Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mystery of the Missing Mommyblogger

Why haven’t I posted for over two weeks? Let me count the reasons…

To start with, we went home to my mom’s place for the five days. I thought I would get a chance to catch on the blogging while there, but like with all such trips with Ayaan, I came back feeling more exhausted than when I left. To give everyone their due, I had a lot of help from Jai, my mom and my brother but he still needed me around most of the time, thereby ensuring that I didn’t get the break that I had hoped for. I also realised that I have become completely unused to having him sleep in the same room as us – every noise that he made woke me up and any noise from outside had me fretting that it would make him up – so the plan of catching up on my sleep didn’t go as well either. Finally, he got a terrible cough on the last couple of days so you can imagine that I was pretty worn out by the end of my ‘break’.

Moreover, work has been pretty crazy. It usually goes through cycles and right now, it’s peaking. I was in office till eleven one day – the latest I have worked since I went back to work after my maternity break. Even on other days, I have been working late, carrying stuff home to finish once Ayaan’s off to bed and generally feeling stretched and stressed out (not to mention rather guilt-ridden about spending less time than usual with Ayaan)… That being said, it’s also been a satisfying couple of weeks, work-wise – so even with the periodic guilt attacks, I am quite at more at peace with life as a working mom that I have vere been.

With work and Ayaan taking up most of the time, the house has fallen into disorder – or so I think – Jai thinks I am making a mountain out of a molehill. Actually, it’s nobody’s fault but my own because there are things that the control freak in me will not submit to delegating to my over-paid, underemployed army of three maids. The laundry absolutely must be sorted by me (no one else can be trusted with the highly strategic job of putting the right colours together into a load) and ironed clothes just have to be put away by me. As a result, we currently have an overflowing laundry basket and a pile of clean laundry waiting to be put away, which looks like this:

To add to that, some of our furniture is breeding wood-worms and a couple of windows have been letting the monsoon into our flat. It’s all driving me batty! So blogging has kind of taken a back seat.

And if that were not all, I have been possessed by a seemingly innocent-looking book (no, it's not Harry Potter, though I have started re-reading the series) called the parents’ workbook. It’s a book that the teachers at Ayaan’s playschool send home every weekend with exercises that parents (read mothers) have to do with the kids to reinforce stuff that they were exposed to at school. Now firstly, they told us it wasn’t compulsory for us to fill in the books but I just can’t bring myself to send it back empty. In my mind’s eye, I almost see the teacher nodding her head disapprovingly and thinking to herself, ‘Tut! Tut! Another working mom’s kid.’ And worse that that, Ayaan feeling less that proud of his book. So I have been driving myself crazy trying to do the best job I can with each exercise, severely handicapped by my lack of even a smidgeon of artistic talent. I present to you some of my masterpieces:

This one was an exercise on finding shapes in the everyday objects that the kid already knows and relates to. This one cost me about three hours on Google and another hour cutting the objects out of the printout. (But the 5 stars we got on the page felt more substantial that my best performance review :)…)

This one on modes of transport was worth another couple of hours on Google and an almost equal amount of scissor time (the train took almost half an hour to cut out!). Plus I always do these exercises with Ayaan because even in my insanity, I know the main reason for doing this is to build on his learning. Given that he has a typical two-year old’s attention span, it takes a while to finish this part of the exercise as well – sometimes as many as 4-5 sitting of a few minutes each.

The number exercise turned out to be pretty expensive. I spent twenty minutes at the stationary shop picking out these stickers with my phone lying on the counter next to me. When I finished, I looked around to find the phone gone! And when I tried calling it, it gave an unavailable message so someone had obviously stolen it when my attention was diverted. Add another bunch of hours for rebuilding my address book...

And this was our exercise for this week – we had to illustrate a cow, along with what it eats (grass), where it lives (shed), what it gives us (milk), what it says (moo), what it’s baby is called (calf) and what it swishes away with its tail (flies). Simple task, you say? Well, not if you decide to get obsessive about the type of cow you want (Indian-looking, with tail up in the air to swish away flies, a matching calf...). Another couple of hours on Google - somebody stop me!

