Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Giving

Sophie's education can be seen as extremely religious - she learns about ALL of them. My friend Sohni says that if you can't see God in all, you can't see God at all. Thus, Sophie is equally comfortable with talking fish being a form of Shiva who destroyed the world with a great flood as she is with the more usual stories from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The idea is that she will have plenty of opportunity to discover divine mystery all by herself, but at least she is exposed to plenty of choices. She might end up being a schizophrenic. Or an atheist.

My own thinking on this is that humans have an inherent spirituality, and we can equally worship by studying quantum physics or prostrating towards Mecca. I think everyone has their own paradigm of what is sacred and profane, and a walk with God is a deeply personal matter. I don't want Sophie to have that air religious superiority which I find quite irritating. By the way, I've observed that some atheists are equally guilty of that same superiority complex about the correctness of their beliefs, so it seems there is no theistic monopoly on arrogance. You believe what you need to, and accept that so does everyone else - that's the point of tolerance right?

Anyway, in our family, we celebrate Chinese New Year as well as Christmas. This Christmas Both Alex and Sophie received wonderful presents in the form of donations made in their name to various charities such as (micro-finance loans - please check them out if you don't already know them) and Half the Sky foundation.

Thank you to all our generous friends who have sent these presents!

I am glad you sent these instead of toys because Sophie is actually non-commercial in the extreme. Most of her toys are things she has devised by herself could be played with. Such as a collection of pebbles and some fallen leaves, tree branches, discarded toilet roll paper and boxes. I take it as evidence of a healthy imagination. On the other hand, we would like her to enjoy some of our own childhood delights, like Star Wars, Tin Tin, smurfs and Asterix.

In Lijiang this Christmas we gave her a smurf/schtrumpf. That's right - ONE toy, and it's a tiny rubber figurine that fits in her pocket. We also gave her the Veggie Tales books from my Singapore friends (Thank you Elaine and Kat) and the books from her Papy and Mamy and Aunt Celine. We also let her open the wooden percussion instrument from Peru from her Godmother Joan. So in total she got 2 toys and 6 books and you know what? She was completely delighted with them all.

We must be the only "mean" parents who do this to our kid. But I think there is plenty of time for her to later (when she has learned to write !) to do her long lists to Santa but for the moment she can say "This Christmas I changed someone's life".

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas in Lijiang

We're back from Lijiang where we all had a fantastic time.

Some random observations:

1) Your 20kg kid will demand to be carried on a safe cobble stone road but will insist on walking when you are on some dangerous part of Tiger Leaping Gorge
2) If you put your 7kg kid in a sling, you become the tourist attraction - no kidding - people were asking to have their photo taken with Fabien
3) Making some pretty place a UNESCO world heritage site may have sucked out its soul - Lijiang is now a bunch of shops selling useless tourist rubbish - the neighbouring villages still have some Naxi farmers in them.
4) Having 2 daughters in a matriarchal society is seen as a great accomplishment

We're now in House Moving Madness, and I'm taking the kids to Singapore with me in Jan 09, so there will be silence here for a bit.

In a while crocodiles...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

An uncluttered life

We are going back to Beijing tommorrow - the passports and visas have arrived, and our week living in the serviced appartment will be over.

Strangely it was liberating. To live with just the bare essentials. Instead of a hundred books, Sophie just had her library of 5 books which we told and re-told. Instead of a whole bunch of toys all over the house, we had one toy for Alex (a crib mirror) and one for Sophie (playdough) and both kids were perfectly content.

Instead of 2 nannys, and 1 ayi (for cleaning and cooking) we just had our cheerful morning ayi come with us. So that she would not be working 24/7, I also took care of both children by myself (I think I am getting good at this!!).

It helped of course that Sophie could swim with me for at least an hour every day otherwise she would have become like a caged tiger.

But I really like this. It is very uncluttered with material possesions. You end up breathing better. However the one indulgence that I think I cannot live without are my books. I miss reading an hour or so at night before sleeping.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

We are in Chang Chun Now

We are in Chang Chun now. Fabien is working in the depot every day, and I have the 2 girls all to myself. We are waiting for our visas to be processed and will leave by Friday. Lucky we have ayi with us. She was thrilled to be on an airplane for the first time, and since we are all staying in a serviced appartment she doesn't have to wash or clean, so she just helps me look after Alex when I go swimming with Sophie.

Alex is every bit as good a traveller as Sophie was at that age. She sleeps through most of the flight in the baby carrier, and then when she is awake she chills out and looks around and smiles at everyone. I am thankful because navigating the visa process through Chinese officialdom is stressful enough, so I don't need cranky kids to make it worse.

Sophie managed to swim a little by herself today (with a float) - the look of wonder on her face today was priceless. I managed to enjoy about 20 seconds of "wow Mummy look at me! look at me! All by myself!", before she got water in her nose and was not happy at all. However she was soon back to jumping into the water, and I had to promise her we were going to come back tommorrow in order to get her out of the pool.

Chang Chun is slightly warmer than Beijing now, but it is currently so polluted that we don't go out - luckily there is a shopping center attached to the hotel. Chang Chun was the seat of the puppet government during the Japanese occupation. This interesting historical fact explains the great Japanese restaurants here. Fabien and I actually had some excellent sashimi which makes up for the temporal displacement.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Happiness is ...

1) Knowing that my husband planned this totally awesome birthday party for me and a whole bunch of my friends (who all assure me that it is all donwhill from here !!)

2) having Sophie singing "Happy Birthday Mummy" and blowing out one candle on a muffin

3) seeing my parents and brother on skype and that they are all doing well and happy

---------- pictures to follow --------------

On a complete aside - my life is one big suitcase right now.

We are going to Chang Chun for one week to renew our visas, and then we are going to Lijiang for Christmas. And then we come back home to move house (we are moving a few floors upstairs in our appartment), and then I have to rush to do our ayi's Singapore visa, because she will come with Alex, Sophie and me go back to Singapore on 30 December.

Whilst packing up the clothes, I realise that we have so many lovely baby things. Most of them in the 0-3 month range are unisex because of course, we didn't know if we would have a girl or boy, but everything after that is for a little girl. But the stork seems to be only giving out baby boys right now.

Our neighbors on either side of us both had baby boys this year. My friend C in the US had a baby boy this August. Another 2 friends in China, 2 other friends (1 in Singapore and 1 in France) are ALL expecting boys for next year. But...I have all this great girly stuff to give away ! Somebody better have a girl soon otherwise we might be forced to make one ourselves!!

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Alex absolutely refuses to drink milk from a bottle, preferring to go hungry and cry until I feed her mommy milk direct from the source. This means that I cannot sub-contract this part of child care to anyone. She sleeps 7 hours per night(bless her!) but it's the WRONG 7 hours for me. She sleeps from 9pm to 4am, and even though I try lying down and going to bed when she does, I usually end up reading, checking email and generally am unable to rest until midnight. And then Alex wakes again at 4am for a feed and diaper change and then 6am for another diaper change, and Sophie gets up at about 7am. Although they both nap in the afternoon, I find myself scheduling too many activities during their naps. Although officially on maternity leave, I cannot resist fiddling with my files, and accepting pro-bono work for a charity that I support.

A cumulation of all this makes me chronically sleep-deprived, and it comes out at the worse possible timings.

Today is Alex's full month party (a bit belated, but this was the only time that the calendars could match for everyone in my office). My collegues are coming over for breakfast in a short while and I managed to burn the pot used to steam the "baozi" that I intended to serve for breakfast. I thought I was going to cry. But instead, I find myself starting to raise my voice at our brats, and generally blaming my husband for not being more helpful (than he already is!) and then I find myself releasing an evil monster from some deep dark place and its ferocity scares me.

Actually we have a rule that on Sundays we do not have any ayi, partly because I believe that they deserve a day of rest, and partly so that we have some privacy as a family. But I am re-visiting that notion now. If we can just get someone to deal with cooking and cleaning, on Sundays, we might actually make better parents because it frees Fab and me up to just look after our kids.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

I'm not taking this for granted

A Singaporean hostage was killed at the Oberoi.

I didn't know her at all, but I used to work in the same document mill as her husband. I just know that they were happily married (last year) and in love and then it can be all over, just like that. I don't have much apart from the usual platitudes to say, but my heart aches for them.

