Before I became a mother, I was always a little scared of handling children. I never had kids around me as I was growing up, so I was never very comfortable with them. I didn’t know what to do with them, how to be with them, what to say to them. I usually couldn’t understand what they were trying to say, and that made me feel foolish.
I didn’t see this as an obstacle to raising kids, though. I always thought that having kids would help me get over this. I thought it would help me get to know and understand these strange creatures. And it has, to some extent.
I do feel more comfortable holding babies and interacting with small children now. I know now that what very small kids say is indecipherable to all except – at best – their parents. I know also, that if small kids are being shy or wary of you as a stranger, the best thing you can do is to leave them alone and eventually, maybe, they will come to you. I’m beginning to understand how to be natural with kids – other people’s kids, I mean; I’m quite easy with my own already – not forced and artificial as I used to be.
I also no longer feel (now that I have two of my own) that I have to prove anything with regard to handling kids, so if I don’t feel like being sociable with a kid, or if a kid is being reserved with me, I don’t make a big deal of interacting with him/her. Earlier, I used to feel it was incumbent on me to make some womanly effort, especially when I could see Amit immediately taking to the kids and playing and talking and so on. Now, I just keep myself busy with my own kids, and with the other adults around, and if the child interaction happens, well and good, and if not, well, that’s ok too.
I’m still not a terribly “fond” person when it comes to other people’s kids. I don’t gush and slobber over them – I still don’t know how to. But whatever interactions I do have, or whatever interest I do express, is more genuine than it ever was before. This might not be apparent to other people, but I know it.
The funny thing is that I often see other people behaving with my kids in a quite strange way. When we visited lots of family and friends during our recent trip up north, I saw one cousin (must be 15-odd years older than me) behave very, very naturally with the twins. She sat down on the floor with some of their toys around her, and they soon came up to her and started playing with her. That was so nice to see. That’s exactly what I never knew how to do, and know a little bit better now. And to think that she never had kids of her own.
Other people, all too often, don’t read the kids correctly, or are not even interested in reading the kids – even people who, albeit decades earlier, have raised kids of their own. Some are only interested in holding the kids, without considering what the kids want. These girls are now almost two years old, and though in general they love to be held, they do now have a mind of their own, and sometimes, being held in the lap is not what they want right at that time. Sometimes they want mama, sometimes they want food, sometimes they want to romp and play or read a book, sometimes they want to go to bed. There are other ways of interacting with kids their age, not just holding them in your arms and ignoring their wishes. But it’s surprising how often people don’t see this.
Some people also think that kids can be very easily moulded to suit one’s convenience. People suggest feeding, dressing, putting to sleep, or waking up kids in a shockingly cavalier manner, depending on the adult plan. For instance, on the Sunday when they were very sick in Delhi, all normal schedules for sleep and food were off. I was letting them sleep as much as they wanted, whenever they wanted, and trying to get them to eat/drink a little whenever they were awake. That was the Sunday that Amit’s father had invited some close family and friends for lunch. 20-odd people were expected.
By 11.30, only Amit’s brother’s wife and daughter had arrived, and the kids were already sleepy again. I could see that they would sleep at any moment, and decided to give them an early lunch, so that they could have a long, unbroken afternoon nap after that. Amit’s father suggested that I try to make them sleep right away, and wake them up once guests started arriving, so that everyone could meet them. Such suggestions always horrify me – what, discomfit my kids, my severely ill kids, just so that people they don’t know and don’t care about (just then) can get to coochie-coo over them for a few minutes? No way. If they had been well, they’d have been awake till 1.00 p.m. anyway, and probably a bit longer if there were enough people around. But when they’re sick? I’m not going to make them the slightest bit more miserable than they already are!
People also clearly have very different ideas of how to love children. The contrast is very apparent when I compare people of Amit’s immediate and extended family and people of my immediate family. My family tends to be quite as hands-off as I am. They don’t rush to pick up the kids, they don’t indulge them with sweets and tasty tid-bits, and they make haste to reprimand them or prevent them from getting their hands on stuff they shouldn’t. Amit’s dad is quite the opposite. He loves to keep them in his lap, feed them biscuits and other junk (even to the extent of making them seriously constipated!), and won’t rebuke them for a single thing, even if they are wrecking his house, tearing (shredding) his books and papers, ripping apart his cassettes, and flinging around framed photographs and cellphones.
You’d think that kids would adore Amit’s dad, and be a little wary of my parents. Surprise, surprise. They were ok with Amit’s dad, went to him when he called, fetched and carried as he ordered… but they really took to my parents. They took to them in a way that completely surprised Amit and me. Especially Mrini, the more reserved of the two. They repeatedly went running to my parents, especially my mother, took her by the hand, walked off with her without waiting for Amit and me, spent maybe 20 minutes or half an hour with my parents when Amit and I weren’t even there. This, voluntarily. I mean, we didn’t leave them with my parents and go away – they went with my parents while Amit and I stayed where we were (in the resort in Kasauli). And if we were all together, Mrini often preferred to hold my mother’s hand than mine! She even preferred to fall asleep in my mother’s lap! It was completely amazing.
So well, you live and learn.
This has been a totally garbled post, I’m well aware, but the bottom line is, kids will surprise you every day. Especially your own kids.