Category Archives: Parenting

Talk To Me

For the past 4 months, Arvind and I have been going out for lunch once a week. I pick him up after school at 1:45 and we drive to his favourite dodgy Chinese restaurant and we ask for the “usual” – Macau fried rice for him and Kung Pao beef for me. The proprietor grins and brings us Coke and water without even asking.

We talk. There is no plan, no agenda and inspite of uncomfortable, highbacked chairs, we relax. We talk about everything that comes to mind – what happened in school, what is in the news, salient features of the Triassic age and the Jurassic age, why I should learn Minesweeper. Our words foxtrot effortlessly without stumbling over each other, without awkwardness.

There is the day Anders Behring Breivik is declared insane.

“Does this mean they won’t kill him, Mamma? Or put him in jail? Because I’m sure he is really really sorry that he did something so stupid. Everyone is sorry afterwards, right?”

“I wish it was that simple, love,” I say “but I think he meant to do it. As awful as it is, I think he meant to hurt people and he believed he was doing the right thing. In many places in the world, he would have faced capital punishment. The death penalty.”

“Death penalty?” he says the words carefully before spooning more rice into his mouth.

“Where you are sentenced to die for the crime you’ve committed.”

“Even if you’re very very sorry?”

“Even then.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” he frowns. “Why would they do that?”

“It has never made sense to me either.” I tell him.

I tell him about the various forms of capital punishment, about execution squads, about my impressions after visiting the Spandau prison in Berlin and as he turns his barrage of questions towards me, the couple next to us look like they really wished they had ordered take away Moo shoo Pork.

From death by capital punishment, we move onto apple pie, religion and afterlife and I might have snuck in that at least once in his life, he should read Catcher in The Rye because Holden Caulfield? He will stay with you forever.

“You’re sad, Mamma,” he says one afternoon. “You’re smiling, but you’re sad.”

“I am.” I say quietly but directly. I am unwilling to explain this darkness, this desperate suffocation I am feeling. The feeling that the already tenuous centre of my life is unravelling at a pace faster than I could keep up with. I don’t know how to tell my son that I don’t know how I got out of bed that morning.

I try to remember being myself at his age, so much like him. The child who sensed discord and discontent, who picked up even minor distress and made it hers. I know that I want to accord him more credit and respect than I was given in those circumstances.

“You know how sometimes, in school, everyone seems to be having a great time except you and even though everyone wants to play with you, something is just not right? You either feel too much or too little? Or somedays you are sad or angry about something that happened some other day?”

He nods, sombre in the moment.

“It’s like that for me sometimes,” I say. “Sometimes being sad and being angry comes from a place you can’t see anymore, that you don’t really understand. But I am trying to understand. I need to understand so that I can be a better mother for you and Armaan.”

“But Mamma..” he begins and stops short as if a little overcome by the moment and I am ready to hurry in with my effortless guilt.

He pulls out a pencil and paper from his bag and writes

DU ER FIN SOM DU ER.

You are fine just as you are. Just as you are.

There is the 1000 volt realization that no-one has ever said that to me. Not in that way or in any other way. And I have known so much love.

In those moments, a gift so huge, so vastly generous that not a single thing in my life could possibly feel unaligned.

Because I am enough. Just as I am.

“Also, you cry easily,” he says, slightly alarmed by this unexpected reaction.

“But of course I do,” I laugh. “Your mother is an emotional woman. I have tears for the happy and tears for the sad. This is really going to annoy you at your graduation.”

He grins. “IF I want to,” he says, “Maybe I’ll just make lots of money playing and making video games.” And we’re off again.

We still clash, we still fight, but something has changed so fundamentally. We are quicker to diffuse, quicker to get it, quicker to laugh.

Today, on the 17th of January, he turned 9. He awoke to music he’d selected the night before, (“Kiss” by Prince. Spell VICTORY for me.), Super Mario Toad cupcakes, candles and presents.

“Soon, I’ll have to fold you in four if you’re going to fit in my lap,” I joke. He grabs a cupcake and brings his shaggy haired self to the sofa, where he contorts his ever-lankening limbs in to my lap, his head contentedly tucked under my neck.

“I want some Us time today” he says quietly, while his brother clamours that he wants a birthday too. NOW.

So I pick him up right after school, we come home, eat more cupcakes and at the stroke of 2:30, the exact time of his birth, I gather him in my lap again to tell him how lucky we are to have him in our lives. To tell him that he should always be himself, true to himself, no matter what, because nothing in life will ever feel quite as amazing.

