Author Archives: Rana Hanna

About Rana Hanna

My school teachers in Lebanon and France did everything in their power to suppress my creativity and so accepting that I was well and truly a writer took some time. About forty years. I always thought that my flitting interests and avid curiosity were due to a lack of rigor until I accepted that it was part and parcel of being a creative person. I was liberated. Still, it was a bumpy road. Starting in my Politics tutor’s office in Nottingham, 1990: “Yes, yes, it’s well written but that’s not how we write in English. You’re writing in English, French style!” And continuing to Oxford in 1994: “You don’t know economics for s**t, but you write very well.” And so a love story began, not with my professor nor with economics, but with writing. I paid dearly for this love, because the only job I could find upon graduating was writing about kitchens and bathrooms. The upside? I got to write catchy punchlines for the in-house marketing department. If you can write five hundred words about shower heads, you can write about anything. And so I did for a few years until a man jumped on the treadmill next to mine at the gym and my current novel was born. Writing is very much like acting, my first true love. You can be whomever like, but you get to create your own characters! And so, I am first and foremost a mother, writer, editor, observer, runner, dog-lover, reader, writer, sister, and daughter. I love to eat, I love to drink, I love to have engaging conversations, I love to have coffee in bed and I love to read. I love music and I love to sing out loud. I love my kids, I love my dog, I don’t love my husband half as much as I should, I love my mother, I love my siblings, I love movies and I love popcorn. Of course, I am a Gemini and I am on Day 19 of my cycle so tomorrow I may feel completely differently about all these things. Tomorrow I may be someone else entirely.

On raising dogs…and boys

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who like dogs and those who don’t. Some would claim that they are indifferent, or ambivalent, but that is not true. They just haven’t bothered to really sort through their feelings on the subject yet. I used to think that I was indifferent to dogs until I had my own—not too different from my boys actually–and then I realized that I liked them. I like them a lot.

Then there is a small splinter group: those who say they like dogs in general, just not my dog. My dog, apparently, is too boisterous, too big, too brown, too friendly, too intrusive, too jumpy and too talkative. They would rather, they claim, that my dog kept a safe distance from them, better yet, ignore them.

I had even had the occasional claim that I let my dog, a female chocolate Labrador, get away with things I would never let my kids get away with. That is true. Naturally, I would rather my boys not chew bones, eat dead rats, rub themselves against slugs or sniff other people’s butts in greeting.

My point is this: a person is a person and a dog is a dog. It would be better and easier for both species if hey were not equated. Yet if you were to read Karen Pryor’s excellent book Reaching the Animal Mind, you would understand that there are many similarities when it comes to communicating with animals and people.

And yet so many people still do not know how to communicate or interact with dogs. They either fear them, causing their heart rates to rise and the dog to run to them in aid, which further raises their heart rate, or they run away from them, prompting the dog into a much-loved game of tag. Or they keep looking at the dog and telling it to go away, engaging the dog in conversation—dogs, as you know, cannot talk. They bark.

One thing that people, in my environment at least, do not seem to understand is that you simply have to ignore the dog—not engage with it in any way. Keep going about your business and it will understand. Believe me.

Because when dogs are communicated to properly, they understand. They understand faster than people do. They certainly understand faster than my kids do! For over ten years now I have been trying to teach my boys to say please when they want something, to eat properly and to raise the toilet seat when they need to pee and lower it back down again of course. Ten years and they still have not learned these basic skills. My dog, on the other hand, who is only three, knew from the age of six months to sit for her food. She slurps her whole plate clean without making a mess and knows not to pee except in certain places!

But there is another secret to dogs. Dogs have no shame, no pride and no ego. That makes dealing with then a lot easier than dealing with people. And most of the time they are more fun.

The problem my dog seems to have is that she is too friendly. She believes that everyone she meets either wants to be her friend or they need rescuing because they are in distress. Her only fault, it seems, is that she is being herself. An ideal that, according, to Caroline McHugh, founder and CEO of IDology, a movement dedicated to helping individuals and organizations be fully deployed, original versions of themselves, we should all be striving for. You can watch Caroline’s excellent TED talk here.

My dog, it seems, is not as well trained as my kids. Therefore she has not yet learned to think, and judge, and be critical and cynical. She is still primitive, asking for, and giving in return, love, companionship and comfort. My dog lets me be (except when I’m on my home trainer, in which case she runs to help!), accepts me for who I am and I, indeed, plan on returning the favor.

