For Just Being There

In July last year, Maher bought me an iPhone for our anniversary. My frist ever Smartphone. Of course, I didn’t even open it for a few months. Now I’m hooked.

And then my brother introduced me to WhatsApp while complaining about how people don’t just pick up the phone and call for a few minutes. Instead they chat on this thing for hours on end.

Then last month one of my friends suggested I get it. So here I am now, chatting with my friends around the world, anytime of day or night – and yes, sometimes it’s more of a monologue than dialogue. But they understand, they know I’ve lived on the moon for the last ten years.

I was chatting with some of my friends while my kids were in hospital last week. Sending emails too.

A couple of weeks into the NICU experience in Nov and Dec of 2009, one of the nurses organised a Parent Support Group. After some hesitation, it being our first “support group” and all, Maher and I went. We were only two couples in the English speaking section, and the woman leading the group showed us a day-by-day photo album of her twin boys born there, at 26 weeks gestation. Actually, one of her 6-year-old sons was taking us through the pics himself. His mum openly discussed the challenges her family faced at the NICU and over the following years. Of course, she encouraged us to talk. What struck me was that the other couple had shared their baby’s photos on Facebook. Their naked baby with a ventilator, feeding tubes, bandages, IV’s, the works.

They found love, support, and strength through their network of family and friends.

I, however, was unable to call my own brothers. I almost dialed my closest childhood friend’s number a few times. Even did once, a few days after Rahul was already home. Chatted for a few minutes.

A couple of friends of mine dropped everything that was going on for them in Chengdu and came to see me in HK. I barely even spoke to the one who stayed two weeks. She got to know my mum amd mother-in-law a bit better though.

That’s the way I used to deal with things, and during the NICU time and later, this reflex kicked in more strongly than ever before. I felt that no one could help anyway, and isolating myself was the most efficient way to deal with what was in front of me. It made sense at the time because only parents were allowed into the NICU, and I wanted to savor every moment I had alone with my babies. I was too fragile to handle criticism and questions, stress from others, and least of all pity. And there was no way I would break down. Not then.

But then a few months later, both babies out of the NICU, and home in Chengdu, I relaxed. I started to comment on blogs. (Big step!) Then I started my own. I got a VPN in China, to access Facebook again, right after Zambia won the Africa cup. I couldn’t join the celebrations, not even over FB. That was too much for me to handle!

I tried to create a network of my mum friends via Multicultural Mothering.

When one of my friend’s twins were in the NICU a year ago, I felt the need to be present. He had no problem communicating with me, explaining, and even listening to me. I was impressed. And now while my kids were in the hospital last week that same friend along with others all listened, and shared their own experiences. It made everything more bearable. Others read my endless WhatsApp monologues.

Thanks for the support over the last couple of weeks, for the brainstorming sessions, the connection. For just being there.

When I saw this talk for the first time a couple of years ago, it was perfectly timed then. I immediately forwarded it to an exhaustive list of friends. A few days ago my cousin shared it with me again. It was just what I needed to hear. Again. For my friends – old and new.

Brene Brown on Vulnerability

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Reintroducing Myself

I’m Mum of Twins (MoT) Leila and Rahul (L and R), who turned 3 on the 1st of November. They started pre-school a couple of months before their 3rd birthday.

I’ve gone back to teaching some yoga classes.

I’ve never been busier – with figuring out how to get the kids out of the house and to school in the morning, teaching my classes, doing the groceries, cooking, trying to find time for my practice, and then getting them to brush their teeth. Seriously, what’s up with brushing teeth?!

And then there’s  the events now that they’re in school. We need outfits for Halloween, photos for “student of the week”. And then there’s the birthday party.

But. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I think of a couple of mums I’ve met in the last few weeks. One is a full-time working mum of a five-year old and three-year old triplets. The other is also working full-time, with a part-time job on the side, mum of a four-year old and one-and-a-half year old twins.

Wow.

One random, but very important thought for me – I can’t thank the people who are helping me day in and day out.

My post frequency has reduced to “extremely infrequent”. I pondered dropping the blog altogether, but it’s something I have enjoyed. It made me think and express myself. And it connected me to family, old friends, and I’ve new friends I’m sure to keep regardless of the blog.

I’m hoping this is a temporary low.

Raksha Bandan this Year

Last year we celebrated the bond between brothers and sisters in our first Raksha Bandan. Leila tied a rakhee (usually an ornate string that symbolizes a bond of protection), around Rahul’s right wrist. Leila had to have one as well – that bit is what made it Raksha Bandan – Our Version. They hugged and fed each other something sweet.

We had a repeat of our version this year at our Koh Samui hotel room. My mum was with us on the day, the full moon of August 2nd, so it was all the more special even in the simplicity of our unmade beds, daily wear, and impromptu rakhees – I cut out the bookmark-ribbons from two of L and R’s story books and used them as rakhees. (Don’t tell my little brother;))

Here’s Raksha Bandan – Bond of Protection, the post I wrote last year about this celebration during my childhood.

Parenting and Practicing Yoga: From Pregnancy to a Year Old by Marisa Findlay

Marisa is a photographer specializing in baby and maternity photography. You can see some of her work on her Facebook page or her website.

From Pregnancy to a Year Old

You are reading this post three days after my daughter, Yara, turned a year old.

My journey with yoga began about 11 years ago and has been an on and off love affair that has gently carried me to where I am now.  Along this journey I trained as a Sivananda yoga teacher in Kerala, India and dabbled in a bit of teaching both in Zambia, a place that will always be home to me, and Brighton, where I currently live and have subsequently discovered Scaravelli yoga which I absolutely adore.

If I could play a sound track to you as you read this post, it would be Monsoon Point by Al Gromer Khan & Amelia Cuni, so perhaps you could play it in another window as you read.

I discovered this music while I was pregnant with Yara and preparing for my planned ideal home water birth.  Some of you after reading the previous sentence already have an inkling that this story isn’t going to reveal the ideal birth, but instead the birth that was meant to be.

I loved being pregnant and marveled at my ever-changing body giving space to this little being growing inside of me.  My yoga practice took on a new dimension, which I loved and my body really understood on a deeper level what it needed to do in order to release the spine.

I practiced under Marc Woolford, my first Scaravelli yoga teacher in Brighton, during the first few months of my pregnancy.

Despite me practicing yoga, learning tai chi from my partner Edward, and all the mental preparation I did during my absolutely idyllic pregnancy (most of which was spent in the sunny Turks & Caicos islands) it all changed at 35 weeks when I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia.  After a 5 day stay in hospital I was put on a heavy concoction of medication to bring my blood pressure down and then at 37 weeks I had to have an emergency c-section.  I am so grateful to the knowledge that yoga has given me to handle this extremely stressful time and remain somewhat centred.  During this time I had a fantastic doula, Lucy Skelton, who is also a yoga teacher and was able to gently guide me through the process.

On the day of Yara’s birth, all within the space of an hour I had to transform my mindset from having a routine check at the hospital, after which I had planned a leisurely lunch in town, to deciding to be operated on immediately for the safety of my baby. Focusing on the breath and being present to what was, helped me regain my centre after the initial shock and panic of the unexpected news. After delivery it was my breath that got me through three hospital-bound days sharing a room with three screaming babies.

Lucy came to my house when Yara was about one week old to help me do some gentle stretching and mainly work on encouraging my shoulders away from up around my ears where they had found a new home after the terror of the experience.

When Yara was 8 weeks old we started attending a weekly mother and baby yoga class taught by my doula.  It was a challenge to be ready to head out the door across town for the 10:30 start, yet it was so worth the experience.  Meeting other mothers and their babies and feeling the connection through our common experience.  Sharing the delights and concerns as well as creating the space to allow our bodies the chance to ever so slowly stretch and strengthen once more.

The course only ran a month and then with the arrival of family from abroad, Yara’s ever-changing routine, and my efforts to start a photography business while improving my knowledge of the craft…yoga slipped away.  I would have snippets of it as I reminded myself to breathe while nursing Yara or attempted a sleep-deprived practice on the mat.  If I was particularly lucky I managed to escape for a yoga class with my delightful teacher Dot Bowen and came away feeling Marisa again, yet it was not enough to sustain me each day.

This was until about two months ago when I discovered this blog and was deeply inspired by a post about committing to 5 sun salutations for a month.  I went easy on myself and committed to 7 days to see how I would go.  I realized it was the first time I had consistently practiced yoga probably since my teacher training 6 years ago and I felt fantastic for it!  It wasn’t about how long I did or whether I completed the 5 sun salutations – it was about rolling the mat out each day and giving my mind and body the chance to reconnect.  Each week now I recommit another 7 days and marvel each day as I notice the change, the strength developing and most of all the chance to reconnect to myself.

I’ve realized that my yoga practice doesn’t have to involve the candles, relaxing music and solitude that I knew prior to being a mother, but rather takes the form that the day presents. If I have the energy I rise before everyone is up and relish the peace, however if not I grab a moment during the day while Yara plays around me or wait until the day is complete and I have my mat time.  I’m so grateful to have found a way to incorporate my yoga practice back into my life and the irony of it all is that now as I have less time for myself, I’m able to have a more consistent and fulfilling practice.

Parenting and Practicing Yoga: Tone of Voice by Amanda Green

Amanda Green is mom to two great girls and a student and teacher of yoga in Austin, Texas. Visit her blog at http://www.amandagreenYOGA.com.

Tone of Voice

I’ve been a mom for just about 8 years and in that time some parenting-patterns have emerged. In yoga, patterns are known as samskaras. They include helpful and beneficial patterns and also in this category are the patterns or habits that aren’t so helpful. Lately, I’ve been really aware of the patterns I use to talk to my kids. For example, the general tone in my house lately is, “I want you to do this, or there will be this consequence”. 10-50 million times a day, you might hear me say some version of:You have to pick up your things, or you won’t get to watch any TV. Or,“If you don’t eat your kale, then you won’t get chocolate pudding for dessert.” This was highlighted today when in my sweet-patient morning voice I asked my 8-year-old to turn the light off when she left the room and she looked at me and said, “or what?”

This pattern I have going lately is all about the bargain. Life in our household has become a series of negotiations and threats, really. I’m both the deal broker and the enforcer. It puts my girls on an opposing team, and the tone of the house just isn’t the fun, cooperative and joy-filled place that I’d like it to be. I decided something must be done, and then I remembered that I had a tool in my toolbox already that I loved, I just let it get rusty.

A few months ago, I was seeing a child psychologist who was offering support and guidance while my girls were reeling from the emotions that came from their dad’s and my divorce. This fantastic woman turned me on to a book, Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach by Dr. Howard Glasser.

This approach changed the tone of our household,while I remembered to do it. The basic idea is this: Your child needs and wants your attention, and even negative attention can be a sort of reward. When your child receives your very focused and sincere attention, encouragement, and praise while they are behaving in a way that is positive, you are offering nurturing of the heart and the welcome behavior.

In practice, how does that look? Dr Glasser suggests you begin to notice times when your child’s behavior is either neutral or positive and give the reward of your sincere interest and attention by making observational remarks. “You are coloring that mountain purple. You have been working on that for quite a while. That sure shows a lot of stick-to-it-ness.” If there is a behavior that doesn’t appear very often or to the degree that you’d like to see, then you give words of encouragement when it appears even in part. “Your little sister hit you with her doll, and you yelled at her, but you showed self-control because you didn’t hit her back.” Offer these observations or “video moments” several times an hour. Give almost no attention or emotion to the undesired behavior. They will respond to the steady stream of your positive attention and realize that their undesirable behavior doesn’t get the attention-reward, so it loses its fun. There is more to it, but this is the gist and I’ll tell you, it is a wondrous thing…

This approach seems, at first, like it is about training your children, but really, it’s about training yourself. You begin to look for the positive and the beautiful even in moments when it might be difficult to spot and like a yoga practice or meditation, you bring yourself back to the intention of noticing when your child is doing something wonderful, even if it is as simple as sitting quietly for two minutes and looking at a book. As a parent following this model, you get to thoughtfully express what it is that you find and with practice perhaps this becomes your samskara. You bring the yoga of intention and focus to something really amazing and you start to share that perspective with your kids. These brief exchanges of appreciation and attention are the very stuff of life and the place that you direct your attention is the tone in a household.

