Lessons in parenting


A few months ago, when life was normal and busy, and when weekends meant dinner with friends or extended family, we had friends over for dinner one evening.

After a sumptuous dinner, we settled down in the living room, some of us stretched out on the couch, some of us on the floor – totally comfortable in the company of friends we had known for a long time.

Our conversation meandered down the alleys of the past, and into the unknown alleys of the future. At one point, the discussion turned to past holidays and vacations, and as we dug into our desserts, we laughed and enjoyed the various anecdotes from past holidays.

And then, suddenly, my daughter chipped in. She narrated an incident that happened when she was about 8 years old, when we had gone on a short cruise.

In one of the places where the ship docked, we were taken on a sightseeing tour in the afternoon. One of the attractions was an elephant show. All of us were totally engrossed in the show, and admired the elephants and their grace.

One of the items on the show was a ‘baby elephant massage’. The organizers asked for kids who wanted to volunteer.

My daughter hesitated, but I was so excited that I raised her hand. The trainer picked my daughter to be the privileged one to receive a massage from the baby elephant.

Photo by Adriaan Greyling from Pexels

Things moved very quickly after that, and before we knew it, our little daughter was lying on a mat, and the baby elephant was brought in.

Everyone clapped and cheered, and we did too. We took pictures and cheered our daughter.

Cut to our dinner…. I watched my daughter narrate the incident, and she said, “Can you believe it? Mom volunteered my hand, and before I knew it I was watching a baby elephant towering over me, and I closed my eyes in sheer nervousness. But it worked out ok in the end.”

All of us had a good laugh. But, only now, after nearly a decade, it hits me that I was so excited that I had pushed my daughter to do something that I thought was fun, and that may have been scary or uninteresting to her.

And when I think about it, I realize that sometimes, as parents, we consciously or unconsciously push our kids to do things which we would have liked to do or which we had dreamt about as kids.

While we do have to push our kids at times for the right things, sometimes it is nice to stop and think before volunteering a nervous eight year old for a baby elephant massage.

Lesson learnt after many years!!!

Virtual Aunt


On a humid evening in February last year, I was in a long, snaking queue of passengers waiting to board a flight.

My evening was magically transformed, when I received a call that my sister had just delivered a baby girl. And from then on, till I boarded the flight, it was just excited texting and calling on our various family and extended family groups.

When I landed at my destination, and switched on my phone, I was greeted by the cutest picture of my tiny niece, her eyes tightly shut, tiny fingers curled around a cosy blanket. And my heart filled with love and tenderness!!!

In mid-June last year, I had the opportunity to visit my sister and of course my darling niece, who was by then gurgling, making eye-contact and dishing out sweet toothless smiles of recognition. She was like a tiny doll, and I carried her with me wherever I went.

Soon it was time to head back home, to catch another flight – back to a world inhabited by teens, a world far removed from gurgles and toothless grins.

And the year flew by on wings, and I watched my niece virtually, on video calls each week – watched her crawl, sit up, have solids, recognize colours; watched her hair grow out into beautiful curly ringlets, watched her smiling with her first cute milk tooth.

And thus 2019 disappeared to inhabit the pages of history. When we rang in the New Year, little did I know that I would not be able to travel at all this year – that I would miss my niece’s first birthday party.

A few months ago, on a call with my sister, I watched my niece taking her first tentative steps.

I am now a fully qualified Virtual Aunt, who engages her niece on video calls. Now, when I call my sister, my niece ambles over to grin and babble with her Virtual Aunt, whom she now recognizes very well.

Image courtesy – http://www.pexels.com

The best gift was last week, when she walked over and said, “Hi Pamma”….( a baby version of Periamma, or mom’s elder sister). My heart just melted.

I thank technology for making such beautiful moments possible during these difficult times.

Indulged


Life and its many moments keep unfolding each day. Most times, we are caught up in our routines and chores, not thinking about or dwelling upon what we do on a daily basis.

But yesterday was different. It rained non-stop, and the world outside was grey and wet. After a sumptuous weekend lunch, I retired to catch some shut eye. My power naps usually last exactly twenty minutes, not a minute more. That is my cue to get up and start the second half of my day, during which I also head to the kitchen to make our afternoon coffee!

But for some strange reason, I slept way beyond my twenty minute quota, and felt a deep laziness pervading my every pore. But the family coffee clock doesn’t stop, does it?

Soon, my husband made an appearance. He saw me napping, and left quietly. Then my daughter showed up in a bit and left too! I could sense them but was too lazy to open my eyes.

After a few minutes, when I was fully awake, I called my husband and said, “Can someone make coffee today?”

He said, “Of course, I can try…but it won’t taste anything like yours. Are you ok with that?”

Hmmm…the coffee taste is what it’s all about. I asked my daughter. She loves coffee too, and she has learnt from me…so there was still some hope!

She agreed enthusiastically. I watched the dull grey world outside, and mindlessly traced water drops with my eye, as they ran down our window. I waited in eager anticipation.

Photo by Josh Hild from Pexels

I mentally imagined my daughter heating the milk, and adding the decoction and just the right amount of sugar. There was a lot of noise from the kitchen. I could hear the clanging of steel. I wondered if they were making coffee or cooking a meal.

I hollered, “Are you guys done?” From their muffled replies I understood that they had spilt something!!! But I held my ground, and suppressed my curiosity to go and interfere. I sat up and smiled lazily….!

And in just a few minutes, my daughter walked in with a frothing cup of filter coffee. I took the first sip. Bliss and perfection. “You have nailed it!!” I said. My daughter smiled.

A rainy day, an afternoon nap, followed by a perfect cup of coffee not made by me! I felt indulged.

A flash of red


Heavy rain is imminent. Dark, grey clouds are hanging heavy and low in the sky. The gentle breeze ‘that was’ is now gathering momentum, and the leaves are rustling and giggling in anticipation.

I am on my walk, my mind filled with a hundred thoughts, as restless as the leaves. The usual calm that prevails on my walk is missing today. I just accept it and plod on, allowing my thoughts free rein and watching their play.

As I begin my ascent on one of the roads, a flash of red on the pavement catches my eye. From where I am, it looks like a bright red stone or a shiny bit of paper.

When I get closer to this shiny object, I stop in wonder! It is a beautiful petal, reddish-orange in colour, fallen on the grey pavement. Beautiful water droplets adorn this petal, reflecting its vibrant colours even more, and sparkling in the dull evening light.

I am fascinated. The petal lies there, its days over, but still seeking to give joy, still seeking to bring a moment of softness and gentleness to this hard road called life.

I quickly whisk out my phone and capture a picture. The skies open up, and I dash for cover.

I stand under the sheltered walkway, watching the dancing raindrops, the pitter-patter of the rain on the glass ceiling, the swaying plants, the rivulets of water….such beauty.

I think back to my beautiful petal. The rain would have carried away the petal, a drop of bright red floating away in a stream of joy, to places unknown.

The rain peters out. I sigh. I wait awhile. And slowly, the crickets start tuning their instruments for their nightly chorus. Huge silver water drops fall with big plops from the trees. The sky is clear. My mind is bereft of any thought. I walk back home.

The missing ingredient


I have cooked Venn Pongal for breakfast this morning; a staple South Indian breakfast item made out of cooked rice and split moong dal. My husband expresses his appreciation for the Pongal and settles down on the sofa with his frothing cup of filter coffee!

There is a lovely story behind how I learnt to make tasty Venn Pongal. Let me take you back to the halcyon days of my childhood…..

Image courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

The Tamil month of Marghazi usually falls between mid-December to mid-January each year, and during this month special prayers are offered in most South Indian temples.

In our small and beautiful hometown, this month was a super-special month to look forward to, as we had our school winter break, and also our daily morning sojourns to the temple.

With a white layer of frost blanketing the countryside for company, my friends and I would rush out at 6.30 a.m. each morning to visit the temple.

The highlight was the yummiest Venn Pongal that was served to all those who were present. The pongal was served on pieces of banana leaf. My friends and I would relish each mouthful, closing our eyes in bliss. Divine!

Many years later, when I started cooking and tried to make pongal, I realized that mine was missing something. It did not taste half as good as the temple pongal. I asked family members for tips, but somehow my pongal always seemed to fall short.

A few years went by this way. Then, one fine afternoon, when my husband and I were out shopping, we bumped into the person who used to make the temple pongal. We were so happy and excited to meet each other after more than two decades. After we had caught up with family stories and had exchanged news about common friends, I blurted out, “How was your pongal so yummy?”

He smiled, and said, “It is very simple, just add hot milk to it. That is all.” I thanked him profusely, as we each went our separate ways.

Now, as I settle down for breakfast and eat the first spoonful, I can feel the cold winter breeze of our little town, the company of my dearest childhood friends and the hot piping delicious pongal, all of which added to the magic of those wonderful days.

Solitude


A few years back, we went on a trip to Leh, Ladakh in the Himalayan region of India. The rugged terrain was simply breathtaking, and at many moments during our trip we stood awestruck by the glory of Mother Nature.

We had to travel for many hours by road each day to visit all the tourist spots in the region. We had lots of time to take in the scenery, to ponder over the majestic mountains and to think about the deeper meaning of life.

On one such road trip, I saw a lone biker, going up the treacherous terrain, where the cliffs had sheer drops. As the road snaked its way up the mountain, the biker came into sight on and off, two or three roads higher than where we were.

I asked myself why he was braving this terrain all alone? But then, I realized that he probably craved solitude, a time for himself to take on new challenges, a time to rejuvenate in the cold air of the mountains, a time to climb higher and leave behind the trivia of everyday living.

Cut to this morning. When I was on my walk, I was stopped in my tracks by the image of a woman who was seated under a tree, reading a book; with golden sunshine spilling over all the greenery around. She was totally immersed in the magic of the writer’s spell, enjoying her time alone.

Further along my walk, I met a little bird, alone in the bushes, probably seeking some solitude from his busy day.

Even I do this sometimes; slink away to my room to enter the world of books and let my imagination wander, or go on long solitary walks with my thoughts, or just sip my filter coffee and stare into space with a mind empty of all thought.

Solitude, a much needed rejuvenation!

The Tapioca Moment


In the course of our every day lives, there are some simple, innocuous moments which clearly demarcate two different activities, emotions, or incidents in our days. When I tie up my hair in a firm knot on top of my head there is a demarcation between the lazy me and the lady who is about to go on a cleaning spree. Inhaling the aroma of coffee signals that the night is old, and that another day has begun.

I was thinking about such moments earlier today, when I went back in time to my college days. Our hometown nestled in a cool, green valley in the Nilgiri hills in the Western Ghats of South India. The Nilgiri mountains abound with lush greenery and wildlife. The fresh crisp mountain air and the cold weather are always invigorating.

During my college days, I used to visit home during the holidays. Glorious days of catching up with friends and neighbours, and mom’s yummy food.

The days would fly away in a jiffy, and it was soon time to go back to college and hostel. I would usually take the mid-afternoon bus from our town for a three-hour journey. My Dad would drop me off at the bus terminus. Loaded with snacks and packed food from home, I would bid a cheery bye to my Dad.

The bus had to wind down through the mountains to the plains. And from my window, I would watch the beautiful scenery, the birds, the tiny silver waterfalls, the small brooks that one could sight along the way, the monkeys on the roadside, the blue, blue sky and the valley far below.

There were fourteen hairpin bends that the bus driver had to navigate. Some of these bends would cause our insides to churn. And after the hairpin bends, the bus would almost be three-fourths on its way down from the mountains. And there, in a small village, the bus would stop for ten minutes; for the driver to stretch his legs and for everyone on the bus to have a cup of tea and refresh themselves.

The village was always bustling with activity, with vendors coming to each bus to sell all kinds of chips, wafers, candy, juice and water.

One of the stalls in this village sold the most amazing spicy and crisp tapioca chips ever. The moment the bus stopped, I would leap out and buy two packets. One to be eaten on the bus, and one to be eaten in the hostel at night.

I would get back on the bus and open the packet. The first crunch of tapioca in the mouth …. truly a slice of heaven. Soon the bus would pull out of the parking, and we would start the second phase of our journey.

These Tapioca chips signified a huge transition on each such trip. The cold and fresh mountain air that carried wisps of home, love and fun, was replaced by the air of the plains – humid, warm and bringing with it the chaos and vibrancy of the city.

By the time I had consumed the last chip, the bus was trundling through the flat roads, tall coconut trees swaying merrily in the evening sun on either side. My body language automatically changed from home mode to college mode.

MMS


The sibling justice system is an ancient one, with its own laws and by-laws, defying common, every day logic. It is a system like no other, which morphs itself often to suit sibling convenience.

These laws were in evidence in our home last week, as my kids had had a fight. And as I was to find out, over something so silly that I shook my head in disbelief. So, the silly fight simmered through our rooms, words clashed, apologies were demanded, none were given and multiple eruptions happened that evening.

And then there was an eerie silence, the siblings had descended into a cold war. They looked past each other, ignored each other and stopped talking to each other. My husband and I intervened, but the cold war froze us in our tracks. And as all wise parents know, we adopted the best course of action by letting them be.

Image courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

However, this cold war brought about some unexpected challenges. Both warring factions started referring to the other as ‘You know who’!

Though they did not talk to each other, they constantly sent messages to each other. Enter yours truly – Mom’s Messenger Service – MMS. All through the week, I patiently carried messages between the two warring factions – a neutral messenger, without passing any comment or judgement.

Finally, a couple of days ago, when I got home from the supermarket, I realized that both kids were in the kitchen, chattering as usual and discussing the merits of chocolate and ice-cream.

I smiled. Another sibling fight in history had just ended, till the next time. And as I put away the groceries, I remember all the fights and petty squabbles I had with my sisters over pencils, pens, food, pillows, books and over everything and nothing.

This sibling saga will continue and so will the MMS!

Shades of green


Mask in place, I am off for my evening walk. There’s a lovely breeze that accompanies me. The late evening sun makes the shiny green leaves sparkle, imbuing them with magic.

The colours of the evening sky defy description. I am happy and smile inside my mask; this thought makes me giggle and I mutter to myself about how absurd this is!!

When I am about midway through my walk, I see this tree.

At the tip of each tender branch are young leaves, in a bright and energetic green. Being young, these little green leaves dance merrily in the breeze. They are living life on the edge, swaying and exploring the spaces around them. Little do they know that further up the branch are their senior family members, in a darker green, who are supporting and holding these young leaves together, indulging them, giving them time to savour their youth and to dangle precariously from the tips of each branch. For, the dark green leaves know that the days of youth will fly away in the flap of a bird’s wings.

Further up the tree are the oldest members of this family. Wizened, brown and wise. Their veins are stiff with age, and they gently sway with the breeze, looking down at the ground below, their final destination.

Each member – the young, the middle aged and the seniors are required to keep this family in harmony, and for this timeless cycle to continue.

Down on the ground, some brown old leaves have already crumbled and started merging with the soil, enriching it with their wisdom, and nurturing new life.

The Pink Princess Gown


Many many years ago, when I was in primary school – in grade four – I was selected to play the role of the princess in the play, ‘The Frog Prince’, for our school Annual Day.

Rehearsals were on in full swing, as I memorized my lines and performed multiple times before the mirror, before my grandma and aunt, and in the kitchen, as my mom heard me and corrected my intonation and expressions, while still busy cooking with her back turned to me.

I had to carry a small golden ball for the play, the ball that would fall into the well. My dearest Uncle, my dad’s brother gave me one of his orange table tennis balls, which I then wrapped in gold craft paper.

There was only one item left, and that was my costume. I needed to wear a princess gown, with multiple layers of frills. Even before I got the costume, I imagined myself in it. But then, we ran into a problem. The rental shop did not have one that fit my size, none of the clothes’ shops in town had a suitable gown.

When my mom came from the market after doing the rounds of various shops and told me that she could not find one, I was upset and wondered what would happen.

But my mom, with a twinkle in her eye said, “I have bought the material and I will stitch you a gown for your play.”

At the time, I was happy and went back to my world, content that the gown was sorted. After all her daily chores, my mom took my measurements and proceeded to start cutting and sewing.

I remember clearly that it was late at night when she started. However, because of the heavy monsoon rain and winds, there was a power cut. I remember that my Dad lit a huge candle and sat with my mom, as I dozed off to dreamland.

The next morning, when I jumped out of bed and ran to the room with the sewing machine, the room was littered with bits of cut cloth and thread and lace. But on the handle of the cupboard, on a hanger, was the most beautiful pink princess gown ever. My mother made me try it on and made a few adjustments. I had to take it to school that day for a costume rehearsal.

Image courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

The rehearsal and the final Annual Day play went off very well. I wore that gown on and off when the desire to become a princess overtook me, which was quite often. And as with everything else, the gown slowly faded away into oblivion.

Today, when I think back to that night, I can imagine how much effort my mother would have put in, sewing without power and just by candlelight. I am sure she sewed into the wee hours of the morning. And what to say about my Dad, who was with my Mom supporting her through the night!

My Mom probably does not even remember this, but I still do. At that time, I was just thrilled that I had got the costume, but now I can only see my mother’s deep and selfless love for her child. Love you Amma and Dad. Thank you for that night and for the many millions of things you have done for me.