At 5.50 am the platform was crowded with parents looking sleep-deprived and hurriedly dressed. The two coaches were buzzing with activity as teachers took attendance.
The other passengers looked like it might be better to disembark and try another day.
The kids had been seated for a while but all of us parents in one accord, chose to stand there until the train left. The huge train windows framed each tableau. We parents were left standing outside, viewing our children’s lives as outsiders. Not participants in this scene. Just audience.
A couple of kids were struggling to help their pal heft his suitcase to another place. Others were trying out their new cameras. They hung over the backs of the seats, not getting enough of each other, talking to their partners, talking across rows.The tuck boxes were already opened and being passed around. A few suddenly realised what they’d signed up for and the tears began to roll.
I nervously checked to see if the Brat was one of them but he was waving his arms around excitedly relating something to his friends, in his element – travel is something he craves.
We shifted from foot to foot, tired, the excitement finally getting to our older bones. And then the train jerked to life and we all snapped to attention, eyes seeking out our children.
And in that very same second all the kids dropped everything they were doing and turned to the windows I have no idea what anyone else did at that time, but I had my eyes trained on the Brat’s face and was waiting for him to spot me. I saw the panic in his eyes as his eyes scanned the crowds for me- his hand froze in a half wave and he looked – bereft. It had finally hit home – he was going away without mama.
Right now it seems like if i live to be a hundred, I’ll never forget that moment, that expression. And I’m sorry it’s the one I came home with.
I can’t wait to see the look when he spots mama on the station waiting to pick him up. It happens to be our 13th wedding anniversary, but somehow that fades in comparison to the anticipation of picking up my big boy!
Oh, you sniff. She lives. She remembers us. She throws us a crumb of a post.
Well, I couldn’t not post about this one. The Brat leaves for his first school camping trip in a few hours and instead of catching sleep or chasing that deadline, I’m here, posting about it.
He’s a little almost 11-year old man and kids younger than him have done school trips I’m sure. I’ve always wondered how hard that first trip is, and now I know. I’m rolling undies into little bundles and tucking them around the suitcase corners thinking – Why are they taking him so young? What if he needs me?
I know he’d roll his eyes if he knew, because he’s the best equipped child for this. Once a year his parents go on a baby-free holiday and he travels with other family members, engaging with each one, building relationships, never asking even to call us.
He has also been first child to terribly scatty parents who habitually miss trains and run for planes. He has slept on platforms, bathed under a hand pump and been dressed in his mother’s clothes when he’s puked often enough to run out of clothes. He’s gone hungry on extended road trips when caught in a landslide and stayed cramped in a tightly packed car on a 13 hour journey.
I mechanically shift clothes from backpack to suitcase and back. And maybe, just maybe, he isn’t too old for his duck neck pillow. As I wrap things up I hear squeals of happiness. Two of his classmates, also going on the trip are playing a rambunctious game of ball in his bedroom. They’re not just going to be okay, they’re going to have a blast, I know. And all of a sudden, I know that it’s not just him, I’m ready too.
Yes, I know I owe you a long update. And I will get around to it. I promise. All six of you will be glad you hung around to read it.
Some of you wanted a Brat and Bean post and I know it’s been a while since you heard about them, mainly because their lives are slowly growing more private. They might not mind a potty training post when they grow up, but as they negotiate the real world, make friends and learn to deal with conflict I want more and more for that to be away from the public eye. That and the fact that milestones no longer fly thick and fast. Sitting up, standing, walking, talking, self feeding, first tooth falling, cycling without support…. I look back and it seems like their babyhood passed in a flash while I laboured physically to take them through each milestone.
But what has begun to fall by the wayside are the little leaps of mental evolution. The understanding, that I am a person separate from them. I realise that comes earlier to kids whose parents are working full time – they realise that mummy and daddy have a life apart from them. On the other hand, I’ve always been around to scratch an itchy back, soothe a fevered brow and rock a tired child to sleep while singing a lullaby so it is hard for kids like mine to accept that their mother has a life of her own and has indeed, even a separate body. I won’t comment on whether that is positive or not, but that is how it is.
