“Ooookay,” she says in a sing song voice and toddles upstairs to help her dad find his belt. Relieved for a moment’s respite from her at the stove, I turn my attention to fixing lunch and getting the twins ready for school. They leave and their daddy right after them. Laddu and I stand by the kitchen door and watch the garage doors close behind them. The relief is palpable after the pressure filled morning.
We eat breakfast, load the dishes, play with steel cups on the kitchen floor, munch on raisins, watch rhymes on the iPad and luxuriate under nice, warm showers. I bring her clothes down to wash and she insists on helping me, dipping so deep into the laundry basket that I fear she will fall in headfirst. I look at her as if I am looking at her with new eyes. Her body is leaner, taller, almost like that of a little girl. The baby body I knew so well is disappearing before my very eyes. I feel a pang. For the baby. For the mother I was.
Her hair is tied at the top, a fountain of curls springing forth like a hibiscus flower. I brush the remaining hair and she pulls away from me. I am distracted for a second and the hair brush is in her chubby hand. She is trying to brush her hair. I watch amused.
“Adi!” she says, lifting her hand to spank me. I mock defend and let the punch land. We giggle and do it all over again. I look at the mass of curls that frame her face, an impish grin that animates features, the snub nose, the dark eyes. I am in love.
She turns two this week. I remember the tiny being they handed over when I was under a meds induced haze. I remember waiting for the surge of maternal love and feeling deflated when it didn’t come. I remember struggling to nourish her from my body. I look back on the early days and it is a blank space, dotted with a vague memories of pain and frustration. I remember the first smile though. She lay in her crib, eyes locked with mine and smiled. I remember the burst of love that surged forth binding her to me. That, I remember well. The first sounds, the first solids, the first steps, the first hair cut. The year of firsts is burnt into my head. The second year zoomed past on steroids, the milestones merging and blazing into one whole.
I look at this girl, all of two feet, negotiating with and manipulating me. I do not remember when I first noted how intelligent she was. I don’t remember the first thing that had me struck in awe. I don’t remember when she stared calling both her sisters by their names. I don’t remember the day she preferred spice over sweet. There is a lot I do not remember. What I remember is the sense of pride I feel when I see her, the joy in seeing her hold her own, the fear that she is growing too fast.
The days and weeks and months have flown and I look at this girl, looking at me with anticipation and feel blessed. Blessed to be given the opportunity to mother her. To marvel in the miracle that is of my body. Sometimes, I see her glance up from her play and see my mother looking at me. I look at the mischief in her eyes and my dad is born again. Her tenacity is reminiscent of my sister and her playfulness all my brother. Most of all, when she lies asleep, at peace with the world, I see Saathi looking back at me.
Happy Birthday Laddu, may you sprinkle sweetness into all the lives you touch.