Preserving Innocence of 4-year-old

The twin daughters have turned 4-year-old. Like most of the parents, we also get concerned about their learning / mile-stones / development or the lack of. I have noticed that the attention always remains in such discussions on what the child is learning or has learnt already. At a personal level, we also focus on a few things that we do not want our daughters to learn, not just yet. To preserve their innocence.

I have given below the list of few concepts/words that we have managed to keep them away from. We consciously try not to use these words in front of B +ve and O +ve. They, of course, listen from others and at times, from their parents also; and ask about the meaning. We try to explain to them using other terminology.

Truth / Lie. One of the songs of 3 Idiots has a lyric – “Jhooth Bolna to Papa Ne Sikhaya” and it has always remained with me ever since I heard it. I will also teach them to lie, will have to, however taking my time. Currently, we are using the words “correct” and “not correct” as the milder versions of truth and lie.

Cheat. I feel that it is too strong a word to be used by a 4-year-old. They are yet to learn the worldly ways and better to learn it with a positive emotion rather than a word that gets used for criminals. They say it is not done / should not be done in other words.

Race.

Win / Lose.

Coming First / Coming Last.

Life is forever a race. We are forever running the race, trying to win, trying to come first focusing more so on destination and not the journey. The girls will also start racing once they get into the daily grind of life. Until that time, if they can also enjoy smelling the flowers and collecting the twigs and chasing the squirrels, we feel it is good enough for their childhood.

They recently watched Asian Games, saw Hima Das running. They understood the concept of race. For win/lose or first/last, they currently know that people get different medals and toys.

Smart. I do not care whether our children are called smart or not. To be precise, I do not care whether our children are actually smart or not. I do not see any reason for a 4-year-old to be classified as smart or for that matter, any other adjective, to be used for a 4-year-old. They are children and that should suffice.

Beautiful. I suppose there are other words as well to connote a similar meaning – pretty/cute/adorable. We stay away from the limelight world of being beautiful.

Favourite. Dressing up two girls has always been a task in itself for me as a stay-at-home father. To keep my job simpler, I never got into any discussion of what their favourite colour/favourite dress is. This actually led to an unintended benefit – not just the colours and dresses are treated equally, they have ended up treating all the vegetables also equally. Both the girls eat all the vegetables without any fuss. I attribute this to keeping the concept/word favourite away from them.

Conditions. There are no talks along the lines of “If you do this, you will get this” or “If you do not do this, you will not get this”. Of course, we do not get a number of times what we want the girls to do. However, we have refrained from getting them to act on a conditional basis. As a result, they are also not aware of their rights – the right to bargain and so and so forth. The task may or may not happen but the focus will always be on the task and nothing else.

Lays / Carbonated Soft Drinks. Sugar, salt and junk food are anyways going to be an integral part of an adult life. A 4-year-old does not need to know them on an immediate basis.

If you are wondering, how come O +ve and B +ve have still remained untouched from the above worlds? The answer is they are still out of the pre-school / nursery / day-care regime. I suppose, not sure though.

There have been accusations on us of un-necessarily shielding our children / not letting them get ready for the real world.

I feel that we, as adults, keep saying that we miss our childhood. Just that, we want our children to be adults, as fast as possible.

Honestly, for us, we just want them to be children as long as they can be, preserve their innocence. After that, they are anyways going to be a replica of the world we see around us, rather what we ourselves are.

What do you say?

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.

Little Moments: Memories with our children – 3

Little moments of beautiful memories of life with O +ve and B +ve. For the first part, please click here, the second part is here.

Using a map for hide and seek

O +ve has seen maps – in her books, in Uber and Ola apps, in videos, in our house as well. She has forever been fascinated by them; she feels that maps lead to a secret destination. O +ve keeps drawing lines, curves, circles and triangles on whatever she can get hold of and says that she has drawn a map. One day, just as we decided to play a game of hide and seek, she asked for some time, picked up her pencil and paper and set to work. After two minutes, she said she is ready with the map of our house and was pretty sure of seeking us out from any corner.

My little girl is gung-ho about discovering the world with her own maps.

Ramayana – an unfinished story

Who is Sita’s mother? What is her name?

Whilst on a walk, ‘If I touch this stone with my feet, will it turn into Ahalya?’ ‘Which stone should I touch so that it turns into Ahalya?’

Why didn’t Rama and Lakshmana take Jatayu to the hospital?

Why did Ravana take Sita?

What is the name of the squirrel which helped in building the Ram Setu?

