School

December 28, 2009

The twins have really gotten into Christmas mode this year. When I went to pick them up from daycare one day, they called me inside very excitedly and showed me the miniature Christmass tree they were engaged in decorating. There were streamers and balloons up, and pictures of Santa Claus. Later on, Tara told me that Santa Claus came to school and gave them chocolate and that Mrini cried. Mrini confirmed that she had cried, but the chocolate story she did not verify, so I’m not sure whether that part was fact or fiction.

On the last day of school before the winter break, there was a Christmas party in school. I’d thought it was only for the tiny tots of the Montessori classes, but when I went to drop the kids off, I saw the entire school was in ‘party’ clothes – that is, not in uniform. The Montessori classes had been decorated in Christmas colours, and the one of the kids’ three class teachers whom I saw was dressed in a gorgeous rust-red silk churidar-kurta. School had notified us not to send any snacks, so I gathered they would be provided, and later on I saw that the kids had also been presented with jigsaw puzzles and Santa Claus caps that they might have had a hand in the making of. We had also been asked to collect our charges by 10.30 a.m. This might not have been very convenient for us, but for the fact that both Amit and I had a holiday that day. Amit went to pick up the girls and was equally delighted with the party atmosphere.

Such a thing never happened in the schools I was in, back in my days. We were allowed to be in “civvies” – that is, not in uniform – on our birthdays, up to a certain age; and on school-leaving day, the students who were bidding farewell and those who were leaving were supposed to come to school in “formal” attire, which meant that all the girls wore saris (many of them for the first or second times in their lives). Their day started late in the morning and ended late in the afternoon, so the rest of us didn’t get to see them in their finery much. (On a side note, I was quite relieved never to have to go through this ritual, because I didn’t finish school in this school, and the one I did finish in didn’t have any ritual that I can recall.)

Apart from school-leaving day and annual day, which was a very organized and rehearsed affair, the only other occasion on which we might have worn civvies to school was Children’s Day. On that day, I think, we also got a small packet of goodies to munch. But that was only while we were very small – I don’t think we had it all the way up to sweet 16.

As for festivals – I don’t recall ever learning anything about them in school. Whatever we imbibed was from other children around us, not because there was any formal focus on them. I don’t think we ever decorated our classes or did rangoli or had our teachers come especially dressed up in the festive spirit. The main thing we got on festivals was a holiday. The rest was up to our parents.

I can see other little differences as well, in the kids’ school as compared to mine. Assembly, for instance. There must have been times when it was foggy, cold, hot, or rainy, but I don’t recall Assembly ever being called off. Logically, it seems impossible that we could have had Assembly in the pouring rain – we must have skipped Assembly at least when it rained, but in my mind it seems that Assembly was sacrosanct. At least I know that we had Assembly when it was freezing cold – I can still remember standing out in the field, wearing a sweater and blazer and feeling generally warm enough, but with my finger tips slowly turning blue.

In the kids’ school, Assembly seems to be determined by the position of the stars or some equally arbitrary factor. Some days they have it, some days they don’t. The weather is a factor, but it’s not the only or the most obvious factor. Also, it seems to be taken altogether much more casually. We, for instance, couldn’t afford to be late for Assembly. It was terrible. If you came late because your bus came late, it was ok, because there would be a whole busload of you and you’d be sent to your places without a word of reprimand; but if you were the only ones, just a handful of students dribbling in late…

See, mostly you had to get to class, deposit your bag, and then head to Assembly. If you were late, you obviously couldn’t do that. So you deposited your bag on the side of the field and tried to sneak into your class queue. Which was arranged in ascending order of height. So if you were short, like me, it was pretty difficult to be inconspicuous. Also if you were tall enough to be right at the back. You’d best be of a medium height and then you could squirm into the middle of the queue. If you managed to do this, fine, but when everyone was leaving the field you’d have to stop to pick up your bag – you’d just have to. That’s when the Prefects would be waiting to pounce on you. They also inspected everyone for hair left untied, long nails, short skirts, rolled up socks, non-conforming shoes, or any other signs of non-conformance that they could spot. Habitual offenders were not let off lightly. I don’t – I must admit – recall exactly what we were made to do for being late or for the other offences, but it must have been pretty bad. At least they made you get out of line and wait in the field, which made you late for the first class. I guess they maybe gave you a talking to. Maybe they made you run rounds? Though that, I think, only the PT trainer had the authority to do. So I’m not sure exactly what power the Prefects wielded. Maybe it was just the being picked on, being singled out, which was punishment enough. Whatever it was, it was certainly something you’d take reasonable measures to avoid.

