Monthly Archives: January 2008

Tara’s First Few Words

Suddenly, Tara has acquired a huge vocabulary in the past few days. Earlier, her vocabulary consisted of baba, mama, and aunnnnnnn (for auntie – courtesy the cook), and I’m not sure she knew the meanings of these. Everything else was ma or ka, or variations on these themes such as, amma, akka, mama, or kaka.
Later, she abandoned these words in favour of complete gibberish. Now, there seems to be a recognisable language emerging from the gibberish. Not, admittedly, a very easily recognisable language, but now her words are often accompanied by actions indicating what she means and also, more importantly, that she knows what she means.Here’s a list of what I’ve managed to recognise so far – words that she’s repeated often enough to rule out coincidence.
  • aaa-kkaaay (okay – shaking head from side to side)
  • Bye-bye, ta-ta (waving hand, often when someone is leaving, but
    sometimes also at bedtime or when she is going into her room)
  • no-no (nose – grabbing hers or sometimes mine, Amit’s or Mrini’s)
  • ouuuu (out – talking back when I order her out of some place)
  • owwww (ouch – imitating me when she grabs my nose)
  • ba (ball – pointint to it)
  • buku (her picture book – pointing at or fetching it)
  • mata (mat (for sleeping on) – at bedtime, fetching it to spread on the bed)
  • ae-o-pa (aeroplane – pointing upwards when she hears one passing; Mrini used to call it “ae-ppy” but now no longer does.)
  • hapu (high five – holding both hands up by her head waiting for the high five, big grin on her face)
  • emmmm (arm – patting her arm)
  • backa (back – bending her arm around and touching her back!)
  • tamtam (tummy – patting it and grinning)
  • dudu (dudh, milk – when she sees me pouring it out into their bottles)
  • da-i (dahi, curd – when served to her at lunch time)
  • mumm-mumm-mumm (yum-yum-yum – while eating curd)
  • yea (yes- decisively, in response to the question “Are you hungry?” at
    lunchtime )

Impressive, don’t you think? Considering she’s been exposed to English (and Hindi) for only the past four months.

Mrini isn’t saying much these days – at least, not anything that’s recognisable that is. I suppose she’ll unleash another flood of garbled words on us at some point. For now, she seems pretty happy to let Tara do the talking.

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Stay-at-home Mom

It’s not easy to admit this, but being a stay-at-home mom is tougher than I thought it would be. We’ve considered getting more household help, but I don’t think that’s what I want. My difficulty in adjusting completely to this role is not about the amount or even the type of housework I have to do. At first, ten diaper changes a day was a mind-boggling task, but now I don’t think much about it any more. Also, with an established schedule that runs from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. (barring illness) and gives me about three hours off in the afternoon, I don’t think that on regular days I have too much housework to cope with.

When we talked of adopting and the possibility of having twins, we thought we’d need more help than we have finally settled for. Still, I’m happy with our current situation – we have a pretty exclusive say on how the kids are brought up and at this point in their lives, I feel that’s important. I don’t want to have an ayah hanging around whom I constantly have to train or supervise to ensure she handles the kids the way I want.

So sometimes when I’m feeling worn out – like now – I wonder whether getting more help is the answer, and I feel that most likely it isn’t.

What I really want – and it’s so difficult to admit this – is to have some time to get away from the kids, to be able to leave them to someone else’s care. It sounds terrible when I say it – as though I’m a selfish, unloving mother who only wants to pursue her own pleasures. Given that our kids are adopted, it even makes me feel a little defensive – as though I need to explain first that it’s not that I don’t love them.

I think I never wholly appreciated how completely housebound I was going to be. And here I think the fact that it’s twins does make a difference. With one child, I might have ventured out to markets, to meet friends, maybe even sometimes to a restaurant. With two, it’s a daunting prospect. Even if we had two car-seats and I could strap them in and drive out somewhere with them, what would I do once I got there?

I also miss going out together with Amit. The way it happens now is that, if I want to go out, even if just for a walk in the evening, he must be home. So we get very little time at home together, and zero opportunity to go out together unless it’s with the kids.

