Boys’ Moms v/s Girls’ Moms: Vanity War!

I walk into the birthday party with my usual look: hair tousled (not one of those cool, blown away looks sported by celebrities on the red carpet, but more like a bum who doesn’t bathe), nails cut short, corned feet (“maid’s feet”, as my husband lovingly calls them), eyebrows that have turned into north-facing arrows, untrimmed, unthreaded, letting people know that the only way for me from now on is up (since I’ve hit the lowest low). 

Once BabyA gets settled in, I sit around to chat with the mums. As we complain about increasing school prices and compliment the kids’ camaraderie, I feel hypnotized by the mum seated closest to me. Her gel nails with glitter accumulating just at the ends, like little snow globes turned upside down, move around as she talks and I feel my mind melting into a haze. Her nails are just so gorgeous, transporting me to a land with unicorns, rainbows and foamy cocktails! 

Finally a loud voice gets me back to reality and as I turn around, I see a floppy, sloppy mom like me speaking in jarring tones as she gesticulates with her unmanicured hands and fingers her messy hair. I look around and soon notice that there are two types of moms: moms with daughters and moms with sons, and I come up with (what I think is) a brilliant observation! Most often in life (and there are, of course exceptions to this rule), I find that the moms of boys are a tad (or sometimes a whole wad) better-kept than us moms of girls. The ones in the group with their hair in immaculate condition, blown dry by Jenny at the local parlour, and with gorgeous cuticles are almost always moms of boys. They shine out a wee bit more!

That sets me thinking- why would that be? The legend goes that boys tend to be more energetic thus, harder to handle, so wouldn’t that make their moms more disheveled, especially if they are blessed with the types of boys who like to try out WWE moves on them? So why would they be well put-together?

Then it comes to me! Perhaps, with mums of girls, we are so spoilt for choices when shopping for our little ones (twirly-whirly tutu or comfy skort, glittery jumpsuit or fluffy, tulle dress, hairband or clips, peep-toes or Mary Janes, and the list goes on) that all our vanity is projected onto them from the day they are born. The time spent coordinating your outfit, straightening your hair or planning your nails is now expended on choosing her outfit, accessories, shoes and then YouTubing DIY hairstyles and trying them out. By the end, there’s just enough time to quickly iron something for yourself, put some eye-liner, smear some lipgloss and OUT!

As for the mums of boys: they have lived their lives shopping in the boys’ apparel department, just close enough to the girls’ department where they can spy the sparkly bow-hairbands and knee-high fuchsia boots, teasing them while they pick out four types of cargo- pants (all the same style) and 4 types of shorts (ditto) in varying shades of greys/blues. 

It’s also pretty easy (and quick) to get the boys ready for a party: wash face (10 seconds), spike hair (1-2 minutes), wear clothes and shoes (2 minutes). That leaves the mums with enough time to ponder over their look. Their vanity is conserved for themselves. They still make appointments to indulge in decadent facials, nail/hair spas and pedicures.

I have to get my nails painted in hiding because every time I do it in front of BabyA, I’m shoved aside as she starts picking out garish colours to apply on her nails. As I put make up, she closely watches and then steals my foundation sponges and applies the residue on her face. Since I won’t let her wear lipstick, I must allow her long smooches so that she gets some transferred colour onto her lips. It’s just easier not to do any of these things around her!

“She’s going through the horrible threes”; one mom’s voice brings me back to reality and as I mentally rejoin the birthday party, I realize that I was unaware of my unsightly appearance all this time because after having BabyA, she is my pride and joy. Feminist mums aren’t supposed to be vain, but there’s a little vanity in all of us, and now it’s completely centered around this adorable angel, running around in pig-tails and a derby-worthy dramatic feathered hairband! 

Of course, this is only till I can control her choices because once she’s a teen, she’ll shrug me off like an old, favourite cardigan (snuggled up to only at home when she needs to feel cosy), and then I’ll have to start focusing on me!


Creating Bad Boys and Good Girls!

I didn’t realise that I was doing something even remotely controversial when I got BabyA’s hair cut in the same style as mine: a Rihanna-esque fashionable bob. When she got the cut, I felt happy because I thought she looked neat, chic and it would be easy to manage at school.

You hear of all the horror stories about lice breakouts with girls in schools and so I thought a trendy, low maintenance haircut at 3 was a better choice than growing her hair long. Also I’ve never been a huge fan of the matching mommy-baby outfits so I figured this was another variant that suited me better: matching haircuts.

Some people have been very appreciative of her haircut, strangers even stopping me at play areas to ask where she got it. The part that infuriates me is what more commonly occurs: BabyA being repeatedly told she needs to grow her hair. From the maid to her friends’ mums to family, people keep telling her she’ll be “pretty” if she has long hair, so she mustn’t let her mother cut her hair short. Till they said it, she didn’t realize that her hair was such an integral part of who she was. Silly BabyA thought you just cut hair when it grows long, much like nails!

What really bothers me is the importance society puts on girls being pretty. At 3, she already knows that she wants to grow up to be a princess (pretty, taken care of by daddy, then by her prince). Hair is a very crucial part of this image. We try to make some funky hairstyles for her but she refuses; “I want a princess hairstyle Mamma”, and since I don’t want her to undo my 15 minutes of work, I desperately (feminist mums get desperate too) search for Disney princesses with short hair, and I can’t find anyone but Snow White (who doesn’t impress her much).

This idea of lambé, ghané baal isn’t only Western in nature, but deeply ingrained into our Indian psyche too, with all the Goddesses and Rajkumaris having long hair. Short hair makes you less attractive, butch and androgynous!

It really bothers me that she is told, explicitly as well as subtly, that she needs to adhere to a particular stereotype of femininity in order to be received positively in society. Thank God she (as yet) remains untouched from the fairness fervour, being a gorgeous Marwari girl with lovely tan skin. Don’t know how long that will last!

Why do we load our kids with so much gender-biased baggage? Boys are victims too. I have seen how much pressure is put on a little boy to prove his manliness! First is the “Boys don’t cry” nonsense that is filled into their innocent heads which eventually makes them bottled up grown men who find it hard to express, emote and love openly. We also tell them that they must continuously prove that their little boyish hearts only want to play sports; that dolls must strictly be used for inflicting violence (as sisters cry while brothers behead Barbies); that they MUST love guns as if boys are inherently violent and unkind, wanting to break things and hurt people.

“What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails…
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice”

The ‘Bad Boy’ Persona weighs as heavily on our sons as the ‘Good Girl’ syndrome inflicts our daughters. Why are bad boys so exciting to girls while good girls are what every boy should aspire to taking home to Mamma? Is anyone really able to fill these restrictive, one-dimensional roles to begin with? We aren’t TV serial goddesses like Parvati from Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki or Voluptous Vixen Komalika from Kasautii Zindagii Kay – aren’t we all just a little bit of everything?

What if our little boy loves painting, isn’t aggressive, doesn’t tear apart people’s houses when he visits, or likes to whip up all kinds of wonderful for his parents every Sunday morning? When he cries at the drop of a hat (much like all the kids his age), we tell him he can’t as that’s not manly. Why would these beautiful “feminine” traits like being able to emote easily, love openly and share (advice, their hearts?) generously be constantly devalued by society as nonsensical fluff? Why do we call people who don’t cry brave? Doesn’t it take a more secure human to be able to show emotion and be vulnerable?

Why must our girls be pretty rather than intelligent? How long does pretty last anyway? Why can’t we appreciate a little boy with the intelligence that comes from silent observation and from still-focus? Why do we plague them with words like ‘pansy’ and ‘faggot’?

What do we fear so much when we fear an intelligent girl or a creative boy? What’s the ‘worst case scenario’? That the child will grow up to be homosexual? Barring the fact that this notion makes no sense because we witness enough “manly” gay men and vain lesbians, pondering over this subject made me realize that even if my own daughter turned out to be gay, how would it matter? Would I love her less? No. I’d love her just the same, and accept her choices. It would be a paradigm shift in my mind, but there are many paradigm shifts that take place as you grow older, and that’s never a bad thing.

