Monday, May 23, 2011

Four

My dear Puttachi,

Happy Birthday!

I write this letter not to the 4-year-old Puttachi of now, but to the Puttachi of the future who is reading this, whether you are 10, 25, 40....

I wonder what you are now - a sportswoman, a dancer, a musician?  An artist, dramatist, a rocket scientist?  A mother, a teacher, a writer?

I don't know what you are going to be, but I do know that your 4-year-old self has a couple of key qualities (among many more commendable ones) that are essential for a wonderful life ahead, whatever path you choose to take - and I want you to retain them.

One - your curiosity, your inquisitiveness.  You want to know about everything, right from the banal (Where does everything go after we flush the toilet?)  to the practical (how do they make the contact lens bottle, and what do they put in the contact lens solution?)  and right down to the more thoughtful (Is it possible to think about two things at the same time?)

When I confess I don't know something, you say, "Switch on your laptop and see, you'll find everything online."  I hope you know where to find answers even now, Puttachi.  I hope you still WANT to know the answers to everything.  Don't ever lose your curiosity.  One more thing - I also hope you have developed the passion and the interest, and have the means - to go after the answers to those questions to which nobody knows the answers.

Two - your happiness, your joy, your ability to find humour in everything, and the willingness to love and be loved.  Because, that, Puttachi, is the key to contentment.

We love you, and will always do.

Amma.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

How to remain sane in the midst of caring for a child

Spending a major part of your time with a child is draining.  You need to recharge your batteries from time to time.  And of course, prevent the batteries from getting drained in the first place!  (Once again, since I am writing from the point of view of a mother, I've used "mom" everywhere - but it applies for all caregivers)

* Keep taking breaks to recharge your batteries.  Do whatever works for you - take a nap, read a book, exercise, meditate, do some handwork - but do it.  A grumpy/tired mom is a bad mom.  What works for me is that I set an alarm, and then take a short nap, or read for a while, or write something, or surf - and tell Puttachi not to disturb me for that much time.  I also tell her that she is my sweetest little itsy-bitsy and I love her very much and want to play with her but I have no strength left, and so I need a little time to "get strength"   I am available of course, to solve little problems during that time.  The setting of the alarm makes her feel that it is a fixed time, and though she has no idea how long that half an hour is, she realizes that it is a finite period, and I guess that is comforting. And after this time alone, I feel much better, and then I make an effort to be more involved with her, so that she can see the difference.

* As I see it, I have two choices - finish most of the work before Puttachi wakes up, and then be available to her all her waking time.  Or get in some of my work-work when she is asleep, and then get in cooking, cleaning, laundry when she is around.  I choose the latter, because, these are things I can do with her hanging on to my skirt, telling me things, or listening to stories.  But reading, and writing and napping - you need to be alone for that.

* Have some hand-work to do when all you are needed for is for company.  It doesn't make you feel like you are just sitting around doing nothing.  Some sewing, crochet, painting, mending or whatever works for you.   It can also be very satisfying.

* Get adult company/conversation/interaction.  It is essential.  I am not much of a phone person, and getting real people to talk to physically is not easy.  I rely quite a bit on online features/blogs/news/articles to keep my brain in working condition.  But nothing like some time with like-minded people.  In fact, I can safely say that a substantial part of my sanity and continued enthusiasm about parenting inspite of an energy-draining daughter, is because of the time I spend talking to (adult!) friends at the park nearly every day over the last two years. 

* Some days are nice and bright and cheerful and energetic.  But there are other days when you are cross, grumpy, tired, impatient, irritated and generally at odds with the world.  Save the television and movies for such days!  Don't waste the good days :)

* Put some time aside for exercise.  Take a walk, do yoga, do pranayama or meditation - whatever it is that keeps you feeling fit and healthy.  If you  have someone to leave the child with while you go to the gym or for a walk, great.  Else, it is not impossible to fit it into your schedule.  Exercise and yoga, again, can be done even when the child is around - he might try to imitate you, or he might just prefer to play by himself.    Exercise keeps your body healthy and energetic.

