The Curious Case of Miss Matilda Missing

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When Rumi was born and I was still dealing with some of my post-natal depression, I really worried about doing anything that would become a bad habit and cause us too much trouble later. So I tried hard to not let the milk bottle become a “habit”, not let her cradle become a “habit”, not let being picked up too much and held become a “habit” etc. etc. (I can only laugh at my paranoia now and I feel sure that if there ever is baby number two, I’ll be super relaxed with all of this. Bottle, cradle, it really matters not). And while I was too busy watching these habits ever so carefully, my baby got into the habit of sleeping with her thumb in her mouth and her comfort blanket in her hand.

The thumb-sucking had been seen in ultrasounds while she was still in my womb and the comfort blanket that came all the way from the UK as a present from my darling Shwe, became a soft and wonderful accompaniment to the thumb that she could rub her nose and cheeks on, while she was blissfully sucking away. I even put it on my list of great buys for babies that made our life with Rumi so much easier. As she grew, Rumi grew more and more attached to it as an object that would soothe her and comfort her in times of distress and discomfort. We named her Matilda and it became a kind of code word that was known to everyone in the family. “Matilda? Have you got Matilda? Please take Matilda along. Where’s Matilda??!” After butchering the pretty Roald Dahl name multiple times, mum and MIL settled for “Matti” (like “mud or soil” in Telugu or our very Hyderabadi Hindi)

A few days ago, Matti was lost. We were spending the weekend with the family and Rumi went out with my brother and sister-in-law. They went up the Taljai hill and had a wonderful time (Rumi is at her happiest best with them). On the way back Rumi fell asleep. She came home in Sushant’s arms, he gently put her down on the bed for her afternoon nap. We first remembered Matilda when Rumi stirred in her sleep and I got up to look for her beloved sleep companion. “Where’s Matti?” Smita got up to look. She went to the car to check. None of us thought about loss right away; didn’t we always check and double-check for her? She was obviously around somewhere. Not found in the car. MIL went out and looked. Nothing. That’s when the thought first occurred to all of us: left behind somewhere, dropped on the streets?

I didn’t worry about it right away, my cousin had once sent me a picture of an identical comfort blanket and we had joked that we should buy it as a backup plan. I was pretty sure I could find somebody in the States or the UK to ship it to us. While I checked my contact list and pinged everyone I could think of, Sushant and Smita rushed  back to the spot they had been to earlier and my MIL combed the house. After several hours, our optimism had dwindled considerably. Matilda had not been found. We felt sure that one of the many other kids playing on the hill that afternoon had picked her up. And I had not found anything that could be purchased in India or from India right away (never, ever have I cursed Amazon.in so much).

That particular comfort blanket had come from Primark (no online stores dammit!) but I found a used one on Ebay. A few frantic, pleading messages (the kind that don’t make you feel good later on, but this was not about me, it was about my baby!) and ordered it to a cousin whose mum was visiting and could bring it on the first. Minor problem averted, we had an identical comfort object. Major problem; bedtime was nearing, Rumi would need it and the first of September was 15 days away.

My MIL tried her hand at making something makeshift. Four things stood in the way: she did not have the required material, no fabric in the required colour, not much experience in tailoring and only a vague recollection of how Matilda exactly looked. Problem much? Not for Aai who is the most undeterred, unfazed person I know and deals with problems like a solid boulder despite her meek and gentle demeanor. Out came a red, sari-blouse looking fabric and sewing needles. Half an hour later, the finished product looked like this:

I felt like I wanted to cry a little but also laugh some because I was so moved and touched by the gesture but a voice in my mind was constantly saying “there’s no way she’s going to fall for that”. Three hours of burying my nose in my phone with keyword “comfort blanket” had left me with a headache and I was dreading  the night. My husband and I went upstairs to discuss what to tell Rumi. How do you tell a child that something beloved is lost? We luckily had something identical on the way so we just had to get through a few days. “She’s at the laundry coz she needed to be washed” was the best we could come up with. Rumi didn’t cry right away. But as her lids grew heavy, she started begging me for Matti. We tried stroking her, cuddling her, telling her stories. The poor girl could not even take her thumb in her mouth without her beloved Matilda in her hands. She started crying. We gave her another soft blanket. Kicking and a temper tantrum. “I want Matilda!”

It was really one of the worst nights we had ever experienced with Rumi. No injection, no colic had ever brought on such heart-wrenching cries and sobs. She would get exhausted and fall asleep only to wake up and beg me for Matilda again. She was so incoherent and disturbed that it was impossible to reason with her. I went into the bathroom and cried my eyes out because I could not bear to see her like that anymore.

I tried to reason with myself that she would forget about it soon. Probably her thumb-sucking would come to an end too, which was a good thing. Also, losing an object was just the beginning of so many losses, little and big which she would have to face in her life. I would just have to learn to see my child through all her pains and hurts and heartbreaks without breaking down myself. Nobody slept that night. My MIL came up to our bedroom when Rumi’s cries became shrill and insistent. My brother and sister-in-law were awake and standing at the door of the bedroom in concern.

Everybody woke up unhappy and crestfallen. My sister-in-law who loves Rumi very very dearly actually teared up when she heard how bad the night had been. Rumi was the only one who was cheerful and upbeat; bedtime was behind her and Matilda forgotten, until the next nap. I marveled at her resilience and happy nature but decided then and there that we could not go on like this for two weeks. I decided to ask for help on Facebook and all the other groups and forums I knew. How powerful social media really is! I have never really marveled at the power of the World Wide Web so much until now. Everything is literally a click away. So many kind people responded and a dear, old friend helped us find something that she could send in four days with her mother. It wasn’t Matilda but a similar-looking lavender giraffe that we were sure would do till Matti came back all clean from the laundry. But even this giraffe was four whole days and five whole nights away. Unable to do nothing till then, we decided to head for the mall. Surely we would find something in Mothercare or Hamleys. Or we could request them to order for us.

We set out with heavy heads but determined hearts. Halfway there, Abhi’s phone rang and it was my sister-in-law. We were at the petrol pump and cut the call but then she called mine. Then his. Then mine again until we answered and she said “We’ve found Matilda!” I could not believe it. “Where was she?” And the surprising answer. Matilda showed up on an empty grassy plot next to our bungalow. My brother-in-law stepped out and there she was. Perched on a grassy, hilly patch in an empty plot, with that smile on her face, as if she had decided to take a walk in the sun and then sit in the grass to rest her weary fit and sun herself. As if she was saying “I was right next door, why are you flipping out?”

What a miracle! I slumped on the seat in relief and my husband and I could not stop laughing all the way home. We found explanations for it; Matilda slipped out of Rumi’s hand when they got out of the car, the dogs found it, played with it and left it in the plot. But to me, it was as big a miracle and an answer to my prayers as I could hope for in my life: that she was completely unscathed and had no teeth marks, rips anywhere, that she ended up in a plot next to our house, that Sushant spotted her in all that grass and shrubbery.

For the rest of my life I will get goosebumps when I think of this “miracle” that happened to us. And I learned some important things about myself: I will stop at nothing when it comes to my children; I was literally poised to swap my credit card and fly to London for a blankie and that I must contain my emotions better and not breakdown, as there are many twists and turns that are waiting for us round the corner and I need to be calm and grounded if I want my baby to emulate me and learn to deal with whatever comes her way.

Meanwhile, bedtimes have gone back to being happy and cuddly, the thumb is back in the mouth and I refuse to worry about that habit anymore.

To buy or not to buy, that is the question!

OMG, the market for little kids these days!! Gone are the days when children would dutifully hold their mom’s hand and follow her into a large everything-under-one-roof -store and stand quietly while she haggled with the salesmen and held up frock after frock till she (and not the child!) found the perfect birthday outfit. I remember getting bored whenever Mummy used to drag me along to Laxmi road; I would hate being jostled and pushed about for hours only to buy something that I didn’t really have a say in. Sonali and Strawberry were the coolest brands? / shops then, though we would occasionally foray into Pin-a-kin or Sadhana or Garima. Style for kids essentially meant matching from top-to-toe, which means that a yellow birthday frock would come with a yellow hair band, yellow clips, yellow bracelets, yellow socks and (oh no!) yellow shoes. The frillier the frocks, the higher up you were in the league of well-dressed girls. Although there were girls in my class at school who wore smart denims, dungarees and skirts from Weekender Kids, they were far and few in number and most of us today wince when we look at our childhood photographs, at the silly puff-sleeved clothes and the occasional lipstick and rouge (I solemnly swear never to subject my girl to makeup like that!). As for other products like baby carriers, rockers, car seats, or even those pretty wooden cribs and bassinets, they were non-existent in the average middle class Indian family. Our parents carried us on their hips, we sat on their laps in the car, slept in their beds (that too right in the middle!) and played bhatukali using peanuts and jaggery.

But toddlers and even babies now are just so uber-cool! They wear corduroy dresses and plaid skirts from Baby Zara. The grapeseed oil from Mothercare is used for massages (if at all), instead of Dabur Lal Tail. They are pushed about in comfortable Graco or Mclaren strollers with a sun and rain-cover, sturdy wheels, brakes and even a compartment for your coffee and cell phone. Shopping is no more a foray into the heart of the city in the scorching heat, it is a weekend spent in an air-conditioned mall complete with food courts offering global cuisine and entertainment packages for the little ones. And I am an unabashed mall rat. I get super excited about driving to Phoenix market city (it does feel like a long drive from our house in Kothrud) and I love everything once I’m there, from the shawarma at Maroosh to the little kiddies’ train.

My husband Abhi considers it a great stroke of luck that I was bedridden in the last few months of my pregnancy and thus could not be “set loose” in the baby shops then. As a result, he did all the “necessary” baby shopping, staying very true to the word and to his gender by only buying things like diapers, nappy pads and washcloths. Let’s just say I more than made up for my absence during that time by going absolutely berserk when we finally went out shopping for the baby, and came home with a truckload of beautiful things (which somehow looked less charming in our bedroom, than they had done in those bright store lights). And here I am, four months later, with a roomful of baby stuff, some of it (OK, a lot of it!) unused, waiting for another baby in the family or baby number two (I casually said to Abhi that we need to have another baby just so that all these things get used, and he gave me a look that was somehow disgusted and shocked at the same time!).

So, a post of my top buys for all the shopaholic, i-want-everything-in-the-store-right-now Mommies like me, coz be warned, this desperate urge to shop only increases manifold when it is for your baby instead of you!

Some products I recommend that will make life with the baby easier: (and none of these brands are paying me for this!)

1. The Baba sling

Yes, this is not what Mummy or my MIL call it, but the patented name of this awesome pouch sling. It is of Australian make and can be found at Shoppers Stop (in the Mothercare products section, although it is not an in-house Mothercare brand). What I loved about it was that I could use it immediately from the time of Rumi’s birth and even breastfeed her in it (no more balancing her on pillows, finding support etc.). The shoulder strap is extremely comfortable and does not eat into your skin or pinch (like the rings from ring slings can sometimes do). It is possible to use the sling in “many different positions” as they claim on the website. I myself have used four (feeding or hammock style, front-facing, hugging or me-facing and sideways with the baby on my hip) and all of them work well. The sling is size adjustable so both me and Abhi can use it and it has a safety strap / buckle. The fabric is cotton and quite thick, so with the weather here, we hardly need to wrap Rumi in something warm before we put her in it. Perfect for long evening walks or grocery shopping coz this sling truly renders us a 100% hands free.

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Check it out on www.thebabasling.com

2. Shelly, our turtle night lamp

Ever since I saw my niece’s night lamp that played soothing music and projected stars on to the walls, I knew that I wanted something like that for Rums. Since my cousin had got the lamp from the Netherlands, I was left rummaging the stores here, hunting in vain till I searched online and found the Twilight Turtle. The Twilight Turtle is a cuddly soft turtle night lamp that projects constellations on to the ceiling. I went a step further and chose the “Tranquil Turtle Aqua” model, which plays a soothing oceanic sea sound while projecting sea waves on to the surrounding walls and ceilings. Imagine how lovely it is to be surrounded by glowing ocean waves while drifting off to sleep. Shelly has really made our bedtime ritual easier and more pleasurable. The website offers bears and ladybugs apart from turtles, and also a variant with wireless Bluetooth technology where you can add tunes from your personal library.

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Check it out on www.cloudb.com

3. Matilda, our comfort blanket

Although I did read up on all things baby during pregnancy, I was quite ignorant of the comfort blanket concept till my darling friend Shwe got one for Rums from the UK. And I thought it to be a splendid innovation! A soft toy head and a blanket body, fulfilling the need for both a toy to have and name and a soft blanket to cuddle and chew the ends of. Our pretty, happy, orange and yellow and blue and green giraffe-headed blanket has been christened Matilda in honour of dear Roald Dahl and she has made sleep time so much happier and easier! Now all we need to do is put Rumi in her crib and put Matti in her hand. After that, it is all blissful cuddling and nibbling and drifting off to sleep (ON HER OWN!). I’m not sure where you can buy one in Pune coz the only comfort blanket I found here was an insipid, ill-looking white rabbit in Mothercare, so you would do well to order online or ask someone to bring you one from the States or the like. But make sure you get two, so that they can be washed regulary – we have to wait for Rumi to doze off and then sneakily pull it out of her hands, wash it and just pray it dries before her next nap!

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4. Fabric books

One thing that both my husband and I want desperately to pass on to Rumi is our love of books. Even before her birth, Abhi made a list of fantastic childrens’ books to order, hand-painted, beautifully illustrated, magical tales that had us drooling over them and just waiting for Rums to start reading. But a dear friend Gayatri introduced me to some books she had that did not need any waiting for Rumball to lose herself in the magic of words. These fabric – or rag – books are made of cloth(!) and thus washable, chewable, crumple-able and wonderfully non-tearable! They come in bright colors, introduce the baby to a variety of textures and make joyful crinkly, crackly sounds that make your baby laugh and gurgle like nothing else does. Amazon.in offers a wide choice but I would absolutely recommend the “Priddy” touch and feel books that come in titles like “Fuzzy bee and friends”, “Squishy Turtle and friends” and so on. Rumi has “Fluffy chick and friends” and it is delightful with soft textures and amazing rhymes. The book eliminates the need for us to carry any other toy when we go out. Another book I love is “Baby’s Day” by Karen Katz which has an actual cloth baby that can be moved into a high chair, swing, bath tub and so on till it is finally tucked into bed for the night (impossibly cute!)

