Dur dur d’etre bebe

Modern times are awash with as many references to peoples’ ‘inner child’ as there are cats and lunches on social media. The erroneous idealization of the ‘inner child’ comes from the tendency to view childhood with a rose-tinted lens, a bouquet of clichés about freedom and play.

The common usage is twee – ice-cream, usurping the swings from actual children or splashing in puddles, (ignoring all common-sense about say, leptospirosis). The term actually refers to processes in psychological therapy that aim to address unresolved childhood issues or trauma.

Development psychologist, Erik Erikson presented a lifetime of psychosocial development as a series of conflict resolutions (or failures to do so) from birth to death. He placed a high emphasis (5 out of 8 total stages) on the duration of childhood.  According to Erikson, children, ideally, should develop trust in society, confidence in autonomy, the ability to express and follow their own initiative, acquire patience for and pride in industry and as teenagers, explore and then establish a unique identity.

If you (crouch to) look at it squarely in the face, childhood then seems incredibly full and frenetic with agendas that must be adequately fulfilled so you don’t grow up to be an axe-murderer or a misogynist rapper. 

I’ve always had an inner grown-up. 

I can count on my fingers the times I remember feeling like a child. Being carried into a bakery, sick with measles. Falling asleep in the back seat as my parents drove us home. Actually, that’s all I got. Weirdly, I last felt like a child when I read my mama a poem I wrote for someone else’s child, a few days before she died. She looked at me, smiled and clapped. I thought, “wow, I feel 11 years old.” But now my mother is dead. And I know I will never feel like a child again. That’s really not as tragic as it sounds.

Being a child is not easy. People may forget that. I never will.

You’re shorter. You have no money. Your foot’s too small to be put down. You cry when you’re overwhelmed because you haven’t learned yet to run to the office bathroom for a weep. When you shout, you sound squeaky.

Even in the most equitable families, you’re at the constant mercy of other peoples’ schedules, rules, paranoias and help us, their parenting strategies. People lose interest in what you’re saying halfway from the punchline. They send you to sports or piano lessons and tell you they’re doing things because they want ‘what’s best for you’. And what argument can you have with that?

You’re two. You need to sleep at a weird time because your tummy feels awful. But ‘schedule’. You’re four. You’re new in school. None of the kids want to play with you and the class monitor said he’s taking your eraser again. But ‘don’t be scared, you’ll make friends soon’. You’re 7. Your best friend has a new friend. And you don’t want to be the only one carrying your asthma pump to the playground. But ‘don’t be silly, it’s not a big deal. ’You’re 11. You think you may have fallen in love. You know you’re too young for this. And you don’t want boobs. And you won’t say anything because what would you say?

Dur dur d’etre bebe.

I wrote long letters of complaint to my mother because I was aware my childish emotions overcame my ability to articulate ‘what was wrong’. Not all children have this avenue. Some just set fire to Barbies or pooped their pants.

I couldn’t wait for the years to catch up with my head. I had a great childhood. But I waited every day to be an adult.

Which is why I’m going to tell you something, if you’ll forgive my being so forward. Take it at face value, ignore it if you want, but I have to say this…

Respect children. All children. The nerds, the jocks, the trouble-makers, the wallflowers. Meet their eye when they talk to you. Ask them a question that is not part of the usual ‘how’s school, who’s your favourite teacher, what’s your best friend’s name’. Maybe start with a ‘why’. If they’re two, ‘Why do you like spiderman?’ If they’re 11, “why do you think history is relevant?” You may be surprised with a great conversation.

Read their books. Know what’s going into those imaginations. Maybe course correct a little. It doesn’t always have to be ‘the right reading material’. Play this by ear. I loved Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book but every kid I’ve offered it to has refused to read it.  I weaned my 7yo off Geronimo Stilton but brought a 16yo the first Twilight book. I gave my 11yo The Hunger Games while my friend M bought her Scat by Carl Hiassen. (We’ve both been promoted to ‘cool’ in the circle where these books have been lent out.)

Your child is special. But so is every other child. Some of us love all children, see the universe behind all their eyes, hear angels in all their voices and find most things they say hilarious. But when some parents act like the depth of their feelings, the twee of the baby-talk or the contents of diapers are so wondrously unique and carp on and on, it’s a bit monkeys and bananas. Everyone feels it, as intensely. If you don’t acknowledge that, you haven’t thought it through. 

While you’re teaching them to strive and achieve, teach them how to lose, with grace, ethics, wisdom and dignity. They give everyone a medal at the playschool races, but life is not like that. They will probably lose more often than they win, if not at school then at sports, or at work or in love. How they treat their victors, how they pick themselves up, how they forge on maybe to win, or perhaps to lose one more time… Let this be how they measure themselves against their peers. They will never find themselves wanting, no matter what.

Much is made about unconditional parental love but not enough of the great, unflinching, unconditional love of a child. It’s tough being a kid because they just have you. Unless you do something absolutely dastardly, and sadly, even then, chances are your child will forgive you, will yearn for you to make it better.

