Monday, June 18, 2012

The thirty year old toddlers

A few years ago I was on a road trip with friends when the bus we were travelling in stopped at a rickety roadside joint for what was ostensibly a comfort break. As we clambered off the bus, the lady seated in front of us turned to her daughter and asked in a voice loud enough for the entire parking lot to hear “Susu karna hai beta?”

Now this would have been fine if the daughter in question had been a little girl or a toddler fresh out of diapers. Except that she was a grown woman, probably in her mid twenties. As she turned a scintillating shade of red, the rest of us could almost feel her mortification!

A cousin recently narrated a similar experience when she visited family friends with her parents. Now a manager in a leading MNC, heading a team of 20 odd people, to her parents she’s still their little girl. During their visit, her mother first asked her on reaching their host’s house if she needed to use the bathroom. Then her father asked her to join the host’s young children, rather than conversing with the adults.
“It was humiliating!” my cousin recounted “There I was, telling people about the work I do and suddenly my parents make me feel like a 5 year old again!”

Many of us have probably been in similar situations, when our parents refuse to treat us like adults even when we have graying hair and children in high school. Parents don’t mean it, of course. It can be difficult to accept that the dependent little bundle you doted on is a grown, confident adult with a mind and life of his or her own, and needs to be treated as such. It’s not so much fun for the now grown up kids though, when their parents insist on treating them like the children they once were.

Considering that the thought of my daughter going unsupervised for parties and sleepovers in future is capable of giving me panic attacks now, I see a clear and present danger that I will eventually metamorphose into one of those parents who refuse to let their kids grow up. So I thought I’d set out some guidelines for myself, for when my daughter grows older:
1.      In deference to the unfortunate recipients of the comfort break query mentioned above, I promise never to ask you if you need to ‘do susu’, once you’ve crossed the age of 4 and are in full control of your bowel movements. I might whisper it occasionally till you’re 10 though. But never in full public hearing, and definitely not when we have company. I may know for a fact that you haven’t taken a pee break in hours, but no matter how strong the urge (pun unintended); I resolve to not pop the question. 
2.      I will not call you every evening and ask you what you ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner accompanied by a detailed lecture on the nutritive value, or lack thereof, of the same. Not unless you are grossly obese and these are the doctor’s express orders or you’re training for the Olympics and need help with diet planning. After all, if I still need to obsess over every morsel that goes into your mouth thirty years from now, one of us will definitely need therapy.
3.      I promise not to bring up embarrassing incidents from your childhood with others, especially in large public gatherings. I’ve been the recipient of one too many ‘remember the time she had a sip of whisky when she was five and went berserk, bwahahaha!’ to do that. No embarrassing videos or photos on open display either. (I hope you’re reading this, Dad.  Yes, you can put away those cheesy videos of me at 11 years reeling off travelogue in a sing song voice.)
4.      I will not tell you what to do. Once of course, you reach an age where you realize that switching off my laptop when I’m working on it is nobody’s idea of fun and mud baths are okay for the spa and not the park. I mean this within reasonable limits so don’t think I’ll stand by without saying a word if you decide to flush your life down the drain. And I may make an exception if it’s one of those rare situations where you are desperate for direction, or when you can clearly benefit from my experience or….Sigh. Right. I will not tell you what to do.
5.      I will refrain from criticizing your appearance and telling you what to wear. If ripped jeans and faded tees are your idea of high fashion, so be it. I’m sure your grandmother will say this is poetic justice, given that I had taken to donning the grunge look for weddings in my teens. Given your current affinity for wearing matching-matching clothes, replete with accessories and moisturizing your hands with pink cream every few minutes, I may just end up taking some pointers from you in this area.
6.      I will not try and influence or criticize your choice of friends. With your father turning a delicate shade of green even now, every time you get too friendly with a member of the opposite sex, I’m sure I can leave the worrying to him for once. On a serious note, as an independent young adult nothing can be more important to you than having the freedom to choose the individuals whose company you’d like to keep. The last thing you’d want is an interfering parent telling you she doesn’t approve of so-and-so. This means I may have to give up my plans of stalking you on dates when you’re older though. Ah well.
7.      When you have kids of your own, I will restrain myself from giving you unending advice about ‘how we did things in our time’. There can be nothing more irritating than being treated like a 3 year old in front of your own 3 year old, so you’ll get none of that from me.  
8.      I will treat you like the grown up that you are and not lapse into sepia tinged nostalgia from when you were a mere suckling. I will also try and avoid getting overtly sentimental about your babyhood even though I can give no guarantees on this given that I was nearly in tears when you came on stage during your annual concert, causing the lady next to me to move away a few seats. Oh, and I will also not haunt you on social networking websites.
9.      I will trust you to take adequate care of your dental health and will stop eating your chocolates because they are terrible for your teeth and will make you emotionally dependent on cocoa. Yes, I ate the chocolate you were gifted at school today but it’s only because I care about your teeth. And, I may be slightly emotionally dependent on cocoa myself. But none of that once you are older; your chocolates will be safe with me. Although I’m sure you won’t mind sharing, will you? Maybe just the occasional nibble, then. 
Originally written for 'The Punekar'