I look at my 2 beautiful daughters and I remind myself not to take them for granted, because tomorrow you can get hit by a car, or have a piano fall on your head, or be shot by a terrorist. So I better use today to kiss my kids and husband, apologise to anyone I may piss off, and say nice things to my friends who are all flawed and wonderful humans, and perfectly decent canines.

It matters not the length of your life, but the depth and breadth, and for those who have loved, and been loved, there is sometimes that small consolation.

Sleep well Yen.

Memories are made of this

A friend just emailed me this photo that she took when we were in Bali.

Total cuteness... 'Nuff saud

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A friend for all seasons

Both Alex and Sophie have little friends their own age.

Louise is Sophie's friend in school. Louise is 3 years old, and Sophie thinks this is something she wants to aspire towards.

Alex goes for Mama-Baby yoga class where she usually sleeps through most of it. There she is snoozing away in her bear suit.

Actually I probably need the yoga more than she does. Alex is the embodiment of Zen for most of yoga class. I think none of my class-mates have ever heard her crying, and you can't tell when she is awake or asleep because even when she's awake she is looking around and just chilling out.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Overheard ...

"Hi Sophie, how was school? What did you do?"

"Told teacher Becky I hurt"

"You told teacher Becky that you were hurt? Where?"

"My nose hurts"

"Your nose was hurt? How? Did you fall?"

"No, I told Teacher Becky that Mummy hurts my nose. (!!)"

Sophie has been having a slight runny nose that has been driving me nuts because it looks like an allergy, but we can't figure out what she is allergic to. She is absolutely fine each time we get out of the house, and then each time she comes home, she starts sniffing again. What the heck it is I cannot figure out. We have cleaned our heating vents, changed the filters on our air filters, and we have no new pets or toys (unless you consider Baby Alex Sophie's new toy!) so I cannot figure out what the heck has caused it.

Anyway, the upshot of it is that I have been spraying her nose with a saline spray to clear it. Sophie hates that and complains that it "hurts my nose", but submits willingly to it ever since I started a reward chart where she gets a sticker for each spraying !!

I wonder whether I will have to defend myself from child abuse allegations at the next parent teacher conference?! Hahahhaa

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

First Parent Teacher Conference

"Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned." - John Holt

My own thoughts on school are entirely practical. It is an excuse to get the kid out of the house, and out of their care-giver's hair. But we can assuage our consciences by telling ourselves that there is some educational merit in this all.

I just started reading about "unschooling/deschooling" and I agree with many of the principles. I haven't finished reading yet to form a real opinion, but the gut feeling so far is that one can still achieve these objectives in the right environment, and this can be a very small school (like Ivy Academy). Ivy actually follows the Multiple Intelligences method (insofar as you can call it one) and it's the only school where Howard Gardner (the guy that coined this term) sits on the board, so it's pretty much the real deal as far as I am concerned !

Fab and I attended our first Parent Teacher Conference last Friday. In the era of the modern child, both parents attend these events. So we were there to discuss Sophie's weaknesses (diplomatically called "challenges") and strengths in school.

In terms of challenges, Sophie has regressed on the toilet-training. Apparently this may be linked to the arrival of Alexandra, but it could also be that she enjoys what she is doing so much that she postpones (unwisely!) the trip to the toilet, despite being asked by the teachers. As a corollary to this, she hates having to clean up an activity which she is still playing with.

My perfectionist daughter will do something (a painting or puzzle) for as long as it takes to get it "right". However in the real world, where everyone works on "clock-time", my feeling is that it's actually good for her to know that not everyone will hang around and wait for her to get things done perfectly (like her long-suffering parents). Apart from this, the teachers say that Sophie is a generally happy child who is a good fit in school. Temperament-wise she is quiet and observant in larger groups but will participate if she has a contribution to make (she loves singing by herself in front of the whole class).

According to the teachers, Sophie seems linguistically inclined. She talks more clearly than most 2 or 3 year olds. It's getting fun speaking with her because (assuming she feels like it) she will carry out a conversation with description/narrative. This is something that appears to surprise the teachers alot, because apparently even 3 year olds don't really do this, and talking about something (as opposed to merely conveying desires) is something which happens later.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Memories are made of this

One gift (or curse!) I think I will leave Alex and Sophie is this blog, where they can see their own lives and changes contemporaneously recorded. Maybe it's nice for them to look back on this (when they can actually read!) to see what their mom was thinking on various dates which have no significance to anyone but ourselves.

I spoke to my parents yesterday on the phone, and it seemed that my grand-father's funeral went well, and it was a good send-off. They spent time remembering him, and for the record my contribution was this - that I used to chase him around the house to read me a story. The carpet on the staircase was red and it was the same shade as my red potty (weird how you remember these details!) and the ground floor was marble cut in large square pieces. Ah Kong was usually wearing a white singlet and blue striped pajama pants. He sometimes used a typewriter on balcony on the second floor of the house.

On the ground floor were the 2 large fish tanks where Ah Kong kept his arowana fish. They were scary and ate live prey (usually tadpoles and baby frogs). There was one time I saw a baby frog in the tank swimming for its life, so I scooped it up in my hand and released it in the garden. Where it was promptly eaten by a bird. I think I was quite traumatized.

As he grew older and his hearing started becoming bad, I didn't speak to him as much anymore. I didn't call him on the phone as often as I wanted and it's something I sort of regret. I've resolved to call my parents and grandma more regularly. Actually the person whom I almost never phone is my brother, but then we tend to use facebook and email more often. He's pretty lousy at more traditional forms of communication - I've never received a letter from him, but partly also the time-difference makes phone calls harder. Maybe we'll visit him next year in the US, with the currency depreciation, it makes sense to travel.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chasing our own tails

So this week has been slightly over-stretched for me, with my first parent-teacher conference to prepare for, a barbecue I am hosting, and then appartment hunting, ayi logistics planning, going back to work for a meeting, arranging my gym timetable... I felt like I was running like a little hamster on a wheel.

Then my dad phones to tell me that my grand dad has died, and the frenzy stopped.

There is nothing like death to put a little perspective on our lives.

It's a little hard to say how I feel. Of course I am sad, but also oddly relieved. I think I miss him. I was 2 years old and chasing after him all the time to read me stories. I think the grandfather I love is somehow always alive as a part of my memory.

He had been ill for some time, and the last weeks were hard on him, so at that time, I think you don't fear death any longer. And his descendants I think celebrate his life.

** Sorry if this post is slightly disjointed, I might write more when my thoughts are a little clearer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Will I never be able to go out again?

I express milk for Alex when I go to the gym/meet my friends/ generally have my own life apart from being a walking food source. This means that the nanny has to figure out how to feed Alex from a bottle.

Which is proving to be remarkably difficult.

Alex does NOT like being bottle fed at all. She goes on a hunger strike and issues heartrending wails until I come home and she can have milk in her preferred feeding form.

Of course it stresses me out immensely when I come home to see this drama. My logical brain tells me that she will eat from a bottle if she is hungry enough, my emotional self is horrified that she went without eating for a few hours before I came home.

Between Alex having her hunger strike and Sophie having sleeping issues I think my nanny deserves a bonus this year to go on a long holiday somewhere.

I sometimes feel completely guilty for dumping someone else into this domestic madness. But my husband says I shouldn't feel too bad. No matter how bad a day the nanny has had with the kids, she knows that she can GO HOME and return them back to the parents.

Observations between my daughters

Of course every child is different and should not be compared. But you just CANNOT help it when you are a parent of 2 kids.

If you are a parent, I am sure you must have read baby books that all start with "around this week your child should be [fill in blank]". Well, Sophie was Little Miss Average. Everything that she needed to do developmentally, and for weight/height she was generally at the 50% line. Except for her language development which was amazingly ahead of the bell curve, she did all the things that a "normal" baby (is there ever such a thing?!) should.

On the other hand, Alex seems set to be Baby Kinder-surprise. She could hold her head erect for a couple of seconds when she was born, and even when tiny, she could turn her head and track moving persons across the room. Unless you are in constant contact with newborns, that doesn't seem particularly surprising, but according to the received wisdom, "average" babies aren't supposed to do that until a little later. She wears clothes for 3 month olds (i.e. the labels read 3 to 6 months).

