Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Baby and Me

I was destined to be a mother of daughters. I knew it from the time I was 17 and decided I wanted to get married early but have kids late. Worked out beautifully for me, I was married at 20, had a wonderful 9 year party with my favorite person in the world, my husband and then one fine day decided, I wanted to be a mom! Nature was kind, we conceived the very month we discussed it and our beautiful little baby was on its way. I have deep spiritual leanings and I rely heavily on the Tao, it kept telling me to be a rock in the river and let the water flow, so I did. The pregnancy was uneventful, no morning sickness, no aversions and certainly no complications. We scheduled a C section a week before the baby’s due date and were thrilled to know the exact very day we were going to be parents. Even the night before the big day, I had pink dreams, hues of pink, peach and lilac all over everything in my dreams, like I was dreaming in rose tinted glasses. Nature blessed us that day at 3:15 pm with a 7 ½ pound, healthy baby girl. I watched my C section in a mirror on the ceiling, I watched my baby breathe air for the first time, I watched my soul reach out from my body and touch her toes. We named her Alyssa Maya Shirazi.

Life was never the same again. I had my muse, my friend, my baby, my blood, right there in my arms. The wonderful journey of motherhood had begun. The one thing people noticed most about me was the amount I kissed my daughter that was simply because I couldn’t believe she was there and that she was mine. It’s been over two years now. She is a million times more of a doll than she was the day she was born! She speaks fluent Hindi and is catching up on English fairly quickly. Her doctor has suggested we get her evaluated for IQ levels in the next 3 years, she has a vocabulary of over 500 words and can hold a 3 minute conversation verbatim, all before the ripe little age of 2 ½ years. Ally draws already, mostly straight lines and bulbous circles. Ally prefers her books to toys, she can name ever object in a picture alphabet book, she said she preferred to say ‘X-mas’ tree for X, xylophone was too much of a tongue twister. We agreed with her! Ally has been eating on her own since she was 18 months, she can put on a pair of pants, she can wear Velcro shoes on her own and she has been threatening to do her own hair too! These developments have left us thrilled no doubt but we are also doubly concerned about channelizing this energy correctly. Fortunately for Ally her paternal grandma is a qualified child psychologist and her first piece of advice has remained Ally’s social mainstay, she advised that we let Ally socialize as much as possible. Toddlers like Ally ‘give’ more than ‘take’, if they are not provided an avenue for this energy release, they implode emotionally. And if you think you have seen a toddler throw a tantrum wait till you see a bright one do it! Over the last 6 months we have picked up the following points to make Ally the complete person she craves so much to be –

1. Avoid boredom at all cost: even if it means stocking up on pounds of play dough or making a sand pit in your 10th floor apartment, a smart kid needs an outlet, all the time! Since I am very fussy about the kind of materials Ally plays with, I prefer to make my own play dough. It’s a simple recipe:
Nature's Playdough
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
2 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoon cream of tartar
beet, spinach, and carrot juice

Mix flour, salt and oil, and slowly add the water. Cook over medium heat, stirring until dough becomes stiff. Turn out onto wax paper and let cool. Knead the dough with your hands until of proper consistency. Use as is, or divide into balls and add a few drops of the vegetable juices to make green, pink, and orange. Store in an air tight container, the salt will keep it preserved for as long as 4 weeks but keep an eye out for mildew.
2. Make eye contact: the only way to address an intelligent child is to take them seriously. Children can easily identify when they are being taken for a ride and when mom and dad are really listening. Perceptive kids can pick up on parental nonchalance and that’s one more reason for them to rebel.
3. Answer every query: even smart toddlers don’t always have a fun story to tell but by and large their nature allows them to ask exceptionally sharp questions. Avoiding the question is not an option, even the hardest one need to be dealt with and weak answers are never acceptable to tardy toddlers. So even if you are asked where babies come from, no need to get down and dirty but make sure the stork and baby story is believable and entertaining! A lot of questions mean a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts can result in action only if the child is helped in comprehending what they are thinking, that’s when you come in.
4. Listen, I mean really listen: I have heard insanely profound words come out of my daughter’s mouth. Since she does not have a maternal grandmother, her curiosity about ‘nani’ is slightly on the peaked side. I told her that her Nani was with God and her immediate retort was why, I answered that God asked for her to come visit, to which Ally promptly announced, ‘Mummy, you don’t go if he calls you, say you are busy in the office’. Sharp kids can let you in on how they are feeling, how they are coping and what they are missing by simply talking to you. You can address deep set fears and anxieties by listening to what the child is trying to say, ask a few interested questions and you will be able to deduce exactly what is on your child’s mind.
5. Respect your toddler: the only way a child will learn respect is by having it meted out to them. Even when a child is being unreasonable, they deserve the same respect you would give to a peer. We have to accept that our children have a difficult world to live in. They need tools like self esteem and pride to be able to be respectful and disciplined. Don’t undermine your child’s anxiety, look for signs of activities or people that stress them out and most importantly always speak politely to your child. A 3 years old child’s stress can revolve around an ill pet, a missing hair-band or a sulking friend. These are bona fide issues for a child and can be dealt easily with conservation and patience.

