The incident with the bus floor.

Way long ago, when we left Vancouver and traveled to Kelowna, we took the Greyhound Bus, about a five-and-a-half-hour journey, because our van was parked in Kelowna and we were picking it up there. It was the best option all around, and I thought the Greyhound would be a breeze. After all, we’ve been traveling all over Asia on trains and buses, buses are our normal mode of transport. Right?

It was inordinately difficult. Why is this so hard? I thought to myself as we tried to coordinate shuttling our many bags (including a guitar and a banjo) to the station. Once the bags were on the sidewalk, Chinua drove back to my brother and sister-in-law's house to get the kids and I stared at the bags and suit and at the stroller that Isaac was sitting in. I rigged a way of pulling a suitcase and pushing a stroller at the same time and proceeded to push/pull all our things in a few trips, asking people to watch our stuff as I went. (At one point, the very last person I would have asked to watch my stuff happily volunteered, sitting close to my things so I could rest at ease. He was probably a delightful person, but perhaps living in a different dimension, and it wasn't very reassuring.)

Long story short, we missed the bus because of a fender bender that didn’t bend any fenders but required the exchange of information, brought all of our things in taxis back to my brother’s house, and waited for our next bus. By the way, the answer to why is it so hard to take the bus in Canada (or the U.S.)? is: lack of porters and other help. I couldn’t even get a trolley. We breeze through Asia (“breeze” being subject to interpretation) because we have lots of help and ways to get our things around: In India, porters wearing red pile our things on their heads and run through the station, in Thailand there are trolleys and porters and helpful bus drivers close to where we can park.

Finally, finally we were ready to board the evening bus, but while I had been ready for the day bus, with nice bagged lunches for everyone, I didn’t have any food for dinner. I planned to go a takeaway sushi place that I had seen earlier at the station, but when we arrived, it was closed. That meant that we had twenty minutes to find food for our children before boarding a bus with hungry kids and driving for five and a half hours. I ran across the street to the only place I could see that would get food ready fast enough: McDonald’s. Oh, yuck. But making life work often requires exceptions, so off I went.

I returned with two large paper bags filled with food, one filled with fries, the other with burgers for the meat-eaters and wraps for the vegetarians. The kids managed to eat a few bites before it was time to get on the bus, and then we boarded the bus. I was carrying the two paper bags, another bag with food, my big everything-bag, and my toddler. Kenya was right behind me as we climbed the extremely narrow stairs. 

I was busy trying to guide Isaac up the stairs ahead of me, squeezing into the narrow opening when it happened: I heard a gigantic riiiiiiiip, as both bags tore open from top to bottom. I immediately collapsed on the floor to keep everything from flying out of the bags, my free arm curled protectively around our fries. And there I was. I couldn’t move. I was sitting/lying on the stairs at the entrance to the bus, my head already into the aisle so that I could see the fifty people in fifteen rows who were staring at me. 

“Chinua?” I called with a faint voice. He was at the very back of the bus, distributing our carry ons in the upper storage. “I could use some help, rather desperately.” 

“Just a second!” he called.

Behind me, people were waiting to board the bus, but my sprawled body was preventing them. I have lost all dignity, I told myself. I tried to smile at the man in a suit who was standing directly behind Kenya, outside the bus, but I’m afraid it looked more like a grimace of pain. Isaac played with the buttons on the bus console. The bus driver came to the door from where he had been loading bags, to see what the hold up was. “What’s… oh.” he said, as he saw me there.

 Eventually, after I had been lying in the aisle for a few minutes, Chinua made his way to me and with the help of a woman who offered an extra grocery bag, we saved the food and I picked my dusty, greasy, embarrassed, barely-a-grownup self off the floor and we made our way to our seats. I felt rather triumphant. I saved our food! And I wondered yet again why this stuff happens. Every other person boarded the bus without lying on the floor. Why not me?

Dear Solo,

The other day you came with your dad and I, to Chiang Mai, all by yourself. It takes three hours to get there, on a very curvy road. We had rented a car so we could get to the city and back on the same day, and we left really early in the morning so we could get there in time for your appointment at the consulate for your new passport, which is expiring soon. (This means that you are very, very old. Nearly six years old!)

You were an angel. We were rather surprised by how quiet our day was. You read in the car, slept a bit, hummed to yourself, talked with us a little about the radio show we were listening to. Your dad and I had long, uninterrupted talks while you watched the passing trees through the window. In Chiang Mai you sat at the consulate quietly, we talked a bit while we waited. You stood and looked at the man when he was checking that the baby on your first passport was really you. (Hard to tell, really. It looks like a photo of Isaac.) You held our hands on the way back to the car. When we asked you what you wanted for lunch, you said “pizza,” so you and I got pizza while your dad looked for a salad. 

We painted your gloves on, but they started to melt off, all over you!

We painted your gloves on, but they started to melt off, all over you!

Of course you were still you, delightful, curious, stormy, stubborn, surprising you. When I asked you questions to draw you out, you gave me a “how dare you speak to me,” look. I reverted to one of my oldest tricks, talking casually about something I know you’re interested in, and waiting for you to join my one-sided conversation. It worked and you told me all about a video you had seen for making oobleck out of potato starch, starting with raw potatoes. (Couldn’t we just buy potato starch? I thought.) 

But you were a milder, more thoughtful you. This has been creeping up on us as you morph into the little boy you are. (And it’s hard to call you little when you look like an eight-year-old. I constantly have to remind myself that you’re still only five, you are nearly as tall as Leafy.) 

You are the best at Memory.

You are the best at Memory.

It told me a little bit about how hard it is to be you sometimes, the fourth kid, with the personality of someone who loves to teach, to offer knowledge, to instruct, and to have older brothers and sisters who often say, “I KNOW,” when you try to tell them something. I’m always trying to help them understand that they need to build your confidence by listening to you, but they forget.

