Sunday, September 18, 2011

My Own Byline

Last weekend, a commenter on my previous post asked whether I'd be interested in writing a guest column for the Indian Express Sunday supplement on the first year of motherhood. Well, 'interested' is too mild a word - the idea of seeing my name in print was thrilling!

And today, the column appeared in print. I couldn't get my hands on the actual paper for love or money but a few of my friends did and have been asked to save me the copy for posterity.

For now, I've had to make do with the online edition and that's what I shall share with you guys. You can read the article here. Let me know what you think. 

Disclaimer:  That is not me hiding behind that baby in the accompanying picture.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Toddler Fashion Trends

There's been a lot of whining on this blog lately and what is much needed is some light entertainment and nothing does that better than funny photos of kids. So here's a look into what avant-garde toddlers are sporting these days.

No shrinking violets these little girls, they wear their superhero ambitions on their, bum. They are not averse to borrowing their brothers' (clean) undies to pull off the authentic look either.

The parade of hats at Prince William's wedding have nothing on this. For faddish young babes, shampoo hats are the it-accessory to be seen in.

And shoes in the correct size are so over-rated right? Much, much cooler to borrow over-sized shoes from the shoe cupboard.

What's that, you say? It's a multi-purpose toddler t-shirt - can also double as a head scarf or even a turban. Comes in handy in games of peek-a-boo too.

When you are this cute, there's not much you can't carry off :)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Next Doctor, Please

It's been over a month since I last posted and I don't have a real reason for my absence. It was just a case of blogger's block, plain and simple. But nothing resurrects lost blogging mojo faster than a need to rant about something. And rant, I shall.

Over the last couple of months, I have had a few run-ins with the medical community and I have to say that I am thoroughly disillusioned with their ilk. It's not like I was wearing rose-tinted glasses earlier - I posted not too long ago about my earlier run-ins with doctors out to make a quick buck. But three incidents over the last three months have re-opened that particular Pandora's box and made me ever-more suspicious of doctors.

The first happened when Ayaan, pushing an empty swing, got distracted for an unfortunate moment and had the said swing smack into his face. There was not much blood but there was a small cut on his eyebrow and two nasty bruises, both under and above his eye and one on his nose. I was pretty sure it was nothing serious but with head injuries, it's best not to take a chance. So I rushed him to the ER of a reputed children's hospital within quick driving distance of our house.

By the time we got there, Ayaan was clearly past the pain and shock of his injury and was bouncing around in his usual fashion. A doctor came to see him and quizzed us about his injury and my answers to all of his questions - vomitting, dizziness, disorientation - were in the negative. Then he examined Ayaan and announced that, in his opinion, there had been damage to the nasal and ocular bones and since these could cause internal bleeding, it would be best to conduct a CT-scan.

You mention 'internal bleeding' to a mother and she will pretty much acquiesce to anything and before I knew what was happening, I was being ushered over to a counter to sign some forms and fork over a reasonably obscene amount of money. The boy was then made to lie absolutely still and subjected to some radiation so that they could conclude that, surprise surprise, nothing was broken and there were no internal injuries.

At this point, I was a little irked with myself for getting conned into doing the CT-scan but I was still willing to give him the doctor the benefit of the doubt. But get this, we never saw him again. The report was handed over to me by some junior assistant, who reassured me that everything was fine. Along with that, I was handed an ER report which had some medical advice illegibly scribbled on it by the missing doctor. I had to ask the assistant to read it and tell me what was written - an ointment for the wound and advice to return in case of vomiting or excess bleeding - which he did most grudgingly. Obviously, since he had met his objective of fleecing me, the doctor no longer felt any need to deal with me.

Also, my regular paediatrician (who wasn't available at the time of the incident) saw Ayaan a couple of days later and was very surprised that a CT-scan had been suggested at all.

The next incident has been sort of a eye-opening with regards to Tarana's w-sitting and the months of physiotherapy we did in Mumbai. I needed to know whether to continue the same. I met with three doctors here - all highly recommended and successful paediatricians - and all three opined that her physical skills and development were well within the range of normal for her age. They strongly disagreed with the need for any further physiotherapy or corrective footwear. I am totally confused on this front. What the hell was going on in Mumbai then? Were those doctors simply taking me for a ride? Or are these Hyderabad doctors just less experienced with this issue? Having met not one but three of the supposedly best paediatricians here and being told to do nothing (other than favouring closed shoes over sandals), I am a loss to understand this.

The third and last incident happened just last week. I had posted about Ayaan losing his first tooth and I felt that the permanent tooth was coming in a little crooked. I pulled out the number of a dentist that a friend had recommended and took Ayaan along for a check-up. The dentist said that the tooth's alignment was fine but pointed out a black spot on one of the back teeth and informed me that it was a cavity that needed an urgent root canal. Since this was swanky clinic, I was then taken through a power point presentation about root canals (!) and presented with an estimate of 10,000 bucks for the entire procedure. Mind you, this diagnosis was made without a proper x-ray because the oral x-ray probe was too big for a little boy's mouth and Ayaan kept gagging on it before they could get a good picture. Also, when they tapped the tooth, Ayaan felt no pain - a bit unlikely if the tooth was decayed badly enough to need a root canal.

All my money-grubbing doctor antennae were up after this visit so I decided to get a second opinion. And what do you know. Dentist #2, as reputed as Dentist #1 but much less flashy, and his assistant separately examined the tooth and concluded that the black spot was, in fact, not a cavity at all!!! They said it was just a flap of gum that had not grown out of the way and its blackish appearance was a result of blood having clotted there from Ayaan biting down on it whilst chewing. Next steps - do nothing!!!

Now, don't get me wrong. Doctors have as much of a right as the next guy to run their businesses with a profit motive. But profiting through inflated diagnoses and unnecessary medical procedures is clearly and totally unethical. Especially when it means destroying a perfectly healthy tooth or exposing a young child to radiation just so that the hospital can recover the costs of a swanky CT scan machine.

Apologies for the diatribe. I just needed to get that off my chest. And get back into the blogging saddle. Yeah, I'm back, baby! 

Monday, August 01, 2011

(Mis)Adventures in the Kitchen

Apparently, there is more to being a stay at home mom than just staying at home. You have to obsess about their friends, spend some quality time with them, personally drop and pick them up from school and when you get some time off from all that, you have to morph into a veritable Julia Child and serve up nutritious, delicious, home-cooked meals too. (I would have said  Nigella Lawson, but I am just not feeling that sexy these days)

Now for some history. I do not cook, never did, never felt the need to. My mom, who worked full time, was an infrequent cook and when she did enter the kitchen, it was usually to whip out one of her recipe books and carefully follow their instructions to bake us a cake or cook a Chinese meal. Cooking was not big in her scheme of things and I was not expected to learn to cook while I was growing up either. My paternal grandmother tried to get me to learn because it was unthinkable to her that a girl not know how to cook. I told her I'd be willing to learn if my brother learnt alongside... so nothing came of that.

Once I moved away from home and started working, I was lucky enough to always be in Mumbai and have very reliable maids. My contribution to the kitchen stopped at buying groceries and giving instructions on what was to be prepared. I cooked very occasionally and it was an 'event' that involved identifying recipes, shopping for exotic ingredients (which got tossed after one use because they rotted before they were so much as looked at again) and clearing all other plans for the evening. This didn't change with motherhood either - I saw my job as making sure my kids ate healthy, tasty food - being their personal chef was not in the job description, as far as I was concerned.

And then we moved to Hyderabad and my luck ran out. I have managed to find a part-time cook and her cooking is pretty decent but she thinks nothing of playing hooky without so much as a moment's notice. The first few times that she didn't show up I just packed the kids into the car and took them out for lunch. But after a point, it seemed a bit excessive. I mean, you can take pride in outsourcing food when you are a working mom and don't have the time or bandwith to take on kitchen duties. But as a stay at home mom, rushing to a restaurant or the take-out folder at the drop of a hat seems kind of erm... lazy.

So, I decided to pull up my proverbial socks and learn how to cook. And it's been an interesting journey so far. I have been trying my hand at simple stuff like dals and sabzis but also experimenting with somewhat more exotic stuff from cookbooks and various food blogs.