Explain the tough stuff, but remind them of their limited responsibility. A friend’s parents getting a divorce, roadside sexual harassment, global warming, the family budget – keep them in the know. Then tell them what part they have to play. Kids pick up all the tones in the voices and the undercurrents but have no power to change anything.  

Finally, I think there is too much modern emphasis on Your inner child. As a parent, your inner child may cause some sibling rivalry with your real life child. Sure, kids love spontaneity, laughing, getting wet in the rain. These are memories you’re making. But underlay that with a bedrock of security, an adult courage and honesty (and in the case of rain, a hot bath, hot chocolate and a blanket).

There will be time to posture at being their ‘friend’ when they’re in their twenties. You may actually achieve some of this in their thirties. But until then and even then, you’re the parent. Be the parent.

Don’t throw counter-tantrums, get off the damn slide and grow up. And if you’re inner child is still around, get thee to therapy pronto.

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Home.

 

I want a gentle upheaval.

Like to have to ask for a coffee in a new language. To rummage through a wallet full of unfamiliar currency, hand over a crisp note, its colour a habit yet to be formed, receive cold, strange coins, with the profile of an ancient unknown personage sternly looking to the right.

I want to walk streets whose names I must whisper softly to myself as I read the signs, falteringly. I want to learn how the houses are numbered, see how trustingly the child’s bicycle has been left in the driveway, hear a radio on, an accent now undecipherable, fading in the air as I walk past. Cold air, dry air, crackling like the ground covered with orange and yellow leaves from a tree that is older than my mother would have been, but whose name I do not know.

I want autumn in a far away country.

The sky should be a sharper blue, without the familiar haze of noon-time sun, glaring at me for daring to be so close to the bulge of the planet. Maybe I would see wild ducks, outlining the head of an invisible arrow that points to the chase they are making for warmer skies.

Not all the locals will be unsuspicious. My colour may stand out. My jacket will be the wrong weft. They may worry about my cultural baggage. But I want to tell them, I only want to be here. Because I have read of your place in books and seen it in movies, I have dreamt of your trees and your air and your sky. I won’t build high walls and celebrate alien festivals with no respect for your own traditions.

I won’t sit you down to tell you of my life. That is not what I want. I want a gentle upheaval, an unsettling, a step to the side. My comfort zones, my happy places, are too far back in time, irretrievable, tied to people and cultures that have been decimated by bulldozing human mobs. No one asked as they built their high rises if those deep foundations rattled the bones of my grandmothers. No one asked if the high new walls would put the pear tree in a shadow so after thirty years of fruit, it fell barren. No one wondered if it would alarm us, if they beat their drums so loudly or spilled sacrificial blood on the streets.

And so I want to leave.

I want to find a place that mirrors my childhood. Where individual diversity was respectfully kept indoors and on the streets, you were only human. Watching for the children, talking to the elderly, walking the old streets, past the old houses where families waxed and waned, the trees rising higher and higher as each generation gave way to the next. The little boy with his grandmother’s hair playing ball with the aunt with her great grandfather’s eyes beneath coconut trees as old as the village.

I don’t want to leave.

But I want to feel something other than hopelessness and disappointment and fear. I don’t want to see the old houses lose their old gentle families, give way to bulldozers and trucks full of ugly cement, to be filled with a strange, loud, people who do not know these streets they fill their fancy cars with. Who do not care that that woman they just honked loudly at has been walking these streets for 70 years. She may be my father’s sister. She was here before you. You must respect her ways.

I want to leave.

I want to take my children and leave. I want to go to a place that reminds me of home, where I have to remember, rather than learn, that kindness and empathy and standing up for those who cannot do so for themselves are not something to be celebrated, but just a way of life.

When it is time, bring my bones back to where my mother lies. I want to rest beside her. I want to know for sure that all this chaos, this noise, this hatred, this callousness, cannot pass beyond the grave.

I will want for nothing then. I will be home.  

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Learning to Fly (or BABES ON A PLANE AAARRRGGH!)

Some time before your fledglings actually leave the nest, you’re probably going to have to get on a Big Iron Bird.

If you’re in the loop about the whole Babies on Planes propaganda, you’ll know that it’s quite trendy now to crib about infants crying or generally ‘being children’ on planes. (Keep in mind that some recent trends include Electronic Dance Music, pyjamas as day wear and adopting cats, so it’s a mixed bag, you know?)

From the moment a baby is born, parents learn the true meaning of the word Unpredictability. One moment Life is propelling lemons at you from a tennis-ball machine, the next moment, a fat little human has turned over for the first time and is grinning toothlessly and just when your heart is about to explode, so does her rear end and where are the diapers and now she’s decided not to nap and you’re going to miss your deadline and…

Take that, add ‘HOURS on a PLANE’. (And airport, luggage, airport cooties, child-hating passengers, child-loving-wanna-put-their-grimy-fingers-on-baby’s-face-passengers, security checks, immigration queues, toilet-roulette…)

Of course, the best way to travel with a baby is not to.

The second best is Business Class.

