Friday, December 12, 2008

December already??

Well, that's been quite a break from writing. I have to pin it down to the birthday parties I had to organize for the girls. Both did their best diva acts to keep me on my toes. Popcorn kept a strict head count of friends, gifts, goody bag items etc to ensure that everything was equal. Peaches, ever the easier of the two, did not have a meltdown when I had to break the awful news that no Curious George cakes were available and cheerfully changed to Thomas instead. Now they are both looking forward to Parents Day at their ballet class and, of course, Santa. Everyday they present me with scraps of paper dense with scribbles, their "Christmas Lists".
My grand plan to bake cookies for holiday gifts this year will be put to the test this weekend and I am having qualms already.On a happier note, I just finished People of the Book by Geraldine March, a very rewarding read, takes one into different worlds and times, a wonderful escape from the here and now.

Monday, September 22, 2008

When I Grow Up

Peaches has a long list of things she wants to be when she is grown up(astronaut, physicist,dancer,more recently, President, etc). Popcorn just used to say she wants to "kick a ball". That was fine untill the financial earthquake hit last week and we felt the need to impress upon the kids that they need to work hard and secure their future. So Popcorn was encouraged to ponder some more.Then she announced,"I will be a doctor and people will come to my office and I will give them "streps"." Before we could explain that doctors cured strep and not the other way round, she continued," And I will give shots, big ones." "But that will hurt us!" Peached objected. Back came the stony reply, "You have to be "bwave"." I think the bedside manner is going to need a lot of work.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Of Myths and Women

Joe Klein has an interesting article on the mythology of Sarah Palin. According to him, she represents a past that is gone but presents a more alluring vision than the grey reality of today. The power of myths is undeniable so the Democrats need something equally potent to cancel this out. Maybe today is an appropriate day (9/11) to point out that it is in rising to challenges that this country attained excellence not shutting out the daylight and living in fading memories.

Also, I should note the power of Patricia Cornwell to bring the myth of the freaky killer to life in her writing. Today, when the helpful repair person in his superhero T shirt turned up with a sunny smile to look at the dishwasher, I did catch myself wondering if there were any saws in his tool collection:-).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why this election is so important

This year is unlike any other year. Everyone seems to agree about that but not for the same reasons. For some it is about electing a woman as vice-president or an African-American as President and these are historic reasons for sure. But there are other, more grim realities which make this a crucial election. Tomorrow one of the most exciting scientific experiments in history will start in Geneva. While several U.S. scientists worked on it, our country is not the leader. We are grappling with crippling national debt and a financial situation so severe that the government had to takeover two financial institutions to prevent what was described as "financial Armageddon".At such a time, we need to reflect carefully and cast our vote in a thoughtful manner. A rancorous, divisive and narrow approach would spell doom for our future. As some candidates try to raise the level of heat and obscure the real issues, here is a timely view of what is at stake. Let us take a minute to think about it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Look at me!

We had a quiet weekend catching up on things.Popcorn has developed a disconcerting doomsday-like syndrome where she feels she must transport all that is most precious to her with her everywhere. As a result, toys are missing and much fuss ensues and that took up a lot of my time. I also managed to read some of the Patricia Cornwell books I recently got from the library. Excellent writing and amazing insights into forensic detection.
So I was also able to tune into the sunday shows and get some political analysis. It seems to me they did not quite know what to make of Sarah Palin and were tip-toeing around her. When a candidate has nothing of substance to say, its hard to say anything critical without seeming personal. Near as I can make out her message is essentially the same as Peaches song of the week at school, "Look at me, marvellous me! See what I can do!" Look at what a wonder mom I am but you cannot wonder how my abstinence policy didnt work in my own household. See how I can field dress a moose! Obama's lack of experience has been cited against him and it should be acknowledged but when meagre experience is coupled with lack of vision and awareness, that is a worrisome combination.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sarah Palin???

