Friday, November 21, 2008

Signs of Fatherhood

The Nikhil series draws to a (hopefully temporary) end with this hilarious piece about how to recognise a new father in the crowd, since this is the last of the stuff that he wrote and shared with us when his daughter was born...

I have been observing my wife handle our daughter for the last few weeks, and it’s quite amazing to see her effortlessly take on the role of playing Mom! I was wondering if it comes easier to women biologically or is it because they hold babies in their wombs for 9 months and hence have a head start over men.

From a Dad’s perspective it is a bit different. The bond between baby and child takes a bit longer to develop! As I interact with Suhana, I realise that I feel closer and more bonded to her with each passing day. But it is equally true that it was not as strong a few weeks ago. That brings me to the all important question.

“So how does it feel to be a father?”

It is hard (and incorrect) to make generalizations on how men would answer this question from an emotional point of view. But its there are a few obvious strong physical signs and behaviors which help separate the boys from the real men… the fathers.

So here’s a quick and dirty guide on how to figure out if a man’s a father of small baby.

1. A man with a perspective on Poo

Till the time a man becomes a father, Crap/ Poo is basically the 3rd most popular topic for their corny jokes – sex and Santa Singh being the first two. But the baby comes and completely changes everything, giving a whole new perspective to Poo. So Fathers quickly realise that the quality, consistency and frequency of Poo will be a key determinant of the health of the baby and hence a key determinant of the rest of your day, week and even life. Fathers, can even tell you from the color of the Poo, whether the baby is consuming fore milk or hind milk! So next time you hear a man passionately talking about Poo, you know he is a Dad.

2. A man for whom everyday is a HOLIday

For the everyday man, Holi is a fun festival of colors celebrated once a year, that ends with color stained clothes and a 48 hour hang-over. For a father, everyday is Holi - the difference is that instead of colors, the stains consist of curdled milk & other unmentionable gore, spewed out by the baby. White patches of dried milk on the shirt are a true father’s hallmark. Who needs faded jeans?!!

3. A man who can keep pace with a US Marine

A US Marine is expected to encounter some dangerous situations and hence must learn to be swift and nimble. He is taught the art of catching quick naps between long periods of intense activity. He is also taught how to sleep, keeping a lookout for the slightest activity or noise. For fathers of young babies, it is much the same – the baby teaches them to train themselves. Sleep at night is to be had in 2 hour bursts between feeding and burping sessions. And you need to be on constant alert to hear every little movement and tiny wail. If you were wondering, what possible role could fathers have in night time feeding sessions, then that requires a new chapter in explanations. But suffice it to say that the role ranges from anything between a complex emotional dynamic called moral support to the wife to actual burping duty.

4. A man who looks like Hercules with a stiff neck.

If you thought that protein shakes and dumbbell curls was the only way to achieve those 16 inch biceps, then think again. In a gym you would probably start off with a 6-8 kg dumbbell and then keep increasing the weight, doing fewer lifts with higher weights. At one go, you are likely to do 3 sets of about 8-12 repetitions, with sufficient gap between each set. So that’s about 36 repetitions spread over 10 minutes. Now picture this – you have a baby that weighs at least 4 kg, who refuses to sleep until cradled and rocked in your arms for at least half an hour. That’s about 1800 repetitions in half an hour, without any breaks! So it’s not difficult to understand why fathers have strong, Herculean arms. But there is a strange twist to this – most of this half hour is spent either staring down into the babies eyes or straight up, praying to the heavens to make her go to sleep. That’s how fathers get a stiff neck.

As the kids grow, there will be many more signs that will added to this list and a few that will get dropped out e.g. if your kid is still causing Holiday for you at the age of 8, then you are in big trouble!

So the next time you meet a man with strong forearms, wearing what looks like a faded T shirt, talking crap… you know he is a Dad!

You can find the rest of Nikhil's stuff here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

TV Tales

I grew up in a time when there was no TV and if it were possible, that's the way I would like Ayaan's childhood to be. Because in my humble opinion, every minute that Ayaan spends in front of the television is a precious minute of his childhood wasted. But like it not, the child will be a product of his times and I would hardly want him to be an anachronistic specimen of a bygone era. Whether I like it or not, the TV will have a place in his growing up years. But for as long as possible, I would like to minimise his TV watching and also be very particular about what I let him watch.

The first time I gave into the TV temptation was when he was about 6 months old. In those horrible days before I discovered Dr. Ferber, mornings would start with him waking up in an absolutely foul mood and bawling in a completely nerve-wracking fashion through his diaper change, accompanied by violent twisting which made the actual task of getting him changed and cleaned without smearing nearby surfaces with poop quite a challenge. So we started putting Noddy on for a single 15-minute episode first thing in the morning. It was a habit that once we got into was hard to break because even when the foul morning moods were behind us, they were replaced by tantrums at the very thought of his parents not giving into his demands – not a very auspicious daily start. Plus I read somewhere that 15-minutes of TV in a day was acceptable.

We did finally put an end to the morning TV routine when he was around 15 months old. Then TV became mostly a weekly affair so that I could get him to sit in one place while I cut his nails. Or if he was not well, we switched it on if his temperature needed to be taken or if we needed to get some much-needed food into his sick, little body.

Then he got the never-ending cough and cold that was finally diagnosed as enlarged adenoids and we were told to give him steam every night at bedtime. As you can imagine, getting a hyperactive two-and-a-half-year old to sit in one place and inhale steam in a peaceful manner is a task well in the realm of impossible things. So the TV was called into service again.