They should listen to you more, because the world needs a kid who figures things out for himself, who loves to teach himself how to do absolutely. everything. Who came to me and said, “food is crunchy because the molecules are closer together!” and it was a discovery with enough joy that it could have been the discovery of a new planet. The world needs someone exactly like you, Solo, someone who thinks the way you do and is fiery like you, someone who draws so beautifully and loves people the way you do. 

Over the last couple of years you have had no patience for neighbors who just want to say hello or shoot the breeze. You used to be the chattiest of small talkers, without even so many words. Now it’s a waste of time to you, and no amount of trying to talk you into it will change things. (I know you’ll eventually come around, the way the other kids did.) But you are the first to make a friend when you meet a kid, pouncing on them with all your sharing abilities, telling them all about something you’ve done or seen or made. You practice headstands, you play with numbers in your head. (“Eight take away two is six!” you’ll announce out of the blue as you stand on your head against the wall.) You climb on things, you skip and jump around instead of walking. You get terribly angry when you feel ganged up on. You take really good care of Isaac. You’ve become excellent with Wookie. You adore your father, right now. (I’m kind of a runner up, these days. It’s okay, you had your years and years of shadowing my every move.) You’re a budding geologist, always finding the coolest rocks, always looking for geodes. 

You remind me often of India, the country where you were born, with your highs and lows, the way you can look as though the sun has come out radiantly, or as though we’d better head for cover. And like with that beautiful, maddening country I love, I am entranced by you, my son. You are so purely you, refusing to be anyone else at all. 

It’s wonderful.

Love, Mama

 

(Credit goes to Chinua for many of these photos.)

Any reason is a good reason to celebrate!

My kids have invented a new holiday. The other day they told me about the holiday in the morning, we talked about it all day, and when I brought pizza home for dinner, they said, "Yay! Pizza for celebrating Sun One Jun!" That's our new holiday. Sun One Jun. "We should get pizza for every Sun One Jun," Leafy told me, which I'm not sure if I'll remember, because the next Sun One Jun doesn't happen for another eleven years. 

It seems that Leafy looked at the computer in the morning and noticed that in the top right hand corner it said Sun 1 Jun, or Sunday, the 1st of June, since it abbreviated June--which doesn't strike me as a month that needs abbreviation, but I digress--and was thoroughly tickled by this. This would tickle Leafy, he is a little word play addict, constantly working on rhyming things or making word matches in his head. And although it was Leafy's idea, the other kids supported him in his Sun One Jun bliss, wondering what exactly they could get for Sun One Jun. Could they get ice cream? (Didn't happen.) A break from school? (Well, yes, but not for that reason.) Pizza? (Yes.) 

And where will we be when we are eating pizza in 2025 for Sun One Jun? I have no idea, but I do know that Kai will be twenty-two years old and Isaac will be twelve. Leafy himself will be nineteen and I'll call my tall, broad-shouldered man boy up and remind him that he needs to take his mother out for pizza, it's Sun One Jun.

If we get a hankering for a holiday before that, well, next year is Mon One Jun. 

 

A better container.

I had a birthday on the weekend and I spent some time thinking, as I always do, about the last year and the coming year. Fater a birthday call with my sister first and then my brother, sister-in-law, niece, and parents, I walked away from the computer with that feeling that only comes with the bigger holidays— happiness for a good Skype call and a deep sadness at missing them for so long. 

Then I folded that sadness right up and put it under my necklace, next to my collarbone, and went to bake some cakes. I’ve become very good at holding a lot of sadness I thought. But I don’t think I’m very good at joy.  

It’s true. I can live with sadness well, I’ve learned how to grit my teeth and keep making food through hormonal lows and anxiety. To be faithful. But happiness? How do you do that? And I think God wants me to be happy. I don’t mean that God wants me to do whatever I want in the name of happiness (I need to write a book called Wash, Bow, Love) but that he is sometimes waiting for me to open my heart and know that I am allowed to feel happy. I don’t have to scrap around for reasons I shouldn’t be happy. I can look at that sunlight and know that dinner is going to be good and we’re at peace and we might even have some fun.

So here it is- this year- Happiness! Joy. Peace. Lightheartedness. Cheerfulness. A good sense of humor. 

I’m making playful art. 

I’m playing more board games with my kids.

And I’m taking selfies. I’ve been a bit of a snob about selfies, like why do you need so many pictures of yourself? Preferring to be behind the camera. But what I see when I look around the internets and find friends who have a lot of photos of themselves is that they are being joyful. Or at least saying, “Let’s be happy for this photo right now,” and of course, doing something happy leads to being happy. Dear friends, if you are struggling with a deep depression I am not advising you to “act happy,” this is not for you. But for me, I am coming out from under the postpartum cloud (I just weaned Isaac) and I am in the habit of containing sorrow. I want to be a container for joy. I like the way self portraits say, “I was here and maybe this other person was here too and we were being silly and I don't care about eye wrinkles or my wolf tooth, I'll show it all off and it was just another day but we will remember it.” 

This is the year for it. I know it. I'm pretty sure that it’s going to be an amazing year (almost as if God is just pouring the blessings on right now), and I have a book nearly ready to publish and I’m painting, and money is not something I should worry about, and my husband is going to get better and my preteens are lovely, my toddler is adorable and my middle boys still cuddle me. We’re holding meditations and gardening at Shekina. Friends are coming, friends are here, the rain has come back and the sky can sometimes be so, so blue. 


He's not allowed to go behind the house anymore.

The other day, Kai was working on his math in the computer room when he heard a loud mewing sound. He walked outside, and sure enough, there was a kitten waiting to be adopted and also to adopt us and follow us everywhere and decide to move in with us.

The only thing is that Chinua and I are very allergic to cats, so we can't have a cat. Can't have one, end of story.

But I also can't turn a hungry baby animal away, so we fed the cat and started making calls to see if anyone wanted a kitten in this town which is overly populated with stray animals. No one did. We put the kitten to bed in our studio (the little room we rent behind the kitchen) and hoped for something the next day. I said, "What's with all the baby animals all the time?"

