The gradations of a no

I’ve always been the irreverent, cheeky parent. My kids and I horse around, wrestle, tickle, have pillow fights. Naturally, for years, I’ve held back and not used my strength.
This evening, however, the Brat and I got into a tickle fight and just like that he caught my wrist, and I knew I couldn’t release it without giving it my all. I realised that I’m no longer holding back, because I’m actually his equal. Actually, strike that – I’m not his equal, I’m weaker. If anything, I could sense him holding back, and gently releasing my wrist so that I didn’t get hurt.
This is how early the male realises that he is physically stronger than the female. This is how much stronger the average male is, compared to the average female. A grown woman like me, who doesn’t exercise, can’t beat a 12 year old boy who does nothing but regular play in school. He’s not a sportsperson, he’s not big built.
We were both laughing hysterically, with the Bean jumping in periodically and getting a poke in on any side, just to keep up the tempo. And I gasped through my laughter, ok, you win, I give up, stop.
This is how early he has learnt that even when you’re playing, even if you gasp it out, a no is a no. Even if I initiated the fight by whacking him on the head with a cushion, stop means stop. Even if he’s stronger and can get away with it, he *must* respect my desire to stop . I don’t know why so many adult males find it so hard to appreciate this simple rule. So Mr Farooqui might be a great artist, but if he can’t understand that even a ‘feeble’ no, is a no, I have no time for him.
For now I’m going to go sob in the corner over this milestone. My baby boy is stronger than me.
Title courtesy my friend Thinking Cramps.

But our parents did it too….

I didn’t share the video of the little girl being beaten, not only because I thought it violated her privacy, but because it upset me so. Years ago I whacked the Brat once and I’ve never been able to forget it, or forgive myself. It was an unacceptable loss of control.
But I’m following the conversation on every FB wall and almost everywhere I see people saying – but we all got whacked and turned out okay. Yes, we did. Because our parents didn’t know better. And maybe this mother didn’t know better either. And maybe we’d have turned out more than okay if we’d not been whacked (btw, I didn’t really get whacked, and the jury is out on whether I turned out okay or not!)
Our parents also let us go off with this driver bhaiyya to buy samosas, sleepover at that cousin’s place, and curl into bed with this uncle and listen to a story, never realising that we were being sexually abused by people we trusted. I have often written about being abused by the errand boy at our place, from the age of 4. He was a young boy himself and probably didn’t realise how much harm he was doing me. It’s why I don’t keep male househelp and won’t allow my kids to go anywhere alone with a driver. We know now that there are sexual predators everywhere, so shouldn’t we try harder? Only yesterday I got into a debate on a whatsapp group where one of the parents was planning a sleepover and had invited the Bean. I am not comfortable with her staying over in homes I don’t know well, with people I don’t know well. It wasn’t right to debate it on the group that the invitation went out on, but the conversation just flowed that way and before I knew it, I was knee deep in that one too. And yes, someone trotted out the good old – but our parents allowed it too.
The fact that we did it, or our parents allowed it, isn’t a good enough reason to do ANYTHING. Even animals can give birth. It takes a lot more conscious thought to be a halfway decent parent, and even then, life mein jitna bhi karo, saala kam pad jaata hai. Every day, ask yourself, can I do this better? Maybe it will contradict the way I parented yesterday, and I might even feel a little stupid – but can I reassess my stand? Should I always fall back on the old – My parents did it, so it much be okay, line? Our children are growing, evolving, and so are we.
So no, it’s not okay to justify such a tiny kid getting beaten up over a few numbers. We know now that corporal punishment does more harm than good. And the fact that it happened to us, sexual as well as physical abuse, is exactly why we need to protect our kids better. Even if from ourselves.
Yes, I’ll get off my soap box now.

Flowers at her feet

“Mama, mama, mama! Where are you?”
Apparently, there is nothing that can get done in any home without mama. And of course, the most urgent issues arise only when mama goes for a bath.
But the 12-year-old rarely calls unless there is a crisis so I grab a towel and run out on dangerously wet feet, yelling – Who died?
Only to come to a squealing halt. He’s lined the corridor with frangipani flowers for me to walk out on.
I look at him in shock? surprise?
And like most men, he misunderstands the look on my face and says – “I didn’t pluck them, mama! Look, the edges are brown. I collected them off the ground on the way home for you.”
It’s been a while since I rushed out of a bath with soap in my eyes, and for the first time, it was totally worth it.
I must also admit, this one doesn’t take after the father!


 

You know you’ve trained your son well when he crawls under the table to retrieve a paper plane, encounters your feet there, and begins to press them!


 

Me: Damn, why did I do that? I feel really silly.
Brat: Everyone makes mistakes. The only thing you should feel silly about, is feeling silly about making a mistake.


