Candyland birthday

Candyland birthday

We moved into our new house just a few weeks before Ruby’s birthday.  While we are really happy in our new place, we desperately miss our balcony.  It was as close to a yard as you can get in Beirut and the kids could spend hours outside playing after school.  It also was the one thing that made having our kids’ birthday parties at home possible.  Our house now is much too small for more than a friend or two, and that makes me really sad.

I love planning the kids’ parties – from the theme to the decorations to the food to the games, but it’s nearly impossible to find a venue in Beirut that will let you plan your own party.  Most places come with food, animation, loud music and of course an insanely high price tag.

Ruby had been planning the theme for months and her one birthday wish was to have all her friends come to her party, so I was scrambling for options.  Caleb and ABTS to the rescue!  We were able to rent the court and even take advantage of the new catering department to help out with the food.

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I thought since we had such a big space, why not throw caution to the wind and invite Ruby’s whole class to her Candyland party.  We were happily surprised when most of the kids from her class came, even though it’s a bit of a drive to get there.

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Ruby and I came up with lots of fun candy-themed games.  Who can eat a long piece of licorice the fastest, running a race while holding a spoon with a marshmallow in your mouth, four corners, some parachute games, and a cake walk style dancing game.  I thought that after a year of school, the kids would be more into the organized games.  I was so wrong.  It was total chaos.  A small group participated, but for the most part it was like herding cats.

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So I moved quickly to the food thinking we could eat, have cake and then the kids could have some time for free play on the playground.

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But as soon as the cupcakes were eaten, almost everyone packed up and left!  It sent me into a tailspin of doubt… was it boring?  Were we not hospitable enough?  Were the kids not having fun?  Was it not fancy enough?  Did I miss some cultural cues or rules or….?  Or maybe it was just a long drive and people needed to head home.  I honestly don’t know, but it was quite the let down.

Thankfully Ruby didn’t feel any of that, she was just thrilled to have all her friends at her party and so excited to be 4 years old!

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Garbage crisis commentary by the 3 year old

Garbage crisis commentary by the 3 year old

A few days after we traveled, Beirut’s only landfill closed and the contract with the trash company ran out.  The government had made no plans to find a new place to dispose of the city’s trash, nor had they planned anything by way of garbage collection.

So the garbage piled up on the streets.  I’m so grateful we were out of the country.  I can’t even imagine the smell of rotting trash under the summer sun.  People were literally stuck in their homes with garbage blocking the roads.

When we got back, the streets were clean, but all the garbage had just been relocated.  Under bridges.  Thrown off the side of the mountain.  Piled high on the bank of the Beirut river.  So people started protesting, the government responded with a heavy hand, and things have been continuing along the same lines since then.

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We’ve always been pretty open with our kids when they have questions.  We try our best to answer questions, whether they are about how babies are born or why there’s a war in Syria, in a truthful yet age appropriate way.  So when the girls asked about the burning trash and the riot police, I explained as much as I thought they would understand.  The government stopped paying the trash collectors so people were protesting, going to the government and telling them “you stink!”  (the name of the movement organizing the protests).

Isla of course had a million question followed by tears because she’s learned about air pollution and is convinced we are all going to die.  We talked about what the protesters want and how the government responded (shooting water and then gas and then guns, building walls to keep the people away from the government…)

And then from the back seat from the car, a little voice piped up, “We should just throw the government in the trash!”

We giggled about it and as we kept talking, I realized that maybe the girls didn’t quite know what a government is.  So I explained it’s not a thing, but a group of people who make the rules for the country.  I felt like it still didn’t quite sink in, but didn’t realize how far off their thinking was until about a week later.  We were in another part of town where the trash collectors were back to work.

Ruby saw the worker, dressed in green with his broom and trash bag and shouted out with glee, “MOM!  I SEE A GOVERNMENT!”

Hmm.

General Security vs…. a three year old.

General Security vs…. a three year old.

We have to renew our residency permits every year.  The list of requirements is always changing – letter from our church here, paper with official stamps saying we will take financial responsibility for our children, signed paper saying we will not marry a Lebanese, and on and on.  But one thing we’ve needed consistently is three passport pictures.

So our kids are pretty good at standing on the wall and taking their picture.  It’s actually like a rite of passage that they go through every year after their birthday.  Get their hair fixed, stand in front of the wall, look happy but not smiling, click click, and we’re done.

