Thursday, March 29, 2007

We are having a Boy!

In the past 4 months, I have gathered a collection of old-wives' tales. Here are a few popular ones...

Tale 1:
I must be having a girl because I started showing very early and I looked rather radiant. Really, who wouldn't be glowing after a 10-week vacation in Sydney?!

Tale 2:
I craved spicy food so I must be having a girl because women carrying a boy crave for sourness. Come on! I live in Buenos Aires, the land of Bland; I was craving spicy food even before I fell pregnant.

Tale 3:
There are more boys in Guillermo's clan so I have a higher probability of having a girl. I love it when an old-wives' tale gets a dose of pseudoscience.

Don't get me wrong, I personally would have loved having a girl. I was even day-dreaming about the bright pink and black Bugaboo combo for my would-be fashionable bundle of joy. I gladly accepted the above tales but my intuition, also based on nothing but old-wives' tales, was telling me otherwise.

Of course, Guillermo has been a firm believer of us having a boy since the week 12 NT-Scan because, according to my husband, the profile of our baby looked very boyish. Sadly, that's no more scientific than all the tales out there.

So let's move on to the set of tales I based my intuition on...

Tale 4:
Women having girls crave for sweets; I absolutely couldn't stand sweetness until my 2nd trimester. Even now, I would still prefer a savoury snack to a sweet one. Equally, I've known of friends who craved greasy and meaty "boys' food" while carrying a girl.

Tale 5:
Women carrying boys have a slimmer profile; I have only gained 3 kg and the gestational age of the baby is 19 week (it is at a healthy and average weight). While I started showing very early, my growing bump is centrally located and most people would not be able to tell I'm pregnant from my back. However, Guillermo's cousin who is also carrying a boy would so not agree with this particular tale!

To sum it all up, we are very happy that we are expecting a boy. The scan reports that our boy is healthy with spontaneous and vigorous movements; maybe Guillermo should be brushing up on his sporting skills...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Almost Midway

As I was watching Sala de Maternidad (Maternity Ward) on the Home & Health Channel last night, I felt our baby's first kick. Much of what I had read described it as a butterfly-in-the-stomach feeling but for me it was more like a "knock, knock, who's there" kind of sensation.

At 18 week, as my bump is more noticeable, the pregnancy has finally sunk in. In addition, I am due to take my mid-term ultrasound this afternoon, and hopefully we would find out whether it is a boy or girl, among other more important things.

While everything is ticking along very nicely, I still don't own any maternity wear; just lots of wrap dresses, black T-shirts and trousers. I was secretly (not so secret now!) hoping that I could live out these 9 months with my existing wardrobe; I'm not sure if this idea originates from my new-found frugality on myself (note: I do not suffer the same when it comes to splashing out on cute but expensive baby items) or the illusion many 1st time mothers have – that my figure and my life would go back to normal once the baby is born.

One often hears that life would never be the same, not necessarily in a negative way, after one has children. Guillermo and I are looking forward to embracing all the challenges and joys that lie ahead of us.

Despite the gloomy weather outside, we have been enjoying the last of summer in a peach and yoghurt cake which is a doodle to make:

2 eggs
1 cup of whole milk plain unsweetened yogurt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup sunflower oil
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon light rum (I used Marsala)
2 ripe medium size peaches, cubed

Preheat the oven to 180C, line the bottom of a round ten-inch cake pan with parchment paper and grease the sides.

In a large mixing-bowl, gently combine the yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla, oil, and rum. Fold in fruit cubes.

In another bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the flour mixture into the yogurt mixture, and blend together -- don't overwork the dough.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Let stand for ten minutes, and transfer onto a rack to cool.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Some Like It HOT

I tried out a slap-dash recipe for spicy stir-fry chicken noodles earlier last week. Guillermo liked the simple combination of oyster mushrooms, chicken fillet (cut into strips), oyster sauce and egg noodles – spiked by the addition of 3 very potent chillies. I got my much needed spice fix; my first since being back in Buenos Aires.