These are learning’s of a first time parent but these are also easy ways to herald a bond. I have felt these revelations develop around me because I have a daughter, I chose to assume they are a more sensitive and intuitive sex. So please nurture while nature takes its course. Even if you have those 2 hours in a day, make them worthwhile. Girls are wonderful people, they make excellent executives, exceptional students, remarkable sportspeople, I am running out of superlatives … but you know what I mean. Celebrate your daughters, they deserve it!

Monday, May 12, 2008

A little bit of Heaven!

How I love Kashmir? Words beseech me and that’s a feat because I am rarely ever gobsmacked! My association with Kashmir is roughly 30 years old but if you consider vivid human memory then I would say 27 years to be precise. My first real trip to Kashmir was at the age of 5. We flew to Srinagar and stayed at the Centaur. We drove all over the state for 2 weeks in an Ambassador (for the uninitiated, this is the most sturdy, rural & iconic vehicle of India). Even as a child all my memories centered on a deep sense of awe. I was perpetually smitten. I fell in love with something new every day, sometimes every few hours. I had never seen these many colors before, that’s what I remember thinking so often. I had been to Baramula Army Base as a 2 year old and that’s where we were headed on the first day to meet old friends. I remember meeting one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen over there. We were visiting a Major General if I remember correctly and his orderly had his family over from a village elsewhere in Kashmir. Her name was Renu and she was exquisite, I asked my mother if she was a film star (she was gardening with a typical Kashmiri head scarf on and it looked so chic). I can still picture mom turning around to tell the General’s wife that the women in Kashmir only get prettier! So it wasn’t just the place, it was the people too. Kashmir invoked feelings of oneness with nature, something city kids never felt and I carried that feeling with me for the dozen trips we took thereafter.

It was at age 13 that I had my ‘real’ Kashmiri food experience. I guess the palate is more honed by that age and I was always a self proclaimed gastronome. We had been invited by a Veterinary doctor friend of my parents. The word ‘wazwan’ floated around the car through the drive. We had to spend almost 3 grueling hours discussing possible tension in the region (how gullible we were, looking back that was probably the most peaceful the valley would ever be) and all I could think of was the food. The layout was fantastic, rich and highly exuberant and the flavors were perfect, way more than I had expected. That’s when Kashmir became the ultimate holiday package for me. Through the teens and early twenties I kept a keen eye on the socio political developments in Kashmir, a part of me was constantly saddened. Kashmir became like a first kiss, lovely but you could never go back and feel it again. I was resolved to that idea for a decade and even adopted Goa as my backup piece of heaven till I heard about a group of friends headed to the real and only heaven on earth, Kashmir.

This I had to see. I stressed about the Chinar’s on the Dal Lake, they had to be there or it wouldn’t be perfect. I thought endlessly about the florists on shikara’s, the sunsets at the lake, the horse ride to Gulmarg, the river rocks that changed color in water, the glowing ‘kangri’s’, the soothing ‘kahva’, the aroma of burning wood, the sweetness of mountain tea, the crispness of the air, the clarity in vision … oh my God! Kashmir was that ultimate piece of heaven and more! So we took the first flight out that Monday and I prayed, I prayed for peace and more selfishly, I prayed for ‘my Kashmir’, the pretty one! My prayers were answered manifold. Everything was perfect. My nose thanked me for the air, my eyes wept at the beauty, my hands wafted on the surface of the Dal lake for like an hour and I bought the largest, most gorgeous, most exotic bunch of flowers I had ever received, or seen for that matter. The people were wonderful and the women were actually prettier, the serenity was so unusual for the turmoil this region had seen, it tugged at my soul.

I saw everything I wanted to see and I felt the fulfillment I had felt years ago, the déjà vu was so unique. The river was exactly like I left it, I swear I knew the horses going up to Sonmarg, the gardens were exquisite and I was once again, smitten! The icing on the cake were definitely the tulips. It was tulip season (which lasts for barely a month according to the hotel manager) and we just had to see it. I can’t help but get nostalgic but my first exposure to a field of tulips was a lovely Hindi movie called ‘Silsila’, were Amitabh Bachchan serenades his heroine in the tulip fields of Holland. I stood here in Kashmir and I could see the whole song unfold in front of me, I was in Holland, I was missing only the clogs. It is inexplicable … you have to go there to see what I mean.