Thursday 29 September 2011

Busy busy week and Navarathri begins

The last week or so has been extremely full. Between Ads' various assignments at school, a niggling backache for me, the onset of growing pains for Y and her refusal to eat anything in school, Navarathri, planning for our short holiday to Amritsar later this week, and my maid going absent because of malaria AND typhoid (the poor thing!), I have been running around like a headless chicken all over the place.
The main event was Navarathri. Over the last couple of months, ever since getting back to Gurgaon after the summer holidays, I have managed to make quite a few friends in the complex. Friends, as opposed to casual Hi-and-bye neighbours/acquaintances. Most of us are around the same age, have kids of varying ages and it's something to look forward to every evening that we are able to meet at the park and chat while the kids play. In fact, some days ago, I had to urgently meet somebody for a prospective work assignment and S was unable to get home early and watch Y. One of my friends stepped in to watch her for the hour or so that I had to be away.
My large-ish Golu doll collection got decimated when we moved to the US since I had to give most of them away :( So I have to build up my collection again. This year, Ads insisted on his Ben10 action figures and jungle animals being included in our Golu. Here is what we ended up with. I did the bottom 2 padis (steps) and Ads dolled up the shelves (they are technically our 3rd padi!). Last night, we spoke to my in-laws and they had a good idea, that I should include some of Ads' drawings in the Golu. Their suggestion was duly incorporated this morning :)

Y has been "helping" me this morning, with preparing and labelling the gift bags for people who will attend our Golu tomorrow. It would have been a real help if she hadn't mixed up all the gifts/tags and appropriated some of the baubles for herself. I'm terribly confused now and will wait for her nap before redoing everything :)

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Alligator craft

Ads was asked to make a model of a crocodile for some class assignment. I was halfway through making it when I realized I was making an alligator. Oops :)
Normally, I never allow Ads to dump any assignment on me. But the school week has been extraordinarily full for him. He has had to read 2 books for a "Reading Grand Prix" that they have going, and compose 2 original poems for display (which means he had to compose, neatly write and then decorate the paper on which the poem was written), apart from the regular homework and test that they have every week. With his thrice-a-week tennis class, it meant he was having very little downtime. The only way he could have made the crocodile all by himself was by skipping playtime some day or by losing out on sleep, and I wasn't willing to compromise on either.
So, much against my will, I let him off this particular task and enlisted his help only for some glueing and painting work. This is the end result. Could have been a lot neater, but I'm out of practice :) The frame is made out of newspaper, and given bulk with paper napkins and other waste paper. Those white triangles are supposed to be large and scary teeth :)

Thursday 22 September 2011

An education business opportunity?

I noticed large ads in the Delhi papers recently, touting the opening of 2 new Shiv Nadar Schools, in Noida and Gurgaon. Yes these are the education hotspots in NCR nowadays. Getting admissions into Delhi schools has become such a nightmare that Delhi parents do not mind (or, to be more precise, they are forced to) enrolling their children in Gurgaon/Noida/Faridabad/Ghaziabad schools, with all the commuting hassles that it entails. I was excited to see this particular ad as I am familiar with the work of the Shiv Nadar Foundation and I mistakenly assumed that they have opened schools for that very underserved section of society which is aware for the need for high-quality education,  cock a snook at government schools, willing to scrimp and save to send their children to private English-medium schools, but sadly have very few options in terms of privately-run education that produces credible results.
Take my maid, for example. All told, she makes about 6000 pm. Her husband makes about the same. Given the fact that they have 3 kids, live in high-rent Gurgaon, and have various family obligations back home in Bihar, their savings are nothing to speak of. Her eldest son, a child of 8, is enrolled in a non-profit programme run in our apartment complex and has been promised admission to DPS under the EWS category. I heard with no small amount of shock last evening that the children admitted in the EWS category are schooled in a separate afternoon shift in the school, because the parents (of the kids under "general" quota) do not like their kids mingling with these other kids from less privileged backgrounds. More about this claim later after it has been duly verified and substantiated and after I know my shock/disgust is justified.
Ok, back to my maid. In an ideal world, the government education machinery would be good enough to accommodate her kids. I personally am against the duplication of any such pre-existing setup and the establishment of a parallel school network. However, we all know we do not live in an ideal world/country and in the meantime, there is an entire generation of kids whose potential and talent is simply being squandered because of the limitations and constraints of the system. So, even taking the step of keeping the social aspects aside for the moment and concentrating only on the profits which could accrue to the greedy capitalist (!), I think here is a terrific market opportunity here. An opportunity for establishing a chain of good, cheap schools which cater to the market segment which is far above the poverty line but cannot afford high-priced private schools. A market segment in between municipal schools and shady private schools on one hand, and the bastions of upper middle-class India on the other. 
Such schools do exist, here and there in isolation. But it needs the deep pockets and the organizational acumen of the likes of corporate foundations to invest in a chain of such schools across India. It can be run as a pure for-profit model. No handouts required. I'm aware there could be huge gaps in my knowledge but as far as I know, there isn't a pan-India (or even aspiring to be pan-India) model of such a nature anywhere. My ex-boss started an affordable housing venture, I hope there are other angel investors like him who are willing to take up the affordable education challenge!

