Never About You

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I am almost done with cooking. I look at the kovakkai stir-fry one last time, taking in the crisp discs before turning the heat off. I pair lunch bags with school bags, remember to stick water bottles into side pockets and check my calendar for specials that day. Pattu has library today. I pull the two unread books from the haphazard pile of things on the desk and shove it into her bag. A wave of disappointment that is visceral washes over me. I zip her bag and sit in the chair nearest me unable to comprehend my reaction.

If there was one thing that defined me as a child, it was that I would read. I would read late into the night. I would read the labels on bottles. I would read the newsprint of potalams that take out from the hotel came in. I would read the dictionary when there was nothing new to read. I read like my life depended on it. I read because my life depended on it.

Somewhere inside me, there was a piece that hoped to see my children reflect it. I imagined days when my children and I would read side by side in companionable silence. I had hopes for discussions fueled by the books we read.

As my children grow and I see them struggle with reading and writing, I realize I should be grateful they are able to stay at grade level. I should be happy that they can manage to finish their homework. I should be grateful that they find joy in picture books and graphic novels.

But I am not. I feel sad. I feel let down.

I watch my children as they play with their newest toy (a messaging robot) on the kitchen island. I tamp down on irritation as they baby talk with the robot affectionately named snuggles/cuddles. I rush through the rituals of our morning, help them brush their hair, pull on their jackets and boots and in the moment before they leave, all of the resentment disappears. I  hold on a little longer, kiss their foreheads emphatically and wave long past they disappear around the corner.

There are a few minutes before Laddu will demand my attention. Saathi is yet to come down. I stand by the picture window at my sink and stare at the distance, hoping perspectives will zoom in straight to my head. In some weird way, it does.

It hits me that parenting has never really been about me. It shouldn’t have to be about me. For all my pointed jabs at my mom reminding her that my life was not hers, I seem to think my children are an extension of me. I want them to be mini-me(s). Strike that, I want them to be everything I was (good) and everything I could not be (aspirations). I want them to read, eschew makeup, have long conversations, be self-aware, ooze confidence and shatter every glass ceiling there is.

The truth though is that they may or may not read. They may or may not want the same things I want for them. Instead of focussing so narrowly on everything they are not, I need to shift my gaze to everything they are. The singing, the crooning, the rich imaginative world they inhabit. The obsession with all things drawn, their disregard for nuances in conversation, the lack of filters, the awareness of beauty around them, their tenacious hold on all things childlike. Their ability to tune the world out, the joy they find in the simplest of toys. It is in everything they are but I have not seen. It is in taking pride in what they are. It is in acceptance and celebration of who and what they are.

It is in knowing that this parenting thing is never really about us. It is about them,

9 comments

  1. Enjoyed reading this as always, but what stayed with me most was the way you described your reading habit when you were a child. 😮 That was/is me. I read (and remember) invitations I receive, labels, words on packaging paper, part of the thrill of going to museums is reading all the display boards!!

  2. I read like how you did. A reads too. Though here I am wishing he played sports. I remember being yelled at for not getting home when the street lights went on. Staying back on the grounds playing anything from hopscotch to cricket. Yup! It is about him. He is a lot like me yet not 😊 but I sure am glad he is who he is.

  3. Laksh, it is wonderful to see how you felt let down and moved to accepting and celebrating them for who they are. You have won by making that transition. 💖

  4. Laksh,
    My dotter is so me, I don’t want her to be me ;–( when I see her nervous and shy I wish she were carefree and confident like DH.
    Anyway, keep reading to them every night, show the beautiful imaginary world of books, libraries etc, which I am sure you do , they will eventually fall in love.

    Remember reading a poem about how our children may come through us but don’t belong to us, their lives are to be lived on their terms.
    As usual enjoyed your writing.

    • SK, I believe one either has the aptitude and enthusiasm for something or not. These things can be learned but it is not the same as intrinsically wanting it. Hopefully they’ll have something to call their passion and I can be supportive.

  5. Really beautifully written. There’s something there for everyone, who have children and who don’t. I find myself imposing what I love on my partner, my friends, my students. Instead, I need to make sure I keep focused on what *they* excel at instead.

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