“I don’t have a family.”
Ammu looks glum as she sits beside her appa, her knees drawn to her chest. I am feeding Laddu across the room. My ears perk up but I do not turn, waiting instead to hear what propelled that comment. I hear Saathi’s voice, a hint of amusement in it. “What is family Ammu?”
There is a definite pause when everything in the room is amplified. The clock ticks louder, the sound on the rhymes video that Laddu is watching is higher and even my breathing seems harsher.
“Family is being with people who love you,” Pattu says and continues “family is people who love you.”
“I love you Ammu,” I chime in pre-empting a “Nobody loves me” from her.
I turn around, my eyes only on her. She seems pleased with my declaration. “I love you too Amma,” she says and looks pointedly at her dad. Guilted into adding to her declaration, she goes around saying I love you to everyone around.
I finish feeding Laddu and urge the girls to set the table. It has been a couple of weeks now since we have started having all meals as a family at the dining table. The girls help set the table and I serve portions of rice, rasam and beans curry on each of their plates before serving Saathi and I. I mix the rice for them and prepare to dig into my plate when Ammu disappears. I am annoyed. We wait and she returns carrying the big container of ghee.
I smile despite myself and add generous servings to both their plates. They mimic us as we eat, mixing vegetables with the rice and scooping the watery rasam and rice with their slender fingers. We cheer as they clean up their plates and demand heaped servings of yogurt. Thick for Pattu and a mix of thick and thin for Ammu. Laddu sits with us dipping her stubby fingers in her cup of yogurt and making slurping noises. There is little conversation beyond asking for food.
There is laughter and the makings of new traditions. A couple of days after Deepavali was over, Pattu devoured the last piece of badam cake. The next day Ammu wanted to know when I will be making it next. Each of these seem like markers to me. They are ways in which the kids will remember their childhood. The weekends spent eating each meal together. The lazy afternoons with Amma and Appa doing their own thing while the kids lie on the floor or the sofa playing. The evenings spent watching movies as Amma and Appa labor over creamy paneer and hand-rolled rotis.
I tuck each child in bed after I stand guard as they brush and rinse their mouth with mouthwash. My last action each night is to remove stray strands of hair from their face and press my lips to their forehead. I did not even realize that they look forward to it until I don’t do it one day. Each morning as the children leave for school, I give them a few minutes and then open the front door to watch them walk to the bus stop. In the past week Ammu has taken to standing by our mailbox until she sees me at the stoop.
The rituals will change over time morphing into different things but the fact that there are things we do repeatedly as a family unit fascinates me. It is almost like watching memories made and knowing that they will be sepia tinted someday.