The joy of the average-ish

Got into a discussion on IHM’s blog about the expectations of Indra Nooyi’s children (yep again, that piece is the gift that keeps giving). The question was “After all, why do we as kids, feel so entitled to our mother’s time, indeed her entire life and personality?”

And my answer was: because they are kids. We can run and we can hide, but we have to face up to the fact that kids will want to be around the people they feel close to and secure with as much as possible, and often those people are their parents, and if the person who had been most involved with them in their young years was their mother, then it will be their mother who they crave.

Kids usually have some special affinity for their parents – I was surprised to realise that even though my kids adore our helpers who have been their primary caregivers, they still go “mummy mummy” and hang on to me. I expect this will become less as they become older, but it may never quite dissipate. I know grown children who are independent in every way and still have expectations of their parents’ time and attention because they love their parents and enjoy their company. It’s that simple.

Does this mean we have to sacrifice our own ambitions to our kids? No. Does this mean we have to be superparents? No. In fact, one of my pet peeves is the immense pressure on parents, especially moms, to do it all. But even if this pressure does not exist, I’d wager, kids would want their parents to be around, the younger they are, the more they will want you. I’d take it as a compliment, even though it can be trying.

I am currently reading Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, which is an awesome book that I might write more on later. She addresses the hyper-expectations of parents today. She says of her mother: “she always felt like a safe place”.

That’s the sum of it, really for me, as a parent. To be the safe place. I don’t think it’s necessary to be there all the time or to sacrifice myself entirely. Quindlen also says: “In my religion, martyrs die.” Quindlen and I were both raised Catholic. And we have the same views on religion. Okay, honestly, I feel like her twin though she’s ages older and more accomplished than me.

But I digress. If you’re the safe place for your kids, you’re doing well.

The thing is, if you’re the safe place or thereabout, the thought won’t enter your mind that your children would think you a bad mother. It takes a lot for a child to formulate that thought. Bad mothering is something grown-ups think and verbalise not children. If a child – even a teenager formulates that thought, or you perceive they are thinking it, it might be time for self-reflection. In Nooyi’s case, the truth might lie somewhere in the middle as it often does, but that is for her and her daughters to decide.

The other thing that came up was this hierarchy of mothering. Should there be one?

So, I am aware of how ‘bad mother’ has become the guilt-switch of our generation. I myself am averse to the term.

But I do rate myself as a mother. And I don’t give myself an A grade. And I’m fine with that.

Why should there be ratings at all, someone asked. A fair enough question. The thing is, I rate myself in all my roles. It’s my way of doing better. Maybe I’ve worked in offices too long. I rate myself as a writer and give myself an A (it took me a while to recognize that I was worthy of an A, but I’m not going to be modest anymore). I rate myself on the attractiveness scale. I haven’t rated myself as a wife recently, but I probably wouldn’t get an A either. I rate myself as a daughter.

Perhaps rate is a harsh word. I think about how I’m doing and I see if I can do better without killing myself. Am I the only one that does this?

So, I think I’m an average mother, and I’m quite happy with that. I think an average mother is a safe harbor, but without the extras like handmade cookies and craft-activities every day. I doubt I’ll be doing cookies, but I would like to do more craft and fun excursions. I’m an average mother because I fall sick often and am tired and probably look at my phone more than I should. But I don’t beat myself up on these things. My kids are okay.

I also don’t feel the need to think that I’m the best at this particular role. I can see others who do better than me. As parents, we’re told to not praise everything our kids do, even when it’s less than marvelous, lest they have an inflated sense of self and get a rude shock when they venture out into the world. (I actually tend to go ‘wow’ around my kids a lot, but nvm)

It seems to me that our generation – or maybe it’s just those of us who were achievers at school – feels the need to be the best at everything, or we feel slighted. This is part of the have-it-all syndrome. We want to tell ourselves we’re the best, at everything. And when it comes to parenting, we’re even more precious. Is it social pressure? Or is it because it’s ultimately what we really truly care about? If the latter, then by all means be a perfectionist in that role. But it’s okay not to want to be.

I’ve embraced being average in several areas and it’s very liberating. I’m happy not being at the forefront of my career. I’m happy being an average mother. I’m happy being a cook with the barest of survival skills. I’m clumsy and I don’t love that, but I’ve learnt to laugh at myself (just the other day, I dropped my helper’s birthday cake while I was bringing it out and V shot me daggers but I apologized to my helper and we all had a good laugh. The cake wasn’t too badly damaged and I still think it’s funny, that splat! sound.) I’ve learnt to forgive myself when I forget something yet again. I’ve accepted my love handles if not totally in love with them. The things I can’t accept, I try to do something about.

But others, try so-so. You might enjoy it.

 

 

 

Mommy days

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This is not about me. It’s about my mom.

