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