Tag Archives: #mommymadness

Oh My Japa Bai: Old Wives’ Tales & Scientific Mumbo-Jumbo

I did it old-school style and got a Bikaneri Japa* maid from Calcutta (the most preferred combination of culture that one could get in Japa maids), and I was given glowing recommendations about her. The only thing I didn’t factor in was that my cousins who had employed her, had done so eons ago. When she arrived, I was a bit set back (to say the least) to find an extremely overweight lady with the manners of a village “gaonti”**(occupying most of my 8 people occupancy lift with her left hand resting against one end and her huge hips resting against the other, leaving no more place for me, or anyone else) and serious flatulence problems (which she repeatedly blamed on my newborn since newborns are capable of explosive farts).

I could imagine that at some point this lady may have been efficient but it was hard to see about the person I met since she could sleep on call (to the point where my mother was seriously frightened that she was narcoleptic, because she would often fall asleep with my newborn in her arms, dangling, while sitting on a chair). Luckily, my mom and I were always on the watch.

I do realise that these are problems that come with a demanding job, but the funny thing is, that for the safety of my baby, we let the Japa sleep more than 10 hours a day. The only people burning the candle at both ends were my mom and me.

I also realize that such things may occur due to age, and I may, soon, turn into an overweight, sleepy, mannerless fart-bomb in time (all of which I have been at some point in my life or the other; just haven’t matured to the lethal combination yet) too so I shouldn’t make fun of older people, but it was just too much to bear.

This was only the tip of the iceberg. Then there were the regular problems that come with the Japa maids- constant advice regardless of whether I showed interest. The pediatrician had strictly advised against doing ‘uptan’ but she would stealthily take besan with malai (gram flour with cream) and try rubbing the body hair (and colour) off my baby. She was appalled when I told her to leave my baby alone as I loved her skin the way it was. How could any self-respecting Marwari not be coveting a whiter skin-tone for her child? She looked at me with disgust, and went on.

She wanted to put oil in BabyA’s nose, ears and every orifice she could find. She complained to the family elders that I didn’t do my massage properly, when in reality, I had to sit up and do uncomfortable acrobatics every morning in order for her to massage me. If she stretched too much, she would puff and pant like she was about to have a heart attack, so out of pity for her size, I sat up and went through the torture. And then there was constant squealing about what I ate and what I didn’t eat. Aah! The list goes on…

I started regretting getting a Japa maid instead of a nurse. My mom had been against the idea of getting a nurse because she pointed out that they didn’t do any work around the baby or the mother, like washing clothes, making the mother’s food, etc. but I’m not sure that my Japa was managing much either!

I employed the lady for six months due to the lack of any other option, but in retrospect, I think a nurse would have been a better choice. I noticed during my sister-in-law’s delivery, that albeit way more expensive, nurses are relatively non-interfering, usually giving advice softly but retreating when you politely let them know you don’t need it. Of course, each person’s personality differs, but nurses are also more in sync with the baby care instructions given by your pediatrician .

You can’t really blame the Japa maids for being so suffocating because they are relics of a time gone-by. Nowadays, urban mothers blindly trust the doctor and disregard what the Japa says as old wives’ tales. Traditionally, these ladies have been valued greatly for their infinite knowledge and experience regarding new moms and their babies. They are used to being treated like knowledgeable foster mothers who come in to guide you through your first forty days, rather than as ordinary maids.

As BabyA has grown older, I have discovered that there is a lot of wisdom in the old ways. From a doctor-bhakt, I have now started realizing that there is as much truth in the old knowledge as there is in medical science. Both are imperfect, and suggestions from both avenues must be weighed or cautiously tested before accepting.

When I look at my little hairy bear, I regret not trying ‘uptan’ with her because I know that it had helped my siblings and me when we were babies. Also BabyA’s severe colic was not cured by all the Colic Aids and Neopeptines of the world, but finally, listening to the Japa and my mother-in-law, I started giving BabyA a paste made by rubbing natural herbs on a stone with milk (a.k.a. ghaasa/ghasara), and finally found that she got better.

Allopathy only has immediate fixes for us (packed in with lots of side effects), but long term cures are only possible through alternative methods. Thus, to completely disregard what our mothers, mothers-in-law or Japas say is also unfair. Sometimes their ways maybe obsolete (like don’t cut nails after sunset, which no longer makes sense as we now have electricity) or they may not know the real reason behind things (not making babies wear new clothes when they are born as new fabric has a lot of chemicals and can cause allergies), but that doesn’t mean that their knowledge should be dismissed as mere superstition.

In a postmodern world, we have seen the downfall of the ‘faultless logic and understanding of science’. There are no longer any absolutes, and thus, its more about what works for you. Since we reverently hang onto every word the doctor says, we could also give our formally-uneducated but experientially-gifted Japas a chance sometimes.  Our moms couldn’t have been so grossly misguided when they were treating them as baby whisperers when we were tiny tots. After all, we turned out ok, didn’t we?
*Japa Maid- New mom and baby care specialist maids

**gaonti- village simpleton

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.