Sunday, October 28, 2007

A change and a life lesson

DD completed one week of extended timing at daycare. Starting last Monday, we dropped her off at 8.45 AM and picked her up at 3.30 PM. I was not worried much about her sleep, coz I know she dozes off if she is really sleepy. But the thing that I D.R.E.A.D.E.D was that she would go on hunger strike, and as a result, throw tantrums.
On Day1, Monday, I tremulously picked up the phone and called the daycare at 12.30 PM to check if she had had lunch. And when they said that she had absolutely refused to have beyond 2 spoonfuls of lunch, it was like my worst nightmare come true. But when she came home that evening, her daily sheet from the daycare mentioned that she had filled herself up with healthy snacks at 3 PM. And from Day2, she started having reasonable amounts of lunch too. Day 2, when I was speaking with her teacher, I casually mentioned that DD is very averse to drinking milk from a cup, while awake - we normally give her a bottle of milk after she falls asleep for her nap (!!yes!!) and I could almost visualize the teacher sneering at me from the other end, while I just heard an "Oh...." over the phone. Day3 dawned. I was now fairly confident that DD would eat at least some amounts of lunch and snack. When I called the daycare, the teacher told me she had eaten quite well and then added: "But I thought you said she doesn't like milk. She drank a whole cup after lunch today." To say I was FLABBERGASTED would be an understatement. This was something I had tried about a zillion times with and without external aids like TV, books and what not. I managed to find my words after a minute, and asked "Are you sure?", to which the teacher replied that she was positive she saw DD downing the whole cup of milk. I know she must have thought I am one crazy nut, because I let out a long, semi-hysterical cackle and cut the call (I think I didnt say bye) to share this headline with DH.

I had never anticipated, even at my optimistic best, that DD would adapt so quickly, especially since this concerned the sore point in our lives - her food habits. And I am so very proud of my little tyke :-) Her ability to adapt to new situations has emerged clearly now- first, when I started her on daycare, and then now, she takes to this change in routine like fish to water. After the 2nd day, she has been ever-so-eager to go to school and gets ready so willingly. She has never cried or clung on to us. And now this.. Thank the Lord God and His small, ooppss... very big ... mercies.

Parents, and in particular, mothers, are always proud of their kids' ahcievements. I have seen parents comparing their child's milestones with other children - and feeling proud or alternately getting worried about them. I too have been guilty of this many times in the past. Until I realized the truth that thinking about these milestones is actually taking some joy out of me enjoying her childhood. Having said this, it is difficult not to wonder and I still keep fighting some of these demons in my mind. When I see a 20 month-old jumping gaily, I wonder why DD, who can walk, run, climb and manoeuvre herself well, does not jump? And then, in age-old wisdom, tell myself that each child has his/her pace. A week later, if I see another 2 year old happily doing a jigsaw puzzle, I wonder if DD would be able to do this. And probably this is true for most mothers and is never going to end.

But beyond all these physical and cognitive milestones, which I am fairly sure any normal child will achieve sooner or later, there are the life-skills. And the ability to handle change and adapt quickly, I know, is one of them. And that is precisely why this quality of DD means a lot to me. Not because it allows me peace and makes my life easier, but mainly because I believe this characteristic will make a lot of difference to DD's life, if she retains it into adulthood. And years later, if DD ever comes across this post, I want her to know that she has really really done me proud here.

DD also taught me a life lesson here - that the fear of something is always worse than the 'something' itself. It took me 3 months to mentally prepare myself for this change, and took her exactly 3 days to adapt to it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Miscellaneous updates

The intention of this post is to record certain interesting and entertaining quirks/incidents in the life of the great Drama Queen (that's what DD has morphed into these days) for posterity. She might hate me/kill me for this when she gets to read this. Or maybe I would end up using this post as a weapon to blackmail her a decade or so from now, when she insists on wearing clothes that I do not approve of. Hmm.. not a bad thought at all, considering the fact that she already doesn't quite approve of my choice of clothes for her.
1) While feeding, if even a small amount of food is smeared around her mouth, Her Highness senses it immediately. So what does she do? She wipes it off her face in a quick stroke using the back of her hand, and then regally stretches her hand out to me, the attendant, to wipe clean. And this act is done with such a natural flourish that she almost looks like a princess who is used to being waited upon, and I most definitely feel like her waiting hand maiden.
2) Around 6-7 months back, I once asked DD for a kiss and promptly got one, and being very pleased, I said "thaaank youuu" to her. Post this incident, whenever she kisses me on my cheek, sometimes voluntarily and sometimes on request, she starts saying "Thaaan chu-chu-chu-chu". Mind you, she can say "Thank You" very clearly and correctly. But whenever she kisses, she says "chu-chu-chu-chu-chu" deliberately. And this happens only when she kisses me, not for DH or others.
3) When we laugh out aloud at something, she doesn't like it!! She thinks we are laughing at her and shrieks out "Enna paathu chirikkaathee" (Don't laugh at me). I really don't think we have laughed out aloud at any of her doings/sayings in such a way as to psychologically mar her or anything. And we just don't remember when this started. But at least for the last couple of months, she thinks that all the world is laughing at her :)
4) There is this "song" that DH has been singing(gulp?!!!!?) for her since she was a month old. DH calls her Mimi (pronounced Me-Me) most of the one knows why. So this so-called song goes something like this... my very bad translation in English is enclosed in brackets
"Achante Mimi (Dad's Mimi)
Sunnnnndari Mimi (Beautiful Mimi)
Pakrunni Mimi (cannot be translated - Pakru means roly poly I think and Unni is a general term used for kids)
Vaaaavaaaachiiiiiii" (an endearment again)
Now, based on DH's mood and DD's doings for the day, the words of the songs vary a lot, especially the middle lines.. they can be "chakkara Mimi" or "Luttappi mimi" (a little Devil in a Malayalam cartoon called Mayavi) or "Poth-unni Mimi" ("Pothu" in buffalo in Malayalam and unni being a kid, it roughly means little buffalo).
Of late, when DH sings (he claims he is singing, but it is more like reciting) the first 3 lines, DD chips in and says "Vaaavaaachiiiiii", in chorus with her dad.
5) DD's greatest obsession at this point is Noddy. And her favorite characters apart from Noddy - Martha Monkey and the Goblins- Sly and Gobo. All the mischief and trouble makers of course... Since she is officially hero-worshipping them, I don't think her behavior is going to take a turn for the better anytime now.
Thomas and Friends have always been liked, but are not quite favorites. But of all the trains, she loves Toby the Tram Engine. She listens in rapt attention to the "Toby" song on the DVD and pronounces happily that Toby's coach is called "Enri-etta" (that's how she pronounces Henrietta).
6) DD thinks that my stomach is a bouncing pad for her. I don't blame her for thinking so:). Sometimes she makes me lie down on bed, sits on my tummy and bounces up and down with a vengeance, giggling and chuckling away to herself. Any protest from me or attempt to free myself is met with shrieks and tears.. so in the end, I have to somehow distract her into other games and get away.
There is much more i guess.. but I plan to keep some for my later posts.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Ten Commandments..

These are the ten commandments that form the basis of my life these days. The Ten Commandments of the great, all-encompassing force in my life.....namely DD :-)

  1. Thou Shalt have no other priorities before me. I don’t care if you are hungry or haven’t slept well in 4 days – I want my whims to be catered to and shall have no excuses whatsoever.
  2. Thou shalt not watch a movie or dine in peace. The moment you let down your guard and relax a wee tiny bit, I will call for attention - I will be hungry, thirsty, have a call of nature or at least want to be scratched in my toes for an imaginary mosquito bite.
  3. Thou shalt learn to respect Murphy and his laws. If you think I will sleep off early on a certain day (so you can make your wily plans), I will bound around with unending energy and make sure that you don’t have your way.
  4. Thou shalt learn that “Silence = Trouble”, the hard way. Sudden spells of calm and silence from me are always followed by broken glass/toys, toys thrown out of the balcony or other such damages.
  5. Thou shalt not have things easy, even with the use of brute force. You may be able to forcefully brush my teeth, but I will make sure that I scream my lungs out EVERY SINGLE morning and make all the neighbors cast dirty looks when you step out.
  6. Thou shalt not force me to eat or drink anything against my will. On a good day, I will respond by puking on your hair and dress and on other days, I will throw a tantrum – the blood-curdling kind that will make you want to jump off the balcony and end it all for some peace and quiet.
  7. Thou shalt not forbid me from doing anything. I will do it all the same, probably with more vigor, since the Forbidden Fruit is always more enticing.
  8. Thou shalt not make smug statements to thy friends/hosts - “She never eats//drinks/does …..” – I will set out immediately to prove you wrong and make you eat humble pie.
  9. Thou shalt not underestimate my powers of manipulation. I know exactly how to play on emotions and make you feel like the lowest form of life that ever crawled on this planet. I am also learning how to play you against dad and vice-versa.
  10. Thou shalt, at all times, remember who calls the final shots in this game. And that, if you have any doubt, is ME. Size does not matter.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Nanny vs. daycare

As a mother, this topic is something that has been occupying my thoughts for a long time now, and has contributed significantly to the greying of the few strands of hair left on my pate. So, after so much of my brain (and my so-called youth) has been eaten up in this worry, I still haven't really figured out the answer :-) but I think I am close.

When I started working, DD was only 5 months old. And I knew I had my MIL staying with me for a couple of months at least. So I decided to go with a nanny and registered with some agencies that are known to provide reliable nannies. The process of hunting for a nanny and the problems that I had with the succession of nannies that DD had (the current one is Nanny #3) are fodder for a separate post - or maybe even a series of posts. But things were chugging along and there was nothing major to complain of. So far, so good... till a few months ago, a time came when I had no family at home - no one from my side and no MIL. Since I knew this situation would arise, I had started DD on daycare for 3 hrs a day. And then, the nanny had to bring her home and take care of her till I came back from work.

The current nanny (I will call her N3) is quite good in terms of taking care of DD, cleanliness and all the basic criteria. And yet, I have nagging fears at the back of my mind. And so I opted for a few months of work-from-home and then some flexible timings, all because I couldn't convince myself to leave DD alone with N3 for long durations of time. Whenever I come home from work, I always find DD playing happily, well-fed and in clean clothes.. and I sometimes really think I am raving mad. N3 is good with DD, DD adores her, and things are fine.. and here I am, trying to obsess about problems that do not exist.

Apart from her official days off, N3 bunks at least a day or two each month. She has taken week-long sick leaves, calling in sick once with chikungunya, and another time with viral fever (Luckily both when MIL was around, so I didn't end up taking lots of leave myself). She has abysmal standards of punctuality. If I expected her to come in at 9.30 AM, she has always arrived 20 mts late , never on time. But I have always managed to get a hold on my temper and put up with her, for the single reason that she is good with my child, and that, to me, mattered the most.

2 weeks back, N3 called me one day and told me she was down with Malaria and would not be in for a couple of days. This time, I had to take leave from work to care for DD till she came back, which was 10 days later. And these 10 days gave me a lot of time to think. I tried to compare a reasonably good nanny (N3, in this context) to a good daycare system, seeing which provides better benefits to me and DD. And here is my comparison summary for anyone who cares to read thru:

1) Having a nanny is better in that the child gets personalized care, as against the "institution care" provided by a daycare center. I feel that the personalized care is probably quite important early in childhood (below age 1). The daycare is kind of "institutional-care" and obviously has the merits and demerits of that.

2) As the child grows, one has to be aware of the influences that the nanny has on the child, in terms of language, behavior and many other aspects. For eg, currently DD spends 3 hrs in daycare and 6 hrs in her nanny's care, so obviously she picks up more words/gestures from her nanny. And while it is possible to filter the market for reasonably well-groomed and well-mannered nannies, this can be no comparison to the quality of exposure at the daycare. Unless some of those Victorian governesses are still around :)

3) In my experience, nannies tend to get extremely complacent once they know that the child adores them
and their employer depends fully on them. Now this is a major problem since this upsets the equation, and often, leads to a situation where the employer is scared to rake up an issue with the nanny, lest she leaves. (yeah.. I sometimes maintain stoic silence if the issue is not directly related to DD). A well-run daycare centre normally incorporates valid feedback from parents, being a professionally-run institution.

4) Reliability - Unless one has a live-in nanny, there will ALWAYS be problems related to punctuality, not turning up when expected, undeclared days-off and all the rest of it. I don't know if this is true for countries outside India, or even cities like Mumbai, where domestic help is supposed to be more professional in their approach. But this is what I have seen in Chennai, and largely South India. The daycare obviously is more reliable. Having a live-in nanny would probably solve a lot of day-to-day issues, but if one lives in an apartment, this invariably means a compromise on your family's privacy.

5) How much routine? - Most daycare centres have a routine and the kids in daycare follow the routine, with some variations allowed. Most pareting material says that a child NEEDS a routine. I don't know if this is true for most kids, but it is certainly true for DD. She LOVES routines and seems to have an internal clock to go by schedule! To the extent that 95% of her days are routine-driven. The other 5%, she decides to vary her routine, for whatever reason. These 5% days will not be feasible if she is in a daycare full-time. And I found that when she was around a year old, the non-routine days were closer to 10-15%, but has come down now, due to a number of factors - one of which is that she has only one nap in a day. Which is why I feel that personalized care is needed at smaller ages.

6) Food- the daycare that I have chosen for DD, with all other criteria, insists that the kids should not bring food from home. While this is good from their perspective, since all kids get to eat the same food at the same time, this will probably force the kid to eat something that he/she does not like so much. Individual tastes are not catered to. While this may help the kids adapt better, one is always left with the question of whether they need to start adapting so young

7) Behavior and Discipline - The nanny is less likely to discipline a child, and the child gets the message that throwing a tantrum is the best way to get something he/she wants. In a day-care the child's energies are better spent and of course, better discipline is instilled. In addition, there is the definite advantage of having a peer-group around and learning from each other easily.

8) Health - It is true that if you have a clean and well-trained nanny, it is certainly better for your child's health than a daycare, where the child is exposed to viruses doing the rounds in peer-groups. So in the short run, this may present health problems, which also result in at least one of the parents taking leave from work to take care of the child frequently. But in the long run, this may be better because a child has to develop immunity and doctors opine that this is the only way their body learns.

9) Finally,the parent has to be comfortable with the arrangement. DD seems quite comfortable with being with N3 alone. But I am not, at least not fully. What works for one parent, doesn't for another.

So I am now closer to believing that DD is ready for longer durations at daycare - and so I am planning to extend her timings soon. For me, this reduces the dependence on N3 and also frees my mind from the nagging inhibitions that I have when DD is alone home with N3. But I know she is going to have eating and sleeping troubles initially, and probably going to fall sick more often(if that is possible!). I am promising that I will chant the mantra "Short term pains will lead to long term gains" and hang in there, and wait for her to settle down soon. Fingers Crossed.