When Love becomes a poison…

Last night, we watched BBC’s India’s Super Size Kids.

It was a scary watch,to say the least. They followed the lives of two young people. A 13 year old and a 20 year old. Both of them obese and addicted to fast food. The program was following the impact of Western fast food joints that have mushroomed in the Indian cities and how it has resulted in the obesity crisis among the adolescents of India.

While I am sure that the fast food and the general eating out culture has a lot to do with the crisis, I was more appalled by the attitude of some of the parents,who saw nothing wrong in their children being overweight or eating badly. And these weren’t the uneducated or people who wouldn’t know better, these were parents who should have known better, who should have the tools necessary to find out more.

It reminded me of a family we met in India. Their teenage daughter looked overweight to me, not obese, but definitely overweight. In the conversation, the mother talked about wanting to buy the best for her children. It made me wonder, what the ‘best’ was, when the she said that she loved it that her house was centrally situated to two KFC outlets.

Another friend was telling me about a friend of her’s who would make gulab jamuns in ghee for her daughter, on a regular basis, until they realized that they had an overweight 10 year old on their hands.

Daughter’s school had some performance night, and I remember being a little surprised that the children(adolescents mainly) seemed a little on heavier side. Another mum told me that it was because all that children want to eat these days is junk food.

I’ve heard parents proudly claiming that they want to give their children ‘everything they didn’t have while growing up’. It makes me wonder if that attitude has more to do with the current crisis. Pampering with food and inactivity. Every wish of theirs pandered to.

While I am sure the fast food outlets do need to be responsible, surely, we as parents, have a bigger responsibility to ensure that our children are eating right? We all love our children, and sometimes, that love might mean that we have to stop them from doing things that our children might love, if it’s not right for them. And really, it is far easier if we start off right, rather than having to set things right after things have gone horribly wrong.

As I read this back, I do feel that I’ve been rather judgemental. Probably because, the feeling I got was that eating out regularly at junk food outlets, seem to be aspirational not just for the kids but also for the parents. And that saddened me, so much so that I woke up still thinking about those kids who are eating their way to bad health.

Just for the sake of recording things.

I don’t write too much about Daughter these days. I guess the fact that she is older and far more independent helps, plus the fact that I don’t want this place to be about me being a gushing mommy.

But some things need to be recorded. Like the way she has been a super trooper this last year. I have always said that the only reason I was able to do all the relocating and the re-relocating was because Daughter was such a star. The first two weeks in India was manic. And she was right there, patiently reading a book while I sorted out the plans for the new kitchen or helped me select sofas by trying each one out, being a star even when she was tired. All that I needed to do was bribe her with some books. At the end of long days, we would stop at Landmark and pick up books. That would be enough to keep her spirits high.

The whole time in India, wasn’t easy on her. She was missing her dad, and yet she did not act up as much as she could have. Just as we got settled in, plans changed and we had to move back. For her, moving back was more fun, she was going to be back with her dad, and in a lot of ways, she missed the UK. I realized how much only when we got back here.

Coming back here, going to a new school, making new friends, she did it all. Before we knew it, she was settled in, happy. I was worried about how she would cope up because the syllabus here is much more vast, but she did fine. The teachers and the school were great, and she did fine.

Yesterday was the last day of school for her. This school is only until Year 2. Next year they will transfer into another school. It made me wonder how she would manage, after all she has changed 3 schools in 14 months. This change, of course, is the easiest because quite a few of her classmates would going to the same school with her and she is excited and looking forward to it.

Sometimes, I would wonder if all our shifting around would have had a negative impact on her, but thankfully she seems quite alright for it. Yes, she doesn’t have close friends who she has known since she was a toddler or anything, but she has learnt that she can make new friends. If anything, I’m hoping that it just gave her an experience to cherish and learn from. One of the things I have realized is that children are truly resilient.

One of the things that I worry about is the peer pressure. Although there is nothing much we can do, apart from helping her be secure and confident. Slowly, I can see influences creeping in. Daughter and her friends discuss more than Disney movies, for instance. These days they seem to discuss Simon Cowell and 1 Direction. And the other day,while watching Despicable Me 2, there was this scene in which a teenage girl is falling in love with a boy, and she turns to me and giggles and says,’ She’s falling in love, Amma!’. And this from a child who watches only age appropriate stuff!

