World Breastfeeding Week – how we made it through.

Breastfeeding momma

Of all the things that are changing as Arjun is growing up, the thing that I miss the most is breastfeeding. My little baby being nourished and nurtured at my breast. I am not kidding when I tell you that I list it as an accomplishment when I take stock of life. It was not easy, no. Breastfeeding him exclusively for 6 months and then continuing it for another 6 months before the baby self-weaned – took up all of my reserve of determination. Hours of sitting at the same place nursing the child, feeding on demand and being available 24*7 and practically not having even a few minutes to yourself; it was all worth it.

Now I am not going to give any gyaan on breastfeeding, but all you women out there, it is the best gift to give your child. And I say this from personal experience. When the baby starts feeding, some hormones get released in your body, and the calm and peace which you feel at that time is unparalleled. Of course, you have to be in that moment, with the baby, not wishing to be somewhere else, but once you clear your brain of all your to-do lists, it can be a perfect zen-time. And the baby immensely benefits from mothers milk. From the closeness, from the attachment and also the customised nourishment that he is getting. Mother’s milk has everything your baby needs, on that day, modified as per signals received by the mother’s body during the previous feeding session. If this had to be explained in one word, I would call it miraculous.

And there were so many things I could do because the baby was breastfed. Arjun and I took a 28 hour long journey to San Francisco, just the two of us when he was 9 months old. I must have fed him 20 times in those 28 hours, but I did not have to carry any bottles, any formula, no sterilisation. Every time he would make a sound, I would start nursing him and it would instantly calm him. No fuss, no crying. A lady in the plane remarked later on that she didn’t know there was a baby on board.

Of course it took an army of supporters. My husband, my mom, my mother-in-law, so many of my friends and relatives, the very supportive pro-breastfeeding paediatrician, my lactation consultant and the Breastfeeding support for Indian Mothers group on Facebook. Each one had a huge role to play, especially in the first 2 months when baby and I were still getting used to each other, and I would cry at the drop of a hat. But we all did stick through it, and its been the most wondrous journey of my life.

Its now a year and a half since Arjun stopped feeding, and how I miss those moments. The baby would be mine alone at that time and I would be his. In sync with each other.

Arjun is quite an independent child now, stays away from mom and dad even for a week when we go away for meetings. Sometimes he is so engrossed in his play doh that he wont realise its been 2 hours since he spoke to anyone. But then there are days when he wont even let me go pee after coming back from work. Every minute after and before office hours have to be spent with him. Physically and mentally. No phone, no laptop, no talking to any other person. Just him. Momma, lets paint. Mom look at how I can jump, momma help me make a ball of clay, mum lets go to the garden, momma let me hug you (for the fiftieth time in the last hour) , mom you feed me, give me water, let me sit in your lap, let me play with your ears, I will comb your hair, you brush my teeth, teach me a new song, let me sleep in your lap like a baby and so on. An endless list of demands over your time and space.

But I wont have it any other way. If he was indifferent to me, or disinterested in doing activities with me, I. Will. Die. This might be my only chance at being a mom, and I want to cling to every minute of it.

Unable to decide if we should have one more child or not, it is in these moments  that I sometimes ask this 2.5 year old ‘Should we make one more baby in momma’s stomach?’

With the profoundness of a toddler, he quickly asks me ‘Then who will I call momma? Maybe then I will have to start calling my grandma as my mom’. Heartbroken I tell him, ‘Hey! I will still be your mom. Always.’ ‘But what if the other baby takes you to his home?’, he gets puzzled. My little baby doesn’t understand the concept of expanding the family, but he definitely understands that he doesn’t want to share his mom.

Well, for now, this is my only baby. The baby I created inside me, and nurtured wholly for 6 months on the milk that I made. Customised for him.

It is true that breastfeeding can be tricky and its a matter of personal choice. And all of us are still awesome parents even if we don’t do things in this way or another, but I firmly believe that Breast is Best. So all you gorgeous feeding mammas, hang in there.

Happy Breastfeeding Week y’all!

Love,

Rutvika

Aim higher but not very high.

When I was reading this story behind the latest Vicks ad about the transgender mother and her daughter, something felt very familiar. Two adopted daughters by transgender women : one wanted to become a doctor but didn’t, and the other one’s mother wants her to become a doctor. Even at Mentor Me India, the municipal school where we volunteer, there are about 30 students in a class, all of them from financially weaker sections of society. Whenever the young girls and boys of 12 to 14 years were asked what do they want to become when they grow up, 90% invariably said ‘Doctor’. A very few kids say a teacher or perhaps a policeman. But thats it. And historically if you see less than 1 % of kids from economically weaker backgrounds go on to become doctors. That education is very expensive and simply unavailable. But those kids (or adults) rarely come in contact with people from other professions. They don’t require a CA to file tax returns, they have no idea about an automobile designer, what is an astronaut, or an anthroplogist or even a chef?! In fact, last time when I took my mentee Gauri to a local mall she was very surprised to find out there are so many people working in the mall or that there is a person specially to clean up tables after people leave the food court. Its another thing that the 12 year old girl went to a mall for the first time, was shivering with fear when standing on the escalator, was amazed seeing the tall mannequins in each shop and absolutely refused to take the elevator because it frightened her.

