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.


Rain drenched and sated

When the Brat turned a year old, I got the entire family to write letters to him and those were posted on my old blog. My dad’s letter said -‘Your father is a great guy, but there are two things I can teach you that he can’t – trout fishing and playing a guitar.’

The Brat turned 9 this year and G’pa has neither taught him the guitar nor taken him trout fishing. So we planned to go to Munnar this summer, to show my kids where their mother grew up and the lawns she learned to cycle on. The original plan had been to go with the mad sibling, aka Tambi and his family. But their trips to India are always rushed and my kids are growing really fast and I don’t have the luxury of time. So we booked our tickets and and decided to go ahead without 40% of the group. And then Ma broke her leg. Clearly she couldn’t join us.

So we dithered. Clearly we were not destined to go without Tambi and Family!

And while we dithered, flight tickets got more expensive and hotels got booked out. So finally we decided to use the tickets we’d booked and go south only. Stopping off in Chennai to catch up with family and a cousin who is due any moment now (yayy! More babies in the family).

Our last visit to Kerala was baby-free and we wished we’d brought them along. So we fixed that by a quick trip to Pondicheri and then on to Cherai Beach, Kerala. My dad decided to keep to the program and he came along with us.

It was a bad time to go to Tamil Nadu for sure, because the heat had me sapped. Pondicheri was fabulous and the hotel was lovely, but nothing made up for the heat.

Early mornings and late evenings were spent in the pool or on the beach and afternoons were spend reading in bed. The Brat has taken to Tinkle comics and I heaved a sigh of relief. I’ve always worried that our children will turn up their noses at what we enjoyed, as poor fare. And yet here is a brand new generation reading a brand new Tinkle, a holiday session, laughing with Supandi.

Lost in his book

Lost in his book

The Kerala leg was simply fantastic. Heavy rains, lush greenery, everything screaming GODS OWN COUNTRY. I sat by the window and watched the rains pour down, the sea lash wildly at the shore and the skies darken dramatically, while we all sipped on hot chocolate. And then it would clear up and we’d all run out to play. I fell in love with Cochin too – the port, the ferry… the Jewish area. Everything had so much more character than the high rises and sameness that I returned to. I almost always have post holiday depression, but I find its getting harder to handle over the years. And this time I was wiping away tears as we drove to the airport. The city gave me a grand send off with grey skies and driving rain. If the kids hadn’t been in the car I’d have sobbed like a baby.

The last time I visited Kerala I remember observing that men in Kerala wear mundus even now. Which is fantastic. It’s perfect for that weather. Makes me wonder why so few men in the North wear kurta pajamas or dhotis. Temperatures soar here too and it must be so much more comfortable than trousers and jeans. Oh well.

Also, it’s interesting how Kerala is home to so many more communities than any other place – each one retaining its identity. Syrian Christians, Mappila Muslims, Jews, Goud Saraswat Brahmins who are native to Cochin and so on. They’re specific to this area and co-exist fairly peacefully. They’ve managed to do it while retaining their culture. Why is the rest of the country unable to do this? This is what one would call truly cosmopolitan.


Breakfast buddies

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Made by man meets made by nature


Because there is nothing as hypnotic as staring into the depths of a pond


Backwaters ahoy!






Daniel Craig. Or not.


The Bean hanging on to my hat as she takes in the seaview from the hotel reception


I like big eggs in my biryani and I cannot lie

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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.


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.


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?

The nursery is dark. Again.

We’ve left the Brat and Bean with my parents every year for a week or two while the OA and I take off on our own for a bit, after they turned one. Just to live it up, so to speak. Auli, Goa, Manali, Turkey, the US, we did it all without the kids. Of course we do lots of holidays with them through the year but that one couple holiday a year has been sacred. Not because they’re not rock solid, awesome travelers, but because once in a while the OA and I love being able to look into each other’s eyes meaningfully without someone going – “What happened? Has she got an eyelash in her eye? Why are you holding his hand? Can’t he walk by himself? Will she get lost? Arre, why’re you kissing him? You can kiss me instead.”

Except for last year when we felt a pang of guilt and ended up taking them to Bangkok with us. This changed everything. We now find we can’t take any holidays without them because the guilt just runs us through like a sword and we don’t enjoy the freedom.

We’ll be off on our annual long holiday soon and we’re taking the kids with us. But the kids had other ideas. They wanted to go spend time with the oldies in the small town. But how, when, why, I protest. There’s holiday homework to be done and swimming to do and plays to be caught…

We’ll go stay with the grandparents, they insist. You go anywhere you want, Bangkok, Madras, whatever you want.

