This would be my last post in the Swara chronicles. :)
As of today, it’s been about 2 months since she’s come home (although, it seems that she has been part of our life for longer than that)! She has integrated beautifully well with the entire family. (Touchwood!)
In this post, I’m sharing four incidents over these couple of months (and four lessons) which might be useful for anyone with young kids (or about to have one)!
1. That moment of unexplained crying
It was 27-Nov-2020. We had taken a flight from Patna to Pune. She had been stellar throughout the journey. Around 5.30 pm in the evening, we had just reached home from the airport.
After the joyful hugs with family (my son just doesn't stop jumping with excitement), we give her a bath and take her to the bedroom to give her a change of clothes.
Suddenly, as we try to put on her shirt, she bursts out crying. Loud, unceasing wails.
She’s clearly not hurt, so we try the easy one - distraction. We show her an old toy of Addu’s that looks like a miniature ferris-wheel. No impact.
As the crying continues, we slowly get more frantic in our response. Praveena’s trying to talk to her, I’m looking for other toys, Advait is trying to soothe her… but nothing seems to work.
At that moment, Praveena’s mom has an A-ha moment. Even though it’s too early for dinner, she rushes to the kitchen and comes back with a plate of food.
Swara immediately gobbles up the first piece of puri on the plate. The crying stops almost immediately.
Praveena and I have a ‘facepalm-moment’ look on our face. Of course, it was hunger! You should always look for hunger!
Let’s treat that as Lesson One: A tantrum or unexplained cry could just be hunger - (which is true even for our older kid!) - so check that out first.
2. That sleeping nightmare
Our first night putting Swara to sleep (at a Patna hotel) was reasonably peaceful… though complicated a bit by one disturbing tendency from her side.
As we lay down with her, and switch off the lights, she would suddenly treat it as play-time.
And for her, the objective of the game was to get the adult’s attention. In order to do that, everything was fair game.
So she would start pinching us (on the face), poking, hair pulling… All as part of the game. We gently tried to take her hands off and use a stern voice of disapproval. Still, it went on for about 15-20 mins, before she eventually drifted off to sleep (or we did!).
So far so fun.
If day one was mildly bothersome, it was on day two and three when things went completely bonkers.
On Day two (this was at home in Pune), as a precautionary measure, we had asked Addu to sleep in a different room, and we took her into our bedroom.
As much as possible, we wanted her to learn to sleep on her own. Our idea was to avoid doing something we had done with our son when he was small - carry him around for about 25-30 mins and slowly rock him to sleep. It would make her independent and God knows, my lower back could do without the strain.
Nice try, said Swara.
The little princess wanted to play. And if we were not going to lie down with her (and provide her with some poking and pinching target-practice), then she looked for other games. She soon discovered one with endless fun.
The light switches.
And so she would ask to be carried around so that she can switch the lights (and fan) on and off, on and off, endlessly, squealing in delight every time it came back on…
We tried to deny her the game, sing for her, rock her, scream at her… nothing worked… Well, ultimately it worked in that she finally did go to sleep… But not before claiming us as exhausted victims!
We remembered a friend’s story who said that her adopted daughter would not sleep till 2 to 3 am in the night, and they would have to resort to showing her Youtube videos to engage her. We shuddered at the prospect of going through this extended stressful period every night.
On day 4 (or it may have been 5), however, Praveena had a brainwave.
Instead of restricting Swara to the bedroom, she made sure that all other room doors (my dad’s, Addu’s and the study) were closed. Then she just switched off the lights in the hall and kitchen - and finally our bedroom.
Swara inspected that all the lights were off, and then, satisfied that the world seemed to have gone to sleep, did something magical.
She plopped her head on Praveena’s shoulder.
And after 10 minutes of singing (more on that later), she had nodded off to sleep!
And just like that, we had done it. We had figured out a sleep routine.
Every day now, our time-table from 6.30 pm is fixed.
6.30 pm: Bring her back home from outside and give her a bath
6.45 pm: Dinner (we listen to some nursery rhymes on Alexa while doing so - ask for ‘nursery rhymes by Super Simple Songs’)
7.15 pm: Some quiet time - we mostly read her a book
7.30 pm: One of us picks her up and the other one ensures that all other family members are holed up in 1 or two rooms with the door closed. All except one of the common room lights are switched off. Then the person carrying her (Praveena and I take turns) turns off the last light. Almost on cue, Swara plops her head on our shoulder.
7.40 pm: After 10 mins of soft (debatable) singing she nods off or is drowsy enough for us to place her on the bed.
A small digression on the song choice - we sing Achutham Keshavam followed by some simple Carnatic Nottuswaras. The latter are especially recommended for kids. These simple, short and easy-listening songs were taught to us by my aunt Lalli, who’s a Carnatic music teacher. (Interestingly these were composed by an 18th-century doyen of Carnatic music called Muthuswami Dikshitar, who’d been inspired, of all things, by Scottish and Irish tunes played by the fledgeling East India Company band - Go figure!)
It’s amazing for us that this routine works on a daily basis (and I sure hope that I’m not jinxing it!) - but it does, and it has worked in other houses too … (We have tried it in two short vacation trips too!)
