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Sydney, Australia
My musings and meanderings on childhood - mine juxtaposed with that of my kids'. Everyday incidents and images from our life in Sydney turn my thoughts towards my own wonder years growing up in Bandra, Bombay, India.

28 April 2011

That's When Good Neighbours Become Good Friends...

I was feeling a bit poorly today, so my neighbour upstairs took the kids off my hands for a couple of hours. Ah, bliss! We’re blessed with some truly wonderful neighbours here in Kirribilli.

In Bombay, our neighbours ranged from nosy to noisy, helpful to horrendous – and sometimes, all of the above at once.

My Nana’s big old house (Anthony’s Cottage, 8 D’Monte Street, Bandra, Bombay) was flanked by a chawl on either side. For those in the dark, a chawl is a building comprising of many one-room dwellings, each occupied by a family, all living shoulder to shoulder, all sharing common toilets and bathrooms. As you can imagine, the inhabitants came from the poorer sections of society.

The right hand-side chawl was inhabited by Muslims, the left, by Hindus. Us Catholics were ensconced in our large family house right in the middle. And things chugged along perfectly.

Given their cramped quarters, some of the men folk from the chawls would sleep on our spacious verandah. But you would never know it; their bedding would be laid out after we had retired to bed and would be taken away at the crack of dawn. Some of the women folk worked in our home – sweeping and swabbing the floor, walking us kids to school, making chappatis, grinding the daily masala on the pata (grinding stone)... The kids all played together – usually a raucous game of cricket in the gully.

Festivals were always the high point. The Hindus distributed plates of shankarpali and chaklis for Diwali, the Muslims came bearing hunks of freshly-slaughtered mutton for Bakri Eid, and we would present our marzipan, date rolls, kul-kuls and milk cream for Christmas.

It didn’t matter that they had so little; they made sure you got your share. And when the dish was returned, it always had a little something inside – a besan ladoo, a banana (poor man’s food in Bombay), or even a handful of sugar. Whatever little they had. But it was never returned empty. People with hearts as wide as the sky.

It’s a custom I follow to this day.

27 April 2011

Motion Commotion

A super-long weekend with super-annoying wet weather. All we wanted was fish ’n’ chips for lunch. So we set off for Doyle’s at Watson’s Bay (opened since 1885!), a 15k drive across the Harbour Bridge. But instead of drinking in the lavish lifestyle of the rich and richer of Sydney’s eastern suburbs, there I was, taking deep breaths to quell my nausea. For me, all roads lead to motion sickness...

It took me back to over 25 years ago. Dad belonged to a men’s group whose members and their families got together once a year for a “Club Picnic” to Marve, a beach some two hours away from where we lived in Bandra, Bombay.

And year-in, year-out, the journey unfolded in pretty much the same way: the picnickers would assemble at St. Peter’s Church compound with their patli-potlis; the hired bus was always late; Larsen C. would climb to the roof of the bus despite dire threats from his parents; some families would be even later than the bus; a final headcount was made; a prayer was said; and then the bus took off to the tune of “She’ll be coming down the mountains when she comes (when she comes!)...”

And yours truly would vomit in the bus.

You see, that big glass of milk (with Complan, remember that?) I was forced to gulp down before the trip would start churning inside my wee belly. With every twist and turn in the road, I could feel that milk rising, rising, rising, until the only way was OUT! My guts spilled all over the Rexene seats!!

The humiliation. The stench. The blessed relief.

23 April 2011

Happy Easter 2011!!

Caleb and Caitlyn taste-testing some Hot Cross Buns for brekkie.
The things I make my kids do in the name of good taste...

The Rodericks family wishes everyone a Happy Easter!
Here's a little something I wrote three Easters ago on how we used to celebrate Holy Week in Bombay. Click here to read it.

21 April 2011

Sugarcane Sugar-hit

Guess what I saw at the Chatswood Food Markets the other day? Sugarcane juice! I have never drunk sugarcane juice in Australia, so there was only one thing to do – have a glass. One sip and I was transported back to Bombay, in front of the ganna (sugarcane) juice stall opposite Elco Arcade on Hill Road, Bandra.

Alison drinking sugarcane juice in Luxor, Egypt - December 2010

Sugarcane juice – a perfect sugar-hit for a hot summer’s day.

You’re standing in front of the sugarcane juicewalla. Should you? Shouldn’t you?
Diarrhoea for a week is a strong possibility. Should you? Shouldn’t you?
You have no idea where the water for the ice comes from. Should you? Shouldn’t you?
Flies buzz above the fermenting heap of sugarcane remains. Should you? Shouldn’t you?
The glasses are cursorily rinsed in a tub of water – no soap, no scrubber, no nothing. Should you? Shouldn’t you?
The sprit is willing, but the flesh is weak. You should, shouldn’t you???
Your mind is playing tic-tac-toe. You think you should.
Your tastebuds win. You HAVE to have it. Yes, you SHOULD!
Ek (one) glass,” you order. “Baraf nahin chahiye,” you add as an afterthought. No ice.

There's a bundle of sugarcane sticks all standing sentry. The gana juicewalla selects a stick or two and scrapes 'em clean with his knife. The scrapping clean step is optional. The metal juice presser gets rolling – a big, bad-ass contraption comprising of two spherical grinders. The sugarcane is pushed through from one side. The mighty jaws crush the cane flat as the juice spurts out into a receptacle. The spent sugarcane comes out from the other end.

Adrak?” (fresh ginger) the man enquires. “Hah ji!” (Yes, please!). A piece of ginger is pushed into the crusher along with the sugarcane, giving it a zing. The wheels keep turning. The sugarcane is passed through again and again until every last drop is squeezed out. A squeeze of nimboo (sour lime) to balance the saccharine sweetness. One sip and you're in heaven. Rs 3 for half a glass or Rs 5 for a full glass.

19 April 2011

Five Going On 15

A neighbour is worried about her three-year-old daughter’s favourite books: the Fancy Nancy series. Based on the creation of Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser, they’re all the rage in the States; on the New York Times Bestseller list and everything.

But said neighbour is not so sure about the messages they send out. As the name suggests, these books are about precocious, precious Nancy who likes everything to be glamorous and gorgeous. She’s all bows and boas, feathers and fashion, tea-parties and tiaras. She also has a penchant for fancy French words like merci, magnifique, mais oui!

To give you an example, in Fancy Nancy and the Sensational Babysitter, Nancy makes an “agenda”:
“First we’ll play with dolls.
Then we can play dress up.
Or maybe Alex will bring some fashion magazines.
We can look through them and pick our favourite ensembles.
(That’s a fancy word for outfits.)”

Frivolous fun? Or subliminal ideology?

As the mother, I’m well aware of the adult world my daughter is growing up in – I feel I’m swimming against a tide of Bratz dolls and cherry lip-gloss. Caitlyn is only three-and-a-half, so I have full control over what she reads/eats/plays with. For now. But what happens once she goes to ‘big school’ and peer pressure kicks in? When she demands to do what her friends are doing – and I don’t want her to?

I could go on and on about the padded bras targeting eight-year-olds who have mosquito bites for breasts, princess theme parties with facials and foot spas, tween magazines talking about kissing... It’s all there on tap for our daughters to drink in. Modern living, we sigh! But think back on your own childhood. Didn't you also have 'grown up' moments?

When I was a little girl, I remember feeling sooo excited when I was allowed to do ‘Big Girl’ stuff. I used to watch in wonder as my mum got her hair styled at a salon; I’d be thrilled to bits when my cousin Charmaine painted my fingernails during school holidays; I would totter around on my mum’s “tick-tock” shoes, I would be absolutely chuffed at being allowed to wear make-up (the more garish, the better!) for school concerts...

Did it make me grow up too fast? Did I act like I was five going on fifteen? In a word, no. These ‘adult-like experiences’ were few and far between. We were not bombarded with sexy music videos (MTV, what’s that?) and ads for tween make-up. Heck, I didn’t even know what the word ‘sexy’ meant until I was 13.

Which brings me to my point: As a parent, how do you know when it’s too much, too soon? How do you know where to draw the line??

I often tell myself this – repeat after me: If you think it’s wrong, it probably is. If you’re uncomfortable with something your child wants to do, say No. N-O. And mean it. You’re the parent. You know better. Of course your daughter will try to brow-beat you: “It’s not fair!” Blackmail and bribes will be resorted to. But I’m sure she’ll thank you when she’s 20.

What do you think is responsible for our daughters growing up too fast, too soon? Do you think it’s fair to blame society (the media, consumerism, modern living) or should we hold the parents accountable? How do you tackle your “daughter dilemmas” in your household?

17 April 2011

To Nana Evelyn, with love

Evelyn Pereira (nee Cordeiro)
Born 19th April 1908; Died 22nd December 2000

Nana Evelyn would have been 103 tomorrow. She was the matriarch of the Pereira Clan; the glue that held us together. She was also the most influential person in my life when I was a child.

Nana was born in Igatpuri (or “Egg-it-puri” as she anglicised it) in 1908 to John and Lucy Cordeiro, the youngest of five children – Angela, Jessie, Irene, Albert and Evelyn. She met Papa Wenzil through her brother Bertie as both men worked in the Telegraphs. Papa Wenzil and Nana Evelyn married on 9th February 1930 (see photo) and together, they had nine children. Papa died on 5th September 1971, but Nana lived on till she was 92 – a steadfast, loving presence in our lives. She would have seen wars, India’s independence and even the new millennium unfolding before her eyes, but her greatest treasure was her family. While her second child Anthony died just seven months after he was born, the remaining eight children all married and had 20 grand-children between them. Us grand-kids have gone on to have 29 great-grandchildren – and still counting!

When I think of Nana, certain images always skate across my mind: Nana in front of her sewing machine (my cousin Sharon and I had to turn the handle), Nana brushing her full set of dentures before she retired to bed at night, Nana feeding the littlies lunch in the backyard with crows and sparrows as diversions, Nana having a lie down in the afternoon... As time marched on, it took a toll on her eyesight, her hearing, even her mind, but I choose to remember the happier times...

