Sunday, July 29, 2012


This weekend, we moved to our new home.

I'm writing this sitting in a room piled with belongings, and outside, work still goes on - I can hear talk, banging, drilling and I can smell paint. 

The house is not quite ready yet, but we moved in anyway.

Our previous home was special to me.  It was the first home I managed on my own. (We lived with S's parents until then.)  It was the place I learned, experimented, unlearned and blundered in.  We had a lot of lovely times there.  Of course there were bad times too, there always are, but I prefer to remember the happy ones ;)  It was small, but convenient.  [As Puttachi grew, we realized it was getting smaller ;)]  And of course, this home was next to a lovely park, where we had some beautiful times, Puttachi and me.  I'm going to miss that park, definitely.  Though we've moved only about 4 km from this place, the park is not across the road any longer! :)

And it is so true that memories make a home.  Yesterday, after we moved all our belongings to the new house and cleaned the old house, I stood there, looked around.  It is amazing how much this rented house that we lived in for 3.5 years, absolutely empty, totally devoid of all our belongings - seemed more like "home" than our new house, which is our own, and where all our belongings are.  Memories - good ones at that! 

Puttachi hugged the walls of the old house and bawled, saying she didn't want to leave it.  No wonder. It is the only home she has known.  On our last visit to the park, she even hugged the park (don't even ask how.)  Anyway, it took us a while to comfort her and drag her away from that house!

And I've found that it is also true that the kitchen is probably the heart of the home.  The kitchen is not yet ready in the new home, so we are living out of boxes.  I discovered how many elements it takes to make a cup of tea, only when I had to look through three different boxes for the vessel, the strainer, the mugs, and the tea.  I hadn't paid much attention to packing, because I had assumed that I would empty the contents of all the boxes into the kitchen cabinets, and only then start cooking.  Who knew that the people who come to work had other things in mind, and wouldn't have the kitchen ready? :)

So, the first two days, we ate the food I had manufactured on an industrial scale before moving out of the old home (while Puttachi spent the two days happily at her friend's house.)   After that, we ate out and at my mom-in-law's place, and late on the third day, I made the first cup of tea, and then some soup which we ate with bread for dinner.

Today, I whipped up a quick veg pasta with whatever I could find, for Puttachi to take to school.  And then I went into the room for something, came out, and felt the heat radiating out of the open kitchen, and felt a warmth that was much beyond the physical one.  This finally felt like "home."

This is a nice place, one we got after months of searching, and then months of renovation.  A very nice, green apartment complex with lots of space and facilities for Puttachi to play in, great location, aaaaaand - walkable from Puttachi's school! :D

Here's to predominantly happy times in the new place too!  Cheers!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Is your child a fussy eater?

Is your child fussy about food, a picky eater?

Why do some children seem to fuss so much about eating, and why do some children sail through meals?  I am no expert, but I am a good listener ;)  This is a result of my observations, experiences and conversations with parents.  And I have a wealth of references because this is such a common complaint.

So I'm going to list out what could be going awry, and what you could do to set things right.

I started off thinking about this subject with one thought.  No child in our family has ever been fussy about food.  If I think about it, I can remember me and my sister, all my cousins, everybody, happily tucking into food all the time without any ado whatsoever. 

1) Limit junk food, increase physical activity.  No matter what you cook and how well you cook, the child cannot possibly eat if he is not hungry.  Really cut down on junk food, and make sure the child gets plenty of fresh air and exercise.  At about the age of three, it was quite remarkable the difference in Puttachi's appetite, the day when she went to the park and the day she didn't.  (They sleep well too - double advantage.)

2) Plan meals according to the child's temperament at that stage. Every child has its own eating preferences and patterns, and it differs at every age too.  Puttachi went through a phase where she couldn't eat much at one go.  So I gave her a little food, say saaru-anna and palya at one sitting, and then after a couple of hours, curds and rice.  (I didn't make anything else, mind you.  Just split the same meal into two.)  Also, do make a note of what the child has eaten before offering her the next meal.  You really can't expect a child to eat a full dinner at eight if she has had a tall glass of milk at seven.

3) Don't force food in, let the child go hungry a few times. :)  Don't force the child into eating anything.  If the child stops eating, just stop offering.  If the child is throwing a tantrum or showing disinterest, stop.  Let them starve. They'll come back the next meal and eat well.  Even if this goes on for a few days, it is okay.  The child is not going to suffer from starvation.

3a) Don't supplement a half-eaten  meal with junk food.  I know some parents who give the child bread or cake or biscuits if the child doesn't eat a full meal just to "fill the child's tummy."  Avoid that.  If you must, give her a fruit. 

4) Children go through cycles of eating less and more.  It could be growth spurts, it could be a rise or slump in physical activities - it could be many things, but children sometimes just don't need so much.  So if they suddenly stop eating for a few days, relax.  They'll make up for it.   Even we as adults sometimes don't feel like eating a particular meal.  Children also go through such periods.  Respect that, and leave them alone.  And as early as possible, get them to take decisions about how much they want to eat.

5) Other caregivers - It is easy for you as a parent to decide that the child can starve for half a day, and be done with it.  But if someone else is in charge of feeding your child on a regular basis, they are answerable to you, and they will not be comfortable about letting the child rise from the meal with a less-than-full stomach.  Even if you are cool with it, it is natural to feel that it is their responsibility to make sure the child has a full meal.  I know, because I feel that way even when Puttachi's friend is eating at our place.  So they might tend to pamper the child a bit, go that extra mile to ensure that he eats a full meal.   Not eating curds?  Add a spoonful of sugar.  Still not eating?  Add one more spoonful of sugar.  Finally, the child gets so used to sweet curds that he won't eat unless his bowl has three spoons of sugar, and that is how fussiness takes root.  So let these people know that is is okay if the child doesn't eat full meals from time to time.

5) Make mealtimes pleasant - If the child associates mealtime with a parent who is forcing, cajoling, fretting, worrying - making her eat even if she doesn't want it - mealtimes will always become a chore.  Come on, food is wonderful.  Teach the child to enjoy it!

6) Same food for everybody from the beginning - As soon as the child is ready to eat regular food, make the same kind of food for everybody in the family if that is possible.  That might mean going low on the spice for a while, until the child scales up.  Avoid all those problems of setting aside a little bland dal and vegetables to mix with the rest of the spicy food.  My laziness worked for me in this case.  Ever since Puttachi was 1.5 years old, all of us ate the same food.  I gradually hiked up the spice levels as she grew.  For me, it was lesser work.  For Puttachi, this made it clear that there was no special treatment for her.

7) Fussy adult, fussy child. -  I have noticed that if there is a fussy adult at home, the probability of there being a fussy child is higher.  When the adult sets forth his choices and refuses to eat this and that, the child gets the concept that it is possible to refuse to eat such and such a thing.   I can understand, it will be very difficult to get an adult to change his eating habits, but the least you can do is to get the adult to stop announcing his preferences.  If he doesn't like brinjal, let him not eat it when it is being made.  If you are forced to make another vegetable for him, let it not come to the child's notice.  Very difficult, I know.  But I do feel that this is a great contributing factor.

I can't think of anybody in my family who is a fussy adult.  We eat anything and everything that is put before us.  That doesn't mean our taste buds have calcified.  We also have our preferences, likes and dislikes.  But when we are presented with something to eat, we just, well, eat it.

8) No choices - This is an extension of the previous point.  Don't give the child any choices.  Bring in the "eat it or leave it"  rule.  Nobody gets a choice at our home.  Whether you like it or not, you have to eat it.  There is no question at all about making something else for a person who doesn't like a particular dish.  Eat it, or starve.  Yeah, I know, I am very strict that way.  But it works.

Children are very self-centered people.  If they see that you are willing to bow down to their whims, then they will definitely make you dance around.  Don't give them that option at all.  We have a lot of conversations at the school gate nowadays about food, because Puttachi's class has started taking packed food to school from this year on.  I have seen, universally - all those mothers who say that their child doesn't eat anything and so they give them three different dishes to choose from in their lunch box - those are the kids who come back without having eaten anything.  And the mothers who state categorically that our children have no choice - eat it or leave it -  our children are the ones that come back with empty boxes.

