On raising a grandparent

I am quite sure, like many of her kind all over the world, my mother is chuffed about her grandparent status. She was the first person to hold Re in her arms when he was born, she is always the first grandparent to wish him on his birthday and on every other occasion (and she never runs out of them). She is now also the one he meets when he gets back home from school, the only one he will discuss homework with, or take instructions on grooming from. On his part, he will remind his grandmother about taking her medicines or “not watching shouty channels”, because “she has a new heart and has to look after it” (Re was four when my mother had her second valve replacement surgery). I want Re to make the most of it now, as I know he doesn’t have too many grandparent years left, as all four of his are in their seventies already. I had my both my grandmothers until my twenties; I don’t know if my son will be that lucky. Susanna Schrobsdorff, who is Managing Editor at TIME magazine calls it the grandparent deficit.

Every Tuesday, my mother takes Re to the local Ganesha temple and he willingly accompanies her, because he likes the elephant god, and of course the modaks that come as part of the prasad. The one time that I went along, he told me to do three pradakshinas and that I had to sit quietly on the floor for some time before I made a beeline for the prasad. “Otherwise, ganpati will think you only came for the prasad,” he explained.

My mother has had a hectic social life post her retirement and she is happy to have an arm candy for most of it. She tags Re along to her various chanting groups of fellow grandmothers: Vishnu and Lakshmi sahasranamams, haldi kumkums and various other things that ladies of a certain age congregate to do. “Will there be prasad? Then I will come,” he tells her. Re has also begun to evaluate various prasads, like “M aunty’s sheera is better than P aunty’s sheera”, and “Can I have two of these laddoos, because I really like it when it is beige and not brown like R aunty’s”

He in turn, teaches her ballroom dancing, how to walk like a princess, how to turn her saree into a gown, and all those things I could never dream of teaching her.

How a grandparent keeps it real

All around me, I constantly sense a dilution of all things traditional or ritualistic, and so it really moves me to see this grandmother-grandson duo, lighting diyas, collecting flowers to make garlands for deities, bowing down and joining hands in prayer whenever they pass by a shrine. These are things that never came naturally to me, but I am glad that it is an important part of Re’s relationship with his grandmother.

I don’t know where I stand on deities and worship. My mother is a believer, but I have always been passive about all her rituals. Although the thing about rituals is that they bring you closer to who you are and where you come from — roots that we have to try harder to hold on to than our parents did. In a mixed-culture marriage such as ours, sometimes the rituals multiply. But sometimes they divide too. And sometimes we end up culturally bankrupt, because we didn’t want to do the work. But now, with Re being integrated into it all, I feel a sense of belonging, a feeling that I have something to hold on to when things feel hopeless.

He is lucky. After all, he does get her all to himself, because she has no other grandchildren and so no one else vying for her attention. I had to compete at least with 12 other cousins for my favorite grandmother and seldom got her to myself, one-on-one. ‘Grandmother’ was always a community thing, as were grandmother stories, grandmother delicacies and grandmother lullabies. I grew up in a time when grandmothers were the default caregivers of young children, and with families multiplying ever so rapidly, my poor grandmother was always being shunted from one home to the other every few years, and I can imagine what it must have done to her. But she raised us all with the same amount of love, the same stories and the same sense of rootedness.

There is something about grandparents. And I don’t mean it in that warm, fuzzy, sepia-toned kind of way. There is all of that for sure, and some. Something also changes in the equation between you and your mother when you have a child. She becomes the equaliser in your life. And not just because she is (usually) the most non-grouchy caregiver. But more importantly, she is someone who never trivialises your troubles by saying “this too shall pass”. She may not have the answers to your convoluted problems, but she is an antidote to your pain nonetheless. And so is her rasam, in my case.

The odd thing is that my mother is still as much a mother to me, as she is grandmother to Re. She is still the one who senses from my voice on the phone when all is not well. She is still the only one who knows when I need to be left alone. Although we have our share of fights ever so often, she is still the one who gets me more than anyone else. I know that in a few years, she will be the one needing the care and I will be the caregiver and hopefully, so will Re. I didn’t choose to marry late; it’s just that it took me really long to meet a man I wanted to make a baby with. I know there are so many conflicting factors when planning a baby, but I just want to say that it’s good to take into account how much grandparent time your children will have.

And age 71, my mother is still not tired of playing mom. But I already am, and I can’t even imagine myself getting to the grandmother stage. I am constantly torn between my mother and my child trying to parent me. In fleeting moments, I do forget that I am a parent to both of them. But I am nicer to my mother now. I find myself asking her, “What else?”, “Have you eaten?” and “Did you sleep well?” I find a calming reassurance in inanities. I am becoming my mother.

