No Adjectives Please

In almost all the social conversations, we get asked about our twin daughters – their well-being and the regular stuff. We reply with whatever the general status, as on date. So far, so good.

The issue started propping up for me whenever the queries were a bit more than general, which needed to be answered in specifics. I somehow was getting uncomfortable with these pointed questions. It was not about the need to hide anything about the girls, or about the questions in particular or the persons raising it. I was feeling awkward about my choice of words to answer the questions.

As a reply to the question I go on and on, rather than answering in a single word and describe the entire process when the person is actually interested in only knowing the output. I answer in various scenarios and not the occurrence of a single incident. I try to ensure that nothing – behaviour, action, mannerism etc get branded to either of the girls. Something like what I am writing in this paragraph.

I realized that I am uneasy about using adjectives for my daughters. I am not so sure about my approach to being anxious about using adjectives, be it either in the presence or even absence of my daughters.

For me, using adjectives amount to labelling/branding of the child. The child is just growing up, there is no way to know if the current trait is going to continue or a new attribute is going to pop up at any point of time, why to put the child in the shackle of a word?

I feel that putting the word for a child becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The child understands the meaning of the word, what it means and tries to come true to it. There can also be a contrary view that once the child understands the word, the child might show opposing behaviour. Or actually, nothing happens.

It is also something like the person asking the question expects the answer to be in a word – specific. Something like, till the time we are unable to bracket the child we get restless. Something like, we are averse to free-spirited individuals and it extends to the child too. We would not want to explore the unknown, and hence better to put a tag on the child.

I have noted that whenever the adjectives get used for any of the girls, the listener tends to remember better than the whole verbose long-winded reply given by me. And the next time, the girl gets referred to by that very word, easy to remember – the label. And to add to my irritation, the person in the spotlight will call the girl using that very adjective, which I have kept her away from.

I feel that it becomes a tad easier for the child too to refer to each other if they have a specific word on hand for the other children in the group – to name them, to call them by that word, it sticks and becomes simplistic.

It also becomes like the child starts referring to herself/himself by the adjectives used for her/him.

Or maybe nothing of the above happens. It is just that I am being paranoid and trying to be too much of a nit-picker.

It is not like I am not going to teach them adjectives. They will be taught but currently, I see no hurry, as such.

What would be your take on this subject?

My daughters do not go to preschool

The first conversation with anybody and everybody, be it relatives, friends, cashier at the departmental store, security guard at the park etc entails one question for sure – which school do they go to? Twins get confused when the question, at times, gets aimed at them directly. After the answer from either of us the parents, we are given the ceremonial advice that maybe they are a bit young for this year, but next year surely they have to be at school, and we are let off the hook temporarily.

To be honest, we did sort of primary research about the preschools and we ended up with the following statements:

A high-quality preschool designed to set up young scholars for future academic, emotional, and social success.

Preschool provides a foundation for learning both socially and academically that will help your child succeed in the primary school.

Preschool is an opportunity for growth. One of the best things about preschool is that your children learn to learn.

Seemingly, there is nothing wrong at all in the above statements. They are all full of great purpose and intention. Along with these, there would also be preschools that would allow children to be children and not focus on learning, as such. We as parents are not totally convinced about the need for a formal environment for our three and a half-year-olds. We understand that not putting our daughters in the preschool/nursery, which seems to be the norm nowadays, will have consequences – mostly negative, as we are being told, and maybe some positive, just maybe.

Twins began identifying numbers around a year ago and they were doing it pretty well. After a couple of months, their mother got back to full-time work and I joined my daughters at home. As on date, the twins are still learning to count. I am sure that going to a preschool would have guaranteed the continuity of what they had already learnt and there wouldn’t have been any moving back in time.

We have melt-downs by any one of the girls or both of them quite frequently. I feel that if they were attending a preschool they would have learnt to keep their temper tantrums under control, as their environment would not have entertained their whims beyond a point.

Girls are free to get up at any time and hence, to sleep at any time; with no particular schedule for food and sleep. Is this a part of accepted parenting norms?

Whenever they get a chance to play with kids either of their age or any age for that matter, they fall head over heels as they do not get such chances often. They really enjoy playing with companions. Are we taking away their enjoyment by not sending them to preschool?

As and when they ever go to school, they may not be equipped with the requisite social or school etiquette. Their foundation may not be in sync with the requirements of the formal education system.

When we get to interact with parents of other children of the similar age-group, they proudly announce that their prodigies have mastered the alphabets and numbers, not just reciting but writing as well and moving on to two letter to three letter words and our daughters’ are nowhere near their achievements.

