Mommy Guilt: My Shadow

As I try to make BabyA sleep (which always proves to be the hardest task of the day), she’s at her chattiest best! Maybe she feels like it’s the one time that I can’t multi-task in that pitch darkness and she, finally, has my undivided attention. She turns to me and says, “Mamma, you had to go for work outside today?” and she repeats herself in the most innocent tone, that stabs at my heart and fills me with guilt.

Mommy guilt! The perennial, life-lasting mommy guilt. It becomes our shadow the moment we deliver a newborn. The funny thing is that I’m an SAHM (Stay at home mom), so I don’t “work outside” (to quote BabyA) but those words pierce through me when she says it like that.

Yes- I have been leaving her a little more, of late, but always under the supervision of either grandmom and her maid. And it has only been for 2-3 hours in a day to do my “work” which basically means to run errands and possibly spend sometime un-mummifying myself (pun intended), because with the way I look on most days (out of shape, hair plastered to my forehead and the nape of my neck due to pesky perspiration problems, wearing tracks so I look like I’m going to, or coming from a workout, which I’m usually not), I better work on transforming myself so that my single friends still recognize me as the fun person they used to know.

So, as I try to snap out of the Mommy Guilt haze (and BabyA hoped that at least in the dark, I couldn’t multi-task and she had me to herself!) and give myself some perspective on what a great mom I am, I see her: The street lamp light (we don’t really get any moonlight in Mumbai, although it would have been more poetic to have written of that) pours in through the window and I see her, tickling her nose with the furry tail of her Hanuman stuffed toy, looking pensive. I ask, “A- what are you thinking about?”, sure that she is still upset about my child abandonment stint in the day.

“About sheep Mamma! Sheep and Halloween Pumpkins!” she replies, still deep in thought.
Of course you were! Silly me- thinking that you were picturing mommy witches, all wearing masks with my face on them!

Mommy guilt is inescapable! I need to calm down and relieve myself of it. After all, I’m doing the best job I know how to do, and I’m sure BabyA will be able to see that… eventually, if not always.

In any case, kids are way more resilient than we give them credit for: no matter what makes them momentarily sad, they always bounce back (much like when you drop them on the floor, and they usually bounce right back……. Not that I ever did that! Just sayin’…)

The Mental Hospital of Mommies

I get a call mid-morning from my sister-in-law, new mom of a 3 month- old, sounding terribly frightened: “I was out doing some errands when  someone called to inform me that I should rush because Fancy-Shmancy Playschool is giving out admission forms”.

Till now, she had lived oblivious to the Mad Mad World of Mommyhood but standing at the epicenter of all maternal earthquakes (the premises of a highly desirable school during admission time), there was no way she was able to stay grounded.

My only answer to her was “Welcome to the Madness!” And the mommy world is definitely a mad one. But it never used to be this crazy. When we were little, I remember my mom complaining about the occasional wonky mom whose daughter scored 99% every time, but the mom would spend hours with the teacher, at Reports Day, analysing and reanalysing how Swati* lost out by one mark (despite barely sleeping during the exams, having water-soaked badaams & Chyawanprash every morning and wearing religious lockets of 3 faiths around her neck).

And then there’d be all the other moms, like mine (moms of the mediocre 60-70 percenters) who wouldn’t spend more than a minute with the teacher:
Mom: “She’s a good girl?”
Teacher: “Yes. She’s a good girl in class”.
Mom smiles uncomfortably, picks up report and darts.

That was Mommy World when I was growing up. When I came home, I changed out of my uniform and went downstairs to the garden or watched my brothers wrestle like Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker, doing pile drivers and leg drops on each other. I didn’t have Singing class on Mondays, Ballet class on Tuesdays, Swimming Class on Wednesdays, Zumba for Kids on Thursdays, Yoga Class on Fridays (where you are taught how to rest: ‘shav-aasana’) and Nani House Day on Saturday. My social calendar was pretty free.

Forget how scandalized I felt when someone showed me snippets of “Girls Gone Wild” in college, I’m definitely more shocked watching “Moms Gone Wild” unfold in front of me. I remember when BabyA was 6 months, I told a mom (with an infant of the same age) that I had started BollyAerobics and she thought that I had started BabyA on BollyAerobics. She went ballistic trying to find out the number of A’s instructor: God forbid, her kid may lose out! And I still wonder how she expected her son to dance when he was 6 months away from walking then. But then Mommyhood has no connection to logic any more.

