Lessons in parenting


A few months ago, when life was normal and busy, and when weekends meant dinner with friends or extended family, we had friends over for dinner one evening.

After a sumptuous dinner, we settled down in the living room, some of us stretched out on the couch, some of us on the floor – totally comfortable in the company of friends we had known for a long time.

Our conversation meandered down the alleys of the past, and into the unknown alleys of the future. At one point, the discussion turned to past holidays and vacations, and as we dug into our desserts, we laughed and enjoyed the various anecdotes from past holidays.

And then, suddenly, my daughter chipped in. She narrated an incident that happened when she was about 8 years old, when we had gone on a short cruise.

In one of the places where the ship docked, we were taken on a sightseeing tour in the afternoon. One of the attractions was an elephant show. All of us were totally engrossed in the show, and admired the elephants and their grace.

One of the items on the show was a ‘baby elephant massage’. The organizers asked for kids who wanted to volunteer.

My daughter hesitated, but I was so excited that I raised her hand. The trainer picked my daughter to be the privileged one to receive a massage from the baby elephant.

Photo by Adriaan Greyling from Pexels

Things moved very quickly after that, and before we knew it, our little daughter was lying on a mat, and the baby elephant was brought in.

Everyone clapped and cheered, and we did too. We took pictures and cheered our daughter.

Cut to our dinner…. I watched my daughter narrate the incident, and she said, “Can you believe it? Mom volunteered my hand, and before I knew it I was watching a baby elephant towering over me, and I closed my eyes in sheer nervousness. But it worked out ok in the end.”

All of us had a good laugh. But, only now, after nearly a decade, it hits me that I was so excited that I had pushed my daughter to do something that I thought was fun, and that may have been scary or uninteresting to her.

And when I think about it, I realize that sometimes, as parents, we consciously or unconsciously push our kids to do things which we would have liked to do or which we had dreamt about as kids.

While we do have to push our kids at times for the right things, sometimes it is nice to stop and think before volunteering a nervous eight year old for a baby elephant massage.

Lesson learnt after many years!!!

Ain’t so cool!


I got this picture on our family group a few days ago. My little niece is able to stand now, and one of her very first projects was to check out the refrigerator.

In her earlier crawling phase, my niece would smile and gurgle in delight if she was in the vicinity when the door of the refrigerator was opened. But now, she is able to hold on to things and walk, and she heads to the refrigerator often, pointing out and babbling her intentions to her parents.

At 1 year, she looks at each object with fascination. She touches the cold tomatoes and the glass bottles. She tries to pull things out. Her parents are on alert, allowing her to explore this new world, while also ensuring that she is safe. Everything inside the refrigerator is exciting – the colours, the textures and the cold air.

Cut to the scene in my house. My kids are also frequent visitors to our refrigerator. After all, it serves as a pit stop for them during their hectic day, when they seek rejuvenation of both their spirit and their energy.

My kids open the refrigerator. They see its fully stocked insides. They rummage through each rack; they open the freezer. They explore all the sauces and bottles on the door. They can see fresh fruit, some snacks, cans of juice, chocolate and Indian sweets. They cluck in exasperation. “Mooooooommmmmm”, they holler, “…is there anything interesting to eat?”

I deliberately point out all the edible snacks they can devour, but none of them seem to pass muster. And reluctantly, they make their choice from what’s available, muttering to each other that there’s nothing interesting to eat EVER.

What a contrast between the two age groups. Sigh! And as every mom with teenagers knows, this cycle is on autoloop, and the ending will always be the same. I quietly go back to what I was doing.

Suspicious me


I am in front of my dresser, critically evaluating my visage and the various lines that have started creasing different parts of my face. I take out a new tube of face cream, a brand that I have used for over two decades now. I squeeze two pumps on to my palm. I suddenly move my eyes from the mirror to my hands. The cream’s consistency doesn’t seem right. It looks like a lotion and not at all like the cream that I have used for so long. I ponder over this sudden change in its texture, but go ahead and apply it all over my face. I then quickly seal it with some powder and a dash of lipstick, and I am good to go.

Courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

Later in the day, when I am back home after running some errands, I wash my face. And then it starts, an unbearable burning all over my face. I examine myself in the mirror. My face is swollen near the cheeks, and the skin appears red in a few places. I apply coconut oil, and think about what could have happened.

I immediately remember that my usual cream this morning hadn’t seemed ok. I am angry now, as I immediately think of so many possibilities. I head purposefully to my dresser and pull out the tube. Had the shopkeeper tried to sell me cream that was past its expiry date? I strain my eyes to read the expiry date on the crimp. It says 2022. Ok.

What then? Maybe it is a fake product masquerading as the original. I get worked up. How could this happen? I have used this for so many many years. I feel irritated and suspicious. Almost like a detective, trying to explain what could be wrong.

Then logic prevails for some time. My brains pipes in, “Couldn’t it be something else that caused the burning, not this cream?” “Hmmmm, possible”, I reply. So seeking conclusive evidence, I open the tube again, and squeeze a little cream into my hands, and apply it on one part of my face.

When I am just about to put away the tube into the drawer, I see the word Wash on the tube. What? I flip the tube and read, it says Face Wash. Whaaaaaaatt?????

No wonder my face is on fire. I had spent the whole morning with dried soap on my face. But both tubes look identical. Sigh! I laugh, as I apply some ice to cool my face.

I also think about this. How quick I was to suspect that it was somebody else’s fault. How quickly I had come up with theories to justify my assumptions. And this is what we all do sometimes. We judge before we are equipped with the full facts or before we know for sure. Sometimes, as I just realised, the mistake may be on our side. Truly something to think about eh?

A messy chignon


I am watching a YouTube video on how to make a chignon on my hair. My hair has reached a manageable length after nearly a year, following an impulsive haircut decision last year that reduced the length by half. I mimic the steps in the video for that effortless and perfect look. The model’s hair on the video looks shiny, silky and smooth. Mine is rough, frizzy, thick and unmanageable. But I am not going to give up…I cluck and start all over again.

Image courtesy – Shutterstock.com

When I was growing up, there was a whole big routine for hair care. South Indians usually have thick, black hair, and with the grooming and attention that our tresses received as children, we went about our childhood with long braids. Our hair was oiled everyday with warm coconut oil, combed to a shine, parted and braided into two plaits, for school.

We sported some other fancy braids during holidays and festivals, when our braids were embellished with beautiful and fragrant strands of jasmine. Hairwash products were all homemade and herbal; fragrant powders infused with fragrant flowers and herbs, which fostered hair growth and conditioning. Hair cuts meant just a little bit of trimming at the edges, and no reduction in absolute hair length.

When my sisters and I became teenagers, we literally wanted to let our hair down, and begged our mom to allow us to get bangs on our foreheads. My mom frowned. That would reduce our hair volume, she said, which was the main argument for all hair-related requests anyway. Our Dad told mom that the hair would grow back and that we should be allowed to do it. My mom gave in reluctantly, but also us warned us that we had curly hair, and that the bangs would curl after our hair dried. We did not know about hair setting or ironing or hair sprays or anything at the time.

But, we brushed all that aside in the excitement of having been allowed to go to the hair salon. My sister and I grinned excitedly at each other, as the hairdresser went snip, snip, snap. We also exchanged mildly guilty looks, when we saw our long tresses forming patterns on the floor. Our mom saw our looks. She had a smile on her face and said, “It will grow back soon.” We came home with triumphant looks and showed them off to our grandma, aunt and dad.

The biggest challenge was when we had to get ready for school the next morning. Bangs, open hair, unkempt hair etc were simply not allowed in school. Hair had to be braided and all stray hair had to be pinned back.

This was a new, added morning chore. Armed with an army of hairpins, my sister and I proceeded to pin back all the hair, for some semblance of a well-groomed look. And this went on for a while.

Soon, our hair grew back, and had joined the other obediently long tresses on our heads. By that time, we were nose-deep into our college applications, hairstyling forgotten as studies and exams engulfed us.

