Monday, November 7, 2011

The Little Things That Matter…

Last evening Nikki and I attended a Hannah Montana themed birthday party. There was a large Hannah Montana cake, Hannah Montana balloons, goody bags, paper plates and cups, Hannah Montana streamers on the walls; by the end of it I pretty much had the effervescent Hannah coming out my ears. The party was rather nice, if a little impersonal, and it was probably just me, but I found the sight of several little three year old girls dressed up as Hannah Montana clones a little disturbing. I told the husband about it as we trudged home bearing a large (Hannah Montana, naturally) goody bag and we found ourselves reminiscing about the vastly different birthday parties of our own childhoods. The simple, do-it-at-home affairs where you would plan the party games yourself and spend the afternoon of the party feverishly making chits for the passing-the-parcel planned for the evening while your mother worked in the kitchen to provide the few guests, each of whom she knew by name, with homely fare.

There are very few, if at all, of these parties anymore and you can’t really blame the parents. It’s a little difficult to explain to your young child, after having attended a Winnie the Pooh themed birthday party complete with the Hundred Acre Woods, that she should be happy with a simple party at home. Having given in to one of these themed parties myself for Nikki’s first birthday however, I’ve emerged from the experience weary but wise, and with a rock solid resolve to try and pass on to Nikki the simple but soul satisfying birthday parties of my childhood.

This got me thinking of a few other things that I would like to pass on to Nikki from my childhood. The simple, little things, that you could easily overlook, but when you really think about it, went a long way in making your childhood special.
A love for reading and books would most certainly top the list of these. There are very few experiences in life that can surpass the joy derived from a good book and a rewarding and enriching relationship with books is something I definitely want to pass on to Nikki. A lot of people scoffed when I began reading to Nikki when she was just about three months old, but when I peek into her room now and see her little head bent in rapture over a book, and when we bond over the adventures of Silly Sally or Bubbles the Monkey at bedtime, I know that with books, it is never too early to begin (or for that matter, too late!).

Next on the list would be the family dinners my parents imposed on us when we were kids and whose value we realized only years later. Every evening, come hell or high water, or to be more apt, exam or new TV soap, all of us were required to show up at the dinner table to have the evening meal as a family. The television and phones were strictly off limits during this time and we were all required to participate in some dinnertime conversation. It was a simple, routine thing to do, something that we did every evening without really thinking too much about it, but when I look back now I realize that back then, no matter how much I overtly resented this intrusion into ‘my space’, subconsciously I looked forward to these dinners as a time when I could just switch off from the rest of the world and connect with my family, and those shared meals helped us grow closer.

And so in my own little family now I try and recreate those family dinners of yore by putting Nikki firmly into her highchair at the table and dragging the husband there as well, and insisting that all phones and the TV are turned off. It can get challenging at times with Nikki insisting on using the rotis to play Frisbee with and the husband twitching nervously with severe BlackBerry withdrawal symptoms, but we manage to emerge unscathed from most meals and feel only the better for the time spent together. As the years pass and Nikki grows older I hope we can use this time to strengthen the bond we share and practice the fine art of conversation and the finer art of listening.

Which brings me to the next item on my list; the art of listening- really listening, to other people and taking a genuine interest in their lives. I’ve met so many self obsessed people in the last few years that I can almost sense it when a person genuinely interested in others walks into a room. I’d like Nikki to be one of these few, increasingly rare, but precious people, something that I’m sure will go a long way in developing her personality and helping her forge real, lasting friendships.

And lastly, I’d like to teach Nikki the ability to be comfortable in and to enjoy her own company, because at the end of the day, no matter how large your circle of friends, you are alone with your own thoughts.

There are many other things I’d like to pass on to Nikki as well, and like every other parent if I had to list them all out I’d probably end up with a compendium in several parts. But if I had to list just a few, I would choose these. Little things yes, but things that will help build a rewarding childhood, filled with the simple pleasures of life, the way childhood should be.

What about you? What are the things from your own childhood that you would like to pass on to your children? And if your kids are all grown up already, what are the things you think you did well to pass on?

