Winter and woolly frogs

…or maybe something a little more.

Diligent Candy once memorably said – I judge you by the socks you wear. In the good old days when we were little college going chits she wore socks with little clocks and snails. I love her pictures, her writing, her son, her husband’s beautiful singing voice… and I go to her awesome blog for quick pick-me-ups. Brevity is her forte (clearly not mine).

This morning school reopened after a long winter break. As I dressed my babies and hugged their unusually substantial, padded figures I felt a little sad. Another year come to an end, another winter going by. What will I do once they go away? What do others do when their children leave home? How does a job or a hobby substitute this little squirmy thing you took out of your stomach and deposited in your heart? (Fortunately, I have laid claim to the family’s share of cheese and corn so no one else will subject you to such lines.)

The children are happy little red cheeked faces that wave bye from the school gate as I deposit them there, my hands lingering on their shoulders longer than they should. The Brat is running down the driveway to his class so I turn to walk away. Just then a little boy yells out to his father – Bye Papa! And I turn around and run back to the gate because I know.. I just do. And yes, the Brat remembers and has stopped and run back to the gate to shout out – Bye Mamma! His eyes search for me and I say a little thank you to the instinct that sent me back. He grins and this time runs away without a backward glance, his friends, his school, the new year calling out to him.

I turn away, satisfied. And then I look down at my feet in horror. My son let me drop him to school wearing these.

And he didn’t say a word. God bless you son – I’ll aim to embarrass you as much as I can, just to see how far I can push the envelop.

Go ahead then. Judge me. Candy, I know you still love me.

The Proud Mamma post

So the Brat and Bean had their Sports Day in December. When the Bean started school, we chose another one for her but that resulted in us going nuts – taking the day off for each of her events and then for his. So we swore that we’d put them in the same school when they went to big school so that there would be only one PTA day and one Sports Day.  Little did we know that this wouldn’t help either. Both had their events in two different parts of the school and the OA and I kept timing and calling each other, coordinating and swapping like high level police officers escorting a VIP.

The Bean marched in all proud and ready to take on the day, the Brat wandered around looking rather lost. As though he’d never been to the place before – typical Brat. Then he saw some friends and went charging at them, parents forgotten. The OA and I hugged and kissed and bid each other a teary farewell and then went in opposite directions with a child each.

We reach the arena and the Bean suddenly loses it. She clings to me and refuses to go to the teacher. Suffice to say, she spent the rest of the morning in the teacher’s lap. We begged, we cheered, other parents joined in. Yes, this is one of those shiny happy schools where we don’t compete, we all participate. *koff koff*

Towards the end she suddenly sat up and took a shot at the obstacle race. The crowds sitting around cheered, she took one look and skittered back to the teacher. At the end I held her hand and took her to the arena and hey presto, off she went, slithering through hoops like a snake, walking the fine line, climbing ladders, she did it all. Sadly, it was after everyone had a shot and this was during the break. But she did it and I saw that she was fantastically light on her feet, faster than anyone else, well-balanced and very sure of herself. I was proud and I thought to myself quietly, oh well, at least she’s fantastic and her mother knows it. And then, the entire group of parents clapped for her and I realised everyone else was watching too.

I called the OA on his phone – what was the Brat up to? Dreaming in a corner, watching dust particles in the sun and chasing dragonflies while his classmates burnt up the track, no doubt. Apparently not. The son was kicking some butt. In a non-competitive way. What? I refused to believe it. And so we both left our posts and went sprinting across the school to exchange notes. And he showed me pictures of the Brat doing the relay, doing yoga and holding the position far better than anyone else, a look of fierce concentration on his face. This was my son? Really? The one who can’t hold a thought for a minute if it doesn’t interest him? Who will walk away mid-conversation? Really? He was enjoying this? I had to see this with my own eyes.

By the time I got there, the PT display was over, the exercises and yoga were done, the relay and the ball passing were done. All that I caught was the high jump. And I watched in awe. Some kids show their sporting spirit early in life. A tall-for-her-age girl took her place, and I saw the steely glint of determination in her eye. She reminded me of Arjuna and the bird’s eye. And then she took off like lighting and cleared the leap. Another little boy took his position and I was a little nervous. He was short and I was sure he’d not make it. It was as easy as pie.. he just sailed over. I remembered that most little girls are taller and bigger than boys of their own age –  other than the Bean who looks like a 2-year-old but sounds like an 82-year-old.

