My girl

This is the year I fell in love with you.

This is the year you came into your own beauty – your glossy girls, your crooked teeth, your glowing skin.

This is the year I learnt what you needed – me.

This is the year that I accepted that you are like me and I like you. Ok, me but at intensity raised to the power of 100 (which I will blame on your father’s sisters).

We like many of the same things. I can anticipate before you put something into your mouth whether you will like it or not. But then there’s tomato ketchup, which I cannot stand and you love, so I hold myself back poker faced as people try to get you to try new things, new things that you sniff at skeptically.

When you are angry, no one in a five mile radius would be in any doubt. You are not shy about expressing your sheer frustration that the world is not going your way.

When you feel love, you can only show us by turning into a cat. You meow, you lick us, you rub against us.

You do hug. But on your terms. I am permitted to grab you and hug you and you wipe off my kisses with a “ew”. Again, you are me.

I have learnt to get you to calm down by drawing a picture. You still love art and craft best. You are not a reader yet, you like lines and colours.

And clothes, and dressing up. And dancing. And striking a pose. I can see you on the cover of a fashion magazine.

This is the year you and I had long chats. You need that, that time with me talking, and I cannot give you as much as you need, but I try.

This is the year you had so much homework and we worked at it. I admire your commitment, the need to master something. You like homework, mostly, but you want me next to you.

This is the year school settled down, you made friends, you even became the preferred cousin. My heart sighed with relief, because like you I was a lonely schoolgirl.

This is the year you got a speaking part in your school play and you aced it and you made us laugh at your refusal to share the mic with anyone.

This is the year I realised you will not be a sporty girl, and that we will have to trick you into exercising.

This is the year that I realised you will grow taller than me very soon.

This is the year I tried to strike a balance between going along with you and putting my foot down. You still cannot always be reasoned with.

But this year, I can anticipate better when I will succeed and when I will fail.

“You wanted a daughter,” your father says, when I sigh after one of your storms.

Yes I did.

You were not the daughter I anticipated.

This is the year my heart is so full of you.

You, my whirlwind. Me, the eye of your storm.

This year. You.




