Category Archives: kids

On not being the "right" size.

Bedtimes are quiet vulnerable moments, more so if you’re little. The secrets, no longer able to roil in tiny tummies, make themselves heard. Two nights ago, after lullabies and stories were done, Shyama mentions that exercise causes weight loss; I agree, groaning inwardly at the thought of her asking me to lose weight. I ask her what made her think of it. She says she wants to start exercising and lose weight. I ask her again why she’d like to do that. Because the kids in class call me fat, she says.
Now, I never know if I am parenting correctly. There’s almost never a counterpoint to my method and behavior as a parent and I almost always wing it, erasing doubts on the run nice and gentle, quite like an avalanche demolishing pines on a slope. Because there’s no time to consider when you’re parenting little kids, and especially if you’re the only one who parents regularly. They demand and you better show up, or miss the moment and scar them for life. But at this moment, all my anxieties came rushing back and collided pretty hard with my parenting.
Growing up, I was an average-sized kid, not fat, but definitely not skinny.  And much like Shyama, I was surrounded by kids who were the latter. Teenage brought with it some weight, sure. So while I don’t remember being teased by kids around me about being fat (although, in class nine, a teacher burnt me for life by calling me “fatty”. You’d think an adult would know better) I do know that not being the size everyone else was made me feel infinitely less. It didn’t help that people close to me started pointing out that I was fat, even though I think back now and I know I wasn’t.  I grew up thinking I was fat. I think about the girl I was and I think of all the things I stopped myself from doing because I wasn’t the right size, and I wish I had known better. I was excruciatingly shy and felt foolish every time I uttered a word. And I blamed it all on the size I was. Nothing has been more shackling to me than feeling fat.
At 35, I am a lot more comfortable with my body but my anxieties haven’t left me. Sure, I wear whatever I want and am comfortable enough to look at my unclothed body in the mirror without hating it, sometimes I even like it. But I also cover up a lot. When I meet new people, when I want to make a certain kind of joke, when the situation is more intimate and demands a certain physical vulnerability, I freeze up. I am so little of myself. I wonder if I look ugly to the other person and I hope my flaws will be taken care of by my dazzling company. I kid, of course. But, jokes apart, this is one of the two things from my childhood that I haven’t been able to overcome. And to hear Shyama might begin on that hellish, corrosive journey paralyses me. Especially since she isn’t a fat kid. Just like I wasn’t. But I didn’t believe that of myself. And I am hoping she will be different and believe it when I tell her she isn’t fat.
At that moment, with anxiety rioting inside me, distress at the future of this lovely child suffering at the hands of the insanity of an ideal size, I didn’t have any solutions. Anger was foremost. I told her she was just right and shouldn’t listen to teasing. Next I asked her who it was in particular that teased her. “Everyone except K,” she says, mentioning the one girl as tall as her. Shyama and this girl are the tallest kids in class at 4’4”. I am glad she said that because I used that to tell her that maybe the rest just wanted to be tall like her and because K was already tall enough, she didn’t feel the need to tease Shyama. That seemed to satisfy her a bit. I tried not to preach but I did tell her that she was getting *plenty* exercise in school and that she was healthy, happy and running around, and had a bright bright soul; that’s all that mattered. I then told her to go to sleep and that we would talk about this in more detail tomorrow.
As soon as she was asleep, I reached out to two friends, both parents. I had no idea how to deal with this. While it wasn’t bullying and Shyama is no shrinking violet, my concern was negative body image issues. One friend instantly put me at ease by telling me of her own experience. She said something so wonderfully, sweetly vulnerable and true.  All the time, I was cool inside but didn’t feel it outside because I wasn’t the right size, she said. And it rung true. Another friend suggested I tone down the import of it by not giving it too much attention so Shyama gets the message that size isn’t important.
But tomorrow morning came bright and early and before she had brushed her teeth, Shyama said, Amma, you said we’d talk about something in the morning. I hadn’t forgotten, I told her. We bathed, breakfasted and buzzed off to the bus stop. Only this time, I had Shyama sit in the front next to me. I know she felt special; she stuck her tongue out her brother in the back. I asked her again, this time calmer, what her concerns were. She said I feel bad when I am called fat. We went over the ‘you’re not fat, you’re healthy’ routine, once more. Then I asked her if she believed she was fat. “Sometimes. But mostly I have great muscles,” she said. I then told her if she feels the need for a comeback, in a situation that she can’t handle,  she can always be kind and yet be teasing of her friends. “Go give them a shoulder hug and say ‘Hi Shorty!’” She giggled and said, “I’d never do that! It’d make them feel bad, amma.” The next best thing I could come up with took a while because I was too busy clearing the painful lump in my throat. If she wouldn’t turn it on them, I decided to let her risk being a bit haughty and say, “I am not fat, I am perfect.” Nothing gets people’s goat than someone thinking well of themselves. She gives me a big, heart-shatteringly innocent grin and says, “YES! I am perfect.”
I still have no solutions; I hope we will find our way together, she and I. I hope she won’t let this nonsense that kids come up with affect her as searingly as it did me. Speaking of, how are these kids at *seven*  years of age picking this shit up? What kind of conversations happen at home for fat to be an issue when all you should be worried about this spending all your time at play? I will admit to cartoons ALL ganging up on fat people and making them figures of ridicule. But I would think steadying influences at home would teach kids that’s not done. 
There are three things that guide me when I deal with this.
1. I want her to genuinely know size, not just hers, anyone’s doesn’t matter.
2. That there are loads of other things apart from body and size that she can and needs to spend time wondering about.
3. That she is healthy is the most important thing. After my initial confusion cleared, I decided to write her a story that will subtly talk about size without talking down to her. I have no idea what the story is going to be but it is what she loves more than anything else in the world, so maybe it will speak to her. Two friends suggested I show her achievers, just sort of slip it in, who are different in size so that she knows it doesn’t need to hold her back, in case she ever comes to a point where she starts to believe her size needs to stop her. But the best advice came in the form of this: http://idiva.com/opinion-iparenting/dont-call-me-fatty/24222

