Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Illusions!

Since last three years, October 31st has been a special day for us –it was time to get into the spirit of Halloween - time to carve Jack-O-lanterns , attend costume parties, and knock at your neighbor’s door along with your little one expecting treats! Well… feels like dejavu ….just like I used to wish I was back home in Bangalore for each Diwali the last three years, I now find myself wishing that I was in the US for this year’s Halloween only for the sake of seeing my five year old donning a funky costume! Though Bangalore can now boast of hosting a few Halloween celebrations here and there, nothing matches up to the real thing! Anyway, whether Abhay got to attend a costume party or not, I made sure he didn’t miss the best part of Halloween! We dressed him in his favorite Thomas costume and took him to a few houses and tricked our friends/family into treating him with candies….candies and more candies!

The best part of Halloween for Abhay may be candies, but the best part for me is that I get to read a special book for him just for this occasion! Quite impressed that I could find one in Just books, I read “Trick or Treat” by Melissa Arps and illustrated by Hector Borlasca. A board book in the shape of a pumpkin with a string on top that reminded Abhay of his very own pumpkin candy bag that we had left behind. A little boy goes trick-or treating on Halloween when a big hairy monster appears and asks for something sweet to eat. So when he digs into his candy bag to pull out a lollipop orange and white, another monster, a goblin wants his own bite! As he tries to meet the goblin’s demands, he finds goblin bringing in his other friends. So as he tries to satiate the monsters, one by one, he finds his candy bag empty, with chocolates none! As the monsters leave, he lets out a sigh as he has more hidden in a place that no one can guess – his hat! So it’s not only kids, monsters too can’t have enough candies on this haunted day!   For all our friends in the US –  missing all the witches, draculas, batmen, bunnies, catwomen, and ghosts of Portland and here’s wishing you all a very happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Diwali Dhamaka!

Well....this has been the story of our Diwali this year! I must admit that its not only Abhay but both my husband and I had rather fallen out of touch with the all the noise and smoke associated with Diwali in India. In fact, we were surprised to disover that my husband has grown allergic to the smoke from the firecrackers! If three years in the US does this to you.....then one can only imagine how dfficult it would be for people who've lived abroad for most of their adult lives! Anyway, we are happy we took the call and that too early enough for us as well as our son to live and experience India the way Indians do - whether at home, or on the road, or in the mall, or at the temple or even when bursting sound emtting crackers at 10 Pm at night! :-)

Anyway, with my husband's running nose and my son covering his ears, it was left to me keep up the spirit of Diwali!  So we did light a few sparklers and flower pots to celebrate our biggest festival  like it is meant to be! I guess there are many books on Diwali, and I particularly recall reading Lights for Gita by Rachna Gilmore and illustrated by Alice Priestly - the story of Gita celebrating Diwali in a place far away from her native hometown of Delhi, ideal for people living abroad.  But since we no longer fit that category, I was looking for something more informative on the Hindu festival of lights. Moreover, Abhay has no recollection of his first Diwali in 2007, this year, so as to speak is his first Diwali in a "Diwali" sense in India! So I read DK's "My first Diwali", a board book, the only book on Diwali I could lay my hands on! The book explains the story of Diwali in the form of colorful illustrations featuring children that may interest your little one. The book also sheds light on how Diwali is celebrated today - like wishing relatives and friends, exchanging gifts, wearing new clothes, decorating the house, lighting diyas, worshipping Godess Lakshmi, gorging on sweets and savories and finally bursting crackers! A good way to introduce your little one into celebrating Diwali without covering his ears! :-) Happy Diwali to everyone!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Three's a crowd!

