“What does your dad do for a living?” I ask the twins. “Cut” answers Ammu. “Clean” answers Pattu. I repeat my question stressing the ‘for a living’ part. “Oh! you mean earn dollars?” asks Pattu. I nod enthusiastically now that they had caught on. “Type on the keyboard” says Ammu tentatively. I beam and correct her. We go over where daddy works, what he does and what it means. Each day this summer, I have picked a random topic for our breakfast conversations. Some days we discuss family. Some days we discuss science. Some days we talk about books. I come back to the topic on hand. Warming up, I ask “What does mommy do?” The answer is unanimous.
I smile and for a moment am tempted to go back to the times I was an earning member of the home. I murmur under my breath and turn away surprised by how much it stings. For all my posturing about dignity of labor, I realize I do not place a premium upon what I do. As if sensing I was bothered, Ammu comes to stand by me. I lower myself to her eye level.
“I write too.” I say at an attempt to mollify myself.
“You cook.” she says as she gives me a hug and walks away.
The conversation rankles in my head for the rest of the day. I circle back to why it upsets me. This is a choice I willingly made. A choice I have defended ad nauseam to all well-meaning people in my life. At a loss to make sense of my feelings, my mind wanders back to my mom. My Amma.
If Appa took on jobs that kept him out of the house for unseemly hours, it was because Amma was the glue that held us all together. Between multiple moves, job uncertainties and health issues, she held the fort down. Her presence and food were a constant. We came home knowing she would be there. That food would be on the table. That our clothes will be laundered and put away. That we could sit down by her feet and have our hair brushed till it shone. While Appa provided materially, she solely handled our mental well-being. Even when it seemed like she was at odds with my need for freedom and independence, I knew she had my best interests at heart. I also realize Appa could be flippant about my rebellion because he knew Amma would handle it. He could play the good cop because she took the rap for being the bad cop.
I look back on my growing up years and realize the value she provided is intangible. Yet, it matters. It matters in the way our lives have turned out. It matters because it influenced my love for reading. It matters because it sets the tone for the way I parent today. It matters in my attitude towards food. It matters in how I look at my home.
I look at my children wandering in and out of the home, helping their dad weed the mulch beds. They have a decade or more of growing up to do. Who they blossom into will depend on how nurturing their home environment is. Will they some day look back on their childhood and think of me as I think of my Amma?
If they do, it will all have been worth it. Therein lies my answer I guess.