Very nice. Nice to be thrown over for a couple of old farts. Nice for our big city pleasures to be rejected for the joys of playing with the dogs and spending time in the big old house, going from grandparent to grandparent. I was particularly reluctant this time because Chhote Nana and my mum both have broken legs and the kids are used to very active young grandparents. Chhote Nana was 40 when the Brat was born, for chrissake!  The kids called the oldies and demanded that they invite them and of course the OA and I were steamrollered once that got out.

I was a little misty-eyed at their excitement to go home. My parents’ home, that is. Every year I worry that they’ll get a little too big city. A little too stuck up for the pleasures of fish ponds and mango trees. Of walking dogs and drives into a little local market that has a queue at its one and only McDonald’s outlet. Of old people who are up with the lark and out before the nightingale makes her appearance.

It’s not happened yet. If anything, the Brat (bless his soul) gets more attached to his grandparents every year and sobs when he leaves them – something he doesn’t do when we leave him there. He is upset for days after we bring him back to Delhi and we spend a lot of time and energy cheering him up and getting him back into the swing of things. The Bean on the other hand is usually happy to bloom where she’s planted. Happy with us, happy with them, happy to be back. Except for this year. She’s slowly growing into the daughter I’ve always dreamed of, almost a friend, helping me around the house, sticking by my side, fighting with the OA over me – all this when she’s not busy fighting with me! We’re the worst of enemies and the best of friends and she’s missing me terribly this time. She wants to be there and enjoy the grandparents, but she wants me too. Obviously I can’t be on leave endlessly and working from there is just too distracting and crazy so I avoid it unless necessary.

The granders of course have bent backwards to entertain them, more so because they have broken legs and don’t want that to spoil the kids’ fun. My dad and Chhoti Nani have made up for the other two damaged oldies and taken them all over the place, evening jaunts, history walks, planting saplings, doing homework, going swimming and what not. Much more than the OA and I would have done on weekdays for sure.

To the extent that a few nights ago we were out to catch a play with the SRE and Dipali and the OA mentioned to them that he thinks my parents are the best kind of grandparents because they’re so involved and so much fun. Made me all lump-in-the-throaty because I was trying to be dismissive of their efforts and referring to them as idiots (yes, I’m a polite, well brought up daughter) and here was the son in law, ignoring his trying-too-hard-to-be-cool wife and honestly appreciating what his in-laws were doing. I have to admit that there are times I wish my parents were the old retired sort who trailed us around the country raising our kids while the OA and I raced ahead on our respective career paths. And then I feel a pang of guilt for wishing that on them. And myself. Our kids are ours to raise and its nice for them to get a holiday once in a while and then let the grandparents get back to having a life of their own.

The OA and I have spent the last 3 weeks behaving like teens so I have to admit that this life of your own business is rather underrated. Sleeping late, eating at odd hours, spur of the moment plans, cussing out idiotic drivers on the roads is all rather easy to get addicted to and thoroughly enjoyable. But by mid second week I heard that the OA was calling and speaking to the kids each morning on his way to work and I was all set to jump into the train and bring them back unreserved if I had to.

But we’ve held our horses and we have just a few more days to go. Until then, you can read some old posts on the brat breaks we’ve taken. My favourite post on this topic was called The Nursery is Dark. I’ve combed my archives but just can’t find it. :(





It’s a nice enough home. A 100 years old and declared a heritage home by those who are meant to be bestowing such honours. My parents have struggled to ensure that it stays cosy yet maintains it’s charm and doesn’t slide into decline.  The silver is polished and shines. The crystal sparkles. The old chandeliers light up without a flicker. Rows and rows of books on art and architecture line the walls. The upholstery is spotless. Little knick knacks from travels over the years dot the peg tables. Not just their own travels but also those of family members who are now just a fading memory. Fresh flowers dress up little consoles and the grand piano. Art on the walls, a well stocked bar. Everything says this is the home of an older couple with well, some taste.

A view of their living room


Until you see this little corner. A shrine to Shrek and McDonald’s Happy Meals. And then you realise it’s also the home of grandparents.

And this is how my kids mark their territory

The grand old dining room with the massive dining table is filled with the peals of childish laughter. Sepia toned ancestors look down benignly on yet another generation playing hide and seek behind the antique dresser.

