Tag Archives: twins

Observation 2

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.

101

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.

Their Fourth, Our Third

The twins’ fourth birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks. Four. Wow. I remember the time when I couldn’t look beyond the next day – forget four, I couldn’t even imagine how we’d make it to their second (our first) birthday, almost one whole year away.

Four promises to be a fun year. We’re past the tantrums of two. Toilet training and related accidents are a distant memory. We’re past the hurdle of getting them settled in school. We’re even past the hurdle of me getting back to work, with all the implications that has on the rest of our small family.

(We’re, in fact, at the exact right place to be thinking of getting a younger sibling for the twins. But we’re not thinking of that – heavens, no! Need I remind you that we haven’t actually got the adoption deeds for these two yet? We might get them by the time we approach three full years of being a family – at the end of September – but you can’t count on it. So no, I don’t think our girls are going to get a baby brother, now or at any other time. Adoption laws in India don’t allow us to adopt another girl, even if there are so many more girls than boys looking for a home. Strange, but true.)

So anyway, their fourth birthday, their third with us, is coming up. Four looks like being a good year, because they are so grown up already. They are more eager to help out at home, they are capable of spending long periods of time playing with each other and they are fighting less with each other. They can do most of their own stuff themselves, though they might have to be told (repeatedly and forcefully). They can build long and complex sentences and hold halfway intelligent conversations. They are learning so fast it is both surprising and delightful. By the end of this year, they might even be able to play a proper game of Snakes and Ladders.

We asked them what they wanted as birthday gifts and they both said they wanted five books. Each. We agreed, of course, but we’ll have to get them something else as well, won’t we? I mean, books as birthday gifts is the best one could ever hope for according to me, but for kids under 5 (who don’t yet know how to read), shouldn’t they also get something more like toys?

Meanwhile, I have started thinking about baking. Last year was phenomenal – now what am I going to do this time around? I’m certainly not going to buy cakes, while they’re young enough to appreciate homemade cakes (and I’m young enough to still make them). Cookies seems to be a good option for school. I made two batches today as a test run – butter cookies with almonds on top, and chocolate chip cookies without the chocolate chips. They both turned out nice enough, though I didn’t have a few essential ingredients, such as chocolate for the chips, cornflour, Pam cooking spray and so on.

The kids have about 30 kids in their class, and another 15 in daycare. Add in adults in both places, it’s about 60 people. Two birthday girls, so at least two cookies per head – 120 cookies! And you always have to plan for a few extra. I need a bigger oven!

Luckily, the weekend before their birthday is a long weekend. Powercuts in our beautiful city are almost as bad as ever, though, so this is going to take a lot of patience. Luckily cookies don’t suffer like cakes do in the advent of a powercut – you can just put the dough in the fridge and wait.

Next, we need two cakes to cut at home that evening. I’ll probably have to whip those up on the day itself – which means I’ll need some flexibility at office. But if it’s going to be just us four, it’ll be something small and simple.

Since the birthday is a weekday, and since nobody enjoys driving across town for a birthday party mid-week when the next day is a school/office day, we’ve decided that the party will have to be on a weekend. It’s hopefully not going to be a huge affair, and we’re probably going to do it at home again, maybe even with homemade food this time; and it’s definitely going to involve another two cakes.

Birthdays are such fun.

Back to School

We’ve been reminding the kids for a week or so that school would be re-opening soon. We took them out clothes shopping and school-bag shopping. All weekend, we talked about going back to school on Monday. And at last today we did it. Tara gulped down her breakfast, while Mrini dawdled over it, but as soon as I’d brushed their teeth, they rushed to put on their new clothes. Mrini is into Winnie-the-Pooh t-shirts and Tara is into Mickey Mouse. Mrini chose a pair of blue denim shorts and a white t-shirt, while Tara went for yellow pants rolled up at the bottom and a bright red t-shirt. They grabbed their new school bags and stuffed in their snack boxes and water bottles. They both agreed to two ponytails in their hair, and enthusiastically posed for photos.

