Category Archives: Toddler Talk column

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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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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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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Toddler Talk: Those three little words

When your toddler first says she loves you…

Warning: Today’s column is going to get seriously mushy. I mean it. If that’s not your cup of tea, turn and run, run fast!

To those of you still reading, this one is all about feeling the toddler love. Yes, toddlers are a handful – they can be exhausting, infuriating, and naughty as heck. But they have a way of making it all worthwhile. A sticky kiss on the cheek from your little one can make the rainiest day feel all sunshine-y. And a heartfelt toddler-huggie (as opposed to the “okay, let’s get this over with” perfunctory lean-in version) is the world’s number one stress-buster. It may last for all of 0.25 seconds (before the kid squirms out of your grasp and runs off), but it’s the warmest, most wonderful 0.25 seconds ever.

But nothing makes the parental heart melt quite like the first time your toddler says those three little words to you – “I love you”. Sure, it was super special when your high school crush or your significant other said it; your heart beat faster, violins played in the background and Cupids frolicked overhead. But for sheer tear-inducing, heart-breaking sweetness, nothing beats a toddler proclamation of love.

The thing is, you’ve been in love with this little person right from the start. As every mom knows, there’s that one moment when you fall intensely, irrevocably in love with your newborn, that moment which makes you go, “Oh, that’s what they were talking about!” about all the things you’ve ever heard of a mother’s unconditional love. It might happen the moment you first set eyes on your baby at the hospital, or as in my case, a couple of weeks later, at 3 a.m., when I just sitting on the couch, holding her in my arms. I remember looking into her eyes and feeling overwhelmed by the emotion, and, in my sleep-deprived, incoherent state, struggling to express it while crying the whole time. Not my finest moment of communication, but there it is.

Over the next few months, you say it again and again – “love you, baby!” – and all you get in response is a “babababa” or a coo, or if you’re really lucky, a grimace that might be a smile (or more likely, gas). Then, one day, you say it, and you get a proper response. My daughter was around one then, and she said something that sounded like, “Happy amma!” I didn’t even realise that she was trying to say “I love you, amma” until it happened a few more times. And then I just turned into a teary-eyed mess, a big puddle of goo, because, gosh, I really was the happiest amma in the whole world. (To put this in context, she’d only started saying, ‘amma’ a few weeks before. I was last on the list; she’d learnt to even say ‘paati’ and ‘thatha’ before she deigned to say ‘amma’).

When she was one-and-a-half, I had another heart-melting moment when she started saying “Lubee amma!” I missed “happy amma” a bit, but I’d take “lubee” any day. In fact, everyone in the family dispensed with ‘love you’ and went around saying ‘lubee!’ to one another. By the time she was two, she was able to say “love you” (naturally, I turned to goo. Again). In this phase, she’d just say, “love you too, amma” (whether or not I’d said “love you” first) because, obviously, the fact that I loved her was a given (duh).

Fast-forward a year, and the novelty had mostly worn off. I mean, I still felt wonderful every time she said it, but I no longer turned into a weepy puddle of happiness. Then recently one morning, we were playing together, and she stopped, looked up at me, and said solemnly, “I love you, amma.” Just like that. My heart swelled till it felt like it would burst, and I was all choked up as I said to her, “I love you too, baby.” I was no longer the sleep-deprived new mom I’d been that night at 3 a.m., but the intensity of emotion was still the same. Those three little words pack quite a punch.

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

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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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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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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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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.

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