9) Positive language - When you present a child with a new dish or a new vegetable, and you are not sure if the child will like it, offer it without comment.  Or if you must comment, say something positive.  "Here's something new, I have a feeling you might like this."  I have seen many mothers offer a new dish with, "See, aunty has made this - I don't know if you will like it.  Eat and tell me if you like it, I will give you  more."  The child immediately is on an alert.  And even that little negativity that creeps in gives the child the power, yes, the power to refuse and assert herself. 

10) No crutches - Don't ever devise a crutch for the child to make her eat.  Many children eat when the television is on, and that becomes a crutch.  One child I knew ate only when he was put in a tub of water.  One child, only when she watched advertisements.  One child, only when a particular album of nursery rhymes were played.  Why, Puttachi also was hooked on to stories for a long time, and wouldn't eat unless I told her a story.  When that stimulus goes missing, or if conditions are not absolutely right, the child doesn't eat at all.  As far as possible, get rid of any such dependencies.

11) Don't complain or keep saying that the child doesn't eat anything.  Not in front of the child, not in front of anybody.  This constant reinforcement especially if done in the child's hearing, immediately works to make the child not eat anything.   I have seen one child cured of its fussiness by the mother consciously changing her complaining tone to one of positivity, saying, "Oh yes, my son eats his meals.  No problem."  instead of "Ayyoooo he doesn't eat annnnnything!"

Constantly worrying about a child not eating also gives the child a sense of importance.  Why will he want to do away with all that attention?  ;)

12) Start early. The older the child is, the more difficult it is to get her to change her eating habits.  So start good, positive eating habits as early as you can. 

Edited to add this point: 13) Putting ideas into the child's head.  One of the mothers at the school gate was saying, "Poor kids, so sad, their food would have become cold by the time they eat it in the afternoon."  Yeah, obviously, but so what?  Haven't most of us grown up eating cold lunches?  Don't millions of kids all over the world eat cold lunches?   The mother will say this in front of the child and the child will find a new reason to refuse food.  Don't do this - children adapt and adjust very easily.  Don't put ideas into their heads, and create problems for yourself!

I am sure you have heard many elders say, "In our time, children were not like this, they just ate whatever was put before them."  That was simply because the children were left alone.  If they didn't eat, they would starve until the next meal.  (No junk food to carry them through either!)  So they probably fended for themselves, and of course, there were many children and they all just ate together and got the meals out of the way so that they could go and play.

So, in short, I would say - no special treatment, no fuss, no pampering.  And it is okay to let them go hungry once in a while.  Children are resilient creatures.  They will make up.  Relax.  It is good for you too! :)

Any other suggestions/observations?  Something else that has worked with you?  Anything that you think is wrong with my reasoning?  Please share!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Validating a child's feelings - a simple thing that has proven invaluable to me.

I want to share with you a little insight/trick that I have learned while interacting with a child, that has helped me a lot.  I picked this up from one of the parenting books or websites that my friend M keeps sharing with me, and I found that it is one of the most valuable inputs I have received about parenting.

In short - it is about listening to and validating a child's feelings.

When a child comes to you crying or whining about something - some little thing which you think is too small and insignificant to worry about - we usually say, "Oh come on, is that all, you should not cry for all that, stop crying."

To understand how this might feel, think of yourself in this situation.  You are sad, unhappy, frustrated about something, and you want to tell somebody who will listen.  But instead, that person says, "Huh, why should you feel that way?"  of "Yeah so what?"  or worse, starts giving you solutions ;) - don't you feel really annoyed?  You often know you are not justified in feeling the way you are feeling - but still the fact is that you are feeling that way, and you want to share it with someone.  That's all.  But you don't get what you want.  It can be very irritating.  I know that.  And I know that I have also been guilty of doing the same thing - saying "Stop feeling that way and move on," or something like that.  Because, that is probably the only way we know how to deal with it, trying to be helpful, trying to be uplifting.  But we'll probably be helping more if we just listen.

Many years ago, I heard about a young person who was crying for some reason, and her mother said, "Don't feel sad." And the girl said, "Don't tell me how to feel!"

This made me think.  It is so true - how can we tell people how to feel?  Whatever you say, they will feel what they feel.  All you can do is listen, and then if it is in your control, help them or make them feel better.

Similarly, in your eyes, the child's problem might be tiny.  A miniscule scratch, or some inexpensive thing that broke, or any one of those hundred little things children can find to whine about!

