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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.

27 July 2013

I Just Call to Say...

“Mum, was Apatosaurus a meat-eating dinosaur like T-Rex or a plant-eating dinosaur like Diplodocus?” questioned C2 who is into all things 'dinosaur' these days (with “rrrr-oars” for sound effects).

“I’m not sure,” I replied, a bit distracted by the arrival of our ferry.
“Just look it up on your phone, Mum,” instructed C1. “The ferries have free wi-fi.”

If I had a dollar for every time my kids’ tell me to “Google” something on my iPhone...

My phone. It contains (and controls?) my life.
It rouses me from my slumber. It maps my morning run. It keeps track of my calorie-intake. It 'pings' reminders of all my daily tasks/birthdays/appointments. It captures moments of my kids’ lives as they live it. It keeps me connected through email and texts...

So imagine my total disconnect when it “drowned” in a puddle of split water.

It was eventually resuscitated by a bag of Basmati rice (rice acts as a desiccant – who knew?). Thank God for small mercies – and for those even smaller grains of rice – because even one day without my phone made me realise how much I depend on it.

Remember the days when a phone was just a phone? You made calls. You received calls. The end. No apps or maps, no texting or gaming, no camera or calendar.

If you told your friends you’d be at New Talkies cinema for the 12noon matinee, you’d jolly well be there. No calling from the rickshaw to say you were running late. No receiving texts saying, “Where r u?” As we used to say, back in the day, “Be there or be square.” (cringe).

It’s a novelty for C1 and C2 to speak on a phone “with wires attached to it”. I showed them pictures of “olden day” phones – on my phone. I remember my aunts having those shiny black rotary dial phones where you had to spin the numbers on the dial with your index finger to make a call. No redial, no speed dial, no caller ID, no answering machine...

My family skipped this stage. When we got our first phone in 1991, it was a push-button dark-red one (or so my mum tells me). The initial excitement was palpable; when it would ring, (just the standard “tring, tring, tring!” ringtone), everybody would rush to answer it. God forbid if the person on the other end was a secret crush; all ears were on your conversation. There was no cordless extension to take to another room, so I’d be glued to the spot, nervously wrapping the curly-wurly cord around my finger, trying not to say too much while still trying to sound fascinating.

And any thoughts of having long heart-to-hearts with my best girl friends were always thwarted. Dad would be pacing up and down our hall: “You’ve just been with your friends all day at school/college; what more do you need to talk about now???”

So it’s funny how the phone is the best way my dad and I connect across the continents nowadays...

Do you remember the first phone your family had or your first mobile phone? Would you be able to survive without your mobile phone? Or would you rather your right arm be cut off?

24 July 2013

Magic Socks

C2 was in tears last evening. "My legs are hurting," he wailed...

I don't know if it was a case of "growing pains", or if he was missing B who's away in London (for the birth of the Royal Baby – not!), or if he was over-tired from all those pre-school activities – or a combination of all three.

By bed-time, the whingeing and whimpering had escalated to full-on crying with copious tears streaming down C2's face. What to do? There are no local GPs on duty at 7pm in Sydney and I had no home remedies for achy-breaky calves.

I was about to tell him to put a sock in it when the word hit me – "sock". I would steal an idea from B's childhood: the Magic Socks.

C2 wears the Magic Socks
B’s cousins, aunts and siblings gleefully recount this story at many a family gathering:
B must have been around five years old. Much like his son, he used to complain non-stop about his aching legs. Being the youngest of three boys, he had mastered the art of getting everyone's attention, especially his poor Nana whom, I’m sure, he managed to coax into massaging his legs with Iodex. Perhaps he asked her for a hot water bottle, too.

Days rolled into months. No sign of the "growing pains” subsiding...

Then B's dad had an idea. An idea I think he should have patented.
"Go get the Magic Socks," B's dad told his wife.
After putting a pair of socks on little B's feet, he advised, "Now go to sleep. The Magic Socks will take away all your pain during the night and you'll be fine by morning."

Lo and behold! Those super-powered socks did the trick. Well, they were magic, after all...

Thirty years down the track, they have worked their magic on C2 once again. He woke up this morning, fit and fine. Bless his cotton socks!

From now on, "Get the Magic Socks" will be the catch-cry for every possible ailment that afflicts C1 and C2: headache, earache, backache, tummy ache... The socks will mysteriously channel all the pain from any body part straight to the wearer's feet where the Magic Socks will suck it away...
Wish I could get an adult-sized pair of Magic Socks myself!

P.S.: If you're ever in the need for a pair of Magic Socks, make sure they are a nondescript pair, say plain black or white, which can be easily replaced for a larger pair as your kids grow up!

Did your parents ever have to resort to "magic"? What cure-all do you, as a parent, have for your kids' problems? What's the best way to stop your children from crying? Do you have a favourite pair of socks?

20 July 2013

Let Us Eat Cake

It was B’s birthday on the Monday gone by. Alas, there was no celebration; a little matter of spending the previous three nights at hospital due to C2’s scary asthma attack was enough to be a party pooper. This was much to B’s relief; unlike me, he shies away from big shindigs. But there had to be cake. After all, aren’t birthdays the Universe’s way of telling us to eat more cake??

So after a weary return home on Sunday evening, I baked him a flourless orange and almond cake (see pics). Two hours to make; two minutes to devour!

It’s amazing what memories a single word can conjure up. Say the word "cake", and I'm in a happy mood instantaneously; salivating even, if it's chocolate mud! Then again, I’m happy to devour every scrumptious crumb of pineapple upside-down cake, bundt cake, tea cake, cheesecake, wedding cake, carrot cake, pound cake, sponge cake...

When I was little, my favourite tea cake was the one my (other) Nana Violet used to bake for us. She would painstakingly skim the cream off the top of the boiled milk each morning, and when her stockpile had reached the desired amount, she would use this cream to bake a melt-in-your mouth cream cake. Perfect with a cuppa! I wish my mum had coaxed the recipe out of her...

Anyone from Bombay reading this? Have you been to Venus Bakery near Mount Carmel’s Church, Bandra, recently? Do they still sell the cake with the four coloured squares? Back in the ’80s, these cake bars (their version of a Battenberg cake, I think) were sliced and served at every party. A favourite with the kids thanks to the four squares of chocolate (brown), strawberry (pink), pistachio (green) and vanilla (yellow). The only quandary: which tempting square to taste first?

And of course, I can’t forget the Christmas cake. Strangely enough, Christmas cakes were never baked at home – everybody took theirs to the local bakery. Till today, I have no idea why! On December 23rd evening every year, Nana Evelyn and Mum would measure and mix the ingredients – candied peel, dry fruit, semolina, spice, flour, eggs, butter... On Christmas Eve, dad would take it to the Bazaar Road bakery with our name and address (no telephone number in the 1980s!) centred on the cake batter. In a couple of hours, the Christmas cake was collected. The heady aroma of spice and brandy wafted through the entire D’Monte Street house. But only after returning from Midnight Mass on St. Peter’s grounds, was the Christmas cake cut. Every slice bejewelled with glace cherries, candied peel and plump sultanas. Delicious!

Last but definitely not least is the Birthday Cake.

C1 blowing out the candles on her Princess cake

C1's Ladybird cake (3rd Birthday)

C2 with his Choo-Choo Train cake

C1's Spring-theme cake (4th Birthday)

Nowadays, I get a kick out of making fancy 3D cakes for C1 and C2 on their birthdays (see pics above) but I have no memory of such elaborately-themed parties when my brother Jason and I were growing up.

Our birthday parties went a little something like this: Dad would place an order with Mrs Baptista, the local cake-maker, and when D-day, or should I say ‘B-day’ arrived, we would drool in anticipation as the cake was revealed. I always asked for a pink marzipan cake decorated with white sugar-paste flowers.

The“family party” was a cacophonous celebration of cousins, candles, and of course, cake! Unlike nowadays when parties culminate with the cake-cutting, our parties kicked off with cutting the birthday cake to a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday”. After that, the snacks were served: chips (crisps), and boiled gram (chickpeas), ribbon sandwiches and samoas all washed down with a glass of kala khatta Rasna (cola-flavoured cordial). Then, party games of Musical Chairs, Statues and Pass the Parcel (where only one winner got a prize) followed by some "doof-doof" disco dancing till we dropped. And the party was deemed a success!

How were birthdays celebrated when you were a child? Does any particular birthday stand out in your memory? Do you like to bake your cake and eat it too? Which kind of cake is your favourite?

19 July 2013


The universe was definitely trying to tell me something today.
In the space of an hour, I got sent the above link THREE times!!!
Go on, have a read.

The post by David Vienna who blogs at The Daddy Complex has a pithy message for all parents: When parenting matters make you want to throw a toddler-like tantrum or curl up in the foetal position, just take a deep breath and Calm The F%#k Down (CTFD)!

Enough said!

While I’m averse to cursing out aloud (thank you, convent-education!), it was a timely reminder to take note of the CTFD message. B routinely tells me I’ll give myself a heart-attack if I don’t relax with the kids (as he blithely carries on with his PS2 game!).

So I thought I'd road-test the advice this evening.
Here's what transpired:
The kids were supposed to be eating their stir-fry noodles for dinner. Instead, they jabbered non-stop, their topics seemingly schizophrenic: Koala bears. Kettle bells. Karate. Knitting. Kisses. I think they covered every ‘K’ word in the dictionary.