Also utterly normal (but truly annoying) is Sophie's attention seeking behaviour right now. This is firstly, a function of being an almost 2 and a half year old, secondly, we have some new ayi changes in the house and thirdly, a reaction to being displaced from being the center of the known universe to having to (gasp!) share the parental attention. So she alternates between testing the limits and being a whiny pain. It drives me completely nuts sometimes.

One of the things which is understandable but really annoying is her insistence that she (Sophie) is a BABY also, and wants only the good part of being a baby. This includes, but is not limited to (1) being carried around instead of walking, (2) un-toilet training herself and (3) not speaking and saying "wah wah wah" in imitation of Alex. I know she's doing it to get a reaction, so I just play along and refuse to fuss about it.

The only blessing I think is that Sophie adores Alex and she has never taken out any of her frustrations, or shown any aggression towards Alex (YET!) Her "wanting to be a baby" phase seems to be part of her sisterhood bonding experience - sort of...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Good Losers

He lost, but he's a good loser. This was actually quite gracious.

Something my own government seems to find very difficult.

As strange as it sounds, I want my kids to learn to fail. How you fall and what you do afterwards is probably a lot more important than achieving continual success.

Fab and I were speaking about what kind of formal education our kids would have, and I think that most Asian systems over-emphasize the goal (taking exams) at the expense of the process (i.e. learning something). It's a question we have to figure out later as Sophie and Alex grow older, but it gives us something to talk about on our date nights.

I have a guilty confession - on our last date we went to sureno and had a wagyu steak.

For health and ethical reasons, we are trying to reduce our meat consumption. One way to do it is to have grass-fed, humanely killed meat (if you want to know more about this, google Michael Pollan's book - the Ominvore's dillemma).

Monday, November 03, 2008

before and after

This is Before and After Food (I'm not uploading photos of the intervening process).

Friday, October 31, 2008

Alex playing with Sophie

Like I said, I am not so much worried about sibling rivalry as I am about Alex being "over-loved" (i.e squished) by Sophie.

Sophie constantly wants to hug, hold and play with Alex, and LOVES being "the Big Sister". She's usually very gentle, but still I need to watch them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

One month old and all is well

There are currently very few photos of Alex which are blog-worthy because (apart from the fact that she is the "poor neglected 2nd child!"), most photos are of her nursing, and I am not altogether enthusiastic about baring myself completely on the internet. My soul maybe, but my other body parts is just Too Much Information.

This is one of the few shots without my accompanying boob. Sadly as we are not in sunlight, you cannot see her eye color too well - but it is still a very deep blue.

I'm a bit fixated with getting a photo of her with blue eyes because, like her sister, it will change to dark brown really quickly. Either I catch it in photographic form or else the moment will pass. With my sleep-deprived baby brain, I can just about recall my 2 kid's names so I can forget about any long standing nostalgic memories.

We had a one month check on Tuesday, and she's 58 cm and 4.8kg. This is well into the 90th percentile, so you can see she's making the most of this breastfeeding on demand thing.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Note to Sophie

Dear Sophie

This is your first class photo at Ivy Academy. There are 12 children and 4 teachers.

The smiling lass in the cap is Rebecca (Teacher Becky)who ranks up there with mom and dad for people on Sophie's list of most influential people.

Coming a close second is your best friend - Louise (the little blond angel in the bottom right hand corner in the pink top). She's a little older than you, and you want to do everything that she does. When I say everything I mean that if Louise wears alot of pink, then this has suddenly replaced green as your favourite color. Louise also speaks beautiful French which you are picking up on everyday (including the grammar errors).

Right now, in 3 languages, you can sing really well (you love the Alphabet song!), and you can count aloud till 20. Your English and French is still not at the same level as Chinese (which you always use in unfamiliar situations or when you get really excited). You love playdough and cutting up paper with scissors. Your love of painting is getting a bit out of hand, and Mom feels sorry for the environment by the amount of paper you use up (even if it is recycled paper). In fact you are such a perfectionist that, even if you've painted something halfway and made a mistake, you throw it away and start all over again.

You have such a good time in school that I am thinking of increasing your attendance from 3 times a week to everyday next year.

Little by little we are cutting those apron strings and letting go, and it's a mix of emotions on my part as we begin your scholastic journey which will be long (hopefully) and eventful (probably!).

Still, you'll always be my first baby.

Love... your mommy

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Fast Moving Fish
Originally uploaded by vacheorange
My mom packed some fish for me all the way from Singapore - thanks Mom! It's supposed to be good for lactating women,

This is Sophie at about 1 year old looking at fish at Seoul aquarium.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday in a full circle

When I worked in Singapore, I used to hate Mondays. You know that there is something seriously wrong with your job when you start mentally picturing "Arbeit Macht Frei" on the entrance to your office. (**for those of you too lazy to google, this is the slogan inscribed above Dachau and Auschwitz concentration camps and it means "work makes one free") The gallows humor was what kept me going for a while I think, but finally I am glad that came to China.

Here, I actually look forward to work. I have the resources from the firm to cultivate and look after my own clients, do my own work. It's a prosaic relationship that I have with the firm - I do my own thing and bill the hours, and they give me a salary and leave my alone and everyone is happy like this. Of course, a congenial working environment and an excellent mentor are bonuses, but even without it, I would still be reasonably content - I don't ask for much.

Now on maternity leave, I am enjoying the time as a stay home mom. I am enjoying the silence at home. My husband is having a meeting in Paris (he left on Sunday night), Sophie is in school, the ayi is doing the laundry, and above the soft hum of the washing machine, I am cuddling Alex while we listen to "Hey Jude" in the Beatles for Babies version.

My job now is just Dairy Cow and diaper changer. I also moonlight as sandbox companion and climbing frame spotter. My dare-devil daughter and her climbing frames. This is a kid sometimes too shy to talk to strangers, but will be up on those "spider web" type climbing frames all the way to the top in a flash (if you let her). I usually am torn between wanting to keep her safe and letting her explore. My luke-warm compromise is to let her go up half way (up to where I think I can catch her if she falls).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Veggie Tales

Insanity is hereditary - you get it from your children.

Over the weekend I went to the supermarket with Sophie. (** I tell myself that the supermarket comes within the rules of the Chinese post-natal confinement practice, because it is inside my housing compound.) I left Sophie tailing behind me when I went to the deli counter to buy cheese, but some parental 6th sense made me turn around and check on her behind me, about 30 seconds too late !

Sophie was happily tucking into a lolly when I saw her. I've never figured out why supermarkets have candy counters just at the height of very small children, but I would like to kick the person who designed this. Somewhere in the middle of wresting the lolly and paying for it and immediately binning it, I am sure I was launching into this long-winded explanation of how you cannot just take things from supermarket counters without asking mummy first.

I came home and surfed online for a while, apparently this is pretty normal behavior, but I am fairly determined to nip it in the bud before it gets worse! While surfing I came upon this site: - veggie tales. They are a collection of story books where the main characters are a bunch of talking vegetables, and through them transmit values such as taking responsibility and telling the truth.

If you are figuring out a gift to get - Veggie Tales would be well appreciated !!

Monday, October 13, 2008

A sunny and quiet spell

Fab's parents left yesterday, Sophie and her dad dropped them at the airport and then went horse-riding at the stables near the airport. I really need to upload the photos which we took when they were here, we got some great (extended) family ones.

Have decided against the double stroller - far too bulky for our needs. What works best is to have Sophie in the Quinny and sling the baby. But very rarely will I have to bring 2 children out by myself, so we are fine for now.

It was wonderful having Papy and Mamy here, Sophie spoke a great deal of French, we had more adult company in the house, and they taught the ayis how to make all of my husband's favorite foods (enough to keep us going in winter anyway). Sophie currently loves to yell "Bon Appetit!" to every single person at the table before commencing every single meal.

There is something I appreciate deeply about not going back to work on Mondays, the quiet lull following a weekend when all the cogs in the machinery are humming again, and you have the deep satisfaction of not being just another wage-slave. One of the deepest benefits about not working is being able to appreciate the NOW very much.

Another one is being able to appreciate my 2 lovely daughters. This is the older one at school last week (pictures courtesy of Ivy) :

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Alexandra Yi Ru Thibault

This is the complimentary photo from the hospital.

