Monday, July 28, 2008

Baby What's Your sign?

We were at another baby party over the weekend (when you have kids, weekends are never ending birthday parties), and another mom observed that her kid didn't speak as many words as Sophie at that age. She asked whether we did anything "special"?

It's inevitable when you put devoted parents and their offpring in the same room all this comparison takes place, and whilst I TRY not to get too wrapped up in it, I guess it's hard not to when you are bursting with pride at your child's little milestones.

Anyways I told her that whilst I frankly doubted that Sophie is any kind of prodigy, nor would any kind of external stimulus turn her into one, I do think that her language skills have been aided and somewhat elevated by one of the parenting crazes of recent times - Baby Sign language. I say this with great reluctance because I generally try to maintain a healthy skepticism of a good many "make your baby a genius" fads, and in my view, anything that sells itself as boosting my baby's intelligence is probably part of the evil baby business empire.

But at least this stuff has (some) scientific backing. If you are too lazy to read the whole article, just skip to this extract:
The results of the present study, particularly the comparisons between the Sign Training group and the Non-intervention Control group, strongly support the hypothesis that symbolic gesturing facilitates the early stages of verbal language development. In a significant proportion of the comparisons between these two groups, infants who augmented their fledgling vocal vocabularies with symbolic gestures outperformed those who did not. The fact that no such advantage was found for the infants in the Verbal Training group provides reassuring evidence that the superior performance of the ST infants was not simply a function of their families being involved in a language-centered intervention program. The explanation seems to lie instead within the gesturing experience itself.

So I told this mom that my personal experience was that I started signing "milk" to Sophie starting from when she was 6 months old, and it was pretty fun because she signed back almost right immediately. So does it all work? I am not sure, but with Sophie I think it helps to explain her pretty wide vocabulary.

As a random aside- if you want to see what Sophie can or cannot do, you'd have to hang around to long enough to observe it by chance, but I don't have any detailed laundry lists, and I absolutely flat out refuse to make her do party tricks for an audience. There are enough studies that show that getting your kid to "show Auntie Mae how you can clap your hands/ sing a song/ jump through flaming hoops" is just not a good idea in building healthy self-esteem.

On the other hand, there are just certain snippets like that which happen along her learning curve that I found irresistibly cute (okay I recognise that this springs from the maternal urge to show-off, but forgive me here - I do my best to supress it, this is after all a personal blog which serves as my soapbox extolling the benefits of some kooky child raising theory and also a kiddie memory capsule). And this is the one I snap-shot that I want to record: I recently taught her the word "penultimate" the other day, in the context of which staircase step she could jump off. She likes running to her parents and asking "can I jump off this step or this one? Is this one too high?" and so on.. So I told her that the rule is that she can jump off the "penultimate step of any staircase". She got the idea pretty darn quick (when it's related to her favourite activity of jumping off any raised surface, she will get it pronto). She as she was leaping up and down, composed her own little song playing with the words "ran-ultimate, jam-ultimate, sam-ultimate, pen-ultimate!!"... It's cute, but I also think that some of this fairly advanced linguistic play comes from being able to enjoy language and communication from a very early age.

So is it nature or nurture?

The acid test comes with Baby Number 2. Since Sophie has stopped signing a long time ago (we used baby-sign only from 6 months, and starting phasing it out as her speech developed from 12 months). So I cannot remember most of the signs any more. This explains why I am now up way past my bed-time, surfing the web and trying to remember all those damn signs.

I do feel sorry for Baby 2, he/she will definitely not get the entire 1 year of undivided Mommy attention that Sophie did. That also probably means not alot of Baby-signing for Baby 2, so I do wonder how this will make a difference. In any case, I refuse to feel guilty about it. Baby 2 will have something much better that Sophie never had - an older sibling, and that actually gives him/her an edge in social skills, if you believe the research about the effects of birth order on personality. But that is definitely a discussion for another day - Gotta go to bed now!

** post script:

For those of my Mommy friends who ARE going to try baby sign language with their infants, I also want to tell you that for a time (when Sophie was 11 months) she still prefered signing to talking, especially to strangers. I did wonder whether the signing was impairing her language development (despite all the claims to the contrary in the baby-sign community).

However, at 2 years old, I am pretty sure that it didn't hurt, and quite possibly contributed to the fact that she's a chatty little girl in all 3 languages (even if she sometimes mixes them all in the same sentence - e.g. wo yao orange juice si tu plait, bu yao small cup, yao big cup, yao enormous cup, merci).

More Resolution!

I am one of the world's crappest personal financial managers. And I have resolved to do something about it. No need to wait for New Year to make a resolution - why not just do so today?

