Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The birds and the bees.

When I was little, I liked to find out how I was made and where I was from. I kept asking Mom how I got to this world yet I'd never gotten a consistent answer. Some times I was popped out from the trunk of an old tree, other times I was left outside of the front door, yet another times I was given to her by a stranger on the street... I was quite skeptical and always curious about my origin. 
I stopped asking this question sometime around 8 yo. Because I had gotten an answer!

At that time, our family moved from the city Nanning to Gongcheng, a small county close to Guilin. Our life style changed drastically. One of the many changes was the way we got water. In the city, water came out of faucets constantly and seemly endless, as long as faucets were turned on. In the countryside, however, water was carried home with barrels by grownups from a very deep well far away. To save the water and labor, clothes were often washed either in a small ditch in the Spring when there were rains or in a river when rains were sparse. The river was far yet the small was just only half way to the river. Regardless, cloth-washing was a laborious task that could usually only be accomplished on sunny Sundays. Mom usually took my older brother Bing and I to the river in the Summer, she would stay ashore washing clothes while Bing and I dove in and out of the water to enjoy ourselves. One day, I thought about the same old question again and asked Mom. She stopped her work and looked far away upstream, then she pointed to a nest-like bundles of bushes floating downstream towards us and said with the most serious tone, "You see the nest? You came exactly like that. I found you crying inside the nest so I picked you up and took you home. That is why you were named after the river Xiang."

The answer was so convincing that I believed it for a long time - I mean that I believed that I was abandoned child by an unknown mother to the point even not suspected anything when I was told repeatedly that I looked exactly like Mom!

Little kids can be pretty dumb, you see. But in my defense, I was not that dumb because as a little kid, I watched a movie called "Liu Shan Jie", which was produced in 1961 and the main character Liu Zhan Jie was from a river! Not mentioning that she was also from the same hometown where I was brought up.  

Another drastic change in our life style after being sent to the countryside was that Mom and Dad were rarely home. They were often needed to help out peasants working on fields growing rice and other crops, especially in the Spring and the Fall - 2 busiest seasons for peasants. Bing and I were given tickets to buy food from the government owned/subsidized cafeteria and keys to our house to sleep at night. In the day time, we just went to school ourselves. Mom and Dad would come home from time to time to make sure that we were alive.

A chill run down your spine - I know - I grew up hell.  

One day when we were playing with other kids as usual, suddenly many grownups showed up. Some of them were carrying a stretcher and others were following the stretcher. We, the little ones, followed the stretcher, were cheering, shouting, guessing who was the one inside the stretcher. When we noticed the nervous and serious faces of those grownups, we sorted of slowed down a bit. At this time, one of the adults found me among those overly curious kids, he shouted out loud to me, "Your Mom is in danger. She is having a massive bleeding..." I felt my head was exploded, I could not hear the remaining things he said, I could hardly breath, then I bursted into a hysterical cry.

Mom is the one inside the stretcher. What is massive bleeding, is she dying? Mom was never been this sick before. What should I do now. I was terrified.

The remaining facts were fussy.

Later that day, Dad came home from the hospital. We (Bing and I) were told that Mom was okay. She had a Xiao Chan/小产/miscarriage, which was accompanied by severe hemorrhage.

Other grownups had blamed Mom for not telling them that she was pregnant. It was in the Spring of 1971. Growing rice at that time was a laborious work. It required people to transplant rice seedings (插秧) manually, which meant that Mom was standing bear-feet inside the cold (few degree above zero Celsius) and muddy fields, and in the mean time of constantly bending her body to insert rice seedings to the ground under the water. Mom should have never gone into the cold like that. Her body simply failed her.

Mom came home from the hospital few days later. She rested in bed to grow red blood cells and I was beside her bed whenever I came back home from school. I enjoyed very much to have her around then, since it was so rare to have Mom home with us. Dad was cooking for her, attentively. Mom possibly introduced me death at that time. She also told me that was not the first time that a baby died inside her. She said I would have had a little sister. I asked how old that my "non-exiting" sister would have been, she said "she" would have been just two year younger than I - now if I come to think of it, she must have been older than Bing - Mom has another man before Dad and it is a story for another day.

Few months after the miscarriage, Mom's belly started to grow and it'd gotten bigger and bigger.

It was then that I had my first lesson about human reproduction. Mom skipped the birds and the bees part, of course. She announced that we were expecting a baby. Mom would allow me to pat her belly and put my ears on her belly to feel the kicks. In the end of the pregnancy, Mom started to make tiny clothes, tiny pillow, tiny blankets (wraps) with collected second-hand adult clothes or blankets. She explained that those materials were soft and the best for the baby's skins. Mom knew so much about raising babies, it was amazing to me.

Yet even then I still believed that I was a child that Mom picked up from Xiang river. I thought that my brothers and I had different mothers.
Now it comes my turn to explain to my children where they are from. I sure do not want Zhuzhu and Niuniu to think that they are from unknown mothers. I also would skip the details involving the birds and the bees, which Anne Glamore had fun to talk to her son about. My version is simple and clear: you came from my belly, I told Mia/Zhuzhu when she asked me one day. Drs. cut mommy's belly open and took you out, I told my kids.

In fact, Mia/Zhuzhu more or less has learned by becoming a big sister. She sort of knows that she used to live in mommy's belly and then she became too big to live in there and had to be taken out to continue to grow in the real world. Plus, she had many peers in her classrooms that had become bigger sisters or bigger brothers in the similar time that she did, so she slowly understood that mommies can give births. Niuniu, however, knows nothing about such stories. 

Last night, when we were all playing in a bath tub, Zhuzhu asked to see my belly scar - she asks to check it out almost every time that I get naked with her in the bath tub and I often let her. 

"Could I see the scar on your belly, Mommy?" She asked.

"Why? You saw it millions of times already." I refused. I was in a hurry to put them to bed since Niuniu was not in his best state. He was making a fuss about everything. He was ready for bed. 

"I want to see where I got out of your belly." She insisted. 

Niuniu followed his sister's lead and said without knowing what he was saying, "I want to see your belly too!" He did not know there was a scar hiding under the fat belly.

"Okay." I took the chance. I wanted to stop his fusses. So, I immediately flipped the belly fat to expose the ugly scar to them - no no, I am not obese, but still, the scar is covered by turning into a skin fold.

The bathroom suddenly became extremely quiet. Niuniu was trying to understand why I had a scar on the belly. He, after having carefully and seriously examined the scar for a little while, asked, "Why did Dr. cut you in the belly?"

He likes to ask obvious questions to which he already knew the answers!

"So that you and Mia could come out of there." I answered with obvious answer.

"Oh." Niuniu asked the obvious questions simply just for saying this lovely and signature "Oh" - he gets Mom and Dad's lovely look each and every time he says it. He says it with an extremely cute and understanding tone.

Looked at his face, I knew I need to explain a bit more, "Mommy went to the hospital and then doctors cut mommy's belly open to take you out of there."

He then looked afar as if he was trying to visualize the event of his coming out of the world. After a little while, he asked, "Why did the Dr. take me out of your belly?" 

"So that you could grow to a big boy like what you are now." I answered briefly.

He then became concerned. He fell into a deep thinking mode. He might be very worried about the fact that I was hurt by the Drs, as much as his tiny finger tip was pierced by a stapler needle - yes, he tried to staple his fingers together one day while I was not looking.

To easy his concerns, I added, "It was okay, mommy did not hurt. The Drs put mommy to sleep before that." I comforted him.

"Why the scar is so small?" Zhuzhu asked, but before I could find a proper answer, she said, "Oh, I know, I used to be a very small."

I followed her, "Yea, you used to be tiny, but you drank mommy's milk and then a lot of cow milk to grow to be such a big girl now." Zhuzhu does not like milk, I could not pass this opportunity to put some ideas to her little head.

"Did we both come out of there in the same time?" Zhuzhu asked. 

Zhuzhu is a smart kid, but this question was a bit dumb, so I laughed at it gently and said, "No, remember you came out first? You came out two years earlier than Niuniu." I reminded her this fact that she speaks about whenever Niuniu is showing off his height. He likes to pretend that he is taller than his sister. 

