The UnGlam Fam

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The difficulty of a Difficult Kid.

As far as labels go, V could possibly be classified as a “difficult kid”. The problem with labels is that no one can really compare my difficult with another person’s. I could have the most laid-back, logical, un-insane kid, but if I choose to call him difficult there’s no way to dispute me. There’s a lot of hoo-ha about labeling kids and how it messes with their self esteem — indeed their life! — but this seems to be the problem only with perceived negative labels. After all, I haven’t heard of anybody calling the CPS over labeling someone a fantastic child or a talented little person, and so on.

V knows that he’s picky. He agrees that he has a quick temper that turns him into a mean person. He sometimes even tells me that he realizes when he’s being illogical and argumentative but can’t seem to stop doing it. We are constantly working on that. We have both come to realize his triggers and most times when he’s unable to react to situations in a non-disruptive way, I have learned to diffuse them in various ways.

Yesterday, though, I couldn’t. I yelled at him like I haven’t in a while. I grabbed him by his shoulders too hard. I shoved him. I punched the bed a few times right in front of him because I couldn’t punch him. I got so mad I almost cried. I’d totally lost it. And the worst part was I knew in my mind all along that it wasn’t a behaviour I wanted him to emulate. I was being the exact same person that I wanted him NOT to be. That I’d worked with him all this time for him to be able to control this exact impulse that I could not control in myself. I. just. could. not. stop.

I was where he is so many times a week or month, and even I couldn’t stop myself. He’s 7, and I’m, well, older. I should know better. And I did. But I couldn’t  stop anyway.

If someone called me a difficult person, I could live with it. I could bear it knowing that someone still loves me even if they and I both know I’m difficult. And that’s my lesson from yesterday: V is my difficult kid, but he will be okay as long as he knows I’m always in his corner. My job is not to protect him from what everybody thinks of him — his own behaviour will influence that. My job is to be there for him, labels and all.

PS: I did go and apologize to him before he fell asleep (this all happened at bedtime), but I felt rotten for a long time after. Hopefully the scars will be all mine.

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These are a few of my favorite things…

You guessed right. We’ve been watching the classic movie The Sound of Music in multiple installments the last couple of days. Why installments, you may ask? A valid query, I assure you, but when your kids want to rewind their favorite scenes and watch each one 3 times in succession, a movie can become quite long and unwieldy to be finished in one sitting.

However. It’s one of those things that I can let go without much chagrin except for the niggling annoyance of having a song stuck in my head. Which one? Well, I’ll keep you guessing.

Some of my favorite things:

  • The scent of petrol/gas (I’m weird, I know.)
  • The smell of parched earth after the first rain (anyone who’s grown up in India or in an arid climate knows this heady aroma. I reckon it’s akin to the feeling some get with fresh baked bread; you want to eat whatever smells this yummy — in my case, the earth (in the sense of mud, not the planet.))
  • The smell of a cooler in the summer.

This one needs an explanation: in the days before air conditioning became affordably commonplace in India, we used to cool our houses in the deep days of summer with something called a cooler. Instead of a box to store drinks in, this cooler was typically a rickety aluminium box lined with hay that people would install in a centrally located window and fill with water. It had an exhaust fan that threw the water-cooled air into the house amidst such a hideous racket that holding a conversation in the room with the cooler was almost impossible. (You could yell, however, like you would at a frat party. Not that you would have any energy left for conversation after coming in from 120F temperatures, so this wasn’t usually an issue. The only words to escape your lips at this point were “thank” and “God”.)

A typical cooler of the day. Now probably extinct.

  • Playing Monopoly with my 7yo.

He has recently acquired an obsession with all things monetary. (His first question on encountering an exciting new toy isn’t the usual “Can I have it?” but “How much is it?” Which is fine by me because with the paltry amount he manages to collect from sundry sources, even $5 is enough to deter him.) Monopoly is a game I don’t mind playing with him right now; beats having to wrestle superhero figurines any day. After the first few disasters of having to end the game midway due to uncontrollable sobbing at the loss of $10 for a Chance penalty, he has now learned to stoically bear the vagaries of fortune. I can even get a bit competitive sometimes without causing irreparable damage to his psyche.

  • The comfort of shorn nails.
  • The all-day-long feeling of springiness on days that I’m able to haul my lazy a$$ for a swim. I wish the brain remembered this feeling as acutely as it seems to remember the texture of a double chocolate brownie consumed a week ago. Just sayin’.
  • Bedtime on days that the sheets have been changed.
  • The 2 whole seconds between a sparkling kitchen and the time to start prepping the next meal.

