School, At Last

June 10, 2009

So, off they went to school again. It was pretty smooth on the whole. We reached early (the given time was 11), and found their class without any trouble. It was in a state of utter chaos, occasionally reduced to momentary silence by the tinkling of a small handheld bell. There were, at a rough count, 25 moving bodies in the room, not counting adults. Adults consisted of three teachers and another mother apart from yours truly.

While the twins gradually found their feet (and hands), I watched the other kids. There were separate short sessions for reading books, singing songs, a circle game (rolling the mat), picture cards, a prayer (in Sanskrit!), and individual activity. Some interaction between kids was tolerated, but not when it became disruptive.

The facilitators (in the Montessori system, you don’t call them teachers) were quite patient and firm with the kids, but also allowed a great deal of latitude. Mrini and Tara both wanted to sit on a sort of low table, which, evidently, was not intended to be sat on. The facilitator, S-aunty, told them both not to, and tried to persuade them to sit on the mat on the ground, but didn’t force the issue.

At any rate, the twins seemed quite comfortable. They watched the other kids, picked some toys themselves, and joined in the picture card group activity. They even used the toilet twice, without incident. (To my relief, it was spanking clean, at least at that particular point in time.) When I stepped out of the room towards the later part of the session, they weren’t in the least bit put out. And, on the way back in the car, they expressed every desire to go back tomorrow. I suppose that’s the most one can hope for.

For my part, I’m eagerly waiting for their school timings to get extended to the full session: 8.30-12.30. That way, I’ll probably have to do the drive twice, drop and pick up, and come all the way home in-between, to spend two whole hours in an empty house. But this way, though only half as much driving, means that I wind up spending practically the whole morning on this school expedition, which is already highly frustrating.

Separation Anxiety

June 9, 2009

I’m a regular reader of a blog called How Do You Do It (HDYDI), which is a blog written by parents (mostly moms) of multiples. They recently held a contest for writers – Moms of Multiples, or MoMs – to write a post about their multiples. They were looking to extend their set of writers, so the contest winners were to join their blog.

As I’ve been a faithful reader, I decided to enter the contest. But, because I don’t like the concept of canvassing for votes, or directing my audience to another site to Vote For Me, Please, I didn’t publicise my entry on this blog. So of course, I got nowhere. (As a minor digression, let me say that I don’t quite get it. HDYDI wants me to direct my audience to their blog site to read my blog post? And this is supposed to work for me??? )

So anyway, why only readers of HDYDI have to suffer through my endless ramblings? Now that the contest is over and the winners are known, here, for my faithful readers, is what I posted.

Multiples And The Six Degrees of Separation

I’ve read about how parents of multiples need to spend significant 1:1 time with each of their kids. And about how multiples, if not carefully monitored and directed, tend to develop an unhealthy degree of togetherness and dependence on each other; that they don’t develop fully as individuals; that, in order for them to be healthy, happy, independent adults, they have to be given opportunities to be apart; and that one way of giving them this ‘opportunity’ is to separate them in school. I’ve written before of how I feel on that matter, but I’ve been wondering, of late, just how much separation is enough.

I’ve somewhat arbitrarily allocated six separate degrees of separation, which have nothing whatsoever to do with the usual connotation of the terms “Six Degrees of Separation”.

1: Multiples who spend a few minutes spent apart from each other, everyday or a few times a week. This separation is likely to be largely unplanned and inevitable. Example: one kid wakes up before the other, or one kid has to go to the doctor, or both parents are engaged in some activity, one with each child.

2: Multiples who routinely sleep separately: which means, falling asleep, sleeping, and waking up in separate rooms (not simply separate cribs or beds in the same room).

3: Multiples who spend significant time apart, everyday or most days. This could just be time spent in different areas of the house, or could be time spent on separate activities that take them out of the house, such as sports or music lessons. To differentiate it from the first degree of separation, it would have to be at least an hour or so spent apart everyday. It’s difficult to visualize this as an unplanned separation, specially if it is a regular occurrence.

4: Multiples who have separate schedules; or, no schedule. Multiples have few overlap in their daily schedules and activities on most or all days. This could include any or all activities in the house, such as sleeping, eating, bathing, playing etc, and maybe even separate activities outside the house, such as sports sessions, playgroups etc.¬† (Personally, I can’t imagine how parents survive this; I’d go crazy in a week.)

5: Multiples who are in separate sections in school, or, worse still, separate schools. This, of course, could be initiated by the multiples themselves, or by their parents; or it might be mandatory due to external regulations or laws.