Originally written for "The Punekar"

Manasi Vaidya, Author of "No Deadline For Love"
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Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Lost Art of Doing Nothing…

I was first introduced to the concept of summer camp for toddlers the summer my daughter turned two. I was blissfully day dreaming about the long, lazy summer days ahead on the last day of what had been quite a hectic school year (getting a two year old to preschool is no easy feat!) when I was accosted by another mum who was part of the mother toddler club that I attended with my daughter.

“So which summer camp are you signing up for?” she asked me urgently, while waving a few brochures that screamed ‘Summer Camp!’ in bold letters in my face.

“Eh?” I answered in my customary eloquent manner.

“Summer Camp!” she snapped impatiently “There are just a few days left before seats fill up everywhere. You have to act fast if you want to get in!”

“Really?” I was quite horrified “And you think this stuff is necessary for our kids? I mean, they’re only two!”

“Of course it’s necessary!” said the woman looking at me as if I was a particularly slow species of the human race “It’s an important part of their educational base! You don’t want your daughter losing out in the long run do you?”

I headed home suddenly feeling a lot less happy about the lazy summer vacation I had been looking forward to. What if that other mother was right? Maybe summer camp was an integral part of toddlers’ early education these days! After all, the times our kids are growing up in are very different from our own, relatively simpler childhoods. I took a few deep breaths and decided to tackle the summer camp issue in a calm and rational manner.

“We need to send Nikki to a summer camp!” I shrieked like a banshee the minute the husband walked in through the door that evening “It’s an important part of her educational base! She’ll lose out in the long run if we don’t enroll her right away!”

“What nonsense” said the husband without batting an eyelid, “There were no summer camps when we were kids and we turned out fine!”

“However,” he added quickly seeing that I was about to get into the wailing banshee mode again “You can always take a few trial classes and check them out. See how you and Nikki like them.”

And so a few days later, armed with all the research I had done on summer activities, I set out to attend a few trial classes with Nikki. I had identified a summer camp which had a variety of activities for toddlers, designed to hone their gross and fine motor skills, sensory abilities, cognitive behavior, speech development and every other skill a young person is supposed to be equipped with these days.

Our first stop was a yoga class for mothers and toddlers, which aimed at getting the tots introduced to fitness while the mothers improved their flexibility and mental well being. A matronly looking woman greeted us as we entered a room where a few mums and their babies were already perched on yoga mats.
“We will begin with some basic exercises” she announced “Please lie down on the floor and stretch out your arms and legs.”
I obediently lay down and stretched out my arms and legs as instructed. As I took a few deep breaths I felt a feeling of calm envelop me. This was brilliant; I would soon be relaxed and supple and I was introducing my daughter to the benefits of yoga at such a young age!
“We will now begin the deep breathing” the instructor called out “Please inhale deeply and exhale with an Ommmm”
I took a deep breath and began to exhale slowly “Ommm….OW! Owwwwwwwwwwwww!”
Nikki, seeing me lying prostrate on the ground with my arms akimbo, had assumed this was some sort of new game and had clambered up on me.
“Horsey horsey Mama?” she asked brightly and began bouncing up and down on my tummy like it was a particularly springy trampoline.
“Ommmmmmmm” said the instructor, quite oblivious to my predicament.
“Owwwwwww” I yelped in agony, desperately trying to get Nikki off.
I saw the instructor shoot me an irritated look from the corner of her eye. Thankfully the stretching exercise was over soon and we got ready for the next posture. This involved balancing on gym balls and doing some more stretching.
“Look Mama, beeeeeg ball! “ Nikki said delightedly and made a lunge at a bright red gym ball on which a plump woman was precariously balancing herself. I grabbed her in the nick of time and deciding that slip disc surgery would probably be the outcome if I tried any stunts on the ball with Nikki around, beat a hasty retreat.

