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!

Birthday Time! Who wants to be an agent?!

I love birthdays! Mine is in February and I remember as soon as we stepped into the new year, I would start counting days to my birthday! That day made me feel so special! It was MINE! And I think that excitement was seeded in me because my mum was excited about it. She would stitch (herself) two new frocks for me – one that I could wear in the morning and the other at the party in the evening! The two frocks continued till pre primary years because after that the school didn’t allow coloured clothes even for the birthday girl (Oh Damn!)

Party planning would begin weeks before, where we detailed out the invitee list (I never could decide who not to invite), the party menu, games, the design of the new frock (heh heh) and finally the return gifts. Mumma would buy all kinds of odds and ends which we would wrap in colourful paper and give out as return gifts. It was as exciting as receiving the gifts. And then there was this whole fun of distributing sweets in class and then roaming around in school, going to every class and giving sweets to the class teachers. (totally pandered to my attention seeking self).

Well, unfortunately nothing lasts forever – and I grew up. The parties have now given way to dinner at some restaurant (blah!). So where does the excitement come from? Of course my child’s birthday! Since his 4th birthday, we have been having theme parties and my love for planning shows up in full force – a month or more of planning goes into each birthday! (Really, I know my alternate vocation was an event planner!) And now, we have all bought into this theme party thing. As soon as one birthday party is over – we start deciding the next theme! (I tell you, we are a bunch of obsessed people!)

Anyway, to cut the long story short – this year’s theme was around spies, agents and detectives. Planning involved deciding on the return gifts and party games, decorations and cake. Hours of internet search, pinterest and shopping from amazon. That’s what went into this year’s birthday. Sharing snippets for all of you below.

First the invites – we either get something online or my designer husband fashions something out of his brain. This time it was the internet. Thanks to halfahundredacrewood, I got some good printables for invites as well as other stuff, that I then customised for our party.

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Then came the planning for goodie bags. Amazon has been a saviour. I ordered most of the stuff online – the magnifying glasses were actually ordered in the US since I was travelling there just before the party! So here goes – have a look at the lovely goodies!

We had an agent notebook, an invisible ink pen, detective shades and a magnifying glass. There was of course chocolate for those times that an agent might have to go hungry while spying! We put it all in brown paper envelopes marked TOP SECRET and these were given out when the mission was accomplished. (Most of the stuff came from Amazon.)

The mission of course was Arnav’s birthday and no agent could finish it without going through a series of tests. Tests that measured the agents’ agility, flexibility, intelligence, memory and speed. So let’s see all that the young agents had to endure! (Long post alert!)

The first thing an agent did on arrival was his/ her identification. They had all brought their passport sized pictures and we stuck them on their ID cards and they were fingerprinted. Their specialisations were also mentioned on their IDs.

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The first test involved going under laser rays, and only those who managed to slip past the lowest gap cleared this round. We lowered the level of the last laser till only four were able to make it. You will see that we have used broad red ribbon for this. You could use red wool or red tape or even red party streamers. It may be a good idea to attach bells or ghungroos to these so that it would be obvious if someone touched it. Again, we did this according the space we had – if you have a small corridor, it would be even more fun to have children crawl through this. You can get some ideas here.

 

After this adrenaline pumping exercise, agents’ logical abilities were put to test. We gave them 3 sets of codes to crack. All the agents sat down so seriously for this exercise that I was worried they will think they were given an exam (indeed one or two of the kids called me ma’am!!). However, I later realised, they really enjoyed the activity, when some kids went back to the codes even after the activity! This is where I got my sheets, have a look if you want to.

After this was a test of speed and agility. We played a version of dog and the bone. Agents were divided into two teams of Russian and American agents and the contest was to get to the clue first. After all that mental hard work, this game got the agents up and running again! And then there was the memory test! We put an assortment of trinkets on a tray, showed it around for a few minutes and then asked the agents to write down all they could remember.

It was fun to see that after all this hard work, no kid seemed to be worried about food or the cake! But of course we were! So here we are, cake cutting finally! Of course the cake had to be detective themed!

For food – I just got a box each with some chips, a burger and a drink. After years of over ordering, we realised, that kids are not really very interested in eating at birthday parties!

We finally ended the party with a round of pass the dynamite. Basically, a take on the traditional passing the parcel, except that in this case, they were passing a bomb around and every time it exploded, the victim got a Blast (name of the chocolate!) and the winner got the fuse (name of another chocolate). Have a look at the dynamite below – and this is totally home production – Dear Husband’s creative skills put to full use! We wrapped a tin box in red paper and stuffed it full with chocolates. If you want you can attach a timer to it to add to the excitement.