Nana loved it best when her family got together. So every Sunday evening, come hell, high water, or Hill Road traffic jams, the Pereira Clan would meet in Nana’s house. Uncle Merwyn and Uncle Trevor R. in their company cars with families in tow, and the rest all congregating at Anthony’s Cottage, 8 D’Monte Street, Bandra, Bombay. The ‘big cousins’ would heave the wooden bench from the back and the chairs from the hall to form a circle in the sitting room, with Nana in her usual spot in the middle. One by one we would go to Nana to have a chinwag; holding her hands and sharing our delights and disappointments with her, while all around the room exploded in peals of laughter as one anecdote after another was related. By 8.30pm, after eight dozen or so sev puris were polished off, it was time to wrap things up. But not before Aunty Marie tried to swap one more recipe at the doorstep and Uncle Chris L. threatened to go home – with or without her!

Nana’s eyes were riddled with glaucoma and cataract problems when she was in her late ’70s, but she was still sharp as a tack. When Uncle Chris P. would return home from work with The Afternoon tabloid, Nana would be itching to do the 9-letter word puzzle – all in her mind’s eye. We would call out the letters: P, N, E, H, S, A, P, I, S; with ‘S’ as the must-use letter. “Happens, shapes, hessian, ashen... Was there one ‘S’ or two ‘Ss’?” she would query. Two. “I’ve got it: Happiness.” Ditto for solving the crossword puzzle. Ditto for doing mathematical calculations. How did she do it? The mind boggles.

If Nana was full, she would say, “I’ve done well.” Translation: I’ve eaten enough. And in the same breath she would ask, “What’s for dessert?” But you just said you were full... “I’ve got a separate pouch for ice-cream,” Nana would claim. Butterscotch (with the praline bits) was her favourite. So is mine.

Everyone who knew her called her “Nana” – not just the family, but even the Hindu and Muslim neighbours living in chawls on either side of Nana’s house; even ex-boy/girlfriends of the big cousins; even the maids... But the next generation i.e. the great-grandkids coined another name for her: “GiGi” – “Great Grandma”.

Her sense of propriety was apparent in how she always wore a full petticoat even under her house-dresses. A special occasion like the Bandra Feast or a family wedding meant that Nana would wear a new dress stitched by my aunt Cassandra – not without a spritz of Charlie perfume.

Nana was a devout Catholic whose faith was a part and parcel of her life. So if it was 8.30pm, we were all on our knees in front of the altar, saying the rosary. Nana always blessed our foreheads with the Sign of the Cross and made sure we kissed the crucifix before we said goodbye. Till today, we all do likewise.

Nana Evelyn passed away on 22nd December 2000. I still miss her.

* Pic 1: A collage of Nana and Papa on their wedding day; the two of them, with their children.
* Pic 2: Nana Evelyn with her youngest two grand-children, Jason (L) and Neil (R).

15 April 2011

The Winters of my Contentment

On Sunday, 3rd April 2011, Daylight Saving Time ended in Sydney. Winter now stands at our door, drumming her icy fingers, a tad impatient. Soon she will crawl under my skin and make herself at home, creeping into my bones for a weary four months, stomping all over my warm memories of summer, this uninvited guest. The skin creams, the fluffy slippers and the cosy doonas will do nothing to keep her at bay. My mood is as black as the winter coat I’m forced to wear.

Give me Bombay winters any day. Lasting a scant two months from December to Jan (India is in the northern hemisphere), it was, literally, time for a cool change. A nip in the air was a welcome relief from the constant humidity. On some days, we could even wear our sweaters – hand-knitted by some doting aunt, no doubt!

For me, the best part was that winter would kick off with my birthday on December 1st, and then roll into the festivities that Christmas and the New Year brought – what’s not to love? A time for parties and presents, friends and family...

My childhood Christmas memories included:
* Ten luxurious days of school holidays stretching from before Christmas to just after the new year began, perfect for enjoying the festive season.

* Building a crib in the neighbourhood – old newspapers splattered with mud to make mountains, wheat germinating as grass that the sheep statues grazed on, statues of the Holy Family and all the wise men, shepherds, cows and camels – not forgetting the angel and star above the manger.

* Making Christmas sweets – milk cream had to be milky white; not caramelly brown, marzipan was shaped into fruit (my favourite were the strawberries rolled in red sugar) with cloves as the stalks, kul kuls with their sugary coats, melt-in-your-mouth nankaties with a sprig of holly painted on the top...

* The postman delivering Christmas cards from relatives and friends in every corner of the globe (at that time England seemed verrrry far away). Images of a jolly snowman, Santa on his sleigh, carol singers huddled up in the snow, all making me dream of a white Christmas that I have yet to see.

* Everyone from abroad coming back home for Christmas – with their suitcases full of imported goodies – 2-in-1 tape recorders, VCRs, Toberlone chocolates, Cutex nail polish, polyester clothes for the entire family – only to be hounded at the airport by the Indian Customs for baksheesh!

* Going for midnight mass on 24th December on the church grounds. The mercury would dip to ten degrees, giving me a once-a-year opportunity to wear that pair of stockings Uncle Ossie had sent from Canada. A Christmas party after mass party at Nana Violet’s house (yes, even the kids got to stay up till 2am), and then coming home to find that clever Santa had left Jason and me something special on the fan above my bed!

* Mum and Dad going to the Christmas dance at the Bandra Gym on 25th December. Dad looking spiffy, the camphor ball smell of his suit (only worn for weddings and X’mas dances) masked by the heady scent of his Old Spice aftershave. Mum glamming up before my eyes, as she put on her make-up, jewellery, high heels and a new dress that always made me gasp in awe.

