Friday, March 16, 2018

Leaving for Japan

Well well, nothing really to say here except that we are leaving for Japan tomorrow, our first time traveling with baby in tow, and I could not be more excited and anxious!  This may also have to do with the small bit of coffee that I just drank which has me flying.  (I didn't really have any caffeine while pregnant and have kept it to limited amounts while breastfeeding, so it's been kind of funny to see/feel the impact that a small dose has).

We found a baby equipment rental service in Niseko, so we are renting the crib and bathtub instead of lugging it.

We will have three suitcases (small, medium and large, just like goldilocks and the three bears), a duffel bag, a car seat, a stroller, a big diaper bag with Lola's essentials, and two backpacks.  I'm about 65% through packing and I'm riddled with anxiety that I'm forgetting something.  Hopefully whatever we forget (if, I mean if we forget something!) can be purchased in Niseko.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Raising a Bilingual (English and Mandarin Fluent) Child

Having Lola speak Mandarin and being fluent in Chinese is hugely important to me and Michael, and as a result factors, and will factor, in how we raise her.  It is such a difficult language that we are keen to introduce the tones, and to ensure prolonged and consistent exposure to it, as soon as possible. 

Of course, I would love for Lola to pick up a third language, maybe down the road (something I failed to do) but I know how hard it is just to achieve full-fledged fluency in two, especially when one of them is Chinese, so the focus is on that first and foremost.

We have a few strategies for this so far - I speak to Lola only in Mandarin, and our confinement nanny, by virtue of not speaking any English, also only spoke to Lola in Mandarin. 

In anticipation of my return to work, we are in the process of hiring a Mandarin speaking nanny to come and interact and play with Lola on a near-daily basis.  This has been harder than I expected, one, because a lot of the nannies that I've found here speak Cantonese more than Mandarin, and two, because a lot of the nannies also work as confinement nannies, which means their schedules fill up quickly and are rather sporadic, often booked up for a few months here and there.  Of course I would rather work with one nanny exclusively for the long term, rather than having to train and find a new nanny every couple of months.  I've also found that hiring a caretaker for your baby is incredibly challenging - as you try to size up a nanny's abilities, background, demeanor, attitude, intentions... it's hard to trust a stranger with your baby!  I am crossing my fingers that this will work out soon.

I ordered a bunch of picture books in Chinese so that the nanny and I can read to Lola in Chinese.  This was really challenging at first, as I couldn't find bookstores in Hong Kong that carried the kind of books I wanted (English picture books translated into Chinese).  I bought some from Singapore,  but the shipping costs alone were frightful. 

Enter.... Taobao, for the win, again!  They are definitely legitimate books, not fake copies, and in perfect condition.  Lola's bookshelf has grown exponentially since her birth and now the Chinese books surpass the English ones.  Some are way too advanced (i.e, too many words on the page to keep her attention for more than a few seconds) but I already can't wait to read these to her when she's ready.  One of my friends told me that her two year old kid negotiates with her for six books before bedtime.  That's a lot of books!



Here are some of the ones that I've gotten that I love and that seem very suitable for Lola right now:
  1. Anything by Eric Carle.  The pictures capture Lola's attention very well and she is fascinated by the vivid, beautiful colors.  I think the interactive components of the books will also help once she gets a little older.  In our collection so far we have amassed:
    - The Very Hungry Caterpillar
    - Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
    - Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?
    - Mister Seahorse
    - Daddy, Bring Me the Moon
    - Mixed Up Chameleon
    - Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too?
  2.  Dear Zoo, by Rod Campbell.  This one is highly recommended in a lot of circles and is so fun, with interactive pages where you can flip open the box/cage/crate to see what animal is inside.
  3. Press Here and Mix it Up, by Herve Tullet.  This a book about colors and shows dots multiplying and changing color.
  4. Olivia, by Ian Falconer.  Olivia is a great character in the form of a little pig, who wants to do anything and everything.  She hates naps, loves museums, has interesting thoughts, and is adventurous and brave. 
I've also started looking up videos and songs for children in Mandarin, so that Lola can get used to the tones and the cadence of the language. 

We plan to have Lola go to a Mandarin-only playgroup maybe once or twice a week once she gets a little older, in the hopes that she will learn to use the language to interact with a broader group of teachers and peers.

And finally, if we are out here for long enough, we want Lola to go to a dual language school where at least half of the daily instruction is provided in Mandarin.

