Monday, August 30, 2010

The Air We Breathe

I have mentioned before that my relationship with this city is a bit rocky at times. Most of the time I’m happy here but there is one thing that bothers me time and time again, and it will eventually drive me away. Hong Kong’s biggest flaw, in my opinion, is the air pollution. There seems to be a great deal of time wasting playing the blame game: Locals here say the problem lies with the factories across the border, while the Chinese say most of those factories are owned and run by Hong Kong businessmen. There’s also a bit of denial about the amount of pollution generated by local traffic and the fact that we all rely on electricity from coal-fire power stations.

Whatever the cause or the source it’s a problem we all share. I would be quite happy here for a long time if the air quality was better all year round. My first year here I had more chest infections than I had ever had in my life. I would come home from a day in town with a tight chest, burning eyes and an itchy throat. When I washed my face at night I’d be wiping off black muck. It wasn’t good. Then I guess I just got used to it and instead I’d be sick when I went back to Australia, as my body went into detox mode. I see more kids here fighting allergies, asthma and respiratory infections than I ever saw in Australia. Having said that, the air quality here this summer has been fantastic. The air was clear and the sky was blue, and for a few months it was easy to pretend that we live in a city that doesn’t have an air pollution problem. Much like the government does year round. The change in the wind direction this weekend brought it all back, and it was very hard to ignore. I subscribe to alerts from the Clean Air Network and on both Saturday and Sunday I received emails warning me that the air quality had reached “hazardous” levels. I only needed to look out the window to know that this was not an overreaction. Even with two air purifiers running full-time I could smell the “bad” air inside the house. It sounds melodramatic but I felt trapped; I didn’t want to go outside but it wasn’t much better inside. Nothing depresses me more than being able to see and smell the air. We hardly went out at all on the weekend, not wanting J to be breathing in goodness knows what, and for the first time in quite a while I was searching for a ventolin inhaler. I don’t want to begin to think what a few months, or years, of this will do to my son’s tiny lungs.

I spent J’s naptime yesterday searching for jobs in Australia and the UK on the internet, but all I learned was that nothing I could do would even come close to supporting us like my husband’s job does. We don’t live an extravagant lifestyle by anybody’s definition but we’re comfortable, and the company he works for makes staying here very appealing. My husband calls it “the Golden Handcuff.” If we left HK and D continued working here and commuting, he’d be away for two weeks at a time. At the moment he’s home for that amount of time and then some. We wouldn’t have as much help as we do here anywhere else in the world and I would have a hard time finding as great a support network and group of friends. We’d make do, like many other families do, but we wouldn’t be as happy or as comfortable. Although, we would probably be healthier. Having to make the choice between sacrificing health or lifestyle makes me uneasy, and at the moment I feel like a bad parent for choosing lifestyle. We don’t know what long-term impact a few years spent inhaling “hazardous” levels of air pollution will have on our health, but I’m sure we’re not going to be better off for it.

Since we moved here I’ve become much more aware of our impact on the environment. It is so obvious here that it’s hard to avoid. Early on I switched to biodegradable and eco-friendly cleaning products and when my son was born I was determined to use eco-nappies and wipes. It’s a hassle sometimes but it’s definitely worth the effort, and I feel better physically now that there are less chemicals being used in the house. I should’ve done it years ago. I’m afraid that I’m such a convert that I will often preach about the merits of an eco-friendly household if anyone so much as comments on J’s chlorine-free nappies. I’m not sure if I’m an eco-hero or a pain in the butt, but I feel like I need to do something to reduce my family’s carbon footprint. It’s very difficult to avoid running the air-conditioners all summer, driving our car, or buying imported food in Hong Kong, and while we live here and consume such huge amounts of electricity, unfortunately, we are part of the problem. Now that I’m a parent I’m even more conscious of it and it worries me, a lot.

If, like me, you’re at all concerned and wondering how you might become part of the solution, or if you want to sign up for pollution alerts check out the (Clean Air Network) CAN’s website, They also have a Facebook group if you’re that way inclined. There's also a book called Going Green in Hong Kong ( I’m a bit obsessed with eco-friendly household products so please let me know if you want any info on those and I will go on for hours…

In other news, I survived my first day at work and, despite some tears in the morning and being absolutely shattered by the end of the day, I think I’ll go back. See you Wednesday x

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Working Nine to Five

Dear Readers, the frantic pace of 5 posts a week has caught up with me and I'm afraid I have to cut back to 3 posts a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). I promise if I have something exciting to say I will make an exception. Apart from a sick little boy (one new tooth and still an upset tummy, have not solved that one yet), I don't have a lot of time to blog this week as I am going to work tomorrow. Some of you might be surprised by this since I've been so adamant that I had no interest in going back. It came as a shock to me too but I found myself  saying "yes" despite my reservations.

I wasn't that committed to my teaching career before we came to Hong Kong so I wasn't concerned if my career took a back seat for a while. In our first year here I worked full-time as a teacher's aide for a child with special needs and I loved it. I worked with a dynamic and inspirational teacher and a great group of kids, and it motivated me to try teaching again. I had been out of the classroom for a while so I had to make do with supply (casual, on-call) teaching but it gave me the opportunity to do some travelling and start a family. And that's where I find myself today. I'm in a fantastic school and I really enjoyed it previously but there was always a niggling feeling in the back of mind that it really wasn't helping my career at all. The longer I don't have a classroom of my own, the harder it will be to find full-time work when I am ready to. I also miss having a purpose at work. I like making plans and seeing them through, getting to know a class and watching them grow through the year. When you're supply teaching it's anybody's guess where you'll end up. I've taught everything from P.E. to Music, and sometimes do all that and more in the one day. It does however get me off the island and gives me a chance to assume the role of Mrs C., where I'm known for being good at what I do, not for being J's mummy or D's wife. It's a nice feeling. I've missed the kids and the other staff, and being engaged and challenged in a different way.

The negatives of going back to work are obvious and numerous. I had actually committed to going back after Chinese New Year but when the time came I wasn't ready. Then I was due to work in March, the same week J's reflux hit its peak and there was no way I was leaving my little guy while he was so miserable. I didn't commit to any more days and eventually I decided August might be a good time to start again, with the commencement of the new school year. I gave it a lot of thought and decided that I should be grateful that I don't need to work; that I have the luxury of choice here. Steve Biddulph, in his book Raising Boys, discusses how important it is for boys to have at least one primary caregiver at home with them at all times. I was so keen for that person to be me. "I can do that!" I rejoiced. Then school rang and I found it very hard to say no. The money will help and it really isn't a huge commitment. I've decided to only work when D is home and I can do as little or as much as I like. I'm trying to justify it to myself because I woke up this morning with a knot in my stomach when I realised I have to get up at 6 tomorrow and go to work. Someone else will be greeting J when he wakes up and giving him his breakfast. I hate the thought that he may still be asleep when I leave. I know it's just a day but he changes so quickly and is simply delightful at the moment. We struggled for the first few months and then at 4 months he became so much more interactive and he was thrilled when we introduced food, I thought he was at the perfect age then. At 5 months he was sitting up, and watching the expression on his face as he viewed the world from a new perspective was priceless. At 6 months he was noticing other kids and starting to show affection for the first time. He was definitely perfect at 6 months. Then at 7 months he started saying "mama" and I thought my heart would burst. At 8 months he now waves hello and goodbye and his favourite game is peekaboo. And he can clap his hands and "sing" and clearly adores his mummy and daddy and his ya-ya. He chases the dog around the house and chatters away all day, he is constantly entertaining. This is definitely the perfect age! I don't want to miss a single minute...

