Tuesday 29 January 2013

And so it begins....

So I've been working with Ads on the Math and Cyber Olympiad worksheets (IMO and ICO) for the past 1 year. It has not been intensive, just a couple of worksheets every other weekend. Considering we have been travelling every other weekend as well, it does not amount to much (though I'm sure Ads will beg to differ!). Now the thing is that since we were particular to admit him in a low-pressure academic environment, there's not much that he's been taught in Math uptil now (Grade 2). Much being a relative term of course. He can read the time, and do simple addition and subtraction. They just started multiplication tables. Anything other than these is a bit of stretch frankly; which is perfectly fine until you run into a kid from PSBB (Chennai) or Singapore or Hong Kong - then watch my (temporary) palpitations!!!
So anyway, I quite like the IMO worksheets and the exam pattern because it's a bit of a stretch, but not too much. There are 50 questions to be done in 90 minutes - it's not a big deal but it's no walk in the park either. Some of the questions are a little tricky so you need to know the underlying concepts rather than just rely on speed and arithmetical ability. Ads' school enters only 3rd grade upwards for the Olympiads but they register their students for the National Science Talent Search Exam from Grade 1 upwards. I duly registered Ads. Half of the questions in the NSTSE are on Science so his level of interest was also higher than for IMO.
Now even before he went to write the test, I was sure his performance would be average. I know my son is exceptionally bright and curious. He can talk to you about the Industrial Revolution, WWII, mythology (Greek, Roman and Indian), the race to the moon, obscure dinosaurs, prehistoric creatures and the top 10 endangered species, to name a few of his current favourite topics. I'm not bragging, but his breadth of knowledge relative to his age is staggering. It's a different matter that he still spills more food on the ground than goes into his mouth, and the other day he did not eat his pasta lunch because Appa forgot to pack a fork and he was too silly to think of alternative solutions! When we pointed out the ten things he could have done, not to mention eaten the damn lunch with his fingers, his eyes filled with large tears :)
Anyways, I digress. S and I had a heated argument post the test, when I was correcting the answer sheet and telling Ads where he'd gone wrong. There were a lot of silly mistakes and nothing hets me up like carelessness. He got so many answers wrong in Science, which is supposed to be his strong suit. Being lazy and forgetting to cross-check your answers or worse, misreading the question and getting the answer wrong, is unacceptable to me. The husband said:
He's in Grade 2. Give him a break.
Don't turn into Tiger mom.
It's important to get concepts right. He can be tops in speed and calculation but are we testing what he knows or only interested in what he scores?
The only thing important right now is NOT to destroy his love of learning. By drilling him in Math, maybe you are doing just that.
It hurt a little bit. My point was only that while I agree with whatever S said (and hotly contest that I am turning into Tiger mom...does he even know what a tiger mom is???? They are the folks that come to baby ballet and lie down on the floor with their babies and do all the ballet steps while me and all the other babies look on, bemused), in the real world you need to have a good grasp of concepts and speed and intellectual curiosity/desire to learn. 
The one thing that Amy Chua pointed out in her book that really resonated with me is that if you allow kids to do whatever they want, all they'll do is watch video games and eat junk food all day. Is that ideal? Obviously not. I approached the competitive exams in much the same way. Ads will not like it, but he'll have to lump it.
I realize that, for parents, achieving that balance is crucial and akin to walking a fine line. S probably thinks I may jump to the wrong side of the line very soon! (He has no idea how very far I am from it). In all this tussle, the only certainty is that we will be revisiting this topic many many more times over the next few years until my kids graduate.

Random thoughts on random people

I decided sometime last year or the year before, that I was going to prune my life of superfluous, superficial, negative and toxic relationships. I did not wake up one day and resolve to do this - though I should have, and a long time ago! It is something that has happened quite organically over a period of time. I've stopped investing time and effort in maintaining friendships that were chugging along on the steam of nostalgia ("old times' sake!"), and where the entire onus of keeping the relationship alive and kicking had fallen on me alone. I've stopped being bothered by people who ignore me and patronize me or my family.
Keep it distant but keep it cordial (like my mom says, it doesn't cost you anything to be nice).
So far (touchwood), I haven't been in a position where someone has tested my limits; but on the other hand, my limits themselves have been expanding, which is a good thing.
I recently had a pretty surreal experiencing of spending 3 days travelling with someone who would not speak to me. I don't know what the problem is or what I am supposed to have done. We shared a hotel room over 3 days (and about 20 words in total!), and there were a lot of meals with both of us looking in opposite directions and eating in perfect silence! My two-years-younger self would have been deeply hurt. I'm happy to report that I am far more thick-skinned now and I played my part in the cold war as best as I knew how - Distant but cordial (!!). The husband asked me why I did not ask upfront what the problem was. But really - why should I? If you have a problem with me, then tell me what it is. Why should I agonize over an imaginary or trivial problem that you have? I don't have a problem with you, so I will be polite but I won't force my company or my conversation on you.
Like I tell Ads many a time - Stop sulking and crying. Go to the other room and calm down. Then tell me what your problem is. 
Sometimes it seems like some people never grow up!!
PS: 3 days without talk created a mini-Vipasana-like experience which I am happy to say I coasted through :)

Tuesday 22 January 2013

A guest post - on change and adapting to it

The Girl Next Door very sweetly asked me to write a guest post on her blog. I had to rack my brains for a couple of weeks to come up with a suitable topic. What I started to think of writing and what finally came out were two very different things; but anyhow, I had fun penning down my thoughts! Here's the post -
Thanks, TGND, for reaching out not to mention that very nice intro :)

Saturday 19 January 2013

Saving all that artwork

Sharing my latest post on Mom's Diaries.

Many kids bring a lot of artistic creations home from school. And if your kids are like mine, they would generate a whole lot of art and craft work at home as well. Doodles and scribblings on paper, cardboard-box and thermocole cut-outs, and assorted keepsakes and birthday cards can require a sizeable amount of storage space! What do you do with all that stuff?? Over the years, I have devised a system that works quite well for us and saves space and sanity!
1. Differentiate between what’s precious and what’s junk. Even the fondest mother knows that a lot of what kids scribble is – ok, call me hard-hearted – just garbage. Many a time, my son has been trying out an idea and it takes him several reams of paper before he gets it right. Or my daughter has been scribbling the alphabet on a scrap of paper, over and over again. Do a quick scan at a designated time every day (I do mine last thing at night) and mercilessly throw out what’s not worth keeping.
2. Create a temporary storage space for artwork. Each of my kids gets a large transparent folder and a box to put their artwork in. Ensure all the artwork that you want to keep goes into one of these.
3. Every month, set aside a day to review what’s been stored. I usually approach this task with a calendar in my mind. Are there any birthdays approaching in the next month? Any festivals? Special occasions like Teacher’s day? I review the artwork with each of my kids and if we need to make cards or momentos, we reuse what’s already been created by them. So for Teacher’s day, they may just pick up some drawing, paste it on card stock, decorate with markers and glitter and voila!  We’ve even used artwork as personalised gift-wrapping paper instead of buying fresh paper; there are tons of such ideas for creative recycling!
4. Every couple of months (I do this every quarter) should be archival day. I do one of two things - either click pics of all the artwork or scan them. The digital files go into a special folder on my laptop and are immediately transferred into my external hard disk as well. If you are running out of temporary storage space, transfer all the artwork to a larger box and leave it in the loft/store-room.
5. Use artwork as room decor. My kid’s work is displayed in my living room, on the fridge, in our bedroom and of course up on the walls in their own room. One year, I pasted my son’s artwork all over the living room for his birthday party. It made for a lot of interesting conversation! I’ve known parents who laminated drawings to make lovely place-mats  create collages to frame and display on the wall, and even hung drawings on clotheslines string across their child’s room. The possibilities are endless!
It’s a real pleasure to look back years or even months later and smile over the products of those grubby little hands. I’d love to know how you save the fruits of your child’s creativity.  

Thursday 17 January 2013

Cosleeping - still!

We’ve been co-sleeping with our kids since they were born. Co-sleeping – I smile as I write this. In our home it has just meant all of us piling onto the same bed and stretching out any which way higgledy-piggledy :) It was never a conscious decision, just something that made immense sense especially since both the kids breastfed extensively and well into their ones and twos and also because Ads was an extremely colicky child and it was impossible to put him down in a separate crib even if we had wanted to. Plus – we liked it – it was and has been as simple as that.
For the past year or so, I’ve longed (on and off) to reclaim my own space atleast while sleeping during the night; but did not actively do anything about it until a short while ago when I finally succeeded in getting the kids to sleep in a separate room.
But as a parent I am nothing if not inconsistent (!) and thanks in no small measure to the husband messing up my well-laid plans, I am now back to “co-sleeping”! Not that I am complaining during the cold long winter nights when I have two soft warm bodies to cuddle upto!
S and I used to find it amusing when a cousin confessed that their sons – 10 years and 7 years old – still shared their bed. The time for amusement may be fast over – my kids don’t have too long to hit that age milestone and Ads is there already. Surely I won’t be sharing my bed with the kids when they are 10 and 7 respectively....
Surely....surely not???!!!!

Friday 11 January 2013

Dilli ki sardi and an announcement

It's been almost 3 years that we moved to Delhi-NCR and finally, the lure of the Delhi winter is fading somewhat. Partly due to the fact that we've had the coldest winter in many decades this year (Gurgaon managed a cool zero degree minimum for 2 days running), partly because I'm getting older and not getting any exercise so when the cold wind blows, it hits me the spine, radiating waves of pain up down and along the sides of my back. 
So I posted my usual once-a-year fb update on how cold it was (we'd just had the coldest day in 44 years) and got the usual responses from people all over the globe. Why are you complaining? It's minus 5 here. You don't have to shovel snow. Come to Canada, its minus 15 here now.
Really, people. I don't naysay the many hardships of living in a truly cold country. But come to Delhi just for one winter. Stay in an apartment with really poor insulation, no hot running water unless you keep the geyser on all day, no central heating and non-carpet cold floors, and then tell me whether or not you're better off living in a centrally-heated and well-insulatedhome, having hot water on tap, wall-to-wall carpeting, and heated indoor public spaces.
There are days when being inside our flat is more miserable than being outside in the fresh air!
I was huddling near the room heater, wearing several woolly layers and talking to my parents on skype. They are currently in the east coast of the United States. My dad was in his shirt-sleeves and cheerfully told me - "It's minus 1 here today!"
Damn! :)
But - the silver lining. We will be moving to Bangalore in a few months. I'm still very conflicted about the decision. I love Delhi - it's food (beyond compare), it's shopping (umatched), it's history and monuments, it's parks - the list will go on and on. But Bangalore holds a very special place in my heart too. Plus I have lots of friends there, many more than in Delhi-NCR. Best of all, we will be so much closer to Chennai and the kids will get to visit with their grandparents so much more frequently. If that's not a silver lining, what is?

Monday 7 January 2013

Modern dentistry

I had to get a wisdom tooth extracted over the weekend. You know one always feel so nervous while heading to the dentist. I keep telling myself that I can do this...I've experienced and survived intense labour pangs and managed quite well (bar the yelling, as S reminds me, but that's a story for another day!!). Ads had to have a dental checkup too so I took him along.
Now this is one of those nice swanky places which charge you an arm and a leg. The upside is, courteous staff, coffee and tea on call, current magazines, piped music and those funky colourful chairs and equipment specially for kids. Ads was asked to lie down, given a pair of headphones and asked which channel he would like to watch while he was being examined. The LCD screen was stuck to a false ceiling a few feet above his head! He asked for Nat Geo. The doc said "Oh don't you want to watch cartoons?" Ads promptly replied "Cartoons don't give you any knowledge." Yeah that's his thing now. Knowledge. The lovely fiction books that I bought for him lie untouched since they are clearly for knowledge-unseeking folks!
I was forced asked to watch TV too. Unwisely, I gave in and agreed. The thing is, it all seems a little callous to me. It looks as though I couldn't care less about the state of my teeth if I'm watching Seinfeld while the dentist is busy drilling away. I mean, it's not like I'm getting a pedicure done! Half the time you can't see the screen anyway because the doc is bending over your mouth. You can't very well tell her "Hey doc, do you mind moving your hand, I'm missing all the punch lines here?" And then I dropped the remote every single time I moved forward to rinse and the doc had to bend and pick it up.
They did have some very advanced stuff to inject the local anaesthesia. Or maybe it's not advanced at all - it's been more than 7 years since I've been to a dentist for anything other than a routine check. I thought the injection would hurt, instead she used a vibrator on the gums while she injected and I felt nothing more than a teensy-weensy prick. The senior doc then came along and very casually wrested the tooth out. I felt a small tug and that was it.
Hail modern medicine! A 100% painless tooth extraction in the time it gets to watch an episode of Modern Family :)

Thursday 3 January 2013

My parenting scorecard in 2012 and the year gone by

My report card as a parent in 2012 is out! How has it been - well you can see my marks for yourself! I did not make very good grades. It was an interesting exercise, first to figure out what parameters were important to me as a measure of how well I do as a mom, and then grading myself honestly. Then I had to explain the criteria to Ads and get him to rate me. Not sure of how much he really understood; for example, "self-esteem" is not a concept he is familiar with and I had to elaborate. I think he got about 80% of it and the grades he gave me are more or less in line with what I expected him to think.
I'm glad 2012 is over. It has been an exhausting roller-coaster year just in terms of the sheer amount of activity we crammed into it.
The highs:
1. I didn't have to move house!! Yes that's a big plus for someone who moves almost every year :)
2. I started work, first part-time then rapidly transitioned to full-time. There has been lots of learning and a huge sense of purpose in doing work that has deep impact.
3. S got a huge break at work and is now doing something pretty exciting, and that makes me a very proud wife, more so because I feel that's where he belongs. We went to the same b-school but I've always felt he is leagues ahead in terms of intellectual ability. (There, I've said it! Can't take it back!)
4. The kids have progressed well in school especially Ads who has leapfrogged in many areas. Y has also become a lot more confident and vocal and her language skills (Hindi & English) have shown a definite upswing in the last 2 months.
5. We travelled like maniacs this year. 9 holidays, not counting our summer breaks in Chennai and Bangalore and work-related travel that took us to some very interesting places. S and I managed a first - a kid-free week in gorgeous Himachal and we hope to have a couple holiday like that every year.
The lows - well every high comes with it's lows doesn't it? :) I'm not complaining because the not-so-great bits have just been an obvious byproduct of some of the good things that happened. S's new job meant that he had to shuttle weekly between Bangalore and Delhi and so we only had him for the weekends. Being a single parent through the week and having to juggle a demanding full-time job and two kids has meant that I am constantly exhausted. The exercise routine has fallen by the wayside and there are days I am sleeping for the same number of hours as when the kids were infants. It has done nothing for my sanity, patience, health or looks, and I've complain often enough to the husband that I've aged more than a few years in the last 6-7 months.
Like I said, 2012 been a roller-coaster ride. While it's been mostly good and unfailingly exciting, I am ready to look forward to 2013, which will hopefully be a calmer twelve months with a lot more family time. Sometimes I feel that the year gone by just have us a sneak peak - a template of how life is going to be with growing children and increasing responsibility (parental, filial and financial).
There are only 2 resolutions for 2013.
1. Get more sleep.
2. Cut back on work. I honestly can't take this hard-charging routine for much longer. Ideally, figure out something with reduced work hours and/or work-from-home.
Should not be hard, should it? :)
Happy New Year, everybody!

