Stress Busters

“You mean the yellow ones with the smiley?” I ask. Half open-mouthed. “Do they work?” Mildly surprised that what sounded like a global endemic was sought to be ended with a TV news anchor’s sound bite. Or so it seems. The simple solution befuddles me. Imagine asking Sachin Tendulkar what the secret of his success was, and he saying ‘Brinjal. Two in the morning and one at night’. Or something like that.
“Yes. I carry them to meetings”, he says. I stay silent. For a long time. Long enough till it’s about time to get going.
‘Oh’. I say. That’s all I can muster. You see, he is a successful bloke. The cars. The houses. The degrees. The titles. The gadgets. All hang well on him and his belt clip. The fact that this idea didn’t strike me even as a remote solution, disturbs me no end. “Sounds like an idea to try”. I tell him.
That evening, I buy one of those yellow smiley stress balls.
I carry it in a bag and leave it on the dining table rushing in for a shower and change. I am looking forward to the evening with my daughter. She soon will be all over me, I think. Thoughts of our conversation around the Napoleanesqe at the workplaces disappear within minutes of stepping home.
For her toys are strewn all over home.
“Pappaaa”. She says. And runs in.
Our games begin.
The elephant game where she becomes the mahout and I the elephant. That is a tough game requiring me to balance her, my weight and call out like an elephant with one hand doubling both as a leg of the elephant and its trunk. We can play the game till the end of time or till my knees hurt. Whichever is earlier.
The ball game, where I become the ball picker. The building blocks game, where the building blocks are to broken up with an ease that would have done a US drone proud, while I keep building them. And a few other variants of other games. She is cackling away.
And then, her eyes rest on the stress ball. She lets go of a charming smile. The next I know, she is at ease with the yellow stress ball is in her hands.
She finds it infinitely fascinating that a smile can be perpetual. Or that it can return to the position after all the twitching that can be done. That smile coming back on the ball’s face livens her up no end.
I am immersed in her joy. The stress ball in the hands of the little wonder is doing a world to my stress levels! I smile and close my eyes for a bit. To take everything with a measure of curiosity & joy and to remember that no joy is small and no discovery is tiny etches a silly smile on my face.
The phone rings.
Someone calls. It’s from work. Something to be done. Someone needs to be spoken to. I speak. Sort things out. And hang up soon. Pleasantly.
I see the little wonder is more fixated on something. She has her back towards me. I presume it’s the stress ball. She has moved a couple of yards away from me.
The quiet fortitude of her single-minded focus unsettles me. She surely is upto something. I think. I shout out. She turns. And sports a genial smile. A smile that could launch a zillion ships. I melt. I clap my hands to excite her.
Half relieved. And half guilty that I had imagined she was upto mischief. Here she was as pretty as pretty can get, working up the stress ball. I have to be more positive, I tell myself.
In a fleeting moment of boundless joy she laughs out loud and claps her little hands that are still clutching the stress ball.  And as she is closing her mouth, I see a tiny shred of yellow saying hello to her alimentary canal. My eyes dart a little and find the stress ball in her hand, sports a crater. Bitten off and chewed silly.
I leap across the room. If only there was a video recording of this dive across the living room. Alas. If only that were possible, Jonty Rhodes will be an ordinary man and the video would have gone viral. For even as I land with a thud on the tiled floor, my outstretched finger reaches inside her mouth.
With the mastery of a special services commando unit that pulls out a hostage from the clutches of bad guys, the fingers pull out yellow rubber that was part of a nice stress ball till a while ago! Just as it is being dispatched with such seamless ease into the inner recesses of a tiny body.
She smiles. I heave a huge sigh of relief. I smile too.
In a bit, I call up my friend. ‘Do you need another stress ball but with a crater on top’, I ask. We laugh. I narrate the story. “Pass it to me, he says. It reminds me of someone with a crater up there”. He says. We laugh again.
“I don’t need no stress ball”. I tell him. “Come home sometime. Anything to do with stress gets chewed away”!
This is a replug from my post for www.parentous.com 

Firm Footing !

