Bad Hair Day

Seems I missed the memo that notified all parents that six years of age is now the new teenage. I was pretty sure I had at least half a dozen years left before the troublesome teens hit my firstborn. Yet the oh-so-lovely phase she is going through right now, clearly is telling me to wake up and smell the tears and whines over an outfit or look gone all wrong!

Six-year-old K’s latest obsession is growing her tresses long … so long that they reach her shoulders one day, touch her back the next and by day three, voila!, there are at her hips. So she will repeatedly check the length as she passes any mirror and also keep comparing her beautiful locks with every style she sees in magazines and on television. I must consider myself lucky that till about age five I managed to keep my maintenance woes low by regularly ensuring she had a ‘cute summer cut’. So whether it was summer or winter, it was also just a quick brush and out the door.

Initially I would just quietly watch as she combed and brushed and measured. The trouble began when she decided on one occasion after another that her hair was a mess and she just couldn’t leave home with us for an outing. It would start with a simple discussion on how she wanted to tie her hair – a pigtail, two pigtails, just a hairband, etc etc.Slowly this would deteriorate into some whining from her side, yelling from my side, tears from her side and finally both sides just giving up and walking away in different directions!

Then one day I came home from work to hear that she bunked her favourite dance class and she confessed that her hair just wasnt good enough. Enough is enough, I thought. I am not ready for this. Why are all those precious years before her teens being stolen from me?! I demand that my innocent six-year-old with no sense of self-identity and self-esteem back! 🙂

So I sat her down and gently explained that there will be days once in a while and more often as she grows up where her beautiful face and beautiful tresses will just be at loggerheads with each other. And each time we can’t run away from what we really want to do. So… we just need to declare it a ‘Bad Hair Day’ and move on. Tell people you are having a bad hair day, I suggested. They will understand. She stared at me grimly as tough my peace offering was sounding way too easy. Almost sounded as though Momma hadn’t put any effort into this one. But she politely nodded in agreement.

Couple of days later, as I walking in through the door, she came running to me.

“Momma, today ALSO I had a bad hair day! It just wouldn’t listen to me so I let it be.”

Atta girl! Give it back to that teen inside trying to fast forward life.

Quiet friendships

The best way to make sure you do less of something is to make a simple new year resolution about doing more of it. My well-intentioned resolution was to blog more often. Enough said. It has taken me almost two months to haul myself back over here.

Its been a good start to the year. Touch wood. An interesting move up at work. Kids back to school and the daily rush. Hubby enjoying his travels in and out of small towns dotting the countryside. And as I sit back and relax, there has been quiet change in the way my six-year-old K and twenty month old V interact with each other. Amidst all the shouting, jostling, pulling and pushing, there are these lovely moments of friendship. Sharing a chocolate earned after a hard day of good behavior. Running around the furniture and playing catch with little V loving to pretend she’s a puppy with a mean bite. Sitting cross-legged on the floor and syncing hand movements to rhythmic songs. Leaning back in the big lazy chair, snuggled together and giggling over their favourite cartoon shows. Flipping pages of a big picture book – K thrilled that she can read the words and V excited by the pictures she can identify and sounds she can mimic.

One day I overhear this conversation.

‘V, can you give me back my crayons?’, pleads big sister K.

‘No!’

‘V, do you want a new Barbie?’

‘Yesh!’

‘Then give me my crayons and I’ll get you a new Barbie.’

‘Yesh.’ And there’s a polite return of crayons.

The very next day there is a repeat performance. But…

‘V, give me my notebook back and I’ll give you a new Barbie.’

‘No! No Barbie.’

Wiser already. 🙂

Left Right Left

I was so caught up in the logistics of the entire event that I kind of forgot about the event itself. Till a tidal wave of nostalgia hit me.

It was my six-year-old K’s annual Sports Day at school. The athlete in her has not yet surfaced (yes, I am hoping it does one day) so she was participating only in the mass drill set for all junior kids. My mind was completely pre-occupied in planning to reach the school on time, arrange a car drop and pickup for little V to her playschool, managing a classmate’s mom tagging along, coordinating the early pick-up after half-day sports etc. As things fell into place and I walked onto their athletics field, it hit me.

