Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oh! Calcutta

A little over four years ago, I wrote this post about our Matheran trip. As you can see, I was feeling mighty chuffed about the fact that we had taken our first trip with a 1.5 year old Ayaan without parental presence or assistance. Well last weekend, I decided to conquer a new bastion - travelling with BOTH kids and NO husband.

Some of my favourite bloggers were congregating in Calcutta so of course, I had to go. In an ideal world, I would have gone without the kids but as I have learnt the hard way, the world is seldom ideal. I am still breastfeeding Tarana so she goes where I go and it didn't seem right to take her and leave Ayaan behind so to cut a long story short, last Friday found us on a flight to Calcutta.

We were not completely on our own though. Kiran was one of the aforementioned favourite bloggers coming along and so was young Krish. The boys, as always, got along like a house on fire. Literally. They seemed to feed off each other's energy and proceeded to be boisterous, hyperactive and violent in turns - Ayaan more so than Krish. For a hilarious account of their antics, check out Kiran's post. This was the proverbial calm before the storm:


Dipali met us at Calcutta airport. After much hugging and greeting, she led us to her car and probably wondered what the hell she had got herself into as the bachcha party raised Cain through the long drive to her home. Her home was welcoming and cheerful and it felt good to finally get there. Assisted by the brats, we proceeded to take over her guest room and made short work of the well-ordered space.

Sue, Eve's Lungs and Rads (who doesn't blog anymore) arrived soon after we did and much merriment ensued. Given that I had Tarana on my hip, I was roundly ignored by certain people who went straight for their little doula baby without so much as a look-see at the prop holding her up! Ah well, such is life. And the certain people were Sue, in case, you were wondering.

We then proceeded to exchange gifts and it was as if Christmas had come early. The kids got a bunch of toys and I raked in a booty of stoles, purses, jewellery and a hand-embroidered handkerchief amongst other things. The kids had fun exploring their toys and some of them didn't even survive the evening - notably the play doh and the delicate wooden toys.


After that, we settled down to a lovely potluck dinner. All the girls had pitched in and the result was an awesome meal. Dipali had made a raw papaya salad, a pasta salad and a spinach, corn and cheese bake. Eve's Lungs has provided the mandatory non-vegetarian item - some yummy mutton curry. Sue, who complains about her poor cooking skills, had turned out a fantastic corn and mushroom quiche and a sinful chocolate tart.

After dinner, the kids were packed off to bed. The boys (including Sue's Bhablet) insisting on sleeping together so Sue was deputed to go and lie with them till they fell asleep. I wouldn't have offered myself up for the job for anything in the world but Sue claims she had fun! With the kids out of the way, we nattered away till it was 3 a.m and then took ourselves off to bed.

The next day dawned bright and early, for me that is. My kids refuse to sleep in no matter what time they have gone to bed so both were up and about by 7.30. The rest of the household stirred soon enough thanks to the racket they created. After a round of tea, milk and baths, we settled in to eat Dipali's trademark cheese paranthas, which were just yummy!

Mid-morning found us floating around New Market. I didn't buy much but enjoyed the hustle-bustle of the place. The boys, again commandeered by Sue, hung out at the Christmas market till they were shooed away by the shopkeepers for endangering their wares.


We then went to Good Companions, where they sell hand-embroidered kids' clothes and home linen. I had a few clothes from here when I was a kid (since my grandparents lived in Calcutta) and one of the jhablas had even survived and been worn by Ayaan and Tarana. So, of course, I had to go. I picked up some adorable frocks for Tarana from there. This is an old pic of Tarana in a classic Good Companions jhabla.

Lunch was an authentic Bengali meal at Kewpies, a quaint bungalow re-purposed as a restaurant. We were joined by Suki and Eve's Lungs lovely, young daughters. Ayaan had one of his redeeming moments during the meal when he sweetly fed the Bhablet from his own plate. As soon as lunch was over though, the boys were back to regular programming.

After a much-needed afternoon nap, we set off to dinner at Mamma mia! Me a mamma?, who from henceforth shall be referred to as M4 for the sake of brevity :)

I was worried about the brat's behaviour since there going to be TWO MORE BOYS at the dinner but M4's boys were friendly and gracious and kept all the kids busy with their Wii. After they went to bed, the rest of the kids zoned out in front of the television and largely kept out of harm's way.

M4's house was gorgeous and full of old-world charm, with some seriously lovely paintings on the walls. But all that was nothing compared to the spread she laid out for us, a big part of it cooked by herself. I didn't even look at the vegetarian stuff though I hear that was brilliant as well but the carnivores had a veritable feast comprised of tiger prawns, mutton curry and fish paturi. I was already considering opening the top button on my trousers when the dessert arrived. Oh my - it was the most unusual cheescake I have ever eaten: the base made out of boondi, follwed by a layer of mishti doi and then a layer of chocolate hazelnut mousse. And all this yumminess was garnished with some roasted cashews. Wow! If the Calcutta girls ever come to Mumbai, I am catering in the meal. There is no way I could ever live up to these standards!

Back at Dipali's house, the kids were put to bed so that we could continue our chatting marathon, which again went on till 3 a.m. Morning brought chaos as Kiran and I ran around bathing and feeding the kids in an attempt to get out of the house by 9, while Dipali fed us some more yummy paranthas (aloo this time). We made it to the airport just in time. (Kiran has a post up on our horrible experience at Calcutta airport). And then we were on our way home.