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5. Onesie value packs

Onesies or rompers or bodysuits (I still don’t know whether there’s any difference) are to a baby’s wardrobe what an LBD is to us women (or a crisp white shirt or well-fitted blue jeans or whatever other ‘must-haves’ celebrities cite in the Sunday Times). They look super adorable and are sooo versatile. You can use them at the doctors (since babies need their thighs free for vaccines) or at home. In fact they make for the perfect night wear as they are elastic free (elastic on the waist may cause gassiness) and button up at the crotch, leaving the back smooth as babies mostly sleep on their backs (imagine the irritating sensation of crumpled up cloth on your back as you sleep!) Extremely comfy and easy to put on, they are a must have, especially in the first few months of the baby’s life where all they do is lie down, rendering any fashionable clothing useless in photos. Rumi has white ones for the night and amazing colors and prints for day wear.

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6. A car seat cum rocker

Do we really need a car seat? And what about a carry cot for restaurants and stuff? Should it serve as a chair or rock her to sleep? Abhi and I went back and forth for a long time trying to get the best value for money, since none of these things come cheap. I knew I desperately wanted a car seat coz the drives with me sitting in front with Rumi kicking and scratching and thrashing about were really becoming an ordeal. But then babies grow so fast! An infant car seat just for a few trips? The Evenflo model was a godsend! It serves as a rear-facing car seat for infants but it can be attached with or without the base. What this means is that you can initially use it in the sleeping, fetal position when the baby is too tiny to sit up and later attach it in the sitting, upright position. Even indoors, it can be rocked or adjusted into a sitting, non-mobile position. The husband usually prefers to buy one item for one functionality, claiming that multipurpose items never get used for all purposes and are jack-of-all-trades, but in this case our car seat has been well exploited and used in every way possible! Long car trips are fun coz Rumi just drifts off to sleep in it and if we are out late or do not come home for the night, she can be put to bed in it. We got ours from Mom and Me and it beat all the other models hands down. The only drawback is the partial hood cover which barely protects Rumi from the afternoon sun; I would have liked a larger hood or complete cover.

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7. Rubber sheets with Velcro

You cannot have enough of rubber sheets if you have a baby at home and care even a little about your bed linen and sofas. Even here, I stumbled upon a great buy which is ingenious in its simplicity – a plastic sheet with Velcro edges so that you can keep changing the soft fabric sheet on top and don’t need to put the whole thing for a wash. This is more hygienic than quick dry sheets which absorb all the moisture but start stinking immediately and makes more sense than the cloth sheets with rubber on one side which need to be put for a wash in their entirety rendering you rubber sheet-less. I bought mine from an acquaintance that makes them but it’s a great idea for enthusiastic and inspired DIY moms: just get a large plastic sheet and ask your tailor to stitch the piping on the sides with Velcro. Get some colorful, pretty cotton sheets of the same size and voila: you can keep using the same rubber sheet over and over again, all you need to change is the cloth on top!

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8. Eco-friendly and skin-friendly cloth diapers

There are two schools of moms I know – one that uses disposable diapers 24/7 without any rash or other problems, and the other that chooses to go with cloth langots. Our pediatrician always speaks against diapers and we’ve chosen to put our faith in the guy right from the beginning. Even then, it did not work for us to keep Rumi entirely diaper-free as she is already an extremely light sleeper and would wake up immediately because of the wetness. Plus, I noticed her inner thighs darkening and that had me worried. There are several cloth diaper brands such as Alva Baby and Charlie Banana but I found a great pal in Bumchums, cloth diapers that come with inserts and are super soft , absorbent and easy on the skin.

Check it out on www.bumchumdiapers.com

And last, but definitely not the least,

9. The Philips Avent manual breast pump

I chose to be a complete stay-at-home mom and thought there was no need to express milk since I was going to be around full time. Plus, the Medela electric pump they usually provide at hospitals costs 18k (whaaatttt?). But investing in a manual pump makes sense, if only to give you that occasional break and sleep when someone else can feed the baby. Also, it is impossible to be away from the baby for more than three hours without having painful, lumpy and occasionally leaky breasts, which is what makes the Avent pump an excellent buy, coz it is super light and portable, which means, you can carry it in your handbag and express in mall restrooms for instance. Using a pump is an excellent way of increasing breast milk supply and makes it easier to start the baby on solids as you can express and mix the milk in the rice cereal, fruit puree etc. The Philips pump is very effective and easy on the pocket at two and a half grand.

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