Category Archives: Motherhood

Of Writing and Motherhood

This was written for the Guest Blog section of the amazing Bookaholicanonymous blog.

 I have been writing for as long as I remember. I wrote my first story when I was around 5, about a fish and a turtle that were friends. This was followed by a comic-book series drawn in pencil over school summer holidays, about a pair of naughty twin boys called Tissy and Tassy. Then came the Enid Blyton-inspired stories about sassy kids who went on picnics and solved mysteries in their holidays, followed by never-completed novels of teenage angst and romance, and even a reincarnation-based story in college that I lost along with all other data when my crappy Windows 95 system crashed.

But in my 20s, following my journalism degree and my grad school years, while working in my first real job as a features reporter at The Hindu, I found myself, for lack of a better word, stuck. I ought to have been the most inspired I’d ever been. I ought to have been churning out stories. Here I was, being exposed to interesting people and stories, every single day, on the job. Here I was, attending book launches, speed reading new novels by Indian authors, and getting to interview them about the process of writing. It was a dream come true for a young wannabe novelist. And yet, I found myself paralysed. When it came time to try and work on my own writing, I couldn’t seem to make progress. I had ideas, sure; I’d sit and try working on some of them, but it would come out sounding stilted. And worse, I wasn’t inspired to keep going.

I talked about it all the time though, so much so that it came to be known as ‘The Book’ in my family, the one I would someday write. The Great Indian Novel, or something like that. Then marriage happened, then the birth of my daughter in my early 30s. I was intense about motherhood, from the start. I wanted to be hands-on, so I quit my full-time job. I was the archetypal over-involved first-time mom. I Googled everything. I worried about everything. I overthought everything. But I also thoroughly enjoyed all those firsts, all those incredible moments of babyhood and toddlerhood, the ones that become picture postcards in your mind, and then get passed on as stories to your kid as she gets older and wants to hear about “when she was a baby”. And of course, I wrote about them too, in blogs and a column.

But something else was happening at the same time, almost silently. I was working on a book, in stolen moments at night, while my baby slept, or on weekends when my husband shooed me out of the house to go take a break. Not ‘The Book’, but just a book. Not some hopelessly elevated ideal, but just a story I wanted to tell, like the ones I wrote in my childhood. Just for myself, what I’d myself want to read. This time, I didn’t talk about it much. It was like a little secret I hugged to my chest. I wasn’t even ever sure I wanted to publish it. I just wanted to write it. It wasn’t until it was complete, some three and a half years later, that I knew I wanted to try and put it out there. That story, of course, became ‘The Shrine of Death’.

I often wonder what made the difference. What broke the paralysis. And I believe it was motherhood. I believe that motherhood liberated me. I know that seems contradictory. After all, motherhood, in a lot of ways, shackles you. Your time isn’t your own, your energy isn’t your own, your mind even isn’t your own, filled as it is with thoughts and worries and fears about the little person who’s wholly dependent on you. But motherhood also gives you a brand of confidence, a belief in your ability to tough it out in the trenches. “If I’ve managed to care for this little life, then what is a mere story?” It puts everything in perspective, and it frees you from any delusions of grandeur you might possess. Suddenly, the story I’d been obsessing about and building up in my head for years was just that – a story. It didn’t have to arrive perfectly formed in my head or become The Great Indian Novel. If there’s one thing motherhood teaches you, it’s that everything in this life, including yourself and your efforts, is less than perfect, but no less meaningful for it. That the most important things in life are messy and hard, and that the only thing to do is just keep going.

I’ve always been terrified of screwing up, of being less than perfect. Hence, you can probably guess, the paralysis when it came to doing anything that was really important to me. But with motherhood, not doing was not an option. I was responsible for this tiny human being, and so I had to do, terrified or not, and – amazingly! – we both survived. I made mistakes, and beat myself up about it, yes, but then I got up, dusted myself off, and moved on, because, again, there was no other option. It just had to be done, and you know what, I did okay.

Every single day as a mother, especially in the early months, holds innumerable moments of failure and triumph. It’s exhausting, but it’s also the biggest life lesson there is.

Now, I like to say I’m the mom of two – of my firstborn child, and of my firstborn book. Neither journey was easy, but I know in my heart that if it hadn’t been for the first, I may have never completed the second.

You can find the original blog post here.

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The five stages of an IKEA visit with my five-year-old

dubai3

Stage 1: Vigorous protest. The night before/the morning of the visit:

Kid: “But Amma! I don’t want to go to IKEA. I want to go to the park/beach/indoor play area with my friend! IKEA is booooring!”

Me: “No, it’s not! It’s full of interesting stuff.”

Kid (arms crossed): “Does it have clothes?”

Me: “Er… no.” (But it has toys. For once, I have enough thought-to-mouth-control not to say it out loud. We’d cross that particular bridge when we come to it <see Stage 4>).

“Shoes?” (My daughter, the diva.)

“No.”

“Hairbands?” (Note: We’re currently obsessed with hairbands)

Me: “No, but…”

Kid (throwing up arms in exasperation): “See? It’s boooring!”

*

Stage 2: Enter Festival City Mall, where IKEA is located in Dubai. “Amma amma amma! I want to go on the toy train! I want the Sophia the Princess balloon! I want to go to that play area…” Curse you, Festival City. Why do you need to have so, so many distractions for the pint-sized brigade just outside the entrance of IKEA?? Do you not realise we parents need to reserve every ounce of our strength for the ordeal of the next 3 to 4 hours, as we stagger zombie-style through the winding maze with whining little person(s) in tow, laden with a shopping cart full of junk we don’t need, and unwieldy boxes and shelving units to store it all in?? We can’t be wasting energy battling past helium balloon and tooting red-and-yellow engines!

*

ikea

Stage 3: Enter IKEA. Cue amazement. “I LOVE IKEA!” This is the best portion of the trip, so one must make the best of it. The daughter has shelved the diva-ness and demands for balloons, and is totally charmed by the pretty, pretty bedrooms and kitchens and dining rooms on display. She pretend cooks at the kitchen, has a tea-party at the little kiddie table on display, lies on the beds (while I pretend not to notice), and generally makes like she’s living in a life-size doll house. “I don’t ever want to go home! Can we live here forever, amma?”

*

Stage 4: BOOM!  By that, I am referring, of course, to the wretchedly attractive and colourful toy section of IKEA, strategically located at the halfway point of the maze, right about when your kid is getting bored of amusing herself with pots and pans and pillows, and is starting to get tired. What happens when a bored and tired little person who’s been looking at shelving units and kitchens is confronted with an oasis of toys? Exactly. BOOM!

Now, there are two options here for the also-starting-to-get-tired-and-cranky parents — a blanket ban on any more toys, and damn the consequences (you brave souls you), or multiple rounds of negotiations before you settle upon a mutually agreeable, not-too-outrageous toy purchase. We bought a stuffed cat, who has been christened Mia (don’t judge me… virtually every kid walking out of IKEA was carrying a stuffed animal of some species or the other.) Of course, sometimes the peace talks fail and you end up with a toddler lying on one of IKEA’s pristine aisles throwing an epic tantrum. Let’s have a moment of silence to express solidarity for every parent whose ever been in that position (there but for the grace of Mia go I.)

*

Stage 5: Exhaustion. This stage has both its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, your kid is too exhausted to wander off or break things or demand to buy new stuff, and is likely to sit in the shopping cart quietly for the first time in the entire expedition. On the other hand, she’s more likely to whine (“I’m huuuungry! Are we done yet??”) and make irrational demands like “Carry me!” and “I want to lie down!”. I settled this by placing a random cat-motif pillow I’d picked up (in keeping with the general feline theme of the day, and the compulsion one feels to buy random stuff at IKEA) on the handle of the cart and having her put her head on it. I no longer had a handle to push the cart with, but hey, the whining was down, so I’ll take it.

*

We eventually did finish and make it back to the car, stopping only 10 or 15 times to pick up Mia and/or the cat pillow along the way. Our annual visit was done; there were no tempers lost or tantrums thrown (only the husband’s blood and sweat  lost over setting up the shelves later), and at least 50 per cent of what we bought was actually useful. As IKEA trips go, I’d give this one a Grade A – (half a grade point reduced for unnecessary purchase of cat pillow, which has already since been abandoned.)

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Mia says meeoww

 

 

 

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Uhm… what?

Moms, have you seen this one? If you’re like me, you’ve probably learnt to tune out whatever nonsense your kid insists on watching on YouTube. I usually just ensure she’s watching something kid-friendly and then block out the rest. But recently, the words of this rhyme filtered past my defences while the daughter was having her half-hour of YouTube time on the tablet (i.e. kid nirvana). Did I just hear what I thought I heard? Five strict mommies jumping on the bed? Uhm… what?

YouTube nursery rhymes are, of course, for most part, the absolute dregs. I’ve written on this in depth in the past, and won’t repeat myself. Suffice to say, the channels that advertise most aggressively, and therefore are most likely to be clicked by your YouTube video-surfing toddler, are the absolute worst. It’s like they set aside all their resources for the pimping and keep nothing at all for the actual content.

But, even by those low standards, this one is… uhm… strange. So you have five mommies jumping on the bed. There appears to be no cause to call them strict mommies — if anything, they seem to be all about letting their hair down and par-taying — but, apparently, strict they are. You have a grinning kid who calls the doc each time one of the mommies falls off the bed and bumps her head (you get the feeling she’s enjoying this role-reversal a little too much). At this point, you start to wonder… are these moms drunk and on a bender? ‘Cos lil monkeys falling off and bumping their heads… kinda understandable. Mommies, strict or otherwise, with such poor physical coordination? One too many bottles of wine would seem the most likely explanation for both the jumping and the falling (is that why they don’t seem strict too? Alcohol tends to do that). As an aside, who is this wonderfully available doc in these rhymes who picks up each time the mommy/kid calls with the exact same complaint? I must find me one of those.

But I digress.

Now, this is important — watch closely to see what happens after each mom has bumped her head. That’s right — she goes back to her regularly scheduled housework, like a good, chastened homemaker mommy. Her head hurts like a bitch (bump plus hangover… ouch), and she’s learnt her lesson. No more silly shenanigans for her! She’s going to stick to nice safe, ladylike activities like cooking and ironing and cleaning.

And that’s when it hits you. This video isn’t really strange at all. It might look like a silly, badly-animated nursery rhyme for kids, but it’s really a finger-wagging cautionary tale for mommies not to stray too far from the kitchen. No more mommies jumping on the bed! Except, presumably, with Daddy (oh c’mon, I know you were thinking that too). But only, of course, once she’s served him a nice hot dinner.

There. Aren’t all you good, strict mommies glad I brought this important video to your attention? (There are multiple versions for you to watch, in case you feel the message hasn’t hit home strongly enough with just the one). Now, please excuse me. I do believe there’s some housework I need to go finish.

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Look whose mug is in an ad for Parentcircle.com!

That’s right, mine! 😀 –> January 2016

Also, check out more of my clipbooks up on the site:

Toddler’s Day Out

Job Description: Mom

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Potty training potholes – part 1

Note: This was originally written nearly two years ago for Toddler Talkbut was eventually not used because it was deemed too poop-filled by my editor (and rightly so lol). I’d forgotten about it, but found it recently while clearing out my old laptop and decided to share. Thinking of writing a follow up piece on post-potty training woes too, hence the part 1 🙂 

Yup, they really do sing

Nothing prepares you for how poop-centric (and to a lesser degree, pee-centric) your life becomes when you have young children. There are the jokes about changing stinky diapers and all of that, but nobody ever tells you how much time and energy you will spend thinking about and worrying about and, yes, analysing poop once you have a kid. (If you’re already grossed out at this point, you may want to consider not reading further).

It begins, of course, with that mythical first-poop, the meconium, which all the parenting and birthing books prepare you for in such excruciating detail. Then once the breastfeeding begins, you constantly worry – is my baby peeing enough? Is he pooping enough? Because, since god didn’t see fit to make our breasts transparent and marked neatly in ounces and ml, you never really ever know for sure that baby is getting enough. The only indicators for the anxious breastfeeding mom? Weight gain, poop and pee. And since you can only weigh baby during doctor visits, guess what you have to go on every day? That’s right. Poop and pee.

Then the solid food adventures begin. The first time you see orange poop or black spotted poop or green poop, you have a minor cardiac event. Then you recall – oh yeah, baby had carrot or raisins or spinach the previous day. My daughter made life even more interesting for us. She pooped ridiculous quantities while being breastfed, to the point that I was panicking and taking her to every paediatrician in the city. Then once she was on solids and formula, she decided to swing the other way and not go at all for days. So in our household, every day with a normal motion for baby is a day for celebration. Grandparents anxiously enquire about it over Skype. Daddy calls from office to get an update. It’s big, big news.

But nothing is bigger than the Potty Training travails. Beginning roughly from one-and-a-half until whenever your child sees fit to poop in the potty, your life centres around this major (non) event of the day – going (or not) in the potty. There’s a reason why there are a number of books (“Bear goes potty”), videos (“Dora teaches potty training”) and more on the subject in the market. This is a Sisyphean task. The funniest products would have to be the peeing dolls (they don’t have – at least I think they don’t – pooping dolls because, presumably, of the grossness factor). These little dollies usually come with their own potty and all you need to do is, er, supply the water (yes, I studied them in detail at the toy store, and yes, I considered buying one. Don’t judge me). No, actually, scratch that. The funniest product would have to be the singing potty I found in one store. I couldn’t find any button to make said potty sing, and asked the bored-looking salesman why. He perked up as he explained to me that the potty only sang when it was peed or pooped on. He turned it over and showed me the little music box at the bottom, with a sensor. “See? When susu falls on it, music will come,” he said enthusiastically. “We were (indicating the other staff) also confused at first.” I admired the mechanism and thanked him for his help, and tried very hard not to think about how exactly they solved the mystery…

Of course, all these products are merely props. The hard work is done by the parents who sit with the child every day, trying to make using the potty seem like so, so much fun. There are kaka-susu songs. There are sound-effects. There are games and stories. Usually all of this descends first into wheedling (“please kanna, will you just try sitting on the potty?”) and then into frustration. That’s when it’s usually time to put the potty away for the day. There’s always tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that…

(When you’re all out of ideas, you can even try letting your child watch you when you visit the little girl’s or boy’s room. It serves to set an example, say the experts, and let’s face it, privacy in the john is a thing of the past once you have kids anyway. For the record, my daughter enjoyed the experience immensely and provided running commentary the whole time. I’ll spare you the details.)

It took me weeks to get my kid to even sit on her jungle-animal themed potty for more than 10 seconds at a time. Then, unfortunately, it became clear that I’d succeeded too well in making it fun, because she started treating it like a chair to sit and play on (and stand on. And jump on. And throw toys into). Then she’d carefully stand up and move away a few inches before doing her business. It was months before there was actually any, er, contact between potty and said business. Even then, it was mostly accidental. I still celebrated like I’d won the lottery.

The day we have our final breakthrough, we’ll probably throw a party. Watch this space, because you’re all invited.

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Miscellaneous toddlerisms – 3

Super Princess!

D, running around the room with her arms stretched out in front of her: “I’m Super Princess! If any of my toys fall into the water, I’ll save them!”
In her spare time, Super Princess also subverts gender stereotypes 🙂

Baby city

D while watching an episode of Peppa Pig called ‘Babysitting’: “But amma, they haven’t gone to Baby city yet!”

Bubbles

D decides to loudly comment on our (balding but otherwise somewhat hairy) driver’s appearance while in the car today.
D: Amma! This driver uncle has no hair in the front!
Me (darting a nervous look at him): Yes, yes baby. Different people have different hairstyles, right?
D nods and pipes down. I heave a sigh of relief.
(A few minutes later)
D (thoughtfully as she sips from her bottle): Amma! All the hair on his arms…
Me (breaking in desperately): D, drink your water!
D: But Amma! All the hair…
Me (louder): Just drink your water, D.
D (determinedly): But Amma, all the hairs on his arms look like bubbles!

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How to (not) use band-aids, toddler-style

1. Demand band-aid for non-existent boo-boo. The operative word here is ‘non-existent’. The vociferousness with which a toddler demands a band-aid is inversely proportional to the actual need for the band-aid. Tiny bumps, barely-there scratches, invisible ant bites… and your toddler will clutch at the (supposedly) injured limb and pitifully ask for her Dora/Hello-Kitty/Princess band-aid. “I need it amma!” she’ll cry, “please, please, please!”

Of course, you give in because you can’t take the whining, and because these band-aids are just a more expensive version of stickers at the end of the day. At least  she uses the band-aids just one at a time; with stickers, an entire entire sheet is dispensed with in 4.3 seconds flat.

So you put on the band-aid, and there is peace and quiet as the child admires it and declares she is much, much better. You may even receive a hug for being such a wonderful ‘band-aid doctor’, and if your kid’s into Doc McStuffins, a rendition of the ‘I feel better’ song. She’s happy, you’re feeling pretty pleased and all iz well… for about 5 seconds. Then your toddler will…

2.  Demand to have the band-aid removed. Why? Why, if you love these band-aids so much, do you need to get them off so fast? Wouldn’t you want your pretty Hello Kitty band-aid to stay on for longer? You whined and whined for 15 minutes to have it put on, and now you can’t keep in on longer than 5 secs? What is the point?

So, anyway, you give in again, because this is not a battle worth fighting. This is a band-aid she didn’t even need in the first place, so why bother arguing about how long she should keep it on? Of all the random, un-winnable arguments one gets into with a strong willed toddler during the course of the day, this falls under the ‘whatever- I don’t care’ category. Yes, the stupid Princess band-aids were expensive, but, you know, whatever.

Then, of course, your toddler will…

3.  Want it off but be scared of it hurting. The worst part of this stage is the realisation of how pointless the entire exercise was. Let’s do a brief review: you’re taking off the band-aid of a child who didn’t need it in the first place, but got it on after nagging you to death for it, only to want to take it off 5 seconds later. Only, now she doesn’t want to take it off. Well, she wants to take it off, but she’s scared on taking it off, so she doesn’t want you to take it off. If you catch my drift.

So you remind your toddler of how you took it off just the other day, and of how you were so good at it because you’re the best band-aid doctor ever! It won’t hurt at all, you promise, it’ll be over in seconds. She says nooooo! So you get impatient and say, fine keep it on. To which she says, nooooo! So you finally take matters in your own hands and ruthlessly rip it off. Ouch! That wasn’t so bad, was it? Only 20 minutes of your life you’ll never get back.

Now let’s fast forward ahead to a day or two later when your toddler will….

4. Refuse to put on the band-aid when it’s actually needed: So your baby has fallen and hurt her knee pretty bad. Or she needed a blood test and has sobbed her way through the whole procedure. You remember how much she loves her Hello Kitty/Dora/Princess band-aid and offer it to her as an incentive to stop crying. As a way to make her happy. Anything to bring a smile on her face. And yay! For once, the darned cartoon character band-aids are actually needed! They’re going to serve a purpose beyond cluttering the house and lying about here and there.

Caught up in the moment, you forget two important things. A) Your child does not like to put the band-aid over an actual injury. Those she likes to leave open, so she can pick at them and make them bleed B) You’ve forgotten what will transpire once you actually get it on.

5 a. Return to Step 2You’ve gotten the band-aid on at actual injury!!! Score one for the Mommy team! Hurray! Or, you know, not. Because we now go straight back to No. 2, bypassing the joy and 5 seconds of peace and quiet at the end of Step 1 altogether. Because your toddler wants the band-aid to be removed. Now.

But it’s worse this time. Because she actually kinda needs it. You want her to keep it on for a bit. This is not an argument that falls into the ‘whatever, suit yourself’ category. You make deals. You offer incentives to keep it on. You remind her you’re the band-aid doctor.

Of course, two minutes later, you cave and agree to take it off. Only… she doesn’t want you to take it off. But she also does. And this time it actually hurts her for real when you do. And she cries and cries and looks pitiful.

5 b. Return to Step 1: So after all that drama surrounding removing the band-aid, you’d think they’d be off the favourites list, right? Wrong. Because the next time she sees Princess/Hello Kitty/Dora band-aids anywhere in the house or the store, she will demand that you put it on for her,  on the invisible boo-boo on her elbow, right now. Because: “I really need it, amma! Please, please, please!”

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