How I met my boys

BY SAILAKSHMI DEEPAK

As a new mother 10 years ago, I had so many different experiences, some good, some bad, but all memorable. But the one memory that stands out is my obsession about how my child looked like me. His little fingers had a bend just like mine, his chin stuck out like mine, he smiled like me, he had a long face like mine, he walked like me, and he nodded/shook his head like I did….. Three years later the second baby came along, only to see my obsession getting worse. His eyes were just like mine, they had that naughty spark I had, his smile was like mine, his teeth were like mine……

And through all this, I was comparing my childhood with theirs. I recognized that I learnt a lot from the way their father was brought up and how he has turned out to be. So, I wanted them to have all our good traits, yet worried about them picking up our bad ones.

But sometime in the last few years, I have changed – and definitely for the better. Parenting books, parenting blogs, watching other mothers do their job, my own experiences – none of these helped. My kids taught me what was probably staring at me all along. They were just themselves….. both different from us and more importantly different from each other. Yes, their father and I made them, the proof is in their looks, and partly in their mannerisms, but it stops there!

It is better late than never. I have no regrets, just feeling grateful and proud to be able to learn from my babies. Yes, I actually did stop to listen so my kids will talk. I am now noticing so much more about them. I wish I had more time and better memory to soak in all that they are giving me.

My 10 year old wants to be treated like an adult but is still a baby inside. He is always talking about when his upper-lip will sprout hair, when he can go for an outing alone with his friends, when he can carry his own mobile, when he can have a room all to himself, when he can play his guitar like Bryan Adams…… Yet, he is the one who spends hours at the wash-basin making bubbles, begs us to give him a bath, plays with his food, does baby-talk, and worries when I leave him alone even for a few minutes. He does not like wet mess, so painting, cooking, baking, gardening are all no-nos. He chooses his clothes and steps out looking cool, hair spiked, carries a red and white Man-U bag, reads teenage fantasy fiction filled with beasts and battles, and wants to prove he has his testosterone levels building crazy high.

My 6 year old wants to be treated like a baby, but is the closest girlfriend I have. He is always talking about wanting to sleep in our bed, wanting to sit next to us at the table so he can be spoon fed, wanting to be read a bedtime story every night, wanting to be carried upstairs after dinner. Yet, he is the one who spends hours in front of the mirror with his very Bollywood style heroine dance moves, looks at frocks and jewelry when we go shopping, wants to sing songs in his artificial squeaky voice, wants to watch every move of mine when I am using make up, wants to give his two bits when I shop for clothes, or choose what to wear when I go out. He loves messy hands, so painting, cooking, baking, gardening are a big yes-yes. He doesn’t care about what he is wearing as long as it is bright and colorful, hates any hairdo that screams macho, carries a bag big enough to take his books. He reads his Rainbow Magic and goes through his fairy obsession.

They spend time together creating / directing / acting out plays for us, building Lego structures and cities, writing and illustrating books, running a pretend restaurant, pretend library, pretend supermarket, giving us a musical performance – guitar, keyboard, squeaky voice and all, building a zoo, a car showroom, quizzing each other, playing word games, but play to each of their interests and strengths. The outcome of that combination is outstanding. Yet there are times when the older one is kicking his football alone in the garden, while the younger one is cutting out paper dresses for his Barbie. The older one is out riding his cycle, when the younger one is playing in the sandpit. The older one is in the pool, swimming and showing his confidence in the deep side, while the younger one is filling water in his sand toys and swim cap and pretend kitchen in the pool.

I now celebrate their differences, and look at them with pride when they complement each other so well, and enjoy the balance they offer me when I play mom. But more than anything else, I am so glad they are unlike both of us.

 

About the author:

Sailakshmi lives in Dubai with her three boys: 6, 9 and 39. She loves to eat, bake, sing, dance and watch SRK on screen. She loves her job in the library, yet yearns for one in the big, bad corporate world. She hates parenting, but does it because the boys need it.

 

 

Advertisements

My boy loves ball gowns

When Re was three, he used to play dress-up with one of my old deep red spaghetti minis.  It was something I had kept aside to remind me of my thin days, although I usually give most clothes away. Re found it in my closet and asked me if he could wear it. I said why not? I must say it looked nice on him, with his curly locks and twinkly eyes and general poise. He twirled round and round in it and seemed really happy with himself.

It was love at first sight. The red dress and he.

I took a picture. “I hope you are not going to Facebook that,” the husband said, when he saw it.

But the important thing was, we were in agreement that ‘banning’ anything in the early years is the road to rebellion later. So we let him wear the red dress and indulge his ‘feminine’ side whenever he wished.

Was I missing a girl child and that’s why I indulged him? I think not.

Was I trying to unburden him from the constraints of gender? I think not.

I realised that telling him the cliched “Boys wear this, and girls wear that,” wouldn’t work for him. It wouldn’t work for me either.

