Maya

…the eternal dreamer


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Sport… in India

My husband has his headphones plugged in. I know what he’s watching on his computer. When the entire world is talking about Simone Biles and Usain Bolt, he’s busy following the Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis. Unplugging his headphones, ‘Anand is tied at second place’, he calls out. ‘Who’s leading?’, I ask. ‘A new chap named So Wesley’, he says and plugs his headphones back.

I open twitter. There’s outrage as usual. Olympics is the flavor of the day. A viral meme pops up on my screen. ‘Who are we?’ ‘Indians’. ‘What do we want?’ ‘Olympic medals’. ‘What do we want our children to be?’ ‘Doctors and Engineers’. I smile at the stick figures in the meme. They look funny. I close the app and get to making dinner.

As I cut the vegetables, the meme flashes again in my head. ‘What do we want our children to be?’ ‘Doctors and Engineers’. I get reminded of the three giant carton boxes back home in India filled with trophies and cups and shields from the husband’s chess playing days. When we were there this time, my dad took them out of the loft and asked what he should do with them. The husband and I looked at each other. What’s there to be done with them? ‘Nothing. Let them be. Let them remain in the carton boxes.’

The meme gets into my head again. ‘What do we want our children to be?’ ‘Doctors and Engineers’. I remember a conversation that took place eight years ago. With my mother-in-law. She was showing me newspaper clippings of the various times the husband’s name had appeared in there. I was a new proud wife then. ‘Why did he let this all go, ma?’, I remember asking in genuine confusion. ‘Once he finished college, Appa and I spoke to Venkat. It was his time to choose. He had to decide whether to begin taking chess seriously as a profession. Or give it all up and pursue Chartered Accountancy. We left the choice to him. He thought about it and chose the latter. Simply because there wasn’t enough funding to pursue chess full time. Appa was a mere government employee. How much could he afford?’

I recall the time we were at a chess academy run by the husband’s friend. In a narrow lane in KK Nagar is a three storyed house. One of the floors is converted into a chess learning center. About fifty odd kids are all sitting in pairs with chess boards in front of them. Two coaches go around supervising these kids. I sit there looking around the place when one of the coaches suddenly comes in front to make an announcement. ‘Listen.. Silence!’, he screams. A hushed silence falls over the room. He introduces a small boy of about twelve to the room. ‘Our academy’s Ravi has won the first place in the chess tournament held in his school.’ Everyone applauds. The child’s face beams in pride. I sit there wondering how far this child will go in chess.

We are talking to this friend who runs the academy. ‘This is just my small way of giving back to the chess fraternity’, he says. He juggles a day job and this chess academy. ‘There’s nothing guaranteed in chess. Or for that matter any sport. So many of our friends thought chess was their life and didn’t pursue any higher education. But, the money they made out of chess was not enough to fend for themselves. And they didn’t have enough education to turn to. They were trapped. They are trapped!’

I continue with my dinner preparation. The stoves are working in full swing and so is my head. I think of a school senior. Priya. She was the sports captain of our school. A gymnast par excellence. Once, she welcomed a chief guest to our sports day by cartwheeling from one end of the ground to the other all the while holding flowers in one hand. I wonder what she’s doing now. I wonder what she thinks about Dipa’s Produnova.

The image of Athirai pops up in my head. A college mate who was in college on sports quota. I recall how every day during attendance, we were supposed to mutter ‘sports ma’am’ once her name was called. Athirai was an athlete who won laurels for our college. She was in the national team for a while. I wonder what she’s doing now. I wonder if she’s following the journey of Lalita Babbar at Rio.

I am done with the dinner prep. The kitchen counters are wiped clean and I settle down on the couch. ‘You remember I have a tournament this weekend, right?’ That’s a question from the husband that usually makes me frown. Weekend’s gone, I used to crib. Not this time. I smile and nod. The husband looks startled at my reaction. ‘Let’s do the groceries on Friday, then.’ He goes back to practicing his endgames on the computer. I open Twitter again. That meme is still floating around. ‘Who are we?’ ‘Indians’. ‘What do we want?’ ‘Olympic medals’. ‘What do we want our children to be?’ ‘Doctors and Engineers’. I look at the stick figures. I don’t smile at them this time. They don’t look all that funny anymore.


