30-Jul-2013

Book updates




Of late I have noticed that I don’t have much time to read. This is rather surprising because no matter what, I used to have a lot of time to read but apparently having a baby ensures your time goes down a black hole (an elaborate post on that some other time).

Not to mention sometimes, the baby-related reading you have to do just to make sure that you are not screwing up big time itself takes up time. Before Bobo started solids, I had to quickly read Gill Rapely’s Baby Led Weaning. My child guru N explained the concept, gave me the book and all I had to do was to actually read and implement. Unfortunately right around that time I also laid my hands on The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I seriously contemplated postponing starting solids so I could finish Oscar Wao but luckily for Bobo, things did not turn out to be so dire and I managed to read enough Gill Rapely to figure out how to feed him his carrots at exactly six months.

Oscar Wao is not exactly hero material. He is fat and dorkish and while he loves women, he is never loved by them, atleast not in the romantic sense. Coupled with the fact that he belongs to the Dominican Republican community where the men and women are apparently going at it all the time, Oscar is not exactly in a happy place. But boy does he try! There is also a thread that takes us back in time to a story that shows the worst of the Trujillo regime. Gripping and well told, the book was an excellent insight into what life was back then and how it goes now for people of Dominican Republic. While the book is meant to be narrated in the voices of different people, at times they sound the same. That is a minor quibble though and the voice itself speaks such a charming, colloquial lingo that you don’t mind too much.

Keeping with the mood, I decided to plunge into A Feast of the Goat by Maria Vargos Llosa. A friend of a friend had recommended it and it lay awaiting its day in my book shelf. This one again takes us between the past and the present of Dominican Republic. The past recounts the last few weeks of the Trujillo regime, especially the preparations for Trujillo’s assassination. I am not sure how many authors could have successfully pulled off telling us about the personal motives and foibles of the assassins and how the aftermath evolves. You get a cold reality check on how politics plays its role the entire way. In the present, Urania Cabral comes from the U.S. to Santo Domingo after a self-imposed life-long exile and tries to come to terms with her past. While Junot is good, Llosa is brilliant. The latter did win the Nobel prize after all!

Both these books bring to light how a dictatorship works and how people survive in one and the price they pay for it. Suffice to say it is horrid. They also told me the history of a nation whose existence I was not particularly concerned with. But it is a history worth knowing just so we are reminded again why one man should not be given too much power. 

I managed to read a bit of non-fiction, something I usually don’t do. Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman tells us how the French bring up their children. Druckerman quits her successful career as a journalist, marries a Briton and moves to Paris. She has two kids during her stay and documents her perspectives on the French method of parenting. It is an interesting enough book and provides insights into how the French are sane about the role of children in their lives. Unlike the Americans, they apparently do not change their lives to revolve around their kids. Instead they fit their kids into their lives. This seemed sensible to me. Especially the parts about it being ok to put children in day care, giving them a variety of foods and permitting them some leeway to do mischief. Except Druckerman seems to think that the French can do no wrong. She gently wonders why most of them don’t breast feed for a longer time despite evidence that breastfeeding is good. She is quite ok with French women having lower expectations from their husbands when it comes to child rearing and household work, since that maintains the peace in the house (Thank you for taking us back to the dark ages!). I think this book would have been better had it taken a more balanced approach but it is still a decent read. Especially if you are a mother whose life does not revolve around her kid/s 24/7 and wants to hear about a culture which is ok with this behaviour.

Then it was onto Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, a book that seems to have got more bad press than really necessary. Taken as another voice to the debate on how to help women make progress in the professional world, it has a few points to make. The book focusses mostly on what women can do to help their own cause. I agree with a lot of her points. I have seen women be less ambitious and aggressive than men. I have seen women not ask for the same degree of pay hike and promotions. I have seen women who view their output more poorly than men even if they have done better. I had a conversation with my mentee last year, who did well at work, went to B-School and did well there as well and then told me that she wanted to take a job that would help her achieve a balance in life. I completely agree one needs balance in life but I also strongly think that there can be no preconceptions of how that balance will work for any particular individual. Women cut themselves short thinking of establishing a balance even before they have figured out what their potential is and how ambitious they are. Whereas men just start off ambitious and then cut back as they figure out where they fit.

Most of this happens at entry levels and I guess those women who stay in the race usually become more aware of these follies and start taking a conscious effort to do better. But this journey of self-discovery takes time and it is handy to have a book like this to remind women that they can indeed do better.

Sandberg however addresses the systemic issues that women face in a very peripheral manner and that is indeed a shortcoming of the book. Especially considering her clout she could have spent some more pages on this topic. But seriously, I would recommend this as reading to women who work. If you are putting in those eight or ten hours, then you may as well figure out how to make the most out of it.

