Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How do you manage?

If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me that question in the last three years since I went back to work post maternity leave, no one would need to ask that question any more. Because I would have been rich enough to quit this working mom gig and live off said money. However, such windfall being unlikely to come my way, it’s likely I will have to suffer this question many times over till the day I retire or the child becomes a self-sufficient adult.

Just in case that introduction didn’t make it clear enough, I am less than thrilled when these words are addressed to me. Because these seemingly innocuous words are loaded with judgment (mostly of the negative sort) on my choice to be a working mother.

Let’s start with figuring out what might be a valid, genuine reason for asking this question. It could be that the person asking the question really wants to get some advice on how to balance motherhood with a career. But then how does one explain the fact that this question almost always comes from a SAHM, usually one with no intention of getting back to work anywhere in the near future…

Or could it be an indirect way to express admiration for my excellent management skills. Now I might buy this but for the fact that this question is typically followed by one, more or all of the following questions:

  • Does your mother-in-law stay with you?
  • No? How about your mom?
  • So you son is with the maid the whole day?
  • And then, it is very often followed up by a heart-breaking (not!) story of how the question asker could not bring herself to go back to work after her child was born or how she did go back to work but felt that the child was not ‘developing well’ with the maid and so quit her job.

Or maybe it’s their attempt at polite conversation… but then wouldn’t a little more tact and diplomacy be called for so that the conversation can actually be classified as polite? I can say for sure that if it is intended as an ice-breaker, it has the exact opposite effect as far as I am concerned. I know I shouldn’t care but this question always gets my goat and puts me at my irritable and defensive best. Am I over-reacting? Quite possibly so…

Cross-posted over at Parul's - here

Friday, December 12, 2008

Paranoid

It’s been over two weeks since the horrific events that unfolded in Mumbai. And I have wanted to write something about what has been happening in my city almost every day since it happened. But someone always beat me to what I wanted to say and said it much better. So I am going to just stick to talking about how it has affected me personally.

To start with, there is this lingering feeling of ‘that could have been us’. The night the attack started happened to be our anniversary. And for the first time in three and a half years, we left a sleeping Ayaan at home with the maid and headed out for a romantic candle-lit dinner for two. At a restaurant not very far from another five star hotel (JW Marriot), which is rumoured to have been a terror target too.

And then there is this lingering feeling of ‘it could still be us’ Because suddenly it seems like something like this is just around the corner. You might be unlucky enough to run slam bang into it or your good fortune might allow you to dodge a bullet, like so very many people we know directly and indirectly did two weeks ago. But the shadow of possibility exists and it still haunts. And the paranoia is hard to shake in its entirety.

A colleague got married on 6th December in Chennai. The Sixth Of December. And a group of us colleagues had planned to travel down from Mumbai for the wedding. But then 26/11 happened and there were mutliple media articles on terror threats to airports and corporate travel advisories issued against travelling that day. So we didn’t go… and felt foolish later, since nothing happened…

And I find myself thinking twice before going shopping to a big mall. And wondering if five star hotels (with their retinue of bag and car checkers) are a soft target, what about schools and offices? And looking for the location of the emergency exit when I am in a building. And feeling just the slightest bit uneasy about the the fact that we are taking 6 flights across the country this winter vacation.

Last weekend, we were thinking of going to the local market to pick up some stuff. But then it struck me that the market was very close to a suburban railway station and who knows whether that might not be the next target. So I suggested that we avoid going there together. So that atleast if anything did happen, atleast Ayaan would have one of his parents.

Morbid thoughts these but I can’t stop them from popping into my head at will. But what if the worst were to happen? In the last couple of weeks, I have come to realise how unprepared we are for it and its implications for Ayaan:

  • We don’t have a will.
  • Jai manages all our money and other than the ATM PIN, I have no idea how it is invested.
  • We had only written out our numbers in the vernacular and pasted it on the kitchen notice board for easy access for the maids. But what if something happened to the both of us? They have no other contact for anyone else.

I know people directly affected have much bigger problems and a bigger right to mourn. And my heart bleeds for them. I also feel for this city that has been my home for over eight years. But at a more selfish and personal level, I mourn for the almost careless sense of security and disregard for mortality with which I have lived my life upto now. For the sense of surety that I made the right choice when I brought my son into this crazy world. And for my anniversary, which will forever be known as the day that Mumbai was attacked...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Signs of Fatherhood

The Nikhil series draws to a (hopefully temporary) end with this hilarious piece about how to recognise a new father in the crowd, since this is the last of the stuff that he wrote and shared with us when his daughter was born...

I have been observing my wife handle our daughter for the last few weeks, and it’s quite amazing to see her effortlessly take on the role of playing Mom! I was wondering if it comes easier to women biologically or is it because they hold babies in their wombs for 9 months and hence have a head start over men.

From a Dad’s perspective it is a bit different. The bond between baby and child takes a bit longer to develop! As I interact with Suhana, I realise that I feel closer and more bonded to her with each passing day. But it is equally true that it was not as strong a few weeks ago. That brings me to the all important question.

“So how does it feel to be a father?”

It is hard (and incorrect) to make generalizations on how men would answer this question from an emotional point of view. But its there are a few obvious strong physical signs and behaviors which help separate the boys from the real men… the fathers.

So here’s a quick and dirty guide on how to figure out if a man’s a father of small baby.

1. A man with a perspective on Poo

Till the time a man becomes a father, Crap/ Poo is basically the 3rd most popular topic for their corny jokes – sex and Santa Singh being the first two. But the baby comes and completely changes everything, giving a whole new perspective to Poo. So Fathers quickly realise that the quality, consistency and frequency of Poo will be a key determinant of the health of the baby and hence a key determinant of the rest of your day, week and even life. Fathers, can even tell you from the color of the Poo, whether the baby is consuming fore milk or hind milk! So next time you hear a man passionately talking about Poo, you know he is a Dad.

2. A man for whom everyday is a HOLIday

For the everyday man, Holi is a fun festival of colors celebrated once a year, that ends with color stained clothes and a 48 hour hang-over. For a father, everyday is Holi - the difference is that instead of colors, the stains consist of curdled milk & other unmentionable gore, spewed out by the baby. White patches of dried milk on the shirt are a true father’s hallmark. Who needs faded jeans?!!

3. A man who can keep pace with a US Marine

A US Marine is expected to encounter some dangerous situations and hence must learn to be swift and nimble. He is taught the art of catching quick naps between long periods of intense activity. He is also taught how to sleep, keeping a lookout for the slightest activity or noise. For fathers of young babies, it is much the same – the baby teaches them to train themselves. Sleep at night is to be had in 2 hour bursts between feeding and burping sessions. And you need to be on constant alert to hear every little movement and tiny wail. If you were wondering, what possible role could fathers have in night time feeding sessions, then that requires a new chapter in explanations. But suffice it to say that the role ranges from anything between a complex emotional dynamic called moral support to the wife to actual burping duty.

4. A man who looks like Hercules with a stiff neck.

If you thought that protein shakes and dumbbell curls was the only way to achieve those 16 inch biceps, then think again. In a gym you would probably start off with a 6-8 kg dumbbell and then keep increasing the weight, doing fewer lifts with higher weights. At one go, you are likely to do 3 sets of about 8-12 repetitions, with sufficient gap between each set. So that’s about 36 repetitions spread over 10 minutes. Now picture this – you have a baby that weighs at least 4 kg, who refuses to sleep until cradled and rocked in your arms for at least half an hour. That’s about 1800 repetitions in half an hour, without any breaks! So it’s not difficult to understand why fathers have strong, Herculean arms. But there is a strange twist to this – most of this half hour is spent either staring down into the babies eyes or straight up, praying to the heavens to make her go to sleep. That’s how fathers get a stiff neck.

As the kids grow, there will be many more signs that will added to this list and a few that will get dropped out e.g. if your kid is still causing Holiday for you at the age of 8, then you are in big trouble!

So the next time you meet a man with strong forearms, wearing what looks like a faded T shirt, talking crap… you know he is a Dad!

You can find the rest of Nikhil's stuff here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

TV Tales

I grew up in a time when there was no TV and if it were possible, that's the way I would like Ayaan's childhood to be. Because in my humble opinion, every minute that Ayaan spends in front of the television is a precious minute of his childhood wasted. But like it not, the child will be a product of his times and I would hardly want him to be an anachronistic specimen of a bygone era. Whether I like it or not, the TV will have a place in his growing up years. But for as long as possible, I would like to minimise his TV watching and also be very particular about what I let him watch.

