On most days, I have absolutely no idea how to be a parent. I barely know how to do marriage. But then, work on that can wait, because husbands take a long time to grow up. Children, on the other hand, grow up before you can manage to finish reading that book about how to talk so kids will listen. Or what to expect in month 31, week two, which is where I am at with Re currently.
As you can see, I didn’t really do my research on the baby thing. I do know a thing or two about how to write good resumes or how to make a mean banana and chocolate chip muffin or hummus you’d want to pay me for. Or how to find the best outdoorsy things to do with my child or how to make friends with mommies I would normally never speak to if I weren’t a mother.
What then, am I doing writing this parenting column? I have to reason it out in my head; Help came in the form of a line Kareena Kapoor throws at Imran Khan in the recent Ek Main Aur Ek Tu. I am the ‘perfectly average’. I don’t do too much or too little of anything. I make mistakes, I sound foolish, I am never afraid to say “I don’t know”, and I will try anything. I am constantly amazed at parents (and it doesn’t matter if they are ahead or behind you in the baby hierarchy) who have the answer to everything, from visual stimulation to building motor skills to diffusing a tantrum. Okay, I should have read those books, but Re never let me. Also, a random page of one of them said something to the effect that you must maintain a Zen state of calm whatever the child may do. That made me swear off the said books completely.
The funny thing is, the more time I spend as a parent, the more flummoxed I get. Children have that knack of messing with your head just when you think you’ve figured them out. I decided I will simplify parenting into a neat little rule that I pin up in my little head, and it is this: For every Kodak moment, there is an equal and opposite What The @#$% Moment.
So, if the child gives a sterling performance at the table, it might turn into a demon during a bath. Or, if it sits pretty in the car seat, wearing its seat-belt without a whine, it might want you to stop abruptly in peak traffic as it wants to count the windows in a house it fancied or say hello to a “red tree”. Or, if it planted a wake-up kiss on your cheek in the morning, it might suddenly announce it wants to wear its pajama suit to school. Or, if it eats real food with a flourish, it might have a problem with the dal premixed with the rice. Or the chapati touching the sabzi. Or, if it is one of those children who can play for hours on its own, it might turn into a screeching banshee on a perfectly planned play-date with your best friend’s daughter.
There are days when I can laugh at it. There are days I can only cry. There are also days when my irrational self wants to outdo the child in the tantrum. Okay, I am not as mean as I sound. Children are mostly cute. A good camera, great lighting or interesting props make them cuter. The point is, WTF moments are rarely photographed. People are inundated with smiley, happy, picture-perfect baby moments and they think this is the way it is. And they are convinced, “Oh, yes, we want one of those!” And a baby continues to be born every four minutes.
Recently, we had a potential WTF morning. It was a Monday, and the husband and I had woken up early for Oscar watch. Nervously, I made our beverages (coffee, him, tea, me) and sat myself down. Half hour into it, Re walked in, beaming, noticed the parental units riveted and announced it’s Madagascar (favourite breakfast cartoon movie) time. The husband and I tried to pretend we didn’t know what he was talking about. We got him breakfast, settled him at his table and continued watching the Oscars. A few shrieks and fist poundings on the table later, the tension in the room was palpable. We decided to try something new. We held our own. It was no longer about Jean Dujardin vs George Clooney. Or Meryl Streep vs Glenn Close. It was us against what we made. Surprisingly, we won.
(This article first appeared as a column in the Sunday Eye of the Indian Express on 11th March 2012)