The Sabbatical Story

S is the only person in my lifetime with whom I have spent every waking minute for a year and a half. Waking minute may be an understatement here, we probably dream about each other as well. I had not planned for this long a break away from work, but so it happened. Overall, its been a great journey, though we have had our share of pitfalls, frustrations and disappointments. Its been a great journey because I got a chance to re-live my long forgotten childhood. Things I either wasn’t exposed to, or which I didn’t have the time to explore and enjoy. Most of my life, was spent busy studying and building a good career. As the offspring of a conservative Tam-Brahm family with no much fortunes to speak of as inheritance, you could probably take a blind guess on how programmed my life would’ve been. Thanks to S, I rediscovered bubbles, butterflies, and fairy tales. Eating to your heart’s content, the magic of morning garden time, and waking up free and bright on a Monday morning. I found my art for making funny faces which made the baby laugh uncontrollably. I found the amazing ability of a good ginger-lemon grass tea to break the stupor of a drugged afternoon nap. I found the art of healing my headaches on my own, without taking a pill. And the art of figuring of why the headache came in the first place (I have not yet developed an ability to prevent headaches, so let’s leave my spiritual quest there). I learnt to bake and realized that no matter how many cakes I baked, the excitement while opening the oven door to get the first glimpse of the cake did not wane. I am not saying I am a pro, but the cakes I bake are nice and tasty and enough to excite me and the kid. She devours them, even the wheat based ones (if you still didn’t get it, I am now gloating about my capability to bake maida-free cakes. Sorry!). I cherished reading every single day, whenever baby napped. I stumbled upon the amazing ritual of having coffee in my balcony. Such an irony that though we made sure we bought a flat with a balcony, we never ever found the time to have a relaxed cuppa, in all these years. The evening caffeine kick was at the office for sustaining our sleepy nerves and the mornings were too much of a rush.

                       

I had certain epiphanies and made some stubborn choices. Like I would stay at home for a couple of years before getting back into the (big bad) corporate world. I would not raise my hand on the baby, ever (although a number of my family members are waiting with bated breath for the day when I will lose my temper, just to prove me wrong). I would not wallow in self-pity for choosing to stay at home while others seamlessly pursued their career choices. I would not compare my spouse or kid with others. In the time I choose to spend with S, I would not just ‘appear’ to be available, armed with a smart phone or laptop. I would be available to my kid well enough to have a conversation with good eye contact. I would not push my kid into learning from a tender age (read educational toys, educational books, and all things educational). Kids are anyway naturally hyper-inquisitive, and have the ability to pick up a tremendous amount of skills themselves, which is one thing that amazes me till date.

                       

If I am going to rant on like this, saying that stay-at-home mommies’ lives are all about rainbows and bubble baths, then I am just overly romanticized and been wearing pink tinted glasses all along. Saying that I have absolutely enjoyed every single minute and every single day of my sabbatical would be like someone saying their favourite writer is Chetan Bhagat. A naïve, constricted view. I have realized that no matter how much ad films and magazine covers glamourize the mom and baby combo, its not entirely the truth. Those glossy pictures you see are a Kodak moment. There are other moments before and after that. I wonder why we relentlessly target the seven year itch for married couples while we still do not exhibit complete frankness about the roller-coaster relationship that one shares with children. One reason I can think of is that children, at least till the age of five, are beyond human weaknesses, and love you unconditionally, no matter what. Something like pets. The only difference being is that the amount of care and attention children demand are way way higher than your furry companions would.

                       

There are times of the day where S and I are inseparables, cuddling away to glory. There are also times on the same day, where we have got so tired of each other that we mutually agree to get on with our own separate activities. The third slot is the toughest – one of us has got tired of the other one. The other one is still eager to get along. No brownies here for guessing who’s who. Just picturize a killer client who keeps you on your toes 24/7. Calls you at the weirdest possible hours. Doesn’t let you eat your food in peace. Forget food, you probably even miss drinking enough water and postpone loo-trips. That’s the pressure full time baby-raising can put on you. The only big difference is that the baby will give you a joyous gurgle at the end of the day, that has the effect of Ctrl-Z. Your lunches have to be planned well so as to attract minimum disruption. At least for the first six to eight months, you are reeking of baby food, Dettol and J&J. You feel like going to the mall to distract yourself and the baby, but the baby is too small. After few months, the baby is too cranky. After that, the baby is quite mobile and insists on running the length and breadth of the mall, making you appear like a joke to people around.

There are days when I yearn for the office goers look. A look practiced over the years, of posh Fabindia kurtas, unruffled silk dupattas, and printed salwars, with not a single nail chipped, eyebrows trimmed well at all times, coordinated earrings, footwear, bags, and ensemble completed with a smudgy kohl and an everyday lipcolour. Aaah, the simple things I wanted from life. Of course, sitting through office was by no means a la-la ride. We had to work our bums off. Pester clients, talk sensible stuff all the time, manage projects impeccably, hold attention spans, create favourable perceptions everywhere. Have an updated Linked in account, network well at corporate get togethers and be uptodate with the day’s business headline. Act as if you are born to handle crisis, at all levels, between your subordinates, superiors, clients, whoever. Move around with a Zen-like smile till you reach that place called home. Where the Zen in you crumbles, and all rules break. You are once again human, a daughter, a wife, a mother. You make up for all the calmness in daytime by unleashing the real ‘yours truly’ at home. Strangely, a part of me even today longs to return to this lifestyle. The lifestyle I used to crib about every weekend while I was working. The lifestyle I so badly wanted a break from. The lifestyle I had decided never to recommend to anyone. We humans are a fickle minded lot. We unconsciously adapt ourselves even to unfavourable environments, so much so that we even manage to create a comfort zone within it. We nevertheless keep cribbing about the negative conditions as that gives us some form of catharsis. Finally, when pushed out of the comfort zone, we miss those trying times badly.

During this break, I did try hard at times to don the avatar of a supercool mum and wife. Efficient, never clumsy, who knows her plain olive oil from extra virgin olive oil. Who rattles off clever tricks and tips to solve any household trouble. Who appears glamorous even while shes cooking. Harmonious and blended, with the ease and grace of a geisha. Who can switch fluidly between discussing money market instruments and idli batter recipe in a jiffy. Who makes lovely cakes without a spot in her apron. Who can say intelligible things like ‘The roasting and browning of the pumpkin is key for giving this soup its special taste’…and so on. But I was miserably unsuccessful. Though I did learn some survival tricks at the kitchen and the art of churning out my own dosa batter, I still have a long way to go towards being the queen of the hearth.

Despite all odds, when I look back at the motherhood experience that has been so different from the rest of my life, I am surprised that the only aftertaste I have is contentment. Of having invested time to bring up S in my way. I know some of this might get eroded but at least I gave it a good enough shot. Babies, though extremely demanding, come with inbuilt stress busters. Like a beautiful smile thrown at you. An unexpected peck on the cheek. An trusting finger curling around yours for security. Making you feel so so important in their scheme of things by wailing for you when you are away. Makes me forget, at least temporarily all the good nights’ sleep that I have missed. The innumerable diaper changes. And every other hardship. Maybe that’s why mothers generally develop short term memory loss. Makes life that much more beautiful.

I am now harbouring thoughts of slowly getting back to work. There are obviously mixed feelings. Thank you S, for having entertained me. And for giving me another chance to grow up once again. Only, this time around, I will take my own sweet time to grow up.

The signs of fathereadiness

 

You can know when the husband is desperate to be a father. Those small signals that silently scream ‘I am READY for dadhood!!’ Well, obviously this is not a fool-proof scientific theory so please don’t be mad at me if it doesn’t work in your case.

So here it goes, in no specific order.

Kids love him. He loves kids. Consistently pats heads of babies who walk past by. Holds random conversations with random kids. E.g. ‘mujhe cycle pe ek ride dena??’, only to have the poor scared boy scramble away faster, throwing a surreptitious backward glance at the supposed abductor in the neighbourhood his mom warned him about.

Sudden and unexplained shift of concern from distressed darlings (ahem!) to kids! E.g. ‘Poor thing, she’s been waiting for a rick from a long time. Do you think we should give her a lift?’ to ‘How could she make the baby wait in the sun for a rick?’. I mean, first time around, the atmosphere didn’t even seem to contain the baby. Now it does.

Casual (but intended) lingering around baby toys, clothes and shoes sections of malls.

Often veering conversations towards colleagues and friends who are long parents, new parents or would-be parents.

Not reaching out for the TV remote at every chance available and not-so-available. Trying to go for walks instead. (shhh…they say you need to develop a healthy lifestyle six months before you try conceiving…)

Absurd remarks like ‘Don’t you think we have too much time these days on weekends etc???’ C’mon, time was never enough until few months back.

Gets home a parenting magazine from the library instead of the usual Autocar.

Reduces pub culture subtly, and reduces beer intake so subtly so as not to give the slightest hint….(hee hee, all that jazz about alcohol and sperm count)

Is extra good to in-laws and parents…more considerate, more sensitive and the blah blahs.

Accommodates happily, without a snort or a crib, the decision to dine out at wife’s favourite cuisine spot..without any argument whatsoever! (At this point, I almost started to doubt if there was an ‘other lady’ somewhere on the radar).

Updates status in FB to ‘married’ (finally! Whew!!!)

And the clincher of all….comes home armed with a pink dustbin!!

Well, I had ignored all the above mentioned symptoms till the husband chose the colour pink for the dustbin he had been asked to buy for the house. He wanted a girl, you see.

The songs babies love

My one year old daughter S has picked up a trait from last couple of months. She will open her mouth for khichdi ‘only’ when her favorite songs are playing either on the telly, laptop or mobile. Now, before you super good, uber efficient mothers pounce on me, asking ‘HOW could you introduce her to this habit’, ‘Kids should be trained to eat without any prop’, and so on, let me please clarify (fellow mothers are welcome to vouch for this) that I DID NOT train her this way. It just happened.  I realized that babies, no matter how toothless and tiny, know how to get their fair share of entertainment. What I also realized incidentally, is that the kind of entertainment varies with each generation. Our parents’ generation ate while being showed the birds, trees, butterflies etc. Our generation maybe stretched it to watching adverts on TV. The newest generation, let’s face it, loves movie songs. And the kind of songs they love are so unlike what you would like them to. I am not a fan of these ‘Anarkali Disco chali’ numbers. The raunchy steps and the garish almost non-existent costumes of today’s item numbers are so unappealing. Having said that, I would however, not dismiss the music element of these numbers. Some of these item, dhinchak songs have amazingly peppy music which prompt me to leave the music channel on for some time during the day. Fellow mommies, please don’t grudge me this adult entertainment. As much as I am mentally tuned to shield my baby from the Telly belly, I have realized that it’s extremely difficult to be on baby-friendly behavior all through the day, more so when you are the primary caretaker stationed at home.

So these songs are played during meal times. S loves the music so much so that she recognizes the songs as soon as the first background score heralding the song is played. If it’s one of her ultra favorite songs, she will give me a ‘Hey, it’s our number!’ look. Or the ‘you know what, let’s dance to this’ look. And we dance. Mindless of her half-eaten bowl of food that’s running cold. Or mine which is still uneaten. And the fact that lunch hour has passed. Everything can wait till the two minute song gets over. So what if it’s something we dance to three times a day, every single day! The look on her face hardly suggests that.

I have been asking myself why I can’t let her see some child-friendly song that may offer the same level of musical joy, sans the suggestive steps and other adult paraphernalia. I YouTubed and found only a couple that were timeless and appealing to kids of multiple age groups. The unmatched ‘Lakdi ki Kaathi’. The otherwise friendly YouTube which keeps suggesting ‘other songs that you may like’ based on the song you play, was surprisingly mute.  I didn’t take long to find an answer to that. There are hardly any kid songs these days. You do get some 1950s, 60s children songs like ‘Nanha Munna Rahi’, ‘Eechak dana’ , ‘Lalla Lalla Lori’and the likes. But take a step beyond the 60s and such songs are hardly there. Bollywood seems to have forgotten about our tiny clients who had to be entertained as well. A very rare exception being ‘Bum bum bole’ post 2000. Perhaps we as a society, have taken for granted that the new generation has lost its innocence and hence doesn’t need to be exclusively entertained. It’s sad.

Babies have an uncanny knack I discovered. They can tell you if a song is going to be superhit by listening to it just once. They can compare nuances, and all abilities of the song including hummability, recallability, dancability and watchability. They can effortlessly pick ‘Jhalla wallah’ over ‘Aa re Pritam Pyare’, ‘Tumhi ho Bandhu’ over ‘Chikni Chameli’, ‘Anarkali disco chali’ over ‘Dhadang dhang’. So here’s to you Music directors –

  1. Get your near and dear tiny tots if you want to churn out a highly likeable number

2. And please , please put together some infant friendly songs, people! How long can we listen to Lakdi ki kaathi???