Happy 30th to me! And 30 life tips for Rumi before she turns 30

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:

img-20170223-wa0006
A chocolate book with my favorite things!
pano_20170224_101404
The panoramic setting of our camera rendered me headless!

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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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’.

  1. Kindness

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Go to the water

Liz Gilbert has said it so beautifully, there’s nothing I can add. Here’s the link:

https://www.facebook.com/GilbertLiz/posts/1098382590243855:0

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich?

This one’s from Mark Manson:

https://markmanson.net/life-purpose

  1. Heartbreaks will pass

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.

  1. 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 Ayayah and 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.

  1. 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).

A tip from Gargi Sarkhel Bagchi (Facebook):

18. Financial independence:

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.

From Gayatri Degvekar (Facebook):

19. Breathe ‘well’:

(Pasting her text as it is)

Breathe wellThis means, contrary to popular belief, learning to exhale deeply. Yes, exhale, breathe out! 

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:

(Her words)

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.

 

 

She doesn’t share, but she really does care!

Something that we have been observing abut Rumi in the past few months is that she does not like to share her toys. She enjoys having her friends over and even waits eagerly for them, but once they are here, she grabs every single thing they touch and loads her arms with her balls and dolls and blocks shrieking “It’s MINE!” We bought her some nice books on sharing. But all she seems to have taken from Anne Dewdney’s lovely ‘Llama, llama, time to share’ is how Llama frowns when Nelly Gnu plays with his toys. That’s exactly what Rumi does. She folds her arms and starts to frown whenever she has to share anything with another child.

We go through the usual cycle of embarrassment at our child’s behavior and hushed admonishing. I end up apologizing profusely for her and then explain to her later how much fun it is if everyone plays together and all that. She listens half-heartedly and behaves even worse the next time. Sometimes I frown and make my big, scolding eyes at her. Very often, in spite of actually knowing better, I end up saying “bad girl”. (It seems to me in such times that all the good, theoretical stuff I actually know about parenting gets locked up in an inaccessible box of my brain with the key lost).

In my worry and over-anxiety, I easily attribute this to yet another thing that ‘we must be doing wrong’. My Mum asserts yet again “She needs to start going to school”, where just the other day the husband and I had spoken of keeping her home for another year (She’s only three so what’s the hurry?). Being a parent, I’ve come to realize, means constant and never-ending anxiety that you are not doing enough or not doing the ‘right thing’ enough. Not paying enough attention, paying too-much attention, not leaving her alone at all, leaving her neglected for too long; it is such a tightrope to walk! No matter what we do, we cannot seem to fill up that well of inadequacy, of feeling that there must be something more that we can do.

But maybe, just maybe, the best thing we can do right now is to leave her alone? It would be a huge herculean effort on my part to not intervene and not correct her, but maybe I could try to say “It’s ok if you don’t want to share”?  I can immediately hear voices tell me what a bad Mom I am, how children should ‘learn to share’. Whose voices are these? In my mind I can see imaginary Mums exchanging meaningful glances with each other when my child throws a tantrum and refuses to let go of her toys. But the voice is actually mine. It belongs to my inner Demoness that breathes fire every time my inner Goddess tells me to feel proud of all the things I’m doing right. My inner Goddess is very gentle and quiet and meek. Not my inner Demoness who is always poised and ready to defend all my weaknesses and guilts and shames and misgivings.

So what if I listen to the meek and gentle voice this time? The one that says let her grow at her own pace? She’s not ready to share. That’s alright. This does not say she is not kind or empathetic or generous. Embrace her imperfections. Love her and accept her for it. This is easier said than done, because I need to embrace my own imperfections first. My own temper. My lack of composure if Rumi throws a tantrum in public. I have not yet learnt to love myself completely and fully.

But I want to try and do that for Rumi. I want to create an inner voice that tells her how loved she is, always. Sharing will come, I am sure of it. But I do not want to leave her with that unpleasant memory of a cold voice and harsh look saying “Give her that block NOW!” and make her do something only for our approval. I see myself doing that sometimes when I ask her to go and sorry. She does it to please me and then looks at my face, begging me to smile and feel happy again. Although I mostly remain stern and unrelenting, these moments break my heart later, and I resolve to not do it again, but that lasts only till the next time.

Sigh. I wish and hope to master that self-control this year. And self-loving and self-acceptance, so that I may give Rumi the same gifts. Meanwhile, some useful links for parents, who are concerned that their kids do not share:

http://theattachedfamily.com/?p=2567

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/reem-kassis/why-i-wont-make-my-child-or-yours-share_b_9603520.html

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/family/2011/10/children_and_sharing_don_t_force_kids_to_share_.html

http://www.handinhandparenting.org/article/help-your-child-learn-about-sharing/

http://www.askyourdadblog.com/2013/03/In-Defense-of-Sharing.html

 

How we say babies are perfect and then roll up our sleeves to make our improvements upon them

I recently read and loved Aditi Mittal’s tweets directed towards the horrible “fairness industry” in this country. It is brilliant to see people wake up and embrace ‘dusky’, ‘wheatish’, ‘biscuit-colored’ and whatever other gorgeous browns God has gifted us with although it is still miles to go before Indians stop giving skin-color any thought at all.

