Tara’s First Few Words

January 27, 2008
Suddenly, Tara has acquired a huge vocabulary in the past few days. Earlier, her vocabulary consisted of baba, mama, and aunnnnnnn (for auntie – courtesy the cook), and I’m not sure she knew the meanings of these. Everything else was ma or ka, or variations on these themes such as, amma, akka, mama, or kaka.
Later, she abandoned these words in favour of complete gibberish. Now, there seems to be a recognisable language emerging from the gibberish. Not, admittedly, a very easily recognisable language, but now her words are often accompanied by actions indicating what she means and also, more importantly, that she knows what she means.Here’s a list of what I’ve managed to recognise so far – words that she’s repeated often enough to rule out coincidence.
  • aaa-kkaaay (okay – shaking head from side to side)
  • Bye-bye, ta-ta (waving hand, often when someone is leaving, but
    sometimes also at bedtime or when she is going into her room)
  • no-no (nose – grabbing hers or sometimes mine, Amit’s or Mrini’s)
  • ouuuu (out – talking back when I order her out of some place)
  • owwww (ouch – imitating me when she grabs my nose)
  • ba (ball – pointint to it)
  • buku (her picture book – pointing at or fetching it)
  • mata (mat (for sleeping on) – at bedtime, fetching it to spread on the bed)
  • ae-o-pa (aeroplane – pointing upwards when she hears one passing; Mrini used to call it “ae-ppy” but now no longer does.)
  • hapu (high five – holding both hands up by her head waiting for the high five, big grin on her face)
  • emmmm (arm – patting her arm)
  • backa (back – bending her arm around and touching her back!)
  • tamtam (tummy – patting it and grinning)
  • dudu (dudh, milk – when she sees me pouring it out into their bottles)
  • da-i (dahi, curd – when served to her at lunch time)
  • mumm-mumm-mumm (yum-yum-yum – while eating curd)
  • yea (yes- decisively, in response to the question “Are you hungry?” at
    lunchtime )

Impressive, don’t you think? Considering she’s been exposed to English (and Hindi) for only the past four months.

Mrini isn’t saying much these days – at least, not anything that’s recognisable that is. I suppose she’ll unleash another flood of garbled words on us at some point. For now, she seems pretty happy to let Tara do the talking.

Stay-at-home Mom

January 23, 2008
It’s not easy to admit this, but being a stay-at-home mom is tougher than I thought it would be. We’ve considered getting more household help, but I don’t think that’s what I want. My difficulty in adjusting completely to this role is not about the amount or even the type of housework I have to do. At first, ten diaper changes a day was a mind-boggling task, but now I don’t think much about it any more. Also, with an established schedule that runs from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. (barring illness) and gives me about three hours off in the afternoon, I don’t think that on regular days I have too much housework to cope with.

When we talked of adopting and the possibility of having twins, we thought we’d need more help than we have finally settled for. Still, I’m happy with our current situation – we have a pretty exclusive say on how the kids are brought up and at this point in their lives, I feel that’s important. I don’t want to have an ayah hanging around whom I constantly have to train or supervise to ensure she handles the kids the way I want.

So sometimes when I’m feeling worn out – like now – I wonder whether getting more help is the answer, and I feel that most likely it isn’t.

What I really want – and it’s so difficult to admit this – is to have some time to get away from the kids, to be able to leave them to someone else’s care. It sounds terrible when I say it – as though I’m a selfish, unloving mother who only wants to pursue her own pleasures. Given that our kids are adopted, it even makes me feel a little defensive – as though I need to explain first that it’s not that I don’t love them.

I think I never wholly appreciated how completely housebound I was going to be. And here I think the fact that it’s twins does make a difference. With one child, I might have ventured out to markets, to meet friends, maybe even sometimes to a restaurant. With two, it’s a daunting prospect. Even if we had two car-seats and I could strap them in and drive out somewhere with them, what would I do once I got there?

I also miss going out together with Amit. The way it happens now is that, if I want to go out, even if just for a walk in the evening, he must be home. So we get very little time at home together, and zero opportunity to go out together unless it’s with the kids.

Of course, that problem could be solved if we got a baby-sitter. That way, I could go out for a walk, or for routine grocery-shopping, even when he’s out of town or working late. And we could even go for a stroll together, something we used to do quite a lot and which I really miss.

But, Amit doesn’t want to leave the kids alone with a baby-sitter until they’re old enough to talk. And that’s going to take a while. Till then, I’m going to have to be pretty much 24×7 with the kids. I hope I can adjust to that soon – I don’t seem to be doing a very good job so far and it’s making me feel altogether wretched.

“Respect Your Elders”

January 21, 2008
It is strange how two siblings brought up together can think so differently.

My sister has been a teacher for many years and is now an educationalist. (To be honest, I did not even know there was such a profession, until she told me so recently.) When my sister visited, we had a couple of discussions about the notion of “respect” – specifically, the very Indian notion of “respect your elders”.

In India, generally, “respect your elders” means, address people by formal titles (Sir, “ji” “uncle” etc), never use first names for elders, not even for older siblings (nor, heaven forbid, for husbands), listen quietly to what they say, don’t contradict and don’t “talk back”. Here, “talk back” includes trying to have a logical, sensible discussion, specially if that discussion involves an even slightly divergent point of view (and without that, where is the need for discussion?). In the old days – and perhaps for some people even nowadays – respect also meant keeping your eyes downcast, not daring to look a “respected” person in the eye.

My sister felt, based on her teaching experience, that kids nowadays don’t show respect for elders – that is, they don’t even address teachers as Ma’am far, less anything else. They use first names, they talk back, and they are rude.

My point to this, and to other aspects of respecting elders is, simply addressing people formally and politely is not respect. It might be courtesy and good manners, but it is not respect and it should not be taught as a form of respect. Politeness and courtesy are desirable values in themselves, but respect is something completely different.

Suppose you train kids to address parents, teachers and other elders politely, but in their minds the kids are thinking: “What do you know, you piece of shit?” Then what have you got – nothing more than hypocrisy, disrespect plastered over with good manners.

Of course, I’m not advocating teaching kids to speak their minds when they feel something like that. Quite the contrary. I’m saying, teaching kids to respect people – not just elders, but anyone, really – goes beyond lip-service and good manners. It means, teaching them to listen to and weigh what another person is saying, not just to nod agreement externally while they issue rude rejoinders in their minds.

It also means encouraging them to speak their minds – preferrably politely, but politeness is a different discussion altogether.

Which brings me to another point. Respect is a two-way street. If you listen to a younger person (sticking with the concept of “respect your elders” as opposed to simply respecting people) airing their views, and you are able to respond to their divergent points of view, intelligently and dispassionately – then, and only then, do you really win any respect.

If, iinstead, you say, “I’m old and wise and I know better, so shut up and listen to me,” and if the child or youngster actually does so in the name of “respect” then you have trained them not to be respectful, but instead to be zombies, brain-dead automaton, accepting “wisdom” as it is handed down without exercising any thought or evaluation of their own. How can this be respect?

I’m not saying elders don’t know better. They might – but then again, they might not. For me to respect someone, I need first and foremost to be convinced that they are right (in a discussion of some sort) or that they are really good at something. It could be someone who’s good at music, or writing, photography, tennis… Usually, it is something that I’d like to be good at – or even something that I think I’m good at, but that the other person is at least as good at or better. It is difficult for me to respect someone in a field that I have little interest in – say, ice hockey.

Even when I respect a person for some achievement or ability, I might respect only that ability – not the whole person. Take, for example, a former boss of mine. She wasn’t really a nice person, and in my opinion she was screwing up her own life and the lives of a lot of people around her (including mine), so I couldn’t respect her as a person because I thought she really needed to sort out her priorities. But I really respected her skills at some aspects of our work – I learnt a lot from her and I always felt she was really good at what she did.

Another example: when I had been married only a few months, I was at a gathering of Amit’s uncle and his friends, in Canada. His uncle is a university professor and of course many years our senior. This gathering was a sort of introduction of me, the new bride, to his close circle. In the course of discussion on some theoretical subject, his uncle said something and I – I don’t know why I did this – did not exactly contradict what he was saying, but said something somewhat divergent to it. At first his uncle said a flat no to what I was saying. Then – and this surprised and really pleased me – he thought about it a moment and said, yes, you’re right, actually. Given the social context – his friends and peers, me the newcomer, much younger, comparatively uneducated – for him to have given due consideration to my point of view and then to have conceded it was almost unthinkable, yet he did it so casually and I doubt he even noticed or remembered it.That – for me – is the essence of respect. He heard me, without thinking of my age and standing in the group, and he considered what I had said only for what it was worth, not for who it came from. I respect him tremendously for that. It is something I have met so very seldom, even in my immediate family, that I have mostly given up airing my thoughts except to very few people in whom I trust.

This is what I’d like my kids to learn about respect – politeness, courtesy and using the appropriate forms of address are all desirable and good, but these are not respect. Respect is not to be given by default or by habit; respect is due to every person, regardless of age or anything else, but respect must be earned, and it is not a one-way street.

My Book List

January 18, 2008
I just finished reading a book, after a very long time. For the longest time, I had been reading only Archaeology course material. After that, I stumbled across The God Delusion. While it is a very interesting book, it is not one that one can easily skim through to the end of. It takes time and dedication to get from one chapter to the next. I don’t really know when I’m going to finish it.

Meanwhile, I picked up a novel called Transmission, by Hari Kunzru. I’d never heard of the book or the author, but it was gifted to Amit some time ago and neither of us had read it. It turned out to be quite an interesting book, about an Indian computer programmer who unleashes a virus on the world without having the faintest idea of its potency, which is quite unbelievable.

Having finished the book, I promptly entered it in my Book List. While doing so, I was idly turning back the pages of the “list” – it’s in a diary, actually – when it struck me what a wonderful thing this list is. When I started it – almost 12 years ago! – my intention was primarily to note the books I was reading, so that I wouldn’t inadvertently go and buy or read the same book again. In those days, I was a voracious reader, so accidentally buying or reading the same book twice was quite possible.

The list is very simple – the title of the book is written on the left, the author’s name on the right. Below is a short paragraph recording my opinion about the book. For all-time favourites, like P. G. Wodehouse, there might be no more than a single line: “Good, as always.” For new discoveries, there’s usually a bit more, maybe an indication of the theme along with a comment on the style, perhaps the briefest mention of strengths and failings of the book and whether or not I generally liked the book.

It’s nice to go back and read those comments now. Some of them vividly bring back to mind books I had enjoyed but long forgotten. Others leave me bemused – intriguing comments about books I have no recollection of.

At some stage, fairly recently, I started numbering the entries. Hari Kunzru made it 162. That makes it an average of 13.5 books per year. Naturally, there have been peaks and troughs – but it is somehow reassuring to know that after everything, I’m still averaging a little over a book a month.

It was a little nothing when I started it, but now, 12 years down the line, I’m happy to have my book list. It is the one thing in my life that is not yet computerised – and I doubt it will be any time soon. At least, not until well after I get used to reading books on the computer, which is a very, very distant prospect right now.

Double Trouble

January 15, 2008
That’s right, it’s the twins I’m referring to. They’ve been talking nineteen to the dozen for the past couple of weeks. Of course, it’s all gobbledygook, but that’s no reason not to reply. The best part is, most of the time they seem to understand each other. Often, one of them will say something, the other will reply, then both of them will start giggling as though it’s all highly amusing. They’ve even started issuing stern admonitions, usually to me (not to each other) with index finger raised and a most emphatic tone in their squeaking voices. I’m not sure whether I want them to start speaking English or whether I prefer them just the way they are right now. Either way, I don’t think I have much choice in the matter – they will start making sense some day, ready or not.

Motor skill development is not taking a back seat either. Of course they have been climbing on all accessible horizontal surfaces in the house: the two trunks, the one easy chair, the new sofa, and the large cardboard carton that occupied pride of place in our living room, standing in for the coffee table we never possessed. Their latest conquest is the set of four dining table chairs. This is dangerous, because they love to push these chairs around the house like walkers without wheels, but they have not yet made the connection between pushing the chairs around and then climbing on them to access hitherto inaccessible surfaces such as the top of the fridge. Still, it’s bound to occur to them sooner or later, and then nothing in the house will be safe any more (sigh)…

Meanwhile, they’ve perfected the art of turning the laundry basket upside down and climbing up on top of it, which gets them too close to the TV and music system for our comfort. They love to bang on the TV and washing machine and it’s only a question of time before something gives and we have to call in the repairmen (or the scrap dealers).

Both of them suddenly realised that in addition to walking and running, it’s also possible – perhaps – to take both feet off the ground simultaneously. They’ve been trying very hard to empirically prove this hypothesis, but they’ve not had a lot of success so far – Tara hasn’t managed to get more than her heels off the ground, and on the one or two occasions that Mrini has actually managed to launch herself a quarter-inch into the air, she has immediately landed ignominiously in a heap on the ground.

Mrini looks as though she might enjoy swimming, though. She likes to lie down on the ground flat on her tummy, arms and legs all waving around in the air as though doing the breast stroke. She especially enjoys doing this when I’m trying to get her to walk home from the park – it can be quite taxing, with the whole staring at this spidery spectacle sprawled on the sidewalk.

Despite my best efforts to teach them nothing meaningful, they have both learned (thanks to the oil massage and bath ritual) the body parts identified by the words “arm” “leg” “chest” “tummy” “head” and “nose”. They’ve also figured out that other people have the same body parts too, and if we say “nose” to them, they first grab their own noses, then make a beeline for ours and grab them really hard.

Meanwhile, there’s absolutely no progress on the paperwork front. It’s a bit of a nagging concern for us – surely nothing will go wrong and the proceedings will run their course and culminate in us receiving their birth certificates with our names as parents; still, I wish things would start moving on that front so that we could have that part of it done and over with.

Vista Sucks… Ubuntu Rocks!

January 10, 2008
Having got myself the latest-greatest Intel processor with coke and fries on the side, I found that Microsoft XP could practically not be loaded and that’s why I got stuck with Vista Home Premium. I don’t know whether Microsoft has it in for me personally, or whether they just enjoy making loyal customers suffer, but Vista was never kind to me. First, due to some peculiarity of the hardware/software combination, it took my geeky husband and one friend more than a week of after-office hours to get it up and running. Once they finally managed to get it to work, it took me only a very short time to find out just how defective it was.From day to day, I was constantly faced with new problems. One day, the front USB hubs stopped working; the next day, it was the back USB hubs. Not, mind you, that the front ones ever resumed work once the back ones went on strike. The microphone never worked, and pen drives plugged into whatever USB hub happened to be working at the time promptly claimed to be corrupted, despite working sweetly on other (older and less sophisticated) computers. My digital camera, which comes along with original software on a CD, worked at random, sometimes asking for a driver, sometimes happy to drive itself. The network connection mostly never worked, except sometimes, when the display claimed that it wasn’t working, when it was. Connecting to another computer didn’t throw up any error – it just took about 45 minutes to copy 6 Kb of data (on an 11 Mbps WLAN!)

I finally got so frustrated that I mentioned to Amit that even Linux would be better than this.

Now, to fully appreciate the depths of my frustration, you have to know that Amit is a hardcore Linux loyalist who has spent about 80% of his waking hours trying to persuade me to switch to Linux. I have stoutly remained a Windows loyalist – in the face of much adversity, I must say – claiming that typing gibberish into a black screen and getting gibberish in reply was not my idea of fun. Give me GUI, I said, and turned resolutely back to Windows.

Now, here I was, in complete and utter despair, pleading for Linux!

Hardly had I uttered the magical words, than Amit was on the Net downloading a fantastic amount of data that took about 48 hours to complete. Once done, I had a brand new Linux-based OS – Ubuntu!

When Amit starts messing with my computer, I usually get out of the way real fast. This time, I didn’t really have to. Before I knew what was going on, my OS was up and running – off a CD. I could access all my Windows files, the network connection worked the way it should, the USB hubs worked, even my camera was detected and connected without a hiccup. I had Open Office for documents, GIMP for photo editing, FireFox for surfing the Net, and some other stuff that I don’t need. What’s more – everything worked! The only things that didn’t work were the microphone, and certain Windows-specific applications like Nokia PC Suite.

I have to admit that running an OS off of a CD while accessing files stored on the computers hard disk was a new concept for me. I have never really been able to mentally separate the data from the OS and imagine accessing one without using the other. Apparently, the computer has no such problem – apart from being a bit slow due to the OS being on a CD, there was no apparent difference at all.

Instead of spending days and weeks installing stuff, Amit spent not even a few hours and my computer was a good as new. Better than new, in fact, considering what a pain it was when it was new and loaded with Windows.

I’ve been a staunch Ubuntu convert for a couple of weeks and I have to say that the OS has not troubled me at all. It has a decent Windows-like GUI and is far, far more usable than ruddy Vista. I’ve taken it off the CD and got it running off an external hard drive now, so the speed is pretty good too. It seems that I’m not using SATA on my hard drive any more, but if this set-up works, I really don’t care. I still have Windows on the hard drive and I have the option to boot from Windows any time I want to, but I really really don’t want to.

Ok now, if you’re thinking this reads like an advertorial for Ubuntu or that I’ve been paid to write this (hey, there’s a whole industry that revolves around that concept) – I haven’t. It’s just an honest, genuine user experience – and a good one, for a change.

Continuing the Rat Race

January 7, 2008

They’re only 16 months old and the twins are already part of the sordid rat race.I’ve already discovered how the rat races to walk first, talk first, get weaned from breast and/or bottle first (to name but a few) start almost before the baby can sit up and say “goo”.

It required some determination, but I managed to ignore all the well-intentioned but alarmist advice for getting the twins ahead in the walking rat race; and now that they’re walking, almost jumping, and almost talking, I thought I could forget about rat races until they start school.

How absolutely naive.

Why, by the time they even start school, they should already know their numbers, the alphabet (backwards), how to spell their name, how many legs a centipede has and of what colour and sundry other important stuff like that; if not, not only will they be denied admission into every school worth the name, but also they and their parents will be relegated to the lowest strata of society, several levels lower than politicians.

It’s getting so bad that I’m beginning to get the feeling that I’ve already irreparably damaged their future careers. The other day, we met a kid who was looking at a picture book. When his mother said “fan” he obediently searched through the whole book to find a fan. When she said “king” he found a king; fish, and he found fish… and so on. The thing is, mother and child were looking at this particular book for the very first time – so the kid was not identifying pictures by rote. He actually knew what type of object he was looking for, and selected those that resembled what he knew of kings, fans, and fishes. This kid was only a month or so older than the twins – and he already knew so much! I felt completely apologetic for my kids, who, when told “head” happily clap both hands on their heads and continue doing so even when subsequently told “feet” “nose” “tummy” and “mama”.

I guess if you coach a child carefully enough, you can expect him/her to respond appropriately to pictures in a book. Trouble is, I hardly coach the twins at all, apart from telling them not to put their fingers in electric sockets (or in their diapers).

My idea of keeping my kids busy all day is to let them run about the house and play as much as they can. They do have picture books – which they love – but they also have balls, building blocks, crayons, teddy bears and other stuffed stuff, and of course the furniture to keep them busy. They spend most of their day pulling, pushing, running, climbing, falling, howling, laughing, talking (gibberish)… doing what kids their age, surely, should be doing.

The other kid, who was so good at identifying pictures in a book, could also – by all accounts – comfortably operate the sophisticated home theater system, complete with remote control et al. He seemed very quiet in contrast to the twins, but perhaps that was because he was mentally figuring out some complex mathematical theorems or inventing some fantastic new method for communicating with intelligent life forms on other planets. Whatever…

The books on parenting talk about “stimulating” kids’ interests in their environment – not necessarily teaching them letters, numbers, nursery rhymes and the like, but telling them about objects, sounds, sights, even smells. I find that the twins don’t seem to need much stimulation – they have a healthy interest in their environment already and going by the speed at which they set about exploring (read wrecking) it, I’m not sure that any additional stimulation would be good for them – or me.

So, I just let them be. I figure, I can pump them full of this information now – colours and numbers, nouns and verbs; or I can just let them be and they’ll pick it up as they go along. I tend to believe that, if left to themselves, kids will learn these things on their own; not numbers and the alphabet, I agree, those will need to be taught, but the other stuff, the normal parts of an average vocabulary they will surely pick up. Thanks to their indefatigable curiousity and their intrinisc desire to learn, I guess they will learn most useful stuff just as inevitably as they learn, without any guidance, to walk (and run, and jump), to talk, and to lock mama up in the bathroom at the first possible opportunity.

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