Two to tango

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I first read about the “Myth of the hands-on Daddy” in Lalita Iyer’s wonderfully fun book “I’m pregnant not terminally ill, YOU IDIOT!” (https://www.facebook.com/ImPregnantNotTerminallyIllYouIdiot) and as much as I laughed-till-I-peed at the chapter, it made me kind of want to kill her for bursting the bubble I had around my head all throughout pregnancy, where I imagined my husband Abhi sharing in absolutely all things baby, right from the maalish and baths to the diaper changes and quality dad-only dates with the li’l one. The beatific images I had nurtured in my mind of Baba watching bub while Mommy took a bubble bath quickly faded away as I nodded my head in agreement with her about being too quick to praise our men for things as simple as taking a walk with the baby or watching them while we took a quick shower.

As our daughter reached the one year old milestone, I decided to assess husband dearest on the hands-on daddy scale; here again, Lalita’s wonderful pointers (read her post here) came in handy to see whether I could award him that prestigious certification or not.

(Bated breath as the jury goes out to decide upon a verdict)

Annnnddd…… yes! Maybe a partial and very much in love yes, but oh yes truly and I don’t want to jinx my blessedness by posting this, but I can truthfully say that my partner makes a wonderful hands-on-daddy, right from preparing healthy home-cooked meals to bath and bedtime rituals.

I would not have had half as much fun being a mother, had I not had a supportive and equally involved partner to share this turbulent ride with. As I write this I am filled with the deepest admiration for single parents who become father-mother-caretaker-finance-provider all rolled into one and do amazing jobs of raising their kids. I don’t know if I would be able to do that, and if I ever did, that I would find it as rewarding or enriching as I do now.

Just after Rumi was born, I went through a phase of feeling low and depressed, and then severe pangs of guilt and bewilderment for feeling like this when I was supposed to feel elated. I was staying at mum’s but terribly homesick for my husband and my in-laws where I had spent the last trimester on bed rest. I would feel like the worst mother ever for even wondering if I would ever be filled with unconditional love looking at my child, something that had not happened at first sight in the hospital. In a time where my own parents looked at me like I was crazy, Abhi stood beside me like a rock, defending me when I didn’t want to cuddle the baby right then, taking me out when I couldn’t bear being at home anymore and always always comforting me and holding me when I broke down. Here is a poem that he wrote for me in those early days after Rumi’s birth:

Out of nowhere did a window appear

and it opened.

The glance it gave,

the field it showed

was mesmerizing.

We sat by the window, you and i

day and night

month by month.

We watched its sun

and loved its stars….

And then seasons changed.

The window is now a door….

And it’s open…

Shall we step into it, you and i?

Shall we do it together?

Shall I hold your hand, and you mine?

And trust that it will all be fine?

As it has always turned out to be, with you…

I know it will be great, even as

we grow to three, from just two…

Right from those days of breastfeeding when all Rumi did was suckle and sleep, Abhi would wake up with me in the nights, give me a cup of hot chocolate, a loving hug, and prop his legs up for me to rest my back as I fed the baby. It naturally didn’t make sense for both of us to be up, especially as he was the one who had to be at work early the next morning. It was irrational and unreasonable. But in those first few months of hazy, bone-aching soreness, rationale and sense were not as important as that loving gesture was. Even now, when I remember those nights, I feel a sense of love and camaraderie. I remember us whispering to each other and sighing as we lay down again. Most of all I remember enjoying those difficult nights, simply because they were shared with a loved one. The thermos of hot chocolate, the hand on my shoulder… all said “We are in this together.” What a wonderful feeling, that.

