Monthly Archives: April 2008

I’ve Got to Stop the Food Wars

I know I shouldn’t but I still keep doing it: I keep fighting with the twins about food.

The parenting books – by western authors, by the way – all say how you should let the child decide how much of what food they to eat. They won’t starve themselves, and they won’t binge on one item and ignore another – over the long run, they will select a healthy diet. (This, provided you offer them healthy options of course, not an option between veggies on one hand and chips and chocolates on the other.)

I do believe I should do this, and I’m trying very hard to do it. I try not to worry if they opt to skip a meal, or eat only curd at dinner, or only drink milk for breakfast. Yet, it’s a losing battle: despite my best efforts, I all-too-often end up forcing food on them, fighting them to get one more morsel down their gullets, holding their arms, ignoring their wails.

Why do I do this? I feel lousy afterwards. I do believe that having a happy and relaxed meal is going to do them more good than those few extra mouthfuls I force on them. I can even hear a little voice telling me this when I’m force-feeding them – why don’t I listen?

To answer my own question, I think there are several reasons. One is that I’ve got the food ready and it is really frustrating to have it spurned.

Another is that I hate to see food wasted, but, since the kids’ food is full of delicious and fatty things including a generous dollop of butter, Amit and I generally don’t eat it.

And then, there’s ego – stupid, petty, childish, despicable ego: “If I’m telling you to eat this, you’re jolly well going to eat this, or else!”

Yet another is that I don’t want to feel that I gave up feeding them in a hurry (being impatient as I am) and thus deprived them of food at every meal. This is compounded by the pressure I’ve been under from the start to ensure that the kids put on weight, because, from the day we got them, doctors have said that they are way underweight for their age – around the 5th percentile compared to normal Indian kids. So, I’ve had this sort of Job No. 1 task of feeding them well and getting them to gain weight – in order to win doctors’ approval, if nothing else.

Still another is that I am, after all, Indian, and in India it is the done thing to keep stuffing food into your children to make them nice and plump; all good mothers must do this and if you don’t and if your children are not nice and plump, you must be a horrid, callous mother who starves her kids. If you were to be heard in public telling your kids, “eat it if you want it, if you don’t want it, don’t eat,” there would be gasps of horror all around and heads would swivel and eyes accuse you of cruelty that make Genghis Khan pale in comparison.

I don’t buy into this philosophy, of course, but at a subliminal level, it is there.

What earns you approving nods from the extended family in India is one of two feeding strategies. You either force-feed your kids by laying them down in your lap, gripping their hands and legs tightly, and dropping food straight into their throats – if they are howling, that helps because then their maws are wide open; or, you run around behind them distracting them with toys, playmates, music, TV or whatever, and sneaking the food in when they are not paying attention. (These strategies tend to merge as kids grow older, but the general philosophy remains intact – stuff your kids till they are fit to burst, or you’re not a good mother.)

I don’t do either of these, but I do demand that they sit still and focus on the food and cut out any squirming, screaming, playing with the food etc. It is unrealistic to expect a child to sit quietly and eat her food with dedication and decorum… but that’s what I aim for. I know, it’s an exercise in futility, it’s doomed from the start. They squirm and scream and giggle and play and I get impatient, irritated, frustrated, and plain mad. That’s when I start cajoling or shouting and simultaneously thrusting food down their gullets, when what I should do is to realize that they’re done with food and ready to go back to playing.

Easier said than done.

It doesn’t help, of course, that I’ve been feeding them the last 30-odd meals on the trot without a single break and am therefore running increasingly short on patience.

But, all the reasons and excuses notwithstanding, I’m resolving, here, publicly, right now, that I’m going to stop doing this once and for all, and am going to let them eat as much or as little as they want and am not going to force, persuade, cajole, plead, entice, encourage, or in any way try to increase their food intake ever again. Unless it’s medicine. Amen.

Caged Tiger Growling

Before we got the twins, Amit traveled about once a quarter. Now that we have twins, he travels once a month. I wish it had been the other way round.

