On un-ambition, the bigness of small things and a love affair

I know. I meant for this to be a new year post, but looks like time has run ahead of me already.

Every year in December, WordPress  sends me  ‘my year in blog’. It’s a pat on the back that includes statistics: how often I had posted, how well the posts had done, how many  new visitors had there been, how many old ones had kept coming back, how many comments, shares, likes, reblogs, and all the things people do to show you virtual love.

This year, they sent me nothing. It’s the sort of thing we do when we don’t have much to say to a friend. We stay quiet, hoping they will understand.

Perhaps they were too embarrassed to point out that I had, indeed, had a more or less abysmal year in blog. At best, there were a few guest posts or travel blogs that I had committed to do. I didn’t post enough, I didn’t engage enough, I didn’t share enough.

Somewhere in the course of 2016, I decided I had nothing to declare.  I felt nothing. No bylines I wanted to flaunt, no articles I wanted to pitch; I was tired of having opinions, a point of view on everything. I was tired of trying to stay relevant. It was as though I wanted some time to be in a state of un-opinion.  I wanted to be the audience, the reader, the observer.  Perhaps after years of putting myself out there: columns, features, reviews, this blog…I felt depleted. It reached a point where I felt I was at the tipping point of social media, as though the boundaries between real life and virtual life were blurred. I had an epiphany when I read this article.

I had discontinued my column, stopped posting on my blog and decided to watch my life go by. It had been a while. I hadn’t given myself the time or the luxury to grieve all that had gone wrong with it. Yes, I was sad, but the tears just wouldn’t come. I was on autopilot mode. I was a get up and go girl, how could I stand still? Stillness was unimaginable. Movement kept me sane. Do this, fix that, plan this, post that.

Plus there was Re. His conversations, his wisdom, things he wanted to share, his energy, his enthusiasm, his never-ending desire to always collaborate with me for things.

But last year, I held his hand and allowed him to lead me. The world also seemed interesting through his lens. Sometimes we have to un-parent to become better parents.

He is an artist; I wanted to learn how to draw and paint too. I joined a small art class. I found joy in watercolor. I was always fascinated by it but too intimidated to try it. 2016 was about trying everything.Like this Shakira song, which Re and I often danced to whenever either one of us needed a pick-me-up.

I found that water was forgiving. And generous. And that even if you never ended up with what you envisioned, it always gave you something to smile about. And that when things dry up, they become different things.

img20161214103425

The earlier competitive me would have said: so when do I get really good at this, start selling my art, illustrating books and whatnot?

The me now said: Wow, I can make a hollyhock. Tomorrow, I’m going to try roses.

I also started taking violin lessons with the same teacher who teaches Re the piano.

The earlier-me would have wondered when would I be able to compose my own tunes, figure chords of songs.

The me now said: Lalli, as long as you don’t touch the second string while bowing on the first one, you are doing fine.

In another time, I wouldn’t have factored these in as victories or even milestones. But now they were big. They mattered.

I became diligent about homework. The earlier me was cocky. She didn’t believe in practice. She thought she was beyond homework. The new me couldn’t wait to get home and do her homework.

I think I like the new me more. I’m falling in love with her..

And there was Amma. When I was tired of being the parent, she let me be her child.

The universe was kind. Kindness came from lovely places. Old friends who I thought I had lost. New friends who I never knew I had. Strangers who wowed me with their generosity.

Whenever I was low or too clammed up to say so, someone always picked me up. Sometimes, all it took was a ping on my phone. A comment. A message in my inbox. Food. Tea. Silence. Words. A mosaic tiling workshop. An evening in a yacht. Goa.

And then there were letters. Postcards.  Books.

A friend sent me Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection and it was perhaps the best gift of last year. It was a letting go of what I was supposed to be and an embracing of what I truly was. With all my glorious flaws and imperfections. I wrote more letters to my future self, in the delicious stationery a friend gifted. How did she know this is what I had to do?

