When toddlers attack

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Where's the Mommy? -- Leaving, Part III

A message from the Department of State
A half-hour back to the hotel, where I dropped off Adrián and the girls, comatose from the car ride and the heat -- then a solo trip back to the embassy to pick up the CRBAs and the missing stamps from the passports.  The embassy does a lovely job with the CRBAs, by the way -- suitable for framing and tucked in a fancy envelope -- but thanks, I think we'll keep them tucked safely in a file somewhere.

By the way, we did face a slight issue about hyphenating our surnames.  Even though Adrian isn't legally the father in India, we still were able to put both family names on the birth certificate.  The question was, hypen or no?  Even though people use both parents' names in Spain and much of the Spanish-speaking world with no hyphen, we decided that in the States, his name might be relegated to middle name status without it (similar confusion exists regarding Anglo middle names in Spain, where I've heard references to "Allen Poe" and "Luther King" as if Edgar and Martin had two family names).  So hyphen it was.

The problem was, it seems hyphens cause chaos with the agency that issues Delhi birth certificates.  So they officially don't exist.  So the girls' names are a la española on their birth certificates.  Which caused a brief hiccup during a phonecall from the embassy.  "Υοu want the names hyphenated, but they're not hyphenated on the birth certificate," said Gagan.  "Well, yeah, because they told me they couldn't hyphenate, but I know you can on the passport," I explained.  He paused.  A few moments of silence.  "Okay," he said. 

But no hiccups this time as I confidently strode into the embassy 15 minutes before closing, just a smile from Gagan and I was done, there and back in 45 minutes -- which I think is about the fastest you can get anything done in Delhi. 

Back at Svelte, Adrián and Usha were in packing and cleaning mode.  We'd tried not to collect too much stuff; ideally, only things that we could easily take back.  Since the bulkiest thing we'd brought in our bags were the preemie sized diapers, and since the girls had already graduated to newborn size, and since those were readily available back home, our suitcases were much less strained on the way home.

A quick goodbye dinner at Moti Mahal around the corner with Bernadette, Jan and Eveliis, then back to the hotel for four or so hours of sleep. 


Like the Labors of Hercules, one final tribulation awaited us:  Indira Gandhi International Airport.  Unlike last time, we remembered to print out our boarding passes before heading to the airport, and arrived three hours early on the dot. 

Our anxiety level rose as we approached passport control.  How would we answer what was sure to be a barrage of uncomfortably personal questions?  As the line in front of us whittled down, I could see we'd be directed to one of two men -- one looked kind, the other looked harried and already irritable as he processed a large Indian family gathered before his kiosk.  They were still there when we reached the head of the line.  Good.  Kindly, pudgy man it was.

I handed him all four passports. 

Please don't ask where the mother is.  Please don't ask where the mother is.

Shuffle shuffle shuffle.

"Where is the second baby?"  he asked, not seeing Clara nestled in her Cocoon at my feet. 

"Right here!"  I said eagerly, holding her up.

Shuffle shuffle...

He's going to ask where the mother is, I know it, here it comes...

"Purpose of your visit to India?"

I wasn't ready for that one.  I'm sure the look on my face was similar to what must have been on my face the first time I did a live shot for my station in Bakersfield:  deer in the headlights.

"Uh... uh..."  Pause.  "S...surrogacy."

No!  Idiot!  Why did you tell the truth?  If a glare could be an elbow in the ribs, the one that Adrián shot me would have left me bruised.

But miraculously... he was clueless.  "What?" he asked, genuinely puzzled.

Yes!  "Uh... visiting friends!"  No!  Stupid, who would you have been visiting?

But he was still clueless.  "Oh," he said.

Stamp.  Stamp.  Stamp.  Stamp.  "Have a nice flight."

That took us to security, about 50 paces beyond.  Here we encountered a short line, just enough time to empty our pockets, take off our belts, take out our laptop... hey, we're seasoned travellers, we know the drill.  But as we approached the conveyor belt, the line stopped.

A few mornings before, Αdrián woke up still shaken by a dream he'd had.  We were at the airport, right at the point in the security line in which we now found ourselves.  Our carry-on bags and laptop had already gone through and we were passing through the metal detector.  Suddenly, Adrián realized with horrror that we had forgotton to take the girls out of the Cocoons, and ran back, only to see them riding down the conveyor belt into the bowels of the machine.  Hey, don't laugh; it could happen.  Okay, laugh, I did. 

Still, I thought it was a joke when a security agent came up to us and said "baby, no put through."  I laughed, thinking he wasn't serious, as the guards around the x-ray machine shouted to each other in Hindi.  Finally, one said "we have problem with babies."

I immediately channeled my inner ugly American, puffed up my chest, looked him in the eye and fired back "I have all the documentation you could possibly need -- we've already satisfied the U.S. government and gotten their passports; we have an exit visa from the Indian government, I can prove whatever you..."

"No, no," he said.  "we don't know how to screen their carriers."

I looked at him for a second as the light bulb in my head slowly blinked on.  "You know, the babies do come out," I said.

He looked relieved as we removed the now screaming girls, and sent the now empty Cocoons through the machine.  I carried Olivia in my arms through the metal detector and held her as I was told to stand on a plywood box as a guard waved a wand around my crotch.

Then it happened.  The dreaded question:  "Where is the mommy?" asked a female agent, standing to my right behind the conveyor belt. 

The mental light bulb suddenly stopped flickering and grew brighter.  All of this was because they couldn't imagine asking a man to hold a baby.  That was why the female guard had been called, and why the line had been delayed -- nothing could proceed until she was there to hold the infants.

