Nurture Shock – Why Everything We Think About Raising Our Children is Wrong (Part 2 of 2)

(Part 2 of 2)

The Science of Teen Rebellion

Nancy Darling and Linda Caldwell from Penn State University conducted a survey among high schoolers. The topic was called “leisure time” which is something that the teens involve themselves in without their parents or any other adult supervision. Darling seems to remark that “when they are bored and don’t know what else to do getting drunk makes everything else very interesting”. Out of the 36 controversial topics that they asked of which 12 of them were something that they lied frequently. They lie about how they spend their allowance, their sex life, what clothes they wear outside home, which movie they go to and with whom. They also lie about alcohol and drug usage and how they spend their time in the afternoons when they are not supervised. Darling found out that 96% of the kids lied to their parents on these issues. They rarely outrightly lie sometimes to save them, but most of the time its providing them with half truths. Telling them only half the stories. Upon investigating the teens mentality many seemed to think that they lie only because they want to protect their relationship with their parents, they didn’t want their parents to be disappointed in them.

Some of the parents of these kids know that they are not getting to hear the truths so they begin to be permissive parents and avoid setting out rules. Darling and her team suggest that such parents don’t get to know any more. Infact the kids begin to see them as irresponsible and think of them as not caring for them and that “they hate the job of being a parent”. According to a Harris poll 78% of the parents think that their kids can talk to them about anything, however the kids disagree to that. From a teen’s perspective asking for help from the parent is an outright admission to not being able to handle the issue by themselves.

The kind of parents who enforce few rules consistently are the most effective. They seem to be more approachable and when they set the rules they explain the reasons behind them too. The kids may not entirely disclose everything but they have very few issues that they hide.

Can self control be taught?

In schools kids are subjected to many “well-meaning” training programs. Even though the school takes it on their onus to produce responsible citizens, they are not even merely effective. The teachers, administrators and parents love such programs but it hardly scratches the surface. Only a very few children seem to be have gained from it and long term improvement is even rarer.

This book talks about this amazing curriculum program called Tools of the Mind for pre-kindergarten and preschool kids. The teachers do things a bit differently in this program. The children make their own play plans. The teachers don’t actively interfere but nudge them when they get distracted. When children are given the authority to make their own play plans you are handling them maturely and it will sustain for a longer period of time.

According to Dr. Silvia Bunge, a neuroscientist at University of California Berkley, child’s regulation of focus is a kind of cognitive control. She researches a region called the rostral lateral prefrontal cortex in the brain. This is the part that is responsible to maintain concentration and setting goals. So when kids are given the authority to make plans for their play time they are actually developing towards making this region stronger. Cognitive control she says is something that the brain needs when it has to manipulate information, conserve memory and evaluate options. It also manages the process of getting bored or irritable because of lack of interest or anger.

Hence allowing freedom for kids to make their own decisions and not read instruction manuals on how to eat, when to sleep, what to do at what times gives them a chance to learn by themselves.

Why Hannah talks and Alyssa doesn’t?

This is a shocking finding and one of my favorite statistics that I love to throw at new parents. In November 2007, a journal called Pediatrics published a report by University of Washington which was about the so-called baby videos like Baby Einstein, Brainy Babies, etc. It was found that infants who watched them had a remarkably low vocabulary than those who had not. This report was like a slap on the face of the $4.8 Billion (annually) industry. Another research team started working on the efficacy of this report and called on hundreds of families who strap their babies in front of these DVDs. The parents were asked to complete a survey to figure out if this is making difference. They made a list of 89 common words that babies are known to know at this age. After they studied the responses they found out that every one hour of baby video watching every day the babies knew lesser 8 words of 89 words. For a typical 11 month old baby that might be 16 lesser words, might not be a big deficit but at that age every single word empowers them to express themselves precisely and clearly in the world surround by adults.

This is why language learning can not be delegated to watching DVDs. Majority of the times they learn to speak by lip reading. How a word ends and other begins is learnt by closely watching how the mouth and lips move. They learn also by the interactions that they have with the adults. In one study two kids of 9 months of age and same level of understanding, Hannah and Alyssa were compared in relations to their acquisition of language. Hannah’s mother rarely missed any opportunity to responded to her cues. She would constantly talk to her about the world around while she is walking down the road or shopping. While Alyssa’s mom did less than half. Hannah’s mom responded 85% of the time while Alyssa’s mom did so only 55% of the time. By the time they were 18 months Alyssa added on 8 new words while Hannah added a phenomenal 150 words to her vocabulary.