The next afternoon, my landlady came over. Her sister had told her about the kitten and that I wanted to know if she wanted it. "You can't have a cat," my landlady said. "Because you have a baby."

"I don't want a cat," I said. "But wait, what?"

It's a thing here, I guess. You can't have a cat if you have a baby. Sometimes I wonder if people think I showed up here newly born with all these kids and no idea of how to take care of a baby. I need a lot of help! I may look like I have had babies before, but actually, all these children appeared here on this planet two days ago with me, and I don't know how to take care of a baby!

But my landlady means well. And I don't want a cat, so I just agreed and held it out to her. And she took it! (It was the friendliest little kitten ever. She'll make a great pet.)

Whew. I breathed a sigh of relief. Mission accomplished.

Until today, when Kai (once again, Kai) went outside and heard a puppy crying behind our house. A PUPPY!

Photo by Kai

Photo by Kai

What is happening? More baby animals? Baby animals kill me, because I look at this puppy with its wobbly legs that barely hold him up and I see a canine version of Isaac. It smites me. The puppy is now sleeping in the studio with a nice full tummy.

They say that after a long time away, the days just before a daddy comes home are hard. They don't usually say that animals start falling out of the sky. At least, they haven't said that anywhere when I've been nearby.

You get used to being told what to do.

The day after I gave birth to Isaac, I got a surprise visit in the hospital. Just minutes before, I had finally taken a shower and cleaned up. I had new, clean hospital clothes on. I was all fresh, and just then the door opened--  it was my landlord and landlady, from three hours away, in Pai.

"Hello!" I said. Surprised would be an understatement. I was shocked out of my socks. I had been meaning to call them to let them know why we were taking so long in getting back (remember, we were in Chiang Mai for two weeks) but kept putting it off. In my mind, we were still in a tenant/landlord relationship, so it wasn't really necessary, because we had paid the rent ahead of time and nothing was wrong with the house.

What I learned was that our relationship had moved on, into something more like family. Khun Ampa, my landlady, was so worried about me (and couldn't reach me by phone since she'd lost my phone number) that she told Khun Thanom that they needed to drive to Chiang Mai to find me. I had told them the hospital I was giving birth at, and just minutes before they had gone to the nurses station and asked for me. Which is why they were now coming into the room.

Chinua, my parents, and the kids hadn't come yet that day, so I sat with Ampa and Thanom and we chatted. We exhausted every topic we could think of in our limited Thai and English combination, and we sat. It was a true Asian visit, which is not short, and neither should it be, considering their long drive from Pai!

At one point Ampa decided that she really wanted to buy me some milk, so she left with Thanom and a while later they came back with about sixteen milk boxes (like juice boxes, but with UHT milk) and some Thai sweets. (This was not the last time Thai women bought me milk. I ended up with many, many boxes of milk. I have to believe it is a Thai thing, to feed a nursing woman milk. Unfortunately, I'm not drinking milk, since all my kids have had a sensitivity to me drinking dairy when they are breastfeeding. My older kids have had a lot of milk boxes, all except Solo, who turns his nose up at UHT milk.)

Eventually the nurses wanted to move me up to the recovery floor and Thanom and Ampa packed my stuff together and walked to the elevator with me so we could go to the fourteenth floor. They chatted with the nurses about me and I followed along as much as I could, the only non-fluent Thai speaker in the room. While I was changing Isaac's diaper, he peed and it sprayed over his head and onto Ampa and Thanom, which set off hilarity among my landlords and the nurses. When Chinua and the others showed up a little later, Thanom and Ampa and I were all still sitting and watching Isaac. All in all, they stayed and soaked in our newborn with us for about four hours.

*

Just a couple hours earlier, the head of the nursery had come to meet me. She told me everyone in the nursery loved my baby and he was so cute. At the moment I was trying to get him to wake up a bit-- he had fallen asleep while he was nursing-- but she wanted to clean his cord, so she took him. He turned his head to the side and rooted a bit (as they do) and she told me, "Mama, your baby is hungry! Let me see his latch." And she watched him latch on. (Remember, this is my fifth baby, something that makes me feel that I don't need help with nursing, but sure.) "His latch is okay," she said, being a bit too dismissive of his superpowers for my taste. "Could be better, you want his mouth wider." She unlatched him, because obviously I needed that. "Let me see how your milk is coming." And she reached in and gave me a squeeze and whizzz!! Milk and colustrum shot almost to the end of the bed!

She apparently had her own superpowers.

*

The morning after we reached Pai, just a few days after Isaac was born, a few neighbors came around to have a look at the baby. Ampa was there, and she and the neighbors chatted about me. I can catch bits and pieces, but I don't know all the words. They talk quickly-- I can tell that they are comparing Thai mothers to foreign mothers, but some things elude me.

One of the neighbors was holding the baby and at one point Ampa surprised me by reaching over and pushing hard on my stomach, like she was trying to push it in. I was mildly embarrassed.

"It's just because he's so new," I said. "It will go back in a month or so."

But then she did it a few more times over the next weeks, and I found out, with some research, that Southeast Asian women bind their bellies for the first forty days after birth. It helps support the uterus, causes the contractions needed to fully get it back to shape, and holds the stomach muscles in after they've been so stretched. I didn't get the memo. It's too bad, because Ampa is fairly distraught about the state of my belly. She and other women still eye my tummy whenever they're around. I know they wish they could get their hands on a piece of cloth and just wrap me up.

We really do follow a path, leaping from stone to stone.

Thailand House-10

I often reflect on the ways that certain times of my life have so well prepared me for other times, and I've been thinking about it today again, feeling thankful. A part of my brain registers this would be difficult if you weren't already used to it, when I'm going about very normal, but strange, business in this global life.

For example, before we lived in India, we lived in a community on land in Northern California. The first three years of writing at Journey Mama were capturing life in that place in the forest.

(Sidenote: I'll be publishing a compilation of the best of these writings very soon. I was inspired to do so by several people who told me that they read through all of the archives here, and I thought, All that clicking! I should really collect these thousands of words in an easier format. The title of the book is Trees Tall as Mountains, and I hope to show you the cover soon.)

