Why you can never be really ‘ready’ for a baby

Mother and babyWhen I was growing up, I thought I would get married by 27, because that’s when I would find the perfect guy, settle in my dream job and ace it. I would have a baby at 30. And would swing back into my career by 35.

30 came and went, and I neither had the dream job nor the man. The baby of course had flown off the radar. My mother treated me like a time-bomb with every oncoming birthday. Soon, relatives stopped asking me when I would settle down. Meanwhile, the rest of my friends were busy tying the knot and popping babies. I was busy playing the cool aunt and buying books that no one else would buy for them.

One day, I was 35. And I was told that I had totally missed the man and baby bus.

In the next five years, dream job, man and baby happened. I didn’t plan it this way. But I think the fact that I had stopped thinking about them had something to do with it.

Was I ready? Hell no. Being a cat lady, playing aunt all those years, buying baby clothes, books and toys, playing peekaboo was hardly a qualification. I had no idea how one tiny person can change your life so irreversibly, enough for you to never be able to find factory settings again. I still go to bed wondering if I could, just for one day, wake up single. And the strange part is, I have a good kid, and he is really fun and kind and sensitive and bright  and I had no idea of the person I could be without him around. Does that mean I was ready for a child? No.

My friend A’s kid and mine share the same name. Hers is 16, mine is 6. She and I are the same age. Hmm, maybe it’s a good thing to have kids early, I thought. You can just get on with the rest of your life soon. She has entered the second phase in her career, and is pursuing her new entrepreneurial role with renewed vigor. We met last year. And then she told me about the black hole her life had been for the better part of the last 20 years. And then I felt bad that I was backpacking the countryside and switching boyfriends when she was tending to two kids, trying to get a new degree to stay relevant and managing a home.

When someone tells you what is the right time to have a baby, they are actually talking body time. Which is also fairly subjective, because your body is not readier just because it is younger neither is it less able because it is older. I never thought I would be able to dissect it this way, but there are three things in close competition in this whole phenomenon of baby-readiness: the biological clock, the career clock and the emotional clock. For the purpose of convenience, let me divide this into three time zones when babies are usually had: the 20s, the 30s, the 40s. The inbetweeners get the worst deal. And ironically, this is the time when most women are choosing to have kids- the early thirties.

The flip side to this is: women who have their kids in their twenties actually have a shot at getting their life back in their forties. On the contrary, women who have kids late have been there, done that, hopefully ticked off some items on their bucket list by the time the child comes along.

But no matter how much you factor in and how ready you are with a plan C, D and Z, a baby is one thing that will most certainly throw you off the loop and leave you wondering: is this what I bargained for? And worse, you will use your situation to feel that sense of entitlement because others did it to you and you will never forgive them.

Motherhood is the most irreversible thing that can ever happen to you. And yet it is the one thing that is the least thought through. Most women end up having babies either when it’s too early for them to actually evaluate what’s happening, or too late for them to have the luxury of thinking it through.

I can’t really tell you when you are ready for motherhood but I can take a good guess at when you are not:

  1. You are not ready because you have a stable job you love: The job will be the most difficult thing to navigate post baby, because it will always demand a rational side of you that will often run in short supply. Plus there will be more able, less baggage workers dying to take your place when you are busy planning night feeds.
  2. You are not ready because you have a willing partner: Once the sperm contribution has been made, partners often tend to run out the door and invent meetings and difficult work projects that keep them as far away from home as possible. If this is non-negotiable, you need to have that talk before you jump into sex on ovulation days.
  3. You are not ready if you think having kids is fulfilling. Or noble. You are better off winning medals at sport or cracking sales targets. There is nothing fulfilling about never knowing if you are good enough.
  4. You are not ready if you think having a child will take your marriage to another level: On the contrary, this will be the most trying time of your marriage, but no one will tell you that because reproduction just means more companies can sell you more things for the rest of your life. And there is a lot of money to be made.
  5. You are not ready because the child has two sets of grandparents intact: After the initial photo-opps, most grandparents are difficult to sustain as a constant presence in the child’s life and involve careful engineering or emotional blackmail of the highest kind.
  6. You are not ready because all your friends have babies: There is no guarantee that their babies will be willing play-dates or holiday-worthy. Or that you still like them.
  7. You are not ready because you have had a cat. Cats do not ask you to read the same book 19 times.
  8. You are not ready because you were a really good baby sitter for your friends: There is always an exit plan for other people’s kids. None for your own.
  9. You are not ready because you like children: Children as playmates and amusement devices and children as things to care for 24X7X365 are very different things.
  10. You are not ready because you have enough money: It is never enough. Remember the black hole?
  11. You will never feel grown-up enough to know what to do, be a role model, give hope and direction to a small innocent child who will never tire of questions.
  12. You are not ready because you have a stable marriage: There is no such thing.