6: Multiples who live in separate homes. This is the saddest of all. Adoption laws in India prohibit siblings from being separated. But I don’t know if divorce laws do, too. In any case, this might happen if parents live separately, for any reason, or if multiples are sent to separate (for instance, boy/girl) boarding schools.

Out of these six degrees, in my opinion, the first is inevitable and harmless, perhaps even useful; and the sixth is tragic. Most of the in-between levels are functions of preference and convenience (parental, usually), and also a function of the age of the kids. My twins, now almost three, are comfortable with the first degree of separation and a bit of the second degree. They sleep separately in the afternoon, though nights apart are rare.

My girls might opt for – or indicate readiness for – the third and fifth degree of separation, as they grow older and discover different interests. At the right age and stage of development, I don’t think there’s any harm in that, and it is even to be encouraged. What I would not be happy about, is if that choice were to be made for them, without considering their opinion. (And if you’re thinking that, at 3, they can hardly have an opinion in the matter… well, you’d have to meet my kids to know.)

For my part, I hope they never opt for completely out-of-sync ¬†food and sleep schedules, as indicated in the fourth degree of separation. I’ll certainly do my best to keep them on largely ‘normal’ (and in-sync) schedules, but if they do ultimately want to adopt completely different schedules, I’ll have to give in with good grace, I suppose. I only hope they’re teenagers by then.

As for the sixth degree of separation: naturally, multiples have to learn to live away from each other in their adult lives. The question is when and how they learn this. If it comes naturally, in the course of their education and career choices, and if they themselves have a say in the decision, then it is a positive development. But, if the separation comes about as a result of external causes and is not a decision in which the multiples have any say at all… that’s sad.

Quest For The Holy Grail (Well, Almost)

June 3, 2009

It’s true I haven’t mentioned it here for a while, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten all about my quest for a khata. Over the past couple of weeks, I went and applied for – and got! – the Encumbrance Certificate. I can’t tell you what it actually certifies, because it’s in Kannada, but at least I have it. It wasn’t difficult at all to get. One day I went and filled out a form (nothing complicated compared to the Property Tax form) and paid some money (for which I got a receipt). That took all of 20 minutes. I went back on the appointed date a week later to pick up the certificate. It was ready and waiting. That took all of five minutes. No waiting, no pestering, no hidden charges. Fantastic.

I ordered the draft for payment of the Khata fees and worked on the Khata application form – also not too daunting to an experienced form-filler like I was by now. Then last week I went back to the Ward office to submit the application. On my first attempt, Mr M wasn’t there, and B told me to come back the next day. On my second attempt, Mr M was there; he took one look at my papers and told me it had to be submitted at the dreaded Mayo Hall. If you’ve already read about my recent experience at Mayo Hall, you’ll know I was not thrilled to get this news.

However, what cannot be cured must be endured; or, to put it another way, if rape is inevitable, better sigh and get to it. So off I went today, application, supporting documents, and bank draft in hand, prepared for another “from-pillar-to-post” ordeal at Mayo Hall. To my surprise, it wasn’t too bad. Or perhaps I’ve now managed to adjust my expectations to more realistic levels.

I reached just after 10.30. The office I’d been told to visit had one person already seated at his desk, meticulously drawing ruled lines on bits of paper and occasionally in a ledger or notebook. (By the way, ‘Khata’ literally translates to ledger or notebook, and also to the accounts kept in one – I think. In Karnataka, it is an all-important document which doesn’t actually prove ownership of a property, but which everyone treats as though it does.)

In a few minutes, a woman appeared. She was quite helpful and told me, in English, to wait for a certain other gentleman who had access to the stamp that was required. Meanwhile, she checked my papers and asked me to get them notarised. By this time, I’d been waiting for half an hour or so already, and the required gentleman was expected any minute now. So I went to the appropriate section of Mayo Hall at top speed, nodded at the first tout who approached me, and showed him my papers.

“Eleven pages,” he said.
“It’s three documents,” I replied indignantly. “How does number of pages matter?”
He nodded readily and said “Rs 300.”
“Rs 100,” I countered, firmly.
“Rs 200, special discount for you,” he said, without flinching.
“Look. There are hundreds of others who will notarise this for me. Rs 100.”‘
“Rs 150, last offer,” he said.
“Wait here,” he said, taking my papers and walking off.

Nothing doing! I followed him to his desk, where, in ten minutes the eleven pages were signed, sealed, and stamped.

“Do you have the originals?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said, nodding to my document case. I didn’t offer to show them to him and he didn’t ask.

I returned to the former office and waited another half hour. The lady took pity on me and offered to sign the receipt for me without stamping it. I hesitated, and the offer was quickly but graciously withdrawn. Damn. Maybe I should have taken her up on it.

