Food on my mind

Reading has always been a window to a lot of things for me. To different ways of life, experiences and(perhaps, most importantly) food.

As long as I can remember, I remember being tantalized by descriptions of food. Not that I was a foodie by any standards, I was a picky eater, driving my mum crazy. Despite being a picky eater, the one thing that would induce me to try stuff was the food described in books. Enid Blytons descriptions made my mouth water. What exotic stuff they ate. Scones, eclairs, wafer thin cucumber sandwiches, pickle… I suspect I started eating our Indian pickles after reading about them in those books. Little did I know that those pickles were a world apart(and far less tasty, now that I have tasted them). I figured that the eclairs they ate were not the same as the Cadbury’s eclairs that we got from our shops, yet in my imagination, it was the same. I was fascinated enough with scones to try them as soon as I could when I landed on English shores.

Not all my food fantasies had nice endings though. Once I told me grandfather than sardines sound so exciting. The famous five used to carry cans of sardines and tuna. It was such a disappointment when my granddad showed me what sardines actually were. And tuna sandwiches, those are something that even Enid Blyton will not persuade me to eat now, but then it was just perfect – in my mind. But the books were magical that even knowledge refused to defuse my fun. I’ve imagined that my idli with sambar was actually meatloaf, who cared what meatloaf actually was. In my imagination, that was it, and delicious it was, I can assure you. There was this short story in our English Literature syllabus – in ICSE, about Subbiah a road side vendor, who used to sell the most delicious idlis and dosas. That had me drooling despite the fact that it was regular fare at home.

Now, as a grown up , who has traveled( a fair amount), and eaten most of those exotic foods that I had only read about, I still drool. Writers who weave food and recipe magic. Books that transport you to another place, making you lust for luscious tomatoes, crisp salads, delicious gravies that tantalize your tastebuds, the aroma of bread being baked, the description of chappathis puffing up, soft, snowy idlis, perfect, crispy dosas, cheese that take you to another level.. Those books on Italian cuisine, makes me want to drop everything and eat those heavenly pizzas with truffles, or perhaps pasta, tossed perfectly with the seasonal vegetables.. of course, its not just books that make me drool these days. Blogs are far more efficient, what with pictures and recipes to boot, is there anything stopping me? My weight ought to stop me, but even that isn’t a strong enough deterrent.

I just realized that life has come a full circle. Now, I have company. My six year old comes up and tells me, ‘ oh, this sounds so delicious, Amma, rosemary bread with wild mushrooms! Please can I have it! I feel like eating it after reading this book’. Of course, that has me grinning like a Cheshire cat and I guess the least I can do is bake her some bread, if not rosemary bread, right?

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.

I’m a horrible mum…

.. because I try to think for my daughter sometimes, forgetting that she has a perfectly funcitonal mind of her own.

She came home the other day with her ‘learning log’. They had a topic pasted on it, and the children were supposed to work on it, and return it after a couple of weeks. I went on the internet, to get an idea of what needs to be done(the school had recommended a couple of sites to refer to), to get an idea about what needs to be done.

So here I was, bursting with ideas, waiting to tell her what to do when, she grabs her learning log, and says, ‘This is what I want to do’, and goes on to write/draw so well, that I was astounded. The topic was the five senses, and she started off, drawing little pictures and writing all about the senses, without a backward glance.

She did make spelling mistakes with the more complex words, but what amazed me was that she knew what she wanted to do. She was clear on the way she wanted her project to look. Here I was, waiting to guide her, tell her what needed to do, only to realize that children know far more than we expect. And when given free reign, might come up with something not very polished, but far, far more creative.

I just hope she gets the same environment where she gets to express herself, without worrying about the nitty-gritty. And I hope to remember this, and encourage her to continue to express herself beautifully.

Children these days…

Is it only me or do others feel this way, when people start their discourses about how ‘children these days’ don’t do this, or do only that.

The biggest complaint I hear everywhere is how children don’t like outdoor games, or playing with other children, how they are glued to the television etc etc etc. I can’t be the only parent who disagrees, surely? Even in this cold country, I see my daughter and other children playing outside, in the garden when it is sunny, and walking to and back from school. Mind you, these are not very short walks either. Daughter took a skipping rope to school today, she wanted to skip all the way to school, but decided to do it on the way back instead( we did not want to get late for school). Other times, we go to the park on the way back from school. We go on long walks, and daughter enjoys them as much as we do. Yes, occasionally she does complain, but most of the time, she enjoys every bit of it, especially when she knows that the walk will end in the park.

Most days, she has physical activities that she loves, and watching TV comes ta the end of the long list. Some days, she forgets to even ask for TV. And I know that most of her friends have similar routines. Yes, she does enjoy watching TV- which child doesn’t ? But it is us parents who have to find ways of keeping them entertained with other more stimulating activities. And even watching TV is fine, as far as they watch something which is informative and fun, and is within limits.

The same goes with toys. I hear people saying that children throw huge tantrums when they are not allowed to buy a toy that they want. Some justify it by saying that children need toys to play, if you want to stop them from watching TV. To be honest, I find most of the toys that daughter has, to be useless. At the very least, useless in the form that the makers intended them to be used. Most of daughter’s toys are stuff that she has received as gifts. We are parents who hardly buy toys. Why should we, when more often than not, she enjoys cutting paper into tiny pieces, or creating houses with cushions, or some other make-believe game that she thought up?

I have one huge suitcase full of toys that she received for her last birthday. I saw no point in opening it all up, because she is not going to play with all of them at once any way. We(daughter and I) had decided that we would open one toy a month. She forgot all about it, and cheeky mother that I am, I did not remind her. She has enough playthings to keep her happy, anyway. I happened to mention this to a friend, and she was stunned. She was surprised that daughter agreed to it. Her child would never agree, apparently. Well, I think it depends on us, as parents to set out boundaries and once these have been established, early on, children know what to expect. For instance, daughter knows that throwing a tantrum in a store is NEVER going to get her anything. Sure, she does get a little teary sometimes, especially if she is tired , but then as a parent, I know how to distract her or reason with her, depending on the situation.

The same goes with walking and playing outdoors, sharing. If we as parents, teach the children to share, they do understand. At least that is what I have learnt as a parent. Some say that single kids do not know how to share – but to be honest, I have seen single kids sharing beautifully, as well as siblings fighting for everything, and the mother managing to make sure that there is two of everything, because otherwise, a fight is a surety. If we as parents, ground them properly, there is no reason why children, (today’s or yesterday’s) should not behave.

Husband was reading a book where it said something to the effect, ‘What is important is not what parents do, but what parents are’. And that is, I feel true to a large extent. One of my neighbours were extremely active people, and their children were the same. I have never seen them in front of a TV. They spend hours outdoors, read, have picnics, and those two children were beautifully behaved. Absolutely great children. I was happy to babysit them anytime, because I knew that they were great company for daughter, and that they would behave perfectly during the time that they were here.

At the same time, there are children, who get ‘bored’ or want more toys, or want to watch the telly. While every child is different, I do feel that today’s children are not all lazy, selfish children. Sure there might be some, just as there were these types of children in the previous generation. But where there are parents who believe keeping a balance, most children do turn out fine.

For a child to be a child.. Post 12

..seems to be almost impossible..

Sandhya and Monika shared this link on Facebook, and I had to add my two cents. Apparently, a mother gave her 8 year old daughter Botox, apart from treatments like waxing her legs. All for a beauty pageant.

I can’t help wonder what motivates mothers(or parents) to even think of such treatments for a child. How can a parent be obsessed by the way their child looks? How can a beauty pageant be so important that their child needs to go through such ‘treatments’ to compete?  In the link, the child talks about having Botox to get rid of ‘wrinkles’. Wrinkles? On an 8 yr old child? What, how? I mean, I am running out of words here.

Here I flinch when I take my daughter for her regular immunizations, which, I know, is no comparison, but how could a mother inject her child with Botox for purely cosmetic reasons? What is most saddening and horrifying for me, is that the little girl believed that she has wrinkles! And that it is ‘unladylike’ for a girl to have hair on her body! This is an 8 year old talking, by the way, just in case we forget, in the face of all these adult treatments.

Why are we robbing our children on their childhood? While most parents would not go to the extreme of Botox or waxing, but the emphasis on beauty and looks is pretty much there. I was in a beauty saloon about 6 years ago, in Bangalore. I was pregnant with daughter at that time. While I was getting my hair cut, there was this little girl, not more than 4 or 5 years old, who had professional make-up applied on her. They were on their way to a wedding, and the little girl was delighted with her make-up.  She looked horrendous with adult make-up and lipstick on her, in my opinion, but people were cooing on her and telling her that she looked like a movie-star.If only I could have given them a piece of my mind. The staff of the saloon told me that it is routine. Parents get their children to have make-up applied, hair straightened, curled, set, the works. Now, I see people I know, doing the same. My little girl is curious about make-up too, but I am careful not to glamourise it, and thankfully, apart from the cursory look at what I am upto, she is not really bothered. And I would have it no other way.

