It is this simple. Without Baby Shananigans there would have been no Shananigans blog.
I was already smitten by Chinese food and culture when we visited Beijing last July but it was the news that a baby was on its way to Shane and Shan that spurred me on to deepen my understanding of the world into which the child would be born and to capture it in tales and recipes.
On 5th February, baby Dermot arrived into our world to cement the relationships between the O’Neill and Gao families. Where “Baby Shananigans” was an idea, the real live Dermot was a bundle of soft skin, sounds, baby smells and thick silky hair, with a distinctive personality from the moment he was born. Though I may be a long-distance nai nai the bond I feel with this little man on the other side of the world is extraordinary and at times heart-wrenching. We hope his feet will touch Irish soil very soon and I look forward to giving him post bath cuddles.
Meanwhile, yesterday he was 100 days old, a very important milestone in China. I will let my son Shane tell you a little bit about it. After all it is his story to tell…. and maybe if I ask nicely MaMa will give me the recipe for her 100 day long-noodle dish.
“It’s almost impossible to believe that our little dragon, Dermot, has been with us now for 100 days. Mostly because it seems like just yesterday we were welcoming him to the world, but also, somewhat paradoxically, it feels as though he has been in our lives forever.
One thing that helps me to put this time in perspective is the radically ever-changing Beijing weather. I cycled to work today in blistering heat, through warm wind and beaming sunshine. When I first stepped out of the hospital in the early hours of the morning of February 5th having just met my son for the first time, there was a fresh blanket of snow covering the cars, roads and trees of our little corner of this great city.
He has changed so much in the past three months it’s hard to keep up. He’s growing so fast I can almost see him stretching out each day, and for the precious hour I spend speaking to him each morning before work, he visibly is trying so hard to respond you can almost hear the words “Dada, Mama” coming from his little mouth… but I’ll admit some of that is wishful thinking.
100 days is a rather auspicious age for a child in China. As the first three months are considered the most risk-filled for a child’s health, many Chinese babies (and indeed their mothers) barely leave the home during this time. As such, the 一百天 or “yi bai tian” ritual is a sort of coming out event. It’s a chance for family and friends to welcome your child into the community, celebrate their life, and see them up close for the first time. To draw a parallel, it most closely resembles a Christening back home.
I went to my first yi bai tian just under two months ago – that of our good friends’ son, William – a joint event held by another mixed race couple and their close Chinese friends, both of whom had baby boys born just a few days apart. As Shan and I had little intention of keeping our child in quarantine for three months, this was also our first time taking Dermot out in a crowd, which he seemed to revel in. The host of the gathering, being an American living in China for over two decades, made a fantastic speech in English and Chinese. Since that fun filled day, all of our friends have been regularly asking when we would be having Dermot’s 100 day party, and reminding me that I too will have to make a speech…
I came home from work this Wednesday, giddy and looking forward to holding my 100 day old son, only to find him sleeping peacefully and not the least bit aware of his auspicious day. I also arrived home to a big bowl of long noodle & pork soup, specially prepared by Mama to encourage longevity in our little man’s life. Whilst eating through the delicious feed, we finalised the details for the get-together this coming weekend.
Traditions and rituals surrounding yi bai tian seem varied and quite open, although it always involves the parents treating their guests to food and drink somewhere other than their home. Guests would usually bring a hong bao of lucky money or gifts for the child, although most of our friends and family have already been very generous during their first visits to meet Dermot in our home.
Planning a formal gathering is not the easiest thing to motivate yourself towards when you are juggling life as a new parent and running a business, but in truth I’ve been really keen on the tradition ever since first learning it existed. We’ve opted to make it more of a party, and have booked out a section of the lovely outdoor deck in a Parkside Bar & Grill near our home, just at the entrance to the park where we walk with Dermot every few days. We’ve arranged loads of beer, soft drinks, platters of food and decorative balloons, and have invited about 30 of our closest friends along with Shan’s family.
Our party plan took a little talking around with Mama – being of a different generation and always a venerable hostess, she found it difficult to understand why we would spend that kind of money on casual drinks and finger food, when we could spend less taking everyone to a nice local restaurant for a proper meal. Quick to accept new customs though, she appreciates that an outdoor party in the sunshine is a fitting celebration for a child. Not wishing to entirely offend local sensibilities, we’ve compromised by inviting Shan’s family to our house first for a home cooked lunch, and then migrate over to greet all the laowai at Parkside.
All in all, it should be a fun afternoon, and while I don’t expect Dermot will remember it or understand it at the time, hopefully he will enjoy all the attention on the day and the photos we will cherish for years to come. As for my speech, I’ve heard the trick is to keep it short and sweet…
Happy 100 days Dermot. We wish we could be there to celebrate with you. May you live for 100 years. – Nai Nai Julie