Here goes then, the dilemma of a somewhat asocial person in the juggernaut of motherhood. When I say asocial I do not mean 'anti-social' which in the true sense of the word means somebody who is against society. Let me be very clear, I am not anti-social. I am, for lack of a better word, a recluse. Left to my own devises, I would rather spend all my time at home, reading books or on the internet. Even when I go out (to exercise, for instance) I prefer times (afternoons, late evenings) when not many people are around. My husband sometimes jokingly refers to me as a homophobe (though what he means is an Anthropophobe). Thats what it is then. It does not bother me (or the spouse, thankfully). If it seems like a perfectly fine thing to you too, you are right. It actually is pretty ok. It takes all types to make the world go around, no? And I've managed to be like this for 30 odd years and no-ones really come up to me and said, 'Arre but why are you like this?'.
But obviously there are some kinks in this way of being. For starters I'm not very good at networking. Put me in a new situation, and it takes me more than what would be the average time to get warm. For example, during the course of my working life, I worked in 3 different cities -offices of the same firm. Every time I reached a new office I would be paralysed by fear. Why? I'm asocial remember. It means I lack certain obvious social skills which help most people to mingle, break ice, forge relationships , etc. etc. I say this with not a dime of self pity. I am just stating the facts.
Very few people who would have worked with me would remember me as a recluse though. They'd say I was more of the class clown. And sadly they would be right! This paradox can be simply explained.Usually people who don't have the social skills to engage with others in a more expected manner use other means to draw attention to themselves. And who ends up being the clown? Someone who goofs up a lot and leads to a few laughs, no? This role is the easiest one for an uneasy person otherwise, trust me!
Either that or I'm just awkward. Sometimes I just jest with myself saying, middle name awkward. Physically awkward, as in limbs a-skelter, eyes a-batting, all the wrong words tumbling out of my mouth at gibberish speed, sometimes inaudible. But the best is this, many a times people who have become friends have come back to me and said, 'In the beginning we thought you were so arrogant!'. Yeah - I guess you come off as stand-offish if you are out sulking in a corner shuffling your feet. And who'd know you are a plain dork if you have 'come close to me and I'll eat you' look on your face!
Anyways, so thats all about me. All huffety puffety people skills and then I go along and beget a child. Of the many things that nobody ever warned me about having a child was this - the enormous amounts of social interaction this would entail. And then we added some sludge to misery by going and having our baby in Europe of all places - in a country where they didn't even speak our darned language. Goodness I was so uptight during my labour that I would temper down my screams to (hopefully) more genteel 'aaaahhhhs' while the true-blue german down the corridor, also in labour, shrieked her lungs out with gay abandon!
After finally getting back to desh-land I realised quite protractedly how much of a village it actually takes to bring up baby. Especially if the baby in question happens to be a night-sleeping averse, screamathon by day, totally marching to her own tune type trooper! We did a fair bit of house hunting and moving around within the country in her second year. It was a lot of effort - both physically and mentally draining. I had nobody to talk to or advise me. It felt like a lone battle. When we moved to Chennai for a few months, I enrolled the kidlet in a mother-toddler programme. So that she could have some company and I could also hopefully make some friends. Given my track record, it took me a phenomenal amount of effort to go through with this thrice weekly ritual of strapping howling child on self and taking her to a class where mothers seemed to have cliques of their own and even the kids seemed far more well-behaved/trained than mine. And as was the case, by the end of six months when I had got myself slightly friendly with about one and a half other Moms it was time to move back to Mumbai again!
By the time we were back in Mumbai (kidlet was just about to turn two) I knew that she would have a speech delay. I have always been cautious about mentioning this in public, because at the end of the day it is my daughter's life and when she grows up I do not want her to feel that I was telling the world her story without her knowing it. But now that she's grown a bit and now that I have met several people who are traumatised by such things, I know that it is better to speak out about these things. Yes, so where was I? Yes, the speech delay. I knew that the best way to help my daughter get talking was letting her meet other kids her age. We were new in town and had taken up an apartment in a fairly old housing society populated by mainly gujaratis. These people had been living there for donkeys years, and they didn't really warm to renters very easily. It was then that I felt really depressed about my asocial ways - I knew that in order to help my daughter, I had to get out of the house more, meet more people and get more friends for her in the the bargain. I had also put her in a playgroup - which she loved - touchwood! But that was for only two hours in a day. I'd spoken to a child psychologist who re-iterated the same - get yourself out more often. Lead by example! Well, the happy fact is that I did. Despite my almost physical dis-inclination to do so, I started taking the kidlet out more. It took a while to break in. I surprised myself by going and talking to strangers - many of them openly hostile - oh groups can be very clannish sometimes I tell you. I started talking to my daughter more. Since I was the only other person in the house most of the time (the husband travels much) I really had to make the effort and talk for two people. I'm telling you, the initial few days after I consciously started to make the effort to talk more, my jaw used to hurt at night. Truth.
Then came the one year of acid-testing. I'll keep it brief because it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, talking about it. We put our daughter in a very highly recommended Montessori nursery. Honestly, we did it because we thought with the 'let the child lead the way' philosophy, our child would have room to grow at her own pace. No such luck!! The darned place had old snarky looneys for teachers. People who screamed and ranted at little children who did not conform (I am not making this up - I've heard enough of it with my own ears). This teacher would call me in almost every week to humiliate me about something or the other. I am told that this is the schools regular tactic - but at that time, I used to rue my tongue-tiedness. I wanted to be able to stand up and tell the lady to buzz off - loud and clear. Both my husband and I fought the negativity as best as we could, but the whole while I felt let down with my inability to engage. Finally in the last month of school, I did gather courage (fueled by enough pent up rage) to go and complain about the teacher's behaviour to the head of the school. Sure enough, the teacher's bad behaviour stopped. Would you believe it - I have kicked myself enough times over the last year for not having done it earlier!!
Luckily, we got out of that nursery and now have gone to a significantly better school. I still find myself tongue-tied and fumbling at parent-teacher meetings and other socials. But with time I have also noticed things about myself which have changed. I no longer rue much over prospective social outings. I've been to several play-dates at other peoples homes where I feel uncomfortable but rather than blowing up the feeling I just keep my mouth shut, sit back and enjoy seeing the happiness on my daughters face.
My mom tells me I was very sociable when I was young. I would go up to strangers and say hello to them, readily welcome visitors to our home and make plans to go to theirs. I'm not sure when all of that changed. My daughter right now, is much like me at her age - sociable and outgoing. I would wish a better outcome for her than for me. That thought is what helps me step out of my comfort zone without many qualms nowadays. That and my daughter's guiding hand, in the play area and elsewhere, where she just sits down next to a child and says, 'Can I play with you? Will you be my friend?'.
At the end of the day, isn't the child the father of man?