Over the years, I have experimented with short hair, long hair, layering, colouring, streaking and what not. But my hair was able to withstand all these experiments only because of all that nurturing and oiling during childhood. And this is my constant refrain to my daughter – oil your hair, take care of it.

I come out of my reverie, and to the task of learning how to make a chignon with thick unmanageable hair. I repeat a few times, it is getting better. After some time I get another mirror to study the chignon. There is no finesse, stray hairs are all over. It looks like a nest. Later in the day, I look for more videos, easy videos for chignons, and the title of one of them gives me pause – How to make a messy chignon.

Ahhhh, that was a look, messy chignon. Maybe that’s what I was creating. Hmmm! Even the messy chignon on the video looks much better than my artwork. Sigh!

Koalas on my handbag!


The morning is a whirlwind of activity. From classes to cleaning to cooking, the day has already descended into ‘crazy mode’ – like many other days that have preceded it. When I reach ‘Point frazzled’, the sun has crossed our balcony, bringing with it intense humidity. I feel sticky, as tendrils of my frizzy hair forge strong bonds with my sweaty neck. I know just what I want.

I head purposefully to my chest of drawers and pull open the drawer. I cluck in exasperation. I cannot find a single claw clip or clutcher clip. Not a single one! The hunt begins. I do use rubber bands, but they are not as effective as these claw clips.

I head straight to my daughter’s room, a labyrinth that I have been told not to navigate. But this is a pressing situation that allows for some rule-breaking. We have 4 long claw clips and 2 medium sized ones at home that my daughter and I share. From under the pile of books and papers and folders that jostle for space on my daughter’s table, I unearth 2 big ones. I sigh in relief.

I grab all my hair and twist it vigorously, I pin it with the long claw clip, every single loose hair forced into submission, piled on the top of my head in a grim-looking knot. I dare any of my curls to escape the clutches of my claw clip. I automatically feel energized, cool and ready to go on with my day. I continue my claw hunt. I find one behind my daughter’s mirror. That’s three. Where are the other three?

I know where they will be. I head to my handbag cupboard. I pull out the ones I have used recently, and yay! I find the remaining three, clinging like koala bears to the handles of my handbag, where most women keep them till they need them.

My claw clips are an integral part of my life, for they are easy to use, can help with styling, can serve as humidity- life savers and thus managed frazzled nerves.

Wake up!


Parents from around the world have different parenting tricks up their sleeves. Tricks that have been honed to perfection, through repeated testing on their offspring.

One of the most successful parenting tricks is the one that gets kids out of bed in the morning. I have heard many stories about parents in the tropics, who would switch off the fan or the aircon, and then allow the intense humidity to engulf the sleeping- innocents and jolt them awake. Parents in cold climes would probably snatch the blanket to get the kids to wake up.

My Dad was a strict disciplinarian, and when we would hear his footsteps approaching, we would usually know that it was time to wake up. He would say ‘Wakey, wakey’, in a cheerful voice, and we would groan, ‘Morning Dad’ and wish that he would leave the room, so that we could sneak in some more shut eye.

Only when I became a mom of school-going children did I realize that every parent needs to have a strong ‘waking-the-kids-up-skill-set’ – an arsenal of various tricks – good and mean, cheerful and stern, loving and angry. And on any particular day, the parent has to use the best mix to goad the children out of bed.

Courtesy – http://www.pexals.com

This morning, when it is time to wake the kids up, I decide on a cheerful morning wake up call. I decide to whistle like a bird, interspersed with wake up, wake up in the same tone. My daughter groans and buries herself into her pillow. My son is woken by this musical bird sound and looks really irritated. He says, “Mom, can you stop that sound, please? It is really loud.” And then my ever-considerate son looks at me with half open eyes, and feels maybe that he has hurt his mom, and says, “It was quite melodious actually, only that it was loud.” I laugh and give him a bear hug.

Without skipping a beat, he says, “What’s for breakfast mom? I am famished.” I head to the kitchen to start my work. Another day begins. It is business as usual.

