By Estella Dot Com, a change of tag.

By Estella

After posting 60 odd stories on By Estella Dot Com in the last 3 weeks, it dawned on me that my former tagline “the heart-song of an unapologetic sentimentalist in suburbia”, while representative of this blog, might be less than helpful to the would-be-reader trying to decide if my writings are suitable for him or her. I appreciate that for many of us, time is scarce, and our after-hours reading should not only be entertaining but edifying.

In light of that, I have changed my tag to “Cross-cultural parenting, relationships and lifestyle stories for every person, everywhere.” What do you think about that? Would it better help the potential reader to discern what this blog is about?

What makes a murderer – nature or nurture?

In response to the catching of murderer Luka Rocco Magnotta in Berlin – he of Canadian Psycho infamy – my friend, Cynthia, based in Montreal posted a status update on facebook saying that it was the result of many people working together to pursue one. I left her a comment saying that for a murderer, he had nice eyebrows. Having an interest in physiognomy ever since I picked up a book by Lee Siow Mong, I had thought that strong, knife-shaped eyebrows denoted murderous tendencies and was surprised to see Magnotta with very groomed ones.

Cynthia wrote back agreeing with me, however she said it made her question the state of society for a person such as Magnotta to emerge. Since the sins of one do not reflect the virtues of many, I wrote back to say what I was curious about was how a diligent, seemingly proper person such as the victim, Lin Jun, could get messed up with someone as perverted as Magnotta? Apparently, before murdering and mutilating Lijun, Magnotta had a history of torturing kittens. Surely that must ring some alarm bells.

Growing up, Magnotta must have been far from a model child or his family must have been in great denial over his wayward behaviour. Certainly, had he been a normal upstanding citizen, he would not have gone into porn, much less associated with convicted murderers, for the normal person I know does not walk around with ice-picks in the pocket, let alone kill anyone with them.






Women who think of food and eating when looking at babies or young children.

I don’t know what it is about babies and young children but they often inspire thoughts of food and eating among mothers. Often, you will overhear a mother call her young “lamb chops” or “pork chops” or perhaps even “muffin”. Once, I even read of a mother referring to her baby as “baba ghanoush”, a middle-eastern eggplant dip.

At our house, Amanda has been called everything from “fat cheeks” to “roast baby”; the first of many such food-sounding appellations starting at birth when her grandfather, my father, said her toes look like peanuts! So fond are we of relating her to food that I even devised a method of gauging her mental development by it.

When she was a baby, I’d go up to her and say, “Oh, you look so delicious. I could cook you up with carrots and peas and potatoes…” and she’d laugh and gurgle because she understood nothing. In her second year of life, I’d go up to her and say the same thing, but now on hearing my culinary plans for her, she’d burst into tears.

By the time she was three, she’d join in my ramblings of what I plan to do with her succulent flesh by saying in her then-squeaky voice, “Yes, and add broccoli and cauliflower and salt and pepper…” It didn’t seem to bother her that we were talking about cooking her up!

By the time she reached four, she said, “We’ll cook you up instead, mummy. Your flesh is more tasty and juicy.” By the time she reached five, she regarded me the way an adult does a senseless child and said, “Haven’t you enough of that already?”

Why mothers think of food when looking at babies.

Amanda, perfectly delectable as a 10 month old.


More rewards!

If there’s another story sure to make it into Amanda’s twenty-first birthday speech by yours truly, it’d be about the time she got splinters in her foot. We had been out all day at Kangaroo Point Park, attending my good friends Paul and Tania’s youngest daughter’s sixth birthday party cum get-together, and Amanda, in the manner of all Aussie kids her age, had been racing scooters and running barefoot through the grass. It was close to bedtime when she complained of pain in her foot.

As always, I asked her to see her father for all medical-related issues. Before doing so, she asked me, “So, do you think I can have a reward afterwards? You know it’s just like when he pulled out my tooth.”

“Like how?” I asked.

“It’s painful. Don’t you think I deserve a reward?”

Her father grumbled, “ I have to extract the splinter and she’s asking for a reward. I should have a reward!”

“So, will I get one or not?” she asked before agreeing to submit her foot to him.

I looked at her father and said, “Good thing I dabble in astrology and other stuff. According to the cards of destiny, hers is the Ace of Diamonds. Diamonds is all about money. Ace is about lots of it.” Hence this recurring theme of rewards for mundane tasks. Tellingly, mine is the Seven of Diamonds, which simply means letting go of desires for material rewards. Put in this context, you can see how it is true: she craves rewards while I relinquish them!

Anything for a reward.

Perhaps fitting for a child of mine, Amanda is already a cynic at the ripe old age of seven. She knows that there is no Santa Claus and before I could initiate her on the improbability of urban legends, the tooth fairy. Notwithstanding, she has made the correlation between losing teeth and getting something – anything really – from Kmart.