In the kids’ school, though, I see an untidy line-up of bags every day, near the field. Kids file out and claim their bags without comment. Nobody seems to care. I spotted a fancy pair of sports shoes the other day, instead of the plain white canvas shoes everyone else was wearing. I don’t know if anyone cared about that, either.

At first thought, I’d have said this showed a deterioration in the standard of educational institutions these days. But then, I tried to clear my mind of my preconceived notions and really think about it. What’s so good about that strictly disciplinarian stance that my school took? Is it necessarily a good thing to promote discipline at the cost of individuality and freedom of expression? What’s so bad about open hair and long nails, anyway? So what if you leave your bag at the edge of the field? Perhaps it’s ok to loosen the reins just a little and let kids be kids. If you give them just a little bit of freedom, maybe kids, some of them at least, will respond with just a little bit of responsibility. Maybe it’s worth trying.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

December 22, 2009

I believe that the Pope (was it?) recently said that greeting people this festive season could be an obscenity, because you never know what kind of hardship they are going through. So I just want to say that, whatever kind of hardship you may or may not be going through I wish you a healthier, wealthier, and happier time in the new year.

We are off to meet the in-laws again, and will be back in time to spend new year’s eve in our old home. On New Year’s Day, we hope to shift to our new home… which currently, despite all the urgings of plain common sense (summarised by Supriya in her comment to my previous post), looks like being the independent house.


High Up or Low Down?

December 21, 2009

In our hunt for a place to stay, we have now managed to shortlist two possibilities. One is an apartment, the other an independent house. The former is up in the air, the latter up just one flight of steps. The apartment comes with all the usual amenities, like swimming pool, gym, kids’ play area, back-up power, round-the-clock security, basement parking, and whatnot. The house comes with complications: the parking arrangement is not quite perfect, we will have to pay four electricity bills every month, the living room has a self-locking door that cannot be “turned off” (which means that if I go downstairs to answer the door, the kids can easily lock me out), the kitchen cupboards are slightly eccentric, there are no showerheads in the bathrooms (nor hot water geysers), there’s some  huge gaps in the steps leading up to the terrace that provide a perfect opportunity for the kids to take a spectacular tumble, and the neighbours downstairs depend on my (notoriously unreliable) memory to turn on and off their water supply (it’s complicated – don’t even ask)…

Sigh – that’s a lot of complications.

On the flip side, the house is very, very nice. The apartment feels impersonal and mass-produced; the house is warm, cosy, unique, stylish, pleasant, and in a very quiet and homely location.

And it is a little bit cheaper.

What to do? What would you do?


Paradise Lost

December 18, 2009

I suppose this would not be everyone’s definition of Paradise – and in another context, it would not even be my definition of Paradise, but in the context of someone who’s just returned to work after a two-year stint of doing nothing but managing the house…

See, there’s a lot of work in managing a house. Way more than anyone who hasn’t done it can conceive. It’s
even more if it’s the only thing you’re doing. I don’t know why (and I might well have opportunity to reconsider this statement). But one thing we can all agree on is that housework, like gas, expands to fill all the space/time/energy resources available. It expands infinitely. If you clean, it gets dirty again. If you wash, it gets used. If you cook, it gets eaten (and then requires washing). If you shop, it gets consumed. It’s never ending.

So I realized that it was simply impossible for me to keep a handle on all of that in addition to a full-time job. If I tried, I would spend all my awake-at-home hours doing nothing else. And I suspect that the kids (not to mention the other half) would not take kindly to that. But why blame others? I would not myself take kindly to it.

Enter Shaba-Aunty.

Actually, she can’t enter, because she’s been onstage all along, albeit usually not in the spotlight. I’ve already written quite a bit about how indispensable she has become; now that I’ve gone back to work, she’s more indispensable than ever. Like the elves in the shoe-maker story, she comes in when nobody is around, does all the work, and silently goes away leaving the place neat, clean, and fully functional. In addition to just cleaning the house and washing the breakfast dishes and folding nightclothes and bedclothes that have been flung all over the place in the mad rush to evacuate the house before 8 a.m., she also:
• Puts out the laundry
• Picks up the laundry and folds it up neatly in separate stacks
• Mends the kids’ clothes, which frequently have buttons and things falling off, and also often need to be tightened an inch or two; today I even left her a teddy bear who is in serious need of stitches after various operations carried out by the twins on several parts of his anatomy; in fact, he is in imminent danger of losing an arm and a lot of his intestines (stuffing)
• Irons the kids’ clothes
• Buys veggies and bread and milk and suchlike
• Cooks, when required – and does a better job of it than her sister, the cook
• Baby-sits, when required – and I really like the way she interacts with the kids, she is extremely gentle and patient, but can also remonstrate gently

Yesterday she earned herself some serious brownie points by taking the initiative of buying, apart from those items I’d requested, a bottle of some floor-cleaning potion and scrubbing the dining room floor with it. I really appreciate people who take initiative.

