Playdate, Baby Shower, and Shopping – How the Twins are Keeping Me Busy

May 26, 2008

The girls’ social life is keeping me on my toes. Well, it’s not all their social life, I suppose. On Thursday, they went for a lunch playdate. I don’t know if it technically qualifies as a playdate, cos it was more like me catching up with a friend, and leaving my kids with her daughter, who is 3, which makes her too old for a playdate with under-twos. All the same, a playdate is what she called it.

It was the first time I ventured to take the girls out on my own. It was not too difficult, though I decided not to walk out looking for an auto, so called a taxi instead, which made the trip expensive but hassle-free. On the whole, it was quite a success. The girls were quiet and well-behaved for the first half hour or so, then they sat themselves at the dining table and fed themselves lunch like little angels. This done, they set about systematically and methodically examining every single one of the other girls toys, and then distributing them evenly throughout the house. The other girl had a LOT of toys, which meant a lot of picking up for me and the other mom to do after an hour or so. Still, at least they only handled the toys – apart from grabbing the TV remote and managing to turn off the TV, they didn’t destroy anything else in the house, which was good enough for me.

Saturday evening we had an invitation to what would be called a baby shower, I suppose, if we had such things here. This was in a party hall at 7.30. I was wondering how we would manage it, because 7.30 is when the kids get their dinner, if they haven’t already had it, and an hour later is their bedtime. But I needn’t have worried. They slept an hour extra in the afternoon, as though they knew what was in store for them that evening. Then, as soon as they entered the hall, they spied the hosts (whom they know well), decided this was a friendly place, and proceeded to make themselves completely at home despite the slowly growing crowd of strangers all around. They went and peered at the baby, romped around the crib without intentionally or unintentionally disturbing the lovely floral decorations, made friends with sundry adults who showed any interest in them and generally behaved like absolute socialites. They even enthusiastically gobbled up their dinner, about 90 minutes later than usual, saying “niiiii” (which means “nice”) as they did so. Then they sat like good girls on two chairs between Amit and me, swinging their legs and grinning like little devils while we hurriedly stuffed our faces and kept a stern eye on them. They remained awake, alert, and most importantly, cheerful right till the end, and were still awake when we finally reached home and put them to bed.

On Sunday, there was yet another activity planned for them – toy shopping. After seeing the entire treasure trove of toys that their Thursday Playdate had, I was really feeling quite guilty about their pitiful collection. Two kids ought to mean double the toys, I thought. Amit tried to assure me that since they had each other, even half the toys were good enough – joys shared being joys doubled and all that – but I wasn’t convinced. So on Sunday, we all four trooped into the nearest toy shop and quickly lightened our pockets by something over a thousand rupees. The largest part of this amount was spent on a big, red car. It’s the type the kids can sit on (not in) and push along with their feet. They loved it – they refused to sleep yesterday afternoon because they were busy pushing each other around on that car, and when they were finally too tired to resist sleep, they took the shortest half-hour nap before getting up and returning promptly to the car again. But, by this morning, the car had lost all interest for them. The bouncing ball and the picture books were – as ever – their favourite toys, while the car remained alone and neglected. Sigh.

Oh, and after the toy shopping, we had lunch at the nearest restaurant we could find. The girls gobbled up my rava idli and sagu, and left me to tackle their veg pullao and dal. And today, despite all the rich and spicy food, their stomachs seem to be in perfect shape. Thankfully.

I suppose I should stop boasting about them now – they’re probably already cooking up some scheme to make me pull my hair out and despair of ever making responsible adults of them.

Twinkle, twinkle

May 8, 2008

In all 35 (almost) years of my life, nobody ever told me I had a nice singing voice (except a guy who was flirting with me, which doesn’t count). I suppose this is primarily because I don’t have a nice singing voice. Which is a pity, because I love to sing. Once I even considered taking classes, but dropped the idea because I felt that in addition to voice, I also lacked the ear to sing properly.

Now I’m forced to the conclusion that my kids must be tone deaf – they love to hear me sing. This is very flattering of course and it is most gratifying as well, I must admit, to have an appreciative audience; but I wish this particular audience (and they are very particular) would expand its range of musical preferences.