Because of our insistence – joint and individual – to raise the kids ourselves, at least in these early days, we tend to lead a “relay-race” existence these days. As soon as one gets home, the other goes out, or, occasionally, is at home but busy with something and not to be disturbed.

The problem is that, when Amit is out of town, I don’t get a break of any kind. Of course, I get on the computer in the afternoons, while the kids sleep or keep themselves busy; and I get a few hours for myself in the evening after they’ve gone to bed; but the point is, being entirely home-bound, there’s only so far you can go with books, TV and computer. After a point, you feel like you’d do anything to just get out of the house for a bit. This time, as before, I’ve developed a serious pain in the neck/back due to too much time spent with the computer, TV and books. I need some exercise, I need to stretch, even to hyperventilate (just a little). I miss tennis, and I miss my evening walks, even if it is often just a quick trip to the neighbourhood shops for groceries and stuff. I do manage to pick up groceries on my way back from the park with the kids – but I need to stretch my legs and relax my mind, and it’s difficult to do that with the kids in tow.

The kids are entertaining enough in their own way, but 24×7 becomes a little monotonous I have to admit. Should I feel guilty about feeling this way? I do, a little, but that doesn’t bother me too much. What bothers me is: What, if anything, can I do to change things?

I obviously can’t get Amit to travel less. I wish he would travel less, but it’s not in my control. Since he is obviously the alternative baby-sitter of choice, I suppose I have to look beyond that and consider other baby-sitters. I’ve known for a while that it’s the only option, but I am still not altogether convinced that it’s what I want to do. If there were only a creche nearby where I could drop off the kids for an hour or two in the evening… 6.30 to 8.00 would do it. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Sometimes I think that getting a job, even a work-from-home job, would solve the problem, but then I realize this is confused thinking. A job might give more focus to the time I spend on the computer or might replace TV and books with work… but it won’t get me out of the house unless I have a babysitter, so it brings me right back to Problem Number One.

I’m happy to be a stay-at-home mom – or at least that’s what I keep saying – but did I really sign-up for 24×7? I thought there were going to be two parents involved here: Isn’t there supposed to be some help from the father in question as well? Or should I bow to the inevitable and leave my children in charge of an ayah for a couple of hours a day?

Good Girl, Bad Girl

These are the standard phrases we use to praise or admonish the twins. In doing so, I’m sure we’re no different from millions of parents around the world.

I’ve read in parenting books that rather than saying “bad girl,” one should say “that’s a bad thing to do” to more accurately convey that it is the action that’s bad, not the person. Obviously, the same does not hold true for the “good girl” situations.

Earlier, when I studied Psychology, I read about unconditional love, which, as I understand and recall it, is simply reassuring a child that no matter what you do and how angry I might be, I will always love you. The child should never have to fear or be insecure on that account.

Both things, slightly confusingly related and even slightly contradictory as they are, make sense to me. I have to admit that I don’t always – or even often – practise the former; though I wish I could, it’s just too cumbersome a statement in the heat of the moment. I believe (think) that, though I say “no” and “don’t” about a million times a day, I don’t say “bad girl” all that often and I do say “good girl” just as often or more.

I like to think too, that they somehow know when I scold them, that I’m only scolding them for that particular action and that there’s no threat to my overall affection for them, as well as no sweeping judgement on their general nature. My basis for this assumption is the belief that they are still arriving at an understanding of words based on context and non-verbal communication. Therefore, “bad girl” = “doing that  is bad” is not too much of an intuitive leap for them, while it (“bad girl”) is quite distinct from “I don’t love you” or “I won’t love you if you do that”. Likewise, I believe that “mama scolds me but still loves me” is something they understand without the use of those exact words.

But, I’m no child psychologist; I could be wrong.

What shocked me recently, though, was two similar but separate incidents of people asking my daughters, “Are you a good girl or a bad girl?”

One enquirer was herself a child, maybe 6 years old. The other was an unrelated child-minder.

