Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Toddler Taming

Tantrums in public... we've all seen them. I used to pity the poor parents trying to wrangle a screaming child out of a shop without getting themselves worked up. I've also seen parents make threats, leave the screaming child in the shop and walk away, and more often than not, give in to the child's demands in an attempt to end the tantrum. There have been times when I've been a bit judgemental and wondered what the parent had done to let things get to that point in the first place. I wondered how much of it was out of the parent's control and how much was the result of bad habits and poor parenting. I'm learning to be less judgemental these days, now that that parent is me.

My little guy is far too young to be considered naughty. He's definitely asserting his independence and testing the boundaries, but he doesn't yet know right from wrong, so when he does have a public meltdown there's generally a good reason for it. Yesterday was the first time he had a proper meltdown, witnessed by others, and my futile attempts to calm him down will ensure I am much more sympathetic towards others in the future. Yesterday morning we were at playgroup and J had been a bit cranky on and off throughout the morning. He has no less than four teeth trying to break through and is clearly uncomfortable, so I don't blame him really. He was playing quite happily with a toy when he suddenly decided he wanted to do something different. He started to make a fuss and I made the mistake of picking him up to take him to a different part of the room. Well, he thrashed about kicking and screaming and smacking me in the face, and I had no idea what to do and just stood there stunned, shushing him. The teacher was so concerned that she stepped in and took him off me, and the change of scene stopped him in his tracks. Suddenly mummy wasn't looking so bad and he reached out for me again. The whole incident lasted less than a minute but it was playing on my mind for quite a while. I realised I need a strategy for future tantrums; less "deer in the headlights" and more "grabbing the bull by the horns," so to speak, so other adults don't feel the need to intervene.

I'm afraid that tantrums will soon become a regular occurance, and that will be entirely my fault. Not because I'm a bad parent but because, thanks to the magic of genetics, J takes after me when it comes to tantrums. He has inherited a combination of looks and personality traits from both of us, some of them good and others less so. He looks like my husband but he has my family's stocky build and muscular legs. Great if you're a boy wanting to play football, but less appealing if you're a girl trying to find a pair of knee high boots to fit over your enormous calves! J has my husband's enthusiasm for life and boundless energy. They both find it impossible to sit down. I'm quite pleased about that, even if it can be exhausting at times. Holidays on tropical islands with my husband generally involve one day of lying on the beach and followed by a week of kayaking, snorkelling, shopping, motorbike riding, hiking etc. In future my husband and son can go off and do those things together while I lie on the beach with a book, it's perfect! Our little guy is a sensitive soul, he's sweet and funny and is quite the chatterbox, but one of the traits, the worst trait, he has inherited from me is a short fuse.

I've always been terribly impatient and when J was born I made a deliberate attempt to control that. I didn't want him to see me getting cross and easily frustrated, and "pick it up." As it turns out the temper gene seems to be in his DNA; he's not imitating his mum, he's been impatient from day one. When I was breastfeeding he'd scream and bite me if the milk didn't come out quick enough! Now, if things don't go his way he snaps, and if he doesn't get what he wants, when he wants it, watch out! Last night when he didn't want to go to bed he let out a scream that sounded an awful lot like "nononononono NO!" I have a feeling we'll be hearing that a lot! He's generally a really happy baby, but he's also what I would call "fiery". This trait has served me well at times, it means I get things done quickly and I know how to stand up for myself, but in a place like Hong Kong it can be a liability. My mum tells me I was a terrible toddler, and she'll probably say that I'm only getting back everything I gave her, so I'm hoping to tap into that when J starts melting down more often. I've realised that's my strategy; there's no one better to tame my toddler than one who knows how to throw a decent tantrum themselves. There are interesting times ahead, stay tuned.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mummy and Me

I missed a post last week as I had to work, so I'm getting in early and doing a Sunday night edition :-)

I've just had the pleasure of spending most of the weekend with my little guy all to myself. He is just such good company at the moment that I want to spend every minute with him. He started crawling this week and I almost missed it. I was supposed to be working on Wednesday but, thanks to a typhoon, I got to stay home. J has been sitting up and leaning forward, ready to crawl for a couple of weeks now. We had been watching and waiting, praising him every time he got close to getting up on all fours, and I was thrilled when he finally did it. If I had missed that milestone it would have been my last day at work. I did still go to work on Friday though and was in complete turmoil about it all day Thursday. Even though I really enjoyed the one day of work I've done recently, it still felt wrong to be leaving my little man at home for a whole day.