Alex has amazing neck muscles for a 2 day old infant, and she managed to hold her head upright for that photo.

Her head shape is still slightly molded from the journey out of the birth canal but luckily she's not cone-headed.

Unfortunately her hair had started shedding already, so there is less of it than when she appeared. But you can see from the photo that it is not actually black but a dark brown.

She has her dad's blue eyes for the moment, although she definitely won't keep them (no recessive blue eye gene on my side of the equation I'm afraid).

We took her to the hospital to get her birth certificate today - she is currently 55 cm and 4 kg.


I had been complaining about the selection of dolls in Beijing. It seems really difficult to buy a doll that is NOT blond and blue eyed and some variant of Barbie, or some random Disney princess. I had been looking for a doll with Eurasian features without much success, and at this point was happy to settle on just an "Asian" doll without it being sterotyped in cheong sam or kimino.

Sophie finally has 2 dolls. One from her French grandparents with dark hair and eyes which she baptized as "Baby" (what else?) and a Haba one from my German friend Miriam whom she calls "Lukas". It's wonderful that Lukas has light brown hair and light brown eyes.

We have pretty amusing conversations regarding Baby and Lukas. Since she started school, Sophie started speaking increasing amounts of English voluntarily, although Chinese is still her language of choice. Her English contains some grammar errors still, but we're working on getting out of 2nd language level.

"wah wah wah"
"Sophie, why is Baby crying?"
"Baby hungry"
"here, why don't you give Baby some food?" (I hand her the fake milk bottle)
(several minutes later)
"Wah Wah Wah"
"what's wrong Sophie? Didn't you feed Baby?"
"Just Joking Mama ... Baby no drink milk"

(** for a split second I wonder whether she is going to tell me she is worried about melamine !)

"Why doesn't Baby drink milk, Sophie?"

"No milk from bottle. "

And my 2 year proceeds to lift her t-shirt up and put the doll to her breast!!

Yep - apparently, Baby is exclusively breast-fed too. Just like Baby Alex....

Monday, October 06, 2008

back to typing with one hand

i forgot what this was like!

I (belatedly) recall doing a lot of one-handed typing when Sophie was a nursing infant. Alex has just reminded me of this... basically I balance her on a boppy pillow and cradle her head with one hand and type or check email with the other.

When I was still able to read (of late my brain has gone mushy ... wonder why?!!) I read this great piece by Jared Diamond about the evolution of this concept of Monogamy. Anyway, apparently, in a very hackneyed interpretation of his excellent work, my decision to have a second child by Fabien is supposed to be a evidence of my belief in him as a good provider for our offspring and of our long term prospects together.

Well, truth be told, Fabien is an excellent dad. I couldn't ask for a better spouse, and he takes great care of our firstborn so well, giving her loads of extra attention so that she does not feel displaced by baby 2. I am relishing my time as a stay home mommy. I sometimes feel sad that my first baby (Sophie) doesn't need me anymore - but that's the whole point of parenting really - to enable an autonomous individual eventually NOT to need you!!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Singing in the park

Skimmerinky dinky dink
Skimerinky doo

I (eye) LOVE YOU...

This is part of the series of photos Fabien took of us when he first got his new camera

A word from Lou Reed

Oh it's such a perfect day,
I'm glad I spent it with you.
Oh such a perfect day,
You just keep me hanging on...

Sophie loves to hug and kiss her little sister. And also play "this little piggy"

The day that Alex was born, Beijing sky was actually surprisingly clear and the air was so crisp and clean - it was beautiful.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

First impressions

So the markets have run wild, the end of the financial world is nigh. Strangely, I feel detached from the outside world.

Life now revolves around sleeping and feeding (myself and Bubs). Oh and falling deeply in love.

Thank you all our friends who have emailed us well wishes! If you have changed your address recently, please let me know by email because we will send you our birth announcements shortly.

We have a whole series of awesome family photos that I cannot wait to upload. But for now, just to record a few initial impressions.

Sophie is extremely sweet with Alex. She wants to hug and hold her all the time. I am less worried about sibling jealousy than I am about Sophie squashing her sister in her enthusiasm. On the other hand, we totally encourage it. Though we have to constantly remind Sophie that despite her best intentions, Alex does not need to share Sophie's food *(my younger daughter is probably far more at risk for on choking on a cookie than my older daughter ever was)

Fabien's parents have arrived and they are thrilled to see their two lovely grandchildren. Fab is wonderful, taking his parents and Sophie out to enjoy the end of autumn (the last spell of sunshine just before winter arrives) so that I can rest more in the mornings alone with Alex.

A picture speaks more than anything, so I really will download the photos. The only problem I having with Fab's new camera is that the photo size is so big, that it takes a really long time to upload online. Does anyone know how to shrink the size (i.e. reduce number of pixels) for uploading?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Welcome Baby Alex !

25 September 2008:
- PRC launched Shen Zhou 7
- Our latest family member: Alexandra Yi Ru Lee- Thibault (aka the Rocket)

We checked into hospital at 11am and she arrived at 12:40pm, making her a really rapid baby rocket ! Birth Ball, Yoga mat, and a spa pool are all provided for in the hospital, so it was another epidural-free birth as we had wanted. Fabien missed his calling as a midwife, he's really a fantastic birth partner, and he very proudly cut the umbilical cord of our daughter.

At 50cm long and 3,3 kg she actually emerged smaller than Sophie (but no more quiet).

For those of you still wondering about why she took so long to appear - it might now be that she's right on time ! The duty pediatrician who gave her the routine check said she doesn't look like a post-mature baby at all. There was still plenty of amniotic fluid surrounding her, the obstetrician concluded that the first "due date" of 20 September was probably incorrect because she had been growing so fast they thought she was older on the scan than she in fact was.

It's hard to describe our first few days together. Fabien is thrilled, fatherhood really suits him, and somehow he has always imagined being surrounded by lots of little girls. I am very excited too, it's a new adventure parenting 2 kids, and I also can't wait to discover the personality and character of our latest little daughter!

BTW -- She's a superstar already. The hospital asked whether we minded getting a photographer in the room when we gave her a bath the next day. Apparently TIME magazine is doing a feature on health-care in China, and wanted to some photos, so the hospital suggested our daughter because of all the babies born that day, she had lots of beautiful dark hair. I signed the consent form on the basis that we'd get some digital copies of the photos - hahahaha.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Baby 2's Chinese name - reviewed

As of today, Baby 2 has just missed the chance to be a Virgo and will be a Libra.

Oh yeah, we found a nice unisex name which is kind of like Ruyi - which is Yiru (亦儒) which also means "to be like Confucius", and this would also carry on the theme of "Compassion". Hang on - Compassion and Confucius? Yep, I think so....

There is a lot of association (to my mind - negative) between Confucius and formality or rigid structure. This probably had to do with the very elaborate rituals and rules found in the Analects which are attributed to him. He's also said quite a lot of nonsense about the status of women, and about rulers and subjects. However, I guess that can be forgiven as being reflective of the current ideas at that time that he lived.

I'd like to think of him as an early secular humanist. He wasn't all that interested in the afterlife, but was pretty anxious that people treated each other in an ethical manner, and although writing a whole set of etiquette rules wasn't the best way to go about this, I wouldn't necessarily disregard everything about someone who says stuff like this:


When the stables were burnt down, on returning from court, Confucius said, "Was anyone hurt?" He did not ask about the horses - Analects X.11, tr. A. Waley

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sleepless Sharon in Beijing

This baby is nocturnal. I swear it.

I am awake almost every night for the last couple of weeks, I simply CANNOT sleep. Either there are Braxton Hicks contractions, or else the baby is kicking me like the 100m freestyle finals or else I have suddenly remembered something I want to check online.

Fabien and I are pretty much decided on a girl's name - Alexandra. Unless she comes out totally not looking like an Ally at all.

For a boy, we just have a toss-up between Matthieu and (Seb)Bastien. I prefer "Sebastien" and Fab prefers just "Bastien".

I guess we will just have to wait for him/her to arrive. If it is a girl, it will just save us a lot of debate. PLEASE be a girl !!

Guess what - for the middle names (which will be Chinese) we aren't decided either.