See, they have this book of nursery rhymes (gifted by S&S, thank you very much) that they absolutely adore. One of the rhymes it has is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. One day, I decided to introduce them to the concept of stars (never too early, seeing one of them is called Tara, which means star in Hindi) and showed them the typical star-twinkling hand movement. I also sang the so well-known first verse to them. In fact, I have to add that that first verse is so well-known that I didn’t even know there were other verses in that poem/song.

Now I know why it is so well-known – these girls loved it! They couldn’t get enough of it. Every half an hour or so, when they tire of whatever they’ve been keeping themselves busy with, they come up to me doing the twinkle-twinkle hand movement. If one girl remembers, the other catches on right away. They both sit there looking at me expectantly, twinkling away with their hands, waiting for me to sing them the song. And, they want that very verse of that very song – it’s the only way to get them to stop twinkling at me. I’ve tried, for the sake of variety and completeness, to sing them the other five verses, and even, for the sake of variety alone, to sing an entirely different song, but it won’t do. They get a pained, slightly puzzled expression, as though trying to understand why I’m trying this cheap con job on them, and they keep twinkling.

So twinkle twinkle is the flavour of the month – or the week at least. Since I have – for once – got a captive audience for my singing, I suppose I better give them what they want. Now here we go again… “Twinkle, twinkle little star…”

Tennis: Keep Your Eyes on the Ball, Girls

May 6, 2008

We took the twins for tennis on Sunday. Oh, we weren’t trying to get them to play (yet) – they were supposed to be audience or at best ball-girls, while Amit and I played. That was the plan.

It wasn’t the first time we had taken them to the courts – it was the second. The first time was Sunday a week earlier, when they had allowed us to play for precisely 25 minutes before Mrini began wailing and would not be consoled and had to be taken home post haste – wailing all the way.

In the following days, I realized that perhaps her shoes were too tight, so this time we had her in a larger pair of shoes. Also, I was more conscious about keeping them well fed and hydrated. Of course, I would imagine that no child wants to be awakened at 6 a.m. and hauled off to a strange place where they are expected to sit quietly in a corner, while their parents are off having a good time whacking a ball around. Nor did these kids appreciate it. It wasn’t that they minded being woken at six and taken off to the courts… it was just that they wanted to be out there on the court as well, bumbling around, picking up balls, leaves, sand, insects, and whatever else came their way.

The first half an hour or so was pretty good. I hadn’t been playing too well last week, but with just Amit and me on the courts, and the girls sitting quietly in the shade keeping themselves busy with God-knows-what, I was able to really focus and find my rhythm. Amit was impressed, which is saying a lot. Actually, Amit was already impressed last weekend, when he confessed to being amazed at the improvement in my game since we last played together, way back before we got the twins. But last weekend, with all of 25 minutes of play, I was only just warming up before the game was abruptly terminated by Mrini. This time, I really was able to get into my stride and I knew I was playing well, by my standards.

Then Tennis Sir dropped by to meet the twins. He is a really lovely person, and it says a lot about him that he didn’t make any stupid comments about the kids, the adoption, or about how lucky they are etc etc… just spoke to them a bit and told us how cute they are.

After that, the girls just could not be kept off the court. Despite the blazing sun (around 8 a.m.) they insisted on walking on to the court and standing right in the way of our game. We fed them, changed diapers, gave them water, showed them their toys, and told them to go sit in the shade, but nothing doing – back they came, walking on to the court and trying to get hit by the ball.

Luckily Amit was not playing his usual ferocious game of tennis, or it would not have been only the kids who would have had to leave the court in a hurry… All the same, I wouldn’t have wanted them getting bowled over even with one of my balls. I mean, they’re not even two years old yet! But Amit wouldn’t hear of calling it quits, so despite the two girls and sundry toys straying on to court, we continued to play.

I have to say that it probably did my game a great deal of good. When there are two moving targets that you’re desperately trying to avoid, and a partner who – under doctor’s orders – is supposed to avoid running at all costs (due to Patellar Tendinitis), you really have to direct your balls very, very carefully. Just to keep me on my toes (literally), Amit would periodically indicate that I should hit the ball to this side or that side of the court, and then we would shift the game to the indicated side, leaving the girls to slowly toddle over from their side to our side. I’m sure it was a most entertaining game of tennis.

