For the Brothers

This August full moon, it’s down to recycling my Raksha bandan post from two years ago.

———–

Raksha Bandan – Bond of Protection

When I lived in Zambia my family celebrated Raksha Bandan, a North Indian festival that honours the love between sisters’ and brothers’. It falls on a full-moon in August every year.

My parents, aunts and uncles took a day off work, we a day off school. We wore traditional Indian clothes and jewelery, and gathered at one if the homes.
image

My mum, aunts and I picked out beautiful rakhees weeks in advance. There is a range of choice, from simple threads to more extravagant ones with mirrors and gold fringes. A few years ago there was one that played a popular Bollywood song. This year the fashionable rakhees have green, red, and shiny diamond-like stones on them.

I always chose the simplest threads and tied one around each of my brother’s and “cousin-brother’s” wrists. This gesture was to symbolise my love for them. In return my brothers’ had the duty of protecting me. From what, I wasn’t always sure.

After I tied the rakhee, we hugged each other. I always whispered an awkward, “What are we doing guys? Do we need this string to symbolise our feelings?”

I was the pain-in-the-ass, no fun girl who wasn’t into rituals, or for that matter, kitsch Bollywood dance because as a classical Indian dancer, Bollywood dances were corrupt versions of the real thing.

So, back to the hugging, after that we fed each other Indian sweets that my mum and aunts had prepared over the last week or two. In return, the brothers’ proudly offered me envelopes stuffed with notes.

Next was my mum and aunts’ turn. They tied rakhees around their “cousin-brother’s” wrist. He was the only one in Lusaka. They sent the others theirs in the mail, without fail.

My dad received his two rakhees by post, usually in good time. Since his sisters lived elsewhere it was my job to tie them. I got two envelopes from him as well.

Once it was all done, we’d have a big meal, and spend the rest of the day together.

When I left Zambia at 16, I forgot all about Raksha Bandan. One July my mum called to remind me about it. She asked if I’d sent all the boys a rakhee. I replied that I hadn’t so she quickly bought some on my behalf.

On the full-moon day, she called me. My little brother had refused to wear the rakhee since it wasn’t an initiative of mine. I was taken-aback. I had no idea that this really meant anything to him, or to any of them.

I immediately apologised, and ever since, I’ve made a special effort. I don’t always send them a rakhee in the mail, but I call or at least email.

This year, my mum only “reminded” me about it yesterday. There is no way I can get them rakhees in time. Phone calls will be in order, and a promise of more planning and organising for the years to come.

In my mum’s typically thoughtful and unimposing manner, she mentioned, by the way, “I’ve sent you a rakhee that L can tie around R’s wrist, if you guys want to do that of course.” I can’t wait to see the mini-rakhee.

My brothers are dearer to me than I can express. I do in fact feel safe, supported and strong when they are around.

So why not have a special day that celebrates the bond between sisters and brothers.

——

Raksha Bandan This Yeara

Raksha Bandan – Our Version

——
This morning – Our version – two rakhees, one each.
image

image

image

image

image

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.

Father Who? Oh! You Mean Papa Noel.

I used to get two presents from my parents on the 25th of December, one for Christmas, and one for my birthday. I don’t remember if I was bothered that my brothers, in fact, that MANY people get presents on MY birthday.

I don’t remember if I ever thought that Santa Claus was real. I don’t remember any transition from believing that he exists, to knowing the truth; if there was one.

I enjoyed the Christmas stories that we read at school, and the American movies that were shown on the local TV (Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation).

I even used to cut one small branch of one of the three pine trees (go figure!) in our garden and decorate it with christmassy balls and shiny streamers.

However, I could neither empathise with reindeer in the snow (December is rainy and HOT in Lusaka), nor with Father Christmas sliding down chimneys to fill over-sized socks hanging at fireplaces. Chimneys? Fireplaces? And the milk and cookies; if they were called biscuits I might have held the stories closer to my heart.

When we were older, we attended Christmas parties hosted by the local Rotary Club that my dad was involved with, where a black African man dressed up in coca-cola red, with a long and curly, white hair wig and beard, posing as the main man.

It was fun to hang out with the other kids, as well as with the gregarious Santa, Ho ho hoeing, amidst Christmas trees, shiny decorations, who handed out presents (that our parents had bought for us). We usually donated our own old toys to the club so that some children in need at hospitals, orphanages, or on the streets, could also feel some of the Christmas spirit.

————————-

Rahul has been saying, “Rhino. Papa Noel,” a few times lately. It’s sweet that he likes rhinos. If he hadn’t let me in on how he planned to get one though, I’d have told him he’ll see real rhino’s when he goes to Zambia, sometime next year.