We don't have a boy's chinese name either, although we are considering Ruyi for a girl - 如意. It's one of the era names of the Chinese Empress Wu Ze Tian (and I've always thought she was the original career woman). It's also a proper noun - you can read about it here

It's also the cute indirect reference to the super cool weapon (如意金箍棒) used by the Monkey King in Journey to the West and always copied in manga and I used to read it as a a kid (heh).. But we're just not completely decided yet.

My husband's Chinese name has an "en" (法恩) so I was kind of thinking to continue the "family theme" of compassion for our kids.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Do you think she will be a lawyer?

Yes, we are still waiting, trying to prepare ourselves and Sophie.

She is currently fascinated by the baby's mobile (which she "helped" to set up) and also the wall decals I put up near the baby's bed. Since Beijing is still technically an earthquake zone, I don't want to hang paintings over any beds. So I put wall decals for the baby to have something interesting to look at. I originally envisaged this beautiful leaf and branch pattern in gold and black (babies apparently need high contrast patterns) but Sophie had other ideas!

I gave her 2 leaves of the decals to play with and set to work with the rest. I explained she could play with ONLY 2 leaves. Then I went out of the room to deal with something else. When I came back, I realised she had re-arranged all the patterns, and our subsequent conversation went like this:

"Sophie, why did you take out all the leaves? Mummy said you could play with only TWO leaves""

"Yes Mummy only 2 leaves - see?"

And she goes back to stick 2 leaves on the wall, and takes another 2 leaves off. Okay, as an interpretation exercise, I didn't specify that she could play with only THOSE 2 leaves in particular. So she decided that this meant that she could play with any 2 leaves at each time.

Do you think that she will be a lawyer?

Big Brother is Watching

One of the things I dig about Sophie's school is that you can login on their website and see what she's done in school for that week. There are videos and photos so it's a bit like watching reality TV. This is of course in addition to the "fish tank" - i.e. the one-way window in the nursery classroom, for parents to look at their precious offspring when they want to. It's just gratifying to be kept updated in your little one's life on a daily basis. Even Sophie's 2 ayis are addicted, and whenever I am home and online, they ask whether they can see what Sophie has done in school that week!

This "surveillance" probably annoys the teachers like heck, but I think it's good for a school to have a commitment to transparency about what they are doing with the kids. Most parents will just sneak a peek in the initial days of settling in the children, and once they are satisfied that the teachers are caring and gentle, then you normally will leave them as professionals to do their job (and get back to theirs).

Sophie's grandparents really enjoy logging in (they have the password too) and seeing her progress every week. They surprise her by knowing all the things she has done ! The other fun thing is that CD for the parents with all the songs that they sing in school, so we can sing along with Sophie to whatever version of Wheels on the Bus which is taught in their school.

Head-Shoulders-knees-toes ...

Hats and sunblock when they play outside - Sophie loves the outdoor play part, and brings back home kilos of sand in her clothes from the sandbox each day.

Snack time is also something she looks forward to. Organic carrot sticks just like at home !

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The best compliments

Some of the best compliments are the ones from random strangers, and Sophie's been getting a couple of them lately, so I am writing them down now to store up so I won't forget. Sometimes having a toddler is so exhausting that you forget that they are really quite sweet ... sometimes !

Incident 1

A mom that I didn't previously know came up to me at the playground to tell me that Sophie is one of the most considerate children she has ever met. She explained that she had been taking her son to the playground regularly and had always seen Sophie, but had never met Sophie's mom and was quite happy to meet me.

She told me that she was really surprised that consistently for the past half year, Sophie would wait for other kids playing at the bottom of a slide to move before coming down or stop herself mid-slide so that she wouldn't bump into them. For someone under 2 years to regularly exhibit both foresight and empathy was really quite pleasant.

Incident 2

Sophie has a naturally reserved nature- she doesn't enjoy un-solicited attention from strangers (she's going to find pushy salespeople hell in future). She generally tends to ignore people trying to start a conversation with her. Which is strange considering she has a pretty developed language ability, so actually she understand you just fine, but she's just ignoring you. Unless, if she thinks that somebody actually needs help.

We were in a shop with one of my Francophone friends and their child, and Sophie knows them well enough, so I left her playing with them for a while when I went to the toilet. When I came back, I found Sophie carrying out a conversation in Mandarin with one of the security guards. The security guard was very excited when he saw me. He told me that he had wanted to tell my French friends something (in Mandarin) that they were closing one exit, could we please use another one when we left the store, but my friends didn't understand him. Sophie had been playing and observing quietly nearby, and suddenly walked up to my friend and explained (in French) what the guard had said, and told the guard (in Mandarin) that our friends didn't understand Mandarin.

At least if she can't do anything else in future she can make her living as an interpreter...

Incident 3

This one was much earlier. We are at a party, one of the balloons burst. Some of the younger toddlers start to cry. Sophie was startled initially but is afterwards pretty zen and continues playing quietly. The host mom commented that Sophie was so calm, and asked why I was leaving so early.

I explained that Sophie needed to take a nap at home. One of the dads commented that we were lucky that Sophie napped so long, because his daughter doesn't seem to need a lot of sleep. I didn't say anything then, but I noted that his daughter was crying when the balloon went off, and stopped only when she was picked up by her father.

Anyone having done some research into infant sleep, will realise that well-rested infants and toddlers are generally more calm/self-soothing. There are other documented benefits like longer concentration span, lower risk of obesity and some benefits which are just common sense like higher immunity to disease. Obviously, there is no "magic number" of hours that kids need to sleep, and I do agree that some children naturally need less sleep than others. But there is enough literature to show that it is extremely likely that anyone under 2 years old sleeping regularly less than a total of 10 hours per day is just chronically sleep deprived.

As it so happens, my kid needs a lot of regular sleep and as a parenting philosophy I have to see that she gets it despite the fact that she may sometimes believe otherwise. After all, just because she would like to eat chocolate everyday doesn't necessarily mean that I'd allow her to do so. When Sophie was about 7 months old, we used a "fade" approach, which basically involves lengthening the interval before responding to the cry. We had to use a watch to make sure that we weren't cheating on the intervals because believe me 60 seconds of listening to a wail sure feels like an hour. For cutting the 3am night-feed, we needed proof that it was not hunger causing her to wake up, so when she cried at 3am, Fabien took a bottle of expressed breast milk to measure how much she drank. Each time, she only took a sip and then snuggled up to her dad to fall asleep, so that gave us more resolve to cut the night breast feed completely.

I am recording all this down now because when Baby 2 arrives, we will probably have to do this all over again (or at least in some permutation) and I need to strengthen my resolve to do so!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Being frivolous right now

I've been taking some time off from blogging because don't feel like I have anything interesting to say. Or at least I am being even more pedestrian than usual. The choice of McCain's running mate is just something I feel incredulous about, that Lehman is in trouble is alarming, but for now I have chosen to focus on immediate worries.

Such as why it seems impossible to buy a doll for Sophie which isn't completely Caucasian looking. Some child-care books about sibling rivalry suggest that getting a doll for Sophie for her to "feed" and "diaper" and "wear in a sling" may help with adjusting to life with a new infant at home. But preferably it should have Eurasian features that she can identify with. It seems that there is ABSOLUTELY none on the market. Apparently toy companies manufacture dolls which are predominantly White/Black/Yellow without actually realizing that there is a large market of half-breeds out there. There are some Hispanic dolls with yellow-ish skin, but brown hair and brown eyes which may just have to do. For the moment anyway.

The upsides of not working right now:
Long leisurely coffees with my friends,lovely walks with my kid (we've been blessed with gorgeous weather!) and generally doing the small bits of admin that I still have left to do before Baby 2 appears.

I am enjoying it whilst it lasts!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Just in case you didn't know

We are STILL waiting for our Baby 2!!

But this new camera is great!!

Fab's birthday present

Here we are playing silly buggers. The first shots my husband takes is of his wife (you can see the Nikon box on our bed), the first shot his wife takes is of the mirror.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Health Update for everyone

We went for a family visit to the hospital today. Mummy is doing great, and is happy to see the Australian doc. He's very funny but totally knows his stuff, and my only hesitation about having him deliver our kid is that because he's so popular - he's always (too) busy.

