Starting Over

Discovering myself, my family and friends in a foreign land, second time around


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A mom who works

ASKOKI_woman_on_tightrope

“Why can’t you come to the bus stop to pick me up?”

DQ asked me this question everyday when she was eight. It would be followed by a list of names of friends whose moms dropped them off in the mornings and waited for the school bus to arrive each afternoon. The children would hand over their backpacks to the obliging mothers and walk home safely.

I listened but didn’t act on her unspoken request. I had returned to work six weeks after DQ’s birth, leaving her in my mother’s care as I rushed out and back again to nurse her during the early days of infancy. I cleaned up the drool on my shoulder with a Kleenex and attended 9 a.m. meetings. As DQ grew older, she got used to the fact that both her parents went off to work each day. She didn’t know any different. I dropped her to daycare and picked her up. I drove her to swimming lessons and took her trick or treating. I showed up for the Easter egg hunt and Christmas performances at her preschool. It wasn’t easy but it was necessary.

I thrived at work –intellectual stimulation, interactions, goals, deadlines, and meetings! My work took me to Switzerland, my salary meant unrestricted shopping and a holiday in Hawaii. I had a life beyond the dishes and laundry. I got great feedback from bosses and coworkers and most importantly, I found value in my work. In a small way, I felt that my work made a difference to people.

Work also meant dealing with diapers, daycare and daily dilemmas. Every time I took DQ to the doctor for an ear infection, I cringed with guilt when she cried out from pain.

“My son didn’t have any infections until he was three, ” claimed a catty mom who stayed home.

“I am so glad I was home to see my daughter take her first step.”

“I make my own baby food.”

I took all comments personally. Every lapse was my fault. Every milestone was marred by the possibility that I had missed “the first” moment my child had uttered a word or mastered a skill.

My mother, the quintessential stay at home mom wasn’t very supportive. She expected me to quit my job after DQ’s birth. Her philosophy was simple, time away from home meant missing out on the best years of your child’s life.

I was physically exhausted and mentally depleted with my hectic life. All I wanted was “balance”. I talked to other women who walked the tightrope between office and home, calls and homework, travel and school events. I found tips like hire a cleaning service or find a daycare on the way to work very useful. Other advice like take an afternoon off and go to the spa, I chose to ignore. I read books with titles like “Downshifting”, books targeted towards working women.

At a seminar on work-life balance, one woman expressed the view that striving for balance was not the right approach. Cutting down on what you like to do, in order to reduce stress was what most women did. She conversely suggested that we find things that add meaning to our life. Put more on my already full plate? My first thought was – how ridiculous! In hindsight, I think that was the best advice I have received.

I signed up for lunchtime yoga classes. I started writing at night after DQ went to bed. I hired someone to clean my home on a regular basis. I read a book while DQ splashed in the pool. I went for an early morning walk on weekends. I found time to take courses in the evenings after work. Some of my writing got published in local print publications. Not surprisingly, the most well received article was one on motherhood!

In a self-help book titled “Find your strongest life” by Marcus Buckingham the author argues that women should look into their life and relive those moments that reinforce your strongest tendencies; instead of balance, he says, reach for fullness. I understand the concept now. The word balance implies a sense of equilibrium, but also conveys stillness, stagnation. One needs to move to feel alive, so move in the direction of what makes you feel good. Even if that means adding one more item to your to-do list!

For me, work fills me with enthusiasm and meaning. When a worthwhile pursuit energizes me, I am a happier person, a better mother. It was no wonder for me when a year later, without provocation, DQ said “It’s OK if you can’t pick me up from the bus stop. You do so many other things.”

For a mom who works, life can’t get better than this.

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A mom who cries

I never saw my mother cry.

Ok, I did. Just once.

I must have been eighteen then. I had been offered a chance to get into a college to pursue an education in engineering. It was a substantial achievement at a time when engineering degrees were relatively rare in India. My mother wanted me to accept the offer. “Engineering is not for girls,” said my father. “But it’s your daughter who has done well enough to get in, not your son” she countered. And so the argument progressed, culminating in my mother’s tears. I can still see my mother wiping away her tears with the edge of her sari, her head hung low, apologizing silently for not winning this battle for me.

