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Three things I wish I’d known… about navigating life with a toddler

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 14-01-2022 Humaira Ansari

In her bestseller, French Children Don’t Throw Food (2012), journalist Pamela Druckerman writes that raising kids the French way is about “a fully functioning society of good little sleepers, gourmet eaters and reasonably relaxed parents”. That sounds absurdly utopian to me. My three-year-old still strolls into my room zombielike in the dead of night. I haven’t showered alone in years (and not in the fun way you’re thinking).

I was prepared for the grand, life-altering changes. I knew my life wouldn’t be about me for at least a decade. But what didn’t sink in until months after my wonderful boy was born, was that I would need to account for this little person for every moment of every day.

It’s the tiny adjustments that can feel like the hardest. Giving up the solitary moments that make up the humdrum everyday: the quiet shower; the lazy afternoon reading; the joys of binge-watching. For now, here are three things I wish I’d been preparing for.

There will be no more solo bath time. It may sound like a small thing, perhaps even petty. But I still remember my last pre-birth shower; it was in a Mumbai hospital’s suite, overlooking a sun-glazed Arabian Sea, 10 hours before I gave birth. I think back on it fondly. I’ve had to race through every bathroom visit since; I don’t wash my hair half as often as I used to. First, I’d rush out to breastfeed. Later on, to pacify my baby, bawling to be let in. Then to indulge a toddler who, locked in amid the pandemic, has begun to think of the bathroom as his personal waterpark. When your child isn’t physically around, prepare to be thinking about them… next meal, next play date, supplies and stationery... what they’re doing right now.

Zero screen time for the baby means zero screen time for you. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children less than 18 months old, and only an hour a day between the ages of 2 and 5. I adhere to their guidelines, and it has wrung me dry. To engage a non-school-going toddler without using any screens will take all your time and patience. When it comes to your screen time, watching a movie will take about a week. Anything serialised will no longer seem worth the effort. The TV / laptop will be off-limits through most of the day, but so will the smartphone. Particularly for a screen-starved child, any image (colour or greyscale), any movement (a basic Word document being scrolled), is a riveting amusement or annoyance.

People, practices, policies… the system is stacked against you. My husband is a hands-on father. This is apparently a remarkable thing; it is remarked upon constantly. I too worked full-time, from the end of my maternity leave until last year, but my being hands-on was anything but remarkable. It was expected. Paternity leave for my husband only meant missing a few days of work. I have struggled to juggle it all during after that leave ended. There are no systems in place that I have been able to find or access that seek to level out this disparity. Lately, I’ve been working freelance, out of a co-working space, and my husband and I are trying a tiny social experiment. I stay at work a little longer from time to time. He takes the reins at home. He and our son are bonding. My husband is learning new things, and doing so at a marvellous pace. It’s doing wonders for their relationship. And my singularity.

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