Monday, December 31, 2012

I did it!

I signed up for the Marathon Blogger challenge on a whim. I didn't know whether I would be able to stick to the daily posting regimen but I was damn well going to die trying.

It's been a crazy month. House guests, a road trip to Bangalore and back, and a history course with the last assignment due yesterday amongst other things. But through it all, I managed to make the time to post something. Every. Single. Day.

It was stressful and exhausting but it was also a LOT of fun. I realised how much I have missed this place, especially the interactions with those of you have kept me going with your encouraging comments.

So, a big thank you to all my readers. And heartfelt gratitude to the creators of the Marathon Blogger challenge. It has made for a very special December.

I don't do New Years' resolutions but I am seriously tempted to commit myself to frequent blogging. The group is talking about a '52 posts in 2013' challenge. That sounds eminently doable so I am going to start with that as a target and see where I get to. Either way, expect to see more of me in the coming year, which starts in about 7 minutes.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hair Hostilities

When it comes to Tarana's hair, it feels like she and I are fighting a battle on multiple fronts. To understand where I am coming from, you need to see her hair as it is now, in all its glory. 

On a good day, her hair comes together in an adorable mass of ringlets at the back of her head that look almost too good to be true. I was once asked by a lady whether I had got her hair done at the salon. (Yeah right, because that's just the way I like to spend my time and money on a 3-year old old.)

However, on a bad day (and these are becoming more frequent as her hair grows), her head is nothing more than a riotous bunch of curls, each one doing their own thing, usually in different directions. Somewhat like the picture above but it has been known to get a lot worse.

The biggest problem, of course, is figuring out how to deal with the hair on the front since that falls all over her face. Every time my mother sees her, I get a lecture on the likelihood of this causing her to get a permanent squint. (Someone please point me to some evidence that proves this to be an old wives' tale so I can get some leverage here).

When her hair was a little shorter, clips would do the trick but now it is beyond their capacity to reign in the chaos. Also, she has an annoying habit of pulling them out (and losing them, don't even get me started that!). I have been trying elastic hairbands out lately but they too lend themselves to easy removal. The only way to ensure that her hair stays reasonably neat for school is to do the classic two ponytails, one on either side of her head.

This is easier said than done for she hates having her hair put into ponytails. There is a lot of whining on school mornings, when my tolerance for whining is at its lowest. There is also a lot of fidgeting, which plays havoc with my novice-levels skills in parting hair in a straight line. On most days, she leaves home with an uneven parting and even more uneven ponytails.

It's not just the grooming part she takes issue with. She hates head baths with a vengeance. It's only very recently that she has stopped bawling her head off every time her hair was washed. She kept this up from her first hair wash as an infant right up to about three weeks ago. If you were standing outside our door and hearing the commotion on these days, you couldn't really have been faulted for reporting us to the child welfare authorities!

She also refuses to let me apply oil to her hair. Success on this front requires holding her firmly between my knees while I quickly massage the oil into her hair and scalp. As you can imagine, this generates some pretty violent protest and is not something I feel up to attempting on a regular basis. As a result, her violently curly hair is often also violently frizzy.

At this point, you are probably wondering why, given my litany of woes, I don't just take her to a salon and get it all chopped off. Well, mostly because she has flatly refused to submit to anything of the sort. The last time her hair was cut was about 1.5 years ago and there was a lot of shrieking, wailing and flailing involved. A few months ago, I did manage to get her into a hair-cutting salon but she created such a ruckus when they sprayed her hair that I decided it was not worth the fuss (and judgmental looks from the other patrons) to go through with it. Unlike her brother at the same age, she is not open to bribery (lollipops worked for him), distraction (my trusty iPhone does not tempt her enough to subject herself to the barbarity of a haircut) or threats.

In fact, the threats work only in reverse. The only way I can get her to submit to wearing hair accessories is by threatening her with a haircut. The fear of a haircut is the only reason why the ponytails are still largely intact when I go to pick her up from school. Her latest response to our entreaties to let us get her a haircut is: 'I will have a haircut when I become a boy.' Er... oh-kay then.

This post would not be complete without a mention of my struggle to find a good source of acceptable, good quality hair accessories. The worst of the mass-produced, poorly constructed, merchandised crap seems to be reserved for this category. Most aren't really up to the task of reigning in Tarana's hair and even if I were to overlook the overwhelming pinkness of the clips and hairbands in the market, most are far too shiny and/ or over-the-top for regular wear. And then there are some that are just plain creepy:

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Out of Words

When I signed up for the Marathon Blogger initiative, I wondered how many days it would take for me to run out of steam. Well, the answer to that is 29.

For 28 days, I have managed to find something to write about. But today, I am coming up empty. Expectedly, I have a bunch of excuses.

It has been a seriously long day - I woke up at 5, drove 8 hours and spent the rest day trying to restore my household to some semblance of normalcy.

Tomorrow is the deadline for the last assignment for the history course I am taking on Coursera. I still have a couple of lectures to get through before churning out a 1000-word essay on the cold war. I am hoping that getting to bed early tonight will give me the stamina to complete all of it tomorrow.

This news has been weighing on my mind too. I cannot find it in me to carry on about fun, happy trivia about my life as a mother when somewhere else a set of parents are mourning the death of their daughter, lost in the most brutal and unfair way.

I am going to go and find solace in sleep for now. Hopefully, the words will come back tomorrow.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Give us this day our daily bed (without any kids in it)

Millions of parents around the world are happy to do it, but co-sleeping is not for me. As babies, both slept in cots (in my room) till they were 18 months old and in their own room post that age. The only times they have shared my bed have involved nightmares or illness. And, of course, travel.

On our first night in Bangalore, I felt somewhat sentimental about the fact that I was going to sleep next to my little angels. The warm, fuzzy feeling lasted less than an hour after I actually got into bed with them and got a solid kick in the gut. Yes, the younger one clearly dreams about soccer in her sleep. The older one doesn't move around much thankfully when he is asleep but when he does move, it is usually with the intention of yanking away the covers.

And then there is me. I can never entirely relax when they are sleeping next to me. When they were babies, I worried about rolling over on to them and now I keep feeling the urge to check on them - whether they are headed for a collision course with each other, are sleeping too close to the edge or have kicked off their covers.

Also, I am a pillow hugger. I sleep best when I have a pillow to snuggle up to. That is a luxury I have to give up with the kids in bed with me because there's simply no place. (This is the point where I have to wonder what it says about me as a mother that I prefer the company of a inanimate pillow to my beloved children when I sleep.)

On the whole, I am feeling rather sleep-deprived, put-upon and irritable and cannot wait to get back home and have them back in their own beds while I enjoy some quality time with my pillow. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A little bit of neglect goes a long way

Today, we met some friends for dinner at a pizza place. They brought their kid along and my two brats came long for the ride as well. The other kid was around Ayaan's age so between interacting with him, eating his food and dipping into the book he had taken along, Ayaan largely kept himself busy and out of trouble.

Tarana, on the other hand, was full of beans. We recently discontinued using her high chair at home so she refuses them at restaurants as well and is making the most of her newfound freedom by moving around as much as she possibly can. I made a few half-hearted attempts to make her stay put but then, since our part of the restaurant was empty, I left her to her devices. She didn't venture far but seemed to think that popping in and out from under the next table made for great entertainment.

Now, this didn't bother me in the least but the other mom got very tense watching her play under the table, worried that she would hit her head on her way in our out. I warned Tarana that that might happen but didn't coax or force her into coming out. Of course, the other mom was right and Tarana did inevitably bump her head on the table. When she eyed me piteously, I gave her my regular 'I told you so' spiel and carried on with my conversation.

