Aim higher but not very high.

When I was reading this story behind the latest Vicks ad about the transgender mother and her daughter, something felt very familiar. Two adopted daughters by transgender women : one wanted to become a doctor but didn’t, and the other one’s mother wants her to become a doctor. Even at Mentor Me India, the municipal school where we volunteer, there are about 30 students in a class, all of them from financially weaker sections of society. Whenever the young girls and boys of 12 to 14 years were asked what do they want to become when they grow up, 90% invariably said ‘Doctor’. A very few kids say a teacher or perhaps a policeman. But thats it. And historically if you see less than 1 % of kids from economically weaker backgrounds go on to become doctors. That education is very expensive and simply unavailable. But those kids (or adults) rarely come in contact with people from other professions. They don’t require a CA to file tax returns, they have no idea about an automobile designer, what is an astronaut, or an anthroplogist or even a chef?! In fact, last time when I took my mentee Gauri to a local mall she was very surprised to find out there are so many people working in the mall or that there is a person specially to clean up tables after people leave the food court. Its another thing that the 12 year old girl went to a mall for the first time, was shivering with fear when standing on the escalator, was amazed seeing the tall mannequins in each shop and absolutely refused to take the elevator because it frightened her.

When we started the mentoring relationship, I had a hard time explaining her what I do for a living. I told her I am a Chartered Accountant running our own company selling capital equipment made in Switzerland. I broke it down into easily understandable parts, but when I met her family, she hadn’t been able to explain what her mentor does. Finally for lack of any other terms, I settled on telling her that I work in a bank. And now every-time I go to her house, different family members come to me with their banking problems which generally involve not remembering the bank account number or unable to find a passbook. When this is the level of problems we are dealing with, aspiring to become a doctor becomes unachievable right from the beginning.

Gauri’s elder sister Manisha had her 10th board exams a few weeks back. Whenever I called her or went to their place, the girl would be doing housework or tending to her younger cousins. Sitting and studying for the board exams was not a priority, in fact it wasn’t even on her to-do list. The silver lining is that her family had promised to make a gold chain for her and distribute sweets in the gully if she passed the exam. So atleast they know the importance of clearing the exam. But when I asked her how how well did she answer the papers, I was met with silence. Either she skipped a paper or two, or the exam went really bad.

Sometimes I worry at my pragmatism. I want Gauri to dream and strive for something bigger, but something which is still within her reach. If she says she wants to work as a clerk, or as an accountant, or work in a factory that makes say cars, I know what to tell her to get there. But these 7th graders who barely know the English alphabets, how are they to study for highly complicated exams and professional degrees ? But hey, you always got to aim higher in case you fall short, right?  May be yes, or may be no.

My year long mentoring relationship is soon coming to an end. Just two more months which are mostly holidays and the kids disappear to their native places. I don’t know how much it has been of value to her, but it has immensely enriched my life. It is almost as if I have a new set of eyes, a new vision. Looking at the intricate levels at which kids function has made me a better parent. All my decisions are now more carefully evaluated with a wider view of the world. As for my mentee Gauri, she is an artist, loves painting and decorating. Evey time I ask her about studies, she manages to steer the conversation to her latest art project. May be I can convince her to become a baker, she can whip up gorgeous and delicious cakes. In MMI annual day a few weeks back, we decorated 100 cupcakes. Each mentee had a hands on experience in frosting a cupcake and decorating it with sprinkles. Gauri was thrilled. I should enrol her in a baking workshop. Or show her the basics of designing. Or elementary, intermediate art exams? She should do something that she enjoys, but is still within her reach.
Becoming a doctor can be for another lifetime. Standing firmly on her own feet and being financially independent is what we will strive for in this janam.

MMI encourages people to continue the mentoring relationship beyond the one year period. But our work is getting very hectic, my toddler is very demanding, and there will be a lot of business travel this year. So it looks difficult to continue mentoring like last year, meeting her every alternate week, but I will definitely keep in touch with her. Atleast once every 2 months. Till the end of time.

