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.

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The Ice Age fiasco

           We never believed our very active (read ‘hyperactive’) 15 month old daughter S would be patient enough to watch a film in the theatre. And so we never tried. But the musically inclined little one fell so much in love with the songs of the film Cocktail on TV that I couldn’t resist giving it a shot. You had to start somewhere, so why not with this? The other pluses about the movie being that even if there were to be a ruckus, I could breeze out of the movie with no major heartbreak (given the unrelenting poor reviews it had got). And since the movie hall was expected to be 70% empty, we could move about and around as frequently as required. So me and S, off we went for Cocktail, with a cousin for company. Here I must mention that the husband promptly backed out saying Cocktail was not HIS kind of movie and so he gallantly volunteered to skip the movie (now please don’t ask me what HIS kind of movies are, coz that’s another post altogether!).

              Well, surprise of all surprises, our evening rocked!! S thoroughly enjoyed the songs and was dancing freely in the nicely vacant theatre, while we lazily munched our popcorn. The movie was no good, but our trio made the best of it, given the entertainment provided by S. I could not believe that we had so effortlessly breezed through her first movie, and I cursed myself for not having attempted this sooner. ‘It’s all because of my staid unexperimenting husband’, I muttered. I returned home with a gait in my walk and rubbed it all off on the husband who, nevertheless amused, very promptly made it seem as if it was no big deal that he missed all the fun.

             And then I read this blog post about a mom and kid bonding over an animation movie, and boy, was I touched! I so wanted S to look wide-eyed at an animation film, and watch her face light up with joy. She accompanied me to Cocktail, so I should definitely take her to her kind of movies. Simple logic, or so it seemed. And this time, I was in no mood to leave the husband out of the fun. I scanned the papers and figured out that Ice Age 4 and Krishna and Kans were due for release. Perfect timing! I told the husband I was booking tickets for the movie Ice Age 4 that weekend. ‘Ice Age 4?’ he asked. ‘What about 1,2 and 3?’. Here, I have to clarify that the husband does not even remotely follow animation movies. I had to really coax him to come for this one, giving him a long emotional lecture on what I thought were the ultimate tenets of parenthood. And since he never has the heart to refuse something where either S or his parenting approaches are involved, he relented. And we planned to go the following weekend to Krishna and Kans so as to give S the joy of both desi and phoren animated films. I did a small victory jig.

             As we settled comfortably ensconced in our Gold class seats for Ice Age (yes, I had chosen the best class for the occasion), it seemed all so ‘picture-perfect’. That is, until the guy with the 3D glasses came. As soon as we put on our glasses, S decided I looked really weird in them and started tugging, insisting that I remove it. Well, me being the primary bearer of S, had to relent. Now if you have ever tried watching 3D movies without those glasses, you would agree with me that it gives you a strange kind of head and eye ache. ‘I should have booked 2D’, I hissed to the husband, who was watching the movie unperturbed with his glasses on. Five minutes into the movie, S let out her first cry of boredom. Unfazed, I softly tried pointing out the various animals to her. No luck. I pointed out some kids nearby who were watching the movie. She suddenly clapped her hands with joy and lurched out of my lap wanting to play with them. I tried explaining to her in my unruffled-mother-who-can-handle-any-situation voice that this was not time to play and that a wonderful movie lay ahead. She watched for few more minutes before asking for water, biscuits, water, puffed rice, juice (huh? I hadn’t got that with me, she had obviously overestimated her mom there), biscuits and more water again. Needless to say that each of these demands resulted in a substantial amount of ruckus and total inability to focus on the movie. We played with the 3D glasses for some time and when I tried re-concentrating on the movie, S let out huge wails, enough to disturb the people sitting around, who gave looks which clearly implied why I was torturing a poor little baby by forcing her to watch a film she so obviously did not enjoy. I had a brainwave, took S out for a short walk to help freshen her up. By now, I had completely lost the movie plot and my unruffled-mother…. avatar. I returned to my seat to find the husband watching the film with a sudden found interest for animation movies. I glared at him pointedly for quite some time, no use though.

                 My discomfort was broken by the intermission. I heaved sighs of relief, which, however, were not to last long. When the coke-samosa-french fries combo ad was aired on the screen, S bawled a long ‘Mammammmm’ in the most piteous and hungry voice she could find. I got pure dirty looks from the crowd around for not only dragging a disinterested poor little baby, but also a hungry, underfed and tired one at that, all maybe in our desperation to watch the movie. I immediately despatched the husband to buy some popcorn and the reminder of the movie was spent peeling the soft portion of the popcorn and feeding it to S. I walked out of the movie hall not daring to risk any conversation by meeting anyone’s gaze.

          Apparently the husband enjoyed the movie. Needless to say, we didn’t go for Krishna and Kans the following weekend.

 

An era bygone…

Come summer and grandma’s in-house production factory would kick off with alacrity. The supplies from her factory, namely pickles, a host of vadaams*, karudaams*, vatthals and a lot more goodies would start rolling out in geometric progressions (*For those not familiar with these items, these are typical ‘Tam Brahm’ preparations meticulously crafted from rice flour/ sago in myriad compoundings, dried under the blistering Tamil Nadu sun, and tucked away carefully for frying and having as an accompaniment with the banal sambar and rasam rice). My mind goes back to the mouth-watering dishes which grandma dolled out with apparent ease and simplicity. As children, we took these for granted whenever we went to visit our grandparents’ house during the summer holidays. We would list down in our little heads amongst childish banter, the various dishes which our ‘Paati’ (Tamil for ‘Grandmother’) would make for us and rant on about the favorites of each cousin.

Grandpa, for his part was no less. He used to exuberate in clandestinely getting us delicacies from outside, strictly prohibited at home by our pious grandma. These included the hottest ever chilli bajjis, abundantly spiced raw mangoes and peanuts and the likes. He was our guru in philately and numismatics, at a time when we didn’t even understand the relevance of stamp and coin collection as hobbies. A number of fond altercations took place in the house on delights which were prohibited by one party, which the counterparty willingly allowed. A very vivid example of this is my grandpa taking us all to the Elliot’s beach in Madras every evening, while grandma lamented the mammoth effort of cleaning the sand from the ‘sand-bathed’ kids which somehow conveniently managed to get into every nook and crevice in the house!

Such were our carefree summer holidays spent, with both grandparents trying to pamper the grandchildren and thereby vying to be the chosen one. When a parent went against you, the sole and best redress was a grandparent. Their love was boundless, you could wiggle your way out with them, they could convince any harsh parent and the warmth of their hug comforted every little tear-stained cheek. Childlike reasoning somehow appealed to them and they understood those fears, likes and dislikes which parents couldn’t ever manage to fathom. Their elaborate story telling sessions well-knit with mythological tales on long, dark nights touched the rock bottom of our tiny hearts and managed to create a stubbornly permanent space therein.

Their word was the final verdict in the family. They epitomized the values, tradition and culture of a long-lost, innocent and righteous world, where truth prevailed in the end, no matter what. In that long-lost world, freedom fighters were worshipped as gods and idolized, corruption was quite rare and well-despised, long distance relatives and even neighbors were hospitable and closely knit, and there was an underlying sense of goodness in every person.

Such timeless memories of the best phase of one’s life are well-cherished. The biggest thought which haunts me at times is ‘Will the young generation enjoy the delectable pampering and love of grandparents?’ Sadly, I find the answer to this, more often than not in negative.

In today’s urban lifestyle, most of us are working hard, running behind the crafty mirage called ‘MONEY’, with packed days and schedules, ever so busy, tensed, stressed, worked out, tired…Yes, we do have a five day week, and on each of the five days, we look forward to ‘THE WEEKEND’!! But, weekend is a bigger deceit in itself, because it is a two day holiday in disguise for doing things pending from all the other days! Weekend is for sorting out household affairs, settling pending bills, going to the bank, arranging and tidying up, shopping, washing, ironing and on and on and on…The stress is compounded for working mothers, whose lives ricochet between the demands of home, work and self. In order to combat this, what arrived was the age of the ‘INSTANT STUFF’; of anything that is magically easy and quick to make. ‘Instant’ became the in-vogue word which made any product look immediately attractive.

Right from noodles to Bank Loans, fast and quick is what everyone wants. Because this is just not the place for the slow soul. The clock just keeps ticking… Our days, events and lives are micro-programmed to an unimaginable extent and any substantial change to these schedules, albeit for a short period, seems to throw life out of gear! There is no time to chat relentlessly with family members, to camp incessantly at relatives’ places, to cook and eat slowly and elaborately, to waste time in plain nothingness and to deliberately pull the plug and throw life out of gear for a while…

Unconsciously, as an outcome of this ‘New York Minute’ lifestyle, our culture, age-old practices and traditions are getting eroded. People don’t feel the need to conduct rituals and festivities as elaborately. Our traditional preparations are seldom remembered and made, since they demand patience, hard work, meticulous preparation, devotion and most importantly the ‘TIME’.

As extension of the above, I often end up thinking of my own busy lifestyle and how much time I have for disposal of my loved ones. Caught in the career groove, most of us, at one time or the other, end up shelving our heart-felt desires, hobbies and passions for tomorrow, when we shall retire…which effectively means that we have booked our retired life also well in advance!

Will we then have time for our grandchildren? What will we teach them? Will we have any traditions and culture left on us worthy enough of passing on to them? What shall make them effortlessly conclude that their grandparents are the most loving beings on this planet, passing on unadulterated love and values to their lineage? What will give the children of today, the hope of regaining and relishing their lost innocence in the midst of their grandparents? Today, I know that if I forget a bit of my favorite mythological story, I can still go back to my grandparents and recall the bits. Will today’s children have that option? I try and picturize the modern, young adults of today in the autumn of their lives and they somehow don’t seem to fit the ‘grandparents’ bill. They may be affluent, smart, suave, loving and sensitive; but can they offer the luxury of their time to their lineage??? Although they may, in their late years, fall short of the contemporary modernity of their grandchildren, there will still be a void, an irreplaceable piece of ‘the conventional grandparent’ which they may never be able to fill.

And so shall we age and retire, our grandchildren being smarter, cleverer, more suave and alert than we ever were.. But if we don’t have the time to share with those little ones and a good handful of our roots to lovingly pass on to them, then the essence of a grandparent is lost. It is probably unfair to deny our generations the rich moments and joys that we have cherished, probably selfish to permit such innocent lifestyles to become the characteristic of an era bygone…

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???