Three cities. Two kids. One family. In my new life, this is more the norm than the exception.
Among my new friends are an ex navy official who has now turned educator after a 20-year career and a globe-trotting life during which his wife was primary caregiver to the kids. To call him a multi-tasker would be an understatement. She is now finally pursuing her academic dream with a PhD program while he is a full time parent to their son on our school campus. They are both long-distance parents to their older daughter who studies at a residential school near Bangalore.
The boy, who is all of eight was one of my earliest influences at the school I now teach in, with his keen observation and his Zen-like stance on most things. On day one, he invited me to go swimming with him in the Bhima river and when I hesitated, saying I didn’t have a costume, he said, “There is no point being shy. It just wastes time.” Not to be deterred, I went along, and jumped into the river in my tunic and jeans.
Every weekend, this family of two turns into a family of three, when the mother comes over and once every term, they become a foursome when it’s term visit time at their daughter’s school.
Another colleague who teaches Physics lives on campus with her daughter while her husband lives in the Nilgiris, where he runs an NGO. During our walks in the evening, she and I share a lot about parenting, the need to find the self and what makes us who we are. Her daughter, all of seven, is so free-spirited that no school could contain her thus far. They have finally found their haven on our hill. The girl is also a buddy who takes me and Re on expeditions and claims to know all the ‘secret spots’ on the hill. I believe her. She is that kind of girl.
This is my new family. We look out for each other. We keep it simple. And mostly, it makes sense.
When I moved with Re to teach at this school, speculations were rife. Was I leaving my husband? Was this a sign? Was it really about Re? Was the marriage over?
Few ask me. Fewer ask him. Most ask each other. Some read melancholy in my writing and send me “Is all well?” messages. And some get it.
I wonder if they would have made such a big deal of it had my husband moved cities or country to follow his dream. “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do,” they would have said. “It’s important for his career,” they would have proffered. The child is still small, this is the time to experiment, they would have assuaged.
We are suckers for symmetry, structure and composition, never mind if it’s filtered. We want singletons to be married, married ones to have a child, one-child couples to have two children, and so on. We would rather gloss over the quasi perfection of the family picture postcard than wonder what really makes them tick. Collaboration is the biggest myth of parenting. A family that drives together while each stares at a screen is not a family. Neither is a group of children and adults that brunches, goes to Hamleys or posts selfies.
What we cannot bear is when sometimes, people, like electrons, have a mind of their own and want to see what a new orbital feels like.
But I am beginning to realise that sometimes the decisions you make for yourself can result in the collective good. After all, parenting is about finding ‘us’ in the spaces. It’s also about reclaiming ‘me’ sometimes. Having a child can obliterate your sense of self to a large extent, particularly so for the woman. If you are not the same you, how can you be a good wife, a good parent, a good anything?
So we are finally the family that meets every other weekend and walks, treks and jumps on puddles. We are long-distance couples, parents and children. We talk more, we eat more, we laugh more. We certainly breathe more. We have moved from separate together to together separate. And it feels infinitely better.
(This post first appeared as my parenting column in Pune Mirror on 11th August, 2014)