Thursday, November 17, 2016

On Household Help

Living in India has spoilt me to the extent that even if I can imagine cooking for my family regularly, I cannot imagine doing even half the household cleaning that Jairam does.
We have a joke in our family that I can totally go without seeing the husband for a week but I’d go to pieces if I didn’t see Jairam for a week. That’s how dependent I am on my cleaning guy. Silently, trustworthily, he has kept my house clean since 2009. I don’t have to nag him, supervise him, tell him to do anything more than once. He sets his schedule and just gets it done. With integrity and honesty and never asking for loans or advances against his salary. He never takes days off without giving me a few weeks notice. If you’re in India and you’re reading this you already know how lucky I am. We pay for his two daughters' education, in addition to paying him a generous salary.

Indian People Problems
Our cook is a fairly recent addition to our family. Auntie cooks tasty food to our liking and is a spirited old lady who isn’t afraid to voice her opinion. I’m a little scared of her and since she started with us in March this year, I’ve actually started looking at the price of the vegetables I buy. She also takes care of our laundry that the husband puts out for her each day and in return, we pay her a decent salary and give her our old clothes and shoes she’ll also ask for things she sees lying unused.

I am able to employ these two people because I have a super supportive husband who shares unpaid household work equally with me. He also stays at home with E on the days I have to go to office.

Without Jairam or Auntie, the husband and I would have to split household cleaning and cooking between us as well and I know this would create an additional and unnecessary level of stress on us. If we lived abroad, we’d be arguing about whose turn it is to cook dinner or vacuum the house. Thanks to Jairam and Auntie, we don't have to.

This is my ecosystem of people who share household work with me, so that I can focus on motherhood and a career. As a family, we have our ups and downs but for the most part, we’re happy. All this without in-laws or parents nearby.

Earlier this year, we shifted to an apartment complex of super wealthy people assisted by their domestic “staff” - multiple people to clean large villa-style apartments I think developers like to call them, "villaments"; multiple people to drive their multiple cars, and multiple nannies to care for their multiple children.
That the husband and I have only two people in our “staff" is bizarre to them. That we choose to drive our own cars and care for our only child makes us an oddity.

We decided a few years ago that the headaches associated with having a full-time driver outweighed the headache of having to drive around occasionally on the lawless streets of Bangalore. An Uber driver can’t ask for loans or guilt you into paying him 20k for waiting around all day. Paying someone that kind of money for our driving laziness smarts and so we don’t. We can afford to take UberXL cars all day and it still won't add up to a driver’s monthly salary.

The Nanny Conundrum

English-speaking Indians are increasingly referring to the maids who care for their children as, 'nannies'. Sure, it's a convenient phrase that clarifies to the outsider what this woman's position in the household staff is.

However, nannies in first world countries typically have some qualification in early childhood care or are working towards one. In India, these under-educated maids are generally just ayahs, using their ayah ways to raise children.

Yes, because the maid's and cook's and babysitter's and caretaker's job is actually your wife's job. 
Even the Brits couldn’t bring themselves to call these caretakers nannies and most modern Indians are too embarrassed by our colonial history to call them ayahs. I’m not yet so Indian that I’m embarrassed by our colonial heritage. So, ayah she is.

I’ve been taking E to mingle with children in the building since she was a little baby and this is when I see the ayah-child dynamic in full force. I see kids as old as 8 being accompanied by their maids who push them on the swing or yell at them to stop monkeying around on the monkey bars.

I also see these kids yell back at their ayahs. These same kids who docile-ly call me auntie and listen to every word I say. Kids as young as 2 knowing, instinctively, that I am different from their ayah. They’ve internalised it. Somehow, we’re all okay with it. Of course, kindness is an option to be exercised against those worthy.

These are kids with fantastic mothers, most of them stay-at-home. I know this because I can see how differently they behave if their mothers are around. And it's because of how differently an ayah and someone who reads interacts with the same child.

Ayahs obtain compliance under every threat imaginable, rejecting one for another within seconds of issuing the first. It could be from something inane as, 'if you don’t stop (insert unsavoury behaviour) this instant, the dog will bite you,’ to ‘just you wait, I’m going to tell your father.’ And just like that, dogs are evil and the poor unsuspecting father, an authoritarian (whether or not he actually is one).

Notice the tray-bearing, dark-skinned, apron-clad maid in the background. For the privileged few.
I considered hiring "someone" earlier this year. As office work was picking up, I found myself wondering how easy all of it would be if I could just station an ayah with E. I argued how it’ll actually be good for E to interact with someone in the vernacular. How all the ayah will need to do is play with E for a bit and take her to the playground. I’ll be back from work in time for bedtime and the ayah could go back to her house only to come back the next afternoon.

The husband and I wouldn’t have to juggle our schedules around; we could just work during the week knowing that a trusty ayah was caring for our intelligent child.

How delicious to reserve parenting to be practised as a joyous weekend hobby.

Of course, this dream scenario was based on the rather drastic assumption that the woman hired to do this task is trustworthy; that she cares about her work. But I know from my 12 years here that a domestic worker like Jairam is the rare, rare exception. That, more often than not, maids are psychopaths from backgrounds readers of speculative fiction would have a hard time believing.

What if, with all my inexperience in hiring and retaining a domestic worker, I hire a woman who is a member of that small number of sociopaths that WhatsApp likes to remind us of? What if she's someone who'll chloroform E and take her begging?

A basic level of due diligence and seeking of references could eliminate this threat but harm can be inflicted in other less extreme ways. Psychopathy is easier to detect than sociopathy. Surely, my child can rationalise the harm I unintentionally inflict on her better than the intentional harm such a stranger would. Right?

Even if I exercise all the care and conduct all the due diligence and I am, through some quirk of fate able to hire the one English-speaking-not-an-ayah-but-an-actual-stern-elderly-governess I’ve encountered, I wonder if she’ll follow my rules of engagement consistently.

Benefit of hiring a stern, elderly governess.

The rules in our house are simple enough for such a nanny to follow, but E’s a feisty toddler, eager to exploit loopholes.  Her little mind is constantly figuring out exceptions to household rules, matching consequence to action, figuring out if there’s an inherent value in any of the things we ask her to do or not do.

Maybe it's because we're lawyers and we admire her untempered ability to question the things we say that we encourage it. When she finds a loophole, it keeps us on our toes, looking for more ingenious ways to get her to listen to us not because she's afraid of us but because it makes sense to listen to these strange tall people. Because it's been presented so reasonably that even the highly logical mind of the almost three-year old understands the rationale behind the rule.

This isn't easy. We find ourselves, on some days of complete intellectual exhaustion reductionism is tiring, just asking her to listen to us for the love of all that is good in this world. And bless her heart, on those days, she does.

Would this stern governess be able to keep up with E's intellectual gymnastics? Or would she take the easy way out and offer candy or ten minutes of TV for compliance? Or would she frighten my child into submission, using a loud voice and outsize consequences for bad behaviour? Does she truly have the long-term well-being of my child in her heart? Isn’t it just the monthly pay check that she really wants?

Would a maid use her own money to buy cheap candy to keep the habit hidden from me? Would she just have the TV running non stop during the day? How many nanny cams would I need to install in our triplex apartment to supervise her and would we be spending all our time at work monitoring these cameras instead of doing our work with peace of mind?

What if I do find out about this or any other transgression that I will discover soon anyway because I know, in my heart that no one can care for my child better than I. I'll be so paranoid and jealous that I'll just be looking for ways for this super ayah to slip up and then in all my smallness, I will yell at her in front of my daughter, who will then internalise the fact that some people may be yelled at.

Or E will learn to keep secrets from me because her nanny is her co-conspirator and she doesn't like to see her getting yelled at. Or E will just understand that different people have different rules because they have different thresholds for bad behaviour. Or, or, or.

Best case scenario? I find a lovely young woman, passionate about early childhood care, preparing for a life in caring for young children, who’ll read books and make up songs and challenge my intelligent daughter just like I do.

