Wednesday, 20 June 2012

What happens after 6?

It’s 6.00 p.m. in the evening and you stare at the clocks in panic. All the 3 large clocks on the orange wall in front of you with its large colourful posters of ‘Values in Action’ and ‘Quality is our Focus’ tell you the same thing. In US time, UK time and India time, respectively, they all tell you that your time is up. You just have about an hour left to pick up your kid before the crèche (daycare) doors close shut and to reach there you have to brave the never ending Bangalore traffic and the never failing stares of a few colleagues who seem to be whispering ‘Look, she’s leaving at 6.00 again’.
If this is a familiar predicament in which a lot of us find ourselves, let me add to the scenario.
When you finally reach the crèche, the waiting maid glances at you reproachfully for spoiling an hour of her evening serial time, you have reached in the extended hours (beyond 7 p.m., you see; when the crèche normally closes) and she had to wait back specifically for you. To top it all you find your daughter, fuming, angry and in mutiny.
“Mummy, there’s no one my age here anymore”
“All my friends have left”
“They don’t have any activities for us to do. We are just asked to sit and play.”
“Why do I still have to come to the crèche?”
So, that is my question too.
Where do the children who go to daycare centers go once they turn 6?
Most daycare centers proudly show their statistics – a bunch of 2-6 year old kids that decorate their walls in their childish sprawls and add to their hefty bank balance.
But the same centers have very few children above the age of 6 and even the ones who are there are rarely treated separately with educational/sporting/cultural activities that are suitable for their age.
So what happens after a kid joins primary school? When he/she returns from school at 4 p.m. but still needs an hour or two at the daycare before parents can return from office and pick up?
And what do parents of such kids do?
They can’t start returning home at 4 p.m. suddenly. As if 6 p.m. wasn’t bad enough for the office gossips to constantly comment upon.
Do they give up their jobs? That is increasingly not an option in today’s world.
Shift to a 24 hour housemaid? Many people do it but unless extremely lucky, this might turn into a 24 hour disturbance with someone who is never a part of the family but always hovering around the periphery.
Grandparents? That might have been the solution earlier but nowadays many grandparents choose to have their own lives without taking the responsibility of being surrogate parents for their grandchildren.
As one stylish 55 year old grandmother put it very aptly “Been there, done that. Why should I manage my grandchildren; haven’t I raised 3 of my own?”
This brings me to 2 possible solutions, if anybody cares to listen.

    - Kids between 6-10 should not be treated like small babies. Daycare centers should have educational and creative activities for them that mentally stimulate the children and add to the knowledge they are gaining from school. That would reduce the daycare dropout rates and make sure these older children also enjoy the hours they spend there.

    - Why can’t we have teenage girls/boys babysitting or rather ‘child sitting’ for these kids? For a couple of hours, these teenagers could just play some sports with them or read their own books while helping these kids read their books (most of them can read by this age). They don’t need too much of handholding, they just need companionship and learning. Not only would this give the teenagers some much needed money for their personal use, it would help instil in them a sense of responsibility and caring.

But as I said, is anybody listening? Till then, our daily fight with the clocks will continue.

Ciao Bambino

“Are you crazy? Taking a 6 year old to Italy? What will she understand about the old ruins and paintings? She’ll be bored stiff and drive you crazy” friendly voices warned me as I was planning my annual vacation to Italy.
“This is the time to take her to Disneyland; not to some old monuments” I was warned by wise parents.
Well ignoring such cheerful predictions, we (my husband and I) still went ahead and packed our bags and our daughter for a seven day summer holiday to Rome, Vatican, Venice, Pisa and Florence.
Of course, just to be safe, we did pack in some extra story books, color pencils and drawing books imagining it would come in useful for those predicted ‘bored and crazy’ moments.
Well we are back now from Italy and as I look at the pictures that would soon be uploaded onto Facebook, I see my daughter in smiles in every picture, the pictures showing more clearly than ever how much she loved Italy.
And here’s my list of the top things that kids might like in Italy. The best thing is, none of this is costs much money. Hopefully some other parents might choose Italy over another theme park after reading this.

Trevi Fountain in Rome – According to popular belief, dropping a coin at this fountain makes you come back to Italy. Well, the kids may not have made up their minds about the ‘coming back to Italy’ part yet but dropping the coins is a fun experience for them.

Gelato on the Spanish steps – Sitting on the Spanish steps and enjoying a generous helping of Tiramisu gelato – it’s hard to say who will enjoy this more – you or your kid! After a point, I stopped counting the no. of gelatos my daughter was having, her goal being to try one in every flavor. And what better homage could you pay to the ‘Roman Holiday’?

Colosseum – Now, they may not appreciate the ancient ruins, but if you tell them the stories of the lions and the gladiators, their active imagination might help them visualize it for themselves.