It is not just about makeup either. Some of my daughter’s friends have shoes with heels. They wear delicate shoes, with straps, and bows and all sorts of things, which just about allows them to stand without tripping over. What happened to sensible shoes? Sandals which allows them to be children? I might be considered an ‘unfashionable’ mother, but I much rather have my child playing, running and doing everything she wants to rather than wear ‘fashionable’ shoes and get shoe-bitten or just stand in a corner. No wonder the boys seem more active, because they are dressed appropriately. When on holiday, I just take sturdy, sensible shoes for her. Yes, she might not change shoes with every outfit, but at least she is able to walk miles, and not have shoe bites, and aching feet.

I have heard new-born babies being lauded as ‘She will be a Miss Universe’. A woman’s need for beauty is stated right from the beginning of her life. I am yet to hear someone say that of a baby boy. A child(girl) who is tall is told, ‘She will be a model, when she grows up’. When we put such ideas into their heads, is it a wonder that little girls get obsessed with their looks and their clothes? Yes, not all of them might be worried about their wrinkles, but some are definitely worried about their complexion.

Here in the UK, there is an initiative called ‘Stop Pimping our Kids’, which is part of a TV programme. They try to take on retailers who sell inappropriate clothes targeted at children as young as 6/7 years old. While it is great to make the retailers accountable, I think the deeper question is, who buys these clothes? Clearly these clothes are on the rack,because parents are buying them.. Isn’t that a bigger problem?

If only I could cocoon daughter from all these influences. I know I can’t but I can try to negate them by deflecting her attention, and by explaining why heels are not such a good idea. Not just for children, even for adults. And by focussing on things that lets her be a child.

To become or not – a parent.

Yesterday, I came across this article.

It talks about how many couples seem to be opting not have children – for various reasons. While some viewpoints support the idea, there was one viewpoint that caught my eye.

But how natural or unnatural is it for a couple to not have kids? “It’s not a socio-culturally natural way of living,” says Dr Bhavna Barmi, senior clinical psychologist and marital therapist at Escorts Heart Institute, “as physiologically, the body has a child-bearing capacity which should be optimised.” 

Surely, just because the body has a ‘child-bearing capacity’ it is not necessary to have children? What about the mind? What about not wanting to have children, does that not matter at all? If we have to do everything the body is designed to, then why ‘contraception’?

The article also reminded me of a somebody who was glorifying motherhood on Facebook. She mentioned something to the effect that women will always be ‘greater’ than men because only women can be ‘mothers’. It begged the question, what about women who don’t want to be mothers? Going by this logic, the only redeeming feature women has, is the ability to become a mother!

You hear so many people glorifying motherhood, that it makes me wonder how it makes those feel who have decided for whatever reasons, to not have children. The moment the ‘expected’ amount of time goes by after one is married, the hints, the gentle reminders start on how we need to become parents, on how it is time to have a child. And god forbid, if the child does not make an appearance soon enough to make the society happy! Whether one is ready for it or not,whether one wants to become a parent or not, is besides the point. It makes me wonder how many people decide to have a baby because of these external factors.

Having a baby is treated as a fix-all in so many cases – if your marriage is not working out, have a baby, that will fix it! A friend was lamenting on a friend of hers who was literally asked to leave the house by her husband. It was arranged marriage and her husband was just not interested in being married, apparently. She had supportive parents who supported her fully, yet when she discovered that she was pregnant,  she chose to go back to her husband because she felt that a baby would change things. This despite her parents and her close friends counseling her to think before taking this step. Apparently she strongly believed that a child would make a massive difference.

It also makes me wonder why being in a relationship is considered so important, that she went back into a relationship where she was told that she was ‘unwanted’! Not just that, she even thought that bringing a child into a relationship like this was a good idea.

Haven’t we all heard of irresponsible men, of whom people say, ‘Get him married off, he will get change once responsibility comes upon him’. I don’t understand this. A person who clearly has problems, or is not mature enough to handle his life, will get mature and responsible just because he has entered a new relationship? Does it ever work? Well, it might for some, while for others the poor wife might have to bear the brunt of it.

Any relationship, be it marriage or having a child, after all being a father or a mother is starting off a whole new relationship, isn’t it, needs to thought out. Instead of going by what society dictates, wouldn’t it be wonderful if people decided based on what they wanted from life? If couples are deciding against having babies, well, more power to them. Whatever be the reason. I hear people say, ‘oh all she is bothered about is her career’, or ‘what do they think they will do with all this money’! Surely, that is their lookout. If someone wants to focus on their career – so what? And what of a homemaker, who does not want a child? Surely that is possible. I personally know someone who is a homemaker and they have decided not to have children. I think it is remarkable that they have thought it through, and have decided based on what makes sense to them. If only every child that came into this world came because the parents truly wanted to have a child, not just because that is what is expected – by others.

