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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Through the Sugar Cane Machine...

Sometimes I feel Guilt sustains me as a mom... why else would I start feeling terrible about everything despite seeing all the good that has come out of it, despite knowing that the good always outweighs the not-so-good, no matter how I do the math?

I feel like I have put Ana through the old-fashioned sugar cane juice machine, squeezing the sweet cheer out of her, leaving her crushed and exhausted.

This long trip we have been on since arrival in Madras 6 weeks ago, hopping from town to town visiting family and such, has been quite harrowing on the one hand, but, quite rewarding nonetheless. Ana and Oggie have been enveloped in love and affection from grandparents, grand-aunts and grand-uncles, aunts and uncles, all willing to shower attention on them, making their short time together pretty memorable.

But, all through the trip, I couldn't shake off this anger and guilt about being harsh on Ana more than I have ever been so far in her tender life. Now, agreed, it was all based on maintaining safety of the kids as well as ensuring "ideal" behavior from Ana, but, all that harshness has left me feeling like the worst mom on Earth, now that we are back at the nest and recuperating in Madras.

The guilt is inevitable because Ana is inherently a sweet kid, no real destructive tendencies in her, but, she was surrounded by grown-ups (including me) who have forgotten how they were as a kid, and are out-of-touch with how to relate to a kid her age, and who couldn't arrange activities that would appeal to her, so much so that she felt bored and had only Oggie to take out her frustration on.

And, Oggie being of the right age and personality to command and hog everyone's attention did not help her one bit. Probably just aggravated her more. The fault is mine for just throwing her in the water and asking her to learn to swim on her own, but, it was all well-intentioned as I completely trust my family to take care of her needs easily and happily.

No, no, don't get me wrong, this is not a judgment on anybody, not at all - it is just my ramblings now that I have the luxury to type away... It is my responsibility to keep Ana and Og entertained, but, I was too preoccupied catching up with family, dying to chat away in Tamil and go out to temples and such that I left poor Ana to her own devices.

Well, truth be told, she had quite a few activities books and story books to keep her occupied, her grand-aunt and grandma are wonderful story-tellers who willingly told her lovely tales from Mythology, and we did work on things together whenever I could get myself to do it.

I just could not give her the undivided attention she demanded from me all the time. And that is what is gnawing at my vitals now. C'est la vie, I suppose...

But, since Og was quite fine with all the attention people gave him, and interacted freely with all, I assumed Ana would do the same and adapt to the available resources, freeing me up for a bit... that's where I was wrong.

Displaced from her familiar surroundings, thrown into scorching heat with no real respite, and to quote, "no good rooms to play in India" as she kept complaining, missing her dad terribly, so terribly that she bawled pathetically every night repeating, "I want to be in Portland with Appa", I bet life has not been easy for Ana.

Every house we visited here was different, with its own idiosyncrasies and rules and systems which made her dependent on me for every little thing from getting a drink of water to using the toilet... and me, callous old selfish me, pushing her to ask her grand-aunt or grandma for what she wants and not proactively jumping to her needs, becoming terribly volatile when she acted out, the volatility stemming not from her actual uncharacteristic act, but from the fact that she is proving me wrong about what a sweet child she has been so far in her own environment...

I didn't expect language to be such a barrier - with everybody speaking English, Ana still had to process the local English as a separate language and she gave up after the first few days. She tuned everybody out, her ears receiving only my personal frequency.

Oggie will probably not remember much, but he is growing faster than I can keep up, amusing and entertaining all with his new tricks and baby-antics.

Ana will surely remember the A/c sleeper train travels, the local parks and attractions, and of course watching Little Krishna and Tom & Jerry till her eyes bubbled, living in a culture so different from what she is used to since birth, listening to stories of Rama, Krishna, Ganesha and Shiva, perhaps even slowly adapting and liking her Indian side. She will hopefully forgive and forget her mommy for expecting her to be ladylike and be the perfect little angel she is in her own environment back in PDX.

She is a good kid, she did not get into others' cupboards and pull everything out and break anything despite her frustration and boredom. She just resorted to pushing Oggie, taking away and hiding Oggie's security toy without which he struggles to fall asleep, picking him up and dropping him to the floor, shutting the door on him - there were many close calls - concussions and finger-crushings were just barely escaped - and, these were the main times I have had to be hard-heartedly harsh on Ana. Safety is not to be taken lightly, in my mind... agreed there will always be the inevitable, the accident, but, I prefer they remain rare as they should be rather than sit back carelessly and watch.


Would it have been better to send her to some blasé Summer Camp and skipped this trip to India? My heart emphatically screams a loud NO.

And, D reassures me by being fully supportive of my effort to cultivate their Indian roots. Gluing cotton balls, stringing beads, identifying moth caterpillars, reading and writing can all be saved for the school year... the richness of this experience, at this age, with all the digital pictures and videos of her visit is sure to leave a positive impact on her.

For now, I have vowed to make up for the harshness so far, reserving the strong reprimands for the times when she is still very rough with Og... I have no problem letting her watch Chota Bheem and Dora, knowing full-well that when we are back in Portland none of these are available and she will probably be so saturated that she won't care for more... plus she will be busy learning cool stuff at school that she will be quite happy being productive.

*Image taken from google image results for sugar cane juice machine

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At 4:51 AM, Blogger Tharini said...

Awww Sheela. I can really really empathise with you on this. I've had similar kind of uprootment issues with Akhil, tho Sathya also adapted fast. I don't think you were wrong in taking her at all. A child should be exposed to diff. environments, esp. one in which she has her roots too, tho she cannot appreictae it right now. I think you have been doing everything that you possibly can to keep her comfy and happy. And despite all the hiccups, I bet she has learnt a lot from the time she is spending there right now. Don't be so hard on yourself please....I hate to see you weighing yourself down like this.

You ahve EARNED this time away. You know you have. JUst be a little bit more patient with her if you can and if she wants you to take her to the bathroom, just go. She will have time enuff to bond with her grandparents, and its not going to happen at your insistence, because then she will resist it more. She just seeks reassurance from you that you are still there for her, because she sees what a completely diff. person you are there and how much you have to keep you busy.

Give her a hug from me, hug yourself from me too and enjoy your time. Everything sounds ok to me.

God Bless.

At 7:07 PM, Blogger Sheela said...

Sweet old T, Thanks! You always have a nice way of sharing your similar experience so I don't feel like the only crazy idiot making a mountain out of a molehill as some tend to dismiss such complex emotions that I feel at this juncture...

Ana's constant hugs and kisses here (much more than she ever gave me in PDX) reassure me that she is doing fine and is not cross with me, and that's all I need to keep me recharged.

At 10:22 PM, Blogger Sole said...

Sheela,you are not alone. I had similar experiences during my visit to India last year with my 2 kids. 1st one was about 22 months and the 2nd was 3 months. It was their first trip after their birth and I was there for 3 months with the dad joining me just for the last month. It was a really hard time for me and him I guess! I am guilty of a lot of things I did during that time, but I didn't know what to do myself!
Though he was a baby people who came over gave more attention to the new baby. They hadn't seen him before either, but because she was more new, they all gave her all the attention. What they didn't realize was she was too little to care for it, but he knew everything. I wasn't happy with people, doing that at all, but what can one do. So, as you've said, he did everything possible to get everyone's attention which mostly included trying to hurt the little one! I felt so miserable and sorry for him!
Your life in the US is hard, managing the kids alone and entertaining them almost 24/7. So, you totally deserve this time for yourself! But I can so imagine how hard it must be for both of you! Its really important for them to experience the difference. As you've said they might not remember most, but its rich tradition. how else will they be able to listen to the stories from grandparents and grand aunts? Take care and hugs!

At 5:18 AM, Blogger Sheela said...

Thanks, Sole! You so correctly tuned into what has been chewing me up - and I really appreciate your thoughts, especially sharing that, "I am guilty of a lot of things I did during that time, but I didn't know what to do myself! "

Somehow, the constant vigilance so Ana plays safe with Og, and, constant supervision to ensure Og doesn't bonk his head on the bedframe or mosaic floor falling from the bed or jam his fingers in the door or any number of things that are not easily controlled in this setting here is what is making me quite irritable...

Many misunderstand me when I try to say that this is not such a problem back in PDX - not that Ana and Og won't get into trouble there, and not that I can claim great child-safety measures at home there, but, the big difference is this:
Ana and Og are used to a different set of safety standards at home from birth and don't realize the same standards don't hold true here...

The age difference betn Ana and Og is crucial as well for this issue - A five-year-old knows to treat a newborn sibling with much more tenderness than a 3-yr-old... and this 3-yr age gap won't matter a year from now when Og's built-in self-preservation kicks in and he learns to defend himself, and Ana is older and realizes the need for safe play...

It is not that PDX is better somehow than Madras, it is just that kids who grow up in Madras know what to expect from their own environment since birth (heck, I did, ages ago), whereas Ana and Og don't. Hence the need for me to be more vigilant.

Telling me that mommies all over the world have dealt with their kids just fine doesn't help one bit - how did they deal with it, what did they do? Can they share words of wisdom? Did they just let things run their course and just got lucky? I wonder about such things late into the night after tucking the kids in...

Sigh! This topic has been ringing in my head for weeks now and warrants its own post I am sure.

Despite all this, I am pretty cool, am not paranoid, I only intervene when I detect breach of safety in the kids' play...

and, I am dying to do a few little craft projects with my mom - when else will I get a chance to sit with her, chat away about her childhood, while our hands and creativity take over?!

My parents not having any help whatsoever is compounding issues a bit - dishes, laundry, sweeping/mopping chores are still on our plates... Lord! do I sound like I am complaining... I am not, really, just accounting the facts!

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Tharini said...

Hi Sheels...I hear you!

My situation was the same as Sole's in India. Sathya was at this uber cute age and a very friendly child and managed to charm everyone easiy. Akhil on the other hand did not understand Tamil that well, was not the baby, was always excpected to share and act like the 5 year old he was then. Any tantrum by Sathya and it was cute...we would coo at his deveoping ego. Any tantrum by Akhil, and it was immediate judgement on how stubborn he was, and how other kids his age behaved better.

Same appied to eating issues.

Overal, Akhil went thru some major hassles adjusting, and I for one was completey lost. I just coudn't understand what was happening to this child and I was also harsh on him in many ways. Its only hindsight that gives you such a clear view of the situation. But you have the benefit of that hindsight now. What you know now, already, while in India, I undersatood only towards the end of my stay. The best behavior I saw from Akhil was on the last day when we were leaving. So thrilled was he to come back that he was willing to do anything and everything, our way. *sigh* poor kid. As I write this, I just want to scoop him up and protect him from everyone's judgements, including my own. It hurts to think of al this!

As for what you said about mothers the world ovcer and time over managing....again, that is a statement made with the benefit of hindsight. I find mysef doing it too on many occasions. If a first time mother sweats to me abt some of the baby issues (which I very wel have gone thru too), thanks to hindsight, which gives a rather rose tinted viewof things, I would probably brush over most of the things and say...its hard but not impossible, I managed.

I also think the world we are iving in is a very diff. one now. The issues that we face compared to what our parents/grandparents faced are all very diff. the consciousness now is so high and the issues thus momre complex.

Also, since we all live on our own, we are that much more afraid of messing up our kids lives and psyches, that we do tend to be a llittle more overprotective and over-harsh on ourselves. I don;'t think my mother experienced that feeling 'guilt' in the complex version as I am imposing on mysef. Its strange and I wonder if its even necessary sometimes. How to strike a balance between what we have to do vs what we end up doing and the resultant guilt, is the big question that we are ALL struggling with. And the only thing that makes it easier right now is the peer support. Even if 2-3 people pipe up and say 'me too', it helps loads! And how much nicer it would be if our folks/in-laws/spouses/families all piped up and said it too! :)

At 7:40 PM, Blogger Sheela said...

Tharini, it DOES help, the peer support, and thanks for so freely giving it to me here. You have touched upon the very same things that have been on my mind - viz., "I just want to scoop him up and protect him from everyone's judgements, including my own.", and the fact that we are raising our kids with almost zero familial support, no wisdom from grandma and aunt to relieve our every little worries, no reliable adult to leave our kids with and catch our breath on days we are not working...

it is surprising that many wonder why it is difficult when working mothers send the kids away to daycare, and callously ask, "what are these moms complaining about? they are not with the kids 24/7", which seems ill-reasoned, as if working moms just enjoy leisure sending kids off to daycare - it is hard work, all day, with all the stress associated with today's jobs, and then, like you said, the "needless guilt" at not being there for them 24/7 and trying to do everything we can in the little time we have together...

You are so right about the attitude of "I managed, it is not such a big deal" ... and, in addition, i hear, "Well, what were you expecting? Tough! Suck it up and get on with it" when i try to mention how difficult this visit has been at this time...

Now, I know I have managed fine so far, and with God's grace will find the strength to carry on, doing my best... but, when every so often it seems a bit overwhelming, even if one can't sympathize, let alone empathize, and give some kind words, or not even that, just lend a patient ear, it would indeed be a sad world...

When I express the things that bother me, it simply gets out of my system and clarity sets in again... that's all I am attempting to do here.

Overall, there is no question about how good this trip is for the kids and me - just to see the smiles and pure joy my parents experience when Og tugs at their clothes and royally climbs on their lap, when Ana reluctantly manages a smile after several attempts by my dad to act silly... precious!

At 8:05 PM, Blogger Tharini said...

You know, sometimes I think its a curse to have other interests. Because then, you are never fully happy if you cant find some time for indulging those too. I sometimes, in the peak of my frustrations feel I should have had no other interests, no other creative outlets I so desperately want to pursue besides the kids. That way, I could be happier perhaps, raising them. I know how illogical it sounds, but you know what I mean.

I know I am not doing anything outstanding with the regular day to day taking care of things for the home and the family...bu its just sooooo... tiring. Just today, I was thinking to myself....if I could get away just now....somewhere where I don't need to be a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, an employeee....nothing...except just breathe, be silent and breathe some wonderful would it be.

I always relate very well to your posts when you touch upon, from time to time, the mad pace of life, and the precious little time there is, and all the other mundane stuff that gets in the way of it all. I relate to it so well.

Sometimes when it all gets too much, like right about now...:)....I remmeber this quote I once read...that life is all about just making it through ONE day. Just one day. And then you sleep. And then, when you wake up, its a matter of just one more day. And then you sleep.

Pathetic way of looking at it...but sometimes, its all it boils down to, at least for me. :)

At 9:53 PM, Blogger Sheela said...

Tharini, I hear you, I understand what you are saying...

Every time I get that way, I remember my dad telling me,
"there is a reason for the four ashramas system: when in grahastha, focus only on the family issues, don't worry about becoming a vanaprastha or sanyasi - your duty is to your family, you accepted the responsibility of the family, so do it with full dedication - Sri Krishna says this in Bhagavad Geeta to do your duty and not worry about the results, and I am just trying to pass it on to you"

My dad is right, I can see that. But, like you said, when in grahastha, i still carry over the enthusiasm and interest for learning new crafts from brahmacharya phase... and that makes it a bit challenging .

At least for brahmacharya ashrama, we have a guru to guide us, but in grahasthashrama, we are on our own mostly... and that reminds me of this quote that always brings a smile to my jaded and tired mommy-mind:

"Sometimes I really think people ought to have to pass a proper exam before they're allowed to be parents. Not just the practical, I mean."

-- (Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time)

At 12:20 AM, Anonymous Poppy said...

How did I miss these posts? Loved reading through it and the comments :) I know, I was too busy interacting with you in alternate worlds :)

First off, I guess, you're right it is because of the newness of the experience for Ana that is troubling her so. And more importantly I do think first borns are probably used to being more in control of their environment be it Portland, Chicago or Bangalore :) And they don't know how to deal with it when it changes.

When we visit folks who live in different surroundings from us D also struggles to cope. Add to that her natural affinity for shyness and it's troublesome. You know what worked for me? Putting her through it more and more often.

Talking and giving her a LOT of attention BEFORE we went to an expected new surrounding that she would find stressful and doing this often. And then once we reach the destination to not expect anything from her.

Neither good not bad behavior. What she does there is what she does, it has nothing to do with what she is at home. That attitude helped me tremendously. I think kids can sense when something is very important to us and can sometimes perversely deny us that. Unknowingly at this age but still. I act like it doesn't matter to me, and surprisingly find that she's fine and well behaved.

It's very hard to ignore comments from well meaning family, but I have learnt to do it the hard way. I ignore and sometimes pointedly so. To me, my child and her psyche is more important than what other people think. As long as my child is not troubling anybody in any way (after all tantrums are my headache not theirs!) I deal with it, and don't entertain their "wise" thoughts and comments on it. Really. It has nothing to do with living abroad and visiting India.


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