Lockdown Friends And Experiences For Our Children

India is in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020. Irrespective of the Government’s lockdown/unlock, one aspect of the response remains steadfastly constant – children remain locked up in their houses, but for entrance tests. In such a scenario, what can be lockdown friends and experiences for children?

The scientific evidence shows that coronavirus spreads predominantly in closed surroundings with poor ventilation. The outdoors has the least risk in spreading infections. The countries that have reopened have done so with outdoor lung spaces i.e. the parks as a first candidate to reopen. However, in India, the children parks remain in shut down mode, they would be the last to open.

The scientific evidence shows that children are at the least risk of COVID-19 infections. Yes, they can spread it to the adults, a risky proposition. In India, the Government lockdown has clubbed the children < 10 years with elderly > 65 years, who are at the maximum risk and have ordered them to remain at home ever since.

The Government refuses to understand that the children not getting fresh air and sunlight, a chance to play, social interaction opportunities also represent a risk in itself. In addition, kids get bombarded with online education, in a like-to-like replica of school time-table but on a screen. It is a tough time to be children these days in India.

Fortunately, for our soon-to-be six-year-old twin daughters, they are saved from the perils of online learning. The simple reason being, they are not enrolled in a school, yet. However, not being allowed to venture outside, an anchor to our lives could have played havoc to their young minds. But it is not to be. Courtesy their lockdown friends and experiences.

A stray cat and her kittens

Within a week of the starting of the lockdown, a stray cat descended on our home. The cat was not at all afraid of us. She kept demanding food, which when given to her, she graciously decided to adopt our family and home.

The girls were excited beyond limits. They suddenly found themselves to be the proud owner of a pet cat. They named her Licky; the reason being she licked the milk. The girls’ day started with Licky and ended with Licky.  They ran around her, patted her, fed her, sang songs for her; Licky basked in the attention.

The girls were over the moon when Licky gave birth to two kittens. Girls gave nonstop commentary on what the kittens were doing, how they were growing, how Licky was tending to her litter. Then, the lightning struck. Licky left the house with her kittens. The girls were crestfallen.

After 3 days, Licky resurfaced, terribly hurt and without her kittens. We got to know that the kittens were on our neighbour’s terrace. Licky had abandoned them, stopped eating food and died. We brought the kittens home, the girls were again over-joyed. We fed the kittens every 3-4 hours, stimulated to pee and poop and kept warm. The girls were learning how to tend to their young pets.

Throughout, the kittens kept looking for their mother. One of them died after a couple of weeks. We realized that a kitten should not be raised single. A kind acquaintance helped us find a foster home for the single kitten and we gave him up for his good. It broke the girls’ hearts, but they understood.

This entire episode lasted for about four months. It was an emotional roller-coaster ride for the girls, the highs of delight to the lows of sorrow. Till this date, they remember Licky and the two kittens with warm fondness. They have also come to learn that in life, nothing is forever. We lose someone close to us, but the remembrance of the time spent together is a joy in itself.

Shiva and Rakesh

Shiva was my wife’s colleague (was, because Dirty Feet has had to temporarily shut down due to COVID-19). He stays in the office. Rakesh is Shiva’s friend, who came for a day to the office on Janta Curfew and then got stuck due to the lockdown. They come to our home daily for meals. Rakesh has since left, Shiva continues to be there.

The girls have become very fond of both the guys. They have become their play-mates for the age-less games and endless talks. It is to the credit of Shiva and Rakesh that though they are in their early 20’s they play with amazing ease with the six-year-olds. They have made the girls so comfortable that they think that it is absolutely normal for kids of their age to play with 20+ year olds.

Yes, the children should play with children. But, that has almost never happened with our daughters. Whenever we go to any outdoor places/parks, children of any age are rarely present. In the neighbourhood even under normal circumstances, children hardly come out for playing. Lockdown has become a blessing that they have actually got play-mates, who have the ability to bring out their innate child when playing.

Plants, bugs and birds

Every walk with the girls is an opportunity for a nature walk. With the lockdown, that is also ruled out. My wife is extremely particular about the exposure to nature for our daughters. We have realized that plants are friends of a lifetime for children. So, she put the ample space in the front yard of the house to good use by getting pots and doing gardening.

The girls have a great time mixing soil with coco-peat, putting seeds, watering and seeing the blossoming of their sweat. The plants (a majority of them veggies) also bring with them a fair share of butterflies and bugs. A bulbul tried making a nest in the gourd creeping around but left mid-way after incessant snooping by the girls.

Hoping that the girls and we further grow our small kitchen garden even after the lockdown ends. It takes a lot of time and efforts to keep up with the gardening, but raising eco-aware children are a just reward. There is no other activity/experience with a bigger multiplier effect than nurturing nature-friendly kids. It does good to them, Mother Earth and everybody’s future.

Street Vendors

We stay on the ground floor of an independent house in the by-lanes of a busy neighbourhood (even now!). Barring the most strict phase of the lockdown (earliest 2 weeks), the area is thronged by 10-12 street vendors during the day. This turned out to be a window to social interaction for our daughters and us.

