Wimbledon, Here We Come

December 20, 2010

No, we’re not going to watch (hopefully) Federer win on grass again next year. But another 12 years or so down the line, we’re going to sit in the Players’ Box.

In other words, Mrini started tennis coaching this weekend.

She’s been diligently practising both tennis and football with Amit (at home, in our living room, much to the detriment of the TV, music system, glass-fronted framed paintings, glass fronted bookshelf, and new inverter) for the past month or more. When Amit can’t play, she deigns to play catch (with a ball, I mean, not running catch) with me. In sports, as in other spheres, she’s diligent, focused, and persistent. She doesn’t easily get frustrated and she won’t take “no” for an answer.

It was more her eagerness and desire to learn than any innate skill that convinced me that she was, maybe, ready to start formally learning tennis. Amit spoke to Tennis Sir, and he said, “Ok, bring her in, let’s see.”

So on Saturday morning, no more than 30 seconds after I turned on the light, Mrini crawled out of the big, warm blanket and climbed into my arms. Then, as usual, she said “five minutes” and went back into the blanket. Less than five minutes later, she was up, grinning, and pulling on her tennis clothes – a straight-cut, short skirt and a full-sleeved, collarless, white T-shirt.

Tara followed suit and by 6 a.m. we were all in the car and ready to go.

Until 7.30, Amit and I played together, while the kids ran around picking up balls, throwing balls, talking to us, and generally keeping themselves busy. Then Mrini played (somewhat distractedly) with Amit for 20 minutes. (By “played” I mean, Amit threw the ball at her, and she tried to hit it. Mostly, she either missed it, or sent it right over the 12-foot fence.) By then her batch had assembled and done their warm-up and Sir called both of the girls to join them. Tara refused to go, but Mrini marched off excitedly with Amit.

For the next 90 minutes, we all had a blast watching as she made her mark on the world of tennis. She was the shortest of the ten-odd kids in her batch, the youngest, and the newest. One of the girls who was a little taller than her had started last weekend, but she was over six years old. Another boy was a newbie, but he was taller and older and much better co-ordinated. Mrini was so short that when she stood at the net to volley, she couldn’t see the ball coming at her. When she ran to the basket to take out a ball, if the basket was less than half full, she couldn’t reach down into it to pick up a ball.

But she didn’t care. Heck, no. She watched what everyone else was doing and did along with them. She swung at every ball and missed more than half the time, but never mind that. She ran around the court full tilt, picking up balls and sometimes forgetting to throw them back into the basket. She watched other kids and learned that you can collect more balls if you gather them on your racket, so she did that and then watched half of her hard-won collection roll off the racket head when she tried to pick it up.

The best part was when she ran to the net to pick up a ball. Sir told her, don’t pick up a ball from this side of the net, go to the other side. He meant, cross the net and look around the edge of the court for balls that have landed there. What did Mrini do? She took him literally, and instead of looking around the edge of the court, she ran all along the length of the net, right across one court and halfway across the next (where a halfway serious game was in session) to pick up balls!

Then the kids were told to take a ball each and tap. Mrini hasn’t learnt to tap, but she worked at it for a good ten minutes, unmindful of the fact that everyone else already knew how to do it.

Next, they were made to line up at the net and play catch. Mrini can catch a mini-basketball size ball with two hands, but a tennis ball? That’s just asking too much! Still, she lined up, and several times she caught the ball, albeit after one bounce.

Right at the end of the session, two captains were elected and they chose their teams. Naturally, Mrini, being the smallest, the youngest, and the newest kid on the block, was the last to be selected. She was then made the first to run in the relay race that followed. I wondered what she would do, considering she hadn’t seen this particular activity being done. But she understood what she had to do, and, tired as she must have been after a good three hours at the courts, she scrambled as fast as she could all the way around the courts and ended up no slower than the smallest kid on the other team!

Much to my relief, Sir told her to sit down after that. But when everyone was done running the relay race, he made them all do pushups! My baby! Doing pushups with the best of them! What a sight!

