Being a bully is not cool


A dear friend has been struggling with envy. From a close family person. Who one has supposed in being older and a parent and from a generation that is known to have been inclusive should have been at the very least a neutral presence.

The friend in her wisdom and compassion decided to be the ‘bigger person’ — finding reason to either excuse or overlook the older relative’s foolhardy, provocative and hostile behaviour and expressions — written and spoken.

A couple of days ago, when the older relative decided, unilaterally, presumptuously and inconsiderately to heap some more unwanted responsibility on my friend’s head without once checking with her, my friend decided, appropriately that enough was enough.

And she confronted the relative with plain speak about the series of unfair and unkind decisions that had been made over her head, requiring her work, involvement, time and energy. That she in her civility and maturity she had so far put her head down and just got done. For her own sanity for the sanity and safety of her children.

And she said, ‘no more’. And somehow, the newness of it — her changing tack, the unexpectedness of it, and the obvious injustice of the situation so far, together made the relative ‘turn a new leaf’. Or so it seems. The relative acknowledged, by not saying anything in response, that what had happened so far was indeed unjust and that the way she had conducted herself was, to put it mildly, a shame.

Sometimes it seems that the only thing bullies respect is just this — a loud refusal to cow down to their bullying. For people like my friend who are mild-mannered, peace-loving and not interested in contests, the need to have to do so seems an unnecessary drain on their energies, time and grace. But this episode to me proves better than anything else that sometimes we need to reach outside our propensities and fight the good fight to say no to bullies, no to habitually presumptuous behaviour and no to arrogant entitlements from those who profess to being close without a clue about the responsibilities that accompany it.

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Becoming a parent: Nothing goes to plan


If there’s one thing you can be certain of, ahead of becoming a parent, it is that nearly nothing will go to plan. The perfect, compassionate, smart, supportive, baby and mamma loving mid-wife will have a personal crisis the very night you go into labour. She will call and half feign an apology and say you’re going to be fine, that its going to be an awesome delivery, and you’re going to do swell without her by your side.

You would have certainly not slept as much and as well as you would have hoped as all the well-meaning nursing staff and mamma and papa friends had advised you to do before the marathon that labour usually is — and I’m not even going into the birthing itself. (Who ever told you the pain is natural needs to go take a walk.)

When labour starts, you will not be the picture of serenity, sitting criss cross apple sauce, breathing in and breathing out, calmly, rhythmically, shallowly, as your friendly neighbourhood pre-natal expert had so lovingly taught you to do the moment labour starts.

You will be by turn taken aback and too soon horrified at the intensity of the jabs, how they/it/whatever is in command, NOT, no not for a moment, you. You will have no shame in crawling the walls of your room, or whichever room you find yourself in when the jabs return, stifling a little cry, contorting your body in the most amazing ways to find some position of moderate comfort or escape from this incredible experience.

And no, you will almost not remember that all of this is about a little creature inside who is preparing to come out.

When you get on the phone to speak to the hospital you have selected for their emphasis on empathy, natural birth and mamma-baby centricity, you will not take too kindly to the trained, flat voice that you are met with which says the pain you are feeling is not yet good enough to come in with.

‘Jeez, lady, what do YOU know???!!!’ is what you will want to scream at the voice but instead, you will be caught mid-way in this primordial, involuntary convulsion that will make you feel infantile and make you do your breathing on the phone while the voice on the other end holds politely and encourages you to do your good work as though you were a young, anxious school-girl.

A couple of minutes or many minutes later when you are able to impress them with your raspy breath and they finally say what you’ve been dying to hear — ‘yes, you can come now’ — you will be suddenly aware that this is last time you are going to leave home as a woman with large tummy that has baby inside. And you will almost laugh and choke that your mind is able to think about this while being caught up in said primordial drama.

For all the tedious and loving preparations you and your partner may have made in reading up about, scouring for and investing in water birthing paraphernalia, you will not be flooded with images of how sublime the birthing is going to be. You will be consumed as you descend the stairs from your first floor flat (if that’s where you happen to live) or as you go down in a clunky lift while holding on tightly to your mum’s or partner’s hand/arm/wrist about how long anyone can possibly stay alive feeling the convulsions you are feeling and what if anything can make it stop.