This all came about after she’d swallowed her first wobbly tooth at school. With no “evidence” of such a loss, I told her I was unable to reward her for her supposed bravery. Determined to weasel another doll or cheap made in China squidgy bob out of me, she said, “You can pull out my other wobbly tooth, if I can have a reward from Kmart.”

“Fine. Go see your father,” said I. “He’s our family doctor, dentist, all-in-one.” The bottom-line is if it involves blood, it’s his business.

She went to him and because we were spending a weekend at the Uluramaya Retreat Cabins in Wamuran at the time, where there were no pliers or string to work with, he grabbed a small washcloth from the bathroom to do the extraction. He gave a tug and I heard her yelp. Then true to form, she emerged next to me, with her bloody baby tooth in hand to remind me of the reward.

Who moved my cheese ?

Before we have kids, we dream of how gobsmackingly good looking and smart they’re going to be. After we have kids, all we dream of is dreams really, REM sleep eluding us after the extended sleep-deprivation of nursing newborns. By the time the tyke gets to school, dreams of another sort haunt our waking hours: packing up and running away for a month anywhere, so that we can have conversations that revolve around things other than uneaten school lunches, homework and after-school activities. Adult conversations.

On weekdays, we dream of weekends when there is no early morning alarm to set, when we can just laze about until midday in our pyjamas. On weekends, we dream of weekdays when the kids are off at school and we have a couple of childfree hours to ourselves. Then we find ourselves a nice herbivorous-looking sitter one evening and decide to go and get reacquainted with our other halves. That’s when the penny drops. What we really dream about is a life free of parental responsibilities. But are the childless really having such a good time or are they just pretending to have scintillatingly full lives so that we’d be envious of them?

It’s moments when my child puts her hand in mine, or clasps my face with her grubby paws and says, “Mummy I love you” that I’m left feeling silly for ever wanting different. Then the occasional resentment of it no longer being about me or having any time for pre-parenthood interests melts away and the only dream I have is of this journey that began with the making of this special little person, never-ending.

Mother and baby sharing a moment in a pool.

A private moment between me and my baby.

Precocious children: products of hot housing or flukes of nature?

Among the gifts I received when Amanda was born, was a book by Japanese educator Makoto Shichida entitled, “Every child can be a genius.” Doubtful and sleep-deprived though I was at the time, I read page after page of this guide – in my mind, very extensive promotional material – on how to create a wunderkind out of the progeny of my modest loins.

I noted that there were no pictures of esteemed graduates, certainly no reference to their glorious achievement in adulthood, and most first names of children quoted were abbreviated to a single letter followed by a full stop. Notwithstanding, in the interest of science and my Chinese side making itself felt, by me not wanting to be left out, I studied some of the proposed techniques.

First up, I was to make a series of flashcards. Only a couple hundred of them to stun my newborn with, for a few minutes each time, as many times as possible in a day. Surely I could do that in between breastfeeding since the person who gifted it to me could help her children, one then in preschool, to memorise Chinese classics everyday. I made the first fifty flashcards when Amanda turned two and then abandoned them in favour of virtual ones, which I bought off the net after googling.

Worried that as the book said, my child’s brain was switching from right to left orientation and thus going from unhampered creative genius to humdrum normality that makes up most of everyday life, I read to her for hours daily as my now sore head was propped up on several pillows. Perhaps, without a friendly neighbourhood Shicida centre to go to, where followers of this method can expect to part with several thousands a year, I was living in fear of Amanda missing out on all the supposed benefits; among them photographic memory, sharp imagination, perfect intuition, the ability to speak multiple languages, superior IQ, musical talent, artistic ability and most contentious of all, outstanding personality.

So does this really work? Piggybacking on the Shichida philosophy, my inspired tutelage produced a well-adjusted, if regular child. Even though Amanda knew the alphabet at 2 and had a vocabulary ten times that of her peers, speaking in complete sentences, counting and recalling up to a hundred books word-for-word as they appeared on a page, I am unconvinced that the end result is any different to if I had just taken a more organic approach; bringing her to playgroup and leaving her in a sand pit, which I also did.

As for the well-meaning person who gave me the book, I have to report that although she thinks her second, who benefited the most from this method, is Einstein reincarnate, he is to the casual onlooker but an ordinary kid. I have yet to hear of him skipping grades, or speaking Swahili, or having invented anything worthy of the Nobel Prize. Of course, he’s only eleven. However, if you consider that the IQ of most immediate family members is within 5 to 10 points of each other, and that the average IQ falls in a bell curve between 90 and 110, that is unsurprising. For those among us who are envious of the intellectually gifted, we can take comfort that Mozart outgrew his precocity and though still a musical genius, died almost penniless as interest in his music in adulthood never quite matched the hype and fame of his talent as a child.