* Take a break.  Leave the child with someone else, and take off on your own or with friends for a rejuvenating day.  Go to the parlour or something, get a massage, a haircut - I don't know - whatever works with you.  Highly-recommended - a few hours with women-friends.

* Even if you are a full-time mom, develop some kind of an activity or interest that will keep a part of your brain occupied with something that is not connected with children.  It can be a hobby, or an interest, or working at something that will be useful for a future career, or volunteer work.  You could learn music, or start painting, you could start teaching - I don't know, whatever interests you.   It has got to be something of your own, something to keep you looking forward to it, pushing you to get better at it.  - Something completely disassociated with the child.

It is absolutely essential for you to remain yourself.  Don't get washed away with motherhood.  It is inevitable, that a part of you changes with motherhood.  But for a healthy mind, you ought to know that you are still yourself.  Am I making any sense at all?

In spite of all this, some days are bad, when  you are weepy, grumpy, frumpy, whiny and snappy.  DON'T FEEL GUILTY.  You are not a saint, nor are you a television commercial mother who is all spotless and shiny and smily all day long.  You are a normal human being.  So it is natural that we feel that way sometimes, even for no reason at all.  But we all know that after the trough, there is always a crest, and so, hang in there.   And if people around you expect you to be smiling and happy always, then it is their problem.  Not yours.  So there.

What are your secrets?

Also read:
Things to do with your child during the vacations
How to have a smooth day with your child

Thursday, May 12, 2011

How to have a smooth day with your child.

Here are a few suggestions from my experience, on how to have a smooth day with your child, getting housework and office work done as well as spending quality time with the child.   (This is mainly for people who don't have a support system in place - no grandparents to look after the grandchild,  or don't employ maids.)

* Follow the child's lead.  If you have planned out one activity, and if your child wants to do something else instead, respect that (within the limits of reason, of course.)  It will be easier for both of you. 

* When you're introducing a new activity, if the child doesn't seem to be interested in it even after you've tried for a while, or if he's not getting the hang of it, and is getting frustrated, then stop, and try after a couple of weeks.  There is nothing like "He OUGHT to do it, I'm sure he'll like it/I'm sure he'll be able to do."  Once you set the atmosphere, a child usually takes the lead - and can surprise you with what he is ready for.  Pushing doesn't work.

*Kids don't like it if you keep getting up and going to do something in the middle of an activity.  So clear everything up before you sit down.  That way, your mind will also be completely on the work on hand.

* Limit sugar.  I somehow didn't believe it before, but sugar really gets children on a high.  Unless you are going out to the park a little later, avoid giving the child excess sugar.  She'll just get hyperactive and not sit in one place, and not let you sit in one place either.  

* Get the child to do some physical activity. - An everyday trip to the park is wonderful for the child.  Fresh air, physical exercise to expend all that energy.  And when he comes back, he will be hungry and tired, will eat without a fuss, and drop off to sleep in no time.   If it is raining, or a park is not possible for some reason, dance/jump/skip at home together, preferably to music. 

* Devise ways and methods to get your cooking done faster and easier.  After your weekly vegetable shopping, process all the vegetables and store them in the refrigerator, so that when you go to get your cooking done, half of your work is already taken care of.  This way, you can get all the necessary, but in a child's eye - time-consuming work - out of the way as quickly as possible.

* Limit television.  Save it for those days when you are exhausted and cannot think and the best thing to do is to plonk the child in front of the TV. 

[Slight digression:
The thing about TV is that
- You don't have any control on what the child watches.  You can sit and watch with her, but yet, you don't know what is just around the corner.
- Playing children's movies and CDs is slightly better in the sense that it gets over, and you can stop. 
- It can be addictive in geometric progression.  You get a huge chunk of time with no effort at all when the child is in front of TV, so you find this option attractive. The child gets endlessly entertained without having to lift a finger, and without having to use her brains, so the child finds it attractive.  

