Monthly Archives: August 2009

August 17, 2009

The smiles look the same.

When Todd was house-searching for our new home in Delhi, India, there were several things on the list of “would like to have” as he saw flat after flat after flat.

Some sort of space somewhere for the kids to play.  Many times over I’d been told “children don’t play outside during the day … only at night when the heat has passed.”  Even though we figured they knew what they were talking about, we still felt it was important to have green space nearby.

Todd scored in a serious way, with a small park one block away to our left … and a much larger park to our right.  There is even playground!

It looks “normal” right?  JUST like in the States, right? And it’s JUST down the street … walking distance.  We are in heaven.  We had to drive to a playground back home, so this is like amazingly wonderful.

Most days, we find it’s true that children do NOT play outside until much later in the day … close to 6:30 pm or so.  We’re troopers though (either that or we’re BORED) and we go at ANY time of the day, heat or no heat.

We take our cold bottled water and a little package of baby wipes (for cooling our brows) and trek out.

We leave our house and all of the guards snap to attention.  “Good morning (or afternoon) Madam” they say.  We turn the corner and walk past a street cart filled with fruits all displayed just so.  We walk past numerous dogs (street dogs … NOT to be petted) and round the corner near the Dominos and Cafe.  So far, we seem to be the only non-Indian folks out walking and taking strolls.  No matter though, we’re not going to stay “inside” for anything!

We then pass the fresh flowers … dirt cheap and gorgeous, the street cart with icee cones and the man in his normal spot selling baskets … piled high on the back of his bicycle.

It all feels normal to us already.

Guess what else is the same as back home?  The smiles.  We don’t need to know Hindi, and these kiddos don’t need to know a lick of English.

“Fun” looks the same whether you’re in Suburbia somewhere in Ohio … or in the middle of Delhi, India.

I have felt happy tears well up during our outings at the playground.  Watching my kidlets form bonds with these children … who they don’t know and can’t communicate with.  Watching them hold hands with children and take turns on the slide.

[Yesterday, there was a group of street children at the playground.  They seemed to be taking a break from their long day of begging and were simply getting in some playtime.  Out of the 5 that were there, 3 of them were naked ... head to toe.  Mia sat down next to the baby (I'd guess 8-12 months?) and just looked intently.  She didn't say anything except "Hi baby" and then walked away.  Tony also didn't have anything negative to say about their cloth-less bodies except to ask where their parents were.  Fascinating to me to see/hear the way my children are processing all of this.]

[another side note :: I am kind of apprehensive about photo taking. I want to capture dozens of photos, but I want to also respect the subjects of my photos.  I haven't figured out the appropriate way to ask ... or to discreetly snap photos.  Hoping I figure that out soon, because I want to share the images and sights, sounds and smells with you through my camera.]

Look closely … can you see Mia’s little hand poking out from the crowd on that slide?

August 14, 2009

raising our little citizen in the big city

Many (most?) people don’t think of the city as a good place to raise kids. My husband Jeff and I do have our sights set for the future on a house with more space than our two-bedroom rental apartment, better schools than the ones available in our neighborhood, and a yard to relax in. But at the moment I cannot imagine a better place to live with our almost-two-year-old daughter Zoe and another baby on the way than the Financial District (recently called the “diaper district” in the New York Times) in New York City.

One of my favorite things about our lifestyle is we never have to get kids into cars. Zoe just climbs into one of her strollers and we’re off. We have at least four amazing playgrounds in our neighborhood and we’re pretty much guaranteed to run into some of our friends at any one of them on any given sunny morning or afternoon. The neighborhood is also hopping with other activities for little ones such as playgroups, classes, indoor playspaces, gyms with childcare, kid-friendly restaurants, toy and baby clothes stores, preschools and free outdoor activities for children in the summer. When Zoe starts pre-school this Fall her school is literally 10 feet from our building.

ZOE APRIL 033We also have a great network of friends right in our building. We meet for playgroups or in the building’s playroom or pool on cold or rainy days. We leave our kids with each other when we have to run non-kid friendly errands. What could be more convenient?
When we’re feeling more ambitious there are of course many things going on in other parts of the city –museums, zoos, restaurants, concerts especially for kids, etc.

Of course, there are certain sacrifices that we make to live in the city and as I mentioned, in the long run we’re not sure that the city is the place where we want our kids to grow up. Some days we dream of a yard and the convenience of pulling up to the grocery store in a car rather than hauling groceries home in our stroller or waiting around for delivery. That said, if and when we do make the move to a less urban environment we will miss many of the great aspects of living in the city with small children.

