Ask Amma

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Earth and Moon: Period of Change

In Call to Action on 22 April 2015 at 12:42 pm

I wrote this post for the campaign by Earth and Us and  The Kachra Project on menstrual hygiene management.  It appears on The Kachra Project as Sustainable menstruation and making the informed choice.  The campaign starts today, Earth Day and continues until May 28, declared as Menstrual Hygiene Day.  For the first week of the campaign, the topic is: Sustainability and Menstruation: From the body of the earth to the body of the woman.

Sun, Earth and MoonAs the moon revolves around the earth, our monthly cycles remind us of our capacity to give life, confirm that we are not currently doing so, and require us to take special care of our personal hygiene. Have you heard people talk about “sustainable menstruation?”  Can something so fundamental to the sustenance of life ever be unsustainable? Read the rest of this entry »

Learning to read Indian languages

In Books, How on 14 March 2015 at 3:00 am

How can our children learn to read in Indian languages?  Where do we find children’s literature in our native languages?

Many Ask Amma readers who are well-versed in several languages would like their children to grow up with them as well.  As some of us know, being children of multilingual parents, if we live in predominantly monolingual environments there is a risk of losing touch with our multilingual and cultural heritage and with the wit and wisdom expressed in particular languages.  If we speak these languages every day then our children grow up understanding them but what about reading and writing?

Prasanna Rakshasadu (The Peaceful Rakshasa).   Fun topic and font make a difference for beginning readers.

Prasanna Rakshasadu (The Peaceful Rakshasa). Fun topic and font make a difference for beginning readers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bravo! Anisha Bhavnani on Menstruation

In Call to Action on 14 February 2015 at 8:18 pm

Bravo to this young woman, Anisha Bhavnani, and her Amma.  All of us need to stand against untouchability in its many forms.   Let us see that our daughters can also answer “no” to the question Anisha faced. Read on ….




Hasn’t your mother told you that you can’t step inside a temple when you have your period?

Find the link below:

Thanks to everyone who’s followed, liked or shared my blog. The fact that my work has an audience is truly inspiration to write more. I love you guys! 😀

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Early chapter books?

In Books on 26 November 2014 at 8:00 pm

magic tree houseMy daughter loves The Magic Tree House books and has finished more than half of them.   She will probably finish the rest by the end of the year and we will have to find more books for her.  What do you think about the Boxcar Children?

– Mama of a 6 year-old in Dallas

There are number of mystery series designed to satisfy the growing appetite of the newly fluent reader – The Boxcar Children, Secret Seven, Famous Five, Five Find-Outers, Three Investigators, Encyclopedia Brown and many more.  Some people worry that the stories are repetitive or overly simplistic.  Others rejoin, “well as long as they are reading …”  I beg to differ.  Even if a child is a beginning or struggling reader, I don’t think we need to settle for literature of low quality just because it is easy to read.  Such material may even put readers off.  This is one reason teachers like Gertrude Chandler Warner, author of the Boxcar Children, sought to write interesting stories for young readers, in contrast to what was provided in school textbooks. Read the rest of this entry »

CRINGE: David Bradley offers to out-mother Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi’s own mother.

In News & Notes on 3 July 2014 at 3:53 pm

What is more cringeworthy than the CEO of PepsiCo insisting that there is nothing wrong with artificial sweeteners & GMOs and announcing “peace drones” to deliver Pepsi (even in Pakistan!)?

The owner of the Atlantic trying to mother her.
David Bradley, owner of The Atlantic and Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

David Bradley, owner of The Atlantic reassures Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo of her wonderfulness at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

We are talking creepy crawly cringeworthy, that makes you shudder from the shoulder and grimace out of your ears. Read the rest of this entry »

Why is my baby so calm?

In Why on 17 October 2012 at 8:10 pm

Every one around me wonders, when I say, my son doesn’t cry much or he just wakes up only once during night for a feed and never cries for milk. I have seen him cry a very few times from the time he was born. The maximum he does while he is hungry is put all his fingers in his mouth or keep rolling and turning right and left.  My dad came 2 days ago and was astonished to see that he doesn’t cry while having bath. He seems very active otherwise. 
Does such behavior and gestures reveal the personality of of my little one when he is grown up? Will he be a shy and a introvert personality? 
– Amma of a 3-month-old in Baltimore
     Are you keeping a journal of these observations and questions?  What a rich experience it will be to revisit them. I am no behavioural scientist so I will start with the obvious – your observations are coloured by your expectations.  One person’s shy is another person’s gregarious.
     Now to your first question.  Crying is a form of communication.  Putting his fingers in his mouth or rolling and turning seem to be other signals that you have learned to read.  Eye contact, squirming, tense fists, craning neck, can all signal needs.   If he is able to communicate in other ways then he has no need to cry.
Dr Sears says:

 We have been led to believe that it is “normal” for babies to cry a lot, 
 but in other cultures this is not accepted as the norm. 

