Monday, December 28, 2015

Moving across the world, and other adventures

Oh BOY. What a two months it has been. Early in November, we packed up, drove to the airport just when a toddler should have been settling in for the night, and flew for the next 24 hours from India to the US. I felt my hair should have been turning white through the flight, the stress was that intense. Flights that start at midnight should be banned on the basis of undue cruelty to parents.

Then we got to the US, and we were in transit at my brother's place (where most of my baby's toys and stuff were packed up and she was in completely unfamiliar territory) for a WHOLE month. Not a good idea, this. She was cranky and screen-addicted for nearly all of that time. Things were only mildly redeemed by the presence a a wonderful park close to home.

Meanwhile, I flew around the country, interviewed, got a job offer, negotiated and accepted it, and have JUST (as of like 2 weeks) moved to the east coast. Finally, we could unpack stuff and set up a kid's home for her. Her books reappeared, with her many balls! The effects were miraculous...a much happier child emerged, and the demands for screentime have gone down dramatically,

Overall, I am having such adventures. Moving back to the country after being out for 3 years creates all sorts of hiccups you just did not see coming. Driving after nearly 5 years has been interesting too. Buying a home's worth of stuff...yikes.

 I have been discovering all sorts of money saving strategies,for example, rebates for shopping! All sorts exist, apparently. This is one that I got on, that I was clueless about 3 months ago: Ebates: this one gets you cashback for diapers, retail shopping (GAP, Uniqlo, Bed Bath & Beyond, Guess, Sleepy's, Gymboree, you name it, it is probably in there), and this does really help a bit especially during holiday season. Now, if I am not making cash back off my credit card PLUS anywhere between 2-10% off online purchases, I consider that horrendous. What a strange wonderful world we live in! Btw, I am doing this sales plug because I totally make referral bucks off this, but this IS legit. About a 100$ back for holiday shopping is helpful balm indeed, when you open that credit card statement.

But anyway, coming back to tales of my life: I start work in a few days. Gauri starts her uber expensive daycare. I truly become a single parent in about a month (my dad is still here, and my mom just left): My family helped settle me in, and what was herculean otherwise just got transformed into mildly stressful and busy because of the group effort. Anybody who has a family like mine is lucky indeed.

But...greetings from the other side of the world! We made it!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The winds of change..

When the universe wants to get you going, it sometimes lights a giant fire under your unsuspecting ass.

That is exactly what has happened to me: after months of waiting and anxiously biting my nails and badgering my poor lawyer, my immigration situation was finally, suddenly resolved. Gauri and I are now the proud bearers of passport stamps that would give us green cards as soon as we entered the US. I thought I would have 6 months for this re-entry, and was languidly planning a vacation in Spain in December before leaving for the US in January.

*Ahem,* said the universe. I open my passport, and find that I have until the end of November to re-enter (!!!!!). So in less than one month, my life is going to change drastically - in a largely welcome, but also frightening manner, since the unknown always scares the crap out of all of us. Then, reality meanders along, and you realize that every problem just fixes itself, and that your fears were largely unfounded. Or so I hope.

Gauri is doing wonderfully: we are halfway into the second year! A walking, climbing, running, jumping (or she tries) tornado. She LOVES to play games with people, is super social, and is generally easy going, unless you thwart her in some way. Then, her butt tightens, her back arches, and she releases the dogs of war. There are so many facets to this child: the sweet one, where all of us (and teddy bears, books, dogs, and computer screens too) get spontaneous kisses. The joyous one, where she wakes up with a huge smile on her face. The adventurous one, where she will literally try to climb anything (car windshields, high chairs) she sees, and mostly succeed too. The musical one, where she presses buttons on the cordless phone to get it to play classical ringtones so she can dance to them. The headstrong one, which comes from a naturally strong personality combined with the indulgence of everybody around her---this one makes me go ULP. I’m stern, but practically nobody else is.