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On Fitness

So the last time I wrote about fitness, it was a crib fest. Even while I realized how much I was lagging behind in exercising, my son was making it clear my tummy was growing at an astronomical pace by constantly asking if it was a girl or boy inside. That’s when I decided enough was enough.

I hit the gym. With a vengeance. For about two months (March and April, to be precise) I was at the gym for one hour solid every damn day. No weekends. No excuses whatsoever. Even when the kids had their spring break, I would be at the gym from six in the morning and be back home before the husband left for work. I started off with the treadmill but found it a little difficult to up the pace in there. So I switched to the elliptical. There were days when I would increase the level to twenty and burn more than a thousand calories. Cycle, Surya Namaskar at home, a half completed abs challenge.. Those two months were the best months as far as fitness was concerned. I did lose about four kilos in those two months.

In two months, the initial euphoria vanished. And gym became a mundane activity. Yes, I was still going to the gym but not everyday. Four days a week which was still okay. When one fine day, I realized how pleasant the weather had become. And so began walking with a friend.

We began walking about two miles every day. And then while exploring our neighbourhood we realized a round trip which was exactly 4.85 miles was making us feel nice. But we couldn’t do it everyday. So three days a week was this trip and the remaining two were either rest days or two mile walks. Unlike the gym, this didn’t burn much calories but it did give a lot of freshness to my mornings.

Right now, I am in Madras (Happiness update – Brother is getting married! Yay!) and gorging on food like anything. I’ve already had half a dozen kalayana sapads (Happiness update 2 – kid cousin got married a couple of weeks ago! Yay!) and awaiting a dozen or more already. These two months aren’t going to do any good to my fitness and honestly, I don’t seem to care about it as much as I thought I would. I will sure go back to my base and begin the long walks and gym routine.

Over the last few months, this is what I learnt (and followed) about fitness –

– Diet is a big no-no for me. When I learnt about the brother’s wedding, I wanted to reduce weight as quickly as I could. So for a while I went on a no-rice diet and started craving rice like anything. Then, I went on a no sweets diet and started craving sweets like anything. All this craving only left me cranky and unhappy. Fat and happy sounded a better deal at the wedding than thin and unhappy. Which meant, I kicked these ‘diets’ out of my life.

– Our medical insurance was lapsing in the month of Febrary and so the husband insisted I get a full physical done. I reluctantly got it done (because I was super scared about my TSH and sugar levels) but when these came up normal, I was super elated. Yes.. I did want to lose weight to ‘look nice’ but beyond that bit of shallowness, I wanted to lose weight because I am genetically diabetic prone. When the medical results were in the positive, I realized exercising to keep fit and put ourselves through suffering to lose weight are two different things. I stopped doing the latter.

– We (as a family) started having dinner early. As early as 6.30 PM. Which meant, the gap between lunch and dinner reduced and we were able to eat moderate quantities of food instead of stuffing an overly hungry stomach. Plus, it did give us ample enough time between dinner and bed-time. Eating dinner this early didn’t make us hungry before bed as we thought it would. (Rarely, the husband would feel hungry and would grab some fruits before bed time and that’s it!)

– I stopped thinking about weight all the time. Or talking about it. Or comparing myself with others. Or making my happiness depend on it. At my cousin’s wedding, one relative looked at me and said, ‘you know.. you’ve become ‘healthy’. Apparently, healthy is PC for ‘losing weight’. I laughed him off. When I went to invite a friend’s mom for brother’s wedding, she couldn’t recognize me for sometime. ‘Auntie.. I am Indu’, I screamed. ‘I know’, she said, ‘I am just getting used to a plumper Indu’, she said. I laughed her off too. I am the same me but different people look at me differently. For some, I am fat. For some, I am not. For me, I’ve stopped caring about ‘looking healthy’; but am sure I’ll never stop caring about ‘being healthy’.


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How we learnt to read!

(Over the last few days, I’ve been having this immense pang to get back to blogging but somehow have been lazy to put my thoughts to words. Today, when I saw RS and R’s Mom (Yay! She’s back!) put up posts on kids getting adjusted to new education systems, I thought I should at least cross-post my experience which I wrote for IMC here. I promise (more to myself) that I’ll get back to full-time blogging in some time!)

Background

First some background. A year ago, when the kids were six, we moved from India to the US. I know a lot of Indian kids who’ve moved and are doing really well at school here. But, I was super worried. Because we just didn’t move countries; we were moving from alternate education system to a mainstream one. We were moving from Waldorf education system to IB. Waldorf emphasizes on physical fitness and rhythm over the first six years. There are no ‘books’ until first grade except for free drawing and painting. They begin reading, writing only capital letters and a bit of math only in the first grade. (Well.. How much I miss Waldorf is for a separate post altogether!) So, that’s what we moved with into the first grade – no reading; no writing; no math. Well.. Let me focus on reading in this post. Basically, how we learnt to read.

How we began

The first month into grade one was intimidating; no not for the kids, but for me. We sat everyday for an hour or so after school learning the phonics. Being a technologically averse parent that I am, I wasn’t too comfortable dealing with apps for reading. So, we learnt phonics the old-fashioned way. There was always a doubt in my mind about whether I was teaching them the right things and in the right way. That’s when serendipity intervened.

I met someone at a local temple here. We got talking about reading and kids. Bob books are great, she said, but didn’t quite work with her kids because they read a word just based on the first few letters and more often than not, they guessed the word; sometimes wrongly. She suggested a book called ‘Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons’. That book is my savior. That book is my reading bible.

What the books says

The book says that parents need to sit with the child 20 minutes every day but probably because we started way late (at age six, the biggest advantage the kids have over say kids of age three, is that their comprehension levels are much much higher), we were able to do two lessons in half an hour. That is, for the first few lessons at least which were pretty short.

That book introduces phonics in a step by step manner letting the kids absorb what’s being taught. The rules for groups of letters are given clearly and emphasised over two or three lessons. We took about seventy odd days to complete the entire book. Before I began with the book, I was really worried if their basics would go for a toss because they had no formal beginnings to reading. By the end of the book, the kids had progressed a lot from where we began. They were really comfortable with the basic phonics sounds.

What I learnt!

We are at the end of grade one now and both the kids are now almost on par with their peers. There are few things I learnt from this entire process of teaching the kids to read –

– Different kids have different comprehension and learning speeds. I’ve realized that I truly believe in what the Waldorf system of education emphasizes. That, each child will learn at their own pace and what we need is patience. The initial 4 months saw the daughter go up only 3 reading levels. Subconsciously, I started worrying a lot about her not catching up with the standards set. But, over the next two months, she jumped 5 reading levels stunning both us and her teachers. Teaching them read taught me patience.

– There’s a mistake I committed which I did correct in some time; but still I regret making it. I made the daughter read books which was a couple of levels higher than her reading level. I thought that would help her learn to read faster. But all that it resulted was in her getting frustrated. I learnt it was best to make her read books she could comfortably read and boost her confidence.

– Flash cards helped a little. But my problem with flash cards was that as soon as they saw the first or the first two letters, they assumed a word in mind and blurted it out, sometimes wrongly. But then, one way in which the flash cards helped was it gave us a fair idea on where the kids stood.

– Libraries. Every weekend along with groceries, we would invariably visit the library too. The kids got to pick and choose the books they wanted. Somehow, choosing their own books made them want to read them. They labored with a lot of books they chose even though they were difficult to read.

– Reading. Reading to them. Reading myself. Letting the house be filled with books. When they kept seeing books and people who kept reading, the probability of the kids wanting to read increased.

My Yay Moment

Last week, when we were on our regular trip to the grocers, the daughter who usually cribs, grabbed a book from home and sat herself on the cart. She was reading aloud in the store and asking us for help in deciphering difficult words. We did receive a few stares but I fended off those with a proud grin. My daughter was enjoying her book!