As it turns out, I didn’t become an engineer. But the real story is not about career choices and gender roles. The real story lies in all the days that my mother didn’t cry. She didn’t cry from exhaustion on mornings she woke up early in order to get the day started for the family, preparing meals, organizing school uniforms, helping with homework, tending to our minor illnesses and major tantrums. She didn’t give in to tears on days she handled an aging mother and mother-in-law while my father was away at work. She didn’t collapse in a puddle of self-pity during the times she heard rude and hurtful words from her three teenage children.

The advent of menopause signaled the beginnings of arthritis in her knees. Were there days when she felt excessively emotional as her hormones went haywire? I couldn’t tell. What about the pain while walking up the stairs in an apartment building without elevators? She never complained. The Mumbai heat and humidity was unrelenting but I don’t remember her seeking help for hot flashes. Diwali decorations on the doorstep that involved kneeling on the floor to draw elaborate rangolis? She did it each year. Wading through knee-deep water during Mumbai monsoons so she could pay my college fees on time? I knew Mom would do it. Appointment with the oncologist for grandma on the other side of the metropolis at 10 a.m.? Mom would take her.

Like many women, my approach to mothering is heavily influenced by my mother’s parenting style. But I fail in one aspect. I cry. Not often. Just sometimes.

Tears are a symptom. Wipe the tears but treat the cause.

My mother’s unspoken mantra.

I cried when I missed many days of school due to malaria, worried about my performance in the impending exams. She copied pharmacology notes for me while I recovered.

I cried when I had trouble conceiving after my first miscarriage. She held my hand as I entered the operating room at Georgetown for the surgery that would later help me get pregnant.

I cried when I moved out of my husband’s home, not sure of the road that lay ahead as a single parent. She stayed with me until I figured things out.

I was raised in a home where the boys and the girls didn’t cry.

I wanted to be like her, stoic and steadfast. To take everything in stride and ride through life with a strong will and dry eyes. I didn’t cry when I left India as a young bride, the first person in my family to board an international flight. I didn’t cry when I faced hurdles during my years at graduate school. I didn’t cry when I had trouble finding my first job. Professional setbacks I can handle. It’s personal disappointments that ignite my tears. I cry when I am hurt, when I feel helpless, a victim of injustice of the Universe and its people. When I am unable to separate the emotion that fuels the tears from the action that can dissolve them. The tears fall, usually unseen by others. At times, it is a welcome release. At others, it tastes bitter, like defeat. Mothers don’t cry.

Are tears proofs of my failure? Symbols of my incompetence? Embodiment of my inability to rise to the standard set by own mother?

But isn’t crying part of being human? Isn’t it wrong to curb our humanness?

My mom never really voiced a stance against crying. Instead of saying “stop crying and do what needs to be done”, she lived a life where the focus was on doing; showing up, helping out. We learnt to articulate our needs and reach out for help instead of succumbing to tears as an indication to others to figure out what was wrong. Tears were not clues for discovering, tears were not tools for manipulating. Mom just bypassed the teary stage and went right into the next stage of setting things right. Her humanity circumvented the teary path.

What do I do now? I am not my mother; not as stoic, not as stern. I weep for beautiful poetry and at poignant movie scenes. I am dry-eyed at airports and in emergency rooms. I shed tears when a piece of music moves me and clam up when I stub my toe. I cried most when my mother died. I don’t know if she would have approved. But I know something she doesn’t. I saw her face wet with tears in the delivery room moments before DQ was born. She cried not for my pain, but for my joy at becoming a mother, and for the journey ahead of me.

I know that mothers do cry.


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Bringing up Malala

It’s been a tough week handling DQ. I am worn out from the silence, the sulks, the demands and the all-pervasive bubble of entitlement that she inhabits. I would like her to do be polite at home, focus on schoolwork and get some clarity on what major to pick in college next year. “The kids are under a lot of stress” agrees another Mom with a similar teen situation. Is going to school and managing academic expectations too much to handle for a seventeen year old? I live in a constant state of self-doubt. Am I pushing her too hard? How can I help her? What kind of support does she need? Perhaps I should back off on my demands. All I want for her is to have a happy and successful life.

Then comes news of Malala Yousafzai winning the Nobel Peace prize. Here’s a girl, almost the same age as my daughter who has managed to capture the attention of the fickle news-worshipping majority for the right reasons. I would be pleased to meet her but what I would really appreciate is a meeting with Malala’s mother.

DQ was born about three weeks after Malala. There must have been many months when Mrs. Yousafzai and I shared similar pregnancy-related symptoms, finally a day when we bore the pain of labor and witnessed the miracle of bringing a baby girl into this world. As I juggled teething troubles and toddler tantrums with a full-time job and childcare arrangements in the safety and comfort of Northern Carlifornia, my counterpart halfway across the world must have struggled with providing a safe environment for Malala and her siblings in the Swat valley of Pakistan.

As the years went by, I chose a private preschool and personally dropped DQ to school in each morning. I bought her toys and crayons. I took her to the library and read to her each night. I arranged for swimming lessons and bought her a fancy bike. I accompanied her to movies and let her hang out at the mall with friends. I took her to Italy to show her the world and let her have unlimited wifi access to bring the world to her laptop. For all this, I have a sullen teenager who is confused about college and thinks of herself as a normal teen, no different from her peers.

Malala struggled to get to school safely, have an adequate supply of books to read and didn’t know when or if schools would reopen. She expressed outrage publicly when her right to education was in question. She wrote a blog that gave insights into the secluded society that she lived in during a time of dramatic change, one that directly impacted her present and her future. She faced the consequences of standing out and speaking up for a cause that she believed in. She switched her focus from being a doctor to becoming a politician when she understood what her people needed most, a person to influence priorities and shape their future.

This is what I want to ask Malala’s mother.

How did you raise this girl child to stand up in a society where women are hidden? You have a girl whose public presence sends a message of empowerment instead of girls everywhere who are obsessed with clothes, makeup and body image, caving in to the pressures to conform to damaging stereotypes.

What did you say to her in those early years when children understand the world through what they hear at home? Your daughter uses her voice to underscore her right to education to improve herself, not to demand the latest gadgets that add no incremental value to the self.

How did you teach her to look at the imperfect world around her and not feel defeated? Your child went on to figure out that education was the tool to create a better world instead of teens who focus on material lack in their otherwise perfect world and succumb to depression.

Did you ever feel guilty for not providing the tools that other children in the world routinely take for granted? Your daughter used every opportunity to use minimal resources to reach out to a larger audience and generate support for her cause. In those years, so many of her peers who lived in a hyper-connected world became a part of a generation that feels most alienated.

Most importantly, how did you deal with the threats to your child’s safety? Wouldn’t it have been easier to keep her safe but quiet at home instead of sending her out each day not knowing whether she would return home after school?

As a parent, I worry about the safety of my children. But I worry more about their apathy. The lack of a spark that energizes each day. The absence of a cause that motivates them. I remember being a teen myself (I can see DQ rolling her eyes). It was a rebirth of sorts; a period of intense inward focus and self-centeredness. It was also a time when I formed my basic understanding of the world around me. While the insignificance of my presence in the grand scheme of things rattled me, I understood that only I could make my life worthwhile. It mattered to ME what I did with my life, even if it made no difference to others.

I am not asking my child to be Malala but I want to encourage her with Oprah’s words, “You have to know what sparks the light in you, so that you, in your own way, can illuminate the world.”

Malala’s primary advantage in life came from the fact that she was born into a family that ran schools in the region. She was given access to education and a firm belief in the power that it brings. In the background of the dark strife around her, she held on to her small but steady light long enough for it to ignite a movement.

I am distressed as a parent not for my child’s inability to appreciate the gifts of economic stability and political peace but for her refusal to dig deeper within herself to find that spark. For if she discovers it, I would be the first person to hold out my palms to protect that small glow, to let it breathe and grow, even if it means exposing her to situations which every mother fears. Like Malala’s mother, I will send her out knowing that the world can be a dangerous place for one simple reason; because she has the spark that can make it better.

Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself. – Viktor. E. Frankl


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I am not you

“You look just like your mother”. We hear these words often, DQ and I. From the neighbor, the teacher, friends, random strangers and close relatives. DQ hates it. Every. Single. Time. I don’t mind it so much but sometimes when I hear her vehement response of “Don’t say that”, I feel a twinge of distress.

The generous part of me wants to understand DQ’s angst. For a teenage girl, eager to step into her own identity, superficial comparison to her mother does not serve any purpose. But the sensitive egotistical mom part of me is hurt – am I not good enough? Is it such a bad thing to be seen as junior version of me? After all she does share my genetic material!

“I am not you” she repeats earnestly. Part rebellion. Part plea.

Yes you are, I want to say. I too had been a chubby infant with a head full of black silky hair, twinkling eyes with long eyelashes and a flash of temper if her needs were ignored. Her hair grew like weeds, she sprouted teeth early, walked late and talked without a pause. My mother confirmed that I had been quite a talker as a toddler and I beamed with pride at the similarity. When my childhood friend’s mother heard that DQ got straight A’s in school, she stated “just like her mom”. I couldn’t be more thrilled at the comparison.

I know she isn’t me. She took to water the first time I immersed her in the blue and yellow baby bathtub. She could swim before she was three. She learned to ride a bike without training wheels in kindergarten. She kept her focus when she shuttled between two homes when her dad and I separated. She chooses to stay quiet in situations where I would have erupted in righteous anger. There is so much about her that is not “me”. And I am thankful for that.

Motherhood provides an immense ego boost. Only a part of it comes from sharing a common gene pool.

“There are three types of makers: a parent, an artist, and a god” says Rebecca Solnit in “The Faraway Nearby”.

Equating a mother with the creativity of an artist and invoking the divinity of God in the same sentence seems heretic. But its true. As a mother I have an opportunity like none other – to influence, to interact, to contribute. The relationship DQ and I share is like the one between the clay and the potter, the marble and sculptor. What I say and do, shape her thoughts and behavior. Like a potter, I guide her. Like a sculptor, I chip away at the outer edges to reveal the perfect being that is hidden beneath. But I am not the only one who participates in this creation. It takes a village to raise a child, it is said. The joy of parenting lies in your ability to observe closely and without bias, the formation of a self in the child you helped bring into this world.

I am doubly blessed today because I am a mother to two girls – to be technically precise, mother and stepmother to DQ and Princess, respectively.

When motherhood becomes the fruit of a deep yearning, not the result of ignorance or accident, its children will become the foundation of a new race. – Margaret Sanger

These words calm me on days when I look at DQ, the child born to me biologically, the moody teenager who resembles me physically but who may have been delivered to me by the stork from another planet.

I refer to these words on days when Princess, the preteen who has been my daughter for only a year, comes looking for me when she gets home from school.

Both my girls have come into my life after great deliberation and effort. Getting a Ph.D. takes five years while a child can be conceived and delivered in nine months. My doctoral thesis took less than 5 years to complete while DQs birth was the result of longer and more rigorous scientific and medical investigation. HH and I spent many hours discussing the impact of getting married on our respective daughters and difficulties of blending our families before Princess started calling me Ma.

Motherhood may not always be easy but it has the potential to be empowering.

I want my girls to be like me. To develop a love for reading, a tolerance for differences, a genuine concern for people, an appreciation for life. I may be totally hopeless with makeup and clothes advice. But I am always ready with a book recommendation. Like Anna Quindlen, I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.

I want my girls to be different. To learn new things, to strive, to grow, to be self-sufficient, to become unique role models.

Most importantly, I want my girls to like themselves. Like Maya Angelou, I want my girls to know that the secret of success lies in “… liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

The next time I hear DQ say “I am not you”, I will ask her to just be herself, the most authentic version she can possibly be, to continue “the unfinished work of becoming”.

And if that doesn’t work, I just may take Nora Ephron’s advice –

“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”


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How I miss my mother

What does little birdie say

In her nest at peep of day?

