Good touch, bad touch – a conversation

When I saw Chotu freely planting kisses on the cheeks of all the aunties/caretakers at his daycare a few days ago, I reminded myself to have “the talk” with him. That night we cuddled up at bedtime and I asked him for a kissie – which he gave. Then I started my talk by telling him kissies are very precious and we shouldn’t give them away to everyone. You should only kiss Amma and Nanna and grandpas and grandmas. We give flying kissies to everyone else because they might have “bacterias” (a term my mom taught him). I don’t want to do “nice” and “bad” people at age three after all.

Chotu listened for a bit and said, “But Babu wants to kiss everyone!” That just broke my heart. How awful is the world out there if we need to teach little children not to be affectionate? I’m squashing the innocence of a three year old because I don’t know who I can trust. It’s not just sexual abuse I’m worried about but the entire spectrum of abuse.

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It makes me so angry that we can’t even protect the tiniest and most helpless humans from monsters (hyperbole is justified sometimes, isn’t it?) who would hurt them in the worst ways possible. Instead of coming up with better laws and harsher prosecution, we teach our babies to not be social and to withhold their natural affection. We teach them to be guarded and tell them that evil lurks even  within the aunties who care for them all day. We make them rethink their trust in people just when they’re learning to form bonds outside of family.

I’ll be honest, these thoughts make me cry a little. On days when the news has reports of child abuse I kiss my sleeping baby and hug him tight for a few moments grateful that we send him to a school where I can trust people (it’s run by a committee of volunteer parents). Then I think about all those babies out there with no parents to keep them safe and what might happen to them. Of all the things that can shake one’s faith in society (and the existence of God), maybe child abuse is the worst of them all.

Do you have the same worries? How do you deal with these fears as a parent?

Girls’ Toys?

I read this article a few days ago and forwarded it to P.  The gist of the original article was:

Barbie should be put back in her box to make way for more “creative” toys such as Lego and Meccano that are traditionally given to boys, one of Britain’s top women scientists says.

I know P has some very strong opinions on this subject – way stronger than mine. Even so her reply was much more emphatic than I expected. So I knew I had to post it for you guys. Let me know what you think!

Before we get P’s opinion, an obligatory pic of the toys Chotu never plays with.

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Makes a nice Thumbnail if you share this post on Facebook!

I think this is a sort of reverse-conditioning that is being imposed on girls. In getting rid of one stereotype, why are we creating another? Why are we giving the girls who do actually want to play with Barbies and cooking-sets a complex? At the end of the day, the kid must have the choice of picking up whatever toy it is he or she wants to play with!

There is such a thing as nature as well, it’s not all nurture. How is this any worse than those parents who “urge” their child to write with their right hand, and not with the left? So yes, I think the child must be given a choice, but this “urging” is bad, one way or another.

On a personal note, my favorite toy was a cute girl with blue-eyes, curly hair and a green dress – I had her with me for the longest time until she was in absolute tatters! I used to love to play with a metal kitchen set my dad got for me and my sis ( yes, my physicist dad, who also taught us quite a bit of physics later on in life!) . And believe it or not, our favorite game was “playing house” 😀

Clearly, none of this reflects on the way me or my sister turned out eventually, except perhaps my fondness for babies 🙂 Conversely, it is not as if all boys who play with Lego sets end up becoming engineers or rocket-scientists!

Actually I find some of the ideas expressed here objectionable and downright condescending. Sample this: “Girls toys are typically liable to lead to passivity – combing the hair of Barbie, for instance – not building, imagining or being creative with Lego or Meccano” . Why is hair-dressing not a creative activity?! How can she say it doesn’t encourage imagination?!

Again, on a personal note, it’s true that I never had any interest in Legos or building stuff, and that I did love to read and do math, and these were perhaps early signs of what I eventually ended up doing. But the fact that I was playing with dolls and kitchen sets didn’t turn me away from science or math, and neither did it dampen my creativity (or so I’d like to think!) . As for internships and such, I know that G served as a bar-tender for a while during his undergraduate days, and then went on to do a math-CS PhD; I think he would have been a disaster at any local garage 😉

It’s not that I’m not admitting that there is a problem : the fraction of women in the so-called STEM fields (even at the entry level) is abysmally small. But I think the approach suggested here is catching the wrong end of the stick. My theory is that it is during the high-school-to-college transition that a lot of girls move away from STEM. A few of them continue on to biology, primarily because of the “scope” of doing medicine later on. Actually if you look at the list of high school toppers in India, whether in CBSE or State-Board, there’s a larger fraction of girls than boys. But when it comes to going into college, they are encouraged to be “practical” and choose fields where there’s a scope of getting a job soon after finishing college.
Long years of societal conditioning makes girls believe that the purpose of a college degree is to get a job, then get married and start a family; that choosing to pursue a research career in science or math or engineering at this stage might entail long years of waiting before the job-marriage-child matrix happens. Most girls give in to social pressure at this stage and choose the more “practical” option…I think *this* is where the problem lies! This is where the societal pressures have to ease and girls should be encouraged to pursue what they are interested in…I don’t think something as simple as replacing the Barbies with Legos will help!

And there we have it, if not from  one of India’s most eminent female scientists (though I’m betting she will count among them soon) then at least from a female scientist who is none the worse from having grown up playing with a blue eyed doll.

It’s a bit of a continuation on yesterday’s theme, I suppose. After all, it’s just another magic wand for parenting. Whatever happened to understanding the child’s temperament and needs and responding to those? Sigh!

A parent’s greatest enemy

A parent’s greatest enemy is low blood sugar (to use my MIL’s term) or plain old hunger (to use the normal term). Not the child’s. The parent’s. The Hero prefers to replace the term low sugar with low caffeine.

After careful observation (and bitter experience), I’ve come to the conclusion that humans don’t really grow up after age two. Oh, physically and intellectually we probably do but emotionally, in thew ways that really count, not so much. We develop sophisticated language skills and rules of civilized behaviour in order to distance ourselves from these deceptively tiny human beings but underneath it all, I am convinced, the whiny and irrational toddler rages strong. All it takes is a trigger. Hunger is a prime trigger.

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Here are some examples of things I’ve said to/about Chotu – with fullu feelings to match – before my morning coffee-tiffin:

He should understand how hard it is for me when he doesn’t want to get dressed in the morning.
The Hero, though totally un-caffeinated at the time, knew better than to react. He did roll his eyes, though…

Chotu kanna, let’s get ready! Don’t you want to go to school?
And what answer does one expect from a kid on Monday morning?

If you wiggle while getting dressed, Amma won’t put on your clothes, ok deal?
Have you ever met a toddler who’s objected to nudity?

Chotu! If you don’t drink your milk I’ll give it to the pussy-cat!
Chotu was all excited about going out to find said pussy-cat.

Chotu kanna, sometimes you have to listen to Amma whether you like it or not! Now come here!
Despite the high level of self-righteousness in the preceeding statement, when one doesn’t actually give out whacks on the bum, such threats are basically empty and lead to more “Ooh! Mommy made funny screaming sound. Let’s see what else does that!” experiements. Sigh! Yes Dear, you were right all along.

(to The Hero) Urgh! It’s all your fault that I have to go to work.
The wise man replied, “The kid would still have to go to school…”

Barring a great medical breakthrough in the field of personality transplants, our kids are stuck with the parents they’ve got. So today I resolve to cook myself breakfast before I make Chotu’s lunch. I also resolve to make pulav and raita for lunch every Monday morning.