Monday, August 04, 2014

Travelling alone with kids (2014)

Every two years, we take a trip to India to help our kids renew their bonds with grandparents and relatives. It's a time of rest and recreation. Pratibha goes ahead of me. After a period of quiet relaxation at home, I catch a peaceful and uneventful flight to India where well adjusted kids greet me at the airport. A few weeks of relentless eating later, a heavier and reluctant me would head back to San Diego with Pratibha and the kids in tow looking forward to the next trip to India. I never understood why Pratibha palpitates so much when it's time to travel. I chalked it down to inexperience and the lack of the calm collected presence of mind that I am known to possess.

Recently Pratibha was offered a job in a company very close to our house. It'd been 5 years since she worked and it was a great opportunity to jump back into the workplace. We took it. The only downside was that she couldn't take vacation this year. We talked about what to do about our India trip.

Sonu: "Nikku, you think we should cancel the trip?"
Me (Thinking of all the good food back home) : "Cancel .. no way, I can handle traveling with kids"
Sonu (With a look of surprise) : "You can?"
Me : "Of course .. I've handled them for so many years!"
Sonu (even more surprised) " You did?"
Memory is a cruel trickster. When I needed it most, it mercilessly let me down and I forgot all the times I had panicked and gone running to Pratibha during our numerous road trips.
Me (supremely confident) : " You know what, I'm taking the kids, and I'll take my niece along with me for good measure.

So it was arranged. I'll take the kids .. and my 14 year old niece .. to India for a month while Pratibha settles into her workplace. Word spread like fire. Folks from all over southern California came to see me and wish me luck. I enjoyed the attention thickly refusing to wonder why they looked so sympathetic.

The big day arrived. Pratibha had a happy grin pasted on her face that I couldn't, for the life of me, wipe off. The only time it faded slightly was to put on a face of sarcastic incredulity when I packed Megha's change of clothes. "Only 3?" she asked. I ignored her. One for Singapore, and 2 for emergencies .. I'm a pro ..  I travel light. My usually happy and cheerful kids, who always prefer hanging out with me as opposed to their mom, suddenly abandoned my charming company and clung to their mom like leeches. Ignoring that last minute warning,  I headed out into the wide world with a 4 year old, an 8 year old and a 14 year old for a 42 hr trip, halfway around the globe, to India.

The first flight was to Japan. "The joys of traveling with kids" I thought to myself as my kids and I were led into the airplane ahead of everyone else.
In the past I had looked on with envy as folks in the bassinet row stretched out their legs while I sat cramped several rows behind them. "The joys of traveling with kids" I thought to myself and I stretched myself out to avail of the extra legroom in the bassinet seats I had carefully requested ahead of the flight.

Fiddling with Megha's remote and asking the air hostess for candies to deal with ear aches during takeoffs were minor details. I knew we were going to have a blast. " these moms ... they make mountains out of molehills ... all it takes is an even temperament and some planning" I thought to myself as I dozed off.

Midway through the flight the air hostess woke me up for food. Sona, being vegetarian, got her food ahead of Megha. A fight erupted right away. Sona smacked Megha's hand as she reached for Sona's dessert. Megha pushed Sona's tray with all her might. CRASH .... I now knew why Pratibha never requests bassinet seats. Regular seats have a seat in front of the tray table for support and it's pretty hard for a child to push the tray off it when the mom's got the aisle seat. These ones, require a fair bit of finesse to keep balanced on that miserable excuse of a saucer they call the tray table. I apologized profusely to the horrified air hostess who came running with napkins and set about cleaning Megha's clothes. The first 'emergency' change of clothes was done in the first couple of hours. I started to get a little worried but I didn't show it. After a terrible 45 mins scolding and cajoling, the kids settled down again. I was tired, I'd lost my appetite. I decided to skip the meal and go back to sleep.

