Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Involved Parent

If you think this is an article applauding eager, assiduous parents who go above and beyond their role of a guide/guardian, you couldn't be more wrong. So buckle up, this one is going to be a bumpy ride for those you can see themselves in the front seats.

We have read all about the tiger mom and the panda dad but there is a type somewhere right in between. This is the type of parent who doesn't push as much as she interferes.

And although I see an increasing number of ‘involved’ parents around these days, I will talk about the one I know the best, me.

It is a school holiday and we are having a couple of my daughter’s friends over to play. You would think eight year olds had a pretty fair idea of what they wanted to do with their time, but apparently I do not think so. Half an hour before the friends are scheduled to arrive, I ‘request’ my daughter to pick a few games and set them aside so she and her friends can choose. My first question was “do you know what you girls want to play today?” to which she replies; “not really”, hence the suggestion. Isn't it just awesome when you have a planner at home who not only sets up play dates but navigates the kids through them too? So what if they are a little old for it, extra attention never hurt anybody.

A few minutes into the play and I hear loud noises arguing about taking turns. I rush upstairs all prepared to avert possible disasters. You see at this age they are not asking for my help like a three year old would but neither are they shutting the door on me like teenagers, so I squeeze right in, playing my part in smoothing out their differences, feeling proud and useful.  Proud that they still listen to me and useful because I left cooking dinner downstairs to rush to their aid. I also hung around in the nearby laundry room folding clothes, just in case…I was needed again.

While things seemed to go as planned for a while, it didn't look like they were sticking to any one game for long. In an hour, I counted that they switched between four different games and though they didn't need my interruption every time, I did manage to intervene twice. By the third time it looked like they were just about ready to hand me over the games to play by myself. Well, atleast it all ended well with the girls just chatting and doing nothing in particular.

And let me assure you, it doesn't stop at play. The involvement extends to all areas in vicinity and visibility. Sports, craft projects, birthday parties, classroom squabbles, wardrobe choices and anything that comes up on the spot. I am can handle spontaneous too! In about a hundred years I will be micro managing her dates and boyfriend troubles too.

Talking about relationships, I must point out that my daughter isn't the one to care for protocols or netiquettes. When we walk to school every morning, she smiles and says hello to most kids known to her and who reach the door at the same time. What she does not seem to be discouraged by are the ones who don’t smile back or even acknowledge her greeting. But when I see her saying hello to the same person third day in a row without as much as a smile back, I know I must do something. So the next day while we walk towards the school, I put it across gently that if friends are in a hurry to get to their classrooms it is ok not to call them out in the mornings (the ones who aren't interested in answering back, I say to myself). She looks at me like she doesn't know what I am talking about. It is so annoying; your kids being oblivious to what is so obvious to us.

And the irony is, I was so not raised in this manner. Except for the number of toys and too much of the parents’ attention, I had more of everything than her. More freedom of choice, more privacy, more independence, more chores and more space from the grown-ups. My folks did not hover around me all the time and they certainly didn't tell me what to wear, but then, they didn't take me shopping for my clothes either so that kind of solved half the problems right there!

So getting to what I want to actually say to myself and those out there like me is; yes, the world today entails more supervision and more awareness but sometimes I wonder if we are trying to pass off interference in the name of involvement? By figuring out things for them we are taking away their chance of learning some important life skills.

It is hard not to be protective and it is even harder not to get ‘involved’. Letting your kids make mistakes or do things that you can do for them much better is like watching your life’s experiences go down the drain. But if you do it once, you will have the courage to do it again. After all, they need you to be around, they also need your direction, just not too much of it.

From a perfectly executed class project to an amicable play date, teaching reciprocal behavior to pairing those pair of blue jeans with the nicest t-shirt, I want to make everything as good as can be for my little girl. But I am missing a point here isn't it? There is a beauty in imperfection, a joy in doing your own thing and a lesson to be learnt from every mistake made.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Of Candid Conversations

Who thought kids could be deeply philosophical without even realizing that they are being so?

It was a nice calm evening, neither too warm not too cold, the kind that warrants sitting out in the patio and reading a book.

My younger child is clingy, has always been. She would rather follow me all around the house than sit and play with her dolls. There have been occasions when people wondered if she had developmental issues with walking since she was always seen attached to her mother’s hip, literally. Experts in the field believe that once a child learns to walk, there is no stopping her. She is like the bird who suddenly discovered the use of her wings and can’t stop flying. Mine defied the experts by refusing to explore. All the steps she took would lead her back to me. And so, I do not find it strange at all that it was with my 4 year old that I had this conversation and not the 8 year old who probably never gave it a second thought, once her prayers were answered!

Going back to that evening, we sat facing each other, me in a comfortable green arm chair and my baby in her pink Dora chair, while I read to her. Her big sister was reading too but chose to remain indoors.

“Where is Didi?” the younger one interrupts.

“She is upstairs, inside the house.”

“What is she doing?”

“She is reading a book.”

“Why isn’t she reading outside with us?"

“She wants to be by herself.”

“Is she alone upstairs?”


“Does she like to be lonely?” (She automatically made the connection alone = lonely).


“Only sometimes? Not all the time?”

“Yea, only sometimes, not all the time.”

“Does she want someone after sometime?”

“I guess so!”

“Was she lonely before I was here” (‘here’ as in on this earth).

“Yes, she was.”

“Did she miss me? Did she want me to come because she did not want to be alone?”

“Yes sweetie, she really really wanted you to be with her. She missed you and prayed every day for a little sister.”

“She missed me!!! (A bright smile on her little face as she repeats after me).”

“Maybe I should not leave her alone right now, she might be missing me”. She ran off inside leaving me to finish her book. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Why can’t we have a puppy or a kitty or a baby in this house?

I lied to her, made false promises and went back on my own word. Yes, I am guilty as charged. 

This matter goes back to the 11th of April, 2011 when my daughter turned 5 years old. I was lame enough to ask her what she wanted as a birthday present. “A dog”, came the unexpected reply. Of course I saw her play with every dog we met on our way to school, but I was under the impression that kids of parents who were not pet lovers kind of got the hint or a whiff to be more appropriate. I tried to laugh it off, like moms usually do when faced with questions they don’t want to answer, but it didn't work. “Yes, I want a pet, a puppy!” she said it out louder.

Now this was a situation that needed a quick temporary fix, something that could defer the inevitable indefinitely. I was faced with this impossible and horrendous task of saying NO to the birthday girl without spelling it out. Wait, wasn't there a figure of speech to describe something like this; saying yes when you actually mean no?

“Sweetie you are too young to take care of a pet right now”.

“You could help me!”

Hmm, that’s what mommies did, didn't they. Help their babies out.

“Tell you what, you can have a pet when you are 8.” I said after a long conversation which cannot be replicated here since I have forgotten most of it.

“Ohhh thank you Mom, thank you thank you thank you! I love you! You’re the best”!!!
And that settled it for then.

As cliche as it may sound, time does fly and soon we were making plans for a grand 8th birthday celebration. Only, a small little voice got added to the mix. And this one wanted ‘a kitty’,

So now, I was dealing with an eight year old who had the memory of an elephant and a four year old who loved cats enough to want to have one home. The older one started reminding me more than a month back every waking hour about the promise made years ago and the younger one kept repeating all that the older one said substituting the word puppy for a kitty.

And this time around, the lies were not going be sufficient. I tried stalling it one more time but she wouldn't hear of any more false promises. Being left with no other choice, I decided to come clean. I told her that having a pet at home was a lot of work and I didn't have that kind of time right now.

“But you don’t have a job” was what I got in response and only the innate knowledge of her desperateness for a pet dog gave me the strength to bear that insult. I was offended, big time.

Then I told her that her sister was finally out of diapers and into preschool, I didn't have the inclination to take on extra responsibility for now.

“But Mom, you just have to look after the puppy while I am at school, I am going to be responsible for it rest of the time”

“You come back from school at 3 p.m., that’s more than half the day gone.”

“Well, don’t you think you could help out just a little bit, it would be kind of mean not to!”

OK, so I was without a job and a mean person too just because I didn't want a pet in the house. She sure did make my day.

We went to and fro the entire birthday month, she practicing on her perseverance skills and me using the veto power, saved up for demands like these. I somehow managed to put the point across that getting a dog was something she had to consider after being completely capable of its care and protection. She continued to throw tantrums of varying degrees every time we ran into a dog, which was atleast once during the day considering that many of our neighbors have pets but  we got over the “but WHY can’t I have a puppy” stage. Now we know why, but are still mad about it!

So what would a wise person learn from this whole birthday present debacle that lasted more than 4 years? Apparently, not much.

Her little sister has her birthday a month after. We start planning another birthday party even before we finish off with the first one. And it wasn't exactly a surprise when I popped ‘the’ question, to which she replied, “I want a pet. I want a kitty cat.” If this wasn't de ja vu, it was something close.

With my second daughter though, the disadvantage was even greater. Her older sister stood right behind her, protecting their interests, fully equipped to save her from falling into my trap of adjournment. What didn't work in my favor was that unlike the older one who was more into animals than humans, the younger sibling couldn't be happier with either.

Her best friend in preschool has a younger brother and that makes her feel smaller because at home she is the younger one, not that it makes her any less bossy or stops her from beating up her older sister if need be. Many of the days when I pick her up from school she sulks in the car “why don’t I have a baby brother?” And since she is too young to understand the phrase ‘we are done! (OMG we are soooo done!”), I try and steer the conversation away to something else or tell her that some people have brothers and some have sisters and that she has a sister who loves her very much.

We have been arguing about getting a pet all over again with only a month gone by in between, only this time with a different individual in the house and the conversation gets pretty interesting. She puts us in this catch 22 situation.

“Get me a kitty.” And before I can even respond, “You have to get me a puppy if you get HER a cat” chips in the big sister.

“Sorry baby, we are not getting a kitty in this house.”

“Then, get me a small baby brother, just like my friend.”  As if she was doing us a favor by offering alternatives.

“All we are getting this year is a birthday cake and new bikes for you girls”. I know I can’t win this one with words, but I try.

“Why can’t we have a puppy or a kitty or a small baby in this house? It’s our house too, you know.” I bet the word dictator hasn't dawned upon them yet.

You can tell the younger one is still trying to figure out what kind of person doesn't pick even one out of all the three options available and the older one is just afraid to say it aloud; that thought that crosses her mind every time a cute little puppy comes in front of her, moms can be mean and they lie and they break their promises too, mine did.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Good Bargain

Two mothers, different worlds, decades apart. And yet, I think to myself, at the core, didn’t she want the same things for her children then, as I do today for my own?


There is this one side of the world where woman empowerment is for real and there is this other side where a woman is still completely unaware of her right to choose. But the other side does exist, there is no denying more here..

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Magic Of Memories

“Did you call grandma?” she asked for the third time this week.

“Not yet, maybe tomorrow.” I made a futile attempt to dismiss off what was going to be a very preachy conversation, from the other side. I could sense it coming.

“Will tomorrow ever come?”

“If it does” I laughed. “If tomorrow comes.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” she was angry now (not getting the joke, which in the first place was not meant for her). Staying away for so long had made me forget the ‘temper’ and how precious little it took for it to surface.  And clearly she had no idea who Sidney Sheldon was, thank god for that.

“Ok Mom,” I decided to come clean with her. “I have been calling you almost every other day since grandma fell in the middle of the night and had that surgery to find out about how she’s doing. And don’t forget, I did call her the day she went to the hospital.”

“And that is enough you think? Calling that person who means more to you than your own mother, just once after a fall that may leave her bedridden for the rest of her life.” I would have assumed that ‘more to you than your own mother’ part hurt her deep inside as it always did when everybody was young and healthy, but the tone of her voice today suggested that for now she was simply advocating grandma’s right on my love and attention. The tables had turned.

“Your calling me and making inquiries only helps you, not her. Since when did you turn so selfish.” Now, that I thought was totally uncalled for; name calling and doubting intentions. And then she said something else which made me whimper an excuse and hang up immediately, before the tears kind of drowned the rest.

To set things correct, grandma is actually my aunt, my dad’s elder brother’s wife. We stayed in a joint family for more than a decade before everybody went their own way, which was about a stone’s throw away, literally. I grew up in a joint family, unreasonably attached and taking them for my grandparents. Grandpa passed away some years ago and now I love grandma for the both of them.

It wouldn’t have mattered, even if I didn’t call her grandma. I would have called her anything and yet loved her the most. For as long as I lived in that city, I visited their home every day. Some days it would be a quick hello from the door, without as much as taking my shoes off. Many days it would be an hour on the swing outside in the garden, which fit the three of us perfectly, me in between. A rare few days in a year when my parents went out of town, it would be an overnight stay with the grandparents and those days I turned into a delighted child who had just been given a box full of goodies. I wish I had a picture of us on that swing. Me, snuggled between the two people I absolutely adored. It would have been something to treasure when memory failed.

I was the apple of their eye (sounds cliched but I cannot think of any other phrase to describe the situation pertinently). Both grandpa and grandma looked forward to my daily visits, they never got tired of me and my enthusiasm to spend time with them didn't waver even when I was a teenager and friends were a substitute for everything and everybody. We shared secrets nobody still knows, they trusted me completely. Grandpa loved having healthy arguments and heated conversations, she on the other hand fussed about me, pampered me.

I have countless such memories with them (which now seems like a whole different life I lived).I close my eyes and see myself running with the mark sheet of a very important professional exam, crossing the gates, into those arms. And when I open them she is sitting beside me on my bed changing a damp cloth from my forehead, her eyes worried and assuring at the same time. Perhaps, that is the magic of memories, it rarely fails. It reminds you of the good times, the shared joys and those millions episodes of life which can be played and replayed at your whim, all in your mind.

And each time you replay memories, there comes something unseen. Hidden fear, contained happiness, overflowing pain, masked skepticism and unspoken expectations. Maybe you turned wiser with age or maybe life put you through some or all of them but you see them only now, after it has all passed, after nothing can be done about them.

The time you come face to face with these buried emotions in your loved ones, the helplessness of it nearly kills you. Because many of them arose from the choices you made and which affected them deeply. Even those who love you unconditionally are not an exception to the rule, for the word ‘unconditional’ has its own limitations.

Every time, I think of her present condition, struggling to sit in the bed, making attempts to stand without support and failing, I can’t help thinking this isn’t how it was supposed to be. But when I reach for the phone to call her, something inside takes me down the memory lane.

I see her eyes, laughing with me while sharing a joke, beaming with pride as I finished reading a book in record time, frowning in disapproval on a short dress I walked around in.

Also now, I see things I didn’t see before. I see her talking to me on the swing when there is no longer anybody other than her; I see her waiting for me, long after I am gone. My presence was a given and neither of us imagined the distance in miles would only grow. I feel the pain she experiences when the assumption breaks.

And I become aware that my calling her would only be a reminder of how far I am. Making a small talk is all I can do even when she needs so much more than that. Till the time I haven’t called her, not listened to her voice, I can stay happy in my world, content and oblivious in the magic of my memories. For in them, I haven’t grown, I am still doing things for her, running errands, keeping her company, sipping sugarless tea occasionally. But if I call her, there is no running away from the thousands of miles in between or the remorse of having failed her.

I can totally hear the conversation if I were to call up grandma right now.

“Is that really you on the phone? It’s been so many days.

Yes, grandma, I know. How are you doing?

I am doing ok, could have been worse. So when are you visiting? How are the girls doing?

The girls are fine. I won’t be taking a trip this year, maybe next year.

Ohhh, not until next year?” And then she turns quiet. 

As if nothing we talk about from that moment will matter because it won’t change the fact that she can’t see me for another year or two. (That’s a lot of days; she had pointed out the last time I revealed my travel plans)

And this is what my mother essentially said before I hung up. 

“You can’t be here to help out or spend a few days with her, all you can do from so far away is call and for that too you need to be coerced.” 

Whether she was merely pointing out facts or reminding me of one more thing I stand to lose because of the choices I made is something I am still trying to figure out!

I wish I could have said to her instead of hanging up that it’s true you keep in touch and call people you love and it’s a wonderful way to be a part of their life.  But sometimes you don’t call them because it wouldn't be enough and also because you love them too much to disappoint them one more time.