Pinched

August 11, 2011

(I’m not saying I’m resuming blogging. But this one I had to share.)

Yesterday when we were walking out of daycare, Mrini kept protesting when I held her hand. She had a small scratch on the back of her hand and it was hurting. I took her other hand and it was all fine.

By the end of the day, Mrini was end-tethered – which expression is my personal shorthand to say that she was at the end of her tether. “Mrini is crying because she didn’t sleep in the afternoon,” explained Tara, helpfully. Amit gave her a bath and she came out howling even more loudly than she had been when she went in.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

The scratch on her hand was hurting. In an attempt to get her to stop wailing and start talking, I asked her how she got hurt. “Daycare Auntie pinched me,” she wailed.

I was shocked. I’d expected her to say some kid did something to her and then I’d have told her these things happen and that would have been that. The girls don’t normally come home with cuts and scrapes from school and daycare, but a few war wounds in the cut and thrust of life are to be expected. I don’t worry too much. Kids learn to sort these things out themselves.

But an “aunty” inflicting an injury was a different matter altogether! Adults just can’t do that – especially not adults entrusted with the care of little children. At least my kids can talk – and even then, we almost didn’t find out about this. What about pre-verbal kids?

It wasn’t any too easy to get any coherent information out of Mrini, but it gradually emerged that the Aunty had been angry because Mrini wasn’t sleeping. I asked her if the Aunty meant it or if it happened by mistake, and she said quite clearly that the Aunty meant it. We promised her that the Aunty would be spoken to and that she needn’t feel scared if she didn’t want to sleep at daycare, nobody was going to hurt her for that. And that she should tell us if any such thing happens again. Then we let her sleep.

The Aunty named by Mrini was not, of course, the main daycare coordinator, but one of the staff. We called the coordinator and spoke to her. If I’d spoken, I’d have certainly been quite cold and stern (even though I like the daycare coordinator a lot) but Amit spoke and he was much too mild. All the same, she got the message. She will look into the matter, she said.

It’s difficult to know what to make of the whole episode. On the one hand, I want to take my kids right out of that daycare. On the other hand, that would be over-reacting. The place is generally good and I’m sure the coordinator will take up the matter with the Aunty in question. Hopefully, the Aunty will realize that she can’t get away with such things. At least some kids can talk.

On the one hand, it’s such a small, tiny little thing. On the other hand – it must have really hurt, to have someone pinch your hand hard enough to break the skin. Poor Mrini – she must have wailed!

And there’s the sheer injustice of it. We have instructed daycare clearly that while it is desirable for our kids to sleep in the afternoon, if they don’t want to, they don’t want to, and they are not to force them. Mrini has not wanted her afternoon nap for several months already. Sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn’t. So the staff just have to handle it. Usually, I think, she lies in her bed and probably babbles to herself – that’s what she does at home, at any rate. If she is disruptive with other sleeping kids, the staff have to deal with it. Pinching her, hurting her – is just not acceptable. For an adult and a caregiver to resort to these kinds of means… I just don’t know what to say.

But then – when kids think they have been punished, they don’t want to talk about it. In a way, it’s understandable – you want to hide your misdeeds from your parents and only tom-tom your achievements. The trouble is, these silly little things can’t evaluate when the punishment is way out of proportion to the purported mistake. This is how so many abusers get away – the child always thinks they did something wrong and are ashamed to talk about their “punishment”. Who can tell them that certain kinds of punishment are never, ever appropriate? Luckily for us, we have twins. If one gets into trouble, the other always reports on it. But this time, for instance, Tara was asleep when it happened. All she knew was that Mrini didn’t sleep.

There’s one other aspect that is a little worrying. Children do make up things. Mrini was extremely tired and cranky when this story came out. Tara couldn’t validate it. It is possible that Mrini made it up. I don’t think she did. Not because she can’t – she can – but because it just didn’t look like she was making it up. She wasn’t joking, she wasn’t playing around, she wasn’t even making a play for sympathy. In fact, she had no reason to expect sympathy for a story like this, this being a first. Normally, we’re very, “ok, come on, get over it” about minor injuries. So it’s probably difficult to pinpoint any precise factor and say, this is why she isn’t making it up. I just feel she isn’t. But I can’t say 100% for sure that she isn’t.

