Wednesday, 21 October 2015
1. I know I swore I'd never write about anything pertaining to goldfish again but, as I'm discovering, goldfish are to young children what fixie bikes are to hipsters.
2. A flurry of white feathers just fluttered down outside my living room window. If I lived in a different country, I might investigate but as I live in China, I think it's best not to. Also, set to the background sound of the soprano practising her aria across the road in the Shanghai Conservatory of Music...the moment was quite dramatic, and weird.
So, last week I received an email from Little A's school informing me of the upcoming school trip and inviting me to attend. As is normal with Little A's school, the information provided was minimal. They would be going somewhere with "rollercoasters, water-rafting, gold-fishing and vegetable-picking". The thought of a clutch of 3-year-olds on rollercoasters and rafts in China (the 'in China' bit is important) set my A-dar blasting. (A-dar is the implant in my head that senses when Little A should not be doing something).
The school, while encouraging parents to go, weren't too happy about me bringing Snugglepunk along as well. They suggested I leave him at home (strapped into his highchair for the day with a supply of rice crackers perhaps?) and told me that it was too dangerous for a 1 year old (but not apparently for 3 year olds who are famous for being significantly more mature and world-wise than 1 year olds). It's not that I particularly fancied the idea of juggling two small children for the day, one of whom likes eating rubbish and the other who likes picking sticks off the ground and swishing them around in the faces of other young children while shouting 'I'm a pirate, ARGGGHHH...me hearties". But, I didn't want Little A to miss out on whatever it was that was happening and I certainly was not going to let him go under the supervision of the school which is well-meaning but generally chaotic and disorganised.
So, yesterday Little A, Snugglepunk and I set off on the school trip with two bags, one pram, two slings, two packets of baby wipes and about 300 rice cakes. It is impossible to have too many rice cakes.
Little A goes to an "international" school but it seems to be 90% Chinese. It's also supposed to be bilingual but I think it's bilingual in the way that all the Chinese kids speak Chinese and all the English speaking kids speak English and I don't sense a whole load of crossover. Little A never speaks Chinese in front of me so I’m never too clear how much he actually speaks and understands…more than me probably.
We took a tour bus an hour north of Shanghai which wasn't actually an hour north of Shanghai at all because it was still Shanghai...so perhaps better to say an hour north of my Shanghai. I had very little idea of what kind of place we were visiting, so at least my expectations were low. I had been on enough school trips with Little A to know that we needed to pack a lot of food. The school provided Little A with a "packed lunch" consisting rather randomly of two bottles of water, a banana, four mini "croissants" (i.e. bread rolls shaped like croissants) and two bread rolls shaped like bread rolls. I seem to use an inordinate amount of "quotation marks" when writing about China - maybe because things are often claimed to be things that we later find out are not the things they claim to be at all - if you get me. Little A and Snugglepunk had polished off the bread roll extravaganza before we even arrived so it's just as well I had also packed three tupperware boxes of sausage pasta, apples, juice and the 300 rice cakes. Small boys are hungry - I know this from experience.
We arrived at what seemed to be some kind of park. It was immediately clear that it was a very Chinese destination i.e. it was packed full of people and the bins were overflowing at 10am. The first mass activity of the day was a trip to the toilet (this is, after all, a class full of 3 year olds). The toilet was a ceramic trench with small dividers along the wall. There was no flushing, no water, no doors, no toilet paper. I've spent time in China so I was vaguely ok with this and knew that it was best not to dwell on it, not to breathe and not to touch anything. I'm seasoned at the way of the squat trench. Little A however was having none of it and refused to step near the trench. "I don't want to fall in", he said wisely and went outside to find a less offensive tree upon which to relieve himself. I made a mental note not to drink water again for the rest of the day.
