From Brooklyn to India, in Search of the Secret to Parenthood

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When my daughter’s pediatrician in New York City weighs her, we have to take all of her clothes and diaper off and step away from the scale so it can be recalibrated. Then we put her on the scale, our hands hovering over her in case she picks that moment to become an expert roller. Her weight, down to exact ounces, flashes in red on the screen and gets recorded in the computer.

We recently came to Mumbai for a few months and at our daughter’s five-month introductory well visit here, the pediatrician placed her down, fully clothed, on his scale, looked at the weight, picked her back up and handed her to me. Two minutes later, he said, “Oh dear, I don’t remember what the scale said, do you?”

“No,” I panicked. “Six kilos and either .68 or .78 but I don’t remember exactly. Should we do it again? And shouldn’t we remove her clothes and diaper?”

He brushed me off and simply said, “Yes, I also thought it was over 6, so she’s a good weight.”

For the next few minutes, I wasn’t really listening to what he was telling us about introducing solids. My mind was on her weight — how would I know exactly how much she had gained, whether everything was on track, what percentile she was now in, and how I was succeeding as a parent.

“She’s fine,” the doctor said. “You’re doing a good job, don’t worry too much.”

I could not worry too much? That was an option?

I had my daughter while we were living in Brooklyn, the competitive parenting capital of the world. Parenting is hard enough without having one woman in a mothers’ group suggest importing organic formula from Norway while another, baby clutched at her breast, gasps that we could even consider feeding our babies formula.

When buying my baby’s first bassinet before she was born, I made the mistake of asking my online mothers’ group for recommendations. I got flooded with responses and links and Amazon reviews and my post quickly devolved into a fight between the co-sleepers and non-co-sleepers. I finally settled on an expensive bassinet (because when you get anxious about child-rearing, you can be tricked into assuming that more expensive means better) and then, once it arrived, spent days worried that I had made the wrong decision.

The bassinet we got worked perfectly well but just as we were starting to get full nights of sleep and an occasional night out, we got on a plane and flew across the world to India and landed at the airport at 1 a.m. It was bustling with families waiting for loved ones and babies and children of all ages running around excitedly with no concept of a bedtime.

From the minute we arrived in India, I had to let go. I had to stop worrying because I couldn’t worry anymore — it is impossible to worry about everything I might need to worry about in India: contaminated water, mosquitoes that may carry dengue or malaria, traffic that often follows no rules. Against all of that, did it really matter if my daughter had gained three ounces or five?

The next day, in Mumbai, I went to a fancy baby shop to buy cribs, ready to spend a few hours weighing the pros and cons of various options. With the baby strapped to me in a carrier and an iced coffee in my hand, I marched in to the shop and said, “I’d like to see your options for cribs, please.”

“This one,” the salesperson said. I ordered it and left the shop within 10 minutes.

I myself was born in India and had a perfectly safe and sound upbringing here but, in the eternal battle of nature versus nurture, my surroundings in Brooklyn seemed to be affecting me more than my own childhood or my mother’s suggestions that I calm down. Her advice was impossible for me to hear in my New York environment, surrounded by my fellow mothers whose days are ruled by feeding apps. When I showed my Indian grandmother the feeding app on my phone, instead of marveling at it and saying she wished she’d had such a thing when she was a young mother, she just laughed at me and took a long sip of her coconut water.

I had been nervous about making this big trip with our newborn daughter because to leave our little neighborhood of Brooklyn and travel across the world and set up a different life felt too daunting. Babies are challenging: In a cruel failure of evolution, adults require five hours of uninterrupted sleep in order to function and newborn babies need to feed every three hours.

They say babies thrive on routine and I had just begun to find mine in Brooklyn, but it was a perfectly crafted rhythm with no space for deviation or change. I have the luxury of working from home so I was feeding her as soon as the baby-feeding app beeped and I put her down for naps at exactly the same time every day.

My baby, who loved 22 out of the 24 hours it took us to get to Mumbai, doesn’t seem to be too bothered about her routine being disrupted so far. She loves all the people in India and reaches for them faster than I can swoop in and force them to cover themselves with antibacterial gel.

She’s had a stomach upset already but didn’t seem nearly as troubled by it as I was. We went out to dinner with friends who have a 7-month-old and both babies stayed awake for part of the dinner and then fell asleep in their strollers. When we got home we transferred her to her crib and she kept sleeping peacefully.

Some nights she wakes up at 2 a.m. and needs a bit of attention and some nights she doesn’t; there isn’t any method to her madness, whether or not I’ve followed the feeding app perfectly, whether or not we’ve been at a boisterous restaurant.

And so we’re both learning — me to relax and her to not put everything in her mouth. I think we’ll find a happy equilibrium. I’m still worrying about the big things and some very small ones: No mosquito has come within two feet of my daughter and lived to tell the tale. But I’ve found much more mental time for actual enjoyment now.

I don’t claim to have discovered the secret to parenting except, perhaps, just one: There is no secret to parenting.