My great-grandparents



A grandparent’s dilemma

My mother has been a businesswoman since I was eight. And her job consumes her, unlike the way I treat mine as a hobby. I’ve watched her sit up nights while she saw each business through its teething period. I’ve seen her build them, bore of them the moment the  challenge is over and then sell them off to start the thrill again. She has her blackberry on at all times, checking work email and her laptop slung on a backpack when she travels.

And in between this I’ve never seen her sit still. Making wine, cooking jam, embroidering huge tapestries. Her pickles are famous as are her hand-knitted sweaters. I haven’t inherited an iota of her talent or interests and that will always be a regret. Anyway, the point of this post is not to sing paeans to her but to tell you that her hands and brain are always busy.

Also, growing up, our home felt like MTv non-stop party (without the half-naked chicks of course). Upstairs my maama’s (aka Chhota Nana on this blog) room was booming with Modern Talking and Men At Work until the plaster fell off the walls. Downstairs my friends were spilling out of our room onto the verandah and the swings. Come exam time all our friends would be at our place and when we ran short of space they’d slide under the bed and lie there with their books, forcing my grandfather to curse under his breath as he cautiously stepped over prone bodies, making his way to the toilet. At any given point our home would be a shelter for some aunty making her way out of a bad marriage and often we’d have their husbands threatening from the gates. I think we grew up taking this in our stride because this was our life. Being the family home everyone came home to die and one room was the infirmary with someone or the other bed-ridden and needing round the clock care.

Also, for some reason, there were always displaced students staying on and taking advantage of our family’s hositality. The Palestinian who didn’t know if his family was still alive, the Bangladeshi who got into fights and often had to be given a yell by my mother and dragged away, country pistol in hand, the Sri Lankan who broke his foot at least twice a year and would often lie in bed drawing airplanes for the mad sibling and me, the Mallu who took 14 years to graduate and still didn’t. People floated in and out of our house, most often we didn’t know how long they’d stay, a week, a month, a year. And the kitchen always had the kettle on. Food was simple rotis and aloo subji – I guess I lost interest in food around that point. My grandfather couldn’t be expected to provide rich meats and wines for his never-ending stream of guests and I think that is around  the time that Tambi and I learned that food was only sustenance. Relationships and family and laughter and cheer and being a helping hand were what really brought joy. Today when the OA opens the door and walks in, he never knows who might be sitting in his living room. He used to crib at some point but now he’s grown used to it and understands where I’m coming from. All this to tell you, that I’ve always had a packed life and much more than me, my parents, who at various points during my growing years were both bedridden and fought their infirmity and got out of it stronger, while the house around them was still full of the sound of strangers frying up sausages and making chutney sandwiches. They are very used to being active and needed and social.

So when I was expecting the Brat in Madras it was understood that I’d go home for the delivery. Some teased me for the old fashioned ‘going home to deliver’ but I had no house help in Madras, was cooking, sweeping, swabbing, sweating buckets in the humidity, friendless and lonely. Certainly not the best situation to give birth in. And most importantly, my mother was working and couldn’t come and stay with me endlessly. So I went home, delivered the Brat, suffered through 45 days of missing the OA and rushed back to the heat, sweeping, swabbing a hundred times a day and loneliness.

By the time the Bean was born I ensured that I was in Delhi, had a part-timer to do the cleaning and a cook who did two meals a day and had found a fantastic hospital. No way was I going home. I was a pro. And so my mother stayed about 8-10 days and then left me and the two kids to my tender mercies  and went back to work. It was pretty clear – she had a job and if I wanted to be taken care of,  I needed to go there, she certainly couldn’t dump everything and sit at my place endlessly.

And so the moment the mad sibling had a baby and plans were made to leave work and go there, I called her up and gave her some emotional blackmail – Ah ha, so you couldn’t come to your poor daughter who was young and alone and scared. But you can go to your son even though his inlaws have already spent 2-3 months there, they have a support system and are much older and far better equipped, huh? Mother being used to me told me to shut up and I did.

And they went. For a month. And while she hasn’t said a word, I speak to her everyday and I can’t imagine how the woman of the non-stop working hands and hectic social life is managing. My dad left a few days ago and got back but until then the two of them were in the quiet suburbs with my brother, taking care of the baby and completely out of their element. When they come to Delhi (they come every couple of months) they know their way around, take my car and driver or get a cab or drive themselves and go shopping, meeting friends, exploring the city…

But once in the US they were different people. My dad can watch TV for a while but my mother isn’t a TV watcher. Like me she’d rather be online and after a while even that begins to pale.  The days are spent in the relative quiet of the house, doing a few household chores (something my parents haven’t done in years but that’s okay since there’s really not much work there) and they eagerly await the evening when they might step out for a break. Unused to driving on the wrong side of the road my dad already dented my brother’s car (*koff koff* , maybe now I can start learning on dad’s car ) and they pretty much refused to drive anywhere. Each day when they were off baby-duty they’d go for a long walk, sometimes walking an hour and a half at times… Chatting, admiring the beauty around them.

