I watch as Ammu steps out of the garage into the sun. I watch as she mulls walking through the puddle of rainwater in the middle of the driveway. I will her to turn, to acknowledge that I am there, standing, watching, hoping. She walks, eyes resolutely ahead. I swallow the lump at my throat and close the garage door. I flip the dosa on the stove and walk to the front window. I don’t see her yet. The bright blue of Pattu’s shirt is a speck in the distance. Ammu’s neon pink is nowhere to be seen. Even as I bite my lip contemplating my next step, I see her in my field of vision. She is still in our driveway. I look at the clock and hurry to the stove.
I spend the next five minutes anxiously watching as she ponders each step towards the bus stop. My mental clock tells me she has less than two minutes before the bus will be heard lumbering into our neighborhood.
The morning was predictable. Happy smiles as they came down, some grumpiness as I urged them to pack their bags, use the bathroom and change into school clothes and a full blown power struggle as I insisted on something Ammu did not want to do. We faced off, me with righteous indignation and she, sullen. I marched back to the kitchen refusing to engage her. The anger simmered and eventually put itself out. She came to me a while later reminding me that she was the star of the week at school.
“Is your behavior star material?” the words slipped out before I could bite them back. I could have been silent, extended my arms for a hug and the morning could have been salvaged. Her face fell and she walked away, shoulders slumped. I knew I was not wrong, yet in the grand scheme it mattered. She ignored me, refused hugs and walked away.
I was back at the door, watching her stand by the neighbor’s mailbox. I called out to her knowing she would miss the bus.
“I love you Ammu. Come here for a hug baby.”
My arms were outstretched and perhaps my voice pleading. There was an apology in there somewhere. She looked up and ran to me. We hugged. A good warm, tight hug. She ran as the bus crossed our home. I went back to the stove.
Laddu lay on the bed, the strain of the weekend’s illness taking a toll. She was dressed and ready for school, her stomach bug gone. Her appetite was back and by all accounts it should have been easy. I scooped her up, walked downstairs wondering if she felt warm to touch. Strapping her in, I had the vague feeling I was going to cry. We drove in relative silence, the radio for company. Handing her to her teacher, my heart broke. She did not cry piteously the way she did Friday. She did not even cling to me. She was resigned, her body language signaling defeat. I kissed her forehead and walked out.
Most days are like today, studded with power struggles, mammoth servings of guilt and endless chores. I look back on the years I yearned for all of this. I know given a choice I would have picked this life over a zillion alternate ones. I remember in the years before the children came, looking at moms around me and realizing they spoke in code. I could live alongside them for years and never be privy to the experience. Now, firmly having lived the mom-life, I know I was right.
At lunch with a mom friend a week ago, I was hyper aware of how much of our conversation revolved around parenting. We were two highly intelligent women meeting under relaxed circumstances. We spoke of work, careers, our calling and a whole bunch of things but the one thing that really touched a chord was talking about parenting. About the guilt that comes from doing too little, from doing too much or doing nothing at all. Driving back home, I realized that parenting is a no-win game. It alters you for life. The years of active parenting changes the course of your life in ways that cannot be expressed in words. It changes your brain chemistry, wiring you to be aware of minuscule changes in others’ lives. It saddles you with responsibility that sits, square on your neck long past the children have moved away.
It haunts you, making you analyze words you utter to a seven year old and erodes your confidence until a hug restores you. Until the next time.