To Shower or Not to Shower

To shower or not to shower, that is the question.

Ok, this is not about my shower during 坐月子 as I have discussed in a previous entry, but about baby shower.

Chinese don’t have baby shower, so I’m quite oblivious to how it works. So I asked Nicolas, and to my surprise he said it’s not such a common thing to do in France either (indeed when i think of it, I’ve never been to any babyshower during my 4-year stay in France). I thought it’s a ‘western’ thing everywhere in western countries… So you see, ‘Western’ is not all the same – just another example of it.

So I turned to my trusted source, wikipedia. According to wikipedia, baby shower is a way to celebrate the pending or recent birth of a child by presenting gifts to the parents at a party. The term “shower” is often assumed to mean that the expectant mother is “showered” with gifts. And I didn’t know that often it’s hosted by a close friend.

I’m quite reluctant to have a baby shower (maybe simply a reflection of the fact that I’m not used to the idea yet) –  I feel like it’s almost like asking for gifts, esp if you have a ‘baby shower list’ (much like the ‘wedding list’) … (i hope i haven’t offended anyone … so far) … 

But then Tina, a good friend of mine with whom I was talking about it recently, made a point that the list would only do a favor to those who are going to bring you a gift anyway sooner or later, and it also does a favor to ourselves because then we’re sure to get gifts that we need … fair enough, point taken.

And when I come to think of it, I guess baby shower is perhaps the equivalent of other forms of baby related celebration. Much like ‘one-month’ party 满月酒 (like the name suggests, that happens at one month birthday of the baby) and ‘100-day’ banquet 百日酒 in China, or baptism in Christian families. People around the world celebrate the arrival of baby in one way or another. Families and friends share and celebrate the joy by coming along and offering something nice to the latest addition of the family.

mmm … so, to shower or not to shower? That remains as a question …

Have You Chosen a Name Yet?

This is a post dedicted to many eager family members and friends who asked the question 🙂

The short answer is: no.

The long answer is: we’ve established the criteria and given some thoughts. We’ve shortlisted a few names and we have been giving ourselves some time to make a final decision. The name will be revealed at the birth.

The criteria we have is: it has to be a name that sounds ‘normal’ in French, in Chinese, and in English. (a note to Paola – so yes totally in line with your comments)

There are a few things I need to explain first perhaps, so that you may understand why it’s becoming such a task!

First, the name will have two written versions, one in alphabet letters and another in Chinese characters. Instead of giving a French/English name AND a stand-alone Chinese name (for example Bob and 小明/XiaoMing), ,which is not uncommon, we want the two versions to sound at least similar if not same.

Secondly, Chinese ‘first name’ is always either one character or two characters, and since each Chinese character is always strictly just one syllable, that means that any given Chinese firm name will correspond to maximum two syllables. So this poses a limitation to the French/English version of the name if we want them to sounds close. Names like Elizabeth/Margarate are out of the game …

Thirdly, we do not want a name that is too difficult to pronounce in any of these languages. That basically put the names starting with ‘j’ (totally different pronunciation in French & Chinese & English) / ‘h’ (french doesn’t pronounce it usually) out of job.

Lastly, we want a name that is not too common, yet not too ‘strange’ either.

So … yes we’re scratching our heads …

Nicolas has a Chinese name 庞(family name) 念恺 (‘Pang NianKai’ in pinyin, the mainland chinese pronunciation system), a loose phonetic translation from Binse (family name) Nicolas, his ‘real’ name. It can pass as an authentic Chinese name however it needs some explanation before one recognises its similarity with the origional name.

I have been using the phonetic version of my Chinese name 茵 – Yin – as given name in non-Chinese speaking environment, which sounds immediately non-English.

While I like both of our names, we’d like to find a name that meets our criteria as much as possible, which hopefully will make our child’s life a bit easier – or at least not more complicated than it is already. After all, she will already spend fair amount of time answering simple questions such as ‘where are you from’!

Working Mother

I’ve decided to take 6+ months of maternity leave to start with.

I know it is shockingly long for some.

I also know it is shockingly short for others.

One of the things that any working expecting mother has to deal with is how to balance a young baby/child and the career. For many who work in the corporate, it comes down to one single question: how long the maternity leave will/can be.

Australian law supports up to one year of unpaid leave, which may be extended to two years with the agreement from the employer. This is unheard of in many countries incluidng China where I come from. One statistics I read the other day says that Australian women take about 7 months of mat leave in average.

I have very mixed feeling about taking long mat leave.

On the one hand, I don’t know how I will feel dealing with a crying baby 24*7 without being able to have adult converstaion most of time (yes I will read to her in Chinese from early on, but that’s rather monologue for a while at least, isn’t it?). I’ve never imagined myself a motherly type, and I’m not known for being patient with children. Mature and spiritual conversation has always been my type of tea and in fact crucial for my wellbeing. So, am I going to go nuts after 6 months of nappy changing and ‘yi yi ya ya’?

On the other hand, I truly believe what I have been reading about the early education: the more attention and love you can give to the baby and the more communication and bond you can establish with her in the very early part of her life, the more secure she will feel thus the more ‘ready’ she will be for growing up healthily (mentally). Time is probably the best gift a parent can give to a child. So 6 months is definitely not long. After all, child is child only once. You miss it, and you miss it forever.

