Monthly Archives: April 2009

Chicken Pox!

Shaba-Aunty’s daughter, H, is down with chicken pox. She’s maybe 7 or 8 years old. She became symptomatic last Saturday, with high fever, vomiting, and of course, the pox itself. So naturally, this whole week, Shaba-Aunty has not been coming.

Shaba-Aunty became more than my “cleaning girl” in February, when I started working from home, and she started managing the kids in the mornings, while I worked. She dropped them to playschool, picked them up, gave them lunch, and put them to bed, apart from the usual domestic chores like washing dishes, putting out or picking up the clothes, sweeping, swabbing, dusting the house and so on. I’ve written about Shaba-Aunty’s immense value in my life in an earlier post. After two plus months of life with the enhanced Shaba-Aunty services, I’ve been sent back to the dark ages in the past one week and life has been pretty bleak indeed.

Right after breakfast, I’m deluged with house work. I don’t even attempt to do as thorough a job of cleaning the house as Shaba-Aunty does, but at least I have to make a modicum of effort to sweep most areas of the house. Then there’s always a mountain of dishes to wash, and all the rest of the housework. Meanwhile, there are the two pesky devils, demanding to be entertained and threatening to turn the house upside down unless I cooperate pronto.

Way back in the dark ages when Shaba-Aunty just did the house cleaning and buzzed off in less than an hour, I was used to handling the kids solo all day long. Besides, I wasn’t working then. Now, I’m ostensibly working – at least, I have been getting paid, so I should be working – but with two pesky devils and no Shaba-Aunty, I might as well attempt to climb Mount Everest without oxygen, so futile is any attempt to work while the kids are awake. Luckily, work has been going easy on me, so I manage to squeeze every inch out of the two hours when the kids sleep in the afternoon and make do with that… but it isn’t easy.

The simplest way to keep the kids occupied in these long, lonely days of no school and no Shaba-Aunty, has been to get them out of the house. I’ve taken them swimming three days this week, and it has them happily engaged and physically stretched, so that they eat well and go straight to sleep afterwards. Oh, and their swimming skills are improving too.

But all in all, it’s true what they say: once you get used to having household help, you can’t manage without them. I’m just waiting for poor H to get better so that Shaba-Aunty can relieve me from the drudgery of housework around the clock.

I asked her about vaccinations against chicken pox, she said that when H was small, the doctor told her that this one vaccination alone would set her back by Rs2,000, so they just didn’t do it. I wonder whether she regrets that decision now. At least her own health is not at risk, as she says she already went through her bout of chicken pox when she was young. Hopefully the girls won’t get it now… that would be a disaster.

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Twinnings

The twins have turned into absolute rascals. They cannot be left unattended for even a few seconds. Our house is as childproof as can be, but, unless you live on a ship, some things just can’t be nailed down or set in concrete. For example, the dining table. It’s not made to be pushed around, right? Well, the kids got sick of being reprimanded for pushing the chairs around, so they decided to push the table around, instead! They also love to rip the bedsheet off the mattress (absolutely infuriating for me, having to tuck it all back in neatly); throw the top trunk off the bottom one in their bedroom (dangerous if they get caught under it); incessantly slam shut doors and drawers that they can both open and close; turn on the tap in the bathroom basin and turn off the tap that fills the toilet flush tank; take out all the clothes from the laundry basket, drag them all over the house, and put on as many of them as they can; throw clean and dry clothes into a bucket full of dirty, wet clothes; and generally drive me mad in short order.

They now know how to get into and out of their high chairs without any assistance whatsoever. They can’t yet undo the clasps that buckle them in place, so they simply stand up in the chair and the belt falls off their feet and then they scramble off with utter delight.

There’s no longer a single horizontal surface in the house that is safe from their grasping hands. I’m not exaggerating. It’s not as though they’ve attained my height – short enough as that is – it’s more to do with the fact that I don’t usually stand on the chairs to put things away, but they, merrily and without a second thought, will pull up a chair, or cushion, or whatever else is required to reach things they want to reach. The kitchen counter is an area that sees constant skirmishes. They have to grab every single thing they see there, most of which I don’t want them to grab – sharp knives, electric starter for the gas stove, glass glasses, mugs of hot coffee, and plastic boxes full of hot and/or fluid food that can be easily opened and spilt.

