Cribs and Culture Shock

We set up our crib last weekend. It was a significant milestone in Project Baby Preparedness, one about which both Stella and I were pretty excited.

 

This crib, the first of many things which Stella will pass down to her baby brother, is not in pristine condition. It bears scratch marks left by our cats who tried to stake their claim on this new sleeping surface. Embedded in the rails are marks made by Stella's first teeth. 

 

The crib, tells a story. Blemishes and all, is a bitter sweet remembrance of the early years of our family. The bite marks speak of endless sleepless nights, and the excitement of learning to stand. The scratches remind us of our cats who could not come along with us to Jakarta. And the story behind the crib reminds me both of how lovely and how hard those early months were.

I got pregnant the week we moved to Japan from China. Literally. New home, new country, new language. And, hello, new baby.

I sailed through the first six weeks of my pregnancy on a high of gleeful anticipation and phase one culture shock. By week nine, however, I crashed. The culture shock u-curve and pregnancy hormones converged, and I found myself desperately homesick. I craved familiarity and predictability. I pined for a perfect North American pregnancy, wanting to experience the traditions and cultural markers that I would have experienced “at home.” The prospect of having a baby in a foreign language, in a strange country, in a culture about which I knew very little terrified me. And so, I focused my energies on making my pregnancy as North American as possible. 

 

I was also, frankly, freaked out by how much my life had changed in a few short months. In addition to adapting to my new role as Pregnant Lady, I was also figuring out who I was in my new country, in my new position as stay-at-home wife.  

 

So, I put off looking for baby products as long as I could. If I DID happen to step into an international box-type baby store, I’d emerge in a puddle of hormonal, homesick tears. Everything was so different! And so Japanese! Where were all the North American brands with their North American aesthetic and North American safety standards? Where were the wooden toys, glass bottles and organic cotton onesies? How on earth could I protect my child against harmful BPA monsters if I couldn't read labels? 

 

Despite my procrastination, we soon reached that critical point where we had to face the question of The Crib. We needed one. And I, no surprise, wanted one that was perfectly compliant with all Western safety standards. As hard as I looked (and believe me, I looked hard!) I could not find a baby crib in our corner of Japan that fit the bill.

 

So, after much obsessive shopping, and a not just a few pregnant tears, I ordered one. From Canada. At great, great, great expense. 

 

In retrospect, this was kind of a foolish thing to do. I mean, a Japanese crib probably would have been fine (but they are all drop-sided! And the slats too wide! And the gap between the crib mattress and the rail a centimetre too big!) I probably should have looked to Australia as a viable crib import market (Safety 1st makes great ones!) Realistically, it probably would have been cheaper to travel 1000 KM up to Tokyo and buy a crib from Ikea, and ship it down South. 

 

But I had my heart set on something from home. I wanted a piece of North America in my little nursery. I wanted a big, solid piece of my home country, something distinctly un-Japanese.  

 

Of course the irony of this whole story is that Stella barely slept in her super-expensive import crib, preferring the comfort of my bed for the better part of a year, and then shuffling between my bed, her port-a-crib, and her actual baby bed, until finally graduating to a big-girl bed.  

 

Now, three years later, we have that same crib set up in a little corner of our bedroom. This time around I’m more settled in our home, in our new country, and in my role as a parent. Everything feels much less urgent and much less fraught. I could do just fine with a crib bought in Indonesia. And yet, I’m  happy to have this cat-scratched and baby-bitten bed we bought in anticipation of our first baby. It does bring me a certain sense of home. It was bought in my home country, shipped to Japan, our girl’s first ever home, and then shipped again to Indonesia which will be the first home our little boy will know. 

 

And here's miss Stella, testing out the new/old crib. As you can see, she's pretty excited about it! 

 

 

So, I'm a birth brat, okay?

You guys, I think Japan has ruined me. RUINED!

 

I’m now officially a spoiled rotten birth brat, and that’s all there is about that.

 

I had a lot of anxiety regarding prenatal care in Japan. Part of that was due to legitimate gripes (here’s one GREAT OMGHATTTEEEEE example), and part of that was your run of the mill first-time-momhood-holy-shit-this-kid-is-being-born-in-a-foreign-country-what-am-I-even-doing-oh-gawd stuff. While I still look back on the prenatal care I received with a mixture of quaint affection and downright frustration, the birth experience and post-natal care was amazing. Like really.

 

Stella was born in a birth centre. There were several OBGYNs on staff, plus a full house of midwives and nurses there to attend to my every need. 

 

I laboured comfortably in a big, bright room. I didn’t have to be hooked up to any monitors; I could move around, choosing positions that felt good. I could eat and drink whatever I wanted. And though I had no interest in food for the majority of my labour, the nurses still brought me trays with beautifully presented bentos, which I’m pretty sure my husband ate? Probably?

 

A midwife was assigned to help me through the entirety of my labour, and she stayed with me almost the whole time I was doing the hard work of bringing a human into the world. She monitored the baby closely but was always working around what made me feel the least horrible. When the option of moving to the delivery room with a hospital bed was floated, and I was all …NOPE…, there was no further discussion of that foolhardy idea. 

 

So, the birth was great. But then the after care? That’s when shit got golden.

 

Can we talk, for a moment, about a huge, luxury 5 star hotel room, which I shared with zero people? And maybe some aromatherapy treatment? And how ‘bout in-house postnatal massages included in the “package”? And food so good that I was actually kind of stoked for mealtimes, which in a hospital setting is like, huh?

 

(Also, it should be noted that upon registration at this birth centre, I had a 45 minute long interview re. my dietary preferences. I’m not kidding. There was a whole meeting with a kitchen representative and a midwife to go over exactly what I, as a non-fish-eating person, would in fact consume. I don’t know if food is given similar weight in other birthing institutions in Japan, but it was serious business at this place. Serious. Business.)

 

I stayed at the birth centre for a full five-day recovery period. Which is on the short side of things in Japan. Most women stay seven days for a normal birth. And it was great. There was always someone around to help me if I needed help, and if I didn’t need anything, there were no interruptions or intrusive midnight vials checks. 

 

 

Now, cut to Jakarta. 

 

On Monday, I went on a tour of the hospital where I plan to birth this baby boy. It was nice. Clean, airy, bright. I’ll have a private room. The nurses were super friendly and encouraging. They’re down with my natural birth hopes and general hippie nonsense, and seem generally accommodating and totally fine. 

 

I should be all, THIS IS AMAZING CAPSLOCK!!!1111!!! But actually I’m like….but where is my aromatherapy treatment? Where’s the massage room?  And what about the artfully designed, perfectly appointed recovery rooms? The twinkle-star light feature? And the wabi-sabi bento boxes? No? Well, how EXACTLY, do you expect me to have a baby without them? Huh???!  

 

 

Of course I am beyond thankful that I can go to this hospital in Jakarta; it’s one of the best, and a far step better than what most Indonesian women experience. It’s even better than what I’d have if I were in North America. 

 

But, Japan, you sure did set my standards pretty high. So basically, god help me if I ever have to birth a human in North America. 

 

 

 

 

 

My Blueprint for Taxi Drivers Makes Me Unhappy And Other Tales of Expat Woe.

 

 

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Yesterday was one of those days. Call them China days, or Indo days, expat days, or HULKSMASH EVERYDAMNTHIGN days, whatever. It was one. And tt started, as these days often do, in the back of a taxi. 

 

I was taking Stella to school. I gave the driver the street name and neighbourhood, and asked him if he knew it. I took his noncommittal silence as an affirmation, that yes, he did indeed know know the place and would guide us there directly. But it wasn't long before I resized, by way of a series of turns in random directions, that he had know idea where our destination was in relation to where we were, but didn't feel like it would be appropriate to, you know, ask me if he should turn left or right at the next intersection.

