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 your 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 bothers 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.

The Nursery is Dark

Thanks to Gentle Whisperer’s suggestion I went through my posts from 2008 and have dug up the first ‘The Nursery is Dark’ post.

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The Nursery is Dark

… said a friend driving by our home and looking up. Where are the kids?

The kids have gone with my parents. To spend a week or so with them in our hometown. My parents have been asking for a while to take them. And I’ve been tired, bogged down with work and trying to spend time with them and a dozen other problems. So in a moment of weakness I said yes. The OA is only too happy to get rid of them and spend some alone time and also some happy-couple-time.

But me? I know it’s only a matter of time before I go and do what I did the last time the Brat went to visit my parents and the time before that – go bury my head in his cupboard, smell the baby-bratty smell in his little washed and ironed teeshirts and cry.

But this time they’ve taken away my Bean. My baby Bean. I don’t know if I want to cry or not. It feels quite foolish considering I have sent them willingly. Well willingly only because the parents want them and the OA thinks that between work and home I don’t get a break and because the Bean cries through nights, the Brat has been sick and we haven’t had a good night’s sleep since Noah’s Ark set sail. I know the OA wants some time off to do his own thing  – adult things without worrying about it being baby-friendly or not. And the biggest reason – because the babies get what we can’t give them here – space and pets and freedom. They come back happier and healthier.

How lucky you are, say friends with little kids – you can leave your kids and go for a holiday. Well yes, we’re lucky to have my young parents with a huge house and lots of help and family around. But we are forced to leave the kids simply because we don’t get a break through the rest of the year. We take the kids everywhere with us, we aren’t in the habit of dragging an ayah per kid along to every place. They’re usually strapped on to us or in a stroller or their car seats. We have no near and dear ones in Delhi who we can safely leave the kids with and go to work or for a movie. Our phones are switched on to silent mode even during important meetings so that if the kids wake up or cry, the maid calls and we rush back. And since that is such a hassle, we usually ensure that one of us is home if the other is out. There are no really good daycares where we can leave them and know that they are safe. So yes, more than anyone else, we need to take this break from the kids, the responsibility and the stress and exhaustion.

The original idea had been to go away for a few days, but we’ve changed our minds. We’ll just be hanging around at home and catching up on much needed sleep. Maybe hitting a pub or a disco if I can fit my fat butt into anything slinky. Let’s see.

But I was cranky all of yesterday. I didn’t realise it. I was yelling at the OA and snapping at people and giving the Brat time-outs in the crib like it’s going out of fashion. It was when I was out on the balcony collecting the dry clothes that my brother turned up and put an arm around me. He didn’t need to even ask what happened. There’s something about having your childhood mate, the one person who has always been around, look at you with kindness. I fell into his arms and blubbered like a baby – I don’t want to give my babies to Mamma.

There. It was out. And he soothed me and asked why I had agreed in the first place. ‘Because I know they love taking the kids back, I know the kids enjoy it and I know the OA craves the break… but I? I don’t even like to leave them to go back to a fulltime job. So crazy about my two little pests am I…’

Mad Sibling goes back into the house.

Ten minutes later I walk in with the folded laundry and my mother demands – You don’t want to send the kids with us? Then why didn’t you say so?

MM looks around in confusion. Light dawns. She hunts for the Mad Sibling, realises he is in the toilet and is just about held back from breaking the door down and killing him.

I explain to the parents that it’s not about them. It’s me. I am just unable to let the children go so far away, without us. One is a year old and the other is not even three. I know they will be well taken care of, but I still hate the thought of not being available to them. And I know that the OA wants a holiday and some rest. I need it too. But I am willing to forego everything, just to have those two little baby faces look up at me with big smiles.

The Bean got really attached to my mother over the last few days and I hadn’t had any trouble putting them into the train and leaving. She’d been a little clingy earlier in the day but that is just her reaction to me. When I am not around, she is fine. Which is the case with both my kids. They love having us around, but they’re confident, happy little kids who go off with everyone now.

I got off the train and pressed my nose to the darkened glass, trying to catch a glimpse. They didn’t notice me. They were jumping around on the berths and laughing, my parents already the centre of their universe. I stared at the Bean. Willing her to look at me. I don’t know why. I should have been happy that she had settled in without a backward glance.