My mom visited us for 10 days. This was quite an achievement because my mom cares for her mother, my grandmother, who turned 100 in March and has been in rapid decline ever since her 99th birthday. Caring for an old person with the level of commitment my mom has put into it takes its toll and I felt that my mom urgently needed a holiday. One of her brothers had once vaguely mentioned that he would come to India to visit my grandmother every three months and the idea of my mom taking off during one of those stints took hold. When I went down for my gran’s birthday, I reminded this uncle of his offer and he immediately agreed to relieve my mom of her duties for a week or so, while my father agreed to shoulder the extra work of running the house in my mom’s absence. My mom managed to wrangle 10 days and landed up in Hong Kong.

I didn’t believe it would actually happen until she was there. A week before my grandmom had to be hospitalized when she took a turn for the worse. The doctors however felt there was no point doing invasive tests and just put her on the drip which seemed to revive her. I even looked into postponing my mom’s visit for a week but later realised that there was never going to be a great time for her to visit at this stage in my grandmother’s life.

I was all set to pick her up from the airport when both V and I came down with the flu, so she had to cab it herself which thankfully is not a big deal in Hong Kong though I know it always stresses her out. Within an hour of arriving, my mom said she could feel the stress of the months past melt off and was already fantasizing about her next trip.

Before grandma arrived, I think I laid it on too thick and whenever I asked Benji whether he wanted grandma to come, he said: “No!” But he went down with V to pick her up from the cab and was quite chatty. When mum entered, Mimi took one look at her and burst into tears. That’s my kids’ way of welcoming strangers, especially those who are not Chinese.

But within five minutes, they were both grandma’s greatest fans. “Where’s grandma?” they’d ask if she disappear for a minute. My mum spent a lot of time with them, even doing stuff like playing catch-n-cook which I’m too lazy to do. She has taken it upon herself to be the most indulgent grandma. So she rarely corrects them. She insists on giving them candy to my irritation (though she does restrict herself because of my disapprobation.) Every day she’d take them to the park, though it was hot and play ball or go hunting for snails. She let them comb her hair and they said she was “Princess Elsa” (they have now graduated to doing my hair, and OMG why didn’t I get them to do this before). She encouraged them to play in the rain and puddles and get soaking wet and then reprimanded me for not bringing enough changes of clothes! Heh. One day she was in splits playing a game with Benji that involved flinging pillows at each other. At one point, she threw a pillow at Mimi who didn’t react, which both mum and I found crazily funny, and she did it three times with us collapsing into laughter before Mimi reacted. V just looked on nonplussed.

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That puddle is deeper than it looks and the kids are wetter than they look.

I admire my mother for being totally non-judgmental and non-interfering. I did wonder if I perceive less judgment because she’s my mom, but I honestly think she makes an effort to put up an impassive front. There were times when I glanced around after something the kids did or when V and I were skirmishing and she didn’t seem perturbed, nor did she have anything to say. I can’t help compare this to my in-laws.

On the other hand, possibly for the first time because I’m in a situation where I need it, I felt my mom at my back like a support. I felt that there was someone in the house who supports me unconditionally, and that is a liberating thing. I also realised how having a parent in the house, even one has non-interfering as my mom was, changes the balance of power and why it’s better for new couples to live alone.

My mom and I had long chats late into the night. After the second night, V asked in befuddlement: “What do you talk about?” He just could not understand how we could fill the time between 9 pm and 2 am simply talking on two consecutive days. What did we talk about? Our own lives, our close family, our respective friends, people in our building, our extended family, my mom’s helpers and their problems. We also touched on the situation in Gaza and Sonia Gandhi’s alleged domination of Manmohan Singh (my mom is a fan of Dr Singh, me not so much). Yes, this usually comes under the banner of gossip, but it’s also about knowing and caring about people and their lives.

Since my mom has been to Hong Kong several times in the past, we didn’t do the great tourist round. We did do dinners and lunches out, mostly in our neighbourhood. For once, she wasn’t keen on doing much shopping except for some practical grocery items. But I did enjoy doing a round of the malls with my mom instead of with V or as has been the case lately, by myself. I’m most comfortable shopping with my mom, we shopped with her from our teens onwards and I never had the same comfort level with friends. “Buy it,” she egged me on this time, “You don’t have that many clothes.” Ah, sweet music to my ears! However, the husband’s glowering presence in my mind’s eye and the impended student status, made me buy just one rather expensive handbag.

She also read like crazy something she doesn’t get the time to do in Bombay. She finished two books in 10 days, one of which was The Casual Vacancy. Seeing my mom absorbed in a book, reading through lunch, reading while chidlren screamed around her made me realise who I got the bookworm gene from. I had always thought it was my dad.

My mom is older than before. I have to watch her in case she stumbles and falls. One is prepared for this and never quite prepared for it.

