Thursday, December 29, 2011

Poop and Parenting

Life with a baby is a journey of discovery. It's mostly uphill, but every once in a while the view gets a little better. Childhood development is truly rewarding to observe, but a baby wailing at 3am can be merciless in every sense of the word. There is no resistance possible to such incessant crying, only unconditional surrender.

Forty minutes after a parent is pounded into complete submission through an unstoppable bout of endless crying, the baby often stops spontaneously (sometimes with a cheeky grin), leaving the parent in a confused state of mental disarray. And then as if plunged into a cloud of ether, the parent hits the pillow in narcotic slumber, before the next scheduled barrage three hours later.

The three major challenges for parents are sleepless nights, an extended state of vigilance needed throughout the day and diverse encounters with Baby Poop™.

Of these three challenges, a fascination with the gastrointestinal process often lands me in a dazed fixation on the topic of poop. Though I find baby droppings to be not entirely repulsive, I'll keep such photos off this blog, lest Baengy rediscover them many years in the distant future.

Basically, it's a mushy yellow substance dispensed in unpredictable bursts with an aroma that can best be described as humanised natural yoghurt.

To manage appropriate household responses, I've devised the Farrand Level Alert for Poop (or FLAP, for short). It's a code to quickly categorise the magnitude of a detected nappy event, with severity scale as follows:

Category 1: False alarm, flatulence.
Category 2: Mild peppering of the loins.
Category 3: Medium intensity deposit. Weighted browning evident.
Category 4: Potentially damaging situation. Notify Mother-at-arms.
Monumental Poop: Deposit has oozed beyond containment barriers. Automatic response for all household members to DEFCON 2 level.
Mother Of All Poops (MOAP): Catastrophic devastation. Expect weeks of clean-up and counselling for survivors.

Fortunately, we at the Farrand household have only been subjected to a Monumental Poop on two historical occasions. Both events were preceded by excess milk consumption, had tummy rumblings as an immediate forewarning and were followed with aftershocks of flatulence.

While Baengy will occasionally take interest in other household fluids, such as beer, her ingrained lactophilia means inevitable rejection from her Bumbo table. 

Very rarely will anything remain on her Bumbo table for long, before being thrown on the floor.

Her interest can be aroused by stirring, as we've found when mum scrambles eggs.

And also when mum stirs jjajjangmyeon.

Babies have excellent intuition when it comes to knowing what is important to adults. Trying to entertain a baby with jingling keys will rarely last 30 seconds, whereas clipping your own fingernails will evoke intense fascination and a futile attempt to grab the clippers.

Similarly, a plethora of colourful toys on the ground will not nearly be as fascinating as two bowls of hot soup on a table. And no matter how many times her inquisitive paw from below is swatted away, it just comes creeping back.

In a failed attempt at reverse psychology, I have indeed pretended to clip my nails with keys, and engaged in mock dining of colourful toys on a table. But babies are wily creatures. 

They'll just give you a stare that says "What on Earth are you doing?"

One thing that rings true for both first-aid training sessions and babies, is that dummies and slings can work wonders.

I guess the prehistoric sling was the monkey mother's arms, while the prehistoric dummy was the monkey mother's nipple. From this, all I can conclude is that our prehistoric ancestors were incredible parents.

I don't know if a thousand-yard-stare is a sign of enjoyment, but Baengy sure is quiet when slung. 

It also magnifies her comedic appearance when wearing hats.

This is a ParentCam shot, taken from a natural perspective when slinging. Baengy will often stare at me like this, for minutes on end. 

I have no idea what she's looking at, and I've found that staring back just prolongs the engagement.

And walking around in a sling will magically put her to sleep in around 5 minutes flat. Maybe it's the warmth of the human body, or the close sound of a heartbeat. The result is always the same.

Knocked out like a butterfly in chloroform.

Autumn passed some time ago, taking with it the maple colours around Jahayeon, the campus pond.

We managed to squeeze in a picnic with homemade kimbap and boiled eggs. When I was young, I always wondered why parents liked tupperware so much. Now I know.