We had reached the courts around 7, and it was a little past 9 when we finally packed up and drove away. The girls were still in good spirits, and by then, so was I. A few more sessions like this, and we’d at least have a decent pair of ball-girls on our hand, hopefully adept at dodging bullets, and maybe even turning into tennis players at some point.

Child Labor? Works for Me

May 5, 2008

First you spend all your time doing things for your kids – serving them meals and tidying up after them; perpetually changing, washing and bathing them; and the amount of time you spend picking up the toys that they’ve deposited in every nook and cranny of the house (only to have them gleefully upturn the basket and scatter the whole dang lot the next minute) doesn’t bear thinking about.

But that was then. Earlier. Way back when they were just a year old and not yet able to walk let alone talk. Now is different. Now they can run and jump and understand a whole lot of what is said to them. Now, in short, is payback time.

The twins are learning very quickly to handle most of the tasks required to get them through the day. At milk time, they enthusiastically help me to take out the packet of milk and proceed to play pass the parcel with it before I can recover it from them and pour it into their glasses. At mealtimes, they quickly climb into their high chairs and belt themselves in. They lend a helping hand in changing their own clothes (and diapers!), taking off their shoes and clips, brushing their teeth, and bathing themselves and each other.

But it doesn’t stop there. They are already trained at several household chores as well – and picking up new skills every day. As soon as I enter the house after a tiring session of tennis, they immediately take my water bottle from me. Jostling, pushing, biting, screaming, they run all over the house with it. It eventually ends up in the kitchen where it belongs, but I can’t really say how it gets there.

As soon as they spy a goodly pile in the laundry basket, they drag it to the washing machine, stuff everything in, and do their utmost to start the machine. When the laundry is done, there they are, waiting to unload the machine and hang the clothes out on the line. (So what if a few of the freshly-laundered clothes are dragged on the floor or flung over the balcony railing in the process?)

If I’ve just finished eating, they’re happy to carry away my (unbreakable)plate and deposit it in the kitchen (though I don’t trust them with my favorite all-too-breakable coffee cup yet). If I’ve just returned with a big bag of groceries, which I’ve deposited near the front door, each item will be carefully extracted, inspected, tasted, and then ferried to the kitchen, usually into the waiting hands of Amit or the cook. Grapes take a while to reach, and suffer a bit, being transported individually after having been brutally plucked off the stem.

The best sight is when Amit comes home from office and they wait for him to take off his boat-sized shoes so they can take them and put them away in the shoe cabinet. Some days they even drag his 25-kg computer case around to put away in the study.

Even the girl who comes to clean the house benefits from their activities as they delight in taking charge of the broom and brandishing it about six inches off the ground, which is pretty much what she does anyway.

But all of these are nothing compared to the great Put-It-Back Bonanza. About twice per waking hour – or more, if required – I get to stand and crack the whip (figuratively speaking) while the girls round up every last one of their toys and put them back in the designated boxes. Then they replace cushions and pillows, table mats and bibs, and sundry other bits of furniture and furnishing that have been misplaced and wound up quite far from their proper places. At the end of a comprehensive round of put-it-back, they get either a meal or a nap.

Another week or two, and I’ll have them making the coffee and perhaps frying sausages and popping the bread into the toaster while they’re at it. Child labor is great, I tell you.

I’ve Got to Stop the Food Wars

April 19, 2008

I know I shouldn’t but I still keep doing it: I keep fighting with the twins about food.

The parenting books – by western authors, by the way – all say how you should let the child decide how much of what food they to eat. They won’t starve themselves, and they won’t binge on one item and ignore another – over the long run, they will select a healthy diet. (This, provided you offer them healthy options of course, not an option between veggies on one hand and chips and chocolates on the other.)

I do believe I should do this, and I’m trying very hard to do it. I try not to worry if they opt to skip a meal, or eat only curd at dinner, or only drink milk for breakfast. Yet, it’s a losing battle: despite my best efforts, I all-too-often end up forcing food on them, fighting them to get one more morsel down their gullets, holding their arms, ignoring their wails.

