“Mamma chahiye!”: Who cut my damn umbilical cord?

“Mamma chahiye!” (I want my mamma!) she cries, repeatedly. My hubby says, “Go in and comfort her”. My mom in law rushes in since I won’t. She still screams, “Mamma chahiye!” pushing her aside. When I’m saturated with the over-dependency and separation anxiety; when I need a moment to just be on my own and breathe, I land up getting so impatient because of her stickiness, I feel the monster in me rising. What I really want to do is whack her, but I scream so loud, it scares me too.

My sister tells me, “If you get that tired and fed up, just leave her in the room with the maid, and let her keep crying. If you can’t bear to hear her cry, and land up going in but then getting more angry at her, just go for a walk. Let her cry it out but don’t raise your hand at her. It never makes things better. Only worse!”

Even when she’s at school, it’s like a jaap which now just plays continuously in my head, “Mamma chahiye! Mamma chahiye” with lots of sobs! The lady at the gym (an older mom) tells me, “My son was like that. I used to lock the door and pretend I was bathing so I could just sit on my own, but they grow up so fast. He used to kiss my fingertips, every morning as he awoke, and now he won’t even come within a 5 feet radius of me! Enjoy it while it lasts.”

It’s hard to enjoy it most of the time, especially since she wants me to be with her 24×7, holding her hand as she eats, wanting me to play every game, drop and pick her up from school, bathe her, make her sleep.. and the list goes on.

But then my cousin reminds me: “I also get frustrated with my two girls, who want me around for everything but then I think, that’s how we were, so how can we blame them? We were always mamma’s girls and still are”, she laughs. And I have to say: I can’t argue!

Even now, when my mom travels, I miss her miserably. I want her to be constantly accessible to me, irrespective of whether I decide to meet her or stay busy in my own life. Just being in the presence of my mom makes my happiness quotient soar, and if society still allowed me, I would have her hold my hand through every activity too, but patriarchy doesn’t allow me any such blessings.

It’s just that when you grow up, you can’t express your feelings in the same manner. You must behave ‘mature’. When my mom’s about to leave for a trip, I can’t stand at the lift, snotty-nosed, tear-stained cheeks, screaming “Mamma chahiye!” as someone physically restrains me from jumping into the elevator, but that’s what I am really feeling inside. Instead, I put on a happy face and wave good-bye, “Enjoy yourself! Don’t get anything back for us!”

Very often, I hear my hubby telling BabyA, in jest (and a twinge of jealousy), “Why don’t you just go back into your mamma’s tummy?” And I can’t say I’m any different, even at 36! I’d gladly crawl back into my mamma’s womb if science could find a way for a 60 kg human being to carry a 65 kg fetus!

Un’mummi’fied: The Struggle to Look Good

Before I had BabyA, I lived life in my own school/college-friend-surrounded bubble where I hung out with people I had known all my life, who were like-minded. When I started mother toddler classes, I was introduced to a whole new, shocking world of mommies that I had not expected to stumble on.

I had always imagined that “mommy jeans” were named so because mommies had no time to be fashionable or fit. That’s why they wore high-waisted, ugly jeans that were comfortable and pushed their tummies in as much as something could.

The first day, I went into Music Together class, I walked in looking like the new mommy I was: stringy, sweaty hair, wearing tent-like clothes stained with food and fragranced with vomit (in my defense, both had happened on the way to class) and a 10 month old tucked under my flabby right arm.

What I saw as I walked into class was very different from what I had expected. The SoBo (South Bombay) mommies were nothing like I had imagined. There was a sea (ok- more like a stream) of moms sitting with their 3-4 year olds, looking fit and fabulous, dressed to the tees, gel nails and not a hair out of place. Who were these people? And soon enough, after striking a conversation with some, I found out that not only were they moms but a lot of them were attending class with their younger child. Weren’t moms of 2 supposed to look like something the dog dragged out on a rainy day? The only one who looked bedraggled was me!

I grew up in a house where my parents were very appreciative of the good things we did, and so we grew up being very secure children; perhaps over secure. Thus, I have spent my entire post-married life feeling very confident in my slightly overweight body, as long as I worked out every day (even if I never lost a pound). When I got pregnant, I felt like I had been handed a permit to eat-as-much-as-I-wish and I did, but luckily, I didn’t put on more than 13 kgs and after the baby, breastfeeding felt like BabyA was sucking all the fat out of me, because it left me 5 kgs thinner than my pre-pregnant weight. But then the feeding stopped and the “I-can-outeat-any-man” claims didn’t! My treadmill had turned into a baby clothes’ drying rack and I put on 5 kgs and then another 5! So when I walked into that class, I definitely had problems with my body image.