Assuming Brangelina have gotten what they needed from this piece, here’s a little something I’ve learned from 12 years, three children and traveling coach.

Don’t wear a Superman T-shirt. It’s tempting fate. On our first flight from Goa with (then) 4 month old Baby A, she screamed from take-off to landing. The lovely crew (Jet Airways*) went from super supportive to really, just plain scared. At the luggage carousel, people smiled, patted us on the shoulder, offered words of comfort and at least one couple decided they were not going to have kids.

Baby A meanwhile, had recovered with full amnesia, cooing and burbling at traumatized hostesses, as we admitted to ourselves that we’d traveled with no prep, like a couple of newbies. We considered just driving to places until she was 30. But then we came up with a sort of Unpredictability Kit.

Yes, that’s an oxymoron. But you can start with the foolproof Travel With Baby lists on sites like BabyCenter. These work: new toys, snack bags, infant paracetamol, pre-measured formula in bottles, wipes, changes of clothes for baby and you, ‘home-smelling’ baby blanket…

This list is pretty exhaustive with tried and tested tips, http://www.today.com/id/33079922/ns/today-parenting_and_family/t/screams-plane-how-quell-tantrums/ and it also references Dr Harvey Karp, author of the ‘Happiest Baby’ books. I agree with everything (especially the SmartPhone entertainment apps, they absolutely work!) except the Benadryl.

Try booking less crowded flights, score a seat next to an empty seat and never get stuck in the middle aisle, ever! Some recommend feeding and burping baby an hour before boarding, some only once you’re on the plane so they’re happy to settle down. (A fine balance; if they’re too frantic they may take extra time to calm down from the hunger-rage.)

There are also those parents who pre-apologise and hand out sweeties and ear-plugs. I’m not a fan of encouraging people to enunciate their dislike for kids but if you want to put that in your Unpredictability Kit, go for it.

But, parents do some stuff wrong. Have you ever watched a frantic naani shake a crying baby as if it’s the opposite of a rattle and movement will silence it, or a mum trying to out-shout the baby, chanting ‘woe woe woe’? Lady. Stop it. And don’t say ‘woe’! Also if you’ve ever been privy to the squeezy toy frantically being pressed over screaming infant’s face, congratulations on not being in jail for aggravated assault.

(See grumpy childists? Us parents KNOW it’s annoying. And it’s OUR problem, so imagine how we feel.)

The thing is, all this behaviour comes from a parent-on-a-plane’s greatest enemy. PANIC! Your fight-or-flight instinct predates air travel so don’t leap up with your mewling spawn and beg the hostess to pace the aisles while you’re still taking off. You’re going to freak everyone out, especially yourself and that poor little thing who is in a panic because air travel is NOT NATURAL.

Here’s some stuff to remember. Unless your kids are kicking the front seat or being screechy for no reason, ignore every disapproving ‘Tsk’ from JohnnyNoKids over there. Most airlines are very empathetic with parents of small kids and most crew find some adult passengers much more demanding and annoying than babies. So as long as you’re not being a big baby yourself, the airline is on your side.

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After you’ve done the food, diaper, clothes bunched up, mosquito bite, ambient temperature comfort check, if baby is still crying, hold her baby gently, close and hum quietly so there’s a gentle vibration. This will calm you down. Give it a few minutes. If traveling with another person, take turns to try and settle baby down. If you all pounce on her, it will just raise the stress levels.

Make sure you’re hydrated and not too tired. You need to focus 100% on the little ‘un and try and pre-empt severe crying jags by nipping them in the bud. If it helps, time the actual crying. You’ll find what seems like centuries has actually been a few minutes. And baby will stop crying eventually and settle down and play and maybe even s l e e p.

There’s no magic formula but with a lot of prep, a little luck and constant attention, you will have more good flights than bad. The more often you fly, the better you and your kid get at it. And remember, even if your baby is miserable for the entire flight, you will land eventually. And at least you won’t be wearing a Superman T-shirt.

*(Turkish Air, Swiss Air, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Indigo and the erstwhile KingFisher also deserve special mention for being fabulous with children.)

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Working Boobies!

ImageIf the title of this piece brought mental images of swinging nipple-tassles or a bar called Hooters, dude, you’re in the wrong section of this website.

If you’re a mama, yes, this is about breast-feeding. A woman’s work; no one else can do it.

In the time-honoured tradition of writing on breast-feeding, I’d like to begin by saying I’m agnostic about this part of the motherhood process. Whether you’ve breastfed your baby till the age of 6, had TIME magazine put you, your boob and your child on the cover OR you plopped a bottle of formula into baby’s mewling maws the moment you were home, away from the judge-y nurses… I think you’ve done okay.

Lots of research says breastfeeding prevents asthma, eczema, obesity… I’ve breastfed three kids. One struggled with being chubby, one has asthma and one has a little eczema. On the other hand, I’ve seen completely formula-fed babies (my siblings and I, friends’ kids) grow into strapping, robust people with high IQs and stomachs of steel. Back to the labs with you, Science!