If couples feel that they are not ready for a child or that they do not feel the need to be parents, I respect them for having that clarity of thought, than having a child, and then feeling cheated or wishing that they had waited more.

Not having children is far better than having a child and then regretting it, or worse, not being in a position to give the child the love and security that makes for happy childhood and a secure, confident adulthood.

Christmassy fun!

It is nearly Christmas, and usual, we are made aware of it in more ways than one. Everything is lit up and the holiday feel is already here.

Our Christmas tree is up, and someone is very busy singing Christmas songs and all pretend-play is based on the ‘special baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph’. All the after effects of the Christmas concert at school.

Today was the special day. She woke up all excited. We had been issued instructions on how we needed to be early, and how we need to be in the first row(which we could not make, there were parents who were quicker than us). But we did make it to the second row. It was Husband’s first Christmas concert experience, he did not make it to last year’s performance. I don’t think he is going to miss any more Christmas concerts(or any other concert that daughter takes part in), ever again.

I was reading through what I wrote last year, and surprisingly, it was exactly the same this year. I was still moist-eyed at the end of it, despite having seen it all last year. Can we as parents, ever have enough of seeing our children on stage? All of us parents were buzzing with excitement, and the sight of our children had us waving, in delight and excitement. The excitement levels were so high that they first had a ‘big wave’ to get it out of the way!

The performance was so beautifully executed! The teachers gently getting the children to follow the cues, they managed small hiccups like a little boy getting upset beautifully, without making him feel worse, and the children, they were so cute! They just gave it their all! Singing, performing..just having a wonderful time!

Every time I attend an afternoon like this, all I can do is be thankful for the loving environment that Poohi has at school. The genuine care and concern of the teachers makes me count my blessings. I just hope that daughter gets a happy and safe environment everywhere she goes.

And now she has the school Christmas party to look forward to – what a fun life! I want to be a child again! I wonder if they would take kindly to a mother gate-crashing?

The trials and joys of motherhood

There are times when I struggle hard to not be competitive with daughter’s milestones. Reading Sari’s post, reminded me of what I had been doing in the last few months.

I have been quite a laid back mother, in comparison to some of the people I know. I have normally let her have fun, learn things when she is ready for them. I knew people who taught their 9 month old, the alphabet or the numbers. I consciously tried not to do that. I mean, there is plenty of time for all that, isn’t there?

Motherhood, unfortunately comes with all sorts of self-doubts and second guessing oneself, doesn’t it?? There came a time, when I started doubting my methods. Poohi had started phonics last year in the nursery, and she had started writing her name – she knew the sounds of some letters, but refused to read. I would try to get her to read a few simple words, but to no avail. She would be too busy trying to get me to do the reading.  I would have not bothered, had it not been for some of my friends who told me that their child started reading all by themselves, by the time they turned four. Now that had me worried. None of these children had been exposed to books as much as Poohi had, and yet they seem to have learnt to read faster. She loves books, loves being read to, and yet did not want to read? What was I doing wrong? Their mums said that they would spend time every day teaching them to read. And I never did that. I was so worried that I was not helping her enough.  Husband said that I was being too hard on myself, and once she starts, there would be no looking back.

I started trying, but it never worked. She knew every story in every book that we owned and would just rattle off the story, without even trying to read it!  All she wanted was for me to read the stories to her. I was torn between trying harder or letting her be.  I did not want to be a pushy mother, but at the same time, did not want to ‘not push her enough’, if you know what I mean.  I was also scared that I might end up putting her off reading altogether, if I tried too hard. That’s when I decided to buy her a set of ‘Read at home’ books, that she had never read before. I told her that these books had to be read by her – I was not allowed to read it to her.

Every time, she expressed some interest in the books, we would sit together and look at the pages. Initially, she was more interested in the pictures, and then, when she realized that I was not going to read the story to her, started reading – just like that! She knew the sounds, and could easily read the words. I would help her with the tougher ones, but it was mainly her own efforts. Now, she picks up the books by herself, with no prompting from me, and reads, whenever she fancies it. Not just that, she also tries to read my books, and is delighted when she finds words that she knows like ‘and’ or ‘this’.I still don’t know if it was that new set of books that did it or it was just the right time for her, but I am just happy that she is reading, and is reading because she enjoys it, not because I am pushing her to read. Because she wants to, not because she has to.

