Having children not only compels you to reorganise your life, it forces you to reprioritise. Even if you have the best support system in the world – and I have a pretty good support system – your life is going to change, not in small part because you want it to. That’s why you had children, right?
So V and I generally don’t plan outings with friends on weekdays because we want to spend those couple of precious hours at home with the babies. We could do weekend night plans but when the pitter-patter of little feet wakes you up at 6 am the next day and you know you won’t be lazing on the couch thereafter, a late night out doesn’t seem so appealing. On weekends, by necessity, we have one child with us at all times during the day and have to plan activities accordingly. As Benji gets older this means choosing places to meet where he has space to run around and accommodating his nap time.*
This means that we rarely do things for the sake of doing them anymore. We choose the people we want to spend with – and our very small circle of friends has been pretty good in accommodating our new lifestyle as parents, although they don’t have kids themselves. If we choose to go out on a weeknight, it is for something pretty special.
We recently decided to institute a no-media rule for adults (ironically Benji is allowed a little screen time if he gets too angsty) on weekdays when we are with the kids. This came from V who is the TV addict and I agree to give up books too during kiddie time too. This partly influenced our decision not to renew our cable connection, which we found mostly useless anyway and easily replaceable (I am told) by such innovations as Apple TV. While V uses YouTube screening a lot, I’m too lazy and dispassionate about TV and stick to the two free local English TV channels. What I realised is that when you have fewer choices, you miraculously find something to watch or move on, instead of endlessly flicking which can become a mildly annoying occupation in itself.
I realised when reading this post by Bhagwad that it’s been ages since I last watched a movie in the cinema or even at home because if the choice is between staying up to watch something after the kids have gone to bed and sleep I tend to choose sleep. Before, we’d go for any timepass movie that was playing. But either I’ve outgrown the kind of stuff that Hollywood is putting out or I’m just more critical because I pick my leisure activities more carefully. Most likely a combination of both. Recently, V mentioned something similar about meals out – he was disappointed by a restaurant choice and while in the past, he’d just let it go, now it rankles because we don’t do it as often as we used to.
I have also become less connected by my phone. I have never been a telephone person and now I’m apparently not an sms person either. My phone is often lost in my bag where I don’t hear it and I think that’s okay. I recently realised that my long response time annoys some people – and I myself have commented in the past on another friend’s long response time – but I’m being shameless about it. I don’t feel obliged to be available to everyone at all times. Mostly, nothing of such urgency happens anyway.
One more activity that has been shelved as a result of the babies is shopping. For a combination of three years, I never really bought clothes because my size kept fluctuating. But this weekend, a short trip to the mall with the kids in tow made me realise why shopping never really gets done. Despite criticisms of malls as outings** for kids, if you have a husband who is allergic to sunshine (possibly, a vampire), it is one of those feasible options due to proximity and air-conditioning. However, my experience this weekend has shown that one must stick to only window-shopping as has been practised over the past many months. Otherwise, I am incapable of calmly evaluating the possible purchases and end up falling into the trap of being pressurized by salespeople who are nice to me ending up with a huge bill and then feeling both guilty and stupid. This happens even when the kids are not there because shopping has never been something I go to do specifically but rather something that happens en route to something else, which Hong Kong being a mall hub (we are always trying to be a hub of some kind) make extremely easy to do. Only right now, my something-elses are already time squeezed into a meta-something else (i.e. my kids) so shopping really becomes a capsule activity which does not suit me or my wallet. Hence it must be avoided or approached strictly with a list and a budget, which is really utilitarian and no fun.
And then this morning I plucked my eyebrows myself for what might be the third time in history. I realised that I’m not going to be going for a facial anytime soon and the stray hairs were bothering me. Not a great shape but not bad either.
All this is part of my recent hermeticism but I’m finding, it is good.
