Sunday, March 20, 2011

Shopping on a Small Island

Yesterday we needed to get Philadelphia cream cheese (when I say needed - I mean it. Who eats bagels without cream cheese?). Mustafa's usually has it. They had none. Then we went to NTUC across the street. They didn't have it either. It was a Philadelphia cream cheese shortage in Singapore!

We had the same thing with detergent that we were using to wash Sam's clothes. We had bought Dreft at some ex-patty grocery story, and then it was nowhere to be found in all similar shops in Singapore.

A friend told me that when Sam starts eating Cheerios, we should always have a stock at our house. Apparently kids get pretty attached, and there are times where Singapore runs out of Cheerios. The whole country.

Really - it feels like a big city with some suburbs, but when it comes down to it, the country that we call home can be driven across in a half hour. We're on an island country, and when there is no cream cheese, there is no cream cheese.

This reminds me of the time when all of Singapore's Passover supply of Matzah (I think 2006 or 2007 - right before we came) was on a boat that arrived late, just hours before the first seder. It was a near miss of a total disaster and lots of people not able to observe lots of mitzvot.

In other news, Sam has been testing out her new high chair. She explored gravity (check out my video on fb), and she ate avocado and sweet potato (which she still wasn't interested in). A highlight was when she sat down with her food, and rather than bringing the food to her, she put her face in the avocado. Interesting approach. I think she has watched the cat eat more than mommy and daddy...

We had a great day today that consisted of tekka market and a fun afternoon of Ari, Julia and Settlers (with a little yoga thrown in). We told the story of Purim, ate a big meal, and a Jew taught me yoga. Does that count?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

America - Come on!

These two topics are way over published, and there's no need to do a literature review, but America, you are so behind. Matt and I would probably move back and be productive in your economy rather than this random country that we have called home for the last four years if you were in a different place with maternity leave and health care.

As part of my job last year, I was working on implementing paternity leave (or "new parent" leave for same sex couples) and adoption leave for all employees across all of my bank's countries. With this, I looked into what policies exist in all of our countries, and I also looked at maternity leave (which we hope to tackle soon, but at least we HAVE it in all of our markets...). Everyone knows that it's the best in Europe. In London you get six months paid and then another six months optional unpaid, in Germany they have to hold your job for THREE YEARS, etc. In Asia, it's touch and go - Obviously in China you only get one maternity leave (but you do have sterilisation leave - isn't that nice?), and in Pakistan and Malaysia you only get four maternity leaves (what happens for your fifth kid?). In Singapore, I got two months plus 8 weeks (ultimately about four months), 100% PAID maternity leave. Put that together with the super low tax rate here, and I'm banking by procreating here. During my childbearing life, what's my incentive to go back to a country where I might get 12 weeks unpaid? At 12 weeks I wasn't even physically recovered (granted my birth was ridiculous, but still!). It was only that last month where I was really able to enjoy maternity leave. My friend (an avid reader) is going back to work next week when her baby is SIX WEEKS OLD. That's just way way way too early (sorry - I know I didn't have such a strong reaction on the phone...). Granted she'll be fine, and the baby will be fine, but we should all have MONTHS to bond with our new babies as they develop and have their first experiences with the world. We should also not have to make a financial sacrifice. It's just so absurd and so behind.

Secondly, it is ridiculous that we are doing research to get extra health insurance so we can come to America this summer. Our work here gives us a certain amount (mine is up to S$80,000) to spend on our medical care, and if we get hurt (god forbid...) or sick in Singapore, we won't run through that too quickly. In America, that's like a day's work. If we get sick or in an accident when we're in America, we're screwed. I can't believe that it's so scary for us to go back to our HOME country.

I don't think I wrote about this, but my insurance (and Matt's) doesn't cover maternity expenses, so everything that we spent on appointments leading up to and the birth (and after...) was out of pocket. If we had been so blessed to have the natural birth we were hoping for, it would have been about USD2,500. Not a biggie. On the other hand, we ended up being there for five days in a private room, we had the labor tub (which we weren't able to use...), we had the epidural, the antibiotics, the vacuum, the emergency c-section at 11:30 at night, then the doctor had to come back around 2 or 3am - we had everything, and it all ended up costing about USD7,000. I don't exactly think this is a steal, but in the US this would have been SO MUCH MORE.

If the US would just have normal costing health care that was accessible to everyone and paid maternity leave, productive people like me and Matt might even come back!

In other news, Matt's parents have delayed their trip so they don't have to fly through Japan (oy - poor Japan), so they're arriving this Wednesday. Sam can't wait to play with them!