Although I will concede that her habit of snatching scarves and jackets is very annoying. We are working on that.

Of boys and falling down

The mother of boys has to be very fit. She needs to be fast and have quick reflexes, with enough mental stamina and explosive power in her arms and legs to get to the uncovered plugs before her crawling dumpling does. Or to skid fast enough to cushion the fall of a miscalculated jump, catch a vase that has just been shot off the shelf, or to simply pick her little boy up every time he falls. Because boys fall a lot. Physically and mentally.

And so it was, that at the tender young age of 45, I took up triathlon training. I had always been relatively fit, I had already trained for and run a marathon, worked out in the gym, dabbled with yoga and pilates and spinning, but this was serious s**t, with a coach and a training program that covered most of the hours of the day, most days of the week. There was no room for excuses, exceptions, justifications or pretenses. Here’s the program, shut up and do it.

And so it was that with a runny nose and a blocked ear (from the previous day’s swimming workout) I picked myself up early from bed and went running. Naturally, I was feeling very sorry for myself, I wanted to be in bed with my books and my box of soft tissues, not out here battling it on the streets of Beirut. I cursed myself, I cursed my coach, I cursed my boys and was thinking how perhaps this Christmas, as a way of getting back at them, I should teach them about the art of giving instead of receiving by donating some of their gif…

Then I fell.

Or more like thudded. Thumped. Clunked.

Crashed. Smacked. Clomped.

It wasn’t very elegant.

But whatever I did, I seem to have tripped over a piece of badly paved road and I found myself kissing the ground with a bloody nose, scraped knees and hands, a lot of pain and naturally, a bruised ego.

I think it was providence’s way for punishing me for feeling sorry for myself. But it went the extra step because I was still a mile away from home. With no money and no phone.

And that’s when the mental stamina needs to kick in.

I must have looked bad after my trudge home because it took my youngest only 20 seconds to realize something was wrong with me.

“I fell,” I whimpered.

He gave ma a quick reassurance hug before running around in a few circles and shooting off to grab cotton, disinfectant, ice and a towel, all neatly displayed on a tray. My middle one had by then got wind that I was hurt and, very un-teenage-like, also started fussing and looking for any sleeves we had for sprained knees, ankles and wrists. They fussed and swarmed around me with such tenderness and love and affection that I started making my Christmas list again.

After my shower and unending enquiries as to how I was feeling from all the boys in my household, I started tidying up the mess they had made while looking after me and thanking providence for allowing me to salute the street so intimately and being at the receiving end of so much tenderheartedness, compassion and care.

Tomorrow I may just fall off my bicycle.

Of boys and noise

When I was a young girl, I used to be partially deaf in one ear. I didn’t know that of course, but everyone else did.

My siblings knew because they would whisper to me when I wasn’t looking and see how long it took to get my attention. Finally, my mother, having given up on my siblings’ rudimentary way of testing, confirmed the diagnosis in a dim and humid doctor’s clinic. I was ten years old.

My mother at the time, bless her, had no idea that I would eventually end up living with four boys and that being partially deaf in one ear may actually be a good thing.

Because living with boys as anyone will tell you, is noisy. Doors don’t close, they bang. They don’t unlock, they’re wrenched open. Conversations are not had, they’re shouted across rooms and corridors. My boys are teenagers now, so they’re quite hormonal and so there’s a lot of shouting and screaming going on.

Then there are the musical instruments of course. The piano, played only with the foot constantly to the pedal, and the bass. And the drums. The drums played without the silencing pads.

And the music that stays on long after the premises have been vacated. Music is always in the background.

Boys also like to watch noisy things: a football match with all the cacophony of the stadium, action movies with long car chases and noisy exhausts, war movies. All with the volume pitched high.

And then there’s Big Boy Number One, of course. My husband loves to watch replays of football matches he’s already seen a couple of times already. If his favored team had actually won, I get treated to replays and commentary on television, tablet, phone…Location doesn’t matter either: bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living room…it all works. This doesn’t bother me, I have to admit, except when I’m trying to read or I’m concentrating on something else, happily and quietly in my bed, in which case the commentary becomes quite a distraction.

Especially if it’s in German.

(Neither my husband nor I speak or understand German.)

