Of Kodak and not-so-Kodak parenting

“Dadda come,” said Re, dragging the OPU into the other room. He usually does this on weekends, when he wants one-on-one time with his dadda. This time, he wanted him to read from a stack of books that he had selected. Sometimes, he just wants to jump with him on the trampoline. At other times, he wants to quiz him on picture books.

The OPU resists. “I have already read that zoo book four times. It’s so boring to do it over and over again!”. He looks at me. I know that look.

“Try faking it,” I say, without a thought, trying to read the Saturday paper, the only one I can manage. The OPU is not amused.

It’s hard, I know. He’s had a gruelling week, it was his downtime, and he was really looking forward to some uninterrupted gaming time. But Re has other plans. I have stopped intervening. He has learnt to fight his own battles. I am also tired of saving the OPU from his own child.

The thing is, parenting is not always fun. Or photogenic. A lot of it does not make for good pictures. It’s tedious. And repetitive. And very very hard.  Infact, it’s actually boring. But the challenge is to never, ever let your child know that it is. Which makes it even harder. You can always bitch about your job and colleagues, but whining about your child is somehow not cool. What differentiates a good parent from a not-so-good one is how well you can fake it. And how consistently.

Well, am I the first person to tell you that? So be it.

What you see as happy, picture-perfect parenting are the parts that can be seen. The parts that make for good photos.  Splashing in the pool. Brunch with a bunch of well-dressed, non-baby couples, amply garnished by singletons who think you are such cool parents. In a fancy restaurant. At a fancier tab. Playing ball at the beach. Grooving to music. Going to the mall. I call it Kodak parenting.

But if you were to set up a webcam in every household with a child on a regular day, you will know what real parenting is all about. Yes, children are beautiful, and it takes very little to make them happy. What they don’t tell you is there are millions of pockets of this ‘very little’ to fill in.

Funny how even the simplest activities add up to swallow your day and your sense of sanity. Like getting a child to take his clothes off. Or on. To bathe. Or to stop bathing. To sit on the pot. To get off the pot. Sleep.Dress. Eat. Play. Get ready for school. School drops. Pick-ups. Play-dates. Park dates. Outings. Beach-dates. Birthday parties (groan!). Aimless drives when you can’t think of anything. Planning menus. Throwing in surprises and goodies with regularity. And yes, that four letter word. Stimulation.

Okay, if you are single, or if you don’t have kids, let me give you an example. You are home alone with the child. It’s two pm. You can’t go out till five pm, because other children or their mommies are napping.  You don’t want to resort to television, because you are a hands-on mommy and that’s not what hands-on mommies do. You can’t read to the child, because the child is in no mood to listen. You are too tired to do anything remotely creative. You are itching to take a nap. The child won’t let you. What will you do?

I just timed what mundane activities on an ordinary day with a child add up to, and I was shocked. If we had swipe cards for every activity we clock in with our child, no employer or husband would be able to afford us.

Here are some of my challenges. If you think they are cakewalk, please spend a day with me.Or sign up for baby-sitting.

  • Negotiating with Re that a bath may be a good idea because his curls are turning into dreadlocks.
  • Convincing him that it’s a good thing to put his clothes on than run around naked in the house.
  • Convincing him that the sand pit he has just made his home should be left alone, because we are late for a birthday party.
  • Winning an argument about not wearing the same emithet (elephant) t-shirt and lion track pants every day.
  • Going through nine t-shirts before he agrees to wear the first one that was rejected.
  • Being asked to participate in song-singing and being shushed at the mere display of my vocal cords.
  • Being asked to read books, and being shushed when I do, and instead, turning the whole thing into a ‘Let’s test mamma’ quiz.
  • Convincing him that watching television while eating is not okay.
  • Convincing him that watching television for a length of time that makes him stare open-mouthed at the TV is not okay.
  • Pretending that it is perfectly okay to break into dance in the midst of a meal. Now that you have switched off the television, you might as well put up with it.
  • Watching him empty the linen closet, your chest of drawers, your bookshelf and then putting it all back when he is not looking.
  • Learning to say NO in a new, creative way each time, because you have just read ‘How to talk so that kids listen’ and want to be a listening mommy.
  • Getting him into water play in the balcony because you don’t know what to do with him at three in the afternoon, as he won’t nap, and then convincing him that he has to stop because he is fully drenched.
  • Answering “What’s that?” and “Who’s that” for the 47th time when we step out of the house and are on the way to somewhere.
  • Being told not to shout each time I use my parenting voice.

I shouldn’t be complaining, I signed up for this. I signed up for breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between with the child. I signed up for dropping the child and picking him up from school. I signed up for helping him transition into school, holding his hand for as long as he wants, instead of leaving him to cry and figure it out. I signed up for long afternoons of finger painting, bead-stringing, Playdoh’ing, Lego’ing, sponging and coloring. I signed up for letting ideas muddle up so much in my head, that by the time I get to write (on the rare afternoon that he naps, like today), I don’t remember what I wanted to write about. I signed up for idlis and upma and multi-grain dosas and hummus and tsatziki and cookies and home-made cake in his tiffin box instead of Kellogg’s chocos, bread-jam or chips.

I signed up for me instead of drivers, maids, in-laws and day-care. And I can tell you this. It is not easy. Sometimes, I am at the end of my tether, trying to be interested in everything Re has to say and do. Some days I have an epiphany and the OPU has to bear the brunt of it. Some days I just break down and call my mother.

Perhaps that’s why baby maids look like they’ve been hit by a thundercloud, and mothers with toddlers are always dour-faced and sometimes look ready to burst into tears.