Learning to swim - I

It seems a little silly to set down that it has taken me 3 decades and a half to get off my backside and start learning how to swim, especially since I have spent atleast 2 decades of this time wanting to learn how to swim. Apparently, my desire must not have been very strong, else I suppose I would have made the time to do it. Let me see what reasons I came up with (mind, some of these were legitimate). When I was at school/college, there wasn't any place handy I could learn plus I'm not sure my parents would have advanced me the money! This is legit reason#1. When I moved out of Chennai and went to study in Bangalore, I was too busy and exhausted. When I lived in Bombay as a single working girl, I had tons of free time but no discipline. After I got married, again, I could have easily enrolled at any of the hotel pools and learnt my basics, but I was busy pretending to be the high-powered corporate executive that I was not! The same sad saga of multiple wasted opportunities repeats itself in Bangalore and in the US. 
Last week, I received a renewed impetus to grab the bull by the horns and just do it when a friend/neighbour mentioned that the new coach at our complex pool was pretty good and did I want to take swimming classes with her? I agreed, almost without thinking, very aware that I had postponed this skill acquisition for way too long. We started on Sunday evening when I struggled to blow bubbles and kick back with my legs, holding on to the side of the pool for dear life. It has only been a very few classes yet and the fond hope that I had harboured that I might find myself to be a natural swimmer, have been dashed to the ground! Once again, as in so many other pursuits, I find to my regret that I have no natural talent whatsoever and any skills I will acquire will be the result of sheer plodding.
But -- plodding is something I am good at :) We are running against time here since the pool is only open for another 2 weeks and odd, and will subsequently reopen only in April. I have to finish my 12 classes before then. More importantly, I need to end the season with the satisfaction of learning a little something which I can improve upon next summer. Good luck to myself! :)