MMI baking cupcakes

Taking a cupcake decoration workshop at MMI day

Rutvika

P.s : MMI is hiring for the next cohort. You can contact them here.

Going to school : Mom is more petrified than the child

img_6021

Arjun is two years old now. Which means he will soon have to start play school, nursery etc etc and get in the rigamarole of people telling him how to do stuff. Not to say that we don’t, but he barely listens to us and convinces – coaxes, pampers or ignores us and goes his own way. He has also learnt fake crying and does it with eyes wide open to check our reaction. But all of this won’t be tolerated in school. One playgroup teacher in fact even told us that she doesn’t let kids in her class use the toilet except in the designated break time. Kids need to learn discipline. I am not sure how she imposes this on snotty 3 years olds, but we excluded that play school from our (very)short-list.

In the last two weeks, we have visited 5 playschools in our area. And rejected each one of them. For very peculiar reasons. The first one had a “counsellor” on board. They identify what problem your child has and direct them to specialist doctors on their panel. The administrator of that school proudly listed the kids whose problems were identified – ‘A has sensory problem’, ‘B has walking problem’, ‘C has talking problem’ and so on. I am sure they will find some problem with my boy – “not a party-goer, hates loud noise” might be topping the list. And while I understand that adults can sometimes need counselling, the idea to have a counsellor for toddlers rebuffs me. This nursery struck off.

In contrast to this one, we went to a traditional playgroup, the one which has been around in the same place for last 25 years. Replete with leaking taps and paint peeling off the walls. They believed in keeping it simple. And while it ensured that they had no hyper specialised doctors on board, I kept wondering if the carpet was damp with fresh water or umm, otherwise. Those guys need to refurbish to let in a lot more light and make it habitable. Another one neatly erased from the list.

The other two were tiny, looked like covered parking spots. Basically set up in place of shops on the ground floor of residential buildings. They were sparkly and bright with animal murals painted on the walls. A little play area with plastic slides and building blocks.  But I wasn’t comfortable with either of them. I can’t say why other than the fact that it felt I would be leaving my baby in a converted shop.

Perhaps, I am just not ready to let my baby go out into the world. I am wary of public scrutiny. If he is very active, has ten things up his sleeve, he will be labelled ‘hyper-active’, if he sits quietly in the room, he will be termed ‘anti-social’. Whatever he does will not be confirming to the usual standards of normalcy. And with that people will judge me. As a mother. Me and my husband as parents. And even his grand-parents because he spends a lot of time during the day with them when we go to work. Now I have read enough self help books and articles and TED talks to know that I shouldn’t let it matter to me. But how do I protect my boy from all of this?

But finally, this weekend we found a school which prima facie seems to be in line with our beliefs. More focus on books, less on gadgets; a teacher who didn’t squirm when Arjun refused to enter the school, one who wasn’t shouting instructions but talking softly, giving importance to sending at-least one fruit with the tiffin box, etc etc. In isolation these are little things, shouldn’t matter much, but the whole as a belief system matters a lot.

Like most babies, Arjun is a sensitive little dude. Cries when Jack fell down the hill, or Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. We have to make amendments in the song and assure him that Jack and Humpty Dumpty are both okay. He is the one with a lot of hugs, lot of Eskimo kisses and is constantly making us tea, cupcakes, dosa with his plastic kitchen set. He is currently obsessed with mannequins and wants to go and touch all of them outside the shops in the market. Tells us that the mannequins are not real but believes when I say that they sleep at night and we can’t go see them. He is weird that way. But I would go to any length to protect his imagination, his story telling and his firm conviction that his baby cream can cure anything in the world.

And I am sure eventually he will be a master in self-help and give gyaan to us, but for now, it is our responsibility to take care of this little Peppa Pig.