Now what? I’m certainly going to follow up with the daycare coordinator. And I’m going to tell both girls (again) that if any of the Aunties intentionally hurts them in any way, they are to tell us right away. And beyond that, I think we may not do anything. We probably aren’t going to take them out of this daycare tomorrow. But we will be keeping a very sharp eye on the kids.

And so begins the paranoid-psychotic cycle of parenting. The end of innocence. Sigh.

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Gymnastics

June 30, 2011

Mrini and Tara have always been active kids. Amit and I have always encouraged them too. We never make much of it when they hurt themselves and we generally allow and even encourage them to climb and jump. They have done some truly scary things sometimes, and Amit can get really gory with them when they do dangerous things that must be discouraged. But whenever the threat of injury doesn’t seem to be too great (either the threat or the injury) we let them be.

When they were small, they used to climb the window grills and hang from them.

When the discovered the big play area, they experimented with jumping from as many as ten steps up.

And of course, in the Har ki Dun trek, they skipped over rocks and stones, sank calf-depe in snow, went sliding over ice, and splashed in the stream with complete abandon – at least on the way down.

It’s not that they don’t get hurt or that they don’t wail and moan when they do; it’s that they go right back to whatever they were doing as soon as they can.

In recent days, Mrini has been teaching herself cartwheels. Since neither of us can do a cartwheel (the thought of Amit even trying boggles the imagination), we can’t offer much guidance. But we can tell when it looks right and we can give her feedback on that. She has improved dramatically in the last few days. From leaping sideways more-or-less like a frog (albeit a slightly lop-sided frog) she has progressed to occasionally making an almost vertical cartwheel. It’s amazing to see how that child picks a goal and works so diligently and so enthusiastically towards it. Tara tried a few times, but got easily frustrated and has apparently given up – for now. The last time that happened was with somersaults. That time she came back to it months later and did it with unbelievable elan. So with that one, you just can never say.

Mrini’s diligence at cartwheels and their combined eagerness for physical activity persuaded us that gymnastics would be a good option for them. We had thought of it off-and-on over the past several months, but didn’t really know how to go about it. There was supposed to be a very reliable gymnastics association quite far away from home. The timings didn’t suit. But last weekend, after a long and tiring Sunday, at 7.45 p.m. we walked down to a nearby gym and enquired. It turned out they did have gymnastics classes for kids. Our kids weren’t too young – they were, in fact, a bit old. But we could start them, anyway. We got a demo class for free and could pay up after that, if we liked the look of it.

On Tuesday, we both left work early, picked up the kids from daycare (they usually complain loudly if we pick them up too early, but not yesterday!) and went for the demo class. It was great fun. First the kids – there was a batch of eleven, all of them older and taller than our two – got to do all sorts of running and jumping. Then they did sideways rolls and forward rolls (what we call somersaults). Most of the movements our girls were able to do easily – most of them they had already discovered and practiced at home. There was a split leg forward roll that they didn’t quite get and then there was the reverse roll that they didn’t get at all. After that they did splits (which they were quite good at) and the arched back thing that they didn’t get at all. Considering that it was their very first class, they didn’t do too badly, though. Some of the movements were completely new to them, and others (like jumping jack) they have seen but can’t do, yet. Still – at what they did know, they were as good as many of the others. They had to jump over the width of a mattress kept on the floor – this they could do easily. In fact, they are extremely good at the long jump and could probably have done one-and-a-half mattress widths with their eyes closed. Some of the bigger kids couldn’t really clear the mattress. But then, they had to jump and bring their knees to their chest and this they didn’t get at all – they kept bringing their heels to their bottoms instead.

In the end, they all played “dog in the bone”. (If that’s what it’s called – it’s a variant of what we used to call Pitthoo – our version involved a ball and a tiny tower of unstable stones.) The girls haven’t been exposed to this game, so they weren’t very sure what they had to do, but they gave chase with a great deal of excitement, anyway.

