If I had a magic potion that would stop all our babies from growing up, I’d use it in a heartbeat. But that’s impossible. We mothers must sigh and throw up our hands as we watch time work its power over our babies. From crawling, to taking their first step, to saying their first word and eating solid food, every tiny moment is a special landmark in a mother’s heart. But not the day when I had to send Radhya to playschool. No, no—that was the worst day in my whole life!
But before she went to playschool, Radhya and I did many months of Mother Toddlers, a kind of preparation ground, till she was eligible to go to playschool. Mother Toddlers is great because you can be with your baby, watch them fool around, play and develop curiosities about objects and things. It’s a lovely bonding exercise, and I suggest that every mother do it if they have the time. I really enjoyed my experience there. After this, we had a two-month holiday—with no school. This also coincided with the time when I was due to have my second baby. So you can blame the hormones or the fact that I’d spent two unbroken months wrapped up in baby world, but suddenly, I became aware that this lovely period was swiftly coming to an end. I had to send Radhya to playschool and there was no getting around it. That’s when I snapped.
It’s safe to say I’m a cautious and vigilant personality. But when it comes to my children, this aspect of my personality hits another level of crazy! For example, my husband sometimes likes to take Radhya on morning drives, before he goes off to work. And even though I know she’s with her dad (and cannot be safer), I can never relax till she is back under my gaze! Then there are times when Bharat wants to take her to visit cousins and friends for playdates and so on, and guess what? I’m always there. I’m just always there! I would never let my babies out of my sight if I could manage it. I’m just not ready for it yet (and I don’t think I’ll ever be!). That’s how crazy I am! So the thought of leaving my first born, even if it was only for two hours at playschool, officially made me flip out with bouts of anxiety.
I spent many nights awake, imagining scenarios that could go wrong: Radhya crying and hating school, her thinking that I was sending her away alone because there was a new baby in the house. By day, I would turn into one indecisive ping-pong ball who’d call the school and the principal to tell them that I actually wouldn’t be sending Radhya that year after all, that she could continue with Mother Toddlers, which we actually did for a session or two, but Radhya was so disinterested, she did not even look at the babies because they were not her age. She had grown out of toddler world and here I was, trying to make her do it all over again.
At other times, I’d tell my mother that we could get tutors home to teach her till she turned three-and-a-half years old. I mean, why did such a small baby need to go to school anyway?! I am not someone who expresses my emotions too easily, but for two months before playschool, I was not in a happy place deep inside. I became a woman obsessed and drove everyone at home up the wall.
Finally, my mother sat me down and told me that I had to stop panicking. That she, too, had sent both her daughters, Ahana and me, to school and had cried desperately the first time. That I was going to be okay in about a week and would begin to enjoy it. And that I had to give Radhya a chance to make friends, socialize and enjoy the process of learning and growing up. I had to give her a chance.
And I did, of course.
A month after school had already started!
And only once the principal called me and asked me to.
So the dreaded day finally came. While Radhya went off to class, I sat outside the whole time (the principal and teachers were kind enough to let me), doing not much except stressing that she would come running out, crying, looking for her Mama. And guess what? She did none of that. Save for a few initial tears, she was fine.
I give complete credit to the principal and teachers of the school as to how they handled me, my mood swings and indecisiveness for a whole month—anyone else would’ve told me to find a new school and get out! My mother and my husband also played a huge role in keeping me sane through all this crazy! Their balancing and cool Libran values were like a bucket of ice-cold water on this hot, brooding Scorpion.
Now, Radhya’s comfortable and happy. But sending her to playschool was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do. Sending her to the bigger school will be another emotional roller-coaster, but I know that I’ll be better equipped to handle it. I’m still giving my family enough notice so they’re prepared for another round of crazy.
But also, now that Radhya is in playschool (and in a matter of time Miraya will also be off), I have the time to take up more demanding projects. I’ve seen many women (my mother is a good example of this) experience a second gust of wind in their careers once their babies are at school. I look forward to working guilt-free, taking up the threads, once they’ve grown up a little. And if I have to travel internationally for a longer duration, then there’s no doubt that I’d take my babies along! Of course, that’s when they’re in junior school. Till they are of a responsible age, I’m not taking any chances.
With school comes the business of tiffin. Already I’ve begun thinking and planning about how to keep their tiffins interesting and keep them motivated to be healthy. Children’s tastes change ever so quickly, and it’s really just a matter of catching up and staying clued in. I recently noticed that Radhya, who enjoyed eating Indian, suddenly didn’t want to eat it anymore. She had gotten bored of it. So I had to change my entire food plan to adapt to her palate. Now she’s eating more continental fare and is enjoying it while she does. Planning your child’s tiffins is a constant tug of war between what you think your child wants to eat versus what you think they should be eating. It will require constant change, innovation, adaption and upgradations to their preferences.
My Easy Tips to Planning Your Child’s Tiffin
I have three rules of keeping your children’s tiffin boxes fun and nutritious.
The first is you need to observe your child and see what they’re enjoying; my first rule of feeding your babies, which we’ve talked about in depth earlier in the book.
The second rule: home-cooked is better than any other kind of food. Choose home-cooked food over pre-packaged, packet or store bought items any day.
And the final rule: variety. Today, when I pack my daughter’s tiffin, I give her two or three different snacks in smaller quantities, rather than a lot of one thing. So, for example, I pack her a makhana, a small sandwich and some cut fruit. This way her tiffin remains interesting and she won’t get bored eating just one thing. If your child doesn’t want to eat one thing, she or he still has two more things to reach out for.
…But before I sign off, there’s one small and final piece of advice I’d like to share with all new mothers. In our chaotic and beautiful journey of motherhood, we can tend to sometimes forget or leave out an essential person in our family: the husband. And it’s normal to do so when we’re so focused on making sure that our babies are perfectly okay. But the strength of parenting lies in the strength of a family. It’s very important to keep your husband happy. After all, none of this would have happened without him! After my second baby, for a short while, I noticed that Bharat was cranky and irritated with me. He felt that I wasn’t giving him enough attention. It is very natural for a husband to feel this way because at that time, I was consumed with Radhya’s playschool fiasco and feeding Miraya, and I was also between writing my book and dealing with my production meetings. So, he felt neglected. And I immediately noticed the error of my ways. I remembered the times when Bharat had asked me for a new toothbrush, and it had slipped my mind, or when his shirts hadn’t been pressed or when I sent him off to work without bothering to check what he’d been given for lunch. He’s a man of very few needs, and if I couldn’t look after him, there was something wrong. I quickly made sure to rectify it. Bharat is different; he tells me directly, to my face, if he senses a problem. But there may be men who are not so forthcoming. It falls on you to keep the romance alive. I figured that I hadn’t gone out for date nights or a movie with him in a while. So I decided to step out of my tracks, loosen my bun, wear a nice dress and go out with him on the weekends.
Spend time with your husband, remind him of the woman he’s fallen in love with and that he too is part of the journey. Between your work and your children, try to find the time to pamper and care for him too. You need his support just as much as he needs yours.
As parents we all have big dreams for our children. I don’t dream that my daughters will grow up to be actresses, nor is my husband dreaming that they will grow up to join him in the jewellery business. They will learn for themselves and figure out where their interests lie. Tomorrow, if my daughters want to become police commissioners or lawyers, it’s their choice. They can choose their boyfriends, husbands, clothes, lifestyles—everything. But there is something I definitely want for them—and that is they strive to be achievers like all the women in their family. Be it my grandmother, my aunt, my mother or even me, we’re all strong women who’ve had the balls to do things our way. We’ve always worked hard and stood our ground. We don’t get swayed by external forces. And I want my daughters to be like that. I want them to be respectful of elders, which I see lacking today, and like me, I want them to be proud Indians.
And if I have to remind them of something along the way, it’ll be this small but potent word: dignity. It’s very important for women to be dignified. You can be bold, loud, wear what you want, there’s nothing wrong with all that—but women with grace and dignity stand out, and that’s what I want for my daughters. I want them to stand on their own two feet, chin up, looking the world in the eye. Imagine my happiness when recently, I received a text message from Radhya’s teacher, who wrote: ‘Your daughter is not one to get bullied, she’ll
give it back!’
That’s my girl!
(Excerpted with permission from the book Amma Mia by Esha Deol Takhtani, published by Penguin Random House)
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