Friday, August 31, 2007

Tryst with the Breastfeeding Nazis

You can never really be prepared for things like this. 3rd day after Chip was born, BigGeek and I were required to take a class about taking care of new babies before they allowed me to go home that afternoon. As I sat on my donut cushion, surveying the windowless hospital room full of tired looking moms and dads not really wanting to sit through an hour of wisdom aimed at the slightly dense – always hold your baby while giving her a bath, lest she slip and drown. Or don’t shake your baby or drop it on its head (really, I am not making this up), don’t drink because you will be breastfeeding (what you can’t feed a good single malt to the baby? There go our plans) and suchlike. The Euro-looking instructor was a registered nurse and a certified lactation consultant and most importantly a mother herself. She dourly introduced herself as such from the head of the conference table and handed us thick folders filled with information. After the presentation, she asked if anybody had any questions. I did. It was regarding breast feeding. “It’s the best for your baby. You should not even think otherwise” she snapped even before I had a chance to ask my question. “I am worried I may not produce enough milk.” I ventured. “Everybody has that worry. But true milk insufficiency is rare. The more you feed, the more your body produces. Don’t formula feed your baby other wise you will never produce enough milk.” She warned me. “But I have a family history.” This is true. My mother had very little milk just like own her mother and both had resorted to using diluted cows milk and milk powder. The instructor was clearly exasperated with me. “In the 50s, 60s and 70s nobody breastfed. Formula was thought to be better. As many studies have shown, you should breastfeed. True milk insufficiency is very rare.” I am from India, you twerp. I felt like yelling. We could not afford formula in the 50s, 60s and 70s. And why could I not be that rare case with true milk insufficiency?

BigGeek sensing that my eyes were welling up, got up, shook hands with the instructor and thanked her. She gave him a sheet. “This is a list of lactation consultants. I think she should see one.” Thus started my battle. The milk, as I had half-expected was insufficient. I nursed every hour, but five times out of ten, Chip would howl, sucking at a breast that would yield no milk. Those were stressful times. I bought a pump and pumped. Still no luck. My mother understood my distress and tried pointing out the brighter side. My brother and I were doing fine without breast milk. She and her brother did fine too. Plus she was truly impressed with the new formulas and the choices that I had (my brother is lactose intolerant and she had to mix arrowroot powder with water to make his milk)

BigGeek sympathized with me, but simply would not understand my torment. What he did not know that the torment was being fuelled everyday by many people and many things. By relatives who were asking me if I had enough milk, friends who wondered why I was buying formula in bulk at four weeks post partum, the nurses at the pediatrician’s office who wanted to know so they could write it down in Chip’s charts. By the celebrity moms who gave rave interviews about the glories of motherhood in general and breastfeeding in particular. And on demand too. Lactation consultants that I met free of charge (my place of work provides them) who were unsympathetic to my milk insufficiency line. I was taking the easy way out, they told me. By doing what, again? Co-workers who confessed their first was still breastfeeding and it was time to wean because they were expecting their second. Moms on my parenting message boards who asked questions about what to do with excess milk- could they donate it? And strangers I met at office parties who told me their secrets to relieve engorged breasts.

And the media. Oh! The media. Every parenting and baby magazine I picked up had at least two articles about the glories of breast feeding. How not breastfeeding was certain to give your baby cancers, hyperacidity, depression, ear infections, diabetes, ADD/ADHD and what ever other ailment du jour they could think of. And of course there were benefits to the mother too. Not breastfeeding meant I was at high risk for breast cancer and other complications I don’t even remember now. Even the cans of formula had a warning label about breastfeeding being best for babies. Always reminded me of the statutory warning on packs of cigarettes. Not Breast feeding was a few inches away from being turned into a crime. There were lactation Gestapo every where I turned.

I took all this to heart. After all the messages came from veteran mothers. They had raised happy, well adjusted, bright and successful kids. They had uncovered the secrets of motherhood and adroitly employed them while raising their kids and were glowing in their resounding success. What did a first time mother like me know? She was still trying to navigate her way. If the vets said breastfeed she would breastfeed. It was a classic case of Pascal’s wager, but of motherhood.

At my six week checkup, I finally confessed it to my (wonderful) ob-gyn. I had told her of my family history while I was pregnant; she had warned me of the breastfeeding nazi and the immense hate I would encounter. She was telling me that she had been formula fed and she went to John Hopkins to study medicine. It’s a trend, she told me off the record. Just like formula feeding had been 3 decades ago. I wasn’t sure of how my mom-in-law would react, I told her. BigGeek told me she had breastfed all her three kids until they turned one. That’s what I was up against. I had read about drugs that would help. She would not recommend them. Formula was fine. Chip was happy, healthy and thriving. Could she still write a prescription, please? I promised to think about it with a calm head, talk it over with BigGeek before filling it in.

So a few weeks before my mom-in-law arrived, I filled the prescription. BigGeek was livid that I was flooding my body unnecessarily with chemicals. What’s wrong with formula? He yelled one night. The drug wasn’t working as expected either. I refused to listen to him or my mother. He threatened to tell his mother. I dared him to call and he did. My mother in law patiently heard the whole story. She agreed that I should stop talking the medication. It was not a big deal that I was unable to breastfeed. Such things happen she said gently. I almost cried with relief. I had heard horror stories from my best friend whose mother in law would not stop cursing her (literally) because she was unable to breastfeed. She told me she had exclusively breast fed for 5-6 months, but the supply had waned and she breast fed only once until the kids turned one. So BigGeek had forgotten to tell me the “once a day” part.

By the time he was about 6 months old, Chip was on formula. 100%. No more mother’s milk. I still felt guilty, but there was nothing more to be done. So when a few days ago, a message was posted on the mommy message boards about lactation issues by a first time mom, I was amazed to see the responses. There were just the usual suspects- milk insufficiency is rare, how she was taking the easy way out, how her child would suffer., how she would regret. No one told her it was alright and formula was good enough. Not one. That it was better to have a happy mother than a distressed one. These days breastfeeding has gone from its original intentions to something much larger. It is politically correct, hip, green, the latest must-do after getting those Jimmy Choo’s and buying the antique spindle cribs. I wrote to this mom, telling her my story. But of course my son is only two. I don’t have a neurosurgeon or a lawyer to prove that formula works just fine.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


Chip is inertial. Just like his father. He hates change. Chip doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, he will happily cuddle and pillow fight for an hour. Once in the shower, he doesn’t want to come out and get dressed. But once dressed he wants to get out the door that minute. Remind him of breakfast and he will come to the table but take his own time eating it and then telling his Baba (who handles his morning routine) he has to go to the potty where Baba will read a shrillion books to him until Baba runs out of patience or realizes he is late for his meeting.

Once inside the car, he will not want to go to school. He sheds a tear every day when Baba waves him good bye. But one hug from his teacher and Baba is forgotten. In the evening when I go to pick him up, he is usually reading by himself, or singing with the other kids, or playing outside or doing a craft, or as I have caught him on several occasions, holding down a squirming kid (usually his Korean buddy or one of the blond kids) and pointing out their body parts to them (including eyebrows, he is fascinated with them), in Marathi.

When I come in, he usually looks at me with what I see as a small frown and continues doing what he has been doing or will invite me to join him (especially in the body parts lesson). When I tell him to pick up his lunch bag, he will balk. “No, Aie, no ghari jaaycha.” (No, aie I don’t want to go home). Only after I promise him to take him to the “zhopaal and gundi” (the swing and the slide) will he reluctantly fetch his lunch bag and follow me battling several temptations on the way out (the babies’ room, the occasional TV cart, other kids)

Once out, he will try and punch the access code to get back in or wait for someone to open the door, so he can sneak back. Then he will remember the cute intern and run outside peering through the large glass windows calling her name “Jamie, where are you? Come here. Now.” He will see the older kids still in their class and squish his nose on the glass window until they do the same or give them high-fives so many times that the teacher will look up to see what the thumping is all about. In the end I will always have to pick him and drag him to the car, strap him in his car seat before he jumps and sits in the driver’s seat. I get in and we drive away to a whole new set of demands.

