Monthly Archives: April 2010

Shadows and Shampoo

That’s what’s been giving the twins tons of giggles in recent days.

I wash their hair on Sunday morning – so late in the morning that it amounts to afternoon, but that’s only because I’m so lazy on Sunday. (And every other day…) Some days I oil it before washing, but some days I’m too lazy even for that. Yesterday was one of those too-lazy days, so it was just a straight shampoo.

I applied the shampoo on Mrini first, and both of them were hopping with excitement. “Make a pony tail,” said Mrini. They’ve been agreeable to wearing two pony tails to day care the last week or so, but pony tail during the bath was a long-standing source of entertainment. I pulled all her hair back and it stood on top of her head in a tall peak. I squeezed the shampoo off her hair and off my hands onto the bathroom floor, and they went berserk stamping in it and picking it up in their hands. When I did Tara’s hair, I squeezed the shampoo from my hands directly into theirs and they were in peals of giggles that could be heard half a mile away.

Their other fascination is their shadow. We now routinely have a power cut between 7 and 8 p.m., which is highly frustrating since it is the quality family time we spend together on weekdays. What can you do, except make the best of a bad scene? We bring out the candles and get live entertainment by getting Mrini and Tara sing songs to us until they exhaust their repertoire – which, depending on their mood, can take a good half-hour. In one of these sessions, they discovered their shadows on the facing wall. With the candle behind them and no other light in the room, their shadows were huge and sharp and clear. They were delighted. First they danced and were thrilled to see their shadow dance with them. Then I had their shadows by putting my leg inbetween the candle and the kids, and they were puzzled by that. Then they discovered that they could go up to the wall and touch their shadow, but that doing so would make the shadow become so small it was just lifesize; and that if they came back, away from the wall, their shadow would grow much bigger.

As adults, a power cut is a frustration, an annoyance, an impedance in our rushed and achieving lifestyles. It is such a delight to see it through the kids – an opportunity to learn, explore, and – most importantly – have lots and lots of fun.

Jamghat Skills

Jamghat is a word that, loosely translated, means a thick, unruly crowd, or a state of chaos. It is something I’d go quite far out of my way to avoid.

Right behind our home is a small park. In the corner of this park closest to our home, a few swings and some slides have recently been erected. As with swings anywhere, these are always the centre of attention for all the neighbourhood kids. At any time of day, sound from the swings float into our kitchen, and at peak hours it’s a veritable cacophony.

I’ve largely avoided taking the kids to these swings, just because they are always so incredibly crowded in the evening hours. But last weekend the kids decided to curtail their afternoon nap at 4 p.m. I watched the tail end of Snowwhite with them, but they were so scared of the wicked queen, that they practically begged me to turn it off. So at 5, while the sun was still high and the heat palpable, we went to the swings. They were already crowded. Tara, who was a little under the weather, stayed by my side, but Mrini, somewhat to my surprise, gamely waded into the melee. It took a couple of minutes, but she eventually managed to get to one of the slides, slide down, and wade right back into the queue-less mess again. After she’d been at it for some time, Tara left my side and went to join in, too. Mrini took her by the hand and practically led her up and down the slide. Then they both were quite at ease in the thick of things.

At the risk of sounding elitist, biased, snobbish and a whole lot of other nasty things, I have to say that this mob consisted mostly of kids from the lowest strata of society. These were kids who wore torn clothes, had no footwear, rarely bathed and never combed their hair. Some of them were seven or eight years old. Their idea of asking was to push. Vigorously. Their idea of a queue was also much the same. Big kids yanked small kids vertically upwards by one arm to put them on a slide ahead of the rest of the mob. At the very mouth of the slide, a squirming mass of about 20 kids was squashed into a space meant – at most – for two.

And into this jamghat went my two little girls. They were completely unfazed by the utter lawlessness of the situation. Big kids pushed roughly past them, and they didn’t blink. They stood calmly wherever they wanted to and went whenever they wanted to. Somebody grabbed Tara from behind and dumped her on the slide, none too gently. She went down with complete composure, without the slightest expression of alarm or disgust or even indignation.

I could hardly believe my eyes! And as great as my disbelief was my sense of pride. Wow! Did my girls have coolth or what! And where on earth did they get that, considering I’m hardly a role model for it. It must be school. Or daycare. Or maybe it’s just who they are, for the moment.

But still… Like, wow!

