I’m not blogging over here. I’m blogging over here. Yes, it’s much more than you would ever want to know about me… but in this specific instance, more is better! Or that’s what I think, anyway. Go check it out.
I was born plump and nothing’s really changed in that department since then. But, because I was plump, and because I was more inclined as a child to bury myself in a book than to busy myself with sports, I was largely terrible at all sorts of games. When the class was told to split up into two teams and captains were chosen and the captains took turns to pick the people they wanted on their teams, I was the last man standing, the one nobody wanted. When you’re ten years old, plump, shy, and wearing glasses, that sucks.
Maybe one of the reasons I never wanted to have a party on my birthday as a child was just that: there would be running games and I would be horribly embarrassed. One year, we did have a party on my birthday. We were in the house in Chandigarh, the big house with the big garden described in this old post. I have photographs of that party, and I’m wearing a thick new jacket my parents had gifted me, which I loved. We played Pass the Parcel, which was ok because you didn’t have to run. Then we played Catch, followed by Vish-Amrit. That was such an ordeal that I can still recall it distinctly.
I don’t know whether I couldn’t run because I was plump, or whether it was more complicated than that. Maybe, just maybe, I couldn’t run because I thought I was fat and everybody laughed at me because I couldn’t run. Maybe it would have been different if I hadn’t thought I was fat (even though I was). But kids – even eight-nine year old kids – are complicated and so for some simple and complicated reasons, I couldn’t run.
When I say I “couldn’t” run, I mean, I tried, of course. My legs moved as fast as they could, but the rest of my body didn’t get anywhere. Sometimes we played the version of catch where the den hopped one-legged, while everyone else ran around on both legs. This was the most humiliating thing ever, because the one-legged den would catch me without even making the slightest effort; and then it would be my turn to be den and everyone would get bored waiting for me to catch someone. Sometimes, they took pity on me and just let me give up. Sometimes they let me chase on both legs – but even then, someone would have to get bored and let themselves be caught or I’d just never catch anyone. The girls who were really fast even on one leg would scorn catching me altogether, and would take pride in going after the faster kids. It was horrible.
So of course I didn’t want to be subject to this humiliation, especially not on my birthday!
The only sport I was ever any good at in school was throwball, which didn’t involve any running. But that only lasted as long as I remained one of the taller girls in class. When everyone else overtook me in height, suddenly I wasn’t so popular on the throwball team anymore. But by then I’d found my niche, something I really was good at and which even most of the brainy boys looked up to me (and resented me) for: Maths.
The most excruciating years for being plump and slow, then, were from about 8 till about 15. By then, I managed to lose some of the puppy fat (though, in recent years, it has come bouncing back) and in school the emphasis shifted from being fast to being “fast”. And “fast” was something I discovered even I could be, glasses notwithstanding. So it mattered less and less how terrible I was at sports.
The “plump-and-lazy” gene I was born with has never gone into remission. Though I’ve enjoyed playing tennis the past five years, and before that have periodically enjoyed long, brisk walks, trekking, swimming, and badminton, I still consider myself essentially a plump-and-lazy person. But it has never bothered me… till now.
The twins have recently started talking about “running race”, which, apparently, is all they do in daycare. They’ve also started doing “fighting”. I don’t know if they specifically mentioned “catch” or whether the idea floated up on its own, but one evening Amit set both of them to work catching him. He is of course an alpha athlete and even dodging around furniture and electronics in the small, cluttered living room, the girls hadn’t a prayer of catching him, not even two-against-one. I tried teaching them strategy by getting Mrini to turn in her tracks at crucial moments, instead of both of them running around in circles behind him, but even so, he was much too fast and agile for them.
“Your turn,” said Amit, grinning at me.