“Anklets.  She would place her foot firmly. For she would love the sound they would make with each of her steps.”  We were told.  
I didn’t know if she would like it.  I knew I would! 
They were ‘fancy’ to some folks.  ‘Traditional’, to others.   ‘Beautiful’ to me. And it was plain ‘utilitarian’ to the missus. For it was a rough equivalent of a sophisticated GPS system. It always announced which part of the home the little feet were prancing about in. Often causing our minds to whirr and think of possible objects there that the little hands that came with the little feet, could be exploring. 
Today, the little feet are exploring a stack of paper in a corner. She turns around and looks at me.  Her year old legs reveal their age with the stutter of the unsure step. Each with the jingle of the anklet.  Usually, she lets out an incoherent shout of joy, blissfully oblivious of the next lurking danger. Like a bowl of water, the edge of the cupboard or the end of the bed!  Unmindful, she usually stutters on. With obvious results.
Today is no different. She is soon atop the stack. It’s not a tall stack. But it perhaps is a Edmund Hillary moment for her.  Her shouts of joy punctuate the air. This time around too, I stay a good distance away. 
Her mother’s heart beat almost shakes up the building with every one of the little stutter in the step.  Growing louder, as the stutter of the small feet reaches very close to the end of the stack. One more step and she would fall. Not a plunge across the Grand Canyon. But a small fall.  Similar falls are part of her routine.     
Her mother lurches forward to hold her, anticipating the fall and all the crying later. I lunge and catch hold of her mother’s hand stopping her midway. We are a few feet away from happy feet. Her mother squirms in my grip. Reserving the choicest of ‘are you a nutcase’ look. I hold firm.  I hiss ‘Quiet’. 
I stay calm. On the exterior.  With the countenance of a sage who has been in meditation since the time dinosaurs roamed the planet.   Grey butterflies adorn my stomach lining. In hordes.  
“Will she fall?” An inner voice asks me. 
“I don’t know”, I answer. Inside me. 
“Then let go of her mother, who atleast will hold her in case she falls”. My inner voice tells me. 
“I can’t”. I answer. In a fledgling moment. 
“Why?” The voice persists. 
“The stuttering feet have to learn. She will”. I tell myself. “She will learn what causes a fall. Perhaps how to fall.  Or perhaps how not to. Even better, she will gradually learn about her options, choices and consequences. In any case we are at hand to pick her up and let her know that its ok to fall”! 
The inner voice stays quiet with the rapid fire conversation within me. A conversation that lasts not more than a second. 
Nano seconds appear like hours today. The sounds the anklet produce, reach a spot where one more step will mean a slip and a fall. The hundred butterflies have morphed into two hundred and make their way all the way up my alimentary canal. 
I notice that the speed of her mother heart beats could get Usain Bolt’s heart cowering in the bushes.  I still continue to hold her mother.  Firmly. 
The stuttering feet take the next step. Almost. She changes her mind at the last minute. And turns around.  To find her father holding her mother’s hand, and her mother struggling to jump out of his grip and both of them ready to jump.  
The clinks of the anklet stop for a minute.  A look mixed with bemused curiosity loads up on her face. It could have asked, ‘you idiots thought I was going to fall, didn’t you’?  Her usual arrays of celebratory sounds are released perhaps at the sight of an unexpected audience to an event that didn’t happen.  
The cutest of smiles escape her perky lips and she stutters off in a different direction. The seeming search for new objects, shapes and spaces to explore, exposing an intact confidence announced by the pronounced anklet. 
Her mother frees herself from my grip. ‘She could have fallen’. She says calmly. 
“Could have”. I say.  And smile.  
“But she will learn.  Awareness. Choice. Freedom to choose. Doesn’t come easily. But will eventually come.”  
 Her mother looks at me. “Look, you can continue to be Gautama Buddha. Or whoever.  I am just going to be a simple mother to my daughter”.   
It takes a while for the heart beat to slow down. 
She smiles. I smile.  
We both know each other too well.  
To stay distant enough to give space for her to exercise choice and face the consequences head on, yet staying close enough to pick her up incase she falls. It’s a thin amorphous line there. 
I realise, that’s going to be a lifelong quest.  Today we have shiny anklets made of silver.  In the days ahead, the time that we spend with her should help her do the job: Place her feet firmly! 
This post first appeared at www.parentous.com 


