Thursday, July 27, 2006

School already?!

On Tuesday, I went and checked out a couple of playgroups for Ayaan to go to when he’s a little older. For the good ones, you need to go way in advance since the seats fill up pretty quickly. I have registered him for two that I really liked and since I was pretty early, the chances are reasonably good that he will be accepted at atleast one of them. But I need to figure out a backup just in case he doesn’t.

Most of the parents I know seem to be sending their kids off to playschool as early as 18 months these days. This phenomenon is more prevalent in Mumbai than in Delhi where parents tend to hold off till their kids cross the age of two. Mumbai’s smaller houses, fewer parks, nuclear families and time pressures all probably have a role to play in this.

After much debate and discussion, I have decided to swim against the tide and send Ayaan to playschool only when he turns two. Here are some of the reasons why I decided to wait:

One of the arguments for sending children to playschool at 18 months is that they enter into a structured environment. I don’t really understand what the big hurry is. Once he starts, he will be in a structured environment all his life. I also disagree that learning can only happening in such environments. Kids learn from the minute they are born and probably even before that. As long as parents can spend atleast some quality time with their kids talking, playing, reading and exposing them to new experiences, they will learn.

The second argument is that the current urban set-up is not conducive for kids to learn how to play and interact with other children outside of a playschool. Again, I would rather Ayaan got into this gradually rather than throwing him into the deep-end where he has to suddenly deal with mixing with 20 kids at a shot. I think it has to start with the short and sweet encounters that Ayaan has started having with kids in the park to a level where he is completely comfortable interacting with new and unfamiliar kids in a socially acceptable manner.

There can also be some slightly selfish reasons for sending the child to playschool early. An over-tired stay-at-home mother in desperate need of a break or a working mom seeking to assuage her guilt over the fact that the child spends a majority of his waking hours with the maid… When I decided to get back to work, I resolved that I would not let this fact change some of the basic things about parenting Ayaan that I hold dear – I don’t believe in keeping Ayaan up late just so that I can have more time with him because I think good sleep habits will serve him well in the long term. I have held back from hiring a full-time nanny because it forces me to plan my day in such a way that I am home in time to spend atleast a couple of hours with him, feed him his dinner and put him to bed. I do not intend to spoil him (either through physical gifts or by giving in to tantrums) just because I don’t want anything negative to happen in my time with him. And so I will not send him to school early just so that I can feel happier about my time away from him. Some amount of guilt is good – it makes me try harder to make the time I have with him really count.

I also remember reading somewhere that at 18 months, the immune system is still pretty fragile. And given that Ayaan is already prone to catching colds at the drop of a hat, I am not too keen to expose him to the cocktail of germs and viruses that are sure to exist when there are lots of kids together in a confined space. And that’s what most Mumbai playschools are (confined spaces) – run out of places that are not much larger than our apartment!

Jai’s boss offered another good reason to wait a bit. At 18 months, kids are just barely learning to communicate. So they may not have the ability or words to tell you if something is not right. What may look like tantrums because the child doesn’t want to go school could be a result of mistreatment by a teacher or bullying by another child.

The last reason is a matter of timing. The normal term starts in June. At 18 months, Ayaan would join in December 2006 and be put with a class that has been there since June 2006. Come June 2007, those kids would move from ‘playgroup’ to ‘nursery’ and Ayaan would continue in playgroup for another year with a new bunch of kids. This seems unnecessary to me since six months (the December-June part) of the programme would be a repetition. More importantly, just as he would get comfortable with the first bunch of kids, they would move on and he would have to start over with a new, unfamiliar set of kids.

Disclaimer: This is just my point of view. I am not trying to say that mothers who do other than what I plan to do are wrong. As the head of one of the playschools I went remarked on my decision to wait – “ It’s a personal decision. A mother knows what’s right for her child better than anyone else can”.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Double Whammy