The worst case scenario would be that your child would live his life feeling suffocated; feeling that he can’t be his true self because society (and most importantly, you) think that he isn’t good enough. What good is a “manly” boy who is so bottled up that he manifests his emotions through other ways, perhaps even through verbal or physical violence?

On the other hand, why should intelligent girls feel like they have to hide behind the guise of bimbette-behaviour and survive on celery sticks to be liked by boys (and society)? Why can’t children just be themselves- long hair, short hair, creative, fat, sporty or naughty? Your child being honest and secure enough to live her life, making the choices that are true to her soul- how can that ever be the worst case scenario?

Senior Citizens: Good Etiquette, Bad Netiquette.

I check my Facebook newsfeed (that’s where I catch up on my current affairs since I don’t read the newspaper). As I scroll down, I can always spot the updates by my parent’s generation.

Whenever I see a photo that urges us to say “Amen” to a new born baby’s photoshopped picture where his intestines are falling out of his body, I know it has to be my sweet-natured, kind-hearted mommy who has agreed to saying “Amen” in the hope that her words will help relieve this child of his trauma. My mom is completely unaware of the evils of FB: the awful pranksters who make up bizarre pictures to gain likes/shares/amens so that their FB page gets promoted without them having to shell out any moolah to Zuckerberg.

Same thing with the “real pictures” of Sai Baba or the potato that looks just like Ganeshji which will instantly bless you, if you share it. A message to all our moms: these people are messing with your mind (and superstitions). Stop sharing!

Then there’s the selfie-wale uncleji (who literally sings “Chal Beta, selfie le le re” to his beta, not realising that that would be counter-intuitive). You wonder why he puts so many selfies especially since he’s not as vain as the average looking, narcissistic friends you have (who you envy for their confidence) who need to put up 11 pictures every day of their face (same exact location, clothes, smile, tilt of face) because they can’t get over how amazing they look! Selfie-Wale Uncleji is much simpler. He just figured out that his phone camera is a phenomenal object that has a two-way camera, and he’s started dabbling in photography.

Then there are the aunties who make huge faux-pas because they’re still figuring out Facebook, and post your name on their status update, instead of searching for it while trying to snoop around in your account- because their daughter told them you posted pictures of the plunging neckline you wore to a party recently. And now the whole world knows who the real Snoopy is, while aunty doesn’t know how to delete the update.

Although the Facebook stuff is entertaining, the bad netiquette that people are capable of is extremely bothersome. Like on WhatsApp, no matter what family group you get added to, you find that people of a certain age are still very propah’ about certain things: like saying Good Morning to everyone EVERY damn morning. They search out gorgeous pictures of tea cups that emit a melodious, “Good morning” rather than just plain old, tea-steam, or anthropomorphic cuckoos that sing, “Good morning”. Now although this makes for great etiquette (in 1965), it doesn’t make for very good netiquette. I know of Laptop and iPad classes held for senior citizens but what about WhatsApp manners’ classes for them?

I have huge families on all sides and a gazillion WhatsApp groups, so by the time the day is over, my phone is out of memory but I have so many “Good Morning” images saved that I could make a mammoth collage wallpaper for my room, which would greet me every morning, shocking me into having a good one!

Although, in the defense of our elders, I would say that our generation has lost its manners. When our parents greet us with a cheery Good Morning, all we do is grumpily mumble back (“What’s so great about mornings, after all?”)

If my amen-ing mom had to write about my generation (and me), she would mock our pseudo social-consciousness, wherein we don’t ever get up off of our high chairs (still babies when it comes to really bringing about any change) but FB share aplenty: “Sign Against-Rape Petitions on” or Missing Person photos. We’re good about publicizing our social awareness but don’t really follow it up with any action.

Once, on a school WhatsApp group, there was a barrage of messages against a nun’s rape, and one of the girls spent hours coaxing people to turn up for the Peace March, but on the final day, she didn’t turn up and nor did most of the people who were passionately backing it.

I guess we are the ‘Pro-Cause, Against-Activity Generation’ that changes our profile photos’ colours for net-neutrality without knowing what it means: once we’ve shared the Candle Light Vigil event details for XYZ victim, we can rest in peace since that means our responsibility towards the universe is now complete!

