I am doing something so typical of our times, which is writing an online letter to my mother, as opposed to just saying this aloud to her in person or on the phone. But then, like so many other things that seemed alien in the beginning, for example, the concept of “parenting” or “work life balance” or “gender neutrality”, I think this is also one of those. You have so much to say to your mother, that you may as well put it out there, on the World Wide Web , so others can find a vocabulary for their feelings too. And it also becomes clearer when you write, doesn’t it? Although I know you believe in the philosophy of show, not tell.
First off, I salute thee. You are a true rock star. You had three children (two of who were twins), a real job, that you managed to keep for 36 years (I am guessing that was enough time for us to turn into adults), you kept our big fat south-Indian family together (in-laws, out-laws, the whole deal) and you are still the glue, you had friends for life (some of whom you still speak to every day), you made every birthday memorable (you still do), you never let go of traditions and rituals and when I look back, I wonder: how did you do it?
You got Appa to be an equal partner in parenting and got him to be a hands-on daddy before hands-on-daddydom existed. You just threw him into the deep end, he figured the rest. You and Appa defined gender neutrality for us before the term was even invented. It was never a case of who did what. Things just got done, whether it was cooking or time spent with the kids or markets or planning holidays. Never once in our growing up years was the boy-girl divide as strong as I experience in a sometimes overt, sometimes covert way in Re’s world on a daily basis. The two of you define ‘leaning in’ for me.
Yes, sometimes when I was growing up, I longed for the words “I love you”, words I say to Re often enough so he doesn’t forget it. But you made up in actions what you didn’t say in words. I remember you would always tell me, “You will only understand when you become a mother,” and I always thought there was a veneer of martyrdom behind those words. There were times when I hugely underestimated how much you were capable of understanding me, times when I wanted to run away to the hills and start growing coffee and starting a bookshop, times when I wanted to remain forever single, times when I changed careers before you even understood what I did.
I love you for raising me to believe that every cloud has a silver lining, as opposed to every silver lining has a cloud hiding behind that some parents did. I love you for never getting in my way and for all the PTA meetings you never came to, for you trusted me completely and allowed me to be the person I was. I love you for never praising me enough; it was the only way I could have polished myself the way you wanted me to.
There are also times when I get into turf issues with you on Re, and there were enough of those when he was a baby (oh, how much you believed in maalish and swaddling!). There are still times, when you indulge him and I feel like the bad cop, but then I realize, just as I expect you to let go, I must let go too.
( A version of this post appeared here)