She becomes the nanny E deserves and E will get along famously with her nanny and I’m blissful in my peace of mind and awesome at my job because everything is taken care of at home. Until the day E asks for her nanny at bedtime or cries about how she wants her nanny during the weekend as well.

And I know I’ll just die inside that day. I’m not so large-hearted that I can share my daughter’s love with someone who isn’t related by blood.

No. I think I’ll just have to wait. If either work or parenting becomes overwhelming then it’s work that must change. Or my attitude to it. I’ll probably get a regular old Hindi/Kannada-speaking maid in 3 or 4 years when E is older and more independent, spending most of her day at school, and requiring supervision for just a few hours till either the husband or I get back home by 6 PM. 

Maybe, my cleaning guy, Jairam could be promoted to housekeeper - managing groceries and the people we’ll hire to clean the house and watch E for two or three hours in the evening and the chauffeur who will drive them all around to the various activities she'll have lined up each evening. And so we’ll get household staff too.

Because if you don’t have “staff” there’s literally no benefit to living in this country.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Rise of the Mass Affluent

I’m an enjoyer of dank memes. The First World Problems meme makes me slightly uncomfortable, though. Despite living in a third world country, it's unsettling that most of my problems are typically first world problems.


But these are problems that only certain kinds of Indians have only. That's a problem too - there are so many of us coexisting happily or sadly, you'll never guess from our inscrutable nature in such vastly different socioeconomic conditions that it's hard to generalise and call them Indian People Problems.

I recently discovered a new way of categorising the burgeoning English-speaking Indian with an iPhone and a public school/foreign university/gulmohar league education who now works in a multinational corporation or allied service industry. Introducing, the rootin' Tweetin' mass affluent Indian.

Mass affluent Indians have a fourth eye that they keep blind to the pervasive and cloying inequality of income that India likes to clobber one with hourly third eye reserved for driving assistance sorry please. Me, on the other hand, I've just developed coping mechanisms to deal with this cognitive dissonance.

In 12 years of living here, I've decided to live higher than the 6th floor so that Bangalore's lovely tree-line can block an unsavoury view of the ubiquitous urban slum sprawl. In the old building (where we lived on the 3rd floor) we lived in a lovely gated community and the view out of every room was a gorgeous if slightly stinky lake.

We were also witness to the genesis of a shanty town burgeoning on the shore of this lake. Over 5 years, a row of concrete single room-houses became a bustling maze of blue tarpaulin-covered corrugated metal sheets. With a DTH signal receiver perched on every other makeshift roof. And motorbikes parked outside the shanty town in a makeshift communal parking lot.

India doesn't do cognitive dissonance. How about some cognitive resonance, instead?

As much as I wanted to help these people, I knew from my years at law school and thereafter, that there's no helping the poor. If I had grown up here, my parents, like every middle class parent, would have warned me every day that if I didn't do well at school, I will end up in a slum. I'd grow up with a fire in my belly and an instinctive hatred of these sepia-toned visions of an alternate reality.

Hijra and disabled beggars arguing about which side of the road they get to beg on.

Instead, I directed my bleeding heart toward another cause I care deeply about - the plight of the street dog. Through these adorable furry beggars, I caught a glimpse of life in a slum. The slum-dweller was our friend who kept tabs on the local street dog population and called us to fix problems like un-neutered dogs and the birth of puppies.

We regularly visited these slums under the guise of caring for their dogs and they were always kind to us. Always only highlighting their problems with the dog population and never coming to us with their financial woes.

One Christmas, a friend and I decided to distribute cakes and cookies to our slum-dweller friends and it just made them uncomfortable. That day, I realised that these people don't want our help. That they're proud, hard-working men and women who believe that their work will alter their futures. That they have most of what they need thanks to their mostly kind employers.

I wonder if Mr. Manmohan Singh had intended this trickle down effect of liberalisation?

So most mass affluent Indians don’t hand out alms to the poor but we do reward the less fortunate people who do actual work for us - delivery boys, security guards, car washing guy, cleaning guy, cook, building housekeeping staff, electrician, plumber, carpenter, gardener - all the electrons that whizz around our nuclear families so that we all benefit from the transfer of energy. An analogy will work if you threaten it with poverty.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Separate. Connect. Separate. Connect.

If you've ever gone through my posts and decided that I sound like a sanctimonious mommy blogger, you're probably right. I have one daughter and I'm dispensing potty training advice?

The intent isn't to dish out spoons full of self-aggrandisement. This website is one of the many ways for me to say that I was a harried mother. That I tried. And failed. Many times. But I kept trying until something worked.

Can Attachment Theory Explain All Our Relationships? is writer Bethany Saltman's essay in the New York Magazine, in which she analyses and compares her attachment to her mother with her attachment to her daughter who is now 11-years old. Ms. Saltman writes of feeling lonely and overwhelmed in the early days of motherhood and making scary faces and muttering angrily at her nonplussed baby. Words that mothers are terrified to confess to one another.

The article made me think about the evolving nature of my attachment to 2-and-a-half-year old E.

Before she was born, all my ideas on parental attachment were the Sears' ideas that I'd read from Sears on pregnancy, which led me to their book on attachment parenting. I was grateful for the book's list of things to do to get a jumpstart on attachment. I was sceptical of the concept of attachment parenting or AP but skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding seemed like logical things to do. Humans have been doing it for millennia and it's worked so there's no reason why it shouldn't anymore. Right?

I was militant AP for the first three months of E's life, responding to every cry, breastfeeding on demand, and baby-wearing for as much as E and I could bear in the hot summer of her newbornness. Still, my baby cried every evening, punctually from 6 to 9 PM. By which time, I was a hot mess of tears and sore nipples.

In the darkness we worried she was crying because of the artificial lighting with Vedic Chants by Ravi Shankar droning ominously in the background we worried she missed the music she used to listen to when in utero, I remember jiggling her around in the wrap, feeling guilty that I didn't wear her as much as I did in her first month because of the heat. I let the Sears book convince me that that's why she was crying. I hadn't read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child at that time so I didn't know that colic or inexplicable fussiness peaked at 8-weeks. Because Sears didn't think this scientifically-verified fact matched with his ideas on attachment. Because he warned be to beware "the baby trainer".

Self-portrait on stolen phone - #1

At 10-weeks, the colic began to subside as has been scientifically proved, and E began to consolidate her sleep. She was awake for longer, batting at her toys, and really looking at things - often staring at me watch the TV while she was supposed to be napping in her rocking car seat. That's how we did afternoon naps back in the day - her in a rocking car seat on the coffee table with me watching TV and rocking the car seat back and forth with my foot. Was it stupid? Incredibly so. Did it work? For exactly 3 weeks.

She was forcing herself to stay awake and I was slowly coming to the realisation that babies won't fall asleep by themselves every hour forever. So then the question was, how often do they sleep? Which then led to the question, how often should they sleep? The Sears book just said snuggle down with your baby if she looks sleepy. What does a sleepy baby look like? I had no idea.

Sears had solid advice when it came to playing with and feeding your baby but nothing on sleep. Except for don't ever, ever train your baby to sleep. So I hit up Google and found a lot of AP mothers gasping at CIO or Cry It Out. Leaving a months old baby alone in a darkened room to cry to sleep sounded horrible. It also seemed unlikely that the father of CIO, Marc Weissbluth, would devote an entire book that could be summed up in that one sentence from mommy hell.

Intrigued, I decided to read his book. I was running on no sleep, and I didn't want my baby to as well. And that's how I found my golden guru of sleep, Weissbluth.

Now I had two gurus, Sears and Weissbluth, who hated each other and had seemingly opposite ideas on childrearing. I decided to read further into Attachment Theory - a florid school of thought, contributed to by sociologists, psychologists and even neurologists, that had nothing to do with Sears and everything to do with profound insight into why we are the way we are.

