Public Parks in India: 5 Parental Observations

We have been visiting public parks on a regular basis. This has led to the post of Public Parks – A 10-point survival guide for children. Also, the post of 5 must-do activities for 4 years in Parks. As I keep visiting the parks often with my twin daughters, I keep realizing a few perplexing issues which as a parent, I myself, am not able to comprehend. The issues relate to what the public parks connote and stand for.

Food:

This issue has been cropping up in high-profile public parks – where the foot-falls are high. Since last 6 months or so, we are getting stopped at the entrance by the security and told to deposit all the eatables at the baggage counter. Now, staying in a park for a period of 2-3 hours, at the minimum, means that B +ve and O +ve are going to ask for food. So, we always carry a good amount of home-made snacks. Now, we are being told that we cannot carry it inside. I have tried to reason out with no avail. We have been told that there is enough food stalls/food court inside to feed my children.

I am not able to decipher this. Is the Government running a public park or a multiplex? I suppose people go to parks to focus on their health. If they want to munch something, they would want healthy snacks and not the run-of-the-mill samosa / pakoda / french fries etc.

Food has to be a matter of choice in a space like public parks. Here, it is getting imposed on the visitors that they can only have from the food stalls inside – which is not at all reasonably priced and more importantly – unhealthy.

There is no way to argue or reason out with the mighty Indian State. Hence, we have decided to stay away from these public parks. Now, we only go to the public parks which are not in the limelight, where the rule of not allowing the outside food is not enforced.

(If the Government is not allowing food inside the parks on the pretext of protecting the environment, they need to apply to the food stalls inside too, and also to the food vendors that roam all through the park).

Children not allowed in the mornings:

This is another peculiar issue. We have been driven back a couple of times from the entrance for coming before 8 am. The park opens at 5 – 6 am, but only for morning walkers. The reason given to us is that children disturb the tranquillity of the place by making noise, so the morning walkers get disturbed. Hence, the children are allowed only after 8 am.

Children seem to be the lesser mortals.

Complete lack of interactive/experiential set-ups in any of the Parks

Once inside the park, the girls want to know the name of each of the trees, flowers, insects, seeds, birds – basically whatever they come across. My inability to answer my daughters for their queries inside the park is leading me to wonder why the park cannot have a name for each of the trees mentioned nearby, for each of the tree parts and also for the insects roaming in the parks.

Why cannot we have a nature-walk on demand / a person who can answer questions about the park and its inhabitants, the upkeep, the history? What all can be done in the park area and what it contributes to the society at large? Too much to ask, I suppose.

Leave aside this as learning of basic science, this is where I believe the inquisitiveness of a child gets killed and s/he becomes what we are.

Whatever is put up, minimum 50% will be unusable

At any point of 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. The height between the ground and the slide would be such that two-three children can fit in. 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”.

Of course, no means to raise any complaints about these to anybody.

What are you doing in a park?

The girls are asked the perpetual question. What are they doing in the park when they should have been in the school? Well, they have not even turned four. People expect them to be in school all the time that they see them. To be honest, when we are in the park, there are hardly any children their age.

For me, the question needs to be flipped around. The children need to be in the parks. If they are not, the question needs to be raised – Where are they? Rather, we are being asked – why are you in a park?

I suppose I need help to figure out what the above observations imply.

My biggest regret as a stay-at-home father

The re-cap: My wife and I believe parenting to be an equal opportunity platform. Once we were convinced that our twin daughters can stay beyond the 24*7 comfort of their mother @ 2.5 years of their age, we swapped our roles. This has been the case for the last one and the quarter of a year of my being a stay-at-home father. We get asked a number of times – Any regrets?

Many times, I do get self-doubt. I keep asking myself whether the girls are better off with their mother than being with me. It has never been the case that I will replace their mother as a primary caregiver, I cannot. My wife has her own parenting workbook and style and I have my own. Our daughters get exposed to both. No regrets here, I suppose.

I had enough of corporate rat-race. No regrets here for sure (though I might as well end up where I came from for financial reasons, provided I get accepted in the first place).

There have been murmurs from some quarters that I rob my wife of her parenting joys. However, I am convinced that she is supportive of my role as a stay-at-home father. My wife works hard to ensure that I get as much support as possible. No regrets here.

If there are no regrets from the children(I suppose), the wife or my professional side, could there be any regrets? Yes, I have one and it is the biggest regret that I do not cook.

