Want to make your children better travelers? Start with yourself

travels in new york

It’s a maxim universally marketed that having children kills the traveller in you. It is something often quoted in the “Why not to have kids” bibles and generally nodded to and sighed upon. ‘Herculean task’, ‘nightmare’, ‘horror story’ are commonly used words by people to describe traveling with kids. And then there are pre-boarding facilities and goody bags from airlines, overload of activity timetables at resorts – all aiming to subtly announce that a holiday with children is going to require supreme engineering.

When I threw open the question of how do we make our children better travelers on my blog’s forum, I received the usual formulaic responses, since no one realized it was a trick question: Plan well, involve the child, tell them about where they are going to travel, show them pictures, videos, show them the place on the map, plan their meals (or pack whatever you can),  get them excited about what they will do on the plane , make a list of activities, take their favorite toys, carry board games, carry their favorite food, favorite puzzle, favorite soft toy,  favorite movie.. and so on.

Why travel at all, I wondered? Why bother if you are going to simulate the same kind of life in a different address? When you do the aforementioned, you are raising the opposite of a real traveler. I do realize that holidays need to be planned (especially when kids start formal schooling as there are at best three windows to choose from). But that should be limited to bookings. In my experience, Air BnBs and homestays work better than hotels and if you choose locations you have friends living in – nothing like it.

In my limited experience of seven years and 13 trips with a child, I have come to realize this: The problem, very often, is not the child. It’s the adults. Because you pass on to your child how you have been programmed to travel and if you are the kind who bursts a capillary because you forgot to pack your iPod speakers, chances are, you are already raising a high maintenance child who may prove the cliché right. But this is not a post that tells you what to pack in their bag or how to pacify an irate kid on a plane. Instead I will tell you this:

Don’t behave like you are moving there. You are just travelling.  Stop being so manicured about your travels. Your child will follow suit. On my first travel date with fellow parents, I noticed that they came armed with a suitcases full of toys, dolls, books and games for a three night stay in Matheran. “Why do you need so much?”, I asked.  “Oh, you never know. It’s better to be prepared,” they said. But isn’t that what travel is about? Not knowing?

Don’t oversell the destination and what you will do there. Don’t sell the journey either. Parents have a tendency to do this. This disallows the child any room to have his own her own experiences, and they are forced to look at the entire trip through a readymade lens, which will never allow the real traveller in them to come out.

Allow the place to happen to your child.  Don’t tell them what to expect. This usually means giving at least four to five days in one location to give enough time to experience it, rather than location hopping. Improvise. If things always went as they were planned, it’s not travel. It’s stasis. I think this works better for adults too.

Travel is not about being constantly entertained and your child needs to know that.  And if you in that trap,  you are teaching them that this is how life is – a series of fun-filled, action packed time capsules on loop, where there is no time for recovery, stillness or nothingness – you are in a dangerous place. It’s a slippery slope from there.

Give gadgets a break. Try clouds instead. Or birdsong. Technology is an easy weapon used by most parents – I see it in airports, holiday destinations – each child with a gadget, adults with theirs, swiping away. It’s time to  talk to each other and not our gadgets.

Children have fewer expectations than you. Don’t build it up. The problem I have with checklist-y travel is that it is often more hectic than real life. This whole ‘things to do’, sights to see, monuments to tick off lists, photoboosk to make back home is quite sapping for adults so I wonder what happens when children are subjected to it.

Food is an integral part of the travel experience. Always make your kids try out the local cuisine. They may not like everything they try, but there might be that one thing that calls out to them. Take chances. The first time we traveled post having a child (my son was five months), I was raw, and still blemished from all the negative press traveling with kids seemed to have garnered. I was armed with a small rice cooker and supplies to cook from at the resort we stayed in. But that was the first and last time I traveled with supplies. I decided that when in Rome, we will do as Rome does. So on the next trip, my son and I went to Thailand and happily tucked into mango and sticky rice and fruit platters with prik-kab-klua, the Thai chilli-salt mix. And by the time my son was two, he was trying out gourmet meals at restaurants at every place we traveled to.