We walked away from security and towards the Star Alliance lounge.  The worst was over.

Airport lounges are like casinos -- they exist outside of the normal time-space continuum. Or at least outside our concept of when it's appropriate to have a gin and tonic.  But without fail, whatever airport lounge you're in, anywhere in the world, and whatever the hour, someone is always drinking something stronger than a mimosa.  So I had nice riesling with something breakfasty as we mixed formula for Clara and Olivia.  After all, it was 5:30 am in Delhi, but 5:00 pm in California.  I think it's important to reset your circadian rhthym to your destination as quickly as possible, don't you?

Our Lufthansa flight home couldn't have been better -- basinette seats the whole way, and rockstar status as all the big, tough, 60-year-old German flight attendants came back to pay homage to the twins.  Strangely, this is where I got my second "where's the mommy" question, from one of the flight attendants, no less.  She was being friendly, so I wasn't offended, but I said "he's right over there, across the aisle."  What I wanted to say was "bitch, please.  You're from Germany AND you're a flight attendant.  Can't you recognize two 'mos when you see them?"

But I refrained.  And she blurted "Oh!  Oh, I'm so sorry!  Okay, I'll stop asking questions now!"  I told her that after the overly-personal questions we'd been asked in India, these were fine.  But truth was, I would have expected a Western flight attendant to peg us as a couple of 'mos, especially since one of her male co-workers commented "Surrogacy?  Wow, I wish we could do this in Germany!"

The girls slept comfortably all the way from Delhi to Munich, and once there, we once again headed for the Lufthansa lounge for a two-hour wait to board our final flight, loading up on complementary pickles and pork products as we attempted our first public feeding (of the girls, not ourselves).  I saw a woman in full black abaya and veil at the buffet spreading something called "pepperoni spread" on slices of rye bread.  I debated telling her she may have been about to consume something that once oinked, but then decided she might have been more taken aback by a strange man approaching her.  She retreated with her plate to a far corner, munching in solitude.  Maybe she knew what she was doing after all.

When we arrived at the gate for our flight to L.A., the gate agent exclaimed "Oh!  These are the babies from India!"  A group of other agents rushed over from nearby gates to coo over the girls before we were allowed to proceed.  "You're in the center bulkhead row, and we've blocked out the two seats between you," she told us.  "We can't promise they'll stay empty, but we'll try."

We sat expectantly as passengers filed past us.  At one point, we heard a flight attendant tell a dissatisfied passenger "The only other seats empty are here," pointing between Adrián and me.  He looked dubiously at the babies in our arms.  "Uh... that's okay," he told her.  She shot us a quick, conspiratorial smile.

But the best thing I can say about the 11-hour flight to L.A. is that our girls were the best behaved babies on the flight.  And there were plenty of babies to compare them to.  Both outside rows on either side of us had babies.  A nearly two year old directly behind me, her poor mother trying to squeeze one last "lap infant" flight out of her before her impending birthday, even though she had already grown big and restless.  In the same row, behind Adrián, a squalling nine month old.  I've never been much bothered by babies on flights before, but then, I'd never quite been seated in a children's ghetto.  The flight attendants did a valiant job, but Olivia and Clara decided they'd had enough of the bassinettes on the flight from Delhi, thank you, and insisted on crossing the Atlantic and the North American continent in our arms.

No incidents at passport control in L.A., other than the customary insult of having to fill out separate family declaration cards, one for me and the girls, the other for Adrián.  This time, I didn't even bother arguing.  I tried last time we entered the U.S., last September on our way back from Ireland.  The agent sheepishly threw up his hands and mumbled "DOMA."  Yeah, I know.  I was fuming, though.

My mother had insisted she could pick us up all by herself.  Missing our minivan, though, we insisted our friend and neighbor Eric also come.  Good move.  As my mom pulled up to the curb, in the middle of a crosswalk, cars honked, traffic ground to a halt and an airport cop growled "If that's your ride home, you'd better drive!"  But seeing the babies dangling in their carriers from both of Adrián's arms, he relented, even though she was in a red zone.  I don't recommend airport pick-up zones when first introducing grandparent to grandchild, by the way.

So.  The "out-of-India" post only took me three weeks to write.  I think I can be more timely with subsequent updates.  Meanwhile, all is well!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

And while we're on the subject...

...of comparing my daughter to baby animals...

Here's Clara just before this morning's bath:

And here's a shot of a baby swallow we snapped a few years ago at El Alcázar in Segovia:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Monkey no more

When we met Clara for the first time in May, she was already three weeks old but weighed less than 1700g.  We took her home four days later, just as she was nosing over the 1700 mark. 

Besides being amazed at how tiny she was, I was also struck by how... er... simian she looked.  Basically, she still had the look of a fetus clinging to her.  With her huge eyes and the way she would cling to the front of our shirts, she looked like a baby monkey in a National Geographic documentary.  I would nudge Adrian and just say "look" as I pulled up a picture on the internet:

Yes, I know orangutans aren't monkeys
"You're disgusting," was his stock reply.

Well, over the past two weeks, fleeting smiles have started to flicker over the girls' faces, and look at Clara now (I've already been tormenting my Facebook friends with this photo, but you all get it with the boogers at the corners of her eyes Photoshopped out):

You may all say "awwwwww."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Surrogacy in India isn't for everyone.  Control freaks: it will make your head explode.  Compulsive worriers:  it will send you into cardiac arrest.  See, here's the deal:  you sign a contract in a foreign country on the other side of the world with a complete stranger to bear your child.  You have no contact with the surrogate; no day-to-day conversations about how her belly is swelling or how the little one is beginning to kick.  You wire thousands of dollars over the course of nine months in the blind faith that everything is going as it should.  And, miraculously, most of the time, it does.

