Valor

I grew up hearing about this legend every now and then. “Once a Tamil woman drove a tiger away using a winnow.” Of course, as a kid I did not think much of this “story in a nutshell” that was passed down generation to generation and invoked to demonstrate courage or questioning a lack of it. But as I heard it recently, I started having questions. Was a hand woven winnow such a tough weapon or the tiger was more like a cuddly little fellow? Who is she and what really happened? why do we not know her name at the least? Here is a little imagination as an attempt to answer these questions!

Lets travel back in time, a few hundred years from now, to a tiny place in what is now called the state of Tamil Nadu, in the southern part of India. A small mountain rises above the green Earth and kisses the fluffy white clouds. It’s slopes are thickly carpeted with lush green trees, plants and ferns on all sides. The dense forest all around are sacred home to a few hundred life forms. Birds, animals, fishes, butterflies, insects… so much variety, so much color, so much commotion! And still a sense of tranquility transcends them all. A small hut settlement, a total of ten to fifteen houses, is seen a few hundred feet from the foot of this hill. A cool breeze brushes our faces, travels past and gently plucks the fingers of the coconut tree leaves lined up majestically row after row, as if a professionally trained hand is playing harp. The combined orchestra from the songs of the birds caresses our heart. The clouds form groups, stopping and gossiping, breathing in all this beauty down below and then slowly move on.

We reach a house in the middle of this small village, with a mango tree covering the porch. Under the mango tree, there is a woman sitting and winnowing chaff from rice grains. She is holding a hand-woven winnow, widely used for this purpose even to this day. One look at her and we could say she is the daughter of this Mother Nature! She sits there as an embodiment of all this prosperity, elegance and beauty. Inside the house, her six month old baby is blissfully asleep in a hammock made out of her soft cotton wedding sari. Her luscious thick hair coiled with jasmine flowers gently curls up and dozes off over her smooth shoulder. Soaking up all this sweetness surrounding her, she reflexively hums a tune. Her husband is returning home this evening, the very thought of which fills her eyes with dreams. A faint smile spreads on her lips and she quickly buries her blush in the dimples of her cheeks. She forgets herself for a few minutes, and some more.

The gentle breeze turns faster, harder. Mother Nature’s beautiful soft face tightens up in a flash. The songs of the birds are now turned into shrieks. She peels her attention off of the rhythmic movement of the winnow and looks up. She feels a hard ball sinking into her lower abdomen. Her throat dries up and she has to forcefully swallow the saliva. She tries to find the reason for this rapid change. She scans every direction for clues. That moment, the very moment when her mind grasps the object of her quest, her breath freezes. Every strand of her body hair stands up on high alert and her eyes enlarge showing the full glory of her iris. Longingly she turns towards her tiny bundle of joy, sleeping inside, oblivious to all this perplexity.

In the periphery she feels a shadow move and her eyes dart towards that direction. It is right there, standing at the gates. It’s body shining like gold under the mid-morning sun with scars of darkness slapped as stripes all over. It’s strong and powerful legs step one after the other and move towards her, reverberating with arrogance and a strange sense of possession over her. With every passing split-second, her heartbeat races higher and higher until she could hardly feel the air move through her lungs. She is frightened and starts questioning all the protective fences that she trusted till this day. The almighty God that protects her from every trouble big and small, her dearest husband with whom she exchanged vows of safety for life, the disciplined life in an orderly society where everyone looks out for one another. How did she end up all alone? She called to her Savior Goddess, Ellaiamma, the Goddess with red eyes and eighteen hands, whom her entire village worships every new moon day, praying to fight off all evil spirits. “Ellaiamma, how did your heart agree to let me, your beloved daughter, get into this terrifying situation?”, her heart pleaded. “All the neighbors have gone to fields for work. Will they be able to hear me if I shout?”, she thought. But she could rarely find her breath, let alone her voice. “What will happen to my baby?”, she panicked.

Her eyes clouded with confusion and fear, she stood there pitifully in front of the approaching tiger. “If I beg in front of this demon, if I fall at it’s feet, will it leave me?” she started thinking in one last attempt to find a way out. By then the tiger had moved in close enough and began to spring on it’s prey. Trying to run away she moved aside slightly, reflexively bringing the winnow to cover her face. The tiger’s aim slipped and she ended up getting scratched in her arms and legs. She could not bear the assault from a 600 pound tiger and rolled on the ground curling up a few feet away. Her sun-kissed bronze limbs were bathed in blood that trickled on the ground causing Mother Earth’s face to turn red. All this woke the baby up and sensing the tension around, it began to cry hysterically.

