Tuesday, April 29, 2014

You know what's funny?

Well, my daughter isn't. But she thinks she is.

She has been telling me a series of Knock Knock jokes and knocking herself out with them. Here's how it goes.

Peanut: So Mama...knock knock.

Y: (Groan) Not again!

P: Come on, Mum. Knock-knock.

Y: (Sigh) Okay. Who's there.

P: Sno!

Y: Sno who?

P: (gleefully) Sno who's ringing the doorbell - it isn't working! HAHAHAHAHAHA....(Papad also joins in)

Y: (after a moment) You mean 'sno use ringing the doorbell, it isn't...

P: (catching her breath) Okay Mama. Knock, knock.

Y: (caught off guard) Who's there?

P: Me.

Y: Me who.

P: Me who's ringing the doorbell....HAHAHAHAHAHAHA ( The little laugh-track Papad also pipes in)

Y: Wait, that's not even...


Y: (Resigned) Who's there?

P: Colin

Y: (Curious despite herself) Colin who?

P: Colin the doctor, I'm sick! HAHAHAHAHAHA ( with her little echo following with a one-second lag)

Y: (Smiling indulgently) Well, that's not a bad one...Call in the doctor....

P: (Clutching her tummy) Yeah! He's a doctor named Colin, and HE only is sick...HAHAHAHAHAHA...

Y: No, hang on, that's not it, you're not getting it. It means...


Y: Yes, Papad? I mean, who is there?

Papad: (Loses his train of thought) YOU SAY, Mama.

Y: Okay. Knock Knock.

Papad: Who dere?

Y: Yash


Peanut laughs but then sees my downcast expression and says : Okay, Yash Who?

Y (Brightly) God bless you!

Peanut and Papad: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA....

Y (Happy again) Funny, isn't it? Yash-who...like Achhoo...

Peanut (stops laughing and frowns at me) No. Yash-who isn't like Achhoo at all. Yash-who is Yash-who and Achhoo is Achhoo.

Y: (Frustrated) So why did you guys laugh?

Peanut and Papad look at each other for a second and then Peanut explains: Your face was funny when you said God Bless you. (This sets them off again) HAHAHAHAHAHA.

Whatever. They have clearly not inherited my sense of humour. This, they get from their father. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Being an Author today: A Little Anecdote

(Lifted off my Facebook page. Just because I can)

Dear People,
A little anecdote, if you please.
So I go into a Delhi bookstore (name withheld) and smile at the lady behind the counter and ask if she has my books.
She recognises me and informs me ''Oh your new book Sorting Out Sid? - it's not selling as well as your first book (Just Married, Please Excuse)''
I'm a little taken aback by this since I've heard differently, but I say ''Okay...well, shall I sign a few copies then, now that I'm here?''
She squirms only slightly before recovering and says ''Well, we don't have any in stock right now.''
''As in?'' I raise my eyebrows ''You didn't get any from my publisher?''
''Oh we did...but they all sold out.''
''But you said the new book wasn't selling...'' my voice trails off.
She mumbles something about not re-ordering that often but all right if I INSIST, she will. SOMEDAY.
I'm trying to keep my composure, though. Bookstore relationships are important, they tell me.
I smile ''Okay, well, can I see the Just Married copies then? I'll just sign those and be on my way then, shall I?''
''Oh that.'' She looks around half-heartedly, punches a few buttons on her computer and after a few minutes of this, looks up and says ''We don't have any copies of that one either.'' She raises her chin defiantly. ''But that one did better than the new one.''
And that, my friends, is the big problem that authors in India face. Well, the ones who aren't Chetan and Ashwin and Amish. We really try, we do, but what do you do in such a situation? The book's out of stock and the retailer doesn't re-order. I know they're under pressure from online competition and all that - but it just feels like a damn shame when you see missed opportunities like these, and there are many. If your book isn't in the store, how are people supposed to discover it?
Anyway - I love bookstores. Please support your friendly neighbourhood bookstore by buying (not just browsing). And while you're at it, how about supporting your friendly neighbourhood author by asking for copies of her book? Seriously. Even if just to check and help me remind retailers that my books exist!
Even if you really just prefer to get that crazy 37
% discount and buy from Amazon right here.
Go on, I won't hold it against you.
Much love and thanks for the support,
P.S - And if you want the 'first book that did much better', here it is -http://bit.ly/1oPjUg3
P.P.S - You could also share this, and become my newest best friend.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Papad being Papad... and a bit of news

