Thinking good thoughts, my a#$%*!

In short, nothing in your life has changed, except that there is a spectator inside you who is taking it all in. The only way you can become the epitome of calm is if you stop going to work, travelling anywhere, talking to anyone, and just staying put and listening to Bach at home. Sure, there were fleeting moments of peace and quiet, when the husband would indulge me with his famous calf massage, pour me an occasional glass of wine or beer (yes!), and we would talk to the baby in dulcet tones. It felt like this was the best time of my life and I had never been so tranquil or centred before.
Till I went to work the next day. And found that life and the universe around me was pretty much the same as before. People were still being mean to animals. Trees were still being cut randomly. Drivers were still driving with their eyes shut and their brains locked up somewhere. Rich brats in posh cars were still pretending that a pot-hole-laden road was the expressway. Colleagues were still slacking off. Telemarketing pests and PR executives were still calling you at 2 p.m. Stock broking companies were still bulk-texting me hot tips at 6 a.m. My mother was still whining about my father.
In the midst of all this, you are expected to be this immaculate, calm mother who will give birth to this angel of a baby who will do everything right, stay happy, never cry and always sleep when you want it to. Such babies and mothers don’t exist and the sooner you learn that, the better it is for you. I found that when I came to terms with my imperfections instead of trying to fight them, I was able to be a much better mother.

(An excerpt from my book, “I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot!”)

View the trailer here: http://youtu.be/DHKMZWyLwjI

 

When are you going back to work: Living the motherhood/career paradox

So when are you getting back to work, asked she who must know it all. It has been exactly a year and four months since I quit.

I am not sure, perhaps when Re is settled in school?

But the longer you wait, the more out-of-practice you will get.

Out-of-practice? Did she even know what I do? But I try to explain.

I am a writer. I write all the time. I will never get out of practice.

But education is so expensive. And then there is peer pressure. Children are also so demanding these days.

We keep our needs minimal. I don’t do designer labels, designer birthdays, designer holidays, or designer schools. I want to keep it simple.

Still, it must be tough to manage on one salary.

She has entered forbidden territory by now. I am seething, but I keep my calm. I guess motherhood makes you manage your anger better.

I’d rather do 100% motherhood now than deal with issues later.

You can plan all you like, but what will happen, will happen.

She is someone who hasn’t worked a day in her life. Perhaps she thought I spent my days getting my nails done, spending the OPU’s money, taking beauty naps, or getting my jewellery reset. What would she know about the motherhood/career paradox, I wondered.

The problem with motherhood is that either way, you are screwed (I know I shouldn’t be using such words, this is a mommy blog, but nothing describes it better). If you choose career over baby, bottle over breast, money over bonding, you are accused of being materialistic and cold-hearted. If you choose the opposite, you are accused of having turned into a lady who lunches, someone who would be emotionally manipulated by her child, someone who took the easy way out, someone who wasn’t career-minded in the first place. And then, people think you are at their beck and call. Friends expect you to pick up movie tickets. Randoms ask you what you do all day. Relatives wonder why you can’t show up at perfunctory dinners thrown for someone in the family tree you don’t really give a shit about (okay, will watch it!). Considering you don’t work, I thought you would show up, was a line thrown at me recently by a certain someone who is trying to pack it all and is an eager contestant for supermom.

I grew up with super moms before the phrase became fashionable. My mother was one too. My extended family is full of them, although they haven’t made it to magazine covers or features. Every single aunt of mine worked till her retirement, managed work and family on auto-pilot and most of them still draw pensions. The ones that didn’t have jobs turned entrepreneurs who ran creches, beauty parlours, catering businesses, jewellery design or investment companies. Each one of them lauded me on my decision to quit my job to do motherhood. No one has yet asked me when I plan to go back to work. Least of all, my mother, who worked 36 years as a school teacher before she eventually retired. She loved her job, but she still tells me she wished she could have quit to be home with us when we were little. She had no choice. Times were hard then.

I guess times are still hard. I have given up on my dream to own a house in a real-estate gangrene-ridden city. It’s not a priority any more. Yes, I do miss my fat paycheque and I do feel odd spending someone else’s money.  But I figured, after working non-stop for 17 years, I could certainly win a job back. On motherhood, I am still raw, and this is my only chance, so I want to get it right. I didn’t want to be torn all the time, I didn’t want to negotiate my work-life balance on a daily basis. I wouldn’t have a daughter I could lament to years from now about a decision I could have made.  Re would be too grown up and too male by then.

But she stirred a lot of emotions. When I thought about it, I didn’t have an answer to when I would be ready to go back to work (makes you wonder if you are on holiday now). Yes, Re will start school in six months. But that would still be three hours.  Would I leave him with a maid for the other six, wondering if she ever fed him the date rolls my mother made or has she eaten it herself? Would I find a day-care with soul close to home/my place of work? Would I find a job close to home/playschool that would allow me to hop across when required? Would I find an organisation that understood and practised (without being exploitative) the concept of flexitime? Would I find an organisation that offered day-care and not look at me like I was asking for the moon? I don’t know.

It may seem unfair, but fathers never have to deal with these kinds of negotiations. Fatherhood is still a column men don’t have to fill in their resumes. It can be invisible until they decide to put up baby pictures on their soft-boards. Motherhood on the other hand is a life-long contract you enter into from the time you get pregnant. You can make it discreet, but never discreet enough.

I am not glorifying stay-at-home moms, before you swish your daggers at me. All I am saying is, this is how I wanted to do it, and after 17 years of working non-stop, I think I deserved to. Kids grow up and turn out okay anyway, is another line thrown by randoms. Yes, I know they do. May be I am nuts.  But I figured I may as well invest the time now than deal with allergies, therapists and eating disorders for years to come. It is not the only way, but it is my way. And I don’t think it is anybody’s business, except me and the OPU. Even if the OPU is totally supportive of my decision, and in awe of the way Re is shaping up, my ‘not working’ is still viewed with a certain dismissiveness and skepticism by people who don’t even matter. I am always asked when I plan to return to work, never if.

If you come and see what I do, you wouldn’t want to trade places with me. Being ensconced in air-conditioning, bcc and cc mails, video conferences, meetings and endless cups of tea seems far more comfortable than being a stay-at-home mom, keeping pace with a toddler’s complexities.

As to what I do all day, there are two ways I can answer that. Give you a detailed account of all I do, starting with waking up to my face being rearranged at 6 am to controlling water-play to trying to decode the boy’s vocabulary which has much more sound than it has words or dealing with growth spurts and behaviour transitions and making sense of them to making sure he interacts with his environment in a way that is humane and productive to managing menus and domestics, groceries and SIPs, play-dates and outdoor activity along the way to playing the wife/daughter/daughter-in-law/friend/social mom  as the situation demands to writing two blogs and a book to finding me time (if anything is left from the above).

Better still, I will let you trade places with me for a day.

I am sure she wouldn’t last an hour.

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.’