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:


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.

When I’m a Mean Mommy, here’s what I need to remember

It is our usual Saturday afternoon ritual: I pack a little bag with a few clothes, diapers and of course, Matilda and then drop Rumi off to my parents’ place. Mum teaches Kindergarten, Abba has his classes and they are generally quite busy during the week so this works as a win-win situation for the grandparents as well as us: they can enjoy with Rumi to their heart’s content and Abhi and I can watch TV and read and write and talk and relax. We enjoy indulgent dinners, silly movies and great conversations and pick Rumi up the next day with a fresh and relaxed mind for the week to come.

This Saturday however, when Rumi left, I said goodbye to her with a very heavy heart. I have been scolding her very frequently in the past few days but this morning, I was particularly harsh. I was sending an “important message” from my phone and Rumi kept trying to yank it from my hands, begging me to play her favorite video. I was talking to her and trying to reason with her but then she started pummeling me and my phone slid from my grasp and fell to the ground. I really lost my cool and held both her fists tight. “Stop it” I said firmly. She looked at me defiantly and started hitting me again. “Just stop it!” I shouted louder. She continued to try and yank my hair with her little fists and climb over me and I really lost it and started exaggerating (You ‘always’ do this! You ‘never’ let me sit even for a minute!). She looked to Abhi for support but even he was firm and stern with her. She cried, we scolded, I sulked, but it was all forgotten a few minutes later when Nana-Nani arrived to pick her up. She cheerfully changed into her best blue frock, let me tame those gorgeous brown curls with a wet comb and kissed me and waved goodbye. She was looking so beautiful, so angelic! My heart just filled with remorse. How could I have used such a harsh shouty voice with this wonderful little child, full of love and light?

I can think of plenty of reasons and excuses to justify my behavior: I had already lost a phone to this kind of grabbing by Rumi, where it had ricocheted off every step in our house and crashed to the bottom in a worthless pile of shards. Plus I was tired out with my allergies that caused me to sneeze incessantly and my eyes to swell up and itch. Plus, we had had several sleepless nights because Abhi was so unwell with the flu. Plus, I was kind of annoyed that Rumi was watching more TV and eating more chocolates than ever, which made her a hyper-bunny. There were so many reasons but which one was really her fault? She doesn’t know how expensive my phone really is. She doesn’t know that incessant video watching or chocolate with every meal is bad. She doesn’t know that when she begs me for a story, I can’t talk because my throat itches so bad.

It is so paradoxical that the angrier she makes us, the more love and acceptance she needs. The easiest way to calm her down is to hug her and kiss her and reassure her that we “love her forever”, that we’re not mad at her. And the worst thing we can possibly do is to alienate her and say “No, you’ve been bad, you need to sit on that chair for a few minutes”. It is easier said than done because sometimes I really need some time before I can speak lovingly to her, especially if I have been hurt physically by her punches or hair-pulling. But even in this time, all she does is rub herself against my legs or bury her face in my lap like a little helpless kitten.

What I need to do is be gentle, be loving, be kind. As far as possible, as often as possible. With Rumi as well as with myself because she forgets and bounces back easily, whereas I tend to judge myself very harshly after such episodes.

I have also been thinking a lot about why I am getting so irritable and angry in the first place. It is not that Rumi is behaving worse than usual, but somehow I am getting more upset than ever at these minor skirmishes.  After a lot of careful introspection, what I think is causing me distress is a lack of self-care. And self-care not in the form of lying on the couch and mindlessly consuming daily soaps or newsfeeds on my phone, but self-care in the form of expressing myself in some way, of creating something, of making something. Whenever I do that in the form of a doodle or a baked cake or a sketch or a blog post, I get enough energy to pull through the day with a smile on my face, no matter what the situation is. The art of creating something, anything, is therapeutic and magical. And I have learnt that there need not be pressure for me to create anything ‘perfect’ or ‘worthy of sharing’. It can be a silly story I make up. It can be a few photos taken from the balcony. It can be knitting, sewing, gardening anything. Just that, for a half an hour a day is like an elixir that keeps me brimming with energy. And skipping that or missing it for a few days at a stretch causes a wave of restlessness inside, something that is very small and hard to notice at first but snowballs into a destructive Tsunami at alarming speed.

My husband told me a wonderful quote by Alanis Morrissette: ‘When I’m not ex-pressed, I’m de-pressed’. And depressed Mommies make angry and tired and sulky Mommies. So I need to remember this very simple truth (which like all things simple is the hardest to follow!): time for self-care and expression every single day, and love, gentleness and kindness, always.