Lesson two: Sleep is critical. Experiment and figure out a routine that will work - and then stick to that routine!
3. The biggest bone of contention
This is a battle that we still continue to fight - in our mind.
It was a weekend. My elder cousin sister had come over with family for dinner. She had gifted a pretty dark-blue flowing frock, that Swara adored.
After some playtime in the evening, we got back home (it was 6.30, bath and dinner routine had to kick in)!
Praveena took Swara to the bathroom, removed her dress started her bath.
Swara suddenly started wailing. Thinking it was perhaps the water temperature, it was changed. The wailing continued. Perhaps she wasn’t liking a bath then, so Praveena wrapped it up soon and took Swara out to dry up and wear her night-clothes.
Soon, she stopped crying. But it was just a temporary respite.
That evening, she just refused to have her food.
And with food, things can be very confusing. She usually eats well, but there are some things that she doesn’t take. So if she refuses to eat, we aren't sure if it's because she's not liking it, or she's just angry at something else.
Of course, Praveena had made sure that there were items which she would definitely like. Yet, Swara made us dance for almost 40 mins trying to feed her the food. There was a stubborn refusal to eat… along with intermittent crying if we tried to talk to her sternly.
Finally, after a ton of distraction, she ate her food and we started the sleep routine.
But we kept thinking - what was the trigger - why did she get so upset?
And soon the penny dropped for Praveena. It was the dress. Of course, it was the dress.
She had loved wearing the dress my sister gave her, and she was mighty upset that it was removed before the bath.
As I’d written before, for eight-and-a-half years, we had been spoilt by a boy who almost had no opinion when it comes to clothes.
And then comes this li’l madam with her strong opinions.
Swara has a clear, unshakeable mind of her own when it comes to dresses. We prefer comfort and ease of wear for her. She likes frills, fashionable stuff. Also, her mind keeps changing - so the same dress that was ok the last time would be coldly rejected the next time.
And so, perfectly good looking, comfortable dresses are refused, while the same 3-4 frilly frock-like dresses are worn again and again.
It may seem illogical and a waste of good clothing. But the issue is not with logic. There’s something else that bothers us.
Here’s what happens when Swara rejects a perfectly good dress that she had liked the last time:
Our logic rationalises: “It’s ok, she wants to wear something else. Just take her to the pile and let her pick what she wants. It’s a dress after all - ignore it and let her choose.”
Meanwhile, our Emotion explodes: “WHAT? How could she reject THIS ONE TOO? She is not rejecting your dress choice - she is rejecting YOU!”
(Ok maybe that last part went too far)
But seriously, that is probably why this ‘silly’ dress thing bothers us so much.
We need to pick our battles, ignore it and let her wear whatever she wants.
And keep that Emotional rejection-hating part of our brain in check.
Lesson 3: Pick your battles
4. Lunchtime epiphany
It was nearing lunchtime on a regular day. The table was getting set while Swara was playing with her new ball on our kids play mat.
With the food ready and warm, Praveena cheerfully whisked Swara from the mat and placed her on the booster seat, saying “Chalo, khaana khaate hain!” (Come let's eat our food!).
Cue loud crying.
Normally, we would have tried to distract her, cajole her and somehow try to get the food inside. But this didn’t seem like a hunger-driven cry.
Out of nowhere, an epiphany struck. I unstrapped her, picked her up and took her back to the play mat.
I sat down with her and told her, in Hindi:
“You are upset because you were playing here and didn’t want to stop right?”
“Hmmm!” she responded in the affirmative
“Shall we take this ball and play with it on the dining seat?”
“Um” she agreed.
I picked her up and she silently allowed me to strap her to the seat. Over the next 10 mins, as we played with the ball, she peacefully ate as Praveena fed her.
There were two lessons for me from this incident. One, the realisation that she understands what we say (in Hindi) really well. So we should communicate more often with her before taking a decision for her.
And second, as far as possible, let her take (or be a part of) the decision.
This is something that is surprisingly difficult for us as parents. Partly from a feeling that ‘parents know best’, partly from not having enough time to explain, and partly from the worry of the wrong decision being taken by them… we end up taking too many micro (and macro) decisions for our children, without consulting them.
It’s interesting when you think about it. An innate desire that all humans have is that of ‘control’. We wish to be in control of our destiny. (Daniel Pink had evocatively described this as the ‘Autonomy’ part of what motivates us, in his bestseller, Drive).
Despite knowing about these concepts, it’s amazing how we tend to automatically exercise control over all aspects of our children’s life…
That brings us to Lesson 4: Give them a say, even when they don’t seem to be in a position to express it. They might surprise you with their choice.
(I recently came across a book called ‘The Self-Driven Child’ which talks about this concept. I’m looking forward to reading it sometime and figuring out in what other ways can we offer greater autonomy to our kids).
As you can imagine these are just a few of the many, many stories that happen on a daily basis.
One point to keep in mind, is that (needless to say) every child is completely different.
Read widely, speak to different people, consult experts… but ultimately, you will have to experiment and figure out what works for your little one, on your own! :)