Maybe I’ll think of more of my absolutely favorite things and add to this list. Meanwhile, the one most UNfavorite feeling that comes to mind is of waking up alone at midnight on the wrong side of a urine-soaked bed that is not mine.

What’s yours?

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A week in the life of a toy.

It must be hard being a toy. Having plastic limbs is no walk in the park, plus being created solely for the playing pleasure of another has to be an ego buster. To top it all, the emotional fallout, indeed the roller coaster of being absolutely adored one day only to be resolutely ignored the next must be enough to warrant a hefty bill at  Dr. Oz’s, right?

The typical shelf life for a new toy in our house is about a week. The percentage of plastic in a toy is usually inversely proportional to its shelf life, the same way as more pieces equal less time for them to be played with as a unit. Currently, Lego is the only exception to this plastic and pieces rule.

I will elucidate with an example.

A few weeks ago we were at Target. (I could say The End right now and some of you with overindulged little kids will likely correctly surmise the rest. But for the others, I will explain.) My kids saw a life-sized Superman stuffed toy. They bonded immediately and puppy eyes ensued. The thing wasn’t cheap (in price, not in quality) so I dilly-dallied. I offered alternatives, distractions, tried saying a vehement no. But kids have a super sense about parental dithering and, truth be told, I wasn’t totally averse to the damn thing. I know how much my kids obsess over superheroes and they didn’t really have a superhero stuffie in their toy repertoire. We bought it, amidst whoops of “you’re the best mom ever” and “we promise to share him!”.

Now comes the shelf life part.

Day 1

Superman gets carried everywhere. Hour-long games are created around him. There is no bickering over whose turn it is to hold him since the games are creative enough for everyone to have roles. He eats with them, watches TV with them, sleeps in their bed.

Day 2

Superman is the first thing to be greeted in the morning. More independent play all morning. Slight disturbance about who gets to cuddle with him at naptime but since V is too old to nap, situation is easily diffused. Superman is shown off to neighbour friends.

Day 3

There is no Superman play until late afternoon. Then everyone realizes he exists at the same time and sharing issues begin.

Day 4-5

Interest is on a definite wane. However, bedtime cuddling quotient is still high and staggered bedtimes make sharing a non-issue.

Day 6

Sporadic memory of Superman during daytime hours and no nighttime cuddling required any more.

Day 7


Self explanatory. Superman occupies place of non-importance with discarded clothes of the day and partial closet invisibility.

Another $20 lost in the abyss of playroom chaos.

Super special Superman no more.

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Rules that don’t apply to 4 year olds.

Having a 4 year old in the house is not unlike having a baby; there’s no reasoning with their logic, any demand for attention needs to be met now, not after you’ve taken a breath, you need to be ever alert to the very real dangers a normal house poses (whoever thought of building railings on stairs for support?!). Only now, instead of being able to be distracted with a nipple in their mouth or a noise-making toy, they are capable of subjecting you to hours of screeching wails or long arguments that result in a mental breakdown (yours, theirs is permanent).

One of the most fruitless things you can do is to try to convince a 4yo that nature has rules that most humans live by. Not our rules, mind you, which you have to admit can be arbitrary, but nature‘s. They simply don’t buy it. When I can bend rules made by my parents, who I can touch and see and ignore, what’s this nature thing they keep talking about? Weird, is what they think most likely. In our house, this attitude makes these widely accepted “rules” mere myths.

Breakfast is only one meal.

Says who? When you’re 4, breakfast just opens the floodgates to lunch. 8am: french toast with milk, 8:45: cereal with (self poured) or without milk, 10: blemish-free banana, definitely no strings attached, cut into pieces, 10:15: 5 pretzels, with generous crumbs left over for ants to find their way around, 11: 2 tubs of Dora yogurt with favorite spoon.

Lunchtime is dicey. Not because they have been stuffing themselves since breakfast, but because there is a chance that what’s served isn’t up to expectation, in which case there is a sudden onset of crippling stomach pains. Until the next time.

Both parties may get injured in a fair duel.

