Ask Amma

Archive for the ‘When’ Category

Black Gram Matters

In Recipes, When on 1 September 2015 at 2:04 am

Since when are idlis white?

Not more than a few generations.    And if you look at all things that have become white over the past century, one by one they are regaining their color.   White bread, white pasta, white flour, white sugar, white rice are now recognized as more or less empty calories and are being replaced by their whole counterparts, on the brown to black side of the color spectrum.  It is time for idlis to do the same.

Soaked Urad - bursting out of its skin!

Black Gram (Urad): Soaked and ready to burst out of its skin!  Urad or Black Gram attracts wild yeast from the air.  As it ferments, the yeast makes the batter rise.

What are idlis made of?  Black gram and rice.   Or black gram and millets. Read the rest of this entry »

Quantity Time

In When on 3 July 2012 at 8:11 pm

My daughter seems to think time is elastic. Even for places she wants to go, if she happens to be doing something, that can as well be done later, she just doesn’t stop and get ready. “I am doing this puzzle,” she might say, even if it is 500 pieces and she just started. Then I have to bargain with her, can you just finish this one cloud? “Can I just finish the sky?” “How about this cloud and this bird?” etc.

– Amma of 9 year-old

Indulge me while I think aloud on this question, which I recently asked myself.

Nothing very profound here, but just a vote for quantity time unburdened by the pressure of being quality time. Have you heard of “quality time?” Of course you have. It was a big thing like a major discovery 20 or 30 years ago. You may have seen Doonesbury call its bluff (what if your child needs more than 15 minutes?) I am not sure if it is called something else now.  Glennon Melton, who says she “can’t even carpe 15 minutes in a row,” may have inadvertently shortened it to a few quality moments, what she calls “kairos time.”

Kairos time may seem like a kind of free lunch – the ultimate Return on Investment (RoI) when time is subjected to economic theory such as the law of diminishing return.

This law would have it that if something done for 1 hour can be done for half an hour, the enjoyment will be more intense and the other half hour may be spent in another gainful pursuit, further increasing RoI. But what if the very fact of the time limit impairs the enjoyment?

More on the economics: Philosopher Charles Karelis, says in The Persistence of Poverty that

When there is more than enough of [leisure], additional hours add progressively less and less pleasure.

Who hasn’t heard a child wail, “there is nothing to do!”

“Nothing,” as physicist Lawrence Krauss says, “is unstable.”

When I hear that wail, I scramble to set up activities.  (Quick!  Before the big bang!)  My daughter likes some of that, to be sure.  But she also defends her free time long before I could have guessed that it has run out.

Because nothing is really not nothing.

In fact, I have found at times that it might even be easier to interrupt my daughter when she is doing something, than when she is doing nothing.  Or what appears to be nothing.  Thinking she might be bored, even before she can utter the phrase “nothing to do,” or maybe just seeking to compensate for yesterday when I was too busy, I will approach her and say, “Khiyali, do you -”

Before I can finish, I am met with a version of the startle reflex.   “What?” she says, tensing, alarm in her eyes.  I start over:  “Are you free right now?”  “No!”  She will say.  I don’t ask what she is doing.  She is too busy to take such questions.

As increased leisure brings diminishing pleasure, Karelis says, so does decreased leisure bring diminished regret:

But the notable point for our purposes is that the extra misery produced by one more hour at the desk, and the extra disappointment and resentment produced by missing one more anniversary, school play, or golf game tend to become less and less as the totals mount.  As the absolute losses accumulate, the individual case gets less and less attention.  Eventually, for instance, children become inured to the no-shows of a workaholic parent, and the parent … becomes inured to the resentment that does come his way.

Many a cautionary tale in the overworked parent genre brings up the “school play” as the missed event.   What about missing things that aren’t even things, don’t even happen, and one can’t even know that one has missed?  I am talking about the time that is random and uncertain, where one may do or not do anything, plan one thing but do another, or do nothing.  When one misses out on such time, what has one missed?

*   *   *   *   *

Several years ago I remember passing by a playground on the way home. My daughter, age 5, wanted to go, and I told her that we could go for half an hour. Or, I offered, “we could go tomorrow and stay longer.”  We could even do both, I added.  What we could not do was stay longer today.  She opted to go “tomorrow.”  I was surprised that she passed an immediate opportunity to go to the playground because it did not meet her requirements. I appreciate the value of being able to do something without time limits, but unfortunately I seem to find myself in the role of time-keeper more than I would like.

To avoid this, one would need:

  • to drop some activities.
  • play along with her games for as long as she wants

Drop activities – done! The “as long as she wants” part of is hard, but I have developed a new appreciation for playing along. Though I am, alas, not so childlike to delight in all of the games for their own sake, I have found that while playing, conversations flow freely and can often run deep. Nearly every material of play doubles as a stimulus of ideas … I have found this to be true whether we are modelling with clay, building with blocks or magnetix, making up stories with dolls or moving water from location to location.

