Losing me, finding me

me time

Every now and then, and sometimes for periods longer than you can control or imagine, you do lose track of the one thing that makes you “youer than you”, as Dr Seuss would say. When you have a child, you may go for a long period before you decide to do something about it. In my case, luckily, I am quick to recognise the symptoms (Re’s reminding me of my shouty voice is usually an alert) and sometimes, being a person who does things on impulse helps. There is only so much you can plot your life; everything else is chances you take (or don’t take)

This weekend, I packed Re and one of his friends into the car and took off on a road trip to escape the festival din in Mumbai. The idea of course was to shut down (at least temporarily) the several channels of communications that had once again, become a part of my life. Of course reuniting Re with the landscape where he had spent a great year and made some good friends was part of the plan. But mostly, it was about me.

I know putting the self before the child is not a parent thing to do; we have often been conditioned that parenting (at least lead parenting) is the road to continuous martyrdom. But I decided to rewrite the rules a long time ago, realising that only when I am happy can I truly and completely give to my child. Or anyone, for that matter.

Re and I have reached that place of peaceful coexistence where he and I can do (separate) things that make us happy, as long as our channels of communication are fully open. He still needs to share a lot with me, as do I, with him.

We went back to the school where I taught for a year, and just being reunited with the space that calmed us down, and distilled us a wee bit as human beings did great things for both of us. While Re was busy reclaiming the land, the lake, the mountains, the trees, the swings and his friends, I was finding the me that actually stopped to stand and stare. The me that found hidden treasures in every square inch of the landscape, sometimes in the faces of the children I taught and those I didn’t teach, but who shyly made eye contact with me. The me that found new stories unfolding in trees that had been standing for years. The me that gazed for an hour at a wild banana plant that had flowered for the first time in four years. The plant that had sprouted out of nowhere by the roadside and grown unattended, untended to, weathering sun and hail and heavy monsoon, and often appearing to have died. I had an intense conversation with a botany teacher who was excited that I was interested in the backstory of this plant, and she told me how it revealed layer after layer before it announced it’s grand finale as a full blossom. I could see myself in this plant. I felt as though Re’s arrival in my life had actually helped peel several layers of me, revealing my true self.

I signed up for a folk dance workshop with my students on campus. I have been a dancer in my early years; it’s something I was trained for and good at. But somewhere along, I had stopped being a student and that was the end of me. Now, inspired by this banana plant, I was ready to start all over again. I was weary and tired and my body didn’t feel lithe and graceful like it once did, but hey, I was on the road to learning.

I then realised that being a teacher has it’s limitations, but if you are a learner all your life, the sky is truly the limit.

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 22nd Sept, 2015)

 

In search of the elusive “Me-Time”

BY BHAVANA VYAS VIPPARTHI

‘It’s weird being a wife.

A very good friend of mine had just gotten married. She was the last in our group to do so while the rest of us were swapping mommy advice and baby pictures.

“Did u struggle with this?”, she asked. Suddenly becoming a Mrs.So-and-so, from being single and carefree?

“Yes, I did,” I told her. But you get used to being a couple over time, from being solo to a part of a set of two. A unit. It sinks in slowly, its not like you can just throw a switch right?

Then I became a mother.

It was not as much as throwing a switch, as much as being instantly and permanently transformed for life.

When you become a mother it’s like jumping in head first right into the deep end. There is no looking back, no escape route, nothing to do but give it your all and try to stay afloat.

The first three months were the hardest for me and especially the first two weeks. I had a blissful pregnancy and had read up lots on being pregnant.

But when the baby came home, I didn’t know which end was up, how to get a good latch going without stripping down to my waist or how to handle the constant stream of visitors and family camping out in the house.

I hadn’t slept since my water broke (it’s been a year and I still haven’t gone past three full hours). And I was in constant pain from my engorged boobs and the C-section scar.

I was a mess. I remember just looking forward to the next dose of painkillers so I could stand up straight as I walked around with the “bundle of joy”. While everyone posed for pictures with the newborn, I quietly cried in the bathroom.

My other mommy friends jumped in to help. And I thought the best advice I got was to find some ME time. Huh? What? “ME-time?” was there still room for a me in here? The MOTHER had swallowed up my whole world. There was no break, no pause, no end in sight to the constant changing/feeding/burping/washing cycle. Plus you had to make all the decisions about this helpless little life form that you brought into the world. Breastfeeding/not co-sleeping/cloth diapering. But more than all that, it needed only you to survive and failure was not an option.

In all this where was the “ME-time” hiding out?

Soon enough I got used to a routine. It didn’t get easier but I learnt to deal with it better.

The extended family left, along with the pain and the uncertainty. What stayed was the marathon feeding sessions, the never-ending laundry and the sleepless nights.

The baby got on a schedule and we got to know each other better. Finally some “me-time” now?

“You have to make an hour for yourself a day, at the least,” they would say.

A whole hour alone? It seemed like an impossible reality. Here is where I would look for that elusive animal.

After the baby is asleep at night

After I put him down for the day, I need to feed/ play with the dog (who is sulking from being ignored all day in favor of the baby), fight the laundry monster, figure out what’s for dinner that night and drink a ton of water. Feeding before bedtime leaves me feeling like a raisin. (Yes I feed to sleep, if you can help me find a way out of this, please do drop by)

My son wakes up every two hours to feed. Every single night. Even after a big bellyful of dinner. He just turned one year old and something has changed so we do have rare nights where he sleeps for 3-4 hours at a stretch, which I spend jumping out of bed and rushing to his room to see if he is still sleeping.

Me – time? Does it count if I am dreaming of it during my catnaps at night?

Meal times

When the baby is exclusively breastfed, there is no replacing the mother. Convenient for every one else, but that’s the deal. When he starts on solids, it’s a whole new nightmare. I don’t know of any other species on the planet that has to physically strap their offspring into a high chair, wrestle on a bib, and do a whole song and dance routine, while sneakily shoving spoonfuls of food down their throat. Mrs. Deer doesn’t need to read three books every mealtime to get baby deer to eat grass. I don’t see Mrs. Lion singing old MacDonald on the Serengeti.

If you think you can leave a bowl of food with the spouse/grandparents/aunt and go find that bit of “me-time”, you will most likely come back to a wailing baby and have the bowl handed back to you with a shrug and a “ he doesn’t want to eat”.

What?! That was the only task. Transport this food into that baby!

Between Meal times

This is truly a beautiful thought. Really.

But for this to happen, I need a good co-pilot to take over. My dearest husband and I used to be a team of freelance animators. We had a little studio at home where we would work and chill and hang out out with our friends and play with the dog all day.

Now the husband has to bear the whole workload, we have moved closer to my parents who are not keeping too well, and all the friends I have now have kids of their own.

If I need to use the bathroom/have a bath/get the baby’s food/any other task, which requires two hands, I hand the baby over to his father and quickly get the job done.

Any other time

After my son had a brief stint in the hospital a few weeks ago, he became incredibly clingy. I had to always be at arms reach at all times. I do admit, it was very flattering and comforting initially, but I did miss the old times where I could leave the room for a few minutes and turn on the washing machine without being chased down by a baby crawling at top speed.

Any efforts to dodge said baby will result in high-pitched wailing and a full-blown tantrum. “me- time ? <Insert evil baby chuckle here> Mama, you are not going anywhere”

A few days ago, the husband and I had a small errand to run, and we left the baby with his grandparents for an hour and we drove off.

10 minutes down, and the car had a flat tire. As Murphy’s law would have it, the spare was also busted, and so the husband had to park on the side of the road, and go off with the spare to get it fixed.

Suddenly, after over a year, I was stuck somewhere alone, no baby, and with absolutely nothing to do. The mysterious “me- time” had crept up and sat down firmly in my lap. Hurray!

I sat quietly for a while, and then I called up a dear friend and caught up on her life. It was just perfect.

