Yes, it’s curly and yours is not, but stop touching my hair!

photo(3)In my post-birth delirium, one thing I remember vividly was spotting a head with a mass of curls and feeling slightly kicked that Re got my hair. I realize now that I hadn’t really prepared myself for the aftermath that looks like it’s going to last at least a few decades if not more, and the spectacle that is curly hair.

In a world of mostly monochrome straights and apologetic waves, curly stands out. It has spunk, it speaks, it has texture, so yes, it does attract. One thing Re noticed about himself quite early was that he was different, mostly because no one else had hair like him. No, the difference hasn’t bothered him yet, but I can tell that his hair is the object of envy, amusement and intrigue in mixed proportions to most of the universe around him – children and adults alike, in fact more adults than children.

When it’s a child, he is able to express his annoyance at being hair-teased. But often, it is an adult, and very often, it is someone we know, and although he dislikes the ruffling and the touching, he is often unable to express his feelings regarding the same.

Last year, we moved to a more holistic space for education, where there is more tolerance and mutual respect than the world outside, and although the jibes/remarks about the hair reduced significantly (as did the endless questions on why does he sport long hair if he is a boy), we are still far away from having his hair left alone.

Often the people touching are parents themselves and while they may have defined boundaries for their own children, somehow the same doesn’t apply when it comes to others. Re is an attractive child, and the curls somehow make him even more so, and I find that he bears the brunt of constantly getting his hair ruffled by random people (when he had fluffy cheeks, it was hair and cheeks).

I wonder why they do that. Perhaps they have never seen or felt curly hair before. Perhaps they are touching it to see if it’s real. Perhaps they want to see how it behaves when touched. Whatever the reason, it seems equally pathetic.

I remember my grandmother had thick, long hair, curly hair that we seldom saw, unless one of us happened to be around to watch her unveil her towel post a head bath, when a crop of tight, mostly black, long ringlets would come cascading down like Rapunzel. I loved her hair and wondered why she didn’t let it down more often. Now I know. Too much attention.

Since my mother (of soft, fluffy curls) married my father (of thick, unruly curls), she begat the three of us with almost equal intensities of curls, with my twin siblings getting more of the ringlets than me. Re, it appears has got the best of our cumulative genes.

But I am sure my mother went through similar experiences with us too. Perhaps her way of working around it was to always ensure our hair was tightly combed and tied (or plaited, for us girls), and my poor brother always had a close crop after his first few years; it ensured his hair never grew to the length of defiant curls, which meant there was very little handling.

I did no such thing with Re; it took me so long to celebrate my curls after the initial decades of curl imprisonment, that I let his grow in wild abandon, and only give him a haircut when he asks for it. We are both happy in the bargain, celebrating our curlies.

But it led me to worry about other things. It woke me up to something bigger, and far more daunting. How many times do people (known and unknown) cross the line when it comes to touching our children? How much can we guard our children against this? Why is it so hard for some of us to respect another’s space, especially a child? Why are we unable to express love without touching a child? How many times do we ever ask a child whether it is okay to pick him up? Pinch her cheeks? Hold her hand? Rub her back? How would we feel if someone constantly did this to us?

Each day, our children are constantly touched in ways they don’t want to be and often we are around too, but we can’t seem to do much about it.  Imagine a child’s frustration on having his/her space constantly violated and not being able to do anything about it. When Re comes complaining to me that he was touched by so-and-so or so-and-so pulled his cheeks or picked him up, I tell him, “Just say you don’t like it. Ask them to stop.”

“But they don’t listen, mamma,” he says.

“So let out your loudest scream to scare them away,” I said.

So each time I hear Re scream, I clap a little clap in my head. Yes, he is learning to say no, I think. But a part of me is deeply saddened by the fact that he still has to.

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 5th January, 2015. Do write to me on in case you wish to share something.)


Table for three

I ran into a friend-in-law (can’t think of a better term for the OPU’s friends) the other day, post an afternoon at the museum with the child, just when we were attacking our fennel infusion pasta (me) and chocolate milkshake (Re) at a neighbouring cafe.

After the first enthusiastic greeting, our conversation went something like this: “Where are you? You are never to be seen! Why didn’t you come to Wild Wednesdays?” (something in between wonder and cynicism in her voice)

“Well, I have given partying rights to the husband. And in any case, I am not into wild nights anymore; I just don’t have the temperament for it.” (Need I add that the aforementioned party required you to come dressed as your favourite animal?)

“Oh, maybe we should organise a brunch for you,” she said, in the manner of someone offering a consolation prize.

She didn’t realise that I had already left the conversation.

I know what you are thinking. What’s the big deal about having a night-life post children? A “real” social-life, hanging out with randoms at places where you can barely be seen, forget heard? Where you are saying “Awesome!” to all and sundry, while holding drinks that could buy you dinner somewhere?

Oh, come on, you can do it, you might say. What are nannies, night crèches, parents, friends for? Yes, I know I am missing out on a lot of scintillating conversations and company. But you don’t know what I’m thinking. I’m thinking, “This is my chance to trim the extraneous matter from my life. I am so going for it.”

Perhaps, this is one of the fringe benefits of having a child. You trim down. You cut out the riff-raff. You find it easier to say no. You become selective about who you spend your time with and how. You realise that the friends who invite you home and the ones who come over to see you are the ones you want to keep. (The ones who cook for you become topmost in the hierarchy).

You begin to strike off the ones who say, “Let’s catch up” (and never mean it) from your list. Or the ones who send a bulk SMS for their birthday bash, which is a paid-for, food-deficient, alcohol-fuelled event, chiefly populated by 30-somethings who always keep their sunglasses on. No, I am so not missing all of that. Having a baby gave me a legitimate reason to not see the people I didn’t enjoy seeing. It would have been rude to tell them, “You are so shallow and boring; I really don’t enjoy your company.” However, “I have a baby at home” sounds good and grants you immunity.

So my social life is currently a movie with friends I want to catch up with, friends I have over and friends who will have me over, parks and theatres and play-dates and, of course, weekend breakfasts and lunches with the OPU and child. On some such outings to manicured fine dining places (the OPU doesn’t do basic), the child collects all the cutlery from the table and the neighbouring ones and opens a stall. Sometimes, he wants to try a headstand. Sometimes, he wants to pretend we are trees and climb us. Or pretend that he is a lion and we are “his people”. Sometimes, he just wants to take his animal entourage (all 16 rubber toys) to lunch. With a child, every outing is an expedition, every routine, an adventure.

Most of the times, we get beaming looks (“You made that?”), sometimes we get the “This too shall pass” nod, at other times we get the “Poor you!” look and very rarely do we get the WTF look. The funny thing is, the ones giving the look are more often parents of older children. The been there, done that kind. Clearly, they have short term memory, because they have forgotten what it was like. But that’s the thing about children. You always forget the bad parts.

Yes, children in public spaces can be a bit overbearing at times. But not as much as adults who go around pouring glasses of wine on an ex-lover’s head. Or slapping random people at parties. Or shooting someone because they weren’t served alcohol. Why is the focus always on well-behaved children? Why is there not an equivalent demand for well-behaved adults? Why is it that every time a child cries in an airline, everyone turns to look around like it’s the most abominable thing ever, but if an adult is a nuisance on his mobile phone or asks the stewardess for one drink too many, no one bats an eyelid?

The thing is, children are meant to be seen and not heard. So a baby came and peekabooed you? Not on! But an adult dropped wine on you? He was just having a bad day.

(This post initially appeared as my column in Indian Express EYE on Sunday, June 10th 2012)