When we started the mentoring relationship, I had a hard time explaining her what I do for a living. I told her I am a Chartered Accountant running our own company selling capital equipment made in Switzerland. I broke it down into easily understandable parts, but when I met her family, she hadn’t been able to explain what her mentor does. Finally for lack of any other terms, I settled on telling her that I work in a bank. And now every-time I go to her house, different family members come to me with their banking problems which generally involve not remembering the bank account number or unable to find a passbook. When this is the level of problems we are dealing with, aspiring to become a doctor becomes unachievable right from the beginning.

Gauri’s elder sister Manisha had her 10th board exams a few weeks back. Whenever I called her or went to their place, the girl would be doing housework or tending to her younger cousins. Sitting and studying for the board exams was not a priority, in fact it wasn’t even on her to-do list. The silver lining is that her family had promised to make a gold chain for her and distribute sweets in the gully if she passed the exam. So atleast they know the importance of clearing the exam. But when I asked her how how well did she answer the papers, I was met with silence. Either she skipped a paper or two, or the exam went really bad.

Sometimes I worry at my pragmatism. I want Gauri to dream and strive for something bigger, but something which is still within her reach. If she says she wants to work as a clerk, or as an accountant, or work in a factory that makes say cars, I know what to tell her to get there. But these 7th graders who barely know the English alphabets, how are they to study for highly complicated exams and professional degrees ? But hey, you always got to aim higher in case you fall short, right?  May be yes, or may be no.

My year long mentoring relationship is soon coming to an end. Just two more months which are mostly holidays and the kids disappear to their native places. I don’t know how much it has been of value to her, but it has immensely enriched my life. It is almost as if I have a new set of eyes, a new vision. Looking at the intricate levels at which kids function has made me a better parent. All my decisions are now more carefully evaluated with a wider view of the world. As for my mentee Gauri, she is an artist, loves painting and decorating. Evey time I ask her about studies, she manages to steer the conversation to her latest art project. May be I can convince her to become a baker, she can whip up gorgeous and delicious cakes. In MMI annual day a few weeks back, we decorated 100 cupcakes. Each mentee had a hands on experience in frosting a cupcake and decorating it with sprinkles. Gauri was thrilled. I should enrol her in a baking workshop. Or show her the basics of designing. Or elementary, intermediate art exams? She should do something that she enjoys, but is still within her reach.
Becoming a doctor can be for another lifetime. Standing firmly on her own feet and being financially independent is what we will strive for in this janam.

MMI encourages people to continue the mentoring relationship beyond the one year period. But our work is getting very hectic, my toddler is very demanding, and there will be a lot of business travel this year. So it looks difficult to continue mentoring like last year, meeting her every alternate week, but I will definitely keep in touch with her. Atleast once every 2 months. Till the end of time.

MMI baking cupcakes

Taking a cupcake decoration workshop at MMI day

Rutvika

P.s : MMI is hiring for the next cohort. You can contact them here.

Of stories that touch the heart and don’t let you go.

 

Our class teacher in school Ms. Nelson used to read out stories from the Bible to us, in the first hour called ‘Value Education’. I had very little understanding  of the Bible and don’t remember most of the stories, but I remember being enchanted when she used to read out about Jacob and Esau, David and Goliath. A short and plump Keralite christian, she used to wear more gold to school than my mom wore to weddings. When she sat there in the classroom on a wooden chair, sunlight shining in her hair from a window on the right, she looked angelic. The power of stories was manifesting itself through her.

I have been lucky to have had many people tell me stories. From contemporary books, from mythology, from their own works. My grandma often used to tell me stories of Shivaji Maharaj, as grandmothers often do – at bedtime. The dashing Hirkani who climbed down a dangerous fort in the dark of the night because her baby was alone at home at the foothills, ‘Gad aala pun Sinha gela’ story where Tanaji Malusare left his son’s wedding to go re-capture Kondana fort for Shivaji, how Shivaji cut three of Shaista Khan’s fingers in a skirmish and escaped and so on.  Bright, fierce and valorous stories perfect for a little girl. And the smell of my grandmother’s cotton saree and as I lay close to her.