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

When I nearly got run over by the school run

The alarm that didn't go off when it was supposed to. That delicious extra half an hour of sleep that seems even sweeter because it is unexpected. The slow realization coming with reluctant wakefulness that it is a school day and we are now running late! The nightmarish frenzy to get things together in time. The dropping of all the usual efforts for a relaxed morning routine as we run around like headless chickens (the husband and I naturally, not Nikki who seems quite removed from such mundane things as school runs) shoveling breakfast down our throats, gulping tea while furiously multitasking and setting new records for the seven second shower.

In the middle of all the madness sometimes I forget the little things.

"Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up!" I screech at my child as she meditates over the exact way to butter her toast.

"Hurry, hurry, hurry!" I squawk as she goes about the business of washing her hands with a quiet industriousness.

"We're getting late!" I work myself up into a lather as she gently blows bubbles with her own.

Forgetting that I am screeching at her for my own tardiness. Forgetting that one of the most unpleasant things about going to school can be crazy, screechy early mornings with manic parents rushing to bundle you off to school and telling you to 'hurry up' and 'rush, rush rush' and 'not be slow' and 'we're getting late because of you!' Forgetting that I was only just setting myself up for a major guilt trip later on in the day, when I could have been relaxing over a cuppa instead.

Till she reminded me. Giving me that look she sometimes does. Of infinite wisdom. And infinite patience.

"There's only so much I can do Mama. Please be happy."

And so I did. I grinned. Sang a silly song. Sat down beside her and made up a story about putting on your shoes on your own. Drove to school with the windows down and the breeze in our hair and 'mein to tuk tuk tortoise hoon' playing in the background.

And we made it to school well in time.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

“Everybody wants a boy”

