Thursday, June 26, 2008

Who's gonna drive you home, tonight?

My high-tea ritual at work consists of rushing to the loo, at exactly 4:30pm and calling Nino at home.
Who, by the way, guards the phone as he does his toys, and rushes to it, everytime it rings, with a 'hellow, mama?'. No one is allowed to answer the phone, but him, even if it's hours away from Mama-time, that is 4:30pm.
The conversation is short - and always insightful. If he has fussed over having milk, he always says he gulped it down real fast. If he's had a great day, he's likely to say that he played, talked, ate, slept and played. If its been a bad one, he says 'Come back mama' - and it breaks my heart if this happens on days when I am unable to get work home. His last question is always 'what am I having for dinner' :)
Today, I got caught-up in work and ended up calling an hour late, worried that he might have left to go to the park with the caregiver. The phone rang for what seemed like forever, before the familiar voice wheezed through and said, 'hello, mama?'... Before I could ask him what he was doing, Nino said he was taking everybody at home to America and that he's checked that they're wearing seatbelts. I smiled and asked him how his day was, and he said 'I can't talk on the phone mama, I'm driving.'

If you read this when you grow up (if this is around till then, that is), Nino, you love to drive - ever since you were a year and a half, you would beg, plead, cry and then wham mama to let you drive - parked cars, cars in motion, anything on four wheels. I remember we did a trip to meet your aunt when you turned two and you would attack the steering wheel everytime the driver parked it for a transit stop. He would give you really dirty looks, and you would just give him a baleful stare, but not let go of his seat. Even today, though you've understood that you can't actually drive like an adult does, the parking lot, ah, that is another matter! We go to his freinds houses, my friends houses, his school, my office, Nairobi (Nino's Dad once went there on a trip, and the name's stuck), the grocers, the fruit shop, to his Nanan's place. It's always 'Sit, mama, I want to take you somewhere.' - you've already brought me to where I want to be, Nino - that floating island that is unmapable - happiness.

Monday, June 23, 2008

'Mama, make me your daughter'

Nino loves to dress up like a girl. He begs and pleads anyone and everyone to drape him with my scarves, wear my danglers propped up on his ears and lots of silver bangles. Then he wears my shoes and says, 'Come to Mama'.
The first couple of times everyone thought it was cute - he actually does make a pretty 'girl' - and I loved decking him up. But gender play works only one way, and I learnt that the hard way over the weekend.

Nino and I went on a play date on Saturday with his new friends from the montessori playschool he's recently started. The aim of the playdate - with a pool and toys - was to get the children familiar with each other - and offer the mothers a chance to get to know their fellow parents better. Boys are outnumbered in the group, 3 to 6, and at the playdate there were only 2 present - Nino and the hostess's son. Nino loves shoes - everybody's especially small footwear that's more his size. He chanced upon the slip-ons of a classmate, a girl, and slipped them on and then preened on how the shiny mettalic straps looked. As he showed them off to me, I casually mentioned how he liked to make-believe that he's my little Nina.
The mothers all looked at each other and giggled. A few called out to Nino, asking him about his 'girl' footwear and wondering aloud if he needed to borrow a skirt. - It was all good natured humour - till one of the mothers said her daughter loves to wear jeans and plays 'dadda' all the time. This time the gender play was appreciated - as if playing a male has more educative and emotive value than playing a woman. I was left a little shocked myself, and not because it was Nino in question, but because this was coming from a group of seemingly educated, modern women.

My husband's family has this annoying habit of classifying actions into 'girl' things and 'boy' things - if you cry/whine, you're a girl. If you're not sitting 'correctly', you're sitting like a boy.
My mother-in-law gets very upset when Nino dresses up - and she says it's because it might tempt him to, in her exact words, 'grow up effeminated'. Sometimes I want to tell her, it's not just a girl that he wants to play - he's playing me. Is that such a bad/taboo thing?

And while we may encourage our daughters to 'wear the pants' in the house, we most definitely don't want our boys to wear the skirts. It's not just the fear of homosexuality that pervades our choices - any behaviour that does not confirm to prevailing gender standards is frowned upon. If he's a boy - he has to have all the manly qualities that define that standard. All those and only those. And while it applies to girls as well, I belive we're starting to make some space for our daughters. The sons, unfortunately, will still have to measure up to the balls/cars/speed/violence/sports genre. They will continue to have 'Cars' parties and get a block-building set even when they want a doll or a kitchen set. What you're seen choosing often translates into who you are.