Over the last two years, I've realised that children exist to test us, to identify in us, that which can be better. I've had my moments with E when I didn't recognise myself. Like Ms. Saltman, as a sleep-deprived first-time mother to a newborn, I have made my own scariest animal face at my baby. I have wanted to smash her against a wall only to wake up in the morning terrified of the real consequences of long-term, sustained sleep deprivation. And I couldn't wallow in it. There was no time to analyse the behaviour to change it. I just had to forgive myself quickly and move on.

A baby has no time for your self-pity. Every need is as of 10-minutes ago. And the only need is you. Your body, your attention, your hands, your inexplicable ability to make every game insanely fun. On a good day, I love it. I love how good I've gotten at multitasking; I love how my body rivals the best jungle gyms; I think it's adorable that E prefers the fuzzball's salivary toys over her own countless toys.

But it wasn't always like this. In the beginning, as a new mother still getting used to this onslaught on my life as I knew it, I resented her for making me lock away my needs. I resented myself for feeling guilty when I did take time off to take care of myself. I resented the husband for impregnating me. I resented the fuzzball for stealing every diaper. I resented my parents for abandoning me in a forest in India and their foreign eudaemonia. I watched sadly as my freedom receded into a faraway shore. And it may have come out as a scary face in the middle of the night.

Then the morning comes, as mornings do, and all the solitary tears of feeling completely overwhelmed are dry. I resolved to do better, be better, and respond appropriately. Feed the hungry child; play with the well-rested child; and put the sleepy child to bed.

Self-portrait on stolen phone - #2

As babies, their needs are simple - a cuddle, a feed, and finding disgusting things to put into their mouths. As they get older, their needs get varied, more inscrutable, unintelligible at times. They have big emotions that they don't understand. And they learn to be snotty-nosed little autocrats. Because they're so besotted by their almost coherent thoughts and coordinated body movements that they're just looking for boundaries to test.

I don't make scary animal faces anymore but my daughter isn't a wakeful baby either. She's 2 and a half and, like any child, she has her moments when she feels so overwhelmed by life that she needs to lie down on the floor of a public bathroom or a crowded supermarket. And, like any mother, I have my moments when I feel that prickling, skin-burning anger that makes me clench my teeth and mutter evilly at my daughter. What I want is lie down with her, bawl just like her. But I can't because I know better and she can't because I'm her mother and I know better.

Until I read this article, I was terrified that every time I yelled or lost my cool, I was forcing my child away from me, demanding compliance under threat of mama totally losing it and that I'd lose all the attachment I worked so hard to get over the last two years. But this attachment shifts, like a desert's dunes. A few months ago, attachment lay in breastfeeding and snuggling before bedtime. Today, we don't get that time everyday to reconnect. Instead, attachment is found in toy boxes and art supplies.

Saltman's article, helped me see that it's okay for E to see her mother preoccupied, for her to learn that it's not okay to interrupt me when I've explained to her that I need to use my laptop for a few minutes because I have some work and can she please feed plush chocolate ice-cream to her starving teddy while mama finishes up. That sometimes, mama is worried about the fuzzball peeing blood again and will respond snappily.

"Attachment is a simple, elegant articulation of the fact that, yes, what we do in relation to each other matters. And yet, we don't have to get it right all the time, or even most of the time," writes Ms. Saltman. She quotes Steele and his wife Miriam from an essay in their book What is Parenthood?:

"Even sensitive caregivers get it right only about 50% of the time. There are times when parents feel tired or distracted. The telephone rings or there is breakfast to prepare. In other words, attuned interactions rupture quite frequently. But the hallmark of a sensitive caregiver is that the ruptures are managed and repaired."

Since the end of breastfeeding, I realised that a lot of my yelling and snapping was because I didn't know how to connect with my child outside of breastfeeding. Sure playing and painting were fun but I missed having her undivided attention. As each day wore on, I realised that I may never have her undivided attention again. It took me a while to put my finger on it. It sounds ridiculous; I spend all day with my baby and yet, I miss her. I miss her in a way I'll never stop missing her.

But attachment is so much more than breastfeeding despite what Sears says. It's so varied and nuanced that it has its own complicated scale of measurement. It's chief conclusion being: 
Your attachment to your caregiver determines your attachment to your child and her attachment to you informs the attachment she feels for your grandchild. 

The thread of attachment weaves humanity together, determining whether we feel safe and secure in the knowledge that if ever we're in trouble, someone will help us out.

But it's so slippery, this thread. It doesn't care that you have an office and a house to run. It doesn't care that you spent all weekend with your child hunting for feathers to paint with. It hinges on that moment when your kid has put on her shoes all by herself for the first time and is looking at you proudly. But you're looking at your phone, frowning because the idiot didn't send the email on time to the pissed off client.

She's too young for this to have happened enough to her that she just gives up and storms sullenly to her room. So she forgives you and settles for a delayed yet outsize response of I'm-so-proud-of-you. Or, sadly, she says it to herself prompting you to repeat it. And she smiles. And you've fixed it. For now.

So you put the phone away, pull out the plastic toys, and spend the next hour giving them funny voices and making them do outlandish things and saying hilarious words like poop and pee. And your kid loves you again. Does she love you as much as she did before she put on her shoes for the first time? You'll never know. But you will get a chance to fix it.

Self-portrait on stolen phone - #3

It's easy to manage and repair our frequent ruptures now. She doesn't hold on to grudges and all she wants is to play with me. I worry about the time when the toys are donated, and the secrets begin. Will I have spent enough time on our attachment today for her to come to me when things are wrong? Will I ever react inappropriately when she does come to me with a problem? Will that force her to bottle up her problems forever?

It's my greatest fear, and the one thing that I'm most watchful for. I am her oasis of calm. I am her flashing light in a blizzard. I am the constant in her variable life. This is the standard I hold myself to when she's melting and saying scary things and hitting. What's wrong, my baby? Use your words. Tell me how to help you. Tell me how to fix it. Are you tired? Do you need to go potty? Are you upset? Tell me. Teach me to be a better mother.

I think back to how my mother loved me through my worst and boy, have I been a rotten child and how it's my life's endeavour to see myself as my mother sees me. It's not like she's never lost her temper with me, but despite that, I know that I can talk to her no matter what.

It's okay to lose your temper with your child. Because the love for offspring is animal, it's an unmatched intensity of emotion - good and bad. Do I want to just hit her and get it over with? Of course. But will I? Never. Because if she doesn't have me, she has no one.

When the parent understands a child's primitive signals, the child learns to communicate better. As the child communicates better, the parent signals to the child that someone will always understand you even before you do.

This is no small task we've undertaken. We endeavour to raise human beings who can see that life is good and that happiness is a choice you make. Good luck to us.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

8 Lessons from Active Potty Training

I asked two mothers I admired when they potty trained their now pre-adolescent children. They both didn’t seem to remember and said, 'it just happened.' 

I was anxious. It seemed like a very grown up thing to do - teach a human how to use the toilet. We didn’t really cinch house training with the fuzzball so I severely doubted my ability to teach another living being this essential life skill.

I’d bought the No-Cry Potty Training Solution around the same time I bought the No-Cry Nap Solution but only got around to reading it when E was 10-months old. We had minor successes with getting her to eliminate in the potty (read about our adventures here) but I think she forced herself to learn how to walk because she just wanted to get away from the potty. The poor expensive potty sat in a corner of the bathroom, unused.

We didn’t force her to use it because we’d read enough Freud or at least the Wikipedia entry on Freud to suspect that the premature potty training of an unwilling child might manifest in unknown and unwanted ways in her later life. 

So when when we’d talked about it pre-baby, we were very clear that there was to be no shaming or forcing her to use the potty. That, as when she was ready, she’d use it. Still, as we neared her second birthday and she was continuing to showing no interest in using the potty, we started getting concerned about sending a child in diapers to preschool.