Vijay is on a health trip. It's been about two months since he quit smoking ( the actual reason for why he quit after about 20 years is too important to share lightly), and he decided to supplement that with some exercise.

In a burst of enthusiasm, he completed a two kilometre run yesterday - in shorts that covered a mere percentage of his long, skinny legs, wearing a pair of bright red-and-grey shoes that he purchased without consulting me (online, that too). Naturally, this made him the target of the friendly neighbourhood strays that he curses on a daily basis. Nevertheless, he finished and came home.

This wasn't enough for him. He decided to forgo dinner and happily boiled two eggs for himself. I could hear him humming to himself as he sat down at the dining table to enjoy his protein-rich meal. I sat down across the table from him, and Papad wandered up out of nowhere and stared at his plate with great interest.

'What ij this?'

'Eggs, beta.'

Papad knew that, of course. He's often been exhorted to try a bit of egg, but he and his twin brother have always stoutly refused any egg-related meal, except in noodles when I have tricked them into thinking they're pieces of chicken.

Vijay neatly sliced the eggs into quarters and lifted one to his mouth. He didn't quite say aaah but he was looking really self-satisfied, I observed.

Papad was frowning hard as he thought about something. And then his face cleared and he gave me his trademark toothy grin and turned to me, exclaiming 'Mama! Aapko Pata hai? Bird egg is white colour. And bird potty is also white colour!'

The transformation of one frowning face to happy, and the almost simultaneous reverse of expressions on the face of the husband across the table were too much for me and I burst out laughing. I patted Papad on the head and said 'Yes, beta. That is true, isn't it?' while Vijay glowered at our youngest son, while now chewing a whole lot slower.


And now the news. If you haven't already seen my Facebook updates - it appears that 'Sorting Out Sid' is suddenly in the AC Neilsen's top 50 list! It's broken right through into position number 32, which rarely happens - even my first book 'Just Married, Please Excuse' didn't make it that high! So basically, whoopie. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the trend continues. And you can help by visiting this link and checking out trailer, synopsis, reviews and so on - and of course, getting your copy of the book! Or gifting to a friend. Or I don't know, just check it out, why don't you?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Just Breathe : A Free Demo Session on Using Your Breath To Transform your Life

If you happen to be in Gurgaon and are interested in a totally free, hour-long session on ''Using Your Breath To Beat the Stress and Transform your life'', check this event out on Facebook.

It's day after tomorrow, Friday, 11th April at 11 a.m. 

Hosted by the wonderful Cafe Serendipity, Garden Estate and is being held by the very engaging Apoorva, founder of Inbreath. She has recently moved from Hyderabad to Gurgaon and is my own Yoga Teacher.

You'll have to send an email with your confirmation at yashodhara.lal@gmail.com - we have space for just 30 people and it's first come-first serve, so do hurry :)

See you guys there!

HIghlights from Dr. Ravindran's Parenting Workshop

Last Saturday, we had a workshop on Parenting at the children's school. The first reaction when you hear that you've got to spend two hours on a Saturday learning how to 'better parent' your kids is usually something along the lines of 'Aarrghhh!' and indeed it was mine too. But then I realised that this would be an interaction with a gentlemen that we had met some months earlier in a session at the time of Nursery Admissions.