I was woken up by an incessant crying. Megha had a tummy ache. I asked her if she needed to use the restroom. She declined. Being the loving and considerate father, I unbuckled her seatbelt and picked her up. She nestled against my chest and settled down. I looked around at the other moms in triumph .. that's when she threw up all over me. The moms looked at me with pity. The poor air hostess came running with more napkins. The second change of clothes were done with. I wanted to cry. I had never missed Pratibha more in my entire life.

Since I had soiled clothes with me in my backpack, I took the remaining changes of clothes and distributed them between Sona and Megha's  backpacks. I then showed Megha the paper bag provided in airplanes to throw up in. " Megha .. if you have this kind of tummy ache again .. please throw up in the bag .. ok?" she nodded to acknowledge she understood. We settled down again. I dared not sleep. A gazillion years later, we landed in Tokyo. We were 10 hours into a 42 hour trip. I asked my niece to keep an eye on the kids as I went to get a bottle of water and a tablet for Megha's motion sickness. When I came back, Megha was throwing up into her backpack. " What are you doing?" I yelled in panic. " Throwing up into the bag .. dint you ask me to do that?" She replied.

The less said about the rest of the trip, the better. Suffice to say, I lost a significant sum in Singapore getting our clothes washed and dried, and I gained a healthy respect for women who travel alone with kids.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Megha's Desk

Sunday is my favorite day of the week. It's badminton day. Every Sunday morning at 8:30, Sona and I head out to her 3 hour badminton camp. Sona gets a workout. And I get an audience that is forced to relive, in painful detail, my glorious badminton days, as I persistently, and unsolicitedly, remind them how insignificant their effort is compared to what I had to do when I was a kid. But destiny played a cruel trick on me last Sunday. I overslept. Sona woke up at 6 .. and let me sleep. Megha woke up at 7 .. and let me sleep. And the unkindest cut of all .. Sonu woke up at 7:30 .. and let me sleep. Just to save a few kids she doesn't even know very well .. in a badminton camp far far away. I woke up at 9 .. sprang out of bed with all the enthusiasm of a voluntary coach .. saw the time .. and and gave out a yell of shock and sorrow.

Sona and Megha blew into the room. "Get ready Papa, we're cleaning the house today". Double blow to the solar plexus. I looked around groggily. To my untrained eye, the house looked pretty clean. In my early years of marriage I might even have mentioned that. But I'm a fast learner. I dint have it in me. "Down in a min, I yelled while sprinting down the stairs to gain more brownie points".

Cleanup at home is fairly simple. Sona and Megha go first picking up the small stuff and Sonu follows with the vacuum. I add the muscle .. to move the big stuff that Sona and Megha cannot handle. Usually I manage to talk Pratibha out of moving the big stuff so I do .. umm .. nothing. But I am a good motivational speaker while they work. Once Vacuuming is done Sonu goes around rearranging every item in the house. If left to ourselves, Sona, Megha and I would utilize this time to pick up all the small stuff and bring them back out. Unfortunately, Sonu is enlightened. So she usually sends us out on trivial pursuits like getting groceries, or washing the car. By the time we come back inside, the house is spotless and glistening. All in all, except for the fact that I'll have to massage Sonu's back at the end of the day, Clean up isn't really that much of a big deal. Honestly, I don't understand why Sonu finds it so difficult. I could do this everyday.

Sona Megha and I spent a happy morning idling around the master bedroom. Just as cleanup was done, I heard 'that' tone outside our bedroom door.

Sonu "Are you going to do something about that desk?"
Me   "What desk?"
Sonu "The desk you bought for Megha last November?"
Me  "What about the desk?"
Sonu "It's sitting in the garage .. it needs to be assembled"

There's a reason that desk was still in the garage. The instruction manual for assembly was bigger than some of my engineering textbooks. Moreover, if memory served me right, it had taken all my physical strength to slide that box off my car to the garage wall. How in the world was I going to get it upstairs and into Megha's room, not to mention assemble it. I looked at Pratibha. Behind every successful man is an angry woman. One look at her face and I knew I was capable of doing it. I broke open the box and moved the pieces upstairs in batches. Then I opened the instruction manual and started weeping. 50 pages of instructions. Each one more complicated than the other. Sonu, bless her, is a much kinder soul than I am. She offered to help. Two hours later, I was done. Four hours later the desk was done. I did do some of the heavy lifting and putting things it place OK. It wasn't all her. Anyway .. I think I owe her a dinner. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Yellowstone Road Trip(Summer 2013)

Last summer I broached the topic of a true road trip to Pratibha. Predictably, she turned me down. So I tried again, and again. I knew I would win, I was an experienced hand. That's how I won her hand a long time ago. Moreover, I had two 'puny poppinjays' for backup. Finally, after an entire summer of cajoling, she relented. Of course, after that, I let her take care of the rest of the details. I mean that's why she's reluctant right!

I took a week off from work. Our final destination was Yellowstone National Park. But we planned to stop at different places on the way so that we never drive more than 5-6 hours at one go. That meant a lot of stops, but I dint have a choice. When Sona and Megha sit in a car, the first 4 hours are all about games and jokes, and fun. Every minute after that is a dental extraction. First they turn on each other which I don't mind so much (though it drives Pratibha crazy). After that, they unite and turn on me.

Megha: "Are we there yet."
Sona: "When do we stop."
Megha: " Can I use the restroom."
Sona: "I'm hungry."
Megha: "I think we're out of gas."
Sona: "Did you know the risk of diabetes increases 25% if you sit for too long?"
Megha: "We're going the wrong way."
Sona: "Did you know that enzymes that breakdown fat drop by 90% when you sit for too long?"
Megha : "We have a flat tyre"
Sona: "Did you know HDL cholesterol levels drop if you sit for too long?"
Megha: "How much longer papa"
Sona: " Do you know electrical activity in the legs shut down if you sit for too long.
Megha: "The sun is on my face"
Sona: "Do you know we can get deep vein thrombosis if we sit for too long?"
Megha: "can we have curd-rice now"

I try not to get to this point, and that's why I cap my drives at 5 hours.

The trip was fantastic. The kid were great. Sonu planned every detail. And I faked knowing every detail so well, sometimes I believed it too. Now where are the car keys? A pearl of wisdom from an experienced hand .. there's no greater joy in life than knowing that you can get through an entire road trip without worrying about diapers.

Sona wrote about it to her grandparents and so I'm going to just paste her trip report here.

Dear Achachan and Ammamma,
                        How are you? I hope ammamma has some more yummy treats plus ice cream with her. I wrote about our trip to Yellowstone and I'm having papa mail it out to you.

   A few days back we came home from an awesome road trip! Let me tell you a little bit about it. We rented a big red SUV. Ganesh uncle kept skittles and M&Ms in the SUV for megha and me. It was supposed to be a surprise but I already knew. When papa opened the car I was looking for anything special and I spotted them. Megha had the skittles and I had the M&Ms ..  yum.

First we went to Las Vegas. Las Vegas had outstanding lights. When we got to our hotel, 'Circus Circus', it was awesome! It had cozy bouncy beds and a great view. We ate dinner (puris), we took a bath, and we looked out the window and we went to sleep. We spent one night at circus circus.

  When I woke, papa was carrying me toward the car. I was tired, so I think I took a nap. We drove and drove toward Bryce canyon. I woke up close to sunrise. That was beautiful. The mountains were shining. Mama was taking picture after picture after picture. On the way to Bryce Canyon we drove through a canyon. I've never seen canyons like that before. There was canyon walls on all sides and a little tiny stream at the bottom. Little Megha was sad that the stream was on my side of the window and she couldn't see it.

   It was a really long drive. At the entrance to Bryce we saw a sign that said tunnels ahead and I was surprised. They turned out to be naturally made arches formed by water flowing through rocks. Bryce Canyon was worth it. You should have been there ... It was amazing! We went on a little hike called sunrise point hike. The hike was so 'natury'. I loved it. We got close to the walls of the cliffs. They were funny shapes and one was hollow. I thought of jumping into it but I did not because I was not close enough and there could be all sorts of bugs in there.  After the hike we drove to different viewing points. Little Megha slept off. My favourite viewpoint was the natural bridge. It looked a bit like the tunnels we drove under, except it had a big flat top that I thought was good for walking on, but I said no way.

  From Bryce we drove to an Indian restaurant in Salt Lake City. I ate chocolate dosa .. yummy. Little Megha ate idly and she mixed ketchup in her chutney and ate that too .. ewwww.  Then we drove to a hotel in the same city. They had Wall-e on TV. I watched that and then I slept.

 The next morning, when I woke up, we were already in the car. We were driving towards Grand Teton National park. we ate breakfast at a place with a beautiful view. It was a turnout beside the road and it had three rocks. Two were big and one was small and I think papa and I sat on the big ones and Megha sat on the small one. First we brushed our teeth and then we ate idli. After that we kept driving and Snake River came into view. Snake river was really pretty. Trees were on the side and there were beaver dams here and there. We stopped and there was a little isthmus that we walked towards. To cross over , mama and I tried to balance on rocks but we couldn't and we wet our feet. We skipped some stones on the water but mama could not. Papa was the best. The restroom there was primitive (Stinky with no running water). After that we continued to Grand Teton. Before Grand Teton we passed though the city of Jackson. The area around Jackson is called Jackson Hole. Jackson Hole had just grass and there were mountains far away. Mama and papa stopped to photograph some bisons. I took some pictures too.

Finally, after another long, long, but enjoyable, drive we reached Grand Teton National Park. When we reached Grand Teton we had fried rice for lunch. I didn't eat much because there were too many vegetables. After that we went on a ranger led hike. I was with the ranger most of the time. The ranger talked about Grand Teton and Swan Lake. He said that there are no sharp rocks allowed in the park where we were hiking (Actually he was kidding .. he meant that long long ago .. glaciers had rounded off all the rocks in that area and so you wont find any sharp rocks unless someone puts them there). He also said that Swan Lake is a crater lake and there were only three swans ( I only saw two). There were different types of pine trees that he talked about and beetles were destroying trees. He showed scratch marks where bears had scratched at the trees to get the rough stuff inside. He also showed us a beaver dam and chewed up trees from beaver activity. I liked the hike because he was funny and he would play nice songs on the radio and we guessed who the artist was. I didn't guess any because I didn't know any of them. After the hike we went to our tent cabin and Megha and I explored the woods next to it. We played cooking but we lost our ziplocs. Next time I am going to hold on to them even when I am asleep ... mmmm .. actually not. But I'll be more careful. In the evening we ate some mac and cheese. Then we made a campfire and toasted marshmallows. After that we went to Colter Bay amphitheater to watch meteors. I got to peek through a real powerful telescope and saw two big stars that were orbiting each other.

When I woke up the next day we were on our way to Yellowstone. We spent three days there. I woke up when we were near our first geyser. Almost all geysers had this stinky smell. It smelt like rotten eggs. It comes from hydrogen sulphide that geyers release. I dont like the smell. This geyser was shooting out bursts of hot water but they were pretty small. Like someone was switching a tap on and off. There was a lot of steam though. There was this boardwalk and we walked on it. We saw lots more geysers. Of those, only a few were erupting. We saw a funny sign. It was was talking about the danger of going of the boardwalk and possibly stepping on a geyser. It said 'You don't know. You might be stepping on a geyser even if you don't see one below your feet.' and had a funny picture to go with it. The picture was of a boy stepping on a geyser and his hat was flying off. The mom was holding her cheeks and pointing at him. One of the geysers was a little hole in the ground with a feather in it. Water was going in it and coming out. The feather was going in and out with the water. The ground looked like it was moving too. Bulging out when the water went in and going back in when the water came out. All the water from the geysers was emptying into a big lake with little islands in it. Some of them looked like volcanoes. But I would never touch them because those were really geysers. Yikes!

After this I went to the visitor center and picked up my worksheet to become a junior ranger at Yellowstone National Park. Then we drove to a place where we had breakfast. It was a beautiful lake with a stick in the middle. There were a hundred million ladybugs there. Megha was scared of them. I was scared of stepping on them. Luckily I didn't. Phew! After that drove to a little forest. Mama gave us a little tube and we played in the forest. Then we went and had lunch at a restaurant. After lunch we went for a scenic boat ride and it was really long. I wanted water. But then I got a stamp on my ranger workbook since it was a ranger led activity. After the boat ride we had yummy ice creams. I had an ice cream sandwich, Megha and papa had bars. Then we drove to Norris canyon where there were plenty of Bison. The Bisons were big and some had little tiny babies. Some were rolling on the sand. I took pictures again. A long time ago bison were almost extinct. Yellowstone protected the last herd of twenty five free roaming bison. The twenty five Bison had babies and they had more babies and now the herd is more than four thousand. We saw more wildlife than just Bison. We saw Pronghorns. They have white poopoops (bums). They are the fastest land animals in north america. A long time ago, they were hunted by cheetahs, but now cheetahs are extinct in north America and pronghorns rule. I also saw a coyote hunt and eat a hare. Papa called out coyote. I was like where's the coyote, and then I saw it. It was eating a hare.

That was our first day. From there, we went to the hotel. The hotel was cool. It had bouncy beds and it had a tv and we watched science movies. We ordered dinner from a Thai restaurant. when it came, I wanted to eat all my steamed rice noodles, but papa stopped me. It tasted exactly like rice and when I took my first bite I knew I would finish more than half. The next day we had breakfast at the hotel. I had a yummy bagel and a yummy muffin and some chocolate milk. Megha had the same thing, except without the chocolate milk and a different type of muffin.

We then went to see old faithful. But we went on a round-trip ranger led hike around geyser basin first. The ranger led hike showed us a lot of geysers. I had two favorites. One was Anemone geyser and the other was old faithful of course! You should have seen anemone geyser. At least the ending. That's when the geyser sucks up all the water. That was funny. We made our way back to old faithful at 11 O clock to see it erupt. But old faithful was late. I found a friend who was the same age as me. We played as we waited. I played with Megha's new friend too. We played being different things and we were geysers, caterpillars, butterflies, bunnies, froggies and lots of other stuff that I don't remember. Finally old faithful erupted and I took a lot of pictures. Papa liked my pictures. Megha took a picture too. After this we took lots of pictures in a shady spot. I dropped the camera .. at least it didn't break. But papa didn't let me hold the camera after that. He would only give it to me when I wanted to take a picture. I was sad. We went to another ranger led program. But it was not a hike or anything. The ranger explained how different animals move and let us move like they do.

From old faithful we went to the lower geyser basin. I took a few more pictures. We saw mudpots. They were like gooey geysers .. blackie black. Like the ones in dora the explorer, except they dont shoot out pink goo and they dont look like volcanoes. We only saw one in the upper geyser basin that shooting out. Lower geyser basin had some of the largest geyser pools I had ever seen. Water flowed out of them. One of these streams looked like it had potty on the outside. It was actually bacteria. Papa tells me that before this bacteria was discovered scientists did not believe that life could exist at these hot temperatures. From lower geyser basin we went to Norris Geyser but it started raining. We ran into a bookstore. Megha got a viewer and I got a new book .. ' who pooped in the park'. It tells about different kinds of poop and their significance. It also shows animal tracks. The rain turned into hail but we made a dash for the car. I picked up a hailstone and broke it open. There was just ice, ice and more ice.