Later on in the week, quick re-org of the fridge yielded half a packet of curry powder so I made beef curry with rice as our Sunday lunch. The spice factor was much higher and Guillermo literally sweated through his meal; he hasty finished the pile on his plate and reached for yoghurt to calm his palate down. Anyhow, he was proud of his "achievement" and claimed that no average Argentine would be able to withstand that level of heat.

When I cooked another spicy lunch today, he felt compelled to ask if my cravings were back. I wasn't aware of it but I must say an article on the medicinal benefits of herbs and spices, archived in the UCLA Louise M. Darling Biochemical Library was probably working my sub-conscience…

Here is the extract on some commonly used spices:

Cinnamon, Cassia: antiseptic, anti-diarrhea
Coriander: anti-spasmodic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory
Cumin: anti-microbial, diuretic
Curry leaves: anti-emetic
Galangal (Thai, similar to ginger): expectorant, anti-bacterial
Ginger: for colds, anti-emetic, anti-rheumatic
Saffron: anti-rheumatic, for neuralgia
Wasabi (a type of Japanese radish): expectorant, for sinusitis
For the full article, please see here.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Poles Apart

I have come to the resignation that there is probably never going to be "World Peace" when we, human beings, seem to be living on different planets.

Recent search on funny anecdotes on parenthood have yielded two articles published by The Guardian (UK newspaper). One was written a few years back but remains as fresh and relevant today – in the better parts of London, and other capital cities – as when the once new phenomenon was first observed and documented.

In an article titled "J'adore le Baby Dior" (I adore Baby Dior - Dior's junior clothing line), the author and mother of a 2 year-old lamented that "...I don't get to spend nearly enough time playing the glossy, airbrushed parenting role I had in mind for myself...sitting at a pavement cafe while my delightful little one tucks heartily into an organic meal and amuses himself artistically with crayons, with me...maintaining a steady, watchful eye over my progeny and shyly acknowledging the admiring smiles of passers by..."

Organic meal and crayons?? I only recall seeing porteño mother & kid teams tucking into ham and cheese toasties on nutritionally deficient white bread while sipping coca-cola, with Power Ranger or Barbie toys lying close by.

Across the Ocean, the same author and mother went on "...In my local playground on a Saturday morning, around the sandpit, mothers brandish healthy snacks and educational toys like Mulberry handbags. The children are roundly drowned out by their parents. "Come and have one of these nourishing but delicious muesli cookies that mummy made this morning, Lola darling," they shout across the climbing frame, "and then it's time we went to your drama workshop/Sudoku group/thank-you-letter-writing master-class."..."

The author and I agree on one point at least and that is it has always been thus, of course. However, favoured methods of showing off one's brilliant child - and, more importantly, one's A-starred parenting skills – are primarily the reflection of the time we live in.

For instance, when I first recounted with horror to my mother that Argentine children are routinely fed milk with added sugar and all other forms of terrible junk, my mother calmly told me that it too was the custom to "treat" children this sort of food when she was a young girl living in the more austere post-war era; back then common folks were not educated on nutrition. Clearly, A-starred parenting skills in the affluent and more nutrition savvy cultures of today have move on and beyond refined sugar and "white" carbohydrates.

"In these Jamie Oliver obsessed times, it's all about breeding a child who wrinkles their snub nose in the face of chocolate and pines for soya milk and papaya." says the satirical author who has "...a friend who still talks in hushed, shocked tones about the infamous occasion last year when one mother gave the children - wait for it - sandwiches, as if such a wheat-laden, non-gourmet GI snack was akin to offering a tray of stiff gin and tonics."

I chuckled as I imagine how this friend of the author would feel if she ever saw what I see frequently at my local supermarket where parents wait in line with their toddlers to pay for their trolley filled with dulce de leche, crisps and frizzy drinks.