The whole thing was a bit mental. There was a lady with a microphone and whistle whose job appeared to be to corral us like cattle. She also had a faded red flag raised high in the air that we were supposed to follow through the crowds of people and children all in their own groups, with their own red flags that looked entirely identical to our red flag. Every time we weren't doing what we should, she would start piping on her whistle and rabbiting down the microphone in Chinese. She was Captain Von Trapp in the squat body of a middle-aged Chinese tour guide, with a voice like a round-saw cutting metal.
The first "activity" (I'm starting to think I should just put quotation marks around the whole entry), was the "playground" which was, in fact a dated and decrepit amusement park. We had a jolly little ride on a squeaky train before Little A spotted a large swinging pirate ship and demanded that we go on it. I looked at the swarming mass of Chinese tweens pushing and clambering to get on the ride, which looked a bit rusty and didn't appear to have restraints and tried to jolly him off in the other direction. The only other rides were a spinning one with water guns and bumper cars. Little A took one look at the cars and said "I wanna drive car!". I thought "Well, that's not possible, he's only 3...surely he wouldn't be allowed on the bumper cars" but, you know, it's China so I don't know why I thought that, of course 3 year olds can go on the bumper cars! In fact, it turns out that 1 year olds are also allowed on them but some maternal instinct at the back of my spine must have kicked in because I decided that Snugglepunk was a tad too young to be bashed around in an electrified vehicle. My Chinese friend Kitty offered to take Aodhan on the bumper cars. While he was at first delighted, his joy turned to horror as he realised that the cars were crashing into each other and he started to get panicked. Kitty, however, managed to drive around the little bumper car arena in smooth circles avoiding all other cars and people while Little A sat frozen in terror beside her.
Thankfully, activity 1 was now over. Activity 2 was a "boat" ride. The "boat" was a series of bamboo poles tied together with benches strapped on top. The "life jackets" were pieces of orange material stuffed with something that may or may not have been buoyant. Apparently they also have no problem with one year olds on floating bamboo rafts although they had neither child nor infant versions of the possibly-though-not-necessarily-buoyant "life-jackets". Not wanting to be the neurotic foreigner who wouldn't participate, I gingerly stepped onto the raft clutching my two children, and chose a bench towards the back. Just after I got on, about 6 other families pushed their way onto our raft, including one that wedged themselves onto our bench. The gondolier-man shouted "too heavy!" so two more men jumped on. He shouted "too heavy!" again. I was about to volunteer to get off as the raft started listing precariously to one side and then, Tour Guide Von Trapp herself hopped on, shouted at the man with the pole and off we lurched into the middle of a lake of unknown depth. I looked down at the bamboo poles that separated us from the water and saw that they were now submerged and water was starting to pool around my shoes. If I had a picture of my face at that moment, I am entirely sure it would have been ashen. It's not that I can't swim, I can swim just fine, but the two little boys can't swim and didn't have life jackets, and the raft was slightly submerged with one side rising up out of the water. I was the only person concerned, apparently, as everyone else was chattering away and Tour Guide Von Trapp blew down on her whistle in a moment of, what seemed from my panic station at the back, to be exuberance and joy. Snugglepunk started to squeal and try to wriggle out of my arms. I forced a smile and looked down at Little A beside me. With my best jolly voice I said, "Isn't this fun? A boat!". He looked up weakly and said, "I want to get off". I nodded, gripped his hand and started trying to remember what I had learned in those two lifesaving classes I did when I was 14. Thankfully, it was a short boat ride.
Swiftly moving on to Activity 3...fishing. Sorry, "fishing". Fishing consisted of a series of large plastic tubs filled with water and terrified goldfish around which dozens of crazed children with nets were wedged, frantically trying to, ehm, fish. When a fish was caught, it was squeezed into a container of some kind, usually a waterbottle the diameter of which was less than the diameter of the fish itself. Sometimes they didn't bother adding water - it was grim. For proof - see picture below. I'm not big into animal welfare but even I was slightly horrified. Even so, I gave Little A a net, squashed him in between some older kids and let him loose, knowing that the freaked out fish were all huddled together in the centre of the tub, beyond the reach of his little arms. He caught nothing. Eventually, Tour Guide Von Trapp got on the whistle again and we all assembled under her frayed red flag. Little A looked around...all the other children had goldfish. He looked at me plaintively, "Where's my fish?", he wailed. And in a very Augustus Gloop fashion, he threw a net at me, pointed to the tubs and screamed "GET ME A FISH. NOW!". My little tyrant - so cute.
