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I am an independent writer and multi-award winning blogger who writes on parenting, humour, fiction and general lifestyle topics. - Sid Balachandran

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Then & Now – Travel planning Parent style

Then & Now – Travel planning Parent style

Most people who know us will agree when I say “We love travel!” Unfortunately, as is the case with every couple in a serious relationship and not oodles of cash at their disposal, most of our travels and visits to famous “world tourist spots” were far and few, and we ended up doing a lot of off-beat holidays. And that’s where we discovered the real beauty of Ma Nature.

Right then, before everyone starts to wonder why my writing suddenly resembles a travel blog, or if I’ve gone a bit cuckoo in the head, let me make my intentions clear. I was merely reminiscing about how “exciting” things like holidays and vacations were, prior to having a 3rd little member (or 4th, or 5th) join your “holiday-planning”. So to put it simply, I was merely thinking about how planning a vacation or a holiday are miles apart depending on whether its just the two of you as a couple, or on if you have your lovely offspring(s) join you. So let me tell you a story….

Back Then – circa 2005

Going back to the time when we first started dating (was it still called dating then?), we were shuttling between different cities in India and the United Kingdom. So as you can imagine, we’ve had a fair bit of travel, both alone and together, since we were both based at different locations. Most of our holidays (or maybe I should say, “spur of the moment” breaks) were quirky, fun, free-style, come-what-may discoveries executed with a “let’s see how it goes” attitude. Let me make one point clear – neither of us are true adventurers in the complete sense of the word; we’re merely people who like to see new places, eat new food, be with each other a lot (yes, I know, sounds lame to some) and explore “some” unknowns.

And the planning involved back then was actually a piece of cake. We’d just fix a place or a location and Google some Wikipedia/Trip Advisor entries; not even bother reading most reviews, wouldn’t care about booking hotels, and absolutely wouldn’t fix an itinerary. And food – my wife’s a vegetarian (yep, they still exist! Just kidding, I love vegetarians…they leave more meat for us…ok, I digress. Let’s get back now); However instead of seeing that as a potential …let’s say…difficult life choice…(I’d get shot in the foot if I said disadvantage, but you know what I mean), we’d both try and embrace the local specialty…almost always. And luckily, most places we’ve been to, they’ve been happy to oblige and make a vegetarian equivalent where possible. So food was always an adventure in itself for us. This beautiful “let’s do something new and exciting for the holiday this time” phase for us as a couple lasted exactly until August 2011. That’s when we discovered Little Ri had “swum” his way into our lives.

The NOW

Since Little Ri was born in London, we did make a few trips down to India and one to Dubai to see family, friends et all. However I wouldn’t term them as vacations or holidays. They were more like, ok some of you are going to hate and judge me for this, say visiting a religious place (Atheists and other non-believers of the spiritual power from above – I love you guys (and girls), but I needed a strong social example). You kind of know what to expect and who you’ll see and meet, but it is often a social compulsion that is usually succinctly dressed up in the lines “You’ve GOT to do it!” Once again, I digress (I’ve got to stop doing that – bad Sid!). So as previously mentioned, since Little Ri entered our lives, we haven’t taken much in terms of a vacation. That is until now. I’m happy to inform all of you, that right now, in the middle of our holiday, at 1am in the morning, I’m sat up fine-tuning this post for you amazing readers (Reckon that explains a lot more about my lack of orderliness and time management than the vacation). Nevertheless, the point that I’m trying to drive home is “We finally managed to take a holiday, with our toddler – a real family holiday”.

If this trip proves to be a success (it’s going to take a few days to get the final verdict, but initial poll results look promising), then all that handwork would have paid off. “What…. hardwork? But it’s a vacation!” I hear you think. On the contrary, taking a holiday, vacation or even a short trip with a toddler, involves a lot of planning and yes, RESEARCH. If you’ve been lucky enough to have already taken a holiday with your young one(s), you’d know exactly what I’m talking about. For the rest of you, your turn will be here soon.

