Saturday, June 29, 2013

Singapore Problems: Long Sleeves

I have read about kids/toddlers who don't want to put on a winter hat, or a winter coat. We don't have those problems in Singapore. We have the opposite. Samara is obsessed with long sleeves and at one point she was obsessed with her Izzy pants, which are proper pants. Sam needs to wear a t shirt or tank top and shorts every day. Or a skirt or dress. You cannot wear long sleeves in Singapore and be comfortable. I know I'm somewhat projecting, because Malay people do it everyday, but I absolutely cannot wear long sleeves in Singapore and be comfortable, therefore neither can my daughter.

We have a few long sleeved shirts for trips and airplanes - the last one being New Zealand, the next one being Michigan. Otherwise, we never need them. We (Matt and I) need them if we go to see a movie...but otherwise, long sleeved shirts are right there with (non-workout) socks and panty hose. They never see the light of day. Never. There are not cool nights here. There are never days where there is a chill in the air. NEVER.

Samara got some hand-me-down long sleeves from the Greens, and she became obsessed with them. Whenever she saw them in her drawer, she had to wear them and she would have a fit if I didn't let her wear them to school (I didn't, ever - it's too hot to even walk across the street in long sleeves!). So I hid them. I actually put all winter-ish clothes away so she couldn't see them. But I left two thin long sleeved shirts in the rare (read: never have we needed them) case that we go somewhere with super air conditioning. They were in her drawer. our bedroom, there is a pregnant woman who is hot all the time anyway and a man whose body seemed to permanently change while in the Peace Corps in W Africa and he's always cold. We had slept with the air con on 28 until the pregnancy progressed...and I was just too hot. So now it's on 26, and Matt sleeps with two blankets, sometimes a pair of socks and a long sleeved shirt. I sleep with no blankets and most of the time no sheet.

This week, Samara was super sick. For the first time in her life (almost), she did not sleep through the night and needed a bit of TLC (she could barely breathe and had fevers, so my normal: suck it up, get yourself back to sleep, we are NEVER coming in your room...that didn't work). I still can't carry her out of her bed (risky pregnancy...), so Matt had to come get her out at 3am, and as I was changing her diaper to then come into our bed to rest or watch Elmo or whatever, she said she wanted to wear long sleeves.

Me: Samara, we are in Singapore. We don't wear long sleeves here. No one wears long sleeves. It's really hot. You have so many wonderful, cozy t shirts. Why don't you choose one of those?

Samara: I want long sleeves.

Me: Sam, that's not an option. We don't wear long sleeves in Singapore.

Samara: Daddy is wearing long sleeves right now.

Busted. So she put on the cardigan. And she did the button. (This photo was from later that morning)

That was right up there with another story from this week. I was trying to get her to go back to sleep a few hours earlier, rather than take her out of her bed, and I said, "Sam, everyone is sleeping. It's time for sleep. Amalia is sleeping. Owen is sleeping. Daddy is sleeping. Tita Alma is sleeping. Everyone is sleeping." Then comes a MEOW...and then, "Not everyone is sleeping. Kitty isn't sleeping."

I remember quite recently - just a few months back - when parenting was still fun. She would do what we asked (other than eat). She didn't question our judgement...Man this age is amazingly annoying. Though I have to say that I love taking her outside with her scooter, because that means that she has a helmet on, so she can have all of the fits that she wants, but she can't get too hurt! Recent reasons for fits:

  • Wanting to wear something that is dirty
  • Wanting to eat more challah, but we have no more
  • Not wanting to read a book, hear a story or sing a song. Or do anything else
  • Waffle was not crunchy enough
  • Wanting to bring an umbrella to school (it wasn't raining)
  • Wanting to wear her party sandals

All very legitimate reasons to throw yourself on the floor like the world is ending. If you're two and a half.

