Tag Archives: family

Homework and the Monster Mommy

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Homework is usually my domain, though the husband does chip in a fair amount too. However, every once in a while it does lead to a you-do-this situation.

Like one Saturday, a few weeks ago, there was some Hindi homework that my ten-year-old daughter needed to get done. Now I am quite aware of the fact that homework is for the child to do and all that, but the truth is that when it’s Sunday night and the blank sheet stares you in the face as your lachrymose daughter informs you, amid bursts of tears, that the work most definitely needs to be given in the next day, somehow the bigger picture that she-must-learn-to-be-more-responsible blurs and all you want to do is fight the fire at hand.  Having been in a few of these situations, I try and not let homework linger on till Sunday evening – the afternoon being the absolute cut-off.

This particular Saturday presented a somewhat tedious Hindi homework and since I was busy with the younger twins’ respective work-sheets, I asked my husband to help the older one’s work. Or, to tell the truth, after an aborted attempt at starting the homework with her and my husband wondering aloud about why mother and daughter were fighting again, there was a slight change in plan on who would tackle this behemoth.  Little did he realize that his question would land him the unenviable job of supervising the Hindi homework. After a few exchanges between us about the merits of patience and of letting her figure it out, I handed him the sheet and said “all yours”. He looked at me helplessly at first and then, in a show of bravado, said that he would “make her do it without a problem”. I smiled and left the room with the alacrity of a cat that had licked the cream. I knew just where this was heading.

I returned twenty minutes later to find my daughter staring out of the window and my husband reading something about start-up ventures on the web. It seemed to be a serene and happy kind of coexistence. There was such calmness in the air that I, for a moment, contemplated leaving them in this idyllic state and returning to the twins’ homework. That noble thought, needless to say, passed quite quickly, and the peace was soon shattered. Father and daughter, lost in their own worlds, didn’t quite realize that monster mommy had made her dreaded entry, so I had to announce it myself. When I asked for a progress report, my husband jumped out of his chair and said “she’s almost done”. I looked at my daughter’s desk and saw the worksheet, clean as a slate. She looked at me with her large, eloquent eyes and said “I am thinking mama”. My husband sensed my mood, looked at my daughter in suppressed panic and asked her what happened to the useful inputs he’d given her. She looked most alarmed and said “dad, you didn’t tell me to write anything!” Ah! this was just the Claire-in-Modern-family-moment that I’d been waiting for– the time when my husband would face the same aggravation as I do with the kids (now you know why mommy yells?) But, there was no yelling, no stamping of feet, no, you-better-look-at-me-when-I-talk-to you exchanges. The air was tense and there was some fraction in the ranks, and while that briefly put into question the enduring unity against the common enemy, which would be the bad-cop, aka mommy, it didn’t last long enough for me to celebrate the sweet reversal of fortunes. The situation was quickly stabilized as my husband clarified that they had mentally gone over what was to be written and all that remained was to pour it out on paper. My daughter was quick to pick up the cue and wholeheartedly endorsed this fact. I rolled my eyes, sighed and gave them an ultimatum. I was to return in twenty more minutes and the pouring-out on paper better have happened till then.

Fifteen minutes later, as I was telling the twins to put back their pencils in their drawers, father and daughter entered the room holding the finished sheet, save for one last question. They said that they’d done it all but needed my expert guidance on one question. It was evident that this had been planned in an effort to make the home/cabinet secretary feel that any task was incomplete without her astute leadership. They both looked at me helplessly, and I played my part with such skill that it would have put Michelle Pfeiffer to shame. I heaved a sigh, took the paper and reluctantly agreed to complete the task.

“Thank you mama”, said the father-daughter-duo, “we were a bit lost without you”.  The battle won, I agreed to put the matter to rest, but not before I’d given my husband the look. The score stood at the usual – Mommy one, daddy Zero, as Salman Rushdie would say.

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From a Stay-At-Home-Mom to a Working One

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I can tell you this – that I never thought it would happen. I never thought I would get back to real work. Yes, I was pretty sure that after ten years of being at home and looking after kids, I was good for nothing else. That no one in their right minds would hire me, which was quite alright, because, in my opinion, I was quite un-hireable. That’s what being at home does to you – you start to believe in the stereotype.