The first time I gave into the TV temptation was when he was about 6 months old. In those horrible days before I discovered Dr. Ferber, mornings would start with him waking up in an absolutely foul mood and bawling in a completely nerve-wracking fashion through his diaper change, accompanied by violent twisting which made the actual task of getting him changed and cleaned without smearing nearby surfaces with poop quite a challenge. So we started putting Noddy on for a single 15-minute episode first thing in the morning. It was a habit that once we got into was hard to break because even when the foul morning moods were behind us, they were replaced by tantrums at the very thought of his parents not giving into his demands – not a very auspicious daily start. Plus I read somewhere that 15-minutes of TV in a day was acceptable.

We did finally put an end to the morning TV routine when he was around 15 months old. Then TV became mostly a weekly affair so that I could get him to sit in one place while I cut his nails. Or if he was not well, we switched it on if his temperature needed to be taken or if we needed to get some much-needed food into his sick, little body.

Then he got the never-ending cough and cold that was finally diagnosed as enlarged adenoids and we were told to give him steam every night at bedtime. As you can imagine, getting a hyperactive two-and-a-half-year old to sit in one place and inhale steam in a peaceful manner is a task well in the realm of impossible things. So the TV was called into service again.

The DVD player actually. Because night-time content on the cartoon channels is completely unsuitable for a young child in the eyes of a mother who is no hurry to introduce her child to the joys of the Power Rangers. And don't even get me started on Tom & Jerry - which I believe is pretty darned violent, too fast-paced for young children and also filled with lots of puns and references that only well-informed teenagers are likely to get. The few times I put it on for Ayaan, I got the feeling that he was just mindlessly fascinated by the fast-moving images. The other problem with TV programming was the ads, which seem to almost glorify obnoxious, bratty behaviour and naked consumerism. So DVDs it was.

Of all the series available on DVD, I liked Noddy because of their simple plots and relatively slower pace of story-telling. Plus Ayaan already had quite the collection of Noddy books at the time and also slept with a Noddy doll. So I picked up a bunch of Noddy DVDs and played a 15-minute episode every night during steam inhalation. After a while, I somehow managed to convince him that books were more fun and though it was a lot harder to juggle a book and the steam device, we survived and went through almost six months of virtually no TV.

But that, like all good things, came to an end. A time came when he started demanding the darned cartoons. And I didn't want to say a blanket no since there is no surer way to get a child to pick up a habit than to declare it a forbidden fruit. So now we have reached a compromise - he is allowed half an hour of TV on school holidays (essentially twice a week). And he has been surprisingly mature about our deal and rarely asks for cartoons on a school day and is easily convinced otherwise when he does. But he is sure to demand his pound of flesh on a holiday.

We have, also expanded our viewing menu, thanks to the launch of BBC's kids channel CBeebies. They don't have a particularly extensive programming line-up and the channel is on air only till 6 in the evening but since Ayaan usually wants to watch in the mornings, the early evening end is not a concern for us.

The content really hits the sweet spot of programming that is acceptable to me and enjoyable for Ayaan. To start with the context is chosen/ designed with the under-6 age group in mind. An adult watching their programming would be bored out of their wits but I can see why it works for kids. Besides, I really don’t think we should judge children's TV by whether we find it interesting. The slower pace keeps the kids engaged and involved and repetition is a good thing at this age and facilitates learning.

Ayaan favourites include shows like Teletubbies and Fimbles, which have nice, gentle themes and age-appropriate concepts narrated slowly with loads of repetition. I find that Ayaan actually learns from them. For example, last month some time, they showed two boys getting their haircuts on Teletubbies, coincidentally on the day we were taking him for a haircut. Now Ayaan typically bawls his head off during a haircut and has to be physically restrained while the deed is done, but we kept telling him about the boys in the show and we had no screams and tears for a change. Of course, he also remembered that the boys got a lollipop each after their haircuts and so demanded one of his own...

So like I said, content that ticks the box in terms of appropriate viewing for a child Ayaan’s age and yet is presented in a way that engages him and teaches him - I can live with an hour a week of that. Of course, he is still not exposed to a lot of the stuff that many of his classmates and contemporaries are watching but I will wait till he finds out about them and asks for them before opening that door. So, as of now. the poor deprived child thinks Spiderman is a spider. Seriously! So whenever he sees one building a web in some corner of the park, he points and calls it a Spiderman. And he is blissfully oblivious to the existence of characters like Ben 10, Power Rangers, Perman and Pokemon. And I'm happy to keep it that way for now.

The other thing I am obsessive about is not letting him watch TV on his own or with the maids. To me, it’s like any other fun, interactive thing that we do together. The few times I have left him alone in front of the TV, I can see that he becomes a passive watcher. Whereas while I am watching with him, he jumps around in excitement when a familiar character comes on screen, points out stuff to me and expects me to cheer for him when he gets some answer right. I am lucky to have help at home with the cooking and cleaning, so I don’t see any reason to let the TV babysit Ayaan while I get along with other stuff…

The funny thing is that I used to be quite a TV addict myself. On an average weekday, I would spend atleast two hours in front of the idiot box. But now I don't watch TV at all. It was making me feel like a hypocrite when I spent the day believing that TV-time was the worst thing ever for Ayaan and then switched it on the minute he went to bed. I also found better stuff to do with my time. Blogging for one, and I am also reading a lot more.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Much Delayed Diwali Post

It didn't bode well. To start with, there was a pre-Diwali tummy upset scare that was reminiscent of last year. And then on the day itself, the brat awoke from his afternoon nap in an utterly foul mood and had a nuclear meltdown when he was told he had to change out of his ratty t-shirt and faded track pants. But things looked up once he had been forcible spruced up - Ayaan got infected with the Diwali spirit and became an active participant.

At first, he adopted a bystander stance while the rest of us performing monkeys lit firecrackers for his majety's viewing pleasure. But then he was coaxed into lighting some sparklers and then applying them to snake pellets.

At the puja, he took centrestage and with some fond encourangement from his grandmother, became the pandit in residence. He was in charge of annointing all the various gods and goddesses and us with a tilak and some rice. And then my mom told him to use the betel leaf to sprinkle water on the gods and that was all he did for the rest of the puja ensuring that every surface within splashable distance. But fun was had by all.

Overall, he had a blast in Jaipur. Huge garden, dogs to play with, unabated adoration of everyone in the house, endless parade of my mom's staff's kids dropping by to play with him, cartoons everyday (instead of just on the weekend) - what's not to love...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mama's Week of Sin

Last Monday, I came back to Mumbai after dropping Ayaan off at my mum’s place. My mum likes to have him all to herself for this one pre-Diwali week every year, without my interfering presence. Additionally, we had to get our house painted this year so the young man needed to be out of the way in any case.

When I consider how my reactions to the thought of Ayaan being away from me for a week by choice (and not because of work or travel-related commitments) have changed, I can see myself letting go and growing up as a parent. In the first year, it wasn’t even a question since I was still on maternity leave so we went together. In the second year, the very thought of staying behind without him was positively blasphemous so again, I was there with him the entire time. I suspect the same attitude would have continued for his third Diwali but since we found ourselves in Delhi for a family wedding just a week before Diwali, it didn’t make sense to lug the brat back and forth across the country so we let my mom take him back to Jaipur with her while we returned to Mumbai. I was at home for all of 5 days without him but I mooned around like a love-sick calf and while the week was fun enough, I was pining to get back to my little sunshine.

And then there’s this year. It isn’t that I was exactly joyful about dropping Ayaan off to Jaipur for a week. But for the first time, I began to look forward to this week the teensiest little bit. Even better, I gave it a name. This was to be my ‘Week of Sin’, the one time in the year where I could indulge myself and do all the things that I did in my pre-mommy days and have a fun, guilt-free time doing them because there was no neglected brat waiting for me back at home.

Now it’s time to call it to a close and head back to my baby. But not before I take stock of the week that was…

The first rule of the week was ‘no alarms’. Since I did away with diapers three months ago, Ayaan needs to be woken up to pee so that he doesn’t wet the bed. The night-time training started with two wake-ups every night and since then, we are down to a single 2 a.m. potty call, but it still means my night being punctuated by a shrill alarm at a time when I am in my deepest slumber. The other alarm may or may be called into action. It’s set for days when Ayaan is still asleep at 6.45, so that we don’t get late for school. On other days, I switch it off before it has a chance to ring because Ayaan has beaten it to it by waking up before it rings. Unfortunately, the mommy alarm clock in my body does not have an off switch, so I was up at eight on most days (earlier on the rest) and that hardly counts as a sleep-in…

The second rule was to have a ‘plan’ for every day of the week. And while none of the plans were particularly sinful (not enough people in town for pub-hopping, dancing-through-the-night kind of endeavours), it goes without saying that a fair amount and variety of alcohol was imbibed – Jack Daniels with Coke, Vodka with Sprite, White Wine, Red Wine, Rose wines and sangria. Only the famed tequila shots were missing...

