Weeks 9 & 10: Milestones

The past two weeks have just flown by - it feels like we have been busily occupied with one thing or another every moment of every day, leaving me with the frazzled feeling that life is just too short to accomplish everything I want to do. Part of our familial chaos was due to Greg's work schedule: he had to give a big presentation this past Friday, the preparation of which occupied him day and night for the preceding three weeks (he rarely went to bed before 2:00a.m during that period). Apart from that insanity, we also have spent quite a bit of time lately jumping over a few personal hurdles - each of us has reached at least one fairly major milestone here in the land of the black spitting cobra over the past few weeks, be it physiological, dietary, behavioral, or vocational:

When we started dating, back in 1993, Greg had a regular dinner routine at home that included three basic menu selections: spaghetti (with leftovers the following night), sautéed chicken with Lipton instant rice (again, with leftovers the following night), and tacos prepared with an Old El Paso powdered spice packet. Each of these delicious dishes was accompanied by his one and only vegetable of choice: iceberg lettuce with a generous application of ranch dressing (also made from a package of flavored powder). He typically would eat out on the weekends, though I hear that he preferred not to venture too far off of Barton Springs Road for his restaurant experiences (how many grilled chicken sandwiches can one man eat?!). Once we began to prepare meals together, I tried, often in vain, to add vegetables and a little variety to his diet. Eventually, he began to give in to my efforts (or perhaps it was scurvy), and he would occasionally allow bell peppers in the tomato sauce, sprouts on the salad, and one or two other previously despised herbivorous items. The range of choices, though, when left to his own devices, remained consistently safe and bland, until recently.

Two weeks ago Greg traveled to Korea for a business trip, and he had the opportunity to eat out with his team at some local restaurants. During one of these meals, as part of his wacky new "when in Rome…" attitude, he sampled a Korean delicacy, the mere description of which, ten years ago, would have caused immediate intestinal insurrection: kimchi. This purportedly healthy dish involves a very specific preparation of cabbage and other ingredients (some recipes call for fish paste), and requires fermentation for three or four days before consumption. Such fermentation is traditionally achieved by burying the mixture in the ground. Granted, Greg only took a bite of it, but the fact that he even tried it, and kept it down, amazes me. In fact, his outlook on food in general over here amazes me. He now voluntarily consumes a whole range of vegetables, orders food with rich and mysterious sauces, and eats like a local Singaporean almost every day. He even has tried shark fin soup and sea cucumber! Of course he still eats a grilled chicken sandwich at the corporate cafeteria every now and then. Baby steps, I guess...

Alec and Cameron
Many of you may take it for granted (for now), but sleeping through the night without either getting up to use the bathroom or peeing all over yourself and your bed is quite an accomplishment. Although the boys have been potty-trained for some time, they were not getting through the night without accident on a regular basis when we left Texas. After washing their sheets every third or fourth day for a few weeks, I gave up, and we started putting them in pull-ups every night, just to be safe. Three weeks ago, however, Cameron announced that pull-ups are just night-time diapers, and that diapers are for babies. Since he and his count-me-in-too brother are so clearly big boys now, he told me there would be no more pull-ups, and they would henceforth start sleeping in their underwear (okay, he didn't actually say "henceforth," but the meaning was clear). Since that night of unilateral decision, we have given away all of the pull-ups, and there have been no accidents. Hallelujah!

In accordance with Cameron's "leave all baby things behind" act, it also has been declared that big boys do not take baths; they take showers. I had no idea. Consequently, they now take showers at night, and the bathtub goes unused and unwanted (except by me - with a glass of wine, at 10a.m. on the odd morning here and there - is that so wrong?). The new big-boy method saves a lot of time, and water, but since they still need help getting clean (as opposed to just playing in the soap), we end up drenched by the far too accessible shower head more often than not.

The last, but certainly not the least, milestone our young lads have reached over the past two weeks is the complicated use of a bicycle without the pesky training wheels. It took Alec exactly ten seconds to figure out how to balance without the now despised attachments, at which point he confidently remarked, "I told you I knew how to ride without training wheels!" Now he thinks he is a pro, and he races around the school parking lot in a blur, steering just past our toes at the last minute with a look of reckless abandon that is actually a bit disturbing. Cameron, always one to seriously evaluate any risk before taking it, watched Alec ride around without the "baby wheels" for a full day, then declared his readiness. He was a bit shaky at first, but now he rides his bicycle - albeit at a much slower, out for a Sunday stroll pace - with a sense of near-confidence, and always with a wary eye searching for the speed demon racing past him.

Some of you may have noticed that I tend to get a bit uncomfortable in social situations, particularly when I have to interact with people that I don't know. I personally don't think this is a flaw, but is more of a healthy understanding of my own reclusive tendencies, and a desire to not inflict my dislike of strangers upon them. It's quite selfless, really. Despite my abiding fears, however, I have attended two PTA all-women social gatherings in the last two weeks, completely under my own volition. I dreaded them both, but I did not perish. I even met some nice women.