*Blame the bad picture quality on the camera phone.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Last night Chip was in a lot of pain. He had a bad bout of diaper rash. He would not sit on his bum. He sat on his haunches with a frown on his face and pointed towards his bum and cried plaintively “Doongi Baoo, Doongi Baoo (my bum hurts)”. There was not much I could do except air it and distract him. We read his favorite books, made towers out of lego blocks, ate a ripe peach but the ouchie would not go away. Chip wanted to go to the park, on the swing, like we do on most evenings, but how could he with an inflamed butt? We saw some cars come in as neighbors returned home from work, saw the kids play with their skate boards, and tried to guess which neighbor was mowing his lawn. We called Baba to talk to him and ask him when he would come home, but the ouchie would not go away.

Dinner time was fast approaching and I asked Chip what he wanted (A moot question, really, since dinner was ready). Chip promptly replied “Pizza.” I hesitated. Dinner was ready and junk food was usually reserved for the end of the week. Not on a Tuesday. How about salmon with honey and corn? I offered his favorite food. “Salmon nako. No fishie” He was adamant. “I want pizza and juice and baby Hanuman”. He had it all planned out. He wanted to eat dinner watching Hanuman on TV. I looked at the clock. It was 6:30. If pizza had to be ordered, it had to be ordered now. We called Baba and asked him to get a pie on his way home.

40 minutes later, Baba arrived with a pizza box and called out to Chip. Chip came down and saw the pizza box. Oh! He was so happy! The look on his face! His eyes sparkled and he was grinning from ear to ear. He jumped up and down, hugged his Baba and came running into the kitchen shouting excitedly. “Aie pizza aala, Baba pizza. Wow. Pizza. (Pizza is here)” There was not a moment to be wasted of course. Dinner was to be served immediately and in the family room in front of the TV. We gathered the plates and the pizza box and hurried to the family room. We sat on the floor, the pizza box spread next to us. Chip went and turned on the DVD player, the TV, the receiver and handed me the remotes. I cued the DVD to his favorite part. “Akdam Bakdam” blared out of the speakers and watching Hanuman do his silly antics, Chip dug into the pizza with gusto. The ouchie had not gone, but it was certainly forgotten for the moment.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Made in India, but quite badly

BigGeek and Chip went to the Indian Grocery Store on Saturday and brought back a jar of Horlicks, some frozen parathas, a packet of cumin seeds, and a small jar of asafetida. All much needed items and all very, very user unfriendly. Take the jar of asafetida, for instance. It has one of those covers that you twist to reveal a small opening from which the asafetida can be dispensed. Sounds great in theory. But the little opening has to be either carved out with a knife or you need to poke a jagged hole in the marked space. Every time I run out of asafetida I groan. Because it takes me more than five minutes to get the jar to work, not to mention the hazard of trying to poke a hole through sturdy plastic using a sharp knife with a toddler playing around. What could be a better design? Precut the hole and cover the jar with foil which can be peeled away. Is that so hard to come up with?

Speaking of peel away foil covers, the Horlicks jar has it – very thoughtful indeed - but I still have to use a knife. Because the foil has no tab with which to grip and peel. So I run the knife along the edge and cut away the foil instead of peeling. Is it so hard to put a tiny tab with which to peel?

The jar of tamarind paste is the worst. It simply has sealed plastic on top and then a screw-top lid that fits badly. I have to cut away along the edges of the very sturdy plastic and discard the disc. Very messy and very hard. Is it so dificult to pack it into a squeeze type bottle?

And take the packets of Maggi noodles which don’t have directions on them (how much water am I supposed to boil, you idiots) Or the bottle of Kewra essence which refuses to open no matter how much you twist it and once opened, takes the bottom plastic ring with the screw-on cap. I could go and on. Why doesn’t the Indian consumer demand better usability?

My sister-in-law sent a cute piggy bank for Chip a few months ago. It was spring loaded and died within hours of using it. It wasn’t cheap for a plastic trinket. It was about Rs.200 and I have many spring loaded dollar store toys that have outlived the piggy bank. Does nobody care? Is it that we don’t mind wasting time and energy on things like opening jars? Why doesn’t anybody give a thought on how things are actually used?

Is it because Indians have maids and cooks that do most of the housework? The people who buy don’t actually use it. Do people really have that many maids and cooks that they never have to open a jar of Horlicks to give to their children? Or use the toaster or the mop (oh no, not the mop, everybody has a maid who uses the poccha. Let her break her back bending down. Why spend good money on a mop even when you can afford it?) And the small things like the jars of asafetida? I am sure the cooks and maids buy asafetida for their own households too. I just can’t understand the mindset. Are we really so blasé? It’s depressing.

Take the instance of the Wal-Mart near our house. It was the store I went to buy Chip’s diapers, wipes, formula, blankets because the prices were always low. Over the years the number of Indian employees grew and I was pleasantly surprised. But store began to look shoddy. Inventory was piled on the floor underfoot, often trampled; the shop assistants barely knew where I could find things I was looking for. They dug noses (really). The checkout people were surly to all non-Indian customers, never bothered to greet and thank people for their business. In the end, it got so distressing that I stopped going to the store. Until a few months ago when I had to buy some jersey shorts for Chip. The atmosphere had changed. The store was clean; I was asked if I was found every thing I wanted. The checkout people were pleasant and there was not one Indian employee to be found. The we-are-ok-with-substandard-everthing Indian attitude had spread to our local Wal-Mart too.

What will make us change? More competition that will force us to think better? Or is a more fundamental change required? A realization that our time and energies could be used in a more useful fashion rather than waste them trying to open jars. Or is it a question of value? Or the lack of? Or are we simply not proud of our work? Or perhaps we are still living in the feudal times when businesses thought they were doing you a favor selling goods to you. I haven’t found an answer to why we fail to demand better products and why we fail to create them. Indians are great bargain hunters. I don’t know how we fail to see that badly designed products are not bargains at all.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Updating Raksha Bandhan

Raksha Bandhan is almost here. The day that celebrates the love between a brother and sister. I am inundated with offers of sending online rakhis to my brother in Mumbai. Silver rakhis. Rakis with pearls. Rakhi with free Tilak, Roli and Chawal. Rakhis with pooja thalis. Rakhis with with a box of shuddh-desi-ghee-soan-papdi. Rakhi with cards. Rakhi with flowers. Rakhi sets. Rakhi bracelets. Auspicious Rakhis (aren't they all supposed to be?) All from about $1.20-$30. And of course the online, free Rakhi e-cards. No tying required. This is what says about Raksha Bandhan

The chaste bond of love between a brother and a sister is one of the deepest and noblest of human emotions. 'Raksha Bandhan' or 'Rakhi' is a special occasion to celebrate this emotional bonding by tying a holy thread around the wrist. This thread, which pulsates with sisterly love and sublime sentiments, is rightly called the 'Rakhi'. It means 'a bond of protection', and Raksha Bandhan signifies that the strong must protect the weak from all that's evil. [emphasis mine]

Really? I am sure the custom/ritual made a lot of sense 500 years ago, but why are we still celebrating it? It is just so last-millennia. "But what is the harm?" I am asked when I bring it up. "It's just a festival. We are not backward and uneducated. We will send our girls to colleges just like our boys. They should stand on their own two feet." Isn't that sending mixed messages? Or am I the only one who is missing something here?

Don't brothers take care of brothers, and sisters take care of sisters, and sisters take care of brothers? This custom probably made sense at a time when women had no where to turn to if their husbands and fathers died. But definitely not so today. I am sure there are plenty of sisters out there who would lend (or even just give) money to their brothers and sisters for their education, or a down payment on their new house/car/business or knock some sense into their heads should they get into trouble or help them land a job of their dreams. I am sure there are plenty of sisters who would take in their brother's/sister's children should an emergency arise. Why are we not celebrating this? There are sisters who are looking out for their brothers and sisters alike and there are brothers who are looking out for their brothers. What is so special with the brother-sister bond that cannot be had with a sister-sister bond or a brother-brother bond? This is obviously hypocritical especially among the forward thinking set.

And let us not forget the other end of the spectrum: the brothers who kill their sisters for honor. I am sure growing up, these sisters lovingly tied Rakhis to their brothers arms. Did the brothers do good on their promise? Hell, no. Rakhi has become a mere rhetoric as most rituals tend to be over time.

Like old habits, old rituals die hard. I remember a college friend who would dutifully make a trip to our home every year on Raksha Bandhan to tie a Rakhi to my kid brother. She only had a sister and obviously that would not do. Not surprisingly, she and my kid brother are not in touch at all, she is my friend not his, but she talks to her sister almost daily, offering and receiving support and advice, despite the fact that there is half a globe between them.

So, let's celebrate an updated version of Raksha Bandhan this year by tying Rakhis to brothers and sisters alike. Celebrate the bond of sibling-ship that is equal. So let brothers tie a Rakhi to brothers and sisters to sisters and brothers to sisters and sisters to brothers. Let them make a promise that they will look out for each other. And then, let us, the good parents that we are, get on with our jobs of parenting and make sure the darned kids make good on that promise.

Friday, August 24, 2007



“Look. That’s real money.” Big Geek whispers. Chip isn’t impressed. He peeks at the stocky Mexican guy pulling money from his wallet and carefully counting cash to pay for the groceries. Chip is perched on the sales counter trying to swipe his “credit card” though the credit card machine. “No that paisa (money).” He grumbles. “I want Chip paisa” The credit card machine comes alive with an error, Chip signs on gleefully, holds out his hand for a receipt. “Thanks” he smiles triumphantly. The checkout girl is a cute African-American teenager who opens her eyes wide in mock surprise. “But I still have to scan these.” She scans the items swiftly and bags them. Chip gives her a shy “Hi” and grins. BigGeek pays for the groceries amidst Chip’s attempts to pay for it himself and we step out of the store.

Chip has not seen cold cash. We rarely carry more than $20 in cash and for most purchases we pay with our cards, so to Chip, paying for something essentially means swiping a card and signing. He knows he can’t simply pick up stuff and walk out of a store. So now he takes [insert object of momentary desire], runs towards the checkout counter and says, “Aie, paisa dey (Give me paisa)." "Chip, I have no paisa. Paisa sampla.(money is all finished)” “No, no!” Chip runs towards me and grabs my handbag. “Ithe paisa (It’s here)”. I twist the [said object] from Chip’s hands, apologize to the nice lady behind the counter, grab Chip and lead him out of the store. “Aie, I want paisa.” “Chip”, I answer, “Paisa doesn’t grow on trees.” That puzzles him and he drops the subject. So this line is working, for now at least.

But how do I explain money management to Chip? By telling him “Paisa is finished?” But the cards are always sitting in the wallet. By switching to cash-only transactions, at least in his presence so that he can ‘see’ when the money is actually being handed out? And loose the lucrative credit card cash-back offers at the end of the year? How will he learn how to handle credit responsibly if we become a no credit card household? Money is easier made than kept.

Chip has a piggy bank. He dutifully collects the loose change lying around and saves it in his piggy bank. It had just been a rainy day activity, but now he is slowly making a connection between ‘paisa’ and the change he collects which he calls ‘Chuck E. Cheese paisa’, since he thinks change is tokens, or the other way around. He has been begging to open the piggy bank for paisa when he wants things and I have been feigning ineptitude.

Growing up, we were never given an allowance. As terrific as my parents are, I think that was an error on their part. They told my brother and me how much our household income was; we knew the expenditures, the savings, the investments, but it never pinched us because my brother and I personally, were never broke. That did not mean we could go out and buy whatever we wanted. We were (and still are) middle class, so obviously as a family there were things we could and could not afford. But there was no personal responsibility, so to speak. I never had to plan ahead and save for a friend’s birthday gift or a special outfit for me, my mother would do that. She meant well, but I think we lost invaluable life lessons.

Money management is not taught in schools and I have no idea why. Perhaps, because to the teachers it is too banal, or even crass. Or perhaps because they feel it has no place in the life of mind they want their students to lead. But it is such an important part of how we do in our lives. So maybe, I will start giving Chip an allowance. A nickel a week. So that he understands how many nickels it takes to buy a stuffed bear, a book, a DVD, a lollipop or whatever it is he wants. To get broke a few times and learn to save and invest responsibly. To understand the rewards of delayed gratification. To discover the joy of bargain hunting. To appreciate the value of money. To realize that money is a means, not an end in itself. To know its true value. And the value of the objects he desires. As Thoreau once said, the price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

But Chip is only two. He is just beginning to understand what money is. May be I should wait another year before I start on Chiponomics 101.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I had always thought of myself as the been-there-done-that-person. So when I read this post by Usha, it made me reflect. I was a passionate twenty-something with a taste for adventure. Took a few years off after college despite the promise of well paying jobs and crossed the line into the artsy world. Jaded and a couple of years later, took a flight to the US, searching for new adventures and to go to a Grad school that had an excellent ranking in the artsy field. I was going on a mission of self-discovery, after all. Nothing was unattainable, not if I wanted it badly anyways. There were mountains to be scaled, rivers to be crossed and roads to be uncovered. Metaphorically, of course. And I had to do it on my own. No second-hand experiences for me, thank you very much. After all, the map was not the terrain. How far could I go? What would or could stop me? I was my own master. Surely, the answers to the questions of the soul could not be found in the ennui of mundane life. I shuddered at thoughts of being squeezed into a watertight schedule, getting married, keeping house. That life was not for me. I would live my dreams- not just sit on their periphery- leaving none unchased. Thus spoke the hubris of youth.

And chase my dreams, I did. One adventure after the other. One lesson learnt after the other. Some good, some not-so. With each experiment, I was convinced I was a better version of my old self. This was true. But only partly. The flaw in my meticulous rationale was that I had to be a bohemian, turn my life into a roller coaster ride to truly get "it". There was no other way, not to me. But my way had its failings too, like every other way usually does. I was missing a point. In trying to achieve the big things, I was losing out on the smaller ones. Looking back, I think my school experience precipitated that idea. As art students, we were encouraged to attribute a larger meaning to everything we saw, heard and felt and frankly, in some, rather in many instances, it took on quite a comic quality. And when I met BigGeek, the dichotomy grew even more. In the end the pendulum swung to the other side.