It was also rather sad to see how many kids in India are already obese. Some couldn’t run because of their weight. They landed on the hurdle and brought it down. At age 5 most should have lost their puppy fat or else should be sent out to play some more. Or fed healthier. It’s not easy for them to fall over and realise that their weight was a problem. It’s unfair that they’re too young to know what to do about it and those who are in charge seem to be doing nothing.

Anyway, soon it was time for the Brat. He had wandered off from the queue and was doing something completely pointless I am sure. And then he ambled to the line when his teacher called, looked around aimlessly and then focussed on the hurdle. Ah? This? Okay. And then he began to run in the weirdest way possible. Legs in every direction, arms all over the place, he spotted me in the crowd and grinned the most beautiful grin and said – Hey look Mama, I’m a dinosaur. I groaned and then laughed in spite of myself. Never mind if he never wins a race or takes to a sport, I told myself. He knows how to enjoy himself and that itself is a rare gift. And then he reached the hurdle and took it with ease, ambling off, the whole crowd of parents holding their sides and laughing at this kid who was playing dinosaur.

The hurdle was raised and the rounds began again. The sporty girl took it. The spunky little tiny boy took it. The obese kids fell over again and cried and I wanted to smack someone – their parents maybe. And my son came again – this time as a water lizard or something.  I was by now laughing so hard I had tears running down my cheeks. He waved cheekily, threw himself over the hurdle and went back in line. By the third time the parents were looking out for him and waving. He came as a crab or something, sideways, took the really high leap with ease and ambled off again. And that’s when it stuck me. He was good at this. He has his father’s sporty genes, (not my lack of coordination that ensures I can’t catch a ball flung from 6 inches away) but no real interest yet. It comes too easy to him. But more than that, the school has taught him to use his body and his muscles and do this and he does it – he just doesn’t think it’s a matter of life and death. Fair enough – let him do it as fun. He’s only five.

He kept doing it till they took down the hurdles for kids. And then – it was the parents’ turn. I looked madly around and promptly dialled the OA. “Come fast,” I said.. “family honour at stake and all that jazz.”

I would, he said, “if I were not crawling into a tube as we speak. Family honour at stake here too. ” He was doing an obstacle race with other parents and of course aced it.

Right. So I hung up, retied my shoelaces, pulled up my tracks, took off my sweater and said a prayer for my knees. The hurdles started with some fathers and a few mothers. I took the first jump and as I soared over it everything I’d ever learnt during my school years came back. Where to build speed, when to lift off, the angle at which you raise your legs and in that split second I was thrilled. It’s such a small thing and yet for someone who a year ago was writing off her legs, it was more than a giant leap. I landed smoothly and sprinted back to my place.

I looked around and I saw a bright-eyed Brat looking at me. Then he smiled, and told his friends - Dekho, meri mamma. Kitna achcha jump karti hai.

Ma ka dil and all that jazz, I made up my mind not to stop until I was dead.

The hurdle kept rising, the other mothers dropped out and I was the only woman left doing this. No biggie when you consider how unfit and overweight most of the parents are. Sadly, in spite of being slimmer than many, my knees tell a different tale.

After the first jump I checked my knee. No extra pain. By the third one, I had people congratulating me on how athletic I was. And I was fine. Raring to go. High on my son’s adoration and general junta’s applause. I’m a sucker for such stuff.

After about 6 raises I couldn’t do it anymore. It was just too high and only the really tall men were able to do it. And I dialled the OA once again. Thankfully the Bean’s events were over and he was free.

And so my knight in shining armour came to save the day.

He did it of course. Over and over again he took the hurdles, landed with grace and ambled off in a way that reminded me of the Brat. They finally called it a day with him being one of the last 2-3 dads doing it.

The Brat threw himself at us. The Bean arrived and we headed home happily with their little gifts. Apparently she’d done a great job of walking a rope too. I suppose she’d shed her stage fright by then.

The OA grinned at me that night – Well baby, even if we have two useless kids, at least we overachievers saved the family honour. I grinned back at him.. well, it was a grimace really, because my thighs were already killing me from stretching them to leap so high.

The next two days I limped around. And everytime someone asked me, I proudly said I’d done the high jump and done it brilliantly, buggered up knee and all. The muscles healed in a couple of days and the knee was no worse for wear.

As for the moral of the tale – I’ve learnt not to underestimate my son. That my spunky daughter sometimes gets stagefright ( I learnt and forgot these two lessons last year). To always trust my husband to save the day (damn, but I knew this one too). And to never let my knee stop me from having fun  – this one is new.

For the last time

Dear Bean,

You began new school day before yesterday. To put this in perspective, you are three years old and this is the third school in as many months. We moved to Gurgaon for the Brat to begin new school. They didn’t have a seat for you. We waited a couple of weeks hoping that a vacancy would come up and  finally put you into a playschool because you were dying of boredom. And as luck would have it, within a month of us doing that, a seat opened up for you. Just as we’d relaxed and figured we don’t need to put aside more money! (Your father and I have figured that we might never want for anything, but life will never leave us money for jam.)

Anyway, we have been preparing you for this for days, telling you that soon you’d be a big girl and go to big school with the Brat. And so when the day dawned bright and clear we marched in there thinking you’d happily march off as always. But I think  you’d had enough of being shoved from school to school. Because although you wandered in hesitantly, you kept coming back to check on us. It didn’t help that you saw your brother’s class practising for a Janmashtami show (did I mention my little Gopala looked beyond handsome in his orange silk kurta?)  and wanted to run to him. Thirty minutes of you doing back and forth and I began to blame myself for messing up my easy going children with the constant moving.

And so I settled down, expecting to spend the day sitting out in the heat with not even a book to entertain myself. And then suddenly your teacher called and told me that you were happy and busy sharing your tiffin with some other children. And that I could leave if I wanted to. And I did. And it’s done. You’re now in a big school with your brother. Everything we set out to do in  moving to Gurgaon, is done. I can for now, only hope that the school will be all that we hoped it would and that you both flourish in it. You’re a hardy little weed who within minutes settles in. And while I often worry about your brother, I notice that he seems to shrug off insults and happily make friends. In his own way, he’s a sturdy little good heart too. You are confident and he is easy going and between the two of you, you already have hoards of friends in the complex.

And so it is that I shut one chapter on this book. You’re in big school. I am the mother of two school going children. Ancient! Bless you, baby, babies.

A very teary

Ma.

PS: As a friend on the phone remarked – I am sounding very unsettled and unlike myself. You are both in school, loving the complex, your father who is the boss of himself has shifted his office space to Gurgaon. I am the only unwell idiot, killing myself softly with my looooong commute.

The One Where The Bean Grew Up

or – The One Where The Bean’s Feelings Were Hurt

or – The One Where The Bean Started School

or – The One Where Lumpy Was Abandoned

Take your pick – any title would suit this. As I’ve said before, I don’t know what it says about me as a parent that my kids love school and strangers. And so it was that the Bean began school on Monday. I took the lift down and the OA drove me and her to school slowly. She ran off to play while we were completing admission formalities (no, this is not the Brat’s school, just a stand alone playschool) and soon decided to stay there. So home the OA went, to get her a tiffin and bottle. We were reluctant to go into class and give it to her in case seeing us made her want to come home, but we bit the bullet. I found her in a sandpit, ‘making cakes’.

“You go home, mamma, I need to bake some cakes for the other children,” says she busily. Right, I nod, handing her bottle and tiffin to the teacher. And then I limp back to the car, feeling older and more lost. Why is it that the children who have flexitime/WFH/SAHM at times, mothers like me, fly away so fast? I’m the mother who would have stayed with her for as many days as she wanted, to the exclusion of all else. Kids are just so perverse. I am sure if I had a travelling job the damn kids would have wanted me more, just to spite me!

She came home happily and wanted me to carry her to her room. With my knee the way it is, I shook my head regretfully, told her that she was a big girl and too heavy for me to carry, but offered to hold hands and walk to her room. She mournfully agreed and walked.

A little later she appeared at my side holding a spotted, stuffed dog. “This is my new baby, Spotty,” says she.

“Where is Lumpy?” I ask, missing her fifth, purple limb.

“Oh, he’s growing up and turning bigger and bigger. Now he’s too heavy for me to carry. So I got myself a new baby,” she explained.

It broke my heart and I rushed to gather her in my arms (knee be damned) and we hunted Lumpy down. But it was too late. She fell asleep hugging Spotty last night and had breakfast with Spotty this morning while I foolishly sat there holding Lumpy, hoping she wasn’t still feeling rejected and somewhere deep down, crying for Lumpy too. Yes, I’m an ass. I don’t need to hear it from you.

