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.

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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.

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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)

 

The power of three

You never really know who you married until you make a baby with him. I married OCD. Also whiny, hypochondriac, generous, sensitive, caring, affectionate, and someone who loves me more than I care to admit. I also married 40 going on 18 and a gamer for life.

Marriage is complicated. It is also very populated. There are too many people in a marriage. His. Yours. Facebook. Twitter. His friends who don’t like you. Your friends who like you too much. Random strangers looking for subtext in status updates. Singletons trying to find reasons not to marry. Married ones who find a sense of gratification in the fact that perhaps you are as messed up as they are.

Parenting, on the other hand, is lonely. The world is not interested in it; it’s not great copy. It doesn’t have the layered politics of marriage, neither the intrigue of bachelorhood. You bring a human being into the world and you do as much as you can to ensure it grows up into a good human being. You go through the motions. Motions that sometimes debilitate.

Until you have a child, you could be married for years and never compare the textures of your lives. Your childhood. Your attitude to money. Your relationship with friends and family. Your sense of space. Your boundaries. Your hurt.

The minute you become a parent, the differences become glaring. It’s as though the clouds that coalesced into a marriage now want to take their own shape and drift apart — because we think being a parent is more important than being a spouse. And there are questions that never accosted us earlier. There is the urge to rewrite someone else’s upbringing. A desire to fill in the details, to write it in a way that works for you.

A lot of marriage is autopilot. Plate his food. Remind him to eat. Remind him to sleep. Remind him to wake up. Remind him to turn the TV off. Remind him to not game too much. I am good with the rituals. But once I became a mother, they got tiring. Sometimes, the wife wanted to switch off. Because the mother couldn’t.

With the child, I am the bad cop, he is the softie. I am about boundaries. To him, love has no boundaries. There are days when I feel alone in our togetherness, and there are times when I feel together even when I am alone. I realised what happened. I had raised the bar, and I hadn’t told him. Things that were okay until then were suddenly not okay. Everything began to matter.

One day, the notes stopped. Our relationship was full of notes — little post-its dripping with love to remind us of the way we were — on the microwave, on the fridge, on the TV screen, on the bathroom mirror. They are all locked in a little transparent pouch in my bookshelf. I keep looking at them and sighing wistfully. Must write more notes, I think.

“Husband” and “wife” are big words. They come with tags and job-profiles attached. Role models to live up to. Social images to display. But our parents never told us what went into bringing up children. The questions seem banal: How much TV? How much chocolate? How many toys? How important is it to read? But in the answers lies an insidious divide. A “his way” and “my way”.

It is ironic that for the toughest job in the world, there is no qualification or training required. We get to be parents just like that. For most of us, it is like being hit by a thundercloud. But no one wants to admit that they feel unprepared for parenthood, however much it makes you flounder. It is one of the best-kept secrets of any household.

That is why we have pictures. To remind ourselves of what we can be. Pictures are nice. Pictures tell stories. Sometimes they reveal subtexts that we didn’t even know existed. In pictures, we look like a candy-floss movie — integrated, art-directed, and full of joie de vivre.

But real life cannot be instagrammed. We just pretend it’s like a good salad. That the three of us are different things that go into a salad. We dress it up, and then we give it a really good toss. It’s got a bit of each one of us, but the sum total is us. And “us” is delicious.

So every time I feel I am losing my grip, I stare at the wall at a blown-up canvas print of us, obviously saturated with mirth. It could have been the moment. Whatever it was, it makes me believe in “we”. And that’s perhaps how a child can help you fall in love all over again.

pic by Bajirao Pawar

This post first appeared as my column in the Indian Express Eye on August 26, 2012