For starters, I have set myself really low benchmarks. If the kids eat it without a fuss, I count it as a success. And I have to say the kids have been real troopers - they have eaten everything from slimy bhindi (how was I supposed to know bhindi goes to hell when water is added to it), overdone dal and undercooked potatoes. Their unwavering unfussiness has kept me going, otherwise I would have thrown in the towel and run screaming towards the takeout menus weeks ago.

 My biggest saviour has been this book - The First Time Cookbook. I picked it up on a whim years ago and have hardly looked at it since. But it really is a fantastic book and I could not recommend it more for those looking to make their first forays into the world of Indian cooking. It teaches you things most cookbooks assume you already know like what vessels to buy, shopping for and storing vegetables, meat and spices and most importantly the authors do away with the most confusing of instructions 'Add salt to taste' and tell you exactly how much to add. Its first recipe is a foolproof method for making plain rice, it covers all dals, details a foolproof and easy method to set your own curds and even has instructions for boiling an egg. It is as if someone wrote a cookbook after looking into my head and knowing what I'd need if I ever decided to enter the kitchen. With its help, I can now at least put together a basic meal. I have even experimented with somewhat advanced stuff from the book like matar paneer and dum aloo with reasonable success (which, like I said, simply means that the kids ate it)

The other book I have really been enjoying cooking from has been chef Ritu Dalmia's The Italian Khana. This book is the polar opposite of the previous book in terms of ease of use. The ingredients can be hard to find, the instructions can assume a level of foreknowledge that a novice cook might not possess and the recipes are laid out in a confusing manner - instead of chapters on soups, starters, main courses and desserts, her book is divided into sections like 'Cooking with Friends', 'Showing off', and 'Cooking for the Beloved'. Not everything in the book is easy to cook and there have been some not-so-great meals as a result (the kids still ate them though - you see what I mean about them being troopers) but I have learnt some useful stuff. Her recipes for tomato sauce and pesto are very doable, so no more store-bought stuff for our pastas.

I have also been trying my hand at baking cakes. My target is to bake at least one cake or batch of cookies a week so Ayaan gets home-made goodies in his school tiffin. Until recently, all my baking was done in my microwave, which happens to have a convection cooking option as well but it does have its limitations - the cakes don't taste as good and you can basically only use round cake tins. So I went ahead and invested in the Morphy Richards OTG (Oven-Toaster-Grill). So far, the results have been mixed. The first two things (an applesauce cake and chocolate chip cookies) I attempted to bake in it were burnt even though I followed the instructions to a T. In fact, the recipe for the choco-chip cookies was from the cookbook that came with the oven! And when I baked a batch with the same batter in my microwave, those came out just fine. However, the chocolate cake I baked in the oven came out perfect. Very confusing.

Not including the baking, I try and cook at least twice a week irrespective of the maid's absenteeism. Since I want to master the process as a whole, I do everything required to put the dish on the table, including chopping the vegetables, which I could easily outsource to the cook or the full-timer. This takes me a-g-e-s and my fingers and nails are full of scrapes; it's a miracle I haven't done any serious injury to myself.

I am slow in many other ways as well. I can't multi-task for peanuts. I need to make one dish at a time and as a result, I need to spend at least two hours in the kitchen to put together a relatively simple meal. I also completely lack instinct when it comes to cooking so I look for recipes which tell me exactly how much of stuff to add and when to assume that the dish in question is done. I'd like to think I will one day get to a point when I can effortlessly thrown some random ingredients into a dish without looking at a recipe book or using my measuring cups and produce something delicious. I don't know if that day will ever come, though I do know it is not likely any time in the near future.

The fringe benefit of cooking regularly is that I am loving the way my kitchen looks. It has never been this clean or well-organsied. In Mumbai, my cook had a free run of the place and while she churned out yummy stuff, she tended to be messy and had her own way of putting stuff away. It was often impossible for me to locate stuff on my own and other than the occasional cleaning drives, I pretty much let her do her own thing. Now, everything is spic and span and I know down to the last container where everything is. It is strangely satisfying.

So that, in short, is the story of my initial forays into the kitchen. From being something that I detested, I now find the task of cooking fairly tolerable and depending on what I am making, even enjoyable. Let's see what the future brings.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How Not To Potty Train a Toddler

This post will pretty much write itself if I share two of my tweets from last week.

First this:
And then two days later, this:
Yes, you may now join the dots and fall off your chairs laughing while I mourn the loss of my third limb, my precious iPhone. If you are particularly mean, like some folks on iPhone forums, you may start framing a preachy comment on the inadvisability of taking one's phone to the loo. 

Now for the gory details. I have had the Koi Pond app on my phone for the longest - Ayaan used to love it when he was younger and it was a surefire way to keep him busy at the doctor's office. For those who don't know it, it is a simple app with fishes floating on the screen - you can feed the fish by shaking the phone or scare them away by touching them. A few days ago, I introduced it to Tarana during potty time and soon discovered that the watery visuals and sounds had an almost magical effect on her bladder and she demanded the 'fishie game' ever time she deigned to oblige me by sitting on the throne. Since she was on the baby seat, there seemed very little space or chance of her being able to drop it into the toilet bowl, or so I thought. So one fine day, I left the loo for a measly 30 seconds only to hear a splashing sound and rushed back in to find that the seemingly impossible had happened. 

Without any queasiness whatsoever, born out of six years of being a mother and all that that entails in terms of 'bathroom duties', I quickly fished it out. I switched it off, ran it under the tap, applied some sanitiser and wiped it down. Then I went online. It turns out that there are a lot of kindred souls whose phones have suffered similar fates. There was some interesting remedies, like one that involved baking the phone in an oven at a low temperature for 8 hours. I decided to go for a less extreme step that many seemed to swear by. It involved removing the SIM tray, wiping out all cavities with a earbud and then packing the phone away for a fortnight in a bag filled with rice. Yes, it sounds weird but at this point, I don't have much to lose and the rice supposedly helps draw out all the moisture. It's just been 3 days so it remains to be seen if it actually works.

So there you have it. My public service announcement for the month. DO NOT USE YOUR PHONE AS A TOILET TRAINING DEVICE. I think I should change my blog tagline to 'Mama Says So. Making Mistakes So You Don't Have To'.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Milestone Alert

On Friday night, Ayaan held out his palm towards me and said, 'Mama, look! My tooth fell out'. The tooth had been shaky for a while and we had been eagerly waiting for it to fall out so that the tooth fairy could visit. So much excitement ensued.

First, we had to discuss how to keep the tooth under his pillow. The brat was in favour of just putting the tooth there. But I, having no desire to rummage around for a teensy bit of tooth under his pillow in the dark and risking waking him up, insisted that we put in an envelope to make it easier for the tooth fairy to find.

Next, there was the question of what the tooth fairy's going rate was these days for a tooth. When we were kids, I remember getting a few rupees which would go as far as buying myself a packet of boiled sweets or the much wanted bottle of Campa Cola or even a packet of Crax but that was it. Times having changed, I decided on Rs. 100 as adequate compensation per tooth.

I decided to check with the brat what he thought the tooth fairy would give him and he confidently announced '1000 rupees!' I almost fell off my chair and then when I had collected my wits about me, I gave him some spiel about the tooth fairy having to give money to lots of kids around the world so it was unlikely that she would be able to afford a thousand bucks, which was a LOT of money. To his credit, the brat took this in his stride.

Once he was fast asleep, I sneaked into the kids' room and retrieved the envelope and replaced it with a crisp 100-rupee note. In the morning, he came rushing out of his room bright and early and held out it with great pride. It was super cute. I was asked to keep it in my purse for safekeeping but in the coins section so it did not get mixed up with the rest of my hundred rupees. I decided to hold the lesson on money and its fungibility. :)

He wanted to go to the toy shop to decide what to spend the money on. It was quite disappointing for him to realise that everything that he wanted (remote control helicopter, set of toy airplanes and a big globe amongst other things) was way beyond his slender means. A part of me wanted to step in and buy him one of those things but then the mean mommy half prevailed and I stuck to my resolve of having him choose something that fit his budget. He asked if he could have some time to think about it and come back another time and we left.