I have tried to gather all the key statistics and findings that I gathered while I read this book. While this book is much more than what I have described. It certainly is a revealing fact and an astounding find.

Nurture Shock – Why Everything We Think about Raising our Children is Wrong (Part 1 of 2)

This is a book by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman first published in 2009.

Nurture Shock

This term simply means the state of panic that the new age parents have found themselves in. This new generation of parents have kept their instinctual knowledge and natural behaviours at bay. They are looking to tap into abode of knowledge that is prescribed in baby books and parenting manuals.

Nurture shock puts cold water on your face if you are one such parent. This book covers a wide range of topics from “brain fibre to moral fibre” and it is about children from toddlers to teenagers. There are specific chapters devoted to the importance of sleep, how praising is devastating, why children lie, the acquisition of language, learning self-control, aggression, gratitude and intelligence.

Why kids lie?

Dr. Victoria Talwar is one of the leading experts on children’s lying behaviour, has conducted various tests on children to understand their motivation to lie. She says that its the parents who corner them and give them no other option but to lie, they tended to test their honesty unnecessarily. She figured that talking more about lying and its ill effects is actually not helping in the outcome. 96% to 98% kids admit that they is immoral but 96% of them admit to have lied to their parents. Lying has been the most talked about topic in school and on the sports ground. In one of her tests she asked 5 yr olds if they thought lies were wrong, of which 92% agreed. Upon asking why they thought it was bad they all said that lying gets you punishment.

So they associate the two together in a way and think that they need to mitigate the risk of being punished when they lie. It takes years for them to understand the repercussions of lying in a social relationship context. Researchers found that kids who are under constant threat of being punished don’t lie less, infact they become good liars at an earlier age.

Talwar goes on to explain that its not actually being truthful that is challenging. Infact to lie one has to understand the truth and cook up or creatively weave an alternate scenario that is not far from truth but is believable. This kind of skill is simply not required if you have to say the truth. So she calls this as a “developmental milestone”!

The inverse power of praise

It might seem counter intuitive but when you read the logic behind is unbeatable. Parents praise their kids habitually some praise at every chance they get. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85% of Amercian parents think that its important to tell their kids that they are smart. These kids then are showered with compliments for almost every finger they move, ofcourse the right way. They are made to believe that they are innately great and they have it all. But a new study of the New York City public School system reveals a rather shocking reality. This study strongly suggests that by naming kids that they are smart you are actually not preventing them from underperforming but this might be actually causing it.

Dr. Carol Dweck is a faculty at Stanford University who is conducting a study on 400 fifth graders. Randomly the kids were divided into two groups. One group was praised for their intelligence and one group was praised for their efforts. The groups were given tests in two rounds. They were told their scores after the first round and one group was praised for their smartness, “Oh you are so smart!” the research assistants would tell them. The other group were also told their scores and appreciated like, “You must have really worked hard for this.” Then both the groups were given their 2nd rounds of tests. In this round they were given the choice for opting for a harder test than the previous one. Kids who were appreciated for the efforts that they have put 90% of them took the harder test. Majority of the kids who were praised for their smartness took the easy way out. Results of this test were even more amazing. The kids who were praised for their efforts did 30% percent better than their previous test and the ones who were praised for their smartness fell behind their performances by 20%.

Kids who are told that they are smart don’t know the reasons for their success, they just think that they have it in them and don’t put out the efforts. On the contrary if you praise their efforts they tend to think that the parameters of success is in their control. This effect of blinded praise effects every socioeconomic class and equally with boys and girls.

The common notion is that praising boosts the self esteem of children which is the key to successful performance. After reviewing some 200 studies from 1970 to 2000, Dr. Roy Baumeister from the Association for Psychological Science concluded that high self esteem didn’t improve grades, career advancement, any reduction in alcohol usage, and especially did not lower any violence.  Infact highly aggressive and violent people think very highly of themselves.

Dweck and her team says that to be effective, praise has to be specific and also sincere. Most common mistakes that parents make is that they praise only when they see things going their way. Children above the age of seven can scrutinize and figure out if the given praise is hollow or sincere.

