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Rumi has recently turned two and I do not know how to describe the phase she is in right now because “the Terrible Twos” does not even begin to cover it. Yesterday, she threw a temper tantrum because her stuffed animal would not shut its stitched felt eyes. This morning, an hour of wailing followed a ear-piercing shriek, because she wanted the exact same lemon juice that she had just finished drinking (no, not more juice but the very same juice that was in her tummy). She is constantly whining and clinging to my clothes like a monkey, crying and screaming for grandparents and various members of the extended family. She seems very happy with kaka, Kaku, nanu and mamu and does not like to come home after visiting them. This, my husband and I normally manage to take in our stride although on the bad days we do wonder why she gets so bored with us and whether we are doing something wrong (don’t we parents just LOVE this question?)
Her boredom and irritation rises over the next couple of weeks, and we go around in circles trying to decipher why a happy and easy-going baby has suddenly become so sullen and cranky. Is it the weather? Surely it must be all this sun and heat. Is it her diet? She eats too little. Is it the lack of other kids? (“Mulanna mula lagtat, children need other children to play with” my mother asserts in a firm, know-it-all tone, and then even goes so far as to suggest random and completely irrelevant solutions like ‘de-worming’). We talk of sending her to a pre-school or day-care for at least two hours a day, for some company and constructive play. One hot afternoon however, I stumble upon the astonishingly simple answer and it is my little girl who leads me to it. I am sitting amidst a huge pile of toys, clothes, peanuts strewn over the floor and other miscellaneous articles with my Smartphone just inches away from my nose, reading various articles on parenting ideas and tips and tricks and do’s and dont’s. Suddenly Rumi stamps her feet. “Nako” she cries. Don’t. “Don’t what Guddu?” I ask without taking my eyes off my phone. “Nako na” she cries again, clenching her fists and banging them on the coffee table. Her skin is flushed and she is starting to tear up – a full-blown tantrum is on its way. “Kay pahije Rumi? Kashala radte ugach? Khaun zhalay, zhopun zhalay….” (“What is wrong with you? You’ve eaten and had a nap..’) I start, my own voice taking on a plaintive tone with more than a tinge of annoyance at being interrupted while reading. I see the strain in her face as she screams with the last bit of momentous effort “Nako phoooonnnneee.” And then it strikes me, she wants me to put down my phone. She wants me to look at her and talk to her without being interrupted by constant WhatsApp messages. Such a simple thing.
It makes me think back on all the days that I have spent with Rumi as a SAHM. How many hours of full and undivided attention have I given her? And how many more useless futile hours have I spent on my phone, on Facebook and Whatsapp? If I am just sitting next to her while she is playing, is she really reaping any benefit from my decision to be at home with her full-time, a decision that has come at the heavy cost of being a single-income family in a very expensive city?
I don’t want to get into any kind of debate of the SAHM vs. the Working Mom. I have long since learnt that there is no “correct” or “right” parenting. Breastfed or formula-fed, attachment-led or sleep trained, with or without TV, most babies turn out fine with a good dose of love, attention and nurturing. And happy moms make happy babies so every mother needs to decide for herself – working full-time or part-time or staying at home is a decision that should solely be based on your comfort and that of your immediate family’s.
We felt that it would work best for us for me to be at home with Rumi full-time and it has been, for the most part, a good decision. I don’t want to go back to work yet, I don’t feel the pull, the need. And Rumi does not go to any pre-school or day care yet, so it is me and her for a good 14 hours every day. Some days, I can be an innovative, creative playmate. But on most days, I have a long list of things to do and I feel restless and listless when I am sitting down with her. Some days I am busy texting a friend for some delicious gossip to spice up my stay-at-home life. On others, I am scouring the web for interesting posts and articles. On really bad days I am a Facebook stalker, drooling over the amazing lives of other people, feeling discontent and envious. But I spend so much time of my stay-at-home time on my phone that I might as well have been at work! In fact a recent chat with my yoga buddies revealed that they spent better, more qualitative time with their children in spite of and in fact because of being out working all day!
What an eye-opener this is! Despite being at home almost all the time, I am depriving my child of something vital to her well-being and growth: total, unshared, wholehearted attention. For all my mother’s intuition and two years of experience, I almost cannot believe that I have overlooked such a tiny, basic thing! But then it is usually the tiny, basic things that get overlooked most of the times, isn’t it? That more than the time I spend with her, it is the quality of the time that matters? That even if I play with her for a few minutes, she needs me to pretend to eat the cake she made, say how yummy it is, ask her how she made it. As an adult, I hate it when I get the feeling that somebody’s not listening; I nag my husband all the time about not looking at his phone when we’re talking. But with my two-year old, I have taken the liberty of forgetting this courtesy.
I am so glad that Rumi has brought this to my notice. The minute I start putting my phone away while playing with her, I sense her happiness. I am rewarded with constant chatter, delicious clay food and lots of cuddles and loving strokes. After a tiring play session, she is only too happy to be put down for her nap which gives me enough time to read and stalk and gossip away to glory. Now I try to limit Smartphone and Laptop time to afternoons when she sleeps. We go to the park without our phones and come back sweaty and covered with sand (I wouldn’t go into the sandpit earlier, so as to not spoil my phone!)
Of late, I have been trying my best to give her my undivided attention whenever I can and I want to continue to do so for as long as I can, before she grows up all too soon and stops asking for it altogether.