I feel terribly ashamed when I complain about having to go to work and I've had to stop myself a few times from mentioning it around the house. Our helper has 3 children in the Philippines and she had not seen them in 2 years when she came to work for us. She has not spent Christmas at home in 8 years; the whole of her daughter's life. I cried when she told me this year would be the first time she had ever spent Christmas with her daughter! I just cannot imagine how hard that must be. She has no choice but to work in another country so her children have a chance at a better life. I really am very lucky, and I shouldn't complain, but tomorrow will be a very long day. As soon as that bell rings I will be out of that door pushing small children out of my way to get home to my beautiful boy. Have a great weekend everyone, see you Monday x

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Where has all the Hummus Gone?

A minor crisis has occupied my thoughts this week: I have not been able to buy hummus for about 3 weeks now. It’s not an essential part of our weekly diet but I do like it as a snack now and then, and I have been looking for it every time I go to the supermarket. I can’t find it at Taste, Wellcome, Park N’ Shop or threesixty. I thought I was going mad but a friend brought it up today so I know it’s not just me that’s noticed. Most days I can walk into any supermarket and buy yoghurt from the UK, cheese from New Zealand, pears from South Africa and beef from Australia, so I do. But then there are days, I guess between shipments, that I can’t buy any of the above and I have to either drive to another supermarket (sometimes 2 or 3 more) or have pizza for dinner. Sometimes things are out of stock for weeks, or they're available in bulk for a limited time and then they're gone forever. You never know from one week to the next whether or not you're going to be able to get everything you need. Some days I can't even get milk. It’s probably obvious by now that I really like food, and I love cooking, so this is a big problem for me.

In Sydney we lived in the Eastern Suburbs and my local shopping centre was a Westfield, where I could get everything I needed, and lots of things I didn’t, under the one roof. I loved being able to buy fresh produce, imported delicacies and gourmet treats whenever I wanted. Don’t misunderstand me, I was never a caviar and smoked salmon type, but I have always been very specific about what I eat (my husband would say I’m a fussy eater, I prefer discerning). For example, spaghetti bolognaise tastes better with freshly grated parmesan on top and hot, crusty pane di casa on the side. When I make an Indian curry I want raita and pappadums and mango chutney. I have never in my life cooked with watercress or celeriac but I loved the fact that I could get them at my local Coles if I wanted to. Hong Kong has proven a challenge in this respect because almost nothing is grown here; there’s no room. A lot of produce comes from China but you can never be certain that it’s not been covered in pesticides or pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. I may sound neurotic but I think the fruit and vegies from China taste different, and I’m sure when it comes to meat, animal welfare is not an issue. So, we rely on imported foods most of the time. They are fairly readily available, just not in the same quantities or varieties we’re accustomed to. We’ve had to compromise a lot and be a bit more creative. We used to eat veal and lamb at least once a week, now it’s a rare treat. We eat a lot of spaghetti bolognaise, minus the bread, and we’ve accepted that to eat well we need to pay a premium. This issue has never been more of a problem than it is now I have a baby to feed. I want my son to eat well and I’m determined to make as much of his food myself as I can. I may sound a bit pretentious but when I can I buy imported organic vegetables or D shops when he’s away and brings things back. It’s not ideal but it’s worth the effort, and things like nappies and cleaning products actually cost significantly less elsewhere than they do here.

When it comes to imported fruit and vegies the level of freshness is hit and miss. The food has travelled a long way and who knows how long it sat in the back of a plane before it hit the supermarket shelves? (Don’t get me started on our carbon footprint – that’s a discussion for another day). We seem to waste so much food here, which makes me sad, but most of the time it’s almost out of date before you put it in your trolley. On the other hand there is something to be said for having less of everything. I remember going to a supermarket on our last trip to Australia and being completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choice available to us. Fruits, vegetables and meat were piled high in great quantities and I was almost embarrassed by the excess of it all. It seemed so unnecessary and I wondered how much of it was thrown out at the end of the day.

On Saturday I went to Taste, the largest supermarket on Lantau island, and I could not get pears, yoghurt, curry paste or the baby cereal J likes. I was incredibly frustrated and had a bit of tantrum if I’m being completely honest. Part of me feels like it’s arrogant of me to expect to be able to maintain my culinary lifestyle in a foreign country, in an Asian country no less. If I was willing to embrace a diet of rice, pork and Chinese vegetables I’d be able to find what I wanted at the supermarket 100% of the time. That might be oversimplifying the local cuisine quite a bit but I hope you get my point. Ironically I can buy vegemite, Tim Tams and Aussie beef sausages at my local Wellcome, a tiny village supermarket. There are also foods available here that I never would have bought before. Things like kale, quinoa and aloe vera juice are new things we’ve tried. As I already mentioned products on the supermarket shelves come from all over the world and I have been introduced to so many different brands. I have become quite attached to certain biscuits, cereals and pasta sauces, and will miss them when we leave Hong Kong. I also noticed that there are many more organic products available here and there’s a real effort to stock eco conscious and fair-trade products. 

On the days when I take my sense of humour to the supermarket I get a kick out of trying to track down the items on my list; it’s a bit like a treasure hunt. On other days I sound a lot like a spoiled expat, but all I really want is to have my hummus and eat it too.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What Does Robin Say?

This is a photo of just some of my pregnancy and parenting books. I knew that there was no such thing as an instruction manual for babies but that didn’t stop me from trying to find one. I bought a few that were recommended by friends and some that sounded like they were going to tell me what I wanted to hear. Others promised happy babies and a full night’s sleep, every night. There are countless books out there selling philosophies for anxious parents to hang their hopes on, and no matter what you believe you will find one that suits your lifestyle. I have friends who swear by attachment parenting and baby-led routines, while others are convinced that strict eat/play/sleep by the clock and controlled crying worked for them. Our problem wasn’t finding a book to meet our needs: it was convincing our child to comply. For the first few months J was a terrible napper. He would nap for 20 minutes at a time most days and would be overtired and overstimulated at the end of the day, leading to a meltdown in the early evening. I read books like The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems (what a promise!) and BabyWise, hoping to find something that would at least give us some guidance. I quickly learned that most of the strategies relied on babies being compliant and willing to lie in their cots, contentedly drifting off to sleep on their own. My baby wasn't like that and I kept finding myself looking for the chapter titled "What to Do When All Else Fails." Others suggested practising good sleeping habits and teaching independence from day one. Of course for this to work a newborn needs to be willing to be taught, and parents need to be committed to making it work. Again, this wasn't going to happen. From his very first night in the big wide world J wanted to be held, and he was very assertive about it. That night my husband slept sitting up in an armchair with J on his chest. Any attempt to lie him down resulted in a screaming fit, and we'd have to start pacing the floor to settle him down all over again. Once we got him home we convinced him to sleep in a moses basket but he needed to be nursed to sleep first. We were doing this several times a day and I was desperate for help, but any book that suggested I let him “cry it out” was instantly put back on the shelf. There were nights when I was on my own and J was colicky and there was absolutely nothing I could do to console him when I had to leave him in his cot and walk away. I fell apart a few times and a short time-out was best for both of us, but I never felt good about it. In the end, after much trial and error, and many sleepless nights, I came up with my own routine based on several different theories and my own intuition. I paid attention to J and followed his lead and together we worked it out. We got through the rough days by letting J nap in our arms, as it seemed to be the only way to get him to sleep for longer than 20 minutes. It was restrictive at times but I got to catch up on watching movies and reading, and it was lovely just passing the time watching him sleep. Eventually we had him self-soothing and now he has 2 decent naps a day, no crying necessary. I don’t want to sound like I know it all and have everything figured out because I don’t, and I question myself every day. I’m not sure how much of our day works out because of what I’ve consciously implemented and how much of it is just pure luck. J still doesn’t sleep through the night and it seems just when we have everything under control he hits a growth spurt and it all changes again. Some days I can’t keep up.