It would seem that we not only make bad hosts, we also make for pretty crappy guests, especially when accompanied by a certain young gentleman called Ayaan. Here’s some of our behaviour at a friend’s place for lunch on Sunday:
  • The first thing I did on walking in was a quick spot of childproofing. I quickly scanned their living room for objects that were dangerous – meaning that they were either a danger to Ayaan or Ayaan was a danger to them. I then proceeded to move or rearrange said objects. I wonder what my friends really thought about my attempts to redecorate their house without their permission!
  • I next noticed that many of the guests had taken their footwear off and left them out in the open. This was not so good since Ayaan has a huge shoe fetish and will immediately grab any visible shoes and try to stuff them into his mouth. So I ordered everyone to get up and go hide their shoes.
  • Most of my conversation was punctuated by phrases such as “No, Ayaan!”, “Jai, he is going to put that in his mouth” and “Eat another bite, sweetie?”. As you can probably guess, I did not make the most brilliant conversation with the adults in the room.
  • And last but not least, there was the mess Ayaan made. He dropped his food all over the floor, spilled someone’s drink, threw one of his cups down from the balcony, broke a piece of crumbling concrete from a ledge, threw bits of paper into the terrace of the people living below and stuck his hand into the toilet bowl.

And did I mention that all my friends are not yet parents? I shudder to think what I would have thought of such behaviour before I had Ayaan – because that’s probably what they are thinking about me!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I've been tagged!!!!!!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have finally arrived in the blogworld. I have been tagged for the very first time and that too by the very cool blogger Smugbug. So here goes…

I am thinking about…
How sick and tired I am of the endless stream of unsolicited parenting advice that I get from family, friends and complete strangers. I know it is well meaning (well, most of it is) but please…. Give me a break! I’ve got it covered. Really!

I said...
“No! No Biting! Ayaan! Mama said ‘No Biting’!”
Ayaan’s latest kick comes from biting people and I am usually the chosen one to feel the surprising sharpness of his teeth on my skin!

I want to…
Find the perfect furniture for our new house. So far, I haven’t had much luck with this – everything is either too tacky or too expensive.

I wish…
I always knew the right thing to say or do in every situation.

I hear…
Selectively. I sometimes switch off from conversations even if they are not boring or irrelevant. I think it’s some kind of attention span issue.

I wonder…
When the silly builder will finally give us possession of our flat. It was supposed to be ready in May and now his latest estimate is early October.

I regret…
Not having travelled more before the Ayaan was born. Travel will never be the same – it will be accompanied with either the hassle of travelling with a kid or the guilt of having left him behind.

I am…
I am stubborn, difficult to please and easy to anger. I sometimes wonder what the people who love me see in me and worry about driving them away.

I dance…
Very rarely these days – a combination of getting older, being married to He Who Has Two Left Feet and having a dramatically curtailed nightlife.

I sing…
Mostly nursery rhymes and lullabies since that’s all that plays on our system at home these days. If we switch if off, Ayaan goes and stands in front of it and points his finger demandingly. Currently, I have “I am little teapot” running through my head.

I cry…
Mostly out of frustration at not getting my way rather than out of any genuine sadness or sensibility. I think Ayaan has inherited this trait of mine and it augurs for some tough times ahead.

I am not always…
As patient a mother as I would like to be. Ayaan is a really fussy eater and really drives me up the wall for his dinner (the one meal a day that I insist on feeding him). I have slapped him (not very hard though) a couple of time in the last few months. I wish I hadn’t…

I make with my hands…
Nothing. Really. I am a terrible cook and have no artistic skills of any sort.

I write…
Only on this blog, not counting work stuff.

I confuse…
Myself about whether I’d rather be a stay-at-home mom or a working mom. Ask me on two different days and I might just give you two different answers. With perfectly logical and good reasons to support either.

I need…
To know where Jai is - always. I have an over-active imagination and I worry too much. I just read that again and it sounds a bit like I am worried about him being unfaithful to me. My greater worry is for his safety and incidents like his narrow escape from last week’s blasts only feed my excessive worrying. I worry that this will make me an over-protective mother.

And finally…
I am relieved. After a few months of tension, life on the career front is all figured out. I don't have to quit and a position has come up that suits my personal needs (reasonable working hours and manageable levels of travel) perfectly.

And now, the way this works (I think) is that I have to tag five people who will do this tag on their blogs. So here goes:

Zen: Because I know her outside of the blog world and can (in theory) kick her ass if she doesn’t comply...

Ginga and Booboo: It would be fun to see get a doggy perspective :)

Talena: If she can find the time to introspect the deep questions of this tag in the midst of all the childcare, scrap booking, home improvement projects and of course, dusting. :)

Gettingthere: It’s about time she wrote a new post…

The_Outsider: Maybe this will push him into writing his first proper post

Monday, July 17, 2006

Forgotten Skills

It’s been a while since we entertained people over at our place. And this weekend, it was pretty obvious that our entertaining skills are getting rusty to say the least. It’s time we took them out of storage and gave them a good dusting.