What a trip! Utterly exhausting but oodles of fun, gossip and affection. Next time though, no kids so that I can soak in the fun without feeling bone-tired :)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

3 Updates, 2 Clarifications, 1 Milestone

There I go again with my fascination for numbers and order :)

Three Updates: just following through on stuff I wrote in earlier posts
  1. The December Resolutions: The blogging one is self-evident. I have written more in the last two weeks than I usually write in two months! The resolve to exercise is going pretty strong too. I have got some serious exercise EVERY SINGLE DAY for eleven consecutive days - four days at the swimming pool and seven days at the fitness class I signed up for. My body feels battered and achy but I am feeling super chuffed!
  2.  New tagline for the blog: The whole working mom, stay at home mom, figuring it out mom deal got way too confusing so I decided to ditch having labels in the tag line altogether. It's still work in progress but the tagline I have sort of settled on is: Not just motherhood statements. What do you guys think?
  3. Tarana's Physio: We continue to visit the physiotherapist for Tarana's w-sitting issue. Progress has been slow but steady. Her default sitting position continues to be the W, but she mixes it up by putting one or both of her legs in front for her occasionally. When in the mood, she responds to verbal commands or a tap on her legs and straightens them voluntarily. She still can't stand or walk without support but cruises efficiently and is able to toddle along if you hold one of her hands. The doctor said it would take 6-8 months of sustained physiotherapy for her posture to be completely normal and so far we have done about 3 months with some breaks in the middle. So still some way to go...
Two Clarifications: with respect to my previous post about working moms being judged
  1. A lot of you asked what brought on the post. Actually, though the post was pretty dramatic in nature, nothing substantial triggered it. Small incidents and comments that I have heard and overheard in the last few months. Moms at Ayaan's skating and swimming classes who feel sorry for the kids who have to come with the maids because their mothers don't have the time to bring them, other moms who effusively congratulate me on my decision to quit, and so on.
  2. The post came across as dramatic because I was exaggerating to make a point, the point being that a world where every woman felt pressured to ditch her career because of judgement and lack of support from her family and her peers is not necessarily an ideal one. The intention was definitely not to suggest that every woman who chooses to quit her job after kids is a traitor to the feminist movement. I think true feminism lies in letting every woman to choose what works for her and allowing her to be happy with her choice. And for the next generation to have successful role models on both sides of the fence so that they recognise that both choices (and everything in between) are acceptable, respectable and admirable.
One Milestone: 
  1. This is the 200th post on this blog! I know 200 posts in almost 5 years is probably nothing to write home about. Most other mommybloggers who started blogging at around the same time have written posts in multiples of that. But it is a big number for me and I have loved every post I wrote and enjoyed the interaction in the comments space. Here's to reaching 300 a lot faster!

    Thursday, December 02, 2010

    Questions for the Judgemental

    I have a few questions I'd like to ask all the women out there who are stay-at-home moms, the ones who judge other moms who chose to work. Not only do they judge, but they criticize their choices, pity their children and cannot for the life of them understand how a mother can choose to go to work instead of staying home with her kids. They make extreme statements like "If she wanted to focus on her career, why did she have kids in the first place?" They walk around feeling all superior because they believe they had the sense and sensibility to make the right choice, the only reasonable choice in their books, to 'sacrifice' their careers for their children.

    So ladies, you know who you are, tell me this. What does your ideal world look like? Since you seem to believe that motherhood and careers don't mix, do you believe that all women should partially or totally drop their careers the minute they pop out their babies?

    Do you think we should step back about two centuries ago to a world where being a wife and a mother are supposed to be the extent of a woman's ambition? A world where men dominate and take centrestage, with all that that implies? Where women don't bring their experience, diversity and compassion to all spheres of life, inside and outside their homes?

    And if you do indeed feel that way, what about future generations? Do you want your daughter to grow up thinking that it isn't possible to have jobs and children and do well by both? Do you want your sons to grow up thinking that it is alright for them to expect their wives to be the ones to chuck or downsize their careers and assume primary responsibility for child care?

    Isn't it is bit hypocritical for you to denounce working women when you yourself push your daughter to excel in her studies? Surely that can't be just because you hope she will be a really intelligent mother?

    Or do you actually prefer status quo? Are you secretly glad that there are some women out there who continue to work, so that you can compare yourself to them and feel superior about your (good) choices versus their (bad) choices?

    Just wondering...

    Monday, November 29, 2010

    On resolutions

    When I was young and idealistic (a very long time ago admittedly), I was very serious about New Year resolutions. Come New Year's Eve, I would be ready with my list of good habits to adopt in the coming year - read more books, eat less junk, exercise, leave work before sunset... the standard stuff. Often in the heat of the moment, January would find me at the local gym, forking over huge sums of money for an annual membership, fueled by the power of my resolutions. The end result was predictable - I would make it to the gym a few times in the months of January and February and then spend the rest of the year suffering the husband's snide remarks about how that money could have been more gainfully used and how gyms depend on exactly my type of member for their profitability. Bah!

    The blog has been a victim to the same kind of annual optimism. Every year, I resolve to post more often. Not for any other reason but because I can. I cannot even begin to count the number of posts that I have written in my head, which never saw the light of day. Even now, I can think offhand of at least three post-worthy topics that have been whirling around in my head this week. But somehow, I just never seem to get around to it. For a start, I spend a lot of my recreational time on the net reading blogs and other websites. When I am done with that, I am usually out of time. Or enthusiasm. And when I do get around to a posting frame of mind, I suddenly develop writer's block and cannot summon to mind any of the ideas that were till then at the tip of my tongue (or fingers) or if I can, their due date is long past - like the Diwali post that never got written this year.

    So, somewhere along the way I just gave up on resolutions, deciding that they were quite simply not my cup of tea. It was clearly not the ideal situation since the habits I wanted to change still lingered and irked me no end but that was better than living with the disappointment of underachievement.

    And then last Friday night, I had an epiphany. Why did resolutions have to be made on New Year's Day, with the whole year spreading out in front of one's eyes in a daunting fashion? At work, one learnt that targets must have stretch in them but they must appear to be within reach. Well, planning to ditch a habit that has plagued you for ages at one shot and sustaining that over 365 days certainly doesn't sound realistic, does it?

    So here's my idea. I am going to do December resolutions. I am going to pick two habits that I want to change and then go after them hammer and tongs for a month. Just one, measly month - how hard can that be, right? And then if I can sustain it through December, we'll see about taking on 2011.

    So without much further ado, here are my resolutions for December 2010:

     1. I will get back to exercising. 

    Tarana is 14 months old now and there's really no justifiable reason for me to procrastinate any further. I think one of the reasons I have not yet done this, other than pure laziness of course, is the inconsistent daily schedule that I live by these days. On some days I have Tarana's physiotherapy, on other days there is Ayaan's swimming and skating classes. Then are are feed times, meals, naptimes, bedtime, park time... The result: there is not a single time slot that I can commit to on an almost-daily basis.