But sometimes, it doesn't. 

Bernadette and Duane's twins, Scarlett and Hayden were due two weeks before Clara and Olivia.  Instead, they were born five weeks before -- and ours were born seven weeks early.  Bernadette didn't think twice -- she flew alone to Delhi, and she's been there for 128 days as Hayden lingers in the NICU.

Sometimes you wonder where people find the strength to endure life's most trying situations -- how would each of us fare?  Would we fall apart?  How would we meet the challenge?

In Bernadette's case, she makes it look, if not easy, at least not a trial.  She writes flawlessly about her more than three months of tribulations in India like a seasoned travel writer -- with grace, humor, self-deprecation and an obvious affection for India, its culture and the people she's met, in spite of the difficulties she's faced.

I was in awe of Bernadette even before we met her.   When Clara and Olivia came nearly two months early, she snapped some of our first photos of them without us even having to ask her.  She was a few doors down from us at Svelte, and invited us in for a glass of Indian wine ... all she had, it was part of the minibar ... a few minutes after our arrival.  At the time, I thought it was surprisingly good.  Later, cracking open the bottle in our room, I noticed it was -- flat, with notes of rubber tire and old socks.  Maybe it was the jetlag the first time.  Or maybe good company makes bad wine drinkable.

Our twins' three weeks in the NICU had us breaking out the credit card and breaking into a cold sweat.  While we had banked on the cost of the surrogacy itself and a little extra, we just weren't prepared for that kind of extra expense -- so imagine what Bernadette and Duane are facing, especially now that they're trying to get Hayden home.  A collection has been taken up on PayPal:  https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/send-money-online with payments made directly to Bernadette and Duane:bmhunton@gmail.com .  I urge all of you to help out as much as you can.

One morning at breakfast, I found myself worrying out loud to Bernadette about Clara's possible vision problems.  I stopped myself, and apologized for sticking my foot in my mouth.  After all, we'd been so lucky:  no apparent problems.  Worrying was something I could do because I had that luxury.  "That's okay," said Bernadette.  She said she felt lucky too.  After all, she had two beautiful children she loves.  And her bravery, persistence and optimism are an example to any parent.
Our month in India was obviously an emotionally charged time we'll remember for the rest of our lives.  Bernadette is an intricate part of those memories.  We feel lucky to know her.  Even though she did get a silk rug for less than my stupid camel hair rug.

That wasn't so bad - Leaving, Part II

As we jubilantly left the FRRO, I said to Adrián "that wasn't so bad."  And -- aside from the toilets -- it wasn't.  But as we headed towards the U.S. Embassy, I had the sinking realization that we'd left the girls' passports in the hotel room.  Gagan had specifically told me to bring them because they'd forgotten a stamp of some kind.  That meant that we had to drive all the way back to Svelte to get them, adding yet another leg to our spin around Delhi. 

A half-hour back to Svelte -- an hour there, eating, cooling down and changing the girls -- then back to the car.  A change in itinerary:  since the girls didn't have to go to the embassy, just their passports, we'd head to show them off at SCI, then go to the embassy, then back to the FRRO.  But first, a stop at Dunkin Doughnuts.  As an American export, doughnuts for me rank up there with Miley Cyrus, mouth grilles, and those animated, wall-mounted fish that sing.  In fact, I think they're kind of nasty.  Every time I eat one, its grease-infused ghost comes back to haunt me for the rest of the day with every belch.  Nasty.  But someone told us they were popular with SCI staff, so doughnuts we bought. 


We'd been told they were Bangladeshis.  We'd been told they were tribal people from Rajasthan.  While we never saw the crowds we've heard live on the streets of Mumbai, every overpass in Delhi seems to house its own street family.  The children head bravely into traffic, sometimes doing backflips and handstands, sometimes with tears streaming down their faces as they approach your car.  Once, we were approached by a couple with a limp child in their arms.  The mother held a medical bill up to the car window.  All an act?  No doubt, plus we had heard that any money collected is given directly over to a handler and the people dodging buses and tuk-tuks see next to none of it.  But we nevertheless quickly had grown tired of earning evil karma staring straight ahead pretending to ignore them, or making eye contact and shaking our heads as we smiled sadly.  So we bought a few bags of candy and some chocolate bars to hand out.  There was no way we could change their lives -- no way we could even give all the kids at one corner a full meal -- but we could give them something to make their day suck a little bit less.

But on our way to SCI, it quickly became clear that candy wasn't cutting it.  The first to approach the car was a little girl around nine years old.  She did a cartwheel between our car and a nearby truck.  We watched out of the corners of our eyes.  Then she walked over to the car and knocked on the window.  I rolled the window down just enough to hand her some candies.  She took them in her hand, looked at them a little disdainfully, raised her glance again, gestured that she still wanted money -- and then her eyes fell on the boxes of doughnuts in the front passenger seat.  She knocked on the window again and pointed at the doughnuts. 

"Give her one," said Adrián.  I did:  an eclair.  As we pulled away, we looked back and saw her heading away from traffic, back under the overpass, munching happily.

At the next stop, the first doughnut we handed through the window attracted a dozen more kids.  These were a bit more demanding: "Chocolate!  Chocolate!" insisted one as I tried to paw off a plain cruller on him.  We ended up passing a whole box through, warning them they had to share.  I don't know if they did. 

We showed up at SCI with a box and a half left.  A quick chat with Meg and Dr. Shivani, a meeting with Gourav to settle the final bill for the last of Clara's stay at Delhi Newborn, and we were done.  Vishal and Dr. Shivani walked us out to the car and waved as we drove away with the girls snoozing in their Cocoons on our laps... two and a half years of investigating, scrimping, saving and planning completed.


By this time, it was nearly 2:30 and Svelte, the FRRO and the embassy were all equidistant.  We'd been told to return to the FRRO at 3:00, and John said it was even better to get there by 2:00.  We decided to head directly there, feeling like incompentent, disorganized parents for subjecting the girls to yet another unecessary trip across Delhi.  Not that they knew the difference.

Adrián, Anan (our driver, who had replaced Satish after lunch) and the girls waited in the car, air conditioning blasting, as I headed back into the FRRO.  First stop:  the reception desk, where a pile of documents was waiting for me.  The man scribbled something at the top.  "Go to desk 10," he instructed me.

Desk 10 was behind a pillar.  A small crowd was already swarming around it.  After about five minutes, the man behind the desk -- who had been helping a European man with a ponytail and capri pants -- shouted "Everyone sit down!  I will call you according to your number!"  People sat.  I stood, clueless.  "I have a number?"  I asked. 

"Let me see your paper," he said.  "There, at the top.  You're after him," he said, indicating Capri pants man.

My turn came, he shuffled through my papers for about five minutes, then:  STAMP.  STAMP.  The girls' passports were, quite literally, good to go.

That was it.  No "where's the mother."  No "where's your wife."  Just a "go to the Cashier desk." 

A quick payment of INR 4360 (we'd brought cash... thanks John!), a final stop at the In-Charge Desk, and I walked out, the unused adrenaline in my body draining quickly, leaving me a little dazed and light-headed.  I half expected someone to come running after me telling me there'd been a mistake and that the girls were missing a crucial piece of documentation and we would have to drive across Delhi once again but -- oh!  So sorry -- that office is closed until tomorrow!  But no.  It was over.  I was done.  "That wasn't so bad," I said to myself as I walked back to the car.  "That was easy," I told Adrián as I got in.  We were finished with the big, bad FRRO.  Total time for the second visit, maybe 45 minutes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Slumping towards home - Leaving, Part 1

No, we're not still in our room at Svelte.  Yes, I'm still blogging.  But, damn!  These baby things are a great big time-suck!  Who knew?

Things unfolded thusly:

The Passports

Gagan at the U.S. Embassy called us on Monday afternoon to let us know that the girls' passports indeed had arrived as foretold.  I left Adrián on diaper duty at the hotel and headed to the embassy and back.  Turns out the passports had arrived, but the consular reports of births abroad (CRBA) had not.  I decided that that was not a tragedy, since we didn't need them to head home, and the girls won't need them until they have to prove they were U.S. citizens from birth, like, you know, if they run for president or something.  Sure, the first female, Spanish/Catalan-speaking, half-Indian, part-Jewish daughter of gay dads president.  It could happen.

I couldn't choke back my "awwww!" when I opened the passports.  I even showed Gagan behind the glass window.  The little infant pictures next to all the stats beloved of passport control officials everywhere was kind of like seeing a passport for my dog, cute but sort of pretend.


That set the stage for a manic next day -- starting off with the most daunting, the most terrifying, most dreaded circle of bureaucratic Hades ever to face an intended parent:  the Foreigners Regional Registration Office, or FRRO.     Since legions of parents have gone before, and since everyone assured us it's much easier than it once was, and especially since John and Michael at Our Gemini Dragons had already posted the best guide to the FRRO - EVER, we only cried a little as we approached the blue fiberglass awning covering the waiting area. 

No, not "FRO"

Picture two groupings of metal chairs divided by an aisle.  The chairs face a table on which sits a paper held down, this day, by a piece of wood.  We sign in, number nine. A sign directs Afghan applicants to sit on the right; everyone else to sit on the left.  Satish, the driver, says he can get a great deal on "Fair and Lovely" for his wife at the army canteen next door and we sit with assorted other Westerners, amusing ourselves by trying to keep flies off the girls and by trying to decide which one of the Afghan refugees is most handsome.  At one point, nature calls, and I rush inside in search of a toilet.  I find a traditional Indian one, sunk in the ground.  That wasn't the problem.  The lack of soap, toilet paper or even a toilet-side nozzle thingie like the one I've grown secretly fond of at our hotel, are.  I'm reminded once again why it's rude to eat with your left hand in India, and decide that perhaps I really don't have to go as badly as I thought I did.

We arrived at 8:45.  At 9:30 on the dot a man comes out, picks up the paper, and chaos ensues.  He begins to call people by groups of five.  A man tells us to barge our way to the front with the babies, which we do, and we're directed inside. 

I think I read a book once where Hell is an endless bureaucratic office.  The author must have visited the FRRO -- desks line the walls, each with its own resident little grey man (no women work here, that I can see) or two.  Paper is stacked high on each desk.  Not a computer terminal in sight.  Chairs are lined up in the center of the room, suggesting that this may not be a brief encounter. 

The chairs lie.  We're in and out in about a half-hour. 

