Dear son, you are five today.

Dear son,

I wrote an open letter to you when you turned 4. I figured I might write one more as you turn five today. At this rate, I just might make this an annual affair. Without further ado, lets get to the matter.

Last year, I had the luxury of writing stuff I wanted and not having a worry in the world as to how you would take it because you weren’t really reading anything then. Things are very different now. You read. You actually read big words and sentences. Pretty remarkable how quickly you have grown in the last year. So in honor of your reading skill, I’ll try not to use big words in this post. Just in case you figure out a way to get to my blog. You never know.

You are a big boy now. Not too long ago, you were this little thing no longer than my arm. And now, you are refusing to hold that very hands that lifted you all day, every day. Life has changed. You may not miss it. Your mother does. I do too. All the time.

Weekends are such a joy with you and your mother and I cant wait for it to arrive soon enough. But then there is an added incentive as you are something else during the weekdays. Dude, riddle me this- How many times do I have to tell you that I need to get to work in the morning and things dont happen miraculously?. How many times do I tell you that you cant eat without brushing your teeth nor can I eat your breakfast?. And dude, when you climb onto the car, just find your seat and sit. Is that so hard, really?

We are thrilled that you have taken to music big time. We love that you want to listen to music all the time and also sing your favorite songs. But just keep this in mind- as you grow older, your peers will introduce you to noise of various forms. We have our own little heaven in songs like Jugni Ji, the nottuswaras of Dikshitar or the melodies of Ilaiyaraja. Let not any other noise invade our souls. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But just saying. Also, whining does not constitute music, if you ever had any misconceptions on the matter.

For a long time, I never figured why my colleagues at work had their kids art in their cubes. It was kids art. What was the big deal. But now I know. With every picture you draw, my chest puffs with pride and I cant wait to share it with people or with your grandparents. It was never about the art, was it?

art
art

I continue to be thrilled by your selection of women you want to marry someday. Your latest choice has my full approval. This time you have progressed to making baby plans with her- twins no less. That may be overreaching IMHO but hey, I am not stopping you from dreaming. You continue to make choices like her and you have an ally in me.

We had our issues in getting you to drive a bike without trainer wheels. I did push you beyond your comfort zone. But dont you get the kick now that you have mastered it?. Take this quote from your dad’s favorite kid’s book – “Try them, try them, and you may!. Try them and you may, I say.” Just promise you’ll give everything a shot. I assure you, you wont regret it.

I like the fact that you like to talk. Very much so. But occasionally it may be a good idea to listen to your mom. This is one solid piece of advice I can give you, having known her for 14 years now. While on the topic of your mom, she loves it that you snuggle up to her. Just so you know.

When you were a couple of months old, your mom and I had this huge argument over co-sleeping. She was very much adamant that you should sleep next to us. I wasn’t a big fan of the idea. Fast forward to a month ago when you finally banished me from your room. I can’t tell you how much I miss sleeping in your room- listening to your random musings before going to sleep and your snuggling up to me in the morning. It was the first time I realized that you were not a kid anymore. It broke my heart.

You finally woke up to superheroes and Transformers this year. Thank Goodness for that. We have a lot to talk about. While I share your ardent admiration of Optimus, I have to say that Megatron deserves a chance too. Poor sod. He isn’t as bad as he is made out to be. He is just a survivor. On the same topic, great that you like Iron Man. Not sure what you see in Spiderman. The dude sucks. Really, really!

On the subject of toys, during one of those regular toy cleanups in your room this year, you actually asked me to toss out your Thomas toys. For a long time, I couldn’t wait for you to get past those holier-than-thou Brit trains and move onto cooler stuff like superheroes. But when it really happened, I was shattered. You see, I associate Thomas to your 2s and 3s. Another sign that you are growing up and I didn’t like that thought one bit. So yes, I have all your Thomas toys stashed away. Aint trashing them, evah!

I think I have written and shared enough. I will now go back to looking at your pictures and videos over the last five years. Time flies so fast. I miss the 0 year you, the 1 year you, the 2 year you, the 3 year you and now, the 4 year you. A lot.

Soar!
Soar!

If you ever get to reading this, I have one piece of advice on your birthday. Soar, my boy, Soar!. The world is waiting for you. Fly high and fly free. Let not anything hold you back.

Happy Birthday, my very own Superhero.

Signed,

Dad.

Dear son, you are four today.

I am still in denial.

You were but a little baby, just about an arms length when I first saw you. You have grown since then. Quite a bit. You sit next to me at the table and have a conversation these days. And I thought you werent going to be doing that until, well, ever.

4

I remember the nights when I would pace the bedroom with you in my arms, slowly coaxing, cajoling and soon praying that you’d go to sleep. Sometimes you did, only to wake up when I put you in the bed. Yes, I remember those nights vividly. My tshirts bear testimony to it. And now, I cant lift you for more than 5 minutes without starting to feel my back hurting. You have come a long way.

There was a time when your babbles were music to my ears. Now, I wish you would occasionally pause to let your dad and mom talk. Then again, I was no different and that gives me an odd thrill. The seed does not fall far from the tree afterall.

