Friday, February 15, 2008

Part Thirty Four

July 18th, 1980.

The birth of my first niece
was a major event in our family

On that day , we all crammed into father’s car to go to the hospital. Well actually – it wasn’t really all of us – only my parents and me could fit – and it wasn’t really my father’s car – it belonged to the university of which my father was vice-president – so it was driven by a professional driver – and it should only have been used for official business ( except for special occasions like this one !)

Due to the Cultural Revolution, all of our marriages had been delayed – and my older sister was already 30 year old when this first child was finally born. All of us were so anxious and excited to see her and take her home. I cannot imagine how my parents must have felt. They must have been so patient – waiting for this day.

We picked up the new mother and daughter at the hospital and drove them to my parents’ apartment. .

It was a very hot day in mid-July – but we had to keep the windows rolled up in accordance with a strange Chinese custom that requires new mothers to be kept indoors – with windows shuttered – for 30 days after giving birth. Very strange – and very uncomfortable for all concerned.

My older sister, had been very large with child, but my first niece only weighed 5 pounds – and as soon as we got home – we put this precious treasure in the middle of the bed for all the family to admire. She really was soooo beautiful ! (but I do have to mention that her head was a bit longer than normal and there was a big red dent on the right corner. My sister told us that she had a hard time with the delivery, and the hospital used a sucking device to get the baby out. Later on the dent disappeared -- and the long head was rounded up on its own)

Soon she impressed us all with a great sneeze. My oldest brother had remained quiet throughout the event – but finally he spoke the word that all of us were thinking: “Success”

Soon, she’d be given two names. My father thought she was so pure, he named her after the Chinese word for “ice” (Bing Bing –which we’ve always used at home) – while her other grandfather gave her a more formal name that meant “getting ahead” (Chao – which was used at school)

She was a very good baby. She ate – she slept -- she quickly gained a few pounds – and she liked to be around people, smiling at everyone who was present. She could recognize all kinds of facial expression, so if you smiled at her, she would smile right back, but if you showed her a sad face, she was ready to cry. She loved to be held and loved to be touched – and she loved to play seek and hide games with you over her mom’s shoulder as early as 2 months old.

We all loved her dearly, and I could not wait ‘til the weekend to see her in grandma’s apartment. Later, we learned that she did not sleep like other babies. Most babies sleep 20 hours a day, but Bing Bing slept only 10 -- , so the rest of the time she expected us to entertain her.

Her mother had trouble putting her to sleep, but I was the one who figured out a way to do it – and here’s how it happened:

She loved to be held – so I carried her from room to room – and noticed that whenever there was a loud noise, she would hold me ever more tightly. One day I discovered that she was really afraid of tractor noise, so when she refused to sleep , I would tell her quietly that “the tractor is coming”. Then, she would bury herself in my arms, and a few minutes later, was sound asleep. (should I feel guilty about pulling this trick on her ? Is she still afraid of tractors?).

Since my sister had to return to her job in the local police station, grandma was asked to do the babysitting – which she consented to do – at least for the first several months. We didn’t know anyone who used a crib, so baby was kept on the bed. That worked for a while – until she learned how to crawl - but eventually she fell off and raised a great bump on her head – which was a subject of much concern for everyone in the family.

The problem was that none of us – even grandma – had ever spent that much time with infants (we had all be raised by nannies/wet nurses or eventually boarding schools.

Feeding became a problem because my sister fed her too much – figuring that if she grew fast with 1 tablespoon of nutritional supplement, she would grow even faster with four – until eventually the child refused to take any food at all, and had to be fed by putting a bottle in her mouth whenever she was sleeping.

My sister still feels responsible whenever Bing Bing has a stomach ache, and jokes about her being the family’s guinea pig in our experiment in child raising.

But what we lacked in knowledge – we made up for in love and enthusiasm – and all of us would gather every week – put baby in the center of the room – and enjoy her company. None of us had ever gotten that much attention when we were that small ! She was not only the first child for her parents –she was the first grandchild for my parents – and the only child of the only son of her father’s grandparents.

And … she was the first child in our family to grow up with color television – which fascinated her. At first – in the early eighties – it was only a few hours every night – but soon we had a full schedule of programming – including commercials (though nothing like commercials on American television. When I first came to America, the commercials were my favorite part of television)

Developmentally – she was ahead of her age – in beginning to talk (at six months) and to walk ( at nine months) – and need I say, that whenever we took her out in public, people would comment on her beauty and her smile. She was a very good and very happy baby!

At the age of two, she entered her first pre-school, and I remember the time I went by bus to pick her up and take her home for the weekend.

I arrived during lunch – and there she was, happily giving her food away to whomever would take it. (I guess she still didn’t have much of an appetite). ) She was always dressed very nicely, and if my sister could not find anything pretty enough from the department store, she started sewing the clothes herself.

But perhaps all of this attention and adoration made her just a little bit lazy – she was a good student, she just wasn’t driven to excel in school the way that our generation had been.

So her grades were not tops – and when it came time to take the examinations that would qualify her for placement at the next level of education, there was a great deal of anxiety.

Every day, before her university entrance exam, her mother would wake her up at five in the morning to study with her –and this went on for months until the examination was taken.

And she had some help from grandpa, too --- who began to teach her calligraphy at the age of 3 – so she was well prepared for later schooling and won some major competitions. (unfortunately, she has not continued to practice –and I hope she picks it up again when she gets older)

She always passed her examinations – but only by the skin of her teeth – so back-door, family connections were usually needed to get into the best schools.

She had a very good friend whom she had first met in grade school – and after college, her friend’s Mom got them both into a program in England.

Concerning boyfriends – well --- she has been very picky. Who could ever be good enough for her ? She would say “this one looks like a monkey” --- etc.

Big changes can happen quickly in a young person’s life – but as of this writing, she is back in Beijing, living at home, though she does have own apartment, and using her degree in event management to work on the preparations for the Beijing Olympics.

She is a smart, good-hearted girl – she has no enemies, she is a friend to everyone she knows and I think she is going to have a good life.

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