*I have heard people criticising parents for been naptime-nazis and this is a separate mini-rant I need to have. What seems to have escaped the self-proclaimed parenting experts’ notice is that their kids naptime is not something parents necessarily have a choice in. The easiest way to put a child down for a nap is when they are sleepy and generally they fall into their own pattern. Parents can try to adjust this to suit their own needs but it requires some effort and is not always successful. Normally, parents will do this when a serious need arises to shift the timings – like the child starting school. The occasional excursion with friends does not constitute sufficient cause to change a kid’s entire natural sleeping schedule. For example, Benji dropped his morning nap (which means he would not sleep for an hour in the morning as we would have dearly liked) and so his now-sole-nap-of-the-day shifted to 12.30 pm. Which is not the most convenient time if you want to plan a lunch with friends because if he’s not in bed then, he gets increasingly cranky. But it does suit my helper on a daily basis because she can then have her own lunch in peace and get some chores done. So it is a timing that suits us on an everyday basis and I would not be open to suggestions that we change it in the service of weekend plans.
I have also heard parents being criticised for having children that do not sleep through noisy gathering or, examples of children who do being offered to them as suggestions of how cool some parents are. Dear hinters, wouldn’t every parent dearly love to have a baby that can sleep through everything? What makes you think that we instituted a silence-around-baby regime by choice? Mimi, to our delight, seemed to be able to sleep through noise which seemed extremely fortunate considering we had a rambunctious toddler living in the same house. Alas, that turned out to be a jaundice-induced haze and she turned out to be a colicky baby. Research has found that colicky babies don’t do well in stimulated environments, which sadly proved true for both my kids. I’m not sure what people are suggesting when they profer these examples of fast-sleeping babies? That we bang pots around our light sleepers to acclimatise them? How many of these adults can sleep through band baaza anyway? Or were their parents not privy to this golden advice and now they are trying to save us from the fate of rearing adults who cannot sleep through anything? Let me also add that I am have inadvertently landed up in a situation of noise around my light sleeper. Mimi has grown up – from her time in the womb – with noise around her because of Benji. It does not mean she sleeps through noise. It means she wakes up a lot. She sleeps best in the afternoon when Benji is also sleeping.
The sheer latent egotism of these remarks is breathtaking. If you don’t want to be quiet around a baby, that’s fine. Avoid being around the baby. And accept that you won’t have that much contact with the parents. Don’t expect the parents to force a routine on their child that suits you, accept that you just want life to be more convenient for yourself and that parents are not bad people for prioritise what suits their child over your plans for smooth sailing.
I have heard a lot of these remarks in India and I think it has to do with the clan-mentality. The good of the clan reigns supreme, plight of the individual (in this case the parent, often the mother, left frantically rocking a child you have just woken up) be damned. Thus, you will have people who will visit at any time that suits them, insist the child be brought to them for a viewing so they can coo over it while elders in the family look on proudly and them palm the baby back to the parents to deal with the hell thereafter.
While gyan from non-parents (clueless) and some elders (mostly unhelpful outdated information sadly in my experience) only elicits eye-rolls from me, the amazing thing is that much of the advice comes from young fellow parents. You’d think the one thing they’d learn is that every baby is different, even between siblings. But it seems like those who have been blessed with babies who cooperate (and believe me, in the 0-2 bracket a lot depends on the temperament of the child) are so smug that they can’t help trumpeting their ‘achievements’ to whoever will listen. Cease and desist people. You are being judgy not helpful (because if help was needed, we would ask) and that’s never nice.
** I am not entirely sure what the problem with malls is. I agree if they completely dominate a city leaving no space for anything else it’s a problem but otherwise, what is the problem? It’s free air-con, many people including oldies, especially if benches are provided, use it as their hangout spot and in Hong Kong, they often double as an art gallery or public performance space (cynically to attract crowds to the mall but so what?). At the mall we went to, which is very spacious so Benji could run around, go up and down escalators etc., there were these giant fruit installations in which were some cool art exhibits. Benji and loads of other kids had a good time running in and out of the giant pineapples and strawberries. A stay-at-home mum I know who doesn’t have help says this particular mall is a favourite to pass time with her baby girl. And yes, she could have spent that time doing something creative like finger painting and what not but she has a whole 24 hours with her kid to do stuff in and finger painting takes up about 2 hours. Just generally, if people like to spend time walking about malls why does it annoy others so? I think it’s one of those I-am-superior things like not being on Facebook.