Monday, January 28, 2008

If music be the food of love

For our third wedding anniversary, I thought we would spend it quietly watching a Serbian beat a Frenchman in Australia, even though I have the same views on the new court surface colour.

Instead we bought a Clavinova.

I hadn't played the piano for more than a decade, but when the shop delivered it I started getting excited again, even if all I could remember are scales and the most traumatising snatches of old exam pieces.

Fabien loves music but he has never had any formal training, so I wanted to find someone to give him lessons (he wants to know if she can look like Isabelle Huppert)...

We have already established that somebody else loves music...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Comparisons, Percentiles and Over-acheivers

Sophie had a check up today, but no vaccines because she was having a runny nose. For the record, she is Little Miss 50 percentile. Weighing slightly over 11 kg (about 25 pounds) and standing at about 82cm (about 32 inches). All weights and heights with small children are approximates because any variance in a body so small makes a lot of difference, yet at this age they are in constant motion!

While watching Sophie play in the waiting area, some little incident happen that has strengthened my resolve to not let her get swept into the cult of comparisons and over-achieving.

It's really difficult because even her bloody height and weight has to be measured by reference to other kids in her age group. In this age where everything is bespoke, I am surprised that nobody has yet created a "child-specific" chart for anything! But human beings need to compare, it is what makes us think we are getting ahead, and the foundation of social behavior. Truly marching to their own internal drum-beat are autistic children, who have their own highly individual patterns of emotional and social growth (although in physical growth they are often very beautiful). The competition to be "better" than everyone else usually starts in utero, because as a highly excited (and intense) new mother, I read up on just about every thing I could lay my hands on in relation to pregnancy and child-rearing, and started putting them into practice with the first DHA pill I popped. Fabien used to joke that if there was a way to study for a blood test, I would do it!!

Anyway, I digress. What brought me to this revelation?

Sophie was quietly drawing on the table and once in a while, she would turn back to me and tell me the back story to each drawing.

This other mom and her 2 sons was also in the waiting area, and she turns to me to say "how old is your daughter? 2 years old? She's very small." I turn around and coldly say "she just turned 20 months, and she's just right for a girl". At this moment the nurse calls and Sophie and I leave the room. I do not smile at the woman because I did not like her tone of voice.

I know that many times Sophie gets mistaken for a very small 2 year old because she has the same language skills, so perhaps she was just paying a very backhanded compliment. But I didn't like the way she said it, there was just too much disappointment on her face when I said that Sophie was in fact some time away from her second birthday. ** Editorial explanation: I know that to my non-breeder friends this sounds like a trivial point, but believe me in the world of preschoolers, 4 months is a very long time indeed.

The conclusion (if there is one!) on all this meandering thought is that I have resolved to try to be less obsessed about percentiles, and by extension comparisons with other children. That mother that I met in the waiting room today was ugly, and that's really not where I want to be because it doesn't aid anything. Of course I want to be aware of these charts (and of course claim bragging rights when my little smarty pants lives up to her Asian over-achieving heritage) but I want to keep in perspective that it really does not make any difference in the long term.

Sweet faced angel babies might morph into terror toddlers, or angst-ridden adolescents. I will only know when my child becomes an adult (and takes responsibility for her own actions) that I have fulfilled all my obligations as a parent. But hey, as John Maynard puts it - in the long run we are all dead.

Coloring is fun!

Sophie and her great love - Nathaniel. The images say everything don't it? The silence of 2 kids drawing is just so peaceful and lets the moms play with the sweet little baby Sassy.

My (very brave) friend Jaq had 2 kids in 2 years, and I have never stopped being impressed by how she raises the both of them, and simultaneously manages her career (she set up her own company and that's really liberating but also stressful) and a relocation with the family to a city where she doesn't really speak the local lingo.

Three cheers for the super-mom!~!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

3 random post-weekend ramblings

From Goethe, a Faustian bargain occurs when the protagonist is offered his heart's desire in return for his eternal soul. The modern equivalent must be the double income family which can afford to pay for great childcare, and finding that this is necessary.


Fabien is part of our "weekend family" again, so I feel justified in complaining about this to the world at large.

He's presently lost in the hinterland of China for the month of January, and comes back once or twice a week for just enough time to have a couple of meals, play with Sophie, kiss his wife, and disappear on a train or plane. Sophie isn't bothered, she's a toddler and lives in the "now" so the concept of time is inherently flexible. I am reduced to moping, blogging, and reading delightfully misogynist Schopenhauer which makes me wonder how little the preceding generation of bra-burning sisters have done for the cause. We are now in 2008 and still Sophie sees her father going off to "work" being waved off into the horizon by mummy standing on the threshold with baby on the hip. Desperate Housewives are us indeed.


I have a career not a job, and I like it. If I did not get paid to do what I do, I would still do it because it gives me a sense of purpose and a status which i did not feel when I was just the "accompanying spouse". What kind of sick society do we live in that we do not value full time mothers who are unpaid, full time, potty-trainers, snot-wipers, boo-boo kissers, early childhood educators cum playtime companions?

One of the most important aspects of my job - that I can work equally from inside an A380 or in my living room. As long as I can bill a client for the time reading papers, considering their problems and finding a workable solution, I am value-adding, and I can justify not sitting at my desk. To a certain extent, technology both traps and redeems us.

That of course doesn't make it easier to wrench myself away from my little munchkin every morning, although these days, the separation anxiety is entirely mine. She's growing like a weed, and I am constantly pre-occupied with finding the most appropriate school for her right now.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Having faith in yourself and your parenting style

When all my mommy friends are doing baby kumon or flash cards or some kind of enrichment activity I don't know whether or not to jump on the latest fad band-wagon and do something "educational" with Sophie too. But I think I'll keep letting Sophie decide what she wants to learn and I think we're okay... We will just keep reading, talking and playing with her in different languages and see where it takes us. I am pretty sure that not many 20 month olds can say "armadillo" and "hippopotamus" when it appears in their picture book. We've definitely left the "farmyard" variety of animals behind us and (apart from dinosaurs - which is her other favourite) she loves looking through a dog breeding book and we show her "labrador" and "german shepard" and "border collie".

... the best predictor of how a child will do in school is not reading ability but rather the size and richness of the child's vocabulary....
conducted a meticulous longitudinal study tracking the vocabulary growth in young children coming from three types of families: professional class, working class, and those who were on welfare. The results were stunning, and depressing for anyone who is troubled by inequity. ... Across four years, the average child from a professional family would have heard nearly 45 million words spoken to them, the average child from a working class family, 26 million, and the average child from a family on welfare, 13 million. That means that compared with the affluent child, the poor child would be starting school with an astonishing deficit of 32 million words of language experience. ... As long as parents are exposing their children to a nurturing, vibrant environment, reading to them regularly, and speaking with them intelligently, they should feel free to put the flash cards away

You can read the full article here

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thank you Thank you

I teach Sophie to write Thank you letters, she cannot write yet, but we color on a paper together and then I mail it to the lovely people who have given her presents this Christmas.

I try to put this into practice in my own life too. So I will write proper thank you notes to my wonderful friends and family (if I have not already done so). If you have given us a gift - look out in the mail! there should be a Thank You coming!

We have been very lucky this year, and we have recieved the most wonderful and thoughtful presents. Sophie's second birthday is coming, and I will take this anti-consumerist suggestion and tell guests to bring a song for her birthday. Yep - Sophie loves music so if they can sing her a song, that will be a great gift!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ours to Protect

"Protective" is probably a good word to describe my efforts to teach Sophie good sleep habits even though (1) I have awful sleep habits myself and (2) I believe that a certain amount of protest-crying is inevitable in the course of doing so.