The frustration that comes when they want something and Mama is *gasp* actually daring to take a shit (did I just say that on my blog?). The despair when they are upset over a fight in the school bus and Mama’s inability to make it better. These are little things that no one tells you about. Oh you read about them in books and now in blogs, but they don’t seem to amount to much. Unless you tend to feel everything 200% the way I do, and now I realise, my kids do too. I’ve passed my hypersensitivity on to them, through either nurture or genes and now we’re just going to have to deal with it.
I think it’s nice for kids to know that there is someone on earth who will always drop what they’re doing and be there for you – that is why you have parents, right? Someone who will always answer your calls. Someone who puts you first. And I don’t for a moment believe, that it gives them the impression that the world will do the same. They are, after all dealing with the real world on a real basis and seeing that it doesn’t cut it.
So yes, my biggest challenge has been to give them that limitless time and buckets of attention while still trying to maintain some semblance of a life of my own. Plentiful time and attention rarely spoil kids in my humble opinion. Trying to make up for the lack of either of those two with money or laxity on the other hand is what leads to terribly spoilt kids. I believe that all mothers must live their own lives and not let it revolve around their kids – technically. But I also know that it is a tough line to walk. Read this great piece from a son to a feminist mother.
Having said all of that I should admit rather shamefacedly that the intention isn’t always followed up by action. I work from home on a million and one projects at a time, and end up rather disorganised and flustered. So a cry for ‘Mamaaaaa!’ is usually answered with a snappy, ‘Okay, which one killed the other?’
But yes, should there be bloodshed, I’m there. If they come back from school and someone bullied them on the bus, they can talk about it over lunch. If they’re tired, I see it and sneak in an unscheduled nap. If they’re hungry and I’m not dying under the burden of a deadline, I can whip up something special for them. I don’t blame them for finding it hard to know where to draw the line.
Which is why I was pleasantly surprised a few days ago. The doorbell rang and the Brat helpfully ran to answer it, climbed up on a stool to open the latch, and knocked over a plant I had in the windowsill. I heard the crash and took a deep breath. It was okay, it was just a plant (and broken glass and dirt and a mess and more work for me!). And then he came running to me and said, “Mama, I’m sorry I knocked over a plant. I know you work hard to keep the house looking nice and we don’t have any didis to help you with the work. I’ll clean it up. And then I’ll help you plant another one.”
To say I was shocked would be an understatement.
1. He’d rushed to confess and apologise.
2. He noticed and appreciated that I liked to keep a good home.
3. He acknowledged that I had no help and did everything alone.
4. He wanted to help me and make up for the loss.
It was more than I expected from a 7 year old whose mother ran circles around him. And at some level I guess it is not so surprising. He might be quiet but he visits other homes, observes how they are kept, sees how much help is available and oh dear God – he might just be a sensitive human being!
I hugged him, told him he might hurt himself on the broken pieces and sent him off to get me the broom and pan. That was all I really wanted from him.
A few days later I was in the toilet (Yes, I know this is the TMI moment) and the Bean yelled out to me. Now I am sick and tired of people wanting to have long, complicated conversations with me, the moment I ascend the throne. I’m good for a quick yes or no, after which I get distinctly cranky and hostile. It’s the last refuge of the tired wife and mother and you have no idea how frustrating it is to find no sanctuary there either. But no amount of sarcasm or downright nastiness seems to shoo them away. I’ve come to the conclusion that actually dealing with the issue and solving the problem (unless it’s something like – Mamma! He’s pushing pencils up my nose) is the only way to get rid of them.
So when the Bean yelled Mamaaaaa a couple of days ago, I resignedly yelled back, What?
Oh, said she, ‘You’re in the bathroom? I’m sorry. I’ll ask you later.”
I have to admit I almost fell off the pot in shock.
A realisation that I was in the toilet and an appreciation of the fact that I might want to go about my business in peace and oh dear God – an apology!
I know these little markers whiz by in the dailyness of life but both made me stop and smile. I might have missed them if I’d got too upset over the smashed plant or just as usual yelled something rude from the bathroom. Yes, I might have!
Missed real, honest to God milestones where they slowly evolve from parasites into human beings. Aware, sensitive and willing, once in a while, to give their mother a break. I know I’ve written very often about the gradual physical separation of a child from the mother. The weaning, the self feeding… and now this, the final and hardest break of all. Becoming an individual. Ego, choice, concern, love…
I went to bed smiling. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be home with them. It could be a year, it could be ten. But watching this, knowing this as I do, I can’t possibly look back in regret.
And while I’m here, let me share with you my current favourite song. The lyrics are awesome (check them out on the Coke Studio Pakistan site) and I love the way their voices blend. I’ve always loved Sanam Marvi’s voice and I don’t know if I can possibly love her more. And the Western influence towards the end is bang on. I can’t say enough, so I shall stop right here.
The OA, Brat and Bean are reading Dr Seuss. The OA points to a picture and says, ‘This is ham.”
Bean: No, that’s a fish
OA: It’s ham
Bean: No, it’s fish.
OA: I said it’s ham and ham it is.
Bean: No no no. It’s fish.
OA: Who is reading the book here? You or me?
Finally a pained Brat intervenes: That’s enough both of you. If you can’t read a book peacefully, then don’t read it!
Classic Bean – sticks to her guns. Classic Brat – aims for peace.
The Discovery Channel is on and the Brat who has his nose in a book looks up and says Is that a Columbian mammoth or a woolly Mammoth or a… ?”
I stare at him in utter confusion. I have no clue.
This is the kind of thing that drives the OA to despair. Our little chubby cheeked son goes down to the playground and while other kids are discussing the finer points of RipJaw and Omnitrix, he wants to talk to you about Servals and Caracals. The kids listen to him for a minute and they drift away. He is forced to drop his topic of interest and join in the game of football. There are fathers out there telling their sons that real men don’t cry when they fall and scrape a knee. The way we mould our children is so vastly different even though we live in a complex full of couples with similar socio-economic backgrounds, that last common denominator. The forced alpha male bravado. The insistence on femininity. The girls don’t join in the football and the boys don’t sit by the sidewalk chatting. How much of this is real and how much of it is social conditioning? What if my son wants to do neither?
“He’s going to be a loner,” says his very social father. The OA is a charmer. He smiles easily and genuinely. He doesn’t get into controversies. When last night I snapped at an extremely rude yuppie type and walked away, he stayed on to smooth ruffled feathers and later gave me a conciliatory smile too. He watches his son lie on the ground and observe a dragonfly. Yes, my green thumb has filled up my little balcony in dusty gurgaon and we have a profusion of sparrows, pigeons, butterflies and dragonflies fluttering around, filling the little garden with the sounds of nature.
The OA observes again – “What social skills are we helping him develop? He walks up to other kids and right after hello, he says, ‘Do you know the different kinds of bears? I’ll tell you. There are pandas and grizzlies and american black bears and…’. Which kids are going to like that?” I have no answers. I don’t know. But I do know that he is happy. That he is earnest. That his school report card says he shows an unbelievable connect with nature. That he stopped a bunch of boys from killing a grasshopper.. “Don’t do that. We’re giants compared to the grasshopper. He is scared just by our size. Why do you want to kill him? Is he bothering you?” I am touched that the school noted down the anecdote. That they appreciate my little gentle child with the soul of a dreamer and his love of nature. I am grateful he isn’t growing up in my small town of UP where a kid like him would be beaten up and broken down.
Everyday I thank God for something new. Today I thank Him for this child being born into this home. That he was not born into a home where it would be whacked out of him. That he was not born in a home where he’d not get the opportunity to nurture it. But most of all I thank Him for giving me this child with a beautiful soul. And for giving us the opportunity to learn from him and to keep the gentleness intact. For giving us this child who will strive to preserve the connection man and nature are losing. Two of God’s beings, working to maintain the balance.
1.You know your kids have grown up when their shit begins to stink.
2. A sentence you never imagined you’d ever have to say- “Stop fighting! It’s only your turn to flush when it is your potty .”
3. When you begin to have to take your daughter to the ladies loo instead of just changing a diaper somewhere, you learn that ‘time flies’ is more than just a cliche.
4. Once you’ve been shat on, you’re ready to face most anything.
5. You marvel at how contrary your son can be when he tells you to leave the toilet and give him privacy, yet yells for you to wash his butt when he’s done, even giving instructions – “Mama, make sure the water is hot-cold, warm. That means not too hot, not too cold.”