Friday 31 August 2012

Moms Diaries Posts

I've been writing for Mom&Me, the chain of baby stores started by Mahindra Retail, for a while now. They have a bunch of other moms blogging as well.
Here's my latest post about Sibling squabbles.

Thursday 30 August 2012

Thank you everyday

Y and I have developed a nightly bedtime routine. We snuggle in bed and I quiz her. Nothing "difficult" like questions about animals and numbers, but phonics and alphabets are a current favourite. Then we say Thank You to each other for all the good things that have happened that day. For example, I'll say, Thank you for being a good girl today.
Then it's her turn. She says, Thank you for the noodles that you packed for lunch.
Me: Thank you for putting away your toys.
Y: Thank you for letting me watch Chota Bheem.
Me: Thank you for being so cute.
Y: Thank you for saying that.
The last thank you cracked me up :) So now she says it everyday, right at the end when she doesn't know what else to be thankful for :)
The poor thing has been sick for the last week, going on for 10 days now. She has been diagnosed with typhoid. I do have to be grateful to her for being such a good patient kid who downs her medication without any complaint, who doesn't ask for any junk food, who stays quiet as a mouse when I am on a call and who rests whenever I ask her to.
Thank you, girl!

Monday 27 August 2012


My baby boy is 7! SEVEN!
Ok ok.....why am I exclaiming over this?! I knew he would have to eventually get there, but somehow it seems a little unreal. Every birthday does.
Nothing much has changed between 6 and 7. My boy is still thin, lanky, bright, sensitive, emotional, responsible, hardworking, imaginative, affectionate (very!), compliant and obedient. He's also become a bit more street-smart, a little less trusting and doormat-ish. His best friend is a kid a whole year older than him, a brash boy who can be just a little too aggressive at times. He ends up in scuffles with many of the other kids in the complex. He tried to intimidate Ads too but over the last few months I see how well Ads is holding his own. While the other kid tends to dominate, he never gets his way all the time and Ads seems to be pushing back at all the right moments. My boy is learning all the lessons I wanted him to learn.
I've asked him to do one thing for me this year. Now that he's a big boy and all. I've asked him to please please please stop throwing tantrums because he's too old for them and really, this mommy can't deal with them any more. I have no patience, no energy, nothing to deal with the one-a-day-average. He's promised. We'll see how this resolution pans out!
The one significant change that has taken place is the interest/obsession with wildlife. We started with the big cats, moved onto marine creatures and are now deep into dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. The fallout of this has been that he has stopped playing with his toys. No Lego, no cars or trucks, no board games, no beyblades and no ball games. He has tiny wild animal toys and I bought him a set of marine mammals for his birthday so he is generally to be found playing with those. Either that, or else reading and writing about them! (Ms Y apes her brother in most respects so she has stopped playing with her toys too!).
After last year's unconventional birthday celebration, we went the whole hog this year and invited about 10 kids to a simple birthday party at home. A lion-themed cake, pizza, cheesy garlic bread, juice, a few party games and lots of running around made for one fun evening. Y nearly got trampled several times as the boys rushed to the door whenever someone rang the bell and as they played hockey, badminton and footie inside the house! She asked me "Amma, why are they so loud?"
Happy birthday, my darling.
In his EVS class, the kids were asked to create a wishlist. Ads' top two wishes were Peace of Mind and Children! I was zapped at the first one. Didn't he have peace of mind now? Does he even know what peace of mind is? His response: Amma, our teacher said that was on the top of her wishlist so I just copied it!
And children? What if they are pesky naughty brats?
Its ok amma, I think they will be good like me!
Ending this post with some of his recent art and writing work.

Drawing of a Great White Shark and on the right, the teeth of a Megaladon

The first sheet of a booklet on dinosaurs

Inside sheet - fact file on dinos

A rough and incomplete sketch of a lion

A one-off sketch!

Killer whale skeleton

Latest interest - making tables of the largest/heaviest/fastest animals and birds, the ones with the biggest bite forces etc etc

Monday 20 August 2012

A weekend in Lucknow

I generally dislike travelling in August, that muggiest of all months here in North India. The humidity levels would put even my hometown Chennai to shame! However, personal likes and dislikes aside, we've always ended up doing atleast one trip this month every year because of all the long weekends that arrive around this time.
We arrived in Lucknow one muggy afternoon. Mercifully there was some rain to bring down the temperature, even if only temporarily. After a quick lunch, we set out for our first stop, the Bara Imambara. The guides here are really pesky and intrusive and it required all of our rudeness to fob them off! The children enjoyed running around in the huge empty spaces while S and I walked around absorbing some Nawabi atmosphere. 

The entry to the Bada Imambara.
Burning off some excess energy

Lovely candelabras.

Look at that lovely candle sconce!

We then moved to shop till we dropped :) Salwar kurtas, shirts and kurtas for the boys, a saree, even a lovely bedsheet and pillowcases. Due to the unrest in the old areas of the city the previous day, we were warned against shopping in Aminabad and Chowk, which is where you get the bargains. But it worked out for the best because walking through narrow smelly streets in the rain would not have been anyone's cup of tea. As it happened, the kids worked up a perfect storm in the very nice shop that we patronised. I thanked our stars that we were the only customers at that time because for a full hour, they made perfect pests of themselves! The staff looked on with a very indulgent eye even as I was itching to spank my own kids! Methinks that they took the famous Lucknowi tehzeeb to another level altogether!
The rain still dropping in buckets, we had no option but to head back to our hotel for some much needed rest, since all of us had had a very early start that morning. The next day, we headed out in a leisurely fashion, around lunchtime, to first partake of some authentic Awadhi cuisine. Having stuffed ourselves to the gills with kababs and biryani, we drove to the Kukrail picnic spot where Ads wanted to see the Gharial Conservation Center. It was really HOT and humid and all I wanted to do was sink into the cool pond just like the crocodiles were doing. 

Having ogled our fill at the creepy-crawlies, all we would do was find a shady spot, get some icy-cold drinks and sink down into the grass for some time while the kids ran around. Where do they get the energy from??? I could barely stay upright!
Our next stop was the Residency, which funnily enough my family had never visited all the years we lived in the city. The Residency complex is set amidst green lush manicured lawns. Every building, from Dr. Fayrer's house to the Treasury to the banqueting hall, bear signs of extensive shelling and most of the buildings are left in their almost-fallen-down state. There is a small but interesting museum which details the events leading upto to the seige of Lucknow, and it's aftermath.

Being the lazy people that we are, even here we spent a lot of time on our backs in the lovely lawns, just gazing at the sky and the trees while Y plaintively kept asking "Why aren't we walking around?" We also sampled some chaat - brilliantly flavoured aloo tikkis, khasta chaat and golgappes. I have to say I don't care for the North-Indian golgappes all that much, much preferring their superior versions - panipuri in Mumbai and puchkas in Calcutta. But the aloo tikkis were yummmm...I can still taste them on my tongue several hours later :) I went back to see my old school. Unfortunately it was closed. I tried to peek inside and what I could see seemed just the way I remembered.
So these were the highlights of our weekend in Lucknow. We arrived back this morning bushed and drained from all that walking around in the humidity. Happy to sleep in my own bed tonight!

Tuesday 14 August 2012

The past revisited - Lucknow

When S suggested a few weeks ago that we plan a trip to Lucknow, I balked. Who goes to Lucknow? ( not quoting any facts or anything here...I am sure lots of tourists go to Lucknow, but nobody I know has ever gone there on a holiday. Except all of my relatives I think, who visited when we lived there for a few years back in the 80s).
Anyway, I don't like to revisit places that I've been to already. Life is way too short for that. The only and most honourable exception would be New Zealand (and I have a 10 year visa - yaaay!!). S insisted. "But there must be many places to see in Lucknow." Sure, there are. There's the Bada and Chota Imambaras. There's the British Residency. Oh wait, there's also Kukrail Reserve forest which has the Kukrail Ghariyal Conservation Center, of particular interest now that Ads has dived deep into Crocodilians. There's shopping, especially for exquisite Chikanari work. There's pigging on aloo tikkis at Hazratganj market, though I wasn't sure my stomach could take it now.
Come to think of it, I had very distinct memories associated with Lucknow. We moved there when I was around 9, the age from which onwards my memories of places, people and events is reasonably sharp. I remember many of my teachers in the two schools I studied in those three years. I remember being in 7th grade and begging my parents for a bicycle to ride to school, which they bought without a fuss. I remember being horribly embarrased when my dad deputed his peon/attendant from the bank to accompany me every single day to school. Guddu would follow me on his cycle as I meandered through roads broad and narrow to reach my school. At the age of 11-12, it was mortifying to have a bodyguard! Looking back though, I am amazed at my parents' guts in sending me to school like that. I wouldn't do it with Ads or Y! Perhaps the world was a better safer place then?
It did not seem that way in 1984 when Indira Gandhi was assassinated and the anti-Sikh riots broke out. I remember being shut up at home, being acutely and miserably aware that it was rioting outside, and that people were being beaten and killed outside on the streets. I am sure my parents were extremely tense. Armed mobs were barging into every house, demanding to know whether the families inside were harbouring any Sikhs. Amma told me to open my diary and write Sri Ramajayam as many times as I could. It was a smart way to distract a frightened child - I wrote pages! I can't imagine how I would handle a similar situation without losing my head completely.
My happiest memory of Lucknow is ├ín incident which I doubt my parents will even remember. Even if they did, they would not imagine that it figures as one of my happiest memories ever. Strange isn't it? I often wonder what my childrens' happiest and saddest moments so far would be. Is it what I think they are or is it something else entirely, which I had paid scant attenton to? My father had been travelling. I think he had been to Calcutta and perhaps he had been to the Calcutta Book Fair. It's hard to be sure. Anyway, he had picked up something for both me and my brother (I think it was a gift for my having stood 1st in the final exam - something like that anyway), and my parents decided that it would be a nice touch to give me a surprise. One of them shaded my eyes with their hands. That gesture in itself was a dramatic flourish quite uncharacteristic of them! I can even now hear my mother's voice saying "Look at her face." They uncovered my eyes and what do I see - a brand new omnibus of the entire short stories of Sherlock Holmes. I was thrilled, overwhelmed, over the moon! a) I loved reading. b) I had recently got hooked on Sherlock Holmes. c) One did not get fat and obviously expensive books every day. And both mom and dad were grinning away, their pleasure magnified by my gratifyingly surprised and ecstatic reaction.
That book (I still have it) has given me hours of reading pleasure to the extent that it is sadly dog-eared, frayed and almost falling apart now. I keep meaning to get it bound now but have not got around to it yet. There have been many books gifted to me after that, but this one gift will remain really special.
Lucknow sure has some strong associations in my mind! We are going there soon and I am sure it has changed beyond recognition. We'll go look at my old school. We will go to Kukrail where we had so many picnics. I'll shop for chikan. Maybe, just maybe, I'll see or smell something that will bring back more memories!