I was sad when my mom left, sadder than I’ve ever been in the past. I realised how lonely I am for that day to day chatter even though I am so used to being without it. When my mom or I leave after a trip to my sister’s, she bawls. I have never been the crying on departure type. I bear it all stoicly. I have stopped hugging and kissing my mom sponstaneously, though we do kiss on arrivals and departures. I know she would love me to be more physically demonstrative but I can’t bring myself to. And yet, I came so close this time.

 

 

 

Baby bytes

Benji wants to be Princess Elsa. I don’t blame him. Elsa’s the exciting one with the best song. The helpers try to convince him to be Hans or ‘the guy with the reindeer’. I want them to Let It Go.

 ***

Mimi calls Benji her sister. “Your brother, you mean,” I say. “There’s so such thing as brother or sister,” says V sarcastically, mimicking something I said a while ago. “Okay fine,” I say. Language is pointlessly gendered and I’m conflicted on whether to drive that home or not.

 ***

Mimi loves to choose my clothes. She picks a skimpy nightie I haven’t worn in ages. Everyone does a double take when I emerge. “Mimi chose it,” I say sheepishly, though I’m not terribly put out at having to wear it. It’s hot. The less clothes the better. Five minutes later, Mimi loudly asks: “You don’t want any pants?” Hmph. How did I land up with this closet conservative as a daughter?

 She did it again. I was wearing a vest and no bra. “Why are you not wearing any clothes?” she asks worriedly.

 ***

Phonetics is not Benji’s string point 

“Sh sh sh shark,” he says. “Sh sh sh fish.” “Not sh fish, fuh fish,” V corrects. “Fuh fuh fuh fish, fuh fuh fuh octopus,” Benji continues, merrily missing the point. 

 ***

“I don’t like you, I love you daddy,”  says Mimi.

 “Love you daddy,” Benji throws in as an afterthought as he wanders around with his water bottle. 

 ***

They are playing the game in which you catch fish with a pole. It’s hard. “Nevermind, it’s too difficult,” I say. “It’s not too difficult, mummy,” they say, their brows furrowed as they persevere.

Another games they love playing – taking torches into dark rooms and pretending to be space explorers. I leave them to it and resist the urge to peep in as it spoils things for the.

***

Mimi has turned into a reader. Obsessively, like me. She wants to be read to at any free moment. When she wakes up, when she’s eating, when she’s bored. “You did this,” says V. I did. I’m both horrified and happy. The little surpriser continues to surprise.

 ***

We found mushrooms blossoming under a tree in the garden. The kids were super excited about them and kept running around showing them to anyone who could be bothered to look. Clearly fascination with mushrooms is genetic. Also snails. And owls.

***

Grandma is here. Before she arrived, when I asked Benji if he was happy she was coming, he’d say a loud “No!” When Grandma walked in, Mimi burst into tears, her way of dealing with new people. It took all of five minutes for them to become her fan club. “Where’s grandma?” they ask if she disappears from sight for even a minute. I feel sorry for her what with their ardent stalking, but she seems to be loving it so far.

 

Reading speeding

Tiny

Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Strayed

In ancient Greece there was the Oracle of Delphi who one could go to when one was an existential crossroad, and the oracle in her wisdom would dispense advice. In the modern world, we have Sugar aka Cheryl Strayed in the Dear Sugar columns.

No, really. I’m not being sarcastic. This should be every sensitive, thoughtful 21st century person’s bible.

When I first started reading this book, I wondered at her confidence and the audacity of bringing her own experience into the advice. This is not what advice columnists are supposed to do. This is not supposed to be about them.

But the introduction itself acknowledges it, and points out that this is Strayed’s power. And as I read, in most cases, I think her sharing her own experience helps her connect with the letter writer. And she’s had a helluva lot of experience, which I already knew from her book Wild. She’s led no life of comforts until quite recently. So it works.

I won’t say I agree with all her advice. But I agree with most of it. And as one reads the columns one begins to trust where she’s coming from. Which I think is so important (I’ve realised this with blog reading).

Each letter and the response from Sugar was like a tiny jewel that one could string onto a rope of greater wisdom to rub between one’s fingers when one’s soul needs solace. The letters range across situations and Strayed’s responses are wise, compassionate and spot on.

There were letters that made me think specially of certain people, there were of course letters that made me think of myself, there were letters I bookmarked mentally for when my children grew up and might need to read it.

This one’s for the bookshelves.

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Following from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I decided to catch up on Judy Blume. I remember reading and loving exactly one of her novels, the only one I could get my hands on at the local library as a tween, and it stayed with me over the years. Goodreads tells me it was Iggie’s House. So I pulled whatever I could find on our library shelves and got Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Fudge-A-Mania. The Margaret book is a standalone one and a timely book for someone who’s lost her religion. I would have loved the book to have definitely solved the religion riddle but Blume is all about the ambiguity and exploration that is childhood. I loved that the book tackled the issue of religion so fearlessly, in addition to its frank depiction of periods.

