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”. (

“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

Mooo or Merrhh?: A Guest Post by Patricia

I’m very happy to post this piece by Patricia who I first met at school in Zambia; the second in our 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 their secret language!

Mooo or Merrhh?

I loved Natasha’s idea of sharing our experiences of being parents in multicultural, multilingual households, and I must say the multilingual aspect is the one I am thinking about of late because Mia is beginning to develop her speech. She spends most of the day with me and I speak Spanish to her, but when Ø gets home, we speak English between us and he speaks Norwegian to her. That’s pretty standard for a multilingual household, except for the fact that both Ø and I are developing a competitive streak about whose language Mia will pick up first – so it’s early days. Mia is saying a few words here and there and making animals sounds.

Although I knew that animal noises may sound different in different languages, I never thought it would be an issue in my household or that I would be telling hubby to stop saying ‘Merrhh’  when we sing “Old Macdonald Had a Farm,” because it’s not like the Spanish cow that says “Mooo” . The other day we were trying to entertain Mia, who was understandably unhappy about being in the car seat for an hour. So there we were, singing Old Macdonald … and making our conflicting animal sounds, when Mia and I start playing peek-a-boo. By that time I had moved to the back seat to be with Mia, when, lo and behold, Ø joins in on our game. Did you know that ghosts also sound different in Norway?!

Aside from the confusing animal sounds Mia hears, she is picking up the languages. Although now, my worry is how it will be when she soon goes to nursery. A Swedish friend of mine started taking her 18 month old to nursery and up to that point she had only spoken to him in Swedish. He was finding it hard to settle into the nursery because he was not able to understand. My friend was “told off” by the nursery staff because they thought she should have also been speaking some English to him.

Oh oh, should I be speaking to Mia in English more often?  I wonder.

I have read that I should stick to my language, and be its “Leader”; and she will pick up the third language in school. But now, the anxiety of her not settling well because she can’t understand, aside from all other worries about putting her in nursery, are creeping in. By the way, my friend also had issues with the fact that English lions sound different to Swedish ones!

What advice have some of you received about raising a multilingual child? And how have some of you adjusted to sending your children to nursery in a language that is not the one primarily spoken at home?

Check out this fun site for animal sounds in different languages.

The Monkey Song

The Monkey Song from the Jungle Book is one of our favorites. The music is catchy, the dancing good fun, and the animation colourful.

R pretends to play the trumpet like the monkeys.

L watches intently, and loves the other two main songs as well, the Elephant march with Colonel Hathi, and “The Bare Necessities”, with Baloo the bear. Whenever Mowgli appears she calls him, “Leila.”

The first time I watched the Jungle Book, I was around 8 years old. It was in my aunt and uncle’s living room in Bombay. I had traveled on my own to spend a month with them. They often put the video on for me. I loved it. I didn’t see it again until a year ago.

Maher wonders if there was a subliminal relationship between his childhood infatuation with the big-eyed Indian girl at the end of movie, and him marrying me.

Through the monkey song, we discovered Louis Prima – a performer with a lot of character! If you have the chance, take a look at some of his other videos on YouTube.

Anyone know any stories about him?

The Old Macdonald story part four

R is still into Old Macdonald. A couple of nights ago he initiated the song with an “Ayi ayi O”, and guided me through the rest.

It went like this:

Old Macdonald had a farm. E I E I O. And on that farm he had a…

He said “mooooo”.

…cow. E I E I O. With a moo moo here and a moo moo there…

Then he signed pig.

With an oink oink here and an oink oink there, here an oink, there an oink, everywhere an oink oink.

He said “maaaniii”.

And on that farm he had a cat. E I E I O. With a miao here and a miao there….

Then “woof woof”.

With a woof woof here and a woof woof there, here a woof woof, there a woof woof, everywhere a woof woof.

And finally “buck buck,” for chicken.

And on that farm he had some chicken.  E I E I O. With a buck buck here and a buck buck there. Here a buck buck, there a buck buck, everywhere a buck buck.

Old Macdonald had a farm. E I E I O.


The Old Macdonald story part three


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!

The Old Macdonald story part three

R climbed out of our bed this morning, still warm with fever, saying “ayi ayi”. Same thing he said running towards xiao He when she entered the door.

He picked up the cover of a Baby Einstein DVD he loves. There is a section on farm animals with his favorite theme song. He wanted to watch it, yet again.

He sings along every time: “Ayi Ayi O”.

Thankfully we discovered how much he loves Old Macdonald and the farm animals because this afternoon, still burning with fever, watching the cows and horses was the only thing that put a smile on his face.



The Old Macdonald story part four
The Old Macdonald story part two

The Old Macdonald story has a part two

A few minutes after I published the last post R woke up from the night’s sleep. He had high fever. 39C. He took some medication and drank 200ml of oral rehydration salts, bit by bit. That should help for a while.

The sequence went like this: a week ago R got a cold. L caught it from him. Maher had some intestinal illness. A few days ago L started vomiting and had high fever. It seems to be gastroenteritis. She is almost done with the crazy diarrhea part of it. Today R started vomiting.

Anyway back to the point of this story, a little while ago, not really delirious from such high fever, R asked for his papa. I explained that he was asleep. We went into our room to have a look. Then for “Lala.” She is asleep too I said. Just as he was falling asleep he asked for “ayi”. I told him that she was at her house and asleep. He broke into song, “Ayi Ayi O”!

As he drifted off to sleep, L woke up.


The Old Macdonald Story part three
The Old Macdonald Storyc