Pregnant for Baby A, I read all the pregnancy manuals but skipped the breastfeeding bits. It was bad enough that my motorcycle riding, running on the road, power-drilling-holes-in-the-wall-on-a-ladder life had come to a halt. There was no way I was going to exacerbate the impending ignominy of early motherhood by being what a friend called ‘A Major Food Source.’

But in the last month of my pregnancy, quite by mistake, I chanced upon a paragraph that said breastfeeding could burn upto 500 calories. Per day! You’d have to be wiping puke off your shirt and staggering back into the Crossfit arena to burn that. And you could do this calorie burning, sitting on your slowly diminishing arse, while all the matriarchs of the family clucked and cooed about what A Great Mother you were.

Sold! (To the lady in the easy-to-open stretchy shirt.)

So yes. I did it for Me. And it worked. I got super fit, pretty quick (at least the first two times around). And I’m ashamed to say, it was a very rewarding experience. And also super convenient.

Baby-raising is much, much, much harder than you’d imagine. And the propaganda is full of lies! Ask any mama how often she managed to ‘nap when the baby naps’. Or how ‘calming’ Baby Mozart actually is the 398th time you’re playing it. Or how many parents actually manage to adhere to those godforsaken ‘schedules’ that are supposed to ease your life when actually it takes 2 weeks to settle into one, and then baby grows a bit and next week you have to create a new schedule.

So here are some breast-feeding pros:

No late-night zombie-mixing-formula-to-the-sound-of-baby-screaming. No sterilizing bottles. Less colic. (Predictably, Baby A had terrible colic but I’ve had a charmed life.) Definitely less colds and coughs. Almost no medicine while they’re exclusively breast-fed. If you’re lucky you’ll find a paediatrician who will recommend home remedies for you whose medicinal effects get transferred to baby via the feeding. (If not, look online at baby wellness sites. Or best still, talk to the matriarchs. There’s usually a wealth of information just waiting to be put into practice.)

Breast fed babies also tend to blimp up in the most delicious way. All my babies’ first passport photos are 80% cheek, eyes squinched up from all the chubby, like smug, little Buddhas. (Once they start eating regular food though, they normalize. Which is also a good thing.)

Not having to worry about whether you’ve carried enough formula when you’re traveling, or quieting baby on the plane is much easier with The Working-Boob. You can also get some quiet time while feeding, to read or play Angry Birds because hey, you’re multi-tasking.

The down side of course is that evolution hasn’t quite made boobs detachable yet. So baby, especially as he or she gets older, knows where the snack-pack is. And doesn’t care if you’re standing on the road, surrounded by the creepiest men in India-dom. Oh no. He or she WILL grab at you, pull your shirt down, or attempt to feed THROUGH your shirt while your discomfiture increases and at least one creepy man tries to take a photo.

Back-to-work breastfeeding mummies (really, you guys need a medal) will know that unique sensation of their boobs growing during an important meeting. Also, pumping at work and carrying enough breast-pads.

I bought polo-necks, empire-waisted peplum tees, (super discreet because the baby just fits under the tent). I now have several lovely stoles which are also a great way to distract from a post-preg belly and a cosy wrap for when Juniorella falls asleep.

Eventually baby grows up and you may surprise yourself at the sense of loss you feel when the weaning is complete. You may cry a little. But as you put the breast-pump away, buy a set of REAL BRAS with no weird openings and pension off the peplim-tees, you will be elevated with a sense of freedom! Your Working-Boobies can now retire. And if there’s any life in em yet, give them a drink with an umbrella or go for a long run!

(This is an iDiva post: http://idiva.com/opinion-iparenting/working-boobies-an-agnostic-take-on-breastfeeding/23425)

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The Kids Are Not Alright

The booking representative at the famous five star hotel was polite but adamant, “I’m sorry ma’am. We will not allow more than one child in a room. We are a luxury hotel.”

LeaveThemBehind.com, ‘dedicated to the peaceful side of life’, urges you to remember what holidays are really about, i.e. escaping from worries and stress. The ‘them’ though refers to children; the site specializes in locating spas, resorts and restaurants with strict No-Kids-Allowed policies.

In a poll conducted by airfarewatchdog.com, 85% of respondents wanted a special section corralling children on an aircraft. Malaysia Airlines has banned children from the top deck of its A380s. A recent TripAdvisor poll of 2000 Britons revealed that up to a third would pay more for a ticket on a child-free flight.

Our (erstwhile) favourite Italian restaurant had closed its doors to children except on Sundays. It is run by a cantankerous chef who earlier resorted to a printed warning, noisy children running around would not be tolerated, which was not only received gratefully but also ensured our kids learned to eat politely at his delicious, well-loved table.

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It takes a village, they say, to raise a child. But has the village turned against them?

That society develops traits and trends counter-intuitive to survival is hardly news. Most among us are sentient enough to acknowledge that racism, religious fundamentalism/phobia, misogyny and war can eventually descend into political insecurity, poverty and hunger. But these shallow smarts are hard-won from recent historical wounds or from watching parts of the globe cry for help on social media. We’re not big-picture-viewing enabled, but will admit that our all-important personal survival depends on stemming the dark nature that lets these societal poisons spread.

