Category Archives: personal

Still the Slowcoach

I was born plump and nothing’s really changed in that department since then. But, because I was plump, and because I was more inclined as a child to bury myself in a book than to busy myself with sports, I was largely terrible at all sorts of games. When the class was told to split up into two teams and captains were chosen and the captains took turns to pick the people they wanted on their teams, I was the last man standing, the one nobody wanted. When you’re ten years old, plump, shy, and wearing glasses, that sucks.

Maybe one of the reasons I never wanted to have a party on my birthday as a child was just that: there would be running games and I would be horribly embarrassed. One year, we did have a party on my birthday. We were in the house in Chandigarh, the big house with the big garden described in this old post. I have photographs of that party, and I’m wearing a thick new jacket my parents had gifted me, which I loved. We played Pass the Parcel, which was ok because you didn’t have to run. Then we played Catch, followed by Vish-Amrit. That was such an ordeal that I can still recall it distinctly.

I don’t know whether I couldn’t run because I was plump, or whether it was more complicated than that. Maybe, just maybe, I couldn’t run because I thought I was fat and everybody laughed at me because I couldn’t run. Maybe it would have been different if I hadn’t thought I was fat (even though I was). But kids – even eight-nine year old kids – are complicated and so for some simple and complicated reasons, I couldn’t run.

When I say I “couldn’t” run, I mean, I tried, of course. My legs moved as fast as they could, but the rest of my body didn’t get anywhere. Sometimes we played the version of catch where the den hopped one-legged, while everyone else ran around on both legs. This was the most humiliating thing ever, because the one-legged den would catch me without even making the slightest effort; and then it would be my turn to be den and everyone would get bored waiting for me to catch someone. Sometimes, they took pity on me and just let me give up. Sometimes they let me chase on both legs – but even then, someone would have to get bored and let themselves be caught or I’d just never catch anyone. The girls who were really fast even on one leg would scorn catching me altogether, and would take pride in going after the faster kids. It was horrible.

So of course I didn’t want to be subject to this humiliation, especially not on my birthday!

The only sport I was ever any good at in school was throwball, which didn’t involve any running. But that only lasted as long as I remained one of the taller girls in class. When everyone else overtook me in height, suddenly I wasn’t so popular on the throwball team anymore. But by then I’d found my niche, something I really was good at and which even most of the brainy boys looked up to me (and resented me) for: Maths.

The most excruciating years for being plump and slow, then, were from about 8 till about 15. By then, I managed to lose some of the puppy fat (though, in recent years, it has come bouncing back) and in school the emphasis shifted from being fast to being “fast”. And “fast” was something I discovered even I could be, glasses notwithstanding. So it mattered less and less how terrible I was at sports.

The “plump-and-lazy” gene I was born with has never gone into remission. Though I’ve enjoyed playing tennis the past five years, and before that have periodically enjoyed long, brisk walks, trekking, swimming, and badminton, I still consider myself essentially a plump-and-lazy person. But it has never bothered me… till now.

The twins have recently started talking about “running race”, which, apparently, is all they do in daycare. They’ve also started doing “fighting”. I don’t know if they specifically mentioned “catch” or whether the idea floated up on its own, but one evening Amit set both of them to work catching him. He is of course an alpha athlete and even dodging around furniture and electronics in the small, cluttered living room, the girls hadn’t a prayer of catching him, not even two-against-one. I tried teaching them strategy by getting Mrini to turn in her tracks at crucial moments, instead of both of them running around in circles behind him, but even so, he was much too fast and agile for them.

“Your turn,” said Amit, grinning at me.

Well, when he did it, it looked easy, so I agreed. I didn’t last thirty seconds! I tried again and again, and though I did get a little better at it, I still didn’t last beyond a minute or two. After a bit, Mrini took pity on me and retired from the game, leaving Tara and me one-on-one. By this time, Tara was really good at it. I stood behind one chair and she stood in front of it, bouncing from side to side like a Kabbadi player. She swung her arms and jiggled her body for comic effect, so that I almost died laughing, but she bounced in a professional manner all the same, pinning me to my corner behind the chair. Every time I made a run for it, she caught me right away. I was so proud of both of them – they would never have to struggle the way I did when kids around them wanted to play running games.

It was hysterically good fun and by the end of half an hour, we were all tired and sweaty. But though I laughed and enjoyed just as much as everyone else did, a slight tinge of that old sense of humiliation came back to haunt me. I could hardly believe it – despite the trekking, the tennis, the numerous futile attempts at dieting, was I, at 36, so plump-and-lazy that even a four-year-old girl could catch me in thirty seconds? What was even worse was the next thought: So many years, and nothing’s changed. I still can’t run and I’m still ashamed of it.

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With Holes Like a Sieve, Only Bigger

That’s what my memory is like.

See, there are simple things, like putting rice on the stove. I’m guaranteed to forget that it’s there, so it inevitably burns. Sometimes it doesn’t though – that’s when I’ve forgotten to actually turn on the stove.

There are halfway amusing things, like telling someone I like their shirt only to have them tell me that I’ve complimented them on it on at least three separate occasions in the past.

There are embarrassing things, like forgetting ALL DAY LONG that it’s a colleague’s birthday even when she has expressly told you just the day before that it’s her birthday tomorrow.

There are crucial things, like forgetting to pick up a cheque that was delivered to your office while you were out of town. A cheque with a lot of zeroes on it. And forgetting to pay a phone bill, resulting in our phone connection being cut! (Thank god for cellphones. Also, thank god it wasn’t our electricity bill!)

There are things that get me into big time trouble. Like, we engaged a new car-cleaning chappie (CCC for short). After a few days, it emerged that this CCC manually opens the wing mirrors of the cars to clean them. Amit’s car, Honda Civic, has a power button for opening and closing the wing mirrors and Amit doesn’t want anyone messing with it. So when the CCC rang the bell one morning, he sternly told me to instruct the chappie not to open or close the wing mirrors on his car. To do so, I had to open one door, run down a flight of stairs, open another door and the open a grille gate. I also had to remember to take the garage key with me on my flight downstairs, and to take the key to open the padlock on the grille gate. Obviously, after doing all these things, expecting me to pass on a message I had received a full 120 seconds earlier is just expecting way too much of me.

Did I get into trouble for that!

So obviously, I’m not a textbook mom. I’ve already blogged about the time I forgot to send the girls’ mid-morning snack with them when they went to school. And another time fairly recently, I forgot to drop their lunch bag at daycare, so the poor things were waiting hungrily till well past lunchtime, when the daycare staff realized they ought to call me and remind me.

And just yesterday. This one was bad! We went malling, something we very rarely do, especially now that Forum is so far away. We had to buy ten books for the girls’ birthday and birthday clothes, in addition to the usual grocery shopping that we usually do in small neighbourhood shops. Naturally, this plan would have to include lunch. Everything went well and we got the books, the clothes, the lunch, and even worked in a short coffee break. The last stop was groceries. While this happened, I had to take both girls to the toilet. I loved this mall because they have a separate parent-with-child toilet. It’s spacious and has two toilets side-by-side, perfect for me with the twins. I imagine fathers with daughters can use it, though the line drawing on the door indicates mother-with-son. Anyway, once we were done with all that, we went back to the grocery shop, where Amit was just about done with billing, and we took our stuff and left. We drove home – a long-ish drive – and got back in time for the cook, who was to come at 4 (but eventually turned up at 5).

Now what was the problem?

Oh, yeah, now I remember. The girls’ new clothes for their birthday? We checked them in at the grocery shop and never took them back when we left! And that’s five thousand rupees worth of girls’ clothes – three fancy outfits apiece!

Since we don’t go malling often, we don’t have much stamina for it. The prospect of driving all the way back to the mall to recover the girls’ birthday outfits was absolutely draining. Luckily, S&S were not too far away from there and were heading over to our place anyway, so we asked them to pick up the parcel for us. But just think – 5K worth of shopping and you leave it at the grocery store! Do you know of any sieve with holes that big???

After that, you can expect anything of me, memory-wise. So what happened today is not that dramatic after all. I got up before 6 as usual, dressed, got the kids up and dressed, got all of us fed and combed and teeth-brushed and ready to leave. Amit had taken the lunch bag, so I only had to think of snack boxes and water bottles. Got to school with everything in place only to find that… well, it’s a holiday, of course! It’s Onam – I even read an article about it in the papers while I was gulping my coffee. It should be no surprise that it’s a holiday. As late as Friday afternoon, I had an sms exchange with daycare, informing them the kids would be dropped there at 9 a.m. on Monday. And here I was, on Monday morning, at 8 a.m., wondering why on earth school was so deserted.

I’m feeling especially foolish because I did the exact same thing last year. On the same day. I even blogged about it. Sigh. I hope it’s a different story next year.

Sup33 blames it on pregnancy amnesia when she opens the fridge and finds herself wondering what she was looking for. I’m much worse – and I don’t even have that excuse!

