Thursday, November 3, 2016

Three un-princessy princesses (A Book Notes series post)

Raising a child on traditional Fairy Tale stereotypes is a dangerous proposition. You run the risk of bringing up a little girl who thinks she needs to be pretty' princess waiting around to be rescued or a little boy who thinks he needs to be in control of other people's lives and decisions. Either way, this is a terrifying thought to take into the future with us because we don't want to be raising another generation of humans who think that women should be soft and dependent and men should act entitled and claim ownership over these women, their bodies and their mind.

You may think I'm ruining childhood by deconstructing a 'simple' sweet story but I think not. Nothing is as simple as it seems and the responsibilites of raising a child include being honest and truthful irrespective of how difficult we may find that. Children are capable of a lot more clarity, intelligence and sensitivity than your average adult, in my opinion. I believe it may be time for us to re-evaluate these problematic notions of gender and not blindly pass them along to them.. Not reading Sleeping Beauty or the popular versions of Cinderella (I don't include the Brothers Grimm version here) will not make your offspring's childhood less magical. Growing up in an environment where there is no space for questioning and curiosity will. Magic is in exploring, learning from your mistakes and  making your own destiny.  Magic is not about waiting locked up in a tower for somebody to come and rescue you.

We belong to a generation that grew up being told that that these gendered constructs are 'normal' and even desirable.  Drop the veil of childhood nostalgia and take a look at where it has left us. I certainly don't want to be responsible for raising another insensitive adult so you are unlikely to find those kind of 'children's fairy tale' books on our book shelves.

Having said all that, there are some days when you want a bit of fairy tales and princesses and dragons in your life and for those days I have these non-princess-ey princess book picks. These books feature three princesses from different cultures. There are wizards and dragons and even a royal airplane. There is also a conspicuous lack of a prince in all three books.

The Princess and The Wizard by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Lydia Monks
Publisheer : Macmillan

The book  starts out a bit  like a 'typical ' pink and glitter filled princess book about a blonde haired blue eyed princess, a wizard and a fairy godmother but just when you expect your usual (slightly insipid) Prince Charming to come to the rescue the plot goes in another direction. Here you meet  a clever little Princess who is in control of her own situation and escapes the vile wizard by outwitting him.

Never Say No To A Princess by Tracey Corderoy
Illustrated by Kate Leake
Publisher : Alison Green Books (Scholastic)

The next princess is another blue eyed blonde who lives in a pink sparkly  castle, of course. This is where the stereotype ends though for this  is a cleverly subversive book where an entitled  little  princess is taught manners by a dragon! Once again, not a single random prince in sight.

Princess Easy Pleasy by Natasha Sharma and Priya Kuriyan
Publisher : Karadi Tales

This is my favourite princess of the three because she is a modern day Indian princess with everyday problems. Princess Easy Pleasy is an insufferable little girl who is never pleased by anything! By the end of the book she learns  that being so difficult and precious is a bit over rather and that it's a lot more fun being a regular adventurous kid.

Happy reading!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Books notes : Four First Books

I have never really gone by reading group levels for my now 20 month old from when he was a newborn and more by what he (and we) seemed to enjoy. Once he started picking his own books to read (around 12 months) I started leaving a mix of board books and  picture books across two or three reading levels accessible for him to pick up and read whenever he wanted do. There four books that I'm going to write about today were amongst his first ever books and have remained firm favourites for 20 months now. It's been very interesting to see the changing way in which he has engaged with the same book over the last year and half.

Doggies (A Counting and Barkin Book) By Sandra Boynton
Published by Little Simon

We have a fair number of books featuring  dogs in our library which is hardly surprising considering that my child's first proper word was his furbling's name! This book is exactly what it claims to be - a courting and barking book. For example, one dog says woof and then it builds on with a different bark variation for each number. you can imagine how loud 10 dogs and 10 different barking noises is going to get. This is the perfect kind of silly for babies and young toddlers. We usually have an eleventh dog (our own) contributing to the noise levels by the end of the book. Be warned that this book is a lot of work for the person that is reading it out loud. You wil be barking all evening long because the child wants to read this on loop. Not one for a quiet snuggle in bed before sleep time, for sure.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
Illustrated by Anita Jeram
Published by Walker Books

If I remember right,  this was the first book my husband and our then newborn ever  read together. Guess How Much I Love You is a bit of a modern classic and immensely popular. I would consider it a library staple between the ages of 0-2.5 or even 3 depending on the toddler. The story is about the sweetest bedtime conversation between a papa hare and a baby hare. The watercolour illustrations are gorgeous to look at as well.

