This blog has been neglected for three months now and I am really sad that it happened right on the back of me resolving to increase my writing to thrice a week and starting lots of new features (God really must be having a good laugh at some of our resolutions!) The truth is, even though I do find pockets of time in which I could write, I’ve been feeling drained and out of sorts and very low on motivation and energy. It has been over a month that we lost my father-in-law and although we have come to terms with his absence, death has a way of tainting the day with a dreary, grey, seedy “Is it even worth it?” “What is the use of…?” feeling.
Writing seemed like too much of an effort. All I wanted to do was curl up in a corner and ruminate for hours over the inevitability of death and wallow in my morbid fears of losing more loved ones. Luckily, having children means forfeiting the luxury of wallowing in self-misery whenever you feel like it, so Rumi has been a welcome respite in this time.
We used to occasionally visit Pappa in hospital, although Rumi would generally feel afraid of all the tubes and drips and want to leave the hospital room in a few minutes. On the day of his death, she was staying with my parents who came over with her once we got the body home. I was initially hesitant about letting her see Pappa so still, cold and shrouded with garlands but as a family, we agreed that she needed to say goodbye. However, that sight of Pappa lying so still really scared her and she refused to come anywhere near.
The days that followed were filled with rituals that bound us all together in our grief and kept us busy. They all seemed to pass by in a blur although a few things are etched brightly in my memory; that hot afternoon when my husband and I got in the car and just drove and drove and drove to get away, finally stopping on a highway McDonald’s and sitting there with our fries and crying, the tiny, perfect little plates of food we prepared as part of the rituals on the thirteenth day: minuscule portions of rice, chutneys, sabzis and dal on palm-sized banana leaves, and Rumi occasionally asking us what Pappa was doing ‘up there in the sky’ and whether he had a TV and a bed.
After the thirteen days of rites and rituals, we experienced that emptiness of having nothing to do but continue to live with that big void in our lives. Diwali was particularly hard as just last year, Pappa had been hale and hearty and dressed up in his immaculate style and happily posed for pictures with Rumi. Here are some pictures of Diwali last year:
We slowly started getting back to the daily grind although it all seemed very mundane and futile. Abhi got back to work and Rumi started school again. Getting her back to school was a mammoth task with fresh tears and shrieking wails every single morning. It was not just school mornings that were a problem. Rumi had started throwing massive tantrums which included scratching, hair-pulling and even occasional biting. And from rare to occasional, these tantrums suddenly became the norm. Talking to her was like talking to a ticking time-bomb with no way to know what would suddenly trigger it off.
We would try to preempt her tantrum, my mother-in-law most of all. “Rumi likes the orange cup”. “She does not like this spoon”; all of us were trying to walk on eggshells. But it was really getting from bad to worse. She was constantly crying and angry and lashing out, especially at me. We tried various devices such as time-out, letting her sit on a chair if she hit us, being close to her and holding her when she kicked and threw herself on the floor and so on till we were at our wits’ end.
When my husband and I talked about it we attributed it to her way of dealing with Pappa’s loss but also a lack of structure and strict routine in her life. She was pretty much doing what she wanted, eating what she wanted and sleeping when she wanted. This meant going to bed later and taking her afternoon nap later, leaving no time in the evening for outdoor play. We came up with a schedule which cut her afternoon nap so that bedtime could happen earlier. I made weekly meal plans so that dinners could be prepared when Rumi is at school and I had enough time in the evening to take her to the park. I made a list of ten breakfast items and ten different afternoon snack options. We stocked up on groceries and started fresh on Monday; that promising day for fresh starts and new beginnings.
This strict routine seems to be working very well for Rumi. She does not enjoy surprises so I always tell her what she is going to have for breakfast and as an afternoon snack. From having only kheer in the morning before school, she has moved on to different things like omelettes, pancakes and idli chutney this week. On the way home from school I tell her what the afternoon snack is and she looks forward to that every afternoon. Because it is getting dark quite early, we leave for the park at 4.30 in the afternoon – fortified for a day in the jungle you would think, looking at the size of my backpack. Rumi’s sand-toys, enough food because she gets hungry there, a bottle of water, wet wipes, mosquito repellent, a rain jacket.
By the time we get back home at 7, she is already so tired that we have to coax her into a bath and feed her with her eye-lids almost shutting. A very happy and hopefully long-term development is that she goes to her bed on her own. We wrap her in her blanket, put on the night lamp and come out and have our dinner.
Here is what our routine looks like:
Breakfast at 8.30
School from 10.30 to 2.30
Afternoon snack at 3.30
Park from 4.30 to 6.30
Dinner and bath between 7.00 to 8.00
This has worked beautifully for us this week and I hope it continues. It does mean a lot of work for me in terms of planning meals so that I’m free to spend the evening at the park. This is because the husband is also working overtime in order to compensate for all the days missed last month, but once we get back on track, he will hopefully be able to take over dinner or park duties. Right now, I am consumed by this clockwork routine and all the planning it entails but I see how it has immediately helped Rumi and that is very rewarding for me. I get my reward in the form of weekends where the dear grandparents have her over and we get a break. All we seem to do in this break is get into our oldest clothes and curl up and talk, talk, talk with the TV in the background and books lying on our chests but I love it and it strengthens me for the week ahead.
This entire week has not seen a single tear or angry outburst and I cannot even describe what a Herculean achievement that feels like. I want to add some exercise and meditation into this (how cool would kick-boxing or tai-chi be?) and that would make it the perfect schedule but my mind tells me “Slow and steady, one thing at a time” because it knows all too well how I jump optimistically into new projects and ideas, only to feel burnt-out and abandon them as rapidly as I started.
This getting back, getting into, is good enough. It is perfect for now.