    And then I had a eureka moment. Why must I commit to one activity or time slot? It would probably be a lot easier, not to mention more interesting, to mix things up. So here's the plan.
    - On weekends, I will swim. The pool hours usually clash with Ayaan's morning school routine and/or Tarana's physio. But on weekends, there is no school routine and usually no physio.
    - I went to my favourite exercise studio, one I frequented before I got pregnant, and signed up. I started today and am hoping to hit at least two, if not three, of their high-intensity work-out classes every week.
    - On the days Ayaan has his skating class, I am going to walk (briskly, no less). There is a stretch of road just outside the class and so instead of lounging around with a book, I am going to wear my sneakers and walk while he skates.

    2. I will blog more

    If I have an idea for a post, I am going to blog it before I lose it. I am not a big fan of regimented blogging so I don't want to make a NaBloPoMo type of commitment. I have enjoyed blogging so far because it is something I like to do. I don't want to turn it into something I have to do.

    So the target here is somewhat internal but I am suddenly feeling all charged up about this and if you notice, this is my third post in less than a week - I usually write that many in a good month - so I have a good feeling about this.

    Since we are off on a 10-day jaunt on 20th, it 's actually not even going to be a month. But I read somewhere that it takes just 21 days of sustained effort to change a habit, so maybe I'm on to something? Time will tell... :)

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    News

    Mama Says So was in the news recently. Mumbai Mirror did a piece earlier this week on mommybloggers and yours truly was in the hallowed company of two-time author Parul and multi-tasker extraordinaire Kiran. You can read the article here

    I am still bummed at the picture in the article though, since you can only see the back of Tarana's head. Usually, I am the one behind the camera. So pictures of me are rare enough and pictures of me and both the kids are a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence. So this was the ONLY recent picture - the last one was from when Tarana was three months old!!!

    The perceptive, amongst those of you who follow the link, might pick up on the first few words in the section about this blog - 'former marketing professional'. Which brings me to the other bit of news. About a fortnight ago, I finally threw in the towel and quit. It was on the cards and when it finally happened it was so anti-climatic that I couldn't muster up the enthusiasm to write about it. But the article has forced me out of the closet. :)

    Another post is due on the whys and hows of my resignation and I promise to get around to that sometime soon. Meanwhile, I am trying to figure out what neat, little box I now fall into. I was always the 'Working Mom'. What am I now? I am not your typical SAHM - I don't cook, my house is neither very neat nor very artistically done up and I have enough help that I don't need (or want) to spend every waking moment with my kids. At the same time, I am in no rush to get back to work. For now, a small freelancing gig keeps my brain ticking but who knows what lies ahead. I guess I am Figuring-Out-Herself-Mom :)

    On to more immediate matters, my blog tagline still reads: 'Life as a working mom in manic Mumbai'. I have been wracking my brains (so much for the ticking) and can't seem to come up with a single, half-decent option to replace it with. Ideas, anyone?

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    An idea whose time has come

    One of the biggest temptations of living abroad for me at our current stage of life is the range of fun and exciting stuff that one can do with the kids. From picking fresh strawberries at a farm to ballet classes to camping in the great outdoors... there's probably enough to pack every weekend of the year. However, given my aversion to cooking and housekeeping, it's unlikely that is ever going to happen so we try to make the best of what we have within our reach.

    In a city like Mumbai, the problem starts with there not being many available options. I think most cities in India would be similar but Mumbai's lack of space and green cover reduces opportunities for non-school kids' activities even further.

    Then there is the problem of knowledge. There is stuff happening but no way to ensure that the information gets to you in time. Sometimes, we get lucky and hear about stuff from friends, newspapers or blogs - the recent International Clown Show which Ayaan absolutely loved - was one such lucky break. But most of the time, weekends are spend lounging at home, running errands and hanging out the handkerchief-sized lawn that passes in this city for a neighbourhood park.

    I have often wished there was a local magazine or portal that made this easier for me - that consolidated everything I need to know to survive and enjoy life as a parent in my city. So I was both impressed and jealous to come across the Facebook page for the Delhi-based mycity4kids a couple of months ago. I really liked what I saw and decided to unselfishly share the joy with my mommy friends in Delhi.

    They now have a website as well - which all you lucky Delhiites can find here. The long list of stuff they cover is amazing - from schools and tutions to hobby classes and kids' events and almost everything else in between. Enjoy! Me, I am just going to linger mournfully on the sidelines and hope they get around to other cities some time soon. (mycity4kids, are you listening?)

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Mauritius!

    I have been trying to motivate myself to write this post in the 10 days since since we got back but stuff kept getting in the way - stuff like unpacking, laundry, packing, flying to Jaipur, the maid's upset tummy, Diwali and lightning trip to Delhi amongst other things. But things are comparatively calm so it's time to spill all on our first holiday as a family of four to the sunny shores of Mauritius.

    Even when I was procrastinating about the actual writing of this post, I was trying to put it together in my head. And I had a thought. You know what I love as much as holidays - finding order in chaos. And nothing does order better in a post than numbers, bullet points and headings.... so here goes :)

    Three bad omens on Day One 

    Now I am no great believer in superstitions but even I had to wonder with the mishaps that we ran into within eight hours of leaving home:
    1. The stroller died on us. Barely after clearing immigration, we noticed that one of the straps holding the seat to the frame had broken. It looked a bit dicey but the other strap was still hanging in there and doing an adequate enough job of holding Tarana in place. But it was not to be. Within minutes of landing and Tarana being strapped in, the other strap gave away too. So we started our holiday (one in which we planned to do a fair bit of walking) stroller-less.
    2. Both the kids were awful in the flight. They refused to sleep - Ayaan was too impressed by having a little TV to himself and Tarana took major offence to all attempts to pop her into the bassinet. So we all walked off the flight looking like something the cat dragged in.
    3. We were standing in the line for immigration when nature decided to play a mean trick on me and Aunty Flo picked that very moment to announce her arrival. I did mention we were going on a beach holiday, didn't I? 

    Three small solutions for three big problems

    Undeterred, we kicked life's ass back:
    1. On Day Three of the trip, we managed to discover a shop that sold baby gear. We didn't have a lot of choice available to us, so we bought a cheap Silver Cross stroller. It was pretty shoddy and we ditched it as soon as we got back but it saved our backs, literally and figuratively, while we were there.
    2. We got to the hotel by noon, stuffed food into everyone and hopped into our respective beds for a long afternoon nap. Everyone was pretty perky once that was out of the way and we went and caught the sunset on the beach.
    3. One word. Tampons. 