While this week has been really tough, since Sam hasn't been to school since last THURSDAY, and she has been really pretty sick, it's also been a very special time for us. We have had more cuddles than probably her last year all together. My very strong No Kid in Bed policy and my Baby Never Sleeps in My Arms policy have been put on hold, as I happen to be around and she was really so miserable. For her first time, she took full naps in my arms (and cuddling with the baby - the baby was kicking her a lot, but she didn't seem to notice, see photo), like for 3 hours nearly each day, and it was actually super nice. We will never have this time again, just me and her. There will always be someone else around, or I will have work or something else to do. Our Sleep Abandonment Program is back in full effect today, as she's feeling a lot better.

Yes, this time continues to be hard and weird - like we're just waiting. Waiting for baby, waiting for the haze/smoke to clear, waiting for Sam to feel better, back to waiting for baby...but I'm trying to appreciate the slowness of life, as I can't imagine it will ever be like this again. No work responsibilities. Nearly no plans during the week and on weekends. No obligations anywhere. And while I'm still responsible for making sure our house is functioning (setting the menu, shopping list, making sure it's all happening), Alma is doing most of the work, so it's all just very very chill.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Smoke

I'm not quite sure why people call it haze, when it looks and smells just like smoke to me.

Our country is currently covered in smoke. The farmers in Sumatra use a method of burning to clear the land for re-planting. They're on the east side of Sumatra, so when the wind blows, it takes it straight to the sea and out to the south of peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. This usually happens in August/September, but this year it started a few weeks ago. And this week it got awful.

Singapore (and many other countries?) use the Pollutant Standards Index to measure air quality. Apparently up until 100 it's safe. Above 100 is unhealthy/hazardous. The scale goes up to 500. The highest Singapore had ever reached before was 226 in 1997. Today at noon it was 401 (the highest). It got extremely high Wednesday night, and yesterday and today have been absolutely disgusting.

Yesterday the whole mall, which is about as far as I can go, was out of air purifiers and face masks. I asked at all stores, most had signs up that said they're out of everything related. The Ministry of Health was saying that no one should worry because there were enough in Singapore, but I couldn't find one anywhere. There was advice for pregnant women to stay indoors and wear a mask. How was I supposed to get that mask?

All suppliers I could find were already sold out of the two things I was looking for - the purifiers and masks. I don't blame them - considering 5 million people wanted them in one day. Websites were down. Can't get through on ANY phones. Yet, I am supposed to stay in the house. How are these supplies going to magically appear in my house? Today our neighbor and her daughter were over and she got a call that one store in the mall had a few purifiers. We ran over to the mall and they said that all were already reserved, but if someone didn't want it, they would let me know. They did call, and I ran back to get it, though it's not the HEPA filter we are looking for (it's HEPA technology, whatever that means) and it's literally ALL I can get. We also ordered masks to our parents' house, as we can't find a supplier which will ship to Singapore. Matt's colleague has a friend who is traveling from Hong Kong to Singapore on Monday, and she is bringing us an air purifier. This was just sorted tonight around 9pm. This is TWO days into looking for ANYTHING to help us breathe better. It is quite a helpless feeling to know that you're breathing awful stuff, and so is your almost-baby and 2 year old, and there is NOTHING you can do, other than stay in your smokey apartment, which doesn't feel healthy.

This was the view from our apartment today. Usually there are loads of people in the park, lots of cars and many more buildings and cranes visible.

Meanwhile, in the mornings the last two days, our entire house smells like smoke and it's smokey inside. My clothes smell. Today we kept the house closed except for a very few quick door openings, and we put towels under the two doors, and it seems to have made a difference. We ran air conditioners in all rooms.

Sam's school was cancelled today, so we spent the day playing kitchen and doctor (she's super into doctor lately...). She set up a hospital for a bunch of her animals and helped assess and heal all of them one by one. They were spread out on those airplane neck pillows. It was pretty funny. She made a special cabbage and strawberry smoothie for me too. Yum.

This has made me realize that I usually laugh at people who are prepped for disaster, but what would we do? We didn't go to the grocery store today and we almost ran out of food in one day! We have nearly no useful canned items and definitely no water, first aid supplies, medicines, (face masks...), etc. Should we be more prepared for disaster? Which ones? This doesn't help my trying to be less anal and paranoid...

