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…

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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…
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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

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Dad is Born - A Sequel

People, the new daddy is back for his much-demanded encore. This one is titled 'Save Me From My Parents'... Over to Nikhil:

Suhana did not cry or wail for almost 5 hours after they brought her to the room. Her expressions were mainly of shock and confusion. Don’t blame her though – she spent 9 months in a cozy dark place, where she was the only person in the entire world and food came free without any effort. Now she was in bright light, had a bunch of curious giants peeping into her face making strange noises and the tummy did not feel so satisfied. The last time I felt this way was when I finished my management trainee stint and moved into Sales.

So, Suhana had successfully managed to fool me that she was a quite, peaceful yet energetic baby. I even made some ‘proud Daddy’ calls to friends and family, announcing that I had created an angelic child. But like many things in life before this, I was wrong!

It started around 8 pm, after all the visitors at the hospital had gone back. It was a little wail that was barely audible. However, soon wailing began to get louder until it reached a crescendo. The loud wailing was supported with just the right expressions – red face, frowning eye brows and rapid kicking of legs. Before we could even understand what was happening, she was in complete agony, as if calling out to people outside the room saying – “Save me, save me, my parents are cruel people!

From our earlier research and conversations, we had figured that babies mainly cry when they are wet and need to be cleaned or when they are hungry or when they are feeling too hot or cold. No book explained that all these 3 events could actually occur simultaneously!! Anyway, I was prepared for this and did what was expected of me – I started making a nappy.

As a football fan, one of my lasting memories is that of the Brazilian footballer Ronaldo (he with the crooked teeth, bald head and highest number of World Cup goals). In the 1998 World Cup Final, against France, Ronaldo was completely off color and the story doing the rounds was that he had suffered a massive anxiety attack, just before the match, as the pressure of expectations got to him. I could not understand it then, but I sympathize with him now. Making a nappy (for which I believed I had a natural talent), under pressure from a wailing infant and its delirious mother, can be a harrowing experience. The creases were not joining, the folds were going haywire and I finally landed up making something of a cross between a mini skirt and a bandana!

Anyway, we quickly cleaned her up and then began the onerous task of positioning her for breast feeding. This proved much tougher than we imagined. A hungry baby is like a Vampire who just wants to have a go at anything within a 2 cm radius. Clothes, fingers, buttons etc. are all fair game! So I again did what I was expected to do – I opened the Bible - “What to expect when you are expecting”, and turned the page to breast feeding positions. As I began instructing my wife on how to position the kid, she shot back “I don’t need a lecture you @$$#o£€, I need you to put a pillow behind my back”.
Aye Aye Mam

Let me pose a very disgusting question to you – How many of you have munched on Subway sandwiches and milk shakes, while taking a dump in the Loo? Chances are that unless you were a particularly miserly kid in an all boys boarding school, your answer will be an emphatic ‘No’. I mean who mixes eating food with something as disgusting as taking a dump? The correct answer is – Infants! All kids poo while suckling and they do this repeatedly and sadistically.

So here we were, finally convinced that Suhana was in the correct position, satisfied in the incomplete knowledge that new parents have. And then it happened - a tiny sound, a little trickle and then a full fledged gush! There was poo all over the place. My mini skirt-bandana Nappy did absolutely nothing to hold things back. In fact, while finding the correct feeding position, we shifted Suhana around so much, that the Nappy had reached somewhere between her hip and shoulder.

As soon as she felt poo around her, Suhana stopped feeding and began to wail loudly again. This time it was meaner and scarier than before. I was panic stricken! What if the Doctors come into the room now? They will see a baby with a Nappy on her shoulder, poo all around, wailing loudly, while both parents behave like bumbling buffoons! What if they took her away from us? What if we were categorized as “unfit to be parents”?

That was the motivation we needed. In the next 3 minutes, I made what can be descried as the perfect Nappy, while Pallavi cleaned up Suhana. We then put on her Nappy, rubbed her back and almost instantly she stopped wailing. Her expressions changed from accusation to innocence. Those big eyes suddenly looked at us, as if to say “Who me? Did I do something wrong?

And exactly at that moment (and this something that will stay with us till the rest of our lives), the pediatrician and his team walked through the door. What they found was a well fed baby in the arms of her Dad, peacefully enjoying the ambience. The Doctor completed her check up and said “You guys are doing great. Baby is fine and you can go home whenever you want now”.

Pallavi and I proudly looked at one another – we got an A+

Nikhil is contemplating starting a blog of his own but is not yet sure if he will. Otherwise, this outsourcing strategy is totally working for me, given my abysmal blogging frequency...

Either way, will keep you folks posted...

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Dad is Born

When Nikhil told us he was going to be a dad, I have to say it took some getting used to. I mean we are talking about the most fun and flirtatious guy in our team and if one had had to pick a middle name for him, let’s just say it wouldn’t be Responsibility. The father-to-be himself harboured many such insecurities and, like most men I know, wondered ad infinitum about whether he was ‘ready’ to be a father and whether he would truly suck at it…

Well, baby Suhana has arrived and Nikhil is proving himself so wrong that it would be funny if it wasn’t so darned cute. He has also been sharing his early experiences with us and it’s so nice to see a new dad’s perspective on fatherhood.

