Papa Hunter, Mama Gatherer

(For a long time = A long time ago)

On our way to the supermarket. R and L are playing at lifting each other.

L: Let me carry you now.


L: Uhhhh, you’re too heavy for me.

R: You can’t because usually boys are stronger than girls, ’cause for a long time they used to do fishing.

Me: What’s THAT about? Do you mean because men used to be hunters?

L: And the womans for a long time used to pick strawberries.

Me: Oh yeah, and women would gather fruits and nuts for everyone to eat.

R: But papa only used to goed to the supermarket.

All of us: Hahahahaha.

L: And mama also goed to the supermarket to buy food!



Translating Bullshit into Bullshit

Rahul and Leila chopping play dough vegetables.

Maher: Qu’est ce que tu cuisine Leila?

Leila: Uhhh, I’m cooking mothika.

Maher: Ah bon. C’est quoi “mothika”?

Leila: Papa, ummm, en francais c’est lita.


Some conversations from the last month:

Koh Samui, driving around the Southern parts of the island

Maher: Les gars, vous avez vu les vaches? Et il y a des chevaux aussi! (Hey guys, did you see the cows? There are horses as well!)

Me: Do you know what cows eat?

Leila: Gra-nola

On the beach one day:

Rahul picked up a strange white jelly-like fish egg (I think)

Me: What’s that Rahul?

Rahul: Mama, this lenses (as in contact lenses)


Chengdu –

One evening just before bed:

Leila: What dat Rahul?

Rahul rubs his body: Keam, body. (As in body cream / lotion),

Leila picked up a tube of zinc oxide used for nappy irritation: What dat Rahul?

Rahul pointing at it: Toos paste that.

Leila tapping her bottom: No Rahul, Keam bum-bum.

Rahul: No, toos paste.

Leila: No, keam kiki(cute way to say vagina in French).

Rahul: Afu zizi, Leila zizi (cute way to say penis).

Leila: No, Leila kiki

Rahul smiling: Leila zizi

Leila: Noooo, Leila kiki

Rahul really pushing her button: Leila zizi

I had to pull them apart. Stop them from shoving and pushing each other after that one.

In bed that night:

Leila: Mama, where papa?

Me: He’s in Hengyang. He’ll be back in two days.

Leila crying: Leila kiss papa.

Early, very early one morning:

Leila pointing at some soft boiled egg that she spilt on the table: Mum look. Fwog.

Me: Wow Leila, is the from jumping around in your egg?

Rahul walks into the kitchen, barely awake.

Leila: Rahul, look. Fwog. Egg.

Me: Hey Rahul, did you see the frog in Leila’s egg?

Leila: Fwog, water, jump ribbit ribbit.

A little later, still at the table that morning –

Rahul: Tomorrow xiao He ayi back. Some bady bump, went see doctor. Better now.

Me: Yes Rahul. She’s much better now, and she’s coming back tomorrow!

(He ayi, our dearly beloved nanny had a motorbike accident a week ago. A three-wheel-taxi driver bumped into her, watched her fall to the ground, and zoomed away.)

Still at breakfast-`

Leila: Banana mama

Me: Nana nana banana banana

L and R: Nana nana banana banana

L and R: nani nani chapatti chapatti

Me: Jiddo jiddo potato potato, teta teta batata batata

L and R: jiddo jiddo potato potato, teta teta batata batata

Rahul: Zazu Nanu, Zazu Nanu

Leila: Zazu D2, Zazu D2. D2 jiddo.

Me: D2 jiddo or Jiddo Kamal

Leila teasing: D2 Dubai

Rahul: Jiddo Kamal Dubai

Leila: Teta Houda Lebanon

One evening all of us in bed:

Me taling to Maher about something: D2 was talking to his girlfriend.

Leila: girl-fwend mama?

Me: Ummmmm, D2’s girlfriend Stephanie, do you remember her? She is his girlfriend.

Leila nodding her head: Member mum.

Me: Ummmmm Pasca is my girlfriend.

Leila: Leila mama dotter. Rahul mama son. Mama papa girlfwend. Liu yan Marwan girlfwend. Leila Rahul girlfwend.


The four of us together. Maher sings a song. I join in. After two years of “practicing”, I’m still out of tune!

Rahul says: Mama no sing!

My Little Lady Leila

I’ve never carried a purse that way. A purse?! Never worn pink, Winnie- the- Pooh high-heeled slippers that light up (flashing-red bling). I don’t own a flowery hat, or a flowery dress.

She’s two. Doesn’t dress like this every day only because she can’t have her way.

A Zimbabwean yoga teacher, MoT, sister who’s lived in the Middle East for several years claims to have figured it out, “It’s definitely her Lebanese genes!”

I remember the first time we went to Lebanon, she was 9 months old. Leila was mesmerized by an older woman on the plane, fixing her make-up. Wow! My insecurities came rushing up to the surface.

Another yogi friend looked me up and down today, looked at Leila styling, then said, “Yeah, of course she’s gonna be the girly girl. Just to, you know..?” and she winked at me.

She calls herself princess, and even tried to crown me. I resisted initially, I’ve never thought of myself that way. But hey, what’s the big deal if she wants me in her kingdom. Lucky me!

What Dat Mum?

“What Dat Mum?”

At lunch:
“What’s that Leila?” I repeat. “It’s a mushroom.”

Outside our apartment, near the elevators:
“That? It’s a tiny, scrunched up piece of paper that we can throw in the dustbin Rahul.”

After a bath:
“That’s a hairbrush. But those? I don’t know Leila, umm…they’re a part of the hair brush that look like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. I’ll have to check.”

(I have no idea where that came from?! “Like the spokes of a bicycle wheel,”) I doubt she can make use of that simile anyway, not that it works at all!)

So I googled “Hair brush parts”. What she asked about are the “bristles”. OK, even I knew that. At some point!


A couple of hours after we returned from Lebanon, Leila walked up to me as I was unpacking. She stood right in front of me, full of confidence.
“Where Maher?” she asked.

My eyebrows scrunched up, “He’s at work,” I replied.

She nodded, and returned to her toys.

They ask questions all the time, but it’s different now that they are using words.

I’m bracing myself for the “why’s” and the “how comes?”

Friends who know all about child development stages, mum’s who’ve been there, please tell me I still have time to study the parts and functioning of the world around us; before my children find me out for the sham I am. They’re 2 and 2 months. Is it days or months before I’m bombarded with even more questions?!

When did you children start asking questions? Any difficult ones?

Related articles:

When Preschoolers Ask Questions, They Want Explanations:

Why Children Ask “Why?”:

Blowing in the Wind

A week ago at the Koh Samui Airport; the four of us are rushing to our plane in an open air buggy.

Leila pushes me. She shouts, “WOW! Mum. Look’t Leila hair,” as she runs her fingers through her hair.

“Yes! Your hair is blowing in the wind.”

“Rawul awso,” she says, pointing at her brother’s hair.

She looks at Maher next, “Papa NOT.”

And then at me, “Mama Yes.”


Between the Lines

It’s 7am. Leila follows me into the bathroom. I notice her reflection in the mirror – fiddling with the drawers that store extra towels – as I brush my teeth. She’s not really interested in the drawer handles or contents.

She’s working on something else.

“Rawul did it!” she says over and over.

Every time she says his name, her lips take on a life of their own. She’s focused. It’s 4 or 5 more rehearsals before I stop her; ask what it is that he did.

She grins; laughs with gleaming eyes. Her cute as crazy cheeks look up at me. I cup them in my palms and kiss her.

I wonder if she’s imitating me, or if she came up with that line on her own. And to what end.

She says it again, intonating every syllable with assertion.

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.

Seiyan says “NO!”: A Guest Post by Alisha Nicole Apale

Welcome to the third in our series:  A Monday Morning Guest Post in Multicultural Mothering.

Alisha Nicole Apale: Started out in a small town. Grew up with people who have the opportunity to matter. Bought a plane ticket. Traveled far. Saw another side to the narrative of privilege I’d been grazing on for nearly two decades. Discarded old stereotypes. Got less comfortable with easy answers. Accepted doubt as a sign of authenticity. Still questioning the validity of the actions. Still forging ahead.

Alisha lives in Ottawa, Canada with her partner and one-and-a-half-year old daughter – we’re a Kenyan-Canadian-Dutch family. She grew up near Toronto and at 19, moved to Montreal for her undergrad at McGill University. She spent most of her young(er) adult life studying, living and working in various countries, including Thailand, India, Canada, Kenya and several European Union countries. She is also co-author of Generation NGO, a collection of short stories written by young Canadians working overseas in the development industry. (Catch more of Alisha’s stories at mamaseyian.)

Seiyan says “NO!”

“NO!”. She’s one and a half and she already speaks her mind. (Well done, mama, you reached one of your parenting goals!) The word surfaced about 3 weeks ago. I was caught off guard. Humoured. A bit miffed too.

“NO??” I thought to myself. “What do you mean NO?”

And then I remembered being 5, and 10, and even 17 years old. I remember the reactions I’ve had when saying no to my parents, teachers and others. NO was met with resistance, rejection and punishment. A good girl should do as she is told.

Looking at my daughter, I shrugged off the past, quickly realizing that this is just a word she’s picked up at daycare. She’s experimenting with it, much like any other word she learns. She’s searching my face, looking for my reaction. Will I scurry to bring her the object she has just named, praising her and reinforcing her new word – like when she said umbrella, or pumpkin, or hat? Will I start to laugh, or clap, or give her a big hug?

I’ve hesitated for too long. She wanders off. Delayed reactions never impress her. The moment is lost.