Why do I do this? I feel lousy afterwards. I do believe that having a happy and relaxed meal is going to do them more good than those few extra mouthfuls I force on them. I can even hear a little voice telling me this when I’m force-feeding them – why don’t I listen?

To answer my own question, I think there are several reasons. One is that I’ve got the food ready and it is really frustrating to have it spurned.

Another is that I hate to see food wasted, but, since the kids’ food is full of delicious and fatty things including a generous dollop of butter, Amit and I generally don’t eat it.

And then, there’s ego – stupid, petty, childish, despicable ego: “If I’m telling you to eat this, you’re jolly well going to eat this, or else!”

Yet another is that I don’t want to feel that I gave up feeding them in a hurry (being impatient as I am) and thus deprived them of food at every meal. This is compounded by the pressure I’ve been under from the start to ensure that the kids put on weight, because, from the day we got them, doctors have said that they are way underweight for their age – around the 5th percentile compared to normal Indian kids. So, I’ve had this sort of Job No. 1 task of feeding them well and getting them to gain weight – in order to win doctors’ approval, if nothing else.

Still another is that I am, after all, Indian, and in India it is the done thing to keep stuffing food into your children to make them nice and plump; all good mothers must do this and if you don’t and if your children are not nice and plump, you must be a horrid, callous mother who starves her kids. If you were to be heard in public telling your kids, “eat it if you want it, if you don’t want it, don’t eat,” there would be gasps of horror all around and heads would swivel and eyes accuse you of cruelty that make Genghis Khan pale in comparison.

I don’t buy into this philosophy, of course, but at a subliminal level, it is there.

What earns you approving nods from the extended family in India is one of two feeding strategies. You either force-feed your kids by laying them down in your lap, gripping their hands and legs tightly, and dropping food straight into their throats – if they are howling, that helps because then their maws are wide open; or, you run around behind them distracting them with toys, playmates, music, TV or whatever, and sneaking the food in when they are not paying attention. (These strategies tend to merge as kids grow older, but the general philosophy remains intact – stuff your kids till they are fit to burst, or you’re not a good mother.)

I don’t do either of these, but I do demand that they sit still and focus on the food and cut out any squirming, screaming, playing with the food etc. It is unrealistic to expect a child to sit quietly and eat her food with dedication and decorum… but that’s what I aim for. I know, it’s an exercise in futility, it’s doomed from the start. They squirm and scream and giggle and play and I get impatient, irritated, frustrated, and plain mad. That’s when I start cajoling or shouting and simultaneously thrusting food down their gullets, when what I should do is to realize that they’re done with food and ready to go back to playing.

Easier said than done.

It doesn’t help, of course, that I’ve been feeding them the last 30-odd meals on the trot without a single break and am therefore running increasingly short on patience.

But, all the reasons and excuses notwithstanding, I’m resolving, here, publicly, right now, that I’m going to stop doing this once and for all, and am going to let them eat as much or as little as they want and am not going to force, persuade, cajole, plead, entice, encourage, or in any way try to increase their food intake ever again. Unless it’s medicine. Amen.

Caged Tiger Growling

April 18, 2008

Before we got the twins, Amit traveled about once a quarter. Now that we have twins, he travels once a month. I wish it had been the other way round.

Because of our insistence – joint and individual – to raise the kids ourselves, at least in these early days, we tend to lead a “relay-race” existence these days. As soon as one gets home, the other goes out, or, occasionally, is at home but busy with something and not to be disturbed.

The problem is that, when Amit is out of town, I don’t get a break of any kind. Of course, I get on the computer in the afternoons, while the kids sleep or keep themselves busy; and I get a few hours for myself in the evening after they’ve gone to bed; but the point is, being entirely home-bound, there’s only so far you can go with books, TV and computer. After a point, you feel like you’d do anything to just get out of the house for a bit. This time, as before, I’ve developed a serious pain in the neck/back due to too much time spent with the computer, TV and books. I need some exercise, I need to stretch, even to hyperventilate (just a little). I miss tennis, and I miss my evening walks, even if it is often just a quick trip to the neighbourhood shops for groceries and stuff. I do manage to pick up groceries on my way back from the park with the kids – but I need to stretch my legs and relax my mind, and it’s difficult to do that with the kids in tow.

