School Days

May 28, 2009

May is drawing to a close and June is around the corner. That means, schools re-open here in Bangalore. And that means, a quantum increase in traffic volumes at 8 a.m.

Since I’m not working now and don’t have to join the millions making their daily commute to the workplace, the increase in traffic volumes is largely theoretical for me right now. But for how long?

I’ve just got the letters informing us that the eagerly anticipated day when the twins join their new school is set for 10 June. At first, they will spend only an hour or so at school, and parents have to stay with them. Probably in the second week, they will start following regular hours, 8.30 to 12.30. Then I’ll be spending much of my day in the driver’s seat – literally, unfortunately, not figuratively – with a 15 km round trip twice a day. Not only will the school time traffic suddenly be highly relevant to me, I’ll be part of it.

While the kids starting school means I’ll have a few hours of peace in the morning, which is not a given when Shaba-Aunty is home with the twins, it will also be good for the kids to get out. Last year, when going through the admission process, I kept feeling they were too small for school – but that was then. Now, I no longer think so. They can talk quite a bit now, and have become more socially-oriented: they look forward to meeting their park friends every evening – kids and adults alike – and cry out loud to meet other friends whom they see less frequently. And, keeping them occupied and engaged at home in the morning is full-time work. What’s more, it’s getting more and more difficult to tire them out sufficiently so they’ll fall asleep after lunch. Today they stayed up babbling and playing games for two whole hours, before finally falling asleep! School should take care of that, or so I hope. (How do parents (specially SAHMs) manage in those countries where school starts at age 6???)

So while I’m happy they’re going to be starting school soon (and honestly, the sooner, the better!), what I’m still not sure about is packing them off to school in the school bus. They still seem too small for that experience. Won’t it be scary, being in a bus full of big kids, no known faces around, being trundled around town for 30 or 40 minutes before making it to the only slightly familiar and less scary environment of school? True, there are two of them, and true, too, that other kids their age do it and survive, but still…

I don’t really want to be doing the dropping and picking up chauffeur service, though. It will certainly be fun talking to them on the way to and from school, but it is going to break up the morning in a quite disruptive fashion. Sending them off by bus means I get a whole five hours or so to do my stuff. Getting Amit to drop them on his “way” to work (it’s not really on his way) means investing in another set of car seats. Sigh. Problems, problems.

More interesting – and a bit worrying – is that certain memories that they form now can potentially last forever. Don’t you remember your very early days at school or preschool? I have vague memories of nursery, and even hazier ones of pre-nursery. I remember a friend from pre-nursery – or rather, I remember the name of a friend, and the concept of a friend as someone you did everything together with, more than the person herself. I remember howling my head off in nursery because a boy took my sketch pens and didn’t give them back. I remember another boy (or perhaps the same one) turning his eyelids inside out (boys are gross!) and scaring the hell out of me. I remember, strangely enough, the room that was the nursery or kindergarten room, and my seat in the room. I remember other things about the school, like the building and the grounds, and even the teachers; but those memories formed over the years, as I continued in that school till I was ten. But the earliest of my school day memories must date from a little over three years of age.

And now the twins are going to start collecting their own set of forever memories. I always loved school, my sister pretty much hated it. I wonder why that happens. It is so much easier to enjoy school than to dislike it, I hope I can help my girls to grow to love it and to build a set of happy memories.


April 8, 2009

Our trip to Lakshadweep in December last year apparently was quite a hit with the girls, especially Mrini. She loves to talk about “boat” “ship” “island” “Lakshadweep” and especially “so many fishy-fishy”. The ride in the glass-bottomed boat clearly made a lasting impression on her. I remember how she sat and watched enthralled, as tiny, multi-coloured “fishy-fishy” glided around in the crystal clear waters under the boat.

On our recent few trips to the swimming pool nearby, Mrini has sat for an incredibly long time on the edge of the pool, feet dangling in the water, occasionally dipping her hands into the water and splashing gently, waiting and watching for the fishy-fishy to appear. For several days, she didn’t venture into the water, but eventually she did, and even managed to hold on to me or the railing with both hands and attempt to kick her legs out behind her. Still, despite recent successes, she has spent most of her time at the pool sitting on the edge and looking for fishy-fishy.

