I scoop up the fluttering dryer sheets from under the breakfast table quickly trailing it along the edges of the table to remove lint and crayon wrapper bits as I do. I walk past the whirring grinder and open the trash. Pieces of orange paper remind me of the Fall Jamboree I need to pay for, the book selection for a class project, a pumpkin math program requesting volunteers. I make mental notes as I go. I turn the stove off even as the cooker hisses a third time. I stand akimbo, hands on my hips and survey the scene before me. School bags are stacked on the document desk, Laddu is pushing a tiny chair all over the living room, Ammu and Pattu are on the coffee table now pushed up to the shelf housing the wave radio setting up half-naked dolls surrounded by plush toys. Homework is done, dinner halfway prepared and there is a sense of anticipation. Of Saathi coming home, of impending showers, of a house winding down for the day.
I feel a satisfaction flood me. I also feel overwhelmed. The calendar on my phone reminds me of Monday being a holiday for the kids, Wednesday being early dismissal. I relax knowing I have nothing by way of errands or appointments. For a fleeting moment, I go back to a time when I worked. When Ammu and Pattu were little and homework was years in the future. I try to remember what my schedule looked like. I grasp at the pieces that float around my head and realize piecing together a whole will be impossible. I wonder why they say it will be easier to go back to work once the kids are in full-time school. From what I can see, it seemed easier with them in full-time care, the teachers picking up my share of nurturing and keeping them safe and occupied as weekdays rolled past.
With every passing year, I see they need a kind of attention that takes up more mental space than I am used to sharing. The part of my brain that is actively planning ahead for their classes, their projects and being present as they grow. It takes the whole of me as I hover between a single page math sheet and a sheet that exhorts Ammu to read and illustrate what she saw. It makes me drop my guard, stop all the other threads processing in my head, forget the rasam simmering on the stove as I focus on her voicing each syllable, putting them together and bunching up the words to make up the sentence. It makes me smile as I see her eyes light up as she comprehends. I watch as she chooses her colors with care, sketching her impression of what she just understood. I watch as Pattu holds up her fingers, eyes scrunched in concentration as she figures addition. I watch as she reads silently, repeating the sentence as she tries to figure out if she needs to be adding or taking out numbers from her hand. I resist my impulse to point things out and wait till it dawns on her and she bends eagerly, filling those circles out.
I snap out of my reverie and reach out for my phone. I catch up tidbits of my friends’ lives as they vacation, run their business and anticipate the festive season. I stop in awe of a mother, working full-time, being present in her children’s lives and grabbing an opportunity to volunteer for the local fire company. It hits me that there are all kinds of us out there. Doing our thing, soldiering on and glancing at missed opportunities wistfully as we move. For a moment, I am tempted to sit, send a whisper of grace, sip on my tea and remember that much of this is fleeting.