One, the sheer size of the field. Two, and more importantly, images of my those years of school sports days flooded my mind. And I was not just remembering moments, I was clearly visualising each one of them as though in a parallel world I was transported back to my school ground. Incidentally it is only a twenty-minute ride away and I cross it daily on my way back from work.

The images felt so real. Walking down the long path leading to the field, happy to be missing a few classes in the name of sports practice. Hours of striving for perfection in the march past. My teacher was an army colonel in disguise I was convinced. Standing perfectly still, waiting for the march past to begin and desperately wanting to scratch the itch on my calf thanks to hovering mosquitos. Pulling up our socks, stretching them till they gave up so that less skin was available for above mentioned mosquito. Being in the Red House that always came last on Sports Day and was hence condemned to be the fourth and last group in the march past. The ignominy meant more time in the mosquito corner. The freshly laid out  tracks with pure white chalk powder. Punishing hours in the hot sun, mastering the drill routine. Watching those who could really run, run. The big day and the all important ‘Eyes Right!’ that allowed us to scour the stands for a glimpse of our parents. The games declared open and balloons, just a few, released into the sky. Back to the pavilion to cheer your house towards greater glory. Never worked for mine. ‘East or West’ my house is the best! Repeated again and again and again.

It all came back to me. And it all played out again in front of me. The same oath. The same chants. The same drill. The only addition was a mind-blowing display of yoga. We have moved forward in time to realise the value of ancient art forms.

Will her kids also do the same things I wondered. It suddenly felt as though this was a routine cast in stone. How could anyone dare to change it. How could they think they could better it.

Finally it came down to the basics. Kids running. As fast as they could. As best they could. Hoping and praying they crossed the finish line and brought glory to their House.

I wish more parents stopped looking down into their phones and looked up at their past. As it played itself out right in front of their eyes. Eyes Right.

Standing Tall

I’ve been meaning to write for a while now about K’s love for the stage. It’s one of those traits that reminds me that some things are just in the genes. Her father loves an audience and clearly that love has been generously passed on to the offspring.

It comes quite naturally to her and so she is regularly one of the chosen few at school for stage competitions. There was her Cat in the Hat, then a kiddie version of extempo speaking, a group song for a festival celebration, a group dance for an academic fest and today a debate. Phew, didn’t realise it was already such a long list.

K was quite excited about being selected for the debate. I could see the confidence in her growing. It was no longer just about remembering her lines and reciting it on stage. She wanted to learn about hand movements, facial expression, eye contact. She clearly wanted to better herself.

Despite my earlier rants, I still can’t get all Tiger Mom about such events. I like to help her and guide her but I really do like to leave it up to her. After every such event at the school I come back wondering if I should have got her to practice more, push till it’s perfect like some parents seem to have done. But just can’t do it. Just can’t enforce my thoughts and views on her so rigidly. Maybe also because she will have none of it! Sure she hears me out and nods politely but finally she does what she thinks suits the situation. And I am fine with that. Let her learn through her own efforts and her own mistakes.

But somehow while this strategy was always sounding right in my mind, there was always the tinge of disappoint that she hadn’t really won in one of these events yet. Today something in the air told me it would be different. And she didn’t let me down. Third best speaker.

K was patiently waiting for the results to be announced. As the first and second prize winners walked up onto the stage, I held my breath. And then I heard her name being called out. The image of her running onto the stage, pride in every step, is still right before my eyes. She flashed me a brilliant smile and I just wanted to hold her in that moment and hug her forever. She did it, on her own and she knew it. Standing tall, so proud of herself, having taken baby steps forward with each shot at the stage, she had wanted it so bad and it was hers!

K, I am so happy for you and my heart swells with pride. And I am so glad the victory is 100% yours. Self-made. All yours.

That’s Me in the Corner

Comparisons are inevitable when you have two kids. And by now we had pretty much reached the grand conclusion that six-year-old K will always be the stickler for rules and little V will be a rebel with or without a cause. Yes, the second child is always more adventurous and all that jazz but some personality traits are so strong that I’m sure it has nothing to do with birth order!