Wow! Do people normally go around making kids make these value judgements about themselves? Obviously the child had been exposed to this question either first- or second-hand, she could hardly have thought up that line of questioning herself, unaided. What’s worse, she proceeded to label Mrini “bad girl” (and Tara “good girl”) just because Mrini wouldn’t go to her (and Tara did). She was just a child, and somebody else’s at that, so I didn’t say anything, but in my mind, that is no kind of basis for praising or admonishing a child. (As it happened, Mrini didn’t care, she smiled and clung to me.)

The child-minder said her ward, when so questioned, always answered, “Bad girl.” She – and the child’s mother – found this amusing. I think it’s terrible! From the tender age of 18 months, that child has an image of herself that is negative, and even if she doesn’t understand the implications of those words yet, she soon will. And meanwhile, her caregivers aren’t even trying to fix that verbal self-perception! I’m sure they love her and hug her and praise her as well, but the fact remains that her predominanat recollection is of the words “bad girl” – and they find this funny!

As of now, the twins don’t even properly respond to the question, “What is your name?” (they both say something approximating Mrini), so naturally they have no answer to the good girl, bad girl question yet. When they do, I hope that in actions, words, and inner belief, the answer will be good.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I’m not sure if my account of our trip to Pondicherry to file papers gave the impression of quite how rushed and hectic it was, but it really was. Amit was extremely tense about the whole process going off smoothly and without any further delays. I was only worried about managing the kids and keeping them happily occupied.

Our lawyer, for some reason, thought she was doing us a great favour by asking us to come and sign all the papers at her office on the morning of the filing. She apparently thought that the only alternative to this procedure was for us to come a day earlier, thus she was showing us maximum consideration by sparing us a day. She did not consider that we might actually have much preferred to arrive a day earlier and finish the work at leisure instead of being under such pressure. She also did not appear to have heard of or thought about the possibility of sending us either the actual documents or a draft of those documents by fax, snail mail or email beforehand, so that we could read or even sign the papers well before the date of filing.

Naturally, there were pages and pages of stuff to be signed by each of us, along with filling in our names and addresses in a couple of places. By the time it was all done, it looked like we hardly had enough time to get to the courthouse before 10 a.m. – and if we were late, that was one day wasted.

Amit asked the lawyer for a copy of the papers we were signing, and she flatly refused. Obviously, there was no time to make a copy at that time (it’s not as though her office even had a copying machine), but that was not her main reason for refusing. She said it was not required for us to have a copy at all!

How can that be? I’m signing legal stuff on stamp paper stating something or other, shouldn’t I at least have a copy of whatever it is I’m filing?

Amit, being nothing if not stubborn, insisted on photographing the documents with his cellphone, which he managed to do without making it unduly late. I tried to hastily scan through the pages – I wanted to be sure there wasn’t a line in there somewhere saying that we agreed to make over all our worldly possessions to the said lawyer, so help me god.

So, in some ways it wasn’t surprising that we missed it. What did surprise me was that Amit actually read the photographic copy of the entire document word for word during the drive back, and he still missed it (and he’s the sort who’ll catch “Foster Care” spelt as “Faster Care”).

It’s not as though what we missed was a tiny little typo error – no, there it was plainly stated that I, the joint petitioner, was currently employed with such-and-such company and drawing a monthly gross salary amounting to exactly so much. (And therefore financially empowered to look after the said children.)

This, on a petition dated 9th April, 2008.

When we had submitted the entire set of documents including our payslips to the adoption coordinating agency in Bangalore way back in April 2007, I was gainfully employed. By the time we got the twins home in September 2007, I wasn’t. This statement – which, by the way, occurred twice – in April 2008 was plain wrong, by well over six months.

The penny quietly dropped into my head sometime on Thursday morning, but even then I didn’t pay it much attention. It wasn’t until I discussed the matter with Amit late on Thursday evening that we both realized just how serious it could be. HOW could we have missed this? We both knew we had read this in the document, it had just not occurred to us that it was no longer true.

After much serious discussion and several frantic phonecalls, remedial measures were put in place. Our lawyer, who was plainly peeved at us not having pointed this out that morning (HOW??), agreed to stop the file in court, and one of us would have to dash down to Pondicherry, legally withdraw the file, make the corrections, initial them, and “appear” (if you can call it that) before the judge to re-submit. The only saving grace was that only one of us need go, which meant that Amit would have to do the dashing, while the kids and I stayed home.

Strangely Estranged

When we took the twins back to Pondicherry last week, we had every intention of making a short visit to the adoption agency (that is, the orphanage). We had some romantic notion that those people would like to see the twins, see how they’re getting on. We thought it might be nice for the twins too. Not that they’d remember anything of that place now (after six months away, they wouldn’t, would they?) but if we did take them there for occasional visits over the course of the years, they would have something to latch on to when they began to understand about adoption. Everything I had read about adoption spoke of the wisdom of doing this, and some of the personal experiences I found on the Net also spoke of building a sort of relationship with the institution or organization which kept the adopted children prior to their adoption. And our kids, after all, had spent the entire first year of their lives in that place with those people – surely that was something worth building on?

We had had intermittent contact with the agency over the past few months, mainly to do with paperwork concerning the adoption. Since we spoke no Tamil, we had mainly communicated with Sister M – the head honcho there – and Sister P, who was the only other person there fluent in English. On our first visit to the agency six-plus months ago, everyone had been very warm and welcoming. We had been a little apprehensive, but we faced no trouble at all in taking the kids out, getting their medical tests done, and finally driving away with them.

What did strike me as odd then, and left a mildly unpleasant taste in the mouth, was that they – that is, I suppose, primarily Sister M – seemed a little too eager to “get rid of” the twins. “Get rid of” is exactly the feeling I got – though I tried to attribute it to a more charitable emotion of wishing the twins a good home and family. An alternative but still understandable motivation could have been financial: charitable organisations are always in need of money, and getting rid of the twins benefited them significantly monetarily. Still, the eagerness, even anxiousness, to get us to take charge of the kids was vaguely reminiscent of a shopkeeper trying to sell a flawed product at an exorbitant price to over-eager, innocent customers.

Well, these particular customers were happy to take charge of these particular “products” that didn’t appear – medically or otherwise – to be flawed, so I tried to ignore the feeling of being duped… and what with being so busy and happy with the girls, it was quite easy after all.

Till now. When we called the agency to tell them we’d be dropping in during our visit to Pondicherry, the response was surprising: “Oh, there’s no need for that,” said Sister P sweetly, “you’ll be meeting Sister M at the courthouse.”

Sure enough, we did meet Sister M at the courthouse. Now, Sister M, being the head honcho and all, was, I suppose, never the one to actually manage the kids on a day-to-day basis. So she may not have had the pseudo-parent kind of bond with them that the actual care-givers may have had. Still, they had been her charges for one year, right in their infancy… she had even selected their original names herself, or so she had told us earlier… Both of us expected her to show some little interest in the twins – for decency’s sake if nothing else. I expected some comment on how good they were looking, how much they had grown, perhaps how they had put on so much weight, or that they were generally looking healthy and happy. I’m sure any parent would feel happy to hear any of these things, but none so much as an adopted parent, especially if it came from the person in Sister M’s position.

All we got, instead, was a curt question: “Are you happy?” My response was that the more relevant question would have been whether the twins were happy – this was brushed aside almost as though it were completely irrelevant. Sister M made no effort to communicate with the kids, far less hold them or cuddle them, merely made some polite conversation with us for all of two minutes and then turned away from us.

Well!

Discussing the matter later, Amit suggested that perhaps since she dealt with adoption all the time, she was inured to such emotional matters as how the kids were faring in their new homes, or whether they were blossoming or not. Perhaps. Who am I to judge or even to presume to understand what her life is like and what her emotions are? Perhaps for those who are in the business, ultimately these children are merely commodities, sold off just like material goods, to make their “owners” happy. But, I couldn’t understand it and I couldn’t feel at peace about it. I wish we could have had a warmer reception from the agency on our return visit, I wish we could have felt like it was a place the kids could revisit over the years.

