2012 flashed by, ending in a lot of soul searching, outrage, and above it all, determination. Determination that we will no longer be cowed down, that this incident will not push us off the streets, that we will work to give our daughters a safer country.
So for 2013, my resolution is not to be a pushover. I try varieties of this resolution every year but it doesn’t work too well. One of the things I’ll grant the OA and I, is that we’re easy going parents where schedules are concerned. I’m strict on manners/behaviour and screen time, but those are the only two battles I fight. The rest I choose to let go.
Which is why when we’d make plans with friends and someone said they couldn’t go out at X time because their kids were busy doing something, I’d shrug and agree to change the time, even if it meant altering a plan I’d made for myself or my kids. So it was my lunch being skipped to suit someone else’s shopping plan. My kids’ naptime missed because another’s kids napped earlier or later and this suited them. Always, always, always us changing, shifting, altering, making way, being fluid.
I didn’t mind really. That’s what friends do. And being flexible and easy going is who we are. People flowing in and out of our house, laughter, chatter, an exchange of ideas, we love it. The kids have no stranger anxiety (unfortunately that is not always a good thing!), they’re curious and they have learnt to count in Spanish, take a map of Australia and put names to faces to places and say a few phrases in a number of languages. Of course they pick it up today and forget it tomorrow but it’s there and for this simple reason I’d not change the way we live. The only other person I know whose life is equally mad, is Aneela. Sometimes I think I am too trusting, but then as a friend said recently, this is a package deal. I am like this only.
Anyhow, the last year or two have given me plenty of time to introspect and I feel I’ve just been too easy going. It makes me an easy person to take advantage of. If a plan is to be made and it inconveniences anyone, that someone is usually me. I began to realise that my life was in a constant state of chaos mainly because I was always changing a plan laid well in advance, simply to suit someone else. Chaos is something I’m used to – but not something I’m willing to take on for those who don’t earn it. Not anymore.
For the last 4 years everyone I am even vaguely acquainted with, knows I have a knee problem. Most people know I moved out of my last home because of the stairs. I ask absolute strangers for advice because I am so desperate to heal faster. Yet, I have people who will not think twice before asking me to do something that requires stair climbing. No, I am not vain enough to imagine that everyone remembers my knee, which is why I’m quick to point out that it still hurts. Even then I have people telling me, eh, suck it up and climb for once. The point is, it’s never once. Today it’s your house, tomorrow it is the next person and day-after it is someone else’s party at a pub on the 4th floor. I have only one right knee and another 30 years to get through on it, even if my estimate is conservative. I don’t understand this sort of lack of consideration. Maybe it is because most people my age do not have this sort of an injury and have no idea how much it affects the quality of my life. I’ve had to move house, quit my job, stop carrying my precious babies, restrict my movement, go through a gazillion tests, do physiotherapy, let go of a number of heavy household chores and much more. This is my life. I live it without complaint because it is far better than many, many others’ and I am well aware of the privileges I have. But if friends won’t accommodate you, who will? If friends won’t say – hey, lets sit on the ground floor even if the AC isn’t working, then who will?
And this is just me. I’ve gone on holidays where the plans to sightsee are entirely suited to someone else’s kids’ schedule and diet. Mine have just gone along, eaten anything and slept anywhere. I say this not to praise them but because it’s not a big deal. We’ve all done it as kids – but parents now are madly anal about their kids’ schedules. What the hell are they doing traveling with them in a group, then? My kids will go to a home and take off their shoes at the door if required because you honor the hosts’ houserules. Of course after 4 hours of walking on the cold floor in only thin socks they both get sore throats and then the cycle begins. To say nothing of wet bathroom floors and mess on the kitchen floor. There are people who won’t bother with me for days on end and then ask me for a favour because I have a large network on FB.
Sometime last year I realised that I couldn’t tell the Brat to be more assertive in his dealings if I didn’t lead by example. And so I began to put my foot down. No, we would not be able to attend if the party was at X time because my kids were going for a playdate and I refused to cancel their plan to suit another. No, we wouldn’t be coming up for a quick drink before the movie because I was not willing to take the steps up and down for a 15 minute chat. If my kids don’t get along well with yours, I will only meet you sans kids. Our friendship will not be affected, but I’m not forcing my children to meet kids they don’t enjoy playing with. And if you have a no-shoes in the house rule, I’m not visiting in winter – my kids’ health comes first. If you insist on giving the kids junk every time they visit and cannot be bothered to make something healthy when you invite them, then they’re not being sent for a play date. No, it won’t kill them to eat Maggi yet again – but would it kill you to cook something decent when you’re inviting? A simple sandwich?