And sometimes, I run into a mommy wheeling a pram, and she grins happily at Re and me, and wants to be told, “Don’t worry. It gets easier.”

I can’t lie, so I don’t say anything.

But I have been thinking this through, and realised that there’s no other way I could do it. A friend of mine recently mailed me an article about how good mothers are overrated and it’s okay to be ‘good enough.’ Children turn out okay in the end, whatever you don’t do. To each, her own.

But I guess there is no turning back for me. I have raised the bar too much.

May be one day, Re will read this blog and figure out that what he thought was an exuberant  and effervescent mom was actually a very good attempt at faking it. Perhaps, it will help him be a good parent. Or at least, a very patient one.

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14 thoughts on “Of Kodak and not-so-Kodak parenting

  1. Are you sure you want Re to read this article and find out your thoughts from this? Yes it is too much effort to be a good, real, non-kodak parent, I 200% agree. But thats cuz, we too, do want to work this hard to shape him/her up, is’nt it? Also many times we are unable to take things done in a different way from that of ours — we exactly want it our way — and we end up working much more! Hugs to you 🙂 Nice article, good content and very well expressed, as usual 🙂
    Love,
    Amruta 🙂

  2. I agree with most of your article, but have some reservations…

    I don’t know how old your child is, but it seems to me like you are spending way too much time negotiating with him. Children need to be given choices, but also need to know when to fall in line.

    Also, finding new and creative ways to say no? That completely disturbs me. A two-to-seven year old child does not need a “listening” mommy, it needs to learn right from wrong, and this can’t be done by cooing no at the child. Supernanny’s time-out strategies are awesome and deliver amazing results in about a week.

    Lastly, this whole faking it perfectly concept seems off to me. If it’s healthy for children to see their parents arguing, surely it’s healthy for them to realize they are not the centre of the universe. Mommy doesn’t have to play with the child all day long. The child can learn to self-entertain a little.

    I am in no way trying to say I don’t think you’re a good mother, of course you are. I just feel like you are putting way too much pressure on yourself and could be doing your child a disfavour by not teaching him to respect authority (the teacher won’t find more creative ways to negotiate, he’ll just get in trouble).

    Just one mommy’s opinion, please don’t be offended.

    • I am not offended, just amused that you missed the point of disparity in the sexes in parenting and immediately jumped to ‘fix the child’, and offered supernanny timeout strategies.
      My son is two years four months and I think in most of the scenarios i described, there is really no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, except the way i want it and the way he wants it.
      I agree on larger issues like temper tantrums, harming a child/himself/an animal, there are very clear boundaries and he is more than intelligent to know and observe them. But I don’t agree with your statement that a child that age does not need a listening mommy. I feel that the more we negotiate now, the less we will later, so I am willing to do the work. Also, it is unfair to expect a child that small to ‘self-entertain’ for a period of time longer than a few minutes.
      If I can’t play with him or create a play scenario, i should find a really good substitute and even that takes work. Unfortunately, the nannies here are not supernannies and need more supervising than the child , so it is mostly counterproductive.

      • Actually, I found the bits about the OPU very funny, especially the part about saving him from his own child, as I always hated when the OPU would give me that scared-dear-caught-in-the-headlights look when I’d propose leaving him with the boys while I went to do the groceries.

        SImply, it was that a few of your points really struck me as – I don’t want to say wrong, but I can’t think of a better word. Your child is younger than the article made it seem, but I tried the whole “listening” mommy thing and found myself constantly trying to negotiate or argue with a 2-4 year old. At one point, I realized that I don’t need to justify every single decision. I’m the mommy and I said so. Deal with it. This is exactly the way life works, not everything is a choice, and sometimes you’re only choice is to learn to go with the flow or to make yourself completely miserable. The younger a child learns this, as acceptance is the key to happiness in life.

        Anyway, to each their own, it’s all trial and error in the end. Best of luck to you 😉

      • I know what you are saying, but i feel their whole life is about power struggle, and I don’t want to be the first one to get into powertics with my child. I am okay if the school or someone neutral does it. I would rather be the one who understands and empathises, rather than someone who says “do it because i said so”. I think there is time for that, and this is not the time.

  3. Lalita, good article with candid views. And I certainly do like your writing style a lot. It packs a mean punch.

    I, for one, think that you are doing a fabulous job of mothering and above all, enjoying your son’s company, the time with him thoroughly. Like you said there are no right and wrong methods in bringing up a child. The love, patience and time that you spend on him are of utmost importance. In the final analysis, no matter what you do or don’t do – in good faith – the child will have his own independent ideas about it all when he grows to be a teenager! Today, my tweeny tells me where I go wrong in parenting and what would be a better approach and I take it most gamely. We have our communication lines fully open, dialogue flourishing and immense scope for growth on either side.

    Btw, Lalita, am I outdated or what… I don’t know what OPU stands for! Please educate.

    • Thanks Padmaja. That meant a lot. OPU is other parental unit, an acronym i introduced earlier on in my blogs, so don’t bother explaining it. Sorry, my bad. I thought people who can’t figure will visit the ‘about me’ page to figure, but should have linked it up. I will now.

  4. I’ll tell you what my mum used to tell me ” “Enjoy this age. When your kids are small, the problems/challenges are also small. When they get bigger, the problems/challenges do not go away. They only get bigger. The trick is to take everything in your stride.”

  5. my son is the same age as yours.
    the negotiations…for everything!! oh lord…after i am through with this break from work…i will be ready to join the UN

  6. I so identify with almost every word of this! I have a 2 & a half year old boy. Feeling of solidarity I say 🙂 Gr8 read… Thank u!

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