5

Matters of life and death..

Having a brother who is a foreign correspondent for a news channel means having to get used to hearing things like ‘I’ll call you in a bit, there’s a rebel checkpoint ahead’ during an ordinary day. He’s in eastern Ukraine now, uncovering details on the horrible fate of Malaysian Airlines MH17. Despite my fears, I am so incredibly proud of him and what he does. Getting a first hand account of what he is witnessing is so much more chilling than having to hear it through the filter of a TV screen. I can only imagine what he goes through seeing all this in person. Death itself (either your own or anyone else’s) is such a difficult topic to discuss without getting uneasy or making people uncomfortable. But to think of death deliberately inflicted by humans on each other is unspeakable.

Thanks to the information age, we are bombarded by news and images of death. Bad news sells. We’ve shrunk the earth and now carry it around in our pockets in the form of smart phones. Violence and crimes relating to geopolitical conflicts, religionism, totalitarianism, sexism, racism, ageism – it seems endless. Despite all of this savagery we seem to be surrounded by, Steven Pinker argues in this TED talk that we are living in the most peaceful time in human history. Our legacy is thousands of years of bloodied history. And not just because of wars and human brutality, but pandemics like the bubonic plague which wiped out millions of people.

Recently, an acquaintance of mine passed away quite suddenly in the prime of her life. It was the first time in my adult life I had to deal with such devastating news, it left me numb for days. The one constant thing (other than procreation) for all of mankind has been death, but we are still haven’t ‘evolved’ to deal with it. If anything, we have more trouble coming to terms with tragic loss compared to the generations before, because as Pinker states in his talk, we value life more than our ancestors ever did.

One of the reasons I wanted to blog is because I want my kids (and eventually their kids) to know who I was after I’m long gone. I want them to know who I was in my 30s, in my 40s, how my ideas aged, what issues were close to my heart, what drove me, what ignited me, the passions I nurtured. I remember as a kid finding a stash of letters, an odd poem, some incomplete articles, a few hastily written notes all belonging to my grandfather. The paper which had aged gracefully to a beautiful golden brown, was creased so badly it would simply break if opened. It had a rough texture with distinct characteristics of ink pen writing, including random ink blots. Never having met him in person, I devoured those pages, and in the process learnt what kind of man my grandfather was. Those notes opened a tiny window into his life which I would otherwise not have ever known. It fascinated me immensely reading something so personal written decades before my time. People do write differently when the words are not for public consumption. He practised alternate medicine with dogged fanaticism, sadly it was also ultimately responsible for his sudden and untimely death.

Getting off the bleak topic of death, I think my youngest boy has stumbled upon some profound theory to answer existentialist questions. With all the innocence of a two-year old, he seems to think that he will get a chance to be whoever he wants to be when he grows up. He says things like ‘when I turn onto a girl I will wear Dora costume’, ‘when I turn into mom I’ll have a handbag, ‘when I turn into a man, I’ll buy a boat’. I just got thinking how amazing it would be if we could all do this, if we had say, four lives and we could choose to be whoever we want to be in those and actually remember our experiences. I would choose to come back as a man just to figure out why men buy white bread when you specifically ask for brown, or why they have to be reminded about something for six months before it actually gets accomplished. Men could come back as women – walk in heels, wax their bodies and have babies, and finally understand what a high pain threshold really is! Maybe I’d come back as a child once and try to discern why in the kid world drinking from a blue cup, when your favorite is orange, is akin to sacrilege!

The world at large would greatly benefit with this perspective building. I dream of a more tolerant and charitable world, one which I will be proud to pass on to my children..

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4

One word: Bottles!

Bottles galore!

Bottles galore!

Mr. McGuire famously said to young Benjamin Braddock in “The Graduate”, “I just want to say one word to you … plastics.” I would add another word to that ‘bottles’.

No, plastic bottles don’t excite me and I do not enjoy writing about them. They were not on my radar when I belonged to the DINKdom, fast-forward a few years to two kids in school and its a different story. My preoccupation with bottles is matched only by my obsession with kid poop!

