The power of three

You never really know who you married until you make a baby with him. I married OCD. Also whiny, hypochondriac, generous, sensitive, caring, affectionate, and someone who loves me more than I care to admit. I also married 40 going on 18 and a gamer for life.

Marriage is complicated. It is also very populated. There are too many people in a marriage. His. Yours. Facebook. Twitter. His friends who don’t like you. Your friends who like you too much. Random strangers looking for subtext in status updates. Singletons trying to find reasons not to marry. Married ones who find a sense of gratification in the fact that perhaps you are as messed up as they are.

Parenting, on the other hand, is lonely. The world is not interested in it; it’s not great copy. It doesn’t have the layered politics of marriage, neither the intrigue of bachelorhood. You bring a human being into the world and you do as much as you can to ensure it grows up into a good human being. You go through the motions. Motions that sometimes debilitate.

Until you have a child, you could be married for years and never compare the textures of your lives. Your childhood. Your attitude to money. Your relationship with friends and family. Your sense of space. Your boundaries. Your hurt.

The minute you become a parent, the differences become glaring. It’s as though the clouds that coalesced into a marriage now want to take their own shape and drift apart — because we think being a parent is more important than being a spouse. And there are questions that never accosted us earlier. There is the urge to rewrite someone else’s upbringing. A desire to fill in the details, to write it in a way that works for you.

A lot of marriage is autopilot. Plate his food. Remind him to eat. Remind him to sleep. Remind him to wake up. Remind him to turn the TV off. Remind him to not game too much. I am good with the rituals. But once I became a mother, they got tiring. Sometimes, the wife wanted to switch off. Because the mother couldn’t.

With the child, I am the bad cop, he is the softie. I am about boundaries. To him, love has no boundaries. There are days when I feel alone in our togetherness, and there are times when I feel together even when I am alone. I realised what happened. I had raised the bar, and I hadn’t told him. Things that were okay until then were suddenly not okay. Everything began to matter.

One day, the notes stopped. Our relationship was full of notes — little post-its dripping with love to remind us of the way we were — on the microwave, on the fridge, on the TV screen, on the bathroom mirror. They are all locked in a little transparent pouch in my bookshelf. I keep looking at them and sighing wistfully. Must write more notes, I think.

“Husband” and “wife” are big words. They come with tags and job-profiles attached. Role models to live up to. Social images to display. But our parents never told us what went into bringing up children. The questions seem banal: How much TV? How much chocolate? How many toys? How important is it to read? But in the answers lies an insidious divide. A “his way” and “my way”.

It is ironic that for the toughest job in the world, there is no qualification or training required. We get to be parents just like that. For most of us, it is like being hit by a thundercloud. But no one wants to admit that they feel unprepared for parenthood, however much it makes you flounder. It is one of the best-kept secrets of any household.

That is why we have pictures. To remind ourselves of what we can be. Pictures are nice. Pictures tell stories. Sometimes they reveal subtexts that we didn’t even know existed. In pictures, we look like a candy-floss movie — integrated, art-directed, and full of joie de vivre.

But real life cannot be instagrammed. We just pretend it’s like a good salad. That the three of us are different things that go into a salad. We dress it up, and then we give it a really good toss. It’s got a bit of each one of us, but the sum total is us. And “us” is delicious.

So every time I feel I am losing my grip, I stare at the wall at a blown-up canvas print of us, obviously saturated with mirth. It could have been the moment. Whatever it was, it makes me believe in “we”. And that’s perhaps how a child can help you fall in love all over again.

pic by Bajirao Pawar

This post first appeared as my column in the Indian Express Eye on August 26, 2012