Category: life lessons

Of painting nails and learning to focus

Of painting nails and learning to focus

Last Sunday morning, after making the public announcement that everyone was to fend for their breakfast on their own, I found myself happily free.

I thought some self-care was in order and I fished out the bottle of nail paint bought a month ago waiting to be inaugurated. Now, I could do a whole post on how I paint my nails but I’ll quickly sum it up here: 

  • First, I clean my nails. 
  • Then I apply nail paint. 
  • I end up painting my cuticles and the entire area around my nail 
  • I clean up as best as I can with an earbud
  • I hope I can scrub away the rest in the next day’s bath.

It’s a longish process. 

So I set up Netflix and browsed for something I could watch/listen to while I painted my nails and chanced upon an interesting docu-series titled The Mind Explained. The episode I happened to pick (I swear it was utterly random) was called How to Focus.

Less than five minutes into the episode as I was struggling to keep the nail paint within the confines of my nail I heard the narrator pronounce: 

‘We are not wired to multitask’

I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention had it not been so ironic. The VoiceOver went on to say that humans cannot multitask. When we try to do two (or more) things at a time, we switch from one task to the other and each time we do that, we lose a little bit of our cognitive self. 

Another podcast I heard went on to quantify this saying we function at 40 per cent of our capacity when we multitask.

That boggled my brain.

Here’s another interesting bit:

According to studies, our ability to pay attention hasn’t changed since the 1800s, so all talk of our attention spans having declined over the years is rubbish.

Low attention spans have less to do with what is happening around us and more about what’s going on in our heads.

When I was working in a newspaper office, I could find my focus despite the din. We had open workstations with no privacy whatsoever. People would be talking to each other, multiple phone conversations would be in progress, someone would be asking the canteen boy for tea, some days the TV would be on too and yet I could turn out my piece.

Now, even when I shut myself inside a room, each tiny sound distracts me. I can vaguely hear the children arguing or looking for stuff, the maid coming and going, the doorbell ringing. Each of these is a distraction breaking my chain of thought, pulling me away from the laptop.

I cannot mentally disconnect from everything that’s happening.

Even if we find the quietest corner of our home, wear top-quality noise-cancelling headphones, shut ourselves in sound-proof rooms it wouldn’t be much use because we are our own distractors 50 per cent of the time. 

The trick is to control the mind

And that comes with practice. Here are some ideas to help you:

  • Practice learning to sit still.
  • Practice focusing on your breath.
  • Meditate.
  • Doing skilled work with your hands also seems to help.

Each time your mind wanders bring it right back.

Strengthening the attention muscle is the key to successfully remaining focused on your work. It works better than getting rid of distractions.

Do make time to watch the series. It’s quite an eye-opener.

Note to self: If I focus solely on applying nail paint I’d probably do a much better job of it.

Traditions

Traditions

I don’t want to wear formals, announces H.

That’s how most of our festive days begin. We have this tussle each year, at every festival. I’ve been giving in to him slowly but surely, bending to his will, letting him have his way. We moved from Kurta pajamas, to short kurtas and trousers and then to a shirt with an Indian jacket and jeans. This year I don’t even have the mind-space to push for that.

I don’t regret it. Not much, at least. I know he’s getting older; he’s a teen and I’ve learnt to choose my battles.

‘Alright’, I tell him, ‘but change out of your shorts and vest’. Crumpled tees and shorts have been his uniform these past few Covid months. I haven’t much bothered. This was but a small trade-off for quiet mornings.

But he isn’t done. ‘Why must I change? ‘What’s wrong with these clothes? They’re clean and that’s what should matter,’ he challenges. He loves a good argument, this son of mine and I indulge him most often, but not today. The cook is on leave and a pile of chores beckon me from the kitchen.

‘This is why I hate festivals,’ he continues.

That gets my attention and stops me on the verge of my don’t-argue-just-go-and-change outburst.

It’s an almost compulsive thing with me, this need to make festivals happy and stress free. Paradoxically, the stress of being stress-free stresses me out.

That is one reason I’ve let go of many traditions. And that’s why H’s remark hits home.

I pull my gaze away from the kitchen, realise I’m frowning and straighten the frown. I will myself to relax as I prepare to gently wade into this sea of arguments.

N walks in holding up a bright orange tee shirt for H. ‘Remember, I gifted you this one? It’s perfect for today. Please please wear it.’

I sigh in relief and quickly push home. ‘Come on H’, I tell him. He gives a huge fake sigh but I know he’s coming around.

As I busy myself with the cooking, I hear them argue.

‘I won’t wear trousers.’
‘But you can’t wear these shorts.’
‘Okay, then I’ll wear my Eminem Tee shirt.’
‘Noooo!! Not on Rakshabandhan. Have you even heard his lyrics? He uses such bad words in his songs.
‘At least he has a message to convey. He’s not just mooning around like your One Direction.’
‘I don’t care. You’re not wearing that ugly black tee. Mamaaaa tell him, pleeease,’ N calls out to me.

I don’t respond. I don’t need to. As I stir the kheer on the stove and get out the dough for the puris, I know already that H will wear what she wants him to, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have his bit of fun. Just as I know N doesn’t really expect me to intervene when she  calls out to me.

When I glance into their room I find them giggling together, playing tug-of-war with the unfortunate Eminem teeshirt.

Finally, they’re ready. Much fuss is made out of tying the rakhis. As per their own weird tradition H smears N’s forehead with the kumkum instead of making a neat little teeka. She’s used to it and stands still while I wipe it off and make a small round one instead. ‘I’ll take revenge,’, she says when it’s her turn. That freaks him out a bit. He takes eons to fix the clasp of her rakhi and ends with pushing an entire kaju roll into her mouth. She does the same and we’re done.

As I put away the puja plate I realise I forgot to ask them to cover their heads, as per tradition. I realise I miss doing things the traditional way. I miss the colourful kurta-pajamas, the chaniya cholis, the laddoos, the elaborately decorated puja thali and the sitting down cross-legged on the ground with a handkerchief on the head. I miss it all. I was wrong when I said I didn’t regret letting go of traditions. I do, at least some part of me does.

I want to tell the children: this is your culture, your heritage, your link to the past. Don’t let it go.

I hear them laughing and arguing and I hold back.

Instead, I tell myself, this is change, embrace it.

Image by minxutopia from Pixabay

How honest are you with your children?

How honest are you with your children?

Last week the dentist told us H needed a root canal. He was blissfully unaware of the discomfort about to come his way, thanks to the wonderful paediatric dentist he went to when he was younger. I, on the other hand, was more than aware of what it entailed having undergone a rather painful procedure in my thirties.

I tried to not let my anxiety show but it must have been somewhat apparent because H asked me, ‘Will it hurt?’ Torn between reassuring him and being honest I hmmed and hawed and tried to get away with a noncommittal answer. I should have known better because H has the knack and persistence of a badger when it comes to exacting precise information.

Finally I told him it would hurt but that he would be on painkillers so he’d be okay. Rather than finding it reassuring it freaked him out to the extent that he tried to tell me he was quite fine and didn’t need the treatment after all.

That made me wonder if it would have been better had I not told him it would hurt. Perhaps it really wouldn’t, given that I had chosen this particular dentist on the recommendation of a friend whose son had sailed through a root canal without much trouble. I wondered if I had made H needlessly anxious.

When the kids are young it is easy to fob them off with simplistic truths or with a distraction. As they grow, however, their queries become more layered and they want honest, precise answers.

So what I want to ask you is How honest do you think one should be with one’s children? More specifically, with one’s teen? More so, when it isn’t something as straightforward as a root canal.

When they talk to you about complicated relationships (with friends and teachers and believe me when I say, it can get really complicated), about life choices, about friendships gone wrong… how honestly do you answer them? Would you warn them about the pitfalls they might encounter or would you rather they go ahead with innocent enthusiasm and figure it out for themselves? Do you worry that your constant warnings might turn them into suspicious over-thinkers (That’s rather ironic, given that you’re overthinking this whole thing in the first place).

I know I do.

It’s a tough one.

A lot will obviously be guided by our own experiences and attitude but I sometimes wonder if, in our bid to tell them ‘as it is’, we end up over-sharing details that really aren’t necessary and we mess their world view. That the children are growing up, means we can talk to them more freely yet they don’t need to know everything about the world in all gory detail. Sometimes it is okay to leave them to find out things on their own.

That might of course mean that they will sometimes fall on their faces, they will get hurt but those are the lessons they will remember forever, way better than the ones we tell them about.

Man maketh the clothes #MondayMusings

Man maketh the clothes #MondayMusings


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A few weeks back I attended the investiture ceremony at my niece’s school. There she was, right in the front, in her spotless white salwar-kurta, her hair in a neat little bun, a smart cap on her head. My heart filled with incredible pride as I watched her march by and accept the head girl sash.

