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The Google Mom

While pregnant with my first one, I convinced myself that my belly rash was PEP (earlier called PUPPP). When I confronted my gynecologist with the symptoms and suggested the diagnosis, I was dismissed. “Oh, it’s just a rash” she said nonchalantly. I was indignant, how could she dismiss the hours I spent on the Internet self-diagnosing! Resolute on being vindicated, for my next consultation I took prints of research papers, pictures of symptoms and all sort of material to prove myself. Clearly my few hours on Google University were as good as her years in medical school. Faintly amused, she was still insisted that it was nothing to worry about. Of course, it was nothing but rash, but in my defense… Ah well, who am I kidding, I have no defense!

We are living in a world where there is more information than our brains are designed to process. A lot of it is just noise, but even sifting through this barrage of information to find relevant pieces takes up our bandwidth. As moms in this new digital age we have benefited immensely from our ability to connect to and feel a sense of camaraderie with an online tribe who is suffering from the same poop/puke filled days and sleepless nights. We use the Internet to get good deals on products, read reviews, get recommendations and to find humour even! But all this infobesity comes with a price. While the Internet helps in giving us new perspectives and insights, it can also concretise your biases by offering affirmations for any belief that you might hold. For some of us not gifted with a strong in-built mommy compass, this non-stop online chatter can sway our principles, make us feel inadequate and question ourselves as parents.

With my first child, I compulsively researched everything online. Starting from the weekly foetus growth photos to birth stories, baby poop, vaccinations, feeding, weaning, sleep issues, growth spurts, the list is endless! I came across a ton of material, sometimes conflicting. In this new age, it has become a trend to define your parenting style and build your Mom brand. There are extreme camps of AP/crunchy moms and the mainstream moms, and many different parenting styles in between. These days it’s common to have a Mom Statement, something you live by. Before the age of modern medicine, structured education and economic surplus, motherhood involved keeping the child healthy, providing basic learning and keeping him fed. Having moved beyond that, we are still struggling to really understand our roles. I digress.

None of us would fit exactly into any of these defined molds of 21st century parenting. We all have unique styles of navigating this maze of motherhood with the help of our friends, our family, and our village. Technology is meant to make our lives easier, not complicate it further. With so much information just a finger swipe way, we have to show as much discretion in our use of it as our contribution to it. The Internet is also responsible for giving us a false sense of having the smarts, as I learned with the experience with my Gynae. The speed at which I can source information and become an ‘expert’ is limited only to speed of my internet access. What actually gets retained is a matter open for debate. While I still enjoy a variety on online content, stepping off the information hamster wheel, for me involved a balanced diet to combat Infobesity by cutting down on the junk food equivalent of needless time spent on Twitter, Pinterest and Houzz, limiting empty calories from FB pages and parenting forum boards. I do occasionally binge, but there’s always the digital detox program to counter that!

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What does a 5 year old boy want?

A 5-year-old wants to be hilarious, he likes to laugh and be laughed at.
A 5-year-old wants to fit in, wants to be cool, be liked by his friends, appreciated by his teachers and loved by his siblings.
A 5-year-old wants dignity, wants to be treated as a person
A 5-year-old wants power, power to be his own person, power to command respect
A 5-year-old wants to cooperate because he sees the benefit of it
A 5-year-old wants to defy and challenge because he sees the limitations of it
A 5-year-old wants to grow up and confront this seemingly complicated world
A 5-year-old wants to slow down and be little once in a while.
A 5-year-old needs control, he needs to know what’s ahead, where is the next stop
A 5-year-old wants to know what it feels like to blatantly lie
A 5-year-old wants to dig his nose without inhibitions
A 5-year-old wants adults to know, that in his world promises (even a ‘maybe’ or a ‘We’ll see’ or a ‘hmmm’ is a promise!) are never forgotten
A 5-year-old wants juice – all times of the day!
A 5-year-old wants to never be asked ‘what did you do in school today?’
A 5-year-old wants to know about his past and thinks about his future
A 5-year-old wants to fix without asking for help

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What’s in a name?

Source: planetofquotes.com

Source: planetofquotes.com

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” quoted Shakespeare famously in his play about the star-crossed lovers. What was untold to preserve the aesthetics of this dialogue was that this dictum can only be applied to common nouns and to things, as opposed to people. For a person his name becomes him. Sometimes a name carries on a legacy long after a person is dead (think Hitler or Gandhi). A name is like DNA carrying in it information about a person’s gender, race, ethnicity, nationality and sometimes social standing.

A few of my friends are expecting and a common topic of conversation is the name of the baby. The significance of a spending a good deal of time researching the name is diluted by the weariness of the pregnancy itself. Expecting parents are the worst candidates for choosing the best possible names for their kids, but routinely bear the onus to do so. Some of my foresightful friends thought of one even before they get pregnant, only to be subject to familial plagiarism!

I remember being 10 or 11 when I first questioned my parents about my name, and whether they had any others shortlisted. Not usually the one to offer unsolicited advice, I can’t resist this one – please don’t tell your children the name they almost had! Both me and my brother had almost-names, and we often wondered what frame of mind our parents were in to choose our current names over those.