Overall, I did manage to cover a fair range of social activities and meet up with a lot of friends:

  • Monday: Dinner with husband at a fancy Italian restaurant with the husband
  • Tuesday: Couple of drinks at a friend’s place followed by dinner at a bustling Chinese restaurant with the husband.
  • Wednesday: Drinks at a pub with a colleague
  • Thursday: Pre-Diwali card party with the office gang
  • Friday: Dinner with a couple of girlfriends followed by drinks at a nearby pub with a larger gang
  • Saturday: Lunch with some of my favourite bloggers
  • Sunday: Lunch and movie with the husband, dinner at an Indian restaurant with friends

And then, there were the sins of indulgence. For starters, all the days began with breakfast in bed - yummy ham sandwiches, prepared and served up by the husband and accompanied with a glass of chilled apple juice.

There was the French manicure. Now a little known fact about me is that I have a fetish for the white-tipped look for the nails. Not having the manual dexterity to do my nails myself, I used to go to the friendly neighbourhood nail salon with regularity in my pre-mommy days. I remember getting one when Ayaan was about a year old, only to realise that feeding the child by hand and French manicures do not mix, not unless you want the pristine white nail tips to turn yellow from all the turmeric that is ubiquitous in Indian cooking. Well, not having Ayaan around meant that I could go without dipping my fingers into a bowl of dal and so I went and got myself one of these:

There was the shopping, because what’s indulgence without some retail therapy thrown in for good measure. And so, most of Sunday was spent at a recently opened mall and I think there are skid marks on the debit card from the amount of times it was whipped out and swiped. The inventory of my shopping:

  • A pair of bright red skinny jeans (let’s hope I have the guts to actually wear them) and two tops from Debenhams
  • A pair of fitted black trousers from Guess
  • A flowy black and white block-printed skirt from FabIndia
  • A pair each of jeans and corduroys, two T-shirts and a shirt for the brat
  • A kurta and pyjama for the husband from FabIndia
  • Two pairs of corduroys for the husband from this new store called People.

And that should have been it. Only I got to the airport half and hour early this evening and discovered a foot reflexology outfit in the departure lounge. So there was nothing for it but to go plonk myself on one of their cushy, white leather sofas and get a lovely, relaxing foot massage.

And now I am done. I’ve had my week of freedom, enjoyed it like hell, done all the things I wanted to do and now I am headed back to reclaim my life. It’s been fine and fun because it was a week – just enough to squeeze in all the fun but not long enough to start moping at the empty house and dare I say, empty life. It was also a week when I realised that I am old now – that a week of hectic partying can sap my energy as much (or possibly far more) than my everyday job as mother and slave to his royal highness Ayaan.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Compositions

So it would appear that my latest calling in life is 'photography assistant to art director'. Because Ayaan's latest thing is to compose pictures and then demand that I capture his compositions on film (or memory card at any rate) for posterity.

It all started when he went to pick up some flowers in the park (yes, the flower collection craze continues too) and discovered that there was a snail infestation. We found not one, but two snails gobbling away at two separate flowers. At first, he just gazed at them with a mixture of fascination and disgust. Then he turned to me and commanded, 'Mama, picture lo' and this is what we left the park with that day:

The other thing he likes to photograph these days is the favourite book of the moment perched on the chair in his room. Dottie, note that the book you gifted has made the cut... ;-)

And one day, it was about creating stuff with crayons and getting Mama to click his creations. He started with some alphabets (L, H, Y & T):

and then went on to create (and this is my favourite of the lot) an aeroplane:

And just in case you think he is a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, here's one of his compositions modelled by the director himself... :-)

(Apologies for the dodgy picture quality as some of the pictures were taken on the phone camera, in the absence of easy access to the digicam - read, I was too lazy to go get it from the other room)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Chalk or cheese?

This parenting thing seems to bring out our judgmental and defensive bests. Every decision is fraught with choices and there is a huge need to justify and defend the choices we make and to prove all other possible choices and opinions wrong... And there are always equally good arguments for both sides of every parenting fence leaving you confused before you choose and mildly discontent and unsure when you do (or maybe that's just me?). Here are some of those choices and the judgments that come part and parcel with each of them...

If you bottle feed your children, you are screwing with their immunity and IQ. If you breastfeed, you have to go through the year wondering if the kid is getting enough nutrition and feeling bad that he doesn't look half as plump as the bonny, formula-fed babies, whose mothers have the benefit of knowing exactly how many ounces their child is getting.

If you vaccinate, you are unnecessarily pumping your kid's body with possibly dangerous biological material, interfering with his natural immunity and even putting him at risk of developing autism. If you don't vaccinate, you are irresponsibly putting your child at risk from potentially life-threatening diseases and also putting other kids at risk by reducing the herd immunity that everyone benefits from.

If you let your daughter play with dolls and kitchen sets, you are reinforcing gender stereotypes. If you don't, you are suppressing her natural instincts.

If you are a working mother, you are a neglectful, bad parent who puts her career before her god-given duty to her family. If you chuck it all up to stay at home with your kids, you risk becoming branded an empty-headed housewife who has given up her ambitions and wasted the investment that went into her education.

If you encourage your child to colour within the lines, you are inhibiting his creativity. If you just let him draw as he pleases, you are not teaching him the right way to do things.

If you send your kid to a traditional school (the kind you went to), you are not moving with the times. If you send him to one of those new-age schools, you are risking his future on something not yet proven to be successful.

If you turn to modern medicine for every cough and cold, you are destroying your child's natural immunity. If you follow slower and less effective remedies (home remedies, homeopathy), you are putting your faith in unproven stuff and making your child suffer needlessly.

If you don't allow them the 3Cs (chips, chocolates and cola), they will grow up to crave and binge on the stuff. If you do let them eat the poisonous stuff, they will grow up to be unhealthy and overweight.

If you stick to a schedule, you are not spontaneous enough. If you go with the flow, you are not providing a reassuring routine so that the child knows what to expect.

If you entertain him at mealtimes to get him to eat, you are not teaching him to eat food for food's sake and he's probably too distracted to realize and learn when to stop and is likely to have weight issues as an adult. If you don't, you are not making mealtimes fun and possibly under-feeding him.

If you are giving him fish, you are putting him at risk of mercury poisoning. If not, you are depriving him of brain food.

If you worry a lot, you are paranoid. If you don't, you don't care enough or are not careful enough.

If you follow the Ferber method, you are a cruel parent perpetrating child abuse. If you rocking them to sleep, you are not teaching them to self-soothe and develop good sleeping habits.

If you are into co-sleeping with your child, you are risking suffocation and compromising marital intimacy. If you believe in cot sleeping, you are isolating him and exposing him to higher stress .

If you don't shop for the baby till it is born, you are being stupidly superstitious. If you do, you are tempting fate.

If you have your kids at a younger age, you haven't given enough time for your marriage to mature. If you decide to postpone parenthood, you are risking genetic defects and you will be a doddering antique when your kid is an energetic teen.

If you tell them to respond to bullies in the same coin, you are teaching them to be agressive. If you tell them not to hit back, you are not teaching them to defend themselves. If you interfere in a bullying incident, you not letting them learn to cope by themselves. But if you don't step in, you are abandoning them.

If you spank your children, it's child abuse. If you don't, it's a case of "Spare the rod, spoil the child".

I'm sure there are many choices that I am missing. But my point is just that almost everything you do as a parent these days has become a choice. And the line between the choices is sharply drawn and your choice immediately brands you as a good or bad parent. And parents become almost rabid about not just defending their choice but even about attempting to convert others to their side of the fence. Since when did we go and make it all so complicated? I think we need a lot less of 'My Way Or The Highway' and a lot more of 'Live and Let Live'...

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Boy or Girl?

Nikhil throws some light on the male perspective on the desirable gender of one's baby

“So do you want a boy or a girl?”

This is the most often asked question throughout the pregnancy. For my wife, the decision was easy.

Pallavi - "I want a girl"

Me – "Why?"

Pallavi"Because you can dress up girls in pretty clothes and put clips in their hair. Haven’t you seen the clothing section in baby shops? There is so much stuff for girls but barely 2 shelves for boys. So boring”

Me – Baffled. "Is this your genuine reason for wanting a girl?"

Pallavi – "Yes, and the fact that when she grows up, we both can go shopping together. Boys will never shop with their moms!"

