The women who shaped me…my personal influencers

One of the most fascinating aspects of being a parent is to see your children shape up. How a baby starts to develop a character of her own as she grows up. As she starts interacting with the world, different facets of her personality start emerging. There is a very interesting interplay of her innate disposition, her upbringing at home and finally the social influences that ultimately shape her into the individual she becomes.

I grew up the same way. One of the stronger influences all through my life has been the women around me. Luckily for me, I was surrounded by strong women, by women of character. As a young girl, I looked up to them and knowingly or unknowingly absorbed their qualities. And the process of learning is still on – I continue to observe and emulate. Today as I navigate a tough world, trying to maintain a healthy work life balance between bringing up three boys, being a wife, running a household and managing a demanding job, these learnings stand me in good stead.

I believe that our foundation stones are laid at least two generations before – how our grandparents or maybe even their parents lived their lives trickles down to the kind of persons we become. I had grandmothers who were ahead of their times. My nani, a woman of grit, published her own magazine called Arsi back in the 50s and 60s. Unfazed by her husband’s untimely death, she took a strong decision to bring up her children on her own, not depending on anyone. My dadi, married to a renowned professor of political science, had a PhD to her credit as well as a number of collections of short stories and novellas. She was also the person who sowed the seeds of a lot of principles I stand by today. Her elder sister was the first girl in her district to give the matric exam. She was also the first woman in her family to take up a job – as a journalist with the weekly “Saptahic Hindustan”. My nani’s sisters – all highly educated, professors, doctors, etc. One of them was the first lady doctor in Rewari, which in the 50s was no better than a village in terms of facilities and worse than a slum with people waiting in long lines for water, garbage piled high. In those conditions, she delivered babies in their homes with lanterns as the only source of light, took women in labour to her clinic on thelas or whatever else was available– the list of stories is endless. Along with her husband, she went on to establish a full fledged hospital in Rewari. Her journey is nothing short of inspirational. These women, my grandmothers teach me to not be afraid, to blaze my own trail, and that once I decide to take a path, I will also know how to navigate the roadblocks.

We all know what a big influence a mother is. Not surprisingly, so was mine. I saw her, I listened to her, I observed her and kept imbibing from her. She emphasized the importance of prioritizing and taking the right decisions. She believes that everything has a time – and acting belatedly is like not acting at all.  She constantly reminded me about the importance of relations and taking everyone along with oneself. I also learnt from her how to survive under pressure and stress.

But more than learning from her lectures (as she likes to call them – and still hasn’t stopped giving them!), I learnt from seeing her in action. She is a textile designer and an entrepreneur. When I was 5 years old, she established The Institute of Design in Jaipur, out of our home. The institute grew and so did her reputation. (our neighbours once got a letter which just said – opposite Institute of Design!! – when I told a friend where I lived, he said excitedly – oh you live in Purnima Varma ki galli – and I dryly responded, yes, since I am her daughter!!). The Institute shaped my personality like nothing else. I learnt all my management lessons there, I learnt relationship management skills, I learnt about handling conflicts, I learnt about event management and much more. I can write a full blog on this, and maybe I will, but let me limit myself here.

It is hard to believe, but even irritating little sisters, can have an influence on you. Mine did. As my husband says, she provides me the foundation on which I stand. Despite being a good three years younger, she sensed my innate weakness – the need to be liked or loved. While that might have left me with a pleasant, open personality, it also left me vulnerable to hurt. I don’t think I realized that till much later, but she did. As I got ready to go to college, she showered me with advice on learning how to say no and how to put myself first. She kind of grew in my shadow – the quiet younger sister and the more bubbly elder sister. However, she has a resilient personality that I envy. Things, people or situations that can tear me apart have only made her stronger. As she likes to say, “things that don’t kill you, only make you stronger.”

Talking of sisters, an older sister is often a role model for little girls. I had one too. Unknown to her, my older cousin was someone I really admired and subconsciously tried to follow. A vibrant personality, winner of extempore debates (that was a huge deal for me), a confident, outgoing person, a lovely smile. When I started shortlisting colleges for graduation, I found that I had kept with me a copy of the LSR prospectus she must have got for herself – and while she didn’t join LSR, I did. I ended up going to the same postgrad college as her. And finally when she married a good friend – I wished fervently for such a friendship based relationship. Ended up following in her footsteps even there!

The lesson on overcoming obstacles through sheer will and grit is best taught by my mother in law. A teacher by profession, she almost single handedly brought up her two sons, since her husband worked away from home. I mean literally single handedly. Her right hand is deformed from birth. But that has not stopped her from doing anything – and unless you see her hand, you will never guess that she does everything with her left hand – and mind you, faster than most people. Drive a car? Make a roti? Peel vegetables? Tie a saree? Carry a baby? Maybe two? She can do all that and more. Her persona exudes I can and no one will ever doubt that. And today, when I sometimes fear for Anvay’s future, I am reminded that all I need to do is keep my will and grit and teach him the same – and good results will surely follow.