We go, as directed by John and Michael, to the reception desk, just to our right as we walk in the room.  The man gives us a list of four or five required documents, and I note with trepidation that it includes a "letter from your hotel."  That wasn't on the list SCI gave us... in fact, it wasn't on the FRRO's online list of required documents, either.  He sends me to the ominous chairs to put the papers in order.  I've already made duplicates of everything back at the hotel.  I am PREPARED!

"Where is the letter from your hotel?" asks Grey Man Number One with a whiff of annoyance.  "It is required." 

"Ummm... here!"  I say, offering him a bill for incidentals Svelte had presented us this morning.  Evidently, it's close enough.  He huffs quietly, takes the bill out of the envelope, stares for a second, then adds it to the pile of xeroxed copies I had given him. 

Stamp.  Stamp.  "Come back at 3:00," he says. 


Friday, June 22, 2012

Passports, please

The girls' passports didn't arrive Tuesday like the embassy said they would.  They didn't arrive today like the embassy said they would.  "Check back Monday morning," the nice lady tells me over the phone. 

"But we have an 8:25 flight Wednesday morning," I protest.  "That means we only have Tuesday to do the FRRO." 

"When did you apply for the passports?" she asks. 

"Two weeks ago."

She puts me on hold.  "They're in the mail," she tells me.  "Check back Monday morning."

Mail?  Isn't that sort of thing supposed be be hand delivered in a black valise by a square-jawed man in a grey suit?  Or maybe I just want it delivered to me personally by a square-jawed man in a grey suit.

The good news, of course, is that the DNA results arrived five days ago, and there's a 99.9 percent probability that I fathered the girls, as opposed to a random man off the street.  Seriously, they put it that way.  That's why I was told a week ago that the passports would arrive on Tuesday.

So now we wait, and in spite of us giving ourselves what we thought was plenty of time, we're down to the wire.  Oh well.  I'm told by several people at the embassy that the passports will arrive on Tuesday.  Definitely.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The creature

At dusk, she stirs from her torpor. 

No longer bloated and sated from her feeds, when she desperately draws the life-giving liquid from her hapless victims, the hunger wakes her.  She begins to move one extremity within her tightly wrapped shroud, patiently, biding her time until she works it free, then the other.  She raises her fist high in exhileration, above the lid of her vault, free... FREE!  She knocks gently on the lid of the simple box in which she sleeps, softly, once... twice... a noise as soft as a dove landing on a canvas tent.  She knows her loyal minions wait nearby, ready to do her bidding, ready to prepare her for another night's havoc.

But something is amiss.  They don't answer.  Why do they not appear to do her will?

She grows frustrated.  A low growl begins in her throat, inaudibly, then rises in pitch and intensity to a shriek that makes the blood freeze in the veins of any creature unlucky enough to be trapped nearby.

"Oh shit... Adrián?  Clara's awake, can you give her her bottle? I'm busy with Olivia."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fathers Day and the road to Jaipur

"Happy Fathers Day, guys" said Bernadette as we ran into her in the hallway on the way to breakfast.  Since one day tends to blend into another when you're, you know, shut in a hotel room with two newborns -- and we were especially low on sleep and energy that morning --  we'd forgotten.  And no French toast, no mimosas in bed from our self-centered daughters, either.
Still, there's no better way of celebrating Fathers Day than being a father, so that's what we did -- changing diapers, wiping bottoms, bathing squirming infants, preparing bottles.  And I thought about my dad, and how excited he would have been to have two new granddaughters to welcome. 

My dad was an unsuccessful actor, a semi-successful businessman, but a great father.

Remember when I mentioned he always said that I was eight before he finally convinced my mother that he wouldn't eat me?  You know who else is developing the same (overly) protective streak?

My husband.

"What are you doing??" he yelled from the bedroom when  Olivia howled as I changed her diaper in the living room.  "You're doing something wrong!" 

"Wh.. why are you doing it... why are you doing it like that?" as I bathed as squirming Clara.  "You can't just pour water on her to rinse off the soap..."
"Don't you think she should be covered?"

"You do it like this..."
"Make sure her tongue is down when you give her the bottle."

"Why are you...?"




"Do you want to give her to me?"

Show off
When Olivia wailed equally as loudly as he changed her diaper, I couldn't help myself: "You're doing something WRONG!" I informed him.  No comment in response.

He's relaxing little by little, as he realizes that even though they're small, babies are surprisingly tough creatures. Good thing; he'll have a heart attack when I start encouraging them to do things like climb trees and go rollerblading. I'll save the scuba for when they're teenagers.  But what's obvious is that he's jumped into this fatherhood thing with both feet.  Happy belated Fathers Day to an amazing new dad.

Speaking of adventures, on Saturday, the day before Fathers Day, Adrián and I, Bernadette and Allie all piled into a minivan for the nearly five-hour journey to Jaipur.   Adrián and I skipped Jaipur on our last trip to India, thinking it sounded too touristy and not as interesting as places like Pushkar and Bharatpur.   That was a mistake:  Jaipur is filled with wonders, including Amber Fort, the City Palace and Jantar Mantar, an observatory built in the 18th century by the maharaja of Jaipur.  At least, they looked like wonders as we drove past... our main purpose for the journey to Jaipur was purely commercial.  See, Bernadette wanted to shop.  Anyway, it was 43 degrees out, and who wants to climb ballustrades when it feels like a sauna?

We shared part of Bernadette's mission:  to buy a rug for our house, if we ever finish our construction project.  I mean, if we ever start our construction project.  So driver Satish took us to a shop with a stamp of approval by the State of Rajasthan where prices are fixed and you're not supposed to bargain, just so we could get an idea of prices at other shops.  We looked at a few rugs, they quoted a few prices, we left.  As we headed out, one of the salesmen ran out to the car quoting a price on a rug that was $200 dollars less than what we'd been quoted upstairs.  So much for not bargaining.