At every point of the rendition of Ramayana, the girls had questions. We tried our best to answer them all, but Google also couldn’t throw up answers for the last one. The squirrel continues to remain anonymous. B +ve refuses to hear the story without figuring out the name of the squirrel. So, the Ramayana story-telling has been stalled for now.

Just as I am penning this down, it occurred to me that I could give B +ve the option of naming the squirrel. Maybe the story of Ramayana will continue after that!

Why doesn’t a bull give milk?

We were reading about farm animals. Cows give milk, buffaloes give milk et al. When the bull got introduced, B +ve immediately popped up the question – Does the bull give milk? Even before I could answer, O +ve came up with another question – Does the bull have an udder? I said ‘No’ and O +ve immediately turned towards B +ve and remarked with all-knowingness, ‘Bull does not have an udder, so it doesn’t give milk.’

On every occasion that we accost a member of the bovine family, O +ve and B +ve look down first to ascertain the presence of the udder to ensure correct identification of the animal’s gender.

Aadhaar Card as an all-in-one solution

The girls like watching videos of Australia Zoo. One fine day, they announced that they would like to visit Australia Zoo in person. So, we started explaining to them that to go out of the country, we need a passport and that we do not have one. To our utter surprise, B +ve said that we have an Aadhaar card, so what do we need a passport for? On thinking further, we realized that she is actually right. Why do we need multiple documents when we have already proven the citizenship of the country? When PAN card is seeded with Aadhaar, we can obtain passport basis Aadhaar, what is the need for dual paperwork in all such instances?

To be honest, we do not find any flaw in B +ve’s logic; just that the complex and convoluted Government of India will not see any sense in a child’s simple take.

A world trip with B +ve and O +ve

In the above Australia Zoo discussion, I also explained to the girls that going to Australia is an expensive affair and that we do not have money to afford a trip currently. O +ve quipped that I can go to the ATM and take out the money. I told her that one can withdraw money from ATM only if it is there in the bank account and I don’t have that many in mine. She gave me her ATM card (the girls carry our expired cards in their wallets) and told me to withdraw the money from her account for the tickets.

We have begun planning for a round trip of the world, courtesy – our girls’ ATM cards 🙂

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…

Counting to 100 by 10s: Krishna Fruit Juice Centre

An activity for number counting to 100 by 10s – Krishna Fruit Juice Centre.

Our girls love role-plays. They love being hawkers, vendors and shopkeepers – they get to stock loads of stuff and handle loads of imaginary money. They enjoy being customers – they get to carry wallets and bags and choose what they want to buy.

So here’s one that we came up with to introduce number counting to 100 by 10s to them.

Materials Used:
  • Cardboard box, big enough to hold 20 bottles, 10 popsicle stick labels, 20 straws and 2 wallets
  • 20 bottles – we used Yakult bottles which are easy to hold and manage
  • 10 images of fruits – we used images from old children’s books picked from Sunday street shops
  • 10 popsicle sticks
  • Straws – we cut them to be just enough for the Yakult bottles
  • Coloured tape
  • Wallets – we used passport photo holders
  • Cardstock to write the numbers and make the currency (we re-used the flashcards on which the girls had scribbled)
  • Stickers to label the juice bottles
  • Hot glue gun and Markers
Activity Preparation:

1) Glue the fruit images on to the popsicle sticks. It helps to have the names of the fruits along with the images. Add the prices (10/- to 100/-) next to the images.

2) Stick the coloured tapes on the plastic bottles as per the colours of the juices that you are going to sell at the juice centre. We made 2 bottles each for every variety of fruit juice, a high probability that both B +ve and O +ve might select the same variant.

3) Label the bottles – write the names of the fruit juices.

4) Put the popsicle sticks and straws in each of the plastic bottles.

5) Cut the cardstock and make currency notes (10/- 20/- 30/- 40/- 50/- 60/- 70/- 80/- 90/- 100/-) and put them in the wallets.

6) Stick the tape on one side of the cardboard box. We wrote ‘Krishna Fruit Juice Centre’ on a flash card and glued it onto this side.

We are ready to go for counting to 100 by 10s.

Play (Counting to 100 by 10s):

Girls get super excited when they are told that we are going to set up a juice centre. Do they want to sell or do they want to buy? They want to be customers. So I end up being the fruit juice ‘shop uncle’. I take 5 minutes to bring out our fruit juice centre box, lay out the contents and set up shop on a table in our living room.

I pick up the 2 wallets, hand them over to my daughters and introduce them to the money in it. They begin rummaging and try getting a hang of the stuff that is in there.