Despite all of which, we got out of the house a good half hour earlier than we had been doing during the summer holidays, encountered as little traffic as could be hoped for, and they were (as usual) the first kids in their class to reach school. They are in a new classroom this year, but have the same teachers and most of the same classmates, apart from a handful of new admissions who haven’t actually joined yet. Predictably, both of them were shy when we actually reached their new classroom, but it took only a couple of minutes for them to relax enough to enter the room. After that, they kissed us and pushed us firmly away, waving happily. It makes me so proud when they do that – I’m so glad that they’re confident and secure enough to send us away smiling, even after a 10-week break and with a new classroom to boot. It must be so difficult for parents whose kids cry and fuss and don’t want to go to school.

Their teacher told us that school had already been open a week for older kids, and the bus/van services were fully operational. I’d planned to go and check that the girls get on the van today, but after speaking to their teacher in person and the van driver over the phone, I’m going to take a chance on it. I will go to daycare at lunchtime, to ensure that they reach as expected (and to drop off their lunch). And if that part of the day goes according to plan, then it’s official. The kids are back at school, and they’re not “babies” any more – they’re “second-years” now. They really are growing up!

Devbagh

We’ve been to Devbagh a few times already, so we knew exactly what to expect on this trip… or so we thought. You know it’s never that simple, right?

We reached the bus stop with about 5 minutes to spare. By our standards, that’s about 20 minutes late. It was past the kids’ bedtime and the commute to the bus stop had involved auto-hopping interspersed with short(ish) walks, so the kids were end-tethered by the time we reached. (By the way, I hadn’t realized that autos in Bangalore had become so completely unusable. It’s not like they go where you want them to; it’s more like a bus – if it’s going in roughly the direction you want, you hop on; then you reach the farthest common point and get off and look for another fellow willing to go in roughly the direction you want. And as for charging by the meter – forget it!  Arrrrrrrrgh! Thank god I very rarely have to use a $&%(*#@$ auto nowadays.)

The bus was supposed to start at 9 p.m., so obviously it got rolling only around 10. Meanwhile I took two grumpy girls to the toilet (in the bus operator’s office, thankfully; the option was, of course, by the side of the road) and tried my best to get them to sleep. It’s been an extremely long time since either of us (adults) went by sleeper bus and we’d seriously overestimated the size of the berths. Each berth is so narrow that only a reasonable sized person can fit and then only if they lie ramrod straight without bending limb or hair. And two adults would have to lie so close together on adjacent berths that being side-by-side with anyone other than your normal sleeping partner would be unthinkable! I’d thought that since we had two berths side-by-side, all four of us would squeeze in somehow, but I was wrong. Amit could have occupied a double berth on his own and still all his appendages would have been squashed into strange shapes and places; and the kids and I would have been approximately comfortable with a double berth to ourselves. In other words, we had to make do with exactly half the minimum space we really needed. We made do – I and the girls put our heads on the plastic “pillows,”, while Amit turned himself upside down and put his head where my feet were. This way, he had to contend with my smelly feet in his face, while I had to struggle to snake my legs through a tangle of kids’ limbs and straps from the camera bag that lay at the foot of my allocated space, and then try to avoid kicking him in the face. The girls’ feet were also ideally poised to kick him… where it hurts the most… but that’s the price of being a father anyway.

Kids, mercifully, can sleep through anything, so at least they got a good night’s sleep. Amit stuck his endless legs out of the berth and rested them on something that covered either the engine (rear-mounted; we were right at the back of the bus) or the air-con unit of the bus – it was hot like an oven! Mrini sweated with her head next to this box, while Tara and I curled up under the sheet with the air-con blasting on top of us.

In short, it was “interesting”.

It became more interesting as the drive progressed. At some point at night, we started on the ghats section of the drive. As the driver threw his vehicle around every curve, we fishtailed around in the back like flies on the tail of some really angry whale. By 6 a.m. we were all awake. The ghats were lush and green outside the window, but inside, Tara was the first to feel the effects of the drive. Empty-stomach as we were, the effects were limited, but she was a sorry sight all the same. Thankfully, we stopped for breakfast soon after. None of us ate, but we used the toilet “facilities” (5 bucks a go and nothing to show for it!). Soon after we got back in the bus, despite my efforts at distracting them with a story, Tara was back to feeling sick. Much to my surprise, I ended up retching as well! This never happens to me! Mrini was fine until the last ten minutes of the drive – then we were greeted with the spectacle of both girls retching simultaneously into the same plastic bag! Not the prettiest of sights…

And in all this, Amit, the one who can be counted on to be sick in any sort of long drive, was completely unaffected!

