Babysitting @ 60

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person holding white and blue textile

My new occupation – taking care of my grandchild! Am sure a number of people in my age group shall be able to identify with the tagline. Babysitting and taking care of the grandkids has become a common practice in urbanized India. With both parents working, someone has to take care of the children – and who can do the job with as much genuine love and affection as the grandparents (both sets)? Indian society continues to have strong family bonds – it is considered ‘normal’ for sons to stay with their parents even after their marriage. In fact, moving out used to be a taboo and was looked down upon. Relocation to a different city due to a job transfer was acceptable but then, parents coming to spend a few months with their son and his family in the new place every year, was the rule rather than an exception. Grandparents are mostly retired by this age and find it most convenient to be with kids and grandkids. It obviously is a win-win situation, at least on the surface – the simmering ‘saas – bahu’ discontent could sometimes come as a spoiler! The only winner in this situation would be the grandchildren – they would get from their grandparents something the young parents did not have – TIME. The love and care of grandparents is a nectar only very lucky kids taste. A very common saying in North India is that to a person, ‘sood(interest, read grandchild)’ is much dearer than the ‘mool’ (original amount, read own child)! Am sure, other languages too shall have similar words extolling the virtues of bonds of love and affection that exist between grandkids and grandparents!

In our minuscule KP community, the concept of babysitting by grandparents got popularised in the 1970s when more girls started working. In the marriage market, demand for ‘well employed’ girls zoomed; working in Banks/ Central Govt institutions (P&T, AGs office, etc) was considered the ‘upper cut’ followed by J&K Govt jobs – with private sector jobs (mostly teaching) as the lowest rung of the pecking order. A girl’s marriage prospects obviously rose directly in the proportion to her job. I recall one of my relatives clearly telling the ‘manziymyor’ (matchmaker) that her older son was married to a girl working in SBI so, for the younger son, a girl working in a Public Sector Bank or equivalent would have to be found. Unfortunately, the matchmaker was not able to bring such a proposal and the marriage of the gentleman in question got delayed by as many as 4 years! There was also a peculiar economic angle to the arrangement (prevalent in KP society in those days) – for the first year, post marriage, the young bride’s salary would become a bone of contention between mother and mother – in law, each expecting it; mothers would use the money to meet the various ‘proog’ expenses (Len-Den) so common in the first year of marriage! Once the first ‘Netra-Vohorvod’ (marriage anniversary) was over, the girl would become the lord and master of her earning -in theory, at least!

As a consequence, babysitting by grandparents, particularly the grandmother became the rule. In Srinagar city, it was a very common sight to find grand-mothers escorting tiny tots to school or to the bus stand in the morning and later, in the afternoon, waiting for the child at the school gate or at the bus stop Poor grandmas, having led tough working lives right through, embraced this new burden gladly. At times, depending on circumstances, girls would make arrangements with their parents (read mothers) for the daycare of their kids.

Post liberalization, a whole new world opened up in India with more jobs in the market. IT revolution made cities like Bangalore/Pune/Hyderabad/Gurugram/Mumbai/Delhi major hubs. Exodus from Kashmir (1990) coincided with this and out of economic necessity, one could find girls clutching at whatever jobs came their way. Soon, our community kids found educational opportunities in Maharashtra and Karnataka in a big way. Consequently, young couples found settling in Pune & Bangalore easier and more profitable. As a natural consequence, parents followed! Ours being a ‘service class ‘community, retired parents found it easier to follow children to their new places of employment. One major change, though, became apparent – now parents of the girl were not hesitating in staying with their daughter – son-in-law. It appears there was some kind of tacit, unwritten agreement between various parties involved – two sets of parents would take turns in staying with a particular couple! Nowhere was it more apparent than in people with kids abroad. A relative had their son in the UK and both sets of parents used to take turns in visiting London! I remember my late mother visiting my sister in the US in 1991 for babysitting duties – due to Exodus, her passport got delayed and she could not be there in time for the delivery! The trend continues – my wife traveled to Canada in 2019 to be with our daughter for her delivery. This is something very peculiarly Indian – also strongly found in several other communities, including Asian, Italian, Jewish, and Latino! In 2018 I traveled to Canada and the US and was pleasantly surprised to find several sets of parents visiting children, primarily to assist in bringing up their kids!

Babysitting is a tough business, indeed! One has to ‘re-learn’ parenting, having forgotten some of the basic tricks of bringing up one’s own kids. In my time, we could shout at and browbeat our kids – not possible today! Grandmothers, obviously are more used to physical hard work – menfolk at 60 find running around a pesky 2-year-old pretty taxing! Add to that the ‘refinements’ that have come in the methodologies of upbringing kids – from feeding Oats & ‘cereal’ to new style toys, books, nursery rhymes, etc. The young kids are far more used to and adept at operating tablets/ laptops and other electronic gadgets than some of my generation. They are also far more inquisitive and smarter than our kids at their age. I am probably beginning to understand the exasperation of Mr. Wilson in his unequal battle with Dennis the Menace! My wife, like Mrs. Wilson of the famous cartoon strip, is far more adept at handling the kid!

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Covid invaded the world in 2020, practically shutting it down for over 18 months – travel became well neigh impossible. Flights to Canada started in the last week of September 2021. My wife and I were desperate to hold our grandson in real life (as against video calling); so braving RTPCR Testing, exorbitant ticket prices, quarantine rumors, etc, we landed in Vancouver on October 15. By evening, we were home and free to hug the little tyke (post-Rapid Testing before reaching home). God bless the kid – he could recognize Nana-Nani at once – thank you, Mr. WhatsApp! Within a few days, I realized that the young 2-year-old is a bit more than what I can handle! Handling him is like trying to hold water in my fists – an unequal battle, unfortunately! My role is now well defined – occasionally taking him out for a stroll and, trying to read him stories at night from Panchtantra and other classic kid’s books; my wife gives him a bath, feeds him ‘bappu’, and puts him to sleep as the Parents are busy at work! I can at best be her assistant and errand boy for this task.

I look forward to walking him to school and holding his hand on our way to the park. We have already introduced him to Kashmiri & Hindi words, from doing Jai Jai to ‘Chotu Kanha’ in our small temple, a smattering of the Gayatri Manta, Okus Bokus rhymes, Hindi varnmala, and Hindi storybooks. Exposure to grandparents early on in life has been found to have a very positive psychological impact on kids – pampering apart, kids become more sharing and rounded in their personality. I can still feel the imprint of my late grandfather on my life. So do both my children – about their grandparents. The bonds built early on take root and definitely influence life. I feel if I am able to kindle my grandchild’s interest in our culture religion and history, I feel I shall have repaid part of the debt I owe to my late grandfather!

    Sanjeev Munshi

    Sanjeev Munshi

    Budhgir, Jammu & Kashmir, India

      • Suniel Kumar Dhar
        Suniel Kumar Dhar

        I think more time you spend with your grand children these days,the better it is for them as this bonding with their grandparents provide them a sense of belonging and they do not feel lonely! They also get to know about our  religious and cultural values,as the same are inculcated by them through our folklores and old stories.

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