Abhay’s school had barely reopened after Dassera vacations when it closed down for Diwali...again! I mean seriously…….why do these kids have so many holidays….that too two days before Diwali? With schools declaring holidays so often, they are hardly a bankable childcare option.  Without home support in the form of family or hired help, it looks as if there are no easy answers to childcare concerns in India too!  Anyway, with schools closed all over Bangalore and two of Abhay’s closest cousins visiting us, ours is mad house of three musketeers – aged 9,7 and 5!! I need not get specific as to who is aged nine, seven or five as when they get together – age is just a number and boys will after all be boys! J

So in order to temper down the boisterous boys, I was on the lookout for some quiet activity and sure enough, I turned to books. I recently discovered a wonderful series called the Baby Bahadur series authored by Radhika Chadha and illustrations by Priya Kurien. A couple of weeks ago, I had read “Im so sleepy” – the first in the series. Abhay loved it enough for me to hunt for the others in the series. One of my readers even suggested another story revolving around these adorable animal characters. So I had these boys tune to the tales from the land of Baby Bahadur. In the hope of getting them to do the same, I read “Snoring Shanmugam” – a book published in three languages – English, Kannada and Hindi. Not being able to find the English version, I tried my hand at reading the Kannada book –“Gorakegara Shanmugam”. Though it had been a while since I read the Kannada script, I must say that I didn’t let my school Kannada teacher down!:-)
Anyway, this is the story of Shanmugam, the lion supposed to be the king of the jungle, who spends most of his day, sleeping. As if that is not enough, Shanmugam is also infamous for his loud snores – khhorrhrrh……. and breathing out sounding like ‘phsheew”! Unable to carry on with this noisy sleepy habit, all the animals decide to put an end to Shanmugam’s snores louder than his roars. With the help of mother elephant, they turn Shanmugam sideways that stops his snoring. But a danger lurking in the forest gets all the animals to retrace their steps and rather rejoice in his snoring. Thank God for Snoring Shanmugam, he inspired many more to the same!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Power cut!

With over two months since our move back to India, Abhay has completely settled down in his new home, new school and new surroundings. In fact, it seems as if he has always been here and never lived away for the last three years! It is we adults who can’t stop comparing the US with India, esp. when  stuck in Bangalore’s traffic, or try to cross a road, or see someone cut the line while waiting to be billed at a grocery store or when you greet someone you think you know who is determined to respond back with a grumpy face!!! Anyway, though Abhay seems to have got on well with his Bangalore life, there are still some things that give him away – mosquitoes and power cuts!
As I’m still working on his fear of mosquitoes, ( which, by the way, deserves a separate post by itself) I tried to tackle his ‘current’ problem. “Power Cut” a bilingual book by Sowmya Rajendran   came to my rescue. There is a power cut and suddenly everything is engulfed in darkness.  When mother lights a candle, shadows form that engage the entire family in a game of animals chasing each other. First comes a cat, then a deer followed by a snake and then finally an elephant all playing tag and forming a silhouette on the wall. But when the lights come on, they all disappear and reveal their true colors as father, brother, grandma and grandpa! As I read this book, Abhay was reminded of his grandma’s fun finger play and expected me to do the same. So amma, the next time we have a power cut, Im sending him to you!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Grandma's Eyes

Last Friday was Grandparents’ day at Abhay’s school and Abhay was the only one to have all his four grandparents call on him while many others sadly missed theirs. One thing is certain, Abhay has been the happiest about our move back to India – with his paternal grandparents at home and maternal grandparents living nearby, he couldn’t have asked for more! As much as I'm glad that Abhay is surrounded by his doting grandparents,  I also envy him as I never had an opportunity to get to know my paternal grandparents and my maternal grandma was living in a different city. In fact, it’s not only his grandparents, Abhay also enjoys the support of his 94 year old great grandma, who rushes to her great-grand son's rescue the minute we pull him up for something. No wonder he cannot wait to come back from school to a full house with four generations living under its roof. Though not as active as she used to be, Abhay ’s great grandma makes the most patient audience for all his silly antics. Now confined to a wheelchair, she regrets not being able walk around the house with her great grandson like she used to.  But wheelchair or no wheelchair, nothing stops Abhay from plonking himself on his dodda-ajji’s lap! 

So today I read “Grandma’s eyes” by Sandhya Rao, pictures by Ashok Rajagopalan. A moving pictures book written both in Kannada and English, this is a book more for two-three year olds than five year olds. But the illustration of grandma in this book reminded me so much of Abhay’s great grandma that I had to read this to him. Also, I trust both my mom and mother in law to strongly assert that they look nothing like the “grandma’ in the picture…so I felt safe to turn to Abhay’s great-grandma to do the honors!:-) Anyway, a little boy feels that his grandma’s eyes watch him well, grandma’s arms hold him tight, grandma’s laugh make him laugh, grandma’s songs help me sleep. Though grandma’s stories are for everyone, but grandma’s lap is only for him! A book that celebrates grandparent-hood through the eyes of a grandchild – a must read for any grandma-grandchild duo!  