Since then, he has also asked if his money could pay for a dinner for all of us in an Italian restaurant. I had to regretfully tell him that it would not and suggested that we could go to McDonalds and order a round of fries but he wasn't too thrilled at the idea. So back to the drawing board. Meanwhile, the money remains safely nestled in my coin apartment.

So all you moms of gap-toothed brats, what are your practices when it comes to fallen teeth? Do your kids believe in the tooth fairy? What do you do with the teeth (some people bury them, I have preserved his first one)? How much, if anything, do you shell out for the tooth? Tell me.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Down with Mommy Guilt

Art tagged me with this tag. The rules are:
  1. Write about 2 instances where you have put yourself before your child/ children... been a wee bit selfish.
  2. How did you feel? Did you feel a pang of guilt or were you comfortable?
  3. Tag 2 more moms 
I have been a working mom for about four years and, to hear some tell it, that is the ultimate way to put your own needs ahead of the kids' needs. But what with that being ancient history for the time being and all, let me think of some stuff from more recent times.

The first instance involves the pre-bedtime routine we follow in our house. In Mumbai, I was the one who got them brushed, changed and ready for bed. But here, what with me being a slave to their demands all day long, I am all mommied out by the time dinner is done. So this task has been handed over to Jai. There was a lot of whining about this for a while but I just hardened my heart and ignored it. To stay truly out of the various grumblings and battles that go on during these 20-odd minutes, I keep myself safely out of earshot and line of sight. It's not like I have anything very pressing to do with this time - usually I am just downstairs twiddling my thumbs on Twitter. I don't feel the slightest iota of guilt about this and consider this as Jai's quality time (if whining and resistance can be counted as such) with the kids.

Take Two. It's exhausting being a role model 24-7. If I feel the urge to stuff my face with chocolate or some other junk food just 15 minutes before dinner time, I sometimes indulge that urge. I wait till the kids are occupied with something, sneak into the kitchen and chow down the stuff before they are any the wiser. This makes me feel somewhat dishonest but the happy feeling in my stomach more than compensates. (On a related note, I recently purchased a jar of Nutella, ostensibly for the kids - but a week later, it was all gone and the kids were never even informed of its existence).

Those are mine then. What about you folk? I tag Noon and Sai. Take it away, ladies.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Crafty beginnings

I have never been much into doing crafts with Ayaan. Books have always been the cornerstone of our quality time together. But at six, he's now starting to read on his own more and more and though there is a part of me that wants to grab the book out of his hands and insist on reading it to him, I am thrilled that his love for books goes beyond cuddling up to me and being read too.

But he won't read all the time and there are other times where his energies need to be channelised. Otherwise crazy things start to happen - like last weekend, when he managed to get hold of the maid's talcum powder and sprinkle it all over the kitchen floor, sink and freshly washed dishes. Also, I am fed up of having a constant stream of his pals running through the house at all odd hours of the day, so I have designated Tarana's afternoon nap time as a sort of an activity hour for just the two of us. On some days, we just lie next to each other and read our individual books. But on other days, he's way too keyed up after school to settle down to something so low on energy. So on those days, I rack my brain to come up with stuff we can do together.

I have been reading some mommy craft blogs and mostly feeling over-awed by the ability and willingness of these moms to create super-fancy stuff with their kids. My objectives have been somewhat less grand - I want to do stuff that both of us will enjoy and that will be within the range of Ayaan's skills (and mine).

If you promise not to laugh, I'll show you some of things we did over the last couple of weeks.

One of the first activities I designed for him was a scavenger hunt. I didn't want to make it too hard since he is blessed with the frustration tolerance of a wounded tiger but I also didn't want to make it too easy. So this is what I came up with:

His answers were actually quite fascinating and very different from what seemed obvious to me. For things that can stretch, he came up with arms because we stretch them when we wake up. And despite having a clock and a measuring tape lying within his line of sigh, he took a long time to find something with numbers of it and finally settled on Tarana's counting book lying upstairs in their room. It was surprisingly fun and we managed to get through it without him losing his cool.

Then I came across these adorable, and eminently doable flower girls. We broke this up into two separate activities. On day one, we went around our complex, scavenging for all the fallen leaves and flowers and twigs we could find. On the second day, we used them to put together these artworks. Mine is a girl in a garden with the sun shining in the sky (at this point, I'd like to remind you of your promise not to laugh):

Ayaan's is supposed to be a setting (orange) sun and a tree with a ladybird sitting on one of the branches:

The one below was Ayaan's idea. He found this rock when we were out scavenging and he wanted to paint it with all the colours in his paintbox, even mixing some to make new colours. The result: my new paperweight.

So that is what we have been up to. We are now in the process of making a papier mache stick puppet. I was hoping to make something pretty like a butterfly but the son had plans of his own and we have made a mushroom that is waiting to be painted. Expect to see it if it is even vaguely presentable :)

Friday, July 08, 2011

Class Concerns

I have been wondering whether to write about this, especially because it seems like something that might draw the trolls in but then what's the fun in always being on the safe side of the line. Also, it's a genuine problem I am facing and I am hoping for some suggestions.

One of the big upsides of this move has been the place we live in. It's very centrally located, yet it has all the facilities of an apartment complex in the suburbs - spacious house, play area, swimming pool and most importantly, lots of young children. The last one was something that was on my must-have list as we were house-hunting. In Mumbai, we lived in a smallish building and there was not a single child in the building with whom Ayaan could play. The youngest boys were 4-5 years older and there were a couple of baby girls. Finding him age-appropriate company outside of school hours meant organising play dates and daily trips to the park.

Now, the thing to know about our complex is that most of the houses have a servant's quarter allotted to them. So the families living on the property include those of the domestic staff living in this accommodation. And Ayaan seems to largely prefer the company of these kids and this is starting to bother me. This is probably the point where some of you will think I am class-conscious, a snob and maybe even a racist. But just hold your horses for a few more paragraphs as I get to what exactly troubles me about the current situation.

It all started about a fortnight after we had moved in. This young girl (let's call her Raji) was playing just outside the downstairs house, where her mother works. School had not yet started and being at a loose end, Ayaan saw her and started interacting with her. Notice I say interacting as opposed to talking or chatting because Raji does not know a word of Hindi and Ayaan does not know a word of Telugu. Anyway, about twenty minutes later, he came and asked me if he could have her over to play. At that point, I found his supreme ignorance of class boundaries utterly charming and I immediately agreed. An hour later, it was lunch time and they were still at play, so I invited her to stay for lunch (rather I told my Telugu-speaking cook to do the needful).

The next day, she was back. Their budding friendship survived the traumatic (for Ayaan) incident where Raji broke his treasured snow globe and was nourished by the constant stream of snacks that Ayaan kept appropriating from the kitchen to share with his new friend. Up till this point, I was still quite positively inclined to the events unfolding in my house. But I guess word got around about the stash of toys and the unlimited snacks and soon my house was like a creche for domestic staff's kids. A couple of days later, I came down to find five boys and girls sprawled across my living room eating from a jar of biscuits. And as they got comfortable in my house, things started to get chaotic and with a very dodgy maid situation and another baby (if I can still get away with calling Tarana that) in the house, it all got a bit too much. So I cut off the snacks and lo and behold, most of them disappeared.

But Ayaan is very clear about his preferences. On a typical evening, there are two disparate groups of kids playing outside in the complex - the kids of the residents and the kids of the help and they usually tend not to mix and Ayaan is usually (read: always) to be found with the latter. And it's not the snob in me upset about this; it's the mother.

Now for the stuff that bothers me. Firstly, there is the question of hygiene. I am not talking from a general, 'poor people are dirty' point of view but on the basis of stuff I have observed. The other day, I saw Raji's mom sitting on the steps of her house with her daughter and searching through her hair, in a way that mothers only do when they are looking for lice. I don't think regular baths and change of clothes are much of a priority either for most of these kids, judging by their appearance. Also, Ayaan was recently diagnosed with a case of intestinal worms, and I can't help but wonder....

