18 Months

On the week Robert turned one year and a half I received the first folder of his artwork from school. I cannot see him becoming a Picasso anytime soon. So far I haven’t been able to develop his artistic talents, because he still needs to learn that crayons are something to draw with, not eat or throw around. It seems that his teachers at school are having a little more success in this respect.

Last Sunday, Robert’s father was looking after him, and he told me something that I did not know (seriously this time): Robert can sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I was amazed and tried to make him repeat this feat, but whenever I started the rhyme he would wrinkle his forehead and say in a little sad voice: papa.  I hope he does not mean that he will only sing it for papa, that would be too cruel a punishment for his poor mom, even for having to leave him with “papa” for a full weekend.

Yesterday Robert gave ME one of these firsts when he recited: one, two, three and later before bedtime : eight, nine, ten. So it looks like he is learning new things at school, which is very nice.

School is going fine for Robert. He still fusses a little bit when I leave him there in the morning, but he is also not too enthused to leave when I come to get him in the afternoon. He still gets himself stuck in the little chairs and “helps” the teachers stack them and carry them around. It is actually a problem to separate him from his beloved chairs (tayss as he calls them).

I am glad to say that at 18 months my son is fully weaned. If it wasn’t for pressure of propriety I would have gladly continued breastfeeding him, and I think my body knows that because I still produce milk. Evenings are still our bonding time and we both enjoy our good night cuddle, so I haven’t completely lost out.

Meanwhile our life at home is terribly busy and disorganized. I am chipping away at a translation project, and the household chores are getting last priority. To add to the chaos, I have a plumbing problem in my flat, which makes my lounge area flood regularly with bath or laundry water mostly from the next door flat, but sometimes from our drain system as well. I have spoken to the landlord several times and he always promises to send a plumber to look at it, but I am still waiting. In the past his universal solution for this problem was to pour a bottle of drain cleaner down the drain in the flat next door. Last Saturday he brought me a bottle of the stuff which I poured in my kitchen and bathroom sinks, it was horrible.  The stuff is DEADLY and I never ever want to handle it again, not with Robert in the same space.  The poison fizzed and did its thing down the drain and there was a terrible ammonia stink for a whole day, but did not do a wit of good for my flooded apartment, so it seems the problem is far more serious this time. Meanwhile, I just mop the floor and wait for the plumber, but in my mind I am already planning to leave this place, I cannot imagine tolerating this in winter.  But for now, and until my translation project finishes, I am stuck here and have to put up with this.

The Way We Talk: Introducing the Adjective

I have been doing more reading than writing in the past week. I waste my time reading a large blogroll consisting of must read news articles and analysis, knitting blogs, parenting blogs, language and translation blogs. I should perhaps cull this unwieldy flock and start over, but I cannot bring myself to do it. The bloggers I read have become like friends, and it is not easy to cut them out of my life after following their trials and tribulations for so long.

In addition to this electronic reading addiction, I have succumbed to procrastination syndrome. I always feel I have time, it will be done some day, but that someday never really comes. I still have a large hole in the blog that needs to be fixed and updated, and I have my notes about many missing posts, but it is all some day. Now yesterday I got this huge translation job that will keep me busy for the next month, but instead of putting my head to the grindstone and starting to work on it, what do I do? I feel this irresistable urge to update my blog, so here I am.

I think Robert’s first adjective used correctly merits a post by itself. One of the knitting bloggers I follow has a daughter who is approximately two months older than Robert, so it is interesting to read about her development and anticipate what will come next. Around 18 months the little girl made up a sentence that went like : flower .. pretty.

Robert is very much a boy, so he is not interested in flowers. I doubt that he has a word for plant either, and his interest there stops at pulling parts from growing things. The poor jade plant sitting just outside our door bears sad witness to this activity.  So it is normal when his choice for a first adjective was  typically male as well : it-di-gadin (it’s disgusting). This came about while Robert and I were having a bath. He was happily playing in the warm water while I washed my hair. Because my child is such clean freak (at this tender age, and he does not get it from me either) I continuously fish out my stray long hairs from the water while we bath. I roll it into an unappealing but perfectly harmless hairball for later disposal.  My son however, caught this thing, wrinkled his face and nose at it and exclaimed : it-di-gadin. It did not take me long to understand what he was on about, because yesterday this word was cause for much amusement. I told him that his nappy was disgusting, and gave emphasis to the pronunciation. It’s obvious that he liked the sound “disgusting” made, because we repeated it time and time again to the chorus of his laughter. Today he remembered the word and used it appropriately.

