Thursday, August 27, 2009

Something's burning...

Sibling rivalry has reared its ugly head in Chez Ayaan as evidenced by these two conversations from the last week...

The first conversation happened at bedtime, when most of these chats about the baby usually tend to happen. It started out as inane, random stuff and then got pretty specific. It went something like this:

Ayaan: What is the baby doing now?
Mama: I don’t know. Maybe he’s playing
Ayaan: Can I tell him something?
Mama: Sure
Ayaan: *whispers something to my belly button*
Mama: What did you tell him?
Ayaan: I told him to eat a piece of your heart
Mama: Ouch. But why? That will hurt me
Ayaan: *giggling* It’s okay. I only told him to eat a small piece
Mama: But it will still hurt me
Ayaan: *after a moment’s silence* So, did he take a bite yet?
Mama: No. He didn’t. Because he doesn’t want to hurt his Mama
Ayaan: But you are not his Mama
Mama: But of course I am his Mama
Ayaan: No. You can’t be his Mama because you are my Mama
Mama: But who will be the baby’s Mama then?
Ayaan: *after giving the question some serious thought* Dadda!
Mama: But only girls can be Mamas and Dadda is a boy
Ayaan: It’s okay. Dadda can become a girl!!!

As expected, Jai was not quite on board with these plans to change his gender :D

The second conversation happened this morning at the breakfast table, another regular conversation moment once the mad rush to get dressed for school is over and done with...

Ayaan: Mama, will you pick me up today? (picking up involves fetching him from the bus, which stops at the building gate)
Mama: Not today, baby. I have to go to office
Ayaan: You haven’t picked me up for soooooo many days
Mama: You know what. When the baby comes, I won’t be going to office for six whole months… November, December, January, February, March and April… and I can pick you up every day during that time
Ayaan: Wow!
Mama: And Mama and the baby can both come together to pick you up
Ayaan: But I don’t want the baby to come. I only want you to come
Mama: Ok, I won’t bring the baby with me if you don’t want. But what if he cries and wants to come and pick you up?
Ayaan: *reluctantly* Okay. But you have to ask him. Only if he wants to come, you can bring him

Heh. It's clearly not going to be smooth sailing around here once the competing contender for my affection arrives

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Milestones Nonetheless

It's been a busy week in these parts with lots of new experiences for Ayaan. While milestones are no longer biggies like the first independent step or recognisable word, they are still worth stopping and smiling over. So here are some of this week's milestones...

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Ayaan's handtowel and school diary have a new companion in the schoolbag as of last week - a pencil box! We have been asked to send pencils to school since the kids are officially going to start learning to write. They started with drawing straight and slanting lines this week, as per Ayaan's account.

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I finally decided to bite the bullet and start the journey towards helping Ayaan self-dress. It was not so much that I didn't think he was capable of doing it, but it takes more time and patience than I have to spare to let him do it. Mornings are too rushed to spend a precious ten minutes allowing him to do the honours, so we have started with the night suits. He needs a little help getting his hands into the armholes but he's mastered the rest. The buttons, as expected, take the longest time but I am impressed that he can do it entirely on his own, without losing his temper when the task requires more than a few attempts. (I am also impressed by my ability to stand back and let him fumble his way through it rather than jumping in and doing it myself).

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At the ripe old age of four-and-something, Ayaan finally got to experience that rite of passage for kids of this generation. He got his first taste of a McDonalds Happy Meal this weekend. It wasn't so much that I was depriving him thus far but he just never knew such a thing existed and I was in no hurry to educate him on this particular point. But last week, he came home from school one day and said he wanted to eat a burger in a restaurant. So there you have it - Ayaan's first Happy Meal, complete with a burger, a portion of fries, a crappy plastic toy and more carbonated beverage than he has ever had in a single serving.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Swine Flu on my Mind

You can’t blink an eyelid these days without running into some update about the rapid progress of swine flu in India. The news channels current scroller announces that the death toll is now 23. And paranoia mounts.

We were quite unconcerned and unaffected till Monday. But then four prestigious schools closed their doors on Monday. Ayaan’s school continued to stay open though. So Tuesday morning dawned with a big dilemma – to send or not to send? I was quite in favour of sending him school, but then each and every one of my friends were keeping their kids home – either the schools themselves were shut, or the parents had decided not to send the kids inspite of the schools being open. So I chickened out and decided not to send him after all. What clinched it for me was the fact that he is in kindergarten and school is a nice place to go to spend a few hours colouring, playing and interacting with other kids. If he was older and keeping him home would have meant playing catch-up with missed classes, the decision would have probably been harder. Anyway, we had to struggle with this choice only for two days because the authorities have ordered a blanket shut-down of schools (along with multiplexes and malls) till Monday at the very least. But when schools open for good, I guess I will eventually have to send him.

