Why we have kids…

Growing up in Munnar, one of our biggest pleasures and privileges was watching our parents get ready to head out to a dinner party. The fireplace in their bedroom would be lit. We’d be in bunny night suits – they were like onesies. Bathed and fed and ready for bed.
Ma would be struggling to run a comb through her heavy mass of waist length hair. My handsome dad would be tuning his guitar, without which he wasn’t allowed to walk into a party. I’d be strutting around in Ma’s vertiginous stilettos. Tambi would be watching my dad strum, absently singing Wonderful Tonight, smiling at ma.
Tambi and I truly believed he’d written the song for her and would fight you to death if you disagreed. Eric Clapton be damned.
She’d catch his eye in the mirror and blush. And then I’d regretfully give her back her heels and watch her slip her beautiful feet into them, her slender neck barely able to hold up that massive bun. A spritz of Paloma Picasso and they’d kiss us and leave in a cloud of perfume and romance. Out into the crisp, cold darkness of the mountain air.
Fast forward 30 years and I find that I’m unable to dress for a party unless there is some music to go with it. I have an iPod set up for it since I don’t have my own troubadour. The Bean is prancing around in my heels and threatening to break her neck. The Brat is sprawled across my bed, looking at me like I’m the most beautiful woman on earth. Just as I looked at Ma in her black slim jeans and white swing top. And this is what we have kids for – for those few moments when we’re perfect in someone’s eyes. And this is what childhood memories are made up of – perfume, music, magic and a nip of winter chill.

So question it

An old friend and I were on watsapp this morning, chatting about what we’ve been up to this last week. I mentioned that the OA and I have been out till 3 am both weekend nights and that I’m pooped.

Back came the response – You bad momma.

A play on my blog name, and a joke no doubt. Not bad woman, not wicked girl, not party animal, not antsy bitch, not party junkie.. but a reminder that I am a mother above all.

Should the OA tell his friends that he’s been out all night, he’ll get cheered on.

We women on the other hand, will always be judged in the court of mamas.

——————–

Halloween seems to be the next big thing to take over the country. I grimaced four years ago when kids came trick or treating at our doorstep. I sighed over it three years ago. Last year I helped the kids plan what they’d wear and this year I’ve accepted it as part of our celebrations.

And for every person who whines that it isn’t our culture, don’t we have enough of our own festivals and so on, I have a few responses.

Neither is exchanging engagement rings, raising a toast to an occasion, singing Happy Birthday and cutting birthday, wedding cakes, wearing jeans and dresses, Valentine’s Day, celebrating 1st of Jan as New Years, tossing up pasta for school, noodles at a roadside cart, I could go on. If you do any of those, don’t grudge the kids a day of running around dressed up as ghouls. It’s no better or worse than pitru paksh, has no religious rituals involved, is gender neutral and harms no one – unless they have a weak heart!

But.. but do you know the origin of the festival? How does it matter? Neither do the millions who celebrate festivals in this country. From Holi to Karva Chauth. I’ve had a different story from every person I asked. So clearly a story or origins can change and people will still celebrate, making the origin irrelevant. At the end of the day it’s just another reason to celebrate and in the times we live in, I’m happy to have more fun than war.

It’s interesting how people who otherwise only speak English, read only in English, don’t celebrate their kids’ birthdays according to the Hindu calendar and so on, have decided that this is where they draw the line. In fact we all choose to draw a line where we want, but who died and appointed us King to draw the line for others, citing cultural appropriation, when we are steeped in a culture that cannot claim to be pure anything?

Reminds me of the Shiv Sena on Valentine’s Day. Through the rest of the year they think nothing of Western imports like TV and mobile phones and the railway network.

A friend posted a few nights ago that she was sick of having spent an entire month praying for the men in the family via Karwa Chauth and Bhai Dooj and really wanted to celebrate something that was gender neutral, did not involve praying and was all about having some fun, with no food restrictions, no timelines, no order of events and no dire consequences predicted if not followed. This came after a riotous debate on my FB timeline, over fasting during Karva Chauth. It was amusing to have bongs declare Karva Chauth misogynistic, while claiming that Jamai Shoshti is kosher. Yes, husbands are being raised up on a pedestal in both cases, but at least we don’t fast, was the argument. Being blind to the flaws within one’s own culture is so easy.

I’m also on a food group where someone asked the ridiculous question – when did Indians start eating beef? A more relevant question would be, when did Indians stop eating beef? A war broke out on the thread and the lady who definitely didn’t ask it with any noble intentions in mind, deleted the thread when it threatened to overwhelm her.

It seems we’re in the midst of a churn and we’re asking questions. We’re just not always honest about the answers.

Walking a fine line

Was reading this article about a Harvard psychologist talking about raising nice kids and it triggered a memory of  an incident, years ago when my parents were visiting and we took them out to dinner.

The Brat (he must have been about 2.5 years old) wanted to go to the toilet and the OA and G’Pa took him to the toilet where he kept up a constant chatter. Basically he was reiterating all that I told him when I was toilet training him.

Wait your turn. Don’t open up your pants until you reach the toilet. Make sure you aim into the toilet – don’t want to leave it dirty for the next person using. Be careful when you zip your jeans so that you don’t get any important bits caught in it. Wash your hands nicely. With soap. Again. Dry them.

This had his father and grandfather in splits and they didn’t notice that they had an audience. Then he thanked his father and grandfather for helping him to use the toilet. When they were done, the gentleman (a foreigner) walked up to my son and gravely shook hands and introduced himself, as though he was talking to a grown up. And then he gave him some money (I forget – probably Rs 50 or something) and said he had never seen such a well mannered child, so to please buy him some candy with it.

The OA and G’Pa of course protested and said money was not required, the praise was enough. The gentleman must have been worried that he was giving offence in a foreign land and the OA and my dad didn’t want him to think he’d breached some form of etiquette when the poor man was trying to do something nice. They kept refusing it and then he made a winning argument. He said there are very few well behaved kids these days. And good behaviour, even among adults, rarely gets rewarded. In fact, most often, your good manners, your civility, they are you’d undoing. They are the reason someone pushes ahead of you in a queue, someone cuts you off on the road and so on. So he’d like my son to know, that once in a while, people do notice and good behaviour doesn’t go unnoticed.

They let the Brat accept the money.

One of the issues with letting kids accept money/ gifts from strangers is that it goes directly against our teachings of not accepting candy from smiling strangers. And I keep telling them kids day in and day out, not to take sweets from strangers. Not to follow someone who says Mama is calling them. And so on.

This also bother me because it means we’re bringing up our kids to be inherently distrustful. That the default setting is that a stranger is untrustworthy, dangerous. This goes against my grain because I’m a rather trusting person myself. I’ve let all sorts of people into my home, readers who don’t blog and so on. I’ve had good experiences and bad, but I wouldn’t change that for the world.

I realise this is yet another reason I hang around working from home when my babies are soon to be 7 and 9. Because I want them to be independent and I want to watch them make decisions, while I watch from afar.

They know that they’re not to open the door if Mama is in the toilet. Not to answer the phone and say that Mama is not home. But if I am home, they answer the door while I stand a few feet away and watch them engage with strangers. I watch them cross the road. I let them buy groceries from the neighbourhood store and bring home correct change. And I know I can only do this because I am watching them with a hawk’s eye. Ready to swoop in, in case of danger.

Had I left them at a daycare, they’d not be allowed this engaging with strangers. Had I left them home with a maid I’d give very strict instructions that they’re not to answer the door, mess around in the kitchen, or do anything that required the maid’s judgment and quick thinking. I just would not be able to trust anyone else to make that judgment call.

As the years go by and examine by choices and parenting, the layers peel away and I realise things that I haven’t been able to articulate earlier. For now, this small simple act of letting them trust others while their mother watches on, is an important one for me.

A week or two ago the Bean accepted and signed for a courier for me. I watched her run her finger down the sheet, find my name and sign carefully.  The delivery guy looked at me in puzzlement, wondering why I hadn’t bothered to do anything, leaving the child to painstakingly drag a chair to the door, ask who he was, open the latch, climb down and sign and then climb up to lock up again.