Obviously such a prolonged and physical morning outing called for a masala-dosa breakfast. The girls had had a couple of bananas each earlier on, but they still went through one whole masala dosa each, much to my amazement. And when we got home around 10.30, they still had space for their glass of morning milk!

The next session was on Sunday morning. Things went as per expectations except that Mrini was more distracted than on Saturday. At one point, she was looking at us as she walked around picking up balls. A boy who wasn’t looking where he was going slammed into her. Down she went, just exactly like ninepins, landing full length on her back with a thud. Obviously, she wailed and headed towards us. We shooed her away (though that was SO tough to do) and she went sobbing back to her place in the batch. She continued to sob for the next 15 minutes or so, but, resentfully, continued to do her part in all the activities. Of course she walked rather than ran, and continued to glower at everyone and to sob when she came near us, but she continued to do her bit right up to the relay race at the end, in which she ran as fast as she could. Sir jollied her along, firmly but kindly. Amit predicted that by the time the session ended, 40 minutes later, she would come to us with long, loud floods of tears, but I bet she wouldn’t. And she didn’t! She came looking sulky, but a minute later she was smiling again and when I asked her if she had fun and wanted to come back, she nodded happily! Even Sir was a little impressed – “she must have got hurt” he said, when she wasn’t looking.

It was a fantastic experience! I was so, so proud of Mrini. Getting bowled over by a bigger boy mustn’t have been too nice for her, but she held on all the same! And up until that point, she was so comfortable with everything. What coolth that girl has, what complete self-assurance. I love the way she just waded into the throng of six- to -12-year-olds and made herself at home. I love the way she didn’t get fazed at all the things she couldn’t do. I love that she came home thrilled to bits with herself, saying, “I played well!” on Saturday and even after falling over on Sunday, was still happy and looking forward to going back next weekend. I admire her spirit.

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Home Visit

November 19, 2010

Another nice thing that the kids’ school has, is this concept of a home visit. Once a year (I think) the Montessori kids get to drop in to a classmate’s home. I don’t think the youngest kids (M1) get to go – at least, I don’t remember Mrini and Tara going for this last year – but this year their home visit happened yesterday.

I must admit it gave me a bit of a heartattack to start with. I’d just driven in to my office parking lot and was walking to the elevator when my phone rang. It was their class teacher. I immediately stopped in my tracks and started thinking how long it would take to get to their school and also wondering what could possibly have gone wrong in the ten minutes or so since Amit dropped them in school. It was such a relief to know that I was just being informed that they would be going on a home visit and that the teacher and forgotten to tell Amit, so she decided to call me! At that point, I would have agreed to a home visit at the ends of the earth. (When did I become such a panicky mom? But, in my defense, an unexpected call from the class teacher can only ever be bad news, right?)

As it happened, I’d made chocolate cake on Wednesday and the kids were carrying the remains of it in their snack boxes that day. That was a pity. We usually give them such terribly boring (I mean, healthy) snacks that I can only imagine they are not exactly the cynosure of all eyes when they open their snack boxes in school. I routinely took two biscuits – and the same two biscuits – to school for almost my entire school life. Even back then, Krackjack was not something kids got excited about. There was usually a crowd around those kids who brought parathas, sometimes smothered in jam and sugar. So I’ve had plenty of experience of being the kid with the least exciting snack box. While I can’t give my girls exciting (sugary, fried, or otherwise unhealthy) snacks everyday, I can at least give them a bit of cake once a year or so. I’d even give them homemade cake more often, except I usually bake on the weekend so there’s nothing left by the time school comes around again.

Amit told me that when he went to drop them at school yesterday evening, there was a boy standing at the door of their class. Apparently Tara went straight to him and said, “I brought cake. I won’t give you.” To which the boy, without missing a beat, replied, “I got sauce. I won’t give you.”

I wonder what eventually came of that little verbal exchange!

When I met the girls at daycare yesterday evening, another entertaining exchange took place.

T: I finished my snack! I ate it in the van.

Me: Did you share it with your friends?