Judy Blume seems like a nice old lady, but she was considered revolutionary enough to be at the receiving end of death threats. Read this fascinating interview here.

Fudge-A-Mania deals with a slightly younger age bracket and is apparently part of a series. I loved the quirkiness of the characters, the coming-of-ageness and the slightest hint of romance. I love how old people are eccentric and wonderful in her books. And of course, the precocious protagonists.Obviously, my kids are going to have these on their selves. I’m resisting buying the lot in advance.

While I was reading the books, we happened to Skype with my niece who is now eight (how and when did that happen?) and she happened to be reading Judy Blume too. It was both weird and wonderful to be bonding with her over this, and bittersweet to recognise that she’s grown up enough to read and reflect on books on her own. Also to talk like this: “So basically, you know,…”

These books are a great mood elevator and I wanted more but couldn’t find any in the library. So I had to move on.

crazy-rich-asians

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

I had read somewhere – maybe the synopsis of this book itself – that there is a super-rich echelon of society in Hong Kong where marriages are almost always arranged by the doyennes of the community. Apparently, it’s not just Hong Kong but the extended elite community of Chinese in Asia and overseas. This book offers an insider’s view into that milieu.

As expected, it’s all fabulous wealth and the trapping of richesse like you can never imagine, but the defamiliarising element comes in the form of the interloper – a Chinese American girlfriend of an extremely eligible Sinagporean. Rachel Chu has no idea about her boyfriend’s antecedents and is in for a rude culture shock when she visits Singapore at his behest. You’d think it would be a good thing to discover that your boyfriend is super rich and comes from the cream of Chinese society, but the flip side is trying to break into a clannish and snobbish community that immediately closes ranks while presenting a deceptively indifferent exterior.

I enjoyed this book as an insight into a facet of Chinese society that I only had an inkling of, but also because I identified with the situation. No, I don’t come from an extremely wealthy or esteemed family, but what I realised is that most families behave in the same way. All families think they’re the bee’s knees and view outsiders with suspicion. There’s almost resentment when eligible members of the family are snapped up by people the family doesn’t deem sufficiently worthy – and probably no one would be sufficiently worthy to the family, particularly to the mothers of eligible sons. Some things are the same everywhere, it would appear.

 

On the “selfishness” of having a child

People who choose not to have kids are often told (erroneously) that they are being selfish. Now people who choose not to have kids are turning the tables and saying those who have kids are selfish.

Oookay then.

In as much as conceiving and giving birth to a child involves the desire to create a minime to love and which arguably does not contribute anything to society (if one takes the view that the world does not need more people which I don’t), having children is selfish. The thing though is that having a child is as selfish as doing anything that gives one pleasure and requires effort in the process. Like climbing a mountain or tending a garden or creating a work of art.

But we don’t call those selfish pursuits. We don’t because there’s a qualitative difference between those activities and the ones that we normally term selfish. Selfishness is not just about being motivated by one’s own interest, but about negating the needs of others. While it is quite common to point to how the earth doesn’t need more children, the link between the environment and population growth is not simplistically more people = worse environment. So unless you believe parents are creating monsters in raising kids or are willing to go around shouting “selfish, selfish” at artists and mountaineers and frankly everyone, then “selfish” is a stretch.

Therefore, while an effective word for the purpose of defamiliarisation, I find the application of the word to “selfish” to human reproduction unfair. It smacks of tit for tat. Surely, there must be other ways to make the case for not having children (if such a case needs to be made at all) than going: “I’m not selfish. You’re selfish” even to people who never said you were selfish in the first place. Mature.

On a side note, while the desire to rear a child might originate in selfishness (if we must call it that), the process of child rearing is a lesson in the erosion of self. Having a child is like undertaking an allegedly selfish act in order to (hopefully) become less selfish. Like Buddha meditating under the tree, so to speak. Or fasting. Okay, don’t kill me. I’m not claiming to have attained Nirvana, only to doing a lot of deep breathing while under pressure. Only more fun, because slides and finger paint.

To summarise, people should be able to choose if they would like to embark on the fascinating journey (to those who choose it) of raising another human being or or the equally fascinating journey of not. Just because. The end.

 

 

 

 

Long weekend

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I never thought I’d spend a FRIDAY night surrounded by excitable minions (i.e. children) watching – wait for it – Dora the Explorer sing… and live to enjoy it.

Honestly, this was more excitement on a Friday night than we’ve had in a while. The days of catching a drink after work have long been replaced by hanging out on the couch feeling very tired. However, when we won free tickets to the Dora the Explorer show we swallowed our fatigue in a way we haven’t been able to for our own friends and took the kids.

They were so excited when they got to the exhibition centre where it was held, and they hadn’t even got to the floor where the face-painting and other Dora stuff was going on. In fact, they didn’t really experience any of that because V was late. Hmph. However, he went out during the show to get balloons for them.

Unlike every other kid on the planet, mine are not really familiar with Dora purely because we haven’t discovered it on YouTube yet. Instead, we often watch a cartoon entirely in Russian about a bear and a naughty little girl (Reminder to self: Ask friend with Russian husband for the name of this cartoon. It is awesome). I should have introduced the kids to Dora before the show but I was too lazy.

I was a tad nervous that they wouldn’t really get into a stage show because they’re three and two, but they totally did. Well, when the lights went out, they were a tad scared. But the show was very interactive and got the kids to shout out stuff and do actions. Many of the kids had these glowing stars on a stick, which is apparently a thing in the Dora series, but mine didn’t and had to make do with the free plastic stars because kanjoos parents. Mimi was more into the actions than Benji, who sat there with this stupefied smile on his face. They are both now obsessed with Swiper who was supposed to be the villain of the piece. Go figure.

I have to say, I was quite excited. I loved the theme song and all the tunes are quite catchy. It was obvious to anyone watching me that I was having a whale of a time. Still, it was a bit surreal even for me.

***

Ever since I read this, the only thing I could focus on was the possibility of Saravana Bhavan in Hong Kong because …idlis. So when a friend called asking if I wanted to check out Saravana Bhavan I was confused about how I could have missed news of its opening and also obviously game. Apparently, the restaurant is in Chungking Mansions which made sense, but the closer we got to the date, the more doubtful I was. In the end, it turned out to be Saravana ‘Hotel’ which someone had recommended to friend for South Indian food. We ordered: dahi puri, ragda pattice, mysore masala dosa, masala dosa, vada, and of course idli. The first few things out – the chaat, ragda pattice and dosas – were very promising. Tragically, the idlis were not. And I started feeling queasy towards the end.

Conclusion in the sane light of recovery from food coma: Worth it only for the chaat and dosas. The vadas probably had soda in them that made us all gassy.

***

The rest of the weekend was dedicated to football. It’s been an exciting if very shocking World Cup and by the end of it, with all the teams (Italy, Netherlands) and individual hunks (Christiano Ronaldo, Mario Balotelli, James Rodrigues) I was supporting out, I was neutral about the final. I’m just glad it didn’t into penalties and in the end, the most consistently good team won with a real cracker of a goal. It was cute how the kids ran onto the pitch to hug their daddies. Goetze’s girlfriend is very hot but didn’t seem to want to be there (“Maybe she didn’t tell her parents,” V said.) Lowe cracked a smile. Messi did not. He was really pissed. Angela Merkel checked her phone a lot but hugged all the ‘boys’. One thing I liked about the World Cup is how many of the (male) players let it all hang out emotionally. Yes, really men do cry. Alls well that ends well, but what will I do with myself now?

***

I had an awesome session with my shrink. Note to people seeking therapy: Go with a recommended one even if it costs the Earth. I wasted a lot of time and emotional energy on the free social worker, well-intentioned as she was.

***

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Had lunch at Ichiran, which is some famous Japanese ramen chain. The whole experience is a lesson in Japanese efficiency. You queue up in stages – first outside in the terrible humidity, then inside, then further inside where you can sit on stools and watch a control panel with lights blinking according whether the seat is free or occupied. Finally, you’re led to your seats, which are individuals stools in front of a counter, each seat partitioned off from the one next to it, though if you’re with someone you can still talk to them (but it’s not the most romantic setting). Surprisingly, they were able to provide a high chair for a couple with a baby. The best thing was that each seat had its own water tap with a note saying “Try our delicious water”. In a world in which restaurants behave like water is running dry unless you buy it, this personal fountain was much appreciated. I think I enjoyed refilling my own glass as much as the ramen. Which was delicious. I’ve never been a great fan of Japanese food, but I’m totally getting into ramen. I also really like the individual seating thing. It made me think how when I first got to Hong Kong I was so awkward and sad about having to lunch alone but now that I seem to have company for lunch almost every day, I really miss having lunch myself and sometimes purposely don’t schedule anybody in so I can do so. The only annoying thing is avoiding people in the regular haunts and feeling guilty about taking a table for two but ordering for one. So Ichiran would totally suit me.

However, I did have a tummy upset in the evening, which could possibly be due to me checking ‘5’ for spice intensity or due to the greasy McDonald’s breakfast we indulged in post World Cup.