PS: She’s gone to school very happily today with Cousin J (yes, Cousin K’s little sister who has got through a Delhi college. So now I am local guardian to TWO teenagers and mother to two brats. House full at all times) and as I watched her walk away confidently, her little three year old shoulders carrying a pink bag and pink bottle, and thought of the Brat literally hopping from foot to foot in impatience to get to school, this whole move seems to be justified.  Lost phone, 4 hour commute, aching knee and everything. We’ll be okay. And here I shall hark back to Amanda Marshall. Cry Armana, cry.

Phew!

So don’t be surprised if I don’t publish comments tonight. I am going to sleep better than I have in two years. The house is flooding again, I still can’t get cellphone signal in parts of the house, the kitchen is still a mess, I don’t know where my head ends and my ass begins, but the Brat loved school. Yes, the school loved Brat and the Brat loved the school and we love the school and we love the Brat too. So err, seeing how coherent I am, it is probably a better idea to call it a night. Thank you good folks for your wishes, your blessings, for the hand holding, the tear wiping, the loving emails, the text messages, the good vibes… Somehow it felt today like my whole life had been leading up to this moment. I can now exhale. It’s all good.

PS: When we walked in to school, bright and fresh and early, he skipped to the classroom without looking back, after giving me a brusque, “I need to go now Mama, you go home.” Yes, you do darling. It’s about time this little bird flew the nest. Happy flying!

First day of big school

Dear Brat,

It’s happening. The chain of events that you set in motion with your admission. We’ve moved, we’ve changed our lives and you start school tomorrow. I just want you to know that we’re behind you 100% and more (is that possible?)  – if this is what it takes for you to be happy, this is what it will be. This evening I came back from work and went hunting for my babies. I found your sister gathering rocks. And then I saw a pink cheeked, sturdy legged little boy with sweat-spiked hair running around playing football, screaming out to another little boy  - Dost, dost.. idhar!! I love your strange accent. I love how you make friends without even knowing their names. I love how all that matters to you right then and there is the then and there. For you and from you, I’m going to learn to do the same. To not whine about Gurgaon and to see the silver lining.

Have a lovely first day at school and may this be the beginning of something beautiful.

I love you,

Mamma

On moving

Dear Brat,

A little while ago you and I had a moment that I wanted to store up. A cool dark room – the hot, Delhi summer raging outside. A mother and son skipping lunch and sitting on the cool marble floor, eating ripe peaches and mangoes, dripping juice over themselves and the floor.  Your eyes twinkled in the dark. Your mouth curled up at the edges, a little pink tongue darting out to catch the runaway juice.

This is our last day in this home as a family, darling. I’m taking you to visit with Nani-G’pa and when you return, it will be to a new home. In the suburbs. A new life beckons.

Why are we doing this? Well, because you’ve finally got through a lovely school, all by yourself. Oh they grilled your father and me. But they talked to you and the Bean too and you got in on your own steam. Something I am grateful to the good Lord for. I really didn’t want to be beholden to someone for getting you in and we’ve been spared that situation.

When you got through the school, we were overjoyed, your father and I, mostly because it was a school that fit our philosophy and ideology. It wasn’t like  getting into just about any old school. And then they dropped the bomb that we’d have to move closer. I will admit that I went home and cried into my pillow. I don’t know what to say. It’s the end of an era. I’ve enjoyed every bit of motherhood until now. Your father and I have been the parents who took our 4 day old to a car show room, trekked with our 5 month old in a sling. Partied, picnicked, shopped, travelled, done late night drives with the baby asleep in his car seat… the list is endless.

I’ve not grudged you the years of my life I stayed home with you, the cesarean, the colicky nights, the puking down my front, nothing. But if there was one thing your father and I clung to, it was the life in the city. We’re good parents if we say so ourselves, hands on and enjoying it. But what kept us going was the ease with which we could slip out after you’d gone to bed. A movie, a night out at a pub, a walk around one of the old monuments… anything. A quick cup of coffee with friends.

I’ve often had debates on this blog where people said – “Oh, you’re staying home with your kids now and you’ll end up being the mother who tells her kids she sacrificed so much for them, and guilt trip them endlessly like most SAHMs.” After a point I didn’t bother to correct them.  I knew I was happy and I knew I had never done anything for the kids that I didn’t want to do. I was expecting you at 25 and I know I’ve missed out on a lot of fun that others have had, but I didn’t really mind because your father and I really do live it up.  No real regrets. But we didn’t want to become boring old suburban parents who were exhausted after the long commute home and only crawled into bed and turned on the TV. And yes, very frankly, the resentment raged on for a couple of days.