Then there are the behavioural implications. While Ayaan might be blissfully unaware of class boundaries and hierarchies, these kids clearly are not. So that automatically makes it an unequal relationship and when they are playing together, Ayaan has no trouble donning his Alpha male avatar and giving free rein to his bossiness. Kids from a similar background are more likely to put him in his place and that's why Ayaan has stopped hanging out with the kids from the other flats.

Now this bothers me more than the hygiene issue. Because if there is a kid who needs friends who will teach him to play fair and keep him grounded, it's Ayaan. And these kids do nothing of the sort. Even though a couple of them are slightly older than Ayaan, he has managed to, in a few short weeks, establish himself as the leader of the pack and pretty much gets his way when they are playing together.

I am a loss when it comes to what to do about this though. I can't just forbid him from playing with these kids and force him to play with others. That will probably be a recipe for disaster and I am not sure I have appropriate answers for all the 'whys' that will follow any such order. Ideas, anyone? Or am I just over-thinking this and should I just let him choose his friends, whoever they (and their parents) might be.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hyderabad Blues

We got here about one and a half months ago and it has been one crazy settling-in process. A lot of things are still up in the air and I don't know when (and even if) this city will ever feel like home in the way that Mumbai did.

To start with, we had an awful experience with the packers and movers. Everything was dandy at the Mumbai end but when it came to unpacking the stuff in Hyderabad, things went southwards. They had promised that things would be unpacked and settled in by the weekend. On Saturday, the stuff arrived only by noon, then they took a two-hour lunch and finally packed off at 6 p.m, after announcing that despite previous assurances, they would not be working on Sunday. On Monday, they kept claiming they were on their way and finally showed up in the evening. They unpacked the rest of the stuff but had failed to bring their carpenter to assemble the kids' beds, bookshelves, etc. The carpenter finally showed up on Wednesday, making it a full 5 days before they completed what they had committed to do in 2.

This was our first experience of the Hyderabadi concept of time but was unfortunately nowhere near the last. The first three couple of weeks were an endless struggle to get the carpenter, the plumber and the electrician (the holy trinity, as I only semi-jokingly referred to them in a tweet) to show up and get the house into a basic level of functionality. Whenever called, they would promise to be at the doorstep in a manner of minutes, which usually turned into days. The carpenter has still not finished everything he was asked to do. The broadband provider, after payment, installation and week of dodgy connectivity, had the gall to tell me that they don't really support Macs. And many, many more such incidents for everything from the gas connection to the washing machine technician.

The language barrier is also quite substantial. Before I got here, I was labouring under the misconception that most people here spoke at least a passable degree of Hindi but that is far from the case. Most of the employees at the chain supermarkets can communicate in Hindi and/ or English but dealing with the smaller shopkeepers can be quite frustrating. One of the two receptionists at our paediatrician's office also can't speak a word of Hindi so I have to pray like hell every time I call that the other lady will attend to the phone.

The biggest challenge of all has been finding househelp. Again, language has been a problem and many of the employable maids in the area can converse only in Telugu. After some tough early days, I have managed to find two part-timers - one to cook, one to clean - so at least life is somewhat less gruelling. But the reliability factor here is low. Unlike my Mumbai maids, who rarely ditched without prior warning, not showing up at will seems to be the prerogative of these ladies. So, at least twice a week I am left holding a mop or tied to the stove depending on who has decided not to show.

I have had absolutely no luck finding any reliable help on the child care help front though. For the last one week, we have had a Bengali maid my mom arranged but she doesn't speak much Hindi and I don't see myself leaving her in charge of the kids even for a short time. The other day, Ayaan hurt himself in the play area and I had to take him to the ER (all's well, that end's well on that front, thankfully). Since it was Tarana's nap time, I put her down for a nap before I left and asked the lady to call me in case she woke up. I came back an hour later to find her (the maid) fast asleep while Tarana was crying loud enough for me to hear even before I opened the door. So, on the whole, I don't think she is going to work out. The search goes on.

The first two weeks were especially bad since I had both kids on my hands all day long and often had to get some cleaning/ cooking done on the side. But since Ayaan started school, things have been a little better. But it is still exhausting and I don't have a minute to myself. Even when I go to pick Ayaan up from school, I have to take Tarana with me and grocery shopping is an exercise in frustration with both the kids in tow. The other day, Tarana managed to grab my key ring (car, house and cupboard keys on it) and drop them while she was seated in the supermarket trolley and my hair turned substantially more grey in the ten minute rampage through the store it took to find them.

At this point, I also feel kind of isolated. I don't have any friends here and I am not getting a chance to make any since I don't have the bandwidth or the child care support to get out there and socialise. Forget other people, even a dinner or movie with the husband is an impossibility since there is no one to watch the kids.

And so that, to sum it up, is what has been happening at my end. I just re-read the post and I sound like a real Moaning Myrtle. The upside though is that I seem to be the only one in the family with the settling-in issues. The kids are loving it. It took Ayaan one day to settle into his new school and he is really happy there. Tarana loves the extra space. And Jai is finding work challenging but exciting. Hopefully, I'll catch up with them soon. Till then, be prepared for a lot more whining... :)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Sleepless in Mumbai

It's 4 a.m. I have spent the last 5 hours trying to sleep, to no avail. The butterflies in my stomach just won't let up. They are alternating between creating havoc in my stomach and attempting to climb up into my windpipe and choke off my air supply.

So what's keeping me awake? To start with, all sorts of last minute shit is hitting the fan. The car was sent to Hyundai for a touch-up job over 10 days ago. They were supposed to deliver it back on Thursday. On Thursday, they said they would get it to us on Friday. Yesterday, they came up with a cock-and-bull story about the paint not having dried because of the cloudy weather (?!) and expressed their inability to get our car back to us before Tuesday. One day after we leave. (Thankfully, the car is on a separate truck so we are trying to get the packers to pick it up directly from the service station). The Siemens technician was supposed to come yesterday to screw the washing machine drum in preparation for transit. He didn't show, his phone is switched off and customer service is enjoying their weekend. The Tata Sky dude was supposed to come yesterday but has promised to come tomorrow now. The admin chick in my ex-company chose last week to wake up to my request from two months ago to tell Vodafone to transfer my number from the corporate plan and despite a very clear e-mail spelling out the same, sent them a mail asking them to deactivate the number. Much calling and running around happened and it's back on. God only knows what surprises today will bring.

And there is the big, humongous, life-changing move. This time tomorrow, I will be sleeping in a service apartment in Mumbai. This time on the day after tomorrow, I will be sleeping in my mom's house in Jaipur. This time next week, I will be sleeping in a hotel room in Hyderabad. This time next fortnight, I will be sleeping in our new house in Hyderabad. All of this sleeping, of course, assumes that the butterflies would have moved on to greener pastures.

Some people like to move. I don't. I had a wandering childhood. I never went to any school for more than three years in a row, lived in many towns and cities, went to boarding school and even stayed with my aunt for a couple of years. It made me yearn to settle down in one place and grow some roots. For me, Mumbai has been that place. Eleven long years in the city have made it my own, my home. It's the longest I have lived in any place, but it is much much more than that.

I came here in 2000 as a young trainee, fresh out of MBA school and a year spent in a rigourous cross-country training program. I moved into a company-provided chummery. It was a blessing - I didn't have to keep house or cook. I came and went as I pleased. I went out a lot, sowed my last wild oats (the ones that had survived MBA school) and enjoyed the kind of carefree freedom that few other cities in this country could have afforded me. I went out on debauched nights on the town (often with the girl gang), took public transport at the oddest of hours, saw the latest of the late night shows at the cinema and in general, waltzed about the city with supreme unconcern for my safety. Really, I couldn't have done it anywhere else.

In 2002, a few months after our wedding, Jai finally moved to Mumbai. Since I was in a conventional, stable job at a company where people tend to spend their entire careers, my career became and stayed the lead career till I upped and quit, so moving away from this city was never even an option.

Once Jai was here, the chummery was no longer an option and we finally moved to rented digs. We bought furniture, hired a maid and got a couple of dogs. We worked long hours, ate out a lot, watched a lots of movies and pretty much lived the DINK (double income, no kids) dream.