Of course, that problem could be solved if we got a baby-sitter. That way, I could go out for a walk, or for routine grocery-shopping, even when he’s out of town or working late. And we could even go for a stroll together, something we used to do quite a lot and which I really miss.

But, Amit doesn’t want to leave the kids alone with a baby-sitter until they’re old enough to talk. And that’s going to take a while. Till then, I’m going to have to be pretty much 24×7 with the kids. I hope I can adjust to that soon – I don’t seem to be doing a very good job so far and it’s making me feel altogether wretched.

“Respect Your Elders”

It is strange how two siblings brought up together can think so differently.

My sister has been a teacher for many years and is now an educationalist. (To be honest, I did not even know there was such a profession, until she told me so recently.) When my sister visited, we had a couple of discussions about the notion of “respect” – specifically, the very Indian notion of “respect your elders”.

In India, generally, “respect your elders” means, address people by formal titles (Sir, “ji” “uncle” etc), never use first names for elders, not even for older siblings (nor, heaven forbid, for husbands), listen quietly to what they say, don’t contradict and don’t “talk back”. Here, “talk back” includes trying to have a logical, sensible discussion, specially if that discussion involves an even slightly divergent point of view (and without that, where is the need for discussion?). In the old days – and perhaps for some people even nowadays – respect also meant keeping your eyes downcast, not daring to look a “respected” person in the eye.

My sister felt, based on her teaching experience, that kids nowadays don’t show respect for elders – that is, they don’t even address teachers as Ma’am far, less anything else. They use first names, they talk back, and they are rude.

My point to this, and to other aspects of respecting elders is, simply addressing people formally and politely is not respect. It might be courtesy and good manners, but it is not respect and it should not be taught as a form of respect. Politeness and courtesy are desirable values in themselves, but respect is something completely different.

Suppose you train kids to address parents, teachers and other elders politely, but in their minds the kids are thinking: “What do you know, you piece of shit?” Then what have you got – nothing more than hypocrisy, disrespect plastered over with good manners.

Of course, I’m not advocating teaching kids to speak their minds when they feel something like that. Quite the contrary. I’m saying, teaching kids to respect people – not just elders, but anyone, really – goes beyond lip-service and good manners. It means, teaching them to listen to and weigh what another person is saying, not just to nod agreement externally while they issue rude rejoinders in their minds.

It also means encouraging them to speak their minds – preferrably politely, but politeness is a different discussion altogether.

Which brings me to another point. Respect is a two-way street. If you listen to a younger person (sticking with the concept of “respect your elders” as opposed to simply respecting people) airing their views, and you are able to respond to their divergent points of view, intelligently and dispassionately – then, and only then, do you really win any respect.

If, iinstead, you say, “I’m old and wise and I know better, so shut up and listen to me,” and if the child or youngster actually does so in the name of “respect” then you have trained them not to be respectful, but instead to be zombies, brain-dead automaton, accepting “wisdom” as it is handed down without exercising any thought or evaluation of their own. How can this be respect?

I’m not saying elders don’t know better. They might – but then again, they might not. For me to respect someone, I need first and foremost to be convinced that they are right (in a discussion of some sort) or that they are really good at something. It could be someone who’s good at music, or writing, photography, tennis… Usually, it is something that I’d like to be good at – or even something that I think I’m good at, but that the other person is at least as good at or better. It is difficult for me to respect someone in a field that I have little interest in – say, ice hockey.

Even when I respect a person for some achievement or ability, I might respect only that ability – not the whole person. Take, for example, a former boss of mine. She wasn’t really a nice person, and in my opinion she was screwing up her own life and the lives of a lot of people around her (including mine), so I couldn’t respect her as a person because I thought she really needed to sort out her priorities. But I really respected her skills at some aspects of our work – I learnt a lot from her and I always felt she was really good at what she did.

Another example: when I had been married only a few months, I was at a gathering of Amit’s uncle and his friends, in Canada. His uncle is a university professor and of course many years our senior. This gathering was a sort of introduction of me, the new bride, to his close circle. In the course of discussion on some theoretical subject, his uncle said something and I – I don’t know why I did this – did not exactly contradict what he was saying, but said something somewhat divergent to it. At first his uncle said a flat no to what I was saying. Then – and this surprised and really pleased me – he thought about it a moment and said, yes, you’re right, actually. Given the social context – his friends and peers, me the newcomer, much younger, comparatively uneducated – for him to have given due consideration to my point of view and then to have conceded it was almost unthinkable, yet he did it so casually and I doubt he even noticed or remembered it.That – for me – is the essence of respect. He heard me, without thinking of my age and standing in the group, and he considered what I had said only for what it was worth, not for who it came from. I respect him tremendously for that. It is something I have met so very seldom, even in my immediate family, that I have mostly given up airing my thoughts except to very few people in whom I trust.

This is what I’d like my kids to learn about respect – politeness, courtesy and using the appropriate forms of address are all desirable and good, but these are not respect. Respect is not to be given by default or by habit; respect is due to every person, regardless of age or anything else, but respect must be earned, and it is not a one-way street.

Double Trouble

That’s right, it’s the twins I’m referring to. They’ve been talking nineteen to the dozen for the past couple of weeks. Of course, it’s all gobbledygook, but that’s no reason not to reply. The best part is, most of the time they seem to understand each other. Often, one of them will say something, the other will reply, then both of them will start giggling as though it’s all highly amusing. They’ve even started issuing stern admonitions, usually to me (not to each other) with index finger raised and a most emphatic tone in their squeaking voices. I’m not sure whether I want them to start speaking English or whether I prefer them just the way they are right now. Either way, I don’t think I have much choice in the matter – they will start making sense some day, ready or not.

Motor skill development is not taking a back seat either. Of course they have been climbing on all accessible horizontal surfaces in the house: the two trunks, the one easy chair, the new sofa, and the large cardboard carton that occupied pride of place in our living room, standing in for the coffee table we never possessed. Their latest conquest is the set of four dining table chairs. This is dangerous, because they love to push these chairs around the house like walkers without wheels, but they have not yet made the connection between pushing the chairs around and then climbing on them to access hitherto inaccessible surfaces such as the top of the fridge. Still, it’s bound to occur to them sooner or later, and then nothing in the house will be safe any more (sigh)…

Meanwhile, they’ve perfected the art of turning the laundry basket upside down and climbing up on top of it, which gets them too close to the TV and music system for our comfort. They love to bang on the TV and washing machine and it’s only a question of time before something gives and we have to call in the repairmen (or the scrap dealers).

Both of them suddenly realised that in addition to walking and running, it’s also possible – perhaps – to take both feet off the ground simultaneously. They’ve been trying very hard to empirically prove this hypothesis, but they’ve not had a lot of success so far – Tara hasn’t managed to get more than her heels off the ground, and on the one or two occasions that Mrini has actually managed to launch herself a quarter-inch into the air, she has immediately landed ignominiously in a heap on the ground.

Mrini looks as though she might enjoy swimming, though. She likes to lie down on the ground flat on her tummy, arms and legs all waving around in the air as though doing the breast stroke. She especially enjoys doing this when I’m trying to get her to walk home from the park – it can be quite taxing, with the whole staring at this spidery spectacle sprawled on the sidewalk.

Despite my best efforts to teach them nothing meaningful, they have both learned (thanks to the oil massage and bath ritual) the body parts identified by the words “arm” “leg” “chest” “tummy” “head” and “nose”. They’ve also figured out that other people have the same body parts too, and if we say “nose” to them, they first grab their own noses, then make a beeline for ours and grab them really hard.

Meanwhile, there’s absolutely no progress on the paperwork front. It’s a bit of a nagging concern for us – surely nothing will go wrong and the proceedings will run their course and culminate in us receiving their birth certificates with our names as parents; still, I wish things would start moving on that front so that we could have that part of it done and over with.

Continuing the Rat Race

They’re only 16 months old and the twins are already part of the sordid rat race.I’ve already discovered how the rat races to walk first, talk first, get weaned from breast and/or bottle first (to name but a few) start almost before the baby can sit up and say “goo”.

It required some determination, but I managed to ignore all the well-intentioned but alarmist advice for getting the twins ahead in the walking rat race; and now that they’re walking, almost jumping, and almost talking, I thought I could forget about rat races until they start school.

How absolutely naive.

Why, by the time they even start school, they should already know their numbers, the alphabet (backwards), how to spell their name, how many legs a centipede has and of what colour and sundry other important stuff like that; if not, not only will they be denied admission into every school worth the name, but also they and their parents will be relegated to the lowest strata of society, several levels lower than politicians.

It’s getting so bad that I’m beginning to get the feeling that I’ve already irreparably damaged their future careers. The other day, we met a kid who was looking at a picture book. When his mother said “fan” he obediently searched through the whole book to find a fan. When she said “king” he found a king; fish, and he found fish… and so on. The thing is, mother and child were looking at this particular book for the very first time – so the kid was not identifying pictures by rote. He actually knew what type of object he was looking for, and selected those that resembled what he knew of kings, fans, and fishes. This kid was only a month or so older than the twins – and he already knew so much! I felt completely apologetic for my kids, who, when told “head” happily clap both hands on their heads and continue doing so even when subsequently told “feet” “nose” “tummy” and “mama”.

I guess if you coach a child carefully enough, you can expect him/her to respond appropriately to pictures in a book. Trouble is, I hardly coach the twins at all, apart from telling them not to put their fingers in electric sockets (or in their diapers).

My idea of keeping my kids busy all day is to let them run about the house and play as much as they can. They do have picture books – which they love – but they also have balls, building blocks, crayons, teddy bears and other stuffed stuff, and of course the furniture to keep them busy. They spend most of their day pulling, pushing, running, climbing, falling, howling, laughing, talking (gibberish)… doing what kids their age, surely, should be doing.

The other kid, who was so good at identifying pictures in a book, could also – by all accounts – comfortably operate the sophisticated home theater system, complete with remote control et al. He seemed very quiet in contrast to the twins, but perhaps that was because he was mentally figuring out some complex mathematical theorems or inventing some fantastic new method for communicating with intelligent life forms on other planets. Whatever…

The books on parenting talk about “stimulating” kids’ interests in their environment – not necessarily teaching them letters, numbers, nursery rhymes and the like, but telling them about objects, sounds, sights, even smells. I find that the twins don’t seem to need much stimulation – they have a healthy interest in their environment already and going by the speed at which they set about exploring (read wrecking) it, I’m not sure that any additional stimulation would be good for them – or me.

So, I just let them be. I figure, I can pump them full of this information now – colours and numbers, nouns and verbs; or I can just let them be and they’ll pick it up as they go along. I tend to believe that, if left to themselves, kids will learn these things on their own; not numbers and the alphabet, I agree, those will need to be taught, but the other stuff, the normal parts of an average vocabulary they will surely pick up. Thanks to their indefatigable curiousity and their intrinisc desire to learn, I guess they will learn most useful stuff just as inevitably as they learn, without any guidance, to walk (and run, and jump), to talk, and to lock mama up in the bathroom at the first possible opportunity.

A Few Loose Nuts

Thank goodness for shoddy workmanship.

Our apartment, which is about ten years old and which we own, is if not the epitome, then at least a pretty good example of shoddy workmanship. According to those who know, the foundations and basic construction quality are sound; but when it comes to the plumbing, the painting, the woodwork, even the plastering of the wall, it leaves a lot to be desired. I never thought I’d have cause to be grateful for this.

Typically, I sneak in my shower in after the twins’ bath and before their lunch. I say “sneak in because I have to be pretty quick, else they’ll fall asleep before eating lunch, which is a headache for me.

Today had been a typical day thus far, so I went into the bathroom as usual. What was new was that I decided to bolt the door from the inside – I haven’t done this so far, when if I’m alone in the house with the twins, so that they can see me and not feel worried. Today, I thought they’re well adjusted enough to not notice if they don’t see me for a few minutes, and a few minutes of privacy while bathing is always welcome.

No sooner had I shot the bolt from the inside, than it occurred to me that perhaps this was a dangerous thing to do. The reason is, the bathroom door has a latch on the outside as well, which is just about within reach of the twins if they stand on tiptoe. It’s the sort of bolt that slides into a hole in the frame and the twins have figured out how it works, though it’s not yet in the list of limited activities (such as come, go, give, take) that they can carry out on instruction. We have the same sort of latch on the other bathroom door as well as on the two verandah doors, but the only one the twins can successfully operate is the one on the verandah that opens off their room. On the other doors, thanks to shoddy workmanship, the alignment of bolt and hole is not perfect, so you need to hold the door (sometimes very firmly indeed) with one hand and shoot the bolt home with the other. This is thankfully still beyond their abilities.

Unless, of course, you helpfully bolt the door from the other side. I had never checked this (never having tried to bolt the door from both sides at once) but apparently bolting the door from one side causes the bolt on the other side to become perfectly aligned. Just as I bolted the door on the inside, I wondered whether this would actually make it possible for the twins to bolt it from the outside.

Before I could so much as complete the thought, I heard the bolt outside neatly slide home.

Horrors!

I hastily unbolted the door from the inside, hoping the bolt had missed its destination, but tugging on the door only confirmed my worst fear – it certainly hadn’t.

I immediately called out to the twins, hoping they would obligingly undo the action, but that would really have been asking for too much. I didn’t even know which twin was responsible for imprisoning me – when I stepped into the bathroom, neither one was in the immediate vicinity of the door (which just shows how fast kids can move when faced with an opportunity for serious mischief).

At first, I told myself it was only a minor matter, I’d be out in a few minutes. But slowly, as I looked around the bathroom, realisation dawned: it was very possible that I’d be stuck there till evening!

There was absolutely nothing in the bathroom that could be of the slightest help in my predicament. No phone – who carries a cellphone on them when going for a bath? No pointy metal object that I could slide through the crack where door met frame and try to manipulate the bolt. I tried to use a tube of shampoo as a wedge (why does shampoo come in tubes nowadays? it used to come in bottles), but it was completely useless. I could not see any way that bath soap, detergent, mugs and buckets, or a bath towel could be of any earthly use in persuading the bolt to slide out of its home.

I tried to think things through. I wasn’t expecting any visitors. If anyone did ring the doorbell, it was unlikely they’d hear me shouting from the locked bathroom. There was a window, but our downstairs neighbours would be out, their house empty but for their two dogs. I was due to attend an online meeting at 1 p.m., but my unexplained absence would likely occasion only mild surprise, not alarm. Amit might call at some point, but if he couldn’t get me on the phone, he’d simply surmise I was busy with the kids and forget about it. If I couldn’t find a way out on my own, it looked like I’d be stuck here till 6.30 or so, when Amit would (hopefully) come home and let me out.

To top it off, I was nude, with only a bath towel at my disposal. Even if any alternative manner of rescue could be found, I wasn’t sure I’d want to be rescued by anyone other than Amit.

Meanwhile, the kids needed their lunch, their tea-time milk, and their various diaper-changes.

The worst part was that this scenario was not entirely unforeseen. Amit and I had discussed what we could do in such a situation, and had agreed that we probably needed to get the bolts shifted up on the doors, out of reach of the twins. We just hadn’t got around to doing it.

After thinking everything through, I decided there was nothing for it but to apply brute force. Pity that I’m not (in my opinion) much of a brute – Amit would certainly have yanked the door off its hinges at the first try. It took me several desperate attempts before something gave on the outside and the door opened a crack.

But only a crack – I wasn’t home and dry yet, but at least things were looking more hopeful. I tried slipping my hand through, but the crack was much too narrow. So I applied myself to pulling the door with renewed vigor. All that happened was that, with the next tug, the handle came off into my hand!

This was not so good. There was nothing else substantial enough to tug on on this side of the door. True, I could use the detached handle as a level, but it didn’t look like it would stand up to much. Luckily I could curl my fingers around the edge of the door and tug on that directly, but I didn’t think it would be as effective as the door handle had been thus far. All the same, that’s what I did, bracing myself against the wall with my left hand and tugging with my right.

And a few minutes later, the second set of screws holding the bolt in place came out with a loud pop, sending the bolt skittering on the floor a distance of several feet – and I was out, free.

Which is why I say, sometimes you have to be jolly grateful for shoddy workmanship.