Every summer we head up to the hills where we are blessed to have a home. Quite literally we are out on the first flight on the first day of summer holidays. Delhi is a sweltering 45deg + by the time we set off. There was a time when I’d stay on there till the last weekend before schools re-opened. Off late however, with Label Shabel taking off and business shaping up, for many reasons it now is the busiest time of the year for us. Which means no 2 month long breaks for me anymore!

That’s no reason for the kids to cut short their holidays. With both parents at their busiest time, its hardly a summer break for them to be back with us. So in a tradition like from many of our own childhoods, the boys stay on to spend the vacations with their grandparents in the hills. Which means at the end of the summer they must come back on their own.

The first time we decided to make them travel on their own, there was much excitement (on their part) and nervousness (on ours.) Were they old enough? How would they manage? What if something happened? And the more practical concerns…what if they started fighting amongst themselves on the way? What if they had to use the toilet just when boarding was being announced?(they do it every time with us) What if ….what if??

We quickly learnt that it couldn’t be simpler. The airlines handle it so efficiently that travelling back alone has now become an exciting part of the vacation for the boys.

The process is quite simple and all relevant information is easily available on the websites of all airlines. We usually travel via Indigo and are quite happy with their Unaccompanied Minor services. Kids under 5 need someone above 18 to be Booked with them. Between 6-12 years, they can be booked under Flying Solo. And much to the joy of my teenager, 13-18 years they can travel alone! ( or be booked under flying solo – whatever puts you at ease.)

You have to pay an extra charge of Rs 1500 one way.  The paperwork is quite simple – the form can be downloaded from their website and along with ID proofs in triplicate – of the kids, of the adult handing them over at the departure point and ID proof of the person who will receive them at the other end. That’s it. Right at the check-in point, the kids are assigned a person who stays with them till the time they board the aircraft. Paperwork is handed over to a concerned flight attendant who then checks on them multiple times during the flight.  At the destination, a ground staff member is usually waiting for them at the arrival, receives and escorts them right from the plane exit, through luggage retrieval and outside the airport where there is an adult waiting. You have to show the same ID submitted with the forms before they release them in your care.

With Indigo the flying solo programme includes a meal so you need not stress about food or money. Apart from that it’s important to make sure the kids have everything they will need on the flight with them in a backpack so they can carry it around easily and hands-free. No excess baggage stuffed into a stroller for them to lug around.  All they need in the bag is a book, a gadget  like a handheld game or an iPad with games if they are old enough, headphones and music since my boys love music, all fully charged. I always pack a light jacket or overshirt in case they get cold on the flight. My teenager is only enough for a phone but its a good idea to put down all important phone numbers in a small notepad just for good measure.  Of course, they are my kids so everything is well labelled with name labels and bag tags!! That’s it. Keep the bags light, send them off and know that they will be well looked after and will enjoy the experience.

(The information listed above is from personal experience and is not claimed to be airline regulations. Please confirm updated details on specific airline website for final information.)

There is nothing metaphorical about the title. It quite literally is what it says – pick up your socks! My house is littered with socks strewn about all over the place. Under the dining table, by the bedside, in various different pairs of shoes worn in one day – from uniform socks in school shoes, smelly football socks in a dirty pair of studs, in work shoes switched for walking shoes socks outside the shoe cupboard,  and the most frustrating of them all – BESIDE the laundry basket! No not inside because that would mean lifting the lid to put them in which would imply an effort to put them where they belong.

Ah Effort!!

Picking up after kids is what we mothers do. Naturally there is a time when they are very young and  it is absolutely essential. But very quickly there comes a time when it just becomes easier (faster, cleaner, more efficient) to do it yourself than keep chasing after them to do it. But is it really for the best?

What does my picking up their socks really tell my kids? When it is an occasional occurrence on exceptionally crazy rushed days it’s okay. It’s  maternal. It’s looking after!  But when it’s a daily occurrence even when they are grown enough to know what to do with dirty socks, picking up after them really has no rationale. And in doing so, I’m doing my kids a disservice. They find uniform laid out for school  and sports kits laid out for practice. Packing done for travels and unpacking on return.  It’s no wonder that they go from being kids cared for, to adults who don’t know how to care for themselves!

At 10 and 13, I don’t expect them to do their laundry. Soon, but not quite yet. But to expect that dirty socks will be inside the laundry basket is not at all a big ask. After all when you need a fresh pair, you know which drawer to open to find them. They are even labelled in my house with easy to use iron-on labels so that they are not mixed up between the 3 male members of my house

How they magically get in the drawer, neatly paired up tight little balls, (beautifully arranged colour wise if you have slight OCD like me) is in fact no magic at all. You remove them,  preferably in your own room, walk to the laundry basket, open the lid and toss them in!  That is it! Voila! they appear a day later washed and back in the drawer.

To find a clean pair every time you pull the drawer open is a lesson in expectation. If you expect a specific pair to be there for school or for football, or for a run or for those cool Vans, or for work – do your bit.

There’s a lesson there I want my boys to learn – To have someone dependable in your life, who looks out for you, who has your back every time, you need to be the same. You need to make the effort to be a person who gives as much as he receives. And starting with socks  is a good place to start. Literally today and metaphorically tomorrow. To expect  loving care you have to extend the same in kind everytime.

Never take for granted that love and caring will be unconditional for ever. It demands in return equal measure of effort, recognition and appreciation. When you achieve that balance of taking and giving, you will find it is boundless. When you strive to be the kind of person who is appreciative of all that is done for you, you will automatically find yourself doing small things that make loving you easy.

Simply put if you want clean socks, make sure you put your dirty ones in the laundry. It is really as simple as that. Else you better learn to do your own laundry very quickly!!

My little one is in a cranky mood these days. School has just re-started with the new year… the excitement of new class, new school bag, colourful new stationery, back to school name labels – all in his current favourite character Pokemon,  has quickly given way to despair when he returned the very first day extremely upset at the re-shuffling of his grade. His best friend is now in another section and he isn’t too thrilled about it. He has in fact been busy cooking up excuses daily to not go to school.

It’s normal practice for schools to re-shuffle sections every year. Every parent knows it. It’s healthier for the kids. They learn to step out of their comfort zones, forge new friendships, shed emotional dependencies and grow a little more.

At 9 or 10 years old, these are not concepts easily absorbed when one is busy having a fit and declaring the school to be a”waste of time”! Oh dear! Such a big declaration at so young an age!!

It’s not really something I had to deal with as a kid. I went to a boarding school and the numbers were far smaller and everyone knew each other fairly well. When you spend 9 months of the year living in the school, it’s inevitable that you are friends with the whole grade. If you weren’t best friends, you might be desk partners, or dormitory mates or in the same house or same sport. The whole set up had its merits. You developed various aspects of your own personality based on who you hung out with.

My best friend was a grade topper and in her company, I learnt to spend quality time studying and how to manage my time doing homework daily. My basketball teammates were a fun bunch who made even the 5:30 am wake-up call worth looking forward to. Nothing could ever make us miss practice except the rain. My dorm-mate in the last 2 years at school, was a shy introvert and apart from being classmates, I did not know much about her. But with our beds lined up next to each other, she was the last person I spoke to before falling asleep and the first person I saw every morning. We eventually grew to develop a fondness and friendship that has survived 22 years after school.

But the little one has his own learning to do. I’m not the kind of parent to meddle in friendships. The more friends children make, the happier they are. Every day seems to be getting a little easier, he is mingling better. He still sees his best friend outside of school as they travel the same bus route, but there is a change in him that only a parent can see –  less emotional dependency on one type of friend, finding his own voice when separated from an overly extrovert type and a little more selfless helping new kids in the grade settle in.

Today he came home narrating a tale of how a few kids admired his name sticker on his water bottle. Pokemon is the current favourite for his age group it seems. So now we are making a value pack of name labels each for his two new best friends and their favourite characters. He can’t wait to go to school tomorrow.

Sometimes a little help from the sidelines doesn’t hurt. 😉

It’s finally here- camp week at school. From the time the email announcing the venue and details arrived from school, there has been a non-stop volley of questions, instructions, lists and what not from my little one. We have prepared our camping name labels , neatly labelled every item from torch to toothpaste, used our Iron on labels on everything from socks to raincoat. From shoe labels to bag tags, we have seen through the entire value pack of labels such that even our pet dog’s collar has a slim label stuck on it!!! We have packed and unpacked and packed again numerous times, out of excitement. And then the panic messages from the moms on the grade WhatsApp group start!!

I get it. For many parents, sending kids away over night or for 3 nights is a big step. Most of the time the kids are giddy with excitement at the prospect but sometimes a parents anxiety passes easily to a child and makes them nervous being away. But after 7-8 years of sending both the boys away every year, here’s what I learnt.

1. The biggest take-away from going camping is the sense of independence the kids learn. No mommy or Didi to pick up dirty socks or fold away the night suit. They learn to do things for themselves and actually enjoy being able to do simple tasks.
2. They often get over their fear of the dark. First they have physically exhausting days that by the time they hit bed, they are asleep in minutes. And secondly the sleepover with friends is so exciting, everyone puts on a brave front for the other of not being afraid and eventually they come to realise there really is nothing to fear.
3. They learn the joys of train and bus travel. In the privileged and increasingly alienated urban lives we lead, the joys of night journey by train, antakshiri in the bus – left aisle vs right aisle, are simply not possible unless you are travelling in a group like for school camp.
4. Sibling affection becomes evident. While they fight non-stop when together, when they go away on camp in separate schedules, my one son can’t stop talking about the other. My older one will constantly wonder aloud what the younger one must be doing and will do something small like tidy his book shelf up or neatly arrange some scattered toys. The younger one will refuse to go for s special meal or movie with us that he doesn’t want the older one to miss out on. As a parent, I find that endearing and heartening and even if they don’t admit it, they miss each other tremendously.
5. It’s okay that they don’t bathe for 2-3 days. I’ve had the boys come home from various trips with nightsuits untouched- they slept in what they were wearing all day, changed without bathing, lived in one pair of track pants. Whatever the case maybe, they come back so full of stories, experiences and incidents that dirty knees and grubby faces are almost like battle scars to be proudly proclaimed.

Pack the kids off and take a breather. They will be fine. Enjoy the kids free time you have been gifted. Go on that dinner date with your spouse. Catch up on movies with girlfriends. Be ready to receive your kids in 2-3 days time looking a little scruffy and just a little bit older and maturer.

It’s that time of the year when you are not sure whether it’s your child who is preparing for exams or you are going through school again. All those nightmares you had as a child of sitting in the exam room and not remembering a thing have come back to haunt you again. What you learnt in school is definitely still there tucked away in some corner of your brain. It surfaces now and again….not to solve complicated algebra equations in a jiffy but rather in mundane daily chores like calculating where the sun will be the strongest in your balcony as you hang out the laundry (geography, geometry)! How much money to leave behind with the help for those multiple Amazon prime deliveries you ordered last night (mental math)….

But at exam time it is really all about calculating the square root of 35742, the difference between Subsistence farming and Intensive farming or what a Potometer is used for?

Helping your child prepare for exams is often a family exercise. You curtail your outings to be around for the child – morally and literally. Younger siblings are hushed into quieter activities. Entertaining at home comes to a stand still to avoid all distractions. You stop going for movies in solidarity towards your child.

Does it sometimes not feel enough? What more can you do? I remember my mom during my exam days. I was an easy child (as I keep reminding my mom and my own kids). I studied without being nagged, I set targets for myself daily, I paid attention during maths and accounting tuitions and I kept neat notes.

Still, I remember clearly my mom’s contributions during exam time.

  • She made sure sure all meals were light so I didn’t nod off to sleep on a belly full of rajma chawal or Biryani.
  • I got my daily dose of memory enhancing foods – almonds, fish, eggs, fruits.
  • She made sure I ate yogurt daily to keep my stomach healthy. Nothing worse than getting the runs due to stress or poor eating habits.
  • She made sure I slept minimum 8 hours. No point spending hours studying when you are ready to fall asleep on the exam paper.
  • Stationary items and other school supplies were always in double and labelled with my name stickers. No unnecessary panic in last minute trips to the stationary shops at odd hours or fighting with siblings over what’s mine and what’s yours!!
  • She called couple of times a day from work, checking up on me – not to breather down my neck but to check whether I had eaten, taken a break, showered, had milk! Subtle and not so subtle mothering that makes you feel loved and comforted.
  • Above all, she kept an air of calm at home. Striking a fine balance between giving me the sense of importance (which as a student you feel entitled to – what in life could be more important for anyone than YOUR exams you wonder at that age) and a sense of casualness which allowed to me to destress every now and then and stay focussed.
  • As my own children fall into the exam preparation routine at this time of the year, I find myself echoing my mother’s habits and appreciating all the little things she did that went a long way in helping me study.

What are your special routines during exam time for your kids? What is your secret mantra? Write in and tell us.

12-8-2014 3-22-18 PM

Writing was my first choice of career as I studied journalism. I had grand dreams of being a fiery reporter as I excitedly took on my first job, fresh out of journalism school, writing for a magazine. That didn’t last too long as I switched quickly to television and writing took a back seat. 

But that was many many moons ago…..when you still sent and received handwritten letters and the biggest thing about Internet was Hotmail!!!

Soon came the kids and I was a trailing spouse for a while as we did a 7 year stint in Shanghai (lots of stories there…plenty of blog fodder!:)

Now the Internet defines they way we live our lives…it’s no longer just about email! We read online, we shop online, we do our groceries online, we even party online.  

So naturally, when it was time for me to get back to work, e-commerce was the only thing I could think of. And as a mom to two boys who are constantly losing things at school and on the play ground, the business idea just presented it self and I jumped right in to the deep. Name labels to help kids identify their belongings…at school, on day trips, at playgrounds….its really as simple as that but every mother will attest to how labels are an absolute MUST HAVE.

And so labelshabel.com was born and in continuation of that as  I start this blog and re-discover how much I enjoy writing, it is like coming back full circle.

Researching, preparing and launching labelshabel.com has been a labour of love. It’s the most fun I have had working. My Husband Aneet and I have found a new vibe in working together. We tried it once before, early in our  marriage, and I was afraid we might not have lived to see our second wedding anniversary. We quickly decided it wasn’t for us.

But 15 years, 2 kids and many a grey hair  later, we are back again teaming up and I tell you… Things are working differently. Maybe that’s because he has finally learnt who the boss is! Yeah yeah I know he is boasting the same to his pals.  But see…we are thinking alike and it works:)

Working in the kids products domain has been an eye opening experience. There is so much out there to learn, unlearn, read, share, discover…about kids, parenting, life, food, school, education. About getting back to work after the early kid years, finding your way back into the workspace. .

So that is what this space will be about. We will write about the things that catch our eye, that strike our mind and that deserve a dialogue.

Buckle up and join us for the ride!