No Sick Days Allowed on Mommy Duty!

“Aaaaaah!” I shriek as the Thunder Tower free falls. I feel like I’m falling into abysmal depths of excruciating pain. It feels like I’ve been suspended in air only by the support of my neck, while simultaneously being pulled down by my torso. The ride stops, starts inching upwards and then the horrible fall again, six times over. By the end, I have a sore neck, a concerned toddler peering over at me from the next seat, and a curious audience below that is wondering whether my shrieking was out of excitement from the ride (because it sounded too primal for that).

This took place at the children’s amusement rides’ section of Phoenix Mills, Parel, and since Thunder Tower looked a little daring for my 3.5 year old to go on (although the board said anyone over 3 feet to adult age was allowed), I went on with her. I’ve always been a thrill-seeker, having recently sat in many free-falling, heart-stopping rides in amusement/water parks abroad. I didn’t get physically sick from them. I now have a neck injury (according to my doctor) from this awful experience. Only in India can such rides be allowed, with no care given to minimize impact on little (and big) necks.

I moan and groan, as I get off, and my daughter is very sympathetic, at first. She gives me lots of hugs and kisses, telling me she loves me and that her kisses will make the pain go away. They don’t. Then, after letting me be the center of our universe for precisely 5 minutes, she shifts focus onto herself. She manifests sympathy pains wherein she complains, “Mamma, my tummy is hurting because the thunder ride pulled my tummy up and down!” I know for a fact she’s fine. She just can’t handle that for once, I’m the one who needs care.

I find that this is one of the consequences of being a mother: I come home and turn my head towards my maid, in an odd, robotic fashion. She asks what’s wrong, and when I tell her, she feigns concern. Within 5 minutes, she comes to tell me that she’s been shivering. I want to tell her that it’s pretty cold and that’s a normal physiological reaction, but I give her some sympathy and then walk off, grumbling to myself about how she’s ALWAYS sick.

As I lay down in bed, finally able to rest my aching neck, I tell the husband about my ordeal and I feel like he may have heard me because the side of his mouth makes an attentive twitching sound, although all facial clues tell me his consciousness is deeply implanted in Facebook updates and what the Twitterati has to say. Mera chance kahan? (Where do I stand a chance?) As he leaves his phone aside and curls up in bed, he tells me, “Can you press my head. I’m so tired!” When I’m quiet for a while, he says, “Why aren’t you pressing my head?” and I reply, “Because I’m using all my energy right now to keep my hands from pressing your throat!” He laughs and falls asleep. He’s like Alicia Silverstone- clueless!

It’s amazing how, as a mother, you come last in line. Everyone is allowed to be sick but you! You are the one who must attend to everyone’s needs (even the maids!) – never the other way round. As I try to leave for a birthday party in the afternoon, I have a checklist

BabyA’s afternoon snack – Check
Maid’s chai time-Check

By this time, there’s no time to think about nourishing myself and so I leave hungry and come home with a massive acidity headache from hunger or alternatively, stuffing myself with unhealthy kiddy party food, the digestion of which mimics the symptoms of a heart attack in a 37 year old woman.

I’m gassy, cranky and slightly nauseous. As I walk in to the house, looking odd, no one bats an eyelid. And as I lie down to shut my eyes, Baby A is on me, wailing, “Mamma, you have to sit and hold my hand while Didi feeds me!” and then the maid enters, “Bhabhi, mere ko chakkar aa rahe hain!” (Madam, I feel faint!). I yell, “Nandy, I’m really sick, can you help?”

Enters my hero, knight-in-shining-armour sporting a rolled thepla in his hand (no less assuring than a sword at this point). I’m relieved! Finally I can rest while the baby is fed. He wolfs down the thepla and then he says, “I can’t feed her. I’m so tired! So what’s your sickness of the day?” and then I remember why I hate fairy tales. It’s because they make every girl believe that she’s going to grow up to find a prince who will save her (at least when she’s sick and could do with some saving) but instead you get the evil step-mother in the avatar of your husband, who mocks you for being sick or tired. So I get up, pop in a Crocin and save myself… from the misery of not giving in, and from a subsequently worse headache!