Mother Fluker

A Migrant Mother's Musings

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Medicine Man

At last I have finally had a day when I am not coughing up disgusting amounts of mucus and hacking explosively in the endless tale of The Cold I Caught From Daycare. This has been a particularly nasty one - it's taken well over a month in my estimation to wreak its total pattern of foulness on me - prior to that the H had it for ages, and now even the super-immune D has succumbed. D had his tonsils and adenoids sensibly removed at the age of 6 and never seems to get throat-related lurgies. But this one got us all good'n'proper.

As is usual in the sweet irony of life, the nastiest part of the malaise for me struck on holiday. After some completely ineffectual antibiotics prescribed OVER THE PHONE (is that legal - anywhere??) in Kota Kinabalu, I ended up a week later pleading with a Chinese pharmacist in some dodgy basement chemist to sell me something strong enough for the job, telling him that my husband was about to divorce me if he didn't get a decent night's sleep. He sold me some vile looking luminous pink linctus that had Made in India written on it, and which set me back the princely sum of 8 Ringgit. As I was walking out of the shop he said to me "Oh, half an hour after taking this medicine, your hands will begin to shake. Don't worry, this is normal".

Sure enough, about 30 minutes after the first dose I became aware that my hands were trembling noticeably, which they continued to do for several hours. I guess that there must have been a meaty old slug of some kind of amphetamine in the syrup, as I felt totally wired after each glug. It was bad enough to cause me to spill stuff and it was probably just as well that I wasn't driving anywhere. And I think it did help a bit with the cough. But the shaking was the most obvious effect, both to me and to others. By perfect coincidence, I purchased the medicine on the very day we flew to Brunei, which is a dry state. For four days, I looked for all the world like I was undergoing the DTs. This, plus a few sleepless nights due to constant coughing really helped complete the image. It's the later period Sue-Ellen look; a drunk, a tramp and an unfit mother.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Hot Gipsy Babe

Anyone who has ever taken a baby anywhere vaguely off-piste has probably encountered the same vibes of disapproval that met our announcement that we were taking the H to Borneo. Okay, aside from the fact that the very word Borneo conjurs for many the image of some heart-of-darkness malaria infested tropical hellhole, there are also plenty who think that once you have a child you ought to remain in domestic purdah for, oooh, about 18 years. That if you choose to travel, you are imposing wilfully selfish ambitions upon your poor disoriented offspring, wantonly fracturing the vital routines that define and give meaning to their very existence.

Yeah, right. Like most parents, I'm not immune to guilt, and I did think twice about taking H somewhere exotic. D and I went to Borneo 11 years ago and we did have a rather different trip. But I think it's important to say to anyone contemplating travelling with a baby that it can be done, and done successfully. It's just a question of planning it and being more organised. Some compromises were made - we took some activities in turn rather than together so that one of us could babysit. We stayed in better quality accommodation, so that we had airconditioning and decent bathroom facilities. We spent some evenings quietly playing scrabble while the H slept. We worked around everything else - yes, H has a routine, but one which deliberately revolves around portable things (particular toys and songs, for example). We purchased quality travel insurance. I took detergent with me and scrubbed things I felt I needed to. And I would not have taken him anywhere that meant malarial medication for him, as that's not something I would be comfortable with, personally.

But yes, we rode in taxis where he was unsecured in the back seat. We stayed in the jungle where we were hours away from medical help. We took him hiking for hours in hot and humid conditions. We took what some people would consider to be unacceptable risks and we took them because we really wanted to go back to Borneo and we thought that we would all have fun doing it. I don't know where that puts us on the spectrum of responsible parenthood. I have a good friend who singlehandedly took his two year old daughter sailing around Scotland, tethered to the deck of his tiny boat, and even used her as a deckhand. When his elder daughter was three he took her and her 9 month old sister camping and hillwalking in the highlands. He's a wonderful father, but some people were horrified. Conversely, I know parents who never venture out of the house between 12 and 2 on any day as 'that's when the baby sleeps'. I know parents who refuse to get their child vaccinated, parents who smoked cigarettes while pregnant, parents who use their children as emotional frisbees. Parents who drag their toddlers out to restaurants late at night and then complain that their sleeping patterns are terrible. So on the Extreme Parenting scale, going to Borneo is quite pathetically tame.

