Farewell to ‘Toddler Talk’

A little over a year ago, when I started doing this column, my daughter was two and a half, and in the throes of full-blown Terrible Twos.

It’s been an eventful year since, a year in which she has transitioned (amidst a whole lot of hand-wringing and soul-searching on my part) from preschool to LKG at her ‘big-girl’ school. Along the way, she got potty-trained (hang in there moms-of-young-toddlers, it does happen… eventually), learned to go to school without amma for a few hours (I think amma was more stressed about it than she was, on the whole) and outgrew a whole bunch of clothes I’d spent way too much on. The toughest part was the constant illnesses (since germs are pretty much all they pick up in preschool). But it was all worth it to watch as she left babyhood behind step by step, and turned, somewhere along the way, into this little chatterbox who talks/asks questions 24/7 and has her own, very colourful take on the world around her.

Some things, of course, haven’t changed. We still negotiate (toddler style) on everything from bath time to the clothes to be worn after bath time, the food she (barely) eats to the number of cartoons she’s allowed to watch (far too many, but clearly she doesn’t think so), all day long. Barney and Dora have been phased out, but Peppa Pig still reigns supreme. The tantrums and melt-downs are fewer, but no less spectacularly dramatic when they do occur. We’re still co-sleeping, and I still wake up in the mornings to find a toddler elbow or knee wedged into the region of my right kidney (so much for her much celebrated transition from crib to ‘big-girl bed’). And, of course, my life is still filled to the brim with too many toys, and too many loud and badly-sung nursery rhymes (‘Finger Family’ in bhangra style, anyone?), courtesy Youtube.

Through it all, I’ve remained the epitome of the over-anxious first time mom, reading too many parenting articles online and generally making myself crazy over every parenting decision, from vaccines to hair-cuts to schools. Writing this column was the best possible therapy I could have asked for. It helped me laugh about that things that might have had me in tears otherwise, and more importantly, it gave me a way to reach out and talk about the general craziness involved in raising this generation of toddlers with others who’re in the same boat. Thanks to ‘Toddler Talk’, I’ve spoken to and heard from so many moms and dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles who have similar stories to share regarding the toddlers in their lives. It’s been a wonderfully cathartic experience – nothing is better than realising you’re not alone in your imperfections, especially as a stay-at-home-mom who spends too much time over-thinking everything child-related.

Now as my daughter gets ready to outgrow toddlerhood, it’s time for me to bid goodbye to ‘Toddler Talk’. It’s been a fun ride sharing my parenting experiences with you all in the past year. To those of you still battling on in the toddler-parenting trenches, dealing with the terrible twos or threenager battles of will, hang in there. It does get better (or so I’ve heard). And then we get a breather of a whole decade until the teenage years.

In between the battles, don’t forget to enjoy your little munchkin. Because as much as we complain, the truth is that life would be very boring indeed without these frustrating yet adorable little people in it, with their big personalities and bigger hearts, their endless enthusiasms and energy.

And to toddlers at large – I know you sometimes got a bad rap in this column. But I hope we can let bygones be bygones. You know I love you guys!

This article originally appeared in The Hindu MetroPlus.

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Tough Toddler Question Session

D: Amma, where do dinosaurs live?
Me: They’re not alive anymore, baby. They’re gone.
D: But where have they gone?
Me (stumped): Uhm…
D: Have they gone to a hot beach?
Me: No, no, baby, they’re not on a beach. They’re… they’re not anywhere on Earth.
D: Then where are they?
Me (completely at a loss): Uhmm… (Suddenly struck by inspiration) They’ve become fossils! You remember those dinosaur bones and fossils we saw? That is where they are… they’ve become bones and fossils in the ground.
D (thoughtfully): Ohh.
Me: *feeling pleased with myself*
D (after a few moments): But how did they become fossils, amma?
Me (heart sinking): Uhmm… (hyperventilating because I’m heading into dark territory) that happens when… when they… when they’re not alive any more.
D: What does alived mean, amma?
Me (totally out of my depth now): Uhm… it’s when you can walk and run and talk and everything.
D (thoughtfully): Oh. Is teddy biddy alived?
Me (relieved to have a question I can actually answer): No, darling. See how he can’t talk or move by himself?
D (hugging teddy): I think teddy is better than being alived. He’s better for hugging because he’s cuddly!
Me: *phew* Yes baby, he is!