Then there was the random book I picked up in the airport. David Nicholls' One Day which came with a blurb heaping high praise on it. The book tells us the story of Dexter and Emma over a period of twenty years, from the time they are undergrads. It describes beautifully both of their evolutions from their college persona. Dexter, charming and clever, is all set to be a big success. Feminist and a bit of a commie, Emma is constantly viewing success as a threat to her core principles. As the years pass, they both grow up and learn a lot about life. You can clearly see how well suited they are to each other and can also empathise with why they are never in the same phase of life. The dialogues are interesting and the warmth of their friendship comes out nicely. You can see a bit of yourself or your friends in the phases they go through. The ending is a bit dramatic though and I thought was rather an anti-climax to an otherwise realistic story. A good holiday read. 

Incidentally Bobo seems to be developing an interest in books. Right now his love for devouring them is mostly conveyed by him literally devouring them. Most of the expensive books we bought for him are already well chewed and may not last to the point where he actually enjoys books for what they are and not merely as teething tools. The other day however, he sat on my lap and patiently listened while I read The Hungry Caterpillar. No grabbing and putting it straight into his mouth. Either he was very sleepy or he may actually be developing an interest in story telling. I suspect it is the former but I will take what we get



14-Jul-2013

Lunching with a baby




Check the profile of the other guests.

If single/couple with no kids and likely to write bitchy blog posts like this, then hire a baby sitter and leave baby behind. Everyone has adult conversations and a good time.

If parents and bringing along their toddler, then by all means take your baby along.

---

Sit down and exchange pleasantries.

Baby gets antsy

Look totally in control and announce to the others that you are just going to rock your baby to nap and then toss him into his stroller where he will sleep uninterrupted till the end of the meal. Base your analysis on the previous lunch outing when baby did exactly that

Recollect steps from last time and proceed to follow them exactly.

Step one - Take baby outside

Step two - Walk around a bit with him.

Step three - Baby to start putting his head on your shoulder. Notice baby not doing his bit. Notice baby swirling his head left and right, fascinated by the events on the road

Give up. Bring baby back inside.

Try to get back into conversation.

Baby gets antsy.

Continue conversation and pretend that you are not standing in your place, rocking an increasingly loud baby and are hovering over the heads of other guests.

Eagerly hand over baby to a grandparent who is willing to rock him to sleep.

Five minutes later grandparent brings back sleeping baby.

Look totally in control and take baby

Put baby in stroller

Baby wakes up and gets antsy

Rock baby back to sleep

Put baby in stroller

Baby wakes up and gets antsy

Repeat

And again

And again

---

Decide to hold the baby in your hand and let him sleep there

Watch food come.

Watch everyone else tuck into yummy looking mutton sukka, prawns, masala puris and fish biriyani

Start dribbling worse than the baby

Hand over baby to baby’s dad and tuck in.

Dad passes baby back and tucks in

Repeat

---

Baby wide awake and starts dribbling looking at the food

Produce a box of steamed carrots for baby to chew. Proudly wait for other guests to 
remark how astonishing that a seven month old can eat by himself.

Notice other guests are uninterested in your baby feeding himself

Baby helpfully tosses half the carrots on the floor and most of the rest into his clothes

Try to attract attention of other guests when baby chews one tiny piece

Notice other guests are still uninterested

Force other guests to watch a ‘really interesting’ video of your baby eating prunes. (Maybe they prefer a video to the live version?)

In return be forced to watch photos of fancy dress party of their toddler

Call truce

---

Baby and toddler eye each other. Take multiple snaps of them together

Watch toddler show off her ability to open and close doors

Notice other patrons in restaurant are not impressed by your baby’s antsy wails, his carrots tossed on the floor, the toddler blocking up the doorway, the constant walks everyone at your table takes while accompanying a child outside

Notice that you have started talking in 30-second slots the way you did when you used to watch TV and there were ad breaks.

Notice you did not have a single complete conversation.

Notice that you don’t really care and are just glad to be outside eating a good meal, sitting with your family and friends.

Notice how times change.





04-Jul-2013

An Education




Nothing has made me feel more Mommy-like than the hunt for Bobo’s preschool.

Yes, you heard it right. He is not yet 7 months and we are already hunting for a preschool for him to join when he is around eighteen months.

Infact, the hunt for a pre-school began when he was around five months old. I had not the foggiest idea of what happened in a pre-school but I figured that as Bobo got older, he won’t be happy in the sole company of our very sweet and very friendly helper. We would have to send him some place with lots of kids and play things sooner than later.

After half a night of googling (we are talking about sacrificing sleep here. Precious, precious sleep), I came up with a list of schools I wanted to check out.