They say raising a child is expensive, but no one really gets down to specifics now, do they? Well, here I am baring it all for those of you who are planning to have kids. As a parent you will spend a mini-fortune on these things designed to do nothing but hold water and in the process most likely end up as a contender in the mass-bottle-buyer championship!

It all started rather innocuously with baby bottles, used mainly for pumping and feeding the baby, one of those things that feature regularly in the new moms ‘must do’ criterion. Then came the sippy cups, and as any devoted mother would, I scrounged the internet for advice on the best transition leak-proof sippy cup (spout or straw, central nozzle or side, with or without a wrist/neck-band, bang-proof and chew-friendly). What followed was an island-wide hunt for the perfect bottle. In my naivety I didn’t realise that I would be repeating this exercise every few months for the next hundered few years at least until the bottles miraculously start lasting longer than a life span of a caterpillar.

In the last 5 years, my brood has collectively lost/broken/annihilated more bottles than there are rows in Excel! Slight exaggeration there, but you get the point. Apart from some of them simply disappearing, no two bottles suffered the same fate – some broke after being unceremoniously thrown against the wall/ground, many started sporting unexplainable cracks, some came back all battered and dented from school, some didnt come back at all (and yes, I have considered dog-tags), some just shriveled into a shapeless blobs after a hot water wash, some lost during travel/holidays, etc. The most recent one started mysteriously wobbling around like a Fisher Price toy penguin, just a month after use.

I have a little theory on these bottles which simply don’t last a few full moons – planned obsolescence. In short, planned obsolescence is when manufacturers stimulate demand for their products by designing ones that wear out after limited use. I can picture the bosses of these bottle company cartels huddling together in some dilapidated abandoned warehouse in the outskirts of some old city, in Hollywood mafia-style and strategizing on how to best degrade their product quality.

To appease the environmentally conscious part of my brain, I tried steel/metal bottles but decided the eco-payoff (the heavy metal bottle smashing down on the little toe) wasn’t worth it. We do try our best to recycle these bottles, or whatever is left of them. Considering I’ve been buying these at the rate second only to diapers, I’ve got bottle hunting down to a T – Color. Check. Right plastic number. Check. BPA-free. Check. Lightweight and easy to clean. Check.

With any luck the kids will get through highschool without spending their entire college fund on water bottles, but I’m not putting my money on it (pun intended).

4

All the world’s a playground!

Children's Garden Photo Courtesy of Playpoint Singapore

Children’s Garden
Photo Courtesy of Playpoint Singapore


While walking back from our kite flying adventures yesterday, my little one tripped and skinned his knees and elbows. The sight of the grazed knee distressed him more than the actual pain. I belong to the ‘brush it off’ camp – skinned knees, bruises and bumps all come with the territory. They will survive and the memories of these hurts will fade faster than the scars themselves.

This episode took me back to a time in my life full of grazed knees, endless falls, scraped elbows and muddy clothes. My earliest memories of play involve being outside with a bunch of different-aged kids and playing at the park right across from my house or playing neighbourhood games with friends. We rarely played with toys and video games were not a part of our childhood. Parents accompanying kids to the park was unheard of, it was our territory, as were the many nooks and corners behind buildings, on the terrace, all those little hiding places and the many trees we regularly climbed (what else are trees for!)

Most people now would take a very dim view of the playground, where we played religiously every single day. My favorite part of it was the heavy set of wooden-seat swings, with the red pain chipping off them, where we would spend countless afternoons pumping it, until its joints creaked and the chains rattled in protest. We would swing standing up, sometimes two of us together, we’d jump off mid-flight to see who lands the farthest, swing sideways and twist the chains around, feeling our bodies swirling when released. These would really have scared the bejesus out of Rachel.

