Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"admissions interview" passed with flying colors

Some time ago, I learnt that Sophie has good self-esteem. This cannot be confused with being loud or rough. Sophie is a generally gentle and quiet child, yet she's definitely knows her own mind and will fearlessly go for whatever she had decided she wants, be it obsessive animal hugging/petting or going head first down a slide. Whilst this persistent behaviour drives me crazy sometimes, I now know that this is supposed to be a sign of self-esteem.

I was at Ivy Academy and I was with the admissions director (who used to teach pre-kindergarten) and she spent time observing Sophie in a group with other children, and talking to Sophie. It was not so much an "Admissions Interview" as merely a friendly chat for parent and school to decide what would best suit the child. For example, the school needs to know what personality the child has, and which kind of "multiple intelligence" the child exhibits to decide the class placement and teacher. Oh yes - I was also informed Sophie has music and math intelligence. I knew about the music one, but the math one mystifies me (probably her dad, but definitely not from me!)

Anyway, we had a good chat, and it seems that our home environment is very complimentary to the school. We have a "high self-esteem" environment because we have (1) fixed time-table (knowing what is going to happen next creates security for a kid) and (2) frequent praise directed at specific behaviour (e.g. "good share"! "thank you for waiting patiently" etc..) and (3) assumed competence and respected choices (e.g it's time to get dressed, which coat will you wear? The red one? okay, do you want to put it on yourself, or mummy help you?)

I was worried initially, because in my extensive research I haven't heard so many good things about Ivy Billingual (the sister school to Ivy Academy). However going to the school multiple times, with Sophie, speaking to the teachers, directors, and (most importantly!) a range of other parents, I decided that this is really worth all that extra money.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

So tired!

I wonder if I am somehow related to brown bear. It's winter and I feel like I need to hibernate. I am just so tired !

Just got back from a whirlwind trip to HK, and despite the original plan of having Sophie and Fab join me in a squeezy little hotel in Central, I was fed up of work, and just wanted to go home to Beijing!

I let the battery run out on the blackberry and had a fantastic weekend. What the heck the work will wait, and I will deal with it all on Monday.

We had a lazy "lau pa sat" (they have a Beijing franchise!) lunch where Sophie ate vast amounts of mee pok and mince porks and mushroom, rice and beef rendang, double helpings of papadums, fried "black" carrot cake (for my non-Singaporean friends, you do not know happiness till you have had one of these!) and ice milo. We were quite surprised that Sophie munched her way through everything - spice and all. The Singaporean Force is strong in this one.

We also went to the "underground city", which is a system of tunnels dug underground for some war (cannot remember which one). It's interesting if you like wandering around damp tunnels with a guide dressed in PLA fatigues recalling some esoteric military history facts and figures, but looking too young to shave.

For lunch we had one of those hotel brunches (with magicians and balloons and limitless cartoons!) which Sophie absolutely adored. She also showed her French gastronomic roots by attacking an entire foie gras and caviar on the table when her parents weren't looking. I also wonder where half my sashimi went!

I used to be quite worried about the stuff Sophie eats, but now that she is almost two, and has munched happily on grass, sand, mud and tuna from the floor, I take an infinitely more relaxed view on this. She's an adorable kid with a healthy appetite - what more do I want?

We sat next to a table of Aussie families and friends and all their kids. Sophie made some new little friends, and just as we were leaving one of the mums walked up to Fab and me to tell us how well-behaved and sweet Sophie was. We were swelling up with pride (or was it the third helping of chocolate fondue?). We like to believe that this may be due to that endless repetition of "Please...Thank you!"; "I can hear you no need to shout" and "Good Sharing!". We gotta believe something haven't we?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

hey teacher leave those kids alone

A couple of days ago when I was in a store in Singapore and somebody was trying to sell me a Leap pad for Sophie, and she tried this silly argument on me about exposure and interactivity to help speech development. I told the nice sales lady that Sophie is currently speaking really well because she gets constantly exposed to 3 languages by wonderful people who love her to bits - so exactly what need do I have for a talking toy? When you reduce it down to its basic form -- most children's products are just lousy plastic substitutes for good care-givers, and if you have that, you don't need more than some rough paper, a couple of coloring pens, some humour and imagination.

The nannies taking care of Sophie at home are just the kind of people that I am happy leaving Sophie with for about 5 hours a day. I work at home some mornings, and others Sophie has some kind of activity planned. The afternoons (after the nap) is devoted to picking up leaves in the downstairs garden, visit the supermarket and learn the names of fruit and vegetables, and just do fun stuff with ayi.

I still think that going to nursery school is the best thing for Sophie when term begins this September. She's a curious little girl with lovely manners and has a quiet confidence. I think it is a confidence which springs from having had a sheltered life with her every need answered, and her overall belief of her place in the world is just so innocent and pure that my heart aches inexplicably when I see her wandering around without a care. It's just like her habit of approaching every single dog she meets with outstretched arms and a big goofy smile comes from never having interacted with anything other than the most well mannered dogs belonging to our neighbours, family and friends.

At some point in time, she will have to learn that not all dogs are so polite and not everyone will love her unreservedly. At some point she will have to learn "my turn!" and "share!" the hard way, and at some point she will know that you do have to push a little in a crowd to make yourself some room.