What do you LOVE/HATE about winter? Any childhood memories spring to mind?

14 April 2011

I Wish my Kids Came with an OFF Switch

This is a regular day at the Rodericks’ residence: Wake up at 6:30 a.m. Brush teeth, eat breakfast, dress up for the day, go out to run errands (post-office, groceries), go to playgroup, have lunch, story-time, afternoon nap-time, park time, dinner, baths, story-time, bed-time for the kids. By the time it’s 9pm, I want to crash, too.

Do you ever wish your kids came with an OFF switch? No, not the permanent kind; just something to turn them off for a couple of hours. I’ll even settle for ten minutes. A chance for you to have some peace and quiet. To be able to hear your own thoughts turn in your head without interruptions.

Sometimes, my husband and I indulge in ‘what ifs’ and ‘remember whens’: What if we’d waited three more years to start a family? Remember when we could lie in bed till 10am on weekends? Remember when we could go on long motorbike rides just for the heck of it? What if we could feed them biscuits for breakfast?

Nobody or nothing prepares you for how your children bulldoze over your lovely, orderly life. Want to watch the 6.30pm news? But Iggle Piggle is on! Want to eat a square of chocolate? You’ll have to eat it on the sly or be forced to divide into three EQUAL parts. Want to read your Tim Winton novel? But it’s finger-painting time – you promised! Even the toilet is not sacrosanct. They there are listening to you tinkle – and commenting on it, too!

It’s the constant chatter and non-stop questions that do my head in:
“Why do you need to pee?” Because my bladder is bursting!
“What’s a bladder?” It’s the organ in your body that collects your pee.“Why do girls have to sit when they pee and boys have to stand?” It is not possible for boys to pee while standing.
“But why not? Is it because boys have a willy?” Yes.
“Why do girls have a nu-nu and boys have a willy?” That’s what makes girls girls and boys boys.
“But WHY??” Because I said so! Now everyone needs to keep QUIET for the next five minutes!
“Can we talk like this?” Caitlyn says in a staged whisper. No, no talking at all.
An entire 33 seconds later... “Is five minutes over now?”

I read somewhere (okay, okay, on the wrapper of a sanitary pad!) that a four-year-old child asks 437 questions a day. Welcome to my world!

All my ‘non-kiddie’ tasks – cooking, exercising, laundry, emailing, cleaning the house, paying bills, doing the dishes, making phone calls, writing this blog, are all squeezed into when they are asleep – out cold, knocked out, comatose.

Interestingly, my husband faces no such problem. He can play on his PS3, have a conference call, eat chips in front of them, have a shower without them banging on the door, even *gasp* relax... How come they allow their dad to do these things without getting under foot? I must find out his secret.

Thank God for the Girls’ Night Out I’m having with some other mums tonight!

What do your kids do that drive you nuts? What do you miss most about your life before children? What do you do in your “Me-time” away from your kids?

12 April 2011

A Splish and a Splash

“It’s bath-time,” I call out to the kids. “Ba-bulls! (bubbles),” Caleb squeals with excitement, while Caitlyn runs to fetch an assortment of toys – rubber ducks, pots and pans, two dinosaurs (don’t ask!). Yes, my kids love to make a splash at bath-time.

But having a bath in the olden days (okay, okay, when I was a five-year-old) wasn’t a simple matter of turning on the taps and singing in the shower. In the first place, we did not have a hot water on tap (no geyser until I was nine). Strike that, there was no running water either. So every morning, dad and Uncle Chris would have to fill two massive metal drums with water, one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom, when the municipality turned on the water in our area at the designated time. And this water had to last for the next 24 hours...

There were ten of us living under one roof (a large roof, nonetheless) at Anthony’s Cottage, 8 D’Monte Street, Bandra. Ten people sharing one toilet. Ten people sharing one bathroom. So when you wanted to have a s!*t, a shave or a shower, you stuck to your time-slot, thank you very much!

We used to have “bucket baths”. I’ll try to explain. When it was your bath-time, your parents would first have to heat up a handi (vessel) of water on the kitchen stove. Once the lid started rattling, you knew the water had reached boiling point. It was then taken into the bathroom and poured into a big brass bucket in a puff of steam. Cold water was added until you arrived at a suitable temperature. Too little and you would scald yourself; too much and the water would be unsatisfyingly tepid.

After pouring a few mugs of water, you reached for the soap. Cinthol lime fresh, Lifebouy or Hammam. Foreign bars of soap like the creamy Camay or the translucent Pears were treated like bars of gold.

And if you had to wash your hair, you’d better have accounted for it and rationed your bathwater accordingly. A squirt of Tata shampoo rubbed into your scalp worked up a frothy lather. But the bubble would burst when the person next in line would pound on the bathroom door demanding, “Have you finiiiiiished yet??” In one fluid motion, you would overturn the last four inches of remaining water over your head - swoosh! And wash away your sins...

Wrapping your towel around yourself, you’d race to your room where mum would be waiting to check if you had cleaned behind your ears. Oh well, there was always tomorrow...

Do you have any special bath-time routine for your kids? Shower vs. bath – what’s your preference?

