Forty and fantastic

The OA turned 40 on the 1st of June. Try as I might, I can’t get used to the idea of being married to a man who is 40. Middle aged :D Of course I’m right behind him and will get there in a couple of years.

I finally see what older people mean when they say they feel no different. I feel 22. And to me he still feels like the 26 year old I dated. Except for the odd dressing down I receive, reminding me that the honeymoon is over.

I spent a lot of time mulling over how we could celebrate this big one… Frankly I don’t know why I bought into the hype that this is a big one. I suppose its just nice to pick an occasion, any occasion and fuss over a person.

The OA comes from a rather dry, unemotional, practical family and it’s taken him years to get used to my flights of fancy, my nonstop chatter, my thirst for excitement and the desire to celebrate everything and all the time.

So when I asked him if he wanted a big party or wanted to travel on his birthday, he shrugged. Disinterested. It didn’t really matter to him – we travel and party often enough for his birthday not to require the same. In fact, he gave it some thought and said – No party please. We end up playing host and making drinks and serving people and don’t really get to enjoy their company.

I offered him a bike (mid life crisis alert!), a new TV, a new music system… and finally I gave up. Until I came up with this one – I decided to ask his friends and family to mail in birthday wishes and memories and pictures, and I made a book out of it. Words are my currency and I strongly believe they make the best gifts.

This coincided with my exit from Facebook ( I deactivated because I needed some time to get used to the fact that I was actually friends with right wing voters and supporters. How?!) and I had no way to get in touch with 90% of the people from his life and past – specially since this was to be a surprise.

Suffice to say, I spent days and weeks calling, mailing, following up. My husband is a very easy going, charming man who rarely states opinions to the contrary, rarely speaks on contentious issues, is always helpful, kind and warm. And yet, few people considered it important enough to respond to me and send in their birthday wishes by the deadline I’d set.

Ma says people have their own way of showing affection. Fair enough. But that doesn’t excuse one from showing affection in the ways someone asks for it, once in a while. Like attending a wedding even if you hate crowds, because the groom is a close friend. Like going to a kiddy birthday party even if you hate kids, because it’s your little nephew’s first birthday. And so on.

People might be busy, they may not like to write notes, but these notes were requested to celebrate the 40th birthday of a very charming, kind, warm man – not his rather controversial wife!

Many didn’t bother to even acknowledge the mail, or reply and say that they couldn’t be bothered! Some replied way after my deadline. There were certain people without whom I felt the book would be incomplete and so I harassed them in the most polite way possible, reminders, mails, messages. I’m sure they felt that I was piling on – but all they had to do was say No. And I’d have backed off. Instead I got endless excuses about how they were traveling, or busy, or blah blah.

And I have to admit, if they said No, I’d have thought less of them because they are people who claim to be close to him – friends as well as family. What good are family and friends if they can’t dislodge themselves from their comfort zone to do something for you?

Which is not to say it was all bad. The letters that came in, brought tears to my eyes. Warm, joyful, affectionate, reminiscing and telling me a little more about my old man. Hideous old pictures of him looking like something the cat dragged in.

I got in touch with a friend who was estranged over a rather serious and bitter issue – it’s been many years but he responded promptly and warmly and made my day. Reminded me that old friends truly are the best.

I had planned to print the book online but thanks to all the delays I knew it wouldn’t get done and delivered in time. I asked a friend to help me out and we laid it out across two days and took it to a printer locally.

That was the last day before we were to travel and we had house guests, the book, packing, last minute plans…. I came home with a new row of pimples on my chin. And a shiny beautiful book tucked under my arm.

The Bean and Brat had written to their Dada too and the Bean helpfully told her father – “I know where Mama went, we all know where Mama went – but we can’t tell you.” Cousin J picked her up, put a hand over her mouth and walked out of the room. The rest of us rolled on the floor and laughed helplessly.