Designing, planning and executing a “family holiday” is filled with hours of man/woman-work. Gone are those days of “free-birding”, where you could literally take off to a new destination, and enjoy yourself come what-may. In my case, they’ve been replaced by the below mentioned thoughts/ questions/ dilemmas. Kindly note, there is no exhaustive list of questions or checklists. The below ones are just samples and snippets about the four major activities a usual holiday would entail –travel, clothing, accommodation and food

Travel:

Thoughts back then

Let’s train/bus/car it if we can. It’s going to be an adventure; book the cheapest flight available – who needs those frills, bells and whistles anyway; why waste money on an organized sight seeing tour – we can do the whole thing cheaper if we walk!

Thoughts now

What flight do I book – are they infant/kid friendly? Do they have baby/kids meals? Do they have in-flight entertainment? Let’s do an organized tour – do they take kids? Will the kids/baby like the mode of travel? Can the kids adjust to the long travel time?

Clothing

Thoughts back then

That’s it, 2 pairs of jeans, couple of t-shirts, a few undergarments – I’m good! Who cares about the weather – rain, snow or sunshine, I’ll just wear the same things

Thoughts now

How many diapers do I take? How many tops for the little one? How many nightdresses for the baby? What will the weather be? Should I pack an extra pair of shoes?

Accommodation:

Thoughts back then

Let’s crash at that bed & breakfast – it’s only a few bucks; Booking a room – oh come on, we’ll just stay with friends; Let’s camp; We’ll just sleep in the car; So what if we’ve got to drive/walk to those tourist spots – it’s only $10 a night for the place, and they have bunk beds.

Thoughts now:

Is the hotel kids-friendly? Do they have a nice swimming pool/play area for kids? Are they non-smoking? Do we have to travel a lot from the hotel/accommodation to the “kid-friendly” tourist spots? Do they provide a baby cot? Do they have lifts? Do they have an on-call doctor? (I could go on and on with this one)

Food:

Thoughts back then

I’m going to try this one, that description sounds great; I should definitely try some street food; who needs reservations – let’s walk in;

Thoughts now

Do they have baby/kids meals? Is the restaurant baby-friendly? Do the eateries have a baby chair? (Ok that’s not food, but it sure fits in); That street food looks nice, but maybe I should stick to something I know – after all, if one of us falls ill, the other will have to look after both the baby and the ill-fated one;

Once again, these are just a few points that I’ve noted down from my latest experience. To even try and put down a comprehensive list is a sin that I shall not attempt. And as you’ve probably noticed, the key phrase that you’re likely to frequently encounter when you have planned/will plan a family holiday with your little one(s) is “kid/baby-friendly”. That phrase, to simply put, is capable of turning you from a laid-back, casual, let’s-not-stress-over-too-much-planning kind of person into a meticulous, detail-oriented, have-planned-for-any-eventuality kind of person, who to be honest, is sometimes too tired from all this planning and thinking, to actually enjoy it fully.

So in a nutshell, yes, just like every other aspect of your life, even your holidays and the amount of planning that goes into that to make it successful, will change with the presence of your little one. And I admit, often planning a “family holiday”, can be considerably tiring enough to make you wonder if it is worth it. And sometimes, you might just want to do it, so that you can take a break, and a “family vacation” might be the only way to convince your better half. Whatever your reasons might be to put in the effort of planning for kid-friendly (see, there’s that phrase again) holiday, the twinkling in your little one’s eye and the smile on your partner’s face, will be enough reward and motivation to make you keep doing it again…. and again…and again.

NB: This post was originally written for Parentous, the parenting community. You can read the original here : Parentous

Three Golden “Post-Baby” Relationship Rules

Three Golden “Post-Baby” Relationship Rules

Congratulations – the little one that you’ve been waiting expectantly for all these months, is finally here. Now, the mandatory 24 hours later, you get to bring him / her home. If you’re one of the lucky ones who happen to have the luxury of an extra room (and money to spend of course)  to be converted into a baby room, you would have taken all the pains  to ensure that you left no stone unturned to ensure the room is cutely furnished and perfectly stocked with a year’s supply of nappies, baby wipes, baby creams and stuffed toys. It is your first baby after all 🙂

In an ideal world, you’d be very relaxed at this point, having completed the prerequisite 40 odd weeks as well as the really intense labour session.You know what, that was the easy part. Things are only going to get tougher from here on, but in a good way.