Of course, food is only a little patch within the minefield that's modern parenthood. In a more recent Guardian article, another author talks about the wanton excess that is a child's birthday party fuelled by competitive parents. "...Children have no innate sense of one-up-manship; they invariably want their birthday party to be exactly like the most recent birthday party they attended. Parents, however, do not like slavish imitation; they constantly feel the need to produce something more imaginative, impressive and fashionable than the other parents, to the extent that British families now spend an average of £82 per birthday party, although £500 is more like the norm in certain parts of north London."

At current exchange rate and where we draw the poverty line, £500 is more than a large number of middle class Argentine families earn in a month; and I don't know which one of these societies is screwed up.

The choice of presents may be very different but London or Buenos Aires, the current party scenes are similarly characterised by an orgy of ungrateful excess. One gift after another being ripped open at alarming speed by a child who never even pauses to see who it is from seems the norm.

I am sure when we become parents, Guillermo and I may run the risk of being accused of child abuse just because we do not believe or condone this sort of parenting style which encourages immediate gratification and feeds more materialistic desires and demands. However, I do like the idea of instilling healthy wholesome eating habits in our children even if it means they would only accept Green & Black's organic dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids; as long as I don't flaunt it and that it is how we eat anyway, I reason that it isn't all that pretentious ;-)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Play Time

More on the subject of expat parents who would like know where their children could participate in activities conducted in English...I am copying a mail forwarded to me by an American expat who is married to an Argentine:

"A local nursery school teacher that I have known for years is helping a friend of hers promote a rotating "jardin" in English. My youngest son participated in a rotating jardin with her from age 1 1/2 to 2 1/2. In his case the classes were in Spanish and they were just three kids in the class... They met twice a week, taking turns having the classes at each child's home. It was a wonderful opportunity for him to play with other children and they did such creative fun projects together.

If anyone is interested in finding out more about the "jardin" you can contact Adriana Cuadrado (known as Arri), who was my son´s teacher, at"

The following is the original email from the nursery teacher:

"Queridas mamás: hoy les escribo, como verán, para recomendarles los grupitos rodantes en inglés que hace una amiga mía, Maru Cosin.

Todas saben de qué se tratan los grupitos pues la mayoría de uds han tenido a alguno (o a todos!!!) sus hijos en grupitos conmigo.

Tal vez algunas recuerden a Maru del jardín Infanzia, hemos trabajado juntas ahí y puedo recomendarla como persona y como maestra con los ojos cerrados.

Este año a Maru también le toca ser mamá (en mayo!) así que está coordinando los grupitos y lo llevan a cabo otras maestras a su cargo.

Y para terminar la "promo", les cuento que mi hija más grande, Casandra, ya tiene 3 años y 4 meses . Les pido por favor que si "algún interesado" en los grupitos de Maru, de aprox esa edad, tiene ganas de avisarme para poder incluirla, bienvenido sea, ya que también como mamá quiero participar en ellos, ahora sí, del otro lado.

Y a las que hace taaaaanto que no veo, como verán que mencioné al pasar, contarles que en junio pasado tuve a mi segunda niñita, Dafne Violeta, otro solcito en este hogar.

Les mando besos grandes a todas

I cannot vouch for the quality of the teacher; I am merely providing this information so parents who are interested could find out more.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Forsaking Cleanliness and...Godliness

Most Argentine households I've come across are spic'n'span for two reasons: firstly, these households all have at least a part-time domestic helper if not a live-in maid; and secondly, people seem to favour using a large amount of cleaning products. In addition, many apartment buildings have a live-in caretaker to maintain the sheen on marble hallways and wood-panelled elevators. Cleanliness seems to be truly next to Godliness in the minds of many here.

I am not sure if the ghastly level of pollution and the dirty streets fuel porteños' desire to keep every surface in their homes flawlessly bleached and polished. However, few are aware that cleaning products are producing a very different kind of pollution to our homes.

