Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Annual report - 2013

After a hiatus spanning two years, the bar's annual report post is back.

  • 2013 was the year when Xena turned two. Fortunately, we didn't experience the terrible twos at all, which makes me very very suspicious. Hopefully 2014 will not usher in an era of the terrible threes.
  • 2013 was the year when Xena started preschool. And living up to the precedence set by her nerdy mommy, she loved it from day one. Hopefully 2014 will see her more at school and less in the hospital.
  • 2013 was the year when all I posted on the blog were Xena posts and more Xena posts. Hopefully 2014 will change that.
  • 2013 was the year when I only wrote an average of 2-3 posts per month, and even those were mostly compilations of my Facebook posts on Xena. Tsk tsk. Hopefully 2014 will change that too.
  • 2013 was the year when Viv and I managed to do two holidays - a short one in Phuket and a longer one (a road trip in Australia that I am currently covering in Hopscotch). Contrary to our expectations, Xena did not give us much trouble. Hopefully 2014 will also allow us our two holidays.
  • 2013 was the year when I published six more books, bringing my total book count to 18. (For the uninitiated, no I'm not some cool author that writes best-selling fiction. I write boring science assessment books for kids.) My time-management skills were really put to the test as I juggled taking care of Xena alongside my deadlines. Hopefully 2014 will bring in some happy royalty statements.
  • 2013 was the year when, after a long long time, I indulged in a five-hour shopping spree with a friend, while Viv stayed at home and watched Xena. As I like to say, that truly was 'duty-free shopping'. Hopefully 2014 will bring many many new pairs of shoes (and ahem, the money to buy them with).
  • 2013 was the year when McAloo tikki burger arrived in Singapore. It was yum, therefore it was kind of depressing that they took it away. Hopefully 2014 will bring it back, and all the other yummy things that only McD in India has.
  • 2013 was the year when the terrible haze struck our clean and green Singapore, and the PSI shot to an unbelievable high of 401. Hopefully 2014 will be clean, green and haze-free.
  • 2013 was the year when I reintroduced myself to my sewing machine. I made two dresses for Xena. With bolster covers. Hopefully 2014 will see more time for, and more creations on, the machine.
  • 2013 was the year when some very dear friends from our university days visited us. It was so so so great to see them again. Hopefully 2014 will reunite us.

I have yet to finalise my list of resolutions for 2014, but I do have a blanket wish for 2014. Good health for everyone, especially Xena.

Have a terrific new year, bewdas! Thanks for hanging out at the bar. :)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas comes but once a year

For Xena's first Christmas, I put her on a mat, made her wear a $1 Santa hat and took a photo. That was it.

For Xena's second Christmas, I took her down to our building's management office where they had put up a tree, made her wear a snowman hairband and took a photo of her against the tree. That was it. 

For Xena's third Christmas, she got her own tree, her choice of ornaments that she helped put on the tree, presents from everyone (!) during our secret Santa party, and a special gift inside the stocking she'd hung the night before -- the much-coveted light-up Hello Kitty shoes that she had been asking Santa for.  

Is it any wonder therefore that she looks so smug?

Merry Christmas, bewdas! :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Turning over a new leaf... and eating it!

Xena finally wants to eat something... and guess what it is? The leaves of a tree! Yes, she literally describes how she's going to gobble up the leaves of a tree. And also how I rescue her from the tree using a beeeeeeg ladder, and then put it back in the storeroom.

PS: My apologies to non-Hindi speakers, it's too much to translate. Seriously. :)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Running commentary

Hello, bewdas!

We just got back from a road trip in Australia, and yes, I will soon write all about it on my travel blog Hopscotch. Though this is Xena's fourth vacation (Perth at 8 months, USA at 17 months, Phuket at 20 months), this particular trip, at 2.5 years of age, is when she was truly involved and interested in what was happening around her. Over the two weeks that we travelled across Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, her running commentary was on all the time and would cease only when she was asleep.

Here are some snippets:

Pre-road trip briefing for Xena:
Me - Xena will be a good girl?
Xena - Xena will be a good girl.
Me - Xena will not trouble anyone?
Xena - Xena will not trouble... everyone!

She was very excited to see the aeroplane from the waiting lounge before we boarded. Once we were inside the plane, she looked all around in utter surprise and exclaimed, "Aeroplane kahan gaya????"

We don't have a car so she was very excited about our rental car. She happily got into the carseat and declared, "This is Xena's carseat." Over time, she learnt to belt herself up and refused to let me do it anymore. She'd say, "Xena apne aap seat belt pehnegi!" and once she was done, she'd say, "Apne aap seat belt pehen liya!" Then she'd look around and say, "Hum log kahan ja rahe hain?"

When we were on the road, she was very curious about who the strange lady accompanying us in the car was, so I explained to her that it was the 'GPS Aunty'. She can't say 'G' yet and says 'D' instead, and the next time the Aunty spoke, Xena said what sounded exactly like "Depressed Aunty kya boli?"

Whenever she spotted Viv using only one hand to drive, she'd immediately chide him, "Both hands!"

Sometimes she'd get restless in the car and ask to be released. Then I'd tell her something like, "Brisbane jana hai na? Then you have to stay in the carseat." And without knowing where/what Brisbane was, she'd say, "Brisbane jana hai, abhi jana hai." and stay put.

Close to her naptime, she'd start to cry and then soothe herself saying, "Brisbane bolega - don't cry."

The first time she saw a kangaroo, it had a joey in its pouch. She said, "Can I touch the soft soft joey?"

She saw a duck busily eating at the Collingwood children's farm in Melbourne and asked me, "Can I disturb the duck?" Then she saw some horse poop and said, "Horse poop is just like Xena's poop!"

We were at a playground where bush turkeys were roaming freely. She was fascinated by it and said, "Momsie, look! Turkey ne yellow necklace pehna hai!"

Photo credit: Wiki commons

She also made me laugh hysterically by referring to the baby swings with the two holes on either side as "Diaper wala swing!" She made a friend there and they had a fun time digging the ground with sticks together. When some dirt flew from her stick on to the other kid's mom's shoes, I pointed it out to her. She looked very apologetic and said to the lady, "Aunty throw dirt on Xena's shoes!" The lady was very amused at this invitation for revenge.

She had a great time aboard the Puffing Billy train. Later, when she pointed to the steam coming out of the kettle I had put to boil and said, "Just like Puffing Billy!"

Viv was showing her the changing colours of the lights on the Story bridge in Brisbane and they kept saying, "Yellow ke baad red ho jaayega, red ke baad green ho jaayega, etc." The next day, when we were waiting to see sunset at the Mount Coot-tha lookout, she was curious what we were there for. So I showed her the sky and I said, "Abhi sun yellow hai, phir orange ho jayega, phir red ho jayega!" She retorted, "Red ke baad green ho jaayega!"

On the flight back, she heard the pilot's announcements and looked up in surprise. Then she asked me, "Uncle kahan hain?" I asked her the same thing back. She pointed to the overhead luggage compartment and confidently said, "Uncle iske andar hain."

There was a baby crying on board and to distract her from messing with her seat belt, I asked her, "Can you hear the baby crying?" She put her hand behind her ear, listened intently and with a distressed look, asked me, "Uski mummy kahan gayi????"

When the stewardesses started serving the food, she pointed to them and said, "Soooo many aunties bringing khana!"

She got bored after a while and said, "Aeroplane mein nahin baithna hai. Baahar jana hai." Ummmm. I told her we couldn't get out in mid-air and had to wait till the plane stopped. When our flight landed, she immediately said, "Apna stop aaaaa gaya!"

When our flight landed, we unbuckled and stood up. The aisles were full so we couldn't get out. She looked around at the people and loudly declared in their faces, "It's too crowded."

As we were leaving the plane, the stewardesses waved to her. She said bye to some and was too shy towards others. When we were out, she suddenly said, "Oh no! Woh wali Aunty ko bye nahin bola!"

She is still talking non-stop about the trip, and I'm trying to capture her version of the events on video.

Here she is, describing how cold Melbourne was:

And this is what happens when a toddler adds bits of her imagination when recounting her vacation. Apparently the Philip Island penguins board a boat, do a jungli dance and sing, "Row, row, row your boat." :)

Friday, November 08, 2013

Rules of engagement

Okay, so this post on how to keep a toddler engaged without turning on the television AT ALL, has been due for a very long time now. Every time I wanted to sit down and compile my ideas, I gave up because I felt like there was nothing new. Google is swarming with ideas on how to keep toddlers busy, what possible value could I add? But I keep receiving queries from friends and bewdas who are parents, and now I think I understand. Maybe what they want is what I wanted and what Google could not give me. Simple things for parents to do with their kids at home on a daily basis to keep them occupied and happy. Of course, there are tons of websites that have '100 things to do at home with kids' but you can't be doing stuff like making a working model of a volcano every single day; you will go crazy.

In case you're wondering why I'm so anti-TV and what's wrong with kids watching a bit of TV or 'educational DVDs', here is one of my favourite articles on it. (Yes, I must have read all of the Internet on TV and kids.) Simply put, the early years are critical and TV hinders the kid's brain from developing to its fullest potential.