Gender stereotype

It is a conscious decision from us as parents that we will keep off our children from gender stereotypes as much as possible. They see their stay-at-home father and mother going to work. They see their father doing all normal household chores – buying vegetables and grocery, doing laundry, occasional dusting etc. The task of cleaning their poop is necessarily associated with their father. But, when it comes to any work inside the kitchen, they do not see me anywhere close by.

We have a full-time cook ever since I started my stay-at-home father journey. The cook does not turn up for any given 6-7 days a month. My wife ends up doing the cooking on these days, apart from her professional work and being with the children.

I am not sure about the other gender stereotypes but this particular one that man does not cook/enter the kitchen for cooking seems to be getting on with the girls. I do not like it for sure. When we tell them that men and women can do all the tasks interchangeably, we get asked why Papa does not do the cooking and I have no answers.

I am just not able to get myself going in the kitchen

At a second and more personal level, being at-home with children 24*7, I keep realizing on a daily basis how difficult job a woman does. She manages the family, the children, the household, all the related tasks, her professional tasks if she is a working woman, and above all she cooks.

I had 6 women reporting to me in my professional job. All had children. I never understood how they managed to be in the office for 9 hours plus the commute plus the household tasks plus the family and all of them managed to cook. I never had the courage to ask any of them. For that matter, I do not get it how my mother or my mom-in-law managed.

I get tired of managing the girls all by myself for measly 7-8 hours. And I do not even cook. I feel that I am just doing lip-service as a stay-at-home father when I cannot do as basic a task as cooking.

The daughters

The third regret is that my daughters do not get to engage themselves in the kitchen when they actually like to. They help their mother all throughout when she has to cook for 6-7 days a month. However, they do not get such a chance on a daily basis.

Yes, my biggest regret as a stay at home father is that I do not cook.

The promise

Our cook has decided to leave and we are not taking the replacement. My wife has said that she is going to cook, going forward. From my side, I know that I am not going to turn into an overnight chef but I am surely going to work on the gender stereotype that my daughters have on kitchen work, my understanding of a woman’s work inside the home and getting the girls a bit busy inside the kitchen.

Yes, I am going to help in the kitchen in some manner or the other.

Enough of regrets, time to make some amends.

Wish me luck.

Anganwadi Visit – A Child’s Perspective Part II

Anganwadi Visit – A Child’s Perspective Continued from Part – 1

Why is everywhere dark around?

It did not occur to us in the first Anganwadi centre. We did not ask in the second centre. When we did in the third centre, we were told that Government runs Anganwadi centres on rent, which they keep to the minimum and pass on the responsibility of electricity to the landlord. Hence, there were actually no lights or fans in any of the three Anganwadi centres we visited, as the landlords had removed the electricity connection.

We are children; we spread happiness and cheer wherever we go. What do we do with this darkness all around us?

How do we go for poop?

All the three centres did have wash-room. But, you can imagine the chaos when there are 2-3 adults for 30 children who need assistance to visit the washroom. In fact, when we visited the first centre, what welcomed us was the sight of a 3-year-old girl doing pee outside the room, in the open.

So much for Swachh Bharat, we cannot let our PM down. We are not going to pee and poop like this.

What exactly is the time for us to play?

On paper, Anganwadi centres are open from 9 am to 4 pm. On the ground, children come at the time when food is disbursed or one-two hours prior to that. They take food and go back home unless their parents are too busy to come and pick them up. So, either it is jam-packed or there is mostly nobody around.

Is it a place to play or collect food and hang around for some time?

Where are the teachers?

I do not have any idea about the qualifications of Anganwadi in-charge so I will stay clear of it.

What was visible was 1-2 women remaining seated, as there was not much place to walk, and trying hard to control the situation of 25-30 children. One woman was deputed to take care of the food to avoid raids from the children. The result – a hapless lady surrounded by a crowd of hyperactive children. There are no teachers, as such, practically not possible.

Where do we sleep, if we want to?

We are children, below 4 years and we like our afternoon siesta. But here, there are no fans and no dedicated place to snooze; apart from children all around us.

We like to play and keep ourselves busy, but here there is actually no place for us to either play or rest. What are we supposed to be doing?

Pre-school education?

We were anyways looking at Anganwadi as a place for getting play-mates, so this point did not matter as such for us.

Pre-school education is a stated objective of Anganwadi, however, the practical aspects governing the set-up makes this completely redundant. One cannot expect anything in an adult:child ratio of 1:30 at worst or 1:15 at best.

Conclusion

No, we do not want to go to this place called Anganwadi and we do not want any of our fellow children to go either. It is not meant for children. We want a place to hop, skip, jump and run with fellow children and not a tiny and dingy room with no place to move about with children half our age.

The above is what O +ve and B +ve would have communicated to us if their language skills would have developed.

Yes, we did want to send our daughters to Anganwadi to expose them to the reality of India, but we developed cold feet and backed out of Anganwadi when we actually saw the reality ourselves.

Our search for finding play-mates for our daughters continues. Also to give them all-round exposure, what our country has to offer in its real diversity.

As far as Anganwadi is concerned – Whose children are they anyway? The government surely thinks and acts so.

Anganwadi Visit – A Child’s Perspective

Our daughters do not go to pre-school/nursery/day-care. One of the unintended consequences has been the lack of play-mates for the girls.

There is no common play-area in the apartment apart from the terrace and the ground-floor parking. 1-2 children in the apartment of their age/near-by age do not come to these places. Public parks are at a minimum distance of 1.5 km one way and that too is not of much use. There is nobody to play within the public parks of the non-residential areas. The public parks in the residential areas are so crowded that there is actually no place to play. We were raking our brains and we came up with an idea – Anganwadi.

What is Anganwadi?

Anganwadi is a part of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the only major national program that addresses the needs of children under the age of six years. It seeks to provide young children with an integrated package of services such as supplementary nutrition, health care and pre-school education.

We have not used any of the Government offered services till now in either the education or the health sector. So, we thought, we might as well try out and see what good use our taxes are being put to.

Anganwadi also applied to our mindset that our children need to see different facets of life apart from the privileges that they have. Children need to have upbringing to make them adaptable to all situations and the spectrum of people that they will interact with. We want our kids to be all-terrain friendly, see the real world and not restricted to limited views from the comfort of the gated community.

We enquired and got to know that there is an Anganwadi centre in the lane next to our apartment. On our visit, we were told that there are two more centres in the vicinity. We visited all three in a span of two hours.

We had told the girls that we were going to a place to play with children of their age. I know that they are not articulate enough and they did not tell us in as many words what I have written below. However, if they were able to, their response would be on the following lines. This is what we could make out from their limited verbal reactions and ample body language signals.

Where do we play?

There were about 25-30 children in the first two Anganwadi centres and 10-15 in the third. All crammed into the area of one and a half room, approximately about 600-750 sq ft. From the experience of our twin daughters, we have learnt that what children like the most are running and jumping as their part of playing. Here, leave aside the place to run and jump, there is no way that they could have walked 5 steps in any direction without bumping into another child.

Where do we play?

What do we play with?

Women in-charge of Anganwadi centres did tell us that they have been given some equipment to engage the children and to give them to play with. But, this paraphernalia is limited in nature. They are held liable in case of breakage. So, to be on the safer side, they do not bring it out.

What do we play with?

Whom do we play with?

This was a fairly interesting point. Anganwadi is for children up to 6 years of age. What we saw was a majority of children, if not all, below 3 years. We were told that parents, for their children above 3 years, put them in private schools. The parents do this so that their children are ready for their schooling straight away and get a head start. So, actually, there were no children of our daughters’ age in Anganwadi.

Whom do we play with?

To be continued…

Why is my poop pink in colour?

What is poop made up of?

Why do we poop?

Why is my poop pink in colour?

From where do birds and snakes poop?

What happens to poop after we poop?

My twin daughters have a number of enlightened discussions with me and one of them revolves around poop.

I understand that the curiosity of a child must be fulfilled. One of my daughters’ favourite subjects is poop and I try to ensure that I answer all their questions, – to the best of my googling capabilities. As they are twins, we have twice the number of occasions to delve into the fascinating world of poop and pee.

The girls know that poop is made up of 75% water and that their pee is made up of 95% water. With the help of Google, they have been introduced to the rest of the constituents also. They have been very keen to know how poop gets made. So, they have seen Youtube videos of small and large intestines and all that happens along the way.

We have a pet love-bird and a pet fish at home. At times, the girls stare them down for a considerable amount of time to check out how they poop. They don’t want to miss any action. Of course, they are learning to be patient and observe. But I do strongly feel the pressing need for teaching them to respect the privacy of everybody around.

