Last week, my daughter threw the biggest temper tantrum ever, because her father bought home the wrong lollipop. Not ‘no lollipop’, but the wrong color. No matter how tired the husband is, he always makes time to stop on the way home and pick up a ‘treat’ for our daughter. This has become a little game: when Rumi hears his key in the lock, she shuts her eyes and puts out her hand and giggles with delightful joy and anticipation and he hands over a treat. There is no reason to buy her a treat every day. There is nothing that she needs to be rewarded for. Yesterday, when she threw herself on the floor and screamed till she turned blue because the lollipop was red-and-yellow instead of orange-and-green, I started thinking about how she does not even perceive these lollipops as treats, but as something to be taken for granted whenever her Baba comes home.
We as parents are obsessed with making sure our child gets ‘everything’. Whenever our daughter expresses a wish, a desire or even a mild interest in anything, we go out of the way and occasionally out of our budget to make sure she gets it. On the days that we do put our foot down, she knows that her adoring grandparents will fall for her face and voice, and give her what she wants.
Since when did we become so consumerist? I remember my childhood, where I had to ‘earn’ every single Enid Blyton through good grades, chores done well, or good behavior. Whenever my Mum felt that I deserved one, she would give me a hundred-rupee note and I would walk down to the nearest bookstore on my own. I would spend hours in choosing the book because I knew that the next opportunity would probably come months later. I remember the exquisite agony of waiting for a title I badly wanted and the quivering joy when the book finally made it into my hands.
My daughter needs to wait for hardly a week before her parcel of goodies arrives. Online shopping has made it possible to order a toy as soon as we see the advertisement for it. There is hardly anything that we can’t immediately get. But is all this necessary for our children and their growth and development? The clever marketing gimmicks that are employed, sure make us think so. We are led to believe that a particular toy is absolutely essential for hand-eye coordination, for brain development and so on. And because these strategies play on our absolute worst fear of “Am I inadequate / not doing enough as a parent?” we fall for them and end up buying more so that our children may never lag behind in this ruthless, competitive world.
Except that you sometimes see your child happily playing with a spoon and bowl from your kitchen and ignoring that high quality ceramic tea-set “especially designed” for role-plays. Or talking to a block and pretending it is her little baby and not even throwing a glance at the dozen dolls in the cupboard. Or sifting her hand through the bowl of dried kidney beans instead of playing with her abacus. Children are essentially creative and have vast imaginations. A little actually goes a long way for hours of blissful play.
What we do when we fill their rooms and cupboards with all the latest toys and gadgets is create stressful and cluttered environments for them. They need room and space and air for their bodies and minds to develop. A new toy is convenient because it distracts our child for a while and we can fall back on the sofa in exhaustion and check our phones. But in the long-term, it is teaching our child nothing about the value of patience, of working hard to earn and deserve something. If she gets everything she asks for, she does not learn to cherish and take care of the things she has. She can throw her blocks around and break her new train knowing that there will always be more. Is this what I want for her?
Instead, what if we focus on replacing new purchases with time and memories? We decided to try that. Her father did bring home something every day, but instead of sweet treats, he got something we could all do such as a ball of clay or glitter and wool. While I would cook, they would sit cross-legged on the floor and make a painting or collage. Sometimes he bought some veggies and fruits and Rumi helped us cook dinner by tossing the salad or mixing the cucumber and the yoghurt. In the last week, she has not seemed to need any noisy toy or App at all. Our home has been peaceful with the TV switched off and our phones away. And it really seems to be doing our daughter good.
The next time you click on your phone App to shop or feel like your child needs the latest toy on the market, remember that all your child needs is your time and attention. As for brain development, a few household items such as spoons and dried beans are more than enough to do the trick.
(A version of this post first appeared on Kidsstoppresson 09.04.2017)
I can’t actually call it ‘reading, it is more of a recitation from memory. I’ve been trying to capture this on video for so long now, but this artful pussycat just shies away from the camera! I finally managed to get a decent video this morning. Since Rumi has also watched the movie, she says tries to say things like ‘terribly kind’ in an accent which is hilarious!
I always feel very excited before my birthday. In school, where the date would be written on the blackboard every day, I would start quivering in excitement as early as the first of February and then start the 23 day countdown in my mind. The years have not changed that feeling at all, and I was especially excited at the thought of my 30th birthday, a new milestone. I know people who shrug birthdays off as just another day but to me birthdays really mean a chance to shed off your old skin and step into something new. Just like the New Years Eve, where you feel like you have the chance to begin fresh on the first of January (although the same cynical birthday non-celebrators would say something like “Every day is a chance to start fresh!”)