I stood out there – just watching the tableau. The two grandparents playing with the babies. All four happy faces. I knew they’d all be okay. I don’t know how long I stared, but I suddenly noticed my brother and the OA reflected in the glass. Standing patiently behind me. We left the station and drove home. The city sights flashing by the window as I stared out blindly.

The first time we left the Brat with my parents was to go to Goa. He was just short of a year old and I dropped him off and came back. He was fine and when they brought him back, he looked at me as though I was a stranger. It broke my heart. But atleast I knew he had been happy. By the second time I knew he would be fine and I didn’t want to send him, but I was desperately sick and had no help. With a working mother who had no time to come and help me with him, I just had to send him there. The third time he was a pro. He’s already been away 5 times for about a week each time and he’s not even three yet. He is quite a happy little chap, extending a hand of friendship, trusting and confident… and always ready for new experiences.

But the Bean? The Bean is all mine. The one I have cared for from the first day. The one no one else helped with. The one I single-handedly cared for with no parents or anyone around, straight out of hospital and surgery. The one I held close to myself, night after night, sure that I wouldn’t share her for a minute with anyone else. The Bean who I desperately wanted to be non-clingy yet now can’t believe that she actually has changed and become so easy going.

I just spoke home. They reached an hour or two ago. The kids are playing in the dirt with the four dogs. I can see the picture in my mind’s eye. The huge 100 year old mango trees under which my grandmom played. Where my mum played hide and seek. Where the brother and I built a treehouse and got up early in the morning to watch birds. And now the fourth generation sits in the shade of those very same trees. Who knows, maybe my greatgrandmother still watches over the home and is happy to see my two little ones mucking around.

The Bean is screaming ‘bow bow’ in delight and licking the dogs back as they frolic with her. I can hear her in the background as I talk to my mother. I can imagine her chasing the squirrels as they scamper up trees. I can see the Brat leading her grandly by the hand to the two ponds to see the fishies. I can imagine them getting into the fireplaces and playing peekaboo. The old house must have come alive with the baby sounds after almost 20 years.

The Bean has apparently already walked into my uncle and aunt’s little nursery school and plonked herself on the benches to attend class, sitting in between children who are three times her age and twice her height. I ache to see that with my own eyes. Instead I sit here listening to maudlin music, the tears pouring down my cheeks, the ache growing as I miss them. Knowing fully well that for them I am out of sight and out of mind. Getting a taste of what life will be like after they go to college. I have a pile of work to do and a meeting in another hour. I should stop now and get going but somehow I won’t cut such an impressive figure with my tear stained cheeks.

You know how they tell you to get a job and not let your children fill up your life because you won’t be able to fill the void once they leave for college? Well I had planned for this trip of theirs and taken on extra meetings and interviews and stories in anticipation of the long days ahead. So my time is accounted for. I don’t have a spare minute. And yet, yet, nothing on earth can fill the void in my life. Don’t believe them when they tell you that having a job fills the empty nest. It’s not true. Babies leave a baby-shaped hole in your heart that no job or man or hobby on earth can fill.

I absently think that I must get up and go draw the curtains in the nursery because it is 10 am and the sun shines in on the kids making the room hot and unbearable. And then I realise that I don’t need to. I didn’t throw open the curtains and let the sunshine in this morning. The nursery is still dark.

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Edited to add: To add to it – my brother too left this morning and I hugged him at the top of the stairs and cried. And when he left, I sat down on the stairs – too unhappy to walk back into the emptiness of the home I love so much. And cried like an abandoned orphan. I’d resigned myself to seeing him only at Xmas this year, after he visited India last October for his wedding. This visit was a surprise and it’s completely destroyed the composure and left me miserable. I watched him and the SIL play with my children and I know I want to see his children grow up with mine. I want to see them not once a year but every week. Every month, if not everyday. Of what use is family if you meet like strangers once a year?

This Valentine’s Day

… let’s talk about love – everybody’s right to love. If there’s one thing I’ve heard over the years, it is – how do I explain homosexuality to my kids. I might have asked that question years ago on this blog too. I think I have some answers now. And for all the years that I asked that stupid question, I have a lifetime to make up for it.