Another issue I have with the how-to books is the way many of them simply made me feel inadequate. They warned of the dangers of indulging my child, and lead me to believe that if I didn’t teach my child to sleep he’d end up sprouting another head or grow up to become a spoiled brat. One book refers to “accidental parenting,” where parents think they’re doing the right thing but they’re really making life difficult for themselves. It’s tough enough being a parent as it is without being told by an “expert” that you’re doing it all wrong! Once I realised my baby was never going to fit the mould these books described I put them away and followed my instincts.

One book I do rely on is Robin Barker’s Baby Love. Robin is an Australian mothercraft guru and her book is the bible for many new parents.  It is so popular that several bookstores were out of stock when I was trying to buy it (Aussie girls, I found it at Big W for $10 less than it was anywhere else!). I could’ve bought the Americanised version in Hong Kong but I didn’t want to be reading terms like Mommy, pacifier and diaper every time we had an issue! Without dictating a regime or criticising parental errors Robin clearly and concisely explains many aspects of a baby’s first year; the problems you might encounter and ways to fix them. 24 hours after bringing our brand new baby boy home from the hospital he was screaming the house down and leaving pink stains in his nappy. “What does Robin say?” I cried anxiously, and sure enough she had an answer, which was later confirmed by our doctor. My milk hadn’t come through and the poor little guy was dehydrated. Robin was my constant companion in those early days while I struggled to build up my supply and mix breastfeeding with formula. We’ve referred to her for everything from teething and nappy rash to weaning and crawling. She has only let me down once and I feel disloyal for admitting it, but no relationship is ever without its faults. Robin believes that teething causes no discomfort and that all the “signs”, like ear pulling, mouthing, and diarrhoea, that people associate with teething, are just old wives tales. My son would beg to differ. His bottom teeth have been threatening to appear for weeks now and one is just coming through as we speak. He has been cranky and clearly in pain, putting everything in his mouth and yes, he has diarrhoea. I hope it’s just coincidence, mainly because I don’t want him to go through all this for every single tooth, but I’d really like for Robin to be right. My instincts also tell me that he is not well, and I’d much rather be proven right and know I can rely on those instead of some book.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Dear readers, I wanted to let you know that today's post will have to wait till tomorrow... The little man has had a stomach bug and after 24 hours of nappy disasters, I have nothing left to give! Stay tuned x

Friday, August 20, 2010

The God Debate

When I first started this blog I had a dozen different ideas for posts and I’ve been working my way through them based on what’s happening from one day to the next. I’ve been sitting on this one for a while because it’s potentially a bit controversial, nowhere more so than in my own living room. It also might be a bit heavy for a Friday afternoon but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately so for today it’s important for me to talk about it. My husband won’t want me to share this (I may be forced to retract it later on so read quickly!) but he considers himself an atheist. I was christened a Catholic and went to a Catholic school but really the only thing from those days I still practice is the guilt. I’m not sure I believe in God but I’m not a non-believer either. I wouldn’t say we argue about our different beliefs but we don’t often agree when it comes to spiritual matters. Atheists don’t believe in God or heaven or a lot of other things. Personally I think they’re a much maligned and misunderstood bunch who could teach the Micks a thing or two. There is a group called the Sydney Atheists (, whose motto is “Good Without God.” They believe in doing good deeds, without being motivated by religion or a smooth passage into heaven, but simply because as humans we have a responsibility to help others. I have to admit that this is one aspect of the non-religion that I wholeheartedly agree with, and I think the world would be a better place if we all felt this way.

I know it sounds morbid, but believe it or not but the biggest debate we have in our house is over what happens when someone dies. As far as I know atheists don’t believe in heaven or reincarnation, they simply believe that at the end of a person’s life there’s nothing. No white light, no pearly gates and certainly no spirit left behind to lurk in dark hallways. In contrast to this, and the typical Catholic viewpoint, I believe in the human spirit, and I think our hearts and minds are too powerful to simply disappear when we die. I believe that if you hold someone in your heart, and keep their photos on your walls and talk about them often, then they’ll always be with you. My version of heaven was partly inspired by a book that had a profound impact on me as a teenager: Bryce Courtenay’s April Fool’s Day. It’s a true account of his son’s battle with AIDS and subsequent death, and the impact on their family. Around the same time as I was reading this book, close family friends, my Godparents, tragically lost their young son to SIDS. The closing paragraph of the book brought me much comfort and it has stayed with me, and in a sense shaped much of what I believe…

Love is an energy- it can neither be created nor destroyed. It just is, and always will be, giving meaning to life and direction to goodness. Our love will never die.

It’s that energy that I believe we leave behind. When my son was born this belief was strengthened; that energy was palpable.

We may disagree on things like the hereafter but my husband and I did agree when it came to christening J, initially. We talked about it before he was born and decided to let him choose whether or not he wanted to participate in organised religion; we’d just help him make an informed decision. It wasn’t an issue until he arrived and I was hit with the realisation that he was, purely and simply, a miracle. Creating and sustaining a life is not as easy as you imagine it should be and I am amazed at times that there are 6 billion people on Earth! I know so many people who have struggled to fall pregnant or stay pregnant. There are those who’ve known the heartache of childlessness or the grief of losing a child. Some children are born perfectly healthy and right on time, but countless others are premature or plagued with lifelong health issues and disabilities. We had obstacles along the way but for the most part, our son’s arrival was relatively easy. He’s healthy and happy and I feel like I need to celebrate that fact and publicly acknowledge just how grateful I am for it.

Another motivating factor for me is what you might call “celestial protection”. I realised when J was born that giving birth doesn’t suddenly fill you with all the answers you need. Children don’t come with manuals; you need to figure it out as you go along. Parents are not (Shock! Horror!) perfect. We simply have to trust our instincts and do the best we can. All we can do is love them, believe in them and teach them right from wrong. We can do our best to protect them from harm and heartbreak but there are times when no matter how hard we try, how much we love them, we won’t be able to keep them safe. It’s a frightening thought, and that’s why I’m still leaning towards having my son christened. I’d like to know that if there is a God that he’s beside me, fighting in my son’s corner. Maybe he doesn’t need holy water splashed on his head for that, but who knows?

D and I may be divided in our opinions on this issue but we are united in our love for the life we have created. I don’t know if or how we’ll end this debate but I do know one thing: There’s no debating the fact that whether you believe your children are gifts from God, reincarnated souls who’ve been here before, or simply the product of a great love story; at the end of the day you love them the same, and really that’s all that matters. Have a great weekend x

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Not So Yummy Mummy

One of the things I love about Hong Kong is the emphasis on self-indulgence. Shopping is the national pastime and there is no shortage of beauty salons and cheap massage parlours (sorry, “parlour” is such a seedy word but I don’t know what else to call them!). Many places offer a number of services and you can get an eyebrow wax, foot massage, and manicure while someone’s cutting your hair. The best part is that it’s all available for much less than you would pay at home. While I was pregnant I retained more water than the South China Sea, so foot massages and pedicures were a weekly occurrence. Now that my bump buddy, and frequent foot massage companion, G is back in the UK, and I have an 8 month old to chase at home, I have less time and no real excuse to pamper myself. And it’s starting to show… There are days when I look in the mirror and feel like I may as well be wearing a paper bag, I feel that frumpy. At the moment my hair is about an inch too long and I’ve resorted to pony tails and bobby pins to tame it. My eyebrows resemble the very hungry caterpillar after his weeklong binge, and I don’t even want to talk about what’s going on south of my knees. The most attention my feet have had lately was when my GP froze off some disgusting plantar warts. Hmm, attractive.