I asked the doctor today whether or not I can travel, if I feel I need to leave Singapore. He said I could, but that the limiting factor would be the airlines. He said I could likely get out, but the farther I get (I'm almost 34 weeks), the harder it will be to return. So I might give birth where I go. Plus the stress and physical activity of traveling is more than I have experienced in the last five months, so that brings separate risks. Plus I finally trust my doctor (this took me a while, given my past experience), and I have some scary risks that could be life-threatening to me with delivery...Do I want to drop into a new country and doctor right now? I am considering Michigan, as it's the only place I would be comfortable being "stuck" for a long time, if baby is in NICU or to avoid traveling with the baby is super young. But then I would have to travel for 25 I would be there for THREE months, which is a bit outrageous, and too quick a decision to make. Plus, I can't travel with Sam alone (I still can't lift her or anything...), so Matt would have to come with us, plus come back when the baby comes...

These photos were taken by our friend, Eric Victorson. It's the view of Marina Bay from his apartment building (right next to my office), before and during the "haze."

Unfortunately I don't understand the difference in PSI readings between 150, 350, 400...I see the words "unhealthy" and "hazardous" but what does that mean for me and my lungs or blood? What does it mean for the baby? Is what I'm breathing going into my blood and then to the baby? How bad is it? What can it affect? I don't know, and given this, it's really hard to make a confident decision about where I should be right now.

Singapore is meeting in Jakarta with Indonesia and other related parties to try to find a solution. Seems to me they can just actually enforce the law that bans these fires, but perhaps they're looking for something more creative. They say this can last until September. I don't know what we'll do if it does. This is certainly not sustainable.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Joy of Food

Samara's eating has been a very stressful piece of our last two years. I had planned to exclusively breastfeed until six months. When we went for vaccinations when Samara was five months, the pediatrician (whom I love, by the way), suggested that Samara was ready to start solids based on how she followed objects, showed interest and her size. I was reluctant at first (and I do wish we had waited that extra month), but in the end we tried with rice cereal and we were never successful. The doctor suggested to keep trying, at first once per day and later three times per day. She said, "you can't make her eat, but she will definitely eventually eat."

We went to the US when Samara was around 9 months old. She still had not willingly eaten one bite of food in her life. A doctor at Michigania was shocked that she wasn't interested in a cheese puff (ew) or ice cream (is she crazy?). She kinda laughed, but at this point, it was super stressful for me. Samara had lost interest in breastfeeding around 7 months, I pushed her to 8 months, and then I ran out of milk on a work trip to Bangladesh (pumped and pumped and nothing came out...). So my nine month old baby was surviving on formula. Of course looking back on it, it's not that big of a deal, and formula now-a-days is totally fine and healthy, but I felt like an awful mom.

We kept trying. We tried whole fruits, veggies, purees, sweets, EVERYTHING, and everything made her gag, cry and get angry. She just didn't like food. She put everything in her mouth, unless it was food. At 11 months she ate her first food willingly, and that was a very rare occasion.

I don't remember the details of the following year, but I know we did our best. We tried as many new foods as possible and tried to give her foods that she enjoyed once. We just kept trying. Sometimes distracting helped, but mostly we got purees into her with a fight.

By the time she was two, she had about ten foods she would eat. She ate many foods in muffin form (macaroni and cheese, blueberry oatmeal muffins, zucchini and sweet potato muffins and sometimes potato), she ate carrot kugel, grilled cheese, pizza, waffles, bagels, toast, pancakes, yogurt, rice cakes, crunchy fish (sometimes...) and probably a couple of other things I'm forgetting. She will eat endless amounts of junk food if we let her (loves chips, chocolate, cookies, cake, ice cream), but I try to keep this away as much as possible, especially given how she doesn't ALSO eat the healthy things. She sometimes eats sweet potato fries (just cut sweet potatoes with a bit of olive oil, baked), but this is the ONLY fruit or vegetable that she eats. She will not eat any meat, eggs, noodles, rice...We could distract her enough to still get squeezies into her (we get the ones with as many veggies as possible). That is it. We seemed to lose foods (fish sticks, carrot kugel...) and not gain any new ones. Whatever I did, I absolutely cannot convince her to try something new.