2005 was a watershed year. Ayaan was born. And life was never the same again. The littlest human being in our family became the biggest priority. All preconceived plans and notions went flying out of the window. I struggled with the decision to go back to work and finally did. We hired a nanny. We had to send the dogs away; thankfully my mother was happy to take them. We bought a house (flat).

Much of 2006 was spent doing up the house. I love this house. Leaving it is one of my biggest sorrows. We were lucky to buy it when it was still under construction and were able to do it up as we wished. The coloured panels in some of the rooms, the bright yellow wallpaper behind Ayaan's bed, the cheery red tiles in the kitchen. the fish motif in Ayaan's bathroom, and so much more. It's not going to be easy to live in an impersonal, rented house after this.

We moved in on New Years' Day in 2007. It's been four wonderful years. Yes, there were fights, tantrums, moments of doubts, and all the little inevitable downs of life. But above all that, we made a ton of memories here. Some of them reside only in my head, others have been captured on camera and still others left their physical mark - like the stains on Ayaan's door from all his sticking and the grubby finger marks on the walls - some boy-sized, others baby-sized. In the next few days, the painters and polishers will get to work and wipe out most of the physical reminders of our stay here and another family will move in and make the space on their own. But the stuff in my head, in my pictures folder and the blog will stay.

This house has been witness to Ayaan's journey from toddlerhood to boyhood. It welcomed Tarana into its arms when she was born and watched her leave infancy behind to become a vocal, active toddler.  It has seen my transition from wannabe supermom to struggling SAHM. It's been home.

I guess it's time for goodbyes. Mumbai, I will miss you. I may come back to live here, I may not - the future is uncertain. But you have a special place in my heart that no other city can take. Product of a mixed marriage and a nomadic upbringing, I always struggled to name my 'native place'. After eleven, long years, I finally have the answer to that question. Thank you for that and for everything else.

Thank you for welcoming me into your arms. For not judging me. For protecting me when I was silly or less than sensible about my own well-being and safety.

Thank you for seeing me through my transition from footloose single girl to married woman to working mom to stay-at-home mom.

Thank you for enabling and nurturing me through ten years of a fulfilling career. I don't know what lies ahead but I do know that those years will stand me in good stead, no matter what I choose to do.

Thank you for helping me maintain and build some of the best friendships of my lifetime. For making sure that my best friends from college and MBA school have been in and out of the city. For the friends I made at work, who made office so much more than job.

Thank you for being kind to my children. With all your constraints, you have ensured a happy early childhood for them. You gave us trusted maids who cared for them with affection. And schools that we didn't have to fight for but were wonderful places for Ayaan to spend his pre-primary years. And friends, playdates, parks and so much more.

Thank you for being you. I wouldn't change a thing. (Except maybe the traffic)

In the immortal words of John Denver:
So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go

'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane
I don't know when I'll be back again
Oh, babe, I hate to go

Au revoir, Mumbai. Till we meet again.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

A Fish Out of Water

It's time to come clean. It's taken some time for me to admit this, even to myself, but I am starting to wonder if I am cut out for this stay-at-home mom business.

As a working mom, I felt stretched and exhausted and I envied women who didn't have to juggle motherhood and a career. I thought choosing to do just one - staying at home with the kids - would be easier in comparison. I thought I would finally be rid of the guilt monster, discover heretofore hidden founts of patience, have more time to read, and be rewarded with more content, secure and well-behaved kids. In a nutshell, I thought we would all be happier. It turns out I was wrong - we aren't.

On most days, everything just seems almost unbearably intense. Ayaan has always been a demanding child, trying to soak up every bit of the time and attention that I had to give and even that I didn't. I never minded all that much before because I was spending a fair amount of time away from him so I thought it was only normal that he would want his pound of flesh when I was around. I really expected a big change on this front once I quit my job. I thought he would become more secure and independent, but that has not happened. Add Tarana and her acute separation anxiety to the mix and it's mama-time all the freaking time! Despite the fact that there are two maids in the house at any given point of time, they both seem to want to hang out mostly with me.

A prime example of their clinginess is what happens every time I try to leave the house. Tarana has a screaming meltdown and Ayaan pelts me with questions about where I am going, why I need to go, when I will be back and why he can't come with me (in a tone that gets increasingly more whiny). I mean, for goodness sake, is it too much to ask that I can slip out for a short trip to the grocery store or the salon without facing a mini Spanish Inquisition at home?

I wrote a proud post about Ayaan's geekiness recently but on an everyday basis, it just translates into a LOT of questions. And towards the end of the day, it takes all my resolve to keep from snapping at him when he asks me what seems like his millionth question. And it's not just questions about the world around him but his need for a detailed reasoning for everything he asked to do. It just drives me crazy.

And the guilt? It never goes away. These days, I feel totally awful about my lack of patience. On most days, I spend a good part of my time with the kids nagging, scolding, yelling and even smacking. I go to bed feeling like an awful mother every single night. I resolve to be a more patient, loving parent the next day - a resolve that rarely lasts more than an hour on most days and I am back to being cranky, with my temper on a hair-trigger.

The last month has been especially hard since Ayaan has been home all day long and since he doesn't nap any more, and barring a few classes he goes for, that is 14 very long hours. I don't know whether it's his latent insecurities about the upcoming move, boredom, the fact that he misses his dad or a reaction to my crankiness, but he has been supremely high maintenance. A simple request to come for breakfast can become the cause of a major mutiny and the rest of the day just goes downhill from there.

Honestly, I didn't expect it to be this hard. I had this very utopian ideal of what my stint as a stay-at-home mom would be like. I thought life would be easier, more relaxed and more fulfilling. It has been anything but. I rarely get any time to myself, read fewer books in an average month than I did when I was working and can't even go to the loo without an entourage. It doesn't help that Jai is not here during the week. I am lot calmer and happier on the weekends when he is here but being the only go-to person for the kids five days a week, every week gets really stressful for me.

At the risk of sounding boastful, I have to say that I was a successful working mom. The four years I worked after Ayaan was born were good years. Sure, it was tiring and complicated. And yes, I was more impatient than I would have liked even back then. But overall, I have to say I rocked the working mom scene. I did well at my job, my home ran smoothly and Ayaan was a happy child (high-maintenance but happy). As a housewife, I don't quite cut it. I have nothing to show for my efforts but a messy house, meals entirely cooked by the maid and bratty kids.

Honestly, the fact that I feel this way makes me feel like a bit of a failure. I mean, come on, what kind of mother does it make me if the primary reason I think of going back to work is not professional ambition or financial need but to put some time and distance between me and my kids??! Go ahead. Say it. It makes me a bad mother. It won't be any worse than the names I have been calling myself in my head.

And now, big changes. We move to Hyderabad. New city. New school. No friends. No maids. I am terrified. I am giving it another six months. I hope by then, life will settle down and I will find a reliable maid. And if I am still feeling like I do right now, I am packing my lunch box and going right back to work. I think it will be best for me AND for the kids. That 'the best mother is a happy mother' cliche is right on the money.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Grabbing Travel by the Horns

I had meant to write about my Matheran trip, but it happened during my dry spell and when I got back to blogging, it seemed like it was in the distant past (if two months can be called that). Then just today, I happened to read The Mad Momma's post about her recent travels and decided to write about this very unique trip I took.

Our book club decided to shake things up a little and do our February meet in Matheran, with families in tow. I checked with Jai a couple of months in advance and he committed to being in town on that weekend. But it was not to be, and two weeks before the upcoming weekend, something supremely important popped up on his work calendar and he backed out.

I had made up my mind to cancel but Sonya, who runs the book club, would not hear of it. My biggest issue was that I really could not see myself doing the 3-hour drive (some of it on scary, winding roads) alone. She nipped that objection in the bud by offering to take us along with her family in their SUV. I was still a little freaked out at the thought of traveling alone with the two kids, but a sudden spurt of adventurous spirit had me saying yes.

A few friends suggested I take one of the maids along to ease the burden but at a very basic level, this traveling with maids business just does not appeal to me. I never take my maids to restaurants either. It is just too weird - they would be uncomfortable sharing the dining table with us, I would be even more uncomfortable asking them to wait outside. It is very socially awkward for all concerned, to say the least. Moreover, I like to believe that when push comes to shove, I have the ability to manage the kids on my own and holidays are my one chance to prove this.

