Saturday, 31 July 2010

The House Guest

This weekend we had a very special guest. I'd met him briefly a few days ago, on the day he'd landed from the US. Jet lagged and exhausted from all the travel, he went straight to the diwan, curled up and slept. When it was time to leave, he was prompted to say Hi.
"Hi", he said.
I had to refrain from going forward and touching him, as I'd normally have done with any child. Nonetheless, I knew autistic children were particular about having people in their space. So I was going to wait till he allowed me in.

A few days later, when he came to stay with his mother, I was apprehensive. His mother was going to leave him with us for a day, while she went out shopping. Also, I wasn't sure if he'd take to Adiv who is relentlessly demonstrative and chatty. I wasn't sure of how we'd console him if he missed his mother. He didn't play with toys, so we wouldn't be able to distract him with anything. He only listened to a DVD of the Wiggles, an aussie band. I didn't have to worry so much about food, as his mom would bring along his stash of comfort foods; some organic jelly beans and gluten free cereal and rice cakes.

When he finally arrived, he flashed us his winning smile, and charged right in. He ran from room to room, exploring. He touched everything that came along the way. He felt the water can, Adiv's toy horse, the walls, and the cushions. He even felt Adiv's hair and smelt it. Adiv stayed close, saying Hi repeatedly and smiling. He got on his horse and called out to him.
"Sit with me", said Adiv.
The 8-year-old got on behind him. A few seconds later, he lost interest. He ran around, followed by his mother who made sure he didn't drop or throw anything. After some running around, he climbed on to the bed, and snuggled up between the sheet and the mattress. Adiv was ecstatic. Why hadn't he thought of that before? Then they both jumped on the diwan like two happy kids. However, Adiv was in his space for a bit too long, and he responded by pushing him off the diwan. My heart skipped a beat, but luckily Adiv landed on a pile of cushions. "Keep Adiv away. He doesn't understand that Adiv is a baby", explained the mother apologetically.
"Adiv is fine", we assured her. We understood it wasn't his fault, but we had to be careful.
By the time I woke up the next morning, our little guest was at the table eating his cereal. With some prompting, he turned to me and said Hi. After breakfast, he came close and held my hand.
"Hi there", I said gently. He pulled to the kitchen. He was curious about the pressure cooker, and all the activity in the kitchen. We put on his DVD for him, while he ran around feeling things, smelling hair, and poking cushions. I attempted to distract him with one of Adiv's videos, but he was bored. So the Wiggles were1 back on. Even though he'd seen it thousands of times, he loved it, chuckling happily on his mother's lap.
When she left for her outting, we were worried, but he seemed fine. If he sensed she'd left, he didn't seem upset. We watched him and Adiv in turns, before he was fed lunch. He enjoyed his broccoli, and ate up some rice with a teaspoon of dal and veggies. After lunch, he was given a pill to calm him down. As he was already getting comfortable with Rohit, he was able to rock him to sleep. Adiv wasn't very pleased though. Adiv insisted that Rohit carry him. And when Rohit was feeding him broccoli, Adiv emphatically declared, "I like cauliflowers also." While I attempted to entertain Adiv, he said angrily, "This is my house. Tell him to go."
In the evening we were all intending to go out to dinner. The little boy hadn't yet woken up, and we were beginning to wonder if we should wake him up for a meal. He hadn't eaten in 7 hours, and was sure to be hungry. When he refused to wake up, we employed other tactics like switching on the light (he'd burrow himself further beneath the comforter) and putting a grain of rice on his lip. We weren't sure if he knew he was hungry, and hoped a taste of the food would get him to wake up. He didn't, and that's when we discovered he was running a temperature. Then we made more desperate attempts to wake him up. We knew he didn't like liquid medicines, but we only had liquid Tylenol. So while Rohit held him, I poured in a teaspoon of Tylenol little by little. He didnt' seem to mind it. By the time his diaper and clothes were changed and he was fed, his mother came back. He flashed her a happy, bright smile and climbed onto her lap. They were leaving in a bit, and his mother got busy packing. Meanwhile Adiv was lying around pretending to be very ill. In a medicine cup, I poured him some juice and coaxed him to drink it as we'd done with the older fellow. Adiv wrapped himself in a blanket and said loudly, "I also very sick."
Adiv was happy to see the 8-year-old leave. He now had his mother and father to himself. However, Rohit and I missed the little fellow. We hadn't spent a lot of time with him, but we'd grown used to him. In his own way he'd begun displaying affection. He would casually climb onto Rohit's lap, or pull me along to show me something. Though we were strangers, he had warmed up to us. When it was time to leave, he surprised me with a hug, a smile, and eye-contact.
In a week's time they'd leave for the US again. I wondered when we'd see him again.
"When we go to the US, we will go see him", said Rohit.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Magical Birthdays