This was quite shocking for me. One can be married to a woman for many years and still not really know how her brain functions.

For most men, the answer to this question is not so simple.

Having spoken to some of my male friends who have recently become Dads and with my own personal experience, I have broadly figured out how this works for us. To understand this, one must start from the beginning. Having a boy or girl is way comes later. The first question a man has to answer is this – Do I really want to have a baby?

Having a baby means a lot of changes. But mainly, it means that the man really has to grow up. The boy inside, who has been desperately been holding on, finally has to be abandoned.

  • Can I still go out with my friends and come home drunk at 3 am?
  • Can I still crack those dirty jokes in public?
  • Is the PSP going to be my exclusive domain or will I need to share it with the kid?
  • Will I still be able to go Vegas and visit those casinos? What about the debauch holiday my wife and I were planning to Ko Sa Mui?
  • And finally, the most important one - How will other women perceive me now? Can I still flirt with them without them whispering “I can’t believe he is still at it…for Gods sake, he is a dad now!”

The exact questions may differ, but the gist is the same – Responsibility …big time!

Only after the man has satisfactorily answered the above for himself (or his wife gives him an ultimatum) is he ready to start discussing boy or girl?

Figuring out whether he wants a Boy or Girl is not as simple a choice for man, as it is for a woman. There are a whole host of factors that come into play. It is usually assumed that all men are desperate for Sons. After all there are very strong reasons why a man would want a Son.

Societal

The common (but misplaced) belief in our country is that a son carries forward the legacy of a father. In a Saas Bahu serials this would read something like “Ek Ladka hi mera Vansh aage le ja sakta hai”

Practical

It’s probably simpler to bring up a son. No matter how sexist this sounds, but the fact is that there are fewer reasons to worry about the safety of a boy. A 16 year old son can take a bus or auto relatively safely at 11:30 in the night. But a 16 year old daughter doing the same would have the parents’ worried sick (esp. if you lived in Delhi).

It calls for a major change in attitude. A friend of mine put this succinctly – “Having a son means no major change in attitude. But if you have a daughter you need to change from Predator to Protector.” You see, when it comes to women, most men grow up learning the ropes to finding the best way to get lucky. But suddenly, instead of ‘hunting prey’, a man needs to learn to play the role of the protector. From being the hunter, to keeping the hunters at bay. So when that puny, spiky haired, shabbily dressed teenager walks into the house with your daughter, you know exactly what he is thinking - and need to keep the loaded gun handy.

If a boy makes too much ruckus, one could whack him or chain him (exaggeration). Generations of men have been tamed with whacks and whips as kids. Its simpler than a long winded emotional appeal that is more appropriate with daughters.

Professional

Some men are heads of Mafia and the only way for their offspring to prove worthy heirs is to complete at least 15 murders and win 20 hand to hand combats, involving cracked ribs. Hard to picture you beautiful daughter doing either.

But there are equally strong reasons for wanting a Daughter

Familial

They say that sons are not as good as daughters at ‘looking after’ parents. Daughters are naturally more familial and caring and stay attached to their parents. Sons tend to ‘get busy’ living their lives. Whether one agrees with dismal analysis of sons or not but no one disagrees with the fact that daughters are fantastic!

Practical

Boys just have too much energy and it can sap the parents of theirs, quite quickly. A boy may want to spend a Sunday afternoon practicing the latest WWE moves on you or even want to play Gabbar Singh, while you are the hapless villagers!

Girls, on the other hand can spend large parts of the day ‘doing their own thing’. And these are usually cute and decent activities.

What decision a man finally makes is a purely individualistic but the above mentioned factors, do come into play.

The funny part is that at the end of the first month of having my daughter at home, I realize that she has too much energy, keeps us on our toes and farts and burps like a truck driver. And my friend’s 3 month old boy develops nappy rash due to sensitive skin, is very attached to his parents and likes the color pink!!

I guess kids are kids :-)

More from Nikhil: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mama Gets Crafty (Or So She Thinks)

As a kid, I was never into craft. I never did papier mache. Or origami. There are no paintings or drawings of mine up on my mom’s walls – not for lack of sentimentality on her part (she does have some my brother made) – I just never made any. There was a time when I had to take an SUPW (remember Socially Useful Productive Work ;-)) class and I picked Stitching and Embroidery (because all my friends were doing it). In the first year, I decided to make my mom a set of cross-stitch tablemats. All she has to show for it is a single mat. The next year, I decided to try my hand at knitting and pegged my ambitions low – a plain black muffler for my dad. It never achieved much more than handkerchief-sized proportions. And I think that was about it...

But now, my lack of investment craft activity has come back to haunt me. In the form of stuff that needs to be done for Ayaan’s school. Stuff that cannot always be bought off the shelf...

The weekend before last, Ayaan was a goat in his class performance. So a couple of weeks before that, the parents (read mothers because I have yet to see a single father show his face at one of these things) were summoned to a costume meeting. We were told that our kids had chosen the animal they wanted to be and that we had to get their costumes together accordingly. The good thing about Ayaan’s school is that they strive for simplicity in everything they do so the costumes were to be put together out of existing or reusable stuff. No fancy stuff from costume shops. Ayaan’s costume was to be:

  • Black T-shirt
  • Black Track Pants
  • Black Socks
  • Goat Face Mask to be pinned on T-shirts (as face masks on the actual faces tend to make young kids very irritable)
  • A head band with ears and horns
  • A tail

Now the clothes themselves were a breeze. But the mask was another matter altogether. Because my son, as always, had decided that nothing can be so easy for his mother. Trips to no less than four stationery shops unearthed masks of every other animal under the sun, including camels and sheep, but the common goat was nowhere to be found.

So I did what any sensible mother with internet access would do next. I googled. And googled. And googled some more but there was no readily available and printable goat mask to be found. What I found instead was this:

Now the grey goat was a complete picture but Ayaan has never seen a grey goat (neither have I, for that matter) and I wanted it to be a goat that he could recognise. So I took bits and parts of the brown goats and stitched them together in Microsoft Power Point. And then grouped all the bits and saved them as a picture. But the goat was still missing one crucial bit – its right ear, since none of the brown goats had a visible right ear. So then I learnt a new trick, with a little help from a slightly more technologically advanced friend. It appears you can flip objects to their mirror image in Microsoft Paint – so I copied the left ear, flipped it and voila! I had a full goat head, albeit one that looked like it had had multiple botched up plastic surgeries…

I printed it onto card paper, cut it out and used a black marker to draw eyeballs, so that the goat did not look like a creature arisen from the land of the undead and the maid’s vastly superior stitching skills were called into service to stitch the mask on to the T-shirt. By this time, my creative energies had all but died so I sought help from some friendly fellow mommybloggers on the tail and it was suggested that I used a sock. So I went and bought a brown newborn sock and that was sewn onto the back of the T-shirt. I also printed a larger version of the mask and cut out the ears and horns and stapled them onto a black headband of mine. And that was that.

All that remains is for me to unveil the young actor in his costume (front and back)… and also my first stumbling (and complete) effort at craft.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Of Feathers and Festerings

Ayaan's latest fun thing to do in the park is to collect all the flowers that have fallen on the ground. Sometimes he also includes the odd feather or nut that comes his way.

As his lordship's slave, I am usually allotted the task of carefully holding them while he continues his treasure hunt. Carefully being the operative word because a crushed petal can lead to a major meltdown. Sometimes, he will command me to put a flower behind each ear, survey the effect critically and then announce 'Pretty hain' This one will grow up to be a ladykiller, I tell you.

And when the mood strikes him, he spends ages arranging his loot till he feels he has achieved the aesthetic effect he is striving for. This is his work of art from a lazy Saturday morning at the park:

************************************************************************************

While on the park and flowers subject, I got into a bit of a scrap with the park guard a couple of weeks ago. He objected to Ayaan picking up the flowers that had fallen on the ground and playing with them. When asked why, he said it was against the rules. I marched him over to the big board with the long list of rules and pointed out that the rules only prohibited plucking of flowers - there was nothing in there about picking up flowers that fallen off on their own. He then came up with some random theory about how other kids would see Ayaan picking flowers off the ground and then go about plucking flowers. At which point, I told him that Ayaan knew better than to pluck flowers and I didn't really see how what others kids did was any of my beeswax. He glowered at me for a bit and then shrugged and walked off. So we continue our flower collection drive whenever we are there much to his obvious irritation.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. He is pretty much the self-appointed dictator of the park. He has got himself a really shrill whistle that he blasts every time he witnesses any so-called transgression. And there is an endless set of rules, both official and unofficial, that he takes upon himself to enforce. Like the pissing off (though unfortunately official) rule about not stepping on the grass - WTF - it's not some goddamn botanical garden! But also silly ones about not a single grain of sand from the sandpit being allowed onto the nearby path - that's certain to get the whistle blowing! In addition to the whistle, he can also be pretty rude and abrasive about enforcing these rules. Overall, one gets the sense that he is enjoying making life difficult for people who have it better in life than he does...