(A version of this post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 24th August, 2015)

The Politics of Thin

I used to be thin. Like, stick-insect thin. This was before stick insects became fashionable.

My mother asked me when I was 14 if I had grown breasts. Fact is, they were more like insect bites, but I was too proud to tell the truth. I said yes. She promptly went and got me a bra. It was a dream come true. Me? Bra? Finally!

Yes, it bothered me that I was 14 and still no boobs! But then, I knew all the answers in class. I always put my hand up when the teacher asked a question. I had good handwriting. I aced composition writing.

I thought that would get me the boys.

Wrong.

The bra didn’t feel as great as they said it would. For the most part, I was just fidgety and adjusting. I felt like I had to stop the bra from overriding my non-existent boobs and so it was all clumsy. It still is, actually, but I seem to have developed a nonchalance about it.

I reckon Amma was a bit worried that I still hadn’t got my periods. I wondered too, because every other day some girl in my class would stain and they would all whisk her away as if it was some kind of conspiracy they didn’t want me in on. I longed for the day when I would stain and be whisked away. It never came. Instead, I got my first period when I was at home, studying for my class 10 board exams. There was no audience, no one to high-five. I hated it. I had just turned into a woman and there was nobody I could scream it to? So I jumped in front of the mirror… and that didn’t go very well.

I told Amma when she returned from work and she just heaved a sigh of relief, like I had checked a huge box.

The boobs took their time, but one day I was a proud 32B. Along the way, I dated wrong guys, underwire bras and several wrong shampoos, met my hair, grew an ass, and realized it looked great in shorts.

I moved from a 24 waist to a 26, which was a more womanly size, I thought. I had moved from thin to voluptuous. It was a shift, but I didn’t mind it.

32B cups and size-26 jeans were my best friends for years. Size zero still wasn’t in yet, so I basked in my glory. I had good limbs, a décolletage when I needed one, my ass was as perky as ever and there was no dearth of sales I went to and the clothes I bought. “Extra Small”, I’d proudly announce even as the sales girl tried to hand me a Small. I was the size to envy. I bought tiny little skirts, boots, ultra short shorts in which I could flaunt my bronze legs, singlets and tank tops that revealed my bone structure, LBDs and the gang. I was the girl who would float in someone else’s clothes every time I had a sleepover, and I could never got enough of, “Oh god, how tiny are you?”

I always thought the only way to be was tiny or big, but never in between. I liked big girls. They had so much gravitas. They filled chairs, they made you make room for them, they never sucked their stomach in, they looked so cool when they smoked and they could really carry off jewelry. When I grew up, I wanted to be big, I thought. Never medium. Medium was nothing. Medium was neither here nor there. Medium had no personality, no gravitas, no backstory.

Cut to pregnancy, motherhood, nursing and more boobs. I added on 15 kilos and dropped them in the next six months post-delivery. I was back in my size 28 jeans. What post-baby body were they talking about?

Losers, I thought.

They hated me for it. Like they hated me for getting pregnant when I was 40.

May be it was voodoo, but three years post-baby, I was somehow something of a blob. When I last checked, my rib cage, waist and hips were the same dimension as each other. I am square. I’m Rani Mukherji, I thought. I always wonder why women are so delighted when someone else puts on weight and not them. Is it because you have just lowered the bar for them? Is it because it gives them someone else to point a finger at to deem: Work in Progress? I also find the same delight on women’s faces when hot girl ends up with not-so-hot guy.

It was official. I had moved from XS to S to M.

This is it, I thought. This is the beginning of the end. I am Medium. I am nothing.

I stopped buying anything that had a waist (including jeans) because I didn’t have one anymore. Empire line dresses and leggings never said no, no matter how much I grew. I passionately embraced them. Maxis were the new me.

And then I found saris. I always loved their drape and how they could do as much or as little as you wanted. I had quite a few that I had stacked up in a trunk (in my youthful body phase that was all about flaunting limbs, the poor sari had taken a backseat). There they were, inviting me to start all over again.

photo(9)I found new joy in blouses. Funky, psychedelic, elegant, elaborate—I bought any fabric I liked and imagined it as a blouse. Sometimes I mixed them up and gave them totally new identities. I serial-dated tailors till I found the right guy. It never bothered me when a blouse didn’t have a sari to flirt with. If the blouse rocks, the sari will find its way, I thought. And it did. Friends were suddenly gifting me saris, I became a hand-me-down mascot. Each time I visited my mother, an old sari beckoned me. My measurements are locked up in a nice little book with my tailor. He doesn’t judge me. He never will.

