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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’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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Happy 3rd Birthday Rehan!

Source: freeallimages.com

Source: freeallimages.com

Rehan, Rehan, Rehan! Happy birthday baby! What a year this has been, full of contradictions! You’ve been carefree yet so attached. Dramatic yet so calm. Loud yet so serene. Energetic yet so blasé. Difficult yet so compliant. Secure yet so vulnerable. Shy yet so cheeky. Relishing life with your contagious exuberance, you are a picture of joie de vivre, taking absolute delight in just being.

Puss in Boots cute expressionThis year you graduated from the College of Utmost Cuteness with Honors! Oh how you can charm the pants of anyone, talking so earnestly in that cute lispy baby way. You can pull of the Puss in Boots look faultlessly to your advantage, leaving us feeling warm and fuzzy but always with a nagging feeling that we are in some way being manipulated by this charm. You negotiate an extra cookie with simple but heart-warming comments like ‘but you’re my favourite girl!’, how can I say no to anything after that!

You’re allergic to taking showers, loud noises and snotty-nosed babies. You are very single-minded and willful about your notions of how things should and shouldn’t be. Pajamas should be worn precisely 5 minutes before bedtime. Toothbrush should be placed in the right holder. Broken crackers shouldn’t be handed to kids. Sometimes I wonder where you get these qualities that make you so stubborn and unyielding. Who am I kidding, of course it’s your dad’s genes! Just to detail how much effort goes into keeping you happy here is a sample of your dislikes – t-shirts with pockets, sand in shoes (interestingly sand in hair, nose and mouth is OK), other people’s towels, yellow cups, a single drop of water on your shorts, warm food, jam sandwich folded up, jam sandwich not folded up, bruised bananas, waiting for food at the restaurant, cold swimming pools, the list goes on and on.

Despite all this need of a sense of order and cleanliness, you are awfully clumsy. This clumsiness however, for reasons unknown, is solely for my benefit and I can’t say I am flattered. Playing with you means having to regularly shield myself from your unintended blows, head-butts, elbow jabs, knee rams and eye pokes. It seems being around me has a magical effect on your spine, it becomes all squidgy with your body just flopping over me. I have suspicion you think of yourself as being lighter than air. Either that or you see me as invincible, someone who has successfully birth two babies can’t possible get hurt right?

You have a favourite everything – number, letter, animal, part of the body, side of the bed, corner for pooping, planet, superhero, song, book. For the better part of the year, your favourite colour was orange. You granted yourself exclusive rights over it. Not only did we have to deal with you only wearing orange t-shirts, eating only orange-looking fruits with orange cutlery but also with random orange objects mysteriously appearing in the house. It took a long time for the understanding that the ‘if it’s my favourite it’s mine’ rule is not a socially acceptable norm, but we’re finally there!

official-age-warning-logoYou have intermittent love affairs with your toys, devoting yourself completely to one for days only to ruthlessly dump it in favour of another. With so many exciting toys, how can you be expected to stay committed to one? Like a true blue playboy (a boy who plays!) you sleep with whatever toy you fancy on any particular day. You’ve also laugh in the face of this sign here, almost exclusively choosing toys with lethal levels of choking hazards. What can I say, you are thrill seeker like that.

Occasionally, you get so involved in play that you go on an acknowledgement strike, combined with selective mutism. I would have mistaken your lack of response to assume you have mastered the Buddhist Zen state of awareness of the present moment, if you hadn’t so miserably failed the keyword test. This ingenious test involves throwing in some keywords while trying to have a conversation with your toddler – nothing fancy, just simple words like ‘ice cream’, ‘lollipop’, ‘candy’, etc. Yeah, that was no Zen state!

Self-preservation is very high on your agenda. You’re not one to get into trouble, test gravity or expend too much energy. The tiniest bruise will be a cause of much distress and also an excuse to not shower for days! If given a choice, you’d rather spend all your time at home just being silly with your brother or playing with your Legos or Octonaut toys, than go out. Is it any surprise then that you belong to the I-don’t-want-to-go-to-school club?