Just read – in January


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Emma, Jane Austen
Found myself thinking and marveling at Clueless throughout. Amazed at how cleverly the film is done. Turns out that I was reading the book on the anniversary of its writing and New York Public library had done a post comparing it to Clueless.
One thing that struck me was the radical nature of Knightly’s sacrifice – to love a woman so much to leave one’s own estate and castle because she will not move out of her home because of her father.
Austen’s work is always about class but in this one, the critique about adherence to class strictures without attention to inner qualities is more pronounced. As ever, we have a high model of what constitutes the good person – the gentleman or gentlewoman – in Knightly.
Fire from Heaven, Mary Renault
This book is part of a trilogy on Alexander the Great.
Knew almost nothing about Alexander except that he was “the great” so it was a good intro. Vaguely remember Aristotle was his teacher, enjoyed that part the most – how he was influenced by Aristotle’s Hellenic ideal.
The other striking thing that our school history textbooks do not tell us but that is otherwise common knowledge is the queer relationship between Alexander and Hephastion. The strong parallel between this relationship and the Achilles-Patrocles myth is stressed here (so it would be good to be familiar with that myth to get its full resonance. I recommend Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles). What annoyed but also intrigued me was the author’s decision to keep the relationship unconsummated.
Polite Society, Mahesh Rao
I actually read Emma as a prep for reading this book, which is a redo of Emma set in Luyten’s Delhi. Read my thoughts on it on my chick lit blog.
By Invitation Only – Dorothea Benton Frank
At some point, V got into downloading bestsellers for me, and that’s how I landed up with this one. I struggled to get into it. On the one hand, I can get onboard with a good wedding drama story. It was told from the perspective of the Southern mother of the groom, and the writer has a sense of humour.
It tended to, however, valorise the Southern lifestyle – people exclusively by white people as far as I could tell – and turned into something of a morality tale on how the superficial New Yorkers learn some good Southern values. Oh wait, there was one person of colour in the novel and it turned out he was a crook.
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rovelli
I started reading about quantum mechanics after a columnist made some sweeping statement that I was convinced was factually incorrect (and three books down, I am right). While trying to fact check his “quantum physics says that chaos always precedes a transition” schtick, I tumbled down the rabbit hole.
Let me just say that physics was my bete noir. I pretty much failed the physics part of the aptitude test I
Yet, physics is the most philosophical of the sciences, and so, some 20 years after I closed by school physics textbook, I am trying again.
This book is probably the one I’d recommend you read first, as a taster. It is collection of beautiful essays that breaks down as simply as possible some of the big questions that physicists have grappled with since Einstein.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman
Oh my lord, I loved this novel. How does one write a novel about a single, awkward, lonely woman without making her pathetic. How does one write an uplifting story about her life, without taking the edge of the loneliness? One gives Elinor a scathing voices that comically cuts through the bullshit of contemporary life. Some have critiqued this voice as being unrealistically naive, and while this is a fair point, I still loved it.
Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji, Manu S. Pillai
One of my pet grouse’s about our history textbooks in school was that they started with the Aryans, skipped ahead to Shivaji and ended with Indian independence, with a little detour to encompass the world wars in between.
I remembers characters such as the Adil Shah of Bijapur and Aurangzeb, but in so far as they were the enemies of the great Maratha warrior Shivaji. It all came back to Shivaji in the end.
So actually reading the rich history of the Deccan was a revelation. The Adil Shah was not just some evil king from a substandard province, but a number of people who headed a rich state, where the confluence of Hindu and Muslim culture ebbed and flowed, with other influences. What was fascinating was the presence of not just Persians but Africans in positions of power.
There were so many threads, so many kings and kingdoms that one got mainly snippets of each ruler and kingdom. There was also a repeated stress on how Hindus and Muslims got along to the extent that it seemed a bit like Mr Pillai doth protest too much. And he still ended up with evil Aurangzeb trope which was a disappointment.
There there, Tommy Orange
This is a powerful book about the American Indian experience. It was searing but also too much. I took ages to read it because I kept hoping that the thing that was supposed to happen in the beginning did not happen. A bit like Rebel Sultan,s I thought that there were too many characters, I struggled to keep track of them. What stuck with me was the
Don’t get me wrong, this is worth reading. Just tough.

Facing the Holocaust with kids


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This week, I told my kids about the Holocaust.

Nene is learning about World War II and on our visit to the library, he picked out a book on the subject. He chooses which pages he wants to read and I noticed he tends to pick the ones with weapons. I also sensed some attempt on his part to defend Germany – maybe because in role play at school, he was on the German side, maybe because the sophistication of German weapons fascinated him, maybe because I had pointed out that one of the reasons the German people supported Hitler was because Germany had been so decimated after World War I and people were willing to grasp a narrative that promised a path to glory.

On the other hand, I sensed that the narrative at school was British-centric. I asked him if they had learnt about the Jews and he said no. (I was pretty shocked at the omission of this crucial piece of the picture, but it turns out they were getting to it).

His first question – what are Jews? Fortunately, he had a Jewish friend who had introduced Hanukkah to them in kindergarten so I had a starting point.

Talking about what happened to the Jews during the war was harder than I thought. I think faced with the sheer horror of it, Nene wanted to feel there could have been some escape – “But why didn’t they get there own army and fight back?” The absurdity of Hitler’s project though was immediately clear.

“So Hitler only liked white people… but they are white people,” he said pointing to a picture of Jewish kids in the book.

“They have dark hair… but he has dark hair too.”

“Yes, look.”


We talked about why Hitler hated the Jews, how people sometimes hate what they are most insecure about, how finding an enemy to blame one’s problems on is easier than finding a solution to them (at the personal and country level), and how some people are employing this strategy even today.

We talked about Anne Frank, a kid like them who had to hide for two years, how she eventually died and the power of her diary. (They did talk about this in school later).

I told him about the participation of European colonies in the war, how millions of Indians fought, how Britain promised India independence and reneged.

I told him about the unfortunate situation in Palestine.

It was a big conversation but it didn’t take that long. It was an emotional conversation for me, maybe I have read too much Holocaust literature that I cannot speak of this episode without my voice cracking.

V questions why the focus on the Jewish suffering when there have been comparable horrors elsewhere. It is true that this one is more documented and visible.

