There is something about grandparents. And I don’t mean it in that warm, fuzzy, sepia-toned kind of way. There is all of that for sure, and some.
Something certainly changes in the equation between you and your parents when you have a child. Your parents become the equalisers in your life. And not just because they are (usually) the most non-grouchy caregivers. More importantly, they are the people who never trivialise your trauma by saying, “This is the best part. You will miss it when it goes away.” They may not have the answers to your convoluted problems, but they are antidotes to your pain nonetheless, in their mostly quiet but always soothing way. I don’t think I could be half a mother without my mother. Or half a father without my father (my homeopath told me I have too much testosterone).
My mother and I became womb equals the day I gave birth to Re. Until then, it was always, “You will never know until you become a mother.” I felt like telling her, “Bring it on now, I am a mother too.” With my dad, there was never any of these power dynamics. Men would rather not be reminded that they are husband/father/son. It just takes them away from being men. My father was just happy being the grandparent who could still carry his grandson on his shoulders. That he was still my father was just incidental.
Strange that what I got from my parents, Re got it too. From my mom, Re’s got a wide-eyed wonder in little things and a love for rituals. From dad, Re’s got that sense of abandon, a complete lack of fear. And yes, a palate that knows when you have been messing around, diluting his bhindi with capsicum. Ironically, the very things that annoy you about a child are actually you.
In my single days of living on my own (which I did for a long time), I was the kind of person who told her mother (who called every day) to give me the 30-second edit instead of the two-minute one of whatever she had to say to me. And when she was done with that, I’d say, “So is that all you called four times about?”
I am nicer now. I find myself asking my mother, “What else?”, “Have you eaten?” and “Did you sleep well?” I find a calming reassurance in inanities. I am becoming my mother.
I am also tender towards my dad, more generous with my compliments, less critical, and always make it a point to ask him about the secret ingredient in his pachadi, even though I am seasoned enough to figure it out. It always makes his day. So, in a sense, having children makes you a parent twice over.
The odd thing is, my parents are still not tired of being parents. But in year three of parenting, I am already ready to tear my hair out on most days. I am often found wailing to the OPU that I want to go on a holiday with me and just me. That I want a break from the people who bind me (which refers primarily to him and the child; the cats are not too particular). That I want to be free. He, being the totally-into-me person that he is, takes no offence. “I understand. It must be taking its toll on you. How about I buy you a gift? A reward for being a great mom?” And then I bark some more about wasting money and not planning for the future and we continue living ‘happily ever after’.
Perhaps, our parents had better temperaments for being parents than us. Their wallets were lighter, but their lives fuller, freer of parenting clichés. They lived; we are constantly thinking about living better. I sometimes wonder if it’s as simple as the fact that we grew up in a non-Facebook, non-Twitter, non-club-y, non-brunch-y, non-texty era. Now, we have somehow messed things up. Too much crap. Too little time.
On a good day, I am glad I got some writing done. On a bad day, my jaw hurts from answering all of Re’s questions and my temples twitch from being polite and nice. I can’t do nice. Not for long. And every time I forget how to do it (which is often), I come running back to my parents. Then my body and soul get fortified over two or three days — the body with food and much needed rest (“You sleep, we will manage”) and the soul with the assurance that I am doing something right. That mine is a happy child, and it shows in his eyes.
I realise then that the grandparents and the babies are fine. It’s the ones in between that are really messed up.
This post originally appeared as my column in the Sunday EYE of the Indian Express on 6th May 2012