The first challenge was having the troops packed and ready to leave at the crack of dawn. This was not such a big deal since my kids are early risers in any case and Sonya and family were running late, so we were actually waiting down for them when they drove up at 7 a.m.

The drive to Matheran was relatively uneventful. Sonya has three lovely daughters and the youngest is just a couple of years older than Ayaan and they got along like a house of fire. They spent much of the drive in the back of the Scorpio, reading, chatting and generally fooling around. Tarana sat in my lap and was reasonably low maintenance. We stopped for breakfast at a little restaurant on the way, which happened to have fishes, geese and chicken so the kids had a gala time checking them out.

Those of you have never been to (or heard about) Matheran have to know this - no motorised vehicles are allowed beyond the parking lot, which is a good 45-minute hike from the town. There are essentially four ways to get there. You can take the toy train from a place called Neral but getting tickets can be quite a challenge, especially in the tourist season. Or you can drive up to the parking lot and then make the final ascent in one of the following ways: ride a horse, hire a manually-operated rickshaw or walk.

With the kids, the horse or rickshaw seemed to be a more sensible option but I decided to walk, with Tarana bundled into a sling. Ayaan was having a good time with Sonya's girls and since they were walking, I thought Ayaan would enjoy that more and the longish hike would be a good experience for him. I could have let him walk and taken Tarana on a horse or rickshaw with me, but he can be quite a handful and moreover, I wasn't sure he would agree to go without me. Also, I have a problem with hand-drawn rickshaws - they seem somewhat colonial and exploitative - and managing Tarana on a horse wouldn't have been easy either. So yes, we walked. My back and legs were seriously achy by the time we reached, especially since Tarana fell asleep and got about twice as heavy. Ayaan was a pretty good sport about what was probably the longest walk of his life, though he did get whiny towards the end.

We were staying at this lovely hotel called The Verandah in The Forest. For those of you who were reading me in 2006, we had been to this place when Ayaan was a toddler. Anyway, after a refreshing drink and a quick snack, the older kids went off to play while Tarana toddled all over the verandah with me in attendance.

There were eleven children in the group, including mine, and it turned out that 10 of them were girls!! I wondered if Ayaan would get bored but I don't think it bothered him at all. Barring two incidents, I barely saw him as he traipsed around the place with the other kids - hanging out in the treehouse, throwing pebbles into pond on the property and swinging away merrily.

The first incident happened when he got into a fight with one of the girls. For some reason, the two took an instant dislike to each other and before I knew what was happening, Ayaan poked her with his pencil. There was no harm done but he refused to calm down so he was hauled off to our room. He had a nuclear meltdown there that shook the very foundations of the place but once he was done with that and the accompanying fit of the sulks, he was ready to go back and play.

The other incident happened when he landed up in the pond. I wasn't there when it happened, but I think it was an accidental shove by one of the other kids and I went rushing over when I heard him screaming. The pond was less than a foot deep, so the only harm done was to his ego. I quickly handed Tarana to the first willing set of arms I found and rushed him in for a bath and a change of clothes. He was a bit subdued for the rest of the evening but thankfully, it was almost time for dinner when his bath was done.

They served the kids dinner first so after they had eaten, I put them both to bed and came out and joined the adults for the only bit of real adult conversation I got throughout the trip. We had dinner and then sat around discussing the books. It was good fun. I excused myself at midnight, knowing that my kids would be up in a few hours.

The next day, the kids were up by 6 and I had to keep them entertained in the room for a couple of hours. When I heard sounds of the other guests stirring, we went out and Ayaan headed straight to his favourite spot by the pond, where the other kids soon joined him. After breakfast, we headed out for a small trek. I came back early but Ayaan went on a longer jaunt with a group of kids and their parents. By the time they got back, it was check-out time. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in the main town and started the walk back to the car park.

I think Ayaan had had his fill of walking by now and he complained endlessly on our way down. 'Mama, how much longer?', 'Mama, are we there yet?', 'Mama, I want to take a break' and so on and so forth. This was the hardest part of the trip for me. I was achy, sleep-deprived and exhausted and it took an almost super-human effort to stay positive and keep encouraging him to walk and keep up with the others. Once down, we drove straight back to Mumbai and though Ayaan was hyperactive and Tarana was cranky, we made it back in one piece.

Would I go on a holiday without Jai again? Probably not, definitely not till the kids are a little older and more self-sufficient, especially Tarana. She had just about started walking when we went on this trip and would refuse to stay put in one place. Having no other back-up, it meant constantly following and monitoring her and even with me watching, she managed to take a few spills, eat some mud and break a plate. So, it was not much of a break for me and I watched enviously as the parents with older kids (Ayaan and Tarana were the youngest in the group) lazed around in the planter's chairs and read their books or chatted desultorily.

I am glad I went though. I think Ayaan had a fantastic time. He got to spend some quality outdoors time, learned to get along with a diverse bunch of kids, and exceeded my expectations on his ability to walk. And me personally? I have to admit I felt a great sense of accomplishment at having flown solo and done a pretty good job of it. The only regret; I had my hands too full to take any pictures and the camera stayed comfortably ensconced in my backpack.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mommy Comebacks

One evening, I happened to be hanging out at my latest adda (also known as Twitter). I had just dropped Ayaan to his skating class and before that, we had had 'words'. It got me thinking about all the times when he said horrid or whiny stuff to me and I had managed to gather my wits around me and retort effectively. It resulted in a mini-series called #MommyComebacks.  In the interest of keeping up my blog frequency, I decided to make a post out of them.

Brat: I don't like you.
Me: You don't have to like me. I just need you to listen to me.

Brat: You are not my friend.
Me: Yes, I know. I am your mother.

Brat: I know everything.
Me: Name all of Jupiter's moons.
Brat: I don't know them all.
Me: See! You don't know everything.

Brat: Why does he get to bring chips in his tiffin?
Me: Because I am not his mother.

Brat: I am not talking to you.
Me: Don't talk. Just listen.

Brat: I want to win this game.
Me: So do I.

Brat: When can I choose the hotel to stay in?
Me: When you are paying for it.

Good fun, no? What's your favourite mommy comeback?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Schools and CSA Awareness

Some time in February, we headed down to Hyderabad to get the school admission process started. We were quite lucky since Ayaan got into 4 of the 5 schools on our list - some because he did well on a test, others because they liked the look of us and yet others which liked the look of our bank balance.

The first school we visited was a well-known school and we were offered a seat there after Ayaan cleared the test but I hoped we wouldn't have to take it because I just did not like the place. To start with, they had a written test and I have a problem with schools that test 5-year olds. Then I saw a teacher swatting a kid on his upper arm - I was too far away to see if it was done in anger but it left a bad taste in the month. Then, they wanted a hefty admission fee - in cash. Very, very shady.

So, we were pretty much decided against the school (in the hope we got into some of the others) but the final nail in the coffin was the principal's interaction with the parents and the way she responded to a parent's concern on child abuse and the measures the school was taking to protect the kids from it.

Now, I have never actually seen a deer caught in the headlights but I would bet good money that the look on the principal's face was a reasonably good likeness. I guess she was just not expecting a direct question on this. Once she had schooled her features back into their principal-like stern demeanour, she went on the offensive.

After making some vague and completely unconvincing sounds about how they take 'adequate measures' on all aspects of the children's safety, she then went on to say that children were much more likely to face abuse at home than at school. To make her point, she then went on to tell the story of a girl student who was being abused at home by a servant and how she did not tell her parents but confided in her teacher at school.

I thought her response was inappropriate on so many levels. Firstly, while she might be right about the fact that more kids are abused outside schools than in, it is hardly a reason to be complacent about the issue and have no stated policy on how the school plans to keep kids safe. Secondly, I was quite shocked at her 'story'. My husband felt she made it up on the spot and I hope he is right, because I don't think she has the right to violate some student's privacy by telling her story so casually in a public forum.

The laws on child sex abuse are virtually non-existent in India and there is no governmental pressure on schools to put in place a formal system for avoiding and dealing with incidents of sexual abuse. To add to that, the supply of good schools falls way short of demand so most parents aren't as pushy as they should be when it comes to holding schools accountable for their policies.