On Saturday evening, one of my friends called to say she was dropping in to see us. Mumbai traffic being what it is, she was still on the road at 8 p.m. so we called her and asked her to stay for dinner. Now she is one of my oldest friends and she even stayed with me for a few months when she first came to Mumbai, so even Jai knows her pretty well. So we thought we were just going to have an informal visit and dinner and so proceeded to change into our PJs and get nice and comfy. Only, dear friend had omitted to tell us that she was bringing along her new husband, who we are just getting to know. So there we were, me in my maternity PJs, which I still wear because they are so comfy, and Jai in some horribly shabby shorts that he refuses to throw away.

Now, if only that was all. They had been sitting for about 15 minutes (to our credit, Ayaan was still awake and grabbing whatever was available of our attention), my friend said, “Jai, aren’t you going to get me a drink?” I wanted to sink through the floor – we had not offered them anything to eat or drink. Jai swung into action and got everyone their drinks but not before saying to me in a shocked whisper to me “My God! We’ve forgotten how to entertain guests!!!”

Anyway, most of the evening progressed okay after that except for the part where we forgot to serve the dessert before they left – and that too, it was the dessert that they had brought! I think we need to get ourselves a book on how to maintain basic standards of social etiquette after the baby!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Too Close for Comfort

Yesterday, there were 7 bomb blasts in Mumbai – all on the local trains. They were all set to go off around the same time in the first class men’s compartment on different trains. The death toll is currently 190 and rising…

This is not the first time something like this has happened. Since I moved to Mumbai in 2000, there have been other such incidents as well. But this time, it felt more real than ever before…

To start with, Jai was on the train before the one that had the bomb. He caught the train that left Churchgate at 5.40 p.m and the bomb was on the 5.44 p.m. train. In fact, he considered waiting for the next train since the 5.40 was pretty crowded but he was late for a meeting with our architect so he decided to brave the crowds anyway. That was how close it was - especially since Jai travels by the men’s first class compartment. It really made me think of the blasts as more than just another terrorist attack. It made me think of the men who died yesterday. They left home yesterday morning as if it was just another day. Families said goodbye to their fathers, brothers and sons, not knowing that this would be the last time that they would see them. And we could have been one of those families… that’s what makes these blasts seem so real to me.

My maid’s daughter still hasn’t come home. She had gone to Borivili for work yesterday and that was the last they heard of her. The chances are that she is okay since the casualties are mostly male. But she does not have a mobile phone and they have not been able to contact her. They have gone to Borivili to look for her – I hope they find her safe and sound. I tried putting myself in her shoes and it was just too scary. The thought that I might have no idea where or how Ayaan was in a situation like this is just beyond thinking about… that’s what makes these blasts seem so real to me.

We were away at the new house, but our current house is pretty close to the station. My mom and the maid actually heard the blasts. Ayaan and my mother were actually close enough to two of the blasts to hear them… that’s what makes these blasts seem so real to me.

Talena, Ranjit, Sirisha and Outsider– thanks for your concern. We are all fine (thankfully) – just a little shaken. But in true Mumbai spirit, we are not letting it get us down. The trains are up and working and Jai insisted on going by train today – he refused to be cowed down by these acts of terror. I made it to office too and the traffic on the roads was almost as jammed as it usually is. Never say die, life as usual and all of that

Monday, July 10, 2006

Reporting from the Sand Pit

Given Ayaan’s newfound obsession with mud, much of our time at the park these days is spent in the sand pit. I have to admit – I love the sand pit. Ayaan really enjoys himself there and doesn’t ask to be carried around much – though one does have to be really vigilant to thwart his multiple attempts to actually eat the sand. But what’s even more interesting is that it gives me the opportunity to watch all kinds of moms in action – it’s fascinating to say the least.

I can almost unerringly make out the Working moms from the Stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs). The SAHMs are really chilled out and pay almost no attention to their kids. I think this is because they have probably spent an exhausting day with them at home already and for them the trip to the park is more like a break where the kids do their own thing. There is one such regular SAHM who actually sits by the side and plays a game on her mobile while her daughter quietly plays away in the sand by herself. The Working moms (me included), on the other hand, count this as part of their ‘quality-time’ with the kid. So you’ll usually see them down in the sand with the kids, teaching them stuff, talking to them and generally hanging around with them.