 

ARRGGGG! SO ANNOYING! Why wouldn't he TELL me if he didn't know the place? Why wouldn't he ask me where to turn? Why did he just turn left there???? Geeze! Taxi drivers are the worst!  So leotarded!!!! 

 

Not long after, we hit traffic. Because of course we did. A tiny crossing had the whole road tied up in knots, and we were stuck for twenty minutes. As the stoplight flashed red, drivers raced forward, hopping to make it across the three lanes of poorly designed intersection before traffic started flowing in the other direction. The result? Traffic locked down. Cars facing each of the four compass points jammed in the middle of an intersection and no one able to move anywhere. 

 

COME ON, you guys. This is basic. Even someone who bought their licence knows red means stop and green means go. If you'd just follow THE RULES, this wouldn't happen. Only jerks stop their cars in the middle of an intersection. You're making me late for all important outside time at preschool , I'm missing mom chat time, and this is obviously a super important, really critical, total big deal problem.

 

So yea. Two internal tantrums even before nine o'clock in the morning.  

 

Tony Robbins has this concept about blueprints. Your blueprint is your worldview. It's your understanding of how you, should be, how others should act, and how the world should function. If you think people should hold doors open for you, that's part of your blueprint. If you think that the work day should start at 9 AM and finish at 5 PM, that's part of your blueprint.

When you encounter situations that contradict your blueprint, you feel negative emotions: frustrationation, anger, annoyance, unhappiness.  

 

My blueprint about the flow of vehicles in an intersection is based entirely upon my North American understudying of traffic. And guess what? That blueprint is totally invalid in Indonesia. (...Duh...)

 

I can't change the way traffic flows in this country (although don't think for a moment I haven't considered jumping out of the taxi and directing cars at that particular intersection, with extra special vitriol saved for those GD motorcycles, who are like TOTALLY THE WORST at following traffic rules. Because I have. Obviously. A lot. I even have ideas about what I should wear, and where I might find a traffic directing wand.)

 

The only thing I can change is my idea about how traffic flows. (Hint: IT DOESNT!!!!!) I can only change my blueprint.

 

But that's kind of a hard thing to do. Like, uhhhhhh, where do I start?

 

Do any of you have stories about blueprints contradicting reality, be they expat-related or otherwise? Have any of you successfully changed your blueprint? Tips? Ideas? Suggestions? Rants? Let me have them!

Chaos in an Industrial Kitchen

Yesterday may or may not have been the best day of wee Stella's entire life. 

All the little kids from her school came to her Papi's kitchen. They got to take a tour. Check out the big machines. See where the 900 litres of ice cream is produced. Checked out the gigantic ovens. Wave at chefs. 

 

And then they decorated cookies. With icing. And sprinkles. 

 

It was epic. 

 

And may I ask you, is there anything more adorable than a bunch of three-year-olds dressed in aprons and hairnets? (No. The answer is no.) 

{Though I do wonder if Mr. Chef made us wear hair nets for for reasons of hilarity and adorableness or for reasons of hygiene and food safety?}

 

 

After getting hopped up on sugar, Stella and a few buddies had lunch together (pasta all around, in case you're wondering.) And then, because this is Indonesia, they ran circles around the front of the restaurant, not at all heeding their parents' half-hearted pleas of "Inside voice, guys!" And no one cared because this is Indonesia and unruly children are, like, totally cool, so ladies, let's just eat our salads while our children run around like tiny demons and we'll just talk about about nap schedules in peace, okay? 

 

And then, because my child wasn't sufficiently exhausted, we went on an all-swimming-all-dancing playdate, ate broccoli soup, and then traversed the city in the back of a taxi cab.

 

Some days Jakarta just knocks it out of the park. 

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My 20 Week Ultrasound in Singapore

This picture has kind of nothing to do with anything except that it's in the Singapore Airport, and it's Stella and she's kind of the best, so. 

I'd gotten pretty used to the laid-back approach to pre-nantal care in Jakarta. I go to my clinic, pee on a PH stick, get my blood pressure checked, get weighed (they don't even COMMENT on my enormous weight gain, TAKE THAT, Japan), and then pop in for a quick visit with the Doc. It's a brief "Hello, how are you, any problems, okay ultrasound time!" And then we're done.

 

(This compared to my Japanese appointments which always had an elaborate ritual of blood tests, cups of pee, belly exam and measurements, and scolding for being too fat.)

 

When I showed up at the clinic in Singapore for my anomaly scan, I had to go through the  registration process. They ask a lot of questions. Like they want to know every detail about both parents' lives, occupation, place of employment, and religion. RELIGION??? What? Excuse me. How exactly does this impact my medical care?

 

Oh, and another favourite of mine: "Name of husband/guardian."

 

Guardian??? GUARDIAN? Is this real life? Is this the 21st century, Singapore? What you're saying is that if I didn't have a husband I'd need a GUARDIAN?? And anyway, how exactly does my marital / guardianship status influence the doctor's ability to evaluate my pregnancy???

 

Because I'm such a pedantic peach, I obviously took this is an opportunity to point out the absurdity of this question, but passive aggressively because that's how I roll. So I circled that offending part of the registration form and cover it in exclamation points. You know.

 

 

Anyway, my Singapore doctor did not bring up either my religion or my guardianship status. Thank Feminism. He did, however, complete a super thorough exam of the baby, the likes of which I'd never before experienced either in Japan or here in Jakarta.

 

It's funny. When I went into see a doctor while on vacation in Canada when I was pregnant with Stella for reasons having to do with FIRST TIME MOTHER FREAKING OUT, all the doctor did was to have a little chat, have the nurse get out the doppler, and take a quick listen. Brush hands and done.

 

In Japan, and here in Jakarta, it's all ultrasounds all the time. Wanna see if you're really preg? Let's do an ultrasound at six weeks! Eight week appointment? Ultrasound. Worried about your pregnancy for no good reason? Come in for an ultrasound, NBD! 

 

And Iet's not joke around, I kind of love that. Before reassuring kicks to the bladder become a regular thing, it's really nice to actually see the baby and know that all is fine. And also, it's great to check in on things later in the pregnancy and make sure that all looks good. You know? I think North America should get on this ultrasound train.

 

Anyway, my Singapore ultrasound. When it was all finished, the doctor typed up a five (FIVE) page super official report including graphs and measurements and other science things and handed it over along with a DVD containing all the images form the ultrasound. Which totally surprised me. But shouldn't have. Because, duh, it's Singapore. 

 

What's the deal in the US / Canada / Europe / Elsewhere. Do you get multiple ultrasounds? A five page post scan report? Graphs? Quizzed on your religion and who owns you? Just curious. 

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Oh, I've kind of majorly dropped the ball in the Top Baby Blogs department. They reset their numbers and I'm like totally slipping! Can you give us a vote? I'd super appreciate it!!!

 

Thanks and candy!

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Yet Another Pregnancy Update

 

 

Nothing new is really happening on the pregnancy front. I'm growing a human in my body. Just like every other woman who has ever been pregnant. Just regular stuff. 

 

But what is different this time around is how pregnancy is treated here in Indonesia. So, I got knocked up and then I became an invalid.

 

 

Last week I was hanging out with a few other moms. A ball got kicked into a planter, which greatly distressed the children, so I did what was reasonable. Is scaled the vast heights of the raised flower bed (TWO FEET), and stepped over the pants to retrieve the ball. And then I made my descent. 

 

All this to the great shock of the mothers around me: sharp intakes of breath; admonishments for my negligence; warnings to be careful, outstretched hands helped to brace me as I leapt down, headless of the consequences!!! (Actually, I just bent my knee a bit, and then stepped down. Two feet. People. I mean. I don't think a step, even an especially large step, is going to jostle this kid free of my innards. Just a hunch. And, um, also, biology.) 

 

People, even those fairly close to me, regularly question my ability to carry my own kid, or lift a bag, or walk 1500 meters. And they're not afraid to tell me that I'll harm my baby if I overexert myself. I get side-eyes at the gym, worried glances, and judgmental looks. 