T: I only shared it with Ayodhana (it must be Arodhana, or maybe even Aradhana, but Ayodhana is what both the kids say).

M: I didn’t eat my snack. I’ll eat it when I get home.

At this point, Mrini, who had been in my arms, gave an indignant shout and jumped out of my arms. Tara had made a beeline for Mrini’s school bag and was now quickly opening Mrini’s snack box! Mrini raced over, grabbed her snack box, went and showed off the cake to the daycare coordinator, offered her a piece, then packed it up quickly before she could take any. Tara pulled a small box of shiny stuff out of her school bag.

T: I got toys! You didn’t get toys! Sivam threw your toys out of the window.

M: I got cake. I won’t share with you.

T: I don’t want! I got toys.

At this point, I have to explain that my girls are not really as selfish as these verbal duets make them seem. Tara usually happily gives away upto 80% of her kingdom, even if it is chocolate cake and even if it is to Mrini (and Amit and me) and even if her recipients have already finished their own share of the cake. Mrini is a little more measured in the quantities she gives, but, with a little persuasion, she does give almost as cheerfully as Tara. But of course, nothing beats the sheer childish delight of the chant: “I got cake. I won’t give you.”

A little later, we managed to all get in the car and start the drive home. Slowly, they disclosed various disjointed bits of information about their home visit.

  • We went in a yellow van. There were lots of kids. (They proceeded to name several classmates. They also told me which teachers accompanied them.)
  • The seniors didn’t come. They went to (another kid’s) home. (Seniors refers to M3 kids.)
  • Na didn’t come. He was absent.
  • Ni didn’t come, she’s a baby. (Baby refers to the M1 kids; so apparently M1 kids don’t get to go.)

I asked if they went to a house or an apartment. Unsurprisingly, the girls didn’t know the difference. I asked if there was a garden, like we had. Tara said, “We have a garden? Where?” So then I asked if they went in a lift.

  • T: No.
  • M: Yes, we went in a lift. The number was 8. (I presume this means that R’s home is on the eighth floor.)
  • R’s sister was home. She opened the door.
  • T: Then R said a big Hiiiiiiiiiiiii. Like that.
  • R’s Mama and Papa and Didi were there.

(I tried to ask about R’s home – living room, dining room, verandah, the furniture and so on, but I didn’t get much. Tara made a funny face and asked “What’s that?” when I asked about a dining room! I gather R has a TV, which was off, and there was a pink cycle and a multicoloured car in the veranda, which Mrini drove “of course”.)

  • We had juice!
  • And there was pani puri.
  • And bread and Maggi.
  • And halwa. (But maybe not sooji halwa.)
  • So many plates were on the floor.
  • T: I picked up a plate because somebody dropped her halwa. But I didn’t help to clean up the halwa.
  • We didn’t eat anything.
  • T: I didn’t take a plate because Na didn’t have a plate also.
  • When we got back to school, we took our bags and went in the blue van (to daycare).

Well, they seem to have had fun. I’m sure they ate something, despite their loud disclaimers. And we all got a bite of the surviving chocolate cake at home yesterday evening, despite Mrini’s loud protestations earlier. And they both played with Tara’s toy for all of five minutes before losing interest in it completely and totally. And I got something to write about, albeit vicariously.


Managing the Differences

October 25, 2010

One of the amazing things about twins is how they demonstrate differences in children, differences that are very evident in spite of having identical genes (as far as science has been able to discover) and very very similar upbringing and circumstances.

 

Mrini and Tara, as I’ve mentioned before, have different personalities and they periodically switch. The quiet one becomes voluble, the submissive one becomes aggressive, the still(er) one becomes a perpetual motion machine, the eager-to-please one starts pushing the limits…

 

But there is at least one facet of their personalities that they haven’t swapped for a very long time – almost never: their ability to focus and work on something they want to accomplish.

 

I still remember how Mrini learnt to walk. They were 13 months old when they came to us and neither of them was walking. Remember they were in the bottom fifth percentile for weight and height and – more worryingly – hadn’t increased in weight at the normal rate in the first year. But nobody had said anything about any developmental delays, so I wasn’t worrying about when they would walk. As I said often, by the time they go to college, I’m sure they’ll have mastered it. In a way, I was a little bit relieved that they weren’t walking yet – at least it was one significant milestone that we wouldn’t have missed out on.

 

They both enjoyed being held by the hand and made to walk, and we, of course, loved to do that as well.

 

One morning, Mrini decided it was the day she was going to walk. She practiced for a straight 15 minutes. For a 13- or 14-month old, that’s a lifetime. She stood up, shakily, and sat down with a bump; stood up, sat down; stood up, sat down. After this went on for a long time, she stood up and walked – a good 12 or 15 steps, from the living room of our former apartment all the way to near the fridge in the dining room.

 

This determination of hers to “practice” or to determinedly work at something till she gets it is still very much a part of her. A few weeks ago, she told me she wanted to write. I wrote out a letter of the alphabet for her in a random blank-sheet notebook and gave it to her. I expected her to copy the letter in the line below, but to my surprise, she traced over it. After that, she has filled up several pages of the blank notebook and shown considerable enthusiasm in buying a four-line notebook to continue her writing work. We bought her a four-line notebook and she’s used up several pages of that too, already. I never ask her to write – she’s always the one who suggests it and persists till I give in. (“Give in” because I have to stop whatever I’m doing and get up to get the notebook off from the highest level of the bookshelf.) She’s thrilled to do her writing work and tells me which letter she wants and works diligently at tracing over it until she has filled up one page. Then she puts it away until next time.

 

Some time ago, she started recognizing letters in newspaper headlines. “Mmmmm for Mini” is her favourite, I think. At any rate, it was the first she learnt to spot and the one she still asks for most often when she’s practicing writing. Yesterday, she was trying to read the letters in the logo on my T-shirt. I think she’s going to be stringing sounds together to make words, soon. Wow – she’s almost learning to read and spell. It is an exciting development to watch!

 

There are other things that Mrini works hard at too. She’s diligent at following Amit’s instructions at sport – tennis, football, and catch. The fact that she’s eager for approval and praise makes her an easy child to coach (and a difficult one to scold – she is apt to break into the most heart-rending sobs if she feels she is being wrongly chided; she also gets very seriously scared if she accidentally manages to do some serious damage which hurts someone or breaks something).

 

Tara, on the other hand. She used to be able to focus, albeit sporadically. Once in a way, she would set out to do something and work at it very sincerely for ten minutes. But not any more. She shows no interest in writing, like Mrini does, but doesn’t make up for it by being very interested in anything else. She won’t focus on any of the games that Amit tries to get them to play, so she doesn’t show any sign of promise. She doesn’t take well to being instructed, and seems to have not much desire to earn approval. She doesn’t give a hoot if we scold her, either. As far as I can tell the only activity she really likes is listening to and telling stories, and the only form of attention she wants is to sit in my lap (not something that I encourage a lot of).

 

Sometimes, when I praise Mrini for something she’s working seriously on, I have to simultaneously scold Tara for either being disruptive, or for being disobedient, insolent, or otherwise difficult. I do realize that when Mrini is getting attention for all the things she’s doing well, Tara might feel the only way she can compete for attention is by being naughty. But I wish she wouldn’t. I know that the best way to discourage negative attention-getting behavior is to ignore it, but often that is very difficult to do. Also, it can lead to an escalation of negative behavior till it becomes impossible to ignore. And not reacting to mildly irritating behavior then getting provoked by seriously irritating behavior is counter-productive because it teaches kids that if you push the right buttons long enough and hard enough, you’ll get the attention you were aiming for.

 

I don’t want to create any kind of dichotomy between the kids, of the sort that this one is such a good girl, that one is such a bad girl. I don’t want Tara to feel that she can never be “better” than Mrini so it’s not even worth trying.

 

And yet… to not praise Mrini for her work is not right; and to not discourage Tara’s disruptive/disobedient behavior is not right either.

 

Strangely enough, at school there doesn’t seem to be a problem. We went to pick up their report cards on Saturday and got equally glowing reports for both girls. If there were any kind of deficit in focus on Tara’s part, their teacher would surely have mentioned it. So it looks like it is a problem that is specific to home.

 

Here is one of the challenges of having twins. With siblings, the differences in abilities and attitudes of the two are less evident precisely because of the age difference, which offers an all-too-evident explanation of their differences – an explanation that is probably quite evident to the kids themselves. With twins, their own perception of their comparative abilities is much clearer. Even if we were to ignore Mrini’s efforts and hard work, Tara can see for herself how well Mrini does something that she, herself, can’t do. Even without any special praise for Mrini from Amit and me, she might still think, Oh, I can’t do better than that, why even bother trying?

 

A question that’s been on my mind lately: How can I help Tara find things that she likes to work on and motivate her to work on them for long enough so that I can give her attention and praise and work with her without having to discipline her every few minutes and without having her feel threatened by Mrini?

 

Another question I have often asked myself: How can “identical” twins be so different???


Home-coming Day: Third Anniversary

September 27, 2010

Saturday was the third anniversary of the kids’ home-coming day. We didn’t do anything really to mark the occasion. Luckily we went to S&S’s for dinner and they had ordered in a delicious white forest cake – not for us – that we all demolished with gusto.

It’s sad that we haven’t managed to create any ritual for the home-coming day anniversary. I’d like to do something small and significant but I just can’t think what. Going to a temple or something would be completely fake for a staunch atheist like Amit and a non-conformist believer like me. Donating to some charitable organization would be a better thing to do, but neither of us has the conviction to actually do anything about it. So we spend the day feeling profoundly thankful (like we do many days) without knowing how, exactly, to express our thanks.

The day before home-coming day, we got a courier from Pondicherry. It contained a photocopy of the adoption order. Finally, after three long years, we held the paper in our hands and read each line through twice. Apart from two very, very minor typos, it was ok. But it was only a photocopy. Now we have to wait for the original.

Meanwhile, four has already turned into an interesting year. One day a week or so ago, I went to daycare to pick up the girls as usual. Tara came to me, I picked her up, and she buried her face in my neck. Nice… but unusual. It became even more unusual as she stayed that way, refusing to look at me or talk. I began to wonder what was wrong. The assistant told me, sheepishly, that Tara was upset because she’d been given timeout. She was swinging too high on a swing and shouting too much, so the assistant, B, had made her sit on a small bench for a few minutes. That’s all. After that, Tara had gone and joined her friends in the sandpit, where she’d been playing when I came in.

Tara, meanwhile, still clung to me like a limpet, refusing to talk or look at anyone. After a good few minutes, tears slowly came. She deigned to look at me and nod or shake her head to my questions, but she refused to speak either to B or to anyone else at the daycare centre. It took a good 15 minutes of trying to get her out of my arms and standing on her own feet. She wasn’t crying by then, but she was still refusing to speak to anyone. B clearly felt terrible and tried to make it up to her, but Tara didn’t even look at her, despite B’s best efforts.

She continued to be quiet and sad in the car on the way home, and refused to talk to her beloved GP (my FIL) when we reached home, but after 15 minutes of play, she was almost back to normal. B, however, continued to feel terrible about it.

To be honest, I think we were all quite shocked by Tara’s reaction. I couldn’t be sure whether she was ashamed or whether she felt that the punishment was unfair, but she was clearly very, very upset about it. What was most surprising was how she’d kept it completely hidden until I showed up. My little girl is growing up!

While GP was here, Mrini became a bit unmanageable. She realized that there was one additional adult in the picture and that this changed (or so she thought) the balance of power. When I scolded her for anything, she immediately turned to him for support. Once, for instance, I scolded her for taking a slice of cucumber out of his plate without washing her hands and sitting down at the table for dinner. The rule is, eat at mealtimes, at the dining table, and eat only what’s on offer for you – not whenever you like, wherever you like, whatever you like (though at least in this instance it was something healthy, not a biscuit or chocolate).

I took the cucumber out of her hand and told her to go wash her hands. You know what she did? She promptly ran to GP and asked for another slice of cucumber!!!

Since I couldn’t exactly scold GP, I scolded her for that. He got the message.

But then, on Saturday Mrini was just amazing. Amit and I were at the dining table having breakfast when Amit idly said to her, “Go get me a glass of juice.” We didn’t expect her to do it, because they aren’t allowed to open the fridge. In fact we didn’t even think they could open the fridge because the handle is quite high and the door is quite difficult to open. Plus the whole getting-juice operation is quite complex, so it was really just an idle comment. But, you have to be careful what you wish for. This is what Mrini did:

1. Ran to the fridge, stood on tip-toe and yanked the door open.
2. Took out the juice and went to the kitchen.
3. Put the juice carton on the counter and took a washed glass (a glass glass) from the draining board and set it on the counter next to the juice carton.
4. Opened the juice carton and stood on tiptoe.
5. Poured the juice into the glass.
6. Covered the juice carton, took it to the fridge, yanked the door open and put the juice carton back in its own slot in the fridge.
7. Went back to the kitchen, got the glass and carried it carefully in both hands to where Amit was sitting.
8. Gave us a proud and pleased-as-punch look, while we looked at her in utter disbelief.
9. Asked Amit for juice!


The Saturday Party

August 30, 2010

So if you read my previous post, you know that the party I never intended to have, made itself happen on Wednesday, the day of the kids’ birthday. I suppose it’s only appropriate that the party that was supposed to happen on Saturday fizzled out.

Actually, I think we all ran out of steam ourselves by the time Saturday dawned. The kids were pleased in a puzzled way that they should be having another party, when their birthday was clearly already over. Amit and I were feeling kind of lazy about getting the party infrastructure going, so it was 12.45 before Amit left home, ostensibly to shop for party essentials, but in reality, to run various errands such as going to the bank, the post-office, and doing the weekly grocery shopping. Meanwhile I got the cakes done without much effort, and the kids helped me to beat up a delicious mayonnaise for sandwiches.

I gave the kids lunch and packed them off for their afternoon nap, waiting for Amit to return so that we could have lunch together. He returned around 3.30, by which time, hunger pangs had got the better of me. But, as he sat down for lunch, I had to dash out. He had refused point blank to pick up return gifts and he had also most unhelpfully forgotten to bring potatoes for the potato cutlets we were supposed to be serving.

By this time, one family had taken a rain check (though it hadn’t rained yet); another emailed to say he was out of town today, but his family would come, wasn’t the party tomorrow; and a third had already informed me a couple of days earlier that they would be unable to make it due to having visitors over that very day. So while we rushed around boiling potatoes and assembling sandwiches, our guest list disintegrated from five families with seven kids, down to two families with only two kids.

In the way that these things usually turn out, this was good. We had S&S and V&V over, and we fried up a ton of french fries. The potato cutlets were disastrous and the sandwiches were roundly ignored. Cake was cut and eaten only after one round of vodka and orange juice had been downed. We sang the birthday song, but nobody took photographs, far less a video. The kids ran amok, which was as it should be too. Around 9.30, we ordered in biryani and even Mrini managed to stay up till almost 11 as ten of us crowded around our small 4-seater dining table and dug in with gusto.

In other words, it wasn’t a birthday party, but it was a real fun party. Even the kids slept until 8.30 the next morning!

And now they are four.


Observation 2

August 18, 2010

We were invited by the kids’ school to go for an observation this week. This is an aspect of their school that I can’t praise enough. I’m sure all parents are itching to know what stuff their kids do in school. Kids are, typically, less than forthcoming. The Montessori system does not require notebooks or textbooks in the first two years, so we know even less than we might in the kindergarten system. An observation is our opportunity to find out what our kids are doing in the three-plus hours that they spend in school. We had been for it last year as well, and came away enlightened and delighted in equal measures.

