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.

The Brat strikes back

Relationships have to evolve to stay alive. When I look back on our courtship it was the OA pursuing and me playing the Princess. Today I fuss over him, settling his collar, planning a meal he enjoys and he soaks it up, as though it is his right. And it is, isn’t it? Anyhow, this post is not about us, it’s about the babies.

Their bond is changing from ideal, fairytale-like, into a real flesh and blood one. The Brat for all his peace-loving ways, is, like any brother, very aware of which buttons to press to irritate his sister. I could be sitting there seeing nothing and the Bean will turn purple and scream, ‘He’s irritating me. There. Right there. That thing he’s doing, blinking his eyes/twirling that piece of paper/breathing – there, he knows it irritates me and he’s doing it.’ And I’ll look back and forth, goldfish-like  and wonder what just happened.

At times he won’t ‘allow’ her to use a word by simply saying, ‘You can’t say ‘red’, it’s my word.’ And the Bean will explode, screaming, crying, yelling. And I’ll take a deep breath and try and deal with it diplomatically.

At other times though, it won’t end that well and the Bean will hit him. Or kick him. If I’ve told her once, I’ve told her a hundred times that she’s not to be so free with her hands and legs, but she’s not one to take kindly to instruction. And when that happens the Brat looks at her with eyes full of sadness and a pain that rips through my heart. And he walks away. All while I’m screaming at her for hitting, asking him why he had to irritate her and generally wondering if it might not be less painful to put my head through a cement mixer.

I’ve raised him telling him to use his words instead of his hands and I can’t tell you how often I wonder if I did the right thing. I’ve also taught him that a gentleman never raises his hand on a woman. And he’s maintained that, never hitting his sister back in retaliation.

In the recent past though, they’ve begun to draw their lines, demarcate their space and struggle over turf. It’s been maddening, enlightening and crazy. And healthy for them too, I guess as they learn where one of them ends and the other begins.

Today I was on the phone and the Bean came sobbing to me, heartbroken. ‘Brat doesn’t love me anymore, he hates me, he doesn’t want to be my brother…’ Typical girl. No mention of the incident that triggered it, go straight for the emotional angle. I cuddled her, kissed her hair, assured her that her brother loved her and carried her to him.

And asked him why she was crying. He shrugged and held out his arm. Teeth marks. She’d bitten him and in sheer terror run to me, knowing that she’d really crossed a line.

I dropped her, washed his hand, put an antiseptic cream and cuddled him. All the while horrified, wondering how to deal with this. What do you do when one child of yours hurts the other so badly? Do you take sides? Do you do what you’d have done if neither was your child and you had to play judge?

I then took a call and asked her if she was a puppy dog, because humans don’t bite. There was not much else to be done because she was already shaking with regret and fear at what she’d done and finally she took herself off to the nursery to calm herself down.

Rocking the Brat I talked to him, asked him if his arm felt better and how he felt. And why he hadn’t reacted. At this point he looked up at me nervously and confessed,’ I hit her when she bit me because it hurt so badly.’

At this point readers, I wanted to fall to my knees and praise the Lord. I wish I could say I was torn, but I wasn’t. I nodded. Hitting his sister was not on, I pointed out, but letting himself be bullied was even more harmful. Next time, I pointed out, maybe you can just hold her away. ‘I held her hands, he said, which is why she bent down and bit my wrist so hard.’

I let it go.

Family politics and equations are created so early. The Bean is a very intelligent child who has for a long time, got away with hitting or kicking her brother because he won’t fight back. No doubt she is scolded and checked and punished by us, but she has him pegged for a pushover and she makes the most of it.

The Brat has a long fuse though and it’s taken him his time. And so the first time he hit back she broke down and sobbed like her heart was broken. I let her sob and suffer for a while. I won’t be around to protect him for life and I certainly don’t want the Bean to grow up believing that the mild are weak.

Dinner, baths, bedtime happened and the Bean was subdued after her father too got back from work and gave her a good talking to. An hour after lights out I stopped in to check on them and found her lying awake in bed. I climbed in next to her and we chatted for a while. She had thought about it for a long time and knew she was wrong. ‘Next time I’ll think of another way to tell him I’m angry. I don’t want to not have a brother,’ she said.

It’s not the end of the matter. I have a feeling it’s just the beginning. And next time it may not be so easily dealt with.

Sweet heart

It’s a nice crisp  morning-after-a-night-of-rain and we decide to drop the kids to school and then go to our favourite park for a jog instead of the OA hitting the gym and me the pool. Breakfast at a lovely little organic cafe, Roots and then home to dress and rush to work, is the plan. And so we head out to school.

The windows are rolled down and the kids are clowning around. The Bean’s hair is flying in the breeze and she’s pretending to be a pup and barking at other cars. The Brat is cheering her on and squealing with laughter. The breeze has blown our papers all over the place, the kids have had a pillow fight with the two cushions in the backseat, the OA and I are in tattered shorts and tees and sneakers and we’re dancing to whatever RJ Sarthak is subjecting us to. This car is a far cry from peaceful.

Just then the Brat sees his classmate in the car next to ours and waves excitedly. The other child is sitting quietly in a chauffeur driven car with his older, neatly groomed, dressed-for-office father reading the newspaper. Peace and calm reign in their car.

The Brat gestures to the other child who begs his father to let him roll the window down. The Brat then calls out, “Yours is a really cool racing car. You’re going to come first – yayy! I’ll see you in school.”

The OA smiles, “Only our son would tell another boy that he has the better car! He never feels the need to sound cooler or better, does he?”

I nod and smile back. That is our Brat. And we’re making our peace with our non-competitive child who will give visiting kids his cycle, share his Beyblades, offer you the better piece of cake and forgive you for punching him in about ten minutes.

A few days ago they went for a birthday party. The kids were mostly older and it was time for the pinata. The Bean usually gets stamped on and pushed out of the way, emerging from under the pile of kids with only a handful of sparkle. The Brat usually wanders around on the periphery, uninterested in the proceedings. I was surprised to see him dive in this time and emerge triumphant. In his hand, other than a few odds and ends was a pink sparkly pencil sharpener in the shape of a PC mouse.

Clutching it tight he came to his sister – I got this for you because I knew you wouldn’t be able to get anything out of there. Ma ka dil and all that jazz, I blinked back tears and looked away. Unwilling to bear witness to this sort of honest love. The Bean held up a bag – she’d already got herself a bag of loot!

The OA and I took one look at each other and burst out laughing. Clearly our little Monster no longer needs to be looked out for. Although I still felt bad that the Brat dived in there only to get something out for her and nothing much for himself.

Oh well… everyday in little ways we learn something about them. And almost everyday, what I learn about the Brat, breaks my heart just a little bit.

Of heartache

It’s happened again. The oldies packed up and left for the US of A early this morning to see their latest grandchild. If he weren’t the most adorable child on earth I might have resented it, but as it stands I am aching to see him myself and can’t deny them their happiness even for a fleeting second. But more than that I am astounded by the depth of despair I feel as I realise that my parents are on another continent. I moved out of home at 17 and have been independent so I’m not really one of those who needs them around for their help. But the knowledge that they were just a phone call away (in my own time zone!) was invaluable. Even at 32, I feel as sense of loss … as they say in Hindi, sar se haath uth gaya. I miss the protection that knowledge offered and it gives me a taste of what the loss of a parent will be like. Sorry to be so morbid and not to trivialise the loss of a parent, but yes, it makes me realise how much worse that will be.

Anyway, this is my darling little Baby Button, growing up so fast, so far away.

Please take a minute to soak in the cuteness that is the love of my life.

As is usual with my parents around, the chaos abounded. Suitcases weighed, packed, unpacked, redistributed, all while the kids hopped in and out of the suitcases. Sad that G’Pa-Nana were going to see Baby Button. Upset because I made the mistake of telling them when he was born, that he is their baby brother. Unable to understand why their grandparents are off to see a baby brother who rightfully should live in their home. The Brat wanted to talk to Tambi (maama) this morning and tell him what he thinks of people who make off with his siblings. With great difficulty I put off that phone call until it was morning for Tambi. The Brat is a man. Words don’t come easy to him and it’s taken me a long time to teach him to express himself. I’m angry, he whispers into the phone. I am angry with all of you. Why isn’t Button coming to India? I want him to live here. Tambi pacifies him … he’s a small boy, he can’t travel yet.. he’s coming to see his bhaiya soon… But words do nothing to heal my gentle son’s heart.

The Brat breaks my heart everyday. He’s not even laid eyes on the Button yet and he’s already so emotionally invested in him. Even when we drop by at Dipta’s, the other kids and the Bean will smile and kiss little Diti, but it is the Brat who will sit for hours and marvel over her little toes, gently stroke her soft hair and beg me to let him hold her for a while. So  you can imagine the little heart overflowing with love for this brother he has so eagerly awaited. The brother that God sent us in Maami’s tummy.

G’pa got rather upset at the last minute and wanted to take them along (koff koff, the growing senile no doubt as he edges closer to 60). I even got read the riot act  for not getting their passports made as yet. Excuse me? This is the conversation we need to have two hours before the flight takes off?

