Simple vanities

About 10 minutes ahead of our young children’s arrival, we, a motley group of mums, in our mid to late 30s, gather together outside the school gates and have some of the most ingeniously compressed chats about how we are keeping up/coping with our still new selves as mothers.

Today, Radhika, mum of two, and adept civil and criminal lawyer, came wearing eyeglasses for the first time. When we enquired after the circumstances of this new acquisition she said in half jest that it was either too many hours spent wilfully in front of the idiot box late in the night or sleep deprivation. (The latter, in being a common affliction, didn’t even register a flicker of sympathy.)

But what did catch our attention was the former — and when we asked how she managed (as though it was an achievement) to even find an hour to watch the idiot box, on her own, late in the night, she said it was her detox therapy, her way of finding some much-needed ‘me-time’ after the children had been put to bed and after she had caught up with the day’s news with the husband who tended to get back from work, late.

She also confessed to gorging on hot chocolate fudge (yum, yum yum) originally bought and stored with the intention of sprucing up dessert for unforseen guests — during her nighttime sojourns!

Although I haven’t yet begun hoarding sweetmeats, I too remember having stayed up late one night watching a semi decent Hollywood flick with Bruce Willis — and enjoying it all the more because I got to do it on my own, in the house, with little T fast asleep and with this deep sense of contentment that I was doing something I loved without having to handover T to anyone or worrying about how she was doing, or feeling horribly guilty about doing something for myself.

And the only reason I haven’t repeated it much is because of how wrung out it had got me the day after — and pretty incapable of being a steady hand on board the parenting ship which made me cringe and fill up with unnecessary guilt.

But another favourite and convenient ‘indulgence’ we have discovered is a good haircut. And although most of us wistfully long for the luxurious after services that other women seem to indulge in after a hair cut such as a slow, time consuming, head massage, we are more than happy and grateful in knowing that we can have a haircut at all! For it is just the kind of one hour indulgence that fits perfectly into the three hours when our little ones are safe and happy at playschool and just the kind of ‘lift’ we seem to currently need to pay attention to our little girl selves that we have lost sight of in our ongoing busyness as mums to high energy toddlers — and a celebration of our respective vanities!

Motherhood — a spiritual immersion

I know a lot of you who read the title of this post will probably raise your eyebrows in disbelief and irritation and a lot of you will snigger and laugh. “What?!” You will say. “Is this woman completely bonkers?! Is she saying her experience of parenting has been/is so bloody sublime that it actually resembles something spiritual??”

Well, to be perfectly honest and upfront — of course not — I mean — of course it isn’t in the way it plays out — from moment to moment — day to day — month to month — year to year — but when I think back on it, there is one part of the absolutely spectacular and speech defying experience that is so close to being a spiritual thing.

And that is the way in which some of us are able to morph, thoughtlessly, effortlessly, into the sorts of beings our children need at the time.

When my little one came and for the months that followed until she was about one year old I was totally, completely present — to her and for her if you know what I mean.

I tried at all times very hard to fathom what each of her little utterances meant — especially those of discomfort, boredom, sorrow or despair. I was able, despite being quite a slow moving sort of person, to magically transport myself to where she was, the moment I knew she needed me or needed comfort or familiarity or closeness or solace.

I would sleep in completely bizarre and contorted positions next to her in the night in the hope that she was able to create the space she wanted, the way she wanted it. It didn’t do my back any good, nor did it contribute much to my feeling rested but it soothed me immensely to know that she knew there was one person in her world who was terribly concerned about what she wanted and the way she wanted it.

Once she turned one and began to master her first few attempts at walking, and began to give out signs to me and everyone else around that she needed some space to stretch out and fall and get up and be a separate person I began tweaking my ways so that I was a call away but not necessarily present in her field of vision. She didn’t always approve but I tried to respond to her own budding independence with respect and acknowledgement and at times with a gentle nudge away from me when she returned to touch base and reassure herself that I wasn’t entirely out of reach.

By the time she turned two, she was speaking in one languge fluently and understood at least another two, quite well. That gave her additional confidence to build and sustain several new, close and loving relationships with people inside and outside the family. Which in turn gave her a comparative sense of how differently people related to her — most of course carefully sidestepping the horribly exhausting work of rule setting  — and that is when she began to challenge me.

The onset of the “terrible twos” was premature — it came much before I knew much about it — and once it came, my god how it settled deep into the fabric of our lives!

Nearly everything, nearly all the time, was and still is, potential ground for a duel. And although a lot of people I have a great respect for told me often to leave things be and let things lie, I couldn’t.

I had seen how a dear friend had ‘lost’ the battle with her strong-willed and determined first born and I remembered reading at the time that such children almost need the parent to prove they are parents by staying their ground in relation to ‘what is alright to do and be’ — or risk losing their children’s respect, for life.

I can’t say I haven’t wept silently and secretly on many an occasion but I have to say I have won my spirited toddler’s respect. She does grudgingly accept, most of the time, that I am the parent and she the child. For now.

Once she is all grown up and ‘sorted out’, as I am sure she will be, I will more than happily throw away the unmoving and uncompromising role of rule setting and embrace rule-less-ness and even anarchy in our equation. But until then, I am going to continue giving her all the resistance and dogged consistency she needs to figure out the world and her blossoming place in it.

Nothing in my life before her coming had ever prepared me for any of this — and nor am I saying any of it is ever easy for very long. But I have to say I’m surprised by how much we are able to mirror our children in order to either reassure them or challenge them as the case may be.

Just the other day, when I went to drop her off at playschool, she actually turned at the gates, called out to me and waved me off with a wonderful smile! (And this after our having had a prolonged discussion about why she couldn’t wear the soiled dress she had had on for the last 28 hours.) And I thought thank god she is happy, confident and secure. And that none of our seemingly constant sparring has had any dent on our closeness.

Although her sense of safety about being by herself with a bunch of other children and a really remarkable set of sensitive, caring and yet ‘free-of-fawning-over-children’ staff is the result of hard work my mum did, I do feel terribly satisfied that this little girl has already been able to find her equanimity amongst peers without once pushing or shoving anyone even when she gets pushed herself. And that she ventures into the outside world, even if for a short duration, confidently and happily and without once whimpering or howling — knowing that we are here to ferry her to and fro and welcome her back into our fold once she has had her heart’s fill of play and a little safe time away from her nest and home.