At the Land we had frequent power outages and sometimes we had no water, or we had to be careful of our water (spring-fed) because something funky was in it.

Later, dealing with daily power outs and lack of water in India, I was glad that I had been well trained in the art of being inconvenienced.

In Goa, I often felt like I lived in a fishbowl, because our house was in the middle of a busy fishing village, with people in every direction. I'm glad for all those moments of being stared at, now that we live in this old (gorgeous) house. We live on a oft-traveled street in a two story house. The only stairs to go up or down are on the very front of the outside of the house. There are no indoor stairs. Not only that, but the kitchen is outside, and I have to cross the little courtyard/driveway to get to it. It doesn't have walls, only bamboo which goes about three quarters of the way up on one side, and it is also right on the street.

I can't get from one part of the house to another without seeing people. I walk downstairs and make eye contact, regularly, with passing strangers. I walk to the kitchen and have a conversation with a tourist from Bangkok who wants to know about my kids. I was charmed the other day when a village woman who had seen me once, pregnant, passing on the street, made a beeline to Isaac and I, wanting to know about the birth. (In Thailand, one of the first questions people ask is how you did it. C-section? Or naturally? I think it is an old/new thing. The older generation of women all had babies naturally, but the C-section rate is 90% or something now, so older women especially like to know.)

One man in the neighborhood (He's maybe in his late fifties, and I think he is from Germany, though I haven't asked him) has engaged me in conversation a few times about how much rent we pay for this house. He talks about it loudly, on the street. This makes me very uncomfortable as talk about money= arghh embarrassing, and my neighbors are listening. Sometimes he whistles to get my attention and smiles kindly as he walks by, if I'm cooking in the kitchen.

I was in 7-11 the other day (do you know about Thailand and the ubiquitous 7-11?) and he was in there too, and he smiled at me as I passed him to get my milk. I was just thinking, man, that guy is getting annoying, when he left the store. I was standing in line, waiting to pay, when he popped his head back in the store to talk to me. He had apparently been weighing himself on the one baht scale outside the store. (It plays a little song when you're finished, so everyone around can see that you've been weighing yourself.) "I lost 10 kilos!" he called into the store. "In six months!" And he lifted his fists like someone who's been handed an olympic medal.

I laughed, and then I didn't find him annoying anymore, because quirky oversharing about weight in a public place?= awesome. He went radically up in quirk points. I think we're BFF's now.

Yes, so many things, so many frustrating, wonderful things, have prepared me so well for this public, friendly life I'm now living. I'm glad for all those times in India that I felt like I was living in a fishbowl. They helped prepare me for a time when my kitchen wouldn't have walls and my lower floor would be entirely made of windows.

Random

We're running out for a day away. I'll be back soon with Wednesday and Thursday from Week in the Life.

For now, some random thoughts:

1. People often try to chum up to Solo by asking him questions. They think he's older than he is (Edj- he's turning three this month) and assume that he'll have intelligible responses. They're only partially right.

"What's your name?"

"Sommen."

"What?"

"SOMMEN."

"... Where are you from?"

"De India."

(Puzzled glances at the rest of us.)

"Where are you really from?"

"DE INDIA."

"How old are you?"

"Seven."

And then they give up.

2. If it wasn't for the horrid s*x trade here, I would think that Bangkok was the best city I've ever been to. Indeed, since there's a lot more to Bangkok than that, I AM inclined to think it's my favorite city. Urban and rural in ways (when you go down the little canals, you wouldn't believe you're in a city) with great transportation (the skytrain has changed everything, and river taxis are a dream) and lively people. Everywhere I go, something is happening. Middle aged ladies are doing aerobics in the park. There are dancers on a big stage. A group of kids is inexplicably dressed up like Anime characters. Another group of kids is doing insane yo-yo tricks on the side of the street. (Not for money, just getting together.)

People here seem to be weathering digital technology without losing togetherness. I see people texting and tweeting, lots of urban kids and people seem to have iPhones, but at the mall, highschool students in their uniforms are doing their homework together on tables in the food court.

I love it when a city feels alive.

3. One retro fashion trend that I CANNOT condone, (cannot, will not) is the return of the frumpy small flower print early nineties dress. No no no. It was bad then and it's bad now! Trust me, kids! Yesterday I saw a fifteen year old, obviously hip with her hip friends, sporting one and I wanted to cry out to her to cease and save herself from the humiliation.

Obviously I still have issues with the dresses I wore in the early nineties. But please, it was horrible. Don't make us revisit it!

4. There is a taboo about touching heads in Thailand. I've noticed that it doesn't seem to apply to children. That's putting it mildly. I took some video the other day, of a group of people swarming my kids to touch their hair and heads, lifting their dreadlocks and touching the roots and trying to spring Solo's curls.

Anybody? Are kids exempt from the head taboo?

They do remarkably well with it. Leafy runs away, but YaYa is patient and Solo is either sunny and delightful or crazy. The way he always is.

Snippets in Photos and Captions: Part Two

 

On days when it looks like this, I feel like nourishment goes straight to my bones.

These are a couple of cuties that I happened upon in the park. The boy on the right of the photo broke his arm falling out of a tree. The boy on the left of the photo has his ear pierced in a way that I wasn't allowed to until I was fourteen! (BTW, YaYa does not have her ears pierced. I'm saving it for a special grown-up ten or something like that. She hasn't asked, anyway.)

Volleyball in the park. These guys are really good! We love to sit and watch them.

Solo says hello to a dog as we leave the park.

Our neighbors always do laundry right after it rains, with the rain-water from their roof.

Here's a cool house I saw when we were on the road to Chitwan National Park. Built in the old style. 

Homemade soccer pitch. With water buffalo!

Kid A deftly crossing a wooden bridge. Trying to pass on the left. His pants are covered in grass seeds, the kind that get in your clothes and don't come out. I have no idea what to do about them, except pick them out one by one, which is insanity.