    Five awesome animal encounters

    Left to ourselves, Jai and I would have spent the week in Mauritius lounging around on its beautiful beaches but we consciously planned the holiday around the kids, especially Ayaan. As a result, we ended up visiting two lovely zoos - Casela Nature and Leisure Park and La Vanille Crocodile Park - and the Mauritius aquarium. As Casela, we couldn't do some of the activities (lion walk, rando fun, segway rides) because the kids were not allowed there but we walked around the bird enclosures, went on a safari and hung out at the petting zoo. La Vanille was pretty much designed for kids so we did the full reserve and I think it was one of Ayaan's favourite parts of the trip. The aquarium was nothing special but considering we couldn't do any of the undersea experiences, it gave Ayaan some idea of the marine life around the island. 
    1. Communing with an ostrich. There were some lovely birds at Casela (most of which we didn't recognise) including flamingos and peacocks but the one that most caught Ayaan's fancy was the ostrich.
    2. Feeding zebras (and deer): Also at Casela, we took the safari jeep and did a 45 minute round of the park. We saw more ostriches, peacocks, tortoises and deer but the best experience was when a herd of zebras came right up to the van and allowed us to pet them and feed them chunks of bread. After the safari, we hung out at the petting zoo, where Ayaan played with some very docile deer. 


    3. 'Emormous' and not so emormous crocodiles: One of Ayaan's favourite reads these these days is Roald Dahl's The Enormous Crocodile (or as he says it - 'emormous'), so he was very thrilled to hear that we would be going to see crocodiles. La Vanille did not disappoint with huge specimens on display, as well as some baby and medium-sized ones. Much time and discussion was spent on categorising them into emormous and not-so-emormous. We even got a paid photo of Ayaan holding a baby croc (with its mouth taped shut, of course) clicked but I can't seem to find it anywhere :( 
    4. Up close and personal with the giant tortoise: The coolest think about La Vanille, however, was not the crocodiles but some 30-40 giant tortoises that were left to graze in an open field. While some of them were shy and withdrew into their shells when approached, others were quite content with being mauled by the kids.  


    5. Sharks and stone fishes: Even though it was a small aquarium, Ayaan did get to see some interesting sights. There was a shark-feeding event but the sharks were small white-tipped reef sharks and seem quite content so there was no menacing feeding frenzy. But Ayaan spent a good 10 minutes watching the show. The most interesting fish there was the stonefish, which actually looks like a stone unless you look really carefully. On our way out, we picked up this really cute book from the aquarium shop called S.O.S Shark: it weaves a tale using many of the marine creatures we saw in the aquarium and we picked it up for Ayaan - it is now a daily must-read. The book is part of a series featuring a boy named Tikulu that highlight different aspects of Mauritian life - I was keen to pick up the one about the dodo too but they only had that in French.

    Three ways in which Tarana was introduced to the joys of water

    Before our holiday, Tarana had made two brief trips to the swimming pool just to get her acclimatised to being in the water and she enjoyed those. But in Mauritius, she really expanded her repertoire of water bodies...
    1. Little Mermaid: The only time we took her into the sea was at the calm and endlessly shallow waters at Ille Aux Cerfs, where we spent a day. This pic was taken at least 50 metres away from the shore but it was so shallow that Tarana's feet easily touched the seabed. She totally loved it, in spite of a few inadvertent sips of the salty water.
    2. River Nymph: We happened to visit a lovely colonial estate called Eureka. After lunch, we trekked down to a set of waterfalls that were part of the estate. Even though the water was pretty cold, Tarana had a fantastic time splashing around with her feet and hands and was most upset when we decided it was time to leave.
    3. Water Baby: Last, but definitely not the least, was the fun she had at the hotel pool. We had just carried the arm bands so she mostly explored the pool in my arms but the shallow bits were shallow enough for her to sit and splash around as well. She particularly enjoyed trying to fish out bugs and dried leaves from the water.

    Three things Jai and I would have done had the kids not been with us

    While we had a great holiday with the kids along, we did at times heave deep sighs and wonder at how the trip would have been different if we had gone without them. These are the things we would have definitely done:
    1. Water sports: including but not necessarily limited to scuba diving, snorkeling and parasailing. We had hoped to take this submarine trip to get some underwater joy, but even they didn't allow kids under the age of eight.
    2. Relaxation: The holiday was fun and action-packed but definitely not even remotely relaxing. We didn't expect it to be but the sight of all the child-free couples strolling on the beach, tanning themselves by the pool or lounging at the bar was envy-inducing.
    3. Romance: We spend 100% of our time there being parents. No moonlit walks, no candlelit dinners, no cuddling even. We ran around behind the kids all day and fell exhausted into the bed the minute they were asleep.

    Four things we wish we hadn't done

    Not everything was topnotch though. If we had a do-over, there are definitely some things that we would drop from the plan:
    1. Chamarel Coloured Sands and Waterfall: A definite inclusion on all package tour itineraries, these were a total let-down. We had planned not to go based on advice from friends and our trusty Lonely Planet but once we were there, our driver convinced us that it was worth seeing but the long drive to get there was totally not worth the effort. The sands are just a couple of hills covered with volcanic sands in seven different colours, ranging from brown to purplish. The falls are touted to be the biggest in Mauritius, but as we discovered, that is not saying much. 
    2. Waterfall trip from Ille Aux Cerfs: This was a 45-minute boat ride around the island to see a very average waterfall. Again, recommended by the driver who clearly had vested interests. But Ayaan enjoyed the boat ride so all was not lost.
    3. Domaine Les Pailles: The Lonely Planet described this as a charming sugar estate with lots of activities and some great restaurants. We ate at the Creole restaurant, which was pretty nice but the rest of the experience was nothing to write home about. The train ride and horse carriages were not operational and the walk through the spice garden was just a short stroll with a sniff at some 6-8 common varieties of spices like clove and curry leaves. The quaint bull-operated sugar mill was cute though.
    4. Botanical garden at Pamplemousse: It was a nice enough garden but we weren't in the mood for a guided tour and they haven't labeled the trees and plants so it turned to be a just a pleasant walk. Also, if you have been to the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens in Bangalore, you can afford to give this one a miss. 

