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

 

What Diwali means to us

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Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is upon us, and I’m decluttering with ferocious intensity. I love clearing out stuff. I just love it. It is extremely therapeutic for me to shred old papers and empty out cupboards and drawers. So I naturally had to marry a man who is the world’s biggest hoarder. He has cartons and cartons of papers. And notebooks. And random knick-knacks. The child seems to have taken after him so far, and has a tussle with the poor Ajji who sweeps every single day; she picks out old rubber-bands and broken crayons from the piles of swept garbage and runs after the poor woman screaming “He nahi nyayche” (Don’t take that) and Ajji literally has to beg her everyday and say “No, I’m not taking anything home”.

I need our spare room for work now and I refuse to work in a musty environment surrounded by old cartons, so Diwali is just an excuse for me to issue the following threat to the husband: “You have five days to look through this rubbish and salvage what’s important, after which rip, rip, RIP papers (haha this pun was totally unintended!)

When I was a teenager, festivals (and even birthdays) seemed like immense pressure. Pressure to do things in a certain way, to enjoy myself. And somehow Diwali has always been a bad time for me, either emotionally or mentally or physically. I still remember this one Diwali with my chaddi buddy Saee, where we spent the whole Diwali week crying and collapsing in each other’s arms over a breakup and a toxic relationship. We walked around the empty streets and everybody was having fun and lighting up those Anaars (the flower pot or fountain firework) and we thought it just could not get worse. We even coined a term for that particular Diwali: “Viraan Samaa” or Tragic Time (taken from that song ‘Kitni Baatein’ from the movie Lakshya). Just recalling all that drama over romantic relationships makes me cringe and wish I had put those years to better use!

Then one Diwali a few years later, my PCOD began where I experienced bleeding for a month and blew up like a balloon. So all in all, I associate feeling low or melancholy with Diwali. When we got married, I really wanted to change that, but sigh, some curses cannot be broken easily and Abhi and I also had some really miserable Diwalis. (Yes, we specialize in fighting on festivals, birthdays, anniversaries and all those big days!)

This year, with Rumi, I was determined to change all of that and really celebrate Diwali. She is two-and-a-half  now and is really beginning to understand and participate in everything around her so we wanted to start building some traditions with her. The problem was to decide what our Diwali tradition as a family was going to be. To me, festivals mean major decluttering, cleaning up, washing and scrubbing and dusting. Every single thing has to be done in a certain way; and more importantly, at the right time, as prescribed by society or the Holy Scriptures. Waking up at 5 and having a bath, Rangoli at the doorstep, Diyas; everything done the way I remember my Ajji doing when I was a kid. For Abhi though, festivals at home are quite a chilled scene. Everything gets done, just a little later than usual. There is no hurry and no mad rush to accomplish anything. Festivals at the Purandares are very relaxed, such that in the initial days of our marriage, I missed the hustle in the air that I associated with festivals. Gradually I grew more relaxed myself, and started enjoying the cool pace.

I think back with great fondness to Eid at Mummy’s with that gorgeous aroma of slow-cooked meat wafting from the kitchen. By the time, the Biryani and Sheer Khurma would be ready, we would all be faint with hunger as breakfast would naturally have to be skipped because there was so much chaos in the kitchen. Mum, after all that hard work, would hardly be able to eat a morsel because she was so fatigued. I understand how much work it is for women and it is unfair that the load falls on them but it breaks my heart a little to order food on Eid and not have Mum’s Biryani.

So I think, what I want most for Rumi, is to establish patterns that are easily manageable, repeatable and continuable. I would just love to make Faraal at home for her but that is being too ambitious especially if I want to also clean the house the way I do. In the Cleaning  Vs. DIY food-items battle, Cleaning wins hands-down so we settle for store-bought stuff. What I really wish for her is to learn to create and enjoy the process of creativity early on. (I learnt all about creativity much too late in life and it really is the antidote to everything! Even now I was irritated by some triviality and I can feel that irritation leave me as I type away).