We headed to a store where Bernadette and Avey had had a couple of swanky dresses made two weeks prior, an enormous warehouse of every kind of textile imaginable.  We thought we'd just look at a rug or two and head out sightseeing.  Then they started plying us with masala chai.  I'm a sucker for masala chai.  We bought a 6x9 camelhair rug for 350 dollars less than the original asking price, and I felt very proud of myself and my bargaining skills until Bernadette bought a 6x9 silk rug -- which should be more expensive -- for the same price.  I had failed.  Surely the rug was worth hundreds less than I'd paid... but then the salesman threw in two pashminas and I once again felt shrewd.

The original plan was for us to sightsee while Bernadette and Allie finished shopping for textiles, but we found ourselves pulled into a tailor's showroom, and suddenly we were having shirts custom made... buy six, get one free, who could resist?  The end result was a driveby past the iconic Palace of the Winds to snap a quick photo, then hitting the road back to Delhi.  The trip seemed longer that our outbound journey -- what, with the 230 kilometers of construction, potholes, broken-down trucks, camel carts, rickshaws and an occasional elephant blocking the road -- but Indian highways are a constant source of entertainment.

Clara's first photo shoot - passport pictures
Meanwhile, we're awaiting the girls' passports.

 The embassy told us they'd be ready today (normal ones, not emergency), but there's been a delay and we're now told they'll be ready on Friday.  We head home on the 27th.
Below -- photos of Jaipur and the journey.

Elephants off-duty from the trip up to Amber Fort
A lone elephant makes the trek down
At the Water Palace

Allie and Bernadette rethink their plan for a fish pedicure later

Sure, we'll take one
Someone's worried she left her credit card at home.  Someone's regretting he brought his.  And someone's just happy its air conditioned.
Not what it appears
Local girl
That's one big bum
Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds

Our driver Satish spotted sisters-in-law, niece and nephew at the side of the road

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Good news for old dads

Just when I thought I was going to be needing a walker to take the girls to middle school... there's an upside to the fact their dad and granddad were older...

Children with older fathers and grandfathers 'live longer'

Father's and baby's hands

Related Stories

Delaying fatherhood may offer survival advantages, say US scientists who have found children with older fathers and grandfathers appear to be "genetically programmed" to live longer.

The genetic make-up of sperm changes as a man ages and develops DNA code that favours a longer life - a trait he then passes to his children.

The team found the link after analysing the DNA of 1,779 young adults.

Their work appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Shoelace tips
Experts have known for some time that lifespan is linked to the length of structures known as telomeres that sit at the end of the chromosomes that house our genetic code, DNA. Generally, a shorter telomere length means a shorter life expectancy.

Like the plastic tips on shoelaces, telomeres protect chromosomal ends from damage. But in most cells, they shorten with age until the cells are no longer able to replicate.

However, scientists have discovered that in sperm, telomeres lengthen with age.

Telomeres (in red) cap chromosomes Telomeres (in red) cap the ends of chromosomes

And since men pass on their DNA to their children via sperm, these long telomeres can be inherited by the next generation.

Dr Dan Eisenberg and colleagues from the Department of Anthropology at Northwestern University studied telomere inheritance in a group of young people living in the Philippines.

Telomeres, measured in blood samples, were longer in individuals whose fathers were older when they were born.

The telomere lengthening seen with each year that the men delayed fatherhood was equal to the yearly shortening of telomere length that occurs in middle-aged adults.

Telomere lengthening was even greater if the child's paternal grandfather had also been older when he became a father.

Start Quote

Very few of the studies that linked telomere length to health in late life have studied the impact, if any, of paternal age”
End Quote Prof Thomas von Zglinicki Professor of Cell Gerontology

Although delaying fatherhood increases the risk of miscarriage, the researchers believe there may be long-term health benefits.

Inheriting longer telomeres will be particularly beneficial for tissues and biological functions that involve rapid cell growth and turnover - such as the immune system, gut and skin - the scientists believe.

And it could have significant implications for general population health.

"As paternal ancestors delay reproduction, longer telomere length will be passed to offspring, which could allow lifespan to be extended as populations survive to reproduce at older ages."

Prof Thomas von Zglinicki, an expert in cellular ageing at Newcastle University, said more research was needed.

"Very few of the studies that linked telomere length to health in late life have studied the impact, if any, of paternal age. It is still completely unclear whether telomere length at conception (or birth) or rate of telomere loss with age is more important for age-related morbidity and mortality risk in humans.

"The authors did not examine health status in the first generation offspring."

It might be possible that the advantage of receiving long telomeres from an old father is more than offset by the disadvantage of higher levels of general DNA damage and mutations in sperm, he said.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The embassy

The Great Seal of the United States always makes me think of the 1960's somehow -- moonshots, the Missile Crisis, Kennedy, bouffant hairstyles, mod sunglasses.  Or maybe it just makes me think of "I Dream of Jeannie," since they always seemed to show something similar when they wanted an establishing shot of Major Nelson going to work.  Then Jeannie would magically materialize, transport herself, Major Nelson, and a bug-eyed Dr. Bellows to India where they'd pick up two babies, and hilarity would ensue.

