Tara and the Whistling Class

September 26, 2011

I have known how to whistle ever since I was a child. I don’t remember when or how I learnt, but I have the vague impression that I worked at it. Both my parents whistle and even my sister knows how. There was a point when whistling a particular way was “the” way to call one of the dogs. The other two didn’t take to it so well.

I still whistle quite a bit. Despite my best efforts to teach him, Amit never got it. He says his father can, and – what’s even more surprising – that his father tried to teach him when he was small, but he never got it.

Mrini has been trying to teach herself to whistle, off and on. Mrini’s ability to teach herself things, and to work persistently at something till she gets it is quite remarkable, so I expected her to pick it up sooner or later. But the way things turn out it, Tara was the one to get it. She just got it one day, by chance, and having got it, she kept doing it until it was clear that she could whistle at will. Obviously, she was immensely proud of this new accomplishment. Strangely enough, she learnt to whistle in instead of whistling out. Whistling in is not, in my experience, so effective at producing a melody as whistling out is. I showed her how to whistle out but she still hasn’t got it. Mrini, significantly, has stopped trying.

Tara is a sweet, considerate girl. She often does things just to tease Mrini, but, having teased Mrini sufficiently to draw the first indication of tears, she almost always relents and gives in – which usually involves handing over whatever prized possession she has managed to get hold of. So, pleased though she was to be whistling, she didn’t try to flaunt it in Mrini’s face too much. However, she was soon trying to whistle along with songs that we listen to in the car on our drive home. Mrini hasn’t said anything much, yet. And Tara? You know what she has to say about it?

“Mama, now I know how to whistle, can you put me in a whistling class?”

I even did a Google search, but it is as I feared. It broke my heart to tell her – we don’t actually seem to have whistling classes in Bangalore. But I like the way she thinks.


Too Good To Be True

June 10, 2011

So you remember how our last expedition to the passport office ended, right? We had to get letters from the agency with the kids’ photos pasted on them, which we’d got very quickly – by Monday, in fact. But it was Thursday evening before I managed to really make up my mind to go to the Passport office the next morning. And that meant, on Thursday night at 9.30, Amit was out visiting our neighbours and getting their consent to put their names and addresses on the Personal Particulars Forms. We filled up the forms – two per child – and even managed to find out their height without waking them up from sleep. As to eye colour, we weren’t very certain. Amit said brown, but I thought black. The other particulars weren’t too difficult, with one minor exception – Applicant’s signature.

Four year olds, even if they are close to five than to four, can’t sign. So presumably we would need to put thumb prints. This posed two problems. First, neither one of us knew which thumb (or finger, for that matter) needed to be printed. I was under the impression that it was the left thumb, but I couldn’t swear on it.

In any case, it was irrelevant, because the other problem was that we didn’t happen to have an ink pad handy. When it’s 10 p.m. and the kids are going to go to school at 7 a.m., taking their thumbs along with them, the chances of getting one’s hands on an ink pad are rather slim, and so are the chances of getting the required thumb prints.

It’s most frustrating when you have firmly made up your mind to undertake a tedious chore, to find that you will not be able to do it. So when I had packed the kids off the school this morning, and Amit had found his way home after tennis, we wondered whether we should to ahead anyway, without the thumb prints. The Personal Particulars forms didn’t actually mention anything about a thumb print. Amit checked the online version of the form and found that it did mention thumbprints – left for males and right for females – but the forms we had had been given to us by the Policy Section of the passport office, and they didn’t mention thumb prints. Could we just sign for the Applicant and be done with it?

Amit called the 1-800 number, but we had to wait till 8 a.m. to get a person on the other end. The person said, of course, that thumb prints were required. I had picked up my laptop case and was almost out of the door heading for office when Amit called me back. “Let’s try anyway,” he said.

So off I went, expecting a long drive, a long wait, and not much joy at the end of it.

The first two parts were as expected. I waited in queue from 9 till 10. I got token number 139 and 140 – quite a bit worse than last time. I entered and whizzed past the waiting hordes straight to the Policy section, where there were only two people ahead of me. I showed the letter, and was told to go to Counter 10 on the first floor and get it uploaded. That took a quick five minutes. By the time I got back to the Policy section, there was a queue of 20 people. The security officer took my form and pushed it through ahead of whoever was at the window. Then I spent half an hour or so sitting at the edge of my seat, waiting. At last, the name “Nayantara” was called. I jumped up.

