Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Two Days






My birthday is coming up in a week. I’ll be a year older, a year wiser(or so my husband,Raghav hopes)
So this year, I’m doing something different for my birthday.

Now we’ve had a rather bouncy year. 2 surgeries(Nirav and me), amazing events (new house/new pet/new job) along with all the other little bumps and bruises that make our lives more interesting. There’s been lots of laughter and major fun. Many beach trips and fingers sticky from too much ice cream. Sun-kissed perfection and memories to be thankful for.

We’ve had plenty of euphoric moments where I look around and think I’m just winning at this whole motherhood business.

And then something happens. Someone has an hour long tantrum or I step over the hundredth toy left on the floor. Self doubt creeps in. Drop by drop, thought by thought, like a little leak on the ceiling. Before soon, I’m wrecked with guilt and fear that I’m not raising my children well.

There’ve been mornings when I haven’t wanted to get up and nights when sleep doesn’t come for a few hours. And I’m mostly ok with that. I’ve made my peace with being a worrier and the general unpredictability of parenting two young children.
But if your internal thermometer is always swinging wildly between hot and cold, it can get exhausting after a while.

Every time I start panicking, I sit down and hug myself. I imagine a dear friend is going through the same thing, and how I would help her feel better. Then I do exactly that. Make time for myself. Squeeze in a few minutes when I can lay down, write, breathe. My husband is very nurturing and involved, so I rely on him. When it gets too much, I vent and debrief with my besties and go for the occasional manicure/movie/long drive. I practice decent self care and I’m not ashamed to ask for help.

Yet, despite everything I struggle every so often.

This is the face of unfiltered motherhood. Even when we’re happy, we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. We jump at small noises, because we’ve been scarred before. We’re afraid to brag and boast, because what if it all goes away and we’re left weeping? We build our homes and guard our families with the fiercest of loves, and the biggest of hopes.

And we cry inside, because we have so much to give.
All this… all this intensity? Comes at a price.

So this year, I’m doing something different for my birthday.

I am going to practice accepting that I am not everything. I am not the smartest parent or the most organized one. My cooking skills are above average at best, and I am definitely not cool. I am not the best mother my children could have gotten.

But I am the only one they have. So for their sakes and mine, I need to invest in myself. Do a little of what makes me happy, what keeps me going. There’s no point in me blazing bright for an hour, if I am not functional for the next 5.

See in the madness of guilt and societal pressure, sometimes we forget to invest in ourselves. This journey does not have to be a lonely or painful one, yet we make it so. I know, I do.

So this year, I’m doing something different for my birthday.

This year I am asking for a gift.
Two days.All by myself in our house near the beach. Nobody around me.No responsibilities or cooking or pretend play.

Two days of solitude, so I can recalibrate.
48 hours of waking up and going right back to bed, if I feel like it.
2880 minutes of silence and the sound of my fingers tapping away as I write a story.

I cornered Raghav the other day and put up this idea to him. He stared at me, then chewed on his lip.
“Are you sure? You won’t worry, the whole time, wondering if we’re ok?”, he asked.
“I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?”, he asked again. “Are you sure 2 days is enough? Why not a week?”

I smiled and kissed his nose.
“That is sweet of you to offer. But a quiet weekend is all I need.”

I don’t expect to be perfect and shiny after my little break. Real life doesn’t work that way.
But I plan to come back energized, rested and clearheaded, so I can be a better parent and a happier one.

Sometimes it’s ok to be selfish. Sometimes it’s ok to put myself first.
Two days. 48 hours. 2880 minutes. Because I am worth it.



Edit: I don't mean to come across as all suffering. I enjoy my life very much. And it also isn't easy to leave the kids in my husband's care either. Especially since Nirav has extra needs and the younger one is a drama queen. But, hey that's what pizza and Youtube kids is for. Raghav will be fine.

(Or not) It's only 2 days. 😁😁

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Catch me live! Tomorrow!

