No longer sorry

amy

I saw this on Pinterest today and it spoke to me.

A few days ago the Brat walked in with a recipe book he’d borrowed from a friend’s mother. The OA and I took one look at him carrying a book bigger than his body and fell over laughing. But here’s the truth – he loves food and he wants to learn to cook.

This brings us to an uncomfortable situation. I am home more often than the OA and most often it is I, tossing up a salad or a sandwich for a quick meal. And so naturally the kids are drawn to watch me cooking. If it’s on a slow day, I’m tolerant of their presence in the kitchen. If not, I tell them to get the hell out of my way if they want anything to eat, because I have to get back to work.

The OA on the other hand, enjoys cooking and encourages them to join him in the kitchen. Having the disadvantage of only recently taking up cooking as an interest, he watches and records hours of food programming and even after all these years, doesn’t know as much about food as I do, theoretically. How did this come about?

I grew up with a feminist grandmother who didn’t believe every woman needed to know how to cook. What every woman should know, she’d often say, is how to earn. And once you’re capable of supporting yourself, you can decide if you want to cook or hire a cook. And so she, my mother (who is a superb cook) and I, hired cooks and went out to work.

But no matter what your family environment, there is no denying social pressure on a woman to cook. My in laws were horrified that their son had not married a Havell’s appliance (please see the series of advertisements here if you haven’t already – they’re fantastic). And I cannot begin to count the number of women in my own generation who felt there was something wrong with a woman who didn’t enjoy cooking, didn’t feel her heart burst with joy at the thought of homecooked meals for her children and didn’t rush to pour out hot dosas every time a belly somewhere growled.

I was young and gave in to pressure easily so I bought recipe books, and cooked when I got a chance (less than most others because wild horses were usually required to drag me to the kitchen) and even joined cooking e-groups etc for the tips. I am now a competent cook, guests expect a fairly good table at my place and I know a good deal about cooking – but I still hate the drudgery of it. Still get tired thinking of even brewing a cup of tea, still hate joining conversations on methods of layering a biryani.

At some point I realised that the OA too, was fighting his own demons. He had a love for food and cooking that had never been discovered or encouraged. He’d walk into the kitchen while I was cooking and try to be helpful, end up bossing me around (because of course I *was* doing something wrong) and be sent off with a sting in the ear for his pains. And so I established a tradition – he began to cook our Diwali family dinner. It started out pure vegetarian, the entire family revolted and the next year it was beer batter fish. Over the last year as the kids have grown and he has more time on hand, he’s been cooking more and more and I’ve eased out of the kitchen almost entirely. The kids make their own sandwiches, the cook does the daily fare and if the OA wants something fancy, he makes it.

It took me years to get to this point where I could back out of what is a traditional female role and encourage the OA to step up to the plate and do what he enjoys doing. The patriarchy screwed us both over and yet we took so long to make this handover. It wasn’t easy watching the cook begin to take orders from him, guests turning to him to ask what was on the menu, and the kids coming to him with their requests. Particularly because working or SAHM, mums run the kitchen in most homes – I felt like a bit of a failure even though I hated the chore to begin with. I continue to handle the day to day running of our home since I work from home, stepping in when the cook is absent. But on the whole, if someone comes in bursting with the excitement over something they want to eat, they know who to take that excitement to, and its certainly not me.

And so it was that the Brat staggered in with his massive recipe book and a demand that we cook something out of it. I looked at him with deep love and much affection and said – You have to be joking if you think Mama is getting up to cook complicated stuff.

And sure enough, he and the Bean nodded and turned to their father, taking it in their stride. ‘Oh yes, Mama dislikes cooking and finds it boring. Dada, you enjoy it, so lets plan a meal. Anyway, you’re the cooker in this house. Mama is the doctor.’

And the three of them bent their heads and began to pore over the book. I turned back to work and heaved a sigh of relief. It is done. I am no longer the default cook in this home. And the next generation has already come to accept home cooked food as Papa ke haanth ka khaana and not Ma ke haanth ka khaana.

I feel a twinge of something and suppress it. I think it is social conditioning calling and I’m not home to receive it. It really was this easy and if only I’d stopped fighting my limits some years ago, I’d have not wasted time making elaborate meals and trying to ‘fit in.’

I’m off to sign off the cooking groups and sign up for a few more on my interests. When I get home, there’ll be a hot meal cooked by husband and kids awaiting me. Life is good.

In times of crisis

The true test of atheism is whether you turn to your ex-religious beliefs in a moment of crisis or not.

A few months ago I discovered a lump on my thigh while bathing. Being the person I am, I promptly ignored it and got back to having fun and raising my kids and reading books. Until it turned into too big a problem to be ignored – big enough to show through my tracks and tights. So being the ostrich I am, I took to wearing skirts and dresses. Until I realised that winter was coming and I really needed to wear some jeans.

So I went and got it checked up and sure enough it turned out to be a tumor. 99% benign, the doctor assured me, but needs to be removed anyway because it might grow to a stage where it will be beyond hideous. And when removed, leave behind a hole in the leg that might require the insertion of a pipe to drain it.

I checked my schedule, found a day that was fairly suitable and checked myself into hospital. And that’s when my hands began to freeze and I began to shiver. I have a 9 year old and a 7 year old. They’re too young to be motherless and that idiot OA – could he be trusted with finding a good replacement? Sure he knew how to pick a good wife but would she be a good mother to my babies?

Around me the family panicked and began to pray. The tumor was to be excised and sent for biopsy. The moment I entered the hospital, I was mentally back at that place where I delivered my two babies via cesarean. I was still a believer in those days and so I had prayed. And as I prayed I felt more and more panicky – hell I was a shivering blathering mess by the time I got on the OT. Each time they did something that caused me pain – gave me an injection, shifted me, I wondered where this God was who I was wasting my breath on. When they removed the Bean they also took out a tumour and once again I asked why God had not protected me but had sent me this tumor to deliver along with a child.

The years went by and I questioned religion, faith, God, and people failed to come up with answers. And so it came to pass that I was once more on the operation table and this time, I did not have a god holding my hand. I was alone. Holding my own hand. Believing only in my own ability to stay calm and in the expertise and intelligence of the doctors handling my case. (An aside – when people go in to hospital and a surgery is successful, they thank God. When it goes wrong, they blame the doctors for their incompetence. Why?)

And strangely I felt more calm and in control. I just had to trust the doctors to do their job well and cooperate with them. I joked with the doctors about being ready to kill for a cup of coffee (I’d been fasting for more than 12 hours by the time the surgery began) and the next moment I was out like a light. When I woke up to a pain in my thigh I realised it was all over. Of course being the control freak I am, I was lucid and clear eyed the moment I came to. No talking rubbish, no babbling – in fact I immediately began to monitor my glucose. And pestered them to send me back to my room. When they finally found the staff to do it, the idiots took me to the wrong floor and finally I sat up on the stretcher to guide them and sent them into a tizzy! Dad says he heard someone getting really mad in the corridor and knew I was being wheeled back.

Twenty four hours later I was let out of the hospital and I came home, ready to take care of my body and my family.

We sat around the dining table that night, discussing religion, God, belief systems and quantum theory. Dad had just had a long debate with his own very religious siblings over this matter a few days ago and he summed it up with – ‘Religion is just a bunch of adults squabbling over whose mama’s cake is the best.’

The Brat looked up from his chicken and said, ‘How can you say your mama’s cake is the best when you’ve not tasted anyone else’s mama’s cake?’

Exactly. A child sees what adults refuse to see. How is it that the religion you had the fortune to be born into, is the one correct one? I’d be more likely to believe you if you’d tried and converted to another based on its merits.

And that’s how it is. I’ve tasted one cake, the OA the other… and then we both sampled a slice of atheism and somehow it fits our personalities and temperaments a lot better than anything else ever has.

I’m fine, thank you for asking. Still finding it a little hard to walk, sit, lift and also my throat hurts from the pipe they inserted. But I’m on the mend and yes, I’ll update you once the biopsy results are out. Stay cool!

Why we have kids…

Growing up in Munnar, one of our biggest pleasures and privileges was watching our parents get ready to head out to a dinner party. The fireplace in their bedroom would be lit. We’d be in bunny night suits – they were like onesies. Bathed and fed and ready for bed.
Ma would be struggling to run a comb through her heavy mass of waist length hair. My handsome dad would be tuning his guitar, without which he wasn’t allowed to walk into a party. I’d be strutting around in Ma’s vertiginous stilettos. Tambi would be watching my dad strum, absently singing Wonderful Tonight, smiling at ma.
Tambi and I truly believed he’d written the song for her and would fight you to death if you disagreed. Eric Clapton be damned.
She’d catch his eye in the mirror and blush. And then I’d regretfully give her back her heels and watch her slip her beautiful feet into them, her slender neck barely able to hold up that massive bun. A spritz of Paloma Picasso and they’d kiss us and leave in a cloud of perfume and romance. Out into the crisp, cold darkness of the mountain air.
Fast forward 30 years and I find that I’m unable to dress for a party unless there is some music to go with it. I have an iPod set up for it since I don’t have my own troubadour. The Bean is prancing around in my heels and threatening to break her neck. The Brat is sprawled across my bed, looking at me like I’m the most beautiful woman on earth. Just as I looked at Ma in her black slim jeans and white swing top. And this is what we have kids for – for those few moments when we’re perfect in someone’s eyes. And this is what childhood memories are made up of – perfume, music, magic and a nip of winter chill.

So question it

An old friend and I were on watsapp this morning, chatting about what we’ve been up to this last week. I mentioned that the OA and I have been out till 3 am both weekend nights and that I’m pooped.

Back came the response – You bad momma.

A play on my blog name, and a joke no doubt. Not bad woman, not wicked girl, not party animal, not antsy bitch, not party junkie.. but a reminder that I am a mother above all.

Should the OA tell his friends that he’s been out all night, he’ll get cheered on.

We women on the other hand, will always be judged in the court of mamas.

——————–

Halloween seems to be the next big thing to take over the country. I grimaced four years ago when kids came trick or treating at our doorstep. I sighed over it three years ago. Last year I helped the kids plan what they’d wear and this year I’ve accepted it as part of our celebrations.

And for every person who whines that it isn’t our culture, don’t we have enough of our own festivals and so on, I have a few responses.

Neither is exchanging engagement rings, raising a toast to an occasion, singing Happy Birthday and cutting birthday, wedding cakes, wearing jeans and dresses, Valentine’s Day, celebrating 1st of Jan as New Years, tossing up pasta for school, noodles at a roadside cart, I could go on. If you do any of those, don’t grudge the kids a day of running around dressed up as ghouls. It’s no better or worse than pitru paksh, has no religious rituals involved, is gender neutral and harms no one – unless they have a weak heart!

But.. but do you know the origin of the festival? How does it matter? Neither do the millions who celebrate festivals in this country. From Holi to Karva Chauth. I’ve had a different story from every person I asked. So clearly a story or origins can change and people will still celebrate, making the origin irrelevant. At the end of the day it’s just another reason to celebrate and in the times we live in, I’m happy to have more fun than war.

It’s interesting how people who otherwise only speak English, read only in English, don’t celebrate their kids’ birthdays according to the Hindu calendar and so on, have decided that this is where they draw the line. In fact we all choose to draw a line where we want, but who died and appointed us King to draw the line for others, citing cultural appropriation, when we are steeped in a culture that cannot claim to be pure anything?

Reminds me of the Shiv Sena on Valentine’s Day. Through the rest of the year they think nothing of Western imports like TV and mobile phones and the railway network.

A friend posted a few nights ago that she was sick of having spent an entire month praying for the men in the family via Karwa Chauth and Bhai Dooj and really wanted to celebrate something that was gender neutral, did not involve praying and was all about having some fun, with no food restrictions, no timelines, no order of events and no dire consequences predicted if not followed. This came after a riotous debate on my FB timeline, over fasting during Karva Chauth. It was amusing to have bongs declare Karva Chauth misogynistic, while claiming that Jamai Shoshti is kosher. Yes, husbands are being raised up on a pedestal in both cases, but at least we don’t fast, was the argument. Being blind to the flaws within one’s own culture is so easy.