 

It seems to me that this notion that a woman's body is week is prevalent here in Indonesia. Take for example the concept of "period leave." Each month women are entitled to two days off due to their monthly cycle. Because oh! these poor girls who experience a natural biological process, they need to take time off work and stay in bed! Or something. 

 

This is problematic, for all sorts of reasons, but mostly because if you buy into this, then you basically accept the notion that women are inherently delicate and thus less capable than men. Which, arrrg! Sorry I have a uterus! 

 

(Not actually sorry at all.)

 

 

By and large, I'm trying to live like normal (though admittedly I did opt out of cooking a whole lot during the first trimester when nausea was king.) Still, I'm aware of and totally irritated by the sideward looks and judgmental comments. I've been a bit reluctant to hit the gym here, but I'm working on that? Maybe? And I'm doing my best to bite my feminist tongue, because I have complicated feelings about post-colonial guilt, cultural imperialism, pedantic Western-centric world view, and moral relativism. 

 

But still, I'm going to lift up my kid, even though I'm pregnant, so lay off, k?

Homesickness is a dish best served with salt and vinegar chips.

 

So, I may or may not have thrown minor temper tantrum at the grocery store the other day. 

You see, after week of tiny catastrophes, general inconveniences, and disappointments varied and sundry (oh, yeah! the sidewalks here are filled with gaping holes that lead directly into the sewers!! I had totally forgotten about that little gemstone!) I was on edge, and not feeling very charitable towards the minor bothers that life in Indonesia entails (i.e. huh, so, what you're telling me is the ATMs just DON'T WORK? Just because? And the bank is, like, totally fine with this situation? So, okay. {HULKSMASHALLTHETHINGS!!!})

The poor girl at the iPhone service center bore the brunt of my eyerolls and exasperated sighs (though, I will say, she kinda deserved some of it? Maybe?? Yes?) Facebook got the rest.

Apparently our return from Canada prompted a Indo-crash, wherein wave of culture shock engulfed me. (In my defence, jet lag, exhaustion, and pregnancy cary-cray did nothing to mitigate this situation.) 

 

So I did what I usually do in these circumstances: I took myself to the grocery store, and rage-shopped all over the place. Oh yeah, Indonesia, you're going to be like that? Well take this 20 dollar bag of quinoa! And Bam! Here's an overpriced block goats cheese while we're at it! And a five dollar box of Kraft Dinner! How do you like them apples!!! 

 

 

Back in China, in the early days of our expat sojourn, when import products were harder to come by (and also bank-breakingly ridiculous), I would go into a local Carrefour and feel a wave of depression as I surveyed the unfamiliar packages, strange flavour combinations, and odd smelling fruits (durian!!!)

And then, maybe 18 months into our China stay, to my great glee, (I mean Marks & Spencer birthday cake level excited) Marks & Spencer opened in Shanghai. It was not the Western-sized clothing that had me excited (though that was what most people were hyping), but the M&S food hall. Suddenly old favourites like salt and vinegar chips were again at my disposal. And good value wine! And smoked paprika! It was like a major deal, and kind of a sign of tide-shift during that posting. Familiar flavours became easier to find and then life kinda got a bit easier, too. 

 

Food is a total big deal when you're an expat. It's a quiet comfort, a familiar call back to the home culture. Staying in touch with foodways of my home is a priority for me. And thus, I'll spend 20 dollars on a bag of quinoa, or travel half-way across the city, visiting four different grocery stores to stock up on cured meats, decent cheeses, and hard to find spices. I spend hours trolling the internet to find companies that will deliver kamut flour to Indonesia, or places where I might order a komboucha SCOBY (found one!!!). It's why I gave over so much space (and weight!!!) in my suitcase for six massive packages of corn tortillas and seven jars of all natural peanut butter. I need that connection to home, the comfort of familiar tastes, and the simple ease of foods I know. 

It's been a rough two weeks settling back into life here. But things are looking up. 

This weekend I have plans for a visit with a fellow Canadian, a meal of good Turkish food, and a coffee date with my shopping list and a stack of cookbooks. Throw in a little pool time, and all will be well. Come Monday, I'll be ready to hit the Jakarta streets with patience and acceptance (mostly.)

 

Until then, can I ask for some help? I'd love to hear your suggestions for favourite comfort foods, expat-friendly recipes, and must-visit cooking blogs.

 

Disclosure: This post was wrtten on behalf of a clinet, however all content and ideas herein are mine alone.  

Notes on Travel

Hi. Um, so, I'm in Canada. With my little side-kick, who is just a little uncertain of geography and asks for clarification every five minutes, seeking to determine whether this is, in fact, Canada or Jakarta.

 

We've been here for only two days, but already have eaten pizza twice, walked about a million kilometres revealing in the unobstructed sidewalks, enjoyed fresh air and blue skies, and done a circuit of the city's playgrounds. 

 

 

Meanwhile, I keep wondering what Stella makes of this trip. For a kid who's spent the majority of her life in Asia, Canada must seem weird, right? But when I ask her what she thinks is different about Canada, she responds with a blank stare.

 

So, I piece together a fractured understanding of her perception of this place based on her comments. Choo-choo buses (Street cars) are totally rad. Carseats and seat belts are bullshit. As is the rule that decrees "In Canada that children cannot run around in restaurants." Total balls. We watched the "gym people" running past the cafe window. I guess that's weird? And the cyclists wearing helmets. Weird. And there was an episode where Stella began screaming in absolute terror as a pigeon pecked away on the sidewalk in front of us. So, pigeons are weird?  And terrifying? I guess?

 

 

As for me, I'm happy to report the following observations:

 

Flying with a three year old is infinitely easier than flying with a two year old. Stella slept a whopping 4 hours on the flight. She played independently in her seat, and let me snooze in half-hour stretches. And, most amazingly of all, this kid walked by herself through all airports while managing her own suitcase. I mean, jackpot, you guys!

 

Three-year-old jet lag is not nearly as horrendous as baby jet lag. (Though this point may require a caveat; I let the iPad do all the parenting between 3-6 am.)

 

Canada is freezing. Duh, me.

 

This fact does not deter Canadians from dressing in shorts, sleeveless tops, and sandals. Meanwhile, I'm worrying about hypothermia because It's 22 degrees Celsius, and maybe I should put a hat on my kid? And some mittens? Perhaps? 

 

Canadians are the friendliest. Really. I had forgotten about this fact. I've had at least 10 random strangers go completely out out of their way to open doors for me, warn me of an out-of-order elevator, or carry Stella's stroller up steps, or wish me a nice day. It's almost enough to make me crave the constraints of a mortgage and a over-priced shoebox-sized condo in Toronto. 

Parenting as a Westie in the East is hard, dear internet diary.

The other day, my daughter's nanny came back to work after a few days off. She asked me, "What happened with Stella on Monday morning? Why was she crying?"

 

Monday morning was totally unremarkable. We went through our usual routine of tidying up the detritus left by the weekend weekend (me), and tantrum-ing over the injustice of being forced to play alone with a room full of educational and aesthetically pleasing wooden toys (not me. Two guesses.)

 

"I don't remember….ummm, I guess she was crying because I was doing dishes?" I answered. "Or making the bed? Dunno. Why?"

 

It turns out that one of the hotel housekeepers had heard Stella screeching. She texted our nanny to find out why the child's incompetent mother was incapable of appeasing a innocent three-year-old. 

 

"I heard Stella crying. I felt so sad!" The housekeeper (who, btw, we love and adore), texted to Stella's nanny.

 

(Incidentally it's a good thing that the housekeeper in question wasn't around a few hours later when a certain small person was wailing in the hallway for a good 20  minutes because I asked her to walk 25 meters to our apartment door and therefore life is all bullshit.)

 

But still. COME ON!!! My kid was crying. What's so remarkable about that??? And PS, privacy is also a thing.