    Two things we wish we had done more of 

    1. Nothing: I think we got too caught up in soaking in all the sights and sounds of Mauritius. In retrospect, more time spent hanging out at the hotel pool and beach would have been nice.
    2. Kids Club: We stayed at the Sofitel and they had a fantastic kids' club for kids in the 4-12 age range. Ayaan went there twice for a couple of hours each but he had a good time (and we got a bit of a break since we timed it with Tarana's naps) but we could have used it more. There were actually kids who spent the whole day there - their parents dropped them off after breakfast and picked them up after dinner. I think that would have been too much for Ayaan though and most of the other kids were French-speaking, so he would have felt left out.

    Four standard hospitality experiences that thrilled Ayaan

    Apart for the sights and sounds of Mauritius, Ayaan reveled in some of the smaller joys of travel that globetrotters take for granted.
    1. His own little TV on the airplane: On the way to Mauritius, we didn't get seats together so he was sitting with Jai and convinced him to let him watch a movie followed by some cartoons for almost four of the six hour trip. On the way back, monster mom allowed him to watch only about an hour's worth. But he can't stop talking about how he had his own TV on the flight.
    2. The bathtub at the hotel: The bathtub was one of his favourite haunts. He would wallow in the water for ages every day and play elaborate games with a Buzz Lightyear action figure, who would be made to play superhero and rescue some imaginary stranded turtles and defuse a bomb amongst other things. 
    3. Free sweets: Every night, just after dinner, the doorbell would ring and Ayaan would screech and rush to open the door so that he could commandeer the chocolates from the housekeeping aunty. And every time we passed the concierge desk, he would grab a candy from an ever-full bowl placed there. Since we were on holiday, I was pretty relaxed about how much junk he ate and he totally made hay while the sun shone.
    4. Buffets: We had breakfast and dinner at the elaborate hotel buffets. Another fun experience for Ayaan - he would get me to walk around with a plate and would point out all the goodies he wanted. His eyes were always bigger than his stomach so a good portion was wasted but then again, we were on holiday so I let it slide. He wasn't the only one who loved the buffets either. All of us pigged out and the weighing scales are not our friend these days. 

    Four ways in which Tarana was a littler trooper

    Our biggest worry before the trip was how Tarana would take to strange places and erratic schedules. Other than rejecting the bassinet and car seat, she was quite a sport.
    1. Naps: Since we were gadding about madly, her naps went for a complete toss on most days. For a girl who's hardly ever napped anywhere but her cot, she was surprisingly flexible and took her naps where she could find them - in my lap, in her stroller, on her dad's shoulder, and even after a quick feed on the bumpy safari ride at Casela! They were, however, much shorter than her regular naps so she was understandably grumpy by about seven in the evening but otherwise was largely cheerful.
    2. Night: She largely stuck to her night routine. We were anal about getting the kids to bed by nine. It was that or go mad since they were irritable (Tarana) and hyper (Ayaan) by then and we were completely drained. After that, she followed her regular routine of waking for a feed at 2 and then rising for the day at 6.
    3. Independence: With my army of maids, she is rarely left to her own devices in Mumbai so we wondered whether we would have to expend oodles of time and energy entertaining her. But she was very self-contained. We would just plop her down anywhere and she would find something - coral, shells, beach towels, spoons, etc - to keep herself entertained.
    4. Food: Thanks to my second-time mom benign neglect approach to food, she was ever willing to try new stuff and at a pinch was happy to fill her tummy with bread, peas and fries. Her breakfast favourite was a fruity yoghurt. 
       
    Three miscellaneous things that didn't fit into any of the other headings :)

    1. Port Louis: We spent half a day at the capital 'city' and we were glad we did because it is a completely different experience from the touristy stuff. In some bits, you really feel like you are back in a cleaner version of a small Indian town - many of the shops have Indian names, there are loads of women in salwar kameezes and the Central Market is a cross between a sabzi mandi and Janpath :)
    2. The hotel room: We really lucked out with our choice of hotel. We had got a great deal on the room rates from our travel agent, so we wondered whether there was a catch. But nope, it was a full-service five-star resort. Their housekeeping was a little slipshod and some of the dinner buffets were average but otherwise, it was really great. Our digs were roomy and, in addition to a plush double bed, easily fitted in a baby cot and a day-bed for Ayaan for sleep on. It was also sea-facing and had a verandah with this view:

    3. Holiday art: Ayaan made this just outside our room - with sand, shells, coral, pebbles and flowers.

    I guess that's about it. Phew! That was long. So much for bullet points :)

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    The Evidence

    In the last post, I mentioned that thanks to the husband's brilliant (not!) photography skills, there was not a single decent picture of the birthday girl. Now, I got the feeling that some of you thought I might have been exaggerating so here's the evidence to prove that I was not... and believe me, I am not withholding the stuff. This is all there was.

    It's quite the cautionary tale. I call it How Not To Photograph Your Baby

    Lesson One: Keep the light behind you


    This one had the potential to be a really cute mother-daughter pic but for the fact that you can barely see the mother and daughter in question.

    Lesson Two: Try to catch the baby in a good mood


    Believe it or not, this is the best solo shot of Tarana from the party. At least, you can see her dress. Sort of. It was a white satin affair with a very light classic Winnie the Pooh print. Courtesy her Mamu from London.

    Lesson Three: Wait till the baby looks at you


    Ok, so maybe I am being a little unfair. I mean, babies do this all the time, right? You set up the frame and just as you press the button, they look away. So in a roll of otherwise good pictures, you'd probably delete this and move on. But what if this is one of the good pictures?

    Lesson Four: Try and keep the baby in the centre of the frame


    What I said in Lesson Three. Understandable but...

    Lesson Five: Hold the camera steady... with both hands


    I am not kidding. Jai holds the camera most casually with one hand. And this is one of those somewhat bulky prosumer cameras. Add low light situations and we have a lot of blurry pics... :)

    (Sidenote to Jai: Sorry, darling. But a girl's got to put her money where her mouth is :) I promise to make it up with a post about what a great dad you are turning out to be)

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    And Then She Was One...

    Yes, that's right. My little baby is now a one-year old. We celebrated her first birthday last week and my last baby is no longer officially a baby. *sniff*

    My initial birthday plan was to do nothing much more than cut a cake and carry on with the rest of the day as usual. But the big brother would not hear of it - the little sister had to have a birthday party with presents, streamers, balloons and a chocolate cake. That, combined with the fact that my my mom flew over from Jaipur just for the occasion, changed my mind so we had a small little do at the house with some friends and their kids.