Since we had been pre-potty training E for over a year, she was familiar with with the products of elimination and their rightful place in the world. Still, we needed to transition from diaper to toilet.

Here are my learnings from my yet-to-be-concluded experiment of potty training a 2-year old.

#1 - It Will Take Time

Super important lesson, this one. Don't get fooled by those, "Potty Train Your Child in 3 Days" clickbait ad-traps. Potty training can be stressful for a first-time mother because, let's be honest here, you're on as steep a learning curve as your baby is.

I tried the quick-fix, potty training your baby in three days thing. I failed halfway through Day 1. I found it nerve-wracking, setting all the timers and keeping an eye on a baby with no pants on, waiting for the millisecond that she starts to relieve herself so that I can race her to the potty-seat.

What's more, this is how we trained the fuzzball. The dog is 7-years old and quite far from housebroken.

We tried the same tactic a month later. When we ended up with a trail of poop from the bathroom to the nursery and maybe even a wall, the lesson was learnt.

Don't look for a quick-fix, short-term, high-stress solution for a lifetime habit. It will backfire.
Pretty much.

#2 - It Will Take Multiple Attempts

It's okay to fail at this. In fact, the second you start feeling overwhelmed or you think you're stressing your baby out with all the 'pee here, don't pee here' nonsense. Stop. Take a break. Take a step back and try to look at the big picture. Think about how you could incentivise using the toilet for your child. Think about whether you want to incentivise the process.

Your child is not going to be in diapers forever. You're either going to teach the child or let her wear diapers until she's old enough to say, "Mom, this is embarrassing. I'm going to use the toilet from now on."

So if it's becoming stressful (for you or your child), ease off and try again in a month. Signs of stress in a child include, refusal to eliminate in the potty, screaming or crying when placed on the potty, eliminating everywhere but the potty. Signs of stress in a parent include, getting angry at the child for not learning, lack of motivation, and an overwhelming tendency to open a bottle of wine at noon.

When you cease active potty training, remember that you're then pre-potty training. So you can't stop the messages. You can do little things everyday to mentally prepare her (and yourself) for the next attempt. You could:
  1. Show her your underpants pervy, I know and show her how you don't wear diapers.
  2. Include her in your bathroom expeditions. Show her how you sit and pee. Ask her to hand you some toilet paper. Include her in pushing the flush button (kids love this).
  3. Don't change her diaper frequently - let it get a little uncomfortable for her so that when you do finally change her diaper, you can talk to her about how diapers are uncomfortable but underpants aren't.
  4. Praise her for a dry diaper. 
  5. Conversely, make a big show of throwing the poop from a poopy diaper into the toilet and flushing it. Reiterating, "Poo-poo goes in potty. Not in the diaper."
  6. Change diaper brands - go for a cheaper alternative so that it gets uncomfortable for her faster. I switched from Pampers to Libero - cheaper on the wallet and it got the job done - she started asking for diaper changers, which gave me the segue into, "Underpants rock. Diapers suck. You're totally missing out on all the fun."
  7. Once you see that she's beginning to think about switching to underpants, ask very nonchalantly if she'd like to make the switch. If she says no. Just shrug and say something noncommittal like, 'Oh, that's too bad. They're really comfortable. Maybe you'll feel differently later.' and if she says yes, BUY ALL THE UNDERPANTS
It took us three attempts spread over three months to get her to use the toilet consistently. Each time, we tried something different but we stuck with the messages.

#3 - It Will Take a Lot of Gear

Capitalists love the baby-care industry. It's the best place to prey on a new parent's paranoia and you don't even need strong marketing messages to get parents to buy everything.

We bought a potty rather early thinking we could potty train a 10-month old but that potty probably got used 5 times. You may want to buy both, a potty and a toilet seat adaptor (or a few if you have multiple bathrooms) to see what your baby takes to. 

Books are a great way to introduce the concept of eliminating in a potty to your child. We bought the following titles:

  1. P is for Potty in which Elmo hangs out with his cousins and they discuss the various options a kid has when it comes to medium of elimination.
  2. Potty by Leslie Petricelli, in which diaper baby looks to his pets to understand that defecation must be restricted to certain spaces.
  3. Dinosaur vs. the Potty by Bob Shea, in which the juvenile dinosaur consumes large quantities of tasty liquids before eventually being defeated by the need to pee.
Read these books frequently especially when you're between attempts, to reiterate the 'all-elimination must-be-in-the-potty message.

Snazzy underpants are a huge plus. Your kid will get excited about wearing knickers, only if you get excited about it. So look for patterns or prints you know your kid will love. These underpants featuring strawberries and flowers are easy on the wallet, well-fitting, and cute enough for a kid to want to wear.
When the underpants arrived, I got E to help me put them in the washing machine, put the detergent it, see them getting washed, help me put them out to dry, fold them, and choose where to keep them. Even then, I made her wait till the next day to try them on.

So when I finally asked her the next morning, 'Diapers or underpants?' there was no debate to what the answer was. 'Underpants!' she cried. 'Strawberry underpants.'

Finally, you will need a travel potty seat adapter. Despite its bad reviews on, this potty seat gets the work done, you just need to place it correctly on the toilet in question and convince your toddler to not squirm or she will fall through. We may switch to another product later but a month into using this one and it seems alright for a 2.5 year old.

#4 - It Will Take a Lot of Steps (Forwards and Backwards)

They will have accidents even after you think you've successfully potty trained. The child will need to be consistently accident-free at home before you can start to venture outside with a diaper-free child. Even then, you will need to take baby steps. Start with a short stroll around the neighbourhood. After a few uneventful walks, go for short car rides to places you know have clean and easily accessible washrooms. I will have a post on this soon - I refuse to believe that some malls and 5-star hotels are the only places in India with clean bathrooms.

When going out, remind your child frequently that she is wearing underpants and that there is to be no pee-pee on the floor/car seat/swing-set. Ask her where pee-pee goes and make sure you get her to answer.

Recently, we decided to take a chance and take a diaper-free child on an airplane, confident because she hadn't had an accident in two weeks. We were wrong. An hour into the plane ride and I was the parent whose kid peed on the seat.

I realised that day that we would have to take this really slow. That the excitement of plane travel outweighs the excitement of wearing underpants. That it will take time for E to volunteer information about her need to pee. Even now, she only tells me she needs to go if: a) I'm doing something else and she isn't getting my undivided attention (this is usually a false alarm); and b) when it's reached the stage of red-alert complete emergency and she will lose control of her bladder upon sight of the toilet.

So I need to watch for the dance of the full bladder and the grouchiness of a full bowel and ask E to use the toilet. Sometimes I ask, and she'll say no and then five minutes later, there's a puddle on the floor being blamed on the fuzzball. Somedays I'm okay with it, somedays I'm not. Either way, I try very hard not to yell even if it's the fifth pair of underpants. I tell myself that it's my mistake as much as it is hers and that, next time I'm not going to listen to my toddler chant her favourite word when asked if she needs to go pee-pee.

Kids have no idea about time.

#5 - It Will Take a Routine

I can't begin to describe how important a routine is for a young child (which is probably why I still don't have a post on the importance of routine). I'm still compiling the many, many benefits (and few drawbacks) of a routine but potty training is much easier if you can just build it into your child's day. It gives the child predictability and a sense of how long it will be till the next potty break.

The problem with following a clock to schedule potty breaks is that a child who cannot read the clock has no idea that it's been two hours since the last pee and she will not want to disrupt playing with block (fun!) to go sit on the potty (boring!). So if you want to minimise potty time battles, build it into your day and tell your child when the next break is going to be.  

#6 - It Will Take a Bribe

Let's face it. Sitting on the toilet is boring. If you aren't looking at your phone, I bet you're reading the labels of all your bathroom products. It's the same for your child. Some parents choose to bribe with M&Ms or other candy. Other crafty parents might use elaborate charts and stickers. I took the easy route and temporarily relinquished my iPad for the larger cause of sanitation. #SwacchBharat begins at home, yo.

Completely wiped and loaded only with age-appropriate apps, E was handed an iPad to get her to stay seated on the toilet. When we started out, she got an iPad at every potty break but after a month, I could get her to pee by promising her iPad time if she peed and then eventually, I could get her to pee by just telling her a story or singing a song. She still needs the iPad for the big business but I know that I will eventually reduce this as soon as her bowel movements regularise to once a day at a particular time. Maybe I'll get crafty too and introduce stickers.

#7 - It Will Take a Sense of Humour

When was the last time you laughed at farts and stinky poop? Potty-training a toddler will force you to loosen up about these most natural of bodily functions.

Pretty soon, you'll find yourself giggling in the toilet at your baby's surprising ability to toot on command.

This needs to be a thing.

#8 - It Will Take a While Before Sleep-time Dryness is Achieved

Even if your child can successfully control her bladder when awake, it takes a while for this success to carry into her sleep.

I still put her in pull-up diapers at nap time and bed time, explaining that once I see a dry diaper after a nap, she can wear her underpants to bed. I'm in no hurry to clean soiled bedding so she can sleep in diapers forever as far as I'm concerned but E doesn't think that way. She seems genuinely upset at wet diapers at the end of a nap. I reassure her and tell her that she'll be able to do it soon. I'm assuming this is potty training going well. The kid sees value in staying out of diapers and in underpants.


The key lesson for us over the last few months was not to press the issue with her and to listen and understand her cues, as we have with everything so far, whether it was sleeping, breastfeeding, and weaning. 5-months into potty-training and she barely has any accidents. We just need to watch her for signs of discomfort and fussiness and not listen to her say 'no' when we ask her if she needs to go although she said yes for the first time today.

I just need to let her get there on her own time. And then, ten years from now, some new mother will ask me how I potty-trained E, and I’ll turn her to this post because I’d probably say something inane like, ‘oh, it just happened.' 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Pre-Potty Training - Start potty training your baby at 11 months

At 11-months, E was on four meals of solids and just around 6 milk feeds a day. My body was slowly becoming mine again, and I was excitedly learning the basics of steaming and puréeing fruit and veg for my baby with budding tastebuds. 

As with all food, what goes in must come out. I quickly learnt that the introduction of solids meant that her poop was no longer the lovely sunshine yellow, smell of fresh yoghurt that it used to be. It had began to smell and feel like human excrement. And when a child is in diapers, it just smooshes all over the posterior making the cleaning a long and smelly process. 

Up until now, the husband and I would coo over E's multiple times a day output, calling it our "golden treasure" and grinning through poop cleaning because we were convinced positive body image starts early (and also breastmilk poop is cute) but suddenly, we were finding it hard keeping it together.

My mother, as mothers are wont to do, helpfully informed me that I was potty-trained at six-months. I've always known she was a sorceress (how else do mothers find every thing that is lost?) but now I was convinced. Naturally, I decided to do a bit of research.

Elimination Communication

This is an ancient technique - what our grandmothers and their mothers used but is only now becoming known in the Western world and therefore, has a scientific-sounding term. 

Basically, baby is diaper-less and pees and poops on everything and everyone until the chief supervising adult or grandmother-who-has-raised-tens-of-babies figures out what baby does just before eliminating, anticipates, and puts baby outside on the earth or special rag. Eventually, the baby associates that special circumstance with peeing or pooping and lo and behold! baby is toilet-trained.

Convenient method. If three things hold true for you:
  1. The world is your toilet, as it is in India.
  2. You have help, specifically the grandmother-who-has-raised-tens-of-babies.
  3. You have mountains of patience, of which I have none.

As I read about this method, I'd realised I'd totally missed the boat on this because apparently, if the baby hasn't figured it out by 6-months, your next window of opportunity is when the child is between 2- to 2.5-years old (for girls, older for boys). 

So yeah, I was trained via elimination communication. But what about little E?

Naturally, I got a book on the subject.

The author of The No Cry Potty-Training Solution, Elizabeth Pantley, is a mother of four, and her books are filled with real, non-judgmental, and practical advice. You can read about how her books on sleep training have helped me, here and here.

At the beginning of this book is a quiz for parents to determine if baby is ready for potty training. If, after taking the quiz, your score is above 25 (on 35) then the author suggests that a parent can start potty training - breaking the process into pre-potty training and active potty training. 


We scored a 28 and 27 each I scored 28 and the husband scored 27, but this really isn't about winning or maybe it is and so we decided to commence with the first stage of potty training, which includes:
  1. Showing her pee and poop, and naming it;
  2. Showing and naming the body parts involved in elimination;
  3. Showing her where pee and poop are supposed to go; and
  4. Explaining diapers are a temporary solution to a permanent problem

We started off by showing E her diapers, getting her to touch the wetness and explaining that it was "pee-pee". If there was poop in there, we'd show it to her and call it, "poo-poo". We'd then her that while she goes pee-pee and poo-poo in her diapers for now, soon she'll use the potty. All of this explained in the happiest, brightest voice - as though the potty is the greatest invention mankind has ever discovered.

Occasionally, we'd dump the poop from her diapers into the toilet and flush it, showing her how the water swirled around and got rid of her poop. I'd also let her observe me while I peed or pooped (as if I had a choice with a newly mobile baby) and show her how the flush works and how my poo poo was in the potty and but it disappears when I flushed.

We also optimistically bought this potty seat:
Optimism - thy name is overenthusiastic first-time mother.
Once the potty arrived, we let her play with it for a bit, before seating her on it with her clothes. Obviously, she had no idea why she was placed there, scrambled to get off, and nearly smashed her nose on the floor.

For the next few weeks, I would place her on the potty in her bathroom, while I got her bath things ready. Eventually, I used the potty as a sort of oiling seat, because I just had to take advantage of the fact that she didn't mind sitting there while watching me ready her bath. Also, she hadn't figured out how to go from sitting to standing without support so if I placed the seat in the centre of the room, she was trapped.

But we had no luck. She wouldn't pee in the potty. However, she'd pee as soon as I placed her in her bath tub. This was fun, though. A kind of an adventure. I had ringside seats to seeing how it is that a baby figures out that a diaper is abnormal but eliminating in a pot is the norm. 

To this end, I made up lots of silly songs about how pee pee in her nappy is good enough for now but soon she'll be doing pee pee in her potty (the song will rhyme if you hold a gun to its head). The best part of this whole process was that we'd actually started studying her for signs of peeing and pooping. I hadn't figured out the face she makes when peeing but we soon realised that she goes quiet and a little squirmy when she needs to poop.

And then it happened.

One evening, after a big dinner of oatmeal+organic wheat and apple cereal and banana+pear+avocado purée plus a few cubes of cheese, I could see that E was getting ready to poop. Her face went serious and she seemed to be straining. Elimination communication, yo!

I rushed to get her clothes and diaper off and sat her on the seat. Sure enough, she pee'd and pooped in her potty for the first time, less than two weeks after we started seating her on the potty.

Once she got up, I turned her around to show her what was inside the potty, explaining that the liquid was "pee-pee" and the solid was "poo-poo" and that she was the best little girl in the whole world for doing that in her potty. She seemed nonchalant, maybe even doubtful, but happy that I was happy and she had her bath.

After that, I started to watch her carefully for signs of pooping (serious face, some straining, suddenly stopping play or babble) and place her on her potty seat while singing or giving her a toy or just cleaning up the room while she can hear or see me. Basically, anything to get her to relax and just eliminate.

Soon she learned how to stand up from a sitting position and all attempts to get her to sit on the potty were in vain. The potty seat was relegated to a corner of the bathroom where she'd pretend to sit and pee but stand up and run around naked because that's obviously more fun that sitting. I eventually ended up using a potty seat adaptor for the adult toilet seat but more on that later.

Which is not to say the entire process was a waste. E had learnt, before she turned one, the difference between pee and poo and that the diaper is not forever. That, one day, she too will use a toilet like us adults. She got the time to internalise this information before we started active potty training almost a year later.

