Monday, September 25, 2006

To share or not to share?

Sharing was one of the first values I remember learning as a child. It was just not acceptable for me to be possessive about my toys and not let other kids play with them. I remember there was even this rule for my birthday party – I was allowed to participate in the party games but if I won, I would not be allowed to keep the prize and it would go the kid who came in second. My mother’s logic was pretty simple – since it was my birthday and I was already getting a lot of gifts, it was only fair that I didn’t get the prizes as well. I used to really hate it – after all, what’s the point of winning if you’re not going to get rewarded for it??

Now that I am older and wiser and also a mother myself, it makes a lot more sense and it is clearer to me what my mom was trying to inculcate in me. I hope I can teach Ayaan the value of sharing as well. So, in the park, when kids come and ask me if they can play with Ayaan’s toys, especially the ones he is not playing with, I always let them have them. Right now, Ayaan is too young to be possessive or protest about his mother’s generosity with his toys but I hope he is getting the subliminal message that it is okay for other people to enjoy his toys as well.

I have always felt good about doing this too and the sweet smiles and polite thank-yous make it well worth it. But it has not been all smooth sailing and there have been recent incidents that really irritated the hell out of me:

Yesterday, a bunch of kids asked me if they could play with Ayaan’s ball and sand toys. Since Ayaan had lost interest in them and wanted to run around the park, I readily agreed and told them I would be back to get the toys and if they needed to leave before I got back to the sand pit, they should just leave the toys there anyway. I came back 10 minutes later and guess what – no kids and no toys!

I have been wondering… Those kids were too young to have come to the park themselves so their parents must have been somewhere around and they must have left with them. Does that mean that the parents thought nothing of it when their kids appeared with someone else’s toys and actually condoned the act of taking those toys home with them? And even if I were to give those kids the benefit of doubt and assume that they didn’t take the toys, it still means that someone else (a kid or even worse, an adult) stole Ayaan’s toys while they were lying unattended in the sandpit. Who does that and what have their parents been teaching them??!

A few days ago, I had another bad experience with this boy and his mother. This kid was about 4 years old and was really rude and obnoxious. To start with, he came to the park with absolutely no toys of his own. He then zeroed in on Ayaan as a soft target and started grabbing his toys without so much as a please or a thank you. I looked towards his mother in the hope that she would control her offspring but it was not to be. She made a half-hearted attempt by occasionally saying things like, “Don’t take all the baby’s toys. Play with him.” But considering that these words were said in an indulgent and half-laughing tone, they had little effect on the kid, who just shook his head and carried on behaving badly. When I stepped in to at least get back the one spade that Ayaan was playing with, the kid had a complete meltdown and then tried to snatch it back. Finally, I just picked up Ayaan and took him to another part of the park and let this completely misbehaved boy have his way with the toys (which included making a really messy slurry of mud mixed with his drinking water in the bucket). After all, if his own mother won’t discipline him, who am I to try?

My last crib is against mothers who don’t encourage their kids to share. Sometimes, Ayaan will get interested in some other kid’s spade or bucket. Most kids don’t have a problem if he picks up something that they are not playing with at that point of time, and even if they do, they are clearly told by their moms to share. But sometimes there are kids who will have a meltdown if Ayaan comes within a foot of their toys and their moms won’t blink an eyelid. And then last week, there was this mother who snatched up a toy before Ayaan could pick it up even though her daughter hadn’t protested.

I cannot for the life of me understand why parents do this. Are they really that paranoid about the transfer of germs or do they value the cheap, plastic toys more than helping their kids to grow up to be kind and generous people?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Travel Woes

This has been a tough work week. I was out of town on work for two days and had a business dinner on the third. So I have been feeling separation anxiety and guilt pangs like never before. The day I returned from my trip was especially stressful. I had planned it all very well so that I would get back in time to spend at least an hour with Ayaan before his bedtime. But everything that could go wrong did – the flight was delayed by 15 minutes, the check-in baggage took ages to appear, the driver took a wrong turn and there was bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way home from the airport. I got terribly stressed out in the car drive, shouted at the driver and shed a few quiet tears of frustration and guilt. Eventually, I did get home in time to meet Ayaan but for just about 15 minutes…

Though I must admit that travelling does have its upsides:

  • To start with, one can theoretically sleep late in the mornings. Let me clarify this a bit though. Firstly, 'late' in the current context means till 8 a.m. Also, note the strategically added ‘theoretically’ – as I discovered on this trip, my body’s internal clock seems to have decided that no matter what the circumstances or levels of exhaustion, sleep beyond 7 a.m. is just not an option.
  • Since I am travelling and away from home any way, I can indulge in some guilt-free socialising with friends who stay in that city and stay out as late as I like.
  • I can go shopping by mysef and for myself, without the added burden of having to worry about an unwilling, bored husband and a restless toddler. (Ayaan's list of retail mishaps now include breaking a clothes hanger, bursting a bottle of buttermilk, throwing up on the floor and opening a packet of nicely wrapped apples and digging his nails into it!)
  • I can spend quiet evenings without toddler arms wrapped around my legs or grubby toddler fingers poking and pinching me with gay abandon.
  • I can actually walk out of a room without a wail following my departure.

