Monday, June 27, 2016

House Rules for teens

Ah okay, time I faced things as they are. I am a lousy mother. A serious parenting #fail. I never seem to have the house in order and my daughters spend most of their lives stuck behind a screen deaf (and blind) to my attempts at discipline. Sometimes, when for the hundredth time, I enter their room and ask them to shut the drawer, they stare at me like I have fallen from the sky. They have no idea it is meant to be shut. Obviously I have not been able to teach them anything!
I also believe it's never too late to start making amends. So, instead of beating myself up about my inability to discipline them, I have, as of today, developed a set of "House Rules" which will be prominently displayed in the girl's room so that they (and their friends) know the rules and cannot claim ignorance!  Wonder why I didn’t think of this before!
So here goes, this is what they have been given: (I'll let you know if it worked, as of now as I write this one girl is howling with laughter in the next room, she has no idea how dead serious I am!!)


(My house, my rules. If you don't like them, find another place to stay)

1.      You have been given a room to live in. However that does not give you a right to convert it into a pig sty. Your parents will have right of entry into the room at any point of time and expect it to be kept clean. If the door is locked, you shall open the door as soon as a parent knocks. If the door is locked and a parent can hear you screaming, the parent has a right to break it open.
2.      The cupboards all have doors that close. Let's keep them that way. Shoes found outside the shoe cupboard can and may disappear and may not reappear in time for the next party or ever. 
3.      Books habitually do not jump in and out of shelves. Any book taken out of any shelf can and must be returned to its place when you are done with it. The same rule applies for DVDs, scissors, cello tape, nail-cutting equipment and the stapler, especially the kitchen scissors. 
4.      The washing machine will be turned on every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and occasionally on Sundays. Your mother will not touch wet stinky clothes that have been sweating in the bucket and you are responsible for washing the same and hanging it out to dry. It will continue to lie in the bucket and raise a stink till the needful is done by who-ever that stink belongs to.
5.      Meal times are known to everyone and are to be adhered to. Snacks are not a matter of right. Your parents are under no obligation to ensure that kebabs, bacon, sausages and chicken nuggets are permanently displayed in the freezer so you can eat them. Kindly ask for permission before gorging on such items.
6.      The refrigerator has a function and that is to preserve food. You do not open the door and stand there till icicles grow out of your nose. Nor do you eat all the ice in the freezer section. Cheese and chocolates are not bread or rice and do not form part of our staple diet, do not devour it as though it is.
7.      You ought to be old enough to know what purpose the bathrooms are used for. Kindly desist from taking your speakers and listening to music for two hours while you shower. Water is precious. So are the shampoos, conditioners and body washes that flow with it when you are bathing. When you exit the bathroom please ensure that it is dry, the toothpaste has been put away and all your odds and ends removed. Remember wet towels do not fly and hang themselves to dry, kindly do the needful to ensure that the damp towel gets some air.
8.      The iron is not a toy. As and when you feel the need to use the same kindly ensure that the appliance is switched off when you are done and do not keep a hot iron face down on the ironing board. There is a reason why the ironing board has a burnt chunk and you know what it is.
9.      Any items of yours (read shoes, slippers, bags, books, accessories) of any nature whatsoever must not be found in any room other than your own. If it is, you will be summoned to remove the same with immediate effect and no one cares that you are tired or sleeping. Whining will not help either.
10.  The television is for entertainment and the characters in your serials are not real. I do not care that you have to cry each time you seen that re-run of that serial just because the hot guy died. If it makes you cry, stop watching it. If it scares you, shut off the TV. Go read a book. Any use of this device should be limited but as I know you sneak in shows with meal times and have it on whenever I am not home, let me advise you on its use. You do not turn the cushion of the divan into a flat pastry by sitting on it. You do not eat on the sofa and wipe dirty hands on the upholstery. When TV viewing is over, especially when you have hear the car come in, kindly switch off the TV, the set–top box, the electric switch and the fan. Most importantly please remove personal effects like slippers and hairclips and brushes from the vicinity. Leaving them lying there will let people know you are watching TV when you have been pretending that you haven’t.
11.  The telephone has not been subscribed to with you in mind and it is not your birth-right. Please bear in mind that until you are old enough to earn and pay the bills, we are not under any obligation to ensure you get to chat with your friends. You have your own pre-paid cell-phones for a purpose, kindly use them. Top up is once a month and you know how much you will get.  Kindly be on notice that once the dying cordless phone's battery dies completely, we are under no obligation to get a new one. So it is in your interest to ensure that it stays in the cradle and does not walk around the house.
12.  Similarly, electricity bills are paid by us. Kindly desist from wasting the same by turning on every light and fan in every room you walk into and not turning it off when you leave. You talk about saving energy and the environment and conservation of natural resources; let's start by turning off all the unused devices in the house.
13.  The Wi-Fi is not supposed to be on for every minute that you are awake or asleep. To switch it on, kindly take express permission of either parent. You will specify the purpose for the same and used it for a limited period of time as granted permission for. Remember when you say you have to do research and spend all your time on FaceBook, Instagram and SnapChat, the Wi-Fi may be turned off without any warning.
14.  The maid is not here to make your life comfortable. You do not holler for a glass of water when you can jolly well help yourself. She does not have to fry you snacks or make you Maggi at the drop of a hat. Housework will not kill you and you do not become a servant if you help in household chores even when the maid is there. So make your own bed, dust your room, clean the dressing table and the study table. Believe me, you will feel better for it.
15.  You have only one job to do and you know what it is. You have to stand on your own feet. And be happy. Towards that end, your parents are doing everything possible to ensure you have a balanced, healthy life. All your indulgences, extra-curricular activities, socializing with friends, TV benefits, Wi-Fi use etc are designed for that purpose only. Obey the rules and your parents will also be happy. And do fit in your studies. You have a responsibility there and it is all yours as only you know exactly what you have to do: it is the only way to ensure a stress-free neighborhood.