When we were leaving the restaurant, there was another incident. I told the kids we were leaving and walked on ahead, knowing they were following me. Suddenly, I heard the other mom gasp and I turned her around to see her pulling Tarana away from the glass panel, which she had apparently been in danger of walking into.

Now the fact that she was more vigilant about Tarana did make me feel a wee bit like a neglectful mother but it was a fleeting moment before I regained my equilibrium. I am not the kind of mother that wants to coddle her children from every small bit of pain and trouble that they can inflict on themselves. Let someone else try and hurt them and hear my inner tigress roar but I am happy to let them make their own mistakes and learn from it, especially when the consequences involve nothing more than a bruise or a scrape.

Part of this wisdom came with Tarana's birth. I have only two eyes and two hands. I cannot be everywhere. I cannot always stop them from doing injury to themselves. And I cannot always be there to catch them when they fall.

I will hold their hand while crossing the street. I will ensure balcony railings are at an adequately safe height. I will keep all glass breakables and heavy objects out of their reach. And I will watch like a hawk if I feel they are in an unsafe environment. But if they are in a safe space where there is little or no risk of serious injury, I am happy to immerse myself in a book or a conversation and let them get on with their business of pottering around.

I am sharing this great piece called The High Cost of "Accident Free" that really resonated with me. Some excerpts:
Young children need lots of practice learning to manage risks when the actual risk of injury is very low... When children don’t get lots of practice learning to trust their physical bodies, they are actually at greater risk of injury! The more they learn when they are small, the safer they will be in the long run, because they learn to negotiate situations that carry risk.
Children have a remarkably accurate internal gauge of what they can comfortably manage. The less we interfere with that, the more children will learn to listen to that voice of reason...  To force the adventurer to tone it down or to force the cautious explorer to push past their fears communicates one thing: your internal voice cannot be trusted to keep you safe.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Reclaiming my Space

When we first got Angel, I took on the responsibility of walking her. I used to do all her walks, including the early morning and late night ones. And then I stopped.

The ostensible reason was that it was getting too much for me. I was doing all the cooking myself at that point. I had to wake up half an hour earlier to walk her before coming back and getting stuck into tiffin-making. And I was completely pooped by the time I had made dinner, fed the kids and put them to bed and the prospect of a half an hour walk after being on my feet all day was not appealing, to say the least. So Jai took over the early morning and late night walks a few months ago and when he is traveling, the driver walks her.

There was, however, another more insidious reason why I was only to happy to accept Jai's offer to walk her, especially at nights. It had to do with the sexual harassment I faced when I was on the streets. There have been eve-teasing incidents during her daytime walks too - most recently, an affluent guy driving a BMW slowing down, rolling his window down and giving me the once-over - but there's something about the dark that seems to make such men bolder and their 'advances' more menacing.

Let me be clear about the incidents that have happened. There were all, with one exception, mostly verbal and relatively harmless. The one incident that was a little more more than that involved a biker driving past me four times on the same stretch of road. Having a large dog with me ensures that people keep their distance so there was never any real risk. Overall, the incidents have been more irritating and offensive than threatening but they made me uncomfortable enough to want to avoid the road at night.

However, the horrific events of 16th December and some of the debates surrounding it have made me rethink my stance. Incidents like these are becoming depressingly commonplace in our country and it is time we rethink whether hiding in the comfort and relative security of our homes is the right way to make our cities safer for women.

Among the many links and writings that I have come across in the last few days, discussion about a book called Why Loiter?: Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets sparked something in me. At the outset, I should mention that I haven't actually read the book (something I intend to correct soon, having already ordered it from Flipkart) but I like what seems to be the basic premise of the book. Here are excerpts from a review of the book in DNA:
The writers contend that Mumbai’s women “feel compelled to demonstrate at any given time that they have a legitimate reason to be where they are. Commuting to work, ferrying children to school or going shopping are seen as acceptable reasons for women to access public space”.
In the section titled ‘Imagining Utopias’, the authors make the case for “loitering as a fundamental act of claiming public space and ultimately, a more inclusive citizenship… Loiter without purpose and meaning. Loiter without being asked what time of the day it is, why we are here, what we are wearing, and whom we are with. That is when we will truly belong to the city and the city to us.”
The book is about Mumbai but I think the insights apply to any other city. We have given up our claims on public spaces all too easily, all in the name of safety. And if the rising rates of crimes against women are anything to go by, this has been counterproductive, if anything.

We are only reinforcing the dominant rhetoric that women are safer at home when nothing could be further from the truth since a majority of sexual assaults happen to women in their homes and neighbourhoods, their so-called safe zones.

We don't need less women on the street, we need more. Not just because there is safety in numbers, though that certainly counts. But also because it should become everyday and commonplace for women to be found out and about, not just when they need to be or are allowed to be, but even when they want to be there for no specific or 'legitimate' reason. There should be nothing special or notable about a woman on the street, nothing that inspires comment or judgement, nothing that signifies that she is 'asking' to be heckled, groped or assaulted.

And it has to start with us. If we want the streets to be safer for our daughters, we have to first find the courage to be out there ourselves. Locking ourselves and our daughters away is not the solution. It is our world too and we have an equal right to inhabit it in full measure. It is up to us to claim that right instead of letting our own fears and the judgment of others inhibit us.

So long story short, I am going to put my money where my mouth is. I am going to start walking Angel in the night again. Not on a daily basis, because the end-of-day exhaustion was a genuine reason to stop as well and Jai enjoys the opportunity to stretch his legs after a long day at an office desk. But I will not hesitate to take her out for a long walk on the dark streets when he can't or doesn't feel like doing it. Because to not do so would mean giving up a piece of public real estate that rightfully belongs to me. I am not going to enjoy the heckling that I will inevitably face when I go out, but I will not let it change my behaviour because then they win.  

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas on the Cheap

Jai is not the easiest person to buy a gift for. He is not into gadgets, watches or fashion, is happy with his single bottle of Hugo Boss cologne which is replaced when running low and already has a huge pile of unread books on his bedside table. So, when racking my brains about what to gift him this Christmas produced no useful results, I decided to get creative.

One of the gift ideas that I have always considered but never got down to doing has been coupons. Given that these were desperate times (Christmas eve and still no gift ideas in sight), I decided to create some fun coupons for him.

Having no design skills whatsoever, I turned to Google Baba for some answers and found quite a few template options. I finally went with something I downloaded from a site called The Craft Cafe.

Once I had the coupon template, I pasted it in Powerpoint and then added text I had decided on - 20 coupons in all. Here's a sample page:

What do you think? I think they are pretty cool for something that didn't cost me a penny. In fact, I think the coupons, which offer my time and effort, are a far better gift than anything material, no? :-p

Jai was pretty thrilled with them and says he is planning to redeem each and every one of them sooner rather than later :-)

Monday, December 24, 2012

When Christmas Came Early - Part Deux

Earlier this month, Anil and Christabel (Jai's brother and his wife) gifted us this awesome house-shaped cake tin:

I was thrilled, but I didn't expect to have an opportunity to bake such a cake in the near future so I put it right at the back of my baking shelf. Only days later, my friend Kim asked if the kids and I would attend the Christmas party she was throwing for some kids in a girls' home. I said yes and also offered to bake some goodies for the party. My initial plan was to bake cupcakes but given the impending road trip, I figured baking and decorating a single cake would be far less time and effort intensive. And what do you know, I happened to have just the right mould to make it special.