Once we got off the bus, things were better. We all had a hearty breakfast (though at first the sight of food still made Tara sick, but she recovered soon enough) at the usual place. I was a little worried about the impact the impending boat ride would have on our nicely-fed bellies, but the good thing about boats of this type is that you can be sick over the side and nobody has to clean up! (And what is a little puke compared to the vast quantities of oil (and waste) that we humans regularly pump into the sea?)

Amit went to locate the JLR office – it was in a slightly different location than it had been on our last few times. He found out that the houseboat would only arrive at 11.30. I had, as usual, been quite irresponsible while doing the booking and had completely ignored the need for vital information, happy with my own assumptions about what the houseboat would be like. We went back to the office after breakfast and found out a little more about the houseboat. It would collect us at 11.30 and take us 25 km out to sea. The next day it would bring us back. Not quite what I’d expected – I’d expected something moored a stone’s throw offshore, so that we could come and go as we pleased. I’d thought we’d linger on the beach during the day, have our meals in the Gol Ghar (in this instance, it refers to their dining room) and retire to the houseboat for the night. Being stuck on it for 24 hours 25 km out at sea with 2 little kids and nothing to do suddenly didn’t look like such a good idea. When they offered to swap our houseboat reservation for a cottage on the island, we jumped at it. What – give the kids an opportunity to drown themselves in the sea or cover themselves in sand? Sand, obviously. As long as they can get themselves dirty, kids are happy! And on the beach, at least we don’t have to worry about them falling into the sea!

And so, around 10.30, after an uneventful 20-minute crossing by a small motorboat, we were on the island, walking through the pine trees to the cottages.

Wait – pine trees? Here? I’ve always wondered about this – the trees do look like conifers, they come complete with thousands of needles, peeling bark, and tiny, really minuscule pine cones. So they must be pine trees, even though I always thought pine trees were to be found only in high latitudes or altitudes. They lend a very soft and romantic atmosphere to the island, providing plenty of shade, with sunlight filtering through, the ground covered in a thick layer of dry, brown needles, yet never the dense suffocation of thick, dark, heavy trees and a lot of undergrowth.
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One-and-a-half days passed pleasantly enough. The kids, on Mrini’s suggestion, had brought their sand toys. (She heard “beach” and I asked Amit what toys we should carry for them, and she had the answer. How she even knew, considering the last time she saw a beach was Lakshadweep a year-and-a-half ago, I don’t know, but she had absolutely the right idea.) They spent ages cooking up stuff with sand, pine needles, and sand toy utensils, and getting themselves – and, by extension, us – covered in sand in the process. Then they upturned some moulded plastic beach beds and used them as slides. We downed a bottle of beer. Everyone retired to the air-conditioned comfort of the cottage for the afternoon, and in the evening, we went out on to the beach again, to entice the kids into the water. Mrini was game for a bit of experimenting, though she ran away whenever the water touched her feet; Tara (typically?) watched from a safe distance, with a skeptical expression, and reverted to playing in the sand. Amit and I took turns in the water for about 15 minutes each. By this time it was almost 7, so I decided to walk back to the cottage with the kids and get the three of us cleaned up, leaving Amit to enjoy the water for a few minutes longer.

Excellent plan, but for the dog.

Last time we were at Devbagh, there were no dogs. But then, there were no houseboats either. Given that houseboats have been on offer for three years, or so we were told, it must have been more than three years since our last visit. Time enough for the dogs to arrive.

I’d walked a fair distance towards the cottage when I heard Amit shouting. I turned around just in time to see a dog grab his clothes from the beach towel and make off at top speed. I dropped everything and gave chase – but running across a sandy beach clad in a wet swimsuit is not really my thing. Actually, let me be honest – running is not my thing; the rest of it is very ok. Anyway, the dog, encouraged by his pack of friends and allies, made straight for the woods and was gone long before I got within anything more than shouting distance.

