A week without Rumi: when the child does NOT want to come home

It is just another usual, routine, Sunday evening scenario: Abhi and I are standing at the door with shoes on and our arms loaded with bags, saying goodbye to my in-laws, and Rumi is refusing to come with us; she wants to stay there. This happens every weekend. Whether she visits my in-laws or my Mum’s, Sunday evenings call for a temper tantrum and a bucketful of tears as Rumi begs and begs to not go home. You would think that waving bye to her and pretending to leave would do the trick but she bids farewell to us very happily. Ever since that trick has backfired, we generally have to take Rumi out to a restaurant and bribe her with ice-cream before bringing her home. However, lately she has become smarter than us and slyly enjoys her sinful French fries and a small glass of Pepsi, after which she begins her whining and screaming about missing Ayayah (Rumi calls her paternal grandma ‘Ayayah’ as a word derived from ‘Aai’)  and Nanu. So this time, we decided to try something new and let her stay on, thinking that letting her have another night of indulgence would satiate her and that she would be happy to return home to us and her toys and books the next day.

How foolish and wrong we were! Abhi dropped by at the bungalow after work to pick her up. He came back two hours later sans Rumi. I looked at him in surprise. “She refused to come and cried her eyes out.” We figured that another day would do the trick. The next day dawned without any such luck. Abhi came back exasperated and cross. He had tried everything he could, but Rumi had refused to budge. “Anurag nahi avdat” (I don’t like Anurag society, where we live) was her new mantra. She had also picked up some lovely Marathi jibes such as “Vahun jaa tu Baba”(Baba, just fly away!) which Abhi did not take kindly to and he did not have the heart to pick her up and just strap her in her car seat against her will.

We spoke at length about this strange situation of the child not wanting to come home. A quick Google search revealed that this was not so unusual after all, but most articles I found referred to working parents whose children did not like to be picked up from the daycare. These kids were usually acting out because they had actually missed their parents during the day.

My tendency to take everything personally went on an overdrive. “Why doesn’t she like us? What are we doing wrong? Why does she hate home?” I lamented. “Stop being dramatic” said the husband. “She does not ‘hate’ us, she’s just having fun there”. He also suggested letting her be for a while. After all, the bungalow was just a stone’s throw away. Everybody there was more than happy to have Rumi for a while. “Let us enjoy this time” he said and I reluctantly agreed, though I secretly waited for Rumi to miss me and be back home (It is one thing to voluntarily drop your child off and gleefully plan your free hours and quite another to have your child not want you).

The next few days were quite strange. I had completely forgotten how it had been in the days before Rumi, when I had all the hours in the day to myself! The house looked like it had never done before: every surface gleamed and was free of Playdoh chunks and food morsels and a treasure trove of long-lost objects was discovered between the sofa cushions. I ate peacefully without tiny fingers poking away at things on my plate. I could put on the TV and read. And nap. But it felt too quiet. Even after writing and planning blog posts, and cooking dinner, and digging out the flower pots, I had too much time left.

Meanwhile, the news from Ayayah’s was that Rumi was having the time of her life. New rituals had been established: teeth were brushed with Sushant Kaka in the morning, after which Kaka and Rumi lovingly anointed each other with liberal amounts of powder and Smita Kaku’s expensive creams. Bathing was Smita Kaku’s domain and meals were eaten with Ayayah while watching the dogs play in the dirt. Bedtime had been pushed to past midnight. Our daughter was in Toddler Paradise.

I woke up, however, to an empty, silent house with that glorious, indescribable, milky, sweet, heart-tugging baby smell that permeated the bedroom. I saw her two milk cups in the kitchen, the blue elephant cup and the pink Minnie Mouse cup and I remembered her funny perverse behavior, where whichever cup I poured her morning milk in, she asked for the other one. I had never, ever thought I would ever cry like this, but cry I did when I thought of Rumi’s sweet smile as soon as her eyes open and the way she throws her little arms around my neck. Teary eyes gave way to sobs that soon paved the way for irrational behavior; the kind that makes you think of senseless solutions such as fetching her back immediately (I would have had to carry her in my arms, uphill, as the husband takes the car to work) and then an absolutely baseless, unjustified irritation towards the husband (why does he always take the car??)

But many, many years of irrationality and spontaneous, regrettable decisions have prompted me to keep a list of calming actions handy so I consulted it and took the best possible step; I went for a long, hot bath, the kind that is impossible to enjoy with Rumi staring at me with wide-eyes from a bucket. When I felt calmer and better, I called Aai to speak with Rumi. She sounded so cheerful and happy on the phone that I had to smile, despite myself. I spent the day talking to supportive friends, asking for insights but nobody had been in a similar situation. Each of them, however, expressed envy that my child lived away from me so happily and asked me if I would rather have it the other way round, with a child clinging to me 24/7? None of them viewed it as unhealthy, they only understood it as Rumi wanting to constantly be in a space filled with people who indulged her. Thus calmed, I made it through the next couple of days in a hum of positivity and did some long-forgotten fun things such as getting drunk and watching a late-night movie.

Since Rumi wasn’t intending to come home anytime soon, the time had come to bring in plan B. Enter my determined mother who said “I’ll pick her up and see to it that she comes home.” Frankly, this was a ‘from the frying pan into the fire’ situation, because Rumi was now just going from one beloved grandparent to another. However, becoming a mother has given me a blind, mad, faith in my own mother’s superwoman abilities so I gave in. And I don’t know whether it was because of my mother’s words to her or a heart filled with longing for her Mumma or our bribery of fine-dining complete with French fries and Pepsi, Rumi was back home with us, a week after I had last seen her.