Check this this out too. Many of my friends switch on the TV to watch something and get a moment of respite, or turn on baby TV and let the kid watch it while they get some chores done, or simply keep it switched on the entire time whether anyone is watching or not. Now here's the thing. Even background TV, where it's just playing in the background while your kid is doing something else, is bad.

Yes, TV can teach your kids the alphabet and numbers and good habits. But here's the thing - you can do it too. And better. Without compromising their grey cells.

Two friends of mine, whom I drilled and grilled until they gave up and hopped on to my no-TV bandwagon, reported amazing results. Both kids were having a speech delay and once the TV was off and the remote control hidden away, they started talking. Within days. Their parents were just as amazed as I was.

A friend of mine whose kid used to watch at least 3-5 hours of TV a day asked me, "If I don't let him watch TV, what on earth do I do with him all day???" This post, if anything, is an answer to her question. I have to admit that it is hard to come up with things to engage your kid all day. But not impossible. Now, before we get started, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. I work from home, and I only work when Xena is at school. When she's at home, I am all hers. I don't have any domestic help, so when Viv is at work or cricket, I need to do pretty much everything. And housework does not even begin to compare to the hard work that entertaining a toddler is. It's a little better for me now, since she has started half-day school, but before that, I was spending every single minute with her. (Yes, crazy exhausting, but totally worth it.) Most of these tips are from that viewpoint -- of being with her 100% of the time. So the tips below might need to be modified if you're a working parent.

2. Be CONVINCED that your kid does NOT need TV and you are doing the right thing by keeping it turned off. If your kid already watches TV and you're going cold turkey, you might witness tantrums like some of my friends did, but persist. Do not give in or give up.

3. If you're the kind who will wilt without TV yourself, find ways to watch it. When your kid is napping or away at school. Just don't switch on the TV when your kid is around. If your kid doesn't see you watching TV, chances are that he or she wouldn't be too keen on it either. Viv and I used to watch a bit of TV every now and then after putting Xena to sleep, but soon we realised that between work, housework, Xena and each other, we really don't have time for TV. We promptly disconnected our cable connection and have been living happily since. It's not that we don't watch anything at all. I watch some Hindi stuff online and he watches some cricket stuff online. Together, we watch DVDs, but only after Xena has fallen asleep. We do not watch anything with her around. If she wakes up, we switch off the TV. No compromises.

4. Where possible, I include some learning points in the activities but I try not to go overboard. It's nice that she can count to 40 and say the alphabet, but at this age, the most important thing to do is to have fun. I try to make teaching part of the fun. If she seems uninterested or bored, I go back to 100% play. I started off with a 15-minute slot for each activity, but I would stop and switch if she seems bored.

5. If you absolutely have to let your kid watch TV for whatever reason, do not simply plonk him/her in front of it and go away. First of all, select the slowest possible videos with minimal flashing lights and colours. Be actively engaged and involved to avoid the 'zoning' effect, where the kid seems to be completely hypnotised and has no clue of anything else around. Because that's when you know the brain has switched itself off.

Okay, so here are the things that Xena and I do all day.

1. Toys
Of course. Toys are expected to keep the kid busy. But what if your kid gets bored with each toy after 15 minutes of play? You can't possibly keep buying toys. Compared to other kids, Xena has a very very small toy collection. Soft toys have now been banned by her doctor for her lung issues, but she used to have quite a few of them and that's how she learnt animal names.

We try to make sure that the toys she has are as open-ended as possible. Not only does that help her exercise her creativity in thinking of new ways to play with it, it also increases the life span of the toy. For example, she has this bowling set and the skittles are all shaped like different animals. When she was very young and had no bowling skills, I used them to teach her animal names and colours. Now she's able to bowl and has been kind of getting bored, so I have switched to doing new things with them. For example, I tell them it's time for the skittles to sleep and ask her if she could make them sleep in a row, all facing left or right. She loves it. There's also the 'dahi handi' where I challenge her to make the tallest tower she can make by holding them one on top of the other. Now she's learning some tricks too - such as making sure the giraffe is at the top because it has horns, making it hard to balance any other animal on its head. And something silly and funny Viv introduced recently - bowling conference, which is basically all the skittles standing in a tight circle, with the bowling ball balanced on their heads. It not only looks hilarious, it entertains her so much that lately every day she's been organising the conference.

Other open-ended toys are play-doh and blocks. Play-doh is a life-saver even if you're not arty. It's also great for teaching colours. We make all kinds of random things (fruits, flowers, sun, moon, bowl, spoon, rings, bangles, necklaces, Angry Birds, etc.) and she learns a lot along the way.

2. Books
I visit the library once or twice a week and pick up books for her. Sometimes we read together and sometimes she flips through them herself. Or you can just pick up a magazine or a newspaper and just go through it together, describing what you see. We often try to create stories around newspaper advertisements. When reading the books, you can pause before keywords and let your kid complete them. Or you can ask them to tell you the full story. It's hilarious when Xena tells me her version of the stories in the books.

3. Outdoor time
We have at least one hour of outdoor time every evening, either at the playground or the beach, or just a walk or ride in the park. Both of us love going to the beach. Sometimes we do some digging in the sand, or we play a game of 'Run, the waves are coming!' or we count the number of dogs we see at the beach, or we simply blow bubbles. She has a scooter and a bike which we alternate (she prefers the bike at the moment). To make the most of a walk or ride, ask questions, point out things and use as many new and descriptive words as possible. This does wonders for their vocabulary. Try not to be on your phone even if they are busy in the playground. Firstly because they need to be watched all the time, and secondly, the less they see you on the phone, the better it is for both of you. You can even take a ball outside and kick away. We also have a cricket set for Xena, but she prefers to play with it indoors. Good for me, because fetching the ball after her boundary shots are so much easier!

4. Water play
Sometimes I let her play for a while in the bathtub before her bath. I have a small plastic bucket, a watering can, a sponge, a fishing net and some foam numbers that stick on the bathroom tiles when wet. She LOVES to fill up the bucket, put the foam numbers in, fish them out using the fishing rod and stick them on the tiles. That's how she learnt numbers, by the way. Or she pours water on the sponge using the watering can, and squeezes away.

5. Household chores
Oh, the things I make Xena do. Child labour and all that. But she loves it all and it keeps her busy, giving me precious moments to do some real work. For example, if I'm doing the dishes, I hand her a plastic bowl and spoon and she just sits there at the kitchen entrance (she's strictly not allowed into the kitchen and she knows it) and mixes like there is no tomorrow. Or when I'm making ginger tea, I let her pound the ginger. You can only imagine how gingerly she pounds the ginger, but she has fun and that's what matters. I put her on the high chair and get her to peel boiled eggs and garlic while I do other things like chopping. When I dry clothes, I put her on (ON, not IN, ok? Just close the lid of the machine and plonk the child on top) the washing machine and she sits there, watching with great interest. When I fold clothes, I involve her. She knows what each item of clothing is called and whom it belongs to. She even tries to fold them with not much success, but enjoys the process. Sometimes I ask her to find pairs of socks in the bundle of laundry and she tries to do that. She helps me sweep the house (I have a separate broom for her, and I allocate a corner of the room to her). She can follow simple instructions, such as wiping the chairs or the refrigerator door.

6. What's in the fridge?
She loves going through the items in the fridge one by one, identifying and describing them. Of course, when she spots new items, she's thrilled and asks all about them. Before I start cooking, I open the fridge and ask her to hand me the ingredients and she takes great pride in doing that. When I need something from the freezer, she says, "Too high! Mommy, please pick me up." I pick her up and she gets me the item.

7. Scooping
I give her a bowl of say chickpeas or pasta and an empty bowl and a spoon. She tries to scoop them from the first bowl and put them in the second bowl without spilling anything. Such activities are great for fine motor skills too. Of course, you gotta watch them closely in case they try to swallow the stuff. Not a problem for me, because my kid doesn't believe in putting any food item in her mouth. Sigh.

8. Get arty
I got a set of crayons and some fingerpaint for her long long ago and we're still going strong. I put her in the high chair dressed in a full-sleeved bib to minimise the mess. Other than finger painting, sometimes we put coloured blobs on a page and firmly close the book so we get weird and interesting shapes to analyse. She spots butterflies, clouds, sheep and what not in those strange shapes. Sometimes she asks me to draw simple pictures from her books and then she colours them. Lately, we have also been experimenting with mehendi, though she insists on only Hello Kitty patterns for herself! Stressful for me! Sometimes I pick up a bit of origami on the net and together we make something cool like a jumping frog.

9. Music and dance
You still don't need TV for this. And it doesn't matter if you can't sing or dance. Your kid will still think the world of your skills. Turn on some music, hold your kid's hands, and sing and dance away! You can even make it more structured by showing her simple steps to do with her hands and feet. You can give the steps funny names, e.g. we have something called the boinka dance. As for songs, you can pick simple songs with short words and sing them together. Here's an old video of me teaching Xena 'Piyu bole'.

10. Puzzles
The great thing about puzzles is that they are time-consuming, giving you precious moments to do your chores as your kid bends laboriously over the puzzle. Initially I bought some 4-piece and 6-piece jigsaw puzzles for Xena but she never seemed to like them. I would be the one solving them for her all the time. Turns out she probably thought they were beneath her, because the moment we bought her puzzles with 12 pieces and more, she immediately took to them!