Shyama came back from school yesterday and told me not many people teased her. And that she thought about it and didn’t want to tell them she was perfect. She wanted to tell them, “I am perfect the way I am and you are also perfect.”
Maybe I don’t have to worry after all.

*****

Everyone wants to be a boy.

I was reading this piece the other day and it came at a time when I’d been particularly sensitive to misogyny in various contexts. As I read this, a realisation that had been waiting to show itself shone clearly through a lot of the things that I had been thinking about.

You don’t have to go as far as high numbers of teen pregnancy, dowry deaths or street sexual harassment to know how deeply we hate our women. Start in a home. A girl child, these days, is constantly being pushed to doing everything a boy child does. So much so that I know families where dolls or breakfast/kitchens sets will not be bought for the girl lest she think that is her “role” in life, to nurture and cook. I myself am guilty of steering my 3.5 year old away from those horrendous little kitchen sets, I must confess. While I might be getting in the way of nature, I do it with the intention of not giving her the idea that primarily, domestic chores are a girl’s work. Ironically, I don’t realise that I am her default role model — I do everything from changing light bulbs, hunting rats, running every errand to baking muffins with them, bathing them and tucking them in — and because of that I shouldn’t be worried about her getting stuck with any stereotypes . Which is what early feminists who decided that buying little girls dolls and breakfast sets gave out subliminal messages of domesticity were trying to do in the first place. But all you need to do is watch a three year old as she wanders wide-eyed and greedy through the aisles of the toys section in a store. She goes for pink, she goes for baby dolls and she goes for breakfast sets. At least, most of the time. In my case, my daughter also goes for monsters, snakes and spiders but dolls come first. And I’ve never bought her a doll till she demanded one last year.