 

In  Indonesia, a screaming kid is kind of remarkable. The typical toddler does not tantrum. Or, at least, does not tantrum to the degree that Western kids do.

 

Kids here are cajoled and mollified. They are carried around by their caretakers, given sweets, spoon-fed and bottle-fed well into big-kid-dom. Their demands for attention are always acknowledged. Their requests for toys, playtime, or other sorts of entertainment are granted without question. Keep the kid happy. Don't let the kid cry. 

 

When faced with a crying child, the typical response is to give the kid whatever he wants: iPad? Here you go! Candy, Okay! No problem! All of my attention all of the time? YES! You can have it!

 

This sounds, on the surface of things, to be a recipe for a total parenting disaster. And were the children in question growing up in a Western context, I'd argue that it would be. But these kids are growing up in Indonesia where culture dictates that little kids can't be left to cry. And it works here. 

 

But I'm raising a kid according to Western parenting practices, and that means I keep running into cultural conflicts. People regularly question my competency and judging my parenting based on their cultural norms. 

 

For example, I recently got some serious attitude from my daughter's babysitter because I threw out a crappy, super branded plastic toy that just wasn't my aesthetic jam. My daughter's babysitter thought I was being recklessly wasteful, and mean in denying her access to a great (pirated!) mouse-shaped plaything! I thought I was controlling clutter and making good judgments about what type of toys come into our home.  

 

Or, when I shield my daughter from unwanted pictures, I think I'm protecting my kid, teaching her that she owns her image; would-be photags think I'm being an asshole, denying them an awesome photo op.

 

Or when I refuse my child ice cream at 3 PM, I think I'm making good choices about her nutrition; restaurant waiters think I'm being a grinchy miser.  

 

It all makes me want to announce to everyone,  Hey! Guys! I'm, like, dooin it rite here! Super A++ gold star glitter parenting! Look! It says so in this book!!!

 

Which is silly. And kind of useless.  

 

Still, the majority of Indonesians don't have any awareness about this vast parenting cultural chasm between East and West (and frankly, neither did I until I began parenting as a Westie in the East), and so they look at me (or listen at my door as the case may be) and assume that I'm a total parenting dummy, and my crying child is evidence of my cold, cold, bitter heart. And, dear internet diary, this bothers me way more than it should.  

Expats and Homesickness

Could it be? Am I experiencing that long forgotten pang I once new as homesickness? Do I really miss North America in all her big box store, freezing cold winter, fast food glory?

 

Ummm, yeah. And it's kind of been brought on by dealings with doctors.

 

After a recent bout of culture shock (ongoing, btw. Almost had a rage attack this morning when 17 people barrelled into an elevator before I had a chance to exit), I'm actually feeling like blowing this Asian popsicle stand and heading back to North America for a big helping of lake swimming with a side of Forsty Waffle Cone, and Target shopping. 

 

I took Stella for a well child visit the other week (and despite enduring two shots, this little cucumber shed zero tears). The doctor visit was fine. She's healthy. NBD. But it was decidedly Asian ( mean, we live in Aisa, duh), but that puts it at odds with my Western overachieving, super involved, gold star glitter A+ parenting ethos.

 

You see, the normative condition over here is for Doctors to be the boss. You bring your kid, the doctor checks things out and then tells you what's up. The parent's role is to be a passive recipient of very little information. "You're kid's healthy. She's fine. The End." Or, "Your kid's sick. Take this medicine. And this one. And also this one. THank you. Good bye." 

 

This model clashes entirely with my desire to be The Most Informed, The Most Aware, The Best Question Asker and Advocate for My Child's Health Ever Ever Ever.

 

After Stella's well-child check up, I finally got a referral for a physiotherapist. I wanted support for an ongoing issue with torticollis (really NBD, but my precious glittery snowflake, so Total BIG DEAL) that was diagnosed in North America (surprise!) but for which I could not get any support here in Asia. We trundled off to the hospital, hopeful that we'd address the torticollis and get a general evaluation of her physical abilities. I would get information! and knowledge! a prognosis! a detailed plan! I did not get these things. 

 

It should surprise no one, that what we got instead was slightly modified version  of "you're kid's healthy. She's fine. Do these stretches. The end."

 

At the end of the day, she IS fine. In the grand scheme of health problems a child can face, torticollis is really not some thing to worry about. But still. I wanted my Asian doctor to be a North American.

 

When I visit the doctor in North America, my experience has been entirely different. The paediatrician is totally indulgent of my need to explore the minutia of my child's sleep patterns, the intricacies of her diet, my concerns about developmental issues. I leave a well-child appointment after a thorough discussion of her milestones, growth, behaviour and general wellness reassured and informed. The doctor plays into my notion that my child is a precious glittering snowflake of individuality. I leave an appointment in North America knowing where my child sits in relation to other children, how she's developing, and what I might need to keep an eye on. I leave an appointment here in Asia with the vague notion that I've totally annoyed the doctor, but that at least my kid's fine. She's healthy. The end. 

 

Which isn't to say that the Asian model is wrong, ineffective, or inferior to the North American model. It's just different. And I like the North American model better. 

 

This minor and totally insignificant complaint, I think, gets to the heart of expatdom, homesickness and culture shock: it's the conflicting desire to have both the adventure and exoticism of living abroad, along with the childish, foot stamping, temper tantruming need to have things be just as they are at home. We, as expats, know that we're not immigrants. We're not here forever. We want  the benefits of our foster country, but we don't want to abandon our long-held value systems. You see, I want the sun and banana leaves of South East Asia, but at the same time I want North American healthcare. (Also, please North American traffic. And elevator etiquette. And Forsty waffle cones.) 

 

So anyway, I think I'll I  go and cry some bitter homesick tears, because I want everything to be like it is at home! Wah!!!  

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Stella's Third Birthday Bash!!!!

This post is basically one gigantic humblebrag. You're welcome.

If gratuitous self-indulgent images of a ridiculously bonkers third birthday party are your things, well then, nice to see you. Hi.  If not, then uhhhh, sorry I'm not sorry. (But come back later for a give-away!)

 

Last weekend I hosted my first ever proper birthday party. And OMG, these things! They give me years of anxiety. I'm just not cut out for this sort of nonsense. 

Some may say that the only reason that was able to work up the courage to host this fiesta is the fact that we live in a hotel. So, actually the hotel hosted. Let's be real. All I did was throw together a few pompoms, made a gift bag, and then needed to sleep for a week to recover. 

 

My kid, though, thought the whole affair was glitterawesome, and that's what counts, right?

 

For the past four months or so, whenever her birthday was referenced, Miss Stella made clear her expectations:

 

"What kind of party do you want, Stella?"

"Pink."

"What do you want for your birthday, Stella?"

"PINK!"

"When's your birthday?"

"PINK!!!!"

 

Okay, so we made a pink party.

 

I found the sweetest little store that sells traditional Indonesian candies and toys. They went into the gift bags that was made from fabric scraps painted in pink ombre stripes.

 

We had a pink ombre cake (OMG that cake. SO MUCH STRESS. And no I didn't make it. But don't talk to me about the gigantic 18 inch pink barbie princess cake topper which mysteriously found its way onto the cake after I said specifically, NO PRINCESSES. I almost lost my mind.)

 

 

In keeping with the theme, the birthday girl wore the sweetest little dress courtesy of Baby Beau and Belle. I wasn't initially sold on the idea of a pink party dress, but I showed it to my girl, and she about lost her mind. So, okay. How can I say no?? And I have to admit, it was kind of all sorts of adorable. And Stella loved it. She showed it off to anyone who so much as cast their eyes in her direction. Oh, was she proud. And I mean, can you blame her?? 

  

 

Indonesian birthday parties tend to be pretty intense affairs. There's usually a massive guest list, tones of food, entertainers, and MC, plenty of prizes, and organised games. Guests bring total big deal presents, which are typically opened post-party.