11 April 2011

Our Daily Bread

Aussies have their damper rolls, the French their baguette, Italians their pane di casa, North Indians their roti. I’ll have the Bombay ‘gulti’, a.k.a. ‘brun pav’ any day, thank you! I've always had a soft spot for this hard-crusted bread with its fluffy centre.

I took the above photo when I went back to Bombay last year. All I wanted to eat for breakfast every single morning for over two months was gulti.

Take an early morning walk down the by-lanes of Bandra and let your nose follow the tantalising aroma of freshly baked bread wafting from the various bakeries – A1, Jude, Santan, Hearsch, National... Laadis of number 8 rolls, soft loaves, buns and gutlis all ready and waiting to be bought by locals or delivered by the pavwalla (bread man).

As a little girl, I remember my dad’s daily morning ritual: attending the 6 a.m. mass followed by pit-stops to buy the milk, newspaper and bread. Once he got back home, my mum, brother Jason, and I would gather, in varying states of wakefulness, around the dining table for breakfast. Newspaper sections divvied up, tea before us, we’d proceed to eat our brun maska (gutlis with butter).

Here’s how it has to be done:
Take a gutli and slice it with a serrated knife right down the middle to get two circle-y pieces. Spread enough Amul butter to raise your cholesterol levels by two base points, on both sides, stick back together and then cut vertically down the middle. Dunk one-half into a cup of piping hot chai – loose leaf with milk and sugar – gobble it up before it plonks back into your cup. Simply delicious!

You could also choose jam or cheese or an omelette or leftovers as a filler – use your imagination! But since there are no preservatives, you’ve got to eat it then and there; trying to use a morning-bought gutli at dinner-time to mop up some curry will only result in achy-breaky jaws. All the more reason to make another trip to A1 bakery...

10 April 2011

Life's a Beach!

Yesterday had ‘beach weather’ written all over it, and we weren’t about to argue. So off we went to Balmoral for a spot of sun ’n’ sand. Caitlyn splashed around in the surf with glee; Caleb, with a mixture of fear and fascination. And while they collected shells to decorate a sandcastle (see photo), I looked back on family picnics from my childhood.

Every year, the Pereira Clan, as we call dad’s side of the family, went on a picnic to Juhu beach for the day. Our Uncle Bonzo, who worked for British Airways, hired the BOAC shack. After the mandatory ‘picnic meeting’ was held at Nana’s house, we were all set to go.

Once we got to Juhu, all we wanted to do was take a dip in the ocean. We’d put on our swimsuits, arm ourselves with Frisbees, bats, and beach balls, and get down to the all-important task of blowing up a HUGE blue float we called a dinghy. Mission accomplished, we’d haul it down to the beach and race towards the breaking waves.

The Very Important Task was to try and get all 20 cousins onto the dinghy – and stay there! No mean feat when you’ve got 20 slippery bodies scrambling to stay afloat while the waves did their best to topple us over!

Swim over, we would get treated to nariyal pani (tender coconut water) or talgoras (I have no idea what this fruit is called in English!). But the piece de rĂ©sistance was bung golas – shaved ice on a stick dunked into a glass filled with shocking shades of sherbet, sour lime juice and a pinch of chat masala. Slurp! Slurp!! Slurp!!!

Treat time over, we’d play a game or two of beach cricket and aati-paati. Thoroughly sated, we would troop back to the shack. On cue, an uncle would hoist a hose pipe up a tree, and hey presto, we had an ‘outdoor shower’. Just two minutes per person – in any case, the water was freeeezing!

There’s nothing like a swim to work up an appetite. Huge handis (vessels) of food would appear, as if by magic, and we would all dig in. Dal, rice, fried fish and pickle never tasted so good!

While the uncles and aunts sipped on their beers and the cousins got to drink Rasna (a kind of cordial), a sing-song session would begin. An overturned tub became a drum to keep the beat while my cousin Kim led the singing. Uncle Merwyn sang Blue Moon, Uncle Trevor sang Jezebel, and the kids all had their favourites. Mine was Tomorrow from the movie 'Annie'!

While the aunts and uncles caught 40 winks, the kids played games: Rounders on the table-tennis table, Dumb Charades or Rummy. As the sun’s rays lengthened, afternoon chai was made using condensed milk (no Tetrapaks then), the tins of which we licked clean. Marie biscuits and home-made pineapple upside-down cake were proffered. Blink and they were over! Just like our family picnic. But the memories live on...

Do you have any picnic memories? Where did you go? What was the highlight?

08 April 2011


I think my title says it all. It’s only Day 3 of Caitlyn’s school holidays and I’m already waiting for them to end. She’s got a tea-party, a visit to see farm animals, a birthday party, story time at the library, and a couple of play-dates lined up. Surely school holidays were not that stressful for my parents when I was a kid. What happened??? Thirty-odd years of so-called progress, that’s what!

For the next 21 days, I need to keep Caitlyn occupied – and myself sane. It’s not that she’s a demanding child – far from it. But let’s face it, our kids live in a society where info-tech rules and entertainment is available on tap. They expect to be enthralled and engrossed in something 24x7.

I’m not deriding modern living; that’s just the way it is. Each generation develops technology (and therefore, opportunities) far advanced to what its predecessors had – they’ve got Blu-Rays to our VCRs; iPhones to our obsolete rotary dial telephones; Wii 2 to the real-life games we used to play. That’s evolution for you.