Slow down. Linger. You may never look at that selfie again, but you will always remember how it felt on that mountain, with the wind kissing your hair and your child pretending to take off in flight.

Remember you were a kid once. Go on, make that paper boat. Try and put yourself in your kid’s shoes. Remember what you were like as a child and how you liked to travel and be treated and the things you enjoyed doing.

Travel is not an old timetable in a new bottle.  Encourage your child to have a new routine. Shuffle things around. Let them wear what they want. Let them skip baths. Let them eat breakfast for dinner. What is the worst thing that can happen?

Make it about the journey. Not about the destination. We did our first long train trip when Re was 2.5. It was to a wedding at Chandigarh and the journey was 36 hours. He and I had to share a berth, as the Indian railways doesn’t allot berths to children under 5 years (yes!). In the middle of the night, I almost rolled off, as Re had occupied most of it and I stayed up all night, playing with my phone, as I couldn’t turn on the light to read a book. But it was this trip that Re and I tried pull-ups and swinging off the berth ladders.

Start them young. If you look at traveling with kids as a problem, you will always be finding ways to delay it. Instead if you look at it as an opportunity to see the world with a different lens, you will find ways to make it happen. And it’s never too early to start them. In fact the earlier the better.  

Encourage your child to be a resident, not a tourist, wherever you go. Blend in, be part of a community. Give something back. And that’s how we went gathering achhoos (wild gooseberries) in Himachal with the ladies who worked at the Bhuira Jam factory. Or puppy-sat the neighbours’ pups while they worked in the strawberry fields. Or when Re went about picking garbage in Landour, after having noticed that “humans throw things everywhere else but in dustbins”.

Travel is what you make of it, and if you have an open mind, you never know what will come along. I wouldn’t have chased ducks in the park in Irvine, California. I would have never met a “lady bird’s cousin” if I had been preoccupied with leech-proofing ourselves in our first forest trek in Dandeli when my son was three. Nor would I have enjoyed a ritual dance in the Erawan temple at Bangkok as my son fervently joined his hands in prayer even though I am a non-believer.

Bangkok with kids

Have them know that the world is a safe place. Every place has a story to tell, or it becomes a new story when you are in it. When my child saw images of the Paris bombings and asked me about it, I told him what had happened. He then said “We can still go to Paris no? The bombers must have left by now.” I said yes.

Use public transport: There is so much joy discovering a new world with the locals – these are the people who wear it easily, with whom there can often be meaningful conversations, even if you don’t understand the language.  take trains, buses, tuktuks, skytrains, subways and whatever you can manage.

Encourage them to document it. A travel journal or travel art book for drawing, doodling is far better than a toy or puzzle which has a limited shelf life. It is all we carry on our travels now and is more than enough to keep my son busy. Also there is no such thing as too many crayons.

Always check the weather and pack for it.  When they are dressed right for the weather, children are far happier and make better travelers. (it’s shocking how basic this is and how it is often overlooked)

When you take your child with you, leave your adult self behind. Children teach you the importance of being in the moment when you travel. This is harder to do if you don’t allow yourself to access the child in you

Show them how you can travel without going anywhere.  Sometimes a delayed flight or train may open up another adventure altogether. Like this time Re and his dad were doing hip-hop once in an airport. Or when waiting for a bus at Kasauli led us to an ongoing theatre performance by a group of monkeys.

Travel is about balance, and each trip is about finding something for ‘you’, ‘me’ and ‘us’.  If you look hard enough, you can. Having a kid couldn’t really be the end. In fact it is a whole new beginning. Of looking at the world through a child’s eyes, and that is a brand new, fascinating world with so many more stories to tell. You just have to stop getting in the way.

(A shorter version of this post appeared in Conde Nast Traveller here

parks in california

 

Who said parenting means entertaining your children?

I have often heard this (even among very aware parents): I don’t know how to entertain my child. Or heard them whining when the more active partner is away that they they don’t know how to keep them busy.