But, at that moment, it is a big thing for the child.  If you say something like, "oh come on, is that all, forget it,"  the child is not satisfied.  Very often, the child can even go into tantrum mode.  All she needs is someone to listen and say, "awww, is that so?"
Now if you are thinking that this is dangerous, that it might lead the child to start complaining more, you are absolutely right.  So the solution is - do not encourage it, do not extend it.  Nothing like, "Awww, where have you hurt yourself, oohhh so sad, is it hurting?  Poor thing.  Come on let me have a look, ohhh so sad..."  - This way you are giving undue attention to it.

So just listen, sympathize, and move on - perhaps look at what you can do about the problem.  Perhaps talk about something else.... here are a couple of real examples from me and Puttachi.

Me: (From next room) What happened?
She: I was coming out of the toilet and I hit my heel on the door. (Nearly crying)
Me: Oh, show, where?  Here?  Just rub it well.  Yeah I know, that must hurt.  When the skin is wet, it hurts more, you know.
She: Really? Why is that? (Hurt completely forgotten, conversation moves in other directions.)

She is building a palace with her blocks, my mom and I are in another room. We hear a loud wail, and sobs, and she comes running here.

Me: What's the matter, Puttachi?
She: The palace broke, it tumbled down!

I hug her, wait for her to calm down a bit. I don't say anything, but just hold her.

My mother says:  So just build it again!
Puttachi literally snarls at my mother - someone she loves so much.

I sign for my mother to not say anything, and still hold Puttachi quietly until she finishes sobbing.

She: Amma, the king's palace broke.  If I try to put it back, it won't be the same again.

Me: That's true.  It'll be different - so then you'll have a new kind of palace, right?

She: But I want the same.... but.. but... (Brightens up!) Amma, I have an idea.  I'll make a palace for soldiers now!  (Runs off happily)

As you can see, I did not do anything at all.  I just held her until she had vented her frustration through tears.  Then she found the solution herself after she was done.

(Disclaimer: I would have done just what my mother did if this had happened a year ago.)

This tactic has worked very nicely with me and Puttachi.  I think the key to this is that the child feels validated, and once she feels that it is okay to feel that way, she can move to other things.

About I hope you can use it with your children.  And I hope I can use it with adults too ;)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

In defence: Junk Food

As a mother, I have to frequently defend the choices that my husband and I make with Puttachi, to well-meaning well-wishers who think that we are going about certain things wrong. 

Junk food tops the list.

Why don't you give Puttachi Junk food? Poor thing!

I do give her junk food.  We love our junk, so why would we deny her those little pleasures?  The only thing is that I have very strict rules about when, what, and how much she can eat.
- No junk food before mealtimes, or on an empty stomach.
- No junk food after six in the evening
- Each serving is very small.  Just enough to satisfy the urge, and not to fill the stomach.  No more than two biscuits, no more than one piece of chocolate, no more than 2 tbsp of mixture - do you get the drift?

Why do you do this? Poor thing!

Junk food has no nutritional value.  It is eaten for enjoyment.  And so too much of this food in the tummy means that much less of nutritious food.  I'd rather she eats full balanced meals than fill her stomach with sugar and carbs.

Does she listen to you?

She does.  In fact, she now takes decisions herself.  Recently, when she was offered a third biscuit in the same sitting, she said, "I think I have had enough junk for now." 

How do you make it work?

From the very beginning, we've ensured that she doesn't even have the concept of eating so much at one go.  And more importantly, we follow those rules ourselves.  She frequently sees me decline a sweet because it is mealtime.  When she observes us following these rules, she realizes that this is something that is followed for a reason.

In fact, once, we were unexpectedly stuck somewhere and I didn't have any food on me, and Puttachi had become very cranky with hunger.  I had a Munch in my bag, and I gave it to her to eat.  She said, "Amma, the whole thing?  Are you sure?  Did you see how much you gave me?  The whole thing?  Is it okay?"

You're going to have a tough time later.  She's going to rebel and eat lots of junk food.  You have to give her whatever she wants now.

If you have a picture of her begging for junk food while I stand with my feet apart, hands on my hips (and horns on my head) and shouting, "No," you are wrong.  I never deny her junk food when she asks for it.  In fact, she even asks for it this way, "Amma, can I have a chocolate after I eat a banana?"
If she asks for something at an inappropriate time, I tell her why I cannot give it to her at that time, and she immediately modifies her request to - can I have that after food?

So it is not a question of my denying her something she craves for.  So I don't think this will cause her to rebel. 

But I know that many things are not in our control.  So if later in life, she actually does take to binging on junk food, we'll deal with it later.  Why get it started right now?

When we offer her junk food, she looks at you for permission.  We don't like that.  Aren't we responsible enough to know what is good for her and what is not?

If she wants to ask me for permission, it means that you are giving junk to her at at an ambiguous time - it has been a while since she's eaten, and there is still some time to go for the next meal - so she cannot take her own decision.  So she looks at me for help on taking the decision.  I cannot do anything about that.  In fact, I think you must appreciate her sense of responsibility on this, instead of labeling me Hitler.  I have in fact, never told her that she must ask me for permission if somebody she KNOWS gives her something to eat.

Some people even give her something and ask her not tell us.  That is a very dangerous trend, so please don't do it.

I think even the fact that I had to write this post speak volumes about the junk food culture that is so prevalent now.  People think nothing at all about eating anything and everything at any time of the day.  In previous eras, there was no junk food available commercially.  When somebody wanted to eat some nice yummy fried stuff, they had to make it at home!  And that is the biggest stumbling block!  And even if they did get around to making it, it was naturally way better than the stuff we get outside for the simple reason that they knew what went into it!

Gosh the things in junk food now - colour, flavouring - studies keep coming in about how this or that flavouring has proven to have ill-effects on children, yet the food flood keeps pouring out of the factories, and there are a million people standing with their mouths wide open to take it all in......

It scares me, it does.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Ah, tennis!

I remember watching my first Tennis match with my father.  Boris Becker was the first player I knew and recognized, I thought his name spelt "Baker" and I was both fascinated and repelled by his fair eye-lashes. 

Tennis was really in, while I was growing up.  We named ourselves after tennis players and played badminton.  In high school, we cut pictures of tennis stars out of sports magazines and collected, shared, coveted, safeguarded, begged for, showed-off, and exchanged these pictures.  (And defaced them, when we didn't like them.)  Ah those days, when the greatest problem in my life was that I didn't know how to pronounce "Stich" of Michael Stich!

I remembered all this after Puttachi and I watched the two Wimbledon finals over the weekend.  It was her first time, and she cottoned on to the basics of the game pretty quickly.  When I stepped away from the TV, she gave me running commentary too - "I think Radwanska won this point because Williams' ball hit the net."  "Amma, I think Williams won the next point because I can see her sister clapping."

She watched the whole match with me, without taking her eyes off the screen.  It fascinated me - how a sport could hold her attention for two hours!

She was intrigued that both the losing and winning parties wept - one out of sorrow and the other out of joy.

She was very eager to watch the Federer vs Murray match too, but I had warned her that she wouldn't be able to watch the whole match, since it would go on for long, and that the next day was a school day.  She watched as long as I let her, and when she went to bed, she was very worried about how she would find out who won.

That night, when she woke up for her toilet break,  she wasn't disoriented as she usually is.  She asked me, "Amma, will the match be over now?"
"Yes," I said, but didn't tell her that I had watched it and knew who had won.  I wasn't ready to answer a barrage of questions at 1 in the night!
"Will the winner's photo be in the paper tomorrow?" she asked.
"Amma, don't look at the newspaper until I wake up.  We will see it together and find out who won."

And all these instructions from someone who usually has no idea what is going on when she wakes up at night, and who needs to be helped into the bathroom and lifted onto the toilet seat!

I am waiting for the Olympics to begin.  I'm pretty sure we'll enjoy watching the games together. :) 

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Another children's story published

One of my stories appeared in the Student's Edition of Deccan Herald of June 22nd.  I've attached a photo of it, but don't bother to read it because they've edited the sense and continuity out of my story.

I know my original story could have done with some pruning, but not at the expense of continuity! :)  So I am going to produce my original story here in full.


The noisy Monster.

Achal wasn't sure if he liked it or not. Manisha had decided that she was old enough to stop sleeping with Amma and Appa. She wanted to sleep with Achal in the room meant for the two of them. Achal was glad of her company – he liked his little sister with her loud voice and whirlwind ways. But he was annoyed that she would stop sleeping with their parents when she was only four years old, while he had waited till he was seven before he could summon up the will to sleep apart from his parents.

