Thursday, January 27, 2011

And its now Rocky Balboa!

Which flicking through channels the other evening, the brat chanced up
a tiny logo in the corner of the screen on Times Now which told us
that Rocky Reloaded would be telecast the next night at 9pm. Now, for
some history. The spouse is a fan of Rocky Balboa. No. Make that he is
the world's greatest fan of the Rocky Balboa series. Ever so often he
gets into Rocky mode and will watch his collection of the Rocky series
back to back and emerge in a daze slurring his vowels and looking
hooded eyed, if that were possible given the chinky hill tribe eyes he
has been genetically endowed with. And he will enlist the support of
the brat, and point out the high point of the movies to the brat,
shouting so excitedly during the bouts that neighbours call in
concerned that violence is erupting in the household, needing a Bell
Bajao intervention.
Having seen this logo, and knowing his father, the brat immediately
dialled his father. (The brat knowing our numbers by heart is proving
to be a bit of a pain, he can put any telemarketer to shame with his
persistence the days he is at home and a new Beyblade is desired).
"Pappa, tumorow in d night at 9 oclock is Rocky Reloaded."
The father replied, ostensibly expressing his excitement.
"We will see it. You and I. Led mamma see her udder boring movies."
Pappa was a faint rumble on the instrument.
"An I will see how Rocky hits and practise on you."
That's when Pappa discouraged further conversation and said they would
discuss it later.

*******
The next night, Pappa and brat completed their tasks for the evening,
which newly draconian mamma threw in one page of Math to be done, and
which was promptly dismissed as being a potential delayer towards the
watching of Rocky, and the duo settled down to watch the movie, dinner
dispensed with to allow for clear mouthed shouting at appropriate
junctions.

"Look at him training brat, look at him," yelled the Pappa.

"Right, left, right, left," the brat danced on his feet and jabbed
around furiously, shadow boxing at the reflected on the varnished
wardrobe.

Mamma sunk her carcass into the far corner of the bed, and put a
pillow over her ears and tried to get some shut eye.

A few seconds later the brat shook her shoulder.

"Mamma. I decided. I don wantu be a Justin Bieber. I wantu be a Rocky
Balboa. Get for me shorts and gloves. And give the hoodie jackids to
the poor chillun."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The new karate champ

The brat's best friend, second best friend, third best best friend and
dear chaddi buddy all are enrolled as part of the post school activity
Karate. The brat, naturally, feels left out. He's probably at that
place non smokers are when the smoking public rush off hidden corners
in public places to grab a quick, furtive smoke. Ergo there has been
much whining for the past few days about, "I wantu do karate. I wantu
get a black belt."
Like black belts were being flung into the air for the grasping hordes to grab.
Finally yesterday, mamma and pappa sat him down and spoke with him
indepth on exactly why it was that he wanted to make Karate an
afterschool sport.
He got into full drama queen mode, Meena Kumari was nothing on him.
His lips quivered, his eyes welled over, his voice broke, "Everybody
teases me. Dey make funofme. If I know karate, I will bash them up."
Mamma, having been unimpeachable witness to umpteen occasions when the
brat has been sole instigator and basher up of many hapless victims,
with a ferocity which has led to mothers stepping into the fistfights
which have broken out with the entire pile of tykes a total rugby
scrimmage, demurred softly.
"No brat, tell me the truth, why do you really want to join karate?"
The face was back to normal, the voice had stopped quivering and sole
tear flickering on his lashes had dropped off. Maybe I could
investigate a career in theatre for him.
"I want to stay back after school. All my frens are dere. We will have
fun.An I will be cool like Jaden Smith. Widoud the hair."
That was, in a nutshell, the gist of what had occssioned the sudden
fascination with karate. Mamma is signing him up for the activity. Her
reasons are selfish too, she gets an additional hour at work. But now,
she needs to be really, really alert when the brat gets into a scrap
down in the park, lest he start implementing his new found karate
skills on unwary pintsizes.

