Sunday, April 25, 2010

A stitch in time

I have a nice morning routine with Eve. Usually I tend to wake up when Eve does (there is something genetically programmed into Daddies that mean they just don't hear the morning wake up call - I've checked with friends), then we spend up to half an hour just the two of us. Sometimes I jump into her bed and we chat and play, sometimes we get up and read books, sometimes we just cuddle on the sofa. It is precious time.

Last Wednesday was one such morning. My toenails were in need of repair pending a possible outing this weekend so Eve ran to the kitchen to get my nail varnish from the fridge while I got remover in the bathroom. As she galloped back to me, she fell over, head first, into the door frame.

My general principle is that if Eve can wiggle whatever hurts and there is no blood then it gets ignored after a quick kiss from Mummy. Except this time there was blood, an awful lot of blood, coming from her face. And a lot of crying.

Quick as a flash the Boy was up, we all got dressed and were in the car to the hospital. I am not one to overreact but when it's a head wound and you can see the flesh below the flesh, a formal opinion may be needed. Luckily we live 5 minutes drive from HK's best teaching hospital. A public hospital nonetheless.

I cannot praise the HK public health system enough. We rarely use it, having health insurance from both our companies, but I think I will most likely use it again. Eve was seen immediately by the triage nurse, a doctor within an hour, an x ray immediately thereafter, and stitched a short while later. 4 stitches. Everyone spoke perfect English, not easy even for native speakers when dealing with medical terms and distraught parents. And we got all this for the princely sum of 100 Hong Kong dollars. Hong Kong Health Authority, I am your new biggest fan.

That said, I don't want to repeat the experience. There is something heart wrenching about a scared child or one in pain. The look in her eyes as she had her xrays taken and asked "what is that noise Mummy, will it hurt me?" (no, was my reply, it's just like Daddy's camera and takes a photo of your skeleton). Then having to hold her hands down while the nurse stitched her face up, all the while as she cried "no more Mummy, make it stop Daddy". I was almost in tears at this one.

Eve, of course, being a little trooper was fine about 10 seconds after her stitches were in and is wearing them like a badge of honour. She is showing no signs of slowing down or taking any fewer risks. I have resigned myself to the fact my daughter will never be a super model and all is back to normal.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sound of silence

On Tuesday afternoon I took a bath. Not just any bath, but a bath at the spa of the Four Seasons Hotel. I had an amazing view of the HK harbour, a glass of champagne in one hand and a copy of Vogue in the other. The bath was full of some sort of milk, kept reheating itself, and would bubble gently if I pressed the right button. After my bath I had a body scrub, then a 90 minute massage, during which I fell asleep.

This was my mother's day present from Eve for last year (yes, May 2009). I'd not had time to do it any sooner.

Afterwards I chatted to my therapist, herself a mother of two young boys as it turned out. I told her how wonderful and calm I felt, she empathised with the need for Mummies to have some "me" time. But then I realised that it had nothing to do with the bath, or the indulgent pampering (although they were all lovely) but that this was the first time in just over 2 years that I have been somewhere that was completely silent. No darling daughter demanding I come and look at her lego house, no husband snoring or telling me about his rowing outing, no phone ringing on my desk or emails demanding I open them. Just pure, wonderful, quiet.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

School daze 2

Sorry, I realised that the last blog was getting too long. So, here is what happened in my own pre-school selection for Eve.

There are a few good ones locally and I tapped the local working mothers network to ask for advice. Two came out on top so I arranged to go and see them. I have absolutely no idea what to look for in a pre-school. I googled "what to look for in a nursery school" and was mightily scared by the number of basic child safety things I am supposed to look for (are the staff checked for criminal records, how are complaints from parents dealt with, is there are a large sign outside saying "we beat children, and enjoy it"). So I asked my Mum, who replied via email "I have no idea. Your father says to make sure they have lots of toys". Helpful!

In the end, Mummy instinct came to the rescue, as did Eve. Of the two, both very good, schools we visited one was larger and clearly had more space for the children to be let loose in. As Eve is not being prone to sitting still for periods of more than 5 minutes, this was a big plus. The teachers were all happy to chat to me about what they were doing and they openly welcomed Eve to join in the classes. They had lots of toys (thanks Dad), lots of books and the children there seemed really, really happy. After we had visited both I simply asked Eve which she preferred, which turned out to be the same one as I did. The Mummy instinct is strong in this one (sorry, bad Star Wars pun there!).

We start in July, after we come back from a trip to the UK for Eve's transition time before she starts school proper in September. She can't wait and has already told me that she wants to get the school bus each day and needs a special school bag because now she is a big girl and going to school.

School daze

Last week (apologies for the delay but the lack of blog access at Gnome bank means I don't get as much time to write as I once did) saw me making the crucial decision about pre-schools for Eve. In HK this is no small matter. If my local Chinese colleagues are to be believed, this is the single most important decision I will ever make about Eve and if I get it wrong I could ruin her life. I do not exaggerate. The Chinese cultural focus on education is huge. You can't go down a main street in HK without bumping into hole-in-the wall schools for music, art, academics. The local media has widely covered the burgeoning industry in celebrity tutors, whose faces beam out at you from the backs of buses and have such trendy names as Ken O.

Of course, like most things a large degree of this is down to money and education is a good money making enterprise. I don't know a parent alive who wouldn't give up the clothes off their back if they thought it would help their child get a head start in life. However, there is also a grain of truth in that HK schools are intensely competitive.

If you are a local Chinese parent you have the choice of the local system. However, the good local schools are much like anywhere else and over subscribed and highly selective in the students that they take. They also tend to have either formal or informal feeder pre-schools and primary schools so it becomes even more essential that the right place is gained at the age of 2.

All other parents, expats included, have to look to the private or semi-private system. The private schools (known as "international" schools here as if this gives some sort of extra status) are relatively easy to get into as long as you throw money at them. To even be considered for a place you need to buy a debenture - a sort of bond system that the school uses to raise money. The cost of these vary, but the top ones come in at around HK$1million (about GBP 80k or US$ 130,000). This doesn't even guarantee you a place! You then have to pay a fee for application to the school and if you get in you are looking at a cost of around HK$100,00 per year just on fees.

The other system is a throwback to the colonial era and is called the English Schools Foundation. This is part funded by the government and the annual fees are about 75% of what you pay for an international school, it has a mixed ability intake and even special needs support and you can only apply the year your child is due to go. They don't have feeder schools and admission is mainly based on language because the mission of the schools are to provide education for children who don't speak Chinese and can't be educated in the local system. That said, about 80% of the students are local Chinese anyway. Guess which system Eve will go into!