“Mama, we are going to buy a travel system for the baby!” My daughter’s voice rose in enthusiasm over the speaker phone as we listened on in amazement.
“What? A whole system, like the solar system? For one tiny baby? And where will she be travelling to so early in life?”
My husband couldn’t keep the scepticism out of his voice. I shushed him. “Hey, this is the 21st century. Our kids are gizmo kids… and she is their baby, after all!”
“So what is this system all about?” I asked cheerily. There was a silence on the other side, and my son-in-love took over. “Mama, here we need a car seat to keep the baby in. So the travel system consists of a perambulator in which a car seat fits in!”
Of course, he had done all his research well and checked various websites which described the product, pointed out its salient points, air-brushed its weaknesses to make them its strengths and given comparisons with corresponding products in the market. It reminded me of the time when I would pore over matrimonial web sites, researching till the wee hours for the perfect bridegroom for my daughter! And boy, did we both strike gold!
I nodded sagely at my husband who was bursting to expostulate. “When you were young…!” I knew exactly what was coming, and so did my daughter. We had been hearing it ever since our tiny granddaughter had come into the world.
“When you were young, we had a ramshackle pram which was a hand-me-down from a friend. It had a loose wheel and we had to fix it!”
His words took me back to when our daughter was on the way. The doctor had smiled at me. “Congratulations, Ma’am! The stork is going to visit you.” We were so excited and wanted to tell our loved ones the good news. However, those were the days when mobile phones were not even a twinkle in someone’s eyes. STD rates were cheaper after ten at night, and there we were, standing in a queue, waiting for those precious three minutes when we would be able to spring our wonderful surprise on our family.
Photographs were promptly taken on our decrepit camera which had been our faithful companion on our wedding day, our honeymoon and all the occasions we wanted committed to memory. Unfortunately, the said camera had a mind of its own, and a blind eye which omitted many vital details, like focus, brightness and clarity. So often our pictures ended up looking like nothing on earth. Like the time we went to Kaziranga, and shot a rhino! Oops, that sounds wrong, but we had our camera to prove otherwise! When the film roll was developed, all that we could see was a lot of grass and something that glinted like the eye of the rhino! No, I am not exaggerating!
So there we were, merrily clicking photographs of me in various stages of my pregnancy, (where, very often, I looked like the aforesaid rhino!), and once our precious bundle was born, the focus was on her, of course. We did send a few pictures of her to the family, but no one actually knew what she looked like (from the pictures), until we actually took her over to meet them.
Thank God things have changed, and that twinkle in someone’s eye has turned into the ubiquitous smart phone with a camera which records with perfect clarity. Every morning and evening we get to see photographs and videos of our little granddaughter in various poses and situations – when she smiles, laughs, gurgles, sleeps and drools! My phone has about a thousand photographs of her, and she is just turning three months.
When my daughter was a couple of months old, our home looked as though a baby- earthquake had taken place. Milk bottles lay, strewn around at random, with milk powder tins on the dining table. The only time these bottles were seen together in one place was when they went into a cauldron of boiling water to be thoroughly sterilized. The mandatory boiling time had to be maintained and very often, the little one would end up howling for all she was worth, while my husband stood on one leg, waiting for the blasted water to boil. By this time, I would have pulled all my hair out, having run out of funny faces to make, and lullabies to sing.
In those days disposable diapers had not become popular and we used cloth nappies, which were triangular in shape and needed to be washed after every use. So a parallel clothesline came up, with these white triangles waving in the breeze, (I wonder why we only used white ones! Probably to make our own lives that much more complicated!) Anyway, these nappies needed to be changed every half hour or so, which meant that our house had a natural fragrance that wafted in the air – that of pee and poop! And of course, of Baby Johnson powder, cream and shampoo… a very distinctive fragrance, as besotted parents always claimed!