Monday 19 September 2011

The guilt tag

Sumana of TinynLittle tagged me to write about the guilt trips that I have, as a mom. (Thanks, Sumana!). The first thing to note is that mommy guilt can be good. Yup, you heard that right. Mommy guilt is good because it effectively wipes out all the other kinds of guilt, because there is no time/mindspace to feel guilty about anything else (*crazy slightly hysterical hyena-like laughter here*). I don't remember the last time I felt guilty about digging into my nth portion of some sinful dessert, or not exercising, or taking care of my health, or being rude to random strangers :))
Sigh. When life revolves around one or two or more short people, then even the guilt revolves only around and about them and their little concerns. The tag says that I have to:
1.Write about 2 instances where you have put yourself before your child/ children… been a wee bit selfish.
2.How did you feel? Did you feel a pang of guilt or were you comfortable?
3.Tag 2 more moms.
Here goes.
1. I felt very very guilty when I enrolled Y in playschool when she was just 20 months old. I didn't have much of a choice since I was speeding towards writing my exams in a few months and I simply needed 3-4 hours in the day to study. I'm fundamentally opposed to putting my kids in the charge of a maid/nanny, who in all likelihood would be untrained, unwashed and uninterested. I preferred Y to be in a school environment, with trained teachers, a safe secure place for her to play and plenty of other kids to interact with and learn from. The fact that he school in Noida was a 5 min walk away and a truly fantastic place made me feel better about the decision. But yes, if I wasn't studying at that point, she probably would have stayed home with me for another year or so. I wrote about all the decision-making and associated angst, here.
2. I feel guilty every single day when I lose my temper, not for legit reasons, but simply because I'm impatient, irrational, too darn tired to deal with the situation in a mature adult-like manner. When I scream and completely lose it and throw a tantrum and then expect my kids NOT to do the same, the scene appears to my mind's eye as farcical, absurd and so hypocritical. I always feel more guilty when I do this with Y, because, unlike Ads, she doesn't always cry. All she does is look at me with those big brown eyes through her glasses, her lower lip trembling ominously, sometimes a thin film of unshed tears wavering on her eyelid. She doesn't allow the tears to fall and at that moment, I have to control myself from throwing myself at her feet and abjectly begging for forgiveness :( 
So these are my guilt trips. Of anyone who's reading this wants to take up the tag, please consider yourself tagged and drop me a note. I'd love to read what other mommies feel guilty about!

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Ad-lib #6

Ads feels I argue with him a lot. He doesn't use the word argue, instead preferring the more action-oriented fight :) The other day, S and I were having a loud argument. We hardly ever argue about anything, in fact we hardly disagree on anything, so it was something of an occasion (Aside: The reason for the "fight" was that I had managed to pour water on my 5-day old spanking new smartphone and S was very very irritated with me for my carelessness and I was somehow trying to put the whole blame on him :P). Y was a little stunned with the uproar and Ads and she kept following us around the house as we walked and yelled talked. (Every now and then S and I like to blow off some steam this way. It makes us feel normal!) Finally Ads said - loudly - I don't like all this fighting!!! Why are you both fighting so much?!!!
We both shut up immediately. But S managed to get his revenge by taking Ads aside and asking him to monitor my cellphone and laptop usage. Now this is the worst punishment he can give me because Ads takes his duties very very seriously. He makes sure I follow safe practices when using the cellphone/laptop. If he sees as much as a teaspoon of water/tea/juice in the vicinity of these gadgets, he'll keep nagging me until I remove them. If he sees me taking the phone into the loo, there he goes again! A few weeks back, S felt I wasn't taking his injunctions against malaria/dengue risk seriously enough. So, instead of reminding me yet again, he simply asked Ads to do the job for him. If I ever forgot to close all the windows and doors in the evening or forgot to apply Odomos on the kids before their evening play, Ads would promptly complain to Ads that "Amma didn't do such-and-such today".
The fellow is such a royal pain. My m-i-l used to call him, very appropriately, "Rules Ramanjuam"!
Our Rules Ramanujam is also very particular about following teacher's instructions and completing his homework. On Friday evening, he starts bugging me on when we are going to complete the weekend homework. I ask him to relax, after all we have 2 whole days ahead of us but he is in a state of anxiety all the time until the darn homework is done with and packed away in his backpack! Yesterday, we had yet another argument (or fight!). His school dance teacher has asked the kids to get their photos clicked in a few different expressions. For example, sad, happy, scared and so on. These pics have to be printed and collated into an "expressions book". I asked Ads why his teacher couldn't have just asked each child to show these facial expressions in class, wasn't that better than asking them to make a booklet and all. C'mon, this way she was passing on most of the work to the parents. Ads didn't like my tone and once again lamented "Amma is always fighting with me!". I made a ppt file of his photos and asked S to print it. S added his own touches to the file and when he showed it to me, I warned him that this is not what the teacher had asked for, and therefore Ads was going to throw a fit. Never mind if what S had done was more creative than what the teacher had asked for. Expectedly, Ads did say this: "Aiyo, see what Appa has done!"