So V is now a one month veteran of playschool. She just loves getting ready. I have to be careful not to start the process too soon else she’s ready and terribly impatient a good thirty minutes before we actually need to leave. And its a herculean task to contain her for those thirty minutes. She is parked near the main door, bag on her shoulder and plotting her escape to the corridor.Th entire journey from our apartment to the elevator to the car to the main gate of the school is made in a state of heightened excitement. And then the last leg – I hand her over to her teacher and …. the tears and howls fill the room! She wants to be there but she doesn’t want Momma to leave. 😦

It’s a heartbreak for any mom. Your hormones are just lurking under your skin waiting to unleash loads and loads of guilt and sadness on you. I quietly slip away and wait by a window for a few minutes. I am waiting to hear silence. Silence that will tell me that its ok to turn my back and head off to work. V will be fine. And thankfully the waiting has reduced from five minutes to thirty seconds. Just a few more days till we declare victory.

Once she’s resigned to her morning fate, her “Miss” tells us that she quite enjoys herself. She likes to float around the room, turns pretty much a deaf ear to requests to stick to her own mat and toys. She likes to mingle, socialize, check out what her friends are upto and join them (or disturb them!).

‘Snack break’ is also her favourite. We hear stories of V trying to make it more of a giving and sharing session than the Miss would like! Well, we know we can’t make her sit still for two minutes at the table so this doesn’t surprise us much. K would never dream of such a transgression. By now K would have been appointed Snack Monitor, empowered with the authority to ensure that every child is in his or her place and having their snack.

For the last couple of days she has been taking a nap two hours into school time. So she misses the community sharing of ‘snack break’. Today she woke up just five minutes before her granny was to pick her up. Her teacher felt she may be hungry given that she missed eating her snacks and drinking her milk. So she was shipped off to the snack room and asked to open her little box and eat.

Her granny walked in to see the most heartwarming sight. Little V has sitting in a corner of the snack room, her box of fruits and biscuit open, empty spoon in one hand and quietly gazing out the window. Perhaps oblivious to the fact that she had slept thought the first session, she was waiting quietly for her friends to join her. Or perhaps, Granny thought for a fleeting second, seeing her Rebel V sitting so serenely, that little V is learning that there are rules. Nah! 🙂

Masti Sister

When K was born in Mumbai, one of our first outings with her was SiddhiVinayak Temple. I discovered a small item on the noticeboard announcing a service for newborns – a detailed horoscope booklet with a write-up about what the future holds for the child. Being a sucker new mom, I ordered for one.

A lovely, red, hardbound book arrived a few weeks later. It held pages and pages of hand-written charts detailing the positions of every star in the sky, it seemed. I skipped all of it and landed on the only two pages with some words. It spoke of what her personality would be like and what her future holds – how she would mostly study abroad, how she would have a religious bend of mind, how her left eye would be prone to injury (!), how her first engagement might not work out but she will have a long, stable marriage finally, etc. My belief in astrology was not strong enough to actually think that this little page held answers to such grave questions. Yet, one sentence stayed with me and would run through my mind every so often – ‘She will take great care of her siblings’.

As a mom who went through a very precious pregnancy, this was music to my years. It was a sign from above, I told myself, that there will be more babies in my arms. Not that I wanted to recreate the Von Trapp family but as an only child, I was pretty sure we should have a couple of kiddos.

Over the past few days I find myself repeatedly recalling this innocuous little statement read over five years ago. K has been an exemplary big sister to naughty little V. And it’s not just about things like sharing toys or letting V scribble in her books or walk away with her chocolate (though for a little kid these might be big sacrifices). From the day V was born, K has shown a kind of deep caring for the little one.

When I would emerge from the bedroom after putting a sleeping V in her crib, K would gently check, “hope you kept the soft pillow on the side”, “did you cover her? mosquitos may bite.”

All her actions would show that she is always ensuring that her little sister is safe. And empathy is something that I find is so abundant in her. At two of her previous schools, they had inclusive classes and ‘special’ children were integrated into the regular curriculum. The class teachers would tell me that K makes an extra effort to help these kids with their daily work and activities. Maybe something as simple as helping the child open her water bottle before lunch or taking her to the washroom. But K does it each time. So much so that when we were moving cities, the teacher had to prepare the special child for K’s absence. She didn’t want it to come as a shock to her that K wasn’t in the class anymore.