Well, I could not have been more wrong. Neither was I un-hireable nor had my being at home taken away from the person I was. Yes, I had been sucked into the demands of my home (and that was a choice I made, for whatever reason) and for a while I was that mother in the park who befriended others like her and thought that she would never be able to escape from the unending cycles of birthday parties, piano classes and fixing the mixie. But that was a period in time when I could not think beyond that. And while it may have temporarily lulled my grey cells into talking about maids, mothers-in-law and electricians, it really did not really make me into the person I thought I had become.  When I went back to work, the real me (ya, I know, it’s a cliché, but it’s true) just wriggled out of that home-mommy skin and rose to the occasion – something I never thought I could do.

And this is not about me being some super star who could rise from the ashes and go back to work because I was some genius who’s been rescued from the interminable demands of domesticity.  No, I am like every other mother who makes a choice to be at home, but that so-called choice is not really one. Because a choice gives you options and let’s you pick what you like. When someone like me chooses to be home, she’s doing to because she has nowhere to leave her child – really not a matter of choice. I’ve heard so many people say to stay-at-home moms that they made a choice, and I always find it interesting – the use of that word. Given a real choice, where the woman can get back to work and be allowed to be flexible as long as she delivers the work, many women I know would have opted to be back at work.

But what I do want to say to women is this – stay mentally active, that’s key. You will find something to do once things at home settle a bit. No, it’ll never be fully settled, but that’s ok, you’ll learn to deal with it. This last week my daughter had been ill, so I left work early and came home. Then I worked at night and on Saturday from home and completed some tasks. And yes, I still have to do the birthday stuff, the homework, the classes and all that comes with being a mum – work has to be managed with all that. But you know what, you learn to do it. Sure there are days when you feel overwhelmed, but nothing in life is easy. I’ve wanted to get back to work for so long and now that I have done it, the other things will have to be fitted in. The people around you learn too – your husband, your kids, your help – they all start to do their bit to help you. That’s what I learnt – they see that you are happy and they want it to stay that way.

I underestimated the people around me. I always thought that things would fall apart if I plugged out. But they don’t – somehow it all happens. And yes, I’ve learnt to let-go of a few things – the dust behind the cabinet for one. I don’t care if it gets swept once in a few days. It’s just not important anymore. Working on a presentation for a client beats that any day.

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Life Changing Moment

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This April my twins started full-day school. It was, as they say, a life changing moment. Or, that’s what I thought. That moment, actually, lay just a little ahead. Full day school was great, but what came after is what’s really changed my life. It arrived, without warning or signal, out of the blue, like my mother always told me it would (ya ya she was right). Let me just go ahead and say it – I’ve started working. Yes, it’s true. Just like that.

If you read my previous post, then you’ll put two and two together. I started this Monday, and I now await Saturday like I have never before, or so it feels. It’s a start-up. Which means many things. The first being the pay, but I am not thinking about that right now. It also means that you have your finger in many pies and, as I am discovering now, leaving at 4 is not going to be easy. Sure those where the terms of joining, but if a project is not done, what are you going to say? Time up? I don’t think so. Because then you’ll be looked upon as the one thing that will make you squirm – as an unprofessional mommy who could not commit because of her “limitations” (see previous post). No, I’d rather get biffed on the head with a brick!

I came to a realization a long time ago – that a woman trying to make her way back into the workforce is hardly in a position to negotiate terms. It’s sad but true. She’s just so glad that someone opened the freaking door, that she’ll take it. She knows she’s capable, and she knows she’s worth a lot more, but the gaping black hole in her resume is such that it has acquired a life of its own, as it crawls into her bed at night and haunts her in her dreams. It reminds her, constantly, that it’s growing and, like the mythical Hydra, sprouting more heads with each passing day. I know this, because this is exactly what’s happened with me. And now when someone has shown confidence in me and the only thing I can say to myself is “don’t let this go!”, and that this will never happen again. It’s a panic-stricken moment when this happens, because you wind yourself into a frenzy thinking that this bus will never come down the road again (hell, you’ve been waiting many years), so whatever it takes, you have to get on it. Otherwise you’ll wander aimlessly for the rest of your life, lost in the labyrinths of domesticity that will lead you to a long, lonely road, where you will find yourself once the kids fly the nest and your husband is neck-deep in his venture. Yes, I was all too aware of that road and when I saw even the glint of that bus coming down the road, I told myself that no matter what, this one I had to catch. And so I did.