***

Ended the weekend with a facial, despite V moaning that I was ditching him. It was lovely though I have a couple of pimples now. Hmph.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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Read it in one day-ish. It was that good, but also I was suffering from extreme angst and needed a distraction so read into the wee hours. Also, it’s not a voluminous tome.

  1. It had me at the title.
  2. I wavered on the first page. After that, I was a goner.
  3. I’m developing a thing for YA if I didn’t already have one. Inching towards John Green, don’t know why I’m so reticent. Maybe the hype and fear of disappointing MinCat with my reaction.
  4. Yes, people don’t talk like that. I think the kids in YA books are the kooky and precocious ones. And those of us who love those books have some of that inside us.
  5. I feel like if I want to take a stab at writing, YA might be doable.
  6. Ok this is not much of a review, is it? But I never claimed it was, so there!

 

To get or not get the milk and other dilemmas

Indra Nooyi’s statements on work life balance went viral with many women refreshed by her candor on the subject, followed by a backlash of people rolling their eyes.

First, I want to say that it is tres irritating that female CEOs get asked about work-life balance and male CEOs never do. Maybe we should start asking male CEOs. Or maybe we should assume, as Nooyi kind of suggests, that CEOs don’t usually have work-life balance and thus, stop asking this question.

That said, Matt Lauer’s interview of the GE CEO Mary Barra was a far more egregious example. Nooyi’s comments on work-life balance were part of a lengthy interview on her vision for Pepsico (in which she makes far more controversial comments which few are talking about because how many people watched the whole interview?*)

Nooyi had told the story of her mom’s unimpressed reaction to her achievement before so she was asked to repeat it. As an interviewer, I can understand the need to bring in some human colour to an interview about company strategy and since she had already spoken about this, it was fair game.

Many people were unimpressed with Nooyi’s mom. I was unimpressed with Nooyi’s mom. I think Nooyi also was unimpressed with her mom. In her recounting of the incident, I read a wry acceptance of the older generation being what they are. I also think Nooyi was trying to illustrate that to a CEOs family the CEO is just a family member.

Maybe Nooyi should have refused to get the milk. Maybe she should have insisted her husband get the milk. But on an overwhelming day, maybe she decided she needed the space to calmly deal with her mom’s reaction and she didn’t want a fight, so she got the milk. Her actions seem in line with her modus operandi of doing what she feels is right at the moment and not thinking overly about it later.

This way of doing things is more apparent in the part of the interview about mommy guilt. Her daughter guilt-trips her about not being there for coffee mornings. People have criticized her approach of citing other mothers who were not there. Why didn’t she talk to her daughter about gender equality?

Honestly, I think her method was probably more effective than talking about gender equality, though such a talk was certainly warranted to her daughter and to the school. A blogger in Mumbai once wrote about how her daughter is not satisfied with her husband going to her events because all the other kids have their moms there. Nooyi was acting in real time at a school which had coffee mornings for moms and I suspect her method worked better with her daughter.

For me, it was not her exact actions that I liked but her approach which is non-apologetic. I can’t go. I refuse to agonise and beat myself up over it.

Now, about mommy guilt. Some have suggested that women should be over this by now. And I suppose, if we’re not over it, we better hush up because mentioning it only legitimizes it.

The thing though is that mommy guilt is a thing. To a greater or lesser extent. Even a feminist like moi is not immune. Maybe it’s because we were still socialized in an environment where women were primarily responsible for childcare. Maybe because gender roles have remained largely unchanged and in the communities that some of us live in, we are still pioneers in this. Maybe because women are socialized to be or just are more introspective and sensitive. I have noticed that daddy guilt is not much apparent and the reasons for it are more complicated than women just not being able to get over it already.

Maybe a little guilt is a good thing. An older and wiser commenter once said this to me when I wrote about the subject. Guilt keeps us in check. The trick is not to get over the guilt but to know when to suppress it and when to pay it heed. Nooyi’s example was her way of in her words “coping.”

What I liked best about the interview was her candor about “the list”.

You know, Raj always said, you know what, your list is PepsioCo, PepsiCo, PepsiCo, our two kids, your mom, and then at the bottom of the list is me. There are two ways to look at it. (laughing) You should be happy you’re on the list. So don’t complain. (laughing) He is on the list. He is very much on the list. But you know, (laughing) sorry, David.

I’m sure the haters will hate. Hawww what a person, how can she put PepsiCo first and her family after. But that’s who she is. Maybe that’s who you need to be a CEO. You need to be the kind of person that is obsessed with the company. I think there are some people like that and they are very difficult people to be married to or parented by. But they are who they are and in the past, only men were allowed to be those people (remember Gandhi?). And one way to look at that would be to guilt-trip all those people into choosing one or the other. Or maybe, as long as they are not horrendous but just not ideal, we can accept them if they are acceptable to us (and by us, I mean as a family member.)