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Toddler Talk: I’m the parent of a pint-sized drama queen

That moment when you realise you’re living with a threenager…

A friend recently introduced me to the term ‘threenager’. It was a bit of an ‘Aha!’ moment for me. You see, no one had prepared me for the sheer drama that enters the household once your toddler turns three. Terrible twos and tantrums, sure. But this was a whole other ballgame. My kid, more often than not, was acting like she was three going on thirteen. What was going on? Well, now I had my answer: I was living with a threenager.

My first inkling of the fact came one night when the two of us had a showdown over something relatively minor (I wanted her to drink her milk. She didn’t want to.) What began as a typical toddler “Nononono!” type argument mutated and I was suddenly faced with a pouting threenager who informed me that she “didn’t like it here” and that she was going to “go away” all by herself to her grandma’s house. She even set off determinedly, clutching her dolly, and was only deterred by the fact that she couldn’t reach or unlock the front door by herself. Nevertheless, she folded her arms, averted her face and refused to talk to me for the rest of the night.

Since then, there have been declarations of, “I don’t like you, amma!”, and outbursts of “Everyone’s cheating me!” in over-the-top mega serial style (I don’t even watch that stuff… where’s she picking it up from?). We’ve even had that teenage staple cry of “It’s not FAIR!” with me shooting something back like, “Life’s not fair, kid, deal with it,” before remembering that I’m talking to a three-year-old. A three-year-old. I didn’t think I’d be hearing this stuff or dealing with it for another decade or so.But then I started thinking about it, and I realised that three-year-olds and thirteen-year-olds actually have a lot in common. One’s on the cusp of childhood, outgrowing babyhood rapidly. The other’s on the cusp of adulthood, outgrowing childhood. They want to do everything all by themselves, their way (clothes, food, you name it). Except, when they don’t. They’re dealing with this whole new world of big feelings. They feel deeply wronged against because they can’t do all the stuff adults do yet (stay up late, drink coffee, drive cars, wear make-up) and they have the vocabulary to express it. Strongly. The thing that makes teens tougher to handle, of course, are all those hormones coursing through their brains, wreaking havoc with their emotions. But I’m starting to suspect that if you studied three-year-olds closely, you’d find pip-squeak versions of those hormones swimming about in their little noggins too.

The other major difference is size and cuteness. You can physically pick up your pint-sized drama queen and prevent her from running out the front gate in a fit of pique (and I’ve had to do it too) but you can’t do that with an angry 13-year-old. Well, you could, but it would require significantly more upper-body strength. And – I mean no offence whatsoever to teenagers the world over here – I have to say that three-year-olds get away with a whole lot more just by virtue of still being cute little munchkins. A threenager throwing a hissy fit and declaring that “no one likes me!” – is kind of adorable, and more likely to get cuddled and reassured. A teenager doing the same – is more likely to get sent to her room. Unfair, but then, you 13-year- olds already knew that, right?

So, upon further consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that the threenager phase is nature’s way of preparing parents for what lies ahead. Like giving you a tiny, toy-version of a gizmo to practise on before taking on the scarier, full-sized version in the future. And helping you to enjoy and treasure the (relatively) drama-free childhood years all the more. This way, when your kid hits the teen years, you’re not completely untried. You’ve had the trial run, a significant cooling off period, and now you’re good to go.

That’s my theory, anyway. I guess it’ll be verified in, oh, a decade or so.

