Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Buy Now, Decide Later...

It's funny how shopper behaviour changes based on the shopping experience offerred by a retailer/producer. Although it seems it's always the retailers/producers trying to customize the experience to the shoppers' needs; but shopper experience and behaviour actually run in a spiral, one impacting the other turn by turn until the dynamics of the shopping industry are changed. During my time in North America, I was simply amused and flattered by the return policies. 'Buy Now, Decide Later' is the tempting offer by H&M where often the wait lines outside changing rooms are extremely long. 
Ikea flaunts its loving arms with 'It's OK to change your mind' policy of 90 days. Many clearance outlets including GAP factory outlet and Banana Republic Factory Outlet also give up to 90 days to return merchandise. 
I am the kind of shopper who hates changing or trying out new clothes in the change room, specially when it comes to pants! I'm always in a rush with my baby and especially lazy to try on clothes in winters when you're layered up too much or wearing those unfriendly boots that make it difficult to change over and over again so for me the generous return and exchange policies are simply a treat. But I often wonder if shoppers take advantage of this and if merchandisers end up wasting too many man-hours in just beeping down reverse sales. 

Well according to a research many shoppers DO take undue disadvantage of this. Overall retailers estimate that 4.6 percent of holiday returns are fraudulent. However I think most shoppers (including myself) are too lazy to go back for returns and exchanges and end up keeping what they had bought either for themselves or as a gift to someone else, which is why such a policy does not appear to harm H&M. And I do admit that such cozy policies can turn you into a bit of shopaholic!

On a recent trip to Pakistan I got jugs from a small crockery shop in Karachi and when I came home and poured water out of those jugs into glass, it seemed like they had a serious manufacturing issue! No matter how many different ways I tried it, with however less or more water I  tried it, the spillage was inevitable  So at the dinner table I conveniently announced that I was going to take the jugs back to the shop for an exchange or refund at which my brother-in-law quickly mocked at me saying 'This isn't Canada'..., where you can go exchange jugs or whatever else after having an unsatisfactory experience. I stood corrected and never ventured out to actually change the jugs. 

To my pleasant surprise though I've recently been noticing that at least the bigger retailers in Pakistan are showing some flexibility when it comes to exchanges; if not so much for refunds yet. For example Khaadi has a 30 day exchange policy but nothing can be refunded. However international retailers are better at this, e.g MotherCare (Pakistan) has a 14 day exchange or refund policy for most items. I believe as more and more international brands enter the Pakistani market with their generous shopper flattering policies, the more the top tier local brands would be forced to shed some love too - and the lower tiers should follow suit! 
And even where there's no clear policy it's always worth going back trying to return / exchange an item that you honestly consider a shopping mistake - sometimes you would be surprised how lenient that guy at the till can be! Happy shopping and hopefully lesser returning ;) 

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Has motherhood become harder?

Ever since I've become a mom, I've been overcritical of myself in this role. And the more I compare our mothers (the generation born in the 60s or so), with mothers of my age (80's I'd say) I've felt a stark difference in the style of mothering. While on some levels mothers of today are more aware and conscious of whats 'natural is best' for my baby and preferring things like mothers milk over formula, home cooked over jarred - on the other hand we are pressed for time and even more pressed for patience and energy. As younger generations have fled into the workforce, married later and delayed motherhood to a biological age where our energies and health only allow us to do so much for our kids, we are losing out on quality face time with our children. Mothers of previous generations had a lot more patience when it came to disciplining, nurturing, developing and even playing with their kids whereas today we mothers resort to hi-tech baby-sitters like Ipads, computers, battery operated interactive toys etc. But we are forgetting that as mothers are evolving so is the baby generation. Babies are no longer as easily distracted as they used to be, they get bored with one toy much quicker than babies did yesterday and they are definitely more intelligent and receptive creatures today. So here's what I understand mother's of today need to build their motherhood around, to ensure that we do not fall trap to newer challenges while learning from wisdom of the older generation babies: 

1. Mothers today have less patience and energy and toddlers/kids require even more of that today. Kids no longer spend afternoons playing 'ghar ghar' (home-home, the simple act of making homes out of cushions with siblings); they are erratic, distracted, and fireballs of energy looking for some quality entertainment. Neither do our kids today have siblings 12-18 months apart to play with (since our patience and health both force us to keep a good gap between kids and we might not even think of more than 2 kids). So the answer to this is mother support groups. Mothers need mothers to motivate themselves and children need similar age grouped children to play with (even when they are 6 months old). So shun those barriers, get together for mommy-baby play dates. Shrug off your apprehensions, those towering expectations your mom and MIL (mom in law) have from you in terms of motherhood while you talk them to out with mothers in the same game ball as yourself. So if you don't have enough of a social circle of mommies around you, you can find one at Gymboree in Lahore, and at Weldonmoms in Karachi. 

2. Have something interesting and fun to do on the side. Many moms drop out of workforce or higher education pursuits as pregnancy comes their way. Its OK to take that break but get back on track as soon as you feel sane. If you feel a full time job won't let you do justice to the kind of motherhood you expect from yourself then do something part - time a that interests you. That could be as simple as attending a workshop from time to time (in Pakistan you have abundant baby sitting support, in other places it is still worth spending those seemingly heavy bucks on professional baby-sitting to give yourself a break). Staying intellectually, physically or spiritually stimulated it extremely important whether it means finishing that book, being a regular at the yoga class or taking a Reiki healing session. I've noticed every time I come back from yoga class, I feel a little extra love for my baby. I feel like wanting to hold my baby once again after that break, instead of begging others to take her off my arms after spending the entire day with her. You can find interesting activities (including arts, culture, sports) at these places: The Knowledge Factory in Lahore, T2F in Karachi, Kuch Khaas or Minerva in Islamabad.