Normally, I would deal with this like a good parent, gently talk to him about his tone and help him deal with and understand his emotions. But I had been in that godforsaken park for 3 hours, I was sweating, Snugglepunk was screeching for food, i had at least 7 mosquito bites and all my good-parent-motivation was drowned in the lake. I picked up the net and took myself over to the fish tub. After a minute of failed fishing, I gave up. The net was too small, the children were pushing me and the fish were wiley. Unable to face the prospect of Little A's inevitable meltdown and the ensuing chaos, I looked desperately around for a solution. Kitty pointed to a man with a barrell. I gave the man 20 kuai (€3) and he gave me a little fish box with a handle and there were 7 little fish inside! A failure for parenting, perhaps, but a triumphant win for my afternoon sanity. Predictably, Little A was bored of carrying the fish approximately 3 minutes later so I was left to juggle baby in sling, fish in hand, buggy in other hand and small child trailing behind me whining that he wanted to go home.
Activity 4 was "peanut picking". Despite the fact that I had three Epi-pens in my bag, I did not feel like bringing my nut-allergic baby "peanut picking", quotations marks or not. Instead I spent 45 minutes milling around the rubbish strewn entrance, waiting for the group to finish the final activity and watching my children lick the railings.
Eventually it was over and we were back on the bus. Some parents had to take another bathroom break before we got back on the bus. It had been 4 hours since we had last been to the bathroom but I was holding it in. Kitty came back looking shell-shocked. She didn't want to speak about it. And she's Chinese - that's saying something.
On the bus, Little A turned to me and said. “I had a great time”. Confused I asked, “Did you like the bumper cars?”. “No.”, he said, “They were dangerous”. “Ok, did you like the boat?”, I asked. “No”, he said, “That was dangerous”.
“So, what did you like?”, I asked again. “Mummy came”, he said, before falling asleep against the window. Sniff.
So now we have our four fish, plus the seven from the school trip, two of whom are already dead. Current fish count: 9.
Likelihood that I'll never mention fish again in my blog: low.
Tuesday, 22 September 2015
I'm just going to get the bad news out of the way at the beginning...Orange and Other Orange are dead. They were as happy as two fish in a giant blue-lit filtered tank when we left for the summer. Mr Oh also did a stellar job at remembering to feed them occasionally when he was in Shanghai on his own. When he was due to join us in Ireland, he brought the fish into his office where they died. I don't blame them. Offices are no place for fish (or people really). Whenever I used to go into the office every day, sometimes I felt a bit green around the gills too. I didn't die though...I just had a string of children, moved to Shanghai and refused to go back. If only that option were available to pet goldfish.
Orange died first. I didn't ask how but I know that he made at least one attempt at fish suicide before his eventual demise. Other Orange did make it back to us at the end of the summer, but he didn't look great and it was clear that his time on earth was limited. Little A was delighted to be reunited with Other Orange and did ask me a few times where Orange was (actually he calls all fish that are not the one he is looking at at that particular moment 'Other Orange'). I dealt with this skillfully by looking at the ceiling and saying something reassuring like "Oh, you know...here and there..".
Then one morning, Other Orange was gone too. Mr Oh got up early and disposed of his body. That morning, Little A stood on his small giraffe stool, staring into the empty bowl from a variety of angles, as if Other Orange might be wedged under a pebble. "Where has Orange gone?", he asked (still flexible with the goldfish names). I took an executive decision that this would be a good time to discuss death with the 3-year-old. I think the clearer and more forthright we are about these issues the better. I looked Little A in the eye and I said, "Other Orange died". Little A looked at me for a long time with what I recognised as his thinking-hard-face (eyebrows scrunched, mouth slightly open, head cocked slightly to one side). I stood panicked in front of him - a million thoughts and regrets running through my head. Do we discuss heaven? Should I tell him that Daddy threw Orange in the black bin out the back? What if he cries? What if I cry? What have I done? Can I run away now? etc etc.
Little A looked at me and said "Where did Orange dive to?". A big wave of relief washed over me. The universe was giving me a life raft and I was going to take it. "Ehm...the ocean", I said with my best knowledgable look (which is not be confused with my making-it-up-as-I-go-along-look, to which it bears a startling similarity). "Like Nemo?", Little A asked. "Yes", I responded, "Just like Nemo."
"Oh", Little A said, apparently satisfied. "Orange has gone to play with Nemo and Nemo's Daddy in the ocean". I nodded persuasively.
"I want to buy a new fish", Little A announced. I was still nodding.
That afternoon, I set off across Shanghai with Snugglepunk, Little A and Ayi on a fish buying expedition. I had to buy more fish before Little A starting poking holes in my ocean diving story. The place one buys goldfish in this part of Shanghai is the Flower, Bird, Fish and Cockroach market. I don't think that's its official name, but it should be. It's an airless, windowless maze of tiny ramshackle stalls heaving with various things that move and swim and squelch and slither. The floor is slimey and it's best not to look down generally. Also best not to wear flip-flops but I'll know that for next time. With Snugglepunk on my hip and clutching Little A's hand in a vice-like grip to stop him running off to pet an iguana, we inched our way along the narrow alleys - Ayi leading the way, Little A trying to break free from me and me trying not to think about what just touched my foot. Snugglepunk was sitting happily aloft having a good look around and saying 'F-f-f-f' every time he saw a fish, which was every half a second.
Once we located goldfish corner, Ayi turned to me and said "No talking". I nodded and whispered "get 4 fish". Ayi then commenced to shout and point while I pleaded with Little A not to touch anything, not the floor, not the insects, not the slime covered fish tanks, not the birds, nothing. All I wanted was to get out of there with a few fish and no microbes of mutated tropical disease clinging to my children. We came home with 8 fish, 3 kg of gravel and big, pink plastic plant. I'm still not sure about the microbes.
We didn’t really get very imaginative with the fish naming. One was called Orange, one called Little Orange, then there was Other Orange 1, Other Orange 2, Other Orange 3, Black Fish (who was not orange) and Burt Reynolds.
The fish have not fared terribly well. One jumped out the first night. I found his lifeless fish-corpse lying on the floor in front of the tank. Mr Oh disposed of the body. Another was found floating in the top of the tank several days later. Mr Oh is a very good sport about his unsolicited role as fish undertaker. Things seemed ok for a few weeks and then I noticed that the fish all seemed to be infected with some kind of fungus that causes their fins to rot and open sores to appear on their body. I bought fish medicine but, alas, no amount of modern medicine could help those poor fish. One more died last night and Mr Oh bludgeoned another to death this morning to put him out of his misery. We're down to four fish and one of them has an ulcer on his head so I imagine he's next. It's become a real problem because although Little A's counting skills are rudimentary (he just counts the fish every time he sees them so at one point he thought there were 23 fish in the tank which, incidentally, is as high as he can count), even he will notice when we're down to three fish.
I need to source disease-free fish in China. I think online might be the answer. I am certainly not going back to the cusp of creepy-crawlie hell that is the slime market. I might try Taobao. I didn't think live fish was the kind of thing you would be able to buy online and have delivered but then I remembered that this is China...everything can be bought online and delivered. Even a live fox (see below, poor fox looks none too happy about finding itself in the online Chinese marketplace).
I should really just abandon my dreams of having a fish-filled house and just stop buying fish but the boys love them...and i have the stupid tank now. I promise I'm going to stop writing about goldfish soon.
Wednesday, 02 September 2015
And...we're back! We've all returned to Shanghai - Little A has returned to school - I've returned to checking the air quality every hour, retching on the street (the sound of spitting does it to me) and screaming "Don't touch that!" at least five times an hour. Summer is officially over!
When I first arrived here, I heard about the total mass exodus of expats from Shanghai during the summer. If you're foreign, have children and are able to - you leave - for months if you can. It all sounds a bit decadent at first but after I did Summer 2014 in Shanghai, I swore never again. It's 40 degrees, 100% humidity, the pollution sticks to the sweat in your hair, there are still no parks, the schools are closed, everyone is gone. In summer, the Chinese to French person ratio in my neighborhood skyrockets and the sock-less Vespa riders disappear from the roads. So, this year, we left too.
The prospect of two months of clean air made me happy to unprecedented proportions. So much so that I was willing to do that journey again - you know the day-time one that I do on my own with the two boys that lasts 13 hours and then the Heathrow transfer and then another hour long flight? Yeah, that one. Mr Oh looked a bit terrified for me as he waved goodbye to us at the airport. He was following us a month later. No, I didn't feel sorry for him. He had a month of partying, fabulous dinners, lie-ins and lazy weekends to look forward to. I had a month of laundry, and solo-parenting ahead of me, plus that awful journey. In reality, he appeared to do rather little partying and spent his weekends sitting forlornly on the sofa playing his guitar into the middle-distance.
And the journey was fine. Once you accept that you will spent 13 hours being bitten and crawled upon by a 10 month old, wrangling three people into a dirty plane toilet at regular intervals, bribing an almost 3 year old with snacks and endless TV and trying to stifle the sobs of boredom and frustration that are welling up inside you like a tidal wave of volcanic emotion. Once you make your peace with that - it’s totally doable. It also makes you feel like a superhero (only when it's over though, during the actual journey you will feel like a human dishcloth - damp with sweat, fear, breastmilk and the various bodily fluids of your small children).
If anyone would like further information on flying solo with young kids, please see my earlier post here.
We had an amazing two months in Dublin, London and the south of France. Snugglepunk crawled on grass for the first time ever. Little A dug potatoes out of the garden and learned that not all dirt contains nuclear waste. We went for walks, ran over sand dunes, swam in the sea (France), paddled in the sea until our feet got headaches (Ireland), climbed walls, visited castles and playgrounds, ate food that was high-quality and healthy (Percy Pigs are made from real fruit juice) and did all the things that we can't do in China. We saw some friends - not as many as we would have liked but Snugglepunk isn't a fan of the car, much like his brother before him (see previous post on baby car-travel trauma).
I even became a Godmother for the first time (Hiya Baby T!) which was amazing. Our boys don't have a lot of experience in churches (they are, however, incredibly well behaved in Buddhist temples). After Baby T's christening, Little A ran up to me, pointed at the altar and said "I want to go up there and sing Let It Go". I said "Let's go light some candles for your great-grandmothers instead who are, at this moment, turning in their graves". Little A said "Ok, that sounds fun." He lit six candles and promptly blew them all out. I had to hold my hand over his mouth as he started to sing Happy Birthday to the lady statue. I looked over at Little A's own Godmother and sighed...she's got her work cut out for her.
Mr Oh joined us in London and we all spend the next 3 weeks jetting around Europe consuming our body weight in ice-cream and raw meat. We were able to travel back together to China although I noted that Mr Oh brought his book with him on the plane which I thought was hilarious.
So 7 weeks later, here we are. Back again. On return, we spent 7 full days tortured by jet-lag and children who tag-teamed night time waking so that I never got any sleep. Just when I thought they’d fetch a good price on Taobao, they all started sleeping again and I got bronchitis. Ah China bronchitis...it's good to be home.
Footnote: The title photo appears courtesy of the London Massive (i.e. my bro and sister-in-law). It’s not really courtesy of them because I haven’t asked them if I can use it yet. In fact, I only realized they probably took the photo when I noticed that it appeared strangely unwarped - which is unheard of in any panoramic iPhone shot that either me or Mr Oh have attempted. Our panoramas look like a bad dream. The London Massive, however, know how to work their iPhones - this is how we know it was them.
The photo itself was taken at Uisneach, the sacred and mythological centre of Ireland. We spent a morning on this hill looking at bulls and sacrificing our hangovers to the ancient gods of Ireland. (The hangovers were courtesy of my cousin Jude and her new husband Trevor who had the most amazing wedding in a field…as you do).
Wednesday, 04 February 2015
Ways in which having children has changed my life:
1. I spend at least five minutes a day squeezing the water out of squeezy bath toys to stop them going moldy. This is time that I used to spend whisking away stray eyebrow hairs. Now I have a slight unibrow and the bath toys are still moldy.
2. I sleep on my side because to sleep on my back would mean partially sleeping on another human - probably the small star shaped one taking up my half of the bed.
3. I can't get out of the bed to pee at night because someone else's tiny bed is strapped to the side of my bed. It is worth noting that this person has never once slept in his bed.
4. It takes half an hour to complete what should be a ten minute walk from kindergarten to home. This is because we need to stop every twenty paces for a kiss and every ten to stroke dead leaves.
5. I used to nurse several glasses of wine over the course of an evening. I now spend my evenings nursing and whining.
6. I know which one is Tom and which one is Jerry. I also know that La-la is yellow, that there are ten Pontypines, the entire script of the Jungle Book, and the colour of every house in Balamory.
7. I haven't bathed alone since 2012.
8. Everything I cook can be eaten with just a fork.
9. Only the top half of our Christmas tree is decorated.
10. The only thing worse than running out of wine, is running out of raisins.
11. Almost every piece of clothing I own has lycra in it somewhere.
12. I say 'because I said so".
13. I keep a stash of lollipops in my bag for emergencies.
14. Some years I go to Christmas Mass more often than I go to the hairdresser.
15. I spend more money on shoes, but they’re smaller shoes, often with dinosaur motifs. I am convinced it would be less financially draining to develop a moderate to serious cocaine habit than trying to keep a toddler shod. I am going to buy shares in Clarkes.
16. The toilets have gotten smaller. Well, the toilets themselves haven't actually gotten smaller but the entrance to the toilet bowl has as we've affixed them all with tiny baby bum shaped tops to prevent Little A from falling into the toilet when he pees.
17. About 10% of what I eat has been in another person's mouth first.
Wednesday, 22 October 2014
Phew…8 weeks down…only another 17.85 years to go (I am not open to criticism on the mathematical logic of that - there is no calculator handy). I have it nailed. Mr Oh is out at a work thing. It’s 8pm. Little A is asleep. I have my foot on Snugglepunk’s bouncer and am gently tapping him up and down which seems to be doing the trick. I’ve just finished a delicious four-cheese lasagne. Ok, so I ordered it on Sherpa’s (food delivery service) but you try ordering food online, breastfeeding and singing the Fireman Sam theme-tune simultaneously. I’m feeling very smug.
I have learned a lot from Baby A that I bring to the table with Baby B. The main rule is: never venture so far from home that you cannot walk back within ten minutes. This restricts my movement to a small area of Shanghai - from Xiangyang to Wukang on the horizontal axis and from Yan’an to Fuxing on the vertical. If you happen to be a fellow Shanghai resident who hangs round these parts in the afternoon, look out for me around 3.30 on Wuyuan. I’ve got blue and white striped Skechers, a screaming baby and can frequently be found shouting ‘W-T-F(in-full)’ at passing motorcyclists who mount the pavement and zoom around me.