Professionally, I have also learnt a lot from two of my past bosses. Both represent a very strong work ethic, amazing attention to detail and exacting expectation of excellence from their team. Multitasking and always being on call, and carrying the team together, are some of the other things I have learnt from them. Both are non – Indians (one British and the other American) but took to India like their own country. My first boss is married to an Indian and they have together established one of the best firms in my sector. And, just a tip here,  when next to her, please do not try speaking in Hindi, assuming she won’t understand – I have seen many make that mistake and the shock on their faces after realizing she is as fluent in hindi as they are!!

The list does not end here. My chachi from Chandigarh, a gold medallist in bio technology, seems to have struck the perfect balance between her work and home life. A mausi, an ex IAS officer has continued to write and publish many books after her retirement – it tells me to make sure to keep at least one passion other than work alive. My bua, an excellent dancer in her younger years, teaches me to continue to spread love – her handwritten cards always reached us before time and her regular phone calls remind me to never forget loved ones. And while continuing as a homemaker, she took up study of dyslexia and published her work on it. Another bua, a cool dude, well into her sixties continues to direct and present her plays with a never say die attitude. My mami, a homemaker, an excellent example of keeping the family together. Thanks to her I know even her side of the family as well as mine. Also, almost a second mother to me in Delhi, she has cooked my favourite dishes, taken care of me while sick. My other mami, an entrepreneur, an outspoken person, never afraid to air her views, encourages me to do the same. And finally my taiji, who maintains an impeccable house, with extreme attention to detail, a teacher who brought history classes alive. Along with my tauji she has supported my family through thick and thin, making sure I remember the importance of relations and value them.

So while today people talk about social influencers, I prefer swearing by my personal influencers – the women who have shaped me.

photocredits: @photosynthesisbyaditi

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Soulmates, the Entire Universe Conspired to Bring Together

Remember Om Kapoor (Shahrukh) in Om Shanti Om, “agar kisi cheez ko shiddat se chaho to saari kaynat use tumse milane mein lag jati hai” or the original from The Alchemist “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

So what chance do you think a girl can have against a boy who decides at age 7 that she is his best friend and he wants to spend his life with her? Practically none. At least I didn’t. That’s our story – A match – the Universe conspired to bring together.

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We started school together – in class 1. Our families knew each other and therefore so did we. As far as I was concerned that’s the reason he was invited to my birthday parties. We became close friends in teenage and stayed so till end of school – at which point he decided to come clean with his real feelings – which were quite strong and took me by surprise. (As always like the clueless girl in movies). I was however, quite sure that a) this is no age for a relationship and b) he was definitely not the prince charming I wanted – quite the opposite in fact. (NOT tall, NOT dashing, NOT the extrovert, actually nothing that I expected!) He was more of the guide who advised me on boys and relationships (not surprisingly he always warned me off any of my crushes!!!) (also now I realise, why he advocated the merits of marriage when I was in the “marriage is bad” phase.)

So long story short – I said Sorry, this is not the time and you are not the one I am looking for. BUT we can remain friends, if you want. (Only now I realise how traumatic friendzoning is!) So sure was I that he is not the right guy, I told my dad that IF EVER I fall for him in the future, my dad will remind me and tell me not to marry him!

And then both of us went to Delhi to our different colleges, with a promise to stay in touch. I realized too soon that this fake sort of a friendship wasn’t going to work – it just made him feel worse and so we decided not to meet anymore. And I thought that is THAT!

But what I had not accounted for was the UNIVERSE. The universe that was conspiring behind my back. After two years of not meeting, not talking, we met by a chance. And then he said those magic words, (No, not I love you) – he said, “I have gotten over you”. This sentence had a profound impact on me and I felt like a free bird after years. The guilt that had enveloped me, evaporated instantly.

Next, we met at a friend’s place those summer holidays and to THIS DATE, I don’t know why I told him that I would like to be friends again. We travelled back to Delhi together, with a promise to meet again. And by the time we met the next day, I had fallen in love. (I know, this sounds ridiculous even to me, but that’s how it was – when it is the universe, you can’t really question it).

And that was the start of a relationship so deep and intense – I had not known anything like that before. Busy with our studies, we did not have the luxury of time, and met for a few short hours. These meetings were desperately awaited – and I remember the instant grins that covered our faces, as soon as we sighted each other. Even now, whenever we meet, we cannot hold back the grin!

There was so much to say and so little time! I started to write to him in a notebook, pouring in every little feeling and thought, which I would read out when we met. Emotions so raw and pure and that I find it difficult to read that notebook again. He expressed through his verse. He would give me scraps of paper he wrote on and I would painstakingly copy it out in another diary, dotting it with little flowers and leaves I habitually collected. The two notebooks are now our little treasure – a souvenir of the first year of our relationship – both written in Hindi. Hindi – I know now, is the language of my heart – and English the language of my brain.

