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!

 

The Bean turns seven

My darling little menace,

I don’t know what I thought you’d grow into. But I had no idea it would be this. Filthy, fearless, funny. You have a fantastic sense of humour and a belly laugh to rival the best. You have the grace of a mountain goat (you get that from dada) and there’s no tree you haven’t climbed, no hedge you haven’t crawled through, no puddle you haven’t stepped in.

I admit there are days I look at clean little girls in neatly turned up shorts, glossy hair tied back in pigtails and then I look at you mournfully – in your brother’s hand me down tracks, sagging at the knees, your hair escaping it’s dozen clips, your tee shirt covered in paint, and I wonder if you’ll look back at your pictures when you grow up and wonder if I neglected you.

But then you’ll see the thousands of pictures I click – you standing on dada’s shoulders, his hands, hanging from his exercise bar and flipping over, balancing on a beam, swirling a hula hoop, chasing a puppy around a park, and you’ll know why you never looked as shiny as the rest.

You wield your tongue like a rapier. I find it tough to win an argument with you and shamefully often resort to the old – Because I’m your mother card. Your father, poor man, doesn’t know what he did to deserve two like us. On good days he smiles and says – Hah, I can’t wait to see the poor fool that falls for her and discovers her sharp tongue. He insists I didn’t show him the rough edge on mine until we were wed. You know I’m incapable of holding it for that long!

You haven’t met a rule you don’t want to break and I’ve had to pull you out of an empty home (you got in through the gap they’d left to fit an AC) and give you the dressing down of your life. You’ve argued and made me justify every bit of discipline I’ve tried to inculcate. But why? Many a time I’ve changed my mind because I realise that I’m merely trying to force you into a certain way because ‘we did it when we were young’. Barring some good manners, there’s little else I enforce now.

I don’t need to. You have your heart in the right place and are a fiery little creature, always ready to fight for the underdog.

But under the muck and grime and paint, you’re still tiny, like a baby bird. A delicate frame that I worry will snap, when I see you throw yourself off a tree. Long fingers that create wonderful works of art. Ugly little toes that I will never forgive your father for.

You’re unbelievably observant and I often send you to fetch and carry because your brother and father only stare blankly at me if I ask for cello tape, measuring tape, my black shoes or a roll of toilet paper.

You love dogs and I’m giving up all hope of ever having any grandchildren through you. You’re the one that will adopt dogs and refer to them as your kids. A thought that breaks my heart I have to admit!

I love the way you take pride in our home, painting little pots and appointing them in the most unstable corners. I love how you pat the Brat’s curls adoringly and say – ‘My anna is so handsome. Even strangers like to play with his curls.’ All this while your ‘anna’ growls at you in mock anger and very real embarrassment.

Your father’s parents have been won over by you. A fairly conservative couple who voted for a boy the moment they heard I was expecting your brother, they are in awe of your wit, your charm, your way with words, your sunny personality, your quick thinking. This is a huge victory of personality over tradition. It’s amusing too, because these very qualities in your mother, they find abrasive! But that’s a battle for another day. For now, I like how the female, skinny, dark, grubby little underdog took all her grandparents’ preconceived notions and flung them out the window, wrapping the old couple around her little finger. Your paternal grandpa called to wish you this morning, singing happy birthday on the phone and ending with an I love you – a phrase he’s never offered your father.

Your father and I have got used to you waving to the guard, the shopkeepers, the old gentlemen who brings his grandson down to play everyday. They all know us only as your parents. You’re our celebrity.

And just like that, I know someday you will grow up and win over everyone who ever crosses your path. You tire me, frustrate me, drive me nuts – and yet, I’m your biggest fan.

I love you,

Mama

Edited to add: You’ve been sick for the last 2 weeks now. Fever, cough, cold, gastro-enteritis, boils on your face, in your eye, nostril, and the final injury – urticaria. We had to cancel the party after weeks of running to the hospital every second day.

This morning I oiled your hair and  you sit there with your hair up in a clip, in your pajamas, your skinny limbs gracefully yet carelessly arranged. You’re engrossed in that very rare treat, the iPad, tapping your sock clad feet in time to the music and all of a sudden you’re not 7, you’re 17 and I feel my eyes shining with tears. This is it. It’s over. I had just this much time to be mother to babies. And I’m only 35 and it’s almost over. You’re growing so fast. I spend more and more time with you, clinging to what it is that I seek from motherhood, but it slips through my fingers and rushes on. I have no complaints. I have received more than I ever thought I would.

 

Dear Baby Button

I know your Mama and Dada love you a lot and probably write you letters in their head every night. But I’m your mad aunt and I am dying to meet you. By the time I lay eyes on you, you will be almost a year old and that thought makes me ache. Held by others, loved by others, recognising others and giving others your precious gurgles and smiles while far away I dream of you. As you can see, distance bothers me hugely, more so because I hate skype and refuse to be one of those mothers or aunts who forces kids to stand in front of a webcam and talk to pixelated faces that move in slow mo.

But your Mama arrived last night. I went to the airport to collect her and as she slowly turned the corner, all I saw was her belly. And right there in the middle of the airport I rushed to hug her and then promptly abandoned her and bent down to hug her bump. And right then I fell in love with you. Fortunately I remembered her swollen feet and rushed her into the car and got her home to a steaming hot meal. I sent SMS to all concerned on the way home (it was way past midnight) saying “The Eagle has landed”. And your G’pa promptly replied saying, “Wrong bird. We’re expecting a stork.” Yeah, you’ll learn, that your father gets his sense of humour from his father.

Anyway, this morning your cousins woke up delighted to see your Mama on their bed, dying to wake them up ( yes, at times your mother is more excitable than a 5 year old). The Bean sat up, cracked one eye open, grinned sleepily and said, “Where’s my baby Button?” and the sleepy Brat took a few minutes more only finally sitting up when I reminded him that Maami was carrying his baby Button in her belly. He wants you to be Robin to his Batman.

They’ve hugged you and kissed you before going to school and I can’t help but smile as I realise that a real live little baby lies inside mama’s tummy, soaking up the excitement and love, awaited by an entire family sitting on the edge of their chairs.

It is tradition to wear worn clothes for the first few days and I had put aside two outfits for you. A little red and white reindeer outfit of the Brat’s and a Winnie the Pooh onesie that the Bean wore. They come to you with love and luck and prayers and blessings. May they bless you with (selective!) traits that your cousins have. May you get the Brat’s loving, gentle disposition. May you get the Bean’s comic timing. May you get your Mummy’s absolute willlingness to try everything once and get up to all sorts of mischief. May you get your Daddy’s brilliant mind. And of course you have love from all of us.

I think what consoled me to some extent was seeing the Brat and the Bean hug your Mama and love her. Distance does make things difficult, yes, but when there is so much love, you survive it. They haven’t seen her since January and yet they hung on her every word and were unwilling to leave her and go to school. And I hope that when you come visiting us from the US you will enjoy our company and love your cousins right back. That you will not go nuts dealing with this mad aunt who won’t be able to stop cooing over you and kissing you…

God bless you baby Button…and hurry up - your family awaits you. So eagerly.

Love

Me

In the end it’s all the same

Dear Brat and Bean,

Years ago my nani used to have to face questions on why your Tambi mama wasn’t taught to call me didi. I was after all, a whole 14 (!!) months older than him. One, she said, 14 months didn’t warrant respect really. And two, when you’re siblings you are equals. There is no older, younger, respect, disrespect. There should just be love. I’ve often pondered over that thought and rolled it around in my head. Where did I stand on it?

As usual, the matter was taken out of my hands. Here are two pictures to prove her point.

Sometimes the Brat goes all grown up and indulges the Bean with a ride on his back…

And at other times he sleeps on her skinny little belly while she maternally strokes his head even in her sleep.

Koi shak ya sawaal as to why there was no didi and is no bhaiya? I thought not.

Love you, brats!

Mama

RIP Patchy

Dear Patchy,

You and the Brat became friends when you were both mere pups. In fact you were barely two months old when the Brat came visiting. Picking up the ball of fluff you were he flung you across the garden with all the strength his one year old arm had, which fortunately, wasn’t too much. I screamed and came running to pick you up, scolding the Brat and threatening to throw him across the garden too. The Brat of course understood nothing and as I tried to coddle you, you shook me off and went running back to him, happy to be tossed again. It was with great difficulty that we put an end to that game.

Soon the Bean came along and you were best friends. She ate out of your bowl, you ate food out of her mouth and all was well with your world.

And then you threw it all away and left us. Nani and G’pa hid it from me for a long time and when they told me, I struggled with it and wondered how to explain it to the babies. But they are so used to people coming and going that they have begun to take entrances and exits in their stride. Today, they began to ask for you “Mama, lets go to Allahabad, to play with Patchy..”

Err… err… I began, trying to make up something suitable when it came to me. “He’s gone to live with Jesus… ” I said. Now their concept of Jesus is one of their own creation. At X’mas the Bean saw the Nativity scene somewhere and said – oh look, Baby Jesus, Mama Jesus and Dada Jesus – like they were cattle or something. So I listened. And I realised they’ve picked up bits from here and there because finally we dialled Nani and this is what she was told…

Brat: Nani, Patchy wasn’t well so Jesus came and took him to Heaven to show him to a doctor there. And maybe he’ll get an injection too. And when he smiles down from Heaven his teeth shine and he is the brightest star.

Bean: and Jesus will tap (she means pat) him and he’ll be nice and warm and cosy….

Brat: so don’t cry – because he’s fine now. Maybe we can get a cat this time. I’ll get a big white cat with a collar and a leash and I’ll ride my cycle and it will race with me ..

And thus Patchy, they made their peace with your absence….

And yes, rest in peace you…

MM

The one where the Brat had a problem

Dear Brat,

I thought long before I wrote this post. Would it bother you later? Would you come back to hate me? Then I figured, kids will find something to hold against us anyway, so let’s make it easy for them!

About 9 months ago, after you went to big school, we realised that your personality was suffering. You’d slowly gone into a shell, stopped speaking or begun to speak only gibberish, had given up holding a pencil, had spells of violence and then of absolute silence – and the worst? You cringed if I put out a hand to push a lock of hair off your face or wipe chocolate off your face and that spoke volumes. There were plenty of other problems that I shall not blog about, that we needed to take up with the administration, but the main thing was to get you out of there.

So we moved you back to your old nursery school from the terrible, terrible school we’d put you in. About 20 days later, I was called to meet your teachers.  It gave me the heebie jeebies – what could be wrong? The teachers gently broke it to me that you might have a learning disability. And communication problems too. And they said the scary words – Special Ed teacher.

Every mother thinks her child is special. A genius. Brilliant. And every grandparent thinks their grandchild is twice the genius their child ever was. Which is why your Nani-G’pa were understandably in denial. I on the other hand, was willing to listen to the teachers and take remedial steps if that is what it took. We had a meeting with the principal where I reminded her that you were one of the brightest kids in the class the year before that – in your Montessori class. She remembered – she also called in last year’s teacher to speak to her. I mentioned that the school we’d moved you to, had affected you deeply. Your father and I were really worried about your behaviour at home and to hear that you were having trouble at school, was even worse.

I was willing to pay for the Special Ed teacher if you needed one, but I wanted them to keep in mind that you had been through a shock. That you’d regressed for a reason and up until then had no problem learning. That the school we’d pulled you out of, was way behind your nursery school in terms of curriculum. They were still teaching you to draw standing and sleeping lines while this school was teaching you the capital and small letters at the same time. As for the social problems, well, considering you’d regressed to barely talking and had joined the new class 4 months after the other children had formed their little groups, I could see why. I just didn’t want them to label you – but I didn’t want to live in denial either.

Anyhow, the decision taken was that you wouldn’t be given special ed, we’d all just work harder with you. And that’s how it began. Now I am not a teacher. I am your mother. And a very impatient mother at that. It’s also why I get very irritated that the teaching in this country often lies in the hands of those who couldn’t figure out what else to do. Those with husbands in transferable jobs. Those who want to go home early to their kids and need a job that ends at 2 pm. I fully appreciate the enormity of the task and I don’t at any point imagine its an easy job to do, which is why, I took on the task of helping you catch up, with great trepidation. We’d already made a mess and I knew I didn’t want to screw things up further.

I think this might be a good time to confess that I am ashamed of losing patience at times. Mostly because you’re such a good child. You’re stubborn, but as a mother it’s my job to understand that and work around it. There were days I had deadlines to meet, while you and sister danced around the house like little dervishes. There was the alternative therapy doctor to take you and your sister to. There was housework to be done. And I snapped often enough. And wept myself to sleep with the guilt.

But you were patient with me. Patient with your father. Patient with your little sister who hopped from one excited foot to the other, blithely and ignorantly encouraging you when you were doing something wrong. I don’t know how we managed, with a guest room that permanently had guests in and out of it, people sprawled across our bedroom carpet or on bean bags, the constant bustle around the house – but I guess that is where the natural resilience of children makes its presence felt. You learnt. You learnt from all of us. And each of us taught you in our own way.

I wondered if we were confusing you, or hampering your progress. You know, so  many people rushing in and out of your life, so many different ideas. But it worked. It worked in its own way. We did a review with your teacher two months later and she was beyond pleased with your progress. You were up to the  class’ level inspite of having not just started four months later, but having had a lot of other problems.

I often criticise your father and your Tambi maama for their terrible handwriting. But as I sat with you day after day and watched your little hands grasp a pencil and painfully shape an alphabet, I was in awe. In awe of the human mind and the effort it takes to draw even something as simple as a straight line. It made me doff my hat to adult literacy programmes. Schooling your hand, learning to put the right amount of pressure, getting your brain to tell your hand which direction to take and then actually taking it… So much that we just take for granted, once we’ve picked up the skill.

I wish I could tell you how your father and I held our breath each time we asked you for an alphabet and you concentrated, a frown appearing on your little forehead (you get that from me) and then produced it on paper promptly. I wish I could tell you how we went from sleepless nights to falling asleep with a smile on our faces as we recalled you bouncing into the room excitedly and saying, “Mamma, I want to study!”

And it wasn’t just that. We slowly saw the old Brat reappear. You had begun to shy away from guests but soon my little boy was peeking in at the drawing-room door saying  “Good evening maashi” and giving them a quick glimpse of his sunshiny smile.

Another day I had on some music as usual when you came into the room and said, “Mamma, look at me.” And then you had a fit. Shaking and squirming until it hit me – you were trying to dance!! Proud mother though I am, let me safely assure you, erm, Fred Astaire is turning in his grave. So is good old MJ, God rest his soul.

Anyway, I digress. Slowly, you came back to us. In so many ways. You began to talk again. Your eyes lighting up with your wild plans. Your voice rising and falling with your tales. You took to pen and paper with a vengeance.

A few weeks ago, you drew me a lion. A blue lion. “A blue  lion?” I asked you. Yes, you said. “Why not? A black and white giraffe can have a blue and pink baby… because a brown mamma pig has pink piglets.” Sound logic, that.

And I backed off. If it was blue lions you envisioned, well then, blue lions they would be. It bothers your father, at times. He’s a little more conventional. For instance we have these lovely books where you have to pick the odd one out and I’ve completely bypassed the pages where you have to pick the odd one out – a purple penguin, a hen with tusks… Because knowing you, my little Brat with no limits in your head, you’d wonder why they’re considered the odd ones.

Another day I asked you to draw something you like, and it’s not hard to guess what you drew. Something, that you called, err.. the Bean. With long hair and earrings and five fingers neatly attached to each arm, from armpit to wrist. Picasso, you are (NOT!). I laughed after you’d gone, till the tears rolled down my cheeks (yeah, I’m mean like that) – and cousin K walked in, and did the infuriated maama job on me. “How can you laugh at his work? It’s so sweet. He’s drawn his sister with such effort and he’s only four years old!” And he walked off in a rage, his eyes brimming with love for you.

A call from your teacher three days after you went back to school confirmed it. “Ma’am, I just wanted to tell you that your son has come back from the holidays a different person. Over the last 6 months he’s not just made up what he lost in the last school, but caught up with the class and has finally regained his personality. I think you’re doing a great job with him at home, so keep doing whatever it is you’re doing.”

I hung up and called your father and cried. He listened to me… the silence over the phone line saying more than words could. I know he’s worked hard too. Coming back after work and playing word games in between wrestling. Playing number plate games in the car. Taking you places, helping you write, his big hand eclipsing your little one, protecting it. I often say that it takes more than half a teaspoon of sperm to make a father and your father has.. well, he’s done more than I ever imagined a father could.

As for me, its been a packed six months. Six months that have taught me so much about you, about parenting, about love, about literacy and about the joy of watching something bloom before your eyes. Now as you write your name with ease, spell out little words, and shock me with your photographic memory, I release the breath I was holding  from the day they told us you might have a learning disability. I’m glad we got that shock. It gave me some time to think about what I would do if you did have one. Well, as your mother, I’d just deal with it. Simple.

But more than your father and me, you worked. You worked with us. You gave us your time, your energy, your enthusiasm, (sometimes your malingering!), your little spongelike baby brain soaking it all up and greedily wanting more, Olive Twist-like.

You are already fantastic at simple addition and subtraction, something you’ve picked up on your own (although I think you inherit that math brain from your father!). Your school has not begun that section yet, but you blithely add and subtract toffees and birds. You’ve picked up the language brilliantly and now you do funny things like singing Feliz Navidad – but replacing the ‘dad’ part with your father’s name. A friend whose nick is A-something is now called B-something, C-something and so on. Something only a mind like yours, open to all possibilities, could have come up with.

You dance sometimes, your face coming alive, even though your limbs all seem to have their own agenda, not a single one complementary to the other!! You love to paint and you do beautifully with water colours, staying well within the lines. You draw fantastical creatures with strange body parts and entertain me with their exploits. You tell me stories, you make up rhymes and more than that you laugh, you tease, you cry, you live, you breathe, you smile, you love, you are whole, you are healthy and I am grateful for all of those every single day. You make me proud my son.

I love you,

Mamma