There were many more gifts and several random kindnesses. The universe opened its arms, big and wide, and welcomed me into its lap. It was a year of going back into the womb. Of submitting to the universe  that I needed nurturing, that the child in me wanted to look out the window because she was so tired of looking within, looking after.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned last year was from my friend Jo. I was sharing with her my concerns as a single mother – that I couldn’t orchestrate things beyond a point , that I was beside myself with constantly curating like-mindedness: whether it was friendships for  my child, or myself, that something felt wrong when friendship took so much work. And she said to me what will perhaps be the most valuable parenting advice anyone can ever receive “It’s not about like-mindedness or finding people-like-us. It’s the random kindnesses from people. And it’s mostly people you have nothing in common with.”

She was right. You can’t count on PLU. There is a demand-supply situation out there. What you can count on is the kindness of ordinary people. They may not get the books you read or the shows you watch or the movies you like, but you can count on them when you are trying to raise a child. They are your village.

Some invited me to their homes for a holiday. Some fed me food or words. Some played board games or had meaningful conversations with my child when I was too spent. Some listened. Some spoke. There were free EFT sessions. Inspiring podcasts.Videos. Cake. Jam.

My body was forgiving too. After years of inaction, it was delighted to be stretched,  twisted and contorted by yoga. It was forgiving when my backbends didn’t turn out as I had planned.

I often wondered why people posted shiny happy posts on instagram  while they were actually sad. I know now that they were sending affirmations. Or just expressing  gratitude. And there’s always plenty to be grateful for.

So dear 2016, thank you for all the small things. You deserve a hug. And some roses. Better late than never.

photo-11

Advertisements

An online letter to my mother who is too busy doing motherhood offline

Dear Amma

I am doing something so typical of our times, which is writing an online letter to my mother, as opposed to just saying this aloud to her in person or on the phone. But then, like so many other things that seemed alien in the beginning, for example, the concept of  “parenting” or “work life balance” or “gender neutrality”, I think this is also one of those. You have so much to say to your mother, that you may as well put it out there, on the World Wide Web , so others can find a vocabulary for their feelings too. And it also becomes clearer when you write, doesn’t it? Although I know you believe in the philosophy of show, not tell.

First off, I salute thee. You are a true rock star. You had three children (two of who were twins), a real job, that you managed to keep for 36 years (I am guessing that was enough time for us to turn into adults), you kept our big fat south-Indian family together (in-laws, out-laws, the whole deal) and you are still the glue, you had friends for life (some of whom you still speak to every day), you made every birthday memorable (you still do), you never let go of traditions and rituals and when I look back, I wonder: how did you do it?

mommygolightly with ammagolightly

mommygolightly with ammagolightly

You got Appa to be an equal partner in parenting and got him to be a hands-on daddy before hands-on-daddydom existed. You just threw him into the deep end, he figured the rest. You and Appa defined gender neutrality for us before the term was even invented. It was never a case of who did what. Things just got done, whether it was cooking or time spent with the kids or markets or planning holidays. Never once in our growing up years was the boy-girl divide as strong as I experience in a sometimes overt, sometimes covert way in Re’s world on a daily basis. The two of you define ‘leaning in’ for me.

Yes, sometimes when I was growing up, I longed for the words “I love you”, words I say to Re often enough so he doesn’t forget it. But you made up in actions what you didn’t say in words. I remember you would always tell me, “You will only understand when you become a mother,” and I always thought there was a veneer of martyrdom behind those words. There were times when I hugely underestimated how much you were capable of understanding me, times when I wanted to run away to the hills and start growing coffee and starting a bookshop, times when I wanted to remain forever single, times when I changed careers before you even understood what I did.

I love you for raising me to believe that every cloud has a silver lining, as opposed to every silver lining has a cloud hiding behind that some parents did. I love you for never getting in my way and for all the PTA meetings you never came to, for you trusted me completely and allowed me to be the person I was. I love you for never praising me enough; it was the only way I could have polished myself the way you wanted me to.

There are also times when I get into turf issues with you on Re, and there were enough of those when he was a baby (oh, how much you believed in maalish and swaddling!). There are still times, when you indulge him and I feel like the bad cop, but then I realize, just as I expect you to let go, I must let go too.

grammies are the best!

grammies are the best!