The lost hour

Children globally in this age are getting one hour of sleep lesser than that they were getting about 30 years ago. 90% of American parents think their kids get enough sleep. Contradicting to 60% of kids in high school complain of extreme sleepiness in classrooms, where 25-33% of kids fall asleep during the class once in a week. Shockingly only 5% of high schoolers get on an average of 8 hrs of sleep. Majority of them get around 6.5 hrs of sleep.

Lack of adequate sleep impairs the child’s developing brain. The neurons lose their plasticity and become incapable of forming synaptic connections to encode a memory. These hindrances in the ability to learn during the day.

A study conducted showed that more than half of 100,000 car crashes that happen due to the driver falling asleep behind wheels are school children who rushed to schools by their alarm clocks. One such school in Minnesota, US delayed its school starting time by an hour and found startling results. Kids performed highly on their SAT scores and admitted to have better quality of life.

Rest of the review will be posted in part 2 of the blog tomorrow…

Two Answers to the Same Question

The question is, what is the right way of parenting? When you read about successful people one thing that all of them refer to is the kind of childhood they had. Either they had motivated parents who laid a solid foundation or they had abusive or divorced parents that made their childhood miserable and the sheer vigor to get out of it made them successful. One thing is common among both and that is they didn’t have an ordinary childhood like you and me. Parenting has direct affect on how much successful you will be in your life. So, I turned to books of various kinds. For me reading parenting books turned out to be like therapy. Its less about children and more about parents.

I recently finished Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua at rocketing speed in 4 days. This is the best I have done to a non-fiction book. Though by Amy Chua’s standards this might be a lousy effort. One of the reviewers has nailed her book correctly. Parent or not, lenient or strict, old school or modern everyone will have an opinion about this book. This is her story about how she raises her two daughters in a “Chinese way”. She follows an authoritarian style of parenting. She runs their affairs like a military camp preparing them for a war she calls their future. Rules are laid down crystal clear. No grades other than As, no sleepovers, no playdates, no boyfriends, no participation in school drama, they have to learn a musical instrument which can only be violin or piano, and finally they cannot complain about anything on this list. The list is pretty straight forward, no loop holes for rescue. You can’t do anything but submit to her. People who read her announced that she is a monster and said her children would resent her. Behind all this there is an uncomfortable truth. Her ways have rendered in my view the best her children could have accomplished at that point. She pushed them to maximize their potential. She believed in them and it didn’t matter if they believed in themselves or not. Being a Tiger Mom is not easy, it is heavy duty parenting. It is grueling, countless hours of nagging and cajoling can spin your head. She wouldn’t let anything come in between them and their practice. If sick then pop pill and practice, no time in the day then wake up at 5 and practice. They practice on holidays, weekends and heck, even when they are on vacation. This relentless pursuit to achieve perfection and an unwavering work ethic is what she wants to inculcate in her children.

Honestly, I was not even ready to buy this book, thought it would wrongly influence my opinion. Our approach of parenting is very conservative and closed. I don’t blame the parents (including myself) I think they are confused. I recently went to check out a school (of a different kind) for my daughter and spoke to few parents. They were happy that their kids are becoming independent day by day, but many of them confessed to want to have controlled independence.

I cannot but look back into my childhood. Being from an average middle class family, the only way to become successful in life was to get good grades in school. Pursue engineering or medicine and this was your ticket to elevating yourself up in the economic ladder. I studied well and was always in the top 5% of the class. But not well enough to ever top the class. Miraculously I always stood second or third. Thinking back I guess I never wanted to top. I was afraid. If I did too well the teachers would expect more and If I slacked then I will get noticed at home. So I simply stayed low and sailed through. Always got truck loads of sympathy, “Oh you nearly made it this time”, “you were just unlucky thats all”, etc. What I needed then was a mother like Amy Chua who would make me slog my back side. Instead my father would come and switch off my room’s light. “Enough of studying now”, “rest is best before the test”, he would announce and go away. I took pride in telling my friends about my father. Today I feel bad about it. I think he was not ambitious enough for me.

