Balancing Act?

November 27, 2007

It’s only been about ten weeks since I joined the ranks of the unemployed, and about two months since I became full-time mom. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been this way for ever – not necessarily in a bad way, just that my former life seems very distant.

And yet… I have to say that I’m not completely used to being house-bound. With two small kids, I’m under house arrest in a way that I would not have been if I’d merely been unemployed. I’m not used to not being able to walk out whenever I want; not being able to hop out for a long lunch with friends; not being able to go to the nearby Sagar when homemade food is making me sick, or to one of our favourite posh restaurants when we have reason to celebrate; and I’m really, really not used to eating sambhar-chawal (twins’ food) twice a day seven days a week.

I’m working on salvaging bits of my former life. I have one afternoon a week off, when I get out of the house and leave Amit to change diapers and hand out milk bottles. I have tennis three times a week. I have late evenings, after the kids have gone to sleep, to watch TV. And of late, I have started completely ignoring the kids during the 12-4 gap between lunch and “tea” – I use this time to study, to talk on the phone, and to be on the Net. I would not say that this long afternoon session is insufficient time for me to do all that I want or have to do. But what bothers me is something different. What bothers me is, by largely leaving the kids to their own devices during this time, am I being a negligent or selfish parent?

I think a mother need not spend every waking moment with her kids to be a good parent – surely kids also need to be left alone to discover their own worlds at times? But when I come into the study, or take my books and sit down on the new sofa, still out of reach of the kids, I do so with a slightly guilty feeling – am I providing these kids tall he attention, the stimulation, and the love they need to grow up well?

I read somewhere that if, as a parent, you completely set aside all your own emotional and intellectual needs, and devote 100% to your children, you’re going to end up frustrated and resentful of your kids. That makes sense – I’ve seen people like that and I wouldn’t want to do that. So I think that I do need to occasionally eat something nice, and occasionally get out and go somewhere without the kids, and occasionally spend some time at home doing my own stuff. But when does “occasional” and “some time” become negligence?

Oh well – these are questions that need to find their own answers. Meanwhile…

Today, after their lunch I put the kids in their room as usual. They both looked sufficiently sleepy that they ought to have been asleep in five minutes. But… appearances can be deceptive. After 15 minutes, when I opened the door to check on them, I found that they were both wide awake and up to mischief. They had dislodged a heavy stack of bedding that sits on a trunk in their room and both of them had clambered on to the trunk. As I watched, Mrini pushed Tara off the trunk, causing her to land on her head – thankfully on the stack of soft bedding – and burst into a protesting wail.

I decided that sleep was a long way off for them and let them out of their room, whereupon they went at once into the kitchen, opened the cupboard and proceeded to pull out every last item of crockery that was within their reach. So far they have only ever accessed the lower shelf; today, they went so far as to grab a bag of garbage bags from the higher shelf and began to pull most of the garbage bags out of the enclosing plastic bag and strew them about the dining room. Then, Mrini took their toy box and dragged it into the kitchen, leaving a long trail of toys behind her. Tara dragged the laundry basket (largely empty) from the bedroom into the living room, leaving a trail of dirty kiddies’ clothes behind her. At last, all this activity tired them out and they fell asleep. Mrini at least had the sense to navigate her way to her bed – Tara collapsed on the dining room floor, surrounded by the debris of what looks like a major hurricane.

Hmmm… I suppose I should go and pick her up and put her in bed and then try to restore this house to some semblance of sanity – after all, only once there is some sort of order here, can they entertain themselves creating chaos again.

More Twinning

November 21, 2007

My living room has changed in character. For the last eight years or so, our living room seating arrangement has consisted entirely of mattresses on the floor, with a large number of cushions and bolsters providing moral and physical support – not to mention colour. We have always had one chair, but it was just that one.

When the twins arrived, one of the mattresses was lugged into the bedroom to serve as their bed. That left us seriously short of seating in the living room. The mattress that remained was rather narrow and not as comfortable as the one the twins had usurped. Thus far, we managed by sitting on a carpet, or, when all else failed, sitting on the floor. But clearly, something needed to be done.

With the impending visit of my parents, combined with a couple of slightly awkward visits from people not used to sitting on mattresses on the floor, for whom we’d had to draw up chairs from the dining room, I decided it was high time we got some “decent” living room furniture. Amit, predictably, was strongly resistant to the idea, but I prevailed. After all, I told him, if you don’t get a safe surface for the twins to clamber on to, they will clamber on to the dining table chairs, their stroller, or their high chairs, all of which are eminently unstable.