Without her, I really don’t know how I’d keep the household running from day to day, now that it is no longer my primary occupation.

So, in this context, Shaba-Aunty is Paradise. Now comes Part II – Lost.

Despite our best efforts at placing our two jobs and the kids’ daycare all in a 10-minute driving-radius, and despite leaving office really early (5 p.m. is really early in Bangalore; I know people who come in to office at that hour!), we still have to endure a one-and-a-half hour commute from office to home each day. Times four. Actually, for the kids, it is around an hour, sometimes a little more, while for the person picking up the kids it can exceed 90 minutes. We don’t combine our commute – Amit and I drive separate cars to office. It is criminal in a way, considering we go from the same home to the same office complex. But car-pooling wouldn’t work for several reasons. First, we alternate tennis days, so we have different schedules in the morning. Aldo, we can’t always be sure that we can leave office at the same time in the evening.

And, even if we could co-ordinate all that, for both of us to be in the car that drops the kids to school in the morning and again for both of us to be there to pick them up from daycare in the evening is sheer luxury, complete self-indulgence. The person who’s not driving would be better employed doing one of a million other things that need to be done; or even just enjoying half-an-hour of quiet time at home. True there’s much to be said for the environmental benefits of car-pooling, and even more to be said for the social benefits of quality family time spent strapped into your car enduring endless traffic jams together… but it’s clearly not the best solution for us.

Yet the one-and-a-half hour commute, which Amit has been enduring silently for the past two years, suddenly seems too much now that all four of us have to go through it every day. It’s especially hard on the kids, being forced to sit still in the car for one whole hour just when they’ve just woken up from their afternoon nap and are itching to run around and play. They get cranky, and we feel bad for them.

Clearly, the only thing to do is to move to a place closer to our workplace and daycare. So we’ve been looking around for a place to rent and seem to have found something. All going well, we will be moving in January.

Which means… no more Shaba-Aunty.

Of course, we will get someone to cook and someone to clean… but someone like Shaba-Aunty doesn’t come along every day. It could take years to find someone like that and to give them that level of responsibility. So, while we might cut our commute time in half (hopefully), I’m probably going to end up with double my current load of housework. This equation only makes sense when you realize that getting home half an hour earlier in the evening means the kids get half an hour to go to the park and play. Right now, we get home just as it gets dark and the mosquitoes come out in the hundreds, so that’s all but ruled out, which is really a pity. So if they can get some park time and make some friends in the new neighbourhood, then it’s all worthwhile.

Still, it’s going to be hard for me to manage without my Shaba-Aunty. And the kids are going to miss her and her crying baby too. And, of course, though it’s not exactly Paradise, we’ll all miss the comfort and familiarity of a crowded and friendly neighbourhood where all the conveniences are just a short walk away. And we’ll miss our friends. And our favourite home-order eateries. You have to wonder whether it really is worthwhile for the sake of a shorter commute, but it looks like we’ve decided to take the plunge and we will find out the answer to that one soon enough.


They Totally Missed The Bus!

December 14, 2009

Kids really are amazing.

In a conversation some days ago, sup33 mentioned what her daughter’s to-be school principal had said: kids are much more hardy than parents think they are. They have more stamina, more energy, and are more adaptive than we give them credit for. My own kids have proved this to me many times already, yet they still surprise me.

When I was much younger – not a child exactly, but growing up – I was scared of being left at school. This actually happened once, when one of my parents turned up a little late to pick me up – I must have been 6 or 8, or possibly even 9 years old. But much later, even up to the age of 16 or so, I used to have anxious dreams of being left at school. In those days, I went home by school bus, and I had a constant, though mild, paranoia of missing the bus. My recurring dream on this theme lacked the intensity of a nightmare, but it was definitely a worrying and anxiety-laden dream, and one that persisted for a while even after school itself – or at least the school bus part of school – had come to an end.

We started the twins on the school van ten days ago, just before we left for Pondicherry. I went with them for two days, and left instructions with their teacher, the van driver, and the daycare attendant that from the following school day, they would come on their own, unattended.

Then, the weekend intervened.

And we went to Pondicherry.

And by the time we returned and sent the kids to school on Wednesday, something got lost in transit between the school teacher and the van driver and the kids didn’t get on to the bus (or in to the van, in this case).

