Monday, December 05, 2011

My first piano recital!

Well, is not my** piano recital although it felt very much like it.  It was KB's first piano recital.  He goes to this school of music where their recitals are a very formal affair.  Having never gone to any student recitals for western music before and being used to the Indian arangetrams etc where things are a little more informal, I was sort of taken aback by the quietness and order in the music auditorium where it was held. 

I should go back to the days leading up to the recital day.  KB has been learning the piano for a year and three months now.  He could have gone to a recital in June 2011 itself.  But his teacher is a very dedicated and perceptive one.  She told me that knowing KB's nature it is better he waits for a few more months before his first recital.  She told me that he would take it hard on himself if he gets up on stage and gets nervous.  She wanted to give him the time to mature a little and to feel more confident about his skills.  I was a little disappointed because she always gave me the feedback that he was playing very well in class and that she never has to stick to the same song in the class and is able to proceed to the next song.  Based on that I felt like, why can't he then take part in the recital? But I also know KB and I was grateful that his teacher was being sensible about it and not rushing him into a recital.  I got over the mild disappointment I had and was glad actually that he was not going for the June recital.  But before I knew it was October and I started getting mails about the recital from his piano school.  The teacher made him practice two songs and finally decided that he would play one of those.

From November onwards, we focused more on this two minute piece when he practiced at home.  Funny how a two minute piece takes so much practice to play well on stage.  It was not a trivial piece in terms of finger movements for a six year old - so I was nervous that he shouldn't bungle up on stage.  He used to get it right without any mistakes when he played in the best of moods.  When he was not tired and when he was not thinking about the recital itself.  But if he thought about it or if we bugged him to practice when he didn't want to, he would make mistakes.  And he used to just break down alone in his room crying when he made a mistake and would always start over.  Not just correct his mistake and move on.  What do you do when some things like that are so ingrained in their nature? We can only be encouraging and try to let them sort out their own emotions.  If KG were in his place, I would imagine she would just shrug and play that part again or just move on and finish the piece.  My big concern with KB was that he might not continue if he made a mistake but would start over and that would look worse than moving on.  His teacher too told him in a jovial way that "sometimes you have to fake it on stage.  If you make a mistake, you don't start the song all over, you just keep going".  He practiced his little speech that he had to give before the recital - as to which piece he picked, why he picked it, what he likes about it etc.  The night before the recital he woke up with night mares and was screaming the name of his recital piece and mumbling random things.  I had to cool him down with cold water because his head was so hot.

Murphy's law, of course has to come into the picture.  Just the day before the recital, we had gusty winds and KB started coughing mildly.  The morning of the recital he woke up with a fever.  All that practice and he may not even be able to go to the recital?! I just kept my fingers crossed.  Luckily he got a lot better by noon with a lot of TLC - steaming, ginger/honey extract, total rest, warm water etc.  KB reluctantly agreed to wear pants (instead of shorts) and a vest and a tie and got ready for the recital.  When we reached there, there were so few cars that I thought that this would be no big deal.  Some five or six people and it wouldn't be scary for him.  But when it came time for the recital, the whole place was filled up and the auditorium was full.  The grand piano was so large that KB looked like a little ant in front of it.  Since he was the youngest in the group, they called him first.  He got up on stage very confidently and gave his speech and played his piece. When I saw the video later, I didn't feel like it was 100% like his school director said it was.  He made one slight mistake on one note and the tempo was not perfect.  But it didn't show so he got away with it.  As he played, I could literally feel my heart beating.  Thank heavens he played well and was done with it.  Phew - first recital done! From next time on, I hope/expect it will be less intimidating.  One of the parents came to me and said that he was floored by the way he gave his speech confidently and played with gusto.  Another mom came to me and said the same thing.  The director of the school (who did a pre-test before the recital as well) came to me and also gave high praise for KB's performance.  I was totally taken by surprise because I honestly didn't think about all that.  He did a good job but somehow I didn't feel so floored by his confidence etc.  I know as his mother how much he had internalized his anxiety about this recital.  So I could not feel anything but a sense of relief when it was done.  Recitals are no big deal for some people, but for me because of KB's intense nature (where he wakes up petrified with night mares), this first experience was a big deal.  I was just grateful it went without any tears for him.  Everything else was a bonus.

B and I later talked about this whole thing.  We as parents did put in some effort into this two or three minute recital.  Not tiger mom levels.  But it wasn't nothing either.  The way I saw it was - it is important enough to give it your best.  But it is not as important if things did not go well to cry about it.  It is a small thing in the big picture of life but it is these little moments that shape up a person little by little.  So in that sense I had to make sure we gave him the nurturing without it being damaging.  But beyond that if he had not done well, I was sure neither of us would have said anything but kind words to him.  I feel like this experience was a big one for me too because it made me evaluate what is important to me for him, as his mother.  I feel like I got some clarity in terms of my emotions.  I was in a way relieved when one of the dads told me that when his daughter was playing on stage his hands went cold from nervousness.  Good, am not the only one! How about you?!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Is preschool necessary?

My second child KG who is now 4 yrs and 5m old is going to preschool three half days a week.  My son KB who is now 6 yrs and 3m old went to a preschool program offered by the city (two hours a day, four days a week) for age three and to a proper preschool for three half days a week when he was age four.  He is now in first grade.  I think back to what my perspective to preschool is after seeing him go through kindergarten and now first grade and having seen four different kind of preschools between the two children.

I find that at the end of the day, no matter what the reputation of the school is, it finally boils down to the teacher.  Where I live, it is pretty hard to find spots in good preschools.  And really am still not clear on how to find that perfect preschool.  I sometimes wish I could just get early education credits and start a preschool that fits my requirements! Because I still have not come across a preschool that has all that I want.  Either the school emphasizes academic learning too much or they do only play and have no emphasis on academic learning.

Parents who are both working have to send their children to day care anyway so it makes sense for them to spend a premium in terms of money and time in finding a really good preschool.  If the child is going to be at school during most of his/her waking hours,  then it is worth spending a lot of money on preschool.  But after my experience with preschools I feel that if one parent is not working and does spend a good amount of quality time with the child, then preschool is necessary only so much.  It helps to get used to being away from the parent, to get used to making friends without the parent guiding the process, to get used to authority (although I have a whole lot of thoughts about that part).  From my perspective I find three half days a week more than enough.  I did not choose that, it so happened that the tiny preschool that KB went to only had three half days open  and the school KG now goes to had only one spot available when I applied and that was for three half days.

KG went to a play/developmental preschool at age three.  Her teacher was a loving, charming and lively teacher.  I was really happy with that school for age three.  KG's teacher loved children.  She would hug them, talk to them and would rarely yell at the kids.  Their school had a great play yard and plenty of good play equipment.  They read books to them but any ABC's she learned came from her learning at home.  No writing ever.  I felt there was always some chaos in the room because the children were playing a lot and I somehow felt at age four KG needed a little more focused play or quiet time.  It so happened KB changed schools so I decided to change schools for KG also.  I love Montessori materials and I like the activities that make children focus and do work quietly.  But the problem with Montessori schools in our area is that they are way way too expensive esp considering that I am home with the kids and they don't "need" to spend time at school or day care.  Nevertheless, I found a school that was somewhat affordable for four full days (9 to 3).  Let's call this school M (for Montessori).

I had an uneasy feeling even when I toured school M because when I went to the pre-K classroom, the teacher did not look up or make eye contact with me or KG.  She may have been busy with the kids but I still cannot understand why they cannot acknowledge us when they walk from one desk to another by just giving a half nod at least.  When I initiated with a smile, she smiled back a little.  Anyway, the director of the school was very good and the distance/cost/timing etc worked well and they were serious about "teaching" the kids a lot.  In a way I was impressed by all that but I kind of brushed aside the discomfort I had with the how  the class environment did not seem warm, esp the interaction between the teacher and students.  When I took KG on the first day of school, we walked in at 9.00 a.m. (some of the kids walk in a line at 8.45 a.m. it seems).  I was stunned that no one welcomed her or even looked at us.  Two lead teachers and one assistant teacher.  Every one was busy.  One crying child fully occupied one teacher.  I found it very strange.  First day of school and no one to say hello to a child who is new to the class.  Anyway I settled KG in and got her going on some activity and I left.  She was OK when I picked her up.  But at night the ranting started.  KG who normally goes to sleep in a wink if she is tired would come from her bed to the living room five times or so worrying about school and constantly saying " I don't know what I am supposed to do!", "Ms.M gave Brandon a time out", "My lunch mat did not have any crumbs, why do I have to put a wet sponge on it?" etc etc.  After about two weeks of this ranting, I finally went and spoke to the director.  He was very understanding and he told the lead teacher Mrs.D to keep an eye on KG and "teach" her some of the Montessori activities since she was not familiar with some of them.  Mrs.D was nice and did help KG through the adjustment for a bit.  But the ranting still continued.  And every day I found that the atmosphere was the same.  Stern looks from the teachers towards the children.  May be this is how a Montessori works, am not sure.  But I have seen one other Montessori which is quite far from my house.  There the teachers were very warm and nurturing towards the kids even if the activities were all the same as school M and the kids were still focused.  It basically did not gel well with me because KG was sounding worried and hassled every night even though she did not cry when I dropped her.  Towards the end of September, I started thinking about pulling her out.  One morning KG said to me, "Mrs.M held my hand so tight, it hurt me.  Why did she do that?".  I asked her why she held her hand and what time of the day it happened.  KG said, "She said that I had to say "Good Afternoon" to the kids.  Why should I say it to the kids? They are not my teachers!".  I don't know what really happened then, but what ever it was, this was the last straw.  I did not want this kind of hand holding and being forced to say good afternoon etc in preschool.  I had seen that teacher harshly plop a crying boy in the time out chair.  I could believe she was capable of being a little rough with the children.  I emailed the director that day and told him I would be pulling KG out of that school and that it was not working out.  I found another play school near by with just 12 kids per class and the teacher was very warm and cheerful when we went to tour the place.  She looked at KG and talked to her.  That was important to me.  I could only get a spot for three half days but I took it anyway.