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In the past, our permits are basically a laminated card with the picture we provided and all our information filled in by hand.  But in the past year, general security has moved to an electronic system.  We found out when we went to renew Isla’s visa and apply for Luka’s a few months ago.  Now each applicant is fingerprinted electronically (yes, including our newborn) and the picture is taken at the counter and put straight into the system.

We thought getting a 2 month old to look at a camera with both eyes open and to put four fingers on the electronic pad while applying the exact same amount of pressure for each finger was a challenge.  But that’s because we hadn’t attempted to renew our three year old’s visa yet.

Let’s just say that Ruby is in a very, ahem, strong willed, independent phase.  She’s perfectly capable of putting on her shoes, eating her sandwich, looking me in the eye, smiling at the camera…. but perfectly capable means nothing to a stubborn toddler who has decided she absolutely will not have her picture taken.

We encouraged, we bribed, we threatened, we reminded her that we can’t argue with soldiers and that they would not let her stay in Lebanon if she didn’t have a new visa.  The guys behind the counter were snapping and clicking their tongues at her trying to get her attention, but she was absolutely refusing.   I was seriously starting to sweat… forget the child who throws a fit in the grocery store because she doesn’t get the bag of goldfish she wanted, my child has decided to be ornery in the one place that could literally kick us out the country with a minute’s notice.

Finally the soldier told us meshilhal, literally “the situation is walking.”  Didn’t have a clue if they actually had taken a picture, but we headed to the next office to get a signature, then the next for another and then to the desk to pay.

Three weeks later, I found out what he meant by meshilhal.  General Security: 1, Ruby: 0.

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Follow me, Mama

Follow me, Mama

As I start this post Luka is sleeping in his bed.  I say start because I have no illusions that I’ll actually finish it in one sitting, but it’s significant that he’s in his bed.  Significant because he hasn’t slept in his bed in nearly a week.  His daytime naps he’s been wrapped close to my chest, my movements calming him and our hearts beating in sync.  At night, he’s been snuggled in the crook of my arm, easy access to his milk and secure with his little body touching mine.  But on a whim, I tried laying him down in his bed when he fell asleep this morning.  And 45 minutes later, he is still there.

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As I was nursing him to sleep, I realized that I couldn’t actually remember the last time Ruby nursed.  It wasn’t yesterday.  Was it the day before?  Or was that the night she surprised me and went to sleep with just a cuddle from Daddy?  And as much as I am ready for her to be completely weaned, I started feeling sad.  Three years and it’s just over? (Although I’m not sure that she’s actually done, she is certainly getting close.)

That’s both the beauty and the sadness of following your child’s lead.  There is no big party when they decide to sleep in their bed or when they decide it’s time to wean.  You don’t know when the last time they fall asleep on your chest will be.  It just happens.  But you know when it does happen that they are ready.  My babies don’t sleep through the night because they were left crying in a bed and learned that no one comes so they might as well give up and sleep.  My babies sleep through the night because they are developmentally ready.  They are secure, they are bonded, because they’ve learned early that every need they have will be met, whether it’s a need to nurse or to sleep in someone’s arms.

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When Isla was almost two, I went to nurse her one night and she told me no, she wanted milk in a cup.  I offered the next few days, but she always chose the cup.  And that was that.  Ruby’s weaning process has been much more gradual.  We’re down to once a day, but last week she took a bite of ice cream instead, and since then it’s been only every other day or two that she’s asked to nurse.

It’s like a baby learning to walk.  First they pull up, maybe start cruising around the furniture.  Then a step or two.  Maybe they fall down.  It’s scary so they are back to being carried in mama’s arms for a few days until they are ready to try again.  Then one step turns into three and four and soon they are running across the room.

It’s been an hour and nine minutes and Luka is still asleep.  In his bed.  But I’m not about to ring a bell and shout it from the rooftops.  Because this afternoon he will probably need to be held to sleep.  And tonight he may not sleep anywhere except my bed.  But his little wings are starting to spread.  And some day, just like his sisters did, he’ll hear a story, sing a song, get kisses and hugs and sleep all night long in his own bed.  Maybe it will be soon, maybe not for another year.  But one day he won’t need me in the same way, so I’m gonna treasure it as long as I can.  Even when it means my back is aching from the awkward sleeping position or he’s been nursing for 90 minutes straight and I feel like he’s sucking the life out of me.

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Because someday I will miss this.

Ruby’s Boxtown

Ruby’s Boxtown

Ruby very randomly decided that she wanted a “girl-cow” birthday party this year.  I knew it could be a challenge finding things for a Western-themed birthday here in the Middle East, but was happy to be planning a non-princess party for a change!