Yes, there are days when we don’t want to touch a book, but I live for days like the one at the store. And I keep hoping that one day all our days will turn out like this!


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Seven!

Dear Ammu and Kuttan,

I know we are already on a mushy letters overload. I still write this because it’s a tradition that I don’t want to miss.

The last one year has been a roller coaster of sorts for all of us with both of you giving us one hell of a ride. (I know I shouldn’t use hell because ‘it’s a bad word, amma’! :p) Newer country. Newer culture. Newer language. Newer style of education. Newer friends. And, you still managed to give your best. While the other first graders started from the start line, the two of you started a few meters behind that line. And yet at end of the year, your teacher wrote that you are ‘exactly where you need to be’ and she is ‘so proud of the both of you’. I sent that teacher’s email to Appa and he replied with ‘after all, both of them are Star Students’. You know, he even used a smiley which he reserves for such ‘big’ events!😉

There are times when I see you struggling with something and I wish I have a magic wand which can make me wrap you and keep you cocooned far away from this big bad world. But, the sane part of me knows that both of you are seven and beeeeg now. It is your time to fly. So go ahead and soar high, my kutties. Let not the sun or the rain deter you!

Happy birthday, little ones!

Lots and Lots of love,
Amma


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Dear Kuttan..

Every time we (Ammu, you and me) do something together and you lag a little behind, you scream ‘don’t forget me!’ in your beautiful singsong voice. And every time, I open this blog that’s the voice that I hear. ‘Don’t forget me’. No.. I haven’t forgotten you, Kanna. How can I forget you?

Sweet. Charming. Always smiling. Sensitive. Intelligent. You think we can forget you? Nah. Never, Kanna.

Yesterday one of your top front teeth fell off at school. You came home smiling with that big gap in between, so delirious with joy because you are now becoming big. Of course, in all your euphoria you wouldn’t have noticed your Amma going into the bathroom and shedding two drops of tears because her little child is slowly growing up. Anyway, when I came out and saw your face, it looked oh-so-funny and I laughed. A little. ‘Amma’, you said. ‘Imagine how you’ll feel when you grow old and lose all your teeth and I laugh at you because you look funny?’ It took a couple of seconds for me to recover from that ‘gyan’ to apologize for laughing at you. You, my adorable Kuttan, are really growing up and I must say I am not too thrilled about it.

Do you remember that day when your sister came home crying because of some bad thing her friend told her? I told Ammu what that friend did was really mean and she should stay away from such a friend. Little did I realize that my little Buddha was standing next to me. ‘Listen Amma!’, you said. And like any obedient Amma I did. ‘This happened today. Tomorrow that friend might not do the same thing. She might behave better. She might apologize to Ammu. In fact, she’ll even forget about everything that happened today. So why ask Ammu to stop talking to her?’ There.. Didn’t I tell you that you are one of my life-advisors?

Menu giver. Ingredient identifier. Food critic. All things food in this house is you. No.. Not a single soul in this world will believe that. You look like that little stick who might break if you run a little faster. But. Big but. Hmph. ‘Ma.. Vathal kuzhambu. Vendaikkai Kari. And rasam for lunch. What Ammu, does that suit you?’ But of course that smitten sister of yours always says a yes. ‘Next time can you bake carrot cake, Amma?’ I am at your service Maharajah! The other day our neighbour was here with a dabba of some curry. There were a few chunks of something that looked like tofu or paneer. I was confused even after tasting it. ‘Ma.. Can you give me a little to taste?’ Well.. who else but you. Just a teeny little bit of it you tasted. ‘Aiyo ma.. it is not paneer or tofu.. this looks like omlette bits. It is egg, ma!’ And, egg it was!