I had to drag myself out of bed on Friday morning and was so miserable I contemplated calling in sick at the last minute. I was teaching PE for the day and I knew it would be fairly easy; the kids love sport and are generally very well behaved if you promise them a game of dodgeball at the end of the lesson. I also got to wear comfy clothes, so it was an ideal day really. Despite that I was almost in tears as I waved goodbye to J and vowed I wasn't going to work again. But once I got on the ferry I was fine. I had my ipod, a cup of tea and a book, and the best part about it was that for a brief time, no one demanded anything of me. The rest of the day followed in a similar fashion. I had an hour for lunch, and I got to read the paper! I was sitting in the gym waiting for the next group of kids to arrive, relishing the quiet and the fact that I was completely alone, when I was overcome with guilt. I was enjoying myself just a little bit too much. I found myself volunteering to do more work and I momentarily considered maybe applying for part-time jobs!

I felt disloyal, like I really should've been missing J a lot more than I was, and I wondered if all working mothers feel that way at some point. If you have to work because your family needs the money, do you spend the whole day wishing you were at home? If you have the luxury of being able to stay at home, is it ok to want to work? Am I going to have this great internal battle, and feel torn between my need for time out and wanting to be with my son, every time I go to work? Or will I eventually accept that I'm allowed to do something for myself occasionally? When I finished up on Friday, rather than being exhausted at the end of the day like I usually am, I felt elated and recharged. Granted, I didn't work very hard, but the whole day had been good for me. J got to spend a whole day with his dad, and his mum came home happy, it's a win/win situation as far as I can see. So, I've decided that I'm going to keep working while it suits me, or at least until I miss a milestone or two.

I'd love to hear from other mums trying to balance work and family. Have a good week x

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Grass is Always Greener

I had a bad day in Hong Kong yesterday. The kind of day that makes me want to pack my bags and take my little boy with me somewhere far away. You'll be pleased to know that I have resolved those issues today over tea, an almond croissant and the latest issue of Red magazine. When I'm mad at this crazy city I have to remind myself that although the issues I have here might be unique to Hong Kong, there were days when I hated Sydney and wanted to pack my bags.

While I was at uni, and for two years after, I lived in the city of Canberra. For those of you who don't know it, it's allegedly the capital of Australia, but it's really just a flat, boring, large country town. It did offer me a great deal at the time but once I had graduated I felt elation every time I left, and was literally sick at the thought of going back. Nothing sunk my heart faster than stepping off the plane at Canberra airport. It never felt like home. In fact I think I can say it felt less like home than Hong Kong does sometimes. Sydney was a complete contrast. It was vibrant and exciting and moving there on my own at 22 was just about the bravest thing a girl from the country could do (the only thing scarier was moving to Hong Kong, but I at least had the commonsense not to do that alone). Sydney definitely felt like home, but it was a hard place to live. People who grow up in Sydney aren't that interested in getting to know people who didn't. It was as if they had all the friends they were ever going to need and there were no vacancies. I tried lots of different things to meet people; yoga classes, art classes and extra uni tutorial sessions. None of it made any difference. My first year there was the loneliest year of my life and so many times I wanted to, yep you guessed it, pack my bags, but the city itself fit me like a glove. I couldn't walk away. It wasn't until I met my husband, and he introduced me to his friends, that I felt like I had a group of great people around me. Ironically almost none of them were originally from Sydney, and we had a fabulous time together.

The city did have other downsides. Being from the country I found Sydney chaotic and overwhelming at times, and I needed to go back to my parent's place every few months for some peace and quiet. The first flat D and I lived in together was on the ground floor of an old building in Coogee, a block away from the main road. We had people above us and people beside us, and our bedroom was right next to the building's driveway. Our street was a shortcut for people coming home from the pub at night, and in the summer, every night was pub night. There was never a time of day when it wasn't noisy. In the summer, as well as the late night revellers, there were innumerable tourists clogging the footpaths, littering the street with their takeaway containers and baring all on the beach. It drove me mad! We eventually moved to a quieter neighbourhood, in a suburb without a pub. Naturally there were problems in this area too... We lived on a fairly narrow street, just around the corner from a local primary school. The school was in a cul-de-sac so every day at 8am our street would be packed with mums and kids in SUV's trying to get around each other to get as close to the school as possible. And you could forget trying to get a park out the front anytime between 2-4pm.