My story of the birds and the bees does not involve any intercourse and is much less creative than Mom's, but I love to tell it to Zhuzhu and Niuniu over and over again. And each time, they always act like it was the first time that they hear about it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The most romantic thing (最浪漫的事 )

(Translation of the lyrics)
leaning on your back sitting on the carpeted floor
listening to the music and chatting about wishes
you wish me sweeter and tenderer
I wish you to place me in your heart
you said you wish to give me a romantic dream
to thanking me for leading you to find the heaven
even if that takes a life time to accomplish
once I mention it you will remember and never forget
(following are the repeats)
the most romantic thing that I can think of
is to grow old with you
along the way collecting every bit of joys and smiles
saving it for later to chat slowly while sitting in a rocking chair
the most romantic thing that I can think of
is to grow old with you
until we will be too old to go anywhere
you will still treasure me as a gem in the palm of your hand 

Love the song?  Good, because it's one of the best love songs that I have ever known.  The lyrics have no mention of the word love, yet one can easily sense a deep feeling of love in every verse.  Thanks to the Thanksgiving dinner that we had tonight at the house of Mike and Vera's (MV's), the parents of Marie, I dug it out from the Internet to share it with you.  This song makes me cry each and every time when I listen to it.  When I listened to it again tonight, the U-tube link took me to another video in which Zhao Yonghua, the singer, disclosed the fact that she had a tough life growing up without having a father to hold her hands.  I cried even harder and longer than usual.

When I was done with crying, I translated it.

Receiving an invitation to MV's house for dinner is not unusual since our daughters attend the same daycare and they have been best friends since 2.  Mike is now a stay-at-home dad, although he likes to think of himself as a writer.  Having written many screen plays in his early life, gone to law school, and then practiced law for many years, Mike decided that writing books in his bedroom while everyone else is sleeping is the most rewarding job of all.  So I think of him as someone who enjoys every minute what life can offer - he obviously has gotten everything figured out.  I believe he is a typical Daoist but he insists on calling himself a Jew.  Anyway, check out his book and decide for yourself.  Vera is my dictionary and library.  On the top of knowing everything, she is also kind, sensitive, and always puts others' interests above her own - I think she cannot live her life without acting as a Psychologist/Counselor - that is her day job.  Anyway, I am sure that they both totally disagree with me and my hasty judgements on them.  So please keep quiet if you happen to know who they are in person.

At 5 pm, we arrived MV's house and immediately were drawn by the aroma of the food from the kitchen.  Few guests were already there: Ray, a New Yorker and Mike's life long friend; Dan, MV's ex-landlord and a retired attorney; and his new lover Jill.  The hosts and guests greeted us with a delicious Sangria as we were walking into the lovely home.  Skipping getting introduced to the other guests, we started to chat as if we have been old friends!  Our hosts have a high tolerance to my low EQ (emotional intelligence) so I did not have to worry about offending their friends.  After having made it clear to everyone that MV's friends were just our friends, Dave and his wife "Sher" or "Ceiline Dion" arrived - I think she looks just like Sher but Fabrice believes she is the phenocopy of Ceiline.  It's my blog, so let's call her Sher.  The whole house now was completely filled with joys and laughters: Ray and Sher quickly discovered their common interests in playing with the kids so we only hear their giggling from them and the little ones.  Dave was drawn to Fabrice because the latter was a great listener and Dave was a great adventurer, he was sharing his life stories from his "spy life".  Dan and Jill were beside the group attending their own love for each other.  The hosts were walking in between each of these groups carrying and serving them with various starters and drinks, busier than worker bees!

When the dinner was ready, some of us (I know who!!!) were almost full.  Well, in my defense, who can resist a delicious cheese bowl, crackers, various vegetables, and yogurt dips?  While approaching the dinner table, I found that food would have been enough for an army of 100 people: tender and juicy turkey, roast vegetables, sautéed green beans, mashed potatoes, green salads with sweet pecans, fresh cranberries and canned cranberry source...too much?  Imaging this meal was followed by a dessert course of cheese cake from NYC, a homemade cake, 2 kinds of puddings, and pumpkin or vanilla ice cream...

Having stuffed ourselves with the delicious food, we moved our zests from the dinner table to the living room.  The kids were still full of energy at that time.  Marie, Zhuzhu and Niuniu comfortably situated themselves in between Sher's arms and breasts (Yum Yum!!!) listening to the Disney princess stories.  Fabrice was still enjoying Dave's adventurous stories around the world, Dan and Jill still failed to take eyes off each other, and MV were entertaining the whole crowd enthusiastically with random topics.

The party did not seem to be wounded down even it was close to the midnight...

(sorry for a long introduction to this love song)

Being brought up in France and China, respectively, Fabrice and I have very little experience in cerebrating Thanksgiving with the locals.  Tonight's experience certainly has expanded our horizon and the "authentic Americans" have shown us how joyful a Thanksgiving can be.  

My heart was now filled with gratitudes.  It takes me about 20 years living in the U.S. to get into the spirit of this special holiday.  I was grateful to friends like Mike and Vera and their friends for sharing this special night with us; I was grateful to Fabrice, Zhuzhu, and Niuniu for coming to my life; most importantly, I was grateful to my ex-lover, the special one, for having transformed me from an awkward teenage girl into a confident woman.  This is the very reason why I started this post with the love song above.  It was she who introduced me this love song, about 20 years ago!

Years have passed and my intense love for her has settled into a sweet and tender memory.  But the wonderful Thanksgiving party woke up this memory and urged me to find this love song, to cry a river, and then to finally write this post.

Life is complicated and imperfect.  Now growing old with her, collecting every bits of happy smiles along the way, and saving it for later to chat slowly with her ... may never be possible anymore.  But I do cherish our journey together.

Here I am collecting bits of smiles and joys along tonight's cerebration...

...to share with you, my friends inside the computer, while sitting on a rocking chair.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Promotion - Tenure in Private Universities

Fabrice got his tenure, after exactly 5 years working in the same institution that I am in. So I sent him a congratulation letter:

"Congratulations, Fabrice, I noticed that your name is associated with associate professor now. Not that I am being pushy, my boss got his full professorship after being hired for only 8 years, could you top that?!

Okay, I find a place to hide now…"
You guessed it, I am sure. I am not an associate professor yet, although I was hired as an assistant professor 2 whole months earlier than Fabrice. 

On the first day that I got my job, I imagined that I would have myself promoted within 5 years. I did not at all doubt that based on my productivity on the past. However, 7 years passed, I am still having the same job title and I have not even been told to get ready to collect my promotion package yet. 

Well, I can say that things are not the same now. NIH cuts research funding every year ever since I got my job. Getting federal money to do research is just harder and harder. Inside of me, though, I know this is just an excuse. The real deal is that I have gradually lost incentive to thrive for this promotion because I know it will not help me to get over my depression. It even does not provide me food. Look: 

Tenure - gets recognition
Tenure - gets a job and an office, even though it may mean you work in the basement
Tenure - gets no salary
Tenure - gets no lab space (you still can hang out in the library or Gym)

Does recognition and a job with an office feed me and my kids? Can you imagine one day I'll call my parents to ask them to take me back in the house because I just lost yet another research grant?

Fabrice is happy to get his promotion so that he now can move on to help his subordinates, such as I, to get their promotions accordingly. Which means that I should be happy too since I will be finally getting my attentions from him. However, I am not as thrilled as you think I should be. I feel that I am beyond this - the bottom line is if one gets promoted still needs to come up with 95-100% salary on his own, what the promotion helps him? I am THAT practical.

Yes, you guessed again. I did not keep this opinion to myself. 

Are you with me? I pointed this out in a faculty meeting. And right away, I was educated by almost everyone in that meeting: Tenure helps you more than you think outside the institution. The recognition is not only from inside, it is also a way to show outside that your institution values you. Second, the standards used by the institution to promote you are in sync with the standards that NIH or other funding agencies use to decide whether you should get the grant money. So, trying hard to get yourself promoted is the same as trying hard to get yourself few research grants to keep your job.

Are you still with me now?

Have I explained clearly to you why universities are not as attractive as before? Have I just revealed why Universities don't make Einstein anymore? Now you know why Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and just about everyone else who can "make big differences" are all college dropouts?

Now after having been an assistant professor for 7 years, I begin to wonder whether we were wise to turned down jobs in both U.K. and Canada where 100% salary for life was promised.

