The return gift culture

Birthday parties of children these days give me the heebies jeebies. It is like a mini-wedding in the family! You need to plan well in advance if you wish to host a party that is in line with the current trend. And, the dishes served are no less than at a wedding reception. It is mostly dinner, mind you. Whatever happened to those fun-parties that had the staple wafers, cake, one samosa and a glass of Rasna to wash it all down. When parties meant an hour of merry-making at the house of the host, give small presents to the birthday child, eat and come home.

Children anyway do not eat much at these parties, so the grub is all for the mothers who chauffeur the kids. Is it really necessary to keep an elaborate 4 course meal, apart from a kid's menu? And, what stumps me most is the return gift policy. Ok, I understand that kids feel happy to get something in return but when that 'something' looks and costs more than what you took as a birthday gift, it becomes a little too embarrassing and unnecessary. It is almost like one (the parents, that is) is clamouring to out-do the other in these events. I am attending a fair share of birthday parties these days and I wonder a lot at the extravaganza, not to mention the amount of wastage of many precious resources-food being one of them.

For all the boasting I did about how I managed to organize R's party just a few months ago, I felt like someone put cold water on my face when I attended the next few birthday bashes. I had certainly been living under the rock for I had not known that the showbiz that is a feature of Indian weddings had percolated far down to a child's party too. I felt small and muted by all the proceedings. I was painfully reminded of in many ways, how nowadays simplicity is not a virtue (not to mention being reminded of the 'small token' that I had doled out as return gifts :-0)

I, for one, do not believe in having a grand party each year for the child. Of course, the definition of grand is quite different from what I knew. These days, even at-home parties also cost a bomb and if you are going to keep up with the current trend, then there is really no end to spending. It is nice to see kids having fun at their birthdays and you want to give in and indulge since it is their special day. But, how and where do you draw the line is the million dollar question.

I know, these things are personal choices but I cannot help marvel at how much our generation is responsible in making the next generation more materialistic than we are. It is quite evident when kids attend a party with their eyes and excitement planted on (and sometimes only on) the return gift. The essence and fun factor is all skewed. But, isn't this all our doing? Kids are going to be kids. It is up to us to direct them correctly towards more meaningful things.

The pressures of the bandwagon

When you are single, you notice other friends getting married one by one and you immediately feel the clock ticking in your head. (And, I'm not even going into the pestering intrusive prodding from the sundry social circle. )When married, either immediately in some cases or after a couple of years in others, the baby boom around you beings to affect you and the worries of having to deliver the first before the dreaded thirtieth year of age, begin to haunt you. 

The first one comes along in time. You get busy with all the diaper changing, breast-feeding, sleepless nights and before you realize the baby is past a year old. You are beginning to heave a sigh of relief, trying to put together the threads of your life once again; living life once again as a normal individual, happy as a unit of three. You've decided that this is it. Your family is complete and you don't want to re-shuffle the pieces of the jig-saw just as it is coming through beautifully. The child is growing well, you are loving the "me" time, the finances are just about right to fulfill all the needs. A little luxurious living will still take time but that's OK. You are prepared to wait, since you know the mouths to feed, clothe and educate is only one. One more might trip the balance in the wrong way and you probably do not want that. Also, the mental and physical pressure is too much, you decide. It helps that the husband falls in this line of thought.

Of course, some decisions in life can never be termed final. "What? no second? are you sure? how can you do this to your first born? Doesn't he/she need a sibling? Don't rush into this decision" : You face the interrogation in the court of your social circle quite bravely and convincingly (to your ears) laying down your cards of defense and trying for a quick acquittal. Each time you also fight the inner battles of whether you are taking the right decision, if the first one will be greatly affected by not having a blood-related sibling, and whether it might be too late if and when you'd want to reconsider. The questions from the outside slowly die down. You think you are being let off. But, no, you are mistaken, it was just a brief parole.

And, then the baby boom begins once again. Women, all around you are sporting the baby bump with a lot of pride (the apprehensions are always well-hidden, you see) and of,course,  a toddler in tow. The pressure builds up, once again. (Oh! when does peer pressure end! ) A nagging, tingling feeling of being alone in a minority camp begins to gnaw at you at somewhere in the corner of your mind. You push the thought away in a hurry. But, the damage is done. You are now beginning to re-think and doubt your earlier decision of "one and done". You begin to imagine a life with a second child in the family picture. At times, you feel overpowered and enthused by the new possibility, and want to jump right into the bandwagon. At other times the practical part of the brain takes over and begins to list the very things that you had considered earlier whilst setting up camp in the single child brigade. You are more confused than ever.