You don’t like the idea of growing up and vehemently deny being a ‘big boy’. I don’t like it either and sometimes find myself wishing I had the power to freeze time just for a bit. For what it’s worth, you will always be the baby of the house.

PS- Sorry about the terrible haircuts I gave you this year! And yes sweetheart, bread and chocolate bread rhymes 🙂

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Where’s the Magic?

“Dad, there’s no real magic in the world, right? Like, this second, there’s no elves in the world, right?” a young boy named Mason asks his father in Boyhood, a lovely heart-warming movie about relationships and discovering yourself. The movie was filmed over 12 years with the same cast, and follows the journey of 7-year old Mason into adulthood. His father reluctantly says no to his question, and you can see that moment as a significant turning point in Mason’s life. It’s as if the magic of the boy’s childhood just evaporated and was lost forever. I was deeply touched by this scene as by the whole movie. It’s a movie without any real plot, but it doesn’t really need one as it’s not trying to make a point; it is just a one that is.

Curious, I asked my 5-year old the next day if he thought there is magic in the world. His answer? An empathic no! I persisted, asking him why he didn’t believe in fairies or elves or witches. Or why Harry Potter or superheroes were not real. He insisted they weren’t and simply stated ‘because I know’ and when pushed more, reluctantly went on to explain “I have been to so many countries mom but I haven’t seen any magic”. The boy had a point! Not to discount my little travellers theory but there is another reason why my child doesn’t believe in magic.

Ever since he could talk, and being precocious that started very early, he would ask if something existed or not, if it was real or made-up. It seemed like his life mission was to find out what really existed and what was just stories. Contrast this with my 3-year-old who is blissfully unaware (or at least pretends to be) about the realness of things and doesn’t seems to care much about it – his world as I see it is full of endless possibilities. What fun to be able to imagine a man on the moon or Batman fighting crime in Gotham City or a planet full of transformers.

Kids these days have a lot of exposure to and knowledge about completely unimportant and irrelevant things, thanks to the YouTube phenomenon. By the time my son reached 5 he had seen videos of space shuttle launches, car factories, scuba diving, garbage collection in action, flash mobs, toy reviews, construction trucks, clips teaching baking, sewing, tap dancing, taekwondo and even sofa making, all of these on request.

There is definitely a price to pay for all this passive visual stimulation. The knowledge of preliterate kids in the era long gone was limited to the knowledge of their parents. And given the average intelligence levels, it also means the there was a lot more room for imagination. At 5 if I wanted to know how a space shuttle takes off, I would probably have got a visual demonstration of it using props (Read: hands) or if my parents were feeling indulgent maybe a picture in the dusty old encyclopaedia.

The other day the older kid approached me, with the 153rd question of the day “What did hulk look like when he was a kid?” Me, distracted “Umm, not sure”. Without hesitation “Can you check the internet?” Scene re-enacted with the 3-year-old – I told him about the time I got hurt when I was a kid. He asked to see a picture, and upon being told there is none, he promptly states “Can you check the internet?” *facepalm*

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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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#FOMO

keep-calm-and-say-no-to-fomo2The internet has added some interesting slang words to the English langauge. One of the more catchy one, FOMO or ‘Fear Of Missing Out’, is a social anxiety perpetuated by social media networking.

These days the Haque offsprings are struck by a serious case of FOMO. In their case, FOMO mainly involves the fear of missing out on mom’s attention (they don’t bother to make a distinction between positive or negative). Mild cases of FOMO are quite a common problem in households where the adults have decided to pluralize their progeny. The symptoms of FOMO are precipitated by an event like a sickness or one of those unidentifiable developmental changes which cause them to go crazy every now and then for no apparent reason. FOMO also shares a strong positive correlation with working parents (although it is no way restricted to them alone) as time with kids becomes a scarce and much sought after commodity.