The good Dr. V.S Ravindran is described as a renowned Educational Psychologist, Counsellor Trainer and Teacher Educator, involved in the training of people in leadership positions in educational institutions, corporates and government organisations for more than two decades. What this impressive description fails to highlight is how brilliantly funny and incisive he is, with his anecdotes, examples and dramatic re-enactments of scenarios that he has witnessed between parent and child during his career. 

'Entertainment and education all in one go' I thought to myself and trotted off to the session happily on the designated day. I was not to be disappointed in the least.  I sat in the front row beaming up at him, assiduously taking notes and occasionally cringing at the disastrous parenting mistakes that he highlighted during the talk, especially because I could relate to so many of them. I thought it would be a good idea to share the few key points that he spoke about, and to that end, I wrote to him and received his happy consent for the same. Here they are, therefore -

1. On Anger and Scolding: 

- Dr. R started off by drawing a picture of the human brain ( he checked if there were medical doctors in the room and asked them to keep mum about the technical correctness of his diagram). The basic point that he made here was that there was a Learning System in the brain vs the portion where Emotions take place, and when you scold a child with anger, it causes the Emotional part of the brain to take over completely, and this means that No Learning Can Take Place in such a situation. Essentially; anger and punishment do not help correct a child's behaviour, and therefore are for all practical purposes useless. There just isn't any point at all. Therefore, his advice was that when you're angry, do not even attempt conversation with the kids. Just withdraw.

Note to self (and husband) : We never do this in our home. We react immediately and many times, angrily when there is a transgression, especially if one of the kids hits the other. And we have to do this repeatedly. It makes sense now that it hasn't actually stopped the aggressive behaviour. However, with so many good things in life, this one is easier said than done and will take loads and loads of practice. As the doctor said, though - patience and practice are pretty much the only things that work with kids, and it's no different for us. Our score on this: Zero. 

2. On Unconditional Love: 

- This was, according to Dr. R, one of the most important things that any parent can give to a child. And while he said we all claim to love our kids unconditionally, we fail to implement this one practically by not separating our children from their actions. For example, he said, even saying 'Good boy' or 'Good girl' after something nice is done by them can lead kids to think 'I'm only good when I do this or that.' The assumption, instead, has to be that the child is instrinsically good but sometimes can lapse into incorrect behaviours. Therefore, both in praise and in censure, the principle of commenting on the action should be followed.

The other thing that he mentioned was No Trading of Love to get work done - which can have serious consequences in terms of raising kids who think that this is the way to get things done in life - and therefore turn out manipulative.

Note to self: The number of times we say 'Good boy' in our household is ... uncountable. The issue is how to ingrain these same things with all the help that we have - those ladies haven't attended a Dr. Ravindran workshop and it beats me how to explain exactly why we should say 'Good job' or 'Good work' instead of 'Good boy/girl.' Similarly for the negative. Will have to figure this one out. 

3. On Discipline: 

- Babies, said the good doctor, are not born with impulse control - it is something that they have to learn. Till six years of age is the best time to teach kids the skill of impulse control ( although he assured some distraught-looking parents that it's not too late even after that age.) It's an important life skill, and the way that we build it is through consistent explanation and behaviour. For example - if there's a tantrum for a toy; either we don't give in at all; or we just go ahead and give in right in the beginning. The mid-way path which so many of us seem to follow ( No...no...I said No...I SAID NO...OH ALRIGHT TAKE IT AND SHUT UP) teaches the kids a very unhealthy pattern.

Delayed gratification is a critical life skill that needs to be taught to children; having them wait for something is a good idea - so that they learn that not everything in life comes instantly on-demand.

Teaching No for an answer is a good idea too - ideally with a reason though. And bluffing is a bad idea - example 'I have no money in my purse to buy you that lollipop' and later conveniently pulling out money to pay the sabzi-wala.

And in general for tantrums - ignoring is the best idea. While keeping an eye on the tantrumming kid and removing all sharp objects such as knives and chainsaws from the vicinity.

The most important thing he mentioned here was to do with Consistency; he said a lot of parents give in to things when they're in a good mood - the same things that they would not allow in case they were in a bad mood.