"That's just because Manisha has you for company, Achal," said Mamma. "You didn't have anybody, and that's probably why you were hesitant to start sleeping alone in your own room."

But Achal was uncomfortable anyway, that his little sister had become a big girl much before he had become a big boy.

Yet, that night, he felt good going to bed, turning off the lights, and knowing that Manisha was right next to him. Achal smiled, listening to Manisha's soft breathing on the bed next to him. How quickly these little kids fall asleep, he thought.

His mother called out to him. "Achal, Manisha has a slightly runny nose – if she wakes up at night calling out for me, will you let me know?"

"I will, Amma," said Achal, feeling very responsible. He was only nine years old, and Mamma already trusted him to look after Manisha! He felt very proud indeed.

Very soon, he was asleep too. He dreamt of Beyblades. He dreamt of his friend Arif's football, and of hanging by his legs from the tree in Raju Mama's house. Then he suddenly found himself in a park, with a monster following him. He couldn't see the monster. He could just hear it. "Pheeeeeeeee-Pop! Pheeeeeeeee-Pop!" said the monster, and the sound became louder and louder and scarier and scarier. It seemed like the monster was coming closer and closer to him.

Achal got scared. He ran from the sound, but it never ceased. He ran and he ran, his mouth dried up and his legs got tired, but still he ran and ran, and the sound was still right there, almost as if it were right next to his ears. "Pheeeeeeeee-Pop! Pheeeeeeeee-Pop!! Pheeeeeeeee-POP!"

From some corner of his mind, a voice told him that this was a dream. It was a trick his father had taught him. "When you dream that you are falling off a cliff," his father had said, "Tell yourself to grow wings, and then you can fly away instead of falling with a thud. And if you dream of monsters, tell yourself that there are no monsters, and then your mind will realize it is a dream, and you will wake up."

Achal hadn't had the opportunity to try it before, and this was it. The voice in his head became stronger. "Wake up, Achal," it said. "There are no monsters. You are just dreaming. Wake up, and the sound will go away."

Achal tossed and turned. He shook his head, and gradually the mists of sleep faded, and he emerged from his sleep.

He sighed with relief, licked his lips, and was about to turn and go back to bed, when "Pheeeeeeeee-Pop!" The sound was STILL there! Achal froze. This wasn't a dream. This sound was real and it was coming from the room. He lay frozen for a moment, letting only his gaze move slowly and fearfully around the room. He looked at the window, he looked at the cupboard, half-expecting it to open and monsters come tumbling out....... when suddenly he saw movement – right next to him!

"Manisha!" he thought. "Manisha is in my room! And is she making that strange sound? What on earth is it?"

He switched on the night light next to his bed, and looked at Manisha. She seemed troubled by something, and yes, it was she who was making that terrible sound.

"She's having trouble breathing," Achal thought. "Her nose must be blocked."

He ran to his parents' room and woke up his mother. "Mamma! Manisha's nose is blocked!"

Mamma came to their room, rubbed Vicks on Manisha's nose, and turned her to one side. She sat for a while, stroking her back, until Manisha's breathing became regular. She patted Achal's head and then went back to her own room.

Finally, the "Pheeeeeeeee-Pop" had gone. Achal sank back into bed thankfully, but not before having a sip of water for his dry throat.

There really ARE no monsters, he thought happily, as he closed his eyes and willed himself to dream of nice things!


Wednesday, July 04, 2012


Puttachi gives such generous compliments! 

Here are a few things she says about my cooking:

- Amma, you know exactly what I like.  Thank you soooo much!
- Mmmmmmm this is soooo good I cannot believe how good it is. 
- Amma, you cook sooo well, so well that you can teach others how to cook!
- Amma, give me your hand, I want to kiss it, because this hand made such tasty food!

If I'm wearing something nice:

- Oh Amma, this is such a beautiful dress I can't believe how nice you are looking.
- Oh here comes pretty pretty Amma!

If love just overflows for no reason:

- Amma you are such a cutie pie
- Amma I love you sooo much you are such a nice girl.

Is it any wonder my head is in the clouds these days? :)
- -