Friends who have boys for children tell me of their experiences with watching little girls of their friends. They tell me with more than a hint of pride in their voice about how their little boy was all over the place and being a “kid” and how their friend’s little girl was prim and proper, and gave her mother a peaceful time. Parents who have little girls sometimes tell me their daughters are quiet and manageable; that they wish she becomes rambunctious and tom boyish as she grows, that they feel she’s too proper and is having no fun just because she’s not bringing the roof down.

Let me not even count the number of women who glow with pride when someone tells them they are tomboyish. (There’s no reason they shouldn’t. But how many of you glow with pride when someone tells you, “wow, you’re so feminine/macho”. In fact, if you’ve noticed, this is usually employed as a snide little comment most times.) Or the number of women who say they are “one of the guys” and cannot behave like a girl. Pray, tell me, what does a girl behave like? This is a list I get. From girls, mind you. Gossipy. Senti. Jealous. Love shopping. Clingy. Not sporty. Not technical. Complicated. Not one nice word about our own kind. For every word that is used to describe a girl’s purported behavior, I can find 10 boys who fit that description. Except, maybe, complicated. That, I have to reluctantly agree, is a woman’s forte. But that’s only because we do it so well.

For example, look at this nonsense.

Who comes up with self-defeating, woman-hating crap like this? Exactly who has set down rules for what a lady acts like? Even if you can forgive that, how on earth do you forgive the third line?!

As mothers who want our girls to be storming male bastions (forgive me, anti-cliche god) when they grow up, we’re doing everything in our power to take them away from what might be their natural tendency. Which is to be fierce, intelligent and delightful creatures who say things like “dinosaurs look like dinosaurs and nothing else.” While a boy may hang from door jambs, I find a girl will hang on to a thought, develop it and use it later in conversation. A boy might be able to identify cars well before he’s three by their marques, but a girl may be identifying behavior pointers, books and tapping an imagination that may or may not turn her into an entertaining drama queen later in life.

We’re telling our women to not be emotional at work because it undermines our authority. We’re telling women to not take days off to be with our kids when they are sick because it gives us a reputation of being unreliable. We are encouraging employers who ask us what our “family” plans are when they hire us by assuring them that we have no intention of getting pregnant for a few years, because, as we all know, the kind of satisfaction nine hours in a cubicle gives you comes nowhere close to raising a child. We’re telling our women don’t wear distracting earrings, try and avoid bright feminine colours in corporate settings, we’re telling our women keep our hair short because it’s easier to manage and is less distracting in a corporate environment, we’re telling our women to not cry like a girl, to compete like a boy and to be everything a man is, except shirtless. We’re telling our women it’s more fun to be a guy than to be a girl. I see this all around me — teenaged girls doing their darnedest to not be feminine, blossoming at compliments when they are told their tastes are those of a guy; grown up women actively drinking what is popularly considered a “man’s drink” not because she’s developed a taste for it but because she wants to be considered equal to a man; so many instances of this aspiration to be a man. Subtle, unconscious, relentless but we teach our children to dislike women much before they can even say misogyny.

I grew under the kaleidoscopic upbringing of a mother who never doubted my capacity to do anything I wanted. If anything stopped me, it was my own severe lack of confidence as a teenager. I don’t think she ever imposed restrictions on me. There were unspoken limits but to my then-sensible mind, they were acceptable. I fought the odd how-come-he-gets-to-go-out-after-9 battle but that was it. She empowered me, subtly and dare I say, without saying the words explicitly, that freedom was about being free in my mind, and not about what I wore, who I hung out with or what time I got home. She would, of course, tell me to sit like a lady, or that girls don’t certain things (smoke, for eg) but I honestly don’t remember any of that; what I do remember is her unspoken messages that I was as good as the next guy without her pushing me to become one. And at 32, it is her I give credit to when I have reached this conclusion. That women and men can never be equal. Somewhat like elephants and marigolds — there’s no comparison. We may have and fight for equal rights in all social contexts, we may demand equal pay, we may even ask for equally nice leather goods. But to think that intrinsically a woman can be a man is just defeating the very purpose of there being two genders. Because, you know, I don’t want to see a man breastfeeding and a woman peeing standing up.  

