Laddu is on her chair, the booster seat enabling to see the food in front of her. Saathi and I are across from each other, eating and sharing notes on the day. Her hands reach out for morsels, her eyes are bright and she is a full participant at dinner. I watch her haggle and win a bigger piece than Saathi intended for her to have and smile. My mind goes back to when Ammu and Pattu were her age. They were mostly asleep by the time we had dinner. All I remember is the exhaustion. The tiredness that comes from trying too hard to keep everything together.
I remember the array of bottled foods I fed them, guilty with my ineptitude to make vegetables tame enough for them to eat. I remember the evenings filled with things on my mental checklist. Reach home, unload/load dishwasher, prep for dinner, set the pressure cooker on, rush through bath time for the children, feed them, put them to bed and sit at the table barely able to keep my eyes open.
The moments of joy I experience with Laddu were reserved for the weekends with Ammu and Pattu. We had our share of cuddles and being enamored by their baby talk but it seemed like we were never the first to experience milestones. When we did have one on one time with the children, it was always like I had to balance between both of them, taking turns and making sure both of them got what they needed. What Laddu now gets, Ammu and Pattu have had to share. They probably still do.
This evening, I sat on the sofa, all three kids standing in a line for their hugs and kiss from Amma. Echoes of “my turn, my turn” resounded within the house. We eventually all collapsed in a heap, a tangle of arms and legs. As I was crushed beneath their combined weight, I remember wishing for them to never outgrow this unreserved sharing of love.
At a birthday party this week, I stood at a safe distance watching my children enjoy a storytelling session. As my eyes roved over the neat array of children engrossed in the tale, I noticed a nanny amongst the children. She held on to her ward’s hand, laughing and encouraging him to participate. I felt a pang for her, the child and the mom who sat nearby. Someday in the future, these pictures will tell a story their own. Of regrets perhaps or gratitude.
Over the past few months, the idea of getting back to work tugs at me. It is a vague idea, formless, like wisps of steam that escape from a hot cup of tea. I grasp at it, my hands empty. I mull over my choices, only realizing there is nothing that calls out to me. I figure it will eventually be more than air I am clutching at, someday in the future, perhaps, it will be playdoh waiting for me to mould it the way I want it shaped. I will wait I tell myself.
In the woods behind my cousin’s house, I watch children run and play, a blue and white tent swaying gently in the breeze. Saathi is laughing and running behind Laddu as she kicks a ball. The phone in my hands suddenly feel heavy and I walk inside. I tuck it into my purse and walk out promising myself that today I will be present and capture images in my head. It occurs to me that Saathi’s phone probably has birthday wishes he will not see until the end of the day. I am envious of his ability to be in the moment, participating wholly, without care about shaping the children’s memories.
Perhaps, this is how this decade will be. If my twenties and thirties were about the future, forties seem to be about the here and now. If the years leading to now have been rife with worry, insecurity and overwhelming ambition, now and beyond seem to be about making the most of the view at the zenith, knowing the ride down will be one for reflection and nostalgia.
I know then, why I waffle so much about giving so much of my life to the corporate world. This is my time with my children. The outside world can wait. Life seems truly too short to be doing things that do not bring joy. If in the here and now, joy lies within the four walls of my home, that is where I will be, on the floor, my children bouncing on me.