There she is, grabbing a few minutes after breakfast this morning to read. I can’t tell you how much that sight gladdens my heart. I just hope that her interest in books and stories stay with her all her life.

And here is her little library that houses her books

Books,books and more books..

..but it’s all about Poohi’s books this time.

Rashmi asked me in a comment here about the type of books Poohi reads .There was no way I could answer that in a comment, so decided to devote a full post to it. Nothing gives me as much pleasure as talking about books.

The first books I bought for Poohi were three Winnie the Poohi books when she was a few days old. We got something called a ‘bounty’ pack, if I remember correctly, and it had all sorts of vouchers for kids stuff, these books were part of the deal. And I used to read them to her too, right from the time she was days old. People must have thought me crazy, but I couldn’t care less 🙂 We never looked back from then.

The next purchase that I remember clearly is a red soft cloth book. It was wonderful, and Poohi loved it. It had a little story and it was soft enough for a very young child to play with. It came with a buggy clip so it kept her entertained even while we were out. I have no idea how much she understood, but she used to hang on to every word I read out to her.

Poohi with her cloth book.

She also had some ‘touchy feely books’ which lets them feel things. For instance, furry animals would have a real fur coat in the book. It is lots of fun, even for us 🙂

One of her Touchy Feely Books.

I think one of the things I did on a regular basis was take her to the library. Letting her play in the soft play area, letting her explore and look at the books around her. As she grew older, I started  letting her choose her books. And I would go with whatever she chose.  Some of the books she chose were not exactly exciting, so I would modify the story to make it exciting for her.

I also bought books that I remember from my childhood. Fairy tales and stuff like that.  Oh yes, I had picked up a Disney series, with Nemo, Incredibles and and all those stories – it is a collection of 12 books, and she loves them! And when she discovered the movies – much later, she was delighted when she realized that she knew the stories already 🙂

We also got some free book packs from the library at the ages of six months, 18 months and 3 years – I forgot to pick up the 3 years one, and I guess it is too late now 😦 She loved those books. At the age of 6 months, it was more pictures and just one or two words. At 18 months, there was a slightly longer stories, but with lots of illustration. At each stage, I think they gave away books suitable to that age group.

This time in India, she got a lovely gift of some wonderful books based on Amar Chitra Katha from Deepti Aunty, and she fell in love with them. Simple stories, easy language, and lovely illustration- she loved them. So I picked up some more panchtantra tales which she adores. As I had mentioned here, I also picked up Bhagwatham for Kids, and she loves to hear the stories about Krishna. Somehow Ramayana does not seem to interest her much, I suppose Krishna has more universal appeal because of his naughty antics.

Some of her books from India

And along with the books I buy for her, I take her to the library regularly, get her to pick up books for herself, the only problem being that she ends up picking books which have princess in them(ughhh!, there are only so many princess stories that I can read out). Some of the stories are so much fun. Some of them are a different take on the popular fairy tales/nursery rhymes that we are already familiar with. I remember one story on Dimity Dumpty, Humpty Dumpty’s little sister – I loved that one! She also gets books from school to take home, so she gets a variety of books.

Some of her books – in no particular order or preference – The Beatrix Potter is one of my favourites though.

Thanks to our nomadic existence, I don’t buy books for myself here. It would break my heart if I had to leave them here when we move back to India. So I make up for that by buying her books, and these we are surely not leaving behind ! And let me let you in on  a secret, I enjoy her books as much as she does, if not more. Every time we pick up a batch of new books, I can’t wait to read them, so I read them first 🙂 Sneaky me 🙂 I can’t wait for her to start reading all be herself and get started on all those Enid Blytons I loved! Every time I see a beautifully packaged collection of those childhood books, it takes a lot of persuasion from my practical self to prevent myself from buying them right away!


Early Start

I think, I have started agreeing with other mums that our children do seem to on the ‘early start’ mode more than I would have liked to.

My 4.5 year old’s 4.5 year old friend in response to my question, ‘So have you made new friends at your new school?’ replies, ‘ No, but I did make a boyfriend’!

My 4.5 year old was not impressed, ‘Boyfriend? Boys  are NOT fun!’. Thank god for that. May that attitude last another 16 years and we can breathe a sigh of relief 😉

Even if they don’t care about ‘Boys’ they do seem to care about ‘makeup’. Poohi and a friend were busy pretend playing ‘buying makeup’. Although how she picked that up is beyond me! I NEVER ‘buy makeup’ the way they are pretending to!  All the crayons and pencils are the ‘makeup’ that they are trying on!