Anyway, in the end I felt quite validated in all my efforts when I stuck the grass onto the cow’s mouth and asked Ayaan ‘What does the cow eat?’ and he promptly replied with ‘Gaass’ (he can’t say his R’s yet so they are either skipped altogether or replaced with L’s), a word he has never said in front of me before!

So as you can imagine, a lot of free time has been going into getting this stuff together (not to mention my recently acquired Facebook addiction…)

And that if anyone was interested was my litany of excuses for not posting sooner. Thanks for the prod, Megha - your little nudge pushed me out my exhaustion-induced inertia…

Friday, August 03, 2007

Marriage Anyone?

Megha has a thought-provoking post over here on the institution of marriage. And despite the fact that I am a happily married mother-of-one-hopefully-someday-two, I found myself vigorously nodding while I read through most of what she had written, so I decided to write my version of it, written from the trenches of marriage and motherhood, so to speak.

There is no denying the fact that marriage is hardly a very equal institution and that the burden of the responsibilities arising from it lie squarely in the woman’s side of the court.

Digression begins. It really makes me wonder why men make such a big deal about commitment and refer to it as being ‘tied down’. Other than the fact that they can no longer avail of all the free sex (the assumption being that women are beating their door down, unable to resist the glory that is their single manhood), or atleast not with a clear conscience, it seems like a complete win-win situation. It is, in fact, the woman who is tied down and has to change lots about her life, including but not limited to the very name she was born with. Men, on the other hand, have to change little, if at all and get a free housekeeper in the bargain. End of digression.

Now, I am by no means a brow-beaten doormat when it comes to my particular marital situation and I would not be exaggerating if I said that we have an equal opportunity marriage. The fact that I am equally qualified and earn almost as much probably has a lot to do with it (though I know enough examples of where this does not count for as much as it should). My career has always been as important. In fact, when we got married, we were working in different cities and since I was the one with the more stable and better-paying job, Jai was the one to shift cities and jobs. And it was never seen, by either of us, as a big sacrifice made by him at the time – it was just the most obvious and sensible choice…

But even in this marriage of supposed equals, our daily life is full of inequities. And this is where the fun part (for me) of the post begins and I get to vent and rant...

After years of attempted indoctrination on the absolute horror of wet towels on the bed, piles of visiting cards on my dressing table and used tissues left in trouser pockets, I have to admit that my progress report card looks less than spectacular.

Whenever I nag at him about the messes he creates, I am classified as a shrew, with OCD-like tendencies no less. The expectation is that I should learn to live with the mess or that if I care so much about it, I should clean it up myself. And I do but it really bugs me. Why do I have to be the one who cares about living in a place that classifies as a home rather than a hovel? Left to his own devices, Jai wouldn’t notice if the house turned into an actual pigsty, as long as said pigsty was equipped with a TV (with a remote-control), a comfortable (though not necessarily clean) bed and a functional (though not necessarily hygienic) kitchen. But it’s his house too and he should care.

To some extent, I could accept that were I a housewife, because then I wouldn’t have as many other demands on my time. But I am a working woman and I spend almost as much time away from home as he does. And when I am at home, I don’t want to spend precious time, that I could spend playing with my son, cleaning up other people’s messes.

Also, I love my house and I am proud of it. But if I were to take the ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’ kind of approach to mess-making, the blame for that would be laid completely at my door. I would be judged for the squalor, even if most of it wasn’t of my making because as the ‘woman of the house’, it is my responsibility to ensure that our house looks good. Why must people, including my mother, judge me (and only me) when my house looks less than perfect? And if it is important to me, why can’t my husband invest atleast a fraction of the effort that I do to keep it looking the way it does?

