Category Archives: Letters to my Children

Dear Children, This…

Dear Children,

This part is very hard.

What's worst is that you're not doing anything particularly wrong. Kavya, you're toilet training, and you're doing okay at it, which means we're only doing about twice as much laundry as normal. The less said about that, the better, I think. Anandan, you're mostly sleeping at night, which is in theory good, but you're still waking up and wanting milk (and sometimes carrying for a bit) several times a night, so it's not at all the same as actually sleeping through the night. And since you're doing most of your sleeping at night, we don't get so much of a break from you during the day either. At 4.5 months, you want to be actively played with most of the time, and you complain mightily if we don't comply. It's certainly possible to play with both you and Kavi at the same time, but it takes effort and energy and a bit of luck. And it's then pretty impossible to check e-mail or watch tv or do anything else at the same time; our multi-tasking days are behind us, I fear.

It's not that you're bad children. You're very good children. Sweet and adorable and cuddly and funny, doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing. Several times a day, if not several times an hour, you remind us why we had you, why we're glad we did. Which is very good for you, because dear, darling, children, our rasa and rasathi -- your mommy and daddy are reaching their limits.

I can't speak for your dad's reasons, but for me, I think it's the exquisite anguish of actually being able to see my old life, and yet having it be so firmly out of reach. The first three months with you, Anand, I didn't expect to be able to accomplish much of anything. I was pleased with myself if I managed to shower once a day. I was ecstatic if I got an hour of work done. Mostly, we were in intense survival mode, and hey, we survived, all four of us. (Ellie too, though thinner than she was before you arrived.) We even survived when when I went back to work after just three weeks of maternity leave, though a goodly amount of credit for our survival then goes to our nanny. When Jarmila realized just how frayed and falling apart we were, she started doing our dishes every day, and sometimes our laundry (not just the kids'), which is definitely not within her job description. She was working thirty-five hours a week for us and going to grad school in the evenings, but we were just that pathetic -- our nanny felt sorry for us.

Still, to be expected, right? Survival mode. But then Anand, you started sleeping a little more at night. We started doing our own dishes. At three months, I started to hope that things would go back to normal soon. I even had the audacity to sign up for a stained glass class, thinking that surely I could manage five Wednesday evenings from seven to nine. As it turns out, no. I've missed two out of four classes so far, because I was just too exhausted to leave the house. There just isn't enough energy, or enough time.

These are the things that can't be compromised:

  • the children's needs, first and foremost
  • Ellie's needs
  • teaching, prep, grading
  • critical work deadlines
  • critical housework (if we run out of baby bottles or clean underwear, all hell breaks loose)
These are the things that mostly get crammed into the time that's left:

  • trying to keep up with important e-mail
  • a little alone time crafting or reading or blogging, for the sake of my sanity
  • looking clean and neat and presentable
  • playing with the children (when I don't have to)
  • playing with the dog
  • pumping breastmilk -- though I'm down to three pumpings a day, and I don't even manage all three some teaching days; I'm sorry, Anand -- I'd hoped to go to six months, like I did with Kavya, but I don't think it's going to happen this time
This is what gets completely neglected:

  • your parents' relationship
  • and sex life (sex life? what is a sex life? I can't remember...)
A few days ago, I got so angry at your father, for something totally minor, that I slammed the front door, really hard, on my way out to knitting group. I never slam doors. Your dad and I basically never fight -- in almost eighteen years, we've raised our voices maybe four or five times? But this past month, I've had to bite my tongue to keep from biting his head off pretty much every day. I swear at him all the time in my mind, and it only stays in my mind because I know he doesn't deserve it. Because as exhausted as he is, he's doing his best to carry his share of the load. We're managing to get everything done that has to be done, just barely. We just don't have any energy left over for each other.

I'm so tired of being a parent sometimes. I want to just be me again. Me and him and Ellie, in our comfortable condo, two DINKs (double-income-no-kids) with plenty of time to read and work and play games and relax. We used to play poker with our friends. We used to host dinner parties. We used to sleep in. Gods.