Well, when he did it, it looked easy, so I agreed. I didn’t last thirty seconds! I tried again and again, and though I did get a little better at it, I still didn’t last beyond a minute or two. After a bit, Mrini took pity on me and retired from the game, leaving Tara and me one-on-one. By this time, Tara was really good at it. I stood behind one chair and she stood in front of it, bouncing from side to side like a Kabbadi player. She swung her arms and jiggled her body for comic effect, so that I almost died laughing, but she bounced in a professional manner all the same, pinning me to my corner behind the chair. Every time I made a run for it, she caught me right away. I was so proud of both of them – they would never have to struggle the way I did when kids around them wanted to play running games.
It was hysterically good fun and by the end of half an hour, we were all tired and sweaty. But though I laughed and enjoyed just as much as everyone else did, a slight tinge of that old sense of humiliation came back to haunt me. I could hardly believe it – despite the trekking, the tennis, the numerous futile attempts at dieting, was I, at 36, so plump-and-lazy that even a four-year-old girl could catch me in thirty seconds? What was even worse was the next thought: So many years, and nothing’s changed. I still can’t run and I’m still ashamed of it.
So if you read my previous post, you know that the party I never intended to have, made itself happen on Wednesday, the day of the kids’ birthday. I suppose it’s only appropriate that the party that was supposed to happen on Saturday fizzled out.
Actually, I think we all ran out of steam ourselves by the time Saturday dawned. The kids were pleased in a puzzled way that they should be having another party, when their birthday was clearly already over. Amit and I were feeling kind of lazy about getting the party infrastructure going, so it was 12.45 before Amit left home, ostensibly to shop for party essentials, but in reality, to run various errands such as going to the bank, the post-office, and doing the weekly grocery shopping. Meanwhile I got the cakes done without much effort, and the kids helped me to beat up a delicious mayonnaise for sandwiches.
I gave the kids lunch and packed them off for their afternoon nap, waiting for Amit to return so that we could have lunch together. He returned around 3.30, by which time, hunger pangs had got the better of me. But, as he sat down for lunch, I had to dash out. He had refused point blank to pick up return gifts and he had also most unhelpfully forgotten to bring potatoes for the potato cutlets we were supposed to be serving.
By this time, one family had taken a rain check (though it hadn’t rained yet); another emailed to say he was out of town today, but his family would come, wasn’t the party tomorrow; and a third had already informed me a couple of days earlier that they would be unable to make it due to having visitors over that very day. So while we rushed around boiling potatoes and assembling sandwiches, our guest list disintegrated from five families with seven kids, down to two families with only two kids.
In the way that these things usually turn out, this was good. We had S&S and V&V over, and we fried up a ton of french fries. The potato cutlets were disastrous and the sandwiches were roundly ignored. Cake was cut and eaten only after one round of vodka and orange juice had been downed. We sang the birthday song, but nobody took photographs, far less a video. The kids ran amok, which was as it should be too. Around 9.30, we ordered in biryani and even Mrini managed to stay up till almost 11 as ten of us crowded around our small 4-seater dining table and dug in with gusto.
In other words, it wasn’t a birthday party, but it was a real fun party. Even the kids slept until 8.30 the next morning!
And now they are four.
When I woke the kids up in the morning and told them it was their birthday and there were gifts for them on the dining table, they jumped out of bed so fast I couldn’t believe my eyes! They ripped their gifts open with an abandon you only see in kids their age. Then they fought over which books were whose. Meanwhile, Amit and I fought over who was going to drop them to school, and of course in the end we both went and we were horribly late getting to office, which was all my fault because I didn’t want to rush and hurry on their birthday (and it had nothing whatsoever to do with my better half snuggling up in the sheets until practically 6.45!)
They looked absolutely charming in their new frocks. The great benefit of letting them dress in tattered old jeans and T-shirts all the time is that when they do wear frocks, they are practically unrecognisable. At school, Mrini was uncharacteristically (but expectedly) shy entering class with her bag of cookies. Their teacher very sweetly asked us if we wanted to be present when they sang for the girls, at 10.30. Regretfully, we said no – we couldn’t possibly leave school for office at 8.30 and be back at 10.30! But at 12.30 I was waiting for them at daycare with another bag of cookies each.
