Category Archives: Parenting

A Competition Called Life

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Classroom

“Seize every minute of this day”

“Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going”

There is no dearth for motivation on social media. Reminder in 50s and 100s every morning is a good thing so that we put on our running shoes and throw ourselves into the breathless crowd that is racing against time to achieve set goals and targets.

On a weekend morning, we decided to seize the day treating ourselves to an early lunch followed by a visit to the shopping mall.

After clicking pictures with a robot that walked, talked, sang songs and did all that was expected of it, we took a cue from Sid and made our way to a bookstore to get our dose of food for the brain (while we seize the rest of the day).

Little Princess settles in the seating area with an improvised Peppa Pig storybook that appeared to be bigger than her and did a snort with every page turn.

Sid already had his nose in a fact finder.

It was then that we bumped into a friend who was leaving the store balancing a bag full of books. After the pleasantries, I enquired about his wife and son.

“They are at home preparing for his Olympiads” he said, “I am here to pick up some additional reference material for the KenDoku competition that is soon to follow.”

“Some books on logical thinking and the public speaking course that he takes,” he explained, “we let him play chess during his free time so a book to perfect the game too,” he finished.

I was reminded of the robot that we clicked pictures with as it had gone about perfecting all that was expected of it as the proud father gave us an account of the rigorous effort that went into preparing their son to keep pace with the pell-mell rush to stand out in the rising competition.

I looked at the husband hopelessly.

Sid spent his evening reading books, playing with friends, attempting hard to get a tennis ball across a net with a racquet – none of which qualified as academically enlightening.

Even his weekly swimming classes were not geared on getting him to swim the English Channel but to be able to save his life or another if a situation may arise.

Disappointed at being unable to exercise our bragging rights in this area of parenting, we bid him adieu after managing to lend our ear with a smiles and nods.

On our way back, I find myself questioning my ‘unambitious’ parenting ways.

Little Princess has learnt to snort.

Sid rants on about his new find – ‘Monday with the Mad Genius’ – a fact finder about Leonardo da Vinci. The ‘Salvator Mundi’ that was sold for $450.3 million has piqued his interest.

Questions and doubts that build up into a full-fledged quiz about his newly acquired knowledge ensues, leaving me fumbling and scrabbling at Google’s doorstep.

My son may be far from the mad rush of competition where children are dragged from pillar to post perfecting every task among the endless ones on offer, but I am glad that I find myself in this blissful scrabbling mess as Sid embraces childhood at his own pace – one fact finder at a time.

 

 

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Navigating the Parenting Labyrinth

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'Do you feel dominated by your mother?'

It is 9 PM on a school night. I peep into Sid’s room where peace and quiet has reigned beyond safety limits.

A quiet room with both my children inside it is the perfect recipe for disaster.

Disaster this time is a room that had transformed itself into a kabadiwala’s (junk dealer) warehouse with my distressed-looking son in its midst. Little Princess is creating another piece of art that should perfect the warehouse look.

“My Hindi project that has to be submitted tomorrow is missing,” he manages between tears.

When my phone had gone missing, I had spent the morning combing every corner of our home. The husband and Sid had managed to track it down to my handbag using iCloud.

It is a pity that iCloud will not help him track his project that had been painstakingly completed but misplaced due to his disorganized ways.

“You can start over. NOW.,” I say in my wagging-finger firm tone.

“But I remember keeping it with the Five-Star in the clear folder,” he explains.

“You have 12 hours left. Start over. Now. Now. Now,” I repeat like a broken tape recorder.

His tear-stained, sleepy eyes tug at my heart strings but this will be his lesson in organizing his ways.

Studies have shown that nagging mothers raise successful children and my son will gladly agree than I will be stiff competition for my Indian counterparts in the ‘nagging’ category.

The mention of Five-Star gets Little Princesses attention.

“I want Five Star. Now,” she concludes.

“A Five Star after your teeth have been brushed clean can turn creepy crawly germs into party animals that will spend the night feasting and digging wells in them,” I explain in my sweetest tone.

Nagging variations are improvised based on the situation, mood, age and place of occurrence.

“I want….,” she cries as I sense the beginning of a tantrum.

“Lets go find teddy and put you both to sleep,” I conclude firm on my decision as she seems to be on hers.