So, long story short, I have a job and I love it. The honeymoon is not going to last I know, but I am, for once, not thinking too far down the road. I like where I am and I plan to take each day as it comes. The summer vacations begin tomorrow and they stretch long ahead of me. Let’s see how that goes. The guilt is yet to rear its ugly head. It will one day soon. It’s only a matter of time. Till then I’ll enjoy this golden period. And the weekend, it’s almost here.

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A Woman’s Little Limitations

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An HR executive called me the other day and told me about this job where the employer had liked my profile, but (isn’t there always a but) he was wondering if I still had the “limitations” I did six months ago. Well, I thought of saying, that if you mean my kids, sure I still have them. They’ve grown a bit – my kids, I mean, not my limitations (paradoxically as kids grow, the “limitations”, sort-of, go down). So yes, I told him I am still a mother of three, but if it helps to know, the limitations now have full day school, so I am, you know, limitation-lesser, if you will.

He didn’t seem fully convinced or frankly satisfied with my answer. I wasn’t sure what he had wanted me to say. Did he expect me to tell him I’d packed off the kids to boarding school, or that my husband had decided to become a stay-at-home-dad, or that they’d taken a sip from the “Drink Me” bottle and grown up in an instant and were, thus, not limitations anymore, or, in a more believable scenario I’d managed to convince my mother to give up her life and come run mine? (sore, sore point)

I wasn’t sure. I did tell him that things were a lot better than six months ago. I could now be at work from 9 to 4, which was not bad. Then I could carry work home, if needed, and stay longer when needed too. Sounded alright to me. He, however, did not receive my suggestions with the alacrity I had expected, and told me he’d call me back, which, I was quite certain, he would not ( I suspect he did expect me to come up with one of those wonder stories above). Many an HR agent/employer have been scared off before, so I am now quite used to it. I have even come to love the look in a prospective employer’s eyes when I say I have three kids. They have this uh-oh, holy-crap look. And I love to sit back and watch him/her get out of that one. It’s ace really, as David Mitchell would call it.

Anyway, to my surprise, he called back. The employer, apparently, was alright with my flexi-timings (who said anything about flexi?) because he was running a start-up and he didn’t mind people working remotely (were you not listening, I didn’t say remotely!). The man had apparently expressed a wish to meet me.

Great I said, I was willing and ready to meet. He responded with similar contrived positivity and got off the phone in a bit of a hurry.

And so it was arranged. I wore my Sunday best and went to meet him on a Saturday (it’s a start-up, they don’t believe in weekends, but they are a “fun-place”. Right). It was a pleasant meeting and we spoke about this and that and the work, the profile and blah blah. I made all the right noises about my interest and abilities; he responded amicably, telling me all about entrepreneurship, finding talent, attrition and doing meaningful work. We parted well and I came home feeling quite satisfied.

Then the HR fellow called me again. He too made the right noises about the guy liking my work and all the rest of it, but (there it is again) he was wondering about my issues. I didn’t say anything about my issues, I said. “Yes, but you had some limitations..”. I cut him off and told him that I had sorted those out – how and what was my problem. I suddenly realized the game that was being played – Flexi was euphemism for low-pay (it’s a start-up, duh). The penny dropped and I told the bugger that I was willing to go into the office everyday and stay late too (a part of me was going WHAT??? STOP NOW!) but I stifled any voice of reason in my head and caught the bull by its horns (lean in girl I told myself). Sheryl Sandberg’s face was now staring at me, right into mine.

The truth is that while I was talking to him, the whole limitations crap finally got to me – when I realized that it was just a ploy to put me on the back foot while making me feel good about being able to work remotely! It turns out he does not even have enough space for me to come in to the office right now! He was trying to get me to say it first. But I didn’t.  I just called the bluff and said I would do full-time, worry not.

There was silence at the other end. This was not something he had been prepared for. He’d expected me to expand on my limitations, not make them disappear! But I had decided that even if it meant not getting on this bus (which I really wanted), I would stand my ground. Limitations my foot.

Anyway, long story short, I he arranged another meet with the boss. I am supposed to meet the employer again in a few days. He wants to hire me, it seems, but also would like to “iron-out” some minor details.