B +ve and O +ve are able to comprehend instructions and guidelines. But their will to follow them is all over the place. They are wild and untamed. So far, they have not been required to fall in line, to remain silent, to hush up their emotions,

My wife and I have no training or background in working with kids. We simply follow our instincts and our emotions, as well.

Most importantly, are we obsessive parents that we cannot let go of our children for the limited hours of the preschool?

With all of the above, still, our daughters do not go to preschool/nursery till now.

Why? Will present the other side of the story in the next blog.

Public Parks: 10 point survival guide for children

As per Wikipedia, a public park is an open space to offer recreation, it is a green space for residents with a playground for children as a common feature, among others. Having parks nearby urban residents within a 10-minute walk provide multiple benefits. Sounds innocuous, what can be wrong with this?

After taking my daughters to public parks on a weekly basis, I have concluded that public parks are a necessary feature in India to make adults out of children. These parks  ensure that kids understand their surroundings and necessarily build their adaptability and coping mechanisms, at the earliest, for their survival in India.

Travel & Traffic

We stay in Hyderabad, which I suppose is among the 10 largest cities in the country. Our house is within 2 km radius of Secunderabad Railway Station, this would make it nowhere near the outskirts of the city but very well within the city limits. Yet, the closest public park is more than 3 km from our place. Girls have learnt that we have to take a ride for a minimum of 10-15 minutes one-way to reach any park, and have to travel in the company of the city’s burgeoning traffic and the consequent high pollution levels to spend an hour or two at a green space.

Restricted Timings

All the public parks in the residential areas in Hyderabad close at 10 am and reopen at 5 pm. They are actually supposed to close at 9 am and reopen sometime after 4 pm, but the park attendants are almost always late in executing these tasks. Why should the public parks be closed in the day-time at all? For what reason? Girls have learnt that public utilities in India serve their own purpose and are not meant in reality for the public, at large.

Over-crowding

The play area for children does not take into account the population that it caters to. Most residential public parks will have two swings, one slide, two see-saws, one monkey bar and one jungle gym. Children at any point of time will far outnumber the available resources, similar to IIT seats. Girls learn that they have taken birth in an over-crowded nation.

Queue and taking turns

As the girls learn that the available infrastructure is less than the intended beneficiaries, they get trained to stand in queues, to take turns and to jump the queues as well for out of turn promotion. I am sure that very soon, the public parks will also equip them to push, shove and jostle around to get their way ahead – mandatory survival skills in our nation.

Difficulty in using resources

At any point in time in any public park, at least one swing will be broken or its chain will be in some sort of tangle to make it uneven. Slides come in all sorts of gradients to slide down, most of the time inappropriate for children below four years of age. See-saw will have either the seat or the handle to hold broken. Even the monkey bar and jungle gym will have some rods missing. Girls use their imagination and learn to make the most of the available resources – they learn “jugaad”.

Open Spaces

Our imagination is limited to swings, slides and the likes, which are of course required. But, beyond that there shall be no open places for a free play or some other stuff like sand pit, mud pit, water pit or good old tree climbing. Girls learn to think out of the box within the box – more of the same.

Trees

Public parks do have trees but nowhere near the children play area. So, all the play area accessories, made of pure metal, will be too hot to handle in the Indian climate for most of the time. Girls have learnt to deduce that trees are for lip-service to environment, somewhere in some corner, and not for providing shade where it is required. Anyways, only a handful of public parks can really boast of trees like the banyan, neem, peepal, tamarind which offer a cool shade.

Restrooms

None of the residential public parks that we have been to have restrooms. Girls have learnt to have better control for most of the times, and at times, I have been shouted upon by elderly park patrons for making a public toilet for my daughters behind a tree. Now, please tell me, how is it expected to have 100% control for three-year-olds? But I suppose,  it is about time for my daughters to learn that their country expects them to hold on to, whatever time they are in public spaces.

Inclusivity

Indian public spaces do not encourage special children to come out and enjoy with their peers. My daughters do not get to learn that there are other children also with whom they need to take the initiative to share. Compassion and empathy are not necessarily associated with us, as Indians, and non-inclusivity of public parks ensures that children learn this first hand.

Mosquitoes

Once the sun sets, children find it way too difficult to handle the mosquito menace at the parks. I have never been able to figure out why the municipality cannot make adequate efforts at mosquito control.  Girls learn that once the evening sets in, it is better to get back to home. And in another 4-5 years, they will also learn that it is not just the mosquitoes, but the security set-up in India as well that requires women to be at home after dusk.