In my view, though, no discussion of World War II can happen without it. It is the biggest lesson we have to learn from that war – never forget, never again.

But also, in India today, we have a prime minister who comes from an organisation that admired Hitler  and deploys some of the same rhetoric against minority communities.

The same warning signs that I told my son the German people ignored are flashing at us in India as we remain enthralled by visions of civilisation so greatness.

The big fat India trip 2018-19 edition


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I wrangled three weeks of leave from the boss, to his chagrin. I believe our relationship was never the same again, though maybe that’s just my guilt talking. Later, I realised his indecision was because a) he usually takes that block himself b) he’s a bad manager.

Anyway, it was worth it:

1. My primary reason for insisting on that entire stretch was that I wanted to maximise time with the sister, who I would be seeing after two years, and my newest and only nephew. This proved vindicated. That baby is adorbs. Nene in particularl bonded with him massively. V proved to me that he is ready for another baby in how he took care of this newest addition. Nevertheless, the exhaustion on my sister’s face is effective contraception.

2. For the past few years, my sis-in-laws have been grumbling about how they want to “go somewhere” for Christmas but can’t because we always visit at that time and refuse to go anywhere. The fact is that my first few visits to India with kids were so exhaustingly horrendous (see last sentence of last paragraph) that I embargoed further travel. This time I said yes, and they decided on a trip to their “native place” in Kerala. I was not thrilled for reasons described here.

In the end, it was okay. We rented a house which proved to be good because I could escape from being social now and then. Meeting the extended family was not as stilted as I expected it to be and the younger generation speaks English so I had some people to talk to. I can now remember most of them by name. It was interesting to visit the village and the food was overall awesome.

We also visited an elephant compound where temple elephants are housed. The creatures are amazing but they are tied up which is not.

3. The Bangalore leg of the trip has become easier and easier. My niece stays with us and there’s a cousins kid next door. The kids pretty much run riot all day with us only having to make sure they eat and have a bath. My in-laws are pretty peaceful with me (touch wood). I chatted with my mother in law a bit. I’m amazed at how much she does with her ailing health.

4. Not only had I agreed on a trip to Kerala, I planned a trip with my folks to Alibaug as well. It was good choice as we all got to kick back and relax. We stayed at the Radisson which is a nice property but some facilities are getting dated. What I appreciated was that the staff really are helpful, even though they struggled to keep up with demands. There were facilities for kids – and Nene discovered the joys of cricket.

Unfortunately the pool was a tad too cold. The beaches at Alibaug are a disappointment but we enjoyed a visit to the Kolaba Fort – which can be walked to at low tide but requires a boat a high tide.

I was not thrilled about the four-hour drive but it turned out that I almost enjoyed it. The key to a road trip is a good playlist and sleeping children.

5. The Bombay leg of the trip was the most tiring because we were a lot of people – three kids and a baby- in a relatively small house. We did trips to Borivali National Park, Kidzania and Juhu beach, the latter is clean enough that we let the kids play in the water.

6. Despite my best efforts I had a tummy upset and a sinus infection. I did not even drink alcohol or eat hot chips. The key I discovered is to nip it in the bud by getting antibiotics before it’s too severe.

Resolutions – 2019


  1. Shout less when angry. This is long-running, but in my defence, I improved this year. I credit the new job, not anything intrinsic to myself, with this.
  2. Re: the new job, a) get less hassled by boss and annoying colleage. (I am already failing at this, but in my defence, I’m PMSing) b) eat out with people only twice a week (because I really like eating alone!)
  3. Check on India savings and investments. Start with figuring out the passwords to said accounts.

I can’t think of anything else! That’s good, right?

Looking at last year’s resolutions, I made some progress on calmness, some progress on getting hassled by small stuff. Pretty much failed at brushing my teeth at night (though it looked like I was getting there after the last tooth extraction), being on top of my own finances (though actually the new HSBC app is fabulous for this, so it’s just the India ones I suck at) or writing something creative or a research paper (my job is too hectic. This will have to pushed to when if we ever move to India). My big achievement of the year was exercising and getting weight under control (which three days spicy banana chips consumption has probably undone, sob). Yay me?

How to explain trans identity to a kid


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Read a children’s version of the Mahabharata. We are reading Devdutt Patnaik’s The Boys Who Fought.

Come to the part about Shikhandi. Let the questions begin.

Nene: But why?

Me: Why what?

N: Why did he want to be a boy?

Me: So he was born with a woman’s body but he always felt like a boy inside so his family let him be (this is basically explained in the version I’m reading with a simple backstory about Amba).

N: oh okay.

Move on to the mighty Arjuna hiding behind Shikhandi to shoot down his invincible granduncle.

That’s it. Something that many adults seem to think is very complicated and scary is acceptable to a kid in about 1 minute. This is not to say that encounters with trans people will be seamless but all questions can be referred back to “Remember Sikhandi in the Mahabharata…” As an added bonus, the whole thing is sanctified by the great Indian epic.

On the other hand, my kids found it almost impossible to grasp the caste system, something adults seem to have an easier time coming to terms with, which we encountered in Sowmya Ranjendran’s wonderful The Boy Who Asked Why, about Dr Ambedkar,

“But why?”

“But why what?”

“Why did he have to sit at the back of the class?”

“Because it says here, society was like a ladder with groups of people arranged from highest to lowest.”

“But why was he the lowest?”

“Because he was born in a family that was considered the lowest.”

“But why?”

“Yeah it’s stupid.”

Cue uncomprehending expressions.

I might have to work harder at this, and also break it to them that it’s not a past tense thing.

Just read – December



The president is missing – James Patterson, Bill Clinton

As a thriller, this book is so-so. It is more interesting as a foreign policy read. Presumably in the eyes of Bill Clinton, Israel and Germany are the US’ staunchest allies, England doesn’t even get a mention. Russia is still Enemy No 1, China interestingly is not as much of a great. Saudi is the good guy even though they concocted the plan.

The grave threat is now cyber terrorism.

The president is conceived as the ideal American hero. He is distinguished by a sporting career cut short by war service.

What stood out is how the book is peopled by many women in power. Unfortunately several, if not all, of these women turn out to be tainted. Go figure.

The book ends literally with a state of the union type address in which the president sets out his vision for America. The theme – bipartisanship.

Little fires everywhere – Celeste Ng

This seems to be a novel that people either love or hate, according to good read reviews. I loved it. I read the reviews after and was surprised at the number of haters. One grouse is that Mia is doing this manic pixie mom thing, which is fair point. Another is that it’s supposed to be a character driven novel but the characters don’t stick. I dunno. The character Moody has stayed with me, I like how Tripp was out of character, how Lexie seems to be. Yes, Mrs Richardson is a bit the caricatured stepford wife, but there’s an attempt to give her motivation. The most surprising character for me was Mr Richardson, ask me why in the comments if you’ve read the book and care. My biggest problem was that for a novel written by an Asian and which puts race front and centre, the handful of Asian characters have such secondary roles. They are onlookers or literally the plot on which the white curacters do their thing.

China: a concise history

Basically a primer on modern china. It was more like bringing together a lot of the little bits of information I mostly already knew

Women and Power – Mary Beard

This is a short, very interesting read, tracing how women have been shut out of power in western civilization, going back to Greek myth and connecting it with modern politics.

Five star billionaire – Tash Aw

I first heard of this book at an academic talk when it was mentioned in conjunction with arvind adiga’s white tiger and mohsin hamids how to get filthy rich in rising Asia. This trio are dark Asian Cinderella stories, telling a gritty version of the Asian dream. White Tiger jolted me even if I didn’t love its parable-like structure. Hamid’s book struck me as largely similar. The thing that lingered with me after was which city it was based on. My guess was Mumbai.

I think i enjoyed Five Star Billionaire the most of the three though I took a while to get into it. The series of vignettes start linking up and in the end, there is a sliver of optimism that charmed me.

Sapiens – Yuval Noah Hariri

I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to read this until I did. The first part was the most engaging for me. Some parts were too cultural studies lite. I know he was trying to fair about colonialism but statements such as this middle eastern script would not had been deceiphered had it not been for the Europeans struck me as sloppy. I like that he discounted the idealization of the past and some of the doomsday predictions for the future.

2018 – a retrospective



Or the highlights that stick in the mind.