Something needs to be done here. Tenure needs to mean certain amount of security to preserve creativity of the intellectuals. Private schools often use endowments to attract people, unfortunately, endowments only go to already accomplished professors who are often self-sustainable and secure. Plus, they are already at the top and if they continue their journey, there is only one direction to go. I do not mean that we should not give endowment to them, we should, if they are having administrative roles.

Are you with me, still?

Fortunately, I believe my current new chair understands how to run this business quite well. So, I am not quitting my job yet. Let's hope that my chair will come up with a good solution to this dilemma. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tiger Mother – Part III, family split

(Read the Part I, if you just stumbled here).

After losing the land, Mom’s family could no longer live in the hometown since none of the men in the family was raised to grow rice and vegetables.  As the oldest and married children, aunts Er and San decided to split the family duties: Aunt Er took Mom and her little half-brother uncle Shan to Guilin, one of the 4 cities in Guangxi province.  Uncle E was starting new projects of constructing China Southeast Railway Network there. Aunt San and uncle Playboy took stepGrandma, aunt Jun, and aunt Dai to Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou (Edit: Aunt Jun said she joined them only briefly after she failed to pass the examination to the best girl's high school in Hunan.  She in fact stayed in Mom's place in Quanzhou, a small city close to Guilin for a month.  She had fun with Mom who suggested her to stay with her so that she could continue to finish her high school education.  But Mom's stepmother/aunt Jun's mother wanted aunt Jun to join her in Guiyang.)

So in early 50s, Mom’s family split into two subfamilies: one headed by Aunt Er and her husband Uncle E in Guilin, and the other headed by Aunt San and uncle playboy in Guiyang.

Cities like Quanzhou/Guilin and Guiyang at that time were much less desirable than today.  Since Guangxi and Guizhou were two of the least-developed provinces in the southeast of China.  Guilin was the city of the choice because it was where uncle E's worked for his next railway project whereas Guiyang had Mom’s extended family (Edit: Aunt Jun said that their cousin Uncle Sun, the son of Mom's Aunt, Grandpa's sister who raised Mom, worked there as the head of the banks.)

Soon after the split/moving away from her hometown, Mom got a job as a secretory for her Unit (Danwei, 单位) leaders.  And shortly after that, aunt Er's family and uncle Shan moved once again to relocate to Beijing, the capital city of country.  Uncle E had become a chief engineer there (according to Aunt Jun, but later they moved again to Xi'an).  Mom was left alone in Guilin and she stayed far away from her big family ever since.

In 1949, China just experienced long-lasting wars and the economy was still in a terrible shape: food supply was limited and hungry kids were everywhere countrywide.  Following that, Mao and his CCP did several crazy things, such as Great Leap Forward (Da Yuejin, 大跃进) in late 1957/ early 1958 that destroyed all kinds of metals including cooking wares that each household owned, the Anti-Rightist Movement (反右派运动) that took uncle Playboy's job in 1959, on the top of the Land Reform that took away Grandpa's power in 1950, all of which severely weakened the already fragile China economy.  Therefore, like many starving children born between 1950 and 1960 in China, Mom’s family in Guiyang suffered greatly from both starvation and lost social status (now you know why your parents ask you to finish your plate, there are starving children in China.  For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone should enjoy food fight in this world).

After moving the Guiyang, stepMom was still in power within the family, even when she was living on the income of Uncle Playboy and Aunt San. Until today, I still hear stories from Guiyang's cousins about how selfish the stepGrandma was: since she only cared about Aunts Jun and Dai, but neglected the other 5 other small grand children (Edit: Aunt Jun said this part of the story could not be true, since her mother was the kindest human being of the world who would not do anything selfish things. She said she was attentive to all kids equally. I have to admit that I have never confirmed this with Aunt San and this part of story was told her youngest two girls, who could have been too young to really know anything at all. However, Aunt Jun was not in Guiyang living with her Mom in the beginning years so she could not know the real situation either herself.)

It is not clear to me when and how stepGrandma died, maybe early 60s. The family in Guiyang had not split further. Aunt Jun was encouraged to find a job and she was able to acquire one successfully in a postoffice.  She even was sent by her unit to study in Chongqing Institute of Posts and Telecommunications.  Aunt Dai finished her high school education and left the family when she went to a medical school in Zunyi, a key medical college in Guizhou.

Uncle Playboy and aunt San had hard time to raise a big family which expanded from 6 to 10 members from 1949 to 1958.  At the first few years following the family split, both of the heads of the household had jobs: uncle Playboy was a clerk/manager in a post office and aunt San worked in a department store.  Uncle Playboy also acted in various occasions, although I am not sure whether his acting career generated any additional income to help the family out or it was just one of his many hobbies.  The limited income of the family would need not only to support the 5 youngsters, but also stepGrandma, Aunts Jun and Dai, Mom's 2 younger half sisters, who were in colleges at the time.  The hardship of Mom's family in Guiyang did not end until sometime between late 70s and early 80s after Mao died and uncle Playboy got his job back, not in post office anymore.  He was finally discovered by the government after Mao's era as an valuable intellectual and politician in his late 50s. He worked in Workers Culture Palace in Guiyang for years until his retirement in early 90s.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Overtired kids

Niuniu is the sweeter one between the two of our children. However, he is a bit of too sweet lately since he has been coming to our bed every single night in the middle of the night for the last few weeks. While we enjoy very much his sweet kisses and hugs, we don't really appreciate his coming to our bed, night after night. This has happened coincidently few days after I made an authoritative comment on Julia's post blaming her inability to keep her sweet 3 yo Edward away from her bed. Little did I know, kids at this age like to join their parents in the middle of the night according to Dr. Google. You can imagine how embarrassed that I have been ever since. My excuse was that at least our first child Zhuzhu did not do such a thing.

About a month ago or so, Niuniu has started to be a usual resident our master bed. He is sneaky and quiet. He wakes up and comes to us whenever his first urination urge comes, I guess. It's impressive to us how he has managed not to fall rolling down the flight of the stairs so far (knock on wood for that will never happen!!!).  It's quite a walk from his room to ours - he needs to cross the hallway, go down a flight of stairs, pass the living room and another hallway to reach our room. At the first few nights, we'd taken him to the toilet and then put him back to his own bed. We'd sacrificed few good night sleeps to prevent him from getting a bad habit of intruding our adult life. I'd even followed The Internet's instruction to put few night lights in his room as I was told these green night lights could "catch the monsters"- assuming those are what he is afraid of. However, Niuniu is smarter than that, he does not believe Mommy's story. He even has discovered if his diaper was already wet, the sleepy/lazy Mommy would not likely to bother him with the toilet trip, but more likely to leave him where he is much longer, sometimes up to  next morning. So he's decided to wet his diapers before climbing in between us in our bed after a while. Just so you know, our master room has a queen-sized bed and Niuniu is not a still sleeper, he comes in between Mommy and Daddy, then turns, tosses, kicks, squeezes, until one of the two legal residents leaves the bed. Therefore, it has become a problem.

And we decided to do something about it...

...by begging him every night before we tuck him in, "Niuniu, could you promise us not to come to Mommy and Daddy's bed tonight?" The understanding kid always smiles, nods his head, and says confidently, "No, I am not coming to your bed tonight. I'll stay in my bed, I'll, I promise" His words are loud, clear, and seeming sincere. However, he obviously did not care what the word "promise" means! One night, I put his sleeping bag beside our bed and told him if that night he came again, he would go there to sleep. So when he showed up in the middle of the night, I said pointing to the sleeping bag, "There, you sleep on the floor." He broke into extremely sad cry and I immediately caved.

So, we've let him slide thus far until last night.

Last night was a big deal, which made us realize that it's time to be firm with this little guy.

It seems like that our indulging his joining us in the middle of the night has becoming a signal for him to do whatever he wants to do. To spoil a kid does not take much, let me tell you. Sure, he had a few coughs, a bit of running nose, and a bit of fever a few days ago, which may have made things worse.

Last night, thing went extreme.

First, he threw tantrums before and at the dinner time. Then he screamed after being fed a little bit of food, finally he refused to allow anyone to put him to bed, eventually fell in asleep last my arms. However, he woke up when the Daddy was putting a diaper on him and the poor Daddy spent the next 10 minutes to put him back to sleep in his bed.