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After that one year of pure bliss we had to face the reality of separation – I had to go for further studies. So on I went, both of us realizing that many relationships do not survive the distance. And there were many friends who assured us, this would not last. However, we survived and not for one or two years – but for all of six years as we studied and worked in different cities. And now today, we celebrate our thirteenth Wedding anniversary.

After years of separation and longing, finally we started on our marital journey. (to be fair, my dad did remind me of my earlier wishes!!) As our love matured, we also realized that we were two very different persons. In fact one can say entirely opposite! Starting from food, to choice of entertainment to our right and left brain differences! He loves eating out, I am the daal roti person, he prefers to act on impulse, I can barely move without planning, being on time is sacrosanct for me – an inconvenience for him, he loves to shop, I only bother when I really need something, he likes to spend, I prefer to save, he loves the room chilled, I prefer being warm and cozy (except, on days I want lower temperatures, he is mysteriously feeling cold!)

But we adjusted to each other – adapting and respecting each other’s view point. Our differences and our ability to think beyond them has become our strength. We have, I believe become the wind beneath each other’s wings. Looking not at each other, but towards the same direction.

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I was always pretty sure of never marrying an entrepreneur. But when he decided to tread the tough path of an entrepreneur, I supported him and my job brought the much needed security. When I was offered a good role in Mumbai, he was the one who insisted I take it and that we could manage living separately. Even now, when I think about international positions, he is the one who says go ahead, we will manage. Despite being a compulsive planner, I am learning from him that once you tread a path solutions may follow. The lack of an answer should not stop us from moving ahead.

Our differences make us a stronger unit. When we heard Anvay’s diagnosis, it was he who lifted me. His ability to take it in his stride, brought me out of my sorrow. When he cried bitterly at my father’s passing, I held him and when I wept alone for my father, he held my hand.

Like any couple, we have had our share of differences. In fact we irritate each other all the time. My father used to say that we are like two daggers always pointed at each other – except that the daggers are made of butter. We have also had some big fights. But at the end of the day, when we met after work, neither could suppress the grin that suffused our faces.

So I live comfortably in the knowledge – till the grin remains, we are doing fine.

 

Why is it SO Important to Know and Understand CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

The number of child abuse cases coming to light seem to be increasing at an alarming rate. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, every hour, 4 children in India suffer from abuse. Often, in the same day’s newspaper, more than one child abuse incident is reported. Moreover, these cases are not restricted to a particular gender or economic class. In fact, contrary to popular perception, young boys are at a higher risk of sexual abuse than girls.

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No parent feels secure today. Many parents are worried when they leave their child alone even in safe or secure places. I have an eight year old son, and whenever he goes down to play in our apartment complex, one part of me is always worried. This is despite the fact that I live in a gated community, where strangers are not allowed in without permission and small children are not allowed to go out on their own. This is in such stark contrast to our own childhoods, where we played outside our homes fearlessly and our parents were assured of our safe return.

Living in such times, the FIRST THING that we as parents should know is WHAT CONSTITUTES CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE. Most people erroneously believe it be only physical abuse. Inappropriate gestures or sounds with sexual intent, making a child watch objectionable content, all come under the category of abuse. It involves mental, physical and emotional abuse of a child through overt and covert sexual acts.

The NEXT most important thing is to MAKE YOUR CHILD AWARE OF ABUSE. Even a small child can understand the difference between private parts of the body and good and bad touch. I attended a workshop on sexuality during my college days, where during a session on child abuse, someone shared a very interesting anecdote. One of her friends had taught their young child about private parts and told her that if anyone other than her own parents touched her there, she should just yell, “Don’t touch my booboo”!!! Admittedly, it led to some fun and embarrassing moments, but the parents were at least secure in the knowledge that their child could scream out if required. Next, tell your child not to keep any secrets from mommy and daddy. This is important because typically, the perpetrator convinces the child that this is a secret between the two of them. Finally, parents should always keep channels of communication very strong between them and their children. It is only then that children will feel secure sharing their fears or negative experiences and emotions. For slightly older children – preteens and teens, it is important that parents start discussing sensitive issues such as attraction, crushes, relationships, sex and abuse. Children need to know that they have a right to say no when they are not comfortable in any situation. And also to not give in to peer pressure.

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THIRDLY, be able to recognize any signs of sexual abuse in your child. I think it is important to be aware of any cues the child may be giving – any change in behavior, refusal to go to any particular place or meet a certain person, any kind of pain or any bruises on the body should not be ignored. Other symptoms could include insomnia, bed wetting, a clingier than normal child, or a child who is withdrawn. Guilt and shame or confusion are very common feelings a child might go through. A parent, sensitive to the child’s subtle changes will be able to recognize such feelings more easily.