Section-377-of-IPC

 

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My darling babies,

A while ago we were sitting on the carpet, sorting out laundry, pairing socks, folding t-shirts. The warm winter sun shone through the house, casting a golden glow on everything it touched. It is in mundane moments like these, that the big questions are asked by little voices.

And you, my little girl, asked, “Mama, why does your profile picture on Facebook have an image of 377 with a big red cross over it?”

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Read the rest of the post on yowoto. 

I’m back… for now

Yes, I’ve been AWOL too long. For one, I gave the kids my study table and have begun to use the escritoire I got in the truckload of stuff from my parents last year. I can’t use a desktop on it and so have begun to use a laptop. I find that damn uncomfortable and it gives me a back ache so I finish office work and log off. I also re-uphosltered the office chair with a bit of Fabindia fabric I had lying at home. It isn’t very cheerful, but its calming and I am happy with the way it turned out.

There is a certain joy in knowing that three generations before you sat at this very desk - minus the laptop of course.

I’ve been away for a wedding where the Bean was a flower girl and the Brat a page boy. A cousin got married and I love her and was thrilled to be there. It went off beautifully and the groom is a great guy. The kids looked lovely and I sadly took no pictures because I was too busy with various duties around the wedding and didn’t really carry a camera. I also managed to drop my dad’s camera a number of times and not even notice that I’d lost it.

This is one of the first few family weddings where I mostly wore cottons and wooden jewellery. It turned out pretty well and the colours I chose – hot pink and tangerine were a nice spot of brightness and different from the usual silks. We needed a spot of brightness because the Bean got a bad attack of asthma a couple of days before we left. So we cancelled the train tickets, much to the kids’ disappointment and booked flight tickets. I was still a little unhappy because she was on the nebuliser 5 times a day and I couldn’t see how we’d manage that in the chaos of a wedding. But we did. The Brat has an eye allergy and needs drops a couple of times in the day. But come hell or high waters, I was attending the wedding even if I had to hire an ambulance. Most of the times I had a wheezing Bean in my arms because the humidity hit her and the weather there always gives the kids a bad cough. So she’d run around like mad and then come back for a dose of TLC.

I really had hoped the kids would sit still because they’ve not been inside a church in at least 2-3 years and have no idea how you’re meant to maintain silence there. But they behaved perfectly well (except for the once that the Brat pretended he was poking his eyes out and the couple of times he stood up and called out to me that he needed a Styracosaurus and a Diplodocus for his collection) and did me a lot of credit. At one point the Brat lay down in the lap of the father of the bride and went to sleep. The Bean came to me quietly when her sash opened up. I thought she wanted to stay with me but she got it re-tied and dutifully went back to sit with the rest of the wedding party. The day we left so many folks came up to me and said a special bye bye to her. She’d walked around and befriended them and told them stories *shudder* and built her own relationships with absolute strangers.  The quiet little Brat too had made some friends. And the funny part is that I didn’t know most of them.

It was great fun catching up with the cousins and I am rather sorry that the paternal grandparents kept me and my parents at bay for all the years before this. I could have spent so much more time with the family that side. I cannot get over the sense of loss of time and I sorrowfully watch my kids take the same cycle. Someday they will be free of us and their grandparents and will be able to meet their cousins outside of the family and have an independent relationship with them, free of prejudice and politics. I just hope it is a little sooner than 30 years from now.

We landed in Madras and the Brat looked out of the car window and began counting coconut trees. “I want to live in a place with coconut trees, mama,” said he and I grinned. A kid born and brought up in the northern plains feels the tug of coconut trees. Must be his roots calling!

It was a busy visit from the word go. Moving from venue to venue, organising, decorating the church, checking out the grounds, organising the games, everyone had something to do and in between all this I had to find a quiet spot, plug the Bean up and give her a shot of life.