After J was born I was shocked by the way I looked and the toll pregnancy had taken on my body. I'd gone from feeling gorgeous and glowing to fat and flabby in a day. It took me seven months and a nasty stomach flu to shake off the last 8 kilos of baby weight I was carrying around. Getting back to my pre-baby weight definitely helped me feel better about myself, but I still can’t wear my wedding ring and I think it’s going to take a mortgage-sized diamond to make my knuckles look remotely feminine again. Having said all that, I do think it’s a small price to pay; I may have to give up my dreams of becoming a bikini model but I wear my stretchmarks with pride, like beautiful battle scars. I’m proud of my body and what it achieved; I made a human being and brought him into the world! I have a beautiful son and I don’t have time to get a haircut because I’m making him a priority: not because I’m a martyr but because he makes me happy.

For me, getting a pedicure was always about more about indulgence than aesthetics. Spending time sitting quietly, reading a trashy magazine while someone painted my toenails an outrageous colour made me feel good. I guess that’s why it was so easy to give up. I have someone else to worry about now and I feel guilty just thinking about sitting around being pampered. Hang on… maybe I am a martyr after all. I shouldn't feel guilty I know, it's not like I'm spending entire weekends at the spa! I realised today that it’s not so much the grooming that I miss but the “me” time, so you’ll be pleased to know I’m actually writing this from the comfort of Thai Pailin Massage in Mui Wo while a lovely Thai girl tortures my toes. My feet feel great and I’m inspired to take a little time out more often. Now about those eyebrows…

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Out and About - One mother's epic journey from South Lantau to Wan Chai

Some would say I’m lazy or timid for what I am about to admit, but the truth is I believe that life is too short to spend it stressed. So I avoid situations that could potentially send my blood pressure skyrocketing. That rules out a lot of things in Hong Kong including, until today, taking J into town on my own. I know a lot of mothers who take their kids everywhere with them, without help, and I give them full credit. But if I can I save things like doctor's appointments for when my husband's around or I take my helper. It makes life so much easier. J and I have previously been as far as IFC mall on our own (a ferry ride and short walk away), a relatively easy trip, but today we went to Wan Chai for an appointment with the osteopath.

The trip there involved a 30 minute ferry ride and 5 minutes in a taxi. I had J in the stroller on the ferry and transferred him to the Ergo carrier for the cab ride. I find that 90% of taxi drivers in HK are reasonably helpful but the guy I got today was an a’hole. He watched me wrestle with the stroller and didn’t open the boot until I banged on it. He didn’t even open the door for me. For my non-Hong Kong readers, all cabs here are fitted with electric doors so all the driver has to do is flick a switch and the door opens. Very handy for mums juggling babies and nappy bags. I know they're under no obligation to help but most of them at least offer. When we reached Wan Chai a very helpful valet opened the door, helped me out, banged on the boot and took the stroller out. I’m sure if he had known how to operate the quinny zapp he would’ve opened it out for me too. Needless to say there was no tip for the driver. When we were finished with the osteopath I decided to get back to Central on the MTR (train). I had 45 minutes to spare and I thought it would be good for me to work out how to do it with a stroller so I’d know for next time. It also meant I could keep my very sleepy boy in the stroller and skip the Ergo (which might be better for bub’s spine than a Baby Bjorn, but it’s not so good for mine). Here are the lessons I learned today:

  1. The elevators inside the MTR stations are the slowest lifts in the world. It’s worth cheating and using the escalator if you can.
  2. The wide entry and exit gates, suitable for strollers, are few and far between and tend to be near the elevators. So if you follow my advice in point 1 you’ll need to walk a fair way to get out of the station. You can’t take a stroller through a turnstile apparently…
  3. The majority of people in MTR stations and shopping centres will not get out of your way or open doors for you, but a stroller is a very good way of bringing your presence to their attention without hurting yourself.
  4. Even when using escalators and running like a madwoman through IFC it takes approx. 48 minutes to get from Wan Chai to ferry pier 6.
  5. The 12.30 ferry is very slow indeed.
  6. My husband will be taking J to his next appointment with the osteopath, and possibly the one after that.
I have to admit that despite all of this, it was worth the effort and I’m still very glad that we decided to give osteopathy a try. And apart from being a little cranky when he was tired, J was absolutely delightful the whole morning. He slept for an hour on the ferry, and only protested when we stopped moving. Unlike his mother, he seems to love the craziness and noise of the city, and isn’t stressed by it at all. As for me, I am in need of a cup of tea and a good lie down.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

No Photos Please, We're Expats!

A new and somewhat bizarre cultural difference has come to our attention this week, and I really want to talk about it tonight. This weekend the 3 of us were sitting outside Citygate at Tung Chung on Friday afternoon eating ice creams when a man came up beside our table, turned his back to us, made a peace sign with his fingers and smiled as his wife took a photo of him “with” D and J. D started waving them away but they just smiled and kept snapping. That’s when I snapped. I leapt up from the table, shouting “No! No! NO!” and shooed them away like a Mama bear protecting her cub. My husband laughed at me but I was furious! When I thought about it later I realised I may have overreacted slightly but it seemed so rude. It wasn’t so much that they wanted a photo of a western baby (he is very cute and I should take it as a compliment that others think that) it was the way in which we were treated like exhibits at the zoo, photographed without our permission. 

We’ve travelled through South East Asia and have taken hundreds of photos of absolutely everyone and everything; I understand the obsession with documenting every aspect of a holiday. But if we ever took a photo of people, especially children, we asked first, and more often than not a little hand was held out afterwards expecting payment for posing so wonderfully. I’ve spoken about this with a few people this week and apparently it’s quite common here in Hong Kong. One friend is inundated when she takes her son to Disneyland and sets a limit on the number of photos taken. We were out yesterday when it happened to us again at another shopping centre, only this time there were 2 adorable blonde girls playing near us, and the photographers were snapping from a distance. Again they simply smiled and waved when there were objections to their attention. 

Before J was born people used to take photos of our dog. Last year we took her to a festival and at one stage we had a crowd around us, as if she was a mini canine celebrity. It’s not so much the paparazzi that bothers me, it’s also the idea that we have no idea where these photos will end up. I once had visions of my dog ending up in a dog food commercial in China! Now I’m half expecting to see my beautiful son adorning a billboard advertising mobile phone plans. I know it’s more likely that they’ll end up in a random file on someone’s computer never to be seen again, but there’s a reason why photographing children in public places is illegal in some countries, and it makes me slightly uneasy. I’ve decided to start taking a camera with me everywhere and turn the tables on any would-be photographers, I’m looking forward to seeing the response I get. I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s had this experience and any suggestions for dealing with it (apart from grinning and bearing it, as that’s clearly not an option for someone with my temper!).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Love and Lasagna

In my family growing up we were never big on saying I love you. It wasn’t until I left home and my parents feared I may never come back that they started saying it more often. Even today sometimes my dad still throws it in very quickly between other pieces of conversation; “ok, talk to you next weekend, love you (cough), bye.” We were more of an “actions speak louder than words” family and a lot of the time we said, “I care” with food. One of the greatest lessons my mum taught me was a love and respect for good food. We never had chocolate, chips or lollies in the house and if we did it was a rare treat. I think the worst we got fed in our house was white bread as my father flatly refused to eat “bird seed.” As a kid I thought Mum was pretty mean but she set me up for a lifetime of healthy eating, and I have tried to do the same with my son (so far!).