11. Bag of things
This is a great trick for when I want to do something where I can't involve her at all, such as cooking or washing dishes. I fill a rucksack or any small bag (preferably with several compartments) with random (but safe) objects. A scarf, a sock, a plastic bowl, a toy, anything at all. She has a field day opening the different compartments and discovering the objects, while I quickly get my work done. Unzipping and unbuttoning the different compartments also hone her fine motor skills. Once everything is out, I simply ask her to put it all back where it was, and that not only keeps her very very busy, it also gives me time to finish up my chores.

12. Flashcards
Flashcards are a bit controversial because many think they are too 'academic' and not exactly toys. In Xena's case, I got her the alphabet flashcards when she started showing an interest in the letters she saw in her books. I got the kind that had a picture on the back of each card. She loved them from the first day, and even now simply loves identifying the letters and then the objects behind. In no time, she had not only mastered her alphabet, she had done it without stress, and with curiosity and joy. Here's an old video of her and her flashcards.

13. Play dates!
No amount of toys can beat play dates. Since Xena is an only child, it is even more imperative that she learns how to be around other kids. So from time to time, I organise play dates for her. I'm not a big fan of large play dates, so I prefer to have a maximum of 2-4 kids. It's a great way not only to make them socialise, but to teach important things such as sharing, waiting and manners. Find kids around the same age as your kid, plonk them together with a bunch of toys, sit back and marvel. But please, intervene when needed. Especially if the kids are being selfish or doing something dangerous or bullying or hurting other kids.

14. Poppy's home!
Viv takes the same bus home every day (or at least he tries) so his expected time of arrival is quite standard. A few minutes before, I make Xena wait at the window for him and count till she sees him. She yells out, "Poppyyy!" when she spots him, making him look up and grin. She then runs to the door and starts counting there until he emerges from the lift. The bathtub foam numbers only taught her 1-9, this has taught her to count to 40.

15. One step at a time
While we are on the subject of counting, taking the stairs is also a great way to kill time, teach numbers and exercise motor skills. When she was just learning to climb stairs, we could take the stairs everywhere and I would hold her hands and count. Now she does it on her own, both the climbing and the counting.

16. Girly time!
Since Xena takes forever to grow out of each outfit, from time to time, I take out all the pretty clothes that she has received as gifts but is still too small for, and we make a fun activity out of it. She tries on each, and gives me her verdict - pretty, too big, not nice, don't like, etc. Sometimes, we organise my earrings on the rotating earring holder, and she loves to hook them there. At times, she picks some of my outfits and asks me to try them on and gives me her verdict - pretty, too big, not nice, don't like, etc. Or we take out my box of bangles and we go through all of them. She has picked up the concept of 'matching' and will tell me which earrings, shoes and bracelets go with which outfits.

17. Shadow play
Since she was much younger, she has been fascinated with shadows, as is evident from this video. We still do lots of shadow play and simple puppet shows.

18. Make up stories
She's now reached the stage where she absolutely adores listening to stories. In fact, she gives me random characters and I have to make up a story about them. For example, she would say "Hello Kitty and bicycle wala story sunna hai!" or "Plant and elephant wala story sunna hai!" and I would have to make it up on the spot. In most cases, I use the same formula. Someone needs help and someone helps. Then I include the whole thank you and you're welcome bits at the end, which she remembers so vividly, she's particular about thanking people who help her or give her something. For example, in my plant and elephant story, a plant is thirsty because the gardener forgot to water it, so the elephant brings some water in its trunk and waters the plant. The plant turns out to be a banana plant that thanks the elephant by presenting it with its favorite food - bananas.

19. Errands outside the house
Viv does almost all of our grocery shopping, but if I have a short shopping list, I take her with me and go. I point to the fruits and vegetables and she tells me their names and colours. When she spots something unfamiliar, she gets very curious and excited and quickly asks for its name. Every day, after our outdoor time, we go down to the mailbox in the basement and she likes to open it and hand me the letters. The other day, I was separating glass and plastics for the recycle bin, when it struck me that I could involve her in it. She was very excited and even proudly announced to her friend's mother whom we met on the way that we were going to "thow the containers into the recycle bin". As she grows, I intend to make her (and myself too) a little more environment-conscious.

20. Skype
I regularly skype with my parents and parents-in-law, and I involve Xena fully. She knows that her grandparents are "inside the laptop", waiting to talk to her. She greets them and shows them her toys, talks about school, and also says goodbye when it is time to go. I think we need to show kids how important it is to be in touch with our loved ones who don't live with us.

So this is my random list, and I will keep adding on. Please feel free to add yours as well for I am forever in need of more ideas. :)

Friday, October 18, 2013

The warrior princess diaries - XIV

"Whenever there is no post for a few weeks. I start worrying that Xena is not well. Can you just write a twitter-like post that all is well?"

Idom, one of the bar's purana bewdas, wrote this on my last post and I was really touched. Actually this is not the first time someone has told me that when I don't blog for a while, they worry about Xena's health. My apologies once again to all bewdas for falling off the face of the earth. I'm pleased to report that there have been no major issues with her health, and September was in fact, hospital-free. (Touchwood)∞

I had taken on a large project with very tight deadlines and had been working hard to complete it. It is done and dusted and I wait eagerly for the publisher to top up Xena's 'milk-and-diaper fund', which is what I call my freelance project fees. Well, it will soon be only 'milk fund' as she's almost fully toilet-trained. So before I get started on my next project and disappear again (hopefully not), I decided to take some time off this rainy Friday night (one that Viv is cursing; he has a cricket match tomorrow) to write this post.

Let me start off with Xena's latest video, where she's solving a 12-piece jigsaw puzzle and jubilantly exclaiming, "Hooooo gayaaaa!" ("It's done!" after completing it. The woman loves jigsaw puzzles. And now she's getting me interested in them too.

In the next video, she is cutting a toy cake and singing the 'Happy birthday' song. She absolutely loves birthday parties, especially the cutting of the cake, and so it leaves me utterly amazed that after eyeing the cake with such fascination, when it is time to take a bite, she simply turns her face away and says, "Don't want." I have asked this 834943504958438789 times and I will ask again, "Which kid on earth hates cake???" And ice-cream... and lollipops... and cookies... and all the other stuff that regular mommies actually have to moderate when giving their kids? Check out how readily she agrees to eat the cake in the video. You know why? Because... it's made of plastic!

However, things are looking slightly better. Her teachers tell me that on some days, she's able to eat 1/4 of a bowl for lunch (the average kid in her class eats 1-2 bowls). She's also opening up to eating grown-up solids, like microscopic pieces of pancake and cheese and pasta and paratha. Though I must say I was quite offended when she looked at the mini-paratha I made for her last week and said, "Xena scared of this big, brown bug."

Last week, she saw a parrot eat a flower on the tree outside our living room and loudly said, "Oh nooooooo! Parrot, please don't eat the flower! Eat some khana (food)... eat some spicy noodles!" Hmmmph! You're the one to talk, lady?!

She may have Viv's virgo-ness (she actually asks to see how much dirt the vacuum cleaner has collected!) but when it comes to shoes, she's all me. Muahahaha. I took out a couple of my high heels from storage after almost 4 years and was cleaning them, when she turned up, picked them up and took off!

Speaking of virgo-ness, here she is, helping Viv mop the floor as he takes a breather. I like how she struggles to maneuver the mop and yet declares confidently, "Sara dirty dirty ko bye bye kar do!" ("Say bye bye to all the dirty dirty!") And then does a victory dance when she's done!

On Navratri, she got invited to a kanya puja organised by a neighbour. I was thrilled at the chance of dressing her up in an Indian outfit, complete with bindi and bangles.

If you remember her obsession with fairness and taking turns, she was at it during the puja too. She was first in the queue and she stood there after her turn overseeing the rest of the proceedings and making sure no one cut the queue. She also glared disapprovingly at one of the other little girls who refused to stand on the thali to get her feet washed. I have a photo of that but I can't post it here as there are others' kids in it. And by the way, as expected she refused to eat the puja food (yummy puris, chana, halwa and aloo ki sabzi, which I polished off after she dutifully rejected it), but she did have the top crunchy layer of half a puri. The other mommies only had amused looks for my jubilation at this, as their kids wolfed down the food and asked for seconds.

This post has come to its end, but in answer to another bewda's comment (Ruminating Optimist's "Look forward to your post on "how to keep her engaged without switching on the TV?") I promise that's coming up next! I have been meaning to write it for ages now, so thank you for the reminder!

See you soon. Until then, stay crazy!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The warrior princess diaries - XIII

All right, it's time for another warrior princess diaries post. Let's go through the pitara of viruses that have hit her since the last update. She recovered from the stomach virus quickly enough, because the roseola virus was standing impatiently in the queue. The roseola wasn't too bad, just some fever and rashes, but next up was the hand, foot, mouth disease (HFMD) virus, or rather a cousin of it because she didn't develop all the symptoms. She didn't get any sores on her hands and her feet, but she had two bad ulcers on her tongue. She was off school for a week, and because of the ulcers, could not eat or drink much. Her intake went down by half. I suppose it's not too bad because zero divided by two is still zero. But the poor baby was in pain and could not sleep due to the painful ulcers. And here's the icing on the cake -- Viv was away in Amsterdam on work! Only I know how I managed that week. She was ill, she couldn't go to school, I couldn't work on my projects, my publishers were at my heels, and because HFMD is extremely contagious, I couldn't even get anyone to come over and help me. She is fine now, touchwood, until of course the pitara opens again. *deep breath*

Other than that, all is well. She's talking nineteen to the dozen, and it is all so hilarious and entertaining I couldn't imagine being at a fulltime job right now and missing all this. She's also getting super shyaani, and here's a sample.

