What it takes

I was rushing down the footpath to the local market. The kids would soon come in from play and I needed groceries before I locked down for the night. I’d worked late and was off my schedule. If I didn’t hurry it up, they’d come home to a locked door.

And then I got stuck behind a mother and a child. She had an annoyingly shrill voice and I mention this only because I was already hot, tired and cranky and this was the last straw above the cacophony of horns. Except that the annoying voice was patiently answering baby questions – Mama, why are there more white cars than black?

They didn’t know I was behind them, or maybe they didn’t realise I was in a rush. They were walking abreast, taking up all of the path and I couldn’t get past them. I slowed down and listened to the baby lilt – Mama, woh police uncle kya kar raha hai?

Finally I realised I was beyond late and hopped off the path, on to the road and oncoming traffic and then back on again. Only to get stuck behind yet another mother and child. I can’t recall what her voice sounded like but as she held the little baby hand and walked along, slowing down to keep pace with the baby steps.

Mama, catty kahan gaya?

Mama, catty mera friend hai?

I was hurrying to the shops to get groceries for the kids’ tiffin, and I had to get home in time to let them in. Hurry, hurry, hurry.

That’s the stage we’ve reached now – where everything needs to run on some sort of a schedule. And most of it rushes by in a blur.

I’ve forgotten what it was like when everything was in slow motion. Walking slowly to keep up with unsteady feet. Holding back as small fingers fumbled with shoelaces. Practically sitting on my hands as a baby fist grasped a small teaspoon and brought rice to its mouth, spilling 90% before it reached its destination.

And a reminder of what parenthood really entails. All these endless acts of patience. You don’t go braindead doing this, as most people suspect. You learn patience, compassion and you appreciate what it takes for a muscle to move in a certain way, for a mind to comprehend a certain concept.

And as dusk fell, I went home appreciating the time I’ve spent with them. Ready to enjoy the bustle that lay ahead. Looking forward to what tomorrow brings.

And oh – I did get home before them. Phew!

The nursery is dark. Again.

We’ve left the Brat and Bean with my parents every year for a week or two while the OA and I take off on our own for a bit, after they turned one. Just to live it up, so to speak. Auli, Goa, Manali, Turkey, the US, we did it all without the kids. Of course we do lots of holidays with them through the year but that one couple holiday a year has been sacred. Not because they’re not rock solid, awesome travelers, but because once in a while the OA and I love being able to look into each other’s eyes meaningfully without someone going – “What happened? Has she got an eyelash in her eye? Why are you holding his hand? Can’t he walk by himself? Will she get lost? Arre, why’re you kissing him? You can kiss me instead.”

Except for last year when we felt a pang of guilt and ended up taking them to Bangkok with us. This changed everything. We now find we can’t take any holidays without them because the guilt just runs us through like a sword and we don’t enjoy the freedom.

We’ll be off on our annual long holiday soon and we’re taking the kids with us. But the kids had other ideas. They wanted to go spend time with the oldies in the small town. But how, when, why, I protest. There’s holiday homework to be done and swimming to do and plays to be caught…

We’ll go stay with the grandparents, they insist. You go anywhere you want, Bangkok, Madras, whatever you want.

Very nice. Nice to be thrown over for a couple of old farts. Nice for our big city pleasures to be rejected for the joys of playing with the dogs and spending time in the big old house, going from grandparent to grandparent. I was particularly reluctant this time because Chhote Nana and my mum both have broken legs and the kids are used to very active young grandparents. Chhote Nana was 40 when the Brat was born, for chrissake!  The kids called the oldies and demanded that they invite them and of course the OA and I were steamrollered once that got out.

I was a little misty-eyed at their excitement to go home. My parents’ home, that is. Every year I worry that they’ll get a little too big city. A little too stuck up for the pleasures of fish ponds and mango trees. Of walking dogs and drives into a little local market that has a queue at its one and only McDonald’s outlet. Of old people who are up with the lark and out before the nightingale makes her appearance.

It’s not happened yet. If anything, the Brat (bless his soul) gets more attached to his grandparents every year and sobs when he leaves them – something he doesn’t do when we leave him there. He is upset for days after we bring him back to Delhi and we spend a lot of time and energy cheering him up and getting him back into the swing of things. The Bean on the other hand is usually happy to bloom where she’s planted. Happy with us, happy with them, happy to be back. Except for this year. She’s slowly growing into the daughter I’ve always dreamed of, almost a friend, helping me around the house, sticking by my side, fighting with the OA over me – all this when she’s not busy fighting with me! We’re the worst of enemies and the best of friends and she’s missing me terribly this time. She wants to be there and enjoy the grandparents, but she wants me too. Obviously I can’t be on leave endlessly and working from there is just too distracting and crazy so I avoid it unless necessary.