I guess it might be simpler to find another park but Ayaan loves it there. And a couple of his friends from his class at school come there too. It's also hidden away off the main roads and as a result it's not over-crowded like bigger parks like Jogger's Park where there are long, snaking lines just to get on to the slides and swings.

************************************************************************************

The guard's behaviour is not a one-off either. Like Sue says, there is a smouldering resentment amongst those less fortunate amongst us. I see it all the time. The building watchman at a friend's place who watched me spent 5 minutes reversing the car into an empty space and getting Ayaan out of his car seat before telling me that it was reserved and that I couldn't park there. The guy selling tissue boxes at the traffic signal who walked off after aiming a hard kick on my bumper when I refused to buy his wares. The auto rickshaw driver who heaped the choicest abuses on me because I was rich enough to have taken a flight but refused to pay triple the regular fare to get home from the airport. The rude salesperson at a department store who just shrugged unhelpfully when I asked him where to find something. Parul's recent experience with the painters at her house...

On one hand, this barely concealed animosity is frightening. It almost feels like there is rage there that is just waiting to find an outlet. And I don’t really want to think about what the manifestations of that could be. I have seen it happen in small ways – like the tissue box guy I mentioned earlier or the young teenage boys who walk around dragging sharp objects across car doors, leaving unsightly scratches… passive aggressive ways to release their frustrations. But what if they became less passive and more aggressive...

On the other hand, it makes me feel guilty about the privileged life I lead. And also resentful about being made to feel defensive about my status as a confirmed member of the upper middle class. Sure, I was born with a silver spoon, comparatively speaking and have had advantages and opportunities that most Indians would not even dream about. But converting those opportunities into success is not something to be taken for granted and is a result of effort and investment, both mine and my family's. And my lifestyle is supported by hard-earned money. So I don't see why I should be expected to slink around and hide my privilege. If I can afford branded clothes and the latest gadgets, why should I be judged or hated for buying them. Sure, some of them cost enough to a feed a family of four for a month. But there is money that I give to various charities that will do just that. But I don't want to give away all my money. I'd like to enjoy the rest of the fruits of my labour rather than live a life of austerity. It will never be entirely guilt-free because I know the value of that money to someone less fortunate than me. But I'd rather not be made to feel that I am a bad person for doing so…

This post started somewhere and has meandered to some place altogether different. And I think I have started rambling. Time to call it quits, I think.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Grass on the Other Side

The old 'The grass is greener on the other side of the fence' proverb might just have been thought up by a mother. It happens to me all the time with Ayaan - I crib about something or the other and wish things would change but when they do, I am left yearning for the earlier scheme of things. A recent example...

After 8 months of daily stress and struggle without any full time help, I finally found and employed a new maid, who joined us last week. When she came to meet me, I took an instant liking to her. As did Ayaan, who invited her to come to his room to play with him. Needless to say, that was the moment of truth and the rest of the 'interview' was a mere formality. Now here's the thing. Ever since she came, Ayaan has been quite happy to let me do my own thing while he plays with her. And after 8 months of not having an Ayaan-free moment outside of work and his sleeping hours, I have found myself with time on my hands. And instead of the huge sigh of relief that's been a long time coming, I am left feeling strangely bereft...

And it's happened so many times, I've lost count. But here are some instances I remember:

  • I waited for him to talk. And now there are times when he talks my ears off and I wish he would just keep quiet for just five minutes and let me nurse the headache I have got from his constant banter and from coming up with answers to his endless questions.
  • I watched with bated breath as he took his first steps. And was soon longing for the days when he couldn't reach and destroy my posessions or worrying that he would hurt himself.
  • I look forward to the occassional long distance trip to get a much-needed break but I am usually yearning to get back before the first day is over.
  • I keep wanting him to learn to self-feed. But when he does attempt it, he makes such an unholy mess, I am tempted to hop right in and feed him myself.

And so life goes on. You can never accuse me of being easily satisfied.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Brilliante!

Kiran, Ceekay and Hillgrandmom have given me this award. Yay! Not one, not two, but three lovely ladies think my blog is brilliant. How brilliant is that!

My first instinct is to be all self-deprecating and list the number of reasons why I don't deserve this award (blogging frequency, for one). But some friends of mine have been telling me that I am very bad at accepting compliments. So in this case, I shall simply say that I am truly honoured and graciously accept this award. Thank you Kiran, Ceekay and Hillgrandmom. And thanks to those who drop by to read and comment, many of whom have become so much more than just co-bloggers and commenters. And of course a big thank you to the raison d'etre for this blog - my little sweetheart, Ayaan who inspires me to write (and also keeps me from it by occupying every available waking moment and piece of mindspace).

How this works -

Brilliant Weblog is a prize given to sites and blogs that are smart and brilliant both in their content and their design. The purpose of the prize is to promote as many blogs as possible in the blogsphere.

First, here are the rules:

  1. When you receive the prize you must write a post showing it, together with the name of who has given it to you, and link them back
  2. Choose a minimum of 7 blogs (or even more) that you find brilliant in their content or design.
  3. Show their names and links and leave them a comment informing they were prized with ‘Brilliant Weblog’
  4. Show a picture of those who awarded you and those you give the prize (optional).
  5. And then we pass it on!

I am passing on this award to the following blogs, in no particular order:

  1. Winter's Day In - Mommyblogger with her fingers in so many pies that she makes my head spin - bringing up three (!) young boys, home schooling, scrapbooking, running an eBay business, research into alternate health, cooking healthy and organic food for her family and all this while planning to move the family across countries!!!
  2. Expatriate Games - Melissa's fascinating account of her life as a Canadian in Korea and her cute little Fusion Baby
  3. Days in a Wannabe Punk's Life - Love her fortright and well-researched posts. She has not been posting of late but I hope she comes back soon!
  4. The Smug Bug - Another one who really ought to blog more often. Especially love her childhood posts which always take me back on the memory train.
  5. Winkie's Way - Beautiful, beautiful writing. I always come away from her blog with a sense of calm
  6. 30 in 2005 - She self-deprecatingly says she writes blah, mundane stuff. Couldn't be further from the truth. Love seeing London and a host of the cities through her eyes. And her writing on life is the 30s really hits home.
  7. Aqua's Dreamscapes - She has the most gorgeous templates. And has recently done a really insightful series of posts on Tibet and the China Olympics.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pokey Pokey

Nikhil recounts Suhana's first vaccination visit, in a rather inapproriately titled post ;-)

What is common between the following gentlemen? (Ok, some of them don’t quite qualify as gentlemen, but ignore that)

  • Mike Tyson
  • Salman Khan
  • Carl Lewis
  • Will Smith

They have gone on record to say that they are petrified of injections! These are full grown macho men, who have been involved in a fist fight or two. If they are scared of injections, can you imagine what a little infant goes through?

One can argue that the real cause of fear of injections is not the actual prick, but the build up to it. You know exactly what’s going to happen, but there is nothing you can do in self defense. And so one would assume that for infants, who don’t know what’s in store, it should be less of an ordeal. But I don’t agree with that at all. Here she is, nicely swaddled in clothes and a warm blanket, in her parent’s arms, being cradled around. And suddenly someone, whom she has never seen before, jerks off the blanket and clothes, places her on a cold mat and begins to jab her with a long, pointed needle. Imagine how that must feel.

Suhana’s first round of injections was scheduled for Monday, 30th June. It was an event, which everyone was nervous about, but was afraid to say so!

Pallavi was nervous for one really big reason. This was the first time that the pediatrician was going to see Suhana, since we left the hospital and besides the injection, he would do a full scale physical examination. For all new moms, in their mind, this is an examination of their capabilities as a Mother. As part of this exam, the pediatrician will measure the baby’s weight, height, skin and general development. If things are going well, then the baby should have put on weight (they lose some of their birth weight initially and then start gaining it back), grown taller and healthier. If this happens, then the Doctor smilingly looks at the mother and says “She looks nice and healthy”. The mother hears it as “Well done! You have passed this exam”. If things are not fine, then he will solemnly look at the mother and say “She needs to improve her pace of growing”. The mother hears this as “You have turned in very poor performance. FAIL”. So, if you find that the wife is particularly nervous and unusually aggressive a few days before this event, now you know why!

