Monday, April 25, 2016

Alone Now

These days, I’m re-learning to be alone. I’m re-learning to do things on my own – from going for a quick lunch on my own to just going about life. Or rather, daily life as it comes when you have small children, school, bus stop drops and pick ups, badminton classes, older parents and in laws and a work from home situation.
I’m also re-learning a thing or two about marriage. Or at least the way it is perceived by most around us.
Last October, my husband moved to another city because of work. He travels back home on most weekends and intends to continue the arrangement for at least some time in the near future. It’s an arrangement we are both very comfortable with at the moment. I run a start up along with a friend that is based in the city I live in and our children go to a school here they love. My husband is trying out a new job and city and wishes to see first if it would be long term. We see no reason to upset the apple cart at the moment.

So while I re-learn several things in the ‘husband’ department formerly, such as driving or fixing the kiddo’s bike, what’s been really interesting to see are the reactions of people around us.
It doesn’t matter that my husband is around on weekends and holidays, spending as much time as he can with the kids, helping out with things around the house. What matters is the time he is MIA.
‘Don’t you think your husband is missing out on his children growing up?’ says a concerned neighbor whose parenting advice I did not ask for.
Another lets me know how her husband would never agree to such a thing because their children would be inconsolable.
Yet another tut tuts at how “poor me” is always running around, picking up and dropping the kids, finishing outside chores. “I did that earlier too, when my husband lived here,” I tell her. “It’s still different, at least you had him back at the end of the day,” she replies back, because of course that is the prize all good wives wait for at the end of the day, don’t they?
If that is meant to inject some sadness into my cold cold heart, it doesn’t.
Yes, there are times when you want another adult to have a conversation with at the end of the day. An adult who may speak in monosyllables and stay glued to the TV screen but is a comforting presence anyway.
Yes, there are times when you wish you did not have to discipline the squabbling kids at dinnertime on your own for four nights a week and sometimes more. But there are various devices to keep us all connected more than enough these days and whether it’s a kiddy battle or a much needed conversation, it can be dealt with via that medium. Then there are friends who could be easily arm-twisted for a mid-week beer J Not exactly the end of life, is it?
I may sound irked but I’m not disputing any of the things people have been saying. These are fair points, all of them and there is probably a sense of genuine concern. What amuses and bothers me in equal measure is the sense of incredulity I get behind these questions and conversations. Being comfortably alone in a marriage and admitting it doesn’t seem to be the done thing. If you are in a marriage, at least in India, you need to say and do the right things.

And it isn’t just being alone.

Anything that is different in a marriage is usually questioned, if not openly, then with very thinly veiled interest. A friend works a full time, demanding job. Her husband is the stay at home dad at the moment, working on his nascent venture, with more time on his hand than his wife has. It’s he who is around the kids all the time. It’s he who is the playground dad. Their marriage too gets the same incredulous reactions. Doesn’t he mind the late hours? She is asked.
Doesn’t she miss the kids on her frequent travels? And of course, the inevitable, how long do you plan to continue this? Because life has to be planned to power point precision?

So what do I make out of this? In a marriage, your behavior and beliefs, at least to the world at large, need to be the socially approved ones. Yes, you may be the mother who works but you also need to be the mother who shows up sometimes at the playground. If not, you are possibly without any maternal feelings. You may be the mother who is comfortable playing single parent for a while; the mother who doesn’t mind stepping out for a drink with her friend on a weekday while her husband is in another city but please do not announce it to the world. You may be ‘alone’ but far from lonely but please do not make that public .
That’s not how tried and tested formulas work.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Thought Process

A thousand thoughts in my head. Cannot sleep. Am I becoming a very different person from who I set out to be as I age? Is it true that I find it hard to take feedback on myself? Perhaps part of it is true. I do tend to get ‘defensive’ about my actions very often these days. The intention isn't to react like that but I do tend to. Where’s it coming from? A place of insecurity? A place of self doubt, inferiority?  Because I want to prove that I'm right in what I'm thinking. That my actions are justified. That I'm not racked by self doubt.
And if it is, where’s that self doubt coming from? Why is my head constantly thinking of whether I have earned approval or respect and at times, in a not so appealing manner, actually striving, no struggling to achieve it?