But coming back to what is looming: SO much has to happen now. I have to move back with G (my parents are coming to help settle us in), find a job (searching all over the country, have one interview lined up already, many more need to happen), buy a car, buy everything from scratch (I have taken to haunting the Amazon US website, which I have missed like crazy---given my sale hunting and new-found obsession with finances and stretching and creating bucks out of thin air, have started up a Facebook group that anybody of a similar bent must check out).

This to-do list looks intimidating as heck, but I have to remind myself: one step at a time, and everything works out. Next post, possibly from the other side of the world!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Picking the right books for your baby: a by-age buying guide

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links 

As I get older, I am struck by the fact that very few things have the power to change a society as much as reading. Indeed, when people talk about the things that you can do in the early (infant/toddler) years that positively promotes literacy, reading is way up on top.

The AAP states that:

"Parents who spend time reading to their children create nurturing relationships, which is important for a child’s cognitive, language and social-emotional development." 

Rather excitingly, a recently published study of the brains of 3-5 year-olds revealed that reading produces changes in the brain that are actually apparent through MRI:

"The MRIs revealed that children from more stimulating home reading environments had greater activity in the parts of the brain that help with narrative comprehension and visual imagery. Their brains showed greater activity in those key areas while they listened to stories."

More than literacy, books fire the imagination. Reading teaches you to look beyond the surface, something that not many people in any given society can do. 

But while a lot of parents give books a shot, reading to your children and getting them truly interested in books is not easy.
  • The reading technique matters, and the book picked definitely matters.
  • Additionally, the number of books counts: Reading 1-3 books/day (most infant books are done in around 3 minutes flat) definitely does not have the same impact as reading 5-15 books/day. 
While many parents are eager to buy books, they may get frustrated at a child's apparent lack of interest because they have not introduced the right books at the right age. As an example, I found that Gauri would reject certain books at certain time points, and I would be pissed off that I wasted my money, only to have her suddenly fall in love in love with them a few months later.

While there are many websites and resources providing lists of children's books, few really stratify by them by age. This blogpost aims to do just that.

0-3 months:

In this period, babies see in black and white, and are just learning to track objects. At this point, stick with black and white books. I have not reviewed these personally myself (because I started reading to G when she was 3 months old), but these are affordable, and look like good choices based on reviews: Look, Look!, Baby Animals, and Hello Animals,

3-8 months

Touch-and-Feel books are safe and excellent choices for this age, where I think touch is the sense to focus on.  

I actually only started reading to G at 3 months, with the Usborne series: I got That's Not My Monkey and That's Not My PandaShe listened well enough (at that point she was immobile, so could not wander off), but did not seem to show much active interest.

She started crawling at 6 months, which meant she had the option of wandering off if a book did not hold her attention. This allowed me to really gauge if a book held her interest. At around 7 months, I could really tell that her interest in books had increased significantly, when she started feeling each texture. Very soon, she came to have favorite textures: she would make me flip pages till she came to what she liked, and she would spend a while rubbing her fingertips against that.

I then got more in the series, including That's Not My Dinosaur, That's Not My Tiger (recommended), and That's Not My Lion (not their best effort). If I had a do-over, I think I would have gotten That's Not My Puppy instead.

Emboldened by her interest in the Usborne Touch-and-feel books, I started to expand my collection.  I got many books, and had many hits and a few misses: if she was bored, she would listen to me read a page, and she would just push off my lap and crawl off.

My recommendations from this point on are based on the hits and misses

8-12 months 

A great many things worked during this time:

She went nuts, nuts I tell you, for Goodnight Moon (for reasons beyond me), and also Moo Ba La La (slightly more understandable) instantly.

She was more guarded, but still enthusiastic for Peek-a-who (what kept her attention was the promise of the mirror at the end of the book). Her enthusiasm for this really simple book has actually increased, not diminished, in the 12-18 month period.

Dear Zoo was something I bought her later (at 13 months-ish) and it was met instantly with great enthusiasm: it is well-executed, and the flaps are well constructed. I am including it in the 8-12 month list here because I do believe it would have worked at an earlier point as well.  

