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.

 

The Brat @ gmail.com

A few days after the Brat was born, I was saying his name to myself, thinking random thoughts… and suddenly I hit upon a great joke. An inside joke that involved his name and it struck me that were he older, he could have used it as his email id. And then I realised it was something that anyone else with the same name could have used already. A quick check on gmail told me that it was still unused and so without much thought I created an email id for him and blocked it. And after sharing the joke with the OA and my family, forgot about it. I also made an email did for the Bean when she was born, but that was nothing particularly fancy – I just wanted to ensure we didn’t lose the name.

The Brat’s love for animals is well known and often the family and friends send me an animal related forward telling me to make sure he sees it. For years he’s sat in my lap and looked at dolphins caught in mid leap, piglets wrapped in a tiger’s skin and so on. At times he’d have something to say about it and I’d reply to the sender with his comment.

When he turned 9 I realised his conversations with my dad, more than anyone else, were getting longer and longer. This was not just G’pa-G’son prattle, it was intelligent conversation. He’s way ahead of us in his knowledge of animals and my dad has begun to read up and research in order to keep up with him.

This is also the age by which we were all writing to our cousins and pen pals, polishing our letter writing skills. But this generation does neither.

Now everyone knows I have some firm views on the screen time that kids should be allowed and I was loathe to let him start mailing people, but of all the screen time that kids these days have the opportunity to use, this seemed the most innocuous. The other option is to make him hand write letters and then go hunting all over Gurgaon for a post box and hope that it makes it to the receiver.

Finally (actually it wasn’t as fraught a decision as it comes across as!) I decided to let him use his email id and mail his grandparents. He’s thrilled of course, but being the Brat, he expresses rapture with a gentle smile and nod.

Chhota Nana has really got into the mood of things and writes him long chatty letters in the style of our old times. Talking of the weather, what interesting things were cooked for dinner, update on his leg and how he is slowly walking more and will take the Brat out for a drive in an automatic car when he next visits, etc. He’s already got a pretty independent relationship with most of the family and being able to respond to them individually is bringing out a whole other side to him.

I opened his account on the iPad so that we can monitor it and he hasn’t even considered asking for privacy and it just lies open to view. I’ve only shared the email id with family so that he doesn’t get overwhelmed with the usual flood of information most of us deal with. I had anticipated a lot of to-do over it and I was right. The Bean threw a fit asking why she couldn’t have one and I pointed out that her brother was older and would get his privileges before she did. She needed to get to the same age to get access to hers. She griped for a day or so and then got involved in her Lego and the storm passed.

The Brat keeps his mails brief and surprisingly articulate. I had meant to teach him to thank people for writing to him, respond to a couple of statements they’d made in the mail etc, but he picked it up himself and has been corresponding beautifully. I had intended to tell him not to hand it out to friends yet but he didn’t even ask if he could and is happy to keep it restricted. Like a lot of other quiet people he pours his thoughts out in his emails and I hold back tears when I see a thought expressed in a particularly beautiful manner. It hasn’t occurred to him to demand privacy yet even though he and the Bean know that they aren’t supposed to read mail over my shoulder.

This email business also resurrected a few old issues with the in-laws who refuse to accept that I’ve retained my maiden name and that the children carry it in the hyphenated form. After much debate I had just begun to ignore the fact that the in-laws referred to me by their surname, addressed me as such in their cards and letters and so on. But when they began to do it with the children too, it bothered me hugely. The OA and I have chosen to give our kids both surnames and that needs to be respected by everyone, as our choice. Particularly since they are children and don’t need to be confused.

The OA firmly told his father that we monitor the email account and until he re-saved the email correctly, we’d not allow the Brat access to it. That was an unpleasant 24 hours but we got through and now the emails are flowing smoothly!

The Brat loves checking his mail sitting by my side and laughing over notes, sharing an image or two,  asking me if he’s worded something correctly. It’s yet another thing we’ve found to bond over and in the years to come I know he’ll want his password and is privacy. Until then… I’ll enjoy this.

Blah, blah, blah

Me: Brat, you’ve ripped your shirt!
Brat: Where? Where?
Me: arre here…b..b…baby.
Bean: You were going to say blind bat but you stopped yourself, didn’t you?

#AnyTimeYouWantToTakeMeAwayLordImReady

————-

Bean after spilling a packet of sewing needles on the bed ( she’s embroidering a robot on casement) – It’s okay Mama, WE know I’ve spilled it, so we’ll be careful. Only Pop will get a poke in his bum.