Purple Jojo by Sameera Qureshi
Illustrated by Jaikar Marur
Published by Tulika

You know those books that you buy for your own library years before you even think of having a baby? This was one of those. I must have bought Purple Jojo for every niece and nephew of mine and it has been loved by all of them. This bilingual story (we have the Tamil and English version but the book has been published in a number of other Indian regional languages as well) is about a little dog who falls asleep under a tree and wakes up with mysterious purple spots all over his white fur.

Flutterfly by Niveditha Subramaniam
Published by Tulika

This is a wordless picture book filled with curiosity and joy. Younger babies  love to look at the adorable illustrations and toddlers can spend hours making up their own version of the flutterfly story following the pictures. We read this book, at the very least, once every day and have been from when he was an infant. This is what good children's books, I'm my opinion, are meant to do. Not teach the children to repeat after them but encourage them to find their own stories and go on their own big adventures. What could be more perfect than a book that allows a child to read a different story every time he or she reads it? Library 'must have' for children in the 0-3 age group.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Book Notes : The Odyssey (A BabyLit Primer)

Title : The Odyssey (a BabyLit book)
Author : Jennifer Adams
Illustrator : Alison Oliver

A lot of you have been asking me about the BabyLit Little Masters books so I'm going to start this books notes on the blog series with one from that set. These board books are a wonderful way to introduce toddlers to characters from your favourite classics and use these characters to explore basic concepts like numbers, colours ect., Some of the books are more specific to the books like The Odyssey, for instance, is a Monsters Primer which features some of the creatures that Odysseus meets on his twenty year journey over the seas back home from Troy after the end of the war. Circe or the Sirens may not make too much sense to an adult who is not familiar with Greek Mythology or the Odyssey but some other monster folk like the cyclops or the ghosts may be more commonly recognisable. 

The Odyssey (and it's various  translations and retellings) is an epic that I have personally loved exploring  over the years and I use this book as a tool to introduce these stories to my toddler. I would love  for him to be intrigued enough about the cyclops voyage  to want to hear me read him the original. Or perhaps, as a young adult,  read Chapman, Butler or even Fitzgerald for himself and fall in love with the language and imagery of their retellings of Ulysses' adventures. Maybe he will go on to read Tennyson's inspired poem 'Ulysses' for an entirely different perceptive. A book like this opens up an avenue for the parent to introduce children to great literature. Alternatively, they also work as just primers to introduce concepts to the child depending on the level at which one chooses to engage with these books.

I would strongly suggest that you start by collecting the titles corresponding to books  that you are already familiar with or would want to read in the original to enjoy these books to their full potential with your child. If you just wanted a counting book or a colours book there are many (more comprehensive) books out there. What makes these books special is the way they become magical gateways to a childhood (and hopefully adulthood) spent understanding what makes these 'classics'  so timeless. You could make this an excellent way for you to start reading those classics that you never got around to reading so you and your toddler can have fun discovering new worlds together. 

P.s. This cyclops is so cute that I could actually eat him up. 😂

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A room of One's Own : notes on identity, parent-hood and tea

When Virgina Woolf wrote about A Room Of One's Own she was was not really writing about a physical space (though that really  helps) but an interior landscape and about identity, independence and the self. This essay has made sense to me in different ways at different points in my life. As a teenager it was about finding my voice, my feet and my identity. As an adult  it was about building my life, remembering to use my voice and to stand up for who I am. Now, 20 months after the birth of my first child I find it important to introspect upon this piece of writing once again.

Who am I? Who are you? What defines you? What defines me? Before you get up in arms against me, let me clarify that I love being a mother and parenting is an essential part of my philosophy of life. However, when asked who I am and what I do I always introduce myself as a dancer. It does not come naturally to me introduce myself as somebody's wife or somebody's parent or somebody's daughter. I choose to define myself with the art that I have spent the whole of my life investing in. In an ideal world, I would just introduce myself as a 'human being' but I'm rather far from that sort of philosophical maturity at this point.

All the meandering aside, what I am trying to say here is that I cannot quite wrap my head around defining myself  as an extension of somebody else : as a wife, a mother, or a daughter. I am proud of where I come from, love what I have chosen to be mine and adore what we have made of that but there is me above and beyond all of this. The me that is all about me. 