Babies apparently start to remember more and more things at this particular age and I am beginning to notice that. A week ago I pointed out the waxing gibbon which rose just before Robert’s bedtime. Yesterday he pointed to the direction where the moon was and said clearly : moon.  Maybe he thought I was pointing to the palm tree which is in the same general direction, but still the fact remains that he remembered something I showed him once a few days back. I still fail sometimes to understand him, paper and pepper sound exactly the same for example, and there are things that he remembers or connections he makes that I do not know anything about.  In our daily commute, for example, from home the kindergarten and back we pass the Sea Point library on Main Road. And if Robert happens to look towards the library he would get excited, and start shouting Ki-kah, Ki-kah repeatedly until something else catches his attention. I have wracked my brain for the meaning of this ki-kah, and I even asked his father but we both remain clueless. It could be the library, the fountain in front of it, or even an experience he had inside it,  but I cannot figure it out.

We are also at the very early stages of combining words. Yesterday Robert was climbing the steps barefoot, when he suddenly stopped and started whining and pointing to his foot. I think he said: bain..foot (pain..foot?). He might have stubbed his foot in his rush, but it is also possible that I misheard or overinterpreted his reaction.

Reflections on Breastfeeding

I am grateful that my little one got over “mama” (mom’s breast milk) so quickly, even though it is still a big deal for me, emotionally.

As I was reflecting on this wonderful bonding gift that I gave myself and my son, I spotted this article in the guardian.co.uk. I found it because the local radio stations made such a big deal out of it : Salma Hayek breastfed a malnourished African baby while visiting Sierra Leon. The article above links to the actual video. Most commenters agreed that it was so beautiful and natural, but of course to the westernized world this is such a big deal. One commenter even mentioned the dangers of cross-breastfeeding. In Middle Eastern and Islamic culture the practice is not so unusual. So much so that there is a degree of kinship resulting from breastfeeding in Islamic tradition.  A woman who breastfeeds a baby becomes “a mother by nursing” and the child becomes a sibling “by nursing” to all her biological children because he or she was fed from the same breast.  Children who nursed at the same breast are not allowed to intermarry even if they are not biologically related.  I find it interesting that Islamic tradition recognizes the importance of nursing and the kinship that result from it, especially if  you consider that the same culture does not recognize step-brother or step-sister as a valid relationship.

In my family I became a little bit of an oddity, because I breastfed Robert for almost 18 months.  The Islamic tradition recommends two years until weaning, but in my mother’s days the practice was in sharp decline. It was considered somehow less than modern to extend breastfeeding beyond six month. Yes, there were those moms who nursed for much longer, but they were mostly uneducated housebound moms from conservative religious families. I do not know what the practice is like in my birth country today, but it has returned to favour in the west or at least here in South Africa. Even in my playgroup I was not the only mom who chose to extend breastfeeding. Salma Hayek is still breastfeeding her daughter at 12 months, so I am not such an oddity, I am glad.

In the past 17 months I enjoyed almost every aspect of nursing: the closeness, the bonding, and the carefree relaxing time with my son. I failed, however, to appreciate what it physically endowed me with: A perfectly womanly hourglass figure. In the absence of their primary function my breasts have shrunk to their pre-pregnancy size, and I realize with dismay that I am very small, blast that.

Check out this funny video of Salma Hayek in a talk show, talking about insecurities on this particular issue.

Weaning… Who is suffering most

The night of the 7th February was the first night I let Robert sleep without the nightly comfort of breast milk. I know that I have been procrastinating on weaning for very long, but I maintain that I had my reasons.

During November Robert was frequently ill and was not interested in any other food or drink, and in December I was trying to build up his strength. During January he formed a very close attachment to me after the long school holidays, and up until last week the act of nursing was a great way to ease my guilty conscience over working long hours and abandoning him for two full days at the creche while I interpreted on a movie set.

But recently I became convinced that his need for this comfort has diminished. Twice last week he went to sleep with the bottle and instead of nursing him we cuddled and I tickled his belly until he fell asleep. But when he woke up during the night things were not as amicable. He insisted loudly on “mama” and cried inconsolably for a long time. I had a difficult time balancing between my loving instinct and my rationality. I managed to calm him down with loving talk and he resigned himself to drinking from the bottle. As Robert suffered his withdrawal symptoms, I had a terrible attack of guilt and sadness, while the neighbors suffered with insomnia I think, having been awakened in the small hours by a crying toddler.

As early as the next day Robert was open to gentle talk and convincing. He seemed to listen when I told him that “mama” was only for little babies who cannot eat or drink anything else. But as he went to sleep I was stricken with melancholy. I realize that my boy is growing independent of me and I will never recover this special closeness again. Two years ago he was still part of me, and yesterday I was still nursing him, but today this is one more thing he does not need from me anymore, and one day he will not need me anymore. I know it is stupid to think that way, but I cannot be rational all the time.