Water buffalo bliss. You can smell the happiness.

Trying to take shots from a moving vehicle doesn't work very well, but still I try.

Goats in the road!

Another road picture. These are the earth huts of the Tharu people. Really lovely.

This lady on the bus has a chicken in her bag! (Chinua's photo.)

Drawing time at home. (I love Claudia's art case, designed by a friend of ours.)

We took this photo to wish my parents a happy anniversary. I love these kids.

I came into the kitchen one day and was confronted by this carnage. What happened here?

This is the shop where I buy my milk in the morning. The woman whose head is peeking over the bread is the mother of the man who owns the shop with his wife. They are the sweetest couple. They have a tiny baby who cries when I try to hold her.

Out for lunch at the sandwich shop. Good lassis, good sandwiches.

Hello. I am handsome, kind, whimsical, and quirky. Also growing at the speed of light.

And I? Am handsome, full of life, and slightly insane. If you give me a choice between disagreeing and agreeing, I will always disagree! Because contradiction is fun! It's the most fun there is! Try it sometime, and see.

No idea what is going on here. I love that sunny smile of Kid A's, though.

And last but not least, here is Claudia, trying to catch some zzzz's in the park, on a hot day.

  

 

A little bonus for you.

(A friend of mine used to say that, about candy bars or prayers or a nice gas price.)

I am very busy today. VERY busy. My friend is hosting a Yeshu Kirtan tonight at her house and I will be there with bells on, singing my heart out. I'm making rajma and masoor dahl and rice.

But I just couldn't help myself. I had to put these up because they are my favorite silliness on the Internet right now. (You may have seen them, but hopefully it's new for some of you.)

Double Rainbow guy. (Very familiar. I feel like I know him.)



And the extremely awesome subsequent Double Rainbow Song, which Chinua and I listened to no less than four times yesterday, and which he put on and danced around the living room with me to, when I was tearful and sad. (It did the trick.)



So intense!

My, my, up and down it goes

Today was an up/down/up/down kind of day.  I believe that this what they call a roller coaster. (I've heard of roller coasters; I think they exist in that mythical land called The WEST.)

First I had some highly skilled parenting moments in which I had the following conversation:

Me: "Kid A, will you please water the garden for me?  We need to go and meet Claudia at the beach and I'm running late."

Kid A: "I can't.  I'm too tired, and I don't want to."

Me: "Fine then!  Just wait until the next time you want help!  I'm not going to help you!"

Kid A: "What?"  (Genuinely baffled.)

Your welcome for the stellar example of boundary setting, including a nice wallop of impossible consequences. No help for you, kiddo!  That's what you get for being so unhelpful!  Of course, I blame my lapse on the fact that I sometimes turn into a nine-year-old, without warning. It's not my fault!

But then the kids and I made it out and met my friend for breakfast on the beach.  She was leaving today to go traveling to other places in India (with Renee! Ack, Renee-less and Claudia-less!  Double blow!) and we had coffee and peered at the ocean in the distance and tried to tell each other how much we mean to one another. (That was an awkward sentence, that.)

The kids played, and Solo tackled the other babies, just like I've trained him to.  I've tried to warn him, though.  Go for the toddlers that have elder brothers and sisters!  Because those first-time parents can be lethally protective.  To his credit, he doesn't mean to attack the toddlers.  He just gives really big hugs and then if you start pulling him away because the other kid is shrieking, he kicks at them, for good measure. Sigh.

A man yelled at me for getting in his way in traffic.  I cried.

Then we ate grapes and cheese and bread and I had a blissful hour of doing embroidery work on a skirt I was making for Claudia while listening to This American Life.  I think it may be my favorite way to spend an afternoon.

Tree on skirt-1

Then Solo pulled a mayonnaise jar off of the counter and it shattered on the floor.  Let me tell you, my friends, that you haven't experienced the true bliss of life until you've combed your fingers through gelatin-like mayonnaise on a marble floor, pulling pieces of glass out. There is nothing to equal the greasiness, the potential danger, the pure fatty sharpness of it.

And then it was time to say goodbye at the taxi.  Big hugs and kisses and Claudia and Renee spun off, a little late, to catch their train. I love my friends.  I will miss them.

Back to the house and while I was making dinner, Solo broke my favorite coffee cup, which was nice because I loved it and I didn't want it anyways!  Stupid coffee cup!  So smooth in the hand, so brown, so perfectly sized and shaped.  I'm glad I'm rid of it!

But around the dinner table I was filled with this warm rush of love for all their crazy selves.  I love this family.  I love these kids.  I even love these kinds of days, when Solo makes me crazy, and then runs into the room, teeth first in that way he has, just to throw his arms around my legs and try to kiss my knee cap. I love that he lets me pinch his cheeks (gently and ceaselessly) and I love the conversation that never stops swelling and ebbing all around me. I love goodbyes sometimes, because we try to say what we feel shy to say at other times.

Also, I love Ira Glass and my blooming bougainvillea and going to the vegetable stand to find the perfect purple cabbage. Life, in other words.  God and His eternal goodness.

We all crowded in

It was Kid A's first barber shop haircut.

His Superstar dad usually cuts his hair, but I grew impatient and his hair was getting to that point where it gathers lint and makes my life unnecessarily difficult.

So off we went to the village barber.  There was a drunk man outside of the barber shop, which made me feel like I was in a novel.

Maybe I am.

KidAhaircut-1864

Kid A had the best flinchy faces the whole time.  Like the barber was pulling his hair out instead of using a pair of scissors.

KidAhaircut-1881

The excitement was almost too much.  We were all in awe of the coolness of the barbershop.

KidAhaircut-1899

And the coolness of the large face brush.  I would like one, please, for home.  Just for those moments when you want to run some soft bristles over your face, you know?

KidAhaircut-1889

You may be surprised that we stuck with the original plan of getting Kid A a haircut, and didn't get a massage at the Body,Face Massage counter. What the photo doesn't show is that this is the door to a room that was approximately 1 inch x 2 inches.