The big worry was baking a cake that was firm enough to come out of the mould easily. After an SOS call to a friend who is a home baker, I took her suggestion and went with this chocolate pound cake, doubling the recipe to ensure I had enough batter to fill the mould. (By the way, I highly recommend this recipe. It was a yummy cake and reasonably easy to make)

Sue impressed upon me the utmost importance of greasing and flouring the cake tin well, ensuring that every nook and cranny was covered. Having done that, I poured in the batter and popped it into the oven to do its thing. There were a few tense moments as the batter threatened to overflow but thankfully, that did not happen.

Given the depth of the mould, the insides took pretty long to get cooked and the top got slightly burnt. But thankfully, that bit needed to be sliced off to get a flat base for the house, so all was good. I used a piece of string across the top of the mould to smoothly slice off the excess bit.

After the cake had cooled down, I was ready to tackle the nerve-wracking part - getting the cake out of the tin in one piece. This wasn't as perfect as I had hoped for but barring a few dings, it looked more or less like a house and got a satisfactory grade.

Then, I used Ayaan's help to ice it. Christabel has also brought us some ready-made icing in various colours so we used those and a disposable plastic syringe to outline some of the features of the house. A sprinkling of snow (icing sugar) and some M&Ms and peppermint candy on the roof and we were done.

This was the final result:

Yes, folks. It is a rather ramshackle house but be kind - it was a first effort. Some unkind souls on Facebook asked what the green blobs were meant to be and instead of defending them as trees, I pronounced it to be a haunted house and those the slimy, green monsters in residence. :-D

Kim and I collected the food and gifts and commandeered our kids into the car and made our way across town to the home. The home houses thirty girls in two small rooms and it was kind of heartbreaking to see how little these girls have. All their mattresses were piled up in one corner and the girls had just one tiny trunk each for all their earthly possessions, including clothes.

The party itself went off pretty well. Kim had some painting planned for the younger kids and some craft for the older ones. She also read them a Christmas story and we sang some carols together. Not knowing Telugu, I was not able to participate as directly as I would have liked, but it felt good to just be there.

I had been worried about how my kids would behave but they were not too bad. Tarana had missed her afternoon nap on account of the party, so she clung to me but was otherwise relatively low maintenance. Ayaan helped a little girl to paint and then was pretty much on his own trip. When he started getting restless, I fished out a book I had carried for him and he sat and read peacefully for a while. I would have liked for him to be more involved but I didn't want to push it.

Overall, I think it went off really well and the girls were happy. Here is what Kim posted on Facebook: "And I must add that this amazing cake was by far the highlight of the Christmas party at the orphanage. 30 little girls devoured it, but not before Ayaan could nab the piece with the peppermint candy and lovingly hand it over to the littlest girl of all, Mahee (4), whom he had just finished teaching to paint."

I wanted to end this post by sharing a little something about the girls' home I have been talking about. It is run by an organsiation called Chaithanya Mahila Mandali (CMM), which works with women and children in the sex trade. All the girls in this home are children of sex workers - some are orphaned, others have been abandoned and some women have chosen to leave their daughters here because they believe that is in their best interests. If you want to help them out with your time or money, here's how.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The one where we took a road trip and lived to tell

As anyone who has been recently reading this blog or following me Twitter knows, I have been somewhat nervous at the idea of spending eight hours on the road with the kids. The longest road trip we have attempted with them before this has been a three hour drive from Bombay to Murud and that was a couple of years ago.

I planned a list of activities to keep them busy, kept a bag of toys in the car and planned for every worst case scenario (garbage bags, vomit bags, change of clothes, wet wipes, tissues, kitchen roll to name a few).

The start was not terribly auspicious. We got a late start and left almost an hour later than we had planned to (putting paid to our hopes that the kids would get back to sleep once we started driving). Tarana was terribly whiny at having been woken up at 5:45. And while backing out the car, I knocked over a flowerpot.

However, the rest of the journey was so smooth that I am still pinching myself, wondering if today has just been a dream and I will wake up to find the drive still ahead of us.

For starters, it is a pretty fantastic highway. I was able to clock really good speeds thanks to the wide and smooth road which was, barring a few exceptions, free of obstructions like cattle and potholes. I had a fantastic time driving and Jai commented that we should do this more often since I was much less cantankerous than I am when we fly with the kids.

Which brings me to the kids themselves. They were fan-freaking-tastic and exceeded my expectations on every aspect. There were absolutely no accidents - no car sickness, no potty training disasters, and only relatively minor food spillages. There was just one meltdown, which was about six less than the number I had estimated, and that too was justified since Tarana choked on the water she was drinking when I slowed down suddenly.

I had planned to pack some junk food (crisps, cookies, etc) to up the novelty level of the trip, since they don't get to eat a lot of that stuff on a regular basis. But my health-conscious seven year old was having none of it. So what finally made it into our food basket was whole, peeled carrots, dried fruits and nuts, juice boxes and egg sandwiches. The carrots were a huge hit - healthy, tasty and completely non-messy - and between the four us, we managed to eat almost a kilo of carrots - I don't think I need to worry about out beta carotene intake for a while now!

Yesterday, I also had a bit of an epiphany with regards to lollipops - they are basically pacifiers for older kids. So I put in a secret stash of suckers. We didn't feel the need for them till we hit Bangalore traffic, the kids got restive and Tarana started looking somewhat green. We gave them the lollipops then and for quite a while, there was almost pin-drop silence in the backseat - in fact, Tarana still hadn't finished hers by the time we reached home!

They were also relatively low maintenance with regards to entertainment. In addition to keeping their mouths busy with a constant supply of food, we mostly got by with listening to (and singing along with) some Christmas carols and conversations about everything under the sun including how cotton is converted to clothes (he found a cotton plant on one of our al fresco bio breaks).

Despite my ambivalence about letting him read in a moving vehicle, he had pretty strong points of view to the contrary. When I had asked him to make a list of ways in which he would keep himself busy on the road, here is what he came up with:

So, I decided not to make an issue out of it - especially since reading in cars does not make him nauseous. He carried two Calvin & Hobbes comic books (his latest craze) with him and spent a couple of hours immersed in them. He then spent about an hour with the Google Maps app on my phone following the blue dot as it moved, telling us names of towns and other landmarks (crossings, lakes, bus stops, etc.) coming up ahead. Other than that, he was mostly okay to just talk or look outside the window.

Tarana slept for a short while but otherwise largely amused herself. She kept putting her cap and sunglasses on and taking them off. She delighted in kicking the seat in front and since she was seated behind the passenger seat, I left that for father and daughter to sort out for themselves, and generally chatting to us and herself. There were a few sibling skirmishes, but nothing that got out of control.

The clincher for me was the fact that the kids didn't just tolerate being on the road, they actually seemed to have enjoyed it. I see a lot more road trips in our future. Unless of course, this was just beginners' luck, in which case, back to airplanes it is!

In terms of planning future road trips, I think I would mostly do the same things that we did today. The one thing I would do differently would be to leave earlier so we that can have a couple of hours of relatively more peaceful driving while the kids sleep. I also plan to pick up window shades because the sun did bother them more than a little. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday Theme Post: My Bucket List

We go on our first long road trip with the kids tomorrow and the butterflies in my stomach are not conducive to writing a post about what one wants to do before one kicks the bucket, but here goes anyway:

  1. Take the kids on at least one fantastic holiday every year till they fly the nest and expose them to some of the great natural beauty and historical sites, both in India and abroad.
  2. Take a holiday, watch a movie and eat a meal in a restaurant all by myself and feel totally comfortable doing it.
  3. Figure out my niche in the 'kids vs career' clash and find a balance between guilt and non-parental achievement.
  4. Throw one big dinner party (20 guests or more) with delicious food cooked by your truly from scratch.
  5. Live for at least one week (not counting vacations) without a meal plan, grocery list and to-do list, just to know that I can do it.
  6. Learn how to compost and grow a herb garden in my balcony.
  7. Buy a bicycle and cycle instead of driving when I can.
  8. Make a list of 100 books I want to read before I die and actually read them before I die.
I am sure there are more. But I have to get up in 6 hours and then drive for 8 hours so I am going to stop now.