Monday 12 September 2011


I've been thinking, lately, about traditions, their importance and what kind of traditions I am, or should be, passing on to my kids. Anybody who reads this blog knows that I am the kind of mom who over-analyzes everything - what my kids said, did and feel, what I said, did and feel, and how everything ties up (or doesn't!) together! As much as I think I'm a pretty well-sorted out person, there's a time of year, which is the time all the festivals come around, when I tend to get a little muddled. So help me out here folks, by lending your ears  eyes and please chip in with helpful comments :)
So, first, the disclaimers and the background. S and I are not at all religious. I believe religion evolved in various civilizations in response to the need to evolve codes of conduct, lines of duty, and accepted behaviour to ensure a well-ordered and well-functioning society. Rituals, privileges (or lack thereof), customs came later, largely evolving and mutating as responses to shifts in power balance between different groups of people (call them races, tribes, communities, whatever). The creation of legal systems (laws), formal government and administrative apparatuses have made religion, in my view, completely obselete. Be that as it may, these are matters of faith and what people believe to be corporeal duties designed to ensure their heavenly ascent (I'm not even going there). I'm not averse to going to the odd temple but I would do it to appease/please someone in the family and not because I want to go there and fold my hands in front of the presiding diety and pray for some worldly achievement/good. I've had a few interesting convos with Ads about this and more about that in a separate post!
The thing is, religion has become so intertwined with culture that many a time, the two are almost seen as synonymous even though such is not the case. This bothers me. I'm fine with reading the Ramayana as a seminal classic and epic poem, not as a religious text. Rama is a mythological hero - I can deal with that, but not with Rama as an incarnation of Vishnu to be worshipped and venerated. This is precisely the reason why when it comes festivals, I fail to muster any steam for celebration. I enter into Deepavali and Navarathri with gusto - I can assemble a Golu, prepare the sundal, brighten the house with lamps/candles, burst crackers - as long as I am not expected to do the expected pujas and rituals. Other festivals like Krishna Jayanthi (Janmashthami) and Vinayaka Chaturthi fall by the wayside simply because they do not offer me a non-religious outlet to celebrate them. Take Pongal - I fail to see the relevance of a harvest festival to city-bred louts like me :)
So, tell me folks. How important is it to establish family 'traditions' in your kids' life? Are they important at all? Are they just overrated? I've heard people say that they celebrate festivals together as a family in a certain way every year and that's their 'tradition'. I confess hesitantly to a wholly illogical inferiority complex (aah...the  head knows, but the heart doesn't!!) when I hear of people doing such a great job of celebrating our festivals, observing all the customs and involving their kids in the whole process. I think the traditions I need to impart to my kids are indistinguishable from shared values and ethics - honesty, integrity, empathy, respect for others, and so on. Yes, that would involve respect for other's faiths and religious beliefs as well. Our family traditions are a shared love for books, experimentation with different cuisines, a healthy appreciation for the arts, exploration and travel! Deciding to take a family vacation during the long Deepavali weekend (and skipping the festival altogether, maybe) - is it such a bad thing?
I'm not sending my kids to the Bal Vihar classes here in our complex although everyone and his mother is attending them because learning a few slokas and bhajans which they don't understand directly clashes with my beliefs. When my kids are old enough to make decisions on their faith and religion, by all means they can learn and absorb all that they want. I'd rather send them to Carnatic music classes instead.  
So, what are your traditions? Are they all religion/culture-related or have you come up with wholly new and interesting traditions on your own? Have I over-analyzed the whole non-issue and missed the wood for all the trees? 