I went to pick them up around 4.30 that afternoon and found them gorging on cake! Their daycare had not only organised a cake for them, but had also bought them some gifts! Wow – that was so sweet of them! I waited for them to finish eating, then I waited for them to finish ripping open their gifts, amid much prompting and interest from the other kids. At last I tore them away from daycare and it was close to 5.
Disaster! The cook had told me sternly that I needed to be home by 5.30 if I expected her to make channa, mattar-paneer, and puris for dinner. And home was a good half-hour drive away, interrupted by stops to pick up birthday cake, candles, and return gifts.
Not that we were going to have a party, oh no! The party would be on Saturday. Who’s going to organise a party on a weekday? Not me! And besides, how can we expect people to trudge all the way across town on a weekday evening? So on the day of their birthday we planned only to cut a cake and have a nice dinner. S&S said they would join us, and S&P said they would too. Then I invited Chris as well, and the kids invited Chris’ nephew Tim, and that of course meant that Chris’ niece Linda was invited too. And of course, all these people stay in various far-flung areas of town, but that didn’t stop them from making the long, tiring drive to our place in the middle of the week.
Meanwhile, I managed to scrape together return gifts for all the kids because, even if I thought this was not a party, kids who brought gifts and sang the birthday song and ate cake expected return gifts when they were leaving. It turned out that such kids also expected balloons, but in this they were to be disappointed. Balloons, joker caps, masks, paper plates, streamers, and all that jazz was for Saturday – I certainly didn’t have time to organise all that on a weekday. As it is, I got home a scant ten minutes before the first guests arrived, so the first guests were handed the task of wrapping the return gifts! At least I had managed to procure a few bottles of bubbles, which kept the kids busy while the return gifts were being wrapped. By the time the other guests arrived, Amit was home, the cooking was underway, the kids had been changed into their party clothes, and things were almost under control.
There were the usual hitches and delays in cutting the cake. Everyone spent a good 15 minutes hunting for candles, which both Amit and I had bought. Mine were easily found, of course (me being so organized and all…) but Amit’s had gone missing and a massive search and rescue operation was launched because he was adamant that those candles and no other would be used. At last they were found (I had thrown the bag with paper plates into the store room without inspecting the contents too closely) … and then we had to find a fresh battery for the camera. Two cakes had been lying on the table, the focus of attention of several kids at all times, and had managed to survive all the delays largely unscathed. Mrini managed to lick every part of the knife that was to be used for cutting the cake, without actually damaging her cake in the process.
Finally the candles were found and lit and blown out and lit and blown out again (because the photographer – Amit – wasn’t ready) and the song was sung and the cake was cut and eaten. From there, the evening proceeded on plan as dinner was served, followed by ice cream and more cake. The kids all managed to settle down and play together in the living room, leaving the parents to eat in some kind of peace. No disasters occurred, no grievous bodily harm was done, no lasting enmities were formed, and none of the food and drink was spilt or went short.
By the end of the day, as I cleared up the storm and tried to restore order to the house, I realized something. Regardless of what I might have thought or planned… with just four kids on the guest list and no balloons or streamers… and despite it being a school night… we’d just had a birthday party!
That’s what my memory is like.
See, there are simple things, like putting rice on the stove. I’m guaranteed to forget that it’s there, so it inevitably burns. Sometimes it doesn’t though – that’s when I’ve forgotten to actually turn on the stove.
There are halfway amusing things, like telling someone I like their shirt only to have them tell me that I’ve complimented them on it on at least three separate occasions in the past.
There are embarrassing things, like forgetting ALL DAY LONG that it’s a colleague’s birthday even when she has expressly told you just the day before that it’s her birthday tomorrow.
There are crucial things, like forgetting to pick up a cheque that was delivered to your office while you were out of town. A cheque with a lot of zeroes on it. And forgetting to pay a phone bill, resulting in our phone connection being cut! (Thank god for cellphones. Also, thank god it wasn’t our electricity bill!)
