Potholes in the Sky is another dad-blog I regularly read.  And, the recent post from Amit on “Swine Flu in Pune” captures a parent’s point of view on India’s growing concern to contain the spread of the H1N1 pandemic :

Pune has the highest number of postive cases in the country. Till very recently, only Naidu Hospital was authorized to conduct tests, then Aundh Chest Hospital was added to the list. Now 15 more locations have been authorized to collect samples. It took one death (the only one in the country) to wake up the administration.

However, from what is being said, the administration is still not conducting tests unless a link to the infected people is established. Sad. When my daughter was suffering from high fever, body ache, cold and sore throat, we called up Naidu Hospital to ask if we should take her there. They didn’t feel it necessary to conduct any tests on her, even though 15+ students of her school had already been detected as positive cases. The poor girl who lost her life, too, was apparently not in contact with any of the infected people. We never learn…

I cannot offer much help to Amit or any one in his predicament, as the situation is not very different in any other major city of India.  The government, for no conceivable reason, has decided to permit only a handful of government-run hospitals to run diagnostic testing and quarantine facilities, with a few more designated as pre-screening centres, while bulk of the private clinics and hospitals are left powerless.  And, officials from the Ministry of Health, and other politicians of repute, are all over the new channels reassuring the public that there is no need to panic, as the reported incidents in India are far below those in US or UK.

In the meanwhile, parents have begun coping with it, as best as they can.  Some are not permitting their children to attend birthday parties or visit crowded theatres and malls, others are skipping a visit to the clinic or hospital for something mild, and still others are resorting to panic-buying of masks to keep the infection at bay. 

A colleague remarked, earlier today, that he asked his domestic help to stay at home for a couple of weeks, since she showed signs of most of the symptoms being reported in the media!  You have to be an Indian to realize the significance of that statement, considering how indispensable domestic help is to any household!!!

Is this sentiment justified or is it paranoia?  As a father of two, I would also be distressed if it were happening in my neighbourhood.  But for most of us in this country of more than a billion, it is merely a “news item” to talk about… Until, that is, the H1N1 symptoms start to appear in our near and dear ones!

As my good friend Amit said, we never learn…

The Journey Within

One of the most profound pieces of writing by MetroDad was buried deep inside a long post… Luckily, I discovered the gem.  Entitled “The Solitude Dilemma“, it describes in great detail MD’s trip to Graceland many years ago.  However, and more importantly, it also reveals what I think is the inevitable tradeoff that any good parent must battle, at least once in their lives:

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that the key to parenting is finding the nexus between making the ultimate sacrifice of always being there for your child while also allowing the time to be alone so you can better know yourself and work on your own personal development. Finding that middle ground is a constant challenge and both are necessary in order to not only happily raise a child but also in order to raise a happy child. I can’t overemphasize how important both those things are.

Because let’s face it. Raising a child requires constant attention and engagement. The stakes are high. It’s not their job to realize that we sometimes need to take a break from the realities of everyday life. All of us, at different points in our life, need to take responsibility for understanding that it’s important to take care of ourselves. It’s better for us. It’s better for our kids.

These two brief paragraphs lucidly capture my own sentiments on the subject, and I encourage you to read them once more.  This is a dilemma that has no easy answers.  And sometimes, even when the answer is clear, the means to implement it is far from it.

There have been many occassions on which the wife and I have battled this very question.  Over the years, we have come to make our peace with it… to an extent, I suppose.  As a parent, you are always torn between the needs of the children and those of your own.  And, the strange thing is, even when we’ve tried hard to breakaway from household duties for just a few hours, we soon find ourselves talking about what the kids did and updating each other on their antics, etc. 

In short, we quickly find ourselves missing them!  That’s when we need to remind ourselves that nurturing our marriage and our selves as individuals is equally important.

As I write this today, there are still many more experiences that I would like to experience… many of them with my wife, and some of them by myself too.  I don’t know how many of these I will actually be able to.  But the quest continues… And, the journey within is far from over.

Ironically, MD’s “Solitude Dilemma” may ring true with countless parents… he is not alone on this!

Another Little Star

We’d been nervous for about a couple of weeks now…  15th June 2009 was the slated day for li’l Tiger to begin playschool, and he would just about be meeting the minimum eligibility age of 20 months.