Xena (watching her father pack his suitcase) - Where's Poppy going??
Me - He's going to Amsterdam.
Xena - Xena want to go to Amsterdam!
Me - Err... If you go to Amsterdam, who will go to school?
Xena (thinking for a moment) - Xena and Poppy go to Amsterdam, Mommy go to school.

Here she is, making a long-distance call to her Poppy on her toy phone (she was starting to get the hang of the time difference and knew when he would be sleeping).

We are reading tons of books together and she loves reading and listening to stories. I was telling her the story of the tortoise and the rabbit (yes, I know it's hare, but she only knows hair). When I reached the part where the tortoise was walking past the sleeping rabbit, she interrupted me with this - "Tortoise rabbit ko wake up karega, good morning bolega!" (The tortoise will wake the rabbit up and wish it good morning.) OTT sportsmanship, I tell you.

Just before she sleeps, she likes to name random characters and I'm expected to instantly create a story around them. Sometimes she repeats the story back to me the next day, making hilarious mix-ups. This is her, relating the story of the boy, the kite and the giraffe.

As you saw in the video above, she likes to say 'Thank you' in a sing-song 'Thaaaaaankyouuuuuu' kind of way when I give her something. Sometimes she will pass me something and say, "Here go!" ("Here you go!") and then say, "Thaaaaaankyouuuuuu!"

This is her at the library.

We go to the beach twice or thrice a week, and it's always very entertaining. For her, yes, but mainly for me. Aside from the facepalm moments I have, of course. The other day we were walking past the cable ski lagoon at the beach when a guy emerged from the water, soaked to the bone, skiboard in hand, red in the face and trying not to look anyone in the eye. She pointed at him squarely and loudly declared, "UNCLE FELL DOWN IN THE WATER! GOING HOME NOW." Then there was the time she saw a topless guy jogging and said, "Uncle ka top kangya?? Uncle nangu hokar running running!" ("Where is Uncle's top?? Uncle is running naked!")

We always run into two beautiful cats at the beach - one white, and the other black. She likes to stop to look at them and says, "Hiiiii, cats!" One day, we only saw the black cat. She asked me where the white cat was. I told her I didn't know. She said, "Black cat ko poochhenge white cat kahan gaya." ("We will ask the black cat where the white cat went.") and proceeded to pose her query to the very surprised black cat.

The curls in her hair are getting crazier and curlier and bouncier and I love them. Sometimes she shakes them like Zakir Hussain and says, "Junglee baby!" (I often address her as 'Jungle princess' or 'Junglee baby'.) Sometimes when I'm drying my hair and it's all over my face, she says, "Junglee Mommy!" We also do what I call the 'pull and boinggg' where she pulls at one of her double-helical locks when I say "Pull!" and releases it when I say "Boingggg!" and it springs back. Cheap thrills for Mommy.

Her school had an open house and parent-teacher meeting a few weeks ago, and she got a good report. Of course, she majorly flunked the subject of eating, but the teachers said that she is very helpful and concerned about others. She hands out tissue if someone is sneezing and fetches things that the teachers need. She can match her classmates to their parents so whenever a parent comes to pick up his/her kid, she calls out to the kid.

They had done a project on bananas and the teachers had prepared posters on them. One of the posters said, 'When asked about the colour of the bananas, kid X said, "Yellow!" When asked about the shape, Xena said, "Rectangle!" When asked about the taste, kid Y said, "Sweet!" Xena said, "Yucky!" Uhhhhh... She was running around during the event when she bumped her head and started to cry. The Principal came over, grinned and said, "That sound is most unusual. We have never seen her cry." Her Laoshi (Mandarin teacher) at school said that her heart breaks every time she changes Xena's clothes because she can see her ribs and thin limbs. She commended me though, for sending food cut in interesting shapes in Xena's snackbox. Xena likes Hello kitty so I use a mould to cut cheese, pancakes, parathas into Hello Kitty shapes for her snackbox. The snackbox almost always comes back untouched but some days I see a corner nibbled off and the effort seems worth it.

This a picture of her in her firefighter uniform for her school project. We were supposed to make one at home, so we used a black jacket, her school uniform pants, some insulation tape, a bicycle helmet, black paper and a hose to come up with this.

This was taken at her school's mid-autumn festival celebration.

The teachers also told me that she's the diaper-changing supervisor of her class. When it's time for diaper changes, she stands there and oversees the proceedings. She tells the teachers whose turn is next and makes sure nobody cuts the queue. The teachers actually humour her by strictly following her instructions.

Speaking of diapers, since she was imprisoned at home during the HFMD scare, I decided to make the most of it and toilet-train her. It was a success and now she's off diapers at home, wearing them only when sleeping or when out and about.

She likes order, and everything must be done properly, or like she says, "Pij do poperly!" We were at her friend's birthday party and she had been in the queue to sit on a rocking toy. When she got to the toy, she passed me her shoes and socks. I randomly put them outside the play area. I didn't realise she was watching me until she got off the toy, walked towards the shoes and neatly put one sock in each shoe. Whoa. She actually let go of the toy she had queued up for, because Mommy had not kept her shoes and socks 'poperly'.

She's also very particular about queuing up and taking turns, which makes her set a great example in the playground, and she even makes all the other kids comply. She also uses the word "turn" in odd scenarios. We were in the bus and she asked me why the wipers were not moving. I told her that wipers only move after it rains. She declared, "First rain turn, then wipers turn."

She has started correctly pronouncing some words which she used to mangle before. It's nice, but kind of sad too, as the mangled versions were so cute. She used to say "magmo" (mango), "klangya" (kahan gaya), "connot" (cannot), "ni hola hai" (nahin ho raha hai), "coolinform" (school uniform), "wadithat?" (what is that?), "goob job" (good job), etc. But of course, there are still some words she mispronounces, which Viv and I lap up, like "contocton" (construction). Whenever she sees any construction going on, she will point at the workers and say, "What uncles doing? Contocton!"

When we are out, she is vigilant and keeps telling me, "Car coming, be careful!"

She's developing a cheeky sense of humour, and will sometimes, instead of singing "So many fishes swimming in the water" sing, "So many fishes swimming in the... TOILET!"

My cheeky monkey

All the fun aside, it can get very exhausting to take care of a toddler all day. It's also challenging to keep up with her energy levels and come up with activities to keep her engaged and happy. Our no-TV rule is still on, and when she was ill and couldn't go out, I was really running low on my creative juices. (I will do a post some time on some of the things I do to keep her engaged.) I couldn't wait for Viv to get back from Amsterdam and take over so I could catch a breather. Once he got back, he had a cricketless Sunday and I decided to take the entire day off and do random things, while he stayed at home with her. I met up with a friend and we went to my shopping mothership Vivocity. We had a great lunch, and proceeded to shop for 5 hours straight, after which we had dinner and went for a movie. It was wonderful to be able to shop without worrying about Xena's meal time and milk time and pee time and poop time and nap time and what not. Now that's my kind of 'duty-free shopping'. I strongly encourage all mommies who are the main caregivers of their kids to take such a full day off when possible. It really refreshed and recharged me.

I leave you with one last video - my blatant use of bribery to make her eat. Fingers crossed that she hits 10 kg before she turns 3!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Booked out

Xena is now about two and a half years old, and reading books with her has never been more fun. I graduated from reading to her to reading with her, and now she does most of it herself. I just sit, listen and laugh.

The first video has her going through a book on seasons, and the second, the one that made me die laughing, is one where she points at the udder of a cow and declares that "there is a small pig inside the cow". :D

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Picture of health

So guess what I was doing at 3 AM this morning?

Nope, not club-hopping to relive the days of my teenage. Nope, definitely not that. I was down on my knees, cleaning the floors of KK hospital. Before you think I just had a mid-career switch, I have to clarify that I was merely cleaning up after Xena who had thrown up for the tenth time last night. The poor baby has not been well for about a month now, visited by not one, not two, but an assortment of illnesses. First, she had the usual cycle of cough/fever/breathlessness which lasted much longer than usual, followed by the roseaola virus, and then followed by a fall that has sprained her ankle, making her limp, and then she was throwing up most of last night because of a stomach virus. We rushed to the hospital at 11:15 pm, and she was given the first set of rehydration solution which took an hour (it's four doses, 15 minutes apart). She could not keep it down, so they gave her some medicine to stop the vomiting, followed by another set of the rehydration solution. It was really hard to manage a limping, coughing, puking, crying, cranky and sleepy child (as soon as she'd doze off, it would be time for the next dose, so she didn't get any sleep either). I cannot describe how heart-breaking it was to see her like that. We managed to catch most of what she threw up in a plastic container which we always kept at hand, but some still fell on the floor. Of course, the cleaners would get to it as promptly as they could, but we cleaned whatever we could because the hospital was crowded and there were kids walking everywhere.

