“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.