 In my day, we ran around the back yard, ate some cake, opened presents, and then called it a party well hosted. We  were lucky if our parents threw a kiddy pool in the back yard and gave us a few balloons. So, I had a bit of a hard time coming to terms with a five star hotel party for 12 kids. 

To counter the totally extravagant nature of this party and to assuage my first world guilt, we collected donations in lieu of birthday gifts. On Tuesday we headed down to an orphanage and dropped off bags of diapers, wipes, formula and baby food. I felt really good about incorporating a charitable aspect to birthday parties. I like to reinforce the notion that birthdays are for celebrating people, not things. This is a tradition that I'm going to keep up. 

The kids ran around, ate some pizza, dug into a ice cream sundae bar, and then splashed around the kiddy pool in a sugar-coated haze. Stella had the best time. Like, seriously, the best. We're already counting down the days till next year. 

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Disclaimer: I was sent a dress from Baby Beau and Belle free of charge. However, the content, thoughts and opinions herein is mine alone.

Remembrances in Colics Past

I was recently scrolling through my Instagram feed where I happened upon a picture of Shannon's new baby Hudson. I had seen that look before, I though. THAT is the colic look. I'd recognise it anywhere, because I had a colic baby.

 

Colic babies have a look, you see. Their eyes narrow, glazed over as if retreating from this cold, bright world. Their faces are pinched in a three-month-long wince. You only need look into a colic baby's eyes to tell if it will be a good day or a bad one. A colic baby's face betrays all.

 THE LOOK. Right here.

Every day at 5:30 PM, I'd go through the same routine: Draw the curtains; turn on the AC and cool down the bedroom; heat up my dinner and place it on the bedside table; put on the white noise (or, if it was a particularly bad day, the vacuum, which I can imagine made me pretty popular in my apartment building); change diaper; swaddle baby; prepare for the onslaught.  

 

It would start with some fussing, and then soon wails. Piercing, soul-crushing screams. The painful howls that continued until late in the evening, when my girl would eventually pass out, exhausted  but no more comfortable.

 

Everything you read about colic is inconclusive, and nothing is very helpful. No one knows what causes it, or how to stop it. Some say it's gastrointestinal, and a change in diet will do the trick (nope!!), or baby massage will help (nope!!!), or perhaps some bicycle legs (also, NO.) Others say it's neurological, the harbinger of migraines, or the sign of an underdeveloped nervous system (ummm, thanks for scaring the pants off of me, and also, so what? Make the crying stop, PLEASE!!!) 

 

Regardless of the cause, most of what you read on the subject of colic will tell you not to be too concerned, your baby is fine, the colic will stop, and if you can't hack the screams, just put your kid in the crib and walk away. They'll be fine. 

 

 

A colic parent knows this is ridiculous. Its not the screaming that is unbearable (though that's totally  and completely unpleasant). It's the fact that you know your child is in distress. Just look at the eyes of a colic baby, and you can see something hurts. Something. What though? The stomach? Maybe? Headache? Nervous system overload? Whatever it is, there. It's painful.

 

When your baby has colic, time takes on a unfamiliar quality. The hours leading up to the witching time stretch and expand, heavy with anxiety. The months that lay before you seem to extend into vast infinity. You lose hold of the concept that 

 

We went to enormous lengths to figure out colic. We researched gripe waters, teas, swaddling techniques, sleep requirements, dietary changes, allergies, reflux, and other colic-busting contraptions.  Though we never really did pin down the exact cause of our daughter's suffering, we did find one thing that would calm her: a hammock. We installed it in our tiny bedroom, and I would pass the evening hours bouncing and swinging my girl in the cool darkness. For months I was bound to my bedroom from the hours between 6 and 10 PM, which was sub-optimal to be sure, but certainly a infinitely better than spending those hours knowing my kid was hurting.  

 

I came to even enjoy that time. It developed into a solemn ritual, something that I could do for my child to make her feel better when nothing else seemed to make her happy.

 

Since those months that feel so long ago and also so recent, I've discovered some international colic treatments, like The Juju Band, which is a modern take on an ancient practice of belly binding. From what I gather, belly binding is super common in Haitian culture, used to keep the tummy warm, which is apparently helpful in relieving colic. We all know that I'm happy to glean parenting wisdom from any culture that's willing to offer it. I may just give the Juju Band a try next time 'round, not least because they come in adorable patterns.  (I mean, if there is a next time. I'm kind of terrified of the prospect of combining a colicky infant with a rather spirited toddler.)

 

This post was sponsored by the kind people at Juju Band. All opinions herein are mine alone. 

Culture Shock came to Jakarta. Finally.

Several months back I was thinking about transitions and culture shock, wondering if I was really a robot because I had not yet experienced that all too familiar feeling of "OMG THIS COUNTRY! HULKSMASH EVERYTHING!!!"

Huh. Turns out I AM human.

(Hi, I'm Erica and I have culture shock.)

It wasn't the infernal traffic that got me. Or the poverty. Or even the sickening wealth. Not the pervasive stench of decay that lines Jakarta streets, nor the threat of falling through a broken sidewalk into the open sewer below.

It was the eyes, the looks, and the wolf-whistles that did me in. 

After several months of early morning ojek rides to CorssFit, Mr. Chef mentioned in passing that a few people had commented on my motorcycle taxi attire. I should be wearing shorts. It's indecent, apparently. Dudes would get the wrong impression. Too much leg. Inappropriate.

Mr. Chef was to educate me on the correct way of covering my body.

Naturally I was annoyed. I mean, I'm an independent actor. Certainly it's up to me to determine what is and isn't appropriate for my body. And further, we live in central Jakarta in the midst of luxury malls and fancy restaurant where I regularly see girls walk around in six inch heels with shorts so short that one false move and all is revealed. So, why then, is there one standard of dress for rich Jakartians and one for me?

Then, a few weeks later I was riding in the back of a taxi, absentmindedly trying to ignore the overly chatty driver. We went through the usual pleasantries, country of origin, length of time in Jakarta, the general awesomeness of Indonesians, the terrible traffic, my marital status (wait, what??) I buried myself deeper in my phone, earbuds on, and tried  to ward off any more unnecessarily personal questions. 

The car slowed, I looked up. There was the driver, arm extended over the back of his seat, taking pictures of me with his phone. 

I reacted in an instant. I grabbed his phone, and threw it.  Shrieking obscenities, I jumped of of the still-moving car, middle finger raised. 

Since then I've been on edge. I've noticed dudes giving me the long and lengthy stare. I'm quick with the eff-you eyes. And the occasional eff-you finger. And okay, I may or may not have thrown one or two sweary tantrums over inappropriate gestures in my direction.

My patience is thinner, my temper quicker. I'm irritated by the traffic, the stench, the garbage, the plodding pace of life in a way that I wasn't before. I'm burning mad, I'm taking it personally, and I'm assuming that it is because I'm a white-skinned bule that this attention comes to me (oaky, I may be right about that last bit, but that's a post for another day.)

It's classic culture shock.   

 

I'm unsure, exactly, of how far to bend. Do I cover up, sweltering in the morning sun? Do I acquiesce to this outdated notion of modesty thereby feeding the belief that a woman "deserves it" because how she chooses to dress? That Caucasian women are "easy" and therefore fair targets for sexual advances?

Certainly I can't "educate" local men on the "right" way of treating women. That's not my place. But I don't think in this case I can say that I'm okay with giving up on my shorts.

As respectful as I am of cultural difference and religious diversity, Indonesia is not Saudi Arabia. It is not a monocultural desert nation. These islands have a fantastic degree of diversity, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious. On Java alone, there are countless native ethnic groups, not to mention the substantial populations of  Indo-Indians and Indo-Chinese, for whom, PS, super-short-shorts are NBD.  I don't feel a strong obligation to conform to notions of modesty because this country is built upon coexistence, and dammit! I'm going to coexist in shorts, so STOP LOOKING AT ME!