Jeannie, I wanted a pastrami sandwich... I said "let's go to the DELI..."
Of course, it wouldn't take Jeannie more than an hour to get a preemie to take 60 ml of formula.  She'd just bob her arms accompanied by a loud "BOIIIING," a large Vlach peasant wetnurse would appear, problem solved.  No Vlach peasant women are in sight here at Svelte, but feeding a baby is strangely engrossing.  You know how I know?  Because we were so engrossed we almost missed our appointment at the US Embassy.

I wish we could blame it on our driver that day, and the fact he never called to tell us he was waiting downstairs in front of the hotel.  But no, all our fault, I'm afraid.  We realized after finally coaxing Clara to drink one milliliter more that we were due downstairs in three minutes, due at the embassy in 45, and that we didn't stand an icicle's chance in Rajasthan of being there on time. Ever poke a hill of ants with a stick to see them rush around in a panic?  That was us, gathering up extra diapers, wipes, a bottle for each filled with water, dosing out powdered formula for each.  We hurried downstairs, jumped in the car and headed out.

The trip to Shantipath, the green, manicured boulevard where the major embassies are located, didn't take us all that long, but thanks to our own mistake, we were a half-hour late anyway.  Most of the embassies seem to follow the same pattern -- in fact, they all look sort of 1960s, not unlike somewhere Major Nelson would go to work.  The major exception is the Pakistani Embassy, built like an Arabian Nights fantasia of a mosque, complete with a dome and minarets -- each, I think, representing a giant middle-finger directed at India.

 And where's the American Embassy?  Just look for the one surrounded by the small bunkers of paramilitary troops.  The complex is enormous, covering, from what I could tell, at least three city blocks (and thanks to Doug and Chad, who live there and had invited us over for drinks a few evenings prior, we'd already had an inside look).  Consular Services, where you have to go for anything relating to visas, passports or registering the birth of a US citizen abroad, is located at a far corner of the main part of the embassy.  Mornings find a long line of Indian citizens going through the unpleasant process of applying for a visa to visit the States, but U.S. citizens (and their resident alien ignored-by-DOMA spouses) use a separate line/entrance with no wait time.  We left our mobile phone at the main entrance, passed through a security checkpoint where they made us pass the girls and their Cocoons through an x-ray machine -- KIDDING!  -- just the Cocoons, though Adrián dreamt the previous night that we were at the airport and forgot to take the girls out before sending them down the conveyor belt.  Me being me, I thought that was hysterically funny.  There was surprisingly little hassle, and, miracle of miracles, everyone was pleasant and helpful.

But when we arrived in the waiting room, fluorescent-lit and as glamourous, comfortable and interesting as a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles, we discovered I'd made another mistake.  "We're here for a DNA appointment," I confidently announced to the woman at one of about five windows.  She looked confused and told me to wait a moment.  No, actually we weren't there for a DNA appointment at all. Somehow, despite having read the website over and over again, I'd missed the part about the need to schedule separate appointments for the DNA tests and embassy paperwork.  In fact, they weren't even doing DNA tests that day. They can schedule everything the same day -- you just need to, uh, schedule it, which I hadn't done.  Duh.  But even though we were a half-hour late and STUPID, they accomodated us.  We sat with Indian-American families applying for passports for kids born in India and a couple of slacker-dude backpackers who'd lost their passports, and before I knew it, our paperwork was complete.  "Don't you need proof of residency?" I asked the pretty, studious-looking African-American woman behind the window.  "Oh no, with what you have in your passport, it's pretty obvious you've been living in the U.S.," she said.  Good thing, too -- I'd just realized I'd left the file with five years of tax records back at the hotel.  Double duh.

They told us to come bacy the next day for the DNA test, just for the girls as I'd already done mine back in Los Angeles.  This time, we remembered to be in the lobby for an 8:45 am pick-up -- and so did Avey, finally heading home to the UK after two months in Delhi, and Rob and Dave from San Francisco, on their way to the dreaded FRRO.  Our drivers?  Nowhere in sight.  Avey called Rahul -- her driver would be there in five minutes she was told.  Five minutes passed; no driver.  Avey called Rahul again, her patience wearing thin.  Rahul himself showed up about two minutes later, and Avey was on her way home at last.  The next driver appeared at 9:25 -- Rob and Dave told us to go, as they didn't actually have an appointment (thanks, guys!), but we'd obviously abandoned hope of arriving on time.

We pulled up to Consular Services once again a half-hour late.  So same thing all over again:  cellphone at first security check, hold the girls while the Cocoons go through the x-ray machine, back to the fluorescent and linoleum waiting-room.  The girls couldn't eat for an hour before the cheek swabs, so we nervously awaited our turn in the "privacy room."  See, we've discovered that Clara has a superpower:  a shriek that pierces walls, shatters glass and ruptures eardrums.  If she let loose at the embassy, surely we'd be sent to Guantánamo or something.  So in the interest of national security, we wanted to keep her happy.   Embassy staffers Karin, John and Sarah told us not to worry about our late arrival... they're used to it; it is Delhi after all.  Our turn came, the girls squealed like piggies as the tech took the cheek swabs, and we headed back out to the waiting room to give them their bottles.