Toilet Training – The Final Frontier

We tackled toilet training shortly before the twins’ second birthday. By the time they turned two, they were mostly done – though accidents continued to happen sporadically for some months.

When they turned three, Mrini suddenly decided she was night-time toilet trained too. She took to waking up when she wanted to go to the bathroom and in just one week, she was out of diapers and there was no looking back. There were only two accidents in that first week and there haven’t been any since. Apart from the occasional visit to the toilet, she usually sleeps through the night and is in no hurry to use the toilet even when she wakes up.

Tara, on the other hand, was occasionally (and not so very occasionally either) wetting her bed during her afternoon nap till as recently as a month or so ago. So of course she was still in diapers at night. I had tried to take the diaper off a couple of times, but I’d never really been convinced that she was ready. One time I kept her off diapers for a week. She wet the bed five times… twice in the same night on one occasion. The two nights she didn’t wet the bed was only because I woke her up and plonked her on the toilet twice during the night. So, apparently, I got lucky and “caught it”. But clearly, she was not ready – so after one week, she was back on diapers and we all slept easy.

Lazy as I am, and distasteful as it is to have to wake up in the middle of the night to a wet and wailing child and sodden and stinky sheets, I decided I was in no hurry to get Tara out of her nighttime diaper. I’m sure I earned a lot of scorn from all those who observed this “big” girl still being put in a diaper at night, but who cares? Night time bladder control had come so easily and painlessly to Mrini, I was just going to wait patiently till Tara reached that stage, even if it took her some years to do so. I am not the sort to brag about how soon my kids acquired this skill or that – you know, the “I had my daughters completely toilet trained at the age of two-and-a-half months” type. I learnt to walk when I was 20 months old. I remember still sucking my thumb when I must have been at least five. I learnt to read so late that my parents thought I was dyslexic (and perhaps I was) – so what? The fact remains that, despite being behind in so many major developmental milestones, I still grew up. I did eventually learn to walk, I did learn other ways of coping with stress (chocolate!) and I not only learnt to read, I made up for lost time – and then some!

I have also wholeheartedly adopted the philosophy of letting my daughters dictate as much of their lives as they reasonably can. They obviously don’t have a choice about sitting in a car seat, brushing their teeth, or going to school etc; but they are absolutely free to choose what clothes to wear, how much to eat at mealtimes… and whether or not they are ready to stay dry at night, or try to.

Recently the weather has been really hot. Naturally, Tara began to wake up with a dry diaper – even with the fan running, a lot of water was lost by sweating. I did ask her a few times if she’d like to skip her diaper, but she really didn’t want to. Then suddenly one day, she said she didn’t want her diaper. It wasn’t much of a risk, with the hot weather and the long “dry run” so I was only too happy to let her sleep diaperr-less. After that, she really wanted the diaper only one day and the rest of the nights has been happy to go to sleep without it. And there have been no accidents.

Unfairly or otherwise, I’m still holding my breath, figuratively speaking. I feel that it’s only a matter of time before the weather turns cooler and she stops sweating it out. I’m not convinced that she has really acquired the ability to wake up when she needs to go to the bathroom; it’s just that it is too hot and she can go longer periods with needing to. So when we went to Pondicherry two weeks ago, reluctantly and against my own better judgement, I put her back in night-time diapers. Pondicherry was even hotter than Bangalore, but the room was air-conditioned. The change in temperature could have unexpected results on her bladder control ability. And I really didn’t have the wherewithal to cope with an accident of that sort – and with all four of us in one bed at that!

The diaper, it turned out, was redundant on both nights.

What’s more, just a couple of nights later, she woke me up in the middle of the night saying she wanted to go to the bathroom. So maybe I’m wrong – maybe she has, at last, learnt how to wake herself up when she needs to go. Maybe, just maybe, we don’t need to buy any more diapers. And maybe, just maybe, I could take a chance on keeping her diaper-less even on our next trip to Pondicherry.

Of course, that’s just asking for trouble, I know. Murphy’s Law never fails. But sometimes you just have to take a chance, right?

So I did. Just to ensure I wouldn’t change my mind on the spot, I didn’t even carry a couple of diapers along. And guess what?

She was fine.

I can stop blaming it on the weather now and face the facts. I still don’t know if this little baby of mine has acquired the ability to wake herself up when she has to go to the bathroom, but she does appear to have acquired pretty impressive bladder capacity. Maybe, just maybe, when the weather does get cooler, we still won’t have any accidents. At any rate, diaper days (and nights) it seems are finally, finally over.