Women are often led to believe that wanting a break from these popular identity defining relationships like those of a mother or a wife is selfish and 'not the mark of a good mother'. Who is this good mother? Who is this ideal wife? I would like to meet her and ask her  how she survives without suffocating every day. What if she  wakes up not wanting to be a mother or a wife for a day? What if she just wants to sit in a corner and do nothing all day? Does that make her a bad mother? I think not. Far from it. Motherhood and a healthy marriage cannot come at the loss of identity. I believe that pursing my career and investing a certain amount of time (yes, time spent away from my child and my home in furthering what i have worked all my life for) makes me a better parent. A parent who is willing to explore who she is and who she is becoming. A parent who will hopefully help her child explore and find out who he is for himself without deciding who he needs to be or what she expects him to be. I find it a dangerous proposition to pin ones identity on another person, especially when the other person is under two feet tall. It's not fair on the little person either, to have to grow up with the weight of an adult's identity on him either, is it? Same goes for the partner. It's hard enough to being an adult and being a parent without having to be responsible for your partners identity  as well. 

Every woman in a relationship needs to find this room of her own. This piece of her identity that has nothing to do with anybody but her. If could be a passion, it could be a career, it could be cooking, it could be having a beautiful home, it could be reading, it could be just a sitting by a window with a cup of tea watching birds! What is important is that this space is treated as sacred ground. A part of you that is not going to be over ridden by the demands of the society mandated everyday. You need to believe that this space is yours and non-negotiable. You may choose to invite your child or your partner into this space but that is entirely your prerogative. This makes you a strong person which I believe is the basis for being a strong partner or a strong parent too. 

All that energy that we spend obsessing over and comparing notes with other parents is better spent on our own selves. 'Oh, you bought these things for your child? Let me go buy those too' or 'oh you buy so many books for you child. Give me a list so I can buy them too'. 'Oh, your child listens to classical music? Mine should too, no? Give me a song list.' Step back. Take a deep breath and look within yourself. Who are you? What about you, which quality, ability or talent  of yours is magnificent? Share that part  of yourself with your child and your partner. That is the best kind  of exposure you can give your family. If you are a reader and were  raised in a house  full of books then give your child that by all means. If you love  music then share that with our child. It does not matter it Illayaraja or Semmangudi or Pink Floyd or death metal or kuthu songs as long as it's something you love listening to. If it's cooking that you are amazing at then invite your child and  partner into  your kitchen space to participate in the joy it brings you. You don't need to go buy you child books that are 'ee conned' or toys that are 'in'. What you NEED to do is find yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses so you can share that with your child. Once you both have decided what you love doing together you can explore and grow together, be it finding new books to read or new kinds of music to listen to or new kitchen experiments or new science experiments or sport or anything at all. 

Being a mother or a wife should not have to come at the cost of who you are. They are not as important as you realising  your own self. We have been conditioned, for centuries, to celebrate an ability to dissolve ones sense of self into the common collective ( in this case, family) as being one of the defining qualities of a good woman. It's time for us to understand that this is conditioning. Responsibilities are the same for men and women. They are meant to be shared
at the personal decision of a couple and not along the lines dictated by society. 

I have been told I am vain because I chose to start training again very soon after the birth of my child. My body is mine and what I choose to do with it is my decision .my 'vanity' is my prerogative too. 
I find it rather offensive when someone comes up to me and tells that my body doesn't look like it's made a child and that I don't look like a mother. What does a mother look like? Does she not dress like she used to before she had a baby? Does she wear 'mom jeans'? are there a pair of 'dad jeans' that the new daddy could wear? That would be great because it will save both our clothes form baby spit up and toddler food stains. 

Before you say 'I used to love dressing up and wearing lipstick before the baby but after the baby prioritises change, don't they?' Yes, priorities change but do these new priorities include who you are or have you become an extension of this motherhood and ideal wife behaviour standards that are so freely beamed at us all day long from all quarters? These are questions we need to ask ourselves and have a long deep think about. Look around you. A college going girl in an ad wears jeans, an office going woman (read career obsessed) wears formals and everybody's favourite woman : the ideal daughter in law, the ideal wife and ideal mother wears a saree or a salwar depending on her age. Is this who we all are? Somebody who fits into one of these three neatly labelled boxes. Well, we can't make society be uncomfortable by choosing to be ourselves and not confirming to one of these boxes, can we? Oh no, that would not be polite at all! What would the maamis and maamas say? What would the other mothers and fathers at N's future school say?

 I have been told that it won't matter even if I perform on the best stages in the world. I'm a mother and that should always come first. At the risk of being rude, I disagree with you. My child will have a mother who knows who she is, respects herself, respects him and is adult enough to manage her career and his little toddler needs without compromising on either. His father  does the same. Why is he never told that no prestigious stage he performs on will matter if he fails as a father? He may be more amenable to this discussion than am I because he is a more patient and polite person than I am.  Im sitting in my room with a cup of tea as I write this while the clingy toddler who has decided to drive us up the wall today is with the father who can be depended upon to the be the less volatile and more patient gentle parent in these situations. Do I feel guilty or less like a mother? Hell no! I feel proud of myself for completely losing it at the child and I'm going to take my hour of much deserved peace and quiet with my tea and writing. Room Of One's Own and a toddler lock on it, if you please. I'm busy re-claiming words and cosntructs and cannot be bothered about toddler snacks and diapers. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Things to NOT say to a breastfeeding woman.

So, let's say you come across a woman breastfeeding her child and are overcome by a sudden desire to share your inner most thought with her. Here's a list of things that will make you sound like a crazy person/a creep/idiot/pain in the a** so you know it's not appropriate to say these out loud to said woman. I will also suggest things you could do instead. As for your mind voice, that's your personal stupid and you can deal with it on your own.

1) You should really cover up, you know. There are men in the room.
Erm, you should really mind your own business, you know. There are people feeding hungry babies in the room. There are men everywhere in the world. Let's exterminate them, shall we? That way we don't have to cover up because men will stare. Also, here's a tablecloth so you can cover your face and eat your meal since you seem to think that's a comfortable position for my baby to eat her meal in.

Correct answer : are you comfortable? Can i get you a glass of water or something?

2) You creepily look sideways or from behind your oh so cool mirrored sunglasses to catch a glimpse of the woman's breasts.

There is nothing we can do about you except acknowledge that you are a sad poorly adjusted blight on society and that you need to get yourself to a therapist immediately.

Correct answer : avoid public places till you can learn to not be a creep.

3) Isn't that child too old to be nursing? He is going to get addicted to it and never wean. Shame shame. He can speak! How can you still nurse?! And a boy too!

Aren't  you too old to be saying whatever the sh*t you want to without pausing to think if it's in your place to comment? Yes, my boobs and heroin = same thing. Yes, it is indeed a shame that you use up the data on your smart phone playing interactive candy crush instead of reading up on extended breast feeding. How can I still nurse? Because I am a mammal. I don't know about your species though. He can speak, yes. I'd be worried if he didn't because that would be a delayed milestone. Congratulations! You identified his sex right.

Correct answer : When you feel the urge to say something 'insightful and helpful' remember that the stronger the urge the more ridiculous you are bound to sound.

4) Ma'am, the other customers are feeling uncomfortable. Could you please feed your baby in the ladies room?

Erm, I'm a customer too. Maybe you should work on your meals so your other customers focus on their lunch instead of my child's. Also, can your ladies room accommodate all of them at one or should they take it in turns to go eat there?

Correct answer : let me keep your food warm for you till you finish nursing the baby. Oh your water glass I half empty. I shall refill it in a second.

5) This one is for the lovely folk who can't decide where they should look when a woman with a baby at her breast asks them something.

I have a face. You can look at that, perhaps?

6) your milk is too watery. No wonder the baby is so thin! You should be giving him porridge with ghee from the time he is three months old.

*mutter mutter mutter* fat in human milk *mutter* if only you could see pumped milk * snarl* weight percentile *growl* WHO..... Oh, wait! I don't need to explain any of this to you. So, in effect, yes, you can bugger off.

Correct answer : Good job, Mumma!

7) Do not nurse in front of your husband. He will lose interest in you.

It's a pity that you married an ass who made you think that. I fortunately had sex with an  adult who thinks I'm a super  hero for converting body fat into milk for our baby.

Correct answer : more men should be supportive of their breastfeeding partners.

I hope this helps. Next time you want to air your unsolicited opinion to a breast feeding woman, DON'T. Instead, bring her a glass of water, hand her a snack, switch the fan on, offer her a comfortable chair or just smile politely and go back to what you were doing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Your toddler WILL eat.

