Dont fix them..

Parenting a teenager has been and still is the my most challenging yet rewarding experience of these sixteen years of being a mom. This time I am taking baby steps, almost like I am the baby and he is the parent. By the time my second one becomes a teenager, I will probably be sitting up. As I’ve said like many others, there is no golden book. You fall, you get up, again stumble, again rise, you get the idea. There is some method to the madness, but each child is different. The most important lesson being, don’t try to fix them.

As parents we think our primary responsibility is to make them the best, in academics, in behavior, in manners, in their career, their family. In this process we take the leader role and the child is the follower. This is the primary mistake. They lead and we follow. The simple logic being, they are teaching you to be the parent, so let them lead. Of course, few essential things need to be taught by example, but by and large they show you the way. This trying-to-fix syndrome does not work with a teenager. Their mindset is that they are almost adults, as much as we are, so they don’t need any fixing. The more you try, the more they get away from you, emotionally and sooner than later, physically.

So as they start thinking that they are almost adults, you need to treat them like one. Make it real. Tell them one thing about your day, everyday. Don’t bring the work home, but bring the people you work with, home. It’s not about you dressing up and leaving in the car and getting back in the evening. There is more to it, and open those doors to them. They want a taste of the real world, this is when they want to race to their twenties, missing the fact that pre-twenties are the best years.

Remember, what your pre-twenties looked like? No phone, if you didn’t live on the same street, you didn’t see your friend till the next day at school. We live in an age and time that by the time they are 15, they have a phone. They are constantly texting their friends, looking up anything on the internet. Their pressure is greater and I know that fomo is real. If they don’t check their phones every now and then, they think there will be a hundred messages that they will miss responding to. If they don’t respond, they are left out. Nobody has time to wait for someone to catch up. Everyone is running, running towards what nobody knows..

Phone is not something you take away from a teenager. It is the new stuffed toy they probably carried around when they were a baby to drive away some fear. That small elephant or teddy bear stuffed toy they hugged to sleep and walked around with, which was their security blanket. Well, as shocking as it is, that 6 inch of radiation causing non-sensical gadget is that teddy bear now. When it’s taken away, it’s like they have lost oxygen. And don’t even get me started on, if you look at the phone, yes, just look, not unlock, not actually read anything. It’s an invasion of privacy. I think when we gen-x were in our teens, we wanted to tell our parents almost everything, but now privacy prevails.

With all this mess and nonsense that the internet feeds into their brains, they need an avenue to vent. I don’t think it is even venting, it is a release of unwanted energy. This is where your follower vs leader trait is put to the test. If you are a follower, they will vent to you. If you are the leader, they don’t want to get anywhere close to you. You need to give them the room to vent. They are almost adults, remember, so they get angry, and they need to release the anger. This the the age when every emotion is distinct. They are figuring it out, so follow their lead.

When you follow their lead, you also need to lead by example. You cannot tell them to spend less time on their phones while you are glued to your phone. You cannot expect them to pick up after them, if you don’t. They will make the bed as much as you do. You don’t realize much when they are young, that they are observing your every move. Well, fast forward ten years and your teenager will show you exactly who you are. This is when you are shocked, feel like you are a miserable parent, like you’ve lost this race, you’ve ruined it, and your first impulse is to fix it, without fixing yourself. A tween will point out hypocrisy before you see it.

A friend of mine posted a beautiful picture of her daughter and said ‘when parenting seems perfect’. The keyword here is ‘seems’. When there is no hypocrisy, when there is no fixing, when you follow, you will get a few moments of when you feel like you’ve won, it ‘seems’ perfect and you give yourself a perfect score. Just then they will flip and wander off to a direction. So you just have to see where they go, take a few steps further and be ready for them. As individuals we grow within ourselves, but as parents we grow in two directions. Individual growth is so different from parental growth. You have to grow as your child grows, gain strength from your individual learnings and be there for them.

