I did a little jig when Re started school a year ago. There was no separation anxiety. There was the settling in of course, but I was more than happy to take it slow. “The smoother the transition, the more long-term it is” they told me. Yes, there were tears — sometimes his, sometimes mine, but I knew it would pass, because I so badly wanted it to.
When I left him and got out the gate after a week of hand-holding, I smiled to myself and walked out, not turning back. I had to celebrate. I had got a child school-ready. To me, that was big. I went out and got myself a coffee and a doughnut. I read 53 pages of a book at a stretch. I watched a movie alone. It was like a part of me had made a comeback.
And then one day, just when I thought it was all sorted, he woke up and told me, “I don’t want to go to school. I want to be with you.” I was putty all over again. And that’s the trouble with parenting. It doesn’t have an expiry date.
Being a stay-at-home mommy is often lonely. But being alone is still a luxury. Sometimes you wish the child would sleep, so you could read. Or write. Or that the child would be quiet so you could talk. Or just listen to something other than his voice. Or that the child would not ask you to supervise every bit of artwork he did. Or read every book in the shelf. Or ask you to push his jhoola in the park. Over and over again (for me that is still a low point).
The thing about love is that too much of it can be claustrophobic. People need to go away so they can come back. We need to not talk for a while so we still have enough for a conversation later. We need silence so that there is room for words.
School absolves you of some of the dirty work. It makes me look like less of a bad guy. “We must not eat lollipop, othewise our teeth will get dirtttty,” Re said one day. I smiled. Someone else had taken over, even if it was for a short time.
There are rituals of course. The thing about the uniform. “I want to wear clothes,” Re would say. “I don’t want to wear unaaaform.” The thing about hair. And grooming. The thing about shoes. The thing about regimentation.
School talks about germs, habits, manners and cleanliness, the importance of order and repetition and discipline and all those dark, dingy areas. The importance of “No.”
School also addresses issues of jurisdiction, which are too black and white for me. It makes the trivial look important. Like putting stuff away, getting in line, listening. It is about finiteness, beginnings and endings. It is like something that fits into a box. A box I so badly needed when I was struggling to be my own person again.
Teachers have a peek into a universe that perhaps you don’t. When you are too close, your universe collides and sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the intersection. My mother was a school teacher for 36 years before he retired. She would talk fondly about her students, they would discuss recipes, trees and fantasies – things perhaps the children never discussed with their parents. She never had a dull day in her job. But as a mother, I would be debilitated if I had to do everything the teachers have to do. I am not brave enough to homeschool.
Every hour you spend away from your child is an hour for self-renewal. You need to deconstruct. Reconstruct. Reclaim your space. You need to become whole again, because motherhood sometimes makes you fall to pieces. There is also marriage, which suddenly, is not as invisible as it used to be.
When he started taking the school bus six months ago, I did an even bigger jig. No more hanging out with sad mommies always complaining about maids and other demons in their life. I began to get good at incentives. First there was the bus cookie. A cookie that only children who make it on time to the bus got. Then there was Sheroo and Sher Khan, the local resident strays, one or both of whom would hang around Re, waiting for the bus. There were leaves to be picked up, autos to count, birds to spot.
The last time we missed the bus and I dropped him to school, I found his hand loosen in my grip the minute we entered the gate. Two seconds later, he was gone. “Please turn, please turn,” I said to myself. He did, and blew me a kiss. And that’s when I realised that he was just not in school. School was in him. And so yes, I don’t miss him when he is away, and I do look forward to seeing him go away every day.
This piece first appeared as my column in the Indian Express on 10th February 2013. For older columns, click here