land, we'll probably have to become used to muttering to each other as though transmitting state secrets and tiptoeing around our place in the manner of cat burglars.

Then again, we're beginning to fight back. Through careful observation, for instance, we've discerned that Sonny isn't necessarily jolted out of stupor and into super-awareness simply by any old sound. He's been known to snooze contentedly while we're at an eatery, with a healthy buzz of conversation all around us. What seems to spook him, rather, is sudden spikes in volume: Presumably, such abrupt variations signal a potential need for a super-rescue. But rather more difficult to get around is Sonny's impossible ability to spot items that he really shouldn't be touching. If, for instance, there is just one toy in the flat that has recently been dropped in the street and needs cleaning, the he can be relied upon to immediately scamper in that direction - intent on a good chew. He'll see right through any attempt to distract him with various legitimate toys, and will bound heedlessly past us to jab purposefully at the TV remote.

How does he do it? We don't know yet, though submissions for research theses are welcome. Meanwhile, we'll just have to draw on our powers of super-patience...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Nothing stays constant but the changing

While we were in Abu Dhabi a couple of weeks back, Sonny's uncle swung the little fella up and onto his shoulders, expecting to reap a squeal of delight. He heard only a wail of terror as Sonny - unfamiliar with the stunt - clambered desperately to escape the unwanted boosting.

Funny, the change a couple of weeks can bring. Yesterday, Pa yanked the little fella skyward again, depositing him so he could pull on his father's ears if he had a mind to. This time, there was no shriek of fear. There wasn't any explosion of excitement either; Sonny simply surveyed the newly-adjusted environs calmly, a confident smile on his face (or so it seemed to Pa, upon trotting up a flight of stairs at a hotel so as to access a large mirror). He might have done this a thousand times, going by his relaxed demeanour.

It just goes to show the truth of the comment often made by sundry experienced parents, including Pa's mother, that a young child cycles through a dizzying succession of changing dominant moods, characteristic behaviours and even general facial appearances: Sonny, on that last point, can apparently look more or less like one parent, then the other, with each passing week. The almost-10-month-old, we must conclude, has no set "personality", whatever we may like to believe. He goes from being a "happy, generally placid thing" at two months to a "grumpy, demanding monster" at four to a "jealous, withdrawn creature" at six. Scanning through this disordered series of posts, we are struck by how often our pronouncements about Sonny's behaviour, preferences or quirks are effectively negated sometimes a few days later as the wheel of fortune turns.

It could be argued, of course, that even adults are immune from this phenomenon; that our character continues to evolve throughout our lives. Naturally, the swings are typically less violent and less frequent - and the factors that bring about alternation need to be much more pronounced. This would contrast with the apparently random switches seen in toddlers, which can leave us reaching for empty generalisations or cliches like "well, that's just how it is", or "growing up is like that" by way of (non-) explanation.

At the end of the day, however, Mum and Pa must somehow pretend that the set of their child's characteristics is fixed, if they are to ever go about their parental duties. How could we plan meals or structure our days if we foreground the fact that Sonny's tolerance of different foods, or his sleep times, vary like the wind direction in autumn? Could we ever buy a toy or plan activities if we continued to remind ourselves that his preferences might change in a twinkling? No, we have to stay nimble and perpetuate this great myth of there being something called "what Sonny is like" - even though if we wanted to be exact, we should add to that descriptor the words "... at the moment", thereby upending every tenuous hold on control.

Hey, it keeps things interesting, right?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hidden, high-scoring gems

Earlier today, Pa was scuttling along near our home after dropping Sonny off at the infant care centre, trying to get in his 15 minutes of exercise (regular readers will note that this hopeful theme will emerge from time to time before fading from view). There's a basketball court along the route, so Pa paused long enough to see what was going on there.

A middle-aged man and a woman - almost certainly husband and wife - were shooting hoops, clad in el-cheapo sneakers and worn attire. They wouldn't have warranted a second look if encountered anywhere, whether in the bus, at the market or in town. But as Pa looked on in mounting amazement, the duo put together a stunning basketball exhibition: They took turns to score from all angles, from different distances and using everything from high lobs to sky hooks and classical-release shots. It was all done at an unhurried pace: These folks weren't doing much more than getting in a bit of physical exertion, from the looks of things - even if the way they were scoring without pause was enough to disrupt Pa's progress and keep him entranced for several minutes.

We haven't a clue, of course, who these people were. But they were certainly hidden away in a quiet residential area of Singapore, surrounded by blocks upon blocks of modest apartments. The encounter brought home the truth that you never know when you are going to stumble upon something of interest, so long as we remain aware of what's going on about us and don't become totally enwrapped in our own private musings.

All of that, of course, ought not be forgotten as we shepherd Sonny - less than a fortnight away from completing his tenth month with us - along his own exploration of the world around him. For now, his wonder and curiosity at everything he comes across is pretty much a salient characteristic. Nothing is so insignificant as to not warrant an inspection; a quiet nook, once spotted, simply cannot be left alone until there has been a crawled-over expedition to scout for surprise treasures. But as the years pile up, there is a danger that we lose that investigative edge; our awareness is dulled as experience silts up a "done-this, seen-that" weariness that can leave us to trudge through life expecting nothing fresh to peek out at us.

That would be a pity. If Sonny shows signs of flagging in that manner, we'll need to be sharp enough to pick it up and attempt some exhortatory reinvigoration. But that probably won't be a problem for some time yet: Curbing excessive curiosity seems more the current worry. Still, Pa hopes he'll see more basketball action as he continues his modest exercise routine, even if he isn't himself inspired to try and sink any baskets. Maybe he'll strike up a conversation some time with that wonder couple: They could be onetime hoops legends who have fallen on hard times and are now relegated to obscurity, their once shining talent now glistening only occasionally at our neighbourhood hard court. Or they could be diamonds-in-the-rough with outstanding ability but no interest in shaping their gift in the direction of fame or money.

It might turn out to be a gem of a conversation - like the many that always surround us, waiting for us to notice them.