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

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Five things that happen when you go out without your toddler

1. You re-discover the joy of walking in long, adult-sized strides without having a pint-sized person’s pace slowing you down every step of the way. And you can actually stop and look at whatever you want to! Clothes! Interesting people! Books! You even get to look at yourself in the occasional mirror and realise to your horror that you forgot completely to comb your hair before you left home.

2. You can walk past toy-stores or shelves filled with colourful trinkets or candy without dread striking your heart and without having to engage in a passionate, 15 minute argument with a three year old as to the merits of the fluorescent pink toy camel she really, really wants. Of course, you end up hovering around the store indecisively anyway, torn between wanting to pick up a little something for the kid, and not wanting to add any more to the already enormous pile of junk in your home…

3. You can walk down the street without having to stop to point out and discuss in depth the double-decker buses, cute pets, pretty flowers, and irregularly shaped reflections and shadows you pass along the way. Unfortunately, you find yourself noticing them anyway and longing to point them out to someone.

4. You can unthinkingly jab lift buttons without having to worry about a little person having a meltdown and yelling, “Nooooo! Meeee! I want to press!” You can also actually make the choice of whether you want to take the lift or the stairs, and do either in complete zoned out silence without having to make eye contact or conversation with another person for a change.

5. You come home and get the world’s most wonderful welcome from a little person who makes you feel like the centre of their universe. Perfect ending to the perfect outing! Though maybe you should have picked up that pink camel for her after all…

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Toddler Talk: A letter to my toddler

Today, after a very long time, you had tears in your eyes when I dropped you off at preschool. You didn’t even throw a tantrum, just clung to me with huge tears rolling down your cheek. It broke my heart. I’d watched another mom dealing with the same thing just the other day. I saw her face as she walked away after her toddler was taken inside crying, and I knew she was hurting. It was probably worse for her, because I know she goes to work, and wouldn’t be back until later in the evening to pick her child up. I know those tears will linger in her mind, even as she deals with the tasks of her work day.

I want to tell you, though, that I understand. Today, somehow, I didn’t get frazzled or worked up that you were crying. Instead, my mind flashed back some 20-odd years, and I remembered how I felt as a small child, watching my mother drop me off and leave. Suddenly, school or wherever you are at that time feels like an alien territory because it’s bereft of the person who is the centre of your existence. I get it. In fact, I remembered that I hated that feeling so much that I never wanted my parents to drop me in school. I always preferred to go by bus, filled with my noisy friends, because that way, I would be directly plunged into the school day and not have to ‘part’ with my parents at the gate.

I also want to tell you how much I wish that you didn’t have to feel these difficult emotions. I wish I could protect you from all of it. There are so many more you’ll have to deal with as you get older… hurt, betrayal, bitter disappointments, intense fear, pain, anger you won’t know how to handle. I wish I could protect you the way I did when you were inside me. But I can’t. You live in this world, and you have to deal with its vagaries, its realities, and yes, its cruelties. I’ll do my very best to give you the tools to deal with the things to come, and when that’s not enough, I want you to know that you can always come to me to talk or rant or cry or even just hug.

Right now, you’re somewhere on the cusp between babyhood and childhood. Sometimes you look and talk so much like a ‘big girl’, I forget you’re still just little more than a baby. Then on days like this or on nights when you throw a tantrum over nothing, I remember it again. I realise that you’re a little person dealing with big emotions, stuff that even adults struggle with. I’ve lived in this world 30-odd years and I still have emotional blow-outs when I’m exhausted or facing a problem I haven’t dealt with before. How can I expect you to handle things perfectly on little over three years of lived experience? It might seem irrational to me that you’re crying over being without me for a couple of hours, but I will try and remember it feels like a big deal to you. I won’t say, “Don’t be silly!” or “Big girls don’t cry!” or “It’s just for a few hours!” I’ll try and understand, and I’ll give you a hug and a kiss and wipe your tears.