Ayi and I are firm friends these days. Mostly because I’ve reduced her hours so no longer have to panic daily about how to create enough work for her to prevent that awkward feeling when your ayi sits silently in the corner with her hands in her lap looking into the middle distance. It doesn’t help that I’m married to the only man in the universe who cannot be prevented from cleaning the kitchen. I keep trying to tell him that all his tidying is leaving me with even less work to give Ayi but he gives me that slightly incredulous are-you-actually-giving-out-to-me-for-cleaning look. Despite her slightly odd habits, I’m very fond of her and she’s actually a great help. She also cleans like a demon and is crazy about babies. Most mothers don’t have home help like we do in Shanghai. I won’t when we go home. That frightens me slightly. How do people do it? I ask myself this a lot. I must be asking it out loud too because as another mother pointed out to me this week:
1. Mothers in Europe do not have to test their children for lead poisoning (not sure how this relates to having an ayi);
2. Mothers in Europe can have double strollers (I can barely wedge one pram through the ubiquitous bamboo scaffolding, shimmy over drains, bump up/down steps etc). I had to walk into the traffic with the pram no less than six times this afternoon because the pavement was blocked by random debris.
3. Mothers in Europe do not have to leave their babies at home when they run errands due to the fact that the air is toxic. I tried to put a particle filter mask on Snugglepunk today when we went outside but he wasn’t too keen so we had to go back indoors. The fact that I had to try to put a particle filter mask on an 8 week old makes me deeply unhappy. If there’s one thing I hate about Shanghai, it’s the air pollution. I hate it more than the spitting, and I really hate the spitting.
4. Mothers in Europe have parks and other places that they can bring their kids to run around and burn off energy. We have the driveway of our apartment building with cars driving in and out and a mosquito infested pond full of carnivorous turtles and floating fish carcasses.
Do I think Mothers in Europe have it easier than European Mothers in Shanghai? No. We definitely have it easier in many ways - being able to afford to pay someone to do your ironing is wonderful, access to affordable childcare is great (bearing in mind that it’s not necessarily the same standard of childcare that you would expect in Europe). We might have it easier, but we also have it scarier. Shanghai is, at times, a frightening place to raise children. Taxis don’t have seat belts (technically, they all have them but they’re often hidden under the seat), a green man does not mean you can cross the road without a car hurtling towards you, a pedestrian crossing means nothing, toys can be toxic, clothes can be flammable, food is - at best - an unknown quantity, the air is unhealthy bordering on dangerous…how does that all stack up against an ironing-free life? This isn’t a complaint, it’s just an observation. As my father would say, “The price…is the price.” (He said this in a conversation specifically relating to house-hunting but I think it has wider metaphysical appeal).
Back to Ayi. These days, we’re doing well. I’m no longer scared of asking her to do things. Yesterday, I asked her to peel and cut the vegetables for dinner. It was amazing - like I got all the fun (and kudos) of cooking without any of the real work. She also cleaned up after me. My new found comfort with Ayi has nothing to do with my own increased assertiveness and everything to do with breastfeeding. I mostly only give Ayi instructions when I’m breastfeeding - I feel like it gives me some kind of moral high ground - like my primal obligations supersede the need to peel a pumpkin. “Look at me, I’m nourishing the newly born…can you please iron these shirts?”
Ayi is also delighted with the new vibe. In the afternoon, when we all go outside to play in the driveway beside the fish pond/graveyard, I run around after Little A like a frazzled lunatic. Meanwhile, Ayi sits serenely on a bench holding court with the other ayis while Snugglepunk dozes lazily in her arms. She parades him around the apartment complex, batting away people who get too close to him and proudly detailing his many positive attributes i.e. his chubbiness, fulsome head of hair and pale complexion.
In her free time, she likes to berate me for being too soft on people (I presume she means people other than her). For example, the building maintenance man told me that he couldn’t fix a metal door stop that had snapped off. Ayi called him back up, barked at him for twenty seconds and within the space of a few hours, the impossible-to-fix doorstop was magically replaced. Thus followed a lecture from Ayi that went a little like this:
Ayi: You must learn. You will never survive if you do not learn.
Me: I think I’m surviving ok *looking unsure*
Ayi: You must be firm.
Ayi: When someone says ‘I cannot’…you say ‘You will do as I demand’.
Ayi: You must be assertive. You must take control. Maybe you need to shout a little bit.
Me: Isn’t that what I have you for?
Ayi: Otherwise they will walk all over you.
Ayi: Now, I will take the baby and you will cook dinner.
It works much better like this.
Monday, 15 September 2014
Historically, there has never been a single documented case of a woman remaining pregnant forever. All babies come out eventually and, four days after his expected due date, our second son was forcibly ejected from his water bath by the power of modern medicine (which is evidently not all that powerful because it took three days to coax him out).
I’m not going to go into the details of his birth - partly because birth stories make people uncomfortable and partly because I’ve forgotten.
Summary of my thoughts at various stages surrounding the birth of my second child:
Before labour: I would like a natural birth with bubbles and flower fairies and tiny cherubs singing in my head as I calmly guide my baby into the world.
During labour: Oh my God - this is horrific. I am clearly going to die. Can someone get me a c-section? This is not physically possible. I am NEVER doing this again. Remember not to forget that later…if I survive…never again. Mr Oh…remind me…NEVER AGAIN! (Mr Oh didn’t hear me because he had quietly fainted in a far corner of the room).
Seconds after birth of child: Holy Jesus - I’m not dead. I might be permanently incapacitated though. Doctor…am I ok? I don’t feel ok. Oh, look, baby. Nice baby.
Minutes after birth of child: He’s lovely, and so soft. Don’t get distracted by the lovely baby. NEVER AGAIN.
Day after birth of child: Never again. Never again. Never again. Never again. I can’t even sit up. Never again.
Two days after birth of child: Maybe it wasn’t that bad.
Three days after birth of child (when someone asks me how the labour went): It was just magical.
So, Snugglepunk is now three weeks old. We don’t leave the apartment too often with him. In China, newborns and their mothers spend the first month after birth in confinement - no leaving the home at all. Chinese old people also have no sense of personal space and/or boundaries so they get very, very close and very loudly vocalise their suspicions that your child might not yet be one month old and that you are therefore engaged in forbidden activity by exposing him to the outside world. I think if the old Chinese people of China had themselves a catchphrase, it would be “If it’s out in public, it’s public property”. In their defense, outside in China is no place for newborns - there’s bad air, toxic construction fumes, falling debris, illegal pavement traffic, bicycles with 20 ft long metal rods attached (perfect for skewering unsuspecting pedestrians) and Chinese grandmothers trying to poke your newborn in the face for unknown reasons.
Little A is reacting well to Snugglepunk’s arrival. We’ve been trying to teach him to be gentle with the new baby and he gets it as far as his hands and face are concerned i.e. lots of gentle kisses and hugs. His legs, however, he seems unwilling to take responsibility for and if he kneels on the baby while trying to gently kiss him or inadvertently kicks the baby while on his way to bestow gentle hugs, he cannot be held liable (at least, he refuses to be held liable). There’s no jealousy so far. The first thing Little A says every morning is “I want to see baby”. Baby has to be kissed at least a dozen times before Little A leaves for school. There seem to be bonus points for the amount of honey, yoghurt and other un-newborn friendly food Little A can transfer from his own face to the baby’s via these kisses. He seems to genuinely like the baby though and when Snugglepunk cries, Little A pats his back and says “No worries, baby”.
There’s still a little voice inside my head going ‘neveragainneveragainneveragainneveragain’ but it’s getting dimmer and harder to hear over the noise of two small screaming children.