I will be live again tomorrow on the Momspresso Facebook page, reading another award-winning short story. I hope you’ll join me! For those of you in the US, I’ll be saving the video so you can watch it the next morning with your cup of coffee.

Here’s the link:
https://m.facebook.com/Momspresso/

Indian Time - Friday, July 26 @ 11.30 AM.
US times :
Thursday, July 25 @ 11.00 PM (Pacific)
Thursday, July 25 @ 1.00 AM (Central) and 2.00 AM (Eastern).

And again, thank you all for your love and support. I couldn’t do this without you



Saturday, July 20, 2019

Except for these.




The sepia sunlight of a summer evening. Birds twittering, squirrels scampering. Acres of green grass, broken by a dozen giggly faces. One more whoosh down the slide. One last round on the seesaw before dinner and a bath.
There are no perfect moments. Except for these.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Therapuppy

This human completely approves of her Therapuppy©️ (therapy + Puppy).


Whether it’s battling big feelings, anxiety or whatever’s floating in my soup for the day, Minnie always, always knows how to bring me down. A flash of her pink tongue, a kiss, the occasional belly rub. I breathe in her fuzzy head, and the world seems brighter.

She’s feisty and bossy and sheds like a champion. But by God, she’s the best thing that's happened to me all year!








Tuesday, July 16, 2019

No Cheating


I must have been 7 and in second grade. I was in a different classroom than all my usual friends and at that age; you feel the separation at a much deeper level. But after a few weeks, I was ok and thriving because of Ms. Reena, our class teacher. Now Ms. Reena was new to our school (and teaching, I suspected). She was young, very slender and had a pretty nose, very much like my mom’s. I secretly fantasized that she was my “School mother” and delighted in being a total teacher’s pet. I would help her with arranging the chalk and watering the half-dead plant in the classroom. On one occasion, I even packed an extra “Gems” pack for her, because I thought she might like the sweetness after her daily lunch of Upma. I adored her with that childish passion unique to 7-year-olds, and looked forward to Monday mornings when she’d walk into the classroom with those slender payals, trailing a scent of sandalwood behind her.

Now I may have been a teacher’s pet, but I was also a decent kid. Until then, no big earthquakes had hit my steady life of school vacations and friends. I knew the world could be big and bad, but in that disconnected “rough things happen to other people” way.

It was a warm morning in August, a week after my birthday. We were sitting in class, fresh from recess, and Ms.Reena walked in with a scowl on her face.

“Dictation Test!” she barked, and we all scurried to open our Notebooks.

“I will speak out 25 words. Write the correct spelling for these words and when you’re finished, please put your pencils away. And remember, no CHEATING!”

There was an uncharacteristic ugliness in her voice, or maybe that’s just my sadness misremembering. At any rate, 63 of us sat there in that warm classroom, agog, with our pencils poised an inch above the notebooks.

She recited the words. All 25 of them. We jotted down our versions. I wasn’t too worried, because I loved words and knew all about putting the “I before E, except after C.”

On closer inspection however, two of my answers felt wrong. I peeked around and my classmates were still writing. So when she turned away to wipe the blackboard, I erased and corrected my responses, making sure that my cursive G did not look like a Y. Satisfied, I leaned back and looked up.

Ms. Reena was standing right at my desk. Glaring, her nose (so like my mom’s) twitched, and she screamed five words that still hurt me decades later.

“I SAID NO CHEATING!”

I felt 62 pairs of eyes boring into my back. Confused, I glanced up, hoping I wasn’t the target.

“Show me the page Pavithra! SHOW ME!”

I pushed my notebook forward. Ms. Reena bent over, and goggled at my words, eyes flashing. As she straightened up and adjusted her pallu, I felt the sandalwood fragrance clog my nostrils.

“Here! These two words! Did you change your answers?”

Terrified, I nodded.

“Why?!! Why did you cheat?”

“Teacher, I didn’t cheat. I just changed my words, so the spelling was correct.”

“You expect me to believe you? If you knew the right spelling, then why didn’t you write that the first time? I saw you look around. WHOM DID YOU COPY FROM?”

