I Still Prefer Nuclear

December 30, 2007

Man, it’s good to be home.

Having said that, I must add that the eight days of eternity were not that bad… or at least, not as bad as I thought it might have been. Some of the battles were lost, it’s true; some were won; and some were never fought. The “fishes” were not quite as troublesome as I had anticipated; I was very happy to see that nobody fed the kids anything that we said was on the list of banned substances; the twins’ daily schedule was adhered to fairly regularly, with some variations; the language seemed more comprehenisble to me than ever before and I even attempted some genuine communication from time to time; and I managed to get away with only one sari-day.

Amit and I even managed to leave the kids alone and go out for walks together a few times. True, it was mostly when the twins were in bed and fast asleep, but once we left them when they were wide awake in the evening. According to subsequent reports, they were not exactly happy about seeing both parents walk out the door, but they did not cry while we were away. When we returned after about half an hour, though, Tara immediately came to me, took my finger in her hand and promptly burst into a flood of tears! Strange…

Anyway, considering we have never left the kids alone with anyone else till now, it was a landmark of sorts. We aren’t really considering baby-sitter arrangements till they are a bit older and able to talk, so it was good to get even those stolen half-hour walks together.

Being in Calcutta with kids was a different experience for me. It forced me to drop many reservations, just playing with the kids and being my usual goofy self in front of the Family. I didn’t feel the need to get away from people and find some space for myself the way I usually do – I could do much the same thing just by getting engrossed in the kids. Plus, of course, the usual activities in keeping the kids fed, bathed, and rested gave me enough time to do “my own thing”.

I, of course, came in for a certain amount of indirect criticism and a certain amount of indirect praise. Everyone seemed to think that the kids were completely under-dressed and that they ought to have been swaddled in sheathes of warm clothing from head to foot. Since Amit and I were in summer clothes, I completely ignored this advice, even though Tara had a cold and Mrini developed one towards the end. They must think I’m the most callous mother ever, but I simply don’t see why I should shroud my kids in warm clothes simply because everyone else thinks it is cold. And runny noses are a normal part of toddlerhood, to be endured and largely ignored, if you ask me. I refuse to be one of those paranoid, hypochondriac parents, or let my kids become that way.

The praise was for a rather unexpected reason. Apparently, it is highly commendable to quit your job and be a full-time mom without an ayah (maid to look after the kids), as opposed to being a working mom, or even a full-time mom with an ayah. And not just “an” ayah, but one per kid. I’m not sure why, but having opted to bathe, dress, feed, and play with my kids seems to have earned me serious brownie points in the Family.

The kids, for the most part, enjoyed the trip. They didn’t get unduly upset by the flight, the change of location, the presence of so many new people, or the frequent outings and exposure to yet more people. They ate well, slept a lot, and were generally happy – with a couple of notable exceptions.

On the day of the big function, the kids’ feet never touched the ground, they were passed around from person to person like cushions in Pass the Parcel. Of course, they mostly enjoy being picked up, so it shouldn’t have been a bad thing, but they also do need to run around and do their own thing after a while – which they absolutely couldn’t. By late afternoon, they were grumpy… and then there was a photo shoot. These photo shoots are those formal affairs where everyone is made to line up and say cheese. With 40-50 adults and several children to arrange, these tend to be noisy and time-consuming affairs. Naturally, the twins were squirming like snakes and demanding to get away after five minutes.

But then, that was only one day. The bigger problem was that on the other days too, there were simply too many people always picking up the kids. I was frankly surprised to see how people will insist on picking up the kids even when the kids make it quite clear that they don’t want to be picked up right then. And then, of course, they mostly do want to be picked up, which only adds to the problem. In just a few days, Mrini became unbearably clingy and whiny, always wanting to be picked up by anyone, but preferrably by me. Over the last few days, this manifested in her clinging to me like a limpet. She howls even if Amit holds her. Thankfully, though she was whining in the taxi on the way home, when we got home, she and Tara plunged into their toy box in utter delight and proceeded to create chaos and pandemonium in the house in their usual manner – so that was a relief.

Naturally, I can see the benefits of having a large family when you’re handling two small kids. Having lots of people around not only lets us get some time to go out together, but also means there are always people willing to feed, play with, or otherwise look after the kids, leaving only the diaper-changing activities to the hapless parents. But, if the flip side is that the kids are going to become whiny and indisciplined… well, I think I’ll stick with nuclear.


What Have I Let Myself In For?

December 19, 2007

To think that I actually agreed to this! What was I thinking?