Our companions in the waiting room this time were quite interesting:  Diana, an expat single mom who was trying to get a passport for her son.  She was the daughter of a diplomat and had never lived in the US, which complicated things -- to convey citizenship, you have to be born or naturalized AND have lived in the States for five consecutive years after the age of 14.  She was frustrated at the roadblocks that throws up for her son.  We were also joined by a married couple with a clutch of five (I think) kids in tow -- three adopted from Indian orphanages, two biological.  He was from a village in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh; she was from New York, where they now live, heavily tattoed, and had a mouth like a marine.  "You guys are fucking amazing," she exclaimed as she breastfed her baby in the waiting room ("Careful, mustn't have any titties floating around in public!").  "Gay couples aren't the problem, they're the fucking solution -- you guys don't have the relationship bullshit that heterosexuals have, you've worked it all through.  You're so much more honest."  Okay, I don't mind being a positive stereotype.  But I decided not to disillusion her by telling her that, whatever she was talking about, same-sex couples suffer from all the same problems -- boredom, infidelities, petty jealousies -- afflicting straight ones.   Instead I told her that they were amazing, adopting three kids... and raising them to speak English, Hindi and Yiddish, of all things.  Then a woman came from behind the window, inferred that her boobies were spooking the horses, and made her go in the privacy room to finish nursing.

So that was that.  In spite of the squealing, all pretty painless and straightforward.  This was last Wednesday and Thursday -- they told us to expect the test results by tomorrow, since we'd paid to have them expedited.  We also opted for the emergency passports, since they'll give us the option of returning home sooner, even if Lufthansa doesn't.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

June at the Svelte Cantonment

Dearest Nigel,

The heat is simply beastly. I loathe Delhi in summer. Father and Victor have gone off with their regiment to Rawalpindi, nearly everyone else is spending the monsoon in the blissful coolness of the hill stations, and I shall never forgive Mother for insisting we stay behind . Why, no polo matches, no dances, no teas on the green -- it's just ghastly!

Do write soon -- I'm ever so bored without you.

Your loving Nan

Okay, while I do feel walled off from the real city pulsing outside,  the Svelte Hotel isn't exactly the British Raj circa 1934, I don't really loathe Delhi in summer, and the only Nan around here is a brand of baby formula, but we're certainly living in our own little Western-flavored bubble. We hang out with other wonderful IPs from the States, Australia, Norway and the UK.  When we have nurses, we meet for dinners and trips to the gym. We go shopping together.  I feel like a spoiled Westerner, insulated from the daily life of the city.  It's weird living like this, being in such a fascinating place with so much to discover and... not... but that's not really the purpose of this trip, is it? 

Our ventures out usually consist of walking over to Select Citywalk Mall, where you pay nearly-Western prices at the same shops you'd find at the Beverly Center or the Grove in Los Angeles. It's a life-saver having two supermarkets, ATMs and two baby shops next door to the hotel, but aside from a quick visit to India Gate, we haven't done any sightseeing. Good thing we enjoy spending so much time staring at the girls. They're a nice antidote for my usual compulsion to stay moving and explore. On our last trip, we took tuk-tuks all over the city and took trains all over Rajasthan. This time, we barely leave our room.

Most of the expat talk centers around... well, poop. Last week witnessed a hotel-wide crisis as Delhi Newborn ran out of Farex, the formula they sent our babies home with. In our case, the condition was heralded by a single rabbit-like turd in Clara's diaper. For days, we all endured fussy, gassy babies and breakfast conversation tended towards what worked best. Massage? Prune juice? In one case, gradually increasing doses of prune juice produced a sputtering, splattering Kilauea-like eruption as soon as the diaper was removed.  Personally, we managed to avoid volcanic babies, and as supplies of Farex were located at different pharmacies around town, the crisis for everyone passed.

Our most ambitious foray out of our little neo-cantonment was a trip a few nights back to Karim's in Old Delhi, a local institution. that looks like a good place to court intestinal maladies but you always seem to escape unscathed. Adrián and I went there on our last trip here and loved it. The place has been dishing out butter chicken, tandoori specialties, biryanis and more for nearly a century and is a favorite of film stars and politicians. At least, that's what the guide book says. I think. I haven't actually read the guide book on this trip. Anyway, it's delicious.

We left late, since so many of us leaving at once threw the nurses into chaos.  They didn't figure out who was going where until after all of us had already left.  Todd and Dan brought their son, Colton, down to our room and left him with our nurse Remya.  We all joked that it was anyone's guess whose child would be where when we returned, leaving us with our first major test of parenthood:  like penguins in a giant colony, recognizing our own offspring among hundreds of possible candidates.  Okay, a dozen or so.

But now, most in our little community of expat IPs have left -- Avey, Renee, Temmy, Dan and Todd from San Diego, Rob and Dave from San Francisco, Posh and Lara from New Jersey -- leaving us, Bernadette , and Jan and Eveliis alone here at a much quieter Svelte like bored British debutantes.

We'll bring the girls back for a proper trip across India when they're older and have functioning immune systems.  Meanwhile, I'm late for my gin fizz on the veranda.  Excuse me.
I leave you with last Friday night in Old Delhi.
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Monday, June 4, 2012

Trying again - Big Fat Photodump Part I

Pre-departure toast to the girls courtesy of Uncle Myles
Meeting Olivia
I'm so happy no one is sticking tubes in me anymore
Really?  You're letting her go with US?
Olivia cleared for launch
God, it's good to be out of there!
Street family on the way to DNC
Tent dwellers
Dude, can you watch it with those sudden accelerations?  We just lost Vivek!
Mango season!  I've made myself sick eating too many.
Great big Shiva
Inside the NICU  - Clara's in the corner
Cooling off near India Gate as the thermometer approaches 47 degrees
Cooling off -- yes, I felt pervy taking this.
We're going to get Clara?!?
Dr. Singh clears Clara for departure
Fellow Californians Michael and John of Our Gemini Dragons with son Ethan
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