How do working-mums work? Co-opt. Don’t take my word for it though…

Some days, I give the Teddy magical powers to play me, and I escape into my make-believe world of social media.

Even the dolls are co-opted… Some days, I give the Teddy magical powers to play me, and I escape into my make-believe world of social media.

Every morning the hugs and kisses are hurried as breakfast is made and lunch boxes are packed. And in those rushed minutes are a hundred dos and don’ts for O and N to keep in mind through the day. A few demands are made too, and I respond automatically. “Yes, I will try to come home early. Yes, I will try to pick up a snack. Yes, I will talk to you when you call me. Yes, I will watch an episode of Masterchef with you. Yes, I will read to you. Yes, I will…” I know even as I make those promises that I won’t keep them all. But, “yes, yes, yes… unless I can’t, and then you can’t throw a tantrum, ok?”

I don’t travel as much as I used to, but my work hours keep increasing. My daughters are 12 and 5 years old. I have a full-time job that requires after-hours networking quite frequently. R’s work is from late afternoons to late nights.

So there is no way we can do all that parents should, but between us we try hard to be the best parents we can be. However, we need help, and I seek it from various people. Some of them do so as friends, some as hired help. Which is why I was chuckling to myself as I listened to Indra Nooyi, in the video below.

I so identify with her anecdote. That bit especially of kids calling at work. My daughters call me every day at about 3 pm, wherever I might be. Nilah would ask if she can watch 1 episode of My Little Pony (or the animation du jour), and Oviya if she can use the internet, and the same exchange ensues: have you had your lunch? have you done your homework. I have no secretary, so I would excuse myself if in a meeting to answer that important call.

Because, when you spend no more than 2-3 waking hours with your child every weekday, these calls are what keeps you relevant in their life.

But for other things, I co-opt people. Friends, nanny, sometimes even the older one to help with the younger one. The nights when I am so in need of alone-time, I would request O to read to N. Or I would order in food so that my maid can skip cooking and spend time playing with N. When I am travelling, I co-opt my sisters or niece to skype and entertain the children.

As working parents, we are never going to be there for our kids all the time, and there’s no getting around that guilt. I don’t sit through the swimming training, because the time between drop-offs and pick-ups are when the grocery shopping or pedicure gets done; I miss a performance because it makes more sense to seek a few hours out from work when they are ill and need TLC, than when they are belting out a song on stage. It’s a tough choice, and as the years go by, one less fraught with guilt.

Last week I was chatting with a friend, a young unmarried man. We were discussing the right age to marry and have children. My wise view was that women marry and have children early, so that when they are at the peak of their career, they are not held back by the needs of very young children. We had a few laughs, and it was more an idea than a serious conviction. But see what Nooyi says here:

My observation, David, is that the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. Total, complete conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you’re rising to middle management your kids need you because they’re teenagers, they need you for the teenage years.

So that annoying question: Can women have it all? No. No one really does… men nor women. But what you do have can become your all.

Pregnancy Scare. The tale is O-N!

Me:**washing N’s bum**

O:**Looking on, with a disgusted expression**

O: I am never going to have a baby.

Me: Why?

O: Because of this (pointing to the dirty diaper), but also because of the surgery and all. I don’t want anyone to cut me open.

Me: But you can have it the other way. The way you were born.

O: Even that is not so great (sic)!

Me: Ok, you don’t have to have children.

O: But I want to. I will adopt.

Me: You will still have to clean the baby’s potty.

O: That is ok, I can manage. But how can we really stop.

Me: Stop what?

O: Stop getting pregnant. What if I get pregnant.

Me: **Gape**

O: Tell me, amma. What if I get pregnant?

Me: You can control that.

O: How?

Me: When you are older I will explain…

O: Before I get pregnant ok?

She is 8 — old enough to sniff a lie and young enough to freak out. What would you do?

my shoe rhyme still holds good

i wrote this and put it up on the door in 2002 when O was just over 8 months and all over the place. It now holds good for N too…

O loves to chew


Everything including you shoe


So please leave your footwear outside


Lest she ingests processed hide


Till she learns food is better than boot


You’ve got to enter this house barefoot


 

Juvenile yes, but got the message across all the same.

 

O is 8

already.

I am not going to get all senti and mushy over her conception, birth, first poop and first steps.

Instead, I am going to get philosophical.

About the lessons I learn from her — the most important of which is ‘just get on with it’ or ‘get over it’.

O is a big planner. She plans play dates, weekends, her reading order… so little surprise that she plans her birthday parties months in advance. This year, she had it all down by end of August.

It would be a zoo party, she will take a few friends to the zoo, and will cut the cake at the zoo cafeteria (‘only if it’s clean’) or else we would come back home for that. She chose the snacks; selected the invite design; she even chose the grown-ups who would accompany us. It was an animal theme, so the return gifts were ‘tiger mugs’.

The zoo-picnic was planned for the weekend before her birthday. The cake was ordered. The snacks were bought. Rsvps received. But the night before the picnic, she falls ill, unable to even keep water down.

We waited till the morning of the picnic (Friday, 23 Oct), and decide to call it off. I was heartbroken, my sister who has flown in for her birthday from India was upset, O was shattered.

She was too weak to protest loudly, but the expression on her face was enough. We finally decide to move the party to our home for later in the evening.

She sat next to me, grim-faced, as I made the dozen calls.

She promised me she wouldn’t eat anything at the party, so that she doesn’t fall ill. She napped.

And with a brave face she welcomed the guests home. She enjoyed herself, so did her friends. Almost every single one of those kids came and told me how disappointed they were that we were not going to the zoo; they made me promise that I would take them any way later; and they all had a BALL!

O did tear-up a bit, as she watched others tuck into chips and pizzas, but true to her word, didn’t have a single nibble. If I weren’t so busy running around, I would have done nothing but hug her the whole evening.

As the 1-hour party, came to an end 4 hours later, she beamed me her inimitable smile that lights up her entire face, and said she loved her party: ‘even if I cried and felt sad amma, I had a great time.’

She didn’t mope over all the planning that went down the drain, barring the initial few minutes of utter disappointment. But she got over it so much quicker than I did. And that’s something I need to imbibe from her… to not sulk and throw tantrums, which I am famous for.

She does crib a bit about stuff she doesn’t get. Who doesn’t?

Other than that, she has always been an incredibly easy child.

And while I sing praises of my first-born, let me not forget how wonderful junior was. N allowed herself to be squeezed and pulled and pinched by akka’s friends. She allowed herself to be passed around like a ball. She reached out to me every time I passed her, but after a quick hug and kiss, was willing to go back the next pair of willing arms. She knew the day was her akka’s, and was so unbelievably well-behaved and cheerful, I dread the thought of how the party would have turned out if she had been a cranky brat.

So from her I learn that you don’t always have to be the centre of attention, you can be just as happy watching the fun.

The next time I feel like acting like Moaning Myrtle, I know I only have to take a leaf out of my daughter’s book.

Below are the two looking a lil tired at the end of the party

IMG_0522

I am AMBITIOUS. So very AMBITIOUS

 K who helps me take care of my girls, and makes sure we have fresh food everyday is besotted with N.

“Good baby, never cries,” she keeps telling me in Hindi.

“Just like O,” I say.

“Really,” she asks, annoyingly unbelieving.

“Yes. O never cries. Uhh… never cried,” I say indignantly.

**and she rarely did. she was a fantastically cheerful child**

 “Then when did she become irritable,” K presses on.

 When?

A little, when she started going to a babysitter (and then I pulled her out), and a little more when she started regular school (and I could do nothing)… the pressure to fit in, to be liked, to fake it… it all starts way too early. It makes me want to weep.

But I never saw O as an irritable child. K had to point it out to me. What the heck, K was comparing O to a 14-week-old baby that has little else to do but nap, suckle and crap in its pants.

For O, it’s a cruel world. Complete with all the expectations and politics of the adult world, but without yet knowing how to play the game with fluency.

Yes, at the end of a long day (her days starts at 5.30 am and goes on till 8 pm when she drops off to sleep) she can tend to be cranky. But compared to most (there I go again comparing. but double standards are my thing) she is really cheerful and friendly.

 The sad, unarguable truth is that schools chip away at and erode a child’s individuality, forcing them to conform; dividing the bunch of them into two clear groups.

The cocky and over-confident bunch vs the meek and self-effacing ones… so often O shows signs of the first. R & I come down hard on her, asking her to show a little more humility.

Then, as often, are the moments of worry and self-doubt and we try to give her a boost, try to tell her she is great as she is…

I guess it’s best to step back and let her find her groove, and only intervene when absolutely required.

The challenge is: How do we define “absolutely required”?

Last week I attended a school function, at which I met this kid who has done brilliantly in his 12th CBSE exams, cracked one of the top entrance exams in India, and still looked like he lost his cat, his only best friend!

Where was the spring in his step? The smile on his lips? He is only 17, a super achiever already, but looked like he had the burdens of an old man.

He was so inarticulate, so nervous and under so much pressure. And guess what? Surprise! Surprise! His dad is never happy with what he does, it seems.

What is wrong with these parents? Super-ambitious, bouncing their failures and successes off their children…

I do expect O to study for her tests, prepare for her classes, and take her schooling seriously. When I find her genuinely struggling with something (as against fooling around), I give her the attention required and try to help her along. Because it’s education that’s going to give her the freedom to choose the life she wishes.

Do I expect her to win the Nobel or find the Missing Link? No. Would I want her to? Not sure.

I am highly ambitious for my daughters, but not in the sense that’s best understood these days.

More than anything else I want them to be known as fair human beings.

People who give more than the rationed two hoots to the world around them.

I want them to grow to be women who are moved by another’s sorrow and struggle. Even if it means that they will not be as ‘rich’ or as ‘successful’ as the rest.

And in that quest if they choose an academic route, so be it.

But if they’d rather hug a tree or fast with Medha Patkar, I’d be just as happy.

I am terribly afraid that they’d never know all the wonderful opportunities awaiting them, which are not determined by the degree they hold or the bank balance they have.

I am afraid that what I wish to tell them will be lost in all that they see around them.

 Schooling and Peer Pressure, Barbies and Hanna Montanas, may all combine to make my word null and void.

 I don’t want O to be known as an ‘irritable’ child or N to grow up to be one.

I know they are not going to be smiling and laughing all day through – if they did, I will be checking their pockets and draws for sure.

But I want them to take their troubles (however big) lightly and carry their joys (however little) with pride.

I don’t want my babies to be cracking the Da Vinci code and yet be incapable of communicating it to the world, depending on someone else to. I’d rather they be the communicators.

Oh, I am so ambitious. So very ambitious for my babies.