Of course. That’s alright then.

————–

Dinner table conversation :

Bean – “Dad, can I say the F-word?”

Dad wonders where this is leading…

Brat pipes up – “as long as it is not the four letter word.”

Dad is taken aback and thinks to himself, “damn, these kids are getting started earlier with each passing generation!”, but decides to explore further with “which word is that? “

Both respond in unison – “Fool!”

Dad heaves a sigh of relief!

—————-

Reason # 817 to not have kids.
Brat: Mama it’s early morning and lights are on instead of opening the curtains. Global warming is happening because of you.
Me.. arre I’m in my night clothes and this is the ground floor. People can look in.
Brat: Then go change.

Bean: Why is the AC on? You’re global warming the world. (sic)
Me: It’s bloody hot and the middle of the afternoon.
Bean: So sweat a little.

#HoistByMyOwnPetard

——————

Not even 48 hours at this particular resort and the Bean who is our official telephone operator is greeted with a Hello Bean, by the receptionist, the cleaning staff and everyone else.
She’s also greeted by name by every guard in our complex.
After a lifetime of people forgetting my face even after three meetings, fumbling over my name, not being able to place me, being with her is a strange and new experience.
You could be good, kind, intelligent, interesting. … But personality walks into a room and it’s game over.

Which is not to say she’s not kind or intelligent or all things good. Just that those features of hers too are lost in the force of her personality.

——————-

Brat and Bean collecting shells on the beach. Checking each one for uniqueness. This one looks like lace. This has a fan design. This one is maroon!
The Brat brings a perfectly pure white, unexceptional one to me, and justifies it ‘this is plain Ma, but its not a bad thing to be plain. See, it’s not got a single spot but no one else will pick it up because it’s not fancy and can’t show off and catch your eye. So I’m going to take it home and make it mine. ‘

——————–

No wasting a single grain of food or over-serving, just because it’s a buffet, the OA and I repeat at every meal.

Faced with a variety, all of which must be finished, the Bean makes a canapé out of rounds of bread topped with bits of papad and curd rice.

And to think I outraged loud and long at the idiocy and stereotypes when they showed SRK eating noodles with curd in Ra One. I take it back. It’s all good and all possible.

—————-

The Bean singing Lungi dance: Lungi ko uthana padega, shampoo karke dikhana padega. .. anda ke jaise chashma lagake.

Kya dikhana padege? I shudder to think.

————–

Language comes rushing back in moments of crisis. Had a huge fight with the cab driver who dropped us to the railway station. He wanted extra money because we kept a small bag of breakable goods on the seat instead of in the boot. Says it’s a rule. I call the company (Fastrack Cabs) and find out there is no such rule, but ‘just give it to shut him up, madam!’ He can’t speak to us in English and its a boon that I can speak Tamil.
It comes rushing back. Hesitant and broken at first. A flood later.
I call the railway cops to intervene. They look vague and shrug. Why don’t you adjust madam?
A new cop who thinks we’re all northies, tells him in Tamil. ..’They don’t look like they’ll cave – let it go. You can pick up someone else from here and fool them. ‘
By now I’m in full steam and ask the cop what the hell. ..
The OA tells me to ask the cabbie to give us a bill for the extra amount if its company policy. He puts his tail between his legs and disappears. The cops are relieved at not having to fight a battle and send us off.
The Brat is in tears of rage by now. The Bean is silent.
All this because my husband looks like a North Indian and is speaking to him in English. We’re outsiders who are fair game.
Makes me wonder how foreigners manage. He tried his luck with us and it was his bad luck that I spoke the language. What if you know neither the language nor the people? It’s not easy in our country where we’re so corrupt and so quick to fool a stranger.
Anyway. Alls well that ends well. And apparently languages are like bicycles. You can get back on like you never got off.

————————

The Bean walks into my room with her dress accidentally hiked up and undies on show.
Me: Oi! Why is your bum on display?
Bean: *without missing a beat* – That’s my style.

Reminds me of Rachel in FRIENDS at Barry and Mindy’s wedding. All she needed to do was break out into Copacabana!

—————–

The Brat has been studying muhavarein ( idioms) for some weeks now.  The OA and I have been struggling to help him because neither of us can claim to be good at Hindi. This weekend he has to write a poem made up of only muhavarein. I banged my head on the bed in despair and moaned, “If I hear the word muhavarein once more, I’ll kill myself.”

A moment of silence while the family looks on in concern and then the Bean pipes up mischievously and experimentally, “Muhavarein? “

—————–

Only the Bean will look at her dinner and burst into song – Oh matarpaneer, matarpaneer. .. sung to the tune of Masakkali.

——————–

Helping the Brat with his Hindi homework and used to working on my laptop I keep changing the lines as I think, forgetting that he has to keep erasing.

Finally he stops, holds my head at the temples and patiently says – Mama, first think your entire thought through and then let it come out of your mouth.

I think I just heard the OA’s voice.

———————

The Bean walks in from school, neatly puts tiffin etc for wash, hangs her bag in place and then rubs her hands gleefully and says, “It’s the weekend Mama – please brainstorm so that we can do up the house.”

I now understand how Frankenstein must have felt.

No votes for me

For years ours has been the go-to house because I’ve been a work from home mum and parents feel safe sending their kids to a place where they won’t be left to maids or where they’re sure there are no unknown males. The last couple of years have been ground floor homes and I often smile over my cup of chai as I see the bunch of cycles thrown at my door, higgledy-piggledy. Kids running in randomly with an Aunty, paani, request. Pile ups at my door as they rush in from school while their mothers beg them to at least go home for a quick wash.

Increasingly though, that crowd is thinning out. Because ours is the only home where the kids don’t have a TV in their bedroom. Our TV is out in the common area and even so, kids who come over to play are encouraged to pick up one of the many games lying around. I don’t actively prevent them from watching TV, but I usually pull out a board game and start them off. Or an art session. Or suggest that they all go for a swim. Or a cycling race around our complex. If we do put on the TV its not for uncontrolled endless viewing but because we’ve planned a specific movie evening with popcorn. And once the movie is over, the TV goes off.

The Brat is almost 10 and his friends are into Playstations and the like. We don’t have one. The Bean’s friends are allowed glitter nailpolish and heels – at 7. I don’t subscribe to those either.

Friends drop in at all hours but on school nights I have a strict curfew and I don’t know how others let their kids play basketball till 9 pm because heck, my kids won’t wake up for school if they don’t get to bed on time.

Snacks at my place are fresh fruit, milk and peanut butter or tuna sandwiches. At other homes they are Maggi, Chocopies and jam biscuits with aerated drinks. I also insist that they all sit around the dining table and eat instead of taking it into the nursery and spilling crumbs all over the beds.

Clearly our place isn’t winning a popularity vote.

I know my kids would prefer that I loosen up but it seems people around me are loose enough for me to have to stay tight to maintain the tension it requires for this tent to stay upright. This is not easy. I am liberal by nature and in my politics. I hate policing the kids and this is not the way I was brought up. But I see little kids wearing glasses earlier than ever, I see overweight kids (they were so few when we were children) and I see all sorts of ailments and lifestyle diseases becoming more common than we realise. I hate being the strict aunty. I love having a houseful of kids and the sound of them playing and chattering is truly music to my ears. It doesn’t disturb me in the least.

While all kids love to get out of their own homes and go to another’s for a change, I am well aware that my kids prefer the laxity in other homes. The endless TV, the junk food, the lack of supervision by parents, the over flowing toy bins, not being embarrassed by their mother who insists that all the kids help tidy up their room before going home (just as I insist my kids do when we’re visiting someone). It’s tempting to let it slip, to go back to being the most popular aunty like I was when I spent hours reading to kids when they couldn’t read and were mostly surrounded by maids or with grandparents who couldn’t play hide and seek with them.  But it would go against what I strongly believe in and I struggle to stay on this path.

Interestingly (and of course they don’t know this yet) I think the OA and I will be among the less hysterical parents when they do begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol. I believe obesity, modified foods, sugar, refined flour, additives, food colouring and lack of proper supervision in their formative years are more likely to harm our children than the odd bottle of beer. I do believe in instilling healthy food habits and lifestyles so that when they do grow too old to listen or care, they’ll have healthy habits and hopefully healthy bodies. I believe if they have some amount of discipline and health on their side it will be easier to fight or even experiment in some sort of controlled moderate manner. I’m proof if anything, of someone exposed to sex, drugs and rock and roll, only to turn out a complete teetotaller who is nonetheless entirely tolerant of people who make those choices. Of course there are no perfect solutions or easy answers. And so I bumble on and hope for the best.

All I know is that right now the cries of children in Palestine is making it hard for me to think straight. Signing off on a fairly bleak week. Try and stay safe and have a good one, you.

Here’s a mother who punished her daughter by selling off her Katy Perry concert tickets on a closed Facebook page. What do you think of that sort of disciplining? I’ve often been strict and taken away privileges etc (which is why my kids think I’m a mum from hell) but I don’t know if I’d have publicly shamed the kids, specially in their teens. That said, if I had to pick an extreme I’d pick discipline over nothing.

 

The Nursery is Dark

Thanks to Gentle Whisperer’s suggestion I went through my posts from 2008 and have dug up the first ‘The Nursery is Dark’ post.

———————-

The Nursery is Dark

… said a friend driving by our home and looking up. Where are the kids?

The kids have gone with my parents. To spend a week or so with them in our hometown. My parents have been asking for a while to take them. And I’ve been tired, bogged down with work and trying to spend time with them and a dozen other problems. So in a moment of weakness I said yes. The OA is only too happy to get rid of them and spend some alone time and also some happy-couple-time.

But me? I know it’s only a matter of time before I go and do what I did the last time the Brat went to visit my parents and the time before that – go bury my head in his cupboard, smell the baby-bratty smell in his little washed and ironed teeshirts and cry.

But this time they’ve taken away my Bean. My baby Bean. I don’t know if I want to cry or not. It feels quite foolish considering I have sent them willingly. Well willingly only because the parents want them and the OA thinks that between work and home I don’t get a break and because the Bean cries through nights, the Brat has been sick and we haven’t had a good night’s sleep since Noah’s Ark set sail. I know the OA wants some time off to do his own thing  – adult things without worrying about it being baby-friendly or not. And the biggest reason – because the babies get what we can’t give them here – space and pets and freedom. They come back happier and healthier.

How lucky you are, say friends with little kids – you can leave your kids and go for a holiday. Well yes, we’re lucky to have my young parents with a huge house and lots of help and family around. But we are forced to leave the kids simply because we don’t get a break through the rest of the year. We take the kids everywhere with us, we aren’t in the habit of dragging an ayah per kid along to every place. They’re usually strapped on to us or in a stroller or their car seats. We have no near and dear ones in Delhi who we can safely leave the kids with and go to work or for a movie. Our phones are switched on to silent mode even during important meetings so that if the kids wake up or cry, the maid calls and we rush back. And since that is such a hassle, we usually ensure that one of us is home if the other is out. There are no really good daycares where we can leave them and know that they are safe. So yes, more than anyone else, we need to take this break from the kids, the responsibility and the stress and exhaustion.

The original idea had been to go away for a few days, but we’ve changed our minds. We’ll just be hanging around at home and catching up on much needed sleep. Maybe hitting a pub or a disco if I can fit my fat butt into anything slinky. Let’s see.

But I was cranky all of yesterday. I didn’t realise it. I was yelling at the OA and snapping at people and giving the Brat time-outs in the crib like it’s going out of fashion. It was when I was out on the balcony collecting the dry clothes that my brother turned up and put an arm around me. He didn’t need to even ask what happened. There’s something about having your childhood mate, the one person who has always been around, look at you with kindness. I fell into his arms and blubbered like a baby – I don’t want to give my babies to Mamma.

There. It was out. And he soothed me and asked why I had agreed in the first place. ‘Because I know they love taking the kids back, I know the kids enjoy it and I know the OA craves the break… but I? I don’t even like to leave them to go back to a fulltime job. So crazy about my two little pests am I…’

Mad Sibling goes back into the house.

Ten minutes later I walk in with the folded laundry and my mother demands – You don’t want to send the kids with us? Then why didn’t you say so?

MM looks around in confusion. Light dawns. She hunts for the Mad Sibling, realises he is in the toilet and is just about held back from breaking the door down and killing him.

I explain to the parents that it’s not about them. It’s me. I am just unable to let the children go so far away, without us. One is a year old and the other is not even three. I know they will be well taken care of, but I still hate the thought of not being available to them. And I know that the OA wants a holiday and some rest. I need it too. But I am willing to forego everything, just to have those two little baby faces look up at me with big smiles.

The Bean got really attached to my mother over the last few days and I hadn’t had any trouble putting them into the train and leaving. She’d been a little clingy earlier in the day but that is just her reaction to me. When I am not around, she is fine. Which is the case with both my kids. They love having us around, but they’re confident, happy little kids who go off with everyone now.

I got off the train and pressed my nose to the darkened glass, trying to catch a glimpse. They didn’t notice me. They were jumping around on the berths and laughing, my parents already the centre of their universe. I stared at the Bean. Willing her to look at me. I don’t know why. I should have been happy that she had settled in without a backward glance.

I stood out there – just watching the tableau. The two grandparents playing with the babies. All four happy faces. I knew they’d all be okay. I don’t know how long I stared, but I suddenly noticed my brother and the OA reflected in the glass. Standing patiently behind me. We left the station and drove home. The city sights flashing by the window as I stared out blindly.

The first time we left the Brat with my parents was to go to Goa. He was just short of a year old and I dropped him off and came back. He was fine and when they brought him back, he looked at me as though I was a stranger. It broke my heart. But atleast I knew he had been happy. By the second time I knew he would be fine and I didn’t want to send him, but I was desperately sick and had no help. With a working mother who had no time to come and help me with him, I just had to send him there. The third time he was a pro. He’s already been away 5 times for about a week each time and he’s not even three yet. He is quite a happy little chap, extending a hand of friendship, trusting and confident… and always ready for new experiences.

But the Bean? The Bean is all mine. The one I have cared for from the first day. The one no one else helped with. The one I single-handedly cared for with no parents or anyone around, straight out of hospital and surgery. The one I held close to myself, night after night, sure that I wouldn’t share her for a minute with anyone else. The Bean who I desperately wanted to be non-clingy yet now can’t believe that she actually has changed and become so easy going.

I just spoke home. They reached an hour or two ago. The kids are playing in the dirt with the four dogs. I can see the picture in my mind’s eye. The huge 100 year old mango trees under which my grandmom played. Where my mum played hide and seek. Where the brother and I built a treehouse and got up early in the morning to watch birds. And now the fourth generation sits in the shade of those very same trees. Who knows, maybe my greatgrandmother still watches over the home and is happy to see my two little ones mucking around.

The Bean is screaming ‘bow bow’ in delight and licking the dogs back as they frolic with her. I can hear her in the background as I talk to my mother. I can imagine her chasing the squirrels as they scamper up trees. I can see the Brat leading her grandly by the hand to the two ponds to see the fishies. I can imagine them getting into the fireplaces and playing peekaboo. The old house must have come alive with the baby sounds after almost 20 years.

The Bean has apparently already walked into my uncle and aunt’s little nursery school and plonked herself on the benches to attend class, sitting in between children who are three times her age and twice her height. I ache to see that with my own eyes. Instead I sit here listening to maudlin music, the tears pouring down my cheeks, the ache growing as I miss them. Knowing fully well that for them I am out of sight and out of mind. Getting a taste of what life will be like after they go to college. I have a pile of work to do and a meeting in another hour. I should stop now and get going but somehow I won’t cut such an impressive figure with my tear stained cheeks.

You know how they tell you to get a job and not let your children fill up your life because you won’t be able to fill the void once they leave for college? Well I had planned for this trip of theirs and taken on extra meetings and interviews and stories in anticipation of the long days ahead. So my time is accounted for. I don’t have a spare minute. And yet, yet, nothing on earth can fill the void in my life. Don’t believe them when they tell you that having a job fills the empty nest. It’s not true. Babies leave a baby-shaped hole in your heart that no job or man or hobby on earth can fill.

I absently think that I must get up and go draw the curtains in the nursery because it is 10 am and the sun shines in on the kids making the room hot and unbearable. And then I realise that I don’t need to. I didn’t throw open the curtains and let the sunshine in this morning. The nursery is still dark.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Edited to add: To add to it – my brother too left this morning and I hugged him at the top of the stairs and cried. And when he left, I sat down on the stairs – too unhappy to walk back into the emptiness of the home I love so much. And cried like an abandoned orphan. I’d resigned myself to seeing him only at Xmas this year, after he visited India last October for his wedding. This visit was a surprise and it’s completely destroyed the composure and left me miserable. I watched him and the SIL play with my children and I know I want to see his children grow up with mine. I want to see them not once a year but every week. Every month, if not everyday. Of what use is family if you meet like strangers once a year?

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.

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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!