9 Years and Moving to the Beat

9 years ago today Maher and I got married. In Montreal. We were amidst close family and friends – a party we won’t forget.

Guajira – I Love U 2 Much

Dandia RaasThere was dancing – from barefoot in the rain with Yerba Buena at the jazz fest, the garba and dandiya raas non-stop night, to the gypsy band “Soleil Tzigane” who used to play Friday and Saturday’s at Cafe Sarajevo, what used to be my hangout while we long distanced. We were thrilled that the musicians accepted to do our reception.

Ederlezi – Goran Bregovic (First dance)

I can’t just grab a photo that represents the occasion from my phone’s camera roll or off FB, our wedding photos are stuffed into a steel box in Chengdu. Hard copy.

Together koh samui

4 moves, a few mistakes, a stroke, IVF, NICU time, Leila and Rahul, long distance all over again on, and we continue to sneak moments together, learn about each other, grow in our relationship, listen to each other more intently, accept each other more sincerely, continue to compromise, let go, and love more deeply.

At least that’s what we try to do anyway. And hope for more years together.

Related:

Waiting for Cafe Sarajevo to say Good bye.

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Hip Hop Stories

Me: Today is Saturday. Do you have school today?

L & R : NO!!!

Me: Hey, Anna goes to a hip hop dance class on Saturdays. I think it’s a lot of fun. Do you guys want to go with her today?

Leila: I already know hip hop. It’s on one foot. But I only like to spin.

Me: Oh yeah, you hop. Well sometimes you dance on one foot and sometimes on both. So let’s go!

Leila: But how time until flip flop? I want to go with Anna.

Me: After lunch.

Rahul: Hip hop is a dessert.

Me: Oh yeah? What does it taste like?

Rahul holding a pretend pan over the stove: It’s a pancake.

Me: Oh yeah, you flip it huh?

He lights up.

What Hip Hop Taught Me by Jenna Marbles

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Mama, Malaki is a Spider!

Malaki Paul is a brave little boy who goes straight to the hearts of the judges and audience at Britain’s Got Talent 2012. He feels what he sings.

Partway through the audition he breaks into tears.

A teary hug from his “best mum in the world,” and he starts his song again, and he sings into everyone’s hearts.

R and L love to watch Malaki. It is our favorite video.

He’s brave,they both say. L and R are almost in tears with him, and then once Malaki is past the climax of the song, the second time round, they light up with the audience and judges.

Mama, he’s a spider! Rahul exclaims. He falls and then he keeps on getting up and up and up!

Winter Wonderland with a bit of Salsa : A Guest Post by Paty Melendez

(As part of the series: A Monday Morning Guest Post in Multicultural Mothering)

Patricia: I was born in the Dominican Republic to a Dominican mom and Peruvian dad. I left DR when I was six years old and grew up in many countries around the world, mainly in Latin America but also in Africa and Europe. I guess you can describe me as a ‘Citizen of the world’, ‘Third culture kid’ etc. I speak Spanish and English.

I met Øivind at university in the UK, where we now live. He is Norwegian and grew up in Oslo, speaks English and Norwegian, and can defend himself pretty well in Spanish!

We have a little girl called Mia; she is the apple of our eyes, born in August 2010. I don’t speak Norwegian, but I better get my act together soon otherwise Mia and her dad will have a secret language.
————————-
Winter Wonderland with a bit of Salsa

As we gear up for the festive season I’ve been thinking about the contrast between Ø’s traditions and mine; and about our cultural references surrounding Christmas. How will Mia take in these differences? Mia’s dad is from a Nordic country and I am from an island in the Caribbean, even though I left when I was very young. Most couples take turns on whose family they spend the holidays with; this means adapting to each others’ traditions; but in multicultural couples it is also about adapting to another’s culture.

This year we will spend Christmas in Norway with Ø’s family. It will be Mia’s first Winter Wonderland Christmas experience. Christmas in Norway is very different to Christmas in the Dominican Republic, or in my family’s home.