When Rumi was seven months old, I had to go to Munich for two weeks. Abhiraj took time off from work and looked after the baby. We didn’t have to ask my mother or his mother or any member of our extended family to stay with him or look into things. It was with him that Rumi first tasted her vegetable and fruit purees. Guided by our wonderful pediatrician, Abhi coaxed carrots and beetroots into Rumi’ s mouth, while I sat in a seminar in a different part of the world. He gave her baths and put her to bed, in the crook of his arm. After I came back, I was only too willing to take over everything, having missed her so much, but Rums was more than happy to snuggle to Baba. She is content to be fed, bathed or put to bed by either parent, which means we can happily alternate between baby duties, other household chores and breaks.

I think this kind of shared parenting is what makes both of us better parents. Regular breaks from our little girl give us the opportunity to cook, relax, miss reading to her in bed and look forward to the next night when it’s our turn. When one of us is turning in early with her (she is one snuggly puppy, who will not sleep without skin contact), we do not feel resentment at missing out on a night with friends or a TV show because we know we can look forward to it the next day. I regularly get evenings to myself where Baba takes Rumi to visit Ajji and Grandpa across the street. The same way, he has his TV watching and surfing do-not-disturb time slots on weekends where I completely takeover. And Sundays – glorious Sundays – belong to only the two of us and Rumi spends time with her grandparents. What a win-win situation!

Between the two of us, I am more clinical, guided by books and the internet. My husband’s caretaking flows freely and spontaneously. He allows her to play in the mud, sit down in puddles with stray puppies and feed them from her fingers. I carefully choose her dainty dresses and clips; he lets her roam about in her polka-dotted bloomers. I curate the best books I can find; he makes them come alive with theatrics and puppetry. I make the khichadi, he buys the ice-cream cone. I keep track of her vaccinations, he holds her in his arms at the doctor’s clinic. Rumi benefits from my organization and research and discipline and routine as she does from his free-spiritedness and zest for life and non-conformity and rule-breaking. By supporting each other and guiding each other on this unfamiliar terrain, we can both bring out the best in each other and provide Rums with two different, unique yet harmonious styles of parenting.

In a world that works beautifully on a law of balance with day and night and sun and rain, my husband is the perfect yin to my yang and I am grateful to be sharing this adventure called parenthood with him.

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From Mission Weight-Gain-Rumi to Mission Just-Chill

It happens to me every time we visit the pediatrician. I become a hawk. I can physically feel the transition happening, from tiny, over-smiley young woman to hawk-woman, watching any child that is plumper than Rumi with cold, calculating eyes and running my tongue over my lips (err… beak – do birds have tongues?) Then I politely turn to the mother and enquire very, very casually about the child’s age. If the baby is older than Rums by even a few days I sigh with relief (of course she’s chubbier, she had two whole days extra!) But hawk-woman quickly transforms into a panic-stricken flapping pigeon if the child in question happens to be of the same age, or in many cases even younger than my daughter. A quick pressed-lip glance at Abhi follows, who has obviously come to expect it after having known me for six years. He smiles kindly, reassuringly. At the first given opportunity, he will tell me “Trust me sweetie, the weight does not matter. Look how active she is, how happy!” “Hmmmph active!” I snort. “Active is the go-to word for every mum with a skinny or not-so-plump child.”

When Rumi is put on the weighing scale in the doctor’s office, I can feel the beads of sweat on my upper lip. As the doctor maps her progress on the growth chart I need a hanky to mop my forehead.

“Are you alright, Mrs. Purandare?” the doctor asks kindly.

“Well, her weight has only increased by 400 grams in the last three months” I blurt out desperately.

He guffaws loudly and at this moment I am convinced that we need a new pediatrician.

“When was the last time you checked your weight in grams?” he asks.

“It’s just that I can see her growth curve dropping, it was rising upward and now it has started to drop a little” I reply in what I hope is a cold and dignified voice. He smiles again.

“She’s just burning more calories, now that she’s more active.” Oh how I hate that word! “But if you worry about weight gain, try giving her some high-calorie foods. Potatoes, cheese, even ice-cream.” (I have never given Rumi sugar even once up till now). I smile weakly and we leave.