The granders of course have bent backwards to entertain them, more so because they have broken legs and don’t want that to spoil the kids’ fun. My dad and Chhoti Nani have made up for the other two damaged oldies and taken them all over the place, evening jaunts, history walks, planting saplings, doing homework, going swimming and what not. Much more than the OA and I would have done on weekdays for sure.

To the extent that a few nights ago we were out to catch a play with the SRE and Dipali and the OA mentioned to them that he thinks my parents are the best kind of grandparents because they’re so involved and so much fun. Made me all lump-in-the-throaty because I was trying to be dismissive of their efforts and referring to them as idiots (yes, I’m a polite, well brought up daughter) and here was the son in law, ignoring his trying-too-hard-to-be-cool wife and honestly appreciating what his in-laws were doing. I have to admit that there are times I wish my parents were the old retired sort who trailed us around the country raising our kids while the OA and I raced ahead on our respective career paths. And then I feel a pang of guilt for wishing that on them. And myself. Our kids are ours to raise and its nice for them to get a holiday once in a while and then let the grandparents get back to having a life of their own.

The OA and I have spent the last 3 weeks behaving like teens so I have to admit that this life of your own business is rather underrated. Sleeping late, eating at odd hours, spur of the moment plans, cussing out idiotic drivers on the roads is all rather easy to get addicted to and thoroughly enjoyable. But by mid second week I heard that the OA was calling and speaking to the kids each morning on his way to work and I was all set to jump into the train and bring them back unreserved if I had to.

But we’ve held our horses and we have just a few more days to go. Until then, you can read some old posts on the brat breaks we’ve taken. My favourite post on this topic was called The Nursery is Dark. I’ve combed my archives but just can’t find it. :(

http://themadmomma.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/and-while-we-get-our-act-together/

http://themadmomma.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/baharon-phool-barsao/

http://themadmomma.wordpress.com/2009/02/11/going-bananas/

Celebrate good times, come on!

The Brat’s birthday celebrations are always a nightmare. It’s May, it’s bloody hot and I no longer judge people who plan their kids’ birth for a particular time of year, admission season, auspicious dates or anything else. Right now I wish I’d planned at least one child in winter and had a lovely winter afternoon picnic among the Delhi ruins.

Last year at the Brat’s splash pool party with the AC blowing up, the kitchen door getting mysteriously locked so that we were forced to run around from the outside of the house with hot puris, the water tank springing a leak and emptying out, and fatal puddles everywhere as the kids dripped all over the house, we thought it would be a disaster, but everyone had a blast.

A couple of years ago we were on the 13th floor and the house was a furnace inspite of all the ACs being on. For his 4th birthday (I think) I’d planned a splash pool on our Delhi terrace and there was a storm so that we were all forced to take shelter and I had a bunch of kids and no other games planned. Somehow we’ve always had a lot of laughs and fun, but oh how disaster has struck each time.

This year I was exhausted way before the planning began. My day job drains me and I am mostly in a vegetable state by the end of the day. We moved house in July last year. In August my family crashed up. I’ve spent most of the year rushing back every spare weekend, which left all chores to be fitted in on weekdays. My mum broke her foot at the beginning of April, my SIL brought the babies down from the US and then my nephew, Baby Button, fell off the huge old antique bed and broke his shoulder. And life goes on, because, well, this *is* life.

The Bean’s birthday party was low key because she just kept falling ill and I lost half the birthday guests to my frequent changes in dates. So by the time the Brat’s birthday came around, I was feeling rather low. I had nothing planned, I felt wrung out like a dish cloth in the heat and he wanted a rottweiler theme. Yes, it’s easy to smile indulgently when its not your job to organise a party around that theme.

I refused of course. The second most aggressive dog breed on earth is not an appropriate choice of theme for a nine year old who is rather gentle. We also decided that this year on it would only be his friends from school. Having had our kids early, most of our friends have are newborns and toddlers. They are loved hugely by my kids and us, but its almost impossible to find games that are appropriate for both a 9 year old and a 2 year old. So after much thought, we decided to take all his class friends for Amazing Spiderman.

Until I decided that I was not going to claim exhaustion and taxing job and throw him a McBirthday – at least not while he was still in single digits! So as usual I came up with a theme that had the OA groan but get to it. We decided to turn our family room into a movie hall and show the kids a movie at home. Particularly since I wasn’t too hot on taking a bunch of 9 year olds to watch Spiderman. We hadn’t seen it and I wasn’t sure if there was any objectionable content – not something I wanted on my conscience, not something I wanted on my watch.

And so we borrowed a projector from a friend, and spent a goodly amount of time trying to set it up. Not an easy task because all our walls are painted or have carpets or art or photographs or books shelves. When we found a blank wall it was across a staircase and dangerous. It went on. With great difficulty we decided on a wall that we denuded, removed the light fixtures, took the TV off it and taped sheets of paper to close up all holes. We then put in thicker curtains but realised it was still pretty bright. We finally resorted to hanging 2-3 layers of bedsheets to cut out all light. Finding a high enough spot to suspend the projector was another problem. We needed to ensure that no child knocked it over or tripped over the wires, that they didn’t get in the way of the projection when they stood up as they were bound to. Furniture was moved, a tall bookshelf relocated to hold it. And finally that was done.

Then we organised seating at different heights, to create a balcony and so on. We printed out tickets that the Bean wrapped and stuck around the guests’ wrists – ADMIT ONE, and we had filmy signs up indicating a party. We also got popcorn and juice for the show. And finally when the guests arrived, the room was pitch dark with the Brat directing them to their seats with a torch, blushing madly when he saw the excitement writ large on their faces.

I’d asked all the parents to ensure that the kids arrive on time so that no child was disappointed at missing the beginning of the movie. It worked miraculously, in Stretchable Time NCR and most kids arrived a few minutes before 5pm with the rest getting in within 5.10 pm. The OA ran some trailers on youtube like you would have in a cinema theatre and the kids roared in excitement.

By the time the movie started (we ran a vote and the contenders were Rise of the Guardians, Hotel Transylvannia, Despicable Me 2, Book of Dragons and a few more) – Despicable Me 2, the kids were in alt at the thought of their own private screening.

Two of the mums stayed back to chat over chai with me and I had a lovely time too! The kids enjoyed the movie, begged us to have the same next year and we were run quite ragged by the end of it because the OA insisted on playing the movie at are-you-insane decibel levels and the kids had to roar to be heard over it. As did the rest of us.

But Cousin J is in town for her internship and the moment the movie ended she and I whipped around the room, swept up the popcorn and juice and made place for them to sit down to a simple dinner of chhola, puris, veg and non veg kebabs and tamarind chutney and massive bowls of fresh fruit. The cake was fresh mango with a rottweiler on it. I had to give him at least that.

The party was not even over and the kids were crowding around us demanding we do it again, next year. We kept return gifts simple – bars of good chocolate. I am hoping we’ll be out of this damn return gift stage soon.

By the time we finally wrapped up, the Brat was done unwrapping his gifts and had curled into a corner with one of the million books he’d got. The house was fairly unharmed, the food was mostly over except for about 5 kilos of chhola that we’re still eating.

And we’re finally free until next year….. Did I say finally free? The old man turns 40 this year and I need to put on my thinking cap again.

————————

The next day was Mother’s Day and I’m not one for majorly celebrating myself but the OA said I needed a break and so we headed off to Monkey Bar in Vasant Kunj for their rather famous breakfast – my Bangalore gang of friends have praised it to high heavens and I was really looking forward to it. As luck would have it they had a  Mother’s Day special on and it was good fun!

I don’t know what the Bangalore venue is like but this one is in the erstwhile Ministry of Sound building so its a crazy glass pyramid surrounded by greenery. Most unexpected in the middle of a regular DDA type shopping arcade and yet, what is Delhi if not full of the unexpected? The decor is very kooky and the kids walked around identifying musicians and cartoon characters and laughing at the quotes while the OA and I had an amazing breakfast of Louisiana style biscuits and patty sliders, a brie and mushroom omelette and waffles with caramelised bananas. The cold coffee was brilliant but the piece de resistance was the Brat’s breakfast momos. Brat and momos are synonymous at our place and no matter what sort of fine dining we offer him, momos trump everything. So the  sausage and bacon momos at breakfast came like a double birthday surprise whammy! They had a little spa corner and I got my aching feet rubbed while the Bean kicked some 14 year old’s butt at Foosball.

They had some awesome jazz versions of current pop hits playing and I am now trying hard to hunt down copies. The Brat shocked the OA and me by listening to the first line or so and telling us which song it was. I’m shocked mostly because I didn’t think he had a head for music and because with all my classical background and love for music I wasn’t quite as fast as him. Somedays he ceases to frustrate me and makes me burst with pride.

All in all, a great weekend. Now I need some time off to recover from it!

 

 

 

The Brat turns nine

Dear Brat,

This is your last single digit year. Never before has your birthday made me so sentimental. I recall the night before your birth and the terror I felt at the thought of the imminent delivery. And everyone telling me, there’s no point worrying – there’s only one option and that is for the baby to come out! And now as I pointlessly work myself into a froth over you turning nine, all I can do is accept that there is only option and that is for you to grow up and spread your wings and fly away. You will only go further away each year. It’s time I accepted it. For now though, I have no fears. You still come running to share your life with me.

As I write this post you rush up to me with yet another bit of dog related trivia -they’re your latest obsession. I don’t pay attention to a word, smiling at you besottedly and tousling your curls. I am a bad mother to you. Bad, because I find it hard to look beyond my love for you. It’s like wallowing in a bowl of molasses. I am so absorbed with indulging in it, examining it, working my way through it, that I am unable to rouse myself enough to scold or correct you. It helps that you rarely need any correction.

I have lost count of the number of friends who chose to have a baby after they visited me and saw what an easy baby you are. Even today you are my biggest weapon against the child haters. They meet you and all their usual arguments fail. You’re unfailingly polite, quiet, calm, thoughtful and wise like a little Dalai Lama.

I’m glad I didn’t try to ‘toughen you up’, because I’d be going against your nature and turning you into something alien. Everyday you make the world a better place with your gentle smile, your dreamy eyes and your out of the box questions.

A few days ago you came to me with tears in your eyes, saying that you were feeling really bad about something you’d done.

I steeled myself for a broken vase or something, even while knowing that it wasn’t really the sort of high jinks you got up to.

“A long time ago, last year, the Bean came home from a playdate and late in the night said to Dada that she hadn’t done her homework. He scolded her and told her that she should have done it before going out to play.  And I thought – serves her right.”

Alright, I said, waiting for the punch line.

‘That’s it. I was happy that she got a scolding and now I’m feeling really bad that I was happy when she was sad.’

Who said the diapers are the tough part?

What do you do with a child who reprimands himself for every mean thought even before you do? Who holds himself up to such impossibly high standards?

What will the world do to a gentle soul like this?

I took my troubles not to the Heavenly Father, but to your very earthly father, the OA, that night.

He hugged me and in a rare moment of wisdom (!) said – Yes, but why not look at it this way. What will a gentle soul like him do for the world? Wouldn’t it be amazing if he spread this gentleness?

I still soak up the softness of your cheeks, I hug you in my arms and love how substantial you feel. Your feet are almost the same size as mine and I run my fingers through your rough but perfect curls. I can barely lift you anymore so you obligingly spread yourself over me like butter.

But mostly you just ignore me and my fussing over your hair or cheeks and keep your nose buried in your book. When you’re not reading, you’re writing a little book, creating a fantasy world, writing stories in verse and making up the most sublime (not!) of rhymes – ‘If we don’t listen to the swimming teacher when he says jump, he kicks us in the rump!’

You’ve learnt to hold your own against your sister and I think that is one of the most important lessons in life. Not to let those we love, rule us.

You’ve picked up from your father and my attitude and the Gods across all mythologies are equal to you. The one above them though, is science. We couldn’t be happier or prouder, even though we’ve introduced you randomly to most religion and let you learn in school and from grandparents. There are moments you sniff disdainfully at a ritual or a religious more and your father and I grin at each other delightedly.

You have a few good friends and a very clear sense of the time you want to spend with them. You come back from school, give me a kiss and then inform me that you will now find a quiet spot for some ‘me time’. I’ve learnt to put aside my excitement and chatter and wait for you to collect and regroup your energy before you come back to us, ready to join the family in our boisterousness.

Which is not to say that you’re entirely vague. You’re the only one who will look at your father running around the house frantically throwing his luggage together and say- Dada, do you have everything you need? Can I help? Your sister and I are meanwhile chatting up a storm with someone, unconcerned that the man might miss a train (nothing new there – we missed the train before our Easter holidays again). Of course while we planned the drive down for our vacation you were the only one who read us the riot act for being haphazard and careless. In our defence – we were stuck in two jams caused by accidents and you know it! :p

The long drives are no longer hated and you’ve learnt exactly what we wanted you to learn on them. To be still. You look out for hours and do mental maths, find shapes within the clouds and spot tiny birds that we seem to miss. Every time you do that, I remember our long peaceful afternoons spent lying out in our beautiful Delhi balcony, me with my huge pregnant belly, you with your baby cuddliness. I’d point out shapes in the clouds, at other times lie in silence and wonder if I should instead be teaching you alphabets and using flash cards or sending you for some class that promised to turn you into a genius. I’m glad I didn’t because you’ve ended up so restful, so self sufficient and so low maintenance. I’ve never heard you say those dreaded words  – I’m bored.

You love hearing your birth story and every time I give you a little more detail. This time I told you how your cord was wrapped around your neck, you were suffering from IUGR, and you had no soft spot on your head. You listen and absorb and never forget a word.

You’ve been the ideal grandson this last year with your maternal grandparents, being quiet as they rest, watchful of their injuries, never shuddering when you see maimed limbs or blood. Instead offering them love and nonjudgmental conversation. Your paternal parents spend a lot of time trying to speak to you in their language but you haven’t a head for languages and don’t care for such things, simply making it up to them with – ‘Mama, I’m going to sleep with them because they must be lonely.’ Always fair, my little King Solomon.

I have no advice for you, my little Buddha. I’m going to sit at your feet, look up adoringly and hopefully learn from you.

I love you,

Mama

photo

His latest obsession – the Rubik’s cube. Geek alert!

 

Let me count the ways

Love expresses itself in so many ways. Sometimes it takes the form of a cliche like red roses and hearts. I wouldn’t shoot them down. Sometimes people don’t know how to tell you they care and they use standard measures – doesn’t make the love any less.

At other times, love is expressed in ways that can’t be admitted to in polite company. Like this one. (And I promptly proceed to give lie to that line by discussing it with you well bred folk.)

We’d had a good dinner and were on our way home. The Bean’s eyes were drooping even as we had dessert and she undid her seat belt and lay down with her head in the Brat’s lap on the way home. The OA and I looked at them and smiled at each other. Parenthood was good.

He was half asleep himself but clung on to her to ensure she didn’t fall off the seat as we rattled and rumbled over the Gurgaon death trap roads. His head lolled in his sleep and the car cooled too fast.

I felt them with a mother’s instinct and their bare legs were freezing. We switched off the AC and forgot to turn down the windows. We were almost home anyway.

As we turned into our parking lot, the Brat who is infamously motion sick, threw up in his sleep. Right on her head. She sat up, sleepily and looked at him, not a word of reproach. The OA and I swung into battle stations. I grabbed the two of them and rushed them to the house. She could barely walk. She was half asleep and there was vomit dripping down  her head.

The Brat was wide awake in horror by now. ‘I didn’t mean it, I didn’t mean it,’ he moaned in apology. I’m so sorry. I was asleep and couldn’t stop myself.

I was too tired, and angry at how a pleasant evening was ruined, to trust myself with words.

I hurried them into the bathroom and shoved them both in the shower. Getting lumps of half digested food out of hair is neither easy nor pleasant.

The OA rolled up his jeans, filled buckets and washed out the entire car.

I put them to bed and helped him.

By the time we were done, it was past midnight and we’d forgotten the pleasant dinner.

Parenthood sucked.

———–

For all that the two of them fight over inane things, the next day passed without either of them referring to it. I was surprised, but the Bean played fair. No – You puked on my head hence owe me a kidney type of lines.

And then two days later they were back from school and the Bean was brushing out her hair when a clip she’d forgotten to take out got stuck in her brush. And when she yanked, it went flying into the toilet bowl.

They both looked at it in horror. It wasn’t the loss of a pretty bow that was the problem. They knew that anything stuck in the toilet bowl could create a problem.

The Brat looked at her kindly and said I’ll do it.

And then stuck his hand in the bowl and took out the clip, scrubbed the clip and his hand with soap a million times over and gave it back to her.

They told me about it later.

—–

She was back home with yet another allergy – this time her eyes swelling up thanks to the pollen.

It made her tired and cranky and the antihistamine made her sleepy.

I made her lie down in bed as I frantically worked to meet a deadline, sitting by her side.

He came by with his Rubik’s cube to entertain her.

‘She likes me to make the red side so I’ll do that for her.’

A while later I looked up from my work to find her fast asleep in an awkward bundle.

As I tucked a pillow under her head and straightened her out I found the hard, poky cube clutched in her hand and pressed into her stomach. She’d gone to sleep with the red side made up specially for her.

———

There’s a lovely series of ICICI advertisements about Jo nibhaate hain, aur jataate nahi. I’ve always looked at it wistfully. Until I realised that my life is full of such moments. I just need to pause to observe them.

They’ll probably kill me for these stories making it to the public domain. But if they keep this up, I’ll die happy.