As authoritative parents who are willing to understand and reason with our children while firmly adhering to positive reinforcement and discipline, ‘No’ is a word in our parental dictionary that we sometimes use without actually saying the word.

 

Sid brandishes his marked and completed Hindi project the next evening.

“I did it better the second time,” he rejoices.

As of now, I know I have rented a space in his head with my firm tone and wagging-finger Mommy look for at least the next few weeks until he gets back to his disorganized ways.

“Self help is the best help,”,” I explain as he makes a hasty exit sparing himself the self-help lecture that I wish to impart.

I make a mental note to learn the use of iCloud in tracing my phone that does disappearing acts when I need it the most or my son will team up with the husband and I might find myself at the receiving end of the self-help lecture!

 

Counting my Blessings and Sharing Some

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On a recent day, a big plastic donation bag that had ‘Clothes for Compassion’ printed on it accompanied the day’s newspaper.

I embarked on the task of combing through the clothes that were put away.

Some were a delightful find as they tickled a long-lost memory, some were the privileged firsts and the others were a jab on my self esteem reminding me of the hopes that I harbored of fitting into them some day.

Suddenly, the sentiments attached to every piece of clothing superseded the need to warm a lesser fortunate person this winter.

A friend whom I visited recently had transformed her home into a museum dedicated to the many accolades and pieces of memory that celebrated her only daughter’s childhood – complete with the dates inscribed behind them.

Basking in the sun in her balcony was her daughter’s first potty chair with a tomato plant growing out of it.

It made me wonder if a harvest of tomatoes from the plant would relieve fond memories of the mornings that her daughter spent emptying her bowels on the sanitary throne.

So I politely took a rain check on her invitation to stay back for lunch.

As Mother considered her sole purpose on the Earth as cooking up delicacies for her family, decluttering was a hobby she picked up during our growing years when the many priced possessions that lay gathering dust exceeded the things that were actually in use.

Choosing a deserving owner from the maid, the watchman, the guy who exchanged a big bundle of clothes for a small steel vessel and the kabadiwala was a task she undertook during our absence.

Sharing is caring says Little Princess.

So, finding myself somewhere in between my friend and Mother, some precious memories and hopes have been (painstakingly) parted with, for these unused clothes will not only provide warmth to some less fortunate person this winter but may be a reason to light up someone’s face with a smile and create a beautiful memory once again!

 

 

The Internet of Cooking

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If cooking is art then Mother is my favorite artist.

Every dish that her magical hands whipped up acquired an ethereal grace that transcended even our gluttonous ways to appear beautiful.

When I left home, armed with a book detailing Mother’s recipes that could put Era Longhi’s grocery list to shame, I assumed that Mother’s genes and the precious book were all that I needed to whip up a perfect meal.

Within three days of my cooking expedition, the smoke alarm cheered on my efforts – not once but thrice. The same recipe yielded a fresh new dish every time – the only constant was the burnt brown color.

Years of trials ( or blunders) and my not-so-smart kitchen have strengthened both my cooking abilities as well as the husband’s digestive system.

In the kitchen of the future, cooking woes will go as far as toggling between applications on your phone that manage your smart kitchen appliances making it appear as if the Autobots and the Decepticons have ‘transformed’ their ways to whip up the perfect meal while you kick up your feet after a long day.

The camera in the oven will beam you live videos of the food that is cooking.

Your smart pan screams a warning if you have added more salt than recommended causing your hungry stomach to roll in panic but will soon uplift your spirits complimenting you with a “Marvelous” after you have flipped the pancake just right.

The smart refrigerator warns you about the expiring food inside it listing recipes conforming to your taste for the usage of the same.

As if all this is not spooky enough, experts are now working on aiding communication between these smart appliances.

If cooking is aimed higher than a boiling an egg then it is best recommended that kitchen novices work on strengthening their toggling skills for the shortest way to your partner’s heart is just a smart kitchen away!

What is in a Name?

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'My uncle is going to change his name. His name is Void. He has trouble signing checks.'

An Indian Marine Engineer, Saddam Hussain, was refused to be hired more than 40 times. Apparently, his grandfather’s idea to give his grandson a ‘powerful’ name spewed more power than intended. So he went to court and became Sajid.

But the wheels of bureaucracy are turning slowly – and so is his search for a job, reports a BBC article.