Ø’s Norwegian Christmas experience = cold and short days, a tranquil environment, a burning fireplace, carol singing, food, presents and a beautiful snow-white outdoor.

My Christmas experience = food, presents, a big family gathering and lots of dancing; and the setting was wherever we found ourselves!

My experience in Norway has always been very nice, though very calm compared to what I am used to. Despite that, it involves a packed schedule: Christmas Eve at my in-laws, Christmas day at Ø’s aunt’s house, and Boxing Day with some close family friends. In between, there are beautiful walks in the forest and by the stunning, frozen Oslo fjord.

At my family home, we celebrate Christmas Eve with a big dinner and the next couple of days are relaxed, meeting other families (if we are in the Dominican Republic) and friends, informally. In the background there is always music.

What traditions will Mia absorb? I realize that of course I cannot choose what things Mia will enjoy the most; we can only expose her to the things that make us happy in the holiday season. Having the Christmas tree up on December 1st marks the start of the festive season for me. For Ø the tree goes up a couple of days before Christmas. I could go down a list of all the things that we grew up with, from celebrating advent, the spiritual meaning of Christmas, Santa or no Santa, to the Three Kings day.

The truth is that I would love for Mia to just take in the best of both worlds – enjoy the traditional picture perfect white Norwegian Christmas with the warmth, and lively togetherness of my family celebrations. White Christmas with a bit of salsa!

Being far away from our families means that during the festive season we travel back to see them, but I guess that as time goes by there comes a point when we will start to create our own traditions in the place we call home, even if this place keeps changing!

How do you combine your family celebrations? And how do you do it if you and your partner grew up celebrating different holidays?

Best wishes wherever you all are during this festive season and Happy New Year!!

Sad

I’ve been solo parenting for the last 10 days.

On Sunday, Leila, Rahul and I spent the morning out. We were at a housing complex close by, playing on their favorite blue and red dolphin-swings. Nothing pleases them more.

At one point we take a break: drink some water, eat a few grapes, change a diaper (or two).

Rahul sits on a long multi-coloured bench, under a massive trees packed with tweeting birds picking at little fruits.

“Afu owange,” he says. (He calls himself Afu, his Sichuanese name.)

He points at the bench to his right, and “invites” me to sit next to him, “Mama geen.”

“Leila der,” he says.

“Leila yellow,” I say as I point to her section.

Their legs dangling, bodies energised, we break into song; one from our favorite old DVD “Sing and Sign”. (www.singandsign.com)

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” Clap. Clap.
“If you’re happy and…”

Before we get to the end of the verse, Rahul looks me in the eyes, and says, “Mama sad.”

“Not at all, I’m very happy to be here, sitting between the two of you. What do you mean sad?”

While I was saying all that I recalled a conversation I had with him the day before, and realized that he had tied it into the next verse of the song.

“Yes. I’m sad because papa isn’t here, just like you and Leila. But I’m happy to be here, with you, singing and playing!” I beam a smile. We finish up our claps and continue.

“If you’re sad and you know it, have a cry.” Sniffle. Sniffle.
“If you’re sad and…”

Rahul looks at me through his big, round, dark eyes.

“If you’re naughty and you know it, say you’re sorry. SORRY.”
“If you’re naughty and…”

Leila looks at me with a mischievous grin. We laugh.

By the last verse, “If you’re angry and you know it, stamp your feet,” we were all off the bench, stamping our feet.
—————————-
We march home in a chain.

For the first few minutes L and R hold hands and I’m on one end. We sing Colonel Hathi’s song from the Jungle Book, all the way home.

“See the aim of our patrol,
Is a question rather droll…”

Now I’m walking in between L and R.

“For to march and drill,
Over field and hill
Is a military goal!”

And now I’m carrying one child, diaper bag on the opposite shoulder, guiding the walking child.

“Hup, 2, 3, 4
Keep it up, 2, 3, 4.”

We switch to one of the previous set-ups.

“Hubbady Halt.”

We stop for a minute. Leila insists on climbing a tree. Like Mowgli. I lift her up against the trunk.
——————–
The next morning, as we exit the elevator to go out and play:

Ayi is up ahead with Leila.

