Toddler Talk: Telephones and Timbuktu

On toddlers and their enduring love affair with phones of all kinds

There’s something about cellphones. No, scratch that. There’s something about all phones. Toddlers simply love them. You might even say that they’re fixated on them.

It doesn’t matter whether they’re new-age smartphones or old-fashioned landlines, toy phones or cordless phones. If there’s a phone in sight, your toddler is going to want to fiddle with it, poke at it, talk on it, and of course, at the end, drop it with a resounding crash.

I used to think it was just cellphones, especially the smartphone variety. After all, they are exceedingly attractive. They look glossy, they take photos (ooh selfies!), they play videos and games, and they do fun things when you swipe their big screens. Most adults can barely put theirs down for a second, so how can you blame a two-year-old?

But then I realised that your average toddler simply doesn’t care about all these high-end features. My maid’s basic, phone-calls-only cell is of as much interest to my daughter as my swanky (well, it used to be, before it was scribbled on and dropped some 50 times) Samsung S4. In fact, the kid’s something of an authority on all the cellphones that enter our household. Put any five cells before her, and she can identify which belongs to whom effortlessly (she could probably do it blindfolded, by ringtone alone). All visitors have their phones duly inspected, and if your cell is missing, you can be sure she’ll find it and bring it to you with a triumphant, “Here it is!” (following full inspection, of course).

With landlines, the attraction is obviously that stretchy, spiral cord— getting hopelessly tangled in it, and staggering around like a tech-age mummy, or using it to drag the phone around like some sort of electronic puppy. Cordless phones, on the other hand, are perfect for tucking into the shoulder, just like mommy does while working, and striding about holding serious imaginary conversations. Both, of course, are perfect for putting through calls to Timbuktu by sheer trial and error.

But whatever the type of phone, the prerequisite is that it must work. Old, unused or disconnected phones will be ruthlessly rejected with a “No! It’s not working!” It must go beep-beep-boop when jabbed. It must have a dial-tone. That, really, is the only distinction a toddler demands of a phone.

Inexperienced, first-time mom that I was, I thought the solution was to buy her a toy phone. They’re colourful, make chirpy sounds – so she can’t deny that they work – and there’s no fear of radiation, or of calls being put through accidentally to the other end of the planet. She could even learn from them! Pleased with myself, I bought her a (ridiculously expensive) toy phone which taught numbers and counting. She ignored it magnificently. But she did love the red Spiderman phone that loudly sang “Appadi Podu, Podu, Podu” (a fusion phone!) that someone gifted her. And, of course, my cellphone, daddy’s cellphone, both sets of grandparents’ phones, the home phone, my friends’ phones…

The number of toy phones she owns has now gone up to three (including a sparkly pink one to go with her pink handbag). They mainly come in useful during play-dates, because even the most even-tempered toddler goes a little berserk when he sees a phone, and brawls inevitably break out. This way, each kid gets a phone to play with. One pretends to be her mom, and sighs over how busy she is. One calls Dora for help, because her car is stuck in the mud. And the last one … well, I can’t quite tell what her conversation’s about since it appears to be in an alien language, but clearly it’s of great significance.

Then they abandon their phones and aim for the home phone/my cellphone. Because when it comes to telephones and toddlers, there is only one truth– there can never be enough beeping-booping fun.

Anyone called Timbuktu today?


  1. Try to restrict play time with cellphones to avoid too much exposure to radiation.
  2. All phones are hot-beds of germs, so try not to let the child handle them too much…
  3. Oh, who I am kidding? Just give the kid the phone already.

‘Toddler Talk’ is a weekly column published in The Hindu MetroPlus. An edited version of this article can be found here.

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My daughter, the shopkeeper

Me: Can I have the green book?

D: No! You want the blue book!


Me: How much is the doll?

D: It’s 12 o’clock!


Me: I don’t have any more money :(

D: Here’s some money!


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Kadais (Part 3): Flip a coin

So, I’ve been meaning to write about this shop on P. S. Sivasamy Salai in Mylapore for simply ages. Every time I pass its signboards — there’s one above the entrance and another larger one to the side, on the pavement, so you just can’t miss it — I’m floored by the remarkable honesty on display. This is what you call keeping it real. This is what you call not making false promises. This, folks, is the face of integrity.

A tailoring and clothing shop called “Hit or Miss Boutique”.

The first time I saw it, I was sure I’d seen wrong. I must have passed by too fast. Not read it right. The second time, I stopped and made sure to read it carefully. No mistake. I’d gotten it right. After that, every time I went that way, I’d make it a point to look for it, and revel in its weirdness. Over time, it’s become one of my favourite Chennai shop signs, up there with ‘Hotel Runs’ (which delivers nowadays, in case you were wondering).

“Hit or Miss”. Why? Why would you name your tailoring shop that? What earthly reason could there be to choose that name of all the possible names in the world? I’ve really given it some thought, and I’ve finally come to the decision that there could be no reason other than the desire to be totally and completely upfront. Really, he’s just saying — before you even enter the door — what every woman who has ever gone to a tailor to get her clothes stitched already knows. The process is inevitably a toss-up. Of the three dresses you give for stitching, one will turn out to be unwearably, irreparably bad, one can maybe be salvaged and one will be reasonably wearable. It doesn’t matter whether you give a sample or give your measurements, it doesn’t matter how many times before the same tailor has stitched similar sari blouses or salwar kameezs for you, the result is the same. Any woman going to a tailor mentally writes at least a couple of the outfits even before stitching begins. You just hope the ones that get utterly ruined aren’t the ones you really, really loved.

So, “Hit or Miss Boutique” is just telling it like it is. No false advertising here. He’s telling you, “Look lady, you’re gonna win some, you’re gonna lose some. That’s the name of the game. Take it or leave it.” It’s refreshing, really. Good on you, Mr. Hit or Miss, for putting the truth out there. No pretenses. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more commercial establishments followed this policy of honesty? The glitzy designer store could call itself “Le Rip Off”, the auto mechanic could call himself “No Idea Repair Works”, the private clinic could be “More Expensive Tests Hospital” and so on.

I applaud you, sir, and the next time I want to get something stitched with an uncertain outcome, you’ll be my first choice.


Filed under Humour, Madras

Toddler Talk: No! Nooooo! NononoNO!

To preserve the sanity of parents everywhere, I propose the creation of ‘Say No to Your Toddler Day’
It’s been one of those days. Since she woke up this morning, my daughter has said ‘No!’ to:

- Brushing her teeth

- Taking off her diaper. Putting on her diaper.

- Putting on underwear. Taking off her underwear.

- Pooping on the potty. Not pooping in the potty.

- Eating breakfast.

- Eating lunch.

- Eating dinner.

- Drinking water. Drinking milk.

- Wiping her face. Wiping her hands. Wiping her nose.

- Having a bath. Wiping herself dry after the bath.

- Putting on her clothes. Taking off her clothes. Putting on hair clips. Taking off hair clips. Putting on shoes. Taking off shoes.

- Combing her hair. Tying up her hair.

- Taking a nap. Sleeping at night. Especially sleeping at night.

(She also almost said no to cartoons, but caught herself just in time).

The nos range from ladylike and British-accented (thanks to the very propah ‘Peppa Pig’, her current cartoon muse) to loud and guttural (“Noaa!”), from a long-drawn out “Noooooo” for moments of greater stress, and the very emphatic “NononoNO!” for those times when she’s really upset and just one ‘No’ won’t do (like when she has to be parted from some hopelessly dreadful Hello Kitty toy in the store or Peppa Pig needs to go beddy-bye).

What really gets to you is the sheer irrationality behind the nos. Not wanting to take a bath or to eat idli you can kind of understand. But during the Terrible Twos, your toddler will say no even to things she’s apparently wanted for months. My daughter, for instance, had been asking for ‘new red shoes’ for ages. It came up every time we dressed up or went to a store. So finally, on a day when I was feeling particularly kind and magnanimous, I took her to a shoe shop.

“Look, red shoes! Do you like them?” I said smugly, expecting ‘wows’ and hugs and excitement.

What I got instead was a big fat “No!”

Fifteen minutes later, we’d pulled out every red shoe her size in the store, and she refused to put her foot into even one of them. “Noooooo! NononoNO!”

I was harassed, the shoe salesman was annoyed and the other customers were thoroughly amused. When the salesman turned away to talk to someone else, I slunk quietly out of the shop, carrying my barefooted daughter, who was now refusing to put on the old shoes she’d worn to the shop.

And so, in honour of parents everywhere who have survived days like this, I propose the creation of “Say No to Your Toddler Day”. You might say, well, parents say no all the time. Ah, but those are sensible nos, when you’re trying to stop your toddler from eating plastic beads or Play-Doh, or preventing them from painting the sofa red or ‘flying’ off the dining room table. Those are tiresome, tiring everyday nos, which lead to frustration and a strong desire to burst into tears on your part.

What I propose is more radical. On this special day, you, the parent, get to be utterly irrational. On “Say No to Your Toddler Day”, you can say no to any random thing you want, anytime. In other words, for a day, you get to be two again. For instance:

Toddler: Peppa Pig!

You: No!

Toddler: Dora!

You: Nooooo!

Toddler: Barney!

You: NononoNO!

(and so on)

It can even have the unintended side effect of making a truly contrary toddler do whatever you want her to. For example:

You: No banana today. No! No! No!

Toddler: Banana!

You: Nooooo!

Toddler: I want banana!

You: NonononNO!

Toddler: Bananaaaaaaaaa!

If you feel a day of such randomness on the part of a parent will be detrimental to the delicate psyche of your toddler, you can ensure that there’s another primary care provider around to actually do the feeding and clothing etc. of the toddler. And you can go around saying no to the adults in your life, which can be just as satisfying.

Significant Other: What’s for dinner?

You: No! NononoNO!

All in favour of ‘Say No to Your Toddler Day’ say NO!


-You need to practice those nos. No more sounding like a stern parent. Feel the joy of being utterly irrational and let that “NO!” rip.

-Go for the ‘no’ length and style most natural to you. That will allow you to clock in more nos a day.

-Shoot for about 58.2 nos a day (a typical toddler average). As you get better at it, you can increase the number.

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


Filed under Family, Humour, MetroPlus Articles, Motherhood, Toddler Talk column

Miscellaneous Toddlerisms – Part II

1. Granddad: Where are your bangles?

Disha: I don’t have my bangles. *pause* I only have my arm.

2. The Fairy Tale Effect

Me: Disha! Please sit down!

Disha: Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!

3. The Dora Effect

Disha (standing in front of a shut door): Abre! abre!



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Miscellaneous toddlerisms

baby doll

Impossible toddler goals-

1) Disha: Amma, I want to lie down on my lap.
Me: You mean you want to lie down on amma’s lap?
Disha (bending over and twisting her head onto her knee): No! I want to lie on Dishi’s lap!

2) Wanting to sleep on six-inch long dolly beds, and coveting her baby doll’s clothes and shoes (“I want! I want!”)

Accurate toddler misinterpretations:

1) Me (being pretentious): Excuse-moi
Disha (cheerfully): Excuse amma!

2) Me: Let’s go to the library, Dishi
Disha: I love going to the libraread!

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Thank you for the music… Not

‘Donna donna’ — Joan Baez at her soulful best. It’s a melancholy but melodious Yiddish theatre song about a calf being led to slaughter, its lyrics filled with solemn symbolism.

Not exactly what you’d call a children’s song.

But some folks in Chinese toyland thought differently:

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. That is what they did to ‘Donna donna’ (please don’t miss the electronic barnyard chirps in between). What I really want to know is, why? What was the thought process here? Why this particular song instead of, say a ‘Baa baa blacksheep’ or even a ‘My bonnie lies over the ocean’?

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there was some sort of American folk music bias in the song selection. So what were the companion pieces, you ask? Some Dylan, some Simon & Garfunkel, maybe some Joni Mitchell? Nope. Pressing each successive button (green and fish shaped, please note) was an adventure in musical randomness. What followed in tinny, cacophonous succession was: ‘Polly put the kettle on’, ‘Jingle bells’, ’12 days of Christmas’, ‘Oh Susanna’ and oh yes, not to forget Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (I’d upload that too, but it’s just too heartbreaking).

Of these, ‘Donna donna’ was the hardest to figure out (it was the most mangled by far) and if it wasn’t for one of those Android apps that name a tune for you when you hum it, we wouldn’t have figured it out at all. It was the husband’s brilliant idea, and so, to the daughter’s increasing annoyance, mummy and daddy sat hunched over her (usually unpopular) toy, playing the tune over and over, and then humming it into daddy’s phone. Not our finest hour as parents, but the sense of elation we felt once we’d placed the song made it all worthwhile. As we played ‘Donna donna’ on youtube, it was as though, finally, one of life’s mysteries had been solved. A puzzle piece fallen into place. Things made sense again. As we high-fived and the daughter whined, it seemed we would prevail over the diabolical designers in Chinese toyland.

But, alas, it was not to be. Fired up by our success, we tried, tried, and tried again to place the last two unidentified, elusive green-fish button songs. But they were just so tuneless, so utterly random, that even the musical app finally threw up its hands in despair and crashed. It really gave its all first though… it suggested everything from classical pieces to Spanish dance songs. But we had to admit defeat at last. Whatever technological strides man makes, some mysteries must remain. It is the way of the world (and really crappy toys).

(Just out of curiosity — can you, dear readers, do better than the app? Can you figure out what these dratted tunes are? The husband and I would be very grateful):

Edited to add: Woohoo! My 100th post on this blog! :)

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