I dunno. What's your take?   

 

 

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I'll probably feel better about culture shock if you send a vote my way. 

Little known signs that you may be raising a third-culture-kid

I was reading this post by Rachel about third-culture-kids the other day. Stella's about as third-culture as they come. Born into a bi-cultural family in a country where neither parent has citizenship, and now, she's growing up in a whole new culture entirely. 

And it kind of makes for some odd situations.

Like, for example, she knows the Thai word for watch, but not the English one. Or Swiss. Or Indonesian, for that matter. 

She has super odd ideas (I mean, in my opinion) about what constitutes typical breakfast fare

Her play is a mish-mash of various cultural inputs, as, for example, she spends hours bok-bok-boking her babies to sleep, prefers to feed them rice than pabulum, and insists on carrying them around in a salandang.

This kid can rattle off the names of about half a dozen different languages, can sing about geckos in Indonesian, say "yummie" in Japanese, "thank you" in Chinese, and "Sleep well in German."

My girl, at two-years-old has a greater grasp on the geography of South East Asia than she does of either her own two passport counties. She can name several East Asian cities, but approximately zero Canadian ones. She has spent more time in America than in Canada, yet when I ask Stella, "where are you from?" her anwer is usually CANADA! 

But what does she know of snow or hockey or Tim Hortons or loonies and toonies? I doubt she could spot a snowman if asked. She's never dug into a snowbank and built a quincy hut. She's never seen a tobogan. She has no idea about toques, Canadian Thanksgiving, CSAs and strawberry picking (btw, Tragic Sandwitch just wrote about her CSA basket, and now I'm homesick) Winterlude, or the connection between Victoria day and the first swim of the season. How rooted is she in Canadian culture, really, I mean, besides being force-fed maple syrup and pancakes at every opportunity. And does this actually even matter?

These cultural questions are confounded by the fact that she is the product of Swiss and Canadian parentage. Because my own culture is Canadian, and my grasp of Swiss culture does not extend much beyond timely trains and excellent chocolate, I feel totally ill-equipped to be my child's bond to Swiss-ness.

I will say that my child does apologize all the time, which is basically a law in Canada, so we've got that going. But in all seriousness, does any of this really matter?

I'm leaning towards no. I mean, I haven't lived in Canada, properly, full-time since about the year 2000. I still call myself Canadian, but I don't really identify with my home country anymore. I have no idea what's going on at home, politically, socially, culturally, or even saratorially. I can't vote there. I don't even know, really, what the government is up to, or who is the political leader of my province. I'm sure that there are aspects of my home culture that influence my behaviours, and shape my world view. But these have shifted and adjusted as I spent more and more time outside my own country. And I don't think that has negatively affected me.

But is it the same for a kid? I mean, I gather that culture, and history, and a sense of belonging are important in establishing one's identity, but is it necessary for one to basically transplant one's culture to a new environment to achieve this? 

I dunno. Just some random questions and now wise or insightful answers. If, however, you happen to have any ideas / answers / wisdome on the subject, pelase do share.

Oh, and ps, here's another blog about another TKC that I'd suggest getting to know.

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Normative Foodways as Defined by a Third Culture Kid

Food is, like, kind of a total big deal in our house. You know,  the male protagonist in this story is named Mr. Chef, so. 

 

We like to eat good food, we like our kid to eat good food, and sometimes I'm tempted to write in gloating and somewhat pedantic tones about how my kid will eat anything, and that is obviously down to my masterly parenting moves. But, first of all that would be kind of a dick move, and second, I fear the wrath of the internet.

 

Still. Food. Big deal. Also, kind of bonkers. Because, you see, a third-culture-kid has some really unorthodox ideas of normative foodways. 

 

Stella's hands down, number one favourite breakfast dish, for example? Noodle soup with basko (meatballs), bok choi, bean sprouts and tofu. Extra kecap manis, and a little sambal. So. Okay.

 

At two-and-three-quarters, my kid's got a decent grip on chopsticks, but knife and fork, nope. Can not.

 

She'll gladly wolf down tofu and tempeh, but present this kid with a peanut butter and jam sandwich and it's all, NOOOOO! I DONT WIKE BUTDER! Mama, can I eat your salad? Huh? 

 

70% dark chocolate, down the hatch. Tabasco? No problem. Sashimi will be eaten. But give this child a bowl of cheerios, and she'll act like it's poison. 

 

And when cooking at her stove, which is like 80 percent of the time, she's always whipping up a batch of nasi goreng pizza. Because fusion? I dunno. 

Stella's apron c/o Arty Apple

An Incomplete List of The Ways In Which I'm an Unfit Parent in Indonesia:

Well, we've finally clawed our way out of that great cave of suffering otherwise known as the Epic Nine Day Fever And Resultant Absence From School and OMG YOU'RE DRIVING ME BONKERS PLEASE STOP WHINING AND TOUCHING ALL THE THINGS. Hooray! Stella's well again! And can go to school! (Just in time for me to get sick, and then discover, at a suspiciously empty looking school-drop off point that, in fact, it's Easter Break. Ummm, duh.)

I play fairly fast and easy with The Gods of Childhood Illness, laughing in the face of germs, dropped toys, and shared drink. You know, it's prison rules in here. I've watched as my blatant disregard for trifectic dangers of cold, wind, and wet hair have been the cause of much anxiety amongst  Indonesian friends and childcare professionals; they side-eye my insouciance and declare it cause of my child's illness. 
And because I'm the ornery type, and can not abide by rules which do not correspond with my world view, I kind of take pleasure in snubbing conventional wisdom.
And so, without further ado, I'd like to present an Incomplete List of The Ways In Which I'm an Unfit Parent in Indonesia:
Upon waking up, I remove my daughter's diaper and wipe her down with a baby wipe. Two if I'm feeling particularly fastidious. Which is ridiculous because everyone knows that she actually requires at least a bum bath, and better yet a proper morning shower with a good thick lather of soap bubbles. 
I do not insist on multiple hand washings during the day, and am lucky if my kid wipes her hands prior to consuming a meal.
  • I did not bathe my child before bed. 
  • I did bathe my child before bed, but did not allow her hair to dry completely. 
  • I allowed my child outside without a sweater, at complete mercy of the equatorial breezes and warm summer temperatures. Neglectfulness, thy name is ME!
  • I let my daughter get rained on. The next day she got a fever. Causality therefore established, and parenting accreditation revoked. 
  • In order to soothe a sore throat and encourage consumption of calories, I allowed my sick girl to eat ice cream and drink cold milk. Both of which are known evils and cause untold episodes of childhood morbidity. 
  • Despite a slight fever, I let my kid splash in a pool. In 32 / 90 degree heat, thereby tempting both fate and further compilations of the illness already brought about by poor parenting choices and exposure to cold / wind / rain.

I dunno. I'm not inclined to buy into the notion that cold / wetness / wind causes illness, the fact that on two sererate occasions my kid got rained on and then got sick (fever, and then higher fever + ear infection) might have me re-evaluating my position on the matter. And so might this, the face of a sick and totaly pissed two-year-old.

My fault. Sorry kid.

 

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I don't know how to talk about money.

About a month ago, Stella received her very first hong bao, a tiny red envelope stuffed with 40 000 rupiah in celebration of the year of the snake. Forty thousand rupiah sounds like a pretty sum. And actually, it is here. 

Forty thousand could be a day's wages. It could feed a family. It could transport a weary traveler halfway across Java. 

 

But in the US, it might only buy a medium sized frappuchccino. 

 

Stella's red envelope sits half forgotten on top of her bookshelf. She doesn't know it's there. She doesn't know she has money waiting for her. I haven't gotten her a piggy bank, I haven't told her about the spend, save, give system, I haven't really mentioned it. And that is mostly because I don't know how to talk to her about money.