Nino loves some of the male gender trappings (such as balls and cars and racing his animals) - but he's also got a few surprises up his sleeve. He's a very loving kid who loves even more to express that - through hugs or words. He's eager to mother every little baby he meets and once went around for months telling everyone he's got a little baby in his belly (after a close friend of ours got pregnant). And he's very observant when it comes to clothes or jewellery - and also art in the form of sculptures and paintings. He often helps me pick my earrings - and I must say, he has good taste.

My husband and I often wondered how we would react if we had children with different sexual leanings than ours - this was before we had Nino - and both of us agreed that it would be okay. And while we've never rasied this topic since Nino was born, both of us are very protective of him when he's playing 'Nina' around other people. I don't want to guess work Nino's make-believe time and make future predictions - but I do know that I want him to be able to be whatever he wants, without the guilt of having 'disappointed' his parents attached to it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The story of choice

I apply the montessori philosophy of the power of choice to raising Nino, albeit in small ways. He's encouraged to choose his clothes, the books we read, or the crafts we do, for example. Usually its a simple choice - he preferrs some over the others. Sometimes, he likes to bring two choices into one decision. White tee and red night shorts.

I've been trying to achieve something like that in my life as well. I'm a working parent with long hours (eight to nine hours) and being prone to guilt as with most of my gender, I've been facing a very difficult situation: to work or to quit. I need the job to make ends meet, but I hate spending so much time away from Nino - who is well cared for in my absence by his caregiver and grand parents. He's not particularly scarred with my absence - my mother has worked all her life and I've turned out pretty secure. It's me. I don't want to be away for that long. Nino's Dad doesn't agree - he's looking at the fianances - and we've just had an awful fight during the drive to work. I've been thinking working part time will be like bringing two choices into one decision. Unfortunately for me, neither the husband nor the boss seem to like the idea. As I sobbed this morning, in a fleeting moment of self pity, it occured to me, that I've not really ever 'enjoyed' the power of choice when it comes to Nino. When I got pregnant, I did not want to be a mother. Now that I want to be one - a hands-on one, desperately, I can't afford to.

I wonder what my mother would say if she read this - she'd remind me of all the things I've to be grateful for - but you know, sometimes, choice becomes the opportunity cost of gratitude. I'm grateful, but am I happy? Or is happiness too an urban legend, something that we've conveniently labelled as a 'state of mind'. sure. whatever situation I'm in, it depends on me to be happy. something like that. so not only does the onus of happiness lie on you, the guilt of not finding it lies on you too. I used to think happiness is simple - in the old days it was a good warm meal and a good book. Does it mean the same things today? no. I'm a different person with different needs. It's in watching Nino laugh/play/create. And it's in watching him without guilt or without being grateful.

edited to add-
One of my favourite quotes ever is one by Albus Dumbledore, that fantastic, thought-provoking teacher and champion of the brave, who also happens to be gay, and by the way, fictional. Not that it matters when it comes to this kind of wisdom:
'It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.'

Just stumbled upon it again, after making the decision to stick to the job instead of opting out. Does it make it any easier? No.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

By virtue of definition

and I quote
'El Ninovents are large climate disturbances which are rooted in the tropical Pacific Ocean, and occur every 3 to 7 years. They have a strong impact on the continents around the tropical Pacific, and some climatic influence on half of the planet... A consequence of such warming is the long-term perturbation of the weather systems over the lands around, notably heavy rains in usually dry areas, drought in normally wet regions... '

No, I'm not the weatherman, though I wish I knew what he was thinking sometimes. I'm a mum to a two-year-old, let's call him Nino, aka, small boy. Nino's effects on me and my life have been pretty similar to El Ninos on the climate...

and therefore I adapt
'Nino is a small but potent climate disturbance rooted in our home and who occured more than two years ago. He has had a strong impact of Nino's Mum and Nino's Dad, and some influence on half of the planet... the people who make our world, that is. And as a consequence we've experienced joy in the most mundade of circumstances and utter frustration in the simplest of tasks...'

welcome to the joys of an unexpected shower in the middle of summer. or the pains.