Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Christmas Spirit

The twins have really gotten into Christmas mode this year. When I went to pick them up from daycare one day, they called me inside very excitedly and showed me the miniature Christmass tree they were engaged in decorating. There were streamers and balloons up, and pictures of Santa Claus. Later on, Tara told me that Santa Claus came to school and gave them chocolate and that Mrini cried. Mrini confirmed that she had cried, but the chocolate story she did not verify, so I’m not sure whether that part was fact or fiction.

On the last day of school before the winter break, there was a Christmas party in school. I’d thought it was only for the tiny tots of the Montessori classes, but when I went to drop the kids off, I saw the entire school was in ‘party’ clothes – that is, not in uniform. The Montessori classes had been decorated in Christmas colours, and the one of th ekids’ three class teachers whom I saw was dressed in a gorgeous rust-red silk churidar-kurta. School had notified us not to send any snacks, so I gathered they would be provided, and later on I saw that the kids had also been presented with jigsaw puzzles and Santa Claus caps that they might have had a hand in the making of. We had also been asked to collect our charges by 10.30 a.m. This might not have been very convenient for us, but for the fact that both Amit and I had a holiday that day. Amit went to pick up the girls and was equally delighted with the party atmosphere.

Such a thing never happened in the schools I was in, back in my days. We were allowed to be in “civvies” – that is, not in uniform – on our birthdays, up to a certain age; and on school-leaving day, the students who were bidding farewell and those who were leaving were supposed to come to school in “formal” attire, which meant that all the girls wore saris (many of them for the first or second times in their lives). Their day started late in the morning and ended late in the afternoon, so the rest of us didn’t get to see them in their finery much. (On a side note, I was quite relieved never to have to go through this ritual, because I didn’t finish school in this school, and the one I did finish in didn’t have any ritual that I can recall.)

Apart from school-leaving day and annual day, which was a very organized and rehearsed affair, the only other occasion on which we might have worn civvies to school was Children’s Day. On that day, I think, we also got a small packet of goodies to munch. But that was only while we were very small – I don’t think we had it all the way up to sweet 16.

As for festivals – I don’t recall ever learning anything about them in school. Whatever we imbibed was from other children around us, not because there was any formal focus on them. I don’t think we ever decorated our classes or did rangoli or had our teachers come especially dressed up in the festive spirit. The main thing we got on festivals was a holiday. The rest was up to our parents. Since I’m not too much into any festival, I think it’s a good thing that the kids’ school is so enthusiastic about them.

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Paradise Lost

I suppose this would not be everyone’s definition of Paradise – and in another context, it would not even be my definition of Paradise, but in the context of someone who’s just returned to work after a two-year stint of doing nothing but managing the house…

See, there’s a lot of work in managing a house. Way more than anyone who hasn’t done it can conceive. It’s
even more if it’s the only thing you’re doing. I don’t know why (and I might well have opportunity to reconsider this statement). But one thing we can all agree on is that housework, like gas, expands to fill all the space/time/energy resources available. It expands infinitely. If you clean, it gets dirty again. If you wash, it gets used. If you cook, it gets eaten (and then requires washing). If you shop, it gets consumed. It’s never ending.

So I realized that it was simply impossible for me to keep a handle on all of that in addition to a full-time job. If I tried, I would spend all my awake-at-home hours doing nothing else. And I suspect that the kids (not to mention the other half) would not take kindly to that. But why blame others? I would not myself take kindly to it.

Enter Shaba-Aunty.

Actually, she can’t enter, because she’s been onstage all along, albeit usually not in the spotlight. I’ve already written quite a bit about how indispensable she has become; now that I’ve gone back to work, she’s more indispensable than ever. Like the elves in the shoe-maker story, she comes in when nobody is around, does all the work, and silently goes away leaving the place neat, clean, and fully functional. In addition to just cleaning the house and washing the breakfast dishes and folding nightclothes and bedclothes that have been flung all over the place in the mad rush to evacuate the house before 8 a.m., she also:
• Puts out the laundry
• Picks up the laundry and folds it up neatly in separate stacks
• Mends the kids’ clothes, which frequently have buttons and things falling off, and also often need to be tightened an inch or two; today I even left her a teddy bear who is in serious need of stitches after various operations carried out by the twins on several parts of his anatomy; in fact, he is in imminent danger of losing an arm and a lot of his intestines (stuffing)
• Irons the kids’ clothes
• Buys veggies and bread and milk and suchlike
• Cooks, when required – and does a better job of it than her sister, the cook
• Baby-sits, when required – and I really like the way she interacts with the kids, she is extremely gentle and patient, but can also remonstrate gently

Yesterday she earned herself some serious brownie points by taking the initiative of buying, apart from those items I’d requested, a bottle of some floor-cleaning potion and scrubbing the dining room floor with it. I really appreciate people who take initiative.

Without her, I really don’t know how I’d keep the household running from day to day, now that it is no longer my primary occupation.

So, in this context, Shaba-Aunty is Paradise. Now comes Part II – Lost.

Despite our best efforts at placing our two jobs and the kids’ daycare all in a 10-minute driving-radius, and despite leaving office really early (5 p.m. is really early in Bangalore; I know people who come in to office at that hour!), we still have to endure a one-and-a-half hour commute from office to home each day. Times four. Actually, for the kids, it is around an hour, sometimes a little more, while for the person picking up the kids it can exceed 90 minutes. We don’t combine our commute – Amit and I drive separate cars to office. It is criminal in a way, considering we go from the same home to the same office complex. But car-pooling wouldn’t work for several reasons. First, we alternate tennis days, so we have different schedules in the morning. Aldo, we can’t always be sure that we can leave office at the same time in the evening.

And, even if we could co-ordinate all that, for both of us to be in the car that drops the kids to school in the morning and again for both of us to be there to pick them up from daycare in the evening is sheer luxury, complete self-indulgence. The person who’s not driving would be better employed doing one of a million other things that need to be done; or even just enjoying half-an-hour of quiet time at home. True there’s much to be said for the environmental benefits of car-pooling, and even more to be said for the social benefits of quality family time spent strapped into your car enduring endless traffic jams together… but it’s clearly not the best solution for us.

Yet the one-and-a-half hour commute, which Amit has been enduring silently for the past two years, suddenly seems too much now that all four of us have to go through it every day. It’s especially hard on the kids, being forced to sit still in the car for one whole hour just when they’ve just woken up from their afternoon nap and are itching to run around and play. They get cranky, and we feel bad for them.

Clearly, the only thing to do is to move to a place closer to our workplace and daycare. So we’ve been looking around for a place to rent and seem to have found something. All going well, we will be moving in January.

Which means… no more Shaba-Aunty.

Of course, we will get someone to cook and someone to clean… but someone like Shaba-Aunty doesn’t come along every day. It could take years to find someone like that and to give them that level of responsibility. So, while we might cut our commute time in half (hopefully), I’m probably going to end up with double my current load of housework. This equation only makes sense when you realize that getting home half an hour earlier in the evening means the kids get half an hour to go to the park and play. Right now, we get home just as it gets dark and the mosquitoes come out in the hundreds, so that’s all but ruled out, which is really a pity. So if they can get some park time and make some friends in the new neighbourhood, then it’s all worthwhile.

Still, it’s going to be hard for me to manage without my Shaba-Aunty. And the kids are going to miss her and her crying baby too. And, of course, though it’s not exactly Paradise, we’ll all miss the comfort and familiarity of a crowded and friendly neighbourhood where all the conveniences are just a short walk away. And we’ll miss our friends. And our favourite home-order eateries. You have to wonder whether it really is worthwhile for the sake of a shorter commute, but it looks like we’ve decided to take the plunge and we will find out the answer to that one soon enough.

On Missing The Bus

Kids really are amazing.

In a conversation some days ago, sup33 mentioned what her daughter’s to-be school principal had said: kids are much more hardy than parents think they are. They have more stamina, more energy, and are more adaptive than we give them credit for. My own kids have proved this to me many times already, yet they still surprise me.

When I was much younger – not a child exactly, but just growing up – I was scared of being left at school. This actually happened once, when one of my parents turned up a little late to pick me up – I must have been 6 or 8, or possibly even 9 years old. But much later, even up to the age of 16 or so, I used to have anxious dreams of being left at school. In those days, I went home by school bus, and I had a constant, though mild, paranoia of missing the bus. My recurring dream on this theme lacked the intensity of a nightmare, but it was definitely a worrying and anxiety-laden dream, and one that persisted for a while even after school itself – or at least the school bus part of school – had come to an end.

We started the twins on the school van ten days ago, just before we left for Pondicherry. I went with them for two days, and left instructions with their teacher, the van driver, and the daycare attendant that from the following day, they would come on their own, unattended.

Then, the weekend intervened.

And we went to Pondicherry.

And by the time we returned and sent the kids to school on Wednesday, something got lost in transit between the school teacher and the van driver and the kids didn’t get on to the bus (or in to the van, in this case).

It was my last day of unemployment, and I had spent the morning getting their lunch ready. I drove to their daycare with the intention of greeting them as they got off the van, to ensure that they reached safely and were not unduly worried about the commute, and also, at the same time, delivering their lunch. I had just about reached the place with a few minutes to spare, when Amit called.

“Where are you?”
“I’m almost there, at their daycare,” I said.
“Ok. You have to go to their school right away.”
Naturally, thoughts of illness, accidents, and other possible calamities flooded into my mind.
“The van didn’t pick them up.”

First I called the van driver. He was unperturbed. He had thought they were starting from tomorrow. In any case, he was already quite far from school and couldn’t possibly go back to pick them up. So I called daycare, updated them, called Amit back, updated him, and set off on the long drive to their school.

I was tense – were they very upset? Were they scared? Lonely? Crying?

I knew that their teachers would not leave them, that they would keep them engaged and do their best to allay their fears, but… Just a few weeks ago, Mrini had been in tears fearing I wasn’t coming to fetch her, and I wasn’t even late that day. And just this morning, Tara had said “don’t go,” and clung to me tearfully, while her teacher tugged her away and assured her that mama would come early today to pick them up. And I hadn’t turned up! What trauma they would be experiencing!

So I drove blindly, stupidly, preoccupied with these thoughts. Narrowly escaping various catastrophes, I reached school at 12.45 to find… two perfectly happy, laughing, playing, children who greeted me with “hey, what happened to the van?” (or words to that effect). Not a word of complaint or a single teardrop in sight.

Huh. So much for all that worrying. Why on earth did I think that my childhood fears, which I had forgotten all about until now, would be their fears? They were in a familiar environment, they had their teachers, their work, their friends. One of the things with Montessori is that older kids – up to 5+ – are in the same class as younger kids (3+). The older kids get to stay back for an extra hour or so, so by the time I reached, the seniors still hadn’t gone home.

And then, of course, there are the two of them. Although that more than doubles their naughtiness and all the mischief they can get up to, it also means that each of them is very rarely totally alone.

I greeted them unconcernedly, as though my turning up was just a special bonus for the day, and we drove to daycare, and they were somewhat late for lunch but none the worse for it – despite the fact that they’d returned from a hectic trip out of town and had an extremely interrupted sleep last night. They both slept in the afternoon (thank goodness!) and were in top form that evening.

One good thing that came out of this entire experience was that something that would doubtless have worried me – the prospect of the twins missing the bus – happened even before it had occurred to me to be worried about it. And once the worst has happened and has been handled, it loses its fear factor. I know now that if they ever miss the bus in future, their teachers will call us, and either of us, wherever we are and whatever we’re doing then, will drop everything and rush to pick them up. And until we get there, they will be in their school, with their teachers and friends, and they will be fine.

Overall, they are just amazing in how adaptable they are. They’ve just been two weeks in daycare, and that’s been interrupted by a change in daycare, and a trip out of town; but they’ve settled down with a minimum of fuss and are absolutely cheerful and positive about the whole thing. Tara had taken to fussing a bit when we dropped her off at school in the morning, but today she told me with great determination that she was going to go “quickly” into class, and she did – she waved to me and went off smiling!

I still have twinges of guilt at how much time I’m going to be spending away from them… but it’s worse when they make it so easy for you.

Day Care: Do They Care?

So we had decided on this daycare for the kids. You know the one – big, fancy, expensive, dead convenient, being in the same campus as both our offices… We bought ourselves a three-day trial period. Well, I still have only a verbal offer and the entry load at this daycare was coming to something over 80 k for the twins, so a trial period definitely makes sense, right?

Right.

The kids clearly liked the place. It’s large, well set up, clean, has nice child-sized toilets (clean) and places to climb and things to jump off of. Oh and there were these toy car things they could drive that they fell in love with. They didn’t talk to anybody much there, but as long as I was giving them lunch and they could play with the toy cars or climb and jump off things, they were ok.

Amit and I weren’t so easily impressed. Though the place appeared very professional and everything, I felt it was run like a factory. There was nothing really bad about it (apart from the food; I’ll come to that later) but there were small, niggling things that weren’t quite right. One or two of the attendants didn’t seem to be the kind cut out to be working with little children. One attendant had her own child there and this skewed things. She could not give her daughter sufficient attention, but neither could she treat her like just another child there.

There was a general one-size-fits-all kind of approach there that I felt was not exactly suited for kids of this age. One day, they twins were all happy and excited and showed no signs of wanting to sleep after lunch. The attendant’s response? “Oh no, they have to sleep, or they will disturb all the other kids here.”

I mean, yeah, she has a point, but shouldn’t there be some other solution? Like giving them something to do, or taking them to another area where they can play?

I heard a couple of the other attendants threatening the kids with “if you don’t fall asleep right now, spider will come.” If there’s one thing I want to protect my kids from, it’s from this kind of pointless threatening and fear-phobia approach.

The kids were all put to sleep on mattresses spread out on the ground. For a place as large (and expensive) as this one, you’d think they’d have sufficient mattresses. They didn’t – the kids were crammed together about five on a mattress. They could hardly move.