I find the whole process of “waiting until you’re ready” to be a ridiculous idea, because it’s based on the premise that one can actually “prepare” for parenthood. It’s a baby. It’s as unpredictable as you are.

So where is this going? My two bits: You are truly ready for a baby when you are truly ready for yourself. Because the extremes of who you are and what you can or cannot endure fully sink in post motherhood. And it is not always a happy place to visit, because you never know what you are going to find out. But if you really want to have a child, you are as ready as you will ever be.

(A version of this post previously appeared in the White Swan foundation for Mental Health website here)

Children and animals and how they lived happily ever after


pets and kids

All creatures wise and wonderful

I was asked a question recently that I didn’t know how to answer. We were discussing my other profession; I am also a canine behaviourist. “So you don’t believe that animals are animals and they will attack you without reason?,” said the lady at Yoga class. “How do you teach them when they don’t know you. Don’t they bite ?”

The only thing I could stutter was, “Your child doesn’t know her teachers when she first goes to school, but they manage to teach her over time, don’t they? We are animals too, and like us, they respond within a framework to stimulus.”

It was a dry answer. I might as well have tried to explain time through colours.

I am childless by choice; I don’t believe all my children need to come out of my uterus or within my specie. It is not an adventure I am compelled to go on, but it’s a destination I visit often. Not in a 2-hour a week way, but a three-day Mimi (toddler-speak for Maami, or aunt)  bonanza featuring bathing, feeding, poop-cleaning, bed-time and once, a vaccination trip with song and dance.

My pay-off for this specialised child-care? I will introduce your child to safe animals. I say safe, because if the animal (cat, dog, pig, and goat) is not used to the high-pitched sounds and jerky movements made by a child, it may react out of fear, scarring the child forever.

I do this more for the animals than the children. I don’t need to galvanise a new generation of animal lovers. I wish for a supplementary army of the future, that may not want to cuddle a pig, but recognises it as a living being with a need for space, respect, food and the ecosystem. I want the children to see how much work living with an animal is so that they don’t bring one home and then abandon it when it nips them while teething. And that’s why when friends with children suggest meeting up, I suggest dog parks (Powai), restaurants with dogs (Gostana), farms with inter-specie harmony (Japalouppe Equesterian Centre) or my home with two cats (Sister and Kranti).

A child born without a natural affinity towards animals, might learn to respect them, after frequent exposure. A child without affinity and exposure, may not cultivate empathy — and will order the watchman to put the puppies or kittens born in the building into a gunny bag and into a creek. (S)he will believe animals are unpredictable, violent beings and not familiars, friends and children whom we can communicate with.

As a childless person, I can be smug in these theories. And it is what I bring to the table as a member of the village that raises the child. We live in isolated nuclear families and I am grateful that instead of each of us getting a child of our own, some of us are sharing theirs. And as proxy moms, we are trusted to impart our set of values too.

My three-year-old niece is not naturally drawn to all animals, but she is fascinated by The Girls (my cats). In her interaction with them, she is able to work out her fears and hesitations by externalisation — she explains to Kranti why she must take medicine or face injections. She was exposed to the idea of surgery when they were spayed. She loves to reverse roles and tell them to finish their food, to feed them and tell them they are being naughty.

of pets and kids

Kranti and Sister

When I interrupt our playtime to go train a dog, I tell her I am going to teach a puppy to be polite, so that (s)he grows up to be a good girl or boy like her. I am hinting that she does not command all of my time and attention. I think it does a child good to know that they are not the most important thing in a supplementary adult’s life. That love and duty can (and must) extend beyond family, species and bloodline.

K now has a sense of responsibility towards The Girls — she’ll officiously say that *she* must come with me to Pune to take care of them. She tries to kiss them and when she can’t, will ask me to do so. She’ll subject Kranti to a medical examination with the stethoscope and give her an injection the thigh. She teaches her parents how to approach The Girls. “Don’t be afraid,” she told her father, “She won’t do aneeee theeeng. Juss do two-finger touch on her head and back. Not her stomach. She doesn’t like it.”

She is understanding personalities and individual need for space. That Sister (my older cat, named by K) likes to be left alone. That Mischka, a brattish labrador, doesn’t like to share toys. That it’s scary to have a face in your face (she stares at the cats a little too closely). These are lessons she would learn from siblings and playmates, but she is learning that they apply to animals too.

And she has tasted loss. July (again, named by K) our tom cat, walked away in February. She would greet him with, “Hiiiiii my sweetheart.” or “Hiiiii mah sweetu dahling.” She still asks, “Mimi, where’s July?” and I have to tell her he went for a walk and hasn’t come back. The answer doesn’t  bother her on the surface, but her workings are subterranean and I don’t know how this has affected her.

Instead of zoos and tonga rides where she would meet exploited animals in artificial settings, we set up opportunities for her to see them in their element. She has seen Zohra the Rottweiler mother, Floyd the goat (her favourite animal on the farm) and Odin the horse take a dust bath.

We now pretend to be horses; I am Odin and she’s Benji (the pony she rode once at Japalouppe) and we take dust baths together on fresh sheets. Sometimes I, Mini the pig, snort at her; she’s a white kitty who will meow at me and ask for a scratch behind the ear or say petulantly when I leave for Pune, “But, you have to take care of this kitty, mimi.”

I recently introduced her to our neighbourhood vagrant Ghanshyam. “He reminds me of a handsome prince,” she said. If she sees a Disney prince in a big boned Labrador caked in muck, my work is done.

About the author:

Mitali Parekh is an editorial mercenary who lives in Mumbai and Pune (but mostly in your animal’s heart). Apart from writing a weekly column Pet Puja for Mumbai and Pune Mirror, she is also a canine behaviourist and a street fashion goddess.

Rediscovering letters, voice messages and a lost era

the joy of letters

Goa to Bombay

Around the time that Re started to write, he also discovered the joys of letters, postboxes, stamps and envelopes. And the fact that he could gift-wrap himself and get delivered to a friend or family far far away. And that he could receive bits of them too.

When we moved to Sahyadri school two years ago, I didn’t realize we had signed up for fleeting Internet and zero courier access. The landline and letters became our only window to the world and we discovered the joy of dialing numbers and talking to people on the other side. We also wrote many letters and sent paperplanes, lanterns and butterflies to people and got some paperlove in return. Sometimes we also received flaky puff pastries from a friend who is a coastal guard in Porbandar and who, despite being young, believes that there is no joy like receiving a letter by post. My mother, who is an advocate of all things old and gold, wrote to us too, as did my friends (they were amused at the turn of events, but they obliged). Things bought at the local village fair began to find their way to Bangalore, Goa, Bombay, Ahmedabad, even Los Angeles. My world (and heart)  opened up a lot more since the arrival of the Internet.

The cycle continued despite returning to Bombay a year later. Letters were now fairies that had to be set free. Re and I kept writing to our friends and we always made new ones, and the chain continued. We had reclaimed the lost art of letter writing.

At a panel discussion on parenting and pop culture this weekend at the Pune Lit fest,  as we discussed the ill effects of technology and how it had diluted the minds of our children, I couldn’t help but thinking about how the last year was actually a dilution of technology for Re and me and a process that actually brought us closer to each other and the people we love and want to love.

When I told a friend I wanted to visit the agriculture college nearby to buy stationery (years ago, I bought some really nice handmade paper and envelopes there and still hoard a few), she wondered why. It’s then that I realized that Re had actually brought back a little bit of my childhood. His wanting to write letters, doodle and send them to his friends had made me want to do the same. He was reminding me of the person I was, and for that, I am grateful.

