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A Race Against Myself – It’s Marathon Time Again

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After I ran the marathon last year, I was on a high. For me, it wasn’t a tick-off-your-bucket-list kind of thing. I enjoyed running and despite finding the 21 K quite challenging, I wanted to do it again. I really did.

Except, I didn’t expect that time of the year to come rolling by so soon. Because no matter how much you run otherwise, training for a marathon requires dedicated focus for at least 10 weeks (if not more). The fact that I ran last year has no real bearing on this year, because I have to build up my stamina again.

So here I am, almost a year later, wondering if I can do it again. I mean, I know I can do it again, but this time, it’s not that simple.

Why? Because, as they say, I have a rep to protect. And it’s all about the timing. Last year, I was baggage-free. I was a novice, a mum who’d decided to run because she needed to do something that made her feel a little better about herself (let’s face it, that’s always a part of it) – I needed to get away and do something for myself and do that whole stereotypical thing about feeling a sense of accomplishment and getting the high of having pushed your body to the limits. All that good stuff that runners love to say. Yes, it’s all true and I felt all of it.

That, however, was then – a year ago. This year, it’s a whole different ballgame. Now I am racing against myself.

If you are a runner, or if even if you vaguely know one, you will know that there is one thing that is of supreme importance – and that is the timing. Anybody who tells who that it does not matter is basically fooling himself or herself. It matters big time. I cannot possibly take longer to finish than I did last year. I mean I can, but I am not going to be thrilled about it, especially when all and sundry ask me what my timing was.

And it’s really not about other people either – I have a benchmark, and most people don’t like to fall short of it.

So I have little choice but to train hard again. And it’s not that I don’t want to, but this year has brought a big change in my life – I have started working, which leaves me little time to run. Yet, I will try, because running changed me in many, many ways. Not physically (though toned legs are always welcome) but mentally. I feel it made me stronger mentally – I learnt to push my mind to believe that I could do it. And that’s half the battle won.

I am not sure I can repeat last year’s magic. I want to, but it’ll take work – more than last year in a way – because, as I said before, now it’s a matter of reputation 🙂

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From Kids to KPIs

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The past few months have been interesting. I’ve been working full-time, sometimes more than that. And all that I feared would happen, has happened. Kids have fallen sick, maids have gone on leave, weekends have been awash with work. Yes, I am quite the working mom now and it’s amazing how I have slipped into that role like I was always doing this. The truth is five months ago I was your typical stay-at-home-mom, quite reconciled (if grudgingly) to the idea of never setting foot in an office again.

And how dramatically that’s changed.

I know I’ve said this before, but I am already facing a lot of pressure – mostly from myself. So on the back foot am I that I feel I have to constantly prove something – that I am serious about my work; that women who return to work after a hiatus may not be able to ace power point presentations, but they do add a lot of value to a company. And in my blind wish to prove this I have gone and done something that I now find impossible to get out of – I have poured cold water all over the negotiations that I made when I joined work – that I would leave at 4 and work flexi.  Not only do I not leave at 4, I also had a washed-out weekend where I worked flat out for a deadline, while my younger twin lay next to me with high fever. On Sunday night at 11:30 when she finally looked at me with watery eyes and asked me if I had the time to lay next to her, something in me snapped. I know there are good days and bad days and I was determined to not let anything get in the way of me proving myself – but when I saw her tiny face, all I could think of was the fact that she needed me. I sent off one last slide to my boss and shut my computer down. I was tired. And I thought about how much my life had changed.

I guess this was a test, of sorts. To try and work when you have a sick child tugging at your clothes. I did it, but with a lot of guilt. But, guess what, when I shut my computer, the guilt did not vanish – it merely shifted base – to work. I wondered if my boss would think I was shirking work – the fact that I worked the whole weekend with a sick child was not enough I guess. And I didn’t even want to tell my boss that my daughter was sick – because, in this flu season, my kids have been falling sick one after another and I didn’t him to think that it would affect my performance.

Anyway, long story short – the basic point I am trying to make is that a working mother has to constantly shift gears – from work to home and back to work, and to home again. It’s a constant cycle and I am still getting used to it. I am trying my best to do both, but there’s always guilt – of leaving the kids, of leaving work – that I haven’t been able to escape. And I doubt I ever will. It’s a woman thing.

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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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Archie, You Took A Piece of Me With You

 

Note: I have decided to publish articles that no one else wants to! This one was written a few months ago when they killed Archie. It took a piece of my childhood with it. So I wrote about it.

For better or for worse, here it is.

Archie Andrews died recently. I am shocked, saddened and heartbroken. My condolences are with Betty, who, I am certain, is far more heartbroken than me.

When Archie’s coffin was lowered, I can safely say, it took with it a good part of my childhood. In my growing years, no victory seemed sweeter than beating my brother at getting to the Archie double-digest first. While he used muscle, I just resorted to some good-old tattletale (it’s the prerogative of the youngest child and I most determinedly defend it). It worked like a charm.

Back then, when gay was a happy word, if someone had told me that Archie would die taking a bullet for his gay friend, I would have been incapable of giving a coherent response, except for the monosyllabic and all-expressive “huh?” Why, I would most certainly have wondered, would someone be killed for being merry? “You’ll know when you’ll grow up” is what my father would have probably said. Indian parenting is so much about letting kids figure things out on their own.

I grew up in a small-town and reading Archie comics formed a large part of our recreation-time. It was a sheltered kind of life and unlike my Delhi-bred niece, who, at fifteen, has just returned from a summer-reading course at Stanford and is now threatening to discuss The Republic with me, I didn’t know much about America when I was about that age. In our small little town and even smaller world of elite girls’ school, where I spent many bubble-encased years, we knew nothing about American senators, gun control or gays.