Every afternoon, Re would return from school and ask for the ‘red dwess’. Sometimes he dressed it up with a sash, sometimes he would ask for bangles or a bindi, sometimes he even tried my shoes with it. We had agreed that afternoons were for dress-up, and he would willingly change into his regular clothes when we went out in the evening. On days that the dress went for a wash, he would be despondent.

Once, he wanted to wear the red dress to the park. My heart sank a little, not because I was ashamed of explaining it to people who knew he was a boy, but because I didn’t want them to think that dressing him like a girl was part of a larger social experiment, from a feminist stand point. I told him he could wear it just once, but then we would have to switch back to only wearing it at home. The lines between yielding to conformity and encouraging self-expression were blurring, even for me. May be I was protecting him from being laughed at, because he wouldn’t know what they were laughing at.

When we went to the US this summer, my friend Amrita wanted to buy him something when she took me shopping. He pointed to a Doc McStuffin bracelet and necklace set at Target. It was his instantly. He wears one or both every single day.

A friend said, “Stop all this, or he will turn gay.” I knew it was coming, but I stayed calm. I tried to explain that there is no correlation between kids cross-dressing and being gay. Maybe it’s a stage and it will pass. Maybe it’s not. But either way, I didn’t want him to feel that he wasn’t able to express himself because we didn’t support him.

Even when Re wore technically ‘baba’ clothes, many strangers still called him “baby” because of his long curls.  I would gently tell them he was a ‘baba’ if they asked. Else I would just let it go. I know it bothers parents when you confuse their kids’ gender, but I was okay with it.

When we moved house to come and live on the school campus where I now teach,  the red dress got left behind. Re missed it initially and still asks about it sometimes, but then he discovered the joys of dupattas and draping. One day, he found a blue sarong that had just the right fall. He draped it around him and pretended it was a ball gown, with tail and all. That was it! The ‘red dwess’ was replaced by the ‘blue dwess.’

I know from experience that some children do not conform to the conventional gender behaviour and Re is one. Some days he loves dressing his dolls, painting his nails and theirs, wearing a tiara, coloring their hair and throwing tea-parties for them; other days, he roughhouses with his cars and pretends to be a monster or a dragon. Of course, had Re been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no one would expect me to justify anything; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes football or Spiderman.

May be there is a more simplistic explanation for all this and we are unnecessarily looking for subtext where there is none. Dressing up is what little boys do. You may think your son is a crusader for wearing women’s clothing in public but actually, he’s just playing a game. He is simply a boy who sometimes likes to dress and play in conventionally feminine ways.

photo(11)

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 29th September, 2014)

Children of no lesser God

In a politically correct world that is duly celebrating the girl child, in a world where it is almost in vogue to wish for a girl or adopt one, I begat a boy.

It was a time when most of my friends were dealing with troubled teens at home or, at the very least, had graduated to baby number two. I found myself telling the husband within a few months of our marriage that we should adopt a baby girl in two years if we don’t have a child of our own. I had, at that point, underestimated our ability to procreate.

Exactly a year after this talk, Re arrived. I, who was proud of my womanhood and had bashed men for the longest time in my gender column, had finally given birth to a man. I felt nothing except mild shock. Poetic justice, I thought. “At least he has curly hair, and my cleft,” I consoled myself. I was ready for another man.

Something told me that this project would not work on auto-pilot. I had no clue about how to raise a man: how to understand his layered complexities, how to let him be, yet let him grow and what to expect of him. Plus, the world around me displayed a kind of reverse snobbery about the boy child. In it, boys are best underplayed, or not played at all. Mothers of boys are constantly scrutinised for subtext. Consider this: Boy throws a tantrum and he is shrugged off as “boys will be boys”. Girl throws a tantrum and she is said to have a mind of her own. Boy climbs on to the table in a restaurant and he is “not brought up well”. Girl does the same and she is slated to be the next gymnast. It’s as though in the race to celebrate our girls, we are trying to pretend our boys don’t exist.

As soon as Re’s hormones surfaced (and they show up intensely close to age two), I was at sea. I think a lot of the confusion arose because of my own expectations from men. We want our men to be sensitive but robust, quiet but communicative, accomplished but understated, generous but thrifty, leaders but followers. We want them to be independent and successful, yet we like it when they can’t do without us.

Boys have to prove they can make good friends, good boyfriends, good husbands, good sons, good brothers and good fathers. The men in my life, whether it was my father, my brother, the boyfriends and the husband, constantly had to prove that they were “men enough”. They still do. We are constantly raising the bar for our men. There seems to be this daunting task of making a good man out of a boy, but it is somewhat assumed that all girls grow up to be good women. And for some reason, mamma’s boy is not as cool as daddy’s girl.

I found myself extrapolating every tantrum of Re, every sign of defiance, and wondering, alpha-male, bad boy or just age? By some twist of fate, Re is surrounded by mostly girl children, whether it is in our apartment building or my circle of friends. The ratio is skewed in favour of girls, at least in our world, whatever the statistics might say. He is usually the aggressee and never the aggressor, and I still don’t know whether I should ask him to fight back or let go. I don’t know what would make him a real man. But I will always be okay with him crying. After all, vulnerability is a valuable thing. It’s what the world looks for, I am told.

I looked. I got sensitivity with bravado (“Don’t hold my hand, mamma. I want to hold your hand”), free-spiritedness with extreme attachment (“I don’t want to go to school, mamma. I want to be with you”), defiance with understanding, noise with silence, aggression with empathy and “I” with “you”. Re hurts easily, he loves animals to a fault, he gives me a foot massage on my wretched days, he puts my cup of tea away, he brings me my slippers, wherever they are, he bakes me mud cakes. He likes cars and kitchens and I don’t care which way he goes. He is often mistaken for a girl, because of his locks. I am asked why I don’t cut his hair and I just try and fix a beatific look on my face and shrug. The real reason is, his locks remind me that he is still me.

So there you are. He is me. I am him.

I realised we can never be enough woman without the man in us and they can never be enough man without the woman in them.

Yes, it’s important to celebrate our girls and boys. But it’s more important to celebrate our children.

Pic by Rahul De Cunha of Treestock

 

This piece first appeared in my column in the Eye section of the Indian Express on 29th July, 2012

Open letter to my three-year-old

 Dear Re

Unlike last year when your vocabulary was still on the verge and I had to fill in the details, I thought I’ll beat you to it this time and write you a letter on your birthday before you slip one under my pillow (yes, the number of times you have borrowed my pen has made me increasingly suspicious). It’s just that I have so much to say, and get so little opportunity to talk these days, what with you being in love with the sound of your own voice. So here goes, in no particular order:

  1. I know you are on a testosterone overdrive, now that you are a raging three year-old  boy and it is evident now that we are on opposite ends of the chromosome chain, but it will be nice if you tone it down sometimes. I am a lady, you see.
  2. I do enjoy it when you go to school, and I love that you are on the school bus now and I don’t have to meet all those psycho mommies at your school gate who are either whining about their kids not eating, or that they missed their gym class or that their nanny ran away with the watchman. You going away makes me want you to come back even more, so that’s kinda nice.
  3. I can multi-task bloody well. You won’t get what that means, since you just missed being a Gemini.  But I can be listening to you, typing on my computer and answering a phone call at the same time. It is not sacrosanct to make eye contact every time.
  4. When you tell me to read you a story, I GET TO READ THE STORY, OKAY? OKAY? I am tired of pretending to read to you and be actually read to. I know you can make up stories, but what do we do with all the books we have?
  5. The cats were here before you came in. They know that I am the boss. Don’t mess things up for me by taking up for them every single time, okay? OKAY?
  6. I know your daddy can lavish you with technology. But I am the only one who can give you time, so, some consideration, please.
  7. I think I have had enough of being nice mommy and I think it’s time for me to show my badass side. So whenever you are on a testosterone overdrive, out she comes.
  8. If someone ever asks you why you wear your hair long, please feel free to toss your curls around like they do in those shampoo ads and say, “Because I’m worth it!”
  9. I know that sometime last year, you developed an aversion to baths, but you have no choice in the matter. You need to bathe every single day, sometimes twice. If that’s not cool, well, so be it. Also brush your teeth. That’s the way it’s going to be, until you find a woman who is okay with you not doing it.
  10.  Whenever you are faking a tantrum, I can tell. I wasn’t born yesterday.
  11. Don’t play back my strategy to me. I needn’t be asked to take big bites if I have to watch TV. The rule was invented for you.
  12. I am happy to note that you are not one of those boys who points at things in the mall and wants to take them home. Please stay that way.
  13. I am also delighted that you are a natural with animals and think you are one of them (which, I secretly think you are, especially, the bath angle).
  14. Make up your mind who your best friend is. I am tired of hearing new names every day.
  15. I know your teacher is sweet. Don’t rub it in. In any case, it doesn’t affect me.
  16. Night suits are not brunch wear.
  17. Don’t keep asking me to “run away”. I just might.
  18. All those toys and books you keep attributing to other people? I got them, just FYI.
  19. I am tired of this good cop-bad cop business and you playing me against your father all the time. Think about this: You will be dealing with me far more than him. So I would advise you to be clever about it.
  20. Yes, your father will be okay with you eating ice-cream for breakfast, wearing nighties to school, not brushing your teeth or skipping baths for days. You still have me to contend with.
  21. But you know what? You are still the funnest person to have around, and I am so happy to be your mom. Thank you for coming into my life. Happy Birthday, munchkin!

Pic: Rahul De Cunha