In sum, this is a multi-pronged approach that takes a lot of effort, patience and time, but I'm hopeful that with all of these avenues of opportunity, we are giving Lola the best chance of being fully fluent in English and Mandarin.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Baby Manicures

So, I've become the official manicurist in the house.  Now that Amy, our confinement nanny, is gone, the burden of clipping and filing Lola's precious little fingers has fallen to me.  I have been avoiding this task while Amy was here because the thought of taking sharp scissors to Lola's tiny hands seemed incredibly nervewracking, but now that I have done it I'm glad to say it wasn't as bad as I thought.  The trick is to make sure she is passed out in a deep, immovable slumber. 

I say manicure, but there's certainly no buffing or polishing going on here - just the standard clip and file.  The tiny pieces of nail that I cut off are so small that it barely seems like I am making any progress.  However, better to cut off minuscule bits in many attempts than to cut off too much in one attempt!

Thanks to my friends also who recommended to me the best baby scissors to use (Piyo piyo, in case anyone is wondering) and suggested using a baby nail file to smooth over the rough edges as well.

To my surprise, I actually found cutting Lola's nails a satisfying and sweet experience.  I loved getting to hold her little hands and splay open her soft, dainty fingers while she slept so peacefully and trustingly on my lap.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Playdate, Physical Therapy, Lola's 100th Day, Michael's Birthday

Whoa, it has been a busy week since my last post!

Let's kick off with my first activity Wednesday last week - lunch with my two girlfriends and their babies at the restaurant Metropolitan in Sai Ying Pun!  It was Lola's and my first venture out by ourselves, and I was a bit nervous about it, but it turned out very well.  She had to eat as soon as we got to the restaurant, but then with the noise and commotion in the restaurant, she couldn't concentrate on eating and kept looking around.  Much to my surprise, she was pretty calm and didn't fuss, falling asleep pretty easily in her stroller.  She also handled being held by strangers very well.

Then we were off to physical therapy on Thursday, for Lola's head tilt.  We had noticed that she always leaned her head to the right whenever she was on her back or in her bouncer.  She also seemed to prefer sleeping facing the right (with her right cheek on the mattress).  Well, turns out it is torticollis, a pretty common condition in babies now that they sleep on their backs and not their bellies due to SIDS risk, and it is important to address before it leads to developmental issues, but can usually be treated with regular and consistent stretches and exercises.
Whoa, this is a new position
What do you want me to do?!
Ugh, this is not a fun pose.
Lola hated her session, particularly one of the exercises that caused her to turn bright red and cry inconsolably.  Her crying made me so sad, but I also knew it was good for her and I'm so grateful that we got it checked out.  We probably should have gone even earlier.  The good news, though, is that after not even a week of stretches and lots of tummy time, she seems to be gaining more strength and I think (hope) there has been visible improvement.
Here she is, cheating at tummy time... but being irresistibly cute while doing so!
It's now basically tummy time all the time around these parts

Then we had a little party in our apartment because Lola turned 100 days old on March 10!  In Chinese cultures, the 100th day is a really big celebration.  It coincidentally was also Michael's birthday, so it was a great day full of (too many) cakes.  Lola got pictures taken with her mommy and daddy.

A couple of my friends came over and generously brought a beautiful and delicious Earl Grey cake from la famille.

That night, to celebrate Michael's birthday (he's claiming it's his 32nd), I took him to Caprice.  We got dressed up for the first time in what felt like forever and made it a night!

Making a wish!
We opted for the chef's tasting menu, and while I really wanted to take pictures of each dish, I thought that was a bit too much for the occasion.  The restaurant brought out the biggest plank of cheese I've ever seen -  and asked us to select what we wanted.  We ended up with a selection of seven cheeses and ate the plate clean...

As if all of that weren't enough, we came home to a chocolate peanut butter cake that Jovie made for Michael from scratch.  Happy birthday to Michael, indeed!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A Sleeping Champ, Chatty Superstar, and Other Developments

Lola has been sleeping phenomenally this past week - eight to ten hours in one go each night on average!  She usually starts at about 6 or 7 pm though, so we still have one wake up in the middle of the night, but it has made a phenomenal difference in our sleep routine.  What a wonderful baby.  We are counting our lucky stars and keeping our fingers crossed that there will be no four month regression...

She continues to show marked interest in grabbing objects and bringing them to her mouth, notably her toy Sophie the Giraffe. 

One of the new developments is her love of laughing and communicating - she loves to sit on our laps or, while playing in her crib, chortle and gurgle and laugh.  One of the cutest exchanges is when she makes a sound in response to me or Michael, and we exchange sounds back and forth as if in conversation.  This past weekend she and Michael "talked" like this in quick succession for nearly 20 seconds.  We couldn't stop laughing at how adorable it was.

She continues to love story time and cuddling before sleep, though she has gotten much less fussy and can usually fall asleep without her pacifier.