If your child is already much into television, do try to cut back (I wouldn't know how.  But my aunt had made a nice rule for my cousin (who was about 6, I think at that time.)  During the holidays, he could watch one hour of television through the day.  He could chose his programme among the pre-approved ones, but that's it - one hour of television viewing of his choice.  I remember him poring over the TV guide, analyzing, deciding, and finally zeroing in on what he wanted to watch, and STICKING TO IT.  IF your child isn't an addict yet, then keep it that way for as long as you can.  Perhaps someday you will lose out anyway, but I don't want to sound pessimistic.  I hope that these initial years when you've kept her away from television might influence her TV viewing options for the rest of her life. 

The important thing is that you need to provide attractive alternatives to television.]

* Involve the child in your housework.  So that it is not as if you are rushing around finishing everything while your child is waiting for you.  If the child wants to help, let him.  It might slow you down, but he's learning something.

* If you are working from home, do your work when the child is asleep/or when she is not likely to disturb you.  It gets over faster that way.   And perhaps it is not wise to take on more than you can finish in one day.  I know nobody else can tell you how much work to do, but it helps if you are not rushed all the time. 

But this isn't easy.  To entertain an enthusiastic kid all through the day is exhausting - for which you need some activities that'll keep you energetic and recharged.  I'll get to that in the next post.

Meanwhile, please do share your tips and suggestions on this topic.

Also read: Things to do with children during the vacations

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Things to do with your child during the holidays (and after)

One whole month of Puttachi's summer holidays has gone by, Puttachi is at home full time, and yet, all I'm feeling is, "Oh no, one month is already up! Just another month to go!"

So what are we doing that's making time fly? I thought I'll put down a list of things that we do or plan to do, so that you guys might get ideas out of it.

Actually, this list doesn't hold good only for the holidays - it is for anybody who is a full-time carer of a child.

* Gardening - If you don't have a garden, get some pots and some soil. Even a large plastic tub in which you can drill holes will do. Grow something. Growing veggies can be fun - harvesting and cooking the produce can be very exciting for the children. Try menthya/methi/fenugreek. It grows quickly. Try coriander too. Fresh coriander, picked five seconds before adding to the saaru is something else.

* Cooking - Make some snacks together. If it doesn't involve cutting and cooking, get the child to do it all himself. It's great for the child to realize that food just doesn't appear from thin air. :) Involve him in your daily cooking too - show him what's happening when you do that and this. But be very very very careful in the kitchen. Draw an imaginary line that he shouldn't cross when the stove is on.

* Clay modeling - Use playdoh, or else, just mix a nice and malleable ball of maida and water. It is much more easy to handle. Give her shapes to cut out, a roller to roll it out... After play, just store it in the fridge. Ten seconds in the microwave before play the next day is enough to restore the softness. After about 3-4 days, you can throw it away and make a fresh ball. There are ways to make homemade playdoh - check online - you can add food colour to get different colours too.

* Water tub - Get a large tub, put some water and toys in it and put the child in it. Puttachi will gladly stay for hours if I let her!

* Art and Craft - In our home, this has turned out to be the single-largest time-consumer during the holidays. Starting from shopping for materials, organizing, looking up books/internet/brain for ideas, then actually making stuff, then cleaning up, to showing it off to people - it takes SO much time. And it's a whole lot of fun. I'll probably do a post on the kinds of things you can do - to give you an idea. Coming up soon.

* Storytelling - Tell stories, and ask the child to tell stories. It is very difficult to listen constantly to a child's usually non-stop nonsense, so if you are listening with only one ear, it is fine. But if you do listen, you are in for good laughs. One more thing, a child's stories sometime reveal her feelings, things that she hasn't expressed to you directly.

* Story Reading - Read stories with your child. Sit next to her, cuddle, and read a book together. Read out, translate in your mother tongue, or ask the child to read out some words - whatever. Let it be interactive. Ask questions, let the child interrupt if she wants to ask questions. Look at the illustrations - these can be a great source of discussions too! This time can be beautiful.

