Two steps forward, one step back

My laptop stopped working last month. It is possibly beyond repair, though the husband is trying his best to get it fixed. I am quite heartbroken; it was my very first laptop, my very first joint-present from my then-boyfriend and parents and it served me well. No laptop meant no blogging, and I was heartbroken about that too, because I had been working hard to churn out an article a week and was in a pretty happy place, blog-wise.

A casual chat with a friend revealed that I could blog from my phone. Its a smartphone, duh! “Just download the App.” Of course! I was embarrassed for a minute and laughed at my own silliness and promptly started. Easier said than done, it was hard to gather my thoughts and type away from my cell phone so I wrote a few lines and then kind of gave up.

“What if this is it?” I asked my husband with my customary pressed-lip worried look? It took him a minute to realize that I was talking about my blog being “over” coz I had no laptop, before he howled with laughter at my silliness and ‘dramatic behaviour’. “What do you mean this is it?” he asked, still choking. “I can’t think of stuff to write. I’m not able to do it on my phone. I think, my blogging may have reached its peak with that Milind Soman post” I said, laughing myself.

The husband, being the angel that he is (or simply prompted into action by my dramatic sighs and hints), took off with my laptop the next morning and got it back “chakachak” (as good as new) with a new OS and stuff, so here I am, happily typing away.

December was delightful, as only Decembers can be, filled with lots of events and festivities. We had a fun cricket-themed, surprise party for Sushant’s (my BIL’s) birthday. The husband’s birthday present two weeks later was a Polaroid – he constantly talks about how we don’t print photos nowadays. He also sang in his annual “Silver Bells” choir and it was lovely. We missed Rumi at the choir but I did not want to take her along after last year’s fiasco where she screamed “Baba kade jaychay” (I want to go to Baba) right before Abhi’s solo. I had to leave the auditorium with her and miss out on his angelic singing.

Things with Rumi have been more delightful than ever, ever since I stumbled upon the not-so-new-or-original but still eye-opening mantra of “two steps forward, one step back”. This means: being mentally prepared for the fact that every day is an absolutely new slate with a child, and yesterday’s behavior may not have any bearing on things today. I have been expecting Rumi’s growth to be linear but if charted in a graph, it is anything but a straight line. It is more like those heartbeat lines they show in the movies – up and down and up and down, all jagged.

She has a good week, where she’s contently playing on her own, eating well, sleeping on time and laughing throughout the day and just when I beam with pride at her independence and her ‘growth’, comes a day where she will cling to my thigh like a monkey, scream, hit me, and refuse to be put down for even a minute. Sometimes, she happily thrives on a clockwork routine; on other days, she upsets all my plans and work. Just when I claim to have figured out what makes her tick, she surprises me by doing a 360 degree turnaround.

Our best days are the ones where I am in no hurry to be in someplace else. In such times, I am completely available to her, ready to build with blocks, paint, or just lie under the covers and tickle and kiss. It is uncanny how she picks up on my mental state. It is precisely on the days that I have a long list of to-do things that she takes hours to eat and wants to be carried. On such days I feel grateful about being a SAHM because I can afford to put off doing the laundry or dishes without it being a serious setback. Not that being at home is less work, but most of the work can be adjusted according to my child’s needs. Now that I am working from home, I do have days of frustration where I can’t seem to get anything done on some days, but on most days it is a joy to have Rumi around in my workspace, trying to imitate me sewing or cutting.

Just like Rumi, my work also goes two steps forward and one step back; a day of beautiful patchwork and picture-perfect stitches followed by a day of pulling and tugging and unpicking. The same goes with the blog. It’s a good mantra for the new year and I’m chanting rhythmically: two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward, one step back….

 

Poor Dad, Rich Dad

Yesterday Rumi suddenly asked me “Tu shrimanta ahes ka” (Are you rich?) I burst into laughter. My God, where had she learnt that word? Probably from those appalling Marathi soaps that she loves to binge watch. “Ask Baba” I said, still laughing at the use of the word “Shrimanta” in that sweet voice. She asked Abhi and as he smiled at me, I’m sure even he was thinking of an argument we had had a couple of days back.

Abhi and I rarely ever argue. When we do, it is not so much of an argument as a full-blown intense fight, where the past, present and future are all dragged into the conversation. There are tears and there is sulking. There are one or two really awful days and then, when the clouds clear again, it is sunny and happy and just all gone in a few seconds. As we get older in our relationship, we have learnt not to mind these days as much. My tears have reduced and so has his sulkiness and we have made peace with these passionate outbursts.

Anyway, last week, when Abhi got home from work, he was very downcast. When we spoke about it, he said “Sometimes I just feel like a failure. I have been working for over a decade now. But what have I got to show for it? I want to give you and Rumi everything you ask for, without having to worry about the bank balance every month.”

