What happens to friendships after baby ?

It was Friendship Day recently and although I am not the kind of person who subscribes to such things, I found myself thinking about and examining my friendships after baby, since that’s what my life stage is right now, and feeling grateful for the ones I have still managed to hold on to.

Friendships after baby

Dawn tea on Kovalam beach

What we perhaps give very little credit to is the rites of passage in friendship: Your politics. Your feminism. Your taste in books, cinema, people. Other friends. Bad boyfriends. Good boyfriends. Marriage. Babies. Friends after babies. Social media behavior.

Although it’s not on the top of the list, marriage does get a bad name for ruining many friendships. Various friendship tests had to be passed in ours and he had to be voted either ‘really nice’ or ‘really fun’ by my friends. Somehow, the husband managed one or both. As for his, all you had to do was pretend you liked football and tequila shots, hug like you’re long-lost buddies who’ve met after years, and you passed muster.

Friendships after baby

Having a child changes the ecosystem of your life in several ways; friendship is perhaps one of the things that is often affected. Pre-baby friendships usually suffer during the transition, but the ones that hang in there are the ones to hold on to. When you are single and snazzy, kids are usually fun as long as they are someone else’s. At least I used to have an immense capacity (and resilience) to bond with children of my friends of assorted ages and sizes. I don’t know why. May be it had something to do with the fact that people then seldom talked about their children like they do now, so they were always what I made of them. And that always gave me a fresh slate to work on.

Now I am in a situation where I either have to be friends with mothers whose children are friends with Re, or just hope that he will like some of my friends’ children. The latter is much easier, as the children in question are much older, so have less turf issues. But for the most part, I am stuck with mothers who can’t stop beaming at the fact that their children know continents or can read at six and other such, but who never bat an eyelid when the said child is being unduly aggressive, rude, petty or unkind towards your child. Along with selective hearing, they seem to have developed selective vision. On one play date, I pointed out to a mother (who I also like) about the incessant bullying of her son towards Re. She stared at me vacantly. It was not the first time, and I am sure it won’t be the last. In this age of ‘likes’ and popularity contests, kindness is not a virtue that seems to have much equity.

I do hope Re goes on to have more friends and I hope they are kind and loving, but for now, it seems to be in short supply. I explained my dilemma to a single friend, hoping she would understand. She threw me completely by saying that there is something is wrong with bringing up sanitized children. And that eventually they will all even out. But even as a teacher to adolescents, I saw that they don’t. Behavior goes deeper than phonics. I wish we focused on that in kindergarten.

I hope I am wrong, but I think my ability to wing motherhood so late in my life also alienated some of my friends. It was like I caught a bus they were hoping to be on, or that I betrayed the sisterhood and I felt punished for doing that. The optimist in me, who doesn’t like to give up, most of all on friendships, kept trying. Many texts and emails later, I came to terms with it, but I still haven’t had closure. I wish there was a way to do friendship breakups formally.

As Re grew up, I was, of course, concerned that he find (and keep) a few good friends. Somehow the rolling stone that is a tenant’s life in Bombay made it difficult to keep an address (or a friend) for a long time. But the Gemini side of me acted breezy and said, so what? He can always make new ones. And he did. But when I ask him for a wish list every year on his birthday of the people he wants to have over, I find new people in it, and I miss the old ones. But then, I don’t know what is happening in his mind, do I? Somehow I felt responsible for not giving him a permanent address (read ‘permanent’ friends), but then, I consoled myself that he had a shot at making new friends so often, something that I never did.

I don’t ‘add’ friends easily in the manner of Facebook, but I do get drawn to newness, and somehow a new friend makes me indulge in a friendship courtship dance I often miss, and therefore find myself giving into. Some of my old friends understand this, and understand that it makes me, me. But some don’t and begrudge it. I know we need to clear clutter as we go on, and there are some things not worth holding on to, but I will always have a soft spot for the friends who dumped me unceremoniously. In the end, I guess the friends that are worth holding on to will stay either way.

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Family and other anomalies

photo(3)

This year has been a year of repairing estrangements for me. In the course of this, Re met an uncle and an aunt, two of his second cousins in New York (they had him at Elsa and Anna), and two long-lost (and I don’t even know why they were lost) second cousins in Bangalore. They bonded instantly and Re was teaching Alvi (the one nearer his age) his ballroom moves while we adults chomped on Tex-Mex and found that we were related in more convoluted ways than we thought. “It’s blood,” said the just-found cousin-by- marriage, looking fondly at the kids bonding. But I feel blood as a currency is overrated. It was definitely more than that.