The only saving grace is that, in this whole episode, no one even looks at the Father. The only time the Doctor speaks to him during this time is to ask him “Have you paid my consultation fees at the reception?

Talking about the father, this injection time is quite a weird event. It is probably the only time in life, when he will let another grown man poke and hurt his daughter and quietly watch everything. Hell, he even has to thank this other man for a job nicely done! How ironic.

The father’s role becomes important while entering the clinic or hospital just before the injection. The Doctors have warned the parents in advance, that the child is vulnerable to infections till the vaccinations are complete. That every other man, woman and child is a walking talking disease bag, from whom, the child must be protected.

So I entered the hospital like a commando on an overnight search-n-kill operation. Suhana was bundled in layers of clothing, submersed in my arms. My eye’s were watchful, eyeing every person in the hospital with extreme suspicion:

“That filthy guy with a stubble…don’t let him come close. Don’t know how many germs are hiding in his facial fuzz”

“That fat aunty with the sweaty neck. I can just see those germs swimming on her back in puddles of sweat”

“That pesky little kid with a cold. Why doesn’t his mom give him a hanky”!!

As I moved in short, covert bursts from one pillar to the other, my wife gave me cover by walking a few meters ahead, clearing the crowd and shouting in a raspy, aggressive tone that she had not used even in our worst fights!

Finally we reached the Doctor’s cubicle and I heaved a sigh of relief – I had finished my task without any problems. Pallavi, on the other hand, was a sight to behold. Hands trembling, hair frizzed out and eyes nervously shifting gaze.

The Doctor finally began the examination. As he went about checking Suhana, we were expecting him to make a grand announcement after each measurement, declaring a successful performance. But he just kept mumbling to himself, recording each measurement diligently on a paper which he kept close to him. This just added to the tension in the atmosphere. Finally, when my wife could not take it anymore, he announced “She has not only regained her birth weight, but has actually added a bit more. Things are running better than expected”. My wife of course, heard this as “You have broken the 50 year old National Record for baby- weight- gain- in- first- 10- days. You have passed with top honors!!” I literally had to hold her back from jumping onto the Doctor and plastering him with a wet kiss!

Next, it was time for the dreaded injection.

Doctor - “Ok Suhana. Don’t worry, this wont hurt

Me – Thinking. “Yeah, right! That injection relative to her size, is the same as poking you with a full scale baseball bat Doc!!

Doctor – With maniacal eyes. “Here goes…just a little pokey pokey.....hahahahahaha

Suhana – Instantly. “Waaaaaaaaaaaah. This guy is poking me and you guys are just standing and watching? Save me! Waaaaaaaah!

I must admit that it is quite a heart wrenching moment to see a small infant cry like that in pain. You feel very helpless and have to just grin and bear it.

But then something strange happened. The Doctor suddenly lifted her in his arms, with one finger pressed on her wound and began cradling her in a particular position. Almost instantly, Suhana stopped crying. For the next 5 minutes, the Doctor cradled her, talked to her and told us how infants have a much stronger sense of touch, taste and hearing than adults. He told us that only their vision was inferior to ours, but otherwise, pound for pound, they are physically superior! By the end of it, Suhana was completely at peace and was actually enjoying the whole thing.

My wife by now, had fallen for the Doctor. With stars in her eyes, I could gauge exactly what she was thinking -“What a wonderful man. How nicely he put my daughter at ease. What a caring, sensitive soul. Should get to know him better

All I could think was “Fine Mr. Pokey Pokey! With one smooth move, you won over both my girls. But she will still grow up to find me the most perfect man on earth. Beat that!” :-)

More from Nikhil: 1, 2, 3 and 4

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Interlude...

...not of the blog break kind, even though it may seem like that with the yawning lapses of time between posts. No. This post is about Ayaan's musical journey...

Like most kids, Ayaan has always had an affinity for music. I have been playing him CDs of lullabies and nursery rhymes almost from the very moment he popped out of my womb. And once he was able to point and demand, he asked for it when I forgot.

Given that I am something of a bathroom singer myself, the poor child has also been subjected to endless renditions of various lullabies and such like in what I like to think is my mellifluous voice. It started with me choosing what I wanted to sing to him to help him drift off into slumberland but in recent times, the child has turned picky and I have to take requests. The current hot favourite is Little Bo Peep, but I do get the odd request for Dard-e-Disco and such like…

Music also works best when he hurts himself or is generally upset about something. Our special song for such situations is the Hush Little Baby song. It has an almost-magical calming effect on him. That makes this song our equivalent of kissing away the booboos.

The new development in the last couple of months has been that he has gone from being largely a passive listener of music to actively memorising and singing songs by himself. And this has led to some pretty cute incidents that I want to record for posterity…

To start with, we now have a new addition to our bedtime ritual. I am no longer the solo performer of the goodnight songs. He has to sing a song to me as well. Most nights, I get the cutest ever version of Baa Baa Black Sheep though sometimes he decides to go vernacular and recite his favourite Hindi poem about a fish.

The other new ritual is his demand for the favourite song of the moment to be played during the five minute drive to drop him to school. For the last month or so, this has been the Aditees song, better known as Kabhi Kabhi Aditi Zindagi. I am not allowed to put the car into gear unless this song has started playing and depending on the traffic situation, we sometimes have to go through it two to three times till we are at the school. He has a fair idea of the tune and the words but won’t sing along by himself – so we both sing it together. And the other day, I also noticed that he was patting his knee in time with the rhythm of the song – wonder where he picked that up from?!

He has also been singing random snatches of songs taught at school. Mostly these are recognisable nursery rhymes that we have been hearing at home in any case. But a couple of weeks ago, he actually learnt the complete lyrics to an entirely new song about the monsoon and monsoon creatures and came home to sing it to me. It goes like this:

Baarish jab bhi aati hain to froggie aata hain
Hop hop hop hop hop hop karke ghoomta rahta hain
Mitti se nikal kar earthworm aata hain
Snail bhi dheerey dheerey chalta rehta hain
Cham cham baarish aati hain, hum bheeg jaate hain
Aao bachchon ham sab milke bhutta khate hain

And this is usually performed with the froggie soft toy being made to hop around in keeping with the spirit of the song. :-)

And now for what I thought was the cutest episode in recent times. This happened when I was lying in bed reading a book and he was sitting next to me and playing with two soft toys, both frogs.



I looked up from my book when I thought he was saying something to me only to realise he was in deep conversation with the frogs. The monologue went something like this:

"Froggies, please stand up for the national anthem."

He then propped up the frogs against a cushion. However, one of the unfortunate frogs is created in a permanently sitting position so he refused to stay propped up. Ayaan looked at him sternly and repeated loudly:

"I said please stand for the national anthem."

A couple of more efforts to make the poor frog stand followed, after which he irritably said:

"You not standing? OK then, you sit down!"

And turned his attention to the good frog, who had followed his instructions. He then proceeded to sing a completely mangled version of the national anthem, which only an adoring mother could have recgnised as such. Once done, he commanded his audience:

"OK. You sit now."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Antics of a Supposedly Sick Boy

So Ayaan has been quite unwell for the last five days. It started with a bone-rattling cough and has bloomed into fever that won’t go away. The dreaded antibiotics have finally been called into action and we might have to get an x-ray done if he doesn’t respond to these in the next two days.

But looking at him, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that you were in the presence of a boy in the very pinkest of health. Sure, there have been cranky patches when the fever spikes and ultra-clingy behaviour even when it doesn’t but overall, the young man has been in one of his most bouncy, naughty moods in recent history. Some examples from the last couple of days:

  • Decided that the chair at the computer table belonged to him. And everytime he even remotely suspected that I was headed towards it, he would let out a giggly shriek and run to claim it for his own. And then insist that I sit in his lap! It's no surprise that I didn't get much work done. Gingerly perched with only a quarter of one's weight being supported (to avoid squashing the silly fellow with delusions of grandeur) doesn't lend itself to typing...
  • A good fifteen minutes were spent wrapping my dupatta around himself. And then wrapping it around me.
  • Playing with Play Doh the good, old-fashioned way is clearly for losers so it was applied to the walls.
  • Leapt off the weighing scales at the doctor's office and landed on his bum. Quite hard. Got up cheerfully, rubbed said bum cheerily and set off to find something else to do.
  • Also at the doctor's office, tried to get all the sad, sniffly kids to play with him and got mighty upset when they didn't.
  • Insisted on giving me a haircut with his nail-cutter.
  • Blew bubbles, bubbles and more bubbles. And when some bubble-liquid was spilt, insisted on wiping it up himself.
  • Ran to the front door shrieking everytime the doorbell rang, lest someone dare get there before him and open the door instead.
  • Chased every sodden crow that sought shelter from the incessant rain on one of our balconies with the mighty whoop.
  • Climbed up onto the pot in the loo (lid down obviously) and instructed me on how to brush my teeth.

