Happy Birthday! You are now three years old. I am not there today for your birthday — am in the US for work.
I am continuing the tradition of writing letters to you on your birthday. To refresh your memory, here are the first three letters (2005, 2006, 2007).
This has been a fascinating year. You’ve grown so much. You have your own mind – at times, much to the consternation of your mom! You understand enough of the world now to interpret it and make your own choices. From making decisions for you, we now have to guide you to differentiate between what’s right and wrong. This is perhaps, for me, the best part about being with you.
Of course, it doesn’t mean you don’t act like a baby. Like that Sunday morning, when we had to take you for a haircut. It was almost as if you had made a clear link between haircut and grumbling. For a change, you didn’t yell while the hair was being cut, even though that grim face was a clear reminder that you’d rather be anywhere else. That’s what’s so endearing about you at this age – you are both a little grown-up and a baby at the same time!
Memories are many of the year gone by. And as one of your favourite songs from “The Sound of Music” says, let’s start at the very beginning.
The maximum time I get to spend with you is when we travel. This past year we’ve done a fair bit of that. We went to Dubai last April, then to the US in August, to Rajasthan and Pune in October and to Surat in December. The US trip was great fun. We took the non-stop Air-India flight to and back from New York. You slept through most of the two flights, but when you were awake, you were jumping all around. We went to Central Park and did some rock climbing the day after we arrived. At Macy’s you insisted on buying some toys which I figured you’d never use again. We also went to Washington to meet Anne and Henry and of course, Fifi, whom you still remember. Then, on to Atlanta to spend time with Ram, Nirmala and Vaishali. You really came into your own at the swimming pool when we went to meet Anand, Shivani and Nisha. For the first time, the water was not something you wanted to stay away from. You played in the pool with those rubber ducks. We strolled through New York with you in your pram, watching the street signs change. The last day, you had a roaring time at the Children’s Museum. And of course, who can forget the three dinners at Vatan – you gorged on the puris, and roamed around the restaurant as if it was your own! Somewhere, we bonded.
I still remember sitting at Atlanta airport watching the planes land and take-off. For you, it was a delight because of your fascination then for anything and everything to do with “transportation” and vehicles. We collected dozens of cars and trucks of all sorts during the US visit – now you don’t even touch them. But for that phase of your life, you only wanted to buy cars and taxis and buses and autos and garbage trucks and dump trucks. And trains. Trains! That’s something we have in common. So, now we have these wooden train tracks from the Thomas collection which we put together every two or three days. When I come home, either you (or your cousins, Siddharth and Maya) have broken them and you want me to help you put them back again. That’s one of our early morning activities between you waking up and going to play school.
Play School…! You started it in September, and after a few days of going happily, you went through a few weeks when you just would not want to go. In school, you were fine. It was just the act of going to school which depressed you. And as quickly as that had started, it ended. Now, you happily go to the school, which is all of three minutes walk from home. The three hours that you spend there everyday are compressed into a couple sentences when I ask you what you did. All you seem to want to remember is what you ate there!
Thanks to school, you’ve now started with these Nursery Rhymes. Every evening when I come back from office, you ask me to make a “half-tent” with a blanket, and you will sit there with your old, non-functional Casio piano and we will sing a “thousand” songs. Songs, did I say? You will promptly correct me, “Papa, they are not songs. They are nursery rhymes.” Indeed.
There are two interesting events that you participated in school – the Christmas concert and the Sports Day. You were so smartly dressed in white and black for your concert! We were right at the back – worried that if we came close and you saw us, you’d come running to us! For the sports day, you ran your two races well – nice to see you follow some instructions!
As I look back at the year, it has been about Phases. You seem to migrate from one Phase to another. Like there was also this Phase recently about buying and reading the Topsy-Tim story books. Everytime we went to a bookshop, you’d go looking for one to buy. You knew exactly which ones you had. And if you found two new ones, you’d remember to keep the second title in mind for the next time. Then, we would come home and read that new book many times a day. And before I realised it, you had memorised the entire book. And then, it was time for the next book. If Boowa Kwala (from UpToTen.com) made you sit in one place and listen to songs, it was Topsy and Tim who made you develop a fondness for being read to.
Another Phase was when you wanted to go for bus-train-taxi rides. Given that you’d wake up quite early (just after 6 am), we had plenty of time in the morning to do this. We would take a bus from Kemp’s Corner to Churchgate, then take a train to Grant Road station, and finally take a taxi to come home. This was on the days when you didn’t want to go on the swings in Tata Garden. This ended when your mom figured that all of this activity was quite draining for you as you went to school. I mean, kids barely can get their eyes open in the morning and there you were having done a full tour of South Mumbai in three different transportation vehicles! Of course, we still do this every once in a while but only on holidays now. And when we go the suburbs, you want the auto rides. It’s fun because I guess you get to see a lot more of the world and its people than sitting in a car!
