How do you raise a child in today's China?
At only eight months old, my son has been driving us toward bankruptcy. At the same time, he has kept us haunted by a sense of guilt. Sound impossible? The following is my story.
Right after he was born, dozens of sales ladies from various gift companies miraculously appeared at the hospital to congratulate me and recommended their good quality, red painted eggs (usually used to celebrate the birth of a child). I paid 175 yuan (US$21) for 250 such eggs to hand out among our relatives and colleagues. A week later I went home and was immediately bombarded by hundreds of phone calls ranging from miscellaneous milk powders to numerous insurance policies.
I bought one sponsored by Shanghai Child Welfare Foundation and refused all the others. That was not the end, however. Since then our mailbox has been stuffed with tons of ads and journals focusing on infant commodities and training, with my sonís name and address on every one of them.
I felt very happy to see my boy cared for by so many people and greatly appreciated the journals as they taught me in detail how to be a qualified mother.
For example, I learned to hire a professional baby-sitter at 2,000 yuan (US$240) and to rear the boy in a most scientific way for the first month. I learned to make a 2,000 yuan (US$241.6) foetal hair brush, as well as 450 yuan (US$54) hand-and-foot prints in commemoration of the significant birth of my baby. And I learned to buy capsules for the development of his cranial nerves at 52-104 yuan (US$6-12) a month.
I could have attended certain infant training programmes with my son, but I did not have the strength. Then I found my son was not so bright as those trained infants.
Three months later, my baby was allowed to go out for sunlight and fresh air for two hours a day. Every time I took him out for a walk, sales people would spring up as if from nowhere, praised the little boy for his cuteness and then advised his going to a training centre for a second language. But how could he pick up a second language while he was unable to speak the first language?
"You will regret not signing up for our programme," they said. I did regret it, as quite a few infants in our neighborhood registered later at 5,000 yuan (US$602) and my parents accused me of irresponsibility.
To make up for that, I bought a series of "My First Book" for him to tear up. (It is said that we should let them "read" such books from their birth) and began to take him to swim once a week in a pool for about 15 minutes at 58 yuan (US$7) per swim. And I had to hire a taxi to get there and come back.
Magazines also taught me that a three-month-old baby was old enough to play with toys, so I began to squander money on all kinds of toys to develop his brain and body. Those toys, made of plastic, wood or cloth, were very expensive but fragile, and easily broken. So far I can not find a single intact toy.
When he was six months old, I was told by the doctor to adopt bottle-feeding, as beast milk is no more nutritious after six months. So I spent about 800 yuan (US$96) for milk powder, 100 yuan (US$12) for Niuchuru (a cow's first milk used to improve immunity), 100 yuan for fish liver oil and calcium, and 150 yuan (US$18) for supplementary food every month.
From then on, I stopped dressing him in hand-me-down clothes given by others and began to buy brand names so that he might grow with self-respect and self-confidence.
He has been to hospital quite a few times. He has never been seriously ill, but as soon as we heard him sneezing or sniffing or having a poor appetite or developing a skin rash, we rushed him to hospital. Doctors are very thoughtful and considerate, and every time they prescribed a large quantity of medicine. My home has been well stocked with mountains of drops, capsules and tablets ?enough that we may be able to run a drugstore for children.
Yesterday I met with a young mother in the neighborhood who told me that she was going to sign up for a baby training centre to get her baby educated in both English and social etiquette. Cost to her will be more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,204) a year. Upon hearing that, I immediately had an impulse to rob a bank.
Being the only child in a family, today's babies are really raised with gold.