Doing a round-the-world trip with a 2 year old, an idea which is currently in the formenting stage, may rank a notch higher. Oh dear, I've written this idea down. That makes it much more likely to happen.

What about the positives? A long holiday together meant much more quality time with Daddy - H is never happier than when in the backpack carrier on D's back. I now have a treasured memory of the three of us walking along the boardwalk path from Deer Cave in Gunung Mulu National Park at sunset, with H doing lots of frog and bird impressions as the light faded and the rainforest came alive with sounds. Even at such a young age he seemed to get a lot out of being in a different and interesting place. And we managed to avoid him getting bitten or sunburnt, my two major concerns. On average, the number of tantrums and the amount of crying was significantly less than it would be on a day at home. H has, like his father, a very low boredom threshold. So he adored meeting the local children and we found that meeting and chatting to people is easy with a baby to break the ice.

The only time we questioned ourselves on this trip was at the end of day 2. We thought he was struggling to adjust to the heat. His little cheeks were scarlet; he was grizzly and cross and not his usual self. D and I indulged in a little self-flagellation - maybe we had been stupid to expect him to hit the ground running in a strange place, maybe he was dehydrating, what would we do if he got worse? When, the following day, we discovered that a new tooth had poked through his gums, and he was back to his normal chirpy self, we felt pretty stupid. Teeth! If I'd been at home, I would at least have had the nous to administer some panadol and wait it out. Duh.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


We're back. Flying with a small person in tow is such a different experience. Firstly there is that collective shudder from everyone on the aircraft when they see you come down the aisle with a perky toddler in your arms. OH NOOOOOO! Please don't sit next to ME! Then once the flight is underway and it becomes obvious that your child is not the antichrist, the population divides rapidly into two camps. There is the Have/Like children faction, who smile indulgently, want to spirit your offspring away in their arms (H has very much got past the stage of placidly being handed round the flight crew and now registers Stranger Danger Alert at high decibels whenever there is an attempt to grab him, and who can blame him really?).

Then there are the "I am so not interested in the Fruit of Your Loins" faction, who stare fixedly ahead even when the aforementioned small person is cooing sweetly and putting his head on one side in serious flirt-with-me-I'm-cute mode trying to attract their attention. And I have to sympathise with this group, as I was myself until recently a stalwart of their ranks, and used to find children of all varieties either invisible or a source of great irritation. And so I am turning into the kind of parent who goes to extreme lengths to ensure that their child is as quiet and unobtrusive as humanly possible when in a public place. Which is probably deeply wrong, and will scar him for life.

The good news for us was that all flights on this trip were fairly uneventful with minimal or no screaming, that is, if you don't count me dropping H on his head in the transit lounge in Miri. He sort-of lurched forward off a seat and bounced head first off the concrete floor, prompting maximum screaming at that point and a good deal of parental agonising. D thought we should abort the trip and rush him to hospital. We dithered until H stopped crying, and I had remembered scraps of Brownie Guide first aid advice... "Uh, his eyes are still going in the same direction and he hasn't lost consciousness so let's just wing it"...

The next day, I was amazed to see he didn't even have a bruise on his head. He's tough, my son. Though I am not going to let him sit on a chair ever again for the rest of his life.

Otherwise the time away was not so much a holiday as an exercise in chaperoning a boy band star. He was mobbed everywhere we went by adoring locals who couldn't hold back from groping his blonde locks. "Ahhhh - so cute!!" was the refrain that echoed in our ears from start to finish. It was a great way in to get talking to loads of people and everyone was so kind and helpful I wondered why Lonely Planet don't suggest you breed before you go anywhere. For the most part, H just lapped up all the extra attention. He's down to earth rather brutally now that we are home. Blonde babies are two-a-penny in Australia, so the mass crowd adulation has abruptly stopped, and H looks a little puzzled that he's been relegated to ex-stardom at only 15 months old. We can only expect that rebound cocaine addiction and general bad behaviour will ensue, at least until he stages a comeback tour in Italy next summer.