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For The Fear Of Fear

The first time my son uttered the word “bhoi” I was visibly zapped. We were playing dark room with a torch, he, his dad and I and he looked at his own shadow on the wall. He hugged me tight and said it again. Bhoi. He was telling me that he is afraid. For firsts, I didn’t realize he felt that emotion. And second, I didn’t realize he could get scared of his own shadow, because he had enjoyed hand shadows earlier.

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It reminded me of my brother. He was a brat as a kid and grew up with the fear of ‘dhor re’ (just a call out for the old man to come and get him), this one call always managed to tame him. I would be lying if I don’t say that I have flexed my parenting muscle when I threatened my boy with a lizard, but then one night I discovered that he had almost begun shaking with fear. What began in jest was soon thrown out of the window. The father and I decided that the lizard will never be a threat to him. So very funnily we make a charade of shooing the invisible lizard in our house.

But despite everything, something had gone wrong somewhere; my son in a short span of time had begun to express fear. It is wrong to assume that kids don’t feel afraid. Even a baby wakes up with an alarm and starts crying. My son at two sadly doesn’t smile in his sleep as much, but there are days when he wakes up crying. The other day he woke up from his siesta crying for his spoon. It seems his cousin had taken his and so we had to give him all his spoons to prove that she had in fact hadn’t. Children are scared of violence. So even as much as we like, the father and I don’t raise our voices (at each other) before him. Needless to say, we don’t hit him either. Things often get to an extent where we are sometimes pretty inept. “He is not scared of me,” his father says.  These are times when “No, don’t do this” is just not heard.

Read the rest of the post on Parentous

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Re-reading “The Ugly Duckling”

I have a problem with the word ‘ugly’. It’s an extremely negative word. I find it demeaning and insulting. For the lack of a better word, I find it, well, ‘ugly’. In a world divided by prejudice and popular perception of what is beautiful, there is little tolerance for what is not ‘beautiful’. And in such a world I have trouble reading The Ugly Duckling to my son. I am sure I don’t want him to grow up with a notion of what is ugly and what not.

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Just who hasn’t read this children’s classic by Hans Christian Andersan? I grew up reading various abridged versions of the book as a child and never thought twice about it. In fact I  hadn’t read the original version of The Ugly Duckling until recently. And quite by chance as I was trying to find the various versions of this story. At the outset it is the story about a duckling that is scorned by the world until he realises that he is a swan and very beautiful indeed. It is a story about rejection and acceptance. It is a story about perception. It is a story about dealing with failure. It is a story about hope. And in just that it gives out the first wrong lesson. Why does someone have to learn how to deal with rejection and keep the hope alive?

Why not instead teach a child to accept and embrace people in every form?

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Lessons begin at home, don’t they? And sometimes they are not the best lessons for a child. I have seen several parents distinguish between their children. In a country where boys are naturally favoured and girls are killed in the womb, there are also homes where there may not be an overt gender discrimination, but scratch under the surface and you will see that if the first born is a daughter there will be a pressure to have  a second child. Some homes distinguish children on the basis of academics and other accomplishments that make them stand out. And in some homes, like in the Andersan classic, children are marked by their looks. A dusky daughter will be difficult to get married, so will a fat daughter or a short daughter. Let’s not get started about physical ailments. Again…its mostly the daughter who is at the receiving end.

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It pains me to see that parents and even mothers differentiate between their kids. As a mother myself, it would break my heart to ask my child to go away because he is ugly and inept in any way. As a parent I know I will stand by my child and help him overcome his shortcomings instead of telling him that he is all alone. it’s all right to be different.

I hope my son will grow up to be a parent who stands by his child. I hope he will not give up on him when the whole world does that. I hope he learns to accept his child and work with him with patience and love.

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But no one can truly live in an idyllic world. School can be harsh. Very harsh. I have heard of children coming back with notions of fair and dark skin. Class divisions are more stark than they were in the past. So brands of cars are noticed, shoes and clothes compared. Tiffin boxes are peeped into and birthday parties become status symbols. As a child grows up and interacts with the world, he forms an opinion of what is ‘wow’ and what is not. So today as I refrain from celebrating my son’s birthday until he turns 5 and as he gets invited to parties, I realise he may demand one of his own before he turns 5!