The other day, she went to a birthday party where they discussed what each of them wanted to be when they grew up. Apparently, all the other girls wanted to be dancers and singers. So I asked her about what she said. Apparently, she stuck to what she wants to be a ‘Dinosaur Scientist'(her own words, and what she wants to be, at the moment), and apparently they others gasped. She went on to tell me that some of the girls ‘changed’ what they wanted to be, just because they wanted to say the same things as their friends. ‘But that shouldn’t matter, should it, Amma?’ She asked, ‘ We should say what we really want to be, not what our friends say!’.

That, I have to say, certainly made me happy. Fingers crossed, she will remain this way. Knowing her mind and confident in her choices.

Parenting help!

Some times I wonder if I am a minority.

A minority who feels that as a parent we need to guide our children and stop them when they do the wrong things. Ok, most parents would be with me on that. Let me try and put it better. The guidelines deciding what is wrong and what is acceptable seems to be the problem area. Foul language, for instance. I came across a 10-11 year old using ‘WTF’ very easily. Not once, but three times. I moved away from there after that, but she said it so casually, it certainly did not look like she was saying it for the first time. It shocked me, to say the least.

How do you guys handle bad language? I discussed with a few parents here and they seemed quite relaxed about it. And that, alarmed me, to be honest.

Is it alright to just ignore it because we cannot ‘control it’ or ‘control the children’? Or because if we stop them, they might use it more to just annoy us? Or they would use it anyway, when we are not around, so why even bother?

I was flabbergasted by these responses… How can we as parents look the other way? And why is it thought of as controlling? Surely children will understand if we explain to them, rather than getting cross at them? Surely we don’t need to ‘control’ so much as we need to guide. And surely are we not assuming the worst of our children and not giving them the chance to be better people?

Parenting throws you a googly…

…every now and then, having you wonder about your choices and decisions. And for me these days, everything becomes a trigger to wonder if we made a mistake about relocating.

Not relocating actually, but probably having moved before husband got a job in India, adding to the confusion.

The last two days, daughter has been waking up – tired. She had been sleeping slightly later than her regular time, but I thought that she would be alright. Yesterday and the day before, she woke up – tired and weepy. That never happens. She is my sunshine girl, always bright in the morning, up with a bounce, cheerful and full of beans at 6 in the morning. The day before, she was a little less bright, but was fine by the time she went to school. She was her usual self when she returned. Yesterday, she woke up grumpy, despite having gone to bed on time. She claimed that she was tired. She did not seem unwell in any way. So I tried to cheer her up, acted goofy, tried everything – but nothing would bring a smile to my normally cheerful child.

I managed to get her ready and just before boarding the school bus, she burst into tears. I was taken aback. I asked her if she wanted to stay home – she never ever likes missing school. Not even when she is ill. Never in her life has she cried before going to school. She normally just waves me off, all excited about her day ahead. Yesterday, all she did was shake her head and look miserable. The teachers in her bus gave her hugs and told me that she would be fine.

As I walked home, all I could hope was that she would be alright. A hundred doubts ran through my mind. Was I too hard on her. Did she feel that she could not tell me what she was going through. Or worse, did I ignore some important message that she tried giving me. Was there something happening at school that made her miserable. Wracked by guilt and worries, wondering, questioning everything, going right back to the relocation issue. Should I have just sent her to an international school rather than the ‘middle class’ school that this one was. All sorts of worries and doubts. Finally, I made up my mind to go and see her at school at lunch time. Her school is quite nice in that sense. They had no problems with me dropping in to check on her.

Waiting for mid-day to come was another torture, but finally it was lunch time and I rushed into the school, and cast my eyes on the field. Where was daughter? Oh! There she was – cheerfully playing with a couple of her friends. I went up to her to surprise her. Was she excited! She came running, flinging her arms around me, at the same time, questioning me,’Amma, what are you doing here? This is school time!’. When I told her that I just wanted to check on her as she seemed upset in the morning, she says, ‘But I was just tired, I’m fine now’.

And that was it. All I could feel was relief washing over me. She was fine… I must have seemed like a mad, crazy parent, but those few hours really were torturous for me. Normally, I might not have worried so much, but with all the confusion that is our life right now, all I can try and do is be there for daughter, and that morning, I really felt that I had perhaps let her down.

Thankfully, she seems fine today. I got her in bed early and she woke her to her normal cheerful self.Nothing, absolutely nothing felt better than seeing her happy face in the morning, reading a book, while sipping her milk. All I can hope for is for her to have – sunny mornings all her life. And for this single parenting business to end soon. I so miss being able to talk to husband about these things. By the time it is his morning, the issues would get resolved.