In the scorching summer of April, May and June, we taught the girls to stop each street vendor on the road and ask, if they wanted water. It might look like a poor cousin to regular social interactions, which lockdown has left no occasion for. But, it did a lot of good to build empathy and caring in our children.

The girls asked the reasons for the vendors to be on the road even during severe heat and lockdown, what happens when they get tired etc. We, of course, did not have answers to all their queries. It is a learning curve for all of us.

Lockdown friends and experiences

The above are the lockdown friends and experiences that helped maintain our sanity during the lockdown.

As I write this, I realize that irrespective of the lockdown, they could have become a part of our lives, and enriched our being. Just that, we may not have allowed it to be.

What have been your lockdown friends and experiences?

10 things my daughters are growing up without

Every parent would want to give the best possible childhood to their children. We are no exception, trying hard in our own way, unsure and wavering, but trying nevertheless our understanding of what parenting is. Whilst working on a list of what my daughters are growing up with, I also put together things that they are not doing, that they are growing up without. Some of these are well thought out, calculated decisions, whilst some are inadvertent.  Sharing with you, in no particular order, what O +ve and B +ve are not having in their life, at present.

Playschool: A WIP decision, so as to say. Our daughters are 3.5 years and my wife and I believe that they currently belong to their home space. They are in the familiar ground, exploring and learning at their own pace, adequately engaged and occupied. Eventually, they might go to school. When and where? We are taking six months at a time to get to that and are not in a hurry at all on that front. One thing we know for sure is that we want them to just enjoy their childhood. Whenever we go out or have people over, we are often bombarded with advice as to how much damage all of this will cause to our kids. More on this later.

Television: Barring for a year in Mumbai, i.e. 2008, we never had a television in our life. In the course of the day, there are times when there is too much of action around me, I do feel tempted to use the services of the idiot box to get them off my back and buy myself some time to breathe, some time to go to the washroom. But the repulsion that we have for the passivity that television brings along with it never allows us to put this thought into action. The result – our twins are growing up without TV. They do know about its existence, they get to occasionally check it out during their social visits and hospital visits where it is perpetually on. Thankfully they aren’t asking for it as yet.

Advertisements: This is a conscious one. We know that girls are growing up to be a part of a society which promotes consumerism in every possible way. Why do they have to know now – which detergent powder to use, which toothpaste to use, what clothes to wear and so on? I do not like “Pester Power”, the term used by advertisers to manipulate children and their thoughts. And I hate advertisements which show children vouching for a product. I googled and realized that there are countries that ban advertisements aimed at children, but as is the case in India – yahaan sab kuch chalta hain.

Pink: Since we began shopping for our daughters, we have had to buy two sets of everything to keep things separate and to ensure easy identification. Thanks for this, we were saved from the deluge of PINK. But soon realised that the only other option was Blue. The omnipresence of Pink and Blue across all kids’ stuff is just nauseating. I suppose that the gender stereotyping starts right from birth. Our girls have a right to all the colours of the rainbow – if it means getting them to paint their stuff in colours of their choice, getting stuff tailored and customised for them, then so be it. Our twins are not dependent on any colour for the identity of their gender.

Barbie: Girls play with dolls and boys play with cars, girls play with kitchen sets and boys play with blocks. O +ve and B +ve love playing with all 4 mentioned above and more. They have of course been gifted Barbies, which lie wrapped up in the cupboard somewhere, with the wife certain that she is not going to gift them to any other girl either. #NoBarbieForMyGirls.

Lays: No Lays, No Pringles, No Cheetos and No Kurkure. No Soft drinks, no canned fruit juices either. The twins thrive on homemade snacks and resort to packaged biscuits, candies, chocolates and ice creams occasionally. They love their sugarcane juice and lemon juice – fresh.

Smartphone: I have never used one, my wife has got two. The girls have been told that they are free to use their father’s phone, but not their mother’s, and somehow they seem to be at peace with this rule. So, they speak to their grandparents and extended family, all on a feature phone. They are well aware that one can watch videos and video call on the smartphone, but they have never shown any interest whatsoever in picking up the smartphone. So far so good.

Friends: This is an unintended one. Not going to a playschool, not having kids of their age in the apartment where we live, not having a park or a garden or any open public space nearby in a walking distance has led to this. We are still figuring out a way out of this on a daily basis.

Movies: Wife used to be a movie-buff but after being married to a person for 11 years, who cannot sit through a movie, she has lost interest. My kids have until now not been to a cinema hall to watch a movie. Friends and cousins cry foul, they strongly recommend that we should initiate the kids into this at a young age otherwise they will find it difficult to handle the sounds and lights at a later date. We don’t think the girls are missing out on anything significant in their life on this count. When they are old enough, they could decide for themselves.

Stay at home Mother: Girls are growing up seeing their father at home and their mother going to office daily. Till now, it has been fine as their socialization has been fairly limited. We are, however, not sure how they will respond once they figure out the general norm in other families, as they grow up. And yes, they do want their mother to stay with them at home, on a continuous basis.

Malls: Have never really understood the concept of going to a mall for recreational purpose or for anything else. We do not go to malls – simply put; it is not a day well spent or so much awesome.

Not sure how these omissions from their life are going to impact them in the days to come – good/bad/somewhere in between?

What are the things that your child is growing up without?