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)

 

 

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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

 

I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot!

I'm Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot!Today, I held my second baby in my hands. It felt surreal, perhaps a bit more surreal than when I held Re for the first time. It also took longer to make than Re, but it was immensely more satisfying. The book will be in the stores soon, and you can pre-order on any of the portals below at fabulous discounts. Here is an excerpt, to begin with:

**

‘You will know when you become a mother,’ my mother always told me.
‘Why should I wait so long? Tell me now, I will understand,’ the cheeky me would always retort.
‘No, you won’t,’ she would say, almost resignedly. ‘You just wait and watch.’
And so I waited.
It is very difficult to point out exactly when motherhood begins.
Is it when you finally decide you don’t care if the bra is ugly or not, but it bloody well be comfortable?
Is it when your husband’s boxers suddenly become the most comfortable underwear ever?
Is it when you suppress the urge to scream ‘ASSHOLE!’ at the biker who overtook you from the left in peak traffic, thinking, What if the baby hears?
Is it when pulling your boob out in public becomes the most natural thing to do, and you don’t care if the taxi driver is taking a good look in the rear-view mirror while your partner is desperately looking for something to cover you with?
Is it when you realise that your breast is the solution to all cries, big and small?
Or does motherhood begin when, a week after you missed your period, you finally decided to take the pregnancy test?
Or when you surreptitiously bought the pregnancy kit from the chemist, rushed home to douse it with your urine, waited
with bated breath for the verdict, and decided, yes, there must be something growing inside me?
Or when you were pacing up and down the house, waiting for your husband to come home so you could tell him, ‘I have some news!’?
Or when you held a report in your hands that enlisted the potency of the pregnancy hormone in your body?
Or when the sonologist pointed to something on the screen and said, ‘Can you see that? That is the baby’s spine!’? When you squinted your eyes, trying to look intelligently at a visual you could make no head or tail of? When you mumbled a ‘Yes!’ just so you don’t end up looking like a cold, non-maternal bitch?
Or does it all begin when you felt the first sign of movement within you? The first kick?
Or the day you ate an ice-cream cone and heard someone devouring it inside you within seconds?
Or when you suppressed the urge to run across the street with your very pregnant belly and decided to wait for the green signal instead?
Or when you were handed, along with a baby, a card that read, ‘Infant of (your name here)’ at the hospital, post-delivery?
Or when you turned over in bed, and decided you have to be careful, as you might roll a tiny someone else over, or crush him or her?
Or when someone infinitesimally small latched on to you and began to suckle, and you and your husband gave each other a we-made-this look?
It is hard to decide exactly when you become a mother.
But this book is not about motherhood really. For starters, it is about you, and not about the baby. The you that sometimes gets
lost in the whole pregnancy and motherhood journey. The you that can be angry, sad, silly, excited, confused, wicked, rude, girl, slut and everything un-mommy. The you that is spending lonely nights, tossing around in bed with a heavy belly, while the husband is watching television. The you that is silently cursing, muttering, wondering why sleep is so elusive when the world is expecting you to ‘talk to the baby’ or ‘think good thoughts’.
The you that sometimes looks at your significant other and wonders: Is that the father of my child?
The you that shudders to think how much your life is going to change with motherhood. And how irreversibly.
The you that hasn’t really fathomed how to do motherhood.
The you that sometimes wants to make it all go away – the man, the marriage, the pregnancy – and be footloose and fancy-free again.
The you that knows that soon, your goals and ambitions may not be a priority and that you will always have to put someone else’s interest before yours.
The you that is excited and petrified about motherhood, yet has no clue what it really means.
The you that will wonder (mostly in anger), Now why didn’t anyone tell me that?
The you that will never be the same you again.
This book is about the Jekyll and Hyde of being pregnant. And being a mother. It’s about the happy stuff, but it’s also about the ugly stuff – the stuff that makes you mean, even vicious, while still feeling oodles of love for the thing you just created. The stuff that makes it okay to kill anyone who comes in your way of doing things the way you think is right for your baby.
Because it’s far from rosy out there. And it’s not about knowing when your ‘foetus’ will be the shape of a lemon, an avocado, an aubergine or a pumpkin. Or when will it grow a heart, a brain,
lungs or kidneys. This book is not about finding out how to get your body or your sex life back.
I only summoned the courage to write it when my husband read a sort of chapter and told me it had him riveted. And he wasn’t even pregnant.
Perhaps it should have been written during my pregnancy. Or during my baby’s initial months, in real time, when one could feel it all, much more intensely.
Perhaps. But it would have been too raw, too real, too debilitating.
A friend even suggested I get pregnant again and do it like a diary – he just escaped getting disfigured by me.
So it took time. It took healing. It took really long to feel ‘me’
again.

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48 ways in which you changed my life: A birthday post

Around this time four years ago, I was packing my bag. No it wasn’t that kind of adventure-laden bag, rather it was a hospital bag that I was packing, ticking off items in my little black book (still have it!), getting ready to give birth, annoyed that the child inside had already overstayed her welcome (yes, I kept thinking it was a ‘her’). Finally, a boy arrived, and I first thought I’ll return it, but then I chanced upon a curly top and a dimpled chin and I thought he could stay.