So many times K has had to wait for my attention. I could hear myself saying ‘please wait while I finish this for V’ and hope that she doesn’t object. She rarely does. She’s willing to wait because the baby needs me first. Her maturity amazes me still.

Last night the two of them were lying on the carpet, cuddling with each other and trying to fall asleep. V was being the little monkey that she usually is.

I sneaked it in slyly, ‘So, is it fun to have a little sister?’

‘Oh yes! Especially when its such a masti sister like mine!’ 🙂

God bless you K.

House of Tomorrow

Quote

As I walked out of the classroom with K’s term report in my hand, I stared across the huge expanse that is their playground, trying to spot two tiny figures and one larger figure. My eyes settled on K & V, excitedly running and dancing across the basketball court with their father in pursuit. My mind wandered to my favourite lines in ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran. (Though to be able to choose a favourite verse in that power-packed book is impossible. Maybe I could say these are my favourite lines about children.)

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

I continued to stare into the openness and a smile crept up on my lips. One of those unconscious smiles reflecting a happy thought inside and not particularly directed towards anyone on the outside. I was holding an envelope made of recycled newspaper. There was artwork stuck on the cover – K’s version of her dad. Coloured in bright colours very typical of her. Bright blue. Bright red. Bright sunshine. Two figures waved out to me and all three started their walk back towards the main school building. Little V made several pit stops and detours.

The report card was not a card. It was 5 sheets of paper, each sheet painstakingly written by hand. I instinctively tried to match the handwriting with the teacher. Extremely neat and straight small cursive writing by the petite and young class teacher. She doubled up as the math teacher. The strokes were small and youthful and logical.Free-flowing long strokes running across the page. Her slightly older English teacher. This hand had written many essays where the thoughts flew faster than the words on paper. The bubbly and spirited language of the science teacher. She made science fun, I could see that.

Different strokes but they spoke the same words… wonderful student, very interactive, responsible, diligent, confident. And then adjectives that I have seen earlier but always elicit a bit of surprise… helpful, considerate, team-player. I hear it repeatedly – she’s such a pleasure to have in my class; she grasps so quickly and then walks over to friends and helps them understand, maturity beyond her age…

She is mine but she does not belong to me. She is a free spirit. I have placed no burden of expectation on her. That has given her wings to fly. That she chooses to soar is also what her soul desires to do, not what the body has been conditioned to do.

‘…but seek not to make them like you…’

Many times I see a very different side of her. And I tell myself that she is a child and away from the glare of the teacher’s eyes, she feels safe enough to be herself. A little less helpful. A little more of a team leader. A little less mature. A little more of a child. My child. In the House of Tomorrow.

The three figures walk up to me. ‘So, she’s a rockstar?’, the father confidently asks. K grins shyly, the warm glow of knowing your parents are happy and proud.

‘Always’, I say, ‘she’s a rockstar.’ Of her own accord.

The Prophet
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Yes Miss

The entire family has been grinning all day.

Little V sets off for day two of her new playschool, armed with her hand-me-down school bag with essential supplies – water bottle, snack box and a towel. As the newest and youngest student she is given a free run of the place so that she can get used to her surroundings and feel comfortable. The kids sit on little mats and go about their activities like bead stringing, matching shapes and colours. V is busy window-shopping, eyeing the activities on each mat, occasionally choosing to nonchalantly disturb another child immersed in his or her work. But even kids are kind to new entrants.

After sessions of rhymes, shlokas, snacks, play, it is finally time to call it a day and head home. The teacher, lovingly called Miss, takes out her attendance notebook.

‘Adit?’
‘Yes Miss’
‘Divya?’
‘Yes Miss’
‘Pooja?’
‘Yes Miss’

and lastly,

‘V?’
‘Yesh Mish’ 🙂

The entire classroom was glowing with smiles at the simple innocent reply for 17 month old V.