It spawned from that crazy night-mare that I had where I dreamed my husband had died. It occurs to me that if I had to administer his affairs I would not know where to start. I don't know how much he earns. I don’t know where his/our joint investments are, I cannot remember how much of our mortgage we've paid off, and how many years left we have to service.

I don't know how much my life is insured for, except that it supposed 36 times my salary. But that's only useful if you know what my salary is, and I think I must be the ONLY person in this universe that has no idea what her exact salary is, I sort of remember roughly, but not exactly. And I cannot tell you what my last bonus was without having to go through the papers stuffed in a drawer somewhere. I cannot remember what shares are in my portfolio, I can't remember how much income tax I've paid this or last year (since it's all deducted at source anyway!), I have no clue how much bills are on my credit card - my husband takes care of all this and more.

My financial focus is only on our domestic life, since all my salary is in RMB, and cannot be freely converted, so I pay everything in our household - the nanny's salary, our driver, the food bills, water, electricity, clothes, Sophie's school and activities, and just our general daily consumption.

It's appalling, and I am really embarressed about this. Most of my financial manager friends would be aghast, and wonder how can I handle large amounts of my clients money and yet have no clue about my own personal fiscal balance sheet. The argument that I have the utmost faith in my husband and his judgement is just not going to be useful if he were one day to just disappear.

Fabien calls it the irresponsibility of the over-privileged. His theory is that I never even dreamt of a possibility that I might one day lack cash, and therefore I dump things into my shopping basket without even scrutinizing the prices. This is in reference to the day that I bought a box of foie gras thinking that it had one zero less than it actually did on the price tag!!

I defend myself on the basis that I am completely unmaterialistic person, and it is true that most of my friends would say that I usually give generously without ever looking at the cost.

Although when I think about it, I have to grudgingly admit that he is right. There is no inherent conflict between being generous and being financially aware. In fact, only the financially aware can be truly generous because they know the value of what they are giving, as opposed to someone who is just absolutely clueless about it all.

So I am going on this bout of taking out my excel spreadsheets and looking at our consumption patterns and savings right now. I should do this exercise regularly, together with our conversations about the future and where in the world we intend to live and for our children to go to school, and for us to grow old together. It's all in abstract if one does not have the financial basis for these decisions.

Thankfully, my loving husband is ever patient and ready to start explaining all this to me. Starting over dinner tonight.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Learning to fall

My cousin Kyle forwarded this article to me.

It's not a new criticism but it absolutely makes sense to me. I don't want Sophie to grow up with a "sense of entitlement", and it is scary the number of "Ivy-retards" that we know. Learning to fail, and how to cope with failure is an important skill, and it's one of those important things which (paradoxically) eventually very successful people are good at.

On a quite literal interpretation of that last idea - we bought Sophie a bicycle (with trainer wheels) over the weekend. I gave up looking for a trike and just went striaght for her little bicycle. She still seems to prefer riding a horse though. Maybe it's just a general preference for something alive! After trying out a couple of schools, I have decided I prefer Sophie's first riding school. Their ponies are the most tame of the bunch, and ideal for teaching very young children. I took some photos from last weekend and I will put them up soon-ish.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Riding the night-mare

Maybe it has to do with the third trimester, or the stress from work and domestic admin, or even the constant kicking coming from our unborn kid. Last night was a tough night, I think I got maybe 4 or 5 hours of sleep in total. I am exactly like Sophie in the sense that whenever I sleep less, my body thinks that it therefore need less sleep. With the net result that I find myself awake at 3:00am this morning trying to go back to bed.

I then dreamed that Fabien had died suddenly and unexpectedly and found myself having to check that he was still alive and breathing when I woke up.
In a good way, it reminds me just how much I love my husband, and also set me on a train of mental wandering.

On a practical level, if Fabien were to die suddenly, I probably make enough money to raise 2 kids (although probably not at the standard of life to which we are currently accustomed), but I think I would have a serious organizational deficit in terms of trying to provide a stable and loving family unit. So much of the admin in my life actually relies so much on him (like paying my credit card bills and checking that our vaccines and insurances are up to date) that I wonder whether I would be able to function at all if he were to suddenly disappear.

On an emotional level, I think my life would come to a standstill. What would be unbearable would be explaining to our kids that he isn't there anymore. Sophie absolutely adores her Papa, and with the recent development that Mama is absolutely refusing to carry her and spending time resting instead of taking her out to play, Papa has consequently become a whole lot more fun than Mom!