Does this seem like your story? I'm collecting as many views as possible, so please share your  candid thoughts, through your own experience or based on your observation of people.

Do people view a second child only as a companion for the first? When a couple decides to have more than one child, is it because of the social norm, a conditioning of seeing a family as a unit of four or more members? Does the temperament of the first child decide the need for or against a second one? What is the deciding factor for couples who having once decided to stick to one kid, later think of an addition?In such cases, are the second ones always a compromise and not completely welcomed as the first? 

Do single children automatically feel the need to have more than one child when they get married? If yes, why? Do they grow up feeling left-out and grudge the parents for not providing a ready play-mate? Is it really such a life-shattering decision to choose to have only one kid or none at all? 

Why is society so rigidly constructed that every time someone feels the need to step out of the norm, they are expected to justify their decision, made to feel apprehensive about having to regret their choice at a latter stage, made to feel guilty through subtle and non-subtle ways of the rule-conforming clan?

In life you win some, you lose some

Full of mixed feelings is what I'd describe my current mood to be. One of our couple friends is moving to a distant part of the city in a few weeks from now. Although, technically, we will still be in the same city, it will be practically impossible to meet every weekend or just drop in unannounced at each other's place for a quick coffee and chat during the week- something that had become a routine with us over the past couple of years since we moved to Bangalore.

As I look back at how our friendship developed over the years, it brings a happy smile to my face. The guy and the husband used to be roomies during their bachelorhood. When he got married (just 6 months after our wedding), his wife and I became good friends. However they moved to B'lore soon after and we only remained in touch over the phone. We had our babies in the same year (just a month apart) and this made the bonding even stronger.  We went through similar pains and troubles in the first year of being parents. We'd trade our horror stories of breast-feeding and general baby stuff and feel re-assured with each other's experience.

Later, when we moved to B'lore, and got a place close to where they lived, our joy knew no bounds. Impromptu get-togethers, potlucks, lunch/dinner at the others house for no reason, and night overs became a part of our life. Since the kids are also of the same age, we had more reason to meet, discuss and share things. They are one of those rare people who you can trust and depend on during difficult times. They have never faltered and failed to lend their help (in any form) whenever the need arose.  (I just hope we've also been good friends to them.)
The husband, who is generally frugal in displaying finer emotions, also confessed feeling bad about having them move away from us.
As they say, change is the only constant in life. Nothing is more unwise than to slip into a comfort zone and hope that things will continue in the current form forever. Of, course, we are happy for them, 'cause this move means a lot for them in many ways and we wish them all the very best. But, we are surely going to miss them. Weekends will never be the same.  

Into the New Year...and here I'm

More than a fortnight into the New Year and am still settling down into my old routine. I wanted to take a break from the blog after the marathon blogging session but had no idea that the break would stretch endlessly so. So, has the New Year really brought in so many things for me to juggle that I had no time to mark my presence at my favourite hangout: the blog? Not really. It was just a combination of some factors coupled with inertia that just had to be shrugged off. 

Returning home after a vacation entails a not-a-very-happy session of unpacking, washing, drying, arranging and re-arranging things, stocking up groceries, gearing up for the familiar yet forgotten routine and eventually settling down to the pace and flow of things.  Just a week after going through the unpacking routine, I had to pack my bags off again for a short stay at the in-laws place for Pongal. We took our first solo road trip and I must say it was a great experience. Although I was a little jittery in the beginning, the husband's excitement levels rubbed on to me and I began to relax and enjoy as we progressed on our journey. It was a long weekend and not surprisingly we had plenty of company on the road. It really didn't seem like driving on a NH. It could have been any road within the city limits! The drive on our way back was far more peaceful and faster. Most importantly, there was a feeling of triumph, to have made our debut in style. So, here's to more road trips in future! 

The New Year saw me complete a book in the first week itself. I read P.S. I love you by Cecelia Ahern gifted to me by my lovely Santa. Thank you, Simran! It was good to start the New Year with a book. I hope this sets the ball rolling and I'm able to read much more by the end of the year. As for the book, umm..lets say, it was nice. The plot was good but some of the parts seemed a little unrealistic and difficult to imagine in a real-life scenario. Though the end was what I hoped for, the twist seemed like an after thought and hurriedly patched. But, for the overall emotions that were portrayed, I'd give it a thumbs up. There were parts that really tugged at your heart. It wasn't all tear-jerky and had some good humour too packed in. So, overall, a nice read.

Yet to catch up with all the reading and commenting on the blogosphere. See you at your space, soon!

Some pics from our road trip: