Tag Archives: working mom

The Problem That Has No Name


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”

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Filed under home, motherhood, ramblings

A Day In The Life Of A Working Mom


6:00 am: Wake up, wash face, wear running clothes, take a deep breath. Start getting the kids ready, with the help of the maid (may the lord bless her).

6:30 am: Twins have finished their milk. General ablutions are in due process. But older one needs to be woken up – didn’t sleep on time at night (don’t ask). Gently goad her out of bed, while remembering the resolution to be more calm and patient. She stirs and falls back to sleep. Count to ten, while holding back on the lecture on the merits of sleeping on time.

6:40 am: Try not to burst a nerve as two of the three remain ensconced on the pot with books.

6:41 am: Husband enters after Yoga.  Asks me to chant “serenity now”. I give him the look. He smiles, gives me the what-else-can-you-do look in return. He’s charming even at this hour. I don’t tell him that, of course – there are three kids to get out the house by 7:10.

6:43 am: One twin bathed – comb her hair, as she protests, while husband feeds her fried egg (mama can’t feed, it’s a fine art only dad knows best. Mama only too happy not to learn the art. Is willing to give up others, for the record). Other twin out. Repeat combing and feeding process. She too has strong objections to the manner in which the combing is carried out. She curls up her nose and declares that it hurts. Refuses to eat more till the problem is resolved.

6:44 am: Give her the hair brush and exit the room. Dad can deal with this on his own. Check on the older one. She’s still on the pot. Needs two more minutes. We don’t have two more minutes, I tell her. She sighs, rolls her eyes. I give her one more minute by the clock and leave with my signature, don’t-make-me-come-in-there look.

6:46 am: Twins ready, but there’s been a fight over the ownership of a pen. Dad is smack in the middle of it, trying to reason with two seven- year olds.

6:58 am: Last one out of the bathroom. Countdown to departure begins.

7:08 am: Everyone ready. Breakfast halfway. But now have to feed them almonds, and the tonic. It’ll have to be had in the car. Pick up spoon and tonic. And oh, the immunity sachet – older one’s been falling ill a lot, so needs this in the mornings, along with figs, raisins and dates. Doctors really need to go more ground-level studies before scribbling out undo-able prescriptions.

7:10 am: Breakfast over. We’re almost at the door, with tonics, almonds et all. Twin two declares she needs a winter flower for show and tell. Starts to cry, it has to be taken today. I give her the you’re-kidding look. She cries more. Husband intervenes, asks me to calm down. I tell him to get the winter flower. He tries to reason with her, she cries even louder.

7:11 am: Cook runs to the neighbour’s house, comes back triumphant with a Hibiscus. She informs him that it can be anything but Hibiscus. I laugh, there’s nothing else to be done.

7:12 am: We get into the car. Twin two has curled up her nose and continues to wail. I step on the gas, then I stop, run out of the car. I have spotted a Petunia. I retrieve it the alacrity of a cat having caught a bird. I hand it to her and get behind the wheel. There’s cheering in the back. Mommy steps on the gas again.

7:17 am: Reach the bus stop. Phew!

7:20: am: Wave to them as the bus pulls away. I can’t believe the day has only just begun. I feel tired already.

7:30 am: Go for a run. Make a note to remember the Vitamin D sachets, as the knee starts to creak again. Will have to reset reminders, because now I don’t know how many have been consumed.

9:45 am: Drive to work with a gazillion thoughts about things to do. Some urgent, some important – not the same thing. In attending to the former, the latter get ignored. Urgent – pipe in the bathroom is on its last legs, is leaking, will give way anytime. Plumber must be summoned. He’s on speed dial. Pull over, call him. He doesn’t pick up. Important – mammogram. No time for it, despite the lumps I can feel. It’s ok I tell myself.

10:15 Get into the office. Pour a glass of water, gulp a headache medicine. Ask office boy for a strong cup of tea.

11 am: Am at work. Cook and general Man Friday calls to remind me about the leaking pipe. Plumber needs to be called. And also, the electrician too needs some determined chasing, the AC is making sputtering noises and is out of gas – the coil has holes in it and needs fixing. These are urgent. I think about the air we are breathing, if metal gets corroded then it’s scary to think about what the pollution does to our lungs. This is important, but I’ll attend to the urgent.

11: 10 am: Step out of the office to speak to the plumber and electrician. Plumber finally picks up. He has fever, but will come. Electrician too promises to attend to the issues promptly. Make a note to call them back in an hour.

12:00p.m. to 3:30 pm: All’s quiet on most fronts. Chip away at that presentation. Boss needs to see it at the end of the day.

12:15 pm: Mom calls. Can’t talk. Will call her back.

4pm: Call from home. Kids are back from school, have many tales to tell. I whisper and tell them I’ll back.

4:10 pm: Call from home. There has been a fight. Mommy’s expert opinion on whodunit is urgently needed. Hang up.

4:40 pm: Call home, remind kids about respective instrument practice. They are watching Master Chef.
Try not to blow my lid. Reiterate will-take-away-benefits rule that kicks in when work is not done.

5pm: Call from Plumber. Pipe is fixed. Needs money. He’ll have to wait, or come back. He mutters and hangs up. Am afraid he won’t take my calls the next time.

6pm: Boss wants the update on the presentation. Send it to him.

6:20 pm: Start wrapping up work. Call from home. Barrage of questions about time of return.The fight is still not resolved. Also, there’s some project work that needs mommy’s superior cognitive skills. Homework is for kids, I say. Not this one, comes the reply. Wonder why schools subject parents to torture. Why do projects involve cut and paste, is it me, or is it not obvious that nothing is learned in the process, except how to cut in a straight line, colour and search Google.