Her pretty face was an unhealthy shade of red now. And that’s when I suddenly realized something. There was no real logic behind her rage and to my 7-year-old self, somehow that was worse. She’d walked into the classroom fuming and she needed something (or someone) to dump it on.

I knew I couldn’t reason with her. She would send me to the Principal’s office or worse, home.

Ms. Reena wasn’t done talking.

“You know what happens to cheaters? Huh, Pavithra? I’ll show you!”

She whacked me on my palm with two wicked swings of her Gopal Foot ruler. And then she added a couple more for good measure.

My eyes were leaking now. I tried to stop blubbering, but with one manicured nail in my direction, she kicked me out of the classroom. Wiping hot, confused tears, I stood outside the door, while she spoke to my classmates.

That day, during lunch break and for the three periods after, no one spoke to me. Not one classmate. Ms. Reena’s orders. I walked up to a few friends, but they looked at me sadly and turned away. Some older kids pointed and whispered, and my heart broke some more.

I ate my roti-jam dabba all by my lone self, facing the other way. After school, I went home and cried in my room. My mom hugged me and tried to make sense of my sadness, but I was too proud to tell her anything. More than the false accusation, the pointlessness of it all hurt me.

The rest of the week went by much the same. Ms. Reena ignored me, but gave some pointed lectures on cheating. Some classmates began to speak to me, hesitantly at first, and then in “gosh-I-missed-you” squeals! A month passed and then two. I no longer sat at my usual spot. Ms. Reena came to school looking sourer by the day. We overheard rumors that she was katti with her husband/secretly a man/hiding from the police. Primary school gossip can be so bizarre. However, one morning in January, she quit altogether and a pleasant, older teacher took her place. I stayed at my last bench and kept a low profile. Once bitten, twice shy and all that jazz.

Long story short?

Children are resilient. Very resilient. But they’re also very fragile. A cruel word, at the wrong time can shake them to their core. Especially if it comes from someone they hold in high esteem. And especially if they’re in the middle of someone else’s drama.

I don’t know why Ms.Reena brought all that anger into our second-grade classroom. Maybe she was going through some family issues. Maybe her rent was due or her husband was grumpy or her grandma had died. Or maybe she woke up that day and decided she hated teaching. It’s not my business to know.

All kids like to win the approval of their teachers. And across the country and the world, primary and middle school educators hold so much power in their hands. The ability to help children who need that extra support. To put joy into reading and math and help spark curiosity in young, delicate minds. The power to show kids how to succeed, but also how to fail with grace.

And when educators misuse this raw power and instead taunt and scream, they hurt the children of today and the adults of tomorrow.There is no situation that needs a teacher to raise their hand on a student. No.90% of problems can be successfully solved without even a raised voice.

Make sure your children are loved and valued at school. They should respect and be respected, because they’re human beings. A student + teacher collaboration is always better than a student vs. teacher conflict. If your child seems unhappy or worried about their class, make sure their needs are being met. Don’t brush their concerns away. It may be a trifling matter to you, but to them it can be a huge deal. And no matter their grade, stay in close touch with the teaching staff. A good teacher includes their students every step of the way, but a great teacher includes the parents too.

As for me, I survived just fine. To their credit - my classmates rallied around me after that first week. We spent the rest of our school life amidst much fun and laughter. Two of those classmates have grown up to be lovely, warm women who’re still close friends with me. And over the next ten years, I found many more teachers to worship, and they tolerated my goofiness with an indulgent smile.

But I still carry some scars from that August morning, many years ago. The smell of Sandalwood repulses me, and I have never copied a single answer in my entire life. I’m terrified of public humiliation and rejection by my peers and friends. I’m sure many of you have similar stories of your own.

But I promised myself something too. I would always consider myself worthy of respect.No one will needlessly disrespect me or my kids without consequences. Now my kids’ teachers are a wonderful bunch, and we’re a team that values each other's ideas about education and academics. But respect and love for children will always be our priority.