Now in adulthood the stories continue, but are rarely fictional. Stranger than any others I have heard before, but true. A baby who died while taking birth because the family was opposed to a C-section, a young girl who gets bullied in the school because she is different, a teenage boy who slips into depression and doesn’t know how to overcome it, stories of long unhappy marriages, ungrateful kids and the list is endless. Sometimes there is a dark cloud hanging over me and I can’t see through it.

The silver lining to all this is my 2 year old child and the stories he tells. Of the plants he planted with his grandfather and how there was a bud which bloomed into a flower. Of Jugnu, the little boy from Vikas Khanna’s book who loses his rolling pin on the way back from school. Of fishes who are having a birthday party and giraffes who call him Daddy. Life would have been difficult if it was made up of only adults.

And then yesterday I watched the movie Room, adapted from a book by the same name. Heartbreakingly beautiful. I had read the book a year back and knew the plot, the ending, everything. But I couldn’t stop crying for the entire two hours of the movie. I struggled between abandoning the movie and going to bed to hug my sleeping child and watching this hauntingly realistic story of Joy and her baby Jack who were held in captivity for several years. Its a story of their escape and of finding themselves in this big world. There was one scene when Joy says to her boy Jack that she is not a good Ma. Jack without skipping a beat tells her ‘May be, but you are the Ma.’ You should watch the movie and feel it for yourself how that line pierces the most vulnerable part of your heart.

There will always be two types of stories in this world. The good and the bad. The ones which make you cry. With pain or with joy. Of little girls and strong women, of boys and their banter. The ones which make you recoil from the storyteller and some which will make you hug them. We cannot hide from any of them. All that we can do is listen with an open mind and be kind with our words. And make our own stories and tell them. So someone out there says ‘this too shall pass’ or someone else sees a light at the end of a dark tunnel on hearing your words. We have all been through it, in varying measures and different circumstances. But we are here, now. And that’s what matters.

Next month I will be visiting my granny, my only surviving grandparent. I am going to ask her to tell me a story. She will start with one where her old friend was abandoned by her son, but I will tell her to stop. Please ajji, not this one. Tell me one where everyone is happy, everything feels good. “You know too much about the world now to believe any of those” is what she will tell me. I will sigh and put my head in her lap. Lets go back to Shivaji Maharaj, ajji. And perhaps we will.

Rutvika

Oh baby, don’t grow up so fast.

arjun-and-momma-in-goa

Arjun, my almost two year old boy is at an age, where he can make sense of the little things going on around him. He can explain , argue, try to convince or throw a tantrum as the last resort. Many times he says things to us which we have previously said to him. When I hurt my finger with a kitchen knife, he came running with his baby lotion and told me to apply it and it will get well very soon. When his father coughed during a meal, he quickly pointed out that he should take smaller bites and eat slowly. Stuff that we tell him sooner or later comes back at us. He knows which clothes I wear to work and which clothes on the weekends. So last Saturday when I wanted to go meet a friend for lunch, I told him I am going to office and you take a nap with your baba. He looked at my jeans and gleefully exclaimed that I am not wearing office clothes, so I can’t go to the office. It’s hard to say anything to that when you feel half proud about your child’s supposed intelligence and half stupid to be so simplistic that a 2 year old has already figured you out. But that’s what it is. Many times we have to talk in spellings now, because he knows his mother tongue Marathi very well, and can also pick up on most commonly used English words. Often you will find us talking like this – ‘Should we take him s-w-i-m-m-i-n-g in the evening?’ or ‘Don’t bring that a-p-p-l-e in front of him till he finishes dinner’ et cetera.

But this baby boy is wary of loud places and crowded rooms. Any new people make him nervous and he starts saying he wants to go home. When I took him to a Mentor Me India meeting a few weeks back because no one was at home to baby-sit him, he cried non-stop till I quickly called an Uber to go home. But as soon as I showed him that an Uber was on the way, he stopped crying. A fellow mentor asked him that if you understand what is happening then why are you crying? Arjun replied with a wail to ensure that I don’t cancel the cab. He was uncomfortable there for whatever reasons, and he was communicating it to me in the best way he could. Now so many times it happens that I want to literally and figuratively run out of a place. Especially dark rooms with small windows. I have yet not been able to articulate why. Then how can I expect him to do that? But nevertheless I feel exasperated at times and wish he was more ‘social’. More like me than his dad who also needs a lot of alone time.