And so we have it – a large, rather plush, over-stuffed, tan-coloured, fake leather two-seater sits in pride of place. At either end, a rolled up mattress provides safe landing ground for the twins, should they choose to tumble off the sides. In front is the remains of the narrow mattress, covered by the carpet. Now our living room looks really strange – this is the sort of sofa that you expect to see in a set of 3+1+1 or at least 2+1+1, instead of coupled with an odd-looking teak wood arm chair – and our last mattress has disappeared. True, I wanted it; but now I’ve got it, I’m rather sorry to see the end of the old way. Hopefully, we will get around to buying another mattress, so that we will not be compelled to sit on furniture all the time.

Right now, I’m in the study working at my computer. The kids are up and about and very active as this is the time they usually go to the park. I should have taken them today as well, but I was feeling lazy and the weather was looking grey-ish (it’s cleared up now) and my parents are due to arrive this evening, sow I sort of decided to skip the park outing. Now the kids are sitting at the study door, which is ajar, and taking every opportunity to breach the invisible boundary between inside and outside the study. Inside is fascinating, because they’re rarely allowed in and because the room is full of breakable and destructible stuff like book cases with books and glass covers, a rocking chair they can sit in or get squashed under, two cameras they can pull down from my desk and smash, an enticing looking switch with which they can at one shot reboot my computer and result in this long blog entry getting deleted, and multifarious electrical devices which they can stick something into to find out what an electric shock is all about. Outside, by contrast, is unbearably dull, because there’s nobody around and it’s no fun doing forbidden stuff if there’s nobody around to yell at you to stop.

Now, since they’re not getting any attention from me, they figure the easiest way to do this is to either enter the room – I”m guaranteed to chase them out, which is fun for them – or to pick something off the floor and eat it or pretend to. Another strategy, devious and two-pronged, is to appear to be engrossed in playing with some toy. After a few minutes the toy rolls or is flung into the room. Then, the perpetrator struggles to reach the toy without actually entering the room. If this appears to work, the toy is carefully slid further into the room, till it is clearly out of reach. There follows a series of pleading squeaks and shrieks. If nothing distracts and mama is entirely immovable, then one foot appears slowly over the threshold, and the rest of the body inches forward in a creeping, sliding sort of motion. By this insidious process, almost half the child is in the room before incurring mama’s wrath, which is terrible to behold but extremely exciting for the other twin who is sitting all innocent just outside the door and watching her sister get it in style.

So, in short, I should stop, but before I do, I have to narrate one more small antic of the twins. In the afternoon, Mrini woke up for her nap and came looking for me. She sat with me for a while, then I realized that Tara had been asleep for two hours already, so I said to Mrini, “What shall we do? Should we go and wake her up?” Immediately, Mrini walked into their room, sat on the mattress next to Tara and thumped her vigorously on the butt. Tara showed no signs of life, so Mrini whacked her on the back. Tara turned over sleepily and refused to get up, so Mrini mounted an assault on her hair, before returning to spanking her on the butt. I thought I should lend a bit of a helping hand, so I called to Tara and thankfully she sat up and looked grumpy for a minute before giving a beatific smile. What a pair!

Tara Catching Up

November 4, 2007

Yesterday was THE day for Tara. After vacillating and prevaricating for as long as she could, she finally decided she had to walk. Naturally, she didn’t get very far – falling down every few steps and letting out yowls of frustration.

Mrini didn’t make it easy for her. Whenever I wanted to encourage Tara to walk towards me, Mrini came running in the way. If Tara wanted to take my hand, Mrini wanted both of them and she wanted them first and she didn’t want to let them go. If I praised Tara when she walked, Mrini wanted more praise (even though she already knows how to walk) or she sulked. So what with hardly getting any bandwidth from me and stumbling over Mrini at every step, it’s a miracle that Tara managed to accomplish anything at all.

I was worried that by today Tara might have forgotten that she had started to walk yesterday, but no – in the morning, even when she thought I wasn’t looking and therefore she had no external encouragement, she was back on her feet, tottering around, alternating between delight and frustration.

Though in most ways Tara is “behind” Mrini – smaller, thinner, and less exuberant therefore slower to follow instructions even if she wanted to – just two days ago she took us all by surprise by doing with ease and flamboyance what Mrini, even now, has not been able to.

She climbed on to the trunk. This is no mean feat, because the trunk is full of sharp corners, is covered with a slippery cloth, and half of the top is obscured by the large cardboard carton that is the receptacle for the twins’ clothes. So, overall the surface area for clambering onto is rather limited.