Leave Education to the Schools

It’s all very well when you don’t have kids and you think: “Oh, when I have kids, I’ll teach them this and I’ll show them that, and I’ll share the other with them, and I’ll always do this and (especially) I’ll never do that,” and so on.

When the kids are there growing up in front of your eyes, you really have to pin down and put in words practically your entire belief system – and that’s not so easy.

One thing I’ve realized I do believe – if for no other reason than out of sheer laziness – is that it’s best to leave teaching to the schools. I’m a lousy teacher anyway. They, hopefully, know what they’re doing.

My mother was probably a good teacher. At least, I hope she was, because she taught tiny tots in school for a while. She likes to talk about her unconventional – for that time – approach to teaching. I remember her sitting with me while I painstakingly learnt to read. As one of the most impatient people I have ever known, the thing that stands out most is her patience while I struggled to piece the words together. (According to her, I was mildly dyslexic.) The other thing that stands out now, in retrospect, is that she didn’t try to teach me to read; she just sat there and let me learn it on my own.

Once I’d mastered reading, I don’t remember my mother ever working with me on any school-related task – from homework through projects, and, later on, even to issues with teachers or other students. She never glanced at my homework to see whether I had done it or even to know what it was that I had to do. She never tutored me for tests and exams and she never questioned me on the outcome. She never even told me to go study. But somehow I knew that I must do the work I was given to do, in the time I was given to do it, and I must do it myself, without help from parents, sister, or classmates. I knew that if I had questions, I should ask the teachers and no-one else (and from that I eventually learned that most teachers didn’t like to be questioned and often, especially in higher classes, didn’t actually have the answers.) I learned to be disciplined and conscientious and independent, qualities I now – strangely enough – value highly.

But how did this approach help me? Did it help me excel in school, or in life? Not really.

In school, I was a good student. I was not great; I was never top of the class; I was not even good enough to get a seat in an engineering college – or at least, the only engineering college I did get into was the one my parents didn’t want to send me to (Thapar, in Patiala); and I wound up doing English Honours (which was probably really the best choice for me anyway)… So I was not a great student, but whatever I did, I did well enough.

But is “well enough” good enough? Is, for instance, English Honours good enough?

Now the question is, of course, what do you want for your children. For some people, it might be a difficult question to answer. They might be torn between “doctor” “engineer” and (hopefully) “artist” (either creative or performing). For me, the answer is none of those. I don’t care whether they become doctors or engineers; writers or violinists; Wimbledon finalists or movie stars. I don’t care whether they ever achieve greatness in any field or not. I don’t care whether they have a job and a career or they are destined to penury as struggling artists or activists. I don’t even, really, care whether they make themselves rich or not. What I want for them is something more difficult to define. I want them to be balanced, determined, confident, secure, and independent people. I want them to have the foundations for strength, peace, and contentment. I want them to have integrity, at every level. I want them to be able to take on the world without blinking.

I want them to be people I can look up to in respect, even in awe – not for what they might achieve, but simply for who they are.

How am I going to help make them that way? I have no idea – but certainly not by helping them to learn whatever their school wants them to learn. Not by holding their hands to teach them to write. Not by pinning them to a study table while they struggle with numbers and letters. Not by pushing them to learn faster or better than others in their class or school or neighborhood. But maybe, just maybe, by letting them be whatever they want to be.

When they went on stage a few weeks ago, I was so proud of both of them. Mrini, for obvious reasons – she was unfazed by the lights, the sound, the audience, the strangeness of everything, and she stood in her place and did her part and enjoyed it. She can hardly wait to get back on stage. (I probably should get her into a music and/or dance class soon – she so loves to sing!) She had courage and elan. But Tara – Tara was bewildered by the set-up. The too-loud music troubled her. So she covered both her ears with her hands and just stood there, looking bemused. She didn’t cry. She didn’t run away. She didn’t even look scared; just puzzled. She stood her ground and did what felt right to her and she was not in the least bit embarrassed or upset by her performance. That takes a kind of courage and confidence too.

Academic performance, good or bad, is not going to turn them into the people I want them to be. Excellence at academics will of course give them confidence, but that is a confidence limited to only that sphere, and based on only that success. I want them to have the confidence to go against the flow, to not excel if they choose not to. To take their own time and do their own thing.

And that’s why I’m so happy with the Montessori system and with their school in particular. They let children learn at their own pace, and they have confidence in kids’ ability to learn (as much as in their own ability to teach). At the end of last year, their teacher said, “Well, they should know the number symbols from zero to nine by now, but they haven’t completely got it yet. You can work with them on it over the summer holidays if you want to. Otherwise don’t worry, we’ll do it when school resumes in June.”