You can be a pain some mornings. Scratch that. Most mornings really. I never thought brushing one’s teeth was such a massive chore. I never thought it would take any human over 2 minutes to wear their socks and shoes. You proved me wrong alright. I never believed our biological clocks treat weekdays and weekends any differently especially while waking up. Apparently not. Somehow you have got them mixed up. If only I could change that.

They started teaching you to read and write at school. Never imagined the toll that it would take on me. I mean, how hard is it to write a lower case “e”. Really. Really?. Just as I am about to tear the few remaining hairs on my head, you blow me away with your incredible smile. As your mom always says, “Sucker!”.

I never thought I would see you fall for a girl until you hit elementary school. Apparently you have a thing for quite a few of them in your day care already. And for thin and charming well dressed women, much much older than you. But hey, the seed doesnt really fall far from the tree.

For all this, you are incredibly tuned to your our emotions so much so that your mom and I long for your hugs and kisses, all the time. I know that when you run out of things to tell me while you are in bed and not really feeling sleepy, the only thing left in your arsenal is “I love you appa”, it still blows my mind. Everytime.

I could go on and on. But I will stop here. I never thought life would be so much complicated and challenging after a child. You have showed me and how. But with every word you speak and every hug you give your mom and me, I can only wish this phase lasted forever. We already miss you as a baby, an infant and will soon miss you, the toddler. Life has indeed become quite different from what it was 4 years ago.

All the more awesomer. Happy birthday, medium guy.

The Bay Area Indian Parent – Part 2

When I wrote the first post on this topic, I received some interesting feedback. Some found it amusing. Others found it true. Some found it insulting. Obviously, I need to do a better message of keeping it amusing and true and not tread on the insulting part. So here goes.

Bay Area Parent
Bay Area Parent

Continuing from right where I left off in my previous post on the topic,

  • Unshackled from constant parental advice, the kid’s parents are ready to socialize. And the real decisions start. The typical Bay Area parent spends 6 hours working, 6 hours sleeping and 12 hours figuring out if they are doing the right thing for their kid.
  • When its time to pick a daycare, the big M question has to be answered. Should my child go to a Montessori or a regular daycare?. After hours of googling about the Montessori method and visiting every Montessori in South Bay, the decision is made. Remember we all believe our kids are preordained by Perumal to be Sergey Brin, Larry Page or Jeff Bezos.
  • At daycare, the mother furtively glances at the doodle from the other “Asian” kid to make sure her kids is better. Never mind the child is 2 years old and is literally scratching with a crayon.
  • Is my kid eating all his/her lunch. Should I pack some rice instead of the soup and salad at school?. Is my kid eating meat from the next plate? Shiva, Shiva.
  • Is the daycare teacher qualified to teach my 2 year old how to doodle?. Is the teacher for the 3 year class ready to teach my kid how to read and write? In the evening, the 3 year old is asked what he/she learnt in school. Did they teach you the phonics yet?. At the weekend party, her friend’s 3-year old kid can write her own name. Why can’t mine do it?. That night, sleep is an elusive commodity.
  • The third birthday arrives. After the festivities at Pump it Up, it is time for business. Should we move the child to Stafford or Challenger where they get real education?. Or will it be the daycare until 5?
  • If a house hasn’t already been purchased, house hunt starts at right earnest. Do I go where the flock is- Fremont, Sunnyvale or San Jose?. Should I really go into the desi bastions- why not the “American” neighborhoods of Redwood City or Palo Alto?. Or maybe my kid is meant for great things and we need to get into Cupertino somehow. Of course, the school district is the driver. The school api’s website is promptly bookmarked.
  • Brain Quest books are bought en masse at Costco. Crayons fill the kids room. Toys make way for the easel and the writing board.
  • Education alone isn’t enough these days- or so goes the talk at the kid’s school. So a checklist is made- martial arts, musical instrument, art and soccer. Swimming is assumed as a default requirement.
  • Oops, time for the next kid.
  • Rinse, lather, repeat.
The kids turn out OK. Life turns out OK. Bay Area turns out OK. What if….

 

The Bay Area Indian Parent – Part 1

Bay Area Parent
Bay Area Parent

We moved to the Bay Area from suburban Philly a couple of years ago. Our son was 1.5 yrs old then. After 2 years of living in the Bay Area and interacting on a daily basis with fellow Indian parents, I believe I am ready to write this post.

I looked at myself in the mirror before I started writing. I am the first and foremost example of much of what is to come in this post. If you are a {Bay Area, Indian, parent}, take this for what it is- a tongue-in-cheek look at the lives we lead and what we make of it.

It starts when a mother-to-be announces her pregnancy to the world. The parents-to-be are doled out gobs of advice on everything from then on. It really never stops. Early on, the advice helps. Soon though, you are starting to lose your nerves. Should you sign up for the much wanted daycare in Sunnyvale along side fellow Indians or the one in the Cisco campus?. Do you need the one with a camera in the classroom?. Or should you just go with the parents for a year+nanny for the second year option that is so popular with other desis?. Questions, questions, questions. The child arrives and the questions quadruple. And so does the advice. Here is where we go from that point.