Perhaps, for those women who actually do all the work for the kids there, it would have been a different story, and there would have been some interest or happiness in seeing the twins again. But without any encouragement from Sister M, it looks unlikely that we will ever meet them to see the interest – or, perchance, the indifference – on their faces.

Of course, our kids lost their biological parents. Now it seems like they’ve also lost their first “adopted” (to use the term loosely) parents, and with it, all connection to their lives prior to coming home to us. And that’s sad.

Swimming

Since the twins love their bath and really enjoy splashing around in their tiny bathtub, I’d been dying to up the stakes and put them in a swimming pool. Amit and I both love to swim, though we haven’t done much of it in recent years. I took to swimming straight after I almost drowned (or thought I did) way back when I was about three. That was in a fantastic L-shaped pool where the deep end was 12 ft deep.

Anyway, we don’t have such luck any more, but we do have a swimming pool nearby which, modest as it is, will do very nicely for the kids for a few years. So last Sunday afternoon, when we at last had a sunny day after two weeks of rain, we took the kids to the pool and dunked them in.

Well, actually, I got in first, then Mrini tentatively followed. Tara resisted for a while, then gradually allowed herself to be persuaded. There were a huge number of other – much older – children around, which usually intimidates the twins a little, but they didn’t seem to mind too much. They took to the idea of being in a pool full of water quite well, actually. After a few minutes, they began splashing in the water, and Tara even put her face down and blew bubbles in the water. She must have swallowed some… and they were in “swim-proof nappies” (“specially designed to prevent accidents in the swimming pool”) but I don’t know what “accidents” other kids may have had… best not to think too much about that.

After a good 20 minutes, they began to feel cold, and by the time I got them both out, they were shivering. I thought they might catch a cold, but, thank goodness, they didn’t.

Overall it was quite a success. We definitely need to repeat the experience sometime soon. The sooner they get used to the swimming pool, the better, if you ask me.

My Days in the Sun

It is probably a dangerous thing to say, because, strangely enough, I have to admit to a superstitious belief that saying so might change it, but I’m going to risk saying it out loud anyway: I’m in a very happy place in my life right now. After a very, very long time, I realize that I’m not desperately wishing or waiting for anything any more. I wouldn’t describe my life as perfect, but this is as close as it gets.

  • My family is complete. The twins absolutely light up my life. There is immense satisfaction in doing all the mundane motherly chores for them. And satisfaction in seeing them grow in confidence, in ability, and – of course – in size.
  • Amit is a delighted, devoted and doting father – as I always knew he would be, but getting him to believe it was one helluva task.
  • True I’m not working, but at last I’m working on a project that I’ve always wanted to work on but never had the time – my travel website. I can only spare a couple of hours a day to work on it, but that’s enough – I know that if I keep at it, I can take it to some kind of completion by the end of the year. I’m in no hurry.
  • I can pick freelance projects to work on. I can reject work that’s not interesting enough. I am fortunate enough that I can afford not to work for pay if I choose – either not to work, or not to get paid. Currently, I’m somewhere in-between: I’m almost not working, and I’m certainly not getting paid; but either aspect might change sometime in the future.
  • I can, hopefully, find the time to resume – and, eventually, complete – my online Archaeology course. This is one of my few longest-standing desires still pending.

The only reasons I wouldn’t use the word perfect are:

  • I’d like to get out of the house more… if only for a daily walk, a bit of window-shopping, a cup of coffee.
  • I wish I had more time with Amit. Though I suppose that if after ten years of marriage I still feel that way, it can’t altogether be a bad thing…
  • Resuming my German classes doesn’t seem likely in the near future.
  • I still have to find a publisher for my travel book.

A couple of those might look like quite major areas of improvement, but they hardly make in dent in my general satisfaction with life at present. I’m sure things will change – after a while, I’ll probably start to miss working life. Or I might find it really stifling to be so extremely home-bound. Or… something. But right now, while the kids are well and everything’s going smoothly, I have to say that I’m in a good place in life, and I’m keeping my fingers (and toes etc) crossed that it stays that way at least for a while.