Niuniu had given us exact 2.5 hours of peace and quiet moment, which just enough for the adults - Ling, John (my ex-boyfriend), Fabrice, and I - to finish watching our Netflix rental movie and get ready for bed. Niuniu started screaming at top of his lungs at the moment that the Daddy was adjusting his watch to winter time, so our attending service was about 1 min later than usual. He cried so loud that woke up his soundly sleeping sister. Niuniu screamed louder at the time that the Daddy rushed upstairs to his room, the Daddy had no choice but taking him down to me so that he could go back to put Zhuzhu back to sleep.

Yet Niuniu was not willing to calm down in my arms either. He kicked me while continued wailing. He twisted his body to get off me as if I was some sort of monster. So I had to put him in the bed to let his anger out of the system. A few min later, the Daddy came down. Seeing Niuniu was not stopping, he bended down to call his name while gently stroking his shoulder. However, the usual soothing techniques failed to change the situation but only got Niuniu madder. Sadly not knowing what else could be done, we left the little guy alone. The 2 loving parents stared at our son crying for another 20 mins.

We did nothing but watching our son crying, for 20 minutes!

The last time Niuniu cried like this was 2 years and 8 months ago when he was about one month old. Niuniu at that time was overtired. I could not recalled what was the cause but he was doing exactly the same thing - crying at the top his lung and wanting to be left alone.

While watching our little precious crying on the top of his lungs, I realized how terrible parents we have been the whole day. We have been too greedy trying to fit all activities in one day - we overworked our little kids, hell, we even overworked our visitor, my ex-boyfriend and long-term annoying soulmate. In order to fit everything in one day, we got up early and fed the children in a rush. Then we packed them to do some hiking along the Randor Lake. Since Fabrice would need to be at his soccer game at 1:10 pm, we rushed the kids and crippled John to finish a whole loop. John did not understand the point of rushing through the beautiful forest with colorful leaves - it's indeed the best time to enjoy Fall leaves. We rushed to the soccer field at 1:40 pm only to be told that the other team did not show up on time and the game was rescheduled to 3:30 pm. Perfect, we not only did not miss the beginning half of the game, now we even could let the kids take their naps in the car on the way back home during our waiting time.

However, the kids decided that's the day to skip naps.

Skipping nap is not the only reason for Niuniu's annoyance, I guess. The rough play that Sango, a 10-tear old son of a soccer player in the Fabrice's team, put upon him can be another. Sango and Niuniu often play rough like typical boys. But yesterday was not the same. Since the field was much larger than usual ground and the mommies believed it was safe for the kids to run free. We were fully engaged in the heated soccer game for the entire time - the winner of the match would be qualified for the tournament and both teams played at their full strength. I "watched" Niuniu from the corner of my eyes and saw that he was laughing and running after Sango and his football. They did also a lot of flipping on the grass. Those activities following a hiking morning, picnicking lunch, and nap-free afternoon, Niuniu must have overworked.

Our little guy's solution to his exhaustion which prevented him from getting out of hid bed, traveling through the hallways, stairs, and rooms to our bed was screaming in the middle of the night.

Finally, the tiger mother in me forced him into my arms and asked him to listen to me: I told him in Chinese that the wolf outside in the woods would be awake by his howling. I said to him that he'd better hide under the Mommy's arms st that the wolf would not find him. Boy oh boy, I feel guilty just typing these down - he immediately stopped wailing and slid inside the comforter, quietly allowed me to stroke his back gently. It did not take longer than a minute, the little guy turned back to that familiar sweetie and felt into deep sleep.

I do scare my children in situations like this. I usually use either wolf or policeman and they are equally scary to little kids in this household.

P.S. Niuniu did not come downstairs after we sent him back to his bed last night. He also did not show up in our bed the night after. Knock on woods he stops coming from now on.   

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tiger Mother - Part II, Men of The House

(If you happen to stumble in this post, you could start with Part I).

Uncle Engineer:

After Grandpa died, the family was under the care of two of his oldest children: aunt Er and aunt San. The men of the house were tied up by their work outside the village: uncle E worked at a National Railway Base in Changsha.  I am not sure what job that uncle Playboy held while he married into Mom's family, but what I know was that he was not home much either.

I grew up believing that uncle E single-handedly designed the Wuhan Bridge standing over the Yangtze River - while this could be true for other smaller bridges in various locations in China, Wuhan Bridge, however, was designed by a team of Russian and Chinese engineers.  Uncle E was one of the members in that designing team.  Needless to say, he was best accomplished and respected man in the family, although what I heard of him was usually not about his achievements, instead, was often about his charms, intelligence, nuttiness, attentiveness - his charisma. I "knew" him as a man of every girl's dream.  Aunt Er, as I was told, was not only beautiful, she also was the best-mannered, well-educated, and most graceful woman of the girl-kind.  Mom had a few family photos, in which I "met" aunt Er and uncle E and cousin Qingyun, their daughter.  Aunt Er had curving and small eyes with the typical look of an ancient Chinese beauty, which is nothing like these modern Chinese beauties.  Uncle E looked like a movie star, his handsomeness was breath-taking.  Bro Qingding looks like aunt Er's clone: except for his triangle eyebrows.  Sis Qingyun looked like her father’s clone.  I saw Bro Qingding in person only once so far when I was 22.  He was so irresistible that I immediately drowned in his charms - he is the first and only man with whom I fell in love at the first sight.

Aunt Er, aunt San, and Mom looked quite alike, but somehow Mom was not regarded a beautiful girl in the family, probably because she did not have her oldest sister's sophistication.  Aunt Er died at age of 49 to pneumonia/TB.  Uncle E then married to another woman and then died soon after that without any additional children.  Stepaunt died in early 90s.

Sis Qingyun was "brain-damaged" due to meningitis that she got when she was little.  I used quotation marks because I don't know whether she was truly retarded or just had peculiar personality.  Also since her parents were first cousins, which often makes me wonder whether it was the root of Qingyun's unique personality or retardation.  Qingyun had two marriages and 2 children, one from each marriage.  None of her 2 husbands is retarded.  Qingyun died of cancer few years ago.

Uncle Playboy:

In contrast to uncle E, uncle Playboy was not favored by the family, although he was multitalented: was a stage-performing artist specialized in Beijing Opera; a post office clerk from late 50s to late 60s; a Chinese traditional medical doctor with specialty of infertility from late 60s to late 70s; and finally, a calligrapher worked in "Wenhua Gong (cultural palace)" until his retirement in early 90s.  His calligraphic work has been collected by many art museums including the Stele Forest of Calligraphy in Sichuan province.  Practicing Zhong Yi (Chinese Medicine) was uncle Playboy's surviving tool since his formal job with a steady income at the post office had been taken away - he belonged to the "5 Black Categories".

I visited aunt San and uncle Playboy for the first time in 1976 when I was 14.  Their 5 children are 13 to 4 years older than me so they all teased me like I was some sort of retards.  It was a summer holiday and Mom and Dad allowed me to stay there for a whole month.  I found uncle Playboy funny, witty, and extremely and amazingly good-looking.  No wonder people called him by his nick name!  Unfortunately, other than being teased by him at the dinner time every night, I don't recall what else happened involving him during my stay.  It seemed that he came home only at dinner time, he would joke around while we were all eating our dinner.  No one would respond to his jokes.  He also liked to tease me about my funny look and accent, he called me names, like "Guangxi Lao".  Now I finally figured out why I did not see him after dinner - I had taken his spot by sharing a bed with aunt San. 

Two years after my first visit, I went to Guiyang once again for a summer holiday.  This time, I found out where uncle Playboy lived - his office where he "saw" his patients.  It was an old, dark, and narrow room with a tiny hospital bed.  I was told whenever the family has guests, he retreated to this place.

The third time I visited Guiyang was the summer of 1983, I was just passing by on my way to Sichuan - I had a whole month travel plan ahead of me.  So I only stayed a few days.

And then the next time I saw uncle Playboy was 1987, when I was 25.  I was going there to accompany Mom.  It was Mom's very first visit to Guiyang and also unfortunately the very last trip for Mom.  She was diagnosed with 3rd degree cervical cancer in 1984.  Since the tumor was too large to be surgically removed, the doctors did chemo/radio therapies on her.  Three years later and after having been in and out of the hospitals countless times, the primary tumor disappeared.  Doctors may have told her that it might have metastasized to other places which would soon take her life away.  However, Mom and Dad did not tell us anything.  They just made various travel plans for Mom to go about the country to visit her family.  Mom had been to Shanghai first to spend some time with aunt Jun's family and then she went to Guiyang to spend some time with aunt San and aunt Dai's families.  I went to join Mom as soon as the summer holiday started. 