Wherever you are Ms.Reena, be well. I loved you in my little way, and I wish we had parted on better terms. But I learned something that day. Something valuable about my worth as a person.


I only hope you learned something too.






Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Goddess mode - On!


Growing up in middle class India, in the 80s and 90s, makeup was not a huge deal. The only time I had on anything close to a beauty product, was on the School Annual Day Stage Performance. And even then, it was a hastily applied layer of garish cream which made all of us look uniformly ghostly. Real foundations and bold lipsticks were for Kitty parties and Movie Stars. Or maybe when you had to attend Payal Didi’s wedding in South Bombay. Otherwise it was talcum powder + Kajal + chapstick, and you were ready to take on the day in your Bata chappals.
Even today, I don’t have too many skills in the beauty department. Lipstick, eyebrow pencil, eyeliner and BB cream. That’s my entire repertoire. Sometimes I will feel extra fancy and bring out the mascara. And then there're those days where I cannot step outside without concealer because, hello racoon eyes!
And yet, every time I start my barebones beauty routine, this little voice inside squeaks,
“Why do you need all these products?”
“Who’re you trying to impress with that red lip color?”
“Are you not pleased with the way you look, naturally?”
“Doesn’t this go against your ‘Inner beauty’ mantra?”
These and a dozen other questions fight for my attention, and even though logic tells me otherwise, my fingers still pause before reaching for the matte lipstick.
I am a well-adjusted adult. I have the same struggles and self-esteem issues as most women from my generation. While we’re lionesses who will stare down a creep into oblivion, there are still these dilemmas that make us second guess our choices.
And like with most problems that pervade our lives. the culprits are the usual players.
Society and Patriarchy.
Both dictate that a woman, at all times, exists to impress or serve men. If she learns a new recipe, it’s because she wants to cook for a man some day. She wants to stay fit? It’s because she’s learning how to catch/keep a man. She is horny? It must be so she can satisfy her partner’s desires. On and on and on and on. And on.
So, the natural next step is to assume that if a woman has a full face of wonderfully applied makeup, she’s doing it for a man’s attention.
If you’re a woman and have an online presence, I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of random dudes commenting from behind their creepy profiles.
“Darling, you luk sexxxy,”
“Show me pics of bobs,”
“Your beutiful. your lipstickkk is making me mad!”
On the the other end of the spectrum- the armchair activists. These dudes take it personally if they see an image or video of a woman with makeup. They’ll tell you how pretty you are naturally OR go the other extreme and yell at you for putting on foundation. They’ll share memes and jokes about how a woman is unrecognizable once she wipes the products off.
“I don’t like that much makeup on women. My mom never wore a single product, and she looked just fine.”
“I went to bed with a 10 and woke up with a 2, hehehehe!”
Seriously, dude? You’re that much of an imbecile? Also, you have mommy issues, but that’s between your therapist and you.
Some of these ideas are so ingrained in our minds, they pop up unexpectedly in the oddest of moments.
Years ago, when I was dating my now-husband, we had an interesting conversation. Over a grainy Skype Video call, he complimented my outfit. But my earrings really seem to catch his attention. With soft brown eyes, he murmured, “Wow! Those earrings look great on you! Did you put them on especially for me?”
22-year-old me wasn’t worldly. I didn’t have the heart to tell him otherwise. So I agreed that, yes indeed I had been thinking of him when I haggled the price of said earrings from Rs.15 to Rs.10 in the middle of a sweaty Bandra market.
He didn’t mean offense, and he was paying me innocent praise. I look good, and so somehow it must have been for him. See how easy it is for even the nicest of men, to think it’s always about them?
We’ll have been married 14 years this August, and we’re both evolved Feminists. Some days, I put on extra effort for his sake. And he does the same for me. But other times, I choose colors and clothes that aren’t about or for him. And we encourage this freedom of choice in our kids, who often go to school in the weirdest of outfits because “Peppa Pig shirt matches with Pokemon pants, Amma!”
So, bottom line?
Makeup is beautiful. It’s easily available. So many brands, colors and palettes. Even for a novice like me, the transformative power of a good BB cream is obvious. We put on makeup to glow, to make a hard morning better, to highlight parts of ourselves we’ve always loved. And some of us are masters at it! The perfectly contoured cheek, the Instagram worthy Winged eyeliner. I’ve friends and cousins (male and female) who are absolute artists at makeup. I mean if I had half the talent that some of those YouTube Beauty artistes do, I’d close my practice and just contour faces all day.
And if you really don’t like it, no sweat. Unlike medications, makeup is entire optional. There’s nothing superior about not using/using beauty products - it comes down to what your lifestyle and your wallet are comfortable with.
You don’t need anyone’s permission or praise to look the way you do. Your body is yours to flaunt and no one else’s to critique. Clothes, jewelry, makeup - these are tools at your disposal, because YOU want to look a certain way. For YOURself! If you walk out in those fancy heels, looking like a million bucks - hey that’s for yourself too!
And yes, you absolutely can dress for a special someone. I know I do.You can emphasize your curves and tuck in the tummy, because you know that hot guy is watching. Nothing wrong with that either.
It all comes down to choice. Your Choice.
Not what some random Weirdo/Aunty ji/Society uncle think. Nope.
Not going to happen.
Not anymore.
So get your Goddess on! It’s 2019, and we have mountains to scale!
But first excuse me, while I run off to Sephora to buy some red Lipsticks. Anyone coming?

Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

My daughter and her friend.

We had an interesting look into human nature, last month. My son, Nirav had gone up to San Francisco with his dad, so Reya and I hit all the local fun spots. Library, Food truck, Ice cream, Park.

It was close to 5 pm when we get to the playground. There are 3 swings. A baby coos at us from the bucket swings, and smiling delightedly, Reya hops on the vacant one. Next to us, on the last swing sits an older boy. Well, young man really. Probably in his early twenties, with a handsome face and the greenest eyes I’ve seen. He’s humming to himself and doesn’t respond when Reya squeaks hello in his direction. On deeper inspection, I realized that he is chanting softly.

“Hmmm and that is 29,”

“Hmmm and that is 30,”

“Hmmm and that is 31,”

He goes on and on.

Odd? Well, depends on your definition of the word. I had spent half the day, talking in a Cartoon voice to Reya, so we’re no more or less weird than this angelic-looking dude. 

After a while, Reya starts chanting just like him, possibly because she thinks this is a game. The man (boy?) looks at her, startled and immediately starts rocking on his swing. He’s visibly upset and sensing his discomfort; she stops. She stares at me with big eyes, and I look back. The same thought floating in the evening air between us.

Because of Nirav’s autism, as a family, we’re very sensitive to not just his challenges and triggers, but also those of others like him.Children always watch their grownups and most behavior is learned. Reya is barely 5, but she already knows to respect those different from her and not use hurtful labels. 

She mouths “Sorry” to me and I nod. Maybe later, if the man is receptive to it, she will apologize to him.But for now we chill there, singing, talking and respecting the privacy of the man as he works through his upset emotions. 

A little while later, Reya hops off and runs to the Slides, where she spends a merry half hour tiring herself out. I’m chuckling and quietly checking my Facebook, when this  Indian lady plops on the bench next to me. I nod politely, and notice she has this conspiratorial look on her face.

Ugly gossip, I think and I am not wrong.

She leans into me and whispers in broken English.

“That man. Is mad. Don’t let your baby sit on swing nearby him.”

I gawk at her, noticing her pretty face distorted by a sly know-it-allness. 

“Be careful. He singing and talking all the time. Scaring my baby.”

I look at her “baby” - a rather boisterous 6-year-old girl. 

“Last week also he is at park. My baby say he always on swing. Why adult on swing? It is children’s park, no?” 

Her loud “baby” is shoving a toddler, so she can have a turn on the slide. I want to retort, but I don’t, because this woman isn’t done talking yet.

“Scary no. Babies come to play at park.This is not right.”