I chanced to meet an elderly couple at the airport when we were returning to Dubai. A smile was all it took to break the ice and get us talking. The elderly lady explained that her husband was a keen reader. They named their first born ‘Mona Lisa’ after the book that he was reading then.

I wondered aloud what book he must have been reading when their son was born and she explained that he had taken an interest in Indian Literature by then, hence the name ‘Suriya’ after the son God.

The lady must be relieved that the possibility of a third child was a slim possibility for them as the old man had his nose buried in ‘The World of Vikings’ by Justin Pollard!

Sid’s first words were ‘Igga’. It took a while for the new mother in me to grasp that my son was addressing me.

A friend hinted that ‘Igga’ was a reference for mother used by an ancient tribal group. This explanation was creepy than enlightening, but the husband found it funny.

I wondered if my un-evolved trait of amassing mud pots and pans or the fact that my children’s bizarre conquests and ideas that automatically caused my voice to rise a few decibels higher than is expected of a civilized mother had something to do with my tribal roots.

Luckily, the years have shown that my son is every bit civilized (at least for his age) but the name he chooses to address his mother remains unchanged.

How much does our name have significance in our life?

The first piece of information we have about a person is their name. How often do we get judged only by our names?

A girl named ‘Yamini’ (meaning night) could turn out to be as bright and cheery as a sunny day and a boy named ‘Khush’ (meaning happy) would sulk at the drop of a hat.

Will Michael with a surname Jackson be expected to do a moonwalk as his first baby steps or will the helpless Indian Saddam Hussain be accused of taking over as a dictator at his place of work?

But as the great Bard, one of the first names in Literature- William Shakespeare, once said, “What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

Hello Friends, hope you all had a wonderful and safe Diwali. It is never too late to wish you and your lovely families all prosperity and joy this festive reason.  Hope this post will give you one more reason to smile this lovely Sunday.  Have a restful weekend. Enjoy !

Is Boring the New Cool?

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'I need to reset his internal clock...does anyone have the correct time?'

My friends and family will readily agree that I fall into the category of humans who can be fittingly termed as ‘boring’, and I only have my upbringing to blame.

Father had been the embodiment of rules, discipline and regulation, and age has only reaffirmed his conviction that respecting your body is directly proportional to leading a boring, disciplined lifestyle that involves doing the same activities at the same time, every single day of your life.

As children, we woke up, ate our home-cooked meals, played outdoor games, studied, watched the news (and smiled when Doordarshan aired the movie that had been released more than a decade ago) and slept at the same time every day.

Studies have shown that it takes an average of 66 days to form a habit.

So obviously the pattern that I have followed all my childhood has become all that I am – systematic and boring.

When Sid suggests Pizza, a batch of soft, fluffy rice cakes are ready.

When the husband suggests a late-night movie, I am already dozing.

If the majority in the household won (which usually is the case) and food has been ordered, I am left hyperventilating two minutes after the time promised has elapsed.

And during a pleasant weekend morning when the sleep-deprived majority is lost in the lap of dreams, I am enjoying the rare privilege of a walk in the park with my sleepy son tagging behind me, wondering what was the big deal about the ‘nature walk’ that he was promised.

When the organization that I previously worked for lured its employees into an option of night shift with a hefty allowance, I opted out as going against the pattern of clockwork that governed my life was against my life principles and I stuck to the constant of day shift.

My friends who made the shift spent the weekends sleeping, the week days in a haze and used up their hefty bank balances at designer boutiques that sold trendy plus-sized dresses and beauty salons that promised to replenish their lifeless skin with fragrant chemical combinations.

When the world applauded after the discovery of the microscopic biological machinery that controls the circadian rhythm or our internal body clock won the Nobel for Physiology or Medicine, I was thrilled that even at a time when the three scientists – Jeffery Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young – were progressing with this amazing discovery using fruit flies, Father called it ‘discipline’ and we annoyingly termed it ‘dictatorship’.

Not sure if my not-so-cool ways will help me live till a 102 but now that it is official, I will proudly proclaim that boring is the new cool!

Engineering the Perfect Dream

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The children gave life to beautiful poetry as the three judges – two English teachers and I, found ourselves oscillating between being entangled in the perfectly delivered lines  and the dilemma of deciding which candidate was better than the other.

The trophy went to the most-deserving class and the individual who had put up a perfect show, but we all agreed that every one of the kids who had confidently come up the stage and performed was a winner at the English Coral Elocution of Grade 5.

