One fine day, I step out to have a coffee with a school friend of mine, hardly a few meters away from home. My little one, who has been left home with his grand parents and favorite Masi is merrily playing when I step out and I am assured that it is all going to go well and I am going to be back in just one hour.
And that’s exactly what I do – I am back in one hour but am talking to a friend on the phone. Having met with an old friend after a long time, reminded me of another friend and I thought I must catch up. Little did I know that this one hour hadn’t really been that honky-dory for my son?
My son, who is being held by his Masi, gives me a very strange look when I get in. I notice it, but don’t brood much over it and simply give him a broad smile and take him to the other room with me, while I continue to talk on the phone. I sit on the swing and place him on my lap. Usually not the one to sit in one place quietly, obediently rests his head on my tummy and quietly swings along. In hardly ten minutes, he dozes off, while I still continue to talk on the phone. My phone conversation goes on for quite a while, but he is fast asleep. Usually the one to sleep only after a sponge, followed by breastfeeding and praying in the head that now he must go to sleep so that I can go about doing some work – falls asleep in hardly any minutes.
Making the most of this opportunity that my son is already asleep, I talk for a little longer than expected – almost half an hour more before I hang up and place him on the bed. I asked my dad to sit by him, because he is very sensitive to being alone in a room while asleep; while I quickly rush to the kitchen to grab a bite. I was doubtful he could get up anytime because he has never retired for the day without his bedtime ritual. Just when these thoughts were forming in my head, my mom comes up to me and tells me how he had been looking for me everywhere in the house while I was away. And that he looked so disappointed and low on not finding me anywhere. And that he didn’t even eat his ever-so-favourite Khichdi enough. Usually the one who would ask me when will I get back to work, for the first time told me to not leave him and go anywhere the next time. And for the first time, it immediately struck to me what she was trying to say. That visual of my son, looking sad and lost, looking for his mother, but unable to express his pain suddenly flashed in front of my eyes. It just shook me inside. And just then, I could hear him wailing in the other room. As I got into the room, he looked at me right in the eye and cried even more bitterly. I almost felt as though he was telling me, “Now I slept also on time, to give you enough time to do all your work; what else do you want from me, why are you abandoning me like this?” An unexplainable pain shot up in my chest – what the hell was I doing?
I rushed to him – hugged him tight and immediately nursed him. He hugged me back and in no time slipped off to sleep again. And soon that sleep-smile of his bejewelled his innocent face. But in that one look, he shook me up completely to make me understand what I was really trying to decode in the last couple of days. Everything flashed in front of my eyes as though the Universe was trying to explain to me what I was ideally supposed to do. All my friends who are coping with serious mental issues have had troubled childhoods – troubled not necessarily in the extreme way – but where their mothers have let them down – either have not been around enough or have made them feel that they have been unwanted – and this feeling of abandonment they have carried with them all their lives. And I doubt they are ever going to part with it! And is this what I want to give my child? A feeling of abandonment – a feeling that there was something out there that was more dear to my mother than me – that she left me with someone else and went out each day.
So, at ten months post delivery; the mother (once an ambitious woman with very different career plans and timelines) is constantly grappling with thoughts related to her life, ambitions, career, duties, work-life balance, motherhood and mainly about where is life heading. “There is this little cutie-pie who needs me and my attention all the time and my heart is all out there for him; and then there is this mind of mine that is constantly reminding me of all the things that I really ever wanted to do and now just simply cannot thanks to that little one.” And one is constantly being pulled by these two different driving forces in the head. And what is she supposed to ideally do?
I don’t really know if there is a generic ‘ideal’ thing to do in this case. There are times when you really need to step out to work because there is no other way that money will flow in – and that money you really do need to survive. But, if that is not the case, and it is just the mind that you are tackling with – or say ‘ambitions’ or ‘careers’ that you are defending – then one really needs to sit down to evaluate – what sacrifice at what cost and whether there is an alternative that can help you work from home within the time frame that your child permits you to. Because at the end of the day, two or three years don’t really make that much of a difference or may be they even do – but then the ever-lasting impression that you leave on your child’s mind – is that more expensive a loss than your time – is what you really need to figure. May be you will not be able to afford the most expensive baby product available in the market because only one of you is working and that the money generated is not enough for such luxurious choices. But what good will the baby product do, if you end up making deeper scars in the personality of your child while retaining the shine on the skin?
Trust me, I learnt it the hard way. Or may be haven’t even fully learnt it. May be I will still encounter those nights when I will again question what am I doing with my life and feel terrible about it. But then, may be once again, my child will guide me through it. And then, sooner than I would know – he would start going to school and have a life of his own while I will be left wondering – Oh God, he just doesn’t need me anymore ya!!!!