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!

Mumma… What is success?

umm… I am not sure how to answer this one. Of course I want my kids to have a successful life – but what really constitutes a successful life? Money? Position? Fame? Happiness? Contentment? Satisfaction? All of these? Some of these? What is a life well lived? Is that the same as being successful?

I asked my peer group what they thought and got some interesting responses. Most agreed that the definition of success varies from person to person and at different points of life. Some said it is a mental state. Some said being happy and content is success. Some others said being successful means using oneself to their full potential. Yet another view was to not compare with others and live for oneself.

I agree and follow most of the above. But that’s not the full picture. Material achievements also matter to me. As I think back on my own life – I can see that things like money or possessions got added to my list of desires much later in life. As a student, it never mattered what marks others got – I had my own targets and parameters. At one point in my life, it didn’t matter whether or not I made money or owned a big house. So then what happened? Marriage and family commitments? Or a society that counted only material success?

I still remember, very early in my career, at a batch get together, the first question a batch mate asked was whether I had bought a car or not! And hastily, almost defensively I had explained that we had invested in a house first and will buy a car next year 🙂 It was also common to hear batch mates discuss who is doing well and who is not. The discussion would almost always boil down to salary packages and positions.

As a society, Indians seem to value only material achievements. (A total contrast to the image of us as spiritual beings and India being the land of spirituality!!) One is considered successful, if earning more than peers or wielding more power than them. Simple.

When parents measure success – their own, or of other people, or their kids’ through only material attributes, the same is consciously or subconsciously fed into the minds of our children and also feeds into our expectations of them. Moreover, constant comparison teaches the child to measure her success against others.

Things may have changed in the last few generations – but when I read news reports about children committing suicide or even trying to murder younger children to avoid exams or PTMs – I really wonder about the extent of this change.

A few generations ago – academics were the only way to a good job and therefore success – anything else that was remotely risky was discouraged – arts, entrepreneurship, sports. Engineers, doctors, Govt services were the preferred career choices – all safe bets. MBA got added to the list as  high pay packages were heard of. Now some sports such as cricket, tennis, badminton – but only those where some level of success has been demonstrated. A cricket academy will still be more popular than a football academy. Creative careers are also coming up slowly – but not fast enough. And entrepreneurship? Barely raising the bar there – other than perhaps the IT start ups – and that’s because they attract capital. Talent? Only if it helps to make money or gets fame at least. What about strugglers? I don’t think anyone wants to even talk about them. It is telling when Steve Wozniak says success in India is academic excellence and a good job. He compares a small country like New Zealand that has so many singers and athletes to a large country like India that barely makes a dent in the creative space.

In this discussion, I think of my dad. He was a very bright mind -an inventor who must have developed dozens of products, patented some, even developed board games and card games and wrote books and short stories. On top of that a great human being,  a great dad. But unfortunately no marketer. And hence an unsuccessful businessman. If one looks at his whole life I would consider it a life well lived – but a lot of people around him would probably just brand him unsuccessful.

So what is a successful life for me? At the end of my life – I would want to be happy and content and have as few regrets as possible. Happiness and contentment would come to me with a successful career, having enough money to live a comfortable life, see the world, some solid relationships, and strong and secure children. And this is what I would like to tell my children too.

And how do I raise a strong and secure child?

  • Value the person he is – and teach him to value himself (that does not mean going ga ga over every little thing he does :-D)
  • Help him excel in his area of capability – no point trying to fit a square into a round. Otherwise we are creating a recipe for disaster.
  • Teach him the value of hard work and the importance of struggle. Unfortunately there is too much instant gratification nowadays and I am guilty of that too.
  • Appreciate his failures as well and guide him to learn from those. (I regret every time I lose my patience when he fails – I am also learning)
  • Have a strong relationship with him – he will automatically have strong relationships later in life. (I think we are doing pretty well in that area!)
  • Mould him according to the person he is: a laidback child – teach him the importance of hard work; a very hard working child or achievement oriented – teach him to relax sometimes and learn to fail; a perfectionist – teach him not to find fault with others and so on…
  • Tell him that comparison is a tool to be used only selectively
  • Let him arrive at his own definition of success and what he wants to achieve in life. Guide him, but do not tell him what he should do. (I think that was the BEST thing my parents did for us – always let us find our way)

That is quite a long list and I hope I don’t forget these as I bring up our children! Do share your tips as well!