And then we had no more time to think of it because the madness began. Househunting and looking for a school for the Bean. I don’t mind admitting that I carry some more guilt over that. It’s quite unfair for a younger child to get dragged around for the older child and it’s going to take some time for me to make my peace with that. At some point as we examined houses and checked them for playgrounds, security, safety within the home, proximity to school, ease of getting to work from there in the hot blazing, Delhi summer, dehydrated, cranky, snapping at each other… we forgot to be resentful.

It must have been the nth house around which your father and I forgot the heat, the sweat, the distances and began to have fun. Between the hand holding and the running around to smack him on the head for making fun of my tired bum knees, a broker asked us how long we were married and looked surprised when I mentioned that we had two children waiting for us at home. I doubt it’s because of your father’s shock of black hair (not!!) and my slender (not!!!) figure. It was because we were just having so much fun.

And just like that, we went over to the dark side. Sold out. And made our peace with being suburban parents. And began in earnest to look for swimming pools, tennis courts and all those amenities that make the suburbs tolerable. I’ll tell you my prob with suburbs in India. They’re the frickin opposite of suburbs abroad. You move out of the city and instead of ducks and rabbits like Tambi maama has frolicking in his garden, the skyline is dominated by high rises, concrete and neon signs. Its quite disgusting. Try any of the major cities and that is all you will find in the suburbs. Or else you will find neat little row houses that are too small to accommodate even my big toe and all that remains is to have Noddy come around the corner honking in his little red and yellow car. The grey dreary buildings all have awe-inspiring entrances and lush green lawns but the sameness of the buildings makes my skin crawl and it doesn’t matter how well you do up the inside. I refuse to accept my home beginning and ending within those four walls. I hate opening my doors into a balcony that has another along side, where our conversations are overheard and we’re subjected to someone’s early morning love of *gasp of horror* Himmesh Reshammiya, maybe!

One of the complexes we saw had young mothers with babies in strollers, maids walking dogs (!) and old people watering their hedges. Dada looked approvingly at this picture of suburban bliss while I felt panic fill my heart and I looked around for a hole in the hedge to escape through.

What’s wrong, asked your father, sensing by the look of absolute horror on my face that something just might be. Astute man, this one.

I’d rather die, I confessed.

You weird, twisted woman, he grinned… I love you.

And so it is that after much debate we settled on one of the complexes. We have friends nearby, a nursery school for the Bean at hand and it fit our budget. We’re not over the moon but we’re already seeing the silver lining to this cloud. You’ll have friends in the complex, your security is taken care of and I might even go back to full days of work because you’ll have a half day of school until three, after which you will come home and wash up, have a snack and probably run off to play with your friends. You won’t miss me. (Cue for mournful music). You won’t need me :(

I feel like a bit of a traitor moving houses while you are away and I have told you about it but I don’t know if you understand. I shall bring you here to visit when you come back from Nani-G’pa’s house.

For now my darling, soak in this moment, this home that has been ours for five years. With its three stories of endless, bone jarring stairs, its wide open balcony where the winter sun warmed our frozen limbs, your sunshiny room filled with music, the cool darkness of mama’s bedroom, the corridor you learnt to cycle in, the windows we sat at and watched the skies darken and the rain come down, the always occupied guest room, the lawn that you played ball in, the driveway where you stood and watched traffic go by. I’m glad you’re going away. I don’t do farewells very well. I don’t want you to watch your mother break down and cry as I leave the home you took your first steps in and your sister was born in.

Tonight I take you to Allahabad, to your grandparents, uncles, aunts, dogs and fish. And then I come home to a house that has sent its soul away… and soon I will leave the empty shell and move on too.

I write this to you so that you know why we moved to the suburbs inspite of my strong feelings on  living in the heart of an ancient and strong city like Delhi, feeling its pulse and soaking up its history. And should you ever feel that I resented doing this for you, let me tell you, that in that one moment when you looked up at me, your innocent eyes shining, your cheeks pink with health and mango dripping down your lips on to your little Batman-vest encased belly, I lost my heart all over again. And all I could think of was how I’m going to spend my life ensuring that you never lose that light in your eyes, that you keep smiling as delightfully and that we’re always in Delhi in the mango season!

I love you sweetheart

Mamma