I have never met a namesake. And if the internet population is anything to go by, there is no one who shares my full maiden name. It’s a privilege I wished away. And yes, I have a fake Starbucks name.

I have hauled my name along all my life. Often it’s been unwieldy and ineffectual. It taunted me with disloyalty. I trudged it along, bearing it until the burden eased and I no longer felt its constant presence. Occasionally it prods me, but is mostly happy with my concession.

It’s not just a cosmetic problem. Numerous studies have found name bias in play, where an unusual sounding name can affect your prospects of employment, housing and even education.

When naming our kids we choose simple but unique names. I knew I would be questioned about them, what I didn’t realise is how soon it would happen. My then 4-year old asked me one day how he was named – did he come out of tummy and announce “Hi, I’m Ayaan!”, or came with a label? If only it was that easy! It troubled him greatly that choosing his name was a pretty random affair, but being 4 he couldn’t articulate it. Clearly, he inherited the ‘I-don’t-like-this-naming-business gene from me. We spoke about it again recently, just after his 5th birthday. This time he asked me if we had considered other names for him, and why did we finally decide on Ayaan – “why not Charlie or Alex?” Sigh!

The next time I may have to be ready with better answers – we put in a lot of names in the fishbowl and drew out this one! Or it was assigned by the government, specifically the Ministry of Names. Or we conducted a poll on Facebook (this is actually true for some people!)

Do you like the name given to you?

Some interesting links

Simon M. Laham, Peter Koval, Adam L. Alter. The name-pronunciation effect: Why people like Mr. Smith more than Mr. Colquhoun. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (2012)

Newman EJ, Sanson M, Miller EK, Quigley-McBride A, Foster JL, et al. (2014) People with Easier to Pronounce Names Promote Truthiness of Claims. PLoS ONE 9(2): e88671. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0088671

Saku Aura & Gregory D. Hess, 2010. “What’s In A Name?,” Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 48(1), pages 214-227, 01.

Swedish study confirms foreign name CV bias

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The Tanka of Love

I decided to take up the Daily Post’s writing challenge, my first one! Can’t say it was an easy one. I have amateurly attempted Haiku before but never Tanka. Below I write about one of those ordinary days as I head back home from work to reunite with my two boys.

A long day at work

Rain pounding on the windshield

Yet a silent heart

Silver light sieved distances

A double helix of love awaits

Traditional tanka contain five lines instead of haiku’s three, and 31 syllables instead of 17. The structure is that of a haiku followed by two additional lines of seven syllables each: 5-7-5-7-7.

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That’s Not Fair!

“But that’s not fair!” screamed my preschooler when his brother was offered a bowl of fruit. Since he hadn’t napped he got his fruit bowl an hour earlier, but the usual short-term memory problem ruled that he should get it again. Lesson learned – serve fruit at the same time! Kids take to extremes what is essentially inherent in all of us – the need for fairness. I wrote about a FOMO attack that my kids suffered from a couple of weeks ago, the basis of it was this similar expectation of absolute fairness.

The old dictum ‘life isn’t fair’ is casually thrown around more often than circumstances demand it. Fairness and equality are subjective fluid terms, very difficult to define even with a context. A glittering generality as its referred to in polijargon.

This video of an experiment on Capuchin monkeys brightens up my dullest day! It documents a sense of fairness in monkeys, supporting an early evolutionary origin of an aversion for inequality. I can see why this primate would so dramatically protest against ‘lower pay’ for performing the same job. Our own behaviour would not be too dissimilar when faced with such a situation, albeit marginally civilised.

Apparently, there is also a fairness gene. I’m sure the location of this gene is precisely halfway from the two ends of the chromosome (because it’s the fairness gene, see what I did there?). Genetic jokes apart, this is a very interesting concept. I think I may have got recessive fairness genes from both my parents, as I clearly remember being the but-thats-not-fair child!

Co-operation, fairness and altruism is studied with much intensity by scientists. In the economic game theory, the ultimatum game has received widespread attention. The results of this game, in which two players are given a sum of money to divide, fly in the face of economic utility maximisation logic. Homo economicus may well be turning in his graving seeing these outcomes.

Lately, this photo has been cropping up a lot on my Facebook feed, can’t credit it as I’m not sure of the origins of this.

Quality VS Justice

Although this picture is loaded with ethical and political connotations, it is easily applied in a micro context to a house with multiple critters. Children are at the nucleus of this fair/unfair debate. It may seem innocuous at first, but this innate sense is the basis of our adult views and actions relating to morality and empathy and a variety of other economic and social issues1. I showed this illustration to my 5 year-old and asked which picture was fair according to him. His answer was unequivocal and without hesitation – “the one on the left”. When I pointed to the little boy who couldn’t see while standing on just one box, the discussion took a turn, which in 20/20 hindsight I should have expected. A barrage of suggestions poured from my little man ranging from ‘they should break the fence’ to ‘they should all get two boxes!’ We are talking about owners of undeveloped prefrontal cortex here and explaining justice to them is not an easy task!

I am certain of having inadvertently passed on this fairness gene to my children (fairly evenly at that!). This only means most of my primary parenting role will involve maintaining an inordinate level of fairness just to create some semblance of peace in the house!

1. “The Fairness Instinct” L. Sun

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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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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.