    It was nice, relaxed evening with old friends. We chatted about this and that while the four kids (ranging from just-turned-one to five and a half) pretty much ignored each other and did their own thing. The food was uncomplicated too - the chocolate cake, mini-quiches and mini-tarts were outsourced, there was a running supply of potato chips for the kids and my maid whipped up some hot, fresh pakoras for the adults.

    My mom took charge of the decor and Jai was in charge of photography, which explains why there isn't a single decent shot of the birthday girl. :)

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    By The Water Cooler


    That my friends, is a sneak peek at Parul's second book - By the Water Cooler.

    Her blog is one of my favourite reads and I had a lot of laughs reading her first book - Bringing Up Vasu - and am look forward to this one hitting the shelves so that I can rush out and pick up a copy.

    Parul has a fun contest going on over at her blog, calling for anecdotes from the workplace.. I really want to participate but my limited creative juices seem to have all but dried up.

    Check out the contest details here... and unleash you inner Dilbert.

    Monday, October 04, 2010

    The Sleep Chronicles

    When Ayaan was about six months old, I sleep trained him. He was a very bad sleeper and refused to nap during the day and at that point, I had tried almost everything else and was running out of options and patience. So I read Ferber and followed his advice to the T. It was harder than was suggested but at ten months, Ayaan was completely trained and sleeping through the night. (The detailed post I wrote about it at the time can be found here).

    Of course, I would have preferred to not let him cry it out. But things had come to such a pass that my sanity, his health and our happiness depended on him being able to sleep a reasonable number of hours in a day. But I have often wondered whether it was my fault that things got to be that way. From the day he popped out, he was a baby who would soothe only when he was being carried. I, aided by my mother and mother-in-law at various points of time, spent many uncountable hours walking up and down the house with him. He seemed to have an in-built motion and gravity sensor that made him take umbrage the minute the poor soul carrying him decided to stop pacing or, God forbid, sit down. Everyone said you must not let a little baby cry. At that age, they cannot manipulate you - they are just telling you what they want. Well, in Ayaan's case, he wanted to be carried till my spinal column felt like someone had been at it with a hammer. So that's what I did but somehow that got in the way of him being comfortable with being put down in his cot for a nap...



    Anyway, when Tarana was born, I vowed I wouldn't let things get that bad. To start with, things went well. She was sleeping 5-6 hours at a stretch at night by time she was three weeks old and when she did wake, I would feed her and put her down next to me on the bed. She would play for a bit and go back to sleep, after which I would pop her back in her cot. Her napping behaviour was somewhat more erratic but overall, we were getting by and it didn't seem like any drastic measures would be required.

    Then when she was six months old, she got sick. And with a stuffy nose, sleeping in a flat position became understandably difficult. So between an exhausted Jai and a fever-ridden me, we took turns sitting up with her asleep on our shoulders. It was just a few days, but it turned out to be habit-forming and she developed an aversion to sleeping in her cot. There were some really horrible night when she would be up for three hours. Actually, Jai and/ or I would be up for three hours at a stretch - she would sleep on our shoulders but get up the minute she was put down in her cot. Her naps totally went to hell. It took ages to rock her into a deep sleep and then she would sleep no more than fifteen or thirty minutes.



    Again, things reached breaking point. But I still dithered on taking more drastic steps. Whenever I felt just about ready to throw in the towel and let her cry it out, she would go through a good phase and my resolve would weaken. Then, there was the whole hoo-haa about sleep training possibly causing long-term brain damage. Let's not even get started about the latent guilt about sleep training Ayaan that came bubbling to the surface. But let's just say that it made me even more reluctant to sleep train Tarana and add to that the burden of guilt. Lastly, by the time I was considering this, Tarana was already crawling, sitting up and pulling herself up to stand. I worried that she might get agitated and hurt herself on the sides of her cot...

    Given that I was confused about how to correct her behavior, I decided to correct mine. I started going to bed really early - as soon as the kids were in bed, in fact. That effectively dealt with my sleep deprivation so I limped on for another couple of months. But Tarana was still not getting enough uninterrupted sleep so she was pretty cranky in the day. And without any lengthy naps and a grumpy, clingy baby, I found it hard to get any time to get my own stuff done or to spend much quality time with Ayaan.

    I finally decided to experiment with a modified sleep training method. In Tarana's case, getting her to sleep wasn't a problem. She was asleep within minutes of being rocked - the issue was getting her to fall into such a deep sleep that she would not wake up when she was put down. To put things into perspective, her eyes would close within 3-4 minutes of being rocked but the last mile of getting her to be a 100% asleep would take anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes. It was also a pretty elaborate process - first, I would walk and pat her, then I put sit down and keep patting her, then I would stop the patting and just sit and even then, when put into her cot, she would stir and so then some patting was required to get her to settle. Not fun, to say the least.

    So I decided to do away with the 100% fast asleep objective. I would rock her to sleep for the initial 3-4 minutes and then put her cot and leave. (This was different from the Ferber method I followed with Ayaan where I put him into his cot fully awake). In this case, she was already very, very sleepy. So she cried only for about 5 minutes on the first day. And except for one occasion when she howled for 10 minutes, the crying never exceeded that. It's been about three weeks now, and she usually cries for under a minute before sleep overwhelms her.

    So yes, I am sleep training her. But this is a relatively gentle method that I feel no qualms about. The crying is minimal and she is sleeping much better. She now takes two naps during the day, both lasting between 45 minutes and an hour. And she wakes only once for a feed at night. We are both more rested and she is much less irritable during her waking hours...

    On a related note, do/ did any of your babies meet the sleep quotas recommended by the sleep experts? Neither of my kids ever came close to the hours prescribed here. Even now, Tarana sleeps an average of 11 hours in a day, which is quite a long way off from the 14 hours that they say she should be sleeping.

    Saturday, September 25, 2010

    Doctor Mom

    It's been over a month since I wrote about Tarana's w-sitting problem and life has been pretty eventful on that front since then. At her tenth month appointment, our paediatrician recommended that we get her evaluated by a physiotherapist.

    Easier said than done, since he didn't strongly recommend anyone and paediatric physiotherapy is a pretty narrow field. The incredibly well-connected Mad Momma came through and got me the name of a reputed therapist. We went to see her and she did a very detailed appraisal. She concluded that the w-sitting was an issue in itself and had also led to something she referred to 'instability of foot', which basically means she is not placing her feet firmly on the floor when she stands and they turn in a little bit. She asked me to get a second opinion from a paediatric orthopedic and he concurred with her diagnosis.