I actually feel happy that I get to spend more time with KG.  It does give me very little time to do anything for myself.  But I still enjoy my time with KG.  I am able to sit and read to her when KB is at school.  I am able to take her to the library, to the farm market and so on.  She reads simple bob books, does simple mental additions, does simple mazes or we play with her million hot wheel cars.  I feel glad things turned out this way. KB went to pre-K only three half days a week.  At that time, some of the Montessori kids were probably a tiny bit ahead of him in reading.  They could read say level 1 books very comfortably but he had to read those slowly (when he was 4.5 yrs old).  He then joined a Montessori for Kindergarten where only about 4 kids were from non Montessori preschools.  KB had no problems keeping up with them and did very well in Kindergarten.  He is now in first grade and has been placed in the advanced readers group after the assessment.  In effect I feel that preschool is not an absolute must.  It is good to send kids to preschool because it is fun to be around kids and play with age appropriate play equipment.  But if the parent can spend a lot of time at home with the child and also take the child to city classes like "clay play" etc, that should be more than enough to cover all the bases.  I personally feel/felt that for preschool age, it is most important to be with a loving and nurturing teacher.  Without that I felt as if I was sending the child to some kind of juvenile prison where they have to obey rules or else!  Children are so precious and innocent and they can be so easily manipulated or made to feel scared by people of authority.  It is important they learn how to behave well but it is equally important as to how they are taught those rules.  I may yell at my children at home but they know that they can voice their opinion back to me in equal measure.  But with a teacher, they don't have that freedom.  So the responsibility lies on the teacher to know where to draw the line when it comes to disciplining the children or in knowing how to do it.  I am getting away changing schools because KG is only in preschool.  My friend's child is in fourth grade and her teacher is rude and screams at the kids in the class.  But at that age it is very hard to change schools.  I am not looking forward to dealing with those situations.  For now, I am happy with the way things turned out with KG's preschool.  She is happy and hence I am happy !

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Best compliment if it were true!

This post is going to be again a bit of this and bit of that kind of post.  Either this or I will wait for ever to write a post that flows consistently in terms of topic and it may never happen.

So the other day KB was playing with his Scooby Doo ball and suddenly turned to me (of course thoughts are always going on in his head I think) and said, "Mamma, you have the most knowledge in this house.  I think you have Goddess Saraswathi in you!" I have told them and they have heard it in their Bal Vihar lessons that Saraswati is the goddess of learning.  I was so taken aback by the unexpected remark from KB.  Sadly, I could only feel sort of sad about it because it is only a matter of time before he knows a lot more than me and as of now it is B who knows the most amongst the four of us in the family.  B sometimes seems to me like some kind of walking encyclopedia of information.  But KB thinks I know the most in the family because I spend more time with them and I read to them more and explain things to him more often.  As it is for all his physics questions I send him off to his dad.  I am now reading "Steve Jobs" biography and one of the things (of the many) that struck me was when he said, "I discovered that I was smarter than my parents".  God, I hate the day when KB is going to think that of me.  But B said to me, all boys think that way at some point growing up.  May be that teen arrogance, I don't know.  Well, as of now, I should enjoy KB thinking so highly of me! :)

On the topic of Steve Jobs biography.  B was surprised I pre-ordered the book and am reading it now.  I didn't buy it because I wanted to read about some Mahatma.  Every one knows of Job's shortcomings as a person.  How nasty he was to so many people.  But the book makes for a very interesting read.  I find the man very intriguing.  And his life story has so many twists and turns that it is so unbelievable.  I love biographies in general.  Especially of people who come from ordinary backgrounds and do so well in life.  I have reserved this book in the library and I hope to read about this amazing person as soon as I finish Jobs's biography.  It is mind blowing sometimes what is possible when there is a will and if the person is lucky enough to come across the right situations, a few encouraging people and so on.  At the same time, God knows how many people don't end up succeeding purely because of bad luck and not being in the right place.

I have to go now to take KB to his basketball class. But before that a quick lament about my trip to the mall this morning.  I hate going to malls let alone first thing in the morning.  But I want to buy a 100% cotton sweater that is nicely tailored and preferably with buttons or with a zipper.  Unbelievable.  I went to Macy's, JCP, Sears, Old Navy and looked at some online sites.  Within a budget of 50 dollars (I upped it from my usual max 20 to 50 only because I am just not able to find one), I am not able to find a single sweater that I like! The choices for 100% cotton sweaters is so limited this year.  I am so annoyed that finding a good cotton sweater that too in the holiday season when every store is amply stocked is this hard for me.  Even finding a good sweater needs luck!!

On that note, ciao! And Ranjani - will post on the school change news in the next post!

Friday, November 04, 2011

This n that...since last post

It is becoming harder and harder mentally to sit down for actually typing out the thoughts for a post.  Have to check if the siri can do something about this.  Just dictate my thoughts and ask it to post!

Let me start with short updates.  For any one interested that is - including me - reading this probably a few years later may be.  I decided at the last minute to keep "golu" for Navaratri this time around.  I always hesitated because the thought of a whole bunch of people and kids coming to my house all at the same time was overwhelming for me.  Even now I don't know how I got through that day.  I can handle two or three families at the same time.  Not more.  Unless I host a party outside at the park or at a venue. Cooking for every one and keeping the house clean and getting all the "vethlaipakku" (goody bags) ready, all while managing the kids and house alone seemed so overwhelming, especially after I decided to send out an evite to people.  I thought to myself, "What did I just do? This means I have to go ahead with it! The invite has been sent out to a whole bunch of people!".  Well, somehow I did it and it went well.  Running to Lowes two days before the Golu and measuring out planks and drawing a picture of what I wanted, setting up the planks and arranging all the bommais (what ever few I had) and getting the kids involved in the process.  It was hectic but it was a lot of fun. 

The only part I still don't feel good about is the immense waste when it comes to giving little goody bags to the moms and the kids.  I just feel like it is such a big waste.  Even when I go to all my friend's houses for their golu, I just collect a whole bunch of those bags in the car.  When I get home I just unpack all of them and half the items are little curio items which I don't know what to do with.  Some items like little containers etc are fine, I can use them, but I seriously don't need them.  I am trying to figure out a better alternative for next year.  It may not be the best alternative but something I that doesn't make me feel bad.  There were little memorable moments - which would have been fun to write about had I written this post earlier.  For example, KG looked at the "wedding set" of dolls and asked me about it and commented earnestly, "Mamma, why does this guy look like an alien?".  These were miniature hand made dolls that were delightfully crafted and dressed up in colorful tiny pieces of fabric.  I really enjoyed going to people's houses with KG.  She learned a bunch of bhajans from me and I realized that she is totally into singing and seems to have a talent for it.  I hope she gets a good teacher and learns it well.

Next post - on KG's school change (she changed schools from last year, went to the new school for one month in Sep and again changed to another school from October). 

Monday, October 17, 2011


I have written so many little posts in my head since the last time I posted here.  But I have not managed to type it up and actually post it in this space.  I will hopefully get back to writing again soon.  In the meanwhile, here is a video/interview I saw recently which I was so moved by.  It is always inspiring when you come across people who win against all odds because of sheer will and hard work. To think that this person was working in a farm, toiling in the sun and didn't know a word of English and is now being interviewed by so many people and has treated so many patients in one of the most prestigious hospitals in the world...sometimes I feel I see that higher power that we call God in these forms.  There is some higher power at work and it protects, lifts and carries the person through to a destination above the ordinary considering the odds.  I hope you are able to spare the one hour to watch this video.  It is something our kids (when they are say in 5th grade or so) should watch to get inspired.


Monday, September 19, 2011

When you thought I wasn't looking...

I read this in a billboard some place and I enjoyed it.  It's so true how children pick up so much from the things that we don't even realize they are observing, imbibing and learning as they see it happen.
Author: Unknown
When you thought I wasn't looking,
I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator,
and I wanted to paint another one.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I saw you feed a stray cat,
and I thought it was good to be kind to animals.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I saw you make my favorite cake for me,
and I knew that little things are special things.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I heard you say a prayer,
and I believed that there was a God to talk to.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I felt you kiss me goodnight,
and I felt loved.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I saw tears come from your eyes,
and I learned that sometimes things hurt,
but it's alright to cry.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I saw that you cared,
and I wanted to be everything that I could be.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I looked....
and I wanted to say thanks for all the things
I saw when you thought I wasn't looking.

Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11 conversation between six year olds

We went to the local park last evening where KB's friend also joined us.  There was a small gathering of people for a 9/11 memorial speech.  Police officers were standing around in the periphery.  I had talked to KB about 9/11 that morning.  I happened to over hear the conversation between KB and his friend.