We just got back from our full-fledged family vacation and it was a total blast. Peaches and Popcorn did wonderfully. Peaches is old enough to actually take in what is happening: she loved the guards at Buckingham Palace, the double-decker buses, the boat rides on the Seine, th Eiffel Tower. Popcorn is somewhat more detached. She traveled glued to her backpack and her favorite soft toy, condensed thousands of years of history into one narrative involving a princess with long hair and her castle and applied fake make-up lavishly to herself and her huggy bear.
So after two weeks in a fantasy world, reality really bit when we came back and heard the two words: Sarah Palin. It was like having a bucket of cold water thrown at me. With all the problems facing us today, this is the person John McCain thought most suitable for the job? A person who denies global warming, has no real policy experience, has hardly ever traveled outside the U.S., was barely even known to many of us before last week. Obama, correctly and honorably has asked the media to back of her daughter. It is the decent thing to do. However, when someone touts themselves as a "hockey-mom", their parenting record becomes fair game. Certainly, it is possible to be a good mother and good worker. But parents who remember walking the long, lonely stretches of the night with an inconsolable, or sick baby, who have spent days in a haze of sleep deprivation in what a dad I know memorably called "survival mode" are forced to wonder how alert and effective she will be should that 3 am call come through to her.
This election is unlike any other. Our next president will be faced with complex realities, difficult problems and sometimes, unpleasant decisions. In this endeavour, he needs a capable partner. Sarah Palin does not meet those requirements by any standard. And oh yes, the woman thing. Did John McCain seriously think that those women who were disaffected by Hillary Clinton's defeat in the primaries would simply jump at the chance to vote for another woman, no matter who? I know he is out of touch, but that much??

Monday, July 28, 2008

Quality Time

As a stay at home mom , I often feel frustrated that I have to set the kids up with an activity in order to get the chores done. I feel I am losing out on quality time, precious fun moments with the kids.I console myself as I listen to their chatter, thinking that I will look back on these moments nostalgically later on. Yesterday we were waiting outside Peaches' dance class. Popcorn was "painting" her doll's toenails with accompanying commentary. I watched as Peaches went through the steps. It seemed strange to be observing her like this. Her expression changed as she focused and tried to learn the step and then , as she got it right and glided through the air,she broke into the happiest smile I have seen. That was a quality moment. I will always cherish that look on her face.
Another Popcorn crisis. She has scribbled on the title page of her library book. Peaches reported this with eye popping horror. Popcorn was summoned. She gave us a long look and said, "Well, I didn't write on the faces" and rested her case. This too, I shall always remember.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What we did this summer

We have spent the summer so far in a breathless rush. Friends and family came to visit, Peaches and Popcorn's room got a complete makeover, Peaches took a dance class, Popcorn settled down at preschool and finally, we tried to improve ourselves by visiting some of Washington D.C.'s great museums. The Natural History Museum with its alluring dinosaurs was a hit, lots of questions were asked, it was declared the "best museum ever". With some trepidation a visit was made to the National Gallery of Art. Other than being asked to leave an exhibition because Popcorn demanded food in her loudest voice and started nibbling some raisins she found in her stroller tray, that went well too. Peaches actually enjoyed looking at the paintings. Mommy felt a warm glow. The long train ride punctuated by monotonous chants of "how many more stations?", the trudging around a baking Mall were all worth it. Till the day the girls were asked to recount their favorite part of the trips. "Museum gift shop" said one. "Pepperoni pizza" said the other.

Friday, May 30, 2008

"Is Hillary Clinton Winning?"

It seems like Peaches asks this question everyday as I prepare dinner and the girls do their colouring and Wolf Blitzer updates us on everything we need to know with "the best political team on television" ,of course. The answer would vary with the results of the day but now there seems to be only one possibility. The math is done , the people have spoken. Its been an exciting ride, a bit like a movie. Clear front runner gets unseated by a newbie.But it has also been a wonderful experience to see a woman in this race.Like all moms I try to find good role models for my girls. The pink-princess vision has an allure thats hard to avoid but along with that we have talked about becoming an astronaut, doctor, "arter" (artist per Peaches) and now I could present a credible and very real person for another possibility, President. So that is another option that has been added on the list for the time when, having eaten a lot of spinach and thus grown quickly to 20 years old Peaches will be ready to conquer the world in whatever color nail polish she chooses without Mom interfering.
Hillary fought a good fight, showed that women do have what it takes and did not let any of the negativity depress her. We applaud her for that. You showed you could play with the big boys and beat them too. But now the time has come to bring your unique touch to the process and show them how to accept the results with grace and charm adn live to fight another day. Like a true Princess would.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Peaches and Popcorn go on a Picnic