My heart just went out to him. This man works so damn hard. His days begin at dawn every single morning. And he is giving us so much. I really enjoy the luxury of being at home with Rumi because of him. And our life is abundant and full of grace in every way. Our lovely house, the trips we take together, our indulgent dinners, mall excursions, everything. We are lacking for nothing.

I have a very fluid approach to money. I find that it is there when you need it. I never fret about it and I generally have what is called an ‘abundance mentality’, where I sometimes want to hug our cheap but very pretty blue curtains just because they are looking so lovely. Now this approach completely works for me so I tried to cheer Abhi up by saying things like “Maybe it’s in your mind that you’re feeling poor, would you really be happier with more money? ”, not realizing how incredibly trite it all sounded. He just glared at me and said “I’m trying to discuss a problem with you and you’re giving me all this positivity junk!” and left the room, leaving me very bewildered and hurt.

Later, when we spoke about these things, the first thing I did was I sat him down and thanked him. So much is written about all the sacrifices that mothers have to make, have we really given a thought to the things that men sacrifice when they become fathers? I don’t actually like to use the word ‘sacrifice’ for parenting Rumi, because giving birth to her was a decision that we took entirely for ourselves and I don’t ever want her to feel like we gave up anything for her. On the contrary, I want her to see us enjoy raising her and feeling fulfilled in the time that we spend together as a family. I want her to know how incredibly happy raising her makes us.

But it is true that we have to say “No” to a lot of things when we become parents. Sometimes they are invitations to the latest movie or play or party. Sometimes they are opportunities at the workplace. Many people find it incredible that I am still choosing to be at home with Rumi. At every age milestone from the time she turned one, I am asked whether she will be starting daycare or school soon (which obviously means I will be starting work, because apparently sitting at home is all play!). I am making this conscious choice of being at home, secure in the knowledge that my husband is working really hard to provide for the three of us. Double-income would be really welcome at this point but then we did not want to send Rumi to a daycare as yet, or have the grandparents become her babysitters. Nor did we want to see less of each other by alternating work and home schedules.

We made this decision together and I am enjoying it and so is Rumi, but I have never thought of the price Abhi pays for it, or the many things that he says ‘No’ to. What about his creative dreams? As soon as he comes home, he immediately takes over Rumi. When does he get time for his hobbies? When does he ever have free time? This blog that I lovingly write in my free time is all thanks to this husband of mine who reads every post and beams as if it is the best thing ever written. I have the freedom to pursue all the business ideas in my head because he believes in them and tells me to “Go for it, without worrying about money”. He wakes up at 5 and takes an early class so that he can be home in time to go for a swim with Rumi or take her to the park or teach her chords on the guitar. Our baby speaks German because of him. She identifies different musical Raagas because of him. She sings ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ because of him.  I really don’t know many dads who get this kind of time with their children, apart from weekends.

So I hold his hands and thank him, for the existence of this blog, for my business idea to have a chance to come to life, for the time he spends with Rumi. My tears fall on his hands. “You are anything but a failure” I tell him.

Yes, there are things to be done and improved. We need to save more, to think about tomorrow, to be able to pay for Rumi’s care and education. We need to get out of the “bank balance down to zero” situation at the end of every month. But, I remind him that he has changed my life for the better, in every single way. Rumi is so very lucky to spend all of this time with not just me but also her Baba. It is a blessing to have him home, not just in time for dinner but also in time for doctors’ visits and school-orientation programs and fun-fairs and birthday parties. He is one of the few Daddies who not only know the names of her friends but also their favorite snacks at play-dates. This, the three of us together at dinner, with songs and stories and laughter, is the life of my dreams. If this is not abundance, then I don’t know what is.

Thus convinced, we go to bed feeling very content.

And back to Rumi’s innocent question, we both answered in unison with “Ho, apan khup shrimanta ahot” (Yes, we’re really rich).

 

Paying attention: An important parenting lesson from my two-year old

Rumi has recently turned two and I do not know how to describe the phase she is in right now because “the Terrible Twos” does not even begin to cover it. Yesterday, she threw a temper tantrum because her stuffed animal would not shut its stitched felt eyes. This morning, an hour of wailing followed a ear-piercing shriek, because she wanted the exact same lemon juice that she had just finished drinking (no, not more juice but the very same juice that was in her tummy).  She is constantly whining and clinging to my clothes like a monkey, crying and screaming for grandparents and various members of the extended family. She seems very happy with kaka, kaku, nanu and mamu and does not like to come home after visiting them. This, my husband and I normally manage to take in our stride although on the bad days we do wonder why she gets so bored with us and whether we are doing something wrong (don’t we parents just LOVE this question?)