Some Eric Carle books were also instant hits: again for reasons beyond me. I do not understand why Brown Bear, Brown Bear with its crude illustrations and really simple text (one animal sees the other, and the other, and so on) worked so magically. Its sequel, Polar Bear, Polar Bear (introduced at 13 months), was also a hit, though I think it would have worked at an earlier point as well. 

The Very Hungry Caterpillar introduced at this time was also a hit, but a rather conditional one: it worked in part because of the circular cardboard cut-outs in each page; those kept her engaged, and I do not know how successful it would have been without them.

A slightly off-the-beaten-track find at this point was The Game of Finger Worms. To read this one, you draw faces on your fingers and push them though really large holes in time to the story: I figured this would work because she loved the cutout holes in the The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and turns out I was right.

Other good books that worked instantly at this point, but also helped her get familiar with the different parts of the body were these two: Where is Baby's Belly Button and I Love You Through and Through (this one covers some body parts, and also emotions: happy, sad, angry, etc, and the illustrations are adorable---highly recommended). While I have not tried the third (Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes), I include it here because it is a similar category and appears to be well received.

13-18 months

I think their comprehensive abilities definitely go up after the one-year mark, and many 12-13-month olds may be ready for the multiple-lines-per-age books.

One case in point: At 8 months, I had introduced Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, a long, multiple-lines-per-page book about the alphabets climbing a coconut tree. She hated it at this point: she would listen to one page, impatiently push the book away and walk off or grab another one. I kept trying for a few months, and eventually gave up. Startlingly, one day around the 13-month point, she opened the cupboard, picked out this book and brought it to me, and sat through the first half of it. The next day, the same thing continued, and we inched forth, and soon she was listening to the entire book and demanding I read it to her 5 times a day.

Another such example is But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Bonyton. I bought this along with "Moo Ba La La La": while she loved the latter at 7 months, she showed all signs of detesting the former at this time. Mysteriously, at around 13-14 months, without any prompting from me---I had given up---this one became a firm favorite.

Other choices that worked at this age:

Little Blue Truck: this is a delightful little book comparing and contrasting a friendly little blue truck with a rude and loud yellow dump truck, and shows the power of being nice to people, and is really easy to read and emote. This was an almost instant winner. The ramifications of this one sink in slowly over time, and I think this book can be revisited by the child many times between the ages of 1~3.

The Very Lonely Firefly: I tried 3 Eric Carle books (The Grouchy Ladybug, Mister Seahorse, and this one, and Firefly was the only one that worked for this age). It is a nice book that teaches kids about the different sources of light, and also introduces them to the concept of finding friends, and when you get to the end of the board book, there is an electronic feature that makes the little fireflies light up, which my daughter does enjoy. Do not know if it is worth the extra $$$ though.

The Llama Llama series: This is a wonderfully illustrated series that really allows the parents to really emote while reading it: the words rhyme wonderfully. These cover various situations---a baby Llama who is feeling alone at bedtime after his mom tucks him in, and has a meltdown (Llama Llama Red Pajama), a baby who is feeling lost at preschool (Llama Llama Misses Mama), about a baby who has a meltdown while shopping (Llama Llama Mad at Mama), about sharing (Llama Llama Time to Share) etc. I have the first, which is the most popular one in the series, and my daughter loved it almost instantly.

The Best Behavior Series: On the first day that she went to a mother-toddler class, my daughter bit 5 kids out of sheer excitement. I was not to know that she would settle down by herself the next class, and ended up buying a couple of books (Teeth Are Not for Biting and Feet Are Not for Kicking) from this series the very next day. Even though they were not really needed for the intended purpose, I have to say that G went nuts for these straightaway, and that these books are useful: They cover the legitimate uses of teeth (chewing, smiling, and also discuss how to cope with teething pain), feet (walking, standing, running, jumping, and so on---my daughter was immediately entranced by the idea of jumping, and attempted it straightaway), and also tell kids how to respond if they are bitten or kicked. There are a couple of others in the series (Hands Are Not for Hitting and Diapers Are Not Forever) that look useful as well.