KB: You know S, ten years back, some bad guys came in a plane and knocked down two towers by ramming the plane into the towers.  Lots of people died because of that.

S: Oh!

KB: Yeah, and now they have made a big water fall in that spot to remember all the people that died.  And they have built another humongous tower next to it.  It is 1776 feet tall.

S: Is this real life stuff?

It was such an innocent and simple line from his friend.  But it is so true.  The insanity of such terrorist acts makes you really think, "Could this be happening in real life?".  It has to be the stuff of violent comic books. Not real life.  I hope some day in the future that becomes a reality - that such things do not happen in real life. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

New schools for KB and KG

The new academic year has begun! Summer holidays are over! Sigh! I did have a good time with the kids at home and not having to rush to school in the mornings but I think now we are all ready for school in a way.  I have renewed admiration for homeschooling parents now! How do they manage to instill discipline in their children and make sure they go through the curriculum and more while the kids are home all the time with them!

KB is starting first grade in a different school.  He did not get into first grade at the school he was in because they changed it to a lottery system in the middle of the year and he did not get it in the lottery.  Just couple of days back they called and told me that he did get a spot from being on the wait list in the lottery line but at that point I was not interested because KB was mentally prepared to join the new school.  His best friend is going to be in the same class, so he is very excited about it.  School starts tomorrow!  At least I have one friend (mom) who will come to the same school.  I know there are a couple of ultra competitive Indian moms in this class who ask a lot of questions and even ask exactly what grades your child got (in KG that too) in the report card.  I have to find ways to avoid those types because they really do irritate me and somewhat stress me out.  I lucked out for KB's Kindergarten because at least no one was explicitly so competitive with their kids/comparing etc.  I feel like I am the one going to school with every passing year!

KB was sick with his usual Bronchitis type coughing on Monday night.  I was so worried that we would end up in ER but thankfully we got through the night.  I made a donation to one of the organizations in India as a mark of my thanks for us getting through the night without having to rush to ER.  Every time KB starts coughing that deep cough, I just dread it.  The poor kid goes into these spasms of coughing until he throws up a lot of mucus and only then can he sleep for a few hours.  And in the process his stomach muscles hurt.  I gave him ginger with honey twice that morning and he kept drinking a lot of water.  God knows what helped or didn't help, at least thankfully the next morning he woke up feeling much better.  I was so relieved when he ate his breakfast without having to throw up because the previous night he could not eat a bite of his dinner.  I have ordered an Oximeter to keep track of his Oxygen levels during such episodes to know if it is serious enough to go to ER or not.

I changed schools for KG also because for the same money I was able to get her to go four full days and that way I could pick up KB and then go and pick KG back to back.  In the old school she could only go half a day for the same money.  KG has joined a Montessori school this time around.  I don't know if this is a good Montessori or not - I just don't know how to judge if I can't volunteer in the class or observe from outside.  I am just going by the recommendation of two of my friends who seemed to have liked it.  I feel bad for KG because she is really missing her friends (not close but at least she considered them friends).  She had lost a puzzle piece the second day of school and she started crying the moment she saw me because she was afraid the teachers might be mad at her.  The next day again she cried because one of the girls told her that she would not show her stamp to her.  Today she says two kids said they did not want to sit next to her - but she did not cry about it.  Also, she is very stressed out about having to clean her lunch mat with a sponge. I don't know why that is so stressful for her.  She knows how to do it but somehow she keeps talking about it.  I am praying she adjusts well and makes one or two friends because right now she seems to not be having fun.  But at least she does not cry and also she seems to enjoy doing puzzles and some of the pouring activities there.  Keeping fingers crossed.

Well, more updates on the new schools once they settle in! How has your new school year been so far? For the ones who have already started school.  Eager to know!

Monday, August 22, 2011

La di da

KG, my four old daughter, is just the opposite on KB in so many ways.  In all the ways that he is serious, she is totally carefree.  We call him "Thatha" and call her "Kuttima" or "Titapapa (sister papa)".  It is a joy for us to see her be so carefree and just enjoy the present moment.

KB has a sweet tooth more than any of us in the family.  She loves ice cream and loves chocolate chip cookies.  I never had to deal with rationing it for KB because he will not eat those even if I offered it to him.  But my dear KG, she can spot a tiny little picture of an ice cream cone in some corner of the zoo or aquarium when we go and immediately turn to me with bright eyes and say, "Mamma, what is that picture? Are you going to get me ice-cream?".  One day at home, I gave her a Haggen-daaz choco-bar even without her asking for it just to surprise her.  The next day around the same time, she asked me for one.

Me: KG, you can't have ice-cream everyday.
KG: Why not Mamma?
Me: It's not healthy to eat ice-cream everyday.  You will become fat and then you won't be able to move around fast and you won't be able to swim well (since she had just started her swim lessons, I just randomly said that).
KG: That's OK.  My teacher can just push me in the water!
Another conversation pointing to her la di da nature.  It's bedtime and I am lying next to her and just listening to the music.

KG: Mamma, I wish I could sleep all the time. I like to sleep. It's fun!

Yes, of course, my dear! It is fun to just listen to music and go to sleep!
After eating three chocolate chip cookies she stormed into the kitchen in the middle of her playing and said to me:

"Mamma,  you know I am going to stop eating chocolates"

Me: Really? Why?

KG: Because it is bad for me.  Bacteria will make holes in my teeth. No more chocolate chip cookies OK. One last one and then no more!
Me:  KG, please remember to close the back yard door after you finish playing.  I lock it and then you open it when we are leaving and I don't even know you have opened it.  What if a robber comes and steals your toys?

KG: Then I will just look at him like this (makes an angry face) and shout at him and say "Don't steal my toys!! OKKK!!!"

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Questions for the day...

A couple of days back I had struck a bargain with KB that if he let me skip the evening park visit, they can do water play in the back yard even though the sun had gone down and it was getting cooler.  I was just not in a mood to go to the park after taking KG for swimming early in the morning, KB for his swim lesson late morning, KB for his basket ball class and stopping at the library.  They got to do some water play in the yard and later played with bubbles using different bubble sticks I had bought from Micheals.

This morning suddenly KB asked his dad, "Daddy, how come what ever shape I blow the bubbles through, it always comes out as a sphere?".  His dad then explained to him the principle of least energy etc in simple terms and KB kept asking "How come it doesn't ever come out as a triangle or a square?" etc until he could kind of grasp the idea of why it would form a sphere.

He later was playing ball in the park and again the issue of gravity started to gnaw at his brain cells I think.  He asked B, "Daddy, why does the ball get pulled down by gravity but still it bounces up instead of getting stuck down?".

Newton Sir, please, could you just come in KB's dreams and clarify all matters of gravity?! 

P.S - leave you with this article on parenting!  Read this and wondered which camp I belong to!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Swim tales update...

Few weeks back I had written about KB's swim tales (woes).  From that time, I took KB to swim lessons every week day and some Saturdays.  No class on Sundays.  It was a lot of fun for both kids because they just loved being in the water.  I needed to make the most of the summer time since this teacher gives private lessons only in outdoor pools. 

I am happy that going to class consistently has paid off.  KB is now able to swim the full length of the pool with free style strokes and rolling over or turning to his side between strokes.  He is learning back stroke now.  Am hoping before school reopens he will be able to do both free style and back stroke with ease.  Phew!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Baingan not bartha

I make this quick fix baingan dish sometimes when I feel like having eggplant subzi.  It is not really super quick because you still  have to cut all the vegetables but it is faster than roasting baingan and peeling the skin etc.  Somehow I find this dish easier to make than the traditional baingan bartha.  No grinding, no powders.

This is how I make it.

I cut eggplant with the skin into small cubes.  It doesn't have to be super tiny - just reasonably small cubes.  I use any kind of eggplant I have at hand.  Even the long Japanese ones are fine.  To this I add 3 or 4 tomatoes (medium size pieces).  Lots of ginger.  2 or 3 bell papers chopped into small cubes.  Once I add these, I mix it up with salt and turmeric.  I pressure cook this with very little water.  Just enough to cook it all.

While it is cooking, I heat oil in a kadai and add a tiny bit of jeera and saute onions and keep it ready.  Then I add the pressure cooked vegetables and mix it with the onions and let it cook in the oil.  Once it is done, I add a lot of finely copped coriander and keep it covered in the steam for a while.  It tastes really good and it gets done pretty fast.

This dish is easy on days when I know we will be going to the park in the evening and I will not have much time to cook when I get back.  I just pressure cook the stuff and keep it ready.  When I get back I just have to saute onions and then I add this and fresh subzi is ready in minutes. If I chop the eggplant into small pieces, it gets cooked well and it tastes kind of like baingan bartha to me even if it is not the authentic one! If any of you try this recipe, do let me know how it turned out!

Added later: Oops - sorry - I forgot to add one more (key in my opinion) ingredient I add - green chillies.  I add 4 or 5 green chillies finely chopped to make it spicy.  I assume you would have spiced it up your own way though I did not mention it.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

KB turns six

A quick note before I start this post - if you read me, please could you delurk and say hi in the comments?!

