Little Mrini tugged at my hand as she insisted on me reading the book, or rather, reading it out to her. As I shifted my attention from her proud mother and a story about her, she perched herself comfortably against my side, pushed her hair off her face, ran her tiny fingers over the pictures, pausing to look at my face with exaggerated patience. I smiled at the lion, exclaimed at the leopard and duly the admired the tiger, all the while waiting for approval on the little one’s face.
I was born in a family where you didn’t think about kids so much, you just produced them. My dad had nine siblings, my mom five; the next generation didn’t do as well though, with my parents doing the worst – I was a single kid. Still, we were a family who didn’t think about kids, or talk about kids. Kids were there – all over the place. They were a natural progression to marriage – you had them, you took care of them, you loved them. You loved them – loved them not as kids, but as adorable, sweet little beings – sometimes annoying beings – who were nevertheless part of your family, and who needed your care and attention. Of course you liked other people’s kids too, but then, its not like you liked them ALL the time – oh come on, even when they are bawling into your ear on a long bus journey? Did you? Sure you love the Johnsons baby ads, sure you got all excited when your niece held your finger for the first time, sure you adored the neighbor’s boy – he was just so loving, how was it possible not to love him back – but all the time? Maybe you did? I didn’t. Well, I don’t know if I did – as I said, I didn’t think about it so much.
And then I did – think about it I mean. I didn’t mean to, but I did. Growing up, I had always assumed that I would have a husband and kids, just like everybody else did. People with divorces or single people, or even better, single people with kids – they didn’t cross the limited periphery of my imagination; if we did cross paths in real life, it didn’t really make an impact. As a grown up, I can’t really claim that my imagination got any better, but the dimensions of reality had surely changed – not life, not environment, not situations, but reality had. Normal life everywhere, but a different reality. A reality of un-loved kids, abused kids, ignored kids; a reality of irresponsible parents, un-kind parents, unacceptable parents. I didn’t think it was possible, but apparently it was – as people narrated stories, I wondered at how different my reality was from theirs. As shocked as I was by the stories of cruelty and neglect, I was even more shocked at stories of un-intentional mistakes. Oh I didn’t expect parents to be perfect, but I was surprised at how people remembered and reacted to their parents mistakes. And as much as I adored my parents, I tried to be objective about how my childhood had been. Objectivity. That was necessary. And as surprised as I was at a story, I was surprised when people said that it was better not to have kids, rather than have them and subject them to their mistakes – whatever, the reasons for those mistakes were. I understood; as I heard the pain in their voices, I understood. And even as I understood, I was surprised when they actually said that.
I am not sure when I said that, when I first said it. I am not even sure what my reasons were for saying that. I am not even sure what my exact words were; I think it was “I don’t think I want to have kids”. Over the years I repeated the statement. Oh my reasons were different, and hardly noble. It wasn’t due to any misguided notion of saving un-necessary pain in the world; it was more that I was exploring a new world, a world full of possibilities, and a kid didn’t fit into the convenient scheme of things. I had tons of things to do, and in the middle of these things, what if I ended up making mistakes everybody else seem to be making? It was selfish, but it is easy to persuade yourself that its selflessness – better not to cause more suffering in the world.
Also, it wasn’t most difficult selfless decision I made. First, I wasn’t married, far from it; second, I wasn’t really the maternal kinds, I hardly went the ooh aaah way with babies, and I was quite liable to get annoyed with obnoxious kids. I had wanted kids with J, but after that, it was an easy selfless decision. Really, it was.
So it was quite a surprise when my room mate agreed with my decision not to have kids. Of course, she was my room mate for a good six years, and she knew me well, and who better could verify that it was a sensible decision. Still, I wish she hadn’t been quite so vigorous in her approval about the whole thing. I left it at that, and went on to tell a few more people about my general views on parenting and kids. Objectivity. That’s essential.
A few months later, and I worked up courage (and that was the first sign that something was wrong) and asked my room mate on why she was so sure I shouldn’t have kids. She calmly told me that she didn’t think I would make a good mother – kids needed a lot of care, and I didn’t have that kind of warmth or patience in me. Oh don’t mistake me – she wasn’t being mean, just matter of fact, and she genuinely didn’t think that the statement would hurt me. I had never wanted to be a parent, a mother, so why would I care on whether I would be a good one or a bad one. I was a good human, a good friend, a potential bad mother, but why did that matter? After all if you are never going to apply for a position, why worry if you are going to be good at it? I was hurt, really hurt. But I had an explanation, and it was a sensible explanation. I have always been the kind of person who was always good at whatever I tried, and it was just that my ego was hurt that I could be bad at something. A very sensible explanation, a very objective one.
