Archive for January, 2010

Perfect Strangers

On the train trip back from Shanghai yesterday, a Chinese local sat down next to JM for the last half hour of the ride. Within 10 minutes, he pretty much asked all the basics:

1) What is your name?
2) What country are you from?
3) Where do you work?
4) What is your monthly salary?
5) Are you married?
6) Do you have kids?
7) How many will you have?
8) Where is your apartment?
9) How old are you?
10) What’s your religion?
11) What’s your phone number?

Having grown so accustomed to these kinds of questions, JM answered them all, except for the last one. The Chinese man was satisfied with just getting an email address instead!

Happy Month!

Our little Rosaline turned one full month yesterday. Chinese custom dictates that on this day we invite all our friends to our home and drink shots of hard liquor. We passed the day uneventfully, not quite ready for this level of cultural engagement!

Happy one month Rosie!

Kid to Kid

Today the kids and I (Liz) were on Nanjing Normal University’s campus playing and walking around. We usually head to the track and field, where everybody treats the longjump pits like sandboxes. Leo loves rolling around in sand, and the bonus is that there are a set of basketball courts alongside the track and field. This makes for just too much fun in one place, as Leo’s new favorite sport is basketball (much to our dismay, actually, we both prefer soccer, and JM doesn’t play a lot of basketball due to his violining – jammed fingers and violin strings don’t go well together).

It’s been a bit of an adventure to figure out how to take two kids out and about, but I’m getting the hang of it. I put Rosaline in our front carrier (and she promptly falls asleep at this point, since she’s still so small), and Leo rides in his stroller. The only hard part so far (other than the fact that toting them to and fro is quite a workout) is that Leo refuses to climb the stairs to our apartment when we return from our outings. His legs, apparently, stop working. He would like me to carry him, which is quite nearly impossible since I’ve got Rosie on me, a backpack on, and a stroller in one hand. I have had to literally drag him up two flights of stairs. It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done.

He’s not thrilled that Rosie has commandeered my arms as her own. I’m still figuring out how to handle this challenge. If anyone has any ideas about how to convince Leo to walk up our stairs, let me know. I’m all ears!

Today, he decided his legs had stopped working as we were headed back to the sandpit from the basketball courts, where I had been teaching Leo how to dribble and steal the ball (he’d pretty bad at dribbling, but he can sort of steal). One of my tactics is to just say, "OK, well, you stay there, but I’m leaving. Bye bye!" 9 times out of 10, this motivates him to get up and follow me. Not today.

I made it back to the sandpit, and another mom was observing my struggle. (picture my 2 year old flailing about in the middle of the track some distance away from me). She told her 3 year old to go over and tell Leo to come back and play with him. The little boy ran over to Leo, said some sort of magic words, and held out his hand. I watched in amazement as Leo promptly got up with a huge grin on his face, and they ran back to join us at the sandpit

I looked at her, and said thank you! She just said, "Kid to kid, it’s better. They know how to talk to each other."

Now if I could only get that 3 year old to come to my house every time I need Leo to climb the stairs.

Who takes care of your baby?

One of the questions I’ve been most surprised at since Rosaline’s birth has been, "Who takes care of your baby?" This is a question no new parent is asked in the US – because the answer is obvious. The parents take care of the baby, of course. In fact, it’s something of a right of passage for new mothers and fathers in the US to spend long nights changing diapers, feeding, and comforting our new babies. Not necessarily so in China, I am learning.

As a mother of a newborn, everything in my being is directed toward making sure Rosaline is well cared for, fed, changed, burped, happy, and rested (even when I am not!). Since I’m breastfeeding and since we have a toddler, Rosie has especially been almost solely under my care as JM can’t feed her and spends a lot of time taking care of Leo just now. I truly can’t imagine allowing anyone else but the two of us care for her because she’s so new and let’s face it, I can be a bit of a control freak. But honestly, I’m the mother – I see it as my responsibility, my job, and my role to care for this little bitty baby that I just grew and birthed. Who else would care for her???

In China, it is not a given that newborns are cared for primarily by their mothers or fathers. My ayi watched me change Rosaline’s diaper (we’re using cloth prefolds and pins and things) and said, "Where did you learn to do that?" I looked at her curiously, as she has cared for my son Leo for 1 1/2 years, and said, "Well, I’ve done this a few times." She responded by telling me that Chinese mothers rest for a month after the baby is born and are not the primary caregivers to their newborns. In fact, they also do not get up at night with the newborns either. Some hire "night nurses" or nannies that specialize in newborn care, but most rely on their own parents to care for the child.

I have been asked so many times now who takes care of Rosie, that is has ceased to surprise me. However, it hasn’t ceased to puzzle me. The drive that I have to care for my newborn seems almost primal to me, a natural force stronger and deeper than cultural boundaries – it seems to be at the very core of who I am as a women. And yet, here I am, faced with the idea that here it’s considered better to allow the woman who has just given birth to rest completely and better for someone else to care for her newborn. I wonder if it’s hard for Chinese women to not hold their newborns as much as I’m able to? I wonder if it’s difficult on any level for them to hear someone else respond to the baby’s cries? Or if it’s just normal and I’m the odd one here??