Why is it so important suddenly? Earning this respect, approval, praise of those around me? Have I always been this way? Have I always craved it but not been able to acknowledge? Or is it what age does to you?  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Not the best of days but then it isn't the worst of them either. A somewhat unpleasant (to me at least) interaction, a warm chat with a venerable 76 year old about her charitable work, a dip in confidence levels thanks to the unpleasant chat, a rise after a quick nonsense chat with two old friends....this is what it is about, isn't it? Good days and bad times.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The post from a hole

I'm neither here nor there at the moment.

I was like this eight or maybe seven and half years ago, when Big A was about 8 months old and my new mommy feelings were strong as ever but not enough to survive on them alone. My friends worked. My husband  worked. My mom worked. My neighbour worked, even though she did not really want to. My maid worked. Everyone worked expected me. Oh yes, I worked too. But day and night shifts that are done at home and involve children, high chairs, scattered cereal, splattered sofas, squeaky toys all over the floor, potty seats and wheels of the bus sung for the 25th time to put the tyke to bed are invisible. It's just something you do when you are home 24/7. It's not work because real work requires a smart office chair and desk, a nifty computer where you do other things than check mommy blogs, kids furniture and upload photos on Facebook. And get paid at the end of the month, which is what makes it all real. f

Irrational? Yes. But when you are in a baby induced hole, you tend to have such thoughts, even if you love the hole you're in.

So by the time A hit 8 months, I hit the paranoia button and decided that I had to work. Not full time of course but on a freelance basis. My life depended on it. Yes am quite shallow that way and not exactly ad-material for motherhood.

Now A is about to hit 8 years next month. I have work on hand. Have always had for the last eight years. Small time stuff that's enough to keep me happy, occupied and delusional enough to think that am doing 'real work.' I even have a 'venture' of my own with a friend that is on baby steps but is there, nevertheless.

But the discontent of it all is hitting me back again. Is the work I'm doing really worth it? Where do I stand among everyone else? Has the baby hole sucked me too deep inside? I'm restless and panicky as a friend pointed out today. At least that's how I'm coming across.

Weird? Perhaps to the outside world. Normal? To some mothers-in-a-hole who tread the same line of thought. Abnormal? Certainly not!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

In which I go soppy

“I’m suffering from the empty nest syndrome!”A mother whose daughter has just left for university abroad commented recently on a Facebook group I belong to. In less than two minutes, there were other mothers in similar situations commiserating with her. Mothers with children who had just left home to attend college in another city or country; Mothers with children who had started working elsewhere or were about to take off soon, whether for college or work.
As I read the comments, I realized that precisely at that moment, I was rather thrilled to have the children out of my hair. The big boy had gone off to a birthday party and was safely away for a good three hours, while the younger one was sleeping next to his grandparents and would be mollycoddled by them once he awoke, saving me some time.
I thought of the house as it usually is, especially on a holiday. Books all over the sofa, crayons on the dining table, blocks hiding under cushions, balls, cricket bat, NERF guns everywhere, a sock or two flung across at some point, which I’d been too lazy to notice or pick up. Yes, I’m a total pushover when it comes to setting boundaries for play areas within the house. I looked at the mess and instead of getting worked up as I always do, thought of how it would all look once the kids had grown up and left home, like these women’s had. The house would be clean. Almost clean, as the husband wouldn’t be attending college again I suppose. But clean in a way that you wouldn’t trip if you didn’t spot that tiny car on the floor. In fact, there would probably be no tiny cars at all. The boys would be 18 plus anyway and too fixated on their X Boxes and play stations or whatever new comes up in the next 10 years. They wouldn’t want you to sit and play Dragster with them or demand your attention every five minutes. They would be teenagers, almost adults. Attached but detached as well, in their own world.
And so as I thought of all this in a rather uncharacteristic, maudlin manner, I suddenly couldn’t wait for the boys to come bouncing up to the room and take away all the free time I had. Because 10 or 15 years isn’t long when you have children who keep you on your toes and make you long for precious minutes that you get to yourself and stop being a supply chain.
Before I know it, they would be out of the door and the floor would be squeaky clean with no tiny cars, no spilled juice or Chocopie crumbs. As I kept up the weepy imagination, the doorbell rang and in walked the boy. “How was the birthday party? Did you eat anything?” I asked out of sheer habit, the words tumbling out of my mouth before I could stop. “It was okay,” said junior with supreme disinterest and a look that said, really mom? You can’t wait even a minute, can you? He walked to his room, picked up his Beyblade and started playing, oblivious that mom had spent the last half an hour agonizing over and imagined life without him in the vicinity.
The process of detachment has already started. And it is extremely disconcerting at times. Let the nest overflow at of the moment.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I need to write
I have to write
Yet it's a bait
I'm loath to bite