I don’t get this.

Why is entertaining your child even a thing?

I got into this trap for a brief while when Re was still in his crib and had a limited geography within which to entertain himself (although my cats helped hugely).

It was boring as shit: Singing. Making faces. Speaking in funny voices. Peekaboo. The hand puppet thing. Yes, Re loved it. But then I realized I am not his playmate. Why should I pretend to be? As soon as he started crawling and then walking, he was on his own. And he found plenty to amuse himself with, mostly in the kitchen. I still have a video of him trying to sort a bunch of cherry tomatoes and talking to himself. And one of him trying to roll a chapati with a rolling pin and board and proceeding to wear the chapati as a mask.

Every time the other parental unit came home laden with games/toys, I arched my eyebrow. It was excessive and unnecessary. Collaborative games which assume the parent who’s around more often is stuck with playing them with the kid get me worried.

On the few travel dates that I had with fellow parents, I always noticed that they come armed with suitcases full of toys, gadgets, books, games. I found myself saying: but it’s just two nights. Why do you need so much? And they replied: Oh, if we keep them entertained, we can get more time for ourselves.

It never made sense.

Traveling alone with Re was much more satisfying. It still is.

Why is constantly being entertained a way of living? Why is it a norm? It is as though one is teaching children that this is how life is – a series of fun-filled, action packed time capsules on loop, where there is no time for recovery, stillness or nothingness.

If you are doing this, you are in a dangerous place. It’s a slippery slope from there.

Yes, we all want our children to have a happy childhood with a variety of experiences. We just have to stop curating it for them. I have seen friends plan reading lists for their kids, populate their schedules with every activity that looks good on paper and that they can tick off an imaginary list. It’s like every hour of their waking life has to be accounted for.

I feel like telling them: It’s your life, it’s not a pinterest board.

Yes it’s important to engage in fun with them occasionally, listen to them, keep conversations going, but by not allowing their imagination and creativity to come up with something on their own, you are actually hampering play.

We have to provide for our kids, nurture them, look after their basic needs – clothing, food shelter. I signed up for these when I became a parent, not for being his entertainer. And if I do play with my kid, it will be when I am having fun doing that. Not because of some boringass article that said, “Imaginative play with your child helps nurture their soul”. And who started this anyway? I am sure they didn’t think it through. It’s not sustainable for sure. Besides life is all about a lot of mundane things on loop and our kids need to know that and be a part of that too.

For a year now, Re has been assigned the task of arranging the utensils daily after they have dried in their rack, folding and arranging his own clothes in his shelves, feeding the cats in the evening and refilling their water bowls, making his bed, and helping us put the house in order before going to bed every night.

When I was 10, my mother handed me the keys to our house. Until then, we went to school together and returned together (I studied in the school she taught in). I now had a three hour lag from the time she left. In these three hours, I had to help Appa finish the cooking, pack his lunch dabba, pack snack dabbas for me and my twin siblings, wake them up, get them ready (this involved detangling and tying my sister’s unruly hair into two tight plaits, which took the longest time), send them to school (which was an hour earlier to mine), help Appa staple his shirt sometimes, when a button was off and he had to rush for work, and finally, get ready (which involved tying own long, unruly hair into two tight plaits) and go to school myself.

We were poor, we never had help, we all had chores to do, but we never needed to be entertained.  We also didn’t have money to afford toys. Books and play were all we had. We came home from school, ate a snack, did our homework and went out to play (I usually did my homework in school so I had more time to play). Sometimes we played physical games that involved running, jumping, getting dirty in the mud. Sometimes we played “school” and “office” and “restaurant” and “home”. Our parents never asked us what we played. They never played with us. Except Appa teaching us bridge. And Amma who taught us some fun board games from when she was a child, like pallankuzhi.