There are things that get me into big time trouble. Like, we engaged a new car-cleaning chappie (CCC for short). After a few days, it emerged that this CCC manually opens the wing mirrors of the cars to clean them. Amit’s car, Honda Civic, has a power button for opening and closing the wing mirrors and Amit doesn’t want anyone messing with it. So when the CCC rang the bell one morning, he sternly told me to instruct the chappie not to open or close the wing mirrors on his car. To do so, I had to open one door, run down a flight of stairs, open another door and the open a grille gate. I also had to remember to take the garage key with me on my flight downstairs, and to take the key to open the padlock on the grille gate. Obviously, after doing all these things, expecting me to pass on a message I had received a full 120 seconds earlier is just expecting way too much of me.
Did I get into trouble for that!
So obviously, I’m not a textbook mom. I’ve already blogged about the time I forgot to send the girls’ mid-morning snack with them when they went to school. And another time fairly recently, I forgot to drop their lunch bag at daycare, so the poor things were waiting hungrily till well past lunchtime, when the daycare staff realized they ought to call me and remind me.
And just yesterday. This one was bad! We went malling, something we very rarely do, especially now that Forum is so far away. We had to buy ten books for the girls’ birthday and birthday clothes, in addition to the usual grocery shopping that we usually do in small neighbourhood shops. Naturally, this plan would have to include lunch. Everything went well and we got the books, the clothes, the lunch, and even worked in a short coffee break. The last stop was groceries. While this happened, I had to take both girls to the toilet. I loved this mall because they have a separate parent-with-child toilet. It’s spacious and has two toilets side-by-side, perfect for me with the twins. I imagine fathers with daughters can use it, though the line drawing on the door indicates mother-with-son. Anyway, once we were done with all that, we went back to the grocery shop, where Amit was just about done with billing, and we took our stuff and left. We drove home – a long-ish drive – and got back in time for the cook, who was to come at 4 (but eventually turned up at 5).
Now what was the problem?
Oh, yeah, now I remember. The girls’ new clothes for their birthday? We checked them in at the grocery shop and never took them back when we left! And that’s five thousand rupees worth of girls’ clothes – three fancy outfits apiece!
Since we don’t go malling often, we don’t have much stamina for it. The prospect of driving all the way back to the mall to recover the girls’ birthday outfits was absolutely draining. Luckily, S&S were not too far away from there and were heading over to our place anyway, so we asked them to pick up the parcel for us. But just think – 5K worth of shopping and you leave it at the grocery store! Do you know of any sieve with holes that big???
After that, you can expect anything of me, memory-wise. So what happened today is not that dramatic after all. I got up before 6 as usual, dressed, got the kids up and dressed, got all of us fed and combed and teeth-brushed and ready to leave. Amit had taken the lunch bag, so I only had to think of snack boxes and water bottles. Got to school with everything in place only to find that… well, it’s a holiday, of course! It’s Onam – I even read an article about it in the papers while I was gulping my coffee. It should be no surprise that it’s a holiday. As late as Friday afternoon, I had an sms exchange with daycare, informing them the kids would be dropped there at 9 a.m. on Monday. And here I was, on Monday morning, at 8 a.m., wondering why on earth school was so deserted.
I’m feeling especially foolish because I did the exact same thing last year. On the same day. I even blogged about it. Sigh. I hope it’s a different story next year.
Sup33 blames it on pregnancy amnesia when she opens the fridge and finds herself wondering what she was looking for. I’m much worse – and I don’t even have that excuse!
We were invited by the kids’ school to go for an observation this week. This is an aspect of their school that I can’t praise enough. I’m sure all parents are itching to know what stuff their kids do in school. Kids are, typically, less than forthcoming. The Montessori system does not require notebooks or textbooks in the first two years, so we know even less than we might in the kindergarten system. An observation is our opportunity to find out what our kids are doing in the three-plus hours that they spend in school. We had been for it last year as well, and came away enlightened and delighted in equal measures.
