Thursday, May 21, 2015

Transitions

I am poised at the edge of a huge transition, one that I have been awaiting for a long time now: my return to the US. I probably would be able to pack my bags and jump on a plane mid-June (not that I will), and that thought, not surprisingly, is scaring the bejeezus out of me.

Gauri is not ready to leave India yet. This place has been so wonderful for her. Yet, leave it we must, well before her second birthday, probably.

I have a monster job search to manage. After the scarcity of opportunities in India, the US appears a veritable smorgasbord. But it is not easy. There are recruiters on LinkedIn to be plagued, random strangers to be called, professors to be emailed, nails to be bitten to the quick. If anybody has need of an immunologist with superior scientific communication skills, holler.

Gauri also is in transition. Over a month ago, she was a little baby hulk: Gauri see, Gauri smash. Now, her nurturing side seems to be emerging. Little bears get picked up, get patted rather forcefully, are nestled into the crook of her neck and walked around till they fall asleep. She suddenly loves cuddling with me at night before she goes to bed. Out of the blue, she went from hating Chika Chika Boom Boom (a book about the alphabets climbing up a coconut tree, and falling down) to demanding that I read it to her 6 times a day, sometimes in succession. Her playfulness (which was always present, right from the start) is really blossoming: her favorite game is acting like she wants to feed us while she is sitting at her highchair; the moment we present ourselves, mouths open, she plops the food in her own mouth and grins gleefully. Toddler hood is also making its presence felt in less charming ways as well: this kid has an operatic voice, and cannot really communicate verbally yet, so resorts to pointing (with her whole body), and going UUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHHHH!

Wonder what is coming next, in every sector. With Gauri, every process is a joy (mostly). With the job search, and I am still rather enjoying it four days in. Ask me in a month. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

One!

It has been twelve wonderful months since Gauri arrived!!! When you are going through infertility,  you cannot believe that such milestones will ever grace your life, but arrive they do, and you get to eat this:


I was an awful record keeper all year. So for her party, I decided to make up for that: I put together a movie of her first year, showing her month by month, covering milestones, journeys (by road and by plane) taken, videos of her dancing, videos of her eating with a ferocious concentration,  videos of her attacking other people: it was SO great putting it together. I would love to put it up here, but have decided against public sharing. I did share with all my blogging buddies on Facebook. Btw, if we are blogging buddies but have not yet connected on Facebook and you want to change that, drop me a line. 

This kid, OMG, this kid. Her personality is a joy to behold. She is super social. Usually, babies do not interact much with people as they go out for walks, from the sampling  I have seen. They are just wheeled around, with both parents and child just staring straight ahead. Not this kid. She is usually hanging out of her stroller, which terrifies the crap out of people who do not realize she is strapped in (three point harness, ugh, Graco), checking out the wheels, waving to people, craning her head behind to see who we passed, playing peekaboo with grandma: she is just so THERE. And people really respond to that. I have seen people who would normally just ignore kids start engaging this child.

 She talks a little now. "Mama" has not yet emerged---- this kid's first words really reflect her priorities. First came "boto"(bottle), followed by "dog" and then, a few more like "ball" and "boo" (book), followed by the most meaningful communication of her first year, "bye!" She uses this one like a swiss army knife: when people are getting ready to leave, when she wants to be taken somewhere else, and this use took the cake: to change the subject as I was reading her the riot act for biting me. Fun times ahead, clearly.

If you ask her "who is a cutie pie" she proudly thumps her chest. If I ask her " who is a goonda" (Hindi for hooligan), the chest gets thumped again. If the maids ask her (in Hindi), what her name is, that chest gets thumped again, much to our amusement.

Happy birthday darling girl. You have brought so much joy into so many lives.

Friday, March 13, 2015

RIP Paul Kalanithi

I read the news of a passing of a stranger yesterday, and it has stayed with me since because of the sheer power of his words.

Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon at Stanford and a tremendously gifted writer.  After he was diagnosed with aggressive metastatic lung cancer, he wrote two utterly haunting essays, entitled  "How Long Have I Got Left?” for The New York Times and “Before I Go” for Stanford Medicine. Both essays are must-reads, the first especially so for members of the medical community.