I was in for a very pleasant surprise when my granddaughter made her appearance. While the house still looked as though a baby-earthquake had taken place, there was a revolutionary new appliance called the sterilizer which put cauldrons out of business permanently, thank God. All the washed bottles could be placed in it, and in six minutes flat, they would be steamed, and be taken out, fresh and sweet-smelling. So the miracle was that the sterilizing process began right when the baby started off with a whimper, and before it had turned into a full blown cry, the bottles were ready to be used.
The canny young parents had also bought ten to twelve giant packs of disposable diapers. I remember being gob smacked at the sight of them, as they were spread out in all their glory, covering half the nursery. “Will you actually need all these?” was a question I never asked again, once I saw how the young one’s bowels worked! Slowly and steadily, she worked through the pile, diligently and meticulously. My son-in-love’s research continued and he picked up a diaper disposal system (yes, yet another system!) which was shaped like a cylinder, with a bag inside which eagerly gulped down all the dirty diapers, and ensured that there was no, ahem, fragrance left in the room.
Yet the most amazing change has been in the mindset of young parents nowadays. My mind flies back to those days when I was expecting, and I remember not having a clue about most things. I did have a moth-eaten copy of Dr. Spock who seemed to know what he was talking about. But most of the time, my husband and I left things in the hands of Mother Nature, who certainly knew what she was doing. So we did no research, but ensured that I ate and slept well. We went to the doctor whenever required, had the customary shots and checkups and generally remained ignorant.
All through her nine months of pregnancy, my daughter went through various web sites, each of which told her exactly what was happening inside her – the growth of the baby, the milestones she had to look for, the kind of food she needed to eat and the rest she was supposed to take. Every day we would receive a little nugget of wisdom from her, which went thus; “Today your baby is the size of a rice grain and her little organs have started forming!” Thus, our baby went from a rice grain to a four-toed hedgehog, and from a weasel to an Atlantic puffin. She grew from an American guinea pig to a chipmunk. Finally one name stuck and she was “Sweet Pea” till she was born. Every month, a scan would be taken in which, we could actually see the little one move, as the doctor who looked a bit like Sean Connery, explained to us the miracle that was taking place within. Right from the start we knew that it was going to be a bonnie wee lassie, and to say we were thrilled was an understatement.
The research continued even after Sweet Pea was born. Mama looked up her every symptom and figured out ways to make her grow. Dada looked at the market for all the gadgets that would keep her comfortable while she grew. So she had her own travel system, her cot, her baby rocker, her jungle gym and her own little toys, including Sophie, the cute giraffe, who doubled up as a pacifier.
Today, as the little one gurgles her way through life, I see glimpses of many people in her. She is the replica of her mother, when she was that age, and I preen when people say she resembles me as well. There are instances when she has been compared to her father, her grandfathers and her grandmothers, depending on which side of the family is looking at her. Her round cheeks are definitely from our side of the family, but her dimples have a number of takers – mainly her father, her paternal grandmother and her maternal grandfather. Her eyes are like her mother’s, except when they are closed, when they look like her father’s. Like the old conundrum, no one knows which came first – the cheeks or the dimples, but it is to be fervently hoped that they both go down in history! And it is clear where that unmistakably unruly tuft of that hair comes from… Tintin, of course!
So the memories continue to stream, as my mind’s eye takes in those wild motorbike rides, which we used to enjoy, with our little daughter snugly held in my arms, the breeze blowing in our hair in free abandon, or the open air movies where our little girl would sleep through, in her broken-down pram, or those days when she would be the perfectly behaved, gurgling baby whom our friends loved to cuddle. Then my mind shifts to the present day when our little granddaughter sleeps peacefully in her travel system, or sits on a rocker that has its own music, or pees into a well-padded diaper, a beatific smile on her face. It is then the truth hits me. Of all the possessions that a baby needs, be it toys or gadgets or clothes, the most important one is a sense of security, a sense of being held to the heart and of being loved. I smile because whether it is then or now, our babies are, and will always be, a piece of our hearts, leaving a sparkle wherever they go!