So one answer could be that he is not crying because he feels heard and is content.
     But if you feel that he is not only not crying but also not communicating very much, then I would suggest being more receptive.  Just as adjusting the tuner on the radio can make the sound come through clearly, there are ways you can tune in to the questions, concerns and messages your baby conveys.  The more you listen, the more baby tells you.  The more baby is involved in the happenings of those around him, the more he has to talk about.
     One lesson offered to modern society in Jean Liedloff’s groundbreaking work, The Continuum Concept is to let the world of babies be integrated with the world of the adults around them rather than keeping them in his “baby spaces” e.g. bed / cradle / playpen and with baby paraphernalia.  Some new parents are so concerned not to disturb baby’s feeding and sleeping that they separate baby from the rest of the family, household and social activities.  This often means missing out on all the fun – and remember that for baby, your work is a big part of the fun.  If you have to leave what you are doing in order to attend to baby, the atmosphere may be stifled.   Why not drop the formalities, carry on while carrying baby and let the ideas flow freely? The sling helps parents do just that.  Babywearer-in-chief, Dr. Sears, writes:

 Because baby is intimately involved in the mother and father’s world, she is exposed to, and participates in, the environmental stimuli that mother selects and is protected from those stimuli that bombard or overload her developing nervous system.

– Dr. William Sears, “Benefits of Babywearing
     The sooner a mother gets comfortable nursing anytime, anywhere, the easier life will be for both mother and child.  If one feels the need to go to a separate room or cover up every time baby nurses, it limits one’s mobility – no fun for mother or child.  While Ask Amma does not endorse any diaper, she offers for your amusement this advertisement for Lugs featuring a mother nursing freely in public.   No special clothing is required to nurse in public but if a nursing top nursing makes you feel more comfortable, by all means get one and nurse away.  Jivika nursing kurtas are zipper-free, making for discreet latch-on and latch-off.
     The sling and the nursing kurta are two garments that helps moms stay involved in various activities, even while attending to little ones.  This attention and involvement allows children greater exposure into the social behaviour of adults and also gives them a safe space to talk, listen and think.
     In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain describes how she came to embrace her quiet nature after a lifetime of trying to conform to social expectations to be the opposite, and invites readers to recognize the often overlooked strengths of introverts.  She contends that contemporary American society has over the decades, come to presume a higher degree of extraversion than in the past, and than is comfortable for a large part of the population that thrives on solitude.  She urges everyone to nurture environments that accommodate diverse personalities.  When allowed to blossom on their own, introvert and extravert qualities will develop along with other aspects of one’s personality.

Why is my toddler never still?

In Why on 17 October 2012 at 8:09 pm
Our son only wants to play outdoors.  From the moment he wakes up he has his morning outdoor time  — a walk, going to get milk, neighbour’s shops and houses etc.   After which we have to attend to various chores at home and outside. Whichever one of us is going out – there’s a massive scene and howling because he wants to be out (which we do sometimes but its not always possible to take him everywhere).  We try to involve him with some of the chores – like cleaning together or work in the kitchen but he gets distracted and starts throwing things around and wants to make a mess till the whole place looks like a war zone. The only thing he is happy doing indoors is bathing. So we have two long sessions in the bathroom (which can only be done in the summers).   Apart from that he just wants to be with mud, stones, puddles, running up and down the roads.  Even with other kids, he prefers outside play. 
So here are my questions:
  • Are any other mothers of toddlers who are experiencing this?
  • What do we do to make the home environment (and us) more suited to this highly energetic kid?
  • What do we do to calm him down/relax, get him to sit and play? Is it asking for too much?
– mother of an 18-month old in Palampur
     Reader, Amma begs your indulgence for including the entire question with little editing, because, being long past the toddler stage, I simply found the description delightful.  I do hope you are keeping a journal.

     My daughter also wanted to be outside every waking moment, from day one and I don’t think it eased up for several years.  She even bathed outside at times.  When we were inside we had to make it worth her sacrifice.

Can you put on music and dance?  Do you have stairs?  Can you invent a game that involves lots of going up and down? How about playing hide and seek?  If you run out of hiding places for people, first of all, remember that little ones are happy to hide in the same place any number of times, provided you struggle dramatically to find them.  (Or even in visible places – see Ollie all over.)  Another option in small spaces is to play hide and seek with objects rather than people.  Is there a porch where he can safely be outside while you are at home?  Can you get the mud, stones, puddles right there?   Chetana Amma describes her daughter’s exploits on the Terrace in Chennai.

