It was during one of the lockdowns of 2020 – I forget which sub-type – that I decided to go Extremely Indian Mother on my (mixed-race) kids by announcing that the two teens, Kid One and Kid Two, were to be responsible for the online schooling of their youngest sibling, Kid Three (year four, they can handle it).
This would involve doing all the things the school had assumed parents would simply be able to drop everything for: sitting in on lessons, completing the homework, doing science “experiments” with baking soda and cleaning up the mess afterwards. I pulled out the big desi mum guns: “I did everything for you two – and what are you doing with yourselves anyway? Plus it’s practice for when you have kids: you’ll thank me one day.”
Unsurprisingly, very loud protests ensued. “You can’t assume I will have kids just because I have a uterus,” whined one. “I’m already feeling anxious about not having exams,” moaned the other. As a parent it is my duty to help them navigate tough moments and come to a sound decision, so I told them if they refused to help, I’d cancel their phone contracts. Suddenly everyone was on the same page.
And the title of that page was Lockdown Parenting Is Too Much Parenting, Someone Else Has to Step In And Frankly It Can Be Anyone. I firmly believe – and spending endless hours with my children during the lockdowns has done nothing but reinforce this notion – that parents are not supposed to be responsible for their progeny for every waking second. There’s a reason they say “it takes a village” – because if it didn’t then nobody would ever have a second (or third) child.
Delegating Kid Three’s home schooling did not go quite according to plan. The Zoom lessons themselves were just about fine, and the mandatory daily fight to the death between the siblings was never about the teaching arrangements I’d instituted – it was always about a missing phone charger. No, my plan failed because the teens advanced Kid Three’s knowledge in several unexpected fields, and I was left to clean up the mess.
One day, while I was watching Succession – Logan Roy was just about to have a stroke in a helicopter – Kid Three interrupted to ask, “Mama, what is a genocide?”
Things were exhausting enough without having to parent at the level this line of inquiry required. I set aside the more important question of the moment (is Logan dead?), took a quick mental tour of what it would take to give her a satisfactory answer, and realised what a bad idea it was. If you are going to explain what genocide is to a child, you need to pick one. I’m not saying anyone has a favourite genocide, but in picking one to discuss in depth, you learn a lot about your own biases.
Why was I being subjected to this with no warning? It was like being mugged by my own child. One moment I’m immersing myself in the most grotesque flaws of the Logan family and the next I’m being asked to examine my own.
“Why are you asking anyway?” I said. “Because Kid One said doing homework with me was worse than being in a genocide.” I stared at her, trying to stop my mouth from twitching into a smile, and said: “Oh well, that’s stupid. And wrong. Go tell him I told you that.” Off Kid Three skipped and I dispatched a terse text with renewed threats of phone-contract removal.
I realised then that even with the threat of the most unpalatable consequences, I couldn’t ever bend my children completely to my will, and I can’t really blame them. I liked to think my parents made me do exactly what they wanted, but the fact is that even they – super-strict, traditional, Indian – couldn’t: I chose to live outside India, I married a European, my children eat meat and I’m a standup comedian. This was not my parents’ plan, but they’re OK with it. As my mother says: “You are a quite OK wife, a very focused mother. You are like me in how you tell your jokes – and like your father in all the angry moods you have.”
Even if my kids don’t behave exactly as I wish, they will have something from me in them, and when that blossoms, everything will seem perfect. I recently heard Kid Two quietly chanting the Hanuman Chaleesa (the 40-verse hymn for protection devoted to the Hindu monkey god) in bed one night after she had been terrified by watching The Conjuring 2. My kids haven’t been steeped in religion, but it filled me with joy that she had absorbed my beliefs. I thought of scaring her the next night to see it happen again.
Of course these moments of quiet joy don’t last long. A few days after genocidegate, I was watching more Succession, wondering which of my kids might marry someone as dim as Tom, and thinking proudly about my ability to manage the more tedious aspects of parenting, when Kid Three walked in and asked tenderly: “Mama, what’s a thunder-nonce?”
“Darling,” I said, “come sit over here and let’s talk about genocide.”
• Sindhu Vee is touring the UK from September with Alphabet. Tickets from sindhuvee.com