Archive for December, 2009

Time off work?

JM here.  We have been swimming through four days of two kids now, one of them refusing to sleep anytime between midnight and 6am.  Lucky for us we have so much help from some good local friends, as well as Leo’s ever cheerful nanny.

When Liz went into labor last Wednesday, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it in for work on Thursday, our last day before a week off for Christmas.  I immediately called the staff member who coordinates things, and told her excitedly in Chinese, “My wife has contractions! I can’t come into work tomorrow.”

To my surprise she said, “I don’t know. The students have missed a lot of classes recently. Can you please come?”

Shocked, I said, “I’ll see what I can do,” fully intending NOT to come in, since it was likely I would be with Liz through a long labor like last time.

So I confirmed the next morning that I wouldn’t come in, and she sent a brief message: “I get it. Someone will cover for you.”

When I called the substitute teacher later on, he sounded nonplussed.  I told him how grateful I was so that I could be with the new baby.

“What? New baby??” 

“Yes! Isn’t that what they told you?”

“No! They said you couldn’t come into class because your wife had WORK to do!”

Ah! My bad Chinese pronunciation the culprit again! I must have been unclear on the original message.  ‘Work’ in Chinese is: “gong zuo”.  ‘Contraction’ in Chinese is: “gong suo”.  And how often do people in an office get calls with news that someone has “gong suo”?

So, with a few more messages back and forth, everyone at work began sending in their congratulations.  No hard feelings. I wasn’t playing hookey so that my nine months pregnant wife could go to work.

But if the excuse worked this time, maybe next time too…  🙂

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! We are pleased to announce the birth of our daughter, Rosaline, who was born at 2:08am (Beijing Time) on Christmas Eve. We are at home and have had a very special Christmas Day looking after our new little girl and her proud big brother Leo. This is the best Christmas present ever (even better than our new oven ;)).

We hope you all have a very happy and Merry Christmas!

You know you’re living in China when…

Your doctor carefully and repeatedly describes contractions to you in depth at your appointment so that you know EXACTLY what they feel like. Except, your two-year old is right there and so it’s obvious (to you) that you already know EXACTLY what contractions feel like, because you’ve had 100s of them. And, to top it off, the doctor has never had a child. 😉 But you smile and nod and thank her for the good information.

This is clearly a country that works with women who have one child!

The Children’s Cake Game at the Wedding

See the previous post for an explanation of these pictures. Precious!

Our First Chinese Wedding

Attending a Chinese wedding for the first time was no small feat for us, especially because our son was also asked to participate (read below of Leo’s stint as a flowerboy). We were delighted to be invited to Du’s wedding. She was my student last year, and has had us over to her house to spend time with her family several times. JM and I shared our first Chinese New Year’s meal of dumplings at her parent’s house last February. They are a great family – super warm and outgoing and very quick to laugh. Du is also a twin, and her brother is equally as welcoming and warm.

However, we still had very little idea of how to behave or what to expect. What we found out:

1) You give money, not gifts, to the newly married couple. It needs to be in the right amount, a lucky Chinese number. How much you give truly indicates your guanxi (or relationship) with the couple – it’s important that it’s not too little, and much better if it’s too much. This is called your ‘hongbao’ or red envelope. We asked around a lot about this, and the rules are still more complicated than we can understand. We made our best guess.

2) All the rules online for dressing for Chinese weddings are truly off base, except maybe in the very upper echelons of Chinese formal society. There are all these rules about colors that no one follows. I read everywhere not to wear black (much to my dismay, as black is a big pregnant lady’s best friend) or white (the color of mourning) or red (because the bride will eventually wear red). That left me pretty much without anything to wear, and I eventually decided to take a pregnant exception and wore black dress pants. We arrived to find about 80% of the crowd wearing black or dark grey, and many many people wearing jeans (including the mother of the bride). Not many wearing red or white though, so at least we made the right call on which rule to break! It was very comfortable to be there though, and the atmosphere wasn’t stuffy or dressy at all. Everyone knew that this evening was really about the bride and groom.

3) You must pace yourself at the banquet, because there are at least 8-12 courses coming. And lots of toasting and drinking. LOTS.

4) The reason pregnant women in China should hesitate before attending a Chinese wedding: The second hand smoke was utterly overwhelming – worse than any bar I’ve ever been to in my entire life combined. I’m glad Leo left early, and just praying my baby girl forgives me for that level of exposure. We were so overwhelmed by it that we contemplated leaving early, but decided we just couldn’t do that.

5) There is no dance party. There is a ceremony, there was a huge banquet, and at this wedding, there was also a super fun game for the kids. The Chinese live for their kids, and love to make them do cute things. So at this wedding, they gave each child a piece of cake, and told them that the more frosting they shoved onto their faces, the more red envelopes they would receive (every Chinese child is motivated by the thought of more red envelopes). Watching the children eagerly douse themselves in cake frosting was a riot, but it got even better. After the children were finished, the MC told the children that the more frosting they could get onto their mother’s faces, the more red envelopes they would receive. The moms were really good sports, and showed their kids how it was done.

6) The bride is the center of the show, just like in the US, but the wedding itself is hosted by the groom’s parents. She changes clothing 3 times during the evening ceremony – she arrives in a Western white wedding gown, changes to a ball gown, and ends the evening in a traditional red Chinese dress. Her hair also changes every time. I loved this part!

7) Both fathers give toasts, and their toasts were really wonderful. Du and Gao both obviously come from great families, and it was heartwarming to see how much their parents supported and loved them. Unfortunately, the MC decided to come and ask the ONLY foreigners (that would be us) to offer our well wishes to the couple over the microphone, in Chinese. After having gotten Leo through a few rough hours and consuming mind altering levels of second-hand smoke, we were not quite prepared with a formal toast. So we told everybody, "We are so happy for the newly married couple." It was short, to the point, and served the purpose. Next time, we will be more prepared to be singled out and we probably should have known better!

There’s so much more we could share, but overall we were just so glad to be a part of their day. We just about collapsed after we got home though. Doing anything new here has it’s challenges and rewards, and this experience was no exception. Congratulations to Du and Gao and may you live a long and happy life together!

Leo the Flowerboy

A little over a week ago, our friend Du and her fiance Gao  were married. Chinese weddings are an all-day affair, which was a bit much for my uber-pregnant self and for Leo, but we were able to join in for the evening ceremony and banquet. A few weeks ago, Du  called to ask if Leo would participate in the evening ceremony. I agreed, because Du  is a good friend, but inside I was already nervous. WHY would you want my wonderful (yet unpredictable) 2 year old to participate in your wedding? Answer: He’s cute, foreign, and everyone will love him no matter what he does. While this is true, I was still a bit anxious – partly because I really had no idea what his role would actually be.

I asked her what Leo should wear, and she replied, “Very bright clothing, pink would be best.” Have I ever shared that in China, little boys wear pink? Our little American Leo does not own one piece of pink clothing, and that’s just how it is. ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ has its place, but we all have our limits. JM and I could not put pink on Leo, so we settled on a really cute Chinese red top with a cool dragon emblazoned on the front. He then wore dressy brown slacks and his red boots. We also forced a haircut on him the morning of the wedding – which did not go over well, but it was worth it. He had been looking a little raggedy anyway.

It turned out he was a ‘flowerboy’. He and another, much more well-behaved 4 year old little girl donned angel’s wings and preceded the bride into the banquet hall. He was given a basket of rose petals to ‘scatter’ – which he refused to carry, and although he wore the angel’s wings during the practice – by the time the ceremony started, he refused those as well.

The biggest surprise came when the actual ceremony started. During rehearsal, the lights were up in the banquet hall and the music was rather subdued. When showtime came around, the lights blacked out, strobe lights and spot lights popped out of nowhere, and suddenly major house music (ala Christina Aguilera remixes, etc) came jamming out of the speakers at decibels not intended for adults, much less toddlers. My heart skipped a beat at my poor little boy facing this scene on his own (he was the FIRST in the door to go down the aisle). BUT, he made it down the aisle in one piece and did not cry (I was stationed at the front to lure him in). I think that was pretty good, considering the situation and the fact that the entire crowd had been stuffing him with chocolates the entire time he was there (We tried to stop them, but you try stopping a crowd of Chinese people – we literally came home with our pockets stuffed full of chocolate we had intercepted, but Leo still somehow ate his fill and more.).

After he arrived at the front stage, he discovered that there was a BUBBLE machine in action; I managed to distract him from that. However, next he decided that he wanted the MC’s microphone. So I ended up having to quasi-drag him to the back to keep him from taking over the entire show. Leo is not a shy boy.

At that point, with Leo’s reserves completely depleted, we were awfully glad that we had arranged for his Ayi to pick him up from the hotel and bring him home to bed. She got him home without too much fuss using bribes to watch his favorite TV show (which wasn’t going to happen, but little does he know quite yet how clever the Chinese are :)). He dropped into bed, and slept late the next morning.

I was glad to participate in the wedding, and I just love my friend Du , but next time I may not so quickly say yes if my babe is just over 2 years old! It was hard on Leo to face all of that intensity, and I think in a year or so, he’d handle it better. However, I know Leo made everyone happy, and he was able to add even more joy and fun to a wonderful wedding.

Pregnancy Update – 36 weeks and counting

I was 36 weeks pregnant on Friday, which means my baby is pretty near full term. If I went into labor now, it would be okay. That is a relief, and everything is looking good on the baby’s end – she is head down and growing bigger every day. Leo is more and more suspicious of my huge belly, although last week (of his own free will) he gave my belly a kiss and a pat. So there is hope for him yet as a big brother.

I am pretty much over being pregnant, and especially over being pregnant in China. JM and I were musing about this and more today, as we were coming back in the early evening from a particularly trying outing where it was freezing (no heat inside sometimes) and Leo was expected to behave like a really good 10 year old for 2 hours (that didn’t happen), and it also happened to be rainy and very cold and everyone just HAD to beat us to the bus (by running by us and not even thinking twice about letting the big pregnant lady and toddler in out of the rain in any other position but last).

Overall, our experience is that anything you do in China is just harder and takes longer than if you were in America. And that’s just not because we are foreign and lack knowledge or language at this point. It’s just true! They do not have Target here, and if they did, I would not have a car to drive there and load up full of conveniences to take back to my very likely garaged house to unload into my spacious pantry and basement storage area (because I have no car, and I have no spacious house with storage). We have no clothes drier, so we just have to keep up with the laundry and plan ahead. Sometimes it rains and then we just have to wait longer for dry things. We order clean water because the tap water is unfit for drinking. And the list goes on, but I will save you my pity party :). Most of the time, these minor inconveniences are just that, minor – and we’ve got it really good, no matter if we lived in America or China. But right now, with a 2 year old and on the verge of giving birth, we get overwhelmed and very tired sometimes.

Living in China has made it more difficult to take care of myself during this pregnancy. My old doctor would be happy to hear this, but I haven’t gained an ounce in over a month (which is unlike me – I easily and happily gained weight until the day I birthed Leo!), and have had a bit of high blood pressure developing during the same time (also unlike me – my blood pressure has always been perfect). And, to top it off, I somehow caught a virus last week that has left me with a case of Bell’s Palsy on the right side of my face (it’s mild, and probably not permanent – but it paralyzes one side of the face – so I look a little funny right now, but I’m not drooling – yet). During my last pregnancy, I had greater access to healthier, less pesticide laden food, lots of raw veggies (which I basically can’t eat here, or I risk food poisoning), and just a lifestyle that was much healthier and less stressful in some ways. So, now when my doctors tell me to just rest and take care of myself – I do try, but at the end of each day, I feel like I’ve still worked really hard to just keep it together. Remembering to drink enough water and take my vitamins are goals that sometimes still feel out of reach in between hanging laundry, bartering for vegetables at the market, staying out of the clouds of 2nd hand smoke, or trying to figure out how to reserve O- blood for my birth.

It does make me appreciate the privilege of living an American life. And for all my gripes at the moment, I am still quite grateful to be here. China is an amazing place. But if I’m really honest, I have longed for home more in the last month and a half than ever before. And not just the conveniences of American life, but also for the understanding and concern that comes without any curiosity about my ‘foreignness’. And for the understanding of what it’s like to have a second child at all without four grandparents waiting and ready to serve you and the child hand and foot. I do have to carry my toddler, I do have to do my own shopping, I do have to clean my house, and do our laundry, take my toddler out to play when it’s freezing, do a little work and a little study, and I can not always rest. (And just for the record, JM has been an absolute HERO and is taking on a TON around here so that I can rest as much as I am!) Many pregnant women, no matter what their geographical location or economic status, can relate to many of these late-pregnancy challenges, but being in China has certainly added to my own experience of pregnancy this time around.

The little girl that I tutor comes with her grandfather every Monday afternoon to our house for a lesson. A couple of Mondays ago, as they were leaving and I was telling them that I was about to make dinner, her grandfather just shook his head and said, "This house really needs a grandmother." This made me smile! It’s not that my house is a wreck (in fact, I could ease up my standards just about now), but he just sees this huge difference between the life of his daughter (who works more than full time and has her sister come every day to clean and cook as well as her own mother and father who are retired living there who are essentially raising her little girl, my student) and my life. At the end of the day though, I prefer my life. I want to raise my children, and although I would delegate more household tasks if I could, I also like that JM and I are truly the mother and father in our home.

So to sum up this pregnancy update: I would like to give birth now. 😉 I am more than ready to meet our baby girl (and so excited about that!). I am also more than ready to reclaim my un-pregnant self, who is a bit lighter on her feet and more capable of living in China.