See you guys on the other side of our journey.

Friday, December 21, 2012

There's Something About Band-Aids

Q: What's better than a microscopic wound on one finger that you can whine piteously about till your mother gives in and breaks out a Band-Aid with a cartoon character?

A: THREE microscopic wounds on THREE fingers that you can whine piteously about till your mother gives in and breaks out THREE Band-Aids with cartoon characters.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cardboard Boxes For The Win

Here's a blast from the past - back from when we moved into our new house in Bombay and Ayaan insisting on saving a packing box from the trash:

At what age, do kids grow out of their fascination for cardboard boxes? Because at 7.5 years, Ayaan's love for them is still going strong. 

We recently bought a new fridge and I was expressly forbidden from throwing out the gigantic box that it came in. He had decided that he was going to convert it into a house and with a little help from his friends, Tarana and his Ayesha Aunty, that is exactly what he did. Visitors to my home are currently greeted with this humongous box... sorry, house... dominating the landscape of my living room. 

[And clearly he is not the only 7-year old with a thing for boxes.  He invited his friend over to work on the house and his reaction was something like this: 'Oh My God!!! Ayaan!!! This is awesome!!! When you told me you had a new box, I did not realise that it would be sooooo BIG!!! This is soooo COOL!!!'. Apologies for the crazy exclamation marks but I really needed them to truly capture his tone -  you could not have been faulted for thinking he had come face-to-face with divinity!] 

Without much further ado, let me show you this work of art. Note that it is still work in progress and new elements keep getting added whenever the mood strikes.

The Front Door:

A peek inside reveals some thermocol 'pillows' and a rectangular piece of cardboard cut into a flat-screen TV, that has fallen off one of the walls

The Side View:

No dearth of colour on the outside of the house with the holiday spirit appropriately expressed. In case you were wondering, the pink blotches are Tarana's handiwork. A closer look reveals some hand prints in the bottom left corner.

The Roof:

The aerial view must be impressive too, right? This one features the Hindi vowels painted on by Ayesha who knows her young nephew has been having trouble with learning them. The roof also has a hole that doubles up as chimney and an opening for the human jack-in-the-boxes to pop out of:

The Windows:

The other side of the house features windows and a colourful 'nameplate', just in case there were any doubts about the ownership of the house.

Last but not least, there is a table. It was meant to be stuck on to the floor of the house but it keeps coming off.

It is amazing how much fun and creativity a single, though admittedly huge, cardboard box has brought into our house in the last couple of weeks. For all those parents who think their kids will get bored without their daily dose of TV, I have two words for you... you guessed it... cardboard box!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mr. Forgetful

Yes, that could be Ayaan's middle name. He is a smart boy but when it comes to the nitty-gritties of everyday living, his mind is like a sieve.

This has been particularly frustrating when it comes to his having to keep track of his belongings at school. One day, he actually came home with nothing in his bag. Empty. No tiffins, no water bottle, no napkin, no book. Nothing. How is that even possible? Did he not notice that his bag was impossibly light? Apparently not.

I haven't kept count but conservatively speaking, he has lost at least 8 water bottles this academic year and a competing number of tiffin boxes. I have also had to cough up money to the library for a couple of borrowed books that went to school with him and never came back. The number of items lost would actually have been substantially higher if he hadn't brought some of the forgotten stuff back the next day but some of them just seemed to have disappeared into a black hole, never to be seen again.

I tried a variety of approaches to get him to remember to pack all his stuff when he was leaving school:
  • At his Bombay school, his teacher asked us to let him pack his own bag. The thinking was that if he was the one to put things in, he would remember to bring them back as well. The only difference this made was the added stress of ensuring that he remembered to put all the requisite items into his bag every morning!
  • I tried the guilt angle that comes so easy to us mothers. I gave him lines like 'Do you know how much money I have spent on your water bottles in the last few months?' and 'I have so much to do today and now I have to go and buy you a new bottle for school tomorrow because you lost your original bottle and the extra bottle this week.' To no effect.
  • I scolded him every time he forgot something. The only difference this strategy made was making his homecoming more unpleasant.
  • I went with the punitive approach for a while. I told him he wasn't allowed to take a book to school with him for a week every time he lost something. This meant that he went for months without a book in his schoolbag. Eventually, we got called in to school for some behavioural issues and it turned out that the book was his refuge when he needed to retreat from the over-stimulation of the classroom. Sigh. So yeah, the books are back in his bag.
  • I tried the materialistic approach - taking five rupees from his piggy back every time he lost something. This only made me feel like a regular grinch and things kept not making their way back home regardless of potential money loss.
Then one day, I had an epiphany. I love lists. I cannot function without lists. I am in awe of people who walk into grocery stores with a list that is entirely inside their heads. And people who can throw things into a suitcase without one. Or cook without a recipe, for that matter. And given that he is my son, maybe this would be something that would work with him too. So here's what went on his bag a few weeks ago. 

For the first week or so, there was almost no change. But I stuck it out and every morning when he left home, I would remind him to check his list before he left school for the day. And you know what, it is starting to work. We still have days when something or the other has been forgotten at school but the frequency of these incidents has come down dramatically. 

Like the saying goes, 'if at first you don't succeed, try try try again'. Applies to parenting as much as anything else.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Day of Remembrance

The incidents of Sandy Hook last Friday are no less shocking for not being the first of their kind. Of all the bad news in the world, nothing wrenches my gut more than the senseless killing of children. Maybe it is mother in me that rebels at the very idea - it was not their time to go and it is against the laws of nature for parents to have survive their children. I don't know. I just know it hurts. My heart goes out to the families affected by this horrible event.

A moment of silence is often our ineffectual way to mourn the loss of lives. So that is what I and the other Marathon Bloggers are doing. We are choosing to step away from our blogs today in honour of those innocent children who lost their lives and the families and communities that are grieving for their loss.

Monday, December 17, 2012

RIP CBeebies

As November drew to a close, it was curtains down for BBC's kids channel CBeebies in India. Launched in 2007, CBeebies was a breath of fresh air amongst the clutter of children's channels available at the time.

I am no big fan of the Teletubbies (in fact, they creep me out a wee bit) and The Night Garden. But for a toddler or a young child, shows like these provided content that was both age-appropriate and interesting.

My kids don't watch a lot of TV but I have managed to keep them away from shows like Ben 10 (which I consider violent) and Shin-Chan (an unacceptable role model) largely because CBeebies provided me with alternatives.

But what really set CBeebies apart was its complete lack of advertisements. With the other channels, even if I can find appropriate shows for the kids to watch, I can't control what they will see during the ad breaks.

It's really sad that a channel that does not depend on advertisers for revenues cannot survive in our country. If we continue to expect to get our news and entertainment for free, we will soon find ourselves in a media landscape where big corporate spenders increasingly define what we get to see (and what we don't get to see) - a world where kids TV channels adopt Medianet type approaches, taking money to create advertiser-led content, a la Times of India rather than focussing on what would serve our kids best.