That, exactly, is what I want to hear. I want to know where they stand, what they need to work on, and I want to know that there is absolutely no need for me to “work” on it with them. I did talk and play with numbers a bit with them during the holidays, but I didn’t “work” on it. And they seem to have got it now anyway. Ok, they are a couple of months late. Should I be worried? I don’t think so.

I have little enough time with my girls as it is. What time I do have, I want to spend enjoying them. I want to watch them play, and talk to them and engage them in all the things they don’t learn in school – making cake, listening to music (as opposed to nursery rhymes), watching (and playing) tennis, telling stories… And in all of this, if I can somehow impart to them some bits of my desired philosophy, my preferred outlook on life, so much the better.

I know what you’re thinking: it’s all very well to say this now, when they are not yet four years old and they don’t have tests and exams to pass. Can I stand by this when they are 8, 10, 14 years old and studies become more challenging and the rat race becomes more competitive? I don’t know – but I intend to try. And if their school means to continue along the path it has started out on, I imagine I might have some chance of success.

So here’s my plan: as school continues and they learn to read and write and then go on to arithemtic, geography, history and all that other stuff, I’m not going to be studying with them. I won’t “go over” what they’ve learnt in school each day or each week. I won’t be checking that they’ve done their homework or studied for a test. And I’m not going to stop them if they want to spend their time playing games instead of working. I spent the day before my Xth Standard English Board exam reading Tolkein (which was, sadly, not part of the curriculum) and my parents weren’t in the least bit perturbed by that. They trusted that I’d done my work for the exam – and I want to pass on that trust to my daughters, starting, oh say, a year or so ago. If they don’t do well academically, that’s ok – in the long run, they will learn that they are responsible for their own lives and that is a lesson well worth learning.

Some day, in their own way, they will take on the world. And I’ll watch from the audience and say with pride, “that’s my girl!”

For me, that’s good enough.

Wonderful Weekend

Since Amit left for a whirlwind trip to Calcutta on Saturday morning, it meant no tennis for me. It’s hard to see this as a good thing, but it did mean that I was done with our breakfast by 8 a.m. The kids ran off to get themselves dressed, while I had a leisurely cup of coffee. Around 9 a.m., all three of us trooped downstairs to clean my car. This should ideally be a weekly ritual, since we haven’t found someone to do the work for us here, but so far I’ve only done it once before. That was last weekend, so my car wasn’t too terribly dirty this weekend. The kids helped me with it, then went off to play while I finished it off. By 10 a.m. I was bathed and ready to start making a cake. Why? Just because. The girls, of course, “helped” me mix it, and by 11.30 it was done. Meanwhile, L had come and done her act, so the house was clean, dishes washed, and laundry sorted. Time to go out.

Out was only grocery shopping. Managing the girls in the shop was the usual chaos, but we got it done without too much bloodshed and tears. By 12.45 or so we were home and the girls went off to play together – without fighting! – while I got some cooking done. Lunch was a beautiful affair – I guess the kids were hungry, so they ate without any fuss and with some good conversation to boot. It might have helped that they’d been promised chocolate cake if they ate “properly”. By 2, I packed them off to bed. Of course they were chattering and playing together, so around 2.30 I put them in separate rooms and they promptly fell asleep. I used the afternoon hours to catch up on my least-hated chore: ironing. (I almost enjoy doing it. Weird, isn’t it?)

In the evening, we walked out and bought some fruit, then we went to the park behind our house where the girls played in the sandpit while I chatted on the phone. Got home, they guzzled their milk and gobbled some grapes, then S&S came and we were all busy socialising till bedtime (9 p.m. for the kids, 1 a.m. for me!) The best part was that I was even well prepared for the evening – I had some crunchies, soft drinks, beer, cake and ice cream. All you could want, apart from the dinner, which was ordered in as usual and came terribly late, as usual. But at least they got the order straight!

Then on Sunday I finally undertook a very brave task, considering I was pitted one against two – I took out all the kids’ toys and ordered them to select the ones they would agree to throwing away (or giving away, since nothing is ever thrown away over here). At first they wanted to keep everything – of course – but I told them that if they didn’t get rid of at least five toys, they wouldn’t get two new ones. Luckily their math isn’t too good right now, so they didn’t argue that they should discard two old toys and get five new ones! Of course they wanted to play with everything I pulled out, even if it has not held any interest for them for the last eighteen months (yes, we still have many of those!)… but I got things under control, again without significant loss of blood or tears.

I’d wanted to leave home by 10 a.m. so we could hit the shop by 11, but we ended up leaving at 10.45 – a pretty standard delay if you’re leaving home with two kids on a Sunday morning and highly laudable, I think, if preceded by a toy-sorting-out exercise. I parked in Central, which, to my horror, cost 50 bucks! So then I had to shop there, to redeem the parking cost. Luckily I found Snakes and Ladders, which might do for the kids right now, though their counting isn’t quite what it should be (typically, it’s one, three, four, five, fourteen, lifteen, seventeen, twenty-one… ending in much giggling), and which gave me back the fifty bucks I’d spent on parking. Then we walked to (or rather, I dragged them to) Crossword, fielding about three hundred and seventeen questions of “where is it” on the way. First things first – a spinach and corn sandwich at Cafe Coffee Day, while Mrini sat like a young girl of 8 years of age at the table, waiting for her meal, and Tara squirmed around like a child of three. She did me proud, however, by throwing her paper plate, ketchup packet, and paper napkin in the dustbin, and some very deft handiwork was called for to prevent her from tossing Mrini’s china plate in the dustbin as well.

We went straight upstairs to the kids’ section. Me and the girls were equally delighted to discover that Crossword very thoughtfully provides a table for kids to sit and play at while parents shop. I have to say that finding games and activities for three-to-four-year-olds is really difficult! For the younger kids, there’s lots of stuff; and for 6+ and upwards, there are a whole lot of board games of various kinds; but for three and four years old, it’s mostly a range of jigsaw puzzles. The problem, of course, is that these kids can’t read – and mine can hardly even count – but they’ve already outgrown the building blocks and picture books and are rapidly outgrowing play dough too. Right now, practically the only thing that keeps them busy is drawing books. Given, of course, that you don’t want to buy any of the of battery-operated toys and that you don’t want them sitting in front of TV or the computer either.

I ended up buying them a sort of miniature basketball hoop – really, really miniature, about as high as my forearm I think. Then we all headed home, without a single meltdown and without even needing to visit the restroom once!

On Sunday evening Christina came and we spent a long time chatting, first with a million interruptions from the kids, then, after they went to bed, with interruptions only for bites of pizza. These evenings are always good for my soul.

Monday was the usual Monday mania. And then came Tuesday… an interrupted extension of the wonderful weekend, since it was a holiday. Amit was back and we took the kids to Monkey Maze. They had lots of fun, and we spent an hour just chatting, relaxing, and watching them from a safe distance. Then we went to Sue’s Food Place (what a name!) for lunch. The food was good, though we were all a little hungry at the end due to “Sue”s suggestion that the kids didn’t need a meal to themselves and could manage by sharing from us. Sue doesn’t know our kids too well – they ate all the chicken and all the garlic bread and we got the gravy and some greasy roti.

Our next stop was FabIndia, where we spent a cool 4k on clothes for all of us. Then, we drove around in the hot sun for a bit looking for the way to what looks – from a distance – like a very pretty little lake on our way home. It turned out, inevitably and disappointingly enough, to be a dirty little lake with the surroundings treated like a massive garbage dump and the shady areas used for shady dealings. But at least we found it.

Tuesday evening I took the kids to the park behind our house. In a tiny corner of the park, four swings and a zig-zag slide have been put up just a day or two ago. The kids were dying to try it out, but the area was so crowded and there was such a mad scramble between kids lining up for the slide that I looked safer to avoid the place. I took them to the “sand pit” instead. It is a large, squarish depression in the green grassy park that looks as though it might have been intended as some sort of dump. The ground is uneven – to put it mildly – and it has some coarse-grained “sand” (more like dirt) mixed with an equal proportion of pebbles and other bits of dirt. Since kids in general have a fatal attraction for anything like dirt, there were several kids there already, in spite of the newly-erected swings.

And that brought our interrupted extended weekend to a close. The evening was short and sweet, and then it was back to work again. But for several hours today, the happy feeling of a relaxed and pleasant weekend stayed with me.

Of course, a side-effect of all this shameless pursuit of pleasure was that none of the grocery shopping got done and we are now scrambling to get enough provisions in the house to provide the kids a decent lunch tomorrow. Well, you can never have it all, can you?

This Woman, Here

I was talking to Christina the other day about how I never go for so much as a movie with Amit, because I feel so guilty about “dumping” the kids with someone and going off for a movie.

The rationale is like this. My own mother was a stay-at-home mom. She worked as a teacher for a bit, but then her working hours coincided with our school timings, so that didn’t matter. Whenever we were home, she was home. And pretty soon, she stopped even that, and she never worked outside the house again. So in a sense, my “ideal” of parenting is a stay at home mom.

“Ideal” in quotes – because looking back, I’m not sure this was the best thing for my mother. And looking at myself over the last couple of years since I became a parent, I don’t think it would ever be something I could do for any longer than I already did. So stay-at-home mom is not a real possibility for me, and I’m not sure it is an ideal any more either.

However, it’s not so easy to get rid of norms established in one’s growing up years. Somewhere in the deep dark recesses of my mind is the stubborn conviction that a “good” mother stays at home with her kids <em>and likes it</em>. And from this stubborn conviction is born an unshakable guilt for being a self-serving mom who thinks she must – for the sake of everyone’s peace of mind – pursue a career that takes her away from home and kids for the best part of the day, every working day. Working, far from being a financial necessity or something I do for the sake of the family, is seen by me to be a selfish indulgence, something I do purely for my own self!

Now I’m confused. First, I work because I need to – purely from a personality perspective. I don’t take well to being idle, nor, really, to doing mundane household chores.
Second, I work to earn money.
Third – probably in this order – I work so that I am a role model to my kids, so that they grow up to a working mom and don’t believe that all dads work and all moms stay at home. So that they understand the dignity of work and the value of money.

Is this selfish? Do I need to see this as something I’m doing just for myself and therefore punish myself by never doing anything else for myself, like an occasional fun outing with husband and/or friends?

So yes, I have this nagging guilt and I think I better sort out this guilt and realize that my working is good for all of us in more ways than one and that I should just stop carrying this extra baggage around.

But, in discussing this with Chris – and here’s where friends make all the difference; if I hadn’t spoken about it to anyone, I might never have realized this – in discussing this, I realized, it’s not just about guilt and punishment. It’s also about what I <em>want</em> to do, and even more importantly, about who I want to be.

My sister used to be a school teacher in a school that had a lot of rich kids. What she often spoke about was how these rich kids come from families where nobody really has any time for them. So they throw money at their kids, and then go off and live their lives as though they owe nothing else to their kids. You know the sort – if you haven’t come across them, you’ve at least read of them or seen them on TV.

I don’t want to be that woman. I don’t want to be the mother who ensures her kids are well taken care of while she goes off and lives life as if she’d never had kids. I <em>don’t</em> want the carefree life I had before I had kids. I don’t want to leave my kids to friends, parents, in-laws, daycare, or maids, calling in every so often to check that all is well, while I immerse myself in work, fun, or anything else that keeps me away from home. I don’t want to give them every good thing that money can buy, and deny them the one good thing that money can’t buy.

On the other hand, I can’t be that other woman over there either – the one who cheerfully forgets all she ever was and all she ever did and all she ever wanted and becomes a mother to the end of all else. The one who so immerses herself in her children, her family and her household that after 20 years, there’s nothing left of the person she used to be. The one who ends up bitterly frustrated and resentful, because her children never live up to her expectations because she never realized that her expectations were for them to do all that she never could because she was too busy raising them.

What I want to be is this woman, here, who works, but doesn’t put it at the top of the priority list; who spends her free time with her family and enjoys it; who occasionally takes a couple of hours or a couple of days, or even a whole week or two to do something completely self-indulgent and does it without any sense of guilt. I want to be the one who achieves what is important and doesn’t fret about what isn’t and who makes the most of the evenings and weekends with the family without wishing to do a lot of other stuff that excludes them. Most of all, after all we went through to even get our kids in the first place, I don’t want to be the one who leaves the raising of her kids to other people. I want to be the one to know what’s going on in their lives – who didn’t come to school, who had a birthday, who got a star, who cried – I want to be the one they tell that stuff to. I want to be the one they talk to and learn from and ask questions to and turn to the moment they are upset. I want to be the mother – not all day long, true, but still not anything less than the mother.

Yes, I know – I want to find balance, that’s all.

That’s asking for the whole world on a platter, isn’t it? But then again… if you don’t ask…

Paradise Lost

I suppose this would not be everyone’s definition of Paradise – and in another context, it would not even be my definition of Paradise, but in the context of someone who’s just returned to work after a two-year stint of doing nothing but managing the house…

See, there’s a lot of work in managing a house. Way more than anyone who hasn’t done it can conceive. It’s
even more if it’s the only thing you’re doing. I don’t know why (and I might well have opportunity to reconsider this statement). But one thing we can all agree on is that housework, like gas, expands to fill all the space/time/energy resources available. It expands infinitely. If you clean, it gets dirty again. If you wash, it gets used. If you cook, it gets eaten (and then requires washing). If you shop, it gets consumed. It’s never ending.

