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

Dear Dr. Seuss,

…Today’s like every other Chengdu day.

“Guys, should we go for a walk, around the block today?
Oh dear! It might rain, the clouds are so grey.
But hey, isn’t it like this here every day?”

Ten minutes into our walk, long, heavy drops landed.
R was asleep.
I peaked. We had the rain cover.

A few minutes later, many drops rushed down.
L was on the verge of sleep.
The plastic cover was that of the single stroller.

MacGyver and Bolt were summoned.
L fell asleep,
Just as the downpour turned into a drizzle.

Bob Dylan in Shanghai

A couple of Fridays ago we flew to Shanghai, hung out in a hotel room for a few hours, then took the crowded peak-hour metro to the Shanghai Grand stage. Bob Dylan was performing. The crowds in the subway on a Friday evening could overwhelm anyone. I don’t know how L and R made it without a problem and even enjoyed it. Not only that R fell asleep in his carrier. L was exhausted but in typical L fashion she rebelled sleep. The bright lights, masses of people, and noise were her co-conspirators.

We filed into the stadium/theatre all very excited. It was our first concert together. We waited in our seats as the rest of the place slowly filled up. The people around us were easy-going and cool. They made space for us with our two babies, two baby carriers, one back pack and diaper bag. We got many understanding and encouraging smiles.

While we waited, I wondered whether our families worries about taking one-and-a-half year olds to a full-on concert would actually confirm and result in a quick return. Would the loud music harm their sensitive little ear drums? Would they be overwhelmed by the sheer massive experience of thousands of people in a large space? And what about weed? I had assured everyone that if there was any difficulty for the children we would simply return to the hotel. No big deal really.

I wanted to do this. Maher suggested we go to the concert, but only if it wouldn’t be too much trouble. I knew this was a big deal for him, so trouble or not we would try. Maher’s main music idol as a child and probably always has been Bob Dylan. He often sang BD songs with his high school band. He introduced me to some of the songs and music over the last few years. M and his brother who was also somewhere in the audience with his girlfriend and mum share their admiration for the artist. They were happy there “together”.  All in all it was a special moment for us.

When the music started, Leila was one of few people in the entire stadium of many thousands to bounce in her seat. She smiled, danced and clapped her hands. In typical China concert style, everyone sat put in their seats and bobbed their heads from time to time. Rahul slept through the first twenty minutes. The loud music couldn’t have been that bad after all. When he stirred I wondered if he would be shocked by the context. He looked out towards the stage and clapped his hands! We laughed. What joy. One clapping the other dancing.

Never mind that BD is 70, his style was different yet again, and his voice even more raspy, we were happy to be there. He was criticized for accepting to give a set list of songs that he would perfprm to the Chinese authorities. He was not to sing “Blowin’ in the wind” and a few other pieces.  Apparently he doesn’t do them in concert anymore anyway. He is still on his “never-ending tour”, and we caught him in Shanghai. For Maher being there was an hommage to the artist he adores.  We took L and R to their first concert. It was BD. Only while we were at the concert did I realise that Maher’s first concert was a BD one. It was in Paris. His father took him when he was ten.

A little after Rahul woke up, L started to cry from exhaustion. I carried her to the back where a few people were dancing. She fell asleep in my arms as we danced. Maher carried Rahul over to join us. They both seemed happy listening and moving to the music. A man asked if we always took “the kids” to concerts, and said he wished that his parents had. We didn’t stay till the end; missed “Like a rolling stone”, and his usual show ending song “Forever young”. But we had our moment and won’t forget it.

Upsy Daisy…Upsy Daisy…

Leila loves Upsy Daisy, a character from her new favorite TV series In the night garden. She first used to call her”Dai”, then “Dai-dy” and now she says “Daisy” clearly. It is very sweet to hear. Lately she says it often.