We drove back to the hotel. That was one of the best times of the day. Papa took us to the hotel pool. I couldn't see underwater without my goggles. Mama got me my goggles. I refused to go on the water slide. Megha did too. We had pizza for dinner. I didn't like the vegetables, but papa made me eat them. The pizza tasted different with the vegetables. it was OK.

The next day I had the same things for breakfast and I completed my workbook. We went to mammoth hot springs. There were so many steps but I ran up them. Poor megha got tired and had to be carried by papa. we were playing train. Megha was the engine and I was the backup engine. So when so was carried by papa, I got to be the engine. Even Mammoth had bacteria in some of the springs. One such section was called artists palette. It was lovely. After mammoth we went to the visitor center. We had to get some kind of map and we also had to turn in my worksheet and get my Yellowstone Junior Ranger patch. The ranger made me promise that I would go to yellowstone again. He made me promise that I would tell everyone how important the earth is, how we can save it and why we should save it. I felt like he was on my side too because I want to save the earth. I said OK and got my patch.

After mammoth and lunch we went to see Norris Geyser and steamboat geyser. They were both cool. Norris geyser basin had a geyser with colorful steam and also a really colorful geyser. Steamboat geyser was really big and it looked dangerous. It is the tallest geyser in the world, three times as tall as old faithful. It erupts to roughly five hundred feet. But we dint get to see that. After steamboat we went on a hike. It ended in a waterfall with a rainbow at the bottom of it. It was pretty tiring but at the end it was worth it. From here we went to artists paintpots. I don't know why they call it that because it dint look anything like paintpots. Artists paintpots had lots of stairs too and we went up so we can see it better. I saw mudpots. After this we went back to the hotel and watched some TV.

The next day I had a whole bagel, a muffin (same kind but I took some blueberries for Megha) and milk and an apple. I couldn't finish it. We then drove to an airport to get our car checked. We thought it would need fixing but it didn't. Then we went to salt lake city again. En route we had lunch at a very nice place. I had mac and cheese .. again. It was not the usual but I still liked it. Megha too. The was a fire outside the restaurant. But it was not accidentally started. It was a decoration. There was water and sand .. so it was kind of like a beach. I couldn't finish the mac and cheese and so we boxed it and went on the salt lake city. We went to the same hotel again and we were on the second floor this time. When we got there we watched some more TV. After that I had the rest of my mac and cheese. I had a tummy ache and mama gave me medicine. I used the restroom and went to sleep. When I woke up I was feeling a lot better but I was hungry. So I had some yummy french toast at Burger King. I also had a mint. Papa got a magnet from Salt lake city to stick on the fridge. When we go to Zion it was so hot. Papa brought some smoothies and I couldn't finish mine. We took a shuttle to a river walk. When I got there I found a beautiful smooth rock. When we got to the water, papa made me stick my head into a waterfall. It was dark and slimy .. kind of .. and when I got out I played mud pies with my sister and I walked on my hands while kicking my feet. After we got off, we found a tree trunk, sat and had lunch. Then we climbed on the shuttle, got back to the car. We went to a hotel, took a bath, got right out and we went to see musical fountains at las vegas. Before the musical fountains, we went to a beautiful garden. When we got back out we took a picture with spongebob. The musical fountains to a long time to dance and it was really hot. But when they finally danced it was beautiful. My favourite part was when it shot up almost as high as the Eiffel tower. When it ended we went back to the garden where it was nice and cool. There were these blowers that blew hot air and made it nice and cool. We went to an Indian restaurant for dinner. I had cone dosa and papa had a big bowl of soup. We went back to the car and got out of there and came right back to our house.

The road trip was great! I've never seen geysers before. I played very well with little megha. I told her stories, we made silly jokes. I wish I could go to Yellowstone again and I wish you could be with me next time.

love you