The old-fashioned see-saw, the planks of which were bent and cracked from overuse, was also a popular place. Our most satisfying game on it, and which could quite possibly be illegal now, was to jump of the end of the seesaw sending butts on the other side slamming to the ground. Then there was the ‘clothes-ripper’ metal slide, launching us down at (what then seemed like) lightening speeds scorching our bottoms on hot days, but didn’t bother us the least. We walked up the slide, came head down on our tummies, we jumped off it, there were no mommycopters crashing down on us with requests of ‘lets take turns’ or ‘go the right side up’!

The monkey bars were a way to earn respect – who can zip fastest to the other side skipping two or even three bars – extra points for a stylish landing! These manic bars bear the liability of many a broken bone. The moment the cast came off, kids were back on it again – bruises, broken bones were considered par for the course. A regular tetanus shot and some boric powder and we were good to go. The good ol’ merry-go-around gave us valuable lessons on centrifugal force!

Common playgrounds found in every other neighborhood

Common playgrounds found in every other neighborhood

As much as I would have loved to raise my kids around woods, meadows and open fields, living in a city means being confined to specific play areas. Admittedly, it would be next to impossible to replicate the carefree life that we were lucky enough to have, but I had always imagined my kids enjoying outdoor play, as much as I did. Boy, was I mistaken!

Most days I struggle to get the boys out of the house! These rounded plastic brightly colored safety-enhanced playgrounds which you would find in every condo, HDB area and most public parks are just a giant versions of the Fisher Price toys at home, and fail to keep the kids interest for longer than 15 minutes. On the other hand are the exorbitantly prices and excessively padded indoor playgrounds, sold as the best alternatives for play on hot and rainy days, which incidentally are the only two types of days in Singapore! Most of the traditional playgrounds do not have swings and merry-go-arounds, to avoid the liabilities of injuries. The see-saws don’t touch the ground, the springy ride-on things barely wobble and where swings are available, they provide minimal elevation and slides feature deathly slow-descents.

Reading the piece in the Atlantic Magazine ‘The Overprotective Kid‘, had me nodding in agreement throughout. Briefly, he article posits ‘A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer’. Among other things, the author is asserting that the current dumbed down play areas (thanks to the litigious nature of our society and modern culture of risk-aversion) haven’t managed to up the safety levels over old-schools ones, like the playground of doom from my childhood.

Birds Nest Swing at Elite Terrace park

Birds Nest Swing at Elite Terrace park

While exploring different playgrounds in Singapore, in the hope of finding ones that could replicate my experiences for my kids, I came across some unique structures and interesting designs at some slightly newer public playgrounds. Like a bird’s nest swing at this Elite Terrace Playground, where more than one kid can pile in together, making swinging a communal event! I also found zip lines, spinning disks and this geodesic dome in some parks.

Geodesic Dome at the Telok Kurau Park

Geodesic Dome at the Telok Kurau Park

Playpoint Singapore is one of the companies responsible for designing and bringing innovative euro-style equipment to Singapore, including the provocative treehouse inspired FEO Children’s Garden at Garden by the Bay.

Children's Gardens Photo Courtesy of Playpoint Singapore

Children’s Gardens
Photo Courtesy of Playpoint Singapore

Nothing like this treehouse, it was still a great improvement on the sanitized playgrounds which have been the norm of the past few decades. Disappointingly though, the last time we were there at least two of the most fun areas, including the steep metal slide and the angled rail-less merry-go-round had an ominous yellow tape around it with a sign reading “This play area has been decommissioned”. I spoke with Jason Sim, MD, Playpoint Asia, he simply stated that the those rides have been deemed too dangerous for kids. He told me, “Our mission is to push the boundaries of play and bring innovative ideas on play equipment and landscape design to Singapore”. At the risk of sounding cynical, I think this worthy goal can only be successfully achieved if we can alter the collective risk-averse attitudes that permeates our current culture.
Climbing at the Children's garden

Climbing at the Children’s garden


The Atlantic article also quotes a recent paper by Sandseter and Kennair (2011) which talks about risky play allowing children to cope with commonly experienced fears in a relatively safer way. The authors present that by preventing kids from experiencing fearful and risky situations, somewhat counterintuitively we hinder their ability to cope with fear, which in turn gives rise to increased levels of anxieties down the road.
Metal slide at Elite Terrace Park

