Monthly Archives: September 2009

We’ve Got A Train To Catch

We’re leaving today for a short trip to Delhi and Chandigarh, where our immediate families reside. I seem to have a handle on the packing, which just gives me time for a quick update here.

The twins are now old enough to understand where we’re going, whom we’re going to meet, and, most importantly, how we’re going. We’re taking a train, so we have 36 hours of absolute indulgence to look forward to. Yes, indulgence. We go AC First Class, which is still less than half the cost of air fare for four. It takes a while, but who cares? They feed you and water you, and you get to lie in bed all day and watch the countryside roll by. The kids might be a bit restless, but then again – 36 hours of uninterrupted access to mom and dad? I don’t think they’ll be complaining too much.

We will have quite a hectic trip, as usual – two days in Delhi, two-and-a-half days in Chandigarh, another two days in Delhi, and then we’re off to board the train back. But it looks like it will be fun for the kids. Let’s hope everything goes well and nobody falls sick.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is the twins’ second homecoming anniversary. Two whole years have passed. In those early days, I wondered how I (we) would ever survive… but, incredibly, it has gotten easier. It’s difficult to celebrate much in a train, even if it is AC First, but I’ve baked a chocolate cake to carry along, so it won’t be too bad. Only, with our stuff overflowing from every corner of every piece of luggage, the only way to carry the cake might actually be in our bellies. 🙂

I doubt I’ll be blogging much while we’re away, so come back around the 5th or 6th of October for more.

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Montessori Observation

The twins’ school has this concept of “observation” where the parent(s) can go and sit in on the class for a short while once in a way. I thought it was a great idea. School, especially in these early days, is so much of a black box for the parents. Your kids go in, and some hours later, they come out. What goes on in there, nobody knows. The kids know, but they ain’t talking. Mrini and Tara have enough of a vocabulary and they can talk a dog’s hind legs off, but when it comes to school, they are less than forthcoming. “I played with toys” (or “tawys,” as Tara says) alternates with “I played with Navnit.” Sometimes, they volunteer alarming information like “Diya scolded me”. “Why?” I ask. “Because I cried.” This sounds like the outcome, not the cause, so I ask “why” again. “Because I bite Diya,” is the next attempt.

I think the twins are not very clear on the difference between fact and faction. To any question their answer is just as likely to be true, or completely made-up. Plausible, mind you, but not true. I don’t think they are actually lying right now… I prefer to think that it’s more like they don’t really get the difference between truth and telling stories.

So anyway, since I haven’t heard from their teachers yet that either of them has bitten anyone, I tend to ignore that part of the proceedings. But, apart from this sensational news, they don’t have much to offer. They sit through the drive home in silence, only occasionally speaking to demand to know the entire sequence of 21 songs on their favourite audio CD which has to be playing whenever they are in the car.

So, observation seemed like a good way to find out what they were up to in school. Not that we parents really need to know – as long as they are off my hands, and somebody else is handling them for a while, why do I need to know what, exactly, they’re up to? But, of course, we parents are a nosey, interfering bunch, so of course, even though we want our kids off our hands for a while, we do want to know what, exactly, they’re up to in our absence.

I spoke to the class teachers, and they said that Amit and I could both sit in for a half-hour or so one morning right after school starts. When all four of us got into the car to go to school that morning, they girls were quite happy, but puzzled. We explained that we were going to be with them in school for a while and they looked even more puzzled.

When we finally settled down in their classroom, seated on the floor near them, they both sat down to do their “work” quite self-consciously. The teacher told Amit that they were being on their best behaviour just because we were there to watch.

To be honest, I didn’t watch our girls that much. I was busy watching the other kids. Because the Montessori environment has kids of ages varying between two-and-a-half and six, you get to see what the older kids are up to and what your kids will, hopefully, be able to do, in a couple of years. I saw some of the kids working on spelling activities, another one working on a set of wooden blocks. Most of the kids were focusing on their work, though they also spent time looking around and interacting with their friends. I liked the fact that kids could choose what they wanted to do, and do it at their own pace. I saw one girl tell another that she (the first girl) wanted to do the wooden blocks, once she (the second girl) was done with them. I saw the second girl nod, continue her work, and, after some time, put the pieces back in their box and hand them to the other girl.

