No longer sorry

amy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A little give and take

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

The swing

I have a secret. Every night after the kids are tucked into bed, I tell the OA that I am going for a walk and I slip out into the dark. And after a few minutes of walking I hit the park and swing. I listen to music on my phone or I call up a friend who doesn’t mind being called that late, and I swing.

It’s not that the swings are off limits to adults (they’ve sturdy and take kids who are heavier than me and also parents who swing with their kids in their laps). It’s just that the swings are busy in the evenings and I am busy in the morning.

Oh what the hell… I guess I just feel foolish swinging at this age, which is why I wait until night falls. The darkness frees me from social constructs of what is age appropriate. As I fly high into the air I find myself free from everything earthly, everything that binds me. The simple motion of bending my legs, kicking, holding tight, bending backwards, moving forward… it calls for you to be conscious of your body. And maybe as adults we forget how to do that.  To put our thoughts away for a while and to be in the here and the now and in the physical body.

On the swing I am taken back to my childhood. To the tyre on the mango tree, the huge swing that seats five, the little wooden planks on chains… My childhood was spent leaping from one to the other.

A few days ago I read a piece on free play, outdoor play and unstructured time. Funny. When I was growing up, we just called it play. When did it take on so many labels? What have we done to our kids with the piano classes and the tennis lessons that makes it necessary for the qualifier – ‘free’ play?

People complain about kids these days. Hell, have we taken the time off to see what kind of parents we are? Our parents were more relaxed, less obsessed with buying a flat before thirty, less stressed about making CEO, less concerned with being the first to say it on twitter and so on.

More and more adults have taken to running, cycling, trekking and so on. We need to get away from our lives precisely because our daily lives are so awful. Our parents could afford to unwind at home because home was a relaxing place. Now with the endless screens and connectivity, and hectic social lives and long work hours it’s no longer a relaxing place.

I got off the swing last night and went for a quick walk around the complex. As I took the corner I saw another mother on the swing. Head thrown back, long hair flying in the breeze, cares thrown to the wind. She saw me coming and slipped off in one quick motion and walked away guiltily. I wanted to tell her I was in on the secret. That I shared her addiction. But the moment passed and I headed home.

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.

 

On Women’s Day

On why I’d choose to celebrate Women’s Day.

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In a world full of racism, misogyny, xenophobia and hated, it is important to celebrate. To choose celebration over hatred, everyday. It is also important for these celebrations to be universal and not be tied to a particular religion. It’s important they be celebrated with an open mind and in our own way, with no fear of divine consequences should we fail to do them in a particular way. And in a country where the female foetus is aborted, the girl child is starved at her brother’s expense and the sister kept home to do household chores while her brother goes to school, it’s all the more important for us to put aside celebrations and rituals that put the man up on a pedestal in his role as a brother or a husband, and choose to celebrate the woman for her inherent strength.

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Read the rest of this piece  on yowoto.

Speaking for myself

A few days ago I was standing at the bus stop and waiting for the kids when one of the mothers showed up with her toddler in a stroller. All of us cooed and fussed over the baby (heck, this is the last year the Brat is in single digits!) and she rolled her eyes. ‘I haven’t slept in days..’ she sighed. And she had an older one in school, so she had early mornings whether she liked it or not.

The other mothers all had one child only.

They turned to me with the usual – how did you manage with two kids and such a small gap?

Honestly, if I had not blogged in those days, I’d have no memory of it. The days and nights are a blur. Off the top of my head I can’t recall when one walked, when the other potty trained. Who started solids happily and who hated them.

I was tired, at times I was frustrated, at times I was sleep deprived, at times I was uncertain. But those were few. Most of the time I was happy, I was content, I was absorbed, I was fascinated, I was proud, I was learning – and that holds true for every single day even now. Be it the Bean creating a beautiful piece of art or the Brat telling me that there are more than 20,000 people over the age of 100 in Japan, everyday they give me something to be thrilled about, something to marvel at.

I look back on how I managed them and I realise that I managed because its what I expected. We all know that babies will cry when hungry or sleepy or wet. We all know they will sleep for short periods of time and eat ever so often. We all know they are curious little mites who pull down low hanging table cloths and put their hand in the toilet bowl. We can laugh, we can cry, we can roll with the punches. But we can’t say it’s not what we expected. Not if we’ve seen even one child grow up among close friends and family. And not even if we haven’t.

On the other hand, there are those who constantly whine about how parenthood has sucked the joy out of their lives, the adventure, the ability to get up and go, the ambition. Who is to deny that adding something to your life will naturally reduce space for other things? And who is to decide which is more important? Only you.

I read this post in the Hindu today, about the lies regarding parenting and while five years ago I would have been enraged at being called a liar, I felt only sorrow for the writer. She’s stating the obvious when she talks of there being good and bad – but I think she is wrong in choosing to speak for all of us and calling it a lie. That parenthood is a joy, a pleasure, a privilege, is the truth for many of us. We also speak only for ourselves.

I understand that a lot of parents (here I speak of both fathers as well as mothers) made their choice under social as well as parental pressure. But of them, a lot of enjoyed the choice. On the other hand, there are so many of us for whom parenthood was a happy and natural choice. I don’t judge those who choose not to have kids, and hope they do us the same courtesy. Many of us have had not just one kid, but gone on to have another and some even a third or a fourth, because of the sheer joy it brings us.

So when I see something of this sort, a rant that many of us might have been guilty of at 1 am, I am a little saddened to see it make its way out of the annoyance of a sleep deprived night into the clear light of day and into print. If anything, these last few lines reeked of a sort of bitterness that made me feel very sad for her and for any kids of hers that might have read the piece.

“At the end of the day, parenting is merely foisting the responsibility of finding your life’s meaning on to someone else. It’s the reason why parents — especially mothers — have to continue with the narrative of “this is the best thing I’ve ever done.” Besides giving them an excuse to do nothing else with their lives, it also gives them a lofty platform from which to preach.”

Is parenthood a cakewalk? No. Is anything a cakewalk? No! Not planting a garden, not climbing a mountain, not building a business empire.

Jobs, relationships, friendships, they all take a lot of work. Somedays they are good, somedays they are bad. I’m in a happy marriage and that takes a lot of work too. But if you ask me what marriage is like, I’d say its the second best thing to have happened to me – the kids would be first!

None of this is a lie. It’s just that the good overwhelms the bad. And if anyone is foolish enough to believe that it’s entirely angels kissing spring and strawberries and summer wine, well then, they’re just fools.

If anything, the last bit seemed like a bit of a desperate attempt to justify one’s own negativity towards parenthood (although I don’t know if she’s a parent). In this day and age of live and let live, when you see such ire against people who are happy with their choices and make no bones about it, you can only wonder – why this kolaveri di?

By the by, we’re planning our annual vacation and my parents as well as inlaws suggested for a number of reasons, that we leave the kids behind with them as we did for our trip to the US in 2012. I was inclined to agree with them because we have a lot of work to do on the trip. But the OA, note, not me, the OA – refuses to go without them. After years of taking an annual two-three day trip without them, we’re down to the father cleaving unto his kids and refusing to let go. It’s quite funny, because its usually the mothers who feel that way. Of course once he put his foot down with a firm hand (I love this mixed metaphor!) I was sure I didn’t want to leave them behind at all. I love watching their eyes widen at the shiny newness and chrome of the airport (they’re poor Gurgaon kids who are never taken to the mall), the gasp of breath as the flight lifts off, the excitement of the new and the different.

I read this other article in the Guardian and it made me want to cry. I’ve been hugging the Brat, squishing the Bean… aware that my days as mother to carry-able babies are numbered.  So putting aside that woman’s silly rant that I couldn’t relate to at all, I turned to this one and felt it speak to me. I leave you with the first bit of the article. Do read.
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There is one song I simply cannot listen to because it upsets me too much – Turn Around by Nanci Griffiths. It is a song about the ephemerality of childhood – the velocity with which you will lose your children to time and growth. Recorded first by Harry Belafonte it begins with this stanza:

“Where are you goin’ my little one, little one? / Where are you goin’ my baby my own? / Turn around and you’re two / Turn around and you’re four / Turn around and you’re a young girl / Going out of the door.”

Even without the tune it brings a lump to my throat. I have watched two of my children “go out of the door” – one is 18 and one 20 – and although my pride in their independence and achievements is overwhelming, knowing that the children they were can never return is sometimes sharper than a serpent’s tooth.