Let me fly, says little birdie

Mother, let me fly away

Birdie, rest a little longer

Till the little wings are stronger

So she rests a little longer

Then she flies away

 

What does little baby say

In her bed at peep of day?

Baby says, like little birdie

Let me rise and fly away

Baby, sleep a little longer

Till the little limbs are stronger

If she sleeps a little longer

Baby too shall fly away

I heard this poem first from my mother. I recently learnt that these words are part of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s work “Sea Dreams.” I did not study English literature in college and I knew Amma had pursued a graduate degree in Mathematics. How did she remember these words so clearly then? As if she had memorized them in her childhood, like nursery rhymes that linger through the decades of ones life. I wish I could call her and ask. I miss my mother when I read beautiful poetry and prose.

A visiting relative once casually labeled be as “minus” while counting my two brothers as “plus”, a fairly common occurrence in a culture that favors sons. After he left, I asked with a small voice whether that was true, was I a liability? “No”, she emphatically replied, “you are my one and only special daughter. Let him think what he wants to, I think you are the best”. I miss my mother the tigress who protected me from unkind people and harsh words.

I had to be at Andheri station on time to catch the 6.03 a.m train in the thick humidity of Mumbai in May. The Churchgate local train ensured my early morning attendance at the extra classes during summer holidays the year I was 17. Each day I slept through the shrill ringing of the alarm but never missed the train. I miss my tender mother who stroked my hair and woke me up softly each morning.

When DQ was 4, each Saturday morning I would write for an hour, attend yoga class, start a load of laundry and put away the groceries I picked up on the way home so I could be fully present when my little girl woke up. I miss my practical mother who taught me how to be efficient in and out of the house.

We are in the midst of festival season. The house has to be cleaned, fruits and flowers have to be bought, sweets have to be made, friends have to be invited and religious rituals need to be completed. On special days I read the prayers from the books I took away from my parent’s home. I want DQ and Princess to be aware of traditions that will anchor them and build cohesion into our family. I miss my mother’s daily prayers, which showed me how faith is built in small steps.

My music teacher insists that we perform as a group at the annual celebrations at the institute. I am scared. Did I get the notes right? Does it sound good? How can I improve? I need honest feedback from someone who knows enough to give appropriate inputs, someone to encourage but not praise me falsely and breed complacence. I miss my mother when I need support.

Most of all I miss being loved for just being me, the way only a mother loves her child.

I fully agree with Maya Angelou who said “I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life.”

I have missed my mother and managed without her for six years. Six years in which my life turned around 180 degrees. In that year, I lost her and dissolved my marriage of almost 18 years. Amma had been keen that I marry young – “so you could have children at a young age and get on with your life”. She had worried whether they could find me a suitable groom had I continued with my plans of higher education. She suffered through my tears and disappointment when I underwent painful medical treatment for my infertility. She held my hand through the hours of labor that preceded DQ’s birth. She stayed up all night to help me care for a newborn. Amma was that constant presence in my life that I took for granted, like sunshine. I was never really alone, even when thousands of miles separated us in those pre-internet days, when I lived in America and she in India. I was always in tune with her, like a radiofrequency. She could sense my mood through a bad telephone connection. She knew what to say. Sometimes it was practical information (how to make soft idlis), sometimes it was philosophical advice (even this will pass!) and occasionally she would send me thoughtful gifts (the hard to find pressure cooker gasket of the right size).

Although it was Woody Allen who said “80 percent of success is showing up”, Amma was the one who practiced the showing up bit, by spending high quality “quantity time” with us. When Princess comes back from school and shares the highlights of her day, when DQ sits next to me with her laptop seeking my advice on school projects, when HH and I watch “House of Cards” before dinner on weeknights, I understand the value of her actions. I can feel her smiling at my new homemaker avatar.

On days when DQ and I find ourselves on opposite sides of an argument, I often wonder, what would she say? “Be gentle with her. When children become as tall as you, you need to be more of a friend and less of a parent”.

I miss her as a daughter and I miss her as a mother of daughters.

Will my daughters perceive the value of my presence? My words? My actions?