Then I promptly got involved in other things and shelved the whole project.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I got back onto the project again. With more than a year to go before I had to admit Bobo to a school, it was not like a month was going to make a difference.

I called up Pat’s Schoolhouse to schedule a visit, feeling very grown up. Pat’s is a fairly popular preschool located right outside our condo. Perfect place.

I spoke to them and figured out that Pat’s did not take kids till the year they turned three.

I realized that Bobo could go in Jan 2015, not July – August 2014 as I had hoped.

Oh well.

It was a tad too early to do a visit but we had to get started somewhere, didn’t we?

“Can you let me know when I can visit” I said in my grown up, serious, I-mean-business parent voice (newly developed for this search)

The reply came “There is no point scheduling a visit now. We will put you down on our waitlist and call you later”

“Sure” Grown-up me continuing. I gave her Bobo’s details, then casually asked “So what number are we on the waitlist”

“Seventy”

What!?!! I thought I had heard it wrong but infact we were 70.

I had heard rumours that you registered for a school as soon as your kid was born.

I think it must be as soon as you found out you were expecting.

Actually it must be as soon as you start planning to have a baby.

I hung up and picked my jaw off the floor.

I called D in a panic and informed him that we had to do something now or else Bobo would end up being home schooled, going to a B-grade college and living off us for the rest of our lives (whereas the plan is we educate him well, he cracks Harvard, makes pots of money and we retire early)

That very evening, I updated my school list. The next morning I had made an appointment with another school in the neighbourhood that was a short taxi ride away.

Atleast we had gotten a visit, whether we got admission or not was another matter.

On D-Day, we dropped in on the way to work. We were armed with a list of questions. I had dressed up in some of my better office clothes and glared at D who was wearing his jeans (his current workplace is rather laissez faire when it comes to clothes). We were bloody well going to impress them into giving us a place.

The teacher took us around the place pointing out the play area, different class sections, the kitchen, the toilet, the music room and so on. It was a large enclosed space, brightly lit, neatly maintained and divided into sections where kids from ages 18 months to 6 years sat in groups according to their age.

The group of kids from 18 months to 24 months had just arrived in school and it was a noisy scene. Three of the kids were crying. The two teachers were consoling one kid each, leaving the third one to sniffle around morosely by himself. The non-crying kids were wandering around their area generally amusing themselves. One peacemaker was patting a crying kid and handing out a box of tissues.

I was beginning to have a mild headache with the chorus of noise and now I know that I greatly admire people who spend their day with so many kids and stay sane.

Yes, I love my own kid but I don’t think I would be able to handle a cohort day in and day out.

D looked quite upset with all the crying. Later he remarked that we really should not send Bobo to a school. It would be just too heartbreaking. I pointed out that we were anyway going to leave him at home and be in office the whole day.

“But he could atleast stay with our helper” D said

“Who will home school him? To be a nurse in Philippines” I pointed out. (Our helper was a nurse in Philippines in her former avatar)

“What is wrong with being a nurse? Are you saying boys can’t become nurses?” D challenged

“No. I am saying I would like any child of mine to be a little more ambitious to begin with atleast”

Anyway, that is a different story and I think D may be ready to cut the apron strings by the time Bobo is eighteen months old and bouncing off the walls when we come home tired and weary.

At the centre itself, they assured us that Bobo would get a place and we could wait till later this year to get moving on the admission if we wanted to. They took down our details. The teacher kept referring to me as ‘Mommy’ and I was feeling rather proud. (Of course if that is what people called me all day long, I would probably go mad. But once in a while, it feels very special)

The first visit over, I now have a better sense of the preschool landscape. At one end are the highly subsidized ones which are next to impossible to get into and cater largely to the locals. At the other end are the ones that follow an international school curriculum (not at 18 months of course. Mostly as they grow slightly older) and cater largely to the expats. Then you have schools like Pat’s which cater to an upper middle-class local population and to expats. Pat’s would be great if it worked out since it is at walking distance but I think we should be ok with anything within an easy distance

We liked the school we visited but not enough to go ahead with it. We are going to check out a few more schools in the coming days.

Then there is other part of me which seems to be flashbacking to me as a child, writing admission tests (and I wrote a lot of them thanks to my father’s transferrable job). A part of me that remembers the story my mom told me about my own admission to Class 1 where I apparently impressed everyone with a brilliant performance. Suddenly I am beginning to see a fuller picture of my childhood. It is not just me writing those admission tests. The picture now includes my parents anxiously trying to figure out which schools were good, queuing up for admission, watching while we settled in, made friends and figured out the system. I bet that was not much fun.

It is funny how time flies and the cycle starts again.