I know I often complain about the lack of fresh produce here in Hong Kong and I pine for a Coles or a farmer's market down the road but if I'm really honest, most days getting to the supermarket in Sydney was a pain in the butt. Here on South Lantau, on a weekday, I can leave here, drive to Mui Wo, do the shopping and drive home again in the space of an hour. In Sydney, with the shopping centre much closer than Mui Wo is to here, it would take at least 2 hours. By the time I battled the traffic, circled the carpark 40 times, made my way around the enormous supermarket, made it to the end of the queue and explained to the 12 year old on the checkout the difference between zucchini and cucumber, found my car in the basement, battled the traffic again to get home, hours had passed. Most days, unless I was desperate, I made do with whatever I had in the house to avoid going through all that. A trip to the supermarket was a surefire way to elevate my blood pressure beyond healthy limits, and a great way to waste 2 hours. My husband and I joked that Bondi Junction Westfield was like a vacuum - you went in to get milk and emerged 4 hours later, with no idea where the time went. I can't imagine what that would be like with a child in tow!

So whenever I'm frustrated by the fact that I can't find hummus anywhere, or someone cuts in front of me in a queue, or when the air quality is so bad you can smell it, and I'm really missing home, these are the things I think about. And I feel a little bit better.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Let Me Entertain You

* I've lost a few readers since I posted this last week, so I'm going to apologise in advance to anyone reading it for the first time. I know a lot of parents and kids out there love "In the Night Garden," and if that's you, I'm glad you've found something that makes your children happy. I'm frustrated over the lack of good TV shows for babies and toddlers and that is what was behind this post. Please don't take offence and forgive me for coming across as a bit of a know-it-all, I'm not like that normally!

I always swore I'd be one of those mothers who don't let their kids watch television. Obviously that was before I had children... Apart from a fascination with American Idol at a very early age, J was never interested in TV until recently. His older cousin is hooked on it and when we visited them a few months ago J was always trying to divert her attention away from Playschool so she could play with him. I was partly pleased that he wasn't interested but also mildly disappointed that I wouldn't have another babysitter. I shouldn't have worried because that's all changed in the last few weeks. We have a DVD called "I Like to Sing" by an Australian kids entertainer, Justine Clarke. It's upbeat, fun and partly animated, and J is just transfixed by the singing and dancing.

One night a couple of weeks ago I made the mistake of putting it on when J was steadfastly refusing to eat his dinner. Since then it has become increasingly difficult to feed him without the effervescent presence of Justine and her gang. As soon as we put him in his highchair he turns to the TV expectantly. Some days we manage to get in breakfast and lunch without turning the TV on, but by dinnertime J is ready to be entertained, no matter how appetising the meal or how hungry he is. We've tried toys and tricks, like giving him his own bowl and spoon to play with, but the only thing that will get him to open his little mouth is Justine. To save our sanity I've ordered another of her DVDs and two by the Wiggles, hoping for at least a little bit of variety at mealtimes.

I've not had much exposure to children's programmes in the past, so I was surprised when we started watching the dedicated children's channels on cable TV here. Unable to form sentences at 6am, let alone entertain J over breakfast, I generally switch on the BBC's children's channel: CBeebies. Some of the shows are quite clever and funny, even for mums and dads. We love Andy Pandy for the cute storylines and the ironic tone of the narration. Humf and Little Robots are sweet and always have a nice moral for the kiddies. Mister Maker is colourful enough to appeal to children as young as J and the ideas are clever enough that older kids love it too, and it's different every day so parents don't get bored. Then there are shows like In the Night Garden that can only have been written by someone who's had too much cough medicine. There's something about it that appeals to children on a cellular level. J just has to hear the opening tune and he stops in his tracks. We don't watch it in our house out of principle. I don't want my son thinking it's ok to ride around washing other people's faces, a la Macca Pacca, or skipping along repeating your own name over and over, like Upsy Daisy. I have similar feelings about the inanity of the Teletubbies and Waybuloo.

