When toddlers attack

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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