Not that generous….


Most humans have different preoccupations for each decade of their lives. In the mid-forties one of the main things that my friends and I talk about is our health. From intermittent fasting and counting calories to maintaining diaries and charts, we are all busy. But sometimes, our resolve is put to the test.

My husband and I decide to go watch a movie. The show is at 9 pm, and we decide to leave home by 7 pm to run a few errands and then head to the movie hall.

We discuss dinner plans. My husband bravely announces that he will skip dinner, so that he can eat popcorn without any guilt. This irritates me, as I want to eat both – dinner and popcorn! Today is my cheat day and so I want to leverage it to the maximum.

My husband is unwavering in his resolve, till he sees the menu card. I manage to wolf down a huge dosa, while he eats another type of dosa. We feel guilty, but pronounce ourselves satisfied. He does some entering into his food calorie counter app. After running some errands we finally reach the movie hall.

Two regular tubs of salted popcorn please, I hear myself ask. I protect the popcorn and hug it close. The aroma is tantalizing. I move the flap and quickly pop two pieces into my mouth. My husband postulates that one should start eating only after the movies starts playing. I disagree. We take our seats. In just a few minutes, I open the tub of popcorn and start eating, savouring every bit.

Courtesy – Pixabay (www.pexels.com)

As I watch the titles roll in, one piece of popcorn bounces off my mouth and falls down. What a loss! I pick up the piece and put it into a piece of tissue from my bag. I promise myself to be careful, and not lose anymore popcorn. My husband has not started eating his popcorn yet. Strange, I think.

As the plot unfurls, I start feeling cold. The aircon is freezing. I pass my popcorn tub to my husband for safe-keeping, and pull out my stole from my handbag. I wrap it snugly around myself, and then turn to my husband. I am shocked. My husband is helping himself to my popcorn. I ask him to open his palm. There are three pieces. I ask him how many he has already eaten. Two he says with a huge grin, as he sees my face.

I take back my tub. I ask him to open his tub of popcorn. I carefully count out five pieces of popcorn from his and transfer them to mine. My husband’s shoulders are shaking in mirth. But he doesn’t get it. This is popcorn. I am generous, but not that generous. Calories or no calories, five pieces are five pieces. So there!

Monsters that hiss


I am in a deep sleep; deep in dreamland, deep in nothingness, totally oblivious to the evening that has just passed or to the day that is about to break in a few hours. And in that transition period, when today has not yet passed the baton to tomorrow, I am suddenly being shaken awake.

Completely disoriented, I wish the person away, whoever it is. In a few minutes, my head clears a little, and I can hear panic in my daughter’s voice.

“Amma, Amma, wake up”, she says in a whisper that is also strangely shrill.

I groan in irritation. “What is it?” I ask, dragging the words from my sleepy brain.

She says with some urgency, “There is something in my room that is hissing.”

Image courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

I am jolted-awake now. Hi…ssss…ing? My brain, though, is slow to react. My daughter repeats it and insists that I come to inspect.

“I heard it twice”, she says. I get out of bed and tie my hair up into a tight little knot. This somehow gives me the energy and the strength to find the source of the hissing monster in our house.

On the way out of the bedroom, I turn back and see my husband, happily asleep. I tell my daughter that we will wake him up as well, one more member to the team.

Why should I be the one to hunt down hissing monsters late at night? I prod him awake. Nothing. I tell him about the hissing. He mumbles and says something incoherent, with his eyes partly open.

I prod him again. But he has already dropped off.

Well, I am irritated now. This irritation preps me to track down the source of the hissing. I march to my daughter’s room and carefully inspect her table and the areas near the window, from where she says she heard the hissing. Nothing, nothing at all.

And, just then, both of us hear a loud hiss from the table.

I burst out laughing. The hiss was from a brand-new automated air freshner that pumps out a fragrant spray at preset intervals.

My husband and I had set these air-fresheners up in all our bedrooms just that evening, and we had forgotten to inform our daughter.

“Amma, you know how scary that was?” She says laughing with relief, and also at the absurdity of this late night sojourn.