Yet, they don’t make up for:

  • Not being the first person Ayaan sees in the morning and the last one he sees before he sleeps at night.
  • Coming home to an impersonal and empty hotel room with no ecstatic, six-toothed grin to greet my arrival.
  • Hearing about his antics from Jai on the phone and feeling miserable about missing out on them.
  • Seeing other women with their babies during the course of the day and getting a horrible, empty feeling in the pit of my stomach.
  • The guilt accompanied by the never-ending internal debate of “Is this really worth it?” - which really makes its presence felt at times like these.
  • Worry about whether he is missing me and the tinge of sadness that comes with admitting to myself that he is not.

And then I’m back home and life goes on… until the next trip, that is.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Eating my words

Life has been so hectic and before I know it, it’s been two weeks and no post.

It’s a bit strange writing after so long. So far, I’ve always managed to find the time and energy to write about what’s going through my mind in a day or two after it first occurred to me. In the last two weeks, there were many would-be posts floating around in my head, waiting patiently for me to start typing them out. But now that I have actually got down to it, they all seem to have either disappeared or become too dated…

While I haven’t had the time to write, I did manage to keep up with my favourite blogs whenever I got a free moment. And I came across two posts that reminded me of how much my perspective has changed since I became a mother. The thing is that I could imagine having written either of these posts in my pre-Ayaan days and did, in fact, say and think these things pretty often.

The first post that I came across was this one which talks about this animal called an Uber Mom. It got me thinking about whether I am an Uber Mom myself. I sure do meet some of the criteria that have been set down in the post:

  • I regularly inundate my friends’ mailboxes with photographs of Ayaan. To my credit, I have been shaving down this list of lucky people every time, removing people who don’t respond to my mails or those who show little or no interest in the most important person in my life. But what if, like Vijayeta, the ones who respond only do so to be polite and to avoid seeming like misanthropes?
  • While my paranoia does not extend to clothing Ayaan in dye-free white clothes, I do obsessively check for the 100% cotton tags on any clothes that I buy for him. And though I don’t police my maids' deodorant usage, I do check the length of their nails and prefer them not to wear glass bangles around Ayaan.
  • And the Uber Mom’s passionate cries of “Blow a kissie” in the post sound suspiciously like my urgings of “Ayaan, say ta-ta to Auntie”.
  • Lastly, I often try to convince my married but child-free friends to traipse down the motherhood path - though my motivations are not quite noble as trying to convert other people to the wonderful joy that is motherhood. I just need some company and some friends who can actually get how bloody hard this whole thing is.

So have I indeed become an Uber Mom and crossed the line between crazy about my kid to just plain crazy?

The other post that got me thinking was this one. There is actually just one paragraph in this post that got quite a war going in the comments section between parents and non-parents:

Now I don’t know about you but for me the biggest terrorists abroad flights are those babies (from my experience, mostly South Asian) who keep on bawling like air raid-sirens and their ‘couldn’t-care-less’ parents, who seem to think that all of us are supposed to find their little cherub’s screaming as cute and hence obligated to grin and say choo-sweet. These are closely followed by those people who keep on kicking the back of the seat in front of them—just when you are about to doze off.

This post made me think about some the misconceptions that I had before I too had to undergo the horror that is air-travel with an infant:

  1. Bawling babies and their parents have gotten on to the plane for one reason and one reason only and that is to make my life as difficult as possible. I now realize that while this might be a plausible reason in some cases, it is much more likely that they are there because they need to get from Place A to Place B and air travel is the shortest and least traumatic way to get the journey over with. This is of course from the parents’ point of view – fellow passengers in the immediate vicinity of this family are likely to disagree vehemently.
  2. The baby is bawling with the express purpose of pissing me off. With a few plane trips under my belt, I know that this is not the case. Babies usually cry either because they are in pain or just seriously pissed off. Air travel is often hard on their ears and the ear pressure can be pretty much unbearable for them. My doctor suggests feeding Ayaan little bits of sugar every few minutes into takeoff and landing to ensure that he swallows and relieves the pressure. This usually works for us. What we find harder to deal with is the pissed-off part. The basic design of toddlers makes them prone to crawl, walk and run around during every waking moment. Any situation that restricts their activity (being held hostage in a cramped airline seat being one of them) is likely to really get their goat and then they won’t let a small thing like 100 other innocent bystanders get in the way of creating a ruckus, notwithstanding desperate efforts of parents to avoid said ruckus.
  3. These children are badly behaved because there parents haven’t made the requisite efforts to get them to shut up. Motherhood in general and air travel in particular has made me realize one thing for sure. There is no neat, mathematical equation that explains the input-output relationship as far as a child is concerned. On one occasion, the child might behave like a complete angel with little or no effort required from the parents to distract, amuse or comfort him. And yet on other, very similar occasions, the little monster (and we are still talking about the complete angel from the last sentence) might decide to scream his lungs out inspite of every human and superhuman effort of his parents to calm him down.
  4. Parents couldn't care less and are actually immune to the sound of their baby crying. I think it would take a really hard-hearted parent to be immune to the sights and sounds of their upset baby, who is after all the most precious thing in their life. I think the reasons why some parents might give the impression that they couldn’t care less could be:
    1. Nothing they are doing seems to be working. And one of the golden rules of dealing with a tantrum is to ignore it. After all, a tantrum is a performance and once you take away the audience, the kid’s incentive to keep performing is somewhat diminished.
    2. They are in the process of having an out-of-body experience so that they can cope with the situation without having a nervous breakdown.

So now not only have I been forced to eat my pre-motherhood words, I also find myself sympathising with and defending other mothers in their moments of paranoia or when their little tyke is bringing down the house in a public place. I want to go upto all the people who are judging this poor mother for her lack of control on the situation and tell them that she really is trying her best and it is harder than it looks.