( A version of this post appeared here)

Mother’s Day and what I think it should be

Dipsy and her baby in the bath

Dipsy and her baby in the bath

A few weeks back, our teletubby, Dipsy had a baby. Now Dipsy was gifted to Re by my dear friend Roshni and has been with us for five years, and is still one of the most cared-for dolls we have. This little one was a gift from Sahajo, one of my students at the school I taught for a year, to Re, and was a tinier version of Dipsy.

Re immediately had to make sense of it and pronounced that Dipsy had a baby now. From then on, mother and baby were inseparable. Wherever Dipsy went, her baby went. They bathed together, they slept together, they ate together, they played together. They were a unit.

Hmmm, I thought, as I went into flashback mode of my first few years of being a mom. This is the real deal, isn’t it? You and your baby are a unit.  You are stuck, and sometimes, not in a nice way. Dipsy’s life will now revolve around her baby and her baby will have to be factored in, whatever she wishes to do from now on.

Re seemed to read my mind. The next day, Dipsy was promptly sent off to ‘a party’ as a part of a skit that he put together ( and there are several of those, as he is a single child) . He asked Dipsy to leave as he took her baby to the pool and assured her that he will look after her. Dipsy was free! She had a life!

It was liberating to have a child like him who believed in setting his mother free. Perhaps he knew that as long as his circle of love was still intact and the rest of the family made him feel secure, mamma could also do the things she wanted to every once in a while. Things that may not involve him.

Last week, I was Dipsy. I’ve been away in Srilanka. On a holiday. Alone. When I say “alone”, people still roll their eyes. It’s as though I have vetoed the power of making decisions for myself, and myself alone, once I became a mother. It’s as though not having my child with me on holiday is an unpardonable offense. And the strange thing is, he is with me, in the armadillos I spot, in the shells I collect, in the things I think he would have said.

Finding me in Cape Weligama, Srilanka

Finding me in Cape Weligama, Srilanka

I found some of my thoughts voiced in Radhika Vaz’s stand up act that I attended in Mumbai a few weeks ago. Titled “Older, angrier, hairier”,  she spoke, among other things, on how womanhood is defined by body image, marriage and babies and how your rites of passage are constantly chalked out by other people. She spoke to me, especially in how women are constantly reconfiguring their lives to fit into either their men’s or their children’s lives. I have done this, I thought, but at least I know it.

Ironically, I received three requests to write for Mother’s Day specials during this week. One wanted me to write a light, frothy piece on the cool and liberated mom. Another wanted me to tell mothers how to be cool. A third wanted a list of things one can do to celebrate mother’s day. I turned all of them down.

Because to me, this is what Mother’s Day should be all about. To have the power to say no. To, every once in a while, make yourself a priority. To empower yourself and your children enough to not abuse the whole umbilical cord business. To be able to, every once in a while, access the part of you that got lost somewhere in the whole motherhood business.

It’s also about having the power to say yes. To an inner voice, a calling that leads you somewhere, and it doesn’t matter where it takes you, as long as you are willing to go. And this year is my year of ‘go’.

Because if that’s not what Mother’s Day, means to me, then it has no business to exist.

 

(This post first appeared as my column in the Pune Mirror on 27th April, 2015)

 

Lost and found in motherhood

Last week, I went to visit my mother with Re. Once there, he told me he wanted to stay on for a hundred days.

I did a quick mental somersault and tried not to look excited. I was already plotting what to do for the next 100 hours. This sounded like a dream come true. I was going to be child-free for the next few days (hopefully). I was finally going to be a girl alone! Was this for real?

I made a hasty exit from my mother’s house before he changed his mind. I was not even careful to conceal my excitement. I have never driven so fast in my life. I was high on freedom. I couldn’t wait to spend the rest of the week with me!

First, I went on a sleep overdrive. I never realised I was such a deep sleeper until this week. I didn’t even know I missed sleep so much. I didn’t know that given a chance, I could dream in the afternoons too.