Whenever they have beetroot, they eagerly look forward to their poop the next day. They are extremely fascinated by the fact that eating beetroots lends a pink hue to their poop. The girls’ overbearing excitement at meal times and their colourful anticipation of the next day’s output make it nauseating enough for their mother to let go of her meal. And I have to take the blame for her going empty stomach. Some reward for encouraging a child’s inquisitiveness.

The girls have learnt the Finger Family Nursery Rhyme and somehow they have connected it with their poop. So, when they poop, basis the size, they identify them as members of the poop family – Papa Poop, Amma Poop, Brother Poop, Sister Poop and Baby Poop. And when the quantity is less, they sadly announce that their Poop Family has remained incomplete. Imagine there could even be such a practical way of teaching nursery rhymes!

The girls have been on Iron supplements on and off. During these episodes, their poop is black and hard. They get enthralled by the black poop and its hard texture, as they see it as a welcome change from their routine daily output.

If they don’t poop for a day or if their pee is yellow, they know the course to be followed – eat bananas and drink lots of water.

The minute they realise that either of us is in the washroom, they stand and start asking us as to what we are up to, how is it going, how much did we poop – a repeat of all that we tell them when they are into poop. So, yes, it feels great that they understand every bit of it but the role-playing at times just goes too far!!!

The girls love their poop and we are fond of discussing it, as and when they feel like. And this happens very often.  Nothing gross at all – it is all about good health and my daughters will vouch for that.

We are a three member potty club, open for memberships.

Anyone interested?

One potty incident.

When the girls were around two and a half years old, not sufficiently potty-trained and still in diapers, we had gone to a children’s playhouse.

The care-taker noticed some poop on the play-mat and asked me to clean it. I have been cleaning the poop of my daughters and knew that what was on the floor was not theirs. I asked my daughters about the poop – both said that they did not do and their diapers were also empty. The owner of the play-house lectured me on putting diapers properly and asked me to act responsibly.

Anyways, I cursed my luck and cleaned up the potty. After coming out of the washroom, I saw a 7-8-year-old boy standing outside, wearing a night-suit and there was potty below his pyjamas. Realizing that the boy was doing potty standing outside and what I cleaned had an eerie similarity to what that boy was doing, I asked the boy about the place of his earlier relief and he showed me the place where I had cleaned up. I called the owner, showed him what was down and the boy. No apologies whatsoever, he just walked off to call the father of the boy.

I had no interest in whatever happened further. I left with my daughters, never to return to the play-house again.

S*IT happens in life.

10 must-do activities of stay-at-home-dad Part – II

In the first part of 10 must-do activities of stay-at-home-dad, I mentioned about cleaning the poop, potty training, feeding and putting to sleep – the basics.

Here goes the second part of 10 must-do activities of stay-at-home-dad.

Tidy Up: The girls haven’t still gotten the hang of tidying up the mess that they create every day. They like to play with everything they can lay their hands on and that’s about it. They do not care much about returning the stuff to their respective places. So, after they sleep, I have to pick up the pieces of the day and put them back so that the girls can start afresh the next day. I am gently and at times vehemently being pushed by the wife to get the girls into this habit. So hopefully, sometime soon.

Grocery, vegetable shopping: A task that has to be done with the girls in tow. In the hypermarket, both of them want independent trolleys and even if they sat in one, there would not be any place left.  So, we end up providing ample entertainment to fellow shoppers as I try to navigate the two trolleys in the busy aisles, trying to pick up stuff from the shelves and explaining to the girls what it is all about. In the road-side markets, it is even more difficult. To navigate the traffic and the dogs, bargain with the vendors and make payments and hold the stuff and the girls. So far we have struggled and survived.

Giving bath: As I show no inclination for the girls’ breakfast, their mother feeds them whenever she is at home, but it also means that she never has the time to give them their bath. So, 30-40 minutes spent daily to convince them to come inside the bath, clean them up and again convince them to come outside the bath. It is also the time that we have un-disturbed peaceful conversations about many a topic that get left out in the rush time of play hours.

I hardly have an appreciation of colours and designs. So when it comes to dressing them up, I have worked out the easy way. The girls get to choose what they want to wear depending on whether we are staying at home or going out.  I only help them don their respective stuff as they are yet to do this task independently.