My personal relationship with sleep is terrible. From the onset of puberty into my mid-twenties. I frequently had "awake" states lasting for days where I was a whirlwind of simultaneous activity, writing, partying, exercising. This was then followed by an intense lethargy where my existence was entirely devoid of meaning. These swings evened out as I grew older for a variety of reasons, but for me, the key factor was a comparatively(!) more disciplined sleeping routine aided by yoga.

Insomnia is a terrible place to be, and one experience that I am anxious to protect Sophie from. This of course doesn't mean that she cannot stay up late once in a while, but it is the effect of incremental and chronic sleep deprivation which should be avoided.

The current science does back up my thinking - If you are interested take how children/infant sleep impacts both their behaviour as well as
cognitive development and you will see that there is some evidence that children linking sufficient high quality (i.e. uninterrupted and with a few REM cycles) sleep to positive behavioural traits and higher intelligence.

In Sophie's case I think at least 11 continuous hours per night and 90 mins after lunch works out pretty well. She spends a great deal of time in intense and quiet contemplation, and just when you think she is day dreaming, she will make some observation that usually surprises me.

Yes - she does "make observations" -- In terms of communication and other skills, she is currently pretty much months ahead on those pesky developmental milestones and since she started speaking in short phrases some time ago, our only concern is in encouraging approximately uniform development rates in all 3 working languages of our household.

I have friends who tell me that Sophie is an "easy" baby - au contraire! She was colicky and needed to be soothed (in arms) to sleep for the first 6 months of her life. We had to train her to sleep the entire night till she started doing it at 8 or 9 months. We used the (admittedly controversial) extinction methods, and there were those early days when she would be crying in her crib and I would be crying in the bathroom, but one year later, I have absolutely no regrets. It worked overall for us, although there were situations where we adapted it or didn't use it at all if she was genuinely uncomfortable (e.g teething and post-vaccine feverish).

I am not saying that everyone should use the extinction method to get your child to have good sleep habits.

What I am advocating is that good sleeping habits are necessary for healthy children, and it is part of parental duty to establish and protect sleep by whatever means works best for that particular child.

I've extracted an email with one with my favourite analogy between sleep and food:-

Suppose your kid wants to eat junk food ALL the time, you are going to just say NO to her no matter how much of a tantrum she throws. With-holding good nutrition by allowing excessive consumption of junk-food is tantamount to child-abuse -- Why should we treat the with-holding of high quality sleep any different?

It is far too easy to give in to requests to be cuddled and for "just one more" bedtime story. For a working parent, who doesn't want the opportunity to savour a few more minutes of snuggles with their beloved offspring? But if important parent-child time that is encroaching into healthy bed-times, then serious re-schedulings must be considered.

A healthy and normal kid who is smart enough to understand what you are saying is smart enough to be told they have to go to sleep - whether or not they agree with this view~ That is the hard part about being a parent, but (at least to me) that is what a responsible parent has to do.

3 snippets in the midst of a 2 horse race

In the midst of the election hype going on right now, and I am sick of wondering whether the USA is more racist or more sexist. Given the current content of our news channels, it appears that America as much more of a national interest in naval gazing than most other countries. Australia recently elected a new government in much less time and without half as much fuss. Whilst the rest of the world may well be quite interested in the eventual November result, I wonder if there is a global need to know the voting percentages in individual caucuses to the exclusion of other equally worthy election news like the one in Kenya?


Recently, I had Sophie in my arms, resting her head on my shoulder when suddenly she says "Maman! Beijing! Pekin!" I found this slightly odd given that we were in the middle of a Paris airport. But anyway I looked in the direction that she was pointing and saw a map of the world which was put up on the side of a Relay bookstore. I'm pretty impressed. Sophie has a World Map at home which is a giant foam puzzle sent by her Godma Joan and she loves to tear it apart and put it together.

What I found pretty cool is that she can identify Beijing, France, Singapore, South Africa, Italy, Canada, Brazil and USA on a map on a relief map which looks entirely different in colour and style (not to mention context!) from the one we have at home.