When the cabbie comes, in the dead of the night (why is it always the dead of the night?) to fetch you and your attendants and the attending bags and said paraphernalia to the hospital, you will not be in the least interested in the small talk he will try his hand at. Although somewhere in your head you will wonder whether he understands the significance of his current undertaking, whether he has done it before and whether if the need should so arise, would he help with an emergency birth en route?

When you get through the gates of the tucked away entrance to the maternity ward, you will not be in a mood for wall-mounted phones with speakers attached. You will want someone to usher you in, show you your room, and leave you be.

If you’re lucky the room will not be chock a block with machines, artificial breathing equipment for an emergency, sterile trays, bright white light or anything at all that reminds you this is not home or a friend’s home or a hotel.

At which point I have to say, I managed in the middle of all this, to have a moment of epiphany. When all the ushering in rituals had died down, when a young, attractive, Greek mid wife had done her thing of poking me (why oh why is it necessary?) to make sure the baby was alright and at the same time inserted quickly a monitor on her head (while telling me the pain was worth it and gushing with pride on my behalf that the baby had a head full of hair, unheard of in the Nordic!), when I was happy to see my tired and spent attendants take a nap in their respective corners, I found myself marvelling at the quiet night outside, the geometic beauty of the street lights on the highway twinkling below, the reassuring and familiar sound of the rocking chair I was sitting on, rocking rhythmically to the dance of my body, and even if only for a few, brief moments, content and calm by myself with this creature inside me, on the cusp of being born, bewildered, moved and entirely accepting of whatever was going to come.

Fearlessness


Some of the greatest injustices are done unsurprisingly insiduously; to assert a sense of dominion and sense of entitlement over things and people one often considers one’s property.

And some of the worst of these acts of injustice are committed on those who are visually, physically, emotionally and psychologically the most vulnerable and dependent: young children.

In being mother of a young daughter, I have found it imperative to arm my girl with the unquestioned certainty that she is not under any obligation to do anything that she is not comfortable with in any way (barring of course having to eat, sleep, be safe and if possible courteous and kind to herself and those around her).

And although that has meant her being at times excruciatingly particular about what she is comfortable with, when, where and with whom, I think it is exactly the sort of deeply embdedded, fearless approach which will go a long way in breaking down thousands of years old notions of what is acceptable and what is not; what needs to be tolerated and what need not ; and what sets of roles, expectations and behaviours the two genders can enscribe onto each other in various equations, inside and outside the family.

I couldnt be prouder that she is only 3 and a half years old and already has such a nuanced sense of situations, relationships, people and places.

While of course still being a goofy, funny, lovely and loving little girl.

A mother’s lament – life’s unfinished business


There is something fundamentally different in your world view when you become a mum (and from what I can see in my mother, a grand mum.)

I remember being rather cocky, stupidly cerebral and over-confident in the face of illness (especially of course rather cruelly when it concerned someone not so close) and the associated although often unstated thoughts and fears about death.

Now that I am a mum, I relate entirely and horribly completely with my own mother’s sorrow and fear of passing away – too soon (when are we as children ready anyway?); but unlike me, none of her fears have to do with her fear of death itself but the unfinished business of helping me raise my little girl in the wonderful, loving and mindful way that she and she alone has made possible, nurtured and protected; and of being my strongest source of support and irreplaceable, steadfast friend (‘what will happen to my girl when I’m gone, who is she going to have?,’ is what she told her beloved niece, my cousin).

To her face, of course I want to be positive, strong and stoic – I find myself saying we are going to the doctors because we want to know what is wrong – and no matter what they find, even with the heart, there is something we can do to help it feel less strain to help it do its work better.

But after 6 visits to the doctors in so many days in the searing heat, I understand her weariness and exhaustion.

Tests done so far confirm the heart is carrying a load and in all probably will need help of some kind; that the days of being ad-hoc in terms of treatment for various closely related conditions are over. And yet hearing doctors tell her that her heart of all things has been affected is hard to take – for someone who has prided herself in never having to medicate herself for anything other than the flu or minor conditions, I understand it feels like a horrible shock to have to face being told that your most vital organ needs careful and regular looking after.

And yet, I want to believe we are going to come through — for her sake, my sake, my little girl’s sake and the family’s sake – and that this is just the beginning of much deserved, greater attention to her for the first time in our life as a family and her life as a mum and grand-mum.

Celebrating the parent who is present


In having lost one parent much sooner than any of my close friends did, I have spent a great deal of time and heart in thinking about and celebrating my father’s spirit and presence and mourning his passing.

But I have never paid enough tribute to the parent who he left behind, who is alive, here and now, and whose daily and unending labour of love has given my young child and me the rock-solid home, refuge and tireless attention and care that enables and defines who we are and who we have become in our lives together, each in our own person, and together as a family.

Always the seemingly more reticent of the two, my mother was the quiet strength beside my expressive and gregarious father. Far apart in age, from different cultural, linguistic and social backgrounds, the two were always one of the best examples to me of a loving and respectful companionship.

During my teen years, when I was drawn a great deal to books and as a result of that drawn to and mesmerised by my father’s formidable intellect, I can never forget how he gently but firmly reprimanded me for seeming to put him on a pedestal writing in one of his letters to me at boarding school that the example my mother set with her effortless integrity, unflinching humility and unconditional humanity were by far the more coveted virtues, no matter how scintillating being widely read or a word he loathed, being intellectual seemed to be.

I have never forgotten that. Both for what it taught me about me and my blinkered view then and for the renewed admiration and love I felt for the way he loved my mother.

Although my mother has of course told me over the course of the years, that the usual, gendered differences existed between them too, she has always said my father was rare in considering her at all times with the deepest respect for being the kind of woman she was and for the kind of mindful, attentive and unbelievably generous mother she became.

I cannot ever be grateful enough to her for having always let me make my decisions, no matter how flawed, and often contrary to her expressed wishes or opinions, for never withholding her support, labour and love simply because I have found myself face down after following some of my mad plans, for having stuck her neck out for my young child and me when I have needed someone to rely on unconditionally and for being the kind of loving, patient and fun ‘present in the moment’ grandma who despite her getting older and frailer never whines or protests or grudges the entire lack of ‘me time’ and who runs this house and home for us in a way that makes the hardest and most invisible work and labour seem like a cake walk.

A mother’s gift


As a young child grows, some of the concerns and worries about her safety, happiness and well-being recede, as she becomes stronger, bigger and more articulate. Some don’t, of course, and stay for as long as one is alive.

Worry, as a fellow mother one said, especially on behalf of a girl child, comes with the territory.

But what has come to my mind is that nothing makes a young child feel more secure and confident than knowing that you are alive to her every small and big expression – especially when that of sorrow, hurt or discomfort – in any situation with anybody – and that you believe completely and utterly in her feeling.

My mother gave me that incredible gift as a child and I feel honoured to pass it on to mine.

Happiness


A patch of green right in front of our flat getting cleaned up. The insistent roar of lawn mowers. A group of bored looking maalis laden with sacks of dark earth, seeds, planting equipment. Quietly busy for days on end. Coming in the mornings, leaving in the afternoons, shifting wordlessly the heavy, long pipes spouting stinky, untreated water – the only kind that can be used so generously in our part of the city for non sentient beings or so we believe.

Six cheerful neon coloured benches parked in various spots.

And already, flower beds blooming. Purple and magenta heads bobbing in the breeze and an entire swathe of smiling yellow heads – the ever cheerful sunflowers. A few bushes ringed with clutches of white, red and pink flowers with translucent petals and long, bendy, fragile stems.

The local cricket team graciously opting to play on the other side of this now fertile part.

The sun shining down, pleasantly warm. It’s occasional sting eased by a wonderful breeze.

A fraying carpet no longer too loved to always have to live the good life, now used as a picnic mat.

Little T, mum and I waiting for my friend and her girl to come.

And in the interim, a sort of march past of nearly all the neighbourhood families we know – stopping by, asking after T – our block of flats’ only or in any case most adored little person; remarking on the lovely weather, the picnic mat, while she does circles around me, soaking in all the warmth, giggling, half falling, rising, smiling.

Finally, after a seemingly eternal wait, our little troop of picnickers arriving.

T and her friend quickly getting ready with their plastic pails, picking grass, showering the flower beds with ‘grass rain’, picking up stones, coming to us each time they find an especially spectacular one, our gossiping in the snatches of minutes we get between their sojourns to us; proud, happy, ‘beached whale’ mammas.