Of imagination and unnecessary worry

I have absolutely no cause to complain about anything in life. Honestly. Maybe just an untoned, post-baby stomach but otherwise, I really am a lucky girl.
Here’s why. This morning, my three-year-old comes running to me, in post brother’s-birthday-party bliss, and kisses my stomach – yes, the same aforementioned untoned cause of complaint – asking if she could have some kisses. Really?! If that wasn’t endearing enough, when I took her out of the bath, wrapped in a towel, I didn’t include hear head in the wrapping this time as I usually do; it was just shoulders and below, before I carried her out. She promptly demands, “Amma, make me a baby, not a shwarma.” It struck me then that this child has a love for metaphors.
She’s a practical sort, my three year old is. So for a while I worried about her not having an imagination – a vivid one – as she grew up. Because, you know, imaginative people just never actually get bored. There’s always something to entertain them. I am torn between letting her nature flowering without pigeonholing her and teaching her some sort of structure of thought, because I believe having no boundaries in your head can be a bit counter-productive, if not self-destructive. So anyway, a few days ago my fears were laid to rest when she asked, “Where do the ropes in the shower come from, amma,” I wasn’t sure if she meant the water, only because I constantly second guess the bright things the kids say. Expressly because they are my kids. I’d hate more than anything to be the parent, bathed in the beatific light having “awesome” kids, who kills – slowly, joyfully and painfully – other people with the rusted edge of the thing called bragging rights. But I digress.
I wasn’t sure she meant the water because I am pretty sure she’s never been read anything that has likened water to ropes. Then she said it again. “Amma, why is the rope from the kettle so thick,” she asked. After my initial delight (and surprise) that this child was using metaphors and similes to describe things, and so naturally, my doubts about her imagination went slack. She still didn’t have imaginary friends but at least she was learning the ropes of alternate description. Then, yesterday, as I was putting up balloons and buntings (I love that word) for her brother’s second birthday, she stole a spool of thread from me. As all parents will know, extended minutes of silence usually mean trouble. Having realised the afternoon was unusually quiet except for the song in my head I went looking for her. There she was, under the really tiny dining table I have, unspooling the white thread she had taken, all over the floor.
“What are you doing, kanmani,” I ask. “Flowing a river, Amma,” she said.
I wait for the day she will fly. 

Maybe I am really old fashioned.

I am going to outrage a bit here, so take your judgementalism, and go watch a movie with it. I read this today. For those of you who don’t (or can’t) to read what’s behind that link, let me sum it up. A 50-year-old mum gifted her daughter a boob-job voucher for when she turns sixteen. Her daughter is currently seven.

Now, my mum would easily say in her usual practical-sense style that that’s what happens when you have kids late, you tend to lose any common sense. (And I am inclined to sometimes agree with her when I see the ridiculous things older parents let their kids do.) But to me this is just a mildly eye-widening piece of news. There are two things here: First, the kid is quoted as saying she can’t wait to have bigger breasts like her mum’s because they are so pretty. Second, and to more this is more alarming than the birthday present itself, her mum plans to let her watch her next series of plastic surgery procedures — after having spent more than $800,000 already on them.

Personally, I think that should have been at the core of the story — that the mother was going to let her child watch a surgery she was undergoing. I don’t know if there are rules to stop such travesty from taking place in whatever country this woman lives in but I sure hope so. Because, as you can see, this already pretty child is going to grow up thinking she’ll never be beautiful unless she spends a few hours going under the knife every few years. Already, at an age where she is absorbing things like the black hole, she’s been told directly that she should do everything she can to look beautiful, by her mother, who looks pretty scary if you ask me.

What does that do to a child? And what kind of a woman will she grow up to be? I remember reading somewhere that girls learn to hate their bodies very early because of what is popular. I don’t know what magic ideal my mum passed down to me in my upbringing but I have never hated my body. Mind you, it’s far from perfect —  I have never had a day where I had a washboard tummy, even in my good-weight days (which I must gloat, I am back to now), I have never had perfectly defined muscles to show off under short skirts and I most definitely don’t have infinitely perky breasts. But, and again here I have my mother to thank, I have never hated my body. For sure, adolescence brought enough insecurity about how the thinner girls were more popular; for a while I would always stand with my hands around my middle, that typical stance teenage girls adopt when they are growing. But I’ve never had a day of awkwardness when I moved from slips to bras. No hunching over, no weird self-consciousness over new breasts, no strutting pride over them either. Somehow, my mother subliminally taught me that this was your body, be grateful and happy with it.

So for me, to let a child be told by way of action that she isn’t pretty or goodlooking as she is, is a huge crime. God knows there’s enough trouble in grownup-gaon without the added burden of having to make money to go under the knife every time your face wrinkles with a smile or every time you imagine your butt isn’t the model of discipline it used to be. Inflicting this kind of damage is just as bad as this whole colour thing that many people of my country are obsessed with. How many times have I heard and consciously remembered to stop accepting the phrase, “she’s really dark but still pretty”.

I am never going to say the way you look shouldn’t be important. It should be — it’s the world’s first view of you, so you better look close to your best when you step out. And maybe Barbie Mum here thinks she doesn’t look her best (I’d agree with her) and which is why she’s constantly nipping and tucking. But that’s no reason to pass that on to your daughter. I just hope she goes the way some kids go and ends up militantly au naturale.

I am not saying anything new. I am just disturbed at that. And this. I have no words for the ruination this set of parents is causing their child. I only laugh at the irony of it.

Amma, don’t go

This is fast turning into a mummy blog I see. But never mind. This morning I ran out to an assignment, finished it, went to school to pick up my daughter and brought her back home. Without prompting, this beautiful child of mine said, “It made me very happy that you came to pick me up, Amma.” My heart was glad when she said that even though I had a bit of a tiff with someone close this morning, and it was preying on my mind. But seeing her sweet little face, gummy smile and answering questions like, “What is plants’ food,” cleared the clouds.

We chatted on the way back from work and she showered me with kisses, singing songs she had learnt in playschool and displaying her extensive vocabulary. (I am so glad she says still messes up her grammar once in a while and says “ch” instead of the “s” sounds, or I tend to forget she’s a baby, not quite three yet.) I dropped her home and was about to leave when she grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Big plump tears jumped out of her honest eyes as she tried to make a deal with me. “Don’t go offich now, Amma. Go tomorrow, when I go to kool,” she said. “I go to school and you go to offich.” It was all I could do to keep from joining her tear fest myself. No promises, explanations or bribes worked. All she wanted was to be with me. I know in a couple of years she won’t care and I know I will miss it. I know I want to be at home when she cares and is expressive of it. I want her to remember that she and her brother are the reason I go to work. Well, at least, the biggest reasons. But how do I tell her that? How do I make her understand that I’d much rather stay here at home with her, colouring with her and scribbling in her drawing book, than going out every day to work, when, the few times she has raised tearful objection, all I have told her in effect is that doing my work, keeping my boss happy and earning money are all more important than her helpless, honest tears.

I want to be home with my kids. I know I’ll go out of my mind but I want to be home. I don’t want to be telling them my time belongs to someone else and not them, when they are such a tremendously important part of my life, of who I am.
I miss those kids, as mad as they drive me.
For Shyama
I took the sun to sleep with me,
With it some flowers, a waterfall and a whole bowl of glass beads.
They swirled into my dreams and grew arms and legs
And sprouted a stubborn chin.
They got together, this tiny eddy of things
And became a little moon whose kisses I woke to.
They became my little girl,
A humbling piece of my heart, the purest part of my soul. 

Oh, brother! Sister concerns

So, call me masochistic but I am ready for a third baby. Bio-rhythmically, that is. In every other way, this is complete insanity. I don’t have enough money right now to make my family a single-income one, I don’t have manpower to look after kids in case I do have a baby and go back to work, and I definitely don’t have the kindness to have another year of sleeplessness or to breastfeed every two hours. But I am totally ready to be pregnant.
Apart from the process of getting there being rather fun, being pregnant is one of the best things I’ve done. I’ve looked great, felt great, and apart from being utterly and totally humiliated during my C-sections by “brothers” seeing every bit of me waist below, the end results were fantastic.
Maybe I’ll have a third child a few years from now. Maybe I’ll have one biologically or maybe I’ll adopt. Or maybe I just know too many people now who are pregnant. All this broodiness got me thinking about many things. You know, it really saddens me to see how many of my friends want just one baby.
Before I launch into a full-fledged lecture, let me give you a little background. I was never crazy about babies. I see 25 years olds, even 30 years olds go gaga over little babies and I keep thinking I must have been odd because I really didn’t do that to every little kid that went by. I looked at cute kids, and said they were cute and I moved on. I even had uncharitable thoughts that some ‘chubby’ babies looked like pigs and once, even as I held a really tiny baby, remember thinking, how easy it would be to snap such delicate bones. What? I didn’t do it! I just thought it.
I love kids a little more now but am still not crazy about them as some women I know are. Don’t get me wrong. I think they’re fantastic. And watching my kids grow and learn and notice every little thing in this world around them has me in awe. I adore their smiles in general, and my kids’ in particular, but I am still not nuts about them. I prefer having conversation with them to coochie cooing with them. I prefer letting them be than to overly make them.
And for someone like that to want baby number three is surprising, even to me. So when I say it saddens me that more and more people are opting for one-child families, I honestly don’t know where it’s coming from. But I do know that the sadness is genuine. Some time ago, when I was in India and thinking about this, I saw with distress that The Hindu had done a piece on it just as I was about to write a post. But having read it, I realised it was just a defensive piece rather than one with any reasoning behind it. (Not that mine is going to have scientific fact or any such evolved things.)
So I decided to do this post anyway. I honestly believe kids with sibling are better kids. Call me a generalising so and so – all though that is not what I am doing — but that has been my experience. I find kids with siblings are more open to things in general, less eager to please, are more likely to grow up not having a rather large sense of entitlement and overall have a more healthy understanding of love.
I know some fantastic people who were single kids. But we’ve never been friends for long. Something about them, even before I know they don’t have siblings, rubs me up the wrong way. Maybe it’s that they forgot to be children after a point because they hung out a lot with their parents. Maybe it’s just that the parents annoy me with their, “We want to concentrate all our love on our first and only baby.” Maybe it is the fact that invariably I find a little awkwardness, a certain defensiveness, when I speak to a person who grew up a single child. Maybe it’s all in my head. But this is also my blog.
Of course, the above could be said of people with siblings too and we all know having a sibling can do nothing to reduce the irritant quotient of some people but the intrinsic difference is that you may be able to tell a kid with a sibling that he’s a snotty little piece of nothing and get only a punch in return. But telling a single kid that might make you responsible for him turning out to be a psychopath.
But jokes apart, and people who grew up single, excuse me, I love you all equally but you guys just don’t cut like we sister-brother types do – look around you and tell me. The happier, more well-adjusted, less fake ones are almost always those with a sister or a brother they can absolutely not stand but love.
My advice? The population can take a walk*. Go make babies.
*One of the first things I worried about when I knew I was surprise-pregnant with my second kid was the population. “Crap! I am damaging my country by having more kids than it can sustain. I am moving to Australia.”