Thursday, January 19, 2012

Child Proof

One of the horrible things about Facebook – and yes, it’s not all good – is that it’s really sneaky at telling you that you’re getting old. Well, it doesn’t exactly spell it out for you, but you’d have to be in a terminal coma not to spot the message.
            The other day, my friend Mary posted some holiday snaps of her family by the beach. “Wow,” I wrote to her, “how Jenna has grown! I still have a photo you sent me when she was born. Look at her now!”
            Mary replied that if it wasn’t for children, we wouldn’t really notice the passage of time.
            Saffy snorted when I told her this. “Listen, if it wasn’t for children, Mary would still have her amazing figure! I remember going to a beach party with her years ago and hating her for her gorgeous curves, and now,” she said, leaning in closer to my computer to look at Mary in a two-piece, “not so much. I tell you, children have so much to answer for.”
            There was a still pause as we both looked at the slide show of Mary’s children cavorting in the sand and the sea. In the background, Mary and her husband lay supine on a beach blanket, their eyes hidden behind sunglasses, their smiles, Saffy insisted, hiding a world of regret.
            When I was a kid, I remember the grown-ups would always exclaim to my mother, “How the children have grown, Mei-ling!”
            “Oh, they’re such useless lazy layabouts!” Mother would say modestly, her chest puffed up with pride. “Not like your children!”
            “Aiyoh, my children. They give me such a headache! I’m forever chauffeuring them about: Mabel to ballet class, Henry to piano and now Janette says she want to take up the violin! I’m exhausted, I tell you!”
            Later that night at dinner, Mother complained to Father, “I can’t stand that Jenny Chan! Always boasting about her children like they were Noble Prize winners! Has she taken a good look at that Mabel of her’s? She’s so fat I’m surprised she doesn’t break her toes every time she does a pirouette!”
            Father fluttered his hands at her. “Ay, ay, ay! Don’t say such things about other people’s children!”
            With parents like mine, is it any wonder that I grew up having such conflicted opinions about children? “They’re so noisy and grimy!” I once told Sharyn, a mother of five who has skin so thick a bullet would have trouble making a dent.
            “Yah lor,” she said cheerfully. “So ungrateful, some more!”
            A few days ago, I was at my desk working on a story when the Skype phone rang.
            “Hello, Go-Pa!” my god-daughter Mina screamed.
            Her mother loomed in the background. “Mina, please don’t yell like that. It’s not how a lady behaves!”
            “I want to speak to Go-Pa! Alone! Go away!” yelled the love of my life.
            As we spent the next half hour chatting about everything from spaghetti with Marmite to holiday plans, I couldn’t shake the marvel at how fast Mina had grown.
            The very first time I laid eyes on her, my god-daughter was a bundle of wrinkled skin and tiny fingers, all wrapped in white swaddling cloth. Her eyes were slits of skin, and her hands like tiny chicken feet. It was not a very interactive experience. I compensated by going shopping and bought her a pair of Gucci baby shoes that she never wore. As Amanda would point out, it was not a promising start to our relationship.
But came the day when, completely unable to pronounce God-pa, she lisped out Go-pa. I was completely charmed. “She’s so adorable!” I told complete strangers. “She’s so bright and clever. I don’t usually like children, you know!”
And now six years later, here she was, larger than life on Skype, an animated chattering force of energy who, thanks to her diligent Type A German father and Type A+ Chinese mother, could give you lip in equally fluent bursts of Mandarin, German and English.
            “When are you coming to see me, Go-Pa?” she asked.
            “I’ll come for Chinese New Year, OK?” 
            Her mother later told me that Mina is so excited by my arrival that she asked if she could stay up to say hello. I don’t think I know anyone who is so looking forward to seeing me that they would give up their sleep to do so. I personally can’t think of anyone I would do that for.
            But then again, that’s kids for you. They teach you how to recognize what’s important in life. And you’re grateful for the lesson, even if it means giving up your figure for them.


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