August 13, 2009

building confidence in the water for parent and child alike

red, blue, pink, swim vests

red, blue, pink, swim vests

I recently purchased a swimming aid to assist my girls in the water. I had thought about getting them swimming lessons but it has proved difficult since an adult is needed per child. I searched for a swimming aid and after research I settled on the konfidence swim vest. I purchased two and put them to the test at a local outdoor pool. What a sigh of relief. This device gives my girls the freedom of movement in the water so they can learn the proper movements of their arms and legs. It is not a “flotation device” but a tool to aid those learning to swim. Once confidence is built a series of eight interior floats can be removed so the child learns to maintain him or herself afloat in the water.

I will enroll them in lessons once time permits but for the meantime, this vest has given me the peace of mind and enabled me to bring them to the pool alongside all the other children this summer.

August 12, 2009

that sentimental feeling

012As a mother I have formed some very deep attachments to some very odd things. Tiny striped washcloths that I used to bathe my babies are still folded in their top dresser drawers, and I can’t bear to part with my son’s beloved red bowler shoes—shoes that he loved so much as a toddler that we had to buy a second pair when he wore out the first. No object, however, defines for me the first few months of motherhood as does my children’s “funny music ball.”

When my son was seven weeks old, my husband’s parents flew across the country to visit us in Portland, OR. My little baby was already cementing his reputation as a squirmy, discontented infant when my mother-in-law returned from a thrift store shopping trip with The Toy. As soon as she pulled the brightly colored Kouvalias music toy out of her bag, my son was enchanted. He instantly stopped his squalling and reached his scrawny little arm out towards the gently bobbing yellow and red balls of the wooden Greek toy. From that day on, whenever the witching hour hit, all I had to do was settle him on a blanket and wind up the music toy. The swaying balls focused his mind, and the haunting melody emanating from the toy seemed to soothe his restless soul.

My son and his younger sister have moved on to other toys and pastimes—we are building towns out of blocks, baking muffins in the kitchen, and making up silly stories for each other. The little music toy, however, still sits on my dresser, and whenever I look at it, I have to smile a bittersweet smile. This little wooden toy not only reminds me of how mysterious and challenging and absolutely puzzling motherhood was at the beginning (and still is), but it also reminds me of just how far my children have come. While it takes a little more than some dancing wooden balls to fully capture my children’s attention these days, the music toy still has the power to make my children smile and laugh. And when I hear my son idly humming the wistful melody of the music toy while he plays with his wooden trains on the dining room floor, my heart soars and my eyes start to tear up just a little bit.

August 11, 2009

and the mommies loved them too!

arabian friendsRecently I enjoyed an afternoon at our house with my friends and their daughters. We were 5 girls and 3 mommies.  That afternoon is now fondly refered to as Wig Stock.  The girls revved up slowly by trying on every dress-up outfit, accelerated quickly with each girl donning a crazy wig, and hit maximum velocity when the girls offered us a Jackson 5 tribute performance in full drag while the mommies drank wine and laughed hysterically.  It was adorable, discordant, silly, and fun.  When the girls returned to Olivia’s bedroom after several standing ovations their energy became very different and the silence coming from the bedroom was… how should I say… intriguing.  We mommies decided to investigate.  The 3 of us snuck on tip-toe to the door and tried not to get caught spying in the room only to see the girls were all seated on the floor quietly playing with Olivia’s souvenirs from Saudi Arabia.

I had purchased dolls from the countries we traveled in an effort to create a long-term memory of Olivia’s travels at 4 years old to some spectacular places.  I figured if she played with these dolls from time to time she would think of the experience or it might allow me an opportunity to jog her memory about her travels.  Not to mention the added very important benefit of having dolls that represent the worlds faces, clothing and cultures.  Saudi Arabia had the most wonderful dolls called Arabian Friends. One night in Jeddah we were locked INSIDE Toys R Us during the long evening prayer time (archive post sept 12, 2008) where Olivia and I were elated to see a doll named Dunya that actually looked like my friend named Donya.  We had to have it!  Needless to say, before we left Saudi Arabia we had been back for the entire set which included Dunya’s friends Amal, Ahlam and Muna.  The dolls came with fabulous outfits, shoes, purses and most uniquely important the fancy Abayas and headscarfs.

Our girls were all gathered on the floor with the 4 Arabian Friends dolls and also the Fula doll, a very popular Arabic version of Barbie with a decent outfit.  Olivia’s friends loved the dolls with their Abayas.  When I told the mommies about the dolls they had to get an up close look at them too and jumped in with the girls to the play circle that had formed.  Once I began talking with the Moms about the dolls, it offered opportunity to discuss Saudi culture with the girls in a simplified way.  I was able to hold up the dolls clothing and tell our girls that by law in the country of Saudi Arabia every woman must wear the Abaya when they go outside their home and that I thought I personally would really dislike it but found it to be no big deal, it was much like putting on a light jacket and I didn’t mind it at all.  I was able to explain the Abaya is part of their strong religious belief and that many women want to wear the Abaya regardless of the law.  I wouldn’t have had those views if I had not traveled to that country.  I also explained that in Egypt it is not the law to wear the Abaya but many women wear it there also out of choice.