Metal slide at Elite Terrace Park


Our kids are padded and protected just like the playgrounds they are exposed to. The common theme across most parenting boards is advice on dealing with daily battles with kids, struggles with aggression in kids, support for sibling rivalry and so on. I may be taking some liberties here, but I wonder how much of it has to do with the complete lack of thrilling and exciting forms of play for our kids these days. With our misguided focus on organic foods and hand-sanitizers, are we forgetting the most basic need of our kids, the need for unstructured and challenging play? This insightful blog post by An Honest Mom is what got me thinking about this.

We know kids learn through play, it is serious business for them. Tuning motor skills through play is also important in developing their minds for reading, writing and creative thinking. Here’s to more skinned knees and boo-boos – let the kids play, before life takes over..

0

Caterpillar bloom!

The uninvited caterpillar ..

The uninvited caterpillar ..

We had an uninvited guest a couple of weeks ago. Before long the entire family moved into our patio!

Mr. Caterpillar was so small and frail when we first noticed him nibbling on our plant in the patio. Some quick online research and I concluded this was the Oleander Hawk Moth Caterpillar. Its most distinguishing features are these alien-like fake eye-spots which grow larger to scare predators away if he feels threatened. The caterpillars natural protective coloring makes it practically blend into its surroundings.

Caterpillars fake eyes

Caterpillars fake eyes

Within a day, two more who joined in, feasting on this little plant with much fervor! It’s a small plant with white flowers that bloom pretty much all year around. Judge me all you want for my botany skills (rather the lack of!), I have no idea what plant this is.

Caterpillar family

Caterpillar family

The kids were thoroughly enjoying this caterpillar invasion, we talked about the food chain and about camouflage, we wondered if cats eat caterpillars or if the rain bothers them.

Oleander Hawk Moth Caterpillar

Oleander Hawk Moth Caterpillar

Caterpiller KitWe’ve had a lone visitor on this exact plant once before. We unsuccessfully tried to create our own caterpillar kit, making a home for him in a large bread dispenser. We even got tips from the very ‘reliable’ eHow.com on what to put inside his little home to make him comfortable. The idea was to watch them go through the complete life cycle of feeding, growing and transforming into a butterfly.

This particular caterpillar, however had no interest in providing the kids with this exciting learning opportunity! In a state of shock, he paced unremittingly all along the edge of the bread dispenser for hours! He refused to do the one thing he should have really have been doing – eating, and even lost some weight! It reminded me of the stereotypic behaviour of polar bears in captivity. Of course we let him go, he ran for his life and was never seen again.

Caterpillars

Caterpillars

This time though, the final count was seven! They nibbled through relentlessly and as the leaves disappeared, they bodies inflated. Before long they were fighting for space and clinging on firmly to the frail branches. The only proof of their intrusion (other than the missing leaves) was the caterpillar poop! They dropped these tiny poop pellets every now and then to the delight of my children, who couldn’t stop talking about it!

Lone Caterpillar

Lone Caterpillar

Bare Plant

Bare Plant

I knew the caterpillars would leave as soon as they were ready to spin their silky cocoons, to find a safer and more concealed place. They were in a big hurry, and were surprisingly sprightly considering their newly added girth! There was a lone flower left on the plant, the rest of it stripped completely bare. Admittedly, despite the unauthorized trespass, we throughly enjoyed ‘hosting’ these little critters and watching them grow. My kids have loved Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar book and this was great live example of a ballooning hungry green caterpillar. THe little plant who served silently as their food source has now started getting its leaves back. Occasionally we see a butterfly hovering above it and wonder if it’s the caterpillar visiting its first home.

Follow this link to see more interesting-looking caterpillars.

0

Happy 5th birthday Ayaan!

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday!

Happy birthday big boy!

Wow, what a whirlwind year it has been, you loved being four, didn’t you? How can I describe you this year in a few words – energetic, crazy, untrammelled and occasionally cantankerous!