Her salwar-kurta reminded me of my school days. Till we were in class ten we had uniforms – a sky blue blouse with the school initials in a beautiful cursive on the pocket, neatly tucked into a matching sky blue skirt. I still think of it with happy nostalgia perhaps because school was my absolute happy place. Also, that sky blue was so very different from the white, grey and navy of all other schools. We were ‘different’ and that somehow translated as ‘better’ in our young minds. We were a cut above the rest and that uniform was an inherent part of the feeling.

In class eleven, the school did away with uniforms since we were now technically in Junior College and we were free to wear whatever we wanted. That was our first taste of freedom – freedom to wear our own personalities, our first tentative steps in the world of ‘fashionable’ wear.

And yet, so in love we were with that uniform, that a bunch of us continued to wear it at least few days every week. It seems strange now. Why would one choose a uniform, that of a junior class, when one could pick simply anything from the wardrobe? But we did just that.

By the time my sister got to junior college the no-uniform rule was gone and the girls were given a cream and blue salwar-kurta ensemble. How everyone resented that! First there was the whole idea of a uniform and then this – no smart skirts, but this shabby shapeless thing.

Even my classmates and I, who were by now in Colleges and Universities across the country, hated the thought of girls from our alma-mater wearing that ‘behenji’ dress. It somehow diluted our cool-quotient, or so we believed.

How very wrong we were, thought I with the wisdom that comes with age. I looked on as my niece accepted the flag from last year’s office bearers and delivered the Thank You speech. She did so with amazing flair. The way she marched, the way she spoke, the way she carried herself, I barely noticed her clothes, nobody did. All we saw was an accomplished young girl, solemn and earnest, eager to shine in the new role she was being entrusted with.

She completely rocked that salwar-kurta!

In that moment I realised how stupid we were and I was so so proud of the level-headedness of this new generation that wears the LBD with just as much panache as the salwar-suit.

Clothes are after all, just an enhancement of our inner selves, nothing more. Mark Twain was way off the mark when he said Clothes maketh the man; definitely not true for young women, not any more.

 

Linking up with #MondayMusings at Everydaygyan

Slowing down

Slowing down

This past week has been one of the busiest, not just for me but for the children as well. After the rather lazy Diwali vacations we were all struggling to come to terms with our schedules. The weekend promised to be even busier what with the children’s hobby classes, a PTM to go to (which takes up all morning with some 10 to 12 teachers to be met) and two birthday parties.

My head was reeling as I tried to schedule pickup and drop timings for both the children while also trying to make a few hours to help them with their studies and also adjust the maid-timings!

My SIL called up to chat and raved about a must go-to exhibition that she’d spent three hours browsing through. She offered to accompany me if I could make time over the weekend. I am rather reluctant for such a plan on a busy weekend but this time I was sorely tempted. A quick mental check and I figured I could squeeze it in.

A little later, however, on an impulse, I cancelled the trip. Yeah I flip-flop a lot.

Sure enough, as I picked up H from his guitar class, the exhibition had lost all its charm even though barely half the day was through.

Instead of running home to let the maid in, I called and instructed her to get the keys from the neighbour and took H off for a coffee/drink at a close by cafe. I was done with the driving around. I ordered a huge Latte while he got himself a tall glass of Iced Tea. There was still an hour before N had to be picked up and so we settled down for some one on one conversation.

We talked about our tentative move to a new house next year. He said he’d miss his classmate who lived close by and we planned future play dates. We discussed his teacher’s comments at the PTM that he needed to mix with other children apart from his two closest buddies. He told me about his much-hated football coach who had been nasty yet again to another friend of his.

We got back relaxed and in good time to pick up N. Not going to that exhibition proved to be one of the best decisions I made.

There was a time I would load up my day with a list of things to do and would go through it systematically. At the end of the day the ticks on that list brought a huge sense achievement.

However, I can no longer do that.

I find I cannot go through a list of back-to-back tasks as easily as I used to. Click To Tweet

The physical effort might not be too much but the mental effort of not just planning but also of getting the children ready, the constant calling out to them, of sorting their hundred tiny disagreements and listening to and solving their myriad problems is exhausting. And so I’ve learnt to take things easy, to slow down.

As we drove back home the image that remained with me was of H carrying the tray with our drinks, his tongue stuck out as he concentrated on not letting them spill. Nothing I’d have found at the exhibition would have been as precious.

 

 

Linking up with Mackenzie at Reflections from Me #mg

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On my other blog: Beat About The Book

Seven easy tips to help you read a classic novel

Seven easy tips to help you read a classic novel

Have you started reading a classic and given up midway? Do you find them cumbersome and long winded? Well, here’s help.