The baby seems to be in no hurry to make her/his grand entry into the world. We can't wait to see if it is an Alexandra or Matthieu. S/he is over 3 kg now and probably arriving on the due date of 20 September.

Sophie went for a health check to get her school medical form signed and stamped. She is slightly over 13 kg, and slightly over 91 cm tall, which is supposed to be slightly taller and heavier than average. The best news is that she's as healthy as a baby bull and every bit as obstinate.

School is going very well, the parental advice sheet said that we should send our kid to school with a "transitional object" which for us was Monsieur Chat. Strangely enough she seems to take his disappearance very well. Maybe (unlike all of us) she actually practices detachment.

But just in case she changes her mind - her loving grandparents are getting another one in France anyway.

** Post script Baby 2 will be either a Virgo or a Libra. Sophie is a Taurus, and there are days when she is BULL HEADED about things. It's really funny to see how she (apparently) matches her star sign traits. It's hogwash I am sure, but it's still pretty fun to go online and check out the "astrological fit" of this Baby and the rest of the family.

Monday, September 08, 2008

First School Casualty

This is the only picture I quickly took off online for Sophie's Papy and Mamy to try to buy in France. This is/was Monsieur Chat.

Sophie took him to school, but he never came home!

Friday, September 05, 2008

cookie dough dynamo

Murphy's law works every time.

We have a Teddy Bear's Picnic organised today. Some of Sophie's little friends are coming around and having fairy cakes and other fun things. We made cookie wands this morning. This means doing a regular star-shaped cookie and sticking a wooden ice-cream stick into the dough before baking -- Voila cookie wand!

Sophie was great at breaking the eggs and mixing it (quite enthusiastically). Fab commented that it seems she has her mother's talent for creating quite impressive culinary messes. We were all having a wonderful time, and even took some photos.

Then disaster struck ! A water main in our building burst and there was no water in the house.

So we were left with a mess like this

[insert photo]

- in perfect timing, the camera battery is flat, so I need to charge it before down-loading the photo - come back later to look at it.

PPS - My ayi is pretty resourceful. She managed to just vacuum up all the floor and scrounge around for some water to wipe down the table first so that the mess doesn't spread around the house.

Monday, September 01, 2008

First Day of School for Sophie

Sophie picked out the clothes and shoes she wanted to wear (the green turtle t-shirt and blue shorts) - I was sort of hoping she'd pick a dress because I was sure everyone would tell ask about our "son" (they did). Then she walked out of the house and proudly announced (in Chinese) to ayi "Goodbye! I am going to school today! Mama and Papa are taking me to school because I am a BIG GIRL now." It's just as well we're going to have another baby. I keep getting reminded that we have a BIG GIRL now, that I almost feel sad about it.

As far as our BIG GIRL was concerned, Fabien and I had spent some weeks before discussing the concept of "school" in detail, so I was wondering how much of the message she'd have picked up.

Quite a lot it seems!

Fabien and I did all the "textbook" things, which is to settle her in an interesting activity in class (today it was cars and play-dough) say goodbye and tell her that we would come back to see her when school finished, and went out without coming back inside the classroom. Then we went around the class room where there was a one-way window where parents could observe the children without being seen by them. We had been "warned" by the principal that in her experience the kids usually had a harder time adapting if they knew their parents were still around.

Sophie was perfectly happy saying goodbye to us. She played with cars and trucks, a doctor kit and some dolls, and some wood blocks. I left just after the snack time, when I saw her eating like we don't feed her at home. She seemed content to observe the teachers and other kids around her and play quietly by herself.

The only glitch in the day was that she absolutely REFUSED to use the bathroom with any of the teachers. I had given her teachers "bunny rabbit" to suggest to her that she needed to go to the toilet, but they told me she thumped bunny rabbit on the head, pushed the teacher away and simply refused. She held it in until 12 when she saw Fab and me and immediately told us she needed to go, and the look of relief on her face! I think her little bladder was on the brink of exploding.

According to her teachers, she only cried once, that was at the end of the day when she was tired and her father and I were both late to pick her from school. We both got held up in the office (I am technically on maternity leave, but ...) and my poor darling had to watch all the other little children and their parents re-united.

When she didn't see us, the teacher said she burst into tears and asked (in Chinese) "that is Jarred's mama, this is Chloe's papa - where is Sophie's mama and papa?"

We were only 5 minutes late, but the teacher explained (rather reproachfully!) that all the parents were already waiting outside the classroom for half an hour. We felt a little criminal. This probably explained why she got away with having a chocolate croissant for lunch that she picked up herself from the French bakery.

The area around Sophie's school is like a small piece of France in the middle of Beijing. Fabien told me he was actually glad not to be living there - he felt it was just too weird - why move to another country if all you want to to do is try to re-create your own little village 10,000 km away? He is however very thankful for the yummy breads and pastries though (probably another reason why we picked this school!)

Anyway, if you think Sophie's was "abandoned" by her parents - don't need to feel too sorry for her - the moment she saw Fabien and me, she didn't want to leave the (fun and exciting) classroom, and wanted us to stay there and play with her.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Wild Thing - you make my heart sing

Sophie's favourite game right now is "Wild Thing" a game inspired by Maurice Sendak's classic book.

The rules are pretty simple. Sophie gets chased around the house by her father who "roars his terrible roar, gnashes his terrible teeth, and waves his terrible claws". Until she turns around, looks him in the eye and says "BE STILL" and then as an after-thought usually adds "Si tu plait" ("Please" in French). Then Fabien freezes, usually in mid-roar, until she has gained enough distance and she says "okay wild thing, you can continue", then the roaring, screaming and chasing starts again.

The book is more than 40 years old, and is beautifully illustrated, though the "wild things" actually do look quite scary. When we play this game, Sophie runs around screaming in a paroxysm of delight with that under-tone of fear inherent in any chasing game.

If we wished to include any subliminal message, I suppose it would be this - that when the big scary monster with horns and claws is chasing you, the hard thing to do is to turn around and look at it in the eye. However, once you do that, perhaps you can master it.

Leaving aside any values transmission nonsense which I am probably subjecting to over-analysis - we play this game all the time because it's such great fun.

And when I spend a Saturday morning looking at my husband chasing our daughter behind the sofa and listen to her authoratiative "BE STILL!" I feel a strange sense of contentment (and hear the Troggs/Jimi Hendrix playing in the background).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Mama says "school". Papa dit "ecole". What does Wai Gong and Wai Po say?

Sophie's Orientation day at school was yesterday. We met the parents of Sophie's classmates and her teachers, and let Sophie see her classroom and the other little children who are going to become her friends. Fabien was really surprised to see the number of other Dads who were in the classroom too. In the recollection of our own childhood, only Mums dealt with these events, but 21st century Dads are very much more hands-on it seems, and in one case, only Dad brought the kids, and mum was working.

Sophie seemed to settle in really well and played contentedly with the little cars and the play-dough moulds and put them away in their right places when she was done. Of course, she knew that her parents were just there, and it might be a different scenario on Monday when she realises that we are LEAVING her there.

I am not sure whether I will have worse seperation anxiety than Sophie. However I'll have to be careful not to transmit my own fears to her. I know she will be fine. It's just that I feel like crying - it's so fast and my little baby is all grown up!

We've had the luxury of keeping at home for so long in a cotton-wool padded innocence where she was the centre of the universe, but I know that we have to kick her out of the nest soon. I saw a shy 3 year old clinging on to mummy's leg and crying in the classroom, so I know that I don't want to keep Sophie at home until she is 3 because all that happens is that it just becomes harder to cut those apron strings!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


"Good morning darling, did you have a good sleep? Would you like some milk?"
"Yes please maman, Sophie catch a wolf."
"Okay, Mummy is going to get you your cup, and then we can catch the wolf after breakfast"
"No. No cup. Want bottle"
"You want to drink milk from a Bottle? but why honey?"
"Sophie want to drink milk in bottle like baby. Mama carry Sophie. Mama big and Sophie still small little baby. See? Waaah waah waah"

We have been trying to prepare Sophie for the impending arrival of Number 2, so we've been reading her lots of books being a big sister and what baby will do and so on. Some books show mummy breast feeding Baby, and others show Papa bottle feeding baby - which appears to be where she gets the idea from.

Currently she swings between being the proud big sister, and reverting to baby-language and baby behaviour. This is probably her way of processing the information and being reassured that we will still love her.