So what are we to make of this casual, increasing enunciation of a hatred of children?  Beginning innocuously with people kvetching about crying babies on planes (as if parents actively look forward to this), it has spiraled into serious debates about children in public places and descended grimly into abusive trends like the dead-baby-jokes.

The current urban Indian ‘childist’ trend seems, like most sociological imports, a couple of decades late to the party. Remember the ‘west’ in the early nineties, when the first adopters of the ‘thirty-is-the-new-twenty’ Peter Pandemic began to spill their me-first attitude into the streets, movie theatres, last-season’s designer sales? The media dubbed them the ‘adultescents’: drawing out tenures at their old student digs, eating cup-a-noodles, theirs became the summer that was supposed to last forever. Buying a home or getting married was for when you ‘grew up’.

For those who didn’t receive the memo, who fell in love, got married and found themselves with children, the schism between them and the adultescents was impossible to bridge. Subtly or vociferously, the Peter Pandemics were unanimous: children were a terrible inconvenience, they didn’t get the jokes or drink beer or sleep at 4 a.m.

Some parents reluctantly retreated into early middle-age, chafing, tired, (no more socializing without affordable babysitting) but another set embraced their new identities. You encountered, while traveling, youthful couples, children in tow – seamless, organic, functional families. As nationalities, the Israelis, French, Italians and even the Indians, stood out.  The children seemed independent but cared for, the parents were relaxed, loved-up, occasionally doling out the infant-paracetamol. This was no lotus eating, trance dancing neo-hippiedom. They had real lives; mortgages, researched daycare, demanding jobs yet managed to travel, eat out, live, ensemble. You could imagine the future of society to spring from this.

Meanwhile, the tilt towards the Victorian ‘children should be seen, not heard and preferably not seen’ attitude began to have visible repercussions. In a 2007 study on disadvantaged children in England, arguably most vulnerable to society, the UN found high rates of delinquency stemming from not just parental, but societal neglect and an attitude of abhorrence.

““Al Aynsley Green, the children’s commissioner for England, acknowledges that the UN has accurately highlighted the troubled lives of children. “There is a crisis at the heart of our society and we must not continue to ignore the impact of our attitudes towards children and young people and the effect that this has on their wellbeing.”

“It is time to stop demonising children and young people for what goes wrong and start supporting them to make positive choices. To bring an end to the confusing messages we give to young people about their role, responsibility and position in society and ensure that every child feels valued and has their rights respected.””

When the UK riots broke out two years ago, it reflected the previous decade’s troubled, violent children: hoodie-phobia, pre-adolescent gangs with baseball bats terrorizing adults, drug addiction, teen mothers. A friend, coming home from work, was attacked by a gang of pre-teens who broke her nose, spectacles and stole her phone. Others told horror stories of being threatened when they tried to at least engage with these aggressive children, “we’ll call the cops and tell them you fiddled with us, you pervert, you pervert.”

Why are these British children so angry? And what does it have to do with us, here, in India?

(In the month this was written), four minors and an18 year-old fatally stabbed Santosh Vichivara in Mumbai. Government crime statistics (available till 2008) indicate a trend in juvenile crime steadily increasing in instance and severity.   Is there a connection yet, between the growing anti-kid tide and juvenile crime?

The process of bringing up city children, physically, emotionally and financially, has become so fraught that even debates on whether to have them or not are often presented as intellectual one-upmanship: “Overpopulation causes poverty”, “they’re bad for the planet”, “I have better things to do with my time than spawn.”

Our Peter Pandemic came, like many western sociological imports, late to India and we are seeing the first generation of those reluctant to grow out of their Endless Summer. But surely it cannot be as simple as that: a petulant disinclination to tolerate a section of society that is guaranteed to grow into ‘adults-like-us’.

 

What compounds this issue, is that some parents seem complicit in this trend, themselves: outsourcing the unwieldy growing years to increasing armies of employees, leaving the children behind on long holidays or finding it unacceptable to travel with them without a nanny.

The message is clear, children are inconvenient and not just for you, sipping your Bellini with your Business Class socks on.

 

Demonising children doesn’t come naturally to Indians. True or false? Outside the self-conscious cities, where super-parents evangelise parenting ideologies and baby strategies, beyond the tiger moms, helicopter dads, the attachment parenting handbooks… isn’t our nation’s prolific fertility a sign of our optimism? The more tickets you have to the offspring lottery, the likelier one of them will hit the jackpot, a doctor, an engineer or an IAS officer. Or is it opportunism?

Mumbai based sociologist, Manjima Bhattacharjya, who works at the Urban Aspirations Project, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, asks a plain question, “What does a society that likes children look like? (Not) random people taking pictures of my kids or pinching their cheeks in the elevator. I don’t think that is an indicator.” Instead where, she asks, are, “the structural changes, organized support systems that show me that children are included in the State plans; maternity/paternity policies, workplaces made flexible and open to parents, enough safe play areas in cities, good, affordable crèches, room for strollers on public transport.”