On school days, you wake up sometime between 6:30 and 7 am now. On most days, I give you a bath. Every second day, we have to create a new game to convince you to get into the bath! And then, you growl as the soap comes on to your face. But I am now sensing that this is yet another fun activity that you’ve created. After the bath, you have the standard discussion with your mom on what clothes to wear to school. Given that she’s made decisions even for me most of the time we’ve been together, it is quite something for her to find you refusing to wear the clothes she’s picked for you! Anyways, that’s for you and her to sort out.
You come back from school around noon, and are hungry for your lunch. On most days, you will sleep for a couple hours. Unless you decide to play through the afternoon. In the evening, your Mummy will take you down to the building compound where you play some more. I come home around 7:15 pm on most days – and it is such a joy to see your happy, welcoming face. You almost sense that I’ll be coming around that time of the evening. On the days you haven’t slept in the afternoon, you’ll end up going to bed before 8. Else, we then end up chatting and playing till you sleep around 9:30 pm.
Sleeping remains a big challenge for you. You need your three blankets (“biyas” as you call them), and the ‘toy of the day.’ You also need your mummy to keep patting you till you fall asleep. Anything more than fifteen minutes, and she loses patience! I think you better start learning how to sleep on your own. And while we are on that, please start drinking milk on your own also – it is a strange sight to see you now being fed milk through a straw from your cup everyday. You are a Big Boy!
Last June and early July was a difficult period for both of us. I fell sick for about two weeks (influenza) and so did you. You almost completely stopped eating and drinking milk. You lost a lot of weight. Your mummy was extremely worried. And then, as suddenly as you had fallen sick, you recovered. But those were two difficult weeks for her. In fact, I can make out how well you are by just looking at her.
Your Mom and you are quite a sensation together. The way you open up to her is amazing. I do feel a little envious seeing the relationship between the two of you. For you, she is everything – perhaps, a bit too much. She gets really irritated when you tag along pulling her dress when you are outside! But for these small quirks, the deep love and interplay between the two of you is something which words cannot describe. You seem to have also made her a decade younger! She’s always there for you, and yet gives you the space that you need. She blends the right amount of love and discipline. (You already have figured out that I am the softie.) I know I’ll probably say something which is true for every mother-child relationship, but let me say it anyway. You have the world’s best mother, and she has the world’s best child.
When it comes to talking, you have adopted English as your first language, even though you are quite comfortable conversing in Hindi also. Your English is quite good, and you do pick up the nuances of the language quite quickly. Still, it is fun to see you make these little mistakes here and there which make for fun conversations with others!
The past couple months has seen me away for more than a third of the time — travelling to Barcelona, and within India. Whenever I travel abroad, I try and see what toys I can get for you. You still remember the vehicles I got for you from Vienna and the blocks from Barcelona. You also want sweets whenever I travel within India. Being away from you is not easy – I have become so used to the morning and evening time we spend together. But now work will require me to travel more. For the first three years of your life, I had curtailed my travel drastically. Now as you grow up, I’ll be free to be away a little bit more.
There’s lots of family in your life. We stay with my parents and every so often we go to Santa Cruz to meet your mummy’s parents. You are especially close to both your grandmoms. Then, there are the siblings in your life. Siddharth and Maya, my sister’s kids (who are 3 and 1 year older to you, respectively), live next door and you get to spend lots of time with them. It is good that you have now outgrown that phase when you wanted to get after Maya for every small thing! In Santa Cruz, there is Hriday who is a few months younger to you. You and he have a gala time every time the two of you meet. In Surat, you have Niyati, who is a year older to you. This December, you spent a week with her – and even saw two movies (Welcome and Taare Zameen Par) there which you sat through! In TZP, you were all over the theatre, but then what else could one expect!
One big worry your Mom has always had is about your eating habits. Her nightmare scenario is that you’ll end up like me – saying No to almost everything. It hasn’t been that bad – yet. As long as you get your dal roti, you are quite happy. That you managed quite well in the US was a big thing. You still don’t eat everything, but I think you now can eat more things than I do! We take you out at least once a week. Your favourite restaurants are Soam and Little Italy. In Soam, you like the space that’s there to move around. You eat the pani puri and dosa. In Little Italy, to which we go less often, you love the nachos and pizza. You are starting to develop a fondness for chocolates and ice cream – I will let your Mom deal with that developing situation.
When I got the iPhone from the US, it quickly became your toy also. The ease with which you use it (especially flicking through the photos) is a delight to watch. You’ve also now started scribbling, painting and drawing – so that’s a good sign. You do have a ear for music – definitely not from my side of the family! On the TV front, you do match some programmes – at one time, you liked Cbeebies, the BBC Children’s channel. But it is quite hard to get you to sit still in one place.
So, plenty of memories of a year gone by. You are growing up fast, absorbing the world around, and also giving back in your own small way. Your smile and laughter is a joy to behold, and I hope that always stays with you – irrespective of downs that come your way. As parents, your Mom and I are quite happy to see you grow the way you want – instilling in you a good understanding of what’s right and wrong, and setting the boundaries. Life is full of choices, and you’ve already started making yours. I love the way you look at life – living for the moment, with everything that’s past being “yesterday” and everything in the future being “tomorrow.”Happy Birthday, Abhi. Welcome Year Four of your life.