Tara has interpreted the whole water experience in a different way – she’s decided she IS the fishy-fishy. The very first day at the pool, she gamely came into the water, clinging on to me like a monkey and enjoying the bouyancy. Since then, she practically cannot be kept out of the water, even when she starts mildly shivering with cold. Pretty soon, she had started to hold on to my two outstretched hands and float there, almost as if she were floating without support. She did have some of her weight on my hands, but it looks like it’s only going to be a matter of time – and not too much time, at that – before she realizes that she can float on her own. What’s more, she has walked off the deep end already once – well, not quite deep, but by pre-schooler standards, water up to your nose is deep enough that you shouldn’t just stroll off the edge of the pool and into the water without warning.

Tara’s intrepid attitude is the cause of much parental concern for Amit and me. She seems to have no fear and no sense. While Mrini understands the problems of heights, depths, and water, Tara stops at almost nothing. She’s going to get into so much trouble, that girl. Mrini, on the other hand, is endearing – she shows that she’s scared, but slowly and bravely, and no doubt partly inspired by Tara, she tests the waters and tries to overcome her fear.

On an aside, if only nature and nurture contribute to personality, how can indentical twins, whose genetic makeup is identical and whose upbringing has been so similar, have such totally different personalities from such an early age?


October 6, 2008

Sometimes the twins are just adorable.

(If you really don’t want to read more mushy stuff about the twins, you can just skip this one.)
(And no, as far as I know, “twinnings” isn’t a word. I just made it up because it sort of sounded like “antics the twins have been up to”.)

So, yeah, adorable. Let me tell you.
They have a perfectly hideous orange teddy bear (a gift, of course) that they just adore. They attach themselves to it early in the morning and hug it and talk to it and treat it like their baby for long periods of time at a stretch. I think I’ve even spotted them trying to make it walk, and trying to put it to bed.

Occasionally, they fight over maternity rights, but not very often.

Yesterday, after their bath, I wrapped them in their towels and sent them to their room as usual. Technically, Mrini’s towel is blue, Tara’s is orange; but we’re not overly particular about it. So, as it happened, Mrini was wrapped in the orange towel and Tara in the blue. On entering their room, Mrini unwrapped herself and started to spread her towel very neatly on her pillow preparatory to lying down with her head on her pillow (so that I can rub oil all over her, they have extraordinarily dry skin). Tara rushed in, grabbed the towel off the pillow and draped it over the orange teddy and proceeded to hold him up by the ear, giggling insanely. Mrini, outraged, tried to get her towel back. Tara unravelled her own towel and politely handed it to Mrini, who took it, flung it on the floor with utter contempt, and resumed her quest for her own towel. She succeeded in getting it, eventually, and Tara wailed and wailed and went on wailing till I got her to point out all her various body parts and end by touching her toes with her nose, by which time she was still upset, but had forgotten what she was upset about.
Another activity that keeps them occupied is to grab any piece of cloth they can find – the laundry basket usually has a good collection; otherwise they flick the hand towel from the bathroom or kitchen – and to very diligently mop the floor and wipe/rub/scrub every surface they can find. Sometimes they even scrub my face.
Mrini has started paying attention to music. If there’s anything particularly lively on, or if I’m singing along, her face lights up like a thousand watts and she starts moving her arms up and down as though she’s dancing. Her current favourites are Disco Deewane (Nazia Hassan, remember her?) and Billy Joel (particularly An Innocent Man, the album).
As I sat with them on the sofa this afternoon, the sun bounced off my watch and created a small, shining highlight on the living room wall. I remembered how I used to love these reflections as a child myself, so I showed it to them, making it dance all over the wall and ceiling. They thought it was the moon. I thought that was close enough (sunlight reflecting off something; how do you explain reflection to a two-year-old?) so I let it pass. Unfortunately, after a few minutes the sunlight disappeared and so did the “moon” – and they were desolate. They followed me around asking – pleading – for the moon. By the time they went to bed at 8.15 at night, Tara was still plaintively asking for the moon. How do you explain the absence of the moon (or, in this case, the sun that caused the reflection) to a two-year-old?
Not that they can ask me too many things yet. Their verbal communication still consists of a fair mix of one- and two-word-phrases, and a goodly number of bits and pieces of nursery rhymes which they jumble up in hilarious fashion (“Twinkle twinkle little lamb” “Humpty Dumpty my black hen” and so on). I can hardly wait for them to reach the Mel-and-Jess stage.