Tara not only had no training in climbing, she was not even at that point able to walk, and could stand only shakily. She had no visible incentive to climb on to the trunk, and nobody had put that idea into her head. Apparently, it just suddenly occurred to her that it might be a fun thing to do and so she went and did it.

The first time she managed to get on and off all right, but the second time when she tried to get off, her leg got stuck on the trunk and she howled. I helped her, but that was the only time I was called to the rescue.

Mrini was watching somewhat enviously, but when she tried, she couldn’t – she just didn’t have the knack of it.

Again, I was wondering whether by next morning Tara would have forgotten this new skill, but no. First thing in the morning, she was back at the trunk and she spent 30-40 minutes practising. There’s dedication and commitment for you. She exhibited such extreme determination that once when she landed awkwardly while getting off, and hit her head on the floor with a thunk, she didn’t give so much as a whimper; instead, she picked herself up and went right back to climb it again. And this is Tara, the cry baby, who whines for even the slightest imagined injuries.

Kids! There’s never a dull moment.

Parental Prerogatives

November 1, 2007

Amit’s father hasn’t visited us for three years. I had forgotten just how tiring it is to provide endless rounds of tea, open endless packets of biscuit, and listen to endless stories that bore me to sleep.

Amit’s dad is probably a relatively easy in-law to deal with and I mustn’t complain – and at any rate, I usually don’t complain too much. But this time, I must confess, I was worried. For one thing, FIL (father-in-law, that is) had already been advising me on which language I should be using to communicate with my daughters. This already had me considerably riled. I mean, I have been struggling for ten years with Bengali and still sound ruddy awful when I try to speak it – why would I want to teach that, of all things, to my daughters. And what is Amit for, if not to teach them Bengali the way it should be spoken?

I use largely English with a good smattering of Hindi with the twins. According to FIL, the Hindi can be eliminated. According to me, it’s none of his bloody business, if you’ll pardon my French. I mean, whatever makes him think that he gets to decide what language I use with my daughters???

So anyway, I was hoping desperately to avoid a confrontation, but with Amit being out of town for the bulk of the time FIL would be here, it looked rather dicey. Luckily, conjunctivitis put paid to Amit’s trip to Tokyo, and so it was him, not me, who had the dubious distinction of telling FIL what not to do with the twins.

Not that it made the slightest difference. Telling him not to feed them biscuits only resulted in him feeding them biscuits along with snide remarks about their parents watching and forbidding it. Telling them not to keep them in his lap all the time – he kept them in his lap even when he was eating and working on the computer – was equally pointless; he continued to do it, maintaining that it was his grandfatherly privilege to spoil his grandchildren.

On one occasion, I tried to reason with him that he was spoiling their eating habits and inculcating a clingy dependency instead of healthy independence in them by doing all this. He – much to my everlasting fury – dismissed this out of hand. Being grandfather, of course, he knows better how to raise children, and there’s no need for us to be so “rigid” about fundamental issues such as basic discipline or independence.

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrh! Is it too much to ask that he grant at least some consideration to our – and Amit was with me on this, thankfully – desires as parents? Apparently, yes – respecting your son’s and daughter-in-law’s wishes is a foreign policy to FIL. Respect, in his vocabulary, is a one-way street – you don’t have to earn it, it is yours by right.

Another thing that bugged me is that he always – right from the moment that we went to see the kids in Pondicherry – had some fantastic ideas for names. Mini-Rini; Moina-Noina; and some other such cutesy trash. WHY can’t he just go with the names the parents have selected? I mean, there are a few things that parents, even adoptive parents, get to decide.

Thankfully, he’s gone, taking his names and his philosophy with him. All that’s left is intense irritation and a never-before hope that he doesn’t come back any time soon. Tara, who never bothered too much about being taken in the lap, is ok; but Mrini, who loves to be taken in the lap and spent 80% of her waking hours in FIL’s lap, has been whining and lifting her arms to me enough to drive anybody mad. Every time she does it – about 750 times a day – I feel irritated with FIL for this legacy of his week-long stint.
My next challenges are just around the corner. First, Amit is going to be traveling a lot this month, and I can’t always expect conjunctivitis to come to my rescue. Second, a mere two months away is a week-long trip to Calcutta, where, quite apart from all the logistical issues to be confronted, I will also have to be prepared to face another and much greater onslaught of philosophies and inane suggestions on all matters. Face it, and come away largely unharmed, hopefully sane, and without doing any irreparable damage to worldwide diplomatic relations. That’s a taaaaaaaaaall order.

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