I am with Rahul. He’s hardly moving. I’m ahead of him. I look back.

“Afu sad,” he says after a moment of hesitation, and with a forlorn look.
I turn around, walk back and squat next to him. I look him in the eyes and ask if it is because his papa isn’t here.

He nods and turns his gaze downwards.

“He’ll be back in 4 days,” I try to comfort him.

“Vion,” he says as he signs an aeroplane. (Vion=Avion=Plane)

“Yeah, exactly! He’s coming on a plane. And we can skype with him as soon as we go back home, OK?”

“Afu kype.”

He smiles.

Bedtime Stories Part 1

It’s bedtime.

“Rahul, can you choose a few books for us to read tonight?”

He brings 3 of his favorites.

“Tuttle tuttle tree,” he repeats as we go through Dr. Seuss’s ABC imaginings.

A comb, a brush, and a bowl full of…
“Mush!” he beams, as we say goodnight to the room, the moon, the kittens and the mittens.

“Capillo,” he says, every time we see the hungry caterpillar munching through fruits and cakes.

He’s tossing and turning.

I sing the usual lullabies; they don’t relax him.

It’s late.

“Can I tell you a story?” My last resort. It’s been a few weeks since I told either of the children a bedtime story.

Immediately, Rahul is still. Even in the dark room, I see his wide open eyes stare at me. Waiting.

I’ve never been a story teller, or a singer for that matter. It was only after we returned to Chengdu from Hong Kong, when the babies were 5 months old, that I looked up some nursery rhymes. Maher and I didn’t have any appreciation whatsoever for children’s music.

And stories? I spent my childhood wondering how come I didn’t get an imagination gene.

That’s the thing with our little yogis though; they listen to my out-of-tune singing, and the same story, over and over. Seemingly enjoying it all.

So I repeat the story – the story of their lives.
Rahul listens attentively.

“When you and Leila were tiny, tiny, tiny; you were in my belly. Right here. Rahul on this side, and Leila over there on that side. As you grew bigger, so did my belly. It grew and grew and grew.
Then we all went to Hong Kong, and you were born there. You and Leila had to spend some time in the hospital. You became strong and big very quickly; you came home after only 3 weeks. While you were there, mama and papa used to spend all day with you, touch you, talk to you, and sing to you. This was my song:”

“You’re just too good to be true.
Can’t take my eyes off of you.
You’d be like heaven to touch.
I wanna hold you so much,
Can’t take my eyes off of you.”
(The Lauryn Hill version of course!)

“And papa used to sing this:
“Elle est a toi, cette chanson,
toi l’auvergnat, qui sans facon,
m’a donne 4 bouts de bois,
quand dans ma vie il faisait froid.…”
( “Chanson pour Auvergnat,” is by French singer Georges Brassens. This version has English subtitles)

Rahul’s still awake. I continue.

“And the other song that papa sang was this one:”
“Je n’avais jamais hote mon chapeau, devant personne.
Maintenant je rampe et je fais le beau, quand elle me sonne….”
(Also Georges Brassens. “Je me suis fait tout petit,” with English subtitles).

Rahul’s eye lids are getting heavy. I keep going with the story.

“While I went to see Leila in the hospital during the day, you stayed at home with your 2 grandma’s. They took very good care of you. Papa went back to Chengdu, but came to visit us every weekend. And then Leila came home; and you and R met each other! When you were 5 months old, we left Hong Kong. We joined papa, and we were all together.”
He was asleep by then.
———————
Leila’s turn.

I lie down next to her. It’s late. She can’t focus; can’t stay still.

I skip the books and the lullabies. Go straight to the story.

I got to the bit where I tell her that mama and papa sang songs for her while she was in the hospital.

She stops me. “Mama. Sing Summertime.”

She falls asleep a couple of minutes into the song.

What she missed of the story were the songs that Maher recorded for them, the night before he left HK. (“Chanson pour Auvergnat,” “Je me suis fait tout petit,” and “No Leila, no cry.”) I played the recordings for L and R every day that we were in HK; until we moved back to Chengdu.