At the risk of sounding like a smarty pants, I have issues with shows that oversimplify language and talk down to children. As a teacher I've done a lot of research into language development and it's a fact that babies learn to communicate more efficiently when they are exposed to normal, everyday ways of using language. Talking in "baby talk" serves no purpose at all. They understand what we're saying much earlier than they're able to talk back, and the best way to ensure that they do talk back is to model how and what to say. Obviously when you talk to babies you change your tone and repeat yourself more often than you would normally, but "dumbing down" what you say to them can negatively impact on things like speech, comprehension and vocabulary development. So until my son's verbal enough to argue with me, I'll be in charge of the remote control. Yes, I'm going to be one of THOSE mothers...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Things that go Bump in the Night

Our little guy doesn't crawl yet. From about 6 months of age he's much preferred to walk holding on to someone's hands. Despite reading a lot of negative reports about baby walkers we had to get one to save our backs and he loves it. We keep it downstairs and there's nowhere that he can trip or fall out of it so we feel confident that he's quite safe. He has full scope to chase the dog from one side of the living room to the other with a mischievous glint in his eye, and he lets us know he wants to go out by heading straight for the door. We were worried a few weeks ago that he wasn't crawling so we kept him out of the walker for a week. It didn't make any difference; he was just very cranky!

In the last week or so he's finally started showing signs that he might be crawling soon, and he is much more mobile. He's pulling himself up on furniture, and as soon as he's standing he gets a great big grin on his face, as if he's so very proud of himself. His latest manoeuvre is to transition from sitting to all fours by leaning forward (usually to grab something he's not supposed to) quickly followed by collapsing onto his belly. It's painful, but wickedly amusing, to watch him get so close to a crawl only to fail at the last hurdle. We're starting to realise how unsafe our house actually is as J lunges for cords and pulls things off shelves. We made an emergency purchase of stair gates, door closers, cord shorteners and corner cushions on this week so hopefully this time next week the place will be a little more baby-proof.

Our biggest worry, safety-wise, was the cot and we lowered it as soon as we realised J could use the bars to pull himself to standing. We've been a bit lazy to this point and have not been in the habit of raising the side gate. So late last night when we heard a loud crash coming from J's room we both instantly thought he'd fallen out of the cot and ran in there quicker than you can say "slack parents!" J was safely curled up asleep; all he'd done was kick the side of the cot, but my heart was palpitating for about an hour afterwards. The irony is, last night was the first night this week that J was feeling better and slept well...

I know as he gets older and able to get into more mischief we'll have to think of new ways to keep the house safe, but for now we're going to start by raising the side of the bed, every single night.

Thanks again for all the support this week, especially to the friends who offered to take my calls in the middle of the night; it's very much appreciated. We all got sick in the end and we're desperately hoping that we can harden up and avoid catching every little bug J brings home.  See you next week x

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Oh, What a Night - Part 2!

Before I start I just want to say thanks for all the comments and calls offering support after my last post; it's great to know people are reading. I also want to let you know that if you ask me a question in a comment I will answer it as a separate comment, so you'll just have to check the comments page under the relevant post. If you'd prefer a personal reply send me your email address (I won't publish it) and I'll reply that way.

So, we're now into our fourth day of J's chest infection and things are looking up. We haven't had much sleep since Sunday night and I now have a nasty sore throat, but my son is back to his old self again, which is great to see. He hasn't had much of an appetite this week and hasn't even wanted his bottles. It's been a real struggle to get juice or water into him, and he's been very sleepy and grumpy. Last night he went down at 6.30 and was up coughing a few times, but was fairly easy to settle. Then at 2am my husband went in and he was wide awake, wanting to play. He was clearly feeling much better and wanted us to know. He was also starving! We decided to break our "no milk after midnight" rule and see if that helped. He drank nearly a full bottle in our bed and sat up entertaining us for another half an hour. I put him back down around 3 but he woke fairly frequently after that. He's also worked out how to pull himself up on the bars of his cot so D had to go in and lie him back down a few times. He gave up just before 7 and brought him downstairs. He's been a very happy boy this morning and is out walking in the stroller at this moment with his "Ya Ya" and the dog.