Secondly, I find that spending quantity time with my child just helps us get along better. I know this sounds less than ideal, as it is a “means to an end” that offers itself to the “quality-time” mongers who seek to make parenting more efficient and less time-consuming.  But in my experience, the quantity is the quality that my child seeks in our time together. Limited time doing some amazing, fascinating thing is just not going to cut it for her. Sometimes even without time limits the very expectation of RoI is a killjoy. My daughter has told me, in so many words, “I could miss the opportunity of a lifetime because am doing something else, even if it is very ordinary, at the time.”

Since writing this I have found quite a bit of literature on Quantity Time. The question is not limited to nuclear families in which members are together for relatively few hours each day. Apart from families living close to the Continuum Concept, where children are free to come and go as they please, and welcome at the workplace, I don’t see anyone living with a sense of abundance when it comes to time. Whether you have 6 hours together as a family or 16 (or 2!), how you manage them, as well as the remaining hours while the child is elsewhere, will determine whether you try to extract value from every hour (or quarter-hour), or allow for the sense of boundlessness that stretches over time that is unscheduled and its quality unmonitored.

Calvin: There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want.

Do you have enough time to do nothing?
from Bill Watterson, The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes, p213

Breastfeeding – done yet?

In When on 3 July 2012 at 8:09 pm

My family and friends don’t get why my son needs to nurse so often. I am an older mom and my friends with kids don’t seem to have breastfed much or don’t remember – it was all so long ago. It doesn’t help that I am not getting much else done … I am a type A personality who till last month hardly spent a waking hour at home. No one is asking me to use formula, but they don’t seem to understand why breastfeeding takes so much time! Isn’t he done? they will ask, and I get tense, as if I have to know the answer. I am hoping to continue nursing for years (not just months) and I need positive responses and positive images to keep up my spirits! – new mom in Chicago Read the rest of this entry »

Is it true that you are still …

In When on 1 July 2012 at 3:29 pm

This article originally appeared in 2006.

Is it true that you are still …
May 2006 / Mumbai

A woman interrupted me last night as I was taking printouts of the petitions we were planning to send to the Prime Minster to stop the Sardar Sarovar project from going up to 121 m. Urging me aside, she told me, “As early as possible you should stop breastfeeding her.”

Nursing my daughter while attending a meeting.

Nursing my daughter while attending a meeting.

She was probably not the only one who noticed when my daughter nursed during the meeting, but she was the only one to state her views so directly.  Unprepared for such a confrontation, I simply said, “I am very busy, and I am not going to stop breastfeeding now.” Seconds later, more crisp responses filled my head … Read the rest of this entry »

When should I wean my daughter?

In When on 17 February 2012 at 5:22 pm

When should I wean my daughter?
mother of a 14 month old in Mumbai

Who is asking? You? Your baby? Your family? Random strangers on the bus? (It has happened to me.) Since you have asked me, I will go by the book and say, after at least 2 years of age, when you and baby are ready. The World Health Organization has taken care of defending the importance of breastfeeding for two years and beyond so let me talk about the further years.

Of all the years of nursing my daughter, I would say I am most grateful for the fourth.  It was in that year that my daughter fell ill three times, each time with high fever and loss of appetite.  By that age (three-and-a-half) she had grown bold in exploring the world; that may have exposed her to more bugs. Whenever she was sick, she nursed day and night – so not only did she get rest and nourishment, but I didn’t lose sleep either, because she was comfortable throughout the illness.

What if baby shows signs of pausing or stopping nursing?  Thanks to the WHO, before age 2 is generally regarded as too young to stop, and mothers are encouraged to try more skin contact and other measures to keep nursing . (See Kelly Mom for more tips.)   While two years is the recommended minimum, there is no recommended maximum.  Nursing continues to be healthy for years beyond the minimum age of two.

Young children will continue to go through phases when they nurse more as well as times when they nurse less.  Gradually the peaks of increased nursing grow less frequent and eventually do not return.

Around age two most children are eating a variety of solid foods and also increasing the range of their social interactions.   Whenever exposed to illness, and especially when sick, children nurse more.  Breastfeeding enhances immunity and also supports the mind and body while little children go through physical, emotional or intellectual growth spurts.  Just observe after a spree of nursing – you will find that something exciting follows.

You may not know when your child feels a queasy stomach or bad throat coming on, but his body will signal him to take less solid food and nurse more.  This eases the work of the digestive system, brings in fluids and channels resources to the immune system for the job at hand.   Many times a baby who is allowed to listen to her body and adjust her diet as needed will nip an illness in the bud, and will remain in tune with her body even beyond the nursing years.