It is also important to be aware that the ‘abuser’ can be lurking anywhere – in our homes, in our housing complexes, in schools or in public places – in the form of friendly uncles, household help, guards, conductors, even friends or older peers – you name it. It is well known that most cases of sexual abuse happen with people whom the child knows.

In this scenario schools and day care centres become very important in partners in children’s safety and security. A child spends more time at these institutions than at home. It is natural for parents to want to ensure that the safety measures being taken are sufficient. There are a number of things that schools can do safeguard their students against child abuse.

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The first and foremost and also the easiest is to put in place physical infrastructure that can prevent abuse. Simple measures such as CCTV cameras in various parts of the school can be an obvious deterrent. Ensuring that support staff such as drivers, conductors, administrative department etc. are not allowed access to the school wing and have facilities that are separate from those of the students can also go a long way in enhancing security. Ideally there should also be a separation between senior students and the younger ones. Many young teenagers can also become perpetrators. School buses can also have CCTV cameras and any change in bus staff should be duly informed to the parents. A lot of the newer schools already have many of these facilities in place. Many day care centres allow parents access to live footage of the babies. Moreover, schools should have a no tolerance policy in cases of child abuse.

Secondly, it is important to educate both teachers and students about sexual abuse. This should be taught in all classes and children should be encouraged to reach out to an elder in times of difficulty. There should be anonymous helplines in place as well as counsellors in school. Schools should also put posters across the school, so that the issue of child sexual abuse does not become taboo to talk about. Teachers should also be trained about recognizing potential perpetrators as well as how to respond if a child approaches them or they observe a case of child abuse.

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Finally, as a society, it is important that we act in a concerted manner against the menace of child abuse – be gentle and responsive parents, alert citizens and responsible educators and care givers. It is important to break the silence around the issue and mainstream the discussion so that more and more parents and therefore their children become aware of child abuse and prevent such cases. As a society we should be able to raise confident and secure children, children who live in safety and are free to reach their true potential.

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This article was first published in April 2018 issue of The Education Insights

The first child – our experiments with Parenthood

Let me start by modifying an old adage – “The moment a child is born, parents are also born”. Both the mother and father step into parenthood together – an exciting but unknown journey. New parents are keen to do everything correctly, by the book and give their best shot at parenting.

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As parents, we believe that we are the ones imparting knowledge, but it is also equally true, that we are being taught by our children. Parenthood is a journey we undertake with our children, and the first child teaches us those first steps. He leads us on a path we have never tread before and he provides us the first opportunity to experiment our parenting skills! With this child, we learn how to be parents and simultaneously evolve as human beings.

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Arnav, our first born, gave us the gift of parenthood. It has been eight years, and the journey has been fantastic, peppered with fun, laughter, learning and not to mention, a fair share of challenges. Arnav evoked in us feelings we didn’t know existed. I will never forget my first look of the little pink creature. Tenderness assumed a whole new meaning! The little tidda – completely dependent on me for his every need. And he was my little doll!

And dad? He admitted that only now he really and truly understood the meaning of the word DARLING. (hmph, and I thought WE had a special thing going between us!!%*&#^%#%^). In office, he would go over and over again his little baby’s pics!! And let me break a stereotype here – supposedly men complain that their wives do not pay as much attention to them after the baby, in our case, I am the one who should file a complaint of negligence!

During pregnancy, I had naturally done a lot of googling on bringing up a baby, and even compiled it all in a book. But after Arnav was born, we ended up learning on the job, the book forgotten. I remember being scared of even holding him – he was so tiny and fragile! At the same time, I couldn’t imagine not co sleeping with him and overcame the fear of crushing him! And while we are on the subject of co sleeping – I would like to confess publicly how soppy we are as parents. Even as we moved Arnav to a separate room, we missed him a lot and kept bringing him back to our bed! And now with three kids – many times we still end up sleeping together! Yes, yes, I know three is a crowd and five is a railway platform!!

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Arnav was like an ideal baby, with a lovely temperament, didn’t make us stay up at nights, no howling, no colic, no tantrums. A hyperactive baby, but very easy to manage (unlike his bratty brother). The two’s were never terrible – we never had to use safety locks or clear away bottom drawers. We also let him be – apart from being conscious about his safety, we never really cared too much about where he was roaming or what he was licking and our floors were never mopped with Dettol. After all, we surmised, if he has to live in India, he might as well make peace with all the germs around!

We also agreed not to fuss too much about this new entrant and take life as it comes. We did not stop doing any of the things we did as a couple before. Consequently, he saw his first movie under the age of two months, went out with us everywhere, including a trip to Jodhpur and Jaisalmer in freezing December at 10 months, getting wet in the first monsoon rains and numerous trips to Jaipur to meet his grandparents. Our unsaid belief being that a child will adapt to the surroundings he is brought up in. Be careful before you fuss for total silence while the baby is sleeping – you are likely creating a problem for your own self. Let him learn to sleep wherever he is regardless of whatever noise there may be. No point constraining ourselves or mollycoddling the babies. In fact I think they are better off for it. My uncle and aunt who were in the television industry carried their infant daughter around everywhere – at shoots, on a scooter, in freezing cold, at unearthly hours… and she adjusted fine – and has grown up into a smart young woman.