Blogger and mum of two, Rohini Haldea says even the fact that it is impossible to find a clean toilet can make a public space non-child-friendly, “I would love to travel with the kids by train, but the thought of those loos freaks me out.”

Space priorities exacerbate the situation. Ugly urbanity is greedily eating away at the child’s environment. Building compounds are now double-parked with luxury cars, playgrounds are disappearing, children are squeezed into apartment blocks masquerading as schools. Parents, pushed for space and time with their offspring, often have no choice but bring their rambunctious broods, full of pent-up urban child energy, into places not strictly meant to cater to children.

Perhaps the discussion on whether children should be allowed into movie-theatres or certain restaurants is valid, but the current dismay at having a crying baby on a flight is at best ludicrous, and at worst, racism or childism. Haldea was traveling by air, alone with her two children, under 7, when a passenger in the seat ahead complained that the children were speaking far too loudly to allow her to sleep, “She was fairly rude and asked the airhostess to move us. This occurred, when my kids had sat through the flight, without any battles or meltdowns. We were just chatting. Also this was a mid-day flight, not one in the middle of the night where she could have been forgiven for expecting silence. I found this typical of the growing intolerance. I understand when people get upset when kids are raising hell, but normal, playful behaviour should be acceptable, no?”

While some airlines subtly discourage children (reluctance to upgrade passengers with children or crew being very businesslike even with very young travellers), most manage to gracefully toe the line between the crotchety anti-child traveler and the uncomfortable baby’s parent with intuitive policy.

Though on most airlines, families must now forego the traditional placing in the roomier bulk-head seats for the rear of the plane for ‘easier access to the lavatories’, Vineet Recriwal of Indigo Airlines says “cabin attendants are trained to recognize this (children traveling) as an opportunity to create a customer experience.”

At instances where passengers are unable to tolerate a crying child, they have been offered a change of seat. The airline is also conscious that mums themselves can get ‘irritable with kids crying’ and may try curb bad behaviour by saying “the cabin attendant or Captain will take action against them,” but “our cabin attendants engage with the children through the flight, creating a greater tolerance and empathy within the cabin.”

While it seems unlikely to ever happen, even the half-serious call to ban children from public spaces is a hark back to a Dickensian world; a nightmare that our armies of child labourers still live in from where everyday, stories of abuse, malnutrition and neglect litter the news.

There is enough evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, that proves societies with a healthy, supportive attitude to children and parents are safe-guarding their present and future. The French government, for example, subsidises day care among other family-friendly initiatives. Pamela Druckerman’s ‘Bringing up Bebe’, suggests French children are better behaved than their American counterparts. She says French parents cherish their adult pursuits, feed their children ‘adult food’ (within a culture that encourages kids in restaurants) and sit around chatting on the perimeter of parks as kids careen down slides and sort out their own problems. This is no silver tinged cloud of Gauloise-smoke and mirrors. The same is true of Italy. And the opposite of highly urbanized areas like London and New York where café regulars in tony neighbourhoods now disparagingly refer to mummy-mafias and stroller-jams.

Happily, not all those in the hospitality industry believe children are detrimental to their business. Deepti Dadlani, Brand & MarComm Head at deGustibus Hospitality says, “We have no discriminating policies, including towards children, at any of our restaurants whether it’s our casual profile Indigo Deli or even the slightly more fine-dine profiles of Indigo & Neel.” Reassuringly, Dadlani has noticed parents use their discretion when eating out, “One may see plenty of young kids at the Indigo Delis, while Indigo & Neel sees an older demographic of children.” She shrugs at the suggestion that demanding families may run roughshod over other customers, “Parents, dining out, are more respectful of fellow diners. They take greater pains in speaking to their kids before coming to a restaurant and seem to be doing their homework as to how to keep their kids occupied.” In the event of a rare complaint, “I am confident that the staff manages the situation by accommodating guests at another table or section of the restaurant. We must realise that all situations can be managed by simply being polite and empathising with guests.”

Bhattacharjya believes it’s not all about children though, “I think this attitude is part of a larger attitude of ‘exclusion’ that I increasingly find – ways in which certain groups with purchasing power and influence keep out ‘others’, including the poor (evictions, slum demolitions etc. to ‘clean up’ our cities), Dalits (contestations against reservation), disabled, minorities and now in some cases, it includes children. We ARE becoming an intolerant nation.”

A quote attributed to MK Gandhi affirms, “A nation’s greatness will be measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Recent events have taught us that the politically and economically disenfranchised, women and the elderly, are being hard done by with little intervention if not active encouragement from the powers that be.

It is an issue of rights, Bhattacharjya says, “Even our child sex abuse law has taken decades to come through. Any child’s rights activist will tell you that this is not a country where we think in terms of a child’s ‘right’ to anything. The RTE is the first child-friendly policy we have.” What is alarming, is that “just the definition of ‘child’ is constantly shifting; 18 to vote, 21 for sex, 15 for marriage if the father agrees.”

