Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The George Bush Episode of the Teletubbies

No, don't worry, we're never ever going to let Melody watch a single episode of the Teletubbies, because it will lead to serious mental impairment, and possible charges of abuse, later on in her life.

Speaking of having a serious mental impairment, I came across this George W. Bush episode of the Teletubbies. It has recently been confirmed that George W. gets all his daily briefings from the Teletubbies. Tinky Winky tells him about foreign policy, Po domestic policy, Dipsy energy, and Laa-Laa writes his speeches. That way, George is informed by people who are at the same intellectual level as him, and who he can relate to. Here is the evidence.

What did I tell you? The proof is there!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Local Hero

I came home from work one stifling hot afternoon. Despite being four degrees above the equator, Taiping is relatively mild compared to other places around here, because we get a lot of rain, usually have a nice breeze blowing, and are the foot of the mountains. This day, though, was especially hot, with none of the normal comforts of the local climate.

I was changing out of my clothes so that I could hop in the bathroom, pour water from the basin over myself, and take a "shower". All the windows slats were open to let in the breeze. Out of the window I saw the old Chinese Auntie from the ground floor sitting down in her garden.

We call her Auntie, one, to be polite, and two, because we have no idea what her real name is, because she doesn't speak any English or Malay. Nevertheless, she always waves hello at us, and once Trien's pregnancy started showing, Auntie would try her best to talk to her. She is old, with skin wrinkled like a crumpled paper bag, and dotted with age spots. She has a mole with huge hairs sprouting from it one at corner of her mouth, and kind, laughing blue eyes. Despite having great difficulty walking, she does her best to toddle around, and go to the store by herself.

She likes to tend her garden, which is around her apartment. There are some banana trees, and some various other tropical fruit trees. Sometimes Auntie walks around with a long pole trying to chase the monkeys away from her fruit trees. Other times, she gets one of her visitors, probably a son or grandson, to throw firecrackers at them. Still, they always come back. Also in her garden are some vegetables or herbs with long thin pointy leaves. Even Trien doesn't know what they are.

It was among these unknown plants that I saw her sitting when I glanced out the window. At first I thought she was just taking it easy. She is old, and it was very hot. Then I saw her laying back, and struggling. That's when I realized that she had fallen, or fainted, and couldn't get up. So I put my clothes back on.

"Baby, Auntie is in the garden and can't get up. I'm going downstairs to help her."

"Honey, What happened?"

"I don't know. She needs help."

I went downstairs, and Trien locked up and followed me to the garden.

It was even hotter down in Aunties garden than it was elsewhere. The plants seemed to intensify the heat and humidity. When I reached her, she was drenched in sweat.

She was trying to pull herself up by grabbing onto the thick roots of the plants, but didn't have the strength, and kept falling back. She laughed and smiled, and was saying something to me, but of course I couldn't understand her. I tried to help her up, but she had trouble finding her footing and kept slipping back.

I wasn't quite sure if she wanted to be helped up, if she just wanted to sit up to weed her garden, or if she really needed help. This was because as I tried to help her up, she still seemed to be trying to do some weeding, or to pick some plants. I told Trien that we needed someone to talk to her, so we could communicate, and find out what was really going on.

Trien kept an eye on her, while I walked around to the front of our building to see if any of the Chinese people were about to help out. That was not the case, so I decided to walk toward the Lake Gardens to see if there was anyone there.

Before I could get too far, a new compact car pulled up through the back gate of the apartment block across from ours, which is usually closed during week days. Out came a young lady. She seemed to be a student. She was young, just a bit chubby, but attractive.

I yelled across the fence at her to get her attention. She either didn't hear me, or pay any attention. So I shouted LOUDER.

"Excuse me!"

She turned around, right at the entrance to the building.

"Do you speak English?"

It was easy to see that she was wondering what this white guy was doing in the parking lot yelling at her. Of course, if I were her, I'd be wondering the same thing.

"The old lady across the way has fallen down, and can't get up. She doesn't speak any English. Could you come interpret so we know what she wants and what is wrong?"

"What old lady? I didn't know there was an old lady who lived there?"

"On the bottom floor. She is in the garden around the side with my wife."

She came trotting around the fence, and I pointed to where Trien was standing with Auntie. You could just barely see Auntie's head over the plants.