I am no expert in this field, but as a parent, I would like to see schools do the following when it comes to Child Sexual Abuse, I would like to see the following happening across schools:
  • Schools should have a greater sense of ownership of the children in their care and a partnership approach to working with parents to keep them safe. Ayaan's Mumbai school is pretty good in this respect. They pro-actively call experts to conduct an annual session for parents, making it compulsory for at least one parent to attend.
  • Schools should also work in safety lessons into the curriculum including 'good touch-bad touch' and not talking to strangers.
  • In addition to parents and children, the teachers and staff should get regular training on appropriate behaviour with students and warning signs displayed by abused children.
  • There should be a written policy of Child Sexual Abuse and it should not be a state secret - any current or prospective parent wanting to know about it should be able to access it easily.
  • There should a robust background check on all new employees - both teachers and other staff.
  • Every school should have a qualified child psychologist or counsellor on hand to pick up warning signs amongst studens and work with victims.
  • School buses should have responsible escorts, preferable a teacher from the school.
  • The school toilets should be brightly lit and easily accessible and manned by gender-appropriate staff.
  • In the event of an incident, big or small, happening in the school, it should not be hushed up and swept under the carpet. The privacy of the abused child is supremely important and should not be breached but strict action should be taken against the perpetrator and this should be publicised as a deterrant. The school should warn other schools in the city about this individual so that he does get another job working with kids.
That's what I could think of. Do let me know if you have some ideas on this. I will update and add to the post.

This post is part of the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. Go here if you want to read more.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Blowing My own Trumpet a Wee Bit

A few commenters on my last post happened to say that I worried needlessly about Ayaan clearing the tests and indicated that since he was a bright child, he would have made it anyway.

I beg to differ. I don't want to take away credit from him. He is definitely a smart boy and in the end, he went into a room without me and delivered the goods. But I'd like to talk a bit about the run-up to these tests and way that I prepped Ayaan for them, which I do believe made a big difference.

Both the schools that required him to take a test were kind enough to provide a curriculum. The things that had me worried were Hindi, addition, subtraction and spelling numbers up to 100, none of which he had been taught in his Mumbai school. I mean, come one, in the English section you say you expect them to know three and four letter words - then how the hell are they supposed to know how to spell words like nineteen and eighty eight?!

The Hindi part was easily solved. Once we told the schools that he hadn't been introduced to written Hindi at school, they said they would not count the Hindi section when scoring the test. But the rest of the stuff, he had to know! Teaching it to him was easier than I thought. We had already been working with fingers to add small numbers - I just taught him to draw a short line for each number and then count them for addition and cross out lines when it came to subtraction. His number spellings were a bit dodgy but he got them phonetically right (thurteen) most of the time, so I left it at that.

A bigger part of my effort went into emotionally preparing him for the test. Knowing him as I do, I knew that that would be the clincher. Here are some of things that I think worked:
  • I played on his excitement of moving to a new city. I told him that we couldn't move unless he got into a school by clearing a test. I told him that he needed to practice doing some tests before the real ones and he was really charged up and was practically nagging me to set the tests for a couple of days before I got around to doing it. Overall, he was as invested as I was in the goal of cracking those tests.
  • I set him about 7 tests that he had to sit and do, one a day for a week. I drilled it into him that I would not be there to help him. The first day I sat in the room with him - I was available for clarifications, but not answers. On the second day, I stayed in the room but I sat in a corner and read my book - he was not allowed to ask me anything and was told to leave questions that he didn't understand or know the answer to. The rest of the tests he had to do alone in his room, and for one, I timed it for when I was out of the house.
  • Ayaan does not deal well with failure. A difficult puzzle or a craft activity that does not go as planned can be the cause of a severe meltdown. The first few times he didn't know the answer, he got awfully upset and he actually crumpled up one of the tests in a fit of rage. But towards the end, he learnt to accept that he would not know all the answers and peacefully move on to the next question.
  • I set pretty elaborate tests. There were fill in the blanks, sums, pictures to be labelled, match the following, and a whole lot more. I think he was pretty familiar with almost every type of question that was finally asked in both the tests. 
It worked. At the second school, the teacher who took Ayaan in gave me very pessimistic vibes saying that there were only a couple of seats left and unless he scored over 80%, he didn't stand a chance. There was a marked change in his body language later and he told me that the boy was intelligent and he was very impressed with the confidence with which he left my side and went in for the test. He said most kids at this age tend to cling, whine and even cry.

So yes, I am going to take at least some of the credit for Ayaan acing those tests. I am not saying that he wouldn't have done it without my help. But it would have been harder for him, intellectually and emotionally.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Final Countdown

Our decision to move lock, stock and barrel to Hyderabad was taken way back in November but for quite some time, it was merely a theoretical concept in my head. This was especially so because we had not told Ayaan about the move. I wanted to tell my maids as late in the day as possible, worried that they would start hunting for jobs the moment they heard that we were off in the not-to-distant future. And there is no way to keep a secret if the garrulous 5-year old in the house is in on it.

I finally broke the news to Ayaan (and subsequently the maids) some time in February, a couple of weeks before we needed to take him down to Hyderabad for the schools admission process. I thought I would take my time about it and slowly build up the excitement, but once the ball was rolling, he pretty much took it all the way. It went something like this:

Me: Hey, you know what? When I was a child, I never went to the same school for more than three years.
Ayaan: How many schools did you go to?
Me: *doing some quick mental maths* Six
Ayaan: Six schools?! Why so many schools, Mama?
Me: Because Patti had a job where she had to go and live in a new city every few years and so we went with her and joined a new school in the new city. It was a lot of fun living in different places, going to different schools and making new friends. (Ok, it wasn't - but it's my maternal birthright to stretch the truth a little when I want to sell him something)
Ayaan: I also want to go to different cities and schools.
Me: Hmmmm... which city would you like to go and stay in?
Ayaan: Jaipur. Because then we can stay with Patti and play with Buddy and Beanz everyday.
Me: But we can't live in Jaipur, because neither Mama nor Dadda have a job there and at least one of us has to have a job in the city we choose, otherwise we won't have any money
Ayaan: *thinks for a few seconds and has a light-bulb moment* But Mama, Dadda has a job in Hyderabad. Let's go and live there. (Jai joined the new organisation in December itself and was spending weekdays in Hyderabad)
Me: That's an interesting idea. But do you think Dadda would like us to move to Hyderabad?
Ayaan: We should tell him that it is a good idea because then he can see his children every day.

Post this conversation, he made me call Jai up and then 'sold' him this grand idea of being able to see his kids everyday and 'convinced' him that we should all move to Hyderabad. So he basically thinks this whole Hyderabad move was his idea

My biggest stress point on the move was the school. Two of the five schools on our shortlist required students to take a test. Now, I personally think a written test for kids who have just learnt to read and write is nothing short of ridiculous but it's a seller's market when it comes to schools in India so you just have to suck it up. In addition to clearing the test, I wanted to make the process as less traumatic for Ayaan as possible. So for a week before we left, I set him written tests to do. I made him sit alone in his room and he was not allowed to ask me for any clarifications till the test was done, to stimulate the actual tests. He did pretty well at home and finally made the cut at both the schools. Overall, he made it to 4 out of the 5 schools and we had the luxury of choice. We finally went with a school that did not test him. In fact, they never even met him and decided on the basis of an interview with Jai.

We hadn't done much about finding a place to live because we wanted to close things on the school front first so that we could factor commute time into the decision.  Once that was done, Jai did a preliminary search over a month and short-listed some flats for me to see. The poor man's hard work was somewhat wasted since I summarily rejected all but a couple of places that we saw. We weren't entirely happy with anything so Jai kept looking and then last week, he finally found something that seemed to fit the bill. I went down last week and hallelujah! we now have a house, that will be available in under 4 weeks.