Yesterday I welcomed another birthday in, amidst much singing (Adiv), presents (Rohit), and phone calls (friends and family). Adiv and I were equally excited, posing for pictures, blowing candles, and finally cutting a cake. Adiv wasn't so excited about my presents though.
"No car?", he asked sympathetically!
Birthdays have always been big in my house. As children, my brother and I always got parties. We'd wake up to presents, and then find our mother baking. Our parents would then work on the cake together, icing it, decorating it, and then sliding it into the fridge. We would hurry to school with chocolates for our friends, and gush about the party later in the evening. A small group of close friends were always invited back home for a movie, food, and ofcourse cake. We'd play games and dance to popular tunes. After the guests left, we'd then excitedly open up presents. We'd then go to sleep, dreaming about the wonderful day we'd had.
This went on for many years, till I actually left home. My first birthday away from home, I missed my mother's cake, but my roomies made up for the absence of family. In our modest kitchen, they made me a huge omelet with a generous helping of cheese, onions, and tomatoes. At night, we got dressed up and went out to dinner. The pictures from that night still bring a smile to my face.
After college, when I was working in Chennai, my mother began baking again. However, I didn't have friends over. Instead, I took them out. One year, my friends pretended they hadn't remembered my birthday. They put together a bouquet apologetically, and gave me generous hugs. Just when I'd stopped pretending that I didn't care, the surprises followed.

Post marriage, Rohit has been doing a great job of surprising me on my birthday. The first year, I got presents all day long (as I did yesterday. Grin). He always got me what I wanted, and gave them when I was least expecting them. This year I also had Adiv who sang excitedly for me.
"Happy Birthday Mimi. Happy Birthday Kuttu", he added happily. Before going to school, he made me promise that I'd bake a cake.
"Put sprinkles on top", he added, before he said bye.
Luckily for him, in addition to the cake I baked, Rohit's little nieces brought another cake. So Adiv cut that one as well, pointing out portions of the cake that he wanted to eat.
I want that "A".
"B now."
"What is that", he exclaimed pointing to a piece of fruit on the cake.
"Guava", said Rohit. "You want it?"
"I don't like."
"Give me pink piece."
At night, when we went to bed, Adiv wanted to know when he'd have his next birthday.
"January", I said.
"Hmm", he responded, with a smile on his face.
While he dozed off, I began thinking about my gym instructor. I'd need to work really hard, to get rid of the calories I'd gained on my birthday alone.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Play Time

Two weeks ago, we saw Toy Story 3 in a theatre. We hoped Adiv would sit through the movie, because he loves Woody, Buzz Light Year, and Jesse. As added incentives, we got him some popcorn and a glass of the forbidden, "Fizzy Fanta"! When the movie began, he was ecstatic.
"Woody and Buzz in BEEEEEEEG TV", he said excitedly. "What's that? Who is that?", he continued during the course of the movie. But as the theatre was filled with noisy kids, we had little to be embarassed about. In the movie we saw toys who were trying to escape the cruelties of toddlers. These toddlers ran in, threw toys around, dunked them in paint, licked them, and threw them in the air. Adiv was not very different. As he seemed to enjoy the movie, I hoped he would now be gentler with his toys.
"Toys are scared of kids like you", I told him. "Be gentle"!
He responded by flinging Elmo in the air and speeding off in his car.
Adiv is a curious toddler who enjoys dismantling (read destroying) his toys. He opens up tiny cars to check who is driving. He destroyed a rather fancy bus, just so he could put two of the little people inside it together. He said he'd torn off the top of another car, just so he could make place for himself in it. Despite all this destruction, he has his quieter moments when he sits with his hot wheels collection, or sings to baby Pooh and Elmo. He has a name for all his stuffed toys, and often props them on the bed beside himself, when he watches "The Dark Knight" (his favorite flick).
Luckily for him it is Christmas all year long. With grandparents, aunts and uncles, showering him with presents, we don't really have to shop for toys. However, recently when he began giving me make believe coffee and sambar in his building blocks, I decided to get him a cookery set.
Rohit and I don't believe in stereotyping toys as boy toys and girl toys. Adiv loves his cars and guns, as much as he enjoys making us tea or chicken curry in his cooking set. Rohit's side of the family has men who enjoy cooking all kinds of exotic cuisine. Rohit is quite the accomplished cook himself (Errr..Chef I mean). So we happily thought he was probably showing the beginnings of an interesting culinary journey. In his little plastic plates he served chicken curry, rice, and fried fish one afternoon. Then he made me lime juice that was served with ice.
"Yummy", I responded.
"Want some more?"
"I'm full", I said patting my belly.
He then put away his utensils and got back to his cars.
"Unkoo bring 20 cars for Kuttu", he said.
"Only if you stop destroying them."
"No breaking. No throwing", he promised.

Then a few days later, when we were shopping for a niece, he began asking for a Barbie doll. He'd seen Barbie in the Toy Story movies, and a few others (in various states of undress) with his girl cousins. "I want Barbie", he said.
Someone who heard said, "No, dolls are for girls. Not for boys."
"Why not", I thought, but I was very curious about what games he would play with his barbie.
"He'll pull her hair out and break her legs", warned Rohit.
"Maybe he'll be gentle. He is very gentle with the babies in the play area", i reasoned.
I had vague memories of a little boy who bent his Barbie and used her like a gun. Nonetheless I was curious about whether the need to shoot and fight were inborn boy traits. Were little girls born with a maternal trait that led to them singing songs to their dolls and combing their hair? Did we as parents make kids the way they were, by giving them what was traditionally a boy toy or a girl toy? Could I only blame stores that kept gender specific toys and ensured that girl clothes had pink? Why didn't we ever see boys play with dolls in advertisements? Did I want Adiv to think he was less of a boy just because he wanted to play with a doll? I didn't. However, i wasn't sure I wanted him to break her limbs and paint her orange.
So I decided to ask Adiv what games he wanted Barbie to play. He said he merely wanted to take her for a ride on his bike. Sounds peaceful enough, I thought.
"I'll give him my old Barbie", I told Rohit. "I have it somewhere at home."
"Only if you are okay with her being ruined", warned Rohit.
"Adiv want Barbie", said Adiv loudly, as a reminder.
"Okay", I said. If he was good with the Barbie, i'd probably give him a favorite old imported doll that sang songs.
For now he is throwing baby bear in the air to see if the bear will land on the fan.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

I want to go there

Mommy's Little Wild Child (Adiv) and I love the camera. I attribute his fondness to the fact that I've spent a lot of time hovering around him, capturing every mood and every event. So, like any seasoned celeb, he has now learnt to pose, even flashing special smiles reserved for the camera.
Since Adiv's birth , I always made sure the batteries to my camera were charged and ready. So by default, all family events and outings were also documented. I got every wedding, gettogether, outing, and holiday we were at. Everywhere I went, I carried my camera, capturing fun moments. Later, I'd show Adiv these pictures, and tell him about the people who featured in them.
"Remember A-mach? That was taken when he came to stay?"
"That is the appacha we met him in Kerala."
"That is the aunty who gave you that little Santa."
He'd smile and nod.
Both Rohit and I have family scattered all over the world. So if we wanted Adiv to know all the people who were important to us, we showed him their pictures. However, his two-year-old narcissistic mind was understandably more interested in himself.
"Kuttu wearing party hat."
"Kuttu riding horsey. So funny."
"Kuttu touching deer."
He was however very excited to see the people he knew.
"There. Look. Pappa and Ammama", he said pointing to my parents in a picture.
"I want to go there".
"Okay, when you have holidays, we'll get tickets and go to Chennai", I promise.
"Mimi, where is Unkoo", he said, suddenly remembering the uncle (my brother Ash) who made yearly appearances, but had confirmed his place in Adiv's memory with several toys and a big dose of pampering.
"He is in America. Remember he went by plane?"
"I want to see Unkoo picture."
I found a picture of Unkoo and Adiv, that brought a smile on his face. Then he said, "I want to go there."
Adiv said that about most pictures and videos that he saw of himself. He'd laugh at the picture of himself with his cousins singing by the pool and say, "I want to go there."He'd smile at a picture from his birthday party and say, "I want to go there." He'd point to a picture of himself on a cart ride with his cousin and say, "I want to go there." He even wanted to relive the games he played with cousins, by his grandaunt's stair case, and eat cake that was made on his birthday. "I want to go there", he said stubbornly.
"You can't", I smile. "But you will have more birthdays, more trips to Chennai, and more fun sessions with the cousins" I offer.
"No. Now"
I then resorted to distracting him.
"Where is that horsey of yours?"
"There", he said happily, jump off my lap and climb on to the horse.
This conversation with Adiv, got me thinking about a cousin's son. On his 6th birthday, he'd announced that it was the best day of his life. His amused father then told him that his life had just begun and he'd have many more wonderful days in the future. Likewise, I thought of how Adiv would have more birthdays, more outings with family, and more games with his cousins in the future. Those fun moments would eventually become fond memories like the ones in these pictures, making way for more fun times in the future. Feeling rather optimistic, I decided to document this moment with a picture. However, Adiv was busy watching a video of himself. In the video he spotted a toy from a year ago and said, "I want to go there and take that."