Those months ago, when I started looking for the times that my kids were doing something with an energy that was appropriate, kind, quiet, focused or any degree of awesome, then I paused what I was doing to notice and comment on it. I chose words that were sincere and interesting and not about pleasing myself, there was all of this sentiment of appreciation floating around in the air, helping all of us to feel special and noticed and important. Giving my awareness, attention and thoughtfulness to the things my girls are doing shows them how important and interesting and good they are, and it reminds me of the great gift and privilege it is to be their mom.

Yogaholic

It was when Maher and I lived in Lebanon that I started to attend yoga classes on a regular basis. It went from 1 session a week, to 3, then 5, and eventually up to 7 or 8.

I started at the Sivananda Centre, two doors down from my flat in Gemmayze. It was interesting, and gave my knees and ankles a break; it seemed to strengthen and balance out the damage that my other physical activities were causing. But the Sivananda didn’t manage to captivate my wandering, hyper-active mind and body.

A few months later, I heard about a 4 day Jivamukti workshop hosted at the Sivananda Centre. It was taught by a couple of teachers from New York. I managed to get into the last session. The room was packed. The yoga was HARD. Halfway through the two hours, my clothes were soaked in sweat. The teachers talked about alignment, the flow of breath and movement. We did related postures in sequences that reminded me of dance; and played with some of the wilder poses. I was challenged. And immediately hooked.

It turned out that the woman who organised the workshop was one of their students, and that she’d just moved back to Beirut from NY. So that’s how I met Dani Abisaab. One of my first teachers. It took me a few more months to get to one of her classes, but once I did, I stalked her around Beirut. She beamed me a smile every time I entered the room. I was welcome in her space. I focused on every word she said, and I paced my countless after-class questions so as not to annoy her! She was never phased. Always calm. Under control. I was sure she could hear my mad inner thoughts screaming and running around.

Much later, Dani started a Sunday evening class at the Sivananda Centre. Of course, I was there every weekend.

My Mondays were no longer as daunting as they’d been all my life.

That’s when on some days of the week, I took 2 classes a day. I kept up with some Sivananda, and even some Ashtanga Vinyasa with different teachers.

When I left Lebanon at the beginning of 2006, to join Maher who’d already moved to China a few months prior, I made a pit stop in Mysore. By then I’d already decided to focus on Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

Dani’s challenging, well-prepared, interesting and informative Vinyasa classes were a solid base both for that, and for my Teacher Training later that year.

After years of being out of touch, we’ve recently discovered each others blogs. Check out hers: Yogaholic. http://danielleabisaab.blog.com

While she is back in NY attending yet another Teacher Training, she’s kindly hosting one of my posts: “Jet-Lagged in Montreal”. http://danielleabisaab.blog.com/2012/01/18/jet-lagged-in-montreal-2/

Three Cheers for Family: A Guest Post by Maro Adjemian

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

Maro: I speak English, French, Spanish (although it’s getting rusty), and not as much Italian as I should. I grew up in small towns not far from Ottawa, first on the Quebec side and then on the Ontario side, but my background and extended family reach from Armenia to Hawaii. My husband, Eric, was born in Montreal to Italian parents. He speaks English, French, Italian (although he denies it, since he doesn’t think his grandparents’ dialect counts), and a bit of Spanish.

We have a baby girl, Myriam, who was born in March 2011. She’s working on her consonants these days- baba, dada, ida, lida, nana… but I’m not sure which language, exactly. I’m not sure she knows, either.

Three Cheers for Family

Yesterday, Myriam and I went to visit her Nonno (grandfather in Italian).  He came to the door to let us in, and immediately bent down to see M in her stroller.

“Myriam! Come stai?”

She beamed and waved her arms in excitement.

He plucked her out of her stroller and peeled her snowsuit off of her, tossed her up in the air a few times while she shrieked with joy, and then handed her an orange to play with. She was delighted.  As an afterthought, he said, “Hi, Maro, how are you?”  M didn’t even look at me. She was engrossed in her orange.

