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

Leave a comment

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

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…

 

2 Comments

Filed under Family, Humour, Motherhood

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. 

4 Comments

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

Ganesh Chaturthi Conversations with the Daughter

Mmmm kozhukattais

Me: Look, kozhukattais! It’s Pillaiyar umachi‘s favourite food.

D: Will he eat it, amma?

Me: Yes! And then you can eat some too.

D: But I’m not an umachi!

***

Me: Today is Pillaiyar umachi‘s birthday, so we’re going to visit him at the temple.

D (thinks for a minute): How old is he?

Me (stumped): Uhm… I don’t know, baby. Thousands of years old.

D (firmly): No, I think he’s four or five years old.

Me : You’re right, you’re right.

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, Humour, Madras, Motherhood

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?

Tips:

  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.

Leave a comment

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

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!

2 Comments

Filed under Family, Humour

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.

4 Comments

Filed under Humour, Madras