We had a glorious long weekend. At last, the weather was perfect. The weather people, as Peaches put it, had finally "put off" the rain. So we basked in the sunshine and indulged in lazy picnics. On Saturday evening we went to Gravelly Point. A perfect setting: softly lit Washington monuments provided a stunning view, the Potomac was a picture of serenity and the occasional planes taking off from National Airport added an element of thrill. We gorged on "gol gappas" while a big community picnic nearby had people cheering participants in various games in excited spanish. Childish voices were raised in versions of "Dad, help me get my ball/fly the kite?" in hindi, arabic, russian and other languages.

On Sunday we went to the park near our home. I let the afternoon sunshine wash over me as the kids were engrossed in the sand box. Small boys in baseball outfits played as solemnly as if this was the biggest game of their lives. Lilting arabic songs floated out from the picnic shelter, a small army of Korean men manned the barbecues and exotic smells arose, a pink princess banner fluttering in the wind indicated a birthday and everyone sang out for little Marisol.
Only in America.
Then a shriek rent the air. Popcorn had dumped a bucket of sand on Peaches, time to go home.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mother's Day

Just in time for Mother's Day is this hilarious piece on Moms communicating with their kids. It made me laugh out aloud so many times I wanted to share it. Also, it is reassuring to know I am not the only one who sometimes needs to take deep breaths and think happy thoughts when communicating with Mom. Here is a typical example of what happens.

10:00 am Phone rings.

Mom: Hello! Its me, Mom!
Me: Hi Mom.
Mom: Whats the matter? Your voice doesn't sound right. You were always prone to sore throats. Remember, how you ate too much ice cream when you were 12 and the sore throat..
Me: Its not ..
Mom...lasted for 2 months. You musn't neglect it. I will email you the recipe for herbal tea, ok?
Me: I dont..
Mom: Let me know if it works.
Me: Yes, but..

10:20 am Phone rings

Mom: Did you check your mail? I just finished writing out the recipe.
Me: Yes, I did and I..
Mom: Its really easy. If you don't like honey, try some syrup but don't leave out the peppercorns and the herbs, very important...
(At this point, I had decided to just go along with the supposed sore throat instead of pointing out that owing to a late night I had woken up 5 minutes before she called and thats my voice sounded weird.)
Me: Yes, and I..
Mom: Also, drink it really hot. You always used to let yours stand around and get cold.
Me (enraged): Ma, you already emailed me, why are you wasting money and time repeating the same thing on phone??
Short silence.
Mom (in icy cold voice): Ok.
Click, she rings off.

10:45 am

Me: Hello Mom? I am drinking the tea and its very soothing, thanks.
Mom ( somewhat thawed): Good, I knew it would work. Don't know why you get all upset. Remember , you liked that tablecloth I had, I got you the same one in green and....

I listen and drink my coffee, making occasional soothing noises.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

While I Was Away

I saw a magnet yesterday which read, "Turns out there is no award for alphabetizing the spices". Funny and so true. It puts things in perspective. So today when Peaches came with her complaint of how, despite having promised to help her draw sunflowers and ladybugs, I had put her off several times; it did not take a moment to reach the decision to ignore the heap of laundry which needed folding, the growing and unsteady pile of papers that needed sorting and the chaotic closet which begged organizing. Turns out there is no award for an hour whiled away in drawing sunflowers, butterflies, ladybugs and kites but the glow from it lasts a very long time.
This has been a big week for Popcorn as she started preschool. The first day she forgot all about us till she saw Peaches in the playground and then dissolved in tears. The next day she cried and cried. When Mr. Fractal came to take us all home, however, she reported that she had fun playing with her friends, ate apples and drew pictures with crayons. Peaches and I were too busy gasping for air to even contradict her. Day 3 is tomorrow and we have assumed our brace positions. On the upside, Mom got to hang out at Starbucks and actually write, like a real person!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In Defense of April

April is National Poetry Month. Say the words "April" and "Poetry" to most people and they will most likely come up with T.S. Elliot's famous words:

" April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain."

