Soon after we got married, Murali and I were fortunate to have both found jobs as post doctoral associates at the University of Minnesota. Despite what they say about the life of postdocs, we thought that the pay wasn’t bad and life was less stressful compared to graduate school. So we spent all our vacation travelling all over the country, camping here and trekking there. We explored every corner of Minneapolis by car, on foot and on our bicycles. We enjoyed the remarkable theater scene the city had to offer. We made every weekend count. For a couple of years we were a self-sufficient duo, partners in braving a new world. Eventually, we decided that we needed to expand our social circle.
Very soon we discovered other desperate postdocs looking for company. And every Friday evening, right after work, we all went straight to the bar. We were an awkward bunch, the whole lot of us. For my part, I usually gulped down alcohol as quickly as possible, hoping it would provide some social grease. By 9 pm we were completely sloshed and stumbled into the 9:30 pm bus, which was our last ride home. This state of affairs continued for while, until we started to feel sick in the gut about the pathetic state of our social life. So, when Murali and I decided to have a child, we were desperate for change. We were also very naïve about our expectation of what was to come. Neither of us had had any significant interaction with anyone below eighteen years of age for the past decade or so that we were at the University. At that time we had idealistic notions of parenting – of nurture and vain ideas of molding someone in our image. To say that we were clueless, therefore, was an understatement.
The pregnancy sucked. Although, the technical details of the changes that were happening to my body did appeal to the geek in me. It had never occurred to me until then that I was really a dormant baby-making machine. And the fact that my highly toned abdomen muscles (ha, ha!) would part to make space for the baby also caught my fancy. The actual experience of it, however, was nine endless months of discomfort. I now realize though, that the pregnancy was a very gentle prelude to what was to come.
The first few months after Neel’s birth were a shock. The endless cycle of feeding and changing diapers had turned me into a zombie automaton. My IQ dropped to under fifty points, and my vocabulary was down to two words, “coo” and “gaa”. I had also completely lost the ability to have any real conversation with adults. “Why hadn’t anyone warned me?”, I thought. My mom even encouraged me to have a kid, can she be sane?
I have now come to think of those first few months after Neel was born as a warp in the space-time continuum. My space and my time had shrunk to invisible proportions. Occasionally, due to some generous twist of fate, I would find a few hours alone for myself. On such days, my mind would get into a frenzied whir from the pressure of having to make the most of that bonus time. I figured the only reasonable thing to do was to indulge in something utterly pointless and vain. Being self-centered was never so delicious. After the first few months, I realized the true purpose of parenthood. It was actually a test of survival – get through it without tufts of grey hair and your sanity intact, and, I believed, that you get a special prize in the end. So, when Neel was six months old I decided it was time for me to get back to work.
Murali and I take the role of parenting quite seriously, and over time we have developed synergies that have made the process a little more enjoyable. For instance, when it comes to physical energy levels, most of it seems to have gone to Murali’s side of the family. Murali and my mother-in-law indulge Neel in every way possible. They are always on their toes, catering to his every whim and fancy. I, for my part, feel responsible for incorporating balance in his upbringing. My usual reaction, therefore, to most of his demands is usually a firm “No”. In more generous moments, I might say, “How about later today?”. My approach is not one of laziness, but rather driven by the need to inculcate in him valuable life-lessons such as patience and delayed gratification. In his child-like wisdom, I think Neel understands that everything I do is in his best interests. For he shows his approval of my parenting style by following me around everywhere faithfully – he is indubitably mama’s boy.
When it comes to buying toys for Neel, we believe that his interest in them will be directly proportional to our willingness to engage him in playing with them. So usually, we pick whatever appeals to us most. Murali, for instance, bought a remote controlled car for Neel when he was eight months old. Neel allowed Murali to tinker with it for a little while, and then decided that the antenna was unnecessary and broke it. And recently, for his third birthday, a friend of ours gifted Neel a 3D-jigsaw puzzle of the statue of liberty. It was the most awesome thing. So while I tried to solve it, I assigned Neel a lot of exercises with modeling clay to ensure that he would not interfere with my puzzle solving.
Our little Einstein is very curious about the world around him. Some days he asks us a lot of questions, which is tiresome after a long day at work. So, Murali came up with this brilliant plan – a lollipop, which I enthusiastically endorsed. It keeps his mouth engaged more productively, while we breathe a little easier. A less evolved person might suggest that it is mean, but Murali and I think it is simply ingenious.
When the time came to find a school for him, we did extensive research. We decided that we should do our homework and have a questionnaire ready for the school. I always asked the same question, “Will he have homework?” We enrolled him in the first school that assured us that there would none for a year or two. For who are we kidding, at his age, his homework would be homework for us. Our first priority was to postpone it for as long as possible.
Somewhere around his third birthday, Neel developed a love for reading books. Every day, he would walk up to the bookshelf, pull out all his favorite books and ask us to read them for him. Over time we decided that his books were too primitive for anyone to read, let alone a three year old. So these days we concoct bizarre stories for him, usually peppered with wry humor, to keep ourselves awake through the process. He too has a highly evolved sense of humor. For very often, he rewards us for our efforts with a knowing goofy smile, as though we were co-conspirators in some sinister crime. In such moments, I forget that he is just three years old.
Murali and I never shy away from passing judgments about the poor parenting we see around us everywhere. Why did they have kids if they do not feel inclined to take care of them, we wondered? I think people notice the ease and grace with which we conduct ourselves as parents, because everyone seems to think that we should have another kid. My natural reaction to that suggestion, usually, is to laugh hysterically. But , really, jokes apart, I know that Neel has the most awesome mommy ever. How do I know that? Ask me how I sleep at night. That’s right, I sleep like a baby.