Running around

The most favourite activity for both the girls is running and jumping. We stay on the 3rd floor and the girls are restricted to indulge in their favourite activities because of complaints from the neighbour who stay below us. Even at public parks, they are not able to run and jump as there is hardly any place for them to walk without getting trampled upon.

At an overall level, my daughters learn that access to green public spaces is a privilege in India. Even after you do reach the so-called green space, you need to be an innovator to make use of whatever is available. And there will always be a push from behind.

Welcome to the Indian way of life, my dear daughters.

A little chocolate now and then does hurt

Very recently, I realized that there is a certain phenomenon happening with the girls. It looked so innocuous that somehow I missed it completely. It was just off the radar for me and now when I look back at all these incidents, I realize that these happenings have become so ingrained in our lives that we do not even notice it.

I am not referring to any top-notch event. Just that every now and then, with quite a bit of eerie frequency, girls are being gifted chocolates. It is not just the relatives or the friends who keep showering their love and affection through the brown thing, but the medical store guy, the security guard, neighbours, parents of children whom we meet at the park, why even the shopkeeper from whom we bought the feed for the pigeons; all of them keep giving the girls the chocolates / the lollypops (once a neighbour gave a giant-sized lollypop which was made in china with an expiry of 3 years, girls had to finally throw it off after 10  minutes).

This may sound like a bit of a kill-joy from my side as to why I won’t let my daughters enjoy. Well, read on, and let me know your views at the end of the blog.

Nutrition:

As I type this, I am having the ingredients and nutrition information of Cadbury Gems in front of me. Per 100 gm of Gems, we have 75.1 gm of sugar and 13.8 gm of saturated fat, with a 0.1 gm of trans fat added, we already reach 89 gm of the 100 g of Gems. It is made of hydrogenated vegetable fat, I don’t understand this ingredient, but surely does not sound/look good. (There might be a debate about milk chocolates and all imported ones. Let me know if you find one with sugar and saturated fats below 50%, at any point in time).

Pricing:

Paying Rs. 5/- for 8.9 gm of Gems, meaning it is Rs. 562/- per kg. Another way of looking at this is that raisins and dates are way cheaper than chocolates and almonds and cashews are just about 50% more expensive. Yet, none of these is anywhere seen as gifting options to children.

Options:

Talking of options, girls have a great liking for carrots, they can have cucumber and beetroot (which is currently Rs. 12/- per kg) as well – raw. I am sure that barring some exotic fruits that have been imported from Antarctica, all the fruits will be cheaper than these chocolates. But, none of these gets considered when it comes to pampering the children.

Pampering:

All the people who do gift chocolates get looked upon as favourites. We, the parents, who ask them to share/have it later in parts are considered as villains of the piece. Come on people, chocolates cannot be the sole way of getting yourself popular with the kids. Use your imagination, please.

Imagination:

A whole lot of marketing around chocolates has ensured that we lack imagination beyond them for options as gifts to children or ways of pampering them. Leave aside, fruits and dry fruits, there are no options of chikki, til laddu, puffed jowar, ragi mudde, coconut laddu for the children, as either it is not available in the first place or if present, it will be in such shabby form that children used to glossy covers will gloss over them.

I am in no favour of processed food loaded with sugar and fats to start the dietary journey of my children. For that matter, anywhere as the part of the food journey.

#NoChocolateForMyChildren. What’s your say?

Credit: Have adapted the title of this blog from a Charles M. Schulz quotation.

A Grape Adventure – Grapes are not sour

Sometime back, my wife had come across a photograph in The Hindu of grapes being harvested at the Grape Research Centre, Rajendranagar. We figured out that they had opened their gates for the general public for harvesting. Too good an opportunity to let it go. So all excited, we headed to the centre to try our luck at getting some sweet yummy grapes fresh from the farm.

On reaching, a big hoarding with the pictures of different varieties of grapes grown at the farm welcomed us. The girls were intrigued by the varied hues of the grapes – green, black, red, purple, dark blue. Our energies were upped with the enticing prospects.

We made our way to a small stall set up at the centre to facilitate the process.  In response to all our enthusiastic queries, the person at the counter looked at us sympathetically and shared that the harvesting had begun more than a month ago. So, despite a bumper produce of 10,000 kgs, we may not be able to get even a kg of grapes from whatever was left at the vineyard.