Similarly with Arnav. I joined work when he was four months, and dad took on the primary responsibility. Dad would take Arnav to his workplace in his little baby basket, armed with his diapers and milk and our helper. He would coo his way through the day, drawing admiration from dad’s many employees! He also spent some time with grandparents in Jaipur (sans mum and dad) without any fuss! And then at eleven months he started going to a crèche, which also he adapted to pretty quickly.

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Kapil is totally right brain and I love reading. So naturally we were keen that Arnav picks up at least one of these attributes from us! We started buying him a lot of books pretty early and by age six, he was a voracious reader – both fiction and non fiction. Now he tells us facts we were never aware of – for example we had no idea that the word Google derives from Googolplex which is a number nearing infinity. (btw we are not the only clueless ones – a number of adults we checked with did not know this!!).

We also started doing theme birthday parties for him, starting his on 4th. These birthdays have become an annual event, where soon after one birthday ends, we all start planning for the next. Both dad and mum and even nana- nani have gone overboard, planning and executing these birthdays, and these have really worked wonders developing Arnav’s imagination and knowledge. For every theme, he gets books and gifts related to that theme and so do his little guests. As a result, Arnav (read geeky child) now has some awesome knowledge about various things such as dinosaurs, space, pirates and detectives! (and deadly combination of reading and theme parties has resulted in the demand for a Harry Potter theme next year combined with a wish list of potion books, spell books… you get the point!)

We also decided to expose him to various activities to let him explore and find out his interest areas. We sent him for dancing, for cricket etc. to see if he found a passion. (he didn’t). It is very easy for parents to expect the child to be interested in things that they love or think are right. A small example – Arnav had to choose an extra curricular activity this year – choice being a lot of things like music, dance, drama, IT, robotics, home science etc. I was quite sure he would choose either one of the performing arts (these are things I loved) or robotics (which I assumed he loved). He chose home science instead – because he loves to bake!

Another friend told me how he worked his daughter hard on karate and now she is a black belt at age 8. But despite this achievement, he will probably not push his second daughter as much. I think the key is to keep ourselves open to the child’s wishes and not impose our own.

We were also quite clear that our parent child relationship would be based on mutual respect. So Arnav was always given due respect as an individual and treated as an equal (even at age 3!). (That does not mean that I have never screamed at him for driving me crazy). Basically this meant that we gave his choice and voice equal importance. My sister and I could share anything with our parents without fear. This is what we would want too. So we have kept our channels of communication open. This would ensure he comes to us when in doubt or difficulty and would not hesitate to trust our opinion.

I would like to believe that our approach has helped create a strong bond of friendship between us. (When Arnav’s nursery teacher asked him who his best friend was, he said Kapil. It took her very long to figure out that he meant his dad!) It has also helped Arnav adjust to his new brothers with ease. (after being an only child for 7 years – it might have been tough on him.) Dad increased his father-son time with Arnav, taking him out in the evenings (to Reader’s Cafe) , having heart to heart chats etc. And thankfully Arnav has transitioned very well into the role of the older brother – more than happy to take care of his siblings (including wanting to tag along one of them to school!)

So far, so good. But it isn’t always this hunky dory. I feel sometimes that we may have carried on this buddy relationship too far! Meaning, that there are times when we find it difficult to discipline him regarding work, he also seems to have developed the idea that he knows everything, and is not always ready to listen to us. I also feel that we may have given him too much choice in all matters, something that is now boomeranging on us! There are some values, that I think are missing  – such as focus, diligence and commitment. But maybe that is too much to ask of an eight year old!

I have also learnt that parenting style needs to be tailored to the child’s personality. I have seen both my mother and mother in law practice this. Both Kapil and I have siblings very different from ourselves. And I have seen how in both cases our mothers adopted a different style with each sibling – grooming and guiding them. I am still trying to figure out my child’s personality and this is evolving.

So for now I feel we have the work cut out for us – it is a question of how much to steer him and how much to let him evolve on his own. How much to discipline vs how much to let him free. When to be firm? How firm? How strict? I am not yet sure I know the right balance.

But as we continue trying our best, I do remember that we are just the bows from which we have sent forth our children…

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No, Thank You. I may LOOK Pregnant, but I am NOT!

Madam, aap pregnant hain kya? Oh no, Not Again! I am at the security check booth at the airport, and this is the umpteenth time the CRPF guard on duty has asked me this question before scanning me. Anyway, from now on, I will just have to suck in my tummy and hold my breath for the few seconds that she scans me. Apart from, of course wearing flared clothing that stays far far away from the body!