The OA who arrived a day later came covered in huge red blotches and suffered in silence until we got him an injection the next morning. By evening he was covered in the rash again. It’s funny and sad because he’s one of those who takes pride in the fact that he is rudely healthy and as a result has no compassion, time or patience for those who do. I remember him looking at the Bean in utter shock when she was diagnosed with eczema – What? his daughter suffering from a namby pamby allergy type of thing? What was an allergy either way and why did people make such a fuss about it? So I was torn between worry and going nyah nyah nyah. We found a really cool doctor though, who gave him the shot, allergy medication and then said – Here for a wedding? Medicine and alcohol don’t mix well, so I’d say skip the medicine and go for the alcohol!

We also met an unbelievable number of cranky people this time. Old men at medical stores who took 35 minutes to bill us and yelled at the OA for not having exact change of Rs 371 ready. All while the OA stumbled through in broken Tamil and tried to smile.

I saw a lot of good too. We stayed at the YWCA and one morning while feeding the ducks a blind lady asked me to help her cross the road. I walked her across the beautiful complex and at the gate was caught by the famed, rude Madras autowalas. Except that this time they were not ripping me off. They wanted to help her as they regularly did. But I said I’d take her across since I’d got her this far and to my amusement, they didn’t trust me with her and followed me until I took her across the busy road, deposited her at a bus stop and settled her against the railing there. When I returned, a grizzly old auto driver stuck out his hand – “Good job madam. Which country?”  I took off my sunglasses and hat and glared at him and replied in Tamil -“Very much this country only.” I think they heard my accent and concluded that I was bullshitting them.  But this wasn’t the first. I got asked atleast 10 times in 4 days, where I was from. I’ve often got that in Delhi too, but never at this rate and intensity – usually just once every quarter.

The Brat and Bean on the other hand have watched endless cartoons dubbed in Tamil and the Bean has told G’pa that she wants to learn to speak Tamil from him. He nodded absently and speaking it pretty poorly himself, proceeded to forgot all about it. He was too busy feeling thrilled about the fact that he is looking rather young and fit these days. If he’d not balded so early he’d have been one of the best looking G’pas around. With ma gone to the brother’s place, I was running around taking care of him. Twice he got asked if I was his wife. Each time I was horrified. Do I look that old in a saree?! To which each person hastened to reply that its very common in those parts for older men to have younger wives and what with the custom of uncles marrying nieces, the resemblance is also there. I refused to accept that quick excuse and was damn put out. One lady tried to make up for it by quickly saying that I don’t look old enough to be a mother. Eh? Excuse me? I look old enough to be my father’s wife but not old enough to be mother to a  6 and 4 year old? Let it go, Lady, you’re only shoving your foot further into your mouth. Another said they knew my mother and I am the spitting image of her. Yes, I am, but I’m about 20 years younger, you know! yeah yeah, laugh it up you lot.

This trip I saw the change the years have wrought in my father. He calls it a night early and takes the kids home, letting the OA and I hit the pubs at night with the other cousins instead of being the life of the party, singing, playing the guitar and burning up the dance floor. It hit me when I walked into his room and saw three beds, his grandchildren, his blind mother on one and even the fulltime nurse who stays with her. I really missed my mother in that moment. He shouldn’t have had to do that alone and I said I would take the kids back to my room. But the kids clung to him and he shooed us out and that is how he spent  his 4 days. Putting the Bean on her nebuliser when I was helping with the arrangements, taking his blind mother by the hand to her meals and feeding her, taking the kids to watch the ducks and for walks in the compound, and trying to give me and the OA a break. He is going to be 60 this year and he is the sandwich generation, taking care of his 84 year old mother and 4 year old grand daughter in the same breath, without batting an eyelid. It’s a life lesson right there and there will be more related to this coming up in some days. It opened my eyes, made me rethink some things and really appreciate him for the person he is. And maybe aspire to be more like him and give more to family.

Wine. I wanted to organise some wine for a party and I was told you can only get it from a bootlegger or a five star. Excuse me? What is the deal?! The bleddy thekas have men falling out of them at any time of the day and there is no wine to be had for love or money? Can anyone tell me what the logic behind this is?

And the trip had Beanisms galore. I was screaming at her each time she went to the fish pond – Don’t do that, don’t bend so low, you’ll fall in and drown.

To which she finally replied – And I’ll die and then you’ll have to pray to God for a new baby and say “God, give me another chance. I promise to take better care of this one.”