1. I started the year with the new job, that was the biggest – and best – source of change in my life. Actually, the start was rather ignominious. On my second day, I ate something that had me puking the entire night. I dragged myself to work the next day because it would be too embarrassing to call a sickie on day 3. In fact, I haven’t taken a single day of sick leave this entire year – which is some sort of record. The fact is that our deadlines are daily and our team is just about holding head above water so one person off can throw things out of whack. I do thing I should take more sick leave next year, well at least a couple, but I have been fortunate that after that one crazy episode I have not been terribly ill.

I love the job and I’m going well at it. My office is lovely, the people are fine. My honeymoon period is over – I managed to piss off my boss pushing him to approve my leave in December (when I realised like many senior journalists, his management style needs work. Nice guy who struggles with people management) and I have my very own frenemy, sadly the only other Indian in my team whose very presence triggers a stress reaction.

But overall, I’m happy where I am. This has been a good thing and after all my career angst last year, I’m grateful.

2. The PhD is well and truly over. I passed my exam – and did well enough to be urged by one of the examiners to apply for a job at her institution, which I turned down! I swotted over revisions, some warranted and some not (insert Hegel, boo!). They were approved without issue. I even attended a graduation ceremony in a cap and gown for the first time in my life and took a (very beautiful if I may say so myself) photo in a studio.

3. My marriage has calmed down. I have concluded that much of his behaviour is his own problem and that took a load off my back. It annoys me, but I don’t worry as much about what I could be doing. I could have sex with him more and solve a lot of this but I don’t feel terribly guilty anymore about not wanting to. We are far from perfect but at least we get along with less eruptions.

4. My kids continue to be awesome and my biggest joy. This is the year I lost my son a little (see here) and gained my daughter more (post on that coming up).

5. I read a lot. I’m going to start chronicling my reading in mini bites because well, some people might appreciate the recommendations and also to keep track of the sheer breath of my reading. I’ve ventured into areas I never thought I would – physics, for example. I’ve read feminist work I always wanted to but didn’t find time for during my PhD. And of course lots of fiction, literary and not. My rule is one fiction, one serious non fiction or academic work.

6. Time is what I ran out off this year. My job is full on in the week, and I feel the need to maximise time with kids on the weekends. I’m at risk of turning into V as I want to meet friends less. I even run away from colleagues wanting to have lunch together. I realise (and V had this ‘I told you so’ expression when I told him) that I get more interaction than I’m used to in office (after three years of PhD solitude) and too much people time leaves me frazzled. My idea of a holiday is to be alone.

Situational angst


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There are some traumas that are linked to experiences that are specific places that linger long after you left them:

1. One India-related trauma that I recognised when I moved away (apart from the obvious – the trauma of being a woman) is a morbid fear of bureaucracy. In Hong Kong, despite what people say, the bureaucracy is largely efficient and not to be feared. Sure, there’s the filling up forms and submitting stuff. But even if you make a mistake, it can be corrected without going through seven circles of Kafkaesque hell. Nevertheless, when I had to submit my documentation for permanent residence, I went crazy with the paper. V told me I was an open and shut case and didn’t need to worry so much. But I did.

I do this every time I need to submit a visa application even though the chances of being rejected for a visa are quite low. It’s the fear of the runaround that could come if you have one tick out of place.

I recognised a kindred spirit in a Russian friend. If anything, he is worse. He was so paranoid to be not one toe out of line on his visa requirements. And was like, my friend, I hear you.

2. A Hong Kong related trauma is spending extended periods of time around people who are speaking a language I can’t understand. It’s one thing to not be able to understand what exactly happened in the fight that broke out on the MTR or what the TV announcer is saying, although this does cramp my eavesdropping style, but the thing that really gets me is being at a two hour or more lunch surrounded by people speaking Cantonese (the language is not important here, just that I can’t understand it) and having to smile and nod and pretend you kind of understand or don’t mind. My patience for doing this has waned so much that I rarely consent to meet more than two Cantonese speakers at one time and studiously inquire about language of presentation before any event.