This time around, the apprehensions were not about the gear – we had that in place.  Tiger would be well equipped with a school bag, a raincoat, a water bottle and a change of clothes.  It wasn’t about the choice of playschool either.  We were thrilled with the experience that Pumpkin had had with LittleStars and would send Tiger to the same one.  What we were worried about was how young he is and so different compared to what Pumpkin was when she first joined.

Earlier this morning, BossLady and I briefly spoke about the differences.  He speaks far less words than she did at the same age.  He’s far more boisterous and naughty than she was.  But, most importantly, he’s a full nine months younger than she was when she first enrolled!!!

How would he cope up with the newness of it all?  How would he be able to communicate to his teacher about his needs and wants?  How would they understand the peculiar language he speaks in?  Only we knew all his short forms and codes – how would they understand?

Letting go of his mama at the doors of the playschool would be impossible.  As an extension, it would also be difficult for him to leave the company of “nima” – the caretaker he’s now grown so fond of.  So, it came upon your’s truly to do the needful.  Once again.

Honestly, I was nervous about it throughout.  But I reminded myself that he’s an ‘enthu bunny’ and he’ll be able to take care of himself.  I also reminded myself that I’d done this all before – I would simply do my “usual” routine of dropping off a new child to their first day at school!

We reached on time and waited our turn.  Once again, I was the only “papa” doing the drop off.  Since early today morning, all of us at home were getting Tiger excited about the prospect of him going to school, and he had some idea of the concept.  But, outside Little Stars, we did not get the opportunity to take it all in before I let go of his little fingers, and sent him off to the classroom…

We’d agreed that BossLady would come and wait soon after my dropping him off, just in case he needed to be sent home early or comforted some more.  And, so she did.  I learned in the afternoon that he’d cried for a bit after entering the classroom, but had soon settled down… It would take a few days more, but for a first day, it had gone pretty well.

Now, if I can only muster up enough courage for tomorrow…

Update : 16th June 2009
The wife sent an SMS… “All is well.  He did not cry at all today!”

We Made It!

It’s been an interesting journey, these last few years.  Since that 2nd of Feb 2004 when Pumpkin was born, every thing really revolved around her needs for the longest time.  Ma was quite involved in Pumpkin’s up-bringing for the first year or two.  However, her health started deteriorating rapidly, soon after.  Some time around early 2006, the rollercoaster of our Life started gaining momentum…

First it was a weekend getaway, then a short-haul vacation that had to be cancelled at the last minute.  Then, came some more surprises by way of Ma’s health, my back surgery and even Pumpkin’s health.  More trips, planned weeks or months in advance, soon started getting cancelled just days away from takeoff.  Then, we got pregnant again.  I was recovering from my back operation during the first two trimesters, and we couldn’t travel anywehere in the last.  Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, Ma suffered an acute asthma attack combined with a massive cardiac arrest.

All in all, over a span of two and a half years, we’d cancelled planned vacations about 7 times, 5-6 being on consecutive occassions!  So much so, that we were beginning to believe that planning or announcing a holiday was itself a jinx.  Not to talk about losses by way of cancellation fees, on each occassion.  During all this time, parenting duties and dealing with medical emergencies kept us busier that we would’ve liked to be, making the “need” for a vacation even more significant.

We did manage to make it to a small holiday with both the kids, and that was fun!  But, not quite the same as getting any time for just the two of us.

Finally, after much deliberation but on an impulse, we decided to take a trip to Thailand for a few days, minus the kids.  Ma’s health was stable for now.  Pumpkin was old enough to stay with her grandparents, and Tiger was young enough to not miss us too much, being occupied by the full-time domestic help who he’d grown to like.

So, I got all the tickets and visas and hotel bookings arranged.  And, did extensive research on what to do when we reach there.  And, we were scheduled for takeoff on the 15th of Apr 2009.  Of course, as luck would have it, just days before our departure, Thailand faced political protests in Pattaya and Bangkok.  I also came down with a bad muscle spasm in my back which saw me bed-ridden for a few days.  An x-ray and an orthopedic visit confirmed that medicines and rest would get me back on my feet, but there were no such guarantees about the Red Brigade of protestors storming the streets of Bangkok, asking for the PM to resign.

