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.

————————

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.

—————————-

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.
———

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.

 

K.I.S.S.I.N.G

The Brat will be 9 this May. He doesn’t follow the usual curve of boyhood disdain for the female of the species or physical affection. I still hug him, cuddle him, tousle his curls… while his contemporaries pushed their fussy mothers away long ago. Besides many of them are already being paired up with classmates or friends on the bus, singing the age old song – X and Y, sitting on a tree, K.I.S.S.I.N.G.

Since I try really hard to be a mother who doesn’t push – I periodically check with him  – Can I still kiss you in public? To his credit, his answer was yes, long after I thought he’d say no.

A few months ago he shook his head distinctly – No.

Okay, I said. My heart broke just a little but I consoled myself with the thought that I had got away with it for longer than most. That I could still kiss him at home. His cheeks are still soft. He has some years to go before stubble makes them unkissable.

But then I wouldn’t be the person I am, if I weren’t so idiotic and forgetful. Because a few days ago I forgot all about it and yelled out to him as his friends and he hung around our dining table making some artwork. ‘Give me a kissie, baby.’

His friends sniggered. He glared at me and stomped up to me menacingly. I prepared myself for a set down.

As he came near, I bent down and whispered – I’m so sorry darling. I forgot your friends are here.

He turned his little chubby cheek up to me and said – It’s okay. I’ve come to get a kiss anyway, haven’t I?

I gave him a peck on the cheek and watched him walk back to the table, unconcerned about what the others thought. Interestingly the other kids had gone back to their work and forgotten about us too.

I guess we’re good for a couple of months more.

Here’s an old post about the Brat and his mother and PDAs. 

Turf wars

She’d be a comical sight if she weren’t breathing fire. Puffed up with rage, marching onto the playground, dressed in a too-small tee over a bulky salwar.

She had three little boys trailing behind her and she marched up to to a boy in his early teens who squared his shoulders, took a deep breath and steeled himself for her assault. As she began to scream my mind wandered back to when I’d first met this little boy, S.

The brat had begun to come home from the park much dirtier, sweatier, happier. ‘I and S wrestled today,’ he’d grin.

‘S and I,’ I’d absently correct him.

S and I played chor police today.

S and I took our cycles over the hill and came racing down.

Why don’t you bring S home, I offered.

The Brat shrugged, wiping his filthy, sweaty little face on his sleeve,’I asked him to, but he prefers playing in the park.’

Mentally thanking my lucky stars that the Brat had made friends with a little boy who preferred the outdoors to TVs and iPads, I got back to work.

A couple of days later I got done with work early and walked out to the park to get some fresh air and hang out with the kids. The Brat was playing with a boy I didn’t recognise. Must be the famous S, I said to myself. Deciding to introduce myself I walked up to him, said Hi, asked him where he went to school, for lack of any other conversation.

He politely responded, giving me the name of the local underprivileged school.

Ah. So that was it. This is why he refused to come home. His parents were househelp in our complex and he had probably been told not to stick to the park and not venture into homes. He was dressed very simply, neatly and cleanly. Far cleaner than my son who was sweating buckets and looked like he’d been mud wrestling with pigs.

I told him to drop in sometime and he politely said that he liked to spend his evenings playing in the park. I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable by going overboard with my invites. Now this is where desi class politics enter the picture. Although the area is full of househelp, some fulltime, some part time, none of them are allowed to bring their kids to work, neither are their kids supposed to be playing in the park.

“We paid X crores to buy a house in this area and I will not have my children get less time on the swing because of the househelp,” the mails rush in to the e-group whenever a rare maid’s kid is seen on the swings. I’ve tried to intervene but taking on the wrath of the self righteous, upwardly mobile middle class alone isn’t easy. They have washing machines – but they teach the maid to use it. They have strollers, and they get the help to push it. I give up.

Where do they want the help to leave their kids when they’re working? How is one to make these kids invisible? Most often the help leave their kids with family or neighbours, but some of them have no option but to bring them along and then leave them outside the house they’re working in.

Sometime last year I heard a baby crying piteously while I worked in my living room. No one else (my parents were visiting) in the house could hear it and the OA joined them in laughing at me and calling me baby crazy. I rushed out like a mad woman, looking for the child. I found him finally, under a champa tree. He was barely 7 months old and crying hysterically, snotty, filthy, naked but for a torn vest. I began to check his limbs for an injury or a bite. I found nothing. Helpless tears began to well up in my eyes – why was he crying in such distress? This was not hunger. And then I opened his mouth and found it – he had swallowed a champa flower and it was stuck half way down his throat. I have no idea how I forced my adult fingers down his throat and pulled it out, but I did. He stopped crying and proved my theory that a child never cries for no reason.

I picked him up and looked around, there was no adult in sight. And then a maid came rushing out of one of the homes, looking at me suspiciously. It was her baby. I explained to her how I’d found a flower stuck in his throat and was about to tell her to keep a closer watch on him when I realised there was nothing I could say to her. She wasn’t irresponsible, she was as helpless as the baby. The employers probably didn’t allow her to bring him in. I don’t know what prompted me to, since I’m just done with my own baby-rearing business, but I asked her if she wanted to leave him with me everyday while she worked. She looked shocked and refused point blank. She’d rather leave him out under that tree than trust me with him. I left him to her care and went back to work. I still wake up at night hearing that child shriek, feeling very helpless and disturbed.

Anyhow, this is the state of domestic help in India. And so, for S to be playing with my son, was nothing short of a miracle. He was allowed to do so as long as he followed the unwritten, unspoken rules. He must not use the swings meant for the residents’ children and he must always play second fiddle. The Brat, being the vague, dreamy kid that he is, hadn’t realised that S was the son of a domestic worker and so was playing with him as an equal. That is why they were such great friends. I left them playing and stole away.

Snapping back to the present I realised this lady was by now frothing at the mouth. Her child and two others were playing with S and one of them had got hurt and bled a little from the mouth. She was accusing S of hitting him. I didn’t know if this was true.

At this point my father who happened to be visiting and had been playing football with the boys, walked up and asked her what the problem was. One minute she was yelling at the maid’s son, next minute a clearly well heeled older gentleman, a resident, was intervening. She was a little taken aback. He hurt my son, she muttered.

My father then told her that he’d been present when the incident took place and the three residents’ kids had been wrestling with S. Naturally with three against one, he’d had to fight back harder to defend himself, resulting in an accident.

Yes, but my son is bleeding, she repeated.

My dad then mentioned that he’d taken the Brat’s bottle of water and washed the little boy’s mouth out and checked to see if he was badly hurt. Then pointed out that they’re little boys – if they want to play rough and wrestle, they must learn to get hurt. That it was unfair of three of them to get on top of S and beat him up. In a minute, it went from innocent game to upper class bullying lower class. He also pointed out that they’d been playing some ball game and each time the ball went too far, they ordered S to get it, basically treating him like a servant, their own personal servant. He wasn’t being paid to entertain them in the park like a lot of other underage minders, my dad pointed out. He was just a little boy playing in the park too, and if they chose to play with him, it must be as equals.

She blanched, realised my dad had a point and decided to ignore him and resumed yelling at S. I’d been on the sidelines until then and now that I’d heard the story I called out to S. Come here, beta, I said. Play with the Brat who wants to play with you. Don’t play with kids who don’t play fair.

He stood there uncertainly. Should he take a side? Would I be there to protect him everyday? What if she came back?

My dad walked up, put his arms around him and gave him a big hug and said, “Arre yaar, you’re a great guy. Come play with us.”

The lady looked deflated. The Brat who had as usual been lost to the world looked up and said ‘Dost, aa jao!’ and kicked the football to S.

S wiped his eyes, grinned at my father and shot off.

S is good for my gentle little son. He is toughening him up and playing all the physical games most of us played out on the streets when we were kids. All of this with no malice and plenty of sportsman spirit.

I’ve had my son play with a lot of aggressive, vicious upper class kids. I’ve seen them sit on him and even the Bean, hold their hands down and punch them in the face. And when you bring it up with the parents, the response is a standard – oh well, it’s just a little rough play. Boys will be boys. The world out there is rough. You’ll turn your boy into a sissy.

Yes, the world out there is rough but an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. I won’t even get into the argument that we seem to think a sissy is an insult – because you know, being a woman/girl is for losers. I’ll simply move my son away from anyone who seeks to teach him that being male means being aggressive because I doubt they’re capable of wrapping their head around a new concept.

On the other hand, I have all the time on earth for a bunch of little kids rough housing when there’s no malice involved. When the intention is to have a good time, not to bully or hurt the other. When they play as equals, not master and servant. Not aggressor and victim.

My dad and I stood there watching them play. In a while they were too engrossed in their game to remember that we were still there. Yes, boys will be boys. But ‘boy’ doesn’t have to mean aggressive.