I had planned to go one way and ended up going the other. But such is the story of most people. By the time I was ready to leave my twenties behind, most of my dreams, chased, lay behind, half-forgotten. The fervor was lost. The passion had cooled. I was squeezed into a watertight schedule, got married, kept house. I often wondered if people are born with a fixed dream quota and if I had finished up mine in my twenties. Most of my dreams are not really dreams now, they are more like desires. Some are of the go-there-see-that variety – go to Manasarover, take a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway, cross the Arctic circle, some, a little more life-changing – start a dairy farm, be a stay at home mom, write a book and get it published. I would be happy if I did these things, but it won't break me if I don't. So, if there is a dream that I have now, it probably is to truly live in the moment. No matter how big the moment or how small. I chase this dream from time to time, but it's hard, very hard. And when I look at Chip, going where his heart desires, not shackled by remembrances of the past, nor afraid of what lies ahead, I suddenly realize the true allure of having a child: that they live in the moment, here and now and as you watch them, you do too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

His and Hers

When I moved in with BigGeek, I was completing my thesis, so I was home all day, save for biweekly drives to Philly. I had a tiny scholarship from the University and a couple of small grants, but they barely covered my half of the rent. True, I had moved cities, quit the job at the University - all for love (we weren't married, but engaged to be) and with BigGeek's complete and unequivocal support, I nevertheless felt guilty mooching off of him. So, I cooked gourmet meals, did the laundry, ironed his shirts, cleaned the house, shopped for groceries and ran errands. BigGeek bought in most of the moolah. Maybe it was because we were not married or maybe because I have a heightened (and sometimes misplaced) sense of justice. But I could never be like the many stay-at-home wives/fiancées who expected their husbands to help cook and clean. The division of labor was very simple.

A year later I had graduated, working full time with a longer commute, we were married and I still ended up doing a lot of the chores (save for the laundry, which he did most of the times). When we moved into our house, my commute got even longer, more than an hour each way. BigGeek did the laundry and loaded the dishwasher sometimes, but I was cooking gourmet meals everyday, running errands, keeping house, entertaining. The division of labor was a little fuzzy. BigGeek still made a lot more money than I did (BigGeek hates it when I think in such a cut and dried manner when it comes to finances and chores, but I am like that) But at least I was not cleaning house. We I hired a maid service.

Another year or so later, Chip comes along and we have lots of help. Family, Nanny. Even I am exempt from doing a lot of chores. Couple of years later which is now, we are back to the board. So this is what it looks like now.


Unload Dishwasher

Load Dishwasher

Laundry fold and put away (2-3 times a week, potty training Chip)

Iron clothes (his, I wear jeans and t-shirts to work)

Pick up Chip from pre-school, give him afternoon snack and milk, and take him to park/ library/ mall/pool. Read to him.

Give a bath to Chip in the morning, get him dressed, feed him breakfast, drop him to pre-school.

Make Chip's dinner, feed him. Bulk cook once a month. Pack lunches for all three for the following day.

Manage all mail, pay bills, file them, and manage finances.

Do Taxes

Maintain paperwork for taxes



Plant flowers, prune etc.

Mow lawn, water plants

Maintain grocery list, family social calendar.

Minor repairs around house

Most shopping, Chip's doctor appointments

Take Chip out when I am cooking or keep him engaged.

On top of this, BigGeek also needs to finish his schoolwork. His plate more than full, but I never hear him complain. On many days, hours after I have collapsed exhaustedly into bed, blissfully asleep, BigGeek is up reading his cases or finishing his assignments. But our whacky schedules are a subject for another post!

Monday, August 20, 2007


It is late afternoon on a dry, windless summer day. Chip is trying to pedal his trike – he pedals a few times, but whines in frustration. "Dhakal, Dhakal" he orders me. I bend down once again and push him on his trike. He shouts in glee and we trundle down the sidewalk on our way to the little tot lot.

The typically empty tot lot has a few kids today. One is a toddler; the other two are a bit older. Their parents – a pudgy woman in her late thirties with plump pasty legs and a small, dapper man with a balding head and a goatee are sharing orange juice from a bottle, absorbed in talking. They hardly glance as Chip dives with a roar in to the tire chips on the ground and picks a handful. I am watching Chip with my famous Mommy stare – chin down, eyebrows raised ever so slightly, lips pursed. He catches my eye and drops the grimy chips to the ground. "I want to bas zhopal." He hops to where the swings are. I lift him, put him in the bucket and give it a gentle push. "No, no Aie. Ajoon motha, zhopal motha pahijey." I obey and swing him harder until he is giggling silly, eyes opened wide in amazement. Ten minutes later, I am tired. "Chip, ghasar-gundi var jaa aata." I try coaxing him. "No gundi." This boy knows what he wants. But just about then, the tot-lot-gods pity this exhausted mother and one of the kids comes in Chip's full view and lets out a "Whee" as he comes down the slide. "I want gundi, I want ghasar gundi" Chip has changed his mind.

Now the slides are meant for older kids. 5-12. It says so on the little sign posted on the gigantic equipment. Four slides, one monkey bar, one metal plate bridge, two climbing poles, one ladder all joined together in a superstructure. Chip climbs the stairs, goes to the biggest slide and slides down. I sit on a bench. The tot lot is a busy place. Despite the heat, or in spite of it. There are more kids, bigger kids. Chip is trying to climb the ladder. "You are too little." I smile fondly. "Take the steps." As he reaches the landing, he sees another girl, of about five years or so standing there. "Hi." Chip says brightly and waves. Sullenly, the girl ignores him. "Hi" still smiling, Chip says loudly. "Go away" she glowers. Chip looks confused and crestfallen. He looks at me. I resist the overwhelming urge to 1)swoop him in my arms and give him a kiss 2)Give the snotty girl a piece of my mind. He needs to figure this one out for himself. He hesitates for a second, but decides to come down the slide.

"Majaa aali?" I ask him. "Uh-huh" He runs away to climb the swaying metal plate bridge.

Within seconds he has forgotten the girl. But I haven't and won't for a while at least. These incidents have a nasty habit of sticking in the back of my mind and no matter what I do, I can't shake them off. Like the teenaged boy in the grocery store, who avoided Chip like he had the plague when Chip, who was browsing the cereal boxes, hadn't even said a word but Chip quizzically noticed his look later, or another big boy in another tot lot who booed Chip and scared the wits out of him for no reason, or the time when another girl viciously pushed Chip because he had climbed in to the little toy buggy with her, or the time when so many such times have been and so many such times will yet be. How many such times until Chip turns wary, or worse cynical. I catch myself before my thoughts spiral in to gloomy whorl. Oh Well. He will be fine. I straighten up blaming the joyless moment on the dog days of summer.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Chip's Favorite Reads #2

This is the second installment. (1st installment)

Monsters get scared of the dark too (a.k.a. Monster Andaar Book)– This from the Monster’s Inc. series. Most of this book is lost on him I think, like the jokes about watching movies like Close Encounters of the Kid Kind, but I think he gets the gist. He will rattle off the junk food Billy and his uncles eat, obviously he wants the candy and soda too and how Billy gets scared of the andaar (dark). He will then rattle of things where Chip ghabarto (gets scared) like the HVAC fan and andaar, complete with requisite drama effects like shuddering and gasping.

Planes(a.k.a airplane book) – The book is in tatters now. Tired of reading it over and over again, I once told him Jet engines are like big fans. A big fan of fans that he is, he certainly got a kick out of that information. The jet trails were clouds at the beginning, but they slowly became the airplane doing pee-pee. Actually, that explains a lot. If you can do pee-pee in the sky, why bother with a potty?

I Spy Little Wheels (a.k.a I Spy Book) – This is also a personal favorite. It’s a treasure hunt. Chip has outgrown this book a little, so the Spy value is a bit lost now, but he still sits with the book and looks at other interesting objects and there are tons of those.

Too Big For Diapers (a.k.a. Ernie diapee book) – His Highness enjoys reading this book on the throne.

My First Truck Board Book (a.k.a. Truck Book, what else?) – An all time favorite. Nothing but trucks and tractors and construction equipment of every kind.

My Little Counting Book (a.k.a. Haath Book) – He learnt colors, not counting from this book! Oh! Well.

Special Mention:
Space Odessey 2001 – He had been obsessed with this book for a while. Partly because I had been reading it a few months ago; mostly because it has a picture of the moon on it. He demanded that I read it aloud, so it was condensed to PG-rated five lines sans the evil computer.