I suppose loading the twins with three languages does slow down the process a bit, but think of all the potential for fun when they start mixing the languages!

Playschool? Already?

September 18, 2008

It’s been a difficult and tiring time, the past couple of weeks. Let’s see: first there was my parents’ visit, short and whirlwind; then the trip to Pondicherry, even shorter and just as whirlwind. Then Amit left on the first of many business trips planned for this winter, so I was left to be completely housebound for a week, with the kids hanging on to my apronstrings the whole time; this is never an easy thing. (Yes, I know generations of women have done this effortlessly and uncomplainingly, but all the same, it’s not an easy thing for me.) Then his father was suddenly found to have cancer! It’s in an “incipient” stage, and surgery has been scheduled for Saturday, so Amit left for Delhi today, and we don’t know when he’s going to be back (but we do know that it’ll be in time for his next trip abroad in the first week of October). So it’s back to house-arrest for me with immediate effect. No tennis, I’ve already cancelled various social engagements for the weekend that I was quite looking forward to, and I don’t know how – or if – I can make it for my weekly music session on Sunday.

On top of that, it’s admission application time at various schools (for sessions starting next June!), which means somebody has to be out and about, picking up and dropping off application forms at various places. Not to mention filling them up, writing covering letters explaining why we can’t provide birth certificates, getting (making, actually) passport-size photos of the twins and so on.

Since every outbound activity is contingent on Amit being home with the kids, and since he is therefore finding it tough to keep abreast of his office work, I decided it was high time we bit the bullet and tried some alternative baby-sitting arrangement. So I phoned the nearest Playschool/Daycare/Preschool/Creche that I’d heard of, and if all goes according to plan, the twins will be attending from next week or, at the latest, next month.

It’s a tough decision, not made any easier by the feeling that I’m being forced into it due to Amit’s constant travelling, rather than opting for it because of any conviction that it’ll be good for the kids. I have this nagging feeling that they’re still too young for any kind of school. But I’m also not happy about leaving them in the hands of some ayah – unsupervised – at home. Yet, I do need time to go out and run errands, buy groceries, and, if at all possible, get some exercise while I’m at it, and it’s difficult enough to manage all this even when Amit is in town to hold fort at intermittent intervals, much less when he isn’t.

There have been another couple of recent developments as well. One is that I have, very quietly and rather tentatively, started on the next module of my online archaeology course. Quietly and tentatively because, the last module I did was just after the kids had come home, and I didn’t fare very well in that, obviously. I don’t know whether I can do any better this time, but I feel that finishing what you’ve started is perhaps even more important, if a little less satisfying, than doing well.

So I’m hoping that some of the days when the kids are at Playschool I can use the quiet time for accomplishing something on that front.

The other thing that happened recently was that I got a job offer, an actual, firm offer, not just a vague and airy-fairy suggestion, for a part-time position away from home. In many ways it sounded tailor-made for me, especially as getting out of the house was one of the things that attracted me to going back to work. But I turned it down, because I just couldn’t face the prospect of dumping the kids in daycare for so many hours (about 6) each day. Perhaps, as another mother pointed out to me, the kids adjust quickly enough, it’s only the parents who fret. Still, having them eat and sleep and wake up in a strange place with strange people around them, not being there to hold them when they are all sulky and grumpy after waking up, not being the first to witness each new word and antic, the very first time it occurs…

It made me think really hard about what I wanted and how I proposed to get it. It looks like, with all my conflicting desires, I’ll probably have to settle for a work-from-home job for the next several years. But even for that, I’ll need some form of daycare and I’d really rather not to have an ayah hanging around all day. That would only irritate me and make me itch at all the things I hear her saying and doing that I wish she wouldn’t.

So the playschool/creche arrangement looks like a better option, if it works out and the kids take to it and settle in. Still, it feels like a big step, and I don’t feel that Amit is quite in favour of it and I’m not entirely sure myself… Is there ever a right time for this?

Random Thoughts About Kids

August 4, 2008

Before I became a mother, I was always a little scared of handling children. I never had kids around me as I was growing up, so I was never very comfortable with them. I didn’t know what to do with them, how to be with them, what to say to them. I usually couldn’t understand what they were trying to say, and that made me feel foolish.