It was my last day of unemployment, and I had spent the morning getting their lunch ready. I drove to their daycare with the intention of greeting them as they got off the van, to ensure that they reached safely and were not unduly worried about the commute, and also, at the same time, delivering their lunch. I had just about reached the place with a few minutes to spare, when Amit called.

“Where are you?”
“I’m almost there, at their daycare,” I said.
“Ok. You have to go to their school right away.”
Naturally, thoughts of illness, accidents, and other possible calamities flooded into my mind.
“The van didn’t pick them up.”

First I called the van driver. He was unperturbed. He had thought they were starting from tomorrow. In any case, he was already quite far from school and couldn’t possibly go back to pick them up. So I called daycare, updated them, called Amit back, updated him, and set off on the long drive to their school.

I was tense – were they very upset? Were they scared? Lonely? Crying?

I knew that their teachers would not leave them, that they would keep them engaged and do their best to allay their fears, but… Just a couple of weeks ago, Mrini had been in tears fearing I wasn’t coming to fetch her, and I wasn’t even late that day. And just this morning, Tara had said “don’t go,” and clung to me tearfully, while her teacher tugged her away and assured her that mama would come early today to pick them up. And I hadn’t turned up! What trauma they would be experiencing!

So I drove blindly, stupidly, preoccupied with these thoughts. Narrowly escaping various catastrophes, I reached school at 12.45 to find… two perfectly happy, laughing, playing, children who greeted me with “hey, what happened to the van?” (or words to that effect). Not a word of complaint or a single teardrop in sight.

Huh. So much for all that worrying. Why on earth did I think that my childhood fears, which I had forgotten all about until now, would be their fears? They were in a familiar environment, they had their teachers, their work, their friends. One of the things with Montessori is that older kids – up to 5+ – are in the same class as younger kids (3+). The older kids get to stay back for an extra hour or so, so by the time I reached, the seniors still hadn’t gone home.

And then, of course, there are the two of them. Although that more than doubles their naughtiness and all the mischief they can get up to, it also means that each of them is very rarely totally alone.

I greeted them unconcernedly, as though my turning up was just a special bonus for the day, and we drove to daycare, and they were somewhat late for lunch but none the worse for it – despite the fact that they’d returned from a hectic trip out of town and had an extremely interrupted sleep last night. They both slept in the afternoon (thank goodness!) and were in top form that evening.

One good thing that came out of this entire experience was that something that would doubtless have worried me eventually – the prospect of the twins missing the bus – happened even before it had occurred to me to be worried about it. And once the worst has happened and has been handled, it loses its fear factor. I know now that if they ever miss the bus in future, their teachers will call us, and either of us, wherever we are and whatever we’re doing then, will drop everything and rush to pick them up. And until we get there, they will be in their school, with their teachers and friends, and they will be fine.

Still, overall, they are just amazing in how adaptable they are. They’ve just been two weeks in daycare, and that’s been interrupted by a change in daycare, and a trip out of town; but they’ve settled down with a minimum of fuss and are absolutely cheerful and positive about the whole thing. Tara had taken to fussing a bit when we dropped her off at school in the morning, but today she told me with great determination that she was going to go “quickly” into class, and she did – she waved to me and went off smiling!

I still have twinges of guilt at how much time I’m going to be spending away from them… but it’s worse when they make it so easy for you.


Money Matters

December 11, 2009

I’ve mentioned here before how I’m not the kind of person whose excessively fond of shopping. I don’t compulsively indulge in buying clothes or cosmetics; practically the only thing I like to spend on regularly, apart from travel (which is an experience rather than a thing) is books.

So, I was never overcome with horror at the prospect of not having money to spend when I stopped earning. Amit’s income would do for all the usual household things, and I had a small amount saved up which I could spend slowly on occasional indulgences. I thought it would last me a couple of years, and, supplemented by small freelance earnings and a couple of unforeseen windfalls, it did. My ‘occasional indulgences’ took the shape of splurging at the bookshops, a few expensive haircuts, a few gifts, and… a car.

I didn’t realise quite how careful I was being about these occasional indulgences until the prospect of earning a salary suddenly loomed in the foreseeable future. I was completely surprised to find myself planning all sorts of ways to spend my money. There was the holey pair of tennis shoes that needed replacing; the nice but outrageously expensive Nike trackpants I’d had my eye on for a good six months; any number of smart shirts and trousers I’d passed by regretfully in the shops from time to time; shoes, because I can’t possibly wear to office the nice but now somewhat ragged shoes I’ve been wearing to the park for months; gold earrings I’d been fantasizing about buying for the twins, to replace the only pair they had, which frequently came off and threatened to get irretrievably lost; shoes and clothes for Amit; and, if I could possibly find the time, a trip to a beauty salon for one of my annual exercises in masochism, a pedicure.

