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.

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 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.