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Today is my day!

Kids have a mind of their own and most kids, like adults despise being told what to do. My son is no exception and in fact he tends to go a little overboard when it comes to doing the opposite of what we want! I’m hesitant to follow up on any of Abhay’s must-do activities, like brushing his teeth, finishing up his milk or food, washing up after an outdoor play or completing his schoolwork, etc fearing that he might launch a go-slow movement! The moment I begin to nag, he begins to resist and the more he resists, the more I nag – a vicious cycle I’m not able to break! What is the solution? Relaxing the rope or tightening it even more? 

Today I read a book that suggests a middle path - give them a day off, one day when no one tells them what to do or where to go. “Today is my Day” by Anushka Ravishankar and Piet Grobler. A little girl named Tala finds her entire day spent in acting on the orders of everyone else – her dad swinging his arms to wake her up, her sister sending her off to brush her teeth, her grandma ordering her to have milk, her math teacher instructing her to find the solution to eight ninety five multiplied by three, her dance teacher yelling at her to bend her knees and finally her mother turning off the TV and sending her to bed! She feels that time has come for her to rebel and today is her day, might as well! Today, she is in no mood to have other people order her around and decides to put her little foot down. So she lets her imagination run wild as she tackles all of them, feeling riled- she sees her father turn into a bird flying high in the sky, her sister’s mouth turn into a slimy snout of a crocodile, her grandma mooing like a cow, math teacher turning into a multiply sign, her dance teacher freezing into a statue and her mom singing bedtime tunes on the television. Tomorrow, she admits  is a different story as everything can go back to normal as tomorrow is not her day, but today she asserts is "MY day"! A wonderful rhyming tale serving as an eye opener into the minds of our little independence seekers!  I should say Abhay quite liked Tala’s mommy being trapped inside the TV, singing lullabies!:-) Well…..we all want OUR days ….don’t we? If we can’t have ours, the least we could do is give them THEIR days …..Till they become one of us! :-)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wake me up!

If getting my five year old to bed is a challenge, getting him out of it in the morning is a whole new ball game!   After over two weeks of vacation, Abhay is reluctant to get back to his routine of waking up at around 6.45 Am only to snooze off in his school bus an hour later!  I have tried everything from stories to incentives to threats to actual implementation of threats…..but each morning he simply refuses to stir out of his bed!  Frankly, this whole waking-up- in-time-to-catch-the-school-bus is new to me too. In the US, more than Abhay, I was used to dropping him off to school as and when he was ready, but in Bangalore, I would rather have him miss school than face the prospect of driving him myself to his school! Of course, Abhay is only too happy to miss school to spend another day at home that keeps his grandparents on their toes! So in the interest of everyone at home….I have to get him out the bed! 

So today I read “Get out of Bed” by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Alan & Lea Daniel. This is the story of Amy who in the middle of the night, instead of sleeping, walks into her living room to watch the late show, the late late show and then the very early show, the early show until she passes out! The next morning, as her parents and her brother get ready to start their day, Amy refuses to get out of bed in the morning. So her brother comes up with a crazy but effective solution to this problem – they drag Amy to school along with her bed on which she sleeps soundly as they carry her bed down their street, round the corner, through the schoolyard and into the school! They put the bed in Amy’s classroom and leave when everyone in school tries their luck at waking up Amy. But Amy snores on blissfully through the English class, Arithmetic class, art class, gym, and through recess. Finally as it is time to go when her parents and brother carry Amy back who still seems to be in a surfeit of sleep! Amy is brought back home and promptly taken to her room when she continues to zzzzzzzz! The next morning, she wakes up at the crack of dawn all fresh and hungry! When her mother and later her teacher ask her if she has had a good sleep, she replies in the affirmative but complains of being haunted by strange dreams! When Amy walks into her classroom, she is shocked to find all her classmates in deep slumber on their respective beds! So if you little one doesn’t  get out of bed……you know what to say!!! 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Forgetting to sleep?