The OA’s birthday was on Sunday and we dropped the kids off at my parents’ place on Saturday. That meant spending his birthday on the road. We’d left one car there on our last trip and when we got in to their place we gasped – As his birthday gift, my parents had painted it, changed the tyres, changed the music system, put in blue tooth, shampooed the seats… The works -it was almost brand new. I’m thinking we should accidentally leave our Scorpio aka Uddham Singh there next time.

We’d planned to have a karaoke party because the OA loves singing. When the local DJ rolled in speakers that reminded me of the Michael Jackson Black or White video, the cat was out of the bag and the OA began to exercise his vocal chords. My parents had rather apologetically asked me who I wanted to invite for his party given that they only had old fogeys in town at that point of town. I have to admit I love all the old fogeys who are great fun, don’t mind shaking a leg, are never disapproving of what the young people are wearing, drinking or doing – so I said lets have them all.

Fortunately some of our friends did end up in town and that changed the atmosphere. After a lot of Blue Bayouing and Jailhouse Rock we ended up raucously screeching out Metallica and finally by the end of the evening, it was my turn. And I only belted out Bollywood cabaret numbers from my childhood. Jawaani Jaaneman, Laila o Laila, Pyaar Do etc. It was crazy because everyone went wild dancing and screaming and the Bean was jumping in a corner going quietly insane with excitement and the Brat rolled his eyes, told me I was an embarrassment and walked away. And all this without me touching a drop of liquor. We wrapped up at 1.30 am and left for Delhi the next morning.

The car decided to give some trouble on the way – I guess they’d messed something up while denting and painting it. By mid noon we were on the hot, dusty highway, wondering what the hell to do. We managed to get it down a dirt track and find a shack where a mechanic opened it up, took one look, told us two cylinders were not working, and fixed them. The OA got a bazillion phone calls and since the kids weren’t with us, we just drove along without stopping, chatting with people we hadn’t spoken to in ages and knocking back sandwiches and brownies.

We got into Gurgaon late at night, had a quiet dinner with the OA’s brother and SIL and called it a night. Starting last night though, we’re back to celebrating. Since we’re child free and footloose, I’ve planned not a birth’day’ surprise, but a birth’week’ surprise for him. Every night after work I’m taking him to do something new/something he hasn’t done in a while. From massages to plays, to live music… the week ahead is packed and the old man is all set to party. As a policy we’re even avoiding material gifts for our kids these days and only giving them new experiences so this works out beautifully.

As someone said to us, with the kids all grown and out of the way, our 40s are over the hill, but then that is where you pick up speed, don’t you?!

 

Edited to add: Yes, of course he loved the book. He spent days poring over it, reading each letter, reminiscing, gasping in shock when he read one from a friend he lost touch with years ago… It now sits by his bed side and he picks it up and flicks through it every little while.

 

 

 

The engagement tag story

Noon tagged me for my engagement story and I am positive that everyone knows everything there is to know about the OA and my filmy affair. The running away, the tears, the fireworks… but never one to shy away from a tag I shall do it all over again.

I was in the midst of a break up with CB (college boyfriend) and the relationship just wouldn’t end.  Each time we sort of called it quits he would just turn up the next day smiling his huge smile and I’d sigh and figure that maybe there was something left to work on.

Now the OA was my shoulder to cry on through the breakup. In fact he just missed falling into the safe friends-zone (oh come on – the one Joey warns Chandler about?!)!! He patiently listened, didn’t advise or argue. He just bided his time dating other random women and acting like he wasn’t in the least bit interested in me. Or so I thought. He now says he was waiting for me to wake up and realise that he was the man of my dreams. So full of bullshit, isn’t he?!The rest of our office however couldn’t believe we were spending so much time together and still not an item.

The thing with CB finally ended and I was rather shattered. I don’t care what people say, I believe that even if you are the one to ultimately call it quits on a relationship, you are still rather devastated. You invest so much in a relationship and then suddenly one day you realise it isn’t working. You can either cling to it like a leech or have the sense to let it go while the memories are still good. Left single and sad and alone in the city, I hung out a lot more with the OA who was busy studying for his management entrances after office hours.

I was used to colleagues teasing me about the OA but after his impassioned avowal that he would never marry someone like me because I didn’t cook, I naively believed I was off the radar. I looked up to him since he was pretty senior in the food chain at office and was basically such a good guy. I don’t know when idol worship changed to love. It just happened.

The rides to and from office I would say, were where it all began and ended. Since I was the first he generously picked up each morning I’d sit in front while the rest slowly and sleepily piled in to the backseat along the way. We even discovered our very similar taste in music on those long rides.

Some days I’d get ready earlier than usual and so walk down to his place instead of waiting for the kind man to come and get me. Now he shared a flat with three other guys and with my Victorian upbringing I didn’t want to go in there alone. I was definitely not interested in catching some guy roaming around in his undies. So I would send him an SMS telling him that I was waiting at his door. He’d rush down, socks in hand and apologise. So I began to muster up the courage to go in because I hated having him rush down and then I’d sit on the edge of a chair in the living room and primly look away while he shoved his feet into sneakers and rushed around brushing his hair. (yeah okay, laugh all you want!) I think I realised the growing closeness when instead of the usual ‘I’m waiting downstairs’ message I began to send him just this – ‘Goodmorning  :)’ to indicate that I had arrived. He later on told me in a rare moment of mush that the moment he saw the smiley in the message he’d see my face smiling up at him. He has a good 9.5 inches on my 5’3″ so even after the metaphoric looking up ended I continue to look up to him.

Truth be told my mother told me he was interested in me, long before I figured it out. I’m a little slow like that. Practical and worldly wise, she didn’t understand why a young boy who could be getting in a lot more sleep was leaving for office half an hour earlier so that I could catch my shift, and coming out of his way to pick me up and hanging around after office in case I got late to give me a lift home so that I could avoid the dirty, crowded blueline buses.

I told her she had a dirty mind and didn’t understand platonic relationships. She told me she’d lived long enough to know a man in love. I ignored her. Now I eat my words. Mother. You are always right. Well, mostly right, if not always. Throw these words in my face and I will ban you from my blog.

So anyway, mother visited me, caught the OA as he dropped me off, offered him a cup of tea and left, satisfied that even if I did end up falling in love with him, he was a decent guy. She went home and told my dad that she could see it in his eyes but that I was too blind. And of course there was nothing she could do to keep me away from him, because as far as I was concerned she was being an orthodox old lady and there was really no reason to ‘keep me away’ from him. I stubbornly (so whats new?) kept meeting him and ignoring her because she was just an old fuddy duddy, see?

And so it went on. The OA wisely waiting. Me blithely ignorant. Or was I? I am still not too sure. All I know is that I saw him almost every waking minute and it just seemed right. He took a few days off from work and that is when it all began. The frantic SMSes. Willing the phone to ring or beep. Sending messages that you know you wouldn’t send a friend but still not sending anything that could be read as too flirtatious. How many times a day will you message a friend saying – ‘What you up to?’ I mean would you really care to know what a friend, even a best friend is up to, ten times a day, every single day?!!! How about – ‘Had dinner?’ Err… who cares?

A friend who took the ride to office with us called me aside and warned me – ‘I notice the look on his face in the rear view mirror. He’s nuts about you so if you’re going to break his heart, this might be a good time to tell him you’re not interested.’ Break his heart? What did I have to do with his heart? What the hell was wrong with the world and why were they all ganging up against me. Yes, I’ve always had a persecution complex!

Finery and liquor can do a lot to push a relationship to it’s culmination (I’m a teetotaller!). An office party happened and as usual he was picking up and driving a whole bunch of us there. The party was rocking but suddenly it struck me that this man I was spending most of my day with looked really hot when he cleaned up! That he danced like a dream and made interesting conversation. And that when the music came to an end, I didn’t want to stop dancing with him. Yes, you could call me slow. Why on earth was I insisting on setting him up with my best friend when I was single and ready to mingle? And my sales pitch to my friend – he’s cute and terrific husband material! So why was I selling when I didn’t mind buying?!!

I tore myself away and went and sat in a corner to sort my head out. Was I really interested or was it just the atmosphere and the fact that about 200 other people had been throwing us together? My phone beeped and the screen lit up..’What are you doing in that corner when you should be dancing with me?’

I looked across the lawn and he was standing with a bunch of colleagues and listlessly sipping his drink. I replied…

And so we kept at it. I don’t know if anyone noticed that we were sending messages for an hour. But it made me self conscious. When you’re in love, or when you do something you shouldn’t be doing, you do end up rather self conscious. You think everyone knows what you are up to. And to my mind the whole office knew and was probably reading our messages as they floated across the lawn with the music and the conversation. Finally he sent me a last one…’Let’s get out of here..’

But we couldn’t. We had to give 3 people a lift home. All looked rather disgruntled that we were leaving just as the party was warming up. But nobody wanted to fend for themselves in the wee hours of the morning so they knocked back their drinks and joined us.

We dropped two of them home and only my flatmate and I remained. The tension in the car was thick enough to cut with a knife. I wondered what lay ahead. I didn’t want to get my hopes up and see them dashed, neither did I want to make a fool of myself. And what exactly was he planning to say to my flatmate? How were going to get out of that?

But I needn’t have worried. My husband is a simple man and even then he had a simple solution. Turning to my flatmate he said he wanted to get out of the office party because it’s hard to enjoy a party when you’re concerned about getting drunk and making a fool of yourself. That he wanted to go to a real party now… ‘Want to join us? I’m taking MM to dance with me. She works too hard.’

Flatmate who was no fool and could see the sparks flying, mumbled an excuse and left. And there I was..alone with the OA in the car. Now I’d been alone with him a thousand times before. But it was never like this. I sat there in the darkness of the parked car and knew that the next answer would make a huge difference to my life.

‘Wanna go dancing?’ he smiled gently and now that I look back I can remember the distinct lack of enthusiasm in the voice.
No, I mumbled, wondering again if I’d misunderstood what were simply friendly or maybe mildly flirtatious messages.
I was dressed to the nines and my stilettos were killing me and I knew I couldn’t have danced if I wanted to, so I told him I could barely stand.

‘Coffee then? Drive?’
Sure… I replied hesitantly. What if I were found raped and dead the next morning, huh? I am nothing if not suspicious!

And so he drove and we chatted. And at some point he asked me to marry him. I kid you not. I have no recollection of what he said or how he said it. Simply because I was rehearsing my acceptance speech in my head. And perhaps because on the other hand I was also not expecting this to be the big night. I thought he’d perhaps confess undying love. Who in this day and age proposes marriage without dating for at least a while???!!! My honorable husband obviously.

‘Huh? What?I beg your pardon?’, I jerked upright in my seat.
I’d just heard him say… ‘…. when we’re married…’
Us? Married? Did I just miss my own proposal? Obviously. So full of yourself MM, that you miss your own proposal because you have other things going on in your head…
Apparently I’d just been proposed to. And then the womanly wiles kicked in and I made him sweat. Made him say it all over again. And again. And again. ‘You mean you’re in love with me? So why can’t you say it that way? Will it kill you to say the word ‘love’?’
From the way he changed gears I had a feeling I would be killed if I didn’t stop trifling with him!
‘Well if I’m talking marriage, obviously I am in love with you, right?’…
The age old thrust and parry of mating rituals.
‘Yes, but can’t you ask me properly? What makes you think I feel the same way? Have I said I want to marry you?’
He turned and looked me in the eye with a confidence that gave me my answer.

We had coffee at a 24 hour coffee shop and just sat and grinned foolishly at each other. I was finally at peace. I knew this was what was meant to be. There were no edges. Everything felt like it fitted. I can still see us in my mind’s eye. I in my black trousers, blue silk top and he in his beige trousers and black shirt ( He gave that shirt away to the guard recently and couldn’t figure out why that upset me so!). But for the life of me I cannot remember a single word of the conversation we had.

Sometimes the most significant moments in life catch you off guard. You imagine that when you are proposed to, violins will play in the background. That you will remember the scene and the words exactly. But that’s not how it happens. All I can remember is the dark highway stretching ahead, the glow of the instrument panel in the car and the strong hand that hesitated a moment before reaching out for mine.