In an English – speaking setting, Leila hesitated for a few minutes before she burst out, “Leila. Papa No-lel. Blue dinosaur.” That’s when I realised that Leila and Rahul had no idea who Father Christmas, or Santa Claus was. The concept didn’t exist because I’d never brought it up.

Maher overheard what Leila asked for and replied: “Est-ce que c’est Papa Noel, ou c’est papa Maher qui va t’acheter un dinosaur bleu?

I want L and R to enjoy stories about Santa, like most of the kids around them; and I hope they feel the magic of it all. But I won’t go so far as to tell them that he’s sliding down 30 storey buildings, into the living room windows at night, to deliver gifts to them; and only if they are good children. And that he decided that they have to share one big present. Or do they get one each, something smaller maybe? Exactly the same toy, or two different ones?

Does he like chappatis and kheer?

————————

Any personal Santa stories, books, or movies to share?

Here are a few Santa Posts:

Santa Claus: The Magic of Christmas Or A Big, Fat, Bearded Lie by Jo Eberhardt of The Happy Logophile

Yes, I Torture Them. Gleefully! by Desi of The Valentine 4: Living Each Day

Santa Claus: Kind of an Asshole by Mommy Rotten, Guest Post at Momma Be Thy Name

Naturally Wild and Curly

I’ve been asked many silly questions about me and my children: How can they be twins if they are not dressed the same? Did you do the IVF so you could have two in one go? Are they identical? (One’s a boy and one’s a girl). And so on.

This one, about their appearance, “Do you curl their hair?” is on my mind today. Believe it or not, I’ve been asked it a number of times.

L and R hardly let me wash their hair; they cry red-eyed, scream, and even suffer through the process. I do it anyway. To comb their hair is another drama; I run after them stroking through one part, and when they are distracted, I get through a few more strands. After a few days of partial combing, R had tough tangles in his hair today. Almost dreadlocks.

There is no way L and R would sit around while I put curls in their hair. Not much chance I’d spend my time doing that to 2, almost 2-year-olds anyway.

If children learn a thing or two from watching what their parents do, I’m no example of neat, done-up hair. My parents still give me an “Are you planning to leave the house looking like that? You hair needs a comb run through it” look. I see my family once, maybe twice a year. It takes only a day or two after the reunion for these thoughts from back in the day to re-surface. But to no avail.

When we met in Calgary a couple of months ago, my brothers spent one whole hour convincing me that I needed to see a hairdresser. My latest (defensive, nerdy) response: “I’d rather blog when I have a spare moment. Can’t you leave me, and my hair alone?”

There might be some truth to their worries; I pay little attention to my hair. I’ve been to a hairdresser 4 times in the last 3 years. But hey, I was in bed-rest for much of my pregnancy, did the NICU time, and now I take care of the two babies, OK, toddlers. So HAH! That’s my excuse. The secret: the ratio would be about the same had it been any other period of my life.

Legend goes, Maher had big, curly hair, wore large knitted red, black, and yellow striped tops, while listening to reggae and sipping on his late-morning coffee. This was just before you met him, I am told repeatedly. The bit about his hair, I mean.

So, NO, I don’t curl their hair. We are happy with (my out of control and M’s lack of) their naturally wild and curly hair. I do appreciate the admiration for it though.

Raksha bandan – bond of protection

When I lived in Zambia my family celebrated Raksha Bandan, a North Indian festival that honours the love between sisters’ and brothers’. It falls on a full moon in August every year.

My parents, aunts and uncles took a day off work, we a day off school. We dressed in traditional Indian clothes and jewelery, and gathered at one of the family homes.

My mum, aunts and I picked out beautiful rakhi’s weeks in advance. There is a range of choice, from simple threads to more extravagant ones with mirrors and gold fringes. A few years ago there was one that even played a popular Bollywood song. This year the fashionable rakhi’s have green, red, and shiny diamond-like stones on them. I usually chose the simplest threads and tied one around each of my brother’s and “cousin-brother’s” wrists. This gesture was to symbolise my love for them. In return my brothers’ had the duty of protecting me. From what I wasn’t always sure!

After I tied the rakhi, we hugged each other. I always whispered an awkward, “What are we doing guys? Do we need this string to symbolise our feelings?” I was the pain-in-the-ass, no fun girl who wasn’t into rituals, or Bollywood kitsch for that matter because it was over-done and the dances were corrupted versions of classical dances. So after the hugging, we fed each other sweets that my mum and aunts had prepared over the last week or two. My brothers’ then proudly offered me envelopes packed with notes.