When our domestic goddess first came to work in our household, she asked me to stock up on an array of cleaning products; most of them bleaching agents, Blem, and various strong smelling sprays. Every time she left, she was proud of the "clean smelling" apartment she was handing back to us. We didn't have the heart to tell her that we were choking in the "clean" fumes; our eyes were itchy and red, I was sneezing until the "cleanliness" wore off.

It took me months to work up the courage to tell her to tone down on the products. Since she comes twice a week and we have no kids or pets, I have asked her to mop the floor with just hot water and only add a smaller amount of cleaning agent to the water every two weeks.

Now that we are expecting a baby, it is even more crucial that we limit the amount of chemicals in our home. I am glad that I plugged up the courage to talk to her about our concerns. We are fortunate that our goddess is the open-minded kind; after we explained to her our rationale she gladly took to the task... we now live "happily everafter".

The following are some examples of cleaning products commonly found in domestic environments which are damaging to health...

Aerosol Products:
Aerosolized chemicals are absorbed through lungs and quickly pass into bloodstream. Damage brain, lungs, kidneys, heart, nervous system. Put solution in hand sprays.

Air Freshener:
Most contain carcinogenic ingredients, which can be stored in body fat. May cause birth defects, liver, kidney and brain damage. Plants, essential oils and potpourri are effective and less harmful options.

All-Purpose Cleaner/Degreaser:
Damaging to eyes, skin and lungs. Toxic to nervous system. May contain ingredients that are linked to cancer, reproductive disorders.

Antibacterial Cleaner:
Some may be immunotoxicants- associated with liver damage. Low-dose of antibiotics pose long-term danger- weaken immune system and breed "super-germs". Try using essential oils with anti-bacterial properties such as tea tree oil, lavender oil, etc.

Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner:
Carcinogenic; causes liver, kidney, and nervous-system damage. Corrosive; extremely irritable to eyes, skin and respiratory passages.

Corrosive; damaging to eyes, skin and lungs. Dioxins do not break down. Contaminate water and devastate ecosystem and wildlife.

May the Lesser God bless our lesser household. Amen.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Thank you for all the kind and concerned comments regarding our birth plan. Now that everything is sorted and air-tickets bought, I am feeling very relaxed and enjoying my 2nd Trimester tremendously.

Guillermo and friends who have seen my burgeoning bump have all commented that I am "wearing" my pregnancy very well – weight gain seems to have gone strictly to the appropriate places and have diligently stayed there. 2 kilos after 16 weeks may seem modest but my Argentine doctor is very happy and declared a "perfecto" at my weight-in.

Since I can deal with the smell of baking ingredients again, we have asked our friends over for tea this Sunday. It gives me the opportunity to use those cocoa nibs I ordered online just before Christmas. I am not a big fan of traditional American cookies only because I know what goes into the dough. My version, adpated from an American cookery magazine, is BIG on crunch and chocolate flavour without too much sugar and fat; plus all that oatmeal is bound to us some good.

Oatmeal Choc-chip and Cocoa nibs Cookies

3/4 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
120g butter, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large eggs
1 1/2 cups oats
3/4 cup combination of dark chocolate chips (70% cocoa solids at least) and cocoa nibs

1. Preheat oven to 180C, and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Whisk flour, salt and baking powder together in a medium bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, by hand or by mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars and beat the mixture until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time.

4. Stir dry ingredients into butter-sugar mixture with a large spatula. Stir in oats and chocolate chips.

5. Place dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets in generous spoonfuls, leaving at least 3cm in between.

6. Bake until cookie edges turn golden brown, 20 min. Slide cookies (on parchment) onto cooling rack. When cooled, store in airtight container.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Giving Light

After my post on the differences in approach to pregnancy, I received a wonderfully encouraging response from the Dar a Luz network. To give birth in Spanish is "dar a luz" which literally means to give light; a beautiful way of describing a new life being born into the world.