Another differentiator between moms is how strict they are with their kids. Some are almost Hitleresque in their disciple and it only needs a really mean look from them to get their kids to behave in the desired manner. At the other end of the spectrum, there are the really Laissez-faire moms who believe in just letting their kids be. These are the kids that you wish you were the mother of so that you could teach them how to behave in a public place – they take toys from other kids without asking, refuse to share their own toys, throw mud around and have a complete meltdown if they are denied anything. The Laissez-faire moms either stand around looking completely helpless or give in to every demand their little monsters make just to keep the peace. Most moms fall somewhere in the middle and seem to draw a line between what falls under letting kids learn and explore and what falls under unpardonable behaviour.

Then there are the Paranoid moms. Contrary to popular beliefs (Mama, I hope you are reading this), I am not one of these. These moms will have their kids wearing thick cotton socks in the middle of the hot, sultry summer. They usually stay away from the sand pit and if they come, they carefully scrutinise the area to find just the perfect spot where there are no ants and not too many rowdy children. They dust their kids down every few minutes even though they are going to get coated in sand again almost immediately. In summary, they are exhausting to watch. The Chilled-out moms on the other hand don’t flinch when their kids swallow a fistful of mud, laugh it off when they take a tumble and see ants and rowdy kids as part of the park package.

Finally, moms can be divided up based on how friendly they are to the other moms in their immediate vicinity. There are the Chatterboxes who are usually SAHMs who spend a majority of the day with just their kids for company and as a result are completely desperate for some adult conversation. They only have to catch sight of a somewhat friendly face and off they go. They talk your ears off and will keep on talking till you tell them it’s time for you to go. At the other extreme are the Snobs. They don’t mix with the hoi polloi in the park and tend to keep themselves and their kids apart. Most moms however, follow their kids’ leads and get around to talking to the moms whose kids their kids are playing with. Amongst the social moms who will talk to other moms, their modus operandi further divides them into subsets:

The Complainers: These women just use up all their breath in cribbing endlessly. If they are working, they crib about the fact that they don’t have enough time for their children. If they are SAHMs, they crib about boredom and exhaustion. They crib about their children’s eating and sleeping patterns. They crib about how tough it is to get them into a good school. And on and on and on…

The Comparers: The primary agenda of these women is to establish that their kid is superior to yours. They try to be subtle whilst making this point, but they are pretty easy to see through. They will start with an innocuous question about your kid like “Oh when did your son start walking?” And when you reply, they will top your answer. Sometimes, they will sugarcoat this with an “Every child is different” but you can see the smugness dripping from their smiles!

The Conversers: These are the truly nice women who talk to you because they really are interested in meeting like-minded women, swapping parenting tips and befriending the moms of their kids' friends.

Anyway, that was my attempt at a categorisation of the kind of moms I see. Which one am I you ask? Ok so maybe you didn’t ask but I’ll tell you anyway – I am a Working Semi-Hitleresque Somewhat-Paranoid Conversing Mom. Phew!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Cutting the cord

It finally happened! I spent not just one, but who whole days away from home. Ayaan went to sleep on two nights without a good night kiss from me. And he awoke to two mornings where mine was not the first face that he saw. And it was okay – for both of us.

I went to Bangkok for a couple of days on work this week. I have made a couple of trips since Ayaan was born but most of them were in India and I was able to return on the same day itself. This was the first time that I had to spend nights out.

Jai was excellent with Ayaan while I was away. He came home early from work, spent loads of time with Ayaan and put him to bed himself instead of the maid doing it. Ayaan also was happy enough other than bouts of crankiness towards the end of the day. In fact, he behaved better than when I am around (a depressing thought, in some ways):
  • He wasn’t cranky and played by himself a lot, which is unusual when I am around and he wants to cling to me.
  • He went to sleep easily at night.
  • He ate his dinner better – he fusses a lot more with me than with the maid.
  • And he slept atleast half an hour longer in the mornings.

I think this trip was good. It has made be realise that having to travel on the job will not be such a big deal. Not only can Jai ably fill my shoes while I am away, this is also a good opportunity for the father-son relationship to develop away from constant maternal supervision. I am still smiling at the proud smile that Jai gave me when he told me about the last two days. These two days have completed his journey into a confident, involved and caring dad.

On the work front, it was a good trip and I also managed to squeeze some shopping in. Mostly clothes for myself, I must sheepishly admit and this really cute little giraffe backpack for Ayaan: