BY ADITI SHUKLA FOZDAR
“LBM, mama, please?”
“Please, Ro, I’ve work to do. Please, not today.”
“Okay, will you run your fingers through my hair?”
I get off my bed, with little grace about the fact that my 9-year-old wants to Lie down Beside Me (LBM) as he goes to sleep. I’m muttering audibly, even though I have been told that he will, very soon, run from my touch. I don’t care for the future: right now, I’ve deadlines to finish and I wish he was asleep already.
As soon as I sit down next to him, on his bed of two mattresses stacked up on the floor, he flips on to his belly and puts one hand across my knees, almost as if he knows I can’t wait to get up and go.
I kiss him and inhale the non-existent baby smell that I can still recreate from memory. Today he smells of body lotion and shampoo, but his skin still feels as soft as that chubby dumpling who first made me a mother.
I run my fingers through his hair, frustrated at how long it still takes him to fall asleep, worried about him not getting enough sleep before school, his rough hair invoking the working-mother’s-guilt of how I always forget to oil his hair regularly. In a few minutes, the movements of my fingers have calmed me down and I do what I’m meant to do in that moment: I look down on the sleeping face of my baby, marvel at how big he has grown, grateful about how much he wants me even on days when I push him away, hard.
He has deep, sunken eyes, like mine, so I wonder if he will obsess over dark circles the way I did when I was a teenager. Don’t worry about it, Ro, I want to tell him. There will be times when how you look will seem like the cornerstone of your existence. That phase will come more often than anyone will admit: at all ages. But it doesn’t matter. Truly. I wish I could rub that into his consciousness, make it a muscle memory so his confidence is never battered over this particular issue. If only I could. The lips part slightly and I know he’s slipped into sleep, his hand lighter on my knees, easier to remove if I want to get up. But now, I want to sit and watch him, a little while longer.
This is where I have imaginary conversations in my head with him, when I tell him things that the rational part of my mommy-brain won’t let me, when he’s awake. I want to tell him that it’s okay if he finds the world confusing, and that there will be many days when he will wish he could unlearn the things that make him who is he. That there is no right way of doing things; that sometimes not breaking the rules takes as much courage as breaking them.
That he will suffer because he has inherited both my sentimentality and his father’s inability to express. That the storms will rage and build in him, without the outlet of words that I have, or the armour of the I-get-knocked-down-but-I-get-up-again soul that my husband has. And that it may not get better, but it always gets easier.
The hair on his upper-lip has begun to grow darker: two days ago, he looked up from his homework with a question, his face awash with that soft afternoon light that makes everything seem ethereal. In that instant, his future-moustache caught my eye and stopped my heart. So soon? It can’t be.
How do I tell him that I write him letters in my head? Letters to the 10 year old. The 14 year old. The 20 year old. The 33 year old. The boy who falls in love and/or gets his heart broken. The boy who will wonder which path to choose: the one that instructs him that he is the master of his own destiny, or the one that tells him control is just a mirage, both ending A or B, already dictated by his choices. That I want to leave him clues about life just as much as I want him to solve the puzzles on his own.
His nose has a low slant nearly all the way down, but just before the tip, it rises in a fleshy mound, almost as if it decided it wasn’t going to continue growing that way. Since the time he was born, his grandmothers took turns to claim the nose, to tag it to their sides of the genes. But it isn’t quite any side’s. Maybe my son’s soul is like his nose. That he will take what he has inherited without his choice and while walking that path, not surrender to it. That he will, right where it matters, rise to be his own person, aware of his roots, but never defined by them.
About the author:
Aditi Shukla Fozdar moonlights as a writer, when she’s actually just a curious cat. Most days she can be found under the badam tree in her garden, sprawled alongside her 9-year-old and 2-year-old.
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