* Playacting - act out the stories you know - dramatize it. After the initial hesitation and shyness (yours, definitely not the child's) I assure you its a lot of fun. Improvise, act like a clown, and see if your child isn't rolling around laughing. you don't even need props or costumes or many people. Puttachi and I assume multiple roles in a story, and that itself is a lot of fun. We don't use costumes, but I'm sure that'll add to the fun.

* Puzzles - Get all kinds of puzzles, jigsaws and otherwise, and make it with the child. SImple ones he can solve himself. The ones that are just beyond his reach - sit with him, explain while he does it himself. It's wonderful to watch the child getting the hang of it.

* Helping with chores - Get him to help with your work. Folding laundry, cleaning up, etc. Take him shopping, ask him what vegetables he would like, buy them, show him how to select vegetables - get him involved.

* Park - It helps tremendously if you have a good park close by, with children's play equipment, where you can take the child most evenings. Evenings can make a child restless, and exercise and fresh air is always good. Push him gently to try more difficult monkey-ladders, higher slides, but the moment he shows fear, just withdraw, don't force. He will lead the way when he is ready. And going to the same park regularly helps - you make friends - and the child is more enthu to go the park to meet friends, and you can have some adult conversation with the friends' parents!

* Getting involved in the child's play - HAs your child asked you to come and play with her? Have you felt, oh no, how boring? Just once, shed that hesitation and plunge right into it - doing "inane" things like fake dressing a teddy bear, giving a doll a bath - just do it alongwith your child - and see how much fun it can become!

* Doing nothing - The most important, most delightful thing ever. Remember our summer holidays when we had no summer camps to worry about, no exotic vacations to take, nothing but lounge around all day? And if you look back on it, don't you remember it with fondness? That's what I'm trying to say. Sometimes it is best to just not do anything. Puttachi and I cuddle and play around for an entire hour after she wakes up in the morning. If anybody asks me later what exactly we did, I cannot say. We don't really do anything, but that hour goes by so quickly. We just talk, play, hug, tease, laugh... and then there are other pockets in the day when Puttachi just goes about doing nothing, or just looks at shadows, or observes the movement of trees,  or stares into space.  I read somewhere that children are actually assimilating information when they stare into space like that!

* Little games - Devise little games that can act as fillers - something to distract the child when she is being difficult, or to cajole her to go brush her teeth.... Puttachi and I play a version of word-building, and a very simple 20-questions, we play I-spy, running and catching, just jumping up and down, dancing to tunes. Then there are these traditional finger games which your parents must have played with you - these can be good fillers, yes, but can also be entire activities on their own.

* Toys - get some different kinds of toys - traditional toys, toys that need imagination, and let the child try it out. You can even exchange toys with friends so as to avoid buying new things - or there are even toy libraries now.

* Teacher - While we play teacher-teacher, Puttachi challenges her own limits. She wants me to "teach" her things. That's how she learned to read. She knew that something happens when one puts letters together, and she made me read them, and then figured it out herself. Teacher games are good like that. I am taking that opportunity to familiarize her with Kannada alphabets. Whenever she has had enough, I stop immediately. And that is perhaps the key. Because she comes back next time, asking me to do exactly what she had asked me to stop doing the previous time.

* Visiting - Visit friends/relatives, and ask them to come over.

* Playdates - Get your child's friends to come over and play - outgoing children are starved of company during holidays, and playing with someone they know can be good for them.

* Visit places around your city. A museum, planetarium, a fun park, a movie, a restaurant, whatever - find out, and just go.

* Cultural events - Find out about music and dance concerts, plays, or just fun events that you can take your child to. You never know what will appeal to the child!

* Make things for people - This could come under art and craft sub-heading - but the process of making a little present for somebody, even if it is a small drawing, or a palm impression, that in itself is exciting.

I'm sure I'll remember some more as soon as I post this, and if I do, I'll post them in the comments section. Meanwhile, please pitch in with your suggestions!

Coming up: (committing myself :))
Next post: Tips and suggestions based on my experience about how to have a smooth day with the child - how to keep the child engaged, yet get all your regular work done.
Post after that: How to keep yourself sane and energetic in the midst of all this child-caring. Coz face it, it is draining!

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