One of the things we are noticing and keeping track of is her slight head tilt - we noticed it a few weeks ago, thought it was getting better after some adjustment, but noticed it come back with a vengeance these past few days.  We will take her to physical therapy and I am hopeful that it won't be too difficult to fix. 

Otherwise, not much else exciting happening on the home front.  We went out to dinner with friends this past weekend (our second dinner out without baby) at a Korean restaurant.  It was my first time eating spice in over 5 or 6 months and I really couldn't handle it!  

We had a visitor this past weekend who brought us a beautiful book, "Here We Are," by Oliver Jeffers, which Lola is enjoying.

Our little vegetable garden on our balcony is blossoming beautifully.  We have mint, two kinds of basil (sweet and Thai), tomatoes, thyme, and flat parsley.  Not pictured is a lavender plant, the flowers which we put in sachets.  And in the works are green peppers (capiscum) and chili peppers.  I also need to get my hands on some cilantro seeds so we can try our hand at that.  There is something so rewarding about seeing plants flourish, bud and blossom - kind of like babies I guess!

And finally, we are slowly starting to gather our things for our Japan trip.  Our first flights with baby - the packing list seems daunting!  

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Three Months Today!

Lola is three months old today!
Wow, time goes so quickly and yet also so slowly when you have a newborn baby.  I can't believe it's been three months already, and yet (usually when I am getting up in the middle of the night) I also can't believe Lola isn't nine months old yet.
We are seeing some interesting developments in the little one - she has begun swiveling her head from side to side with increasing authority and speed.  She has begun sleeping longer stretches at night, which is awesome, but then on the flip side she has decided she hates to sleep during the day.  On some days, she only manages a few catnaps of 15 to 30 minute stretches each.  Yikes!

She also increasingly vocalizes her desire to be in her crib by herself.  Sometimes, she needs to be held (like when she is gassy or uncomfortable or has nightmares, poor thing) but other times she has a strong preference to be put down in her crib or playmat so she can just stare at her toys and listen to her music and be left alone.  She is showcasing her independent streak already...

She has strong neck and back muscles - she can hold her head up very high during tummy time and for a long time.  She hates it though.  Just because she can do it, doesn't mean she wants to!

Just this past week, she started showing her ability to grasp things in her little fists - especially her koala toy and her Winkel (that is the name of the toy, I kid you not).  When she grabbed the Winkel in both fists and brought it to her mouth to try to get a taste, I couldn't have been more proud!

Her love affair with her hands continue - not content just to suck a thumb or a finger or two, Lola goes for the entire fist.  She showed more of a preference for her right hand at first, but now she has discovered her left hand as well.  At the moment, there is probably no snack that Lola likes more.  If she can't find her fist or if it gets taken away from her, she wails like she has just lost her best thing.

The other day, I happened to catch our little sweetheart trying to lick her elbow.  I couldn't stop laughing - it was as if she discovered that her fist was attached to an arm, which was too delicious not to explore.

Finally, Lola's fascination with her dad continues - she will turn her head to follow him around the room, and Michael still has the uncanny ability to calm her down when she's in the midst of an inconsolable crying jag.  It's frankly a little insufferable when she immediately quiets down upon his doing nothing except swooping in and perching her high on his shoulder - but then my irritation is quickly overshadowed by my gratitude for this panacea.  Yesterday, I came home to the most adorable sight - Lola was in her bouncer in Michael's office, chilling quietly, sitting contentedly and not making any noise, with her eyes focused on his every move.  Is this a daddy's girl in the making or what?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sitting the Month, Mommy Thumb, and Massages

So I thought it might be good to give a quick update on what I've been up to these past 12 weeks!

In one of my earlier posts, I hinted at "confinement," which is a concept in traditional Chinese medicine whereby a woman generally does not leave the house for a month post-partum.  The phrase in Chinese literally translates to "sitting the month," which is a hint at what women are expected to do: nothing.  The idea, essentially, is that there is a lot of "cold" which can enter your body right after you've just given birth, when your bones and muscles are still "open" and susceptible to chill.

For those who adhere to the rules stringently, you're not supposed to exercise, exert yourself or really do anything except lie in bed and rest.  To make it even more excruciating, you're not even supposed to exert your eyes, meaning look at phones, computers or TVs.  There are also rules about not showering or washing your hair for the entire period, although I think this is going a bit far and is likely based on customs from the old days before there was central heating, hair dryers or, you know, insulation.

In retrospect, I found this to be really hard.  It was difficult enough to deal with a newborn, the complete loss of personal time , and the shocking changes to my body - these additional restrictions put on my diet and autonomy really did not help.  I did everything necessary to maintain my personal hygiene and continued to read and use my phone a lot, but once we got home from the hospital, I stayed in my apartment through the end of the year, except to go out for the one doctor's appointment.  I didn't eat anything that wasn't prepared by my confinement nanny, and  I had no cold beverages or foods.  The purchase and consumption of ginger (a key ingredient in promoting "heat") in my household skyrocketed. 