And keeping the house clean is just one part of running and maintaining a household. And while I am not suggesting that Jai is an unhelpful MCP (he really isn’t), he just doesn’t see domestic issues as his responsibility and will help only when asked or hinted at in an obvious manner. In fact, my biggest grouse is that all the to-do lists with their do-by dates are on my already overloaded plate and in addition everything else, it appears I must also play the role of a reminder service…

What will it take for a sensible, fully grown man to notice that the light bulb is fused or that the tap is leaking and for him to fix it without him being asked… multiple times? And why am I always left with a sneaking suspicion that he thinks he’s doing it all as a big favour for me?

And then the scales tipped even further away from being in my favour when we had a baby. Somehow carrying the baby inside me for nine months conveniently made me the expert on raising a child, magically imbued with the necessary skills and temperament. And while Jai helped (and he did help), that’s what it was at the end of the day – help.

Have you noticed how the men in our generation feel all virtuous (‘I’m way cooler than my dad’) about this help that they give their wives. But what’s there to feel all goody-goody about when in fact the help you are doling out is only a fraction of the approximately 50% of the responsibilities that you should be taking on, especially if your wife works. I really think that the current lot of men have it easy – their wives ease the financial burden on them by going out to work but they don’t have to reciprocate in equal measure. They just ‘help’ out depending on time and energy levels and everybody goes ‘Awww…. Isn’t he quite the modern dad’…

And how come men don’t feel guilt about leaving their kids home and going to work? Why is their sense of self-worth still driven by how much money they bring in, rather than the amount of quality time they spend with their kids? Why is it okay for a woman to let her career take a backseat after kids but when a man does that, he is seen as a loser or worse, a wimp? Why is a woman automatically branded as a ‘bad mother’ if she tries to do both?

In fact, this is one area where feminism has made our lives tougher rather than easier. So we are now supposed to go out into the world and be independent women who exist as more than just mothers and wives. And yet we are still supposed to be great mothers and wives as well. All we really end up being is an exhausted bunch of wannabe Supermoms chasing an ideal balance that’s impossible to achieve with just twenty-four hours in the day…

I guess that brings me to the end of my rant. I could go on with more examples and illustrations but I think I’ve said what needed to be said on what’s not so great about marriage. But overall, knowing what I know today, I would still do exactly as I did. Because to not do so, would be akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Because:

  • Unless you plan to live out the rest of your life without a partner, marriage is not all that different from living with someone you are romantically involved with. Most of the pluses and minuses would still apply if you decided to co-habit with said someone.
  • Once you’ve met someone you are fairly sure you want to spend the rest of your life with, what’s the big deal abut marrying them? For me the decision not to would have come with making my mother extremely unhappy about her daughter ‘living in sin’ (yes, she has used those very words) and I don’t think that would have been worth it.
  • The bonds of marriage may chafe at times but they also keep you from walking out at the first whiff of trouble. No relationship is without its ups and down and when you are married to somebody, it just makes the commitment that much more formal and substantive. You atleast wait around to see if the bad times are going to last before running for the door.
  • I, for one, quite like the idea of growing old with someone. The idea of being unattached seems really attractive in the midst of one’s youth, but as you get older, it’s kind of nice to have someone to come home to every night, someone to share your deepest, darkest fears and thoughts with, someone who doesn’t judge you for the way you think and act or stop loving you when you get old and saggy – your husband.
  • Legally speaking, marriage is pretty awesome. You get to pool your money together to build assets that you might not have been able to do on your own. And yet your joint assets are protected in the eventual worse case scenario of a divorce.
  • And finally a marriage is just like any other commitment or contract you might make in your life. Why is signing an employment agreement with a faceless, corporate entity okay but not a contractual promise to marry someone you love. Just like other pacts, this one is not a one-way road (atleast not any more) but gives your life some sort of structure and stability. What’s so wrong with that?

So, in the final analysis, marriage has been worth it, atleast for me and I would highly recommend it to those who have met someone they can conceivably see themselves hanging around with for a handful of decades.

Thanks for making me think (and subsequently post) though, Megha.