What is a 'reasonable' meal expectation of a toddler? THIS is. We need to remember that toddlers are tiny people who have comparably sized appetites. All the stress, the tears and exasperation begin with our unrealistic expectations from a toddler to finish an adult sized serving of food. This sets a complicated beginning for what should ideally be a healthy, happy lifelong involvement with food and not something that brings back memories of pained mealtimes and being force fed thirty years later. How many of us associate childhood with being forced to finish what is on our plates? What would be a better option is to serve the toddler tiny portions of food and serve more as they finish and ask for it. There are days when my 17 month old will eat half of this and days when he sill eat four times this amount but that is entirely his choice. Leaving the child free to control how much he eats encourages the child to listen to his own body and stop when he is full. Trust your toddler. He won't starve himself. He is  much cleverer than that. This is actually one of the most important lessons about nutrition that my mother taught me. What we know as baby led weaning and empowering toddlers to take control of their own food choices she did intuitively, raising her children in the 80's.

Another big concern for young  parents  is to get their children to eat vegetables. Today N ate dondakkai, avarakkai, vendakkai and beetroot for lunch. He also loves aubergines and pumpkin and squash and pretty much every vegetable we eat. Spinach is a big favourite. He is not a unicorn child, trust me. He is just an average toddler who has been offered family food form day one. We never made any attempt to mask vegetables and 'hide' them in his food. Instead, we sat down to eat with him from the day he started solids. By the age of 10 months he would check to make sure what he was eating was the same as what we were eating. He ate exactly what we ate (parathas at 6 months of age, trust me) and by the age of 1 was very familiar with pretty much every texture because we let him explore and feed himself.

At one and a half he spends a good portion of his day in the kitchen watching the cooking, helping with the cleaning up and sorting of vegetables and such. He loves grocery shopping and picking out his favourite vegetables and fruit and dropping them (we are working on the gentle dropping part) into the basket with great enthusiasm. In the next few months, as he picks up more skills, we will gradually start encouraging him to bake and cook with us and I'm positive he will love that. What we hope to active by this is to raise a toddler who knows where his food comes from, knows what vegetables looks like and what goes into making a meal. We believe that food is something to be enjoyed and meal times are about family and sharing,

If you have a 'fussy eater' at home, remember that the fuss is most likely because of our expectations of the child. Instead, lower expectations to match the child and involve the child in the cooking and grocery shopping process. Most inportantly, sit down to eat together. Children learn by imitation. They watch you eat and they learn to eat. It's as simple as that. Having a child is also a great way to look at our own eating habits and nutrition. If we expect our children to eat five servings of fruit and veg a day then the same ought to apply to us as well, right?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Cloth diapering on the go.

As a cloth diapering parent I very often get asked what I do when I go out. Yes, I do cloth diaper when I go out and it's much easier than you think. I've thrown together a little sample of how I pack my diaper bag when we go out. I see a lot of cloth diapering parents hesitant to use cloth when they are out and about. I hope his helps you understand how easy peasy lemon squeezey it is.

What you need  :
Other than snacks, water, a change of clothes, a changing mat, a toy or book and your usual diaper bag essentials you will need

1) Cloth diapers
I usually pack three to four for a half day trip. I used to pack more when he was younger. A good cloth diaper (my entire stash is made up on smartbottoms) will last you a good 3 - 3:30 hours (and sometimes longer in a pinch but I prefer changing every 3 hours as I would a disposable if I used one too. This again  depends on the diapers you use and your child's needs.

2) A wet bag
A wet bag is brilliant multipurpose invention that is made of the same waterproof pul fabric as the diaper and can seal in wetness and smells when you're on the go. Here again, rhe quality do the wetbag makes a big difference. You just toss it into the wash with the diapers.

3) Wipes
Disposable or cloth wipes with a wipe solution as you prefer

What do we do when the toddler needs a diaper change?
We lay him down on the nearest available relatively clean flat surface (the car boot will do just fine) on a changing mat, pin him down and change his diaper. Once once toss the old diaper into the wetbag, zip it up and bung it back into he diaper bag. 

How do we deal with poop? 
If we have access to a restroom then we knock the solids off into the toilet. If there's a spray faucet available then we also quickly rinse the diaper before it goes into the wetbag.. Otherwise just toss it into the wetbag and deal with it once you're home. If you have used cloth wipes the those and soiled clothes can also go into the wetbag. I carry an extra wetbag for clothes. You can also use flushable big degradable disposable liners or reusable fleece liners on top of your diaper to make poop disposal easier. 

So there you go! This is as easy as using disposables on the go and I honestly feel safer using cloth because we never have leaks and poopsplohsions in cloth. The diaper (smartbottoms have rolled in leg elastics that help) contains all the mess much better than sposies. I hope this helps you cloth diaper on the go now that you know how simple it actually is!