I sit at the dark wood table, a good 20 feet from the kitchen watching my children crowd around their Appa as he scoops avocado and slices it into bite sized pieces. I offer to mash it up into guacamole and the four of them shake their heads as they eat the ripe avocado right off the cutting board. I watch as Laddu is perilously close to falling off the island. I bite back fear and my scream. I watch Pattu as she painstakingly pieces together sounds to form the word ‘devastated’ from a book she is reading. I watch Ammu root through the pantry for candy canes and cinnamon for her elf.
Mostly I watch, this Saturday morning, a good two weeks after parenting solo. The past weeks have featured yelling, panic attacks, a whole lot of crying and wandering the aisles of Target looking for perfect little gifts for my little girls. Not too Pink, not too educational, not too bulky, nothing with a million small pieces, nothing expensive either.
The stockings hang heavy from the mantel. A glass bottle filled with glitter and oatmeal labelled reindeer food sits with the snacks in the cupboard. Wrapped packages line the bottom of the tree. Lights twinkle on the tree in the dreary morning light between icy rain and bone chilling cold. It is the holiday season. It is birthday time. The cheer is yet to set in. All I feel sometimes is exhaustion that is not just physical.
The responsibility of middle age weighs me down as I morbidly consider the lives of the people who surround me. Friends who pass too soon. Family living across the globe. The dystopia that is my current home. Children who are growing up way too fast.
Sometime over the past month, my children and I decided to watch Nutcracker recitals on youtube. Not having grown up here, I had no clue what it was about. On a whim, I bought the Christmas classic at the dollar store. I urged the children to read the book while they pushed me to read it for them. We reached a compromise where they looked at pictures and pieced together the tale and I read to them one rare evening.
Long past tucking the kids in bed, I lay awake wondering if I had veered off the path when it came to parenting. Should I have read to the kids each night? Should I have enrolled them in classes from the time they turned three? Should I have never yelled ever? Should I have praised them more? Did I do something amiss by not embracing the consumerist culture of American Girl Dolls and Disney vacations as they turned five? Did I forever ruin their childhood by not arranging for play dates and sleepovers? Should I have signed them up for Daisy Scouts? Why I am not running around driving my children to and from activities?
A part of me understands that the questions are rhetorical while a part of me is looking for something to pin my failures as a parent on. I look back on my childhood for inspiration. I took to reading not because I was read to each night. I never played sports despite having a sportsman for a dad. I remember feeling my parents frustration as they grappled with adult problems as they figured out how to raise three children. I remember the yelling, the anger, the disappointment, the sorrow, the drama. I remember knowing my parents were human. I remember disappointing them and learning from the experience. I remember emulating my aunt as I made the decision to work right after college. I remember the sense of adventure as I packed my bags to leave home after high school to pursue college. I remember turning to friends as secret keepers and guardians of my childhood insecurities. Most of all I remember the absence of rigor in parenting. I remember the absence of a directed narrative that forced my life into predetermined arcs.
The sounds of Ammu singing from the basement filters through the closed doors of the study. I still hear Pattu as she reads aloud from the book she has been carrying around since morning. I hear Laddu have a conversation with her Appa that borders on hysterical. I realize there is no right way to this parenting gig. There is only my way, our way. Mostly it has to do with sticking to the adage of do no harm. It has to do with letting my children fail and learn from their failures. It has to do as much with encouraging them as with understanding their limitations. It has everything to do with them taking the lead and forging a path with us mostly as anchors and guide posts. It has to do with listening and knowing when to stifle that voice that is critical. It is about offering a safe space to come home to no matter how old they are.
It really is in the sorrys, the i-love-yous and thank-yous. It truly is DIY.