6:30 pm: Call from home. Further inquiries about exact arrival time

6:40 pm: Leave work. Call from home again about update on ETA. Now I can yell, I am in the car. Inform them that I am on my way, have not acquired the ability to fly yet.

7:00 pm: Walk into the house. They run towards mommy. Feel blessed. Kiss them and ask about their day – they talk in unison. I get the gist. They ask me if I need tea. I do. It’s been a long day.

7:10 pm: Check on homework. Check, approve and disapprove and ask for some of it to be redone. Ignore the

7:15 pm: Mom calls. Can’t talk. Will call her back.

7:20: Dinner time for the kids. No they can’t watch Master Chef while eating.

7:45 pm: Dinner over. Time for race-to-bed-time drills.

8:00 pm: Fight over who will change last.

8:05 pm: Older daughter remembers she needs glue. I tell her we have glue. She tells me we have the other one. Glue is Glue I say. Seems not. And oh we need an A3 sheet as well, in cream (not white)

8:10 pm: Tears, apologies, more tears, and then a dash to the market.

9:00pm: Back home after getting the glue and the sheet. Twins have slept. Race against time to bedtime for older one.

9:30 pm: Announce the last and final call for bedtime – after this “it ain’t going to be pretty” (it’s a daily thing)

10:00 pm: All three asleep. Day over – all’s quiet.

10:10 pm: Guilt sets in. Go into kids’ room. Kiss them – they look angelic in their sleep. Apologize for yelling. Make promises about being more patient.

10:20 pm: Day over. Too tired to read. Watch Shark Tank with the husband while drinking Chinese Tea and eating dark chocolate. Feel the fatigue draining from my bones. Laugh, talk, indulge in uplifting conjugal banter. It’s the best part of my day.

11:00 pm: Ready for bed. It’s late. No time to read.

11:45 pm: Lights off. Wonder how it got this late? Really need to sleep on time.

11:50 pm: Think about mom, forgot to call her back. Damn. Too late to call now, she must’ve waited. Will do it tomorrow..

12:00 am: Slip into sleep as a million thoughts flood the mind – mobile bill is due, presentation is due by eod tomorrow, have to call the pest control fellow, the upholstery guy.. and yes, haven’t got sis a birthday present yet. Must call her tomorrow too…

And Ma, must call ma in the morning..

Tomorrow is another day.


Filed under home

Ok, so the angst is back. And this time, it’s brought Shelly and Frost..

Does it ever go away? I mean completely go away – as in, never to return, go away? I think not. It’s a bit like psoriasis, you can suppress it, but it will eventually come back, if only to go away again.

And, this is the angsty age anyway – by age, I mean both my age (40, sigh) and the age we live in (Kalyug, or the age of downfall, as it’s called in Hinduism). So the combination is pretty crappy. I know this is a bit of a pessimistic take on a pretty perfect life, but that’s the way I am feeling right now.

Why? Not sure. I have all the makings of a great life – three wonderful kids, a nice, big house (nightmare to maintain), a loving husband (trapped in the wheel of life, would ideally like to quit work but that’s unimaginable with three kids in junior school), supportive parents (old, frail and alone), caring siblings (sister has been menopausal pretty much for the past ten years), an affluent lifestyle (thank God, no really)..You know, all the ingredients that one needs to be happy.

And yet, I have the angst. Does this prove, then, that human beings can never be truly happy? As Shelley writes  in ‘To A Skylark’ (Gosh I still remember this, bless you Miss. Mehta, my English teacher in the year of the Lord – 1988):

We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

Good Lord, I am quoting Shelly. I think I need help. That, or maybe I need to get out of the house and do something that does not involve sorting fights about who snatched whose pen first, or being told that life was not fair, or calling the plumber to fix a pipe, then calling him back four hours later. Maybe I need to be talking to adults during the day for a change, and adults who are not the help or, worse, my mother-in-law, whose perennial problem is trying to work her iPad. Yes, I now have the itch to get out of the house. And I can’t.

To be honest, I’ve always had that itch (take it from me, every women who gives up work does) but now it’s becoming unbearable. You know you’ve been home too long when you tell your seven year old about the sacrifices you’ve made for her and expect her to understand the magnitude of your decision. Worse, I now say this to my three and a half year old twins. Of course, to them I say it more like a threat – “mama will go to office if you don’t let her work”. Again, I expect their little minds (quite capable, might I add, of impressive analytical reasoning when convenient) to take me seriously and leave me and my computer, and my iPad, alone.

Do I succeed? Do I really need to answer that?

So, the angst grows. Husband has his own angst, so I don’t dump mine on him. Also, mine sometimes involves gripes about his mother (we live together) and that’s never a great topic, to put it mildly. To be fair to him, he does not talk to her much either, he’s got quite the male, if I shut my eyes it will go away, attitude towards his mother and my relationship. Well, it does not go away and every so often blows up in his face, leading to more angst all around.

Anyway, coming back to the current anxiety in question, I am not sure why it’s bonked me on the head without warning. No, it’s not PMS. Well, unless, unless, PMS now takes over half the month? Hmm, possible; forties have lots of surprises and I have been craving chocolate lately..

But, the reason this has caught me by surprise is that I would’ve thought that now my restlessness would wane a bit – twins are in school, I’ve started to work from home a little (though that’s hard to do with the motley group around me) and we even had that splendid, splendid holiday (just husband and I) which I actually described as honey-mooney (blush, blush). So, then? Why all this fretfulness about what if I’d taken up that job?

Not sure I want to answer that. Somewhere deep down, I may know why, but I’d rather let that lie where it is. Tugging it out will bring up other stuff and before we know it, I’ll be quoting Frost.

Well, what the hell. Here it is:

‘The Road Not taken’

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.


Filed under mommyrage