Category Archives: school

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.

*****

I never want to be a high-schooler again

High school was a terrible time for me. Perhaps, all of school was a painful time for me. Now when I hear people say school days were the best days of their lives, I wonder what I missed out on, because, truly I will not have another childhood. Or at least one that will take me to high school.

I have absolutely no bonds with school friends that I cherish to this day. They are all bonds that are at most pleasant. I wouldn’t make efforts to go to their weddings, or cross the country to go visit them. I am just not that kind of a girl.
High school was traumatic for me because I didn’t fit in. Or maybe I didn’t let myself. I wondered about all these confident kids at school who were at best mediocre at everything they did but had tons of self-esteem which made them look like they were fantastic. I was always diffident about any skill I had and while I was not exactly a shrinking violet in school, it would have been easy to play on my deep and large insecurity had anyone wanted. 
I made strange friends, kind friends, friends who accepted me, friends who were only willing to believe the worst of me as and when it suited them. Like everyone else, I made all sorts of friends. This, then, is a tribute to those who will remain in my memory, some of them in my friends, forever.
Sangeeta Mohandas: She was quiet, shy and yet she was the one who sought out where I lived when I first came to Muscat, visited me and forged a relationship of a life time. She, as were a lot of kids in my class, was trained to think that anyone who didn’t do well in maths and science (me!) wasn’t worth knowing. She was  trained to think she would only be successful if she were a doctor or an engineer. 
And even though she was unlike any of my friends in India, who were all boys, we hit it off, even as she tried to get me to shed my rambunctious behaviour and turn me into a girl.
Today she is a successful mother of a 6-year-old who has shed her conditioning, with a degree in home science and with a personality that I enjoy. She also lost tremendous amounts of weight in the last two years and looks a completely bomb. Complete inspiration for me.
Hetal: I forget his last name. I know, it’s terrible. But he taught me that boys can be gentle, and sweet. And that it was okay to be a girl. I don’t remember specific conversations but I know this boy stuck in my memory because he was different.
Anuj Kapadia: My first humongous crush. I think this guy was born sensible. Apart from that, here’s why I had this crush. He has dimples, he sang (I think. My obsession with men who sing started very early, as you can see), he was good at everything he did and always polite, but with a healthy dose of irreverence, which, by the way, has snowballed into the cheesiest, most corny sense of humour today. 
Here’s an example: Recently my status line on FB said, I continue maintaing that I am a flake. 
Anuj’s comment: Does that make Ben Afleck your sister?
Today, he has a PhD in some really complicated (for me) aspect of radiology, which he patiently explained to me once and which I am utterly incapable of reproducing here. All I can say is I think what he does will not waste too much water or use up too much plastic. He is also seriously warm, intelligent, doesn’t let any opportunity for a joke pass by and totally wholesome.
And so great was my embarrassment at the crush that I signed his autograph book (in class 7 or 8) as “your loving sister,” as the asswipe reminds me every chance he gets.   
Harshita Nair: She was my best friend through school. She saw me through a lot. She was one of those confident ones. She could dance, she could sing, she could do maths, she looked and was super nice, she made prefect, she was hugely popular, I suspect she even won a supporting best actor award for an inter-house dramatics competition. And at times, I felt inadequate around her but loved her enough to not be envious. 
She could eat two really big BurgerKing burgers, every day, and remain svelte, she spoke way more than the average number of words per minute and she taught me that it was possible to be talented and not be snooty about it. I will be ever thankful for her friendship through school.
Today, I am not sure we are best friends, or even friends. She has a decent career going, she’s done all the right things for her timeline: marriage, husband, bought a house, built a career, travelled abroad. But in my eyes, and I am being very judgemental so forgive me, she hasn’t reached the promise she shone with. And I always wonder what happened to that real firecracker I knew in school when I look at this now mellow person. 
Seema Vijayan: We were never friends. I think I put her off the minute I entered class. My impression of this girl — apart from being someone who was good at academics — will always be of a really big girl with many grey strands in her thick long hair, someone who was a fantastic orator. The lines “I thrice presented him a kingly crown, which he did thrice refuse” from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar where Mark Antony speaks on JC’s death will never belong to anyone but Seema and her strong emphatic voice.
But she sticks in my mind for another reason altogether. In hindsight, I realise this girl had absolutely no sensitivity to anyone other than her friends; in fact, I am inclined to think she was a bit of a bully. In school, I happened to mention to a girl that one of our classmates had serious body odour issues. Then, I didn’t have courage to go up to her and tell her it is offensive to others around her, as I do now. So I mentioned it to someone else. This rat told the girl in question who quickly cried to her group, which included Seema. And the bully she was, she came down on me at the basketball court, gaggle of girls backing her up, sticking her finger in my face and saying she knew the “minute she set her eyes on me that I was not to be trusted”. 
Dude, come on. 
I don’t know what she does today but I do know she checked out my Orkut (when it was active) page a couple of times. When I saw her on my visitors list, I in the silly grown-up way I have, was very thrilled with this blast from the past and sought to add her. What do you know, she ignored it. Nice. 
HM: I am only going to have her initials on here because I know some people who read my blog know her and I don’t want any uncomfortable situations for her. She and a few others, if they read, will know immediately who she is. 
What can I say about this girl? She was a true-blue Scorpio. She had a glamour, a mystique that very few tweens or even teens have. She wielded considerable influence over anyone who was vulnerable enough to let her. She had an elder sister, so was privy to much information that duds like us didn’t. She was and still is very nice to look at, was loaded with personality and brought yum Gujju food to school. When we bonded, we bonded real tight but when she decided to move on she sort of broke my heart for a year. The loss and the humiliating way I was dealt it scarred me some. But a year later, or two, I realised shit happens. And when I grew some sense, I realised it was entirely her loss because, you know, I am a kickass friend. My lesson from there? A certain wariness of Scorpios, which by the way is unfair because they’re a good bunch of people and I don’t take the zodiac thing so seriously anymore.
Today, she lives in Dubai with a career I hope she enjoys; her FB status messages tell me her life is full and her marriage good. And her story won’t be complete if I didn’t say that after 15 years she took the initiative to call and chat, which I thought was sweet. 
If I have enough readers, please feel free to take this up as a tag and tell me about some people in school you’ll never forget.