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I decided to ditch the organized games this party.  As much as I love them, with three year olds, trying to get them to stand in a line and take turns, or really follow directions at all is like herding cats, so instead I decided to create different stations of activities where they could play.

We were at a friend’s house a few months ago and they had built a house out of a big cardboard box.  Ruby begged for a house like Taha’s, so this was the perfect opportunity.  But instead of a house, we created a whole Western boxtown!

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The girls were in heaven.  I actually had to not let them play in them too much because I was afraid they’d be destroyed before the party even started!

In addition to the boxtown, which is where I anticipated the kids would spend most of their time playing, we also had a few other games.

Ring toss..

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… a little art project…

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… and a “digging for gold” station.  Ruby got a fun water table for her birthday from her Grandpa and Grandma, so we filled it with rice and dried chickpeas that we had painted yellow for the kids to search for.

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It took the kids a while to warm up to the whole idea of free play – I think partially because many of them didn’t know each other.  But by the end of the party, there was rice everywhere and lots of bad guys chased and caught and put into jail.  They had a blast.

We also had a pinata that my friend made.

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See Ruby’s boots?  Those were her Daddy’s cowboy boots when he was a little boy.

And no party would be complete without the cake… I hesitate to show you my cupcake horse because it could easily belong on a Pinterest fail website… I don’t think anyone even knew it was supposed to be a horse…. but the cupcakes tasted great!  I found recipes for flavored buttercream here, so we had lemon and berry flavored frosting.

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I kept the other food simple: zaatar and cheese rolls, chicken nuggets, cucumbers, tomatoes, apples and haystacks (Rice Krispie treats.  But Ruby and Isla think they are actually called haystacks, haha!)

My little birthday girl was thrilled with her party… and in a panic when her friends were leaving trying to figure out if she was “still three???”

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Yes, princess.  You are still three.  :)

Happy Birthday Ruby!

Happy Birthday Ruby!

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Ruby has been looking forward to being three for quite a while now so that she can get earrings, go to school and chew gum.  Her current favorite things are her sister, cold oatmeal, dresses that spin, babies and zert (dessert).  When Ruby grows up she wants to wipe herself when she poops and be a fairy.  Big dreams, this one.  She is full of drama and goofiness.  Can’t imagine our family without sweet Ruby!  Happy birthday big girl!!

The snack plate

The snack plate

Ruby has always had a really hard time gaining weight.  Though she was the biggest of my three babies when she was born, she quickly fell to under 5% on the growth curve, at one point she had fallen off the chart completely.  She was diagnosed failure to thrive around a year, and though her doctor wasn’t too worried we did run a whole bunch of tests just to make sure there wasn’t something serious going on.  We added oil and butter to all her food to try to get her to gain weight, and while she’s caught up a little bit, she’s still super skinny.  No biggie, look at her Daddy!

But at the same time, she eats like a bird.  Sometimes we’ll sit down for dinner and she’ll take two bites – literally – and declare she’s full.  If we spoon feed her, she might eat, but on her own, she’s done.  For about a week we tried just letting her be done, figuring she’d get hungry enough to eat, but she never really made up for the missed dinners.  She’s not picky really, she eats from all the food groups and there are only a few things she doesn’t like, the problem is the amount.

A few years ago at a La Leche League meeting, I remember the leader talking about having a grazing tray for her toddler.  Basically she filled an ice cube tray with healthy snacks, set it on a table at toddler level and let her little one eat whatever and whenever he wanted.  The idea is, if we nurse on demand, why do we suddenly expect a toddler to eat on a schedule?

So I thought I’d give it a try.  I filled a plate with all sorts of healthy options… veggies, fruits, sandwich, eggs, raisins, nuts… basically a little of everything I had on hand.  I set it out on a serving table, pulled up a stool and told Ruby she could eat anything from the plate whenever she felt hungry.  She was confused at first, and asked every few minutes if she could eat some cheese or a raisin or whatever.  I kept explaining that she didn’t have to ask, that she could eat anything, anytime.

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To my surprise, by mid-morning, Ruby had polished off the entire plate!  I refilled it, sticking with a wide variety of healthy options.  And by lunch, she’d nearly finished another plate full!  That’s more than she would normally eat in an entire day.

I’m not exactly sure why this works with Ruby… maybe that she is in control?  Or maybe I’ve just been trying to feed her at the wrong time of day?  Who knows, but if it works, we’ll run with it!