 

This one is about fathers…

I lost mine two weeks ago.  My sister and I were very close to him. He was very different from most fathers of his generation. A father who completely trusted us and our ability to take decisions. A father who shared and discussed his value system but never forced it on us. One who let us develop our own identities and personas. A father broad minded enough to tell his daughter leaving for higher studies to not commit to her boyfriend but keep her options open.

A hands on father – he packed our lunches all through our school lives.  One who made the perfect glass of milk – the perfect temperature, the right balance of Horlicks and sugar and no lumps left after mixing. 🙂 Even now, he was the one who gave us our night glasses of milk!! (Have been skipping milk now for most of the last two weeks).

We discussed everything under the sun with him – science, the big bang, evolution, history, geography, Agatha Christies, politics, religion, sex, relationships – you name it. Our relationship with our parents was highlighted by its openness. Not once do I remember ever having to lie to them or to hide anything from them.

Anyway. My meandering mind will keep dredging up memories and this blog will end up becoming about just one father. I wanted to write about fathers and fatherhood. No expert on parenting or relationships, I just wanted to write about how fathers have added meaning to their relationships. And I feel it is especially important in today’s context, as more and more fathers are becoming hands on parents. Many of them will not have similar reference points from their own childhood.

  • Be yourself. A cliche but true. The person one is, will define the kind of father he will be. Don’t try to be something different as a father. No point being a disciplinarian, if you are someone who lives life by the moment.  Just be yourself, and let the child evolve into herself.
  • Respect – Before love, care or anything, the emotion that comes first is respect. I believe, that the foundation of any relationship, is respect. And if you respect those around you, your child learns the same. I think that was one of the first values we were taught at home.
  • Love with all your heart – Traditionally men have been conditioned to restrain their emotions. No need to. My husband is one of the MOST soppy fathers I have ever seen. And he is not ashamed. And his kids absolutely love it!
  • Keep your promises – One of the most vivid memories my husband has from his childhood is when his father kept his promise of buying him a bicycle. His father worked in a different city and he took a special leave just to come back to his home town and buy his son the bicycle on the promised date. You keep your promises – your kids will learn to keep theirs.
  • Fun time – I once stayed at a relatives’ place. The next morning, I woke up to see him and his kids excitedly getting ready for a walk. The amount of excitement, energy and fun there was in the air, will forever remain etched in my mind. Making the mundane and the trivial fun is an art. And fun is what makes our memories bright and sunny.
  • Labour of love – Its not only the mom’s job to do all the physical work. Bathe your baby, feed him, clean him, oil his hair, cook for him, help him with homework and crafts and basically everything. My brother in law does it all. Respect.
  • Alone time – Just have some daddy – baby time together. Go and eat out. See a movie together. Chill out at places you both like. My son loves this time he spends with his dad.
  • And the list can go on….. But I don’t plan to do all the work. Please share your own experiences with your dads or as dads yourselves. Would love to hear from you. So Long!

Glad I said Thank You…

This was actually not supposed to be my third post. I had no plans to write a post like this. And I don’t even know why I am writing this. But I need to write. For myself.

As he barely hangs on to his life – all I can think is that I am glad I said Thank You. I was travelling last week when I wrote my  second post. He had sounded very pleased when we discussed my blog. He was happy that I had acknowledged his unselfish support to all of us. And now I am consoled remembering that happiness.

He had come to see me off at the lift and I did not know that, that was probably the last time I was seeing him conscious. I did not know when I spoke to him from Frankfurt that, that was probably the last time I will be speaking with him.

Among our various discussions, we had discussed death and beyond. He is an atheist and I remember asking him even when I was very little – what will he do if after dying he finds out that God does exist. He would laugh and say, I will accept it then.

Among other things, we discussed organ donation. I never expected how difficult it would be to discuss it with the doctors. He is 73 and unfortunately with a weak body. I do not know if the doctors will find anything that can be donated. I hope they do. Something at least. It would make him happy.

His atheism makes it difficult for me to pray for him. He would scoff at the idea. Medical Science has given up on him. What we could never make him understand was that God or faith or belief comes after all logic and knowledge ends. So I do not know who or what to turn to. Anyway it doesn’t matter now. All that matters is that I loved and he knew – I hope so at least.

In the end what matters is not that we loved or that we respected or cherished someone. What matters is that we tell them. That they know.

So please go and tell your loved ones what you feel for them. For I am sure glad that I thanked him…. Just in time.

 

It takes more than a village…

PHEW!! yes it does… especially when we are talking about raising twins. The first year can be especially tough and parents can do with all the help they can get. Between feeding, diaper changing, calming bawling babies everything may just seem overwhelming.

Abeer and Anvay were premature and it felt weirdly empty when I came back home without them. It also meant going to the hospital at least twice daily with pumped milk for them. Emotionally it was not easy to see the tiny bodies hooked to so many wires. It hurt to see little blue marks where the needles had pricked them. Physically it was tough to make so many trips to the hospital, while recovering from a major surgery myself. The pain naturally took much longer to go away.

Once they came home, focus was weight gain and they needed to be fed every 2-3 hours. Which meant almost no sleep at night! Being on maternity leave at that time, I took on the job of night time feeding.  I did manage to catch some sleep in between – but despite that it was quite exhausting.

Some days were tougher than others. Days when one or both of twins would be inconsolable. Nights when they were sick. Trips to the hospital were tough with two infants in tow. And we had a larger share than normal due to a number of extra check ups for preemies. All in all, a physically and emotionally draining first few months.

Everyone pitched in – in whatever way they could. While nani helped in overall baby care, nanaji became the de facto provider of medicines, milk bottles etc. etc. Mausi came down from Bombay to help. Arnav also took on big brother responsibilities – like bottle feeding 🙂

Daddy has a special gift for calming down crying babies and putting them to sleep. I bet no baby anywhere in the world has been put to sleep with their dad loudly singing (while rocking them) songs from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham!!! I can’t claim it will work on other babies – but it worked like magic on ours. (of course only when sung by dad – none of the others ever dared!)

Once I joined work, nana and nani became the primary care givers during the day. Hats off to them for managing two babies so well. And once my travel started, dadi came in from Jaipur to provide support whenever required. And while Babaji could not physically come – his willingness to manage alone was a huge support by itself. The San Francisco, trip would not have been possible without chacha, chachi volunteering help.

In case of a working mother, the ‘village’ extends to the workplace. I am very lucky to be working in a very supportive organisation. Even before the twins were born, I was advised to work from home due to the high risk. My then manager agreed. Despite all the rest, they were born 8 weeks early – I shudder to think what might have happened if my manager had not agreed so readily to let me work from home. Once I joined back, my new manager was happy to support flex hours or work from home as needed. He also helped me move to an office location closer home. My team members were always there to catch the ball if I dropped it. A supportive workplace can do wonders do reduce the stress involved in bringing up infants.

And now all of you, who have read my blog and supported it, have become part of our village too by encouraging us. Please keep reading and sharing.

As I end, just a few tips for new parents, (or older ones too):

  • Feel free to ask for help. As Harry Potter Says, “Help shall always be given to those who ask for it”. It might be tough (it is for me), but it will help you get through, and it will actually strengthen relations.
  • Get your ‘me’/ ‘together’ time. In our case, it didn’t apply only to me or my husband. It applied equally to nana and nani too. We made sure we give breaks to each other. Many times we went out in ones, or twos or threes, for dinner/ shopping/ movies/ parties.
  • Do not take anyone for granted – not even each other. We were all giving up on something or the other – sleep, fun, work. It was a community task – but it is important to appreciate everyone’s role.
  • Change roles – sometimes, changing roles can also give one a breather.
  • Try online shopping! I got addicted when I started shopping for my older son’s birthday! It saves you time and gives you more choices. And I don’t know if you have felt it too – but whenever an online order is delivered – I feel the same excitement as I would on getting a gift!
  • Take a deep breath.
  • Try and ask for a supportive work environment. The new Maternity Bill that got passed last year is a huge step towards supporting new mothers.
  • Finally, this too shall pass! When you are through the exhaustion, the fatigue, the sleeplessness – you will be able to look back and appreciate the laughs, the tears, the milestones and the stronger you!!

 

A new year… and new hope…

Another year has begun and it is time to reflect on the year gone by and look forward to the new year. As I look back, I realise it is actually two years and not one, two years that are rolled into one. I cannot remember when one ended and the other began. Two years that were no short of a turbulent albeit exhilarating roller coaster ride. Two years that were at the same time very challenging and equally joyful. Going from a difficult twin pregnancy to premature babies to discovering that one of them has special needs – we pretty much covered a wide spectrum of experiences and emotions in the last two years!

2016 began with a wish for a new baby and ended with two little bundles of joy! The grandparents, parents and the little ‘big’ brother were as pleased as they could be. 2017 went by in a whirlwind of managing babies Abeer and Anvay! Everyone pitched in – grandparents, mausi-mausa and even big bro Arnav! He loved carrying them around like his personal dolls!

The twins are now a year old – and I feel I am able to look up and breathe a little, reflect some and  share some more.

The last eight years have been awesome fun with our first born Arnav – we just loved the little bundle of joy and I was surprised at the strong love that such a little thing could evoke in me! We decided to be ‘cool’ parents i.e. not hold back on doing anything, just because we now had a small baby. Arnav watched his first movie with us at less than 2 months of age! And before he turned 1, he went on a trip to Jaisalmer and Jodhpur in the bitter December cold! We were not daunted by the fact that the train that we had tickets for, changed its route and avoided our stop completely!! We nevertheless took a 7 hour bus ride to Jodhpur, followed by another long bus ride (this time in a local bus with open windows) to Jaisalmer – all with a big suitcase, a big pram and a 10 month old!!

So to cut a long story short – we loved parenting so much that we wanted more (well one more) and were gifted with two!! And it is great fun but a lot of hardwork too 🙂 But we have decided not to be overwhelmed by the hard work and follow the same policy of not stopping fun because of the babies. So in their first year, the twins have watched most of the new movies, been twice to Jaipur, been all the way to San Francisco and back (2 infants in a long haul flight – GAWD!) and to Bombay. And we are hoping for more adventures this year 😉

But why am I writing a blog? Because I have realised over the last two years, that this is becoming one of the best ways to reach out to people – whether those I know or those that I want to know. I am one of those people that immediately resort to google when faced with a question – and the number of searches I did in the last two years would have probably surpassed all my searches before that! I looked up everything from conceiving, to having a healthy pregnancy to all the horrors that can happen with premature delivery to managing premature babies and finally to understanding the number of medical terms that were coming our way once we found that all was not right with Anvay. I also read personal stories of people who were in similar situations – some gave me hope, some scared me, some gave me useful information. I also scoured blogs on creative ideas, birthday ideas and everything was there for taking. However, I found very few people who were blogging from India.

So here I am, wanting to share my thoughts, ideas, suggestions, learnings with all those who would like to connect. This is my first post – already delayed by about 3 weeks (Hazard of being a Triple A mom – unable to finish anything in time) and I would love for you to connect with me, encourage me and share your ideas and stories as well!