KB - kutti boy - is what I call him in this blog centered mostly around KB and KG. But I feel as if I should be changing the name to older brother and younger sister for the two of them.  KB is six! I cannot believe it.  I still remember all the moments I had as a first time mother trying to deal with my post delivery issues, nursing issues, getting KB to sleep through the night etc.  And all of a sudden now I am able to have conversations with him about so many different things - Calvin & Hobbes, human race evolution, symbiotic relationships and what not.  How did time go by so fast?!

KB has given me so much in terms of new experiences as a mother.  But the thing that tops it all is this - knowing what it is to love a human being completely, whole heartedly, to wish only the very best without a doubt and feel only joy for that person's every little success.  I feel like that feeling is so powerful within me and I don't think I have ever had it that way for any one else before KB and KG came along.  Even with a spouse, it is peppered with ego issues that crop up and muddle it.  Even with my parents it is sometimes not as clear because of feelings of what they could have done differently. It is only when KB came along that I realized what an exhilarating and liberating feeling it can be to feel sure of the love you feel for someone.  I don't know how this might feel later when they grow up and may be then it won't feel so unconditional, I am not sure.  But for now I just feel like motherhood is worth it just to experience that kind of pure love.

KB has always been a sort of deep thinker.  One can almost see thoughts floating through his head as he sits in his spot or just lies down in one corner of the couch quietly for even 10 or 15 minutes sometimes.  Like a cat, sometimes he likes to lie down in the corner of the couch where the sun is shining brightly and think about some random thing or the other.  He was always a talker and continues to be that way.  He gives lengthy explanations for any question I ask him.  Since he is our first child, we had no gauge for how much they talk or not at any particular age.  He used to recite big twenty page books verbatim back to me at age two and half and we thought that was normal.  It is only when KG came along and I saw how she cannot even recite one page back to me at age four that I realized that he was verbally ahead of his age.  He tested as advanced when he did the language testing for non native English speakers before he started Kindergarten.

I think back to the time he started preschool and the struggles he and I went through in getting him to be away from me at preschool.  After a month of struggling with his loud crying, the director finally told me that they could not handle it and that I had to train him at home and bring him back.  I finally changed him to a city preschool program and then to another small school for pre-K.  I was so nervous as to how he would cope with the eating part of it when he started Kindergarten.  But he managed the longer hours and the stricter school environment fine.  He laughs and plays silly at home all the time with his little sister but I heard from his teacher that he is pretty serious at school.  I can't figure out why or if it is just the way he is when she is around.  Because he laughs a lot with some of his friends at school when he meets them outside of school.  I could see that he had devised his own ways of dealing with the aggressive kids.  He either gave them a chance and played along by their rules for a couple of times or just walked away from the game and found others to play with for that period.  By the end of the year, he learned to tell the bossy kid, "Hey, you are not my boss.  I can do it the way I want to do it".  I felt proud of him for that but sometimes my heart aches that he is naturally so gentle and good-natured that he has to learn to be aggressive...and when I see glimpses of that learned behavior, I feel bad he can just be the way he is naturally. 

KB was/is the picky eater amongst the two kids.  But he eats his meals completely on his own and has been doing so for over a year now.  I never thought that day would come and now it seems so the norm. I can't believe it is the same kid I used to spend one hour per meal feeding with a spoon and reading books to distract him and what not.  I still have to read books to him when he eats, not something pediatricians approve of, but I just do it.

I faced some amount of peer pressure when he was four to a)put him in a Montessori school where he would have gotten more academic learning b) to put him in Kumon classes for reading and math.  I am happy that I went with my instincts and put him in a school where he felt comfortable and secure even though it was not a Montessori school.  I am also glad I did not waste my money and time on Kumon lessons for him because the way he learns, he would have gone through the motions of it out of a sense of wanting to please me may be, but he would have been mindlessly bored.  As much as he can, he prefers to do all his math problems mentally now and I don't know how he would have coped with pages and pages of drilling.  I used to wonder if he would like Math or not because he was so into books and telling us stories and he used to talk so much about how he would be a director and who he would cast as a particular character when he makes his movie etc.  We always joked that he was going to go into the movies (which I don't want really).  In the last few months though he has shown a natural inclination for Math and seems to enjoy it as well.  He is doing all kinds of arithmetic problems and word problems in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and he does fractions, negative numbers, simple equations, measurement, time and money problems.  He is now mostly doing second and third grade and some fourth grade work sheets I print out from the internet.  I am sometimes conflicted if I should even give him those kind of worksheets to do at home because when he starts first grade he won't have the fun of challenging problems.  And I notice that despite finding simple arithmetic problems very easy at this point, he still makes mistakes on those because he wants to do it all mentally and problems like 10 + 12, he reads quickly as 10 - 12 and writes the answer as -2.  He enjoys it most when I read to him but he reads simple books as well as chapter books and great illustrated classics kind of books.  I have to wait and see how it goes in first grade.  I just hope he does not get too bored because the curriculum here is not very challenging unless the teacher herself notices that a child needs more challenge and puts in some effort in that direction.  The times I spend teaching him Math or reading about science to him are so fulfilling because he takes it all in like a sponge.  All kids at this age are that way, not to single him out.  But as a parent, it is rewarding to see the connections being made and the understanding showing in his face.  I have taught courses as a teaching assistant when I was in graduate school but I never felt the kind of joy I feel now teaching KB all kinds of things and learning along with him.  Sometimes I feel tempted to become a kindergarten teacher because it is the beginning of their academic career and it is joyful to see them blossom.  But I know I don't have the patience for a whole group of kids day after day. 

KB seems to prefer non-fiction books to fiction, that's what his teacher also told me.  But once he gets started on story books he gets totally into it.  Although when it comes to us reading to him, he loves it when we read him stories.  He does watch TV every day in the summer during lunch time but he is good about not watching TV later.  He is not too much into computer games.  His favorite TV shows currently are Magic school bus, Word girl and Wild Kratts.  He just loves nature and learning about nature. He started going to basket ball class this summer and is totally into the game.  True to his nature he has delved deep into it and plays it often in the backyard.  He has been reading all sorts of NBA books about the greatest basketball players and remembers all kinds of stats about players.  This year he has moved on from his Diego/Rhinoceres Beetle back pack to a Koby Bryant backpack for school!

KB has made me feel the joy of learning all over again.  With him to give me company, I am beginning to appreciate nature in a whole new way.  To appreciate the bugs and the lizards as much as the majestic tigers and lions.  When I go to the zoo now and see an Echidna or when I happen to see the photo of a Draco lizard, I look at it with so much excitement because I can talk to KB about why the Echidna is a mammal misfit (lays eggs) or what is amazing about the Draco lizard (movable ribs it uses to spread out like wings and glide from tree to tree) .  And he talks to me about it with such joy.  I feel so thankful for having another opportunity to learn things along with him. When he asks me things like, "Mamma, how does an eraser really wipe off pencil marks?", it makes me pause and think about simple things in front of me.  I gave him an answer then but not as precisely as I did after I looked it up later.  (BTW - this is the answer from the internet - Erasers pick up graphite particles, thus removing them from the surface of the paper. Basically, the molecules in erasers are 'stickier' than the paper, so when the eraser is rubbed onto the pencil mark, the graphite sticks to the eraser preferentially over the paper.).

KB still struggles with his nightmares but it has become a lot better.  He had regressed a lot in his swimming but in the last two and half weeks he has progressed a lot.  His swim teacher says he will be ready for participating in swim meets next summer.  I think I will be in tears if he did that because he would gotten there from overcoming his anxiety this year (He had no fear of water really and did well last year.  Somehow the teacher did not work out for him this year and he became more scared of going to the deep end) and working really hard and learning it.  It is not something that comes to him as naturally as it seems to for KG.  She has no fear when it comes to swimming and that makes it so much easier for her.

I have written about the things he does and about his personality etc for his sixth birthday post because I am sure I will find it very interesting to read  this post next year.  I always keep praying for his good health.  Sometimes when he cries for ten minutes or so in a half asleep state when he has nightmares, I get the shivers and I feel as if it is only divine grace that made me escape his having any issues that some super intense kids have.  I just hope and pray at least this year we escape any ER visits for him (and for KG) from his coughing this year.

KB is moving to a different school for first grade. I hope he settles down easily in the new environment.  I am sure it will be very interesting to see him grow and learn and understand the world around him more deeply.
Wish you the very best, my sweet little KB!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Swim tales..

I didn't get to finish my previous post.  About the swimming struggles we are going through.  I guess it is not fair on my part to call it "struggles" for KB's swimming but to me it feels that way.  I took him for swim lessons when he turned four.  He was scared but did OK.  But that year was more of an introduction to being in water.  The next summer (last year), I took him for two sessions or more I can't remember.  He got to a level 3 and could swim and back float across the width of the pool.  But around mid-July he fell sick with bronchitis and that kind of unbearable coughing really scared me.  I stopped going to the pool for a while but by then it was colder - even though it is an indoor pool where they charge an arm and a leg for swim lessons, it gets cold once he is out of the water - and I just stopped going until this July.  But the sad part is his favorite teacher had left by then.  This new teacher is supposed to be one of the best but the chemistry just did not work out between her and KB.  She took him to the deep end of the pool before he felt ready for it mentally.  He coped OK but it left him feeling stiff and nervous.  My thought is this - she may be a great teacher but I don't want him to feel terrified getting into the water when he didn't start out that way.  There are situations where there is no copping out - like say the first day of school etc - but this, he can learn swimming from a teacher who will smile a little and pat him on the back when he feels terrified.  He is not training to be in a competition, he is just here to learn swimming! So anyway, I decided to move him to a private teacher for private lessons rather than semi-private (2 kids) in a swim school.  Only problem with this is that it is an outdoor pool and he can only learn with this teacher until the end of summer when it is warm enough.  Last week I took him to class every day.  He seems to be very comfortable with the new teacher and is making good progress now.  First couple of classes, I felt like I would be in tears.  All that effort to be at the beginning stage again! I cursed myself for stopping his swim lessons for a whole year.  I am hoping that by the end of summer he will be able to swim the length of the pool.  We are going on a holiday for a week, so it leaves me with three weeks to somehow get him there.  I am going to try to take him every day so he can make as much progress as possible! Let's see!  He is also working very hard towards it and wants to go to swimming class every day.

