Monthly Archives: October 2008

A Better Man

My father is pure mush. And no – he wasn’t always this way. Being a father thawed him somewhat, enough at least to hug us awkwardly in public and tear up when bidding us farewell at airports and railway stations. However, this current (hmm..) degeneration happened gradually. If you went all eager beaver, badgering me, pinning me down and twisting my arm behind my back (bad, BAD people!), I would have to confide in you that it was all precipitated by the arrival of his grandson on a cold and clear winter’s day in January 2003.

On that fateful day, some serious re-wiring took place in his otherwise sensible brain. As the slushy mush began its onslaught and starting gaining ground, my father’s vocabulary was dramatically reduced to baby-syllables, and where there was once real music, there were utterly nonsensical, yet fascinatingly catchy ditties for his grandchild. This situation is now unfortunately worsened by the arrival of yet another mutant Ninja turtle. And by that I mean grandchild.

All of this obviously makes him a delightful and entertaining grandfather. A grandfather who took one look at “his” babies and fell in love. He then snuck another peek and it happened all over again. And my emotional, but very controlled father was utterly hapless in the face of it all. Like all good men, he caved in, tucked up his lungi and devoted himself to being a complete slave to their every whim and fancy.

He carries them around till I yell at him to put them down and doesn’t he want them to learn to walk?? He spoons sugar into their milk inspite of our disapproval and rolls around on the bed with them, blowing raspberries on their tummies and butts and letting them maul and scratch him like little kittens. All the while howling with laughter. He will spin one ridiculous and untrue story after an other for hours until Arvind wraps himself around him and floats off. He will lie for the longest time cuddling and kissing them and murmuring to them even after they’re asleep. He can’t seem to stop kissing them. He will glare if I snap at the kids, and carry them away from their witch of a mother. He reasons with me to be a more loving and patient parent.. to not repeat old mistakes. The mush now controls so much of his grey matter that he can’t even stand his little darlings making the tiniest bleat of displeasure. Crying, obviously, is what the evil mother makes them do by breaking their will. And did I already say that he can’t seem to stop kissing them?

Well, today is this tender-hearted man’s birthday. And I know nothing can really make up for his little darlings not being there in the flesh to hug him hard and hang like limpets off him. Still, the Viking and I reckoned we could give it a shot. Some little way to tell him that he is absolutely priceless to us and that there will never be a better Achan/ Muthu. Happy birthday!

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All I want is a room somewhere…..

I am always the last person to fall asleep in our home. And its not for any of the reasons you will find in the post below. Lately, I have begun to fully respect my need for at least half an hour of silence in my day – sans guilt. We are on the go from the moment we are awake -shovelling down breakfast, packing lunches, like whirling dervishes we spin out of the door and we’re gone. By the time we all get home, we are all in our own way, dying for down time. For me this comes when everyone, Viking included, is in bed. This is when I begin to potter. Does pottering sound very unmeditative and restless? Well, it would all depend on HOW you potter.

My pottering constitutes my daily dose of zen.  I wander around, picking up clothes that have been littered and discarded on their way to somewhere and I breathe in the scent of my boys, the scent of their day. I finger the fabric for the longest time, bereft that they’re growing out of their clothes so fast, that they’re growing out of our lives and into their own as I breathe. I smile as I think of Armaan looking like a little emperor in his bright purple jumper.. the sleeve is already well-chewed and frayed.  The way Arvind always insists that he HAATTES those brown trousers, but wears them at least twice a week.

I linger by our family pictures, some hanging on the wall, some on our mantelpiece. As I arrange and re-arrange them, I feel glad that we have only framed the genuine photographs. None of these pictures have been “posed” for. These were moments of genuine warmth and fuzzy happiness. We don’t look one bit smashing, but for that moment, we were very happy. I notice again how I love the way the Viking crinkles both his eyes and bent-out-of-shape nose when he smiles. How like Arvind, he laughs with his whole body. How his eyes are always kind. Portraits of the babies – I wonder if the day will ever come that I will able to look at them, and the breath won’t catch in my throat in that wierd, choking way? That I won’t be so totally overwhelmed by all that I feel for them.

A photo of my immensely good looking grandparents, taken a couple of months after their marriage, where they, by some miracle, manage to look completely uninterested in each other and focus intensely on the photographer. Decorum and decency seep through the sepia and it is such a contrast to the warm, loving, co-dependant and complicated relationship they shared for 49 years.

My parents in Kodaikanal – my mother’s eyes, bright and playful, peeping out from behind my father. My otherwise buttoned-up kinda father all loosened up and relaxed.

Tiny knickknacks that adorn our windowsills. Presents from widely-travelled friends. Memories from a wonderful vacation or a great day at a yard sale. I can’t stem the gratitude I feel for a life where we have been and continue to be the recipients of so much love. How lucky we have been to be able to adorn our life in this way.