It is funny that one of the reasons that I feel so particularly bad about this is because somebody with so much eloquence was taken from this world, while everyday, so many good people pass relatively un-mourned by the general public.

But anyway, it is this man's eloquence that spurred this post, and got me talking about something that I have pondered in passing for several months now.  Kalanithi, addressing his infant daughter who was born only days after he was released from the hospital, said this in his second essay:

When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

These are words that will resonate with me,and with many of you, because he put into words what so many of us feel, but cannot express. And the scope of his statement is not restricted to people whose days are numbered, but ALL of us, really.

I was happy-ish before Gauri came along, but it was a low-level contentment, if you will, where I was always looking forward to the next thing to make me happy: a holiday, a book, a job, a date, the baby itself (a 4-year long wait, that); I was very rarely perfectly happy, perfectly joyous in that moment. I think there may have been a few instances where I came close: there was one, I remember, when I was out in Acadia National Park. Existential joy at its purest.

After Gauri? The moments come thick and fast. I still grumble about many things, I am still looking forward to a great many little things (getting out of India, mostly), but there are so many moments that are so perfectly joyous that they are hard to bear. Then there are moments of perfect quiet peace and contentment.

Very few things can bring this sort of joy. Very few things make us stop searching for the next best thing and let us simply bask in a particular moment. I am glad this man got to experience that, though it is such a tragedy he died just a few months short of his baby's first birthday. I do not know him, but I am so saddened by the fact that he had so little time. For all of you out there in the infertility trenches, know that the prize you are fighting for is the best one indeed. It is worth the pain of battle.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Parenting Fails and Triumphs

As a new parent, I started down this road with SUCH good intentions.  My baby would get no screen time. She would not be transfixed by electronics. She would be interested in exploring her surroundings. She would be involved in the world around her.

Well, two out of four is not bad, is it? 

Turns out, ensuring that your kids do not fall down the rabbit hole of a deep and abiding fascination for electronics requires serious discipline from you, and whoever else is in the house. We failed, and badly.

My grandma watches incredibly awful regional language TV soaps. I watch Downton Abbey and Top Chef and Modern family. My dad channel surfs. All of us (barring my grandma) spend far too much time with our smartphones. I have tried to keep her out of the room while the TV is on, but the damage is done. Among her favorite objects are remote controls. She drags em around the house, points em at the TV, presses buttons, and gets super pissed when nothing relevant happens. Sometimes she stands in front of the TV, pressing buttons on a remote, waving her arms and screaming like a witch doctor, exhorting it to start. When it does start, sometimes she ignores it, but whenever there is a jingle or the opening number, she is transfixed and starts dancing to it (turns out this kid is pretty musical---she will dance to almost anything). When she sees my phone, she lets out a war hoop and dives for it. My laptop drives her ballistic. I usually deny her these objects, resulting in tantrums (already at 11 months!!), which mama is pretty good at ignoring at a deadpan manner, but other people can be PUTTY in the face of. Working on establishing rules for consistent reactions in a big family is a headache, I have to say. But the rewards make it totally worth it. 

But with these things that have not worked out the way I intended, there are also things that have, some a bit more than I would have liked. This kid loves nature. She is out for maybe around 2 hours a day in our garden, not counting her long walk. She is observant and really pays attention to her surroundings. She loves to explore, take apart, and examine everything (she stands on tiptoe in front of desks and tries to pull all the contents down...joy). She eats (self-feeds) with no need for distraction, really tasting and enjoying food---part of that is her own nature (all her half-siblings are really good eaters) and the fact that she has never been troubled by reflux, which is the root of the problem for so many kids labelled "picky eaters." Nonetheless, I have to give quite a bit of credit to baby-led weaning. It really is a fantastic concept.

But overall, the triumphs have little to do with me, and quite a bit to do with the amazing support system I have. Usually, the fails have also little to do with the parents (but in some cases, they do, as is so here). And I am NOT going to beat myself up about it, and you cannot either, even if some of you may want to. "Perfection" in parents is unrealistic, unachievable, and overrated, is it not? We just have to do the best we can under the circumstances, while not being too hard on ourselves or on the kids.

