Laddu clings to my knees, screaming with a vehemence that takes me by surprise. The sauté pan with the hot oil waits for the seasoning. The freshly cooked rice cools on the adjacent stove, the pearly grains emitting wispy spirals. The lunch boxes are open on the other side of the counter. I pick Laddu up and continue to work at a frenetic pace.
A wail erupts from behind the sofa. Ammu has tears streaming down her face.
“She slapped me” she manages to say between the sobs. “On my face” she continues with emphasis. I look at Pattu sitting next to her, her torso bare and jeans open at her waist. Laddu clings to me for fear I will put her down. The smell of something burning has me running back to the kitchen.
“Stand in the corner for two minutes. Say sorry to your sister” I call as I rush.
Ten minutes later the sisters are amicably seated at the kitchen island, plates in front of them. The lunch bags are packed and the griddle is ready for dosai. I sprinkle water to test for hotness and it sizzles. I ladle a couple of helpings of the dosa batter and shape it into a perfect circle.
“Molaga podi” demands Pattu.
“Butter and Cheese” yells Ammu over her.
“Dosi. Dosi” chants Laddu.
I dump Laddu on the high chair and attend to the three of them savoring the fragile peace that seems to exist.
“These jeans are loose” murmurs Pattu.
“No one wears jeans at school”
“I can’t bend during gym if I wear jeans”
My patience which has been wearing thin snaps.
“Take your jeans off and go to school bare bottomed” I shout and make a point by slapping the dosai on her plate. I am tempted to have her change into leggings. The clock indicates I do not have the time.
Daddy is downstairs by this time. “Tomorrow” he reassures her. He wipes her tears and proceeds to get ready for work.
Calm finally reigns in the house. The kids are at the bus stop playing, all worries about the jeans gone. Laddu is happily slurping yogurt of her plate, white specks all over her face. I stand by the front window, drawing deep breaths not realizing how tense the muscles at the back of my neck are. I feel myself going slack, the pressure from the morning leaving my body in waves. The bus rounds the bend in front of the house and I raise my hand knowing nobody sees.
I turn my attention to the kitchen. Dishes need to be washed. The stove needs cleaning. Piles of laundry are on the breakfast table. The desk is littered with books, toys, hair accessories and random sheets of paper. The family room floor boasts discarded clothes, dirty socks and a plethora of puzzle pieces, remnants from paper art and tiny pieces of crayons.
It is relentless.
The house keeping. The parenting. The relationship dance.
I remind myself that if I focused on one task at a time, I can do it. I raise myself from the stairs where I sat and make my way to the sink. Time flies. The chores are done, Laddu is in her crib napping.
The moments worth savoring are at the forefront of my thoughts now. The tight hugs from Ammu and Pattu as they leave. Their tiny bodies pressed against mine. Apologies expressed sans words. The smiles on the tear stained cheeks. The air kisses they blow from the other side of the street. Their footprints on the snow in front of the house.
The baby smells from Laddu. Her complete need for me. The weight of her body as she eases into sleep. The wonder that is a sleeping child.
The quick kiss goodbye. The muttered apologies as Saathi leaves.
I look back on the days before I got married. I had definite ideas about what I wanted in a partner. I was vocal about them. I had given little thought to the mechanics of living. The wearing down of our selves dealing with the same problems day over day, year over year. I wanted to be a mother but had no idea of the physical demands that would be made on me. Each day as I lean back into my chair in the study after the kids are in bed, I realize I loath human touch. I zealously guard my personal space – mental and physical. I have little to give to Saathi.
A chance conversation with a friend this week had me pontificating on life. On career, on vocations.
“If I die today, there is little I regret” I told her. I turn that sentence over in my head and I realize it is true. I have lived my life the way I want to. I have followed my heart and head. I have given my best in relationships. I have handled disappointments with grace (hopefully). I have left enough of a legacy for my children through my words for them to know who their mother was.
Over dinner, Saathi and I talk about the almost fifteen years we have been together.
“Are you happy?” I ask.
We talk about our life as a couple, as parents. We talk about money. We talk about aspirations. We talk about inane everyday things. We talk about vacations I once dreamed of.
Relentless as the grind is, happiness lies in nooks and crevices, popping up unexpectedly to make me pause. In the moments before the window, when the cares evaporate, I realize I live a happy life, a content life and as surprising as it sounds, a life I did dream of.