Our next activity was art where I hoped we would fare better since Nikki enjoyed doodling. The room itself was lovely with a multitude of art and craft materials strewn around, and Nikki grabbed a handful of crayons delightedly and began scribbling away.
“Do you know how to draw a circle?” a teacher came up and enquired. Nikki obligingly drew a squiggle.
“No, let me show you” taking the crayon from Nikki, the teacher drew a perfect circle. “Let’s try a triangle now” she went on.
“I want to draw!” Nikki took another crayon and drew a few more squiggles.
“No, no, no!” the teacher looked vexed “That’s not a triangle!”
She tried taking the crayon from Nikki again who decided that enough was enough and began flinging the crayons on the floor like a missile bomber on a combat mission.
“That’s enough drawing for today Nikki! Maybe we should try something new!” I took Nikki out again and looked around for another activity. Music! Just the thing we needed to calm down. I walked into a room strewn with musical instruments where a few parents and babies sat in a semi circle around the teacher, a kindly looking elderly gentleman, who was explaining to the group that he would now introduce the kids to the concept of ‘sur’ and ‘taal’.

“Mama I don’t like this uncle!” Nikki announced.

The teacher took a deep breath and broke into a ‘sa re ga ma’. With near perfect precision Nikki threw her head back and burst into a loud howl matching him perfectly in pitch and crescendo. The elderly gentleman, now looking significantly less kindly, was beginning to give me pained looks so I gathered a bawling Nikki and headed out to the garden, dejected. I sat down on a clump of grass and contemplated the summer camp debacle. Beside me Nikki sighed contentedly.

“Mama, I so happy now.”

“What?” I gaped at my daughter. She hadn’t been remotely close to happy in the state of the art yoga class, art class or the music class and here she was sitting around, doing nothing and proclaiming great joy. “You’re happy Nikki? Why?”
Nikki gave me a look of infinite wisdom “I so happy Mama, because I do nothing.”
And I finally got it. It was all quite simple really, just the way my childhood had been, until I had tried to over complicate it with my own misplaced zeal and paranoia that my child would get ‘left behind’.

We didn’t sign up for any camp that summer, Nikki and I. Instead we spent a lot of time in the park, counting birds, chasing butterflies and watching the clouds make funny shapes in the sky. We pottered around at home in the kitchen and baked a cake. We went shopping for vegetables and fruits. We made up games and wove imaginary stories out of nothing. And when we got bored we thought of ways to amuse ourselves. It was a happy, contented summer. And at the end of it I really didn’t feel like Nikki had missed out anything or lost out on building her educational base. Because you learn a whole lot more when you are just doing nothing.

Originally written for "The Punekar"

Manasi Vaidya, Author of "No Deadline For Love"
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Mum on the Block

In my pre-mommyhood days, what sometimes seems like a lifetime away now, I used to be a very different person. I was a driven career woman, climbing up the corporate ladder; laptop bag in my hand, stars in my eyes. I met deadlines, dealt with demanding bosses, thrived on coffee-fueled early morning meetings and late night presentations. On weekends, I enjoyed lazy lie-ins and luxuriated in bed with a book and the papers. I experimented with food and dined in exotic places. Long lazy brunches and quiet dinners during which I mulled over the little perplexities of life. I took pride in my appearance and indulged myself with lazy soaks in the tub and frequent trips to the salon. My clothes were impeccable, my hair shiny and blow dried. I went dancing and to the movies and the theatre when the whim struck me, curled up with a good book at home when I preferred a more mellow way to unwind. I travelled often, to far-flung exotic destinations, at times long trips, sometimes short ones, embarked on an impulse. They were rather nice, those pre-mommyhood days.

All that changed when my daughter first announced her appearance in my life with an ear splitting shriek. “Mother” that shriek seemed to say “I am here now. Get ready for your life to change. Big time.”