Was it important to be a good mother? What made you a good mother? If you hugged and kissed your little one when she was hurt? If you instilled the ‘right’ values in her? If you spent ‘quality time’ with her? If you read bed time stories to her, and made school projects for her? I hated to admit it, but these were considerations, things I had refused to consider. Yet, I knew that I did look down on my colleague who spent more time on herself, than her kid. I, who advocated personal growth and space, did look down upon a lady who was embodied that, but who needed to ‘make time’ for her daughter. The colleague was a divorced lady, who had just come out of a bad marriage, and surely I shouldn’t resent her new-found freedom, her time to herself, her joy at being finally rid of ties. But I did resent it, I did judge her, and I did think that being a good mother was important. Why did I persist with this traditional image of a mother who was always there for her kid? Surely I knew that the world had changed, men and women had changed, their roles had changed, and if you were good at everything else, did it really matter if you faltered at parenting?
As days passed, I didn’t really have to make empty claims that I didn’t want kids. I was provided with good instances on why I shouldn’t. When I took an apple from the fridge and ate it without washing it, a friend exclaimed “God save your poor kids!”. A odd conversation with J years after our breakup; he casually mentioned that I shouldn’t have more than one kid – that’s all I could handle. He was the only guy I had wanted babies with. As I watched my cousins play for hours, I wondered at their infinite patience. As I saw my own parents love me, I wondered at my own capacity for love – would I be able to love another human being like that, with that kind of devotion?
I can’t discuss all this without talking about my mother. I have never really talked about her, it’s always been my dad. I have always been Daddy’s little girl. When I scrapped my knee, I ran to my dad and he hugged me; when I had to do a school assignment, it was my dad who built the best doll house in the school, sitting late every night; when I had my first period, I cried to my dad that I had cancer, and he quietly took me to my mom; when I had my first fight at work, I called my dad and he told me to take the first bus home. And my mother – I love her and she loves me – but we never told each other that; never showed how much we care about each other; we both took pride in flaunting the daddy’s little girl thing. But there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t realize that she is a really amazing mother. Its amazing that I haven’t really told her, told the world that. She is a teacher, a strict disciplinarian, and she isnt’t really a ‘hugging kissing’ of person. But does that make her less maternal? No!!!
Over the past two years, I have grown closer to my mother. As she grows older, she is less hesitant to show her vulnerabilities. As I grow older, I am more aware of the woman behind the maternal mask. We talk about things we have never talked before, about being women, about relationships, about love. As I talk about marriage to my parents, for the first time, I realized that I was connecting more to my mother than my father. We talk more; I hug her more; she calls me every day now; its strange how things have changed, how I feel positively maternal towards her. Is it because I see glimpses of myself in her? Objectivity. That’s difficult.
Last month, one of my closest friends had a miscarriage, her second one. I watched her pain and stood by helplessly, not knowing what to say. She wanted a baby, ached for one – she has wanted to be a mother from the time I have known her. I have watched her with her niece and if there was ever a girl who deserved to be a mother, it’s her. She is beautiful – and yet I see failure in her eyes. As her body lets her down, she questions her essence as a woman, her purpose in life. Even as I hurt for her, I struggle to understand why? Does it mean that life without kids will always have voids? Is being a mother, serve a higher function in life which I am unable to comprehend? Will the love that you give and receive in all the other roles of life, ever compensate?
Last month I told my room mate that I want to have kids. If I did marry, I would have kids. I say that with increasing confidence these days. It’s quite strange when I am increasingly un-sure about whether I would marry, but that’s the way it is. My room mate is still unsure about it; I am not. It’s not because I am think I have become better at raising kids, it’s because I want to do, I need to do it.
Little Tara comes and joins her twin. Mrini refuses to give up her seat next to me and I hurriedly distract Tara. Its leopards and tigers once more, and I get into the ‘indulgent aunt’ mode once again. As both of them climb to my lap and gift me with wet goodbye kisses, I am quite thrilled to be the indulgent aunt. As their mother herds them into the house, she tells me that she is training them to be independent, so that she can do her own thing. I laugh as I see her eyes dart inside even before she is saying good bye to me. Yeah right – I believe that! But I am talking to space – as she rushes inside to do something she will never take for granted – Being a mother. Me, I am back to be being indulgent aunt. .