And what better time than Diwali to DIY and let the creative juices flow? I get together with a dear friend, Aabha, who is such a creative firecracker, and we organize a Diya painting / fairy-lights making / lantern making session together. Killa or fort-making would have been included too but for time constraints. The little girls really have a good time! They dip their fingers into the paint with glee and smear it all over. Aabha and I get involved too and we are almost grabbing the Diyas from the girls in a bid to do it ourselves! This is definitely something I would love to continue for Rumi; making what we need ourselves, from materials that are available at home.

The first day of Diwali dawns; the house is presentable if not exactly how I would have liked it. Abhi has to work so Rumi and I wake up and have a bath and get ready. Then we decide to do a Pooja, but there is no Devghar (household shrine) here, so we make do, with our favorite Ganpati (Lord Ganesha) idol and favorite books and Baba’s laptop. Except that Rumi wants to do things exactly like we do at the in-laws but I do not have the necessary goods or Pooja sahitya here. This leads to a temper tantrum and it is not even mid-morning. “Jay Bappa (God) is going to come over”, I tell her solemnly. “We want to welcome Him with smiles and cheer and pray to him to shower gold coins on us.” (On Dhanteras we pray for wealth hence the shower of gold coins; I totally get symbolism, now that we have a child!). Her eyes open wide and she looks to the skies for a golden rain. “Not immediately. He’s watching how you behave”. The tears immediately stop.

Then I ask her to pose for a picture with the Aakash Kandil (paper lantern). Instagram quality images come to my mind – little girl with bright lantern, beaming. (I can make it my display pic on WhatsApp and upload it on Facebook, goodness, I can even use it on my blog, yay!) But she refuses, and this leads to temper tantrum number two, but by Mommy. “You normally love photos” I mope. “Why can’t you stand still?” and so on and so forth. Here I am, tormenting my child for the pressure to have a lovely smiling picture on social media. Not just that, I want to record memories too. But what sort of memory am I trying to record? Me shrieking like a banshee because my child won’t pose? I put away the phone but things aren’t improving. By noon, Rumi has changed her clothes five times and lost her temper 24 times before I finally start to see where I am going wrong.

I am making Rumi do exactly what I used to hate about festivals. I am under pressure to click pictures and do things that I don’t normally do and she is not enjoying it. I don’t want her to run about in her chaddi and discard that lovely new frock. We tried to cut corners and didn’t shop for Diwali but I insisted on a new dress for Rumi for all five days. Now one of those inexpensive-looking-but-actually-expensive cotton frocks is lying in a crumpled pile on the floor. I almost can’t bear it, but I hold myself back because I realize that she wants it to be like any other day. She is happy sitting naked on the floor and she wants me to get out of my fancy clothes and join her. What I realize here is that I just need to keep it real. Real and achievable and attainable and not how it ‘should’ be celebrated. As much as I want it to be rosy and picture perfect, our family is never going to look like those Diwali ads with fairy lights and children dressed in beautiful Indian wear. I may try my best to hang those fairy lights but my little girl yanks them off. She pulls off her festive clothes and throws those hairbands on the floor and looks like a complete ragamuffin. So let me try to be grateful for this strong-willed, messy, stubborn little powerhouse instead of trying to make her fit into the beatific pictures of my dreams.

So that’s the second Diwali tradition I want for our house: to keep it real. And this is what real will look like: me cleaning frantically in one corner of the house, even as my husband pulls out a sheaf of papers in the other room. Rumi, sprawled on the floor trying to string the fairy lights around her neck like a necklace. She has already pulled out two lights from the cord. Her very old, stained, T-shirt is covered with crumbs from the Laddoo the next door Ajji just gave her. When we put on the lights in the evening, we will all smile and go into the balcony to look at them and we might just get a perfect picture of the three of us. But then again, we may forget to pull out our phones and just enjoy being with each other.