Mriini-Tara were quite thrilled when we told them we’d be going to sit in their class with them. They led us into class somewhat shyly and spread their mats out in a corner next to each other. Their teacher told us they don’t normally sit next to each other and Mrini had already told us in the car, “Nandu and Nirupama and Vaishnavi are Tara’s friends. Navneet is my friend. Only Navneet.” She was very firm about it. (Yes, Navneet is the same boy she kissed a couple of weeks ago – at least she’s constant. And yes, the teacher confirmed that the kiss did, indeed, happen!)

Amit and I sat down on the floor next to the two of them. To start with, Mrini went through several very easy jigsaw puzzles, while Tara worked with great focus on some number-related activity. Eventually, with some effort by the teacher, Mrini was also persuaded to work on number-related activities. There were several different activities. The one I’d heard most about was number rods – a set of rods with length from one to ten units. The idea was to arrange the rods in sequence and then count the striped units on the rods and the correct number symbol with each rod. There was another counting activity that involved putting the right number of sticks into various slots; and another activity involving putting some kind of counters in front of the number symbols. What impressed me most was a set of beads. There were ten beads, nine strings of ten beads each, nine square mats made up of ten strings of ten beads each, and finally, a cube, made by stacking ten mats on top of each other. So you had units, tens, hundred, and a thousand, visually reinforcing the numerical, geometrical and decimal relationship between all of them. It was so simple it was beautiful – I wish I’d seen it this way when I was four. This basic concept – especially the concept of square and cube, and of zero (dot) one (string) two (square) and three (cube) dimensions – was never actually tied to the real, physical world when I was a student. They were abstract concepts which I didn’t get my head around until much later. Not that Mrini and Tara have any concept of square and cube right now, or of the decimal system or of dimensions of any kind or number; but when they do begin to understand those concepts, they have something real and physical to understand them by. That is just so nice.

The other activity that their teacher made sure they showed us was sandpaper letters. Both my girls can associate vowel sounds with vowel letters and many/most of the consonant sounds with consonant letters. Mrini can do a few more than Tara and other kids in their class can do more than both, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is, my girls almost know their letters! Wow! Of course I was swept away by dreams of buying them a truckload of books each – I can hardly wait for them to discover the joy of reading! – but when I asked their teacher, she said it would take another year or so before they learnt to read. Can it possibly take that long to get there once you already know the letters???

Their teacher told us they were now much better at putting away stuff they had worked on – something we still have to get after them to do at home – and that they both were very independent in class. She also said it was possible now to have real discussions with them, which was nice. She pointed out some of their art work, mentioning that it was quite neat now, and they were probably ready to start writing. I told her they’d been practicing zig-zags, 5 and 2 at home.

We sat with them for about an hour. Towards the end, I was getting itchy. I think Amit would have sat there the whole morning, he’s that kind of a doting dad, but I thought the teacher had better give some attention to the other kids in her group as well. With a maximum of 30 kids, 3 teachers and an akka, they weren’t too stretched at any point, but you can’t hog the teacher’s time for too long all the same. Other kids came up to her to ask for work or to show her what they’d done. Several kids showed her words they’d written, and one boy brought his notebook and asked for sums. Yes, he asked for sums! He even knew what numbers he wanted to add – and the teacher let him dictate the questions! And when he didn’t like the colour of the pen she was using, she let him bring her another one.

Meanwhile, the girls were getting itchy too! In the middle, Mrini wandered off to join her friends and find out what Navneet was up to. She came back soon, but not for too long. We kept telling them we’d be leaving in “five minutes” – standard procedure for brining any fun activity to a graceful end – but when we still hadn’t left at the end of fifteen, Mrini gave me a disgusted look and said “bye, mummy,” much too firmly. We took the cue and left!

I was talking to their daycare teacher about it later that day. Their daycare runs a primary kindergarten school, where things are done rather differently. I mentioned to her how much freedom the kids had in the Montessori environment. She surprised me by saying, “It is one of the most disciplined methodologies.” I started to tell her how little discipline there really was, but she was two steps ahead of me. “It allows kids a lot of freedom, so they learn to do their own work, at their own pace, and to enjoy the freedom of being able to walk around without disturbing other kids. That’s what discipline really is. Not being made to sit in one place and be quiet, but knowing that you have to do your own work without disturbing others.” That was a good point.