When I was a kid, school holidays meant a month or two of relaxing, taking a breather, busy doing nothing. I’ m not saying we sat on the couch watching TV all day – far from it. In any case, all we had were two lousy channels (Doordarshan 1 & 2) and a black & white TV to watch them on! So how did we spend our time?

These are my memories of school holidays:

• Learning to cycle in the street. Grazed elbows and knees (no pads or helmets) were my badges of honour – and one unforgettable fall into a mucky gutter which ruined my new pants.

• Spending one day a week with my other grandma, Nana Violet. After a filling lunch of fish curry and rice, my grandma would retire for her ‘nana nap’. That’s when my cousins and I would scrape out the red mud from her potted lilies to 'cook our own curry’.

• Playing with the neighbourhood kids in each others’ compounds, jumping over adjoining walls and even running through the lanes with not a parent in sight. Raucous, riotous games of Dabba Gool (Kicking the Can), Kho-Kho, badminton and Chain-Cook were punctuated only by short 'water-breaks'. And then it was back to our fun (and fights!) till we were summoned home for lunch.

• Going to the “khandi” at Bandra Bandstand (our local beach, if you can call it that). We’d climb over the sharp but slippery rocks – trying not to stare at the couples making out there – to collect cockles which were taken home to be boiled and prodded out of their shells with a pin. Rubbery morsels of delight.

• Collecting kairi (raw mangoes – sure to set your teeth on edge), tamarind (ditto) and love apples from the neighbourhood trees and then dividing the spoils.

• Joining the Summer Holiday Camp at St. Peter’s Church (in Bandra, not Rome!). We could spend all day at the Centre, immersed in the gazillion comics and books, playing games like carom, Ludo and Snakes ‘n’ Ladders with new friends, trying our luck at throw-ball and dodge-ball... And at the end of the month, a contest for the best and brightest!

How did you spend your school holidays when you were a child? Any shenanigans that stand out? Tell us!

07 April 2011

The Milk of Human Kindness

My son Caleb does NOT like milk. Getting him to drink 100 mL of the stuff is harder than staying off Facebook for a month; or swearing off chocolate forever; or – you get the picture! I’ve tried cow’s milk, goat’s milk, soy milk, rice milk... Poetic justice, really, if you consider what a pain in the bottom I was when it came to drinking milk as a child. I can clearly remember it – and my cousins take every opportunity to make sure I don’t forget my milk misdemeanours.

4pm. The ordeal would begin once I got home from primary school. My Nana Evelyn would make my cup of milk with chocolate Complan (remember that?). My cousins and I would sit around the dining table with said cups of milk before us and maybe some biscuits to munch on. They would gulp down their milk in two ticks and rush off to their fun and games. My cup sat there, filled to the brim. “Hurry up and finish your milk so you can go out to play,” urged Nana.

4:30pm. My uncle Chris would return from his shift-work job. He’d take my cup into the kitchen to re-heat it on the stove. Remember, this was in the 1980s, so there was no microwave. The milk cup was brought back to me, and I was forced to take a sip. A skin of cream would start to form on the top. The sight of a skin forming over milk gives me goosebumps to this day...

5pm. My dad would come home from work. I knew I was in trouble the minute I heard the roar of his Yezdi motorbike in the lane. “Alison!” he would admonish, “You still haven’t finished your milk.” “There’s cream in it! Yuck!” I’d protest. Milk would be taken back into the kitchen to be strained, re-heated and brought back before me. I’d take a couple of sips to feign effort while dad had his cuppa.

5:30pm. Since this was my Nana’s house, we’d always have a relative or two popping by to say hello to her. Everyone would be sitting around the table, sipping tea, sharing a yarn or two, having a chuckle... And there I was, entranced by the chit-chat – without any milk going down.

6pm. Time for my mum to get back home on the contract bus. “Baby,” she would exclaim, “why haven’t you finished your milk yet?” “It’s cold!” I’d grumble, “I don’t want any more.” By then, if I’d finished 3/4ths of the cup, it was considered an achievement. Gold star behaviour even.

Were you a fussy eater as a child? What food/drink issues did you have? What about your kids? What clever tricks (or forms of bribery!) do you use to get them to comply?

06 April 2011

My Son Wants to Wear a Tutu!

Just made a tutu for my niece who’s turning three. Pink, of course (see photo below). Caitlyn and Caleb spotted it and both decided to try it on. Yes, my almost-two-year-old son likes dolls and dress-ups. Mind you, he also loves his Thomas train and dinky cars, but the minute he sees his big sister with her kitchen set, he demands his pots and pans; the second he spots her with her dressing up box, he wants to wear a tiara! I think it’s cute. My husband does not.

Caitlyn plays with Caleb’s trucks and tool sets. She plods around in her daddy’s shoes once he returns from work. We have a good laugh. So why do we cringe when Caleb goes for the girly stuff? Do we think it will translate into him being an effeminate adult or *gasp* even gay? Surely we know better?? So why do boys have to be rough and tough, while girls are expected to be frilly and feminine?

Gender roles. It starts from the minute a child is born. Pink for girls. Blue for boys – and ne’er the twain shall meet. Look into most little girls’ wardrobes and you are sure to be met with a profusion of pink. A cousin of mine swore that her daughter would wear every colour in the rainbow. You know what? She had a tough time finding anything but pink and purple in the shops.