Other favorite reads are: Baby Colors, Elmo’s ABC, My big book of Nursery Rhymes, scouring the store flyers for mowers and fans, starts and moon, backs of CDs and DVDs and cereal boxes not to mention the body wash bottles when he is sitting on the throne.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Maximum Ride III Blog tour

Maximum Ride #3: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports
by James Patterson

Maximum Ride III packs pace. Not a dull moment here. I had not read James Patterson before, and although this book is targeted at the tween-teen set, I enjoyed it immensely. For those who haven’t read the first two books in the series, the third book opens with a small rundown of character’s histories. But even without it, the book is great on its own. Max, a 14 year old avian-human hybrid and her flock (Fang, Iggy, Gasman, Nudge and Angel) are on the run, battling people who want them ‘retired’. Their adventures are full of unexpected twists, some strange loops and lots of good old fashioned action. I relished the first person narrative and Max’s irreverent tone which many teenagers will undoubtedly identify with. Another interesting aspect of the book and I am quite certain this will catch on as a trend, is the blog Fang writes. It is actually a real blog-

Through well-crafted situations that are highly fictional, and futuristic, Patterson tries to convey a message to the teen readers how privileged they are and that their common place, every day gripes, no matter how grave they seem need to be seen from another perspective. This point can obviously be made through realistic documentaries, but to the readers it is aimed at, the sci-fi will no doubt prove to be a better way. Even for teens/tweens that don’t quite enjoy reading, I urge them to try this one out.

The book does lack complex subplots, but I am willing to overlook that keeping in mind the audience at which it is targeted. The book also does have a few loop holes like the mutant’s message to Max in the Yard of Despair, but all in all, it’s an exciting book. So if you are suffering from a post-Deathly Hallows void or back-to-school blues fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride.

Also see-

Review Sponsored by Mother-Talk

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Blog Tour

I am doing a review for James Patterson's Maximum Ride III for mother-talk tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Anthem Memories

On my way home from work yesterday, I tuned into BBC World service to listen to a rather charming interview by Salman Rushdie talking about Midnight’s Children and of all things, heard the Indian National anthem during the break. It has been almost five years, no, even more, close to eight or nine years since I heard it and did it bring a rush of memories from my school days! Starched uniforms, teachers with white sarees and salwaar-kurtas; the flag hoisting on what would almost always be an overcast, gray, wet day. The Pledge. Speeches. By the students and teachers. The patriotic songs of heroes fallen. The National Anthem. Such competition there was to enter the ‘coveted’ group of singers! It was a shortlist. If you made the vocal group for Independence Day, you were certain to make it to the Annual Gathering, later in the year. The excitement of the refreshments served – oily samosas and orange crème biscuits always tasted better on August 15. And lastly the silly happiness of going home within the hour.

Happy Independence Day, Indians.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Goodnight, Chip

Day 1
Chip’s bedroom 8:30 p.m. or so.

It’s painted a fresh lime green. Dark green curtains hang on two windows- they have turtles printed on it. The ceiling fan grunts as it turns lazily; the glow of its light illuminates the small room. A chest of drawers sits along a wall; it has a music system on it. Two transparent plastic storage boxes lie on the floor next to it with an assortment of stuffed animals, trucks and a giant toy jackhammer. Along the opposite wall lies Chip’s bed draped with sheets in Diego theme. Chip is ready to go to bed.

DotMom: Chip, do you want to sleep with Diego today?
Chip (with a big grin) : Aa-ha. Yyyyyes.

He has no idea who Diego is, except he is the cute little boy with big brown eyes and a mop of hair that is printed on the sheets of his big boy bed.

DotMom: Music?
Chip: Yay Dance.

Chip does a wiggly number.Dotmom switches on the CD. Soothing Bach follows. Lights are dimmed. Chip gets into his bed excitedly and draws the covers.

Chip: Deego Deego. (Hugging and kissing the sheets) . I want bhoo-bhoo nee-nee.

Chip jumps out of the bed, grabs his stuffed dog from the plastic bin and cuddles.

DotMom (pulls covers over Chip) : Good night Chip.
Chip: Night-night Aie. Are you happy?
DotMom (softly) : Yes Chip. I am very happy. Are you happy, Chip?
Chip: Yes.
DotMom: Then close your eyes.
Chip: Aie, ithe bas.
DotMom: I am not going anywhere Chip. I am right here. Close your eyes.

Chip closes his eyes, opening every now and then in tiny slits to steal a glance, making sure DotMom is by the foot of his bed. DotMom pats him gently and sings a lullaby. After 10 mins, Chip finally falls asleep. DotMom silently does a victory dance and exits right.

Master Bedroom, right after.
It’s a largish room furnished with contemporary furniture, a low, king sized bed, flanked by matching bedside tables and lamps. Across the bed is a small chest of drawers with a flat panel TV. In the corner of the wall stand two tall speakers, playing Sting, very softly. A poster of a Cezanne fills up the right wall. Photos of Chip as a baby stand on the tall speakers. DotMom enters left, still doing the victory dance, high-fives BigGeek who is propped up on the bed, reading his school books.

BigGeek (high fives) : Yay!!! Finally.
DotMom (smiling, getting into bed and turning on her bedside lamp) : At least it’s a start.
BigGeek: He needs to sleep in his room.
DotMom: Yes, yes.
BigGeek: We should Ferberize him. Let him cry it out.
DotMom (opening a book) : Won’t work. He is too old now. Besides he has always been a high need baby.
BigGeek: Won’t work for who? You or him?
DotMom: I like singing lullabies to him. Beats the cry-it out method anyways. Before you know it he will be eight and won’t want a cuddle. And then, he will get even older and will have a girlfriend. (DotMom shivers a little)
BigGeek (laughing) : Let’s hope he sleeps through the night.

Big Geek and DotMom go back to their books. Fade out.

Master Bedroom;12:30 am.
It’s dark. Chip’s voice can be heard off-stage.
Chip (crying) : Aie!! Aie!!
DotMom stirs from her sleep, and then wakes up with a start.
DotMom (switching on her bedside lamp) : Chip! Chip! I am here.

Chip enters right, rubbing his eyes and sobbing.

Chip: Aie! Aie!
DotMom: Come here, baby.

Chips climbs on to the bed, wedges himself between BigGeek and DotMom, cuddles DotMom and goes off to sleep in an instant. DotMom switches off the light. Fade out.

Day 2
Chip’s bedroom 8:30 p.m. or so.

DotMom: Time for bed Chip.
Chip (pointing towards master bedroom) : I want tithe nee-nee.
DotMom: Chip, you are a big boy now. You have to sleep in your big boy bed. What will Miss Debbie say if she finds out you still sleep in Aie-Baba’s bed.
Chip (thinking) : Eeeeeew?
DotMom (tucking Chip) : See? Do you want music?
Chip: No Dance.
DotMom: Book?
Chip: No Book.
DotMom: Close your eyes then.
Chip (pointing towards master bedroom) : I want tithe nee-nee.
DotMom: I’ll sing you a song. Which song do you want?
Chip: Ailamaa-Pailamaa.
DotMom: Chip, are you happy?
Chip: No. I want Ailamaa-Pailamaa.

DotMom starts to sing. Chips tosses and turns for a while then settles and dozes off.
Fade out.

Master Bedroom; 9:30pm.

It’s dark. Chip’s voice can be heard off-stage.
Chip (crying loudly) : Aie!! Aie!!
DotMom wakes up.
DotMom (switching on her bedside lamp) : Chip! Come here.

Chip enters rights sobbing, big tears streaming down his cheeks.

Chip: Aie! Aie! Aie! I want ithe nee-nee.
DotMom: Come here, baby.