Love,

Rutvika

Oh baby, don’t grow up so fast.

arjun-and-momma-in-goa

Arjun, my almost two year old boy is at an age, where he can make sense of the little things going on around him. He can explain , argue, try to convince or throw a tantrum as the last resort. Many times he says things to us which we have previously said to him. When I hurt my finger with a kitchen knife, he came running with his baby lotion and told me to apply it and it will get well very soon. When his father coughed during a meal, he quickly pointed out that he should take smaller bites and eat slowly. Stuff that we tell him sooner or later comes back at us. He knows which clothes I wear to work and which clothes on the weekends. So last Saturday when I wanted to go meet a friend for lunch, I told him I am going to office and you take a nap with your baba. He looked at my jeans and gleefully exclaimed that I am not wearing office clothes, so I can’t go to the office. It’s hard to say anything to that when you feel half proud about your child’s supposed intelligence and half stupid to be so simplistic that a 2 year old has already figured you out. But that’s what it is. Many times we have to talk in spellings now, because he knows his mother tongue Marathi very well, and can also pick up on most commonly used English words. Often you will find us talking like this – ‘Should we take him s-w-i-m-m-i-n-g in the evening?’ or ‘Don’t bring that a-p-p-l-e in front of him till he finishes dinner’ et cetera.

But this baby boy is wary of loud places and crowded rooms. Any new people make him nervous and he starts saying he wants to go home. When I took him to a Mentor Me India meeting a few weeks back because no one was at home to baby-sit him, he cried non-stop till I quickly called an Uber to go home. But as soon as I showed him that an Uber was on the way, he stopped crying. A fellow mentor asked him that if you understand what is happening then why are you crying? Arjun replied with a wail to ensure that I don’t cancel the cab. He was uncomfortable there for whatever reasons, and he was communicating it to me in the best way he could. Now so many times it happens that I want to literally and figuratively run out of a place. Especially dark rooms with small windows. I have yet not been able to articulate why. Then how can I expect him to do that? But nevertheless I feel exasperated at times and wish he was more ‘social’. More like me than his dad who also needs a lot of alone time.

Currently Arjun’s grandma has gone to the USA for a few weeks to spend time with her granddaughter. Naturally he is quite upset that his beloved ajji can’t be seen anywhere. Without any frame of reference of a month or a week, I was worried how to tell him that she will come back soon, but after many days and many nights. He cried for the first two days but now he tells himself every morning that ajji has gone to US to bring his cousin Sara to Mumbai so that they can play together. Suddenly he misses her less, because it’s for a special cause. It is so that he gets back not only ajji but also Saru-tai, his cousin. Poor baby Arjun is set for another heartbreak in a few weeks, but for now he is waiting. And valiantly assures me that ajji will come back soon when I say that I miss her too.

These new generation kids are really smart I tell you. Making sense of the world faster than us. My two and half year old nephew can unlock any cellphone, take selfies and photos. And if there is no password, he can even play his favourite Youtube videos! My friends’ similar aged son can identify cars whizzing by. His toy cars include a Lamborghini, Bugatti, Ferrari etc. And I can’t even recognise my white Activa scooter without seeing the number plate. I often wonder how can we match up to these kids? How do we keep them stimulated without binding them to dozens of activity classes? If you have any tips, I am very keen to hear.

And of course things are not so sensible every day. There are times when Arjun is crying unconsolably because he wants to wear the same soiled diaper from the dustbin or he has had a bad dream at 3 am and wants to go to the park right now to see the horse or some other absurd idea at an ungodly time and I want to disappear from this life. Wake up in another era when I had my brain to myself and was not muddled with concern, worry, and a whole another individual. But then that’s why parenting is a two person job (mostly). Akshay takes over and asks me to shoo away when I am running out of patience. It true that it takes a village to raise a child. If it were just the baby and me I would have gone crazy long back.