But I’ll still muster up a cheerful smile and wave and walk away. I’ll do that because I believe you have the ability to cope with whatever you’re feeling. I’ll do it because I know we can always talk about it at night, like that time you told me you were having a ‘funny feeling’ and we realised that you were feeling scared of that strangely shaped shadow in the bedroom. I’ll do it because as much as I wish I could just hold you in my arms and shield you against everything difficult and painful, I know that I can’t. I’ll do it because I love you, and am doing the best I can for you, the best way I know how.

I just wanted you to know that.

Love,

Amma

‘Toddler Talk’ is a weekly column published in The Hindu Metroplus. This article originally appeared here titled ‘To baby, with love’.  

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It really bothers me that…

Oh look. The penguin needs a life jacket too. *facepalm*

Oswald the Octopus can’t swim and needs a floatie in the water. Because, hello! He’s an octopus. Granted he’s blue and wears a little black hat and sounds like Fred Savage and has a dog that’s literally a hot dog with a tail. And, yes, I get that he’s teaching little kids about water safety yada yada. But, y’know, even a three year old can grasp the concept that an octopus is different from a person, and doesn’t need help swimming in the water since that’s where octopuses live. Also, must he look both directions five times before he crosses the road, every single time? And so s-l-o-w-l-y too? Again, I get it. Teaching safety, etc. But talk about disrupting the dramatic momentum of the narrative. Yeesh.

… Max and Ruby is apparently a cartoon about two little orphaned rabbits. Seriously, where are the fricking parents? They’re not referenced once, not even in passing. At least in Charlie and Lola and Stella and Sam, the kids talk about their parents even if they never appear on screen. That’s fine. I get it. Parents are boring. These shows are all about siblings relationships. But Max and Ruby is just freaky — two small kids apparently living alone in a large, over-furnished, hideously upholstered house. No wonder Ruby’s an over-controlling, OCD mess and Max speaks in monosyllables. Not to mention that monumentally useless grandma of theirs who drops in for tea and ice-cream and then vamooses, leaving Ruby to cope all alone. And as if all her duties of feeding, bathing and cleaning up after Max weren’t enough, Ruby also takes on babysitting jobs, watching other little rabbits whose parents, ironically enough, are very much  present and accounted for. I tell you, that Ruby is heading for a nervous breakdown.

every building in the Peppa Pig universe is perched precariously on top of a ridiculously steep hill. I mean, why? What purpose could that possibly serve? Imagine the strain on the brakes on all the vehicles, since they need to park constantly on the almost vertical slopes of said hills. Not to mention the hazards of having little kids like George running down these slopes. And don’t even get me started on the stupid sloping gardens on the sides of the hills. They should just switch to terraced gardening or something.

Look ma! Flying pups and fancy mission towers!

… a ten-year-old boy in Paw Patrol apparently has endless income, access to fancy vehicles (including hovercrafts, helicopters and ATVs), and high-end electronic  systems, not to mention a ridiculously ostentatious tower with a glass-enclosed elevator and giant computer screens, used solely for discussing his ‘rescue missions’ with his pups. Why doesn’t anyone find it creepy that this kid, who apparently has no family, lives with a bunch of pups? What’s his source of income? How is it legal for him to be driving any vehicle on the roads (let alone his hi-funda All Terrain Vehical)? And why does Adventure Bay have absolutely no policemen or firemen or rescue personnel apart from the weird millionaire boy and his talking pups?

… cartoons such as The Hive  and Ben and Holly turn fleas and ladybirds into ‘dogs’, complete with the panting and barking and stick-fetching behaviours. Repeat after me, cartoon makers: fleas and ladybirds are NOT dogs. They’re bugs. As such, they behave like bugs. They don’t bark. They don’t play fetch. Not every pet needs to be canine-esque. Get over it, seriously.

Yes. I know. I need to get a life.

I’ll let you know when I do. Until then… stop using a floatie in the water, Oswald!

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Thirty years of Nutella Lovin’

Before

After

I was a Nutella fan long before people were talking about being Nutella fans. Long before World Nutella Day or online fan sites for Nutella or even, really, the internet as we know it today existed. (That’s right, I’m ooold.)

