Saturday, October 22, 2011

Growing Up

When I found out I was pregnant I made a mental list of all the things I would need to do before baby numero due arrived. Apart from spending as much quality time with J as possible, making him less dependent on me was high on my list. I was determined not to have 2 kids in nappies and I really wanted him to be better at feeding himself (or at least more willing to). Then I had an attack of mummy guilt - not only would I be shaking up his tiny world and inflicting a sibling upon him, I was also planning on hurrying him up on the whole growing up thing. I asked myself, was it really fair to expect him to give up his bottles and dummies simply because they were an inconvenience to me?! I decided I wasn't going to do anything drastic while I was working and chose to leave toilet training and dinnertime battles off the agenda for a few months. Partly because I wanted to be able to give those issues my full attention but also because I wanted to delay the inevitable just as much as I imagined my son did.

Then a remarkable thing happened. In just a few short months J has gone from putting two words together to making sentences and "talking" about concepts like friends and colours, and would you believe it, he also chats away in Cantonese... His memory is outstanding and he has started to make choices and clearly express what he wants, and really clearly express what he doesn't want. Just last week he showed the first signs of an imagination as he hopped in a toy car and waved goodbye, telling me with great delight that he was going to Mui Wo. He has a great sense of humour and he tells us when he's "shy" or "scared". The very fact that he understands what what those words mean astounds me. He even takes himself off to his little time-out corner when he knows he's been naughty, I mean, how do I discipline a kid that does that? This morning he told me he needed to do a wee and motioned for me to help him to sit on the toilet (nothing came of it but I was still pretty darn impressed by his initiative!). In other words, without very much input from me at all, my little boy is growing up. And very quickly too.

I admit there was that initial thought that perhaps I might have some work to do to encourage my little man to be more independent, but not a great deal of what has happened lately was the result of a conscious choice on my part. We wanted to capitalise on his self-awareness so when he started telling us he needed a nappy change, we bought a potty and we talked about what it was for, but we haven't exactly been proactively teaching him how to use it. I tried pretty hard to enforce some manners on the kid but everything beyond "please" and "thank you" he learned on his own. Maybe I'm not giving us enough credit. I'm sure we've done something right at some point to lead our child to this newfound independence and verbal ability, but to be completely honest, I'm not really sure what.

Despite my son's obvious prodigiousness, there will need to be some active changes made over the coming months, purely for my own convenience. Once the baby arrives I won't have time to cut each piece of J's toast into 2x2cm squares and he may need to learn how to eat a whole banana (as opposed to having it peeled and sliced for him), but I figured since he's practically toilet-trained himself I'll let him keep the bottles and dummies for now. He may very well decide next month that he doesn't need them anymore (a long-shot at best) as he seems determined to grow up with or without my encouragement. It's a bittersweet mixture of overwhelming pride and sadness, watching my baby turn into a boy, but I'm beyond thrilled that I'm about to do it all again. Does that mean I'm growing up too?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Name Game

My regular readers would know that I'm kind of obsessed with names. The first post I wrote about the topic (this one) is the most read post on this blog, so I'm guessing it's a topic of interest to all of you out there too. I've mentioned before that I had J's name chosen long before I had a ring on my finger, I just never thought about what I might name my second child...

When I was pregnant with J I was convinced, initially, that I was having a girl. I had also decided that my baby girl was going to be named Zoe. Then we had friends name their daughter Zoe, a couple of months into my pregnancy, and I still loved the name, but I lost interest. I've really liked a lot of girls names since then but I still haven't found "the one." I was chatting to a friend about this recently. We agreed that there is that moment when you chose a name where you kind of go, "hmmm, Mary, that's a really pretty name." You try it out with your surname and a few potential middle names, you like the sound of it, you might even write it down to see how it looks. And suddenly you find yourself picturing what your little Mary looks like. You might even secretly refer to your baby as Mary in your mind. When my husband and I found ourselves both doing that with J we knew there was no other name for our baby boy.

This time round we once again have a boy's name picked out. We're still open to suggestions but there's one name that we both adore, and after J was born we said if we ever had another boy we'd give him this particular name. Once again, friends have recently had a baby boy and they gave him this name, but this time round we don't care. The likelihood of these boys growing up together is remote (now that I've said that they'll probably be best friends!) and the parents in question aren't the kind to be put out that someone else loves the name and wants to use it. I just wish I could find a girl's name that I love with such conviction.

I thought I had found it today. I was teaching a little girl recently, quite possibly one of the sweetest kids I've ever had the pleasure of working with, and she got me thinking about this name. It's not the kind of name I would ever have imagined for my daughter in a million years, but just this morning I heard the name on TV (and the girl attached to it was also very sweet). I started thinking about the little girl from school and tried the name on for size. I liked it, and it met most of my criteria - short, simple, pretty, good for an adult or a baby, almost nickname-proof. Then I took J out and we happened to run into the very same girl I had been thinking about! I thought it was a sign from the universe. My husband's response when I asked him what he thought of this name was a very straightforward but definitive "no." So we're back to the drawing board.