I am guessing these details would be about minors.

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Winning Is Important , Right Ma?

My daughter asked me this question the other day. She looked at me and said “mama, is it important to you that I win a competition?” and then after a pause she added “I really want to win the Spelling competition in my school this year”.

I’ve always told my kids to try their best and leave the rest to God. Not sure if that’s right or wrong – but parenting is as much about our desire to inculcate the right values in our kids than telling them what we think, because the two are often not the same thing.

Yes, I do believe that winning is important, but will I say it in as many words to my kids? Probably not. I will sugar quote it and ask them to try their best and not worry about the outcome. But do I seriously believe in that myself? Will I be unaffected if my daughter tries her level best, comes within spitting distance of the top spot, and then loses it? The answer is that while I will not be shattered, I will be disappointed. And that disappointment, let me add, may not necessarily be with her, but with the outcome. By the time you reach this age, you realize that winning is a combination of many, many factors, not all of which are in your control. You’ve seen enough life to know that those who win have worked hard, no doubt, but they have also always thanked God and their good fortune (the best of athletes are superstitious about many things before their game) So yes, if she tries hard and loses, I will be extremely supportive of her and encourage her to go on, but I will, in my heart, be a little disappointed. And at that moment, my focus will be as much on comforting her as it will be on masking my own regret (for lack of a better word). The worst thing that a child wants to feel is that she has let her parents down. I think that if a child goes into a competition knowing that her parents will take it on the chin if she lost and commend her for her effort, she will be able to face it better.

But this is not what her question was about. It was a very direct question that required a direct answer. Is winning important? And while I know that some questions cannot be answered in a simple yes and no, but still if I was to answer this one in either one of the two choices, I’d say yes, winning is important.

Now let me defend my answer (even though I did not give her a one word one)

The fact of the matter is that it is a competitive world out there. Children have to learn to take the stress of living in such a world (am not getting into ideological arguments about how we can go about changing such an environment and achieve some utopian world – that’s for another day). Wanting to win is not a negative emotion like we make it out to be at times in our kid-gloves parenting approach. Wining makes people feel good about themselves, so what’s wrong in wanting to achieve it?  If winning wasn’t important then World Cup and Wimbledon finals would not matter. But they do, because the people who are playing it, want to win. In the run up to the FIFA World Cup, readers were inundated with stories about how Brazil wants to regain its glory on the home turf and win to atone for the humiliating defeat to Uruguay in the final in 1950. The entire country seems to still not have got over the “loss”.

So, my point is, why mislead the child just to sound politically correct, or for some misplaced notion of cushioning the blow. I say misplaced because what will cushion the blow (assuming there is one) is not the fact that you’ve led them to believe that winning is not important, but your own reaction in the face of such a situation. You, as a parent, must handle the failure well.  The two are not the same thing. You can believe in winning, but that does not mean that you cant take failure.  Conversely, you could think that you are prepared to take your child’s failure and tell her that winning is not everything, but then not be able to stomach a defeat.

I think what matters more is how you handle the defeat than what you believe about winning.

In my humble opinion, if you tell your kids that winning is important, it makes them work harder. A win encourages a child in a positive way, there’s something about tasting success, no matter how small, that gives them a high. Hopefully that will make them want to keep it up. Yes, there are pressures of staying on top, but as you go through life you have to learn to deal with pressures.  No one can duck them, no one. And if you shield your kids from the real world, then the chances that they’ll end up disillusioned are much higher. In fact, I often tell my kids that people use the wrong means to win and while they should never do that, they must learn to stand up to those who do.

I don’t wish to over-prepare my kids for the world (and who knows, maybe I am) but my simple point is that I grew up thinking that everyone was good and followed the law, only to see otherwise. It didn’t make me cynical (I hope) but it did disturb me.

I want my children to excel at what they do. I think every parent does.  So, if my daughter wants to win the Spelling Bee, she’ll have to work harder than she has for anything in her life – and while she agrees with that in theory, she does not necessarily translate than into action.

One lesson that she needs to learn is that there is a deep abyss between the desire to win and the actual win. If she wants that Spell Bee trophy, she will need to cross that chasm.

 

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Fifty Things I Do In A Day.

Someone recently asked me what I do all day. The stress was on the letter “what”, like what (on earth) do you do all day? I didn’t think he was worthy of an answer.