There! I have admitted it! Admitted to my ridiculous shape. Those who have been reading my blogs will know that I have been baring my heart quite a bit. But believe me when I say, that admitting THIS was tougher. Tougher, because I could have easily remained anonymous on this online blog. Many you have not seen me and many who know me, saw me ages ago. When I was really different.

I was not always like this (i.e. perpetually pregnant looking). In fact, majority of my life I have been underweight and used to being called names such as chhotu, chhutki, virus (I am assuming due to size and not temperament), hangar (clothes seemed to hang off me) and hearing jibes such as – are you from Somalia? or How do people even take you seriously (with this kind of size and structure)?! On top of that diminutive frame was a small face, which meant I never looked my age, often younger than my younger sister. And of course, not to forget the Just About 5 feet height.

But I didn’t mind. Not at all! While some of my friends of similar size and structure did not like being small, I just loved my small frame! I was in college when my cousin gifted me T shirts meant for boys aged 10-12, and I was delighted. I firmly believed that all good things come in small packages. So no body image issues, none at all.

Mind you, I loved flaunting my pregnant belly both the times I was expecting. It is just that when the baby is out, but the fat remains, things aren’t so sexy anymore! I was almost underweight when I conceived the first time, and after having Arnav, I slowly lost weight over the next year or so and settled at a decent weight, with a little bit of a muffin top. Yes, I did mind not being able to fit into pre-pregnancy clothes, but it wasn’t so bad anyhow. Plus, to go back to that level, one needs to be NON lazy, committed to working out and remain disciplined about it. I knew I didn’t have it in me. So I made peace with my body.

[While we are on the topic of work out though – let me digress and share with you my experiences of gymming. So the first one was, when the movie Road released. This was 2002 and I had just started my first job. I was Super impressed with Antara Mali’s flat Abs and decided I wanted one too. I stayed in a working women’s hostel at the time and joined the nearest gym that I found. I told the instructor my area of interest i.e. my abs. To my dismay though he instructed me eat bananas, paneer and milk – basically to gain weight. Needless to say the proposed diet plus the hard work ensured that I didn’t last long. The other two experiments with gymming were after the first baby, when I still had some hopes of coming back to original shape. But after losing money both the times, having taken membership for 6 months, attracted by discounted rates, and barely making it to the gym for two months or so, I decided to confront the truth. Gymming is NOT my piece of cake. Gymming saga ends here.]

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Anyway, so seven years later, I conceived again, and twins this time. I looked up pictures of women pregnant with twins – and believe me their tummies were HUGE! My doctor told me that there will be a time when I won’t be able to look down at my feet! And it all excited me!! I took pictures of my growing belly every month and shared with friends and family! And by the time I delivered, I am not exaggerating, I pretty much looked like a beached whale. But it didn’t worry me. Of course, I will be huge, I am carrying two babies. It will go once they are out.

Unfortunately, it didn’t. I waited patiently over months, waited for the fat to reduce, but it didn’t. And, it looked different from the muffin top I had earlier. It was a weird, apple kind of a shape. so of course I googled. And found out about Diastasis Recti. This is a condition that affects pregnant women – mostly after second pregnancy or in case of multiples. Both boxes checked in my case. So what happens is this, the ab muscles, whose role it is to keep your guts from falling out, become weak and get pushed apart. See how. WARNING – graphic ahead.

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This was a revelation for me. And for other moms facing belly fat issues – please check if you may be suffering from the same condition. It is important because regular exercises, yoga etc. may actually make this worse. To me this was a great piece of news – because now I could tell anybody who suggested a work out to get in shape, that it is not an option for me!! That trainers who know how to deal with DR are far and few in between (to tell you the truth, I haven’t bothered checking).

So where does that leave me? I am back to getting used to my current body shape, buying large, flared clothes and munching my cheese toast and bhujia. And of course I dream about a tummy tuck/ abdominoplasty, which seems to me the easier way of getting back in shape. Though I haven’t bothered finding about that either, given all the warnings I have received from everyone I shared the idea with.

But those who are more conscious and disciplined than I am, please do the following:

  1. Figure out what your body needs – fat reduction, muscle toning, or is it the specific case of Diastasis Recti. If so, please make sure you have the right trainer and doing the right exercises. (linking something here that I have not tried myself)
  2. Diet control – avoid crash diets, our bodies need all nutrients, including carbs and fats in the right proportion. Focus on a lower calorie diet, rather than omitting certain food types (e.g. fat, carbs) and Do Not try to lose weight too fast. Your body will get it all back eventually. You can look at this app, I found it interesting.
  3. Do a full body check up, including hormone levels and thyroid functioning. Sometimes, weight gain (or loss) can be due to those imbalances.

But those like me, sit back and relax, your body shape doesn’t determine who you are anyway.

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Lotsa Love and Cheer!