Many people I have spoke with have such strong negative opinions of the culture of Saudi Arabia.  They have never been to Saudi Arabia.  I love to be able to discuss the culture in a positive way and share the cultural knowledge I gained by having the rare and wonderful opportunity to travel there, see for myself and have amazing conversations with women of all ages.  The dolls may feel fun and familiar to my daughter, but they give me a great opportunity for me to share these women’s views.

In the end my mission to expand my young daughters memory, cultural acceptance and cultural diversity extended itself to the four young daughters of my friends.  Each time the girls get together their Arabian friends join them.  And the mommies loved them too!

August 10, 2009

to the market we go

Take two … back to the INA Market as we were having fish for dinner last night.  This ain’t your neighborhood Krogers or Giant Eagle, people.
In an effort to hopefully somewhat adequately describe this experience … I can tell you that INA is a closed market (not open air) and has what seems to be hundreds of shops.

From plasticware to shoes, saris and fabrics, vegetables, meat, fish (both live and already processed), live animals, cheeses, grains, spices, stationery, even “American” items like Lucky Charms and Jiff peanut butter.

There are no spiffy clean tile floors, no shopping carts and orderly shopping.  There is no hand sanitizer when you first enter, and there is definitely no elevator music to lull your ears while you shop.

There is no mindless shopping here either … you don’t have aisles and aisles and shelves upon shelves to choose from, while on the other hand, there are some instances of MORE than you could ever imagine to choose from.

As you walk through the maze of shops, shop owners call out to you “Need something today, madam?”  or “What can I get for you, madam?”  It is a noisy experience.  Bargaining and negotiation for the best price is a constant.

The smell is pretty hard to convey.  Tony had a VERY hard time in this environment because of the smell and the heat.  As an adult, I have been able to mentally push past the smells.  It is a combination of all of those spices, the fresh meat, the animals (and all that comes with animals in containers), loads of hot/sweaty bodies, and simply the smell of India, etc. all combines for a pretty powerful sensory overload.

As we walked by the chickens, ducks, roosters and fish — the kids said “awwwwww mom … look at the animals!”

Little did they know that if they wanted chicken for dinner, one less “cute little animal” would still be sitting in that cage.

This catfish … was a rather hysterical story.  A woman had asked to purchase a catfish … once wrangled out of the blue bucket, he somehow escaped from his plastic bag (en route to be … well … ready to take home for dinner).  He flopped around the market floor for what seemed like an hour as all of the shop owners chased him around.  The kids found THIS rather amusing.

Oh … the fabrics…  I think I’ve gone to heaven.  I can NOT wait until my sewing machine arrives!

I’m going to enjoy our times at the markets!  I am looking forward to trying out Khan, Nehru Place and Daali Haat (forgive my spelling?) after the kids start school!

What is something “outside the box” that you might try with your children? Something outside of their comfort zone … outside of their bubble of normal?

August 7, 2009

an easy way to trick your toddlers into eating veggies

snap peas

One of the best things I did this year was to plant a garden. I know I’ve become one of the many millions to create a no-frills backyard garden to help alleviate the price of produce at the grocery store. But sadly I’ve seen very little in the way of crops in exchange for the time, effort and water I’ve invested but I can attest that it has proven to be a great way to help me relax during particularly stressful days.

I say it is one of the best things not because it has eased my stress and made me relax but more for the way that it has proven to be a great tool for introducing vegetables to my twin toddlers.

The other day we finally had a few pea pods ready for picking, the girls were so excited and anxious as they have invested just as much time and care into the garden as myself. On a regular basis they help with the watering, weed picking, and day-to-day inspections. I was shocked when they both insisted on eating the raw peas straight out of the pod. There were a total of five peas for the three of us to divide amongst ourselves and the girls were not satisfied with their measly two apiece. They eagerly asked for more and I was disappointed at the lack of production from the garden, especially when they were so keen to eat something nutritional. Something that I had offered on their plates at mealtime at least 200 times since they started eating solids, the peas were always rejected whether in the mush or solid forms.

While at the grocery store, supplementing my lack of vegetable production, I had the novel idea of picking up a bag of frozen edamame. This was one of my favorite foods while frequenting the sushi restaurants during my previous life as a career woman. I cooked the bag the very same night and placed them into a bowl at my place assuming I would be the only one that would indulge in the protein-filled wonders. But as soon as the girls laid eyes on them they giggled gleefully. Then followed, “yeah we have more peas from the garden.” I thought about it for one short second and decided it wasn’t worth making the correction.