I'm very glad to be of help in shedding light on the local approach after having conversations with other women who have gone through their experience in Argentina. I've always tried to keep an open mind in absorbing information from various sources and perspectives in the hope that I am then empowered to make my own choices.

Although I've talked to numerous friends and family who have given birth in Buenos Aires, I still feel I can't get a complete picture of what is considered to be "standard/ best practices" here because there seems to be a lack of consistency among practitioners, and that is not limited solely to obstetrics. It seems to be determined by the rapport one has with one's doctor and whether the doctor has kept his knowledge and practices current.

I am fortunate to have a doctor who is reasonably open-minded and respects the fact that I seek information and knowledge on the subject. When we returned from Sydney after my 1st Trimester, I was facing a very difficult decision – to give birth in Argentina or to return to Sydney?

The advantages of staying at home in Buenos Aires were obvious. All things being equal, the only advantage in returning to Sydney was being able to share this intimate moment with my 86 year-old grandmother who is very, very dear to me.

In the end the decision was made easier for me by my doctor who told me he is overbooked during August. Hence, he cannot assist me in giving birth but would refer me to someone else. As soon as he told me his situation, Guillermo knew immediately that we would be going back to Sydney.

It will be a daunting 20 hour flight home to Sydney but I have been taking very good care of my health and I am confident that I will be fit for the task. On the other hand, it is a pity that I am giving up on the opportunity in knowing the Argentine birthing process first hand. For this reason, I feel ill-qualified to speak for the Dar a Luz network locally. Nonetheless, it is uplifting to know that my intention and effort in sharing information with others are appreciated.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk

I've never really understood the mindset of English speaking tourists coming to Buenos Aires who would bother with expats acting as tour guides since the level of English spoken by educated Argentines is extremely high and their knowledge of their own city is unrivalled.

Nonetheless, I caught a glimpse of the latest edition of Time Out Guide to BA brought out by our almost absurdly well travelled friends who have escaped from the still chilly Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in March to our sunnier climes. As with the second edition which I own, I am puzzled by the editor's choices at times. I am surprised that an excellent local tour company which specialises in walking tours with particular focus on history and architecture was completely overlooked in favour of lesser operators.

Eternautas Viajes Historicos boasts a Who's Who client list and their staff are mostly graduates and post graduates of history, architecture or anthropology. Various groups of friends with a wide range of interests, I have received at Chez Moi in the past two years, have nothing but the highest regard for the company's guides, their knowledge and enthusiasm.

I'm not interested in turning this blog into a tourist info blog but like all travellers, I would love to see travel guides lifting their game just a little bit more.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Is Ignorance Truly Blissful?

Our extended Argentine family is going to have a busy winter this year. Our baby is due in late August and Guillermo's cousin, Maria-Eugenia, is also going to be a first time mother in mid August.

Since our due dates are less than 3 weeks apart, there are bound to be comparisons between Maria-Eugenia and myself. Indeed, they have every reason to do so as the differences in our approach to pregnancy are noticeable. Basically, it all goes back to cultural differences.

This is actually my second pregnancy in Argentina if I count my short-lived one last year. In neither circumstance did my GP at Medicus Centre (Recoleta) or my gynaecologist/obstetrician advice me on which food, herb or medication to avoid/ cut down during pregnancy. Neither did anyone advise me on the appropriate weight gain in the following 8 months. Furthermore, none of these professionals provided information on the labour and delivery or advised us to attend ante-natal classes. I have been relying my GP in Sydney, English language books and websites for information so far.

Abuela was utterly surprised when I first mentioned to her over tea that I am avoiding cold cuts (fiambres) during the pregnancy. She questioned the source of my information and when I told her both my GP and midwife in Sydney had warned me against listeria (not a grave matter for the mother but detrimental to the baby) and which foods may contain them, she responded that no doctor had told her pregnant grand-daughter anything. Well, I could have said the same about my Argentine doctors.