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Not a great idea to volunteer in my kids' class

It never goes well anytime I volunteer to do something with my kids' class in preschool. My part goes well, but my kids end up being so unhappy that I come away with no deep glow of self-satisfaction but with the memory of my child's eyes swimming in tears. It happened again today! Last week, Y's class teacher called to tell me that this week was "Language week" at school, and did I think I could come along and do some storytelling (in English) to Y's class? 
I acquiesced immediately. Back when I was only a mom-of-one and was also what is known as an enthu cutlet (!!), I had joined a playgroup in the Bay Area. A bunch of us, all of whom were first-time mommies got all fired-up about doing creative, educational activities with our kids (all between the ages of 2 and 2.5). We decided to meet once a week, in addition to the weekly playgroup that we used to attend, to attain this lofty objective. I smile when I think about how it wasn't enough for me to let my 2-year old play in the sand with a few toys. No, I had to go all out and make a list of themed activities to improve his motor skills, language skills and social skills :) Every member of the group would lead the activity every week, by rotation. We did this religiously for about 6 months until it was time for most of the kids to start preschool and then it was too difficult to coordinate our separate and often conflicting schedules. 
So, this time, all I had to do was pull up some google docs of previous activities which I had done with this group, and customize it a little bit. I chose a jungle theme and decided to read 3 books, play 2 games, sing 2 songs and end on a calmer note with some colouring activity. 
So far so good. However, as it used to happen with Ads, Y got pretty miffed with all the attention her mommy was receiving from her classmates, and the attention and smiles her mommy was bestowing on other kids. She was not clingy, but cried a lot during the 90 minutes that I was there and when I was leaving, she wailed because I'd said bye to all the other kids but not to her! I'd in fact already said a separate goodbye to her earlier, but who was to argue with her? :(
Y is a pretty strong kid, mentally and emotionally, unlike Ads who can switch on the water-faucet at the drop of a hat. This means that I tend to discount his tears and take hers much more seriously because when she cries, it means she's really really upset.
I'm not sure I'll do stuff with her class again. It doesn't feel good at all!

Sunday 4 September 2011

The birthday

My birthday was a couple of days ago. I'm not big on birthday celebrations anyway (What??? You didn't know that already??!! :)) but I will readily admit that the influx of phone calls, emails and texts made me feel really good! Especially all those friends and relatives who took the trouble to make a short phone call to wish me. I've loved my 30s so far. It's been much better for me than my 20s. One of my good friends was surprised to hear this and she said "But, we had so much fun in our 20s!". Which is only kinda true, really. A lot of the defining moments and stages of my life happened in my 20s - the undergrad, the b-school, the career, the finding-of-the-soulmate, the marriage, and the mommyhood (yes my 30th birthday was the one I don't like to remember, I was in so much post-partum pain that day!). Several of my best friends are from my 20s. Yes, I did have a lot of fun. But I was still finding myself. I was still parroting the opinions and values of others. I didn't yet have my own voice, which came to me only after I turned 30. I wouldn't say motherhood was a defining transition point but it did hasten the process of me understanding who I am and what I wanted to be. I've done things my way, learnt not to let other's opinions matter as much as they used to, learnt to brush off criticism and learnt to speak up for myself. Just a matter of ageing and growing up, you say? Sure! But the fact is, I couldn't do any of these things when I was a callow 20-something.
So, the 30s are special in that way. Also, I think I look better now than in my 20s and also have a strong sneaking feeling that it's all downhill from here on, so that's another reason to be happy :)
I celebrated by not exercising (hey, its my birthday, I shouldn't have to do stuff I dislike!). Ads made me a cute card. He's been making it behind closed doors for the last 2 days, in fits and spurts. I was commanded not to peek inside his room, ever. He spoilt the surprise somewhat by popping up every now and then to ask me the spellings of "birth", "Aparna" and "dear". My "gift" was the contents of his piggy bank - some 10 rupee notes and several coins of foreign currency which S had discarded :)
A day after my birthday, he came and gave me the card that Y had made, along with him. They'd both forgotten about it! Kids!!!