You know you have a bookworm for a daughter..

.. when the child who doesn’t notice a new sofa, notices a new book on the shelf the moment she enters the room 🙂

And has been glued to it ever since she got her hands on it 🙂 Although, given the fact that she’s reading Calvin and Hobbes and seems absolutely hooked to it, I can’t help wondering if I should have kept that book locked away in a box 🙂

Swear words and bad bad songs

During daughter’s last week in school in Leeds, she came home and said, ‘Amma, you need to tell me what swear words are’.

Me: ‘Swear words are bad words, that we should not use.’

Daughter: ‘I know that! I want to know some swear words so that I can recognize them when some one uses them’.

Me: ‘But for that I will have to tell you the words, that means, I will have to say bad words, isn’t it? That won’t be right, will it?’

Daughter: ‘Hmmm. You know, there is a song which has swear words’.

Me, Flabbergasted,’ Which one, and how do you know!’

Daughter: J(a British Asian Classmate of hers), was humming- Sheela Sheela Shaani, and A( another British Asian classmate of hers) told me that that song is a bad, bad song, and has loads of swear words’!

Apparently J goes to Bollywood dance lessons and learnt the song from there.

On a different note, Daughter is happy in her new school – so far, fingers-crossed. The only thing that puzzles her a bit is the fact that all the children have ‘strange names’ 🙂

Banking lessons and Democracy

So we had a banking lesson yesterday. And a lesson in democratic parenting for me 🙂

I was shopping and daughter saw me enter my credit card pin, and managed to see the number I entered. She was so excited that she almost shouted it out loud, much to my horror. Dragging her out of the shop, I explained to her that the pin number is very special and is different for each of us. If we let others know our pin, if you card gets stolen, by mischance, someone else could use our card and buy things – that would similar to someone stealing our money. So we should never tell anyone else our pin numbers, and never say it aloud, even if you see me enter it.

So then started a bunch of questions.

Q. When can I have a credit card?

A. When you are a grown up.

Q. When I am eighteen?

A. Yes, when you are eighteen.

Q. So Amma, I have a doubt. When you are about to become a grownup, when you are about to turn eighteen, how do you get your pin?

A. *Now that needs a lot more explanation, doesn’t it? So I gave a short, retail banking overview – on how you open an account, and then request for a card- I even explained credit cards and debit cards -don’t even ask me to repeat it here 🙂 And then the bank sends you your secret pin number, which you have to keep to yourself.

Daughter: OK. I get it now! And now, I know your pin number too –  it’s ****!

In full volume by the way! Arghh!!! I should have just gone the non-democratic parenting way and told her, ‘One  word out of you and no toys for life’! That would have worked far better 🙂

On another motherhood note, TGND shared a post about motherhood and aspirations for our children, it had me nodding away. Do share what you feel.

To keep a child safe

I am a helicopter mum. A paranoid mum some might say, but I worry. I worry about a million things when it comes to daughter.

A lot of times, I am asked why I read books related to child abuse, when they are so painful. Yes, they are painful, they are horrific, and they affect me really badly. But most importantly it tells me that I have the responsibility to ensure that daughter is kept as safe as possible. They remind me that abuse of all sorts happen in environments of all sorts. Books like these jolt me out of complacency. They make me worry, and they make me take action to ensure that I do what I can to keep daughter safe.

It used to worry me that so many Indian parents that I know, refuse to accept that things like this happen in India. They believe that it is a Western thing, something that doesn’t happen in our culture.

Husband and I are very, very careful in this regard. Daughter knows about the good touch/bad touch, and we keep asking and reminding her every so often. Just because you never know. In India, a lot of people consider me, too protective. I don’t lose sight of her in functions, I ensure that one of us is keeping an eye on her, we don’t allow people to take her ‘to the bazaar, just like that’. We insist on going with her. It’s not about not trusting one person – it’s about not setting a pattern. I would rather be safe than sorry.

She did go out for a sleep over once, but now, I feel worried – I feel I shouldn’t have sent her – she was fine – but what if she weren’t? What if something had happened. I don’t know. It worries me and scares me.

I know I can’t control everything, but at the very least, I can try and talk to daughter, ensure that we have a clear communication going on about everything, and educate her to protect herself, be confident and be in a position to stop any behaviour. And know that we are there to help her in any situation.

As my Dad says, ‘Hope for the best, prepare for the worst’. That is all that we can do, isn’t it?

And hopefully after yesterday’s episode on Child Sexual Abuse on Satyamev Jayate, a lot of parents out there, would too.