The typical desi leans on the girls parents first and then the boys parents to brave a long flight and hours of boredom to come and clean their kids diapers. Poor parents. They thought their job was done once their kids were packed off to college. Little did they know it was going to haunt them for years to come. They start regretting the subtle and non so subtle advice they copiously doled out on why every couple should have a kid.

The parent of the child is immediately put into a vortex of conflicting advice– the American residing desi-at-heart doctor or the grandmother who knows best. Should she work on her diet or give Woodwards gripe water every day?. Does the vibhuthi on the childs forehead cause a dirt hazard to its eyes or will it keep the evil eye away?

The grandparents share their stories with many other such grandparents everywhere from baby showers to naming ceremonies to first year birthdays. At their grandchild’s first birthday you can see them beaming. Yes, their grandchild is a year old. More importantly, they can finally go home to their mega-serial and chatty servant maid. Not to mention roads swarming with people. To them, the joy of living in a crowded street is far better than the tranquil and serene surroundings of the suburban homes in the US.

Just before the second set of grandparents finish their 6 month trip, there is the inevitable nanny interviews. The Punjabi nanny is asked if she can cook upma and koozh. As the grandmother’s eyes meet those of the nanny, there is a wary acknowledgement of shift of power. Nanny approved, the grandparents cant wait to get out of this country. Seriously.

Along the way, the parents of the kid develop a new found zest for religion and Indian festivals. The Diwali that was otherwise a long drinking session with friends into the night is now a fancy dress affair comparing which kid’s kurta set was more expensive. And the visits to the temple just quadruple. Prayers, long forgotten are revisited and divinity is in vogue for the first time after 12th standard exams.

And we are not done. More next week.

Introducing television to kids

Kids watching tv
Introducing television to kids

Parents wants the best for their kid. But parents are human too. And they need a break every once in a while. This could be a half hour of peace at home or a nice dinner at a restaurant without a flying spoon or a harangued waiter. Enter rich media- television, smartphone, and or a tablet.

If you are a parent with a kid younger than 6 years, you know exactly what I mean. I have always wondered how our parents managed this problem. Agreed that in India, everyone had friends living around us that ensured that we had company almost all the time. And going out to restaurants – I don’t ever remember doing that until I was older. But our lives today- both in India and in the US are dramatically different. We work long hours and in most families, both parents work. Evening thus becomes a challenge with an active child and tired parents. Sparks fly. Tantrums are thrown. And the parent, left with no other weapon that is easier, turns to television (or laptop or smartphone or tablet).

Turns out, unsurprisingly, most parents choose the easy way out. And there are now studies to show that this isn’t the best choice. So how do we balance this equation in a way that gives parents the break they so badly need without introducing elements that could potentially harm the long term development  of the child?

In our household, we have an interesting situation. Our 3 year old has been largely kept away from television and we don’t own a tablet to give into the new fangled craze. But it has come at the cost of us spending all our evening time with the child. One of us has to be fully engaged with the boy all evening which can be tiring, demanding and occasionally stressful given the tantrums and mood swings of a three year old.

We are exploring when to introduce television to our almost 4 year old and the challenges ahead. While a 15 minute slot every day is within acceptable limits, the enforcement is challenge– atleast based on what I see with other kids of the same age. Kids are in agreement when the time limit is proposed but by the time the end arrives, they are thirsting for more and the situation disintegrates pretty rapidly.

And then there is content. While there is a plethora of kids friendly content- it is tricky to pick what suits one’s child without affecting him/her in the long run. The wonderful cartoons I grew up have content that is potentially unsuitable for kids. With every cartoon, just as with every book, interpretations are what make a difference between pleasant and dangerous. A couple of harmless lion tales told to my son resulted in biting incidents at school.

If one were to lean towards new age media delivery on tablets and smartphones, there are apps for everything– most certainly for kids. App developers are clever to understand problems of parenting- and therein lies the problem. Kids apps are addictive to the point of engrossing them for hours at a stretch and this is an undesirable situation that can lead to ugly scenarios, not to mention the health hazards. How does one strike a balance?

I wish I had answers to these questions. I have had long discussions with parents who have and continue to stay on either side of the problem. There are parents who have shunned televisions completely and then there are those that offer upto 5 hours of television. We recently met with a couple with older kids who said they never regulated tv watching but the kids learnt to prioritize by themselves. Remarkable as it was to hear that, I dont think this would be easy for every parent. And then there are those who have succesfully managed to regulate the time kids get content- I wish my son was that easy to control in that regard.

Eventually, we will give in and offer some minimal tv time to our kid. When that will happen and how we will manage it remains an unresolved question.

 

How to answer all the kid’s questions?

My 3 year old started talking a year ago and the vocabulary and questions have been increasing at a steady pace since then. It is a lot of fun seeing him learn and observe so many new things. The questions have started getting a little trickier now. We are often times challenged to work around very common questions on the topic of life and death, of violence and all things good and bad, of jealousy, anger and such. How do we tell them the answers to questions without alluding to all that?. How do we talk about herbivores and carnivores without making the animal in question sound evil?.

I’d love to hear from parents with experience handling such stuff.