We were there till 4 am, by when she was not only okay, she was bringing the hospital down with her chirpiness. In fact, when we went in to see the doctor after the final set, she barged into the office, looked at the jar of candy that the doctors give out to their tiny patients, gave the doctor an incredulous look and loudly declared, "SO MUCH CANDY?!" as if that's what the doctors did - sat in their offices all day and all night, merrily chomping on "SO MUCH CANDY" while their patients suffered outside. The doctor smiled and said, "I knew she was fine already. I could hear her chirpy talking from here!" Xena then proceeded to ask for three candies, with a "One for mommy, one for Poppy, one for Xena." The doctor was really amused. So was I. Because she doesn't eat anything. Not even candy.

She's going to be resting at home till Monday, and it's a little sad because she had prepared these teachers' day cards which she was supposed to give out today. Basically, we'd made some pictures using fingerpaint on the outside of the cards. As for the inside, I just gave her a pen and asked her to go nuts and she did. I wrote 'Message from Xena' on top of her 'art' on the left side and on the right side, I wrote 'Translation by Mommy' and sent our heartfelt thanks to each teacher for taking care of her and especially trying to make her eat (she stills eats an average of two spoonfuls at lunch). We added a tiny notebook and a giant animal-shaped paper clip to each of the envelopes, and there, our teachers' day gifts were ready. Well, she couldn't give them in person, but Viv dropped by the school on his way to work to hand them over.

Sometimes I cannot believe how jinxed all my plans relating to her are. Every time her school has an outing that she's looking forward to, she falls sick. Every time there is something exciting about to happen (show and tell at school, friends' birthdays, teachers' day, mothers'/fathers' day celebration, picnic, play dates, etc.), she falls sick. Like clockwork. Even teachers tell me they understand why I don't sign her up for any more school excursions. From the time she joined the school, she has missed every single excursion because she was in the hospital. Sometimes I feel she's in the school less and in the hospital more. And the damned insurance folks wouldn't give her health insurance because she was born a preemie at 32 weeks weighing only 990 grams.

I have thought many times whether she should be in school at all, and every time I conclude with a yes. Her doctor and dietitian certainly think so, and even though it's painfully slow, her eating has improved after she started school. Besides, I can't protect her forever from the germs by means of a house arrest. She needs to experience what's out there and learn to fight it. So we chose this middle ground of half-day play school.

When you're in a hospital in the wee hours of the morning, waiting for something (the queue number to be called, the receptionist to register your child, the nurse to do the preliminary check-up, the doctor to see her, the clock to tick faster so you can finish the last dose and go home if she can keep it in, the pharmacist to finish her calculations, the cab to take you home), your mind wanders. You think about why your child keeps falling sick. Much much more than regular kids. You wonder if there will suddenly come a turning point after which she will stop having to go to the hospital, and if so, how far away that point is. You think about whether you'd EVER be able to go back to a full time job, an office, colleagues, lunch with team mates, and what not. You wonder why her immunity is so low and where the benefits of breast milk went. Were the 16 painful months of pumping breast milk worth it? (In case new readers are wondering, I couldn't nurse her directly as she was taken to the NICU immediately upon birth and spent the first two months of her life there, drinking pumped breast milk through a tube). And then I tell myself, yes, it was worth it. Without it, her immunity could have been even lower. Now when she gets sick, she fights hard. I see it. Maybe she wouldn't have been able to, if I had given up on the breast milk. Maybe she will get stronger eventually. Once she starts eating. And this will pass. Until then, we just gotta be prepared for whatever else is in that bag of illnesses and shrug and say, "Bring it on, yo."

Someone once told me that I wrote too many fun and happy things about her on the blog and on Facebook. That if I stopped blogging and Facebooking about her, she wouldn't fall sick anymore. The whole 'nazar' theory. Evil eye and all that. Well, guess what? Tried that too. Just to see. And she still fell sick. So of course, I am back to blogging and Facebooking about her antics. The happy moments that intermittently but regularly happen between the spells of sickness. I am not going to stop living and sharing these moments.

Much as I try to be positive, motherhood has not been an easy journey so far. And I am not going to hold back on expressing my thoughts, and especially documenting and sharing the fun things related to her growing up. Because every now and then, I go back to read all that and remind myself all over again how these moments of togetherness and happiness far outweigh all the stress, pain and exhaustion that come with being Xena's mommy.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The warrior princess diaries - XII

So the last warrior princess diaries post was on 3rd April and I'm seriously lagging behind. Fortunately, FB comes to my rescue because I jot down little things about her as my status, which not only updates my family and friends about her antics, but also helps me when I compile these posts.

Xena is now at an age where she thinks about things, and processes information and makes little statements that touch my heart. Every day on the way back from school, when the bus would take a sharp turn and she would cling on to me, scared. I would hold her hand and say, "It's okay, baby." One day, as the bus turned, before I could do or say anything, she took my hand and said, "Sokay, mommy."

Then there are other times when a potentially touching moment becomes hilarious. She was peering into my face with much interest so I peered back into hers, tapped her nose with my finger and said, "Mommy loves you." She tapped my forehead with her finger and said, "Mommy has pimple." Great.

But then the touching moments always come back. Once I held her face in my hands and said, "Hey, beautiful." She then held my face in her hands and said, "Mommy beautiful." Then she held Viv's (whom she calls 'poppy') face in her hands and said, "Poppy beautiful." Then she finally declared, "Sab log (everybody) beautiful."

And then the other moments come back. She came running to show me her latest bruise and said, "Mommy, please sayang-sayang!" ('Sayang' is a Malay word for 'caress/pat'.) So I sayang-ed her bruise and just for fun, showed her an old scar on my hand and said, "Xena, please sayang-sayang?" She took one look at it, realised it was not worth her time or sayang-ing, and said, "Mommy, please sayang it yourself." :|

I didn't know she observes me so keenly whenever I take a cab with her. We were at a friend's place and he offered to drop us home in his car. As soon as she sat down and belted up, she turned to him and said, "Siglap". (That's where we live.) It was a facepalm moment of course, but it was hilarious nonetheless.

In April, my mom-in-law's sister and brother-in-law had visited us and went back and recounted her antics to my mother-in-law, such as how she says, "Xena almost gir gayi" ("Xena almost fell down") when she stumbles but doesn't fall. My mother-in-law could take it no more and planned a sudden visit to see the live show. Xena had a lot of fun getting pampered by her grandma. And I started making chai again (I only make it every day when mom or my in-laws are here). Xena was once playing with an umbrella when I suddenly felt mean and adventurous and gave her a long set of instructions, "Baby, can you put the umbrella back in the bag and then go out and see if paati (grandma) is awake and ask her if she wants chai?" To my total surprise, she put the umbrella back in the bag, went to the living room and said to her napping grandma, "Wake up, paati. Chai?"

I'd also asked my mom-in-law to bring a plastic cricket set from India as I couldn't find it anywhere here. Xena was super excited to see it and took to it like a fish to water. Viv was so proud.

As outdoorsy as she is, she loves to help out with housework too. This also helps me keep her occupied in the late afternoons, since I still don't let her watch any TV. Whenever she sees me with a broom, she asks for her "blue wala" and sweeps the floor, aka, pushes everything that I'd swept back to its original location. So I just allocate a corner to her and tell her that it's VERY DIRTY, and as she rushes there to launch a vicious attack on the non-existent dust, I quickly sweep the rest of the room.

She also likes to peel boiled eggs and garlic, which works great for me since I hate peeling garlic. She gets really engrossed in it. Once, to liven up the tedious (to me) activity, I tried to make small talk with her. Without looking up from her garlic, she said, "Xena is peeling garlic. Please don't disturb Xena." Whoa. My mom-in-law had told me that when Viv was a kid, he once pointed to the crescent moon and exclaimed, "GARLIC!" I was very amused when the first thing Xena said when she saw a garlic clove was, "MOON!"

She's a total chatterbox, and forms full sentences with ease. I love looking at the world from her perspective, and figuring out why she says what she says. And some of the words she uses send me into splits. Once she pulled the skin at my elbow and said, "Wrinkles." I bent my elbow and she was totally amazed that the 'wrinkles' disappeared. She straightened my elbow, pulled at the skin again and said, "Mommy, please switch off the wrinkles again!"

Just yesterday, I introduced touch-me-not leaves to her at the beach yesterday. I got her to touch the leaves with a stick and she had a blast watching them close. On the way back, she was surprised not to spot any (it was getting dark and the leaves had closed) and asked me, "Touch-me-not kahan gaya?" (Where did the touch-me-not go?), and then answering her own question said, "Home chala gaya, dudu peeke, teeth brush karke soooooo jayega." (It's gone home, it will drink milk, brush its teeth and go to sleeeeeeep.)

Lately, more and more people are saying that she looks a lot more like me than Viv. Muahahaha. I still maintain that she looks most like my dad, but then I look like my dad so it's ok. Last week, she and I were on Skype with my parents and I was telling them how much she looks like my dad. Just for fun, I tapped her nose and asked her, "Is this Grandpa's nose?" She said, "Nooooo," and pointing to my dad on the screen said, "Grandpa already has nose."