On another note, we went to a circus today.  We had fabulous booth seats from B's work and the kids really enjoyed the show.  But I am not much of a circus fan.  Acrobats are fun to watch but I hate it when the animals perform.  I just don't see the fun in seeing ten tigers sitting on stools in a circle and responding to their name being called and finally all of them lifting their paws and sitting like puppies.  It is so unnatural and sad to see them be that way.  And the poor elephants balancing their weight on tiny little stools.  I don't find any of the animal performances in these shows entertaining.  At least I was glad to see them all look very healthy and not scrawny and malnourished.

Next post - on KB turning six this week.  Hope to write that post before he turns seven!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hiking, tooth out, swimming etc

Let me start on a positive note.  We went for a weekend trip to the mountains about two hours away.  Rented a cabin (a two bed place with a kitchen) and stayed there on Sat night and drove back on Sunday eve.  The trip was absolutely wonderful - just being around nature all the time.  We had lunch and went to the animal park before checking into the hotel.  Saw black bears, bald eagles, bisons, mountain lions, mule deers, bob cats...all up close.  The sad part was a lot of these animals were there only because they had no way to fend for themselves.  It was an animal park where they were brought in for recovery and for enabling them to live on despite the issues they had.  The bald eagle had a cataract, the mountain lions were all cubs that were left in the den when their mother had been shot dead by a hunter and were raised by the park people and so on.   Thankfully it was not blazing hot and so we were able to walk around looking at all these animals.  Kids loved being around these birds and animals and reading about them.

Later we went to the cabin and checked in.  We turned on the TV for a short while when the kids drank their afternoon milk.  They were watching Toy story 1 when suddenly KB exclaimed with nervous excitement "Mamma, my tooth fell out!".  We were all so thrilled for him and shouted "Yayyy"!  And he just could not contain his excitement, he kept looking at the gap and at the fallen tooth.  B said he should bury it like we did as kids.  But some of his friends have saved theirs, so he was more used to that idea.  Plus he just wanted to examine it up close.  So I wrapped it in a paper towel and kept it safely.  After having tea, we went to the huge lake area and went for a walk and stood on the bobbing wooden platform on the lake.  Kids loved standing there watching all the motor boat riders.  Close to dinner time we got back to the cabin, made a quick pasta meal and ate it sitting outside surrounded by tall pine trees.

Next morning we got ready pretty early (for a holiday!) by 9.30 a.m. and checked out of the hotel.  We went to the discovery center for a nature walk with a bunch of guided volunteers some of whom were in training.  KB was totally into what they were explaining about the local trees and animals and asked them some good questions.  KG was very annoyed with me for not giving her one more strawberry wafer (this after she had two chocolate chip cookies and three wafers that morning before we got to the nature walk) right away.  I was very irritated at having to deal with that rather than listen to what they were saying.  Oh god, some times you just wish someone would take care of your child for just five minutes.  B was trying to get her to leave me alone and go to him but she wouldn't leave my side.  Later we had lunch on a picnic table very close to the water on the lake.  It was wonderful to be surrounded by huge mountains and very tall trees and be next to a huge body of water and have lunch there.  I wish I could do that every day! Later we went to a hiking trail close by.  My plan was to just step into the trail and hike up a couple of trail points and return.  But KB wanted to go deeper.  I was feeling nervous though I felt going all the way as well.  They said there is a very low probability of mountain lions coming to the trail area but the probability wasn't zero.  I never used to be scared of such things but with kids I feel very nervous.  We went on anyway and ended up doing the round and completing all the sixteen trail points.  It was awesome though - walking with our two kids and seeing them enjoy nature.  KB was thrilled to see a tall pine tree filled with holes made by the woodpecker.  Fallen logs filled with ants, squirrels nibbling on acorns, pine cones all over the place, humming birds, orioles, is just swell walking around with just bird songs to keep us company.  I wish I hadn't been so scared of a mountain lion jumping on us.  Didn't help that B and KB kept joking that there is a cheetah behind me or a rattle snake crawling close by.  After our hike, we went to a nice big coffee shop and kids had their milk and we had coffee and started on our drive home.

I was going to write about our swimming tales but it is kind of late and I need to get KB ready for his swim class.  So I shall do that in the next post.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Guilt Tag from Ro

Ro, one my favorite bloggers wrote two things she feels guilty about.  Or not.  As a mom. Mommy guilt is something that is born in our systems the moment the fetus is formed I think.  I should be eating better, but man, I am lazy to cook now, let me just eat noodles.  Oh dear, I am so terrible, giving my system Atta noodles when I have a baby growing inside of me.  Terrible terrible me.  I have not gained enough weight for it being the second trimester.  It must be because of not eating well.  Just starts there and never ends.  But of course we all do things every now and then where we go with our needs or desires ahead of the children.  And feel guilty about it.  And sometimes not even feel guilty about it.  I read Ro's interesting post on this and I really can write down her number one thing as is here because I do the same and I just don't feel guilty about it.  Kids bedtime routine has moved on to dad because enough is enough I have woken up hours on end with KB until he was about two years old and with KG when she was an infant when I woke up to nurse her.  I honestly also feel they need quiet time with daddy, so let him enjoy the bed time routine. No guilt there.  So let me write something I do feel guilty about.

I grew up seeing my parents fight with each other all the time.  They had their own connection, used to go to weddings and functions together, discuss people, friends, incidents, help people and never question each other about it - but bicker they did - what to me seemed non stop.  I hated it.  That horrible temper they would be in when they were in the thick of the fight.  I told myself I should not do that to my kids.  I don't do it to my kids that same way.  But I don't even want to do it to the extent I do now.  I fight with B in front of them.  Not just argue.  We shout and yell and spill our guts out for those thirty seconds.  Words like "ridiculous" and "Goddamn it" are used.  I slam cabinet doors as I cook when I am in the middle of a fight.  There have been times when KB has broken down crying because he always takes my side and he feels very bad that I am upset.  We play the blame game and I find it embarrassing.  Fighting like second graders.  I feel horribly guilty about it.  But I console myself that a) they need to know people fight, it happens, we move on, we are still friends b) mom is surely not a saint c) I do show to them that B and I also care for each other because I always tell them even on a day that we may have fought that their dad is an amazing dad and they are lucky to have such a wonderful dad and that it is not OK to talk back to daddy in anger.  You can argue with mom or dad but no rudeness allowed.  And I go through the guilt all over again because I am not showing it in my actions, I should not be shouting at their dad. 

2) This one is just like the one Ro wrote about.  There are days when I am running around from place to place and getting things done in the house, I just forget to eat breakfast or there is not enough time for a snack in the evening.  I used to get the multi colored fennel candy (if I happened to go to the Indian store) which I used to love as a child and still do.  If I get that, in my hunger, I used to gobble up half the packet during the drive.  This while restricting my sweet toothed daughter to eat 2 or 3 max of Bourbon cookies.  I have since stopped buying that candy.  My son, the saint of the house without ever scolding me has made me stop buying it by being such a role model for me.  How? I once told him about how he should not eat dum dum lollipops too much (he does not eat ANY candy or chocolate but he used to eat this) because it has food dyes that are not good for children.  He asked me more about it and then said "Then why do those companies make it for children?".  I said, they do, because they know kids will like it and they will also get money.  But since then he has pretty much stopped eating those lollipops.  Sometimes I am the one telling him to have one and that it is OK once in a while but he still won't eat it.  He will only eat the naturally flavored/colored with fruit juice pops from Trader Joes.  I was shamed into having half his self control when it comes to my fennel candy. 

Well, that's my guilt story. 

I tag "Neera" and "Ranjani" on this one!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Questions from KB

I have to pause and think before I answer KB's questions or pass it on to the dad when he gets home in the evening if I don't have time to google it.  I am partly writing this because it is interesting for me to read these sort of posts a couple of years later.  I plan to look up some old posts to see what KB used to be like at age four.

Anyway - some of the questions from the last two days:

1) Mamma, if I put an Apple in water and freeze it, will it get preserved for ever? (He has a piece of apple frozen in a cup of water in the freezer - he plans to keep it that way until he goes to college apparently!).

2) If gravity is such a powerful force, how am I even able to jump on my trampoline?

3) Mamma, suppose I am floating in water and gravity is everywhere, how come I am able to float?

4) What makes water turn into ice?

5) If fire comes out of the rocket when it takes off, how does the metal tube at the base of the rocket not get burnt?

6) Why do we need tissues?

7) How does the food know to go into the food pipe and not into the wind pipe all the time?

8) Will the sun also die and have a new sun be born later after billions of years?

9) Mamma, sometimes when I brush, there is a bubble on my lips, how come it doesn't burst when I touch it with the brush?

10) How is sand formed on earth?

11) Why does the earth spin around the sun?

12) Mamma, if the doctor cuts open the mom's tummy to take the baby out (I have not told him how natural delivery happens because he will then think too much about all that - I felt it can wait), then what do animals in the wild do? They don't have any vets to take their babies out right?

13) Why does old paper turn yellow?

14) Today's question when we were driving back from Target shop while listening to his favorite CD: "Mamma, how do they put the music on the CD if people are not singing in front of it?"

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The power of the individual

We went to the beach Friday night around 7.45 p.m.  The weather was balmy, warm and gorgeous.  I had the kids eat an early dinner and kept dinner ready for us.  As soon as B came home, we took off.  It was a full moon day and the waves were crashing on the big rocks behind the shore.  There were fire pits in the beach and on full moon days, the local drum group comes to play there to drum in the full moon.  It was absolutely lively to have the beat of the drums, the warm air, camp fire, embers flying through the air, jugglers doing fire tricks and people dancing around the drummers.  KB was so excited that he was dancing random crazy dances.  KG was delighted to dance along more slowly and gracefully but was very nervous when she saw a juggler throw a fire ball into her mouth.  That looked pretty scary even for me.  I have no idea how they even do that and not wince in pain.

There was a young girl with thick blond hair which was dyed a bright blue in the front.  She wore a sports bra and a pair of sports capris thus exposing her midriff.  She looked very sensual but not vulgar.  She seemed to be in her early twenties.  She was in the side lines watching one of the older men juggle with some bars with fire balls on the ends.  I never expected this young woman to come and do some fire tricks herself.  Every time I watch something of this sort, I find it very interesting.  What motivates this young girl to learn these difficult and somewhat dangerous fire tricks and do it for free?  Who are her parents? Do they encourage her or discourage her?  I just wonder about these things when I see someone like her.  It is in its own way a very nice feeling for me when I see such quirky individuals because it is telling of the power of the individual.  That fire within.  To do something that sparks your interest and do it no matter the reward.  To have a sense of self and have the discipline it takes to follow up and nurture an interest from within.

The other day I was typing something on the computer when the TV was on in the background late at night.  I saw some program on women body builders.  This young girl who was in high school was working towards becoming one.  What impressed me about her was how at that young age she had chosen something not so popular yet put in enormous amounts of effort and time and had the discipline to follow a strict diet and grueling exercise schedule from her trainer.  Similarly when I read about this man,  I feel that same fascination I feel for the power of the individual.  Though he is famous now, it must have been a lonely journey in the start of his running endeavors and also most of the running times must be a kind of lonely experience.  In this context I also have to write about this person who I have come to admire even though I only know her as the mother of my blog pal (who also is incredibly talented).  No one expects these people to accomplish these goals.  The end point is exciting and joyous but the journey is long and requires immense perseverance.  Yet that drive from within to set that goal and accomplish it is so remarkable.  Be it in small ways or big ways, it is nice to see someone have their own ways of doing things and be their own unique individual adding so much color to the world.  The beauty of creation and the uniqueness of each creation is just mind boggling.  In that sense too, parenting is such a moving journey because you see the uniqueness of the individual taking shape day by day in small and big ways.  I guess this is what makes people watching also so interesting because you can sit and marvel at variety there is out there despite us all belonging to one species.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Small gestures of kindness...

I read this post by Ranjani - a typical Ranjani style post - simple, straight from the heart kind of post.  I too often think of the people who have done small things which meant a lot or in some cases - what might have been small to them but really turned out to be a huge favor for me.  I am sure if I pause to think about it I will have a lot of people in this list.  But for starters I will write down a few.  (And Neera - see I posted!).

- When I was a graduate student, I had to stay till late night one day,  but then I had an abscess that was really hurting me by the evening.  I had no choice but to go to ER alone.  I just walked over to the medical building/hospital ER and waited for a couple of hours since there were much worse cases ahead of me.  When finally my turn came, they said an intern would come soon and take care of me.  I was in a lot of pain and there was a black woman, tall and strong who stayed with me through out the procedure and held my palms tight.  It was cold outside when I walked out but I was feeling so warm inside at the thought of this kind woman who realized that I was alone and in a lot of pain.  I don't remember her face or name but I remember what she did for me that day.

- When I was working in a research lab, I had to do a procedure on a newborn mouse.  I hated touching those tender beings and I was really scared as to how I would get through it.  But a medical student who later became a good friend of mine (with whom I have sadly lost all contact, he is now a big shot director of a neurosurgery center) came to my rescue and stood by me while I did it even though he didn't really know me well at that time.  We have shared so many light moments and I have learned so much from him.  It was truly good, simple friendship.  He was such an inspiring person, so full of life, so talented and brilliant.  I completely lost touch with him over the years but one day when I looked up his name I felt so proud to see where he was in life at this point.  I always thank him in my mind for being a good/kind friend then when he was just a student.

- When my father was in the hospital and we knew the time had come, I had to book tickets and leave immediately to take a long flight to the other coast with a 17m old KB, while being pregnant with KG.  I was so sad and was crying and miserable.  My friend happened to call and I told her the news and that I was leaving in a couple of hours to the airport.  She drove half an hour on a week day morning and brought me the essentials I would need for KB for the flight.  And just stayed with me through the next hour just being there for me.  Another friend who I had gotten to know only recently brought over long pants that would fit my pregnant belly (I only had capris that fit me since it was warm where I lived) since I was going to a cold place.  I didn't even think to ask any one to come to me for moral support but they just showed up and I late realized how good it was to have that moral support.

- When I was returning from Bangalore after KB's ayushomam, I was traveling alone.  KB fell asleep in the van as my FIL dropped me at the airport and came up to the point he could with me.  I paid a good amount to the guy in some khaki uniform - some airport staff - to help me through the check in process since I had my luggage, carry on diaper bag and sleeping child on my shoulders and I was pregnant with KG (it all happened the same year).  As soon as we entered and I was in line, the guy just took the money but did nothing to help.  He just vanished.  I had no idea where the line even began because it was a ridiculous mob of people pushing towards the ticket counter.  I was literally in tears when KB woke up and cried looking at the huge crowds.  Suddenly I came to know that I had to pick up some form upstairs and then fill it out and then come downstairs with it.  I can't remember the details but I remember it was all extremely stressful.  I spotted some uniformed person and ran to him and said "You have to help me.  The person whom I paid money to has vanished.  I don't know who to ask for help.  My child is crying and I have all this luggage.  I have no idea where the line begins or ends".  The guy told me that he was actually not an airport official but the chief person for the catering department for that flight.  But him and the person who worked for him both just stayed with me the whole time - picked up the form for me, filled it out (I handed my passport to a complete stranger!) while a crying KB would not let go of me and had to be fed at that moment! They went downstairs and handed the form and got everything sorted out and chatted with me until I went into the boarding area.  I don't know if I would have even made it on that flight if they had not helped me.  Till date, I am so grateful for their help.

Am sure there are lots more people I can write about in this list.  But I will stop here for now. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

This n that...

Saturday was a relaxing day doing stuff at home.  Usually summer weekends I have this feeling that I have to utilize it by taking the kids out some place - usually some place outdoors.  Hiking, zoo, botanical garden etc.  Last Saturday I decided I had to clean out stuff from the garage and so I stopped myself from planning some outing with the kids.  Instead they went with B to the skating arena and roller skated for a couple of hours.  I had to make a couple of calls and then got to work cleaning out at least a part of the garage.  I got rid of a ton of awesome carnatic music cassette tapes.  I had kept them with me not having the heart to throw them out.  But it didn't make sense to keep them for ever since I don't even have a cassette player anymore.  Gosh how times change.  To think that my children would never have even seen a cassette!   After the kids got back, we had lunch and tea and just lazed around doing stuff around the house.  KB wanted to buy basket ball shoes for himself since he has now joined a basket ball class.  So we went to buy him shoes and then on the way decided to eat at a local south Indian restaurant.  We usually don't eat out that often partly because most of the time my mother or my FIL are with us and they can't really eat out.  Plus KB is such a fussy eater that I am always afraid that he will go hungry.  But he agreed to eat dosa and he did OK - at least had half of the kids cone dosa.

Next morning, Sunday, we got an early start to the day and went to the zoo.  KB and KG's good friends came along and we had a great time.  By the time we got back it was close to 9.45 p.m. and the kids were exhausted and fast asleep.  Today, I decided to check out a Montessori school for KG that I had been meaning to check out.  She seemed really comfortable in the pre-K classroom.  I am not happy with the stand offishness of the teacher. There are two teachers and an assistant in the classroom.  The second teacher was friendly and showed KG around the classroom.  KG was in there for about an hour and half.  The director of the school took KB to the KG/first grade classroom and gave him this game to play on his own.  After sometime KB and I peeked through the window to see how KG was doing and she was totally fine.  The director of the school was talking to me while we waited in the playground.  KB was bored but did not want to go inside again to play on the computer.  He stood around following some cotton seeds that were flying around.  We had been talking for about fifteen minutes when suddenly KB came to me and said, "Excuse me, Mamma" and mumbled a whole bunch of numbers in my ears.  I had no idea what he was talking about and told him so.  He repeated it to me a little louder and said, "Mamma, eighteen thousand eight hundred and sixty three plus eighteen thousand eight hundred and sixty three is thirty seven thousand seven hundred and twenty six".  I was totally confused as to why he was suddenly telling me this and I had to quickly add it up mentally to see if he was right.  And he was.  I said, yes, KB, you are right.  He then asked me for a piece of paper.  The director told him to go to the KG classroom and get it from the teacher.  He ran in and wrote it down and brought it to me.  I guess boredom helps! He just randomly picked his huge number and did a mental addition while chasing cotton seeds to kill time!