2014iphone 010In an age where relationships are as old as Facebook accounts, perhaps no one will now remember that I had a thin past. But thin is not a mother’s best friend. Thin is not inclusive. Thin is not “Moms Like Us”. Thin is what people who ‘got stuff done’ were.

My mother recently told me I’ve never looked healthier in my life. I read this as: This is the fattest I’ve ever looked. It’s a bit depressing to know that your mother thinks you were all wrong for most of your life. But I still smiled.

When men ask me if I’ve put on weight, I say, “I gave birth. What’s your excuse?”

When I go clubbing or am invited for cocktails, I don’t think sexy anymore. I think comfy, snug, no-bra, something in which I don’t have to fidget too much, fabric that flaunts the nice bits and camouflages the not-so flattering bits. I still have legs. Although I’m yet to fathom what has happened to the rest of my body. The last time I wore an LBD, my Facebook profile picture got 120 likes. “Hot mamma!” one said. No one noticed that it was very clever dressing. (Should have bought it in other colors too, I thought). People still want to believe in the idea of thin-me.

photo(13)I don’t have aspirational jeans in my closet waiting to motivate me. If I don’t fit into them, someone else will. I have regular hand-me-down dates with women who still have the body for clothes I once had a body for. Surprisingly, it makes me happy to see them in clothes that once fit me so well. I’m also happy to take clothes from big girls who are happy to see their small clothes on me.

Medium is a whole new ecosystem for me. I have gathered enough equanimity to glide over the politics of thin and pretend I have left the room. I have made my peace with my contours or the lack thereof. I have stopped treating my body like a Work in Progress. I might have occasional flings with Spanx, but Spanx will never be someone who can move into my life. Thin is past tense and I’m happy to let it stay that way. The boobs and ass are here to stay, and so are the pelvic wattle and the thick waist.

But the last time I went to a store and wanted to try something, and the lady assistant said, “Wait, this is Large. I will get you Medium,” I was grateful. Ever. So. Grateful.

(I originally wrote this post for theladiesfinger.com)

Yours, genetically

There is something about grandparents. And I don’t mean it in that warm, fuzzy, sepia-toned kind of way. There is all of that for sure, and some.

Something certainly changes in the equation between you and your parents when you have a child. Your parents become the equalisers in your life. And not just because they are (usually) the most non-grouchy caregivers. More importantly, they are the people who never trivialise your trauma by saying, “This is the best part. You will miss it when it goes away.” They may not have the answers to your convoluted problems, but they are antidotes to your pain nonetheless, in their mostly quiet but always soothing way. I don’t think I could be half a mother without my mother. Or half a father without my father (my homeopath told me I have too much testosterone).

My mother and I became womb equals the day I gave birth to Re. Until then, it was always, “You will never know until you become a mother.” I felt like telling her, “Bring it on now, I am a mother too.” With my dad, there was never any of these power dynamics. Men would rather not be reminded that they are husband/father/son. It just takes them away from being men. My father was just happy being the grandparent who could still carry his grandson on his shoulders. That he was still my father was just incidental.

Strange that what I got from my parents, Re got it too. From my mom, Re’s got a wide-eyed wonder in little things and a love for rituals. From dad, Re’s got that sense of abandon, a complete lack of fear. And yes, a palate that knows when you have been messing around, diluting his bhindi with capsicum. Ironically, the very things that annoy you about a child are actually you.

In my single days of living on my own (which I did for a long time), I was the kind of person who told her mother (who called every day) to give me the 30-second edit instead of the two-minute one of whatever she had to say to me. And when she was done with that, I’d say, “So is that all you called four times about?”

I am nicer now. I find myself asking my mother, “What else?”, “Have you eaten?” and “Did you sleep well?” I find a calming reassurance in inanities. I am becoming my mother.

I am also tender towards my dad, more generous with my compliments, less critical, and always make it a point to ask him about the secret ingredient in his pachadi, even though I am seasoned enough to figure it out. It always makes his day. So, in a sense, having children makes you a parent twice over.