Tiger heard and turned towards the house. Sensing this, her body tightened up. Pain and anger fueled her strength and her breath seethed like a volcano. “My house, my child. How dare you step in here?”, her heart erupted with fury. She put her right palm on the ground and in one push leapt to her feet. With a new understanding of herself she picked up the loose end of the sari and wound it up tightly around her waist. She collected her long hair and knotted it into a bun. She looked straight up, a dark strand of hair fell across her face reminding the tiger that she too is no less than a tigress in her own right. “Before you touch my child, you need to walk past me!” This very thought lifted her spirits and positioned her like a mighty mountain between the tiger and her baby. The dust from the scuffle had not settled yet but she was already up. Sensing her challenge, the tiger let out a loud roar. The sound echoed in the mountain and reached the villagers. It sent chills into their bones. They quickly remembered her and her baby and hurried to her defense.

She stood there unperturbed. The roar did not move even the strand of hair that ran across her face, let alone her heart. She turned her red eyes and locked it on the tiger. The tiger got confused. Is this the same woman who looked so pitiful a few moments ago, it wondered. It turned once again towards the crying baby inside her home. “Hey!” she let out a loud cry from the depths of her lower abdomen where life surrenders to take form. Every life form that heard this sound, submitted their obedience. The tiger hesitated for a moment and took it’s front leg half way back. This moment was right for her to launch her first assault. She moved swiftly like an arrow shot from a trained archer’s bow, splitting the dust laden air, picking up the winnow that lay on her left side along the way, collected all her mortal strength and landed on the tiger’s head with one mighty blow. The tiger went dizzy but quickly sprung back to it’s legs. It attacked her once again with rage. She held the tiger’s front paws with her bare hands and stopped it right on it’s tracks. She saw the demon eye to eye, her muscles curdling up on her arms, thighs and abs. She was that Savior Goddess now for her baby. Her body chiseled by years of hard-work is matched in strength by nothing less than the diamond. These fences, she realized, are not to save her, but she is there to maintain these for the order of her society.

The tiger, that was used to display of it’s strength all it’s life, was surprised by this resistance. It could not get a grasp of the situation that is turning out to be. It thought her strength will go only to a certain point and once she got tired, victory will be easy. It still had the picture of that weak woman slumped on the ground on it’s mind. But it had grossly underestimated her will power. Every time it assaulted, she fell. She stood up. She attacked. Again. And again. And again. At one point the tiger got tired and she got the lead. She pushed though her last ounce of strength and hit the tiger with her hands, still holding on to the winnow that was a mere rag now and the tiger started backing down. By now the villagers had reached her home and were stunned by the fierceness of the fight. The tiger seeing itself in clear disadvantage ran back to the jungle saving it’s life. The villagers erupted with cheers and applause and hailed her name. There was celebration of her bravery all around. She panted and cooled down for a quick few minutes and then raised her hand. They became quiet. She tossed the tattered winnow down and began speaking. “No, not my name. Say that a Tamil woman drove a tiger with a mere winnow!” She knew well that if her story was associated with a name, she will be a legend but then her victory will be all her’s. She wanted every mother, sister and daughter to be a part of her story, her victory. Her weakness, her assumptions, her struggles and her strengths are all common to her kind, Womankind and Mankind. She realized that a woman is not a mere person but a society. She sacrificed her name to uplift her society then and for generations to come.

So, go girl… feed thy body, mind and soul. Nourish the tigress within and live a majestic life. For, when you encounter a tiger in your own life someday, be prepared to unleash that tigress in you!

 

Advertisements

But I’m Supposed To…

head-2147328_640

The other day I was having a conversation with my daughter and she was feeling bad that she forgot to do something related to her school. I tried to cheer her up and she kept saying “Ya, but I’m supposed to have done that.” She was into this self blaming phase for a little while which got me thinking about how much I as a woman get into this. How many of such instances have occurred in my life that left me questioning myself. One of the things we women do is ruminating, because of our biological brain build. We stick to a past shortcoming and make a mountain out of nothing. We are equipped with this capability to work through the problem and find a long term solution but most of the time, we just stick to the working through the problem part and never get to the solution and move on. This keeps us at a disadvantage in a professional race when we compete with men who think differently. Failure for them is an instance that they shrug off quickly. Their emotional part shuts down and quickly move to solution finding mode. If we have to give our girls and ourselves more confidence, we need to become aware of this and work on it.

Coming to the actual title of this post, “I’m supposed to”, this is a never ending list of expectations, some stated and some understated, that hangs in front of our eyes every time, everywhere from our parents, teachers, friends, relations, society as a whole and then from ourselves. Of course, one can not satisfy everyone every time, and this is when priorities come into play. If we are in touch with our self, we will be in a better position to prioritize what we want to do in life at that moment and life will be by choice, instead of trying to live a life to be worthy in eyes of others. As a daughter, I’m supposed to be obedient, helpful and understanding. As a student, I’m supposed to pay attention at class, get good grades. As a professional, I’m supposed to be reliable at work and constantly improve my capabilities. As a mother, I’m supposed to give the best nourishment and care to my baby. As a parent, I’m supposed to instill good values and conduct in their character. As a sister, as a wife, as a friend, as a xx relative… as a woman in a society… it goes on. Many times, there will be a clash and what you pick will have to be in line with your own values. This will give a feeling of deep contentment even if it is not viewed favorably by others involved.

As a stay at home mom, I was told that I’m wasting all my education and experience by sitting at home. I’m supposed to be at work earning money, respect and advancing my career. First, value of education is not the money you get by working a job that you get based on your education. Learning is life long and does not matter what you learn. As long as you add something new that expands your mind, it is enriching. In fact, after quitting, I could learn about religion, spirituality, science, parenting, cooking, health, people dynamics, self help and it felt like I hit a highway from an narrow inroad suddenly. Second, I stayed with my baby for not just baby’s need but my own need. I wanted to be with my kids during their foundation years, which enriches me deeply. If someone wants to work and finds fulfillment in that, then definitely they should go for it. Again, the choice should be of the person and not other’s around. That is true empowerment. True, women before us fought to get to where we are in terms of equal rights to work. But I think taking a break when a woman needs is an organic extension to this and not a setback to this fight. I mean, 3 months maternity leave, really? I dream of a way better situation for our daughters. Third, I have used my education and experience in serving what I am doing currently. When we get the knowledge, we should be able to apply it to our life situation so that it helps us do our job better, more efficiently. That, I think, is the purpose of education. It is not just what you do that decides your capability, but how you do whatever you are aiming for. If I go to work when I am not ready and give a half-baked result, that is not OK. But if I succeed in giving my 100% to my nurturing during the break, then that still is a time well spent. Fourth, there is no “supposed to”. Other’s expectations are other’s problems. I should be more in tune with my needs. As women, we push ourselves behind easily. We are the “giving” type, even when no one is asking for it! We need to learn to “take” control of our lives.

Finally, our heroes in epics, Rama was a prince. He was “supposed to” rule Ayodhya but Ramayan was not about his ruling but the 14 years spent in jungle. Pandavas were so capable and they were “supposed to” rule for the people’s good. But their story was that of the struggles they faced before they could establish that rule. Siddhartha was supposed to be a Emperor. But he became Emperor of hearts. There is no real “supposed to”. It is time to write our own stories, take our own decisions and give our heart and soul to what we do and make this world a little better one day at a time.

Reference:

Ruminating from The Confidence Code

Kids Mealtime Drama

My memory goes back to my early childhood when my grandma used to pamper me to bits especially during my summer vacations when I get bulk of time to spend with her. She would feed me, play with me, listen to my stories, take me out to market… Those are warm memories I cherish to date. I particularly remember how she used to consider food. According to her, food makes you strong and you need to treat it right. She says if I leave the food on the plate after it is served and go to play or do something else, I am disrespecting it. If we spill even grains on the floor, we pick it up immediately because food is God and we don’t want to step on it. Particularly when she fed me, she would put a small piece of it in her mouth, almost as a reflex action, and then start with me. I once told her if she was hungry, she could eat first and then feed me. She laughed and said, she was not hungry, but it had become a practice to check the food first, before offering to babies/ kids. She was checking for taste, ingredients and how hot/warm it was. It stuck to my memory and comes up every time I prepare to feed my baby. This simple action makes me understand if my baby has tough time with that feeding session, why he might be doing so.

I have seen some of my friends struggling with feeding their infants or toddlers. Kids these days need a distraction to eat. Mostly it is videos. It is sad to have the mind of the kid taken away from one of the most satisfying experiences of life, that is, having a tasty meal. Sometimes, there is a rush and the kid does not understand the concept of time. Sometimes, the kid is too tired to sit for a satisfying experience and would appreciate finishing off quicker than usual, so they can go to sleep early. Sometimes, the caregiver is unwell and needs to finish the task with minimal energy and time spent. These times, taking help of videos for distraction is fine. But they should enjoy the food experience in a normal daily basis.

What does not feel good being done to us, does not look good when we do it to another, however small that person may be. For example, we don’t like being force fed. We don’t like to eat something we don’t like the taste of. We don’t like to eat when we feel full, because we had lesser activity that day or due to temperature outside or we feel constipated etc. We don’t like to eat when we are thirsty and want to drink just plain water, even if it is meal time.

There are a few points we need to remember when feeding our kids.

  • Satisfaction instead of completion: Our duty is to offer nutritious foods at right times and in adequate quantities. It is the choice of the kids to decide how much they want to eat. That bowl or plate need not get empty. Only that the tiny tummy needs to feel satisfied.
  • Kids change as they grow: We need to know their taste, if they like a particular spice or ingredient more. This comes with trial and error. Sometimes they just need to grow up a bit more before they like what we are offering. My baby was not taking cow’s milk when I offered it soon after his first year. My doctor advised me to try different flavor, sweeten it and so on. I tried, but nothing helped. He was just not ready. Every few weeks I would try and give up. At 17 months, he was ready. Forcing them to gulp down what we think is important for them is the most violent thing a person can do to a tiny human that has not developed skills to communicate or defend themselves. This works the other way too. What the kid/baby eats well at a point, they may not like as their palette matures. The textures, tastes all change. We need to be flexible to this fact and celebrate the growth involved.
  • Saving our energy and emotions: Taking so much effort and time to make a meal specifically for a baby and then throwing 99% of it to trash is heartbreaking! It’s emotionally and physically hard on the caregiver. So, instead of pushing ourselves to make another meal and then ending up in frustration, lets have backup plans like fruits, quick snacks, ready-made foods for emergencies. We have limited time and energies. Lets not waste it worrying about the past and save it for the next meal time.
  • Forget the clock and let them feel hungry: Just leaving the kid to play some more until they get really hungry will make them eat well. Don’t go by the clock. Physical activity and outdoors help a lot.
  • Handling Rejections: While eating, if after a few spoonfuls, the kid refuses and turns his/her head away, we have the urge to somehow make them eat what is in our hand. Just this one, we plead. I had caught myself doing that a few times. My feeling was one of being rejected or dejected. Why is it so hard to take a no from a child? Is it the “adult ego”? I don’t know. I consciously put the spoon down and back off a couple of steps to register that I am not in any pressure to get that food in. The baby is in charge.
  • Give them space and time: Sometimes, my kid needs a few moments before he continues eating. Probably, he is overwhelmed at the speed at which he is eating and wants to take a leisurely pace. Or he just got interested in some play suddenly and couldn’t concentrate on food immediately. Sometimes, he is working on a tiny bit of nut or veggie that is stuck in his mouth and he can’t accept another spoonful. Sometimes, he has dry throat and needs water and not food that time. There are so many valid reasons that could be addressed or just waited over before continuing with the feed. Giving him space and time usually resolves it and he usually comes back on his own.
  • Gentle but firm: Perseverance pays off. With kids there is a learning curve. We just need to stick to what we need to do firmly and not give in to junk foods or other short cuts/ bribes to get them to listen to us. We need to be cautious about being gentle but firm at the same time.

Babies and kids are more in tune with their bodies than us adults. Following their lead not just makes parenting more enjoyable and less of a war zone, it definitely produces better results and improves confidence in our kids as we respect their choices. Kids have very big hearts. With all the well-meaning mistakes we parents make, they shower us with so much unconditional love! I have my share of mistakes and learning during my journey and I’m so grateful for this love from my little ones!

 

Looking at progress and not perfection

landscape tree water nature outdoor rock morning leaf stone green reflection tranquil balance natural pebble scenery peace calm stack arrangement pebbles amazing scene perfection water feature stability balanced pebbles

Corporate life was all about perfection. The perfect resume, perfect presentation, perfect pitch… I quickly got trained to give my best every single time. It started in school and then continued in professional life. Everything seemed… perfect. Until I became a parent. In the parenting world, and in life in general, perfection doesn’t exist. I was struggling by unconsciously bringing corporate standards into my household and then wondering why there was so much friction. The baby was “supposed” to sleep by this time, eat in these many minutes, be in perfect health… oh, I was miserably naive. In perfection mindset, you are skilled to do something and are expected to give the best output within the given time limit. Efficiency is tracked and graded. If you don’t measure up to a certain standard, then you are considered not skilled or capable enough. Actually, what we should be after is excellence. Excellence is reaching one’s highest potential by striving and practicing. But when we take off the striving part, the tiny failures and the time required and look at only the result, we are stuck with the perfection mindset. We expect a lot more, too soon and create burnout. This might work with a repeated task that does not need any new learning but otherwise, perfection kills growth.

When I started on my parenting journey, I had to unlearn quite a few things and work on my mindset. With life, people and kids, it is progress mindset that works. In progress mindset, it does not matter how you perform as long as you have showed an improvement over time. It is self-paced and it should be rightly so. Everyone has a potential and their path is unique to them. When we observe babies trying to walk, it does not happen overnight or on a set time frame. They try, fall, try again, fall again, wobble and stumble and over time, with all the trying and falling, they gain their strength, balance and coordination that they master this skill. Unlike perfection mindset that is binary – either it is a success or a failure, the progress mindset plots through a series of setbacks, struggles, stepping stones which then lead to a final success. Trying, perseverance and grit through these setbacks are the values that help us succeed in life.

Applying progress mindset to our own lives makes it easier for us emotionally. Instead of feeling down and beating ourselves up for failing, if we break down a task into small steps and aim at finishing that one step at a time, then over time, we will reach our goal. This helps when there is a lot of multitasking, especially when there is baby on board. My laundry task, for instance, has these series of steps. Loading the washer. Running it. Loading into the dryer. Unloading from the dryer. Folding the laundry. Storing it. I attend to one small step of the task at a time and when that step is finished, I feel I am one step closer to the final result. Certain steps can be delegated too so I can save up time on that. This way, I could multitask and cross out many to dos from my list.

From parenting to policy making, from everyday chores to exciting goals the progress mindset could be applied everywhere. It helps keep up our motivation levels too. When the tiny chunks get finished, we get a dose of dopamine more often and that keeps us going. Tiny failures are fine and are integral for learning. Instead of always thinking about getting the first place or a 100% in test scores, when a kid makes mistakes, lets discuss the learning it provided and the fact that they put in hard work and tried. Lets look at the growth, however tiny, that incident provided, instead of looking at it as a failure purely from the result point of view.

 

 

Nature and Nurture

baby-239062_1280

Many of our character traits are identified as gene strands in our DNA. These are either inherited or formed during conception and over the 10 month pregnancy period. By week 26, scientists were able to identify the formation of the genes that relate to how confident the person is. This is called the predisposition of that individual. The tendency of that person to act in a certain way to a certain situation. This is their nature.

But our DNA itself is malleable. The experiences we undergo and the situations we are put through affect our tendencies to a great extent. This effect is studied by Stephen J Suomi not on humans but on monkeys that share 94% of our DNA. Monkeys that have a specific variation of the confidence gene are naturally resilient to outside pressures. They have greater tendency to be more assertive and have leadership qualities. Monkeys that are born with the other variation of the same genes are naturally more anxious and timid. They are followers and workers in the group.

But the story does not end here. This is where the nurture part comes in. The monkeys that have mothers that are not caring or supportive have their natural tendencies deepen and play out. Babies with confident gene variation grow up to become leaders and babies with the other variant become more and more anxious and submissive. But when the mothers are caring and very supportive, give a good environment for the baby to thrive, these babies that do not have the resilience built in when they were born, not just become good, but they excel and develop to even surpass the natural born leaders. The absence of natural resilience in the DNA does not mean it is bad, it just means that the individual is more responsive to the environment. When given the right environment, they bloom beautifully to their potential. That breakthrough provides us with tremendous opportunity.

When we directly correlate this to our species, the care and support we give to our children in their foundation years seem crucial. The earlier years are when the experiences are ingrained into one’s subconscious mind. By year 6 this is mostly set. It is like designing a highway that handles most of the traffic. As one grows older, there are options to build roads to connect to different points but the highway is something we have to deal with the rest of our lives.