You can start pre-potty training too, if your child can:
  • understand simple concepts like in/on/off/outside;
  • sit up unassisted (basically get herself to seated position from lying down on her back);
  • shows some interest in how a flush works or looks down to see the water go when flushing.
  • shows interest in the contents of her diaper;
  • understands the meaning of, 'no'.

A child will be completely potty trained only when she or he is physiologically ready and this is a process that can take up to 6-years (when you include nighttime bladder control). Until then, it's awesome to get excited about something as puerile as pee and poo in a pot.

Plus it beats having to clean up a bum with poop smeared all over it.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Mourning the End of Breastfeeding

I breastfed E for 26 months. It's been only a few weeks, and I don't even remember the exact date. One day she asked, I said no, she fussed about it for a bit but didn't cry or insist. And that was it. I had breastfed for the last time and I didn't even know.

In hindsight, I suppose I did know, because the last feed was different from all the feeds that came before it. In the last one, it was me and her, sitting in our nursing chair lit by the blue-green from her nightlight - both only as old as she is. As we've sat hundreds of times, the only ones awake in the quiet nighttime house, she lost in thought, and me, staring at her, willing at her to be the person I know in my bones she is.

In the last feed, she watched me closely, something she rarely does. She always liked to unfocus a little, puzzle out her world while the repetitive motions of her mouth made her verdant brain, process the individual tendrils of life. She may notice me once in a while, giggle when I pull a face or make a funny noise, but for the most part, we did our own things while we nursed.

I remember being disappointed early on in our nursing relationship. I imagined mother and baby would nurse, each staring lovingly into the other's eyes (now that I think about it, it sounds positively pervy.). But E was a thinker. She was probably figuring out her philosophy of life, and I figured I'd use that time to figure out mine. In her first year, I read classic and early modern fiction. In the second, novels set in a dystopian future. When famished, we each reached for our source of sustenance.

The book reading kept me sane for what has generally been two years of teaching a young human how to human. It also taught me a little bit about human-ing. It taught me to understand that life's hard, no matter how old you are, what your background is. Everyone's going through some bittersweet stuff. The least you can do is treat people like you know that they're going through shit, and you don't want to be one more thing that adds to the shit that is in their lives.

In the last feed, not only was she studying me with her eyes, her long arms reached past my face and she ran her fingers through my hair, her hands clasping my neck as she felt her way over all the parts of my body she couldn't even reach a few years ago.

I remember her batting away at my face when she was a few months old, and I would think that's a funny thing for her to do but now I know that she was always trying to reach for my face, to stroke it, to play with me. Play the little game where she would poke my face with a tiny finger and giggle when I pretend to gobble it up. The games came so much later that I never had the chance to know what it was until it stopped.

She gave up her naptime feeds for reading books. So we still cuddle on the erstwhile nursing but now reading chair, and read a few books. Once the books are done, she fusses and reaches for a hug. But we both know that we need to fix the fussing with a hug and an extended cuddle. So we hug for a bit, until she warns me, that this is the "last" and spends another second hugging me before cheerfully lying down in her crib.

Every day, the 'last' hug is a millisecond shorter than it was the day before. What can no longer be fixed with a quiet nursing session, must be fixed with a hug. What will replace the hug?

I do miss breastfeeding my little baby but I'm fortunate that I got those quiet moments with my baby for two whole years. Until the day she realised she was no longer a baby.  

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Paradaox of Being a SAHM - Can I Have it All or Part 3

This post is part 3 of a three part series on the conundrum of modern motherhood. Read part 1 and part 2.

Can I Have It All?

I get conflicting messages from women like Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, telling me to 'lean in' to the male-defined workplace, and stop being held back by my perceptions of why, as a mother, I can't participate in the workforce in the way that I'd like.

Then there are women like Anne-Marie Slaughter, lawyer and professor of international affairs at Princeton University, who feel that the world, as it exists today, does not have room for women who want success at both, the workplace and the home.

These arguments are a little more nuanced in India. Childcare is cheap and readily available but not necessarily trustworthy and definitely under-regulated. The threat of prosecution isn't real enough for a daycare centre or maid to do their jobs well. Meanwhile, the invasion of modern technology in our professional lives ensure that we stay turned on and tuned in 24/7.

It's an internal debate that every woman with a child has. Am I doing the right thing by my child by being an officewife/housewife? Does it have to be either/or? Why can't I have both?

Women in leadership positions attribute their success to making a commitment to their profession and sacrifices for your family. They will tell you that if you marry the right person, and sequence having a baby and a career right, it truly will be possible to have it all. After some prodding, they'll tell you that they have their in-laws or parents or a fantastic nanny taking care of their responsibilities at home. See? You can have it all.

And then I meet other women, real women with real lives that journalists don't bother about and I've noticed a pattern. They are all highly educated, have spent a reasonable part of their adult lives abroad, and quit well-paying jobs when they had their babies. Some of them went back to work for a year or so after becoming mothers but left when they felt that their choice to work was trumping their choice to be a mother.

One mother told me about how all she felt as a working mother was guilt. She felt guilty about gleefully escaping a teething toddler but guiltier still when the other toddler in the building, three-months younger than hers, was speaking in perfect sentences while her son would grunt and point at dirt. She decided to quit when her son started saying, 'ayyayyo,' to express frustration because that was the word he heard most often from his nanny. And not 'ayyayyo' in the cute way that South Indian kids often do. The 'ayyayyo' of maids.

These Indian SAHMs now wait till their children are off to school to forge their own careers, trying to blend their passion with financial independence. They know in their hearts that a return to an office environment will clash with their desire to be present for their children and have made the choice to stay at home while also seeking professional fulfilment.

A month ago, my ex-boss reached out to me. He remembered that E would be around two-years old and wanted to know if I was ready to come back to work. I was thick in the middle of all my hand-wringing and worrying about the impact being a SAHM would have on E and her evolving ideas on gender stereotypes when this happened. Without my having to ask, he said it could be part-time and gave me the freedom to transition to full-time as and when I felt my family was ready.

I love my new old job. I'm relishing grappling with issues that don't involve paint in the dog's fur. But now I feel my organised household slowly slipping out of my fingers. Things don't get put away immediately, counters aren't wiped down each night. Because I'm either working or caring for E. And so this brings on another wave of dissatisfaction.

Until I realised that it's almost as though we believe that each of us has, within ourselves, an infinite promise to be whoever we want to be, doing whatever we want to do, and because of that, we owe it to ourselves to utilise every bit of it. So it can't just be ragi mudde. It has to be organic. And bought on the way back from the gym. Prepared 30 minutes after getting home. While taking pictures for Instagram. All this before getting ready for a full day of building our businesses while also tending to scraped knees and hungry stomachs.

And if you choose one or the other, you've not just failed yourself but every woman who fought for your right to choose. If that isn't a paradox, then I'm a wise fool.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Paradox of Being a SAHM - Am I a SAHM or Part 2

This post is part 2 of a three part series exploring the conundrum of modern motherhood. Read part 1.

Am I a SAHM?

While the "housewife" just makes sure her family is clothed and fed, the SAHM clothes hers in hand spun, vegetable-dyed, Cottage Emporium cotton and feeds them organic quinoa salads everyday. Rather than spending her day phoning her friends about her domestic accomplishments, the SAHM will flood her social media with lomo filter applied photographs of health food and responsibly-sourced clothing, and happy baby smiles. And maybe blog about it.

SAHMs, in this brave new post-housewife world, now feel the need to justify their choice to stay at home because they don't have a fat pay check to show for their domestic accomplishments. They occupy the other end of the spectrum, treating their home life with the kind of zeal most of us would reserve for monetary remuneration only.