Yes, total wtf moment.

 

 

Surprise!

Surprise!!

Posted on March 14, 2011 by the mad momma (So those who missed this on themadmomma.in because the server crashed, can read and comment here. Come on folks, lets talk!)

I recently came across some studies that say couples who don’t have kids are happier.( Of all the articles on the matter though, this one is my favourite.) 

I find that easy to understand. I do envy people who fly off to Bangkok for a weekend instead of ferrying kids from one birthday party to another. Those who can sleep in till noon without little fingers prying open their eyelids and asking a sibling  “Do you think they are still in there?”

Kids are an additional responsibility. There is no getting away from that. Unless you are as cold as stone you are sure to be  involved with your kids and constantly thinking about them. By that I don’t mean you won’t stop off after work for a martini or give your best to a presentation. But I do mean you will look at your watch at 2 am and say, Damn, I wonder how the kids are, lets go home. Or, pack up the presentation and wonder if you’ve missed seeing them awake today.

Perhaps its not so much that you are happier without kids, but that you have less to worry about. Isn’t there the old line about freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. Similarly, the more you have, the more you worry. If you are single, you have no one to worry about. If you are married you worry about your spouse coming back late at night alone. If you have kids, you worry about them falling down in the park and scraping a knee. It’s a bit of a no-brainer really so I don’t know why so much research went into it.

A friend recently asked me why people have kids. I don’t know. I really don’t; even 6 years after becoming a mother I can come up with no good reason to have kids. Nothing you couldn’t dispute at any rate. For the last 2 months they have had coughs and colds and there is snot on every conceivable surface of our home. They both are on some sort of medication to melt the phlegm that is in their chests and so they run around like urchins while I run behind them just wiping, wiping, wiping. There is skating class to go for, Bean to be dealt with while the Brat skates, homework, baths, dinner and finally I collapse at my desk and wonder if I should work or quickly tap out a post. Work deadlines zoom dangerously near and I can hear them whistle around my ears. Some days are good, some days I am torn between being mother, wife, professional, daughter and friend.

And then tonight as I crawled into bed with the babies after they’d fallen asleep, it struck me. It’s because it lets you get as close to another living creature. Humans are so transparent when they begin life that it is a pleasure to watch the way their brains work. The famed innocence of childhood is something we envy. But it is also a thrill, a high, like a drug, to be able to get into someone’s mind and watch it work. To see them figure out how a lock opens, to hear them pronounce a word, to watch their fingers curl around a fork and wrap noodles around it. Every bit of it is a human being coming into themselves and its like watching a science experiment, except much cuter!

The other cool part, is the ‘surprise factor.’ Do you know what I mean? Kids have the ability to look at something you’ve seen ten times over and make it more fun. How else do you explain the desire to take them to the beach and sit there digging castles when you could be sipping martinis by the pool instead? How else do you explain spending a Sunday at the zoo instead of in bed, changing channels and eating chips?

Whenever I visualise the children in my life I see myself leading them to the top of a mountain, my hands covering their eyes. And we trip and stumble along the way, they clinging to me trustingly. The path is uneven and I keep losing patience and wondering why I bothered at all. And then we reach the top and I remove my fingers and the view takes their breath away and I say Surprise! And they love it. Well, after having kids, my life is one endless series of yelling ‘Surprise!!!!!’ Be it reading Brer Rabbit to them or showing them how to shell peas and pick out the sweeter ones, everyday they learn something new. And everyday I relive the pleasure of it. Sounds like a sweet deal to me.

Edited to add: The kids have gone to Nani-G’pa’s place for ten days and the OA and I came home to a quiet home tonight. I didn’t find it peaceful. I found it empty and sad. Once a home has been touched by a child’s laughter it is very hard to go back to meaningless TV watching and huge chunks of time. We’ve learnt to find our little sneaky moments of romance, to eke out time to read on the pot, to have long chats with friends while rocking a baby to sleep on an arm that has lost sensation and now we’re just really efficient! I am happy that they are enjoying a break with their grand parents. I am happy that the OA and I have this time together. But honestly, in a week, I’m going to be crawling up the wall in agony if my children are not back in my arms.