As a person who likes pointing out firsts, having a baby is a great thing. Baengy's first picnic was met with approval, but she was completely fixated on us and not the nice surroundings. 

Next time we could just have a picnic in the living room.

Those who agree to babysit for the Farrands receive an automatic Order of Merit. Heather's mother has done it on more than one occasion, resulting in her status rising to Hero of the Farrand Family. 

But in a puzzling turn of events, sometimes when babysitting has been organised, we squander the precious time by running in charity marathons.

Heather's father may have something to do with that. Just like my old man, Heather's old man likes to run around.

But we did our ten kilometres in rather nice weather and felt pretty good about it. Father-in-law's time was one hour and six minutes, which is great for a man of his age.

Oh look, he's eating natural yoghurt.

There's a little playground near our house that Baengy isn't quite tall enough to romp around in. So we just carry Baengy from place to place and she seems to enjoy it enough. These days she's eating a lot and growing fast. 

Our developing morning ritual is to exclaim how much she grew overnight.

Our day at the park ended in tiny smiles, those frequent yet immeasurable rewards for tireless parenting. We're looking forward to a lot more of them over the months to come.

The Farrand Family Korea hopes you had a merry Givmas/Festivus/Christmas, and wishes you an exciting new year.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Baengy Bathtime!

It could be said that babies are like an industrial processing system for milk, from which useful nutrients are extracted for growth and development.
Liquid output is then excreted from every orifice in the repertoire of their miniature human anatomy.

In biological terms, we could think of them as compact milk bioreactors.

Baengy spends much of the day crying, drooling or otherwise liquefying a normally dry environment. To avoid the yuck factor, I simply remind myself that drool is just a dollop of orally hydrated glycoproteins, while boogie is much the same but of a nasal origin.
While being somewhat hypersensitive to household cleanliness (spotting a hair on the floor from a distance of eight metres), Heather suffers from no such aversion to baby fluids, including poop. Baby poop smudged on surfaces normally unassociated with baby poop are nonchalantly dismissed as 'Just Poop.'

For this young blogger, the wonders of nature continue to amaze.

Cute as Baengy's face is, it often needs a wash. We experienced three phases of bathhood behaviour from our daughter, as follows:

First 2 months: Oblivion
2 to 3 months: Rebellion
3 months until present: Acceptance

As with many Koreans, Heather is of strong conviction that there exists a build-up of dead skin (때) on everyone, that must be removed daily for one to remain of good standing in the community. For Baengy, this means that mother ensures a thorough cleaning of every bodily sanctuary where 때 might possibly exist.

The (hidden) neck is an area of particular focus.

Unfortunately Baengy has developed a taste for soapy bathwater, and much as we try to discourage it, she'll often sample her surrounds by giving her hands a dip. 

"Today's hors d'œuvre: a succulent baby thumb dipped in warm bathwater."

May Thor strike me down for doing so, but I've been roughly estimating Baengy's developing intelligence levels in comparison to familiar animals. As a keen biologist and animal enthusiast, it's an irresistible temptation. At the time this photo was taken, I estimated that her quiet blank stare was indicative of the IQ of a turtle. Nowadays, she's closer to a domestic cat. 

We're expecting a baboon within the next few months.

Baengy enjoys a good scrub, along with the accompanying baby-talk happily provided by Mrs Farrand. Seeing her in the tub like this reminds me of that old rhyme:
Three men in a tub,
And how do you think they got there?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick-maker,
They all jumped out of a rotten potato,
'Twas enough to make a man stare

As a parent, I'm experiencing the pleasure of reuniting with past songs and children's stories, the entertaining poignancy of which I had long since forgotten. Dr Seuss books are providing exceptionally good material.

I recommend The Foot Book.

And with a bit of soap and water, every baby is looking their best. Baengy's bathtime ritual has been repeated almost every day for the past six months, to which we must credit the Lady of the House. This despite the not-so-infrequent semi-submerged kicketty kicks that send arcs of soapy water in her general (and now unflinching) direction. 