 


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Four years later, I am still reeling under the shock that I am a mother. To a boy!  I thought I will celebrate Re’s birthday (June 23) with a list. I love making lists. So here’s a list of 48 ways in which Re has changed my life (for the 48 months that he has been in my life.) (Disclaimer: It’s not mushy)

1. I have my tea in seven installments. The first two are perfect in temperature.

2. My idea of alone time is sitting on the pot.

3. My baths have become longer, especially when you are in the house. I am okay with opening the door and looking at the drawing as long as I can shut it back on you.

4. I have begun to really respect silences. And people who don’t talk much. Or ask why.

5. My definition of bad hair days is changing rapidly.

6. When I say ‘I’, and the father thinks ‘we’, it makes me really mad.

7. When I say ‘we’ and the father thinks “I’, it makes me even madder.

8. I have learnt that collaborating with a good cop is a really bad idea, so I just don’t listen to your father anymore.

9. I never cared much about nighties, but if on any given night, you don’t want to wear them, I become obsessed with them.

10. I am on first name basis with Cinderella, Ariel, Flounder, Rapunzel, Chota Bheem, Maya the Bee and Tatonka.

11. I have begun to appreciate the joys of nakedness after watching Chota Bheem.

12. I sometimes see the music in whining. Yours and your father’s.

13. I mostly don’t.

14.  I have found the joy of saying everything in triplicate. No, make that quintuplicate.

15. I love schools and any place that will take me away from you.

16.  I love my parents much more now. Especially when I leave you with them.

17. I take it in my stride when my friends ask me about you before they ask me about me.

18. I am obsessed with baths. Not mine, yours. And your father’s.

19. I often dream of being marooned on an island, and feeling very happy about it.

20. I have learnt to lower the bar for cleanliness, order and punctuality.

21. I think folding clothes is a waste of time.

22. And ironing is overrated.

23. I can be friends with women I don’t give a shit about just because their kid likes you.

24. I have a point of view on parenting. It’s called “My way”

25. Each day, I find seven new ways in which your father is annoying.

26. I can spend an hour looking for a Barbie shoe.

27. Or a lellow colored kydayon!

28. I am constantly reading books on “How to tune off”

29. I use you extensively as arm candy. It always works.

30. I have started hiding things I really love to eat. Like mango gutlis and white chocolate.

31. I am excessively allergic to OCD. I can’t understand what’s wrong if the shoes are not aligned on the shelf or if the purple crayon is next to the yellow one.

32. I cannot stand people whose sentences start with “You won’t believe what my <insert name of child here> did today!”

33. My desire to ask my mother what I was as a child is overwhelming.

34. I need a drink quite often.

35. On good days, I want to trace my family tree.

36. I love my cousins. Especially the ones who’ve made babies.

37. I suddenly want my siblings to have babies, so that there is some equality in our suffering.

38. I am trying hard to be really annoying so you disqualify me as the object of your affection and move to someone else.

39. I look at my non-communicative cats in a new light.

40.  My love for you is inversely proportional to the time spent with you.

41. I love watching you sleep. It makes it seem worth the while.

42. I have bitten your cheeks several times while you were sleeping.

43. When someone says good things about you, I am very happy to take the credit.

44. It pisses me off that your curls look good even on bad hair days.

45. I call my mother. Very often.

46. I always say “lovely pix!” when someone posts baby pictures. Even if they are ugly.

47. I love doggy bags. It’s one less meal to plan.

48. I am becoming addicted to your hugs. Please don’t stop.

disney

About a moon

Re has a special thing for the moon. Every night without fail, he looks out for it and when it is not visible, he asks, “Has the moon come?”

Some days we can see it from our living room window, some days we actually walk back with it. Some days we sight it from the park, or on our way back from the beach, or driving back, from the car.

Last week, Re and I were driving back from the library and Re claimed the moon was ‘follering us’. And indeed Mr Moon tailed behind for quite a while and then, the car took a right turn northwards and suddenly, he vanished out of sight.

“Oh no! The moon has taken the wrong way,” he exclaimed.

Oh, really?

“Yes. I think he got lost!” Re seemed very concerned.

“Don’t worry. He’ll find his way back. He should just ask somebody for directions,” I replied.

“Yes, moon must ask for dilekshuns!”

Which I am sure he did. Because by the time we reached home, there he was, again.

The other day, it was new moon day and Re as usual was looking for his favourite evening buddy. I pointed out the crescent and said, “Look! There he is!”

“No, that’s not the moon. That’s the moon’s cuzzin.”

And that’s how the gibbous moon came to known as the moon’s brother and the half-moon as the moon’s sister. There are no-show days of course. When I tell him that the moon has gone for his cuzzin’s birthday party. Or to his naani’s house. Or that it’s a holiday and he is still sleeping, so will come late tonight.

Some day, I will have to tell him that they are all just one person. Right now, I don’t have the heart, so I am letting Re enjoy the visual of a large moon family, complete with dada, mamma, cuzzin, brother, sister and whatnot.