    We started the physiotherapy immediately with a plan of three half-hour sessions a week. I had a few initial doubts about the set-up since it is a 45-minute drive from where we live. But then I am currently living the SAHM life and I have a chauffeur-driven car, so I decided I didn't really have a reason to whine about the commute.

    The next doubt to assail me was therapists themselves. It turned out that the main physiotherapist (the one who had done the initial evaluation) is a hugely over-scheduled doctor with three clinics spread across Mumbai and most of the actual therapy is done by her assistants. I considered switching doctors but since I had yet to find an alternative, I decided to stick with this practice till I did. It's been over two weeks now and I have come to see that the assistant working with Tarana is very good and the main physiotherapist comes in once every week or so to monitor progress and change things around if necessary. So we are staying put for now.

    In the first couple of weeks, we had a lot of trouble getting Tarana to settle down. She would start bawling her head off at the word go. She clung to me and even the physiotherapist so much as looking at her was enough to send her into hysterics. At this point, I was asked a bunch of questions (which required me to rate Tarana on a 5-point scale on her comfort with various things and situations) and was told that the results indicated that Tarana had 'some sensory issues' and was finding it hard to 'balance and regulate herself in new situations'. When I asked the doctor what exactly these sensory issues were, she said that they would have to work with Tarana to identify these issues and work on them accordingly. This vague diagnosis made me extremely uncomfortable but I decided to give them some rope.

    In the next session, instead of focussing on the exercises for her posture, the assistant spent most of the time in rubbing her feet with pieces of cloth with varying textures. I went home and thought about this new development and after talking to a few friends who have seen Tarana in action, I came to the conclusion that this sensory issues business was simply not true. I know my baby and her discomfort at those early sessions was nothing more than stranger anxiety. She, like her brother before her, has been shy and wary of new people right from the start. Till date, she gets upset if I hand her over to my maid, who she has known for almost a year now. She is a shy and sensitive baby. That's just her personality.

    Anyway, so I spoke to the assistant at the next session and conveyed my discomfort about going down the sensory route. I told her that I was thoroughly unconvinced that Tarana's behaviour was a result of anything other than a slightly elevated level of stranger anxiety. I was all set to walk out if they didn't either agree with me or convince me about the sensory issues. Thankfully, they backed off and are back to focussing on the sitting and standing exercises now. The only change was that we have upped the frequency to six times a week for now till Tarana gets familiar with the therapist. And it has worked to a large extent - she smiles at the therapist when we reach there and the amount she cries is coming down with every session and she actually has fun when she's not busy being upset. There is a marked improvement in her w-sitting as well and she often plonks herself down with at least one leg out in front of her.

    To make a larger point, it makes sense to balance out medical advice with instinct and research. Doctors are not omniscient and infallible. It has taken me a while to reach this place.

    Over five years ago, I was a brand-new and nervous mother. Our first paediatrician came on his rounds and held forth on range of topics - from how to care for the umbilical stump to what soap to use for the baby - essentially Keeping The Baby Safe and Healthy 101. I hung on his every word and actually whipped out a notepad and took copious notes (yes, I was THAT mother). I felt wholly unprepared to be entrusted with the care of something as seemingly fragile as an infant and the doctor was my lifeline. I religiously took Ayaan in for his monthly check-ups and followed the doctor's advice to the T.

    The turning point came when the same paediatrician diagnosed Ayaan with enlarged adenoids. The diagnosis was absolutely correct but he advised a very extreme course on action involving four weeks of antibiotics, and surgery to remove the adenoids if the antibiotics did not work. At first, I mutely accepted his recommendation and started the antibiotics because after all, 'Doctor Knows Best'. By lucky chance, we happened to go for a family wedding where an uncle, a doctor by profession, remarked on the prescription and suggested that that the extended dose seemed wholly over the top. Days later, we were at my mother's place, when Ayaan caught a nasty stomach bug and the Jaipur paediatrician asked if he was on any other medications and, on being told the whole adenoids story, was a lot more specific and vehement than my uncle in his disagreement. Some research on Google further confirmed this and needless to say, we soon found ourselves a new paediatrician.

    Anyway, to cut a long story short, that pretty much ended my phase of blind faith in the medical profession. Here's what I believe now:

    1. I may not not know the science as well as the doctor but the flip side to that is that the doctor does not know my children as well as I do.  
    2. If I have even the slightest doubt about a course of treatment, it is worth getting a second opinion.
    3. Doctors are not infallible. If they were, two doctors would not diagnose and treat the same set of symptoms differently.
    4. Doctors are not above profit motive, especially if they work in the private sector. A recommendation to operate on a two year old might hide the fact the doctor has inpatient targets at the hospital he is affiliated with. Identifying sensory issues that need work translate into more therapy session and more revenue. Call me a cynic, but doctors are businessmen too.
    5. I have the right to question my doctor. Especially in India, doctors can be somewhat dictatorial in their attitude. I prefer to find doctors who are open to queries and who are willing to take the time to explain stuff to me in layman's terms. 
    6. I have Google and doctors in my family on my side - these are quick and easy ways to double-check.
    7. However, if I constantly feel the need to double-check every prescription, I probably need to find a new doctor.
    8. In the end, the decision is mine. Friends and family may give advice, doctors might recommend a certain route. I have no obligation to do anything but what I believe is the best for my children.

    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    Plane madness

    You know your son is still obsessed with planes and air crashes when:

    You are curled up in a corner reading your book, while he plays with his ever-increasing store of toy planes. You suddenly tune into his monologue and realise that he is doing an almost-perfect imitation of an airhotess: "This plane is about to crash. Please put on your seat belts. Thank you for flying Jet Airways." And then slams the plane into a nearby wall.

    You get suspicious at the unusual silence emanating from his room and walk in to find him perusing an airline safety card (which he decided to appropriate on his last flight for detailed analysis)...

    You decide to get him excited about the upcoming family holiday in Mauritius by showing him pictures on Google Images and he barely looks at all the lovely beach and ocean pictures before asking to see a picture of the aeroplane we will go in. He then proceeds to stare at the aeroplane, comment on its size and colours and wonder if it is going to land in the water...