Happy New Ear

“We have to. Its part of the tradition”, says my mom.  With so much love. 
To fact that our one year old daughter will be tonsured and have her ear pierced is something that we were reconciled to, but haven’t been able to come to terms with. 
“Will it hurt?” Asks the missus. 
“Well, you are the one that wants it and besides, wears the earring. Some recollections would help”. I quip. Half in jest.  But only half.  
For the missus has already bought a variety of fancy earrings just for the little one.  Each purchase warranting a special trip and intimate analysis and design that if it were applied to other matters like economics, for instance, would have won her a Nobel Prize and pulled the world out of recession! 
 ‘We’ll do the ‘Gun-shot’ thing’. The missus adds. “It’s quick. Non messy. And relatively less painful”. 
I can say for sure that the missus has done the research, looked up the web, watched countless YouTube videos, checked with the doc and is ready to go.  Yet, the notion of pain is difficult for her to take. For me too. 
“And may I ask”, I persist, “what does ‘relatively-less-painful’ mean”? Silence engulfs the room.  And returns whenever we discuss the topic. 
The tonsuring is something that we think will go off easy. The ear piercing is a different matter altogether.  I am all super duper anxious. Mildly put.  So is the missus. 
That was a month ago. 
Today, in the morning, the tonsuring was done.  A small family ceremony. Ancestral home. Eager beaver relatives. Garlands. Prayers. And such else. She wailed and wailed. Seated on one of her grandpa’s laps and under the watchful eyes of another, locks of hair kissed the stone floor as a practiced hand worked to perfection. 15 minutes was all it required. 
Her wailing continued till the time she discovered that her head was indeed a nice round thing to touch, play and laugh!  She was ever so cheerful after that! Its evening now.  We are now at a beauty parlour for the ear piercing business. The traditional way of piercing ears has been negotiated out of.  This one, we were promised ‘would be over in a minute’.  
“Will it hurt”. I ask. Tentatively.
The young lady at the beauty parlour smiles, as she walks in with a small contraption and a set of other instruments. .  “Are you her dad”, she asks. I nod. 
She smiles. “Slightly”. She says.  She has handled many fathers, I can tell. 
“But then, she will have a new pair of ears”. She adds and surveys the ear. Cursory instructions are passed on how to hold her. She could well have been saying ‘one more kilo of potatoes please’. But her confidence had a calming effect. 
In a brief while, the first shot is fired.  Screams engulf the room.  A lump that is larger than the rock of Gibraltar sits in my throat.
In a jiffy the second shot is fired.  She lets off another volley of wails. She is in pain. Or maybe the discomfort. Or perhaps she wasn’t held well. Whatever. Tears well in my eyes. 
I notice that the missus is in tears already.  The beauty parlour lady smiles. And says, ‘done’.  
I am glad it’s over. I grab our little girl and whizz out of the room. On to the road and let the others do whatever else remains to be done like settling the bill and such else. She is still wailing.  I try to calm her down. I sing. I show her the bikes and cars on the road. I even pull my tongue out, which mildly amuses her every time.  She is in no mood to be amused today.  
On a whim, I peep into the rear view mirror of a parked bike. 
For the first time, she sees her ears. And the new additions to those lovely lobes. The wailing gradually stops.  Curiosity makes its stealthy march. After an elaborate fifteen seconds or so, of intense staring into the mirror, a smile escapes her lips. 
I shake my head and say, “Congratulations on a new pair of ears”.  A few babbles and cackles escape her mouth. I have a strange feeling she understood what I said. 
I sigh. A big sigh. Of relief.  I hold her and say, ‘Happy New Ear’. She still is looking into the rear view mirror. 
I wrote this post for www.parentrous.com. It first appeared there !