The Statistics Are Wrong!

I always feel terribly guilty for subjecting the kids to long drives in the car. Being cooped up in the car seat is not much fun. If I give them any toys, they fling them down in the first five minutes and spend the rest of the drive demanding that we retrieve them. If I give them books, they fight over them and begin to shred them after about ten minutes. So I don’t give them anything. Then they shred their car seats, chew the straps, and suck their thumbs – for all of which, they receive severe scoldings and threats of dire consequences.

So what else can they do? They can talk.

And when I say they can talk, I mean, they really, really can talk!

I’m no laggard at talking myself, and most of the time I quite enjoy talking to the twins, but when you have seven hours to spend in a car and nothing else to do? It does wear you down, just a little. So once we’d done a fair bit of conversation and run through our current selection of Billy Joel songs, I needed something to engage their attention and – how can I say this? – just keep them quiet for a bit. Following a suggestion from Sadia, I’d hunted online and downloaded (bought, I mean) Peter and the Wolf before we started the long drive to Pondicherry last week. So in all innocence, I turned it on. It was the first time the girls had heard anything like it. They were entranced… but… if I’d thought it would shut them up, I soon discovered exactly how wrong I could be.

Mama, what’s that?
Is that the fox?
Where’s the fox?
Who is Peter?
Is that a crow?
What did the duck say?
Who is grandpa?
Was that the fox?
What did Peter do?
Where’s the birdie?
How did he tie up the fox?

On and on and on they went – scarcely stopping to draw a breath. How they could listen and talk at the same time, I really don’t know. But I didn’t have answers to most of their questions because I couldn’t hear the blessed story (and I haven’t ever heard it before either). The only thing I kept saying, again and again, was: It’s not a fox, it’s a wolf. But they had already made up their minds – this was the story of Peter and the Fox… and after a while they introduced a rabbit into the storyline as well (which I didn’t hear mention of in the original version).

“I read on Sadia’s blog recently that statistics show that four-year-olds ask 400 questions a day,” I muttered to Amit while I tried to catch my breath.
“The statistics are wrong,” said Amit grimly. “They ask a thousand questions a day!”

Gingee

Every time we drive to Pondicherry – which, as you all know, is often – we pass by Gingee Fort. It’s an old, thick wall that runs up to the road on both sides, and a small collection of ruins atop three small, abrupt hills that stand guard over the highway.

When we drove to Pondicherry for the (non)hearing last week, we planned to stop at Gingee on the way back. It was a good idea – after all, this would be the “last time” we went to Pondicherry; we’d be returning full of excitement and a sigh of relief; and we could at least make a small outing of the long weekend we would otherwise be wasting.

As we all know – in great detail – things didn’t turn out quite the way we’d expected and we were returning to Bangalore with all the weight of the mountain of pending documentation to be collected. Our mood was far from jubilant, excited or even relieved. I was inclined to drop Gingee right off the agenda.

And yet… next time would be bang in the midde of the week and that trip promised to be quite a bit more hectic than usual. And who knows… it might even turn out to be the actual “last time” – for real. “Let’s go, anyway,” said Amit. “At least for a short time.”

So when we came to the old wall, halfway between Tindivanam and Thiruvannamalai, we looked for a path to turn off on to. My very cursory research had indicated that the hilltop we wanted to visit would be on the left, but the only path we saw was on our right. We turned off and parked. A long flight of stone steps showed the way to the top. We stepped out of the air-conditioned car and reeled back as the heat assaulted us in no uncertain terms. It was only 10 a.m. Ahead of us, a light-skinned foreigner stepped out of his car and squinted up at the steps, grasping an ice-cold bottle of water for moral support. “One hour,” I heard him ask the taxi driver in a weak voice. A moment later, he was back in his seat and his car was heading back to the highway. Following him pronto seemed like the sensible thing to do.

So we sat down on the old wall and traded our city shoes for a good pair of hiking shoes. We filled a knapsack with water, bread and jam, and more water, and Amit shouldered the camera. And we set off to climb the hot, steep, jumbled, stone steps.

First, we had to buy tickets. Yes, there was a ticket booth here, in the middle of nowhere, and the ticket collector tried his best to charge us foreigner rates. I had to test out my rudimentary Kannada on him to persuade him that we were, in fact, Indian.

