Tanu Shree Singh: Still Trying (to Keep Calm)

Dr Tanu Shree Singh, author of Keep Calm and Mommy On, on still trying to keep calm!

Some days, I go to book-reading sessions and tell the harried folks to hang in there, be patient, see the positives, and happily sign their copies of Keep Calm and Mommy On, all the while doing a happy dance inside. After all, I am doing the right thing. I am on the child’s side, I am helping parents vent and see the right approach.

Yet on others …

There are days when keeping calm becomes a joke. In fact, mommying and keeping calm seem to belong to two different universes at times when two six-feet-tall, surly teens grunt their way through the day.

Am I doing all right? Am I calm? Are the boys going to be okay? These questions cloud my mind when the teens stomp out of the room after having used some fairly strong sentences. On such days, I feel like a cheat. On one hand, I tell everyone to stay calm and step back, and on the other I am clenching my jaws, trying to contain the fury. I mostly succeed. But the frown lines are increasing and so are the grey hair. And with it all a niggling doubt–have I done the right things as a parent so far?

‘The boys are full-fledged teenagers,’ I tell myself, doubt still gnawing at my mind. And so I call a friend and chew her brain for an hour. It brings the centre back. Some days, it is a friend, on others it is Mum, and if all else fails, one can always find solace in a book. But the end does not seem near. They resent nearly everything from the colour of their shorts to the ghiya subzi on the table. Okay, may be expecting a compromise on the latter is asking for the moon. But purple shorts are a problem too?

I feel like a soldier whose job is to disarm ticking nuclear missiles without a manual, the requisite gear, and the expertise. One wrong move and boom!–a teenager has exploded and there is debris all around.

The triggers are unpredictable. One day it is , ‘You do not have time for me,’ when yours truly has been in their face the whole day. And on others, ‘there is no privacy in this house!’ Go figure.

To my credit, I have mastered the art of patience. Almost. Jaw clenching and looking at the wine bottle longingly does not count. I explain stuff, talk to them, do not react to tantrums, and try and take it one day at a time. But by the end of each day, I am a bundle of nerves and wish for a secret room somewhere inside the walls of our home where I could curl up with coffee, a book and a dog. Instead, I look at my book, sniggering at me from the bookshelf. It has been sitting there for a year now.

It worked earlier. I could put the tiny ones in the naughty corner, write fake Santa letters to them, watch them play in mud and generally fret over the tonnes of holidays homework that year after year required them to make a kaleidoscope. Now, some days they talk, some days they grunt. I feel the need for a new handbook: Stay Comatose and Wait for the Teenage Years to Pass.

Last night I went for a walk, with Gabbar, our big dog with a tiny brain. I was wondering if all I did to create positive experiences for the boys was still working. Or was everything I had written in Keep Calm not ultimately true?

The younger one joined me quietly, with Mirchi and Dobby.

I was trying to get Gabbar to walk along the road but he insisted on straying into the bushes, pulling the leash with all his might–he had spotted a squirrel.

I snapped to the younger one, ‘ You go home, and take Mirchi and Dobby with you. This guy will take time.’ I could hear the irritation in my own words.

The boy whispered, ‘No, I’ll go with you.’ He looked absolutely calm. Very unlike me. Very unlike him. I kept quiet.

At a distance, the older one could be heard grumbling at Nawab, the big dog with a heart of a chicken. I sighed.

‘It’s okay, Mumma. We think you need a vacation.’ His soft voice smoothened the frayed nerves a bit.

‘All I need is the two of you to try and stay calm,’ I mumbled.

He just half-smiled and took the two goofy dogs he had been walking inside.

Soon I was headed home too, the questions still hopping around in my head. The house finally was quiet. The warring teenagers must have retreated to their rooms. For now. A torn white flag flapped around somewhere in the house. I took a deep breath, checked  all the doors, refilled the dogs’ water bowls and called it a day. The bed beckoned.

As I entered my bedroom, I could hear the men whispering. Three mature voices. Not the tiny squeals from yester years. I braced myself for yet another argument.

We have a regular-sized bed, wide enough for two people. Now, there were three men in it, shuffling to make a sliver of a space for me. The man had his arm around the older one, lest he rolled off the bed. The younger one had a grin on his face as he patted the sliver I was supposed to fit into. ‘Come, Mamma! It is family hug time!’

Three men and two dogs all looked at me and smiled.

We spent the next few minutes talking about their first words, things they did as babies, and the amount of crap I had to clean for them. This is it. The book doesn’t snigger at times like these. And we hugged, dogs included.


‘Jeez, Vivaan! Was that you? ‘

‘No!’ The younger one squealed, barely able to get the syllable out because he was laughing so hard.

‘Who the hell was it? And what did you eat?’

The only person not bothered by the stench from hell was Gabbar and he looked sort of guilty.

‘Ew, Gabbar! Get off!’

The older one sprayed half my deodorant bottle all across the room and the younger one just could not stop laughing. The man just kept calm with his nose firmly pinched.

The boys hugged me once more and decided to depart.

‘Good night, Mamma! Sweet dreams!’ they called out as they closed the doors to their rooms.

‘My babies are still in there somewhere.’ I smiled at the thought.

‘Mumma? So I can have that gaming PC? You did promise I could choose whatever for my birthday.’

Deep breathe. Deep breathe. SHUT UP, BOOK!

I swear I heard the damn thing snigger again.


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