It was Amit’s turn. Like a cross between Venus rising from the sea and a dripping wet Tarzan the Ape Man, he followed the dog into the trees at an impressive sprint. He had kept a very precious mobile phone in the pocket of his shorts; losing it was not an option.

Luckily, the dog had only made off with his T-shirt. True, it was a Nike T-shirt, but it was one Roger (Federer, must I add?) had sported a couple of years ago, so it was definitely time for an upgrade to the current season’s look. And at any rate, the mobile phone was safe.

The next day passed in an equally relaxed way, though we had to vacate our comfy cottage in exchange for a tattered tent with no attached toilet. We’d reserved the cottage for one night, and the second half day package included lunch, a tent, and a common toilet. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t too bad. The beach was just as good. We went for a long walk in the morning before breakfast. The tide was out, so there was an immense flat area that had been underwater but now was only slightly wet. We went out onto the large, flat area and watched fishermen extract fish from their nets before casting the nets in the water and pulling them out again. Mrini and Tara were brave enough to pick up a couple of fishes by the tail – which was more than I could do!

By the time we started to walk back, the water had crept in behind us, and we had to wade in upto mid-thigh level to reach the beach. It was mid-stomach level for the kids. Tara was a little worried by it, but Mrini walked through it happily, holding Amit’s hand and asking for more!

After breakfast, Amit went for a full-body massage, while I kept an eye on the kids. After another bottle of beer was finished, I washed the kids’ hair under an open, outdoor shower. They had their swimsuits on, so it was quite decent and well worth a video. It was the first time ever that they actually enjoyed a shower.

Around 5 p.m., we took the boat back to mainland and then shared an auto for the short ride down the highway to Karwar town. This was when things started to get really interesting.

First, it turned out that our bus back to Bangalore started back not at 8 pm. as I’d been led to expect by the information on the website, but at 10 p.m. So now being 6 p.m., we had a whole four hours to kill, with two little kids in tow. Somewhat to Amit’s disappointment, I insisted that we find a room. Keeping the girls up that much past their bedtime just didn’t seem like a good idea to me. So we found a crummy room with a fan that gave no air, a grainy TV, grimy walls, and clean but torn bedsheets, where we camped for the rest of the evening. The kids jumped on the beds, we browsed TV, we all went out for an early dinner, and then the kids fell asleep, we read, and outside the half-open window, a deluge started.

It was still raining when we left the room at 9.40. Amit waited to get some refund from reception, while I went on ahead (with some vague idea of holding the bus, should it show any inclination to make a timely start). We got wet, the sleeping kids got wet, and, in the pitch darkness, we kind of lost our way. Luckily, though, Amit caught up with me, because I was beginning to feel jittery out there in the dark on my own – Karwar is the kind of town that is shut up tight by 9 p.m.

It was 10.00 p.m. Amit called the bus shop – the bus would leave in 5 minutes. “Yes, ok, hold on, we’re on our way,” said Amit, being desperately polite, “by the way, just where exactly did you say the bus would be?”

A couple of minutes later, we saw it. With a mixture of rain and sweat pouring down us, we climbed on board to find…

…that our seats were…

Taken.

Very firmly occupied, by a fat old couple who claimed to be senior citizens incapable of sleeping on the upper bunk.

It took half an hour and a good deal of screaming on my part to get the situation sorted out. The fat old couple remained as firmly seated as though they’d grown roots, so an unfortunate young couple were unceremoniously evicted from their berths and moved to an upper berth, so that we could get a lower berth. At last, frustrated, steaming, sweating, swearing, and trying to soothe two sleepy children we crammed ourselves into our double berth and the bus started rolling.

The bus was supposed to reach Bangalore by 8 a.m. – but the two hour delay in its starting time, the half hour hiatus as we fought for our seats, and the inevitable puncture stop along with the tyre-repair stop combined to ensure that at 8 a.m. we were not anywhere close to Bangalore. For the next three hours, we sat and counted the minutes and fretted and sweated as we crawled into the city and then crawled through the traffic around Yeshwanthpur and all the way to Windsor Manor.