Honestly speaking (and touchwood), I'm not having a hard time with the so-called 'terrible twos'. Yet. She's generally well-behaved and does not throw tantrums. It's possible to reason stuff with her in a calm manner. Of course, I do use my 'stern mommy face' when needed. Once, she was about to throw a toy to the floor when I glared at her with the sternest face I could make. I'd never given her this look before and I think I even scared myself a little bit. She looked at me for a few seconds, gently put the toy down, burst into tears, came running to me and said, "Mommy, happy face, please!"

Of course, I'm not the only one doing the scolding. It comes back to me too. I was reading a book and cycling at the same time when I got a rap from my little safety inspector, "Hold the handles, mommy!" Did I mention I was riding a stationary bike?

We spend our afternoons singing a lot of songs and nursery rhymes (I had to actually Youtube some to recall the lyrics!) and she seems to love it.

She's eating a little better now, though she's still very very underweight (8.5 kg at 2 years and 5 months). Her teachers tell me that she's started self-feeding a bit, so that's great. Her average lunch at school is still about 2 spoons (the teachers note it down for me every day). I have stopped pureeing everything and she's tolerating a little texture now. Sometimes she surprises me by actually asking for food. Once she was reading a book where an elephant was drinking orange juice from a glass with a straw (don't ask) and she said she wanted to drink orange juice from a glass with a straw! You can't imagine how high I jumped with joy, and how fast I produced the deliverables in front of her. She's also been eyeing this strawberry kitchen toy set that I have been withholding from her. Now she knows the drill. She will point to it and say, "Strawberry wala toy chahiye." ("I want the strawberry toy.") and then she will say, "Xena bahut sara khana khayegi, dudu piyegi, big and strong ho jayegi, toh mummy strawberry wala toy degi." ("Xena will eat a lot of food, drink a lot of milk, become big and strong then mommy will give the strawberry toy.")

When the haze hit Singapore, we had to stay indoors all day, which was a pain. Luckily, I always keep a stash of library books which pulled us through. I also think that the haze had hindered her photosynthesis so she was actually asking for food. Look, she's having popsicle for the first time! Of course, she had three licks and politely returned it to me, but still!

My haze-hindered-photosynthesis theory was further supported by the fact that when we were making banana 'happy face' pancakes for her school project, she actually ate a 1 mm x 1 mm x 1 mm piece!

And ooh, she finally fit into a very pretty dress that our friends had given her for her 1st birthday!

Recently, her Bubblegum masi (one of the bar's bewdis who met me and became best friends with Xena instead) came home, armed with her DSLR and took some really nice photos of Xena.

Speaking of great photographs, here's one of Xena and me taken by my sister-in-law at the beach.

Last week, her school celebrated Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Eid) at school. Children could dress up in traditional Malay clothes if they wanted. I braved and scoured the Hari Raya bazaar for two hours and came back armed with a kebaya for her. I wish they had it in my size too! (Purple is my favourite colour.) The teachers were thrilled to see her in the outfit.

She also celebrated Singapore's National Day on 9th August, dressed in the Singapore colours of red and white. I had dressed her up in a red and white dress, red and white socks, white shoes, a red and white clip, red and white flag stickers on her wrists, and armed her with a flag. OTT much? I think so. But I reckon she will only let me do inane things like this for another year, after which she will learn to roll her eyes at her crazy mommy. Till then, crazy I shall remain.

Monday, August 05, 2013

My musical monkey

I'm so thrilled. Xena is showing interest in Hindi songs! I was humming Piyu bole and she seemed to take a keen interest in it, even attempting to sing some of it with me. Here's the video of us singing Piyu bole.

And oh, do you guys know of the cup song from Pitch Perfect? I didn't, till my sis-in-law mastered and recorded the very complex-looking cup moves that go with the song. I showed Xena the clip and she was so fascinated she wanted to try it out! Here she is, having a go at it. (Not that she gets anywhere, but it's music to my ears.) But before that, here's a fascinating a cappella cover of the original.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The fast track

Half an hour to spare??


It was a glitch in the matrix. It was most definitely a glitch in the matrix.

I had dropped by the mall before picking up Xena from school, to buy a new swimsuit for her. Perhaps I hadn't expected to find one so quickly. Perhaps I hadn't expected to find exactly what I wanted, in the very first shop I went to. Whatever it was, I had an extra half an hour on my hands, which by my planning should have been 10 minutes -- just enough for me to grab a quick bite at the food court and head for the bus stop. 

This is usually how our weekday works. As soon we Xena wakes up, all of us quickly get into the smooth groove of perfect dovetailing. While Xena is brushing her teeth, Viv is bathing and I'm getting her breakfast ready. He comes out and starts feeding her. I start making his breakfast and as soon as they are done, he starts eating his breakfast, while I get her into her uniform and tie her hair and pack her snackbox and water bottle. After kicking both of them out of the house, I grab a quick breakfast over a physical newspaper, and if my work deadlines are not crazy, head to the gym with a book (the cross-trainer has a book-holder), which thankfully is just downstairs. I get back in 45 minutes, bathe and start working. Depending on whether I'm eating dinner leftovers for lunch, or having lunch near her school, or running an errand like today, I leave home. I get her back, bathe her, give her milk, put her down for a nap and start working again. I work for an hour and then finish any household chores so I'm all hers when she's up. She wakes up around 3-4 pm and then we play, take photos and videos, and do some fun activities. I give her an early dinner (which doesn't take long because as you know, she hates food) and then exactly at 6 pm, we head to the beach or the playground for an hour. Viv is back at 7:30 to take over and I start cooking dinner (most weekdays I like to cook dinner, but we do eat out once or twice). By the time I'm done with cooking, she's had her bath, milk, brushed her teeth and is fast asleep. Viv and I then have dinner with a movie or conversation. On most days, I manage to sneak in some gmailing and fbing. On good days, I manage to sneak in some blogging. And thus, the perfectly-planned weekday ends perfectly. I like it to be like that. Fast. Efficient. Well-planned. Well-executed.

Yes, I know the importance of me-time, especially for mommies like me who work from home and don't have domestic help, but I don't get much of it, and definitely not in the weekdays. But I'm not complaining. The thing is, if I had too much me-time, I'd probably get a little sick of it. Or worse, use that time to plan the non-me-time time. Horrifying, isn't it?

So today, when I realized I had half an hour extra in my packed day, I was amused. I honestly didn't know what to do with it. So I decided to spend it at MOS burger. I love their spicy MOS cheeseburger and never have the time for it before picking Xena up as I eat at places where I don't have to wait even a bit for my food.

Compared to other fast food places, MOS takes a while before giving you your burger. They give you your drink and a token number and bring you the rest of the stuff later. So I sat and waited. It felt strange. I felt jobless. Like I could be doing something more productive than this on a weekday morning. But I had to kill time. Wow, I can't believe I said 'kill time'. That phrase rarely appears in my vocabulary. (If I had a smartphone, I'd probably be busy on it. But that's precisely why I don't have or want a smartphone. It consumes you.) So I sat there and wondered about what I should be wondering about. I wondered if I should spend that time planning the rest of the week and making some fun weekend plans. But guess what? It was all done. I literally had nothing to do. I was not used to that feeling. At all.

So I sipped my drink and looked around and took everything in.  Things I generally wouldn't notice. Like how green the seats were. If someone had asked me before what colour the seats at MOS were, I would have had no idea. I was noticing them for the first time. And just like that, sipping my iced peach tea, waiting for my burger and fries, staring at that rather revolting shade of green, I relaxed. The gears in my head slowed down and stopped turning. Agreed, I was most definitely not in my comfort zone, but I felt like I could do it. I should do it. I didn't want to think about anything in particular. I just wanted to sit there and... you know, just sit there.

And I did. For a while at least.

It felt good. 

I had managed to slow down. In a fast food restaurant. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sing-ing praises

This is a week of milestones.

Today marks my 15th year in Singapore. On this very day, a clueless 18-year-old me (okay fine, you know my age now, hmmmph!) landed on the shores at the airport of Singapore, not knowing what life had in store for her. And now, I have lived here 15 years. That is more than twice as long as any city in India I've lived in. My dad's an ex-banker so we moved around a lot and I kind of grew up all over the place. And that is why I don't really identify any Indian city as my 'hometown'. Of course, I have a huge soft corner for Jharkhand where I spent most of my teens (if you want to know more about my hilarious Jharkhand days, you have to read my Jai Jharkhand series), but I still can't call it my hometown. If there's a city that seems effortlessly 'homely' now, it is Singapore. You know how we all crib about India but if any outsider does it, we jump to defend it? I feel like that very very strongly about Singapore too, and I think that's the greatest sign of me being a Singaporean. Sure, it has its issues, but then which country doesn't?

It was not an easy decision taking up Singapore citizenship. We were emotional about giving up Indian citizenship, and it took many many years before we realised that if we're going to be here for good, it just makes sense to exchange our dark blue passports for red ones. A passport is just a piece of paper that enables international travel; it does not make us any more Indian or Singaporean than we ourselves feel from within. It took a while for this thought to sink in, but eventually it did and I'm glad. Because I love Singapore and I'm proud to call it home. Of course I miss India and my family (and roadside pani puris... and winter!), but I also miss Singapore a lot when I am elsewhere. I can't choose one and I don't want to choose one. So until India starts handing out dual citizenship, I shall be a Singaporean with an OCI card.