For the first time in my life, I was an alien in my own body. And seeing all these maternal freaks of nature around me, jiggling their size 4 butts to “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes” didn’t help my confidence. But, more importantly, what it taught me was that moms don’t have to be unfit or self-negligent. I learnt that it was ok to prioritize myself sometimes, so that I felt good about myself. At that time, BabyA was still just that: a babe, so I couldn’t muster up too much free time but I went shopping and bought new clothes, because although I didn’t have the time to workout every day, I could at least not regress to my grungy-cool teenager look from college days at Xavier’s (the only SoBo college where the ‘bed-head, crumpled cargos’ look was cool). I invested in a straightener, for which I could spare the two minutes it took to transform me from Maa Kali to Durga Maa. And these little changes transformed my personality also such: into a less volatile and a happier mother.

Now that BabyA is 3 years old, she goes to school and so I get the time to workout and am trying to get back in shape- perhaps not to a size 4, because that was never me, but a shape that I feel happy being (as my husband teases that round is also a shape!)

Now, as I walk in to Music Together, I feel happy in my own skin: hair looks good, clothes smell nice (although they have been subjected to some mommy-dependency pulling by BabyA), a shoulder tote hanging from my better-toned arms (also since A now walks and doesn’t need to be carried around, there’s some space for a handbag), all brought together with a rediscovered air of confidence. I have transformed from an Egyptian mummy (trying to hide behind the bandages that covered up my unkempt appearance due to an unhealthy and unquestioned lifestyle) to a self-assured Mummy.

All I can say is that I have this new generation of moms to thank, for teaching me that it’s ok to slowly start taking out the time to unmummify myself. I know Maa Kali and Durga Maa are both goddesses but I assume, BabyA is a lot less fearful being around the calmer, softer avatar that I look like, and am, now.

Chai and other lies: The Life of a Mumbai Mum

BabyA comes, handing me the jet spray, and says, “Mamma, why don’t you wash yourself?” Silly me! I really believed that I can steal a minute of peace to sit and answer the call that nature hollers out to me every morning. I wasn’t asking for newspaper time, or even a peek into Facebook to catch up on the important events featuring on my Newsfeed. I just asked for a minute so that I could feel like a human being with some amount of personal and private space so I could empty my bowels without emptying my self-respect. No such luck!

The other day, my nutritionist tells me, “You’re constantly skipping your afternoon green tea!” She doesn’t have kids, so she doesn’t understand that I don’t have the luxury of mulling over life’s ironies as I sip on chai. Does anyone realise what a long and self-reflective process drinking tea is? I never fully understood this till I had a kid (because earlier, time was commonplace- always there): You brew the tea, and then wait for it to cool down, burn your tongue a few times while waiting, and finally slowly sip through it (lavishly slurping if no one’s around) when it reaches the perfect temperature. This takes time, and feels like ‘living on the edge’ when you have a toddler who loves to jump all the time on anything she can find- be it a pillow or more excitingly, your head lying on that pillow.

Some time ago, there was a tea ad campaign that proclaimed “Chai Time is My Time”. Now that I have a toddler, I fully appreciate what that means. It means that drinking (and really enjoying) tea takes time. It is a meditative experience. Moms don’t meditate because moms have no time! “My time”- what’s that? Occasionally, I do encounter this phenomenon but it happens so rarely that it warrants great excitement, wherein I put updates about the hours I slept or movies I watched or I share Instagram images of my “Daffodils” inspired tea cup alongside my fancy Rose Pouchong tea leaves. After all, afternoon tea for a mum is an event and it must be treated as such.

I read blogs, once in a while, wherein people on the outside, wonder what moms in Mumbai (especially SoBo) do. They imagine us to be much like “moms of the Upper East Side” (did you read that article?) who just sit around spending hours on narcissistic activities like getting manicures, exercising and having shopping-mommy-lunches all day, while our kids are brought up by our nannies. I guess some moms live their lives like that (and that’s entirely their choice), but most of the moms I know, don’t. I would love to live that life, but I don’t.

I do take the time out to exercise and take care of my health, especially now that my child is getting older and goes to school, but I don’t understand why do moms have to apologize for prioritizing themselves, or for having a support system? And just because we have a support system, why do some people assume that we are less involved mothers? I have a full time maid for BabyA, and I live in a joint family with a helpful mother in law, and an eager mom who lives 20 minutes away so the world tells me that I must be having lots of “my time” and yet, here I am, trying to schedule a cup of green tea at any point in the day.

It’s not that I don’t have time because I don’t trust anyone with my kid. When I go out, I never call to ask the 3 Ms: my mother in law, mother or maid the quintessential mommy concern, “Baby ne khaana khaaya, kya?” (Has Baby eaten her food?) In fact, I never call home because I’m too busy taking selfies of myself having a good time- because it is an event in my life!