We all knew it could be the last time that Mom would be with her sisters and we were all very sad, but in the mean time, everyone there was also trying to enjoy every minute that Mom had left.  

One night after cousins were gone back to their respective homes after our routine dinner gathering, Mom and aunt San went to their shared bed, I should also have gone to my bed that was in the living room where uncle Playboy was still watching TV.  He didn't seem to be getting ready to leave, which was a bit surprising.  Uncle Playboy was a different person ever since he got his government job back.  It was way early for my bed time anyways, so I joined uncle Playboy.  He then started to tell me his childhood stories that involved Mom.  As Mom's second cousin, uncle Playboy shared part of his childhood with Mom and aunt San.  According to uncle Playboy, he loved Mom at least as much as, if not more than, he loved Aunt San.  But Mom was 6 years younger so he could only marry to aunt San at that time.  I was interested to hear Mom's childhood stories so I kept asking him for more.  But all he could say was that he loved Mom very much.  He then whispered nervously to my ears, “You are so beautiful, you look just like your Mom when she was young.”  Then he suddenly started to tell me things about his work as a doctor.  He bragged about the power of his magical Chinese medicines that could turn cold women into hot women, meaning he could cure woman's frigidity.  Then he asked me to stick my tongue out so he could examine it.  He checked it out for a few seconds and said that he could give me some Chinese medicine to adjust my Qi.  According to uncle Playboy, my kidneys were too weak, they needed to get stronger (FYI, he was right, I found out that I had few small kidney stones a year or two later).  After that, he asked to check my pulse and then he said, "I'll make you a healthy girl." - if I was not mistaken, I believe he meant to make me a girl with strong sexual desires.  His play went on.  He asked me whether my boyfriend and I had active sex life, I was speechless.  He told me that male impotency was quite prevalent and he also was able to cure them with special Chinese medicines... Finally, he reached the point, "Sex is a very pleasurable and a girl like you should be enjoying it a lot."  My reaction to that suggestion was, "I am a virgin and I would not lost it to anyone that I am not in love with."  Then I realized that uncle Playboy was holding my hand the whole time after the pulse checking.  Since he was a doctor and I was a biologist, talking about sex between us was not troubling me too much.  However, to say that I did not know what he was doing would have been a lie.  Everyone has a desire for pleasure, I guess, especially at that time I had already a boyfriend with whom I had practiced such human behaviors already!  I was quite curious about how far this conversation would go even though I had no idea about what I would do if things had gotten out of hand.  While all these went through my mind, I felt that he was taking my hand on his aroused manhood.  Yes my friend, he was my uncle and I know what you are thinking: it was creepy and disgusting.  But honestly, that was not how I felt at that particular moment.  Part of me was really curious to find out what he would do to seduce a women.  Another major part of me was scared: Mom and aunt San, his wife, were sleeping next door.  I was more scared of him being caught than me being raped.  Gently and slowly, I took my hand back and sat there with my eyes staring at the TV screen.  I was trying very hard not to make a strange sound to wake up Mom and aunt San.  Luckily, he soon finished his business by himself and calmed down.

Uncle Playboy just demonstrated to me how he got his nick name.  Mom has 4 beautiful sisters, he married to one and must've wanted to sleep with all the other three!

I reckon that he "loved" all the beautiful girls that he met as much as I "love" all handsome men that I meet.  It's a human nature.  While I may not necessarily take any actions to those handsome men that I love, I don't blame him for loving Mom, his little sister that he loved since childhood.  He was out of line, of course, but that happened at a special time - he was possibly dealing with the fear of losing Mom.  In fact, uncle Playboy and Mom had never seen each other ever since the family split.  Mom died less than a year after her visit to Guiyang.

The last time I saw uncle Playboy was about 2 year after Mom died.  Uncle Playboy came to our hometown Nanning for an exhibition of calligraphic work in Guangxi Art Museum.  This time, he brought his “secretary"/mistress, the last lover of his life.  I again turned a blind eye to his betrayal to aunt San.  I guess I simply didn't know how to hate a handsome and talented man who I always admired.

Uncle Playboy died in late 90s to pancreatic cancer at age of mid 70.
P.S. my true forgiveness to uncle Playboy is possibly rooted in the fact that I had fell in love with two of my cousins: Bro San, uncle Playboy's second son, and Bro Qingding, uncle E's son.  Love stories will be told in later posts. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Home alone, again! - the last love story

I've finally figured out why I am more productive when the hubby is out of town: I must have been trying to impress him so that he comes back home with heightened appreciation of me as his super wife and kids' supermom. All these years, I might have been under appreciated, who knew!

Ever since we met, I thought that I had the upper hand, especially given that I am 10 years older therefore 10 years wiser, right?

Fabrice and I met at work in year 2000. He came from France for a supposedly short postdoctoral training - he had a 2-year fellowship grant so he planed to head back his home country as soon as the grant-funded period would end, which also means that he did not intend to develop special bonding with me or anyone else in the U.S..

At the first sight, we did not even like each other. He thought that I was too loud and I thought he was too witty, by too witty I mean his sense of humor was too European. So love at first sight did not happen between us. One day, after "knowing" me for 1.5 years, he came to ask me where he could find a Chinese bamboo steamer, I told him in China Town. Of course I also offered to take him there the following weekend - I know, who would pass the opportunity to get to know a handsome guy like him, even though that required me to put up with his Europeanness. We got a bamboo streamer, some Chinese groceries, and spices. Acting as his local guide granted me a dinner in his apartment and also defined the turning point of our relationship. After dinner, he asked to kiss me. He said he liked me the moment when I sat down in his passenger seat with my two legs folded like a typical Chinese. I said, "No, it would be easier if you'd asked me to sleep here." I did not stay with him that night, but I moved in only few weeks after that.

Few months after that, he moved into my apartment since his apartment was emptied twice, first by burglars and second by flood/Storm Allison.

The following summer, after 6 months into our dating life, Fabrice took me to France. That was the first time that I visited France, with a bonus of having a local guide and lover, triple exciting. We stayed in Dijon with Pierre, one of the two Fabrice's childhood best friends. While Pierre and I were left alone -Fabrice had a short conference to attend in the U.K. - he told me quite a few Fabrice's romantic stories, introduced me 3 (!!!) Fabrice's ex-girlfriends, and as if these were not discouraging enough, he even said to me, "Fabrice's would never get married."

With all the newly acquired knowledge, I decided to play along. I did not expect to the relationship going anywhere anyway, I was just using Fabrice to get over Theo, I thought to myself. After Fabrice came back from U.K., the 3 of us did everything that the boys loved to do: caving, rock climbing, canyoning, hiking, partying, drinking... (no group sex, I know what you are thinking!) While I could feel that Fabrice then was in love with me, I was in doubt about our future until that nigh after the party with Fabrice's friends in Dijon:

One of the 3 ex-girlfriends of Fabrice (he later explained that she was not his exGF, I blame Perrier for this) flirted a whole night long. I was right there, and I could not speak French, but that did stop them. Eventually, I left the 2 "love birds" alone since I felt more and more in their way. Fabrice did not come after me but Perrier did. He was more attentive than Fabrice, either because he felt sorry for me or because he felt dutiful as he was used to being my translator by then. After the party, I kept quiet in order to draw Fabrice's attention so that he would realize his wrong doing and then would apologize to me.

But he fell in asleep faster than a narcoleptic dog. I felt like being abandoned in that foreign land. I felt sad and extremely lonely, and it had been long time that I had not felt that way.

So I got up to make my early return to the U.S. arrangements. An hour or so later (it must be about 3 am), Fabrice and Perrier found me in a phone booth close to Perrier's apartment. It was then I confessed that I was jealous and I was no longer a free spirit.

So, I started my trap to get him.

First step, I asked Fabrice for a ring as a Christmas gift, "Why a ring?" he was not expecting that, because I told him many times that I did not intend to get married, especially to him, because he was 10 years younger and he was a French (who can trust French, they love everyone, right?). "Oh, don't worry, I have not changed my mind. I like to wear rings and it's just a ring, not a marriage proposal." I answered.

He probably was not convinced by my answer but bought me a ring soon after I asked for it. It's a cute one with the world's tiniest diamond on it. He got it from France. Perfect, he was in!