And in closing all I have to say is ‘no one got it right’. Everyone aims for perfection, but nobody is. We need to understand that we are not perfect and should not expect it from our children, specially from teenagers. If you have missed the boat on something before they became a teenager, then don’t try to catch the boat and get in, its sailed away. In time, your fella will catch it.

In the middle of nowhere..

Fifteen years ago I start this journey of extreme excitement, where I stepped into the unknown. Nothing could have prepared me for this, not ‘what to expect when you’re expecting’ or any other bible on parenting. I happily receive what my husband gives me, pray for it to plant inside me, and when magically the two parallel lines appear, I am on top of the world, or so I think. Every day after that was a wait for that magic door to open, for me to attain the ultimate purpose of being a woman (really? was I that stupid that I literally thought that the purpose of being born a woman was to bear a child). Anyways, I regale at the tummy grow, jump at every kick, announcing to the whole world, that this tiny being inside me decided to move in the cramped space and in the process pressed against my belly. Everything you can imagine about pregnancy and labour I embraced with open arms and rolled out the red carpet, throwing rose petals all around.

I went through the one, the usual call the whole world, first birthday party. Then the words came, one by one, then sentences, the cute pronunciation and I went oooh and aaah.. the party that has been going on for generations, except that now we have more props. The threes came quickly and I decided I wanted to have another one. So repeat. The reason for this is funny, when I think of it now. My brother was born when I was 5 and I had a friend who has a brother two years older to her. I loved the camaraderie between them, as compared to the little thing in my house who always fought with me for the remote, or chocolate and made sure I got the beating. Those two seemed like two peas of a pod and since that day I had decided (yes, decided at the age of thirteen) that I would have my children two years apart. So I have this second one, happily receive what my husband gave, double purple lines, and all the drama with two.

In a couple of years they started daycare, school, getup in the morning (I HATE IT and there is no two ways about it), pack the lunch, drop, bus, blah blah blah.. Before I realize I am blowing the candles 4 and 0 on my birthday cake. From the one instant of stepping into extreme-excitement zone till I saw 4-0, it has been a loooooooooooong fifteen years. When I think of the future, it seems like it went by so fast, but when I look at the past, Oh my God!! it took so long. It ate up a good fifteen years of my life. Now what? That is the reason for this write up.

As physically straining as it has been, as I look back, it’s been such an emotional and mentally stressful journey. My brother has a wall full of our childhood pictures (yes the same one who fought all the time with me to hold the remote). My fourteen-soon-will-be-fifteen fella tells me the other night, “Amma, you look the same now, from when you were a child…”. He pauses for a moment and continues.. “except that you looked happier then, now you are grumpy all the time…”. WOW!!! I thought… Before I entered this extreme-fun-thrill-ride as they claim it to be, I had to think only about myself. My happiness depended solely on me and the people I wanted to be with. I wanted to see my parents, I’d take the next bus and go home. I wanted to hang out with my friends, I’d plan something and do it. There were no strings attached anywhere. People who know me from that time, will remember me as a carefree person who did what she liked, all the time. So why am I grumpy now, what changed. The belief that my happiness depends solely on me has receded into the background. I have to think for these two two-year-apart fellas and every moment of mine rides on what they are upto or their needs or something about them, before that thought travels to me. I am not a control freak, I pretty much let them do what they want to do, yet, I cannot stop myself from thinking. I know this is the most common motherhood phenomenon that every mother goes through. But I have reached a stage where I want to regain the strength of my happiness from within me.

Some of you may say, this is mid-life crisis, but I don’t think so. This is motherhood crisis and only a mother will go through this. This is probably when she really releases the child from the placenta and regains her womb to herself. Maybe this is when she starts to feel like herself again and think of her and her children at the same level, versus the children on top, she below that she has been used to since they were born.