Growing up in the Middle East in the 80s, I lived in an apartment building with a supermarket on the ground floor. My parents, who were perennially on some diet or the other, gave me money to buy myself small treats from the store, and the only rule was that I not bring any home (so as to not tempt them, see?).

One of my favourite treats, naturally, was Nutella. It came in these tiny trays, with a spoon/spreader attached. I still remember the joy of peeling open the little tray carefully — the crinkly sound the cover made, the way the chocolate looked oh-so-smooth and perfect underneath — and the joy of dipping the tiny, white, plastic spoon inside and scooping out the first delightful bit. It would be done in a few mouthfuls, and then all that remained was the pleasure of licking every single bit of the tray, the spoon and the inner portion of the cover clean. Sigh. It was never enough, the amount in those trays. I’d always be left longing for more, but I could only buy one at a time. And, in some ways, I think that added to the thrill of it all. Like a true addict, I’d be left longing for my next hit…

Since we never, ever bought jars of Nutella for the house in those days (see: parental diets), I didn’t even knew until I was older that it was supposed to be spread on bread or toast or whatever. To me, Nutella was a liquid, molten chocolate treat to be licked up in bliss rather than chewed or crunched on like other candies. The idea of actually spreading it on something seemed alien to me. Wrong, somehow. That feeling persists to this day. For me, putting Nutella on something else dilutes the sensory thrill of feeling its smooth, chocolatey, hazelnut-y goodness on your tongue.  There are often jars of Nutella in my house (I’m not even remotely as controlled as my parents were) but it’s never, ever spread on anything. It’s just eaten straight from the jar, spoonful after sinful spoonful. Mmmmmm.

About a decade or so ago, on a flight from India to London (I was on my way to the U.S. where I was studying at that time), I met a delightful old Italian gentleman. He was small, white-haired, cultured and so very sweet-natured. I took to him immediately and we swapped life stories. It turned out that he worked for Ferrero, the Italian chocolate giant that makes Nutella. He’d been with the company from when he was a boy of 17 or 18, he told me, and had worked his way up. Now, he was helping the company transition into the Indian market. The problem they needed to sort out was how to package their famous Ferrero Rocher chocolates, he said, in such a way that they stay fresh and don’t melt in Indian conditions. He told me about the acres and acres of hazelnut fields the company owns… it was fascinating. When I told him about my love for Nutella, he immediately called the stewardess over and told her she must bring me some for my toast (we were being served breakfast then, I think)! It was the cutest thing. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was feeling rather sick (after the oily Asian veg meal I’d consumed at some random hour of the night), and dutifully took it. One doesn’t turn down Nutella, after all. Of course, I didn’t actually spread it on the toast… I remember asking him when Nutella would enter the Indian market and he said, at that time, that he wasn’t sure. They were still testing the waters.

Well, it’s here now, and in a big way. TV ads, the works. Even our neighbourhood potti kadai in Chennai, Kumaran Stores, has it — large jar, medium jar, small jar, and of course, those tiny trays I remember so well from childhood. I buy it from him more often than I should, eating my way through big, medium or small jar depending on the size of the craving or mood swing. As always, I enter a blissed-out state when there’s Nutella in my hands. I close my eyes and become one with the jar. I always try and make sure I’m alone so I can truly enjoy the moment. Then pull off that gold-foil covering, revel in the sight of all that gorgeous, smooth chocolate waiting to be eaten, and then dip the spoon in for that first mouthful. The pleasure is still the same as it was nearly 30 years ago. Molten perfection. Mmmmm.

It’s that texture — never grainy or rough–, that delicate hazelnut flavour, that just-right sweetness, the just-right meltiness… the combination of all that makes eating Nutella a chocolate lover’s idea of Nirvana. Recently I introduced my toddler to Nutella… not on bread or anything, of course, but straight out of the tiny tray. She loved it, and licked it up to the last, tiny bit. Life had come a full circle. Nutella-loving, obviously, is passed on from mother to daughter :)

Happy World Nutella Day!

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