I’m talking about the upcoming eight days in Calcutta, of course. As the travel date approaches, the very thought is giving me the heebie-jeebies. I have written before of how I am decidedly NOT a joint-family type of person. But, in those happy days, I reckoned without the twins. Twins add hitherto unconceivable complications to the situation.

There is, first, the usual matter of logistics: where do we sleep, when do we sleep, till when do we sleep, how and with whom do we sleep… and so on down the line, substituting “eat” “bathe” “use the bathroom” etc for “sleep” (try it, you;ll get a better idea of what I mean.) To this, we need only add the various considerations of keeping the twins safe (from staircases, for instance) and keeping the house relatively intact (glass-fronted cabinets, TVs in various rooms at various heights and so on).

Then, there’s the matter of various minor battles. Foremost, is the battle of the fishes. I say fishes, because there are so many of them that simply using “fish” just seems plain insufficient. For me, as for the twins, one small, boneless piece of fish is about the maximum one can stomach. The battle begins at the second piece and lasts all the way up to the fifth piece. Then there’s the matter of the million bones per piece – I will, no doubt, have the pleasure of removing the bones for not just my own benefit, but worse, for the twins. Worse, because for them, every tiny mistake could cause a crisis.

Another battle is of time. My preferred timings for meals is roughly 8 – 1 – 8; for the twins, it is 8 – 11.30 – 4.30 – 7.30. In Calcutta, the default is something like 9.30 – 2.30 – 10.30. Naturally, sleeping and waking hours get pushed out accordingly. This absolutely wrecks my biological clock and now with the twins to cater to, it is going to wreck my central nervous system as well. I hate being so, but the fact remains that I am an extremely time-oriented person and it is quite (inordinately) important for me, where it concerns the twins, to adhere to some sort of schedule in the interests of health (theirs) and sanity (mine).

Horror of horrors, we will also have to face the sweet battle. I, of course, have 32 sweet teeth, so it shouldn’t have been a problem for me – except that 31 of my 32 teeth seem to prefer cakes and ice creams over mishti. Mercifully, my lactose intolerance provides a handy excuse to get me out of the 823 sweet-eating opportunities per day that I would rather avoid. Unfortunately, it also means that the 215 opportunities for yummy sweets like gulab jamun and mishti doi must also be passed up with an expression of stoic regret. The twins, who have not been fed much sweet by us thus far, will also have ~1000 types of sweet thrust down their little gullets. Doubtless, they will love it… and therefore refuse to eat anything that’s not sweet not only for the eight days there, but also for the next two months back home.

Dressing is another battle I am bound to encounter. Of course, the entire immediate family (only about 20 people) knows that I wear jeans about 95% of the time. The extended family (the other ~60 people) have seen me only on formal occasions, when I’m dutifully bound up in a sari. This was just about manageable for special occasions when we didn’t have kids – now, with two, it is almost entirely out of the question. I mean, just imagine diaper-changing with a sari flowing all over the place for the twins to play with… Luckily, there’s to be only one function which involves the entire extended family, and I’m considering giving in and actually wrapping a sari around myself for that day (or half-day, if I have my way); but for the other 7.5 days, I’m hoping to get away with jeans, or at worst, a couple of salwar-kameez. This is sure to ruffle some feathers, as we’re going to have to make a few social calls, which ideally should not be done with the smiling mother wearing jeans… but it really is beyond me to manage two small kids and a sari (all the while conversing fluently in Bengali) – something’s bound to come undone!

The biggest problem, which, as of yesterday evening is causing me seriously sleepless nights, is of the relative-naming convention. I have, of course, faced this problem on many occasions already, and have just about come to grips with who’s who to whom… but that was before the advent of the next generation. Now, everything’s changed – not for me, but for how each uncle, aunt, cousin, grandparent and their sisters, brothers, parents and children should be addressed by the twins. Inevitably, there will be situations when somebody is calling the twins, and I am expected to tell them, “Go on, your such-and-such uncle/auntie/whatever is calling you, go to your uncle/auntie/whatever…”

Yesterday, I spent an hour after dinner quizzing Amit on the manner in which each type of relation would transform into something else for our kids – for example, all older brothers (about 43 of them if you count only first cousins) become jethus and all younger brothers become kakus; except for an older brother-in-law, who becomes a pishimoshai, despite being habitually addressed as brother. You’d think that someone who’s been brought up in this system would have all the answers down pat – it is the same set of transitions for every new generation, after all – but no; Amit actually had to have a 15 minute discourse with his father to clear up some of the finer points. Then, what hope is there for me, who’s not yet got past first base even after ten years of marriage???

The more I think of it, the more the eight days seem to stretch into eternity. Perhaps it would be easier to break a leg and call off the entire trip.


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