Goodbye, CBeebies. I hope you can figure out a way to come back and save us from the media vultures circling above.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

When Christmas Came Early

It's been a fun, hectic weekend in these parts. Jai's siblings - his sister Ayesha and brother Anil - and his brother's wife Christabel came in to town with the express intent of playing the role of indulgent aunts and uncle to the hilt. The kids were showered with much love, attention and gifts and are now going to discover Monday morning blues tomorrow when they revert to being stuck with a grouchy mum and a busy dad.

Since Ayesha won't be in Bangalore when we go down for Christmas, Ayaan decided that we have to have two Christmases this year, with one early celebration happening in Hyderabad this weekend. It started with that and somehow snowballed into two days of fun, with almost every element coming together to make it a pretty comprehensive yuletide celebration.

The first order of business was to get a Christmas tree in place. Since we always head over to Bangalore for Christmas, we never saw any merit in buying a tree for our own home. When Ayaan said he wanted a tree, I put him off because it seemed a waste to buy one and add to the plastic crap in our home. Then I had a brainwave - I have been planning to add some plants to our balcony so I figured that one that could double as a Christmas tree would be a good start.

So, off we headed to the nursery and picked up a medium-sized spruce plant. Ayaan then got to wondering about decorations and since I had even less desire to acquire cheap, plastic decorations, we decided to create our own decorations. So the tree acquired the following accessories over the course of the weekend.
  • A garland of dried leaves that Ayaan found while walking around.
  • A couple of flowers from the building garden.
  • A bunch of edible candy canes that Anil and Christabel brought for the kids - these have been disappearing at a fairly rapid rate and finding their way into greedy, little mouths.
  • The kids and their aunts made some crafty angels to hang on the tree. The angels were the source of quite some hilarity since Tarana could not get her head around them and kept insisting that Angel (our dog) does not have any wings. And when Ayesha announced that an angel had lost its head, both kids quickly looked under the table, curious to see what our headless dog would look like.
  • No tree is complete without a star and Ayaan managed to dig out some star art he had done with spaghetti a few days ago and that went right on top of the tree.
In the end, our patchwork Christmas tree came together quite well, with its high adorability quotient setting off its rather suspect aesthetic values. Here it is in all its glory:

The next item on the agenda was the construction of the gingerbread house from the kit that Anil and Christabel had brought over from the U.S. The gingerbread panels, icing and decorations were all pre-made and only assembly was required. We had a super time putting it together, both kids and adults. A lot of the candy ended up in the kids' tummies before it even made it to the house. The final result was lopsided, far from perfect and bore only a passing resemblance to the picture on the box but we had a ball, and that is what counts.

We also ended up having a fairly traditional Christmas lunch, even though it was not by design. Months ago, Christabel had mailed me a link for making roast chicken and this was one dish that I have always wanted to master. But the recipe had stayed in my inbox and I could not muster up the guts to actually try it out. I realised that having Christabel over was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a live tutorial on how to roast a chicken. And that is just what we did. This was our lovely lunch today - roast chicken made from scratch with stuffing, gravy and the works. It was as delicious as it looks! It was accompanied by a 'green salad' that Ayaan put together with Ayesha's help.

The last order of business was the opening of gifts. The rest of us are saving our gifts for Christmas day in Bangalore but since Ayesha won't be meeting the kids again, she put her gifts under the tree last night. Since morning, the kids were only interested in knowing when we would get to the gift-opening part of the programme - which we did after lunch. 

The kids were pretty thrilled with their haul of gifts. Like the adoring aunt she is, Ayesha had remembered Ayaan's fascination with all things related to the London underground and had managed to get him a t-shirt and a cup with the tube map printed on them. Ayaan was so thrilled that it was almost like a current ran through him when he opened up the t-shirt and saw what was on it.

Ayesha also got them some very special gifts from Sweden, where she currently lives. Ayaan got a bottle of Swedish honey, which he has tasted before and loves. Tarana got a book featuring Pippi Longstocking, an iconic character from children's literature in Sweden.


Tarana was also a happy recipient of this bird-shaped noisemaker but Ayesha has not won any brownie points with the harried parents who will have to put up with the infernal racket!

So, that brings an end to Christmas Part One: The Hyderabad Edition. The next installment will be coming up in little over a week, from Bangalore.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Not Going To Happen

I ran. Fast. Out of breath. Lungs bursting. Legs hitting the earth. I thudded up the path, around the corner, right up the stairs and reached the door. I flung it open and…

I looked at all my expectant friends gathered there. Some of them knew me only from my blog; some had known me for years. They all had one thing in common – they had all been reading my blog for a while.

I took a deep breath and firmly said: “Thank you for my faith in me, but I am pretty sure that I don’t have a book in me’.

Because that is the other thing everyone gathered had in common – they had all, at some point or the other in the last six years since I started this blog, suggested that I buckle down and write a book.

I know what I can write about. I can write about things I know, my life as I experience it, things I feel strongly about. But I don’t know enough about anything (including parenting) to write a non-fiction tome on it. And I don’t have the skill of pulling stories out of my head – especially not good ones that people would pay to read.

And today’s Marathon Blogger posting theme only reinforces that. We were provided the first paragraph and had to take it forward. I read that first paragraph about twenty times… and drew a blank. I read the brilliant, creative posts many of the other bloggers have managed to write, hoping for some inspiration… but, still nothing.

If I can’t write a simple 600-700 word story where the opening was already supplied, what are the chances that I will be able to fill entire pages and chapters of a whole book?

So excuse me while I get back to pottering around in my tiny corner of the Internet just for the fun of it, with no further plan or agenda. And hopefully write slightly better posts than this one :-p

[Note: I actually deleted this post by mistake a little while ago. But thanks to the help of fellow Marathon Blogger Sirisha who was able to recover it from her Google Reader cache, I can put it back on. Apologies to those of you who commented on it because those seemed to have gone for good]

Friday, December 14, 2012

Down with Sweatpants!

When I decided to take an extended break and flirt with stay-at-home motherhood, I was willing to embrace most of the changes that this would bring into my life and my lifestyle. But the one thing I vowed to never succumb to was the ubiquitous sweatpants that so many mothers seem to sport when out and about with their kids.

In my world, sweatpants can only be classified into two categories - exercise garb and sleepwear. I do not see them as acceptable attire for spending one's entire day in, even if one's only planned outing for that day is the school pick-up. That, in my view, is just one step away from spending all day in your PJs or dropping your kids to school whilst still in your nightwear. In my personal opinion, it is acceptable to be seen in public in sweatpants only if you:

  • Are on your way to the gym 
  • Are on your way back from the gym
  • Were forced to leave home in a hurry

So no, considering that I have yet to initiate any organised fitness regimen of any kind, you are unlikely to catch me in sweatpants outside the comfort of my own home.

In fact, I don't wear sweatpants at home either. Once I pack the kids off to school, I head straight to the shower and then dress for the day. While what I put on may not classify as high fashion, it can see me through everything from a trip to the supermarket to coffee with a friend.

On most days, if you walk into my house unannounced, you will find me in jeans and a nice (read non-ratty) tee. I also wear skirts pretty often, depending on how many days it has been since my last waxing appointment.

Now, as those of you who know me will vouch, I am no diehard fashionista. I don't colour my hair. Only a daily basis, I use no absolutely no make-up and on special occasions, I deign to apply lipstick and kaajal but that is it. I wear mostly high street brands but just go with stuff that feels comfortable and looks good with little thought to the colours and trends of the season. I own all of three handbags and forget to wear earrings most days.

But we all draw the line somewhere. And for me, that line is at sweatpants.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Road Beckons

In ten days from now, we are embracing our adventurous side and driving down from Hyderabad to Bangalore. Now, you might not think that that is particularly adventurous but spending 8 hours in a confined space moving at high speeds with two boisterous kids spells daring in my books.

