Sunday 30 January 2011

Ads and tennis

Ads started tennis lessons some time ago. This is a fairly good program run by the Mahesh Bhupathi Tennis Academy, right here in our complex. Let me admit I don't know first-hand that it's a good program, just that other parents who are more experienced with their kids learning tennis, seem to be happy with it, so I am relying on what they say. What I did like is that the 3 coaches (head coach, assistant coach and recently a fitness coach) are all young, friendly and seem to genuinely like what they do. The whole environment for mini-tennis is non-pressurizing which is the way I want it. The goal is to get Ads to run around and gain some hand-eye coordination, not necessarily be a good tennis player. If the latter happens, it's a huge bonus.
The operative word is if. Ads is good-humouredly disinterested in tennis. In fact, he is disinterested in most organized games. Ask him to go to the park and play, and he will lie on the monkey bars for hours imagining himself to be Ben-10 fighting aliens. All in his mind! He will run around and play hide and seek, tag etc with friends, quite happily. But anything a little structured and organized bores him. As he asked me once, "Amma, I want to be a doctor, so why should I learn how to play tennis?"
In his class of 6-7 kids, he's the smallest, and let me say it out loud, the worst! Not because he's the smallest, but because he simply doesn't care to try and do better. Plain unadulterated disinterest. I had noticed it in his gym classes in the US when he was 3-4 years old. He wouldn't pay attention to instructions. He would run vaguely in the general direction where all the other kids were running. On reaching the gym equipment, he would try and creatively bypass it altogether. If that didn't work, he would try to climb it or hang from it, in a supremely lacklustre way. Finally he would head back to the starting position, relieved that the ordeal was over :) 
He does the same in tennis class. Ever so often, I hear the coach calling out "Advaith! Listen to me!". I've even seen the coach turn Ads' face to face him (the coach) because he was clearly not listening. Towards the end of the class, they have 15 minutes of games. While the other kids get stressed out over which team 'wins' or 'loses', our hero is waiting on the sidelines, faintly scornful (I think!) of this competitive mentality and quite unconcerned when one of the older kids berates him for making them lose the game by not running fast enough.
I was a late bloomer into sports, only in my teens. When I did start, I loved playing badminton, throwball and tennikoit and for the last few years of school, they were a source of great enjoyment to me. I hope that Ads starts enjoying sports at some point, all by himself, as I did. We won't push him into sports, that's for sure, so it has to come from within. Having said that, I want him to continue with tennis (and swimming in the summer) just to get that little body more agile and coordinated. In the meantime, I continue to watch with amusement, a frustrated coach yelling "Advaith! Look at me!". Better him than me :)

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Love the winter, but the insulation sucks and some other cribs

Dilli ki sardi. How many times had I heard people talking about it with varying degrees of wistfulness and nostalgia? We experienced it for the first time (as adults) in 2010/11 and boy, did it live up to expectations! Mostly bright sunny days, fabulous for sitting on the balcony and dining al fresco. Y and I (who are the only people at home for lunch) invariably have a picnic lunch on the sun-soaked balcony, sitting on my yoga mat :) Getting dressed up in tights, smart coats and scarves and feeling like a fashionista :) Never having to sweat and enjoying brisk evening walks. Yes it was horribly cold and foggy and miserable between Xmas and Sankranti but overall, it's been just a fantastic season. 
My only crib during the season - why are the apartments so poorly insulated? There have been many days when I actually felt colder inside the flat than outside! Why do builders cut corners when it comes to this very important aspect of construction? You build a 500-unit condominium complex, and the quality of construction is so poor. Owners (and renters like us) complain of seepage issues, flaking distemper, poor insulation and many other issues. Another thing - there's a fancy clubhouse with gym and pool and all the works, yet the gym has all of 3 treadmills. For 500+ units! Granted, the occupancy rate is something like 80% but still, isn't 3 treadmills a little too miserly? Don't even get me started on the rusted and broken-down play equipment in the children's park. What about just having some nice, easy-to-maintain plastic stuff that won't injure my children?
It's almost like the builder set out to build something really good, but at the last lap, just got utterly bored and said: Screw it. Let's finish and leave this project. I guess they just cut corners (and of course, they are not the only ones) wherever they could and the poor consumers just live with it.
Is this symptomatic of India itself? All flashy and India shining outside, but the rot inside is deep and stultifying.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Artistic Ads

I posted these 2 photos on facebook recently, to rave reviews. The first one is Rama and the second one is Arjuna. 