And change it did. I went from being the driven career woman to perpetually harried first time mother, grappling with the new found challenges of motherhood. The laptop bag was replaced with the diaper bag. The stars in the eyes remained, but they were borne more often than not of a sleep induced haze. Coffee continued to be my best friend. Except it wasn’t to handle deadlines and meetings anymore, it was to keep up with a sleepless infant. Lazy lie-ins became a thing of the past. The child arose each morning at 5.30am sharp. Except weekends of course, when it was 4.30am sharp. My appearance now was the last thing on my mind. I was usually just grateful on the days when I made it to the shower. I had cereal in my hair. The lazy soaks in the tub were quickly replaced with two minute dashes in and out of the shower, in the middle of many of which I often emerged dripping wet with my heart in my mouth because the child had let out a blood curdling yell (which as it turned out was because she was just imitating ‘Oliver the Monkey’ on television). I still danced, but only while entertaining the child at mealtimes. Mealtimes themselves were quick shove-the-food-down-the-gullet affairs for me, and more elaborate ones for the child, stretching on for hours while she mulled over the little perplexities of life and I mulled over what I would serve for the next meal that she might eat faster. I rarely went to the movies anymore and the few times that I did, it almost felt like a surreal, magical experience and I felt like a child at the candy store looking at all that Pepsi and popcorn. I still travelled but only to child friendly places and with luggage enough to make people wonder if I was considering a permanent move to a different planet. Naturally, ninety nine percent was the child’s luggage.

And yet, in spite of all these changes, I was the happiest I had ever been now than before my daughter was born. Motherhood is a transformative experience. It was for me. The most life changing, gut wrenching, overwhelming experience of my life. Yes it is tough and challenging and oftentimes frustrating. But it is also hugely rewarding and satisfying and capable of filling you with a fizzy, warm happiness that touches your soul. Those little arms wrapped around you, that little head trustingly resting on your shoulder and that little voice that says “I love you Mama”. The eager little eyes that search for you in a crowd and, when they find yours, the way that little face lights up with radiant joy. The discovery each day, of a new wonder, seen through those innocent, hopeful eyes, something you would never have caught with your own jaded and cynical ones. The experience of watching that tiny bundle you got home from the hospital grow up, the gradual shaping of that little personality, the understanding of what unconditional love means.

Yes I do think of my pre-mommyhood days sometimes. I even miss little bits of them. But I wouldn’t want to trade my mommy days for anything in the world; not even the ones where I have cereal in my hair. For I know that nothing can compare with being my daughter’s mother.

Join me then, dear reader, as I walk through first time motherhood with my daughter, sometime stumbling, sometimes waltzing along. For all the parents out there, especially the mothers - new mothers and old ones, mothers to be, those who’d like to be mums someday, those who value their own relationships with their mums, and those who like a good laugh. This column will take a tongue- in-cheek look at everything that has anything to do with mommyhood. And about being a mum in Pune. And also a little bit of life on the side as I see it. Until the next column, then.

Originally written for "The Punekar"

Manasi Vaidya, Author of "No Deadline For Love"
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Saturday, September 10, 2011

For my other two year old

Two years of doing something I thought I would never be able to keep up when I first started. I used to write a diary (at one point of time I even had three different diaries!) but that was different. Nobody ever read my diary, I guarded it fiercely and never let anyone so much as peek at it. The pesky younger sister was often given an earful when she was snooping around my stuff, as younger sisters are wont to (yes you are, admit it!), because I was convinced she wanted to read my diary even though it was far more likely she was just scouting around for a bar of chocolate. I found it incredibly difficult to fathom how people could blog about themselves so easily, put themselves out there just like that. I was convinced I'd never be able to do it. Then I was introduced to the wonderful world of mommy blogging and I wanted to be a part of it too. I've written about that here before; wanting to have someone who would listen, understand without judging,like I saw all the mommy bloggers doing. And so I took the first tentative steps. Without revealing my identity because I really wasn't sure about the whole thing and I really wasn't comfortable with people I knew reading what I wrote. It was incredibly comfortable to write as 'new mum on the block'. There was this strange sense of freedom. I could write what I wanted, experiment as much as I liked, be who I really wanted to be without thinking about being judged or evaluated. I miss that sometimes, writing from that safe comfort zone now that I have revealed my identity, but it couldn't have gone on forever and I knew that when I started. I'm glad I started like that though because even though 'new mum' doesn't blog anymore I still remember how I felt when I had the freedom to blog as her. And that really helped me overcome my initial hesitation at writing in a public forum and to write without any of the mental barriers I am otherwise rather good at imposing on myself.