“No Leila, no Cry,” a la Bob Marley.

No Leila, no cry
No Leila, no cry

Cause cause, cause
Cause I remember, when we used to sit
In the government yard in Hong Kong

Oba ob-serving the hypocrites
As they would mingle with the good people we meet
Oh, good friends we’ve had, good friends we’ve lost
Along the way, oh

In this bright future, you can’t forget your past
So dry your tears I say

No Leila, no cry
No Leila, no cry
Oh little Leila, don’t shed no tears
No Leila, no cry

Cause cause, cause
Cause I remember, when we used to sit
In the government yard in Hong Kong

And then Natasha would make the fire light
Log –wood burnin’ through the night
And we would cook oat meal porridge
Of which I’ll share with you, ooh

And Leila, she’s my only carriage
So I’ve got to push on through,
But while I’m gone

Everything’s gonna be alright
Everything’s gonna be alright
Everything’s gonna be alright
Everything’s gonna be alright
Everything’s gonna be alright
Everything’s gonna be alright
Everything’s gonna be alright
Everything’s gonna be alright

So, no Leila, no cry
No Leila, no cry
Oh little Leila, don’t shed no tears
No Leila, no cry

Hit by a Whirlwind

Last night, we had to dodge: balls, balloons, trains and tracks, horses, blocks, dolls, grapes, icing, biscuits, sippy cups, shoes, 15 or more little people, and as many big people, to get anywhere. Rahul was fixated on a little blond girl. He’s a flirt and charmer, but this time, it was to keep HER (not any of the other 15 kids who ransacked his playroom) from touching HIS tennis ball, HIS stuffed doll version of Iggle piggle, and HIS motorbike.
Leila found me whether I was in the kitchen, amidst the big people, or in the washroom.

But when the “Tangled,” cakes they requested, came out, things changed. Leila’s had a picture of Rapunzel on it; Rahul’s had Maximus the white horse, on it. L stood tall and blew out her two candles. Rahul blew his out at early, at “…dear Rahul, happy birthday..” They stuck their fingers into their respective cakes and…yummy!

They waited or should I say cried, all afternoon for their chocolate and cheese cakes. Leila sang “To you,” to me, many times. Rahul sang, “Happy Daisy Doo,” all day because Upsy Daisy Doo has a birthday too!

Once they got their cake, and the music was pumping, they were in their element. They danced to the Bollywood hits they love, the Zambian music D2 brought for us, and some reggae.

We all had a blast, if you can say that about a couple of 2 year olds birthday party.

————–

For his birthday, Rahul asked for a piano, Leila followed up by asking for a guitar. We were proud. Now we have a little electric organ in the living room. With a microphone. YES, A MICROPHONE. And did I mention that R and L both love to sing opera? And that we don’t know what the Chinese character for “volume” is. So yeah, we still have to FIND a mini guitar.

————-

All week I’d been brainstorming for a two year birthday post, and yet the 1st of November came and went. It’s in a bit of a list form, here goes: I thought to write about how Leila is a beautiful, sensitive, little girl. Extremely expressive. She imitates hip hop, Belly dance, Indian classical dance, and Chinese Opera like a pro.
When she saw a scrape on my knee the other day, her face showed immense concern, she turned both palms up questioningly and asked “…happened?”
She’s the “stuff police.” No one can touch, forget about borrow, her “papa’s shoes.” Today she chased him around announcing that the t-shirt he was wearing was Jalal’s. Maher and I had wondered which one of his brothers t-shirt it was. She knew!
She’s cheeky, and mischievous. She overheard that Rahul was looking for the baby elephant toy. She found it, took it, and ran. She’s fast.
And she’s fighting back now. She’s no longer the vulnerable poor little girl who gets bitten or hit from behind. She turns right around, snarls at her brother, either pulls his hair, or snatches her toy back.
She loves her new motorbike. It’s a shared toy that either she doesn’t let Rahul ride a whole lot, and/or Rahul is not terribly interested in, and he lets her have it most of the time. Either way, we know where her motorbike gene comes from.