Often you hear inexperienced people say “Newborns, oh aren’t they a piece of cake! All they do is Eat, Poop and Sleep”. Frankly, the statement isn’t without some truth. They do “eat, poop and sleep”. What people often fail to mention are the effects that these three actions have on new parents. Since a quick google on the “effects of newborns on new parents” can spill out more accurate results, I’m going to leverage this space to talk about three golden rules, which if adhered to, can hopefully help you retain some sanity and strengthen those bonds, during this testing phase. And yes, there are purely from a dad’s point of view.

a. Sleep:

Yes, you’ve all heard it. Every single person who has been through this “kid-venture” would have invariably offered both your wife and yourself this wholesome yet free advice of “Sleep while the baby sleeps”; At the time, like me, you’d have dismissed it as if it wasn’t applicable to you. Strike 1. It is very much applicable to you; actually it is most applicable to you as the dad than for the mom, since she probably has the chance to nap when the baby does. To all the Mothers – No, I’m not saying that you would actually manage to catch some shut-eye when the baby naps, but at least you have the opportunity whilst on maternity leave. However for most of us working dads, paternity leave lasts a week to two at most. Which means past that stay-at-home period, the last thing you’d want is a “noisy, crying” baby disturbing the few hours of precious sleep that you can afford during night time. Now I could probably write a whole post on “post-baby sleeping habits” (actually I think I might); however for now, rule number 1: Sleep – Take it wherever and whenever you get it. You are going to need it!

b. Share the baby duties:

This is probably the most taken-for-granted part of the parenthood cycle. Most modern day fathers will definitely claim to have played a part in fulfilling the aforementioned duties. Dig deeper with the wife/partner, and you’ll discover that “playing a part” involved merely “cuddling with the newborn”. Whilst it is definitely a recommended activity, it shouldn’t stop there. I might sound preachy, but if you are a small family, without a lot of constant presence from family, then the father-of-the baby definitely needs to step up and play a more vital part. There are a number of different advantages to this one, with the obvious one being that you get a bit more closer to your offspring. Sharing the duties also ensures that there’s not a lot of guilt-tripping going around, which means, you know those days when your favourite team’s playing and you want nothing more than sip some chilled beer and watch the game – your better half will actually let you off without any nagging. Though, it is very likely that you’ll owe her a “ladies day out” with her friends as well, while you take care of the little one.

c. Listen, understand, and sometimes just shut-up 

I suppose its only fair to say that these three titular points are applicable in most relationships, even in ones without the babies. Nevertheless, they tend to be more profound immediately after you’ve had a little one. I mean, look at the big picture here  – Your better half has just pushed out a three-odd kg human being out not so long ago. She is tired, cranky, sleep-depraved, constantly having to pump or breast feed, change nappies, and so-on. To top it off, she still has the baby fat and is now constantly losing strands of hair, which prompts the occasional shrieks from her. So expect a rant every now and then, and cut her some slack. I guarantee you, the madness will end. The sooner we can turn into angels of peace, the easier you can get through this phase.

So there you go – three simple rules, which if (and I stress IF) followed can usually make the immediate post baby period a cake walk, in terms of your relationship with your partner.

I just wish someone had told me earlier – I had a very practical crash course, sort of on-the-go training so to speak.

Eight Simple Rules

Eight Simple Rules

To start of, apologies in advance if this sounds like a “Mommy” post. It might appear so primarily, due to two reasons:

  1. It is often perceived that this topic is “usually” a mother’s concern;
  2. This post is really inspired by the missus’s (let’s call her Ja) continued attempts to try and get our 18 month old (let’s call him … say Ri) to eat good nutritious food

If I could tag people as on Twitter or Facebook, a lot of my fellow Parentous contributors would be the recipients of thank you notes, for having inadvertently inspired me to touch this topic – unfortunately, I can’t seem to find such an option; So here’s a big fat Thank You  – you know who you are!