When my parents were here recently my dad kept referring to the baby as April, because that's when he thought I was due. Even when I corrected him he kept it up and that got me thinking that April's a pretty cute name for a girl. April's my favourite month of the year, we got married in April, I was thinking maybe it could work, but D was horrified I was even considering naming our child after a month. D and I sometimes agree on names we like, but we mostly disagree and neither of us has come up with a girl's name we both love. I like Kate, he prefers Katherine. He loves Isabella, but I think it's too long to go with our surname. We both like Grace, but we don't love it. Not to mention all the beautiful names, already given to children by our friends, that we've had to cross off the list. I just know if we have a girl, she's going to be known as Baby Girl C for at least the first week of her life! I'm beginning to wonder if perhaps our inability to settle on one perfect girl's name is simply a sign that we're destined to have only boys...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Top Tip Tuesday - Visitors

Yes, Top Tip Tuesday is back, but temporarily. I'm at home sick with the flu and am taking advantage of the time off to get some writing done.

We've had a few people come to visit us since we moved here four long years ago, most of them just passing through on their way somewhere else, but others who really want to see as much of Hong Kong as they can. Once they've been here a few times they want to do less of the touristy stuff and more of the hanging out with their loved ones (i.e. us) but between friends and family, we've managed to see a lot of the city's main attractions several times over. I recently had the pleasure of having my parents visit, and the prospect of having them here was both exciting and terrifying. Not only was it the first time they had been to Hong Kong, it was the first time they had left Australia. They arrived wide-eyed and exhausted with their brand new luggage and with the ink barely dry on their brand new passports. They're from the country and Mum used to get stressed coming to visit me in Sydney, so I knew planning a week's worth of activities was going to be tough. I desperately wanted them to enjoy their time here, and to show them as much as I could without overwhelming them completely. I didn't want to scare them off overseas travel for good, so the pressure was on. They were also bringing my 10 year old nephew, so I had to factor in kid-friendly outings as well.

I took care of the kid's needs by putting the 3 of them up at Hong Kong Disney's Hollywood Hotel. It was reasonably priced compared to other hotels in the area, and they were close to us without being on top of us (we live in 800 sq feet - there isn't room for the 3 of us, let alone 3 more!). Meals were expensive at the hotel's restaurants but we took care of breakfast by stocking up at Wellcome and they ate with us for other meals. Being so close to Disneyland also made a day at the park possible, and more bearable, as they could come and go as they pleased.

For the rest of the week I made sure we had one rest day for every busy day and that seemed to work quite well. As I said, we've had a few people visit since we moved here and we've always stuck with the same, well-worn tourist routes. This time we did a few things a bit differently and despite my mother nicknaming me "the General" for my planning, everyone had a good time. So here are my tips for entertaining friends and family when they come to visit:

  • One of the things I love the most about Hong Kong is just how different each little pocket of the city is from the next. There is so much to see and do that it would take several trips of a few weeks each to see just half of it. We didn't get to Sai Kung or venture deep into the heart of Mong Kok, we didn't get up the peak, and the closest my parents came to eating a Chinese dish was my helper's sweet and sour pork, but I really tried to show them that this place is truly a city of contrasts.
  • A trip to Lantau is a must. We live here so it was a given that we would spend a lot of time on the island, but it is always great to see the surprised looks on people's faces when you drive over that hill or step off the ferry and they're greeted by rolling green hills, long stretches of beach, and buffalo roaming freely - it's the last thing people expect when they come to HK. I couldn't have done anything worse than drag my parents into the madness of Mong Kok after their 9 hour flight, so we spent the whole of their first day here, on Lantau. We visited the Tian Tan Buddha, Po Lin Monastery and Ngong Ping Village, and it was a great introduction to just one of the many contrasts of this city. Later in the week we also headed down to Pui O beach to watch the buffalo and take in some of the spectacular scenery around here. 
  • A ferry ride is also a fun, cheap activity and even if you just get the Star Ferry across the harbour, it's a great way to see the city from a different angle. 
  • We spent almost an entire day traipsing around Stanley Markets - something I have not done in a very long time. It's not for the fainthearted and the sheer effort involved in getting there and back makes it less popular in my book. We attempted it on a Friday afternoon, before a public holiday and it took us a nauseating two hours to get home. But we all enjoyed it and Mum shopped up a storm. It's the kind of place where not much bargaining goes on, and you might find the prices a little steeper than they are in places like the lanes, but it's a gorgeous part of HK and I love it for the cheap baby clothes!
  • On their final night here we took Mum and Dad for dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. The buffet there is amazing (albeit pricey) and with great views over the harbour, the location couldn't be better. We arrived early so that we'd be finished dinner by 8pm, in time to watch the Symphony of Lights (ok, I stayed at the table and helped myself to the dessert buffet while everyone else watched the light show). It's tacky but brilliant, and you can't help but love a city that sets a gaudy light show to even gaudier music every single night. 
  • We also bunkered down for a few nights in a holiday house while a typhoon raged around us, and that was pretty exciting. But my mother will probably tell you it was nothing compared to taking the MTR on a Friday night during peak hour. Of all the things that we did that week, these were the least favourite with our guests...
Typhoon Nesat put a damper on a number of our plans for the week, but overall I think it was a success. Here are just a few of the things/places we can recommend from previous jaunts with vistors:
  • The Peak is still the most popular place to go to get a great view of the city. Getting a taxi all the way up there and then the tram down is the best way, but there are a million different ways, if you feel like chugging up the hill on a mini-bus or queuing at the peak tram station for hours at the bottom of the hill. Walking back down can also be fun (no, really!) and gives you an idea of just how small this place really is. I wanted to take my folks to the new Sky 100 in the ICC, Kowloon, then I learned it wasn't free. It's a fine option if you don't want to battle the crowds at the peak and will certainly give you a different perspective. My mum had some time at the Ritz Carlton Spa (in the same building - apparently the highest spa in the world) and said the views were spectacular. I felt nauseous just going up there in the lift with her so I took her word for it. But, if you can stomach it and don't mind paying the entry fee, Sky 100 is a good way to show your guests the lay of the land, so to speak.
  • Hong Kong Park, on Cotton Tree Drive, Central, is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the city. I've always seen it as a welcome bit of respite in the middle of all that madness, and anyone we've taken there has loved it too, as much for the unexpectedness of it as for its beauty. The Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware is another little surprise tucked away in a corner of the park, and anyone who loves a quiet cup of tea, or quaint, china-filled museums will be delighted if you take them here. 
  • Food is pretty high on the list of priorities for any traveller worth his salt, and we have two places that are guaranteed to please every time. I'm not brave enough to eat from the dai pai dongs that line the streets so if you're looking for a truly authentic Cantonese experience, you'll have to look elsewhere! The best meal I've ever had in Hong Kong can be found at Crystal Jade in IFC. You have to try their Xiao Long Bao: Pork wontons in steaming broth with fresh pulled noodles. At $30HKD a bowl it certainly won't break the bank. It is food I will queue for, and food I am willing to sit at a table with 8 strangers to eat, it's that good! When my father-in-law was here recently we decided to splurge and took him to one of the few Michelin Starred Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong - Ming Court, in the Langham Hotel, Mong Kok. It was unlike anything I've ever eaten, the staff were wonderful, and the food was unforgettable - in a good way. It was expensive, but not so expensive that the prices weren't on the menu (you know the places I'm talking about - where if you need to ask how much it is, you probably can't afford it...). 
I can think of a lot more places to see and things to do but these here are the ones I can recommend from personal experience. I'd love to hear from you if you have any recommendations you'd like to share. (For the record, my parents will be back - they're already planning their next trip!).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pink or Blue?

We're finally at that crucial stage in our pregnancy where we can find out whether we're having a boy or a girl. But, we've spent the last 19 weeks debating about whether or not we actually want to. When we were expecting J we agreed that we didn't want to know: we both wanted that moment in the delivery room when someone would joyously shout "it's a....!" Unfortunately at my 20 week scan we had an obstetrician who had not met us before and despite being told that we didn't want to know, he hovered the scanner thing over something resembling a little acorn, and later referred to our baby as "he." My husband refused to believe that we had just found out our baby's gender completely unintentionally, but from that moment on I knew we'd be buying blue.

This time round I've really wanted to know ahead of time. I don't have a strong feeling either way, and I can't even look at the timing and work out from dates what this baby might possibly be as none of this was timed! It has been a completely different pregnancy from the first, and my husband gamely suggested that I must surely be having a girl, what with all the extra mood swings I've been subjecting him to... I will genuinely be surprised (and thrilled) whatever the outcome. It's a given here that you'll find out and a lot of people assume you want to know. With monthly scans in the private system, it's hard for people to understand why you wouldn't want to know when it's so easy to find out. I was determined that second time around I'd have control over when and how I found out, and we agreed that we should find out sooner rather than later, so we'd be prepared. But I was never comfortable with the idea of telling anyone else. I love trying to guess and waiting for that big announcement when my friends have babies, and I feel like some of the excitement is lost if you know months in advance that so-and-so is having a baby boy and they're naming him "X". At the same time I've battled with how I could possibly keep it a secret if I did know, as I've mentioned before, I'm not great with secrets. Lately D has been wavering too, veering towards not wanting to know. The decision has been mostly out of our hands as we've met with reluctant doctors and sonographers who refuse to tell us until they can tell us with absolute certainty. It didn't help that our little BITO (bun in the oven) had his/her legs crossed defiantly at my last scan...

I'm booked in for my 20 week scan on Tuesday and I had resolved that this would be the day I would find out for sure whether or not I could go out and buy lots of little pink things, or pull out all the little blue things I've been storing. I've heard people say that they feel more able to bond with the baby when they know what it is and can give it a name ahead of time. Others say that since it's going to be a surprise whenever you find out, why wait? I was convinced that finding out was the right thing for us until D came to the conclusion a few days ago that he definitely does not want to know. I felt like this left me with a really big decision to make. Do I find out myself and try my best not to give the game away for the next 4 months? Or do I simply sit back and wait until the big day? I was moaning about my dilemma to a good friend yesterday and she very wisely suggested that since I am so appalling with secrets, and have no valid reason other than my own impatience to find out, then perhaps I should wait. As frustrated as I was to be getting absolutely no sympathy here, I had to admit that she was right. Now I just have to hope we don't find out by accident so I get my big delivery room moment after all...

So, what did you do? Find out ahead of time, or keep it a surprise? Is it better to know and be prepared? Or is it ok if your baby girl wears blue for a few weeks? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tea and Cake and The Art of Being Alone

I spent a lot of time on my own when I was young and single. Totally unaware of how lucky I was to have that kind of freedom, I spent many nights on the sofa with my cat, pining for a hand to hold. I lived alone for quite a few years and there were weekends when I could go a whole day without having a single conversation (with someone who actually talked back, as opposed to the cat...). I was far too young to be so alone, but rather than actually do anything about it I frittered away my early twenties, in a granny flat, cat on my lap, Bridget Jones style, lamenting over where I went wrong with Mr Oh-so-wrong. I was self-sufficient and independent and the whole lot of it was character building and I'm grateful for it, but deep down, until I met my husband, I was seriously quite lonely.

Since moving to HK I've had to get used to my own company again. Being married to a pilot you don't really have much of a choice! My husband can be away for long stretches of time and before J was born I had a lot more time on my hands that I had to try and fill. It sucked when we first moved here, especially in those very early days before we had TV or internet connected, but after a few nights of sleeping smack bang in the middle of the bed, I learned to adapt and capitalise on that time on my own. I still sit on the sofa, dog in my lap, but now I take the opportunity to watch trashy TV shows that my husband wouldn't approve of, or eat more than my share of chocolate ice cream when he's away. I've also been known to take advantage of his absence and rearrange the furniture on a solo night at home (sad, but true). It took me a while, but after all those years of buying meals for one, I learned to really like being alone. Then I buggered it up by having a baby and ensuring I would not be alone again (not often anyway) for a very long time.

Out of necessity, J and I were constant companions for most of the first year of his life, which was lovely at times, but quite a struggle at others. I longed for a bit of space and on the toughest days I took to spending a really long time in the shower, just to have a moment to myself. Of course, the whole parenting thing has been a lot easier for a while now, and our little man is at an age where he is genuinely great company. We can hang out, play, and have something resembling a conversation, and I miss him when I have to leave him behind for any length of time. I've chosen to forego time to myself, and my skills in the art of being alone have been all but forgotten due to lack of practice. On Sunday afternoon I found myself in Elements mall, sitting down with a cup of tea and cake all by myself, and for a moment I returned to that awkwardness I used to avoid so desperately. I used to hate eating alone, or even being anywhere in public alone, engaging in something that should be shared, like eating in a restaurant, movie watching or shopping for homewares. I sat there for a while, unsure of what to do with myself, wishing I had a book, or at least a magazine to hide behind so I'd look less alone, like I did once upon a time. But times have changed and as soon as I took that first bite of cake and realised no one was trying to climb into my lap, there was no Thomas the Tank Engine DVD blaring in the background, and best of all, no one to share the cake with, I was ecstatic! It was a short-lived, but blissful return to the days when I could be by myself and be ok with it.

Don't get me wrong, I never regret a minute spent with my son (and for the record, I do miss my husband when he's away!), but these days the only time I get to myself is very brief, and is usually spent doing something practical and boringly necessary, like having a shower or going to the doctor. On Sunday I had a moment, and I embraced it with open arms, relishing the opportunity to just sit and be still and eat cake, all by myself for a change.

Then about halfway through my afternoon tea I felt the pitter patter of baby feet from the inside, reminding me that I'm never truly alone anymore, and I won't be for quite some time. And that was even sweeter.