     My modus operandi in the early years was always to try to “tire her out.”  Obviously this is easier to do outside.  Sometimes other parents and I used to meet outside while our kids ran around … what used to go through my mind was, she needs to play enough to get hungry enough to eat enough to fall asleep.   I saw others engage the help of a young woman or teenage student to take the kids outside sometimes – usually for payment but it could also be in exchange for help with homework.
     Even more fun then play was of course, work.  I first learned the entertainment potential of laundry when my 3-year-old nephew came to stay with us for a summer.  Every stage of soaking, swirling, brushing, beating, wringing, drying, removing and folding was a game in itself.  (What, you don’t swirl your clothes in the bucket?)  So the entertainment was ready when my daughter came along.  See her dry.
      Is there is some way that you can incorporate the clean-up component into the game that he plays when he throws the stuff around (instead of being work that has to be done after the game is over)?  If there is too much stuff and you are feeling burdened to keep up with the work of cleaning up, I would consider relocating some of it so that it is not accessible.  When you do this, don’t think of it as a sanction imposed for not cleaning up, but simply as a way to stay organized. You can cheerfully explain, for example, that the toys need to go home now and they will be back later, after some other toys go home.
     Evolutionarily it makes sense for kids to be accustomed to the freedom of going outside whenever they want.  Till recently adults have also been outside. Moreover, young children were not constrained by the need to have their parents accompany them at all times.  Other adults or older children would do.  In rural areas I have seen children as young as 5 out and about on their own.  If we find ourselves reining in our little ones on a shorter leash, the shortcoming lies in our society and not in their desire for a wider range of freedom.
    Rather than try to contain this in the home, we should work to create a society where kids can fulfill their need to be out and energetic .   At least we can acknowledge that their need is legitimate and try to overcome our limitations in fulfilling it.  Once we work from this approach, we can take small concrete steps that at least meet this need halfway.

Why is my baby not playing with toys?

In Why on 17 October 2012 at 8:08 pm
My son has a lots of toys (given as gifts), and we haven’t found the need of them so far. Is that a good sign or should we engage him with toys, just as a general protocol?  Every time he is fussy, we talk to him, make noises and try to interpret some sort of a conversation when he responds to our talk. He has gotten so used to this that, when we try to engage him with toys he doesn’t like it. He prefers being carried and talked to all the time. What is your take on this?  
-mother of a 3 month old in Baltimore
     His preference makes perfect sense to me.  Why would you want to change it?  My take on toys is that less is more. Or for a spiritual take – tat tvam asi – you are the toy.   (Or a Louis XIV take:  Le jouet, c’est moi.) In the early months and years of life, very few store-bought toys can satisfy one longer than the simple entertainments of being carried and talked to all the time.  Soon kids get busy in the kitchen, garden, or laundry room, and invent a number of other pursuits using pens, books, clothes, phones, utensils, and just about anything other than a toy.
     Those who give gifts are well-meaning, but remember it is the thought that counts.  You can appreciate that thought while carefully keeping the toy in storage, generously passing it along to someone in need, or gratefully exchanging it.  You can also be thoughtful when giving gifts to others – rather than giving toys, why not something that does not accumulate?  Fruit basket, art supplies, a coupon for a special storytime with you or playdate at the park.  Such gifts delight the parents as much as the child.
     To get the most fun out of toys, introduce them slowly.  To avoid having to throw out / pass along a toy simply to make space for new ones, get fewer toys and let your child decide when s/he no longer wants it.  I have seen my daughter play with the same toy differently over the years, and I could not have predicted which toy would have this lasting appeal and potential for versatility.   Don’t limit their use to the one intended by the manufacturer.  As Arvind Gupta says, with a gleam in his eye, “The best thing a child can do with a toy is to break it!”  Worried?  Try these toys!

Raising a multilingual baby

In How on 5 September 2012 at 10:17 pm
Since babies learn languages easily, I want to fill my home with languages.  My husband and I speak three languages, and I thought we could add one more, and find a friend to come over and speak a fifth one – probably Chinese since that is so important globally.  Do you think learning 5 languages will be too confusing?

  ~ expectant mother in Cambridge

Babies learn easily because they learn by doing.  They will learn language from someone who is speaking the language, over one who is teaching it.  After all, if it were useful, would it need to be taught?  Remember that babies also make up language from scratch as if no one had ever done it before, and this bushwhacking through the jungle of sound and sense is an adventure of a lifetime.  
If the baby’s environment comprises people using various languages then just as with any other interesting object, baby will pick them up and put them in her mouth.  Since English is everywhere, I would urge you to speak your other native language(s) at home.  
Little multilingual speakers seem to know which language is which.  My parents tell a story about me translating English for Telugu visitors, not realizing that they too were multilingual. 
In our family we spoke only Telugu when my daughter was young.  Once she learned to read, English leapt ahead.  Why?  Children’s books with simple words in large print, and computer fonts in all sizes were abundant in English but not in Telugu.  All that has changed today.  All the languages you speak can go with you when you enter the written world.

EC Fail?

In How on 5 September 2012 at 10:15 pm
 I may have jinxed my ec fun. [My newborn] peed and pooped several times in the sink after a feed but now since yesterday every time I hold her in the ec position she squirms.  I didn’t have this with [my firstborn]. Do you think I started too early?  Don’t want to put her off.
– mom of a newborn who is not exactly like her first-born

Remember, the “c” in ec stands for communication, not catching.  Some ec parents say that when you stop talking about catches and misses, you start listening and observing.  Baby is not put off by someone who listens and observes.

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