Chips climbs on to the bed, wedges himself between BigGeek and DotMom, cuddles DotMom and goes off to sleep in an instant. DotMom switches off the light. Fade out.

Day 3
Chip’s bedroom 8:30 p.m. or so.

Chip: No! No! I want tithe nee, I want tithe nee-nee.
DotMom: Chip, you are a big boy now.
Chip: Baba, Baba, I want tithe nee-nee.

Chip exits right, running. DotMom follows.

Master Bedroom 8:30 pm or so.
Chip enters left, running. DotMom follows. BigGeek is propped on the bed, reading his school papers.

Chip: Baba, Baba, I want tithe nee-nee.
BigGeek (picking up Chip) : Chip, you are a big boy now. Come, let’s go sleep with Diego.
Chip (crying) : Please, no Diego, no Diego. I want ithe nee-nee. Please Baba, yes? Ithe nee-nee? Yes Baba, Yes?
BigGeek: Ok. Come here.

Chip is smiling, wipes his tear streaked face with the back of his hand, gets into bed with BigGeek and snuggles up to him. DotMom gets in next to Chip, wedging Chip between her and BigGeek.

Chip (turning to look at DotMom) : Aie, are you happy?
DotMom (softly) : Yes Chip, I am very happy. Are you happy. Chip?
Chip (grinning widely) : Yyyyyes. Night-night Aie.
DotMom: Goodnight Chip.

Chip snuggles up to BigGeek and is asleep in a few minutes. DotMom starts to read her book. Fade out.

Everyday, at bedtime, DotMom asks Chip if he wants to sleep with Diego. Chip always answers no. Chip is still wedged between DotMom and BigGeek every night and he is very happy, as is DotMom and as is BigGeek, though he won’t admit it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Chip's Favorite Reads

Every day we when we get home in the evening, Chip guzzles his Horlicks, but not before a little tantrum of course- because he wants to drink it on the sofa. I only have to start reading aloud from his books and the screaming, writhing creature on the floor breaks into a toothy grin and toddles over hurriedly to the dining table. Chip loves to read (I hope I haven’t jinxed this by blogging it). Even when he was a wee baby, my mom would put the colorful store flyers on the handle bar of his rocker for endless amusement – his and ours. From looking at flyers and picture books, he now is slowly graduating to narrative ones lately. These are his current favorites.

The Giving Bear (a.k.a Pooh Bear Book)– A gift from his Ajji who read it aloud to him everyday all summer. This is a great read aloud book. Simple illustrations and a few sentences on each page are perfect for his age. He was introduced to Pooh Bear with this book and he has grown to love the yellow bear to bits. The contents in Tigger’s and Piglet’s carts have been memorized. He finishes every sentence in the book. He has also learnt to share, but in a strange way. He seems to equate sharing with taking!

From Seed to Pumpkin (a.k.a. pumpkin book) – Chip loves this book. We just borrowed it from the library and Chip took to it immediately. The book is for older kids, but I simplify the story about a farmer who plants the pumpkin seeds in the spring and harvests the pumpkins in the fall. The book explains the stages of growth – roots, leaves, flowers and fruit. Chip has seen strawberries grow from flowers all summer in our strawberry pot, so I think he gets that part. I need to pull some weeds and show him what roots are.

Good night Moon (a.k.a. Moon Nee-Nee Book): We are on book# 2. We love it that much.

Ready for School (a.k.a. school book)– From the Sesame Street series. He loves looking into everybody’s lunch boxes (they have flaps). And making up stuff. Like, a monster playing ball is doing poo-poo in Chip’s mind.

More Books Tomorrow.

No Tomorrow

Chip was down with a really bad cold and a high temperature. So I stayed home while BigGeek went to school. So Tomorrow is now moved to Aug 31 when BigGeek has classes again, that is if BigGeek does not travel in the meanwhile.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Tomorrow is the day I have been dreading for a while. Tomorrow is the first of many such days that will inevitably follow. BigGeek is traveling tomorrow to school, so I have to drop Chip at his school and get him back. Factoring my usual hour long commute and throwing in the Friday craziness at the evening rush hour, it will mean Chip is going to be there for eleven hours. But tomorrow is just a day, the real test will be when BigGeek goes away for a week or more on business/school. I don’t mind the extra housework when BigGeek is not around, what breaks me is that Chip will be away from home for so long. Oh. Well. This too shall pass.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Chip's Nanny #3

Nanny #1 and Nanny #2

Two weeks later, we hired Alem. We were sorry to let Berket go. But it would have been impossible for her to run after a toddler and navigate the stairs carrying Chip because of her leg. Alem arrived on 3rd July. Chip liked her the minute he saw her. BigGeek and I had been planning on selling my very buggy European car for a Japanese sedan for some time. We were tired of the car going in a panic mode and blaring a screeching alarm at unearthly hours everyday. So, on that day, BigGeek took the day off and promised himself to take advantage of the summer sales and buy me a new car. He found a dealer who had the car I wanted, finalized everything and then called me at work to just come sign the papers. It will take 15 mins, he told me. I did not want to leave Chip with Alem for so long on her very first day. I called home and Alem was dressing Chip to take him out for a walk. Everything was OK, she assured me. Take your time she said. I apologized for the extra time she had to put in the very first day, but she brushed me off.

In the previous two weeks, I had talked with a few nannies and interviewed one, but didn’t quite sense a match. Admittedly, I wasn’t quite impressed with Alem’s bio. She had a brief experience as a nanny in a small home-based daycare center, but she had four kids of her own. Her English was far from perfect, but the agency wanted me to see her. So, one Saturday morning she came to see me. She talked very little, but showed me pictures of her children. The eldest, a daughter, was an accountant and worked for a NGO in Addis Ababa. The second, a son was a student in Sweden, the third daughter looked after Alem’s shop in Addis Ababa and the last one- a boy would graduate with an Engineering Degree the following year. Well dressed and soft-spoken, I liked her, and despite the language issue, I decided to give her a try.

Alem was no nonsense. Which I liked. Chip’s first two nannies had been very indulging, which ended up making me the hard disciplinarian. Not that I minded being one, but not only was it difficult to drill some discipline in Chip in the few hours together, when he was being spoilt all day, but more importantly, I wanted to indulge him a little too. Alem realized this and was firm with Chip. He had to sit (not stand) in his highchair while eating, he had to use a fork and a spoon, he had to say please, tantrums were dealt with timeouts, he had to be down for a nap by 1:00 pm latest, so he would be up in time and would have finished his snack by the time when I got home. No more than 3 hours of nap, lest he give trouble sleeping at night.

If Chip gave a hard time eating, I could simply tell by looking at Alem’s troubled face. If he came down with a cold, Alem would be holding Chip in her arms and reading from the Bible to him all day.

“It’s just a cold. He will be up soon.” I would say.
“Look at him, poor boy, poor boy.” She would cry out. “He is just lying in my arms, not saying anything.” Chip would lie limp in her arms all day; on some really bad days she would barely be able to eat lunch because Chip simply would not let her go.
“Why didn’t you call me? I would have come right away.” I would say.
“No problem, no problem. I will eat now. I am his grandmother. He wasn’t getting any worse. I was not worried.” She monitored his temperature every hour, jotted it down and gave him Tylenol. I never had to worry. She knew how to administer the inhaler when Chip had asthma, her second son was an asthmatic child. Checked for egg content even on jars of peanuts and bags of chips (thats how we found some chips have egg yolk in their seasoning)

On a cold, blustery autumn evening last year, Alem showed me her family pictures. Her husband, her children, their house, their maid, their nanny. There was wistfulness in her eyes as she stroked the sepia toned pictures gently. Alem’s husband had been a doctor. “He was trained in Czechoslovakia.” What sort of a doctor? “Orthopedic... See? This is my nanny.” She pointed to a young girl with a scarf wrapped around her head. “She was with me for 12 years until all the children went to school. She then got married.” Alem’s husband had been shot. Just like that. Some thug walked in his clinic one morning and pumped bullets in him. They had found the man, a trial followed and he was convicted. They had suspected a tribal rivalry, but that was never proven. She had decided to seek asylum after visiting the US twice. “My children have no future there. There are no jobs. Young men get into crime, do drugs, rob and steal. I come here for them.”

