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.