As I was telling a friend (who is running behind her two year old), the other day, that I would swap places and do the two year old again and again instead of dealing with the teens. The reason being, when the children are in their teens, that is when you start seeing the results of all the years, your sweat, your every emotion since the day you conceived them. I know everyone can’t be perfect, but when you see some basics missing, you think, what the f*** have I been doing? But you didn’t have a textbook either, you did not come into the world with a degree in parenting. Then this whole easily-blameable destiny / karma.. That is his/her karma. So now you see the am-i-to-blame AND may-be-its-not-my-fault jugalbandi playing in my head. Then my son gives me the second gyaan. We were seated at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway to watch ‘Phantom of the Opera’. I had no idea how this place looks and based on some reviews and guesses bought mezzanine seat tickets. When I sat there and looked around, I thought maybe the orchestra seats were better. My fella understood my predicament and said “Amma, stop thinking you failed..” WOW-WOW-WOW!!! Again.

So that’s where I am. In the middle of nowhere. Wanting to be worried about nothing, but absolutely worried about everything. Killing my inner happiness over ‘nothing?” The strangest thing in this world is the mind. Extremely powerful, yet so brilliantly stupid! When it is so simple to keep things simple, it convolutes and plots to make everything complicated, chaining you down, making you feel inadequate, when there is no need to feel that way in the first place.

Still searching… !

The best lesson…

My mom has taught me a lot of things… like every other mother does. Some she was vocal about and some by example.

1. When her mother was not well, she was there to care for her no matter what. Her selfless love towards her mother was a perfect example of how children should care for their parents in their old age. In this she taught me to be there for your parents.

2. She fought with the institution to ensure my brother got admission to Bishop Cottons. She urged the principal to reduce the admission fee, borrowed money to pay it and ensured my brother was enrolled to the school. He was 6, I was 11. She vocally taught me that it was important to be fair to your children and give them equal opportunities. What they make of it is beyond her control but as a parent it was her responsibility to be fair.

3. Every night we ate together, my father, her, brother, uncle and I. At that time it was just the norm for me. She cooked, I helped, we sat down on the floor, spoke about school or current affairs or anything and ate the meal. Now when I have a family I realize the importance of that simple act. At the end of the day the family comes together and shares their day or thoughts or whatever, but essentially what builds there is a bridge of communication. Everyone talks to everyone in the family.

4. She taught me the value of money. She told me the income and expenses and how to make ends meet. I was 12. I saw her struggle quietly at various things we never had. Money is essential, but not everything. She always said, a path will carve itself out, some door will open and a door always opened.

5. The relationships you make whether blood or not are to be kept. Blood does not make anything thicker. Having people around, you can turn to was the important thing. She respected every person who she came across, whether young or old. It was of utmost importance to treat everyone with respect.

But of all that she taught me the one I value the most is what she taught me silently when she passed, that I have no control over anything except myself. That lesson walked into my life when I most needed it. I cried after she went about the what-if possibilities, when my dad told me, that it was her time to go, and there is no point in any what-ifs.

The only thing I can control is my part of the relationship with another person, my reaction to a situation or to what another person says to me, my thoughts about a situation, my words that I choose to utter, my emotions. Everything else is not mine to claim or change. This simple but powerful truth has changed my life. And she is my teacher.

I love you Ma, Happy Mother’s Day!!

I am a… Part 2

Okay, my previous post led quite a few readers to reach out to me and express their happiness of how well they identified and could relate to my situation. Thank you. That inspired me to delve one step further and clarify in my head what prayer means.

I think prayers are of two kinds, the standard one and the custom one. Let me explain. A standard prayer is printed somewhere or is carried forward from generation to generation, like the Lord’s prayer or Naamam as per Hindu traditions. The custom prayer of your personal outcry where the language is yours, words are yours, style and mood is what you define, an original piece of art. As a child I was never taught a standard prayer at home. I was that kid who came from Bangalore to central Kerala every summer with a suitcase and frocks in a taxi ambassador or Jeep. Cousins would gather to see what was in the suitcase, what frocks I had, and to hear about the magic of a distant land called Bangalore. Bangalore was the US of the 80s for most Keralites and I was privileged. So during one of those summer trips I found my aunt telling my cousins as the sun set to wash their hands and feet, light the lamp and pray. I followed them because as cousins you just copy each other. In my borrowed pavada-blouse (long skirt-blouse) I sat down with them. They started chanting the “Naamam” which is a prayer in praise of the Hindu Gods. I had no clue that something like this existed. I was surprised why my mother didn’t teach me these things. I just enjoyed the routine with my cousins, happy to wear the borrowed pavada-blouse and feel like a real Malayali.