Then it was my mum and aunts’ turn. They would tie rakhi’s around their “cousin-brother’s” wrist. He was the only one in Lusaka. They sent the others to India by mail, without fail.

My dad received his two rakhi’s in the mail, usually in good time. Since his sisters lived elsewhere it was my job to tie them. I got two envelopes from him as well.

Once it was all done, we’d have a big meal together, and spend the rest of the day together.

When I left Z at 16, I forgot all about it. One July, my mum called to remind me about it. She asked if I’d sent all the boys a rakhi.  I replied that I hadn’t so she quickly bought some on my behalf.

On the day, she called to say that my little brother refused to wear it since it was my mum’s choice, and not my initiative. I was taken-aback. I had no idea that this really meant anything to him, or to any of them.

I immediately apologised and ever since, I’ve made a special effort. I don’t always send them a rakhi in the mail, but I call or at least email.

This year, my mum only “reminded” me about it yesterday. There is no way I can get them rakhi’s in time. Phone calls will be in order, and a promise of more planning and organising for the years to come.

In my mum’s typically thoughtful and unimposing manner, she says “I’ve sent you a rakhi that L can tie around R’s wrist, if you guys want to do that of course.” I can’t wait to see the mini-rakhi!

My brothers, (cousins and brothers-in-law), are dearer to me than I can express. I do in fact feel safe, supported and strong when they are around. So why not have a special day that celebrates the bond between sisters and brothers?

—————————

Links I came across:

How to make a rakhi
Buy a rakhi on-line!

Yoga House Ahmedabad

Dec 2010, Ahmedabad

In July 2009 I was put on bed rest due to complications in my pregnancy. I have taught one class since. It was in my grandfather’s house in India. My habit of teaching in living rooms continues. Maher, my two brothers, two cousins, and an uncle took the “Intro to Ashtanga” class that morning.

With 16 of us under one roof, it was no easy task to organise anything. Thanks to Maher and Nanu for making the class happen, Saloni for the lovely photos, and the willing students for trying it out.

One-and-a-half

R and L are now officially a year and a half. Their love for music and dance is growing with them. R has a very cute new dance move. He shakes his head and shoulders very fast and then swings his arms around freely. Leila does cha-cha-cha type steps around the house. She also goes down down down and then up up up.

When the moment and music inspires them, they hold hands and look into each others eyes. Their smiles are contagious. They make each other laugh. The couples dance turns into a bear hug. Then there is hair-pulling, screaming, and crying. An adult intervenes. We pull them apart and ask them to be gentle. Sometimes there is a make-up stroke through the others hair, or a peck on the cheek. Other times there is no reaction. This is sort of how our days go – the activity might be different, the fun, laughter, drama, and crying always there.

So what has changed for US?

-We haven’t read anything longer than a few pages on a computer screen in a while.

– We only watch animated movies.

-I hum nursery rhymes all day long, even after R and L are asleep.

-Maher plays children’s tunes on his classical flute. He did take it out of its case after many years though.

-We eat overcooked, car and plane shaped pasta. The big secret we are keeping from the Lebanese family and friends is dinner is at six-thirty pm now.

-My brothers and guy cousins are jealous of my big shoulders and biceps. When I was pregnant a friend with twin sisters told me his mum developed strong arms. I looked at him strangely. Now I understand.

-Maher’s practice takes even longer than it used to. The little yogis don’t miss their chance to practice with and even force feed him.

Now that L and R are eighteen months old they will sleep soundly through the night, eat heartily, drink out of cups, and play calmly with each other. No, but one Mum of Twins (MoT) blogged how things lightened up for her at one-and-a-half. So hey, some positive thinking and hoping can’t hurt!

Me…start a blog?