Now, there is no running away from the fact that this time this month, I will be living in a new house, in a new city and days away from Ayaan starting a new school. Needless to say, I am getting the heebie-jeebies. It's time to get my butt in gear and amidst some pointless hyperventilating, I have been doing semi-useful things like making lists, de-cluttering like crazy and calling packers and movers (or relocation specialists, as they are calling themselves these days). There's so much to do, and it doesn't help that Jai is only here on the weekends. Anyway, these things have a way of coming together at the end. Or so I keep telling myself.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Letter to a Worrywart Circa 2006

Dear Rohini of 2006,

The other day, I happened to catch up with some of your posts, especially this one. It lists down all the things that worried you as a mother. Gosh, were you paranoid or what? Well, worry not (if that is at all a possibility given your current frame of mind). Six years of motherhood and a second baby (yes, you will want another one some day) will cure you of most of these fears, though you'll probably have a new list of stuff to worry about.

Firstly, what is with all the germ phobia? Get this. Germs are everywhere and there is no way to protect your kids from them entirely. In a year from now, Ayaan will be diagnosed with enlarged adenoids and months and years of chronic coughing will make you lose your fear of them. You will grow to ignore minor coughs and colds and use only home remedies unless the kids are in active discomfort. You will realise the inefficacy of most OTC medications and learn to hold off on antibiotics till it is absolutely necessary. You will leave your current paeduatician and find one who thinks the same way. You will even buy into the 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' philosophy and accept that most childhood illnesses are a necessary evil for your kids to build their immune systems.

Stop fretting about your childcare support system. You have been blessed with rare good fortune. The nanny you hired three months ago will turn out to be just the right person for the job and will stay with you till you leave the city. She will be reliable, dependent and affectionate. She will never, like many others, take a day off without adequate notice and will show herself totally up to the task of managing your mischievous, energetic son through infancy, toddlerhood and early boyhood. This will enable you to keep working till the birth of your second child, pay off the home loan and therefore have the option of taking an extended break after that.

No kid learns to crawl and walk without hurting themselves, obsessive child-proofing notwithstanding. You have cleared your house of all the dodgy furniture and put sturdy grills on all your balconies, so now relax. Your son will get his share of bruises, cuts and bumps but there will no serious injuries. When your daughter comes along, you will let the tablecloth stay and forget to use the corner cushions and door stoppers, and she will be just fine too.

Thankfully, you will learn to relax about the food. You will come to terms with the fact that you seem to be destined to have skinny kids. Your reward will be a relatively non-fussy eater. With your daughter, you will discover baby-led weaning and just let her take the lead when it comes to food and be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Your heightened sense of your mortality will stay with you though. You will fret about leaving the boy alone at night (even after he is fast asleep) with the less-experienced full-timer and will finally find the courage to go out for dinner on your seventh anniversary. It will turn out to be 26th November, 2008 - the night of the terror attacks in Mumbai. All those stories about children orphaned because the terrorists killed the parents while they were out for dinner will haunt you and it will be over two years before you will realise how irrational your behaviour is and start going out together again. And you'll wish you had done it sooner. You will never get around to making that will but it is about time that I did.

There are some things that you didn't seem to be worried about as much back then but will be worried about as time goes by. Teaching your son to rein in his energy and behave safely while walking on the road. Keeping him safe from sexual abuse. Protecting him from what you believe are inappropriate and violent children's shows, even though all his peers seem to be watching them. Keeping him from developing the sense of entitlement that is an almost-natural outcome of having affluent parents.

We will worry, you and I. Much of what you worried about then seems silly or downright paranoid to me today. But it's hardly as if I am worry-free. Rohini of 2020 will probably pooh-pooh at my current fears but I guess a mom's got to do what a mom's got to do.

An older and hopefully somewhat wiser Rohini of 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

With a Little Help from my Friends

This year, my birthday was something of a non-event. As things panned out, the weekend of my birthday was the only time we could fit in a trip to Hyderabad for a spot of house-hunting. So, the day dawned in a hotel room with both of us catering to the never-ending demands of the bratsome twosome. In fact, it was an hour into the day before I got my first wish by SMS and remembered that it was my birthday! We spent the rest of the day seeing a whopping 11 flats, with just a break for lunch. By 9.30, we were all in bed!

To be honest, I wasn't too fussed about this situation. One's got to do what one's got to do and I am at the age where birthdays are not such a big deal any more, unless they happen to be one of my kids'. But some of my friends thought otherwise. So after I came back to Mumbai, I was treated to a little surprise tea party and presented with this:

Now, for some background. Months ago, I had happened to mention to my friend N in passing that I wanted to get myself one of these chairs because it was just the thing for me to lounge around in and read. I never got around to doing much about it but N rounded up three of my other friends and they decided to get it for me as a birthday-cum-farewell gift. N also happens to be an artist, so she made me this adorable 'voucher', which is almost as special as the chair itself and goes into my keepsake box.

After this, my friend M was deputed to accompany me to the Oshiwara furniture market to help choose the chair. For those of you in Mumbai who haven't been there, you should go - it's quite an experience. Dusty, old shops piled from floor to ceiling with antique and not-so-antique furniture and the hard-core bargaining make it quite unlike any other furniture shopping experience. Anyway, we knew what we wanted and had been recommended a shop by a friend's mom, so we got right down to business, chose the chair, bargained a bit and then left him to finish the chair.

For an interesting history of this chair, including its shockingly x-rated name, go here.

The chair got delivered last weekend. Please note my re-creation of the artist's illustration, complete with the frog. (The frog is there, by the way, because I was christened Frog/ Froggie by the husband a long time ago and the name seems to have stuck).

I am totally thrilled by my newest possession. I have banned the kids from playing with the arms and the husband, who was thinking of appropriating it as his TV-watching chair, has been told to take a proverbial hike. I am looking forward to hours of lounging in it and reading.

A big thank you to my super-awesome friends, especially to N for being the architect of this scheme and to M, for taking time off to trek with me to Oshiwara. Being miles away from you guys is the biggest downside to the Hyderabad move. I will really miss you guys.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Our Boys Need Watching Over Too

I think one of the biggest misconceptions that people, especially those from the previous generation, harbour is that only girls need to be protected from sexual abuse. I have seen this in practice with my own mother. It does not occur to her that sending Ayaan somewhere alone in the car with a new driver or to an art teacher's (a man) house for art lessons is risky behaviour. Once I point out to her that I am not comfortable with it, she readily makes alternative arrangements but at some level, she thinks I am being paranoid and over-protective.

In reality, our sons are as much at risk. And we need to think about how we want to keep them safe, just as we would with our daughters.

For more on this, go read Monika's post on why our sons need our protection just as much. And then read Sue's post on what measures she takes to educate her son and keep him safe.

Also, there have been some folks who have been giving the organisers of this great initiative a lot of grief because this kind of stuff makes them uncomfortable and they think it is obscene and best kept out of the public domain. Well, that is exactly the reason why child molesters are able to do what they do and get away scot-free. Because we are only too willing to brush the whole thing under the carpet. Well, not anymore. It's time to bring this out in the open, talk about it and equip ourselves with all the knowledge we need to keep our kids safe.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

You Know You Are Raising a Geek When...

.... he sees the shapes of continents in potholes, clouds and pieces of chappati

.... he looks at a cutlet coated in sooji and comments that it looks like the Milky Way galaxy

... you walk into your room to find him curled up in your bed with a globe

... he chooses to watch a Discovery Science programme called How the Universe Works over his favourite cartoons, even though he understands not more than 10% of the content

... when you teach him to play 'Name, Place, Animal, Thing', the places he comes up with include Oman and Libya

... his farewell card for his teacher features a map of Australia, copied from one his favourite books, on one page and a map of Maharashta on another

... he knows more about the solar system than most adults 

... he asks a million questions a day. Ok fine, I am exaggerating but definitely a hundred, most of which revolve around space and geography which, in case you haven't picked up on it already, are his current ruling passions

... the only time he is ever really quiet these days is when he is poring over his set of solar system books, which he chose over a Winnie The Pooh book at a recent book exhibition

... his idea of a fun colouring activity is to take a map of India he found in a car brochure and colour the states in the same colour as his India-shaped jigsaw puzzle

... he doesn't have a favourite colour, but has a favourite planet (Saturn)

... he wants a telescope and a microscope for his next birthday

... he wants to be a 'space and sea scientist' when he grows up

... when you tell him you don't know something, he asks you to go find out on Google