“The particulars for both applicants are the same,” said the woman at the counter. “Are they twins?”

I confirmed that they were twins and sat down again. Five minutes later, “Nayantara” was called again. I jumped up again.

At this point, there were four people at the window. Two or three had been called, and one was the person who was actually being served at the time. Security was trying to get some people to clear away, but the women behind the window wanted all of us there. One woman looked at me and said, “The passport is sent for printing. It will be delivered to you.”

I gaped at her. Was she really talking to me? They hadn’t seen the originals of the letters yet. They hadn’t asked for the Personal Particulars form. They hadn’t pointed out a hundred problems in the forms, including the lack of the thumb impression. They hadn’t said Police Verification would be required in Pondicherry and Bangalore.

“Um… it’s gone for printing?” I asked, stupidly.

“Yes,” said the woman shortly. I could see that she was mentally moving on to the next person.

“How long will it take?” – I needed to keep her talking while I thought of what else I should ask.

“Two weeks.” Still thinking of the next person.

“I don’t have to do anything else?”

This time she actually looked at me, as if to say, “What are you, stupid?” “No,” she said.

As I stumbled off, still in a daze, it occurred to me to wonder if they had processed Mrinalinee’s passport as well. They hadn’t mentioned her name even once. But that, of course, could be because they didn’t know how to say it – they saw the M and the R and they got worried and went on to the next name, which has nicely alternating consonants and vowels and which, moreover, is the name of a Tamilian actress, or so I have been informed, and therefore perhaps not such a strange concoction to them.

A couple of hours later, Amit checked the status on the Net. Both passports were shown as approved today and sent for printing. If all goes well, we’ll have them in hand in a couple of weeks. It’s hard to believe, what with the missing thumb prints and everything, but this might just become a reality sometime soon.

Still,  we’re not celebrating just yet. You never know – another trip to the Passport Office could very well be written into our future.


Who’s The Good Girl Now?!

November 4, 2010

A few days ago, it was worrying me that Mrini seemed to be becoming the “good girl” and Tara seemed to be going out of her way to be the “bad girl”. I don’t know if I made it sound like a big issue, but it wasn’t, really. It was just me picking up on the early warning signs and trying to work things out before they went wrong. It’s a slippery slope, that good-girl-bad-girl dichotomy.

 

Mrini has continued to diligently work at her reading and writing. She’s still practicing writing and tells me which letters she wants to write. But yesterday she said, enough of that (figuratively speaking; though it wouldn’t surprise me if she really says it someday soon), and started writing without my help. Her “A”s looked a bit like “H”s, but it was impressive all the same. She went on to write B, P, L, M (of course), an inverted T, N, W, O, and 10.

 

I believe that 4+ is quite an advanced age for kids to be learning to write. Their daycare tells me they teach kids to write at 3. I also believe (though the thought would not have occurred to me otherwise) that conventionally writing is taught by holding the child’s hand as they write. Well, when we got our kids into school, we were told in no uncertain terms that in the Montessori system, reading and writing comes later and that if we wanted to boast about how early our kids learnt to read and write, we’d better look at some other school. Luckily, for us, we didn’t care when they learnt (some time before they went to college would be good enough…)

 

And so we have the joy of watching the child teach herself. It’s nothing short of awesome to see what delight Mrini gets from her achievements. What’s almost as heart-warming is to see the occasional delight that Tara gets from Mrini’s efforts and achievements too.

 

And what of Tara? Well, she still hasn’t shown much interest in writing. Given a box of crayons, she’s happy to scribble or colour madly. But something else has changed. Of late, when Tara wants to get into my lap or wants to be hugged (usually while I’m trying to eat), I have consciously been giving in to her. It can be a little irritating to have an excessively clingy, “lappy” child around, but it’s definitely easier than having her always acting out. And, it seems to be working.

 

Yesterday, when we reached home after a long (and horrible) drive, Tara very sweetly told me, “Today I won’t trouble you. I won’t do annnnything to make you angry. I don’t want you to be angry at me.”

 

And she didn’t. She didn’t trouble me once the whole entire evening, not even at bathtime and bedtime – prime opportunities for trouble. She reiterated her resolve not to trouble me two or three times in the evening, and once when I got just a tiny bit forceful about something, she immediately hugged me and reminded me that she won’t let me be angry with her.

 

What can I say? Kids can just take your breath away, sometimes.


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???


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.


Birthday Girls

August 26, 2010

Need I say more? No!

But when did that ever stop me?

When I woke the kids up in the morning and told them it was their birthday and there were gifts for them on the dining table, they jumped out of bed so fast I couldn’t believe my eyes! They ripped their gifts open with an abandon you only see in kids their age. Then they fought over which books were whose. Meanwhile, Amit and I fought over who was going to drop them to school, and of course in the end we both went and we were horribly late getting to office, which was all my fault because I didn’t want to rush and hurry on their birthday (and it had nothing whatsoever to do with my better half snuggling up in the sheets until practically 6.45!)

They looked absolutely charming in their new frocks. The great benefit of letting them dress in tattered old jeans and T-shirts all the time is that when they do wear frocks, they are practically unrecognisable. At school, Mrini was uncharacteristically (but expectedly) shy entering class with her bag of cookies. Their teacher very sweetly asked us if we wanted to be present when they sang for the girls, at 10.30. Regretfully, we said no – we couldn’t possibly leave school for office at 8.30 and be back at 10.30! But at 12.30 I was waiting for them at daycare with another bag of cookies each.

I went to pick them up around 4.30 that afternoon and found them gorging on cake! Their daycare had not only organised a cake for them, but had also bought them some gifts! Wow – that was so sweet of them! I waited for them to finish eating, then I waited for them to finish ripping open their gifts, amid much prompting and interest from the other kids. At last I tore them away from daycare and it was close to 5.

Disaster! The cook had told me sternly that I needed to be home by 5.30 if I expected her to make channa, mattar-paneer, and puris for dinner. And home was a good half-hour drive away, interrupted by stops to pick up birthday cake, candles, and return gifts.

Not that we were going to have a party, oh no! The party would be on Saturday. Who’s going to organise a party on a weekday? Not me! And besides, how can we expect people to trudge all the way across town on a weekday evening? So on the day of their birthday we planned only to cut a cake and have a nice dinner. S&S said they would join us, and S&P said they would too. Then I invited Chris as well, and the kids invited Chris’ nephew Tim, and that of course meant that Chris’ niece Linda was invited too. And of course, all these people stay in various far-flung areas of town, but that didn’t stop them from making the long, tiring drive to our place in the middle of the week.

Meanwhile, I managed to scrape together return gifts for all the kids because, even if I thought this was not a party, kids who brought gifts and sang the birthday song and ate cake expected return gifts when they were leaving. It turned out that such kids also expected balloons, but in this they were to be disappointed. Balloons, joker caps, masks, paper plates, streamers, and all that jazz was for Saturday – I certainly didn’t have time to organise all that on a weekday. As it is, I got home a scant ten minutes before the first guests arrived, so the first guests were handed the task of wrapping the return gifts! At least I had managed to procure a few bottles of bubbles, which kept the kids busy while the return gifts were being wrapped. By the time the other guests arrived, Amit was home, the cooking was underway, the kids had been changed into their party clothes, and things were almost under control.

There were the usual hitches and delays in cutting the cake. Everyone spent a good 15 minutes hunting for candles, which both Amit and I had bought. Mine were easily found, of course (me being so organized and all…) but Amit’s had gone missing and a massive search and rescue operation was launched because he was adamant that those candles and no other would be used. At last they were found (I had thrown the bag with paper plates into the store room without inspecting the contents too closely) … and then we had to find a fresh battery for the camera. Two cakes had been lying on the table, the focus of attention of several kids at all times, and had managed to survive all the delays largely unscathed. Mrini managed to lick every part of the knife that was to be used for cutting the cake, without actually damaging her cake in the process.

Finally the candles were found and lit and blown out and lit and blown out again (because the photographer – Amit – wasn’t ready) and the song was sung and the cake was cut and eaten. From there, the evening proceeded on plan as dinner was served, followed by ice cream and more cake. The kids all managed to settle down and play together in the living room, leaving the parents to eat in some kind of peace. No disasters occurred, no grievous bodily harm was done, no lasting enmities were formed, and none of the food and drink was spilt or went short.

By the end of the day, as I cleared up the storm and tried to restore order to the house, I realized something. Regardless of what I might have thought or planned… with just four kids on the guest list and no balloons or streamers… and despite it being a school night… we’d just had a birthday party!