I was the queen of imaginative play and Enid Blyton with her scones and ginger ale and meringue descriptions hugely helped my childhood. I always imagined myself as an only child who had a secret room in which she hosted midnight feasts. Each time one of us announced we were bored, another chore was handed to us. I learnt to cook at age 10 because I was bored on Thursdays (our convent school day off) and since I was already souz chef to Appa, I started trying things on my own, and one day, I put a meal together and surprised Amma. Vacations were full of jam, pickle, karuvadam and sun-dried fruit projects. And then we traveled.

When I remember my childhood, I remember the cooking, I remember the baking and knitting and crosstitch and embroidery that I did as my mother’s apprentice. I remember making papercuttings of things my mom learned in her sewing class and making them to scale for my only doll, Neetu (who was named after Neetu Singh)

Most afternoons, Re is engaged in active theatre with his dolls: giving them makeovers, tattoos, braiding them, making houses for them with blocks or Lego, sometimes turning them into mermaids, having car rallies with mermaids driving cars, cooking, baking in his play kitchen, making paper clothes for them (now that he can use scissors, he often asks me for fabric swatches), and more such. Or he is sketching or painting. Hours pass by.

I may not be the ‘engaged parent’ but I know when my kid is having fun.

I often get this from people when I visit them with Re or when they come over: He is really good at entertaining himself. My response to that is: well, shouldn’t we all be?

Once in a while if Re does come up to me and say he is bored, I tell him: be bored. It’s good. Boredom is fertile.

What is fertile?

It’s a place where new things can grow.

You mean things can grow in my head? he asks.

Yes, they can. Of course they can.

Lessons from a pigeon

BY DEEPA KALYAN

You get to learn life’s most important lessons in the most unlikely of places. I did not imagine I would find one in my balcony.

Pigeons – I have never had a great relationship with them because they always messed with the few plants that managed to survive our humid balcony. A few years back, a couple of them managed to build a nest atop the A/C outdoor unit. When there was a water leak in the room, the mechanics told us it was due to a hole in the duct, thanks to the ever-gurgling pigeons. Sometime later, when we had to replace the A/C, moving the new outdoor unit to the terrace was the only safe option. Its pipe had to go through the balcony railing, and so a part of the shutter was open always. One particular pigeon pair made good use of this opening to build their nest in one of the potted plants. Thankful for even the smallest sapling that ever sprouted in our humid balcony, I was at my agnostic best whenever I spotted them on the railing. No matter what, they kept coming back through the small space and trampled all my plants.

Days went by without any respite. And then, one day, I found an egg in one of the recently bought jasmine pot. A pair of pigeons sat on the railing waiting for me to go away, so they can hop in and warm the egg. Not again – was my reaction. This time, I acted as if it was a real war. I would be on the lookout for even the faintest gurgling sound and rush to shoo them away. They would flutter and create a total ruckus – bringing down, at least, one weak branch down, every time.

One day, I secretly noticed the way they behaved when I was not around. While one of them stayed on the railing to watch over the egg, the other, the mom I presume, kept it warm and cozy. They did not mess with my plants – much to my disbelief. They stayed calm – no gurgling, just the silence of the sunny balcony to keep them company. It hit me so hard that day – I realized, it was me, who was making all the fuss.

With a change of heart, I approached them the next day. The mom sensed my calmness, or so I liked to assume. She simply gave me a timid gurgle as a sign of acceptance. It has been a month since then – we are good friends now; she never gets perturbed seeing me, neither do I. I check her out when I go to dry the clothes. She smartly hops on to the railing until I finish watering the pots.

She’s the most silent mom I’ve ever seen. She takes off to the opposite compound to ruffle her feathers and doesn’t mess my balcony with her droppings. A few weeks later, I found another egg. And, what a delight it was to see a new life waiting to come into the world in the comfort of our small balcony. Another few weeks down the line, the eggs cracked and two little pigeons came out. I can’t say they looked beautiful, but the way she cared for them, it warmed my heart so much.

The baby pigeons turned out exactly like human babies. While the mom was neat and tidy all through her nesting period, the babies messed up the whole place again. The plant was suffering and the place was smelly with their droppings. She didn’t seem to mind, though. She covered them during the crow visits and keenly watched over them – all the while.

Two weeks down the line, I was surprised to find her missing in action most of the time – to get them food, I assumed. She was not around when the crow flew in, or when the babies were trying to stand up by themselves. I was angry with her – how could she leave her two-week-old young ones to fend themselves?

Occasionally, I found her in the opposite balcony trying to avoid my angry glare. I brought it upon myself to shoo the crows and check the babies out, every hour. Each time I went near them to place some grains or a bowl of water, they moved away from me. When I heard the familiar gurgle in the balcony, I was at peace to know that she was back to look after them. The babies, for their part, were making good progress. In two weeks, they moved from being tiny, hairy creatures, to well shaped, independent beauties.

It only took another two weeks for the babies to look like adult pigeons, except that their feet were not completely pink, yet. They slowly started to move – I soon found them both outside the pot, exploring my balcony. One of them slowly started hoping on to the railing, attempting to fly. On a sunny Friday morning, one baby went missing. Panic struck, I wondered if it fell from our second-floor balcony. I could not spot the little one anywhere around, and the one left behind was now trying to flutter its wings.

Seeing me in tears, when the first baby pigeon went missing, my younger son consoled me saying, “They grow faster than us, Ma. And, they would learn to fly by themselves. ”

How true, is all I managed to reply.

As I write this, I know that the next kiddo will fly away soon. And, that’s exactly why I’m winding up at this juncture. I don’t want to wait for the eventuality to happen and then stop making notes. I close it with hope. I hope they become like their mother – she taught me the value of patience, persistence, and more importantly, that life can be nurtured, no matter what – all you need is a little love.

 

About the author: Deepa Kalyan is mom to a tween and a teen and this is her maiden attempt at writing. After all these years, she has just found the time to pursue two of her long-time passions – veena and gardening.

Confessions of a I-don’t-give-a-shit mom

tiger momSo the other day, Re came back from school, sulking. I asked him what the matter was. He said he was the only child in school that day to come dressed in a uniform when the whole school was dressed in traditional clothes. I had no idea what he was talking about. “But why didn’t anyone tell me?,” I asked, pained that he felt left out, but annoyed that the Whatsapp psychos hadn’t told me.

“You are supposed to check e-campus everyday mamma! It seems it was written on it!’. He was referring to the school website of course, which totally intimidates me. Now, given the time I waste on the internet every day, you might say what’s the harm checking a school website to find out what’s going on? But I find it painfully boring, I really do.

That’s when I realized that I don’t really care; I am just happy that he goes to school every day. When people are holding forth about tiger moms and camel moms and lamb moms, I smile beatifically. Because no one is talking about the I-don’t-give-a-shit moms. So I thought I will share a list things that I don’t give a shit about:

I don’t care what he learns in school. I chose the school only because it has a good arts program and they teach the kids how to swim and songs about science. It was one thing I wouldn’t have to do. Also I look at school as an extended form of daycare, so I am happy with the basics. The more I expect from it, the more I have to do. And I won’t do THAT.

I don’t know the difference between ICSE, CBSE, IG, IB, IGCSE any new boards that may have been invented without my knowledge and frankly,  I don’t care. I don’t think learning comes prefixed with labels. I am still learning although I may have some labels.

I hate homework. Okay let me correct it. I hate that I may have to help with homework. So I pretend it doesn’t exist. My time with my kid is my time with my kid. It cannot be an extension of school time. I have enough trouble being a mother. I don’t want to be a tutor. Besides I would suck at it. Having been a teacher doesn’t help.

I hate it when other moms on Whatsapp discuss homework. I think they are all losers. I really do. I mean what kind of person would triple check what a child says is homework just in order to ascertain that it indeed is? Your kid knows what to do. It’s just that you don’t trust him/her. Losers.

I am constantly nervous that the child will come with a note in his almanac or some circular will be issued from the school that parents have to do a project/make some costume/ prop. I don’t want to be a part of it.

I am really bored of listening to people talking about their kids’ achievements. Like really really bored. Do something yourself and tell me, for Christ’s sake.

I love it when my kid plays with dolls, puts on makeup for them, paints shoes on them, does their hair, adds sequins to their clothes. If you have a problem with it, it’s your problem.

Sometimes I forget the difference between my outside voice and my inside voice. My kid calls me shouty. But then it’s okay, because he forgets it too. So we are even.

I sometimes make feeble attempts to ask him whether he would like to learn ballet, the piano, or tennis maybe, knowing fully well that I will have to sacrifice more hours of writing or doing what I want for it, but then he says no; he already knows ballet. And the piano. I don’t argue. I am relieved and let him be.

I try and redeem myself from time to time by posing as a tree for a play that the child is a part of and wants to practice at home. But that is the exception more than the rule. So don’t typecast me. It may look like I am winging motherhood, but six years down, and I still don’t know what I am doing.

 

( A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 19th October, 2015)

 

About an aunt… and a nephew

GUEST POST BY FAIRY DHARAWAT

Being an aunt makes you feel old.

When you were the youngest  in the family for almost 25 years, and now behold, there’s someone younger, yes it does! You also feel vulnerable as you get a front row seat to a show that could be you in the future.

But it’s not you, and you keep reminding yourself that over and over again.

For a few days when the sister comes over, there is a wave of toys spread around the house. Strangely the room smells too. The house doesn’t seem like it belongs to us. But there he comes, my nephew, reminding us that the amazing elder sister has become a mother. It’s still hard to believe that. Also equally hard is when the sister says I have mellowed down. Is it because of this little tyrant who keeps plucking flowers and leaves to our mild annoyance? Maybe. But the family lights up when the nephew is over and the in laws whine about having to part with their grandson.

But with our family, there is calmness, patience and tolerance. Or the lack of sleep zaps all our energy to muster courage for just about anything.

My nephew is one and a half year old, and his mum says he likes me. He grins when I come over. I don’t think he will remember anything as he’s really young. But it feels good. I never thought I would be good around children. But then the last conversation that I enjoyed was with a five year old where we talked for 25 minutes on why we both preferred reds and purples. I hope to do something like that with my nephew too.

There’s a lack of literature and movies exploring the relationship between aunts and nephews. There are movies about uncles and nephews but not much is written or shown about aunts and nephews. Indian movies tend to show aunt’s regressive attitude towards nephew’s unconventional choices and they generally take solace in the mother. However, if you rummage through the classics, Miss Marple, a character from an Agatha Christie novel, demonstrates a delightful camaraderie with her nephew, Raymond. She’s understanding, wise, fun, and surrounded by welcoming and caring people. Also, she solves a murder here and there. I’ll say I want to be like that. Though finding murders might not be difficult, my crime solving abilities are questionable.

While the blog world is cluttered with dedicated websites on how to be an awesome aunt, I don’t know if I want to be his friend which it all boils down to. He will get friends when he grows up. I want to be special and the one and only. Now being eccentric sounds not all that uninteresting. I am not sure what will be there in the future as my choices and perspectives are changing and unsure to see where it all will lead to.

But an aunt with a guitar who writes stories, tells those stories, writes poetry, reads them on open mics, enjoys  Asterix and Obelix, and who wants to bungee jump and survive to tell the tale, you kind of feel from inside, that it will turn out to be wonderful.

 About the author

Mumbai-based Fairy Dharawat is a wide eyed dame who wants to be everything all at once. While writing grants her monthly pay cheque, this cat loving lass is a curious creature who goes out of her way to remind everyone that, Fairy is indeed her real name (she’s got an ID to prove that).

On phonics, bullying, art and why Neil Gaiman always has the answers

Scene 1:

The other day, I was at the library with Re and I saw another mother and child, sitting beside each other. Libraries always make me think of this piece by Neil Gaiman and smile. So here, a mother was reading to her child. Correction: Child was reading and mother was facilitating. Correction: Child was trying to read and mother was interrupting him every second with, “Tell the sound of the word!”

