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An Exhausted Mother's Guide To Spending 'Quality Time' With Kids

18/06/2017 10:51 AM IST | Updated 18/06/2017 10:51 AM IST
Getty Images/IndiaPicture RF
IndiaPicture RF

Do you spend quality time with your kid? Be honest. And what does it entail? I haven't a clue.

I asked my mom and she gave me the same kind of blank stare she gives me when I wish her, Happy Mother's Day. (Last time she didn't even look my way and just said "What? Again? How many times in a year do you have this Mother day- Shudder Day?") That right there should say something about my parenting skills, or lack thereof. Nevertheless, I was convinced that I could boldly go where no man or woman in my family has gone before a.k.a the land of 'quality time' with the offspring.

I decided to ask my closest friends. Turns out, none of them have children. Not one. They encouraged me to ask elsewhere as I saw them quietly chuckle like they've cracked some mystery that I haven't. Oh well!

I asked an acquaintance, an author of some renown — the kind with dark kohl-rimmed eyes and shiny long hair that she ties in a loose bun and that comes undone at every emphatic nod of hers, and the kind who always pauses thoughtfully after listening to your question. She doesn't ask people questions, she "engages" with the masses. We were at a restaurant once and I asked her what she'd like to eat. Then I took a nap while she asked the waiter relevant socio-economic questions, before ordering a black coffee. (I ate a bowl of pasta with extra cheese because for once I was eating at a restaurant without a child pulling at my fork midway to my mouth... but I digress.)

As soon as I reached home, I announced to the daughter that I was, nay, we were going to bake a cake. Her expression did not change for a minute.

My intelligent acquaintance threw her head back and broke into mellifluous laughter when I asked her how she "engages" in quality time with her little one. "Why? It's baking of course! Schona and I bake every other day. Ah, the act of throwing all the ingredients together and the smell... ooof!" Her eyes were closed, she was enveloped by the aroma of warm cake. I picked up my things and sneaked out leaving her mid-memory. On the way home, I googled "recipes for cakes", then "recipes for simple cakes", then "cakes for dummies".

As soon as I reached home, I announced to the daughter that I was, nay, we were going to bake a cake. Her expression did not change for a minute. Then she said with a pout, "But I don't know how to. So, you make the cake and I will watch."

"No. No. We have to spend some quality time. So we will bake a cake," I replied, my index finger flying between her and me.

The rest of the afternoon is a blur of flour. By the end of it, we had had arguments over measurements, the kitchen counter looked like a battlefield where spoons and whisks were left dying in puddles of chocolate sauce and flies had descended on the innards of bananas. We were so exhausted that we decided to call it quits until the oven dinged, which we totally missed because by then we were busy playing fake scrabble and eating Parle-G with peanut butter.

At least, I learnt two life lessons. One, I hate cooking that requires precision measurement. Two, my daughter takes after me.

At least, I learnt two life lessons. One, I hate cooking that requires precision measurement. Two, my daughter takes after me.

Since then I've tried other 'Quality Time' tricks, like doing art & craft projects together (we don't have what it takes to watch paint dry), gardening together (this almost worked until we ran out of the balcony), and shopping together (we both start out pretending we like it but malls exhaust us, especially when we walk around for miles in circles trying to find our car in the parking).

One day, around mid-morning, all chores done, I plopped down on the bed next to the kid. "What shall we do to... ?" And before I could finish the sentence, she pleaded, "Can we just... not do anything." I have to admit, I was relieved. Quality time is a lot of work. In a recent study, scientists have found that mothers who work a lot, grey faster and die sooner. (Okay, there has been no official study yet but...)

As we lie on the bed staring at the ceiling, we say nothing. Then she turns around to hug me and nuzzles her head into my armpit. We lie there for about five minutes before she's had enough and wants to go find something else to do.

This lolling about in bed sounds like a very good deal to me. We do nothing. Its oddly satisfying.

Truth be told, I am the sort of person who willingly sacrifices a little (teeny tiny) amount of quality if the deal is good. Like buying slightly cheaper nail paint (because I am going to only put it on my toes anyways). This lolling about in bed sounds like a very good deal to me. We do nothing. It's oddly satisfying. And it cost only five minutes!

The best times are had not necessarily during the allocated 'Quality Time', but somewhere in its neighbourhood. In the little gaps between photo-worthy moments, between anticipation and frustration, nestled in lazy companionship during sleepy afternoons. They are also low investment in terms of time but just as big, if not bigger on rewards.

I think I am a happy cheapskate.

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