You are told you will lose a part of yourself when you become a mother. So you lose yourself. Then you are told you probably won’t be able to do all the things you’re used to doing. So you stop all the things you had fun doing, things that defined you, that made you you. You are told you will be transformed by this experience in ways you could never imagine and no one could ever accurately describe to you. You start looking for your halo. A few years later, you find there is none. It was never meant to be. And there are no motherhood rehabilitation centres. It’s as though losing yourself was just a rite of passage of becoming a mother.

I knew motherhood wouldn’t be easy, but I had no idea just how hard it would be. And sadly,  the wisdom of motherhood doesn’t came attached with a pair of ovaries. Most of us are still fumbling around, doing things by trial and error, because the books are rubbish anyway. What they call ‘instinct’ is things you figure out as you go along. Some of the changes were absolutely not okay with me but it was up to me to renegotiate my way back into the world.

The good thing was, like most things in life I could do motherhood in moderation. There were days when I felt so much love for Re that I felt I needed little else. There were days when I missed the me I was so much that I felt Re was getting in the way

I was a get up and go woman. I quit jobs, I found jobs. I quit careers, I found careers. I quit men, I found men. I always went travelling in between. Sometimes I even travelled alone.

No, even the all-encompassing love for my child never made me lose sight of the woman I was. I was constantly rearranging my life so that the self-respecting feminist, the loving mother and the ambitious writer could coexist. It was hard. It still is.

When women say motherhood changed them, the danger is that sometimes the change makes them unrecognizable. Few mothers have the time and self-love to indulge in contemplations and machinations of selfhood. Most days they play a false version of their true depleted self, keeping others at a distance, saying only what is expected from a mother: “I’m thrilled, it’s amazing, such an incredible journey, I’m loving every second of it.” I did it too. I did the blissed out new mother dance for a while, while a little bit of my selfhood got obliterated. Fortunately I was totally and completely aware of it when it was happening. I realized motherhood couldn’t complete me. Only I could.

I realised Re deserves better. He deserves the fuller, happier version of his mother. His mother, the reader. The writer. The feminist. The traveller.

Unlike most women, I am unafraid in mother-love. I don’t worry over Re growing into a teen, a man, having to make choices and mistakes, feeling confusion, anger, sorrow, regret. I don’t dread his heartbreaks. I don’t pre-mourn his future disappointments, injuries, illnesses, and setbacks.

Now, after  five years of making difficult choices, negotiating day in and day out, there is still a lot left of me. I am raring to go, write more books, write fiction, write for children, do new things with my life, travel, teach, perhaps even study. Mother-love was not enough for me to feel me. I needed more, and I went after it. That was the only way I could retain my selfhood. That’s the only way I want Re to remember me when I’m gone. Not someone who lost herself in him.

 

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 16th Feb, 2015)

 

2014 for mommygolightly: Thank you for flying with me

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for my blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 140,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 6 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Parenting lessons from burnt cookies

It has been one of those weeks when three generations were coexisting under one roof in my house – my mother, Re and I have been bonding and sharing space and food. Talk is a necessary byproduct of both.Yes, we have been talking a lot.

Grandparents are amazing things. When they walk in, parenting looks easier. My mother can access the parts of Re that I can’t. My father can be the crockey (a game he invented combining cricket and hockey) buddy I can’t.

And it’s often not because of what they do; it is their mere presence that seems to dilute the tedium of parenting. You perhaps realize that you were shaped by them, so it can’t get much worse. They also silently seem to applaud you for everything that you do, even the small things, so it seems worth the while (admit it, you are all looking for points!)

In the true spirit of our family, cooking (and eating) is what mostly brings us together. Every once in a while, my mother gets to watch me play mom and she is intrigued. While she was visiting last week, Re and I got down and dirty with a few baking expeditions (it somehow seemed like better weather for baking) and we made cookies and baked a cake. Unlike my mother who let me in at age eight, Re has been at it since age four.

The thing about baking is that even the most seasoned baker often waits with bated breath to see if the cake has risen. Even if you have a manual, you are never sure you will get it right, much like parenting. I have a few baking buddies. Some give me recipes, others give ideas. The ideas are far more valuable, much like they are in parenting. I have never taken to recipes.

Re stands in front of the oven asking me every microsecond, ‘Is it ready yet?” I have found a way around it. “When you smell the right smell, it’s ready!”