Anyway, from what I understand of their education system, this small country-identification exercise is more than what most American adults can do.

Over this Christmas holiday I spent some time searching myself to see if I harbored any delusions that Sophie could be some kind of infant prodigy or genius. I can honestly say that I do not hold such aspirations. What I do feel more anxious to protect however is her curious and creative spark which I hope does not get quashed in parental efforts to establish boundaries and inculcate a value system, nor beaten out by a rigid formal education system.


New Year's Resolution

It was all pre-ordained. I was trying something crazy with a SIM card and PDA and between changing SIMs between Europe and China managed to delete away half the numbers in my phone. SO to cut the long story short I just tell people that I lost my phone and need to retrieve my phone numbers and address book (again).

The other thing is the my New Year's Resolution this year is to try to keep in touch. So I have been calling all my friends to check their contact details are current, see which Number kid or Spouse they are on, and so on and so forth...

I called a whole bunch of people and it is really nice to see that they are all doing great (if a little surprised) by the annual phone call.

The mad one is still alive (although sounding snowed under) the zen one is still zen, the moo cow still chews cud, and so on....

Ah my once-a-year-phone-call friends - bless you all!!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Happy Happy You You

This is a back-dated post from 10 December 2007, but it is so sweet it deserves recording for posterity. Parents surreptiously send me out of the house with Fabien on some innocent errand. Mum singlehandedly whips up a delicious dinner for all of us whilst my dad teaches Sophie to sing the birthday song. Since he only has an hour to teach her, he thinks that "happy happy you you" x 4 (with the addition of "mama" at the end of the last verse) would be simple and very cute.

Admittedly our household has taken qute a few creative liberties with nursery rhymes, fairy tales and songs. Normally I change her bed time stories to have strong female characters and ecological themes. So she might be slightly surprised at kindergarten later to find that she is the only one who has heard of Snow White and the 7 eco-warriors, and Cinder-fella who went to the ball and met a princess who wanted them to be friends and get to know him better before deciding whether or not to get married ... If anyone knows of other politically correct brothers Grimm versions, do let me know!

So Happy Happy You You has currently become Sophie's favourite song, which she sings in entirety to Monsieur Chat (cat), Madame Cochon (pig) and Sophie-Bear-Bear (the gift from her Uncle Shaun and her favourite fluffy bear). The blowing candles part is the best fun for her and she sometimes cuts the song short to go striaght to the blowing...

Sunday, January 06, 2008

We are back!

We're back from our whistle-stop tour of Northern France, Paris, Turin, and although we had a great time, I am glad to be back home in Beijing, where ayi cooks, cleans and put our kid to bed so that we can unpack, distribute gifts and catch up on email.

We took a 10am Turin-Paris flight and then 7pm Paris-Beijing, and originally we wanted to spend the transit at an airport hotel but when we arrived (with our 70 kg of luggage - I couldn't resist the wooden Noah's Ark!!) there was absolutely no room at all - 2 planes for Bucharest were grounded for tecnhical problems.

It was actually better that Sophie couldn't nap in the hotel as originally intended because she then managed to sleep 7 hours on a 10 hour flight, and the rest of the time, played quietly watched Harry Potter on the inflight movie, and ignore the cute blond boy one row behind us who (unfortunately) screamed for most of the trip. I don't know whether it is mere coincidence or not, but our Turin-Paris flight also contained a baby boy who screamed for most of the 90 minute flight. There were 4 other girls and 4 other boys (quite a representative sample from Narnia) between 0 to 2 years old on both flights (airlines tend to group all the lap-children together) and only the boys were really difficult to handle (struggling, kicking, crying, refusing to be soothed... there but for the grace of God go I!!)

If there can be any link established between being male and being a lousy traveller (apart from being allergic to asking for directions!), then if I want a second child, we need to find some way of ensuring that it is female - adoption seems a good idea...