At one point, a boy came to the teacher and said he wanted his snack. It was still quite early, just after nine, but the teacher told him to go get his bag and sit at one of the tables in the corner of the room. A few minutes later, the boy was back, saying he didn’t want it after all. But I liked the fact that he was allowed to go and have his snack when he wanted it.

When I had sat in on the class in the early days, when the twins had just joined and all the kids were getting settled in class, it had been a much more chaotic environment. Now, it was generally silent, organized, and not restrictive. The kids all seemed somehow responsible for maintaining their environment. They pulled out chairs and tables, and put them away when they were done with them. Activities were restored to the appropriate places. Mats were rolled up and put back in place. It was good to see that the kids were aware enough and trusted enough to do these things themselves.

When we left, we said bye to both the girls and I told them I’d be back to pick them up as usual. Mrini smiled, waved, and continued to do her work. Tara waved cheerfully enough, but a moment later came out of the class in tears. The teacher asked if I’d like to take them home, but I thought Tara would be fine in a couple of minutes, and Mrini was happy enough, so I decided not to. Later on, Tara told me, “Because baba going that’s why I cried.”

Just when you think they are growing up, you realize how much they are still babies.

Health. Food.

First of all, I’m not going to crib about my diet and talk about how much I love everything that’s sinful, including food. Let’s just take that as a given.

The point is, if there’s one thing in which I don’t want the twins to end up like me, it’s my attitude to food. I want them to grow up to have a balanced and healthy attitude to food. I want them to be unfussy eaters, who will try anything once, will like most things, will have stomachs lined with lead, will thrive on bland, homemade, stale food as much as on oily, spicy, toxic street food, and through it all will achieve a balanced diet with a good proportion of dal, carb, fruit ‘n’ veg, dairy and non-veg.

And, of course, I hope they will always enjoy cakes and ice creams, but will never be cursed with an insatiable sweet tooth.

Is that too much to ask???

While the twins were at home full time, we made sure they got only healthy food. Their milk, curd, butter, and cheese came out of a packet of some kind, as did bread and cornflakes, but just about everything else they ate was fresh. They got fresh fruit and vegetables and enjoyed most of it; and fresh meat and chicken as well. They got no soups or juices out of a packet. They got no chocolates, no sweet except for what I sometimes made at home, no biscuits, no chips, practically no packaged foods at all. I did give them frozen peas, but they never liked them, though they loved fresh peas. Smart kids.

(Of course, I must clarify, to quell those rising eyebrows, that when I say ‘fresh’ food, I mean the ingredients are fresh as opposed to frozen or preserved. The food they get cannot not always be described as fresh, but I do usually impose a 48-hour limit; anything cooked more than 48 hours ago lands up in the trash can. That would be me.)

So right up until they joined ‘big’ school this June, they rarely had access to junk food like biscuits, chips, soft drinks, chocolates, toffees and the like. In playschool, they sometimes got a chocolate, but it wasn’t very often, and, back then, sometimes I just grabbed it from them and distracted them for a few minutes and they’d forget all about it (after shedding a few indignant tears).

Now, of course, it’s a different story. If they get goodies at school, they usually eat them before I get there (smart kids), but if they still have them on hand, it’s not as if I can just take them away, distract the kids and they’ll forget all about them. Oh no!

For one thing, they have my number. They don’t trust me at all when it comes to chocolate – and with good reason; if only they knew how many of the chocolates intended for them have landed up in the dustbin (me)! Now, if I tell them to put their sweets in their bags, they protest loudly, and when they finally comply, they keep a sharp eye on their bags. The whole way home, a small part of their memories are dedicated to the stored chocolate. As soon as we reach home, they start to ransack their bags looking for their chocolate. At which point, I usually take it away from them and keep it on top of the microwave – within eyesight, but, mercifully, still out of their reach. The deal is that if they eat their lunch like good girls (without throwing their food around and generally driving me crazy), then they will get chocolate. They don’t yet know that they shouldn’t have to negotiate for something that’s rightfully theirs… But that day is not far off.

One day Tara was too sleepy to gracefully complete her lunch, so I put her to bed sans chocolate. Mrini, however, said to me assertively, “I don’t want sabzi, I don’t want chicken, I don’t want dahi, I want only chocolate.” So I gave her hers.

Three hours later, Tara woke from her afternoon nap, and, still groggy and rubbing her eyes with both fists, said to me, “Mama, I want my chocolate.”

Well, I gave it to her – with Mrini looking on and saying “Taya, ha-piece-ha-piece,” as sweetly as she could. I told Tara that Mrini had already had hers, but she promptly broke her chocolate in half and gave it to Mrini regardless. It’s absolutely heart-warming to see her do that without any hesitation or prompting… especially considering that Mrini rarely returns the favour.

So distracting them and hoping they’ll forget about it just won’t work any more.

Still, they do get quite a lot of chocolate in school some days. It kills their appetite for lunch, and I doubt it does their teeth any good. And I really don’t want them to develop as much of a sweet tooth as I have. I don’t know whether not getting a lot of sweet at this age actually helps to develop a sweet tooth, or whether being denied it helps to avoid getting a sweet tooth; but it just seems like in this respect less must be better. So whenever I can, I still surreptitiously reduce the quantity of sweet that they actually get. Very sneaky and mean of me, no doubt, but that’s what parenting is all about, isn’t it?

What I really started out writing about though, is, why do all school birthday treats have to be packaged foods? I know that not all parents have time to bake up a storm like I did – and it is a lot of work – but can’t you do something simple and homemade? Or else send fruit? Or something that’s not food?

I’m a great fan of eating out and even of eating packaged food, but for these tiny tots, I still feel that the less packaged foods they get, the better. At least with homemade stuff, you have a better idea of what’s gone in it and how much of what and whether it is likely to be allergenic or not; and also, you have better control over the hygiene conditions. But most importantly, it’s the only way to minimise kids’ exposure to chemicals like preservatives, flavouring agents, and the like. Shouldn’t we be thinking of that for at least a few years?

I know – they’re three years old, I should just let go. We do the best we can at home and I should just let go of what’s beyond my control. And I will. But, when they come home with three or four different bits of chocolate and a commercially made cup-cake each, I just wonder.

Feeling Foolish

Today, after the usual rush to get out of the house on time, I drove the kids to school. I felt very pleased with myself, because I made it in a record 20 minutes. Watch out Schumacher! (Oh, that’s right, he’s retired. Well, whatever.)

Then at the gate, I was turned away by the guard. “Why?” I asked indignantly.

“It’s a holiday for Onam,” he said.

“But I didn’t get any message!” I exclaimed, even more indignantly.

“It’s in the holiday list,” he retorted.

As I walked away, I realized that there was only one other idiotic kid who had turned up at school. The parking lot was empty. The roads were surprisingly peaceful. No wonder I’d made it in record time – everyone else was blissfully asleep! Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!

I felt extremely foolish when I reached home and checked the holiday list, which clearly listed today as a holiday.

The girls were quite puzzled, too. They prefer school, of course, but since they had been shuttled back home, they settled down and demolished the tiffin I had packed for them early morning – fresh, layered parathas with jam. Lucky kids.

Keeping them occupied and happy at home is no longer an easy task. Luckily, I have a good yield of toys garnered at their birthday parties, so I started doling them out with a free hand. It didn’t work – they flung everything in every direction and started fighting with each other and whining to me. The joys of having twins…

They generally do enjoy their birthday gifts, and even tend to favour clothes that they receive as gifts over clothes that I buy them. But one thing which is currently top of their list is the cycles we bought them. They’ve only taken the cycles out four or five times yet, but they’ve already got the hang of it. They know that they have to wear their helmets or they won’t be allowed on the cycles. They know that I’ll carry their cycles down one at a time, and they love to run back upstairs with me for the second trip. They know how to get on, ring the bell, turn, and brake on their cycles. Mrini also knows how to pedal…. but with Tara, it is, as ever, a different story. She only pedals half a turn forwards, half a turn backwards. Despite being shown and told how to do it, she insists on doing it her way. How will this girl ever get anywhere?

I don’t have much to do as long as they are cycling in the common area downstairs, but when they’re ready to cycle to the park nearby is when the fun will start. I can hardly wait.