Here it is though. For you guys, who stop by and read me! Here are the fifty things I do in one typical day. If you can’t relate to them, that’s OK. At another time, I probably would not have either. This is for those who decided to lean out!

Here goes..

  1. Wakeup, get the kids ready, shove food down their reluctant mouths, drop them to the bus stop/school.
  2. Come back home. Have a cup of tea. Try and read the morning paper while thinking of a plausible excuse to not have lunch with your husband’s Taiji (aunt)
  3. Cleaning lady saunters in. Attempt to get the house cleaned. Disapprove of her cleaning techniques. Pull around the furniture to prove your point. Dust the foot mat (because no one else will)
  4. Attend to the doorbell. Sign for a courier. Put the magazine in the will-read-soon pile.
  5. Come back in. Door bell again. It’s the garbage collector. The trash has not yet been tied up. Now it’s time to give the maid a sermon on the merits of preparedness.
  6. Come back to read the paper. No better luck, door bell again. Take the milk man’s bill. Tell him to return for the money. You can’t give a definite time.
  7. Think about lunch. What, possibly, could the kids eat without a fuss? It’s summer, there’s not much. Sigh. Wish you were in some office, doing some real work, talking to some real people. Miss the vacuous office banter that can be so uplifting.
  8. Somehow work out a lunch menu that leaves out the spineless summer veggies like ghiya, tinda, kaddu, karela, parmal and tori (beats any analyst report, I can tell you that). Inform the maid of your brainwave (egg curry). Try and be calm when she tells you that you’re out of oil.
  9. Rush to pick up the phone. It’s the tele-sales lady. Be firm in your refusal. You don’t want the magical Mutual Fund that will put you on the path to financial freedom.
  10. Call the electrician. The AC has been gone for three days. Inquire about its whereabouts. Call him eight more times before he picks up and you explode.
  11. No you can’t be calm. It’s freaking 42 degrees (107 degrees Fahrenheit)
  12. Taiji (aunt) is calling. You don’t have a plan. Panic. Don’t take the call.
  13. Think of something. Call her back and express deep dismay for missing the lunch. Yes, you don’t work, sure you could’ve come. Next time. Pucca promise.
  14. It’s noon. You haven’t had a bath, the op-ed is lying open, the maid is hollering for oil, the driver has not turned up, the cleaning lady is sulking and it’s hot as hell.
  15. You shut your eyes and take a deep breath
  16. You give the maid money for the oil. And, oh, while you’re on the topic, the rice, butter, chocolate spread and cheese is almost finished as well. So are the organic eggs that are sold at the far-away grocery store. You hand her a wad of notes. She can walk to the market and get regular eggs, you’ll survive.
  17. Now you can’t go for a bath because the maid is out and no one will be able to attend to the door. Some eight more couriers will arrive by the end of the day. Cash on delivery is a good idea when you’re ordering something, no so great when you are in the bath and the guy arrives wielding your precious packet.
  18. While you wait for the maid, you read the paper. The cleaning lady now wants to clean where you are safely and most comfortably ensconced with the remains of your op-ed. She’s, however, in no mood to hang around. Fruit-fly genetics can wait.
  19. You get up with a huff, but not a very irate one. You do want her to show up again tomorrow.
  20. You move to another spot, finish off the op-ed.
  21. The maid returns. Now you can have a bath. Hop in and hop out.
  22. It’s almost time for the school-bus. But you have 15 minutes. Too early to leave, too late to start doing anything substantial. You wonder if you should read the article you abandoned yesterday or answer that e-mail. By the time you locate the paper, you’ve lost eight minutes. Now you can’t read with attention for fear of losing track of time and getting late for the bus stop. So you leave seven minutes early. Then you twiddle your thumb at the bus stop and wonder why you didn’t carry the paper with you.
  23. Bus arrives, kids are home. What remains of the day can now be written off.
  24. There’s some pressing issue with the homework. We need ribbons and stencils. Can’t we do without them? Use something else? Do they have to be ribbons? No, no and yes.
  25. Sigh. Wish for frivolous office talk. If only..
  26. It’s Tuesday. It’s piano day. She’s not practiced. There’s going to be a scene.
  27. Yup. There’s a scene.
  28. That out of the way, you can now leave for the piano class. Ok, you promise not to say anything to the teacher. For the last time.
  29. Piano over. Homework beckons. Ribbons. Right.
  30. Ribbons and veggies bought in one shot. Stencils were bought last week.
  31. Everything is under control. We should make bed-time without a shout. Seems too good to be true.
  32. It is. Turns out we also need chart paper. And glue. Not the regular glue. The real one. Whatever that is.
  33. You explode. Defense is prompt. How was she to know we don’t have chart paper and real glue?
  34. Back to the market.
  35. Dinner will now be rushed. Not very conducive to overall peace.
  36. Somehow the project is done. Dinner is wolfed down. Beds are made. Stories are read. Two are ready to sleep, one is not.
  37. Negotiations and (no, not love songs. You wish) more negotiations.
  38. Sigh.
  39. So you put the others to bed. She stays up. Day is not over. You wish.
  40. You emerge, half-asleep, from the dark room. You put up your feet and try to read. She wants to talk about school. So you do.
  41. You put down your book. She tells you stories. This part you love.
  42. Husband returns, tired, from work
  43. Should we eat? She’s not asleep?
  44. You eat. She sits with you, fighting sleep. The other two asleep in their beds.
  45. Why can’t she sleep in time?
  46. You don’t have an answer. You’re tired.
  47. Dinner over. Now she wants to sleep. You don’t wan to go back in to put her to bed.
  48. There’s a scene.
  49. You hold your ground. You need your downtime.
  50. What exactly is that?