I didn’t see this as an obstacle to raising kids, though. I always thought that having kids would help me get over this. I thought it would help me get to know and understand these strange creatures. And it has, to some extent.

I do feel more comfortable holding babies and interacting with small children now. I know now that what very small kids say is indecipherable to all except – at best – their parents. I know also, that if small kids are being shy or wary of you as a stranger, the best thing you can do is to leave them alone and eventually, maybe, they will come to you. I’m beginning to understand how to be natural with kids – other people’s kids, I mean; I’m quite easy with my own already – not forced and artificial as I used to be.

I also no longer feel (now that I have two of my own) that I have to prove anything with regard to handling kids, so if I don’t feel like being sociable with a kid, or if a kid is being reserved with me, I don’t make a big deal of interacting with him/her. Earlier, I used to feel it was incumbent on me to make some womanly effort, especially when I could see Amit immediately taking to the kids and playing and talking and so on. Now, I just keep myself busy with my own kids, and with the other adults around, and if the child interaction happens, well and good, and if not, well, that’s ok too.

I’m still not a terribly “fond” person when it comes to other people’s kids. I don’t gush and slobber over them – I still don’t know how to. But whatever interactions I do have, or whatever interest I do express, is more genuine than it ever was before. This might not be apparent to other people, but I know it.

The funny thing is that I often see other people behaving with my kids in a quite strange way. When we visited lots of family and friends during our recent trip up north, I saw one cousin (must be 15-odd years older than me) behave very, very naturally with the twins. She sat down on the floor with some of their toys around her, and they soon came up to her and started playing with her. That was so nice to see. That’s exactly what I never knew how to do, and know a little bit better now. And to think that she never had kids of her own.

Other people, all too often, don’t read the kids correctly, or are not even interested in reading the kids – even people who, albeit decades earlier, have raised kids of their own. Some are only interested in holding the kids, without considering what the kids want. These girls are now almost two years old, and though in general they love to be held, they do now have a mind of their own, and sometimes, being held in the lap is not what they want right at that time. Sometimes they want mama, sometimes they want food, sometimes they want to romp and play or read a book, sometimes they want to go to bed. There are other ways of interacting with kids their age, not just holding them in your arms and ignoring their wishes. But it’s surprising how often people don’t see this.

Some people also think that kids can be very easily moulded to suit one’s convenience. People suggest feeding, dressing, putting to sleep, or waking up kids in a shockingly cavalier manner, depending on the adult plan. For instance, on the Sunday when they were very sick in Delhi, all normal schedules for sleep and food were off. I was letting them sleep as much as they wanted, whenever they wanted, and trying to get them to eat/drink a little whenever they were awake. That was the Sunday that Amit’s father had invited some close family and friends for lunch. 20-odd people were expected.

By 11.30, only Amit’s brother’s wife and daughter had arrived, and the kids were already sleepy again. I could see that they would sleep at any moment, and decided to give them an early lunch, so that they could have a long, unbroken afternoon nap after that. Amit’s father suggested that I try to make them sleep right away, and wake them up once guests started arriving, so that everyone could meet them. Such suggestions always horrify me – what, discomfit my kids, my severely ill kids, just so that people they don’t know and don’t care about (just then) can get to coochie-coo over them for a few minutes? No way. If they had been well, they’d have been awake till 1.00 p.m. anyway, and probably a bit longer if there were enough people around. But when they’re sick? I’m not going to make them the slightest bit more miserable than they already are!

People also clearly have very different ideas of how to love children. The contrast is very apparent when I compare people of Amit’s immediate and extended family and people of my immediate family. My family tends to be quite as hands-off as I am. They don’t rush to pick up the kids, they don’t indulge them with sweets and tasty tid-bits, and they make haste to reprimand them or prevent them from getting their hands on stuff they shouldn’t. Amit’s dad is quite the opposite. He loves to keep them in his lap, feed them biscuits and other junk (even to the extent of making them seriously constipated!), and won’t rebuke them for a single thing, even if they are wrecking his house, tearing (shredding) his books and papers, ripping apart his cassettes, and flinging around framed photographs and cellphones.