Monday, September 17, 2012

Letting Go

An edited version of this appeared in a parenting column I sometimes write for an online newsmagazine in Bangalore. And just because I mentioned parenting don't think that you will find anything of great importance here. Just the regular vent of a mildly neurotic mom.   
These days when we get back from Wednesday evening drums class (which incidentally is in our vast and not very secure apartment complex), I let A boy cycle it to our building all alone. In keeping with tradition, I start off by shouting instructions loud: Keep to the side/watch out for cars/don't go fast, etc, etc. It doesn't last long as he is out of my line of vision soon enough.

When I reach our building, I find A boy waiting near the elevator, thrilled to bits at having tasted freedom.

I can finally understand what Lenore Skenazy was getting at. Sort of anyway*.

In 2008, New York based writer Lenore Skenazy let her 9-year-old son take the subway home. For weeks her son had been begging her to be allowed to travel alone and she finally relented by leaving him with a MetroCard, a subway map, some money and loose change in case he had to call her.
When Skenazy wrote about the experience in her regular column, there was a flurry of reactions that ranged from calling her a child abuser to appreciating the way she allowed her son his first taste of independence.

I remember reading Skenazy’s column when the incident happened and being in two minds about what she did. Was this right or was it being too radical? And would I ever be able to do the same?

A boy was only three then and safety and ease of travel factor in transport systems in India are vastly different from what they are in say, New York, but the question in my mind was, when would I finally have the courage to let him be on his own, without parental supervision in every step of the way? And given the way things are in today’s overprotected parenting world, when would I finally learn to let go?
My son is nearing seven now and I find myself facing that question again. We live in an apartment complex that is not ‘gated’ from all sides, leaving the road from our building to the park open to all kinds of vehicular traffic, from cars to water tankers. Sadly enough, the traffic peaks from 5 pm in the evening, just when children are out to play.
I would love to send my son out to the park alone, he’s at that age when he needs to go out and make friends on his own without mom hovering in the background. But even if I trusted him to safely keep to the (non existent) sidewalk and reach the park, do I trust the speeding cars, tankers and trucks? No I don’t and would rather not take that risk. At least till he is eight.
We are mostly a generation of overprotecting parents. “By the time I was seven, I would walk to the grocery store across in the locality and buy eggs for Ma,” says a friend who would cycle to said grocery store through roads teeming with scooters, rickshaws, cows and bikes. But the world was a safer place then, he reasons, because he wouldn’t let his 8 year old girl do the same thing now. “Not until she is at least 12 or 13.”
Are we ruining our kids’ lives and depriving them of some much needed life skills? In his book No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society, author Tim Gill points out that activities that previous generations of children enjoyed without a second thought have now been labelled as dangerous and the adults who permit them branded as irresponsible. He says that childhood, especially the crucial years between 5 and 11, is being undermined by the growth of risk aversion and its intrusion into every aspect of children's lives, restricting children's play, limiting their freedom of movement.
This in turn constrains their exploration of physical, social and virtual worlds. The author is talking about UK here, but the situation could apply to India as well. 
Most parents I know (including yours truly) do not let their children venture out much on their own. Our justifications are unsafe roads, unsafe play areas and of course, an overall unsafe world.
We are being overprotective of course. But I trust that when I finally let him be on his own (another year), it won’t be too late for him to face the opportunities and experiences that will allow him to stand his ground and teach him to overcome his fears. Yes, but the solo bus or metro ride is still a few years away.

* Skenazy incidentally coined the cringe worthy term Free Range Kids. Just saying ;P