About the author:

Bhavana Vyas Vipparthi is trying to figure out mommy hood in Bangalore with her animator husband, a perfect little boy who prefers to say Zebra over mama, and the most obedient, ever hungry dog.

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)

 

I found the me I lost on a train, but am still looking for malaiyo

photo

Last week, I took a train to Banaras to attend my first teachers’ conference. There is something about train trips that still makes me wildly excited as a child.  I had a skip in my step, I made lists. Lists are always a good sign for me.

Are you travelling alone, someone asked. Unable to contain my excitement at the impending deliciousness of aloneness, I said, “Yes, finally!”.

Being alone is one of the greatest luxuries you can expect after you have a child. Sometimes you get so overwhelmed with tasks on hand or just the autopilotness of your family life that the easiest thing to put on standby is you. The forgetting to love me in the remembering to love them.  I have been there. Yes, you do watch movies and go for pedicures or spa sessions, but it is not the same as going away somewhere, all by yourself.  .

It has been a week of aloneness. Of strange beds in new cities, new schedules, new food, new body clock, even new dreams. Have you noticed how your dreams change when you wear life lightly?

On my onward journey on the train, I had, for company, six children, two sets of parents (I remember thinking about the joy of numbers), one grumpy lady who eventually smiled (the things that extended time can do), and two chatty aunties sharing a berth which actually belonged to an army boy who was too well-mannered to tell them. As I watched assorted legs dangling from berths in front of my eyes, shrieking “mummy!”, “pappa!”, I suddenly missed Re’s voice, but not enough to long for him. This was about me. I was all set to enjoy me.

I slept like a baby, for 11 hours straight. I dived into two books, something that was very me and I hadn’t done it in a while. I started playing match-the-station-with-the-food game in my head.

 My father has etched indelible food memories of places in my head. The places didn’t mean anything without the food. It was always about Bhusaval’s perus or Ratlam’s puri bhaji or Allahabad’s samosas or Mathura’s pedhas or Agra’s pethas. I remember going through train stations and connecting them to memories of my childhood. We had done a huge number of train-trips back then thanks to his wanderlust. Journeys always meant trains. Trains always meant stories for later. No matter how rough the ride, we always had lovely stories to tell.  I made notes of things to tell my father. That’s how it’s supposed to be, right? Our children thinking of us because of things we shared with them, conversations we had with them, and before we knew it, we had fixed our imprints on them.

I gifted myself some small things that gave me big joys. Like watching the sun rise over the Ganga. Eating apple pie at Vatika café on the banks of the river at Assi ghat. Watching the evening aarti from a boat at Dashashwamedh ghat.  Sitting under a 100 year-old banyan tree and wondering how many people would it take for a hug. Spotting a pied kingfisher on my morning walk along the river at Rajghat.  Drinking kulladwali chai. Savouring  a moonlit vocal recital by Suchitra Gupta of the Banarasi gharana on the school lawns, with the scent of dhoop wafting away, awakening every pore in my mind. Going for a moonlit boat ride on the Ganga. Watching the moon smile over the bridge across the river and counting the doors as a train ran through it. Rounding it all off with a Banarasi paan on my last day.

But I returned wistfully, having missed the malaiyo, recommended strongly by my foodie friend in a manner that only one foodie can to another. I realized I was three weeks too early for it and the nip in the air was just not enough for its delicate form. This seasonal Varanasi milk-based dessert foam, full of airy goodness is a part soufflé- part cloud art form that is extremely tedious to make and has an extremely short shelf life. It breaks down at the onset of the first rays of the sun and hence should be had before the crack of dawn as it were.

I haven’t tasted it, but I get the sense that malaiyo doesn’t speak, it only whispers. And it’s exactly the kind of thing that gets shrouded amidst the flamboyant jalebis and the robust rabdis.  And then I realized. There’s a bit of malaiyo in each one of us. We all need to treat it gently, else we will fall apart too. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be in just the right temperature at the right time of day in the right setting once in a while. We have all earned it.

I’m going back for my malaiyo. In the meantime, I am preserving my inner cloud, ever so gently. I owe it to me.

 

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on November 3, 2014)