I am usually a calm person. Non confrontational and mind-my-own-business. But something about her self-righteous tone sets me off. I want to scream, but what sort of example am I setting then? Children always watch their grownups and most behavior is learned

So, in my most civil tone, I say,

“That man on the swing is my friend. He has Special Needs, not that it’s your concern. In the hour I’ve been here, I haven’t seen him disturb anyone. He chants to himself, because that’s how he copes. He possibly swings for hours, because it helps him regulate his body. He is not Mad or weird. And he’s certainly not scary.”

My face is flushed, and there’s a slight hitch in my voice. Reya is watching, as are a few people from the next bench over, but I’m exhausted and suddenly furious. 

“If you’re so bothered Madam, why don’t you go elsewhere? It’s a free country and honestly, the playground would be better off without this kind of unpleasantness.”

She gapes at me, before getting up in a huff. 

“Pinky?!” she screams. 

Pinky is throwing mud on the slides and making a few enemies of her own. She does not turn around.

“PINKY!!” 

I get up and walk to Reya. She hasn’t heard everything, but she knows something went down. She kisses me on my head, maternal and soothing. I breathe in her little girl smell, and that calms me down some.

The rest of the evening goes by smoothly. The lady is nowhere to be seen and good riddance.
Reya asks for the swing again and she’s soon next to the Man with the green eyes. 

“Hmm and that is 3521,”

“Hmm and that is 3522,”

He goes on counting - one number for each completed swinging motion.

An older man walks up beside us. Tall and handsome, he’s the spitting image of his son on the swing. He grins and wiggles his fingers at Reya, who immediately tells him her name and full address. I nod politely and we stand there in companionable silence.

“Hmm and that is 3598,”

“Hmm and that is 3599,”

The older man asks,

“Stevie, you about ready to go home, buddy?” 

Stevie doesn’t answer. 

“Hmm and that is 3600,”

He gets off the swing abruptly, looks in our direction and mumbles.

“Bye Reya! Bye Amma!” 

Delighted that he knows her name and mine too, Reya shouts "Bye friend! 

The older man looks confused but pleased. He nods at us and runs to join his son who is already halfway out of the playground. 

I smile at their retreating backs, warm in the beauty of simple interactions, laced with genuine respect. The green-eyed guy was listening to our every word and I hope he found us to be a calm presence. 

We live in a world far too complex and full of thorny hatred. Acceptance of those different has come a long way. We don’t point and talk when we see kids with Autism. We spread awareness about Down’s Syndrome. We pause before using words like “mental case” and “retard”. All of this is wonderful and gives me hope.

But these little kids with Autism and Cerebral Palsy and Down’s won’t stay kids forever. They’ll outgrow their baby fat and rounded shoulders and become adults with the same diagnoses. Will we still respect and stand up for them? 

The man on the bus who sits on the same seat every day. The girl at the mall who wears special braces to help her walk. The boy who is almost 40, but still enjoys nursery rhymes. Them, and so many others who need a little extra time to process, to speak, to understand, to respond. They’re men and women, flawed and perfect, like you and I. But they can’t walk this journey alone.

I’ve heard well-intentioned sentences like 
“Oh differently abled people are just like us!”

Nope, not true. They are not like us. They wake up in the morning and fight a hundred battles by the time most of us have our first sip of chai. Their challenges are hard and real and often about little things we take for granted. 

So let's do away with the whole “We are all the same!” slogan, because that is not helpful. It comes from a good place, but it diminishes the true struggles that people face. 

By recognizing our differences and lending a respectful hand, a compassionate ear and an accepting smile, we have the power to truly help those with Special needs. 

Remember, children always watch their grownups, and most behavior is learned

As for us, we’ve been to that playground many times since. Stevie is 22 years old with Autism. He loves chess and swimming and is starting a Software Internship with Apple in August. 

Reya has learned to count beyond 1000, just by swinging next to him and he doesn’t mind now if she chants along occasionally. 

And God bless him, but he legit thinks my name is Amma!