    You tell him about the weekend plan to go meet a friend and he decides to make her a present - a 'newspaper' about aeroplane crashes:


    This is the artist's explanation:
    On Page 101, the first picture is a plane flying in the clouds but the pilot has forgotten to put the wheels back inside. The second is a plane that has crashed its nose into a brick wall.
    On page 202, the first plane has crashed because it landed on its nose. The second plane landed on the runway but then crashed into the jungle (the big black thing on the side). And the third plane has landed without the wheels coming out).

    Sunday, August 29, 2010

    New Kid, Old Toys

    As a mother of two kids with a four and a half year age difference, I find myself spending a lot of time and energy on the use (and abuse) of the toys in our house. With Ayaan, this was never a challenge since the toys that came into the house were always specifically for him and he made the transition from rattles to blocks to playdoh in an age appropriate manner. But with Tarana, that option simply does not exist because Ayaan's toys are already in existence, most of them with dire warnings like 'Not suitable for children under 36 months' and 'Contains small parts that may be a choking hazard'.

    And, of course, she finds her big brother's toys far more interesting than her own. Paradise for her is finding herself in front of one of his open toy drawers. So the rattles usually lie ignored while she prefers to play with his wooden blocks and toy cars. Supervising her playing, therefore, can be quite a high stress enterprise.

    To start with, there is the constant tussle. She is most interested with what Ayaan happens to be playing with at the moment. And she has to only show the slightest interest in a toy for that to become the very toy that Ayaan wants to play with at that very moment. It usually doesn't end well since there is an inevitable struggle that ends with Tarana either getting hurt as Ayaan snatches something from her or pushes her or in Tarana having an indignant tantrum when she is denied the object of her choice. 

    Then there is the whole choking hazard thing. One has to watch her like a hawk because dangers lie everywhere. One day, the wheels on one of the dinky cars broke off as she was playing with it and had to be taken away from her before she put it in her mouth. Another time, I noticed some greenish liquid dribbling from her mouth and got the fright of my life - thankfully it was just a piece of green chalk that she had popped into her mouth and was most upset to have fished out. (For once Dr. Google was reassuring.) This eagle eye business is doable when Ayaan is entertaining himself but when he wants to me read to him or play something with him, I need to call my maid in to watch Tarana. I wonder, how do mothers without any help manage?

    The other problem is that Ayaan is into colouring and crafts in a big way these days. So when he is not building crash scenarios with his ever-growing collection of airplanes, he wants to make something that involves working with one of more of the following: paints, playdoh, glue, scissors and crayons. Tarana is attracted to all of these like a moth to a flame and there are essentially two scenarios that ensue:
    1. She gets her into his 'art', ruins it and Ayaan has a meltdown
    2. She is intercepted in time and has an immense meltdown

    To avoid a potential meltdown on the part of one or both kids, they need to be separated when Ayaan is doing crafts. Between me and the maid, one of us does crafts with Ayaan in his room (with the door closed, because no other place on earth holds the kind of fascination for Tarana that her brother's room does) while the other plays with Tarana in the living room. Again, moms with two kids and no help, what do you do?

    There is the matter of the toys themselves. Some of Ayaan's stuff has not been designed to survive the ministrations of the pre-toddler brigade. With him, we only had board books but she has managed to get her poky little hands on a couple of his books and tear the pages before she could be stopped. Ayaan is no saint either and I wonder how long her walker-cum-wagon will survive, given his tendency to convert it into a racing car.

    All in all, I am quite looking forward to the days when they can be counted upon to play together without doing any damage to the toys or each other. Because that will be the day I crack open a bottle of tequila, make myself a margarita and snuggle up with a book while they get on with the business of keeping each other entertained.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Redefining Rakshabandhan

    Yesterday was Rakshabandhan. The festival is all about brothers and sisters, so this was the first year that Ayaan could legitimately participate, having a baby sister and all.

    All these years, I have never thought twice about the way the festival is traditionally celebrated - the sisters tie rakhis on their brothers, the brothers vow to protect the sisters and the sisters in turn pray for the well-being of their brothers. I simply followed the ritual and tied rakhis on all my brothers and cousin brothers.

    But having my own daughter made me stop and think about the inherent chauvinism in the whole process and how that somehow made the whole festival something of an anachronism. In the days in which the festival of Rakshabandhan came to be, women were truly the weaker sex and therefore the presence and protection of the male members of their families (fathers, brothers and husbands) was not something that could be taken lightly.

    But centuries on, much has changed, especially in the socio-economic strata that my children and I inhabit. I find it hard to imagine that Tarana will be the weaker sibling, in dire need of her brother's protection. I think they will both go through challenging times and I hope they will retain the love in their hearts that will help to provide help, support, encouragement, protection or whatever else is the need of the hour to each other.

    So like many of my friends and acquaintances, I have decided to tweak and update the ritual to make it more contemporary. In our house, rakhi will be about celebrating about the sibling bond and both Ayaan and Tarana will tie a rakhi on each other, with everything else that that entails.

    We made a start this year, though Tarana was a rather unwilling participant. She was most upset at having some random thread tied on her wrist and wailed while I guided her finger to put the tilak on Ayaan's forehead. In the middle of all this chaos, no pictures were taken of the actual rakhi-tying since Jai is travelling and I have only one pair of hands.

    But I did manage to get some pictures once the rakhis were tied and Tarana had deigned to calm down. Here's the proud boy displaying all his rakhis:


    The Winnie The Pooh (his favourite cartoon character) rakhi was from Tarana. The ladybug one was bought for Tarana but the tubelight came on in time to realise that the cute spotted fellows were choking hazards, so I found a plain red thread rakhi for her. The ladybug one was promptly appropriated by Ayaan and I got the junior maid (he calls her didi) to tie it for him. The big yellow one was made in school, along with this card for Tarana:


    This is the front of the card - he said that he drew this so that she can learn about shapes :)

    This was the inside of the card - a random selection of words he can spell, in a mish-mash of lower and upper case letters.


    And this was on the back of the card. The 'TR' is supposed to indicate that that stick figure is indeed Tarana and the sun is shining down on her, with an arrow for emphasis.

    I thought it was awfully cute :)

    This post wouldn't be complete without a shot of a disgruntled Tarana, eyeing her rakhi suspiciously, so let me sign off with that :)