Even when times were tough we always had 3 decent meals a day and still today there are foods I associate with certain times and celebrations. Carrot juice, always vile and swallowed in one gulp while pinching your nose, was to prevent a cold. When that didn’t work we were fed chicken and corn soup and a disgusting garlic, honey and lemon drink. I sometimes pretended I wasn’t sick to avoid the medicinal flavours of that particular concoction, but the thing was; it actually worked! The soup was also great for broken hearts and exam stress. There was minestrone on cold winter days, veal schnitzel and chips in front of the TV, and nothing says, “I missed you, welcome home” like a roast lamb with all the trimmings when I came home from uni on weekends. Sausages with tomato and onion gravy, mashed potato and peas is a dish of mum’s I still crave from time to time, it reminds me so much of home. When I was in high-school Mum worked in the evenings for a few years and Dad would do his best to feed us a home-cooked meal on those nights. Chops and vegies were pretty standard and for some reason the smell of a pot that’s boiled dry reminds me of those days. I think Dad was pretty pleased, as were we, when KFC opened up down the road!

The one dish that united us all, that everyone requested when the family got together was Mum’s lasagna. You could count on it being exactly the same every time and there was always enough to feed a dozen people, with leftovers. Mum would make a big batch of it and freeze it for me to take back to uni with me. I lived on it for weeks at a time. Whenever there was a new baby or someone was in hospital a lasagna would be delivered so they wouldn’t have to worry about dinner. My mum also taught me to cook, for which I will be forever grateful, and I have carried on the tradition of saying “I love you” with food. I think it’s the reason why I’m so obsessed with cooking for J. I don’t care if he throws his mushy peas and parsnip at me, or if I end up feeding him porridge for dinner, at the end of the day I prepared and pureed his meal with love, and it’s that principle that counts. My recipes might be a little different to Mum’s but the sentiment is the same.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Head Case - Part 2

Thanks for the comments Lesley; I’m so glad to know people are reading! It’s also reassuring to know that our favourite geneticist had a conehead and still turned out brilliantly. My main worry has always been the potential for problems with J’s growth and development in the future. There is just something in the way he tilts his head to the left when he looks at things, the way he sleeps with his left eye open and the way he sometimes grabs that side of his head as if it hurts that has me worried. I might be crazy and it might be nothing, but I still worry. I have also experienced a bit of this anti-mummy sentiment you mentioned and I agree, it isn’t right. I was in tears one morning in the hospital after J was born and the midwife was scolding me for letting him sleep through a night feed, practically accusing me of starving him for my own selfish ends (i.e. a desperate need for sleep!). As if being a mum isn’t hard enough, we do not need the critics! It is a cultural thing here I’m sure. There are so many cultural differences that it would take me a month to write about them all; but I do want to use this opportunity to talk about one in particular. It seems fairly standard here to simply trust what the doctor tells you, and we’ve learned from first-hand experience that they’re not always right. This mindset can lead to expensive, traumatic and often unnecessary intervention. A friend was rushed to hospital and had her appendix whipped out before the doctors discovered she actually had a uterine infection after a caeserean section.

We’re lucky we have a good GP but we have encountered other medical professionals that expected us to do as we were told and who struggled when we questioned their advice. Like the male obstetrician that dismissed me as an “irrational and emotional woman,” and spoke only to my husband. Or the “doctor” at the local clinic who told me J was cyanotic and probably had a heart problem, ordering me to take him to the hospital for tests, when he was simply cold from sitting in a frigid waiting room for 2 hours! By that stage I was blue with frustration and impatience! We are lucky that we live in a modern city with access to a great number of professionals from all over the world, but we have learned that it may take several appointments before you find someone you can trust, and you really have to trust your own instincts. Whenever we talked about all this with people they would often say things like “he’s such a happy baby, leave well enough alone, there’s nothing wrong with him.” At times I felt like I must be crazy for pursuing treatment for my very healthy, normal child, but it didn’t feel right letting it go.

When we came back from our recent trip to Melbourne we went to see our GP for J’s vaccinations and she was also concerned about his forehead and the movement of his left eye. She referred us to a paediatrician to cover all bases. The paediatrician assured us that J was on track developmentally so there was nothing to worry about. Like a lot of people she also felt that it was his appearance we were most worried about. Appearances and perfection are very important in the Chinese culture so it makes sense that she would think that, but as I said, it was the furthest thing from our minds. To us, our son is gorgeous, so it wasn’t an issue. She also explained that the bones were not pressing on his brain as we had feared, but he would remain “asymmetrical” for the rest of his life, as his skull bones were already fused. I’ve done a lot of research on plagiocephaly, the technical term for flat-heads, and I was pretty sure that this wasn’t true. She wanted J to have an ultrasound and an x-ray to confirm her diagnosis and at one point mentioned sedating him for an MRI, even though she was sure nothing could be done to “make his face better.” Another common condition in the medical community here is the reliance on medication and invasive tests. There seems to be no intuition or common sense, it’s complete trust in science over independent thought. Some tests and medications are necessary I’ll admit, but putting a very active 7 month old through an MRI is not only unnecessary, in this case, but a subtle form of child abuse as far as I’m concerned. Once again we left a doctor’s office in disbelief; disappointed and disheartened by what we had been told.

Then we got to talking with friends who had similar experiences. Their son had a flat head from sleeping on his back and they had been referred to a paediatric osteopath in Wan Chai. They called us with rave reviews after their first appointment and we decided to give it one more shot. Well this woman has magic healing hands. She told us what we wanted to hear and we believed her. She clearly adores children AND she knows what she’s talking about. There’s a noticeable difference in the shape of J’s head after only 2 visits, and yes, his face is more symmetrical. She has suggested we see her once more and then let J grow a little to see how his bones respond to the work she’s done. I love that she is knowledgeable and kind, and she isn’t making promises she can’t keep. She charges $750 a session and it’s worth every cent, for the peace of mind it brings me as much as for the changes we’re seeing in J. At the end of the day I’m so glad we persisted, despite the obstacles and poor advice, and people thinking we’re a bit mad. We do have a beautiful happy baby and now we can honestly say we’ve done everything we could to keep him that way.

So I feel like I’ve been on my soapbox all week and I hope that I’ve been at least informative, if not entertaining. Have a great weekend and look out for my latest update on Monday xx

PS: If anyone in HK wants the details of any of the practitioners I’ve mentioned leave a comment with your email address (I won’t publish it) and I’ll send you the info.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Head Case - Part 1

Tonight’s post, as you can probably guess, is going to be in two parts. I realised as I was writing that it was going to be quiet long, so to spare you a whole lot of reading in one hit I’ve broken it up. The little man is not in the best of moods today and wasn’t at all interested in breakfast or his morning nap. I took him to the osteopath yesterday and grumpiness after a visit is not uncommon apparently. For those of you that don’t know the history, allow me to explain why we’re seeing an osteopath. In the late stages of my pregnancy J was lodged firmly in my pelvis for about three weeks. It was rather uncomfortable for me as you can imagine and left him with a bit of a cone-head after he made his grand entrance (or exit?). This gradually subsided but he was left with a rotated sphenoid bone in his skull. In other words, he had a flat area on one side of his forehead, and on the opposite side at the back of his head he had a lump. We were told not to worry; it would correct itself. It didn’t.

Our GP (a woman so wonderful, she deserves her own website) referred us to a physiotherapist in Central who “specialised” in baby’s heads. Some professionals believe that a misshapen skull can impact on certain nerves in the brain and spinal cord and this can contribute to colic, reflux, sleep problems etc. We’d experienced all of those, and wondered if his endless bouts of crying in the early days were his way of telling us he had a headache. We were desperate to give anything a try. The physio we saw, let’s call her S, was nice enough and seemed to know what she was doing. J was always very chilled out after his sessions but after about 6 visits we hadn’t seen any improvement in any of his symptoms. S admitted that she’d reached the limits of her abilities and recommended a session with her boss, the head of the practice; we’ll call her C. I was excited to meet the woman who had developed the baby head-shaping method. It seemed we would finally be meeting someone who could help our little man. I could not have been more wrong. She started later than our designated appointment time and was instantly attacking me: I should’ve brought him in sooner. Why didn’t I have physio while I was pregnant to prevent this from happening? Why was he on formula? He was “clearly” allergic to something in my breastmilk, why hadn’t we been tested for sensitivities (more on that fascinating process later)? I had a valid response to all of these attacks but was left feeling very defensive and this did not bode well for the rest of the session. She told me it was probably too late to start treatment, and when I suggested we leave she quickly offered to try something. J picked up on my anxiety and was restless and a bit cranky. Every time he started to complain C would throw her hands in the air and say “I can’t work on him while he’s like this, you need to settle him down.” She didn’t interact with him at all and didn’t seem to have a natural way with children. At times she waved her hands over his head as if performing what I can only imagine was Reiki, and before I left she explained that I needed to think positively when looking at J’s head, as my negative energy was preventing him from healing. I’m a firm believer in the power of positive thinking and I do believe there is a place for alternative therapies, but I don’t believe that moving the air above my son’s head and telling me to project positivity will improve the shape of his skull in any way. Any negativity I was feeling was purely a product of being in that room, it had nothing to do with my beautiful son and his wonky forehead. She then concluded the session early and charged me $1800 HKD for the privilege! We decided to let J grow for a while after this experience, and take a wait-and-see approach.

It was tough trying to decide whether or not to take any action in the first place. It was his head after all, and I was so concerned that we might do long-term damage. More concerning was the idea that the bones were pressing on his brain or that he’d have all sorts of issues in the future with his eyesight, sinuses or worse. It didn’t help that a few of the professionals we spoke to thought we were only worried about how he looked. They just didn’t understand that it wasn’t aesthetics we were concerned with. When talking about it with friends most of them have said that they have never noticed J’s head. I guess it was because he had always been that way, but I definitely noticed every time I looked at him. I know I could not have helped it but I have always felt responsible. I know some people thought we were a bit mad seeking treatment for something that most doctors believe children grow out of. At the end of the day we decided to persist, knowing that we’d never forgive ourselves if we ignored it and he didn’t grow out of it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Battle of Wills

I’m still determined to write everyday, but today has been a long day so tonight’s post will be a short one. It’s 8pm and I just came downstairs after checking on J. He has been quite stubborn tonight. He slept late this morning so the whole day was out of sync and by the time he got dinner he wasn’t interested. He wasn’t cranky or complaining but with his little lips firmly closed and his arm waving away the spoon his message was clear. Imagining myself getting up to a starving child in the middle of the night I caved in and fed him two desserts (relax, it was porridge then yoghurt and fruit – I’m not that bad a mother). He had a bath and his bottle and a story then I took him upstairs to bed. This is where the real battle began. He rolled around the cot for a while, calling out every now and then to make sure I was close by. After 15 minutes I went downstairs thinking he must be close to sleep. It was all very quiet upstairs so I crept up, and as soon as he heard me coming he let out his little old man grunt that he makes when he wants attention. It was clear that he wasn’t going to sleep without intervention and his little grunt was his way of letting me know that he wasn’t going down without a fight. I picked him up and he rested his head on my shoulder. His little eyes started to close and he reached up, held onto my neck and let out a very sleepy sigh. He now weighs close to 10 kilos and my arms were aching after a couple of minutes, so when he finally seemed to be drifting off I put him back down in the cot. As soon as he hit the mattress his eyes popped open and he grabbed my finger and wouldn’t let go. He even rolled over with it still in his fist, expecting me to go with him. This is his latest “proof of love” test: we have to let him hold our hands while he goes off to sleep. I’m sure there are books that say this kind of sleep “prop” is a bad idea (blah blah blah) but it’s so damn cute I just don’t care.

There are so many precious moments in a child's life that we take for granted and most nights, I admit, I'm in such a hurry to get dinner on or to collapse in a heap on the sofa in front of the TV that I rush through bedtime and don't stop to appreciate just how lucky I am. A sleepy, freshly bathed baby all snug in his pyjamas is a beautiful thing. One day my son will be a pimply, smelly teenager who grunts as he walks through the door, so for now, if he wants to hold my hand, he can hold my hand. Content that his mummy truly loved him he passed out and I freed my finger from his vice-like grip and closed the door. Now I’m not sure who won that one but, like I said: so cute, don’t care. Goodnight x

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cabin Fever

I have a love-hate relationship with Hong Kong. I’ve never really been at home here but there are so many advantages to living here that I feel like it’s the best place for us right now. One of the most appealing things about Hong Kong is its proximity to just about everywhere else. When I was 21 I went to Europe from Australia and I travelled for 3 days! My husband is currently in London; he left HK yesterday morning after breakfast and arrived not long after I went to bed. Since we’ve been here we’ve been to the States twice, Bali, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand, with countless trips back to Australia. My husband’s job makes it easy to travel, but Hong Kong is the gateway to a lot of countries that we would not be able to travel to without a lot of prior planning if we still lived in Sydney. For the first couple of years we were here I was travelling every 3 months or so and it was the ability to leave that made it possible for me to stay. While I was pregnant we had one trip back to Sydney but then I didn’t leave Hong Kong for 9 long months. It forced me to explore the place a bit more and to make deeper connections with friends here. I still didn’t love the place but I was definitely more comfortable here after my “confinement.” I was itching to leave as soon as J had a passport and in his short 8 months on the planet we have been to Australia twice.

It has only been about 6 weeks since we got back from our last trip but I am already feeling the need to get away again. I’m spending way too much time at home and so much about Hong Kong is bothering me at the moment. It doesn’t help that last month my husband went to Milan, with a side trip to Lake Como, and next month he’ll meet his sister in New York. At most he gets 48 hours in each destination but, wow, the things you can do in 2 days in a place like New York… Before J was born I had this fantasy that we’d do a lot of travel as a family while he was little. That was shattered the first time I flew to Sydney with him overnight. 9 hours in an economy class seat with a 4 month old on your lap and vomit in your hair do not make for a pleasant travel experience! He travels brilliantly to be fair and I’m sure he’d cope fine with a 16-hour flight and a 12-hour time zone change, but would I? I would love to travel more, my longevity in Hong Kong depends on it, but there’s one small issue. Hong Kong is not easy to leave. You need a passport to go pretty much anywhere else. You can’t really satisfy your craving for adventure with a road trip here, as the furthest you’d get is the Chinese border. Which is a problem for me because I don’t like flying. If you’re at all an anxious flier please don’t read on, as I’m about to confess something that might make matters worse for you. Since J was born and we’ve been travelling with him I’ve had the sudden realisation of what flying actually is. You’re suspended thousands of feet in the air in a plastic and metal cylinder with hundreds of strangers, in the hands of guys who are really just our husbands, brothers and dads. Sometimes you have to fly over the remotest, most isolated and inhospitable places on Earth to get to your destination. Knowing there’s an airport in Irkutsk brings me no comfort whatsoever. If I was ever on a plane that had to make an emergency landing in Siberia I can guarantee I would not be flying out of there, I’d be applying for Siberian citizenship. Either that or I’d have to be heavily sedated in a first class seat with access to A LOT of alcohol!

Maybe it’s this new realisation, or the simple fact that I’m now flying with my beautiful son attached to me by the world’s most pathetic excuse for a seatbelt, but the thought of getting on a plane for longer than a couple of hours fills me with dread these days. So, I’m left with a bad case of itchy feet and no way of scratching them. Does anyone know how long it would take me to get to Paris on a train…?