A creative Diwali, but a very real Diwali, with lowered expectations of what things should look like, but filled with grace and abundance and love. My wish this year for us, for all of us.

The Curious Case of Miss Matilda Missing

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When Rumi was born and I was still dealing with some of my post-natal depression, I really worried about doing anything that would become a bad habit and cause us too much trouble later. So I tried hard to not let the milk bottle become a “habit”, not let her cradle become a “habit”, not let being picked up too much and held become a “habit” etc. etc. (I can only laugh at my paranoia now and I feel sure that if there ever is baby number two, I’ll be super relaxed with all of this. Bottle, cradle, it really matters not). And while I was too busy watching these habits ever so carefully, my baby got into the habit of sleeping with her thumb in her mouth and her comfort blanket in her hand.

The thumb-sucking had been seen in ultrasounds while she was still in my womb and the comfort blanket that came all the way from the UK as a present from my darling Shwe, became a soft and wonderful accompaniment to the thumb that she could rub her nose and cheeks on, while she was blissfully sucking away. I even put it on my list of great buys for babies that made our life with Rumi so much easier. As she grew, Rumi grew more and more attached to it as an object that would soothe her and comfort her in times of distress and discomfort. We named her Matilda and it became a kind of code word that was known to everyone in the family. “Matilda? Have you got Matilda? Please take Matilda along. Where’s Matilda??!” After butchering the pretty Roald Dahl name multiple times, mum and MIL settled for “Matti” (like “mud or soil” in Telugu or our very Hyderabadi Hindi)

A few days ago, Matti was lost. We were spending the weekend with the family and Rumi went out with my brother and sister-in-law. They went up the Taljai hill and had a wonderful time (Rumi is at her happiest best with them). On the way back Rumi fell asleep. She came home in Sushant’s arms, he gently put her down on the bed for her afternoon nap. We first remembered Matilda when Rumi stirred in her sleep and I got up to look for her beloved sleep companion. “Where’s Matti?” Smita got up to look. She went to the car to check. None of us thought about loss right away; didn’t we always check and double-check for her? She was obviously around somewhere. Not found in the car. MIL went out and looked. Nothing. That’s when the thought first occurred to all of us: left behind somewhere, dropped on the streets?

I didn’t worry about it right away, my cousin had once sent me a picture of an identical comfort blanket and we had joked that we should buy it as a backup plan. I was pretty sure I could find somebody in the States or the UK to ship it to us. While I checked my contact list and pinged everyone I could think of, Sushant and Smita rushed  back to the spot they had been to earlier and my MIL combed the house. After several hours, our optimism had dwindled considerably. Matilda had not been found. We felt sure that one of the many other kids playing on the hill that afternoon had picked her up. And I had not found anything that could be purchased in India or from India right away (never, ever have I cursed Amazon.in so much).

That particular comfort blanket had come from Primark (no online stores dammit!) but I found a used one on Ebay. A few frantic, pleading messages (the kind that don’t make you feel good later on, but this was not about me, it was about my baby!) and ordered it to a cousin whose mum was visiting and could bring it on the first. Minor problem averted, we had an identical comfort object. Major problem; bedtime was nearing, Rumi would need it and the first of September was 15 days away.

My MIL tried her hand at making something makeshift. Four things stood in the way: she did not have the required material, no fabric in the required colour, not much experience in tailoring and only a vague recollection of how Matilda exactly looked. Problem much? Not for Aai who is the most undeterred, unfazed person I know and deals with problems like a solid boulder despite her meek and gentle demeanor. Out came a red, sari-blouse looking fabric and sewing needles. Half an hour later, the finished product looked like this:

I felt like I wanted to cry a little but also laugh some because I was so moved and touched by the gesture but a voice in my mind was constantly saying “there’s no way she’s going to fall for that”. Three hours of burying my nose in my phone with keyword “comfort blanket” had left me with a headache and I was dreading  the night. My husband and I went upstairs to discuss what to tell Rumi. How do you tell a child that something beloved is lost? We luckily had something identical on the way so we just had to get through a few days. “She’s at the laundry coz she needed to be washed” was the best we could come up with. Rumi didn’t cry right away. But as her lids grew heavy, she started begging me for Matti. We tried stroking her, cuddling her, telling her stories. The poor girl could not even take her thumb in her mouth without her beloved Matilda in her hands. She started crying. We gave her another soft blanket. Kicking and a temper tantrum. “I want Matilda!”

It was really one of the worst nights we had ever experienced with Rumi. No injection, no colic had ever brought on such heart-wrenching cries and sobs. She would get exhausted and fall asleep only to wake up and beg me for Matilda again. She was so incoherent and disturbed that it was impossible to reason with her. I went into the bathroom and cried my eyes out because I could not bear to see her like that anymore.

I tried to reason with myself that she would forget about it soon. Probably her thumb-sucking would come to an end too, which was a good thing. Also, losing an object was just the beginning of so many losses, little and big which she would have to face in her life. I would just have to learn to see my child through all her pains and hurts and heartbreaks without breaking down myself. Nobody slept that night. My MIL came up to our bedroom when Rumi’s cries became shrill and insistent. My brother and sister-in-law were awake and standing at the door of the bedroom in concern.

Everybody woke up unhappy and crestfallen. My sister-in-law who loves Rumi very very dearly actually teared up when she heard how bad the night had been. Rumi was the only one who was cheerful and upbeat; bedtime was behind her and Matilda forgotten, until the next nap. I marveled at her resilience and happy nature but decided then and there that we could not go on like this for two weeks. I decided to ask for help on Facebook and all the other groups and forums I knew. How powerful social media really is! I have never really marveled at the power of the World Wide Web so much until now. Everything is literally a click away. So many kind people responded and a dear, old friend helped us find something that she could send in four days with her mother. It wasn’t Matilda but a similar-looking lavender giraffe that we were sure would do till Matti came back all clean from the laundry. But even this giraffe was four whole days and five whole nights away. Unable to do nothing till then, we decided to head for the mall. Surely we would find something in Mothercare or Hamleys. Or we could request them to order for us.

We set out with heavy heads but determined hearts. Halfway there, Abhi’s phone rang and it was my sister-in-law. We were at the petrol pump and cut the call but then she called mine. Then his. Then mine again until we answered and she said “We’ve found Matilda!” I could not believe it. “Where was she?” And the surprising answer. Matilda showed up on an empty grassy plot next to our bungalow. My brother-in-law stepped out and there she was. Perched on a grassy, hilly patch in an empty plot, with that smile on her face, as if she had decided to take a walk in the sun and then sit in the grass to rest her weary fit and sun herself. As if she was saying “I was right next door, why are you flipping out?”

What a miracle! I slumped on the seat in relief and my husband and I could not stop laughing all the way home. We found explanations for it; Matilda slipped out of Rumi’s hand when they got out of the car, the dogs found it, played with it and left it in the plot. But to me, it was as big a miracle and an answer to my prayers as I could hope for in my life: that she was completely unscathed and had no teeth marks, rips anywhere, that she ended up in a plot next to our house, that Sushant spotted her in all that grass and shrubbery.

For the rest of my life I will get goosebumps when I think of this “miracle” that happened to us. And I learned some important things about myself: I will stop at nothing when it comes to my children; I was literally poised to swap my credit card and fly to London for a blankie and that I must contain my emotions better and not breakdown, as there are many twists and turns that are waiting for us round the corner and I need to be calm and grounded if I want my baby to emulate me and learn to deal with whatever comes her way.

Meanwhile, bedtimes have gone back to being happy and cuddly, the thumb is back in the mouth and I refuse to worry about that habit anymore.