And, of course, a nice handbag. It’s been years since I bought myself a handbag. In recent years, I’ve been using handbags bought for me by others, including Amit. While I appreciate the thought behind gifting me a handbag, I really wish people wouldn’t. You can gift me clothes any day – I’ll wear almost anything; or books – I’ll read just about anything; but handbags are extremely personal. They say so much more about a person than just clothes or shoes do – at least, my handbags do. Besides, shopping for a handbag is such exquisite pleasure it even outweighs the joy of getting a haircut. It’s second only to buying books – and a close second at that. And it’s not something you can do every week, or even every month. A good handbag should last for years. So, by gifting me a handbag, you not only present me with something that might not be so ‘me’, but you also deny me the pleasure of shopping for one myself. Because, of course, if you gift it to me, I will use it. Of course I will, because I like you a lot, really, and I know you meant well.

So anyway, now that I’m going to be joining work, I think I deserve a new handbag. Only, I don’t know when I’m going to find time to go shop for it… or for all those other things. But, totally to my surprise, I’m really looking forward to all the shopping I have planned.


Daycare Blues

December 4, 2009

Today I left my daughters at day care and walked away.

Walked away, because I had gone with them in the school van, and, having dropped them there, I now had to find means to get home.

Tara still tugs at me when I drop them, and says, “No, don’t go,” in a piteous and desperate manner.

I go anyway.

It feels cruel. I don’t know how she feels. The teacher there says she is fine as soon as I leave. I hope she is. I don’t know what she thinks of us for leaving her there; or what Mrini, who goes smilingly, thinks; but I feel terrible. They will never know what it costs me to tear them away from me and leave. And I will never know what it costs them. I only hope that in the long term this is the right thing to do.

At times, I know it is. I know that I was never cut out to be a stay at home mom for good. It’s so not me. I’ve enjoyed most of it, most of this time, but… if I keep doing it and start hating it, resenting it, or just plain vegetating at it… then I’m not doing anyone any favours. Anger, frustration, boredom, depression… These are not pretty emotions to be around, not even, or especially not, in a mom. That’s not the kind of mom I want to be, and it’s certainly not the kind of mom they’ll want to have around.

I know that I must go back to work. I also know that I want the girls to have a working mom. As they grow up seeing me work, their ideas of gender roles, equality, independence, the value of money, time, hard work, and discipline, their sense of personal identity – all will be shaped by this. I know mine were, just by seeing my mother teach for the first few years of my life.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with kids seeing their moms stay home and work at keeping the house running… there are lots of good values for them to learn there too. I’m just saying that that’s not me, and that’s not what I want my kids to grow up with.

So I think I know I am doing the right thing. But is it the right time? Again, i think so. They are over three, they are completely settled at school, and I’ve given just over two years of myself exclusively to them – more than I ever thought I would. For me, it was the right time to go back to work about year ago, so I’ve stretched it by six months more than six months. I mean I’ve stretched it and stretched it again. Any more and I might tear it. It will not only become more difficult to remain employable, it will also become more difficult to believe in my own employability. And that’s a vicious cycle. So no, I can’t wit another couple of years, that would be professional suicide… or close to it.

And yet… Only three years old and I’ve already left them in daycare. Next week they will go, unaccompanied, in a school van, directly from school to daycare. They’ll talk to the daycare teacher about school and to their school teacher about daycare. They’ll wake up in the afternoon and stumble sleepily to the daycare teacher and raise their arms to her to be picked up. I’ll be just this other woman who drives them home and spends the evening with them.

I know it will work out. I shouldn’t make too much of it. I know they are not the first kids in the world to go to daycare at the age of three. I know kids are more adaptable and hardier than parents think. I know they’ll soon enjoy daycare with the same enthusiasm they have for school. I know they know we’re their parents and we love them and they’ll love us back. I know, or at least I think I know, or at least I hope that they won’t hold anything against us…

And I know there will be other separations – when they start to go out without us; when they go on a school vacation with friends; when they move out of home to study or work or to get married. But those are so unimaginably far away right now. Right now, I just have to tell myself that it is not wrong to do something for myself, that it is not bad to have a career, and that I can spend “just” evenings and weekends with my kids and they will be ok, they will still know me and love me.

My mother once said that the most painful part of delivering a baby was when they pull the placenta out. I think I have a slight idea, now, of what she meant.


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