The husband and I took a long-awaited two-day break and took off to The Machan in Lonavala. I had been dying to go there forever and made the bookings way back in December for the Canopy Machaan; a private, stand-alone, secluded, tree house with no TV or internet connectivity (and no Rumi!). And although I was a little sad to celebrate my birthday without her, I had an amazing time talking to Abhi hours and hours and catnapping and coloring and reading. Some pictures of our heavenly mini-vacation:
Before we left, I tried to compile a list of 30 nuggets of wisdom for Rumi, but try as I may, I could only come up with 17. Some are original and some are pieces of insightful advice from other people. If there’s anything you’d like to add, please do write in, I would actually love to include them here, to make 30 tips in keeping with the theme of turning thirty and all that!
Start saving NOW!
Whenever I think of what I could have done better in the last decade, the first thought is always regret at not having planned my savings. To just think, that even if I had put away a tiny 5% of what I made, I could have had enough to open my dream bookstore now! I worked hard to figure out my passions and dreams and now when I have that clarity, I find myself struggling to make the finances work. Since we are on the magic number 30, it seems like a good amount to try and save: 30% of what you make.
Learn to drive (or to ride and just be mobile) as soon as you can
I learned how to ride a bike and drive a car much too late in my life. Having spent life before marriage in the heart of the city, every distance was so very accessible that I realized my dependency on rickshaws only after marriage when I moved to a part of town where I could not get anywhere easily without the husband. I summoned the courage to learn driving so that I would be mobile once Rumi was born. But even now, every time I get into the driver’s seat my heart thumps a little and I have to summon my courage. I wish I had learned earlier and driven enough for it to be second nature.
Find three hobbies you love: one to make you money, one to keep you in shape, and one to be creative
I found this quote on Facebook and it really resonated with me. It is so simple and profound and I would love for Rumi to discover her three hobbies as early as possible.
Books over TV
Rumi is newly discovering the joys of the idiot box. Where earlier she would be happy to curl up with her favorite Julia Donaldson, now all she wants is to watch The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child on TV. My husband and I know this feeling all too well; in spite of knowing better and resolving to turn off the TV and “eating together at the table”, we invariably succumb to the addictive stupor of flicking through TV channels and watching reruns of old shows. This habit can only change at the family level, so we really have to pull up our socks so that Rumi discovers the charm of sitting quietly with a book and learns that she does not need the noise of the television to feel comforted or ‘at home’.
For me, the trickier, harder part of being kind or empathetic is not finding that polite word or summoning a smile for strangers but to be kind to near and dear ones. Because we tend to take loved ones for granted, they are the ones we lash out at and speak curtly and unkindly to, whenever something upsets us in the outside world. And while this is completely natural (who will you act out with, if not with Mom?), I think it is important to be kind to our loved ones and tell them and show them how cherished they are.
Say what you mean and mean what you say, and say NO!
This is a lesson I learned very, very, late but there is nothing that has given me more peace than saying NO to things that do not feel right for me, work-wise, relationship-wise or just life-wise. And I think we all know the things that we actually want to say NO to, but do for very many reasons: to not hurt loved ones, to not offend, to appear nice and ‘helpful’ to neighbors and so on. And we all also know how those things make us feel inside (frustrated and stretched thin, mad at ourselves for not being able to say no). I know it all so well because it is extremely difficult for me to just say it as it is (My need for social approval is extremely high). I can do literally anything to avoid any awkward talk or confrontation which involves telling the other person that I beg to differ. But I also know the exhilaration and feeling of peace and euphoria when I sometimes summon the courage to say exactly what I need. And the world does not stop spinning. This has come to me after years and years of practice (in front of the mirror!) and many, many uncomfortable moments and tears shed in private. So I know that it is never too early to begin teaching Rumi : say what you want and you can and should say NO whenever you feel like it.
Believe in the Law of Attraction
I truly, honestly believe that you attract everything that happens in your life by thinking about it. I was first introduced to this concept in the movie The Secret and it completely changed my life. The biggest, most concrete example of this is the story of how I met (and hooked!) my husband. Although, that is a story for another blog, I can swear that the life circumstances that brought us together came about by virtue of me thinking and daydreaming about them and constantly visualizing us together. Ever since that magic came true in my life, I never tire of treating the universe as one, big, infinite catalog and sending my wishes out there. And yes, sooner or later they come true, 100% of the time!
Honesty begins with yourself
I don’t really think that honesty is the best policy because if I was to be completely honest to everybody I met and every time I opened my mouth, it would be just horrible and I would have to live in social isolation. What I find important is being true to myself about what I need and why I am doing the things I do because this is the only way I can live my life to its fullest capacity and find my life purpose. Just being aware of the things I do that really feel right for me and give me pleasure as opposed to the things I do just to appear cooler / better / right-er to others or to myself, helps me to kind of stay on track.