She ran right over to Auntie, bent over, and stated talking to her in Chinese, most likely Hokkien, which is the usual dialect around here. Auntie answered her, and was laughing again, but now it seemed that she was slightly embarrassed. The girl grabbed one arm, I grabbed the other, and we lifted Auntie to her feet. Auntie kept trying to pick some of the plants, and even offered us some, but we didn't know what to o with them. Her second concern was her hoe, which Trien picked up and carried for her. The girl and I helped her along, and when Auntie seemed to be steady, I let the girl carry Auntie to the porch in front of her sliding glass door, where she sat down.

After she sat down, Auntie touched her hands together and bowed to me, and said the only English words she knew, over and over:

"Thank you".

I nodded my head, and said you're welcome. I asked the girl if Auntie was OK, and she said she was OK, she suddenly felt weak and fell. I told the girl that it was too hot for Auntie to be working now, she should be inside resting. Auntie kept saying thank you for a couple more minutes. After we were sure she was OK, Trien and I went back inside.

After that, every time I went downstairs, Auntie would always smile. Sometimes she would get up and come to the door to say thank you.

Then one day Trien and I were walking back from town. Trien was already nine months pregnant, and looked it. There was an old Chinese woman bicycling back from town, maybe in her early to mid seventies. She could speak English fairly well, and she started talking to us, and asking us questions. Like how much we pay for our apartment, where are we from, when is the baby due, the standard stuff. Then she asked about what happened with Auntie, and I told her.

Then she told us about Auntie. Her children and grandchildren come around, but really don't pay her much mind. They come in and out all the time, but basically she is all alone. The church van picks her up on Sunday to go to the Chinese Methodist Church downtown, but other than that, nobody takes her out, so she slowly makes her way to the store.

The lady said Auntie was working in her garden, when she felt very weak and fell down. She didn't know what to do, because she was too weak to cry out, and there wasn't likely to be anyone around to see her and help her. That is, until I looked out the window.

When Auntie saw the three of us, she came out and we were able to communicate. Auntie was happy to be able to tell me how thankful she was that I helped her. Then the other lady started talking to some other people, telling them what happened.

The result? I have become known as the nice western guy who helped Auntie out, sort of like a local hero.

As a postscript to this episode:

Auntie found out from her friend that Trien was in the hospital waiting to deliver. Every day when I came home, she would be waiting to see if we were bringing Melody home. It took a week, but when we finally got out of the car with Melody that Thursday afternoon, Auntie came out with a big smile and was overjoyed to see the baby. She had to pinch her cheeks and made many comments in Chinese we couldn't understand. And , of course, she kept trying to talk to Trien. Auntie was so happy just to see the baby and to hold her for a second. You would have thought that she was the grandmother.

Now, She always looks to see if Trien or I are bringing the baby out. When she sees little Melody, her face brightens, and you can see the traces of young motherhood and its memories flicker across her face.

It doesn't take much to touch someone, and make a difference in their life.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Another Thing We've Learned

One thing we've learned is that Melody doesn't like taking a bath. You would think that after all that time floating around in the womb, she'd love it. Not a chance.

That's Aida, our helper, giving her her first bath at home. I never knew Melody could cry so loud, or turn so red!

Well, we'll have to adjust, and maybe see if we can make it into a game. Or maybe if we put her into a tub of warm water, now that her umbilical cord has healed, instead of pouring the water over her, she will calm down.

It's just another learning process and adjustment that we're all going to have to go through!

Training Each Other

Sure, we read "What to Expect the First Year", to get some idea of how of what we were facing raising a newborn. That book has become our "Baby Bible". It's packed with all sorts of useful information. Trien and I both read it, and we both agree we got a lot out of it. It's an excellent book to have if you are a first time parent. It's also the only book on parenting we could find in Taiping.

Sure, we asked others for advice, on how to prepare for Melody's arrival.

It seems like you can prepare all you want to have a baby, but it sure is a different thing when the baby actually arrives and you have to do it. Some things turn out better, and some things turn out worse.

For example, before Melody was born, the thought of actually changing a diaper was nearly enough to send me into convulsions. That's the OCD working. After she was born and I actually did it? No problem. It just seemed so natural to do it. I found out I actually enjoy changing her diaper, and making goofy faces and noises at her while I do it. It confuses the hell out of her, and keeps her quiet and still while I clean and change her. Besides, the mustardy yellow breastfeeding poop doesn't smell like some sort of biological warfare attack. I can't say the same for those kids on formula. Anyway, when it's your child who is dirty and smelly, you don't mind. If it was someone else's kid, I'd run away screaming in horror, and have to rub hand sanitizer all over my body.

It's a different thing reading about taking care of a baby, and having people give you advice, and actually doing it.