 

The Bean gets eye infections, nose infections, all sorts of infections on her face, all the time, and we have to be careful not to touch her face with unwashed hands.
The Brat’s brotherly love prompted this suggestion, “We should put a sign on her face. Caution: Infection prone zone.”
In case you’re looking for him, he made a getaway when the cushions started flying and might be home around dinner time.


 

The doorbell is ringing, the landline too, and I’m rushing through giving the Brat his medicine while he chatters on about something and then my phone starts ringing, he sneezes, something-something, I honestly forget the order of events, and my hand shakes, spilling syrup on him.

Even-tempered and patient mother that I am, I snap, “If you’d taken your meds yourself this wouldn’t have happened… Now look what you made me do!”

He nods calmly and says, “Technically, I didn’t make you do anything. And I’m dripping with syrup. You’re victim blaming, mama.”

 

 

 

Goodbye, Justice Seth

Within a week I’ve felt the loss of two people I loved and admired in very different ways. Vinod Khanna. And Justice Leila Seth. I found it hard to post immediately after each loss because it hit really hard.
I interviewed Justice Seth shortly after Jyoti Singh died, while she was on the Justice Verma committee. After we spoke about the rape and the law for the story, we also chatted about much else that didn’t make it to my piece.
One of the things she said about parenting, is something that ever after, guided me. She spoke about how her son Vikram spent 7 years typing away in a little room above the garage, writing his first book. (Reminder of what goes into a great book for those who think anyone can write one!) And how neighbours and well-wishers wondered rudely and aloud, how they could ‘allow’ their son to fritter his life away so. And would he ever make a decent living as a writer? Tsk tsk. What a waste of a child, coming from two such successful parents.
Her point? That we need to stop projecting our fears on to our kids, along with our aspirations. Even the most evolved parents say very proudly – I told my child, be a sweeper if you want, but be the best bloody sweeper. Err – why? Why best? What is the best?
The one that earns the most? Why not the happiest? (This was in context to her son’s sexuality.)
She went on to say that we also worry needlessly about our children needing to be successful in conventional terms, to maintain the lifestyle we’ve raised them in. We assume that it is a guarantor of happiness to earn more than your parents, and marry traditionally, into the safety of your own community. That it is our own fears that we need to let go of, and trust them if they choose to be unsuccessful but happy sweepers.
As long as you ensure that you equip them to accept the consequences of their choices, whatever those might be. They might never own a four wheeler or a flat in the suburbs (conventional markers of success), but if they’re happy on a cycle meant for two with a partner of their choice, then it’s your own fear and ego that you need to deal with. Not theirs.
I also got her to sign a copy of her book  We, the Children of India, for the kids (you can check out the review on our ever dependable Saffron Tree). If you don’t already own one for your babies, this is a good reminder to pick it up. RIP Justice Leila Seth. A few hours with you shaped me in so many ways. I don’t know if they will make more like you.

Chaddi solidarity

Thought long and hard before writing this one and finally said, what the heck, let’s overshare as usual.
I noticed over the last few days that the ten year old daughter had begun to wear shorts under a short-ish dress. She’s outgrown it, but it’s a thin, cool, comfortable cotton slip – perfect for these awful summers.
I wondered if it was an attack of modesty and asked her about it. It seems her 12 year old brother had been teasing her about the dress flying up and her undies being on show. I let it pass without interfering in the sibling relationship, until I realised she was wearing it everyday, and that it could no longer be dismissed as a joke or a sibling thing.
My son is being raised by a mother who thinks hijabs and veils, and the policing of women’s bodies and chastity culture are the devil’s own idea (smash the patriarchy, yo!), so this is just unacceptable.
A casual chat with him and I realised he didn’t actually have a real issue, and wasn’t playing protective, patriarchal elder brother. He’s actually more of a feminist than his sister. He was simply playing annoying sibling. Very pleased to have found something to annoy his sister about.
It wasn’t his attitude I was worried about, it was hers. I didn’t want her to lose the safe space of home, covering up even when there was just family around. Choosing modesty over comfort.
So I did the only thing I could. I took off my jeans, and sat down by her side. Just. Chaddi solidarity, sistah. The son gaped. The daughter began to giggle.
I swim with them, so they’re used to seeing me in swimwear, which is much less clothing than the tee shirt and undies I was in. It wasn’t the sight of undies that was supposed to horrify him. It was the reminder that mama is also a girl, and she feels hot too, and has every right to be comfortable in her own home without anyone commenting on it, even as a joke.
The maid who realised what was happening, was in splits. The daughter smiled widely, and took off her shorts. And the son conceded that it was unfair to tease someone and make them self conscious, specially in a world where women are constantly being told to cover up to make others feel comfortable. That it might be a joke in this case, but in the real world, society and men, force women to cover up.
In case you feel strongly about how traumatised he might be, I’ll send you my bank account number. You can donate some money towards his therapy at a later stage.