Have a good weekend and Jai Hind

After the post on beggars, reproductive rights, what safety and a good childhood constitutes, comes this link via Mona. Called Where Children Sleep, it’s a project by a documentary maker who wanted to avoid the usual cliches. He breaks your heart nonetheless as he takes you from the home of a rich child in Kentucky to a little housemaid in Nepal.

Next up comes a piece on what is wrong with kids today with via MGM. Again, closely linked to the last post I wrote on things like manners, discipline, the sense of entitlement, where we’re going wrong as an entire generation of parents by not teaching our kids what is clearly wrong and what the meaning of authority is. Read on.

And finally, we’re off for the long weekend and I hope you are too. If you aren’t and would like to, but are out of ideas, do stop by Gypsyfeet. To quote them, they are travel enthusiasts who believe that travel should lead to deep impressions and experiences – they do this through home-stays, through local cuisine, and through participation in festivals, as well as interaction with the communities where we travel. The North-East region of India ( Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Sikkim), and the adjoining country of Bhutan is where they currently operate. It is blessed with abundant natural beauty and an interesting culture that is vastly different from the rest of India. For a photo-journey through this land, click on their PhotoGallery. National parks, wild life sanctuaries, festivals, hiking – they’ll give you the experience you crave. Look through their  trip plan, and see what activity is to your liking.

Gypsyfeet believes in responsible tourism, read about their best practices here.

Arrogance is the new intelligence

A few days ago we took the kids to a party and they pretty much shocked the pants off everyone with their Good evening Uncle, Good evening Aunty, Thank you for having us, except for the Bean saying her goodbyes and ending with, ‘Thank you for coming’! Yes, she’s four and easily confused but very particular about manners. :)

The hosts laughed their butts off and then proceeded to lecture us on ‘making’ the kids wish other adults the time of day and say please, thank you etc. This is something I’ve always found rather strange. Why is it that people don’t think manners are an unimportant lesson? Or that there is such a thing as teaching your kids manners too early? No, it doesn’t come naturally to kids to say Please, Thank you and May I, so if you don’t teach them, who will?

Oh he won’t say hello unless he likes you, says one smiling father. Another mother shrugs proudly – He’ll hit first and ask questions later. Eh? What am I missing? And parents are okay with this? Others believe it’s a part of modern parenting philosophy and throw words at you like  - space, privacy, choice, development. He has only one childhood and we don’t like to tell him to do this or do that… says another, fondly watching her son throw stones at a stray dog. And what do our kids have – nine lives? “The books I’ve read and the school philosophy is to let the children find their own feet and decide what they think is right or wrong… ‘ she says, as her son pushes my daughter off her cycle roughly. I break the conversation and go running to save her since she’s about half his size.  Clearly her son thinks there is nothing wrong with raising a hand on a little girl who is half his size. I hope all that psychology is useful as he grows up aggressive.

I understand some kids are shy and some are aggressive – but I am horrified when I don’t even see parents make a token effort. A simple reminder – say Good evening/Hello/Namaste to Aunty. Never mind if the kid doesn’t say it – you’ve begun something that he will slowly absorb and someday even surprise you by saying without prompting.

But (Yes, I am aware that you shouldn’t start a sentence with ‘but’) no one seems to care, by their own admission. All the kids go to new age schools where they are encouraged to explore their surroundings and find themselves. Where there is no discipline. No enforcement. I agree with that in theory. My kids go to a similar school. But are we throwing away decency and manners in this whole new way of parenting?

If your kid has looked deep within and only found arrogance or bad behaviour, how about you find some manners for him? Another kid stalks off from the skating class because he is punching a younger kid in the face and I stop him. I’m nobody of any relevance according to him. I’m not his mother and I’m not the skating coach, so what business is it of mine? I glare at him mencingly and firmly tell him that he MUST STOP HITTING. Or else, his eyes challenge me? Or else… I drift away. Or else nothing. I can do nothing. I am positive I won’t find any support in his parents. If they cared, he wouldn’t be as much of a bully as he is.

For instance, I recently saw this advertisement on TV and it horrified me. I’d skin my kids alive if they slid a coin across a counter so rudely to a shopkeeper, specially an elderly person. But advertisers clearly have been doing enough market surveys to know that arrogance is the new intelligence. When we were kids the advertisements enticed you with promises of growing to be like Kapil Dev or the smarter kid. But no, we no longer aspire to be hardworking or tall.  We aim to be cocky. We want to be arrogant.

Because in some twisted way parents believe that being arrogant shows that we’re smart. We’re witty, we’re intelligent, we’re irreverent. That it makes their kids brave and intrepid. They don’t demand instant obedience. I get that. I don’t want zombies for kids either. But surely having your own mind and being well mannered are not mutually exclusive. And humility isn’t really an old fashioned virtue. I’m out of options now – I think I’m taking the next ticket to Mars.

I leave you with a piece by Samina Mishra. A senior from college, a sometimes colleague and a woman I admire tremendously for what she does with her life and the way she thinks. Enjoy.

 

Scheduled breakdown

Every year I have one meltdown. The timing is uncertain, but it is mandatory. I go into depression and sob and listen to awfully cheesy music and blame the OA for my life going to the dogs. This generally coincides with the kids going to visit their grandparents and I am sure there is a strong link. It also always happens that a maid quits around the same time. One would imagine they’d be happy to have less work to do but apparently not.

And so I sobbed into my bowl of dal, wiped my runny nose on the neatly ironed table napkins, gulped down glass after glass of water and babbled for a long time. This time there was an additional woe. Living in Gurgaon. I’ve tried and tried and I still hate it. Shall write another post on that (clearly there is a lot of angst that needs to be dealt with).

The OA suggested stepping down his work and being with the kids. No, that won’t work because he is the primary earner and I (minimum wage earning journalist) won’t be able to suddenly be able to earn what an investment banker does, considering I have anyway been on a 6-year-go-slow. I’d need to work myself back into the work force, rise slowly and only then can the OA ease out if we’re to fulfill our financial commitments.
The OA suggested that I go back to fulltime work and send the kids to daycare if I feel trapped and professionally unfulfilled. No question of it- yet.
The OA suggested we pay the kind of sums we hear floating around of Rs 20k for a nanny for the kids. Nope. Not happening. Charging a lot of money doesn’t make anyone automatically trustworthy.
And so on.. you get the picture. OA proposed, I disposed.

And then I hiccuped myself to sleep and accepted that what I want will never happen. I know I often vote on forums for better childcare, better support yaada yaada. I know I am itching to get back to cameras and studio lights and late night edits and layouts intead of the piecemeal way I am currently working. I know I want it all. And I know I can’t have it.

I will not let anyone else bring up my kids no matter how good they are at their job. Because for them it is just their job. For me it’s a burning desire. I wonder what it would be like to have been reared by someone who did it as their job instead of my loving family and I refuse to test it out on the kids. No daycare or nanny is good enough for me and I know it’s not because I am a stickler. Heck, on the best days I am careless and easy going. It is only because I don’t want to miss a thing. Because they’re mine, mine, mine and I am like a greedy five year old hoarding her sweeties.

As I’ve said before, I know I can do MORE with my life. So much more professionally. But I also know that I give my kids MORE than what a daycare can. No, not so many friends maybe, but more than the maids who wash their hands and feet and feed them lunch. I can tell them that the carrots are good for their eyes, when I send them out to play I tell them it’s for the Vitamin D. When we talk about their one bit of junk for the day we ‘negotiate’ and the Bean responds, ‘Okay, let’s make a deal… “. A few days ago the Bean told her grandparents that she can’t have an afternoon nap because “the blood and the bones in my body go crazy and then I have to jump around with them.” We laughed till we cried and I realised no daycare would relate each incident to me. I’d never have heard these lines if they were said to someone else.

Yes, in the attempt to give them the best childhood I might be losing the best career and yet I don’t know what the option is. In some ways I already know, there is no option. Once a year the restlessness breaks through and I re-think what is most important to me.

I know I cannot be happy with only freelancing and dipping my toe into the work world when I am dying to go skinny dipping. I’m an all or nothing girl and this flexitime isn’t working out very well for me either.

I should never have had the kids because having had them I am unable to tear myself away from them and let someone else have even a hand in raising them. I should never have tried hotel management, modelling, airhostessing (no, it’s not a word, I made it up), emceeing, event management and rediscovered each time that I love the print media. Because now my two loves jostle for time and I cannot give up either of them. There is no reconciling them either. This is probably one of those few adult choices I am called upon to make and it’s the hardest bloody choice I’ve ever made in my life. It would be simpler to ask me to give a kidney off to someone and a lung to another. I wish I had the absolute calm of those who make a choice. But I don’t. I continue to straddle two worlds, working late nights, getting up early to pack tiffins, rushing for a shoot and getting back in time for lunch. It’s probably why I have the annual breakdown. Eleven years of writing and nothing to show for it.

At times I remember the Biblical parable of the talents. Of God giving you something and telling you to use it or lose it. But I also realise that He gave me these two happy, healthy good children and the right way to thank Him for my blessings is to give back to them what they give me. Joy, time, love, energy, patience and compassion. It’s a tough call and on days I border on agnostic and wonder where I’m going with this.

Even as I write this post I know I’ve cried about this before. And I know what answers you will give me. I may as well shut the comments. But I can’t. I am lucky to have this space (can you imagine how stark raving mad I’d have gone ten years ago without a blog?) where I vent. This is where I talk to you on a daily basis and this is why I must tell you that I have had my annual meltdown. I have now wiped my tears, quietened the hiccups and accepted the fact that my godawful, monstrous brats are the centre of my life and I will have to wait until they let me go since the other way around is not happening.

And then, maybe then, I’ll throw myself back into work and shine like a brilliant star. Or not. Until next year’s scheduled meltdown then. Save your comments. You can copy and paste them there.

And yes, the kids will be back in a couple of days, I’ll bury my nose in the Brat’s neck, squeeze the Bean in an attempt to fit her back into my belly and everything will feel better as it always does. Here’s the post I wrote the last time they were away.

And oh I’m currently playing this song on repeat so that I can sing them to sleep with a new lullabye. Isn’t that voice just dreamy? I hope to be all prepared by the time they come back from G’pa-Nana’s house.

 

The night in the emergency ward

Sitting in the emergency room at 2 am is every parent’s nightmare and we spent one night last week doing just that. The OA and I were out for dinner and got back to see the Bean wide awake and refusing to settle in to bed. The maid had tried everything in her power and was at her wit’s end.

We took over and the OA took her back to bed. He came back looking rather pleased with himself but that smirk got wiped off his face the moment the door creaked open and a little head peeped in. I groaned, got out of bed and walked her back to sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And with each trip she got progressively worked up and soon was in tears. Eventually we got to the heart of the matter – The aliens were coming to get her. Telling ourselves that we wouldn’t be reading anymore bedtime stories about aliens and monsters we tucked her in between us and gave up the quarter-hourly trot to the nursery.

But it didn’t end and she kept tossing, turning, fidgeting.  We began to panic and she finally said she had a throat ache. Sips of saline water, honey and what not later, we were back to square one. Tossing, turning, fidgeting.

Finally she admitted to an ear ache. The OA and I frantically ran around medicating and ear-dropping. No joy there either. By this time she was in fine fettle, throwing herself from one side of the bed to the other, climbing on one prone parent and then the other. I rocked her in the rocking chair, walked her around the room and loudly begged the Good Lord to have mercy on her and as a result, us.

Finally it seemed like the medication wasn’t taking effect and we bundled her into the car and headed to the hospital. It was a stormy night and the roads were deserted. We reached the hospital and were surprised to find no staff at the door to guide patients, a lazy security guy who vaguely pointed the direction we should be heading in and empty corridors with none of the bustle you see in other hospitals at all hours. We were also rather unimpressed with the reaction time in the emergency ward. Yes, a child’s ear ache is small change compared to those dying of a heart attack and brought in off an accident scene, but they had none of those that night. Nurses stood around chatting in Malayalam while the OA and I desperately asked someone to give us a hearing. A doctor who seemed in charge smiled apologetically and said – I’m a cardiologist, I can’t help you.

Yes, well then who can?

The OA was drooping with sleep, the Bean was wriggling around mercilessly and I was close to sticking a scalpel into a nurse just to get some attention. Watching your child suffer is not easy. Watching your child suffer while others chit chat about the weather is simply frustrating.

Finally I pushed the OA awake and sent him to get someone. No joy there. Then I played the exhausted mother card and walked out of the Emergency Unit, found another doctor and got someone to page the ENT Specialist on call. She came after 45 minutes by which time the medication we gave the Bean had naturally taken effect and she was fast asleep. We were even considering going home with her when we decided that it would be better to wait and get it examined in case she woke up screaming again. Of course the doctor examining her woke her up again but she was now out of pain and manageable. The doctor was rather sweet and kind and nothing like our last experience here with the Brat.

We’d brought the Brat in on an emergency  too – his throat began to swell to alarming proportions one winter morning and suddenly he could neither swallow nor talk. Again, we had taken him to the emergency where after a long wait we got an appointment with the Head of one of the Pediatric departments.  Dressed in a short tight skirt and jacket the lady looked really out of place in a hospital and more off the off the sets of Santa Barbara. Fifty plus, heavily made up face and stiffly blow dried hair, long painted talons and massive diamonds twinkling on all her fingers. The wall behind her was decorated with testimonies of how great she was – awards, certificates, photographs with dignitaries.  She was talking to a number of people while looking questioningly at us. A certain impatience making us wonder if we as patients, were intruders in the doctor’s chambers.  Slightly mindful of manners and loathe to interrupt the OA and I finally explained what was wrong with the Brat.

Perhaps we should have walked out the moment she looked blankly at the Brat and said ‘What swelling?’ The huge lump under his chin wouldn’t be missed by a blind man and here the expert needed us to guide her. We kept pointing, she kept asking, and digging her talons into the child and dragging him closer while he baulked at this treatment and pulled away. Finally she told the OA to hold him and when the OA failed to do it to her satisfaction she yelled at him and made him make bands of his arms and literally strap the Brat down. It was unnecessary when all it would have taken is some warmth – he’s not unnecessarily intractable. I wondered how she fared in the pediatric department with no bedside manner, no way with children.

Finally one of the acolytes pointed out where the Brat’s neck was swollen. The fine lady just nodded and said okay, but I don’t know what it is. Could be tuberculosis. The acolyte politely mentioned that this infection of the gland was doing the rounds in schools. I deliberately pulled the Brat away from the high priestess and focussed on the acolyte. No mother wants her children being manhandled by someone who doesn’t know their job.

This hospital is one founded by a famous cardiologist and the entire point, I was told, was to get good affordable healthcare to the general public. But two emergency situations with poor turnaround times and terrible service and I’m not convinced that his vision is working out the way he planned.

And so that night too, we left with the Bean, feeling rather dispirited. At one level glad that we’d had the knowledge to deal with her pain and given her something that worked even before the doctor got to her. At another, feeling disappointed that as parents we couldn’t provide her with better medical care. The skies were pouring forth by now and as we got into the car, tired, sleepy, exhausted, pissed off and grumpy, the wide awake by now Bean pointed up to the sky – Look ma, lightning scribbles.

It reminded me of this book that is doing the rounds – Go the Fuck to Sleep.  You can read about it here and here and here. I have the pdf copy so mail me at themadmomma@gmail.com if you’d like to read it too.

One, two, three, four, five…

How do you define the perfect family? One mommy, one daddy, a boy and a girl? One mommy and a son? Two daddies and two daughters? A man and a woman with no babies? It’s good to see that definition is increasingly fluid. There may not be a definition at all – after all, ties are not always of blood. At least not for some of us. For the rest, there is always a nosy parker commenting on your life.

Surabhi wrote this post on the kind of statements she is subjected to, Sanah being an only child. As many pointed out in the comments, the world will always have something to say to your situation. In our case, the OA and I and the kids are a traditional, picture perfect family. Banker father, work from home mother (look, she works but she is also home with the kids, how perfect!), a boy and a girl bunched into two years. But dig deeper and we face other questions – How can a Hindu and a Christian get married? What are your kids going to be brought up as? How do you worship? I realise that these are all huge issues that keep many people up nights even even though it is not their business. But bug our bedroom and you will discover that the biggest fight is what temperature the AC needs to be kept on ( if you want the answer  - we settle at 22 degrees) and who gets to sleep on the cooler side of the bed (I, in case you care).

Hum do, hamare do is what the government suggested and we don’t take them any less than seriously. Two it has to be. Why exactly is two considered the perfect number? Cousin J who is studying psychology mentions that the ideal family is meant to have three children. The OA almost threw her off the balcony that evening when he saw the glint in my eye. But I speak for myself. I wanted two because my childhood without Tambi would have been incomplete. We had a joint family and people of every age lived in it, each one with more than a few minutes to spare for a child. A huge rambling old house with a pond and mango, jackfruit,  lychee, guava and orange trees to climb, pick fruit, read under and hang hammocks and tyres from. My grandmother was the principal of two schools and the best person to rear children as educators usually are. It could have been the perfect existence for a single child and I’d never have needed a companion. And yet, YET, the best part of my growing years, was my brother – everything just shone that much brighter because of him.

The perfect playmate – I didn’t have to wait for play dates to be organised. No one needed to come down to a child’s level literally or otherwise. We hung sheets and made castles, we floated boats in the monsoons and ran around the wide verandahs that encircled the house, following their route. We set up a bird watching club, built a treehouse and and climbed up there at the crack of dawn with binoculars. I sat atop the dhobi’s cart with cousin K and J on a cushion while Tambi pushed us around the house on our “boat”  - until the day we dropped the 4 month old Cousin J off the cart. *shudder*. We went for early morning walks and flattened coins on the railway tracks. We escaped from our hotel room one night in Lucknow and found a phone booth and called up friends at midnight. We had the same friends and held big dance parties where both sexes could meet – a big deal in a small town. We went cycling around the house and then his bike arrived and we were free as birds, shooting off for ice cream when the need arose.

As we grew older and more secretive about our lives, my parents took comfort in the fact that we’d never get too deep into shit because the other one always knew. So when I lay whispering on the phone all night and couldn’t wake up for school in the morning, my mother would panic that I was sick, but Tambi would roll his eyes and say, she’s fine. When he crashed up his bike, we painted the scratch on the bike with my nail polish and I ensured that he went to a doc and got the wound dressed. When I dated someone he quietly checked him out and kept an eye from a distance. When he dated anyone, I promptly said I hated her and thought she was unsuitable, hence confirming his suspicion that she was perfect for him. And most of all, for children like me and my brother and now my children, we don’t come from typical traditional families with communities and languages and histories of our own. In our own muddled up way, we have only our own little traditions and community. And years from now when my oldies are no more (I don’t want to think about it) I will be happy to have someone to say, “Tambi, remember the time we … “

But what if the siblings hate each other? asks a friend. I shrug. No relationship comes with guarantees. What if you hate the man you marry? What if you and your best friend fall out? What if you and your only child don’t see eye to eye? I was always sure I wanted two kids. And no, not because I feel the second one is a requirement for the first one to be entertained by the second. Nor because I wanted an heir and a spare. But because I love kids. I want my house to always be full of the sound of childish voices and clutter and noise and laughter. I don’t think I’d have stopped at two if I could afford it, if the country could afford the population explosion and if my battered body could take it. For me, three, four, five, would be the perfect number.

But yes, now that I have two, I can’t imagine having it any other way. When I see parents with one child I sometimes wistfully think they have it better. They ended their diaper routine with one child, they only had to potty train one, they spend less on fees and clothes and birthday parties, they have to put away one less college fund and the big one – ONE CHILD CAN’T GANG UP ON THEM!! My two on the other hand learnt early to gang up and the house resounds with war whoops at all times. I scream at one who is launching himself off the back of the sofa only to realise that the other one just came sliding down the stairs on a cushion. They feed off each other’s exuberance and they inspire each other to great heights of mischief. I scold one, the other takes up for her. I give one a time out, the other sits down next to him so that he isn’t bored. And even as I feel like taking their heads and banging them together, there is a part of me that smiles at the fun they’re having. Glad that they are what kids should be – imaginative, spirited, happy, compassionate.

But for every calm, well settled only child that I see, I see one who isn’t. The key I think, lies in being content with your choice. Some people I feel, just aren’t content with their decision. I know of at least eight couples who have stopped at one child, not because they wanted only one, but because they have some hereditary illness which surfaced with the first and they don’t want to risk a second one. Or because they are unable to finance the second child. Or because they have no childcare options and cannot afford for the mother to stay home. Sometimes they are undecided and just end up waiting too long after the first and then feel too exhausted to get into the diaper routine again and worry about too huge an age gap. Sometimes they make their peace with this choice enforced on them, sometimes they pass that discomfort on to the child as well as to others, in things they say and do.

I have come across many siblings who fuss and can’t sleep if the other has a reading light on, who throw tantrums for special time with the parents and so on. I am often told that my two children don’t get enough adult time because they are so close in age and also because they are two instead of one. I can think of at least 5 single kids who are quite neglected by their parents and raised entirely through daycares/nannies.  So that argument similarly falls flat because how much time a child gets depends on the amount of time you are willing to give them. I’ve also had people tell me that the Brat needed more time before I had the Bean (she was born when he was 22 months). Which tempted me to ask them to check with the Brat – he loves his sister who is his best friend and he’d have had a different life if he’d not had her – if anything, she’s responsible for him coming out of his shell and being more of an extrovert. As for attention –  I was home full time, I was their primary caregiver and we all had a blast. And I am glad I picked what I thought was the right time for them, because they are such great company for each other and I don’t have to juggle two entirely different sets of needs. They fill my home, my heart, my life and each other’s lives too. And the last one is a bonus because I didn’t really produce them as two parts of a whole. It was merely that what I wanted out of my life and God was good enough to give me what I desired.

But the last two holidays gave me lots to think (and blog!) about. When the OA and I were exhausted and wanted to catch forty winks, we’d lock our hotel door and sleep, leaving the kids playing around us (the only rule being that they don’t push pencils up our nostrils) knowing very well that each one was the other’s safety valve. But there were days when another harried mother would beg us to leave the kids playing in her room because her child was bored and driving her nuts. The mother of a 13 year old watches him head to the TV room to watch a cricket match and tells me that for the first time in so many years she’s had a peaceful holiday because she has to be her son’s constant companion since he has no siblings, playing cricket, watching TV with him, everything. Another watches her screaming kid grab the Brat’s toys and then refuse to share his own, telling me (as though that is a good reason) that he has no one to share with and so doesn’t know how to. A terribly violent young boy we’re acquainted with begs his parents for a sibling everyday. His parents are really old (I accidentally called his mother ‘aunty’ the first time I met her in a store) and I watch them limp slowly as older people do, walking behind as he zips across the lawns. “We adopted him so late, how do we explain to him that we’re too old to raise any more children?” the mother asks helplessly. Another child cries every time we leave her  home after a playdate and begs her mother for a sibling who will stay and not go away like other children. I don’t know about the parents and why they have made the choices that they have, but I do see that the children aren’t completely comfortable. They aren’t the kind of self sufficient children that Sanah or the Brat are. Who would be happy as one or one of two or three. I also think they need to be taught the skills to deal with their lot in life, just like siblings are taught to share and adjust regardless of their temperament and nature.

I don’t buy any of the arguments that single children are by definition selfish, unable to share, unable to adjust, or any of those silly statement. I think that is all the result of a personality type as well as their nurture. I see plenty of siblings who can’t share with each other – what is their excuse? Neither do I believe that children who have siblings aren’t self sufficient. The summer holidays have begun and while the Bean naps during the hot North Indian afternoons, the Brat crawls around the floor with a plastic pencil box, talking to himself and organising a grand prix. He is perfectly content and very calm. And that again, is an individual characteristic, nothing to do with being one or one of two.

And that is where I’d wind this up. How many kids you have depends on what you want, not what society dictates. Reminds me of a friend who recently said to me (after much societal pressure to have a second) – When I look at my daughter I feel like I need nothing more.

And that is all there is to it. In fact if you look at your husband and believe that there is no more you need in your life, then that is also a perfectly perfect place to draw the line.