Toys are supposed to provide our kids with fun and fantasy. They can also teach them social norms and life skills like sharing and caring. But only now that I have kids of my own, I’m realising how gender-loaded these playthings are.

Walk into a toystore for a glimpse of Gender Marketing at its best. Pretty “girly” sections will be segregated from the macho boyzone. Battle; power; weapons; superhero; action; victory: all words used to market boy toys. Conversely, fashion; friendship; magic; glam; totally; glitter: words used to market girls’ toys.

Which brings me to the age-old Nature vs. Nurture debate. Do our children respond to these gender stereotypes because they are genetically predisposed to do so? Is it their innate nature? Or are they culturally conditioned to believe that it is ‘right’ for girls to play with dolls and boys to play with cars?

My Caitlyn loves taking her dolly for a walk in her toy pram. Is this because of her natural need to take care of people or is she merely imitating mummy? If Caleb’s older sibling had been a boy, would he have ever tried on that tutu? Furthermore, do these early preferences translate later into the jobs our children choose? i.e. girls take up caring jobs like nursing and teaching while boys seek out logical/scientific roles like banking and construction. Then again, how does that account for the best chefs in the world being male?

I don’t have the answers. I’m just giving you food for thought.

What were your own childhood experiences with gender-related toys? Have things changed (for the better or worse) now that you have kids? Do you unconsciously perpetuate gender biases when it comes to your children?

05 April 2011

Grateful for my plate-full

The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather, the feeling of being unwanted.
-Mother Theresa

I jogged across the Harbour Bridge into the city this morning and passed a homeless man asleep on a bench. Homeless in Sydney? Yes, you’ll be shocked at the numbers. It slips under our radar – their unseen faces and unheard voices. Drug problems? Kicked out of their homes? Debt? I don’t know the reasons. But for the entire run, my head was filled with images of millions living below the poverty line back home in Bombay...

There is no welfare system in India. If you don’t have a job or home, you’re on the streets. Or on the trains, or under flyovers, or outside glitzy shopping malls... Totally at the mercy of the elements and dependent on those better off than you. You don’t know where your next meal is coming from or if you’ll find a cardboard box to construct a make-shift ‘home’ for the night.

On the other hand, if you belong to the general public, you had better develop a tough hide. A shield to safeguard your emotions. So that you don’t become a quivering mass at sight of a ragged woman with an emaciated newborn at the breast. So that you don’t dissolve into tears when a streetkid scrubs your car windscreen at a traffic light to earn a few rupees. So that you don’t baulk when you see a beggar whose open sores are covered with flies. It’s a necessary coping mechanism or else you would be having a mental breakdown every single day.

Another incident occurred when I was a teen. A little beggar girl and her even tinier brother used to walk around our neighbourhood every Saturday, singing Bollywood hits at the top of their voices. Grubby faces, torn clothes, bare feet. We often gave them food. One Saturday, I presented them with two pairs of slippers, very chuffed at my initiative. The following Saturday they turned up as usual - sans slippers! "What happened?" I asked. “Didi (Sister),” she explained in Hindi, “If we wear our slippers, no one will give us any money.”
Very depressing, isn’t it? But this post is not about doom and gloom. I’m hoping it makes you realise how much you have. And to be grateful for your blessings – no matter how simple, no matter how small.
Did anything happen today that makes you feel thankful? Since I’ve brought up the topic, I’ll go first:
 *I’m grateful that I had taken our raincoats and the pram cover to school today or else we would have been drenched!
*I’m grateful for leftover quiche – it meant I didn’t have to cook dinner.
*I’m grateful to B for giving the kids their baths and washing their hair.

04 April 2011

Mother Knows Best

If you’ve been following the news, you’re probably up-to-date on the Jackie O hullabaloo. Here's a recap:
Celebrity FM radio host Jackie O was caught on camera bottle-feeding her baby while crossing a road. There’s nothing like a 'mummy misdemeanour' to cause an uproar here in Sydney. State Families Minister Pru Goward declared that Jackie “endangered her baby” by doing this and likened it to “when Michael Jackson dangled his baby out the window... I think it was unnecessarily cavalier," she said.

“Unnecessarily cavalier”. Hmm... Let’s review the situation. The baby was bawling. What was mum to do? Feed her, of course! Wouldn't that be your natural reaction? Maybe the place or method wasn’t ideal, but I’m guessing the mum just did what she had to. Perhaps it was necessary. Would I have done it? No. I would have found a place to sit down first. But that’s just me. Then again, if I could manage to feed my baby while walking across a street, I’d demand a medal!

I was a first-time mum not so long ago. I remember being too nervous to leave the house – what if the pram ‘ran away’ on a slope? What if my baby made a Number 3 (a poo explosion) and I didn’t have enough wipes? What if I couldn’t find a feeding room and the whole world saw my boobs? So every outing was planned with precision – wheelchair-accessible bus time-tables were downloaded, ramps and lifts were duly noted in every public building, the nappy bag was packed the night before – and even then, things ran amuck at times.

When you have a newborn, those first couple of months are fraught with tension and tears – and I’m not talking about the bub! You haven’t had some serious shut-eye in weeks, your hormones are a whirling dervish, your breasts are the size of melons. And then comes the pressure to be the Perfect Mum. To make the right choices: disposable vs. cloth nappies, rigid routines vs. go with the flow, breast vs. bottle...

So let’s just cut all new mothers some slack. Enough criticism, enough snide comments, enough suggestions on how mums should do their jobs. Enough! As the saying goes: “Mother knows best!”

What eye-opening experiences did you have as a first-time mum? Did you have to deal with unwanted advice from family, pressure at work, an unsettled baby? How did you cope?

03 April 2011

The Gift of Time

Daylight Saving ended in Sydney this morning. So we wound back our clocks and gained a whole extra hour. Just like that – with a flick of the wrist. Sixty glorious minutes to sleep in, caper with the kids, do those odd jobs you’ve been keeping on the back-burner, call up friends/family you’ve been meaning to...

I made a deliberate decision to slow things down just for today. To live in the moment and savour it. To not sweat the small stuff. To do one task at a time. A hard ask when your life's a rat-race and you're programmed to go, go, go! In the words of W.H. Davies:

What is this life, if full of care
We have no time to stand and stare?

...No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars like skies at night.

So we spent a glorious day doing, well, nothing much! When the kiddies woke up, the four of us huddled and cuddled together on our bed, then spent the entire morning at a kids' cafe in Lilyfield (‘Glitterkids’ – with a bouncy castle, no less!). B got to flick through some mags and sip on some chai latte while I was happy to let my kids just BE – not rushing them, not correcting them, not telling them what to do. After all, when you’re given the gift of time, you had better appreciate the “present”.

I’m not naive enough to think the bubble won’t burst. That I can be cool, calm and collected day-in, day-out. I’m sure organised chaos will reign on the school run tomorrow or maybe even at bed-time tonight. But for now, I’m making the most of each minute.

So what did YOU do with your extra hour today? Anything interesting??

02 April 2011

I Challenge You to Try Something New

A few weeks ago, I attended a couple of Zumba classes. In case you’re saying “Zum-what??”, Zumba is a Latino fitness program where your ‘workout’ is an hour of dancing. My interested was piqued when a cousin and her husband (you know who you are!) in Bombay showed me a few moves over Christmas. And when I returned to Sydney, two friends invited me to their Zumba class. I had to give it a whirl. This is what ensued:

It’s 8 pm on a sultry Wednesday evening. I enter an old church hall, with said two friends in tow. There’s a posse of women (and one token male!) chatting while they stretch. “Come on in!” hollers someone. Uh-oh, it’s time to put my best foot forward.

The class kicks off... The music is energetic; the rhythm, infectious. I can’t help but boogie to the beat. By track three, my heart rate is pumping, my hips are swaying in sync to the song. I’m moving, I’m grooving. Those happy hormones are surging.

After a good hour of twisting, twirling and toning, we end on a high note. My verdict: it was fun, it was stimulating, it was out of my comfort zone, it was DIFFERENT.

So my challenge to you is to try something NEW!
Just do it. It doesn’t have to be exercise-related; it could be something simple or something you've always been meaning to do:
* Watch a foreign film
* Taste a new cuisine
* Volunteer your skills in the community
* Try on a different shade of lipstick
* Taking up a new hobby (bowl-weaving or boules, anyone?)
* Strike up a conversation with your new neighbours.

Check out your local notice boards or newspapers - there are heaps of cheap (or even free) events or courses taking place all the time. Go on! I guarantee it will rev up your engines and get you out of your routine (and perhaps, a rut?).

As a Robert Frost poem title goes, try ‘The Road Not Taken’. Maybe you’ll see things in a new light. Discover a latent talent (ooh, I just realised that ‘latent’ is an anagram of ‘talent’!). And, if the experience did not meet your expectations, at least you gave it a go. It could be something ‘that makes all the difference’.

So tell me, have you done anything different recently? Something to get out of your comfort zone? What hobbies do you enjoy?

01 April 2011

Are Mums Allowed to Chuck a Sickie?

The males in the Rodericks’ household were sick all week. First Caleb, and then Daddy B, had fever every night for three nights running. B even got the ‘shakes’. Of course, bedtime routines were thrown out of the window for little Caleb and B needed (whimpered for, actually!) extra TLC.

Which got me thinking: how come mothers hardly ever fall ill? Is it because their bodies are programmed so? Hardwired to withstand germ warfare for the sake of family welfare? Do mums have an Immunity Cloak the way Harry Potter wears his Invisibility Cloak?

Or do they know that if, god forbid, they actually catch a nasty virus the family unit falls apart? Dishes, laundry, homework assignments – all left undone when Mummy comes undone.

While working dads escape from the rat race for a day or two, stay-at-home mums can hardly afford to chuck a sickie. Imagine telling your two-year-old, “Sorry sweetheart, mum can’t clean your bottom/read you The Very Hungry Caterpillar ten times over/take you to the park/do the million things I do because I’m just not up to it.” Chances of that happening in this life? Pretttty slim.

A friend reckons that maybe Mother Nature is super-smart and has decided she’ll cut families some slack by decreeing: “I know this family won’t survive if the mum needs to rest for two whole days, so I’ll spare her.”

Do the guys in your household regress into cranky kids when they have “man-flu”? Does your family pick up the slack when mummy is sick?