So I realized that it was simply impossible for me to keep a handle on all of that in addition to a full-time job. If I tried, I would spend all my awake-at-home hours doing nothing else. And I suspect that the kids (not to mention the other half) would not take kindly to that. But why blame others? I would not myself take kindly to it.

Enter Shaba-Aunty.

Actually, she can’t enter, because she’s been onstage all along, albeit usually not in the spotlight. I’ve already written quite a bit about how indispensable she has become; now that I’ve gone back to work, she’s more indispensable than ever. Like the elves in the shoe-maker story, she comes in when nobody is around, does all the work, and silently goes away leaving the place neat, clean, and fully functional. In addition to just cleaning the house and washing the breakfast dishes and folding nightclothes and bedclothes that have been flung all over the place in the mad rush to evacuate the house before 8 a.m., she also:
• Puts out the laundry
• Picks up the laundry and folds it up neatly in separate stacks
• Mends the kids’ clothes, which frequently have buttons and things falling off, and also often need to be tightened an inch or two; today I even left her a teddy bear who is in serious need of stitches after various operations carried out by the twins on several parts of his anatomy; in fact, he is in imminent danger of losing an arm and a lot of his intestines (stuffing)
• Irons the kids’ clothes
• Buys veggies and bread and milk and suchlike
• Cooks, when required – and does a better job of it than her sister, the cook
• Baby-sits, when required – and I really like the way she interacts with the kids, she is extremely gentle and patient, but can also remonstrate gently

Yesterday she earned herself some serious brownie points by taking the initiative of buying, apart from those items I’d requested, a bottle of some floor-cleaning potion and scrubbing the dining room floor with it. I really appreciate people who take initiative.

Without her, I really don’t know how I’d keep the household running from day to day, now that it is no longer my primary occupation.

So, in this context, Shaba-Aunty is Paradise. Now comes Part II – Lost.

Despite our best efforts at placing our two jobs and the kids’ daycare all in a 10-minute driving-radius, and despite leaving office really early (5 p.m. is really early in Bangalore; I know people who come in to office at that hour!), we still have to endure a one-and-a-half hour commute from office to home each day. Times four. Actually, for the kids, it is around an hour, sometimes a little more, while for the person picking up the kids it can exceed 90 minutes. We don’t combine our commute – Amit and I drive separate cars to office. It is criminal in a way, considering we go from the same home to the same office complex. But car-pooling wouldn’t work for several reasons. First, we alternate tennis days, so we have different schedules in the morning. Aldo, we can’t always be sure that we can leave office at the same time in the evening.

And, even if we could co-ordinate all that, for both of us to be in the car that drops the kids to school in the morning and again for both of us to be there to pick them up from daycare in the evening is sheer luxury, complete self-indulgence. The person who’s not driving would be better employed doing one of a million other things that need to be done; or even just enjoying half-an-hour of quiet time at home. True there’s much to be said for the environmental benefits of car-pooling, and even more to be said for the social benefits of quality family time spent strapped into your car enduring endless traffic jams together… but it’s clearly not the best solution for us.

Yet the one-and-a-half hour commute, which Amit has been enduring silently for the past two years, suddenly seems too much now that all four of us have to go through it every day. It’s especially hard on the kids, being forced to sit still in the car for one whole hour just when they’ve just woken up from their afternoon nap and are itching to run around and play. They get cranky, and we feel bad for them.

Clearly, the only thing to do is to move to a place closer to our workplace and daycare. So we’ve been looking around for a place to rent and seem to have found something. All going well, we will be moving in January.

Which means… no more Shaba-Aunty.

Of course, we will get someone to cook and someone to clean… but someone like Shaba-Aunty doesn’t come along every day. It could take years to find someone like that and to give them that level of responsibility. So, while we might cut our commute time in half (hopefully), I’m probably going to end up with double my current load of housework. This equation only makes sense when you realize that getting home half an hour earlier in the evening means the kids get half an hour to go to the park and play. Right now, we get home just as it gets dark and the mosquitoes come out in the hundreds, so that’s all but ruled out, which is really a pity. So if they can get some park time and make some friends in the new neighbourhood, then it’s all worthwhile.

Still, it’s going to be hard for me to manage without my Shaba-Aunty. And the kids are going to miss her and her crying baby too. And, of course, though it’s not exactly Paradise, we’ll all miss the comfort and familiarity of a crowded and friendly neighbourhood where all the conveniences are just a short walk away. And we’ll miss our friends. And our favourite home-order eateries. You have to wonder whether it really is worthwhile for the sake of a shorter commute, but it looks like we’ve decided to take the plunge and we will find out the answer to that one soon enough.

On Missing The Bus

Kids really are amazing.

In a conversation some days ago, sup33 mentioned what her daughter’s to-be school principal had said: kids are much more hardy than parents think they are. They have more stamina, more energy, and are more adaptive than we give them credit for. My own kids have proved this to me many times already, yet they still surprise me.

When I was much younger – not a child exactly, but just growing up – I was scared of being left at school. This actually happened once, when one of my parents turned up a little late to pick me up – I must have been 6 or 8, or possibly even 9 years old. But much later, even up to the age of 16 or so, I used to have anxious dreams of being left at school. In those days, I went home by school bus, and I had a constant, though mild, paranoia of missing the bus. My recurring dream on this theme lacked the intensity of a nightmare, but it was definitely a worrying and anxiety-laden dream, and one that persisted for a while even after school itself – or at least the school bus part of school – had come to an end.

We started the twins on the school van ten days ago, just before we left for Pondicherry. I went with them for two days, and left instructions with their teacher, the van driver, and the daycare attendant that from the following day, they would come on their own, unattended.

Then, the weekend intervened.

And we went to Pondicherry.

And by the time we returned and sent the kids to school on Wednesday, something got lost in transit between the school teacher and the van driver and the kids didn’t get on to the bus (or in to the van, in this case).

It was my last day of unemployment, and I had spent the morning getting their lunch ready. I drove to their daycare with the intention of greeting them as they got off the van, to ensure that they reached safely and were not unduly worried about the commute, and also, at the same time, delivering their lunch. I had just about reached the place with a few minutes to spare, when Amit called.

“Where are you?”
“I’m almost there, at their daycare,” I said.
“Ok. You have to go to their school right away.”
Naturally, thoughts of illness, accidents, and other possible calamities flooded into my mind.
“The van didn’t pick them up.”

First I called the van driver. He was unperturbed. He had thought they were starting from tomorrow. In any case, he was already quite far from school and couldn’t possibly go back to pick them up. So I called daycare, updated them, called Amit back, updated him, and set off on the long drive to their school.

I was tense – were they very upset? Were they scared? Lonely? Crying?

I knew that their teachers would not leave them, that they would keep them engaged and do their best to allay their fears, but… Just a few weeks ago, Mrini had been in tears fearing I wasn’t coming to fetch her, and I wasn’t even late that day. And just this morning, Tara had said “don’t go,” and clung to me tearfully, while her teacher tugged her away and assured her that mama would come early today to pick them up. And I hadn’t turned up! What trauma they would be experiencing!

So I drove blindly, stupidly, preoccupied with these thoughts. Narrowly escaping various catastrophes, I reached school at 12.45 to find… two perfectly happy, laughing, playing, children who greeted me with “hey, what happened to the van?” (or words to that effect). Not a word of complaint or a single teardrop in sight.

Huh. So much for all that worrying. Why on earth did I think that my childhood fears, which I had forgotten all about until now, would be their fears? They were in a familiar environment, they had their teachers, their work, their friends. One of the things with Montessori is that older kids – up to 5+ – are in the same class as younger kids (3+). The older kids get to stay back for an extra hour or so, so by the time I reached, the seniors still hadn’t gone home.

And then, of course, there are the two of them. Although that more than doubles their naughtiness and all the mischief they can get up to, it also means that each of them is very rarely totally alone.

I greeted them unconcernedly, as though my turning up was just a special bonus for the day, and we drove to daycare, and they were somewhat late for lunch but none the worse for it – despite the fact that they’d returned from a hectic trip out of town and had an extremely interrupted sleep last night. They both slept in the afternoon (thank goodness!) and were in top form that evening.

One good thing that came out of this entire experience was that something that would doubtless have worried me – the prospect of the twins missing the bus – happened even before it had occurred to me to be worried about it. And once the worst has happened and has been handled, it loses its fear factor. I know now that if they ever miss the bus in future, their teachers will call us, and either of us, wherever we are and whatever we’re doing then, will drop everything and rush to pick them up. And until we get there, they will be in their school, with their teachers and friends, and they will be fine.

Overall, they are just amazing in how adaptable they are. They’ve just been two weeks in daycare, and that’s been interrupted by a change in daycare, and a trip out of town; but they’ve settled down with a minimum of fuss and are absolutely cheerful and positive about the whole thing. Tara had taken to fussing a bit when we dropped her off at school in the morning, but today she told me with great determination that she was going to go “quickly” into class, and she did – she waved to me and went off smiling!

I still have twinges of guilt at how much time I’m going to be spending away from them… but it’s worse when they make it so easy for you.