Second mothers

My mother was one of nine siblings. As a child, I watched her maternal home in a tiny village in South India,  play host to many, including me. Though the permanent residents were only my grand mother and my youngest uncle, the house was always full of floating population. Cousins posted nearby who used the house as base during week days, daughters who dropped in for short visits, sons and grandsons stopping by on their way to somewhere… and my own mother who used to shuttle between her government job in her hometown and Chennai till she got the much-awaited transfer.

So my brother and I used to stay there for months on end sometimes. Till my mother finally got her transfer when I was about 10.

During my stays, I spent a lot of time with a cousin. Though she’s technically my cousin, she’s only a few years younger than my mom, so she was more like an aunt. She has a bubbly personality, her kohl-rimmed eyes sparkling with mirth all the time. Being a school teacher, she was on to my tricks even before my own mother realised what I was up to. She was my hero. Thanks to her influence early on, I still cannot step out of home without drawing kohl in my eyes.

Once we settled down in Chennai, our meetings were reduced to occasional weddings. She too got married and was soon busy with the throes of raising her children while holding on to a full time job.

After a few more years even I stopped going for weddings due to the pressures of  academia and later, a career. I met her sporadically, may be once in 2 or 3 years.

I met her after a long gap of 8 years at a wedding, a few days ago. And the years just fell away. Except for the fact that she is a grand mother now and looks so frail and old, thanks to her illness, her eyes hold the same sparkle even now. We chatted away as much as we could and reminisced about my childhood and her youth.

Soon, it was time to go & I bid her good bye with a sudden lump in my throat.

On my way home I wondered, ‘Will my son ever have bonds like these?’

As a kid, I had so many mother figures in my life. My grandmothers, aunts, older cousins or sometimes even neighbours. I’ve spent days with and weeks with these women, stayed in their homes, eaten their food, confided in them and worried them to no end with my antics.

Of course, mostly it was because my own mother was so busy working full time & keeping house, she hardly had the luxury of a leisurely chat with me. Though my mother was a rock solid influence in shaping my health, conscience and general happiness, my emotional growth was pretty much dependant on these women who always lent a ear to my make-up queries and troubled teenage woes.

But apart from me and my mother-in-law, my son absolutely has no one else as a mother figure in his life.

True, he has his aunts and my best friends. But he sees them all with me around and only for short periods of time. He can never be close enough to go to them with his problems.

On the other hand, unlike my mother, I’m always around, ready to comfort him and offer him advice 24/7.

So I consoled myself that he does not really have the need for that kind of bonds in his life.

But after nine long years of my mother’s passing, it sure felt nice to look up to someone who cared for you as a child, feel safe and protected and not be the adult for once.

 

 

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Mum’s the word!

I was driving home a few weeks ago, with my 8 year old son in the back seat, busy playing a game in my phone. He has no interest whatsoever in looking out of the window, at the urban madness all around.

At his age, I used to be familiar with most of the frequent routes we took in and around the place we lived. Now, if I ask him to name the place we’re passing by, all I get is a wild guess in reply.

Anyway, this post is not about my son’s lack of geographical knowledge. But more about the conversation we had in the car.

As I was saying, we were driving around & after a bit my son asked me, “Amma.. what does f**k mean?”

I almost screeched the car to a stop with shock.

“What?” I sputtered.

He was as cool as ever. “You know? the F word?” He replied.

Totally caught unawares, I struggled for a perfect way to handle it. But I couldn’t. So I just blabbered on, albeit nervously.

“It is a very, very bad word”. I informed him. “And children should never, ever use it. If you do, ghosts will appear out of nowhere. When I was a kid, a boy I knew used it and he got worms growing in his mouth”.

I paused for effect.

“Ok Amma, I’ll never use it, but can you please tell me the meaning?” he persisted.

“No, I will not”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re too young to use that word”

Silence for a bit. He seemed to be mulling over what I’d said.

“Just so you know, ghosts do not exist.” he announced a little later. “And people cannot get worms in their mouths by talking. I think you’re a liar Amma. And very mean too.”

I was still struggling to say something mature and insightful when he dismissed me by going back to his game.

God! I had expected this question perhaps when he’s ten or older. How do I tackle this?

Later that day, when he bugged me for the meaning again, I sternly told him using such words only showed his upbringing and people would blame his mother for not teaching the right values. (Nothing works like the good old emotional blackmail!)

He seemed to buy it & did not pursue it any further, but still made me miserable by bringing up some vague facts about the F word, especially when we had company.

Just when I thought he’s gotten over that fixation, he came over to me one evening and announced, “Amma! the S word is not a bad word. It only means one is a boy or a girl.”

“Oh.. what S word?” I asked.

“You know? the S word? Sucksy?”

“Ok” I nodded wisely but was bubbling with mirth inside.

Here is a kid who has grown up solely on Cartoon Network & POGO.

I have never taken him to a movie with me till he was about 6 unless it is a kids’ movie. I’ve never watched any of my favourite shows with him.

He goes to a school where there are hardly 25 kids with him and most of them are raised similarly. From where does he get exposure to bad words, I wonder.

I remember being horrified long ago ,when two five year olds in the family were caught discussing which one is better – love marriage or arranged marriage. The elders were totally blamed for watching Sun TV in front of them and exposing small kids to such rubbish.

Back then I’d sworn I’ll never do that to my kid. But these things just creep in unawares I guess.

Once my son walked in on me watching Two and a half men. And just that time the jokes were all centered around Alan’s bathroom habits and he burst out laughing & settled down to watch it.

I paused the program.

“Why??” he whined.

“I told you, these are not meant for you. Please go back to whatever you were doing.”

“How come you get to watch cool stuff?”

“Fine. I don’t now” I switched off the TV.

“I hate being a kid! I never get to watch cool things, do anything nice. My life is not fun, Amma!”

By now I knew enough not to argue about how uncool my own life was when I was his age, so I maintained a dignified silence while he raved and ranted.

I gently suggested a board game & all was forgiven.

When I shared this with a friend with much older kids, she laughed. “This is nothing,” she said. “Wait till he gets a bit older.”

Did you know there’s this stage of pre-teens called Tweens?

Thanks to all the exposure,  children are losing their innocence too soon. They learn too much, too fast, too soon.

I guess it’s up to us parents & teachers to take it in our stride and learn to nudge them towards the right path as we go along.

On the brighter side, I can always depend upon my son to download a much-needed app in my phone!

Love is in the air!

My son fell in love with this girl in kindergarten. He was all of four and made elaborate plans for his wedding. (You can read more on that here)

Then he changed schools and fell in love all over again with another girl. But of late he’s been very reluctant to talk to me about her. He changes topic swiftly or goes into silent mode when I ask him about her.

He is eight now and all his friends have started hating girls. So he’s under a lot of peer pressure to follow suit. Now he has started saying things lik, “oh, that’s so girly!” or “Yuk! Girls!”

Last week, I was just getting into the car when the phone rang. It was for my son. He hadn’t gone to school that day, since he had not been well. But miraculously he was well enough to tag along with me to the mall in the evening.

“Hi G!” He greeted his best friend enthusiastically. Since I had a driver that day, I had no option but to lean back in the seat and listen in. I didn’t really mean to eavesdrop, but he was so loud and kept repeating what his friend said word by word that I had no choice!

Here’s an excerpt:

“I was not well in the morning, dude!”

(Once I tried calling him that. He gave me a dark look and said, “Amma, it’s ‘dood’ not ‘dude’ ok? a la Ra-One style.)

“What? You want to go into the bedroom, lock the door & tell me something? why?”

“Oh! You want to tell me a secret!”

“Yes, I can hear you”

“WHAT? YOU HIT ‘A’ ACROSS HER EYE? BUY WHY?” He practically screamed into my ear.

“Shhhh. ” I tried to silence him. For heaven’s sake that poor boy was telling him a secret!

He looked at me a bit apologetically.

“She said what?? SHE SAID SHE’S IN LOVE WITH YOU?!!”

“GOD!!!!” He broke into giggles.

“Teacher gave you detention for hitting a girl? But you didn’t have to hit her, dood. That too on her eye!”

“What? SHE SAID SHE WANTS TO MARRY YOU!!!!! HAHAHAHAHA!!!!”

I gave him a dark look. He just ignored me & turned towards the window. After a few more digs at his friend, he said, “You know, my life is so nice. No girls, no detentions. Only a few best friends and a lot of happiness!”

“What? You don’t want to talk about it anymore? Okay, let’s talk about something else.”

“Do you still think there’s a ghost in your house? Oh, I hear noises too dood. But they disappear when I switch on the light.”

“But tell me. what are you going to say to A when you meet her tomorrow?”

“Hmmm… Yes, you’ll have to see her in language class. And games…”

“Oh ok. Let’s not talk about her anymore.”

“You had a nightmare?”

“Scary!”

“Yeah, I had one like that when I was 6.” He went to on to explain a nightmare where a witch tried to stab him. ‘Funny.’ I thought to myself. I’ve never heard about that till now.

“And guess what? Once I had a horrible nightmare. I can’t even tell you about.”

“I had a nightmare that a girl kissed me!!!! Eeeekkks!!!!”

“A GIRL!”

“SHE KISSED ME!!!!!”

“A GIRL KISSED ME!!!!!!!”

He repeated it in a shrill voice “SHE KISSED ME!!”

By now I was thoroughly embarrassed. Not only did I see the driver’s shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter, but also curious looks from people in other cars around us.

“That’s enough!” I hissed.

“oh, ok”

“Hey dood! I’ve reached the mall da. Will see you tomorrow at school. Ya, Don’t worry. We’ll think of ways to avenge what A did to you. Bye!”

“Amma. here you go!”

He handed the phone back to me.

Despite his claims that he’s officially in the girl-hating phase of his life, my son still gets a little starry eyed when he talks about this girl whom he was hell bent on marrying the whole of last year.

But I’m not supposed to acknowledge that. Nuggets of precious information will be told in the passing with no room for me to comment or follow up.

“I sat next to S in Maths class.” he’d say in a small voice. And quickly follow it up with, “G pushed me today and I got hurt” much louder, so by the time I get a full account of his fall and subsequent hurt, I’d have forgotten all about the girl.

When I’m waiting at the school gate to pick him up, I can easily tell if she’s in front of him or behind him. When he drags his feet, stops to examine a leaf or a twig, I know she’s walking behind him with her friends. When he’s all bright-eyed and hops towards me all ready to leave, I know she’s way ahead of him, already clutching her mother’s hand, walking towards the gate.

Once I was n the phone with my friend. She heard my son trying to tell me something and said, “Tell him I’m missing him. And I love him”.

I dutifully repeated it.

He gagged. “Yuk!!!! I hate that word! It makes me vomit!”

“Which word?”

“The one you just said.” His face contorted in disgust.

“Love. Yikes!” He ran away.

Now I’m waiting for him to get over this phase and come a full circle of liking girls again. But something tells me as a teenager, he’ll not really confide in me the way he does now.

So the sole purpose of this post is to make him read it when he’s that age and watch him squirm!

Beyblade for dummies

If you have a boy from age 6 to 10, or at least live around one, you’d have surely heard the earth-shattering, “3… 2.. 1… Let it ripppppp!!!!”.

But there are lot of people out there who have no clue about Beyblade Metal Fusion. Since I’ve been exposed to passive beyblade fever which has gripped my household for the past year, I thought I’ll throw some light on the subject.

For starters, Beyblade is a metal spinning top.

Before you say, “Ah, our good old bambaram!”, let me assure you its a bit more complicated than that.  Its made of  5 removable & inter-changeable parts : face bolt, energy ring, fusion wheel, spin track & performance tip.

Plus, it has a story. Or an epic drama. Which airs in Cartoon Network everyday.

Of course, the hero is not a beyblade. It is Gingka Hagane, a boy who owns a blueish bey, which has the spirit of Pegasus, a white, flying horse. He wanders from town to town looking for formidable bladers like him with whom he can battle.

He has a group of loyal friends who each own a bey with different spirits.

In a battle, the fighters do nothing but, rip their respective blades in a stadium, stand around & cheer for the spirits which emanates from the beys. I was quite disappointed, actually! After all the war-cries, tight close-ups of faces contorted with rage, is this all you can manage???

They also have a common enemy, who runs the Dark Nebula organization. He constantly sips orang juice & has a lightning streak in his hair.

So, there you have it. A hero, a villain & hundreds of battles everyday to establish each other’s supremacy.

This keeps most of the boys I know glued to the TV at nights. And during the day, they play non-stop with their beybaldes, screaming ‘Let it ripppp!’ the battle cry of every bey battle.

When they’re not doing both, they watch endless episodes on youtube or look at all the merchandise available online and drive their parents up the wall with their demands!

The shops are all so cunning too. The shelves are all relatively empty most of the time. I’ve spend hours driving my son from one store to another in search of the elusive Beyblades only to find out there’s no stock.

Then suddenly their shelves are full. For exactly 10 minutes.

Because, sometimes I go back in an hour to get some forgotten bit & there are hardly any Beys left!

Once, a friend swore me to secrecy and tipped off about a dealer in Parrys Corner who has all the Beyblades and will sell you the entire set for about 2000/- ! This was just before christmas & thanks to all the TV he watches, my son had written an elaborate list to Santa which featured only beyblades & their accessories.

Thrilled, I called the dealer. Of course he had the entire set. If you can wait a few days more, he could even supply a stadium!

Wow! I was impressed. Another great friend whose office was round the corner to the dealer, offered to pick up the loot for me!

I was so proud of myself, when I drove out of my friend’s place later that night with a set of 12 beyblades stacked in the boot of my car!

I waited endlessly before my son fell asleep, before I could open the huge package. But these blades did look different. They were more elaborate than the ones he had. Suddenly nagged by a little voice which warned me of a huge scene that may break out if I leave these under the tree, I quickly hid these deep in my cupboard & ventured out to buy something else the next day.

And a few days later, after my son got over his disappointment of not getting anything from his list to Santa, I slowly told him that my friend had actually got him a set of beyblades.

He leaped from the sofa and wouldn’t stop screaming till he got the loot.

A few seconds of stunned silence followed after he opened the bag.

“But Amma”, he said in a small voice, “these are fake Beys! See! Its all written in Chinese! These don’t come on TV! Tell uncle X that the shop keeper has cheated him!” He nodded wisely.

“And also tell him Beyblades are not a set of 12! I think there are about 30 beys, totally.”

Well, thank god for that little voice, I thought with a sigh.

A few days later the friend called me. “Hey! How did he like the loot?”

“Hmmmm, yeah, he loved it!” I lied, not having the heart to repeat what my son had said about him getting cheated.

“So what about the maidan?” He asked.

“What maidan?” I furiously tried to think if I ‘d promised to go along for a sporting event.

“Hey, that thingy, da. The maidan for beyblade” he persisted. “My wife says that was on your son’s list too. Do you want me to pick it up for him?”

“Oh, you mean the stadium!” I laughed. “Umm. nope! I’ve already got it..” I lied again.

But all this was ages ago. Now that Funskool India has got into the act, every shop is fully stocked with all the Beys you can think of. They even have all the accessories like the stadium, shoot launcher, grip launcher, srting launcher and the works.

But you know what?

Ever since they’re available all over town, my son is slowly losing interest in Beyblades. He’s more into Dragon Ball Z, and has started collecting those toys zealously.

What’s Dragon Ball Z?  Oh well, that’s another story altogether!

Wedding Plans 2029

I’d taken my son for lunch with a friend. The restaurant had a gift shop attached and we were browsing. He picked up a roll of giftwrapping sheet and started having an imaginary sword fight. “Amma!” he demanded. “I want this!”

“It’s not a sword.” I informed him. “It’s a paper to wrap a gift.”

“So what? Maybe I want a gift!”

“Look at the pink bow! It’s paper you wrap when you gift a girl! Not you!”

“Maybe I’ll gift something to A” He told me. She was his classmate in kindergarten.

After some hearty crying on his side, I relented and got it for him.

When my friend met us at the restaurant, she asked him, “What’s that, baby?” pointing to the roll of paper.

Without batting an eyelid he replied, “Oh, this is for a gift I’m going to give my girlfriend.”

I almost fell off.

Later I convinced myself that he could have just meant a girl who’s a friend. He was way too young to talk about romance.

*********

Almost a year later I picked him up from a play-date at his friend S’s house. A had come too.

Back home,  I heard him in the shower. He was having an imaginary fight with his friend.

“S!!! I am going to marry A when we grow up! Not you!”

Startled, I listened to a heated exchange between him and the imaginary S in the bathroom.

When he came out, I casually asked him, “What was that about marrying A?”

I am going to marry her Amma!” He announced. “Not S! I  told him that!”

Not knowing how to react, I quickly changed the topic.

Next day, S was home for a play date.

Sure enough I heard them arguing. I went into the room to hear both of them shouting “Not You! She likes me better! I shall marry her!”

Amused, I butted in. “Why don’t you ask her instead of wasting your time fighting with each other?”

“We did!” replied S. “She said she didn’t know! So I asked her if she can marry both of us. She laughed and said, ‘Chee! how can I have 2 husbands?’ So now we’re fighting again!”

I kept a very straight face and made my exit.

Later in the evening, I had a talk with my son. “You’re too young to talk about marriage!” I told him.

“You’re only 5. I don’t want you discussing your wedding till you’re 25, alright?” I told him briskly.

“Okay,” He said, not too happily.

Next evening, he came up to me and asked, “So I can get married anyday after I am 25?”

I quickly thought of an escape route.

“Not really. There are so many procedures involved.” I started  rattling on, so I can put him off the ‘wedding’.

“You need to find a good day. Then book a hall. Look at the menu. Decide on the food. Then print invites. Go around inviting each and every guest.  Buy new clothes for people. Exchange them if they don’t like it…  It’s a long process.”

He mulled about it for a long time.

Then turned to me and said, ” So you’ll take care of all that, won’t you?’

So people, if you know of any wedding hall free in 2029, do let me know…