My father-in-law retired this year, just in time to become an eager and available babysitter.  He took fine arts in University once upon a time, and used to do ceramics. He still has his potter’s wheel and equipment, and a couple of years ago he gave me pottery lessons at my request. Now, we go and visit once a week. M hangs out with her Nonno, and I work on my pottery. It’s a win-win-win arrangement. I’m not sure who enjoys their time together more: M or Nonno. And I treasure the couple of hours a week I have to spin a wheel and get lost in my thoughts without worrying about my baby. It’s nice to have an opportunity to zone out and completely lose track of time in the way artistic creation allows you to do.

I grew up 5000 kilometers away from all four of my grandparents, so I never had the sort of relationship with them that my daughter has with hers. We wrote letters to them, and spoke on the phone, and once a year they came and visited us or we went and visited them. I always felt close to my extended family. I never really thought about what a difference it would make if we lived close by.

I never really expected my kids to live close to their grandparents, either. As a child, I used to proudly tell people that on my father’s side of the family there had been one immigration per generation for the past four generations. People would ask me, “And will you continue the trend and be the fifth generation to emigrate somewhere?” and I would reply, “probably”.  I used to flip through my parents’ National Geographic collection and dream about all the places I could go.  When we were little, my brother and I played a game with our globe. We took turns spinning it as fast as we could, and then letting one finger drag on its surface as it turned. Wherever that finger landed when the globe stopped spinning is where we would live.  Often, of course, we ended up living in the Pacific Ocean. But many other possibilities also presented themselves.

A decade or so later I went to University and studied International Development, and then Geography. I assumed I would end up living somewhere in Africa or Latin America, at least for a few years. It’s funny how life happens to you. You take one step after another as they present themselves, and you often end up somewhere very different from where you expected to find yourself. I read somewhere once that life is like “stepping stones in the fog”. You only see one at a time, and you step forward not knowing where the trail of stepping stones will lead you in the end.

And so here I am, living in a Canadian city where I have spent most of the past twelve years, surrounded by extended family. Almost all of E’s family lives in Montreal, and in the past couple of years my parents and two sisters moved here. Myriam sees her entire extended family on a very regular basis and she’s only 8 months old. And I think it’s great. It’s convenient and wonderful to have excited and available family members around who can babysit when I need to do something or go somewhere baby-less. After Myriam was born they filled up our fridge with good food and helped clean our apartment. When we visit them, they play with her and give E and I a chance to eat dinner uninterrupted. The traditional family support system makes a lot of sense.

When I thought about being the fifth generation of immigration in my family, I thought mostly about the benefits of living in another part of the world. The richness of leaning different languages and getting to know other people and cultures, as many of you guest posters have talked about.  I didn’t think about the richness of living surrounded by family in a familiar place and culture. Right now I’m happy to be here, both for the extra help and support it gives us, and because of the relationship my little one can have with her doting extended family.

“If you are happy, be happy. If you are angry, be angry.”

Here’s a piece of a blog-entry: “Gratitude, Shmatitude”, by jmlindy of Snide Reply. She’s a mum, a teacher, and a writer, among other things. The post is a good read, and her blog a good one to bookmark.

Check it out here: http://jlwrite.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/gratitude-schmatitude/
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One Christmas, my mother gave my siblings and me really nice fleece sweaters from Land’s End. Each sweater had a surprise in the pocket…a crisp large denomination bill. I decided to use my mom’s idea for my son. I found a cozy shearling-lined hoodie that I knew he’d like. I put a large denomination gift card in the pocket. I put it under the tree. He loved it. He looked for other presents. There were none. “That’s it?” he asked, “a hoodie?”

“It’s nice hoodie,” I said.

“It’s a hoodie,” he said. “I got a hoodie.”

“Put it on,” I said.

“Mom, it’s a hoodie. It’ll fit.”

“Just put it on. It was expensive. I want to see if it looks good on you.”

“Fine,” he said. I figured he’d put his hands in the pockets, the way everyone does when they try on a hoodie. He stood in front of me, arms limp at his sides, disappointment draining from his pores.

“There,” he said. “It’s on. It’s a hoodie.”

“Look in the freaking pockets,” I said.