Everything comes at a price
Or as I read yesterday in ‘The Husband’s Secret’ by Liane Moriarty, “You get nothing for nothing!” And I mean this in the most positive way possible: knowing that there is a price to pay for every choice that I make and the willingness to make that choice with that awareness in mind is what helps me be at peace with my life choices and complain less about all the things that are going wrong.
Go to the water
Liz Gilbert has said it so beautifully, there’s nothing I can add. Here’s the link:
Do not put up with people that do not make you feel good
Again something that I learned much too late but brought me immense satisfaction in the past year: there is absolutely no reason to put up with people who do not make you feel good. Feel is the keyword here because there are some people who just make you feel pathetic and there is no reason or rationale you can attach to it because they’ve been as sweet as possible and all that. But you do not need a reason except that you feel drained and low and just not good once they’ve left. Sometimes the people who do not make you feel good are unavoidable (commonly in your relatives circle) and they do it with a simple glance at your hair or at your wailing child or through a remark like “Tu evdhi zaad ka zhaliyes?” (How do you even answer that?). Just keep such people as marginal and on the fringe as you possibly can and invest time and energy in meaningful contact with those who champion you.
Wake up early
I don’t manage to do it every single day, but on the days that I do wake up early, I am filled with a sense of lightness and an infusion of energy that I don’t quite get when I wake up at 9. I also get twice the work done because there are no WhatsApp messages, calls or doorbells to interrupt me. It feels incredible to watch the sky shift from dark to light and hear my own thoughts in silence.
Think about the environment
I was never so conscious about how our choices affect the environment around us and what the meaning and implications of it actually are, until Rumi was born and the random thought of “Will my grandchildren ever see a tiger” came to my mind. Every single day I am inundated with videos of how plastic kills aquatic animals, of another species going extinct and it is just ghastly what human beings are doing to the planet. The minute we take a minute to think about the choices we are making, we can start making conscious choices about our lifestyle and the impact it has on the environment. Even as I’m typing this I remember that one of my life tips has been ‘driving’ and I am embarrassed at my own contradiction! But even at the cost of sounding simplistic (and hypocritical) I’m going to say that even little changes go a long way: thinking about carrying a cloth bag for groeceries, separating your trash, a bucket bath instead of a shower and so on.
When I was a teenager and had my heart broken, I remember feeling scared that I would always feel like this. That was my main concern, the thing I would incessantly ask all my friends: whether it really passes because it feels like nothing will ever make you happy and ‘free of that load’ again. And while I am prone to drama and attach extreme importance to relationships, especially romantic ones, I see a lot of teenagers now doing the same: getting caught up and bogged down by heartbreak, letting it seep into other aspects of their life and treating it as the be all and end all of their lives as opposed to one slice in the whole pie. Whenever Rumi goes through this (and this thought gives me heartburn, but she will) I want her to know in her tears and anguish, that it will pass and there will come a day when she will laugh and feel free of that load.
Spend time with your grandparents
I find myself thinking of my grandparents very often these days. I wonder if they would be proud of me if they saw me now, what they would think of my life choices. I find myself wishing I had learned how to make Ukdiche modak from my Ajji or Tej daal and Mirchi ka Saalan from Dadi. I wish I could take advice from Dadaji and Anna about their choices and struggles in their respective lines of work. There are so many things I want to hear from them now but I can’t. Their wisdom is lost to me forever, except in the figments of my imagination. I want Rumi to spend as much time with her Ayayahand Pappa as well as both Nanus, as I believe this time will add a kind of texture and richness to life which cannot be found elsewhere or be replaced by other kinds of education. From our grandparents, we get a sense of our roots and where we come from as well as a feel for the transitional nature of life: good times come and so do the bad, but we survive.
Find your meditation
My husband always talks of how important it is to meditate and gives me lots of audio stuff and podcasts on my phone to help me with the process, but I just didn’t seem to take to it. It used to be a real effort to sit quietly and empty my mind of thoughts. Then I learned Reiki and it works wonderfully for me; calms me down very quickly and lulls me to sleep too. Coloring is also something I really enjoy; those bright colors slowly filling up black lines send me into a zen-like state and I simultaneously become more acutely aware and observant of things around me. Meditation is not the same for everyone and the whole point of it is to make you more mindful and reduce your stress but sitting on my yoga mat and imagining myself to be one of those serene people dressed in whites was just stressing me out. I think meditation can be anything that brings you peace and allows you to hear your thoughts; a piece of music, offering Namaaz, stepping out for a walk or dancing but it is important to find out which activity does it for you and then making time for it in your day.