Thank you for your attention. These rules are not absolute and may be amended, altered or added to by either parent at any point of time.
Therefore, all questions, comments, concerns, complaints, frustrations, tantrums, imitations, aggravations, insinuations, allegations, accusations, consternation and suggestions should be directed elsewhere.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Shooting from the heart.

Last month saw my husband and I vacationing in Goa with only the older daughter in tow. The other one took off for a IAYP camping and trekking trip in Himachal Pradesh.
We knew about the trip for a while. My younger daughter, who is 16, was over the moon with joy at the thought that she would spend ten days with only her friends for company. Yes, there was a lot of excitement and she could not wait for 22nd May 2016 to arrive! A week before her departure she dragged us to the newly opened Decathlon store in Howrah to buy a long list of stuff, right from a water bottle (which never returned from the camping trip) to hiking shoes and t'shirts and what not. Yes, the excitement had been building for a while.
Part of the deal was that the girls were not allowed to carry any cell-phones or tabs, they were not to be contacted save in dire emergency etc. Of course their group leader who is a school student herself, created a Whattsapp group for the parents of all 75 girls who were going on this trip. Yes, that's a huge number of mums and some dads and an extremely sweet and well meaning gesture from the child who sat and actually added all the parents in so that the parents could communicate with each other.
So even before the trip began, the worried mummies began talking about their little darlings and asking questions about the trip, most of which would have been answered had they bothered to read the notice. I sighed and muted the group.
The day before the trip the daughter in question developed a fever. I was worried because I knew it would break her heart if she had to be left out because of it. But the teachers accompanying the group were very sporting and promised to look after the child, assuring me that it was not at all uncommon for such a thing to happen. Call us evil or callous parents, we allowed the child to go.
Till here I am okay. What happened thereafter was not. The mothers went berserk. The comments, right from the time the little darlings were dropped off at the airport till their return flight landed were relentless. Specially from a section of mothers who barraged the camp instructor with so many phone calls that they were actually asked not to call so often. Then there was this lot who were missing their 'babies' as they had never been away from their 'babies' for even 24 hours before. And the others who would constantly ask where they were and how far they had reached knowing full well that most of what was being said was speculative and leading to panic stricken reactions from other moms who thought otherwise. Oh it was chaos. And on some levels, amusing.
Needless to say I kept quiet on the group throughout. I even turned off the data while roaming in Goa. I admit I smsed the teacher once each morning for three days for an update on the fever and stopped the day I heard the fever was gone. You see, I believe that everyone needs some timeout. Far from the influence, concern and interference of not only parents and/or well-wishers but also from technology. And there they were, in capable hands, away on a school trip. It was time to let them have fun.
Don't get me wrong. I also completely understand the concern of the other mothers, their fears, their need to know where the child is and what she is doing. I completely understand.
Which is why I find it somewhat ironic that parents will fret about a ten day school organised trip which the daughter is taking with friends but not think twice about sending her off to an arranged marriage to spend the rest of her life in.
Barely had we turned 18 in school than a host of my friends began getting married. Oh the families knew each other, he was such a good catch, the fathers were partners in business and blah blah blah, the excuses were manifold. A lot of these marriages have survived to this day (it IS awkward when my school friends have college going -and older-kids) but a lot have not. Abusive husbands, abusive in-laws, extra-marital affairs, adjustment issues, interfering mothers etc . The list is no different than any other in today's day and age.
So why am I writing this? Because people, I found out I live in a shell. I used to think that nowadays with more education and awareness among families, young girls study longer and are not married off when she's barely a teenager. But a friend recently enlightened me otherwise. "No way," she told me. In fact, in a lot of households, with the rising number of divorces and opinionated and independent women nowadays, it's thought that it's better to marry them off young so they can be molded to "fit In"! Oh horrors. "And then, even if they do become the independent types, it's the husband's look-out whether he will put up with such behavior."
WOW. I thought. Seriously? I do not know if even one parent on that Whatsapp group feels or thinks that way. I hope not. I seriously hope they all are parents that will allow their daughters to study, to dream, to live, to soar, to stand on their own feet before even thinking of arranging their marriages. And if not, I have only one thing to say:
Rewind back to May 2016 when that little hand left yours to have fun with her friends for (only) ten days and you fretted with a group of near strangers.
Before you let that hand go forever into a strange household where she may not have any friends, please, think. Let her live her life her way, let her taste freedom before you frog march her into domesticity. Please. Think. Won't you stand up for her?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

My daughters are right: I AM a hypocrite.

As a teenager, if anyone had ever asked me what was the one quality I abhorred in any person, I would not have to think to reply. The answer would be prompt: Hypocrisy.
In fact I was myself subject to a lot of criticism in my own teenage years because I refused to conform or toe the line unless I believed in it myself. I got into trouble at home and in school often enough over my "rebellious" nature and my mother often sighed that I was "difficult". Why? Because I had sworn that no matter what, I would not be a hypocrite. Because there was nothing worse than being a FAKE, right?  
So imagine my shock, when, the other day, my own teenage daughters accused me of the ultimate crime. I am a hypocrite, they said. It was one of those usual nights and I was chatting with my girls in my room when the discussion got a little iffy as they so often do with teenage hormones. Next thing I knew one daughter told me I was "…such a hypocrite!" The other one nodded and agreed.
I admit I was a riled. And hurt. Told them to leave me alone.
But then I thought about it.
And I realise now that my daughters are right.
I am a hypocrite each time I attend a formal do while inside I am screaming that I want to loll in bed and not go out. I became a hypocrite the day I married and went through rituals that were meaningless for me. I was  a hypocrite each time I was hurt about something someone said or did and I did not protest or say a word and only spoke to my husband about it later when we were alone because he once told me not to squabble with the family. I am a hypocrite each time I get dressed and go to work when I would rather stay at home and finish the story book I started the night before. I am a hypocrite each time I smile and talk to a relative or acquaintance that I would rather not talk to because I am just not in a mood to talk. I am a hypocrite when I wake up at 4 AM and go to the puja room and get things ready in preparation for worship of Gods that I do not believe in. I am guilty of hypocrisy each time I attend a dinner and smile and pretend to have a good time even though I'd rather be elsewhere because I don't want to be rude. 
Yes, yes, I am guilty. Because I realise now that no one is an island. We live among people and hence we have duties and obligations and often end up doing things that we may not like or believe in. It's not being fake. It's being grown up. It's having the maturity to deal with situations and people you may dislike or make you unhappy. 
And that is not something that teenagers will understand.
So I won't even try to explain.

My girls are at a magical age when they believe they can rule the world and make it perfect. It is not yet time to burst their little bubbles. All I can say is that I do not know where my daughters' lives will take them but when it is their turn to be a hypocrite, I only hope they are good at it! 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Remember those Little Angels? Well, they're not so little any more.