Decidedly less bemusing after so many recurrences.

When I'm home in time to witness these events, I often receive Baengy straight after the wash, with a freshly cleaned body reminiscent of a samgyetang chicken. I then proceed to pat her dry with towels, before dressing her for bed. Babies, in general, seem to prefer nakedness over cloth and when especially alert will often resist being clothed with admirable yet futile protest.

This coming Christmas will be the first such event with our daughter. I guess that means we'll be making some extra special festive food, like Santa's Rice Porridge and Rudolph's Formula Milk. 

Now there's something to look forward to.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Ken Wong Comes to Korea

"We're all passengers on the ship of life... and my ship is heading to the realm of old people."

- in a recent letter to a friend

Around 10 years B.B (before Baengy), one of my closest friends was a chap named Ken Wong at the Norwood-Morialta Middle School. He and I would discuss the important things in life, like the theoretical speed limit for a Mechwarrior or the presence of AT-STs in the Battle of Hoth. Our destinies diverged, and I became more interested in social rebellion while he became fixated on graphic art. For years we lived parallel lives with little knowledge of each other, until I tracked him down on the other side of the Yellow Sea. Before long, in a much vaster homage to our reciprocal house visits between Dernancourt and Magill, he flew to Seoul from Shanghai by means of aluminium plane.

They say that fundamentally, our personalities are irreversibly defined during the first 12 years of life. After that, only minor changes will occur. Say for example, my personality was defined as mint at the age of 12. By the age of 29, my flavour would still be mint, but perhaps mint-choco-chip, or spearmint. It is not possible to change from mint at 12 years old to lemon sorbet at 29.

In the bemusing-yet-understandable situation above, after arriving in Seoul, Ken found himself tying helium balloons to some rungs on the side of a wall. Somehow this told me that he was pretty much the same guy I knew, all those years ago.

Ken and Baengy got along like a cat and a treadmill. Baengy, in general, doesn't mind being picked up and taken for mini-tours of the immediate surrounds, provided mum is within eyeshot.

Over-enthusiastic baby handlers who hold Baengy for longer than 5 minutes, outside of mum-viewing distance, soon find themselves a recipient of baby squeals, frantic struggling and kicketty-kicks.

Ken's sister Emily also came along for her first visit to the land of writhing seafood. And with all visitors who come to Seoul, I felt the need to show them some pylons.

As we used to say in the middle school days:
"Some day in the distant future, we shall view pylons together."

Ken is a formidable art nerd, and I'm a less formidable science nerd. We both appreciate the biology of octopuses, movies by the Coen brothers and the fact that someone beat Sim City.

If temples have been seen, folk villages undesirable and Seoul N Tower unremarkable, what else can one do in Seoul? We ended up going to Insadong, Gangnam, the Han River and Times Square.

Out the front of Times Square Seoul is a wrought iron monument, the meaning of which eludes me.

Being the inescapable artist that he is, Ken is drawn to surrounding examples of art like a bug toward a windshield.

An arcane motherly instinct present in the vast majority of human females creates a broad smile whenever a baby is slung to them. Baengy is a whopping 7.8 kilos these days, and we're only too happy to have someone else carry her around a shopping mall.

Down the rabbit hole we went, stumbling upon this imprisoned giant teddy bear, whose job delighting kids appeared nothing to envy. Whenever I picture myself being climbed upon like this by my kid(s) of the future, I imagine a feeling of overwhelming tiredness laced with necessary patience.

Baengy is an attention magnet, whose tentacles of distraction reach out and subdue innocent bystanders. 

Fortunately she isn't carnivorous (only a devout lactivore).

There's even less Mexican food in Australia than there is Korean food. During celebratory occasions these days, I often feel like eating something other than pickled vegetables, gochujang and self-cooked meat.

On The Border is a Mexican restaurant doing the rounds at the moment. Our verdict is that they're conclusively superior to Dos Tacos in every aspect except pricing.

Wanna hear some geek humour?

"The number of particles in a guaca-mole is equal to Avocado's Constant."