There I was, left to ponder the fact that Seyian has said no. It’s a word I have trouble with. I hate it when my partner says “No, I can’t do to the dishes tonight. I’m tired”. Or when my boss says “No, you can’t leave early. I’ll need that report right away”. Or, when a friend says “Sorry.. no, but I can’t meet you for coffee tonight”. Probably, like most people, at times I even avoid making a request altogether, just to avoid hearing no. But in doing so, I’ve started to think about all the opportunity that is lost when I set myself up for nothing but yes in life. Without no, I wouldn’t have learned how to negotiate, or how to defend my position or values, or how to be true to myself and respect my own and others’ needs or interests.

Seyians’s Koko (my mum-in-law) arrived last week. It’s the first time she has met Seyian – she lives in Nairobi and we live in Ottawa. It was a sweet reunion after far too much time apart. The day after her arrival, Koko offered Seyian a piece of fruit and Seyian let out a firm “NO!”. Flustered, I explained it away, saying she probably wasn’t hungry. I felt a bit embarrassed, worried Koko would think that I spoil my daughter, or let her ‘talk back’ to me.

Instead, Koko laughed proudly. I was confused. She looked at me and said, “This girl. She’s empowered. Already! And she’s not even two. She already knows what she wants. This is good”. With six kids of her own and a life-long career teaching elementary school, and advocating access to school for young girls in remote areas of Kenya, Koko knows a thing or two about the importance of negotiation and defending one’s values. For her, no isn’t a bad word, it’s a necessary word.

I’ll be honest. I’m not sure I’ll also be happy when Seyian says, “NO”. Let’s face it, no isn’t always such a convenient answer for mammas like me who are on-the-move, squeezing far too many activities into each 24 hour cycle: wake up, eat, bring baby to daycare, cycle to work, rush to meet a thousand deadlines, cycle back to daycare, pick up the baby, go home, prepare dinner, go to the park, return home, bathe the baby, put the baby to bed, clean the kitchen, shower, stretch, pay bills or catch up on email, head to bed… It’s just easier if everyone is compliant. But that’s not really how I want my daughter to be. So perhaps it’s better if I start to laugh proudly like Koko and welcome the word no into the repertoire of words my daughter will surely need in order to make her place in this world.

I Won’t Be Able To Write For Your Blog: A Guest Post by Pascaline

Pascaline: Born in Greece, I grew up in a bilingual French / Greek environment. I lived between Greece, Africa and France. My husband, I, French of Lebanese & Syrian origin is also multilingual: French/English/Arabic, and has lived in France, Africa and Canada. We are both what some people call “Third culture kids,” our parents being expats for most of our childhood. In 2008 when we decided to move to China we became expats ourselves.

In January 2011, I gave birth to a baby girl, N.

(I received the following in an email from Pascaline, a few days after she agreed to guest post on my blog. She agreed to let me publish it as her first contribution.)

I Won’t Be Able To Write For Your Blog

Yesterday, after we talked about your blog, I was thinking about the stories I could share: my decision to give birth in china, the differences between Chinese and Western paediatricians, and the choice of languages to speak with our 8 month old baby. French? Greek? English? Should we speak Chinese too?

Anyway, as soon as the baby went to sleep, I jumped on my computer to put down my thoughts. You know how it is, when you have tones of stuff on your mind, you just want to put them down randomly so as not to forget anything. And then later you try to put them in order.

Well, there I was, writing in any language. The words were coming up in French, English and even Greek because especially for feelings Greek comes naturally (maybe I should investigate that). Anyway, I had maybe a minute or two of focusing on my computer and then it started…

I: What are we having for dinner?

Me: It’s in the oven; go ahead, I’ll eat when I’m done with this.

A few minutes later (…)

I: Where is my charger?

Me: Don’t know.


I: Why is the baby’s bottle on the table?

Me: I’m going to put it away later. Please, I’m doing something. I need to focus. Don’t ask me stuff.


I: What are you writiiiiiiiing?

(No answer)

I: How much time do you need? I want to watch 2 and ½ men in bed.

Me:  Please. The baby is sleeping. It’s MY time. Give me some space.

I: Ah, OK.  But WHY am I the one to be punished?

(I didn’t answer)

A few seconds later…

I reading something on his Ipad: Oh, you’ve got to hear this…

Me, now pissed: NO, I don’t want to hear anything. I’m trying to do something here and you are interrupting me all the time.

My husband says something mean…

Staring at my screen, I realised that with all these interruptions, I had forgotten everything I wanted to write. I managed to write only a few words. I closed my computer. Sighed. Frustrated, I told my husband: “Ok, let’s go watch the stupid series.”

He jumped off the couch, smiling.

So, I just wanted to tell you that I would be very happy to write for your blog, but please be patient with me. When the baby sleeps, I have another kid to take care of!