It was just one hour, but it must have been tiring at the end of a school day. One thing I can say for sure is that they went through the whole session with a big grin on their faces. It’s lovely to see how tiny kids don’t really bother when they don’t get something. The age will come when they begin to feel self conscious, when they begin to tease each other, or strive to out-do each other. The time will come when they feel bad and don’t want to go back to a class where they feel they can’t keep up. But right now, it’s the early days of laughter and innocence. If they don’t quite get something, nobody cares. They laugh and carry on.

Looks like gymnastics class is going to be the next source of fun in our kids’ lives.


A Panda Called Pranav

May 10, 2011

A very, very long time ago, Amit went to Finland and brought back a panda for the kids. Naturally, it was a stuffed toy panda. It was an FAO Schwarz panda – hideously expensive.

At first the kids were not very enthusiastic about the panda. They were a little bit scared of him. He wasn’t very big and he was quite soft and fluffy, but they didn’t really take to him.

Then, after a few days, Mrini slowly started to get fond of him. Meanwhile, Tara had befriended a horrendous orange teddy bear of the common or pavement variety and in short order they had torn an ear off the said teddy bear. What’s more, they proceeded to open various seams in the teddy bear which, since Tara had become quite attached to it, and since she also showed a strong inclination to stone-heartedly and systematically disembowel it, I had to sew up on various occasions. Why you would want to disembowel a teddy bear that you professedly love I don’t understand, but kids are like that.

For a while, the panda and the teddy bear became siblings for our twins. They even went so far as to feed them and sing them to sleep and were only just about dissuaded from actually giving them a bath. I thought, at the time, that it was like having another baby (or two) but I had no idea what lay in store. https://poupee97.wordpress.com/2008/10/09/and-then-there-were-three/

Tara’s teddy bear made the transition to our new home last year, but some time after that, when I found them ignoring him for weeks at a stretch, I asked Tara if we could give him away to a tiny girl who lived in the under-construction house next door. Her parents were labourers, so her toys tended to be gravel, cement, and bits of string. Tara, thankfully, agreed.

The panda never really went out of use, but it was only when one of their favourite friends had a baby brother who was eventually named Pranav, that the panda was christened Pranav-the-Panda. I think the girls decided that since they weren’t going to get a younger sibling they might as well adopt Pranav-the-Panda and initiate him into the role. It didn’t take long for Pranav-the-Panda to transition from “baby brother” to “baby”. We can even now hear them saying, “Now I’m the Papa, you’re the Mama,” and running off to fetch the baby.

Apart from spending many happy hours “taking Pranav to school” and “going to office” and “picking Pranav up from school” and “going to the market with Pranav” and “putting Pranav to sleep” (the current favourite) they also started taking Pranav downstairs with them when leaving for school or daycare in the morning. They would seat him (or sometimes throw him – so heartless are they with their baby) on the steps so that they could be reunited with him the moment they got back home.

Then Mrini asked whether she could take Pranav in the car with us when we went out. Well… why not? So Pranav began to occupy the middle of the back seat on our drives and often Amit and I would be summarily instructed to “Stop talking! Pranav is sleeping!” On other occasions, we’d hear them saying, “Pranav is crying for you,” and passing the baby from Papa to Mama in the back seat.

In all of this, it was impossible not to become quite fond of Pranav. Not that I had anything against him to start with – it’s just that he was, after all, a stuffed toy. Moreover, he was a stuffed toy who’d been thoroughly slathered with Vaseline on one memorable occasion when I happened to be busy elsewhere and consequently he had managed to pick up a good measure of dirt and was beginning to look less like a toy and more like a wild animal in need of a bath. So I’d kept my distance from him, at least emotionally. But gradually, unsuspectingly, I too grew fond of the creature.

And then we went on the trek. It was the longest that Mrini and Tara have ever been away from home. They’ve never shown any signs of anxiety at being away from home in the past. But this time, Mrini was at times concerned, worried, and outright sad. Pranav was alone at home. She was missing him. More importantly, he was missing her. I told her he was happy watching TV and playing with her toys, but she wasn’t buying it. I said, when we get back to Delhi, you can talk to him on the phone. “Pranav can’t talk,” she told me scornfully. “He has a lock on his mouth.” (He has a sprig of greenery in his mouth; the “lock on his mouth” bit comes from Mozart’s Magic Flute, where some poor fellow does have a lock on his mouth.)