You are fine just as you are, I say.

Remember the book All I Really Needed To Know I Learned in Kindergarten?

Well, Robert Fulghum, you were wrong. Or maybe my Kindergarten was just lousy.

All I Really Need To Know I Keep Learning From My Sons.

When Macau met Kung Pao

Nine. Going on sixteen. Occasionally 46.

Because he wouldn't approve of a post without Luigi

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Filed under Arvind, Life Lessons, Parenting, Self, Togetherness

Words Alive

“Mamma, can you keep the night light on so that I can read myself to sleep?”

And I realize that I have waited for this moment, through all these years of reading to him.

The day when he would take over and struggle to keep his eyes open to cover yet another page.

The day I would take the prone book off his chest and place it on his night table before tucking him in.

When I would whisper, “The thinks you will think and the places you’ll go.”

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Filed under Arvind, Parenting

Superpowers

“We’re family, Arvind. And being family means that we we know each other better than anyone else knows us – warts and all.”

“Yeah?”

“Well, that is like having a superpower. It is a HUGE power to have. And like any superpower, we can use it for good. Or we can use it in a bad way. Like it or not, we have the power to make or break each other’s day. Days even.”

The boy pauses whilst drawing, pencil raised dramatically in mid-air. As if pondering my words. Or catching flies.

“Yeah. Like Pokemon. They have all these superpowers and sometimes, if they are not clever, they end up hurting themselves with their powers.”

“Well, err.. yes. That sounds about right. So we’re using our powers and words wisely?”

Lesson learnt: I will not be a cultural luddite and knock popular youth culture ALL the time. Clearly, even Pokemon can offer some moral sustenance. I will have to settle for a more reserved kind of Pokemon loathing now.

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Filed under Culture, Parenting

Molten

You know Pappa is home

a) when bedtimes never end

b) cuddles are aplenty

c) there are extended sessions of gazing at the world map on the children’s bedroom wall to gush over the magic of platetectonics.

d) Will Vanuatu stay afloat long enough for us to ever see it?

Now all I need is video footage of Armaan saying, “PLATETECTONICS” in all seriousness.

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Filed under Parenting, The Viking

Oxygen

Pretty elementary if you stop to think about it.

The elegant lady in the uniform – the one with the shiny hair and great skin –  tells us in a kindly voice that we must first put our own oxygen mask in place before placing the mask for the child.

I’m slumped in my seat on the plane, returning from another strange city, desperately hoping that the friendly-looking man in the next seat is not going to attempt conversation.

I’m beat and I really need him to remain a mystery. I need to plug in my ipod and tune into a dream.

No-one told me about a damn oxygen mask, I think resentfully. Why do I never breathe enough?

Probably because everyone knows that breathing REAL oxygen would leave less time for inhaling our own guilt.

Guilty of feeling chained and drained by the expectations of routine and domesticity. If I ever knocked domestic help before, here I am – watch me now – eating crumbs of your humble pie – soon to be cleaned up by YOUR DOMESTIC HELP GODDAMIT.

Guilty in my knowledge that I want more of this – the travel, the exciting work, the coming home to my kids’  hugs with presents and less of the hard, hard work of being their parent.

Round peg in a square hole I am on this day.

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Filed under Parenting, Self

Bringing Up The Boy

A couple of weeks ago, Arvind and the Viking had an awful bust-up. This never happens. Why? Because –

a) I do all the exploding and the screaming and yelling around here, unless I’m too busy being bored. In fact I’m pretty sure that this is a formally ratified clause in our Parental Roles Contract thats lying around here somewhere. As is my wont, I also grovel and apologize like a mad person about five minutes after said explosion and wail, ” I’m awful. I’m sorry. Forgive me.” The concerned gent will then roll an eyeball in response. Except Armaan, who claps his hands and licks me. I command all the respect in this home. Really.

b) The Viking is a non-violent Gandhian type in the finest sense of the word. He has no wierd issues with food and/or sex, but believes passionately in non-violence and non-violent resistance. Though I bravely attempt to beat the crap out of him for his various lapses on occasion, it looks a bit like this.

Yeah, I'll fight you!

Yeah, I'll fight you!

Only, we don’t normally don skates and like I said – he never has to get this fierce because I back off and run and hide in our cupboard.

As most of you know, active and peaceful resistance the key to non-violence. In layman’s terms this means that the man has principles that he sticks to. He will dig his heels like the stubborn mule he is to defend them. He will argue passionately and logically till the cows come home, but he will not raise his voice unless really pushed and he’d never raise a hand. Being an excellent listener, he can and will be swayed by very convincing, rational arguments.

This is why I get nowhere with him.

All this background to say that you’d have to push a dozen buttons to get him to fly off the handle. And while I can do this since I now know the code, the kids are rarely, if ever at the receiving end. The thought of physically hurting a child is totally abhorrent to him. He does all the loving-but firm-stuff they do in those award-winning child rearing books without ever having read a single one. Listens patiently, questions, explains and tells them without fail that as much as he can dislike what they do, there is nothing they can do to not make him love them. (This is normally used as damage control, right after I tell Arvind that I have called the police on him and I hope he enjoys lock-up food. Hasta la vista and all.)

So back to two Sundays ago. I am in the garden wrestling some weeds, and the Viking is putting Armaan down for a nap. Arvind, I imagine, is upstairs occupying himself. Suddenly, I hear arguing in the bedroom, the arguing gets louder and the Viking’s angry voice booms out, shattering the afternoon silence.

“Why, you little TWIT!” he booms. His swearing is so lame I’m embarassed.

I rush in for the scoop. I see Arvind in defiant tears, and the Viking, red with anger and steering Arvind firmly out of the bedroom. Then I see Arvind send a few more kicks and punches the Viking’s way. At this point, I intervene and carry the protesting young man into his room like a sack of potatoes.

The conflict: Arvind was bored. Like most six year olds, he gets perversely bored. It seemed like a good idea to stir up nap time to make up for the lack of excitement in his life. Dad is upset by the disruption of nap time. Arvind manages a few well-aimed blows to the shin to show Dad who’s boss. Oops.

So there we are in the bedroom, Arvind trying to impale himself on a helicoptor rotor in his utter rage, and out of nowhere it comes to me.

The resolution: “I get it, ” I say, “You’re mad. You’re mad as hell and you want to hurt someone. You want to hurt yourself a bit. Right? Ok. Now here’s a piece of paper and here’s a crayon. I want you to get out all your anger on this piece of paper. Tear it or scrunch it up if you want to. Or you can draw what happened. I’m going to sit outside your room till you’re done doing whatever you want to do with this paper.”

After just about 90 seconds of furious drawing/scribbling, Arvind comes out beaming. Anger forgotten and incredibly pleased with his effort. Here’s how he recounts the event in his own images and words:

image0“I was under the duvet with Pappa and Armaan. And Pappa kept shushing me so Armaan could sleep, and I didn’t want to be shushed. Then Pappa started thinking about throwing me out of the room (pointing to thought cloud). And then I kicked him.

Raging Against the Dad

Raging Against the Dad

And then Pappa got very mad at me and called me a Twit, because I hurt his leg. Now we’re outside the room and Pappa is still very mad (points to mad mouth in picture) and I’m still trying to kick him (points to super extendable leg) and you’re wondering whats going on. (Yes, I was wearing shorts, though I wouldn’t blame you for thinking my legs were amputated.) And I drew the door and the big key because Pappa wanted to lock me out of the room.That really made me mad.”

Long story short, the six year old is happy and feels that the situation has been resolved to his satisfaction. Apologies are made and hugs are enjoyed. The toddler naps for two hours out of sheer exhaustion and relief after all the drama and the Viking is impressed by his wife and commends rare instance of wisdom.

“Dude, that’s me,” I say, “99% Mommy perspiration and 1% inspiration. Only its for-effect perspiration because you know I use a kickass deo.”

And with that I saunter off to find a suitable alchoholic beverage to celebrate the occasion.

*Lovely dinosaur courtesy of flickr.com

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Filed under Arvind, Parenting

Mellon Collie

How many Screw Up and Go Free cards do you get in Parenting Monopoly?

I’m willing to NOT pass Go or collect $200.Will that count in muscling me some goodwill?

Answers anybody? Or is it three strikes and you’re out? Aaargh.

Edited to add: Yes, I know three strikes is baseball. And that the whole monopoly-baseball mixed metaphor is a screw-up. In my defence, the toddler has just launched his own nighttime civil disobedience movement. The one in which he principally objects to sleep and even faint suggestions of rest and well-being.

Ergo (God, I love the Oxbridge pretentiousness of ergo) the Mellon Collie, the unglued metaphors and infinite sadness.

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Filed under family, Parenting