Fabien spent this weekend horse-riding with Sophie, and she came back very impressed and cannot stop talking about it - "Papa rides so fast - clop clop clop! Papa horse ENORMOUS…" My grandma had been shocked when she found out that I had left Fabien in Bali with Sophie. I think in her time, no sane mom left young children alone with their father for a week, but Fab is an incredibly hands-on father, and I realise I am really pretty lucky when I think about so many of my friends (even in this day and age) where 99.99 percent of child-rearing is done by the mother, sometimes by choice, and sometimes by circumstance. It makes me thankful for my good fortune that my husband and I have the choice to be very equal partners in all aspects parenting our kids. The only thing Fabien cannot do is breastfeed them - but that's about it. He's as good (if not better) than me at putting Sophie to bed, changing diapers, burping, toilet-training, playing and story-reading, that I'm all set to do it ALL OVER AGAIN with him....

The terrible price for loving and being loved is that you are so vulnerable to its loss. Looking at loss with equanimity and Zen is far too distant from the violent passion that can be love.

Despite my many misgivings I went back to sleep after sunrise, and woke up again at 7 am and realised that my husband HAD disappeared - only to be informed by our daughter that he had gone to the gym and would be back for breakfast - sheeesh.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

We can't move because of these playgrounds

It's summer now, and Sophie spends a whole lot of time outdoors playing. The one thing I really like about the Beijing olympics is that the air quality is really great. The city has shut down every single pollutive industry and suspended all construction, so we get a lot of blue sky.

This is the view from Sophie's bedroom. She looks into the playground, and even if she's gone on the swings/slides/trampoline/sand pit 100000000 times, there's always room for one more time. It's an established part of her daily routine, and she plays with her little friends at least 4 hours a day, and comes home with alot of stories about what everyone did today at the playground (including all the dogs, whom she knows by name). She needs to look out of the window every evening and say "good night playground, see you tomorrow".

We can't move house. Our kid loves the indoor and outdoor playgrounds where we stay.

She first learned to swing in our indoor playground. I was surprised at how well she did this. Our munchkin is growing so fast...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Living with a little imperfection

A big kiss to my friends who have made comments or emailed me to ask about my "perfect storm" week this week.

When I re-read it, I actually noticed a couple of typo errors in the earlier blog-post. But I have decided that I can live with some imperfection in my life. Some random anecdote that occured to me was about certain weavers, who deliberately miss a knot before they finish a carpet, because only God has the right to intend to create perfection.

It's not always easy for control freak personalities like me. But heck it is a personal blog, and I have decided it is a good exercise in self-control to STOP myself from going back and editing and correcting every single typo in back entries. I will proof-read of course, but if it is not grossly misleading I think I will have to teach myself to learn to live with imperfection.

I recently created a list of 30 things to do in my 30th year of life, and one of these was to "be a little more accepting of flaws in myself and others". Of course, that in no way means I give up trying to change things which I do not like, but it's about learning to live in an equilibrium.

Other more random things on the list include No. 17 - "get enough thigh and calf muscles to ride without a saddle" and No. 23 - "play a complete piano piece that I like, without looking at the score".

The problem with No. 23 is that I cannot decide which piano piece I like enough to memorise, but I think I will do that this autumn when I start my maternity leave.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Perfect Storm

I have these phases sometimes where I think I am a terrible lawyer/mother/[fill in blank]. Heck, I cannot even get organised enough with my own life, and my house is a mess even though I have to nannys to help me get my act together. I am probably also a terrible employer for making my nannys do stupid things like look for my missing docs at home.

It's a little crazy because I've been so careless (it's a fatal flaw of mine). Except that this is no greek tragedy, but my life we are talking about...and I am looking everywhere for some important personal documents I have misplaced. Also think I have recently submitted professional work - although I haven't committed malpractice or anything, but it just doesn't match up to my own internal quality control, so I am really angry at myself right now. These are mistakes that I don't expect myself to have made, and I wonder being 30 weeks pregnant is giving me baby-brain?!

So yes, I am having ONE OF THESE WEEKS.... where everything is just not working properly for me. The part that drives me nuts is that I think I am usually fairly organised, so it really is a build-up of small errors and over-sights which explode into a perfect storm certain days.

I think I am being melodramatic by the way. I have many many things to be thankful and happy about. But today is just not one of those days to celebrate it.

I think I need to take a deep breath and say "okay, even the storms in our life are beautiful". But that involves a maturity and calm which I definitely do NOT have !!


** Post script for the concerned people that are asking why I am being plagued by self-doubt as a parent: It's because I am trying to decide how long of maternity leave I should ask for. Company policy allows me to take one year off, but that would throw the work/family/life balance out of sync.