After I’d completed about an hour waiting, one of the other officers came over to me and asked what I was waiting for. I told him. “Oh, I’m the case officer for that, I’ll do it,” he said promptly. And five minutes later, I was done.

Of course, I should have been pissed off that I was made to wait for some mythical person who apparently was not required for my work… but I was just happy that my futile waiting had been only about half an hour or so. If you can go to a government office, get your work done, and get out in an hour, I guess you should count yourself lucky.

The next step is to follow up with a name and a number written on the receipt. How long will it take to get the khata? I don’t know – I was only told that there was a backlog of files pending from February, due to work having been held up because of election duties. So I wasn’t given a date or anything – just a name and a mobile number.

If the kids hadn’t already done their utmost to teach me patience, I don’t think I could have made it this far.

This quest is something like a treasure hunt in the mist: you don’t know where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, or what you’re going to find there, and you can see only one step ahead at each stage; but you believe there’s some treasure at the end of the road, whenever and wherever that might be.

Time-out Vs A Spank on the Bottom

June 1, 2009

The twins were going through a bad patch a while ago. Tara had taken to biting Mrini at every opportunity, sometimes hard enough to scrape the skin off, or leave bite marks. This was very upsetting for Mrini, but even more upsetting for us. Amit, in particular, was worried that they might bite or otherwise be aggressive with other kids, the more so with school starting soon. I, on the other hand, believed that these honours were likely reserved specifically for each other. However, it was very upsetting to see Mrini running off in a loud flood of tears every so often. What could we do to put a stop to this?

I’m not one of the many modern moms who abhor spanking. I’m terribly short-tempered, and when the kids push me too far – which was quite often some months ago – I’m quite likely to haul off and give them one on their bottoms. With some restraint, of course. Mostly.

So, when Tara embarked on her reign of terror, my initial response was to explain to her sternly and with the aid of a few spanks that this was not on.

Before you throw the book at me, let me add that I’ve already read The Book and I can see the logic of not using violence to deliver a message of non-violence; but you can only do what you can do, and not giving them kids a shouting and a spanking from time to time when they are begging for it… It is just beyond me.

However, finally even I had to admit that it just wasn’t working. I was already trying the strategy of giving her more attention and affection whenever she wasn’t being hostile, but clearly that wasn’t enough either; there were just too few such opportunities.

So, prompted by Amit, I initiated time-out. I explained to the girls how it would work, and next time Tara attacked Mrini, I told her to go stand in a corner. She did so, howling all the while. I didn’t have the heart to keep her there long, and let her out soon enough.

Twins are frustrating; perhaps all sibling are. Mrini would forget all about their ill-will and want to go and talk to and play with Tara long before I had got over my own anger with her. So if Tara were in time-out, Mrini would hardly leave her to it.

In just one or two instances, both girls got the hang of it. Mrini, upon any perceived assault, would indicate that Tara should go to the corner, and even Tara knew when this punishment was impending. Luckily, I didn’t have to use it too often, because, whether due to this or other reasons, Tara eventually stopped her aggressive behaviour and grew more and more affectionate towards Mrini.

What I found in this entire episode is that – for me, time-out just doesn’t feel right. It feels cruel, a lot worse than a mild spank on the bottom. The latter causes a passing physical pain, but I fail to see how the former doesn’t cause a deeper psychological scar. I know that expert opinion tends towards time-out and that current wisdom is to view corporal punishment – of any kind – with shock, horror and disgust, but I don’t agree. There are obvious risks associated with corporal punishment – losing your perspective and going too far, hitting small children in an inappropriate manner, with excess force, causing lasting or permanent physical damage, even, in certain horrific cases, death. And for this reason, I would not be happy about schools allowing corporal punishment. But parents, I hope and believe, would generally be capable of exerting a modicum of restraint, except in very rare instances.

The dangers of the time-out system are much less apparent. Perhaps there aren’t any? But just think about it – treating a young child like an outcast so many times a day, or week? How can that not have a deeply negative impact on a delicate ego, on a sense of self-worth still in the process of being established? Would not a child frequently sent in to time-out begin to feel unloved, feel isolated, feel not worthy of being loved?

Physical scars can be seen, physical wounds, short of death, can be healed; but what of an ego torn to shreds; what of low self esteem that sets in at an age when the person is too young to even know what self-esteem means?

I suppose the experts know what they’re talking about. But for me, personally, time-out just seems wrong. I’m going to revert to spanking and shouting at my kids, or, now that they’ve grown up a bit, withholding treats and privileges, and I’m not going to use time-out if I can help it. After all, isn’t parenting also about deciding which experts to follow and which to ignore?

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