My custom prayers almost always happened before the exam. My father told me to think of his deceased parents for blessings and write the exam, in the hope (he was sure) that they would help solve that crappy chemical equation or the long math theorem. Anyways I diligently obeyed prayed to them and aced my exams.

As I became more aware of the world, yonder world, souls, God, or to put it simply, as I increased my Spiritual knowledge, the magical Destiny kicked in. I started to believe that everything was destiny. If there was a supreme power that defined destiny, maybe. Until I read about and attended Dr Brian Weiss’s session. It was all about the soul. I still believe is Destiny but the soul and destiny define almost everything there is to life. So then going back to my original question, what is prayer? Are you really talking to God or the creator or the supreme?

No.

You are talking to yourself. To your inner conscience. When I “pray” asking for strength there is no magic happening where an ounce or pound of strength is invisibly pumped into you. I am telling my inner conscience to become stronger. Before all those exams I wrote, when I prayed to get good marks, nobody changed my answers on the answer sheet to make a 70, 95. What I had learnt and wrote got me the 95. Let’s take this example, you are going through a rough phase. You pray for help, strength, happiness whatever. 9 out of 10 times (unless your destiny is totally crappy) in a few hours or days or months the rough phase will pass. And you think, God made this happen, He turned things around. But really, did He? Look at it from the opposite side, good things were in store, so before that there was a low, that is how destiny plays out. Everyone can’t have good times all the time and everyone can’t have bad times all the time. So, did prayer do the magic?

So then why pray?

It is to create a layer above you. Otherwise we would simply drown in our ego. The layer you are creating above you is your conscience. It is your conscience that you should uphold at all times, irrespective of what you do. From times unknown or from religions created around the world, this layer has been called God. So we pray to God.

This is where the whole concept of custom prayer sky rockets way above my head. How can there even be a custom prayer? And that too loudly recited? Whose inner conscience are you reaching out to, your neighbors? Because the emphasis is not (most often) on feeling or meaning each word but play catch up. If you are slow you skip words to make the chorus sound right. It is funny and sad. People’s belief in custom prayers has blinded them from their inner conscience, is my personal take.

I am not an atheist. Atheist is one who does not believe in God. Do they believe in their inner conscience, maybe not is what I can guess. I am not sure. The only staunch atheist I know is my brother. Yes isn’t it a paradox that my father a staunch Brahmin and his son just the opposite.. 🙂. Having said everything I said above, I am starting to think that I am in between.. I believe in my inner conscience and I call that conscience God.

I want to teach my children to pray, so they believe in their inner conscience and can reach within for answers. That is what is important is my deduction based off what I wrote and read and spoke over the last few days. Not religion.. not practices.. what they decide to call this inner conscience and the practices they decide to adopt is upto them.

I am a…

Growing up I was told we were Hindus. My father born in a Brahmin (priestly) family staked claim of how superior we were. My mother kept it neutral, her father was a Namboothiri (priestly) and mother a Nair (not priestly). None of this deterred them from sending me to Bishop Cottons a Christian School. Here I recited the “Our Father in heaven”, every working day for ten years of my life. Teachers read from the Bible, we learnt the hymns and it was all Christian. Irrespective of the faith your family followed, every student followed the same Christian rules.

My family’s Hindu-ness was limited to the corner of the kitchen adorned with photos of Hindu Gods, a lamp was lit everyday and the yearly trip to Guruvayoor (a Hindu temple). There was absolutely no other show of religion in any manner. So I grew up amidst the Hindu believers at home and Christian believers at school which I think just neutralized the whole concept of religion in my mind. Was I divided? I don’t think so, it didn’t matter much. I prayed before an exam, before I got my marks, or to win a competition. That summed up religion for me.