The only way to teach the lesson is to walk the talk, and I want Sophie (and our other kids) to understand that even if chasing this elusive equilibrium is very hard (and it is even more difficult if you choose to have biological question), then you must pursue it if you believe that it is a good thing.

At least my husband is pretty lovely. He even bought flowers - so I know he recognises that I am having a really bad day/week!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Transition from Crib to Bed Weekend

This is Sophie's bed. Can you believe that it has no nails? The wood comes from the old beams of houses being demolished in Beijing. This one is made from elm wood, which is a nice hard wood, and coated in linseed oil. At least that's what the carpenter tells me. I believe him though, because there is no "smell" on the bed, and the wood has a nice warm and aged feel. The carpenter is a friend of a friend, and he actually builds these things as a hobby. Talking to him, he is passionate about the "old ways" of chinese carpentry, where no metal or nails are used, and everything is done by hand. The bed is designed (ahem) by the loving parents of Sophie, and the side bar is detachable. so we can take it off later, and it can become a small sofa. We think it will be pretty cool if later on she moves into her own house, and can tell her friends that "hey that sofa you are sitting on was my first bed!". The dimensions are 70 cm by 160cm, and it can bear adult weight, so actually she can use it for a really long time !

Anyway, we put set up the new bed outside her room first, and for all of Friday, we just let her play and jump in it, and (predictably!) she asked to sleep in the bed by Saturday morning. So we made the transition over the weekend.

The results were not altogether surprising. On Saturday, she had her afternoon nap and normal bedtime routine without any problem. We tell her a story, and walk out and close the door, and she falls asleep by herself.

Sunday we were a little overconfident, and we got home late, and by the time we were through with dinner and bath, it was already 8pm (Sophie starts bedtime story by 6:30pm so we had really missed it by a mile). I don't remember it being so difficult to put Sophie to bed in such a long time. It was one hour of stories and crying (when we tried to leave the room) and more soothing before she finally collapsed from sheer exhaustion at 9pm.

The verdict?

Now that she can climb out of her bed and open the door by herself, we just cannot miss the sleep "window" at least for the next couple of weeks until the routine has settled. Having a bed where she is "allowed" to come in and out by herself means that she has alot more freedom, but that also means freedom to get into mischief!

But overall I am glad to be doing this now rather than in 2 months when Kid No. 2 gets here. I have no idea whether she will want to use the small crib again when she sees our second kid getting into it, but we shall just have to see.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thank you !

My friends are wonderful people! Big kisses to SKY for sending me a maternity belt. I'm feeling much better just thinking about it already. I am checking the mail for some instant orthopedic relief !!

And yes, for those of you who want to see - there are some more photos of us in Bali.

On this link

and our friend's Mehndi Ceremony

and the Tanah Lot temple

It was a fantastic holiday and a gorgeous beach front wedding, and we're really re-charged and re-freshed and ready to handle the madness that is the Beijing Olympics.

I think to a great deal of ordinary Beijing residents, they are on the one hand really proud to be a host city, but on the other hand, annoyed by the hassle and inconvenience it causes. Unless of course they are actually going to make money out of it.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


I have numbing back pain now. From the dumbest thing. EVER.

Coming back from Bali, I had a corn on my foot, and I picked and scratched and now it's a mess of raw skin, so the weight distribution on my feet is not even, and so I am not standing properly, and subconsciously shift my weight.

when you are this pregnant:

standing unnaturally only means only one thing ...

Back-ache !!

I wish I had a maternity belt, but I cannot seem to find one in China.

In the meantime, my back is frigging killing me.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Overheard (II) ...

When picking Sophie up from Kindermusik class, my conversation with another mom.

"Sophie's very well behaved, your ayi takes great care of her"
"Yes, thank you"
"She's very small"
(* Sophie is a class with lots of 3 year olds, so I knew where this question was coming from)
"Sophie just turned two"
"Oh, wow, I thought she was three, she told us she was three, but she speaks so well!"

Huh? That was a little strange, I thought to check it out direct from the little chipmunk, and this is our conversation verbatim:

"Sophie why did you tell Auntie that you are 3 years old?"
"Because I want go work."
"Why do you want to go to work?"
"Because Mama go work, Papa go work, Sophie go work"
"You can't go to work at 3 years old anyway. But now you are 2 years old, you can not tell people that you are 3 years old."
"Pour Quoi no tell people 3 years old? Sophie want 3 years old
(Pour quoi French for "Why"? I don't know why she sometimes changes language on me halfway but she does)

Good question kid.