Now turn the bottle upside down. Sudbury Valley School in US is unlike any other school in the world. Its not just about a unique way of imparting education but its a way of life. There are no time tables and no teachers taking classes. The school looks like its in recess forever. Children are buzzing all around and doing their things. No one to disturb or direct them. A book about this school describes a kid who does fishing for 15 years only fishing, mind you! Every year his father would go to the administration and express his doubts. They told him to wait and watch. One fine day he found a new passion, computers. He never looked back at fishing and found an internship with HP and his career took off. Not that fishing is by any stretch of imagination a lesser meaningful thing. May be he could have become the greatest Ichthyologist of our generation and did some important discoveries in marine biology. Simply put, in this school kids just do their thing day in and day out for years till they are 19 when they graduate. Looking from outside it would seem like an easy and fun life if you are let free to do anything you like. But imagine you are doing this everyday. There is enough time for everything you want to do. Nobody to tell you how much to do, how to do or what to do. I bet it would be a very difficult. This is a place where you learn from getting bored. You are responsible for your life. You take charge of your own education. And when you start them young, they are exuberant and fearless. The intensity with which they pursue their passion is enormous. And it doesn’t matter what their passion is. Most of us don’t even know where our interests lie. We just stay low. Not questioning the prevailing norm has become our subconscious trait. Going with the flow is safer and easier because tiding against needs courage and is uncertain.

In the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, he says that unless you have 10,000 hours of hard work under your belt you can’t be successful. Let’s say you want to be a concert pianist. Ten thousand hours roughly works out to be a little less than 10 years if you practice 3 hours everyday (including the weekends). It is also crucial that you start young. So unless you have a tiger mom you’d rather play video games or watch movies.

Finally, I don’t think there is a correct way of parenting. So, I don’t know yet what kind of mom I will be. Will I let her do soul searching for hours swinging under the tree? Or will I have a stop watch and a time table for her in my hands? The latter seems hard and cruel. But actually the former is the hardest. I think I will go for the hardest because I guess I am ambitious for her.

Plastic babies

I pondered over the title a lot and finally settled on the above. I wanted to be more mean but held back my impulsion. “Where is this taking us?” I asked the lady, “Ma’am this is going to give them an edge, just a bit of it….thats all our attempt”. The lady looked at me suspiciously and sensed this is not going down my throat. I paused and looked her into the eyes so she made another attempt. “But Ma’am, you only tell me how much time can YOU (note the emphasis on you) take out in a day?” Victim psychology, you see. I said ten hours with vengeance (I confess the number is exaggerated but I had to give it back to her) “So you don’t go to work, but not everyone is like you, no!” She just rubbed me on the wrong side. Yes, neither do I have a corporate job nor a business. I run a 24X7 emotional and social support system for my daughter and I am the proud CEO. I have had other kinds of job (the ones for which you get periodically paid) which were tough mentally and physically, but none to match the rigor that my current job needs. I have worked with different kinds of bosses and co-workers who are selfish, egoistic, sissy, MCP types. But none of these people have thought me to how deal with my current boss. I completely surrender and humbly chew my ego in front of her. Not even raising my voice I accept thy deeds and heed to her requests told and untold with love and passion. Because thats what Babycenter tells you to do. (pun intended)

Before I digress too much and start writing another blog…. This lady calls herself a child psychologist and counsellor and I happened to be at her newly opened kids play gym with my friend. First of all the term seemed alien…a gym for kids! Anyhow we went for the demo and were given an itinerary at the door. The room was swarming full of kids and mummys. Where have all the men (daddys) gone? I kept the thought to myself. The air was heavy inside. We tried to seat in the path of the AC draft which seemed meek at the moment. Then started the power point presentation. Who we are, what we do and how differently we do. Some lady emphatically chimed away…there is story telling, rhymes, physical activities, games to enhance their gross and fine motor skills, dancing and music sessions like hip-hop jazz but no bollywood songs we know that its not good for them. There is also readiness class during which we will prepare them to get ready for the school. We will teach them how to close their bags (both with velcro and buckles) how to place their boxes inside, etc. till now it was the mothers’ job now the babies empowered with this skill one responsibility off the shoulders of mothers ….The lack of oxygen in the room made me dizzy and I thought of walking out. But I raise my hand and ask a question. “So this is like a pre-school?”. I think she took offense, “No Ma’am, this is an extension to the pre-school. This is meant to enhance their overall exposure. It has become so competitive we will only help you to catch up to that level”. How? “Pre-school only prepares you to get admission but what about overall development. Like for example at the preschool they teach them animals, but here we will teach them about nature cleaners”. She thought she got me here, I also thought so. “But if a child is going to a pre-school then when will he/she come here. Even if they do when will they play outside and explore the world.” I asked. “Outside, where outside? where can you take them in Mumbai? Nobody has time. You only see, the husbands are gone all day and then the wives only will have to manage the kitchen, the housework, then the guests. But if you send them here then you can feel safe. We have foam flooring and aayas will see if they are putting anything in the mouth. Ma’am you might be thinking this is a money making business but I am also a parent, please be assured”. I stepped out wishing good for her business like charity endeavor. Because of her many wives will feel much more liberated.