This has been an extremely stressful thing for me, as of course I want her to be healthy, and not just now, but I think about how she will cope with a school lunch, or eating at someone's house, or when we travel. I have literally lost hundreds of hours of sleep about this, wondering what we could have done differently or what we can do now to fix the situation. I couldn't listen when friends talked about how their kids ate veggies or any normal food. Her teacher told me she doesn't try healthy snacks at school and gave me a look when she said, "she only eats the sweets." Yeah, I know. I hate it. I just got super stressed out.

I nixed all traveling for more than four days to anywhere in Asia, as we couldn't bring enough food with us, and sometimes you cannot access these foods in places like China, Sri Lanka or Japan, where we are interested to see. In New Zealand, Samara lived off of cereal, walnuts, yogurt, grilled cheese, pizza and squeezies. All of the other places she has gone (Jakarta, Lombok, Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Kuching, Bangkok, and Cambodia) we have brought all of the food with us and still tried to offer new things (but it almost never worked).

While I tried to maintain my cool during meal times, I often would try to negotiate with her and I would get stressed. She could sense it, and it was only worse. For a while I tried to stay away at meal times (which isn't hard when you're working full time...but even weekends were miserable for me). Rose seemed to be a bit more successful than me, and she clearly wasn't as personally invested as me, which Samara could definitely sense.

We have good friends here who's daughter (she's five now) also does not like to eat. They have brought her to doctors and specialists across the world and tried so many things. The biggest learning for them, which they shared with me, is that there is NOTHING you can do and that the more you try and push, the worse it will be. The best you can do is to offer new things, offer what you're eating, and just not stress about it.

Meals got so miserable, as Samara would cry no matter what was put in front of her (plus we have a new helper, so I'm more aware of pretty much everything I/we are doing), and I also have much less patience (try not leaving the house for ten weeks...and then being super pregnant...and still not being allowed to really do anything...oh and it's like 100 degrees everyday). Meals nearly always had a time out "When you're ready to eat nicely, you can come out of your room." And they were always a battle. I realized that she for sure had VERY negative associations with meals and food and that I was NEVER going to win this battle. I absolutely cannot make her eat, and it was way more about control than anything else. I got that, but I had never been able to do anything about it before.

I decided two weeks ago to just genuinely stop getting stressed about it - both during meal times and not. I recognized that if Samara goes to bed without dinner or misses lunch, she will fully survive. She always has some breakfast and she still has a bottle of formula before bed (the lack of veggies, meat, etc. just doesn't allow me to comfortably get rid of this, though she is very old for it...but don't worry, dad, she brushes her teeth after the bottle). So, starting two weeks ago, I told Alma and Matt that we would continue to prepare the foods that she likes, continue to try to introduce new things (probably about once per week or a bit more often), always offer her what we're eating and other foods, and after offering twice, just say, ok. She can have squeezies, which she seems to be REALLY into now, she can always have plain toast or cheerios if she doesn't want what we're offering, but that's it.

So this is how meals go now:
"Mommy, what's my lunch?"
"Zucchini bread"
Samara cries. "I don't want zucchini bread."
"Ok, well that's what's for lunch. If you don't want to eat it, then you don't have to."
She runs away crying. I totally don't respond and stay happy (genuinely).
She comes running back. "Is it crunchy?"
"It's super crunchy."
"Will you read a book while I eat my zucchini bread?"
"Of course"
Then she proceeds to eat the whole thing. Then she chooses one or two squeezies (she still won't eat any veggies other than sweet potato fries, so these are critical, even though they're not the healthiest things in the world - it's all we got!).

If she still doesn't want to eat what we're serving, then I just say, "ok" and I give her cheerios or toast or nothing. She has totally survived. Meals are WAAAAAY less stressful (for all of us), and I think we are slowly climbing our way out of this mess. I still don't know what we will do in the long term, but I also know that the more I worry about it, or try to get her to eat new things, the worse it will be, so we will just deal with it then.