I had looked back from my seat set before the stage and was overjoyed to see eager parents encouraging children, not for the Science Quiz or the Science Olympiad, but the English Elocution.

This being an Indian school outside India does not change the fact that we are striving hard to produce more Engineers than mosquitoes with the dengue virus.

Science and Mathematics becomes the subject in focus. Always.

Luckily, this has nothing to do with learning and understanding the intricate pattern of our complex body functions or enjoying the magic of numbers but just the key to realizing the dream of adding another Engineer to the outrageously increasing number.

If by any stroke of bad luck, the child took interest in the literary works of great authors and poets, it was gently nipped in the bud before the interest snowballed into the love for Literature.

The perfect child of a parent who yearns a respectable place in the society becomes an Engineer.

A software engineer will be the perfect cherry on the cake of aspiration.

Pledge your enslavement to a non-Indian-based software company that will promise to keep your bank account consistent with a 6-digit number and slogging a couple of extra hours not only adds color to your appraisal and keeps the boss happy, but is a sure technique to be treated to a grand welcome by your family akin to that given to the valiant warriors who return to their kingdom after a fierce battle.

If you wish to take your dreams abroad, then divine intervention in the form of a deity in a South Indian temple will be a sure help for quick and easy attainment of the US visa.

A few slipped disks, rising blood pressure and heart ailments after hours of neck-breaking dedication can be taken care of with a gentle sweep of your insurance card but rest assured that your dream home becomes a reality.

As a five-year-old, Sid said that he wished to become an astronaut after he watched an episode of Mickey Mouse singing and dancing around the rings of Saturn and during his time on Earth, he hoped to juggle a career of racing on the Formula 1 tracks and become the next Tintin.

But now that he is well aware that dancing around the rings of Saturn has its risks and aspiring to become an investigative journalist is akin to being on a literacy mission in Taliban-occupied Afghanistan, he says he is looking into a few safer options.

Nature’s Child

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It was an honor when I was presented with an opportunity to spend a morning with an enthusiastic group of children at The St. Anne’s School in Palakkad, Kerala. A session that kicked off with a fun quiz, then gravitated to an interactive session to share bits of wisdom using write ups from my blog.

By early afternoon, I taught some, learnt some and had a big group of eager, happy teens (who forgave me for using their Physical Training hour) as my new friends.

This is what one lovely student of St. Anne’s Convent wrote to me.

What do you think?

 

 

It was a new moon night,  a dark night that seem to make the crickets chirp louder and the countless stars that dot the Earth’s inky roof, dazzle and shimmer brightly than ever.

Mother and I sat under this dark canopy.

Breaking the enveloping silence I asked, “If you had a chance to become a bird, which bird would you choose?”

She smiled, a slow smile that warned me of the direction of her thoughts and her wise words that will soon add color to the dark night.

“You tell me, what would you choose?” she asked, throwing the question back at me.

The answer was obvious.

“A dove,” I said. “A beautiful, white dove,” I added for emphasis imagining myself flying free on the expanse above. If I were a dove carrying an olive branch, then I became the embodiment of peace and by my own lonesome self, I was a white beauty.

Oh! I couldn’t wait to become the ‘dove’ of my dreams or would it be a white swan, gliding gracefully in the placid waters.

“I would choose to become a crow,” came my mother’s voice, interrupting my flying thoughts.

“A crow?”I asked surprised.

Who would want to be an ugly, black crow? There were more than a million of them anyway.

Mother sat up, switching into what I usually termed as ‘her philosophical mode’.

“The crow is not ‘bird brained’ like most of the other species of their kind.  They are considered to be one of the most intelligent species in the bird family as other than appropriating time for life’s basic necessities and raising a family, they indulge in group play among themselves and others of their kind.”

“This black bird has survived and thrived among us in the city scourging on our leftovers, cleaning up what has been dirtied and destroyed by us humans, becoming the lowly scavengers that keep our environment clean.”

I listened in rapt attention to the wisdom doled out by Mother as the black-coated crow slowly elevated to the rank of a super bird, my pearly white dove clearly forgotten.

“Beauty is beyond just a fair complexion. Beauty is confidence, the will to be yourself and most importantly to have a beautiful mind and become useful to the people and the environment around you.”