Today I am more concerned with the physical suffering from weaning. I had to express some of my milk to relieve the pain. A friend once told me that African women who are trying to stop lactating throw the milk they express against the wall. The popular belief is that if a woman disrespects and rejects the milk in this manner, her body will stop producing it. Maybe I will try this method if things do not improve, but I am a firm believer that my body will adjust naturally,  and there is no need for African superstition or western medication.

Robert has taken the transition in his stride, and does not ask for “mama” anymore. At sleep time he cuddles up to me and drinks from his bottle. He has even taken to calling the bottle “mama”, ungrateful little rascal.  So it seems that I am permitted to call these part of my anatomy my own again.  Their curiosity value to him is now only a little more than a pair of  “iya” (ears).  I am relieved of course, but still slightly wistful. I doubt whether I will have the pleasure of nursing again.

A bonus of the weaning: Robert does not wake up as often during the night. In fact he sleeps right through. I should have known that my watery milk is a poor substitute for rich full cream cow milk. Another reason to breathe a sigh of relief.

My Days Just Outside the Spotlight

dsc00501I rarely do interpreting in Cape Town, because I cannot trust myself to simultaneous interpreting, and other interpreting jobs do not come up as often. One of those rare ones came my way in the past two days, and the bizarre thing is that I ended up on the set for a commercial. The ad was for an international brand and the same crew and set was used for both the South African and the Middle East versions.

Initially I was contracted as a language consultant, to monitor the correct delivery of the Arabic script; altogether three sentences. I thought I will have a boring time watching and sitting around, but somehow I had a gut feel that it will turn out to be a little more. I was right, because already on the first day I jumped into the role of interpreter for the Egyptian star. interpreter.  The actress was someone I have never heard of before, which means that she is not one of the ancient actresses I used to watch when I left the Middle East ten years ago. This of course is a good thing if they were trying to advertise for a beauty product.

So for the first day I shadowed the star, through her beauty routine scenes, and one sentence of the ‘dialogue’. In the meantime I learned and watched what goes on behind the scenes of a movie set. Before this I only had second hand experience through the stories I heard from Robert’s father. He used to get the occasional assignment as an extra for some commercials. I got to do the same thing, only a little better, because I was just outside camera range, interpreting the instruction to the lead.  She could have done without me I suppose, because she understood and spoke basic English, but I made her feel more comfortable and less intimidated by the foreign crew; she never worked with non-Egyptians before.

When the star was resting between scenes there were still dozens of people working on the set. I got to meet half a dozen interesting people, and learned lots about their various roles. I will probably go back to my call sheet a few times and look up the various designations again.

At some point I got to chat with the VT (Short for Video Technician I suppose) and he explained to me the various roles of DOP (Director of Photography),  gaffer, focus puller, spark (lighting crew), key grip and clapper loader among others. The rest I looked up on this handy database

Some jobs sound a lot more glamorous on paper than they are in actual life. On this set for example, the main job of the production assistant was moving around the smoke making machine, then wafting the smoke for best effect.

If I had a little more time on set though I would have ended up with a serious crush on the AD (Assistant Director) who is a great sport with a wonderful sense of humor. Of course he also has to be a no-nonsense guy to manage the progress of filming and the production schedule.  According to him working on a movie set is great, and beats a real job.  The problems of course are the long hours, little time for family during the summer, and the drain on energy. One guy told me that they virtually run on Coffee and Vitamin B injections, which led me to a scary thought that these people are not even allowed to be sick on a movie shoot day.

Another observation for me was that almost everyone in this industry (including the actress) smoked profusely. It was a good thing that smoking was not allowed on set, because I would have ended up with a serious headache.  The AD said he quit smoking a few years back but it must have been terribly hard in this environment.

There are a few perks to working on a movie set. The free snacks all day, the buffet lunches, and getting paid for being there even while not working. On the second day I got a little bit more down time and I retreated to the relaxation area with the extras to read for a little bit. The highlight of the day -if I may call it that- was seeing a former Miss South Africa, who was playing the lead in the South African version of this commercial. I used to think she was graceful and glamorous, but seeing her in real life made me change my mind. She is all bones and limbs, terribly thin, and slightly masculine. I would say that her smile is her best feature, and without it she just looks like some scrawny athlete. At lunch time the poor thing mentioned she was on diet, and I felt grateful for my curves and my appetite.

The comparison between the two leads was in favour of the Egyptian star. Although she is a mother of five, and on the wrong side of the thirty five, making her perhaps a decade older than the South African former beauty queen.  She has however that mysterious softness of the Arab woman.  Something essentially feminine that all women of the east are born with. I understand how this quality attracts men the world over. I wish I had a little more of it.