The other day, when it was cookie time, I handed Re the dough and asked him to roll his own cookies. What shape should it be, he asked.

It can be any shape you want, it’s your cookie, I replied.

We made assorted shapes together and no two cookies looked alike.

When we were done, he licked the cookie dough and declared, “Mmmmm, delicious!”

I know how to take a compliment and I egg him on. He has always been generous with compliments and never been hard to please in the culinary space. That somehow makes me want to try harder, however convoluted it might sound. We hungrily devour the entire tray of cookies, and don’t bother with any kind of decorum. (Not even taking the mandatory photo, hence can’t show you our excitingly imperfect cookies)

My mother watches this. She sighs. “You are so free with your child, I wish I had been like you. I was always so caught up with getting it right.”

I am glad she said it and I didn’t.

I remember when my mother let me in on her baking expeditions. There were too many boundaries.  All the cookies had to be the same size and shape, rolled not into a disc, but more of a tetrahedron, and my mother’s watchful eye often made me nervous. When we embellished it, the cherry had to be right at the centre. The baking tin had to be grease-proofed up to every micro square cm. Everything had to be mixed in geometric proportion.

Everyone loves the perfect cookie. But I have learnt that there is no such thing as a bad cookie. That even the hard ones can be redeemed with icecream or some such palliative. And even the really mushy ones have the power to put a smile on your face.  I learnt how not to judge a cookie by its cover. Burnt cookies are my best friends. I learnt that if the cake doesn’t rise, we can always have a crumble.

I see this whole attraction for wholeness and perfection among my students at too. At the school meals, every child wants the perfectly shaped pooris, omelettes, dosas. The rest are rejected. I look at the pile of broken bits and something shifts inside me. Give me the broken bits, I tell the person on duty.

I wanted my parents to understand my broken bits. They just pretended it didn’t exist. They were too focused on my perfections. I spent most of my youth nurturing my broken bits. I am still working on them, as I believe it is never too late. They will always have a special place in my heart. Re gets this, and I’m grateful.

Sometimes I feel like asking my mother for my childhood back. At other times, I am grateful to her for letting me grow up soon. I have significantly lowered the bar for Re, but in doing so, I have lowered the bar for myself too. I am allowed to have bad days and burnt cookies. I am allowed to bake cakes that don’t rise. Or make custard that doesn’t set.

I inherited my mother’s oven and a few of her baking tins. It was an equaliser between her and me. And when I baked my first date and walnut cake in 40 minutes including prep time, my mother asked in amazement, ‘How did you manage that?”

I knew we had made a fresh start.

 

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 15th December, 2014)

 

 

Thinking good thoughts, my a#$%*!

In short, nothing in your life has changed, except that there is a spectator inside you who is taking it all in. The only way you can become the epitome of calm is if you stop going to work, travelling anywhere, talking to anyone, and just staying put and listening to Bach at home. Sure, there were fleeting moments of peace and quiet, when the husband would indulge me with his famous calf massage, pour me an occasional glass of wine or beer (yes!), and we would talk to the baby in dulcet tones. It felt like this was the best time of my life and I had never been so tranquil or centred before.
Till I went to work the next day. And found that life and the universe around me was pretty much the same as before. People were still being mean to animals. Trees were still being cut randomly. Drivers were still driving with their eyes shut and their brains locked up somewhere. Rich brats in posh cars were still pretending that a pot-hole-laden road was the expressway. Colleagues were still slacking off. Telemarketing pests and PR executives were still calling you at 2 p.m. Stock broking companies were still bulk-texting me hot tips at 6 a.m. My mother was still whining about my father.
In the midst of all this, you are expected to be this immaculate, calm mother who will give birth to this angel of a baby who will do everything right, stay happy, never cry and always sleep when you want it to. Such babies and mothers don’t exist and the sooner you learn that, the better it is for you. I found that when I came to terms with my imperfections instead of trying to fight them, I was able to be a much better mother.

(An excerpt from my book, “I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot!”)

View the trailer here: http://youtu.be/DHKMZWyLwjI