Normally I have a warm, fuzzy feeling about libraries. Especially children’s libraries, like MCubed, which we are members of.The feeling gets even warmer and fuzzier when parents and children are reading together.

But I am intrigued and confused by phonics for kids. Ever since Re came home and said sh- am- poo one day. A word he surely knew before, but now was saying it in a weird way, I thought. How can breaking something that is whole help in making it a new whole?

Something happened between my childhood and Re’s childhood. Phonics happened. What was this strange way kids were learning these days, I wondered. I looked at his books for the first time. I felt dizzy. I called Maria. She said, “Stay out of it. You will thank me one day.”

I took her advice. She is one of those people I always listen to. No questions asked.

These days, Re and I are best friends. I never ask him about homework or school work or sounds of words. But we talk about everything and discover new words every day. I am just the cool mom who takes him swimming and to the library every week.  Sometimes we go on rainbow hunts and make cards for people and post them.

I am a new kind of hands-on and I love it.

Scene 2:

Re came home with a note one day. It said he had been chosen for an inter-school art competition. I jumped so high, I almost hit the fan. I immediately got on to the Whataspp mommy group that I had muted (for a year) and shared the news. Who else is in, I asked, excited, plotting future art play dates with artsy mommies.

Stunned silence. No reply. I rebooted my phone. Still no reply.

When I checked for the third time, the other conscientious mommies on the group were busy discussing Olympiad and Hindi homework and other such ‘more important’ stuff.

I felt like a badass who was excited about art. I suddenly felt like a bit of an activist about art being considered a ‘co-curricular’ activity and vented on social media.

Many moms and dads jumped in saying, “Of course they do art in school; they also do plays and sing songs and what not. What are you saying?” A mother of a toddler informed me it is part of ICSE. (No less, mind you)

They obviously hadn’t heard me screaming, “But why is it called co-curricular?” And yes, I know that bit about art being the choice for sixth subject in class nine, because I taught in a school. It still doesn’t say much about the state of our curricula.

It’s very hard to make parents think about why they do what they do. So I give up, and celebrate the child and his art and we draw ten more ‘wainbows’

Scene 3:

Re tells me about being hit regularly by a boy in his class. This is not new. It is not the first time he has been hit/bullied and I am a bit depressed and sad.  I tell him to say he doesn’t like it the next time it happens or inform the teacher. What else is one to do, I wonder. Hitting back has never been an option for Re and I don’t want to be the one to suggest it. 

I peep once again into the (still muted) Whatsapp mommy group conversations so see if I can pick up a thread from there. Perhaps they are also discussing behaviour and other issues? No. They are busy sending cheesy Raksha Bandhan forwards or discussing lost and found Math books. And more homework. I run. 

Scene 4:

Re tells me once again about being hit by the same boy and now my maternal instinct takes over strongly. I track down the mother of the boy who starts out being all understanding although intrigued by my concern, because “no one has ever complained about Y before”. I mumble something about how there is always a first time which doesn’t make sense even to me. A few minutes later, she texts to say her son has denied doing any such thing. I then do the unmentionable of saying perhaps he is not speaking the truth because he has been cornered. All hell breaks loose. She then sends me a long list of things I am doing wrong (thankfully encouraging my child to make art is not one of them). I shudder. I write a note to the teacher asking her to change Re’s place of seating, and she obliges. I have learned the art of “this will do for now.” Re teaches me how to make dresses from playdoh. 

make good art

Art is the answer

Scene 5:

My first PTM meeting at Re’s big school and I don’t have a list of question or concerns as I wait my turn and overhear another mother going over the progress of her daughter subject by subject and thinking about how little I know about what he is ‘learning’ in school. Then I think about the art we made and the laps we swam and the books we read and castles and rainbows we drew and feel better.

When my turn comes, I quickly rush through the interaction, while mentioning concerns of the alleged bullying. The teacher explains that Re is an extremely ‘well-behaved” child and the other child is a very “vibrant and expressive” child and so there is a clash of personalities.