You’d think that kids would adore Amit’s dad, and be a little wary of my parents. Surprise, surprise. They were ok with Amit’s dad, went to him when he called, fetched and carried as he ordered… but they really took to my parents. They took to them in a way that completely surprised Amit and me. Especially Mrini, the more reserved of the two. They repeatedly went running to my parents, especially my mother, took her by the hand, walked off with her without waiting for Amit and me, spent maybe 20 minutes or half an hour with my parents when Amit and I weren’t even there. This, voluntarily. I mean, we didn’t leave them with my parents and go away – they went with my parents while Amit and I stayed where we were (in the resort in Kasauli). And if we were all together, Mrini often preferred to hold my mother’s hand than mine! She even preferred to fall asleep in my mother’s lap! It was completely amazing.

So well, you live and learn.

This has been a totally garbled post, I’m well aware, but the bottom line is, kids will surprise you every day. Especially your own kids.

Almost Talking

July 25, 2008

With their collection of two- and three-word phrases now adding up to about ten, the twins, at a month shy of two, are just about starting to talk. Here’s what they are saying:

pick it up – the first and still the favourite phrase, they love to throw stuff down just so they can say this, sometimes to us, sometimes to each other and, when all else fails, to themselves. They even say this before actually throwing stuff, by way of announcing their intentions.

how are you – fast replacing the above as Tara’s favourite. She sometimes answers herself with “Thank-u thank-u”

lie down – usually to indicate that they want you to sit back, but sometimes also to indicate that they want to lie down

get down – usually indicates that they want to get down when you are holding them

bed time – at bed time, most obligingly

pani time – also khana time and bukku time, to indicate that it’s time for water, food, or their story book

baby crying – used even for those who aren’t

bless you – usually to themselves, when they sneeze

this side – as in “pass some of that food over here please, and stop feeding the other girl”

Mrini also has taken words out of a few eternal nursery lines: little lamb, husha-busha, and johnny, johnny yapapa, which often becomes johnny yapapa and sometimes even johnny yapapapapapapa

The latest addition to this list shows how adept they are at picking up words from our conversation: new car

New car???

That’s the subject of wholly another post.

They Grow Up So Fast!

May 31, 2008

Remember the car I said we bought the twins last weekend? (I mentioned it here.) Well, after completely ignoring it for a couple of days, they suddenly rediscovered the joys of driving, and since then they have explored the potentialities of the vehicle to the fullest extent. Tara attempted a wheelie (I know you can’t do wheelies on four wheels, but try telling her that) and Mrini found that you could stand up on it, and if you could get your mom or sis to push you around while doing so, so much the better. Then I tied a string around the front of it, so they started pulling each other around with that. This morning, while I was in the kitchen getting breakfast ready, I heard Tara saying “come” “go” “come” “go”… On turning around, I saw she was actually pulling and pushing the car, with Mrini sitting on it. What a smartie.

Then, there was the harmonica. This is a colourful model, made for kids, but it works just the same as a typical, traditional one. It was gifted to them by a friend some weeks ago. At first, Mrini was scared of it (typical – after all, it makes a sound!) and Tara was intrigued. After a while, Mrini got over her fear, but still hadn’t taken much of a fancy to it, while Tara was always under the impression that it could be used like a toothbrush to brush her teeth and deposit a healthy load of drool on. Once duly drenched, she would present it to me, grinning, expecting me to get it to make a sound. Ugh!

They watched me, interested, and tried to ape me, but completely without success: They didn’t yet know how to… errr… suck and blow. So, whatever they did, they couldn’t get it to make a sound, except once or twice by mistake.

Finally, yesterday evening, Tara managed, much to her own surprise, to produce a tiny peep from it, and then managed to do it again. And again. And again. Mrini, for once, somehow picked it up from Tara right away. (I say “for once” because other skills that Tara has achieved ahead of Mrini, it has taken Mrini ages and ages to catch up on.) By the end of the evening, both girls were blowing away quite competently. And today they not only learnt that inhaling also produced sound, but also began to make slightly different sounds by sliding the harmonica around a little. By the end of the day, they were actually producing tiny little tunes on it!

So these are their two significant achievements of the week. There are others, of course, but too many and too tedious to narrate. It’s great to watch though – it’s absolutely wonderful to see them growing in skills, expanding their vocabulary, watching their attempts to communicate with each other and with us, and most of all, seeing their ever increasing confidence and out-going-ness. It’s just amazing.

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