I am tempted to feel some grief for Chinese mothers over this, to be honest. OK, so I’m sometimes jealous at the thought of getting a full night’s rest so soon after having a newborn. But I wouldn’t give up the fact that I myself am getting to know my new baby. I would feel very helpless and depressed, I might imagine, if I weren’t caring for my baby myself.

But here it seems to be the norm, and I think Chinese women see it as an advantage. They can protect their health by resting after the birth and the fact that someone else is bonded and able to care for their baby gives them the freedom to quickly return to work. The individual relationship that they have as the mother to their only child is not as important as the contribution they make to their families as a whole. This norm seems to be acceptable in part because of the emphasis on community rather than the individual so present in Chinese society. Once again I have to struggle with the differences in our cultures and it absolutely challenges my own ideas and presumptions!

I am glad I know how to change my own daughter’s diaper though. And although I’m tired and I’m sure my health would be better with 8 hours of sleep every night, I’m really glad I get to be the one who cares for her – even at 3 am. She will only be a baby for so long, and I could swear she’s already doubled in size since her birth.

You did WHAT?

We had our baby at home and it was purposeful. We also had our first baby at home in the States with a midwife. While we have a lot of respect for the good that hospitals can do in times of emergency, we don’t believe that birth must take place in a hospital – especially if the mother and baby are healthy and low risk. So, we made the decision to birth at home again here in China without a midwife (because there are no midwives here, at least none that are trained the way CPMs are in the US, and certainly there are no midwives or doctors here in Nanjing that would attend a homebirth!).

The idea of purposefully birthing at home when you have the money to birth in a hospital is so very foreign to the Chinese, that we have told few of our Chinese friends and colleagues about the true circumstances of Rosaline’s birth. It just wouldn’t compute. So we’ve been telling many people that she came quickly, and we had her at home (all of which is true, just not the whole story). We actually think it may be somewhat illegal to have your baby outside of a hospital here, especially in light of the one child policy. You really need official documentation for your children here (of course you need that in the US too, but here it’s even more detrimental) – proof that he/she is your ONLY child. So birthing children in the privacy of your home is not looked kindly upon by the authorities.

So far, though, we are doing ok making Rosie an official person. Her US Passport application was approved at the consulate in Shanghai this week, which also means she’ll receive a US birth certificate. So she’s real, she’s ours, and she’s an American – it’s on the books! We still have to get her visa and register her here with the officials; we’ll let you know how it all goes!

Our doctor was dumbfounded when we called the day after the birth to tell her that Rosaline was already here. It took her about 3 minutes to register the information, and then she was incredibly happy for us, and then she wanted us to come right to the hospital. We declined, as we were pretty comfortably tucked in at home together (and it was Christmas Day), but went in about a week later for a check up. She said JM did such a fantastic job with me that they wanted to hire him. 🙂

We worked really hard here to make the homebirth for Rosie a reality. Both of us studied up on birth quite a bit, we gathered many supplies, studied up on how to use them, and discerned this decision very very carefully. It was one of the most debated and carefully considered decisions of our marriage (and we are two people who discern things very very carefully in the first place – from what to get for takeout to our move to China). We’re so glad we were able to do it, and feel very blessed by the opportunity to have another homebirth. We’ll write more about the birth itself in another post!

Rosie is now 3 weeks old and I’ve been wanting to post, but every time I have a free moment – I feel like I should either be sleeping, taking a shower, or washing diapers. But just now both kids are asleep and although I should probably be asleep too – I wanted to take a moment to post. There are many more posts I’d like to write, but here’s a start!

Can you say that?

Teaching my students today, the subject of skin color came up. A particularly outspoken member of the class piped up:

“I don’t like black people. They make me feel worried.”

Where do you go with that one?

Over and over again, China reminds me that this isn’t the melting-pot culture back home. The things we take for granted differ on both sides of the ocean.

Wanting to say something like, “How about white people? Do they scare you too?” I instead reassured her that black people are wonderfully friendly, and that she should try meeting a few. After all, I have lots of black friends, and they don’t scare me at all.

Still a long ways to go sometimes. *sigh*

Flowers for the occasion

When the lady helping me buy flowers for our wedding anniversary gave me a look of shock, I knew I had crossed some sort of cultural boundary.

Similarly, when a streetside cook jested that I give one of the flowers to his female colleague, and she refused, I thought something was up.

Celebrating our wedding anniversary, I bought Liz a big bunch of bright yellow chrysanthemums. They looked so happy, I thought. But the lady at the flower stand chatting with me said “No! You can’t give your wife those!” The flower seller himself stepped in, “He’s a foreigner, it’s ok.”

Puzzled, I paid for the flowers, and gave them to a very happy wife on return home. A big burst of yellow still lightens our dining table.

Tutoring some students the next day, I took out a Chinese coin to talk about heads-or-tails. What’s on the tails side? “A flower,” the student replied. What kind of flower? “A mum.” Very impressive vocabulary!

“We give those to dead people.”

Wait- dead people?

“Yes, when people die, we always give this kind of flower. We never give it to friends.”

There I go again, displaying my ignorance of 5,000 years of culture. And I can’t say it will be the last time either.

Liz still loves the flowers.