In addition to all our instabilities, if we allow a generation of Indian children to be treated with neglect, disdain and abhorrence, we risk a future of insecure, angry, aggressive young adults. As economies teeter, as countries raise their hackles at each other, as the climate begins to bite back and the next twenty years promise to manifest into something grim, it is time to begin to challenge those who say with impunity that they ‘hate children’.

It is in our own interest, as a civilized society that will champion a range of causes from the rights of poor farmers to the decriminalization of homosexuality, to recognize the rights of children to be treated with respect and to show consideration to their age-specific needs. Remember, that crying child in the airplane, treated right, will learn to offer politely to help you get your bags off the conveyor belt, twenty years from now, when your hearing will be mercifully less acute anyway.

 

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An everyday kind of love…

 

 

Everyone has a favourite love story. Despite the urbane ‘modern  love’  brainwashing we’ve subjected ourselves to via the likes of Sex and the City, ‘He’s Not That Into You’ and other pop-cultural tat, the human heart remains greedy, hopeful. You smile to yourself, because you know it’s true.

But classic love stories seem to relegate passion and ‘True Love’ exclusively to the young and restless. As if a blanket ‘Happily Ever After’ is all of the story that needs telling once the monsters have been vanquished and the wedding bells toll.

Or worse, that true love must hurtle to an inevitable mutual destruction; because real life, you Capulets and Montagues, can never hope to keep up. Romeo must go to work, Juliet must get the kids to school, they must grow old, bicker about money, suffer family dinners, grow thick around the middle…

It is quite an ordeal, this writing about love, in the time of a mid-life crisis, in iambic pentameter.

And yet… true love exists, even thrives. Amidst the gristle and grind of everyday life, you will catch lovers glancing at each other over their children’s screaming heads, elderly couples holding hands, a middle aged woman distractedly stroking the back of her graying, pot-bellied amour. These stories seem to transcend language, geography, culture. Stories of second chances and grief and joy. Just like your breath catches at fading roses… you cannot but be seduced. Everyone has a love story. You’re living it or it’s in the wings, waiting to happen.

I have a favourite love story. It is the story of my parents. My mother’s childhood was rough. When we’d ask her to tell us ‘old stories’, she’d begin by making us laugh at silly things, village things, stories of nesting pigs stealing wedding sarees and turtles eggs and Duffer the dog who travelled with her on the bus. But then, in the telling, it would slip out, the hungry little latch-key kid, losing her father at 10, her single mother exhausted, hard times, a little broken hearted. My father, the youngest of five, started working at 16. ‘Tipu Sultan’ my grandmother called him sarcastically. He had it pretty rough too. But those were rough days.

When my mother was 16 she caught my dad’s eye. “Oh I thought, this poor girl, I hope I can make her life better” my father would say slyly watching my mother bristle. My mother would say, “Well I thought, he’s alright, I doubt anyone better will show up.” They began seeing each other in secret.

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When the time came to marry, my mother used to remember the fear she felt introducing my dad to her mum and her mum’s band of strict (unmarried) siblings. But “he just walked straight into the house” and that was that.

A job offer in Oman meant my parents had to pack away their lives in Bombay and leave for a brave new world, in the desert, amongst other expats who would become their family.

 

They had four children in quick succession and then twins years later. It was unquestionably hard but my mother maintains that the lack of familial infrastructure brought a blessing in itself, “we had only each other to depend on” and they were a crack team.

I remember once reading, “The best thing a father can give his children is to love their mother.” And this is the gift we were given. Theirs was not a peaceable, chocolates and roses sort of love. My dad loved to dance, my mum was too shy, my dad loves to be on the road, my mum was a homebody, my dad is the risk taker, my mum was a worry-wart. Intellectual equals (my mother will snort, she has always maintained Brains Behind Operation status) with a shared love of food and books and friends, they bickered, they fought, they despaired… But they also laughed and cooked and stayed up the night chatting and made life seem like a constant adventure. Which is great because in all these many years, we’d been on exactly one family holiday.

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Almost a year ago, my mother struggled with a chest infection for a month. My father had just retired and was looking forward to ‘going on our first honeymoon’. But the rain came and my mother got sicker. The hospitals said she was alright. She sat down in my dad’s car, the heater on, feeling incredibly cold. My dad sang to her and she told him she loved him.

 

That night she passed away. Suddenly. His name was the last thing she said. She was not yet 63.  

For a couple who never had a honeymoon, whose lives were been filled with working hard at everything, the romance was always alive. In their sixties, my mother still fancied my dad. She would constantly half-teasing-half-serious ask if he saw anyone pretty in church or accuse him of getting the best bargains at the fish market because the fisherwomen have crushes on him. We always thought my dad was more soignée. But on holiday, at a restaurant, when the massive, sweaty, swarthy Italian owner of the restaurant we were dining at started chatting up my mum, my father cursed all the way back to the hotel, “That b@$^@*# is a cheat! The food was awful. What a terrible evening!” We stifled our giggles in the back.