And that's not even including the non-stop chatter and barrage of questions that I have been inundated with all day long, including the colour, name and reason of each of the medicines he has had!

Seriously, this boy needs a lesson on how to be sick...

Monday, August 04, 2008

The First Night

Nihkil learns an important lesson in infant care on his first night home with the baby...

There is so much talk and folklore around a couple’s first night that even young children in India have a fair idea about what ‘Suhaag Raat’ means. But the ‘Suhaag Raat’ concept is quite overhyped. In fact a survey on a new game show, brought out some interesting results – 55% of newly married couples do nothing but crash out on their first night together. So if you are looking for action, it isn’t happening here. For that, you need to wait for the first night you spend with your new born, as a couple. Now that is an occasion which has a heavy dose of action, emotion, conflict, drama, humor and lots or more!

I had heard about this ‘first night’ phenomenon from lots of friends, who had recently become parents. They almost made the infant out to be a sadist, whose only objective in life was to deprive you of sleep. I thought it was quite an exaggeration – after all, how much chaos could a newly born baby really cause? Clearly nothing that could not be tackled by a nice long feeding session. But predictions about baby behavior and their next move are as good as putting your finger on the map and guessing the location of the next big oil reserve!

10: 30 pm

Things are going well for us. We have fed her, cleaned her and rocked her to sleep.

10:45 pm

I am in the loo changing my clothes and have one leg in my Pyjamas, when I hear that dreaded little wail. Before I can finish wearing my clothes, the wail becomes a shrill, high pitched, all out war cry! As I come out of the loo, I find my wife looking mildly irritated.

Pallavi“We just put her to sleep. I don’t know why she is wailing again.”

Me – Knowledgably. “This is her hungry wail. I know it. Feed her.”

Suhana refuses to be fed.

Me“Don’t give me that look Pallavi. Even I am just learning about her. She must be wet. Lets change her Nappy.”

Correct move :-)

11:15 pm

We have changed her Nappy and she has gone to sleep.

00: 05 am

That dreaded wail again

Me“What is it now?”

Pallavi feeds her for 10 minutes, which calms her down, but then she begins wailing again. The nappy is checked, but nothing there.

00:20 am

The wailing has not stopped. So I decide to take her around the house for a walk.
The attempt is successful. She slowly dozes off to sleep. But she is fidgety and does not look completely comfortable.

01: 15 am

The wailing begins. This time, though, she goes for the feed and calms down rapidly.

Another nappy is changed. She slowly begins to doze off.

02: 25 am

I am woken up with a deafening noise. Suhana, is on a high pitch trajectory which has just reached its crescendo.

Pallavi“Tried feeding. No response. She is not wet either. I don’t know what to do”

Me“She may be feeling cold. Put a cap on her head”

Pallavi“The temperature is 29 degrees. You are sweating like a pig. She can’t be feeling cold”

Me – Tentatively. “Er… ummm.. then maybe she is feeling hot”

Pallavi - “Thanks wise guy. Why don’t you hold her for a while.”

03:30 am

I am sitting on the bed holding her. My head hurts with all the wailing. My eyes are barely open. Sheer exhaustion is getting the better of me but this tiny infant is going at it like there is no tomorrow.

04:00 am

Suhana is with Pallavi now. She has been fed again but soon after the feeding, she has stared wailing again. I go to the kitchen to get a glass of water. I come back into the room to find Pallavi, intensely looking at Suhana and blabbering something. Fearing that my wife is losing her sanity, I inch closer to figure out what’s happening.

Pallavi“There is no reason to cry like this Suhana. I have not done anything to you”

Suhana“Waaaaaaaah”

Pallavi“This is really unfair. If you have a problem, then you should let us know.”

Suhana – With renewed vigor “Waaaah! Waaaaah! Waaaaaah!”

I try to reason with my wife that the baby really can’t understand what she is saying. But, like most new mothers. Pallavi has come to the conclusion that the baby is wailing, because the mother has screwed up in some way.

04: 30 am

She finally goes off to sleep. Pallavi and I collapse out of sheer exhaustion.

05: 15 am

A tiny wail.

Oh God No! No!

This time I pretend that I can’t hear. Pallavi does the same.

05: 18 am

The wailing suddenly stops. And then…. BUUUUUUURPPPPP!!

It is the loudest, most unladylike burp I have ever heard in my life. I can believe this tiny infant is capable of making such a loud, vulgar noise.

05: 20 am

Suhana falls off to sleep.

Pallavi and I have craters under our eyes, due to sleep deprivation. But we are happy.
The First night is over and we somehow survived, with one very important lesson learnt - Always Burp the baby!

Previous posts with Nikhil's insights into new daddyhood: 1, 2, 3

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Impostor at the School Gate

Act One

I arrive at school for my first ever Open House with Ayaan’s teachers. I wait my turn on the bench just outside the classroom where they are meeting the parents, one at a time. I can’t help but notice that some parents are in there longer than others and the teachers look sterner with some of them. Given the hyperactive brat I have for a son, I am sure I am going to be in for a long, stern session.

When my turn comes, I walk in nervously. I was never a teacher’s pet (quite the opposite) so I am still a little scared of teachers and especially when I am in full expectation of a talking-to. I sit down and introduce myself.

Me: Hello. I am Ayaan’s mother

Teacher 1: (in a gushing sort of voice) My, you have such a lovely, lovely child…

I just about manage to keep myself from falling off the chair and saying ‘Really?’ in an incredulous voice. I wonder if they’ve got my son mixed up with someone else’s...

Me: Er… right. But naughty, no?

Teacher 2: No, no… I wouldn’t use the word naughty. He’s playful. Just as he ought to be at this age.

By this time, I am in deep shock and vivid memories flash before my eyes – of my pen drive being launched from the fifth floor balcony, of the wallpaper in his room being systematically destroyed, of our new clothes stand being broken within a day of its purchase...

Teacher 1: And we don’t mind children being playful. As long as they don’t hit or hurt other children.

Another memory flashes by. We had gone to a friend’s house and Ayaan had picked up a heavy, plastic duck and whacked the other kid with it on his head… I smile at them through a disbelieving haze…

Teacher 1: (after some further gushing about his cute, ‘accented’ Hindi) That’s all. Just encourage him to be a little less aggressive…

Ah! Finally, a word that sounds like it might describe the little boy who lives in my house. I say thank you and walk out in a daze, forgetting to query them on what they mean by aggression and how I can correct it. Anyway, there will be another Open House and hopefully I will be less stunned and more capable of participating in the teacher-parent dialogue…

***********************************************************************************

Act Two

I’m dropping Ayaan to school. A few metres away from the school gate, his eyes alight on a filthy stick lying on the monsoon-drenched ground.

I see him eyeing it. He eyes me eyeing him. And then swoops down to pick it up.

I ask him politely not to pick it up. He picks it up anyway.

I ask him politely to drop it down. He refuses to do anything of the sort.

I ask him again (this time not so politely) to put it down. He remains resolute in his refusal to give up the darned stick.

I tell him that I will get very angry if he doesn’t drop the stick. It makes no difference.

I then try and grab the stick from his hand. He starts to shout and struggle. Overall, not a very dignified mother-son interaction and at the end of it, the stick is still firmly clenched in his fist.

By this time, we are at the school gate and blocking the entrance so I decide to let the matter drop and send him on his way into the school.

The eagle-eyed teacher at the gate immediately notices the stick. I see her calmly bend down and say something to him. He puts the stick down on the ground without a murmur and walks off into school.

I pick my lower jaw up from the muddy ground and head off to work…
***********************************************************************************

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Moron in the Labor room

More from Nikhil's archives...

There is so much written about Labor in various books, guides, blogs and websites that women pretty much know what to expect and how to deal with it. But there are 2 things that have always intrigued me about labor.

  1. In almost everything that happens, Nature has a way of enabling and assisting procreation. Nature is focused on ensuring that every species gets more than a fair chance of expanding and growing. Hell, when that pretty girl in the red dress at the bar looks at you suggestively, it’s basically nature’s way of saying “go get in on and make babies”. It’s not as cool, but that’s what it is. So then how come the actual process of child birth has been made so tough and difficult for the woman? I can understand that it’s tough for us Indians, because its God’s way of controlling a people who procreate like mice!! But what about those Scandinavians or even those Japanese people, whose population is actually shrinking? Surely, God would make the whole process easier for them. But it’s equally tough for them too. Quite intriguing.
  2. All the published information on Labor has lots of information for the mother, but hardly anything for the father. Hang on ladies, don’t take out your knives…. I know that the woman does all the hard work and this is really about her, but spare a thought for the poor Dad. He is also completely into the moment. But the only advice every book gives him is to try and not be a pain in the ass and act like a moron. Surely at such a time, even a piece of furniture would be “caring, sensitive and supportive”, so asking the Dad to be this way is really telling him that “we have very low expectations of you”!