KidAhaircut-1886

I also declined a cold wax.

KidAhaircut-1894

Though it was tempting.

Somebody really oughta get a scanna

Because someone's husband spent an hour fixing the bad quality photograph she took of this doodle.



Rae\'s todo list

Which turns it into a labor of love.

Of course, I didn't get all of the things on my list done.  But I did do several things that weren't on the list (like school and writing and diaper changing and talking to my neighbors and bandaging owies and pulling the clothes on the line in and out of the house because of rain) and now I am summoning my most adventurous self for this trip to Delhi.

(If you want to take a closer look at the drawing, you can click on it and then click "All Sizes" on the Flickr page-- top left hand corner of the image.)

Sometimes scissors are too much of a temptation.

1. We are going on a little adventure tomorrow.  I'm ready for a way out of here for a few days.  It's true that we live in India, (which is adventurous) but it's also true that we rarely venture beyond walking distance, and if that, only to buy paper, go to the tailor, or get some cough drops.  (Though sometimes we drop in at the local Korean restaurant.)

Tomorrow our jeep will pick us up at the nearby road.  We will walk along the stony path, down the stairs, by the creekbed, and up the hill, and then off we go in the jeep to Manali.  I think the journey takes 7 hours, but I don't think that's calculated for children.

2. It was quiet, today, in the Stage Carriage, until Cate asked if I had heard that Michael Jackson died.  She was sitting in front of me, beside a Tibetan woman wearing the traditional chupa.  The Stage Carriage is a jeep for public transportation.  It has three bench seats, and doesn't drive for anything less than four people per row.  It's a cozy ride, to say the least.  (And it's really called a Stage Carriage.)  For 10 rupees, you can hop in the Stage Carriage in McLeod Ganj and ride to Lower Dharamsala, where you can find a tailor to make you yet more children's clothes which your children will grow out of in six months.

Anyways. Suddenly the jeep was alive with discussion.  The Tibetan woman beside Cate shook her head.  "It's because he was trying to make himself whiter," she said.  A Polish Buddhist nun in maroon robes was sitting next to me.  "His music was so so beautiful.  Did you like him?"

"I liked his music very much," I said.  "But I think his story is very sad.  He got too famous, too young."

"Yes," the Polish Buddhist nun continued, "he gave all of himself away, and had nothing left for him."

Cate was still talking with the Tibetan lady up front.  "Yes, he was very young, it's very sad," she said.

"Everyone, everywhere, is sad," said the Tibetan lady.

"And did you ever see his dvds?  He was such a great dancer," added the Buddhist nun.

And I shook my head.  Reminiscing about Michael Jackson in India in the Stage Carriage with these two ladies was almost too much for my grip on reality to handle.

I popped over to my friend Carrien's blog to see if she had written about one special afternoon, many years ago, when we sat outside Michael Jackson's gate on top of our van, singing worship songs with gusto. (She had.)  My best friend Dori had such a strong sympathy for him, and she desperately wanted to try to tell him that God loved him.  We weren't allowed in, so the four of us sang with the rolling hills of Los Olivos swelling all around us. Dori also wrote him a letter.  I do hope it was delivered.

3. I should have known better.

Sometimes when your husband is away and you are tired and not getting a lot of sleep and you live somewhere far from where you have lived before, you might have a small crisis and cut your hair.

But the good news is, you only cut off the bottom half.  You emerge from the bathroom with a handful of dreadlocks that have been with you for almost seven years.  Your neck is much cooler, but you need it cleaned up, made the same length, so you head to the barber.

You should have known better.

Barber 3.jpg

What part of "I just want it tidied up" sounds like "Go ahead and shave it."

Barber 2.jpg

Barber 1.jpg

I couldn't really find a good after pic, probably because it only looks different from the very back.

I should have known better, but at least I can say I've been to an Indian barber.  And it's SO much cooler.

After pic.jpg

(First 3 pics taken by Becca, and the last one was taken by Chinua)

What was *in* those bottles?

Some of you may be wondering how my new set up with groceries and babysitting is working.

Groceries:  Awesome.  Awesome, awesome, awesome.  This morning I called down, and forty-five minutes later the groceries were delivered to my door.  I'm paying the coolie personally, and a little more than is normal, so the whole employment bit feels good too.

The only thing:  today I asked for two bhaingan (eggplant), and they heard two kilos. Eggplant is not particularly heavy, so now I have a fridge FULL of eggplant.  I batter fried slices of two of them tonight, and said to my sister... two down, only thirty-two to go.  I exaggerate.   But Kid A couldn't get enough of the batter-fried bhaingan, so that's a silver lining.  You gotta love a kid who loves eggplant.  (I was not one of them.)

(Of course, as I said to my husband on that fateful day nine years ago when we ate the cockroach in Bangkok, anything tastes good when it's fried with garlic and salt.)

Babysitting:  Sometimes I want to pull my hair out.  My writing times tend to be full of so many interruptions that I am tempted to crawl under my bed and never come out at all.  There are water problems, a puppy runs into the house, Solo wakes up. Somebody needs me at the door and it turns out to be some weird masseuse guy with dirty bottles of oil.  "Why did you interrupt me for that?" I ask Ankit. "He said you called him here," he replied.  Which is a strange business strategy for a masseuse: the outright lie.  Like I'd say, "Oh?  I called you here?  I guess I just forgot!  Okay!  Massage away with your dusty oils and strange tools!"

But there is something about employing someone so that I can write.  I've turned into a machine.  I WILL GET MY 1000 WORDS OUT TODAY OR DIE TRYING.  No matter how many interruptions, I've been managing.  It's been good.

Tonight was another story, though.  I asked Ankit to come over at 8:00 so that I could go out with my sister for a little while. He came, and sat patiently while I tried for what seemed like forever to put Solo to bed.  This is how the evening went.

8:30- Finally Solo gets off to sleep. My back is breaking.  (Have I mentioned that this is a very heavy child?)