This starts right at birth, maybe even during pregnancy. If both parents are ‘fair’ then everybody seems to be quite relieved as fairness seems to be guaranteed in this case. But alas, if one parent is a little higher up (or lower down!) on that ghastly shade-card range, in pours the unwarranted advice on masoor and besan-dal scrubs etc, right from Baby’s first bath.

Unfortunately, baby beauty is not just restricted to skin color. The other obsession with us is the shape of the nose. The maalishwali happily oils her fingers and tugs at the tiny perfect nose and shows you proudly how you can ensure a ‘sharp’ nose. “Tase kele nahi tar baal naktach rahil.” (I don’t even know how to translate ‘nakta’; it is the Indian euphemism for ugliness.)  The hair should be thick and dark (Mundans are generally done to ensure ‘good’ hair growth and I don’t know anyone who has been able to explain its religious significance to me), but only till puberty for girls, when that same thick and dark hair becomes unsightly and we resort to waxing, shaving and the like.

The signal that we are giving out to our children all the time is that looks matter more than anything else.  We may say a hundred times that what actually matters is inside, but then we go and slather yoghurt and turmeric on their faces. We are constantly being reminded through media around us that everything is about how you look. How you ‘present’ yourself. How you appear, not to yourself in the mirror but to everybody else out there. How your clothes ‘make or break you’. How much the first impression matters. And while there is enough evidence to back all of these things, there is too little on how to work on yourself inside out. Because nobody has the time, or inclination, to find that out.

I came across the terms ‘Character Ethic’ and ‘Personality Ethic’ in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and I think almost all the focus nowadays is on the personality ethic; how to dress right, how to ‘appear’ confident, how to make a good impression, and so on.  Even the effective use of social media entails how to project yourself right, how to sell yourself quickly etc. Are we talking enough to our kids about how to find meaning and fulfillment, how to move towards inner peace, how to master their own demons and how to be their best selves even when no one is looking?

We need to choose our words very carefully. Even when we are encouraging our kids and praising them and showering our attention on them, what are we saying? How much of “You’re looking so cute!” and “Pretty princess” are we using as opposed to “I love how kindly you spoke to her” and “You were very brave when you owned up to breaking that toy”. Kids naturally love to preen and dress-up and look good. Rumi changes her outfits at least 20 times a day. She takes my Dupatta and puts on my glasses and twirls in front of the mirror. The first question she asks is “Kashi distiye mi?” (How do I look?) Pruning her vanity now might mar her confidence for life (I remember being told “Stop admiring yourself in the mirror” so often that I still cannot look at myself in the mirror without a tiny bit of shame). So it is up to us to balance out all the compliments she receives for her looks with concrete words for all the positive, loving, empathetic actions she takes.

Rumi has also been subject to a lot of physical scrutiny. A favorite here is the hair. My husband still goes through that after 38 years of existence with his curly crop.  I cannot imagine why, because he has the most gorgeous healthiest, bounciest, mass of curls I have ever seen and I simply adore his hair. But we hear the odd remark about “Haircut nahi kela ka?” all the time! He in turn loves my brown, straight, fine strands which I have repeatedly been admonished for. (Thin hair equals weak hair: something every single person in my life has told me except for me blessed wedding hairdresser who explained to me, how fine hair does not mean thinning and that my hair was “healthy”). Rumi’s hair is a perfect juxtaposition of the two of us. Really fine, very brown (“blonde”) and curly. We cannot get over it. But the same goes for many others who constantly ask us why we haven’t shaved it off yet, so that it grows back thicker, although our awesome pediatrician laughed when he said “her genes won’t change with one haircut” (haha, he’s so cool).

My Abbu who worries about everything there is to worry in this world constantly reminds me to oil her head, although oiling hardly changed my hair. He even worries about the birthmark on her face; she has a heart-shaped red patch on her cheek which I like to think of as God’s personal stamp at work in my womb. He asks me if we can use any creams etc to lighten it. I wish I could set him at rest and tell him how Rumi is perfection already. And not because of her beautiful hair and eyes and smile. But because of her soul and what she has inside; something that is entirely hers that can never ever be like anybody else’s.

We should worry about her thumb-sucking and TV watching for reasons of health and well-being and not because of spectacles and braces. We should feel prouder of the fact that she fearlessly feeds all the strays than that her blue frock suits her to perfection. It is up to us to watch our words and actions so that we may raise our children to see themselves as well as others inside out rather than outside in.