I just have to work on keeping her love for electronics under reasonable control, and making sure her interests remain diverse. Easy peasy, right?  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ten months!

It is a short time really, but it feels like ALL my life. I cannot imagine a world without this child in it anymore.

She is changing so fast. The beginnings of conversation are here: I was so freaking excited when, in the middle of the night, she pointed to her bottle and wailed "bo to!" It is an indescribable feeling when you know they are getting closer to the point where they can actually TELL you what they want. It is also interesting to see them try to discover how to use their tongue and vocal cords to actually form words: last night, she appeared to be struggling to form the word "goodnight," (she was clutching "Goodnight Moon") and she went "gGGG" and something unintelligible after that, but this gives you a real appreciation of how difficult learning to talk is.

With eating as well, there have been huge strides. She hated her high chair at first. Screamed like Torquemada himself had strapped her in and was starting up his routine. I used to wring my hands, because trying to teach a child to self-feed while not using a high chair is a daunting and super messy prospect. So I girded my loins and began a long (and thoughtful) campaign to get her to accept the detested high chair, and it finally worked. So that accomplished, I sat her down in it and gave her finger food ( a plate of torn-up dosa pieces) and OMG, she proceeded to feed herself! I have gone with baby-led weaning from the start with respect to the food she ate, but had delayed self feeding (they tell you to start at 6-7 months), and was scared that she would get too used to being fed.  Well, it is not a concern apparently, and her highness has had plenty of time to practice her pincer grip picking up random objects off the floor (have had to deal with explosive diarrhea in the middle of the night a couple of times now, joy).

Speaking of explosive diarrhea, I have a tip for all you beleaguered parents out there: Probiotics are supposed to help shorten the frequency, duration, and severity of gastrointestinal upsets, and this kid has been on a heavyweight probiotic (Lactobacillus reuteri in the Gerber Soothe Colic drops) since nearly day one. So when a bout of explosive and uncontrollable diarrhea began, I decided to try the effect of two probiotics as opposed to one, and I picked yeast (Saccharomyces boulardii, sold in the US as Florastor) as the second probiotic, and the infection came under control within 18 hours! So two probiotics are better than one, and it may be better to give two very disparate bugs (for example, yeast and a member of the Lactobacillus genus)

But yeah, she is self-feeding, and mommy dare not eat in front of her, because this kid waddles up to me like John Wayne, yanks food off my plate, swipes it on the floor, and when she is satisfied that it is dirty enough, shoves it in her mouth. She gave me the fright of my life when she did this with a very large piece of raw beetroot: I was terrified she would choke, but she proceeded to gum it very carefully for a very long time, and then swallowed.  What I realized then is that we vastly underestimate the ability of a baby to know what to do with food.  

But let me take a teeny tiny break from talking about my daughter to talking about myself. 

I have been trying the work-from-home gig as a freelance editor for the past 4-5 months. I HATE IT. I hate that I do not often shower till the end of the day. I hate how low my productivity is. I hate the lack of structure, which is not helped by my total lack of discipline. The only (big) plus is I can take frequent breaks to spend time with Gauri or take care of her, but even that cannot be a long-term thing. What I have realized in this time is I do not at all have what is takes to be a SAHM or even a WFHM. I need to get out on a daily basis. Thankfully, we have a pretty good caretaker system at home, and my grandma is around to supervise. It really helps to have a family member around. 

So I set out to look for shared office spaces (for entrepreneurs/freelancers), and I was pleasantly surprised: it appears to be a thing in both the US and India, and it appears to be a pretty fun setup (a dedicated desk seems to go for around $400/month in Austin, TX, or around 13000 INR/month in Mumbai, India). This seems like a great short-term solution till I return to the US...my going back has been delayed by 6-12 months past my estimations, much to my dismay, though the delay is a good thing for Gauri. Once I go back, I definitely want a full-time job that takes me back to science as opposed to freelance science editing. Anyway, starting next week, I start working from a shared office space as opposed to my couch. YAY, hello makeup. Hello, pretty clothes. Goodbye, detested jammies.  Hello, meeting new people.