We were both worried because it was 11 a.m. on a Monday morning and we had lots and lots of WORK to do! And now that we were so extremely late, we still had the onerous tasks of getting the kids ready for daycare, getting some lunch organized for them, getting ourselves cleaned up, and somehow getting to office, before lunch if possible. In the end, I managed it all and even managed to send out the documents in time for the end-of-day release… but I would have been happier with those three hours in hand.

And the kids? Were wonderful! They sat five long hours in the sleeper bus after they woke up. They talked, they sang, they got bored, sucked their thumbs and threatened to fall asleep, demanded food and demanded water, but… they didn’t fuss at all. No whining no fighting no driving us up the window (there wasn’t a wall). When they got home, they straightaway got to “work” with their toys, and, apart from occasionally fingering my laptop, didn’t cause any trouble at all. I dropped them at daycare at 1 p.m. and their teacher there said they ate and slept without any fuss and she’d never have guessed there had been anything different (tiring!) about their day.

I know I’m a disgustingly proud mama, but honestly, tell me: aren’t they just the bestest?

That’s My Girl!

I’d promised the girls that when they got up on stage and sang and danced, I’d clap long and loud and shout “that’s my girl!”

And I did! Loud enough to have a hoarse voice afterwards.

I think I was about as excited about the show as the kids were – or maybe a little more – when I went to their daycare to pick them up. Their daycare aunties were, of course, doing  careful job of getting them dressed, busy with needle and thread as they tucked in bits of the rented costume. The costume was white sleeveless Chinese collar shirts with silvery spangles on them, and a dark blue plastic skirt. Why plastic? I have no idea. At least the clothes were not intolerably uncomfortable. Mrini did complain that her Chinese collar was itching her, but a few bars of her favourite Double Double Fun Fun soon distracted her.

We were supposed to reach the venue, Chowdaiah, at 4 p.m. We reached at 4.10, which was pretty good going. As we reached the registration tables set up near the entrance, the girls grabbed my hands tightly and wouldn’t let go. Their summer camp aunties were waiting to escort them backstage, but they behaved like they were being kidnapped by aliens. The rule was that no parents were allowed backstage, so I tried to persuade them to let go, but they were quite resistant to the idea. Luckily, their summer camp aunties didn’t insist and a few minutes later, as other kids from their batch turned up, they grew brave enough to go along with them, albeit with many an anxious look cast in my direction.

From about 4.20 till about 5.30, I hung around outdoors, watching other parents arriving with sleepy, grumpy kids. Then I realized that there were enough parents still with their kids that it should be ok for me to go and take a look at the girls. So I entered the building from one of the side doors and went towards the green room. I expected at every step to be stopped and turned away, but strangely enough, I wasn’t. I’m normally a very rule-abiding person who is very hesitant to go into areas that are declared to be out of bounds, so it was quite out of character for me to just walk all the way around backstage without blinking.

I looked into the two green rooms, but, though both were filled with kids, my girls were nowhere to be seen. I exited the backstage area from the door at the other end, and then I found them, sitting on the steps just outside the stage door. With them was summer camp Aunty1, a huge quivering mass of indignation and irritation. I’d never met her, as the summer camp took place in the middle of the morning and was seamlessly integrated into their daycare schedule. But I took to her at once.

All around us was chaos. Children from various centres thronged children from other centres. Parents hung around hunting desperately for children, aunties, or the holy grail. Aunty1 tried to keep her brood of 15-odd kids confined to a few designated steps, but had to keep darting off one side or another to grab someone who wanted to escape. There was one young chap and one young woman assigned to Aunty1 when I reached the scene. Within minutes, the young chap was sent off to take one of the boys to the bathroom. By the looks of the young chap’s expression at this task, it was not something he was used to doing. I’m guessing it’s not a particularly fun task to have to take somebody else’s young boy to the bathroom, particularly when it’s somebody you’ve never met before and the more so if it’s not something you’ve ever done before. He was gone a long, long time. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw him again after that.

