Wearing a Baby and a Grandmother’s Memory

Dear Grandmother Mone,

Although Humnoy was born long after your passing, I strive to provide your presence in his life and mine. You are my constant inspiration – this blog, parenting choices, and in karma. I wouldn’t be where I am without your memory of strong will and instinctive motherhood in a country I am grateful to know of but to not have been born in at a time of war reparation.

I wore your *sinh to Humnoy’s *phakhouane and most recently to Lao New Year. It was an unbelievable honor to be able to keep you and my baby close to my heart. I hope you are proud of me and that the blessings from the New Year reach to you and that you know how much I miss you.

Love,
Theek

*sinh, the traditional Lao skirt made of silk and cotton.

**phakhouane, a symbolic offering to the assembled gods and a a welcome mat and gift for the returning khouanes

20120416-140017.jpg

Humnoy Leads a Lao Dance Party!

Humnoy has been enjoying the authentic food, language, and definitely the music. Did I mention that he loves, like LOVES, to dance? No? Well, he really loves to, btw. Every major Lao celebration is complete when you have karaoke and drunk men dilly-dallying on the stage pretending to be a part of the band. Then you get drunk men on the dance floor. Throw in Humnoy in the mix and you get this:

Celebrating Lao New Year and a Superstitious Milestone

First year molars? Check. Friday the 13th? Check. Lao New Year? AWESOME.

The stars are aligning to test my motherhood patience this weekend for Laotian New Year, the largest cultural celebration for the Laotian community marking the end of previous year and embarking on a new year full of life and new journeys. At last year’s celebration, Humnoy was a mere five weeks and I was still a zombie mama with round-the-clock nursing. A great article about Lao New Year by Mike Ives does an amazing job explaining the going-ons of a Laotian New Year celebration, which unanimously involve water fights and partying hard without the drama.

Lao New Year 2011

Lao New Year 2011

Fitting that Humnoy’s 13th month falls on Friday the 13th. He surely has never been an ordinary child. Well, a quick update at 13 months:

Humnoy loves:
- dancing to Motown jams.
- brushing his teeth.
- Sesame Street.
- pretending to talk on the phone.
- putting things in other things that fit (what is this even called?)
- watching himself in his videos.
- independently climbing up and down off furniture including our family bed and other stable large objects.

For example, while I had my back turned making dinner and Dada was focused on his phone, Humnoy climbed into his walker (aka his kid cage) without any trouble . He’s so ninja. Don’t worry; it’s not weird for us to not freak out about it because he does that shit. ALL. THE. TIME.

Ninja climber!

Sabaidee Pbeemai (Happy Lao New Year)! Oh, and happy surviving a whole month after a whole year, baby!

Lao New Year at Wat Lao Thammayanaram is located 3002 S. 27th Ave Kennewick, Washington 99337-2416. The festivities are April 13 -15th including a Miss Lao New Year pageant, food vendors, and music and so much more!

The Advantages of Gifting Money like Laotians

Lao mafioso

You can’t have a Lao birthday party with Laotians without cash gifts. Growing up, that is all you ever got as birthday presents. You know you’re going to a Lao birthday party when you’re stuffing an envelope with cash just as you’re getting ready to head out the door. Guests at Lao weddings, kids birthdays, and even funerals, always know the drill – cash money is the standard. Registry in Laos? Yeah, right!

In American social grace, it is poor etiquette to give money in lieu of a gift. They say it’s bad taste and disrespectful. They also say that it takes away the magic of surprise and thoughtfulness. I, as a frequent patron of Laotian celebrations, say that there are many great advantages to providing money as a gift. Here is your guide to the advantages of gifting cash money like a Laotian:

Advantage #1: Gifting money saves you time.

Don’t even lie – you have bought a gift on the way to that said event. I’m guilty of it too, it’s even made me late to the parties! Money saves you a trip to the store and it’s two easy steps:

1. Stuff envelope with cash or check written to guest(s) of honor.
2. Write name of guest(s) of honor on envelope. DONE!

If you want to get real fancy, you can stuff it in a nice envelope or something. Who are we kidding? Let’s keep it simple, stupid.