But this is so not my parents. They’re dynamic, young, energetic and this semi-retired lifestyle is not for them. They were dying to see their beloved grandson and that is the only thing that kept them there for over a week. Even a Delhi visit that lasts longer than 3 days is a little too much for them to be sitting still and they’re champing at the bit to go back to their own environment and businesses. The month took its toll on my dad for sure because he got back here and was ordering us all around to make up for lost time! I had to finally bundle him on to the train and send him home to get some peace! As for ma, she’s a ma. She won’t complain and yet the whole thing reminds me of those Jhumpa Lahiri stories of displaced Indians sitting on park benches that I hate. Thankfully my mother hasn’t worn sneakers with her salwar suit or a bindi with her jeans yet or else she’d complete the picture of the tormented desi Aunty who doesn’t know whether she is coming or going.

It’s only a 6 week trip and I shudder to think of what it would be like for them if it were 6 months. To say nothing of what it is like for the couple who need to include them in any plan or then leave them home while they go out to party, wallowing in guilt. As of now most of our friends are in the US and they’ve been picking my mum up for lunches, she’s met up with a couple of their mothers and they’ve had their own granny lunches. But none of this makes up for the fact that she is getting bored out of her skull. She’s not the kind of grandmother who can only change diapers and cook meals, so  once she’s done with those she is at a loose end. Baby goes for a walk in his stroller, plays with her for hours on end and no doubt any grandparent would love that but as she said, all the grandparents there are missing home.

Makes me wonder how much longer and how often they will be able to do this. Travelling abroad is expensive and you go there to help your kids out, not to party or see the country. Also, being expensive, it’s not something you can do once every two months like you would within the country – it needs to be a substantially long trip to be worth the money. But even those who are retired in India and have nothing better to do, feel so out of place and that seems to make up the bulk of the conversation when they do catch up. They want to help their children but it comes at a high cost. My dad loves the Gurgaon complex we live in and this time he caught me saying once or twice (I have no idea why I said it) that it would be nice once they retire and move here to be with us. And he got really mad at me (it didn’t help that he’d just spent one jobless month with one child and broken his journey here) saying that he would only retire to his grave and never before or to any other place.

I appreciate the way they feel. They are frightfully independent people (and that is their personality and would not change even if they were retired folks) and I wonder what they will do when old age actually slows them down. A friend wants to move back to India because the grandparents find it tough to travel to the US. My SIL’s mother who has had a lot of health problems was most unhappy at having to travel for 23 hours in a little cramped seat in a steel tube so that she could be there for the delivery and the first two months. And even though my parents are much younger and fitter, the truth is that the jet lag kept my dad out for the count for 4 days on his return to India.

There are times when the OA gets job offers that might require us to move abroad and this is the one thing that bothers me. What will we do so far away from our families? They love visiting us, they are dying to see their grandchildren, but the long journey, the strange country, the inability to roam around as they  could in India (jumping on to an auto or rickshaw) and the structured lifestyle is just not for them. I’ve always wondered how other old folks do it and seeing my parents do it for the first time it’s like a punch to the solar plexus. What are their choices? That they don’t see their grandchildren until they visit India? That they bite the bullet and go there anyway and brave the unfamiliarity? So tell me wise internetz who live abroad, how do you and your parents manage this? What do they do all day while you are at work, other than changing diapers and reading? How else do you suggest they build a bond with a child if not by being physically present over extended periods of time or often? What about active, unretired, not-so-old couples who are suddenly landed with a lap full of gurgly babies by their over-enthusiastic children procreating at the speed of lightning with no thought to the youth and social life of the grandparents? Or what do you do if they’re old and ailing and need help? Do you take them there? Do you move back? What?

No seriously, how many of you moved back to India because of this? How many of you are finding this a problem? And what do your parents have to say about this?

And we’re moving house again…

… so bear with me as we try our luck once again at themadmomma.in. Yes, we’re persistent if nothing else. Read this post and then head there to the other post waiting for you. 

