I’d always aspired to do a ‘day in the life” post here in Delhi to record for the kids the banal, everyday details that really defined our lives here but that we might otherwise forget. With only 5 days until movers show up at our front door though, I think I’ve finally procrastinated past the possibility of recording a “typical” day for us here. Our friends keep texting with increasing urgency, our tough, no-nonsense housekeeper burst into tears last week when we tried to talk about pack-out, and our house looks like two years worth of living abruptly flew out of the closets and landed in haphazard piles across our family room. Nothing feels ordinary here anymore.
But if I had to aggregate two years worth of quiet little rituals and experiences into a single day, we’d have a day like the one I describe below.
6:00am: I’m awake. The sun is up but still hiding behind the bougainvillea limbs outside our bedroom window. I’d like to say this is the time of day that I go to the gym or work on the next great American novel, but the reality is that I likely have about 5 minutes to wash my face, brush my hair and throw on clothes before someone realizes I’m out of bed and out of snuggle range. If I can get out of the bathroom before anyone wakes up, I run to the gym or work on photos/emails until someone else wakes up.
Otherwise, it’s most likely Shiloh who is awake. We girls are the early risers of the family and Shiloh is always smiling so ecstatically in the morning that Chris and I sometimes fight over who gets to pick her up from her crib.
Will wakes up more…gradually, that’s the delicate way to put it. For most of our time in Delhi, Will and I have spent the first hour of every morning reading books and snuggling on the couch together. We are lucky that the Embassy in Delhi has a commissary and so, whenever frozen blueberries were in stock, we’d hoard them because, for about a year, they were the only food we could get Will to eat in the morning (fresh blueberries obviously being nonexistent here anytime of year). Most of our books are covered in blueberry stains.
7:30: On a work day, Chris leaves for his office across the street and I try to have everyone dressed before he leaves since clothing is something of an epic fault line in our house. We play while I fend off pleas for chocolate and ice cream for breakfast, pick up pajamas and dirty diapers, make the bed, eat some oatmeal while reading books or playing with Shiloh and try to put off my morning cup of coffee as long as possible on the theory that the effects of the caffeine will last longer that way.
At 8:30-ish our housekeeper Kanti arrives. Will has usually stripped off his clothes again by this point so that he can hear “KK” exclaim “Nunga punga!” as he comes tearing into the kitchen in his birthday suit. As near as I can tell “nunga punga” means “running around in your birthday suit” but, in any case, Will loves Kanti’s reaction of mock horror every single time.
Before Will started school, we’d usually head outside around this time to watch all of the compound kids head off to school across the street before heading to the playground or out to run errands. Now, Kanti’s arrival and our driver Ravinder’s arrival 15 minutes later signals that it’s time to chase Will back into clothes and shoes and get everyone loaded up in the car and out the door. Will alway insists on giving the car keys to Ravinder when he arrives and lately has taken to announcing seriously that he’s “going out to talk to Ray-Ray” while I get Shiloh ready to go. Generally speaking this means that Will asks Ray-Ray to show him the parts of the car while noting delightedly what color shirt Ravinder is wearing. Occasionally he’ll even ask to change shirts so they can match.
We try to leave for school by 8:45am since it can take anywhere from 20-45 minutes to get there in traffic. For the first couple months after Shiloh was born, Chris would try to come home from the office to take Will to school so that Shiloh would only have to be in the car for half as long every day, but for most of the last few months, I’ve been taking both kids to school with me. Shiloh snoozes while I tell Will stories about tow trucks stopping to ask school buses and excavators for directions to the “broken car” that needs towing. At the intersection with ring road, beggar children and people selling everything from flowers to dish clothes to window shades to peacock feathers flock to our windows. Sometimes to beg, sometimes to simply wave at our kids. As often as I can keep crackers in the car, we hand them out to the regulars.