And here’s an observation I made the other day. Boys don’t notice when a sound is too high, only when it’s too low. My eldest son recently joined the school choir and we were, naturally, invited to watch his first concert. It was really great to go and watch his lips move.

“How did you like it?” he asked me hopefully at the end.

“I liked it a lot though I would have liked it even more if I had heard you,” I replied, “your father was complaining that he couldn’t hear you at all! You sing louder than that when you sing alone at home,” I tried, wanting to offer one positive-sounding comment at least.

“Yes well, we were asked to keep it soft and melodious,” he explained.

“Well maybe that’s the problem,” I said. “Next time keep it loud…and try singing in German.”

Of Boys and Temporospatial Difficulties

When it comes to any kind of time or space assessment, boys suck. The passage of time and distance between two places is totally arbitrary and changes according to the movement of the earth and the moon, circumstances, hormones, weather…who knows?
Two of the most blatant examples of temporospatial difficulty that boys exhibit are when they shout “Mooooooooommmmmmm” across three rooms, or when they decide to have an important conversation with you, from behind the shower door, even though you have explained, on numerous prior occasions that you cannot hear anything above the noise of the water (this might signal a comprehension problem that we will deal with later, alternatively you can refer to my post on hearing and listening.

Recently, I attended an exercise class where the trainer, a very sweet big boy, had particular difficulties with space and time assessment. He had arranged a circuit where we are supposed to spend a minute at each station and complete two circuits before we got to rest for two minutes and then doing the same thing again with another circuit. As we were 6, that would mean a total of 12 minutes for the first circuit, 12 minutes for the second and a 2-minute break, so a total of 26 minutes of intense exercise that would be accompanied by a 5-minute warm-up and a 5-minute cool down. A total 36 minutes to fit within a 1-hour session.

He didn’t manage. The whole session was an awkward 63 minutes long. Most of us participants completed 1.3 to 1.7 of the first circuit and 2.2 to 2.5 of the second circuit, spending 38 seconds at one station, 75 seconds on another…the whole thing was a total mishmash of time and space interwoven with shouts of “Go!”, “Stop!”, “Rest”, “Again”, intermittently. We came out sweaty, but we were not exactly sure what we did. Or why.
Another example of a space/time problem that I know my boys struggle with is messaging. My husband and I sent our boys to camp recently and had set up a family chat for that purpose. I don’t think I need to say much more than what is below.

Home, 9:36 PM: “How’s everybody doing?”
Home, 9:55 PM: “Hello?”

Camp, 11:06 PM: “Hello””We were not free”

Home, 11:06 PM: “OK, everything going well?”

Silence…s…s…s…s…s…s…s

But the best illustration has to be:
11:03 PM, 4,823km away: “Mom, can you tell Nik [his brother] and his friends to stop bothering me?”

Boys, you’ve got to love them. Because if you don’t, no one else will.

Of boys and grieving mothers

To every grieving mother today, I pray for you. To every woman whose heart has been savagely wrenched, I pray for you. 

I pray that you find solace, I pray that you find peace, I pray that you find acceptance.

To every grieving mother today, I think of you. To every woman whose heart has been irretrievably broken, I think of you. 

I think of your stabbing wound, I think of your incomprehension, I think of the unfairness you have been subjected to.

To every grieving mother today, I cry with you. To every woman whose core has been ripped to shreds, I cry with you.

I cry for your pain. I cry for your tears. I cry for your loss.

To every grieving mother today, I hope that we will never forget, I hope that we will never comply, I hope that we will never accept.

May the angels walk with you and may they always be by your side in your time of need.
May every hand in this world reach out to cradle you, may every arm around you offer you comfort.
May your child rest in peace.

May you one day dance again.

Of Boys and Ocarinas

An ocarina is an ancient wind musical instrument that sounds like a flute but isn’t. And that is exactly what happened with the ocarina that my eldest son, Big Boy Number Two, ordered. It sort of arrived but didn’t.

I’ll explain. But not too much as it gets confusing because there are too many foreign-sounding names like Zelda and Ocarina of time and Nintendo and Koji Kondo…In any case, suffice it to know that Zelda is quite the cult figure in the world of YouTuber musicians and any musician worth his clout should have an ocarina it seems.

When my son came to me and mentioned that he would like to buy an ocarina, at first I thought he was interested in breeding baby killer whales, but it turns out he just wanted to try another musical instrument. At first I was delighted because it meant I wouldn’t have to hear every single version of every single Zelda song (believe me there are many) on the piano anymore as the ocarina seemed small enough to fit in his room.

This having been said, having just bought a bass guitar complete with amplifier and lessons, I suggested maybe we share the cost of this particularly new contraption (I am also trying to teach certain money management skills and failing miserably but more on that later.)

Unhappy with the fact that he had to pay, he turned to his father, my husband, Big Boy Number One.

And the ocarina got lost in transit.

Now, the great thing about living with boys is that when something goes wrong, you, the woman become the most important person in their lives. And so it was that my son came to me and asked me to track and trace his lost ocarina.

I was busy at that particular moment and suggested to him that he go on the relevant website and type in the tracking number given to him by the seller. He looked at me blankly. I repeated, a little more slowly, but that didn’t seem to help much. I reiterated, getting a little more agitated by now. My agitation must have rubbed on him because he finally started jumping in his seat:
“I can’t do it, I can’t do it! I don’t know how! What are you saying?! Can’t you please just do it for me?!”

And he knew, at that point I think, what he had just done and his blank look suddenly turned to comprehension. His eyes pleaded with me but it was too late, mentally I was already composing my post. Still, I explained.

“You realize I am so blogging about this, right?”

In my defense, and in compensation for material, I did find the ocarina and it is now safely on its way home. Big Boy Number One is traveling and was not available for comment at the time of writing.

Of boys and marriage

Living with boys is essentially, living with doubt. “Are you sure? Really? Why?” Everything comes with a question: every request, every remark, every opinion.

“Darling, can you pass me the lettuce from the fridge, please?”

“Lettuce?”

“Yes. Lettuce. Please.”

“Why do you want lettuce?”

“To make a salad.”

“Are you sure you want to make a salad?”

Men doubt and question everything that women do. And we women, naturally, retaliate. We retaliate with our biggest weapon: we become mean. And then we blame the men.

“Hon, can you pass me that apple from the tree?”

“Why?”

“I want to eat it.”

“Are you sure you should be eating it?”

Scrunch!

“Yup, pretty sure Adam baby, pretty sure.”

“Why did you eat that?!”

“It’s your fault! Why did you pass it to me?”

Boys’ doubting and constant questioning would have been half a problem if they could at least take care of themselves on their own. Or if they made sense.

On a recent trip to Berlin to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary, my husband, Big Boy No. 1 and I, encountered very sunny weather and it wasn’t long before my big boy’s eyes started tearing and bothering him through his glasses.

Over breakfast I asked him why he didn’t bring his prescription sunglasses with him. His answer was that he didn’t think it would be so sunny.

“In July?” I asked.

“Well yes, I didn’t expect it to be so sunny in Berlin in July.”

“But why didn’t you bring them anyway? Why didn’t you think you would need them in July?” I persisted.

“Because it’s not the sun that bothers me. I don’t normally need them. It’s the sun that reflects off all these metallic surfaces that kills me, the kind of Northern European sun.”

“Like the sun in Berlin in July?”

We were getting annoyed with each other by then, him with me making fun of him and me with his inability to plan and pack properly. After a few minutes, my anger gave way to empathy.

“Here,” I said passing him my sunglasses across the table, “try these on for a while. See if they help.”

He took them, examined the lenses and promptly took out his lens wipe, cleaned them and gave them back to me.

“Here, they should be more pleasant to wear now.”

And that is why we have been married for twenty years and will probably stay married for the next twenty. I thanked him and thanked God for creating boys with such a short attention span and no rancour. So what’s a few questions here and there?

 

 

On living with 10-year olds

If you have a 10-year old go hug him now. If you don’t know where he is, go find him and hug him. If he’s not at home wait for him by the door and when he walks in hug him. If he’s sleeping go wake him up and hug him.

Hug him like your life depends on it.

Because it does.

Your 10-year old will never show you his love like he does now, will never want to play Monopoly with you like he does now, will never seek your approval like he does now, will never ask for your attention like he does now, will never cry when you travel like he does now, will never ask to sleep with you when he’s scared like he does now.

Very soon your 10-year old will no longer be 10.

His voice will break and his hair will grow. His shoulders will widen and so will his feet. His laughter will soon lose its innocence and so will he. He will always love you, but he will never love you like he loves you today.