The other worry that is preying on my mind is that there seems to be evidence to suggest that pregnant women fall into the higher risk category when it comes to the swine flu. Now usually, I am very confident in the ability of my immune system to take on germs. Most fevers, coughs and tummy upsets are usually fought off with the simple expedient of ignoring said germ attack till it goes away. But my brush with a throat infection in my second trimester, which I was unable to shrug off and required two rounds of antibiotics to get rid off, has me a little worried. And the stuff out there on swine flu and pregnant women is not encouraging. A few examples (clink on them to see the full articles):

A US study published online ahead of print in a leading medical journal suggests that complications from H1N1 swine flu could hit pregnant women harder, and that pregnant women infected with the virus are hospitalized at four times the rate of infected people in the general population.

Pregnant women account for six percent of U.S. swine flu deaths since the pandemic began in April, even though they make up only one percent of the U.S. population.

Pregnancy weakens a woman’s immune system, so that she’s more likely to suffer pneumonia when she catches the flu. In earlier flu pandemics, infection also raised the risk of a premature birth

So with one pregnant woman, one child under 5 and an infant on the way, we would classify as a high risk household. But the question is what does one do about that?

Some sites, like this one recommend, amongst other things, that pregnant women stay home, keep away from people, send their husbands’ grocery shopping, advance their maternity leave and keep their kids home from school so that they don’t get the virus from them.

But to what extent can one isolate oneself and one’s family? And for how long?

From all indications, this virus is here to stay for a while and will infect people on a large scale before it goes away. According to our health minister, atleast one-third of the Indian population is likely to contract swine flu by 2011. And he may not be far off the mark either since health experts in the U.S. (including the WHO) believe that 40% of the American population is likely to be infected in the same time frame. So this is not something that can be avoided simply by closing the door of your home and staying in for a couple of weeks. Because at the end of those two weeks, the only thing that would have changed would be that the disease would be more widespread than two weeks ago…

And to what extent is it even possible to shut out the world, and with it the virus? I could start my maternity leave two months in advance and keep my son home. But Jai would still have to go to work and travel for work. He could very well carry the virus home to us. And we have two day maids, one live-in maid, a driver, a dhobi* and the garbage lady in and out of our immediate vicinity on a daily basis. They could bring the virus into our homes.

Also, I would still have to step out for routine stuff like my gynaecologist appointments and grocery shopping. Additionally, the swine flu virus is not just spread when someone coughs/ sneezes in your face. Any object or surface that they touch with their hands after coughing would have the virus transferred on to it. And the flu virus can live on a hard surface for up to 24 hours and a soft surface for around 20 minutes. Which means it’s not just contact with people but the buttons in the lift, the door knobs at the doctor's clinic, the basket handles at the grocery store, and basically anything that you touch that an infected person could have touched can be a potential source of infection, if you touch your mouth or nose after touching them.

My point in saying all this is not to join fear-mongering but on the contrary to suggest that it would be impossible to avoid this virus just by shutting oneself off from the world to the extent that is possible. The best possible response is not to hide away but to continue living a reasonably normal life, whilst taking reasonable precautions. After that, it’s just a matter of luck.

So here’s what I plan to do as of now:

  • I will continue to work and go into office.
  • I will send Ayaan to school, when it re-opens.
  • I will continue to go to for my fitness class and for my daily swim.
  • I will continue to leave the house for all other routine activities, like weekly household errands.

Essentially life as usual but…

  • I will avoid crowded areas unless it’s absolutely necessary. And watching the latest blockbuster release in the cinema hall is an acceptable sacrifice, in my opinion.
  • I will be extra scrupulous about personal hygiene, especially in the area of hand-washing. Moreover, I have popped a bottle of sanitiser into my bag for situations where soap and water is not easily available.
  • I will avoid touching my face (especially my nose and mouth) to the extent possible. This is difficult because I am a face-toucher but I am trying to control myself.
  • I will keep a safe distance from people with coughs and colds. My maid arrived for work with a mild case of sniffles the other day. I have asked her to stay home for a couple of days till it passes, even though it has the appearance of being nothing more than a common cold. The driver has mild fever and has been sent home for some R&R.
  • I will watch like a hawk for early symptoms. In most of the cases of mortality due to swine flu, Tamiflu was started later rather than earlier. The evidence seems to suggest that the medicine works best when taken within 48 hours of contracting the flu.
  • However, I will not wear a mask. I am not just saying this out of vanity. It’s just that based on the stuff that I have read (like this and this), including WHO guidelines on the same, masks are not very effective at preventing the spread of the virus.