 

 

 

 

Grieving the Loss of the Perfect Child

From the time a baby is conceived, parents and close family start weaving their dreams around it. How would it look like, a girl or a boy, what kind of a person will she grow into and so on. We all have our image of a perfect baby, the perfect child. He is an embodiment of our dreams and aspirations.

When we found out we were having twins, we were ecstatic. Images of fun filled laughter, two little babies gamboling together, two pairs of little feet running around the house, filled our minds. We loved watching twin videos on YouTube, tickled with the thought that this fun would soon be ours. When Abeer and Anvay were born – we talked often about how they would turn out when they grow. Abeer, the attitude kid, looked set to become a Rockstar and Anvay, with his perfectly proportioned body was going to be our super model. We imagined the two boys and their same aged cousin, in their early twenties at Arnav’s wedding. Three lanky young boys, having the time of their lives.

But now I am not so sure if these images would ever become reality. Because unknown to us, while we celebrated the birth of our twins, Anvay had sustained brain damage. Anvay, the healthier of the two, who was not even a likely candidate, had sustained brain damage. I have no clue, what happened between the two minutes between the time they both came out, that led to this. Their birth was apparently normal. The doctors did not find any anomaly. In fact, they did not even do an MRI when Anvay was discharged (which they did on Abeer) from the hospital – I am assuming because nobody expected what had happened.

The news that your baby is damaged is devastating to any parent. Devastating is actually putting it very lightly. It rocks the world of the parents. All the dreams, hopes and desires come crashing down. The process of grieving begins. Yes, it is grieving. You grieve for what could have been, what should have been and why it isn’t what should have been.  The parent grieves for the loss of the perfect child, the imagined child. A parent will typically go through all the stages of grieving – denial, anger, bargaining, grief, and eventual acceptance. I recently read a blog from a parent who writes about grieving for a child she has not lost.

I like to believe I am stoic. And I am, to the extent of being able to control my emotions outwardly. I took the news as normally as possible – showing concern, but able to hide the panic. Reading pages after pages on his condition and internalising all the good and bad scenarios. I managed to harden myself to the extent of being able to talk about it without losing composure. I told a few friends/colleagues – but I opened my mouth only when the instinct to break down had been pushed down to the depths of my stomach. I can proudly say that I managed to explain his condition as objectively as possible. The discussions with the neurologist were kept as matter of fact as possible – even humourous.

 

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But grief has a way of coming out. You hold it tightly at one end, it will slip out from another. I remember watching Dunkirk and realized I was crying – it had nothing to do with the movie. Sometime on a plane – watching Hello Zindagi, I discovered my face was all teared up. I can’t remember the number of times I have cried sitting in the backseat of my car, safe in the knowledge that my driver doesn’t have eyes in his head. But I learnt to let the tears flow. They needed to come out, for us to be able to move ahead and plan for Anvay’s recovery, with a clear head.

Anvay was 6 months old (corrected age 4 months), when his pediatrician said that his muscle tone is high. It made no sense to me. He then went on to say something about spasticity – which rang a bell in my mind. Spastic? Does that not mean mentally retarded? (it does not) I was immediately horrified and the image of a helpless, mentally retarded child went through my mind. And laughably, one of my thoughts was whether he would ‘look’ normal. That, really is the least of my concerns.

Once we got the MRI done, we got a confirmed diagnosis of PVL – a form of white matter damage in the brain. Our pediatrician (he is a great guy) told us not to worry. He had seen many cases, where children with PVL after initial years of struggle went on to lead perfectly normal lives. Though he was concerned about his CVI – which is a visual impairment where the eyes can see but the brain cannot perceive. But when we found out that Anvay was also having seizures, also known as infantile spasms, he sounded pessimistic for the first time. And that I think also finally sagged my spirits.

However, there is hope. His spasms seem to have been mild and were treated within one month. They have not recurred since and we have our fingers crossed till he turns two. He is improving – albeit slowly – but that is expected. He is rolling now, holding things in his hand and the other day, he ate a biscuit on his own. Every little step he takes is a cause for great happiness. He is a very happy baby and has the loveliest smile – it makes our day when he smiles at us. His naughty little personality has also started to shine through!

I talked about our dreams crashing. But I had also started the new year with a new hope. We are rebuilding our dreams. I believe in the human spirit – that it can rise up to any challenge and overcome it. I am sure Anvay and we will find a way. If one door closes, there are many others waiting to open – we just need to be willing to look for them…

Anvay IS my perfect child – as different and as unique as my other two….

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Abeer – Living with a bratty Toddler!

All of 1.25 Kgs, Abeer stepped into this world 8 weeks early. Tiny and all tubed up – is how Kapil and I saw him for the first time. Our hearts went out to the little one – but almost immediately, both of us commented that he looks like a Rockstar. We were of course not alluding to any good looks – at that size and weight, he could best be described as ugly (barely human) – it was his attitude – there was something in the expression even then, that said, I care two hoots!  We didn’t realise then, how close to the mark we were! Now that he is 15 months, he looks us straight in the eye (with a devilish glint in his own), baiting us, before proceeding to do the exact thing he has been told (requested /pleaded/ begged) not to!!