This week's trip to the doctor got me thinking about the approach to illness here in Hong Kong and how it differs to Australia. There are pharmacies here but not many have actual dispensaries, and I've never been given a prescription here. All the clinics seem to have their own dispensaries out the back and you get your medicine after you've seen the doctor. Most of the time your medicine is dispensed in little "baggies" with the instructions typed on the front. I spent 10 years working in the pharmacy industry, so I know a little bit about medicines, and I much prefer my drugs in a box, with all the ingredients listed on it and a little fold out piece of paper detailing the side effects etc.  I've been given things here I've never heard of and have had to resort to Google to find out exactly what it is I'm taking. Something else that I've noticed is the sheer number of different medicines you're given at the one time, to treat every single symptom. I once had a chest infection and was given no less than 6 different medications: A painreliever, a mucolytic, a decongestant, an antihistamine, antibiotics and a cough syrup that is classed as a borderline narcotic in most western countries. There are signs and advertisements here warning people against abusing cough medicines... If you don't want people abusing them, don't give out liquid codeine in 200ml bottles!! It's crazy. One doctor also gave me 60mg of pseudoephedrine once; it was taken off the shelves in Australia a few years ago as it was often used to make illegal drugs, but it was handed to me (in a baggy) without a second thought.

Early last year I had a brief hospital stay and on telling the doctor I was feeling better, I was told I had to wait until he had my tests results because he didn't trust "feelings"; he trusted science. In some ways this sums up the approach to healthcare here. Rather than telling you to go home, lie down and drink lots of fluids, many doctors throw a load of drugs at you and send you back into the world. They have complete faith in the healing abilities of pharmaceuticals, and a lack of trust in the body's ability to heal itself with a bit of commonsense. It's no wonder there are more highly virulent flu strains emerging every year. In complete contrast to this is the practice of Chinese medicine. You can't walk a block here without coming across a herbalist or Chinese medicine practitioner. Their shelves are lined with jars of exotic weeds and fungi, horns of this animal and internal organs of another. Acupuncture is also so widely practiced here that it's covered by most major health insurers. To be honest I have never tried either form of alternative medicine but I know quite a few people who swear by it. I'm just confused by the two extremes of medical thought: Where one claims that antibiotics are the only way to cure a cold, based on science, while at the same time drinking bird's nest soup for virility; a practice that has no scientific basis whatsoever. It's mind boggling! I just put it down to one more thing that makes this city so unique and utterly fascinating.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Oh, What a Night!

Last night I had a total of two hours sleep, and I slept on the floor in J's room, listening to him cough and wheeze his way through the night. Our first official illness is upon us. Yesterday afternoon while we were playing on the floor I noticed that little guy felt warm. I took his temperature and it was 37.8 degrees, so I stripped him down to his nappy and gave him some Panadol. I kept my eye on his temperature and watched it slowly head down then back up again. When he refused to eat his dinner and turned down his bedtime bottle I was a little worried but put him to bed as I normally would. Between 10-11pm I went in to him four times as he woke with a coughing fit and decided since I wasn't going to get any sleep I'd be better off closer to him. I might have imagined it but he seemed pleased that I was there and settled back down fairly easily.

Around midnight his temperature hit 39 degrees and I took his pyjamas off and gave him more Panadol. He was coughing and wheezing a lot and his breathing was really fast and shallow at times. I started to worry that he was going to get really sick, really quickly and I felt a little out of my depth. I did a first aid course just last week and we talked about fevers, so I had some idea of what I was doing. I kept checking his temperature and wiping his little forehead with a cold face cloth. I contemplated sending a text message out to friends in the hope that someone would be up at that time of night, I needed reassurance that I was doing the right thing, but in the end decided I didn't want to wake anyone. I don't know if they have anything similar here but I know back in Australia there are 24-hour hotlines you can call and get a nurse's advice. If that fails there's also the option of grandparents and aunties who've been there, done that, but stuck in Hong Kong I just had to go it alone.

Once his temperature got back down to around 37, at about 2am, I went back to sleep with one hand up through the bars in the cot and five little fingers wrapped around one of mine. We were awake again at 3, 5 and 6.30am and each time the poor little guy had a coughing fit and struggled to settle back down. At 6.30 we got up for the day and he was very cuddly, which was nice but unusual. Normally he's leaping out of my arms as we come down the stairs, ready to start the day. I gave him breakfast and went back to bed, and my husband took him to our saintly GP. She diagnosed a viral chest infection and gave us a host of drugs to treat the symptoms, including an antihistamine to help him sleep. Given that he didn't sleep for longer than an hour at a time last night, it was the first thing I gave him after his lunch, and he's now peacefully napping upstairs.