The young girl was called away elsewhere, so it was just me and Aunty1. I was holding Tara, who was fretful and threatened to be tearful, while observing with interest the volume of steam emanating from Aunty1’s ears. It didn’t require much prodding for her to tell me all. The older kids, Eldies, had been given a ridiculously easy number to do, and the tiny kids, Tinies, had been given a complex number. This allocation was done by the Choreographer. Aunty1 had decided long ago to swap the numbers. The choreographer, for reasons unknown to me, had not swapped the sequence of the music. So, instead of the Tinies going on first, as had been planned, now the Eldies would go on first, then there would be several other numbers from kids from other centres, and only after that would our Tinies be allowed on stage. As if that weren’t bad enough, Aunty1 was infuriated that the Tinies had been made to come at 4 p.m. a whole two-and-a-half hours before showtime. The Eldies had been asked to report a whole hour later, at 5. Where’s the sense in that!?

It took only the slightest encouragement from me for Aunty1 to go dashing off to confront the choreographer. Which left me in charge of an unspecified number of kids, some of whom were beginning to wail. I did my best to restore order by scolding some rowdy boys, separating a girl who was having her hair pulled from another who was doing the pulling, letting Tara sit in my lap, and hugging another girl who was crying. I glimpsed Aunty1 rushing past a few times at something close to the speed of light like and infuriated and unidentified flying object. At last she returned, momentarily, still intent on having words with the Choreographer. She did a quick headcount, realized that only one head was missing (apart from the boy who’d gone to the toilet and still not returned; and the other boy who’d been sent back to his parents in a flood of tears), realized which particular head it was, and departed in frantic search of that head. While she was gone, the missing head was escorted back to our group by some unidentified assistants who were entirely unsure about which group the boy belonged to. A three-year-old in these chaotic circumstances can answer a few questions, but, “Which centre do you belong to?” is not one of them. I asked Mrini and Tara if this boy was their friend, but they said no. I tried out the name I’d heard Aunty1 mutter on the boy and he tearfully nodded, so I let him sit down on our steps, while I waited for Aunty1 to come whizzing around again. She did, and almost collapsed with relief. “I saw his parents and he was not with them,” she said. “How can I ask them if them know where he is? What will they think? I just turned around and ran from there,” she said.

Having ensured that the rest of her charges were present and correct, she left me to it and disappeared again. At last she returned with news of success: Ours would be the very first act. “Don’t we need to get these kids ready then?” I asked, waving at several kids who were not in costume yet. We shepherded the Tinies into the backstage area. Separated from the Eldies (who were left in charge of someone else; but they were more interested in fighting with each other and less interested in wailing for their parents) there were only about 7 kids. One was sobbing inconsolably and had to be sent of with his parents. Another was sobbing inconsolably, but was ok as long as his father was around. The other 5 were ok. We spent a few minutes tying bits and pieces of stuff onto their costumes, then I got them to work with Ringa Ringa Roses. That kept them busy for a precious 5 minutes and it was a sight that was heartwarming beyond words – these six little things, all anxious and strung up, all dressed up in ridiculous stuff, sweetly going around in a circle, falling down, giggling, then getting up and going around again.

Sometime around this stage, one of the organizers, for the first and last time, tried to evict me from backstage. It was the only time someone even realized I was a “parent” and not an “organizer”. In fact, so many people had assumed I was part of the organizers and had asked me so many arbitrary things, that I was even beginning to feel a bit like one of the organizers. At least I knew three of the kids in my charge, which was more than you could say of many organizers. So when this woman tried to shoo me off, I refused to be shooed off. “There are no teachers,” I said. She pointed to various other organizers who were rushing around. “But none of them know these kids,” I said. Then she asked where their teacher was and I had the answer to that too. “She’s gone to the registration desk to check if any of the other kids have turned up yet.” Then I hurried off to disentangle Tara from the boom machinery that she was exploring much too closely.

And so they let me stay.