Which doesn't mean I'm sorry we had you, either of you. I'm still absolutely sure we made the right decision, choosing to have kids. The right decision for us. It's much harder than I expected, and I do think some people must have an easier time with it -- kids who sleep through the night at three months; instinctive breastfeeding with accompanying endorphin high, etc. It makes me crazy, thinking about those people, and how my fuzzy warm ideas of parenting were shaped by the stories from people like them. But I know some people have a harder time too -- colicky screaming, angry toddlers who do a lot of destructive acting out, etc. We got lucky, I know. It could have been a lot worse. It's just hard to remember that.

I'm too tired to come up with a sweet, coherent end to this letter. Right now, Anand, I'm glad that you finally fell asleep in your swing, only five minutes after I put you, screaming, in there, and walked away because I just couldn't take it anymore. I knew you were tired, little boy, and you just refused to go to sleep. I didn't know what else to do, because after five hours of sleep and a full day of teaching, I just couldn't carry you around anymore. Thank god you fell asleep quickly. And Kavya, you have figured out how to get the multigrain crackers out of the pantry, and I am so grateful, because you have decided to feed yourself and Ellie a dinner of crackers tonight. While normally I try to make sure you get a vegetable at dinner, tonight, you feeding yourself something vaguely nutritious is a bloody miracle.

Now you're watching tv quite contentedly, and I, I am going to wrap myself in a blanket and pray that this peace continues until your daddy finishes teaching. At 8 p.m. I'll drag myself up and make the dinner I promised him, steak and potatoes and green beans, although if it ends up just being steak he'll forgive me. So that when he walks in the door at 8:30, there will be some kind of dinner waiting for him, and if he's lucky, maybe he'll even get a quick hug before I hand the two of you off to him and go crashing up to bed.

Let's all just hang in a little longer. It has to get better soon.

love always,
Mama

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Dear Anand, You are…

Dear Anand,

You are six months old today. I want to tell you what you're like right now, but what I keep coming up with are comparisons to your sister. Is that the dreaded second-child syndrome? Or just the natural consequence of having someone to compare against? With Kavya, everything was new to us; with you, we find ourselves constantly saying, "Oh, that's earlier / later / different from how Kavi did it." And it's all complicated by gender, of course, because we don't know which of the differences are testosterone-driven (along with other biological bits), and which are just you.

But keeping that all in mind, here is a list of ways in which you are different from your sister:

  • You started eating solids much earlier. At four months, you were watching us eat and seemed eager to try food. (Kavi showed no such interest; we started her on solids at six months, and she liked them fine, but she was (and still is) a milk girl, through and through.) You progressed quickly from rice cereal and oatmeal cereal to applesauce, bananas, peas, squash, green beans, carrots, and prunes. We think you might be a little allergic to sweet potatoes (you got all red and blotchy), so we haven't tried those again. And you don't seem to like peaches much, which is funny, because your daddy loves peaches, especially white peaches. Perhaps they will grow on you. You really love food in general, though -- you get cranky when it's breakfast or lunch or dinnertime (yes, you're already on three solid meals a day) and your food is not ready, and you get positively panicky and very demanding when you see us making it. I hope you like our cooking just as much as these purees, although if your metabolism is anything like your parents', we'd better enroll you in some sports early. Or dance. Or martial arts. I was a chubby kid, and I'd like to spare you that (both of you); the playground is not a kind place. Which is not to say that we won't love you whatever size / shape / etc. you are. I'm not sure how parents are supposed to balance those things, but we're going to try our best. Neither of us ever fit in with the crowd, so I don't think you need to worry too much about our pressuring you to try to blend in.

  • Your name, Anandan, means happy (well, bliss, I think, but happy is a good day-to-day translation). And you are definitely a happier baby than your sister. You smile a lot -- you even started laughing a lot at four months, and you have a great, infectious, loud laugh. I don't remember Kavi really laughing at all as a baby. You laugh when we make funny noises at you, or pretend to eat your cheeks (okay, that one is mostly me). You smile all the time -- at sunshine and wind, at your sister and your dog, at us. You just seem to have a calm, happy temperament. I'm going to claim that you get that from me; I think I was a person of pretty sanguine humor, back before I turned into a stressed-out workaholic without enough hours in the day. But my base temperament is pretty much happy. Unlike your dad, who is more the melancholic type, or perhaps phlegmatic. Somewhere in there, at any rate. I think Kavi is more of his temperament, prone even as a baby to weeping and wailing, and now to sudden middle-of-the-night upsets. You don't sleep through the night yet, but some nights, you actually sleep more solidly than she does.