Monday, August 9, 2010

In Sickness and Health

First, I want to say thanks to everyone who’s called or emailed to tell me they’ve read the blog, and for all the positive feedback. Don’t be shy about leaving comments on the website, I’m keen to know what you all think. I’m a little bit later with today’s post than I planned to be because I haven’t been well. I picked up a random stomach bug over the weekend and was floored for a couple of days. I realised fairly early Sunday morning that I wouldn’t be able to take care of J and had to ask my husband to get up and give him breakfast. The little guy had woken up during a thunderstorm late Saturday night and D sat up for over an hour trying to get him back to sleep, so I felt bad asking him to get up again at 6 but he did it without complaint. He then took both J and the dog out for a walk and arranged a playdate in Tung Chung so I could sleep in peace and quiet. He went to the pharmacy and got me some medicine, did some grocery shopping and took J and the dog out again in the afternoon. He also helped with bathtime and cooked us both dinner. I couldn’t help but feel guilty all day and had to keep reminding myself that I do all that most days (well, without the dog walking if I’m going to be honest, but close enough).

When I was planning today’s post I originally wanted to take the opportunity to talk about how lucky I am to have a husband who’s such a hands-on dad. He does a great job of playing mum and I’m grateful that I could rely on him to step up and take over for a day. He made sure our son had a snack while they were out, changed three pooey nappies, and got J to nap twice during the day; it was admittedly a very decent effort indeed. At the same time I'm a bit disappointed that I had to be incapacitated for him to take over the reins. Then I got to thinking about the way we seem to acknowledge dads when they are involved and spend time with their kids but we forget about the mums that do it all day, every day. My sister-in-law told me about a friend of hers who would get quite annoyed when he’d take his kids to the park and people would come up and tell him what a good man he was for spending time with his children. He didn’t think it was fair that he got praised for doing something his wife did, without praise or acknowledgement, every day. I’m guilty of doing that myself, because it isn’t that common to see dads at the park or supermarket with bubs in tow. When I see a hands-on dad I want to encourage him to do it more often. I realise now that I’m a mum I need encouragement and praise sometimes too(and maybe a day off when I’m fit and well and able to enjoy it).

While I’m grateful for my husband’s help yesterday I want to send out a big thank you to the mums who stay up all night and get up early, cook 3 meals, play, bath, shop, work, drive, clean and love unconditionally day after day, no matter how they’re feeling or what else they have to do. So next time you see a mum out and about with her children tell her she’s doing a great job and let her know she’s appreciated. And dads out there, how about a trip to the park this weekend?

Friday, August 6, 2010

All By Myself

Twice a week our son goes to a playgroup at the local church hall. It’s very informal but they have toys and snacks and a big space for kids to run around in. Occasionally someone comes in and plays a guitar and they sing songs. J is the youngest child by several months but he is at an age where he needs an outing every day, and it’s an easy way to entertain him for a couple of hours. It feels like lazy parenting but he loves it so I don’t feel too bad about it. L goes with him and I get the impression that she relishes the opportunity to spend some time with him on her own. She has three children of her own in the Philippines and she misses them terribly so while she is with us she treats J as if he is one of hers. She always dresses him up and combs his hair (making me feel even lazier when I take him out with breakfast in his hair), and I know she gets a buzz when people comment on what a gorgeous baby he is. I know some mothers who occasionally go to the playgroup but it seems to be an opportunity for the helpers to get together and socialise as well. I left J and L there earlier in the week while I did some shopping and when I finished early I went to the church to check it out. There was a flurry of talk in Tagalog when I walked in and I felt slightly uncomfortable, as I was clearly the subject of the conversation. L assured me later that they were all saying that I was very beautiful and that my son is very lucky to have such attractive parents! I decided that regardless of whether or not that was true I would believe her and leave her to it in the future. Yesterday my brilliant husband suggested that we could take it in turns to drive J and L down to the church and wait for them, so that each of us would have a few hours at home by ourselves one day a week. This is clearly one of the best suggestions he has ever made and I wholeheartedly embraced the idea. Today it was my turn and it was fantastic! I listened to music, proper grown-up music, and I surprised myself by clearing a number of items off my to-do list. I even made the bed, put on some washing and had a shower. I was half way through a cup of tea and an episode of Samantha Who? when they all arrived home. It got me thinking about how I filled my days before J was born. I don’t remember ever being that productive in such a short space of time before I had a baby. Has being a parent made me more efficient? Or is it that I once had the luxury of taking my time? I’m honestly baffled by the thought. I only worked part-time while I was pregnant, some weeks I didn’t work at all. I must’ve watched A LOT of television. When J was a newborn we had a lot of trouble with breastfeeding and he would feed for 2 hours at a time sometimes. Time to myself was never an option. In those early days I would spend half an hour in the shower because it was the only time of the day when no one asked anything of me; no one dared! I relished those moments to myself, even if I had to wait until 4pm or later to get them. These days, even though the demands are different, I am still very busy and I sometimes find myself missing my freedom. There are days when I would like a cup of tea and a sit down, and at other times I find myself wishing I could drop everything and go to New York with my husband for a weekend on one of his work trips. I’d love to get dressed up and go out with the girls and dance all night. I’d like to have friends over for dinner and spend hours creating a fabulous meal instead of ordering a quick pizza. I miss being able to read a book in the middle of the day or make a last minute decision to see a movie. But the truth is I never did any of those things when I had all the time in the world so am I really missing anything? I have to remind myself that I was bored quite often and lonely at times. Now there’s never a dull moment and our house is filled with laughter and toys and cuddles. I appreciate every minute I have to myself because they’re so rare but more than anything I love every day that I spend with my son. The time I spend with him is so much finer than any time I ever spent on the sofa watching TV or reading magazines. It even beats a pedicure and a quiet glass of wine, although once in a while that would be nice too. Whatever you’re doing this weekend, enjoy! I’ll be back on Monday x

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Help Me Help You

When we first moved to Hong Kong we never imagined that we would hire a domestic helper. It’s not all that common in Australia (at least amongst the people we know) to hire someone else to do your housework. It seemed an unnecessary luxury. However, after a year here, realising how easy and inexpensive it was to have someone come in once a week, and sick of arguing about whose turn it was to do the vacuuming, we relented. Hiring a full-time helper can be a lucky dip. I’ve heard many horror stories about helpers stealing from their employers or sleeping with their husbands. Sometimes personalities clash and it just doesn’t work out, but whatever happens it can be a time-consuming, expensive and emotional process. At the end of the day you're inviting a virtual stranger into your home and trusting them with the most precious people in your world.

Fortunately, we hit the jackpot with our helper, L. She started off part-time but when we found out I was pregnant we convinced ourselves that we had to have someone full-time once the baby arrived, knowing that without family anywhere nearby we would struggle. I have a lot of respect for mothers who manage without a helper and appreciate how hard it must be; especially for those living here away from the support of family and friends. I have friends back in Australia who are quite envious of our position and, while I struggle to justify it sometimes, I know how lucky we are. We were fortunate enough to be able to employ L full-time when her contract finished, and she started with us 8 weeks before our son arrived. I had a list a mile long of things for her to do to get the house ready for the baby, expecting it to take her several weeks. She finished most of it in two days. She’s efficient and intelligent and always happy. She follows my instructions to the letter (to the point where she pulls me up if I veer from the schedule at all) and most importantly, she adores my son; she has become a member of our family. It wasn’t always a perfect relationship and having someone else in my home all day every day was a big challenge. There was a time when I contemplated asking her to leave, simply because I wanted my space back and to have my baby to myself. Then when J was 9 weeks old I got sick and my husband had to go away. L moved in for 4 days and got up to do the night feeds, walked the dog and kept the house clean without complaint or hesitation, while I slept and got better. I realised how necessary she had become to our ability to function as a family.