In some ways, just catching a flight like we always do would be so much easier but a bunch of reasons made us decide to take the car instead:

  • With both the Hyderabad and Bangalore airports being in the boonies and the time spent in both airports, the trip from our home to my in-laws place takes anywhere between 5-6 hours, and that is if the flight is on time. People in the know tell us the drive takes 8 hours, which is really not that much more.
  • We will have our own car at our disposal for the week or so that we are in Bangalore. 
  • I didn't plan it that way, but the kids have travelled almost exclusively by flights so far. I would like them to experience the pains and joys of other modes of inter-city transport as well - cars, trains, maybe even buses.
  • I love to drive and most of my time behind the wheel is spent in city traffic. The idea of a long drive on open road appeals to me.
  • I can file this under my growing list of things that fall under the category 'What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger'.
I am going to be the designated driver. This is an obvious one because I love to drive and Jai doesn't. Also, he is a distractible driver and I am a tense, nagging backseat driver. So in the interest of family safety and harmony, it makes more sense for me to drive.

Our plan is to leave super early on Sunday morning, about 2 hours before the kids' regular wake-up time. We plan to bundle them into the car straight from their beds so that they get back to sleep and we can get a fair distance under our belts in relative peace. One can hope, right?

Now this is the part where you, kind readers, come in. I need all the help, advice and tips that you can offer to make this journey as smooth as possible.

To those who have done the Hyderabad-Bangalore road trip in particular, I want to know:
  1. How long did it actually take you? Is eight hours a reasonable time to expect to do it in?
  2. What is the best time to hit the road?
  3. What are the best pit stops for food and loo breaks?
  4. Any information about the road/ route itself.
  5. Any other information that you think might be relevant and helpful.
To those of you who do long trips with their kids regularly, I essentially want to know - how do you do it? More specifically,
  1. What's good car food to carry that is healthy and yet low on mess factor?
  2. Please suggest some good car games and activities to keep a seven and three year old from going stir-crazy.
  3. Anything else that I should keep in mind to make the journey as pain-free as possible for all concerned.
Give it up, people. Tell me your travel secrets.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Defining 'Potty Trained'

I just realised that I have gotten through almost six years of blogging without once doing a post on poop. This is a gross violation of the mommyblogger code because what else do we exist for if not to bore you or gross you out with the minutiae of our childrens' lives, right? And what can do it more effectively that discussing said children's bodily functions.

Hello? Still there? Or have I scared you off? :p

Worry not, I don't intend to wax eloquent about poop per se but about what people consider to be a potty trained child. Because if I had a rupee for everyone who has told me that they successfully potty trained their kid at 3/6/9 months, well... I could buy Tarana a diaper or two with the money I earned :p

What they mean to say is that they take the baby to the loo several times a day and perch her/ him on the pot or sink (I will come back to this later) and make encouraging noises or run the tap till s/he finally gives in to the urge to pee. They are also super-tuned into their baby's facial expressions and recognise a certain one that indicates a desire to empty their bowels and away they go again to perch the baby on the toilet seat. My question is: does this count as a potty trained child?

Not for me. I think success can only said to have been achieved when a child is sentient enough to recognise the need to go all by himself and act on it, with out without help. A child who needs to be taken every few hours/ minutes or constantly reminded to go does not count. Nor does one who is promptly popped into a diaper when an outing is planned. What do you think?

Also, what is this race we have Indians have going to claim the potty training badge. If I had a rupee for every time I got a judgmental look or statement when I mentioned that my kid was in diapers at the ripe, old age of two, well... I could have bought another couple of diapers. Whatever happened to 'waiting till the child is ready'? Whatever happened to 'to each her own'? The only advantage I can see to putting yourself through this is that you have less dirty nappies to wash and fewer pricey diapers to buy. Even then, it is a personal choice.

Also, getting back to the sink thing. Please desist from making your babies relieve themselves there. The rest of us tend to use them for more mundane activities like washing our hands and brushing our teeth and we'd rather not have baby urine in the near vicinity. Just saying.

Sigh. I am clearly grasping at straws if I am writing about potty training. This daily blogging thing is hard! I have nothing but the utmost respect for blogger who manage to do this everyday, come rain or shine. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Birthday Cake

With the extended blogging hiatus I have been on, I have missed out on recording so many special moments and milestones in the kids' lives and mine. One such occasion was Ayaan's 7th birthday.

His birthday falls bang in the middle of the summer vacation and consequently, we are usually never at home. This year, May found us in London, visiting my brother. This was Ayaan's second trip to London and even though he was only three years old the last time, he had some pretty strong (and happy) memories - especially of his visits to Hyde Park. (I blogged about our previous London trip here, here and here)

When I asked him how he wanted to celebrate his birthday, he immediately piped up with the suggestion that we have a picnic in Hyde Park on the day. He also had very specific ideas about his birthday cake. Before we left, he had managed to get his hands on this book called London Unlocked: A Guide Book for Kids from Treasure House. (As an aside, if your kid is of reading age and you are planning a trip to London. I highly recommend you get your hands on this book - both Ayaan and I loved it.) One of the places highlighted in the book is The Hummingbird Bakery, famous for their cupcakes. They also do cakes and Ayaan wanted his birthday cake from there.

Ordering a cake from them is no simple affair though. We had to call head for an appointment and land up at their Spitalfields brands for a consultation. We were met by enthusiastic young women who happily agreed to everything Ayaan said he wanted on the cake (not surprisingly, since I eventually got charged a bomb for each of those elements). What Ayaan wanted was a 'London cake' with:
  1. The Big Ben
  2. The London Eye
  3. The River Thames
  4. A boy
  5. A tree
  6. Some buildings
  7. A road
  8. A Double Decker bus
  9. Lots of sprinkles
And this is what he got: (the cake designer told me it was the most fun they had had with a cake in a while)

To say they met Ayaan's very exacting brief would be an understatement. And the look on his face when we opened the box was worth every penny I paid for it. 

The picnic itself was a matter of great tension given that weather was chilly, with a chance of rain. We all showed up at Hyde Park in our best woolies and picnicked away merrily, freezing winds notwithstanding. Thankfully, the rain held off. Thank you for your rare and fortuitous co-operation, London weather.

In attendance were family and friends who live in the city, including Jai's sister (Ayaan's favorite aunt). There was only one other kid (a friend's daughter) but the three of them had a great time feeding the ducks and generally pottering around. All in all, the sun (the metaphorical one, since the real one stayed hidden behind ominous-looking grey clouds) set on a successful birthday picnic and a very happy and content birthday boy.

Here's another picture from the day: my Baby Godzilla devouring the Double Decker Bus off the cake.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mommy Brain

You know you've got a bad case of mommy brain when:

  • You misplace your keys at least twice everyday and discover their absence at stressful times, like when you need to leave home in a hurry.
  • You routinely cut coriander or basil to garnish a nice dish and then find it still lying on the counter after the food is safely in everyone's tummies.
  • You put the kids milk on the stove to heat up, start doing something else and forget all about it and then spend ten minutes trying to cool it down to a drinkable temperature. Every. Damn. Day.
  • You often open the Google search page and stare at it blankly, the fact or item you needed to search for completely forgotten in the time it took you to open a new tab on your browser.
  • You walk into a room looking for something and before you know it, you have no idea what you were looking for in the first place.
  • Almost every time you put something away really carefully, you don't find it till you don't need it any more.
  • You call up your husband to tell him something important but by the time he picks up, it has slipped your mind
  • You reach the supermarket/ school/ salon to find that you left home in your ratty slippers designated only for home use.
  • You think you have backed up your iPhone before giving it up for repair but fail to notice that iCloud is activated so pictures and contacts from your phone are not being transferred to the computer, causing you to use a year's worth of stuff on your phone. (This one really hurt. Still does.)
  • You think of a great idea for a blog post just before you go to bed. By morning, your mind is a blank slate. And then you end up writing a post about your forgetful brain. :o)

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Hope of Breakfasts in Bed

This morning, I wandered into the kitchen and opened the fridge to find this:

In case you can't read the little label, it is a 'macaroon cokie sanwich', made with cookies and peanut butter and garnished with M&Ms. It was concocted by Ayaan, all by himself, before I even woke up.