These aren't even Ads' best work. He only draws mythological characters nowadays (he went through a fire-truck phase, followed by Buzz LightYear and Ben10 fixations, now it is Amar Chitra Katha).The first time he draws something, for example the Narsimha avatar of Vishnu, he will copy from one of his many ACKs. The next time onwards, he captures from memory. He rarely does what most of us do - draw an outline with pencil and then colour it in, although the Arjuna above is one of those. Such is his confidence that he draws straight with colour pencils or crayons.The other interesting aspect of his drawing is the speed. We met with the principal of one of the Gurgaon schools recently (for an 'interaction') and she played right into his hands by asking him to draw something while she spoke to us. He drew the famous scene from the Bhagwad Gita, in 5 minutes flat. 
I've been told I should put him in art class. I think I will, maybe after we move. There's a definite talent here. Atleast we won't be pouring money down the sink, which we seem to be doing with his tennis lessons! That's another post, though :)

My name is Nkta

Nkta. That's how Y pronounces her name. Start with a nasal N, rapidly followed by KTA. Reminds me and S of difficult Vietnamese names such as Nguyen!

The road to fitness

I don't make new year resolutions (I mean, what's the point? I never keep them) but this year I kind of informally resolved (didn't want to put any pressure on myself!) to do better, a LOT better, in the staying healthy department. I've always been a healthy eater and able to stay at my ideal weight without any effort. The latter does not reflect any credit to me but is primarily a function of my mother's fantastic genes. For this, I am grateful every single day :)
The problem with being naturally slim (yes it has it's disadvantages too!) is that there is zero motivation to work out. Therefore, staying fit is never at the top of any agenda and incorporating any kind of fitness routine needs a whole bunch of mental calisthenics designed to push and prod self into action. When I was carrying Ads, I put on so much weight (18 kilos) that losing it became my main motivation. Even there, nature helped me. The first few horrible months of dealing with a colicky baby, getting back to work very soon and the general first-time-mommy stress melted 12 of those 18 kilos within a month (I kid you not!) and the last 6 kilos gradually disappeared over the course of the next 2 years. With Y, I stayed heavier for a longer time and  didn't do too much by way of exercise (a leisurely walk every now and then was about it) but I managed to lose that weight as well. My health-nut of a husband has been after me for years now, berating me for my lack of physical fitness and using emotional blackmail as a not-so-effective tool (You are the mother of 2 children. You need to take better care of your health, for them if not for you). And I thought my kids would actually be better off without me! :)
So anyway, this year I thought I do need to be more responsible. I analyzed why sticking to a fitness routine was so difficult for me. One, I get bored very easily. So clearly, I needed to do something a little more interesting than just walking around the complex or using gym equipment. The latter bores me to death before I've even gotten started! I could have started learning tennis along with Ads since the lessons are right here in the complex but considering our impending move, I'm not going to begin anything new (and expensive) right now. I could do aerobics, zumba, cycling....the options are endless, aren't they? I'd enrolled in yoga classes over the summer and was bowled over by the amazing flexibility and tone that it gave me. So for now I've decided to do yoga and walking/jogging on alternate days, 5 days a week.
Two, what was throwing a spanner in the exercise-related works was that I was being too rigid. If I planned to do 45 minutes of exercise a day, then if I couldn't get the whole 45 minutes done at one stretch, I was just getting frustrated and giving up. I wasn't using any common sense to understand that even if I did just 15 minutes a day, it was still better than doing nothing at all. Therefore, my target now targets! I will try and do between 30-60 minutes a day. I won't get fussed if I can only do 20, or 15 minutes. I will also be flexible about splitting the routine and getting the daily quota done in 2 sessions. Most importantly, I will treat it as an investment in my health and well-being and NOT as a chore.
Three, how many times have we all read/heard this? It's all about lifestyle changes. Portion control. Moderation. Small steps. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Bending down to play with the kids.
I have seen the light :) More importantly, the ever-present motivation in the form of fit and agile husband is always at hand! On his mean days, S will comment on how 30 years hence, he will still be able to keep up with the youngsters, while I hobble along sorrily behind them :( Gotta make sure that doesn't happen!

Monday 24 January 2011

Words of career wisdom

A friend on facebook had posted this video and I found it a very intelligent, balanced point of view in tackling the serious question of why women are "opting out" of their careers and some societal and also internal changes that are required for those who want to stay in the workforce and rise to the top. The points she makes are so pertinent, and definitely points #1 and #3 were something I hadn't seriously thought about before. How to 'sit at the table' and 'not leave before you leave' really resonated with me. As she says right at the end -  I want my son to have a choice to contribute fully in the workforce or at home, and I want my daughter to have the choice to not just exceed, but to be liked for her accomplishments.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Ads annoying habits

What's this annoying habit many kids have of not being able to support their own weight when they are standing someplace with you? It happens all the time with Ads. Waiting at the bus stop, he leans against me, so that I have to constantly stagger and try to maintain my balance. In line at grocery stores, malls, even at the park, he's standing there but resting most of his weight on me. IT is SO irritating! It's like he's so tired (read bored) that he can't even be bothered to support himself and I have to do it for him. I keep pushing him away but he rebounds, like a rubberband. I've now started annoying him by holding him at arm's length so that he cannot lean on me. As he leans in, I stay where I am but stretch out my arm so that he doesn't come near me. It's not a solution but atleast I'm not the only one irritated!
Another habit that bugs me - the way he calls out Amma - A-mmm-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa???? Repeat multiple times without giving me a chance to respond and saying Amma so loudly that he wouldn't hear my response over the din he's making. Really, the sound makes me go ballistic. And since he keeps calling me for something or the other every half-hour, we hear the word around a LOT. He used to call me mommy until some months ago and there are days I wish he would go back to it. Mo-mmmmm-yyyyy didn't create the same feeling of irritation!
Such an affectionate, maddening, emotional child. I don't know any 5-year old (boys) who still want to sit on their mother's lap and kiss and cuddle them like there's no tomorrow. Love you, Ads. I feel like a cheapo for cribbing about the little eccentricities (which will become endearing when I look back after a few years) but aaah, it did feel good to blow off some of that steam :)

Huddle and Cuddle

Last weekend, we stayed the night at a relative's place and they were astonished how all four of us fitted into their queen-size bed, and woke up fresh as daisies the next morning, carrying no aches and pains from the uncomfortable sleeping positions the night before. I don't think we can carry it on for much more than a year though, not on a queen bed for sure. The only reason we can do it now is because it's winter and it's actually much nicer to have the kids in bed with us. S says it's like having an extra layer of blankets! Body warmth and all that.
All this co-sleeping is spoiling my kids silly. They can't go to sleep without a cuddling session. A few minutes after I am awake, Y gets up, sensing the lack of body warmth next to her. Come to think of it, it's spoiling me and S too, so accustomed as we are to having warm little bodies nestled inside ours, little arms around our necks and drool staining our clothes the next morning (the gross things parents find cute!).
I'm sure I am going to start finding all this cute stuff pretty annoying once the Delhi summer arrives in another couple of months. Body warmth in April and May - I think NOT!

Friday 14 January 2011

So I'm not a superior parent. So what?