End of this month little baby turns two, he just switched from rear-facing baby car seat to front facing big-boy seat. I cling to his baby ways of doing things, his sweet smell, the way he asks me to pick him up and hold him, the way he wil hold my face in both his hands and prevent me from talking to anyone else. Because it won’t last long. Soon his non-stop chatter will turn into reserved one-word sentences. Cuddles will be hard to come by and the grown up air will surround him. I better enjoy each moment now, and go give him a nose-to-nose Eskimo kiss. Right now.

Xoxo.

Rutvika

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

thanksgiving-2015

Thanksgiving in San Francisco. 2015.

Last Thanksgiving was a first of many things for me. The first time I ate turkey, celebrated Thanksgiving, Arjun – my little baby boy’s first US trip, the first time Arjun and I took a 24 hour flight just by ourselves, meeting my baby brother (he’s 25, but for me he is still a baby!) since he went to the US to study, winning money at a poker game, a miraculous reflex catching Arjun mid-air when he fell off a high table, another night when he rolled under the bed and my heart skipping a beat when we couldn’t see him for a second, eating ice cream on a cold windy Californian day, drinking beer in a park, listening to Thanksgiving speeches where my young brothers-in-law morbidly thanked the turkey for dying so we could feast on him, 80 year old grandmother feeling thankful about being able to travel to US from India, the first time Arjun and Sara- my baby niece played and fought with each other, and the first time my heart felt thankful for the days of our lives that are filled with family and food.

There’s a lot to be thankful about. I agree that the world is full of mishaps, there are too many wrong-doings and doers which can be agitating, difficulties big and small interlacing the fabric of life. But the fact that we are here, you and I, physically healthy and mentally fit, thats enough reason to be thankful about.

We are teaching Arjun to say thank you when someone does something nice for him. He has taken it very seriously. Each time, he extends his hand, tilts his head to one side, smiles and says Thank you. Thank you grandma for the delicious breakfast, thank you dad for wrapping me in two towels after the bath so I don’t feel cold, thank you grandpa for letting me pluck flowers from the plant (and his grandpa thanks him for not plucking the buds yet to bloom), thank you momma for reading that Peppa Pig book for the 5th time in the last 2 hours. He even goes on to say thank you to the flowers for blooming, Lata Mangeshkar for singing his favourite songs and for his stuffed toy Bobo for pooping in the toilet! Kids, I tell you, they can warm even the coldest hearts. And patiently take soft toys and plastic fishes to the toilet so they can pee and poop.

I am going to see my cousin after a long time today, and spend hours chatting with her. Followed by 2 weddings in two days and a getting some shopping done for a big fat family wedding next weekend. Hope you all have a great weekend too, whether or not you are celebrating Thanksgiving. I am sending some gratitude your way for reading these posts and for dropping in some kind words. And to the cosmos for showing me the light when it gets dark.

Say a thank you to someone for me, will you?

Travelling with a baby – Dehradun Mussourie

Thankfully for us, baby boy Arjun loves travelling. His first trip was to Jaipur when he was 6 months old , and he was still breastfed. We nursed everywhere, the sweltering Jaipur heat of June did not deter us from going anywhere. Anytime he was hungry/ thirst/ cranky/ bored/ sleepy, we would find a quiet little corner and nursed. He was a happy camper.

Then when he was 10 months old, we went to California. Just little baby and me. It was a long journey, 28 hours since we left home before we reached Akshay’s aunt’s house in San Jose. I was slightly nervous before going, all alone on such a long journey. All three of us were supposed to go together, but Akshay couldn’t make it due to some work commitment. I wanted to go. And we did. The saving grace was that Arjun was still nursing. I did not have to carry any bottles or formula, no sterilisation and hence less luggage. With just 14 kgs in the suitcase, a baby backpack with essential things for the travel and my baby wear with Arjun in it, we were set. I must have nursed him 20 times in 28 hours. Whenevr he started crying, I would feed him. It worked like magic, let me tell you. When we were getting down, a woman seated further back said that she did not know a baby was on board! Woohoo, we were that good. Did not give any non-baby people on board to complain about a shrieking, kicking baby.