Waking up in the night: This is again one task, which I took on once the girls were born. Throughout the day putting up with them, my wife and my parents/in-laws (whoever available) would be dead-tired by the night and I would come back energized from my office. Whenever there was a requirement – they were ill, they over-slept in the day, they were plain cranky, I could do the night-out with the girls. And this aspect remains with me, even now.

Staying away from the internet: I have never owned a smart-phone, but do have an I-pad at home. I have realized that if I want some peace around, it is better to have my eyes and mind on the girls than wandering on the internet. Even when India is playing a cricket match or election results are getting declared – whatever. I am glad that I was never hooked to Whatsapp and Facebook.

Putting up with tantrums: The list, of course, would not be complete without putting up with the tantrums. A day going on just fine, and one melt-down and it makes a complete mess out of everything.  I have realized that I can do as much as I can to prevent but if it has to happen, it will happen. All in a day’s work.

To be honest, these are the tasks that their mother once did when I used to go to the office. And now that she does and I am at home, I do these tasks. Just that, she was not asked, as often, and I do get asked, almost all the times, on what I am up to for the whole day.

Believe me, spend 24 hours, even 12 hours with three and a half year old, single-handedly, and it will be an eye-opener on the work done by the mother in the upbringing of the child, along with all the household chores.

Though meant for stay-at-home-dads, fathers who have full-time jobs can also always pitch in and do the above-mentioned tasks whilst they are at home to experience the uncensored joys/bliss of hands-on parenting. None of these is earth shattering and mind you, there is no MOM science in any of these.

What are the activities on your list?

10 must-do activities of stay-at-home-dad

What do you do for the whole day? Don’t you get bored? Don’t you feel like getting back to your corporate job? As a stay-at-home-dad, I am often asked these questions. My wife did not have to face such probes when she left her full-time vocation to be with our daughters for the first 2.5 years of their life. I suppose mothers are not asked such questions at every occasion.

Let me give you a peek into my day, what all I do on a daily basis with my daughters.

(Though these are named as must-do activities of a stay-at-home-dad, all types of fathers can do all these activities. There is nothing earth-shattering, no rocket science in any of these).

Cleaning the poop: Since the birth of my daughters, I have been doing this; so nothing new as such as a stay-at-home-dad. I realized soon enough that my wife is busy nursing the girls and if there is one task wherein I can be of any help to her is to clean the potty of the girls. As on date, the girls associate this task with me so much that whenever they have to go potty, they come to me and not to their mother. Needless to say, I am very proud of this achievement.

In fact, I have become quite an expert in understanding my daughters’ health based on the colour, texture and frequency of their potty, having discussed potty issues with the paediatrician a number of times. After the initial days, the guilt of contributing heavily to environmental degradation encouraged me to do the clean-up with my bare hands.  No wet wipes, no tissues, no newspapers, and no other aids.  I have so much to say on this subject, I might as well write a separate blog on this.

Cleaning the vomits, cleaning up after bedwetting episodes – all of these also belong to the same genre, and for small babies, there is quite a bit of this and I am always available for operation clean-up.

Potty training: I spend the maximum time with the girls during the day. Hence, it is but natural that I have the onus of potty training them. I keenly watch their water intake and food and keep reminding them about the need to go to the washroom. To be honest, it is much easier to clean up inside than anywhere else in the house. So better to keep reminding them rather than forgetting and then spending 10-15 minutes on the clean-up. The girls have age appropriate potty training and I should share due credit with them for this achievement.

Feeding: This is a task that I shy away from as much as I can. I am highly enthusiastic about all the tasks listed here, but not this one. Both the girls are finicky – one with the quantity and the other with the variety, enough to drive both of us crazy. When my wife is in town, I feed them only lunch. When she is travelling, I feed them all meals; otherwise, I pass on the buck to her.

A good meal means some peace around for at least a couple of hours. After a while, the girls will again get hungry and then, the running behind them to feed will have to start again so that they can continue their running around. And this cycle just goes on and on.

Putting the girls to sleep: This is another task of paramount importance without which a stay-at-home-dad cannot survive. When I was working, girls had the habit of sleeping with their mother in the afternoon and with both of us in the night. In the current scenario, my wife is not available for their afternoon nap and at times, for their night sleeps as well.  Fortunately, the girls have had a peaceful transition in terms of letting me put them to sleep on all occasions. So, some peace prevails.

This is the first part of the blog, the second part coming soon with the remaining activities.