So as she trots around the house, we take turns shouting ‘Yesh Mish’! She knows it about her and she knows its praise so she smiles coyly. Sometime its a hearty chuckle filled with pride.

We sure are proud! 🙂

And the journey begins…

My little girl has been shown the golden path to enlightenment! Or in other words, she has started play-school today 🙂

So while I did my homework on the various options around home, I finally went with the place that matched most of my requirements and also my gut feel. It’s close to home, the timings are convenient, the place is homely and the lady running it gives you a feeling of warmth and sincerity. She’s also not charging exorbitant fees like some of the chain schools do nowadays.

On Day 1, Momma and big sister accompanied little V to the school. The entire family has been excitedly telling V all weekend that she will be going to school. For V, till now, school means just the bus-stop to drop or pic-up K. So the look on her face is clearly asking what the fuss is all about. This morning she was a cool customer – bathed and dressed and accessorised! (Big sister lovingly handed-down her old favourite little doggie shaped bag for V to take her snack box!). I bet she was thinking that Christmas has come early this year. Why else are Momma and Didi willingly taking me out somewhere instead of scurrying off to office and school.

She’s the youngest in the class of 12 kids by a whole six months. Thankfully the owner/teacher is willing to have her so early. We just want to give her a couple of hours with kids and also as a very valuable side-benefit – give grandfolks some breathing time from babysitting.

Like a kid in a candy shop V explored the room full of educational toys at her whim and fancy. She was also keenly observing each of the other kids – watching their routines and sometimes emulating. It’s amazing how quickly they pick up what’s acceptable or expected behaviour from the group.

An hour into playtime her body clock reminded her that it was time for her daily 10am snooze. Just as she was trying to convince Momma to give her a bit of milk and rock her to sleep, she was distracted by the colourful slide and see-saws. That’s always more fun than sleep!

 

After another hour, the triumphant trio of Momma, K and V declared day one of school a huge success and started on the victory march back home.

It’s exciting… yet a tinge of sadness…they grow up way too fast and the world around them is changing even faster. There’s only one way to keep up and that’s by setting off on the journey of life and learning as soon as one can.

Impressionable Minds

Once upon a time, a ‘teacher’ was mostly a middle-aged lady with kids of her own and predictably toggled between grandmotherly and grumpy. Her chalk-stained fingers and crisp cotton sarees would have tormented and soothed several batches of young minds. She always took the effort to know more about the child, her parents, her siblings. She knew the impact she had on young impressionable minds.

Today a ‘teacher’ is mostly a young mother, understands that today’s kids are so much more aware of their world and let’s their individuality shine. She’s almost the big sister in kurtis and jeans. She seeks to be a friend, not so much dwelling on the long-term impact of the student-teacher relationship. Just one year at a time.

Why am I rambling about this? It seems I have a little girl who believes that her teacher is someone to be respected and revered so much that she cannot fail in her teacher’s eyes. And while for a bit this may seem like a good thing, I am discovering that it’s not so simple. And that for this relationship to work, both sides must believe that the bond is so strong yet tender. They must invest their time and energy into getting to know each other.

K loves school and her teachers. Life is wonderful academically. Every parent-teacher meeting I hear such lovely things about her that my heart glows. But there’s one little thing she’s not able to master – eating her school lunch on time. She’s always been a poor eater so she struggles to finish the servings in the thirty minutes. And in her eyes, she’s failing the teacher. She is being reprimanded by her idol. So she fakes aches and pains. This buys more time or buys more sympathy.

And how did this vicious circle start? One young teacher repeatedly scolded her in front of her friends. She didn’t see the pain in the little girl’s eyes? The disappointment in herself that she couldn’t finish the task set for her – finish your lunch faster? So she has set her on a constant search for excuses.

‘Momma, give me home lunch. just two idlis please.’

And Momma obliges. It’s better than a six-year-old sitting in fear at the lunch table, eating too fast and then bringing it all out. 😦

How I wish the teacher had understood this little girl. Coaxed her gently, encouraged her to eat better. Yelling was always an option but a last resort.

Now this little impressionable mind has only one view – I can’t meet the teacher’s expectation so she will yell. And then I will feel really bad.

Me too Kiddo.