Category Archives: ramblings

The Problem That Has No Name

peace-of-mind-349815_960_720

I first read ‘The Feminine Mystique’ when I was in my twenties. I was just out of college and anything feminist had instant appeal. Betty Friednan, I was told, was the original feminist (as it turned out, she wasn’t, there are many claimants to that appellation. She sparked, what we learnt later, a second-wave feminism). But, these were pre-Google days, rather these were pre-the-world-as-we-know-it-today days, and our biggest sources of information were our teachers and, who we liked to call, the Phd-types (we had no idea where they got their information from; it remains a mystery to date). Needless to say, their word was law. If they recommended a book or an author, we would go scurrying to libraries (any that we could get access to, which weren’t many, hence the scurrying) to lay our hands on the them. Friednan was suggested one such friend, who was really a step above the Phd types, she was the sure-shot-UPSC-type (though later I found out that she married her local guardian’s son and proceeded to live an obscure life defined largely by motherhood)

She was the real thing, however, in those days –  the sort who would read ‘The Communist Manifesto’ before bedtime; the Oracle we would go to before any exam in the hope that we would generally absorb the wisdom that seemed to float around her like a glowing, massless orb. She had read The Feminie Mystique like a pop-fiction book and passed it on to me. And since anything she read was Gospel, I had declared my liking for it before she had had a chance to offer it to anyone else (I preferred it to ‘The Communist Manifesto’). I accepted the book with a mix of alacrity and grace, and read it from cover to cover, spouting quotes wherever I could, mainly to make points in arguments and debates. The real feminist book to read, of course, was The Second Sex, but my friend probably thought it too dense for non-Phd types like me, and had thus recommended Freidnan.

Years later, I came across the The Feminine Mystique again. For all my enthusiasm about the book, I realized that I didn’t remember much of it, except the fact that the women being talked about in it were far removed from my life – I didn’t know much about suburban American wives as a twenty-year-old. I remember understanding it, but not being able to relate to it, even if I quoted liberally from it (to appear academically superior to my peers; it mostly worked).

This time, however, I had no such problem. The opening paragraph made my hair stand on end, as I realized that the reason I could not relate to it earlier had nothing to do with geographical boundaries, but to do with the age I was at. I was twenty, single and full of idealism that youth bestows in abundance, blissfully unaware of the realities of life. Now, as  a thirty-eight-year old mother of three who had been on a break from work, I was anything but unaware. And Freidnan’s words spoke directly to me: “The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night–she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question–“Is this all?”

Friednan had hit the nail on its head by asking – is this all? It was the very existential question I had been avoiding asking myself. As I lay in bed at night and thought about the years that had slipped by, as I shopped for groceries, chased my children with spoons, took them to the doctors, drove them to their piano lessons, tennis classes and birthday parties, I realized I didn’t want to ask myself that question; I didn’t want to address the “strange stirring” Friednan spoke of. I felt old, fat and unemployable. After re-reading Friednan, however, there was no getting away from the question. Also, by now my Phd-type, bleeding-heart liberal friends had been replaced with mommies, who were at a similar stage in their lives and who collectively seemed to suffer from a similar affliction as me – with the problem that has no name.

The more I read Friednan, the more I seemed to meet women she was talking of, except these were women who were living fifty years later, and more than twelve thousand kilometers away from the American suburban wife Friednan spoke of. And yet, they seemed to be bound by a common thread; they felt the exact same sense of “stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning”.

What I must add here is that these were affluent women, much like their American counterparts (and for this Freidnan has faced criticism, but that’s for another story). They lived comfortable lives and had most things desirable – rich husbands, big houses, rocks on their fingers, luxury cars and all that came with being married into wealth. What they lacked, I realized, was a sense of self, a sense of accomplishment and purpose. And, that was exactly what I lacked too. For us (them and me) motherhood had been all consuming, but it had not provided the sense of fulfilment that society supposes it should for mothers. I cannot remember the number of times I have been told that I was doing a terrific job as a mother, the innuendo being that it is something I must continue to do, to the exclusion of all else. Motherhood, women are brought up to believe, is defined by the sacrifices you make as a mother – and this is exactly what The Feminine Mystique addresses – to the fact that women are/were trying to conform to some ideal image, despite their lack of fulfillment.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not belittling mother hood. I know, only too well, what it takes. My problem, so to speak, is with the picture that society paints of a mother – a sacrificing, patient, selfless, long-suffering woman– one who puts her own aspirations on hold for the sake of the ones she loves. And the problem with this picture is that little girls grow up believing this to be the image to aspire to. Worse still, little boys too are led to believe that there are predefined roles and definitions for men and women, ideas which they carry into adulthood.

Which brings me back to “the problem that has no name.” Women, whether in the previous generation, this one, or the next, will continue to feel a sense of restlessness (and depression), as long as they are made to be subservient to men, as long as they are expected to live their lives by rules defined by others, and as long as they try to conform to an ideal image of a woman, a mother, a wife.

The Feminine Mystique inspired a women’s movement in America. It irreversibly changed attitudes about women’s role in society and led to widespread activism for women’s rights and equality. In India, we need such a manifesto for change. We need to spell out the “problem that has no name”, or, as a first step, identify that there exists a real problem, only then can realities change. And while I didn’t read The Communist Manifesto at bedtime, a line from it leaps to mind, which I modify here:

“Women of India unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains”

Leave a comment

Filed under home, motherhood, ramblings

Summer And What’s In Store

color-2178826_960_720

Summer is here. The kids are excited – no school, no discipline, unsupervised What’s App messaging, Mine Craft, sleeping late, biking in the park, going to grandma’s house and a potential holiday (I have yet to decide where we are going, and it’s turning out to be another stress point).

Needless to say, I look at it a wee bit differently – life is all about perspective. For me, summer is about power outages (living where we are there’s an electricity crunch in the summer) and long days at work interrupted by phone calls from the children every 15 minutes- where I have to answer urgent questions about which friend is coming over; what are the timelines on swimming; are the violin classes still on (the affirmation of which leads to much talk about life’s unfairness) inquiries about dinner; permissions to eat ice cream, and of course, endless phone calls about who fought with whom and why. No doubt, I will find myself stepping away from my desk to listen sundry requests or sort out the ownership of pens,books, diaries, broken pieces of plastic which acquire sudden, if short-lived, importance – or any such other bone of contention between the girls. So, yes, summer is not quite the same for me, as it is for my kids.

Like I said, life is about perspective.

Is there anything I look forward to, you could ask? Yes, there is – mangoes, which, despite the calories remains the sole bright spark in a long and hot summer. I look forward to the post-dinner indulgence (damn the sugar content) where, after a long day, all I want is to watch mindless TV (Modern Family reruns are my current favourite) and eat my mangoes.  I know, sad, but parenting is about accepting life as it is, and taking pleasures in the basics of life – like being able to watch a film uninterrupted (has not happened in 11 years), or going to the bathroom without someone pounding on your door amid wails of despair (happens more often than I can count) and, eating mangoes without worrying about the inched being added to your waist (till you can’t fit into your jeans and you seriously start to contemplate the no-carb diet).

Anyway, coming  back to the point of summer vacations – I was asked by a friend the other day, on how I intended on keeping the children busy – because, you know, if they are at home and directionless, then that has ripple effects on the parents’ (read moms’) lives. I know that, but somehow I find it hard to pack them off into classes just to keep them busy ( my husband thinks otherwise – he’s more practical, plus if they get me mad, then the ripple reaches him rather quickly, so he’s from the, free-play-is-all-very-well-but-real-life-is-different school of thought)

For me, I know it’s a bit utopian scenario, but I believe that the kids should be allowed the freedom to do anything they want – while getting a bit of work in as well. Like, I still want to believe, that during the summer vacations, the children can divide their days into the work and play without being pushed into a routine (my husband thinks I am dreaming). If they are a little bit organized, they can do both. I know, if wishes were horse..

I’ll probably regret this at some point, but I am going to pass on the classes. I think it’s quite alright if my daughters can’t bake like chefs, act like superstars or write like J.K. Rowling. Besides, these classes cost the moon, so I have ideological objections to throwing bucket fulls of money at the problem.

I am not sure what the summer will bring – I haven’t planned it, so it’s going to be a bit of a wild ride.I know there will be days when I will wonder what I was thinking, but I shall deal with those as they come.

Also, there will always be the mangoes..

Leave a comment

Filed under home, ramblings

So, About This Mother’s Day..

canada-goose-216003_960_720

My kids are busy making mother’s day cards. There’s a surreptitious air to their transparent activities (yes,mommy knows everything – besides they’ve been bent over quilling strips trying to make paper flowers and asking me random questions about my preference in colour of ear rings!) I know, awww..

So, it’s nice, to see them excited. And I am playing my part – looking deliberately obtuse as they make cards under my nose, hiding them with books and sundry things while getting taken in by my apparent aloofness (no doubt I will have to express amazement tomorrow on how I had absolutely no idea they were up to this).
But, that’s really about it. I don’t much believe in mother’s day. I think it’s being thrust upon us – it’s a bit like what De Beers did with diamonds – made it synonymous with love and weddings. I don’t buy it.

So, a few days ago, I told my kids that I didn’t want any gifts, I wanted good behaviour and obedience. They seemed crestfallen – much easier to make cards and go to the mall with dad (and way more fun too). Now I had gone and ruined it, and asked for what clearly could not be bought and was no fun, to put it mildly. Plus, my demand seemed unfair – because for that we’d need a Mother’s Year, since it would extend beyond Sunday. For them, mother’s day is about gifts and cards which tell mommy how much she is loved and appreciated. It’s not, however, about a behavioral change, which falls clearly in the, now-that’s-asking-for-a-bit-much domain.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt about the fact that my kids love me. My objection is about telling the kids world over that’s here’s a day you must make special for your mom and tell her you love her. What’s wrong with that, you could ask? Read on..

First, why a day? Who decided this? Why not a week, a month, a year? Also, to me the whole idea is a bit skewed – because a mom does not need a day, even if we were to assume that’s really going to make her feel loved – she needs to be understood and helped along the way – everyday! Lovely as it is, she does not need special treatment one day and return to being monster mom the next. She has her birthday for that.

Second, it leads to pressure on children – to find ways of expressing love on a particular preset day – it’s clinical if you ask me. And forced. Like this weekend, there’s a lot of homework and this is adding to it. So guess what’s going to happen on Sunday night, when the reality of Monday morning will be looming large on the household? Mommy will have to step in to firefight! (counterproductive Mother’s day if you ask me!)

So, here’s what I really want.

I want cards from my kids (I save all of them – even scraps they write sorry on). But I want them on days when I least expect them – when I am feeling the strains of life, when I am feeling overwhelmed with all that I need to do, when I am missing my dad I lost recently, when I am feeling premenstrual, when I want to sit and cry – for reasons I cannot fathom, when I want to turn back time and take that job I refused, when I wake up and want to go back to sleep again..those are the times when a card will cheer me up and make me feel loved.

Tomorrow I expect the cards and the show of love – but I need those for rainy days.

Leave a comment

Filed under home, motherhood, ramblings

A journey then and a journey now..

One of the most vivid, most abiding memories of my childhood is of my father and his (not ours) car. So much was centered around it. He loved and looked after it like his fourth (sometimes first) baby.  We could not eat or litter it. When my brother expressed his desire to learn to drive it, my father marched him off to the mechanic’s garage in his summer vacations with one simple logic : if you can’t fix it, you can’t drive it.  My brother protested, of course, but in vain. So, while his friends fled the inclement summer to the cool hills with their families,  my brother spent a greased-out month in the heat of June lying prostrate under cars learning their inner workings.  He hated it, but not more than his desire to drive  the forbidden car.

Anyway, I got reminded of my father’s car the other day when I was going on a journey to the town where my parents live – it’s about a six hour drive.  Some random thread of thought-process (thought about the rain, which reminded me of the smell of wet earth, which reminded me of my childhood house, which reminded me of my father’s obsession of cleaning the car after it’d poured, which reminded me of his love for his car..) led me to that little memory tucked away in some tiny crevice inside my head and I started thinking about how much had changed since we took car journeys with my parents as children.

I remember only too well how my father used to ready the car for the trip. There was such flurry of activity around it. The car had to go for servicing two days before the journey, everything had to be checked and re-checked, yet it still broke down on the highway. There was no air conditioning, of course, and somehow we didn’t seem to mind (unimaginable now – makes me somewhat embarrassed at how much we’ve changed and gotten used to the good things in life). My mother would cook and pack the food and feed it to us when we’d done some respectable distance (unlike my kids who pop into the car and want the goodies, not the home cooked ones at that).  When the car broke down (the word fan-belt was introduced very early into my vocabulary –  I can still hear the sound of it breaking – whirring uncontrollably at first and then settling into a slow flap as the car shuddered to a halt) we’d get out and run into the wilderness, as my father furiously tried to flag down other cars and trucks to get a lift to the next little cluster on the highway where he would be able to get a spare fan belt. I remember suggesting to my father once that just like we carried a spare tyre, perhaps we could carry an extra fan belt – he didn’t see the humor in it, and actually neither did I – I was serious.  Not that he paid much attention to my innovative suggestions.

After we got tired of running around we’d sit in the shade of the biggest tree we could find and pretend that it was the Faraway Tree and that Moonface would burst out of the trunk and ask us for a toffee.

Compare those journeys to the ones I take today with my kids. The car never goes for a “check-up” before the trip – apart from the fuel and the air in the tyre. Gone is that whole opening the bonnet and twist-opening the cap to check the coolant or pulling out that long metal stick to check the oil level, or studying the battery and its contents. I don’t know how I remember all this, but I do.  I can shut my eyes and picture my dad, young, handsome and energetic (not the frail old man of eighty that he is today who squints his eyes to force out memories of these journeys from his brain or who now has trouble remembering the name of my favorite fruit that he used to buy in buckets) bent over his beloved car, that always betrayed him but that he loved nevertheless, peering into its inners and fixing its workings. He always had the last laugh though,  as he managed to get it going again, sometimes long after we’d slept under our imaginary faraway trees.

Today we get into our air-conditioned luxury car that cruises swiftly on the same highway (not the same road though, they’ve been rebuilt from the terrifying one-lane highway to a six-lane one) tearing through the sweltering heat without so much as a peep (touch-wood, touch-wood). My kids would not know what to do if it did ever break down – much as my older one loves the Faraway Tree, I don’t think she’d think much about wandering in the heat and waiting for Moonface to show up. And that’s a shame.

For my kids journeys are about comfort – both physical and psychological. They don’t know life any other way, and it’s not their fault I know.
Which brings me to this question: Have we changed or has the world around us ? I mean should I try and create a different environment for my kids, different from the one that we are fortunate enough to afford, or am I ruining my kids by providing them such level of comfort? (my parents clearly think the latter).  Maybe the answer lies somewhere in between.  After all we cannot now suddenly go back to the cars that my parents used to drive just to inject reality into the lives of our children.  We can probably do that in other ways (like not handing them iPads to keep them mentally occupied in journeys)

With progression and affluence comes a loss of the little things in life, a loss that I lament on but somehow cannot seem to do much about. Then I remind myself that my kids are living their childhood and not re-living mine, so I must allow them to make their own memories, no matter how comfort-laden, and not try and thrust mine on them.

What I am mindful of, is to keep it somewhat real – to remind them from time to time that they may have all the comforts in the world right now, but if they have to keep it up, they have to work at it.  I am not sure how much of that actually sinks in as they sit in the comfort of their cool rooms and most of the world around them slums it out.

2 Comments

Filed under mommyrage, ramblings

Have moved the kids to their room..

For some this may seem too late, way too late. Older one is six, younger ones are two, and they are sleeping in their room tonight, for the first time. For me though, it’s come too soon.

But, I’ve done it – for many, not necessarily related reasons. And I feel a bit empty tonight.

I’ve done this out of my own free will (despite the resistance of my older daughter) and even felt excited about getting a bit of my life back – little pleasures of reading in bed, not talking in hushed tones, watching a film after the kids sleep, and of course, “couple time” with the hubby. But, right now, at this moment as I write this and the room is so empty that it almost has en echo, my heart feels heavy. I miss them. Terribly.

They are right across the room from me and I’ve been to their room countless times already – looking at their sleeping, angelic faces, kissing their lovely foreheads and tender cheeks, standing like a shadow staring blankly at the darkness, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dark so I can see their curled-up forms, adjusting their blankets, checking if the AC is not too cold….I can safely say that I will not get much sleep tonight.

I almost feel guilty for doing this. Try as I might, I cannot shake away that feeling. And I know that this is a bit of a cultural thing. In India, it is perfectly normal for kids to sleep in the same room as their parents till, well, let’s just till very very late into their lives. I have friends (though these are mainly those who have a single child) who’ve not moved out even 10 year old kids yet. And that’s not frowned upon here, in the least.