And then there’s the food. These folks actually discouraged us from sending food for the kids because (one size fits all) they provide food. We saw the menu, and I wasn’t impressed. Kids need proper meals – fruit, veggies, dahi (curd/yoghurt), in addition to the staple dal-rice. They need fibre in their cereal – unpolished rice or whole wheat, not just white rice. Still, I thought, maybe they do actually give all that on the side, they just mention the main dish on the menu. After all, they can’t be giving only rice and sambhar, or only paratha and curd. Our girls are used to five-course lunches. We even give them non-veg – or at least egg – once or twice a week. But no, they said, you can’t send any non-veg. Ok, I thought, let’s see what their food looks like. Maybe it looks really healthy, with lots of veggies hidden in the sambhar or in the raita.

No such luck. The food on the plate looked a lot worse than it looked on the menu. Pulao and raita (rice with mixed veggies and curd with raw veggies like onion) looked to me like white rice, plain (thin) curd, and a few green peas tossed in for colour. Sambhar-rice looked like rice with thin, colourless dal.

What’s worse, on our first day there, they gave the same food for lunch and for the tea-time snack! On our second day there, lunch was the same as on the first day. There was a five-year-old at our table who commented on it… so at least we know that they don’t actually usually give the same food every blessed day. But hullo! How about adding some nutrition to this food? These guys are supposed to be in the child care business.

Afternoon snack was also horrifying. One day it was biscuits, another day it was rice kheer (rice pudding). Refined sugar, polished cereal. How about a little fruit? Or at least good old bread-n-jam, which is at least better than biscuit, especially if you make a real effort and get wheat bread.

I had thought that since they provide food, I could just send the fruit and veggies to supplement, but after seeing what their food looked like, I realized I just couldn’t.

So anyway, I packed them lunch every day. Only, the food is cooked the evening before, refrigerated overnight, and packed when I go to pick them up from school around 11.15 a.m. So it’s still quite cold when they are ready to eat around 1 p.m. So, heat it, right? We have this useful little box called a microwave, which is killing the environment but we all use it just the same, right?

On the second day at lunch time, their attendant told me very firmly that, sorry to say, we need the microwave to heat the food for the infants. So could you please send their food at a ready-to-eat temperature? Thank you very much.

When you’re giving a place 80 grand, you’d think the least they could do is to buy a second microwave, right? Yeah, right.

When I told Amit this, he was disgusted. It was Friday afternoon by this time, so we spent the weekend and Monday morning phoning around, and on Monday afternoon I dropped the kids at this daycare, then drove off to inspect another one nearby. It was a much smaller affair, homely – not actually a home, though it was based out of what was originally intended as a house – far from perfect in terms of the infrastructure, but somehow cosy and warm. Because it was a house in design, there was a small outdoors area with a small sandpit; the big, plush daycare had no outdoor area at all, so this was better than nothing. The toilets were adult sized, fitted with child seats. The dining table was in the kitchen. There was a fridge and a microwave, and the woman in charge had no reservations about using either. There were about ten kids, and three caregivers. They didn’t provide food, for which, after our first experience, I was thankful, and they had no problem with us sending non-veg for the kids. The woman also assured me that I needn’t send any fruit as she always had fruit available for the kids. This, of course, put this place way up there at the top of the list as far as I was concerned.

So today I dropped the kids off at this new place and sweated it out in the car outside all afternoon. The woman was very keen that I not hang around for long, as she said it made it more difficult for kids to get settled in. Tara was somewhat upset when I left, but by all accounts she quickly settled down, ate lunch, and proceeded to play the entire afternoon. This was not a problem – the sleeping kids slept in another room with the door closed and were not disturbed. When I went back in some time around 4.30, she was completely happy and at-home there, and didn’t bother too much about me.

So, all in all, this place seems more convincing than the other. Amit and I both really liked the person in charge (while we found it difficult to like any of the women at the first place). It is a ten minute drive away from our office complex, unfortunately, but perhaps that is a small price to pay?

And there is a smaller price to pay in a very literal sense as well – this place costs less than half of the other on a monthly basis, and has none of the entry barriers that amount to 80 k in the other place. So it makes sense to go with it for a while and see if it works, don’t you think? After all, the place with only one microwave and plenty of attitude isn’t going anywhere and we can always go back there later on if we wish.

The kids have put up a sterling performance in all this. They’ve been almost unmitigatedly cheerful and easy-going. Despite being left alone this afternoon at this new place (and Tara being a little upset by it) they were all ready to go back to the first place at the end of the afternoon, just so they could play with some of the toys over there!

I still feel a little selfish for wanting to go back to work… but I think that eventually the girls will begin to love day care (as they already love school) and that it will do them no harm in the long run. Or at least that’s what I want to believe right now. I just hope we’re doing the right thing and choosing the right daycare. It is so hard to trust our little girls to somebody else’s care.