Mriini-Tara were quite thrilled when we told them we’d be going to sit in their class with them. They led us into class somewhat shyly and spread their mats out in a corner next to each other. Their teacher told us they don’t normally sit next to each other and Mrini had already told us in the car, “Nandu and Nirupama and Vaishnavi are Tara’s friends. Navneet is my friend. Only Navneet.” She was very firm about it. (Yes, Navneet is the same boy she kissed a couple of weeks ago – at least she’s constant. And yes, the teacher confirmed that the kiss did, indeed, happen!)
Amit and I sat down on the floor next to the two of them. To start with, Mrini went through several very easy jigsaw puzzles, while Tara worked with great focus on some number-related activity. Eventually, with some effort by the teacher, Mrini was also persuaded to work on number-related activities. There were several different activities. The one I’d heard most about was number rods – a set of rods with length from one to ten units. The idea was to arrange the rods in sequence and then count the striped units on the rods and the correct number symbol with each rod. There was another counting activity that involved putting the right number of sticks into various slots; and another activity involving putting some kind of counters in front of the number symbols. What impressed me most was a set of beads. There were ten beads, nine strings of ten beads each, nine square mats made up of ten strings of ten beads each, and finally, a cube, made by stacking ten mats on top of each other. So you had units, tens, hundred, and a thousand, visually reinforcing the numerical, geometrical and decimal relationship between all of them. It was so simple it was beautiful – I wish I’d seen it this way when I was four. This basic concept – especially the concept of square and cube, and of zero (dot) one (string) two (square) and three (cube) dimensions – was never actually tied to the real, physical world when I was a student. They were abstract concepts which I didn’t get my head around until much later. Not that Mrini and Tara have any concept of square and cube right now, or of the decimal system or of dimensions of any kind or number; but when they do begin to understand those concepts, they have something real and physical to understand them by. That is just so nice.
The other activity that their teacher made sure they showed us was sandpaper letters. Both my girls can associate vowel sounds with vowel letters and many/most of the consonant sounds with consonant letters. Mrini can do a few more than Tara and other kids in their class can do more than both, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is, my girls almost know their letters! Wow! Of course I was swept away by dreams of buying them a truckload of books each – I can hardly wait for them to discover the joy of reading! – but when I asked their teacher, she said it would take another year or so before they learnt to read. Can it possibly take that long to get there once you already know the letters???
Their teacher told us they were now much better at putting away stuff they had worked on – something we still have to get after them to do at home – and that they both were very independent in class. She also said it was possible now to have real discussions with them, which was nice. She pointed out some of their art work, mentioning that it was quite neat now, and they were probably ready to start writing. I told her they’d been practicing zig-zags, 5 and 2 at home.
We sat with them for about an hour. Towards the end, I was getting itchy. I think Amit would have sat there the whole morning, he’s that kind of a doting dad, but I thought the teacher had better give some attention to the other kids in her group as well. With a maximum of 30 kids, 3 teachers and an akka, they weren’t too stretched at any point, but you can’t hog the teacher’s time for too long all the same. Other kids came up to her to ask for work or to show her what they’d done. Several kids showed her words they’d written, and one boy brought his notebook and asked for sums. Yes, he asked for sums! He even knew what numbers he wanted to add – and the teacher let him dictate the questions! And when he didn’t like the colour of the pen she was using, she let him bring her another one.
Meanwhile, the girls were getting itchy too! In the middle, Mrini wandered off to join her friends and find out what Navneet was up to. She came back soon, but not for too long. We kept telling them we’d be leaving in “five minutes” – standard procedure for brining any fun activity to a graceful end – but when we still hadn’t left at the end of fifteen, Mrini gave me a disgusted look and said “bye, mummy,” much too firmly. We took the cue and left!
I was talking to their daycare teacher about it later that day. Their daycare runs a primary kindergarten school, where things are done rather differently. I mentioned to her how much freedom the kids had in the Montessori environment. She surprised me by saying, “It is one of the most disciplined methodologies.” I started to tell her how little discipline there really was, but she was two steps ahead of me. “It allows kids a lot of freedom, so they learn to do their own work, at their own pace, and to enjoy the freedom of being able to walk around without disturbing other kids. That’s what discipline really is. Not being made to sit in one place and be quiet, but knowing that you have to do your own work without disturbing others.” That was a good point.