I recognised my aversion to this kind of linguistic limbo when the prospect of visiting V’s relatives in Kerala. Now this a family that will make no effort to converse in anything but Malayalam although the younger generation does speak English. Something about being made fun of if you stick your neck out and speak English. Or maybe they just think it’s too much trouble in the way Hongkongers (and possibly English speakers do). The point is – I don’t want to volunteer to be the resident Ms Blank.

I have literally avoided visiting Kerala for this reason (and the fact that I suck at performing conventional Indian femininity and will stick out like a sore thumb if I hang out with men while unable to say a thing to them). In the end, I have capitulated under the condition that we stay in a hotel and not someone’s house (to limit the time I have to spend playing Noddy) thereby branding myself the bitch in law.

I also realised the language issue is what I dread about moving to Bangalore. Sure, in my social circles, English will be the lingua Franca which is a step above Hong Kong, but for the man on the street it’s Kannada so basically Hong Kong redux. In the process, I’ve discovered a secret pleasure – that of being in a place where everyone speaks English.

The entertainer


So every December we go to India. But before that we have the kids’ birthdays. Technically Mimi’s birthday is in Jan. But I can’t imagine doing a party when I’m in India recovery.

Actually I can’t imagine doing a party at all, and in eight years I’ve done … two (I thought it was three, but I think this is actually the second).

I’m not a bad mother. But I’m fairly lazy and a product of my own experience. No I’m not one of those who didn’t have a party growing up. I had one, every year (thank you mum). Looking back, I realised I didn’t actually enjoy most of those. I twigged this looking at the stressed of expression on my face in photographs and then recognizing that same expression on Nene’s face at his first party. In fact, the kids haven’t shown much interest in a party, preferring the idea of Disneyland or a special treat with family instead.

This year, however, both said they wanted to celebrate with friends. Nene wanted to go go-karting but I was ambivalent. While Nene is adept at those things, I’m not sure every kid would be and I would horrified if there were an accident.

So I started trying to dissuade Nene from that idea because his bestie was the one I was most concerned about. Then Mimi said she wanted her own party with a balloon twister and an entertainer.

The thing is – one party is bad enough, but two?

Okay, here’s when I started to become Bad Mother. Not only did I convince Nene not to have a karting party, but Mimi to combine her party with Nene. The latter was harder than the former because Nene is my cooperative kid, and Mimi is not.

And then I morphed into Libran mom because no sooner had they agreed than I started feeling guilty. I started secretly looking into the go-karting party, talked to bestie’s mum and figured I could do it. Only when I went back to Nene with a yes, he said he didn’t want to have a karting party but a normal one. Ouff.

Luckily I had started this process a couple of months in advance – too early to book the room even. But I realise that’s what I need – enough time to agonise.

In fact, this time it was easier than my past attempts.

I had the entertainer down pat – Mini wanted a clown/magician and I knew where to get one that didn’t cost the earth.

Food was basically going to be pizza and chips, with a few things made at home. I did stress about sourcing fried rice for the Asian palate, but I basically delegated that to V.

I figured out giveaways and stuck to them.

I organised three games despite V’s exhortation that I should just leave those kids alone, Pink Floyd style. But no, every party I have seen that does not have some organised entertainment ends up in kids beating each other with balloons. Okay, so I did have a clown.

Anyway, in the end, the first two games were successful – the last, a treasure hunt descended into chaos. But later Nene said he would rather have games than not and one kid even asked if we could repeat the first game, so I feel vindicated.

The thing that nearly did me in – mentally – was the cake. So I do have a friend who makes gorgeous looking cakes, but V is not a fan of their taste. And these fondant confections are expensive. So he convinced me to just order from the local bakeries where at least if you compromise on look and taste, you are paying accordingly. And our observation is that kids don’t care very much about taste. I however felt totally guilty about not letting my kids have the exact shape of cake their heart desired.

V said he could not bring himself to feel sorry for kids who were having a rather expensive party with a hired entertainer.

I do see his point. In the end, Mimi had a unicorn cake that tasted better than expected and Nene had a poop emoji cake that everyone wanted a slice of. These were small so we supplemented with a large tiramisu that was not amazing.

All in all, it was a successful party. The room wasn’t overly packed as I had feared. The kids were largely entertained. I was not as hyper stressed as I could have been. I even wore a rather pretty white dress and didn’t get one stain on it.