3. Have at least two 30 min uninterrupted sessions of quality time with your baby everyday (in addition to the bathing, feeding times). Use this time to bond with your kid, reassure your baby that you're mentally there for them. This means, no TV, no cellphones, Ipad or anything of that family. Just you, a quiet and cosy corner , some toys maybe or just cuddling. I've been spending some nice relaxing afternoons with my 12 month old and I feel she loves having that dedicated time, she responds back with giggles and tries to poke in my face naughtily, and we even do rolly-polly on the bed and laugh over silly little actions. Here are some ideas of what kinds of play you can do with your little one

That's my jist from the 1 year of motherhood I've had so far. Add your experiences to the list and let me know how you feel about motherhood ? 

P.S: Yes that's my little one gazing into the horizon (at 6 mos) 

My love-hate relationship with domestic help

I have recently moved back to Pakistan and am actually running a household of my own for the first time in the Pakistani set up; previously lived in London, Dubai and Canada and the home setups were pretty similar in all three places where you have a dishwasher, you do your laundry in the washer and dryer yourself and you vacuum and broom alternate days and its enough for that tiny apartment you live in. Coming back to Pakistan, especially as a mom of a 1 year old I was pretty excited and looking forward to the domestic help readily available at fairly affordable wages. I imagined that I would run my home like I managed my work in the office; I'd have a timetable for the maid, and have responsibilities divided into days and a certain level of expectations set from day one. I had it all sorted out in my head; I wont shout at them like I'd seen my elders do, I'd be polite , treat them nicely, yet firmly - make sure they are clear of my instructions and expectations and that should do the trick to managing the perfect home in Pakistan. I even decided that instead of having 3 or 4 different maids for different tasks, I'd just keep 1 (for a household of 2 people and an infant that should be good), and make sure she's always at my disposal and well trained. Also having only 1 maid means, no politics between servants which is quite prevalent as I hear from my close friends and family. But like they say, 'easier said than done'. I started looking for help; they came, they went within a day or two. Some lasted a week. Reasons for leaving were unknown; weird stories reached me through our chowkidar who gave me a rather masala version of why the particular lady had decided to abandon me. I was shocked to hear the kind of excuses for leaving and accusations against me, including 'baji doesn't give us food!' (not true), 'baji keeps a lock on the fridge (which I hadn't done yet, but yes I used to keep an eye on my fridge very closely), 'baji doesn't give eidee (despite having given them eid clothes)..and so on. In my head it was straight - I pay you wages, you work for me. No extra gifts, or extra pocket money. Whatever I give you for emergency reasons, comes out of your pay. Yes in extreme circumstances there could be a case for additional add on charitable pay or bonus but at least work for me for more than a month or two to deserve even that kind of help. Also, in my head, if you're a christian maid, I don't give you eidee on Eid, I give you gift money or clothes on your Christmas (makes sense No? )
On one hand the help does feel amazing when I don't have to dehydrate my eczemic fingers in hand dish washing; I no longer need to wash bathrooms like I did earlier. I don't have to do all the boring pre-work , chopping for cooking. I get it all done for me and I can just work on the taste and final touches of the food. Sounds amazing...yet since I'm new to this domestic help system, almost any day that my maid decided to take a day off without telling me, I felt a bit of relief (along with the obvious frustration at first); a relief that today I was on my own, my kitchen was mine, a sense of privacy and ability to delay some tasks if I wished to, there's  no one I need to train or mind today, nothing to worry about those rings I left in the bathroom, or about my purse lying in the lounge while I went to the bathroom, no one creeping behind my back and watching tv with me, no one eves dropping conveniently into my skype sessions or phone calls and then at times also referring to those conversations and giving free suggestions (which in my case are never welcome! In my world, you're domestic help, you do your work and stay out of my personal phone calls). I am especially irritated by my driver, who is slightly sluggish when it comes to his real job i.e directions, finding addresses, remembering important landmarks and a bit too over efficient in making small talk which is useless for example when I sit in the car he would go 'Baji I heard you on the phone talking about medicines, are you ok?', or 'Baji how is your daughter today', or 'Baji I hope you haven't forgotten your phone upstairs' - I mean, for Godsake, are you my driver or my personal assistant? Keep your eyes and ears on the road and not on my life! I try to give him the shortest possible 'yes/no' answers and sometimes I rudely stay quiet to give him the hint that his stupid questions are not welcome. Soooo, I do admit that I myself am part of the problem here; domestic help might just seem very normal acting like this to all my other locally based family and friends but to me it is new and its funny how I respond to some of their natural flairs and how I take offense from some the seemingly very much expected behaviour on their side. 
This evening I was told by my chowkidar that the baby sitter who used to come play with my toddler baby girl will probably not come (because she didn't think I gave her good enough eid clothes). To her it did not matter I suppose that she and I had already decided that she would be going to school starting this September and work for me only in afternoons and weekends on the full day wages . Perhaps it wasn't even the girl, perhaps it was her mother who got scared of the thought of school and decided to put her to work elsewhere where she could earn a 1000 a month more even if she didn't go to school. It's sad - I feel sad. I am unable to understand their psyche, and even if I do I'm not sure I can counsel them to think differently. It might be possible, but I'd probably have to become more well versed with the culture and dynamics of the domestic working class for that. God bless me and them!