So of course everyone seems to have read this article. When I first skimmed through it, I thought maybe she was being satirical. On the second reading I was horrified to find that she was dead serious. I've been reading a lot of blogs that also talk about this article, most of them contesting Ms Chua's point of view. My problem with her viewpoint is not her methods of producing "success" but her definition of success. Hang it all, we're Indians and many of us have been brought up by parents like Ms Chau. We have been scolded, cajoled, even beaten into getting the highest grades, the coveted admission into the best college, to the exclusion of a social life, friends, parties, fun, travel, hobbies, interests and general timepass. I was very fortunate in not having such parents but knew plenty of people who did. So, like I said, what she does and how she does it doesn't bother me as much as why she does it.
Her very narrow definition of success bothers me. It is the equivalent of the Indian obsession with IIT/IIM/medical. So, her parenting may ensure a "superior" outcome but only if one accepted her very insular definition of what consitutes success. As parents, is that what we want? If we had to choose between a stellar career, graduation from Yale and being an accomplished pianist; and being a well-adjusted, contented, happy, empathetic citizen of the world, which one would most parents choose? Definitely, the two outcomes need not be mutually exclusive. They can, and sometimes, co-exist quite amicably in the same person. But I'm guessing that person would not have had Ms Chua for a mother!
The article came at a time when we are once again, evaluating schools for Ads. When we moved back from the US less than a year ago, I looked up the list of Noida's best schools (Hindustan times runs a survey every year), eliminated the DPS's and Amity's which have large class sizes and a huge focus on academics and looked for schools within the list which seemed to have a philosophy of experential, more slow-paced learning and plenty of extra-curricular options. That narrowed it down to only 3 schools. We met two and selected the one with the superior physical infrastructure although we liked both. It turned out to be an international school, which means air-conditioned classrooms, buses, and an IGCSE curriculum, and we have been very happy with it. My rejection of the traditional schools stems mostly from my own experiences in studying in such schools. I got nothing from my school education except practice at doing well in exams (useful takeaway, you say? I'm not convinced about that). Any little creativity that I had was effectively stamped out by the Indian school system. And yet, if I managed to get into IIM, I give the credit only to my hard work, motivation and a supportive family environment.
Even assuming I am all wrong about traditional schools, the fact is that I only have leeway of a few years to 'experiment' on Ads by placing him in the not-so-competitive schools. By middle school, he will need to enter the rat race so that he can play catch-up with his peers. But by then I will have evidence to support or disprove my grand thesis! I have a strong feeling that the school has a lesser role to play in the child's growth and accomplishments than we commonly believe. A child who is reasonably clever, who is taught to be hard-working, whose parents support him unconditionally, will do well even in an 'ok' school. He doesn't have to be in the 'best' school. The definition of best and success is so vague and subjective. We all do what we think is the best for our children but how many of us really stop to think what the best might be? By pushing my child into a multitude of classes and ensuring he gets into the most reputed schools, aren't we just falling into the activity trap of doing?
I think a little more reflection might be in order. Once I'm done packing and moving and have time to breathe, I will update on the outcome of my reflections :)

Thursday 13 January 2011

Updates from Mommyland

I've been away from this blog for only a month, but it seems like several! It has been a crazy-busy time. S has been so miserable at his job that he had been looking around for other options. Finally everything came together and he landed a good role in one of his ex-companies, working under one of his ex-bosses! We went out to celebrate, not the new job, but his deliverance from the old, awful workplace :) The upside was that he could spend the whole of the winter break with us in Chennai, away from work pressures and able to relax and enjoy his cousin's wedding, the fabulous "winter" weather this year and the heavy networking with relatives that is part and parcel of a Chennai vacation.
We came back last weekend to a FREEZING Delhi. S and I were miserable. The first thing S did was run out and buy a couple of heaters. The kids took it in their stride. They always do, don't they; it's the adults who unfailingly complain! We pulled out our relocation to-do lists and started working. Because we have to move to Gurgaon - that chaotic mess of high-rises and malls and little else besides. We made a day-long trip to Gurgaon to visit a couple of schools, and we have more lined up for the weekend. We don't relocate until the end of the academic year in March 2nd week, but getting into a decent school is our first priority and everything else will follow from that. S starts work on Monday. Here's to a new year and new beginnings.