'Be Predictable' - he said; kids need us to be predictable, it gives them a sense of stability in their lives. Especially when they're small and we represent a huge portion of their world to them. This principle of Consistency also applies between parents - Mom and Dad contradicting each other a lot of the times results in very confused kids. Where grandparents are actively involved, this can be even more of an issue, but has to be managed for the sake of the kids.

Note - We do a lot of the 'giving in after resisting'; but we're pretty good at delaying gratification; on Predictability and consistency, however, we score low - especially me, I must admit. Vijay is usually an ocean of calm and I'm the windy storm. We've become better over the years at supporting each other and maintaining a united front ( Anyone who's read my first book 'Just Married, Please Excuse' would see a big change on this part if they could peek into our home now). However the fact remains - this area needs most work for me.

4. On Controlling Aggression: 

We're looping back and forth a little on this, but here's what he had to say on the topic of actually managing a kid who's hitting out -

1. Ensure you show no anger
2. Explain that you understand the feeling of anger that the kid is experiencing. This validates the feeling of a kid which he may not have the vocabulary to express.
3. Explain then, however, that hitting is wrong because it causes hurt. This is crucial because it says to the kid that while the feeling may be valid, his reaction is not the appropriate one. Separating the two is important, so that feelings aren't suppressed and self-awareness can be inculcated in the kid.
4. Round it off by suggesting an alternative - example, encouraging the kid to speak about the issue rather than using his hands.

What we're doing, Dr. Ravindran explained is trying to ensure that we do not cause our children to swing either to the aggressive or the submissive - but stay within that healthy zone of 'assertiveness' - which involves, for example in the case of dealing with issues such as bullying by speaking out and/or seeking social support.

Note - yeah, I've already said we're zero on this, so moving quickly along...

5. On Television

Ah, the most cringe-worthy session for me.

The careful selection of programs, the man said... the NOT using of the TV as an electronic babysitter...the need to sit with the children and supervise their viewing and commenting upon inappropriate scenes to reinforce values.

Note - I cannot, cannot, cannot sit through that Chhota Bheem fellow. The only solution in sight seems to be to drastically reduce TV time, which in our case can happily exceed an hour a day. I can see that this will be a real challenge going forward, especially since this also applies to the use of technology, the Ipad, the internet and so on. 

6. On Physical Exercise

Dr. Ravindran stressed this one a great deal. The importance of physical exercise to release energy, create a calming effect, increase focus and attention spans.

Note - considering my children go bouncing through walls and crashing through windows in their general zeal for life, I think we're okay on this one as of now. Also, I'm delighted that all three of my kids will probably start Tae-kwondo lessons next week!

7. On Rewards

Distinguishing between rewards and bribes is very important, stated Dr. R.

'Finish your homework and you'll get icecream'' as a solution to the initial resistance from the kids will simply result in reinforcing their negative behaviour. If they resist, Mommy'll offer a reward. Cool.

Instead, he said, catch them doing something good, and give them unexpected rewards - which means, they can't be given continuously - doing this once in a while will result in better behaviour on a general basis. However, more important is that transition we're trying to make for the kids - moving from tangible rewards to intangible ones (such as praise) as they grow; and eventually leading them to being intrinsically motivated - for example, by reinforcing 'Hey, you've tidied up your room on time. Doesn't that make you feel good?'

Note - for me personally, this one is really important. Loving the work you do and being intrinsically motivated by it, focussing on the journey and not the destination. Whoever thought it begins with how conscious you are about offering them an unexpected ice-cream? They should have parenting licenses just as they do driving licenses, I tell you...

8. On Values

This section was as simple ( and yet, not easy) as : Guys, just Walk the Damn Talk. Practice What you Preach. Do as you say. And so on. You get the drift, right?