It is O +ve’s turn first. She checks out the labelled bottles, the labelled popsicle sticks and is very happy to find her favourite lemon juice and right away orders for it. B +ve immediately says ‘me too’. They read out from the number-price label that it costs ten rupees. So, they dig into their wallets, fish out the money and hand it over to me.

The girls’ order for another juice, read out the numbers on the labels, take out the matching currency from their wallets and pay me. I hand over the bottles to them along with straws. There is, of course, nothing in the bottle but air, but they get so excited about having made a purchase that they start making all kinds of slurping sounds with their straws. Whilst at it, we speak about the particular fruit – colour, taste, seasonality, benefits, which part of the country it comes from and all other related trivia. The girls also try reading out the names of the fruits. This continues until they drink all the juices and their tummies are full.

Whenever they have their grandparents, uncles, aunts or friends visiting, the girls want to play this with them. We have done this activity a number of times and the girls still love slurping and making all kinds of sounds.

Way Forward:

As they get comfortable with counting to 100 by 10s, we now plan to change the number labels and the corresponding currency notes as well to familiarise them with other numbers. Inflation has got us as well, you see. Also, we might have to introduce new flavours onto our menu, just to keep our little customers happy and asking for more.

Fruit Juices are tasty, healthy and also help in counting to 100 by 10s.

Little Moments: Memories with our children – 2

Little moments of beautiful memories of life with O +ve and B +ve. For the first part, please click here.

Lies and Lice

The girls are growing up and are in a phase where they want to know the meaning of all that they hear and speak. So, one afternoon, whilst singing Johny Johny Yes Papa, O +ve asked me the meaning of the word ‘Lies’. I was dithering, trying to put together an answer without getting into worldly affairs of lies to three and a half-year-olds. B +ve came to my rescue and told her sister that Johny’s father was asking if Johny has “Lice” and dandruff in his hair.

Thanks to lice, there are no lies.

What will Mowgli do when he grows up?

The girls love watching Jungle Book. One fine day, B +ve raises a pertinent question – What is Mowgli’s age? It never occurred to me until then as to what could be Mowgli’s age. It is easy in the age of Google to answer such questions; I looked up and answered her that Mowgli is 10 years old. I was happy that I was able to satisfy my child’s inquisitiveness. But, what I was not ready for was the next barrage of questions. What will Mowgli do when he turns 30 years? Will Mowgli come to stay in the city like us? What is the age of Bagheera and Baloo? Why doesn’t Mowgli ever change his dress?

Sir Rudyard Kipling, please help me with the answers.

What is Life?

B +ve is playing with her Ammamma and suddenly she asks – What is Life? My mother-in-law got nervous on hearing the question that a great many philosophers have failed to answer in their lifetime. She immediately directed B +ve to her grandfather, who answered her question by offering the Telugu word for ‘Life’ – ‘Jeevitham’. Unsatisfied, B +ve again got back to question her grand-mother – What is Jeevitham?

The question continues…

The role-play of Mommy

O +ve has taken it upon herself that she is my mother and I am her child. So, every now and then, she dons the avatar of my mother. I will be instructed to call her Amma, Mommy, Mom, Mummy – all the different words of mother that she knows. She goes around calling me Baby and I have to call her by any of the chosen names that she gives me from her repertoire.

When my mother is around, I might get 2 replies when I call for her.

The tears dropping around

B +ve had a shampoo done and she came out crying from the bath. No amount of cajoling and coaxing can console her right after the gross injustice that has been meted out to her. Her sister tries her luck. O +ve remarks that  B +ve is crying so much that her tears would be passing through the floor, seeping into the house of the neighbour who stays below us and he is going to come complaining to us for the water in his house. The next thing we know, B +ve is amused and is completely silent thinking about whether it will really happen.

Water leakage and water flooding due to tears, OMG!

Why do girls only wear frocks?

We do try to keep our daughters away from the gender stereotyping (my being at home and my wife going to work certainly helps). Well, I suppose not much. B +ve has popped up a question – Why do only girls wear frocks? And, we have not been able to answer this simple (!) a query.

The girls’ initiations to real-world differences seem to have started.

In the daily rush of things, we tend to forget these instances that make our lives livable and leave us with a smile on our face, irrespective of the circumstances that we face.

Each one of us has such little moments. Let’s take out time for them; let us not miss out on these memories in our everyday’s struggles. I am sure big things will happen, in the meanwhile, it will be these little moments that will make life totally worth it.