My Special Needs Baby – My Inspiration

If you have been following my blog or know me personally, then you will know that my littlest baby Anvay has special needs. What this means is that his pace of growth is much slower than the typical child and we also don’t know yet how independent will he become. Needless to say, any parent would be devastated to hear that their child has special needs. So was I. One year ago, we found out about his condition, and since then I have come a long way. I wrote about my grief earlier this year. You read it and you sent your support. And I realized that lessened my pain. It helped me deal with my feelings. It helped me accept and acceptance helped me focus on the future. The future of my baby. So thank you for your support and your wishes.

Today, about a year after the diagnosis, I am glad that I am a better person, a stronger person and a somewhat happier person. And in that mental transformation, my baby has been my inspiration. He has helped me face one of my worst fears and has shown me that faith and hope are an essential ingredient to leading one’s life. I have also learnt from his sheer grit, his patience and his ability to smile in pain. Today I want to share some of what I have learnt with you.

Aside from losing a loved one, the greatest fear I had was having a baby with special needs. I thought I would never be able to handle it either emotionally or physically. I felt I was not strong enough. But I have realized now that the strength to handle anything is within us. When faced with a situation, we need to look deep within us, and we will find that we are already armed. I learnt that when you face your biggest fear and look it in the eye – it diminishes and gives way.

Once I accepted Anvay’s condition, I found hope and faith to be my best allies. In his condition, there is no cure but through regular therapy many babies start functioning normally as they grow up. But no doctor or therapist could tell us what to expect as Anvay grows up. Will he be able to walk? Maybe. Will he be intellectually disabled? We don’t know yet. What about his eyesight? Might improve. When there are no clear answers, Faith is the only thing that makes you go on. The faith that my baby will also progress and become independent and perhaps read this blog one day. And Hope is faith’s best friend in this journey.

One of the conditions that Anvay has due to his brain injury is spasticity. It basically means that his muscles tend to pull back inwards and his limbs remain tight. Diapering him is not always easy because his legs don’t open up properly. For many months after he was born, his fists were often clenched. This is due to his spasticity. And spasticity can be painful. If you try moving around with clenched arms and legs you would know what I mean. He used to cry a lot during his early days and we realized after his diagnosis that a large part of this must be due to the spasticity. Through therapy he has improved now, but it still hurts him and he cries. And each time I hold him, console him, he smiles. He smiles despite his pain and tries to stop crying. He is just 20 months old and he teaches me to smile through my pain and move on. By the way he has a sunshine smile and any advertisers out there should seriously consider him for their shoots! (P.S. it will also help you spread awareness about special needs children)

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And with that smile come his grit and his patience. The part of his brain that was injured transmits the messages from the body to the brain. The reason he is not able to sit up is because his brain is unable to tell his body to get up. But he tries. And he keeps trying. These days he is trying to lift himself up on his fours. He pushes himself single mindedly till he is tired. He fails and he fails again and then he pushes himself once more. And he screams with the effort. Think of a weightlifter lifting a heavy load and his grunts from effort and pain. I feel ashamed at how easily I sometimes give up after a dose of failure.

But the more difficult something is, greater is the happiness in its achievement. Every bit of the progress Anvay makes, brings us ten times the happiness. It reminds us of the effort that went in. It also reminds me to not take anything for granted. I cannot take for granted the fact that I can think and walk and talk. But for a few seconds of lack of oxygen, Anvay would have been like us. Those few seconds of oxygen, is what we should all perhaps be grateful for.

I mentioned above that the communication pathways in Anvay’s brain have been damaged. So how is he overcoming that problem? When I understood how, I found two important lessons – both philosophical and scientific. Through therapy and his own efforts, Anvay’s brain is trying to rewire itself. In science this is known as neuroplasticitythe ability of the brain to change throughout its life by forming new connections. This has a lot of significance for all of us. It means that even as the brain ages, we can continue to learn and the more we use these connections, the sharper our brains become.

At a different level – what this means is that – when one route closes, we need to find another way. It will be tough, it will be challenging, but we should be sure that another way exists. If it doesn’t we can forge our own path. When a door closes on us, we know there will be many others to choose from – if only we stay focused and look hard.

Finally and perhaps the most important lesson I have learnt is that we all live at our own pace. I will be honest and say that it pains me to see the increasing gap between Abeer’s and Anvay’s abilities. But I am learning to ignore that gap. I am learning to compare Anvay’s progress only against himself. I believe he will make his own way, with whatever he gets or does not in life. His life will have meaning and we will find it. I will consciously avoid comparing him with how a typical kid would grow. I also try to stop feeling cheated about the deal Anvay got. This is what we have and this is what we will live. In the best way possible. And ultimately, all we need to be is happy. That is the one single goal we need to strive for – whatever our pace.BLOG- MY ESP NEEDS BABY- 2450x800

Lastly, for those who would like to know – Anvay has been improving – slowly but steadily. He is able to roll over – he sits up without support for a few minutes, he is focusing better, he is able to creep a little and also pull himself up with some support. So please add him in your prayers and send us your love – from wherever you are. And I will keep updating with our progress.

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.

 

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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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!

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!