My father still carries pictures of my mum in his wallet: ages 19 to now. My mum saved every little note from him. He bought her tacky, funny presents from Archies and oversized birthday cards and flowers when they fought. She would cook something nice just for the two of them.

On what would have been their fortieth wedding anniversary my father decorated my mother’s grave and stood quietly. Alone. 

In sickness and health, richer and poorer (mostly poorer), thin and thick (again mostly thick) they honoured their covenant in all seriousness with humour and pride and humility. If you’d asked them, they’d have said their’s is an everyday sort of love story.

Perhaps the best kind. 

 

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Who’s growing up too fast? Not YOU, Mum!

I’m laughing at a story about Madonna and her daughter Lourdes at the Vanity Fair Oscar party. Madonna is wearing a lacy, see-through dress with boy shorts that leave half her well-toned, 53 year old buns out on display. Madonna sticks her bottom out at photographers to which Lourdes plaintively says, “Mum, do you have to?” And later, “But you’re always telling me to behave like a grown up.”

I’m laughing because for every shocked report I get of someone’s ‘little cousin who was born just yesterday now taking sexy vanity selfies’ or another one’s ‘pre-teen daughter pouting with one of her t-shirt straps down for Facebook’, I see similar photos of mums in their late thirties and early forties doing exactly the same thing. It’s one thing to have an inner child, but really, an inner teenager?

You’d probably guess, but let me just be clear, I’m not a prude. And I certainly don’t believe any woman, no matter what her age, marital status or body type, should hide that fine light she has under a bushel of clothing or chores or whatever. I’m no stranger to the vanity-selfie and I’m certainly not about to judge.

It’s just that while there’s so much discussion on whether our pre-teens are growing up too fast, there’s not enough on whether their mums (and dads) are growing up simultaneously. While the little ‘uns are experimenting with duck(ling) face and gelled quiffs, their mummies and daddies, with their thriving Facebook and Whatsapp are putting up display photos and albums full of… well, slightly bizarre photos.

I’m going to put some images in your head now. Concentrate. 40 year old woman lost 10 kilos last year, wears tight tank top, skinny jeans, belly button showing, bed-hair, takes off her spectacles so she’s got that unfocussed look, in a series of rather suggestive selfies around her hall; FB album title, Bored. 37 year old, slightly underweight, top angle, showing two inches of cleavage, face squinched up somewhere between duck-face and fish-face; Whatsapp. 42 year fitness fanatic, now 8 kilos overweight, posing sexily, WITH A POLE, making NancyDrewSexy face; FB profile photo. Then there was that couple in tandem sexy-pose in swimsuits. I’d describe it, but my mind’s eye erased the memory, leaving only trauma.

You could forgive them. After all, born in the seventies, ours was the last generation who weren’t really given a proper teen-hood. There were no coffee shops to hang out in, we had ICQ on a dial-up modem with which we had awkward flirtations with people on the other side of the world, (axe-murderers with insomnia, no doubt). Someone took your photograph and you prayed until the print came home and then cried a little. At least I did. Many of us still got our clothes tailored. The ‘Like’ button had not been invented and if anyone spoke of a MILF, it was likely there’d soon be a HWF (husband with fists) involved too.

All the lovely people like us, who had curfews tighter than Madonna’s pants, had to wait to get married to be sexually active, have a social life or even go on holiday.

Then along came the digital age with low-carb diets, pilates, power yoga, body conscious clothes, bars, mothers-in-law with gym memberships and cameras with immediate-check and infinite photos.

Bring on the Adultescent Apocalypse!

I blame this obsession with documentation.

I’ve eavesdropped on conversations between sets of parents, who were planning weekend activities so ribald and debauched they’d make Hugh Hefner seem like Barney the purple dinosaur. But there was also a discussion on The Facebook Album and how it had to be put on Limited or Restricted. On holiday recently, two really very conservative looking women (their swimsuits had skirts and sleeves, okay) were sitting by the pool, talking about how much fun tequila was, how crazy it made them feel and how many ‘likes’ a certain photograph one of them took, got. I know mums whose fitness and beauty routines in addition to their work lives mean they only see their kids at bedtime and on the weekends. These are the same mums who have a new profile photo up at least twice a week.

The children are all ears (and eyes). Already my 12 year old’s classmates are on diets, watching age-inappropriate television while their mothers Zumba and I’m this close to calling at least one young lady and telling her a new fairytale involving the Big Bad Wolf and pre-teen Red taking selfies with her hood slipped off her shoulders!

I do mourn our teen years lost to a country that had not hipped-up enough. But the upside was, our childhood stretched out a little longer and the recklessness of our teens was tempered with pre-adult responsibilities. Also our mothers were there to tell us it was okay and our dads never ever called us fat.

Maybe it is true, social media does make everyone feel like a celebrity. And in small doses, that’s okay. But if you’re worried your child is growing up too fast, maybe its time to curfew your inner-teen, embrace your fabulous forties with panache, replace vanity with self-esteem for both you and your little human and stop with this Main Bhi Madonna baloney.

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