At first, we struggled. Every time she cried, we thought she was hungry. Usually, we weren't wrong. This kid can really eat. If she is hungry, she will show she is hungry by loudly sucking on her fist or the back of her hand.

At first, she would feed for two or three hours plus straight. She is a rester, and she would take little breaks during her feeding time, but still! She would empty out both breasts, and we would have to give her a formula supplement on top of it to satisfy her hunger. Mommy's nipples were getting awfully sore.

Then a few nights ago, she fed for seven hours straight. She didn't go to sleep, she just kept crying and feeding for all that time. She would feed, spit it up, we'd burp her, she'd cry for more, fill her diaper, we'd change her, she'd cry again, we'd feed her, she'd spit it up, cry for more, we'd feed her, burp her, and on and on. We didn't know what the hell was happening. I was ready to have tests done to see if she had an extra stomach. Finally, about 1 am, she fell asleep, and slept for about 8 hours.

The next day she was OK. What I figured was, that she had gas, and tummy pain. Since she is as new to all of this as we are, I think she couldn't tell the difference between gas, tummy pain, and being hungry. So she would feed, get gas, then cry for more, spit it up, we'd burp her, that would make more space, so she'd want more, we'd give it, the gas would come back, she'd be full and get tummy pain, fill her diaper, that would make more space, etc. in a never ending cycle.

It seems that after that, Melody learned the difference between hunger, gas, tummy pain, and being full. We haven't had the same problem since, and hopefully won't again. That's because we are also learning. We are learning what her feeding patterns are.

She will wake up, and be hungry. To make her comfortable during feeding time, first we check her diaper, and if need be, change her. Then Mommy feeds her. After anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour, she either doze off, go to sleep, or want to look at stuff. If she dozes off, after a few minutes she'll be awake and want more. If she wants to look at stuff, then she will want to be held, and look at stuff around the room, or at a toy, for an indeterminate time. Then she'll want to be fed again. If she sleeps, then she will sleep for 2 to 3 hours before she wakes up again.

After the second feeding, if she hasn't had her "Lets look at stuff time", she will want to have it then. If she's had her "Lets look at stuff time", then she will doze for a few minutes. After she has done either, she will want a little snack, then she will fall asleep for a couple hours.

Knowing what her habits are make it easier to take care of her.

We've also realized that every time she cries, she doesn't necessarily want a nipple in her mouth. So we hold off on that until we are sure that's what she wants. If she gives her hunger sign, then that's what she gets. If not, we go through the checklist: diaper, hold me, burp me, get me out of the crib, lets look at stuff. If that doesn't work, then it's feeding time.

So you could say both Melody and Trien and I are adjusting to each other, and learning from each other. We are training each other. It looks like this won't end until, say, she grows up and moves away from home. Until then, we'll just keep learning and adjusting!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Rod Benson's Blog

Rod Benson is a Basketball player trying out for the New Jersey Nets. He is also a very smart and funny guy, who writes a fantastic Blog.

I don't know if he has a future in the NBA, but if that doesn't work out, I'm sure writing will. The guy definitely has talent. His entry about playing baseball with an ex NBA players young kids had me cracking up. If writing doesn't work out, then he's bound to find some niche in entertainment. He's that good.
It doesn't matter if you like basketball, or even if you know anything about it at all. You will still get a kick out of Rod Benson.

The only reason I don't have it on my list of favorite Blogs is because the filters on the servers here won't let me add it. Next time at the Internet cafe, it goes there.

So check out toomuchrodbenson.com

It's worth the trip!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Melody Proves that Dunstan Baby Language Doesn't Work

Trien and I were watching Oprah one night on Astro when she was about seven months pregnant. In the first segment Priscilla Dunstan (below)

came on, to talk about her Dunstan Baby Language cd. Ms. Dunstan is one hot looking mommy, which immediately caught my attention. She claims that after years of research, she was able to identify five "words" that all babies use, despite whatever language they are exposed to, to communicate their needs.

According to her website:

Every newborn communicates from birth to 3 months using 5 distinct sounds, or “words” to express their physical needs. This is regardless of the language their parents speak and is part of nature’s plan – that your baby can tell you what they need from the very beginning. For example, every baby will say the word “neh” when hungry. The sooner ‘hunger’ is identified the sooner a parent can respond by feeding.

Of course this immediately caught our attention, and we sat fascinated through the program. Trien even got a piece of paper and a pencil, and quickly wrote down the "words" and what they meant, for future reference.

With Ms. Dunstan were some mommies holding their babies. They said how great it was that they could understand what their babies were trying to communicate to them before they got all apoplectic. Some of the babies even made some of the cries, almost on cue. The mommies were able to tell what they wanted, and met the need on camera before their precious one even started to cry.

During the segment there were other demos of how well it worked. Oprah was surprised and enthusiastic. It was almost as if she was the presenter for a "Dunstan Baby Language" Infomercial. If I didn't trust in Oprah's integrity, (and great wealth), I'd say that was exactly what was happening. Oprah likes it. My brother's then 18 month old daughter loves Oprah. Wow! So great! Sign me up!

After the program, I had to do some research. Of course, the Dunstan Baby Language website is impressive and has all sorts of testimonials and great things to say about their program, but that is to be expected. Then I started looking around, to see what everybody else had to say. It seemed like they were all equally enthusiastic.

All, that is, except for the article on wikipedia, which questions her research and methodology. Other than that, every other thing I read was almost universally gushing with praise for her discovery.

Of course, if this was going to be such a tremendous help to us as parents, I wanted to get it so that we could understand our baby's "eh", "heh", etc.

One problem? The cost. When I first checked, it was $70 US for the package. Now it's $50 US. While that may seem reasonable for you in the USA or UK, I'm on a Malaysian salary here.

Another? You can't get them to ship it to Malaysia.

So I asked my brother and sister to see if they knew someone who already had it, and was finished with it. Then they could ship it out me. No luck there. I imagined that either none of their acquaintances had it, or if they did, they refused to part with such a gift from the heavens.

So instead, confident in my new found font of information, I cut and pasted the "words" and their meanings, and printed them out. I had them in my pocket the first time I went to the hospital to see Melody.

You know what? I shouldn't have even bothered. Melody obviously didn't get the memo that she is supposed to use Ms. Dunstan's "words" to communicate her needs. She uses one word for everything- "Eh". Ok, make that two words- "Eh", and a loud screaming cry. Nothing else comes out of her mouth except that. "Eh" can mean all the usual things: most often, "I am hungry", but also, "I have gas", "I am wet/poopy", "I like looking at Mr. Bear", "I am hungry", or "I just like confusing Mommy and Daddy as to what it is I really want." Crying? Well there is no need to tell you what that means.

We can tell better what Melody wants from her body language, than we can from any "Dunstan Baby Language". Sucking on her hand or fist means she is hungry, a smelly diaper means she needs to be changed, and a pained expression on her face means either she needs to be changed, "watch out, I'm about to fill my diaper", or "why aren't you burping me?"

So as for Ms. Dunstan's discovery, I'm afraid it would have been of no use to us, even if we could get it. We just have to do things the old fashioned way- watch, listen, and smell. Better yet, we didn't waste $50, and can use that money for something really useful. Like diapers and baby wipes!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Melody's Favorite Activities

Being a newborn, Melody doesn't do too much as of yet. But there are a few things she likes to do. In rough order of preference, they are:
1. Sleeping. Without a doubt, that is #1 on the list.
2. Eating. This is her #1 activity when awake.
3. Looking at stuff. Everything is new to her. So when she is taking a break from feeding, but still alert, she likes to look at everything around her. Some of the things she has found fascinating include:
One of the wooden posts on her crib.
Our plain white wall.
The underside of the futon.
The ceiling fan.
Mommy (Daddy not so much).
Some bug only an expert in tropical entomology could identify scurrying around the plain white wall that had Mommy freaking out.

The patterns on your clothes.

But without a doubt, her two favorite things are:
Mr. Bear, (pictured above), and her own image in the mirror.

I paid RM 20 for Mr. Bear, and it is some of the best money I ever spent. She is totally fascinated by him. All you have to do is put him in her line of sight, and she will stare at him, and start kicking and smiling. He has a music box inside, and when you pull the string and "Go to Sleep My Little Baby" starts playing, she will stop moving and kicking, and give him her full attention. Then she will start moving and kicking even more, waiting for him to make some more music. Whatever Mr. Bear does, she usually tries to reach out and touch him, as best a newborn can.

Her own image is of tremendous interest to her. She loves to look at the baby in the mirror. She will try and reach out and touch the baby. Of course, right now she doesn't know she is the baby in the mirror. But she always stops what she is doing when I put the mirror in her line of sight, and usually smiles at the baby. She won't even move or kick, she is so fascinated. This really comes in handy when changing her diaper. I put the mirror in front of her, she holds still, and in two minutes or less the diaper change is done.
4. Being held.

5. Crying.

6. Resting while taking two hours to feed.

7. Being adorable. This takes no effort all all, it just comes naturally.

I know this is just the beginning. In the coming months, as she matures and makes new discoveries, there will be plenty more things she like to do. I can't wait to see what they are!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Birth

It wasn't easy for either of us. Physically, it was demanding on Trien. She was in labor over twenty hours. Mentally and emotionally, and thus physically, it was demanding on me.

It was hard being separated from her during the whole process. While she was in the 3rd class ward, after being induced, I could stay with her and hold her hand, and possibly stroke her head. That stopped after she knocked my hand away. After visiting hours were over, I had to leave, with no way to find out what was happening. That is, unless Saras called me up with information. Saras goes to our church, and is a nurse in the maternity ward. She was keeping vigil with Trien, and acting as her personal nurse. She did internal exams, massages, and at times, prayed. All of which helped tremendously. If it wasn't for Saras, Trien would have definitely had a c-section, something we all wanted to avoid.

I was wiped out. Visiting hours were over at 7:30, and I was having trouble trying to do anything. It was raining out, and Ramesh's wife and I were waiting for him to return and take us home. Because of the rain, he didn't show up until 9.

At first when we were talking, I was feeling sick and grumpy, and wanted to tell her to shut up. I controlled myself though, and as things went on, I really enjoyed our conversation, and felt a lot better. Still, I was so tired. Ramesh came, and I picked up some pau for dinner, and some ice cream for comfort food. I had just taken a shower, and started to eat, when Ramesh called, oh, about 9:30, and said that they had just wheeled Trien into the delivery room, and they were coming back to pick me up.

I barely had time to put my clothes on before they were downstairs waiting for me.

News travels fast. When we got there, Pastor Phillip was already there. That's him in front, with the glasses. Also there was sister Grace and her husband, whose name escapes me, but he is pastor of the church in Bagan Serai. They are the couple on the right of the picture. Ramesh then left to pick up Kevin Singh from worship practice. That's Kevin on the left. I like Kevin. Him and his wife Rebecca are really cool people. (Plus they have really cute kids!) As for the mystery couple in red, between Kevin and Grace and her husband, that's Ramesh and his wife. Ramesh is another guy you got to love. He's got a great sense of humor, and is always willing to lend a helping hand. He does drive his wife crazy, but they love each other to death. He had to walk away when Trien was in the labor room, in so much pain she couldn't talk, because he couldn't stand to see anyone suffer like that. That may be because he knows what it is like to suffer himself. He suffers from an intermittently recurring infection in the lining behind his eyes that causes him excruciating pain.

I know I am forgetting some people, because I was so tired. I am under the impression that there were more people than that waiting, but I didn't get their pictures. If you were there, and I forgot you, please accept my apologies.

So we were there, and waiting. I was excited. They were excited too. When I mean waiting, I don't mean in a nice air-conditioned waiting room outside the delivery room. What I mean is waiting outside the building, in the waiting area next to the parking lot. At least there was a color TV there that worked. Around 1 am or so, we watched the end of Con Air (what a totally ridiculous film that was), and then the end of The Forgotten, which is better off left that way.

Since I wasn't even allowed in the building, I would sneak in the door to see if I could hear anything. It was silent. According to the board outside, there were 7 women in there giving birth, and the only sound I could hear was a machine going "BING!" Heck, I was expecting wild screaming and pleas for mercy, like we heard when we checked in that afternoon. Or at least some mild whimpering. But there was nothing.

So I decided to do my stupid foreigner thing, and wander around trying to find the bathroom. Still, nothing. It was if they all decided to go out for ice cream or something.

At 3am, Saras came out and said that the pregnancy was progressing slowly. They had given Trien a sedative, and she was asleep! Here I am walking around expecting to hear that our daughter was born, and she's snoozing. That was OK, though. Since the labor was so long, they wanted her to get some rest, so when the big push finally came, she would have the strength for it. Later, Trien said when the intense pain would happen, she would wake up, and then drowse for a while.

By that time, we were all sitting there drooling and looking at each other cross-eyed. Nothing was happening, Trien was asleep, so we might as well do the same.

About 8:30, I got a call from Saras. I was groggy as anything. She said that Trien had delivered a baby girl, and mother and baby were fine. Feeling like I did, that left me underwhelmed. I felt duty bound to call up my family and let them know, and as I did, I started coming to. I even got a little excited, until I realized I wouldn't be able to see Mommy and Baby until 12:30 anyway, because they wouldn't let me in until visiting hours.

-To Be Continued-