Her boredom and irritation rises over the next couple of weeks, and we go around in circles trying to decipher why a happy and easy-going baby has suddenly become so sullen and cranky. Is it the weather?  Surely it must be all this sun and heat. Is it her diet? She eats too little. Is it the lack of other kids? (“Mulanna mula lagtat, children need other children to play with” my mother asserts in a firm, know-it-all tone, and then even goes so far as to suggest random and completely irrelevant solutions like ‘de-worming’). We talk of sending her to a preschool or day-care for at least two hours a day, for some company and constructive play.  One hot afternoon however, I stumble upon the astonishingly simple answer and it is my little girl who leads me to it. I am sitting amidst a huge pile of toys, clothes, peanuts strewn over the floor and other miscellaneous  articles with my Smartphone just inches away from my nose, reading various articles on parenting ideas and tips and tricks and do’s and dont’s. Suddenly Rumi stamps her feet. “Nako” she cries. Don’t.  “Don’t what Guddu?” I ask without taking my eyes off my phone. “Nako na” she cries again, clenching her fists and banging them on the coffee table. Her skin is flushed and she is starting to tear up – a full-blown tantrum is on its way. “Kay pahije Rumi? Kashala radte ugach? Khaun zhalay, zhopun zhalay….” (“What is wrong with you? You’ve eaten and had a nap..’) I start, my own voice taking on a plaintive tone with more than a tinge of annoyance at being interrupted while reading. I see the strain in her face as she screams with the last bit of momentous effort  “Nako phoooonnnneee.” And then it strikes me, she wants me to put down my phone. She wants me to look at her and talk to her without being interrupted by constant WhatsApp messages. Such a simple thing.

It makes me think back on all the days that I have spent with Rumi as a SAHM. How many hours of full and undivided attention have I given her? And how many more useless futile hours have I spent on my phone, on Facebook and Whatsapp? If I am just sitting next to her while she is playing, is she really reaping any benefit from my decision to be at home with her full-time, a decision that has come at the heavy cost of being a single-income family in a very expensive city?

I don’t want to get into any kind of debate of the SAHM vs. the Working Mom. I have long since learnt that there is no “correct” or “right” parenting. Breastfed or formula-fed, attachment-led or sleep trained, with or without TV, most babies turn out fine with a good dose of love, attention and nurturing. And happy moms make happy babies so every mother needs to decide for herself – working full-time or part-time or staying at home is a decision that should solely be based on your comfort and that of your immediate family’s.

We felt that it would work best for us for me to be at home with Rumi full-time and it has been, for the most part, a good decision. I don’t want to go back to work yet, I don’t feel the pull, the need. And Rumi does not go to any preschool or day care yet, so it is me and her for a good 14 hours every day. Some days, I can be an innovative, creative playmate. But on most days, I have a long list of things to do and I feel restless and listless when I am sitting down with her. Some days I am busy texting a friend for some delicious gossip to spice up my stay-at-home life. On others, I am scouring the web for interesting posts and articles. On really bad days I am a Facebook stalker, drooling over the amazing lives of other people, feeling discontent and envious. But I spend so much time of my stay-at-home time on my phone that I might as well have been at work! In fact a recent chat with my yoga buddies revealed that they spent better, more qualitative time with their children in spite of and in fact because of being out working all day!

What an eye-opener this is! Despite being at home almost all the time, I am depriving my child of something vital to her well-being and growth:  total, unshared, wholehearted attention. For all my mother’s intuition and two years of experience, I almost cannot believe that I have overlooked such a tiny, basic thing! But then it is usually the tiny, basic things that get overlooked most of the times, isn’t it? That more than the time I spend with her, it is the quality of the time that matters? That even if I play with her for a few minutes, she needs me to pretend to eat the cake she made, say how yummy it is, ask her how she made it. As an adult, I hate it when I get the feeling that somebody’s not listening; I nag my husband all the time about not looking at his phone when we’re talking. But with my two-year old, I have taken the liberty of forgetting this courtesy.

I am so glad that Rumi has brought this to my notice. The minute I start putting my phone away while playing with her, I sense her happiness. I am rewarded with constant chatter, delicious clay food and lots of cuddles and loving strokes. After a tiring play session, she is only too happy to be put down for her nap which gives me enough time to read and stalk and gossip away to glory. Now I try to limit Smartphone and Laptop time to afternoons when she sleeps. We go to the park without our phones and come back sweaty and covered with sand (I wouldn’t go into the sandpit earlier, so as to not spoil my phone!)

Of late, I have been trying my best to give her my undivided attention whenever I can and I want to continue to do so for as long as I can, before she grows up all too soon and stops asking for it altogether.