To hold a baby, hug and kiss them drenches them and us in oxytocin, giving them a meaningful, peaceful routine in a space they trust most bathes them with serotonin, encouraging them when they achieve tiny milestones gives them dopamine – all the feel good hormones that promote physical, mental and emotional growth as opposed to a rushed lifestyle where caring for kids are just treated as a liability, an additional workload which makes cortisol course through their veins. It is important not just for the family but for the society as a whole to provide for a nurturing environment because it is these babies and kids who will be the society, 10 to 20 years down the line! We as a society should build a strong support system for every mother during her pregnancy and a couple of years after, so that she can peacefully concentrate on the most important task of nurturing her baby with the best food and best environment that nature has designed for that new life.

 

Reference:

The Confidence Code – by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

How hard can caring for a baby be?

 

I love babies for their toothless grins and beautiful smiles, don’t even get me started on their flawless skin, jiggly cheeks and wide curious eyes! Or is it that peaceful bliss on their face when they are asleep? Their tiny fingers and curled toes. It is hard to say one reason but babies are so wonderful… to look at, to play with… I mean for a limited time… as long as I’m not thrust with being “responsible” for any of their needs and they are merely there to entertain and make me happy. That is how most people interact with a baby. But being a parent, the primary caregiver, is the other end of it. This adult is responsible for taking care of the baby’s needs.  But how much can a tiny little baby need?

Image result for baby

A baby or even a toddler is this tiny person with limited physical, emotional and mental capabilities but who has this enormous task of crossing so many growth milestones so fast with their limited resources on hand. They work very hard.

  • Limited physical capabilities: they are lying all day until they learn to roll, strengthen their neck muscles and then they try to sit with a wobbly back, then they need to develop those leg muscles and bones to get them on their feet standing and then step by step waddle slowly until they walk and then run. On top of this external growth, their internal organs are developing too. Oh and they cut teeth and drool wetting their shirt all the time. All this pain is known only to them. They are clumsy and fumble a lot, make a lot of mistakes and get into troubles and create a lot of accidents.
  • Limited emotional capabilities: Sometimes they feel curious and want to venture around, sometimes going a little far makes them feel scared and they want to be held close. Sometimes they are satisfied and happy, sometimes they just need some attention to satisfy their need. Sometimes they just want to vent out, other times they are in pain and need help soothing. They soak up on other’s emotions too, especially the parents. If there is something off- a raised voice or bad moods, that upsets their world.
  • Limited mental capabilities: They want so many things but can not say it in words that people around them understand. Communication is a major deal for them. Lets forget about the play stuff they want to just have their fingers around, even for food or gas hurting that tummy which needs to be burped or a soggy wet diaper sending chills all over their little body… they have no way of saying it, except for crying. New tastes and textures in food that sometimes they find weird before getting used to! They are still working on sleeping through the night.

To shadow this little human every hour of the day and possibly night, every day of the week and help them through with their limitations and needs as they grow up is an enormous but important task. The first couple of years are the most vulnerable and foundation years for a person’s life. The primary care giver, in addition to meeting their needs, wants and duties, has to take care of another human who has far more needs and far less capacity to express/achieve the same. So the adult has to be attuned to the child’s needs before making a close guess as to how best to help them. This constant look out for signals adds to the strain. Their hands are so full that they don’t find time for general unwind and relaxation we find in a normal adult’s life. Even their own basic needs are stunted. I don’t eat when I’m hungry. Either I eat before so that I am ready for my baby’s meal time or I split and rush through my meals to handle a crying baby. I can not sleep when I feel tired and just want to crash. I would have to put the baby to sleep before I can drift off. Nature’s call too is sometimes done in an unavoidable condition that can not be postponed otherwise. Sometimes, the child is cranky and wants to be held. I would have to finish my tasks with one hand. Other times the child is holding on to my legs and I can not move around and do stuff in a normal fashion. Basically we are operating at a partial capacity ourselves and that is generally more time consuming and needs lot more effort and creativity, especially when there is a time constraint.

Now double this frustration and effort to handle the same when the baby is sick, which happens more often than not because of their weak immune system and their periodic immunization shots.

Compromised sleep, constant demand on me for attention, unable to find time for relaxation or for self, absence of meaningful social interaction – all this makes caring for a baby a tough job. Being a baby or a toddler is pure hard work too. And every time I approach the limits of my patience, I try to remind myself of this fact. Automatically, I get so much respect for that little being in front of me and it helps me put things in perspective. Making time for attending to my own needs on regular basis recharges me to come back energized. This phase is a golden period when I can cradle that little human’s whole body in my arms and soak up on that toothless grin that brightens anybody’s day. Every time they look up to see their parent’s face, their eyes light up and they give a beautiful drooling smile that melts my heart. They trust their parents enormously and look at us every single time with the same love. How precious is this unconditional love from this being? This journey and the eventual understanding and trust that gets established between us enriches me spiritually.

20 or 30 years down the line, it does not matter which car you drove now or which dress you wore or even which mobile you used. But when you are present in this child’s life and make precious memories with them, you get a chance to live beyond your life, into theirs, through those memories!

Photo Credit:
Thomas Baby Pic

Food fights and what to do about it

Why do we consume food? Is it just for energy to get through the day? If so, why then does food feature in every festival, every celebration of ours? Is it to just get nutrition and for us to grow strong and wise? If so, then why do we struggle with cravings and weight management? I too thought that food is a basic need and need to be treated like that. Life would be simple if we approach food as nothing more than a necessity. Eat when hungry, eat necessary amounts and avoid foods that cause inflammation and sickness. That approach just does not work, does it?

We all know right from wrong when it comes to food. So why does so many of us struggle with waistline and weight issues? Food is much more than a need. Lets face it. It is a pleasure to consume food. No, not a guilty pleasure but just plain, simple, basic pleasure. Each meal we take connects us with memories, scents and scenes from the past, creates complex emotions that makes us crave certain tastes and textures. Food is sheer power of how we operate, that is, it has control over how we think, feel and act. Anyone who manages the food department will know that the kitchen is the power center of a household. Taking control over the kitchen is considered nothing less than a declaration of war! Traditionally most mother-in-law daughter-in-law problems stemmed from this power equation.

Image result for cooking at home india

Not just eating food but making it too gives a sense of fulfillment. Cleaning, chopping and cooking food, looking at the colors, feeling the textures, smelling the scents and vapors, checking for taste, hearing the crackling and sizzling sounds, it is nothing less than a sensory treat that calms down our everyday stress. The other day I was peeling garlic and my 16 month old wanted to feel the texture of garlic peels. He had a terrific time throwing the peels all around, up in the air, crushing in his palms for almost as long as I was doing my task. I have seen my grandma prepare food for herself until the end of her life, even through her partial blindness. Not that she did not have support, she just did not want to give that power away.

So why then did many of our households today delegated this basic gratifying experience to an outsider – a cook who just does it for money, something they would like to get over with? The lesser time they take, the more houses they can cover, the more the revenue. The treatment meted out to food in this situation is less than loving. Higher heat, over-cooking, under-cooking, too much oil, same repeated taste. Same story with restaurant foods. When we outsource our food preparation to a business, either a fast-food restaurant or easy/ ready to eat foods from a multinational company, they work on maximizing their profit, not on maximizing our health. There is a saying in tamil that when food is not pleasurable, they say “Naaku sethupochu” – My tongue is dead. It is literally killing the life inside our body slowly.  It is not just about us. When we delegate this important life skill, we are showing our next generation that cooking is something so complex that we don’t have the time, energy and skills to do it ourselves.

It is OK to get external help when in need, like during a sickness or emergency. But otherwise, food is a power that we have and it feels so powerless to give away this control to someone else. Especially when I am sick, I would rather want to make some simple dish, at least a chutney that I can have with gruel or curd rice. Because I am the only one who knows what I want to eat. Sometimes it is more of pepper, sometimes I crave the ginger taste, sometimes the tangy taste of tomato or tamarind, sometimes sweetness of coconut, sometimes the pungent or nutty texture of groundnuts. I know what to make and in what proportions. That, I feel, gets me on my feet much faster every single time. Taste is not a feeling. It is a language that our body uses to communicate it’s needs to our brain so we act accordingly to satisfy those needs.

In today’s busy lifestyle, we reach for ready to eat foods. Biryani points at every corner, cakes and bakes everywhere, sweet shops from every part of India, restaurants specializing in different cuisines, fast foods and fried meat, “healthy” grab and go bars on the shelf. All this with door delivery to keep us from even getting off the couch. When the cook in our home takes a break it makes us even more happy because we get to have a change from the “same old” routine. It is this availability and affordability that is adding to our issues. Food is not our enemy, we just outsourced it so much that we no longer recognize it. It’s OK to eat on occasion. But for everyday life, we should hold the control. There are some things we can do to bring the art of cooking back into our lives.