Monday, January 24, 2011

So the brat performs tomorrow

.. for Republic Day. And I did my little pushy parenting bit (apologies to Amy Chua) by calling up school and demanding that they audition him for the performance knowing that he would never raise his hand when asked who wanted to perform, he being the retiring, wallflower kind of person, or to be more specific, the one busy getting into fisticuffs at the back of the class when important questions were being raised. Therefore, he was taken for the audition. And selected, and ergo he will perform at the Republic Day function being held at school. My maternal heart overfloweth with pride.
He's been kept behind at school for the past few days for rehearsals, something I am enjoying as a working woman because it gives me one entire day at work. I go pick him up at five, by which time he is about as squeezed out of energy as a lemon post juice making. He troops down with the rest of the kids who have been selected to be part of the performance.
Moves sulkily towards me and raises his foot up. His shuffling gait as he traipsed down, which I had attributed to tiredness was due to him wearing a pair of shoes which were two sizes bigger than his foot. I just needed to stick him into a badly sized black suit, a black bowler and paste on a mouche and I would have had my own wee Chaplin.
"Someone wore my shuz!" he hissed.
He hisses when he is truly angry. "An I don know whu wore it. Everyone is gone now."
I choked back some laughter as he struggled to move a few paces without his foot coming out of said oversaized shoe.
"Dont worry brat, I will get this sorted out tomorrow."
"NO!" he hissed in capitals. "Go buy a new pair for me right now. I canna walk in this shoes."
I raised my eyebrows and insisted he divest himself of them, and walk in his socks to the car if they were so uncomfortable. There was barely ten steps of walking to be done.
"How can I walk in my socks? Everyone will laffatme! Dey will say he has no shoes. Den no one will be my fren."
I was, to put it mildly shocked. "Why would you think that no one will be your friend if you aren't wearing your shoes for two minutes, brat?"
Isnt there more to you than shoes, I asked. "No, I don wantu walk in socks. Everyone will laffatme. You only walk in socks in the temple. You cannot walk in socks in school."
Anyway, we managed to make it to the car by extreme slow and measured movement which was, incidentally much reminscent of the Chaplinesque shuffling to ensure the foot stayed in the oversized shoe. We sat in, and I asked him what he was performing to. "Is a ShahRukhKhan song."
I persisted. "Which song is it? Sing it to me."
"Bud I don habtu sing it. I have to dance it."


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother

Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother
By Amy Chua
Bloomsbury
(Kindly sent in to me by Penguin)


The first I heard of this book was through the article in the Wall
Street Journal about Amy Chua's forthcoming book, which was discussed
hot on twitter and on the mommy blogosphere. Quills were bristling and
moms were quickly taking up posts on either side of the divide, and
some struggled to maintain a median position on the debate. I was then
invited to be part of a panel discussion on BBC World's Have Your Say,
which included a UK based mom and a BBC producer, a NYC journalist and
mom, a professor in American and a Chinese parent, and me,
representing the pushy Indian parent. Only, I am not the pushy Indian
parent.
But never mind the self pimping, the fact is I was very very keen to
read the book. While the precepts in the extract were a little
extreme, the fact remained that the book did make me feel a little
uncomfortable about just how lax I was with the brat's academics and
skills. I needed to pull up my socks and how.
So when Penguin kindly sent me in the book, I went through it in a
couple of days, reading like I had a gun held to my head. I would take
tips I thought, I would take what would work for me and keep the more
extreme stuff aside. I swore to myself that I would keep the fact that
Chua was a little extreme at the back of my mind, and not get fazed by
any stuff I read. But the book was strong. For a parent like me, who
has spent all of her seven years of parenting trying to build the
child's self esteem, this comes a complete shocker.
My impressions of the book. Firstly, what comes through very strongly
in the entire book is that Chua is trying to live vicariously through
her children. Her decision to raise the children the Chinese way,
while allowing the kids to follow the Jewish faith seems like a happy
compromise on the surface of it, with Amy's husband Jed, struggling to
make sense of Amy's bootcamp method of raising their kids, and playing
referee most times. .
According to Chua, the Chinese way of raising kids is tough love, love
that doesn't hesitate to criticise, love that enforces a regimen so
strict that it allows the children no childhood to run around and just
be children.
Her daughters, Sophia and Louisa, weren't allowed to have playdates,
sleepovers, or anything less than the top grades of their class — and
that they were expected to excel at the instruments Mom chose for them
(this is interesting, the children had no choice in the matter), the
piano and violin, respectively. Interestingly, while Chua's elder
daughter Sophia, was a docile child and went along with her mother's
plan for her, her sister Louisa had different plans, and went along
till a point, kicking and screaming, until one day things finally
broke and she completely went off the violin and took up, surprise
surprise, tennis.
Honestly, the reader sees the rebellion coming, it is surprising that
Chua didn't see it staring her in her face. The accounts of how she
bludgeons (metaphorically speaking of course) her daughters into hours
of music practice, (Interestingly the music seems to be the dominant
part of all her child rearing anecdotes) are downright uncomfortable
to read, especially as a parent. While she might have got one daughter
into Carnegie Hall, and that definitely is something to be proud
about, she's got there through an enforced regimen of hours of
practice, no down time, no sport, no school plays, which makes one
really feel sorry for the child.
Among the many anecdotes in the book, one that really horrified me was
the time she rejected her daughter's handmade birthday cards, because
it really seemed to me as a reader, that she was basically miffed at
her husband not making reservations at a better restaurant. To me,
that is sacrilege.
I don't know how her daughters turned out, and I'm hoping they are
well balanced young ladies right now, but I do know the line between
adoring your parents and hating your parents is a thin one, and
adolescence is a phase where most kids quickly go onto the other side.
What I did not enjoy about the book particularly was the vigorous
manner in which Chua puts down Western parenting, with their focus on
building a child's self esteem, giving the child an all round
childhood full of experiences with an appropriate focus on sport.
She writes "Western parents are concerned about their children's
psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility,
and as a result they behave very differently….That's why the solution
to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame
the child."
While name calling, and even calling the child 'garbage' something
that almost got Chua ostracised at a dinner party is definitely
unorthodox to say the least, the takeaway I did get from the book is
that children need to be pushed beyond the comfortable limits they set
themselves, they need to be handled firmly and not be allowed to sink
into pleasant mediocrity. The methods each parent might use to achieve
this might differ, I might use a blend of no nonsense you have to get
this done, along with some gentle encouragement but the base premise
does remain the same. One wants to encourage the child to go beyond
what they think they can achieve.
While Amy Chua's method might have worked for her, with one daughter
at least, it is not a route I would follow or even advocate. Childhood
prodigies and academic overachievers to the best of my knowledge and
reading have not had very happy lives. And I'd rather my son has a
happy childhood. And if he has a spark of genius, in any sphere, it
will manifest if he has self esteem, and confidence enough.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Save water campaign

The brat is learning about water conservation at school. Consequently, he is the current water police at home. Self appointed. Would that all the police on the roads would be that earnest about enforcing rules of road discipline and so selflessly at that.

"Brat, why is your waterbottle still full?"
He looks at me with the kind of expression one reserves for one celled lifeforms on the evolutionary scale. The kind that reproduce asexually and ergo have no social life to speak of.
"I am saving water. We must not waste water!"
Mamma hastened to reassure him that water ingestion was crucial to metabolic efficiency and his waterbottle would not contribute to the water deficit in any substantial way.
"Okay, den I'll not take water to school. I"ll take Frooti. That will not waste water. Is also liquid."

*******

Mamma is now trying to get the brat functioning independently and as a consequence of that effort she insists the brat bathe himself on Sundays, without assistance from Mamma. Finicky readers might note the backs of the ear and the neck are duly checked with magnifying glass for traces of dirt when he emerges.
So it was that this morning I instructed the brat to divest himself of his raiments and enter the bathroom where toothbrush, bucket filled with hot water and a clean towel awaited him.
He rolled around complaining to deaf ears about the injustice of a small child being forced to clean himself without adult assistance, exhibiting the same reluctance the pater exhibits towards bathing on Sundays and national holidays. Well, all I can add is that they're both probably high in the stakes to Godliness on those days.
Mamma barked ferociously and got him scampering into the bathroom. He was out barely five seconds later, no part of his person showing any evidence of having made any contact with water and soap.
"Brat, did you have a bath?"
He clambered on the bed and began pouring himself into the clothes laid out.
"Stop, brat," said mamma, in firm decisive tone that brooked no disobedience. He finished his toilette calmly and took comb to hair.
"Did you have a bath?" Mamma repeated sternly. The Pappa added voice to mamma's query.
"I hadda sponge bath," he confessed gailyn much to mamma's horror, because it probably meant he had dry rubbed his body with the towel.
"I is saving water no?"
Sent from BlackBerry® on Airtel

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

So should we all be Chinese mothers?

