Toddler Talk: Mess Management, Toddler-Style

Messy, that’s me

How having a toddler around has actually made me less messy

I have an admission to make – I’m a messy, messy person. When I’ve gotten ready to go out for the evening, all available surfaces in my room are covered in clothes and make-up, and wardrobe doors hang wide open. My living room looks like a hurricane hit it, and my dining table is used more as a storage unit than as a place for a sit down meal. Don’t get me wrong; I do keep things hygienic, but I’ve always lived a deeply cluttered existence.

Notice that I’m not blaming my toddler. In fact, having an active, inquisitive child around has actually made me better. Yes, you read that right. In the last couple of years, I’ve learnt the hard way that if you leave your stuff lying around, your toddler will take it upon herself to investigate said stuff. And all toddler investigations come with the following disclaimer: “The toddler is not responsible for any damage to your belongings. If you left it within arm’s reach, it’s fair game.”

It took me a while, but I finally figured out that laziness – which is really at the root cause of most messiness – is not an option when there’s a toddler in your life. You know something needs to be put away but you ignore it anyway and go back on Facebook… Well, your toddler is going to make you pay.

-That pretty dress/dupatta that you love? Yes, the one lying on the floor of the bedroom. You’d better pick it up, otherwise it’s going to be painted on, decorated with play-dough, or even pooped on (true story).

- That coffee cup / cereal bowl that you’ve left perched precariously by the sofa? You’d better put in the sink, or it’ll end up on the floor, in smithereens. And the remaining coffee/milk will adorn both your sofa and your toddler.

- That brand new electronic gadget you’ve left lying in the study? Yes, the beautiful Samsung tablet / iPhone / DSLR camera you spent most of the month’s salary on. You really, really should put it away, because it’ll be jab-jab-jabbed, poked and prodded until, according to your toddler, “it’s not working!” anymore.

- That bottle of juice that’s on the dining table, the one that you know you didn’t close the lid of properly? Yes, turn right back, close the lid tight, and put it away. Because you know it’ll be tipped over and you’ll be sloshing about in a river of juice before you know it. And guess who’ll be the first to slip, fall, and sob that her foot’s hurt? That’s right. The toddler who tipped it over in the first place.

- That stack of boxes/files/books in the corner? The one you’ve been planning to put away for a month? Well, put it away already! Because it looks incredibly like a a) castle b) tower c) tree or d) mountain to your toddler, and simply must be climbed. We all know how that’s going to end, don’t we?

-Those small toy parts you see scattered all over the floor? Yes, the ones you’re pretending don’t exist. They’re either going to impale your foot, or end up in your toddler’s mouth, in which case you’ll dash across the room horror to get it out, and impale your foot anyway.

- That box of earrings you left on your dressing table? Next to your expensive new lipstick and bright red nail polish? Yeah. Good luck getting the nail polish off your earrings and the lipstick off your toddler’s face, and all of it off your floor.

After a few such episodes, moms develop a sixth sense. Take it from me and don’t ignore that little voice which says, “Put away the tube of cream!” Your room will be neater for it, and more importantly, you won’t have to spend the evening scrubbing face cream off your kitchen counters …

TIPS:

  1. If it can break, it shouldn’t be anywhere within a toddler’s reach.
  2. If you care about it, keep it off the floor or couch and in the cupboard.
  3. If it can spill, keep a lid on it. If it’s hot, sharp or heavy, keep it way up high.

 

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Toddler Talk: Requiem For a Nap

In memory of nap time, which left my life too soon…

When you have a baby, naps take on a previously unimaginable significance in your life. In your pre-parenting life, naps were a rare Sunday afternoon treat, after a Saturday night spent clubbing or doing a movie marathon or whatever other fun things childless people do on Saturday nights that I no longer remember ever having done. Sure, maybe you gently snored through afternoon lectures in college. Or maybe you did covert power naps behind your computer post-lunch in office. But the nap was never an integral part of your life, the thing you planned your entire day around. The thing you looked forward to from the moment you woke up in the morning.

All that changes the day your newborn comes into your life. When you’re first told that you should “sleep when the baby sleeps”, you baulk at the idea. Nap at 11 o’clock in the morning? It seems so… wrong. But after that second or third sleepless night, you learn your lesson. If you don’t catch some zzz’s when your baby is napping, you’re going to unravel at the seams (well, you’re probably going to unravel anyway, but the occasional nap slows the process slightly).