Another milestone for me, a very, very, big milestone - one big enough to almost squash me when I think about having crossed its threshold - is the loss of my precious, dear, I-still-have-some-control-over-my-life baby monitor. I know that I am crazy to have kept it for as long as I did, as duly noted by a rather shocked 12-year old guest at our house last fall. And I'm not saying that I won't get another one if I start to experience offspring-surveillance delirium tremors, because you can safely bet that I will. But for now, the boys sleep at night without me eavesdropping on and evaluating for asthmatic significance their every breath and movement. The impetus for this change was not a new desire for personal growth; it was not a personal epiphany that revealed me to myself as an irrational control freak (as if there is anything wrong with that anyway); and it certainly was not a heightened state of parental consciousness that allowed me to see and accept my children's growing sense of independence. Truth be told, I always felt that I would keep the monitoring system going until the boys could present a written treatise convincing me that it was an unnecessary invasion of their privacy. No, it was the accursed voltage system of the far east - my beloved monitor just couldn't handle 220 volts. I did seek out another one at a local baby supply store, but the price tag, along with Greg's insistence that "they're just down the hall for crying out loud" buzzing in my ear like a pestilent mosquito, gave me pause. And, despite the fact that I embrace my insanity where the boys are concerned, some small part of my brain knows that I probably should not continue to subject them, unwittingly or no, to my psychoses. Or should I? It really is quite a dilemma.

My final milestone, if you can really call it that, is that I have acquired a job. After a substantial wait for the government to grant me permission to work, not a slam dunk I assure you, I finally received consent, and a place to ply my trade. I was hired by Dell, and began working part-time under contract this past Friday. My duties include generating and automating reports in Excel, my favorite professional things to do, and performing other sundry entertaining data analysis tasks. My schedule requires twenty hours of work per week, allegedly, which can be spread out between hours on-site and hours at home. Although I was enjoying my "free" time to clean the house and do laundry in the mornings, I am very excited to have an opportunity to do something that I love so much - ahhh, spreadsheets - and to get some much needed exercise for my poor old atrophying brain.

All in all, things have been pretty busy over here in Asia. The boys still are enjoying school, and they are making some good friends - we go to our first little birthday party this weekend. Since school started, and since we settled into a comfortably predictable routine, the boys have been, for the most part, very well behaved little gentlemen. The main issue we have been having lately is a social one, rather than a behavioral one: it seems that young Alec somehow - I honestly cannot imagine how - has turned into a bit of a sexist. The first evidence of this horrifying new attitude surfaced a few weeks ago, as were having a sit-down family dinner, lovingly prepared by the kind folks at KFC - in the mall, no less. Greg was talking about something he and his boss had discussed that day, and he referred to her by her name: Lisa. Alec interrupted the story and told Greg, in a very confident I-know-whereof-I-speak voice, that his boss "couldn't possibly be Lisa, because Lisa is a girl's name, and bosses are always mans" (we're still working on some of the plurals). Needless to say, I ripped off my nice-Mommy mask and launched into a bit of a tirade about gender roles, equality, judging a book by its cover, global warming, and a whole litany of other subjects close to my heart. Had I not been speaking to my son, my beloved child with the face of an angel, it very well might have turned into a scene from the 1980 movie Nine-to-Five (as Dolly Parton tied up Dabney Coleman, screaming that he was a "sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot" - that always stuck with me for some reason). Alec, showing maturity beyond his years, wisely threw up both hands in a classic sign of surrender and madly exclaimed "Okay, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry." You almost could hear a fighter pilot from the old black and white war movies, in a plane destined to crash, yelling "Abort! Abort!," as my child desperately tried to escape my wrath.

After delivering what I thought was a convincing rebuttal to the boss-gender connection comment, I foolishly thought this first foray into sexism would be the end of such ridiculous notions, until two nights ago. I was preparing dinner - a dish that we have had, admittedly, a bit too frequently - when Alec asked what we would be eating. After his totally justified complaint that "we just had that," I suggested that he cook dinner next time. He replied - without a trace of irony in his precious little voice - that he doesn't cook; I cook. When I asked him why, feeling a rancid air of masculine superiority blow through my dining room, he answered "because you're a lady." And he didn't mean because I am a woman of refinement and gentle manners. He meant because I am female. Sheesh. I marched into the kitchen, where Greg was thoughtfully cracking open a beer as he doubled over in laughter, and instructed him to handle this crazy situation, as I clearly was not getting through to the boy. He did his best, bless his heart, but I fear it is not the last time I will see chauvinism raise its ugly head and laugh at me in my own home. I keep imagining in my mind what would have happened if the boys' three grandmothers had been present at either of these displays - not to mention the ladies from Hidden Glen. Perhaps they could have made a more lasting impression on my dear, sweet child.

We may have a bit of an answer to that imagined scenario soon, as we will receive our first visitors, Greg's Elgin parents, at the end of this week. So, as I go to prepare for company by washing sheets, cleaning bathrooms, and doing other mundane "woman's work," I will leave you with another little poem:

O my dear progeny
So full of misogyny
Fetch me some wine
Then bake me a cake

Take care,
Shannon et al.


Greg, demonstrating proper
bicycle riding technique :) 


Cameron, working on his
family poster for class



Greg, removing the training wheels







Alec, working on his
family poster for class

Cameron's family poster


Greg and Cameron discussing bicycle riding


Greg helping Alec try to ride
without training wheels the first time


Alec's family poster

Alec, riding on his own...


Greg helping Cameron try to ride
without training wheels the first time


Cameron & Alec, racing around the parking lot.