Second step, I asked him to go for a summer vacation with me and I suggested us to go Hawaii. He said what about other interesting spots other than a tourists flooded Hawaii. I told him Hawaii was nice and sure enough, we spent wonderful 11 days in Maui! Until today, we both often refer that trip was our honeymoon. So, he was in the trap deeper!

Third step, I made him stay in the U.S.. When our relationship became more and more serious, we started to imagine where we could live together after we finished our postdoctoral fellowship. He said, Canada, Australia, U.K., Holland, Switzerland, even Denmark. I said, "Honey, U.S. is the only country that I would consider." Since then, he never left the U.S..

Fourth step, I asked him to marry me. In 2004, after living together long enough, I said to him, "I think you should meet my father now. He has to know who I am living with." He said, "Yes, let's go to China." "Remember my father is old and he does not like it if he knew that you and I are not married. So, I am going to tell him that we are married. Otherwise, he will put you in another room." Well, what waited for Fabrice in China was a wedding - Chinese style, completely arranged by Bing, my older brother. The second morning after we arrived China, Fabrice and I were sent to the photo studio to get our "Wedding" photos taken. The 2 of us spent a whole day changing costumes, being put on make ups, and fighting for the jetlags. And that same night, about 100 people (family members and school friends of mine) showed up at the big wedding reception banquet. One month after that, we got our legal marriage license because I told him that we should not lie about our marriage to my Chinese people.

Last step, I asked him to give me a couple of kids. And now we had Mia/Zhuzhu and Remy/Niuniu.

Life has been happily ever after, indeed.

I know that I was indecent and calculating. But a girl has to do what a girl had to do.

But things becoming out of my hands lately. I am losing power after living in this happy life for the last 7 years. Fabrice is now formally my boss, both at work and at home. The worst of all, I did not even realize that until today, after I spent a whole night trying to cut Niuniu's hair while he was sleeping!

"Niuniu needs a hair cut." Fabrice said to me few days ago. "Good luck with that." I said. I had already tried few times before but Niuniu's answer was consistently no. Then the day before Fabrice left for Washington, he said, "Niuniu said he would let you cut his hair now." I immediately put our lovely son in front of the mirror by sitting him on the edge of the sink like last time. He screamed and I let him go.

Tonight, in the middle of my rewriting "tiger mother blog" (BTW, I deleted the most of it by accident!) after tucked the kids in bed, I received an email from Fabrice. He said, "Good news, I will be back in Town tomorrow 9 am." WTF, that would be a whole day earlier! My plan changed at once. Instead of writing, I went to get comb and scissors - I needed to cut Niuniu's hair before Fabrice's coming back home. The damn kid woke up each time I tried, so a 20-min haircut has become a 4-hour one.

Well, Niuniu has his haircut finished and I have this blog written: "One stone killed 2 birds," as we Chinese like to say.

Wow, I am a pushover, what a discovery!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tiger Mother - Part I, Mom was born

Chinese mothers are no different from mothers of any other ethnicity. Good mothers do whatever to make their youngsters strong, healthy, and independent so that they are capable of surviving in this world. It's biology!

From now on, I'll write stories about Mom and Dad, so that you would know how we become who we are today. These could become parts of a future book that I am thinking of writing after I'll retire from my current job. I have not decided in which language I would write about my book yet. My Chinese has gotten worse over the years for lack of usage while my English is becoming better. Let's start with the Chiglish version, shall we? 

Mom was born in early 1932 while China was under the control of Guomingdang (Kuomintang) in a small village close to Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province. Mom's Dad, Grandpa was a principal of an elementary school in the village and also a landlord who had inherited the land from his family (Edit: Aunt Jun just told me that her family's richness ran over 09 generations! Wow, that is shockingly successful!) Mom's family thus owned few helpers who grew rice and vegetables to feed the family. Therefore, unlike over 95% of the kids of Mom's age, Mom had food to eat and books to read when she was little. Schooling at Mom's time was a luxury, so although Mom was only in school for about 7 years, her level of education was already better than most of her peers. And that certainly should warrant her to marry into a decent husband's family (婆家), an ultimate goal/fate of every girl of Mom's time.

Grandpa and Grandma had total of 4 children together. But Grandpa had total of 7 children. How that happened? He married again after his first wife died when Mom was only 1 year old. So, Mom had 2 half sisters and 1 half brother. They were/are: 

1st brother – Uncle who died young to rabies 
2nd sister– Aunt Er Meiren (Aunt 二/Er)
3rd sister – Aunt Shan Meiren (Aunt 三/San)
4th girl – Mom herself
5th half sister – Aunt Juneau (Aunt Jun)
6th half sister – Aunt Dairu (Aunt Dai)
7th half brother – Uncle Xianshan (Uncle Shan)

Er () means the second of the family; Meiren (美人) means beauty. San (三) means the third. San in my youngest uncle's name means kind-heated (善). Can you guys keep it up, Chinese is not that difficult! 

As indicated by their names, Aunt Er and Aunt San were well-known beauties in the village. Having a wealthy and well-educated father, they were hot girls for matchmakers. If you have watched movie Mulan, you should get the picture. Grandpa was quite powerful in his time and place and he did not like to marry his daughters to their perspective husbands' home. Instead, Grandpa demanded his future sons-in-laws to marry into his house. This arrangement was against the old Chinese traditions but it was not impossible. Therefore, Grandpa's dowries did not go outside of the family.

Arranged marriages in old China could be made at the day of an infant was born. I am not sure whether this was the case for Aunt Er. What I know for sure is that her marriage was admired by all of her sisters and their girl cousins. I often hear stories about Uncle E (Youming Li), the husband of Aunt Er. I called it Uncle E here since he used to be a railway engineer. That means that he represented technology that was rare at that time. Plus, in order to become an engineer, Uncle E must have gone far to acquire his advanced degree since schools in old China were scarce, especially the ones that could offer engineering degrees (Edit: Aunt Jun told me that he was an graduate of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Wow!) 

Uncle E had gotten his degree and his handsomeness worth by marrying to Aunt Er, the number 1 beauty in town. Therefore, they were considered to be perfect match and a golden couple (Edit: Aunt Jun said that she was married at age of 16 before she even finished high school. No wonder her son is the same age of my youngest uncle, see below). Together, they produced 2 children: Bro Qingding and Sis Qingyun. Bro Qingding, the oldest cousin of mine, is the same age as Uncle Shan, the youngest son of Grandpa. I had the hardest time to comprehence this fact when I was first informed this at age 14. Does this mean stepGrandma was the same age as Aunt Er? - I'll find this out from Aunt Jun this Christmas when we shall be visiting her in NJ. 

After the birth of Uncle Shan, Grandpa was severely ill and soon passed away. Mom's the family lost a major and only income, therefore, continued education for Mom would become less of a priority. Mom and her second sister Aunt Shan were encouraged to stop going to school so that they could help out the family (Edit: Aunt Jun said in fact, Grandpa did not die until 1951 and he died at home. His house was taken away by the government only after his passing. See below.)

So up to now, you should pretty much figure it out that Mom was basically brought up by her oldest sisters Aunt Er and Aunt Shan, because her stepMom was too busy to take care of her 3 youngsters. As oldest children of the family, it's their job to help out (Edit: Aunt Jun corrected me here again. She said that Mom was brought up by Grandpa's sister and Mom even called her Mother, not Aunt. Good to know. Aunt Jun also said that her mother, Mom's stepmother was a very kind woman who did not have much power at home. She was an extremely kind woman who was well-respected by all Mom's older sisters.)

In mid 40s, Aunt San was arranged to marry her second cousin who was also known as a Playboy. No one in the family was fond of this marriage, especially Aunt San who'd rather go back to school. Aunt San was the rare one who enjoyed studying much more than her age-matched siblings and cousins. However, the family needed her sacrifices. To this date, Aunt San was still bitter about this premature "dropout". She was particularly not happy about her stepMomwho semi-forced her and Mom out of school early (Edit: Aunt Jun said this decision was made my Grandpa's sister, not Mom's stepmother).