Friday 10 August 2012

A day in my life

The life of a working mum:
5.15 am: Wake up to have a quiet cup of chai before the madness starts. Read the newspaper.
5.30 - 6.15 am: Start cooking and packing lunch dabbas for 3 people (me, Ads, Y - husband not being around is a bonus in this aspect - one less to do!). As things simmer on the gas, get going on the laundry, laying out uniforms etc etc.
6.15 - 6.40 am: Wake up Ads, supervise teeth-brushing. Eat my breakfast while he sips his milk.
6.45 - 7.15 am: Help Ads with geting ready, prepare and serve breakfast. Cuddle a morning-blues Y if she wakes up while making sure Ads doesn't feel left out :)
7.15 am: Accompany Ads to bus-stop if Y is awake. If she is still asleep, he goes solo.
7.30 - 9 am - Repeat morning routine with Y while getting ready for work myself; pray silently that my house-help will land up.
9-9.10 am: Leave the house with Y and all our luggage (laptop bag, Y's backpack, my lunch, her lunch), see her off to school and immediately leave for work
9.45 am: Reach work.
2.15 pm: My outer limit for leaving the office else I'm not going to reach home in time for school bus drop-off.
2.50 am: Reach home, drop my stuff in the flat and rush back to bus-stop to retrieve the 2 kids :)
3-4 pm: Washing up, milk-drinking and general catching up with kids.
4-4.30 pm: Attempt to take a 20 min power nap (husband's brilliant idea). Have failed consistently due to screaming matches between kids, potty breaks, doorbell ringing etc.
4.30 pm or earlier - 6 pm: Start preparing evening snack for kids. Cut fruits for Ads tennis class (they have a snack break). Wait for cook to arrive. Supervise Ads' homework if any.
6 - 7 pm - Hopefully dinner is prepared by this time. See off Ads at swim or tennis class, take Y to park. Catch up with mommy friends/neighbours.
7 pm: Buy milk and other staples for next day. Head home.
7-7.30 pm - Bath-time.
7.30-8 pm: Dinner time and cleaning up.
8 - 8.30 pm - Cuddling in bed, quiz time, "discussion"time (with Ads!) and finally bed-time.
8.30 - 10 pm - Catch up with work and emails.
It's exhausting. A lot of people don't realize that flex-working means, in the end, a lot more work. You have to be more efficient (no idle gossiping over the office water-cooler!) and you are never disconnected from work, even at home. I like my schedule even though it gets crazy at times. I've never believed in the quality time argument; for me, quality and quantity are must-haves. This way, I get more time to be with the kids. I like to be there waiting for them when they get off the school bus. I like to listen to their childish prattle as they relive their day in school. And as much as I may crib about it, even their squabbles are something I wouldn't want to miss!
The bottomline is I am grateful to be doing good work when so many others don't get such opportunities. I'm neck-deep in recruiting for my office now since we are doubling our staff strength and I am meeting so many women who are looking for flexible schedules, have been in fact hunting for that elusive opportunity for years and have not reached there yet. It beats a couple of my previous jobs anyway where I was far less physically spent than I am now, yet the prospect of getting out of bed every morning and facing another day in the office was sheer misery.
I don't know how long this run will continue - hopefully for a few more years. I would hate to have to be in an office 9 to 6, however fantastic the work is and however awesome the pay packet (For the record, my pay truly sucks!).
Childhoods are too fleeting. This time around, my fingers are well and truly crossed.