There is a whole shift in the attitude of parenting. Parenting today has become a matter of management and convenience. And to help us in this administration various businesses and services have propped up making our life easy. All this in turn leaves us tempting to use more convenience. Gone are the days of grandparents telling bed time stories. How would they know what phonetics are? No way you are climbing that dining table, thats why we are sending you to the kids gym for 45 mins thrice a week M-W-F. Please don’t make a mess with the atta you can do it when your gym teacher gives you play-doh. No baby I can’t take you to the park, I have a salon appointment and nor can the Aaya because she will not understand that many things in the park are inedible for you. But no worries the teacher had emailed that she has made new cut outs of sunflowers, strawberries and earthworms for today’s class.

Where is this taking us? I ask again. Is this because we want them to be perfect? I have not met one parent who says I want my kid to be the next Beethoven or Einstein. Then why this mad rush towards perfection? This is what I am thinking about what others are thinking… we treat our children like a newly won trophy. We want to show off. Like we show off our spanking new car or watch or bag. How they do or perform becomes a direct reflection of our own performance. They become our score card. And nobody wants to see a C- on their cards. I dont know whats the solution. But I was wondering if not being perfect can be the next cool thing? What say?

The Magic Ingredient

I was really excited when my daughter was turning 6 months. It was an opportunity to buy new stuff, silicon tipped spoons, bibs, high chair with cartoon prints, etc. Hardly did I know that once they begin eating they can also stop one day. This can practically give you convulsions. So enjoy the time before they start on solid foods. I thought of investigating the best way to introduce solid food to her, so asked my pediatrician, friends and family on “How to”. I read a lot of blogs and books and devised a strategy. After K’s annaprasam (ceremony of giving “anna” or food for the first time) I gave her cooked rice water for few days. After she took it well, I started giving her cooked dal (lentil) water in the evening while continuing the rice water in the morning. And mind you no salt or sugar yet! I decided that I will continue like this for a month giving her only cereals of different kinds for 6 weeks. Later adding vegetables and then adding fruits after a month each. I thought this will give her time to get accustomed to different food flavors before expressing preference of any food. I don’t know if this is going to make her a good eater but I thought of giving all the bland food a leg up in her flavors domain.

I looked back to what I ate first and what my mom did. In many parts of Southern India, ragi (finger millet) is the first food that the babies are introduced to. Many of my friends across different cultures also use ragi as an active ingredient in baby foods. Grandmothers and mothers took a fistful of ragi and soaked it overnight. They grind it to a loose paste and cooked it on a low flame to result in a lumpy porridge. This was my first food. I recently read an article about malnourished children in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Integrated Nutrition Project studied that the children during and after weaning were fed with low calorie diluted starchy cereal which resulted in decreased growth rate across babies in between 6-24 months. So they encouraged mothers to give their babies sprouted cereals like ragi (or any other locally grown cereal) and started distributing them through community centers. So after a lot of talk about ragi I did a quick search to find its nutritive value and this is what I found:

Nutritive value of Ragi per 100 g (source: Wikipedia)

Protein         7.3 g
Fat             1.4 g
Carbohydrate    72 g
Minerals         2.7 g
Calcium         344 mg
Fiber             3.6 g

Energy         328 kCal

Now that we have our magic ingredient, lets start! This receipe is volume and proportion based. Pick any small size of cup to begin with.