Haha. Hilarious.

Surf and turf, Mexican style. Yum.

On The Border wrapped up our long overdue reunion with Ken quite nicely. To where he is going next, I know not, but hope to see him again in the not-too-distant future. 

That little Panda was Ken's gift to Baengy. These days if you enter a room unannounced, stand outside her field of view and call her name, she'll start looking around for you. She hasn't yet mastered the usage of peripheral vision, but is rapidly getting better. 
Previously she used to look around the room and if she saw my legs or body, she'd scan right past in the continuing search for the Origin of The Voice. But nowadays when she sees my legs, her eyes will slowly follow the trail of human body upwards to find the location of the Face from Whence the Voice Cometh. The process takes around 10 seconds.

And to reward her for such success, I always have an expression of feigned amazement, which invariably invokes a giggle or two.

Heather calls Baengy 'chim-jaengy' which means something like "drool person". Throughout most of the day, she's slobbering over items of inspection like a hairless St Bernard.

When I think about it, it's kinda funny how she has only ever consumed milk since birth. She was born at 3.6 kilos and is now more than double that weight. So more than half her body mass is just converted lactation.

Yet another fascinating idea courtesy of Human Babies: 
Composed of and powered by milk.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Strange Encounters of the Infant Kind

The other day at work, I was looking at photos of my daughter when my phone rang. The caller ID indicated it was my wife. I picked up the call but it cut off, so I rang back.

"Baengy dialled your number, she was sitting on the phone."

While that little moment was the first definitive attempt at First Contact, there have been other occasions where I felt communication was attempted. Unfortunately the language of babies is cryptographically advanced and nobody I know has the cipher key.

From what I can tell, babies communicate through a combination of hypnotism and semaphore. They'll stare straight into your eyes, intensely but blankly, conjuring some kind of abyss that penetrates the mind. At the same time, they'll wave their arms around mechanically in simple morse code. When the receiver fails to decipher the message repeatedly, tears and wailing break out, which subside only when the baby is picked up and comforted.

The other day when this happened, I realised what the original message was: "It's time to hold me!"

One of the advantages of the Bumbo is that it allows the preparation of food.

Immobilisation of a baby is a marvellous thing, and is situationally more advantageous than having half your DNA rolling around on the living room floor.

It's rare these days for Heather and me to be able to enjoy a nice sit down meal at home. We're either exhausted or out of groceries. Luckily, this crafty chef knows that chopping a lot of veges and a bit of boiling can be passed off as cooking to an unsuspecting clientele.

I'm convinced beyond reasonable doubt of a supernatural link between babies and grandmothers. In some parallel world where babies are rockstars, grandmothers could be their hordes of adulating fans. This revelation struck me when I realised that rockstars often greet delighted fans with an air of nonchalance, while being generally dismissive of other rockstars.

Rockstars and fans also wear very different kinds of hats.

Hmm, yes.

Definitely some kind of rockstar.

We went for a walk in Geumjeong Park not so long ago, where I was witness to an historic event. Three generations of women from the Jung family, engaged in the ritual of babyslinging, Korean style.

Baengy enjoys being slung. She'll keep an eager watch from her new vantage point, like some kind of autonomous periscope scanning from left to right.

And I've noticed that she doesn't seem to stare for any specific purpose. It's just staring for the sake of staring, especially at passers-by. It has reaffirmed my belief that all humans, if stripped of social entrainment, bias and knowledge, would probably spend most of the day staring at other people's faces.

Baengy's head recently surpassed average Korean Pear size. That was a big milestone in our books.

We hope it stops somewhere between grapefruit and watermelon.

The first thing that a baby probably learns about themselves and other youngsters is that they're less adept at motor control than adults.

Luckily Baengy has learned to blink. Cousin Yujin will often launch an affectionate assault with very little warning.

And to round out this little post is a short task for our dear readers (and leaders?)

Match the emotive descriptions to the facial expressions above:

a) Delight
b) Accomplishment
c) Disgust/Horror

Good luck and see you soon.