At other times your little one will need less milk and your body will continue to make just the right amount for him, since the more he drinks the more you make. He himself will gradually take less and less and you don’t have to worry about when.  Remember that nursing supplies far more than food, it is also a source of comfort.  Having a safe haven to return to definitely encouraged my little one as she became more outgoing.

While there is no uniform age at which the nutritional, immunological, intellectual and emotional benefits of nursing disappear, every child weans, even without any suggestion or push.   As I read in Norma Jane Bumgarner, Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, the answer to the question of weaning, as far as health is concerned, is that you do not need to think about it.  The wide world beckons and they are little only once.

My nursing / weaning story is here.

When to introduce reading the alphabet?

In When on 27 October 2011 at 3:51 am

When should I introduce the alphabet to my child?

– mother of a 4 year old in Mumbai

In modern cities, the alphabet is all around us. Labels, road signs, letterheads & envelopes boast words that come up repeatedly and clue little minds that these symbols mean something worth knowing. If you happen to live away from busy roads, receive little or no mail, and buy unlabelled goods, then hats off to you! To get more ambient exposure to letters and words, you can follow a technique that I have found useful in introducing Telugu – I made signs and put them up all over the house – door, steps, window, rice, beans, clothes, etc.

Of course you can fill the place with signs but if your child is pursuing other interests, don’t expect her to slow down long enough to read them. As long as reading is modeled as an interesting and useful thing to do, it will catch on when the time is right. In fact, once literate, we depend on words for the rest of our lives, so why not cherish the precious pre-literate years when we embrace the world as a whole, not boxed into words, sorted and numbered?

And if you are eager to share the magical worlds that open up via the written word, reading aloud to your child is a lovely way to do it. Many children who are surrounded by readers and who are read to, learn to read just as they learned to talk and walk – without instruction. That “aha moment,” whether in reading or other skills, is worth the wait.

and quantified

How often does a 3-year-old nurse?

In When on 27 October 2011 at 3:48 am

How often does your 3-year-old nurse? My son is 2.5 right now and still nurses ALL THE TIME! At times it is hard – he asks at a most inopportune time and then screams if I say "not now." I don’t want him weaned, I just don’t want him nursing constantly.

This question came up in Mothering, a forum that has helped me consistently. I was so grateful to be nursing when my daughter was 3 because we went through a series of illnesses at that age, as noted in my weaning story (see Announcements below). Just the other day my neighbour in Mumbai confided to me, almost shyly, that she nursed her daughter till age three-and-a-half. Our kids are only 6 months apart, we were both nursing three-year olds in the same neighbourhood, and did not even know it at the time! While chatting with her I learned that her mother and grandmother had set the example for her unrestricted nursing. Hurray for families supporting breastfeeding!

baby learning

In When on 14 June 2011 at 3:28 pm

Even though it’s probably early to think about these things for our daughter …. I wanted to ask to you about homeschooling or self-learning in general.
– Mom of a 6 month-old in Mumbai

It’s never to early to entrust your child with time, space, freedom and respect, and to
observe how she expresses herself, makes choices, and explores. Respond when she calls. Include her in your work and conversations. Include yourself in hers. Clear the way and let her roam, touch, bang and use all her senses to seek knowledge and experience. If you don’t want her to touch (or taste) it, keep it out of reach. Ensure that there are plenty of real things (e.g dishes, buckets, water, mud …) and not just toys that she can touch. Say yes often so it becomes natural. If you have to remove her, "That is unstable, let me find a stronger chair that you can climb" gives more information than "don’t do that." Much is conveyed by your tone, and babies often start understanding words sooner than they let on.

Challenge yourself to learn from her as much as she learns from you. Listen. Alfie Kohn writes about the hazards of “blurting out judgments of our children” – the reasons he lists apply to much more than the beleaguered “good job.”

right time to introduce books?

In When on 18 February 2011 at 4:00 am

When should I start introducing books to my baby? Is it already too late? Will it harm her if I introduce them too early or too late?
– a mom of a 4-month old in Mumbai

Children of those who love books are already introduced to them – the changing rhythms of mom’s body while she is reading would have become familiar from the first months of life and even before. Being among readers is a sure path to love of reading. I used to read while nursing. When I ran out of lullabies, I even read aloud from EPW. There came a point when she would take the book from my hands. She wanted to know what I was doing that was so interesting. That may have motivated me to get books for her. I read them not because I thought that "it was time for books" but simply to share my love of books.

40 days old baby, wants to be held

In When on 18 February 2011 at 2:40 am

She’s only 40 days old….always cries for wanting to be picked up ….I do and everyone around me thinks that I am spoiling her. I thought that once assured she won’t need it and will spend some time alone playing…but that’s not happening…am I really spoiling her by picking her up when she cries???
– New mom from Mumbai.

Ah, a story we hear all too often. Baby asks to be picked up, others say don’t do it. Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: