When experience doesn’t give rise to empathy

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Some day last month, I was taking the Picadilly line back home when I gave my seat to a pregnant woman who walked into my compartment. She asked me for the seat before I could offer it. So the first two seats on either side are reserved for either old people, pregnant women or people carrying little children. Some people automatically offer them to you even before you ask whereas sometimes people don’t. However, you can always ask people to get up if you want to claim your reservation. I carry Berry on the tube everyday and I usually don’t ask for the seat unless offered. Sometimes I don’t accept even when I am offered a seat.

Maybe it has something to do with my upbringing – having never been eligible for any sort of reservation, I have fundamentally been opposed to the concept of reservation. I think reservation makes us less human. It leaves very little room for character. I appreciate that someone came running to the train before me and was glad to get a seat and it is unfair for them to get up just because I walked into the compartment with a baby. Sometimes I am super hungry and tired and all I long for is someone to offer me a seat but something very innate in me stops me from demanding a seat. Having said this, I immensely appreciate the people who do offer me their seat, especially when they aren’t even sitting on one of these reserved seats as this gives me hope for humanity.

Since I don’t claim my reservation on the tube and a lot of times I am dying from tiredness (is that a word?), I like to distract myself with a little game. I like to watch the people who are seated to see who is noticing me and how they are feeling about being seated while they aren’t offering their seat to someone who could use it more than them. This is classic capitalism in the train right? A lot of people show guilt, I can almost read the conversation they are having with themselves if they should offer me their seat or not, while some pretend to be too busy to notice and some others are blissfully in their own worlds. The best are the ones who won’t themselves offer their seats instead ask others to get up to offer me a seat.

You’d think that people who’re subject to difficult situations themselves would be more empathetic of me carrying a child on the tube, but it’s quite surprising to see the number of people from minority communities that don’t give a damn. You’d imagine that people who are supposedly subject to discrimination (based on their gender, race, community, etc.) or have lesser opportunities would be more sensitive to people in need of support but we probably don’t think about topics like disability, racism, sexism, etc. most of the time unless it personally inconveniences us or our loved ones.

So experience doesn’t necessarily give rise to empathy always. I think people are more likely to be empathetic when they are shown compassion in times of their need and feel indebted to give back. Since I am offered a seat on the tube ever so often and I am met with smiles of compassion by random strangers on the street, I am more conscious of giving back, even if it’s just a smile in acknowledgement of someone’s pain. Strange you think? Sometimes just acknowledging someone is a show of empathy and it can take both of you a long way!

Letters to my Berry#9

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If I had observed you too closely this month, I probably wouldn’t have realised this because this change in you is so subtle that it’s easy to miss. No, you haven’t learnt to walk on your own yet. Neither have you learnt to talk. But what you have learnt is to disobey your parents. Yes, apparently, it does start this early. So you see, children disobeying their parents has very little to do with parents and there’s no reason for us to be hard on ourselves for not “discipling” you. You clearly have a mind of your own and I highly doubt I can control it too much, so I’ll remember not to try too hard as you grow up and be more difficult.

Ever since you started crawling, you have been too busy exploring the world on your own terms. You go from one room to another in the house in pursuit of everything dangerous – be it to lick the sockets, eat the ends of chargers, fiddle with the heaters, eat chappals, pull out drawers, hang onto the floor lamp as if you are a pole dancer, drum on the dustbin, try to get into the dishwasher or washing machine or try to open the kitchen cabinets to pull out everything inside. You won’t stop if we asked you to, you won’t stop if we pulled you back and in fact, that only makes you go back to it faster. The only weapon I still have is to attract you with some food. Mwuahah. You love the sound of opening a packet (of food!).

Yet another step change we have seen this month is your ability to communicate. You know how to ask for more food. You scream and signal for us to continue feeding you. You also understand what we tell you, although you conveniently act like you don’t since there is no way for us to verify either way. When we try to show you different animals in your animal book and make noises that animals make, you laugh because the sounds are strange and something we don’t make normally. This is the only way to keep you quiet or sane on the tube everyday. Sometimes I even swing the swara of all the geetes I can remember and when all else fails, I stand up in the corner and pretend like we are getting off at the next station.

You have learnt this really funny fake laugh (very much like your dad’s) that you keep using to act cute so we pick you up. This reminds me of what Ajit had told me about Arhita being a master manipulator even though she didn’t talk yet. Ahem. But I’m not complaining because I love your laugh, even the fake one because it shows how happy a child you are. I remember ajji always telling me that you’ll turn out to be a grumpy baby because I was always so grumpy/ deep in thought through the pregnancy that I might pass off some of that energy to you. I know it’s too early to say, but let’s hope that you keep this happy spirit about you.