As the minutes dragged by and the kids got fidgety again, I decided to give them some down time. I gathered the six of them around me and started to tell a story. I had, of course, absolutely no idea what story to tell, nor what language to tell it in. But who cares. I sat them down, and Mrini and Tara, always eager for one of my stories, were instrumental in getting the others to fall in line. And as softly and slowly as possible, I launched on what might well have turned into the story of Peter and the Wolf… but long before the wolf appeared on the scene, they were called into the wings. So I exited backstage left and entered the audience. I found my way to where Amit and S&S were, and five minutes later, after a couple of really short speeches and one solo number by some dancer guy, our girls were on!

The music, unfortunately, was BLASTING! It was loud enough to put a pub to shame. I think somebody forgot to tell some technician fellow that this was a show by little kids, none older than about 6. Naturally, when the kids got on stage, they were a little startled by the whole experience. But they were playing their song – Itsy Bitsy Spider – and their summer camp aunties were there below the stage with their backs to the audience, doing the steps. Three of the kids, including Mrini, followed along beautifully. They were so, so sweet – innocently doing their thing. Then there was Tara – she got on stage, covered both her ears with her hands, and stood there looking worried. The boy next to her looked at her, wondered whether he should be worried too, decided he should, and covered his ears with his hands too. After a moment, he realized that the other kids were dancing, so he took his hands down and began dancing. And Tara stood there, stock still, hands over her ears. It was the cutest thing ever! Towards the very end of their act, she became a little brave and tried to follow along – but before she could really get into it, it was all over.

I rushed backstage to take charge of the kids. They were photographed and then they were allowed to change into their own clothes and return the costumes to Aunty1. Once that was done, we all headed back to the audience to watch the rest of the show. Around 7.30, after the Eldies had done their act (without a hitch) we started to leave. The girls were hungry and thirsty and once I’d given them bananas and water, they wanted to use the toilet, so what with everything it was close to 8 by the time we left and just after 9 by the time we got home. We ordered in Chinese, gave the girls their milk which they demanded vociferously and downed without pausing to pull up their chairs and tables, and then put them to bed without pausing for a bath. It was with great difficulty that we got them to brush their teeth. They were in bed by 9.15, only half an hour or 45 minutes later than usual, but they were really tired. This morning they refused to get out of bed until an hour later than usual.

All in all, it was one hell of an evening. Almost all fun, but thank goodness that I went backstage when I did, or our kids would have wound up wailing like so many others – and maybe some of the other kids would have, too.

On our drive home, I remembered that 30-odd years ago, when my mother used to teach Tinies in a school in Chandigarh, we used to accompany her to Tagore theatre for their Annual Day. I must have been 7-8 years old. I don’t remember the details, and I think their acts were more complicated with scenery and stuff, but I do remember being there. I think there used to be a similar level of chaos. Maybe that explains how I knew where to go, what to expect and what to do. I certainly did have a completely unexpected comfort-level in the situation – one might even say that I quite enjoyed it. Apparently, so did the kids. Today when I went to daycare to pick up Mrini and Tara in the evening, the girl whom I hugged while she was crying yesterday gave me a shy smile. That was really nice.

We did manage, with some difficulty, to track down the fellow who took orders for the delivery of photographs. By the time we did this, just before we left, the fellow had packed up his bag and seated himself in the audience. It was only because the organizers had seen me around all evening that they did everything they could to help us track him down. So hopefully we will be getting a CD of photos and videos of the show some day. Until then, you’ll just have to make do with two-and-a-half thousand words.

So that’s one adventure out of the way. Tomorrow we leave for Devbagh. Overnight bus. Boat. Island. Sea. Houseboat. Plenty more adventures coming up!

Identical? Not Really

A few of the many, many fun conversations with the twins.

Tara: Shall I tell you something?
Me: Yes, tell me something.
(Whispering): Ice cream is very cold!

Mrini and Amit watching Rafa play a match on TV. At the end of a point, Mrini turns to Amit and asks: Did Rafa win the point?

Mrini: I can’t sing One Prayer, I can only sing Twins Are In and Twins Are Marching and Deuces Are Wild and that other new song. (She meant Double Double Fun Fun; these are all songs from a new CD titled Twin Spin, very sweetly gifted to the twins by Double the Fun girls, Mel and Jess.)
Tara: I can’t sing aaaaaaanything.
Me: Tara, why can’t you sing anything?
Tara: I don’t want to sing.