He also met his chittapata (grand uncle, my father’s younger brother). When he was confused what it meant, I told him it was a junior taatha (Tamil for grandpa). Oh, he said. That’s why his voice is like taatha!

I was visiting my uncle after nine years in his retirement home in Coimbatore. I had, in the meanwhile, grown a husband, a child, two cats, a paunch, greyed all over and switched multiple careers. But my uncle and aunt were arguing about dates and family trees just like they always did and it was as though time had stood still. My welcome meal was chittappa’s famous chinna vengayam (baby onion) sambar and potato podimaas (mashed potato curry). That seemed unaltered in its aroma and taste and something told me all will always be well with this family. Chittappa had Re at his favourite semiya payasam, which he had multiple bowls of and declared his stomach was singing a song. Re had him at you-look-like-that-man-who-comes-in-that-ad (read Amitabh Bachchan)

The baby onion sambar assumes a different varietal with every member of our clan. While chittappa allows the baby onions to flirt freely with capsicum and bhindi, my mother would never allow it. She would of course chop the larger ones to equalize them with the smaller ones. She always has an economic agenda which often camouflages as aesthetic. My father would be more flamboyant about his preparation, given everything else he does. He would sautee the baby onions separately in ghee before releasing them into the ocean of sambar. I do my own thing of adding a chopped spring onion garnish to it, which my father finds interesting, although I always thought he would frown at the lesser onion polluting the higher onion.

Family is people who meet you even when it’s not convenient. They show up, even if you don’t like them very much. They never miss a wedding or a funeral. We all have our own take on things, as long as we are allowed to express them. But we have to meet enough to be able to do that. When I was little, there were always weddings, thread ceremonies, house-warmings and whatnots. There don’t seem to be enough of those now, and we have to manufacture reasons to meet family. But sometimes, desire is enough too. I have 15 first cousins. Re has four. He hasn’t even met two of them. I need to manufacture a lot of family for him.

With friends, it’s different. We meet our friends in airbrushed, manicured, orchestrated settings, the stomach is tucked in, the hair is in place, the food is molecular, the lighting is just perfect for ‘likable’ photos.

With family, we are our jagged, bad-haired, out-of-bed selves

I recently messaged a friend who I had been planning to meet when I was in Bombay. She wrote back saying her parents and sister were over, so could we meet another time? I just felt I was not family enough.

Part of the reason I moved out of the city was that I could never count on friends to be family for Re. They always had something more important to do, like family or activity classes or birthday parties, and I was tired of explaining to Re why he wasn’t priority. Since I moved out of the city, I use every opportunity I have in Bombay to reconnect with old friends. Food always catalyses such  reunions and the higher the possibility of it being involved, the greater the chances of my meeting them. Friends or families that don’t do food enough usually fade off my radar.

My friends know that I always show up. So asking me a lame question like “when do I see you?” is not a good idea, because I always come up with a plan and mean to execute it. I make friends so that I can take them home. I make friends so I can find more people I can be myself with. I make friends so they can feel like family.

I was recently at Delhi, spending a few days with Usha Aunty and Vijay uncle. I do this whenever I get a chance. They are not family. They are my dear friend Reshu’s in-laws. I meet them more than I meet Reshu, since she lives in Dubai. We go back as long as her marriage, which I think is 20 years. We discuss recipes of lauki with kalonji, stuffed baby karelas, apricot and tomato chutney. We recently found connections in our families, and realized what a small world it was.

In the end, we all want friends who feel like family and we want family that we can be friends with. But the key is, you have to show up. Eat a meal. Cook maybe. Talk some. Cry some. And no, clicking ‘like’ on Facebook does not count. So before the year ends, try and locate someone from your family tree or your friendship universe. Go meet them, have a meal with them. Tell me how it felt.

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 17th November, 2014) 

An ode to a cat I forgot to hug. And now I never can.

Sometime last year, going to school became easier. There was no resistance from Re, no stress in the mornings about getting him ready, and making it on time for the bus.

The reason was a cat named Harry.

We first spotted him sitting atop a sack of potatoes, just outside the sabziwala at the stop the school bus would pick up Re from.

 

harry sackVery soon, Re and Harry became friends. He woke up every morning, eager to go to school, as he had to ‘check what Harry was doing’. Or where was he sitting today. Bidding Harry goodbye before boarding the school bus became a ritual.

harry 1harry 2And just like that, a cat made my life a wee bit easier. It had happened before too, and I can’t be grateful enough.

There were other animals, Sheroo and Sher Khan, who added more drama to our morning ritual, but Harry always remained special. Harry was Re’s friend, he named him, he called out to him, Harry always responded. For once, I was just a passive observer. Re and Harry had a relationship that needed no intervention.