You are super friendly, you like to extend your hand to anyone who says hello to you. You like touching their face or maybe even plucking their nose. You like kids who are slightly older than you. You wanted to play with Vasu (Appa’s friend ID’s son) when we visited their house but he was so into his own younger sister, Anika that I felt a bit sad for you. But you have Rehan (Amma’s friend Sam’s son) and he absolutely loves playing with you. You like hugging him and following him everywhere whenever we visit his house. Sometimes I secretly wish I could buy you an older sibling (Yeah, I used to think you can buy them in a shop when I was a little girl). Sigh.

Another big achievement of the month is that you have two teeth (I can attest for it because I have been bitten!!!) and you can eat on your own. In order to make sure we feed you healthy food everyday, we have a fairly standardised non-creative eating routine for you which includes feeding you a small portion of our breakfast, mashed vegetables (carrots, potato, tomato, spinach) with salt, pepper, ghee and cheese for lunch and a portion of our dinner as your mummum. Most days we let you eat your own breakfast and feed you the other meals. Check it out.

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That’s Rehan’s highchair btw. He is probably the first kid I have seen till date who happily shares all his toys with you, in fact, he even lets you take some of them home with you. I am still a bit unsure about if this is a trait I want to actively nurture or not because I think you shouldn’t share if you don’t want to and if you want to, you should absolutely do so. Ok, I am on the fence but I know I don’t want to force you just to seem like I’m doing the right thing as a parent. So, I will allow you to beat me if I shove some random parenting gyaan on you that I don’t truly believe in.

I can’t believe as of this month, you have lived longer outside of me than inside of me. Happy 3/4th Year Berry!!

P.S – Here’s a list of all the random names I call you (some are super mental, sorry!) – Berry mumma, tinamma gundu, gundamma, halka laudi (you are super light!), gundamma bitheth, missklaudi, Berima, mumma, billi, tinamms, chinnamma, smileypaaps, smellypaaps, baeripaapa. Ok the list goes on..

 

 

 

 

 

Letters to my Berry#8

IMG_8460 3I can’t believe how fast you are growing up, I almost had to think twice before I wrote #8 above. You’ll grow up in a jiffy and before I know it, you’ll be a teenager, you’ll hate me and argue with me and what not. Boy am I not looking forward to that. For now, I am glad you are this cute little dumb thing. Look at you munching on an oreo in the pictures above. Eating happens to be one of your favourite things to do at the moment.

We play this game with you when we try to call you and get your attention, but you don’t respond at all. If we hold up a packet of snacks, you immediately make a dash towards us. We absolutely adore that you enjoy eating and don’t fuss about it as it makes our lives easy in raising you. You eat the same stuff that we eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner minus the spice. You also love nibbling on chakli and you don’t mind the spice at all. You’ve even enjoyed a nice plate of idli at Saravana Bhavan. Ok, I just sound like a terrible parent now. But basically, we are glad you tag along in everything we do and make it easier for us to show you new experiences.

You don’t speak any language yet except babbles. You are more interested in moving around. You crawl super fast from one end of the house to another. You love the tiled floor in the kitchen because it makes more noise when you bang your toys on it unlike the carpeted floors in the rest of the house. You love to follow me around in our little kitchen until I am too afraid to step on you and decide to pick you up. I feel like you trick me into picking you this way. You are sooo curious to know everything in the kitchen from opening all the cupboards on the floor to picking up random bits of food particles on the floor and licking them.

You usually spot a tiny speck from miles away and come crawling super fast to pick it up. This way I am guessing you’ve taken after me in terms of vision (hopefully!). Your ears are pretty sharp too. You always know when I come home and make sure you are crying juts in time so that I feed you as soon as I get home. You follow me around like a crazy person all over the house till you are well fed. Even as I leave home in the mornings, you keep trying to jump out of Appa’s arms on days I leave you with him. I know I am just the cow of your life.

Most days when I take you on the tube to the nursery, you sleep off but occasionally you act mental and those are times when I pretend its my stop and get off at the next station just to calm you down and hop back on. This is only after standing for quite some time and you are not happy swinging in the carrier. Sometimes I use a trick to calm you down – either play lullaby in your ears or sing classical music. Both work great but the effect doesn’t last very long. That reminds me, you love it when people single or dance. I get the same feedback from your nursery as well. So, who knows, you might become a musician someday.

We are trying our best to expose you to music. We have a keyboard placed on the floor in the living room which we allow you to play freestyle. You love pressing all the keys but you are yet to identify patterns in sounds (although you should be able to do this at the present age but there’s no way for us to know that). You love showing this off to Ajji thatha when they call you on FaceTime. FaceTime has been fairly instrumental in your development. Can you believe thatha taught you how to do Ramramsitaram on FaceTime?!

You love the sound of thatha’s rhymes so much that the moment you hear the phone ring, you get into position and start clapping. This sometimes upsets Ajji and Barbie chikki because you don’t associate any sounds with them or look at them with awe unlike you do with thatha. He surely has a way with kids. He behaves just like them when he is with kids. Ajji on the other hand has a new lovey dove name overtime she speaks to you. She loves you lots, maybe a little more than she loves me.

Overall, you have become suddenly much more intelligent, quite mobile (really hard to keep up with you) and very demanding (you randomly cry sometimes). As you hold me, pinch my cheeks and smile at me, I wish time would stay still and I could hold you forever as this little baby. Sigh.

Don’t grow up so fast no Berry!!!

 

Letters to my Berry#7

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Every month when I sit down to write this post, I feel like this month is more momentous than the previous months and so I am not quite sure when you’ve grown exponentially in the last few months. Anyway, you have grown enough to be bugging me right now trying to fiddle with the laptop and not letting me type at all. Don’t blame me for typos now alright?

On 24th March was the first time you tried to sit up and did so successfully. Guess what, we managed to capture that on camera as well, so yay! Within 2 weeks you also managed to stand up, so it seems like you are in a bit of hurry to run away somewhere. On 7th April, when I had put you to sleep in your crib while I worked from home, I turned around to see that you were laughing mischievously as you had managed to stand up by holding the railings of the crib (moment captured in the pic below). I remember thinking to myself yet again, honeymoon over! Sigh!

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You say words like Appa, Amma and Thatha but they don’t really mean anything to you yet. You just try to imitate our sounds sometimes. We’ve tried to teach you “Ram ram seetaram” but its been one big fail. You probably tried to do it when thatha made you do it over FaceTime but one can’t be a 100% sure. The one thing that you do religiously without fail is lick everything. I don’t know if you are perpetually hungry or you just like to identify everything through taste. Eitherway, I don’t try to hard to stop you unless you are trying to lick a socket (which thankfully you don’t do too much off yet).

You like adult food – idli, dose, vade, chapatti, anna, saaru, huli and all making it damn easy for us to feed you. You pounce like a little tiger at the sight of food, much like your cousin brother Snaaku and so we happily take you to restaurants with us (see pic below). To be honest, this was the first time we felt like we had a whole new person in our lives while you sat with us at the table at Kailash Parbat ready to dive into the pav bhaaji.

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This month has been super special also because you have been nice enough to let me ferry you from home to work on the tube without driving me completely nuts. You enjoy looking around at everyone on the train since you are so used to having people around you in the daycare. You’ve been enjoying your time at the daycare, doing all sorts of messy activities, enjoying the strolls around town and making little mothers’ day cards and all for me. I bet I couldn’t have entertained you half as much as you get entertained at the daycare even if I tried.

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Good times apart, we have also had some very troubling times this month when you had very high fever and diarrhoea for 5 days at a stretch and in the middle of all this, we were even moving houses. There were times when I thought we wouldn’t get through all this but we did and I have a feeling that this feeling is going to come back over and over again in the years to come. I get this feeling of not doing enough ever so often but I think I’ll let this feeling pass because you are your own person and I can’t do a thing about being able to make you talk, do taarammaiah or make you go to Caltech 😛

Ok, I give up. You won’t let me write more since you want to type as well. So bye.

P.S – As Inchara promptly notes, you do have a lot of pink clothes. But hey, I don’t mind at all because pink is my favourite colour!

(Over)worked!

There’s no real substance to this post. It’s merely a journal entry for the sake of remembering exactly how I feel today because some day I may not remember how it all began. As a teenager and a young adult, I remember asking my mum very often why she overworked herself both at home and at work while she could simply share the load at home with my dad. I blamed her for not learning the skills to delegate, I blamed her for not being explicit with my dad about the help she could’ve used and I blamed her for all the stress she brought upon herself, affecting her health. Today, looking back, I wonder why I used to be so harsh on her because I find myself beginning to walk down the same path. How did I get here not wanting to get here?