As baby gets older, nap time settles into a (sort of) pattern. Morning nap and afternoon nap… a blessed hour or hour and a half each of peace and quiet, when you actually get a bit of time to yourself. You can shower uninterrupted. Catch up on waiting chores. Or go on Facebook and watch cat videos (it’s all about priorities). If the night was bad, you might even grab some shut-eye yourself. In other words, naptime is a stay-at-home mom’s idea of happy hour.

Once you enter the toddler years, things start getting rocky. You’re now deeply attached to the idea of naps, but your toddler has different ideas. The first thing to go is the morning nap (sigh), when your 15 or 16 month old decides she’s done wasting her precious time sleeping pre-noon. You then centre all your hopes on the afternoon nap. When your two year old starts resisting that as well, it means all-out war. You know she needs it. She knows she needs it. But she’s not going to give in without a fight. A daily afternoon battle of wills follows. There are days when you lose (these are not good days). But most of the time she eventually nods off, because she’s exhausted and can’t really cope without the snooze.

The real trouble begins when your toddler begins to out-grow the nap altogether. If you’re lucky, that won’t be until she’s four or older. If you’re not (like me), that happens around the age of three. The signs have been there for the last couple of months, though I’ve tried desperately to ignore them. The naps have been getting shorter and the timings more erratic. The battles have gotten bloodier, and I’ve been staggering away vanquished more often. Well, now it’s official. She no longer needs a nap during the day. She doesn’t sleep, and she’s just fine and dandy. Doesn’t even get cranky later in the evening. It’s done and dusted. Fini. Khatam. No more naps for my toddler.

And so, I write this article in memory of those blissful islands of daytime quietude I’ve enjoyed these past three years. When I actually got to post a blog entry or finish cooking or read list after pointless list on Buzzfeed. Or when I closed the curtains and pulled up the covers and enjoyed a sinfully delicious afternoon nap myself.

Ah, nap time… I will miss you. You were good to me. You swept unexpectedly into my life, and in this short time, you’ve become special to me. Now, all too soon, it is time for you to go. I wish I could hold on, but let go I must.

Farewell to you, my dear.

TIPS:

  1. Hard as it is, allow the progression from two naps to (sigh) no naps to happen naturally.
  2. You know your child best; watch for signs that she’s getting enough sleep.
  3. When it’s time to bid adieu to nap time, let go. Accept that it’s the end of an era

‘Toddler Talk’ is a weekly column that appears in The Hindu Metroplus on Tuesdays.

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To All the Divya Kumars Out There (Part 5): It’s not funny any more…

Ok guys. This is it. It isn’t funny any more. Yes, Divya is a common name. There were three Divyas at my daughter’s birthday party recently. Cue sepia-toned flashback to my own childhood parties. Clearly things haven’t changed in 30 years. Divyas with K initials or surnames beginning with K are also stupendously common. Case in point: that infernal Divya Khosla Kumar who clogs any and all searches of ‘Divya Kumar’ on Google (yes, I’m still at it. Yes, I’m aware it’s sad).

BUT. I think the ridiculous frequency with which these ladies (and yes, the occasional gent) seem to use my email id for various purposes is, well, ridiculous. I went to the bank recently. Money matters are not my strong point. In fact, I suck at managing my finances. I was, as I always am while meeting my ‘relationship manager’ at the bank, nervous, ill-prepared and faintly guilty (about being so irregular and vague about it all). When he asked for the id number on some  investments, I couldn’t find the documents, and in the midst of getting all frazzled, I suddenly remembered an annual report which had been emailed to me from the bank. Tada! I whipped out my new smartphone and feeling ever so, well, smart, pulled up my gmail account and gave him the details. I waited. He made a call. His eyebrows creased. A feeling of foreboding came over me. He looked up at me, confused. “Ma’am, but this is for a Divya Khanna in Delhi.”

I just stared back at him. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I didn’t know whether to feel embarrassed or angry. Or both. It had finally happened. I’d actually been duped by one of these wrong emails.

Why? Why did Divya Khanna think this was her email id? She was so certain of it, she was actually having her mutual fund details sent to it. I mean, was I somehow sharing this email account with 30 others and not realising it? Seriously, this whole thing was taking on a slightly Twilight Zone feel.