Today morning I was out with friends and someone mentioned my blog and someone else 'oohed' and 'aahed' and said it was so cool that I had a blog, and I found myself sharing her amazement. Yes, I had a blog, me the 'guard what she writes with her life' girl, and I found that I was really proud of my little, woefully neglected in recent times, blog. Happy second birthday, blog.I'm sorry I nearly forgot your birthday and it had to take that chance conversation to remind me, that two years ago on this date I first met you. You're one of the best things that's happened to me in the last two years. And next year, I'll throw you a proper party to celebrate your birthday. For this one, lets just go out for a drink tonight, just you & I.

P.S. I wrote this post yesterday! Just had to keep it languishing in the drafts till now, because we did do a celebratory dinner for HM after all and by the time we got back it was wayyy past midnight!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Paranoia and chocolate cake

The title for this post is fully inspired by a book I read many years ago; the delightfully titled 'Prison and Chocolate Cake' by Nayantara Sahgal. Much like the author of the book, who came to associate chocolate cake with prison because of an incident in her childhood, over the last month and a half I've developed a morbid sort of paranoia for chocolate cake myself. It all started with a trip to Nikki's pediatrician around the same time, when I decided that waiting for the doctor in his clinic was probably not such a good idea given that Nikki, who now recognizes the doctor's clinic rather well and associates it with jabs and other unpleasant things, is given to start bawling her head off anytime we're near it. There's a cheery looking cake shop right under the doctor's clinic, specializing in chocolate cakes, so I decided to wait there instead and distract Nikki with the assorted goodies on display till the doctor showed up. It seemed like a good idea then, but thanks to a series of illnesses that saw us going back to the doctor again and again and, would you believe it, yet again and then a few more times, beyond a point that cheery cake shop just made me want to barf. There's something quite tragic about sitting in what should be, and is for other people, a happy place, a place where they come to treat themselves, when all you can think of is that next report from the pathology lab or what the doctor is going to say and whether your poor little sick child is going to have to take another dose of nasty antibiotics. Of course Nikki was quick to associate the cake shop with the doctor soon enough and the whole thing just blew up in my face, so I was back to waiting at the clinic again.

Anyway, so we've been battling a series of illnesses over the last month and a half. Nothing major, but its just been one thing after the other. Poor little Nikki was the worst hit, because she also ended up missing a lot of playschool and then when she was fully recovered she didn't want to go back. Anyway things are back on track now and life is slowly limping back to normal, even though the slightest sneeze, or the hint of a cough is enough to make me start shaking like an aspen. Oddly enough the advent of any new illness was always on a weekend. By the end of it I had become so paranoid, I had come pretty close to sitting in the prayer room fingering beads each time a fresh Friday dawned.

In the meantime, life went on as usual as it is wont to, and even though I realize I've been painting a pretty gloomy picture (you always knew where Nikki gets her drama queen genes from, didn't you?)there have been other cheerful things that have been happening as well. For one, my book finally saw the light of day, erm, bookstores and its already been around for nearly a month now. The initial response has been pretty encouraging and lets just say I don't have to spend the rest of my life sniveling under that cover anymore. You can read some of the reviews here, and I will post other updates soon. Have any of you had a chance to read it? Let me know what you think!

In other news, all this illness made me re-think my own fitness levels and I realized a drastic pulling-up-of-the-socks was in order. Too many late nights, cheese loaded pizza binges and not enough working out was simply not on anymore. Since it had mainly been Nikki and P who were ill, and I was the sole caregiver, I'd also begun to feel rather Florence Nightingale-ish what with all the late night bedside vigils and administering of medicines. With cries of 'I must be a hundred percent fit! I owe it to my family!' ringing in my mind, I threw myself on the treadmill in a bout of misplaced zeal and began to workout like I was training for a marathon. The tryst with fitness lasted only a couple of days because in my enthusiasm to nullify many weeks of living slothfully in just a few days, I ended up straining a muscle and found myself laid up in bed for a change. Thankfully both P & Nikki were well on their way to recovery by then so no major harm done, except to my ego and my dreams of being super fit. Just when I had pretty much memorized the 'how to max your treadmill workout' primer, the doctor has advised me to, in fact, stay as far away from the treadmill as possible. Oh well, at least I'll have more time to blog.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Boss From Hell

That evil smile, that sadistic smirk

He’s out to torment you while you work

Every move of yours he’ll spy on and check

You can bet he’s always breathing down your neck

Get used to feeling trapped, like a fish in a bowl

He’s going to suck the joy right out of your soul

He’ll grudge you that long lunch, that coffee break you crave

You better know he thinks you’re his personal slave

Very soon you’ll want to tear your hair out and yell

Coz honey, you’ve got the BOSS FROM HELL.

Vile Varun. Boss from hell. In ‘No Deadline For Love’…. Coming soon!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

No Deadline For Love: More Updates!

Another long overdue post. But I have been busy you know. There's the school drop off every morning, and since school is only for one hour for now, I spend the time hanging around outside, plotting ways by which I can be one up on Nikki's teacher....erm, I mean contemplating the various intricacies of the Indian education system. Then there are play dates on weekday evenings, birthday parties on weekends for which I am the officially designated chaperone, trips to the zoo and the park and the library....well you get the picture. Clearly I need to get a life. Of my own.

Okay, so before I go even further away from the original point of this post (you've forgotten haven't you? See title!)and start ranting about the house help (there is always something there), let me get back to the post at hand. Right. So, the book! It is finally going to see the light of day, or rather the light of bookstores. The good people at Penguin have informed me that it is only a matter of days now before the book is in stores, and they're also sending me a few advance copies so I can finally, finally see what it looks like instead of wistfully sighing over my much thumbed manuscript.

Here's a preview of the cover spread:

Right, so much for that. Since you can't read a word of what that says in spite of all the trouble I went to (darn you, Blogger!), here's what it says on the back:

All her life Megha has diligently done what was expected of her: the graduation in economics, the MBA in marketing and now the straitlaced job in a high-profile FMCG company. But lately, she’s been wondering if this unending routine of juggling late hours and unreasonable deadlines is really her life’s calling. Her mother’s desperate attempts to put her on the ‘marriage market’ are not making life any easier. And to top it all, Megha’s latest project has been bogged down by a complete dearth of creative ideas, giving her nasty boss the perfect excuse to disregard the blood, sweat and tears she’s poured into her job so far. The last thing she needs is having her suggestions trampled upon by the team’s new creative consultant, Yudi—gorgeous, sardonic and only too eager to disagree with Megha. And so the stage is set for a quirky battle of wits and some unexpected romance.

For all of you out there who think this is the kind of book you'd like to read, do read it and let me know what you think. I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned it on this blog before, but I started writing my book before I started blogging and I had no plans to ever start my own blog till I discovered the wonderful world of mommy bloggers, and then I desperately wanted to be a part of it too. I mean I could always write about Nikki's first steps in my personal diary or rant about the mealtime tantrums, but where else would I get a friendly virtual hug or a 'don't worry, you'll get through this' in return? I was convinced no one would ever read my blog though, and the husband was routinely subjected to the middle of the night crises of confidence and waves of self doubt about whether starting the blog was a good idea. That is of course when he wasn't being subjected to the routine crises of confidence and waves of self doubt about whether writing a book was a good idea too.

Anyway I started the blog, unsure and tremulous, and was convinced it would just sputter out eventually and no one would notice. But someone did, and that someone was kind enough to leave a comment! And then there were more comments, and people told me that they liked the way I wrote! And it was the most amazing feeling ever. I still remember reading that first comment just before leaving for an evening stroll with Nikki and chugging along delightedly in the park with a goofy grin on my face, attracting strange glances from passers by and even a few from Nikki herself. But the point is, it really means a lot to me that some of you out there read what I write, and like it and your comments help me cope with those routine crises of confidence and waves of self doubt that I still suffer from quite regularly. So thank you. If you do read No Deadline For Love, tell me what you think, won't you?

We have a Facebook page up and running now too, you can join it here. I did try and get a plugin on the blog to make it easier to join this, but its sort if gone and died on me and there's only so much a technologically challenged person like me can deal with. (Darn you, Blogger! Yeah I know I said it once, but darn you!)Oh, and its available on Flipkart and Amazon and a couple of others places too, links to which I will try to upload in the sidebar shortly, provided the Cyber Gods are kind to me.