The adults in us who need volumes for gratification were disheartened. Not the girls who were ready for action and fun. So there we were armed with two baskets, one for each of the girls to put their harvests and a knife. As we were about to enter the vineyard, the security personnel in charge of the place suggested that we begin our exploration from the far end columns of vines, just in case.

The entire vineyard had overhead bird netting in place – to prevent the birds from feasting on the produce. The net had to be lifted to enter the vinery and this act made the girls feel as if we were entering a special secret zone. As we walked through the grape climbers, the green leaves of the vines were pleasing to the eye. The girls were happy because they were able to touch and feel the plants, all by themselves. After running around a few columns, the girls finally chanced upon bunches of hanging grapes. Big, small, tiny, firm, soft, mushy, dried, green, black, purple, maroon – they described every fruit they picked. We helped them to figure out the difference between the raw and ripe ones and the care that they need to take whilst picking the ripe fruits.

Just as they were going about harvesting, the drip irrigation system was switched on to water the plants. There were pipes running along the grape climbers with holes for water to trickle drop by drop directly onto the plant’s roots. Seemed to be everything that we could ask for – each of the picked fruits started to get washed and gobbled. And that is when they realised that grapes also have seeds. I mean until then, all the market bought ones that they had been introduced to were all of the seedless variety. B +ve asked if they should eat the seeds like those of the watermelon or spit them out like those of the custard apples. I asked her to give it a try and she started crunching and munching.

O +ve had not been fond of fruits, grapes in particular until then. But she couldn’t resist the taste of her sweet labour. Unfortunately, all that she tasted was sour and had seeds much to her chagrin. Good enough for her to conclude that grapes are not worthy of her appetite. B +ve with her fondness for sour had her tummy full. The icing on the cake for her was when whilst reading out the names of the grapes, she figured out a variety of grapes which actually shared her name. O +ve searched in vain but couldn’t find her name etched on the sign poles.

In all our exploration, we managed to find only one variety of grapes that was sweet. The rest were sour to the core. But nothing deterred us. I mean the girls and they went on and on religiously walking through every column at the vineyard.

After a good two hours, we came out of the netted zone. A tractor in a corner caught the girls’ attention. They spent next 15-20 minutes in driving the stationary tractor. Finally, all our efforts were weighed at 300 grams and priced at Rs. 30/-.

Farm visits which tend to focus on picking and plucking give a great high. After all, who would not miss out on a chance of harvesting and savouring farm fresh produce? But such visits also tend to inadvertently not focus on the intensive and interesting facets and processes at the farm. It is often noted that kids, more so adults are on an accumulation spree/ on a race to fill baskets and sacks during harvest festivals. We are forever in a race and leave no chance of getting our kids inducted into it at the earliest, isn’t it?

Had there been more grapes, would we have missed out on getting acquainted with… The twists and bends of the grape vines? The smell of moistened earth? The number of nozzles between two sign poles? The textures and colours of the heart-shaped leaves? Intricately created spider webs?

We set out on our grape adventure in search of sweet grapes. At the end of it, all I can say is our grapes were not sour.

Colour Me Purple – A Day with Berries of Basella

In our apartment’s car parking lot, there are a few potted plants along the sideways. O +ve and B +ve like to pick up twigs, fallen leaves and poke around the wet soil. Just as we were all walking, we chanced upon the berries of the Red Malabar Spinach vine. Oh, My! In a jiffy, they brought back colourful memories of my childhood.

My wife and I went ahead and plucked some of them. We gave the girls one each and asked them to squeeze the berries. They were a bit apprehensive not knowing what is to come out but as the lovely purple colour oozed out, the girls squealed with delight. B +ve immediately remarked that she liked this colour and asked if she could colour her palm, fingers and nails. Even before I answered in the affirmative, O +ve also got hooked on the idea and they both got busy in painting their – whatever they can with the purple colour of the Red Malabar Spinach fruits. I asked them not to throw away the seeds after rubbing the colour.

The girls wanted to do more – so they started off on my hands. Whilst they were at it, my wife told them about the Red Malabar Spinach vine and showed them its heart-shaped semi-succulent leaves with red veins, petioles and stems. She also shared memories of a time when her mother used to grow them in their backyard and whenever they were in the mood for it, she would dash off to bring some freshly harvested leaves for a yummy daal.

My nails, fingers and palm were all well done.

And then O +ve asked if they could use the colour for playing Holi. I said yes and they went gung-ho smearing each other’s faces with the berry’s juice. After they exhausted their handfuls, I asked them to pick some berries and leaves for home and also collected all the seeds that the girls had left behind. That’s when B +ve shared that she would use some to colour water in her squeeze bottle to play Holi with her grandparents.

