May 17, 2009
Bringing up baby
By Colin Goh
'I think I'm going to be a useless parent,' I told the Wife last week.
'Is that a supposition or a statement of intent?' she replied, eyebrows knitting with alarm. 'I warn you, ah: Don't think you can siam changing diapers.'
'Premonition, lah,' I sighed. We were sitting in the neonatal intensive care unit spending time with Yakuza Baby (so nicknamed because, as explained in the last column, she came into the world while we were watching a Japanese gangster movie).
My sense of foreboding arose after it struck me how different our daughter's life would be from either the Wife's or mine. I know all kids grow up in ways their parents can never fully anticipate - I doubt my dad ever foresaw his son forging a career consisting of long stretches spent accessing a parallel universe through a keyboard and screen - but what lies ahead for Yakuza Baby seemed especially opaque to me.
Living in New York, we can never share our past and heritage with her in any truly tangible way. Sure, we could tell her about it, and show her photos, or maybe she'd get to see some of it during visits, but it wouldn't really be the same.
Part of it would be not having old friends or family nearby. Getting to wave to Ah Kong and Ah Ma via webcam just can't compensate for actually having grandparents around. As it is, thanks to the H1N1 virus, my poor parents have had to postpone their visit to see the grandchild they'd been demanding for years until... well, until I guess all the pigs in Mexico have completed their course of Tamiflu, whenever that might be.
And while the Wife's mother did manage to make it here before the outbreak (she came to implement the Wife's traditional Chinese postpartum 'confinement' treatment, or, as I like to call it, the All-Ginger-All-The-Time Diet Plan), the porcine pandemic also affected her ability to spend time with the baby.
Halfway through her visit, the hospital banned anyone other than parents from visiting the babies, especially because the school that is the locus for New York's outbreak is only a mile away. We had to beg the administrator to let her see her granddaughter for five minutes the day before her flight home to Singapore. 'So ko lian,' the Mother-in-Law lamented as she held Yakuza Baby's teeny hand. 'Donno when she can get to taste my ter tor tng (pig stomach soup).'
And I guess that's kind of why I suspect I'll be a useless dad. Whatever life experience I can impart to my daughter would never have the heft of reality. To her, our life in Singapore would always have a hand-me-down, fairy-tale quality about it. Really? Your country, like, banned chewing gum and smacks people on their ass and stuff? And you used to, like, write for a 'newspaper'? What's that, Dad? Is that like a blog? Duuuude! She might eventually taste, and even like, ter tor tng, but probably only in a Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmerman kind of way.
But at the same time I was lamenting the loss of the past, I was also getting a glimpse of Yakuza Baby's future.
I knew that growing up in New York, she would be more patched in to globalising forces than anywhere else in the world. We Singaporeans like to think we're multicultural, but we don't have a patch on New York.
I counted at least 10 different nationalities amongst the neonatal ICU nurses alone. In the course of Yakuza Baby's stay, she was tended to by Russian, Irish, Thai, Filipino, Chinese, Dominican, Jamaican, African, Korean, Indian and regular Caucasian American nurses. And then there were the patients. I wonder what school for Yakuza Baby will be like.
So while her sense of heritage might not be as complete as I'd like, on the other hand, her future is probably much more pregnant with possibility than I could have ever imagined. I guess it's a trade-off I can live with, not that I really have a say in it.
And maybe I'm being overly sentimental about Yakuza Baby not getting enough contact with Singapore anyway. With today's global population flows, who knows?
Case in point: The hospital staff member who came to take down Yakuza Baby's details for her birth certificate introduced herself with 'Hello, I'm Bee Leng...' Bee Leng? I asked. With a Hokkien name like that, are you by any chance from... And she was.
Nowadays, even when you can't go home, home just might come your way anyway.