To Re of course, the moon is whole, luscious and in all its glory. We still haven’t got talking about waxing and waning, although a friend, Meera sent me this delicious story about it.  I am planning to read it to Re soon. You can read it here:

Someday we are going to ask the moon over for a playdate. And his cuzzin. Yes, we are.

You are invited too.

The story of a Bourbon biscuit

It’s a weekday evening. Re and I are driving back home.  I have made an exception today and given him an entire pack (small of course) of Bourbon biscuits. As he devours them, one by one, I stare lustily. I am not big on chocolate or biscuits, but somehow the “I want to have what he is having” thought crosses my mind.

“Can I have one?,” I ask.

He hands me one, in  a rather grand gesture and says, “Take!”

I wolf it down greedily. Greed now takes the better of me.

“How about one more?” I ask, rather meekly.

“You cannot have one more becoz you are big. I am small no, so I can have one more. Then ony I can be stronger and bigger.”

“Then I want to become small also. Can I become small?” Now I want it real bad.

He ponders. “But you can only become big small. You cannot be small small like me.”

I rest my case.

 

 

 

Friends with benefits: The art of mommy dating

photomargarita

There is a time when you pick up your child (somewhere between zero to six months) and think that you could gaze at it forever and nothing else matters. That feeling—and that foolish rush of hormones—quickly passes. Somewhere along, you realise that you and the child cannot really entertain each other without getting on each other’s nerves. You need company. Friends. And if you, like me, haven’t married your neighbour or are a decade too late in ‘settling down’, you need new friends.

Location is key. Any friend who is not around is no good, even if she makes the best dips or can tell the best stories. My BFF, childhood friends, in-case-of-breakup-friends, hostel friends, work friends, the friends I made when I was on the prowl—had all been packed off to different corners of the universe. So there I was, all alone, with a child, faced with the ordeal of making new friends. Slim pickings attained a new meaning.

Enter the mommy date.

Mommy dates are actually play-dates in disguise. You make it about the child, because it’s legit. But what you are really interested in, is the mother. Will you click, will there be laughs, conversation, wit, sharing, food, travel, sleepovers?

So you put yourself out in the market as someone who is dateable. You lurk. In schools. Parks. Book stores. Libraries. Twitter. Facebook. Luckily for me, Re is enough of an arm candy. But that puts additional pressure. I have to be nice.

Finding everything that you want in one mommy is as hard as finding all you want in one man. The only difference is, when you come close in the latter, you end up marrying the guy. Here, you can date forever.

Some mothers you have instant chemistry with. One has a sense of humor. One makes cupcakes. One knows the best deals. One can cook. One can paint. One is good with animals.

Since I am a romantic, I don’t believe in playing hard to get. I invite them home, plan lunches and tea around them, bake cookies for their kids. I make the move.

It takes work. It takes heart. It takes the ordinary. The extraordinary has issues. The ordinary listens. The ordinary has empathy.

Like conventional dating, there are a few ground rules:

First you have to like her.

Then your child has to like her child.

If it goes to the next level, well, the husbands have to like each other.

Men have it easier. They don’t have to go through the prowling, the small-talk, the scanning, the short-listing. They enter the game once the groundwork is done. It’s almost like, “Here is a child and parents I’d like you to like. Now you better!” No wonder they go through it with a strange sense of passivity, unless they really click with the other daddy (or mommy) and want to make them endless rounds of margaritas. Mine has his favourites, and thankfully, things are still going steady and our margarita pitcher always runneth over.

But unlike a bad date with a guy, a bad mommy date is worse. Especially if there was hitting or throwing up involved. But the tricky part is that even if the date turns sour, she or her child will continue to be in your universe. There are just so many parks and public spaces and schools.

I am no serial mommyniser, but just for clarity, I decided to list down my type:

1. Moms who are curious. About people, things, food, me. (There is a thin line between curious and gnawing.)

2. Moms who like food. Who know food. Who eat food. Who serve good food.

3. Moms who are low maintenance are particularly valuable (read that as those whose kids will eat anything and sleep anywhere)

4. Moms who have no trouble asking ‘What’s in it for me?”

5. And lastly I like moms who are spontaneous. Who don’t have to consult charts or tea-leaves before confirming a beach-date or a weekend getaway.

I have learnt the following from the rules of the mommy-dating game:

1.       If she likes you, she will invest in you. Time, food, toys, books, babysitting, pet sitting, alcohol.

2.       If she doesn’t call you back, someone else will.

3.       If she loves you more than you love her, it’s good for you and your child.

4.       Interesting mommies don’t always have kind kids and vice versa. It’s a chance you take.

5.       “Let’s do a play date” is the new “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

6.       “Come over anytime” doesn’t mean a thing.

Things happen. You get stood up. You get served bad food. You host and don’t get hosted back. You are bored and want to leave but can’t, because the children are doing fine. There will be times when you are at a loose end. When there will be no plan B. But one thing I have learnt to accept is that in mommyhood, as in dating, chemistry is overrated. Ultimately the mommy (or the man) to keep is the one that is willing to do the work.

 

(This post first appeared as my column in the Indian Express Sunday Eye on 6th January 2013)