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 :)