Tag Archives: parenting

Mother’s Day – What I Feel About it and What My Kids Do

I wasn’t going to write a post for Mother’s Day. I don’t much believe in it, because I know that this is a contrived, commercial, Hallmark sort of moment, which has been popularized for pure pecuniary gain, but which has now acquired a social life of its own and become the plank on which children must exhibit their love for their mothers. Businesses exist to make money, nothing wrong with that. But when you tie that in with what I am supposed to do and feel as a mother, or worse, what kids should do for their moms, then I have a problem. I don’t need a mother’s day to know that my children love me. Sure, it’s nice to be told that all I have done/do for my kids is appreciated and this is one day they get to tell me that. But the fact that my children’s feeling are being dictated by a larger societal force is what I have an objection to.  There is pressure on them to make cards, write me love notes, drag their fathers to the mall and do things that will make me happy. And all this is great, if it wasn’t for the fact that this must be done on a specific fabricated day when we are all supposed to exchange cheery, love-filled exchanges to show how much we care. Yes, I know I am cranky. But this has nothing to do with being crabby and jaded (which I am). I know many mothers who feel the same, and who are not cynical in the least, but who object to what this day (and many others like this) has turned into.

I think its my duty, as a parent, to make my children think and not accept things just because the world tells them to. And this may not be the best way to tell them, I know, which is why I wont. Yet. One day, they’ll need to be told -that they must question the accepted and the obvious. Only then can they become the individuals who will bring about change and learn to think on their own.

Anyway, enough ranting. Let me tell you what my kids woke me up with today:

Because I like planters on the wall with flowers in them:

IMG_1592

Mamma Duck

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And the heart..

 

They spent days hiding these from me and asking me for paint because they
wanted to surprise me. So I pretended to not know. And this morning they
let me sleep in and then woke me up with these.

Yes, that was nice. But I wish they didn’t feel like they had to do this for me on this day. They can do this any day of the year and I’ll feel the same. But I am not going to tell them this now, because they’re too young for my ideology (and cynicism). I’ll let them figure it out on their own. I know my daughters – they’ll grow up to become thinking individuals and see it on their own one day.

Till then I’ll vent about it here. And keep these lovely little notes and cards in my box (right next to the sorry letters they give me the rest of the year).

Now, should I call my mom?

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A Mother – In Life & In Death

Suicide Series 3

A neighbor of mine recently killed herself. She was around forty, has two kids and was separated from her husband. I knew her a little. She wasn’t a friend, but was more than an acquaintance (there really should be a word for that). I used to wave to her every morning, as she brisk- walked around the colony and I zipped past her with my kids in the car, in a mad dash to make it to the bus stop on time – pretty much a daily morning routine for us both.

And now she’s gone. She decided to exercise the exit option, something that has been topic of hot debate in our otherwise sleepy little colony. Unsurprisingly, she’s being judged by all and sundry, irrespective of their closeness to her. A suicide evokes everyone’s opinion, especially if the person in question was a mother. So the leitmotif, so to speak, that binds everyone’s judgements is that she had no business killing herself because she was a mother. Why she did it, or the fact that she was depressed to the point of suicide is not something anyone wants to deal with – she had kids, so she owed a responsibility to them. That’s that.

Sure, I agree that parents ought to be there for their kids. I’ll get to that shortly. But, before that there is a larger point I want to make, which is about the woman herself, about her own desires, her needs and her wishes. We expect mothers to be superhuman, to never tire, to indefatigably battle all emotions, all odds, all the time, irrespective of their nature and intensity. That’s the mother we put on a pedestal, and there she must remain – any sign of her stepping down and we start to lament, to question the sanity of her mind, to wonder how she sleeps at night (she probably just passes out) .

The truth is that when this incident happened, everyone in the society was only interested in knowing the gory details, in assembling in corners and talking in hushed tones, and then announcing their unsolicited opinion. It’s what we like to do – to judge, to take a stand, to climb onto our self-made pulpits and announce our verdicts, which we see as extremely logical and reasonable. We don’t like to answer uncomfortable questions or face the truth. No one really understood why a mother would kill herself. We judge a woman in life and in death. She is not free to even die on her own terms. I feel terrible for her kids, but, somehow, I don’t question her decision. What I do wish was that she had not reached that point, one where life looks too dismal and bleak, when the thought of waking up and taking on another day seems like an insurmountable burden, when the walls close in on you and you just want to end the trauma that is life. That’s what depression does to people. Yet, it was hard for people to understand that she simply ran out of steam. She had kids, is all they chanted, in unison, almost like they’d rehearsed it.  I didn’t bother to try and make them see her point – because they seemed to lack the bandwidth.

Also, there is another aspect to this. As Indians, we don’t really accept depression as an illness that needs addressing, let alone medication (exceptions aside). We believe we don’t need shrinks because that’s really for the “westerners”, who don’t have families to fall back upon. “Our Indian families are structured to provide emotional support to each other” – said my aunt once, whose son was diagnosed with depression. For years, she waved it off that finding as nonsense, till she was forced to accept when his condition got worse. I am not so sure I buy into the whole Indian-family thing. I mean, sure, we’re close/er to our parents than some other parts of the world are (though by saying this, we are implying that our definition of closeness is the accurate one- it could mean different things to different people, but that’s another post). However, even if we believe that Indian families are closer knit than the western ones, it does not mean we don’t feel depressed or that we always share everything with each other. I would actually argue that the average Indian woman is a lonely one – she toils at home and sometimes at work too – all day. She is never really asked how she is feeling, or what she is going through (a few cutesy television ads aside, this is the grim reality for the average Indian woman). She lives among constant, unending and enervating chaos –  the husband, the kids, the assorted in-laws, the house issues – she handles all of it, and she does it at her own cost.

The term lonely housewife applies to the Indian woman as much as it applies to any woman from around the world. A housewife is surrounded by people, and yet she is lonely. Often, her only real friends are other women like her, who she befriends here and there – in her colony, at the market, at parks, as she tends to the needs of her home and kids – and they develop a strange connection, an enduring I-hear-ya-sister kind of bond.

Anyway, to come to my neighbour and her kids. I believe that wanting kids is a selfish need and once we give in to that need, it becomes our duty to be responsible for them. But life’s not that simple. Parenting is hard and nothing prepares you for it. Not the child’s mistake I know, but if there’s one thing I have learned about being a mother is that parents are humans but we don’t expect them to be. My neighbour was a human who just gave up. Call it cowardice, selfishness, what you may, but she could not go on. No one saw the warning signs, because, as another tactless neighbour remarked, “why would she want to die? She had kids, but maybe she was insane”. Well, she was not insane, nowhere near it, but she was alone and that can be hard. If only someone had stepped in and helped her, that was probably all she needed. Her kids now face a life without a mother, but it did’t have to be this way.

I am, once again, reminded of a quote from Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. She was writing about American suburban moms in the thirties, but what she said applies to women around the world, even today.

“Each suburban wife struggles 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?”

I have often been afraid to ask myself that very same question. The answer can sometimes lead you down the wrong path..

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Homework and the Monster Mommy

Study

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 Kids to KPIs

G4 and womans hands

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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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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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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