Perhaps the greatest pleasure of ‘growing up’ is hosting your family. And I have that simple joy pretty often. From being local guardian to my cousins in college, to my parents who travel through the NCR every two months or so on business. Friends, family who I have never met before at times and acquaintances who just need a place to crash, at times. But my favourite, by far, is having Chhota Nana and Nani (or my maama and maami) over, every summer.
In their mid-forties, they’re young, enthusiastic and fun. And yet, they’re older so I hand over the reigns of my house to them and party like an animal. The kids sleep with them, eat with them and breathe down their necks, staying out of my way, giving me an illusion of being childless, footloose and fancyfree in the Capital again.
It’s just like having my own parents in town, without the hassle of controlling my temper after day 3 as I always have to do when my father and I are in the same house. Invariably tempers fray and doors are slammed and the foundation rocks, as we scream at each other over something completely inconsequential. My mother and the OA pale and come up with creative ways to dispel the tension.
So these times with Chhota Nana and Nani are some of the best times as a hostess (if you can call me that, when I am barely surfacing before 9 am each morning!). Chhota Nana walks around the house pulling at door knobs, knocking against walls to check for termites, servicing my AC, hanging up the last few pictures we’d dumped in a corner, adding a little block of wood under a shelf that has a broken leg and fixing my cooler for better cooling. Chhoti Nani reads to the Brat and Bean, stitches little satin roses on to anything the Bean produces, cooks up the most delicious kebabs and biryanis and comes carrying jars of mango chutney. By evening Cousin J and I share a Breezer and are quite giggly and the whole family sits around roaring with laughter and cracking the silliest jokes. Cousin K turns up his 21 year old nose at his two drunk-on-a-shared-Breezer sisters and dutifully helps the OA get my kids into pajamas. All in all, a brilliant situation.
Socialising while they are here is fun too, because most of our friends are in their late 30s and early 40s, with kids the same age as ours. And then there are these youthful grandparents who confuse them – should they call them Uncle and Aunty, considering there is not more than 3-4 years of age difference? At a party last week, Chhote Nana carried the Bean around on his shoulders while the other dads hung around sipping their drinks and saying it was too hot to be bothered. They were fine when they met this young, slight, fit man in his jeans and tee, until the OA made the mistake of saying this is his uncle in law. An awkward pause followed by the sudden realisation that they should call him Uncle. And then my as-yet-not-greying Uncle looking at me in barely disguised horror as many bigger, paunchy, grey, men began to call him Uncle. I teased him about it for days. At some point they began to discuss bikes and I think they forgot to call him Uncle after a cigarette had been passed around.
It’s an odd situation because their own daughter is 20 and studying, but I am their daughter too in every way that matters. Thanks to me they’ve had the pleasure of grandchildren far earlier than anyone in their group of friends – and my cousins who have barely left their teens are disgusted at how besotted their parents are by my kids and wonder aloud why they were not allowed to get away with murder, the way mine are. The oldies (if one can call them that) love our new house and I love walking into their room in the morning and watching them read the morning papers, framed against my backyard and the lilies in the pond. I love the sound of their voices over a cup of tea while we go about our daily business. I love being their child who is now old enough to take them out for a meal or drag them away from their own house for a bit of a break. Of course they are unable to sit still here either, but it’s a little better than being home and working.
When they leave, after the mandatory 2 weeks that I insist they must stay, I feel the light go out of the house. They fit so beautifully into our home, complementing and supplementing, without ever making me feel like I need to do anything, that I feel the void intensely. For days after they leave, the Brat and Bean mope. Which is not something they do with anyone else, other than Baby Button. Thankfully this year they’ve left and barely two days later I have followed and dropped the kids back home.
I’ve left the babies with my parents year after year since they turned one, for an annual break (they as well as we, need it!). It’s a great idea because the two sets of grandparents – Nana-G’pa and Chhota Nani and Nana, get a chance to spoil the kids rotten without me hovering over them, looking like a thundercloud each time a Kachcha Mango Bite is offered or they watch an episode of Doraemon. A time of absolute freedom, not hampered by the sandwich generation. I know its important for kids to get a break from the schedule of home, that they get to throw routine to the winds and unlearn order. That they realise TV is not the enemy Mama makes it out to be and eating a chocolate before breakfast will not kill them. All very important childhood lessons I am sure. My son is playing cricket with the boys on the street this summer and my daughter is sitting on (not at) her grandfather’s desk, telling his staff that will one day she will run G’pas office. Thankfully its a small town where people find that rather amusing.
Each year I tell them that I’m leaving them there and going off with Dada for a break. This is the first year that the Brat objected. He is Baby Button-crazy and after the first few days of nodding, he suddenly snapped and said – But why can’t we go. Err…. good question. Because its expensive and because your father and I haven’t had a good old holiday since I was expecting you – X’mas 2004in London. Because there will be lots of walking and with two torn ligaments and a bunch of missing cartilage in my right knee, I’m going to be hard pressed to carry myself, let alone anyone else. He agreed and floated off, albeit rather morosely.
Actually I have no idea why we’re not taking the kids other than sheer tradition. This annual ritual is usually a 3-4 day one where we take a break and spend sometime just being a couple. Having had them so early in our married life, the OA and I have been parents almost our entire relationship. We come back refreshed and ready to handle the rigours of parenthood for the rest of the year. And the kids have by that time ingested enough sweet to keep them bouncing off the walls for the next month or two. They show no grief when I am leaving for the station, they’re too busy screaming and running around the living room with some family member. (Actually they’ve never cried at a single parting, be it starting a new school or leaving for a holiday – makes me wonder if I’m such a bad mother that they’re happy to be rid of me. But that is fodder for another post!). Last night was the first time they came to the railway station to drop me. On the way, the usually vague Brat looked up and under cover of darkness, said, ‘I’ll miss you, mama,” out of the blue. I was shocked.
My poor kids have had to live with an overly emotional, extremely expressive mother. I spend at least 20% of my time rolling on them, squashing them, squeezing them and telling them how much I love them. The Brat takes after his father, solemnly accepting his fate and suffering in silence. The Bean takes after me by knocking on the bathroom door about 3 minutes into my bath and saying, “Hurry up and come out, Mama. I’m already missing you.” You get the picture.
This year too, they planned excitedly for their summer break with the grandparents. Packing a bag of things to do on the train, helping me pack their suitcase, calling the grandparents twice a day to remind them that they want to do X,Y or Z once they’re there. The Bean has held back on her haircut for the last 2 months saying she will only get Aunty P in Allahabad to cut it. They’re going to go swimming with my parents, and will be off to Banaras this weekend and Madras the weekend after that for 10 days, sun, sand and egg dosas.
Friends who don’t have parents to leave the kids with, envy us. I on the other hand envy friends whose parents live with them and take care of the kids while they work. Anyhow, the point remains that next year I think we might not be able to leave them behind. Not because they won’t agree to stay. But because I don’t think I can do it anymore.
And here’s a sample of the idiocy we’re busy with when we’re home. A picture of the feet of three generations of women. They get progressively fairer (my mother is strangely dark for being the product of a pink and white Garhwali-Punjabi father and light skinned Bengali mother) starting with my mother’s dark but beautifully shaped foot, my medium toned but very plain foot and the Bean’s fairer foot – but she, poor child has unfortunately got the OA’s really ugly feet.