One – For Half A Day

August 5, 2010

Tara was off her food for a couple of days. Daycare reported that presented with lunch on Tuesday – which was chicken, a perennial favourite – her face crumpled up and when asked to eat, she actually started to cry. They questioned her health and wellbeing, including asking whether potty was impending, but all she said was, “I don’t want to eat.”  Thankfully, as per our strict instructions, they let it go at that.

At dinner time, she drank her milk happily enough and went off to play; but by 8 p.m. when I called them for their bedtime routine, she was becoming cranky and clingy. It was expected by then, of course. If a child doesn’t eat for a couple of days, it’s bound to portend illness and the sooner it makes itself evident, the sooner we’ll know exactly what kind of a beast we’re up against.

Tara looked uncomfortable and tearful for a good solid hour before she made us all a little happier by throwing up in the bathroom. The papaya she’d had in the afternoon came up; the milk she’d had a couple of hours later, strangely enough, stayed down. After we’d got everything cleaned up, we left them in their room and they were both soon asleep.

It was 4 a.m. before the sequel was enacted. Tara coughed mildly in her sleep, woke up, and came to us crying that she’d vomited. I couldn’t see any evidence of vomit, so I thought she’d probably just coughed up some phlegm and I put her back to bed. This happened another couple of times before I realized what was going on. Of course – she was hungry! And her cough was making her retch. Around 5.30 I gave up on sleep and gave her some food instead. She ate eagerly enough and – thankfully – it stayed down. She went back to bed for a short while and then it was time for breakfast. She had her milk again, but soon after that, instead of looking happier, she began to look positively woeful. By 7.10 a.m. she was steadfastly refusing to go to school.

I’m happy to say that my girls are not the sort to actually want to miss school. Like me (and unlike my sister), they love school. They go eagerly and enthusiastically and they don’t quite understand why we have to have weekends. So if either of them doesn’t want to go to school, it means she really, really doesn’t want to go. Even when Mrini traipsed out of the door with Amit, smiling happily and waving, Tara only sat in my lap, clung to me, and looked miserable.

It was a complicated sort of day. Tara and I changed out of work and school clothes into home clothes. I had to unpack the kids’ lunch and reduce everything to make it suitable for one child. Then Amit forgot to take Mrini’s lunch with him to drop off at daycare on his way to work. Additionally, there was some kind of strike in the private van industry, which meant that the kids’ school van wouldn’t pick Mrini up from school and take her to daycare. So it was beginning to look like I’d have my hands full, lugging Tara to school, picking up Mrini, dropping her at daycare, and coming back home with Tara, all before lunch. I could also have just brought Mrini home – but then I’d have my hands full anyway, and why deprive her of the fun of daycare?

It all turned out well enough, though. Tara rapidly improved in the morning and when she looked grumpy and I asked her why, it turned out it wasn’t her stomach; it wasn’t a fever; she wasn’t tired or hungry or thristy; she was just missing Mrini. From 10 a.m. she asked me every few minutes when we were going to fetch Mrini. When the doorbell rang, she wanted to know if Mrini had come home.

Whenever she wasn’t asking about Mrini, she sat sweetly next to me “reading” a book, colouring in a drawing book, singing songs to herself, and hardly disturbing me at all. It was hard to believe this docile little girl was Tara!

By the time we went to get Mrini, Tara was sure (sore – as she says it) that she wanted to go to daycare. I guess the thought of spending the entire day at home without Mrini was too much to bear! So I lugged up the forgotten lunch bag, put back in all the food I’d taken out, got out of my ragged home clothes and put on my office clothes again, and left to pick up Mrini from school. The drive was more chaotic than usual due to a few new spanners the civic authorities had thrown into the works, so we got there ten minutes late, but Mrini wasn’t complaining. The girls greeted each other with utter indifference. I asked Mrini if she’d missed Tara and she said “No. I was in school.” I told her Tara had missed her and she looked faintly disgusted, while Tara looked distinctly embarrassed.

I dropped them off at daycare, updated the coordinator, and got to office just in time for lunch.

At the end of the day, when I picked them up, I was informed that Tara had been ok and though she didn’t eat much lunch, she ate a hearty mid-afternoon snack. Mrini, on the other hand, was distinctly off her food. Looks like it’s her turn next. If this is a stomach viral that Amit brought back from Delhi, it might even be my turn after that… Sigh.


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