The DVD player actually. Because night-time content on the cartoon channels is completely unsuitable for a young child in the eyes of a mother who is no hurry to introduce her child to the joys of the Power Rangers. And don't even get me started on Tom & Jerry - which I believe is pretty darned violent, too fast-paced for young children and also filled with lots of puns and references that only well-informed teenagers are likely to get. The few times I put it on for Ayaan, I got the feeling that he was just mindlessly fascinated by the fast-moving images. The other problem with TV programming was the ads, which seem to almost glorify obnoxious, bratty behaviour and naked consumerism. So DVDs it was.

Of all the series available on DVD, I liked Noddy because of their simple plots and relatively slower pace of story-telling. Plus Ayaan already had quite the collection of Noddy books at the time and also slept with a Noddy doll. So I picked up a bunch of Noddy DVDs and played a 15-minute episode every night during steam inhalation. After a while, I somehow managed to convince him that books were more fun and though it was a lot harder to juggle a book and the steam device, we survived and went through almost six months of virtually no TV.

But that, like all good things, came to an end. A time came when he started demanding the darned cartoons. And I didn't want to say a blanket no since there is no surer way to get a child to pick up a habit than to declare it a forbidden fruit. So now we have reached a compromise - he is allowed half an hour of TV on school holidays (essentially twice a week). And he has been surprisingly mature about our deal and rarely asks for cartoons on a school day and is easily convinced otherwise when he does. But he is sure to demand his pound of flesh on a holiday.

We have, also expanded our viewing menu, thanks to the launch of BBC's kids channel CBeebies. They don't have a particularly extensive programming line-up and the channel is on air only till 6 in the evening but since Ayaan usually wants to watch in the mornings, the early evening end is not a concern for us.

The content really hits the sweet spot of programming that is acceptable to me and enjoyable for Ayaan. To start with the context is chosen/ designed with the under-6 age group in mind. An adult watching their programming would be bored out of their wits but I can see why it works for kids. Besides, I really don’t think we should judge children's TV by whether we find it interesting. The slower pace keeps the kids engaged and involved and repetition is a good thing at this age and facilitates learning.

Ayaan favourites include shows like Teletubbies and Fimbles, which have nice, gentle themes and age-appropriate concepts narrated slowly with loads of repetition. I find that Ayaan actually learns from them. For example, last month some time, they showed two boys getting their haircuts on Teletubbies, coincidentally on the day we were taking him for a haircut. Now Ayaan typically bawls his head off during a haircut and has to be physically restrained while the deed is done, but we kept telling him about the boys in the show and we had no screams and tears for a change. Of course, he also remembered that the boys got a lollipop each after their haircuts and so demanded one of his own...

So like I said, content that ticks the box in terms of appropriate viewing for a child Ayaan’s age and yet is presented in a way that engages him and teaches him - I can live with an hour a week of that. Of course, he is still not exposed to a lot of the stuff that many of his classmates and contemporaries are watching but I will wait till he finds out about them and asks for them before opening that door. So, as of now. the poor deprived child thinks Spiderman is a spider. Seriously! So whenever he sees one building a web in some corner of the park, he points and calls it a Spiderman. And he is blissfully oblivious to the existence of characters like Ben 10, Power Rangers, Perman and Pokemon. And I'm happy to keep it that way for now.

The other thing I am obsessive about is not letting him watch TV on his own or with the maids. To me, it’s like any other fun, interactive thing that we do together. The few times I have left him alone in front of the TV, I can see that he becomes a passive watcher. Whereas while I am watching with him, he jumps around in excitement when a familiar character comes on screen, points out stuff to me and expects me to cheer for him when he gets some answer right. I am lucky to have help at home with the cooking and cleaning, so I don’t see any reason to let the TV babysit Ayaan while I get along with other stuff…

The funny thing is that I used to be quite a TV addict myself. On an average weekday, I would spend atleast two hours in front of the idiot box. But now I don't watch TV at all. It was making me feel like a hypocrite when I spent the day believing that TV-time was the worst thing ever for Ayaan and then switched it on the minute he went to bed. I also found better stuff to do with my time. Blogging for one, and I am also reading a lot more.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Much Delayed Diwali Post

It didn't bode well. To start with, there was a pre-Diwali tummy upset scare that was reminiscent of last year. And then on the day itself, the brat awoke from his afternoon nap in an utterly foul mood and had a nuclear meltdown when he was told he had to change out of his ratty t-shirt and faded track pants. But things looked up once he had been forcible spruced up - Ayaan got infected with the Diwali spirit and became an active participant.

At first, he adopted a bystander stance while the rest of us performing monkeys lit firecrackers for his majety's viewing pleasure. But then he was coaxed into lighting some sparklers and then applying them to snake pellets.

At the puja, he took centrestage and with some fond encourangement from his grandmother, became the pandit in residence. He was in charge of annointing all the various gods and goddesses and us with a tilak and some rice. And then my mom told him to use the betel leaf to sprinkle water on the gods and that was all he did for the rest of the puja ensuring that every surface within splashable distance. But fun was had by all.

Overall, he had a blast in Jaipur. Huge garden, dogs to play with, unabated adoration of everyone in the house, endless parade of my mom's staff's kids dropping by to play with him, cartoons everyday (instead of just on the weekend) - what's not to love...