 

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On Sunday morning, we took Stella out for a swim. We kicked and twirled and splashed and dove, fresh in the face of the equatorial sun.  As we swam, young men were toiling at transforming the modernist pool-side event hall into a classical European palace. A new facade was installed, complete with a two-story-high picture frame ready for the professional photographer to snap images of happy guests in too-short dresses and false eyelashes. There were spheres made from roses hanging from every tree. Lights ready for glittering. A walk way created. Everything perfectly sparkly pink ready for an evening celebration.

 

As we put our girl to bed Sunday night, the booming base was broken occasionally by the MC who presided over the party getting underway one story below us. A birthday party for a 17 year-old girl. 

 

A birthday part that, no doubt, cost much more than my husband and I could earn in a month.

 

 

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On Saturday afternoon I took Stella to the grocery store. Blue skies turned pea-soup dark and opened to tropical downpour. Traffic was terrible, as it always is when it rains. Stopped as the line of cars snaked around a traffic circle, a group of children approached the car, pressing up against the glass with their hands shielding their eyes for a better view inside. They were gesturing, making the universal sign for money money, food, please, eat, money, food, miss, please, eat, miss, food.

 

I searched for a box of raisins that I usually have stashed at the bottom of my bag, but found nothing. I said, sorry, I don't have anything to give you. My personal rule is to give only food to children, never money. They gestured harder, waved at Stella, smiled, waved, money, money, please, miss, food, money.

 

Stella turned to me and said, "Dese are mine fwiends."  

 

I nodded, and told her "That's right," because I still haven't figured out the right words for this type of moment. I still haven't figured out how to tell her that these kids maybe don't have a mummy and a papi, a home, toys, dinner. These kids are just like you, kind and good and worthy, but they want your money. 

 

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I got a text from my ojek driver today asking for help. On Sunday while we were splashing in the pool, he wrecked his motorcycle. A car made a careless turn and swerved into him, throwing him into the air, before speeding away. His phone and his bike were both broken, both his lifelines to income. His shoulder was injured and he hadn't been to the doctor yet.

 

People like my ojek driver, people who are good and kind humans, well they can be ruined in an instant. You can tell them, you should have saved money, you should have a safety net. But the truth is they don't have access to fat ofshore bonds, QROPS pensions, or international health care, let alone bank accounts or a simple doctor's visit. People like my ojek driver and his family might eat everything they earn in a day. 

 

The driver asked me to borrow some money, just a little over twice the amount my daughter was given as a gift for Chinese New Year. I felt uncomfortable and uncertain about this transaction, because I'm not accustomed to people I don't know very well asking to borrow money, because I feel guilty about how much I have, and how little he does, because I didn't want a loan to stomp on our relationship, because I resented him asking, because I knew I should give. 

 

I felt uncomfortable also because I don't know how to talk about money. I don't know how to explain to my child why a 17 year-old gets a birthday party that could feed an entire village and another and another while the man who drives me to the gym can't afford to pay a doctor to examine his shoulder. I don't know how to tell her what the right thing to do is. I don't know what the right thing to do is. An act like this won't bring someone out of poverty. It won't solve his problems. But maybe it will show him that we're kind?

 

The only thing I could do was take my girl with me when I went to bring him the money. One crisp red bill changed hands. He tickled my girl's cheek, then looked me in the eyes and said thank you. The next few rides will be free. 

 

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Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, but all content, opinions, and allegations are mine, and mine alone. Thank you to the kind people at WhichOffshore.com for sponsoring this post and allowing me to make a small income at home. I'm lucky, and I'm beyond thankful. 

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Play across Cultures

On Fridays, we ride the elevator up to our favourite restaurant. As we walk up the path that leads to the outdoor tables, the kitchen begins preparing Stella's food. They know she'll order a margarita pizza and a glass of fresh milk. She's two, and two-year-olds are predictable.

We sit down at the table, greeted by our favourite server. And then the games begin. 

"Is that Baby Honey, Stella? That's my baby. Okay? Give her to me. I'm going to take her home, okay?"

"That's MY milk, Stella. You give me the milk. It's mine, right?"

"Can I have your pizza? Please? Why not? I'm hungry!! I didn't eat lunch. I eat your pizza, okay??!"

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I came across a beautiful collection of images by Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti (sorry, I can't remember who lead me to them; somehow via Facebook, I think.) Galimberti traveled around the world and taking images of children with their most prized possessions. In the process, she documented a universal truth of the childhood experience: Play. "No matter at their age, they are pretty all much the same; they just want to play,” says Galimberti.

But Galimberti did find a difference in how children played. Kids from rich countries were more possessive of their toys. Kids from poorer countries were more quick to share. 

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I've been thinking about play and cultural context since we arrived here in Indonesia and the games of "that's mine!" started. Always lead by an adult somehow revolving around the idea that the adult would pretend to "take" Stella's toy, these games are vastly different from the sorts that we in North America initiate with our kids.

Play teaches kids all sorts of things. We play peek-a-boo with babies and teach them about object permanence. North American kids play house and learn about social and cultural norms. They play snakes and ladders and learn about following rules, how to win and loose with grace. 

So I wonder what's behind this "that's mine" game in Indonesia. Does it help kids learn about community and relinquishing objects that are needed for the group? Does it teach kids lessons about power and control? Maybe about generosity and giving? 

I'm not too sure. 

I also think about Japan, and how play differed there. When we left, Stella was still too young to be really getting into imaginative play, but I did notice glimpses of small differences with the kids in my general periphery. There was lots of parallel play between big kids, each sitting next to each other playing a video game. And quiet, tender play between mother and child as the mother patiently folded origami for her girl. 

In both cultures I noticed much less of the roughhouse-run-around-screaming-like-a-deranged-monster-and-pretending-to-tickle that I'm cast as "Canadian" play but might just be the kind of play that I prefer. Is that how most North Americans play with their kids? I don't know. I'm kind of totally out of touch with the minutia of North American parenting. 

Anyway, I have no real point here. But I suggest you go look at that photography project.

Also, what have you noticed about the culture, kids, and play?

 

 

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"You're So Brave" That's Not A Compliment.

This post is brought to you by the good and kind people at Aetna International. Thanks, Aetna, for supporting my blog and allowing me to write honestly about a topic that is so close to my heart.

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You sure are brave! 

 

I get that a lot. From Indonesians, from foreigners, from strangers and from friends. This utterance usually follows tales of journeys great and small that I’ve embarked upon with my kid. Be it a short jaunt across town on the bus, or a several-days-long journey around Central Java via train, bus, and donkey cart, the response is almost always the same: a raised eyebrow, slight shock and a “Wow. You’re so brave!”

 

You’d think that I’d take it as a compliment. But that phrase, “you’re so brave”? Well, it gets my goat. 

 

Implicit in that statement is the suggestion that experiencing this country as the vast majority of its residents do, as well as being in close proximity to its people, is somehow dangerous. You’re so brave! This phrase insinuates that experiencing real life puts me at great personal risk. That the choices I make to see this country, to get to know its people somehow brings my parental judgment into question. To which, I declare, CHICKEN SCRATCH!

 

Hi. We're in Beijing. 

 

Many expats (and let’s be honest, many middle and upper-class Indonesians) take great pains to avoid contact with all but their own. As I've written before, walking is not a thing in Jakarta. If you have more than two coins to rub together, you drive. Or, better yet, you hire someone to drive you around. Buses, trains and bajaj are all reserved for those who are down at the heel: the other, the lower, the dangerous. What a terrible, menacing risk to have to stand next to a stranger on the bus! In the middle of the day! Or sit in a train car full of other people! Who might jump out at any second to cut your throat! Or something.

 If I never traveled by train, I'd never see a vista this lovely.

To fear that which we don't know is a natural response. Fear of out-groups, of cultures different and indecipherable kept our ancestors alive while we were all hunched on the savannah. This fear is still lodged somewhere deep in our reptile brain. And that’s cool. I get it. But to live an expat life governed by this fear of difference, well, that kind of defeats the entire purpose of moving abroad, don't you think?

 

 

It took me a while to get to this realization; I'll admit to plenty of fear and revulsion at otherness, plus an outright refusal to ride buses in Shanghai. And I regret that. But after many years of practice I've gotten better at quelling this fear. And that’s made all the difference.

 

Travel by becak turned out to be my preferred method of short-distance transport. Ever see a city from the front of a bike taxi while the sun set pink and the call to prayer drifted through the evening? Then, my friends, you haven't lived.

 

 

When I was new to the expat game, fresh off of a disastrous Indian posting, Mr. Chef and I arrived in China. After a short period of "whoa! This place is big and awesome and look: I'm eating street food!" I started acting like the proverbial expat jerk. I turned my nose up at women washing pork tripe in a plastic basin by the side of the street. I fumed at the sound of nail clippers in the subway, at the parents of rosy bottomed children in traditional split-crotch pants, at the week-long fireworks onslaught that was Chinese New Year. I couldn't see the beauty of it all, because I was so transfixed by the otherness, the potential danger (of nail clippings? I dunno.) 

 

I traveled back to China after my kid was born. I think she gave me bravery muscles, or something. With her, we went from Beijing to Shanghai by train. Solo. And it was NBD. Also, she got manhandled by strangers a lot. And didn't mind a bit.

 

 

As a result, I barely got to know my adopted country. I didn’t travel. I made few Chinese friends, sampled only but a handful of dishes in the Chinese culinary cannon, and spent a lot of my time being unnecessarily annoyed. 

 

I'm not doing that this time around. 

 

And you know what? This time I'm a much happier expat. 

 

Some evenings I ride home on the back of an ojek. Real life is all around me; men in flip-flops pulling handcarts laden with rambutan; women by the side of the street carrying babies in slings while offering small spoons of rice porridge to their wee ones; boys barefoot and bold darting in and out of traffic; the sun so low that it makes everything golden. On the back of an ojek I can orientate myself to this city, its and its rhythm. I see things I'd miss from inside a leather-seated taxi. “Wow, you're so brave,” people say when the see me disembarking from a motorcycle. Not really. The vast majority of Indonesians travel this way. I bought a helmet. We don't travel very fast. NBD.

 

Similarly, getting out of Jakarta lifts me up. I'm reminded that there's real life outside of shopping malls and luxury hotels. People smile at me. We sit on the train and make friends with a grandmother and her little grandson. A woman hears my girl crying and makes her way down the carriage with a handful of mandarins. I can see through these small acts of kindness that people, mostly, are good. A man passes by, stops for a moment, then taps my girl's cheek and ask her name. Hardly the picture of danger. 

 

 This image of a toddler climbing over ancient and forgotten ruins is brought to you by level-headed adventure, not bravery. 

Certainly we do come across hotel rooms that we must share with geckos or train toilets of dubious sanitation. We’re occasionally over-charged for a taxi ride, and perhaps I look at a plate of nasi goring and wonder if it will send me to a days-long holiday in the WC. But usually, I put on my big girl pants, think about how geckos eat bugs, cross my fingers and dig into my fried rice. 

 

All of which is to say that while I step out of my comfort zone, I don’t take traveling with my two-year-old lightly. There are risks. I recognize that pick-pocketing can happen, so I carry small amounts of cash, and hide my cards in the deepest reaches of my pack. I always bring a first-aid kit, basic medicine and a thermometer. I use sunscreen and mosquito repellant. We don't go anywhere without expat health insurance

 

You know, there are also risks to living. I might get my heart broken or I might break my leg. Something unspeakable could happen, regardless of whether I'm on an economy class train on the way to Yogyakarta or holed up in a five-star hotel. 

 

There's just too much wonder out there, too much beauty, too many smiles to deny these experiences to myself or my child. So we travel, I let her eat street food, and we'll ride trains and busses together. We'll talk to strangers. We'll use sound judgement, and we'll see all the good that there is to see.

On expats, adjustment, and carseats.

 

This weekend I got chewed out by an Indonesian mother.

Granted I kind of deserved a stern talking-to because I did go in full blaze, when a more measured approach would have been adequate. 

You see, I have a way of being ornery when confronted with certain triggers (namely rich people with superiority complexes and rules that I deem totally inane). This particular situation had both. In spades. And, PS, if you didn't already know this about me, when my principles get trodden upon and I feel that justice has been silted, well, watchit. (See aforementioned orneriness.) 

Anyway, she left, shouting at me, "You live here. Adapt. Just adapt. Adapt, okay? Adapt." And that phrase has jammed itself into my brain. 

Because you see, I like to think of myself as a "good" expat, the kind that sees locals on equal footing, the kind that doesn't abuse humans, the kind that isn't super into endless discussions of Us v. Them.

 

That call, Adapt. Adapt. Adapt. Well, it stung, as it was intended to, I think. And the sting comes from my insecurity, my own questioning of how far I need to adapt, and how firmly I must cling on to my native norms. 

 

Let's take, for example, notions of safety, about which I've written previously in both the Japanese and Indonesian contexts.

 

We tend to infer a great deal about someone's parental fitness by the way in which they comply to standard safety practices. North American babies spend the better part of their childhoods strapped into some form of vehicular restraining device. My own daughter drove from Northern Ontario to Southern Michigan in a super-safe infant seat, and screamed all the way. Better she scream, purple-faced and angry, than risk the small chance of a car accident. An unrestrained baby, well, that's a marker of total immorality and parental neglect. Just look a the price Britney Spears paid.

 

Here in Indonesia, few babies are put in car seats. Partly because cars are beyond the means of most, but also partly because here babies are held, not left sitting restrained in a seat. A  purple-faced crying baby cruelly left tied down when he just wants to  be held, well, that's tantamount  to child abuse. 

 

We North Americans (well, a certain breed of us anyway) banish all forms of BPA, toxic chemicals, pesticides, and screen-time brain-rot. Here, not so. 

Here hands are washed vigorously, sick littles are set to the doctor at the first sign of a sneeze, and my choice to let my child ride out her illness unmediated is seen as a dubious one.

 

There are ways in which I absolutely have adapted to life in Indonesia. I'm okay with my kid eating white rice, and street food. I carry my toddler in a salandang. I let strangers pick her up, and pinch her cheek. I've adjusted my time clock and my child's schedule to keep pace with daily calls to prayer. I've left *some* of my aggressiveness (picked up in China, BTW, another adaptation, another country) in favour of a friendly smile, because pushiness gets you nowhere here.

 Lunch on leaves. Total adaptation. 

 

Strangers man-handling my kid. Adapted. Yeah.

Appearing in public like this = failure to adapt.

But there are other ways in which I have not adapted. I won't go around acting like we live in a caste system. I'm not following the convention of my social station and engaging a car and driver. I walk places. I take busses and taxis. I still eat Western food, most of the time. I wear shorts. I go places without my hair done. I still think like a Westerner. 

I still get really angry when the rich and privileged go around acting like are better then everyone. 

 

So, I'm just not sure, how far do I need to adapt here to be a "good" expat? Do I really need to adapt to practices and situations against which my values scream NOOOOOOOO! NOT GOOD!! Do I just silently stew, or do I say something (with a little more artfulness than I exhibited this weekend.) How far can you bend and adapt but still maintain your sense of self, your culture, your values?  I'm not sure. 

 

Do you have any insight here?

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This post was kindly sponsored by 21st Century Insurance. Thanks, guys! I really dig your community activism and social media outreach. 

 

Speaking of safety, here's a cool thing, 21st Century Insurance is running a contest to promote child safety while driving and they are giving away free car seats to creative people that can redesign the Baby on Board sign. The grand prize winner even gets $10,000 for a nursery redesign. You can find the contest here.

 


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