I had mentioned in an earlier post about the widespread usage of oxytocin (pitocin is the commercial name) in Argentina to induce birth, out of convenience rather than necessity. The drug, with potentially dangerous side-effects, is usually injected into a drip without the mother-to-be being notified. If one objects to it, one has to raise the issue with the doctor and the midwife. However, most disturbingly, neither doctors nor midwives mention the usage of this drug as part of normal delivery.

I am only aware of the usage because an expat friend who went through a natural delivery at the Swiss Hospital alerted me to the common practice in this country. Fortunately for her, she stopped the midwife who was already holding the needle just in time. Consequently, however, she did get an earful as the midwife protested that she didn't want to be held up by my friend's natural birth.

The birth itself is also cause of much concern among expats. Friends who delivered at the Swiss Hospital and Otamendi both had their midwives hopping on top of their bumps and then using their entire body weight to push the baby down and out (both friends were delivering from a seated position) were certainly chilling tales of an unconventional delivery method for non-Argentines.

Another common practice of which I have been forewarned is that nurses here may feed a newborn cow's milk if the mother is not expressing enough milk on the first couple of days. An Argentine friend who is also a paediatrician has warned me that some older nurses fail to recognise the watery milk, known as colostrum, is actually nature's way of feeding newborn with a delicate, brand new digestive track. These nurses have a tendency to feed babies cow's milk as "supplement". Cow's milk is full of allergens and actually has disastrous effect on newborns.

You may recall from older posts that Guillermo's niece suffers milk allergy which means she is on an extremely restricted lactose and soya-free diet. Her mother has recently told me that the cause of her allergy is highly likely to be the switch from breast milk straight to cow's milk when her daughter wasn't quite 3 months. She sighed with much regret that no doctor, nurse or nutritionist had provided her with any information at the time.

If I have to choose between blissful ignorance and industrious awareness, I am sure I'm one to sign up for a little reading and research.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Lingo Limbo

It seems I have lifted the floodgate on the subject of children; it is now mighty difficult to stop.

Comment leaver SFO would like to know if I have closeted a crate of Vegemite here in BA. Unlike Skippy peanut butter, Vegemite (Australian) and Marmite (British) are truly acquired tastes.

Both dark brown spreads are made of yeast extracts and stink of the fifth sense of Umami (a taste most commonly associated with mushrooms). They are an excellent source of Vitamin B complex. Since adequate intake of folate is vital for women, I have brought a small jar to BA which I dip into frequently. However, that was true until yesterday.

In a matter of 24 hours, as our dear Melbournian friends head home after an 18-month sojourn in BA, I have inherited 2 more jars of our national symbol plus all sorts of exotic herbs and spices. This is me set for the next 18 months; I'm also hoping to introduce Vegemite on toast to our child as soon as it is feasible since Vegemite packs a real punch in nutrients.

No slight to the national symbol of Argentina intended but between Dulce de leche and Vegemite, I'd have no choice but to go with the one which delivers much more to my child than empty calories and tooth decay. If our child grows up to be more Australian than Argentine in tastes then so be it.

Speaking of bringing up Austral-Argentine children, the question of language is inevitable. It can be an emotive issue, not limited to the parents, as I found out soon after Guillermo and I got married. Over a family asado almost 2 years ago, Guillermo and I casually brought up our plan to speak in English, at home, to our children in the future.

My father-in-law looked glum and mournful but kept very quiet on the language issue as those were the days when he was still getting over the shock and embarrassment of my deep disapproval of him feeding coca-cola to his youngest grand-daughter of just 1 year. On the other hand, Guillermo's young sister who has two sons was obviously agitated and affronted by our plan and made sure we were aware of her sentiment. (note: none of Guillermo's six nieces and nephews attend bi-lingual schools; instead, they have "lenguas vivas" classes at school)

In those early days, we had not entertained the possibility of returning to Sydney permanently. Therefore, our children's main language would inevitably be Spanish as we would be living in a Spanish speaking country. I was surprised that La Familia had neither that space in their hearts nor minds to recognise our children would be different from their cousins as they are going to be products of a bi-cultural and multi-lingual union between Guillermo and I.

