An online letter to my mother who is too busy doing motherhood offline

Dear Amma

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?

mommygolightly with ammagolightly

mommygolightly with ammagolightly

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.

grammies are the best!

grammies are the best!

( A version of this post appeared here)

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Mother’s Day and what I think it should be

Dipsy and her baby in the bath

Dipsy and her baby in the bath

A few weeks back, our teletubby, Dipsy had a baby. Now Dipsy was gifted to Re by my dear friend Roshni and has been with us for five years, and is still one of the most cared-for dolls we have. This little one was a gift from Sahajo, one of my students at the school I taught for a year, to Re, and was a tinier version of Dipsy.

Re immediately had to make sense of it and pronounced that Dipsy had a baby now. From then on, mother and baby were inseparable. Wherever Dipsy went, her baby went. They bathed together, they slept together, they ate together, they played together. They were a unit.

Hmmm, I thought, as I went into flashback mode of my first few years of being a mom. This is the real deal, isn’t it? You and your baby are a unit.  You are stuck, and sometimes, not in a nice way. Dipsy’s life will now revolve around her baby and her baby will have to be factored in, whatever she wishes to do from now on.

Re seemed to read my mind. The next day, Dipsy was promptly sent off to ‘a party’ as a part of a skit that he put together ( and there are several of those, as he is a single child) . He asked Dipsy to leave as he took her baby to the pool and assured her that he will look after her. Dipsy was free! She had a life!

It was liberating to have a child like him who believed in setting his mother free. Perhaps he knew that as long as his circle of love was still intact and the rest of the family made him feel secure, mamma could also do the things she wanted to every once in a while. Things that may not involve him.

Last week, I was Dipsy. I’ve been away in Srilanka. On a holiday. Alone. When I say “alone”, people still roll their eyes. It’s as though I have vetoed the power of making decisions for myself, and myself alone, once I became a mother. It’s as though not having my child with me on holiday is an unpardonable offense. And the strange thing is, he is with me, in the armadillos I spot, in the shells I collect, in the things I think he would have said.

Finding me in Cape Weligama, Srilanka

Finding me in Cape Weligama, Srilanka

I found some of my thoughts voiced in Radhika Vaz’s stand up act that I attended in Mumbai a few weeks ago. Titled “Older, angrier, hairier”,  she spoke, among other things, on how womanhood is defined by body image, marriage and babies and how your rites of passage are constantly chalked out by other people. She spoke to me, especially in how women are constantly reconfiguring their lives to fit into either their men’s or their children’s lives. I have done this, I thought, but at least I know it.

Ironically, I received three requests to write for Mother’s Day specials during this week. One wanted me to write a light, frothy piece on the cool and liberated mom. Another wanted me to tell mothers how to be cool. A third wanted a list of things one can do to celebrate mother’s day. I turned all of them down.

Because to me, this is what Mother’s Day should be all about. To have the power to say no. To, every once in a while, make yourself a priority. To empower yourself and your children enough to not abuse the whole umbilical cord business. To be able to, every once in a while, access the part of you that got lost somewhere in the whole motherhood business.

It’s also about having the power to say yes. To an inner voice, a calling that leads you somewhere, and it doesn’t matter where it takes you, as long as you are willing to go. And this year is my year of ‘go’.

Because if that’s not what Mother’s Day, means to me, then it has no business to exist.

 

(This post first appeared as my column in the Pune Mirror on 27th April, 2015)