So even though I have so much support, and I do manage to sneak in a mommy lunch every now and then, in reality, I spend most of my day with BabyA. I pick her up from school, and after her lunch, we play board games. We have “chutney time” where we make “chutney” out of each other, hugging tight and squashing tighter till we’re both paté. We go for coffee dates often to the local bookstore, where after our reading session, I drink cappuccinos while she sips on babycinos (milk) at their cafe (she’ll let me drink a hot beverage in peace as long as “coffee time is our time”). I do realize that this is a luxury in itself, because I don’t have to do housework or work outside to supplement the house income, so I can truly spend quality and quantity time with my child. I thank God every day for blessing me with this luxury, but I resent when people make a caricature of my type, and write that we don’t have time for our kids because we have so many people to help out!

I grew up with a mom who was always home when we got home, and to me, that was the biggest joy, whether I expressed it to her or not. I don’t mean to pass judgement on someone who doesn’t have the opportunity to do that, but I do mean to share what was important to me while growing up, and I want to be the kind of mom I have had. That’s why, when people think I have a decadent life where I wonder what to do with the oodles of time I have to myself, I want to believe in that fantasy too. I shut my eyes, and imagine myself all alone on some beach, holding a tall glass of chilled Sangria and a copy of “The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri (of which I have read the first chapter four times, as I have never had the free time to escalate to the second), the cool sea breeze mixed with the hot sun lulling me to sleep… and just then, a squirt of tepid water hits my face. I open my eyes to see her standing there, looking impatient, with the jet spray pointed towards me like a gun:

“Mamma, why are you sleeping on the potty? Come on quick! Wash yourself!”

And I’m back to reality.

Passionate Souls to Paneer Rolls: Post Baby Romance

My husband asks me, “Should I remove the foil before eating the paneer tikka roll or eat it as it is?” I can’t believe what he’s asking me and I make him repeat himself several times. And then it hits me- it’s the most romantic thing he has said to me in years! After being married for over a decade, I find that romance is hidden in these silly statements.

The flowers have gone. The gifts are rare to come by. The last time my husband visited an Archie’s to purchase a card had to have been when I was his girlfriend. Now he doesn’t even sign his name on the pre-bought cards that are yellowing in our drawer, which I discreetly leave by his bedside on the eve of an occasion. All the romance that I had been taught of, by movies and Sweet Dream novels in my teenhood, has ceased to exist.

After the arrival of a naughty little girl into our lives, cuddle time has turned into muddle time as we try to awkwardly hug each other around her sleeping body, lying between us. And the last time I heard him whisper sweet nothings to anyone, it was to Baby A, after she had indulged in her daily paternal-buttering-up, telling him that she loved him to the sun and back and then some more, while plastering his face with butterfly kisses.

Nandy (my hubby) has never been an overly expressive individual and he’s someone who strongly believes that actions speak louder than words. I, being a writer at heart and a literature student by degrees, have had a hard time understanding actions as a form of romance. What about love letters quoting Keats’ poetry or songs dedicated to me on Facebook?

And time has only made us increasingly complacent in our marriage. We have become an old married couple that even forgets to hold hands sometimes at the theatre, but we just cannot function without each other. We have become extensions of each other, fiery in our separate opinions (which results in frequent arguments) but merged in our need to have the other’s approval in what we do. How else can you explain a 37 year old man, with a great amount of familiarity with rolls and food packaging in general, asking his wife whether he needs to take the foil off before eating? When, in my defence, I haven’t ever been the mothering wife who likes to feed her husband or make each golgappa with her own hands before placing it into his mouth (for fear that he might injure his delicate finger as he jabs into the crunchy puri, or gets too much channa in but not enough aloo, throwing him off- balance).

Every weekend, Nandy asks me what to wear and he earnestly inquires as to whether his Sunday ensemble (a white shirt with purple pants and black chappals) looks good, even though it looked the same every Sunday before that one. He asks me to proofread and approve of every SMS that he composes casually for a friend, or any Facebook post that he wishes to put up. Nandy asks me if he should visit the loo when he leaves the restaurant or when he gets home!

Now I know that the common consensus among everyone reading this would be that I’m a crazy, controlling wife who mustn’t be letting him breathe without my permission, but I’m really not. I have never told him what he must wear, how he must eat, how he must write or anything else! It’s just that we have been together forever (from high school sweethearts to post-baby grouches) and so he feels more comfortable after taking a second opinion from me- for the most inane things. He usually does what he likes anyway, but this need to know what I think is what becomes the romance in our relationship.

Romance evolves, just like our marriages evolve, and I can’t help but feel a warmth in my heart (very similar to the one I felt when he wrote me silly, rhyming poems that told me why he loved me- mostly making fun of me- in college) when he sits confused now, curling his hair, and then turns to ask me, “Should I have a cold coffee or lassi?” I smile, knowing how much he loves me, and reply “Lassi” knowing fully well what he will say next. And I’m right.

“Ramu, ek cold coffee banana!” (Ramu, make me a cold coffee!), he shouts, as I cuddle up to him, knowing everything in the world is right where it should be.