Tomorrow morning KG's classmate has a birthday party, so KB will also come along.  Summer is just the best! Nearly one month since KB's school ended for the summer and it has been so relaxing.  I thought being home all day with both kids at home would probably drive me nuts.  They do drive me crazy at times with their fighting but overall it has been so awesome.  Just having the time to go places with them without much planning and knowing that we don't have to rush them to school the next morning - it has been so lovely.  Knock on wood!

Saturday, July 09, 2011


KB has always been a light sleeper.  Even as an infant I have had to deal with sleepless nights with him.  Even when he was just born he looked so alert and so deep in thought.  He continues to be that way.  But the last few months have not been just those random wake up for a few minutes, talking in his sleep or whining a little and going back to sleep. KB wakes up around 10.45 p.m. (he goes to sleep around 9.00 p.m.) crying in his sleep.  He gets up half asleep and kneels down and keeps bending down and putting his head on the pillow as if he was doing a namaz prayer and cries out "Mamma! Daddy"...and says "Help me" or just keeps calling out for us while crying "Mamma...Mamma..."  The first time he had this kind of petrified look, I traced it back to the combination of medications he took for his Bronchitis.  But the last couple of months, he did not take any medications. I made him sleep in our bed (and later move him to his bed) - that worked for about three weeks.  So I thought something about his bed made him get nightmares.  But I jinxed it.  He got nightmares on random days.

I am very sensitive to the temperature in the room.  If it gets too hot, especially on those days in winter when we turn on the heater and  if it is a little too much, I end up getting nightmares.  Even if feel sleepy and lazy I would wake up and turn down the heat.  KB seems exactly the same way.  But the temperature is not the only thing.  It is a combination of his age, the stage of development when they understand more, imagine more and hence get these nightmares.  But it is also his particular nature.  Intense, compulsive, particular about how things are done, thinks very deeply about things.  I will write more about his nature in his birthday post next month. He is totally into "Calvin and Hobbes" comics these days.  He reads them on his own but we read it to him before bedtime.  Even though it is not scary, it has some food for thought in its content.  So KB ends up thinking about things like "Why did his racoon die?" etc while going to bed (I think!).  Anyway - one thing that helps to calm him down and get him back to sleep is getting a cold towel and rubbing his back and forehead with it.  The whole process takes about fifteen minutes.  It wasn't this bad until the last couple of months.  Of late it has been about three times a week that this happens.  May be the heat of the summer also contributes to it.  But it is very stressful for me sometimes - the anticipation that he might wake up crying, then trying to calm him down and getting him back to sleep.  I just hope he gets through this phase and gets back to sleeping peacefully through the night. 

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

KG turned four...

KG turned four couple of weeks back.  It is so unbelievable for me because it sometimes feels like she grew up completely on her own.  Well, not literally.  But she just grew up before I could even imprint it in my head.  Always rushing to catch up with her brother who is twenty two months older than her.  She is a mix of daring and shy that sometimes surprises me.  She sometimes acts like she has no clue what fear means, that such an emotion even exists.  But sometimes she exhibits shyness that I just cannot understand.  I drop her in preschool for the first time when she is three years and two months old.  She waves goodbye and acts like she has been going there for ever, doesn't even turn to look for me.  Her teacher, who is also into photography sends me pictures of her every day.  I can actually see how long she took to let go of herself at the new environment.  She barely gave a smile in the initial days.  Then a suppressed smile.  A slight curve.  A couple of teeth showing.  A few more.  Then a full smile. Raging laughter chasing after her teacher in the playground by the end of the year.  She had such a good time at her preschool.  The learning part of it was too abstract that I really don't know if academically she learned much there.  But her teacher just loves children and dotes on them.  That sense of warmth made me feel so much at ease when she was away at school.

The summer before KB turned four, he started reading simple Bob books.  The first time he read a book fully to me was so exciting that I even remember that moment well now.  But with KG things just happen and we take it in stride.  I do feel happy but it is not a novel experience.  Considering how little time I spend reading to her alone, or teaching her things (since there is not much academic learning at her school), I am often surprised by how she picks up things.  When one day I found these Brain quest cards on our book shelf and sat down with her and asked her those questions, I was pleasantly surprised by the ease with which she could answer most questions.  The poor little sister, she ends up listening to us reading Magic tree house books or books about mammals meant for older kids that we read to KB.  He is such a talker and such a prankster that I often have to physically shut his mouth so he would let KG talk or answer questions.  He delights in annoying her by answering any question I ask her quickly before she can answer it.  So she does not get much individual attention where I sit down to teach her things.  KB was a very focused and attentive listener when I read books to him.  He could read books back to me verbatim from memory from the time he was two and half.  It still amazes me that we took that for granted because KG absolutely cannot do it.  She just does not pay attention to the exact words.  But on the other hand she gets the story and often surprises me with her understanding of subtle nuances in the story.

Thanks to her brother who is now totally into basketball and reads books about greatest basketball players, she too knows about players like Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bill Russell.  She loves to sing and makes up gibberish songs and sings on and on even when she is in the bathroom.  We baby her a lot at home and she thrives and enjoys the attention.  She wakes up in the morning and always insists on "Mamma" coming to get her from the bed.  Some days if she decides to get out of her bed on her own she will come looking for me in the living room and sit next to me and say "Good morning Mamma".  She does not have the clarity of communication that KB had at her age.  KB always was verbally way ahead of his age and so we sometimes get nervous if she is on track or not for her age.  KB's teacher and now KG's teacher both remind me that KB was naturally very verbal and was ahead of his age and I should not be comparing her to him.  And that she is totally fine.  KG talks a lot but sometimes gives totally random stories or answers which I am not used to at all with KB.  She has cute ways of saying things the wrong way that we love so much and go out of our way to not correct her.  Like if I tell her "KG, I know you will break it". She would say to me, "No, I will'nt".  She still says "Sun scream" lotion for "Sun screen" lotion.  KB has always been so precise and correct and clear in the way he talked that KG's lingering mazhalai (baby language) is such a delight for us.

KG loves to play outdoors.  She has always been daring when it comes to activities at the park.  At age two and half or three, KB used to be slightly scared of going in those tall curvy slides.  KG on the other hand could do it without any fear since age two.  Even now if I am busy and the bedroom light needs to be turned on, KG is the one who rushes in and turns it on for KB just so he won't be scared!  I sent her with B and KB couple of weeks back to the park and told B to get her started on riding the bike w/out training wheels.  KB learned to ride a bike without training wheels only at age five.  But for her we decided to start earlier because I knew she was ready for it.  But I assumed it would take a few tries and that I would go with  her the next time and I would get to see her bike on her own (without training wheels).  B came back home that day and told me that within forty minutes of trying, she was happily biking on her own without any training wheels.  Even turns and slowing down for it etc.  We took the kids for roller skating lessons a few times.  KG just pushes me off to go to the side lines and not help her out.  She learned to do a pretty good job of it quite fast.  One Afghani mom who was on the sides was observing her the second class and told me "Your daughter, she is so strong willed".  Indeed she is.  Extremely so.  B and I wonder how we will cope with her strong will when she is a teenager.  She has very good grip when it comes to holding her pencil and she loves to paint.  I took her to an art class couple of weeks back.  The instructor said that he normally does not take four year olds but when he saw her paint the flowers (he drew the outlines for her), he said he would take her in once a month because she was able to hold the brush and paint really well for her age (in his words).  She has started swim lessons since last week.  Her teacher told me that she was completely comfortable in the water.  After class KB and KG and two of their friends were playing in the smaller shallow pool.  KG kept asking me if she could go to the big pool where she had the class.  I said no and that she could only play in the little pool.  The kind of "kurutu dhairyam" (blind courage) she has, she suddenly got out of the play pool and very coolly walked to the big pool and was about to jump in.  I had to make a dash and grab her before she fell in.  She scares me with her recklessness sometimes.  She is always skipping and running like a typical happy go lucky four year old.  On the day of her birthday, she banged her head on the edge of the wall and I had to rush her to the doctor and have the skin on her forehead pulled together with derma bond! The next day again she hurt herself on the other side of her forehead while fighting with KB for the basketball in the yard outside.  She gets bruises all the time but usually does not fuss like KB would for these little cuts and scrapes.  She writes her name and numbers up to 10 but still feels upset that she cannot write in cursive like KB does.  KB is her super hero!