I think teaching them nuance was important. You can talk to people, you can get to know them, as long as Mama or Dada is close by. We’re such a generation of harried, helicopter parents, hovering around and not giving our kids room to grow and build their  own equations with the world around them. It’s a delicate balance and I can’t claim to have found it, but for now, this works for me.

 

And I turn 36

… otherwise known as the Oh fuck, now I really won’t be having any more babies year.

But on a more serious note, this year I feel every one of my 36 years. In the last year I’ve had family suffer and I’ve been there for them and realised that they needed me. In fact I was in hospital all of my birthday last year and didn’t even take any calls. Chhota Nana’s leg, Ma breaking her foot in the midst of a busy year… construction, business, everything came to a head and I looked in the mirror and saw age spots, tired eyes, tired skin and I realised that I could no longer think I was 24. This is it. I now know that some of the best years healthwise have passed me by.

This is also the first year I learnt what it means to struggle with weight. I’ve always been slim so to finally look in the mirror and see your thighs dimpling is a shocker. I walked, I restructured my diet and while I am not thin by any standards, I am back to normal and feeling good and healthy. But yes, I finally know what it means to feel desperation and know jeans that won’t button.

My driving is still crappy but I can get from A to B in a crisis and that is all I really wanted. I had planned to learn to swim well this year and surprise you guys (hah!) but I chickened out. Actually I think I just had too much on my plate so it was an easy one to evade. Perhaps next year.

This year also, for the first time, I am making more money than I have in many years, all while sitting home. This is something I feel an insane amount of pride in because I’ve worked from home for years, accepted a pittance and held my tongue when treated badly as a professional. But then something snapped this year and I’ve said no to pieces that go against my belief system, turned down poor paymasters even if they are big names and written stinkers to people who haven’t paid up, pulled out contacts, taken to Facebook to name and shame… and generally reached a stage where I might not be doing a lot of creative work but I am earning well, established and no longer have to take shit from anyone.

On the family front, the kids have a far better idea of what Mama does professionally and in fact push me to go back to full time work so that they can ‘watch TV without anyone objecting’. Of course on days that I am out on a shoot they regret every word and cling to me like limpets when I return, the Bean calling me every hour or two to talk to me. Fortunately I am my own master and can take a little break and soak in the pleasure of hearing her voice. Unfortunately though, I am now too hooked on working at my own pace and in my pajamas to do that. Also, new office!

It’s been more than a year in this house and we have no intentions of moving out and are finally settling in. We’re friends with some neighbours, the kids have made friends and settled into their various classes. For now, we’re home.

I’ve also spent the year balancing a lot of relationships, watching them slide downhill, pick and recover. I think it would be fair to say that in spite of not having given birth this year, it’s been crazy!

My resolutions for this year are to take myself less seriously, to have more of a sense of humour, to ignore those who thrive on being annoying and provocative, to stop thinking about others all the time and for a while focus only on myself and my little family.

So wish me luck!

A little give and take

Took the Bean for a haircut today and the lady at the parlour asked me if I’d like to get something done. I didn’t want the Bean to sit there getting bored while I got my stuff done so I said that I’d come back another day. I also didn’t want her sitting there absorbing in that way children do, that ladies need every bit of them polished and shined before they consider themselves socially acceptable.
Sitting all alone on a chair, hanging on to a big handbag was a girl only slightly older than the Bean, dressed very shabbily and definitely from a poorer background. She sat there nervously and quietly, giving no trouble, making no sound.
And then her mother came out of one of the facial rooms. Shabbily dressed, definitely not well off, maybe household help. But she was glowing with happiness. The little girl lit up when her mother came out and asked in Hindi – Ma, did you enjoy the facial? Was it nice? Are you feeling good?
The mother grinned girlishly – Yes, it was such a treat.
They paid up and left.
And I wondered why we are so protective of our kids and their time. Why am I so reluctant to let my child sit for an hour and wait while I get a facial? Will they ever learn to be so considerate? Do our privileged kids care about how their parents feel and would they suffer an hour of boredom, sans TVs and tablets and books, while their parents get a rare treat?
Food for thought and maybe time for some change.

