Sunday, May 08, 2011

Sleepless in Mumbai

It's 4 a.m. I have spent the last 5 hours trying to sleep, to no avail. The butterflies in my stomach just won't let up. They are alternating between creating havoc in my stomach and attempting to climb up into my windpipe and choke off my air supply.

So what's keeping me awake? To start with, all sorts of last minute shit is hitting the fan. The car was sent to Hyundai for a touch-up job over 10 days ago. They were supposed to deliver it back on Thursday. On Thursday, they said they would get it to us on Friday. Yesterday, they came up with a cock-and-bull story about the paint not having dried because of the cloudy weather (?!) and expressed their inability to get our car back to us before Tuesday. One day after we leave. (Thankfully, the car is on a separate truck so we are trying to get the packers to pick it up directly from the service station). The Siemens technician was supposed to come yesterday to screw the washing machine drum in preparation for transit. He didn't show, his phone is switched off and customer service is enjoying their weekend. The Tata Sky dude was supposed to come yesterday but has promised to come tomorrow now. The admin chick in my ex-company chose last week to wake up to my request from two months ago to tell Vodafone to transfer my number from the corporate plan and despite a very clear e-mail spelling out the same, sent them a mail asking them to deactivate the number. Much calling and running around happened and it's back on. God only knows what surprises today will bring.

And there is the big, humongous, life-changing move. This time tomorrow, I will be sleeping in a service apartment in Mumbai. This time on the day after tomorrow, I will be sleeping in my mom's house in Jaipur. This time next week, I will be sleeping in a hotel room in Hyderabad. This time next fortnight, I will be sleeping in our new house in Hyderabad. All of this sleeping, of course, assumes that the butterflies would have moved on to greener pastures.

Some people like to move. I don't. I had a wandering childhood. I never went to any school for more than three years in a row, lived in many towns and cities, went to boarding school and even stayed with my aunt for a couple of years. It made me yearn to settle down in one place and grow some roots. For me, Mumbai has been that place. Eleven long years in the city have made it my own, my home. It's the longest I have lived in any place, but it is much much more than that.

I came here in 2000 as a young trainee, fresh out of MBA school and a year spent in a rigourous cross-country training program. I moved into a company-provided chummery. It was a blessing - I didn't have to keep house or cook. I came and went as I pleased. I went out a lot, sowed my last wild oats (the ones that had survived MBA school) and enjoyed the kind of carefree freedom that few other cities in this country could have afforded me. I went out on debauched nights on the town (often with the girl gang), took public transport at the oddest of hours, saw the latest of the late night shows at the cinema and in general, waltzed about the city with supreme unconcern for my safety. Really, I couldn't have done it anywhere else.

In 2002, a few months after our wedding, Jai finally moved to Mumbai. Since I was in a conventional, stable job at a company where people tend to spend their entire careers, my career became and stayed the lead career till I upped and quit, so moving away from this city was never even an option.

Once Jai was here, the chummery was no longer an option and we finally moved to rented digs. We bought furniture, hired a maid and got a couple of dogs. We worked long hours, ate out a lot, watched a lots of movies and pretty much lived the DINK (double income, no kids) dream.

2005 was a watershed year. Ayaan was born. And life was never the same again. The littlest human being in our family became the biggest priority. All preconceived plans and notions went flying out of the window. I struggled with the decision to go back to work and finally did. We hired a nanny. We had to send the dogs away; thankfully my mother was happy to take them. We bought a house (flat).

Much of 2006 was spent doing up the house. I love this house. Leaving it is one of my biggest sorrows. We were lucky to buy it when it was still under construction and were able to do it up as we wished. The coloured panels in some of the rooms, the bright yellow wallpaper behind Ayaan's bed, the cheery red tiles in the kitchen. the fish motif in Ayaan's bathroom, and so much more. It's not going to be easy to live in an impersonal, rented house after this.

We moved in on New Years' Day in 2007. It's been four wonderful years. Yes, there were fights, tantrums, moments of doubts, and all the little inevitable downs of life. But above all that, we made a ton of memories here. Some of them reside only in my head, others have been captured on camera and still others left their physical mark - like the stains on Ayaan's door from all his sticking and the grubby finger marks on the walls - some boy-sized, others baby-sized. In the next few days, the painters and polishers will get to work and wipe out most of the physical reminders of our stay here and another family will move in and make the space on their own. But the stuff in my head, in my pictures folder and the blog will stay.

This house has been witness to Ayaan's journey from toddlerhood to boyhood. It welcomed Tarana into its arms when she was born and watched her leave infancy behind to become a vocal, active toddler.  It has seen my transition from wannabe supermom to struggling SAHM. It's been home.

I guess it's time for goodbyes. Mumbai, I will miss you. I may come back to live here, I may not - the future is uncertain. But you have a special place in my heart that no other city can take. Product of a mixed marriage and a nomadic upbringing, I always struggled to name my 'native place'. After eleven, long years, I finally have the answer to that question. Thank you for that and for everything else.

Thank you for welcoming me into your arms. For not judging me. For protecting me when I was silly or less than sensible about my own well-being and safety.