Will my son not be invited to parties because his parents don’t throw birthday parties? Will that not be a rejection?

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Rejection by friends and peers is equally tough. As a child, I had a tough time making friends. I was always intimidated by my peers and lived with a sense of low self-esteem. It took me a long time to open up and claim my friends. Even today most of my friends are the ones I made in school.

So when my son steps out of the home and tries to work his charm and befriend another child, I watch him closely. Not every one wants to befriend a toddler, especially when they are elder to him. They say, “Please take him away, he will get hurt.” It breaks my heart to see him being turned away. But it has little affect on him. Unperturbed, unhurt and unrelenting, he follows the older kids like a shadow. He wants to ride their cycle, run after their ball or just sit amongst them. For a two year old doesn’t understand rejection. He is not affected by their refusal to let him join in their games.

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But will he never feel the hurt? I hope he doesn’t. As a parent I hope V grows up to be tolerant. I hope he makes a lot of friends and doesn’t judge them in anyway. I hope he accepts his friends and stands by them . I hope he learns to forgive and accept people despite their shortcomings.

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The grass is always greener on the other side. So many live with discontentment. So many live unsatisfied lives. There is always something that we want. A better career, a bigger house, a hefty pay check, a prettier daughter-in-law, a rich husband, better grades, a thinner waist line, more jewellery, more money…there is always something that we are living without. And in that race to get it all we skip the little things in life. We forget to live in the moment. We forget to cherish what we have. We don’t thank God for all that we have. Instead we ask for more. To me The Ugly Duckling wouldn’t have been as much a negative fable had the duckling not realised its worth so late in the day. If he had not believed in people’s perception of him, had he looked inward earlier, his days of sadness and lonliness wouldn’t have been as miserable.

Can I then teach my son to be happy with his toys? I will teach him to be thankful for God’s bounties. I will teach him to not be bogged down by his weaknesses. I will teach him to identify his strengths and build on them.

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A child has a virginal perception of the world. And as a parent I cannot colour it for him. He must grow up believing that the world is beautiful. That life is beautiful. Every one is beautiful. That hate and scorn divide the world. That life is all about love, acceptance and respect.

That is how I choose to read The Ugly Duckling. What about you?

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Mastering Baby Photography

I am obsessed about photography. Well, let’s put it this way, I am obsessed about photographing by little man. One of the things that gives me nightmares is that one day I will wake up to forget the world I live in. Or maybe I don’t trust my memory too well. There are snatches from my own life, moments, faces and places that I don’t remember. And the one thing that I don’t want to forget is my son’s childhood and my journey as a mother. One of the reasons why I write this blog is to remember the story of our lives. And photographs play a close ally.

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I was about two months away from my delivery when I got my Nikon D30 and I went on and on, how this would mean that we would have terrific pictures with the baby. In my head, I was convinced that a SLR would make my baby more photogenic! Yeah, right! And I promised that by the time the baby arrived I would have brushed up my photography skills. At least I met some of it. I indulged in some experimental clicks and then the camera was liberally used during one of my baby showers where my brother turned photographer.

The SLR met my son when he was two days old and from then till now, they’ve fallen in love with each other. It is my theory that photographing children makes a parent more patient and observant. On the other hand, it makes a star out of the kid. I started photographing my son when he was barely a week old. Those wrinkled eyelids barely opened at the click of the shutter. He didn’t understand what all the fuss was about a pose. He didn’t care that his mother was trying to store forever the early days of his life in a picture. He didn’t know he had to learn to emote, respond and communicate with the lens to make himself the perfect subject. But he learnt!

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And as a parent-turned-excited-photographer, here are a few things that I have learnt along the way:

a)      The New Baby: A new born is hardly responsive. So don’t expect your day old baby to turn and say cheese! Instead, wait for those fully awake and alert moments of the day. New babies need a lot of light, and it’s a good practice to expose them to natural surroundings. Needless to say, as much as Vitamin C is beneficial to them, it is as good for photography. Babies at this early stage have slow movements. However, they twitch, curl and like with photography elsewhere, talking to the subject always helps. Speak to your baby and look for signs of connection. Most of the pictures will have your baby lying down; feel free to let him/her have a feel of your face…at this time they love the feel of your skin and trust me, so will you!  At the same time, the cheek to cheek pictures come out beautiful. Tiny feet and curled fingers make for great pictures too.