The problem with G’Pa is that he can’t bear to see his grandchildren upset and he can’t wait to hold his new grandson in his arms either. He doesn’t want to see pictures, he doesn’t want to hear voices on the phone. He just wants to rock his grandson to sleep in his arms and bury his face in the baby neck. I am glad I am not in his place today, missing one set as I head out to another one. On the other hand, as I pointed out to the teary old man, it’s a blessing that he has so much grandchild love to soak and revel in. And I made a mental note to get the kids’ passports done this year. Next year the oldies can make good on their threat and take the kids on a 17 hour flight. Better them than me. If I go, I’m going with the OA and getting a proper holiday, thank you.

I’ve spent a month racking my brains over the gifts for the Button. Everything you get in India is available there, and probably in a better quality. What do you send a child who has everything and better? I sent loads of hand knitted sweaters for him before he was born. And this time I sent a little silver bowl for him to have his first solid meal in. The problem with such stuff is that it is merely symbolic. He will never really know that his mad aunt spent hours looking for the perfect little silver bowl for her perfect little nephew to take his first taste of kheer. He will never know that I scoured the whole of NCR looking for the channapatna rattles and drag along toys. Perhaps they will be broken and tossed out soon as is expected with kids. But that’s fine. I want to know that my little baby held and gurgled at something I picked out for him. I want to see pictures of him in the little Fabindia shirts I picked up for him. I want to know that he smiled a toothless grin when he ate his first bite from the little bowl. And suddenly the Brat and I were holding each other and sobbing as I rocked him. I know I set out to console him but in a few minutes the both of us were inconsolable. Crying for a little baby neither of us have met, yet feel a strong pull to. This is probably what they mean by ties of blood. We fell asleep cuddling. Hopefully we’ll make our peace with this distance soon.

On the way to school

He’s a couple of inches shorter than her and is wearing great big glasses, a huge school bag weighing his shoulders down. They are running for school, her plait flying behind her. They decide to jump over a raised portion of the garden and in seconds he deftly leaps over. She stops and even though she is older and bigger, struggles with her heavy school bag. He turns around and hops over again – ‘De do didi,” he says and yanks it over the stretch of grass, while she runs ahead.

How early little boys learn to take care of their sisters. What would we do without our little 6 year old brothers dragging our heavy bags for us? What makes them take care so early? Why does the Brat hang on for dear life to a careless wriggly struggly Bean when we’re around a busy road? Why does she pull his head down to her lap and pat him to sleep? What would we do without siblings?

The picture above was clicked at the Deer Park in Hauz Khas. We’re standing on top of some ruins and the Brat is holding on to the Bean so that she doesn’t go headfirst into the lake.

Bye bye, baby

He pushes his luggage trolley and enters the terminal. The crowds swallow him and I strain my eyes but no trace of him remains. I sag with grief and the tears I’ve been holding back over the last week come rushing out. My baby brother just left and the next time I lay eyes on him, he’ll be a father. He’ll walk out of that airport carrying a baby in his arms and for the first time in the 30 years he’s been my brother, he won’t be the focus of my attention. Until next year then, Tambi…

Also, there’s something so final about parenthood. It seems that you’re never truly an adult until you’re responsible for another person’s life. He left the country, did well for himself, heads a team, owns a house, a Porsche, got married… but he was still a baby. My baby brother. And all of a sudden, overnight, he’s grown up.

And until now the two of them were just a young couple, a part of our family. Come January they truly become their own unit. A family.

Bye bye, baby. Hello, big boy.

I leave you with a picture of Tambi maama and the Bean sitting out in my parents’ dining room and the Bean showing him a bird in the ceiling – yes, the ceiling is a canopy of greenery and flowers…

We’re all in it together

The adults are sitting around chatting and joking and talking up a storm. The babies have climbed up on the barstools and have set up a shop at the bar. On sale are plastic toys, bowls, charger cords and mobile phones – basically anything they could find. The currency is a bunch of gift cards. Every little while one of the adults gets up and goes up to the bar and makes  a purchase. It keeps the babies busy and we can have a decent conversation. All is going well until my parents’ cook who has also stopped by to make a purchase exclaims, “Yeh toh bada ghotala hai…” and goes on to explain that the Brat sells an item and then Bean quietly goes around unnoticed, collecting the ‘sold’ items while we chat, and puts them back up for sale! The two little thieves are running a very successful business in collaboration.

———-

Nani puts TV on for the babies. The Brat asks for a particular channel. Nani switches it and then says they can only watch for 20 minutes more after which she wants to catch the news. The Brat gets annoyed and picks up the remote in an attempt to take control. He doesn’t know what to do with it until the Bean says, “Quick give it here. I’ll put it under a pillow and sit on it so that she can’t take it.”

Sigh. What have I brought upon myself?