Michael thought all of this was bogus.  I am not sure how I feel about it all, though overall I believe it more than I don't believe it, if that makes sense.  I do, however, think that the psychological impact of not leaving the house for days on end is huge and is more of a negative than positive, especially if you live in a 900 square foot apartment...

Here are some of the foods that I ate/have been eating during my recovery.  Some of it looks really weird and probably downright scary, but I think my confinement nanny is a good cook and everything was pretty tasty.  My palate has become accustomed to considerably lighter dishes as  I have generally avoided fatty, sweet, acidic, and spicy foods.


 This is abalone, raw and fresh and still moving.
 This is how it looks after it has been cleaned and steamed.
This is sea cucumber stuffed with ground pork, which I realize does not look appetizing, however, sea cucumber is one of those items that tick a Chinese confinement's "must eat" list.  Just in case you were wondering, a sea cucumber has nothing to do with a cucumber - it is a marine animal with a leathery skin that lives on the bottom of the ocean floor.   Delicious, right?  Hah!  Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners are of the belief that this is a very nourishing food.  Michael was horrified when he saw these on our dining room table (they look a bit like dried fat slugs) but they taste fine.  The texture is probably the hardest thing to handle, because it's both slippery and chewy.
Otherwise, the diet consists of a lot of soups, fish, green vegetables and protein in the form of chicken and lean stir-fried pork.  Almost all of the ingredients serve a purpose - whether it boosts milk supply, reduces "heat," or eliminates "chill."  The soups are chock full of ingredients that are meant to bolster my health.

The portions are also considerably larger than I'm used to, but, unlike in pregnancy where I never really tried to eat for two, now, while breastfeeding, I really do feel like I am eating for more!  My hunger and thirst reach pretty insatiable levels sometimes, particularly in the middle of the night.  I have read and heard from others that breastfeeding helps them shed weight fast, but I have not found that to be the case for me.  Whatever fat I'm losing through milk production is likely being gained through my huge new appetite!

I started getting shooting pains in my left arm and wrist about a month and a half ago.  It turns out the official name is de Quervain's but the symptom is commonly known as "Mommy's thumb" because it presents so frequently and consistently in new moms.  I wasn't cautious enough in the beginning with my posture in picking up Lola and during feedings, and ended up putting a ton of pressure on the inside of my wrist.  Now apparently the sheaths in my wrist are inflamed and irritated.  This has been a huge cramp in my lifestyle - I can't put weight on it so I can't do yoga and even spinning is uncomfortable.  And the most random, simple tasks, such as putting on a shirt or tying my hair, hurts.  And of course it hurts most when I try to pick up Lola.  Unfortunately, I also can't really let the affected area rest and heal, because that would basically require that I not use my thumb.  Do you know how hard it is not to use your thumb on a daily basis??  Normally my answer to anything like the above would be massage - but it turns out that in this particular case massage is one of the worst things you can do, because it will only inflame the wrist even more.   The imperfect solution has been athletic tape and a thumb and wrist splint.

Wrist aside, I continue to indulge my love for massage.  About a month ago, I purchased a folding massage table on Taobao and since then I have tried to have a masseuse come to my apartment once a week or once every two weeks.  This is an amazing service that is feasible in Hong Kong because massages are, while not quite at the rock bottom prices found in Thailand, still more manageable than those in the US.  What a luxury, and why didn't I do this sooner?

The masseuse helps me work out the knots in my neck, shoulders, upper back, lower back, legs, arms, feet... I guess I have knots every where!  The only place she avoids is my left wrist.  And she is very thorough and does an amazing job.  She reads my body so well that she always locates where I hurt or where I am tired without my needing to say anything - often, she surprises me by hitting a "spot" that I didn't even realize was sore.  I would be lying if I said that the massage was relaxing or comfortable - it is deep tissue massage after all!  But afterward, I feel so relaxed, like a limp noodle (if a noodle could sleep for a very long time).

This is the folding massage table that I got - very professional looking, it is light, comes in a carrying case and fits under the bed.  Best of all, it shipped here in 3 days!

In sum, I am so immensely grateful for all of the resources and help that I've had these past months, and on the eve of Lola's third month milestone, I am now able to look back on that first month and shake my head in wonder at how we did it, sleepless nights, reflux, and all.  She gets cuter and cuter every day, and we have now found a routine that works.  While not everything is running like clockwork, at least we feel a little more settled as a family of three!