So here, in no particular order, are five things I love about Singapore:

Food - We say that eating, shopping and complaining form the national pastime here. I don't do a lot of the second and the third, but I sure do a lot of the first. Though virtually every cuisine you can think of is available here, that's not the cool part. The cool part is the local food. The wonderful, delicious, amazing local food. Think chilli crab, chicken rice, rendang chicken, laksa, ayam penyet, yum, yum and more yum!

The little red dot - It is amazing what the country has done in less than 50 years. It is a tiny dot, measuring 49 km from east to west and 25 km from north to south. And yet, it is highly urbanised without compromising on greenery. Things are hair-raisingly efficient. Stuff actually works. The public transport is great. (I mean buses and trains. Not cabs. Definitely not cabs. I don't believe they really exist. Cabs are just an urban myth.) It is really clean, yes, even public toilets. And yes, while the rest of the world laughs at our chewing gum ban, when I compare the streets of London and Singapore, I prefer the ban. If you love travel, it's a nice central hub to explore the region from. Another nice thing is that people from all kinds of cultures and races live in harmony. They may not fully understand one another's cultures, but the basic respect is there.

Distance to India - You can skype, call, sms, or email, but whatever said and done, physical distance matters. My parents, in-laws and other family are in India, but because Singapore is just four hours away by flight, sometimes I don't feel like I live in a different country. For all I know, if I were in India in a different city from them, it would take me longer to reach them than it would now. This is also one of the big reasons why we chose to settle here rather than the US.

Safety - I know I should not take safety for granted anywhere in the world, but Singapore's safety levels amazed me from day 1. During my university days, I'd go jogging on the roads at 1 am. After orientation (that's just a fancy term for ragging), I'd walk back to my hostel by myself at 3 am. And it was fine. I never felt scared. That is something I, coming from India, appreciate very very much.

Viv - "Huh?? Viv??" You ask. Well, Viv and I came to Singapore from very different parts of India on the same scholarship. If either (or even both) of us had turned it down, we'd have never met. And though my life in that parallel universe might not be too bad, I just can't imagine this one without him and Xena. So yes, it was Singapore that brought us together, and I'm grateful and thankful.

So there, that's my list. Of course, there are things about Singapore that annoy me, and some day if I'm in a ranting kind of mood, I might list those. But today, I am celebrating my 15 years here, and reminding myself of all the good stuff.

But... there is a hidden agenda too. Through this post, I am also attempting to yank back old friends I miss who have moved to Dubai, New York and India. You know who you are.

Move back pronto. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Run of the mille

My dad reminded me that my blog's thousandth post is coming up, and that I should write something significant for it. So I decided to skip writing about other matters of national importance, such as a survey on What Bewdas Really Think of Deepika Padukone's Accent in the Chennai Express Trailer, and write something about the bar itself.

The bar. Ah, the bar. Where to start and how to start. So let me not even start and simply point you to this post, which explains why I call this place a bar, and you guys and girls bewdas.

Sometimes I can't believe that the bar has been around for 8 and a half years. Even more incredible is the fact that some of the bewdas have been with me all of these years! I mean, blogging was 'in' when I started, but it is 'out' now, isn't it? We just don't have the patience to read long posts anymore, do we? We find even long emails addressed to us tedious. That's why many of my blogger buddies from ye olde times have moved on to Twitter. Blogging is old school now. So why am I still a blogger and not a tweeter? One, I feel Twitter is a platform more suitable for celebrities; two, I have too much to type (how will I ever ramble in just 140 characters?); and three; I can barely keep up with updating the bar and Facebook, I can't imagine having one more thing to update. So, for the record, I am not on Twitter and never will be. The plan is to blog as long as I possibly can, and that's that.

Some day in the future, when I'm old and retired and don't have much to do, I will start reading my blog from the beginning to relive bits and pieces of my life. Since I started my blog, I have moved from being a clueless fresh graduate to switching my career and starting at the very bottom, getting my master's degree, building my career in publishing, getting married, getting pregnant and becoming a mother. Yes, yes, I hear you bewdas who are shaking their heads and going "Yaar yeh aajkal sirf apni beti ke baare mein hi likhti hai..." I really don't know what to say to that. It's like that cheesy line "Pyaar kiya nahin jata, ho jata hai." Xena ke baare mein blogging kiya nahin jata, ho jata hai. I can't help it. I seriously can't. But in a way, I like that the bar always reflects what is going on in my life, and right now, as you know, she's top of the goings-on in my life.

Sometimes, I read some old posts and wonder if it was really me who wrote it. In many posts, I sound so silly, so childish, so juvenile, so egoistic, so deluded, so utterly foolish. But in a way, it is interesting how the blog has chronicled the changes in my thoughts, my character, personality and writing style over the years. I started this blog not because I had a lot of thoughts (actually I don't think I had any, looking at my first post!), but because everyone else around me seemed to have one and I felt left out. Seriously. My colleagues couldn’t stop talking about this ‘blog’ thingie. Apparently, they all had one. So I decided to get one myself and find out what it was all about. Never did I ever imagine that I would keep the blog going for so many years. But to be honest, I'm taking too much credit here. The blog is alive because of the bewdas who made this their adda. True, we blog for ourselves, not others. But it's also true that sometimes it's those others who keep us going. I can't count the number of times I was pinged by a bewda and reminded to get back to blogging. Truth of the matter is - I love blogging. I LOVE it. But sometimes, it takes a backseat, and I honestly miss it. So thank you, bewdas, for your support, your patience, your comments, your emails and your love.

Assuming that at the very least, I spend about an hour (yes, even on this post!!) on each post, that's 1000 hours I have clocked in at the bar! Some may consider it a total waste of time, but thankfully I don't. It has been worth it and more.

Thank you for choosing the bar for your addabaazi purposes, bewdas.

I made the bar happen, but you make the bar happening.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Hospital-ity II

First of all, my very sincere thanks to all you bewdas for your overwhelming wishes sent for Xena. I'm seriously struggling with some of my writing deadlines because I had been in the hospital with Xena for five days, but I feel like I really owe it to you guys to update you that she is now home! After five days, most of which she spent in an oxygen mask, she was finally discharged yesterday. She still needs to be given the ventolin puff regularly to clear her lungs, and we have been referred to a specialist, but other than that, she's all active and jumpy and umm, monkey-like again.

As soon as we got home, I gave her (and myself) what I would call not a bath, but a hosedown to wash away the hospital germs, after which mommy and baby were off to slumberland. The bed never felt better. We were so exhausted and sleep-deprived that as soon as we touched it, we dozed off. I would have slept longer if I'd not discovered her sitting on my neck and trying to pry my eyelids open with a "Mommy, please wake up!"

In the evening, we couldn't wait to get out. I decided to take her to the park in the beach. It felt SO awesome to see the roads and trees and sand and water and everything else we had not seen in five days. However, I have to say that the hospital stay was not all bad. Xena had entertained me (and the doctors and the nurses and the interns and the nursing students and the cleaners... the list goes on) quite a bit with her antics and I thought I should do a sequel to my hospital-ity post from two years ago.

- Xena now says almost everything in full sentences and likes to provide running commentary of everything around her. Every morning, when the doctors did their rounds, she'd stand up in her cot and hold the railings of her cot like a jailbird and give me a full account of everything she saw. "Doctor aa gaye. Ek aur doctor aa gaye. Two nurses aa gayi." and what not. Once, a whole troop of about twelve came - doctors and medical students. She exclaimed loudly, "So many doctors??!" All of them burst out laughing.

- She soon figured out that the people in the white coats were doctors and the ladies in the white dresses with the colourful teddy bear aprons were the nurses. She would refer to them correctly. Once, she called the main doctor on her case "Aunty". The doctor was very surprised. "I am Aunty today?? Why??" She asked. Then I pointed out to her that she was not wearing her white coat, and that's why she was "Aunty" and not "doctor".

- Whenever the doctors would check her, she would play with their stethoscopes. They usually have toys hanging from the stethoscope to make it less scary for their patients, but Xena was more interested in the apparatus itself. You guys know I take devilish delight in teaching her to say long words like 'photosynthesis' so 'stethoscope' was no big deal. It always amazed the doctors every time she said, "Xena want stethoscope. Check mommy." And they would give it to her and she'd actually check my breathing, while they stood there laughing.

- Ditto with the nurses. They came over several times an hour to check her temperature, her BP, her breathing rate, her blood oxygen level, or to give her the ventolin puffs or other medicines. They always had stickers in their pockets and Xena loved them (both the nurses and the stickers). She would actually take the smiley face round stickers, put them on her forehead, and declare, "Bindi lagaya!" while the nurses exploded in laughter. She would ask them for more stickers, but after I told her that she can only have one because the nurses had to give them to the other children too, she stopped. The next time they came around, she took one sticker and giving the box back, said, "For other children".

- Two doctors once came to check her and she tried to offer them her stickers. She gave one to the first doctor and said, "One for doctor...", paused looked at the other doctor and said, "One for another doctor!" Later, her running commentary went, "Doctor checking, another doctor standing."