The odd thing is, my parents are still not tired of being parents. But in year three of parenting, I am already ready to tear my hair out on most days. I am often found wailing to the OPU that I want to go on a holiday with me and just me. That I want a break from the people who bind me (which refers primarily to him and the child; the cats are not too particular). That I want to be free. He, being the totally-into-me person that he is, takes no offence. “I understand. It must be taking its toll on you. How about I buy you a gift? A reward for being a great mom?” And then I bark some more about wasting money and not planning for the future and we continue living ‘happily ever after’.

Perhaps, our parents had better temperaments for being parents than us. Their wallets were lighter, but their lives fuller, freer of parenting clichés. They lived; we are constantly thinking about living better. I sometimes wonder if it’s as simple as the fact that we grew up in a non-Facebook, non-Twitter, non-club-y, non-brunch-y, non-texty era. Now, we have somehow messed things up. Too much crap. Too little time.

On a good day, I am glad I got some writing done. On a bad day, my jaw hurts from answering all of Re’s questions and my temples twitch from being polite and nice. I can’t do nice. Not for long. And every time I forget how to do it (which is often), I come running back to my parents. Then my body and soul get fortified over two or three days — the body with food and much needed rest (“You sleep, we will manage”) and the soul with the assurance that I am doing something right. That mine is a happy child, and it shows in his eyes.

I realise then that the grandparents and the babies are fine. It’s the ones in between that are really messed up.

 

This post originally appeared as my column in the Sunday EYE of the Indian Express on 6th May 2012

Mother, she wrote

Exactly a year ago, I quit my job to be a stay-at-home mother.

It was the only way I wanted to do motherhood. It was the only way I could, or knew how to. My desire to be a mother overrode my desire to be a superwoman who balanced motherhood, career, social life and her pedicures. I wanted to keep it simple. I wanted to grow with my baby, and not just watch him grow.

Yes, there were sacrifices. Like letting go of that dream of buying a house in real-estate mafia land. I didn’t think owning a few square metres in the boondocks would really make us better parents. Neither did I want to lose precious years of motherhood to EMIs.  P told me one does it so that one leaves something behind for one’s child twenty years from now. I chose to give my child what I have, here and now.  Which is me and all of me.  N told me I should quit when the child is two, because that’s when it gets to be fun. I guess I chose the hard path. I thought two would be too late, and I think I chose well.

Perhaps it was easier for me to make that decision having reached a ‘been there, done that’ stage in my career where there were no real milestones left for me to achieve. And of course it helped having an immensely caring and generous OPU who didn’t bat an eyelid when I told him this is how I’d like to do it, and even offered to pay me a mom salary.

After the first few months of quitting, I felt stripped, naked, tagless. The job was about power. Power that I chose not to use. It was about recognition, and social reference points, conversation starters and bylines, about an official id for emails when you want to sound more important than you are. It was about receiving invites to shows, parties, launches, book readings, previews and festivals. It was about people calling you and you saying you’ll call them back. It was about emails you never read, forget having the time to answer.  It was about keeping tabs on who is Cc’g whom on what and making sure ‘everyone is in the loop.’ It was about meetings and video conferences where you drank copious amounts of tea to stay awake and where everyone talked but no one listened.  Evidently, there was lots more to the job than ‘work.’

Since then, not a week has gone by when I haven’t been asked when I am getting back to work. Or if I am. Or if I want to. Or how long a break do I foresee myself taking.  Or if I could freelance or work from home or work flexitime (whatever those jobs are). And I am frequently warned by the supermoms that if I stay away too long, I might not want to come back.

The point is, I am too driven and enterprising to not be where the action is. So, no, I will not be relegated to a freelancer or work flexitime (which is a euphemism for working for a fifth of your salary) neither will I ever negotiate to work from home.

Do you miss work? I am often asked. It’s as though I am playing now, or have turned into one of those ladies who lunch. But to be honest, after a 16 -year career, I didn’t miss ‘work’ for a single day in the past year. I didn’t have the time to think about whether I missed it. I was too busy going through the motions of being a mommy. And I don’t really remember how many diapers I have changed or how many stories I have read or how many songs I have sung, or hours I have walked or play-dates I have planned or meals I have cooked or cries I have soothed or how many nights I have slept or how many hours I have nursed. I think if they invented swipe-cards for mommies, we would all have to be paid three times our last salaries.

But motherhood is about anonymity. About blending with the crowd, about being able to say, “Hi, I am Mommygolightly and I am a mother.” I don’t have much to show except a happy child, this blog, and perhaps some writing, lots of photographs and videos.

So a few days ago when I was registering for Re’s school admission, I was left staring long and hard at the column marked ‘occupation’. I vacillated between writer, blogger, columnist and finally I wrote, ‘mother.’