Mom, on the other hand, was happy to be out of the school. She was a free spirit since young. She thought that reciting old text books, such as poems written by these famous poets, was silly. She even agreed that education would not help Aunt San that much since she was not the smartest one among her peers. The evidence was that her roommates (cousins) had better test scores yet they did not need to study half as hard as Aunt San. What they like to joke about was Aunt San had taught her cousins unknowingly since she was reciting her books so loud in the room that her cousins learned enough just by listening to Aunt San day after day – this explains why we are told to read bedtime stories to our kids could be quite beneficial!

Aunt San was an elementary school teacher in Grandpa's school before she married to Uncle Playboy (?). Together, they had 5 children from 1949 to 1958 with 2 years gaps between each - China encouraged big families in early 50s since Mao believed there would be many wars that would need man powers.

In 1949, China was liberated and the Guomindang's government was taken over by Mao and his Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Soon after that, Grandpa's land was taken away and redistributed to the peasants by the land reform movement-the slogan was Da Tuhao Fen Tiandi (打土豪分田地)-down with the haves, share the have-nots.

That, my friends, ended Mom's family's powerful years.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pregnant and depression

Some women are high when they are pregnant and I had been one of them, once, when I became pregnant at age of 26 unexpectedly.  The fetus inside the worm emitted tons of dopamine to make me believe that I was the happiest person in the world.  However, the ecstatic state of mind was short-lived and soon replaced by shame and guilt because having children without a marriage was (still is) illegal in China.  So the fetus was terminated secretly before the end of the first trimester to save face of the family and future of myself.  I still remember the condemned look from the ob/gyn and nurse whose conscious must have been taken away by the education that they received.

The A&D abortion did not seem to cause any psychological damage to me, though. I was feeling relieved afterwards.

Moving forward 20 year later in 2006, I finally became pregnant once again after rounds of IVFs.  This time, the pregnancy was longed for and struggled to get, however, I did not feel ecstatic.  All I had in the first 10 weeks was worries and fears of losing the baby, following that was the never-ending morning sickness, food aversion, frequent urination, heart burn, random fall (I am bad at balance, could not walk right with a baby inside), irregular sleeping pattern: sleepiness in the first trimester and sleepless in the third trimester... the physical troubles were the easy ones to deal with, in fact, the constant psychological/mental illness such as stress and depression, which I did not even know that I was living with during my two pregnancies, were harder.

We Chinese rely on friends, not psychiatrists or therapists, in situations like this.  Yet all my friends were done with pregnancy issues, long ago!  They could not relate to "pregnancies at advanced maternal age".  Plus, we moved from one city to another, twice (due to job transitions) within two short years, which added more stress to the already stressful life.

Yes, my pregnancy at age of 44 led to chronic depression, except that it had not become clear to me until years later when the following series of events had happened:

- First, my big boss committed suicide at the time that I was struggling with my postpartum depression that I also had no idea about;

- Second, my direct boss and mentor was falling terminal illness when I was pregnant with my son.  He passed away one year after I gave birth for the second time.  Now when I come to think of it, my theoretically temporal pregnant-related and postpartum depression may have transformed into chronic one at this time without my knowing.

- Third, my bright PhD student unexpectedly became pregnant, which led to a baby and her ditching all the ongoing research projects.

The last one hit me hard, both professionally and mentally.  I started a self-blame game, back and forth, forth and back, endless.  Soon I found myself losing sleep and developed prehypertension.  It was then when I suspected that depression was no longer a word, it was reality.

It was almost unimaginable for me that I, a stereotypical extravert who often attributes faults to others, was depressed.

"Chronic illness into a good doctor (久病成良医)".  What, no, you have not heard this saying before?  It's Chinese wisdom.  We Chinese believe one becomes a good doctor if he has been ill long enough. Luckily, I did not isolate myself, nor did I conceal my mental problems.  So 2 pregnancies and 5 years later, I am slowly and progressively getting out of this depression.

I must say that I am now a much happier person than I was a few years ago.  Life again becomes good when the depression is out of it.  And I'll share with you what I did about my depression in my next post(s).

Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

IVF journey - Part VI, successful frozen cycle I

One of the advantages to know people who also go through IVF process (we call the ivfers) is to be able to compare notes.  During my ivf journey, I was not able to find anyone in my age group in person so I went online to find them.  In order for the ones who are on this journey to compare your progress and mine, I wish to show you my process of our first successful frozen cycle in which we concieved Mia/Zhuzhu, our first IVF baby, here.

As you probably know by now, frozen cycles are much simpler than whole ivf cycles, because frozen cycles have no egg growing and collecting procedures.  Here is what generally happens during such cycles.

1) BCP: for 21 days, starting from the 2nd or 3rd day of the period to make sure that my ovaries do not wake up any eggs. 

2) Lupron: for 14 days, 20U/day, starts at the 17th day of BCP which overlaps with the last 5 days of BCP to further suppress ovaries to make sure no egg growth. 

3) E2 dots (Patches, 0.1 mg/dot), starting on the 10th day of Lupron which overlaps with the last 5 days of Lupron to stimulate endometrium growth. 

The dose of E2 is increased progressively so that your body can be fooled to think there is an egg growing in the ovary.  I started with 1 dot for 4 days (change to new dot every 2 days), 3 dots for 4 days (change to new ones every 2 days), then 4 dots for the rest of journey (change to new ones every 3 days).  Keep at this level until your blood E2 level reaches above 200 and lining reaches 8 mm (for me, it took 15 days after the start of E2, but my E2 level was boosted by the use of estrace pills for 2 days prior to embryo transfer since my level was not high enough).  Continue this until pg test. If positive, continue until 10th week pg

4) Progesterone: starts at 20th day of the E2.  Every Morning, 50 mg/ml, injection (PIO), before bed: 100 mg/suppository.  Keep at this level until pg test, if positive, continue until 11th week. 

5) Transfer day: for me is the 24th day after the start of E2 - depending on how ready your E2 level and lining thickness. 

6) After transfer, continue E2 dots and progesterone until pg test. 

PIO is a hell to go through but you will survive.  Good luck!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Life as a single parent

As I said before, Fabrice travels more frequent than I do.  Strangely though, I always can get more work done while he is not home.  Kids are usually fed well and tucked in bed on time, dishes are mostly washed and put back to shelves, toys are often put away, even floors are sometimes cleaned.  I usually even can sit in front of the computer either working or reading blogs for at least few hours a day after putting the kids to bed… I completely enjoy the times that I, myself, as a single parent with the two toddler kids.  See, I am now enjoying my alone time talking to myself here.

Last time when I noticed my better productivities when left alone with the kids, I told Fabrice, right after he was walking into the house to kiss each of us.  And then I closed my "exciting observations" by, “I wish you did not come back so soon!”  I know, I am just that smart, most of the times!!!

"You cheat!"  he knows me well and usually ignores my saying things without understanding the implications.

Fabrice meant that I always have Ling, my best friend and acting nanny, here in the house to play with the kids when he is out of town.  The truth is though, Ling spoils the kids to rotten, which means that I feel like having 2 kids and 1 grandma in the house whenever she is around!

Okay, back to the "single parenting" subject.  I cannot explain why it always seems easier when I am alone dealing with the little ones.  The kids seem to be smart enough to sense the dangers of being with a crouching tiger if they don't behave.  Maybe because Fabrice is the preferred one and the "go to" parent, whereas I am the one who often sets the "rules".  One day when he was enjoying his kids' salivary kisses, I complained about the obvious, “The kids love you more because you are the fun parent, whereas I am the one who cooks, feeds, and disciplines them.”  “Oh, yea, why don’t you try to  squeeze them less but play with them more.” he disagreed, as predicted.  He knew all the answers to solve problems, you see.  He would give me pointers whenever he sees me at loss for tricks to get them to kiss or hug me, "Follow their lead, play their games, not yours.  You will get the kisses and hugs at the end."  "You abuse them all the time with your rough beard hurting their little cheeks!"  I cannot see his point at all and continue to kiss them and hug them whenever I get a chance.  

Maybe that is exactly why I enjoy his out-of-town trips, because only then the kids are closer and listening to me.  They have behaved like angels in the last couple of days. 

Zhuzhu and Niuniu have enjoyed being picked up early on Friday visiting the Dr's office, a field day at the Chinese School on Saturday cerebrating mid-fall Festival (moon Festival/中秋节), Chinese restaurant following the Chinese school for lunch, and then swimming pool following the lunch - A very busy weekend, so far. 