This post was originally published on the parenting blog “Parentous”. For the complete list of our “Eight Simple Rules” to feeding your toddler, just click on the link : Eight Simple Rules @ Parentous

The Arrival

The Arrival

I’ll be honest… I’m not the bravest of souls. And, people know who me closely can probably vouch, I experience a troubled reaction on viewing free-flowing blood in any shape or form. So, when my wife mentioned that she wanted me to be present in the delivery room for the birth of our first child, I was surprised that I said a resounding yes.

If my memory serves right, we probably had this discussion around the 6-week period, i.e. when we first discovered that we were expecting. I was ecstatic at that point, and would have probably agreed to buy her a diamond encrusted platinum ring (For the record, the aforementioned ring – ridiculously expensive).

This post was originally written for the parenting blog site “Parentous” and you can read the complete version of “my delivery room adventures” here: The Arrival @ Parentous

The Delivery – Thoughts From A Tiny Tot

The Delivery – Thoughts From A Tiny Tot

As parents, we all probably have different versions of the roller-coaster we went through, when our little ones enter this “big bad world”. This got me thinking – how would the little one have felt? Unfortunately we will never know. However couple your wonderful imagination along with your experience in the delivery room, and I’m sure you’ll be able to paint an accurate enough picture.

Here’s my attempt at penning down the scenario from my Little Ri’s point of view.

40 weeks is a really long time to plan your biggest launch on to the world stage. I had it all charted out. I would jump on to the stage, strumming the custom-built Jimi Hendrix electric guitar, spot lights on me, spectacular fireworks going off in the air, amazing inspiring crowd chanting my name, and groupies on the side. I even had, what would go on to be known as my trademark phrase picked: “R U ready to have your world rocked?” But little did the naive me know, that plans seldom work out to the letter.

This snippet is a part of the original post on the parenting blog “Parentous”. Read the rest of “Tiny Tot’s incredible journey” here : The Delivery @ Parentous

 

Image Courtesy: http://mrg.bz/GDsx4F
“Once Upon A Time, In A Land Far Far Away…”

“Once Upon A Time, In A Land Far Far Away…”

I don’t know about you, but even today, there is something about those words that entices me to listen on. Even now, it rarely fails to bring a smile on my otherwise worried and age-lined face; probably because I’ve always loved reading those fairy tales. These stories reinforce in me, a sense of community, comfort and togetherness, sort of like friends huddled around a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night, with a cup of hot chocolate.

Being between jobs currently, I often have the luxury of sitting down with Little Ri and watching some amazing Disney & Pixar versions of classic fairy tales.  Since he isn’t all of 2 years yet, I spend time explaining the story out to him, one scene at a time.  Not quite sure what he understands but his babbles sure sound promising. This motivated me to get out some classic illustrated fairy tale books and read-act them out to him. After some initial minutes of feigned interest, he quickly went back to his other toys.  Deflated I sat back upset. This got me thinking – Are fairy tales important to us?  Do they teach us anything?  Is it even worth reading out these classics, that we’ve grown up with to our little ones?

Note: This post is part of my bi-monthly article at the parenting website “Parentous”. The original version can be view here: 

After a fair bit of research and numerous illustrated pages later, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a world of catch-22 out there.  As children, a fairy tale seems beautiful, straightforward, fascinating and even mesmerizing. As adults, with our inevitable need to over analyze everything, some of these fairy tales appear remarkably grim, misconstrued and have questionable ethical foundations.

Now, I’m a fairly optimistic and positive person. So for the purpose of this post, I’ve decided to only touch on the helpful aspects of these tales and the potential values that we can instill in our beloved off springs:

 Emotional Resilience:

Most, if not all, fairy tales portray numerous difficulties and challenges that a protagonist faces in their quest for the ultimate goal, be it saving a princess, wining back a kingdom or just getting back home after being lost. They somehow find the emotional resilience to persevere on, overcome these obstacles and march ahead, come what may. They are able to laugh off their difficulties. Definitely a must-need in today’s stressful age.