Good note to end on, huh? 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Resemblences

While a baby is a genetically a blend of two people together, the trait distribution can be complex: sometimes, the individual contributions from either biological parent are evident, and sometimes they are not. Sometimes, there appear to be no inherited traits at all.

If I look at Gauri and I together in a mirror today, I sometimes cannot see the resemblance (possibly because our coloring really differs), but then it seems to jump out in our eyes, the overall shape of our faces, and sometimes just something indefinable. But then, when you look at baby photos of me and baby photos of Gauri, the resemblance is much stronger.

But I digress. This child has taken definite facets from her maternal and paternal sides.

Her smile is mine. Her eyes are mine. Her eyelashes (score!) are mine. Her joy and enthusiasm for people are the same as mine as a child----I sadly became much more reserved later.

Her love for reading may have come from me; I was the consummate bookworm, and this kid LOVES book-time. Her ability to cry quickly may, sadly, be mine as well---even mildly strong emotion provokes tears in me: I just sniffled through the the end of "The Imitation Game," much to the amusement and disbelief of the people with me. Sigh...it would suck if this very disadvantageous trait afflicted yet another generation. In the plus column, she may be a very early talker like me, but the jury is still out on that one.

But, oh, the (possibly) paternal influences: Unlike me, this child is very physical. She crawled early at 6 months, stood up by herself at 6.5 months, is starting to walk unassisted now at 9.5 months: What amazes me is a lot of her half-siblings started to do all of these things at around exactly the same times.  Her height and weight percentiles (very tall, rather light baby) match up almost spookily with that of a few of her female half-sibs. She is utterly fearless and is indefatigable. She may also turn out to be athletic and may be good with using her body: we showed her the correct way to dismount from a bed, and she picked it up immediately....my abilities to imitate or follow a described motion are actually sub-par, which is why I will always be a sucky athlete/dancer. Probably the best dissimilarity from me: this kid loves to eat. She loves food, all types of food (giant, giant score).

Can you delineate traits in your children? Would be fun to read about it---including the things they pick up as a result of nurture, not nature...sometimes that matters more: for example, Gauri's love for books. My parents read to me, and I am reading to her. Would the two of us have been the same if we had not been raised thus?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The weathering of storms

I have to admit, I have led a very charmed existence this first year, in that I have had tons of help in raising Gauri. I do not need to shower while having her perched in her rocker four feet away, the way I know many new moms have to do it, because there are always multiple somebodies available to take care of her. I can go out for adult meals when I want, though it is pretty darned rare. I can even take in a movie every now and then. I do not have to gobble down my food while keeping an eye on her.

And  the best of all, as I weathered a monster storm of tooth eruption combined with her first infection (a relatively mild respiratory tract infection that felled everybody in our family) combined with a maid with very poor decision making skills who came to work with conjunctivitis and promptly gave it to her, I had tons of help.

As she woke up screaming 4 times a night because she could not breathe because her nose was blocked, or when she coughed so hard she threw up, I had help. 

My dad and my mom (especially my dad) have been my rocks through this. My dad would insist on staying up through the night to help me with her, so I could get sleep. The night that I weathered the worst of the infection myself, my brothers took care of her so I could get sleep.

I would never dream of talking about all this because I know how rare this setup and such help is, but I am now, because in about 7-8 months time, I probably will leave it all behind to move to the US with Gauri by myself, and take care of her by myself. Most things I am okay with, but what scares me, as it should, is dealing with illness alone. People may think I am actually nuts to leave this behind to manage by myself, but I have my reasons.

Does year 2 get easier than year 1? I hope so, though I know each time comes with its own issues.

But I am so relieved: she has been out of sorts for two whole weeks, and it was such bliss to see my happy baby back again, as opposed to one that burst into tears once an hour. 