This article by Yale professor Amy Chua is what had caused a furore over twitter and the mommy blogosphere a couple of days ago. Professor Chua, undoubtedly a very determined and focussed parent, had listed out, what in her books was the secret behind why many Chinese and Indian mothers produced offspring who are overachievers in academia. That, is something I cant debate with. But Chua's method's for getting her offspring to overachieve, though she did speak specifically that it was something specific to the Chinese culture and mindset. And she did include the Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents too.
The things her daughters weren't allowed to do, and I paste herewith:

• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.

had my jaw drop wide. For one, I admire the tenacity of the woman. I would not have the heart to be as focussed and as determined as she is. For another, the brat is a different child.
Lets talk about how I grew up for a start. I was the quintessential nerd, nose and thick spectacles buried foot deep into a book at any given time, I did no sport because primarily I had no athletic skills and was too overweight (a vicious cycle) and I can imagine the agony my father, a national level kabaddi champion and a state level cricketer could have gone through.Thankfully, my parents let me be. I grew up okay. I focussed on my love for literature and languages, and drifted into advertising and then journalism. I did pretty okay for myself. I remember I was horrible in Math. The mater got me admitted to a Maths class for my Class X boards. I quit in a couple of days after the professor insulted me in class for not being able to follow what he was saying. My mom didnt pressurise me to return, but just told me to ensure I did well in Math in the Boards, and guess what, I scored the highest in Math, not in Literature. Post Class ten I scored pretty high, in the 80s and at the time, higher than 80 percent meant one got into Science. But I got into Arts, because I was keen on studying literature. The mater didnt stop me. I might not be a high achiever today, but I definitely did have the potential, I know that for sure, an IQ test in my school days pegged my IQ score at 142. Its probably fallen to idiot level now. Reading Chua's article I wonder how different things would be had my mother applied some serious kick to my butt. Do I regret it? Not one bit. Not one moment.
I made my decisions. The consequences of my actions were explained to me. I was motivated enough internally to drive myself in things that mattered to me, and I had and still have oodles of self esteem that sees me through my lowest phases. If my mother had told me I was fat, I would have got an eating disorder.

Now for the brat. He is a very very different child from what I was. He started off with having delayed development. At that point, what I did could be considered pushy. I took him to speech and occupational and physiotherapy, three a week each for one hour each. The child lived in the car and he was not yet two. For three years, I took him regularly for therapy, I made him do the exercises at home, took him out in the evenings to get him to interact with people, and my happiest day was when I was told he no longer had any need for therapy. He was fine. I wanted him to be a regular child. Then I relaxed. He goes to school, he has tuitions and his grades are far from A. He plays for a couple of hours everyday, he watches television, plays on the computer, doesn't learn a musical instrument, participates not only in school plays but also society complex plays and events. He is a natural dancer, so the only class he attends, in this hyperparenting age of multiple classes is a dance class. And he will join swimming in a month, when the miniscule Mumbai winter gets over. He still has to learn to cycle, and he does not go for Art Class even though the only subject he gets straight As in is art.  I am so not the Indian mom Chua speaks about. But I do see them all around me. And know that there is a reason they are so paranoid about their children not meeting high standards academically. Look at the competition for seats in colleges, for jobs, for professional courses, children who fail to make the cut will never make it. Plus we have a culture of rote education, rather than understanding. I see children committing suicide when they dont pass an exam and wonder why they would think failing one exam makes life not worth living. I hear of mothers committing suicide when their children dont make the percentage they want from them, and am horrified.