It happened again just a day or two ago. I couldn’t remember my Skype password and so clicked on the ‘forgot password?’ link. Skype promptly emailed me, and I was zapped. Because, apparently, there isn’t just my Skype id attached to this email address, there’s three. THREE. All belonging to different Divyas. Again that Twilight Zone feeling. Was it me? Was I creating accounts in my sleep or something? Only pretending to be Divya Damodaran instead of Divya Kumar?

And so, I say, this is it. It is’t funny any more. It’s getting a bit freaky. Does this happen to other Divya Kumars? Is something wrong with my email address? Is something wrong with me?

It’s time to open this out to all you Divyas. We need to talk this out. Discuss the issue in detail. I mean, don’t you guys miss getting your emails? Are you sitting in your homes writing long, rambling blog posts like this about emails that never reach you? Or about how Skype never lets you change your password? We need to talk, ladies.

I have noticed a new trend recently, a sign perhaps that some of the Divyas out there are trying to find ways around this identity swap nonsense. More and more of you seem to be experimenting with funky new spellings. Divia. Diviya. Divaya. I appreciate effort, but just thought I’d let you know that it’s not really working. I’m still getting your emails. Yeah, really.

So, let’s try and sort this out. It’s time to end this, ladies. I spend enough of my life being confuzzled without my email id taking me into Twilight Zone territory over coffee every morning. Post on the blog! Or email me at… scratch that. God knows whom it will reach. Messenger pigeons perhaps?

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Toddler Talk: Tears for Fears

Firecrackers, hair washes, ticking clocks… a whole host of things can trigger toddler fears

Hair dryer? Or hot-air blowing Monster of Doom?

There are few things as tough to handle as a toddler’s fears. Let’s face it, this is a weird world we live in. It isn’t easy to get used to all the strange things – the noises, the sights, the smells – we surround ourselves with. As busy, hassled adults who’re constantly bombarded by sensory input, we hardly notice most of these things anymore, not unless we’re literally assaulted by them (which would explain the nature of our news channels these days. Right, Arnab?).

But to toddlers who’re just getting acquainted with their environment, a lot of things can be upsetting. Sudden, loud noisemakers such as pressure cookers, hair-dryers, and firecrackers are obvious triggers. Through the second year of my daughter’s life, I had to hide in the bathroom or kitchen to use a hair-dryer, because she’d sob as though Godzilla was coming if I turned it on in her vicinity. She was apparently convinced that this growling, hot air-blowing monster was going to eat mommy, and nothing I said or did could change her mind. It didn’t matter that we kept a cooker every day; she still cried for each whistle, each time. And needless to say, our Diwalis haven’t been particularly ‘happy’, since my daughter spends it mostly with her face buried in my lap, trembling at each loud cracker-burst (like ostriches, toddlers are convinced that burying their heads will make scary things go away. Only, instead of sand, they pick various portions of mummy or daddy’s anatomy to dive into, so be prepared for lots of ouch-inducing head-butts).

Not all kids are the same, of course. Some are less highly-strung, others more. And they react to different things. One little boy I know went through a phase when he became acutely sensitive to bad smells. Every morning, just as he left for playschool, the garbage truck would enter his street. Every morning, he would throw up his breakfast. Every morning, without fail.

At least with loud sounds and strong smells, you can try and find ways to protect the child. You can avoid garbage skips like the plague. Risk electrocution by blow-drying your hair in the wet bathroom. Move to Iceland during Diwali. But other fears are tougher simply because they involve tasks that can’t be avoided. Like a fear of head baths. There’re only so many days (weeks?) a toddler can go without washing her hair before she becomes a bit of a stink-hazard herself. My daughter even went through a (thankfully brief) period when she was terrified of having her face washed (yes, bath-time was an absolute delight).

Even tougher, though, are the utterly irrational fears. They’re the hardest to understand, and the hardest to deal with. Like when, one fine day, your toddler decides she’s petrified of an uncle or great-uncle she’s seen hundreds of times before, and refuses to take her face out of your shoulder unless said uncle leaves the room. Or when she decides, for whatever reason, that she’s scared of ticking clocks (my daughter’s latest) or of her own shadow. Try finding a way of avoid those. If it wasn’t for the clock on my phone (thank god for the digital revolution!), I’d completely lose track of time because all wall clocks and alarm clocks in my house are currently in forced hiding.