Its been 3.5 hours since I got home from work and it’s only now that I am sitting down to do what I’d wanted to do the moment I got home – catching up on all my pending blogposts (I don’t know when I’ll really get around to doing it). I came home and went straight into the kitchen to make a soup for the husband who has been a bit sick. By the time I kept out all the ingredients for the soup, Karthik and Berry came home. I picked up Berry and not surprisingly, she wouldn’t let go. So, I tied her up into my ever so handy cotton dupatta and started making the soup, while Berry juggled between fiddling with my face and watching me cut vegetables. By the time we were done drinking the soup, it was 8pm and time for Berry’s feed.

In the background I was wondering if I should stop feeding, give Berry a bath, put her to sleep and then cook or the other way round. But if she didn’t sleep, I wouldn’t be able to cook and so I chose to cook first while I let Berry hang out with Karthik. Meanwhile, Karthik was too tired to entertain Berry and wanted me to take her away, but I couldn’t since I was making our dinner, which needed to be ready by 9pm. I murmured something and refused to take her and went back to my cooking. Then, I gave Berry a massage followed by a bath, fed her and when I saw that she was no where close to sleeping without a solid meal, gave up and decided to go serve dinner.

I made Berry’s dinner (rice, dal and vegetables) and fed her, while I ate my own dinner. Having been fed, I knew I could leave her for a few minutes on her own, while I cleaned the bath-tub. While scrubbing the tub and mopping the bathroom, I wondered if I should get a maid and then when I realised that I might have to lead the search, I let that thought fly by and continued with my scrubbing. Then I did all the dishes, prepared Berry’s lunch for tomorrow and cleaned up the kitchen. Once I was done, it was time to get back to Berry, feed her and put her to sleep.

At the end of it, I felt a strange sense of accomplishment. It was not because I had been a dedicated wife or a mother, it was more so because I had done something I never thought I’d ever be able to do a few years ago. At the same time, I felt sick in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t like feeling proud about this achievement. I felt cornered, like I’d brought this self fulfilling misery upon myself. I remembered those conversations with Amma where I blamed her for being too unfair with herself, for putting herself through stress that she didn’t deserve but yet, I was here, doing the exact same thing to myself.

I wonder if feeling satisfied/ accomplished/ proud is a way we incentivise ourselves to get by all the mundane tasks that just need our attention? Is this our inland letter “promoting us to standard “ because we need some validation that we are getting ahead in our lives? Is this us, overcompensating for having a thankless job that seldom receives any acknowledgement from anyone at all? Or maybe it’s us losing sight of the bigger picture in life, being caught up in minor operational glitches. So, maybe that sick feeling in the belly is all it takes to knock us back into our senses and look beyond meeting day-to-day operational targets (Lulz!).

Oh and by the way, did I say, I have been quite sick too? Probably not.

Letters to my Berry#6

 

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Berry, mi amor, you turn half today. Whee! What an eventful month this has been for you. On 3rd March, you moved from Bangalore to London and that was your very first flight. This was a moment I’d be dreading all my life because people with babies are not very popular on a flight. I was worried how you’d feel during take off and landing. I was worried you’d scream your lungs out through the journey and so I’d carefully chosen a night flight with breaks in between. To my greatest relief, you were an absolute sweetheart (ok, almost) except being in a plane with so many people was too exciting for you to be quiet. You kept trying to babble at anyone and everyone who remotely smiled at you or even made eye contact. Clearly you’ve got your genes from either your paternal aunt or your maternal great grandmother!

I had spent the last 6 months of my life being with you 24/7 and so people always asked me how I’d feel being away from you while at work. To be honest, I’d never given it much thought because I didn’t have a choice. We did visit a few nurseries before we finally decided to put you at Smithfield Day Nursery since we really liked the environment, all the things they made babies play with, etc. You even happily let Alice (your daycare manager) carry you while she showed us around the place and so I was confident that you’d be just as happy being there as you were at home. The first couple of days were hard for you, you refused to eat or drink much but eventually I guess you got more comfortable.

I realise that when you read this several years from now, there’s a chance you’ll think I was not such a nice mother for having left you at a day-care for 10 hours everyday and its completely okay (or maybe you won’t, I don’t know!). While I would absolute enjoy spending time with you all day, I don’t think I am equipped to entertain and nurture you as well as your carers at the day-care can. They made you paint for St.Patrik’s day. Your very first painting at 6 months!! Now, would I have made you do that? I don’t think so 🙂 More importantly, this was the only way for me to optimize for both of us – me getting back to pursuing my professional goals and you being taken care of while I was away at work.