Maybe the brat will be mediocre. Maybe he will end up being a non entity. I would be happy if he graduates and is able to earn himself a decent living. If he has a talent which needs nurturing, I will push him for sure towards it, the way I drag him down for the dance class, but I'm not going to make him practise three hours a day, unless HE wants to practise three hours a day. And no way will I ever call my son garbage, but simultaneously I will never tell him that his Bs and Cs are acceptable.  But it will always be, "You can do much better. You can do better." I will sit with him for an hour, but after he has played his heart out with his friends in the park.

I may not be a pushy mom, I may live to regret it later. But I want to be a mom who knows she has let her child have a childhood, he has the rest of his life to grow up and not have any fun.

What is your take on this debate?

(I was part of a panel on the BBC World Show Have Your Say on Amy Chua's article on Chinese Moms being better moms than Americans. Listen to the podcast here http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/whys)

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Maa Exchange

The first I heard of this new show was when I was contacted to be on
it. I heard the concept out and promptly froze and made hurried
excuses. I had seen the American version of the show on Star World,
and I had absolutely no desire to be on a similar show, no matter how
tempting the prospect of having a camera and crew tail me 24 x 7
making a total ass of myself in someone else's kitchen.
Then add to it, the format. If this was for a day, I might still have
been tempted. But this was for an entire week. One week during which I
would take care of someone else's home and someone else's kids, while
they come and take charge of my home. The prospect was gut twisting.
And one week of letting someone else take care of the brat. Nope. Not
happening.
Then the promos started on the channel. Seeing the promos, whatever
little niggling doubts I had in my head were promptly erased. I could
deal with my own spouse, but living 24 x 7 in another's house, dealing
with someone else's fusspot spouse, thank you very much.
The other day, the brat and I were happily watching totally
inappropriate Bigg Boss Finale when the Maa Exchange promos came on. I
decided to check whether the brat was keen on having another mom for a
week.
"Brat," I said. "Should I go for this Maa Exchange programme?"
"Huh"
"I will go to someone else's house for a week, and another mamma will
come to this house."
He looked up at me, as if to double check whether I had not completely lost it.
"Bud wai? You don love me anymore?"
"Of course I love you darling, but this is just an experiment."
The next round the promos were repeated, he watched them intently.
"Dats a preedy mamma," he said when Pooja Bedi came on the screen. "I
want like dat new mamma."
The old mamma's heart sank to the bottom of her flabby butt. "She's
Pooja Bedi," I said. Keeping my voice neutral. "She's an actress."
He thought hard. "Dat's okay. Den she can do the new mamma acting
properly. Bud mamma, how you'll do acting in her hauz.Yu donknow tu
ackt."
The skirmishes began in the promos. He looked at them with eyebrows raised.
"Nah I don want a new mamma. How I'll ask her to wash my bum."

Edited to add: Yes, Divya, you're right, we were switching channels between Jhalak Dikhla Jaa and Bigg Boss Finale...

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Of Dark Room games

The brat has an entourage of pintsizes of approximately his age who run around the compound like pack dogs terrorising the little girls who come in their path.

They gather, foaming at the mouths with tiredness, in the lobby where steel plates or wide tubs or actual genuine Beyblade arenas are deployed to play their fearsome Beyblade matches, their primary contribution to which seems to comprise loud shouts of "One, Two and led id riiiiippppp!" Given the cavernous vaults of the lobby, the sounds echo so fearsomely that people with weak constitutions have been known to pass out in fear.

In the past couple of days though, the brat has been, with his friends, disappearing into friends homes (only after due permission granted by me, and only to homes where the mom of the house is a friend), to play dark room. What is this dark room I asked, understandably wary about having the throng enter my premises.

"We pud d laights off in d room, and we habtu hide in the dark and whoz d den he hastu make us aoud."

It sounded, frankly, scary. I invited the lot, my heart in my mouth to play the game at my residence the next day. They trooped in docilely, giving me no indication that within the next half an hour I would be reduced to a screaming banshee losing my dignity and composure in front of a group of seven year olds.