This year, I find myself using technology to rekindle the same love, through voice notes. Re now sends his voice in pockets to his friends and they send him voice goodies back. It is the most heartening thing to listen to a voice on a thing you thought could only take you away from people as you go swipe after swipe, into a world far far away. I was finally using technology to keep it real. It was a great feeling!

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 7th September 2015)

On single parenting and how two is not always better than one

So, why haven’t you written about single parenting yet, asked a reader. I didn’t really have an answer to that, except the fact that I write mostly about what I know, and I don’t think I know entirely what single parenting is all about. Because technically, I am not a single parent. This means that I have a spouse on paper, and he does pitch into the financial aspects of parenting, but for the most part, I feel like I’m parenting solo.

I once wrote that I was practically a single parent in one of my columns, and got a rather acerbic email from someone who was one and who told me I had no right to accord myself that status until I was actually one. She was right. But that got me thinking. What made me different? Just a technicality?

We all know what a tedium collaborative parenting can be, although I do know a few people who are winging it. But they are still exceptions. We have seen our parents at cross-wires when raising us. We don’t have to do the same thing to our children. Very often, two-parent households are a sham, a window display for what actually is single parenting.

Okay, pull back those daggers.

Of course raising children alone is tough, but sometimes it may be psychologically tougher in a two-parent household. I often see couples with children at malls, brunches, movie halls and holiday resorts, resentfully going through the motions of parenting while staring at their screens or avoiding eye contact with each other. And I wonder: how exactly do children benefit from this? When I see couples arguing at airports, restaurants, fitting rooms, toy and bookshops over trivial things escalating to big things, I wonder: is it worth it to stay together ‘for the sake of the children’?. When I look at my own friend circle and see robotic marriages and equally robotic kids, I know the togetherness is plastic, because even their shiny happy selfies look unreal. Because life is not Instagram.

It’s better for the children, they say, and stick around, silently killing each other and their children, every single day. When they talk to single parents, they are often looking for stories of behaviour disorders, psychological breakdowns and other lurid details in the subtext, trying to console themselves they are glad they ‘stuck it out”. But they are often disappointed to find out that the kids are alright.

Children need to see you as whole, and not just a part of a dysfunctional parental unit, which is what happens in most ‘normal’ households, and that’s perhaps why single parenting is more harmonious. Once freed of the ‘spouse’ tag, fathers and mothers have more room to be themselves and hence, better parents. Being married often comes in the way of being a good parent, because the person you married is also the person who questions and contests every parenting decision, big or small. Or whose point of view (however polar it is to yours) has to be factored in, because that makes for a good partnership. Sometimes, being a single parent might just be the thing that makes you like the person you married a wee bit more. I find that once you get past the financial implications of it, single parenting may actually be more efficient. I also know the D word is not to be taken lightly, but in today’s world where single parenting is more the norm than the exception, it might just help to say some things out loud:

  1. That doing something alone may actually be easier than constantly arguing about who does what, and then making sure the said person does it.
  2. That making the rules without having to go through the charade of having someone “on the same page” can be liberating.
  3. That unilateral choices do more good than harm in the long run.
  4. That having someone always undermining your authority is neither good for you, nor the children, in the long run.
  5. That divorce may actually be the thing that sets you free to parent solo and bring back the focus on what is important.
  6. That there is a certain distilled quality to the way single parents bring up their kids, and it comes from being able to pick your battles.
  7. That most mothers are single. They just don’t know it.

A few years ago, I read an article in Slate that said, among other things, that single mothers raise better children. While I am not qualified to comment on that, I can say without generalizing that more often than not, whenever I have met a child who is empathetic, observant, willing to take responsibility, is kind or generous— it is from a single parent household. I am sure these qualities come from a place of consciousness that frugality or a lack of abundance seems to initiate. They also seem to have come from learning to appreciate what they have and realising that not all that is a ‘must-have’ needs to be had.

While a lot has been said and researched on children from ‘broken homes’ or the rising ‘single mother syndrome” , there are almost no reports or studies that quantify the damage of ‘staying together for the children’. That perhaps explains the hypocrisy of a society which believes that dual family units (read marriage) are the platinum standard for parenting. Yes, we have all been raised to believe that two is better than one, but it might be worthwhile to ask some relevant questions.

If I have to explain it in mathematical terms, let me redefine the clichéd, “Two is better than one” by saying, “Single is more than half of a parenting pair”. Because coupledom always comes with a huge dose of parental compromise at every stage. ‘Your’ way and ‘my’ way sometimes takes a lifetime to be ‘our’ way and not everyone has a lifetime.

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 10th August, 2015)

The kids are okay. The parents need some happiness shots.

I see them, sulking into the distance, or staring vacantly at the heap of energy that is their child in the pool. Sometimes I see them not even looking up once from their smartphones while the child is at play. Once in a while, I see them peering into a book, catching up on their reading, as their child builds sand castles, skates or free-plays in the park. They have this look of ‘why me?” that I cannot understand.

I used to see this at the Montessori when I went to drop Re. It was touch and go at the gate for some of them, while the child still wanted to wave a slow good bye, be held for just a little longer, be kissed just one more time. But no. They were in a rush to get to their offices and gyms and accomplish nobler tasks.

Why do parents look so grumpy? Why does it always appear that they want to fast-forward childhood? After all, they are young as long as the kids are young, aren’t they? How does growing up make anything easier? I know every child is work on loop, some more than the others, but then it’s not the neighbour’s child. It’s yours. And then one day you will say they shouldn’t have grown up so soon.

I have been a stay-at-home mother for four of Re’s almost six years and I know it’s hard. I know it’s several tasks on autopilot. I know that even if you have help, it doesn’t make it easier. I know that even if you have your mother around, there are still negotiations on a daily basis. I know that outsourcing is easier said than done. But still. When my child is out there, having fun, the least I can do is not look like I have been punished.

The strange part is, these are activities that the parent has clearly chosen for their child, whether it is a summer camp, or an activity class or a hobby class or whatever they call it these days. So why do parents look so miserable and bored when they accompany their children to these things, whether it’s swimming, dancing, skating, music or tennis? In all these years, I have rarely seen a parent who is there, in the moment (I go back to the power of now, I know) while their child is indulging in something he/she is having fun with. I see them taking photos, yes, but I rarely see undiluted joy or eagerness or even mild curiosity. And when I do, it is the most heartwarming sight.

Some look like they have been hit by a thundercloud. Some look like, “Let me just strike this off my list and get on to more, real stuff.” Some look like ‘Well, if I didn’t bring him here, I would have to figure out what to do with him.” Most look like they’d rather be some place else.

I know it’s that time of the year when school, the primary outsourcing model for all parents is closed or on the verge of closing (can’t factor in all the boards, so sorry, you IB fellows). Some of you may have planned your holidays or summer camps or ‘activities’, but most of you may be saddled with ‘what to do with the kids?” Every day, at the pool, I see mothers exchanging notes on where they want to ‘send their kids’. They look at me vacantly. It helps that they don’t know I’m going to write about them.

Of course you can take a vacation, but holidays are easier said than done, given that summers are often a bad time for travelling in India and how far ‘up north’ can you go really? And for how long? And not every one can afford foreign vacations.Two months is a long time (and that’s the average summer break a child gets in India, some get even more) And besides, when you work at an office, ‘privilege leave’ of a grand 21 days hardly seems like a privilege, given that most people have to break it up (for other, important causes like weddings, funerals) and spread it across the year. That means the best it can get is roughly two weeks. Parents who plan their lives better usually have longer holidays together. I didn’t realize my father was investing in us when he was taking us to all those far-out, obscure places every year. Now it all makes sense.

But this summer, I am going to try my hand at some magic. I am going to ask Re to make me a potion (by now, he has mastered the art of making potions from all the witches and dragons that are a part of his universe). The only difference is, it will be a potion of joy and happiness and will have no evil hidden inside. Then I am going to offer it to all the parents that accompany their kids to various activities in summer and say, “Drink up, and smile!”

Children and the power of now

Living every momentI often receive messages like these: “Let me know the next time you are in town. We must meet.”

Or, “Sorry, I couldn’t make it to your reading this time. When are you coming this side next?”

And I wonder why this time is never good enough.

When I ended my teacher innings and moved back to my city, they asked me, “What next?”

“I don’t know, I am still savoring my present,” I said.

It wasn’t enough. They wanted more. They wanted me to be reflective, to tell them how it was, whether it added value, where do I go from here — stuff that adults normally ask you. But I had learned something that I was finally putting to practice. To live in the now. I mostly learned it from Re, but also from the many students I was teacher to this year.

The trouble with adults is that they either live in the past or the future. Children live in the moment. And the twain seldom meet. In the past year, I have met several parents and I have also witnessed several bankruptcies in communication between parents and children. The reason is the same. The child says “I did….” and the parent says,” You should have done…”

Ditto with relationships that fall apart and degenerate. When something isn’t working, we seldom say, “It isn’t working.” Instead we say, “May be if you did….. it would have worked.” Or, “I wish you were more….”

So when you look at a sunset, it’s your child who is actually enjoying the sunset. Your partner is trying to take a picture (or worse, write a tweet) and you are bemoaning the fact that he is not enjoying the sunset, so you don’t enjoy it either.

Compared to adults, children cannot extrapolate themselves temporarily into the future. This is their greatest asset. It allows them to fully enjoy the present. That is why children usually look happy while adults are found saying that they would have been happier if…..

Even in the ‘alternative’ school where I taught for a year, I always saw happy children and grumpy adults.

I guess it’s because children don’t yet have the baggage of memory. It helps them see things as they are and not what they should have been or could be.

Re moves freely and fluidly, skipping on sidewalks, running to swings, bending over backwards, doing endless cartwheels and pirouettes. I, on the other hand, have become rigid. I was once like him; I wasn’t afraid to dance, pirouette, jump into the water, fall over, or roll in mud, but now I am.

One of the greatest gifts a child can ever give you is the present tense. As an English teacher this past year, I have often done a lot of transformation of the tenses with the kids and I found that even the worksheet and grammar gurus are either basking in the past or the future and showing us how to perfect it. I did notice that the present tense is marginalized even there. It was telling, I thought.

There was a child who loved to work with his hands. His parents want him to be better-groomed, go to IIT some day, develop more social skills. One day, they told him over the phone that he was going to a big school. His dorm mates told me he was crying all night. He didn’t want to go. The day he left, I asked him if he was happy. He said. “I want to make my parents happy.” I could see the child in him interrupted already. He had already moved from the present into the future.

Strange as it may seem, it is harder to not be in the present moment than it is to be in the present moment. The present is our natural state. But we have spent a lifetime learning to sublimate our soul, living in our heads, and disconnected from our here and now. Obsessing about the past and future has become our natural way of living. Our need to be intelligent and rational, to plan our life has taken over our hearts completely.

If we allow children to be their true self, they will show us the way. They will guide us back to who we are. We just need to be open to their world, and stop trying to make it our own. By observing them, listening to them, and staying curious, we have some chance of redeeming ourselves.

The last time someone asked me about the next time I would be around in their city, I gently reminded them that ‘next’ is future tense. And I have decided to live in the now. Because life doesn’t always give you too many second chances. I am not an expert in the future, but I can do the present well. And that’s enough for me.

(The above post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 13th April, 2015)

Letting go and other April reflections

April is usually a time to take stock. No, I’m neither financially savvy nor does my life revolve around KRAs and other analyses, but April is the month before May – the month I was born, and I always feel a sense of closure around this time, so it helps me to write things down. More so because I realize that the older I get, the more chances I take, so it perhaps is a good idea to see how things are adding up.

I know it’s perhaps too early to make resolutions or too late, depending on how you look at it, but this is just a way of doing some math on my life.

On the face of it, this has been a year of letting go. Of freedom, of stability, of home-delivery menus and happy hours, of cable television and other notions of freedom.

But it has also been a year of acquisitions. Of letters, postcards, hand-written cards and notes and a lot of paper to touch and feel.

This was a year of teaching. Okay, let me correct that. This was a year of trying to be a teacher, and being hand-held by 75 children in getting there.

It has been a year of realizations, some happy, others sad, but all important. I am sharing them because this is usually the time of year when you ‘find’ your kids, the time when they are ‘yours’ again, and not the school’s, and you may have some trouble breaking the ice at least in the first few weeks. Here they are in no particular order:

  1.  There are no alternative schools. There are only alternative parents. You will only be an alternate parent when you recognize who you truly are.
  2.  As long as there is teaching, no one is learning. Children start learning only when you stop teaching. Let it go.
  3. Your home is as much a school as school is. Know that. Nourish your spaces. Become them.
  4. Your child is not you. He/she is a separate person. Nurture that separateness.
  5. Freedom is not about space. It’s the ability to see things as they are and with grace. Your children have that ability, while you are still holding on to a notion of freedom. Let it go.
  6. If you are constantly telling a child what he/she cannot do, may be you should never have been a parent. Or a teacher. Perhaps bouncer is more like it. Turn off your auto-correct mode for a day and see how it feels. Let it go.
  7.  If you can allow your child the freedom to ‘do nothing’ once in a while, it would be the greatest gift. Some day, you will be thanked for it. Let it go.
  8. If you expect your child to play, but expect him to also learn while doing so, you are destroying the purpose of play. One of the greatest manipulations of learning is play-way. Let it go.
  9. Just because you have been a curly haired girl all your life, it doesn’t mean the world can’t think of you in a different way. The past year, I have been able to do what I never dreamt I could ever have done. It’s time for me to raise the bar. So I lost my locks, since they were coming in the way of the person I want to be next. I let it go.
  10. If you want the truth, your child will give it to you. Question is, do you want it? Are you ready for it?
  11. The only thing that comes between your child and you is the adult in you. Let it go.
  12. Today you might complain that your child talks too much and you are so tired and overworked that you have no time to listen. Tomorrow you might wonder why your child is not sharing anything with you.
  13. And finally. When your five-going-on-six year-old wants to perform ‘Let it go’ from Frozen for you, the world can wait.
(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 6th April, 2015) 

When I was your age…

Yesterday and tomorrowWhenever adults (primarily parents or teachers) talk about kids, it usually begins with, “Kids these days…”. They talk about kids these days having gotten everything all messed up. Or that kids these days just aren’t what they used to be. There is of course the usual  talk of lack of “respect” or “responsibility” and the mandatory flashbacks into their time, usually beginning with, “When we were younger…”

Adults love to begin sentences with, “When I was your age…” We have all heard our versions of: “When I was your age, children knew to respect their parents. We owned up to our responsibilities. We took advantage of our opportunities. We made our own road…”

The thing about teaching is that you end up spending a lot of time with children and adults alike. And your mind is throwing you in entirely opposite directions. Among adults, there is usually a covert and mostly an overt condescension of the times we live in, the access (and often luxury) that children have, and the scant regard they have for their resources or the abundance of it. Among children, it is often how adults don’t get them.

I don’t know whether it’s because I have a small child (he is five going on six) and that growing down with him has significantly helped in parenting, but I find myself veering towards the children and I often wonder what the adults are bemoaning.

Our parents did it to us:

“Do you know I had to walk six kilometres and them swim a river to get to school?”, my father would say.  “We had to stitch our own clothes and wear them till they were threadbare,” my mother would add.

And we do it to our children:

“Do you know your father works 16 hours a day so we can give you this education?

“Do you know that we didn’t have television in our house till we were in college? And even that one didn’t have a remote control?”

“Do you know that I had to wait till I got a job to get a mobile phone”

“We never had any toys or puzzles; we just played with mud, stones and leaves!”

Can it really be that every generation is so profoundly different? How can the past always be ‘the good old days’ or ‘tough old days’? Why is now never romantic or perfect? What is this obsession with nostalgia to feel good about ourselves, the things we do and how we do them?

The further away we get from the here and now, the more our perspective becomes skewed. In our reminiscing, we compare what we see to our so-called memories, not to facts. We see it all through the veil of ourselves, our own lives, our own transitions, our own selective remembering. It’s convenient, really. And isn’t it nicer to think that you were once better than all that?

It’s convenient to take the easy way out and look at all the signs that point to the shocking newness of the present moment—the power of social media; the seeming abundance of choices for today’s youth that make the options of yore seem quaint.

But then, wouldn’t the first telephone and television have caused a similar agony among our ancestors?

It reminds me of the last few lines of Shel Silverstein‘s poem, “When I was your age”

 My uncle said, “How old are you?”
I said, “Nine and a half,” and then
My uncle puffed out his chest and said,
“When I was your age… I was ten.”

In these lines lies the problem with our memory of the past. You can idealize the good old days and bemoan the sorry state of today’s youth. You can point out how much harder it was in the past and how easy everyone has it now. Whatever your version, one thing is clear: our memory becomes warped over time.

The truth is, we grow up when we need to grow up. And growing up is hard. It has always been. It will always be. Humans are unusually good at stepping up when they need to, at taking on responsibility and living up to expectations when circumstances call. But they should truly call for it to happen. Becoming an adult is not just a necessity, it’s also a choice.

But for the children of today, there’s less of a hurry. They don’t need to help on the family rice fields, take over the family cloth business. They’ll grow up when they need to. And if they have the leisure of prolonging that moment of not-quite-adulthood, who are we to blame them for taking advantage of it? They have the leisure of choice. But is it their fault?


(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 2nd March, 2015)

2014 for mommygolightly: Thank you for flying with me

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for my blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 140,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 6 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

‘I miss you’ and other things that tie me down

Call me hard-hearted, unromantic, detached, breezy, whatever, but I have never been able to say the words “I miss you” and really mean it from the bottom of my heart. No, it hasn’t changed even after motherhood, which is essentially supposed to be a hormonal fix that renders you into a permanent state of mellow and mush. No such luck.

I am a fairly involved parent, but when the child is out of sight, it is usually out of mind, and my mind is usually yearning to get on to other things. I am quite unashamed to say that I love being alone and I can always find enough things to do by myself (and do). Aloneness is however a luxury when you are practically a single parent and I don’t want to spoil it all by saying something like, “I miss you.” It just seems counter-productive.  For me as well as the child.

Re occasionally gets into fits of not going to school (even now), and as I drop him and we exchange our mandatory five hugs and kisses, he sometimes holds on to my sari or whatever I’m wearing and says, “Don’t go. I’ll miss you.”

These words make me feel like I’m back to the drawing board. I try to explain to him that people need to go away so they can come back, and although it seems too adult a concept, he is slowly getting it. Or at least I hope so. But I have seen enough parents who feel empowered every time their child tells them this, or their partner or someone they think they have a hold over.

Re’s a sentimental Cancerian, unlike the breezy Gemini that is me. I know I am getting into Linda Goodman sun-signey zone, but there is something to be said about when we are born and the things we say.

Unlike most people who can say the fateful three words with a great degree of nonchalance (I am sure some of them mean it too) to their loved ones when they are away from them, I can’t. I think the whole purpose of being away is lost when you are constantly missing someone. It just means you never left. Am I making sense?

“I miss you” does not make me feel more loved. If anything, it makes me feel chained, bound, un-free. It makes me bound to miss the missee (person who misses=missee?) back, and when I don’t, I feel a bit weird (although not always)

I don’t miss people. Or places. I remember all the times I have been away, and there have been plenty of those, and the calls back home (whether to the mother or the husband) have always been more of an obligation than a need. I am in the here and now, so flashbacks seem like a waste of time. May be my homeopath was right. May be I do have too much testosterone. Or may be that I am truly in the moment.

I am too socially awkward to say, “I miss you too”, so I just smile and wish the moment would pass really quickly. Thankfully, my non-PDA family never says the fateful three words. They demonstrate love and caring by doing things for each other. I guess that works perfectly for me.

To miss people means to love them, to be partial to them, to be incomplete without them, it’s like you are missing the other part of what makes you whole.

Saying “I miss you” or something similar to that effect is also one of the easiest ways to mess with somebody’s head. It’s like you want to keep a foothold in their life without staking yourself to something you might be called on later to deliver on. It’s vague and it’s an expression of sadness and regret, but it’s not really saying anything. It’s like when someone says “sorry” without really knowing what they’re sorry about or having no real regret.

May be I need to find new words to explain this to Re. May be I need to tell him that when I’m not with him, I’m with me. And that me is important. May be I need to tell him that I love him enough to not miss him. May be he will get it. Someday.

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 22nd December, 2014)