Apart from reflux and a really mild head cold, J hasn't been sick at all. We've been really lucky to have made it nine months without him catching anything serious. We didn't take him out a lot when he was a newborn because it was winter, but we haven't avoided other kids or done anything deliberate to make sure he didn't get sick. As I lay there on the floor last night it hit me that this is what it means to be a parent, and I wondered how many times over the next 20 years I'd be lying awake like that listening to my son breathing beside me. I know there'll be times when it's pain and illness that keeps us up, and further down the track parties and broken curfews will be the cause of sleeplessness. I was worried at times last night, and I hate seeing J unhappy and uncomfortable but at the same time I felt confident that this was a problem I could fix. Instead of the normal things that worry me like feeding and sleeping, a fever has a very definite cure, and I knew what to do. I also knew that if I couldn't help my son, the doctor's clinic opened at 8. It was nice to have the answers for a change.

Monday, September 6, 2010

I'm No Dummy!

For the purposes of this post I'm going to refer to dummies, also known to some of you as soothers or pacifiers. A conversation with my helper this week got me thinking about our dependence on a very small but necessary piece of rubber, and whether or not it's time to wean ourselves off it. J only uses a dummy to go to sleep. I've been very careful about not giving it to him to suck away when he's not tired. In the early days we started using one because he liked to fall asleep during or immediately after a feed and I needed my nipples back. We use a natural rubber dummy that's all one piece, so there's nowhere for germs to hang out. It's also eco-friendly, orthodontic and virtually indestructible. It's quite odd looking and brown, and we get a lot of comments about it. I once left J with friends for a few hours and they had a good laugh about it. They had heard that babies prefer dummies that most resemble their mother's nipples and they imagined that I must have breasts like a big African Mama (could not be further from the truth in case you were wondering!).

We've tried other dummies but J refuses to use any other kind. This is a problem at times because the ones we use are not available everywhere. We have to buy them from our GP's office in Discovery Bay. We had a shortage a couple of months ago and we only had two in the house. One night I was on my own with J and he happened to lose both of them somewhere in his room. I was frantically rummaging through cupboards at 3am while he cried his heart out, trying desperately to find something I could stick in his mouth. In the end my finger was the only thing that soothed him and the next morning I found both dummies tucked up between the mattress and the mosquito net. I also made a trip to DB that day and stocked up. I now keep at least 2 spare in the bedroom.

I had a friend complain one day that her boys would lose them in the night and she'd have to get up to put them back in. I was glad that J wasn't that dependent on his and smiled smugly. Then we went to Australia and he woke every hour and cried until I got up and put the dummy back in. Serves me right, I hear you say. He's now very good at finding it in his cot and putting it back in himself, but I'm beginning to worry that he can't sleep without it.

I have noticed that not many of the local children use them, and I have a few friends who are very anti-dummy. We were advised not to use one until we had breastfeeding sorted out, to avoid "nipple confusion". Within a few days of being born J was on a combination of breast and bottle so I didn't think one more nipple would make any difference, and we didn't have a problem. I've not given it much thought since then, until now. Last week my helper was telling me her niece, who is about 3 weeks older than J, never needed one to sleep. She started talking about how J really likes his, and implied that maybe it was time to let it go. I got quite defensive and made the point that he only has it to sleep so it's not a problem. That was the end of the conversation but I haven't stopped thinking about it. I don't think my son is addicted to his dummy, I think I am. It's so easy to pop it in his mouth when he's a bit tired and cranky, and to be honest I have no idea how I'd go about getting him to sleep without one.

A few months ago while we were checking into a hotel, a family walked in with 3 children aged about 2, 4 and 6, and all 3 of them had dummies in their mouths. I was pretty shocked but I can see how easily it could happen. I'd like to to wean J off his before it becomes too hard but I haven't worked out how. My grandmother likes to tell the now infamous story of how I came to lose my dummy. She hates the things and was looking after me one day when I was about 2 years old. My dummy happened to fall out of my mouth and into the toilet. She very quickly flushed it away and told me the baby fish had it now. I'm told I was pretty satisfied with this response and didn't ask for a dummy again. Perhaps I need to wait until J is old enough to buy a story like that and then try. Until then, I'm going to enjoy the peaceful sleep it brings.

Friday, September 3, 2010

You've Got to Have Friends

Thanks everyone for the comments this week; it's great to have feedback and I really appreciate all the advice. I've relaxed a little more at mealtimes and we're trying more finger foods, and even though the little guy isn't eating much more than he was a few days ago, it's less stressful.