Fast forward 2 years to the present, depending on where we are going to settle permanently, our idea has modified slightly. If we are to continue living in BA, we will create an English speaking environment at home where our children would learn from listening to dialogues between two English speaking adults. Our bi-lingual domestic goddess would speak to them in whichever language she prefers.

We feel an exposure to dialogues aid a child's learning much more than just being exposed to one parent speaking the language especially if the language is the minority's language (in this case, English in a Spanish speaking country).

We anticipate that our children would most probably start to speak in full sentences later than mono-lingual children but we have seen loads of precedence when bi-lingual children (since birth, not schooling at bilingüe kinders) fully grasp both languages at about 3-3.5 years of age, they would have native command of both languages and can switch between them with ease.

Tools that would help parents in similar situation are story books and audio-visual educational toys and entertainment in the minority language. Having friends of the parents' and eventually their own who speak in the minority language would be of great help.

For those living in Capital Federal, I am aware that a couple of ladies from the U.S. run an English playgroup mainly for expat children. Both ladies are qualified teachers from the U.S. and one of them, Beth Dany, taught at the expat dominated Lincoln in La Lucila.

If we decide to move to Sydney before the children enter pre-school (age 5), our plan is then to have Guillermo speak to them in Spanish while I speak in English before the move and we speak in Spanish at home after the move.

However, this plan is subject to how much Spanish I would remember once I'm out of Argentina. In addition, we would probably decide differently once we settle in Sydney as the opportunity to learn Mandarin and Cantonese from qualified teachers (as opposed to someone who is just a native speaker, like myself and many language teachers here) arises.

Well, a little complication to add to the already complicated responsibility of raising children but such is the joy and trepidation of multi-lingual parenthood!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

First Set of Wheels

With my head filled with baby concerns such as ante-natal classes, Pilates for pregnant women, I have found it hard to find a subject matter that doesn't bore others, especially men, to death.

So I'm going to keep this post short and hopefully somewhat amusing. A trend has been growing in many countries which I'm sure will sweep across the metropolis (or at least Recoleta, Buenos Aires) of Argentina at some point...fathers are not only becoming more hands-on with raising children but they are now an equally important targeted consumer group when it comes to baby product advertising.

The two products in which branding and designs have evolved drastically in the past 5 years to fit a more masculine image of fatherhood are the stroller (cochecito) and the diaper bag.

When my nephew who is 9 was a newborn, most strollers and diaper bags on the market had infantile patterns such as teddy bears or balloons all over them. In those less motherly days, I sworn to myself I won't ever be caught dead pushing or carrying one of those. As fate would have it, I don't have to. A decade later, most strollers and their "matchy-matchy" diaper bags sport streamlined designs in black or navy. Some producers are also venturing into smart industrial grey with a tint of crisp lime green or orange.

Except for the premium strollers from Europe such as Bugaboo (Netherlands) and Stokke (Norway), most strollers on the market are manufactured in China and they get slapped on a brand name depending on where they are exported to.

In Argentina, the names still bear connection with the occupier of the set of wheels; hence, names such as Infantil, Kiddy. In most English speaking countries, however, the names are an obvious reflection of changing times and sentiment in our social structure. Strollers are now bigger, darker and meaner looking; bearing names such as Beema (a take on BMW perhaps?), Jeep (and I thought we were now living in more environmentally conscious times than aspiring to owning an oil-guzzling, air-polluting 4WD), or McLaren (a Formula One stroller?). Maybe we would soon see fathers pushing a "Merc" or is that just too cheeky?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Glass Ceiling

I completely expose my "vintage" by mentioning a movie in the 80s named Trading Places in which a pair of filthy rich siblings in Manhattan made a bet to amuse themselves – have an educated, promising young Caucasian man trade places with a Negro beggar off the street and see if genetics and predisposition to succeed determine one's destiny. The movie starring Eddie Murphy was shallow but the message behind was definitely thought-provoking.

Perhaps I had lived in a meritocratic society too long where I took the plentiful opportunities for hard-workers to make-good for granted; I was in complete shock when I first heard Argentines of European descent talked about people of darker skin as those who have the lazy gene (in fact, an increasingly common occurrence confirmed in a recent post of D for Disorientation). This self-satisfied bunch surmise that "those people" are predisposed to be good-for-nothing thieves because they are genetically lazy or stupid.

It is simply surrealistic that such mentality exists in the 21st C. Little did I know just how entrenched it is and that I have been enveloped in it the whole time without realisation.

We had La Familia came over on Sunday for lunch; four generations which completed the chaotic scene of walking sticks, grandparents clowning, parents shouting and kids screaming. After the parents carried their worn-out children home, the conversation between the remaining adults turned to the little ones.

The conversation first started on this track when Abuela mentioned Abuelo's three nephews are all medical professionals in high places because the father was a medical doctor. Guillermo, a psychologist specialising in the development of intelligence, tried to explain to his family that while inherited talents play some part in one's destiny, intelligence is now known to be a developmental process and early stimulation plays a vital part in one's eventual intelligence.

High achievers run in a family not so much because they have inherited a special strand of DNA but because the parents or perhaps even the extended family provide a nurturing environment which inspires and supports their intellectual pursuits.

I was part amused and part surprised that my husband's learned view, based on endless research within the international academic community, was casually and completely brushed aside by his own family as his parents insisted on the predisposition of kids in following the footsteps of their parents. To follow their logic then perhaps I should seriously wonder if Guillermo was adopted.

Distilled, my parents-in-law are basically of the view that since it has been predetermined by genetics, there is sod-all one can do which then follows that it is alright for the parents or them, the grandparents, to wash their hands in the intellectual development of the kids.

With this conviction, they are satisfied in playing their role as abuelos (grandparents) with slap-stick humour, chocolates, gaseosas (sugary frizzy drinks), and pelota (ball). As we are going to have our first child, I am deeply saddened by their wrong-headed belief. I can only remember too well when my niece and nephew were little (as young as 1), their parents and mine (their grandparents) often sat them on their laps reading story books together or how they all sat on the floor playing chess or Trivial Pursuit (my nephew was no more than 4 then).

Undeniably, glass ceiling still inhibits some of us in certain professions and social environments. However, the most inhibiting type of glass ceiling is one that we or our loved ones put on us; or worse, our future generation.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Is It Worth The Salt?

One of the first things Guillermo and I noticed when we first settled back into Argentine life was how everything tasted incredibly salty to both of us. I also have to train my eyes again in order to get used to seeing people shower their food with salt.

Even if we do not add much salt to our food, there is no way of escaping it unless we do not eat out. The mineral water most often served at eateries, Villavicencio*, tastes like saline solution to the unacclaimised. Bread is another highly salted staple in most people's diet.

Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH, United Kingdom), said: "Research has shown that a population cut of 1g of salt a day would equate to 7,000 lives saved each year from strokes and heart attacks, due to the drop in blood pressure that would occur."

CASH is urging shoppers in the UK to boycott bread with high salt content as salt in bread makes up 25% of British people’s daily sodium intake.

I doubt if bread alone contributes as much to the Argentine diet since salt added in cooking and at the table is probably where the real problem lies in this country. In any case, the research provides an encouraging benchmark for Argentines addicted to salt, a cut as insignificant as 1g a day would already lead one onto the path of better health.
* Eco de los Adnes is a local mineral water with relatively low sodium content. Glaciar is a low sodium water with added minerals.