If I’d thought that the climb might be too much for the girls, in this heat, I’d have been completely and utterly wrong. They walked up it without stopping, without gasping, without holding hands (well, Tara did; Mrini held Amit’s hand quite firmly), and without any sort of fussing. They were more hardy and willing than I was.

And yet… despite everything, the magic of the place had me in its grasp in a few moments. All of a sudden, I remembered why I had ever wanted to study Archaeology. All of a sudden, I remembered the person I used to be. All of a sudden, time slowed down, and I almost forgot about the documents, the court case, the sweltering heat…

The steps probably took us about 20-25 minutes. At the top were various buildings offering some welcome shade, and nothing much else. The ASI board at the bottom mentioned granaries, wells for oil and ghee, and a temple or two, mostly built around 1200 AD. All of these I saw, clustered fairly close together. It seemed like an incongrous place to store grain, oil, and ghee. Who would want to come all this way up to deposit or extract them? It didn’t seem as if there were any residences here at the top.

I would have loved to lose myself in the place for half a day or so, but reality didn’t quite take a back seat and in a couple of hours we were back in the car and back on the road again. We did pass by a road that looked as though it would lead to the other hilltop, where the other parts of this fort could be seen, but by then there really was no time. This entire expedition would have to be planned for another time. The way things were going, we’d still have several “last time” opportunities to take advantage of.

…And Now This

As if we didn’t have enough on our plates already, with this second trip to Pondicherry coming up and all the paperwork it requires…

On Saturday afternoon, Tara had a mild fever. We put it down to general tiredness and/or a passing viral. It wasn’t much, and she wasn’t too put out by it, so we didn’t worry about it much.

On Sunday, she skipped lunch altogether. There was a fruit and nut cake (made by yours truly), but she skipped that too. Hmmmmm…

In the evening, she wanted cake, so we gave her some. As soon as the first bite entered her mouth, she put it down, drank a gulp of water, and practically ran away from the room. That was really strange!

That night, she refused to let me brush her teeth. I looked in her mouth and saw a small blister on the inside of her lip. Okkkaaayyyy… we skipped the brushing. Half an hour later she was screaming blue murder. Holy cow, her mouth was full of blisters! Amit called the doctor, who recommended a gel called Zytee. He got off the phone and headed out the door to get some, but before he could close the door behind him, I saw something that made my eyes pop. Her hand was erupting with blisters!

I called him back with a note of panic in my voice, which threw Mrini’s composure and sisterly solicitude to the wind. (She had been very solicitous till this point, offering Tara water, offering to hold her, and patting her on the back!)

It looked like a histamine reaction to me, specially given the rapidity with which the blisters were appearing. Was it a reaction to the nuts in the cake? Was it related to the fever? And what was that funny-looking blister thing on her bum?

Amit called the doctor nearest our home. He was away from home (and clinic) and would available at 9.30 – more than an hour away. Tara was very uncomfortable, but the blisters had stopped popping up, so we decided to wait. By the time 9.30 came, she was uncomfortably asleep, lying on her back because it hurt to put her cheek on the pillow. Amit took her to the doctor and was soon back with a diagnosis: hand, foot and mouth disease.

It was a relief to know that it wasn’t a nut allergy – that is a lifelong problem, and a big one – but… hand, foot, and mouth disease? If it hadn’t been for Sadia’s blog several months ago, it would have been something I’d never even heard of. Apparently it’s a fairly common viral, which only affects small kids. As with all virals, it is transmitted by coughing, sneezing and so on, and as with all virals, you can only administer symptomatic treatment and wait for it to run its course. At least it was nothing serious.

Still, it’s terrible to watch your child suffer. Tara slept through the night and was quite happy in the morning, until she tried to eat breakfast. Then she discovered that it still hurt to eat. I put the gel all over her mouth, but it didn’t work. Even swallowing water was difficult. The only thing she could eat or drink was milk. At lunch time she was desperately hungry, but everything she tried she rejected after a bite. Poor thing – she drank some milk and went to bed hungry.

Next will be Mrini’s turn. It’s impossible to keep them from infecting each other, especially when these virals are so vicious – people become contagious before they are symptomatic, which means, you have already spread the disease to others before you even knew you were sick. Nasty, no?

So next will be Mrini’s turn, no doubt.

And tomorrow we have to go to Pondicherry.