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The cradle does rock

Bringing up baby, or the other way round, who can tell?

By Moumita Chaudhuri

  • Published 30.06.19, 1:13 AM
  • Updated 30.06.19, 1:13 AM
Love to love you baby
Love to love you baby (iStock)

Doing something for the first time can be exciting, though exciting could mean a hundred different things. That is the thing to remember when new mothers will gush so about their bundles of joy.

My bundle is all of two years now, has a dozen teeth, points to the elephant in the picture book and says “emmyphant” and dimples like an angel, occasionally squats on the floor, eyes closed and says “Mmm”, recalling the yoga lessons at the creche. Cute, no doubt, but she is also a challenge.

It sometimes feels like she and I are two kindred souls but from different worlds. She is the queen and I am the needy figure who is labouring to understand her, please her, but always falling behind, hopelessly. Every time I think I have cracked this expression or that tantrum or that quivering of rosebud mouth or a gaagaa, googoo, tutu, baby dearest proves me wrong.

At eight months, when she learnt to crawl, I noticed she’d never use her right leg. Using just the left knee she would skim the floor, and move from one room to another at lightning speed. I would wonder

if this meant she had some kind of a problem with the right leg, if we would have to take her to a doctor and what he would ultimately recommend, but then one of her nannies assured me that it was just a strategic choice, no more, no less. I lapped up the assurance.

She would crawl all over the house and fetch me the oddest and sometimes most disgusting things with great flourish. A roll of thread, used ear buds, a dead roach. I realised that like Carroll’s Alice shrunk, she had access to impossible places. This is around the time when she developed this irrepressible tendency to stuff every possible thing, living and dead, into her mouth. She started with newspaper, moved on to coins and buttons and beads. Once I got back from office to find the dressing table ransacked. She was on the floor covered in talcum powder, a bottle of nail polish had been smashed and the little tyke had two fingers dripping with red liquid, which she was proceeding to lick off. Regaining my composure, I was wondering how she had managed to reach the dressing table top when she reached for one end and stood up triumphantly.

The crawling days were behind us, but what followed was no less worrisome. Now the world was her oyster. The special occasion cutlery, the home theatre system, the pen stand, flower pots, she would examine and cast aside, turn and fiddle, crumple and break at will. I would try and negotiate — offer her alternative toys, distractions. She would indulge me for a second and return to her own devices. Seconds later I would hear the domestic help emit howls of protest. Baby was picking up onions, potatoes, ginger and garlic from the vegetable basket and tossing them into the wastebasket. Once done, she turned with utmost alacrity to the steel utensils. She had just picked up a glass serving bowl when I entered the scene. I closed my eyes and shrieked. She frowned, as if annoyed. I took a deep breath, picked her up and walked away.

At 12 months we put her in a creche. By this time she had developed an iron will. It was most apparent when it came to her pick of clothes. Only she would decide what to wear. Jeans at bedtime instead of sleeping suit. So be it. An oversized jacket, which her father had got her, 24x7. So be it. Only her favourite pair of squeaky red shoes, long after she had outgrown them. So be it.

By trial and error I began to understand something of her taste in food. One day she decided she no more wanted baby food. Every spoonful was spat out. And she graduated to “grown-up food”, but on her own terms. The caregivers at the creche told me how she was that child who refused to have her rice with dal and veggies. She ate the rice separately, dal separately and veggies separately. For some reason, she remained unmoved to the lures of milk chocolate for months, till one day she accidentally discovered her father’s bar of dark chocolate. And she was hooked to it for good.

At this point, it is difficult to keep up with her whims. Two nights ago, she woke up at 2.30am, slid off the bed and tottered to the shoe-rack in the living room, with me in sluggish pursuit. (In between she made it known she did not want her father for this adventure; much to his relief most likely.) She slipped on her black pumps and started to bang on the glass door. As I picked her up, opened the door and stepped out into the moonlit night, ready for her next lot of commands, she burrowed her head into the crook of my neck and promptly fell asleep — like an angel, if ever there was one.