 

 

 

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Someone Has To Fix The Mixie.

I am feeling a bit metaphorical this morning.

Nothing unusual has happened. The day, so far, has not gone according to plan (nothing odd about that) I’ve not written the article I need to write. Instead I’ve just returned from the local market where I’d gone to get the mixie fixed.

Why, you could ask, did I drop work to get a mixie fixed? And what’s with the metaphor? The answer to the first question – because someone has to do it, and that someone is me. And the second – because the fixing of the mixie, I’ve realized (while I was on my way to the market) is a great metaphor for describing my life right now.

I am a fixer. I fix everything, from the stuff in the house to the lives of my children, from their projects, homework and broken toys to the washing machine and the problems of my domestic help. I fix it all. Yes, the irony is all too apparent, that I can’t fix my own life. Or maybe, that’s why I can’t fix my own life, because I have not the time or the mind space left for it.

Why am I feeling this way? Allow me to tell you (I am bursting with it). Let’s see, what have I done since the morning so far? Woke up at 6, dived straight into the tempest of sending the children to school (one twin had severe Monday morning blues and simply did not want to get out of bed, so that was fun). Anyway, somehow we managed – it was a collective effort of getting them up, bathing them, dressing them, feeding them and then dropping them off. Then I returned home and read the paper with my two cups of strong tea, as I tried to ignore the post-it on my desk that was bleating at me incessantly. It listed the six things I absolutely had to do today.

1. Get swimming costume changed (for the kids – 3 day exchange policy)
2. Get the mixie fixed (falls in the kitchen no-go category)
3. Give the clothes for darning and dry cleaning (summer is here in full swing, need to put away the winter clothes and bring in the summer ones, but can’t put them away till they are darned and dry cleaned, hence cannot put the summer ones in the cupboard. But, it’s too hot, so need summer clothes, which lie in a heap, and the heap moves around the room, from the bed to the chair, to the piano, to the chair, to back to the bed. I can’t stand the heap anymore, it’s bleating at me too)
4. Give the kids’ clothes to the tailor for minor (yet extremely crucial) tinkering that will make them wearable. Summer skirts’ elastics are loose, some buttons have fallen off, don’t have the buttons, so need to go to the market and then to the tailor.
5. 3G on my phone is not working – this is not on an essentials lost, but I miss What’s App.
6. Buy black shoe polish (for the kids and the husband)

Looking at my list, I decided not to let the article hang on me. I’ll burn the midnight oil and sacrifice my candy crush tonight, I thought. I was unusually calm today while I went about doing the chores I hate to do. I wonder why? Am I finally coming around to accepting my role as a SAHM? I don’t think so. It’s a phase, probably.

You could ask why I am questioning the peace in my head? That’s because it could be the first sign of the fact that I’ll remain a fixer. If I lose my angst, what on earth will I be left with?

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