I don’t understand what it is that these kids have against going to bed at night! Though setting a sleep routine for Abhay has always been a challenge, it has now become next to impossible! Ever since Dassera vacations have begun, my son has turned nocturnal with his energy levels peaking at night just when my tolerance level is at an all time low!  Most moms would agree that there are days when all you want to do is to hit the bed and by sheer co incidence or otherwise, that’s the last thing your little one wants to do! Well…..when what you wish for them to do is what they wish to avoid and what you wish they avoid is what they are hell-bent on doing  – that’s what parenting is all about! :-)

Anyway, with vacations at its fag end , I was keen on getting Abhay to bed on time in preparation for school all set to reopen in the next couple of days. To my delight, I found a book apt for my setting written by a mom just like me in an attempt to get her little one to bed! “I’m so sleepy” by Radhika Chadha and pictures by Priya Kuriyan, a book in the Baby Bahadur series. This is a story of a baby elephant named Bahadur who has, like my baby, forgotten how to sleep! So one night when his amma had gone visiting  a relative, he felt sleepy but just couldn’t remember how to sleep! He decided to seek help from his friends and first approached Shanmugam, the lion, who was in a deep slumber. As he tried to wake him up, he was told by a monkey that lions are known to sleep all day and wake up at night. Bahadur then turned to his monkey friend, Manu who asked him to climb up the tree to sleep next to him when the little elephant knew better than sleeping on a tree! So he moved on and came across Ritu, the rabbit who invited the sleepy Bahadur into her little hole to retire for the day. But Bahadur was sure that let alone his whole self, not even his trunk could fit into the hole! He was convinced that elephants hardly sleep in burrows and called on his other friends from Chandu the crocodile, to Paytu the pig, to Kamalnayan the camel and Hutoxi the horse, all in a quest for a good night’s sleep. When he sees Hutoxi, the horse sleeping standing up, Bahadur has a brain-flash and finds a tree nearby to fall fast asleep leaning against it, like all elephants do! Abhay liked this book for sure, but I loved this book not only for its charming storyline but also its interesting animal characters with even more interesting alliterating names  -  I mean….have you ever come across a camel named Kamalnayan? Abhay  remembered his dear friend Ritu from Portland days when he read about Ritu, the rabbit!  This book can also serve as a good memory game for your little one, which, of course you wouldn’t want to try out at bedtime, lest they too forget to sleep! :-)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A folktale for Dasara

It’s the festival season in India and after a gap of three years, it feels like rediscovering Navaratri and Diwali, two of the biggest Hindu festivals celebrated during this time. Though I have grown up celebrating Ayudha Pooja, attending Navaratri festivities at temples, or calling on neighbors who exhibit their Dasara dolls collection, it is a whole new experience for my five year old. This festive splendor can compare with the Holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas in the US. This is the time to go on a guilt-free shopping spree or go on an eating binge or go on a temple tour or on  a vacation and I  confess that except the temple visit, I have done it all this festival season….and may be gone a little overboard as if to make up for the last three years!:-) 

Anyway, with schools closed for Dasara vacations, I was looking for ways to engage Abhay and found a few places holding folk arts and crafts designed to sensitize kids to their roots. So today I read a book based on a Marati folktale “Ekki Dokki” retold by Sandhya Rao and Ranjan De. This is a tale of two sisters – Ekkisvali and Dokkeswali fondly known as Ekki and Dokki respectively. Ekki had one strand of hair on her head and Dokki had two. Dokki was very proud of her two strands of hair and always tried to show off to her sister. Fed up with her sister’s jeers, Ekki runs into the forest. As she runs deeper and deeper into the forest, she hears a voice calling for water. After a quite a search, she spots a withered bush in need of water. As she collects water from a nearby stream and sprinkles it on the bush, the mendhi bush thanks her for the help. As she moves on, she hears another voice calling for food when she finds a cow tied to a dead tree. The kind girl that she is, Ekki gathers some leaves and feeds them to the emaciated creature. She also unties the knot and sets the cow free who can’t thank her enough. As soon as she bids goodbye to the cow, she soon finds a mud hut with a thatched roof. An old lady comes out of the hut and invites her in. Ekki makes herself comfortable in the house when the old lady asks her to take a bath and have lunch. Ekki surprised to find such a hospitable environment in the middle of nowhere does as she is told. After an oil bath, Ekki is delighted to see long black tresses fall over her shoulders and found that she had the most beautiful hair anyone could imagine. She runs home, stopping only to accept the cow’s milk and the Mendhi bush’s mendhi paste. When she reaches home, her parents are thrilled to have her back and that too with a makeover!  But Dokki, her jealous sister cant bear to look at her and instead rushes off to the forest in the hope of an encore. But Dokki being selfish and self centered, didn’t hear the bush or the cow and heads straight to the old lady’s hut demanding a special bath. The old lady concedes to her demand and asks her take bath. When she does, Dokki excitedly unwrapped the towel from her head to find that she has lost all her hair! The message from this folk tale though not obvious makes your little one think of the consequences of their actions and triumph of good over bad, which is why we celebrate Navaratri. Dasara greetings to everyone!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dosa Delight!

Every Indian would swear by the fact that there is no place like India when it comes to food – be it lunch or dinner at your regular vegetarian restaurant or a gourmet restaurant, or mini meals or snacks at a Darshini style fast food joint or baked savories at Iyengar bakery, or roadside chat, and of course chilli bajjis dished out by your neighboring gaadiwala – variety is the true spice of your appetite! J While in the US, though we got to sample various cuisines around the world, I remember my constant lament over the lack of many choices for vegetarians like me, especially in places like Texas or Hawaii. Added to this, we found not many places catering to our Indian Palette when we craved for some savory snacks during teatime. I mean seriously, a cinnamon swirl or a banana walnut cake is hardly a match to our good old aloo bonda  to go with your cup of chai! Anyway, when you are on the road with a picky eater like my five year old ……thank God for Dosas!!!

It didn’t take too long for Abhay to turn from curd rice boy to the dosa boy! So today I found a book that titled “Dosa” by Sandhya Rao and pictures by Ashok Rajagopalan. Though a book more for toddlers, it did not fail to charm my five year old dosa lover!  Amma makes Dosa for Bapa who is busy reading newspaper. Amma makes one, two, three, four and many more dosas for Bapa who seemed to gulp them down in no time. Finally tired of making dosas, amma asks Bapa if she can stop making dosas. Then Bapa seems surprised and asks her when she even started as he claimed to have eaten none! Amma doesn’t believe bapa when he asks a question bothering amma and the readers ‘Who ate the dosas?" As we turn the last page, we  find the answer – we see a picture of a pet dog waging its tongue! Read “Dosa” to your little dosa lover but make sure you have the dosa batter ready!:-)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Question of questions!

Questions questions and more questions, Abhay is full of them just like any average five year old. But Abhay’s repository of questions has increased multifold after we’ve moved back to India. Questions on everyday things we take for granted – “why are the roads so bumpy? Why do drivers honk all the time? Or Why is the Indian police dressed in brown?”; Questions that are hard to answer even for adults – Why are there so many mosquitoes when there were none in Portland? Questions leading to further questions – Why do I have to ride the school bus? Why can’t you drop me to school like you used to? Questions that make you squirm – Why don’t I have a sister? Finally questions that would delight my mother in law – Why don’t you wear a bindi like ajji

Anyway, in response to a friend’s request to dig up some local stuff, today I read “The Why Why girl” by  Mahasweta Devi. Narrated by the famous writer herself, this is a true story of a ten year old Tribal girl named Moyna. While working with the tribal group named Shabars, the author saw a girl chasing a snake and when stopped, she asks “But why shouldn’t I?” Fascinated by the curious little girl, the author encourages her to question even more! Moyna then boldly raises questions about everything from nature to science to society to lack of basic amenities in the tribal world to exploitation by the landlords and there is no stopping her! One day, she decides to go to school but finds the school timings unsuitable for cowherds and goatherds like her. With the power of her questions, she becomes the first girl admitted to her village primary school! Moyna grows up to be a teacher in the same school and now it’s not only Moyna but her students too  aren’t afraid to ask “why”! Though an educative story, it failed sustain Abhay’s interest till the end as he couldn’t quite relate to the harsh realities of a tribal’s life.  I feel its a  book more for parents than kids so that the next time your child asks “Why” …you can pause and answer him “Why not”!