Rakhi 2012

I always get unreasonably excited about Rakhi. Especially now that the kids squabble so much. It seems like there is low-level skirmish going on all the time, which frequently bursts out in the form of explosive warfare. I'm not enjoying this phase in the sibling relationship. I am told by more experienced parents that this might well continue for several more years.
My brother said when I told him about this "I thought Ads-Y were very harmonious?" Well, yes, they are, by and large. They share really well, they love each other to bits and Ads is Y's hero, no doubt about that. Yet between his evolution into the pesky teasing elder brother and her tendency of not giving an inch, I'm going more than a little nuts.
So Rakhi signalled a temporary truce between the two warring factions! This year, the kids took out money from their little piggy-banks to buy books for each other. We made Rakhis at home well in advance, with paper, glue and old lace. Y prepared the Thali for the pooja with a lamp and sweets. She applied the tilak on her brother's forehead and they tied Rakhis on each other's wrists and fed sweets to each other.
Thus went our improvised version of this tradition. I explained to them the significance of the festival and they listened with rapt attention, but soon got back to regular programming :)
Oh well. Atleast I tried :)

Thursday 2 August 2012

It takes a village.......

It really does.
I fondly remember my excellent support system in the US, which swung into action when I was in my first trimester with Y. Ads was barely two and a quarter years old and I was suffering from the most debilitating exhaustion and the most intense nausea. It was impossible to stay upright for more than a few minutes. All I could eat were a few crackers in the morning (if I didn’t throw those up). Staying vertical for the few minutes it took to microwave some oatmeal for Ads’ breakfast or some mac-and-cheese for his lunch was absolute torture. The poor darling took it in his stride. Amma wasn’t well and that was it. Racked by guilt and unable to manage on the limited support S was able to extend at that point, I sent out a desperate plea for help to my mommy friends. These were Belgian, French, British, Irish, Korean, Lebanese and quite a few others apart from native Californians who were in the moms club that I was a part of.
Within a few hours, pat came a phone call and email with a neat schedule of hot meals and playdates for Ads. Every couple of days, a friend and her kid or kids would land up with a meal (that would tide us over the next 2 days). They would whisk Ads away for a few hours of frolic while I got some much-needed rest. This continued for a month or so until I entered my second trimester and felt able to join the world again. I was able to return the favour not just once but many many times to the same women, when they had babies, fell sick, had an emergency etc etc. In a country where hired help is expensive and hard to find and family often is unavailable to help, I learnt to reach out and ask for assistance even from people I didn’t know that well.
From that time on, I understood the real meaning of the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child”. I have never since hesitated to ask for help in rearing my kids. Whether it is from the husband, parents and in-laws or friends, I have reached out many a time when I needed some childcare. Other than a few rare instances, when I asked, I did receive. Case in point – the recent collapse of the Northern Grid. On the first day, I didn’t even  realize something was amiss until I reached the office and was told that colleagues had not had power since 2 am (we have back-up in the flat and the news didn’t make the morning papers). On the way back home, I got stuck in the Metro. Frantic calls were made to a friend who volunteered to pick up Ads from the bus-stop and hold him till I arrived. The next day, it was the same situation all over again. I was at a meeting with my phone on silent mode when the guy we were meeting told us the grid had collapsed again. Oh no!! I quickly checked my phone, to find several messages from friends – Where are you? Metro’s stopped again- do you know? When will you get back? Do you want me to pick up Ads/Y?
I was beyond touched. Just then a friend/neighbour called to give me the latest news as shown on TV. All ended well - the trains resumed service and I rushed back home immediately. But it was very reassuring to know that even if I had got stuck somewhere, there were enough hands on board to keep my children safe.
We all need a good support system. Some have it handed to us on a platter – read handily-available parents/in-laws/relatives. Some of us have to create one from scratch. Many of us try to be supermoms without realizing that our energies would be better spent in trying to be better networked, more helpful to others in need, and most importantly, learning to ask for help!