The evening after the magic show.

Mrini: When the sun was shining when we were driving in the car, I was very hot, I was all sweaty-sweaty.
Me: Oh, were you hot?
Mrini: Yes, I was all sweaty-sweaty. (Pause) Shall I tell you another secret?
Me (all agog; I hadn’t even known the first one was a secret): Yes, tell me another secret.
Mrini: When the scary part came, then I was scared.

The next day in the morning.

Me: Girls, did you have fun at the magic show?
Tara: Yes.
Mrini: No.
Tara: I want to go for magic show again.
Mrini: No. I got scared when the woman’s head came out. That was the scary part.

We figured out that it was the trick where the woman is put into a cupboard and then her arms and legs are pulled way far away and she’s “carved up” into separate pieces that she was referring to.

But what was more interesting for me was that, perhaps for the first time ever, she was verbalizing her fears. That’s a big thing, somehow.

These snippets of conversation are so illuminating. They speak volumes about the girls. It’s typical, for instance, that Mrini is the one who’s trying. She’s trying to sing, trying to make “adult” conversation (about tennis) and trying to communicate things that mean a lot to her. She’s more likely to be the one to ask serious questions about life, death, and other matters philosophical or worldly.

Tara is much more of a closed book. She always has been. On the surface, she’s very independent and carefree. She’s the clown, she’s frivolous. She rarely applies herself seriously to anything, though clandestinely she learns from whatever Mrini happens to be saying or doing. She does whatever comes easily and quickly loses patience with what doesn’t. She pretends as if she doesn’t need anybody, she’s happy to be doing her own thing. She won’t let you in easily, but then, sometimes, she just lets her guard down and becomes the small, anxious little girl she really is, and sometimes it really surprises us.

Mrini is all on the surface for everyone to see – she used to be all clingy and scared, but now she’s overcome that. When we go to new places, especially if there are toys or swings or small kids around, she’s the first to leave our sides and wander away. I see her in the playground amongst much bigger kids whom she doesn’t know and in circumstances where they’re not bounded by the rules of a school or a teacher. She’s unfazed. She wades into the fray and does her own thing without blinking. And it is in that sense unsurprising that, even though she was the more scared in the magic show, she opted to sit on her own and didn’t even want an arm around her.

Tara needs to warm up. In new situations, she watches from the sidelines, and if I’m there, she sits cuddled up with me and watches. She might go in eventually, and she is also apparently unfazed by other, bigger kids, but she just takes a while to get going.

Mrini has perseverance with a capital P and if she’s into something, she doesn’t want to be disturbed by anyone. She’ll work at something with dedication until she gets it. I remember watching her teach herself to stand and walk – she practiced for 45 minutes at a stretch and then she got it.

Tara only occasionally gets immersed in a task. She’s the one who can’t sit still and work on anything for two minutes at a stretch. She starts to clown around, disrupt Mrini’s work, or get frustrated and ruin her own work. But even though she can hardly sit still for a couple of minutes at a time, she is very capable of prolonged cuddling and sitting in the lap doing nothing, when she can get it. Mrini hardly needs that anymore, except when she wants to oust Tara (or, of course, if she’s hurt, sick, or upset).

Nowadays, Tara is spontaneously affectionate quite often, while Mrini seems to have outgrown that as well. Tara is a tease, and Mrini, naturally, is the teased, much to her dismay. Tara shares with a large heart, while Mrini shares tiny little bits and gets very worried if it looks like she’s going to lose a larger piece of food, or a prolonged period of time with a toy.

It’s too early to say what they will be like when they grow up; they’re not even four yet. But it’s always fun predicting – so that you look stupid when they turn out completely different from what you expect. So here goes: Tara will be irresponsible, brilliant, temperamental (does she have a temper already!) and will break many hearts; Mrini will be conscientious, hard working, loyal, sensible, and steady. Hopefully, both of them will rub off on each other a bit.