I am thinking this might be a good time to train him to bring me breakfast in bed on weekends :)

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Blast from the Past

Part of this Marathon Blogger challenge is a weekly themed blogging challenge. And thank goodness for it, for I am fresh out of ideas for a blog post today. The theme for this week is 'Blast from the Past' and the idea is to share a picture from the past and a memory associated with it.

Since I have been going back and forth with this 'going back to work' business in my last few posts, I thought this was just the right photograph to share.

This is a picture taken when Ayaan was just short of three. I had just walked in the door after a long day at work and a joyful Ayaan had leapt into my arms to greet me. This used to pretty much be a daily thing. The minute I walked in, I would have the heart-melting pleasure of seeing his little face light up as he ran headlong into me. If I had to pick the best thing about being a working mom, this moment would be it.

It is different now. Having me around is something that the kids pretty much take for granted, especially Tarana who has never known any different. On weekends, if I am out when she wakes up from her nap, she is grumpy as hell with Jai and I come back to a child who needs to be soothed out of an ongoing (or impending) meltdown. And if she is in a good mood when I return, I get nothing more than a perfunctory greeting. Ayaan, if I am lucky, will look up from his book to give me a quick smile. Heck, Angel is way more excited to see me! Quite a comedown from the royal welcomes of the past.

But this picture also says something more than just that. Look closer and you'll see that Ayaan is dressed in his night suit. A quick look at the timestamp on the photo tells me that it was taken at 8.49 p.m. Ten minutes before his daily bedtime.

Now, this was not a daily or even a regular occurrence. On most days, I was back in time to eat dinner with him and spend at least a couple of hours with him before bedtime. But there were days like this and other days when I didn't see him at all because I came home after he was in bed or was traveling. It's not that I think that these days harmed him in any way - they did not and of that I am sure. But I did carry around a lot of guilt because of them.

So yeah, I miss the welcomes. The guilt, not so much. 

Inescapable Pink

I never really had a problem with the colour pink. I still don't. It's not like my wardrobe is overflowing with it but I do have a couple of pink t-shirts and a fuchsia salwar kameez which I am rather fond of.

But after becoming a mother to a daughter, I have to say that I am a bit overwhelmed with the amount of pink everywhere. If there is any product that is meant for a little girl, there is a 80% chance that it is pink - clothes, shoes, hair accessories, toys, school bags, stationery and everything else in between.

And even for products where colour and gender should have no bearing, manufacturers and marketers are starting to provide separate options for boys and girls. Like laptops and telescopes. Interestingly, in both these examples, not only are the girls' options pink, they are also designed to be less functional. Because as long it is pink, air-headed little girls with fluff for brains won't care about how well it works, right??! Irritating! Someone needs to take these toy manufacturers through this chart:

Over time, I have been trying to spurn pink when it comes to Tarana. Enough of it finds its way into her wardrobe and toy collection without any effort on my part, so I figure I might well take on the task of ensuring that the other colours in the spectrum get fair representation. As a result, you are more likely to see her dressed in yellow, purple or red than in pink. Her schoolbag is a blue Thomas The Tank Engine one instead of Dora, her bottles Milton steel and her tiffin box regular Lock & Lock stuff. Refusing to touch the candy pink Barbie toothbrush with a bargepole, I went for the blue one with a car on it.

Both because of my disinterest in buying her girly stuff and the fact that she has an older brother as a role model, she is quite the tomboy. She hates wearing dresses and hairclips, shows no interest in dolls and prefers the (debatable) charms of the Teletubbies to Dora. But she has not remained entirely untouched by the pink mania, mostly picked up from other girls in school, I guess. It was the first colour she could identify and I can definitely see her growing affinity for it.

This was especially obvious when we went to buy her a big girl bicycle last weekend. Her red and yellow tricycle was bought when she was too small to have a point of view but this time, she was pretty clear about what she wanted and it was the pink one. I tried to steer her towards the red and black 'boys' bike and did manage to convince her by telling her it was better. But then I asked the salesperson and he told me both the bikes has identical features, and I decided not to be dishonest. After all, it is my anti-pink agenda, not hers. So I opened up the choice again and of course, she chose the pink one and that's what we bought.


Pink - 1, Rohini - 0.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Separation Anxiety at Seven?

Whenever I think about going back to work, I usually worry more about how Tarana will cope with it than Ayaan. He's seven, eats on his own, spend a lot of time reading and doesn't need to be put down for a nap - so it is easy for me to assume that he doesn't need me that much. Tarana, on the other hand, still needs me at a much more basic level - to soothe her, feed her and entertain her. Also, she is back from school ridiculously early at 11 and would end up spending a large chunk of her time at home without me, unlike Ayaan who comes back only at 3. Lastly, Ayaan has, somewhere in the distant past, lived 4 years of his life with a mother who worked full time and seemed to get by just fine. Tarana, on the other hand, has only ever known me in my ever-available stay-at-home mom avatar.

However, something happened yesterday that made me realise that the transition won't be particularly easy for Ayaan either. My working days are ancient history with little bearing on the present and while he doesn't need my constant attention any more, he has got somewhat used to my constant presence.

We had to attend a wedding yesterday and since I was having a particularly bad hair day, I felt a blow-dry was something of a necessity. I decided to go immediately after putting Tarana down for her nap, expecting to be back about 15-20 minutes after Ayaan got home. I told the new nanny to tell him I will be back soon and to give him his post-school bowl of fruit.

I was on my way back from the salon when I got a call from the landline at home. Worried that something had happened, I stopped the car and picked up the call. It was Ayaan.

Ayaan: Hello? Is that my Mama?
Me: Yes, baby. It's me.
Ayaan: Mama, it's Ayaan. 
Me: I know. What happened?
Ayaan: Nothing. When are you coming home?
Me: I will be there in five minutes
Ayaan: OK, I have something to show you.

I reached home and even before I could turn my key, the front door opened and I was treated to a bear hug by Ayaan. I discovered he hadn't yet touched his bowl of fruit (he is usually ravenous when he gets home from school and wolfs it down in a jiffy) - he said he wanted to wait for me before eating!

Then, he proceeded pulled out what he wanted to show me. Instead of eating his fruit, he had worked on making a card for me:

Damn. If one 15-minute absence can feel so emotional (for him) and guilt-ridden (for me), imagine what will happen if and when I do return to work full-time!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Live Blogging Homework Hour

Recently, I have become concerned about Ayaan's academic progress at school. One of the disadvantages of being in a so-called alternative school is they tend to be somewhat relaxed about this and I have started to feel the need to work with him on Hindi and Math. So, I set him some sums and Hindi writing every day . I don't want to say that sitting with him through it is a difficult process, but let's just say having a couple of teeth pulled sounds less painful.

For today's post, I am scribbling down the good, the bad and the ugly of homework hour as it unfolds.

He's doing the first sum. He stares at it for a minute. Then,
Ayaan: Mama?
Me: Yes.
Ayaan: Nothing...