We shouldn’t be surprised. I think we had enough warning even while he was in the womb. Fetus A. That is how we knew him, through the 32 weeks of my pregnancy. Fetus A was clearly the more feisty one – he was always on the move! I was sure that he was the wild girl I had always wanted. So sure, that I had already chosen a name for him and his twin – Aranya and Arin. Aranya means the forest, the jungle – apt name for my wild girl. Wild he is, girl he was not. Well at least I was right on one count!

Before we get to know Abeer, we need to get back to Arnav – our first born. A totally sweet tempered child, who never kept us awake during the night, who was so absolutely well behaved whether at home or outside that everyone was amazed. Baby proofing? No need! Protecting walls? Absolutely not! Toy shop tantrums? Never! Public embarrassment? Out of the question! People commended us on how well we were raising our baby! We credited the sweet nature of our child – but somewhere we were sure some credit must also go to us! If nothing else, at least our genes must have something to do with having the perfect child! But how wrong we were! Come Abeer, and any self-congratulatory thoughts we had about our parenting have been thrown out the door!

Even before he learnt to roll or sit, he had mastered all the bullying sounds ever. Aaiiih???AAiihh? AAIIhh? AAIIHH!!!! Screaming with an increasing volume and pitch, he sure knew how to get attention, without moving a limb. Nana and nani, two people devoted to him, were the most abused as well! There was no way nani could save her spectacles or bindi from being snatched away. These days, she is filling in as the pole Abeer uses to slide down the bed.

And let us not even talk about his treatment of the younger twin. I don’t think he even realizes that Anvay is also a living being. (or if he does, he has clearly decided to ignore that) He likes to go and plonk himself directly on Anvay’s face. If Anvay has a pacifier in his mouth, Abeer would surely pull it out and put it in his own. These days he loves to snatch the milk bottle out of Anvay’s mouth and either start drinking from it or put on its cap. Pulling his hair, crawling over him or sitting on him are totally normal in the course of the day.

And what about the sweet tempered elder brother? Well, on more than one occasion (multiple actually), Arnav has come crying to me, complaining how Abeer is bothering him – he has either slapped Arnav or is sitting in the middle of some game he is playing or maybe torn the current book he is reading. While Arnav is quite protective about Anvay, he looks at Abeer as his equally able opponent!! Since last week, Arnav has been the Jaeger and Abeer the Kaiju (those who have seen Pacific Rim will know what I am talking about)

 

And did I say, we didn’t believe in baby proofing? Really? Well, I am reconsidering. After having just learnt to walk, he leaves a trail of destruction behind him. Any room he decides to visit – is left ransacked. I think he would put Mahmud Ghazni (or was it Ghouri)  to shame. Oh and wait – once you see him pick up an object and send it sailing across the room – you would agree that he has a bright future in discus throwing.

But seriously can I blame him? There is clearly nothing else that is more exciting. I wonder really about the claims made by toy companies – how well researched each toy is – the colours, the texture, the sensory and gross motor skills the baby will develop etc etc. Well let me tell them, they are WRONG!  They have absolutely no clue what their target group likes – it is usually not toys. (Even the wrapping paper is preferred to the actual toy!) By the way, tearing the day’s fresh newspaper is one of his favourite past times :-/

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A toddler first of all loves the dustbin – the more full it is, the better he can throw things about. Second is a boring black laptop or a phone. No, it doesn’t have to be on. It will still attract the baby. Third – household cutlery – tell me one child who would prefer a toy truck over a sharp fork. And such fun in pulling out all utensils from the drawer and throwing them – have you heard the lovely sound that makes? Can any electric toy even compare with that sound? And now that it is summer – an open fridge will attract them like bees to honey. I cannot open the fridge without him getting between my legs and trying to pull out everything in sight. I can write pages….

And don’t think he doesn’t know what he is doing. He does. Very much. And then to make up, he turns on his full charm. He knows very well the effect of his lop sided smile, or his adorably cute singing and dancing routine (mix of bhangra and pop – we told you he is a rockstar, didn’t we?) and if that doesn’t work he starts walking backwards on the bed, spurring every adult in vicinity into action.

He is our source of non stop entertainment in his waking hours. Well no, even in his about to sleep hours – remember Sid from Ice Age? Yes? Remember the scene where he was trying to go to sleep? No? Look at this. Well this is exactly how Abeer goes off to sleep! Flipping and flopping on the bed – tossing around the entire length and breadth, before he finds a position and spot he is comfortable in. And mercifully he sleeps then. And so do we, happy at having survived another day! Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz………..

P.S. tell me your toddler stories too!