Each episode of the show begins with a parent telling their baby a bedtime story. The story takes place in the night garden and is about Upsy Daisy, her friends Iggle Piggle, Macka Packa and others. Each character has unique phrases and songs, traits and some props that they use. Daisy has a bed that she can move around the garden. Sometimes her bed runs away and even hides. The show ends with everyone in the garden going to  sleep, including the baby.

Last week I bought stuffed doll versions of the three characters. L feeds Daisy milk from her bottle, changes her nappy, rocks her to sleep, and covers her with blankets. I once saw R offer Iggle Piggle his pacifier!

Last week on our flight back from Shanghai, despite Daisy’s comfortable sleeping space: a pillow and blanket at the foot of Houda’s seat, Leila insisted that Daisy sleep in the front of the plane where the air stewards hang out. Maher and Houda laid her down to sleep on the pillow. Leila stubbornly picked her up and took her to the front. She laid her down on the grey, dirty floor and patted her gently. The air stewards went from being entertained to irritated to annoyed.

As we were landing Leila fell asleep on my lap. She had determinedly moved Daisy between beds, about twenty times. We wondered whether to explain the story to the air stewards or not, the one about Daisy’s mobile bed that has a mind of its own.

My not so controlled, not so scientific experiment.

Our sleeping arrangement is as consistent as everything else is with me lately. L and R share a room and have a crib each. For the beginning of every night they are in their room. Some parts of some nights we have one of them in our bed, and sometimes much more rarely both. Having them sleep in our bed is a recent phenomenon. When we went to Koh Samui in February, the two cribs and our big bed all in one room rendered much better sleep than in the past.

A few weeks ago I was trying to see what the nights would be like in the different cases mentioned above. In general the child who is between us sleeps better than when in his [I use his in this post to mean either child] own bed alone, at least for longer periods of time, and a hug or gentle tap on the belly usually gets him back to sleep in minimal time. When I was experimenting with this, I switched the child in our bed each night for about a week to ten days. That one was sleeping better than the other. The one who stayed in his own bed pulled the other one’s hair many times the next morning.

When I had them both in our bed, if either woke up before morning he would cry, fuss, push and even roll over the other one to make sure I took care of him. This happened only when he noticed his sibling was also in the bed. So both ended up awake. That meant that Maher and I were up too. This segment of the experiment lasted two days. I was ready to have them back in their own beds unless necessary, and Maher had a talk with me about this too!

In order to maintain a few hours of sleep and some sanity for myself, especially in the case of simultaneous wakings our nights are a combination of the above situations. We spend a part of the night alone, part with one and sometimes the rest of the night with the other.

The last two nights R and L had a fever and runny noses. They both vomited. L on the first day, R the second. It seems to be a flu. Of course if one has it, the other one is likely to follow. Usually there is a lag of a day or two, but this time, it was simultaneous and intense. Neither accepted to be alone in their own bed. This meant when one woke up and saw the other in our bed, there was the crying, fussing, pushing, and rolling over. All four of us were up, and both children were burning with fever, crying and asking for “mama, mama.” One would climb onto me and push the other out of the way, then a minute later it was the other way around. Maher and I looked at each other, stuck. I laughed awkwardly as we tried to react to the situation.

The guilt that comes with having to choose one child over the other at the spur of a moment eased up a lot as my confidence developed, as our bond grew, since they became more independent (as in could walk and climb up and mainly down from places on their own, eat and drink on their own, etc), and now that their favorite word is “baba” and they tail him all day long. But it comes back, and I guess it always will. Now that they can express what and who they want, it is more painful.

Tonight is better. L is in her own bed and hasn’t had any fever all night. Rahul is getting there slowly,

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 ( ). Others complained about the silly questions ( 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 ( 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.”

5 to 6 am – funny hour

My night shift ends at 6 am when Maher’s begins. If there is a waking after 5 I catch myself asking Maher what time it is, hoping it’s 6 so I don’t have to get out of bed anymore. The last two mornings it was 5:45. We had to laugh because he gets to turn over and keep sleeping!