Advantage #2: Money has more than one use.

I did make a wedding registry, when one of my mother-in-law’s friends wanted to get us a gift (they’re from the South) and gifted a cutlery set. Before this, I literally had four forks, four spoons, and my demo set from when I sold CutCo knives after high school. True story. While I love that I have real butter knives now, it can only go so far. I can’t buy gas with my spoons nor can I pay for parking with an ultra fancy serrated edge. Got change from breaking that $20? You can do laundry or get a soda machine pop! Money is a jack of all trades!

Advantage #3: Money is eco-friendly.

Rather than have a bunch of trash to throw away, envelopes and money are more socially conscious. Money is paper; paper come from trees; trees are for hugging. Therefore you’re an honorary hippie/Laotian when you gift money. Even if you’re not green, just think about how your gift will be the most neatly packaged without any annoying tape.

Advantage #4: Money saves you the lack of thoughtfulness on the gift.

Sure, you could spend countless hours thinking of the perfect gift but why risk it and fail? Just give him a chunk of change and let the recipient choose what they really want. Maybe they really want to make a trip to the liquor store to celebrate? (I don’t judge) Your gift will make all their drunk dreams come true and they’ll thank you for contributing to a good night out or in, wherever their sorrows take them. Money is very thoughtful – thought just comes from the person receiving it!

Advantage #5: EVERYBODY likes money.

If you have those people in your life that are difficult to “shop” for, then your answer is a gift card! WRONG. The right answer is cash money. There is just something very appealing with the smell of green paper and ease of use. I don’t know anybody who can’t use some cash, unless your friends are crackheads then get them the damn gift card. Be confident that your gift will never need a gift receipt, ’nuff said.

Rollin'

Note: Friends and family, we appreciate your kindness and gifts. Humnoy had an amazing birthday party with lots of great items!

How do you buy gifts for those difficult-to-buy-for friends and family? How do you feel about giving money? To children?

Lao Prayers Lookin’ like “The Wave”

I decided to raise my family with no specific religious affiliation although I was raised Buddhist with a devout Buddhist mom. I would like Humnoy to be able to choose his own path from his unbiased experience and exposure to all of them. That is unless he decided he wants to be a serial killer then I gotta intervene in that noise pronto! With that said, I mostly identify with spirituality in Buddhism. I like to live my life knowing my ancestors will appreciate some of the things I practice or do. I’m not perfect nor claiming I ever am but I think I’m a pretty badass descendent, just sayin’.

My mom speaks to Humnoy in Lao, feeds him Lao food, and is teaching him the details of our culture. I can barely keep up with my Lao Food Challenge, let alone immerse my child in Laotian culture. She managed to teach him a gesture for “pray,” and can also be informally used to ask for something, give thanks, and show appreciation. Saying ‘sah tu’ is generally accompanied with hands in the universal prayer hands (palms facing each other; hands together).

She taught him in a weekend and Humnoy’s version is a bit off from the actual gesture. I can’t help but admit that Humnoy’s ‘praying’ is more him doing The Wave, like the dude in the stands that does it way later than everybody else. You can easily still see he’s gettin’ it!

Laotians Keep Family

As Humnoy’s first year mark comes near, I am constantly reminded that the word “family” has so much more meaning than just “mom” and “dad.” It goes beyond just beyond blood and water. Family is something you strive to constantly improve, love better, and know more. Our family started with our surprise pregnancy and our hasty chase to share a last name. I love my husband for his ability to understand me the most and support/agree with my alternative thoughts and ideas. I found to love my husband even more when he became a father and this man blossomed into the biggest softie who speaks in high-pitched baby voices all day, every day. I love my son like there hasn’t been anything so special in my life until he was born. I love him more each day when he slobbery kisses my cheek, when he places his little hand in between my boobs when he’s nursing, and when he makes my day so much more exciting and chaotic all at the same time. To now, our journey of “family” continues to connect.

An ironic twist in my current family relations occurred just this past week. As I am doing my best to protect my brother’s family, I find another opportunity to expand my family ties where it is due. While I am frustrated at the initial situation, a chance opportunity has connected me to another part of family I had little to no contact with until now. I have officially connected with my older half-siblings that live in Michigan. From the aforementioned shotgun wedding came a wedding announcement in my hometown paper, which led to a search for my maiden name. From sharing the same last name to seeing that name in Facebook comments, I have an older sister and and older brother here in the U.S. that I can call my own.

I will channel all of this negativity from the stress of my brother’s paternity issues to truly connecting with family. I am trying my best to avoid the stress and the drama and let manipulators dwell on their moral consequences so I can really provide positive energy to get to know my big brother and big sister and their families.

Our culture is rooted in extended family, who doesn’t turn away family because they made bad decisions, arrive at an inconvenient time, or have health problems. We embrace them and provide what they need when they need it – material, physical, or emotional.

Yes, Laotians Celebrate Birthdays But Not Like That

What, you didn’t grow up celebrating your birthday with cake and egg rolls? Lao people aren’t what you would call a celebratory people in the sense of RSVPs, gift wrap or cards. You know you’re at a Laotian child’s birthday party when it starts out with cake and ends with an all-night gambling session. See? We celebrate birthdays but just not like that.

My mom’s birthday is on October 15. Now, don’t call me a bad daughter off the bat but she is going to make real pho this weekend and I couldn’t be more delighted. What, you didn’t grow up with your parent making food on their own birthday?

Yes, she’ll make the pho but she gets to spend it with her favorite grandson and favorite daughter. What more could she ask for, really? She does constantly drop hints on a pair of diamond earrings.

“Oh, Humnoy. When you Mommy and Daddy gone to buy Grandma diamond earring, hah?”

Do you remember your childhood birthday parties? What was your favorite age for a birthday?

How Lao People Welcome a Baby – Humnoy’s Phakhouane

I feel like a traveler having gone to Laos and back. I ate a ton of Lao food made by Lao people, I have spoken broken-Lao all too wrongly and have some missing belongings. (Lao people always lose their sandals.) I don’t own a passport therefore I have just been at my parents’ place helping prepare for the big celebration. Humnoy is trying to adjust back to his schedule at home (and it’s been a week!), which doesn’t coincide with the average bedtime at 11:30 at his grandparents. The weekend was a great success filled with good food, slumber parties with out-of-town family and lots of laughs.

*Disclaimer: I am not an expert in the ceremony even though I have attended many for funerals, weddings and other life celebrations. I am writing about our celebration for the birth of my family’s first grandson. I consulted a website that has great information regarding our culture’s celebration and address it accordingly to relate to my post. The website was chock full of descriptions and history and it was an amazing resource to have to put “words” to things I have seen or heard at functions like this but never fully understood.

Photos courtesy of my “cousin Kevin.” He was the only one who took pictures! Apologies for the blurry vision!

His poukhan ceremony was tentatively held at 10:00 am but on “Lao time,” as my husband dotingly calls it, it started a good 20 minutes later. I lit the candle on top of the phakhouane, which is made up of banana leaves and flowers and has long cotton blessing threads attached to it.

The phakhouane has a very important role in the ritual: as a symbolic offering to the assembled gods and a a welcome mat and gift for the returning khouanes, just as Lao hospitality usually welcomes a quest with a meal.

A community elder that is “chanting” some blessings to the strings, which are an integral part of the ritual. That is my grandfather, Humnoy’s great-grandfather, on the stool (he has a lot of health problems). Isn’t he so cute?

During the ceremony, the mophone invokes the power and magic of the gods and the guardian spirits, seeking ther blessings. The threads, which should have knots on the middle to contain these blessings, thus appear as receptacle of an exterior magical power that make them different from ordinary threads ad give them meaning and value accepted, respected and understood by the participants of the ritual.

We are deemed as “guests of honor” at this ceremony therefore we are holding the long strings. My poor husband and his cyclist legs couldn’t sit the Lao-way such as the men in the above picture.

Prior to the beginning of the ceremony, the mophone would give these long pieces to the [guest] of honour. The mophone would hold the other end of the same piece in his hands on a praying position while conducting the ritual.

IMG_2317 (1)

I am receiving the first blessing from the elder by holding an egg and an apple (a food offering) while touching the phakhouane.

During the tying of these threads friends and family would show unity and support for the person having their wrist tied by holding the arm being tied or other parts of the person’s body. Others can join in this act of support by touching someone else who has the physical contact with person.

It is now an opportunity to spread the blessings during the ritual. They usually wish good health, for more children and to be good to one another. For kids and from what I remember, the adults always made sure the blessings were to obey your parents, get good grades and stay out of trouble!

The tying of the threads symbolizes the reinforcement of the body’s strength, an act that restores bodily as well as spiritual and social equilibrium, essential for well being and happiness. It is a way of binding khouane within the boundary of the physical body.

Once the blessings have gone around, it is food and party time.

Did you catch the last two pictures? Later that afternoon, a friend and I had to drop him off at home to sleep it off. He was very sweet about it but was absolutely wasted! I hope you got the feel for our culture with the pictures and the text.

Have you been to cultural ceremonies before other than your own (Mexican quinceañera, American Thanksgiving, etc.)? What was your favorite part(s) about those celebrations or those of your own culture’s?

One Egg Roll Down, 224 More to Go

Preparing for a poukhan is like planning a Lao wedding: make lots of food! When you have lots of food, cards and alcohol, you know you’re at a Lao party. Humnoy’s poukhan is this weekend and we’re busy making food to share with our friends and family and any Lao party isn’t complete without egg rolls!

So here I am slaving away on the Lao sit stool slumped over a kao-thoke, a Laotian dinner table of sorts, making a ton of these crispy little morsels of rolled eats!

20110922-111548.jpg

One down. Calling in my sister-in-law for reinforcements. Laotian Commotion: Out.

What’s your favorite Lao party food? What other cultures have you attended in their parties?

Fish Sauce for Breakfast, Anyone?

Every weekend with my folks always results in 5 pounds gained and food to take home to The Husband. This weekend was no different where I had at least three different types of Lao food as take-home tokens. Humnoy had his share of kao neow (sticky rice) as Grandma wore him around in her own version of a baby sling.

Supervising Grandma’s kao neow

Why is it that mainstream baby companies make their big bucks from simple ideas that come from foreign mothers with minimal resources? Seriously, my mom found a large scarf and used her Lao talent to tie Humnoy onto her hip while he happily grubbed on a wedge of sticky rice. In my Moby Wrap, a stretchy wrap that retails for at least $45, he’d be fussing and trying to do back flips to get out of it.

Lao Grandma- 1; Mom- 0

Lao breakfast isn’t confined to a simple eggs and ketchup task. Laotians will have lunch or dinner items for the first meal of the day before you see an omelet on the menu. Our last morning of our weekend stay was no exception. Friends, I had one of my Husband’s most-requested foods.
20110912-114137.jpg

It’s spicy, coconutty and so beyond flavorful. I had “ga bounkao poun for breakfast. Kao poun can be best described as curry noodle soup (Lao friends, please jump in to correct me if I’m wrong)! It reminds me of Mexican menudo because you have the stock with chicken meat then you add some sort of carb (in kao poun’s case, it’s noodles) then top off with fresh cabbage, cilantro and fresh squeezed lime. Don’t forget the bean sprouts and extra fish sauce, if desired!

Now that I’m back home, tomorrow morning will be unlike regular breakfasts in our household. Forget the eggs and gluten-free blueberry waffle, Mama’s going to have some kao poun.

What is your usual breakfast look like? Have you ever switched it up and had lunch/dinner for breakfast? Any unusual items you’ve had or made yourself for breakfast?