Finally, the day was over and Arnav immediately started thinking about the theme fr next year’s party. We really enjoyed planning for the party and having it and so did the kids. And the best compliment was when one of the mums’ told me that her son asked her afterwards, why he didn’t have a birthday like this!

So any suggestions for next year’s party theme?!

P.S. If you liked this blog, keep a watch on this space as I will write about previous birthdays also.

Death Comes as the End

This is the cover of an Agatha Christie novel. Yes, we all are big Agatha Christie fans here. We have proudly displayed almost her entire collection in our drawing room. My dad also liked Agatha Christie. In fact, I think he was the one who instilled the love of Agatha Christie and for that matter all detective/ mystery novels in us. A very long ago memory – perhaps when I was 7 or 8 – lying in bed with him at night time and listening to the story of “Why didn’t they tell Evans” – another Agatha Christie novel. I remember the fascinating cover of the novel very vividly – a huge skull covering almost the whole page.

But despite knowing that Death does come as the end, I don’t think anyone is ever prepared for it. Even in the case of terminally ill patients, even in the case of a 90 plus parent… you always wish the time with them lasted some more. And so do I… I wish he had been there to see Abeer walk (he walked a few days after papa’s death); I wish he had waited to see Arnav’s new school; I wish he had waited for me to establish this blog – a platform I had wanted to use to share his ideas also with the world… I wish; I wish; I wish…

Birth and death, despite being the most basic truth of human life, both seem equally unbelievable to me. Every time I look at my kids, I wonder at the wonder of life. Of how life emerges from another human being. I cannot believe that they took shape inside me. That they were crafted from a cell. Similarly, death. I am just unable to wrap my head around the fact that a living, laughing person just suddenly disappears into nothingness. And you have blank walls staring at you, when you want to reach out to him. The person is no more. NO MORE.

I don’t think a day has gone by since he left us, that I have not wished that things had turned out differently. Not a day, that I have not missed him. The wound somehow has become deeper in fact. They say time heals – so I am waiting for that to happen. But many have also said that you can never get over the loss of a parent. And it is very different when you lose someone who lived with you. Every little thing in the house, every room screams out his absence. I remember the day I was hanging out washing – I wash clothes by colour – and it was whites that day – and there weren’t any of his baniyans (vests) to hang. I don’t think anything else made me feel his absence so strongly.

The video camera battery that he had asked me to bring from the U.S. – which we ultimately used for his remembrance meeting. The half full case of weekly medicines (medicines eaten till the morning of his stroke) – the unfinished cornflakes (he only liked Mohun’s – Kellog’s didn’t do it for him) – his drawer of tools and PCBs and other electrical equipment – the Nano which he drove (it killed me when Arnav asked who will pick him up from school now or who will the stuff in nanaji’s drawer belong to now) – the weirdly pained expression with which Arnav talks about him – the cooler which he set up every summers – each and every thing a painful reminder of his absence.

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I would meet Papa quite often either going down the building or coming up as I came back home in the evening. And kurta pajama was his usual attire. Yesterday evening, when I came out of the lift on our floor, I glimpsed a kurta pajama, before seeing the face. My heart stopped for a millionth of a second. But of course, it was not him. So many times, when the phone has rung, for a split second, I expected it to be him. And then there is his image of saying bye to me at the lift, feeling slightly cold and I telling him to go back to the house  – as I left for the airport to go to DC – the last living image of him….

papa-photo.jpgFor his remembrance meeting, we had picked a very happy picture of his – we didn’t want the usual passport photo as his reminder. After the meeting, we kept his picture in our dining room. But we soon realized we didn’t want a reminder of his absence. Without it, we could at least make ourselves believe he is in another room.

And sometimes I wonder what my mum feels – if this is how strongly I feel about his death. That is what we are all condemned with – life after death. Not that of deceased, but of the living. The lives that we all lead, after losing someone close. The silent grief we all carry, unable many times to share with others. When the mourners leave, we the living are left behind to pick up the pieces of our lives, lives after death.

Anyway, as people say, I hope he is in a happier place now. He sure seems to have been collecting some interesting people. After getting over the shock of Sridevi’s death, my next thought was that papa will have some good company there! And now Stephen Hawking. “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers.” – words, by Stephen Hawking that my sister messaged me this morning, saying she thought of our dad while reading this message. But just in case they are both wrong, I would like to imagine they are discussing the secrets of the universe somewhere!

By the way, this also was not a planned blog. I had actually planned to write something happy this time – about Abeer, who is increasingly becoming naughty. But I just could not write. I guess this needed to come out before I could write any further. Now that I have written about Death, I hope I will be able to write about Life. So long!