After dropping Will off, Shiloh and I usually go run errands, if we aren’t rushing home to start prepping dinner or do some other chore around the house. There aren’t many shops open for business before 11 in Delhi but luckily the large outdoor market near us, INA Market, the natural food store in Mehar Chand and my favorite fabric store in Nehru Place all open at 10…and in traffic it takes us at least until then to reach any one of them after dropping Will off at 9:15. Before Shiloh’s birth, I used to also use this time to swing by a friend’s house for coffee about once a week, but then we all somehow got busier and it’s been months since we’ve done a big coffee date. At INA market, the coolies with their plastic baskets start offering to carry my bags for me before I can even step foot out of the car. I turn them down only because I like the exercise, however brief, carrying kilos of nuts and produce and random only-at-INA imported Asian condiments around the market with a baby strapped to my chest.
Shiloh snoozes in the car and wakes up whenever we stop so we get in our quality time together that way, nursing and changing diapers all the while. I also like to sneak in some shooting if I can while we are out and about at whatever market we have errands at. Before my iPhone finally kicked the bucket a few weeks ago, I used to use all of that time in traffic to catch up on email and text messages and amazon orders and practice Italian on Duolingo (and Facebook of course, argh). By 11:40, it’s time to head back to pick up Will. We usually make a pit stop at the C Block market place near Will’s school to pick up the only 100% juice juice boxes I can reliably find for him anywhere in the city. Juice box = key to warding off post-school crabbiness. Sometimes if we are at INA or C-block and I’m starving, I pick up a 10 rupee paratha stuffed with a spicy potato mixture.
We arrive back at the Embassy gate by 12:15 or 12:30, at which point Will demands to get out of his carseat and ride the last 300 feet to our house on my lap. We walk in the door to the delicious charred smell of chappati fresh off the skillet. Sometime after Shiloh was born, Kanti started making chappati–whole wheat flat bread–for Will for lunch. I think she was worried about Will’s skinniness and tired of watching me trying to cajole Will to eat yogurt or noodles or rice or really, anything, unsuccessfully day after day. It’s only been in the last few months that Will has started eating the chappati on a regular basis but it’s been a lifesaver-for him and me. At some point, Kanti also realized that I was eating Will’s leftover chappati scraps for lunch but that I was too proud to ask her to make anything for me. Now she quietly makes a few extra chappati and tells Will to “share with Mommy.” If I come home with fruits and vegetables, Kanti puts them in the sink with water and a capful of bleach and I rinse them 20 minutes later to make them safe for eating raw if we want to.
By 12:45, Kanti and Ravinder head over to Kanti’s house across the street to take their lunch break. Will shouts “Thank you for chappati KK!” and then proceeds to either a) have a meltdown begging to watch videos on YouTube or b) inexplicably play quietly with his trains while I try to get Shiloh down for a nap. At some point around 1 or 2, I make a small salad, an espresso, and grab the extra chappati to eat while playing with Will and Shiloh on the floor. If Shiloh sleeps while Will plays quietly, I sneak into the kitchen to prep things for dinner. If Shiloh is awake, I take her with me and put her in a baby seat up on the counter in front of me and chop things for dinner while she chews on a wooden spoon. Generally speaking, the power will have gone out once or twice or three times by now. Thank goodness for generators.
By 3 or 3:30, Kanti returns from her lunch break and friends are usually on their way to our house. One of the unforeseen perks to living on the Embassy compound is that everyone always comes to us. Before Shiloh was born, I liked to get out more but now it’s so nice that we get to socialize so much without having to fight through traffic to do it. Since Chris usually works later than other spouses, people tend to meet up at our house around 3:30 and hang out until their family members get off of work and they can all go home together. In the winter, when it’s cooler, the kids will ride their plasma cars all over the compound or we go to the playground. In the summer, we play with the hose in the backyard or sometimes venture over to the pool. In the cooler months, we also like to use this time to get out a bit if we can–sometimes just to run more errands since there is no one-stop shopping in this town, sometimes to Lodhi Garden or to some other interesting landmark around town–but usually nowhere too far away since traffic gets really bad around 5pm.