There is this mad urge I have to bring them back, to admit to them that the experiment has failed miserably! I know I won’t do it, if only for the fact that I’ve moved a lot of furniture around, made many adjustments around the house etc etc. But I now wish I’d waited a little more. Because this is irreversible. This first physical separation is just the beginning of many many separations and I wish I had not hurried it.

I know that I may be over-dramatizing this a bit, but it’s late and I am in a reflectory kind-of mood, the kind that the silence of the night brings on. My mind is in over-drive and I am willingly letting it loose to make all sorts of haphazard connections between this one little change and my issues of not being able to let go. (looked at deeply enough, though, there is a connection, is there not?)

I need a nightcap. But, far from aiding, that runs the risk of letting my thoughts wander into dark corners of my mind and doing some notorious digging. No, I don’t need that. I guess, I should just sleep. Yes, that’s what I need to do, that’s the only way I’ll stop thinking about it, at least consciously.

So, am going to call it a night, with one last peek into the room, one last kiss and to do my bit for the benefit of the tooth-fairy. Yes, she’s going to visit tonight, to take my daughter’s first tooth and leave her a Doraemon bed sheet – for her new bed in her new room..

Leave a comment

Filed under mommyrage, ramblings

The ‘O’ factor.

Ovulation. It rules my life these days. It should not I guess, but that’s easier said.

The days come and go, sometimes we give it a shot, sometimes we don’t, and time goes by, a month, a year. Like someone said, what is one year but 12 missed chances? Sigh.

But it’s not that simple, for me that is. I tend to complicate things, not because I want to, or am proud of it, but because, well, because if I have one primary thing in mind, then it sort of consumes me and I can think of nothing else. So, thinking about the second one, I’ve put a lot on hold – the big and the small. It sounds silly, and maybe it is, but that’s the way it is right now. I’ve let every little aspect of my life get affected. Toning up and losing weight, for instance, I want to join this great place near my house which has a good trainer for not that much money, but, I am not doing it because I am waiting to get pregnant! It can be argued that I can work out at home, but, that requires greater will.. Not logical I know..

Then, getting back to work is the other thing that keeps bothering me. Again, I could get a job and quit if I get pregnant, but somehow I am not looking too hard for the right job (like that exists!) because I do want something that will not take over my life, since my two and a half year old is still very demanding and I need to be there for her during the day too…

So how would having a second be better, asks my cousin. It will be difficult I know, but if I can help it, I don’t want my daughter to be the only child, I want her to have a sibling, so this is more for her. And I don’t have time – blessed, for lack of a better word, biological clock and all the rest of it. SO far, Gynie says all is well, keep trying.

For now I am focusing on the bright side of not being pregnant: i.e. wine. It’s the one thing I’ll miss, if..

3 Comments

Filed under mommyrage, ramblings

Adultery, what would you do?

We all know the answer to that question. We’d walk out. I would.

But, it’s amazing how many women actually stay in a relationship even when they know their husband’s interests lie elsewhere. I wonder why? Why do intelligent, thinking, financially independent women take it? For the kids, mainly, they say. And it’s easy for me to say this because I am not one of these women, but for the sake of the kids would one suffer such humiliation? And, even from a child’s view, is it better to have him/her feel the marital tensions between the parents, or is it better to take them out of the situation totally?

I broach this topic, because recently a friend went through this trauma, of confronting her husband and finding out unpalatable details about his relationship with another woman. He confessed, but, and here’s what beats me, he asks her to wait till he decided where his heart lay, and of course, in this happy waiting period he continued to see the current love of his life, while his wife and child were plunged into a state of limbo!

Man! I was so mad when she told me this and I did ask her to walk out, which she didn’t do, because while she cried her heart out and his friends and family – who were staunchly on her side – talked to him about the merits of staying in a marriage, he finally decided to end the other relationship.

Not a happy ending by miles, but she seemed to have reconciled to it. It made me wonder; if my husband only stayed with me after his family intervened  and threatened to cut all ties, would that make me happy? No, it would not, it would actually be worse and I’d feel humiliated. If he fell out of love with me, then I’d rather we part ways than have him cajoled back into my arms.

It beats me, it beats me totally why women let this happen to them. I know it’s easier said, but if my husband ever saw another woman, then I’d walk out, and I’d not be mad, I mean I’d be emotionally quite shattered, but I would not be mad, if he told me that is. It  happens, this is life, if he fell in love/lust with someone else, he can walk, free.

1 Comment

Filed under mommyrage, ramblings