My husband's been in New York this week and since I couldn't go with him I've been watching old episodes of Sex and the City. Apart from making me wish I could afford to wear Manolos and live on 5th Ave, it got me thinking about friendship. I've always been fairly shy and reserved (clearly, only the shyest people publish their private thoughts on the internet) and making friends doesn't come easily to me. My best friend and I have known each other since we were 4 years old. We grew up blocks away from each other, went to school together and shared the agony of adolescence, and all the joy and heartbreak, failure and success that has come since. I love that I can be myself in his company and never have to explain anything. He knows me better than anyone and I know we'll still be friends when we're 70. This kind of comfortable, effortless and loyal friendship is my kind of friendship, but it is a rare thing to find.

When I moved to Hong Kong I found it very hard to leave my friends in Sydney and in some ways, I didn't really want to make new friends. I didn't think it would be possible to establish those same sorts of relationships again. I'm not great at putting myself out there and being myself in unfamiliar territory. I was terrified by the prospect of having to start over. Get togethers where there are lots of people I don't know still make me feel a bit ill, especially when it involves leaving the island. In my first week here I was invited to a hen's/bachelorette party for a girl I already knew. I met so many new people that night and everyone was keen to include me. I had so many phone numbers and offers to catch up by the end of the night that I was overwhelmed, and to be honest I wondered how genuine they all were. I didn't think it was possible for people to truly be THAT nice. As the weeks went by I had more offers for girl's nights and bookclubs and morning teas but I turned many of them down. For quite a while after we moved here I hated Hong Kong and I took it out on the people around me. I had a very narrow vision of life and the people here, and I hate to admit it, but I misjudged their intentions. I also didn't want to go to all the trouble of making friends here because I had no intention of staying for very long...

After a few trips back to Australia in a short space of time I realised that life was going on without me at home; my friends were going to work, getting married and having babies, and I was missing it all. I realised that in order to survive in Hong Kong I'd need to keep moving forward too, and to do that I would need a serious attitude change. It also appeared that we would be here for the long haul and I'd need a lot of support. Luckily people in our circle of friends were patient and hadn't given up on me completely. I realised they were so friendly in the beginning because they'd all been in the same boat at some stage and knew what it was like to leave a life behind. I had been wrong: They were THAT nice. Some of those girls at that first party are amongst my closest friends today, and I may not see them very often but I'm so very grateful that they made the effort in those early months.

While I was pregnant I was lucky enough to have 2 very good friends going through it all at the same time. They both had multiples so it was a different experience for all of us but we bonded over our swollen ankles, ultrasounds and nursery furniture. On hot summer days we'd waddle over to the pool next door and float for hours. G and I would catch up almost daily for tea and some days we didn't need to say anything at all because we felt exactly the same way. We were thrilled when K delivered 3 healthy baby boys, and both girls shared our excitement when J arrived a few weeks later. Sadly, G had to go back to the UK before her twin girls were born so we've yet to met them but I paced the floor, in floods of tears, thousands of miles away the day she was induced, and I was overjoyed from a distance when all was well. G and her husband are such special friends we asked them to be J's Godparents (my husband's one concession to the christening debate), so they have to stay friends with us wherever we all are in the world! All I can say is, thank goodness for Skype.

Over time I've realised that what we have here is unique. Hardly anyone we know works 9-5 and we see our friends here far more than we ever saw our friends in Sydney. We understand how hard it can be when husbands are away, especially when babies are young, and we rally around cooking and shopping. The community here is welcoming and supportive. I grew up in a small country town and I'm reminded of it sometimes when I walk through Mui Wo and people smile and say hi. I feel like the people we know here compensate for the people who aren't here; they're our family for the time we live in Hong Kong. I've seen a lot of people here from very different backgrounds develop close, lifelong friendships and I'm sad that I almost missed out on that.

It's not always idyllic; there are downsides. I sometimes feel like we live in each other's pockets, and it's impossible to keep something a secret around here! Hong Kong's population is also very transient. People come and go, and very few stay here forever. We all have "homes" somewhere else in the world and it can be very hard when people move away. My friend K has been away for the summer and it's been a long 3 months! For me personally, it has taken some time to reconcile my shyness with the very social side of life here. It's something I still struggle with. I've had to overcome a lot of my insecurities and neuroses and it hasn't been easy; the expat life is definitely the recluse's version of jumping in at the deep end! Since J was born I've been able to connect with more people; there's always something to talk about, and I've found I have more in common with some people than I thought. Mother's groups and playgroups are brilliant; it's hard to be shy when you're out with a child as active and vocal as my son (not to mention cute!).

The friendships we've built here are a big part of why I'm still in Hong Kong. So, to my new friends who stood by me when I was difficult and antisocial; a big thank you. To those who still aren't sure about me; I'm trying my very best to get out of my shell. To my friends who have known me forever; lots of love. And finally to my new "friends" I haven't met yet, thanks for reading. Have a great weekend x

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lunch is a Battlefield

I often joke that J throws food at me all the time but he doesn’t throw it really, he spits it out. Most of the time it gets sprayed all over both of us when he tries to eat and blow raspberries at the same time. I’ve been trying to encourage him to eat food with more lumps in it lately and this has been rejected outright. J much prefers his lasagna pureed thank you very much! Strangely enough though he’s quite happy to munch on things like teething biscuits and chunks of toast, it’s only lumpy vegetables that seem to end up on the floor. I’m not sure if he’s a fussy eater or just a typical 8 month-old, but some days one particular dish will be eaten with gusto and the next day he refuses to eat the same thing, clamping his little mouth firmly shut and waving away the spoon. This week he has started to shake his head when he doesn’t want to eat, and that seems to be most of the time at the moment. Yesterday he would not eat lunch, even fruit was rejected and then at dinnertime he ate so much I wondered where it was all going to go. Today has been much the same and I’m at a loss to understand why. Yes, it’s another one of those things that has me worrying all day. There are apparently a lot of reasons why a baby might go off his food at this age. They range from teething to baby being too busy to eat, to complete lack of interest in the poor excuse for a meal Mum is serving up tonight. I’m perplexed by the range of advice out there for feeding babies of this age. I am a big fan of Annabel Karmel but according to her, my son should be just about ready to eat basically the same food we eat. She also suggests giving him his milk in a cup during the day and saving the bottle for bedtime. I know my son well enough to know that this would not go down well. Robin Barker advises that once babies are eating three meals a day you should start giving them their food first and then their milk. J is so ravenous in the morning that any time I’ve tried this he’s woken the neighbours with his howls of protest and I’ve ended up wearing his weetbix! His midday meal is much the same; it’s only in the evenings that I can convince him to eat first.

Dinner is another issue. Apparently baby should be eating with the rest of the family by now… For one thing, we don’t sit up like civilised people at the dining table to eat, we don’t even own a dining table; we collapse on the sofa in front of the TV when J is safely tucked up in bed asleep. Secondly, he eats early. Really early. If I leave it later than 5.30-6pm to feed him, he goes into meltdown mode. I’m aware that I’m beginning to sound like I’m afraid of a little drama at mealtimes but really I’ve chosen to let my child and his behaviour be my guide about how, what and when to feed him. One book suggested that I should be letting him feed himself by now. I’m all for giving him finger foods to eat in his highchair but if I want him to actually eat something I’ve learned the best way to ensure it is to feed him myself. Anything that gets placed in front of him on the tray gets swept aside with a swift brush of his little hand, or dangled over the side for the dog. I’m not trying to teach him to use a sippy cup at the moment, as I’m supposed to be, because last week the dog got showered with orange juice. Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to be sitting up at the table (or in front of the TV)spoon-feeding a 4 year old in a few years time, but I feel like there’s enough pressure on me as it is. I mentioned last week the effort involved in just buying groceries here, add to that the time spent planning and pureeing, and ensuring that J gets a balanced and varied diet… my head hurts just thinking about it! When someone told me I should start giving him snacks twice a day I almost had a stroke.

On the one hand I feel like I’m neglecting him by failing to let him explore and experiment at mealtimes. On the other hand, I’m at risk of turning into a complete control freak for over-thinking it all too much and focusing solely on filling my son’s tummy with nourishing foods. My husband scolded me on the weekend for ignoring J’s protest while I wiped his face after he ate; “he’s a kid, they’re supposed to be messy.” So, do I hand him the bowl and a spoon and let him go for it? Or do I keep doing what I’m doing, knowing that some days it won’t matter what I do, it’ll still end up on the floor, in my hair and all over the dog…? Last night I decided I need to try and find a balance between making sure he gets something to eat while also giving him the chance to figure this whole eating thing out for himself. I think the first thing I need to do is PUT THE BOOKS AWAY! And then I might have a cup of tea and hand the spoon to my helper…