Learning books: Elmo's Big Lift-and-Look Book: This is a nice lift-the-flap book: it covers numbers, alphabets, shapes, opposites, etc, and my daughter enjoyed the crap out of it. The only downside with getting it at this age is that children can get too enthusiastic and rip the flaps off.
Ten Wriggly Wriggly Caterpillars:If one buys this book, get the hardcover version: It is a great counting book for counting down from 10 to 1, and is nicely constructed. Warning: my daughter ripped out every last pop-up butterfly on the last page though, and it physically hurt me. May want to hold off if you have a rambunctious toddler.

So far, all my suggestions are fairly mainstream suggestions got from other moms, and are mostly by American authors, other than Herve Tullet, who is French.

Now we get into the stuff that I discovered by accident--the very best way!

The Bizzy Bear Series: This series, a chance find in a books-by-weight sale of mostly British authors, is a total gem. While the appeal of most children's books (Eric Carle books are are great example) are evident to the children, the parents often fail to see the appeal. This books are different: babies AND parents will fall for them instantly. These contain cleverly constructed sliders and really cute illustrations (I would love to live in the town drawn up by the author, it is charming). The sliders in these books will keep babies busy for a while. but be warned, these books spur toddlers on to great enthusiasm, so there will be damage down the road.

They cover various situations: Firemen (Bizzy Bear: Fire Rescue!), pirates (Bizzy Bear: Pirate Adventure), modes of transport (Bizzy Bear: Off We Go!), Knights and dragons (Bizzy Bear: Knights' Castle) so they are useful for expanding the imagination as well. 

Julia Donaldson Books: This author is HUGELY popular in England (and hence her books are also available in India, the post-colonial influences still exist), but few across the Atlantic seem to have heard of her.

Here is a book by her that would be appropriate for the under-18-months subset: One Ted Falls Out of Bed. Gauri loved this on the second or third read, and it teaches counting up to 10 and counting down from 10 in a seriously charming way.

I got a rather limited board book by the same author from a library: the odd thing was that G was absolutely fascinated by her most popular character, The Gruffalo, which was pictured at the end of this rather ordinary book. Have to buy The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo's Child for her when she is older. There seems to be a child's board book also featuring the Gruffalo that may be suitable for toddlers: My First Gruffalo Little Library: this one looks more interesting than the board book I got.

Another gem in my books-by-weight stash is this Smarties Prize finalist called  Five Little Fiends. While the recommended ages for this are 2-5 years based on one source, and 4+ years based on another source, it absolutely worked when I introduced this to Gauri at 16 months. This is a wonderfully simple, yet thought-provoking way to introduce the concepts of sharing and harmony: 5 little fiends, who live in 5 statues love to come out and marvel at the world around them. One day, they decide to take what each of them likes best (the sun, the moon, the sky, the land, and the sea) and keep them all for themselves, and they realize that nothing works without the other. At 16-17 months, I do not know how much G really understands of these concepts, but she loves this story, and this is one of those you just have to keep revisiting every few months. HIGHLY recommended.

Another book that is recommended for older kids (pre-school to Grade 2), but still really works for Gauri at this time is Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. I cannot begin to express how much I love this book. Certainly, my toddler loves the illustrations even though she cannot understand the ramifications of this story yet, but it is a wonderful story about breaking free from the pack and being true to your own self. It is also a story of acceptance of unconventionality or differences by society, and how one person (or animal) can lead the way for change. Buy this for your older children, definitely, but it may also work for the under-2 set. As this is not a board book, I am very careful when she reads this, because I want to preserve this book for the next 4 years, and have her read it again and again, so some of the valuable nuances I see as an adult may percolate into her consciousness as well.