Action also needs to be initiated on the discipline front. This is a child surrounded by too many people who act like she is the sun, moon, and the stars. Plus she is a naturally strong willed child with signs of a temper she has come by honestly.  While there is no overt indulging happening, such children possibly become subliminally more aware of the power they wield, and like little dictators, take shameless advantage.  In that way, our move to America, while traumatic, may be good in a way. All in all, I'm really going to have to bring my A-game in this department. Wish me luck, people. I have managed the first crucial bit: she is utterly connected to and trusts me and the grandparents. The next part is using this trust and connection for discipline, and I *ulp* when I think of that.

On the progress front, unintelligible, too cute words are coming out constantly from that mouth, and it is funny to see myself follow her around, ears straining, trying to figure out if her first word is actually nestled within streams of baby babble.  Atto Atto toi toi toi whaaaaaaaaa? Fun times, but also a bit poignant because each phase is gone before you know it, never to repeat again, unless you plan to have many kids, which I do not.

Btw, a blogpost is up on the science blog: it is about Omega 3 fatty acids and that holy grail of topics, baby sleep. Here is the link.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Keeping up with baby: a how-to post

Gauri turned 8 months old a few days ago, and boy, is she keeping us busy.  Had I been  taking care of her alone by myself in the US, even with a nanny/au-pair for help, both the nanny and I would have needed a nice padded cell within a few days, I think.

Oh, I exaggerate. But seriously, this child has energy. If adults could channel even a fraction of baby energy, we could move mountains. This little monkey needs to be on the move constantly. Crawling, standing up and just expecting the person behind her to catch her as she eventually loses balance, opening cupboards,  investigating things, mouthing everything in sight, climbing (she fearlessly would climb up an entire floor, while whoever was trailing behind would live in fear that she would slip and we would fail to catch her), investigating everything, and just moving. All day long. She actually fell behind on the weight curve despite drinking copious amounts of formula and being on solids, just because every calorie was directed towards movement.

In all this, I have had to be super creative just to find things for her to do that will keep her sitting relatively still for short periods of time---a dire need as the relatively baby-safe areas in my house are limited as hell, and her caretakers are tired.

Coming up with a list here as to what has worked for me (other than toys like activity tables, which has been a big hit):

Books: Around the start of her 7th month, she actually started paying attention to me reading to her, and it is a fantastic way to get her to stay still. I've done a ton of research on baby books now (the Facebook group comes in very handy), and I'm putting up a list of what works, and what failed:

What works:
  • The Usborne series of Touch-and-feel books (I've tried and can vouch for "That's not my Panda/Monkey/Dinosaur." Thumbs down for "That's not my Tiger/Lion"----not their best efforts).
  • Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon (I am really surprised how much she loves this one--cannot figure out the mysterious alchemy that makes it work)
  • Sandra Boyton's Moo Ba La La La (Huge hit, and here I can see the appeal)
  • Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar (What makes this book work is the holes in it..she loses interest the minute the pages with the holes punched in are done)
  • Bill Martin Jr.'s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Huge hit)
  • Nina Laden's Peek-a-Who (expresses moderate interest in this---I think the mirror in the end saves it)
  • Herve Tullet's The Game Of Finger Worms (You have to draw faces on your fingers and stick them in the holes---kind of fun for everybody involved)
  • Karen Katz's Where Is Baby's Belly Button? (Huge hit, and I love how well executed this lift-a-flap book is) 
  • Bernadette Rossetti Shustak's I Love You Through and Through (expresses moderate interest in this, but I do like the illustrations, they are really nicely done).
Failed to/has not yet worked:
  • FAIL: Sandra Boyton's That's not my Hippopotamus (she would just wander off after looking at the first page)
  • FAIL: Bill Martin Jr.'s Chicka Chicka Boom Boom: at 9 months, she shows no interest in this one.
  • FAIL: Dr. Seuss's One Fish, Two Fish, Three, Four, Five Fish (Dr. Seuss Nursery Collection)--Boring! Not impressed at all. 
  • Too young for: Mr Tiger Goes Wild (This is a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner, and is awesome. Highly recommend)
  • Too young for: Where the Wild things are (Caldecott medal winner, I loved this---waiting for her to get old enough to get it).
Fridge Magnets! This was discovered quite by chance, that this child is endlessly fascinated by the few paltry fridge magnets we possessed. Since our kitchen is distinctly NOT child-friendly, I will be investing in a magnetic board and a few magnetic toy sets (so much fun looking on Amazon---if anybody wants recommendations and does not feel up to research, let me know).