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b)      The Infant: A baby moves into infancy after the 3rd month. Chances are that your baby by now has learnt to hold his head up straight. Once the baby learns to hold his head up, he’d like to see more of the world. Try resting the baby’s back on your lap, and let him see the world around. The gleam in his eye as something catches his eye, or a toy that he’s just learnt to hold in his tiny fingers, or a sound that he has learnt to respond to, make for great reaction shots. Encourage him to interact with new toys. Around the same time, they will learn to turn over…make sure you don’t miss out this landmark. Play games with them; they’ll soon learn to smile, make noises and yes even laugh out loud. While you playact and make your babies smile, these games make for great pictures! I enjoyed photographing my son during massage and bath times.

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c)       The Toddler: This is the most fun stage and in fact by now chances are that your baby would have learnt to interact with the camera. I started showing my son his pictures from when he was around 4 months old. As he grew to recognise himself, he waited for our photography sessions. He’s learnt to pout, flash his dimples, pose, and turn and hold a moment till I click. By the time he learnt to crawl he’d quickly scamper towards me to see how the picture turned out! Now that V is a jumpy, active and ‘always-on-the-move’, there are very few still moments. If he is in the middle of play, I quickly sneak in to take a picture. Sometimes I engage him with a book, toy or activity so that I can get those perfectly crafted shots. At other times, I have to beg and plead and cajole him to take a picture. He enjoys the camera and he knows it’s there for a reason.

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You don’t need a super quick and high-end camera for your baby. I use my phone camera to the hilt and since it’s the most handy at most times, I’ve learnt to get some great shots! I shoot a lot with my son when is with his father. They are the best play buddies I have seen. To watch a 31 year old play with his year old son and quite become his age, is something beyond this world. They make faces, throw pillows at each other, play hide and seek, pretend to eat each other’s noses and catch imaginary lizards with aplomb! Much of this makes for great photography.

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I have learnt to observe my child’s moods. There are those times in the day when he is watchful and quiet. These moments make for great mood shots. He is often busy playing with his toys and he’d not bother about the lens looking at him. Then there are those times when he is at his naughtiest, trying a new prank or trick with his father – the baap-beta pictures are my favourite. I’ve also taken a lot many pictures of my son with other family members – both sets of grandparents, his uncles and aunts, etc.

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I prefer natural pictures as opposed to the ‘posing’ kinds. I am also not fond the flash and I always try and play around with the aperture and natural light as far as possible. A flash can also be a tad distracting for the child. Sometimes I like editing my pictures, for effects, colour correction, borders and texts. On my phone I use Aviary and I am just getting to use Fotor now. Besides, I love Instagram as a photo-sharing network. Photography is all about a moment, a story that you want to remember for all your life. And when it comes to photographing babies who grow up too fast, there is never a dull moment! Today I have close to 5000 pictures (or more) and photography remains an obsession. Whatever be the number, each of our photographs is special, because there is a memory attached to each of them.

Do you have any tips on how to photograph kids? 

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Making The Best Use Of A National Holiday

With a working mother who is out 6 days of the week, it gets really tough sometimes. So when a National Holiday comes in the middle of the week, we choose to use it well.

It began last night with these pots of homemade paint. We made a fresh batch of yellow, green, red and chocolate brown. The red and brown look similar in the picture though.

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The morning started with V’s favourite activity – kalaloo (colouring).

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We brought out yellow & green today. So first with brushes and then with fingers, our homemade paints painted a messy canvas. (Btw…these paints are totally eatable & washable)

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Next up, some fun with numbers. We brought out the ice-cream sticks and pipe cleaners. Happy to note that V can comfortably identify numbers 1 – 10.

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Lastly, we played with our colour flashcards. I made these sometime back and we hadn’t used them in a while. V enjoyed identifying his buu, oange, pulpul, edd, blaack. 🙂

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We also used the pipe cleaner for a quick game to put to test our motor skills.

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This comfortably took care of nearly 2 hours! Mommy was happy she could hold V’s attention for sometime. And V seemed pleased that Mommy wasn’t running away today.

More on these individual activities later…