Just after Easter this year, Alem arranged for Chip, BigGeek and me to receive a special blessing at her church. BigGeek could not get the blessing, there was no parking to be found for ten blocks and he had parked a mile away. When we let her go a month later, I had a hard time doing it. I practiced for many days. How I would say it? When would I say it? She had looked after Chip like one of the family. Bought him presents -a huge stuffed dog, traditional Ethiopian kurta-pajama, a sweater, a pair of socks and bought me presents too -a traditional Ethiopian dress, a wallet, two pairs of earrings, a nice red top for Christmas. Despite my protests and threats. “You are family.” She would say.

We were very sorry to let her go. I wish we could have afforded to have her and send Chip to school, but that would have stretched our finances a fair bit. So school for Chip it was. I told her many of my friends will hire her in a second. She said yes at first, but the next day declined. She said it would be impossible for her to be a live-in nanny again. I wanted to know why. My friends would have paid her more than what I did. She hesitated and the said, “DM, people don’t invite nannies to eat at their table. After living here, I don’t think I would be able to live with anyone else. This is family.”

I am still in touch with Alem. She works two jobs- one at a 7-11 and one at a shoe store. I need to call her and see if she wants to do lunch some weekend.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

I became interested in astrology when I was seventeen or so. It began as after-dinner fun with my aunt, an accomplished astrologer herself as I was trying to choose the right career. It soon developed into a serious interest and has been till today.

Being an engineer, I often get asked by the Rational if I actually believe in this sort of humbug. And I have to say- yes. I try to explain that maybe "belief" is not the most accurate word to reflect my sentiments, but the Rational never really listens to this part and starts to protest and comes up with inevitable argument about planetary distance, how maybe the moon may affect us (after all it does cause tides) but not others, how weak the "rays" (what rays, I want to ask, but keep quiet) are and how negligible their effects on the turns our life takes. "But, wait!" I try to get a word in. The Rational looks up surprised. After all, aren't these arguments logical enough? How can I not agree? The Rational, once again begins. "I agree with what you say". I blurt out before another list of facts begins. The Rational is really surprised now. "You are absolutely correct. These are not the reasons to 'believe' in astrology". I really don't like the word believe, but I can't seem to find another one, so I go ahead with it. "Then why spend so much time on what you don't believe?", the Rational is puzzled now.

"Well..." I take a deep breath. Here comes the hardest part, reasons for what I truly think is a best explanation of how it all works. "Its not causal. Its associative. I don't think there is anything tangible that makes a certain position of Saturn bad or good for you. You form some basic tenets based solely on observation and then try to extrapolate the rest. Extrapolation is tricky and it gets trickier when extrapolating in a complex plane depicting one's lifetime." I catch my breath.

At this point the Rational either looks at me with utter pity to which I try to sneak in the kitchen and make some nice tea to soothe ruffled feathers or if the Rational looks interested I dive headlong. "Let me give you an example", I say. "Lets say for the sake of argument that every time Mercury transits Pisces you have an unpleasant job-related issue. Now, the fact that Mercury transits that point in sky really has nothing to do with your job at all. They are completely unrelated events and will happen even if the other were not present. But you and I can draw an association and now can extrapolate it to the next 'n' times Mercury transits Pisces. Makes life easier. You can now be prepared. Astrology is just that. Careful associations and careful-er extrapolations." I just realize I made up the word 'careful-er' but the Rational doesn't seem to notice. "Hmmm. But its not science." the Rational ponders.

"Probably not." I grin and pick up Chip and head into the kitchen to make some coffee. Its going to be an interesting discussion after all!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Troy and Bourne Again

What a wonderful weekend this was. Apart from the fact that Aie left, it was wonderful. Since we won’t be having another movie date till Christmas eve at least, BigGeek and I decided the see the Bourne Ultimatum on Friday while Aie babysat Chip. I am glad I suffer from memory loss of sorts because I had completely forgotten how the third book ended. I am a sucker for action movies and armed with a ginormus (and criminally overpriced) bag of popcorn, we spent the best two hours we had done in a while. I am not going to give away the movie, but it is one of the best triquels I have seen. And of course, Matt Damon rocks.

By Saturday noon, I was done with all laundry- folded and put away, ran some errands –buying more underwear for Chip, since his daycare throws away chaddis with poopy accidents. Came back home to a nice dinner and another movie – Troy. I am a sucker for period films- Gladiator is my personal favorite. I love the costumes and the sets (and often hate the lines, especially when they speak with an accent which is supposed to be a pseudo-foreign language) Big Geek opened up the laptop and gave me all the ancillary bits and pieces to the epic which I thought was a wonderful way to see a movie like Troy - a 360 degree experience.

John Lennon once said. “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” I strive to have the perfect life. Cooking wholesome meals, meaningful time spent with BigGeek and Chip, going on vacations, catching up on my reading list, gardening, going out with friends. But every once in a while, a shadow of doubt crosses the mind. Is it enough? Can more be done? Is it all in vain? And every once in a while, a small, insignificant incident not only answers all these questions, but for some reason makes a lasting impression. Like last night after dinner. BigGeek, Chip and I dug into a big bowl of watermelon while catching on the Sunday newspaper. My face was hidden by the comics page when BigGeek brought a fork with a big juicy piece of water melon and said, “A sweet delivery for you!” As I chomped away at the fruit, both BigGeek’s and my face hidden, Chip pokes his face from under the newspaper, and with a sly smile and a twinkle in his eyes, goes, “Ay, ay, ay!!”

Friday, August 3, 2007

Hello, Goodbye

My mom leaves tomorrow. Aie has spent the better part of summer here with us, but now Pune beckons her and so she must go. If I could sulk and throw a tantrum I would. But I am an adult and shall deal with this in a very grown up fashion by eating a pint of Rocky Road. Ten years ago, I would have been happy to put half a globe between us. I guess age has caught up with me. Now, I wish I could spend more time with her and my Dad.

Having a mom around helps, on many, many levels. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to the huge physical help. Help with laundry and cooking and Chip’s baths and tantrums. But more than anything else, it’s great to have another adult to talk to on a daily basis. Especially since BigGeek and I barely get an hour together on a typical weekday with his study group meetings, our staggered times and such. Not talking on cerebral matters, although Aie and I do that a fair bit, but mostly mundane things like let’s go look at new sheets at Linen and Things (don’t forget the coupon) and strolling in the mall and buying identical bracelets at Nordstrom because they were at a throwaway price and drooling over $200 handbags we can’t afford or waiting for weeks for the buy one get one free sale for lipsticks at the drugstore. Seeing chick flicks and silly movies (we saw Ratatouille this summer). Watching Food Network and criticizing everything that’s cooked. I miss doing all that. I do go on shopping trips and Sunday luncheons with my girlfriends, but it’s not the same. For one, when I say, let’s go to DSW to look at new shoes, my mom says OK and off we’ll go. My girlfriends will say OK, spend 7 minutes there and then drag me to Off Broadway Shoes and spend three hours there. So, I am a bit of a tyrant and my mother is very indulging (I think she is secretly trying to make up for the ultra-strict mom she was growing up)

For BigGeek and Chip and me, this is a sort of a family milestone. After more that two years, having come a full circle, it will be just us. The first year of Chip’s life we had Aie, my mother-in-law, my aunt and then Aie again, the second year, it was the live in nanny then again Aie. Now that Chip goes to preschool, it will be just us. The guestroom will no longer have a permanent guest there.