Overall it was a very nice experience. It is nice to know that one’s kids are actually learning something in school, even if they refuse to show off or even talk about it at home. It’s nice to see the manner in which they are learning, and how much fun it can be. It’s great to watch the independence, freedom, and responsibility that this environment allows them. Best of all was the atmosphere in class. When I sat in class with the girls in June last year, when they had just joined school, it looked like complete chaos. But now it’s August and the class has settled down. A couple of the new kids are still shy, and one boy howled for five minutes when his mother handed him over to the teacher, but apart from that, the kids were all comfortable, happy, and mostly engrossed in their work. The teachers were comfortable, cheerful, firm and un-hassled. Kids were completely comfortable with the teachers, they didn’t even hesitate to sit in the teacher’s lap. Yet… this was school – not somebody’s home, not a playschool, not daycare – this was school.

I don’t have a very clear recollection of what my school was like at this age, but I’m sure that it was nothing like this! I’m so happy our girls are in this warm, bright, and happy place for three whole years.


101

August 17, 2010

We took the kids for their annual health checkup on Saturday. Actually, there wasn’t much need to take them for a check-up, they seem to be so very ok. But we do have to provide this letter to the Family Court each year, testifying to their mental, physical, social, emotional and academic fitness… so we had to go anyway.

One thing is for sure: the healthcare industry is booming. The hospital was so crowded that we couldn’t get parking, even though they have a huge open parking lot which I never thought could possibly be filled up unless there were some kind of city-wide calamity. I went in, while Amit sat in the parking queue, but he eventually handed over the car to a valet to park. It was a smart move: A couple of minutes later, even people asking for valet parking were being turned away!

Inside, the chaos was equally evident. The pediatric department was full and overflowing, and the two attendants at the desk were harassed and busy. I asked how long we’d have to wait and was told it would take an hour. I immediately regretted having paid up the consultation fee already, but then it turned out that that was the waiting time for those who didn’t have appointments. With an appointment, we wouldn’t have to wait long.

Their weight and height was checked. They weighed in at 14 kg each, and Mrini was measured at 100.5 cm, while Tara was 101! When we found our place in front of the doctor a few minutes later, she told us their height was good and weight was only a little (1.5kg) below normal.

I had worried a lot about their weight and height in the early days. What do you do, when your one-year-old adopted babies are in the bottom 5th percentile for weight and height, and you can’t seem to get the word malnutrition out of your head? But that was a long, long time ago. It was gratifying to see them shoot up in the first six months with us, gaining inches at a time when for most kids growth slows down to a crawl. And it’s been a long, long time now since I worried about whether they were on-track weight-height-wise. I see them with kids in their class and I can see that their height is about on par. As for weight – they are obviously thin and probably always will be, until emotional issues begin to influence their food habits; but they are not unhealthy any more, and that’s the important thing.

It was good to hear from a doctor that their weight and height was no longer a cause for concern, but it was not a surprise, nor a cause for celebration – just an affirmation of something we had come to realize and accept over the months already.

What the doctor said next, though, was a surprise and more delightful than I’d have expected. She said that the girls have started to resemble us in their “dentition” and features. I don’t know exactly what features she was referring to, and to what extent this is true and to what extent it is fanciful I can’t be sure; and I don’t really see much resemblance between them and is in dentition or anything else myself; but it was strangely elevating to hear and to think that our girls might actually look like us a bit. I realized, suddenly, how much I’d missed hearing anything like that. Personally, I still don’t see it – I don’t think they look anything like us; but it was nice to think that to somebody, they look a little more like us than they did before.

It made the whole effort of driving, parking, paying, waiting, waiting some more, and finally driving back – it made all of that seem well worth while. We left the hospital with quite a smile on our faces – yes, even Amit.


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