  • Time factor: Prepare in advance. There are infinite possibilities for this. Roasting rava, semiya, peanuts; Grinding ready-to-use powders; Peeling garlic, small onions; washing and storing vegetables for using right out of fridge; Peeling, chopping some vegetables that need to be used within few days; Cook lentils and beans and store for quick meals. Shop once for a week or 2 weeks and store appropriately in fridge to avoid wastage of food, money and time.
  • Energy factor: Schedule time for cooking. Make it once a day. Have some raw foods – salads, fruits. Have a standard menu so you do not need to decide on the dish at that moment. I cook first thing in the morning for precisely this reason. My energy hits rock bottom by evening.
  • Skills: Cooking comes with practice. Start with small and easy dishes. It is ok to mess up first couple of times. Learn the techniques to correct the mistakes. All answers are a just google away. Build a strong foundation with consistency. Start young! Open your kitchen to every age group. Learn the medicinal value of the spices and herbs. Discuss with kids how something is going to help them when they eat. It stays with them for a lifetime.
  • Inequality: This is big. One reason why I never wanted to learn cooking when in my teens. For me, and many others I suppose, cooking is looked down upon chore by the society. My thought process was when I am equal to a boy in my academics and achievements why should I take up added responsibilities in the home that a boy would not take. That time I did not realize what a wonderful and powerful act this cooking is! Now as a leader of my family I realize that if I don’t have a skill, I am at a loss of power. For a working woman, they have double full-time job. Even as a stay-at-home mom, it is hard on one person to serve everyone else all the time. Plus when we get sick, we need to train our family to step in as a backup. Delegate chores to everyone depending on their skill and capacity. Make it a team work for the whole family. It is an important skill for every kid, whether a girl or a boy. Our job is to make this learning fun. Apart from the cooking, they will learn vocabulary, math, time management and team work. It is as important and valuable as sending them to a summer camp!

Lets celebrate the food and cooking it. Here’s to making our lives simple and satisfying!

A tree or The forest

 

It was a peaceful lazy afternoon and I was sitting with my elder one, then a 3 year old, for some quality art time. She loves art and we had been spending time exploring colors, coloring and strokes over the last few weeks. I used to watch in amazement at her level of focus when she used the brush to paint a picture of her choice. Her eyes would light up after she carefully colored a picture for 10-15 minutes, brimming with pride at her achievement. I would then put her finished work in a “Wall of fame” in our living room to celebrate it. That gives her the motivation to sit through the boring process of repeatedly applying strokes before the picture actually comes alive. Art for me is like a meditation, a form of expressing one’s deeper self and I was happy that she was enjoying it.

So that day, our project was to make a drawing by developing our ideas step by step. Our conversation was something like this:

I asked her “What do you want to draw?”

She said “A nest”.

OK, so we drew a small nest with a few eggs in it.

And then I asked, “Where do you think the nest is?”.

She said, “A tree?”

“Yeah, good.”

So there came a tree, with a branch holding the nest and then some more branches. Then we made some leaves. Then we came up with a ground with some grass here and there. Oh and we also wanted a bird sitting on a branch near the nest.

I was pretty impressed with this process and she with the picture. Now I wanted to give her some time to work on her own. So I asked her to color it. I made sure I ran through which color is for what- the bark is brown, branches brown, bird blue, leaves green and ground is brown, sky is blue and grass is green. I stepped back for her to work independently and went to finish a kitchen chore.

When I came back, I saw the picture was colored exactly as we discussed except for the sky, which formed most of the background and it was colored green, the same as the tree leaves. It was hard to make out the tree from the background. I was annoyed by this and asked her why she made the sky green, when we discussed it was to be blue. She had a “uh ohh, mommy doesn’t like it” look all over her face. Yeah, they read our minds so well and many a times I feel there is simply nowhere to hide!

I said, since the picture was not done well, it shall not go to the wall. She burst into tears. My heart was melting but I had to tell her that she needs to learn to do it “right”. This is where we grownups make the “I know it better than you because I am older” mistake. We think there is one right way to do things and that is our way. After a few minutes, when I had cooled off, I felt I needed to correct the outburst and calm the situation. So I spoke:

“Do you not see that we could not make out the tree from the rest of the picture?”

“Tell me one reason why you think this picture has to go on the wall? Explain why you chose the green for background instead of the blue for sky.”

“Amma, the tree is in middle of a forest.”

I was speechless!

That picture made it to the wall and definitely to my heart and my cherished memories!!

All the time I was looking at the tree and my little one was looking at the whole forest! Oh my God… and I was overpowering this little being with my ways of seeing and doing things when what she was seeing potentially was so much more profound, more meaningful and deeper. I got my lesson that day. There are no one single right way, in art. And in life.