When I got back home, alone on Monday evening, the first thing I did was to check on Pranav. He was lying alone in the living room, in front of TV (which was switched off). He did look a bit forlorn. I took him back to the kids’ room and kept him with the rest of the toys. I told Amit to tell Mrini that I was home and that Pranav was fine. I don’t know if she felt any happier that the poor fellow wasn’t all alone any more, but I certainly did. How can I be completely indifferent to him? After all, he is my first grandchild.


You May Be Right – I May Be Crazy

April 8, 2011

…but that’s ok with me. It’s not such a bad thing, being a little bit crazy. Especially if one is crazy about the right thing.

In this particular instance, it is about trekking.

Most people know us well enough not to bother calling us crazy if they hear that we’re going off on another trek. But when they hear that our soon-to-be-five year old daughters are coming along on their first Himalayan trek ever, eyebrows (at the very least) do tend to go up.

Maybe it is a little bit crazy. But it’s probably not as crazy as you think. First, this is only a short trek – two days up, one day at the top, and two days down. Of course, we also spend two days getting there and two days getting back, but that’s on wheels, rails, and wings, so that (probably) doesn’t count as crazy. The altitude is not all that high. We start at about 6,000 ft, and the highest point is a little under 12,000 ft. The walking itself is only 5 days, one of which is a rest day. Also, on most days we won’t have to tent because there are lodges all along this route. Only on one night, we didn’t get a reservation at the lodge, so we might end up tenting for just one night. So it’s not all that crazy, see?

Of course, there’s the small matter of walking 13 km per day. And gaining 5,000 ft in two days. Are you asking me if the kids can do that? I haven’t the slightest idea – I don’t even know if I can do that. After all, it’s been four years since my last trek. This might come as something of a shock to you (especially if you’ve read my book; have you?) but I’m actually very scared of trekking. I mean, I get scared while trekking – when the dry, slippery pebbles start sliding under foot, I get terrified. I also get phobic about steep slopes and narrow paths. And heights. And descents. And boulders. And whatever else you can think of. It took me lots of practice to get my various fears under control, but now it’s been a gap of four years and I have no idea how much I might have regressed.

Of course I should be doing something to prepare. I should be working on my leg muscles. I should be improving my cardio-vascular fitness. I’m not really doing anything. I’m going to be in so much trouble. And, on top of everything else, I’m going to starve! Because I can’t eat most of the emergency food that we carry – biscuits, cake, bread, Maggi – and my lactose intolerance is also at its most intolerant in the mountains, so I can’t even have coffee, or even a good dose of ghee in my khichadi – not unless I want to risk diarrhea, which is not the best thing to have when on a trek.

And then I have to worry about the kids. I honestly have no idea if they will take to it – the whole wilderness experience. Will they enjoy doing nothing but walking the whole day long? They love to talk and they love to get the undiluted attention of their parents and they are very active all day long. At least I can be sure they won’t miss TV or battery-operated toys (they don’t have any). But will they enjoy the walk? How much will they be able to walk? Will they last the entire trek or will we have to abort after day 1? Will they be enthralled by the views and the sheer novelty of being in the mountains? Or will they start whining “I’m bored; I’m hungry; I’m tired; you carry me…” within the first 20 minutes and keep it up the whole damn day?

If they do get tired, will they agree to be carried? By a porter? In a sack? Will they (horrors!) both want to hang on to my hand and walk – on a narrow, slippery path with a steep fall on one side???

Worse still, what if I get petrified along the way and one of the kids has to come and hold my hand and pull me along? What kind of role model is that?

Sigh. Problems, problems…

But at least we are going back to the mountains. At one point, I doubted I ever would. If this works… there could be so much more to look forward to in the coming years. 🙂


Slightly Sleepless Nights

March 10, 2011

The kids have a cough.

(I’m not sure if I should say, “The kids have coughs” instead – each kid has a cough, but it could be the same cough. It sounds like the same cough. So anyway, let’s just say, the kids have a cough.)