Then I started to venture into the child care options for post-mat-leave arrangement (after all, regardless of the eventual duration of mat leave, I’ve never thought of not going back to workforce). What an adventure! Do you know that most of the child care centers around Sydney have more than one year of waiting list, and some more than two? Do you know that it costs a fortunue (we are talking about 100-120 australian dollar A DAY!!) to put your child into one of these, if you are lucky enough to get a place? Do you know that you have to start to put your name down in multiple centers AS SOON AS you know you are pregnant, and even that doens’t guarantee you a place by the time  you are back to work?

By simple mathmatics, I start to understand why some women (or men) choose not to return work. After all, if most of what you earn goes to the child care anyway, why bother? Despite the fact that work/career often means much more than just payslip (sense of achievement, social networking, self esteem, etc etc. Oh that’s a whole different topic on its own), it’s not a surprising choice out of financial reasons to choose child caring over career.

It’s a very different story in many Asian countries. Young parents with new born babies in China are better supported in terms of having grandparents or nannies (live in helpers) to look after the child when the mother goes back to work after three months or so. It’s not unheard of to have 2 helpers at home – one takes care of the child and another takes care of house chores. You like it or not, nannies are affordable for financially-better-off couples in many cities. Alternatively some would simply let the grandparents take over the responsibility of raising the child. One might very well debate if it’s a good thing to leave the care of your child to another person (grandgarent or nanny) – I am on the ‘against’ camp – but choices are there.

Sometimes I feel fortunate that I am under no pressure to have to choose work over child raising (at least for the first year). Sometimes I have this strong anxiety of not being able to do it all by my own. Sometimes I ask myself what I would become.  

Time will tell.

A few days later, there is this piece of news that caught my eyes that is sort of related to this blog:

Lack of affordable childcare keeps 70,000 mothers at home


Two Stories

I happened to sit next to Jason and Gary over a dinner table on Hamilton Island, and I heard their respective stories about raising kids in bilingual families.

Story #1:

Jason, a new-zealander, lives in Tokyo (where he has been living for the last 20 years) with his Japanese wife. They have been speaking Japanese to their now 10-year-old child even since she was born (in Tokyo). In recent years, Jason started to speak English to her, and she can understand quite a lot. However every time when she doesn’t understand a word or a sentence in English, she gets really grumpy, to the extent that she starts to resent spearking English at all.

Jason and his wife have been considering to send their daughter to an international school in Tokyo so that English becomes one major language in the school. However the girl doesn’t want to go at all. Jason couple are even thinking of moving to Singapore so that their daughter will have no choice but getting on with English.

When he heard our plan is for me to speak Mandarin with our girl, my husband French, and let the kid deal with English when she has to, Jason said ‘That’s a great plan. The best thing you can do to your child’.

Story #2:

Gary, a Chinese-Australian who grew up in Melbourne moved to HK with his Polish-English wife 5 years ago. Their first son was born 3.5 years ago in HK and the whole family speak English. The boy just started to attend kindergarden recently, where the kids are taught in both Cantonese and Mandarin. While the boy picks up both Cantonese and Mandarin quite quickly, he sometimes mixes up the two. For example when he counts, he would start 1, 2, 3 in Mandarin, then 4, 5, 6 in Cantonese.

How Many Languages Can a Child Handle?

One? Two? Three? Four?

Let me get one thing out straight away, ‘handle’ for the purpose of this particular blog means being able to use a language at a native speaker – or near native speaker – level. This is what I have in mind for our trilingual girl anyway.

The truth is, nobody seems to be sure, yet.

The general consensus is that childen have a born capability to pick up languages. Yet it seems that science still has a long way to go to figure out how exactly a language is learnt by children, and by adults for that matter.

There are (at least) two things that are happening in brain that have significant implication on language development.

1) synaptic connection.

Science tells us that the understanding of the world doesn’t really depend on the amount of brain cells, but on the amount of connections that are buit between the brain cells. These connections are called synaptic connections.  At birth babies are born with virtually all the nurons/brain cells they will ever have. However the building of synaptic connection is trigged only by new experience: every touch, smell, seeing a new color, hearing a new sound, feeling a new feeling, experiencing a new reaction all help the synaptic connection.

By the age of six, 90% of the brain growth is completed, meaning that by then a child would have formed a solid foundation of how his/her brain works. Now be careful, it doesn’t mean that brain stops growing afterwards, it just means that till then, the developing brain is highly sensitive to its surroundings, and grows and adapts in response to its environment.

In other words, the younger the child is, the more adaptable and sensitive the brain is to build connections to learn the languages, if given chance.

2) neural pruning.

Science also tells us that if a synaptic connection is not used often enough, it will be weakened and eventually disappears. This process is called neural prunning. After the magic age of six, it seems that the speed of prunning starts overtake that of connection.  By the age of 14, around adolescence, major prunning has occurred.

It seems like every type of learning,repetition is the key. With languages, it explains why simply playing songs in certain language is not sufficient for the child to learn or keep up with the language.

(this image shows the brain cell density at a few key ages during brain development as discussed above.)

A research shows that a child needs to be exposed to one language for at least 30% of his/her waking time to learn it effectively. By simple mathmatics, it seems that, if handled well, a child shall be able to handle about three languages. He/She can even decide which language to play with more during the 10% of the spare time! 🙂

My reading in the past few months suggests that there are certainly many other elements coming into play in terms of how many languages a child can handle. I will discuss more in the future blogs. By now, I’m quite content with the fact that it seems to be scientifically possible to help our girl to learn three languages from the very beginning.