It's not the New England autumn of my childhood, with its falling leaves, but the Hong Kong fall is pretty nice.
(*Anyway, the Northeast is digging itself out of a freak snowstorm, so I've been feeling pretty lucky.)
For weeks, it has been sunny and in the mid-20s Celsius (or the 70s, for my American friends). The worst of the heat and humidity is gone, but it's still warm enough to go out in a T-shirt.
I try to take Chloe out every day in her stroller, even if just to the park and playground next to our building.
Slightly further afield, Marc has discovered a patch of grass that is actually not forbidden near our home, behind One Silver Sea and that new luxury development. The walk there is not entirely scenic -- there is, inexplicably, barbed wire and, inevitably, yet another construction site. But once you get past that, there's a square of well-tended emerald grass, trees and an ocean view.
The awkward walk is worth it when I see the bliss on my baby's face when she plays on the grass. She's just beginning to follow objects with her eyes, and can endlessly watch dappled sunlight and leaves moving in the wind. But shhhhh. I don't want the developers to read this blog and close the place off with more barbed wire.
I wonder why there are so few other children under the blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Our neighborhood is chock full of kids, and there are thousands of young families living within a 5-10 minute walk. But the patch of grass is empty except for one Eurasian toddler with a tricycle and a few poorly dressed old guys out fishing.
Even the sanitized playground near my building is mostly empty. The few kids there are with Filipina amahs or maybe grandparents, even on weekends and holidays. Occasionally, there are some gweilos.
I don't think this is entirely because Hong Kong parents have to work, since the shops are filled with young mothers eating, drinking, buying clothes and, one presumes, protecting their white skin. Strangely, many of them bring their children to the playground at night.
Where have all the babies gone? They all either at home, in the indoor play room or the awful, sunless mall -- with its low ceilings, crowds, stale air and blasting air con. Gangs of restless, pale youngsters hang out with their parents at Cafe de Coral (a local fast-food chain) and get reprimanded when they yell and run. It's not the kids' fault. I blame the parents for not bringing them somewhere with some space.
There's really no excuse. Hong Kong's parks and beaches are free to the public.
I don't care much for so-called childcare gurus. I always end up returning to the common sense of Dr. Benjamin Spock, the 20th-century pediatrician who penned the seminal book on childcare. He wrote:
"I grew up and practiced pediatrics in the northeastern part of the United States, where most conscientious parents took it for granted that babies and children should be outdoors for two to three hours a day. Children love to be outdoors, and it gives them pink cheeks and good appetites."The most recent version of his book -- updated by current medical doctors -- dryly adds that body needs sunlight to make active vitamin D.
When Chloe was hospitalized for two nights with jaundice, my father wondered why so many Hong Kong babies are diagnosed with the same thing. Was it because mothers here don't get sunlight?
I didn't when I was pregnant -- I spent much of my days in an office. The hospital room I stayed in for 2 nights before Chloe's birth and 3 nights after was completely sunless -- I had a "window" that was actually a wall with an outdoor scene painted onto it. The nursery had no windows either, nor did the room where she was later treated for jaundice. I wonder if that had anything to do with it.
My Dad's belief is more than an old wives' tale. According to the Wikipedia entry on neonatal jaundice:
The use of phototherapy was discovered accidentally at Rochford Hospital in Essex, England. The ward sister of the premature baby unit believed that infants benefited from fresh air and sunlight in the courtyard. This led to the first noticing of jaundice being improved with sunlight. Further studies progressed when a vial of blood sent for bilirubin measurement sat on a windowsill in the lab for several hours. The results indicated a much lower level of bilirubin than expected based on the patient's visible jaundice.My mother remembers the "plump English maternity nurse" at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. Never mind if the mothers were sore or tired from giving birth -- the nurse would march them out to the courtyard for fresh air every day -- which is exactly the opposite of what is done in hospitals here, where new Chinese mothers are treated like invalids. Mom says she's glad I had the good sense to be born in August, instead of in the Canadian winter.
If you look at baby pictures of me from the 70s, I was always naked and lying in a pool of sunshine. I began topless tanning early.
Looking back, I wonder if Chloe needed to be hospitalized at all. She didn't look jaundiced to my eye, or my parents' eye, and I think she was a mild case. She was miserable and frightened in that light-treatment thing. Maybe we should have left her on a windowsill instead.
When Marc's parents were here, we visited my brother and his wife in Discovery Bay. Chloe slept happily in her stroller, parked at a restaurant next to the sea.
My father takes his other granddaughter to the same area. "She loves to listen to the ocean," he says.
It works better than baby relaxation CDs with terrible names like "Ultra Sounds." (That's a real one I saw at HMV). Why use canned ocean sounds when you have the real thing?
At DB, Chloe got a tiny red bump on her cheek -- maybe a little scratch or bite from a small insect.
When we returned home, our building doorman reacted as if we had allowed wild animals to tear off one of her limbs.
"What's that on her face? You must be more careful!"
I don't know how he even saw it -- it was the size of a pin prick. She took no notice of it, and it faded after two days.
The girls who work in our complex are the same. They coo and ahh over Chloe, but then immediately look worried that something, anything, might be wrong.
I started taking Chloe to the park when she was a month old. It was September and very hot, and she was in a short-sleeved onesie.
One of the security girls said "Be careful, it's very hot and humid." Another said, "Be careful, it's getting cooler and dry these days." Which means that it was just about perfect, doesn't it?
Babies are not shy about their needs. If she was uncomfortable, she'd cry.
Babies are delicate, but she will not be blinded by a ray of sunlight, or catch a cold from a breeze. While it's important to have sunscreen and a sunhat, nobody will get skin cancer from being outside for 15 minutes -- though one almost wonders if Hong Kong women care more that their daughters not get "dark like a Filipina", as one mom warned me. (Though Eurasian, Chloe is not particularly white-skinned, which does not bother me in the least).
As delicate as baby skin is, she barely noticed the prick of grass against it. I was so delighted that she had begun to roll by herself at 2 months that I didn't even care that she got dirt on her outfit.
This is how I want her to grow up. I don't care if she ever becomes a doctor or a banker. I want her to be happy and fearless, not nervous and frightened of the great wide world outside. To use Dr. Spock's words, I want her to have pink cheeks and a good appetite for life.
I want her to jump and play in puddles when it rains.
Two months old, and already punching and kicking dad.