However tough the transition maybe, Tennyson’s poem celebrates the natural order of things, little birds leaving the nest when they grow. A quiet pride accompanies the twinge of loss, of continuous contact, of constant nurturing. Losing parents, on the other hand, is a seminal event and a logical one in a life that runs its course. How do I deal with this loss? How do I handle this intermittent but powerful undercurrent of grief that tugs every so often? How do I cope without the supporting roots that allowed me first to fly away?

Grief can be a catalyst. It can be a raging fire that can cleanse or a brilliant heat that can change.

As Sue Monk Kidd says “I should let myself grieve. To deny grief is to squander a transforming and radiant possibility.”

I wonder if Amma would agree. I wish I could call her and ask. And while I am at it, I could get the recipe for her lemon pickle.


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What faith looks like

“She discovered with great delight that one does not love one’s children just because they are one’s children but because of the friendship formed while raising them.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

DQ turns 17 today. Each year on her birthday I think back to our first day together.

Twelve hours after her arrival, baby DQ slept beside me, tired from the journey across the birth canal. I admired her cone-shaped head, puffy face and the mass of black hair that peeked from under the yellow cap. Stiffly swaddled in blankets, she was the little angel I had waited for. In the labor room, there had been tears at the first sight of a fully formed healthy baby, shaky hands cutting the umbilical cord and unbridled jubilation. Now it was night and I was alone with my baby, the one who had always been with me, first as a gleam in my eye, then as an intense yearning and later as the bump with octopus-like arms and legs that kicked me at regular intervals just under my ribs. Here she was, visible and tangible, not just the black and white ultrasound picture but a breathing, moving live baby. I dozed off with her warmth in the crook of my arm, smiling. I woke up to a gentle wiggling at my side. It was DQ trying to snuggle further into my body. Sensing my movement she looked up. Our eyes met. And she looked straight at me and through me, a wide-eyed stare made all the more vivid by her unblinking focus.

Do I know you? You sure seem familiar. Have we met before? Why are you looking at me like that? Stop it.

We both echoed each other’s thoughts. A little tentative, a little scared, unsure of each other’s abilities and potential. In that instant, we made a silent commitment to each other.

lotusHow will I bring up this child? I wondered aloud. There is no training or preparation for being a good parent. Have faith, said my mother. You will know what needs to be done. With guidance from a deeply embedded genetic memory of having been a loved baby once, my mother’s physical presence and an instinctive understanding, the years went by.

Today DQ and I communicate through phone messages, slammed doors, raised eyebrows and rolling eyes. We bicker, I nag, she clams up. Sometimes she speaks. Standing on the threshold of adulthood is not easy. Changing families, making friends, finding her way in a new country and planning ahead for life is a lot to deal with.

How do I help my child? I wonder silently. Have faith whispers my mother. Scattered memories of her loving presence and patience jump up from hidden recesses of the conscious mind. What is faith?

How do you explain faith to a teenager? It is easier to convince a child. Children are naturally trusting, eternally optimistic. The teenage years are the ones where the hard kernel of cynicism that adults try to cover up, is exposed unashamedly. Being contrary counts, falling in line is lame and debating each point is a right that is fully exercised.

How do you describe that faith is the color of falling rain on barren land? The droplets measured in tears of frustration and grief.

How do you communicate that faith is the sound of sweet nothings that you wish your sweetheart will fill your ears with? The syllables jumbled but clear in their intent.

How do you transmit the fragrance of hope that forms the wellspring of faith and teases you with promises of wishes soon to be fulfilled? The delicate scent heady and insistent.

How do you reveal the flavor of faith that each one must discover, combining individual insights and experiences to workout a philosophy of the self?

And finally, faith that covers you up like a warm embrace when all other pretensions are shed, when people give up, when the odds are stacked against you?

Have faith, I want to tell DQ.

Faith, is what made me visit the reproductive endocrinologist my infertile friend recommended after she became a mother.

Faith, is that little bundle placed in my arms by the hospital staff, believing that I will do right by this child.

Faith, is the words of a friend who replied “don’t worry, they grow up on their own” when I expressed concern over handling this tiny life.

