Both the kids were absolutely certain of one item on the Berlin must-do list: a visit to the Zoo. Famed to have the most comprehensive collection of animals in the world, Berlin’s Zoologischer Garten (quite a mouthful and Udai practised saying it many times every day, with hilarious results!) is the oldest zoo in Germany, with an interesting history. And true to form, we saw many many species I had never thought I’d see outside of my television screen!
The children were delighted and we spent an entire day there, happy to observe the animals and the humans watching the animals. Of course, a zoo cannot compare to watching animals in the wild, but from an educational perspective, I’m glad we were exposed to such an astonishing array of species. The primate house was particularly impressive, so was the section with night animals where we saw a kinkajou. Now, the kinkajou is an animal we read about in one of the children’s story books and we were all four simultaneously awestruck when we saw one in the flesh! Other highlights were the little joey in her Mumma Kangaroo’s pouch, several types of zebras, the giraffe whose neck wasn’t long enough for Aadyaa and the polar bear, for who we trekked the length and breadth of the fairly large zoo!
Disclaimer: The pictures do not do justice to the fair weather, the well kept environs of the Berlin Zoo and the generally happy state of the animals and those who were out to see them!
We chose The Netherlands as our summer destination primarily to visit family. It had been a while since I saw my uncle, aunt and cousins who live there. Plus Rahul and the kids had never been to what Rahul teasingly refers to as uncle-land! As soon as we landed, we were enveloped in the warmth of family, but the highlight and the most amazing demonstration of family love was the way Udai’s tenth birthday was celebrated; in his own words, “the best birthday ever!” The large share of the credit, of course, goes to Liduine who the kids call Oma, Dutch for Grandma. But everyone chipped in. Follow the fantastic day in this photo essay of the “best birthday ever”!
It’s a very simple list, seen from the eyes of 6-year old Aadyaa. Along with her friend Myrah who is a year younger, the children’s’ perspective on the vacation was an important one for us, for keeping them in good humor was the vital ingredient in our holiday! Here’s my attempt to reconstruct our day out in Shimla from their perspective!
#1 The mandatory horse ride
Yes, the mandatory horse ride must be ticked off the list in a place like Shimla. I did it in Mussourie when I was perhaps the same age and here is Aadyaa astride Badal, the horse who wore her “kathak ghungroos” around his neck!
#2 Roadside eating
From pastries to the local phalsa fruit, the kids had fun demanding on-the-go food at regular intervals. Besides the energy shots, the food served as able distractions from the changing weather!
#3 Picture posing
For some inane reason, the kids would yell “Aaloo parantha!” and “Pasta!” each time someone asked them to pose for a pic. It gave us all a hearty laugh each time and I loved the way they infected us grown-ups with their wonderful inanity. Check out their wide grins!
#4 Battling the winds and the rain
I don’t think the children expected the cold winds and the rain. Aadyaa had a windcheater on to help her out, but she found the wind quite uncomfortable. Her legs were cold in the rain and she has to ask me to buy her new pajamas in the mall. Myrah too needed to buy a thicker jacket.
We spent quite a lot of time walking in the drizzle and then taking shelter wherever possible when the rain increased. One time it was the crowded porch of the post office, another time the porch of the church. Yet another time it was a long long wait under a sturdy old tree. They didn’t mind the latter too much as they had space to stretch and play and we passed the time singing rhymes and laughing!
#5 The monkey menace!
The monkeys were everywhere. Despite several instructions about not looking at them, ignoring them, not being scared etc etc, it was hard for the children to not worry about the monkeys. I was scared that Aadyaa might try to be too friendly since she loves animals. In the crowded part of the city, we managed to avoid the monkeys, but on a lonely stretch they managed to terrorize little Myrah and snatch away a bag we were carrying. From then on, monkeys became Enemy no.1 on the trip!
After a taste of the Raahgiri experience last Sunday [read about that here], the kids weren’t giving anybody any choice. In fact, the word had spread as it is wont to among the young ones and we had a larger group now. Udai was enthused about the idea of cycling around the Raahgiri route this time and I was requested to figure out the logistics. However, on Sunday morning, we were looking at a very flat front wheel and I was scurrying around in my head for a way to handle this. Our neighbor and friend Deepak came to my rescue, offering an adult’s bicycle from his home, but over and above that ensuring Udai test rode it at home before we loaded it on.
Despite Rahul not being around (and we all miss him sorely), the dads in the group Ananth and Deepak worked overtime as did the mums (Shruti, Preeti, me), dadis (Amma) and masis (Gauri) to ensure the kids had a lot of fun. Quite a bunch they were- Udai (9), Aadyaa (5), Avandeeta (6), Candy (3), Deepika (8) and Priyanka (not yet 1!!). All except the last one cycled the route, the rest of us running alongside in turns. Exhausting, but immensely satisfying, this past Sunday at Raahgiri, Gurgaon.
For those of you not in the know, Raahgiri is the name for a car free route designated for citizens to enjoy the streets in Gurgaon, otherwise known for its traffic congestion, pseudo glitzy mall culture, poor infrastructure and corporate prowess. It’s an effort spearheaded by dedicated citizens and supported by government, a win-win partnership that has inspired many of us to hope for a better world.
Just as I was getting a little cribby about Udai’s new penchant for hanging out gossiping with his friends rather than playing in the park, we spent a weekend full of outdoors fun! Winter in Delhi is perfect for sporty activities and we took full advantage of superb weather and great friends.
Saturday morning was spent attending Aadyaa’s sports day, quite a spectacle a Shikshantar where kids demonstrate complex obstacles, relays and patterns using props like balls and hoopla rings. The focus is complete immersion in the task at hand, with no regard to the idea of ‘winning a race’, quite unique to this school and absolutely age appropriate for pre-schoolers I think. I have to point out that the idea of sports for pre-schoolers is as much about the development of physical strength and skills as it is about honing social skills like sharing, encouraging peers and pushing yourself to do better. As parents, we all feel good that these little ones are protected at this point from the disappointments of losing and do whatever they can with great confidence. There will be a time and place for comparisons, but for now the happiness and enthusiasm is catching!
Here are a few snapshots from that energized morning, though I must confess I was sunburnt into a stupor afterwards!
A Sunday morning. Children still recovering from yesterday’s long, hectic evening attending and enjoying the Diwali Mela in our apartment complex. A heavy silence around the house. The October nip in the air. For most mums this is the time we get to sip our morning tea in peace, look out of the balcony, smile at the world, breathe.
But I feel restless on such mornings and I realize that inadvertently, over the years, I have got addicted to constant activity, a schedule, targets. When did I get here and how do I get out of this trap?
And so, I open my lappie and check my mail. I go over some work I could do today if I feel so inclined. I stress about the deadlines during the week ahead. I choose a new profile pic on FB in a bid to feel better about myself. I worry about the directionlessness of my life. And I eventually open a ‘new post’ window on my blog and I write.
I write to keep my sanity, to understand myself better, to share what I feel and hope someone else feels the same way. I write to shake off a feeling of despondency that no beautiful Sunday morning should bring. I write to purge myself and bring back my smile.
Let me face it. Mukta mommy can’t handle a breather!
I can’t wait for the kids to be up and yelling for their breakfast, for the day’s appointments to begin, for the hyperactivity that is so part of my life to take over. At some point today, when life has returned to its usual madness, I will get around to laughing (and even perhaps blogging) about the crazy outfits at the Diwali Mela, the Chinese residents of Vipul Greens doing the bhangra in absolute glee, Aadyaa’s mad rounds of the rides and the wonderful job Udai and his friends did with their own games stall last night! I already feel better now!
Family vacations are things you dream of when the work piles up and deadlines threaten to obliterate all possibilities of sleep. Getting away from it all in the company of people you are comfortable is a great way to destress and to do it with kids gives us the opportunity to see things from their uncomplicated and ever-excitable perspective!
Yesterday was one hell of a day for us. We started from Gurgaon at four thirty am, quite a feat with four adults and three kids aged 4,5 and 9! All three of them were bright and chirpy, thankfully. Making good time, we crossed Delhi in an hour only to hit a snag when Mishu’s car had a tyre bust. Not ones to lose steam, the rest of us carried on to Murthal in our car and ate a leisurely though super early breakfast while a replacement car was arranged etc. only about an hour later than schedule, we were back on track, driving straight through to Chintpoorni, where the climb towards Dharamsala begins. Of course, the kids car hopped a bit, so there were short handover stops. They sang songs, playing some sort of Antakshari, with our inputs. They played ghar-ghar, with strange role plays that left us bemused. We invented code names and played a game with Rahul giving them instructions that they must respond to only when their code names are used, without ever responding to their real names! Great fun, with all of us collapsing in giggles!
At Chintpoorni, we stopped to say hi to the resident goddess, who promised to fulfil our wishes, whatever they may be. The experience of wading through throngs of devotees, responding to touts selling Prasad and blessings was amusing and thankfully not too stressful. Mishu introduced us to ‘uncleji’s’ bun-paav and we were off again, stopping a bit to feed the kids a proper though late lunch and then driving straight on to D’sala. The hills gave us a fitting welcome, with a wonderful show of rain and thunder. Temperatures dropped and all of us, up since early morning with barely a wink of sleep on the way, were refreshed and excited to be here. It had taken us 12 hours to do the entire trip, each minute enjoyable.