  • You're also a much more day-night person than she was as a baby. You tend to wake with the sun, and fall asleep with it too, and you have trouble napping during the day. This is likely to cause us difficulty when the long days of summer roll around. Already, you only sleep in maybe two to three little half-hour naps during the day, which is not good. Kavi had a solid two hour nap in the morning, and another in the afternoon for a long time, and even now, she tends to take a single three hour nap in the afternoon, which lets us get a lot done (or did, before you came along). I'd be really surprised if you did the same, although the gods know, I'm going to try to encourage you to nap. Nap early and often, that's what we like to see.

  • You're a much stronger baby than she was, and this one, I think we really do have to put down to the boy-ness of you. I'm constantly being surprised by the strength of your arms, and even your legs, although the difference isn't as apparent there. Mostly it's funny, but occasionally it's dangerous -- this morning, you were sitting in your moses basket on its rocking stand, and I was cleaning the table, a few steps away. You had set it rocking, which you often do, but in an instant when I was turned around (so I didn't actually see what happened), you somehow managed to lever yourself up enough to throw yourself out of the basket and onto the floor. Somehow without even tipping the basket over; I still don't know how you did that. My god. I almost had a heart attack, and you certainly screamed your head off for a few minutes, but you seem to be fine now. I'll be checking for concussion all day, though. It's times like this when I want to say, "Stop being such a boy!" I guess we just have to recalibrate our expectations for what you can do with that upper body of yours.

There are other differences, I'm sure. But there are actually a lot more similarities than differences. You're a good baby, just like she was. You are soft and sweet and cuddly. We love you to pieces. If we were younger, we'd think about having another, which is clearly insane of us as we have neither time nor energy for the two of you as it is, but you are just so adorable that you force those thoughts into our heads.

It's not going to happen, though, because we really are too tired. Kevin will be 40 this year, and I'll be 39; we want to stay hale and healthy until you two graduate college, at least, so I think we'd better stop here. Which means, of course, that even as you race from one stage to another -- eating solids, rolling over, sitting upright, trying to stand (which you absolutely love doing) -- we're both celebrating those accomplishments with you, and wistfully looking back at the little baby you leave behind. Today I'll be packing away your 3-6 month clothes, saving the nicer ones for my sisters' children (should they choose to have them), and giving away the rest to local Oak Park parents. Goodbye little rocket boy shirt. Goodbye alligator overalls. We will miss you.

Six months already. Your sister is almost three years old. How can the days be so long, and the weeks and months and years so short?

love,
Mama

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The other day, I was…

The other day, I was lying down on the couch, and Kavi started doing something naughty, something she knew she wasn't supposed to do. I can't remember what exactly -- it could have been drawing with markers on her face, or hitting something with something else, or swinging from the curtains like a monkey. And I said, "No, Kavi, don't do that." And she came over to the couch, petted me very sweetly on the head, and said, "Go to sleep, Amma. Dream a nice dream." Nice try, little girl.

Yesterday, Anand climbed the first step of the stairs. Oh no. And he likes to hang on the rickety gate to the basement stairs. Now I am using packing boxes to contain him in the living room, and he does not appreciate it at all. The new rental is all on one floor, which will be a relief.

Kavi has progressed in her tv watching. Caillou reigned for years, but then was abruptly ousted by Go, Diego, Go, followed by Wonder Pets. And now, it's all about Team Umizoomi, all the time. I was initially annoyed that the boy (dressed in blue) got to build all kinds of cool things with his shape power, and the girl (dressed in pink) only got to decorate with her pattern power. Look -- you too can grow up to be an interior designer! But it turns out that patterns aren't just for making pretty -- they're using them more interestingly than that. Figuring out the next color or number in a sequence, for example. Patterns are pretty cool, it turns out. So we can indulge this obsession a little longer.

Although their songs are not as catchy as the Wonder Pets songs. Which may be a good thing, since I haven't seen a Wonder Pets episode in close to a month, but the theme song is still running through my head. We're not too big, and we're not too tough, but when we work together, we've got the right stuff!

Anand loves food -- pretty much any time he's upset, you can calm him down with a piece of bread to gnaw on. Comfort eating. I know we're teaching him bad habits for the future, but like mother, like son. I do love bread.