They’ve had it for a while – three weeks or so, I think. At first, I ignored it. It was mild enough – a little coughing at night, a little snuffling in the morning and then it cleared up. After a week or so, I started the steam treatment, last thing at night. Then, if I heard them coughing at night, I’d get out of bed and go to their room and cover them up thoroughly with a big, fat blanket. That usually stopped the cough for a while. Last week, due to various social engagements, the steam treatment was more off than on. The cough had reduced a bit, but then towards the end of last week, it returned. By Saturday, I was wondering whether it was time to see a doctor, but Amit said, nah, just do the steam regularly, it’ll go away.

Then Sunday night happened. Poor Mrini coughed every 30 seconds or so right from 8.30 when she went to bed, till 10.30 when I went to bed. I gave her sips of water, a Vicks cough drop I managed to unearth from my handbag, and eventually she even agreed to suck on a clove for a couple of minutes – something she has steadfastly refused in the past – all to no avail. Each strategy provided a brief respite from the coughing, but seemed to have a significant impact on her sleep. When I left her alone, she continued to cough but managed some kind of fitful sleep as well. So at 10.30, I gave up all attempts to placate the cough, left her to her restless sleep and went to bed. Either I slept soundly, or the cough did reduce later at night, because the next thing I knew, it was 5 a.m. Soon enough, she was coughing again – still partly asleep, though.

On Monday evening, we consulted a doctor. He examined both girls and made a tentative diagnosis of nocturnal asthma. He prescribed Levolin and Allegra. A quick check of the internet says that Levolin is not recommended for children below 6. Much to my surprise, Allegra is. But… it doesn’t seem to be indicated for their symptoms; they don’t have anything like hay fever or hives. I took Allegra once and it had a very peculiar effect on me – I felt physically paralyzed, as if I couldn’t move. The doctor said I was just drowsy, but mentally I was awake and alert, just unable to move – like in that book State of Fear. It was horrible. I know that it doesn’t have that effect on everyone, and Mrini and Tara don’t even share my genes after all – but I’m still loath to give it to them.

Besides – I’ve seen plenty of asthma in my family. My mother and sister have had asthma for years. My mother was once rushed to the hospital gasping so terribly I was really frightened. I know that asthma looks different in different people, but just a few months ago I saw our friends’ daughter wheezing at the slightest exertion. Our girls don’t look anything like that. They are as active as ever, even going for tennis without coughing or wheezing. They’ve not had any incidence of asthamatic episodes thus far. Even their cough is not the same dry, rasping cough of an asthmatic. In fact, I had thought they have a cold or a bit of a viral that’s lingering on as these things do, and the most I expected was an expectorant or mucolytic cough mixture.

Amit is dead against loading the girls with medicines, especially these medicines. He wants a second opinion, with our regular pediatrician. So do I, but she wasn’t available until Thursday evening, and that meant yet another sleepless night – and possibly more, depending on what medicines she prescribes and how long they need to take effect. But he’s right of course – I don’t want to give them these particular medicines either, especially because this doesn’t even look like asthma to me.

So off we go to the doctor again. The girls love to go to the doctor because I think it makes them feel important; but more importantly, because doctors prescribe medicine and medicines are sweet. So they’re quite happy to meet two doctors in one week. It’s not so much fun for the parents, of course.


Daycare is Our Village

February 23, 2011

It takes a village to raise a child, they say. I think they knew what they were talking about.

Sending the kids to daycare was never what I intended to do. No, I planned to keep them at home, like most other kids, while I went back to work. I had Shaba-aunty who I thought would be happy to look after them. She was already in charge of giving them lunch and putting them to bed for their afternoon nap. And if she couldn’t oblige, there was her sister, our cook, NJ. Both were women who’d worked with us a long time. They were trusted, dependable, sensible, honest, and clean. What more could anyone want?

As it turned out, neither of them could oblige – they both had too many other things to look after. So we reluctantly gave up on homecare and looked for a suitable daycare. I’m so glad we did. The truth is, one single, solitary nuclear family is too little for a child, even for two children, even for twins. I’m in no way advocating a joint family as the solution. I’ve seen what happens when our kids get thrown in with a bunch of family members. Discipline goes out the window. They think they can get away with murder and they can. There’s always someone who’ll take their side. And Mom and Dad become the only two who are at all interested in trying to impose some kind of discipline, some kind of schedule. We end up being the ones always trying to get things done. On time. Properly. And we – at least, I – end up screaming and losing my temper (and my mind) over it.