By 5 or 5:30, everyone, including Kanti and Ravinder, heads home, and I start working on dinner. As much as I try to meal plan, I enjoy flying by the seat of my pants more. Dinner is pretty varied at our house since Chris hates leftovers and gets bored with the same thing too often. We cook something Chinese or Korean usually at least once or twice a week and then everything else is up in the air. Sometimes it’s as continental and easy as roast chicken with potatoes, sometimes it’s Thai, sometimes it’s whole grain salads with different vegetables and dressings subbed in depending on what I’m in the mood for at 3pm. Lately we’ve been on a “tacos” kick. Kanti makes soft flour tortillas for me while I either braise barbacoa all day or grill some water buffalo meat and make some mango salsa and other toppings to go alongside.
Chris tries to be home by 6. If he can be home by 5:30 or 6, he plays with Will and holds Shiloh while I finish up dinner. Chris’ sister Kathleen works across the street at the American School and comes over once or twice a week for dinner as well which is always nice.
Will likes to help set the table now and by about 6:30, we all sit down to eat—albeit with one of us jumping up every 3 minutes to get Will more juice, reheat his rice, get Will off the coffee table, nurse Shiloh, etc etc etc. It’s not usually a very peaceful meal, but at least we’re all together. Afterwards, we head upstairs where Chris and I tag-team bath time if he is home. Then I put Shiloh to bed while Chris and Will watch a few episodes of Tayo or Chuggington. After TV time is over, it’s time to brush Will’s teeth, put on a new temporary tattoo (don’t even get me started) and then I lay down with Will in his bed until he falls asleep.
If Chris has to work late, we skip a family dinner and I start bath time at 5:30 and try to have the kids both in bed by 7:30. It’s less stressful than trying to make dinner and keep two overtired kids happy while we wait for Chris to get home.
Usually, by the time both kids are down for the night, it’s 8:30 and time to pick up the toys in the living room, do the dishes and either make a pot of oatmeal or start a loaf of no-knead bread for the morning. By the time all the chores are done, it’s 9pm. I’m zapped but this is the only reliable time of day to get work done so I spend from about 9-11 or 11:30 editing photos for clients or editing personal photos and responding to emails. Then it’s off to bed! By 1 or 2, I’ll be up again with either Shiloh or Will and then again around 4 or 5.
Saturdays and Sundays are sacred to us right now, neither Kanti nor Ravinder work weekends for us and we like to spend as much time together as a family as we possibly can. If I’m going to get a run in, it will be on a Saturday or Sunday morning when Chris doesn’t have to rush off to the office and the kids tend to sleep later. Chris makes pancakes from scratch at least once every weekend–with chocolate chips for Will– and on the opposite day we tend to end up at the L’Opera bakery in Khan Market for a “special treat” (croissants and macaroons) or out for dosas at the Sagaar Ratna near our house where we always order the exact same thing: a “soft” plain dosa and watermelon juice for Will, a plain coconut rava for me, and a onion rava or masala dosa or a poori baji for Chris with a filter coffee on the side. About once a month, we splurge on dim sum at a restaurant in one of the nearby malls–the only time we go to the malls since malls really freak me out (the loud music and dust and bright lights drive me crazy). During the winter, we also like to try and get out for a stroll around Lodhi Garden once in awhile.
Saturdays and Sundays Will usually needs a nap after playing hard and not sleeping all week. The best way to get him to nap is to load him in the car. Luckily, Chris loves driving and, if we can get the kids to conk out in the backseat, we drive around to see different parts of Delhi that we haven’t explored yet. The traffic can be crazy as we dodge cars, trucks, bicycles, pushcarts, motorbikes, horse-drawn carts, cows and people, but we relish the hour or so of “alone time” we get out on the road.
By 2 we are home again and, inevitably, one or both of us is totally fed up by the number of dishes in the kitchen or the toy tornado happening in the living room so one person goes on kid duty while the other cleans up the kitchen and starts prepping dinner. In the summer, we tend to get lazy and just head to the pool where we can order an early dinner and save ourselves a round of dishes and living room destruction entirely. If we can get the kids to bed early, we treat ourselves to sharing a big glass of wine and, if the Internet is fast enough, an episode of something on Hulu Plus.
It’s funny, as I proofread this post, I’m struck by how totally normal and boring our lives sound. We really could live anywhere, it’s only in looking at the pictures that I remember just how different some aspects of our lives are here. And then I wonder just how different they will be again when we are living in Italy a few months from now…