It’s Monday morning and there is an eerie quiet around the house. No cups of milk and chocolate chip cookies on the table. No pink and purple lunch boxes, no water bottles. No shouts of “I don’t have socks” or wails of “where is my ez-link card”. HH is sitting at the table quietly reading the newspaper. I sit on the sofa watching the last of the darkness melt into the rising sun.
Princess has a two-week break from school and has chosen to spend it in India with grandparents. DQ is off on a school trip to Indonesia. And suddenly, there is no bustle in the house. No “busyness” of a weekday morning with the school rush hour that jump-starts our day. No homework reminders in the evening, no dinnertime tantrums, no night walks as a family – at least for a few days. How dull!
Life with children is a whirlwind, unpredictable and uneven by definition. The best planned pregnancies lead to uprooting of stable routines and a leap onto the first car of a roller coaster. You can see the steep incline and anticipate the dip in your stomach but you can’t stop it or yourself, from staying unmoved. While we may moan and complain about a previous way of life being lost, it is we who are lost. Parenting fills our days; expands us in ways we didn’t think possible (notwithstanding the flab around our middle). The neat freak learns to live in an untidy house; the rigid disciplinarian gives in to giggles. We are irreversibly bound in a contract that requires us to set our children free. Of all the career paths we may have wished for, parenting is the one we are least prepared for and the one that turns out to be the most rewarding in the long run.
This week we are celebrating the arrival of a new baby in the family. Hold on, I said “in the family”, not in our home. HH’s brother and sister-in-law are proud parents of a little boy. Princess was among the first people to see her new cousin in India. I shared the excitement hundreds of miles away in Singapore. “Babies always seem to make you happy” said a good friend when I shared the news. She was right.
Birth is life-affirming. Every new baby who is welcomed into the world has the capacity to change it, perhaps not in a planet-changing way, but in a life-altering way for his/her parents. Children are symbols of our mortality, they remind us of our age as they grow. Children also contain the seeds of our immortality. They carry forward our words, our deeds, our imprints. They keep us on our toes, allow the child in us to surface, enable us to stay youthful. We love them for who they are and also for what they make of us. I am now more patient, persistent and polite, qualities my mother wished I had had when I was little. It takes a child to raise a parent.
I miss having my children around. Not just their groans and squabbles and demands but the vibrant life they create for me. In their presence I am more mindful and responsive. I feel more, I show my feelings more openly. I express my vulnerability. They have given me a great gift, the opportunity to be in their life and influence it. And I in turn, have experienced the joy of simply loving, unconditionally.
As Phyllis Theroux puts it,
When I think about why people have children, I realize how little it should have to do with the future. If, before any children were conceived, we knew that our reward for raising them would be perhaps several phone calls a month, a very occasional visit, and the sense of having once been important in their lives, we might not do it. But if we realize that the rewards are given during the raising, we will calculate the cost differently. My children have taught me more than I have taught them, given me more joy than I have given them, and their not being present or even much aware of me now does not alter this.