Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Who is in charge?

Raising children in a different culture than the one we grew up in, sometimes I find myself wondering if the perspective the teachers or people in positions of authority who come in contact with my children are "correct".  There is no one right way.  And who is to say what end result means you have done a good job as a parent? 

I took KB and KG to try out a new swimming class with the head coach of a swim team.  She gives private lessons as well as coach the swim team for the kids who join the team from the neighborhood.  She is a strong, somewhat reticent, but friendly enough person.  I took KB and KG for one trial lesson with her and we all liked her teaching.  She is firm with them without yelling at them.  The next day, I decided to also try out the "swim team" lesson.  After their half hour class, they had a half hour break and then they had to swim for another hour as part of the swim team lesson.  This was the first time KB was doing anything longer than half hour of active stroke swimming.  He plays with his friends in the pool for two hours.  But it is not the same since it is just play.  So when they started the swim team lesson, KB was OK with it for a short while.  But about 20 min into it, I saw his face looking tense.  Ten minutes later, I knew he was on the verge of tears.  The coach standing outside his lane said, "He is OK". 

Ten minutes later I saw him at the end of the lane with tears in his eyes.  I asked him if he was OK and he said he feels left out because every one else was better than him.  I didn't know that the other kids were all wearing fins for that segment of the session.  Naturally KB was not able to keep up with them.  I went and told the head coach that I was pulling him out since he had just had a class and he was also not happy since he was not prepared for this with fins etc.  She shrugged very disapprovingly and said, "OK if that's what you want to do".  KB's friend who was trying out the team also looked very unhappy.  He complained that he was tired.  His mom went and asked the coach what she should do about it.  The coach said, "If you pull him out now, he will think he is in charge.  Let him be in the water. He will manage". 

That got me thinking...is it so bad for a seven year old to feel like he is in charge of that situation? If he is really feeling tired, if it is the first time he was trying it out, he has had a class just before this and doesn't feel like he has the energy to cope, is it so wrong for him to want to come out of the pool just then? Why shouldn't a seven year old have reasonable rights like that? Why shouldn't he feel in charge? I know that if I had left KB there and insisted he finish it he would have survived.  But why put him through that torture?  I still feel I did the right thing.  KG too was in the same class but her attitude is totally different.  She does not get perturbed by all this and she has a little more stamina than KG because she is a better eater.  She enjoyed herself, finished the class and came out after the hour.

I went the next morning, got him the fins and kickboard and scheduled a semi private lesson for KG and KB with the head coach.  KB learned how to use the fins and kick board.  He learned intently the butterfly stroke.  I then took him to a friend's community pool and he practiced all four strokes with the fins on.  He told me today that he is now prepared for the swim team.  I feel, for his personality, I did the right thing.  He likes to be in control of the situation, feel prepared and do his best.  He did not enjoy not knowing what he was doing and he pressured himself to keep up with the kids who had fins on and he was truly exhausted.  It remains to be seen how he will fair in the next swim team class.  But culturally, the head coach is sure her way is right.  I should not have pulled him out.  She said to my friend, "It would be a realllly bad idea to pull him out" when she wanted to get her son out because he was tired.  But the way I raise my children, I feel they have their rights in certain situations and it is especially my responsibility as an adult to make sure they know that their wishes are respected and that I am in charge of it and not some teacher who does not know them.  To her it might have seemed like helicopter parenting, to me it seems like responsible parenting.  It is probably how one sees it.  I don't know what is the right thing to do except to do what "feels" right.  Well, let me see how the swim team lesson goes next week.  At least I feel he is prepared for it now.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A summer day

I had mentioned in one of my earlier posts that this summer has been pretty much lazing around and/or playing almost all day for the kids.  I thought I should write down about what we did on some day so I can at least remember something when I look back.  Time just goes by in a flash every summer day.  I am barely able to talk to people on the phone.  And some of my friends whose kids are home for the summer also feel the same way.  I have not talked to my mother in nearly two weeks.  The windows of time I have, she has not been available at the phone.  And when she calls me back, I am out of the house.  She doesn't usually try my cell phone if I am not home.  I am going to try and recollect my day yesterday.

I woke up at 6.25 a.m.  Got changed and wore my shoes and went for a walk at the park.

7.30 - coffee/news on the net/email check.

Yesterday I made an extra effort to keep the bedroom door closed and lowered the temperature for the AC even more so it would be extra cool all in an effort to try and get KB to sleep a little longer.  He has been sleeping at 10.30 p.m. or so and waking up by 7.15 - 7.30 a.m.  I wish he would sleep till 9.00 a.m. during the summer holidays.  Am sure come school days it is going to be a struggle for me to wake him up at 6.30 a.m.  Every morning he wakes up and comes to me at the dining table and declares "7.19" or "7.23" etc to tell me exactly what time he woke up.  He has the habit of looking at the clock the moment he wakes up just the way I do.  I cannot sleep well in a room that doesn't have a clock.  I just need to know the time if I wake up at night or I feel disoriented.  Anyway, back to our day.

8.04 was the declared time that KB woke up yesterday.  He came to me and said, "Mamma, KG wants  you to come and lie down with her for sometime".  So I went and lay down with KG and she was so happy that I immediately obliged her request.  And we called out for KB also to join us and the three of us lay in bed with them literally piled up on me like sacs and laughing and playing.

8.35 - get out of bed.  Made up the bed.  Gave KB his milk.  He promptly sat down in the corner seat of the couch and started reading his Calvin & Hobbes book (he has been reading them all, all over again for may be the third of fourth time, obsessed).   KG went on to her refuge from the madness, her hot wheel cars.  She makes up her own world with them, introduces prince/princess/animals - everyone if part of her imaginary world there.  I read some more stuff on the net and then put away some dishes etc and tried to get them ready for breakfast.  I had to look up gift items for a friend's daughter in the meanwhile also.

9.30 - Sat with the kids for their breakfast for a while.  Usually I sit with them the whole time but I suddenly had the enthusiasm to make "Milagai Pachadi" since B had bought a ton of green chillies on the rare day that he went to the Indian store when I had asked him to buy some green chillies.  I made that and some rasam.  I had to return some of my friend's containers, so I packed some of the stuff I had cooked for her.  Around 10.15, I started rushing the kids to go get ready to leave for KB's friend's house for a play date.  Got him to finally get into the room and practice his music for half an hour.  Shower and be ready.  I cleaned up in the kitchen, ate a quick breakfast, showered and got ready.  Went and dropped off the containers with my friend and then went to KB's friend's house.

11.40 - reach KB's friend's house.  Both those boys were excited and waiting at the door.  One other boy and his sister joined us a few minutes later.  Plan was for the moms also to stay on and eat lunch there together.  After and hour and half or so of running around, the kids wanted to watch TV.  But the remote control battery was not working well and we could not get netflix to work.  So I drove back home to get batteries since my friend ran out of new ones.  I got a great welcome when I got back obviously because the kids were waiting to watch some useless show called "Avatar" on netflix.  In the middle of all this, there were pillow fights, tears, screaming and the works.  When I walked in with the batteries, the oldest girl in the group told me "Aunty, KB was not listening at all.  He was throwing pillows around even though my mom told him many times not to".  I had to take KB out and lecture him to listen especially when I am not in the house with them.  It put me in a restless mood for a while because of the bad feeling I had from scolding him when he was having the kind of typical fun kids have when they get together.  I finally somehow composed myself to get back to normal.  Finally around 1.45 p.m. the kids finished their lunch, we turned on the TV and sat down to have our own lunch.  Half an hour later there was more fighting amongst the kids because one of them did not want Avatar show and the others did!

1.45 - 2.45 - lunch/clean up etc.

3.15 - leave the house.  Feeling kind of wiped out dealing with the kids fighting,screaming inside the house.  We usually meet in the park but this was the third time this month the kids were meeting at our houses for 3 or 4 hours at a stretch.  I prefer the park play dates if it involves more than two other kids I think!

3.30 - come home, give KB his milk, KG her yogurt.  Make myself tea and drink it peacefully.

4.15 - leave for KB's piano class. Drop him and get home at 4.45 p.m.  Answer some emails I had received regarding their swim lessons.

4.45 - 5.20 - sit with KG.  She read one of the books "Lucky for me" from the hooked on phonics first grade series.  I then asked her the comprehension questions they have for that book.  I had to make a choice between doing this or going to buy veggies and fruits in that time.  I told myself that can wait and instead spent this quiet time with her when KB was not around.

5.30 - KB pick up.  Bumped into another mom I know at the parking lot.  Talked for 10 minutes with her.  Got back home around 5.50 p.m.  KB wanted to look at some more sun flower seeds to buy for him.  He planted some sun flower seeds around mid June and now they are blooming beautifully.  Will post pictures of those sometime.  Gave KG grapes and KB a cup of yogurt (after much trying finally he has accepted store bought organic stony field farm vanilla yogurt this summer!!!).  Got their razor scooters and helmets in the car trunk.  Packed their water bottles etc.

6.30 - 7.30 - kids were scootering at the park near us.  Normally they meet with some friend or the other for a play date at the park.  But after the morning play date I told them that we could just go ourselves and do something quietly even if no other friend was coming to the park.  I was looking to just sit and quietly enjoy the breeze.  But I bumped into someone I know who had come with her whole family (three boys) because her oldest boy was in the soccer team and had his practice there.  So I sat down talking to her and playing with her 8m old baby for a bit.

7.40 p.m.  - got back home.  Immediately rushed to the kitchen to start cooking their/our dinner.  Usually I keep their dinner ready at least.  But last night I hadn't done so.  Made dal/rice.  Washed and cut the spinach from the organic spinach box they sell at Costco.  Sauteed spinach and green peas together for them.  And made spinach/garbanzo beans with a "more kozhambu" base for ourselves.  Had that with rice and also had my yummy milagai pachadi from the morning!  One of those rare evenings when I got to have a south Indian meal instead of our usual chapathi and subzi.

8.15 p.m. - finished cooking.  In the meanwhile B was sitting with KB and KG playing scrabble and helping them both.  I went and joined them and the kids were so excited when I went to join them screaming "hey, mamma's here! Mommy, mommy, mommy"!  Played till 8.45 p.m.

8.45 - 9.20 - kids ate dinner.  I usually sit with them and read or talk to them while they eat.  But since it was so late, B and I ate along with them.  KB was reading "Micheal Jordan" book by Matt Chirstopher.  He got to the chapter where MJ's father got killed and I was worried that KB might get night mares.  So I told him to put away that book and read his Calvin book instead.  KG was looking at her "D.W. rides again" book while she ate her dinner.  I had loaded the dishwasher with the dishes up to the point before dinner.  B then loaded the after dinner dishes while I sat with the kids for 10 minutes in the couch talking to them.  Finally at 9.30, the brushing etc started.  KB wanted a new brush that he has spotted in the drawer.  KG felt it was not fair he got to open a new brush.  Had to settle that fight first.  at 10.00 p.m. the kids settled in bed.  These days they want me to come lie down with them.  Some days I read to them, some days I just talk to them in the dark. KG usually lies down on my back for a few minutes.  Usually I get out of bed after they fall asleep.  Last night I felt sleepy as well and I just slept along with them.  Much earlier than my usual sleep time (around mid night).  Because of which I woke up at 2.15 a.m. and could not sleep. So here I am writing a blog post and finishing it up at 3.12 a.m.!  Will go back to bed soon and wake up to another day! Strange feeling when I write that line - wake up to another day!  Who knows what another day will be like!
Well as long as it is like this day, I guess it is not a bad deal!  

Monday, August 13, 2012

KB turns seven

I started writing this blog sometime in June 2006 when KB was ten months old.  KB turned seven years old ten days back.  I think back to his baby days and I try to remember how he looked, what he did etc in my mind.  Funny how days and nights of nursing, feeding, diapering, marveling all collate into quick flashes of memory when you think about it without watching any video or looking at photographs.  If I read some of the posts on KB in his infant days, it brings things back to memory in a way that feels deeply personal.  It makes me wish I had written more about both my children, more often and in greater detail.  For reliving the small moments.  Well, I am glad I at least have this much to go back to! 

We had gone to a wild life sanctuary last weekend and hung out there for a few hours.  It is a very low key place with a lovely bird porch, a 75 year old desert tortoise, a small nature center with live snakes, and a few small trails and a pond with a lot of fishes and turtles perched on rocks.  The kids love this place and fondly go back there to see their friend, “Henry” the tortoise.  While we were at the nature center, I asked the man in charge if he could bring one of the snakes out of the cage for KB to touch.  He was nice enough to bring it out and show “Bob” the corn snake to KB.  He then asked him if he wanted the snake on his shoulder.  “Yes”, KB said without batting an eyelid.  These are the kind of moments that remind you that your child is really growing up.  Suddenly there, handling the snake on his shoulder bravely, controlling his excitement and may be some nervousness too, smiling with excitement as Bob slithered around his neck, I saw KB as a seven year old boy.  Still my little child, yet a person on his own.  I felt proud in a way that only a mother can about something so small, a snake on his shoulder.  I was proud that he was brave enough to say yes, adventurous enough to open himself to that experience and calm enough to smile through it.  And because I could never have done it myself, I felt excited for him.  Which mother does not live a little through their children?!

KB is in so many ways all that I saw in him as an infant and more.  Sensitive and opinionated.  Obsessive. Particular about the way things are done.  Happy, yet intense.  A real talker.  Give him a few minutes of your time and he will be glad to go on and on.  If he goes into academics to become a professor, it would be no surprise to me.  And I hope he does, considering how much he loves to tell people what he knows and elaborate on it.  He loves to laugh and laugh loudly.  He dotes on his little sister and is always proud of every little thing she does much as he gets on her nerves by troubling her all day long.  A small example – the other day I was going to give a box of left over chocolate chip muffins to the gardener who comes every Monday.  I asked KG if I could give it and she said to save 3 or 4 of them and give the rest.  KB came to me and said, “Mamma, save the ones with a lot of chocolate.  Save all the special ones for KG, okay?”.  This, even though he keeps lecturing KG on how she needs to stop eating junk food.  

Speaking of junk food, I am still amazed by his conviction and his self control when it comes to certain things.  I am not saying this in any tone of bragging.  I really just feel plain and simple amazed because I don’t have the self control he does at his age.  He used to love mac n cheese, pringle chips, cheetos, dum dum lollipops.  He was never one for too much snacking anyway and he never wanted to have ice cream or chocolates.  I always assumed that when he started school anyway he will go on junk over drive and I didn’t particularly encourage him to eat it if he didn’t ask for it.  But even the few comfort foods he liked, he just stopped eating because he has learned they are not particularly healthy foods.  Lollipops with artificial colors make some children hyperactive.  The day he learned that, he just instantly stopped eating them.  Something he used to love!  Cheetos have that horrible orange colored processed cheese, he just stopped eating them.  I did not once ask him to stop eating any of those entirely.  He just did it on his own.  At age six.  And at age seven, his resolve when it comes to certain things really makes me wonder how he is that way.  For his seventh birthday, he insisted there be no sugary cake.  I had to get some “cake” like thing with fruits.  He wouldn’t even permit a muffin in the midst of fruits to insert a candle.  I had to insert candles in the middle of a pineapple in the center of a fruit arrangement I made with apples, strawberries and grapes.  I just had a play date for him with 15 or so of his first grade classmates and I had to sneak in some ice cream just so the kids (including his little sister) don’t complain that I did not bring any cake!  KB complained later that I should not even have brought any ice cream to his birthday play date! 

KB loves to learn as all children do.  But they are all different in their own ways.  Even between KB and KG, how they process things and what they are curious about is starkly different.  KB has been one of those academic learners – just taking in tons of information and remembering it and building on it.  But the strange thing is for how much he loves to learn new things, he is not that much into reading different kinds of books.  He reads a lot at school during their reading times.  But during summer holidays or weekends, he reads a lot, but only those books that he is obsessed about in that phase.  Right now he is reading “all” the Calvin & Hobbes books ever written, probably for the fourth time.  Cover to cover.  He has poems, lines etc memorized.  He laughs to himself and constantly reads out lines to me and expects me to laugh.  He asks me meanings of new words from those books.  Today he asked me what “panache” meant.  He went through this phase with his Harry Potter books early in January this year.  He read books 1, 2 and 3 and half of book 4.  Suddenly his attention got diverted to some basketball books and he started reading those books.  That stopped and now he is back to Calvin & Hobbes.  I try to coax him into reading other kinds of books and novels.  But he doesn’t really want to do it.  He wakes up in the morning and runs to his Calvin & Hobbes book as if his friend Calvin is waiting for him!  He still learns a lot from the nonfiction books he skims through on his own.  And I still read to him every day at least for a short while.  Since age four he eats on his own and will not let me feed him any meal.  But he still wants me to read books to him!  

KB reads (I read to him mostly that is!) books on Margaret Mead, Albert Schweitzer, Nellie bly, Gandhi all with equal enthusiasm and tells us details as if he knew them.  Today we were at a botanical garden with the kids and I asked him if he wanted to have his milk.  He said to me , “I am fasting today for the milk, I don’t want any milk”.  I had to tell him in strong terms that he is not allowed to “fast” at this age for sure.  He asked me all about fasting while I read about Gandhi and I told him how I used to do semi fasts on Tuesdays (no food after dinner) etc.  Knowing him, he too will start on fasts pretty soon!  

 For how curious he is about different kinds of cultures, KB is pretty bad at geography.  I don’t know if it is a lack of interest in knowing where exactly places are or if it is because I have not done enough to make him learn it well.  I have tried to get him to memorize where the fifty states are.  He has a “photographic memory” according to his class teacher, so I can’t imagine he cannot remember it if he puts his mind to it.  But he just doesn’t still remember those exactly.  He is totally into wild animals, nature, planting seeds, observing nature, hiking, basketball and learning about physics and biology.  He says he wants to be an inventor and a conservationist.  His plan is to invent a space suit that is safe for astronauts since his sister wants to be the first person to go to Mars!  He said to me, “Mamma, while KG is in training to become an astronaut, I will work on inventing a super safe space suit”.  .  And before I forget, the biggest change these last few months have been his interest in carnatic music.  He never used to listen to carnatic music in the car which is when they get a lot of music.  Now he is totally into it and listens to all kinds of instrumental music – Lalgudi, Kumaresh/Ganesh, Flute Raman, Kadri and also a lot of vocal music.  I am most excited by this change because it used to worry me that he showed no interest in carnatic music.  

KB will always have a special place in my heart just the same way KG does in her own special way.  KB, my first born brought to me the joy of being a mother.  While giving up having a good career because of various reasons makes me very sad at times, I have no regrets when I think that I have not missed a single moment of their early childhood.  Especially for KB who is the sensitive, demanding one, I am so glad to have been there for him, comforted him and made him feel secure at all times.  KB has given me the gift of learning things I never did or don’t remember and his curiosity and ability to grasp things has made me relive the wonder of being a child.  It has also set the tone for KG to be curious and excited about all that is around them.  As I always say, I pray mainly for their good health and safety and for them to grow up feeling secure and self assured.