At this age, she is ANYTHING she wants to be. She lives in a complete fantasy world where animals talk and one of her favorite toys is a large cardboard box is a house, a chair, a space-ship and an elevator.

So why not just imagine being 3 years old?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Probably going to change to Picasa or something

I usually like the Facebook photo albums because there are unlimited space for free (unlike Flickr which charges you for the privilege!).

Sophie's flower girl debut can be found at this link

It took me 2 hours and enough cussing and swearin at the computer to upload these photos, so I think I will stop here right now. The problem is that Facebook connection in Beijing seems very unstable and I regularly get the "Server is busy" and "Log in timed out" error message which drives me wild...

Anyway, Bali was awesome, and I really want to LIVE there.

But in the absence of striking the lottery, or making some very capricious investment decisions, I will just have these photos to tell me that it is a lovely venue - especially for weddings.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Haven't been able to upload photos

I haven't been able to upload any of our photos on facebook yet.

At least now I know that I am not the only person with this problem.

I have a lot of things to say about internet censorship, but now I am just to fed up to set out those arguments in any coherent manner.


On a happier front - Fabien and Sophie are coming back today, and I am counting down the minutes before going to the airport to pick them up.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Holiday Reading

One great thing about beach holidays is that it is a chance to catch up on all the holiday reading.

In Bali, I was reading this book. It explains the hype behind marketing like the "mozart effect" and how the "infant enrichment" kind of industry came about through some modest research and spawned this plethora of crap we buy for our kids. The conclusion is that there is absolutely no need to buy a whole bunch of "early reading/math/numeracy skills" materials. In fact, it's probably counter productive, because (surprise surprise) praising children for their intelligence places undue emphasis on being "clever" warps their values, and may create an environment where they eventually lack persistence and prefer to give up rather than fail, or else have a suicidal horror of failure.

I like the book in that the key message takes a lot of pressure off parents as "architects of their child's brain" and any other codswallop which the "early development" marketing industry wishes you to believe. There is very little you can buy that will augment your kid's IQ.

On the other hand, the central message is that forget buying any gadget and just focus on what parents do anyway - providing a nurturing family environment uniquely individual to each family.

I think fairly unique to our family (and some of our friends) - we are big time believer in sleep hygiene. I am not sure why it is not more common place - There are enough studies to show that ADHD kids benefit from having better sleep patterns. It seems self-evident that in normal healthy kids, establishing good sleep habits go a long way in creating quiet and well-behaved children.

Most fellow travelers are amazed that Sophie almost never cries on long trips (car, train, plane). She completely defeats the stereotype of wailing infants and hyperactive toddlers on long-haul flights. They are even more surprised that even when Fabien and I travel with Sophie by ourselves, we have been able to play Nintendo, watch movies, and read books.

Of course, now that Sophie is intensely verbal, we also have had to answer Sophie's constant stream of questions like "Why we fly-fly-fly?" "Why clouds outside?" "Pour Quoi froid dehors?" In doing so, we've talked to Sophie about Bernoulli’s law and lift and thrust, about cloud formation and condensation etc... I have no idea how much physics she has actually absorbed, but it doesn't really matter, because whenever we tell her something new, she becomes extremely quiet and stares into space for a while.

These are random photos of our happy kid on our balcony at the start of the Beijing summer, and her dad managed to catch a photo of her spacing out, but that is what I call the "just wait for it" look. I call it that because it usually means that there is another question bubbling up in that little mind of hers, and I am just waiting for it.

I try to answer the question (whatever it is!) as truthfully and accurately as I can.

Does this exercise make her more intelligent? I have absolutely no idea.

All I know is that after explaining something to her for 10 minutes, she needs to think quietly about it for at least another 10 minutes before asking another question (which may be related to the first question or else completely tangential), which (in the context of a plane journey) lets me complete another level of Super Mario Bros.

Always take the weather with you

I left Bali last night at 8pm and took the overnight flight to Beijing from Singapore - the office driver picked me up from the airport at 7:30am today. He told me that since we left to go on holiday, it has been raining and foggy in Beijing, and only today the sun is back. He wanted to know whether we took the sun to Bali with us?

The funny thing is that, I phoned Fabien and Sophie when I reached home, and apparently, after I left Bali, it started raining and hasn't stopped since !

We have thousands of great photos in our camera from Bali and Singapore. I have to make a start uploading them. You know how sometimes the photos on the internet of a place seem much nicer than the actual hotel? This is where we stayed, and I guess there is no need to upload those photos because the villas really are as nice as the online photos.

Fabien and Sophie are still there (but in the one bedroom villa) and will be back on Saturday.