Ragi powder (finger millet): 6 cups
Broken Wheat: 2 cups
Brown Rice: 2 cups

Green gram (you can also use Soya bean): 1 cup
Black gram: 1 cup

Almonds: 1/4 cup
Walnuts: 1/4 cup
Ground nuts: 1/4 cup
Sesame seeds: 1/4 cup

First time when I was over enthusiastic, I soaked whole ragi, whole wheat, green gram, and black gram altogether for a day. After removing the water, I tied them in a fine cloth and kept it for 24 hrs again. Frequently sprayed some water on them. By the end of the third day they started sprouting. Once the sprouts broke I sun dried them for 3-4 days till they make a crackling sound when you break the sprouts. The whole process of sprouting enriches these grains tremendously. An enzyme called amylase is generated in them which helps in breaking the carbs and is easily digested and absorbed by the body. Next step is to grind the sprouted grains and brown rice into a fine powder, then grind all the nuts separately and finally mix them altogether. The nuts should be ground separately as they become sticky because of their oil content.

Second time I looked out for some shortcuts and found that there is organic sprouted ragi powder available in the market. So I ground the wheat, rice, green and black gram together and powdered nuts separately. Mix all of them together and your porridge powder is ready!

There is a ton of ways to cook the porridge powder.

Here is the classic style. Take one table spoon of the porridge powder and mix well with a cup of water. Add a little bit of jaggery (if the baby is already introduced to sweet). Add 1/2 teaspoon of butter or ghee. Now put this mixture on the stove and stir it continuously so that it doesn’t make lumps. Cook it for 5-7 mins till the consistency is ketchup like. For babies who have been introduced to animal milk you can add some or put two scoops of formula after it cools off. Instead of jaggery put salt and add mashed veggies and here is your soup. My daughter has had loads and loads of this and when she got bored I tried something else.

Take a spoonful of porridge powder and add some salt and water to make it a dosa batter like consistency. Leave it aside of 10-15 mins. Pour on to a hot tava and sprinkle chopped spinach or spring onions.

There are different versions of the magic ingredient and hope to share some more later.

The art of spooning

We all agree mothering is a very serious job. A job you can get without any prior experience, qualification, not even an interview. Its all about on-the-job training. Being on the shop floor and getting your hands dirty (I mean literally!) Out of all the experiences that I have had, I have struggled the most with making my baby eat.

Whenever she got a cold or took vaccines she would just reject food. Food became like a stranger that she would run away from. She would loose weight and her waistlet would slide down her otherwise rounder bum. This depleting fat was directly proportional to my anxiety levels. I took her eating very seriously, even though not very persnickety about it like some of my other friends, I just wanted her to eat. Also because I felt this daunting pressure from family and didn’t know how to respond to their several suggestions. Did you put some sugar? Can YOU eat this? What’s wrong with salt? It should at least look attractive. This deluge of questions tongue tied me.

Every meal time when I presented her the food, I would feel nervous like I would during school tests. With hope, desperation and performance anxiety, I would beg her to eat. Looking out the window I show her cars, bhangarwala (scrap dealer with a hand cart), fruitwala (fruits seller with a hand cart), kaboo (pigeon) while the porridge waited its turn. The emotional cocktail froze my mind of any creativity to distract her and get the spoon in her mouth. Because, once it was in the mouth, she did not fuss, maybe even relishing the porridge before swallowing it. So my goal was to get it into her mouth before she signals a ‘no’.

Sometimes, I would sit on the floor with a bag full of random objects collected from around. While she looked at these curios I would swiftly try to get the spoonful in her mouth. Thinking of myself as smarter than her, I would strategically put the collectibles in front of her and would sit behind, so she did not see it coming. But nah-ha! her proximity sensor would beep with her head shaking in a violent ‘NO’. After some waiting the spoon would make a move again, this time disguising behind the CD case. But she would be quick with her reflex and swiftly swivel around. My ego would lie shattered as the puree would plop on the floor. I would blame my clumsy handwork and give up till the next meal time.

One such night after my daughter slept, I was channel flipping to unwind. On one of them I caught Jackie Chan dodging swords, punching faces, getting under the table, saving his nose all so swiftly. Somehow, I started visualising him feeding a baby, maneuvering his spoon when her head would shake in defiance. Inspired by this next day, I tried some new moves but it all ended up in me cleaning some more!