Since he does not have a blog, with his permission, I am putting two chapters of his Memoirs up here – one from before the baby was born (hilarious) and one from just after (one of the most awwww-inducing things I have read in a while)…

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Before

For a person, who has been in management all along, I have learnt to look out for “red flags” when a new job role is described. The two words which tick off alarm bells in my mind are “challenging & rewarding”. Challenging basically implies that the job is so tough that the last guy got sacked and rewarding means that you won’t get paid or appreciated much so learn to enjoy it anyway. As you read below, I will tell you why this is important.

The first time I realized that fatherhood would be tough, was when my wife asked me to join her for a baby preparation class curiously titled “Breast Feeding”. I was not really sure why I was supposed to attend this class but then one does not argue with a hormonal, pregnant wife!

I was particularly concerned because some of my friends had warned me of this new trend in the US, where fathers use an artificial breast, filled with expressed milk, clamped on to their chest and feed the baby with it. It is supposed to help in better bonding between father and child. For Gods’ sake, what happened to good old fashioned football or cycling or even playing horse- horse!! This was a direct threat to my masculinity and I was very nervous.

As I tentatively opened the door and entered the class, I found myself the only man amidst 4 women - the instructor (a pretty lady), 2 other heavily pregnant women and my wife. The husbands of the other 2 women successfully maneuvered themselves out of this class by using that most successful excuse of all time – “something important has come up at work honey”. Being the only man in the room resulted in very appreciative glances from all the women around. This did not seem so bad after all. And then it happened.

In one swift motion, like a Samurai warrior attacking his opponent, the instructor took out a doll from the drawer, placed it close to her chest and looked me in the eye – “So Nikhil, what do you think about Breast Feeding?”. I was taken completely by surprise, a deer caught in the headlights. What was I supposed to say? Was this a trick question? It’s quite obvious that men don’t think about breast feeding. We do think about breasts (a lot), but clearly her question was not about my favorite fantasy. And so I took a deep breath and then confidently proceeded to make one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I said “Breast feeding is what women do to children”. There was a deafening silence in the room followed by a look of horror all around. I could just see the venom in their eyes. “What an insensitive asshole”, “Is this all he can say about such a beautiful thing?” My wife gave me the “you-are-so-screwed-once-we-get-home” look. I could almost hear a screeching buzzer sound in the back ground, with Amitabh Bachchan’s baritone going “Nahin Mr. Nikhil, Galat Jawaab

The instructor sensibly decided not to ask me anymore questions and I was more than happy.

What followed after that was completely unbelievable. For the next one hour, I heard these women talk about their breasts, sharing the most intimate details, feeling them up, pointing to them and describing various parts of the anatomy of their breasts! Sounds like the fantasy of every 16 year old guy right? WRONG! It was the weirdest thing ever to happen to me and left me with a completely different perspective on the female breast. I don’t think I can look at them the same way ever. Hell I can’t even say the word Br… well it’s the fleshy organ that covers the mammary glands of the female sex in homo-sapiens!

The second class I attended was more encouragingly titled “Baby Care”. I realized by the end of the class that it should have been titled “How to handle a shitting machine”. 80% of the class was on the potty habits of infants and believe me they do a lot of it! The high point however was when the instructor taught us how to make a Nappy from a square piece of muslin cloth. I realized that I had a natural talent for making Nappies. This surely somewhat redeemed me from the fiasco of the first class. Making the Nappy also suited me just fine. Having being educated in Economics, I know the merits of division of labor. One person makes the nappies, while the other one changes them. I would proudly be the Nappy maker. That night I discussed my approach with Pallavi. It turned out to be a wrong move.

The final class was on Labor. This class happens in a very tiny, air conditioned room, with just enough space for 3 people. I went inside along with Pallavi and the instructor and soon found myself lying on the crisp white mattress between both ladies. This seemed to be getting quite exciting and I was looking forward to what happens next! It turned out to be the most humiliating experience of my life. In order to better appreciate what my wife was going to experience and to help her through the painful labor process, I needed to experience it first hand myself!

And so I found myself lying on my back legs raised in the air, chin on my chest, taking rapid breaths, as the instructor and my wife went “Push! Push!” What happened next is too embarrassing to describe and I will leave it to your imagination!

And so, armed with a new perspective on breasts, deep knowledge on infant shitting habits and a humiliating attempt to feel like a woman in labor, I was now prepared for what has been generally described as the most “challenging yet rewarding” assignment in life – Fatherhood!

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After

I am struggling to explain how one feels when you first lay eyes on your baby. I guess in a way its like seeing the woman you love the morning after – what you see is not too pretty but it still looks like the most beautiful thing you have ever seen.

You see, babies come wrapped in all sorts of indescribable gore! If one had not seen enough videos and spoken with other parents, you would actually look at the baby and go “What is that? Is it human? Did my wife make out with a monkey on the sly?

But as they clean them up and you begin to see her face, there are myriad emotions that hit you.

Disbelief – How could I have contributed in producing something so beautiful?

Curiosity – Why does she have this here? Why does she have that there?

Relief – Everything seems to be in order - 2 eyes, 1 nose, 2 ears, 10 fingers…

Fear – She is so tiny. How am I going to take care of her?

And then they slowly hand over the baby to your arms.

Pride – That’s one helluva beautiful child!

Confidence – Don’t worry girl. I am not going to let go. Nothing can harm you now.

Love – This is going to be a lifelong love affair…

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Here's wishing Nikhil, Pallavi and Suhana all best for what promise to be some seriously challenging and rewarding times ahead. Take it from someone who's been done, done that - the rewards beat the challenges hands down!