Another real winner is this whimsical book with dreamy, lovely illustrations called The Pear TreeYou should consider this if you like singing to your child----it can be sung to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas, and it goes like "On the first day of January my grandpa showed to me, a pigeon in a pear tree" and so on. So it can teach a child about the months of the year, the changing seasons, various animals, and various relations, and it is about counting.My daughter alternately gets up and twirls to me singing, or is entranced by squirrels and starlings. Score, indeed.

This concludes my 13-18 month list. Check back in a while, I should have a new crop!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Aylan Kurdi

I have been meaning to write one of my memory book posts of what Gauri has been upto: stories that I may easily forget now if I do not catalog them somewhere. Today, I have the time.

But my brain is heavy, because I cannot get that image of Aylan Kurdi out of my mind. That was another toddler too.

Collectively, our conscience can, if one is being exceedingly kind, be described as sluggish. But children bring out every last nugget of humanity that we possess. I wonder, if somebody even in ISIS can look at that image and feel no pangs of shame or sorrow.

I am feeling awful that this burden is apparently just Europe's to bear, based on proximity. It should not be just Europe sharing this, of giving these people a place to live, to try to reclaim life again. Even if different countries take in piddly numbers in an organized manner, it counts for something.

Words are empty. As individuals, we can do very little, other than donate. And even when you do (I did, to this one), one feels slightly empty and shameful about it: after all, I picked this cause because that photo has moved me to tears many times in the past 2 days: previously, this entire thing had been no more than many headlines on a news website: you felt bad about it, but moved on, as we always do.  And why THIS crisis? Why respond to this little life lost? Awful things have been happening steadily in the past. Libya. Iraq. It took this image to move me enough to make a piddly gesture.

But here is to action, piddly or otherwise. Here is hoping that image gets some people in power to move as well. Germany is taking in 800,000. Sweden is also taking people in: do not know the numbers. Various nations appear to be stirring into action. I want the far flung stable nations to take some: definitely the country I live in now---India---should. Just taking some is not enough: these are people that have been traumatized beyond imagining. The effort has to be well thought out, organized, with a plan to give them better than a makeshift camp where they are abandoned to a life of poverty and all the downward spirals that come with that.

But here, I am just wishing for the moon, aren't I?

Friday, July 3, 2015

The art of waiting patiently and living well

Central to the Bhagvad Gita is this simple and yet unfollowable piece of advice: Do what you need to do (your duty----this book is big on "duty"), and then quit worrying/obsessing about how things will play out, since that is not in your piddly ability to influence.

Would'nt life be so much better if we could follow this, to the letter?

Courtesy Google Images
I am playing the waiting game with the US consulate, and I am trying to forget that I am waiting, and just use this time constructively. Ha.  Working on that.

Before Gauri came along, if you had asked me what I wanted, it would be to be a mother. Currently, if you ask me, I want an email from the consulate saying they will stamp my passport to get me a green card.

But beyond that? What do I need now to be happy, now that I have Gauri? I asked myself that a few days ago while meditating (I manage a very insignificant, yet helpful few minutes), and the answer surprised me: Not the perfect man, not so much money that I could give up worrying about the practicalities of life, but to be the best version of myself possible.

And here is the thing: it is a workable goal, but the very first step is discipline, and that I have to master, and ALL my life, I have had problems with that, outside of work.

I want to focus on this now in very small ways, mostly because this is time out of time as I wait, and I really need to be as fighting fit as possible before I get back on a plane to the US to begin the next phase of my life, whenever that happens. Wish me luck! 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Not the best of times

It has been a rough few weeks. First, a giant (but completely sortable) wrinkle was introduced in my US immigration process. Its sorting depends on the response of consulate officials to information supplied via email, so basically, waiting on the cogs of bureaucracy to turn. It could be sorted tomorrow, or could take 3 months. If I was the calm, only-operate-by-logic sort, I would be chilled out and enjoy the extra time I have been granted. Since my jumpy gut is instead in play, I have had multiple insomnia-filled nights before somewhat calming down.