Now, I have always felt sad about this. You see, my birthday is in April. (In fact , it just went by and Peaches and Popcorn treated me to a "pretend" pamper session where they put "pretend" nail polish on my fingers and toes). Anyway, back to the matter at hand. I always felt April was getting a raw deal. To me it is a magical time, filled with the promise of the coming summer when the world seems to burst into life, redolent with the fragrance of flowers. With this in mind, I decided to involve the girls in working on our solitary flower bed. The good news is that they loved it! The bad news is that this seems to have unleashed their inner competitive gardener. We can hardly walk past a house now without high-pitched commentary. "Look, their flowers are bigger than ours and all of them are out." "They have pink and orange ones, look, look." I completely missed the trend on bright tulips that has hit our neighborhood like a Primitivist tsunami and our pale pink crocuses from last year are getting no respect. Daily,ever more ambitious plans are formulated for the biggest , brightest garden in the world. All to be executed by mom, of course. So April looks a little different now, I have to admit. My earlier rosy view did not involve so much digging for one thing.
Still, it has its poetic side. As Rainer Maria Rilke said it,

"Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices
instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable
shrieking into the heart of the night."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Cherry Blossom Time

It is that time of the year again. One week of sublime beauty when the roar of traffic, the wheels of government and the sea of people all stop in silence to admire the cherry blossoms. Since they only last a week, Peaches and Popcorn had to be taken there last sunday. It was a grey afternoon, but crowded with people. Since it had turned a bit chilly, hats, jackets, scarves and gloves were everywhere. We had to park a long way away and then Mr. Fractal had to push the double stroller up and down the Mall to get to the Tidal Basin. Once there, Mr. Fractal and I were again awe struck by the scene, it looked like a delicate Japanese painting come to life. Peaches wanted to know if we could go boating while Popcorn begged to be allowed to touch the ducks in the water. We took some pictures, placated the girls with fries and chips and generally had a good time.

As we wound our long way back, I asked each of them what they had likes the most. Peaches said it was her dad whizzing along with them in the stroller. Popcorn considered the question, gave a limpid smile and whispered, "Chips."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

In Memorium, Arthur C. Clarke

Today's news about the passing away of Arthur C. Clarke stopped me in my tracks. "What?" I said to the TV. Peaches and Popcorn looked worried, "What happened?" , they asked. Well, its hard to explain but it takes me back to a long time ago when there was no widespread TV or the Internet and books were the only escape into a different world. Novels like "Childhood's End", "Rendevous with Rama" and short stories like "The Nine Billion Names of God" brought a new and awesome vision of the world, more fantastic than one could have imagined. I can still remember, as a teenager, staying up the whole night to finish "Childhood's End" at one sitting. Arthur C. Clarke's books were not just science fiction but had an almost mystic element to them. They will always remain with me, and hopefully, Peaches and Popcorn will take that fantastic journey themselves one day.
Thank you and Farewell. Wherever you are in the Universe, may you be in peace.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Little Knowledge

We are having dinner and what passes for dinnertime conversation. Peaches brings up the topic of lobsters. Where do they live? she wonders. Having just got back from observing some floating around in their tank at the grocery store she concludes, naturally,that that's where they live. Popcorn is enraged. No, she says. We all saw an episode of Little Einsteins set in China. If pandas and cranes could live there, Popcorn feels, so can lobsters. A little knowledge.....