I swore that I’d make him go down on his knees but we went through so much hell after wards that the whole knee thing seemed so trite and pale. When a man leaves his family and everything else that matters just to be with you, solitaires, poetry, roses, champagne and romantic dinners are just what Hallmark uses to sell cards. I never did get a proper proposal. I don’t think I care for anything more.

We had a huge engagement party in my hometown. He missed the train even then and came sleeping in the luggage rack of a passenger train but that is a story for another day. The engagement ring was beautiful. A square cut diamond with pink diamonds on either side. And since nothing conventional stays with me, it broke. A train door slammed shut on my hand and the ring saved my finger from breaking. But was squashed and damaged beyond repair. I didn’t get it repaired and I don’t remember the engagement date either. It’s either the 21st or 22nd of December. I must ask him.

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!

 

As we wrap up eleven years…

Today we complete eleven years of marriage.

I look back on the last 11 years and I’m at a bit of a loss for once. How does one encapsulate them?

I gained a husband but he came by himself. No family. No baggage. Not the desi way.

And when the family came, it was not pleasant. But then one doesn’t really expect pleasantness when the resistance to the marriage lead to one party having to leave home.

I’ve cried on your virtual shoulders and said things in public that I wish I hadn’t.

But what’s done can’t be undone.

This year I finally gained the family he was born into. It’s been gradual and I’ve mentioned it to you. But only now am I confident enough to say the words out loud.

It’s been a tough march.

We started off with daggers drawn and things only got worse. Accusations, counter accusations, unpleasant public scenes, harsh words.

We made up and broke up. And then again. It was like the ebb and flow of the tide.

But over the last couple of years we’ve patched things up and done a fair job of it. The patchwork isn’t ugly – it’s like an old handmade quilt. Ratty, but comfortable.

We have our off days, we sort things out.

My FIL falls asleep while watching TV and I quietly get a blanket to tuck around him. We go to attend a family wedding and he looks around at the other ladies and then suddenly turns and looks at me with pride and does something no one has done in years – pinches my cheek.

He makes a rather patriarchal statement regarding the babies and I fight him tooth and nail. One of us usually relents. More often than not, it’s him.

My MIL, on the other hand has grown into a friend. We chat quietly over a cup of tea, exchange family gossip. Plan the dinner menu. Well, she plans while I battle deadlines at work. She has tears in her eyes when she’s leaving and she hugs me, not letting go until the OA gently pushes her towards the car with a reminder that she’s getting late. I love you, sweetheart, she says.

I grin. And we send each other flying kisses at the exact same moment.

The OA says I’m an approval seeker. He’s right. I don’t like it when people don’t like me. I’m Monica.

To know me, is to love me, I say with teeth clenched. And I get back to figuring out what I have to do to make things better. To smooth over the rough edges. To.Make.It.Work.

The last eleven years have not brought professional recognition or accolades. They’ve not brought money.

But I’ve invested a lot of time in this little family of mine. And a lot of effort. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes I chose to fake it until I could make it, but it worked.

I often wish I’d had their blessings when we got married. It would have been so much easier on a young couple who anyway had to make the many other adjustments that marriage demands. I wish the OA had not felt alone and vulnerable. I wonder if he questioned his decision as he signed the dotted line. I wonder how it must have hurt to have my parents stand by us at a receiving line, but not his.

But I’m glad we’re here today. I’m glad I didn’t start off as a welcomed, accepted bride and grow to hate them as is often the case.

I’m glad we started at the lowest point in our relationship because the only way from there was up. Expectations were rock bottom and anything we get from each other today, is a bonus.

People always say the grandchildren bring change. But I think that is unfair to the hard work that goes into making things work. Change comes only when both sides want it and yes, the grandchildren are a good incentive.

But the look in my husband’s eyes when he walks in from work and finds his parents, kids and wife crowded in on his bed, having tea and laughing, is one I’ll not forget in a hurry. For once he doesn’t even chastise us for the biscuit crumbs on the counterpane.

I don’t want to jinx it, but I couldn’t not share this with you, could I?

I’m sure we’ll have our rough moments again, but I finally know what it is to be accepted by them. And this time I’ll have the incentive to work and bring things back to this point.

My eleventh anniversary gift to the OA?

A complete family and peace.

Which is a good thing, because I’m too broke to give him much else this year.

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.

Bad luck hi kharab hai

The Bean has been sick for more than a month now. Fever, cough, cold, a bout of urticaria, an allergic reaction which gave her boils in her nose, her ear and her face, and a chance that she had an intestinal obstruction. And of course the ever present asthma.

She’s a fiery little spirit and apart from the days when she’d thrown up too much to be active, her sharp little tongue and sharper brain, kept us entertained and reassured that she was going to be okay.

She began class two a couple of days ago, but hadn’t been to school in weeks. So I finally gave in to her pressure and sent her to school. With her nebuliser in her backpack.

She can assemble it in a trice, and knows how to pack it up and fit it back in the case neatly too. As she slung her heavy bag on to her skinny little back, waved her fragile wrist cheerfully and set off to school, I felt my heart break into a million pieces.

No child should know how to do this. And no child should have to carry her nebuliser to school.

In other good (!) news, my mother slipped in the toilet yesterday and smashed her ankle. A little piece has separated and she might need surgery to see it through.

I teased her that this was text book old age – Slip in the bathroom and break a leg.

I sit here chewing my nails in worry as I surf the net for a ticket. I keep an eye on my phone in case the school calls saying the Bean needs to be sent home.

And all the while I wonder how people who have terminally ill patients, be they parent or child, manage to do this endlessly. Perhaps they make their peace with it.

All I know is that I’m emotionally wrung out.

Chhote Nana had his last surgery day before yesterday and they had to give him 8 times the dosage of anaesthesia that they give to regular patients. He now has 15 rods in his leg that they keep fiddling with, keeping him in a constant state of agony. Seven months and he’s not out of bed, nowhere close to walking.

I’ve lost count of the number of surgeries he’s had and I worry for Cousin K who has been with his father through all of them.

He’s only 23 and he’s been through more than most of us have experienced in a lifetime. Three of the family of four in hospital. One close to death.

We’re watsapping each other on the family group and the phone pings madly through the day and night. The US arm, the sleepless invalids, everyone is up at all hours. I suggest that our generation take a vacation once all the oldies have recovered. We deserve it. The parents chorus  – Yes, you all do.

I’m busy checking on who has eaten, who is in pain.

Cousin K messages – I’m on hospital duty and Dada has had his breakfast.

I suggest something else.

And a weary – No one gives a rat’s arse about what I’m saying -is the response.

I giggle inspite of myself.

Yes, we’re highly irreverent.

My mother responds immediately – What nonsense, I’m doing as I’ve been told.

A weight lifts off me slowly. The tickets have come through and I can be by her side as she undergoes the procedure tomorrow.

Don’t come, she begs. Stay with the Bean.

My mother with a badly smashed ankle.

My daughter so badly asthmatic that she takes the nebuliser in her stride and merrily heads off to school.

Do I stay or do I go?

The OA gives me a look – Do you really think I’m less capable of caring for the kids than you?

No. No, I don’t. In fact he’s more meticulous and careful than I can ever be.

But I’m good for cuddles, laughs, stories and general smothering.

I tell my maid not to skip work while I’m traveling because Bhaiya will be managing office and kids alone. I tell her why I’m going – my mother has had an accident.

She tsks with real concern – How terrible. Now who will take care of your father?

I resist lecturing her and head off to pack my overnighter. It takes me a couple of minutes because now I have a mental checklist of what I’ll need in case of an emergency in the family.

Hopefully this is the last we’ll see of illness for a while.

Or as Cousin K helpfully suggests on our watsapp group – Anyone else want to break any bones? Please do it now. We have a room booked in X hospital and might get a group discount.

Laughter really is the best medicine.

See you on the other side.

 

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