I make my way down to Arvind’s room. I sit on his bed and bury my face in his freshly washed hair. He turns,and long, gangly arms and legs gather me into him as he mutters, “Mamma” in his sleep. His skin is starting to lose it’s little boy softness and I ‘m already wondering how I will lure him into oil baths during the winter. My beautiful first-born, living in the moment and loving like a maniac. If only I could cup that gentle, nurturing heart and protect it. If only I could tell him that life will always be hard if you wear your heart on your sleeve – and all over your bleeding shirt. If only I could force him to go against his very grain and not be so very vulnerable, so raw in the face of perceived rejection (groan). I hold his tiny heart-shaped face in my palms, kiss his forehead and send up a prayer that he will never learn to play it too cool with his little heart.

Armaan’s room, strewn with the building blocks that he contemptously knocks over and proceeds to ignore. Strewn with the books he loves, which he loves thumbing through, alone in his room. Armaan, for whom, I have a feeling, life will go easy. Almost indefatigable in his cheer, babbling, talking, pointing, learning, forcing his parents to carry him around the house, pointing out everything and talking him through every little task and ritual. Our baby boy, who, from the minute he was born, communicated his needs so clearly, with the minimum of fuss and who continues to do so. I gently finger the feathery curls gathered at the nape of his neck, wary of waking him. I marvel at your confidence, my darling. The way you can enter a room full of strangers and practically blind people with your rays of joy. The way you casually assume that the lady at the check-out counter has as good a reason as anyone to love you like we do, so why not babble and try to hug her? The way you seem to meet life with your arms outstretched and utter delight written large.

It’s long past the midnight hour and though I could have easily gotten an extra hour or two of sleep, I know I needed this. I needed to tank up on everything I love in my life.. needed these moments to cherish that which I so casually take for granted every day. And I get ready to crawl into bed with a generous Viking, who will, automatically and without fail, roll over on his side, open up the duvet and let me into the “warm spot”, not holding my icy feet against me. (Yes, you need cold winters to appreciate the importance of warm spots in bed – and pervs! rise from the gutters now!)

At some point in the night, we will be two adults and two children and a hideous pile-up of limbs in the bed. I might wake up with a toe plugged into my nostril. I assure you, I won’t mind it THAT much.

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Adam and Eve?

Here is a forward I keep receiving by e-mail. It is normally sent by a dear and well-meaning friend who probably thinks she will make my day with this, given as we are all such Supermoms! The forward is normally accompanied by comments like, “Familiar, eh?” or “Isn’t this SO apt?”

Mum and Dad were watching TV when Mum said, ‘I’m tired, and it’s getting late. I think I’ll go to bed’
She went to the kitchen to make sandwiches for the next day’s lunches.
Rinsed out the popcorn bowls, took meat out of the freezer for dinner the following evening, checked the cereal box levels, filled the sugar container and put spoons and bowls on the table.
She then put some wet clothes in the dryer, put a load of clothes into the washer, ironed a shirt and secured a loose button .She picked up the game pieces left on the table, put the phone back on the charger and put the telephone book into the drawer.
She watered the plants, emptied a rubbish bin and hung up a towel to dry.
She yawned and stretched and headed for the bedroom. She stopped by the desk and wrote a note to the teacher, counted out some cash for an excursion, and pulled a text book out from hiding under the chair. She signed a birthday card for a friend, addressed and stamped the envelope and wrote a quick note for the grocery store. She put both near her purse. Mum then washed her face with 3 in 1 cleanser, put on her Night solution & age fighting moisturiser, brushed and flossed her teeth and filed her nails. Dad called out, ‘I thought you were going to bed.’
‘I’m on my way,’ she said. She put some water into the dog’s dish and put the cat outside, then made sure the doors were locked.
She looked in on each of the kids and turned out their bedside lamps and TV’s, hung up a shirt, threw some dirty socks into the basket, and had a brief conversation with the one up still doing homework.
In her own room, she set the alarm; laid out clothing for the next day, straightened up the shoe rack. She added three things to her 6 most important things to do list. She said her prayers, and visualised the accomplishment of her goals.
About that time, Dad turned off the TV and announced to no one in particular. ‘I’m going to bed.’
And he did…without another thought. Anything extraordinary here? Wonder why women live longer…?
CAUSE WE ARE MADE FOR THE LONG HAUL….. (and we can’t die sooner, we still have things to do!!!!)

Familiar? No. Apt? Antiquated maybe, but not apt. I find this passage offensive on so many levels. Normally, I would say, “don’t get me started!” and leave it at that. But now I’m a blogger, so I’ll just wind me up and let me rip!

Let me count the ways.

That this is our view of marital partnership anno 2008 is astounding. The Mom as a bonafide control freak, bustling around doing neverending chores (and of course still finding the time to slap on age-fighting moisturiser!) and the Dad, stretched out on the sofa, channel-surfing, reading the paper, belching/burping and I dunno, scratching his arse? Once he is done, WITHOUT A THOUGHT, he retires. At this point, the thought-burdened mother is probably still working in her sleep. Luckily though, she is wrinkle-free.

I’m sorry, but which part of this am I supposed to identify with? Are we seriously still buying into these stereotypes and worse, living them? Anything extraordinary here, the author asks? Hell, yes! It is extraordinary that this was probably penned in the past few years, in an age where one supposes women have broken free from oppressive shackles of chauvinism. It is extraordinary that it totally disregards the efforts made by so many couples to achieve a greater balance in family roles. Yet, if there is one thing that gets my goat more than open chauvinism, it is the cloaked variety. Bertrand Russell said it beautifully in his essay, “The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed”, where he speaks of the romanticising of oppression. If you really wanted to know how far I could projectile vomit, you might want to start by waxing eloquent and deifying the role of the woman in a home. If you are an Indian woman in your late twenties or thirties, (or older) chances are this has been shoved down your throat enough. And hopefully regurgitated. The categories are few, stark, punishing and misogynistic. 1. Selfless, self-effacing super-achiever 2. Complete waster, neglecting home, man and children. You oiled your hair, prayed and aspired to number 1 for fear that you might be number 2 and (gasp!) a failure. Not really much room for movement, eh?

Its a nothing less than a crying shame if this is an identifiable reality for so many women in the world. Should I STILL be considered “lucky” to have a man do the dishes or help out with kids? How many more years will we speak in glowing terms of the superwoman who never took a moment for herself and wore herself to the bone in the service of her family, while we speak in tones of pride (mixed with a certain resignation) of the man who brings home lovely chunks of bacon, while being more or less an emotional absentee in his own family?

I can see you guys patting me on the back, saying, “Relax, man! It’s just a dumb forward”. But its never just that. It is the power of discourse. It is the way women measure themselves and each other. It is the insiduous and destructive power of unreal (and standardised) expectations. I am pained by the thought of a young wife/mother reading this and feeling even a niggling inadequacy.

But most of all, I am offended on behalf of the wonderful men and fathers I know. This is utterly disrespectful to men who, without fail, put their families and family life first. Men who don’t expect medals (sexual favours maybe, but no medals;-) for having woken up in the morning and wiped a baby’s bum. Who will pitch in cheerfully getting breakfast organised, lunches packed and driving kids to respective schools. They help train football teams, cheer their daughter’s ballet efforts and spend as much time as their spouse (if not more) being with their kids, getting to know them and hanging out with them. They aren’t necessarily stay at home dads, but they realise there is more to fatherhood than sperm donation – and by golly! – do they do their bit! As early as the 1950’s, my maternal grandfather was doing this. In those days when fathers weren’t expected to do much more than lie in an easy chair, drink tea served by their wives and shush their children, he rolled up his sleeves and actively raised my mother and uncle. He was interested and involved in every aspect of their lives and knew his children inside out.

I also know a lot of incredibly loving fathers (and mothers) who have excruciatingly long working hours. Unfortunately, we don’t always have a choice when it comes to work. (We should! We should!). Its not really about the time you spend, but I suppose how much you invest in getting to KNOW your family. I have seen dads working over 70 hours a week, who will still declare a Sunday sacred and pitch in with family chores, activities and fun. In a lot of relationships today, where both partners work, its obvious that there will be times when one person has to pitch in more with domestic chores. There will also be instances where either a mom or a dad decide to stay at home to be with the children and take upon themselves the lions share of the work at home. I would like to clarify that I’m not dissing people in these situations at all.

I’m dissing the tone of this text. The taking-for-granted going on here and the glorification of the “woman’s lot”. Annoyed senseless that its still gigglegiggle and haha-hehe when a man acts like he is visiting the family he belongs to. We wouldn’t be trying to imply there are so few good men, would we?

Ladies and gentlemen, end of rant.

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And here we go again

It’s official. I’m a blog tease. I start up blogs, nab a few readers and then I lose interest. My mother gives me her rueful look and tells me in a pained voice that I should stick to things. How will I ever write the next Booker novel if I can’t maintain a lousy blog? (It’s besides the point that I have never planned to write a novel.. this is just blahblah to her.)

I have spent the past year at home on maternity leave. One WHOLE year because I live in the social democrat paradise for mothers that is Norway. There has not been a single day when I have not been musing and jotting and constructing “posts” – in my head. There has also not been a single day when I haven’t promised myself that I would record all this for posterity. For the kids and for myself. To feed my obsessive need to make some sense of the world and people around me. And every single day, I caved in to the black hole of fatigue. No, lets call it what it really is – soul-numbing tiredness. Nothing had prepared me/us for the “administrative” powers required to nurture two children, endure sleepless nights, deal with the unending drama in the life of a five year old, nurture our relationship, run a home, maintain a social life and did I mention neverending laundry? One year down the line, the dust has begun to settle. We are almost not overwhelmed anymore. Our default setting is now “Bliss in Organized Chaos”. Its not a bad place to be and it has robbed me of my sterling excuses.

I have finally accepted that in order to be minimally sane – and my ambitions here are modest indeed! – I need to write.The maximally sane Viking has played no small part in this process.

Me: Babe, “(Insert sentence about existential angst set to the backdrop of a whine)

The Viking: (not looking up from the paper) You should write. Why don’t you write?

Me: (Insert sentence re: the impossibility of time management with two kids, add a few more dollops of angst and barely suppressed rage. Set to symphony in Moan major)

The Viking: (wondering if poking out his eye with ballpoint pen can put him out of his misery) Please write. You NEED to write. I NEED you to write.

Oh well. Let the games begin.

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