I am usually OK with goodbyes. Aie and Baba always have a lump in the throat but I always extract a promise of when she (if not they, for when Aie visits, Baba will follow) will visit. Next March? Yes? School will be out then. I tell her. School’s out by April end, the school-teacher-Aie gently reminds me. Awww, find someone to do your report cards. I try to tell her. Her school has been very cooperative about her whimsical schedule the past few years. We’ll see. We’ll see. So March it is. I brush off her uncertainties. We need to start looking for tickets in December. Suddenly, it’s not so bad. December is right around the corner.

But this year it is different. Different and better. Baba is moving to Toronto for a while and Aie plans to join him next month. At least we’ll be in the same time zone, plus Toronto can be weekend-able if you find nicely priced tickets. Baba has to be in India for three weeks in December. So, she will stay with us then. Yipee. December is right around the corner.

Unfortunately for Chip, he is still too young to understand Ajji will be back in December. When Ajji has left, Ajji has left. So, Aie has been drilling the fact into him for the past few weeks. Ajji is taking the airplane to go to Aaba. Chip will say bye-bye. Chip will not cry. Chip, even if he does not cry, which I doubt, is going to miss his Ajji and is going to give me a hard time for a week (he did last year too). I wish he could understand that we will see her again in a few months. I wish he could understand that December is right around the corner.

You say yes, I say no
You say stop and I say go, go, go
Oh, no
You say goodbye and I say hello
Hello, hello
I don't know why you say goodbye
I say hello
Hello, hello
I don't know why you say goodbye
I say hello

-The Beatles (I am the walrus)

Mommy likes small governments

This is a response to a comment left on yesterday's post:

Dear Mr.Zilber,
If you are writing a book and is out in the public domain, it is subject to criticism, both good and bad. This is not a personal attack on you, but a frank opinion of the book. Please don't make it personal. I have never said Jeremy Zilber is bad. I am sure you are a wonderful person. I do have problems with your book though, just as I have problems with other books and movies and newspaper articles. I believe in small governments. I have experienced the inefficacy of large governments and planned economies first hand- I am originally from India- and yes, I do favor smaller governments, less taxation, more private entrepreneurship. I am all for the public good and giving the needy, I just don’t think it’s the government’s job. That’s what charities are for to which good citizens like you and I contribute. Inspecting air and regulating airplanes or insuring private money-those are not for the government either. I am sure private enterprise can handle all that. That's my political view and I am willing to have a sensible debate over it.

I really don’t think it’s the government’s business to subsidize anything, including student loans. I am sure there are plenty of private banks from whom we can borrow, if a need arises to borrow for my son’s student loans. I live in VA, where many, many roads are privately owned and maintained. The fire department in our town is a 100% volunteer company and has the fastest response time in the area. We do make a yearly contribution to this fantastic crew.

This is not a question of pride. It’s a question of morals and ethics. There is a reason why the US has most immigrants. It’s because it is the freest nation. (There is a nice graph here) It takes on the average of 89 days to acquire all permits and licenses to incorporate a company in India. It takes less than 2 days in the US. I would highly recommend this wonderful parable by Fredric Bastiat (if you haven’t already read it). Hopefully, you will see what I see.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Why Mommy is a Democrat

No, I am NOT divulging my own political leanings here, but this is the name of a children’s book. It has been out for a couple of years now and is targeted to enrich young minds with the Democratic philosophy (wasn’t this called propaganda in the good old days?) I have a problem with this book on many levels. Too simplistic. Polarized. It wants to draw a clean line between good and evil, Democrat and Republican. Kids are good at creating a narrow view of the world: superheroes and villains. Do we need to add to it? True, it’s targeted towards the young but – “Democrats make sure we all share our toys just like Mommy does”. Seriously? Is this what it boils down to? Mommy certainly won’t hold a jail term over your head if you don’t share your toys. "Democrats make sure we are always safe, just like Mommy does." Really? and the Republicans don't care about National safety?I am not surprised that even the Dems themselves gave a lukewarm response to the book and the Republicans went right out and lampooned it. (scroll down to see sample pages from the book)

Jokes apart, I don’t think you need books to present political views to children. They learn as they pick lessons from every day interactions with you. For example, Chip knows he has to be responsible for his own actions. Mommy won’t always help. I will warn him – the tea is hot, the chutney is spicy, he will fall if he decides to climb out of the highchair onto the table then to another chair to climb on the kitchen counter. He doesn’t always listen, and I always let him figure it out himself. He has had a few falls and bruises but has always learnt in the process.

He has to be independent, as much as he can be at the ripe age of 2. He eats by himself, will throw his clothes in the wash basket, cleans up his own messes and puts away his books. He helps himself to milk and juice when I keep them on the counter for him. He is learning to be on his own. Hopefully, many many years later, he won’t expect the government to fund his artistic pursuits, or even his retirement.

He is still quite young for me to drive other lessons into him. And I don’t know how many of these lessons will be really learnt by him. But if he grows up to be a rational, fair, responsible, independent, productive and respectful of other’s people right to have opinions, no matter how much he disagrees, I’ll be a happy and proud mom.

Edited to Add this link: Mommy-Daddy, go away!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Small Talk

I wrote a comment for Usha’s introspective post about how the generation today uses extreme adjectives and adverbs to describe everyday emotions. The post reminded me of a conversation I had with my father when I was about 10. We had moved from Mumbai to a smaller town and I had started a new school – a convent school. The atmosphere was fascinating -the nuns very strict, and I had so many questions, like did they sleep in their habit- completely exotic to my Maharashtrian Brahmin upbringing. So the first term, I felt a little lost and tagged along with the most garrulous, outgoing girl in class- Sunanda. Sunanda was a Bengali – I had never met one before and she had such a way with words. She was always famished before the recess, I was merely hungry. He mother made the most awesome peanut butter sandwiches, mine well, just packed me a tiffin. She hated history, well, I didn’t exactly like it. She loved English and yes, so did I.

Soon though, my words started loosing their luster to her over-the-top descriptions and before I knew it, I was trying to be like her. I went home one day and declared I was absolutely starving. Later I was doing my massive amount of homework and it was history and I hated it. I was devastated when the local stray dog was bit by a snake and died. Unknown to me, this had started to grate on my Dad’s nerves. A quiet man, who spent most of his time reading, he called me aside one day. I seemed to be doing massive amounts of homework everyday, he said, was I lagging behind, or had the teachers changed? The homework was the same. Also, why did I simply love or hate things these days, what happened to the whole spectrum of emotions in between? Didn’t I find things interesting, amusing, droll, poignant, colorless, cheerless, insipid, bland, peculiar, strange, touching, and unusual? Why was I confining myself to think so narrowly, he asked. After all the words one used shaped one’s thoughts (he always speaks in third person, like the Queen). So, I had to come up with different words to express my thoughts. Love and hate had been placed in an indefinite moratorium.

Until of course I came to the US. Where people talk a lot. And use words like massive, huge, humongous, stink all the time. They rave about stuff. Having the Brit sensibility hammered into me for two decades, I just could not understand the need to talk with so much volume, quantity and amplification. Until a patient classmate explained it to me. With the hodgepodge of new immigrants, he said, in the early years at least, if you didn’t talk, didn’t make a conscious effort to reach out, you were seen with a suspicion. What were you hiding? Why weren’t you assimilating? It became a question of survival in very mixed neighborhoods. That’s why. And over the years I have been guilty on more than one occasion to have been using exaggerated words and over dramatizing when my Dad’s words come back to me. On such occasions BigGeek smiles fondly and says, “Hey, that’s what makes an awesome storyteller!”