From hearing moms bitch out their kids’ schools for giving them chocolate ice-cream (I have been witness to a half an hour conversation about how evil the school is because they decided to treat the students to chocolate ice cream during the Diwali Party: “Don’t they know that my child can develop a cough?”) to moms who would probably sanitize the toilet paper that they use on their babies’ asses if they could: I feel like I have seen it all! Whatever happened to moms like our moms, who were happy when we got chocolate ice cream at school because they were happy that we were happy!

I think a big chunk of the problem stems from the fact that school admissions are so stressful these days, so moms feel sucked into the frenzied, over-competitive mommy world as soon as their kid is born. Right from choosing the right Pre-Natal Class (to provide your unborn child with the most enriching environment in the womb) to selecting a Mother Toddler Programme (so that infants can learn sociability), the stress only goes on intensifying.

Also the break-up of joint families has resulted in less interaction with extended family and thus, a loss of in-house entertainment. In the age of outsourcing, we must also outsource people to entertain our kids: through organized play dates and various classes.

Another factor is that many people are deciding to have one child, and more than two are almost unheard of (and given the “couldn’t keep your pants on, huh?” looks, if they exist). Thus, parents’ entire focus is on trying to create that one prodigy because that’s the only shot they got!

So I can’t say I’m not a Mad Mommy: BabyA’s social calendar is more packed than a Mumbai local at peak hours, I feel shattered if her nap has gone off-schedule and I have to admit that I squirm every time my Old Neighbourhood Uncle offers her cashewnuts from his pocket (no box, just floating around in his pocket- how gross!), whenever he bumps into her. I guess, I have to learn to let go- and let BabyA just live… and be! I have to learn to take the bad with the good; or in this case, to take the wooly pocket lint with the equally grubby cashewnuts- all with a smile. I must do so just so I can truly earn the right to be an outsider, who looks in, to point and laugh, at all the unrecovered patients of The Mental Hospital of Mommies.

*Fictitious names used.

Wake Up Sid: Daddy’s stealing all the limelight

I’m going through BabyA’s baby pics on my phone and it’s filled with shots of Nandy and her.
Photo 1: Nandy looking disoriented as he walks with her, head resting on his shoulder, in the middle of the night.
Photo 2: Nandy grimacing as he peeks into her diaper to find the explosion that almost rocked the house.
Photo 3: Nandy fast asleep as Aranya manages to rest her feet over his face.
Photo 4: Nandy, tired after getting back from a long trip, sleeping with Aranya snoozing on his tummy.
I suddenly realize that I’m Anupam Kher from Wake Up Sid! My daughter is going to look at all the pictures from her childhood and never see me. She will think that it was her father who woke up every time she cried in the middle of the night, to feed her and then walk her (she in his arms) for hours till she fell asleep. She will believe that it was he who always changed her dirty diapers, wiping the rainbow coloured potties she was capable of exhibiting in her tiniest years. She will think that he was the one who would silently put up with her constant unintentional violence (kicking, slapping, etc.) as she slept and only wanted to cuddle with him at night. Ok- so the last one’s true but not the rest! The rest were ME – ALL ME!
Eventually her memories will morph into a false photoshopped MMS where her father will be the one who would spend an hour (sometimes two, no jokes!) singing “What a Wonderful World” and “Yeh Honsla” (from Dor) in alternation, to her while unsuccessfully rocking her to sleep. But no! That was ME too! Sang till my voice was hoarse.
My husband wasn’t a baby person and that’s why when I saw how he warmed up to his own child, I wanted to capture every sensitive moment on camera. So each little moment of father-daughter bonding was caught and archived for her to view as a grown up.
Of course, since I am the mother, and supposed to be responsible for everything to do with this baby, nobody was there to click me when I had my finger up her nose trying to take out a booger that wouldn’t let her breathe. Moms do that! Who cares?
And that leaves me feeling like Anupam Kher in Wake Up Sid: my daughter will grow up seeing these pictures and thinking that it was her father who was always there: for the first word, to nurse all her boo-boos, for the first heartbreak. But she won’t ever think about who was behind the camera, taking all these pictures?
The only thing I find solace in is the hope that perhaps at the end, when she’s peaking at her mommy-hatred (because that’s naturally bound to happen at puberty with any daughter), he will tell her… Just like Supriya Pathak told Ranbir Kapoor: “Who do you think was holding the camera all this time? Who do you think wanted to take pictures of you all the time? Who do you think loves you so much?” (Or something like that).
And then I will be redeemed in front of my tattoo- toting Goth daughter (because that’s my image of what teenhood looks like). A slow, K-Jo approved, heart-wrenching tune will start in the background and she will run to hug me, hair flying. From therein, she will give up her rebellious ways (and gear), only to wear lemon yellow chiffon salwars, worship me and marry the boy of my choice!