My sister and I were often partners in crime during our growing up years and back then I often thought that if I ever had kids of my own I would want two girls, just like my sister and me. It was a girlish notion, long before motherhood brought with it the realization that bringing a child into this world is nothing short of a miracle and it truly doesn’t matter whether it is a girl or a boy, but I happened to mention this childhood fancy to a colleague during a chance conversation many years later when the topic veered around to that of raising children.
“Two girls?” my colleague asked, raising a sardonic eyebrow “You must mean two boys right?”
I politely assured her that I had indeed meant two girls and she gave me a wondering look, the kind one normally reserves for a particularly slow-on-the-uptake, half-wit and shook her head.
A few weeks ago I was attending a function when I was subjected to the same look, this time by someone I know. At most functions I attend these days people consider it perfectly normal to come up to me and ask when I am planning to “have the second one” in a rather proprietorial fashion. By this naturally they mean to ask when I plan to have a second child since my first born, my daughter, is now considered old enough to have a sibling and something must be seriously wrong with me if I am not contemplating having a second child. Not so long ago this question used to irk me enough to either retort in a rather rude fashion or display my sometimes unfortunate sense of humour depending on my mood. These days though it doesn’t bother me as much as it once did (I like to think it’s the maturity that comes with motherhood) and I waver between mumbling something vague into my glass, if I have one handy, or just smiling in a benign fashion, which usually gets rid of the person asking the question.
I was not so lucky at this particular function though, because the question was followed with the fervent wish that hopefully I would have a boy the second time so that my family would be ‘complete’.
“What’s the problem if it’s a girl instead” I asked politely, secretly marveling at the maturity that comes with motherhood which had ensured that my glass was still in my hand rather than having its contents dumped on the head of the pestilential question- asker.
That was when I received The Look again.
“What a silly question” the pestilential QA, let’s call her X, sneered “Everyone wants a boy.” The motley group of women that happened to be hanging around as this conversation happened looked on in silence, some nodded knowingly, almost as a sign of tacit approval. What I found most disappointing was the fact that X was of my own generation and profile; an educated, financially independent woman with children of her own and enough opportunity and resources to broaden her thinking. And yet she believed that a woman cannot be truly happy unless she has given birth to a boy. The sad part is that she is not alone. There are many women out there who believe that a family is incomplete unless there is a male ‘heir’ in it and will go to great lengths to ensure that they get one, from consulting the Chinese calendar which offers pre-conception advice guaranteed to produce a male child to the infamous sex selection clinics in Thailand.
I come from a family of fierce feminists, where nobody bats an eyelid when a girl rides a horse while her brother bakes a cake, and to that extent I was fairly sheltered from the followers of the Chinese calendar when I was growing up, so it came as a bit of a culture shock when I first encountered them. And encounter them I did, in hordes. Women, who think only a boy can carry the name of the family forward, financially support his ageing parents, and for whom they will not have to shell out a substantial dowry when time comes to get him married, only to send him away to live with strangers. Women who dolefully shake their heads when informed that I have only one sister and no brother and who assure me that they will pray that there is a boy in the family soon.
These women I speak of are not from the economically weaker sections of society. They are women from financially affluent homes, educated and superficially broad minded. Women from my generation; born in the late seventies, or early eighties. You politely point out to them that girls from our generation are increasingly keeping their maiden names post marriage, thereby debunking the ‘ghar ka chirag’ myth, are financially independent and perfectly capable of looking after their families, often chose their partners themselves, who like them do not subscribe to the concept of dowry and are supportive of their partners’ decision to continue being financially independent and supporting their families if need be.
Yes all that is true, is the response you get, accompanied by more doleful head shaking, but a girl’s life is so tough. Girls are always unsafe, subject to the prying eyes of men, girls have to leave their homes and go to another family, girls have to go through the physical trauma of giving birth and then they have to give up these careers you speak of to raise their children. Girls are cursed from the day they are born so naturally, everyone wants a boy.
At this point if you have the tenacity to continue the conversation, you could ask these women, that given that we have arrived at the morbid conclusion that girls indeed are cursed, what could we possibly do about it? Can we ensure that our daughters are equipped to protect themselves by educating them about safety, self preservation and perhaps teaching them some form of self defense? Should we not talk to them (and their brothers) about sex education from an early age, keep clear and open lines of communication with them as they grow up so that they are equipped to make the right choices in future? Can we give them the best possible resources so that they in turn can realize their full potential?
At this point I usually realize that I am engaged in a rather futile rant because these women are just doing the doleful head shake all over again and muttering that all this is too much trouble. Why not just consult the Chinese calendar instead? And if all else fails there is always that trip to Thailand.
Further probing often reveals that they find it too embarrassing to discuss the ‘S-Word’ with their kids, leaving that instead to the vast knowledge they will surely gain from their peer group, and are inordinately proud of having had normal, epidural free childbirths, because you are not really a woman until you have lived through that kind of pain. And of course if you have to endure that kind of pain you may as well have given birth to a boy, because at the end of the day everyone….you know the drill.
This is the point where I end the conversation abruptly because it is usually the precursor to the gory birth story, and also because I have a raging headache by then.
I did the same with X after she mournfully informed me that she and her husband had both been very disappointed when my daughter was born and they would continue hoping that I would someday be blessed with a son. She then went on to add that whenever someone in their social circle is expecting a child, they always hope that it is a boy because there should always be one boy in the family, and after that having a girl is not so bad, because they are like add-ons (!).
I found myself wondering what would have happened if X had herself had no sons. Would she have continued consulting the Chinese calendar or pinning her hopes on the Thai clinic with the latest technology in the senseless quest for a boy? Would she have brought up her daughters resenting them, always longing for a boy? Would she have kept reminding them how they had been a disappointment to their parents by coming into the world? I can’t help feeling a little glad that X doesn’t have any daughters.


Originally written for 'The Punekar' (March '12)

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