… is probably the hardest thing. It’s one thing to stick with your beliefs when you’re in our own comfort zone. But it’s quite another to be observed minutely as you take each decision. The last two holidays gave me a lot to think about. I particularly talk about these because most holidays are with family and friends. But these were 2-3 day holidays on resorts where the kids got pally with other kids and we were forced to hang out with the parents of those kids. They were neither strangers we could ignore, nor friends who know what we’re like. They were a strange in-between.
The Brat and Bean are running around a resort and playing with a bunch of kids. A grandmother is there with her son, daughter in law and grand-daughter. Her chubby little grandchild is hampered by flimsy sandals and a dress but joins in anyway and runs with them happily.
The older lady watches with her heart in her mouth and finally turns to me with a plea in her eyes. What am I supposed to do? I don’t want to be rude, so I smile but ignore the plea. They are kids and they need to run around and scrape knees. The kids are laughing and shouting and I am happy to see the brat and bean leading the pack. I forget about the lady and get back to my book, only looking up once in a while to see if they’re okay.
And then I see the lady come and not just grab her grand child but also the Bean and tell them to sit down and play with some dolls or something quietly. I get really pissed, because she is telling them not to run around and I’m honestly not interested in what her child does, but I brought my kid here on holiday to have fun. I’m not having anyone else telling her to sit down and entertain their grandchild. I watch and wait.
The Bean comes up to me – Mama, that aunty says I mustn’t run around. She says to sit down and play with X. She’s got dolls in her room.
MM: What do you want to do?
Bean: I want to run with the Brat and the other babies.
MM: Ja beti, jee le apni zindagi. (Or words to that effect)
Bean runs off and plays.
Old lady glares at me and struggles to hold her child down and finally gives up when the child’s father tells her to let go. Child runs a bit with the other kids and then realises she can’t keep up and panting heavily sits down. The OA was amused but I was not. I don’t tell other people’s kids what to do if they aren’t doing something illegal/ dangerous /hazardous to the environment and I don’t like people dictating what my kids should do.
A little while later the Brat is touching something in the hotel that is not allowed and I warn him off it. Within seconds another child walks up to it and starts pulling. The parents look on, unconcerned. The Brat argues with me – But why is he touching it? Why can’t I?
MM: I can’t tell him what to do. His mama and dada must decide for him. But you’re my son and I can tell you what I think you shouldn’t touch.
And then I give up. This whole public parenting thing is a pain. How do I tell the Brat he can’t do what the other child is doing, without it sounding like I am criticising their parenting?
A little later the mother of the chubby child decides to do something to entertain her daughter sitting glumly and starts some game. I join her to help out. Within minutes the kids are all over the place doing what Simon Says. Simon asks them who their favourite girl is – Hannah Montanna or Barbie. Bean’s clear little voice rings out – I like Batman. Err.. okay. Batman is not a girl, I want to tell the Bean, but hell, can I help it if she’s out of options?
At this point all the mothers are looking at me. Doesn’t she play with dolls?
Umm… I fumble. What is okay as a personal philosophy and as a blog rant, goes into grey areas when you have to say it to someone’s face. It’s not something that I don’t stand by. But it is the exact opposite of their beliefs and comes across as criticism. I’m thinking of a polite way to phrase this. So I say I don’t buy guns and dolls – the only ones they have are gifts and both have lost all interest in them since I don’t encourage it in any way.
Next, which is your favourite cartoon? Shinchan or Pokemon (I hope I got the names right). The Brat and Bean consider this and say they love Lightning McQueen. The mothers turn to look at me.
I finally say, “Yes, we don’t watch cartoon network at our place, I usually play a VCD for them so that we don’t have to suffer through advertising.” I can see that I’m already That Weird Woman We Met At The Resort.
The Brat now pulls a rubber scorpion out of one pocket and a rubber cobra out of the other. He hands one to the Bean and they begin to crawl around in the mud. The Bean by now looks like we tied her to the bumper and dragged her through the dust and mud. A look she specialises in.
“How do you keep them away from TV all day?” one asks, genuinely surprised.
I realise how draconian I must sound to people who are hugely different from me and I wonder how to temper what comes next. So I warily tell them that I’ve just told the kids not to put it on and they know that a no is a no. I might have to take stricter measures later, but for now they don’t defy me. Also, there is really no time for TV. In summer they nap away the worst hours and then run down to play. By the time they are back its time for a bath and dinner and maybe, just maybe 30 minutes or less of TV. In winter they go down to play the moment they are back from school and stay there till dark. Then some reading, some games, dinner, and maybe a little TV. Simple.
She shrugs and says, “Oh we don’t want to live in an apartment. We have our own house even though it is Bombay (err.. good for you!) so we don’t have too much garden space for her to play. ” Ah, so you were crowing because?
These conversations are so pointless. I live in an apartment and hate it, but I know my child gets loads of friends and space. You live in a house because.. whatever your reason.. and your child has no space. There are pros and cons to every situation.
How do you keep them entertained, they ask? I shrug. I don’t. I spend time with them but they have each other, they have their books, their toys, their friends. They have a lot to do and not enough time.
At this point the conversation peters off and we notice the other kids are all playing together – a good 8-10 of them, the Bean even drawing by the hand an older girl to join them. Everyone except this kid, who again, doesn’t know how to play with others, follow rules of a game or get up, dust herself off and run around. I feel a twinge of sadness because its not her fault. On the other hand, its is not the other children’s fault either. They’re all playing together quite sweetly with no violence or aggression.
A gentleman (and I use the term loosely) walks up to the little girl, pinches her cheeks and says, “Never mind beta. You look so cute in your little skirt and long hair. When you grow up all the boys will come after you. They won’t be interested in those girls. You don’t need to get dirty and tanned and lose your chubby cheeks.” And he nods towards the grubby kneed Bean who is by now climbing up a rock, egged on by a bunch of kids. Her hair is out of its pigtails, her teeshirt is filthy, her hands look like they need to be disinfected.
I can see he wants to be helpful and cheer that child up, but what he’s really doing, is making a complete hash of it, ass that is. Also, scarily, that is exactly how such people think. And then they infect our kids with their thinking.
What I want to say is, Really? Have you missed the obesity memo? This is what you tell an overweight 3 year old who no doubt makes for a cute chubby kid. Her parents are overweight and in a country where the number of obese kids is increasing, we’re telling our kids its okay to sit around, not run around and play, but stay fat because the boys will like it?
It is so wrong. Let me count the ways.
1. She’s overweight – you need to encourage her to run around. Pot bellies only look cute on toddlers. No later.
2. She’s shy. That isn’t her fault, but you’re making it hard for her to join the other kids in her rather sexualised short tight denim skirt, her belly button baring halter neck, heeled sandals.
3. You’re teaching a girl child that the most important thing is for boys to like you? Nothing else? What about spunk? Personality? Friendliness?
I lose my cool because I’m a short fuse person by all standards. He just dismissed my daughter in her presence. And he taught this little child the wrong lesson.
So I smile and say – ” Ha ha. Don’t listen to uncle, darling. Girls should be smart, intelligent and confident and they should learn to have fun. How does what the boys think matter? Come, I’ll show you some fun” I take her by the hand and help her up the rocks while her mother sits there looking confused. The Bean reaches down, grabs her hand and hauls her up next to her.
It’s not a big deal but I tell the OA about it when I get back to the hotel room. The OA laughs at me and maroes the Tamil saying (that he doesn’t ever get right) about even crows thinking that their kids are very beautiful. Actually I don’t. I think the Brat who looks a lot like his father is an exceptionally good looking boy. The Bean, she takes after me and has a sweet but ordinary face other than her big eyes (I don’t even have those!). But she has a lot of personality if I say so myself. She’s full of fun, makes very good conversation for such a young child, is sharp as a tick and picks up on nuances of conversation that grown men would miss (actually men are no benchmark) and has a lot of empathy and compassion. She’s everything I probably am not and I am very very mad that someone told her to her face that what she is, is of no worth. Never mind that he is of no worth, but these are the kind of messages our girls don’t need. She doesn’t need to be told that the overweight girl with a plain face is going to be more fun because she is even at this age dressed so inappropriately. Would I want some strange man coming up, leering at my daughter’s 4 year old butt and telling her that the boys will soon want her? I think not. And oh Mr Cheek-pincher, someday she’s going to thank us for the genes that currently make her a skinny child. I’m the last one to criticise someone else’s child’s looks but at some point parents need to wake up to the perils of childhood obesity leading to health problems as an adult. It’s not about the looks. It’s a health problem. And oh – last but not least – I am a mother and I refuse to be apologetic for thinking that my child is bloody awesome as she is (or else I’d be unreal) or for getting mad at someone who had the gall to criticise my child to my face and walk away.
I’m not sure what the correct responses to strangers are, but in the last 5 years that I have blogged, my opinions have only been aired on this blog. Never in the living room. Never as part of conversation. I don’t comment on how others rear their kids or on anybody’s personal life which is why I have so many single people still hanging out with me. I don’t do the smug married thing and I don’t suggest to people that they should have kids. We have friends who do things very differently from us and we’ve known each other long. Neither of us questions the other. We all just go with the flow. Discussion never arises.
But to suddenly be confronted by a bunch of mothers and questioned so deeply rattled me a bit. I am not sure what they wanted to know and why they felt the need to examine our lives so deeply, but they did. Also, I am sure they didn’t mean to be judgmental or critical, but I suddenly realised what a bug under a microscope feels like. And by the end of it, when I’d answered each question, I was quite tired of the whole thing and still pissed with the man. I called the kids and we went to bed.