Oh, I forgot about having it all. She was asked whether “women can have it all” and she said no. Many people believe she should have said “no one can have it all.” Agreed. But I also think the pressure to have it all applies more to women (see my thoughts on ‘guilt’ above). In recent times, the mommy guilt trope has morphed into the ‘have it all’ trope. Just like we are bombarded by images of women with perfect bodies (and men are only just being subjected to this pressure), we are now bombarded with women who have it all, ‘real’ women and in the movies and in literature and in the media (and men don’t have a similar pressure to ‘have it all’). So while we can say, oh blah, don’t buy into that, the message is insidious and everywhere and sometimes it’s good for someone with a loudspeaker to do a specific takedown. Which Nooyi did.

That’s my thoughts.

*V and I attempted to watch the whole interview but then V found some of her other statements on health foods too annoying and I was too sleepy to listen to someone talk about how to create value for shareholders so we switched off.

Going back to work

Note: At the bottom of this post, I’ll be linking to other mums who’ve written on this topic. So if this post pops up incessantly in your Reader, that’s why.

Indimommy surveyed readers on going back to work after having a baby and did a nice article summing up the responses. Since I responded to their initial questions, I got emailed in a few more and while answering those I realised I had a fair bit to say on the subject. So I decided to do a post here.

Why did I decide to go back to work?

Before my baby was born, I don’t think it really occurred to me that not going to work was something that I might do. Because although I wasn’t passionate about my job, I liked working and I liked drawing a paycheck and I was fairly sure I wouldn’t like being around a baby 24/7 and all the allied chores that get thrown your way when you’re ‘not working’.

At some point, V made his preference clear which was that I continue to work. He has never cherished being the only breadwinner, and all the women he knows well worked outside the home after giving birth. I did once sharply tell him that had I wanted to stay home, he should support that (since he could financially, though it would mean saving less) but since I myself didn’t really want to stay home, I didn’t pursue that.

In Hong Kong, most middle-class women go back to work. There is a large number of highly educated women and if the choice was between their jobs or having a baby, they’d choose the former. Hell, many couples forgo having kids anyway because they believe a baby is a cost they cannot afford, even if they can drum up the interest. To push along the declining birth rate and keep women in the workforce, the Government instituted the foreign domestic helper policy, allowing Hongkongers to employ women from other countries at a set minimum wage. This did enable large numbers of middle-class women to go to work, though the birth rate is still on the low side. Basically, it’s the norm for women in Hong Kong to go back to work after having a baby, because few can afford not to.

This makes it easier to decide to go back to work. In the office, I had three other women on my floor who had just given birth and we traded stories. All of us felt we were better off back at work.

Doubts

If I had any twinges of doubt, they were when interviewing a helper. This was when I was in my second trimester so the baby was a reality and the 10 weeks maternity leave seemed to be incredibly paltry once I met the strangers I was supposed to be leaving my infant with. I just could not figure out how to pick one for the task. If I had to pick a helper for just the husband and me, easy peasy. But a not-quite-three-month-old baby is a bit different.

Thankfully, our part-time helper who we loved and trusted offered to come on board if we could pay her for the gap period when she was between employers waiting for her visa. We decided the extra expense was worth it, and in the end, immigration came through with the visa quicker than expected so we didn’t pay as much as we had thought. Several people who I’ve told we paid this amount are surprised, but for us it was money well spent.

Then Benji had reflux and I began to worry about going to work again. When I voiced these doubts to my mother, she said she would look after him but I must go back to work. When my sister had doubts after her baby, my mom told her the same. My mother is a stay-at-home mom who has completely changed her views on being one. She believes in the security of a paycheck now.

When I went back to work, it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. Immediately, the haze of anxiety that had enveloped me after Benji’s birth dissipated as I was forced to think about other things than whether his milk was coming up and burning his throat or how he was napping. My helper seemed perfectly capable of managing him and the household chores (though we told her she could skip the latter if it was getting too much) and she did so without the excessive worry that characterised me as a caregiver.

Did having a good domestic help sway your decision in continuing working after the baby?

Yes and no. It was never that much of a decision to make. I just assumed I’d go back to work. But having a good helper gave me immense peace of mind.

There’s a small chance that the helper wouldn’t have worked out. Most people I know in Hong Kong do find satisfactory help to look after their children. But if I really couldn’t find someone I was comfortable with, then I would have had to stay at home at least initially. Although my husband would have naturally been a better caretaker, I have the smaller paycheck coupled with the fact that I was trying to breastfeed. This is the sad truth for most households and a reason why its mostly the woman that gives up her job (though also, most people just don’t consider dad staying home as an option, even though bottle feeding exists). Honestly, I don’t see how I could have continued that indefinitely because I would have struggled mentally and emotionally.

The availability of help swayed my decision to have another child. I would not have done it without because after the first child I knew what a child would demand of me.

My second helper also showed me what it would be like to have a helper you don’t trust implicitly. While she loves my child, she can’t be trusted to make decisions. I would have had to micromanage a lot more and I can imagine a lot of stress.

Right now, I have two helpers who work well together in looking after our children and our when we’re at work and I feel super blessed.

 Flexible hours

I don’t have flexible hours but I have reasonable and fixed hours. I also have understanding bosses who would understand if I needed to take a bit time off for something family-related. But it’s not the norm, so I’ve only done this once so far.

My husband also makes it a point to leave on time. We’re fortunate that we have jobs that allow this, but I think we’re also the kind of people who seek out these jobs even at the expense of money/career advancement. Thankfully, we do have enough money/reasonable career advancement anyway.

In cases of crisis, both of us are willing to work overtime (hell, I’ve edited stuff for my office a week after my baby was born, typing with one hand and holding my baby and breastfeeding on the other, because they called me in a crisis). I used to have to work the odd Saturday and the husband would back me up, I backed him up when he’s on business travel.

I think the reasonable working hours do help in keeping me from feeling overwhelmed and fatigued. I can switch off from work when at home and just spend time with my kids. Even so, as they grew older, I’ve felt the need to be there for them more, and hence the choice to do a PhD now (it was always on the cards, just a question of timing) which I think will give me more flexibility.

Policies

In Hong Kong, because of the helper situation, workplaces generally assume that parents don’t need to take time off for most kids’ stuff. Helpers serve the function that stay-at-home moms do in other places. Hence people are usually expected to work long hours, which kind of sucks.

Maternity leave in Hong Kong is 10 weeks which is far from ideal because babies are very vulnerable and need a lot of care in the first three to six months and it’s logical that parents would want to be involved at this delicate stage. Not to mention that it’s hard to sustain breastfeeding remotely, especially breastfeeding rooms are pretty much non-existent and one is reduced to pumping in the toilet or what you hope are deserted areas. I have a colleague whose child has severe allergies and she found with her second one that breastfeeding helped, but she couldn’t sustain it when she returned to work and her child is suffering but she has just accepted it. It pisses me off that such an affluent society that claims to want to tackle the birth rate cannot invest in the wellbeing of newborns by giving mums at least four months off.  Paternity leave was instituted only last year and is all of FIVE days and that’s supposed to be some great thing. While I have a stellar helper, not everyone does or feels up to trusting someone else with such a small child. So at the policy level, much needs to be done.

Also read

Anna’s Mom’s take on her experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch yoga

That’s what the class is called because it’s slotted during the time we’re contracted to take our lunch hour. Yes, our contract specifies when we lunch, but luckily our office is a tad flexible on this.

I resisted signing up for this class even though it has a large following from our office because 1) it’s in Cantonese 2) it’s embarrassing being Indian in Hong Kong and so inept at yoga. When an Indian walks into a yoga class here, everyone assumes you’re the teacher first and then after the real teacher makes herself known, everyone including the teacher assumes you’re an expert and the reality is then more shocking.

Nevertheless, because so many friends were going and I figured they’d babysit me a bit in terms of language, I decided to go. Yesterday was the first class. I surprised myself at actually being able to sustain some of the poses and not being the utter worst in class. A much younger and slimmer girl was to my eternal gratitude. Nevertheless, it was hard. There were parts that were good and I realised I’m old enough to enjoy yoga because I like the steady breathing and am not that concerned about weight loss, although that would be a bonus.

Halfway through the class, I was thinking that if I could do this twice a week, I’d be good in terms of exercise, but by the end of the class, I thought once a week was enough. It’s quite a workout and you end up feeling quite sleeping after.

For some reason, the people in my office don’t take a shower after. Okay the reason is that they’re adhering as strictly as possible to the office timings. Can you imagine, we did a kickboxing class and didn’t shower after? It’s ridiculous, though admittedly Chinese people don’t sweat as much I think. After V made fun of me, I was determined to try to sneak in a shower. It helps that my boss who was in the class is on leave and summer is a slow time anyway. So I raced off to the showers, and I landed up catching up with everyone else on the way back anyway. I don’t think five minutes of running water over our body is going to kill anyone.

As the day progressed, I was dead tired though. This may have been exacerbated by PMS but I am just not one of those persons whose endorphins make themselves known in a tangible way after a workout. Instead I usually feel in dire need of a nap. And this was when I was regularly running in school as well.

I have always been in awe of people who go to the gym during their lunch hour (my sister was one of those people). In my case, in addition to the sleepiness, it screws up my eating timings, and then once I drag my ass home, I don’t have the luxury of vegetating on the couch or hitting the sack right away. So this is not an ideal routine for me, but for now, I’m sticking with it.

 

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