Tensions start to rise and I diffuse them by changing the channel to CNN which means they can unite and grumble against me for depriving them of their cartoon fix. "So," Peaches asks "are they talking about HillaryClintonBarackObama?" I follow the election news daily and it has meshed into one big word for her.I decide to attempt a life lesson and explain how Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain are all trying to be President. She looks up from her food. "There is two boys and one girl?OK." That's is how simple it is for her. No distractions of race, gender, recession, war experience or change. A little knowledge , this time, is a good thing.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Billy Collins

My days are mostly "prose", some good, some bad, some fun and all rush-rush. There is little or no time to stop and savor anything. So when I recently stumbled on the poetry of Billy Collins it was an unexpected delight. Parfait! This poem particularly spoke to me. He could be describing any morning in my life, preparing food while listening to small voices "read" poetry. It also brings up a question which has been on my mind lately, why are nursery rhymes so full of pain? Falling down hills, cutting off tails or giant spiders scaring little yogurt eating girls? But that is fodder for another post. In the meantime, listen to Billy Collins read his poetry and even see his work in action here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Word and The Image

Watching the opening scene of the movie "Atonement" last night prompted me to make the "book or movie" comparison for the millionth time. I used to be a bit of a book fanatic.The movie would never measure up to my expectations. Over time, though, I have come to appreciate that the book and the movie are two separate entities.I was eagerly waiting for the movie "The Namesake" but after watching it I almost felt like it had nothing to do with the book which I had read and admired so much. Sure, the narrative followed the same path but this was a much more somber experience. In "Sense and Sensibility" Emma Thompson looks much more mature than her character in the book yet this never detracts from the movie which captures the essence of what Austen was trying to say.It is rare that a Lord of the Rings comes around where devotees find their visions realized on screen.

I came across a very interesting book-movie transformation in the course of learning french. "Dangerous Liasions " was a very popular movie, won awards and popular acclaim and it is loyal to Choderlos de Laclos' novel in every way. But there are two other incarnations of the novel. one, made in the 1950s (I think) transported the plot to a contemporary context with a fabulous jazz music score. It didnt work very well although it followed the plot details closely. The other version, "Valmont", made about the same time as "Dangerous Liaisons" completely turned the novel on its head. Where Laclos wanted to hold a mirror up to a hedonistic society in the hope of changing it, this movie is deliciously hedonistic itself. Its pleasures are enhanced immensely by the inclusion if Colin Firth in the title role. Girls, this is a must-see!!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Pleasures Great and Small

I was re-reading A.S. Byatt's "Possession" and finding myself back at the point where she discusses how difficult it is to describe the pleasures of reading, the escape into other places, lives and experiences. Snatches of my current reading enable me to deal with hour upon hour of arbitrating disputes regarding whether its Mickey or Minnie Mouse's birthday today. And on a more immediate level is the pleasure of the language and of words. The importance of words is often overlooked as we text more and write less, all of us speak a sort of quick shorthand shorn of reflection. But now that I spend most of my time with two humans just beginning to discover languages, words and expressions have become more important. So when my 4 year old, Peaches, come back from school and announces that she cant go back unless she has "chopsticks" makes me sit up. Whats all this about chopsticks? Something to do with Chinese New Year? How did I miss this? "All the other kids' parents put it for them." Well, parents definitely don't participate at mealtimes so I had to investigate more. The pout was even more pronounced now. "Its so cold, small children have to have chopsticks." Clear as glass, Peaches has to have a chapstick!
Popcorn, the 2 year-old is a Dora fanatic so she actually knows a few words of spanish from watching hours of Dora. "Verde" she shouts at the screen, or "abajo"! in answer to Dora's questions. This is more than her parents put together. Lets see if it stays with her as she grows. In the meantime, I am hoping to create a verde garden this spring so at least this year Daddy Fractal cant tease me about my noir thumbs! I have beautiful visions of this garden, inspired partly by the Home section of the Washington Post and partly by "Earthly Pleasures".What a write Philippa Gregory is! Talk about the pleasures of reading! But that is a subject for another post and another day.