I’m also on a food group where someone asked the ridiculous question – when did Indians start eating beef? A more relevant question would be, when did Indians stop eating beef? A war broke out on the thread and the lady who definitely didn’t ask it with any noble intentions in mind, deleted the thread when it threatened to overwhelm her.

It seems we’re in the midst of a churn and we’re asking questions. We’re just not always honest about the answers.

Walking a fine line

Was reading this article about a Harvard psychologist talking about raising nice kids and it triggered a memory of  an incident, years ago when my parents were visiting and we took them out to dinner.

The Brat (he must have been about 2.5 years old) wanted to go to the toilet and the OA and G’Pa took him to the toilet where he kept up a constant chatter. Basically he was reiterating all that I told him when I was toilet training him.

Wait your turn. Don’t open up your pants until you reach the toilet. Make sure you aim into the toilet – don’t want to leave it dirty for the next person using. Be careful when you zip your jeans so that you don’t get any important bits caught in it. Wash your hands nicely. With soap. Again. Dry them.

This had his father and grandfather in splits and they didn’t notice that they had an audience. Then he thanked his father and grandfather for helping him to use the toilet. When they were done, the gentleman (a foreigner) walked up to my son and gravely shook hands and introduced himself, as though he was talking to a grown up. And then he gave him some money (I forget – probably Rs 50 or something) and said he had never seen such a well mannered child, so to please buy him some candy with it.

The OA and G’Pa of course protested and said money was not required, the praise was enough. The gentleman must have been worried that he was giving offence in a foreign land and the OA and my dad didn’t want him to think he’d breached some form of etiquette when the poor man was trying to do something nice. They kept refusing it and then he made a winning argument. He said there are very few well behaved kids these days. And good behaviour, even among adults, rarely gets rewarded. In fact, most often, your good manners, your civility, they are you’d undoing. They are the reason someone pushes ahead of you in a queue, someone cuts you off on the road and so on. So he’d like my son to know, that once in a while, people do notice and good behaviour doesn’t go unnoticed.

They let the Brat accept the money.

One of the issues with letting kids accept money/ gifts from strangers is that it goes directly against our teachings of not accepting candy from smiling strangers. And I keep telling them kids day in and day out, not to take sweets from strangers. Not to follow someone who says Mama is calling them. And so on.

This also bother me because it means we’re bringing up our kids to be inherently distrustful. That the default setting is that a stranger is untrustworthy, dangerous. This goes against my grain because I’m a rather trusting person myself. I’ve let all sorts of people into my home, readers who don’t blog and so on. I’ve had good experiences and bad, but I wouldn’t change that for the world.

I realise this is yet another reason I hang around working from home when my babies are soon to be 7 and 9. Because I want them to be independent and I want to watch them make decisions, while I watch from afar.

They know that they’re not to open the door if Mama is in the toilet. Not to answer the phone and say that Mama is not home. But if I am home, they answer the door while I stand a few feet away and watch them engage with strangers. I watch them cross the road. I let them buy groceries from the neighbourhood store and bring home correct change. And I know I can only do this because I am watching them with a hawk’s eye. Ready to swoop in, in case of danger.

Had I left them at a daycare, they’d not be allowed this engaging with strangers. Had I left them home with a maid I’d give very strict instructions that they’re not to answer the door, mess around in the kitchen, or do anything that required the maid’s judgment and quick thinking. I just would not be able to trust anyone else to make that judgment call.

As the years go by and examine by choices and parenting, the layers peel away and I realise things that I haven’t been able to articulate earlier. For now, this small simple act of letting them trust others while their mother watches on, is an important one for me.

A week or two ago the Bean accepted and signed for a courier for me. I watched her run her finger down the sheet, find my name and sign carefully.  The delivery guy looked at me in puzzlement, wondering why I hadn’t bothered to do anything, leaving the child to painstakingly drag a chair to the door, ask who he was, open the latch, climb down and sign and then climb up to lock up again.

I think teaching them nuance was important. You can talk to people, you can get to know them, as long as Mama or Dada is close by. We’re such a generation of harried, helicopter parents, hovering around and not giving our kids room to grow and build their  own equations with the world around them. It’s a delicate balance and I can’t claim to have found it, but for now, this works for me.

 

And I turn 36

… otherwise known as the Oh fuck, now I really won’t be having any more babies year.

But on a more serious note, this year I feel every one of my 36 years. In the last year I’ve had family suffer and I’ve been there for them and realised that they needed me. In fact I was in hospital all of my birthday last year and didn’t even take any calls. Chhota Nana’s leg, Ma breaking her foot in the midst of a busy year… construction, business, everything came to a head and I looked in the mirror and saw age spots, tired eyes, tired skin and I realised that I could no longer think I was 24. This is it. I now know that some of the best years healthwise have passed me by.

This is also the first year I learnt what it means to struggle with weight. I’ve always been slim so to finally look in the mirror and see your thighs dimpling is a shocker. I walked, I restructured my diet and while I am not thin by any standards, I am back to normal and feeling good and healthy. But yes, I finally know what it means to feel desperation and know jeans that won’t button.

My driving is still crappy but I can get from A to B in a crisis and that is all I really wanted. I had planned to learn to swim well this year and surprise you guys (hah!) but I chickened out. Actually I think I just had too much on my plate so it was an easy one to evade. Perhaps next year.

This year also, for the first time, I am making more money than I have in many years, all while sitting home. This is something I feel an insane amount of pride in because I’ve worked from home for years, accepted a pittance and held my tongue when treated badly as a professional. But then something snapped this year and I’ve said no to pieces that go against my belief system, turned down poor paymasters even if they are big names and written stinkers to people who haven’t paid up, pulled out contacts, taken to Facebook to name and shame… and generally reached a stage where I might not be doing a lot of creative work but I am earning well, established and no longer have to take shit from anyone.

On the family front, the kids have a far better idea of what Mama does professionally and in fact push me to go back to full time work so that they can ‘watch TV without anyone objecting’. Of course on days that I am out on a shoot they regret every word and cling to me like limpets when I return, the Bean calling me every hour or two to talk to me. Fortunately I am my own master and can take a little break and soak in the pleasure of hearing her voice. Unfortunately though, I am now too hooked on working at my own pace and in my pajamas to do that. Also, new office!

It’s been more than a year in this house and we have no intentions of moving out and are finally settling in. We’re friends with some neighbours, the kids have made friends and settled into their various classes. For now, we’re home.

I’ve also spent the year balancing a lot of relationships, watching them slide downhill, pick and recover. I think it would be fair to say that in spite of not having given birth this year, it’s been crazy!

My resolutions for this year are to take myself less seriously, to have more of a sense of humour, to ignore those who thrive on being annoying and provocative, to stop thinking about others all the time and for a while focus only on myself and my little family.

So wish me luck!

A little give and take

Took the Bean for a haircut today and the lady at the parlour asked me if I’d like to get something done. I didn’t want the Bean to sit there getting bored while I got my stuff done so I said that I’d come back another day. I also didn’t want her sitting there absorbing in that way children do, that ladies need every bit of them polished and shined before they consider themselves socially acceptable.
Sitting all alone on a chair, hanging on to a big handbag was a girl only slightly older than the Bean, dressed very shabbily and definitely from a poorer background. She sat there nervously and quietly, giving no trouble, making no sound.
And then her mother came out of one of the facial rooms. Shabbily dressed, definitely not well off, maybe household help. But she was glowing with happiness. The little girl lit up when her mother came out and asked in Hindi – Ma, did you enjoy the facial? Was it nice? Are you feeling good?
The mother grinned girlishly – Yes, it was such a treat.
They paid up and left.
And I wondered why we are so protective of our kids and their time. Why am I so reluctant to let my child sit for an hour and wait while I get a facial? Will they ever learn to be so considerate? Do our privileged kids care about how their parents feel and would they suffer an hour of boredom, sans TVs and tablets and books, while their parents get a rare treat?
Food for thought and maybe time for some change.