But really, the most heart-wrenching part is seeing your child gripped by fear. You feel helpless, because nothing you do – no amount of explaining or reassuring – seems to work. It’s frustrating because you want so much to make them feel better, but instead, at the end of a long stretch of holding and comforting, you just left feeling wrung out and exhausted. But the good news is that they do grow out of it. My daughter actually let me use Godzilla, I mean, the hair-dryer on her recently. And I’m sure we’ll have clocks on our walls again. Eventually.

TIPs:

  1. Never ridicule your child’s fears, even if they seem random. It’s very real to them.
  2. Comfort and reassure, and then try to distract.
  3. If it’s something that has to be done, just do it. Faces need to be washed, hair needs to be cut, and that’s that.

‘Toddler Talk’ is a weekly column that appears in The Hindu MetroPlus.

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Toddler Talk: Confusion Central

Too many parenting choices making you crazy? You have company

Sometimes, at the end of another day of toddler parenting, I’m emotionally and mentally exhausted. And it isn’t my daughter’s fault. On these days, the trouble is all in my own head, the result of over-thinking, over-analysing, and over-worrying every little parenting choice or decision I have to make. It’s like having a half a dozen or so hyperactive squirrels running round and round in circles within the confines of my brain. Let me tell you, it’s not fun.

The worst part is knowing that I’m solely responsible for all the confusion. This generation of yuppie parents are uniquely gifted in this regard. We have too many options. We read too much – too many different perspectives in too many parenting books and news articles and websites. We sit on the fence between the traditional and the modern (Western?), flip-flopping awkwardly between the two. We obsess about the right choices to make, terrified of making the wrong ones.

For instance, do you do the traditional mottai (tonsure) or not? For the record, I didn’t. But then I wonder often if I should. One squirrel in my brain squeaks that the older folks have it right. Maybe the hair the child is born with should be removed for her well-being. Then the other squirrel pipes up – nonsense! The rest of the world manages just fine without turning kids bald in the first few years of their lives.

Squirrel 1: But there’s a reason why we have this tradition, isn’t there?

Squirrel 2: But the baby curls! So pretty!

You see? Round and round in circles.

Let’s talk about that other rite of passage… piercing your baby’s delicate, petal-like earlobes when she’s just an infant (holes! In those tiny, tiny lobes!). What’s the best time to do it? What’s the best way? Gun-shot or the traditional method? What about infection (oh my god, oh my god!)? Do you trust a jewellery shop to do it or go to a doctor? Squirrels, lots and lots of them.

It’s not just the traditional stuff. Vaccines are a huge part of it. As if the first year of parenting wasn’t hard enough already, you need to go every few minutes (or so it seems) and watch the doctor stick a big needle in your baby while you stand by helplessly and the child sobs as though the world is ending. Not to mention the fussing, and the mild fevers and rashes that follow. It’s all for the good of the child, though, isn’t it? Unfortunately, there’s always the internet to shatter your peace. ‘Vaccines are evil!’ shouts one site, ‘Conspiracy by Big Pharma!’ shouts another. Your doctor looks beyond exasperated when you ask her yet again if the vaccine is really, really needed, but you can’t help yourself. Whom do you trust? The world tells you – no one. Then what to do? Squirrels! Squirrels everywhere!

The choice of school, of course, is another one that makes us turn grey (or fat, depending on your stress-eating habits). Traditional schools or alternative? Big or small? AC or non-AC, basic?

It keeps adding up. And it’s all the worse because every person you meet seems set to judge you instantly. Should you teach your child only her mother tongue or more of the English she going to need in school? Either way, you’re going to hear “She doesn’t understand English?” or “Tamizh theriyada?” The list is endless… food choices (processed or natural? Maggie or ragi?), vitamins and tonics (evil or necessary?), disciplining (there are about 15 million books, articles and blogs written on this one topic alone, and about 15 million opinions more), and so on.

It would be easier, of course, if we just did what our mothers and grandmothers did before us, follow blindly in their footsteps. But that’s out of the question. We’re too ‘enlightened’. So we worry. We muddle. We confuse. And the squirrels in the brain go round and round, round and round, round and round…

TIPS:

  1. No helpful suggestions on this one. Too squirreled out.
  2. You’re on your own. You don’t know whom to trust. What right? What’s wrong?
  3. Panic attack? Join the club. Here, have a cup of camomile tea.

‘Toddler Talk’ is a lighthearted weekly column that appears in The Hindu MetroPlus

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Five reasons why it helps to be drunk while dealing with your toddler

Disclaimer: This was written when I was three glasses of wine donw… I mean down. Hee hee.

1. It seems funny when she spits out the idli you’re feeding her. Whooo look at that trajectory. Good job! *clap clap*

2. The terrific mess she and her bestie made in the drawing room suddenly becomes an amusing obstacle race. Wheee look at me go! Didn’t step on the broken guitar. Yessss! 

3. The five millionth repetition of whatever repellent cartoon she’s watching doesn’t bother you in the least. You haven’t seen it spin around in quite this way before. Joke’s on you, kid. One more episode? Suuuuure. Go right ahead.

4. It doesn’t even bother you that she seems to be coming down with the fifth cold of this month. Sneeze. Blow your nose. Or not. Whatever. 

5. Bedtime? What’s that? “Amma, I want to sleep!” Seriously? Ok, now I’m just hallucinating…

 

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Toddler Talk: The “Parents of Fussy Eaters” Support Group

There are few jobs as frustrating and just plain exhausting as feeding a toddler with fussy eating habits.

If toddlers were like camels, it wouldn’t matter as much; we could just stuff them with one really good meal a day and then relax while they subsist on the good stuff stored away in their humps or whatever. Unfortunately, they’re more like hyperactive hamsters that burn calories nonstop by running round and round in circles, so you need to feed them three times a day and add healthy snacks in between. The result? Your whole day pretty much revolves around planning what to give them at each meal, and making sure it’s ready on time. Then you need to wheedle them into actually trying the food, selling the dish like some desperate door-to-door salesman (“Paruppu sadam is Dora’s favourite, I swear!”), before finally spending an hour feeding it to them. By the time you’re done with one meal, it’s time to regroup and start thinking about the next.

There’s no step of this process that’s simple. Entire food groups need to be left out simply because your toddler has decided they’re “yucky”. There are no guarantees whatsoever — what was ‘in’ last week or even last night might be on the barf-list today.

And so, for all those parents out there who struggle with this meal after meal, snack after snack, day after day, I propose the creation of the Parents of Fussy Eaters (POFE) support group. This is a non-judgmental space, a place where no one will say, “Your child looks so thin! Has she lost weight?” and no one will blink an eye if you say she had banana chips and ketchup for dinner last night because that’s all she would eat.

We’ll be there for you when your toddler refuses to even taste the soup she claimed she LOVED just last week. We’ll hold your hand when she eats barely two morsels of the dish you spent all evening cooking for her (“It’s kaaram!”). We’ll listen while you rant about the way she ravenously ate curd rice — the one thing she will not touch at home — at your friend’s house, just moments after you’d finished assuring the friend that she definitely wouldn’t eat it. We’ll share in your wistfulness as you watch another child wolf down a full festival feast and wipe his ilai clean, while yours has eaten about one-fifth of a dosa. We’ll pat your shoulder understandingly when you confess that your child sometimes has lunch at 4 p.m. because breakfast took till noon. We’ll even help you lose that extra weight you’ve gained because of eating all those ghee/butter/cheese-filled delicacies your toddler wouldn’t finish. And provide therapy when you snap from having to watch the same cartoon over and over again three times a day, seven days a week, because it’s the only thing that makes your child eat.

You can call our helpline any time, after the trauma of breakfast, lunch or dinner, or after you’ve spent half an hour trying to feed your child half a banana, which now lies in little spit-pools all over your drawing room. You could get mad and decide to just let her eat whatever she wants. But you know you’ll pay the price for that with a night-long tummy ache session, because her idea of a balanced meal is probably chocolate cake and cola.

Instead, call us or attend one of our meetings. No one here will give you advice or thrust super-nutritious recipes on you, recipes so complicated that even the ingredients intimidate you, and no one will look horrified if you say your child hasn’t eaten any vegetable other than potato in three months.

At POFE, we’re simply here to listen to each other’s hair-raising, appetite-killing stories. And, in the process, help you keep your sanity through yet another long meal with your fussy eater.

TIPS:

1. Membership to the Parents of Fussy Eaters (POFE) support group is free. You’ve suffered enough.

2. You’re only required to prove adequate fussiness. Parents concerned that their kid didn’t go back for a third helping at the buffet need not apply.

3. The only advice we give at POFE is: toddlers are hardier than they seem. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Too much.

‘Toddler Talk’ is a weekly column that appears in The Hindu Metroplus. 

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