This vividly bought back the TTC process: I was okay waiting if only somebody could could assure me of success and tell me how long I had to wait. Here I am, with infinitely better odds and a much shorter wait, and my nerves are still shredded.

In all this, a familiar realization has been re-impressed upon me: It does not really matter what our problem is, because problems come and go: what matters is how we respond to them, and what damage we do to ourselves in the response.

Tragedy also struck my family: a cousin---one who I liked peripherally but was not close to, having met her only a few times---died of dengue-associated complications.

I was surprised to find myself crying when I found out: after all, I knew her very little. But cry I did, and gloom and even guilt lingered...that I was NOT grieving enough. When something horrible happens, the rest of the world sympathizes and then moves on, while the principal players are incapacitated for a long, long time.

Dengue is SUCH a horrible illness. This is the second of two-dengue related deaths in my sphere, and it is not the infection itself that kills, but the consequences of inflammation and other responses triggered during the war between the immune system and the virus. I tried to use what I was feeling constructively: I finally got off my butt and finished writing a blog post about immunity, and how to best arm your immune system so that even if you are infected by a truly powerful bug, your immune system has enough help and is in good enough shape that it does not spiral out of control, not to the point that you need hospitalization or suffer worse consequences: The post is here.  Please share this one. I do not guarantee that this can work, but such knowledge can potentially prevent so much damage, and I am sick of the damage.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


The other day, I started crying over a tiny, tiny thing. It took everybody by surprise, most of all me, because I realized I am stressed without really realizing it.

This has been building up, subliminally. When I first got the email from the USCIS  scheduling  my green card interview, I saw it at like 3 am and had insomnia for the rest of the night.  My comfortable and yet uncomfortable world was going to shift.

I have to say, there is nothing as frightening as an amorphous concept. Moving to a different country. Managing alone with a toddler who, according to my mother, leaves every child she has EVER seen, including her very active sons, in the dust with respect to the energy and activity levels. Plus, she is an absolute daredevil with tons of determination,  unfortunately no fear, and only a small measure of caution. For better or worse, her mama has plenty. Of each quality.

I think what makes it especially bad for me is my biggest decision: EVERYBODY is telling me to leave Gauri here, atleast for a month or so while I move back and figure out where I will be and settle down. This decision, atleast makes sense from a practical standpoint. I may have to interview in different parts of the country, for one thing. If I am hopping on a plane and staying in hotel rooms, it makes sense that Gauri stays settled in familiar surroundings during the process.

But what makes it worse is my family trying to persuade me to leave her in India long term, with them bringing her to see me, and me flying back frequently, for a year or so. Lots of people have done it, they say. This is true, we know a few. You will not be able to watch her as closely as we do here: this is also true: In India, she has an army to watch her and keep her out of trouble without burning out in the process: A great grandma and grandma and grandpa and an uncle and aunt and maids who are nuts about her, not to mention a mama who supervises the whole deal.  You replace that with one mother and one nanny/au pair, and you have to ask....but how will that work? Yet, it will, I know. You just need a system. But when you sit halfway across the world trying to envision that system, it becomes hard.

But she needs me. And god knows, I need her. My mom has told me to set the me-needing-her bit aside in my decision making process. I cannot. Right now, a month's separation is all I will agree to, but the chipping away continues. And even the thought of being away from her for a month is heart rending. And equally heart rending is the thought of taking her away from all these people who care about her: they need her too.

Yet, I HAVE to get out of India. This country is not for me. Having lived here 3 years now almost, this, what I knew at 22 when I first left, has been soundly reiterated. But when is the right time to make the transition?

Not to mention the job stress drama. Yes, networking really matters. More about job searching later. currently trying to pin down recruiters in various companies. Like slippery eels, they are. Anybody know any fabulous head hunters who recruit for life science-related positions who I can entrust my resume to for a fee, let me know. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015


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


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 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 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


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. 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 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.