Kids not allowed

I know I haven’t posted here in a while, but I have posted elsewhere. Here’s a sneak peek –

A few weeks ago, a California restaurant put up a sign saying: ‘No strollers, no high chairs, no booster chairs’. Parents seethed and frothed with outrage on the Internet. How dare their precious progeny be barred from a restaurant? Wasn’t fine dining every family’s right?

No.

Now hop on over and read the rest at Yowoto.

 

A room of my own

When I began freelance writing 9 years ago, I did so, at an ugly plywood computer table, sunk into a papassaan, with the Brat ensconced behind me. As he grew a little bigger he began to hold his head up and sit up and play with my hair, my clothes, as I typed. I’d lift him around to the front to nurse and then prop him back behind me. It was attachment parenting of a kind because he was an absolutely good baby, happy to lie close to his mother and smell her as she worked. I’m convinced it’s one of the reasons he’s grown up very secure and sure of himself, of my presence in his life and absolutely unclingy. I could be wrong, but I’m sticking with this story.

What it did to me as a professional though, is ensure that I never allowed myself to come first. I’ve always let the kids play in the room as I’ve worked and it’s worked out fine. At one point the Brat’s favourite thing to do was crawl up to my UPS and switch it off. I solved that problem by putting the UPS on top of my table.

We moved to Delhi, the Bean was born and soon she crawled around as I worked, too. Never once getting her fingers smashed under the rocking chair that I upgraded to as a work chair. I lost my back to the poor office furniture I had but they doubled up as great places to nurse and rock colicky babies back to sleep.

As the years went by and the babies went to school I got a swivel chair and an escritoire from my parents (remember, I blogged about it here?) and that became the final office set up that I’ve used for years now. For the last five years I’ve been attached to one institution or another on a work from home basis and I spend practically my entire day with my butt glued to the chair.

The OA often says he envies me. I have a dull but well paying day job for the money, freelance work for the joy of creativity, the comfort of working in my tracks, time with the kids when they come home and the flexibility of working while we travel too. I guess when you put it that way it sounds great.

However, my resume is patchy and my biggest grouse is that I don’t get out of the my bedroom. My work table has been there since the kids were born because I’d often lie them down in my bed to sleep, I’d nurse them while I worked, I’d keep an eye out for disturbed sleep and pat them back if I needed to. It was just more convenient.

Even good friends don’t realise I work because I rarely sound stressed about it. And they always see me in my pajamas! I have my inlaws come in and watch TV while I’m trying to work. When I pay for big ticket items people stare in slack jawed surprise because they don’t really imagine I’m earning anything! The worst though, is my own fault. Since the table is in my bedroom I end up taking on more and more work and working late into the night while the OA reads or watches some telly.

But  – it drove me nuts because all I saw were the four walls of my bedroom. I slept there. I worked there. I lay in bed and read at night. The kids, like all kids, insisted on hanging out in our room when they had nothing else to do. I had cabin fever.

And so a couple of weeks ago I told the OA I wanted to convert our formal living room into my office. And turn our house dining cum family room into a dining cum living room. The truth is, no one ever bothered to sit in our formal living room and for some reason it didn’t have any personality. Perhaps because it wasn’t lived in. And being east-facing it’s a comfortable, cool room and ties in with my desire to not use air conditioning unless absolutely necessary. I just needed a room of my own where I could get away from our personal life and bedroom and TV and chaos, and work.

The OA groaned, but agreed readily that it was the need of the hour. And then we shocked ourselves by carrying most of our furniture ourselves. My mum was mad when she heard I’d done that with my bad knee, but I was too eager to get it done right then and I like doing stuff around the house with the OA instead of calling in help.

My new office is fantastic. It looks out into my lush, east facing garden and is quiet, peaceful and cool. I might not win a Booker while working here, but it makes me less cranky. The kids know that when Mama is in her office, she’s really working and they rarely walk in there. It just doesn’t have the informality of my bedroom.

I have a reading corner, a work corner, a put-the-babies-to-sleep-if-they’re-sick corner, an awesome iPod dock, a refrigerator and kettle. I walk out into my little garden if I want a breath of fresh air and it’s great for smoking friends too! All I need is a swing now but the OA will probably put up a fight before he lets me get one.

And to quote Ms Woolf, I finally have a room of my own.

Office 2

My work station

 

Office 1

My rest station