You have made me proud at what you have achieved in this small span of half a decade. You do everything a 5-year-old boy should – pulling silly faces, inventing daft languages, naming and occasionally ‘fighting’ inanimate objects, being socially inappropriate, waggling your bits about in the shower – you are a complete goofball at heart!

Your sense of wonder and boundless energy brightens up the lives of all around you. Not only are your questions innumerable, a lot of times they are unanswerable – What can I say to “How many days are there?”, your question was exactly what it sounded like, but unless I can predict judgment day, I have no idea how many days are there in the world. And what can I say to ‘what number is infinity + 10’ or ‘what is at the end of space’.

You are the King of Silly and have taken it upon yourself to singlehandedly entertain the pants of anyone who is a willing subject! Of course I use the word ‘entertain’ loosely as most of it involves jokes about the bottom, poo or farts. ‘Poopooface’ has been the phrase du jour of our house for the better part of this whole year. Not to mention ‘sillybumbum’, usually accompanied with a visual demonstration. All of these shenanigans are met delightful cheers and cacophony of laughter from you No.1 fan, your little brother!

Talking about your brother, isn’t he the luckiest? You absolutely dote on him, more than once I have caught you looking at him with a warm look of brotherly affection. You will go out-of-the-way to cheer him up if he is grumpy. Of course, you boys have an occasional spat, but the companionship and the bond between you’ll has been a pleasure to witness. You are the self-appointed minder for your brother too, constantly watching out for him when we are out and about.

When you’re not being silly, you spend most part of your day making comparisons about who or what is biggest/strongest/most popular/deepest/widest/longest, etc. You wonder about the stars and the moon, about time and numbers, about being rich or poor, about being nice or mean, about being vegetarian or not, about the food chain and wild weather, being older or younger, taller or shorter. You talk about death and have rather unsettling questions, but have accepted very matter of factly that people go away after they are old. You have questions about your past, “How did they take me out of you?”, “Did someone put medicine in you to start making me in your tummy?” You have questions about the future “Will we always live together?”

Your current favorite song is ‘Bad’, it pleases you immensely that Michael Jackson is very famous. I haven’t yet told you that he is no more, to avoid a myriad set of questions relating to his death! And is it really a surprise that songs like ‘Make ‘Em Laugh‘ have you rolling on the floor with hysterical laughter.

Most of this year you have been fascinated with volcanoes and caves (it was space last year). You unquestioningly accept Bill Nye as the foremost authority on all things science!

This year you had to cope with me going back to work, and you were such a champ about it! With your wiser beyond your years talk, you gave me great confidence in my decision, which in turn helped your little brother contend with the change in circumstances.

I love your fierce loyalty towards me, even if it is at the expense of neglecting everyone else! I love how you want to take up my middle name just so our names sound similar! I love when you come back from school with all sorts of gifts for me, from rocks to sticks to random paper crafts.

Here’s looking forward to another year of lots of fun, more questions, endless laughter, crazier play and more connection and hopefully less toilet humour!

3

Philomena and Transformers

philomena-poster

It is unfair of me to even mention these two movies names together in one title, considering they are worlds apart in every possible way. I saw both the movies last week and could not have loved one or hated the other more!

Philomena is a story of a mother whose child was taken away from her through a forced adoption, an account she kept hidden for 50 years. The movie tries and succeeds marvelously at depicting the grief and longing of a mother who has been separated from her child. Even though I would highly recommend it to all adult moviegoers, I know it will touch a chord with mothers especially. You see, when we mothers birth our children, we also give birth to a special kind of fear – the fear of being separated from your child or seeing him/her come to harm. This dread-inducing feeling is unlike anything you would have ever felt before having children.

When my older one was close to 2.5 years old, he got lost at the park for about half an hour. I had never known that kind of extreme terror and agony that gripped my heart for those 25-30 minutes. Time had slowed to a surreal crawl, I have vivid memories of every minute that we were looking for him. That was almost three years ago, but my heart beats faster every time I think about it. I think both of us suffered mild PTSD after that incident, it took me longer to get over it compared to my boy.