Faith is staying with your dream, assured that you will be guided.

Faith is knowing you will pass an exam without knowing all the answers.

Faith is in embarking on a path different from the well-trodden one knowing that your journey will be different but worthwhile.

What does faith look like?

To me, dear daughter, faith looks – like you.

I hope you will see it too.

Happy Birthday!!

 

A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch but on her own wings. Always believe in yourself.” ― Unknown


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Letting go

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body” – Elizabeth Stone.

I waved to DQ as she passed through immigration and security at the airport and walked towards the departure gate. She would soon board an international flight and return home in two weeks. I was quiet, mulling over this temporary separation from my child. It wasn’t the first time she was flying alone to another country, it was the second time in 6 months. I had been nervous then. This time I was cool. It was my calm acceptance of her ever-increasing steps towards independence that rankled more than the travel per se.

“Are you upset about DQ going away? It’s only for a few days” said HH, observing my silence.

“I am used to it” I replied. “These pangs began long ago. From the moment I delivered her” I snapped, a little too sharply.

The toughest part of mothering is letting go. It begins initially with physical separation.

On DQ’s first day at preschool, she held on to my legs and wailed “Don’t go, don’t leave me here.” I went through the workday with intermittent visions of her tear-stained face. A concerned coworker observed my plight and said “Enjoy this clingy phase while it lasts. My teenage boys don’t want to be seen anywhere near me.” I smiled, secure in the knowledge that my little girl would never do something like that. Now I know what parenting a teen means. My coworker was right. In the early years, whenever I traveled for work, I acutely missed DQ. She seemed perfectly happy subsisting on Dominos and Baskin Robbins without my nagging.

It hurt to acknowledge that my child can survive AND function fully without my constant inputs.

A friend tells the story of his 4 year old daughter who would say she didn’t like chicken, having been brought up in a vegetarian household. As she grew older, her response to “do you like to eat chicken?” changed to “I don’t know, I haven’t eaten it yet.” Slowly, ever so subtly, children inch away from being your echo to finding their own voice.

My child has her own opinion which is different from mine and she does not hesitate to say it. Should I admire her or be upset?

DQ and I were movie buddies for a long time, happy to watch romcoms and sitcoms together; until she became a teenager. Birthday parties, movie outings, mall crawls – Mom was no longer the first choice. Between phone, Facebook and face to face with friends, there were no details that needed to be shared with Mom. Unless there was a school-related emergency of course.

The young woman who shares some of my genes and quirks, no longer leans on me exclusively. How can I not feel abandoned?

Children can be our mirror, reflecting us completely, warts and all. Children are also a prism, splitting our thoughts like light beams into many colors. They illuminate our world; add meaning and depth. How does the little person who you care for and coach turn into a free-thinking planet, tethered to your gravity for a while but always in the process of generating the required escape velocity to pull away and launch whole-heartedly into her own orbit?

Life is a series of acquisitions – objects, information, skills, abilities. Life is also a list of losses – objects, innocence, relationships. With life comes the experience of having things move away from your control, voluntarily or otherwise. Logically, letting go should come easily. But it doesn’t. Specially for a mother. Not because we grasp too tightly, but because we remember. The warm baby breath on your neck as your infant falls asleep, the bruise from a fall on the playground, the smile when you cheer enthusiastically for your child, unaware of how embarrassing it looks. We linger on the sweet memories and the terrifying ones. We save the keepsakes for later. We savor the moments. And from this storehouse, we pull up recollections to compare, or to complain.

Watching your child grow up and away is hard because it involves a conscious process of detachment. Letting go involves selectively forgetting what once was. Letting go requires effort to let things be. Letting go is an exercise in discipline. Letting go, paradoxically, is a form of control. I control my instinctive impulse to hold on, I control the flood of memories each step towards independence brings, I control my fear for my child’s safety.

So I let go of my doubts. I set aside my anxiety. I focus instead on how far we have come, DQ and I, on a road that has not always been smooth. I wave her off with a smile, secure in the knowledge that she will travel the world with confidence. There will always be a part of me with her, the part that steadies her hand as she takes off on this adventure called life.