In an ideal world I would have liked her to learn these lessons in one of the "purist" monterssori shcools in beijing with classic large classrooms and mixed-age classes. However the one in town is not on the way to my office and is in the middle of one of the largest traffic snarls around, and the other one is far out in the suburbs, and not on either mine or Fab's work route.

In terms of the available choices, I am torn between Ivy Academy ( and British School ( British School has a more formal cirriculum overall, and the kids wear uniforms (they look really cute though!). Ivy Academy has a smaller campus and I think a bigger free play component.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Some Pros and Cons about living here

We love our apartment - the size, the finishings, and the view. Fab stitched these photos so that the many friends we keep inviting here can see what to look forward to.

The biggest disadvantage about living opposite the park is that you get the brunt of Chinese New Year fireworks. Which keep the whole family awake!

Monday, February 04, 2008

For better or for worse

My brain has gone into over-drive. I find myself waking up in the night with things I want to blog about, or parts of my work that I want to correct (it's drafting time, but rebuttals are harder than primary witness statements because you have to make sure you stay on track and don't go off on a merry tangent that witnesses always do). Anyway I digress (you see- it's contagious!) I was thinking about marriage. Away from the (yawn!) American election, and looking at the still beautiful Carla Bruni, and wondering if the marriage will help or hurt Sarko; I find myself wondering about marriage as an institution.

This might be the year where the number of my married friends exceed the number of unmarried friends. Obviously there is an inherent bias because now that I have Sophie, I naturally gravitate to other similar family units to form new friendships, and as I am married, the majority of my new friends tend to be married as well. However this doesn't explain why I have 6 wedding invitations in my mailbox from university/pre-university friends.

I really enjoyed reading this essay. It appears that Fabien and I seem to have at least a good foundation for a happy marriage (or so it would seem from the Amato study).

I think the sound bite for why we got married because we wanted a public declaration of a private emotion. An open commitment to love and respect together is an old fashioned romantic thing to do. In the light of our international travel and expat packages, it's also practical thing to do. Many countries make it a pain to apply for accompanying visas for your partner if you are not married. And in view of having children, whether adoptive or biological, it makes life administratively much easier. That is not to say that I think marriage is inherently a good or bad thing, like many other aspects of free choice, it really depends on the personal motivations behind it all. You can do the right thing for all the wrong reasons. However when it all comes together nicely, it's a beautiful thing.

Today, when a marriage works, it delivers more benefits to its members — adults and children — than ever before. A good marriage is fairer and more fulfilling for both men and women than couples of the past could ever have imagined. ... .

Sunday, February 03, 2008

I want to ride my tricycle, I want to ride my trike

Researching for a tricycle for Sophie has been quite fun. I find myself drooling over the Oko above. Isn't it fantastic? Go google it for the review, I challenge you to find any parent of a toddler making objective criticisms about it.

Although the selection appears incredible, I don't know if I can buy any of them in Beijing?!

I might be reduced to buying whatever I can put into a flat-pack in Singapore and into the check-in luggage on a plane. So even though I personally prefer beautiful engineered pieces of steel and/or wood, we might have to face up to the reality of being the plastic consumerist parent. Sigh!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Raising a kiddo just like you

As one human to another, I'd like to question you
If it takes the sun and the rain to make a tree grow,
If it takes the moon and the tide to make the sea flow,
What does it take to love a child?

Frank Sinatra asked this question some time ago, and we parents answer it every single day. I recently started a playgroup for 18 to 24 month olds, and for various reasons me and the munchkin haven't been going as much as we would like to. Nonetheless, the exercise has been good because us mummy-types got together to have a good discussion about values and objectives so that we are all of the same thinking on the broad principles.

So insofar as they can be set out, I think for the answer to Old Blue-eyes is that the 3 cornerstones are these (which is not to say that I am great in putting this into practice, but at least I write them down to know what I am aiming for!):

1) Love thyself.
Self-love does not equate to being selfish, that is an entirely different thing altogether. Self-love starts from knowing and accepting yourself, and taking responsibility for your happiness. Children, like Australians, have an innate bullshit sensor. They will ignore the verbal lesson in favour of the one that is lived. Teach a child to be generous by letting them see that you are happy to share your possessions, your money, your time. Teach a child to love and respect themselves (and you!) by mirroring that behaviour. I think one of the biggest gifts I give to Sophie is by being a working parent and NOT being guilty about that. I am walking the talk that work/life balance is a difficult but achievable state of being.

2) Set Boundaries.
Any relationship has boundaries. The difference between relationships with other adults and child-adult relationships is where the burden of setting and enforcing boundaries fall. Relationships between consenting adults can be all manner of negotiable boundaries of acceptable behaviour. When hanging out with little people, (unfortunately) one of you has to be the adult. That means being responsible enough for you and someone else much younger and weaker - that's what being a "dependant" means ...

3) Begin with the end in mind.
The end point of nurturing a little person is so that the little person becomes an adult and LEAVES you. There is no point in holding them back because you need them more than they need you. That applies to the first day of kindergarten as much as the first day of tertiary education.


Come close to me child,
I want to give you something.
The gift of knowing who you are
loving you wholly and utterly,
even if sometimes I don't like the things you do
and you make me sad, angry or just tired.
I still love you and will always do.

I can do this because I know just who I am
and I can be strong.
So strong that I know just
when to be weak
when to be meek
and when to say I am sorry.

Be whatever you want to be kid
Your parents will love you
And so will all the doggies of the neighborhood.