In raising E, I find myself wanting to hone my domesticity - cook great meals, keep a reasonably organised and colour coördinated home (with pretty labels on all the things) - while retaining a part of who I was before I had E. I wonder what effect social media has to do with me wanting this. And how all of this reeks of home making in the 1970s. Smart women who, for lack of education or social stigma, were prevented from going out to work. They kept their houses gorgeous, their families nourished, and their persons stylish. All of this without Instagram.

Even if no one's ever said this to me, I often ask myself if I'm dishonouring those women of generations past who fought for my right to be educated and go to work when I could (or is it should) just pay someone to take care of my baby. After all, babies really only need food and naps and any idiot could manage that.

My mother worked outside the home, took care of us, and cooked every day. She's a neat freak so she also cleaned every day. My parents juggled it so well that one of them was always at home with me. Amma didn't need to work but did because it was important to her. Even at their busiest, my parents never left me in the care of a maid but a lot of my friends' parents did and it showed (I knew an Arab kid who spoke English with a Filipino accent because he learnt the language from his nanny).

Before we had E, the husband and had talked about gender roles and how both of us didn't want a maid to be E's primary caregiver. Since he has a few years on me in the profession, he was making better money so it made sense for him to occupy the traditional gender role of chief breadwinner. He has never, not once, made any request of me that speaks to my traditional gender role of chief nurturer. But still, it feels as though I need to earn my keep.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Paradox of Being a SAHM - Am I a Housewife or Part 1

When I was growing up, our mothers either worked outside the home or were "housewives". Regardless of what else they did with their time, the general expectation was that mothers were the main caretakers of their household and by inclusion, children while fathers played featuring roles as either chief disciplinarian just wait till your father gets home, chief maker of fun because he was driven mad by guilt for being away from his family, or that guy who hogs the TV when he is at home.

Over the years there has been growing discomfort about the term, 'housewife'. We've seen variations like home manager, homemaker, and more recently, the exceedingly annoying 'stay-at-home-mom' or SAHM. If I were your mom, I'd be your mother. It's not like these women are distributing business cards. Why bother with a designation?

As more mothers started participating in the corporate workforce hurrah for liberalisation and globalisation, suddenly, there was a monetary value attached to their corporate work. Non-remunerative housework could now be outsourced, thanks to her monetary addition to the household income. For all its flaws, one of the greatest things about living in India is that you can pay anyone to do anything for you.

In a curious turn of events, it went from, yay! it is now socially acceptable for women to add to the household income, to a dissatisfied, well, if she can afford to pay all these people to do her work for her, why isn't she contributing monetarily to the household income? 

That managing these service providers continues to be the woman's headache is something I'm still trying to understand. If I ever figure it out, I'll post it here.

Am I a Housewife?

I started thinking about this when I had to tick the box for housewife as my occupation while renewing my passport last year. I realised that I associate that word with an educated but unread woman who spends all day in a nightie, stuck at home because she happened to make babies with a man her parents picked for her to marry and who doesn't speak English.

It's okay for her to be a "housewife" but how could I possibly be one?

This is a housewife.
But it's not like these housewives don't love their families. They also cook, clean, and do the all-important job of maintaining a home life. The only thing I really do in the house is organise and stock the pantry.
My main job right now is being a mother. I do it with the same kind of passion as an ambitious office-goer who works 18-hour days so that he can become CEO 6-months earlier than his college friends. I do it because I want to be the 'best' at it whatever that means.

I wondered if the "housewife" felt this way about being a mother. She obviously loves her kids but does she yearn to be a fantastic mother? When she is responsible for the upkeep of the house, is her child just one more thing she needs ticked off her list? Cue the housewife's maternal guilt.

This then got me thinking about my desperate need to be the best mother on the block. We have people helping us out with cooking, cleaning, and laundry, so I'm more of a home manager - managing these people and keeping inventory for all the supplies these people need.
It's not like there is a tangible incentive to out-mothering everyone else. But I realised that I had to justify to myself, more than anyone else, why I wasn't working in an office and contributing monetarily to the household income.

When in doubt, I turn to Google and reading about the evolution of parenting lead me to a book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. I've only read a few chapters but in this book. the author, Jennifer Senior, attributes the reclassification of 'housewife' to 'stay-at-home-mom' to changing social priorities, from managing a house to managing your children.

Or doing both and making an art form of it. As my Pinterest boards will tell you.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Choosing Your Child's Gender

There's a fair bit of hand-wringing on the Internet over how impossible it is to buy anything for your child without reducing it to a binary decision of kittens or buses, pastels or dark colours, Spiderman or Barbie.

Two-year old E doesn't know the difference between a girl and a boy. Although she has, internally, decided that women wear kaajal and men don't. The kohl-lined eyes of our AC repairman widened at being called 'auntie' by a little girl. She knows that, visually, men and women are different and she can tell the difference between an 'uncle' and an 'auntie'. But to her, all kids are just babies and she can't really differentiate boys from girls.

So it frustrates me when I go to a kids' clothes shop or toy shop and there's a clear demarcation between Those Things That Are Meant For Boys generally housed in areas of the store painted in solid red or blue and Those Things That Are Meant For Girls delicately arranged in areas of the store painted in pretty pastels or bubblegum pink.

You know you've seen this at every toy store.

I try to be gender-neutral and get her clothes from both sections and I always get toys that boys and girls can play with, like puzzles and stuffed zoo animals (not baby pink teddy bears with red hearts on them). Because it's important to me that she not buy into stereotypes. I need her to know that if she's different from somebody, it's not just because of her gender.

But it's only a matter of time before an uninformed teacher or an ayah tells her to do or not to do something because she's a girl. Or an ad tells her that she needs to have long flowing hair only on her head and nowhere else.

And she'll internalise it. Because this is something an adult who is not her mother or father is telling her. Remember how much importance you gave to the crap your kindergarten teachers told you? Or how you believed, even if only briefly, that Fair N Lovely would actually make you fair.

My baby will do that too. She'll think that a primary school teacher, with a B.Ed. or a troglodyte ad-person is more knowledgeable about gender than her parents who, between them, have read everything from Aristotle to Ariel Levy.

What set this current rant of mine off, was the simple act of buying toothpaste for Eka. She's started brushing her 16 teeth now and has a very clear interest in toothpaste. We've been pretend pasting her brush with our regular toothpaste but maybe she needs baby-safe toothpaste because she hasn't learnt to spit yet and also I remember swallowing my toothpaste till I was 7-years old and I choked on the toothpaste and coughed so hard it came out of my nose. 

WTF is a bubble fruit? Image courtesy: Flipkart

Excited at the prospect of my baby brushing her teeth with toothpaste, I started searching online for kid-appropriate brands. Colgate. Now there's a respectable brand. They have kids' toothpaste. In two flavours - Spiderman and Barbie. That's it. Whereas Colgate has at least 5 different flavours for adults, for kids, it's two fictional characters. Okay, Colgate Barbie is strawberry flavour not cheap plastic and Colgate Spiderman is Bubble Fruit flavour not liquified insects but it's unfortunate that if you were to make your kid choose, you're essentially presenting your child with two non-choices, pre-decided for him/her by some ill-informed marketing executive.

I hope to raise E to appreciate both, Barbie and Spiderman the comics not the movies, to understand what each tries to tell us about the way women ought to be versus the way women are or the way they'd like to be. And I only plan on letting her choose when she understands her choice. Until then, it's Chicco's Strawberry toothpaste for babies older than 12 months. And pretty dresses for warm days and teeny denims with dinosaur sweatshirts for cool ones. Playing with her menagerie of stuffed wild animals in the morning while evenings are for puzzles and outdoor fun.

Hopefully, she'll learn to discern the difference between who she is and who advertisers would like her to be and decide it's okay to like both Spiderman and Barbie, cars and kitchen sets, dinosaurs and My Little Pony.

I went from stealing clothes from my father to stealing clothes from my husband.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Dealing With Baby's First Cold

E caught her first cold on 14/09/2014. From me.