8:34- I am trying to play a dvd on my computer for Ankit.  I have the wrong hard drive.  Arggh.

8:36- YaYa is "itchy."  She heard a bug.  Something was on her forehead and that makes her want to cry and cry and cry, because something was on her forehead.  She's scared of her bed now.  She can't sleep.

8:46- I'm lying in bed beside YaYa, stroking her face.  She's still crying, clutching me every few minutes, saying, "I'm sooorrrry," and "I can't sleep."  Finally I ask her if she wants to sleep in my bed.  I move her and it's like magic; all her itches go away, and sleep comes quickly.

8:56- Success with the dvd for Ankit!

9:00- Finally out the door with Becca, I heave a huge frustrated sigh and refrain from throwing rocks.  Where should we go?  I'm so tired, Solo is teething and I haven't been getting much sleep.  It seems too hard to walk down the mountain, so we decide to walk over to the closer village.  Maybe we can have a lassi or something.

9:20- "Becca," I say, "this restaurant seems depressing to me."  We hand the menus back and decide to walk back over to the restaurant near our house.  It's familiar.

9:35- When we get back to the restaurant, I have to go to the bathroom.  When I get out I see Tripta (the restaurant is on her rooftop) and she laughs at me because my hair is up in a wrap.  She thinks it looks silly.

9:40- The phone rings.  I can hear Solo crying.  "I'll be right there," I say.

*

Well, we had a nice hike through the moonlight.  So, that's how that's going.  But I'm sure it's the same for any parents of young children anywhere.  It's funny, isn't it?  I feel as though I can stretch so far, with my kids, but when they are up past their bedtimes, I'm like, wait, what?  I was with you all day!  I fed you and watered you and we read together and played!  Now that part's done!  What's going ON?

Stttreeeeetttch.  I will one day be the most flexible person ever to roam this earth.  Metaphorically speaking. (Rubs aching back)  Maybe I should get that masseuse back here.

Links for you

When I want to live vicariously, I do so here. (These are my dear friends, and their home is very close to my old home.  But their lives have always been super cool, even before I left for the other side of the world.)

Some other incredible friends of mine just up and moved to Ethiopia to take care of kids who were in serious danger.

The brave and wonderful NieNie has a great story about marital love.

And the funny stuff:

Awkward Family Photos.  Okay, when I tell you that I looked at every. single. photo. please remember that they've only been posting since April.  But I haven't laughed like that in a long time.  My personal faves:

the Bon Family

Mommy-the-Pooh

The Pile-on

*

Everything's Amazing, Nobody's Happy : Funny, sad, true


Pride and Twitterverse :  this is genius

And the last is not a link, but another definition by the Leafy Boy:

"Leafy, what does cute mean?"

"Cute means... when a wittle baby needs to be snuggled."

Oh, he's good.

Not again.

I woke up that day and knew right away that it was pointless to get out of bed. I turned to my husband.

"I just want to die," I said.

"That's a bit of an extreme reaction, don't you think, Rae?" he said, mildly.

"No. No, I don't think."

*

When the time came, we all assembled on the rooftop/veranda, against a stunning backdrop of blue sky and green hills with one little lone wooden house tucked in an impossibly vertical location. (Every day I look at that house with awe.) There were boulders strewn over the hillside like the seeds of mountain peaks, and we were armed with a large plastic bucket, several plastic bags, (black market items here, since plastic bags are outlawed) and many towels.

Renee, who quite honestly was behaving as though this was some kind of party, told me she liked my outfit.

I frowned.

"I'm going to start wearing only black and grey," I replied. I was morose.

Becca, Renee, and Cat all smiled indulgently. My head felt like it would pop off. And good riddance if it did.

*

Chinua poured the special solution made of half vinegar and half rubbing alcohol over the hair of the first victims. He moved from a hairdresser routine for the girls to vomiting sounds for the kids. "I'm a blue whale and I just ate but.. blleheheeeheheheh," he said, pouring the solution over their hair while everyone giggled uncontrollably.

I may have cracked a smile.

*

Lice Day by Chinua

With the plastic bags on our heads and towels and scarves draped over the bags, we had a collective style reminiscent of a headgear cult. Leafy was sporting a red checked towel, very Arab in style, Renee had the look of a woman smoking a cigarette beside her garden gnomes and baby deer on the veranda of her trailer, Cat had a glazed cult follower look, and Becca had rosy cheeks and looked beautiful. I tied Chinua's plastic bag in a Tupac style, and me?

My hair has the incredible ability to soak up a lot of fluid, which leaked slowly into my bag, creating a puddle in the bag which I hung over my shoulder. It nestled just over my collarbone. Like a small pet draped around my neck. Or a breast implant, gone horrifically awry and fleeing north. As the day went on, I began to feel protective of my lump, speaking softly to it to comfort it.

*

Lice Day by Chinua

We huddled in my bedroom, watching shows on the computer and eating ice cream, while we waited the requisite three hours before we could wash the stuff out of our hair. It was not a bad way to pass an afternoon, all of us lined up and glazing over at a stand up comic who was quipping his way unintelligibly around the computer screen.

And then the internet guys showed up to help us connect to the new wireless signal that has been installed. A man from Israel and a Tibetan man born in India. It was interesting timing, to say the least, all of us huddled and turbaned. They needed to come into the back bedroom to work on the computer there. I tried to hide in the bathroom.

*

When I realized that hiding in the bathroom probably wouldn't work, I decided that talking about it was the next best thing.

"Lice."

We all commiserated. Little jerks, chomping on your head. The Israeli man was sitting at the computer, while the Tibetan man was sitting crosslegged on my bedroom floor, typing away at his laptop. The girls and I were still all slouched against the wall, and kids trickled in and out with their curiously large heads. I mimed the cult mother behind the man on the computer, talking to my bag of water and listening to the instructions it gave me.

The Israeli man had grown up on a kibbutz. "We used to use kerosene," he said. Our lot looked better.

Okay fine. I decided to be a good hostess.

"Chai?" I asked.

