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)

 

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Why I never worry about empty nest syndrome

Earlier this week, Re told me he wants to be a ‘take-carer’ when he grows up. I was amused, and asked him what that was. He replied, “It means I will take care of you when I grow up.”

I have no idea where that came from. Perhaps it is from the fact that we now have my mother around, so there is a constant shift in balance of who takes care of whom. So there is Re who looks after his babies (Dipsy and her baby, various princesses, Pooh, Bertie, Twilight and the gang) and occasionally, doubles as their doctor when it’s time for their checkups (ever since he took a shine to Doc McStuffins). There is my mother, who looks after the cats, Re and me in turns. And lastly there is me who looks after Re (when he will allow me), and my mother (when she will allow me or when it comes to doctors or paperwork or airports and other outside world negotiations that she cannot be bothered with). So there are three generations simultaneously playing out roles of child and parent and quickly reversing them with great felicity. But in the overlap of these roles is a lovely, fuzzy comfort zone where we are just ourselves, with no tags attached.

Re is taking his future ‘take-carer’ role rather seriously. He’s been holding doors for me and my mother and fetching our slippers when we can’t find them. He is the chief locator of my mother’s reading glasses and my phone, and the presser of lift buttons and the answerer of doorbells and telephones. So far, so good, I thought.

I watched Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (it could well have been called Motherhood) a few months ago, and it’s a movie that moved me deeply. The movie was made over 12 years, in real time, and films the coming of age of two children and their parents, as they individually and collectively go through some big and small upheavals. Patricia Arquette’s remarkable portrayal of Olivia, the doughty single mother in the film who is struggling to keep her family together fetched her an Oscar for best supporting actress this year.

“I just thought there would be more”, she says in an emotionally intense last scene, as Mason, her screen son is leaving home to go to college. In that one scene, she manifests the empty-nest syndrome as a full-blown existential crisis. She talks about her life as a series of milestones revolving around men, marriage, babies, career and raising kids and at the end of all this, there is a sense of bankruptcy which is so palpable. That scene encapsulates with minimal words the gritty and sobering nature of motherhood, the story of mothers who live for their children and completely lose purpose without them.

A few months ago, Re and I were riding with a PYT who was visibly intrigued that I chose to be a mother when I was 40 and clearly youth and sprightliness (the two ingredients most marketed for motherhood by the media and doctors) were not on my side. I told her it was all in the mind and my mind has never been as fertile as it is now, so clearly my child is at an advantage, because there is no angst of having to spend my ‘youth’ rearing a child.

She didn’t get it, and said, “But the gap between you and your child is so much!”

I then realized our vocabulary was different. She was a checklist girl and I was a follow-your-heart girl. So yes, the fact is that I will be 60 when Re is 20. And I will be 80 when Re is 40. But then, it is still math. Life is something else. I would like to meet her at 40 (if I am still around) and compare notes once again, but for now, I am going to let it go. Because we all plot our coordinates and figure the optimum time to do this and that when life is stealthily creeping up on us, and the funny thing is, even if you do everything by the book, there absolutely no guarantee that you will get it right. We are all winging it, as Ethan Hawke says in the movie. And the beauty of not knowing what comes next is a huge facilitator.

But I can say this with complete confidence that I will never be high and dry one day when he is all grown up and flown the nest, wondering if there should have been more. Because there will be more. There will be me.

 

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 11th May, 2015)

Letting go and other April reflections

April is usually a time to take stock. No, I’m neither financially savvy nor does my life revolve around KRAs and other analyses, but April is the month before May – the month I was born, and I always feel a sense of closure around this time, so it helps me to write things down. More so because I realize that the older I get, the more chances I take, so it perhaps is a good idea to see how things are adding up.

I know it’s perhaps too early to make resolutions or too late, depending on how you look at it, but this is just a way of doing some math on my life.

On the face of it, this has been a year of letting go. Of freedom, of stability, of home-delivery menus and happy hours, of cable television and other notions of freedom.

But it has also been a year of acquisitions. Of letters, postcards, hand-written cards and notes and a lot of paper to touch and feel.

This was a year of teaching. Okay, let me correct that. This was a year of trying to be a teacher, and being hand-held by 75 children in getting there.

It has been a year of realizations, some happy, others sad, but all important. I am sharing them because this is usually the time of year when you ‘find’ your kids, the time when they are ‘yours’ again, and not the school’s, and you may have some trouble breaking the ice at least in the first few weeks. Here they are in no particular order:

  1.  There are no alternative schools. There are only alternative parents. You will only be an alternate parent when you recognize who you truly are.
  2.  As long as there is teaching, no one is learning. Children start learning only when you stop teaching. Let it go.
  3. Your home is as much a school as school is. Know that. Nourish your spaces. Become them.
  4. Your child is not you. He/she is a separate person. Nurture that separateness.
  5. Freedom is not about space. It’s the ability to see things as they are and with grace. Your children have that ability, while you are still holding on to a notion of freedom. Let it go.
  6. If you are constantly telling a child what he/she cannot do, may be you should never have been a parent. Or a teacher. Perhaps bouncer is more like it. Turn off your auto-correct mode for a day and see how it feels. Let it go.
  7.  If you can allow your child the freedom to ‘do nothing’ once in a while, it would be the greatest gift. Some day, you will be thanked for it. Let it go.
  8. If you expect your child to play, but expect him to also learn while doing so, you are destroying the purpose of play. One of the greatest manipulations of learning is play-way. Let it go.
  9. Just because you have been a curly haired girl all your life, it doesn’t mean the world can’t think of you in a different way. The past year, I have been able to do what I never dreamt I could ever have done. It’s time for me to raise the bar. So I lost my locks, since they were coming in the way of the person I want to be next. I let it go.
  10. If you want the truth, your child will give it to you. Question is, do you want it? Are you ready for it?
  11. The only thing that comes between your child and you is the adult in you. Let it go.
  12. Today you might complain that your child talks too much and you are so tired and overworked that you have no time to listen. Tomorrow you might wonder why your child is not sharing anything with you.
  13. And finally. When your five-going-on-six year-old wants to perform ‘Let it go’ from Frozen for you, the world can wait.
(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 6th April, 2015) 

Next time you push your children, push yourself a little bit too

So this is going to hurt a little. But often, I find that the most problematic thing about teaching children is their parents.

They come in all shades. The over-protective parent. The helicopter parent. The pushy parent. The lazy but ambitious parent. They may request special attention, feel their children need to be challenged more, give teachers pointers on their teaching, make excuses for their children not completing their assignments, advise house parents on communication skills, want their children to be more competitive, expect school staff to respond to e-mails within the hour, the list goes on.

It’s as though parents send their kids to alternate schools for the right reasons, and then start expecting the wrong things. They think about success. They think in comparisons. They think about milestones, achievements and shiny trophies. It’s like they have already scripted their children’s lives and whatever the child says or feels is irrelevant. Needless to say, children are confused.

I meet them every weekend. I can smell them from a distance.

“Can you give me a list of phrases he can use so his language can become better?” asks one mother. The father is busy looking at the sky, as if to say, “I don’t know how I got here.”

“I am still looking for those,” I say. “Besides, it’s not Math. There is no formula to good writing.”

“But his spellings are so bad! I read his emails and he makes so many mistakes.” She seems flustered by now. She turns to the father.

“It doesn’t matter, as long as he is still writing you long emails and telling you what he feels,” I reply.

They stare at me. “An English teacher who doesn’t care about spellings! That’s weird,” they seem to be thinking.

Another one asks, “So how’s K doing?”

“He’s having fun,” I say. Another stare.

“Give him more work. Tell him what to read. Make him read,” she tells me.

I often wonder, would you tell a doctor or a chef how to do her job? Then why does it become okay to tell teachers?

A third says, “She doesn’t read!  During the holidays, she watches TV all the time or is on Facebook!

“Oh! What do you read?” I ask him.

“Me?”

“Yes. Do you read?”

“Well, I want to, but I hardly get the time with my work,” he says. He seems offended. I have my answer though.

It goes on.

“How’s H doing?”, asks his father.

“I think he has really opened up, and is writing without inhibitions these days. He used to shy from putting words on paper, so this is big,” I say, beaming.

“But his grammar is bad, no?”

When I moved to be an English teacher at a residential school, I came to a bunch of students, even the best of who didn’t know the difference between its and it’s and to whom, books were either fiction or non-fiction.

I could choose to do one of two things: tell them all that was wrong with them, their spellings, their punctuation, their grammar, their sentence construction. Or I could teach them to find their voice, to write without inhibitions, to express their thoughts without the fear of making mistakes.

I chose the latter. I chose well. There was a time when a paragraph would make them groan. Now I give them 500 words and they go, “What? That’s it?”

Here’s the thing. We read words visually. If a child has put a word out there, he/she knows what it means and how to use it. If children are corrected or reprimanded each time they use a wrong spelling, they may fall out of love with words very soon.

To every parent that is constantly dissatisfied with their child, I want to ask this: When was the last time you tried something that scared you? When was the last time you taught yourself how to make a Dragon’s Egg? When did you last read a genre that intimidated you? When did you last tell yourself, ‘I am not very good at X or Y, so let me take an online course.’? When did you last do something knowing fully well that you would get it wrong?

So take some risks. Break some barriers. And don’t tell your children what to do. The best thing you can do for your child is to set them free. Allow them some control over their lives. Ask them what classes they want to take. Give them the opportunity to make some decisions and watch them smile in return.

And above all, listen. Listen when your children speak. When kids feel like their parents truly listen to them (about spotting a nightjar near the art room to the 100 metre race they almost won), they feel more connected. This increases their self-confidence and increases their overall happiness. They are more likely to take healthy risks. They are confident and secure in their decisions. They learn that sometimes people make mistakes, but there is always a chance to right a wrong.

I know that in the age of social media, conversations are old fashioned. But have them. They will last longer than your smartphone.

 (This first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 2nd February, 2015. If you have something to share, mail me on mommygolightly@gmail.com)

2014 for mommygolightly: Thank you for flying with me

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for my blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 140,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 6 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.