‘CT*D!’ I told myself.

Then the petty squabbling started.
“You just sat on my craft and ruined it!”
“I didn’t mean to.”
“Well, you didn’t say ‘Sorry’.”
“I don’t need to say Sorry if it was an accident.”
“Yes, you do. Mummmmmmmy...”

‘CT*D!!’ I told myself.

They then proceed to dissect and dismiss every single vegetable I put on their plates.
"Why did you cut the carrots length-ways? I prefer them cut round."
"Mum, you know I don't eat red capsicum."
"Mushrooms. Yuck!"
"Bok choi is too slimy."
"Why are they called 'snow peas'? They're not even white!"

‘CTFD!!!’ I told myself.

I think I lasted for about 18 minutes before I exploded.
I gave them the "there-are-millions-of-starving-children-in-India-who-would-love-to-eat-your-food" speech. Sheesh!

When did parenting get so complicated? Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect parents? Why did we allow it to become a competitive sport with everyone vying for the Bestest Parent in the Whole Wide World prize?

Every decision we make is fraught with anxiety. We decide on something, then rethink our decision, then ask our 327 Facebook 'friends' if we've made the right decision...

A dose of parenting prose at my local library
When's the right age to have kids?
Single child v/s siblings?
Breast- or bottle-feeding?
Should I be a SAHM or return to work?
Co-sleeping or control crying?
Free-range or helicopter parenting?
Public or private school?

Decisions! Decisions!! Decisions!!!

Here's my cliché-laden two cents' worth.

Be alert but not alarmed: Yes, it is your duty to be aware of what's going on in your child's life and make certain decisions for them, but don't go batty over the 'what-ifs' and 'maybes'.

Don't sweat the small stuff: Of course you will stuff up – probably at an inopportune moment. Go easy on yourself when you make a mistake and let go of the guilt. Take a step back and ask yourself, ‘How important is this in the grand scheme of things?’

Trust your instinct: You've got an edge over the plethora of parenting guides – it’s your instinct. So if something tells you things are not quite right, go with your gut instinct.

When all else fails, blame your partner! ; ).

What sort of person are you calm and collected or full-on frantic? What do you do to CTFD?

03 July 2013

Pedal Pushers

I want to ride my bicycle/ I want to ride my bike.
I want to ride my bicycle/ I want to ride it where I like...
Bicycle Race, Queen

Took C1 and C2 to, what they call, the “Bike Park” today. This piece of turf has a purpose-built cycle path for our wee ones to learn to use their tricycles/scooters/bicycles safely. With two click-clacks of their helmets, they were off!

The bike park with its kiddy cycle path
They say you never forget how to ride a bicycle. To that I’ll add: you never forget your first cycle.

I got my first bicycle when I was around five years old. It was a hand-me-down from my older cousins, so Dad gave it a fresh lick of paint. (I have no idea why he chose black! The saving grace was the pink seat.) Training wheels attached, Dad began Cycling 101 classes at the start of the summer holidays. Holding onto the back of the seat, he first walked, then trotted, then jogged, then ran beside me as I progressed with my pedalling.

So picture this:
The stifling May heat has made way for June who makes a grand entrance with claps of thunder for applause. It’s the monsoon season in Bombay. The roads are slick with rain. I’m gripped with cycling fever; I want to cycle morning, noon and night. Dad takes off the training wheels but still holds onto me for good measure. I’m proud as punch.
I’m dressed up in a pretty frock (perhaps, we were going to visit an aunt) but I want to take my bike out for a spin.
“Dad, you’re holding on, right?” I call out to my father who is running to keep pace.
“Don’t worry,” he answers.
I’m flying...
Then I make the mistake of turning back. Dad is distant speck a good 30 metres behind me.
I’ve been cycling by myself.
Excitement! Elation!! Ecstasy!!!
Then, crippling fear...
I crash straight into a pile of chikkal (muck) right in front of Nana’s front steps.
My dress – and ego – in tatters.

C1 and her cycle

But in the Bombay of my childhood, a bicycle, as the song goes, was built for two.
It was the perfect mode of transport for courting couples before they moved up a gear to Vespas, Lambrettas and Enfields. The pair went “doubles” – the lissome lass sat side-saddle on the cross bar while her roving Romeo pedalled her across town, breathing in the scent of her freshly-shampooed hair. No helmets, no worries!
Emboldened, he would lean in to nuzzle the sweet spot behind her delicate neck. But that’s as far as the PDAs went, just in case Gertie, the neighbourhood goss, told Old Joe who told Virginia-aunty who told Mrs. Baptista that she saw Michael on the cycle kiss Tulip on her two lips!

So tell me, do you remember your first cycle? Who taught you to ride? Did you have training wheels? And what’s your opinion on PDAs (public displays of affection)?