The other funny things she does now is that all the characters in books come to life and exist in Sophie's own life. When she sees flowers, she wants to pick them "like Katie" and paint them "like Claude Monet" (from Katie and the Impressionist). Sophie wants to call the Baby Max, so she can sail with him/her to "where the wild things are". Oh yes, and the constant wolf-catching exercise is never ending.

At least Baby enjoys listening to Peter and the wolf as much as Sophie, although I am not sure how many more repetitions of the song I can handle. If anyone knows of any more children's stories with accompanying ochestra music PLEASE let me know. I am getting fed up of hearing it for what feels like the millionth time.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The day the computer made me cry

"Hello IT guy? Sorry to call you on a Sunday. There's a small problem. I'm looking at document reference number 12345 version 4 and it seems wrong. I saved it into the server, but the amendments are only until yesterday morning."

"Were you working on email? Have you looked in your TEMP files?"

"No, I saved it back to the server. It's not an email. I just did a search in "My Computer" for all ".DOC" files and it's not there"

"what was the last thing you did?"

"I had just shut down my computer to go home, but then I thought maybe I should also print a hard copy of my work to proof-read, so I restarted my PC and printed the document. When I looked at the print I realised it was the wrong version. I went back to all the files, and it seems that the correct version is gone. The last edit on the history column shows that it is yesterday's document, but I can't find anything which reflects the work I did today".

"Okay, let me look on the server for you, if you saved it on the server, it should be there, give me the document reference number again?"

What probably happened was this - we use a shared document management system in our office that allows you to check-in and check-out documents. Each document has a unique document reference number. When you check-out a document nobody else can work on that specific document, and then you check it back inside and it will over-write whatever the last version was with that number (or else you create a new version). As I hate working with too many versions, I usually just select "save over" when I check it back in.

What happened was probably this, earlier, I had checked out a version of this document, and when I logged back in today, I didn't check it back in, but opened the "old version" in the computer, and worked on it (without even printing anything!) and then when I shut down my computer, I must have checked in the "wrong version" which had over-written all my work of today.


I just gave up and went home, and the good news is that I made it back in time to tell Sophie a story or two. I will just go to the office early tommorrow morning and deal with this.

If I was superstitious I might have thought it was divine punishment for not observing the sabbath. Indirectly that is probably correct, because working in an office with no airconditioning (and hence no air circulation) is probably terrible for a 8 month pregnant woman, and I made an incredibly stupid error in NOT printing out the correct document before shutting down. At the very least if I had done that, then some poor secretary would copy type the damn thing for me tomorrow, but at least I wouldn't have felt so close to suicide!

I am in the office on a bloody sunday

It's Sunday afternoon, it was Alex's birthday - happy birthday Alex ! no, not our kid-in-utero, but the Alex that's married to one of my friends. We tried to get a good photo to give them, but they kind of were running around and entertaining all their guests (and kids) that it was almost no way in hell that we could get a family photo of them without telling them to pose, so we just gave up and talked to other guests and enjoyed our lunch (sorry Jac, if it was going to happen today it would have).

I am trying to finish writing one paper, start on another, prepare a bill, arrange lunch with a client, and prepare a hand-over file all by Monday. I think that's not going to be possible. I will have to re-schedule and stagger everything over the week. It's my last week of work and I think I have just too many things on my plate right now. Over-commitment R us indeed. But the good news is that this is the ONLY time in the one year that I have worked in my law firm that I have had to work on more than 2 consecutive weekends. Yet, not so long ago in Singapore, I think I could count on my fingers (okay and toes) how many weekends I DIDN'T work at all.

At lunch, I was talking to another family who were previously living in Hong Kong (let's call them Mr and Mrs Sachs). They seemed pretty nice, BUT when they asked me "what are you guys doing after lunch?" I said "unfortunately, I have to go the office in a while"; they are the only family who were not utterly and completely shocked. Every other person within earshot expressed abject horror at the idea, and I also got this chorus of "why are you STILL working?!"

I think my life values have evolved over the past few years.

Amongst the people I have loved and left, there are a couple of bankers lurking on the list. Okay okay, in my defence - I was young and impressionable and they looked nice in suits. And at that time I spent all my weekends working anyway, so the only way we could have a relationship was by email, and the only way to demonstrate affection was by spending lots of money on each other. It was very silly, and whilst I do not regret that phase, I am glad it's over!

Fast Forward to 10 years later, and currently, I am dead against Fabien ever becoming a banker/consultant. For myself - I am in no danger as I have absolutely no numerical skills whatsoever. However, I also know deep in my gut that Fab would make an awesome i-banker or consultant if he ever wanted to. I just don't want to lose him to the evil corporate machinery that are large banks and commercial consultancies. Let other people willing to sell their soul go and work for the Mckinseys and Bains. This man comes home filthy from spending 12 hours digging around the insides of a train and he rocks my casbah just the way he is (possibly better after a shower though).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Final Stretch

Some Random thoughts on a second pregnancy...

1) Braxton Hicks contractions are stronger than the first - maybe all that Raspberry Leaf Tea is working!
2) Fabien and I are far too relaxed for our own good. Sophie's birth was so eagerly anticipated we even had a baby bag packed for hospital with all our lists and excel spreadsheets prepared by Week 32. We are currently in Week 36 and we haven't even worked out where our Kid 2 will sleep yet!!
3) It's definitely very exciting not to find out the sex of our kid in advance - people are making guesses!

I have so many issues to settle before leaving the office and I agonise about my career alot. I am starting leave on 1 September, and although I will definitely take about 4 months off full time, I leave open the question of whether I will return to work part time or full time and for how long.

Either way, I think there is no way I could be a full-time Stay At Home Mommy in the long term. I find myself hallucinating slightly after spending a full morning with Sophie and her entire imaginary world, and I cannot wait to go back to the the reassuringly solid office after that.

We read Peter and the Wolf (again!) and played "Tea Party" this morning, where she baked an (imaginary) cake and invited all her little bears for tea. We have a great minature ceramic play-set for her which Fabien complains looks better than our (adult) one.

After all the (exhausting!) drama of the tea (tea was too hot, needed lots of milk, there was not enough cake to go around, then it started raining) the whales and fish wanted to have a swim in the sea which had formed because it had rained so much (you can see the noah's ark story has deep impact) and I gratefully left for work, to the sound of Sophie "splashing" around the living room in her imaginary ocean looking for Nemo and his friends.

It's fun doing this for about 2 hours, but I really admire (and have no idea) how Sophie's 2 nannys live in this imaginary world for the Entire Day. By the end of that, I think I would be seeing talking bears and leprechauns popping out of the sofa and would need a double whiskey on the rocks to be rid of them.

My friend Lucy commented that at the going rate, we'll need a sheepdog to look after all our children. I think she doesn't have to worry - I doubt my sanity can handle more than 2.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Reading Bug

Fabien went to the Bird's nest after lunch today to watch the athletics. Sophie and Mummy spent the afternoon resting and listening to Peter and the Wolf read by Dame Edna and performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (yet another great present from Sophie's magic godmother Joan if I remember correctly - we're grateful always for your excellent gift-buying taste).

The way Sophie and I enjoy reading has evolved over the last 2 years.

Shortly after birth, I used to read the Economist to her (it was my solution for catching up on my own personal reading without feeling that I was ignoring her).

About 4 months I put her in a bumbo seat facing me and held the book open on my lap so she could watch me signing with the words. Equally often, we'd sit and read together with her on my lap.

This is an early photo of her happily flipping pages of a magazine - Right side up!

This evolved later on to reading as a social activity with her other little playgroup pals. Here are Sophie and Esteban reading board books from Auntie Jacqueline. It's actually quite funny because this photo was taken a couple of months ago, and Sophie had already been told that I was pregnant with Baby 2 (she is reading "Waiting for Baby"), and Esteban just had a new baby brother - he is reading "our new baby". Self-Help Books have a toddler niche market!

Currently, she owns about 70 to 80 children's books in a variety of languages, but we take out about 25 to 30, placed on 2 shelves around her height, so that she can take out and put away by herself. The rest of the books are kept away in a cupboard (out of sight and reach) and rotated regularly to keep them all interesting.