It started off benignly. One pint was sent out of the room to be the den, while the rest found places to hide. I, being good hostess, put two packets of popcorn in the microwave. Before the first packet was done, I heard an agonised scream come from the closed room and hotfooted it there. One kid was bawling hot tears accusing the other of stabbing him in the eye, which surely looked suspiciously red. I frogmarched the victim into the bathroom, splashed water in the eye, checked for further damage and he looked none too worse for wear. I closed the door. Returned to the popcorn, took one packet out, and popped the other packet in. Heard a scream, ran in to find one pint had bumped his head on the washing machine in the bathroom while trying to squeeze into the dry area to hide. Iced said bump, exhorted him to go home to maternal care, but he bravely soldiered on. I went back to the kitchen and heard a loud crash. I ran in to find a rolled up Persian carpet, propped between the wall of a cupboard and a beam had been summarily thrown onto the floor to make for hiding space for one pintsize. The carpet was picked up and put out into the balcony, where it could not be further harmed. The access to the balcony was closed. I went back to retrieve the popcorn given the microwave was making beeping sounds very insistently.

I opened the microwave and heard little voices floating from beyond the window calling out to other little voices from other wings to come join them in Dark Room, and ran back into the bedroom to find that some athletic pintsize had managed to reach the latch at the top of the grill and accessed the balcony and now eight pintsizes were hanging onto the railings. My heart skipped a beat. I went silently behind them and hauled them off individually off the railings. Did a hopping on the ground Rumpelstilskin act and dismissed them from the room which was now looking like Hurricane Katrina had taken up permanent residence.

The brat sobbed in embarrassment at this virago mother who had put his stock down amongst his friends. Another pert pintsize exhorted the others to come to his house because, "Meri mummy sab allow karegi."

The rest of the pack gang trotted off to the magnanimous mom's home. I dragged the brat down to play in the park. I would settle the room later, when I had more courage. For now, Dark Room is not a game the brat will be playing anymore.

Monday, January 03, 2011

And school reopens

After around ten days of waking up at hours odd enough to have
breakfast morph into lunch, the brat had to be roused at the ungodly
hour of seven am yesterday.
He was stretched out, the way kids who have nary a care in the world
stretch out and sleep, with his arms thrown wide across the bed,
sleeping on his back, snoring gently. It seemed criminal to break into
his dream and snatch drag him out for the cruelty of a quick bath and
then on to school. I tarried a while. I looked at him. Looked at the
features which were such a fabulous blend of mine and the spouse's. I
stroked a gentle hand on his brow and smiled. He opened his eyes.

"Mamma, why yu're nod waking me up. Is skul tuday! I will be late for
skul an ged a laid remakk in my diary."

Err. Yes. The moment was quite broken.

We ran through the milk, the potty, the bath and the Pappa took charge
of the dressing up. And at the point of shoe wearing the dwaddling
began. First the effort was to push the feet in without opening the
velcro straps. Naturally, the effort was doomed to failure.

"Open your straps," the pater bellowed from the newspaper he was
browsing through at the kind of supersonic speed which ensures nothing
worth reading is really read.

The brat dwaddled and dithered and dathered and began a litany of
complaints, both real and imaginary against the various peers in his
class who were put on the good earth for the express purpose of
harassing him, stealing his chikkin nuggeds, breaking his pencil
points, robbing his erasers moving on to the gorier stuff like
punching him in the stomach and kicking him in the head. Mamma and
Pappa listened to the litany with growing impatience, having heard it
all before.

The pater bellowed for him to speed it up yet again. He slowly sank
one foot into the shoe, and looked up.

"Pappa, yu'll come to my class. Can you defeat (random classmate)'s
father in fighting?"

The pater was not amused. He is, and has always been, a stickler for
being on time. "Put your shoes on and come quick," he stated again in
stentorian tones meant to make graves rumble in distant cemeteries.

"Can you defeat my swimming sir in swimming?"

The pater nodded.

"Can you defeat my dancing sir in dancing?"
The pater's patience was running very thin. I ran and put the second
shoe on the foot before the bull in the china shop explosion happened.

We tripped merrily to the car, unaware of the apocalypse averted.

"Pappa, you can defeat George Soros in the market?"

The pater allowed himself a thin crack of a smile. "I wish, beta," he
conceded grudgingly.

"Don worry," the brat advised him loftily. "Keep practising."

The Pater nodded. "And now I'm going to defeat today P in fighting. I
practised in my dreams."

And here I was thinking school was for studying.