Any child is a blessing really.  But I can't help thank God for giving me a daughter even though I did not mind either way when I was pregnant with her.  She hugs tight, laughs with joy and skips around with delight, all of which fills me with joy.  Especially her tight hugs.  Her calmness in some situations makes me wish I could be like her in some ways.  I just hope she continues that way.  She is sometimes a paradox - calm yet full of energy, daring yet shy, grasps things well but talks like a baby sometimes, is so strong willed yet melts if I so much as say "Aww" if she steps on my toes and immediately bends down to rub my toes.  I continue to say my thanks to God for all the ways in which she has helped me in raising two kids who are so close in age by being easy going in so many ways.  I thank God so often for giving me a daughter since I am enjoying her so much.  Thank you God, thank you!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The caretaker's dilemma

I have been thinking a lot about the issue of taking care of aging parents and the complexities of the situation.  We are the generation with one foot in the U.S (or any place else abroad) and one foot back home in India.  Some of us came here for our undergraduate studies, some for graduate school and some others for work.  Many decided to stay on after marriage, had children and established roots here.  I am writing from the perspective of someone who is going through the confusion of what is right when it comes to being the caretaker for an aging parent or parent-in-law.

MM wrote this post recently on how it is for her parents to come to the U.S. and being away from their home, their normal routines.  I also read this post by hiphopgrandma on the same topic.  Very interesting perspectives.  I am sure there are plenty of others with stories of their own regarding this issue.  I have written about this topic earlier as well.  I wrote that post nearly three years back.  By divine grace so far we have managed OK both with my mother and with my father-in-law.  My FIL got his green card and shunts between the two countries.  He spends some time with his daughter and then comes to stay with us and then heads back to India.

I feel very guilty when I see my FIL alone without my mother-in-law and having to stay with us for part of the year.  If she had been alive, they would have both coped with life here quite well.  They enjoyed their trips to the U.S. in the past.  So in that sense, they did not feel too displaced and were quite happy to be with their children.  My MIL was a very talented, sharp woman and she had tremendous inner strength as I saw it and from what I heard from all her relatives.  She could be put in any situation and she would adapt and cope and always had a calm temperament.  I might have had some issues with her had she also been living with us - like it would happen in any normal situation when people co exist - but I consider it a tremendous loss for me that she passed away.  At the same time, I am still glad that she did not suffer nor become a burden for my FIL to take care of her, even if her children were to be there for them.

I sometimes see my father-in-law turn off the TV and just sit quietly, thinking, and staring up at the wall.  It really breaks my heart.  He is a voracious reader - he reads plenty of books and reads the newspaper cover to cover.  He does plenty of Sudoku puzzles every day and he reads horoscopes that people email to me and I write back his comments to them.  But there are 24 hours in a day and there still are so many moments in a day when there is nothing to do.  How do you keep the same set of routines day after day without much social company? Unlike my father who could make friends with any one pretty much and have conversations for hours, my FIL is a quiet person and he talks a lot only if there is a common interest or if the person initiates the conversation.  He is a friendly person but not overly chatty.  He is not the kind to play with the children either.  An occasional ball catch, that's about it.

My FIL's situation of having to live here has cropped up only in the last three years since my FIL got his green card and ends up spending about 6 or 7 months in the U.S.  It is a very long stretch for him.  The situation so far has been manageable.  Ideally he would have been happy had we lived in Bangalore as well and he could have just continued on with his life.  But both his son (my husband) and daughter came to the U.S many years back when they were both healthy and active.  My husband came here for his graduate studies and then started working and then he got married to me.  For me, there is no "home" as such in India because my parents moved to the U.S many years back when I came here for college.  All my siblings are settled in the U.S.  My father is no more and my mom shunts between all her children.  She too is tired of visiting each one of us and feels the need to settle in one place.

I think about this situation and I wonder what the right thing to do would be.  My FIL has never once asked us to move back to India.  I am grateful to him for not sending us on guilt trips and for giving us the freedom to make that choice.  He is a traditional Indian parent and so the primary responsibility rests with the son.  Son yes, but the real care taking falls on the daughter-in-law.  More on that later.  When my husband was finishing high school and got admission into IIT, it was a matter of pride and joy for my in-laws.  They had never once even told him to apply to IIT nor put him in any classes for the entrance exams.  In some sense, I think the lack of pressure really helped.  He went on to finish his  He got job offers from Indian firms and admission into a couple of IIM's.  But with the blissfulness of youth, he just applied to some universities here for graduate studies and decided that if he got a full scholarship, he would come.  And he did.  At that time too it was a matter of joy for my in-laws.  At that point no one in his immediate family had come to the U.S and so it was all very exciting.  Later when he got a job after his graduate studies, that too was greeted with joy.  He was putting off marriage and would not even look at the photos of girls that his mother would show to him (that's a side plot some of my blog pals already know about).  So suddenly one day when he announced to his parents that he had decided to marry me they were very happy about it.  His father was so thrilled giving out wedding invitations to even his old school teacher when he bumped into him on the way to some place.  At those different stages, no one thought about what all that would mean in their old age.  May be they did somewhere as a distant thought, but nothing immediate.  Things seemed right at that time when every one was happy in their little worlds.

Now things are different.  My mother-in-law passed away.  My father-in-law has had no choice but to get adapted to life without a companion.  But the reality is he has also had to deal with living alone in a world that is not his home.  And that is the hard part for him, for us.  What do we do in this situation? We have young children who are used to life here.  My whole family lives in the U.S. and I have no home base in India now.  Without my mother-in-law around, even my FIL's house does not feel like a home.  I did not grow up in that  city and I don't even relate to that place.  My husband is happy in his job here and has never worked in India and so there is that fear of adjusting to that work culture at this stage of life, especially when the prime projects happen here for his job and not in India.  KB is a very sensitive child and I am happy he is comfortable in his environment here.  He is prone to respiratory infections and I honestly dread the pollution both in Bangalore and in Chennai were to live there.  A windy day dust storm here triggers bronchitis for him.  KG is most likely to adjust to life easily there since she is pretty easy going and will eat anything.  Unlike KB who probably would have a very hard time adjusting to all the changes.  Neither me nor my husband have any siblings in India now.  Considering everything, at what point do you decide that you uproot yourself even if you feel a sense of belonging (even if it is not complete like it would have been had I never left India) in the place you are in?  When my father-in-law left couple of days back after staying here for some months, he told me that he enjoyed his stay here and he was very appreciative of my cooking for him etc.  I was grateful for those kind words from him.

I am not even considering a full time job because I know I cannot cope with handling two kids and taking care of my FIL.  Even my FIL himself remarks to me that he feels sad that with all this education in hand, I am pretty much doing domestic work all day long.  But I don't want the stress of work to transfer on to the kids.  At least not when they are this young.  Last time he was here, because of some health issues I had to take him to different doctor appointments about a dozen times in a matter of three months.  This trip, it was mostly dental issues. But still it had to be dealt with.  When he is here, I feel better in fact because I am on top of it when it comes to his health.  I try to give him the right kind of food even if it means cooking separately for us, for the kids and for him at times.  And here making appointments, contacting the pharmacy etc all involve phone time which I have very little of in the day since those sort of calls cannot be done casually when I am cooking or cleaning. I have to plan his doctor visits in the time I have between drop off and pick up for the kids and find time to cook the meals and buy groceries.  There is absolutely no family locally for me and so unless it is an emergency I don't ask my friends (who also have two kids) to help me out.  When he is here, I feel very guilty to take the kids out for full day trips because he doesn't enjoy being out the whole day and it is practically difficult because then I would have to plan and pack food for him for all his meals.  Because of his diet restrictions, I don't feel comfortable letting him eat salty/greasy food from outside.  Much as I hate having the TV on at most times during the day, because the children are around, I subscribed to all the tamil channels available and I try and keep the kids in the family room so they are not also glancing at the angry or sobbing faces in these TV serials.  I never make any plans to go out of town when he is with us because I don't feel comfortable adding that responsibility on who ever we visit...if it is just us, we can always order take out if the host is busy.  And the travel is tiring for him as well.  All this is to say that the adjustment is not just for the aging parent but very much so for the rest of the family as well.  Nine months in a year, I am taking care either of my mother or my FIL both of whom are of similar age and similar situations.  This is when it irks me when some people casually remark with a tone of one sided pity that he has to put up with life here because both his children are in the U.S.  No one thought about all this when things were hunky dory.  Now every one is deeply entrenched in their lives so it is difficult to up and go.  Be it daughter or son.  This is not to say that we won't do it if it really comes down to it.   Since B is at work and comes home past the kids dinner time, I pretty much have to keep both kids and FIL fed, happy, engaged.  Every one needs my attention.  When I am trying to have a conversation with my FIL, both kids have a hundred things to say to me.  B comes home from work and spends time with the kids until their bed time.  When finally at the end of the day we sit down on the couch, both of us are too tired to talk to each other.  B is fast asleep ten minutes after we sit down some days and it does lead to us fighting more than we need to for trivial things because the pressure builds up.  I am writing this in detail because people who are not faced with this situation don't often realize that the situation is complex and there are no ideal solutions.  You just learn to cope and make the best of it.  I feel happy for my FIL when he is packing to go back to India because I know how free and at home he must feel when he is in the home he has been in for the last twenty five years.  I really wish he didn't have to come here and live this boring life, filled with monotonous routines of meals, walks, TV and so on.  We all mean well for each other but it is not easy on any of us.  I try to do my best to make life comfortable for him when he is here.  I am sure I do fail in many ways especially from his perspective.  But we all learn to live with it.  I am not sure how much of my perspective about all this will change in my old age.  I just hope we retain good health at the very least so we can be on our own.  In the meanwhile, we all carry on with this balancing act.