Reluctantly – very reluctantly – we cancelled all our bookings in Thailand, and wondered what we could do, locally, at such a short notice, given that it was peak summer-vacation travel season in India… 

Finally, we settled on our second-home : Goa.  We’d been to Goa so many, many times, and so loved coming back each year.  But, this time, it would be different.  For the first time in 5 years, it would be a vacation for just the two of us.  Frankly, we were not just worried for the kids, but also wondered whether we would survive being away from the kids or not!  But we took the courage to go ahead with the plan… knowing fully that we may not get this opportunity for a long time to come…

The last 3 days in Goa has been a surreal experience, to say the least.  Until this trip, getting a few “minutes” to ourselves was kinda impossible.  But here, entire days have been spent on doing what we love to do the most… without interruptions.  So, whether it’s heading out to Souza Lobo’s for prawn curry rice or pottering around Baga market on a scooter, every thing is different with and without kids.  Even lazing around in the room on a sweltering summer day is so much more peaceful and calming, when you don’t have to deal with something or the other every few minutes.

Of course, missing the kids is natural – we spend all our time with them, while in Bombay.  But, this was a much, much-needed vacation.  And, I’m glad we were able to do this.  In fact, in many ways, going to Thailand would’ve been far more hectic, not allowing us this much time to catch up with each other!

Tomorrow, we take the flight home… But, the memories of this short holiday in Goa will stay with us for years to come…

P.S. This was written on the new Lenovo Ideapad S10, while in Goa!

P.P.S : Coming home to a really warm welcome to the kids was such an experience in itself!  Tiger was practically dancing with joy when he saw us come through the door, and Pumpkin was categorical in how much she “missed” both of us… In her own inimitable style, she described it as “from here till South America”!!!

Parenting: The Real Answers

I must share with you another gem from one of my favourite dad blogs – MetroDad – this time on “All Your Parenting Questions Answered!”  Here’s the background in MD’s own words:

Anyway, whenever someone writes me for parenting advice, I usually do take the time to answer them seriously… I figure that anyone who takes time out of their day to write me a serious e-mail about parenting deserves a serious answer. However, most of the time, these are the replies that I really want to send…

By his own admission, MD has no background in pediatrics or child psychology.  But, like any good parent, he has also confessed to have “read every parenting and baby book ever written in English when he found out he was going to be a father”.

The writeup handles most of the tough questions you’d like answers to, including:

  • When is a child too old to breast feed?
  • My child is a fussy eater. What should I do?
  • Is it ok to like one of your children more than the other?

and, the best of all …

  • How do you know if you are ready to become a parent?

If you are a parent or are planning to be one someday, this one is a must-read!

Tiger’s First Birthday

It feels like only yesterday when I posted my brief thoughts on 365 days of Fatherhood.  Today, when I review that post, I discover that it was written almost four years ago!  Time certainly flies when you have kids…

Last week, my second child – Tiger – turned one.  For several weeks before that, the wife and I discussed our options about how we should celebrate this milestone event.  The typical expectation from friends and family is that a child’s first birthday is a momentous occassion and deserves a grand party.  Our thoughts have always been a bit contrary.

On Pumpkin’s first birthday too, our reasoning was that, at that age, the child is too young to even understand the importance of the occassion, or make the most of the celebrations.  So we’d kept it a quiet affair, and called immediate family for dinner and cake.  The reasoning hadn’t changed much, but we also decided to do a little more, this time around…

We had, in fact, decided to keep it small: Just the family, some takeout dinner and cake cutting.  Tiger was now at an age where he would develop motor control, so we bought him a gigantic activity-box with lots of bells and whistles, as his birthday present.  (We were more experienced as parents now, remember?)

Ma was keen on buying him a dhoti-kurta, and she managed to get one in his size after much effort.  It turned out to be well worth the trouble, as he looked simply adorable in it!  Tiger’s aunt Reshma also bought him a cute sniffer dog pull-along toy which he simply refused to stop following around.  We even remembered to get Pumpkin a “return gift”, so that she does not feel left-out of the entire experience.