We still have occasional misunderstandings, mainly due to the language barrier and my inability to express myself clearly, but it is a much more harmonious home these days. Something I have struggled with lately is a little bit of jealousy over the relationship between our helper and our son. He is so excited every day when she arrives and often complains when she leaves the room. She has a way of getting him to eat his vegetables when I constantly fail, and she manages to entertain him AND keep the house clean and tidy. One day last week I was feeding him when L arrived for the day and J just about jumped out of my arms. I was heartbroken and moaned to my husband, “I never get that response.” D told me I should be grateful that we have someone who J loves so much. When I thought about it rationally I had to admit that D was right; it would be much harder to leave him with someone he didn’t really care for. Still battling my green-eyed monster I was secretly overjoyed yesterday when the tables were turned. J and I had spent the whole day together and I handed to him to L when we got home and headed upstairs. I rushed back down excitedly when J started to wail and I found him holding his little arms out for his mummy. I felt terribly guilty that I was so thrilled that my son was upset by my absence, but secretly I also felt validated. I remember in the first few weeks of his life, when we were up for hours every night feeding and attempting to soothe our colicky baby, there were times when I wondered if he was happy. He hadn’t smiled and barely registered my presence; I was basically a walking milk bar. I so longed for some response: a sign that we were doing the right thing and that this little guy knew we were his parents. We were overjoyed when he started smiling and I felt for the first time that it had all been worth it.

I guess, without realising it, I have still been basing my success as a parent on J’s response to me. I don’t expect thanks for the hours I spend cooking and pureeing food, for getting up in the middle of the night, for changing pooey nappies, I do it all out of love, but a cuddle and a smile from him says, “You’re appreciated.” When someone else is getting the smiles and cuddles I feel a bit deflated, is that wrong? I have no doubt that this is something I will grapple with for a while, but in the meantime someone else is cleaning my toilet, so I won’t complain too loudly.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

An Open Heart

Since this is something new for me I think it's important to clarify that this blog isn't meant to be a whinge about motherhood, but a celebration of it too. My first post was a bit negative and I feel the need to back it up with something a little more positive. So here's how I feel about being a Mum. I never had much direction in my twenties and had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. All I knew is that I wanted to be a mother, and now that I've realised that dream my ambition is to be good at it. Motherhood is everything I imagined it would be and more, and for the first time in my life I feel like I'm doing something that I was meant to do.

A family member once told me that motherhood is a "heart opener" and I can't think of a better description for it. There are times when I hold my son and look into his beautiful eyes that I feel a love I never thought possible. I want to take those moments and freeze them for days when I'm cleaning pureed carrot out of my favourite white t-shirt, and other times when I might forget for a moment how lucky I am. I feel a primal sense of protectiveness towards my son and know instinctively that I would do anything for him. This new love has made me more empathic and compassionate and, I think, a better person. I now find joy and excitement in the simplest things. Like the grin on his face when he first sees me in the morning or the sense of pride I feel when he reaches each milestone. One day last week we were eating lunch and J said "Mama" for the first time. I know he doesn't know what it means but they have to be the sweetest 2 syllables ever uttered. He has now worked out what makes us laugh and repeats things through the day and waits for a response. Our junior comedian is so cute we can't help but laugh. Yes, my heart is definitely so open and full of love I feel it might burst some days. Like tonight when I discovered the meaning of unconditional love. J had just finished his dinner and was 3/4 of the way through his bedtime bottle when it all came back up, projectile style. Shocked, I tried to catch it and ended up wearing most of it. This has never happened before so I was torn between revulsion ("yuck I'm covered in vomit") and distress ("what's wrong with my little boy?"). J was unaffected and so excited by the prospect of a second bath in the space of an hour that we wondered if he'd done it on purpose. After cleaning myself up and establishing that J was fine, I sat with him on the sofa and attempted the bottle again. I had already planned to write this post and was thinking I was going to have to dig pretty deep at the moment to find the positives when I looked down at J and noticed that he was gazing up at me adoringly. His huge grin made me feel as if I'd passed a secret test; the "proof of unconditional love test". In that moment the drenching I copped was forgotten. I just hope I don't have to take that test again...

On the flip side, this newfound and often overwhelming love and openness has made me worry more and feel hurt more deeply. There are times when I've been left searching for an inner strength I never knew I had. Like in the early days of colic and reflux, when we were left feeling completely helpless as our son screamed day and night for no apparent reason. When tragedy struck close to home recently I remember talking to my husband about the days when the biggest things we had to worry about was whether or not we could afford a holiday, or what movie we should see on a Friday night. I couldn't believe how silly we were to worry about the things we worried about. We had it good back then, if only we knew it. You've probably worked out by now that I am, by nature, a worrier. It runs in my family, and my grandmother assures me that I'll still be worrying about my children when I'm 85 and incontinent. The worrying might keep me awake at night but it means I appreciate and value what I have all the more. So bear this in mind when I'm complaining about sleep deprivation, jackhammers and projectile vomit, and I promise to write about the good times as well.

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Mother Who Hasn't Slept in Months

Yesterday was a bad day. CLP have decided to yet again dig up the footpath outside our house and for the 2nd time this week their jackhammers woke my son. Sunday night had been a rough night sleep-wise and so I was trying to do as the books say and "sleep while the baby sleeps." Well, 20 minutes into our nap and we were woken by drilling so loud the walls were vibrating. Baby J decided naptime was over and I dragged myself out of bed and vowed to try again in the afternoon. The same thing happened! There was a knock on the bedroom door and my husband whispered "are you about to lose it?" By that stage I was sobbing in the wardrobe and called back "I've already lost it!" I think sleep deprivation could be used as a form of torture. It makes people crazy and emotional and disturbingly irrational, well, that's what it's done to me anyway.

Our son started sleeping through the night at 3 months and we thought we had been blessed with a gifted child. A month later we made the mistake of taking him back to Australia where the slight time zone change and different beds had him waking every hour of the night for 4 weeks. It took 2 weeks to get him back to sleeping through when we returned and another month after that we were called home to Melbourne again. We hired a cot this time and stayed in the same place. Still he woke every hour. We got back to Hong Kong and I hoped that sleep wouldn't be far behind. Then a very bad thing happened to some very good people. Our friends put their son to bed one night and he didn't wake up. For a week or two no one in our neighbourhood slept. Torn between grief and anxiety, those of us with children resorted to sleeping on the floor in our babies' rooms or taking them into our beds. Now when my son makes a noise in the night I leap out of bed and check on him. When he doesn't make a noise for a couple of hours I check on him again. It's physically and mentally exhausting! It's not just my worrying keeping me awake, J still doesn't "sleep through". He's now so mobile he spends the night moving from one end of the cot to the other and we often have to go in and help him when he gets stuck with his legs through the bars or his head up against the end of the cot. I'm not sure if anyone told me about this before he was born but talking to people now it seems no one with kids gets a decent night's sleep.

I had this naive notion that the first couple of months would be sleepless but then we'd start solids and it would all fall into place by some miracle. Now I know better. Yesterday when the workmen outside unknowingly woke us up I was so enraged that I wanted to go down there and start throwing things at them. I knew they were just doing their jobs but I was so desperate for sleep that I would've done anything to stop the noise. Not wanting to read about his wife on the front page of the SCMP ("Crazy Gweilo Woman Halts Vital Electrical Works") my husband gave me a set of ear plugs and promised to keep watch last night, I still woke up every few hours but knowing someone was getting up to J I felt much better. Whatever it is that keeps us up at night, colic, teething, anxiety, bed wetting, there's something reassuring about knowing that we're not alone. And I know there's not a mother out there who would condemn me for teaching the CLP workers the meaning of the term "going postal."