Friday, September 23, 2011

Death becomes her

As I sit in an unusual moment of calm on the sofa with no Boy (out doing a swimming race), no rowing or paddling (because Boy is out doing a swimming race) and Eve still asleep at 8am for reasons best known to the sleep fairies and not to be questioned, I am looking at our rather elderly cat fast asleep on the rug.

Marlow is a very tolerant cat. She has put up with being dragged halfway around the world, living with a sister she despised (Henley, who passed away a few years ago) and a small person coming into her otherwise calm and fuzzy life. Despite being poked, prodded, pulled and generally hassled by Eve she has never once scratched, hissed or shown anything other than mild disdain for what we have inflicted upon her. Except an mealtimes, when she loiters under Eve's chair hopefully. We have been very lucky to have such a lovely pet and she is part of our little family. She is, however, getting on a bit.

So, as I sit here pondering life and death, it strikes me that if she dies in the apartment we have a real problem. What do we do with her? In the UK the garden was the resting place for all manner of rabbits, cats, rats and so on. But in HK we don't have a garden. Henley, our other cat, helpfully died on the operating table at the vet. One week later our very apologetic vet (having killed our cat) delivered us a little urn of ashes. Those have also caused us problems in that I don't feel I can just put them in the bin and many discussions with my Mum about scattering them have led is to the conclusion that Henley was incredibly lazy, hated going outside and her favourite place was the sofa, so unless I am going to stuff them into a cushion they will just have to stay on the shelf in Eve's room. However, at least there was no issue about what to do with a dead cat body.

Marlow is very much alive (although fast asleep at the moment) so hopefully this is not a problem I will have to deal with in the immediate future. However, assuming one day I walk in to find her on the rug but just that little bit stiffer and that little bit colder. I can't just throw her off the balcony can I?

Another grumpy post about poorly behaved children

One of my favourite blogs over the past few years is Pants with Names. Although I have neither the time nor the inclination to become part of a much larger mummy blogging community, I have my favourites that are mostly written by friend and friends of friends and I take a lot of interest and delight in the parenting challenges of others.

Recently, she wrote about whether one should or should not discipline the children of others. By discipline here we are not beating a small child in public but rather highlighting to other children some basic social norms (sharing, not hitting, being kind to smaller children) that are the basics with regards to human decency and a harmonious society. This is something I grapple with a great deal. It is a particular problem in HK because lots of children are not looked after by their parents and carers are rarely empowered to discipline the children at all, let alone in public. I don't tend to tell off children directly but I do seek out their parents or carers and suggest to them that they might like to do something. More than once I have felt very sorry for a Filipino helper whose prime motivation is to ensure that the little princeling (or princess-ling) does not tell any bad stories to Mummy about her, who has not actual support to instil discipline but faces me telling them that it would be a good idea if they could stop/start/remind their charge about something.

The worst instance was in a local theme park, Ocean Park. We went with friends and Eve was queuing up for a bouncy castle. Parents and carers were not allowed to stand with the children, but I could see Eve, and there was a park guide organising the queue. Eve was with her friend but, being kind, she had let her friend go in front and she went on a different slot to Eve. This meant that Eve was standing next to a couple of boys who pushed in front of Eve. Eve, having her mother's innate sense of fairness, asked the boys to go back, whereupon the larger brother of the two boys shouted at and hit Eve. I lost the plot completely.

I leapt over the barriers and grabbed Eve, who was by now crying. I told the park guide what had happened (she had been watching) and told her that she should remove the boys from the line immediately. She said that she didn't know what had happened, couldn't, and let the boys onto the castle. I told her, loudly and firmly, that she was reinforcing bad behaviour and if parents weren't allowed to stand in the line then she had a duty to ensure that children were treated fairly. She did that classic HK Chinese thing of saying sorry but not really engaging at all in any form of sensible discussion. Then, to top it off, she said that Eve would have to go to the back of the line to wait her turn to go on the castle again. Giving up on her completely, I looked around to find the parent of the boys to give her a piece of my mind, only to find the two boys were getting off and ran over to their Filipino helper who had seen the whole thing and just gave me a slightly weak smile as she carried their bags for them.

My Mum suggested that I write to the park manager but I know HK and they way things work here to know that nobody would care at all.


I was bullied at school. In fact at two out of my three schools. I was bullied because I was different, I was bullied because there were some nasty girls at my schools, I was bullied because I was too lacking in confidence to do much about it until my Mum stepped in - both times. I know a lot of it was from a strong desire to fit in an air of desperation and loneliness that I must have given off. Mum thinks that some children are just the "type" who get bullied. Maybe she is right. However, I spent a lot of my childhood at school being unhappy, until I finally found my voice, confidence and comfort zone at my final school.

As such I am acutely attuned to any hint of bullying or social isolation directed at Eve. She is a confident little girl around her friends but also like to fit in and be liked and seeks approval (oh so like her mother). There is one little girl in the playground, N, who is a couple of years older than Eve. I don't like N. I don't like her because she seems to enjoy excluding other children from her games. She will select one or two friends to play with and then, quite hurtfully, exclude the other children. This often includes Eve who, having been taught by her Mummy that if she wants something she should ask nicely, gets very upset when N tells her to go away. I came to the playground last night to find N sitting on a bench with one other little girl pretending to be on a boat with Eve standing nearby. She told me as I walked up to them that she was on the boat and Eve wasn't allowed on it because there were only two seats. Cue Eve getting really upset. I told her that there seemed to be lots of room and maybe we could all join her on the boat. She pointedly told me that Eve wasn't welcome. Eve started to cry.

Mercifully at that point N left the playground with her helper. H, our nanny, and I sat quietly with Eve and explained that not everyone is a nice person all the time and she had lots of other friends who would be more fun to be with. Eve gave a plaintive cry that she wanted to play with N and couldn't understand why she didn't like her.

To be honest, if it had been Eve behaving like that to another child I would have taken her to task about her behaviour. However, this is the city where 90% of children are looked after by helpers who have little or no support for discipline from the parents of their charges. I spoke to H about it, she had noticed it too and said that N's nanny knew about it but that she couldn't stop it. It would seem that the nanny fraternity in our playground have simply written N off as a spiteful bully. Sad for her when she is only 6 and sad for the other children who play there.