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.

Postpartum… (Too short a story)

The cradle rocked ever so gently. Every time the door to the ward opened and a draught rushed in, the curtains swayed apart affording glimpses into other lives.
She lay on her side. Her left hand stretched out under her, as if ready to receive the bundle. Her manicured fingertips graze the metal hinges of the crib.
A baby cries. Another joins in. And another…
A cacophony of hungry, indignant cries fill the ward.
In a snap her arms curl back into herself, palms resting on the flattened yet flabby stomach.
14905462513_65da6a604a_wAs other mothers shush and cajole, wincing she turns away from her cradle; her thighs move as if leaden.
It wasn’t an easy labour. The sutures pull and burn, as she clenches, a Kegel frozen in half motion. But she feels no pain; not even discomfort, as she bleeds into her bedding. Nothing was easy.
For a moment there is an eerie quiet. The little ones have been tended to. Ten toes and 10 little fingers, downy hair and pursed lips, wrinkled skin and unfocused eyes… all kissed, swaddled, cuddled and put to sleep.
Then there is one lonely little defiant cry. A sharp pain shoots across her engorged breasts. She chokes back a sob even as her pillow grows damp. She squeezes her eyes shut blocking out the smells and cries that were not hers to reach out to.
I gently open the door letting in another draught, hoping the cradle wouldn’t creak for the emptiness needs no reminding. I slip away from my dark corner wanting no part in her grief.

Photo courtesy:

I don’t wish you joy and happiness…

I wish you joy happiness success. No. On second thoughts, I just wish you pleasure and sense of achievement.

Joy and happiness are unstable emotions. Success is subjective. They lull you into a false sense of well-being. They make you gasp in the face of expectations of long-lasting joy and MORE happiness. Those emotions are more often than not dependent on other people. The spouse, the child, that friend who is fatter than you, a strong bottle of Russian, an organic joint…

Till this morning, my advice to my daughters was to do what makes them happy.

Then I had a conversation with a colleague (who, ironically, introduced me to her friend as the person who makes her happy at work). We discussed whether maintaining someone’s appearance of being always happy was more important than giving them a sense of purpose and a chance at achieving something.

Well, that’s when my own hypocrisy hit me.

I don’t want my children’s main pursuit in life to be happiness. It isn’t mine, and I’ve been the saddest in the moments that it has been. Happiness will come and go, and wreck you along the way.

I want them to pursue pleasure and achievement.

The refugee hitchhiker who haunts me

She stood by the Katara exit kiosk with two boys by her side.

I slowed down to a stop, expecting her to cross the road. But she walked up to the car and in Arabic interspersed with a few English words asked me to drop her in Dafna.

How dangerous could it be? A well-dressed hitchhiker of about 40, with 2 young boys in tow. Yes, it was close to midnight, but this is Doha, after all.

When I offered to help find a taxi, she insisted politely (almost a plea) that I drop her home. It was not too far away from Katara… The boys were hanging behind, obviously uncomfortable.

So there they were in the car, one second discussing the amazing Cinema Paradiso we had all seen at the last screening of Doha Tribeca that night, and the next second we were discussing the war in Syria.

The mother with her two sons and two daughters fled to Doha from Damascus. The daughters stayed with their aunt (her sister), while she lived in a single rented room with her sons. No job in sight, and unable to afford to send the kids to school. Four months in Qatar, having lost all that was familiar and comfortable.

She had left behind a 20-year-old career as a French teacher, her husband, friends, her home. Now in Qatar, she is not quite sure whether she was at the threshold of greater tumult or little hope.

In that moment she was as lost as a person could possibly be. She doesn’t quite remember the route back home to her room. Mohammed, the younger one who could not have been over 10 seems to have an inkling. He guides me through the lefts and rights of Dafna. He is chatty.

Ahmed, the older boy — around 12-13 — is stoic. I can’t make out if he is unhappy about his mother talking to a stranger about her worries and fears; or if he was just unhappy. It’s him that I worry about most.

To take a healthy, bright teen out of school and to a strange country… How do you keep him happy and positive? What kind of courage and desperation did it take for that mother to make this move?

We finally find our way to their home. We are by now on first name basis. K writes her name, number, email id and Facebook user name on a piece of paper. She takes down my details. She believes I could be one of the people who’d help her find a job here.

Her sons are listening. Maybe they are buying some of that belief too.

I feel crushed by the truth of the matter — I can’t do much but I can’t tell her that.

Three days after the encounter, I am still haunted by the eagerness in her smile, the determination in her voice, the sadness in her eyes and by Ahmed’s unsmiling face.

This is what war does. It splits families. It crushes dreams. It makes warriors of mothers and children.


PS: If you know of a job she can apply for please contact me.

Eleven Years of Motherhood…

…Have been very KIND. And I have my first born to thank for it.

Eleven years ago, to the day, I realized how high my pain threshold was.

Over these past years I’ve realized the depth of a blinding, incoherent love.

Today I am overwhelmed by the thought of protecting the innocence of my first born. She is 11, and very excited to be growing up.

I don’t want her to be my baby forever, because I enjoy too much the lovely person she is growing up to be.

I just don’t want the essence of who she is to be diluted in any way: Her delight at the smallest things, her willingness to express gratitude for the simplest favours/gestures, her sensitivity towards self and others, the strong sense of family (friends included), her quick laugh, and ready forgiveness.

Thank you darling for eleven years of motherhood, which have been a breeze because of how oblivious you have been to my faults and how you choose to magnify my little successes.

Sand Angel