America, to us, was synonymous with Riverdale High. It was where Archie and his friends went to school, in a town called Riverdale. From where we were looking, at a time when foreign-returned aunts brought us Wriggleys, scented erasers and Camay soaps, Archie and his friends seemed to inhabit an extremely fascinating world, one that we had nothing in common with, but one that captivated our imaginations nonetheless. These comics were our sole window into the thrilling American life. They provided us with a delightfully vicarious existence, away from our dull-school lives, as we read about ice-skating, dating, school-lockers, sundaes, cafeterias and luncheon meat (even my parents couldn’t tell me what on earth that was). There was something so alluring, so, can-this-be-for-real about Archie’s world that we were hooked onto the comics, which we never bought, but shared a rented copy from a nearby hole-in-the-wall library.

Yet, this was not the only reason for our reading the comics. To us, the characters felt strangely alive and true, and even though our lives life in small-town India and Archie’s in Riverdale-America could not have been more different, we could (mostly) relate to their issues. I totally got Jughead’s sense of humour, or Betty’s constant yearning for Archie’s attention, and his obsession with Veronica, or Reggie’s devious mind, or Moose’s duh brain. We even named one of our teachers Miss Grundy (the resemblance was striking).

So great was my fixation that at one time, and this does embarrass me, I seriously contemplated making a Riverdale High poster and putting it right under the WHAM one on my wall. My mother protested and asked me what Riverdale was. At the time, my mother’s apparent lack of knowledge of American geography shocked me. “It’s one of the most famous places in America” I had answered nonchalantly. Years later, when I lived in New-York, I realized that the name was fictional, and that luncheon meat tasted like dog food.

Now they’ve gone and killed Archie. I could never have imagined then that things would get so serious for Archie. However, I refuse to allow the image of him taking the bullet to sully the one from my childhood. Archie, to me, will always remain an innocuously obtuse, predictably clumsy (you knew he’d knock over the pot just as Mr. Lodge would walk in) and foolishly dim, freckle-faced fellow, whose biggest aim was to please Veronica and Mr. Lodge.

For me, Archie comics represent the gay years of childhood. Yes, gay. It has more than one meaning.

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An Open Letter to Kinder Joy

Dear Product Design team at Kinder (who came up with the beaten-to-death idea of telling little girls that they like pink, and that they should stick to playing with dolls)

I am a mother of three little girls (awww, I know) and I want to tell you a thing or two about them. No, it’s not my idea of a great pass time to write to companies extolling the virtues of my children (I’d do that on facebook if I ever became insane enough). I write to you because I think you need this unsolicited advice, because you don’t really know the kids you claim to make happy.

Allow me to explain.

You see, your blue-for-boys and pink-for-girls idea is a bit – how do I say this? nauseating. Not to mention, so clichéd and trite that it makes me wonder how companies like yours arrive at such regressive and frankly threadbare decisions. It makes me wonder if you even know children at all. Actually, I can quite safely say that you don’t, which is why I want to tell you a little about mine. Please do hear me out.

My girls like pink, sure, but just as much as they like, say red, white, yellow and for that matter blue (surprise surprise). They play their doll games when they want, but they also like to cycle, run in the park, climb monkey ladders, swim, play tennis and build stuff, you know the kind you pack in the “for-boys” Kinder eggs – you do know the ones I am talking about? That’s right, those most predictably blue-coloured Kinder Eggs; the, you-must-like-large-eyed-fairies-because-you’re-a-girl and you-must-love-cars-because-you’re-a-boy, those ones.

Seriously Kinder Joy? Pink and Blue? This is your idea? This is what creative-off sites in companies lead to? I mean, I may not be a marketing expert, but really this baffles and disgusts me at the same time. Selling chocolates by gender? Wow.

Maybe it’s just me, but really, I am thinking why a company like yours would do this? Is it because you think that little girls would not like/ be interested in/ be able to put together a little puzzle or a want to play with a truck? That they would much rather have some fairy to pop out, which they can then take to their other similar minded friends (read girls) and proceed blithely into a soft-focus world of make-believe tea parties, which is where they belong? Because you think that building things is for boys, which, if your site is anything to go by, is what they do, with their dads by the way, because mommies would rather wear fitting tops and jog (yes, on your site too– them stock images, I tell you). Boys like to cycle wearing blue helmets and girls like to wear pink and kiss their mommies or hold soft and fluffy teddy bears. That’s your idea of kids (again, it’s on your site, do re-visit – all there).

Telling images apart, there’s also a lot of politically-correct sounding rhetoric on your site. But here I am reminded of the age old saying – that actions speak louder than words – you make all these tall claims about raising happy kids and all the rest of it, and then you climb on to your self-made pulpit and tell them what they should play with. You girls there, here are your pink toys, now run along, be off, sit like little ladies in a corner and do your girlie stuff, whatever that is.

I want to ask you Kinder, who gave you the right to lure my child with a chocolate and tell her what her idea of a toy should be? Who gave you the authority to instill in her vulnerable little mind ideas about gender? Do you even realize what you are doing? Have you no feeling of responsibility towards the very children you claim to aid in raising happy?

What I want to say to you is this – please look at children as children and not girls and boys on whose little backs you can ride all the way to the bank. You make chocolates all you want, but if you must club them with toys, do it responsibly. Go ahead, do your product re-launches, meet your quarterly targets and all the stuff companies do, but think of something better than this. It’s really a telling sign when someone like you feels the need to fall back upon the most overused and offensive stereotype in the world.

I am sure you can do better Kinder. Give it a shot.

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