Kuttan.. I know I keep telling you (both) this but really there can’t be anyone who is more prouder than me for having been blessed with you as my son. You are intelligent. You read like a pro. It takes just once for you understand any concept. You ask the right questions always. You remember things that happened years ago with the minutest detail possible. And beyond all this, all through this year (with another twenty days left I hope I don’t jinx it!), you’ve never come home with a bad behaviour remark in your folder. I mean like NEVER. This, I can’t be more proud of!

Do you remember that write-up on ‘what you’d be doing when you are hundred years old?’ You had written a lot of things and finally you wrote, ‘I will miss my mom and dad!’ in the end. And you explained, ‘Ma.. When I am hundred, you both will be dead no Amma. That’s why I will miss you!’ Your love for your Amma and Appa is the best thing in the world.

You are the most sensitive person in the family, Kuttan. You cannot stand anyone being sick. You get worried so much and keep asking after them every two minutes. ‘Amma.. Are you okay now?’ ‘Ammu.. Is your stomachache gone?’ ‘Amma.. Is Appa going to vomit now?’

And, while on vomit, we have done a complete research on two things – 1. vomit (Why do our eyes tear up when we vomit? What are the various causes of vomit?) 2. death (Why do we die? How do we die? At what age do we die? Why is kollu paati still not dead?) Your in-depth understanding of such things amazes and amuses me at the same time.

While I’ve written about how Ammu handled your Star Student award, it only seems fair that I write about how you handled the entire thing. Yes.. You were very happy when you received the award but once you saw Ammu being upset, I saw your face crumble. At home, when we were trying to talk to Ammu, you became the big brother of sorts and complemented me in consoling her. ‘Ammu.. You can do cartwheels better than me, right? Just like how I can read better than you. That’s all, Ammu!’ Not once did I see you bragging about your award to her. Not once. To show such restraint at this age is such a lesson to me. You made my parenting job much much easier. Thank you for that Kanna!

And, when she received her Star Student award, you were so proud of her. You smiled that charming sweet smile of yours and came by asking ‘Are you really happy now, Amma?’ I remember hugging you. I remember not letting you go for a long time. And, I remember thinking.. I hope this hug compensates for all the guilt I felt when you got the award. Oh Kanna.. I really really wish I never have to go through that feeling again, although I know that is close to impossible. So all I ask you is to understand my guilt, if not forgive me for it. I know you would.

Kuttan.. You, my dear boy, are the sunshine of this family. Without you we’d all be, well the term is… incomplete. Your smile lights up our world like nothing ever does. Just keep that smile and don’t lose it for anything, Kanna. Anything.

Lots of love,
Amma


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Mother’s day

A couple of weeks ago, I was at my kids’ school for a fairy tale ball. It was during working hours and almost all the parents were women. In other words, mothers.

There was a small area where the kids made wands with pretzel sticks, cake icing and sprinkles. I was around supervising my daughter from having a second helping of the icing. That’s when I heard a little girl talking to someone else nearby.

‘You know what?’, she said. ‘I have grandparents. I have a little sister. I even have a dad. But I don’t have a mom.’

I heard this and saw the stunned look on the lady who was being addressed. My reaction was no different. The truth was we didn’t know how to react. I wish I had the presence of mind to give her a huge big hug. I wish!

Today, I remember this little girl. As my son brings to me the Mother’s day card he made for me. As my daughter hugs me and screams Happy Mother’s day. Today, I think of this little girl a lot more than otherwise. And I think of so many others like her.


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Another unforgettable Friday!

Thank you for all your good wishes in the previous post. Because I made a lot of you cry with that post, I thought I have to share this with you.

Remember I spoke about a Friday I’d never forget in my life? Well, another Friday got added to the list (in a much nicer way, though!) Today. April 1, 2016. Today Ammu received the Star Student for the last nine week grading period. Yes, she jumped eight levels in reading from the beginning of the year and five levels in the last two months. Reading doesn’t look all that scary now! Yay!

SuperStars!

SuperStars!

(The first one is Ammu’s and the second is Kuttan’s.)

Ammu has again taught her perennially skeptic mom another life lesson – if you put your heart and soul into something, there’s just absolutely no chance of you failing at it. One day, some day, the reward is bound come to you!

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