- One of the nurses had a tiny slipper-shaped keychain. While she was counting Xena's breathing rate, Xena took it out and actually tried to wear it on her foot! "What are you doing, baby??" I asked. "Xena ghoomi ghoomi jaayegi," she said. :')

- The machine that measured her blood oxygen level was low on battery and one afternoon, it started making a loud boing-boing sound with the display saying "Low battery". She looked at it in alarm and said to me, "Xena darr gayi!" I told her it was okay and that the battery was down. When the nurse rushed over, Xena updated her, "Battery down. Loud sound. Boing boing boing boing!"

- The nurses would use a supermarket-style scanner to scan the tag on her hand every time they gave her any medicine. After the first day, whenever the nurses came, she would simply hold up her hand without even looking up from whatever she'd be doing. It was hilarious. Sometimes she'd remind them, "Puff puff time?" and they'd laugh and say, "Not yet, baby."

- Within the first two days, she had learnt that if the machine beeped, it meant that she had to put her mask back on. Obviously, she hated the mask and kept trying to pull it off, but the moment her blood oxygen would go down and the machine would beep, she'd put the mask back on by herself. Sometimes she'd even say "Oy ma Gode!" (Oh my God!) when the machine beeped.

- The nurse who first gave her the nebuliser told her that if she didn't cry, she would get lots of candy as a reward. Viv and I were laughing our heads off. First, Xena never cries on the nebuliser, and second, they were trying to bribe her with FOOD?? Ahahahahaha!

- The kid with cerebral palsy was discharged a day before she was, and when he went home, she rejoiced too. She kept saying, "Baby ke poppy stroller lekar aaya, baby home chala gaya!"

- The first few times, I had to remind her to say "Thank you" to the doctors and nurses each time they checked on her, but after a while, she started thanking them herself. THe funniest was when one of the nurses woke her up at 3 AM for the ventolin puff, making her cry. She was crying by the time the puffs were done, and between her tears she said, "Thaaaaankyou, nurse." and promptly went back to sleep. The nurse looked like she was going to cry!

- There was a nursing student who would always come by to play with her. She always had her mask on like the rest, and I would identify her from the way she tied her hair all the way up in a bun. When Xena was discharged, she came to see her without her mask. Xena didn't recognise her! Oy ma Gode! Poor nurse looked quite heartbroken, until I gave her the mask explanation.

- She used to say "Thank you" to the cleaning lady who changed her bedsheet every morning. The lady was from China and did not speak any English, so I taught Xena how to say "Thank you" in Mandarin. The lady would always smile and respond. On the day Xena was discharged, the lady gestured to me that she wanted to take a photo of Xena with her phone. I said okay, she happily snapped away.

- At one point, I really started to run out of ideas on how to occupy her and keep her inside her jail. So I asked her, "What do you wanna do now?" She replied with a "Wipe chahiye." So I handed her a wipe and guess what she did?? She started cleaning her hospital cot! She even wiped her blood oxygen machine clean! Don't believe me? Evidence below. :)

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Catch-up #5

Hola, bewdas!
I know I have not posted anything for more than a month, and I'm quite shocked myself that there was nothing at all on the bar's notice board all of June. I didn't think I could go a month without blogging. I meant to write a post on 30th June, but guess what? We are back in the hospital again, and Xena's warded on oxygen. We came here on the morning of the 30th and have been here since. This is the fourth time in four months that we have had to bring her to the hospital for breathlessness. The cycle is exactly the same. It starts with fever, then a cough that doesn't go away, and then her blood oxygen level starts dipping (yes, we have an oximeter at home to track her blood oxygen levels; after two rounds of hospital visits, we decided we needed it) and we rush to the hospital. So here we are, back in the hospital where Xena was born and I was reborn. It's been two days and she seems to be okay when awake, but when asleep she's unable to breathe normally without oxygen support. Her doctors say she can go home as soon as she can do a full night without oxygen support. They can't say yet if these recurrences indicate the beginnings of asthma or it's just that her lungs are still too weak to handle any kind of trigger.

And what a trigger we had last week. You might have read about it -- forest fires in Indonesia caused a thick blanket of haze on Singapore and the psi was close to 500 at one point. 300 is already considered hazardous and anything above 400 can be life-threatening for the elderly and ill. Singapore is one of the cleanest and greenest places in the world and yet, we were so helpless when the haze hit. Even though we had her on full house arrest with all windows and doors shut tightly and the air purifier and air-conditioner running overtime, it didn't feel enough. We were especially worried as Xena has weak lungs and is more susceptible to such things. But the haze passed and I thought that was it. Well, I'm still not sure if it was the haze that caused her hospitalization or some other trigger, but she's here and we gotta get past this.

She's taking a nap now and as I move my eyes away from her face behind that oxygen mask and look around, my mind is filled with so many thoughts. One, to always be thankful for what I have, because many others have it much worse. There's a kid in the bed opposite Xena's, and he has cerebral palsy. He is also here for some respiratory issue, and nothing can compare to what he and his parents are going through. When the doctors do their rounds and discuss him, I hear words like 'morphine', 'palliative', and I feel so heartbroken for him and his parents. I'm not sure if he is aware of pain, but from the sounds he makes all day and all night, I really do hope he can't feel the pain associated with them. Every few hours, the nurses use a tube and suction to make him a little more comfortable. Compared to him, Xena, who when not coughing or trying to pull the oxygen mask off, is generally chirpy and happy, seems like she doesn't even belong here. I don't know why it always takes someone else's misery to trump ours before we come to our senses (actually sometimes we don't) and stop ranting about our lives.

The other thing I notice is how articulate and patient the doctors and nurses are. I don't know why I expect them to be rude and snappy. Maybe it's because this is a government hospital. Maybe it's because they have been dealing with sickness all day and night. But they totally surprise me. I am especially amazed at the nurses' dedication. Doing your job is one thing, doing it with passion and feeling, is another. Of course, I deeply admire the doctors for their knowledge and skill, and how patient and clear they are when explaining things to me or answering my questions, but I admire the nurses more because they don't even get the credit and recognition the doctors get. And they do the 'dirty work' day after day after day. How do they remain so polite and cheerful after having a full work day that involves putting tubes down throats and cleaning up perfect strangers' waste? Xena coughed so violently once, she threw up in her oxygen mask. I could not believe the speed with which the nurses managed to get the mask off, clean her up and get her new clothes and a new mask, reassuring her all the time that it was okay, and that it was actually good that she managed to get rid of the phlegm. The very next second, housekeeping had already changed her bedsheet too. It felt like I was watching things in fast-forward mode. 15 years of living in Singapore and I still stand amazed at the level of efficiency here.

Yet another thing I notice is how the doctors and nurses do manage to catch a moment of respite from their gruelling work. One of the Filipino nurses came over when all was quiet in the ward and asked Xena to teach her some Hindi in exchange for some stickers. "Baby, I don't understand what you are saying, but I find it very very cute," she said. She's now armed with some Hindi, courtesy Xena and her translator (me). When she comes over to bathe Xena, she says, "Baby, nahana nahana?" Then there were these two junior doctors who came over with a small box of toys and played with Xena for half an hour. I don't know if it was part of their medical training as pediatricians to get to know their patients more, or just them looking for some light moments to include in their tiring day. But I do know that all three of them had an absolute blast together. Xena kept asking me, "Doctor klangya? Doctor coming soon?" after they had left. For Xena, harder than staying in the mask is staying inside the cot, considering how jail-like it is and how jumpy and outdoorsy she is. So one of my main struggles is keeping her occupied and happy and so I get Viv to bring me a few of her toys and books each morning. (I really don't want to plonk the iPad in front of her just to relieve her boredom.) I'm eternally grateful to my friend N, who has brought me lunch every one of these days and helped to keep Xena entertained too.

I have stayed here with Xena for two nights now and am gearing up for a few more. Viv has offered to swap with me so I can go home and get some rest, but he's too tall for the parent bed they provide and I know he will have a horrible work day if he's not well-rested. Besides, last night one of the kind nurses who saw me sleeping like a horse aka sleeping standing up with one hand holding Xena's (she wakes up very often and asks to hold my hand so I just decided to stand next to her cot and sleep), she asked me to hop into Xena's cot so I could be next to her and still get some sleep. "Is that allowed? And more importantly, can this take my weight?" I pointed to the cot, looking for a 'maximum weight limit' sign. She made a "Tchah, it doesn't matter." face, so I lowered the side of the cot and curled up next to my baby, hoping that the cot wouldn't give way in the middle of the night! I must say both Xena and I managed to get some good sleep this way, and the cot didn't break either. But I'm pretty sure Viv won't fit if he replaces me tonight, even if he curls himself into a ball. So his job is still to fetch things for Xena and me in the mornings, and take back stuff in the evenings. This has also made me realise the importance of keeping a tidy house. On the first day, I sent him a list of some 40 items that we (mostly Xena) would need during our stay and though I had written down their exact locations, it still took him an hour to get everything together. So I have made a mental note to keep our home tidier than it is. I've noticed that when I am away on stuff that is out of the ordinary routine, such as holidays or hospitalization, it always makes me think of things that I generally don't think of, such as how to live a better life.

So there. While the doctors discuss whether this is just a viral infection of Xena's weak lungs or whether she is likely to develop asthma in the future, we're here, wishing and hoping that we can go home soon.

On a final note, I have some life-altering philosophical advice for you - tidy up your home. And oh, lose weight. So that if needed one day, you can sleep in a hospital toddler cot without breaking it.