Recently, when during the tail end of our yearly visit to Mumbai the kids got sick with viral fever, I witnessed this syndrome in its prime. My normally happy and self-assured 5-year-old turned into this whiney and clinging boy demanding the same kind of attention as my almost-3 year old needs. If I would even as much as glance at his younger brother, he would demand I look at him too for precisely the same amount of time. I had to content with the most uncomfortable middle seat in taxis as both kids wanted me next to them. I had to calcuate and deliver equal number of kisses, hugs and even cuddles to both of them. Even my annoyance with both had to be equally measured! The 3-year-old, being the baby of the house, is used to getting more attention anyway but FOMO gripped him too.

Once we got back home to Singapore, the kids had to contend with me being back at work after two weeks of holiday. It also didn’t help that both are on school holidays with nothing to do the whole day. Despite his best intentions the dad is unable to do much except shrug his shoulders and watch me despair as the kids vie for my constant attention. Given that they have completely recovered from their viral and school starts next week, I’m hoping the normalcy will abate this FOMO anxiety and the kids get back to their normal happy selves soon!

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The 9-point Manifesto

20140729_080355_1It’s that time of the year again, when we head back home for our customary visit to family and friends during the kids summer vacation. It’s more of a workation for me, considering it’s India and that we’re travelling with two young kids. This is our first long holiday since my older one turned five and finally seems to have grown out of throwing fits on days that he’s tired or hungry and all the days in between. That’s more than I can say for my younger boy, but one out of two is a pretty good score.

I have a strong but unsubstantiated hunch that my kids got together and passed a secret manifesto for the holiday. It went something like this –

1. We shall appoint mom as an honorary trash can, for all intents and purposes. We will henceforth hand her all pieces of trash – banana peels, candy wrappers, ice cream sticks, snot-filled tissues – all waste that needs disposing.

2. We shall maintain a steady flow of background chatter. At no point shall we deprive the people around us of our constant tomfoolery and loud goofiness. We shall take uncoordinated naps so one can of us can pick up the baton while the other sleeps.

3. We shall pointedly refuse to be a part of the tots road show that the adults so wittingly subject us to. We shall refuse to perpetuate cutisism by ignoring requests for performances including singing, dancing and elaborate gymnastics. We will give blank looks and dry smiles to further indicate our apathy towards these moronic demands.

4. We shall constantly interrupt adult conversations. Surely, there can’t be anything more important than immediately helping us retrieve the Lego piece from behind the couch for the nth time.

5. We shall whenever possible walk into doors, walls, cabinets, table corners and all places capable of potential harm, making a grand display of our lack of spacial awareness in new environments. Extra points for walking into them when adults are on the phone or seem to be involved in important discussions.

6. We shall use jet-lag as our weapon of choice – waking up at ungodly hours, napping at meal times and pushing bedtime to the point where moms blows a proverbial fuse.

7. We shall maintain a distance of a metre or more from the deadly Indian curries, activating our survival instincts against these spice laden sauces of evil.

8. We shall be at our best behaviour only when no one is looking, stockpiling our reserves of tantrums and meltdowns for times when inane social interactions are forced upon us.

9. We shall squabble over toys but when mom offers an alternative to either one of us, we will both pine for it, conveniently abandoning the original toy that we were arguing about.

Of course, by now I’m trained to counter this constant barrage of schemes from the little rascals. For that I use my exclusive monopoly over the distribution of resources, more specifically food! My advice for moms to boys is to stock up on food and let the feasting never stop.

Oh you want to play with the same toy as your brother? Here, why don’t you have a banana first. Crisis averted! Can’t sit still in the car? Offer nuts. Rioting in the airplane? Chips and bars will work. The chewier the snack the better!

Food can buy you time, diffuse tantrums or just give you a 5-10 minute break to reorganize your thoughts. And since drastic situations call for drastic measures, I’m always stocked up on the good ol’ candy. Yeah, I’m crafty like that 🙂