Their afternoon nap was followed by a Holi session with their grandparents. And then I asked them if they were willing to plant the Basella Rubra seeds in their pots in our flat’s balcony. My daughters were all for it – so after digging out the hardened soil in unused pots, they sowed the seeds, filled up the pots with red soil and watered them. And the minute they finished the task, they started asking, so when will the berries come? So much for my taking them through the entire growth cycle of a plant:)

There were some more berries left in their basket along with the leaves. When their mother asked them if she could use the leaves to make daal in the way their grandmother made, they readily agreed. And whilst their mom was busy in the kitchen, we were trying out ways to put to use the remaining berries.

I made some quick outlines with their names on cards and asked them to follow suit. O +ve and B +ve were very happy to see the output. They really enjoyed writing their names with the berries. We then tried splat painting with the berries on both paper and fabric. And it was just awesome fun.

The day ended with a meal of hot piping rice, ghee, yummy malabar spinach dal and smudges of purple colour all around. Who would have thought that we could spend an entire day with a berry fruit? Girls are not going to forget the colour purple any time soon or the berry or what all can be done with it.

A day well spent with Berries of Basella – Colour me Purple.

A Day Out with my daughters

India is not a place for the comfort of the very elderly, infirm, differently abled when it comes to travelling in public alone; though surely there are exceptions. So, when I whine about the issues faced by me as a father who wants to travel around with my twin daughters of 3 years and 6 months, I know that I come at the end of the priority order for the convenience expected.

Washroom for the Girls:

I cannot take my daughters to the washroom in a public place. Finding a functional washroom is a task in itself. Even if I find one, I realize that it isn’t of any use for me. I can request women to take my daughters to relieve them, but the girls would just not go with strangers. And that is how I want it to be as well.

Washroom for me:

I cannot use the washroom in a public place. Where do I leave my daughters?

As a result of the above two reasons, we welcome ourselves only in parks and gardens where we can find good enough number of trees to hide behind, whenever required, for obvious reasons. Sorry Modiji, but we have not been able to contribute to Swachh Bharat.

Public transport:

The RTC buses in Hyderabad have back-door ear-marked for men and front-door for women. The seating is also demarcated – women in the front seats and men in the rear ones. With my 2 daughters, I fit nowhere. We did try to travel in non-peak hours on relatively empty buses. I realized that the steps are very high for the girls to manage by themselves. So getting in and out of the bus for us takes too much of time for the driver’s comfort and we just get honked out.

With people hanging out of the local trains, there is no way that we can even think of sneaking in.

Crossing the road:

I have my heart in my mouth if we have to cross the road at all. Roads have become too wide and the time allotted at the traffic signal has gotten way too less for crossing unless you are a 100 m sprinter, which we are not. And whilst we are racing across to cross and save our lives, there have hardly been occasions without a two / four wheeler jumping the signal and coming straight for us.

Walking on the road:

Whenever we are out, the girls prefer to hold my hand whilst walking. This means that I have to keep them on my either side. Not having footpaths all across means that one of the girls is always on the side of the traffic and let me tell you that it is just so scary.

 Auto drivers taking us for a ride:

Due to the difficulties we face in travelling by buses and trains, autos are our go-to option. Hyderabad autos don’t work on a meter. If they do, you wouldn’t want them to as you realize pretty soon that the tampered meters are doing their job pretty well by overcharging. When the auto drivers see a man with 2 young girls, they see a victim very vulnerable, who can be taken for a ride – figuratively and literally, as they understand that the option less situation that we are in.

Metro:

Hyderabad Metro started functioning some time back. We tried a couple of times but found ourselves not fitting in. Both the girls do not require a ticket to travel and with my one token, I can cross over in/out only once, lifting one of the girls and the other girl gets left behind, needing to be picked up from sideways and they do not like such treatment. The timing at the in/out token gates does not allow all three of us simultaneously. Even the timing for the train gates – opening/closing is a bit too much for us to cope up with. Better to leave Metro alone, till the girls grow up a bit more.

We have refused to buy a vehicle. Conscious of our carbon footprint and also not wanting to add to the traffic chaos, we have always been ardent believers and users of public transport. And now, I as a father of twin daughters find it way too difficult to exercise my freedom of movement, in a safe – secure way.

Anyways, as mentioned in the beginning, we are the last priority and if our nation does manage to make roads, footpaths, public transport services, toilets truly accessible to the old and the differently abled people, then we will surely suit ourselves in.

What do you say? How to better the moving around?