The numerous pics I took are locked inside my Nikon for now, but I am sharing some shots of the Dhauladar range as I see it this morning after a good night’s rest, from my room at Blossoms Village Resort.
We’ve had a number of friends writing in via mail and FB with some great tips for how to spend the next few days here. Will get back to you on what we decide to, and how it went!
Sometimes I wonder if it’s just the easy access to technology via phone cameras. Or a narcissistic streak. Or a penchant for documentation.
What is it that draws my 5-year old daughter Aadyaa to obsessively take photos of her art work, random creations or just certain objects? It started with her asking me to click pictures of things that caught her fancy. Now she simply asks for permission and does it herself (she has complete mastery over my iphone).
I look back at these pictures often in an attempt to see the world through her eyes. What do you make of them?
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare
As I stared at this teeny weeny little baby…in my head, these lines from ‘Macavity’ in the ‘Old Possum Book of Practical Cats’ by TS Eliot transformed into….
His powers of negotiation would make his mater stare
Of course I was deeply impressed that the musical Cats chose to pronounce fakir as faker when I saw it way back in 199…..thus lending itself beautifully to my version of the line!
Ah well, let me get to the point.
Life is all about negotiating the best deal for yourself, isn’t it? And who practices it better than children. Even as newborn babies, the human instinct for survival is so strong that a baby would probably push away his mother if her breasts were dry and the devil were holding the bottle of milk out!
My kids do that all the time! One minute I am the best mother in the world and kisses are being bestowed, the next minute I am the worst creature on earth for trying to discipline Aadyaa. The emotional trauma that creates is not entirely something she is unaware of. That is her negotiating tool to get what she wants. She knows it, I know it, but yet more time than not, I give in!
Udai too, will always pitch his demands at a level slightly more unreasonable than what he is willing to settle for, knowing well that the adult mind is habituated to bargaining to get things moving slightly in their favour. When I say ‘yes’ to a proposal without any questions, like going for an extra half hour of play on a hot afternoon, he vamooses within a split second, lest I change my mind!
It’s a great thing, this ability to negotiate. A good negotiator gets far in life. So I’m resolving to sharpen the negotiating abilities of my kids by not giving in to anything without a little tussle, a teeny weeny back and forth, a mini turf war…..makes life so much fun!
Ever since Aadyaa got invited there for a birthday party last month, she has been raring to go back to the Stellar Children’s Museum. This is located on the 2nd floor of Ambience Mall, Gurgaon right under Haldiram’s and works really well to keep kids between 3 and say 7 well occupied for a few hours.
I think it is overpriced, though, at Rs 500 per child for unlimited time, which does not mean much considering kids get tired after a few hours anyway. The extra Rs 200 per accompanying adult is really overkill, considering the adults will end up buying themselves eats and drinks inside anyway, which are priced high as well for rather passable offerings.
But that being the downside, the museum itself is a fantastic place for children to immerse themselves in many fun activities while getting exposure to many principles of physics. Basic installations and do-it-yourself tasks based on gravity and magnetism, gear movements, the power of moving air, etc allow children to repetitively perform simple experiments that offer huge amounts of excitement for little children.
Another space offers opportunities for unbridled creativity in the form of art, including glass walls that kids can paint. Watching wet paint dribble down a vertical facade, creating its own interesting formations is a lot of fun indeed! I also found interesting a pin board that allowed kids (and adults) to push in their hands or faces on one side and see the impression emerge out on the other. Simple magnetic jigsaw puzzles, overlapping perspex sheets that slide over one another to explore the mixing of colour and pattern were also a great set of activities, perhaps more suited to the kids.
Other fun features were a water play area, a found object wall where you can tap all the objects to create different sounds, a travel room where you could explore a series of tunnels that took from one ‘continent’ to another, explaining interesting facts of geography (perhaps for older kids who can read) and a cute pretend play zone replete with a down-sized supermarket (amazing detail), medical room, house and the like.
Aadyaa and her friend Maayra, after exploring a little bit of everything else, zoomed in on these gigantic interconnecting blue blocks. They created one ‘skull-ture’ after another and it was really funny to watch as the installations were larger than them most of the time!
If you have young kids and live in the NCR, do spend a day at Stellar. Despite the steep price, it is precious to see children so excited and engaged in such healthy fun. Watching the children, I was reminded once again that it is not fancy toys, but simple things that children love most. The helper didis at the Museum are well trained and patient. Aadyaa bonded with them immediately and hardly needed me to be there with her. For mommies or daddies who want to relax in the cafe and read a book or catch up on work or a phone call, this is entirely doable!