Today Matt and I went to IKEA, and I made peace with the place. The last few times we have gone Matt absolutely had to explore all options of everything before making any decisions (including when I was 9 months pregnant), and I was miserable - I hate shopping anyway, but IKEA is on a different level. It's SO big, and there are a million and one kids. This time was totally different. We made a list and agreed beforehand on exactly where we would look and what we would get. We spent an hour, we got THE high chair, a place for Sam's toys, plus they have a whole bunch of super great kids stuff - bowls and cups for kids plus really fun toys. We even got the Kitty a new mouse. She already batted it all around the house.

Sam tried sweet potatoes. She didn't really like it. She doesn't really like anything (food-wise). We're working on it...No hurry, but we'll keep trying. All of these photos are from today.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Working from Home

I haven't written too much about what I do, but I work in Diversity and Inclusion at Standard Chartered Bank. Our bank has about 80,000 employees, and we do 90% of our business in Asia, Africa and the Middle East (but really mostly Asia). My group works within the company, with customers and in the community. In the company, we focus on gender, nationality and disability (more on that later). With customers we look at accessibility of our products and services (i.e. for those with disabilities or women who can't get collateral for a loan in a place where the government requires it, etc), and in the community we mostly look at financial inclusion, particularly with women and girls. I have to say that it's a pretty cool job, doing really interesting work.

Why am I telling you this now? Well, one of our focuses in the Bank is looking at women. We have to start by understanding that women don't go into finance as much as men, so that will automatically skew our numbers. Generally in this field, women start strongish in the lower positions, and as the opportunity comes to move up, they drop out. In middle management there is mostly good representation, but as you get to senior management positions, it's hard to keep women around. Research says that a big challenge for women is balancing work with their family (duh). So, we look at what we can do to keep quality women in our bank. One of our solutions is flexible working, which we're working on right now. In our bank it's defined as working from home, flexible hours or part time.

While on maternity leave I was trying to think about what might make working and having Sam a bit easier, so I thought it might be a good idea to apply to work from home for a couple of days a week. I started doing this about two weeks ago, and it has vastly improved my quality of life. I personally believe that offering solutions like this WILL keep women in a company. Let me explain.

Before working from home (for about three weeks), my week was so hectic, I could barely keep up, and ALL I was doing was working (about 9.5 - 10 hours a day, which is slacking in my office) and "managing" Sam's care. I woke up at 6:30, ate, pumped, ran to work (usually leaving around 7:30 or so without seeing Sam), worked all day (with lots of pumping thrown in), RAN home so that I could get a quality five minutes with her before I threw her in the bath and nursed her and put her to bed. She was usually in bed around 8, I would eat dinner and have about a half hour to relax and then I would have to start going to bed (shower, pump) in order to be ready to wake up at 4 to feed Sam and not feel like too much of a zombie the next day. (She has started to sleep through the night most nights which has also VASTLY improved my quality of life...). It was like this. Everyday. For five days. Come Friday, I was totally exhausted, and the weekends didn't provide enough relaxation for me. Disastrous.

Now, I have started to work from home on Mondays and Fridays. This means that I only have to dress for work THREE times a week (which is great for a person with limited who's too lazy to buy more work clothes). It means that on Monday and Friday I can sleep until 7:30, as I don't have a commute. I can get up and eat right away and get right online to start going through emails. When Sam wakes up I can actually see her, dress her, and I can take her to go get coffee. I then hand her off to Rose to take care of until she wants to eat. I can then spend about a half hour or 40 minutes with her in the evening (no commute...) before she goes to bed, and she can actually go to bed when she's tired rather than waiting for me to come home.

Workwise, I go in the office/extra bedroom, I shut the door, put on Michigan Radio (which is mostly the BBC at these hours) and I can plow through work. The day flies. I'm so much more comfortable, and it's totally productive, AND I get to not feel like I'm a terrible mom. Working from home rocks so far.

In other news, my parents left a few weeks ago, and Matt's parents are coming this week.

In yet other news, we have been trying food with Sam - trying about once per day. We have tried rice cereal, bananas, rice cereal + bananas, carrots...she's not so into it. She sometimes appeases me, but I think we'll take it easy on the eating front. She does, on the other hand, love drinking water. I think she mostly likes it because we give it to her in a different bottle/cup, and it has handles, so she can feed herself. She's already asserting her independence.

She's starting to get a bit of a stranger/new person fear, which isn't too cool. She gets a little pout when she gets scared and if we don't take her back she will have a small flip out. The Baby Center said that we just need to take it slow with new people. This made us go to a really nice Purim party yesterday and also take her to the mall today. I want to push her on this one, but I know it's a stage.

She is still a super singer/talker. She spends most days screeching and singing (the neighbors commented that they didn't hear her for her first four months...). She also loves playing with just about anything. She moves all over the place but isn't crawling (somehow she does MOVE, but it's like a snail - you can't see it happening, but then you realize she's in a different place than she started). She's pretty darn cute, if I may say so myself. Click here for her 3-6 month photo album.