I am leaning over the crib where Laddu lies, legs up in the air. I am about to change her diaper when a little hand shoves a bottle of talc on the changing mat. I turn and Ammu stands arms extended. I take it from her and put it away as I explain why I no longer use talc. She listens but insists I use it on her little sister. I smile and put it away on the top shelf out of reach. All of us head downstairs where the rest of the morning passes in baking muffins, scribbling on paper, doodling and eating lunch. It is well past mid afternoon when I am done. I herd the kids upstairs, leaving each child in her room with the fan on, a book in hand and extracting promises of silence. Laddu is straining from my arms by the time I am done. I reach her room and realize she needs a change again. I bend to put her down and smell talc. Puzzled, I look all over. I open the closet to find the bottle missing. Letting my nose lead the way, I go into the bathroom and find a menagerie of toys in the bathtub. All washed, dried and powdered.
I am caught between wanting to clear everything and demand an explanation. I let it be. I change Laddu and settle in the rocking chair, murmuring a song into her ears. She falls asleep easily enough. I tuck her in and walk downstairs. My mind goes back five years to when the twins arrived home one late night. I spent the first week of their lives at their new home buying a whole lot of baby stuff. Moisturizing cream, talc, diaper rash ointment, hair wash, body wash, hooded towels and the like. I used all of them too. I scoured the baby aisle for food which promised the best in nutrition. I read labels, compared ingredients and loaded up. Each time we left the home, the diaper bag bulged with snacks, milk, food, diapers, change of clothes and extra rations. It was with great trepidation that two years later, I relaxed enough to trust my cooking. To fall back on age-old remedies like coconut oil and regular soap.
By the time Laddu arrived and I was well into mothering the second time around, I realized how much relaxed I was. I did not insist guests wash their hands or sanitize before they touched her. I was content to let her dictate if she wanted to be picked or not. I did not read up on milestones or fall back on books to tell me how my child should be growing. I fed her when she wanted me to. I held her when she was sleepy. I rocked her if that is what comforted her. I let her co-sleep if that meant I got a full night sleep. By the time she started solids, I was feeding her off my plate. By the time she was a year old, she ate everything we did. I use one wash for her and moisturize her in winter. There are no tubes of goo I use each time I change her diaper or tubs of baby snacks in the pantry. I have forgotten what store-bought yogurt is like. There are no gates to the stairs and nothing to pen her in. She has the run of the place and I realize I am OK with it.
Somewhere between parenting my first two and the third, I seem to have let go of some of the paranoia, the rigid mindset and the insistence on following rules. Perhaps the first time around, the whole gig was about me the mother while this time it is all about the child. The fragrance of the baby powder lingers in my hands and I realize there are lessons to be learned here. As the kids grow, it probably will be best for me to take their lead and follow. To support rather than command. To let them discover the world than spell it out for them. To let them tell me what they want than to assume. To let them teach me how to be the parent they want me to be.
As for the talc, Ammu’s toys probably need them more.