Anyway, the labor classes do come in very handy and gives one a good idea of what to expect at the actual moment. But my case was different. Due to some complications, Pallavi had to go in for a Caesarian. This is an event of astronomical proportions, for which no one prepares you!

It is supposed to be the most important event in your life, but your wife is in pain, there is chaos all around and everyone in the room thinks that you are in the way. Great! What is worse is that they dress you up in loose, ill fitting clothes, with the Pyjamas sliding off every 2 minutes, a strange cap that resembles a joker from a circus and a sterile white face mask. If you were telling your self “Don’t act like Moron, please don’t”, then one look at the mirror will make you feel exactly that.

So there was my wife lying on the Operation theatre, quite expectedly nervous, as I entered the room. As I tentatively walked towards my wife, trying my best not to look at anything except her face, the doctor announced “Don’t worry Pallavi, now your husband is here too”. I thought to myself “Thanks for the vote of confidence Doc, but right now, I am about 2 seconds away from deliriously running out of this room!!”

To make matters worse, the Doctor announced that 7 out 10 men actually faint in the labor room at the site of the blood and gore.

Thanks, Doc, this is just the information I needed at this point in time

Luckily my wife was given local anesthesia so she was awake through out the surgery, which was quite re-assuring for both of us.

At precisely 2 minutes before the big moment, the Doctor announced “2 mins to go Mr. Nikhil, so please keep your camera ready

Me –“Camera? What Camera? This is an OT Doc…. they frisked me from top to bottom and did not let me get anything inside

Doctor – “That’s unusual. Usually they let cameras inside

Wife – Pissed off. “I can’t believe that this one time when you needed to get your camera, you go and forget. It’s so typical of you

Me – Protesting "But what could I…

Doctor –“Don’t worry, you can use my phone to click snaps

Pallavi – “He always does this Doctor

Doctor – “Ok. Let it be…hey…the countdown begins

Me – “Doctor, your phone is Samsung. I have a Nokia. Don’t know how to use the camera on this one

Doctor – “1…2…

Me –“If you could just help me here for a second…

Wife – “And leave me on the OT? What’s wrong with you

Doctor – “...3

Me – “No…I did not mean…

Doctor – “It’s a GIRL!!!

Oh My God!

Read more of the new daddy's exploits here and here

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Daily Parent

I’ve been writing this post in my head for the last few weeks months so it’s about time I spat it out. The starting point was an article I read in the weekend edition of Hindustan Times some time ago. The focus of the article was on emergence of this new phenomenon called weekend parenting. I can’t find the link to the article anywhere in the online edition so I am going to try and summarise what it said.

It started off talking about double-income families where the parents both have hectic jobs and therefore, they do not get to spend quality time with their kids during the week. So they squeeze parenting into the weekend.

Digression: The lady who wrote this article had contacted me and asked if I would be open to being interviewed for this article and when I explained my approach to being a working parent, we quickly realised that I was not a fit for the theme she was trying to establish. In fact, I wondered whether she would find parents who not only see their parental roles in this fashion but are also comfortable enough to talk about this in public… but apparently, it did not turn out to be hard as it seemed. End of digression.

Anyway, getting back to the article, I found the approach of these parents hard to understand on many levels. Firstly, there was the fact that they considered it okay that parenting and quality time was something that was alright to squeeze into two days every week.

To start with, I completely and violently disagree with this concept of ‘weekend parenting’. Parenting, in my humble opinion, is not just about hanging out with the kids and having a great time – that is what they have friends for. And I am of the firm view that I am not interested in being Ayaan’s friend (atleast not until he has become an adult in every sense of the word) – my job is to be his mother.

And to me, the daily and mundane tasks of parenting are as critical as any weekend fun that we might choose to have with Ayaan. Many of the mothers I know, working moms and SAHMs likewise, delegate all the daily feeding and grooming activities to their maids. I personally don’t agree with this approach and feel that parents must participate in the physical care of their kids. If I were a SAHM, it is very unlikely that I would have hired a full-time nanny at all.

I think the difference is that I don’t see my role as just being emotionally available to my son while the maid takes care of all the ‘work’ that goes into tending to his needs. For me, these are tasks that I am unwilling to delegate (except to Jai) when I am around. I get up with him in the morning, give him his milk, bathe and dress him for school and give him his breakfast. Once I am back in the evening too, I do everything for him including feeding him dinner, brushing his teeth and putting him to bed. To me, this is time well spent and definitely adds up to quality time.

But more than the time (quality or otherwise) aspect, the physical parenting approach is a very important part of my parenting philosophy because it keeps me involved with the nitty-gritty of my child’s life and has some very clear advantages for me:

  • Bathing, brushing, bum cleaning – these may seem like pointless, mudane tasks to some, but I think they are essential to keep me in tune with Ayaan's physical wellbeing. Every small wound is noticed and investigated, teeth are inspected daily for any sign of cavities/ decay, nose is blown to evaluate whether adenoids are getting more acute than usual, an inadequately cleaned bum is immediately picked up and pointed out to the maid before lazy cleaning mushrooms into a rash, potty consistency is duly noted as a cue to healthy stomach, and so on and so forth.
  • While I know my maid feels a lot of affection for Ayaan, she also does see stuff like bathing and feeding as tasks that have to be completed and goes at them with the energy that I apply (on most days) to my to-do list at work. So a bath with her is just a bath – water, soap, rinse, wipe, done. But a bath can also be such a great opportunity for Ayaan and me to have fun together (school mornings not included, for my own sanity’s sake) – measuring water from the big mug to the small mug, pouring it down the drain and watching the circles it makes on its way out, filling up the rubber ducky with water and making it ‘pee’, and blowing soap bubbles are just some of the ways in which we enjoy bath time.
  • Another victim of the maid’s task-oriented approach is Ayaan learning to do stuff on his own. An example of this is meal times when her focus is to get the meal over with. With me, Ayaan takes twice the amount of time because he wants to serve himself, break bits of the chapatti and feed himself, ask questions about what we are eating, and generally chatter away about this, that and the other. Just like his bath, when he picks up the soap and lathers it onto himself or at brushing time when he wants to brush his teeth on his own once I am done {just in case I missed a spot ;-)} or washing his hands by himself rather than having them washed for him quickly and efficiently.
  • Also, it gives me satisfaction of doing something for him because these are the nuts and bolts of parenting that I can hold onto and know that I am doing my job. It’s so much harder to measure the other fuzzy stuff that makes up ‘quality time’ but here atleast I can measure my presence in his life by the more material and mundane tasks and activities we do together on a daily basis.

And all these things I can only do if I see my parental role as a daily responsibility rather than something that I can fulfil at the weekends.

This article also talked about this concept of a ‘weekly’ boarding school. The way it works is that the school is on the outskirts of the city and therefore is huge, has international standards, world-class facilities and all that jazz. And here’s the thing: your kid gets picked up on Monday morning, stays at the school through the week and then on Friday evening, is deposited back to your home… this really bothers me. I mean, we went to boarding schools for a few years but that was because my parents were posted to places where there were no decent schools. Not because out parents were too busy to spare some time for us during the week!

The third strain in the article that bothered me was the expression that this ‘weekend parenting’ took across all three sets of parents featured in the article. They all considered a weekend well-spent as one spent in the mall. If this is the only time you are going to spend with your kid, I don’t understand how this counts for quality time. Whether you are collectively zoned out at the movie theatre, playing games (mostly individually) at the playzone, eating unhealthy stuff at the food court or assuaging your guilt by swiping your card at the shops, what I find completely lacking is the time spent in one-on-one face time with your child.

For me, weekends are an extension of the weekdays. I don’t see why I have to make a big song-and-dance about them. We spend most of our time at home reading, playing and lazing around together. Outings include regular stuff like grocery shopping with us (where he loves to help with the baskets), trips to the park and maybe a visit to a friend (who may or may not have a kid). And it’s fun. And atleast for us, it works better than spending the day in the mall. We do that too once in a while but I still prefer the quieter weekends where it’s just us…

Anyway, that’s my two-bits on this new-age concept of ‘weekend parenting’.

SAHM – Stay At Home Mom
Chapatti – Indian bread