Playschool: Back in 90 Minutes

November 4, 2008

Today the kids spent 90 minutes at their playschool and apparently they were none the worse for it.

Meanwhile, I had a whole 90 minutes to myself.

Of course, I have had time to myself before, even after the kids came. Amit has spent many, many weekends and some evenings holding fort while I grab time for myself. I also get time to myself everyday, after all, whenever they’re asleep. And there’s some things I do manage to do for myself even when the kids are awake.

But this was different. They were at playschool – I wasn’t neglecting them, I wasn’t worried about them waking up crying at any moment, and I wasn’t stealing/begging time from Amit’s busy schedule.

So this was pretty special.

And guess what I did? With this “special” 90 minutes, the first of a whole new way of life, the kids’ first steps to independence – what special activity did I mark this occasion with?

Bet you can’t guess.

I went and gave a bagful of clothes to the dry cleaner.

Yes, the dry cleaner. Bagful. Dirty clothes. Nice clothes, mind you – silks and whatnot. Last worn about a year ago. Lying around in a plastic bag since then, waiting for one of us to find the time to deliver them to the dry cleaner.

It only took 45 minutes to walk there, drop off the stuff, and walk back. Just 45 minutes. I could have done it any time, really. I suppose it’s only a question of priorities.

I enjoyed the walk tremendously. Of course I had to hurry back – I couldn’t for instance, take a quick trip to MG Road for a leisurely cup of coffee at some coffee bar; or stop at some beauty parlour for a haircut and pedicure; or treat myself to a nice lunch at some roadside restaurant along the way. I hurried there and hurried back with a sharp eye on the time and another on my cellphone – just in case.

Still, it was a good feeling, to think of my babies in school, doing their own thing, without either of us around.

And now I’m thinking – of course there’s always grocery shopping that somehow expands like gas to fill up all the available time; but apart from that and menial chores like dropping off clothes at the dry cleaner, there must be lots of other, more fun things I can do in my precious 90 minutes of freedom. Isn’t that why I decided to put them into playschool in the first place?

What!? No, of course not! I put them in playschool because I thought they’d have so much fun with all the other kids.

Yeah, right. Whatever.

At least I can now savour this feeling that I can do anything… anything… as long as I got back in 90 minutes.

Playschool: Now they love it… and other stuff

October 20, 2008

Day 6, and guess what? Mrini left my finger and entered the school almost before the door was open. Tara was a step behind her! As the door closed behind them, there was the briefest wail of protest from Mrini, and then, silence. The teacher/auntie/coordinator told me afterwards that the girls went into the room where nursery rhymes were being sung (with a gusto, I might add) but lingered at the door, ready to escape if it should close.

In other news, delilone was accorded the highest of honours when she visited the twins for the second time during her short trip to India this year. (To clarify, she has visited them during an earlier trip to India, but they are not likely to remember that now.) The honours? When they wanted to use the toilet, they completely spurned my help and yowled for delilone. Mama and Baba were rejected out of hand, only Auntie would serve for this all-important activity. (Naturally, I was quite happy – less work for me!) I have to say delilone handled it like a pro.

I’m currently recovering from what has been an extraordinarily pleasant weekend. I “persuaded” Amit to take Friday off (he said he would work from home, but I didn’t let him), so it was a long weekend. I worked in a couple of solo outings, and a long, satisfying session of tennis on Saturday. I also gave my bike for servicing on Friday, and I still haven’t gone to pick it up! That says a lot about how lazy (and hectic) the weekend has been.

And tomorrow is Amit’s birthday. Last year, his birthday was a complete fiasco, so this year the plan is to drop the kids with S&S, wait till they’re asleep (the kids, that is, not S&S) and then go for dinner. Let’s see how that works out. Needless to say, I haven’t bought him anything, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to either. But, after the kinds of gifts we got each other last year, I think sometimes gifting nothing is the better option.

Teaching Religion

October 3, 2008

Now that the twins are going to be starting playschool already, I have to face something I haven’t really given much thought to: religion. Apparently, even these neighbourhood-type playschools teach kids to pray.

Pray? Seriously?? Two-year-olds???

I hadn’t expected to have to teach my kids anything about religion at this age.. Not for a few years yet. But playschools teach prayers, what do you do?

I’m sure there are many who’d argue that it’s never too early to teach kids about god… But my problem is that prayers aren’t about god, not in this format. They’re just word strung together by someone else and chanted or sung by everyone together in public. It’s not as if the kids even know what they’re saying.

When I teach my kids about praying, I’d like them to learn what I believe – that praying is something that can (or even should) be done in private, maybe even in silence, and always with utter honesty and intimacy and sincerity – not using pre-formulated words uttered by rote along with hundreds of others.

I’d like them to learn about god in terms of morals, values, and a guiding philosophy of life, not about the rules and rituals of this religion, or that, or another. I’d like them to know that there are many different religions, but that what matters is not the declaration of belonging to a religion and living by its rules and rituals, but instead practicing “goodness” (for want of a better word) in whatever they do.

Obviously, these are not lessons for a two-year-old, or even a four- or six-year-old.

I know that as they grow, they will meet various religions along the way, and that’s fine. I’m not trying to insulate them from religion per se. What I don’t like is that they should have to “learn” any particular religion in school. Why? I’m not sending them to a seminary (if that’s the word I want). Why can’t normal primary education be divorced from religious education?

Of course, now that I come to think of this whole matter, religion was a part of the schools I went to as well. One was a Convent (need I say more?); then there was a school intended for children of Naval staff (I wasn’t; don’t even ask) and a DAV school (Dayanand Anglo Vedic – there’s a lot of philosophy, history and context to that, but I don’t honestly have a clue), both of which defaulted to Hindu prayers at assembly. Why the naval school should offer up Hindu prayers defeats me, but I suppose they thought they couldn’t just have the school band play merry marching tunes every morning.

So I shouldn’t be surprised that the twins are going to be learning “prayers” along with their colours and numbers and nursery rhymes. The best I can do is to take it as another kind of nursery rhyme… and let them get acquainted with my beliefs when the time comes (and also with Amit’s, which is that there is no god)… and hope that they choose whatever system works best for them.

But really – why do schools teach prayers? And why to two-year-olds? And how can they assume (other than those schools that, like Convents, statedly adhere to a particular religion) that Hindu prayers are best suited to all their students? I mean we do have people of other religions in this country, so if you’re not really affiliated to a particular religion, shouldn’t you just stay away from the whole thing?

Playschool Update

September 29, 2008

Well, the playschool that was closest was the worst imaginable. It was an ordinary apartment with rather better furniture than we have – and lots more of it. The room dedicated for the kids doubled up as a college-going daughter’s bedroom, full of unmade bed, open cupboard with clothes spilling out of it and not an inch of space to move. When we went, there was only one other child, looking quite lonely as she sat at the dining table with some food. This playschool had a total of two kids currently, which I had perceived as a benefit, but after seeing the place I had my doubts.

In fact, I was so disillusioned with this place that I thought about giving up on the playschool idea altogether, but then decided (partly thanks to Siri’s comment that kids really enjoy playschool) to check out a well-reputed playschool-cum-Montessori-cum-daycare place called Vivaa International.

At once, all my doubts were allayed. The place had its own building with a small lawn and driveway. Classes were open and cheerful, seating was on mats on the floor, and all the kids seemed to be immersed in whatever they were doing and looked quite happy. It was informal, but not unruly. Even the kids took to it and wandered off with an attendant while I looked around and spoke to the director, whom I quite liked. Everything was perfect, apart from two little things.

One was distance. The place is a few km away, enough to make it irritating to have to drive to twice every morning. All the same, I was willing to risk it, but for the other little thing: the cost. 25K per child for just five months till the end of the academic year? That made me blanch.

I still hadn’t made up my mind about this place, when I went to look at a third place (it’s been a busy week!) and at last I could breathe easy. This place, also in a flat, dedicated the entire apartment to the playschool. With 20-plus kids, it was crowded, but not too crowded. There was little furniture and it seemed quite neat and safe. I couldn’t see to many toys, though, but the kids looked happy enough, so they must have been busy. The best part is that this place is only a little further than the nearest one I had seen first – I can walk the kids there in 10 minutes or so – and cost-wise it is a fraction of Vivaa, and only slightly more expensive than its nearer rival.

Amit has said he wants to check out the place, and once he does, and provided he approves of it, the twins can start from the middle of next month, after the October break ends.

So it looks like a few weeks from now, the twins will be starting school… complete with school bag, water bottle, tiffin box and all!

Playschool? Already?

September 18, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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