Don’t be under the impression that I often have to deal with this situation. It’s very rare. But it’s enough to give me a glimpse of how it could be.

Homecare that involves paid domestic help is better, because you, the employers, get to call the shots. It doesn’t mean that things will always be done the way you want them to be, but at least you can try. You can unplug the TV. You can ban chocolates and biscuits. Paid domestic help will not, presumably, spend too much of their hard-earned cash buying sweet things for their charges and thereby risk earning their employers’ wrath. The same cannot be said of grandparents. Or even uncles and aunts.

But homecare is essentially boring for kids, especially for kids of this age. Every day, day after day, it’s just the two kids and the one care giver. There’s just a small selection of games and activities that two kids and one adult can enjoy. There’s only a small selection of books and toys. Anyone would be bored after a week or two.

Daycare, on the other hand, is a good combination of the two strategies. We haven’t been able to completely eliminate TV and sweet nothings from the twins’ diet with daycare. But it’s not too much of either. And discipline is not an issue. There are several aunties who give the instructions, and they don’t brook any nonsense. There are more toys and activities than you’d normally have at home, and with so many children and adults around, the possibilities are infinite. Besides, unlike in a house, in daycare, every child is one of many and nobody gets excessive attention. This is good. The kids get to play together a lot with other kids of slightly varying ages. It teaches them to work out a lot of things on their own – taking turns, order, fairness, discipline. But there’s always help at hand should adult intervention or organization be required. Another wonderful thing about daycare is that, you don’t have to depend on just one person. With homecare, if your care giver calls in sick, goes out of town, or has any other reason for being unable to come, you’re stuck. With daycare, there are always helpers around. It doesn’t matter if one or even two of them are absent on any given day. Daycare goes on.

So daycare is sort of the village that raises our kids. And they’re doing a good job of it. When our girls went to Calcutta with Amit and without me for several days last week, by all accounts they were absolutely comfortable, self-assured, confident, and easy-going. It helps that they already know the people there, of course – but just to keep that in perspective, they are only four-and-a-half now and their last visit to Calcutta was more than a year ago, in December 2009. Still, they handled all the ups and downs of travel, the bor jatri (baraat – a five hour bus journey to Durgapur; overnight halt; and five-hour drive back), the festivities, the lots of new faces, new food, changes in meal and nap schedule, and everything else that goes along with such a trip – they handled it all with elan and without the slightest sign of missing mama.

In retrospect, putting the kids in daycare was the best thing to do. The time will come when we will have to take them out of daycare, as school hours get extended and the girls get involved in various classes and activities. But for as long as we have it, it’s a godsend. I wonder why I ever felt reluctant, unsure, or guilty about it?


Negotiation Skills (and other stuff about the twins)

February 18, 2011

Kids are very dumb. But also very smart. And quite sweet.

Take Tara. First, she would provoke Mrini to the point of no return. Then Mrini would bite her or commit some such other atrocity upon her. Then, regardless of the severity of the offense, Tara would go howling blue murder to seek retribution (or vengeance) in the shape of an irate parent. I soon opted out of the fray by telling her to work it out herself. Moms tend to be callous that way. Dads are a softer sell. Amit would step in at once to redress all wrongs – real as well as exaggerated. It became such a pattern that one day when Tara came running to me for help and I gave her the cold shoulder, she told me indignantly through her sobs, “Wait till Baba comes home. I’ll tell Baba. Baba will scold Mrini.”

I’d already realized that she was playing Amit like a piano, but hearing her think it out like that was a bit of a shock. And she did it too – when Amit came home 15-20 minutes later, she ran to him straightaway with her tearful tale of woes. So Amit and I had a long talk and though he wasn’t really convinced by me, he agreed to “try” to keep out of the kids’ battles, no matter what. It was immensely difficult for him, because he was convinced that the girls would and could do real damage to each other. I, on the other hand, thought they wouldn’t.