Here I will put in a disclaimer. I am willing to bend for an occasion like a birthday or an anniversary. Other than that I preserve the little strength I have left and don’t do general dinners if they require too much climbing of stairs. On the other hand I am willing to climb 15 flights for a friend who would do the same for me even just to say hi. I have finite time, patience, energy and health and no desire to extend myself for people who are rigid and don’t extend me the same courtesy. When I put in place this rule for myself, I resigned myself to losing a few of my more inflexible friends.
Strangely, all it did was open me up to relationships I didn’t realise were so good and give me a lot more time and energy to spend on the people who appreciate it and return it. I’ve often spoken about entitlement and kids. I seem to have missed that many adults have the same sense of entitlement. They feel entitled to re-organising your day, to expecting you to cancel a prior commitment, to dropping everything and rushing over just because they are free to do something but never returning that informality, to wanting everything done their way, almost like a 4 year old with poor social skills.
But I’m getting there, I’m reaching the point where I am finally learning to say NO. I used to believe that this was a skill you either had or you didn’t. But I seem to have been pushed into using it. I’ve begun to use my voice in the most random places now.
A few days ago we were shopping for utensils and the Brat and Bean were told to sit in a corner (and NOT TALK TO STRANGERS) because I was terrified they’d knock over something breakable. Apparently other parents didn’t seem to have that fear. One couple gave their kids a non-stick pan and egg beater each and sat them down on the floor. The din made me look up. Bang, bang, bang, screeeeech. The sound was ghastly and I lost my patience. Looking up and down the aisles I saw the kids. Of course I didn’t have the courage to take on someone else’s kids so I looked at the OA. He walked up to the kids firmly, bent down to their level and told them nicely, ‘Don’t do that beta. It belongs to the shop and will get spoilt’. One of them stopped and stared. The other defiantly went up a decibel level, bang, bang, bang.
I looked around and caught hold of a uniformed flunkey who was looking at us warily. Go find their parents, I suggested. It seemed like a good idea so he ran with it. The parents who as it turned out were standing a few feet away glared at us when the flunkey pointed at us. I might have melted away if it weren’t for the OA who looked at them and said politely but firmly, ‘Your children are spoiling the utensils. No one’s going to buy a nonstick pan with scratches.’ That’s all. And I nodded. By this time more sales staff walked up and the kids nervously handed back the utensils. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but in a country like ours where people seem to have no civic sense or concern for property other than their own, it seems to be the only option.
A few days later I saw a couple enjoying a meal at a food court while their kid happily yanked Christmas decorations off and smashed them. A listless maid stood by, looking around bored, not stopping him. I had the courage to tell her to stop him, ask the guard standing by to do his job and not let the mall get denuded and finally ask the parents who were sitting there ignoring all this, to keep an eye over and above the maid since she clearly had no idea of what was acceptable public behaviour. I might have come across as a nosy parker but I don’t care. It seems like people just stand by and let things go wrong, be it something as small as spoiling public property or an injustice taking place and an autowala getting beaten up.
Maybe I’m getting old and tired and cranky but I don’t understand why people can’t wait for the people inside a lift to exit before they force their way in. How do they expect the people inside to get out, if they’re standing in the door? I find it offensive to have to push past people and with my new found assertiveness I now stop right in the door, look people in the eye and say firmly, ‘Please let people inside the lift get out; only then will there be place for you to get in.’ One doesn’t have to be rude, one just has to state the obvious. It’s amazing how sheepish people look in the face of common sense.
But it’s been liberating. I feel less of a fraud for telling my son to assert himself now that I am doing it too. I hope he’s absorbing it and will find the strength to do it one day. I like giving of myself to people who make allowances for my eccentricities too. I love sharing my children with those who appreciate them and return their frank affection. I am still friends with everyone else, I’m just more reserved. I don’t know how long this will last, but it feels good right now and I’m in a happy place.
How’s your year going and what did last year give you? What lessons did you learn? What would you like to achieve this year?