While writing this blog post, I could feel a sense of shame at my own inadequacy as a Mom and hypocrisy at writing a blog on parenting, when my own child prefers to be away from me. A nasty voice in my head kept saying to me “Ha. So much for this blog on parenting that you write. Your own daughter doesn’t want to come home to you. What’s the use of writing about activities and resources and a fancy-pants playroom, if Rumi would rather be away from it?” I felt deeply embarrassed.

But then I realized that no matter what I do, that voice that says “it’s not enough” is always going to be there. You just have to do things, in spite of that nasty voice, till it learns that nobody’s paying any attention to its whining. Yes, I write on parenting. I have had some insights and ‘Aha’ moments with Rumi that I enjoy writing about. But I certainly do not have all the answers. And that is OK. It is ok to write about the times that I fail, about the mistakes that I make. This writing helps me to think out loud. This way, pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) is how I search for answers, every time.

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).

 

An Ode to Aunts

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Last week, I had my Phuppi (my dad’s sister) staying with us for a few days. Phuppi completely matches the description of the stereotypical Aunts I read about growing up, like Aunt Alexandra in To Kill a Mocking Bird or Aunt Izzie in What Katy Did: she is formidable, sharp-tongued and very spick and span and proper, and she has the biggest heart in the world. I grew up in a joint family with my cousins and Phuppi pretty much took over our childhood. She bought us clothes (and matching socks and shoes and clips and even matching underwear!), she cut our hair, she planned our birthday parties, she entered us into fancy-dress shows and she took us to the ‘poshest’ places in town like Sagar Plaza and Ashoka Executive (which is the Pride Hotel now). That woman was a cracker, there was nothing she could not do. She cooked amazingly well (made us doughnuts in the 90s when we hadn’t ever heard of them!) she dressed like a style icon with that stylish bob and those dark lipsticks and ‘goggles’, she set off alone on shopping expeditions with the driver and three kids in tow and made us participate in a cat-walking course (yes, really!) She was just so cool! We were petrified of her and simply adored her.

When I heard she was coming, I was really happy but really nervous too. I wanted to show off to her, for her to see that I’m managing my house pretty smoothly. I kind of wanted to make her proud. It is so strange, no matter how much we grow and evolve, there are certain people from our childhood, that make us turn into children again, with all our old insecurities and petty fears. No matter how many people say it to me, no matter how well I know it from within, I just wanted to hear the words “you’re doing well” from her. I also mentally prepared myself for all the chiding, nudging and corrections that were going to come my way (that woman is so loving but so demanding!). I knew enough to expect comments on the following issues: Rumi’s thinness, the quality of cooking, my low-maintenance T-shirt-salwar-ponytail look at home and the lack of servitude towards my husband (like Abhi wakes up and makes his own tea or sometimes serves me dinner too (Oh God, must warn him before she comes!)

When she came, I was amazed to see her. Gone was that spry, active woman from my childhood. Her face was lined with anxiety, the hair greying. She was exhausted from the Rickshaw trip and was carrying a big bag of food items on her shoulder as a gift. I felt stupid at my surprise, obviously she was expected to age. But I had simply lost track of all the years that had flown by. In my mind she was still that intimidating, sharp woman in the bright yellow nylon dresses.

It was wonderful to catch up. We spent hours talking and laughing and looking at old pictures and shrieking with laughter (“Oh my goodness, is that really us?”) Our relationship dynamic had completely changed and she was able to talk to me about all her problems and longings. I told her all my wonderful “business ideas” and unlike my Mom who only snorts when I get a new idea and doesn’t really get taken in unless I actually do something, Phuppi listened with a lot of patience and even gave some really awesome advice. I made her cook all my favorite dishes and she even taught me a few tricks. I watched Pakistani soaps on TV with her. We were heartbroken when she left for home and the house just felt empty.

I feel so lucky to have an Aunt like her growing up and I am overjoyed that Rumi too has an amazing playmate and confidante in her adored Smita Kaku.  Smita Kaku is fun and glamorous and fearless. She paints Rumi’s toenails neon. She takes Rumi for bike rides and they come back windswept and flushed and laughing. She takes Rumi into the kitchen and deftly swings her on one hip as she cooks and introduces her to the different spices. She massages Rumi’s head with warm oil. Whenever we are all together, Rumi is Smita’s faithful shadow, trailing after her, wanting to open her purse, play with her hair and climb all over her. If Smita disappears from her line of vision for even a minute, Rumi’s eyes well up and her lips quiver with separation anxiety as she asks “Kuthe geli Smita Kaku?” (Where is Aunt Smita?)

 

Seeing them together is a delight. It is as if I don’t need to be there at all; they do everything together. In fact Rumi cries if I interrupt them and likes to sleep in Kaka-Kaku’s bedroom. When she is away from Kaku, she tells me stories that her Kaku tells her about a good blue fish called “Rumi” and a naughty red fish called “Tumi” and waits impatiently to meet Kaku again. Their bond is heartwarming and I love to watch them play and reminisce about all the times I spent with Phuppi.

What is it about Aunts and little nephews and nieces? I think it is nicely summed up in the quote “Only an Aunt can give hugs like a mother, keep secrets like a sister, and share love like a friend”. In the book “Committed”, Elizabeth Gilbert talks of how authors like Leo Tolstoy and the Bronte sisters were raised and influenced by their aunts. John Lennon’s aunt told him he would be an important artist someday and it was Coco Chanel’s aunt who taught her how to sew!

It is these amazing aunts who bandage our knees and kiss our tears. They spoil us silly with ice-creams and cuddles. They are our stylists and fashion icons. They keep all our secrets and partner us in our crimes. They are the joke-tellers and shoppers and great cooks. Thank God for the “Aunty Brigade”, without whom childhood would have lacked its magic and charm. Thank God for Aunts.