Currently Arjun’s grandma has gone to the USA for a few weeks to spend time with her granddaughter. Naturally he is quite upset that his beloved ajji can’t be seen anywhere. Without any frame of reference of a month or a week, I was worried how to tell him that she will come back soon, but after many days and many nights. He cried for the first two days but now he tells himself every morning that ajji has gone to US to bring his cousin Sara to Mumbai so that they can play together. Suddenly he misses her less, because it’s for a special cause. It is so that he gets back not only ajji but also Saru-tai, his cousin. Poor baby Arjun is set for another heartbreak in a few weeks, but for now he is waiting. And valiantly assures me that ajji will come back soon when I say that I miss her too.

These new generation kids are really smart I tell you. Making sense of the world faster than us. My two and half year old nephew can unlock any cellphone, take selfies and photos. And if there is no password, he can even play his favourite Youtube videos! My friends’ similar aged son can identify cars whizzing by. His toy cars include a Lamborghini, Bugatti, Ferrari etc. And I can’t even recognise my white Activa scooter without seeing the number plate. I often wonder how can we match up to these kids? How do we keep them stimulated without binding them to dozens of activity classes? If you have any tips, I am very keen to hear.

And of course things are not so sensible every day. There are times when Arjun is crying unconsolably because he wants to wear the same soiled diaper from the dustbin or he has had a bad dream at 3 am and wants to go to the park right now to see the horse or some other absurd idea at an ungodly time and I want to disappear from this life. Wake up in another era when I had my brain to myself and was not muddled with concern, worry, and a whole another individual. But then that’s why parenting is a two person job (mostly). Akshay takes over and asks me to shoo away when I am running out of patience. It true that it takes a village to raise a child. If it were just the baby and me I would have gone crazy long back.

End of this month little baby turns two, he just switched from rear-facing baby car seat to front facing big-boy seat. I cling to his baby ways of doing things, his sweet smell, the way he asks me to pick him up and hold him, the way he wil hold my face in both his hands and prevent me from talking to anyone else. Because it won’t last long. Soon his non-stop chatter will turn into reserved one-word sentences. Cuddles will be hard to come by and the grown up air will surround him. I better enjoy each moment now, and go give him a nose-to-nose Eskimo kiss. Right now.

Xoxo.

Rutvika

 

 

Getting mad makes me more productive!

Scowling.jpg

This is how we scowl.

Anger is good. Occasional bouts of suppressed anger makes me a very productive person.

This weekend I was mad at the husband for some silly reason and look at what I accomplished! Cleaned my cupboard shelves, sorted and gave away a stack of clothes that I don’t fit into anymore (and gave up hope that I will fit into them ever again), re-arranged the stationery drawer, discarded chipped cups and saucers, cleaned the fridge and threw away all expired masalas, read through the articles which I have been marking ‘to-read’ for over a month and now I am producing this blog-post. So you see how insanely beneficial anger is? And all of this done in utter silence. Beneficial for the husband too.

Earlier when I got angry, I would study. Take notes vigorously. Solve difficult accounting problems with lightning clarity. In fact one of the main reasons I cleared CA final in the first attempt was because of a heartbreak which had left me angry beyond belief. And hence I studied. Cut away from the rest of the world and study all the time. With a zeal that calm often cannot bring.

Before that, as a teen, anger used to manifest itself by shouting and ended up in crying. Poor mom used to be at the receiving end and would patiently wait for me to sort it out myself. And offer a lap to cry eventually. But once you get married and have children of your own, you realise that resorting to screaming is not really an option. So all those emotions simmer inside and the brunt is faced by cupboards, windows et all.

The husband in this case is a very peaceful non-fighting kind of a person. And I have been told often that I can get nasty and personal when I fight. Doesn’t seem to be the case in my head, in fact, anger gives me the courage to say the things I wouldn’t have said otherwise. But may be some things are not to be said. Ever. Anyway, the best course of action I have realised is doing something else and letting the anger pass. Keeping my mouth tight shut till then and not collapsing into a heap of tears in front of the child.

Last weekend at the Mentor Me India group mentoring session, as an exercise in self-awareness we were asked to share one incident when we were very angry. My 12 year old mentee Gauri very seriously told me she hates it when her family prefers boys and have no qualms in saying it. Boys better than girls. Wishing that they had a boy child instead of two girls. The male cousins get money for books, sweets immediately and the girls have to make do without it. Etc. etc.  Thats a story many Indian girls will identify with. Some families are subtle, some more direct. But one time I got really pissed off in recent times was when the nurse where I delivered my son told us to give her more ‘baksheesh’ since it was a son. When its a girl, they don’t bother the parents, but in case of a boy, we should please include the nurses in our joy. Well, I wanted to smack her. In my delirious post-delivery state that is one thing I regret not doing.

But mostly otherwise I function like a well oiled steam engine when mad. Huffing and puffing, but going forward at full speed.

Any vishesh tippani? I would be happy to hear.

xoxo,

Rutvika