“Appearances can be deceiving, my dear and fairness creams can only whiten your skin, not your thoughts,” she concluded.

On that dark night, Mother’s wise words made me see a multitude of colors on the shiny black coat of a humble crow!

Shreya is a Grade 8 Student studying in St. Anne’s School, Palakkad.

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Taming the Blue Whale

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'Mom, when you need parenting help, do you call grandma for tech support?'

One evening I caught Sid maneuvering his way about a sheet of newspaper that had flown out of its place onto the floor. He went about his task and on his way back, he jumped over the newspaper, high-fiving into the air before threading his way back to his room.

Little Princess who assumed it was a new game got busy jumping on either side of the fallen newspaper.

“Will it be too much of an effort to just put that paper back into its place?” I asked my son.

His eyes rounded in shock, making me wonder if I had asked him about putting the moon back into its place in the infinite sky.

As I continued my rant, the instant shock was quickly replaced with the usual glazed look – one that made me wish that I had a piece of technology that could decipher his thoughts at that precise moment.

“Your little sister learns from you, so you need to set a good example,” I continued.

But as my mind buckled under the strain of toggling between giving him a healthy dose of motherly advice while wondering what was going on inside his, I said the inevitable,

“Look at me. Do I ask you do anything that I do not practice myself?”

I got no answer – just that glazed, distant look.

 

“Have you heard about the Blue Whale game?” I asked him later in the day, gingerly peeking into the screen of the tablet that had his attention for a little more than five minutes.

“Hmm,” he said without taking his eyes off the screen.

I settled myself on the table munching on a crispy pancake, seating myself where I could get a view of his screen while pretending to browse through my phone.

“Heard of that 18-year-old Pakistani boy who made this anti-Blue Whale App? You must get that app. It tells you to do positive things like helping your parents with a chore or waking up at 6 a.m.”

He looked up. That glazed, forlorn look in his eyes.

Is there an app to track his thoughts?

“You know tasks that we did out of sheer responsibility during our times and those that require an application for your generation,” I ranted on for effect.

“Ma, did you not tell us that it is unhealthy to fidget with the phone while eating?” he questioned in all innocence.

I gently pushed the phone aside, my focus instantly zeroed onto the pancake before me.

Is ‘practice what you preach’ one of the positive tasks listed by the young man?

Then I would need the Anti-Blue Whale app!

Knots and Vows

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“Why did you not have a wedding reception?” the young man asked us, tongue-in-cheek.

This question, which was purposefully  intended to get an upper hand in the conversation, was about our wedding reception that was replaced with a family gathering and a traditional ‘sadhya’ sans the DJ night, dance or the grandeur, solemnized more than a decade ago.

It had been a time when a traditional ‘Malayalee’ wedding entirely comprised of a simple ritual of tying the knot and exchanging garlands before a crowd of women, decked up in their heaviest silks and every piece of jewelry that they owned, catching up on gossip and men discussing politics – all of whom comprised of relatives and friends.

We realized that the appointed beautician must have learnt and refined her skills making up Kathakali artists for everyone unanimously agreed that I looked like an overdone Christmas tree; however, the photographer was pleased for I shone bright as a tube light in high voltage with little effort from his side.

We stood clumsily balancing the weight of heavy garlands smiling, posing  for pictures and trying hard to decipher the endless stream of faces who claimed to be related to one of us.

Our parents solely shouldered the responsibility of playing the graceful hosts ensuring that every one of the guests was well watered, fed and taken care of.

We took the leap with no instruction manual or GPS that guaranteed the safest and best path through married life, but just our parents’ blessings and love and respect for one another.

All the advancements has not brought forth a detailed instruction manual for the newly wed but Wedding Planners have managed to lure couples and their families into a week’s ceremony – DJs, outdoor photo shoots and all.

Over-enthusiastic parents and bags of money are a sure help to make beautifully-crafted everlasting memories that can be frozen and framed on the walls of your home and social media pages.

So, as our young man smiled his cheekiest best – a sparkle of triumph in his eyes, we smiled too for our experience teaches us that not all questions need to be answered. Sometimes it is best to let the other person bask in the shadow of their empty triumphs and check how far we have come.

 

sadhya : Traditional South Indian feast served on a banana leaf.

Kathakali: a form of dramatic dance of southern India, based on Hindu literature and characterized by masks, stylized costume and make-up, and frequent use of mime.