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Enjoying some solitude

When the kids are around, I'm always groaning about how I have absolutely no time. I have a loooong list of things I could do if only I didn't have the kids behind me all the time.
Then my wish finally comes true...woohoo!!
And now there is unlimited time. Gloriously large chunks of it, left over even after I've gone to work and come back home. I wake up really late by my standards (7.30 am) and by 8.30 am I am bathed, breakfasted and ready for work. Heck, I've even read the newspaper page by page. The last time that happened was 7 years ago! I said, I have a lot of time. Too much of it, come to think of it.
What do I do with all that time?
Gosh, I'm wasting so much time!!!
Quick quick where's that list of stuff I wamted to do?
Ok, ok, no need to panic. The list is right here.
#1 - Meet friends for coffee. Great. Sounds like fun. Except that most friends have taken off on holiday during the winter break. The ones that are in town aren't picking up the phone. Losers.
#2 - Watch TV and movies without interruptions. Alright. This should be good. Wait. There's nothing on TV. Not a single thing worth watching. Also, I'm out of DVDs. Damn.
#3 - Go on a heritage walk and explore Delhi. What? In this cold miserable foggy weather? Are you crazy?
#4 - Organize closets, throw out junk, attack the kid's clutter-filled room. Tomorrow...I'll get this done tomorrow...
#5 - Roam around in the grocery store in peace, no need to rush home, check out all the new products. Why is this on the list - I thought this list was about doing fun stuff!!!
#6 - Call old friends, have long chats. Realize I have no old friends and the ones I have are on holiday. Boo hoo.
# 7 - Go shopping. Delhi has fun stuff happening all the time. Nah - It's just no fun to do this alone. Even if half of the roads were not blocked and the metro shut down.

Lest you think my life was the absolute pits, let me say it wasn't all that bad :(
  • I got a lot of time to catch up on my reading. I breezed through a good chunk of the Ramayana Series by Ashok Banker (review here), downloaded a few books on Kindle and generally did what I love doing best - read multiple books simultaneously :)
  • I had a lot of blogposts pending and completed all of those.
  • I met a friend at her place for some yummy dinner and we managed to have a nice long adult conversation with no interruptions.
  • My maid was very happy since she had hardly any work around the house and a happy maid makes for a happy employer :)
  • I was energetic enough to stay up till 11 pm (!) all days and could afford to laze around in bed until (gasp!) 8 am on the weekend. The pinnacle of luxury if you ask me.
It did take me some time to get used to the silence. I took me a couple of meals to slow down and not bolt down my food like I usually do. It also took a while to stop doing everything at express speed. It was a revelation that 24 hours in a day is quite a lot and when the kids are not around, it is more than ample for anything that you have to do! I also did not miss the constant refeering and breaking up of fights that are such an integral part of our home scene nowadays. 
It was a win-win situation for the kids as well. Chennai is always a magnet for them and being there with the whole extended family and cousins, at a time when the weather there is at it's nicest, was always going to make for a great vacation. As for S, he got to meet the whole clan at one shot and also bask in the glorified status of a single dad (Your wife is sooo lucky! You are such a great dad! Imagine managing the kids all by yourself!). Whatever - I'm willing to hand it to him as long as I get my free time every now and then :)
So the (expected) verdict is - a short break like this every now and then is really nice. Don't raise your expectations, don't expect to accomplish anything like a full month's work of pending items during a few days, just chill, watch movies, go for long walks, catch up with friends (but give them a heads-up in advance lets they all disappear like mine did!) and enjoy the silence :))