Thank you for seeing me through my transition from footloose single girl to married woman to working mom to stay-at-home mom.

Thank you for enabling and nurturing me through ten years of a fulfilling career. I don't know what lies ahead but I do know that those years will stand me in good stead, no matter what I choose to do.

Thank you for helping me maintain and build some of the best friendships of my lifetime. For making sure that my best friends from college and MBA school have been in and out of the city. For the friends I made at work, who made office so much more than job.

Thank you for being kind to my children. With all your constraints, you have ensured a happy early childhood for them. You gave us trusted maids who cared for them with affection. And schools that we didn't have to fight for but were wonderful places for Ayaan to spend his pre-primary years. And friends, playdates, parks and so much more.

Thank you for being you. I wouldn't change a thing. (Except maybe the traffic)

In the immortal words of John Denver:
So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go

'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane
I don't know when I'll be back again
Oh, babe, I hate to go

Au revoir, Mumbai. Till we meet again.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

A Fish Out of Water

It's time to come clean. It's taken some time for me to admit this, even to myself, but I am starting to wonder if I am cut out for this stay-at-home mom business.

As a working mom, I felt stretched and exhausted and I envied women who didn't have to juggle motherhood and a career. I thought choosing to do just one - staying at home with the kids - would be easier in comparison. I thought I would finally be rid of the guilt monster, discover heretofore hidden founts of patience, have more time to read, and be rewarded with more content, secure and well-behaved kids. In a nutshell, I thought we would all be happier. It turns out I was wrong - we aren't.

On most days, everything just seems almost unbearably intense. Ayaan has always been a demanding child, trying to soak up every bit of the time and attention that I had to give and even that I didn't. I never minded all that much before because I was spending a fair amount of time away from him so I thought it was only normal that he would want his pound of flesh when I was around. I really expected a big change on this front once I quit my job. I thought he would become more secure and independent, but that has not happened. Add Tarana and her acute separation anxiety to the mix and it's mama-time all the freaking time! Despite the fact that there are two maids in the house at any given point of time, they both seem to want to hang out mostly with me.

A prime example of their clinginess is what happens every time I try to leave the house. Tarana has a screaming meltdown and Ayaan pelts me with questions about where I am going, why I need to go, when I will be back and why he can't come with me (in a tone that gets increasingly more whiny). I mean, for goodness sake, is it too much to ask that I can slip out for a short trip to the grocery store or the salon without facing a mini Spanish Inquisition at home?

I wrote a proud post about Ayaan's geekiness recently but on an everyday basis, it just translates into a LOT of questions. And towards the end of the day, it takes all my resolve to keep from snapping at him when he asks me what seems like his millionth question. And it's not just questions about the world around him but his need for a detailed reasoning for everything he asked to do. It just drives me crazy.

And the guilt? It never goes away. These days, I feel totally awful about my lack of patience. On most days, I spend a good part of my time with the kids nagging, scolding, yelling and even smacking. I go to bed feeling like an awful mother every single night. I resolve to be a more patient, loving parent the next day - a resolve that rarely lasts more than an hour on most days and I am back to being cranky, with my temper on a hair-trigger.

The last month has been especially hard since Ayaan has been home all day long and since he doesn't nap any more, and barring a few classes he goes for, that is 14 very long hours. I don't know whether it's his latent insecurities about the upcoming move, boredom, the fact that he misses his dad or a reaction to my crankiness, but he has been supremely high maintenance. A simple request to come for breakfast can become the cause of a major mutiny and the rest of the day just goes downhill from there.

Honestly, I didn't expect it to be this hard. I had this very utopian ideal of what my stint as a stay-at-home mom would be like. I thought life would be easier, more relaxed and more fulfilling. It has been anything but. I rarely get any time to myself, read fewer books in an average month than I did when I was working and can't even go to the loo without an entourage. It doesn't help that Jai is not here during the week. I am lot calmer and happier on the weekends when he is here but being the only go-to person for the kids five days a week, every week gets really stressful for me.

At the risk of sounding boastful, I have to say that I was a successful working mom. The four years I worked after Ayaan was born were good years. Sure, it was tiring and complicated. And yes, I was more impatient than I would have liked even back then. But overall, I have to say I rocked the working mom scene. I did well at my job, my home ran smoothly and Ayaan was a happy child (high-maintenance but happy). As a housewife, I don't quite cut it. I have nothing to show for my efforts but a messy house, meals entirely cooked by the maid and bratty kids.

Honestly, the fact that I feel this way makes me feel like a bit of a failure. I mean, come on, what kind of mother does it make me if the primary reason I think of going back to work is not professional ambition or financial need but to put some time and distance between me and my kids??! Go ahead. Say it. It makes me a bad mother. It won't be any worse than the names I have been calling myself in my head.

And now, big changes. We move to Hyderabad. New city. New school. No friends. No maids. I am terrified. I am giving it another six months. I hope by then, life will settle down and I will find a reliable maid. And if I am still feeling like I do right now, I am packing my lunch box and going right back to work. I think it will be best for me AND for the kids. That 'the best mother is a happy mother' cliche is right on the money.