One other fun bit about Umizoomi is that there's a robot character with a belly screen, which gives me an excuse to flip up Kavi's shirt and search for her belly screen, tickling all the while. She laughs and smiles, but then fairly quickly orders me to stop. And I wonder sometimes where the line is on body integrity. Part of dealing with small children is that you're handling them all the time -- you have to. If I didn't physically hold Anand down during his diaper changes, there would be poop everywhere, because that boy cannot hold still for more than two seconds. So you get used to the physicality of that. And they love being thrown up in the air, or swung around, or grabbed suddenly. Mama's got you! I think they love both the sensation and the surprise of it. Which is all fine, and we stop immediately whenever they say stop -- no one is forced to give a hug, or a kiss, or be tickled here once they say no. But often that means you've crossed the line a little bit first, unknowing. It worries me.

And speaking of ordering me to stop, we're working on politeness. But while Kavi will sometimes indulge us with a "Can I have some X, please?" [we don't even try for may vs. can], her preferred mode of instruction is, "Do it!" Naming her queen of anything was a big mistake.

I am waiting for three things: for Anand to sleep through the night, for Kavi to finish potty training (we're mostly there, but are still doing way more laundry than we would like), and for the two of them to start playing together. My life will be immeasurably better when that happens -- or so I think. I told my mother this yesterday, and she laughed and said that I'd come up with some other excuse [for my stressing out] then.

Hmph. Parents.

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Dear Kavya, You…

Dear Kavya,

You started pre-school on July 1st, a few days ago, and it's not going well.

The night before, I couldn't sleep. Kevin and I were both worried about how you would adapt. You've been at home for three years, mostly either with us or with your nanny Jarmila, who really has been like part of the family. You're happy with all three of us; when one of us is watching you, you laugh and sing and dance and demand we build cities with you or draw or go to the park. You talk constantly, and you make up weird, delightful stories.

You didn't take so well to some of the other babysitters we've tried recently, Adriana and Alma, even though they're both really sweet and are great with your brother. Partly I think it's just that you've had a lot of change lately -- since the end of last July, we've moved to Daniel and Anne's for two months, moved to a rental house in Oak Park, moved to another rental house. As Jarmila got busier finishing up her degree, we had to bring in the other babysitters. And for two months, your parents were so busy with the move and the end of school that we actually had to have seven days a week of childcare in order to make it through. We were still around, but most of the daytime, someone else was actively taking care of you. You didn't always love that.

We had gotten you a little tent, a PeaPod, because we knew that between the two family trips this summer and the move, we'd likely need a place for you to sleep for a few nights. As it turned out, you fell madly in love with it, and have refused to sleep in your bed ever since we opened it up. Which is fine -- your bed will wait for you. If you're happier sleeping in your little green tent, if you feel more secure in its confines, that's just fine. But especially the week before and after the move, when we were at our most harried, you took to just going and hiding in your tent in the middle of the day. Sometimes a couple of times a day. Which was a little worrisome.

And then the first day of school arrived. Your dad and I packed you both up and took you in. Anand went to his caregiver, no problem, as expected. Your dad played with you on the playground there while I talked to teachers and learned what they needed from us. And then it was time for us to go. You weren't thrilled about going with a teacher, but there were two little boys playing nearby. They said they were making food for the ants. And you said you wanted to make food for the ants. And the teacher said okay, let's get you a shovel. And off you went, seemingly content.

We came to pick you up after a half day; they'd recommended not starting with a full day, since it could be a bit of a shock for little people. You were all having lunch, and at first, you didn't want to go. We weren't sure what to do, and made the mistake of asking if you'd rather stay with the others for the afternoon, or go home to see Jarmila. That was apparently too hard a decision, because you started crying. So we scooped you up and took you home. You calmed down almost immediately, so it seemed reasonably okay.

But the next morning was awful.

I was going to New York, and had to leave at 9:30 to head to the airport for my flight. It was my parents' fortieth wedding anniversary, and my sisters and I had planned to take them to a nice lunch in the city as part of their gift from us. So I couldn't linger at pre-school that morning. You didn't want to go. You cried at the house, and I had to carry you out to the car. Which was tricky, because I had to carry your brother too. You calmed down a little driving over, but then started crying again after I dropped Anand off in his room. I tried to play with you a little on the playground, with a few other kids, and that went okay. We dug in the dirt -- I would dig a triangle, or a line, and the other kids would erase it with more dirt, and you thought that was very funny. You laughed. I thought maybe this would be okay after all. But time was passing, and I had to get going to the airport. When I stood up, you started just wailing. One of the teachers came over and picked you up and carried you away. When I walked out of the playground, you were howling, holding your arms out to me and calling. That shredded me.

It gets worse.

I called your dad from New York, to find out how the rest of the day had gone. He'd had to drop off some supplies for Anand, and afterwards he'd stayed and worked at the cafe next door. It has a big sunroom with windows that overlook the playground, so that working there, he could watch you, but you weren't likely to see him. It's one of the things we liked best about this particular preschool (along with the fact that Catherine and Robert, Daniel and Anne's kids, go there). He said that he saw you on the playground. You spent the entire time sitting on a bench, quietly. And when he came to pick you up, you were sitting on that same bench, and you had had a little accident and your pants were wet. You've been doing so well on toilet training, but I guess you didn't want to go tell the teachers that you needed the restroom. You hate being wet, or dirty. How miserable you must have been, sitting all alone, wet and uncomfortable, waiting. Did you even believe that we would come back?

Whenever I leave, I say, "I have to go to work, but I'll come back. I'll always come back." After the first time I said that, you latched on to it, and sometimes, you finish it for me, before I can. I say, "I have to go to work." And you say, "But you always come back." And I say, "That's right."

When your dad told me about you sitting on that bench, I wanted to pull you right out of the school. You're so little. You're too little to be so sad.

But we'd planned to give it at least a week, to give you time to adjust. After a week, you've adjusted to the new house -- you don't go hide in your tent anymore during the day. You laugh and run and tell stories, just like you used to. My sister, Mirna, thinks we should give you at least two weeks in the school, to see how it goes. She's probably right, even though it feels like we're torturing you.

All the other kids seem happy there. They laugh and run and play. We could take you home, do a combination of us watching you with a babysitter three days a week. We could afford that, though we'd fall further behind on our work. But most of the point of starting you in pre-school is that it seemed like it was time. You're great with adults, especially cheerful, outgoing adults. But you're not good at playing with other kids. You get overwhelmed easily if there's more than one or two of them. In not too long, you'll have to be in school with lots of kids, five days a week. So maybe it's worth trying to help you adapt to it now, in a smaller group.

I always kind of laughed at parents of 'sensitive' kids. I thought those parents were overly protective, and if they just relaxed and let the kid go, they'd do fine. But you really are sensitive in some ways. You can't take a harsh word or a raised voice -- if, at the end of a long day, I start to snap even a little, you immediately crumple. Maybe it's that we've been so gentle with you, or maybe it's just who you are. My dad says that he was a sensitive kid too, so maybe it's genetic.

We'll give it another week, maybe even two. Although if you keep crying the way you did on Friday, it is going to break my heart. I was riding the train back from New York yesterday, and there were these teenagers sitting across from me. And they were so young, and beautiful, and perfect. Since we had you, all children look that way to me. Even my college students do. And I know that the world is full of hard things, and I even believe that sometimes, the hard things are good for us, and make us stronger. But still. This isn't easy.

I was talking to your dad about this, and he said, "You know, this is just the beginning. Someday, she's going to be dating some boy you don't like." This is part of the parental job, I know. Letting you do things, even things that might cause you pain. It's part of helping you grow, and I can suck it up and do it. I can. But I don't have to like it.

So much love and so many apologies,
Amma

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Dear Children, Okay,…

Dear Children,

Okay, I just have to ask this. What is up with the clinginess and the weeping and the hurling yourselves to the floor in tears (sometimes flailing and arching your backs first, despite all efforts to snuggle you into calmness)? We can handle one or the other of you doing this -- but both of you? Thank the gods you don't usually do it at the same time, or we would really melt down -- and in fact, it's pretty charming, Kavi, how you come over and try to make Anand feel better, with loud laughing, nonsense words (sometimes screamed into his face, but the intent is good and even sometimes works), and fierce hugs (which, sadly, he mostly hates, but you doesn't really understand that). I just don't get what's causing all the emotional angst.