Again, another minute of staring at what happens to be a subtraction sum involving money, specifically rupees.
Ayaan: Mama, I usually save coins so can I write coins instead of rupees? 
Me: OK (decide to let the fact that most coins are rupees slide for now)
Ayaan: Thank you.

He writes the first line of the sum, then looks up
Ayaan: You remember that time I flew a kite at the wedding at Neemrana? I didn't like that wedding. The food was not nice and I got a sunburn.
Me: Hmmmm... yes, I remember. But homework?
Ayaan: Oh, yes!

He finishes writing the sum out and then gears up to do the actual subtraction:
Ayaan: Mama, what is this number?
Me: Baby, you are the one who wrote it. You tell me.
Ayaan: I can't make it out.
Me: Oh-kay. Then maybe you should rub it out, read the sum again and write it neatly
Ayaan: *sighs* Okay, Mama

Now, the sum is finally written, we can all read it and he proceeds with the actual subtraction and proceeds to subtract 4 from 0 in the tens column, confidently putting 4 in the answer row. I correct him and ten minutes after we started, we are finally done. With. One. Sum.

The second sum inspires a desperate thirst for water and he takes off to the kitchen to ask the maid for a glass of water. When there is no sign of him after 5 minutes, I go to the kitchen to find him waiting for the maid to finish washing up before asking for water. I get him the water myself, which he proceeds to spill on the kitchen floor. He insists that he must be the one to mop it up - such dutiful behaviour is only seen when the alternative is homework!

Back to the second sum. He starts writing the first line out when he suddenly looks up with his face all lit up:
Ayaan: Mama, I read a story about a man who stole fire
Me: That sounds interesting but how about you do your homework now and tell me that story later.

He stares at the sum again . It is a very simple sum but I have put dates instead of say, crayons or beads. It confuses him. Before I know it, giant tears are dripping down his cheeks and he whimpers that he doesn't know how to do the sum. I talk him down from the impending tantrum and explain the sum to him. He finally gets it, honks into a tissue and gets back to the sum. After a couple of minor distractions and reminders, he has totally forgotten that this was supposed to be a subtraction sum and adds the two numbers. When I point this out to him, he starts getting really insolent so we have some words which end with me saying something to the effect of 'I am the boss of you, so don't talk to me like that'. He buckles down and finally gets the sum done.

Next, I ask him to recite the multiplication tables for two. We have been really struggling with this. We were writing the tables earlier but then all he does is to keep adding the numbers to get the next answer. Multiplication is about rote learning and there is no getting away from that.

He keeps forgetting his place in the table and has to start again. He starts getting really frustrated. I ask him to use his fingers to remember where in the table he is. But he doesn't want to do that because then he can't use them to count his way through the tables. And then, before we know it, we have stumbled into full battle mode - he refuses to recite and despite all my best intentions, I am saying 'I have all the time in the world to do this so we are just going to sit here till you recite the entire 2 times table'. And we are mulishly staring each other down. Sigh. I had so hoped that today was going to be different. It eventually ends with him getting smacked (yes, I am a terrible mother). I decide to take a break from the tables and we move on to another math problem.

We do some easy sums and things are looking up again. Till I realise that he is shaky on the concept of odd and even numbers. Somebody kill me now.

We move on to some reading comprehension. This is never a problem. He loves it. This is something he is good at so we don't need to do it at all but it is the one bright spot in homework hour so I am keeping it for now. I usually print out something that he has been asking me about. Today, it is all about where salt is found and how table salt is made. No problems with lack of attention or focus here.

Things are looking up. But next up is Hindi and the rollercoaster ride will begin again. I don't know what his Hindi teacher has been doing because he is in Class 2 and he still doesn't know the alphabet at all. They say I shouldn't worry and that he will catch up but I am not feeling so complacent. So I have started from scratch. It's not easy but it beats multiplication. :o(

While he does his Hindi writing, I turn to Google to shed some light on teaching multiplication tables to kids. This would also be a good time for any of you who have any insights to offer on this to jump in and share.

Hindi writing is done. It was relatively painless today. I have decided to skip the multiplication for today. I don't think either of us are in a frame of mind for it to be a productive exercise. I shall do some research on techniques for teaching multiplication and get back to it tomorrow.

As I am writing this, Ayaan has hurried away to his favourite refuge and has his nose firmly buried in a book, having forgotten all the trials and tribulations of the last hour. Me, I am still taking deep, calming breaths. And wondering how many new gray hair sprouted today.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Life without my iPhone

On Sunday, the unthinkable happened. My iPhone slipped to the floor and when I picked it up, the screen had shattered. After an initial bout of utter glumness, the silver lining shone through the dark cloud and I realised that this was the perfect opportunity for me upgrade to the iPhone 5. Alas, it was not to be. The good people over at Apple are going to replace my old, cracked phone with a brand new one for the grand sum of ten thousand and some change.

One part of me is thrilled but damn, this puts off my plans to upgrade! I really have no excuse to do so when I have a brand new 4S coming to me. And it turns out the husband had been planning to gift me the iPhone 5 for Christmas anyway, which also we have decided against. Dammit! :D

Anyhoo, they took my phone back and said that it takes 4-5 working days to get the replacement. So for 5 whole days, I am without my trusty iPhone and stuck with a no-frills phone that most of the world seems to get by with just fine. But not me. Two days and severe withdrawal symptoms later, I am beginning to realise the full extent of my addiction to the damn gadget.

This morning, I called my husband. He was in a meeting and didn't pick up. I redialed. Twice. He called back, thinking there was a crisis of some sort. I quickly disabused him of the notion by telling him  I had called merely because I was bored. And usually when I am bored, I turn to my phone to offer me some sort of entertainment - mail, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Flipboard, and so on. But when I look to the phone currently in my hand, all it offers me is an opportunity to call someone. Hence, the pointless call to the husband :)

It has also dawned on me that much of the social media time wastage I indulge in happens on the phone. I have hardly been active on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest (major time suckers on an average day) over the last two days. And it is that time that I have been able to plough back into reviving this blog. I have even read the newspaper cover to cover instead of relying on Twitter to supply my quota of daily news.

I have been severely handicapped without the instant access to many of the utilities on my phone. Here are some of the ways in which I have suffered:

  • I have had just my wits to rely on when Ayaan asks me some obscure question. 
  • I actually cancelled a meeting on Monday because it was in a part of Hyderabad I am completely unfamiliar with and I was unsure of being able to find my way there without the aid of Google Maps.
  • Without the converter app on my phone, I had to actually go find my laptop to be able to do the temperature and weight conversions on a recipe I was cooking up.
  • I have had to entertain myself with only my thoughts for company for the two whole minutes that I have had to wait at various traffic lights. The horror!
  • I have had to make eye contact, and even smile, at random strangers in elevators.
  • I only have access to my email when I have the time and space to sit with my laptop. It's not as if there is anything earth-shattering in my e-mails that needs my instant attention but just another missed opportunity to be entertained anytime, anywhere.
  • Talking of entertainment, I am so missing Flipboard and Google Reader which allowed me to get my daily fix of my favourite blogs and publications. 
  • I have a groceries list app on my phone that I use heavily - I can add items as and when I notice something is running low, I don't have to remember to store the list so carefully that I can't find it when I need it and it is categorised and sorted almost in line with the aisles at the supermarket, making shopping relatively efficient and effortless. It has not been fun to revert to the not-so-good old paper and pen method. What's that you say? I could shop without a list? Really? I have three good friends of mine - namely O, C and D - who beg to differ.
I am a smartphone addict and it's been 2 days, 11 hours and 26 minutes (or something like that :p) since my last iPhone fix.