Friday, January 27, 2006

Meaning of full-time uncle

A couple of posts ago, I had mentioned about becoming a full-time uncle when my niece was born. Here's the elaboration on the "full-time" part.

My niece was born before the latest batch of babies goodies was announced. So my sis had only two months of maternity leave. 8 weeks, to be exact. "It isn't even exactly two months loh!" I remember her lamenting to me then.

Because of that, I only had minimal contact with my niece during those two months. My mum went up to my sis's place to be her 配月. And I became their despatch boy of sorts. When I could find time off my work, I would make my way to my sis's place, together with all the stuff they had instructed me to get, just so I could hold my niece for a while. I remember feeling very apprehensive initially, as her neck hadn't stiffened yet. My bro-in-law took to it immediately though. He was often seen carrying my niece on ONE arm only whilst bottle feeding her. He's a natural.

I was very much looking forward to the end of those two months. Because that meant my niece would be staying at my place during the weekdays and then going home only during the weekends. But little did I know what I was actually looking forward to...

The first thing we did to herald her coming was some 乾坤大挪移 of the sleeping areas. It was decided that the
salong was to be placed in the living room. Centralised location where everyone could check on her easily. Also easy access to the kitchen where all her formula, bottles and sterilisers were kept. Mum would also sleep in the sitting room. I got to keep my room, for now.

Then we (as in my mum and I) worked out a system of feeding. Most of the time, I ended up being the formula-maker and she the feeder. I soon got up to speed with making formula. How much hot water to put in so that the temperature is just right. How to shake the bottle. How to test temperature (after a while, I don't even need to test). How to use the steriliser... Proficiency in these were very important as I would often be the one doing it in the death of night as well. I learnt to do it with my eyes half-closed, which was what happened often in practice. And I had to make sure I passed the bottle to mum in the shortest possible time, before my niece had a chance to wail.

I would then sit cross-legged next to my mum. We would both be looking at my niece, both of us suitably zombified, as she suckled on the bottle. Occasionally, my mum will doze off, and I will give her a light tap on her arm to keep her awake. Then a diaper change (I've already prepared a new one, waiting and ready on the bed) and off to bed again for her. I still had to clean her bottle and put it back into the steriliser. Need to ensure it is ready for the next feed. That was to my usual routine for the first two months or so.

After that, my mum gradually learnt to anticipate and pre-empt my niece. She would get the bottle all ready before my niece even woke up. I got to sleep through the night again. The occasional emergency still happened though, and I was the backup when required.

I was also medication preparer and giver, when such a need arose. My niece had colic often (a common complaint, a friend told me, because the suckling causes ingestion of excessive gas) and I was the one to administer the medication. Mum would need her glasses and such if she was to do it, so she relied mostly on me. The medication was pretty effective too. We'll soon be hearing her burping and/or farting as her body got rid of the excess gas. Then she would stop crying altogether and be angelic all over again.

When my niece was two and a half months old, she came down with food poisoning. A very bad bout of diarrhea. She was hospitalised because she was still too little for medication. All they could do was to put a drip on to prevent dehydration and inform us wait it out. How our collective hearts broke as we saw her too weak to cry. Weak from the diarrhea, pained from the needles.

We took turns to camp out at the hospital. My sis and bro-in-law in the day, me and my mum by night. We wondered how in the world she got food poisoning, for we had been very careful all along with hygiene. It's apparently quite common, a nurse told us. The baby's digestive system was not full developed yet and therefore very sensitive. Good thing is, she recovered completely without any lasting effects. So moral of this little episode, take care of your baby's hygiene during its first few months.

Then came the really fun bit as she grew older. I became my niece's chief entertainer. Key chains, keys, jigsaw puzzles (I have a big Peanuts one in my room), mahjong tiles, dice, rubik cube, all became her toys. I also became her chief photographer. My sis would pass me her digital camera (recall that I do not have one) and I would snap away throughout the week. Most of her first year's photographs were taken by yours truly. Thank you very much.

When she started teething, I became cream applier. There's some cream that was applied onto the gums to provide relief from the discomfort she felt during that period. I've been bitten more than once by my irate niece whilst applying it. She even drew blood on my mum's finger once, when I was not around to help. Quick hands were needed to accomplish the task safely!

I also helped to bottlefeed her when she got older. Once her neck stiffened, I became a natural at carrying her too. It also helped to lighten the load of my mum. I thought my niece might be repulsed by me initially, since it had been my mum all along. But no. After a while, she even gave me a smile or two whilst suckling. It was a magical feeling, that. (Those are my mum's hands, by the way)

My other miscellaneous duties included diaper changer (only rarely), bath assistant (and occasional bath photographer but RA photos will not be making their appearance on this PG rated blog), chief baby carrier when out and about and interpreter (my mum does not know much English).

In a way, I believe I am entitled to say,“叔叔有練過的!” (although it is not the full-training)

But before I knew it, April 2003 was upon me and I flew over to Sydney for this job. I've since missed her first crawl. Her first independent stand. Her first steps. Her first birthday. Her second birthday. Her THIRD birthday...

63 days to go.


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