Over the last two years my world has revolved around taking care of Leila and Rahul, my almost year-and-a-half twins. So to start a blog now, seems a bit strange. What could I possibly have to say? I don’t know which regimes are being toppled over, I haven’t seen photos of the effects of the recent earthquake in Japan, I don’t know what yoga workshops are on in the region, don’t know if Federer is still kicking ass, or who presented at the Chengdu Bookworm literary festival; or anything for that matter. Outrageous, I know.
Only a few years earlier I didn’t even know what a blog was until friends in Chengdu complained that they couldn’t access blogspot. Facebook, YouTube, and a number of blogging sites can’t be accessed in China.
After some complications in my pregnancy while in China, I ended up spending 4 months in bed including 7 weeks in hospital, split into 4 different hospital stays.
A number of foreign doctors here, in Shanghai, and Beijing recommended that we leave for the birth, due to the high risk of going into preterm labour and possible lack of high level care for premature babies.
So went to Hong Kong at 26 weeks gestation. L and R came at 31 weeks, and were cared for at the Queen Mary NICU.
The bed-rest, high-speed internet and open access to all sites meant lots of time on the internet, and my initiation to blogs. But it was only when L and R were five-months-old, after my mum who had spent 9 months with me left, and both of those things coincided with our return to Chengdu that I really got into it.
I came upon some blogs that MoT’s wrote. For the first time in a long time I felt like I could relate. They wrote how exhausted they were, how they only bathed their babies a couple of times a week, rarely dressed them in anything other than pyjamas. I didn’t feel as guilty anymore that L and R didn’t go out everyday. They weren’t the only ones. To have them both ready to go out meant nappies changed, both well fed, not too tired, and a big diaper bag full of provisions.
I remember a post by a father of twins about how his two-year-old girls were finally sleeping through the night, most of the time, anyways. So my two waking up a few times each and every night means I can still be considered in the norm.
One mum wrote about her birth story; similar to mine – it included flights, hospital stays for both mum and babies, pumping pumping pumping, stress, fear, pain, relief.
Then there was one couple that blogged about their micro preemie twins birth, NICU stay including all the medical details, the obsession with weight gain, the monitors, breathing, digestion, good days, bad days. It wasn’t the most fun blog I ever read. They were born much earlier than L and R, but I could relate to much of it and realised that I would have to deal with this part of R and L, and in fact all of four of our lives one day, and to be at peace with it somehow.
Reading these stories was like holding a mirror out in front of me. a way to see what we had been through, a way to realize we were not alone – and importantly to let go of it.
There were honest, touching posts as well like the one HDYDI MoT, rebecca, who wrote One Baby Envy ( http://hdydi.com/2008/03/02/one-baby-envy/ ). Others complained about the silly questions (  http://multiples.about.com/od/familyissues/tp/aatpquestions.htm) they got when they took their twins out. If I get started on the questions and comments I got in Chengdu it would never end.
Sometimes the comments were funny – MoM’s bitching about how J Lo (on the cover of People Magazine March 2008) could possibly look as perfect so soon after she had her twins.
I related to these parents and it helped with the isolation I sometimes felt being in China without my family and with no experience with babies whatsoever. Neither of my brothers or brothers-in-law have children. One of my childhood friends has a son in Zambia who I haven’t yet met. I had held one of my friend’s tiny babies in Lebanon a couple of times last year feeling clumsy and incapable all the time. So yes, I had that experience.
I had a few parenting books. They only briefly covered twins if at all.
But, we were together again, the four of us in Chengdu. That was our main source of strength. I had help from people here. L and R ‘s nanny or “ayi” meaning aunty as she is called endearingly is a superwoman, a great source of real support and help.
A friend as close as I imagine a sister to be was strong and present when I needed her most.
Another friend lent me lifesaving books at every stage along the way. And there were many others who made up my “village”, both in real life and in my blog life. The crazy thing now is that sometimes my kids both sleep for a few hours at the same time, but silly me stays up to blog.
In addition to relating to other mums and dads on blogs, I found tips, such as this post ( http://hdydi.com/2008/04/05/product-review-double-strollers/) that gives advice about choosing a double stroller that works for you depending on it’s use, tips like store big quantities of diapers, wet -wipes, food etc. so you don’t need to go out to the stores until really necessary. Obvious, but hey at least I don’t feel crazy when I walk into my pantry and see the hoarding.
There were videos of calm mums simultaneously feeding their babies. R and L were rarely on the same schedule, so it didn’t apply, but still nice to see how others do it.
So even though I live in this tiny world of eating, playing, bathing, trying to schedule, exploring and sleepless nights, I feel like I am above water, some of time at least.
So now I have the occasion to share my own stories and maybe get some interaction going. Perhaps a new mum, even a MoT will come across it and feel she can relate, find some useful information, or just have a laugh. I would be glad to contribute to that somehow.
These are stories for R and L to read one day if they want to. And if nothing else a way for friends and family to keep up with our lives in China, or wherever.
The other day I read a blog about the therapeutic effects of blogging. That did it for me, a few minutes later I signed up! Not really, but it made me realise that every time I put down my thoughts they rarely came out negative or depressive, but rather I manage to find the “funny” in things, now that I am not sinking all the time, of course.
It reminded me of a phrase from a song my dad often used to say to his not so smiley teenage daughter, “When you smile the whole world smiles with you. When you cry, you cry alone.”