Muslims were a different category altogether. My father has been blessed (pun intended) with the skills to identify a Hindu from a Christian from a Muslim and immediately tag them with certain behavior. I am glad that my mother kept me grounded and taught me to respect the person first before their religion. So wading between these beliefs and catching up on Ramayana, Mahabharatha, Bible on the television shows aired on Doordarshan, I grew up.

Fast forward a few years and I ended up marrying a Christian. Nothing was new to me because I had said the Lord’s prayer for ten years of my life. I was baptized in order to get married in a church. At that point love was blind and bigger than religion so I said, why not? So I crossed the bridge and tried to adapt to new ways and all of those religious accessories that come with the conversion. A few years along I wake up from the dream, the love is there but not blind like the dating days and I tell my husband that I am going to cross the bridge back. To my good luck his belief in religion was also on an as needed basis. So he let me choose what I wished to follow all along. Although some of the extended family had strong beliefs, we sailed past those with some manouvering.

Now I am the mother of two teenage boys and the last thing I want to teach them is religion. They know in theory what these religions and their beliefs are, but then, what’s the point? This world is heading to a place where religion has taken precedence over humanity, so I ask myself, shouldn’t I be teaching them humanity? Based on how independently teenagers think, I don’t think ten years down the line, religion will be upheld the way it is today. Everywhere you hear news about sexual abuse in the churches, which I see the”informed” generation rejecting. There is a ton of gold and money donated to Hindu temples and I wonder why? Shouldn’t that be used instead to feed hungry children, give them an education? Why does this world need any more temples or churches or mosques or other centers of worship when one cannot uplift and uphold the human within?

I am not against religion, but dead against the belief of religion that divides people. By the law of nature there are only two categories of humans, the XX chromosome and XY chromosome combination. Every other divide whether it’s based on religion, color, race are created by some person. I am tending towards believing that the only religion that should exist is humanity. Abolish every other religion, practice and belief. Every XX respects XY and vice versa, that’s all that needs to exist to make this a better place. I know this is wishful thinking and the world and it’s people are so segregated that all they can think of is either themselves or their small community.

Is it too late to look at the larger picture?

The fellow..

I have written about various people in my life but I don’t think I have ever written about my sibling, my brother younger to me by five years but looks and thinks otherwise. The story of his birth is one of my favorites. When I joined Nursery at Bishop Cotton’s I am supposed to have come home and complained to my parents that every one has a brother or sister except me. And so the stork carried this light skinned baby boy to our house who was the apple of everyone’s eye.

Fast forward few years and like almost every first born I felt my parents were partial to him. The feeling of why I don’t have a brother changed to why do I have a brother, pretty quickly. So amidst favoritism we grew up fighting for the remote, grabbing things, hitting each other, annoying each other, the usual sibling stories. Like most families it was I who took the blame. He was the younger one and I being the older one was supposed to adjust. Our mother had no two rules about who got the beating irrespective of who started the quarrel. She gave it to us equally, like she was watching a tennis match, one here, one there, repeat, with a red plastic spatula.

He didn’t want to compete with anyone in his class at academics, all he wanted was to beat my grades, which he did most times. He developed a passion for basketball just to grow taller than the rest of us at home, we are a short family otherwise.

Although we fought quite a bit my feelings for him took a complete u-turn when my son was born (my older son looks like him by the way). He felt more like a son than my brother. It’s a strange feeling and I mix up their names even. One of my personal achievements that I feel fortunate about is that I was able to support him at various stages to better opportunities. And to me that checks off a major portion of my responsibility of the relationship. At the end of the day your sibling is your pillar of support whose foundation runs deep. There could be a few cracks but those heal magically, your parents already put in pixie dust in the cement.

He is going to rofl reading this, shower me with choicest words, making mincemeat of my emotions, like he always does, I know this. My father too is probably going to read this say brother-sister too much love, wonder when you’ll start fighting.. But the bottom line is that I love him and it’s an amazing blessing from the angels above that we now live a mile apart. The last time we lived under one roof was twenty years ago. Blessed, blessed, blessed!!