Maher and I spend a lot of time teaching the children how to negotiate.

—————–

Rahul is sweet, he gives kisses. He loves his ayi (nanny) to bits. Many days he doesn’t smile until he sees her.

He keeps his dads contact lens case in his palm day and night. It might be a way of keeping a piece of Maher with him.
He calls things “jolie.”
He has to have whatever L has. Yet, he can happily play on his own for extended periods of time.
He’s a word machine, and mostly what he says makes sense. He repeats anything, even Greek! He talks when he dreams: “Dog, one, two,” he said at 4am the other night.
The longer the word the better. His favorites are “disanaur”, “tephelone”, “capilo” (caterpillar), and “hecolopta” (helicopter).

—————

L and R are jealous of each other, and they compete for attention. But if anyone gives R something to eat, drink, or play with, he always asks for one for L. Leila does the same.
Often, Leila’s first question in the morning is, “Aya?”, (interpretation: where is Rahul?). Rahul’s first question is “Naina?” (interpretation: where is Leila?).

—————

They test our patience everyday. For every time we scream or want to scream at them, they do something that makes us want to hug and kiss them 10 times over.

So we do all: the screaming, the hugging, and the kissing.

—————

I wrote “Medium and Happy” (http://natashadevalia.com/2011/05/09/medium-is-just-fine/) 6 months ago. We’ve come a long way since the whirlwind hit, 2 years ago.

Some Music for the Birthday Girl

My little cousin turned 23 yesterday. Here are a couple of YouTube videos (that’s I’m accessing via the proxy server),for you Saloni.

The first is a Talvin Singh electronic piece, Jaan, with beautiful vocals. I travel through enchanted worlds of love when I listen to it. I discovered it in 1998; when I was in Chennai taking dance lessons.

And the second is a TV5 show, again of Talvin Singh, but this time improvising with Angelique Kidjo. I found it today on YouTube, randomly.

Jaan because of Chennai, electronic music, and the vocals. And then, the Angelique Kidjo one because you know, strong female African performer!

Hope you enjoy it.

http://onolisa.tumblr.com Saloni’s blog: Everytime I visit, I dream big, I travel far, I’m beautiful inside and out, I’m hip, alive, and connected.

It’s no small feat, not only to be all that, but also to inspire those around you to feel it!

Thanks

La, la, la la la la, Leila, and the Door.

A few months ago a Yoga teacher asked me if I could make some space in the house that’s exclusive to my practice.

I fidgeted. “Not really.” My living room Yoga studio, (now the the kids play room) has always been my practice space.

“At least for your Pranayama practice.”

———————-

We have a spare room; the door doesn’t fit correctly. When it’s shut, it takes pulling the door up in its frame with a huff, and a strong push to get it to open. I slipped into that room for my Pranayama practice this morning, as I’ve been doing of late.

“Mama, mama,” bang, bang, push and shove, “Mama, waaah.” I finish my round.
“I’m doing my Pranayama Leila. I’ll be out in a few minutes ok?”

A few minutes later. “Leila mama, waaaah” Bang. Push. Shove.

A little later. Push, push, push.

Open.

She wraps her arms around my neck, and hangs on. “Leila mama, TV. La la la la la la.” (Interpretation: Leila’s mama, I want to watch The Smurfs on the TV next to your head. Right now.)

I continue with my practice. She insists. I sit her in my lap, cross legged, and tell her to do some Pranayama. We buzz like bees together for a few seconds. She jumps up and leans into me. “TV mama, TV, aaaaah.”

I don’t open my eyes, don’t budge. “Mama, mama, aaaaaah.” Fake cry.

I’m proud of myself for not getting frustrated.

“TV, mama.” She slows down her movements, lingers for a minute or two, then whispers “bye,” and walks out of the room.

I’m glad I didn’t just put on her DVD and continue in another room.

Eyes still closed, I sit silently for a few minutes.

I put on her DVD and lie down on the bed. She lies next to me. Still, for a minute.