Leaning towers of Italy – Children would know about the Leaning Tower of Pisa. So you hope, provided they can tear themselves away long enough from the endless ‘Chota Bheem’ on TV. But the cities of Italy are full of many more leaning towers, an interesting fact children would love to see and learn and tell their friends.

Street art in Florence – In the streets of Florence, talented artists paint beautiful watercolors and sketches. If your child is interested in painting, he/she might really like to see some of these paintings and maybe force you to buy some of them as well.

Eating and eating and eating – For children who have the remotest interest in eating, Italy is a paradise. Beyond gelatos, there is a whole lot of treats for them to enjoy from Pizza Margarita, to Paninis to all kinds of pasta and spaghetti to yummy desserts like the Panna Cotta. This one does cost money, but am sure parents would love to see them enjoy their food for a change.

Feeding the pigeons in Venice – St. Marks Square in Venice is not just a tourist attraction for the adults. Children love feeding the many pigeons in the square and running behind them.

Glass blowing at Murano – The master glass blower in the factory shows you how to make seemingly impossible shapes and figures from glass. My daughter was captivated by the colors and the designs; chances are your kid might like it too.

Street music in Venice – Under the soft moonlight, the streets of Venice come alive with beautiful, lilting street music. It doesn’t cost money to just stand and listen and feel the rhythm. You might even be treated to an impromptu dance performance as my daughter and another kid hearing the music did.

Gondola ride in Venice – One doesn’t need to understand history, geography or anything else to just enjoy the pure pleasure of the sitting in the black boat and letting your hair and imagination run free as the man in the black and white striped shirt takes you down narrow street corners and under low bridges and past 400 year old buildings.

That was my list of top 10 kid friendly Italy experiences. Another useful thing I learnt, the best way to experience Italy is to ‘get lost’ and to walk. If you feel your child is not upto hours of walking, buying or renting a stroller might be a good investment. It is also handy for dumping umbrellas and bags that you may not feel like carrying.

So when you plan your next trip, maybe you’ll also think of Italy. Italians are warm and friendly towards kids and would surely say with a smile ‘Ciao Bambino’.

Living happily ever after

Like all mothers, I want my daughter to grow up to be a strong, independent woman with a mind of her own.
But when I see her immersed in the world of fairy tales, I can’t help but wonder – are we setting wrong expectations for our kids by reading them the tales of Snow White, Cinderella and Rapunzel? A world of riches and splendour in which the princesses meet their Prince Charming and live happily ever after?
I know Fairy tales are something all of us have grown up with us. They may be magical and mystical and conjure up a world of imagination for the kids.
But have you ever wondered what children really learn from fairy tales?
Sample this -
Snow White needed brought back to life by the Prince after she ate a poisoned apple.
Rapunzel needed to be rescued by the Prince after the evil witch cut off her hair.
Cinderella needed to marry the Prince to escape the drudgery of her existence.
Sleeping Beauty needed to be woken up from her 100 years of beauty sleep by who else but a handsome prince who just happened to be visiting.
Little Mermaid was willing to give up her voice to gain the love of the Prince.
And in the Frog Prince, the wily frog taught a lesson to the foolish princess who didn’t honour her promise.
How far removed are these characters from real life today? A world in which women are no less than men and indeed often outsmart men in many aspects of life as they manage home, office and children with ease and grace. And in many cases, they don’t even need a ‘real life Prince’ to lend them a helping hand!
In most of the fairy tales listed above, the heroines are quite the opposite of today’s modern women. They are beautiful, fair, damsels perennially in distress and waiting for the handsome, dashing prince to rescue them from their tragic existence.
In fact, the only characters in fairy tales with interesting feminine characters seemed to be in Beauty and the Beast and the Rumpelstiltskin. In the former, Beauty with her kindness and love saved the Beast. And in the latter, we saw a feminine character actually capable of thinking, plotting and outwitting her adversary.
If the world is moving towards equality why shouldn’t we revisit our fairy tales as well and have female characters that are not cardboard cutouts? Why can’t they have careers and be happy and not really need the Prince to save them?
For example..
Why can’t Snow White be best friends with her stepmother and discover a new wonder cure to make people slimmer by eating a magic apple? Why can’t an obese Prince be their first patient?
Why doesn’t the Little Mermaid use her musical abilities to become the first underwater Rockstar?
Imagine Rapunzel is so enamoured of her new short hair that she starts a fancy hair salon which specializes only in short, Pixie haircuts?
Imagine Cinderella taking a day off from her drudgery and making her stepsisters do all the housework?
What about Sleeping Beauty starting a new form of Yoga in which people can attain inner peace by sleep?
Alas, fairy tales may not be rewritten. Let’s just make sure, our children enjoy them in the right spirit.
And let’s start teaching about the values of self-reliance, independence and hard work which are the only means to ‘living happily ever after’ in today’s times.