“Thlow” commands Laddu as she squints against the evening sun in our backyard. I comply and throw the multihued inflatable ball high in the air. I watch it gather speed and roll down the gentle incline. Laddu follows the ball, pushing it farther with her attempts to capture it. I follow her and eventually we make our way back to the patio. I spy the mailman turn down our street and make my way to the double gate that leads to the driveway. Laddu protests and eventually follows. We walk hand in hand, our long shadows preceding us. Even as I near the mailbox, I hear Ammu call out to me from the front stoop. She is standing at the door next to Amma a box in her hand and smile that spreads from ear to ear.
I feel my heart beat quicken and I scoop Laddu up as we enter the house. A few minutes later, I am cutting open the box surrounded by the three girls and Amma. I hand out the meticulously packed gifts and stand back to watch the joy in their faces. Pattu’s fingers work feverishly tearing out the glitter dotted tissue. Ammu works away diligently on the cellophane tape, unwrapping with a gentleness that is not surprising. Laddu is keen to get her hands on the mystery object and I help her.
A minute later we are oohing and aahing over dresses and bracelets. Personalized cards line the island and I stand with each child reading the birthday message and letting it sink in. Another couple of minutes later, the twins are on the sofa watching Mermaid diaries and Laddu is clutching a board book exhorting me to read to her.
The evening moves sluggishly. Dinner and bedtime feels like deja vu and I am glad when I can shoo the kids into their bedrooms. I hang up their new clothes and my eyes fall on a dreamcatcher that hangs above Ammu’s bed. I open her closet to put away her latest haul of shopkins and I spy a white and purple legging set by the corner.
I whisper good night and close the door behind me.
In the darkness, Laddu on my shoulder, my phone put away for the next half hour, I am surprised to feel the sting of tears. I wipe my eyes on my sleeve and let the feeling wash over me. Laying the sleeping child in her crib I make my way to my bedroom and pull out the grey leather briefcase that houses all of Ammu and Pattu’s keepsakes from their birth family. I stick the cards that came today in there and zip it up, resisting the temptation to rifle through and look at everything I have collected over the years. I put it away and sit for a few minutes in the darkness.
In the past few years, the arrival of gifts every few months is a ritual the kids and I look forward to. The tiny barrettes, the personalized cards, the bracelets, the dolls, the dresses. Each time, they are different and they come reeking of the love with which they were selected and packed. Long past the occasion, they lie amidst the pile of things in my vanity, between the clips I picked out for them at Claires and the semi annual Children’s Place haul. They are strewn amidst the plush toys and the kitchen set in the basement. They lie carefully packed away in a suitcase and it plain sight in the hallway.
This past week as I purged the kids’ clothes, I put away with them the purple and white legging set that was a gift from their great grand parents for Laddu to use when she is older. Ammu clung on to them refusing to let go. I tried telling her that they were only moving to the spare chest of drawers. I was not giving them away. She was inconsolable. Between her and my Amma, I put them back in her closet remembering to fold the white leggings with purple sequins with them. The tears stilled and her breathing relaxed. We hugged and sat rocking on her bed for a while. Words seemed unnecessary.
I feel a rush of affection for the family across the country who are a part of my twins. I love that the little things they send are everyday reminders of the love they bear for them. I am grateful for the way in which our lives meld and fuse together. I am grateful that my children will find pieces of their birth family all around them. In their hair, in the clothes they wear, in the toys they play with. In their physical absence, these mementoes remind our children of the love that spans time and distance.
I walk downstairs and make a beeline for my puja cabinet. I bow my head and offer thanks and a prayer for all of us.