Overall it was a very nice experience. It is nice to know that one’s kids are actually learning something in school, even if they refuse to show off or even talk about it at home. It’s nice to see the manner in which they are learning, and how much fun it can be. It’s great to watch the independence, freedom, and responsibility that this environment allows them. Best of all was the atmosphere in class. When I sat in class with the girls in June last year, when they had just joined school, it looked like complete chaos. But now it’s August and the class has settled down. A couple of the new kids are still shy, and one boy howled for five minutes when his mother handed him over to the teacher, but apart from that, the kids were all comfortable, happy, and mostly engrossed in their work. The teachers were comfortable, cheerful, firm and un-hassled. Kids were completely comfortable with the teachers, they didn’t even hesitate to sit in the teacher’s lap. Yet… this was school – not somebody’s home, not a playschool, not daycare – this was school.
I don’t have a very clear recollection of what my school was like at this age, but I’m sure that it was nothing like this! I’m so happy our girls are in this warm, bright, and happy place for three whole years.
We took the kids for their annual health checkup on Saturday. Actually, there wasn’t much need to take them for a check-up, they seem to be so very ok. But we do have to provide this letter to the Family Court each year, testifying to their mental, physical, social, emotional and academic fitness… so we had to go anyway.
One thing is for sure: the healthcare industry is booming. The hospital was so crowded that we couldn’t get parking, even though they have a huge open parking lot which I never thought could possibly be filled up unless there were some kind of city-wide calamity. I went in, while Amit sat in the parking queue, but he eventually handed over the car to a valet to park. It was a smart move: A couple of minutes later, even people asking for valet parking were being turned away!
Inside, the chaos was equally evident. The pediatric department was full and overflowing, and the two attendants at the desk were harassed and busy. I asked how long we’d have to wait and was told it would take an hour. I immediately regretted having paid up the consultation fee already, but then it turned out that that was the waiting time for those who didn’t have appointments. With an appointment, we wouldn’t have to wait long.
Their weight and height was checked. They weighed in at 14 kg each, and Mrini was measured at 100.5 cm, while Tara was 101! When we found our place in front of the doctor a few minutes later, she told us their height was good and weight was only a little (1.5kg) below normal.
I had worried a lot about their weight and height in the early days. What do you do, when your one-year-old adopted babies are in the bottom 5th percentile for weight and height, and you can’t seem to get the word malnutrition out of your head? But that was a long, long time ago. It was gratifying to see them shoot up in the first six months with us, gaining inches at a time when for most kids growth slows down to a crawl. And it’s been a long, long time now since I worried about whether they were on-track weight-height-wise. I see them with kids in their class and I can see that their height is about on par. As for weight – they are obviously thin and probably always will be, until emotional issues begin to influence their food habits; but they are not unhealthy any more, and that’s the important thing.
It was good to hear from a doctor that their weight and height was no longer a cause for concern, but it was not a surprise, nor a cause for celebration – just an affirmation of something we had come to realize and accept over the months already.
What the doctor said next, though, was a surprise and more delightful than I’d have expected. She said that the girls have started to resemble us in their “dentition” and features. I don’t know exactly what features she was referring to, and to what extent this is true and to what extent it is fanciful I can’t be sure; and I don’t really see much resemblance between them and is in dentition or anything else myself; but it was strangely elevating to hear and to think that our girls might actually look like us a bit. I realized, suddenly, how much I’d missed hearing anything like that. Personally, I still don’t see it – I don’t think they look anything like us; but it was nice to think that to somebody, they look a little more like us than they did before.
It made the whole effort of driving, parking, paying, waiting, waiting some more, and finally driving back – it made all of that seem well worth while. We left the hospital with quite a smile on our faces – yes, even Amit.