Sure, Ling has been helping out by taking Niuniu to a park to feed the ducks after dropping off Zhuzhu to her Chinese school on Saturday morning.  But I could have done the same except I chose to spend my Saturday morning in my office.  I did feel a little guilty when I found out that I had missed Zhuzhu's first competitive game on Saturday though - I had not known that her Chinese School had this special event planned!  Zhuzhu had her first "rope pulling contest" at which her team won.  Ling only found out when she picked her up after her class.  Fortunately, she took Niuniu there thus the three of them had a good time.  She was so excited that she could not shut up when I greeted her at the Chinese restaurant.  "Mommy, Mommy, we won, we won!..."  Zhuzhu and Niuniu both were talking in the same time, waving some a colorful plastic inflatable toys, which confused me quite a bit.  I did not remember that they had those toys.  Finally, when I asked them to take turns to give me their detailed reports, I understood that Zhuzhu's red cheeks and hurting hands were the result of the rope pulling on their field day, at which her team won.  The yellow tiger was her first trophy, she finally had a chance to declare her first victory!  Niuniu did not want to be left out, "And I got a trophy too!"  He waved his blue elephant in front of my yes in circles.  Niuniu was being her good “cheer leader”, I was told.

Given what I had missed yesterday, I ditched the original plan this morning after getting up - I was going to get to work while Ling was watching the kids in the morning for me again.  Instead of working, I parked the car at the Dragon Park close to my office.  I decided to enjoy sometime with the kids.  We had so much funs, both of them were running circles to get up and down the slides or chasing each others' tails like crazy.  Then Ling surprised us with home-made Baozi and Mantou so we had our family picnic at the park!  Best of all, Ling took over the babysit duties in the afternoon so that I could at least catch up with the loss of my "working" hours.  But I napped instead!  Indeed cheated!

Ling brought the kids home at 4 pm.  Each of them was awarded with 1 pillow pet.  Then Ling said, "I think they will give you some hard time tonight!  Her reason was because they have not had their naps today, "They only slept on their car ride home, which would be about 20 minutes."  She reported in details as usual.

Then the kids waved goodbye to Ling happily and then played by themselves for the rest of the evening joyously.  I had also quite a peaceful house to cook dinner and then to watch them eating properly at the dinner table.  They both finished the food that I put in their plates without making any fuss.  My angelic kids even willingly helped the Mommy pick up their toys before bed.  A great day did not end there.  When I was putting the kids to the bathtub, I heard this little lovely voice, “Mommy, you are the best Mommy in the whole world and I love you!”.  This, my friend, was coming out of our Zhuzhu's mouth naturally and spontaneously.  Niuniu who never wants to be left out pirated his sister immediately.  I was them completely immersed in their showers of wet kisses and tight hugs!

A single parent can be rewarding sometimes!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stressd kids

Separation anxiety comes in different forms.  Little kids have also a stressful life, as much as our adults do, I believe.

Mia/ZhuZhu has always been difficult at drop off for school, especially when she is transitioned to a new classroom.  However, this past transition was painless, meaning, no crying involved.  In fact, she'd been looking forward to the move into the "Shooting Star" room ever since few of her classmates had done so in the early summer.  She wanted to be big girls like them but she and the rest of the gang in her preschooler room had been scheduled few months later.  Shooting star classroom is the only preK classroom in her daycare and everyone in preschooler roomthe whole daycare eventually gets in and then graduates from it to "big kids" schools.  Either she could move into the same room with everyone she knew together or her teachers prepared her very well this time, we have not had difficulty to drop her in the morning.

Not only she does not cry anymore at drop offs, we could even play "threatening card" for a while.  If she happens to cry for whatever reasons before and during the dinner, which is the time she usually releases her frustration of the day, all we need to do is to tell her if she does not stop, she will go back to "the explorer" room. 

However, nothing is perfect.  She wets herself now.  It has happened 4-5 times at school and 2-3 times at home already ever since she changed her classroom.  We know that our girl likes to hold her pee to the last minute because she does not like to stop whatever she was doing.  One evening when I was taking her down from booster chair after dinner, I found her soaking in her own pee.  The worst was that she did not even realize or she chose to ignore the fact.  This surprised me enough to link the other events in the school lately.  She had her first accident second/or third week at school after she moved up.  Well, that must just be the new classroom was so exciting that she was too involved in the new stuff she learned.

"You know, Mama, we have 5 senses, brain to think, eyes to see, nose to smell, hands to touch, and ears to hear."  One day, she announced at the dinner table, where the family is usually gathered. "You know, brain is the most important organ of the body, and it does different things with different parts.  We use the front part to think and to learn new things, the back part to see, the side part to remember things, hearing things, and speech." She told us again during her dinner. "Wow, did you learn that today at school?"  I was totally impressed.  She has also brought home the most colorful and beautiful paintings ever since she moved to the shooting star room.  And we now often hear her humming new songs almost every single day.  "Puff the magic dragon"  "This old man, he played one..."  She could even finish the whole song with correct lyrics, alright, I admit, I do not know the lyrics of the song, but she sounded correctly to me...

Well, at about a week after the first accident, she had another one.  She had to come home with boy's t-shirt and panties, because we had not even had the chance to filled her cubby with new set of extra clothes.  We then went to request the teachers to remind her to go potty.  The shooting star room teachers are not used to doing so.  So, the head teacher was a bit surprised when she got that request from me.

Anyway, that worked only a week or two.  Then yesterday at pickup, I found her wet herself again.  She became sneaky because the teachers did not even know.  Oddly enough, Zhuzhu did not seem to notice either!  It was then that I realized that this girl needed a serious talk.  I sat her down after dinner, turned the TV off, and asked her to look into my eyes.  I stressed how important it was for not holding her pee to the last minute.  However, she could not care less and moved her eyes away before I could even finish my first sentence.  After that, we went to have a shower.  Suddenly, she was screaming.  "Mommy, you used soap, that hurts! You knew it.  I want Daddy, Daddy does not hurt me.  He uses baby shower gel."  The Daddy, who has gone to San Diego for a conference yesterday.  "Mommy, you are a mean Mommy.  I will never ever let you kiss me again."  She protested.  The effect of her scream was so profound that even woke me up in the middle of the night, twice!

So, I called her doctor first thing in the morning.  I wanted her to hear the important life lesson from an authority.  I suspected that her urinary track was not infected, but it's better to have her checked just in case.  When we arrived at 10:45 am, the check in machine did not allow us to proceed because the appointment time was 2:45 pm! The receptionist however was smarter than the machine and she made few moves and let us in to see another doctor who happened to have a slot at that time. However, since I was so overwhelmed by her peeing without knowing, I made her pee while we wait for her names to be called. When the nurse came to get us, she handed me a cup. Crap. I just made her pee, now what could we do? I asked the nurse and she gave us a bottle of water. Alright, we had to go back to the waiting room. ZhuZhu knew the mommy did not have a whole day, few minutes or so later she agreed to give it another try and she succeeded to squeeze 5 mls out. When we finally met the doctor, he talked to ZhuZhu, attentively. Then he said, "Now I need to check your private part, your mommy is right here, and not to worry, ok?" Our dear daughter screemed a babyzis out of her when I had the same request, but when I came from a handsome young man, she was willingly opened wide for him. Can you imagine how you feel in situations like that? While he was examing her gently, slowly, and carefully, I was making a mental note to make sure next time when she would be suspected urinary infection, ask for femal. "Her private part is not even reddish and her pee is clear and free of bacteria. No sign of urinary track infection. She may have a bit of irratation at the private part." The lucky young doctor said to me. "We'll do the "hygiene talk" with her in a little bit." He read my mind! I thanked him excessively for the life lesson that he was willing to give her. He even demonstrated when he said, "When you sit on the toilet, open your legs wide so that you won't wet yourself." ZhuZhu pratically was staring at him while he was talking, "Drink plenty water; go to pee when you feel just a little bit in need; pat-dry your 'queque' each time after pee pee, because if you don't dry, your queque will be wet and it will get itchy..." "What did the doctor say?" I asked her while we were left alone. She repeated every word of it! The $20 copay and my few hours away from my work was well worth it!

However, right after dinner, I found ZhuZhu's panties again was a bit wet. I had basically never stopped  asking her to go to pee ever since she got home from school. Our little girl is still stressed upon classroom transition, except she handles it differently this time.

I am guessing it will be another 4 months to get over this. Talk about stress!