Photos: Also discovered quite by chance that this child loves pictures of us, and particularly pictures of other babies. I'm having collages made of family pictures, and will also come up with photo books, and the thing I am the most excited about is a giant collage I am having made of all her half-siblings (14 in all) and herself, and tell her who they are.    

Busy Boards: Considering something like this, as this baby loves hinges and door knobs and things that slide.

All in all, it is amazing how excited *I* get over these little things. If anybody has more ideas, please share!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Turbulent joy

I had a visitor a few days ago. This person's visit resurrected a few memories: she was my house guest at the time I had my first IUI (in total secret). I had to drop her off at 7 am on a Saturday to a conference an hour away, and drive back pell-mell to be on time for my IUI appointment. I vividly remembered all the impatience and the excitement of that time. She left midway through the agonizing two-week wait, and I remember my huge relief  that I could then savor the anticipation out in the open. I remembered the surreal and utterly joyous moment I got that positive test, and the utter anticipation in the 2.5 months that followed, and finally, the crushing realization that it was all going to come to nothing.

Four years later, as I watched this visitor play with Gauri, my thought process shifted. It was not for nothing. Each painful step of the way was a step in the journey that was bringing me to this baby, each step helped lay the foundation to help me figure out what I had to do to make her come into being. That line of thought dispatched that sad sense of futility. Nonetheless, even in my wildest happy dreams, I could not have envisioned the miracle that is this child.

I had always wondered if the souls of the babies I have lost would return to me one day. Here is a line of thinking that will never culminate in any answers, and I guess its value is in whatever comfort we can draw from it. It was probably my second loss and my second baby that lingered with me the most strongly: I had a nickname  for her: Turbulence, because boy, did she make her presence felt.

Gauri has that same quality. She LOVES people. Loves, loves loves them. Loves talking to them, smiling at them, playing with them, and oh, that curiosity about the world. It is the most beautiful thing to see. She started crawling rather early (6 months) and has such ambition and energy. She immediately wanted to pull up to stand, even before she could sit steadily, and figured out how two weeks later. She now yanks herself up using furniture, determinedly tries to open cupboards (the ones by her play area stick, thank god), crawls all over the place, and shows a decided interest in climbing stairs, and nibbling at my slippers, and attacking my cell phone, and oh, the object of maximum fascination, my laptop. Sigh. She has to be shadowed constantly, with a hand at the ready to catch her. I've forbidden people from grabbing her hands and encouraging her to walk towards them, because I want her to crawl as long as possible. 

We went with something called baby-led weaning (without meaning to), which skips purees totally. This kid can eats mashed-up food versions of grown-up food. She gnaws on whole pieces of fruit and eats chapattis confidently. At seven months, she now wants to self-feed. She has never gagged, to my astonishment. She lunges towards food, attacking our plate if we eat in front of her, and if she sees us eating or drinking, her mouth moves in anticipation.  The most cruel thing to do is deny her grown-up food and give her a boring bottle of formula instead. I am really, really looking forward to almost every culinary restriction being lifted when she turns one.    

In short, this child is such a force of nature. I look at her and marvel at her, and my mom tells me that all babies are like this...that curiosity, that joy. They probably are, but I've never spent real time with any other baby before, so it would be hard for me to fathom. My brothers and cousins better get cracking reproducing, so all of us get to experience this joy again. I could have never imagined that anything will light up a household like this.

I post so rarely, and I have work stuff and immigration stuff and life decision stuff to talk about too, but sigh, who wants to go there when you could be talking about babies throwing food on the floor? Nonetheless, I will say that freelance scientific editing is a good fit at this point in my life. I am slowly starting to accept more work, and I'm on the prowl for companies that will pay the most. While it is rather tempting to not work at all, I do have nest eggs to build up, in preparation for their rapid depletion for when I return to the US. Sigh. 

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