And sometime last week, Harry went missing. We didn’t see him one day, and asked the sabziwala. He told us Harry was unwell, and a kind girl who loved animals had taken him to the doctor. Every day after that, Re and I would get ready, and make a dash for the bus stop, earlier than usual, hoping to see Harry. He wasn’t there. On day five, I knew something was wrong; the sabziwala told me Harry was in hospital with a kidney failure. He had no number for the girl who took him, so all I could do was wait for more news and pray that all would be well in the end. Today, he finally told me that Harry didn’t make it.

I was shattered. Re still wanted to know why Harry didn’t come to play, but by now, he had made friends with Sheroo and Sher Khan. I decided not to bring him up and waited till Re boarded the bus to cry a silent cry.  I should have hugged Harry. I so should have. But for now, all I can do is write a little ode:

RIP, Harry.
You made potatoes look so cool.
You made the morning bus a ritual to look forward to, as Re and I would gaze at your beauty endlessly and wonder what you were thinking.
You lent gravitas to vegetables, as you picked a favorite everyday. The Sabziwala misses you too.
You gave new meaning to the “truth about cats and dogs”. Sheroo (dog) and Sher Khan (dog) have lost anchor without your disdainful gaze at them every morning.
Did I tell you how beautiful you were? But then, you already knew it, you rascal.
Go, have fun with the angels. Send some pixie dust our way too.
Next time, I will always remember to hug the thing I love when it’s in front of me.

Conversations with a three-year old: Part 4

Oct 9: 7.30 am

Mamma, yesterday there was thundering and lightning.
Oh.
And the rain was pouring and pouring.
And…?
And then mamma’s car is getting wet, and her t-shirt is getting wet and her pajamas also getting wet and her shoes are getting wet and her hair is getting wet.
Oh no.
And the moon was not there.
Oh, then did the moon come back?

No it will come tomorrow. But I have a surprise for you!
What surprise?
The sun is come back!!!! *draws open curtain* See? See?
***
So I wore a short dress after ages and am busy checking out my legs in the mirror.
Re: Mamma, why you are being nangu? Wear your pajama!
***
The bath saga continues:Me: Have a bath!
Re: Mamma, then I am not going to be proud of you.
Me: Is that a yes or a no? Are you going to have a bath or should I make you?
Re: Then I am going to call dadda!
Me: Are you threatening me? For the last time, are you going to have a bath or no?
Re: Then I am not going to be your friend and I am NOT COMING TO YOUR BIRTHDAY PARTY!
***
Re is back from school. “Mamma, the lion boke my gween pajama.””But you didn’t wear a green pajama.
The lion boke it. The lion also bit Shaurya and he didn’t come today.”
Oh no, why did he bite him?
Because the dadda lion was not listening to the mamma lion. He was not paying-a-tention to the mamma lion also and he was not listening to my friend also. I am going to beat him with my tie! I am going to shoo him away!”So saying, the tie is flung on the floor, and the uniform shirt is popped open like hanuman’s chest.Okay, lion, be afraid. Be very afraid now.
***
Re just back from school.
Mamma, there was two continents.
(*Continents? already? wtf??!!*)Then?
Then there was boys and girls.
Then?
Then the boys went to the market and the girls went to the dance party.
Then?

Then they had so much fun.
Then?
Then their mammas was so proud of them.And another eventful afternoon unfolds!
***
Early morning conversation:Why is Chhota Bheem nangu?
Because he has to cross a river to meet his friend, so he doesn’t want to get his t-shirt wet.
Why is Alex and Marty nangu? (we are referring to the friends from Madagascar)
They are not nangu. They are wearing skin-fit clothes, so you cannot see them.
Why Nadia is nangu? (points to the resident feline goddess)
Re, animals don’t haffto wear clothes. Only boys and girls haffto wear clothes.
But Nadia is a girl no?

Friends after baby

A funny thing happens to your friendship ecosystem when you have a baby. There is a huge chemical shift, almost creating an imbalance of sorts, like electrons running amok in an sp2 orbital (those of you who don’t get science, look it up). Or read this.
 As if marriage wasn’t bad enough for friendship. Various friendship tests had to be passed in ours (with my friends mostly, since I am the one who has more history with friends) and he had to be voted either ‘really nice’ or ‘really fun’. Somehow, the husband managed one or both. As for his, the friends were as old as the last clubbing night, and all you had to do was cheer Man U , hug like you’re long-lost buddies who’ve met after years, think costume parties are cool and you passed muster.
For the first two years in our marriage, we were doing fine, and had a roaring social life, despite the disparity in our friends (mine did books, his did shots).
And then the baby happened. Things changed.
Single women suddenly flew off the radar (there are exceptions and you know who you are). I don’t know if it was because we were no longer set-up potential, i.e. we were more likely to know married people with babies, and not necessarily single men so what was the point? Or whether we were in-your-face reminders of how they would like their life to be extrapolated. Or we drew attention to their tick-tock biological clock? Or that they were so used to not having conversation that it was suddenly too tedious? (when you have a baby, you tend to go to places where you can be heard). Or that no matter how hard you tried, they always slotted you as smug-married?
The married-with-no-kids were too busy trying to get pregnant, or trying not to. Or pretending they had the cooler life and didn’t really care about their clocks.
Single men took a deeper interest in you. (Get it, biaatches? If only you had stuck around!). They wonder if this would be their life if they had met women who were interested in their wombs. Also, a child is good arm candy for a single guy.  Good with kids = good marriage potential, and so his equity in the market soars up. I have had so many single guys taking to my baby that I am seriously considering them for baby-sitting on a rainy day. And unlike single women, single men are not ashamed to acknowledge their clock.
New male friends are not welcome by the husband, unless they are spectacularly ugly, really short, love Man U or are gaming buffs. Gay best friend is no longer an option as the husband is homophobic.
You almost wonder. Where have all our friends gone?
And then you realise, you have a bunch of new ones. The married-with-kids. The We- are-as-fucked-as-you are couples. These sooner or later gravitated towards you, whatever your history with them.
Now this is where the power struggle among couples begins.
Two men. Two women. A baby or two. Plenty of dynamics.
You like him, she doesn’t like you. Or you like her, he doesn’t like him.  Or he likes him, but he doesn’t like her. Or you both like them equally, but the babies don’t get along. Or you like them both and the babies like each other, but they live in a different city.
There are other types:
  • Friends who are so working so hard on weekdays that they just want to sack on weekends. Or get trashed with other singletons (somehow a baby seems to demand a code of conduct most people are not willing to put work into)
  • Friends who are looking for that job with the perfect work-life balance.  I read somewhere that it means both your work and your life are equally fucked.
  • Friends who are always “wanting to ask you over”, but don’t, for some strange reason.
  • Friends who say, drop in anytime, but never say when.
  • Friends who forget to reply to emails or messages or (sic!) wall posts. Or ask for a raincheck!
  • I don’t want to get into the hothouse for friends, although there was a time when I met random people every Friday and pretended that they were my best friends. I notice that while people are all very effusive when they meet you, how many homes have you been invited to in the last month? Okay, three months? I mean really invited, not told to ‘drop in anytime’?
I don’t much care about birthdays or anniversaries, but if you don’t hear from me in a month, call /email/ do something. That’s what friends are for. Not random bumping and then saying, “Oh, I was just thinking of you!” No, you were so not. I know a bad lie when I hear one.
So I have decided. I need new friends, because I am tired of working on the old ones and their issues. Applications are invited.
Here is the deal: You should be funny. And compassionate. It is a very tough combination, but I am worth it. Also, you should be willing to do the work.  At least some of it. Which means making plans. Calling us over.  Showing up when we invite you. Thinking weekend getaways. Baby-friendly trips. Lunches. Dinners. Drinks. Games. Whatever you can manage. It doesn’t matter if you are single or married. Baby or no baby. Old or young. Proactive is the key word. Creative is even better.
Okay, here’s a sales pitch. I am good with food. The husband is a great bartender. We have a gorgeous baby and two cats. We are both funny (in different ways). But we have finally decided that we will do the work only to those who do unto us. All you have to do is earn it.

Pet me if you can

A strange but funny thing has been happening with Re.

Since he is growing up with two feline siblings, he has learned to follow his instincts about animals. So while he routinely pets our two, hugs them, sometimes rolls over with them, he has been taught that when in company of a new animal, he must play it by ear.

If he likes the animal (which is all the time),  and the animal is accessible, he is allowed to gently pet, and step back. If the animal likes him back,  or asks for more, he is allowed to pet some more. Till they form a bond or have had enough of each other, whichever happens first.

I find that he applies the same rule to babies and toddlers as well. Yesterday, when I took him to our new favourite park, I saw something that cracked me up. Re was touching every child that caught his fancy on his/her cheek. Following that, if the child didn’t object, he would smile, crinkling his eyes in glee, clap his hands and then rub them on the belly or the shoulder as if to say, “I like you” or “Will you make frandship with me?”

It worked. Perhaps it must have come as a surprise to the said children to be touched thus by another child, considering most of them are  busy trying not to be pushed or shoved around.

By the time we left the park, Re had four new friends. He was also richer by a few grapes (that a girl fed him) and a biscuit (from another boy). And I was grinning from ear to ear.