 Lessons in love, caring and togetherness:

It should come as no surprise that almost all fairy tales have varying shades of the element of love.  From the romantic love in Cinderella, which leads her to Prince Charming to sibling love in Hansel & Gretel, which gets them out of the witch’s clutches. Clichéd as it may sound, it is this sense of love that instills feelings of brotherhood (or sisterhood), family, caring for each other and overly that sense of togetherness.

 Lessons in diversity:

Probably one of the interesting things about fairy tales is their diversity in stories. You get a varied range of tales from outsmarting an evil witch to spectacular dragon fights. And as different cultures adapt these stories, they take on different flavors and tones, which further diversifies the story to new heights. It helps children develop their cultural literacy and appreciate the similarities and differences of other people, from another part of the world.

 Lessons in Morality:

I’m probably treading on dangerous territory here, as I’ve often heard adults complain about “negative morals being installed in kids by the world of fantasy”. True as it may be, I am a staunch believer in the fact that most fairy tales and their spin-off Disney / Pixar versions do enable kids to nurture a moral compass. They encompass tales of honor, sacrifice and justice. They empower kids to identify right and wrong, well at least most times.

 Unleashing the power of imagination:

This is single handedly the most important lesson that fairy tales provide. Like most other folklore, fairy tales are also usually works of fiction. Though the commercial worlds of Disney and Pixar have succeeded in “illustrating” some of these famous fictional characters, reading these fantasy tales or even hearing them being narrated, enable and empower kids to think out of the box. It lets them paint an imaginary sketch of the characters, by giving them an empty canvas, where the images can be as vivid as their imagination lets them. The narrative helps them form their own perceptions about these pivotal characters, rather than following the crowd. I’ve even read that in certain countries, some schools encourage kids to draw or paint an illustration of a character from just a narration. As you can imagine, each one of them could potentially come with a unique version. Let their imagination soar I say 🙂

 Lessons in “the real world”:

In every children’s fairy tale, as in life, there are always two sides to the coin. You have the good, brave, determined, resilient protagonist. And then you have the bad, slightly crazy, occasionally sadistic evil antagonist. Whilst the books may portray the antagonist as a “person”, the biggest takeaway kids can have from these stories is the idea of balance in real life. The “evil” in the real world exists not just as people, but also manifests it as challenges and obstacles. It is unrealistic of us as parents, to expect our kids to grow up in a world where everything is right. Fantasy tales as they may be, these stories can help parents introduce their kids to the realities of the big bad world. After all, preparation is key.

 Lessons of Hope & Optimism:

Almost every fantasy tale (except for the actual Original Grimm brothers version) ends with the humble “Mr (or Ms.Good or even collectively The GOODs)” beating the crap (pardon my language) out of the baddies. And of course, it almost always ends with “…..happily ever after”. Now along with being an optimist, I am also a bit of a realist at times, and I agree completely that not everything always ends well. But don’t you think it is possible that secretly we all have loved these timeless stories simply because we know everything turns out hunky dory at the end? I believe so. The realist in all of us wakes up every day to face the harsh realities of the brutal world, but its our hope and optimism that helps us see past those barricades and persevere to get to our happily every after. And surely that can’t be a bad quality at all 🙂

 Now for a bit of a disclaimer of sorts:

  • As a yang to a yin, these fictional tales do have their many shortcomings. Depending on the version, era and sometimes country of origin, they may be at times racist, sexist and absolutely inconsiderate of minorities.
  • Fairy tales are an un-regulated territory. You know your kids; ensure they read suitable tales customized for their age group.

Finally, I appreciate that not all of you might share my opinions on these weird, wacky, and wonderful fantasy tales. I’d love to hear your comments. And to sign off, in the words of the brilliant yet eccentric Albert Einstein :

 “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. 

If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

Note: This post is part of my bi-monthly article at the parenting website “Parentous”. The original version can be view here:

 
Image courtesy : http://www.morguefile.com/creative/kakisky
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