It makes sense to me for 30 seconds and then I wonder. Is a well-behaved child really a cause for concern? When did it start being the exception and not the norm? And when did ‘vibrant’ become a euphemism for ‘aggressive’?

I don’t seek answers to these questions. Instead I quickly ask for directions to the art room so I can meet the art teacher.

As Neil Gaiman would say, when everything fails, Make Good Art.

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 31st August, 2015)

Parenting sharenting: Love, hate and social media

Funny things happen when you write parenting columns and blogs, especially when you manage to wing them for five years and counting. In these years, I have put a lot of my life and Re’s out there; I have been at the receiving end of a lot of love, warmth, affection, cheer and many meaningful friendships. I have also been hated, blocked, sly-tweeted, unfollowed, spite-mailed, ridiculed, even trolled by Chetan Bhagat fans post a blogpost that condemned his view of homemakers. But since the former outweighs the latter, I have let it slide.

In the recent movie Masaan, there is a scene in which a corrupt policeman, soon after threatening a poor shop-owner on his failing to pay a ransom, turns all warm and mushy when his little daughter appears. I figured all the people who showered me with hate must be going through the motions of love in the same manner. There was one woman, who in my early blogging days took the time and the effort to draft me a long email about my stay-at-home-motherhood decision then — about how I was self-indulgent, judgemental and living in la-la land. I don’t believe she even read my post entirely, so quick was she to attack me. I could have counter attacked her, and we could have gone back and forth spewing a lot of poison, but I did what I thought was best for my sanity. I deleted her email.

Another lady wrote to me post my column about how memories are our real estate and not the houses we live in or buy. She accused me of being an irresponsible parent who has brought a child into this world with no fixed address and urged others not to listen to me, and first buy a house before considering having children. Again, I ignored her, because clearly, we had different vocabularies. One thing you learn from having children is to pick your battles. At least I have.

A third pointed out to a study which mentions that “On one hand, social media offers today’s parents an outlet they find incredibly useful. On the other hand, some are concerned that oversharing may pose safety and privacy risks for their children.” To which my response was: I don’t really live my life measuring up to ‘studies’, and I do what feels right. I first started blogging about motherhood when I was lonely as a new mother, and when I got lonelier, I wrote a book about it. The book came out when my son was four, by which time my sharings on my blog and column had grown organically.

But I can say this with a lot of conviction that by putting myself and my child out there, we have only grown together. And in a good way. We have been recipients of a lot of kindness and love and affection, and that can’t be a bad thing, can it?

There are many occasions in parenting where you just don’t know what to do; I often falter many times and hit a blank wall, and now I know I have this huge community of people to reach out to, some of who are not even parents. There is much wisdom in a collective consciousness.

Someone else warned me that the online world leaves a digital trail that never disappears. In that sense, the information that you put out about your children will always be there. How do you cope with it, she asked me?

I don’t cope; I don’t look at it as an ominous trail. I’m just grateful that I was able to document interesting bits about my life. When you write things down, they become clearer. You know why you do what you do. I am sure our ancestors had the same issues with the telephone that we have with social media. It’s just about accepting what’s part of our times and making the most of it. If you think of it as the enemy, it will always be the enemy. In any case, privacy in social media has always baffled me as a concept.

Of course there must be a catch, mustn’t there, people wonder. Well, I haven’t seen too many negatives, except being recognised now and then, and often people acting familiar with Re in the manner of “I know the things you say!”. But that is easily circumvented by establishing boundaries quickly. It’s not that I am a private person and my son is in the public eye. Very often, we are a unit. I also see that our circle of love had increased manifold in the last few years and so there are more positives than negatives.

But more than anything else, I follow the rule of my grandmother: If you have something nice to say to someone, say it immediately. If you have something nasty, wait a day. And if there’s something you would never tell a person to her/his face, don’t write it.

It has mostly worked.

 (A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 27th July, 2015)