Peter and the Wolf
is currently (again) Sophie's book of the week and we have to read it everyday. Sometimes Sophie substitutes her own name for Peter, and triumphantly declares that Sophie caught the wolf and took it with the hunters to the zoo.

Did I ever tell you that I adore children's musical tales? Especially Peter and the Wolf - we have it in quite a few different versions, so I guess Sophie has inherited that part of my musical tastes. Our recent fun activity involves a narration of the story (with a remote control so that we can skip of the 'boring bits'!) and we listen to various orchestral compositions together. We have slowly made our way through Romeo and Juliet and Pictures at an Exhibition (Картинки с выставки – Воспоминание о Викторе) . On Mussorgsky's gorgeous romantic piece - if anyone knows where to find Viktor Hartman's paintings illustrated in a children's book to accompany the music, do tell me please. I'd love to be able to use this "window" when she is interested in listening to me tell her stories with music, before she goes to school and listens to the Wiggles.

Lots of our favourite books are gifts: Where the Wild Things Are (Auntie Elaine) and Goodnight Moon (Auntie Liyi). Anyone with a toddler will also recognise the names of Sandra Boynton, Beatrix Potter, Dr Seuss and Eric Carlyle.... However, amongst all these classics, there is one book that has been special: My mum goes to work by Kes Gray The opening lines (yes - I've memorised them!) are "My mummy goes to work, but I know she still loves me. My mummy goes to work, but she thinks about me all the time. " It was all extremely reassuring to Sophie to be read all this when I went back to work.

We read that book before I went to work Every Single Morning, till the entire book and illustrations are imprinted forever in my memory. I think I'll know all the words even if I get Alzheimer's -- Together with this indelible image:

Bling Bling (not)

Fab's grandfather gave his grandmother a necklace with 6 diamonds after the birth of their 6th child (Fabien's mother). Fab asked: if our second child is a girl, would I like anything pretty for us?

Well sir - funny you should mention...

I was just looking at the VCA Alhambra collection, because I love their gorgeous mother-daughter matching sets. I just think it would be so cute if Sophie, her sister and mummy all got the same motif necklace/bracelets.

Alarm bells start to ring when you go to their website and realize that there are no price tags. I happen to know what it costs, and after a short struggle with the conscience I find that I just cannot justify a set of 3 pretty baubles. Fabien is relieved with this resolve, otherwise he will suddenly find himself hoping we have a boy!

I console myself that the good karma that comes from keeping our level of consumption (relatively) low such that we are able to give more loans to change lives, is worth far far more than looking effortlessly chic. But dammit, why are these things just so damn pretty?

** acknowledgment: The image above is taken from the Van Cleef & Arpels website

Friday, August 15, 2008

Hello Alex are you there?

I realise I haven't been writing alot about our new Baby 2. This may be because we are such blase parents that we have not really been thinking about Baby 2. But we have been interacting to some extent.

The fun part about not knowing the gender of our in-utero kid is about delayed gratification, and letting the tension build. Not everyone agrees with this, and it's not for anyone who wants advance notice to paint their nurseries pink or blue. But it works well for us, since we like the gender neutral greens, calming greens, cheerful yellows and the natural wood colorings that was both Sophie's color theme and that of our second child.

Anyway, we play this game about the name of our kid. We need to have at least one name of each sex. So sometimes, we will ask the kid (aloud) Are you Matthew? If you like the name Matthew - please make some movement! We were really hoping that the kid would move because Fab's favourite cousin Matthieu was the witness in our wedding, and we both liked that name.

Of course we get nothing. No reaction either for Timothy, Loic, or Amaury either.

Then we tried the girl's names - "do you like the name Elodie?" Nope, nothing either.

When I asked - Do you want to be called ALEX? I get a kick and another kick!

We like the name Alexandra for a girl, and Matthew for a boy, although since this kid seems to WANT to be called Alex, so maybe we might just end up with a boy called Alexandre.

Freedom of choice starts so young !

Overheard .... or Lost in Traduction

Fabien speaks to Sophie in French, although sometimes he can't resist practicing his Chinese with her and she corrects him - though the funniest is when she corrects his French too !!
- Regard Sophie - c'est quoi ca? c'est un ver de terre
(translation: look Sophie - what's that? It's an earthworm)
- Non Papa, pas un ver de terre.... il s'appelle "Earthworm".
(translation: No Papa, it's called "earthworm")

She looks at him very seriously, and says "Earthworm" very slowly as if to make sure he understood. At this point Fabien and I are rolling around the ground laughing. When we come up for air, I try to tell her:
- Darling, Papa calls this un ver de terre, and Mama calls this an earthworm. But it means the same thing, and Sophie can call this both an earthworm and un ver de terre.
- No Mama. This is Earthworm.
- But why Sophie?
(switching to snappy and frustrated chinese to better express herself) He is called "Earthworm" (the last word reverts back to English).
You mean his name is Earthworm?
Yes. (with a "my parents are so dumb my eyeballs roll" expression)

I don't know exactly what she will be like as an adolescent, but if this is anything like a preview, then we are most definitely in for a mad ride! Currently, all her furry animals in the house have fixed names (and distinct personalities). For example, we have tried to get her out of the habit of whining, but sometimes she waves her stuffed animal so that it is _the whiny Bear_ (and not Sophie) which is crying for attention... And so sometimes it is Mr Cat which has stuck playdough on the sofa (even when Sophie knows that is verboten) and it is the Baby Monkey which made crayon marks on the table - thank goodness for washable crayons.

In an adult, this would be possibly the basis of interesting psychiatric observation, but I am assured that in a 2 year old this is apparently normal behaviour - Sophie spends time talking very sincerely to various imaginary pals (not limited to her entire toybox full of plush animals but more esoteric interactions include the ongoing soap opera with the complex love affairs between the chair, table, cutlery etc...). Sometimes the line between imagination and reality is so fine that I wonder whether she believes in the fiction herself ! Calvin and Hobbes anyone?

I think/hope this will fade away when she spends even more time with "real" little children to be friends with.

So it's just as well that we got our 'welcome letter' from ivy academy regarding Sophie's first day of school on 1 September (by no small coincidence also my first day of maternity leave). We were given a list of things to leave in the school locker (a waterbottle, indoor shoes, family photos to put in front of her locker) , a list of phrases to familiarise our child with the concepts (e.g. "what is circle time?"), and an appointment for "orientation" with our child on 28 August, where we could meet the parents of Sophie's future classmates, and introduce Sophie to her teacher and so on. Oh yes, we also need photocopies of identity documents of the nanny and drivers, car-plate numbers, recent photos of all the people authorised to collect Sophie from school, and a signed stack of parental authorisation/disclaimer forms, a medical form stating any allergies, and an updated vaccination record.

Fabien is very amused - all this formality for 4 hours, 3 times per week "schooling" for a 26 month old child !

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Peer Pressure

I really would like all the parents of Sophie's friends to read this interview:

The reason is simple - If our children are playing together, then they probably have much more influence on each other, than whatever you or I do.

Our influence on our kids is mostly already in their DNA - for instance, if you are left-handed, have perfect eyesight, enjoy reading Hegel, have violent tendencies or are allergic to peanuts, your biological children probably have inherited these traits from you. Studies of families who have adopted children from different biological parents seem to demonstrate that the adopted siblings, despite sharing the same home environment, are more no more likely to resemble each other than two complete strangers. And twins who were seperated at birth and raised by different families, still end up with very similar personality traits and IQ.

Of course, environment still has a role - an obvious example (I think Steven Pinker refers to it, but I cannot remember) is that if you plant cloned wheat plants in 2 different fields, and water and fertilize one field and leave the other neglected, then of course you get a completely harvests at the end of the season. However, this "environment" is only partly what your child does at home, and a good part of it is what happens when your kid plays with other children.

So, according to Ms Harris, once you discount any genetic predisposition to do so, if you want your kid to enjoy eating organic peaches and reading Hegel, then you have to make sure that your child's peer group enjoys these same activites. Otherwise, no matter how much organic tofu you pack in your kid's lunchbox, your kid will want to eat hamburgers and watch Disney if that is what this is what his/her friends do. This is probably still why people are going to try to send their kids to private schools or live in expensive neighbourhoods, as the biggest influence you can have on your children is to choose their friends !