(Photos by Chinua, in case you didn't notice him in the mirror...)



We Interrupt this GiST Stream for a Post About Kissing

When I was in France last year (I guess it was actually the year before last-WEIRD) with friends, we noted that there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the kissing. Sometimes when greeting, someone would kiss us once, on both cheeks. But then sometimes there was a RETURN to the first cheek thrown in there, and we were all, WHa-whoA-well-Okay. And then, sometimes. Four. Two for each cheek.

As my Italian friend said to me here, This is just too much.

But we kiss a lot here. North Americans tend to be huggers, but here in our International Community, there is such a conglomeration of Europeans, North Americans, Aussies, Russians, and people from the Middle East, not to mention Koreans and Japanese, that, well, the consensus seems to be kissing. Unfortunately for us, we are the least practiced. Maybe Korean people are less practised, I don't know.  A lot of Indian people kiss, and a lot simply smile, and some shake hands.

The thing is, when you say hello or goodbye with kisses, and you happen to be Not Practiced, ANY NUMBER of AWKWARDNESSES can befall you. Here are some examples.

1. The duck and collide. You go for a hug, they go for a kiss, and you end up smashing them in the nose with your pointy shoulder. It's not only awkward, it's a little aggressive, you.

2. The h-h-h-hello. You second guess yourself so many times that you do a little hen dance, trying to decide which cheek to aim for. Then you are embarrassed, so you end up saying, Awwww... in your cute awkward lovey voice. (The Awwww is totally unnecessary, by the way.)

3. The ear explosion. This happens when you aim too far back, and end up making a lip smacking noise at the exact angle perfect for puncture of the ear drum. You know you've done this when the person backs away from you with a look of surprised injury. They are wondering why you hurt them like this.

4. The accidental lippist. Perhaps the worst of the bunch, this is what happens when angles are all wrong, again, except that when you go to make your move, you overcorrect and end up catching the corner of the person's mouth. At this point you back away without meeting their eyes.

5. Then there are all manner of awkward ducks and dodges, beard rubbings and half hugs and the question of two? three? Oh, are we going for another? Okay!

I've compiled a few tips that you may find helpful.

1. Air kissing is so superficial. Make contact, at least with your cheeks.

2. Sound helps. You need a nice MWAH.

3. Greeting kisses are not meant to be wet. Keep it dry and quick. You'll know if you have lips that are too moist if you catch people surreptitiously wiping their cheeks with the back of their hands after you kiss them.

4. I'd say that your best bet is two. Don't second guess, just go for a smooth swooping motion. Aim midway, definitely not too far back. Be the leader. Your kissing mate will follow your lead. Only go for three if the person you are kissing is French.

If you are really good friends, a little hug at the same time is always sweet. But trying to combine sideways hugs and greeting kisses is the SUREST path to awkwardness. Avoid this at all costs.

Over time, with practice, you may get to a point where you can keep from embarrassing yourself. Too much.

Guess I'm not as tired as I thought. Unless tired= verbose.

I'm exhausted. My brain fluid is leaking out through my elbows, that's how exhausted I am. Did you know that it could do that? Neither did I.

Also, there's something underneath my left shift key. I'm pretty sure it's a dead ant. And I don't use my right shift key, which my eighth grade Grade Eight (Canada, yo!) computer teacher would hate. It makes writing a bit annoying.

Also, there are people bathing at the well outside my window. Sometimes my life feels very strange.

Why am I exhausted, you ask? (Thanks for asking, by the way.) It's because teething has begun, and last night by the time I got to sleep the bread walla was already riding by on his bicycle. Which means it was about 6:00 AM. Not good, my friends, not good. But I'm hoping to sleep better tonight, because of the TYLENOL I gave my hurting son. My philosophy on baby meds is this: Sanity. Let me repeat that. Sanity. For both of us. It is for the greater good that we remain sane.

We spent the night at the house of some friends, (I avoided an awkward apostrophe moment with the way I worded that sentence) and wow, these friends are beautiful. The husband is French and the wife is Italian, and they have kids that match YaYa and Leafy in age. So sweet. The woman, I'll call her S, is one of the loveliest and most joyful people that I've had the privilege of knowing. The kids all slept in a row in the great room, and S threw them each a flower before they went to sleep. I watched as her daughter spread the petals of her flower all over her bed and then lay down on them to go to sleep. (!)

The last eight months have been a study in cultural adjustment for me, and since the community here is so International, it's like a UN study of culture adjustment or something. I've met people from Slovania, from the Ukraine, from Portugal, Korea, Iraq, Iran, of course Israel, countless Russians, people from Denmark and Belgium and Finland and Germany, people from all the corners of the UK, and the other day I met a couple from Luxembourg. They spoke Luxembourgish. It's a recognized language now, though it used to be considered a dialect- a particular mix of German and French.

But get this. 200,000 people speak it. 200,000. That's like Yonkers, New York; Providence, Rhode Island; Huntsville, Alabama; OR Dayton, Ohio deciding to speak their own language. Just one of those cities. The world is a cool place.

But so, there we were, our European friends and us, and we had decided to wait until after the kids had eaten to eat our own food. We do this because we like to enjoy our food, just one out of a hundred times. But YaYa didn't want to eat her fish, so I picked up her plate and polished it off for her. S entered the room and said, "Oh no no, Rachelle! Not like this!" Because we were setting the table with champagne and candles, not eating our children's leftovers for dinner.

And once again I made the great North American gaffe of being overly casual. Like waving goodbye (K, Bye!) instead of kissing. Or standing when you eat. Or shutting the lights off while you say to your kids, "Goodnight! If I hear any noise out of there I'm coming in and smacking people indiscriminately!!!" (Not that I ever say that.)

I mean, who's to say that my way of putting my kids to bed isn't just as sweet as throwing flowers at your children? Ahem. (Cough.) Well? Who's to say?

Oh dang. Maybe if I'm really good, one day I'll get to be European. But then who will make potty jokes with Chinua? I guess I'll just stay me.