For most of the last year, we've had a lot of chaos, but really, things have been very calm (for us) for a few months now. No major trips, changes in schedule, changes in domicile, etc. But you both just seem fragile -- at school today, for example, while all the other kids were running around like lunatics getting ready for the Halloween parade, Kavi, you insisted on climbing into my lap, and once again, wept when I left. Is it just too much pre-school time? Not enough mama-time? But if that's it, why are the other kids okay? You've been at this school for almost three months now, so I'd think there would be enough time to adjust. And Kevin does say that when he comes for pick-up, you're happily playing, and often you don't want to leave. And the teachers say that you're fine a few minutes after I leave, and I think I believe them. But every morning, you tell me you don't like school, that you don't want to go. Do I believe you in the morning, or do I believe you in the afternoon?

Miss Ann says that you are a sensitive child, Kavya, and the truth is, I don't know what to do with a sensitive child. I was emphatically not a sensitive child, and most of the time that I can remember, I wanted very little to do with my parents. I was busy doing my own thing -- nose in a book, wandering outside, etc. Of course, I don't really remember being three. Maybe I was just as clingy then. I should ask my mother.

And Anand. Anand! Enough with the waking up at 10 p.m., and waking up at 4 a.m., okay? You are thirteen months old, which is old enough to be sleeping through the night, please. You wake, you scream for us, you won't be soothed down again, you want to get up and play and will scream until we let you do that -- and then, half an hour to an hour later, you realize you're exhausted, and scream until we put you back to bed. We are seriously tired of all the screaming, Anandan. Amma and daddy are really rather quiet people. Relatively speaking, at least.

At least you seem to like school. That's something.

There are all sorts of charming and delightful things I should probably be chronicling about you two. Anand, the way you've learned to say hi! bye! Ellie! and uh-oh! (the last very often and reliably, every time you drop or throw something to the floor) is seriously cute. Kavya, the way when you get mad, you say, "Don't talk to me!" You're having a hard time making decisions these days -- any given decision may throw you into frustrated confusion, even if it is as simple as red shirt versus blue. You both still love outside, but Kavi, you're now scared of the dark, and don't like taking walks when it's not light out. You love to draw and color -- last week I put up a line to display your artworks, and amma is impressed (even if no one else is). My current favorites are the technicolor portrait of the broken house (yes, that's what we call it around here, and no, we are not going to paint it in the colors you chose), the tissue-paper flowers, and the sunflower. Amma likes flowers, and yours are especially pretty.

You're close to potty-trained, although night-time is still hard -- Anand, you not so much. Not that we've started trying with you yet -- frankly, diapers seem a lot easier than the endless accidents and associated laundry. (With the two bouts of vomiting illness (hooray, pre-school) + potty training, I think I have done more laundry in the last three months than in the entire previous year.) Anand, you eat absolutely everything, and a lot of it too, while Kavi, you have reduced your menu to oatmeal, pasta, cheese, bananas, cheddar bunnies, and chocolate. And not necessarily any given one of those at any given moment. Someday you'll eat a vegetable again.

I'm sorry I'm better at recording the frustrations than the pleasures. There are many, many pleasures. I did love dressing you two up for Halloween this year -- you looked insanely cute. Kavi, I love singing you to sleep. Anand, I love tickling you and making you laugh like a banshee (much better than screaming like one). In general, I think you are beautiful, sweet, affectionate children. The various sitters and teachers tell us that you are very smart. You're finally starting to play together, although sharing is not so much in Miss Kavya's skill set yet -- apparently, all the toys in the house are hers. Which, to be honest, they mostly are. Or were. And of course, Anand, you don't make it easier when you insist on coming over and fiercely grabbing whatever toy Kavi is currently playing with. I can't really blame her for getting mad, but I am tired of having to referee your disputes, especially when taking the toy away from you, Anand, results in the aforementioned screaming fit and hurling self to floor. And there we are -- back to the difficulties.

Honestly, we're still pretty exhausted by you two. Glad we had you, but oh, we will be happy when you are just a little more self-sufficient, and a little less needy. Until you leave us, and then we will miss you desperately, and wish you needed us again.

Yes, you can bring your laundry home from college. Of course you can.

love,
Amma

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