Even though I enjoy sci-fi, thriller and superhero movies, once in a while I like to indulge in tender and heart-warming realistic films which touch me deep down and stay with me for a long time. ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ was one such movie I saw recently and now Philomena.

And now Transformers “Age of Extinction” – first thing I noticed about the movie was how unfitting the title was – no one and nothing is at the brink of extinction. Oh wait, there is that dinosaurs getting extinct scene caused by a giant explosion by some alien transformers in the beginning. There is some controversy on whether the movie passed the Bechdel Test, it’s all down to technicalities. I, however think it failed miserably. I not sure what bothered me the most – Mark Walburg as an unconvincing buffy inventor, the 17 year old ‘underage’ daughters perfectly colored moisture-rich lips in every scene, the hope-my-accent-distracts-you-enough-not-to-notice-my-bad-performance Irish boyfriend, the every Asian must know martial arts stereotype, the Samurai Autobot, the gleeful look on the faces of our protagonists while using firearms.. I think the list is endless. The worst line of the movie was the only one that was actually remotely funny – “My face is my warrant”! Of course I didn’t expect a movie about giant robots to be cohesive and have much of a storyline, but this was three hours of pure torture.

10

Turning a year older

Birthday Cake by the kidsI turned 33 last week. As always it was an uneventful birthday with a few calls/texts from close friends and family. Unlike when I was turning 30, this July 3rd I was actually at peace and quite happy to be year older and wiser. I got a wonderful spa surprise from hubby – a couple massage after work a day before my birthday. On the day itself, he turned up at work with flowers, not that I care much for bouquets – it was however a lovely gesture. The highlight of the day was the kids baking a cake for me (with the help of my helper of course) and decorating the house with balloons, and managing to keep all of this a surprise!

My older kiddo was actually enjoying the whole process of planning a surprise for me, with a glint in eye he refused to divulge any details when I probed a day earlier. He also prepared a birthday card for me with ‘hapebade’ or something similar written on it. Making a card to him means taking any piece of paper and folding it into two. The younger one couldn’t care two hoots about anything but eating the cake. He wished me ‘Happy birthday mamma, can I have the cake now?”

Anywho, since this birthday I’m actively blogging, I thought it was about time I make a bucket list. Here is my list of 30 things I want to do before I pop..

1. Learn how to code

Pick up a programming language

2. Visit a safari in Tanzania

Tanzania safari

3. Live in this underwater hotel room in Africa – The Manta Resort

The Manta Resort

4. Freelance as a social media consultant

Social Media Consulting

5. Visit Iceland for Aurora Borealis

aurora-borealis

6. Make pasta from scratch

Pasta Making

7. Climb Kilimanjaro

Kilimangaro

8. Learn CPR

CPR

9. Learn origami

Origami

10. Learn to ski

Ski

11. Study the game theory (again!)

Game Theory

12. Learn taiko

Taiko

13. Move to California

California

14. Grow a vegetable garden

Vegetable Garden

15. Start a not for profit organization

NonProfit

16. Turn vegetarian

Vegetarian

17. Run a marathon

Marathon

18. Visit at least one South American country

South America

19. Teach my kids fluent Hindi

Hindi

20. Learn backstroke

Backstroke

21. Work in New York (even if for a few weeks/months!)

New York City

22. Attend a vipassana course

Vipassana

23. Live without phone/internet connectivity for a month

2013-04-30-12-45-56_Blog_Offline_NoConnection

24. Stay in this treehouse at the Tranquil Resort, Kerala.

Tranquil Resort

25. Be a part of a flash mob

Flash Mob

26. Paint a canvas and display at home

Painting

27. Learn to sew half as well as my mom

Sewing

28. Try fly boarding

Fly Board

29. Take at least one holiday a year with my besties

Best Friends

30. Raise healthy, happy and connected kids

My kids