So if you have a 10-year old, go hug him now. Hug him like your life depends on it because it does.

Hug him tight because your 10-year old will never be 10 again.

And if you have a girl you can hug her too. Hug her and pray her feet don’t grow too wide!

 

On boys and sailboats…and jealousy

A great thing about living with boys is that, should you choose to be, you can be invisible. My husband and I spend most of our time communicating via WhatsApp and messaging. We love each other dearly, we send each other articles we’ve read and that we’ve liked, podcasts, images…we love each other through our screens.

My older boys, similarly, are on screens either conducting their own on-screen love affairs or playing games. Sometimes, conveniently, we forget that we are under the same roof, each enjoying our own on-screen time in our own chosen room.

I have to say the only one who still really loves me is my 10 year-old. He’s the only one who still looks at me and wants my attention and every now and again I have to give him a screen so he can lay off the questions and I can get my thoughts down. I know I’ll regret it one day, but I may not even live to one day so I’ll deal with it when I get there.

For now, we all live in a state of mutual love and disregard.

Which is probably how my husband, Big Boy number one, imagined the conversation would go one morning a few years back when he was telling me about a new acquaintance he had met on one of his recent trip abroad, while I was checking my e-mail, on-screen.

“He’s a great guy,” he said, “really bright, you’ll like him. I’ll arrange for you to meet him.”

“Uh-huh,” I replied, with little enthusiasm. I had enough boys in my life, I figured I could do without one more.

“He works for…I’ve got to reply to this e-mail now…very competent…did I arrange for boy number two to get picked up…a graduate of…”

“Uh-huh.” I’ve got to order my groceries.

“He’s planning a trip in the Mediterranean,” uh-huh, “on his sailboat.”

We are more like our dogs than we think.

My ears perked up.

At that time, probably after reading one self-help book or another, I had decided that I will try everything that remotely interested me and promptly took up sailing. I loved it, bought the requisite books and fancied myself a sailor despite my having only sailed a Laser 4, slowly. A mildly competent windsurfer would have beaten me at any race. Still, I had a certificate and I sailed boats, albeit small ones. Anyone with a sailboat was my friend.

I think it was my sudden enthusiasm that threw him off-guard.

“Oh wow!” I exclaimed. “This guy sounds amazing! I’ve got to meet him! You’ve got to introduce me!

Mike, I continued, this guy has to become our friend!”

Somehow I wasn’t so invisible anymore.

“Well,” said my husband, “he’s not that great.”

“What do you mean he’s not that great? Just a second ago he was a brilliant, interesting,  bright guy, a sailor no less, and now that he’s caught my interest he’s not that great?”

“Well, he’s a bit of a geek.”

I reminded him that our eldest son was a bit of a geek and yet we still loved him.

“He’s not that kind of geek.”

“Well what kind of geek is he? Is there more than one kind?”

The answer was not forthcoming. The subject was promptly closed and I was never introduced to my would-be best friend. His subject would never come up again.

I asked my husband about him a couple of times since that conversation, but it was too late, I had become invisible again.

 

On living with boys…and a dog

Farts, fights, burps, hours in the toilet and clothes on the floor, what’s not to like?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the mother or the resident dog but my husband says he wants that role. So I am the head culinary director, chief transportation manager, headmistress, chief hygiene officer, personal shopper and party planner. In my spare time I work.

I think my husband’s right, better to be the dog.

This is now of course. ‘Tis was not always thus. I remember once having a fight with my husband when our kids were still babies and toddlers, during which he expressed his displeasure at feeling as if he were not a husband and a father but “sometimes I feel like I’m just the dog in this house.”

That was before we got the dog.

In February 2014, Molly Gru (as in Despicable Me-best movie ever made) landed in our midst. Well, more like arrived in a box. I was immediately smitten. Here was the girl I never had! so what if she stood on four legs? MG was cute, small, furry and adored me. And I adored her back, much to everyone’s consternation. Plus she barked at anyone who upset me. What more could a girl ask for? Finally the attention I craved in a house of navel-gazers.

Two and a half years post Molly Gru entering our lives and still in mutual adoration, I reminded my husband of that conversation some years back.

“Now that you see how I treat the dog,” I said, “don’t you wish you had actually been the dog?” He was quiet. He was sad. With a wistful smile I saw him turn around and grab a tissue. I’m pretty sure he was shedding a tear or two.