Before we bought this new fridge, which is about 6 feet tall, I used to use the fridge top of our old, small fridge, as a convenient dumping ground safe from the kids’ reach. Now, I can dump things on top of the new, tall fridge; it’s just that, having done so, I literally lose sight of the object and can never find it again. The top of the washing machine has long since been swept clean, as has the top of the chest of drawers, which was formerly sacrosanct. The only spaces which are safe are those which are physically locked – the study, and both verandahs. These, therefore, specially the study, now resemble municipal dumping grounds – every single object which is required but to be kept out of reach of kids winds up in the study, except the particularly offensive ones such as old, spare tyres, half used cans of paint, and half sacks of cement. (You really don’t want to know!)

The other day, I turned my back on the kids for two seconds – yes, two whole seconds – and they made a beeline for their latest obsession – the wires dangling in the living room. We have wires dangling all over the house, most of them up near the ceiling where Amit can’t get entangled in them. (It’s ugly, but it’s nothing compared to the paint flaking off the walls.) The wires in the living room connect the speakers to the music system. They’re draped way high up on the wall, well out of my reach. The kids grab one wire simply by climbing up on to the sofa. Not on to the seat of the sofa, mind you, on to the back of the sofa. Then they stand up there. That brings the wire within arm’s reach. They almost brought a large framed painting down in the process.

Meanwhile, their verbal skills are improving in leaps and bounds. They now know they name of their new school, though they sometimes get it mixed up with quite different matters. Mrini went to the bathroom and said, “Mama, new school, sussu kiya,” (=I peed). I guess Sishu Griha sounds a bit similar. Another salient bathroom observation, after she does the big job: “Mama, aloo (potato).” Well, it does look a bit like one, I suppose, but must she point it out to me?

The other day we came back from a long, hot morning outing. It was time for their afternoon nap, but they were both thirsty. I gave them water somewhat warily, since I didn’t want their new school (or sussu kiya) happening on the bed during their nap. But Tara wanted more and more water. When she’d had about 200 ml, I told her to stop. Then she pulled out her trump card: “Mama, little bit”. So I filled a little bit of water in her bottle and handed it to her. Immediately she gave me an outraged look and said in an accusatory tone: “That’s all?”

Yesterday afternoon, around 5, I went in to wake the girls up. I don’t usually do this, but they usually get up around 3. Yesterday, they had gone to sleep late, and I didn’t want them sleeping too late and then not being sleepy at night, so I went to wake them up. I knelt on the bed to give Mrini a wake-up kiss. In a sleepy, grumpy, disgusted (and very adult) tone, she said to me: “Mama, go away.”

Tara loves to converse. Every so often, she’ll pull up her chair (whatever that happens to be at the moment), sit down next to me and say, “Mama, let’s talk.” If I agree (which I usually do), she’ll set the ball rolling: “Mama, how are you?” Then she follows it up by asking my name, “baba’s” name, “this girl’s” name (Mrini, that is) her own name, the table’s name, the sofa’s name, my jeans’ name… on and on, till she runs out of objects and starts over.

Yesterday evening, a new word was added to the family vocabulary when Mrini came to me and said, “Mama, all fetty-fetty.” I thought she was merely being rude (or factual; in this case it amounts to the same thing) and calling me fat, but I was puzzled, because “fatty” is not a word we have used with them. Then she rubbed her head and said, “fetty-fetty” again. Oh, right. Sweaty-sweaty.

Their pronunciation is often interesting. The other day, we fed them some rusk at dinner time. They can’t say rusk, of course, so they called it “rocks”. Today, they wanted rocks for breakfast, so I gave them some. Later on, somebody asked them what they had for breakfast! My heart sank – if they said “rocks”, I’d probably be imprisoned for child abuse or neglect or something. At the very least, I’d be impaled by a dreadfully dirty look. Thankfully, they simply replied “milk”.

Despite our best efforts, a couple of vulgarities have entered their vocabularies as well. They know that we look at the clock and comment on the time, so they look at the clock and go, “Ten o’clock.” Except, they can’t say the “l” in clock.

Then, once in a way, their frock gets entangled with their underwear. Tara coined a word to describe this: “frock-in”. Again, they haven’t mastered “r” yet, so… Next time that particular four letter word escapes me, I’ll have to hastily pretend it was their frock I was referring to.

That’s Cricket

The girls have, in their vast hoard of playthings, a pair of hockey sticks, a couple of tennis rackets, a shuttlecock, a couple of old tennis balls, a small golf ball, a green plastic ball and a yellow smiley ball. They don’t, strangely enough, possess a single cricket bat, but it doesn’t seem to matter, because they play reverse sweeps quite effectively with the hockey sticks.

Most of this motley collection of ‘bats’ and balls is reserved for using in the park only, as the confined space indoors guarantees severe damage to person and property, should they be allowed to swing these various sticks and rackets around freely.

So, for indoors cricket, they have made their own arrangements. Usually, it’s just the two of them, byt today they roped me in as well. I, armed with a tweety-bird-yellow plastic pencil box, and seated at the dining table, was the batsman; Mrini, armed with a tennis ball was the bowler. She demonstrated Newton’s third law of motion (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) beautifully; every time she let go of the ball, it went flying off wildly in some unpredictable direction, while she tumbled over equally wildly in some other, equally unpredictable direction.

Sometimes, the ball arrived somewhere in the vicinity of the pencil box (I mean, the bat), and I lunged at it, also rather wildly. Even armed with a pencil box, it is not easy to hit a missile hurled with a good deal of determination and no clear direction from about two feet away.

On the rare occasion when the bat made contact with the unguided missile, the result was that the said missile went careening off in a new and still highly unpredictable manner. Once it missed the moving blades of the fan by a couple of inches. Had it made contact, it would have been interesting.

Tara had the unenviable task of fielding. According to me, it is the worst job in the world, but some dogs like it too, so I suppose there’s no accounting for tastes. Egged on by Mrini, she went chasing off after every ball, tracked it down (usually by crawling under some furniture), retrieved it, and very sweetly handed it over to Mrini.

After the game had progressed in this organised and disciplined manner for one entire over, Tara, the fielder, took the ball and ran off. Mrini squealed and ran after her. She got the ball back after a bit of a struggle, but she had learned her first major neighbourhood-cricket lesson: if you want to be the bowler, you’d better be ready to do the fielding too.

If parenting is a full-time job, does it come with paid vacations?

The answer, I guess, is: it depends.

One way of looking at it is that full-time parenting (I mean, stay-at-home parenting) is a paid vacation. But I don’t know. Stay-at-home parenting is a break from work, it’s true; it’s just that, depending on the kind of household help you have, it’s a vacation that involves a heck of a lot of work, and not the kind of work that you are used to, either. And it’s not all fun.

Then, of course, you can always go on vacation with the kids. This is especially easy before the kids start going to school, and Amit and I have actually made a good attempt at this, with trips to Binsar, a href = “https://thetwinsandi.wordpress.com/2009/01/03/traveling-with-twins/”>Lakshadweep, and an abortive trip to Leh to our credit. The moot point about traveling with small kids, though, is whether, from a parent’s perspective (and especially from the perspective of a stay-at-home mom), this can be considered a holiday at all. There’s actually more work to be done when you’re away from your regular set-up, and many variables that are worryingly difficult or impossible to control: travel times, meal times, nap times, quality and quantity of food and drink available, toilet availability and cleanliness and usability…

There is another option: leave the kids with someone, the most likely candidates being their grandparents on one side or the other, while both parents go on holiday together. Without passing a value judgment of any kind, I have to say that this option is not for me.

And there’s at least one other option that I can think of: holidaying alone. Or, to put it more precisely, each parent taking a holiday separately, while the other stays home with the kids.

In Binsar, while I was still recovering from the trauma of the drive up (which had both kids retching and puking for three straight hours), I decided that this was the only alternative left to us. Staying at home with the kids all day, while it has its joys, is not – in my dictionary – the definition of a holiday. Neither is holidaying with two two-year-olds.

It’s not that I’ve never traveled alone before; I have, on more than one occasion, and both for business and – on separate occasions – for pleasure. I have to admit that at first I had my doubts as the to “pleasure” aspect of traveling alone, but now no longer. While it’s great to travel with a companion, it’s also nice in a quite different way to travel alone.

But, in the past whenever I traveled alone, I left only Amit behind; next time, I’ll be leaving Amit and the kids.

The longest I’ve ever been away from the kids till date is when I took a day-long trip to Pondicherry and back (for some adoption-related paperwork). That time, Mrini was terribly upset with me and refused to come near me for hours after I returned. That really hurt – the more so because I was totally unprepared for such a reaction. But they are a good bit more grown up now, and if I tell them I’m going away and that I’ll be back in a few days, they will understand it, won’t they?

When Amit travels on work, the kids don’t fuss much about it. They do ask after him sometimes, but they don’t seem upset or anxious in any way. But then, they are used to him going away from home every morning and returning in the evening. With stay-at-home moms, it’s different.

In the past couple of months or so, they have grown accustomed to my going away from home from time to time, usually leaving them in the care of Shaba-aunty. They’ve never seemed put out by it, nor upset when I return. So does it mean that they’ll be ok if I disappear for a few days at a stretch?

The other day, something went ‘click’ in me, and I decided it was time to put the kids to the test. I would take a short three-day break, get away on my own, lounge by the sea, read a book or three, eat, drink, sleep, and not worry about a thing. Then I’ll come back, and we’ll see how the kids cope with this. Amit, of course, will be at home with them for the entire duration. This should work.

I have, of course, several complex and contradictory feelings about this: guilt and selfishness and a reprehensible sense of self-indulgence; all covered over with a thick layer of pure, delightful anticipation. Amit has been totally supportive about it, and in fact I think it has even prompted him to go ahead and book his own holiday later in the year, which is good because it helps me feel a little less guilty about mine.

But all the guilt and questioning notwithstanding, I’m planning to go ahead with my solitary vacation. What do you think: is it completely selfish and self-centered to do this, or only just a little?

Fishy-Fishy

Our trip to Lakshadweep in December last year apparently was quite a hit with the girls, especially Mrini. She loves to talk about “boat” “ship” “island” “Lakshadweep” and especially “so many fishy-fishy”. The ride in the glass-bottomed boat clearly made a lasting impression on her. I remember how she sat and watched enthralled, as tiny, multi-coloured “fishy-fishy” glided around in the crystal clear waters under the boat.

On our recent few trips to the swimming pool nearby, Mrini has sat for an incredibly long time on the edge of the pool, feet dangling in the water, occasionally dipping her hands into the water and splashing gently, waiting and watching for the fishy-fishy to appear. For several days, she didn’t venture into the water, but eventually she did, and even managed to hold on to me or the railing with both hands and attempt to kick her legs out behind her. Still, despite recent successes, she has spent most of her time at the pool sitting on the edge and looking for fishy-fishy.

Tara has interpreted the whole water experience in a different way – she’s decided she IS the fishy-fishy. The very first day at the pool, she gamely came into the water, clinging on to me like a monkey and enjoying the bouyancy. Since then, she practically cannot be kept out of the water, even when she starts mildly shivering with cold. Pretty soon, she had started to hold on to my two outstretched hands and float there, almost as if she were floating without support. She did have some of her weight on my hands, but it looks like it’s only going to be a matter of time – and not too much time, at that – before she realizes that she can float on her own. What’s more, she has walked off the deep end already once – well, not quite deep, but by pre-schooler standards, water up to your nose is deep enough that you shouldn’t just stroll off the edge of the pool and into the water without warning.

Tara’s intrepid attitude is the cause of much parental concern for Amit and me. She seems to have no fear and no sense. While Mrini understands the problems of heights, depths, and water, Tara stops at almost nothing. She’s going to get into so much trouble, that girl. Mrini, on the other hand, is endearing – she shows that she’s scared, but slowly and bravely, and no doubt partly inspired by Tara, she tests the waters and tries to overcome her fear.

On an aside, if only nature and nurture contribute to personality, how can indentical twins, whose genetic makeup is identical and whose upbringing has been so similar, have such totally different personalities from such an early age?

Sleeping Easy

If there’s one issue in parenting that no two people can agree on – and actually there are many – it’s to do with sleeping. When should kids sleep, where, how, with whom, how often, for how long… There’s a delightful number of permutations and combinations, and no right answer.

Except mine, of course.

Some parents think it’s best to let the child sleep when she wants to and get up when she wants to. This, then, gives them endless opportunity to proudly complain about how they never get any sleep because the child is wide awake until 2 a.m. And by the time the child wakes up, it’s lunchtime!

Others proudly proclaim that their child sleeps twice in the daytime – taking a morning and an afternoon nap – so that she is wide awake and full of energy when the parents get home from work in the evening.

Then there’s the matter of putting the child to sleep. I’ve heard of bedtime stories that run for an hour; rocking, cradling, walking, and taking for a drive even in the wee hours of the night; singing; comfort objects including milk bottles which are guaranteed to ruin the teeth by allowing milk to pool in the mouth for hours at a stretch; and, most horrifyingly, lying with the child in the dark for three hours until she falls asleep (or you do).

Opinion is also vehemently divided over where the child should sleep. In India, having a young child sleep in her own room is – literally – a foreign concept. Nobody agrees on what the appropriate age is for a child to sleep apart from her parents, but the most popular consensus ranges from about 4 to 14 years. There are some people who advocate keeping the child in her own room literally from the cradle, but they seem to be exceptions, and generally regarded as lunatics by the rest of the world.

The Cry-It-Out technique seems to be unheard of here. As far as I know, we are the only people to have tried it out and found that it works.

Bedtime at 8.30 seems to be completely unique, too. And as for two-year-olds sleeping alone? Shocking! Or, depending on your degree of sleep deprivation, delightful.

I insisted in the kids sleeping apart from us for purely practical – though somewhat selfish – reasons. I need my space, a bit of privacy, a few moments away from the apples of my eyes. I need to be able to relax for a few moments at night, talk to Amit in a normal voice, turn the lights on and read a book. To say nothing of other nocturnal activities for which you don’t want the kids around. Plus, I need a good night’s sleep, so that I’m not all grouchy and snappy the next day. With two toddlers to handle, you can’t afford to be even just a little tired or under the weather.

My reasons for my other sleep strategies are equally practical and selfish. I need the kids to sleep early, so that I get the evening to relax and unwind. I need them to get up early so I can get them fed and dressed and ready for school (which is going to be a lot earlier, come June). And I need them to fall asleep promptly after lunch so that they wake up in time to go to the park in the evening, so that they get sufficiently tired to want to sleep by 8.30. Then, I have the pleasure of a quick 15-minute bedtime ritual, and a few minutes after I close the door on them, they’re asleep.

Given that we have two, I certainly don’t want to spend the whole day and half the night rocking/singing/reading/whatevering them to sleep. And synchronized sleeping is not a matter of choice for them.

I’m all for letting them fall asleep whenever they want and get up whenever they want – just as long as they do it together and not more than ten minutes away from the designated sleeping times!

Another little matter that troubled us for a bit was when the kids began to come to our room and snuggle up with us – almost every night. Did I mention I need my space? The two of them and the two of us squashed onto one 4-foot wide mattress doesn’t make for a lot of space. Add to that the constant sucking noises (both girls being inveterate thumb-suckers; don’t be disgusting!) and the neverending battle of Amit pulling their thumbs out almost as fast as they stuck them back in, and it didn’t look like anybody was getting any sleep.

The Book* says that you just have to stubbornly and calmly keep returning them to their room. I did this for ages, and finally they got the message. Now, occasionally they will come and look into our room in the middle of the night, or early morning, but, even if it’s already daylight and they are allowed in, they will stand quietly just outside and wait to be invited in. This makes Amit feel very sad and guilty, but makes me feel very proud. The Book says this will help them to develop healthy sleeping habits which will last into adulthood. It sounds too good to be true, but as long as it works for us, I’m not questioning it. They say, let sleeping dogs lie. I say, who cares about the dogs, let sleeping kids lie – as long as they’re lying where I want, when I want, how I want…

*The Book = What To Expect The Toddler Years

The Earring Saga

So, dear readers, you do remember where I told you about getting the girls’ ears pierced a while ago, don’t you?

I also mentioned in passing (in response to a comment, actually) how that very night Mrini’s earring popped out while we were getting her dressed for the night. I stuck it right back in, but it took some determination (and some help from Amit in the shape of sheer muscle power required to hold down the hapless victim of my not-so-tender ministrations).

Then, when we were in Binsar, I decided it was high time I changed the surgical metal ear studs for a decent pair of gold rings. Amit’s family friends had presented the twins with a pair each. Given how clumsy, inept, and generally butter-fingered I am, it was probably the biggest blunder I could have made. I managed to take out one of Tara’s studs while she was asleep, and I stuck the new ring in place, but she woke up before I could properly manage to close it. For a week or so, whenever she came within striking distance, I tended to grab her and fiddle with her ear, trying to properly fix the gold earring in place. Finally, after we had gone back to Delhi, one morning, I managed to get the truant earring out and replaced it with the old surgical metal stud.

Then there was peace.

For a while.

A week or so ago, Tara managed to snag her earring on something at home and out it came. Again, I grabbed her and brutally shoved it back in, turning a completely deaf ear to her howls of protest. Luckily, I accomplished the mission without too much clumsiness.

But in all of this, “earring” became a terribly dirty word for both girls. I don’t think they have forgotten the trauma of getting their ears pierced, and the repeated assaults on their ears have not helped. They love to watch me change my earrings (on the rare occasions that I do so) and they don’t mind fiddling with their own earrings, but they won’t allow me anywhere near their earrings, not even when they are asleep.

So it was something of a surprise when Tara came to me on Sunday morning and said, “Mama, where earring?” I pointed to my earring, but she said, “Mama, where my earring?” So then I gently touched her right earring, and she said, “Mama, where my other earring?” I gently touched her left earring, and the back of it came off in my hand. There was no left earring; at least, not where it should be.

Naturally, I asked her what had happened to her earring. She blamed it on her stuffed toy panda, who looked at her mutely and innocently. Both girls helped me look around the house for the errant stud, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Oh well, this was as good an excuse as any to try and get the still un-used gold rings into her ears.

But I had not magically become any less clumsy and inept since the Binsar days. When Amit tried holding her down and I stuck the ring in her ear, a quantity of blood quickly oozed out and – though I’m not especially squeamish about the sight of blood – it didn’t seem to make it any easier to get the fiddly bits of the earring to work the way they were supposed to. I tried again, when she was ostensibly asleep in the afternoon, but she only woke up, swatted my hand away, said “Go!” in a petulant manner and turned over.

Sup33 turned out to be my saviour. When I met her at the park that evening and explained the state of affairs to her, she volunteered to come home (with p in tow) and fix the new earrings on both girls. I’m not sure she knew quite what she was getting in to, but that didn’t stop me from accepting the offer with alacrity. Fifteen minutes later, with Tara screaming blue murder and the blood running thicker than water (sorry, wrong metaphor, but who can be bothered with metaphors at a time like that?), it was too late for her to change her mind.

I have to say that Sup33 has fingers that are as ept and butterless as mine are inept and buttered. In short order, and copious quantities of blood notwithstanding, she had four gold rings dangling from four separate ears, and no broken bones or even – as far as I know – broken fingernails. Of course, we had three screaming kids on our hands by then – p having decided that there must be something worth screaming about – but that was a small price to pay (and, what’s more, largely inevitable, if you discount the difference between two howling kids and three).

So now, is the earring saga finally at an end? I hope so… but I can’t count on it. Surely it’s only a matter of time before they do something drastic and we have to cross the bridge yet again.