Your routine at the daycare is quite interesting – You’ve breakfast, lunch (you’ve officially started eating real food, but in a pureed form of course!) and tea with lots of playing in between. There’s also a daily walk to either a park, church, library or a museum (if the weather allows of course!) where all of you little babies are put into strollers and taken around like pups for a walk. It’s quite cute. I heard you even played in the park one day. The funniest story I have heard from your nursery so far is you giggling really loudly at another baby that was crying. Now, I don’t know if you’ll make any friends being so evil. Haha.

Ever since you moved to the UK, you’ve been a constant babbler. You’ve so much to talk about all the time that I only wish I could understand what you have to say. So its a good thing that you have enough opportunities to socialise and develop communication skills at your daycare. Another exciting new thing you are trying to do is sit up. You are able to sit up on your own with one leg forward and another one backward. It’s a weird way of sitting alright but soon you’ll be able to sit comfortably. Also, you’ve been preparing to crawl on all fours with your head up but so far you can only sit on all fours and sway forward and backward. You already push yourself all around the world with your head down and so its impossible to leave you anywhere alone for too long.

The cutest thing about this month has been your new found ability to cuddle. You love cuddling with everyone. You touch people’s faces, try to hold them and smile in recognition. I think thatha really enjoyed this in the last couple of days before we left Bangalore and probably misses this as we are so far away. Of course he makes up for it by FaceTiming with you very other day. You can recognise both ajji and thatha over FaceTime and you try to cuddle with them through the phone, making them feel worse about being so far. 😛

Before we left Bangalore, we visited your godparents Sheila and Krishna and they enjoyed cuddling with you as well, although you spent more time wailing/ sleeping. I have promised G-Mommy Sheila that I won’t ruin your ideas about love, etc and that she can tell you all about it herself. I think you are so lucky to have back-up parents and that too, such cool ones, whenever you think your own are uncool. Also, you have tonnes to people who always send their love to you – Ashi ajji tops the list of course 🙂

You see, I could go on forever about you and your little life but I’ll save more for the months to come.

To baby or not to baby?

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Someone I know is contemplating having a child and so, she asked me for advice. I panicked. Why couldn’t she just find one of those breast-feeding, baby wearing, cloth diapering, attachment parenting type mothers of instagram?! On most days, I believe I was never designed to be a mother. I knew this even when I was growing up as a child that I could never be a mother like my mother – so kind, sacrificial, making my entire life about another person, etc. Yet, I decided I wanted to be a mother. It’s one of those things that you want in life just like wanting to be a batsman when you play cricket on the street as a kid. Most people are like this, ok.

Berry is a wonderful baby. She’s moved countries with me, endured crazy weather transitions and is now trying her best to settle into a daycare, all at 5 months. She has been easy to manage and so, she has spoilt me a little bit. On occasional days (mostly during her growth spurts), when she keeps crying all day and is super clingy, I get so tired that I want to run away. I start feeling very unmotherly in my head and question the grand purpose of gene propagation, but last evening, I had an epiphany about why I’m glad to be a mother.

While travelling home in a bus last evening, there was a French couple with two children – a little one asleep in a stroller and another slightly older one (maybe 3 years old?) that the mother was trying to keep entertained. Another woman, who looked like she didn’t have any children, rolled her eyes at this older kid, who was constantly babbling.

No judgements about this woman, but if you have a child yourself, you know how hard the mother is trying to calm the child and make sure others don’t get disturbed. This understanding or empathy is important, and believe me, nothing in the world apart from having your children can equip you with such consideration. It makes you more forgiving and in the grander scheme of things, makes the world a more liveable place.

I have around 10 posts sitting in my drafts because there are several days when I am with Berry from the time I wake up till I sleep. I don’t even realise how time flies around her because babies are highly energy consuming. There are so many things about being a mother that no one ever tells you about. Well, even if they did, you could never really be prepared for it. Somedays I cry to myself in the shower because I don’t even recognise myself anymore. But, this only makes me try harder to balance both my evolution and that of Berry’s.

When I reminisce the carefree days of my childhood, I also wonder if my parents felt the same way as I am feeling right now. We take our lives for granted and never once stop to acknowledge everything our parents have done to raise us but having a child gives us an opportunity to be grateful for the lives we’ve had so far, making us more empathetic. Not only this, having a child also gives you a chance to watch your own life unfold right from the beginning.

For instance, for the last two days, Berry has been trying to sit. It’s been amazing to watch how hard she tries, tirelessly, all day. If I were her, I’d have given up after about 30 attempts at the most, but no amount of falling and having her body twisted has stopped her. I think, this tells you a little bit about the human spirit – Keep doing what you need to do and never settle. Once in a while, all of us need some inspiration like this to keep at what we are trying to accomplish in our own stages of lives.

And just for this, I’m glad I can be a mother to Berry.