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Bringing up Mother

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August 2004
Bringing up Mother

It is established?I was a child prodigy. According to my mother's version of my childhood, I had a full set of teeth at four months, I could walk at six months and was talking in complete sentences and was fully potty-trained by the time the seventh month deadline hit. "Yeah, sure ma, I also flushed the toilet and hand washed the towel after," I said in a sharp tone the last time she brought it up. "Are you making fun of me, you think I don't remember these things, hah?" she questioned sharply. Even over the miles I could feel her sharp glare so I didn't want to hint that maybe she was losing it now that she had grandchildren of her own.

And that is precisely the point?the grandchildren. From the day I have had children of my own, the poor little things have had their progress measured against my impossibly high, imagined yardstick. Even if my daughter's pediatrician assured me that all a baby did at six months was crawl and look cute, I would get the inquisition from my mother over the phone, "You are not feeding her properly," she would accuse me, "you were already walking by that time."

When she was here, she insisted that rice water drained from washing the rice was good for the baby. "But that is awful," I meekly protested, "Isn't that stuff what you feed the cows?" "What do you mean cows, do you think I would treat my very own granddaughter like a cow? I am telling you I know these things, just put some salt and some ghee it is really good for her digestion," she would reprimand me. Being the ever-obedient daughter, I would do exactly as she was told. After all, she must have done something right?she brought me up just fine and ditto with my brother. Of course, baby Vrunda would pucker up her lips when we force-fed her the stuff. I mean even ghee cannot mask the taste of rice water. "See there, I don't know where she comes from," my mother would say wringing her hands, "she doesn't like normal baby food. Just likes all this Gerber Sherber things. Must be from her father's side something baba," she would add, accusing my husband of somehow messing things up in the genetic makeup of her favorite granddaughter.

The home remedies she suggested were always at odds with what our own pediatrician recommended. Clueless parents that we were, we were always caught in the middle. Her all-time favorite solution to a crying baby especially in the winter was a spoonful of brandy. "Mom, we can probably get arrested for that," I pleaded with her once to see reason, "you cannot feed your child alcohol." "I always gave you brandy when you were not well, you slept like a baby, well not like your baby," she would add. I could only roll my eyes but she would accompany us on well-baby visits and insist that we bring the matter up with the pediatrician. "Doctor, is it okay to give the baby a peg before she sleeps?" she actually asked the doctor once. I am fortunate that Dr. Lee hasn't reported us to the DSS yet and if he was taken aback, he did not show it. "You can have a shot," he said with a smile, wagging a finger at my mother, "but nothing for the baby." Needless to say that only put the pediatrician in her negative books. "These doctors, they don't know anything," she sighed as she pumped Woodward's Gripe Water into my little one.

What's worse, the local desi moms all formed a mafia and ganged up on us. "You don't know much beta, see we are more experienced no?" my friend's mother told me once, to mediate a stalemate between my mother and I. Finally we just went with the flow giving in to the oil baths, the gripe water, the kanji paani and whatever it is that constitutes babydom in my mother's own world. She was happy and so were my babies.

When our first daughter was a newborn, I never knew how to hold her just right. When the nurse at the hospital saw me fumbling with her once, she told me, "Don't worry, babies are not so fragile, they are stronger than we think." Now I know that she is right. I am living proof of it. It looks like I drank a lot of rice water and brandy pegs and turned out just fine. Even better, I was actually walking at seven months. Must have been the rice water.


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