For me, one of the most exciting aspects of the celebration was an idea I hit upon, while googling some parenting/baby sites – a Time Capsule!

I asked BossLady to buy a little box which we would designate as the TimeCapsule, and then announced to the family that the TimeCapsule will be open for contributions all of this week.  Each one can choose to put in something small that is reflective of the year 2008 – the first year of Tiger’s life on Earth.  We would present the box to him, when he reaches ten years of age!  (If you’re reading this and would like to contribute, you’re welcome to it.)

One last thing: One of the most satisfying aspects of the occassion was also our decision to spend the monies saved from the “grand party” towards the benefit of underprivileged children.  We found a day-care facility – MobileCreche – that caters to nearly 80 children of construction workers, free of charge, in an effort to keep them off the dangerous construction sites where their parents work.  They provide them with a basic meal, some playful activity, and a little bit of education, to help them pass their day productively.

The children ranged in age from 2 months to 14 years, and the attendants were doing a mighty fine job with them.  We bought bags of toys, doodlers, crayons, educational charts, etc. and presented it to the Center, so that a hundred children could benefit from it, instead of spending the money on a party full of grown-ups.

Of course, you only have to hear their enthusiastic greetings once, or see their faces light up like a hundred candles, to understand the joy that comes from giving.

Read More: Why MobileCreches?

Parenting 2.0

A few weeks ago, I ran into a friend who’d recently started reading this blog.  He was surprised to note that I actually have two kids!  Then, some days later, my wife remarked: How come you don’t post stuff on Tiger, like you so frequently do on Pumpkin?

My immediate reply to her was that the “interesting stuff” comes later, and I’ll post when I have something to post about.  But, it sure got me thinking: Was I really discriminating against one child, unknowingly?

I know that, as a parent, I have a “different” relationship with my boy – Tiger – than I do with my daughter Pumpkin.  But, I’m not sure exactly why.  I searched the archives and discovered that the last time I posted something on Tiger was way back in March.  Why was that?  Really.

He has not even begun talking yet.  All he does (all day, really) is nurse and play.  Now that he’s started crawling, he loves to chase his elder sister, all around the house.  He loves perky music, and dances while sitting in one place, moving round-and-round in a circular pattern, with peculiar hand movements.  And, he loves to see me come home from work, rewarding me with a big grin each time!

So, it’s not what he’s doing today, as much as what I think he will do tomorrow, that’s different.

For starters, he’s a boy.  And, will not need half as many accessories as Pumpkin does even today.  That includes hair clips, hair pins, hair bands, perfumes, skin cream, face cream, party shoes, party belts, jackets, etc. etc.  (She does look adorable when she dresses up, though…)

Thanks to the presence of little Tiger, as the years go by, I also hope it gets a little easier to maintain my sanity around a house filled with a daughter, a wife, a mother, a sister and two maids – It’s an all-woman team!

Frankly, I don’t know what his likes or dislikes will be.  I’m not sure if he will fancy fashion magazines or football.  I have no idea if he will be a quiet, reserved and shy preschooler or a loud, aggressive brat.  Be that as it may, he holds the promise of a buddy – someone who will “get” how men think.  And, someone, for whom I can be the one who “gets it”.

I know that a “Father and Son” relationship is quite a different ballgame.  And, I anxiously look forward to the new experience…

A Baby’s Death

A long trail of links led me to a shocking story about the death of a baby on a flight to India:

Minutes from landing at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on June 17, Krishnamoorthy and Sujata Mohan noticed that their four-and-a-half-month-old baby, Aditya, had stopped suckling. He was declared dead on arrival.

Aditya’s parents’ have posted a detailed account of what happened on flight 229, and started an online petition, in an effort to “ensure that no other parent ever suffers through the ordeal of seeing their baby die in their hands while in an aircraft”:

As a parent, I will continue to re-live Aditya’s final moments, asking myself if I could have done anything different to save the life of our child. I will never be able to forgive myself for not having acted differently, whatever that action could have been. Similarly, I want Jet Airways and authorities to conduct a more thorough investigation of the above and other aspects and provide me the answers.

As a parent, I was left stunned.  Frankly, I have no idea how I would’ve reacted if any thing like this were to ever happen to me!  The least I can do, as a responsible citizen and parent of two, is bring up the subject for discussion on this blog.

Veeresh Malik, narrating his own near-fatal experience in a comment on the same post, made a cogent argument:

Cabincrew are increasingly, especially with private airlines in India, selected for their looks and appearance. Beyond a very basic St. John’s Ambulance/Red Cross First Aid Course, they get hardly any training in medical treatment…

What do these multi billion dollar airplanes have?  Zilch. A lady in a tight skirt who would not know a stroke or heart attack if it happened in front of her in spades and buckets… even a ferry crossing the English Channel in a few hours – has a full medical staff on board.

Now, I don’t know about young Aditya’s medical history, his parents’ level of basic health knowhow or the doctors’ credentials who checked on the little baby during the flight and on landing.  But, from my perspective, the post and the comments that followed, sowed the seeds for some difficult questions to be asked of ourselves:

* How informed should we, as passengers, be on matters of safety in a flight?

* How much should newbie parents know about health and safety issues, when travelling with infants?

* What should we expect from airlines/airports as the minimum standard of medical facilities?

As a Quality and Process Management professional, I also cannot help but wonder at the sheer criticality of designing a suitable process to handle such a crisis.  If the people who laid down the current policies and procedures knew what Aditya Mohan’s parents had to face, would they do any thing differently?

Once again, I am reminded of the importance of self-empowerment through self-awareness: Matters of health and safety are just too significant to be left to airlines, airports or even (in some cases) medical practitioners

As I keep reminding my friends and family, we spend more time and energy researching the next mobile phone or LCD TV we’re thinking of buying, than we do learning how to identify a heart attack or a stroke!

Start reading more on Health.  The time to do it is NOW!

Numero Uno

Yet again, my lovely daughter – Pumpkin – uttered those wonderful words: “Mama, I love you the best of all !”  And, once again, my wife – BossLady – could not help but feel bad, wondering how I would be feeling about it. 

It had been happening more frequently than ever, lately.  Many a time, her little brother – Tiger – was also included in the superlative utterances.  The four items top-most on the list were : Mama, Tiger, Mary and Fluffy (her soft-toy) dog.  Mostly, it was Mama-and-Tiger, and sometimes also Mary-and-Fluffy.  But, never me.

So, when it happened for the umpteenth time the other day, I spotted some tears in BossLady’s eyes.  I told her I was really ok with it, and would explain it to her in detail soon.  I also remembered reading an eloquent post on this very dilemma, on MetroDad, so I googled it today to refresh my memory:

As I’ve mentioned here before, during the first year of the Peanut’s life, I was The Man!  To my lovely little daughter, I was the living embodiment of Christmas, Elmo, and an all-you-can-eat ice cream buffet…

But after her first year, I dropped in the standings.  BossLady was #1, the nanny was #2, and I was a distant third.  When we switched the Peanut to daycare, I thought I’d move up to the #2 spot but I was quickly displaced by one of the Peanut’s teachers.  Damn!

Now, although I have a vicious competitive streak, I would never try and compete with the BossLady for my daughter’s affections… So, if the Peanut loved BossLady more than she did me, so be it.  C’est la vie.  I wasn’t going to try and compete for her affections and I was just going to have to learn to accept that, in her own little way, the Peanut loved me too. Mature, eh?


My own perspective is not unlike the one that MetroDad has blogged about.  Up until the point where he does reach the Numero Uno status, that is.  (I still haven’t!

Sure, there’s a part of me that craves for the attention that the wife enjoys with Pumpkin, even if it’s just for a little bit.  But, most of the time, I’m glad that BossLady and Tiger are that someone special for Pumpkin.  (And Mary, who’s loved her unconditionally since the day she was born.) 

In fact, there was a time when only Mary had the #1 status, and there were no #2 to # 10!!! 

So, when Pumpkin did grow to knowing her mother and understanding how much she loves her, I was only too glad.  Today, my little Tiger has shot up to the top spot from nowhere.  And, that’s alright too.  Some day, the list may also include moi… I’m not in a hurry.  As a wise man once said, “No appointment, No disappointment”. 

Bottom line: I couldn’t have asked for a more loving family.