How do you plan do deal with the swine flu scare?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Etiquette Around Pregnant Women

You would think that offending or upsetting a pregnant woman would be the farthest thing from any well-intentioned person's mind. But you would be amazed at how often perfectly nice people manage to say or do something that they really ought not to have, without even realising that they have done it. Having been at the receiving end of these faux pas this pregnancy and last, I thought I would compile a list of them:

  1. A little chivalry will never be misread. Offer to carry a heavy bag, give up your seat on a bus or in a conference room or go out of your way to drop a pregnant woman home, and she is sure to send some good karma your way.
  2. But there is a caveat to this, don’t go overboard. Pregnant women may be heavier, more easily tired and less able to perform strenuous tasks, but they are not invalids and over-solicitousness can be irritating. Last time around, I remember I drove my car to a conference (at a hotel 15 minutes away from my house) in my ninth month and everyone was like ‘Are you crazy? Why are you still driving?’ And I felt like saying, ‘What? Do you think I change gears with my belly?’ Or when I sit on the ground at a get-together, some five people hop out of their chairs and insist (over all my protestations to the contrary) that I couldn’t possibly be comfortable on the floor.
  3. Avoid trying to guess how far along a pregnant woman is. Unless you have the rare gift of predicting gestational age to the week, this never turns out well. Underestimate and you risk leaving her feeling that she is not putting on enough weight for a healthy pregnancy and baby. Overestimate and you leave her feeling fat, a cardinal sin when dealing with women – pregnant or otherwise. One would think this is obvious stuff but this particular topic seems to be a standard opener when talking to a pregnant woman. Last week, I happened to bump into someone who guessed that I was two months further along than I actually am and when corrected, she continued to stuff her foot further into her mouth by wondering if I was carrying twins!!!
  4. On that note, if you are not a hundred per cent sure she’s pregnant, pretend like there’s nothing different. Early this year, I met a colleague who gushed, ‘Wow! You’re pregnant again?’ I was depressed for two long weeks till I took the pregnancy test and found that I actually was. Now, of course, I think she was clairvoyant rather than rude but it could have gone either way… And then there is another colleague who got the not-guessing part down right but then a couple of days ago ruined it by saying something to the effect of ‘Phew! You are in the family way. I have been wondering about your weight gain for the last few months but felt it was rude to ask’…
  5. If you are waiting in a queue at a public restroom and there’s a pregnant woman behind you, let her go first. I know it goes against every grain of a big city dweller to give up their place in a queue but seriously, try and imagine having a really full bladder and then imagine someone putting a 2-kg (or more) weight on top of your bladder. ‘Desperate to pee’ takes on an entirely new dimension when you are pregnant.
  6. The upside of being pregnant is that men no longer talk to your chest. The downside is that everyone (men and women alike) talks to your belly instead… Staring at a pregnant woman’s belly is just plain rude. And unless you are a really close friend or family member, touching is even ruder.
  7. We all have at least one scary story about pregnancy, labour and/ or post-natal experiences. Miscarriages, premature deliveries, post-partum depression – there is no end to the number of things that could go wrong and the chances are that each of us knows of atleast one such event. But it’s probably best to keep it close to your heart if you are in the vicinity of a pregnant woman. Trust me, she’s worried and hormonal enough without you adding fuel to the fire…
  8. Unless you are the doctor or the spouse, remember that it is not your job to keep the pregnant woman on the pregnancy path of virtue. So hold your horses on chastising or interrogating her on her choice to drink an occasional glass of wine, watch a scary movie, wear small heels, carry her toddler when he’s upset, colour her hair or eat Chinese food, amongst the many other supposedly taboo things. I am sure she would have thought it through before she did any of these things (maybe even checked with her ob-gyn) but even if she hasn’t, it really is none of your business. And unsolicited advice falls into the same domain.

There, I think I got them all. Feel free to add on if you feel I've missed something.