UPDATE: (I’m including tips from people who read this post and we’re kind enough to write in with their invaluable suggestions, which really resonated with me).
It is so very important to be financially independent, irrespective of whether you have the nicest, most dependable partner or parents in the world who look after all your needs.Even if you intend to stay-at-home with the kids, plan your finances in such a way that you have a bank account with your savings, for a rainy day.
I am sure you have experienced this in yogasana classes…a deep breath out is much more relaxing than a deep breath in. The popular advice when we are upset, etc. ‘take a deep breath’ is quite misleading, I feel.
Apply the same to your agitated mind. Breathe out the negatives with each breath that you let out…try visualing it. Lightens one up like nothing. 😊
If one makes a habit of doing this five mins before bedtime each day, imagine how ‘light’ we will feel?
From my dear sweetheart, my first love, my oldest friend Saee who is wiser than she knows, if only she would put her self-consciousness to rest (Even now she told me “please don’t tag me!”) But I convinced her of how beautifully she has articulated these points so here goes:
20. On minimalism:
Do not buy things you do not need even if you can afford them. I’ve realized they only make you happy temporarily. Ask yourself twice before every impulsive purchase, “Do I really NEED this?” If you have a lot of disposal income spend it on experiences, not stuff. So add to your experiences and add to your savings. Find a balance between the two because you don’t just want to save and not enjoy life and let it go by.
Use your savings to buy you time. That’s the most valuable resource. When you have time, you can do the things you really love; read books, play a sport, watch TV, cook, spend time with friends and family… Whatever it is you love doing. You’ll be less stressed, happy, and healthy. So the more you earn should not translate to the more you spend. I think several people are going wrong with this. The more you earn, the more you should save and get closer to buying yourself time or I would say buying yourself your life. Do you want to spend it being stressed about doing a job and making money to keep sustaining? The key is to keep your needs minimal and it’s not wrong when people say the best things in life are free. So you really do not need a lot of money to be happy. You’re happy right now because you have the time to write, play with Rumi… Imagine a life where Abhi too didn’t have to go to work. So I think people should be chasing having the resources to do whatever they want to with their life.
21. Life does not always turn out the way you imagine, but that’s OK
(Again I’m pasting Saee’s words here)
Just thinking about life since reading your blog… You’ve covered most of the lessons I’ve learned too. I think the last one should be to be aware that life may not always turn out the way you expect. Unfortunate events that are out of your control do happen. My Dad, for example. A medical issue completely out of his hands turned all our lives around and not in a good way. So unfair things do happen to good people, good things can happen to not-so-good people. But good things also happen to good people and bad things to bad people. There are no guarantees in life. All you can do is work towards living the life you want to live and being happy (a lot of your tips are around that like the law of attraction, independence, and stuff). And if life doesn’t turn out the way you wanted, not to let that bog you down. Stay positive and keep working towards happiness. I find it quite amazing that my Dad still remains positive and jovial. I’m sure you too know of several people in your life who life has been unfair to. It’s important to process these things to make you stronger. It goes for the everyday little things. Like people will say mean things to you, they will put you down. Use it as an opportunity to analyze what’s happening; why did they act like that? did you do something wrong that caused them to be rude? Are they going through something and just displacing their anger on you? How should I deal with this situation? – that’s the question to ask yourself. How can I deal with this horrible thing that is happening to me? And unfair, unexplainable things do happen to everyone. A lot of your points touch on coping and dealing with such events like meditation, being kind, keeping certain people on the fringes.
22. (Something that I thought of) De-clutter
There is something very therapeutic about opening a wardbrobe that is bursting at its seams, and putting back only those items that give you joy. Every time i do this, i find that more than half the things i have are things that i haven’t even touched in the last few months! That is the basic premise of the KonMari method of tidying up: keeping only those things that evoke a sense of joy. I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s books but i’m a fervent believer in immediately parting with things that do not spark that joy. We hold on to many,many useless items for the memories associated with them, but we do not even look at them as they gather dust in our store rooms and attics and take up space meant for all the new things yet to come. De-cluttering creates space for new energy to flow in. When you freely give away all that you do not need, you beautify someone else’s life and in turn, add that blessing and grace to your own life.
23. (Suggested by a reader Vidya): On relationships: (her words)
Love means respect. Even more so in romantic relationships. If your partner doesn’t respect who you are or what you do, it is time to back off from that relationship. Retain a strong sense of self and still make room for the (significant)other in any relationship. On the same note, say sorry and mean it. Apologize sincerely. God knows we all mess up but to own up to your mistakes makes you vulnerable and strong at the same time. And sometimes, all it takes is a simple, heartfelt sorry to resolve conflicts.