FRIDAY, JUNE 16, 2006

Wait till you have grandchildren…

….is my mother’s favourite threat. And this, is her beloved grandson feeding her popcorn. They have also been known to eat a single biscuit from opposite ends till they meet in between – this has him dissolve into giggles and he lies on the bed shaking like a little bowl of unset jelly, gurgling helplessly – positively the best sound I have ever heard in my life. And all the while the grandmother shrieks with laughter along with him while her eyes well up with tears of joy.

I don’t know what it is about grandchildren that melts stern, forbidding adults. I remember my mom and uncle shaking in their shoes when my grandfather lectured them. All the while I would sit on his stomach and play with his ears, while my brother ran dizzy circles around his armchair displaying creative genius and singing, ‘Dadu the bum, drinks only rum.’ This used to amuse my grandparents hugely and looking back I can’t imagine why we were not smacked and put in the corner.
My son was born in my family home and I tried hard to exercise some control over his care. I religiously worshipped atwww.babyfit.com and www.babycentre.com everyday and I was quite clear on how I wanted to bring up my baby. This called for a daily battle of wits and then one day, when my baby was about 15 days old I went shopping with my mother to one of the most crowded, dirty and busy areas of our small town. We decided to leave the brat with his grandfather (henceforth referred to as G’pa). How much trouble can a 15-day old be, we reasoned. G’pa’s chest visibly puffed up with pride at this great responsibility as he took over his grandson who had been fed and diapered and was fast asleep.
We got back after two hours and as we neared the room, mother’s instinct kicked in and I rushed to my parents’ room. There was G’pa with only a towel around his waist, holding on to the brat enveloped in a huge fluffy towel, the AC and fan switched off, G’pa and G’son dripping with perspiration and my son looking very unhappy and whimpering. All this on a sweltering May afternoon in the plains of North India.Apparently his grandson brought up a little milk after we left and G’pa had no idea how to hold such a small baby over the sink and clean him. So he filled the bathtub and got in with his grandson and bathed him. Now my son had shown a great love for water even at that age and would howl his lungs out every time he finished his bath, but G’pa was not to know that. No sooner did he get out than the brat decided to voice his disapproval – so he howled loud and long. The brand new G’pa has no clue what was wrong and finally came to the conclusion that G’son has caught a cold. So there he was, standing in the heat and rocking my poor brat to sleep.

This is just one example. Our home is fully carpeted and once G’son began to crawl, there would be accidents all over the place during our visits (I only cloth nappied in case you’re wondering how that happened). I would be horrified and mortified and all the other ‘fieds’. But G’pa would calmly tell me to take G’son and wash his little bottom while he picked up the ‘accident’ and disposed of it and cleaned up the carpeting.

The G’pa and G’son are inseparable when they are in the same city and G’son goes to G’pa’s office, sits on his desk and holds court. The staff love it when I am in town because the moment they see trouble brewing one of them begs me to walk in to the office with him. And G’pa is completely distracted and absolutely besotted and all is calm on the western front once again.

He eats on their bed and G’pa feeds him messy chocolate and is hugged and kissed by that mucky little face. They get up early in the morning to sit in the garden and listen to the koels singing, they watch the fish in the pond, they go for a drive in the open top jeep and they play in the mud with the three dogs.

I don’t mean to paint a picture of a filthy home! This is the home of two very houseproud people. The brass and silver shine and the vacuuming and plants require one dedicated person. Yet the grandson goes wild and both grandparents sit by smiling proudly and encouraging him.And this is not really an ode to the grandfather. The grandmother is as bad if not worse. She refuses to keep any social obligations if her grandson is in town. She has to be pushed out of the house and sent to office and she is back much too early. Her daily soaps are given a break and she is up and down and round and round the house with him. Her friends are welcome home only if they sit and adore her grandson and worship him.To his credit he doesn’t really get spoilt with all this attention but its more than I can handle. I mean I used to be the star attraction earlier. Now when I get down at the railway station, he is whisked out of my arms with out a glance being spared for me. The last time I watched them hurry off with grandson and luggage while I stood there feeling lost. Eventually, diva that I am, I threw a tantrum on the platform till they walked back and hugged and kissed me too. When they call, they barely get past civilities and want to know what new their grandson is up to. Which is not much considering they sometimes call thrice a day.
Where is this post going? I am not sure! I guess I am just surprised by what I see my son doing to my parents. Just like motherhood and fatherhood are special, being a grandparent is perhaps even more so. The old joke goes that God gives you grandchildren to make up for having given you children. Often I check my mother for spoiling my brat and she looks up at me with revenge writ large on her face and a “wait till you have grandchildren and your daughter gets in the way…”Sigh….ok.
And now off to themadmomma.in, all of you!