The Holy Trinity of Schooling

I’m sweating, my heart is palpitating really quickly… I have a million butterflies in my stomach. Oh wait! They aren’t butterflies! They are like obnoxious toads causing a ruckus in my tummy. I think I’m going to be sick!

She got in, she got in NOT? The prayer that one repeats while fingering the rosary beads every morning. Your jaap when you sit in front of your mandir. Nursery admission time is the time when the haves are separated from the contemptible have-nots. When the cream is spooned off and the rest of the milk is thrown, of which rivulets try to spread around, willing to settle in any crevice that will take this undesired milk.

If I had known earlier what separates the creamy mommies from the not-so creamy ones in Mommydom, I may have married differently. I had no control over the fact that my parents decided not to send my sister and me to the very prestigious Cathedral school, despite her having gotten in but I did have control over my marriage. If only I had known that the criteria upon which we choose a life partner (love for me, wealth for some, looks for others) has been all wrong. What we really should be giving sole importance to is Schooling. The first question one should ask before dating a guy: Which school did you study at? (And then demand to see a leaving certificate to make sure there is no story fabrication and conning involved).

My marriage to my husband was one right out of the movies with all the pre-marriage craziness: psycho-mad-possessive love and family turbulence, and break ups and make ups over 5 years of seeing each other, but I often joke with Nandy that I made a mistake: I shouldn’t have married him for his elite sports club membership but instead should have married someone from the holy trinity: Cathedral School, BIS and Campion, if you have a son, and Cathedral, BIS and JB Petit, if you have a daughter. Of course, Cathedral figures right at the top of this holy trinity, and in the school admission evaluation process, if you studied at these schools, they roll out the red carpet for you. If you didn’t, your existence has no meaning. You’re simply rubbish that no one wants to touch with a pole- unless you or your husband are NRIs, foreign expats or investment bankers and then the schools see dollar signs! Ka-Ching!

Filling out school admission forms are so stressful for me because the part in the form that I thought would be the strongest for my hubby and me, turns out to be the one I quiver to fill in.
Nandy: B.Com, M.Com (Best college in Bombay for Commerce), Chartered Accountancy- Intermediate, MBA at University of Pittsburgh.
Me: BA (Best College in Bombay for Arts), MA, M.Phil both in English Literature.
No one gives a damn! Did we study at the holy trinity of schools? No! Kicked to the curb.
I have gotten so used to getting reject letters from NURSERY SCHOOLS (yeah- it starts there!) that I don’t even know what an acceptance letter looks like (I hear it’s a call though. Letters are for losers!) The quivering hand now opens the letterbox every morning, so happy to see loads of wasteful junk mail but no rejection… for now. But it comes eventually: “We are sorry that we will not be able to accommodate your child right now as we have limited seats.” I have read those words so many times, I could write the letter in my sleep.

The one thing we have to our advantage is that my parents sent me to the best nursery of that time, and that’s the only reason why Baby A goes to a good play school/ nursery. If I hadn’t been from a great Montessori school, I’m sure we’d be looking at a big RED reject stamp on our foreheads again!

Sometimes, in interviews, they ask the parents, “Do you have any questions for us?” and when they do, every parent is baffled because when you grow up in SoBo, you grow up knowing that you don’t have questions for schools because you don’t choose schools; they choose you! Unless you’re from Cathedral School, and then you can swagger around and tell them that you don’t give a flying f*%k what they have to say because your kid will get into Cathedral anyway, i.e. The Holy Cathedral of cool kids and cool moms.