The kids are entertaining enough in their own way, but 24×7 becomes a little monotonous I have to admit. Should I feel guilty about feeling this way? I do, a little, but that doesn’t bother me too much. What bothers me is: What, if anything, can I do to change things?

I obviously can’t get Amit to travel less. I wish he would travel less, but it’s not in my control. Since he is obviously the alternative baby-sitter of choice, I suppose I have to look beyond that and consider other baby-sitters. I’ve known for a while that it’s the only option, but I am still not altogether convinced that it’s what I want to do. If there were only a creche nearby where I could drop off the kids for an hour or two in the evening… 6.30 to 8.00 would do it. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Sometimes I think that getting a job, even a work-from-home job, would solve the problem, but then I realize this is confused thinking. A job might give more focus to the time I spend on the computer or might replace TV and books with work… but it won’t get me out of the house unless I have a babysitter, so it brings me right back to Problem Number One.

I’m happy to be a stay-at-home mom – or at least that’s what I keep saying – but did I really sign-up for 24×7? I thought there were going to be two parents involved here: Isn’t there supposed to be some help from the father in question as well? Or should I bow to the inevitable and leave my children in charge of an ayah for a couple of hours a day?

Good Girl, Bad Girl

April 17, 2008

These are the standard phrases we use to praise or admonish the twins. In doing so, I’m sure we’re no different from millions of parents around the world.

I’ve read in parenting books that rather than saying “bad girl,” one should say “that’s a bad thing to do” to more accurately convey that it is the action that’s bad, not the person. Obviously, the same does not hold true for the “good girl” situations.

Earlier, when I studied Psychology, I read about unconditional love, which, as I understand and recall it, is simply reassuring a child that no matter what you do and how angry I might be, I will always love you. The child should never have to fear or be insecure on that account.

Both things, slightly confusingly related and even slightly contradictory as they are, make sense to me. I have to admit that I don’t always – or even often – practise the former; though I wish I could, it’s just too cumbersome a statement in the heat of the moment. I believe (think) that, though I say “no” and “don’t” about a million times a day, I don’t say “bad girl” all that often and I do say “good girl” just as often or more.

I like to think too, that they somehow know when I scold them, that I’m only scolding them for that particular action and that there’s no threat to my overall affection for them, as well as no sweeping judgement on their general nature. My basis for this assumption is the belief that they are still arriving at an understanding of words based on context and non-verbal communication. Therefore, “bad girl” = “doing that  is bad” is not too much of an intuitive leap for them, while it (“bad girl”) is quite distinct from “I don’t love you” or “I won’t love you if you do that”. Likewise, I believe that “mama scolds me but still loves me” is something they understand without the use of those exact words.

But, I’m no child psychologist; I could be wrong.

What shocked me recently, though, was two similar but separate incidents of people asking my daughters, “Are you a good girl or a bad girl?”

One enquirer was herself a child, maybe 6 years old. The other was an unrelated child-minder.

Wow! Do people normally go around making kids make these value judgements about themselves? Obviously the child had been exposed to this question either first- or second-hand, she could hardly have thought up that line of questioning herself, unaided. What’s worse, she proceeded to label Mrini “bad girl” (and Tara “good girl”) just because Mrini wouldn’t go to her (and Tara did). She was just a child, and somebody else’s at that, so I didn’t say anything, but in my mind, that is no kind of basis for praising or admonishing a child. (As it happened, Mrini didn’t care, she smiled and clung to me.)

The child-minder said her ward, when so questioned, always answered, “Bad girl.” She – and the child’s mother – found this amusing. I think it’s terrible! From the tender age of 18 months, that child has an image of herself that is negative, and even if she doesn’t understand the implications of those words yet, she soon will. And meanwhile, her caregivers aren’t even trying to fix that verbal self-perception! I’m sure they love her and hug her and praise her as well, but the fact remains that her predominanat recollection is of the words “bad girl” – and they find this funny!

As of now, the twins don’t even properly respond to the question, “What is your name?” (they both say something approximating Mrini), so naturally they have no answer to the good girl, bad girl question yet. When they do, I hope that in actions, words, and inner belief, the answer will be good.

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