Then just a month later we went to Kerela, all of us. Arjun’s grandparents, uncle, aunt and an year older cousin Sara. There, the kids discovered the joy of swimming or rather splashing in a pool and then in the ocean near Varkala.  I realised that babies are happiest outdoors. Perhaps because mom and dad are giving them full attention. Not working, not reading, not cooking. Just paying attention to them, and they seem to thrive on it.

When Arjun turned a year old, the very next day he stopped breastfeeding. I could do nothing to convince him to end his feeding strike and soon I realised he had said bye-bye to this one year BF journey forever. I was shattered, but more about that some other time. The conclusion : He was a toddler now and did not want momma’s milk. He was better off with spicy dosas and roti-sabzi and dal-rice. Well, so be it.

Now when we were going to Dehradun-Mussourie in mid-April, our biggest concern was to keep him well fed and hydrated in the trip. His stomach is tiny and he has several little meals every day, almost as if all of his waking hours we are either giving him something to eat or thinking of what he could eat next. But he surprised us. Ate anything we gave him. Started with KFC chicken popcorn, bhindi sabzi in the Jet Airways flight, different types of pastries at clock tower Dehradun, maggi and momos at Gucchu-paani, roasted corn and boiled eggs in Mussourie mall road, spicy dumplings at Kalsang, the chocolate milkshake at Chic’s and of-course the delectable Fortune savoy breakfast spread. He literally ate everything from all the road-side cafes and survived well. (Touchwood 🙂 ).

My wonderful friends from Chef At Large FB group helped me with everything that we should and could do and eat in Dehradun and Mussourie and you can read about it here.

Dehradun

Dehradun was super hot, but this place called Robbers Cave or Gucchu paani (top-left), stole our heart. The locals say it doesnt have the charisma it used to earlier, but we loved walking through the water filled cave. Then we went to Mindrolling monastery and the cool and peacefully calm monastery felt as if we had been transorted to another era altogether. Bottom right is the Tapkeshwar temple, where there is a continuous stream of water trickling down on the shivling. Pretty interesting. And bottom left, a few people were playing this game outside the moastery. Anyone knows what it is?

Mussourie

On the other hand, Mussourie was cool and so gorgeous! We stayed at Hotel Fortune Savoy, and it has the most scenic layout. (bottom right). The Kalsang in Mussourie mall road offers some of the best dumplings and noodles and baby boy and us gorged on some super spicy momos in garlic gravy. These prams or strollers are available for rent on the mall road and it saved us a lotof backache. Up and down the street, for 100 rupees an hour. And then there were the hand-drawn cycle rickshaws which navigate the narrow streets and hordes of tourists.

Landour, some 1000 ft above Mussourie, is quaint little town. Dotted with boarding schools and a handful shops, it is less touristy and greener than Mussourie. The highlight was a newly opened pub and cafe ‘The Stray Dog’.

The Stray Dog Landour.jpg

The Stray Dog Pub and Cafe, Landour

You will not believe when I tell you that in Mussourie and Dehradun we landed up in bakeries run by Le Cordon Bleu graduates. Totally coincidental. we had no idea about the LCB connection till we went into the bakeries. Needless to say, they were quite wesome.

 

Bake Masters Dehradun

Bake Masters in Dehradun by Namanraj Singh Jolly from LCB Australia

landour Bakehouse

Landour Bakehouse by Veena Picardo from Mumbai

All in all, it was a wonderful albeit tiring trip. I read somewhere – ‘Vacation with a toddler is not a vacation, just a change of location’. Couldnt agree more. Most of the time we were running around Arjun, worrying about what to feed him next and stopping him from pulling and pushing random stuff. But he is quite a cooperative baby. And is always open to new things.

I would love to hear any recommendtions about places to travel with kids. And to-dos and dont’s. Drop me a line 🙂

Arjun in back babywear

Have fun and cheers!

Rutvika