Next morning it is Mission-Weight-Gain-Rumi – Mission WGR , I say grimly – and Abhi shakes his head knowing that the time ahead is going to be difficult for him. I make Rumi’s kheer with extra jaggery and ghee in it. There it is, brown ragi, positively swimming in fatty goodness. Except that my baby won’t open her mouth. She’s clamped it tightly shut and not even her favorite Fluffy Chicks story is making her open it. I goad, make funny faces, sing “Old McDonald’s” – but nothing.” “Try Mission-Have-Fun-With-Rumi instead” remarks Abhi wryly as he leaves, ignoring my glare. “Maushi, jaude, tichi nehmichi bin-goad kheer aana” (“bring her regular non-sweet porridge”) I scream at the maid. Now my baby gobbles away happily and I fume away, letting my coffee grow cold.

This continues over the next couple of weeks. Rumi refuses to eat mashed potatoes with cheese, vanilla ice-cream or rawa suji. She’s happy to stick to her usual dal-rice, carrots and beetroots. I’m continually fretful and dejected. Abhiraj and Shobha Maushi tiptoe when they’re around me. Mealtimes stop being fun. It takes over an hour to chase Rumi all over the house to get her to eat a few spoons of high-calorie stuff as opposed to a bowl of varan-bhaat that she samples in 10 minutes. It has definitely stopped being fun.

At the next pediatrician’s visit I march into the office and grimly drop Rumi onto the weighing scale. Surprisingly she’s back on track with her weight. A very temporary fluctuation, as is common with all kids. Abhiraj’s sigh of relief is much louder than mine, the ordeal is over.

Now that I have no reason to be a worried, nervous wreck (only till something new comes by, but still!), I can stop to pause and think about it. Healthy is important, but when did fat become a priority for me? Especially since, as an adult I always want to lose it from various parts of my body?

I think all moms in India feel like this or rather, are MADE to feel like this. The words “chubby” and “healthy” are used interchangeably, as if they were synonyms. Aajis, Ajobas, Kakas, Kakus – the entire Brady Bunch of relatives wants to see a fat baby. “Kitttnnnaaa dubla hua re mera baccha, Allu kuch khilati nahi kya usko?” (“Look hoooowww thin my poor baby’s looking, Allu don’t you feed her properly?”) remarks my own Phuppi, every time we visit her. Her remarks always upset me and I fret the entire day about how my baby doesn’t gain weight. No amount of rationalizing helps, and I end up almost in tears wondering why my baby isn’t fat.

There are millions of other moms in the same boat. Some get defensive (Oh he’ s just become taller and he’ s sooo active!), others complain and fret about it (She just won’t eat, I don’t know what to do!) and I even know some mothers that hound doctors for a ‘tonic’ that will “increase appetite”!

I am about an inch away from doing the same myself when I chance upon this wonderful book called My Child Won’t Eat. Oh, if only I could squeeze Dr. Carlos González into a bear hug for his writings! All you worried mommies, just grab a copy and read it, read it, read it!

Dr. González doesn’t encourage making food into funny shapes for children or trying to hide vegetables or making plane noises. He believes in giving children healthy options and then leaving them to it: no coercion, no punishments for not eating, nothing. His basic philosophy when it comes to feeding your infant/child is to chill out, parents!  Society pressures us to feed them sooner and more than they really need or even is good for them.  A baby’s stomach is so small, it should be obvious why they might start crying halfway through their meal – they’re stuffed!  Another point he makes is that the growth charts we use today do not take into account the parent’s genetics:  I’m small (and was very small as a child), my husband is small (and was very small as a child), so how realistic is it for me to expect Rumi to be otherwise?

Funny and sensible, the book makes me weep with relief and laugh at myself. Abhiraj is delighted when I open the door with a maniacal grin instead of a worried frown. It’s Mission-Just-Chill I inform him. He laughs and peace prevails at B-301 Anurag Society, if only for the time being.

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