I did everything I could to protect her from my illness my hands were raw from washing. Still, she woke up with a runny nose on that fateful Sunday morning. I messaged E's paediatrician who recommended that I give E half a dropperful of T-minic drops, two times a day. T-minic apparently eases symptoms such as a runny nose, stuffy nose, and sneezing

Generally mistrustful of medical practitioners, I quickly Googled, 'T-minic.' Which was just as well, because the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) advises parents to refrain from administering cold and cough medicine to infants below the age of 2. The active ingredients in T-minic are chlorphenamine maleate makes a person sleepy and phenylephrine hydrochloride a decongestant, both of which are contraindicated by the USFDA for infants under the age of 2.

After having conducted research on usage of such medication, the USFDA found that that reports of harm to children occurred due to accidental ingestion, unintentional overdose, or after a medication dosing error. In reports of harm that lead to a child's death, most of those children were under the age of 2. The recommendation reads, "FDA research indicates that children less than 2 years old appear to be most susceptible to serious injury when there are no labeled directions for use but rather state "to ask a doctor (healthcare provider) for use""

However, the research has been unable to clarify whether these products are being given to infants per doctor's orders or if the recommendation to speak to a doctor leads caregivers to believe that such medication is appropriate for an infant.

T-minic comes with dosage and administration directions of 9-11 drops/dose for 3 to 4 doses per day (for 6 to 12-month olds) and it appears that this formulation is appropriate for infants and children from 1-month to 4-years of age. It is manufactured in Uttrakhand by Coronet Labs Private Limited as per formula licensed by Novartis India Limited.

Given that we don't have similar recommendations in India, and regulations regarding naming and even formulation of medicines for infants are lax maybe even absent at best, I decided to wait it out and see whether E's runny nose would get worse I was looking for change in colour of nasal discharge, fever, or cough. Sure, if I had other children or was working, I probably wouldn't have thought too hard about it. But this was different - she was her usual bright, cheerful self. She just had a runny nose clear mucous in case you were wondering.

In the meanwhile, I did some more research on natural ways to help alleviate a baby's symptoms of cold. A week later and after having tried a few things, I found the following to help E get rid of her cold something something cold, a week or 7 days:

Humidifier or Vaporiser? 

The standard vaporiser that most of us have at home ours says steam cum sauna, much to the husband's delight serves the purpose of providing temporary relief from congestion, that is, by sticking our faces directly in the line of steam ouch while being covered by a towel or sheet. I never really noticed how warm the device gets when heating water until all E wanted to do was touch the vaporiser and, I'm guessing, taste it.

This led me to look for baby-friendly devices that would serve the same purpose, i.e., release steam such that mucous is loosened. Apparently, there are two kinds of humidifiers - one releases hot steam while the other, a cold mist.

While the cold mist humidifier is more expensive, it pays for itself because it has a job and bank account it doesn't have a heating element and as such, won't add to your electricity bill. Your child is also comparatively safer around a cold mist humidifier because of the no heat aspect. Unfortunately, the absence of heat also makes it the perfect home for damp-loving microbial organisms.

On the other hand, the hot humidifier is great if you live in cool, dry Bangalore - it adds just the right amount of mugginess to a room to ensure that baby's mucous stays runny. However, the steam released does have the potential to cause burns and as with anything and this includes cold mist humidifiers, KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.

We didn't really have the time to go out and test each kind of humidifier so we quickly decided to stick with a steam humidifier because I'm convinced that it's warm mugginess that loosens mucous also cool mist humidifiers are used in warm, humid cities like Singapore and Dubai to cool down an open area. I figured Chicco would be most likely to have a baby-friendly design and settled for the Chicco Humi Relax delivered in a day by

Chicco Hot Humidifier Humi Relax
The Chicco Hot Humidifier Humi Relax is fairly large and has a stable base but most importantly, the device stays cool. E was unable to upset it or even pull it to taste, what else? when I made the steamy tent of mucous-loosening draping a cloth over her playmat and my head with her and the humidifier inside. With a capacity of 2 litres basically 4.5 large glasses of water, it will humidify your room for about 5 hours.

The nozzle on top releases steam to a height of almost 3 feet so is warm only at the tip. Helpfully, the nozzle, which can be cleaned separately, also contains a little nook for essential oils. This brings me to the next useful way to ease a baby's symptoms of cold.

Essential Oil - Eucalyptus

Before E was born, I stocked up on lemongrass and citronella oil to repel mosquitoes, lavender to calm baby down, and eucalyptus oil for stuffy nose. The lemongrass and citronella oils were very useful when she was a newborn in the summer because a few daubs near her bedding really did keep the mosquitoes away.

The lavender oil was a complete waste. Rather than calming her down, it irritates her and I can understand why. That it has the audacity to call itself an essential oil when clearly, it was synthesised in a laboratory is proof of the fact that no one cares about aromatherapy.

Buy this. Now.

However, the eucalyptus oil was the star of our lives this past week. I went through one bottle by SoulFlower and half of another from Good Earth. Adding a few drops to her normal massage oils of Ayurvedic നാല്പാമരാദി (Nalpamaradi) and extra virgin coconut oil, and to her warm bath water would sufficiently loosen any mucous that I could clean up post-bath. Thus, she could nap well in the afternoon.

I would add a few drops to the dispenser on our humidifier and chill quite the opposite, actually with E in our steamy tent of mucous-loosening. Within a few minutes, the mucous would come streaming out ready for me to clean up.

Change in Diet

We had just started E on solids and she had gotten reasonably comfortable being fed purée by spoon when the cold struck. As with adults, the general advice to relieve colds for infants is to give lots of fluids. So I temporarily stopped her solid feeds and switched her back to being exclusively breastfed - feeding her every hour or so.

I hoped my breastmilk would pass on any antibodies that I may have made for the cold that she caught from me. I made sure she had a clean nose before each feed and her swallowing action helped drain any mucous that the aspirator couldn't get to.

This, along with all the eucalyptus oil and near constant exposure to mugginess I would run a hot water shower for a few minutes before bathing E meant that she wasn't too uncomfortable while making a complete recovery in a week.

Nasal Aspirator

My mother got us this nasal aspirator from Pigeon. Its long-ish tip was helpful to suck out dried bits of snot when E was a newborn. Unfortunately, with all the runny mucous, the long tip didn't get everything out. Also, E was no longer a complying little babe who completely trusted her mama. At 6-months, she would push my hands away and when I'd pin her arms down, she would turn her head from side to side. Until I figured out a way to keep her head still AND pin her arms down AND suction her nose now I know why Hindu goddesses are depicted with multiple arms.

It took me a few days to realise that I wasn't using the nasal aspirator correctly. When I removed the long tip, I was able to place the nasal aspirator just at the entrance to her nostril. This would then suction out ALL the runny mucous because the new tip fit perfectly into her infant nostril. Twenty years of formal education and not once was I taught how to use a nasal aspirator. I've never needed to use trigonometry. For anything. Ever. And yet, I learned trig for 5 years in school.


Taking care of a sick baby was nerve wracking. While E had no idea she was ill, she didn't understand why she couldn't breathe normally and got quite cross with my attempts to decongest her It didn't help that I kept jabbing her with an inappropriately-used aspirator.

At night, she would wake up more than a few times with a snotty nose, which I would have to clean up and hold her upright for her to fall back asleep. Coincidentally, I also had my period that same week so I kept alternating between wanting to soothe her and wanting to smash her against the wall Fun!

On the whole, I was overcome with guilt because she caught the cold from me and sympathy she's so tiny that I catered to all her baby whims - almost as if she were a newborn again. In hindsight, this wasn't such a great idea. I had to contend with some crying at nighttime after she had recovered because she still expected me to pick her up.

However, it's hard to watch your baby suffer. It's hard not to project all your cold-time needs onto your baby. And I leapt into all the steam and aroma therapy just so that I could feel like I was doing something.

Maybe I should've just given her the T-minic drops and gotten on with my life.