When my daughters were born, obviously, we were thrilled. For several reasons. You already know that. 
But then everyone exclaimed how lucky I was to be blessed with two little angels….."not like boys,” they said, “you’ll see, girls are such an asset, you’ll have peace and quiet and there’s nothing quite like daughters to heal a mother’s soul….”
Ever skeptical, I resolutely went through the enigmatic stages of breast feeding, weaning, bottle feeding, diapers, potty training, the mashed vegetables, the stage when every time I sat to eat, one or the other would want to go to the loo, the stage when all I ever got in a restaurant was mismatched leftovers of food I did not want to eat, the stage when I was regurgitating Class VII Geography in my sleep…and waited for them to turn into the little angels I had been told they would become.
I’m still waiting. The girls are now teenagers and not only isn't there the slightest hint of a halo on either head, I suspect the "Angel" phase has completely passed them by!
When the girls were much younger, at a party another mother  had sighed, “you are lucky you have girls; I have two boys, you can’t imagine the noise and the mess.” I invited her then and there to visit my house. Somehow I would manage a semblance of order in the rest of the house, but their room always, but always, looked like a hurricane just passed by. I seriously suspected a ghost lived in that room. The cupboard doors were perennially open, flapping about in the wind, clothes lay strewn on the bed, books took up residence all over the floor, some naked headless limbless relics of Barbie dolls stuck out of the toy basket and the study tables resembled a kabadi khana. And if that wasn't enough, a roller skate could be found strategically placed on the floor so that any unsuspecting entrant would slide halfway across the room to cause serious bodily harm or at least stub the toe.
Now, nothing much has changed. Except that there is no toy basket or roller skate. The cupboard doors still hang open, washed laundry from last year waits to be put away and the dressing table is a multi-hued assortment of junk. And instead of Barbie dolls you have shoes and chappals peeping from corners.
I yell … two “angels” peer at me after some delay… one knows how the room is messy, just as they never knew when they were younger. Even the excuses have not changed:  “But Ma I had closed the cupboard door, Ishadidi must have taken out her clothes….” and “I never touched those books, how would I know how it got there, it must be Amisha…..” Sigh. And since we do not have a cat to blame all this on, it must be the ghost!
I order them to clean up……they groan. "We'll do it, "they insist as they propel me out of their room. Earlier, at least they used to listen. They would fight, there would be a lot of “stop its” and “shut ups” and “Ma, she’s not helping” but they would at least do SOMETHING. Now, If I peep into their room after a while, one is lolling on the bed staring at a screen and the other is draped on the bed, staring at a screen. The wi-fi never goes off in our house. And yes, the cupboard doors are now half open, someone has made a feeble attempt to kick it shut from the bed, you see!
When the girls were younger, I had another battle to face: studies. Thankfully, that stage is over and I am quite clueless about what they are doing in school. I never could understand why on earth I had to teach my kids all those things that I thought I was over and done with quarter of a century ago! And back then, I knew mothers who were very knowledgeable and informed…..they dedicated themselves to inspecting the child’s bag when the child returned from school. They attended every parent teacher meeting and school discussion and had a network of other mothers to fall back on when the child was unwell or…(God forbid,) forgot to copy the homework….. I was never one of them. I did not have one single iota of patience in my body. I did not know my daughter’s friends’ mothers, I had no retentive powers when it came to the alimentary canal of a frog and I seriously did not care that the people in Jammu spoke the Dogri language. Yes, I was a self contained selfish individual who did not want to fill her head with useless bits of information…can you imagine, a judge would ask me “and what do you have to say to that, Mrs Banerjee?” and after a slight hesitation, I would reply, “a baby cockroach is called a nymph, the process of growing up is called molting…” Yes, that used to be one of my recurring nightmares!
Anyway since that stage is over my evening duties from the time I am free till I retire for the night, (specially now that summer vacations are on) consist of telling them to turn the volume down or prodding them to do things like remove their chappals from the living room, remove their story book from the sofa, switch off the wi-fi … all of which goes in one ear and out the other. Only when I moan that I am a hopeless mother and have not been able to raise them properly do they sit up and take notice. Only to shrug and mutter "drama queen" under their breaths which I pretend not to hear. Sometimes I wish I was teaching them Maths again. A few fractions or algebraic equations would be more fun!
I keep telling my husband that I was not made for this life. I should be lazing indolently on my bed in a chilled room all day, servants running at my beck and call and have pet Labradors who I will cuddle once in a while for diversion…..I’ve even thought of names for the dogs….Whiskey and Soda and I will wear designer jogging suits and casually take them for a walk in the Lakes when the whim strikes me. And when the kids (who are obviously well groomed and perfectly well behaved) come home from school, I'll wave a perfectly manicured finger at them and they shall silently retire to their rooms! Once in a while I shall attend Kitty parties and shop for diamonds…….
Only that is not to be. Here I am stuck in an endless world of two pouting teenagers with hair that fall all over their faces, eyes that are perpetually glued to some screen or the other and  voices that are forever asking me to "chill"  or telling me that "it's under control".
I don't know what they have under control but I do know it takes every ounce of self control on my part to NOT have a fight with them . Because you see, fights are always , but always bubbling under the surface. Anything you say, however well-intentioned, can, may, and most likely will, be used against you! An innocuous question like, "have you brushed your teeth?" or "won't you comb your hair?" or even "where are your slippers?" can well be the beginning of World War III!   I just cannot wait for the holidays to be over… I am hopeful that once school starts in earnest, there will be some semblance of discipline in the house!
Yes, yes, I am fortunate. I do know my life is full of light, laughter and sunshine. I know I should enjoy the years I have with them because all too soon it will be time for them to leave home and I will pine for them. I know my children are the daughters of Life’s longing for itself and I house their bodies and not their souls or something like that as Kahlil Gibran has wisely said. And so many people have told often enough that daughters are little angels in waiting…….
You know what? I'm beginning to think they were lying!