I figured this is not taking me anywhere. Also, I was the only one who was losing sleep over it. I decide to start again. This time I would just sit in front of her with my plate of food and ate and let her explore the food. She would take the roti (bread) and wipe the floor, dip her hands in dal (lentil soup) and rice would be more on the floor than my plate. But I let her be and didn’t try to feed her. A hungry baby will not starve oneself-was my new mantra.  

As the days passed, things slowly improved. She created lesser mess and started putting the roti where it belonged. She would first throw the food on the floor and then eat from there. Again, I didn’t stop her. Sometimes, she would get some dal inside her nose and say “ammi nosy, nosy”. I would quickly clear the hurdle and she would continue. Now, majority of the food during every meal, she would eat by herself. Though I would have to coax her when her mind starts to wander. Some days she did not want to eat at all, so I let her be.

Life for me became less stressful since I started to let her eat by herself. She could make her own decision about when, what and how much she wanted to eat. It was difficult in the beginning, but all it took was me trusting her and myself.

First Birthdays are Meant for Moms

As my daughter turns one coming Tuesday, there is mixed feeling inside me. I am unable to understand whose celebration is it. Shying away from socializing is my second nature so I wasn’t surprised but something inside me told me to investigate this feeling a little further. Why would I not want to make it a big day for her. Why I won’t call her crawling friends and arrange for a big party? Balloons, jingles, candies and a big cake…why not??? My mom says “first birthday is always first it never comes back”, “so is 2nd or 6th or 17th, none of them come back”, said I. “Oh you always want to argue with me, these days you have so many services to help you, unlike my time, you can just dial a number.” But is that reason enough to celebrate? That afternoon as I was watching my daughter put her tiny finger into the dust-accumulated-door hole on the floor, I realised that it hardly mattered for her. As I plunked her away from the area of conflict, she gave me a look in the eyes, “I’m going for the switchboard mom, can you not bother me”. As she crawled her way into other crevices filled pastures, I realised it is not going to be her day, it does not mean anything to her. She doesn’t know what it has taken to come to this day. Nobody knows. Only her mother. Forty weeks of pregnancy and then a whole year she has been watching and waiting patiently. Wishing her anxiety and fear of uncertainty does not walk into the next day. She has forgotten herself this year, becoming a zombie with shades of black around her eyes. She became Micheal Jordan whose hands will elongated just in time to cushion the baby’s head from banging. She can’t remember when she finished a meal in one sitting. She wishes the tiny one sleeps a little longer so that she can complete shampooing. Often not knowing what day and date it is and living one day at a time, she has been indeed waiting for this day.

As I think back to this same day last year, it feels farther away in memory than one year. After a whole night of labour pain, I was brought into the maternity ward which rather looked like an assembly line. I was put on the bed close to the entry door. I figured that the subject moved from bed to bed which was progressively arranged to reach the action room, the place of delivery. Having entered into the assembly officially I lay there quietly observing the blue leafed coconut trees on the curtains of the side window. I was wondering if such a thing was put intentionally so that these moaning groaning women can take their minds off once in a while. As directed I was lying on my back which gave me immense relief. A luxury I could not have for months together and my mind taken away by the blue coconut leaves, I was at peace. I began wondering if the artist really painted it blue or could it be a malfunction at the printing mill, or did he want to draw the vastness of the sea….”put your legs apart please” said the interrupting voice, before I could come back from the coconut lagoon I felt her finger in between and inside me. I could only manage to mumble to which she said, “not dilated enough” as if I was to be blamed. As I progressed bed by bed towards the action room not even in my wildest imagination I had thought about this day a year later. I was only interested in reaching the end of the line. From that day to coming Tuesday and a whole year in between, so much has happened so fast. With every muscle aching one after another as if screaming their existence and every emotion a mind can conjure up, it has been a spiritual ride.

Even though I as how I and others know of me didn’t exist last year, a new me slipped in and has taken over. This new me buzzed around the house like a possessed soul. Feeding, changing, bathing, wiping, cooking, playing, singing, washing, putting her to bed-just like an uninterrupted 24X7 customer support system. What she left behind in me is a skinny loose bag which I often try to tuck in my old jeans which sooner or later I may be able to go back into. What I may not be able to go back into is the old me. This means the whole world to me now and I so much love being a mother. That’s why this day also belongs to me.