For a couple of days, it was a toss-up. Tara found, to her dismay that she could no longer co-opt her beloved Baba into her battles and she didn’t have any other weapon in her armory. Mrini found that she no longer had to worry about being hauled up by Amit and she, obviously, wanted to test the limits of this new situation to see how far she could go. It was, in fact, tough to stay with the strategy and trust her to set her limits herself. But somehow the three of them worked things out and it’s been maybe three weekends since we put this new strategy in place and things seem to have settled down now. I don’t know how Tara is managing to hold her own against Mrini’s bullying, but I suspect that it is some combination of various factors: Tara is less provocative now that her guardian doesn’t get involved; Mrini is less violent, now that it doesn’t get her any negative attention; and perhaps Tara is just opting out of situations before they become very sticky.

That’s the smart part.

This part is dumb.

Tara: Mrini, why every day you open the car? Every single day you open the car. Today I will open the car.
Mrini: No, yesterday you opened the car.
Tara: No, no, yesterday you only opened the car. Today can I open the car? Please?
Mrini: Ok, today you open the car in the morning. I’ll open the car at daycare.
Tara: Yes, ok Mrini. Today I’ll open the car and you open the car in the evening.
Mrini: Tara, no, Tara, ok, Tara, I’ll tell you something. Today I’ll open the car in the morning and you open the car in the evening. Ok, Tara?
Tara: Ok. Ok, Mrini. That is a good idea. You open the car in the morning, I’ll open the car in the evening.

And that’s what they do. Every single day.

Tara does this time and again – challenges the status quo and then, when victory is her, relinquishes it in favour of status quo. She does this for selecting music for the drive; for deciding who gets to read the Winnie-the-Pooh book first (it accompanies the CD we play in the car and whoever reads it second only gets a few minutes because then we reach school; whoever reads it first gets the whole first story – 11 minutes); even for deciding which colour of shirt, shorts, toothbrushes, or shoes they will pick from two that are identical apart from colour. This girl really needs to work on her negotiation skills (and maybe on her logical thinking skills as well).

Then there’s the sweet part.

I hadn’t realized the extent to which the kids pick up things from us – like values and attitudes. They have realized, of late, that there are a whole lot of things I can’t eat. Mrini, in particular, often asks very solicitously whether the doctor has allowed me to eat this or that and whether it has maida in it. This is touching.

Now our home has a small patch of lawn running around two sides. It’s a very very small patch – a couple of feet wide on one side, and maybe six feet or so in front. It also has not been tended to in living memory, so it is basically an overgrown patch of weeds and three small and unruly trees. Our landlord, who comes by every month to pick up the rent cheque in person (he’s the old-fashioned type, doesn’t believe in net banking) asked us why we hadn’t had the garden cleaned up. I just shrugged – it wasn’t, by my standards, messy. Well, maybe, only a little. Apparently, he asked our downstairs neighbours too and apparently they took him seriously. When I went down on Sunday evening, I found, to my shock, that our unruly undergrowth had been crudely and completely removed. Now, instead of walking over a green bed of weeds, we walked over hard, dry earth. What’s more, the trees were gone. They’d been butchered down to bare trunks, about my height. They hadn’t been very large trees in any case, but they formed a nice arch of greenery over my head and provided a bit of screening from the road. Now our home looked undressed, naked.

On Monday morning, the kids saw it. They were shocked. “That’s so sad!” said Mrini, looking hurt. “That’s so sad!” She wasn’t parroting our words; she wasn’t parroting our thoughts. This was a thought of her own – she was genuinely shocked and sad to see our garden stripped of its greenery. Tara informed me that she had seen the “uncle” doing the work yesterday, from our bedroom window. “I didn’t ask his name because he wasn’t a nice uncle because he took away the pants,” she said. It took me a moment to figure out she meant “plants”.

And then Mrini’s excitement over going to Calcutta. She’s not excited about attending a wedding for the first time ever. She’s not very excited about meeting all the family members that she remembers. What she’s really excited about is:

Mrini: Mama, today is a school day? (while we were driving to school)
Me: Yes, it’s Monday.
Mrini: Tomorrow also we have to go to school?
Me: Tomorrow you’re going to Calcutta!
Mrini: But N has to go to school? (Her long-standing best-friend, boyfriend)
Me: yes.
Mrini: It’s a holiday for me but not for N. N has to go to school. N will miss me.

Hmmm… Never too young to want to be missed!


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