9. On Child Sexual Abuse

Since CSA affects 53% of Indian kids - isn't that a truly shameful and shocking number? - it is critical that we as parents be aware. A few things to keep in mind:
- Do not call Private parts by their nicknames - a Penis is a Penis is a Penis, dammit. As Dr. R said - would you really want your child to be struggling to tell his teacher that someone 'touched his nonu?' which might be misunderstood as just being a toy? Good point.
- Promote the No-touch policy as much as possible - the number of people allowed to touch your kids should be kept to a healthy minimum. Even when you have to touch their private parts, it's a good idea to ask for permission.

Note - it so happens that it's Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. You may want to head on over to this online resource, run by my friend Kiran Manral (amongst others) and educate yourself on various matters. Also, I think it's never early to have the talk with your kids about CSA and here's a truly fabulous video that I've shared before. Now's a good time to let your kids watch it too. Seriously. This one may really, really help educate them ( and you). Great work, Childline. 

10. On Time

Dr. Ravindran rounded off his talk ( where he had us spellbound for two full hours, not an easy task when you're talking to a roomful of busy, tired parents) by saying he had talked about Unconditional Love and Discipline being two extremely critical offerings that we make as parents to our children - the third happens to be the gift of Time. Listening to them. And making sure that the time we give them is about THEM and not for us - agenda-less time, not time we're forcing them to bond with us or trying to improve upon them.

As he said - the moments that they will remember when they grow up are only those little ones when you held them by the hand and walked around a mela or a park. Parks and Walks, he said, if they're not a part of your relationship with your children - you're missing out on something.

Simple but profound.

Let me therefore end this really long, but hopefully worthy post and go and check on what the kids are doing. It's already 8.30 p.m. But it's never too late for a walk in the park, right?


Thursday, April 3, 2014

And they danced... at The Happy School's Fifteenth Annual Day Function

And so, this week, it finally happened. The challenge was accepted - and overcome!

The Happy School for underprivileged kids, where I volunteer on Saturdays to teach spoken english to class 2 students, had their Annual Day function in Gurgaon this Monday.

Despite an accident that Pickle had over the weekend wherein he got ten stitches on his scalp ( he is recovering well, thank you and I will perhaps post an update on that at some point), we managed to make it for the function on Monday. Even Vijay took an hour off out of the office to come and watch part of the program, and he's the one who took the video below.

As I wrote before, I was given the task of preparing the kids who had been left out of all other performances with a song. My initial attempt of getting them to do my original choreo on Gal Mitthi Mitthi Bol was a grand flop show.

Peanut, ever-present by my side when I'm at these little projects, said 'I think you should make them do Follow the Leader. Not Gal Mitthi Mitthi Bol.'

I growled at her, saying I would make them do Gal Mitthi only. It was upon some quiet reflection later that I realized that the kid was right. Follow the Leader wasn't a complicated song at all, it was high energy and most importantly - the instructions were right there in the music. Given the fact that I had just a few days to work with these kids and they weren't the most coordinated bunch on the planet, it made sense to get them to do this song instead.

And they did. They practiced every day - I went in as often as I could, getting some solid coordination help from another long-time volunteer, Neeta. And on the final day, I sat through the whole function in a large, crowded hall and was once again fascinated by everything that Mrs. Kamal Capoor has achieved in the setting up of this institution. It was an hour-long, rich performance replete with plays, songs, dances - the enthusiasm of the children was really something to see.

But most of all, I enjoyed the performance that my little kids put up - and yes, they got to be on the stage, which had always been the point of it all. Not one was left out, not even the naughtiest and most undisciplined of the lot.

If you watch the video to the end, you'll catch a glimpse of me looking like a proud Mother Hen. I'm glad I did this. But to tell you the truth, I'm also kind of glad that Annual days come only once a year!

P.S - if you'd like to volunteer at the Happy School, Gurgaon or contribute in any way, please write to Mrs. Capoor at kamalcapoor@yahoo.com. I would direct to you her website, but it's a little dated and she's looking for help with someone who can help update it and make it easy for her to update regularly too. You can probably Google it nevertheless :). Now watch the dance!