I turn off the freshener, and walk back to my room, still irritated that I was the one who had to go looking for hissing snakes at night.

The next morning, my daughter and I share details of our midnight adventure with my husband and son. My husband then says, “I told you last night that it was the air-freshener”.

Ahhh…that was the mumbling we heard. I roll my eyes.

Soon, my kids leave for school. My husband is about to leave. He goes to the bedroom to wear his tie. I follow him, and start making the bed.

His back is to the dressing table, and suddenly there is a hiss, and he jumps, startled.

That was air-freshener number two.

I laugh.

The look on my husband’s face – priceless!

The silly moments in our lives


When I switched on the television earlier this week, a song from an old Indian movie was playing. I smiled. The movie had a scene, where one of the main characters challenges some of other characters to touch their elbows with their noses.

I remember how all of us at home transformed into contortionists, and spent some time trying this out. We looked really silly, and had a hearty laugh afterwards.

Our lives abound with such moments.

My son specializes in creating huge soap bubbles with the palms of his hands. He works hard at this skill, and it gives him a lot of joy each time he creates a bigger bubble.

Both my husband and I have the ability to raise our eyebrows in quick succession. Our kids have not inherited this ability. So, on those rare lazy Sunday afternoons, when we spend time doing nothing as a family, we show off these skills.

Sometimes, when we all happen to be near the mirror at the same time, we make faces at the mirror! A family of silly faces.

Courtesy – shutterstock.com

Even as kids we did many silly things. I remember how, after petty squabbles with our friends, the word in our language to announce to them that you were no longer friends was kai, which translates to vegetable.

To become friends again, all we had to do was to show a thumbs-up sign and say pazham, which means fruit.

So, great friendships were broken and sealed merely by saying the words vegetable and fruit.

Life was that simple.

During our childhood, our Dad made rhythmic beat sounds with his mouth, when we sang songs. Only when my kids entered their teens did I realize that what my Dad did was called Beat Boxing. But at that time, it was merely some silly fun we shared as a family.

Even today, when we take selfies, we all make silly faces at the camera, capturing those beautiful memories digitally.

Every family has its own version of silly. Silly times are fun for the whole family – to showcase skills that would never be used in the ‘serious’ parts of our lives.

And that’s why these silly moments are important. Because we can let our guard down, act silly, and take ourselves less seriously for those few moments!

Night time prowl…


I wind up all my chores, and by 11 p.m., I am ready to call it a day. I brush my teeth and wash. Time to stretch and relax.

The aircon starts its humming. I think about the day, say my prayers…and by now, should have fallen asleep.

But no, for some strange reason, sleep eludes me. I stare at the ceiling. I count. I name animals, flowers, birds and colours from A to Z. I am wide-eyed…!

I turn on the reading lamp to read. My husband clicks in irritation, as the light bothers him. I turn it off and decide to go to the living room.

I start strolling around the house. Our home looks different. It has a different persona at night. A thin, beautiful, golden slab of light shines from the gap at the bottom of the main door.

The cuckoo clock is ticking away. The sofas seem to be resting. I walk out to the balcony. All is quiet, just the occasional light from a neighbour’s home. Down below, traffic has petered out. A few cars glide quietly through the night.

The trees are silent, their leaves sway gently and reflect the lights from the street lamps.

I come back indoors, and walk to the kitchen. The refrigerator is humming. Everything is quiet and peaceful after the long day.

I walk up and down. I switch on the TV; it is still day in other parts of the world – news is unfolding, the weather is changing, clouds are moving, people are talking, stock markets are trading, companies are advertising, people are entertaining….!

I channel surf, but it’s all too much to process at this late hour! I switch off the television.

Picture Courtesy – http://www.dreamstime.com

I prowl like a cat in my own home, I pick up books and towels – even in the dark – and put them away. OCD at night! I giggle at what my family would think if they saw me cleaning now!

I let out a big yawn. I am relieved. Maybe I will sleep now…..but wake up with Panda eyes tomorrow! Sigh….!