Educating ourselves…

.. is such a huge part of being a parent. There are so many things that I have learnt in the last five years of being a mother. Usha’s post on Perspectives reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine.

She has a daughter a year younger than mine, and she goes to a private school. Before I go further, let me explain the schooling system here. Most children in the primary level go to state schools. Only around 8% or so go to private schools. There are several very good state schools, and if you are in a good state school, the education is quite good, and comparable to private schools.

So this friend of mine sends her child to a private school, and is not very impressed by ‘what they are teaching her’, in her words. Just to put things into perspective, she has been quite worried about her child’s education(or the lack of it) since the time the child was just 3. At that time she was concerned that her daughter did not know how to write. Here, they do not pressurize the children to write, they encourage, and the child picks up when they are ready for it. For some reason, she keeps comparing the education standards with that in India – whether it makes sense or not.

So coming back to her worries, she is worried because the school does not send back daily feedback – no homework, and nothing for the parent to work upon. So I explained to her that it is quite similar in Poohi’s school as well. They don’t really send back much work. They only ask us to spend around 10 minutes a day reading with a child. But that did not satisfy her – it is fine for Poohi’s school to send back no work, because it is a state school(free), but in a private school, where they are paying for an education, they should get the child to do more..

Now this is something I find difficult to get my head around. Paid or not, surely what matters is how well they ensure that the child picks up things. Given the fact that the education system is quite different from what we are used to, back in India, I think we really ought to approach it differently. We cannot after all expect the same sort of studying pattern, curriculum or teaching styles from two very different systems.

Every time I go to Poohi’s school, I can’t help be amazed at the amount of work the teachers put in. I really don’t find anything to complain about nor can I ask for anything more from them. The efforts that the teachers put in ensures that the children are motivated and excited by work. For instance, we got the overview of the curriculum for the next term, at the end of the last term. The children had been told of what they would learn too. One of the topics was ‘Dinosaurs’. Poohi came home excited, opened her book of dinosaurs( we just happened to have a book), and read through everything. Apparently,’When Mrs C asks the class, I can put my hand up!’ was the motivation behind it. She is so excited about learning, that she makes that extra effort without any prompting from anybody else. I can honestly say that this sort of excitement can only come from teachers who have made it all so exciting for them, that they look forward to learning more.

Yes, they might not send home books and books of homework, they might not force children to write or read, but they make it fun, they make it interesting, so much so that the children want to learn more. They are motivated, not pressurized. That is all I ask for! That happiness on daughter’s face when she learns, when she picks up new things, makes links of how dinosaurs dying out is similar to how people evolved from monkeys – what more can a parent ask for? We get to see the work that our children do at school during the Parent teachers evening, and it is amazing! They do a lot at school. They cover so much ground, that there is no real need to send home work. Children do get some work, but it is not a huge amount of stuff, and a lot of it involves a child using her creativity, thinking and understanding what needs to be done. When I see daughter working on her learning logs, I am amazed at how her mind works. It goes to show that young minds are so fresh, and innovative, that they can indeed come up with incredible stuff, if we let them be.

Usha also talks about the environment at home affecting the child. So many times when I hear mothers lamenting that their children show interest only in TV shows and would never pick up a book of their own, I can’t help asking how many times they pick up books instead of the TV remote? Not that being a reading parent guarantees a reading child, but being around books, does encourage a child to read(in my opinion). After all, we parents are the first role models that our children have. Taking a child to the library regularly for an outing will making him/her think of reading as a fun activity rather than a chore or a ‘homework’.

And yes, if you do have genuine grievances, talking to the teachers and understanding their point of view is far more useful isn’t it than worrying and complaining that the teachers are no good? And no matter what we think, children do pick up on what the parent thinks. If the parent is unhappy or dismissive of the teachers efforts, chances are that the child may not take the teacher seriously either..

Every time I hear a parent criticize teachers, I can’t help feel uneasy. While I am sure there are several uncommitted teachers, I am sure that there are plenty of wonderful teachers out there. At least I was lucky to have some great ones.. And Poohi has had wonderful teachers so far. As a parent, what I really want to do is be a team with my child’s teacher, to work along with them, to bring out the best in my child. Yes, there might be times when she might not have the best of teachers, but that is when I will need to step up and be there for her.. And hopefully, I will be able to give her what she needs to learn, to grow and to expand her horizons….

Edited to add: Do read Sheils post on how wonderfully creative learning can be!