If you’re agreeing to fight with one older and probably stronger than you, you also agree to be whacked when you’re not looking, cannot take a shot and run and hide behind mom fearing retaliation, or end the duel as soon as you’ve had your turn at swinging the weapon (pillow or stuffies). It’s not necessarily unfair that your brother is stronger than you and therefore is able to pull you harder than you can pull him. Yelling “it’s not FAIR!” will not get you any sympathy from the adult who warned you against agreeing to the whole thing in the first place.

Age makes a difference.

Contrary to what a 4yo wholeheartedly believes, age is not merely a fantastic concept. At this stage, a couple of years makes a huge difference in what one can physically accomplish and mentally grasp. Unless you are an extraordinarily advanced 4yo you WILL have trouble with fractions no matter how easy your 7yo brother may make them seem. It is no less confusing for me, your mother, to chart a course of action when you cry if I don’t give you 5 stars for your scribbles or if I do give you 5 stars for obviously not solving the word problem.

It’s hard being 4.

Adults sometimes get tired and actually like to nap.

I don’t remember my own experience much but it’s plenty obvious to me now that a low center of gravity combined with the daily pull of the moon gives 4yos an unlimited pool of energy to draw from during daylight hours. This bouncing and rattling and gnashing and chattering is only abated by a sudden attack of narcolepsy at roughly 8pm (thank heavens!), until when the only way to walk is to run, the only way to talk is to yell, and the only way to think is aloud.

Clothing is desirable.

No. Just no.

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Cooking frenzy.

We are giddy to be back home. The kids have been couped up inside for almost a week with no intention of ever venturing out into a world where parents encourage their kids to experience the world via vacations, the husband has been back to work with a vengeance, and I, I have been cooking, baking, reading like nobody’s business.

We spend the whole day in our pajamas, take showers as and when we feel like it (or not), basically just relaxing and taking each day as it comes without prior plans. Without deadlines to distract me or a schedule to stick to, I’m listening to their crazy invention ideas, laughing at their loud (omg, is it ever loud) silliness, actually mediating fights rather than ignoring them and taking a step back from all that nagging to finish this or that quickly.

I have to say, I’m beginning to see the allure of a staycation.

So, what’s cooking?

For a gal who doesn’t mind cooking, oh maybe even enjoys it a little, coming back to my own pots and pans and spices has been more than a little satisfying. This week’s Indian grocery run yielded tinda, a kind of small pumpkin-like vegetable not very readily available in Indian stores here in the U.S. so I don’t cook it often. Not that that would dampen the life of my 15-year-old self at all. Growing up, tinda was one of the veggies that didn’t earn mom any accolades for being served. (Sorry, mom, I now know how crushing a child’s whiny “not thaaat” can be at the end of a long day!)

From tinda to masala

Now that I’m the one doing the serving and the eating, I have to say tinda is quite not so bad at all. Cooked with some onion, ginger, cumin and basic spices, tinda masala is a tasty veggie dish to go along with a hot roti.

After a couple of weeks of deprivation, the kids wanted some of their comfort foods. If you’re thinking that’s something normal like mac n cheese or dal-chawal, you’re SO not their mom.

Slam dunk.

Well, they demanded chocolate chip cookies that did not have the crunch of those packaged boxes or the chewiness of the Starbucks one. In short, cookies they know and love. So we baked a batch of those. 23 cookies gone in 2 days.

Then came a brownie request that was fulfilled today. Filled with milk chocolatey goodness and the crunch of pecans in every bite, these brownies are hard to resist even for me. I couldn’t take an after photo because of the mad rush to devour the scorched pan.

Before the oven.

I managed to grab a couple to go with my coffee.

In an effort to pare down on the excesses of vacation eating, I’ve been trying to prepare light, healthy lunches for myself. The heat outside hasn’t hurt this quest either. ImageA quick bowl of Chinese style brown (not so) fried rice is filling and delicious. Bonus: R tried a bite and didn’t spit it out. I count that as a success.

So, it’s been fun. V doesn’t have full-day camp until the week after, and I’m glad I didn’t sign them up for too many. It’s summer vacation, after all.


Reasons NOT to take vacations with kids.

Since I’m writing this post, it’s obvious we’re back from our apparently glamorous vacation to Europe, Spain and Portugal to be exact. Europe is fascinating no matter how many times you visit or which country it happens to be; there’s just too much history and the general un-suburbia type feel that pulls you in again and again. Which is exactly why it is the worst kind of vacation to take with two little born-and-bred North American suburban kids. Here’s why:

  • The first thing to come out of their mouths after the initial “Yay, we’re going on a plane tomorrow!” is, “How much loooonger are we gonna be in the plannne??” Especially when the airliner doesn’t have personal TVs. Oh, the inconvenience of it.
  • The space vacated in the baggage by diapers is now occupied by “favorite” toys that absolutely cannot be done without for 12 days. No matter that some of them had been lying behind the sofa in the basement ignored for the past 6 months. The fight seems too petty to be fought while packing (parent guilt: they’re going to be uprooted for so many days it seems cruel to not even bring the few things they’re asking for), but man, how we rue those extra pounds while having to lug suitcases alongwith a sleeping child on public transport.
  • Someone throws a massive tantrum over a used, plastic Batman figurine while trolling an antique market for precious one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
  • How do you cover an area meant to be discovered on foot when your otherwise overwired kids claim they’re “too super tired” to walk before even reaching the metro station? Which, by the way, is so close you can see it from your hotel balcony. Also, it’s 9 a.m. and they’ve just woken up after a refreshing night’s sleep. You can practically guarantee chants of “Can we go back to the hotel now??” or “I’m tired and SO hungry” before noon.
  • At a plaza surrounded by stunning medieval architecture, they zero in on a rusty playground that absolutely needs to be played in before advancing any further.
  • You have to pack 2000 snacks along with non-perishable food items that can be cooked in a single pan for the picky eater or risk him surviving on bananas for the whole length of the trip (yeah, BTDT).
  • Dressing up for dinner is pointless because a) you’re bringing tired kids with no interest in food along, and b) your semi-fancy clothes (read: dress with flat sandals) are accessorized with a large backpack stuffed with paper, markers, snacks, electronics, etc.
  • You’re half distracted trying to prevent losing your kids in the tourist crush to pay much attention to the cathedral murals that you just spent 30euro per person to see. Maybe Spanish kids are enthralled by such magnificence, our kids are most decidedly not.
  • The excitement your kids show on the plane ride home is much more than the whole rest of the trip combined.

And that, mi amigos, is all we remember while recovering in the first few days after returning. Thank goodness short term memory will quickly fade and smiling photos will be all that remains.


Pirate party on a budget.

I just hosted a pirate themed party for my 4yo and realized it can totally be done on a budget. Admittedly I didn’t have a super strict one, but all accounted for I could’ve done it for under a 100 dollars IF I hadn’t splurged on the cake. I did that, but someone who wasn’t too picky or had cake-baking skills could absolutely make it work without breaking (into) the bank. 4yos are easy that way.

I kept the decorations simple. A pirate banner ($5 for a 100 feet!), some flag toothpicks and cupcake wrappers (24 each for $2, on sale at Jo-ann), some red/yellow balloons, themed plates and napkins (if you check out the dollar store enough times you’re sure to find some cute designs), and you’re all set!

Piratey snacks and deco.

To streamline the party a bit I organized a simple treasure hunt for the wee guests. I made clues on recipe cards along with a picture of where the next clue was hidden (they aren’t reading yet), enlisted the help of parents, and let the little ones loose in the yard. The kids had a great time running from post to mailbox hunting for clues that culminated at a treasure chest piñata filled with loot – dollar store bead “jewels”, chocolate coins, confetti. There’s something visceral about breaking open a piñata, and I’ve never met a 4yo who’s not into showing off his or her muscles. What better way to let off some of that sugar steam than let them whack a cardboard box to shreds trying to get at more candy? Especially when there’s cake still to come?

Clue in the mailbox! Bat meets pinata!

Our cake wasn’t pirates (the birthday boy changed his mind when he saw a “How to Train Your Dragon” option available, but one could easily bake a customized cake if needed; there’s tons of inspirational images available courtesy of Mr. Google.

For goodie bags, instead of going the junk toy route I opted for a pirate book along with a home baked cookie for each kid. It cost about the same (about $5 for a hardcover from Amazon) as a bagful of plastic would’ve, and felt much more personal and useful. What kid doesn’t want to read a book before bed and what parent wouldn’t want to at least read them a new one instead of one they (parents) know by heart?

Top left packed and ready to go.

At the end of the day, the guests left happy, the birthday boy had a wonderful time with this pals, and all it took was a bit of planning and ingenuity on my part to make this one of the best birthday parties I’ve hosted. The props may not have been perfect but the day absolutely was.

Happy 4th birthday, R.