I step past Laddu lying on the wooden floor in front of the fridge, in the throes of a magnificent meltdown. Her body heaves and lets out huge sobs, almost too big for her. Her eyes are red, her snot and slob all mixed into a runny mess on her face. I am tempted to give in, to scoop her up, wash her face and cater to her impossible demands. I move away resolute that today she will learn that Amma will not cave.
The next half hour is filled with alternate screams and whimpers. The next time I see Laddu, she is sitting behind the door of her room, her energy spent but willpower just as strong. I ignore her and pick out clothes for school.
She follows me back to the twins bedroom. I hold out my hands and she steps in, defeated, conquered. We brush, clean up, change clothes with nary a protest. Ammu and Pattu look relieved.
In a rare moment when Saathi and I get to exchange thoughts, he expresses wonder at how we got so lucky with Ammu and Pattu. It hits me that their lack of dramatics had less to do with demeanor and more to do with a lack of trust and security. I try to explain but fall short.
It takes me back to all those niggling fears I had over the years. The sadness I could not pin down when they walked into daycare on the first day without looking back. The utter compliance when I forced them to eat because to me food means to care. When family remarked on how well behaved the children were, I smiled uncomfortably not quite sure where the discomfort came from.
These days each time I see Laddu push away an ounce of milk or a half-eaten fruit, I give up. I dread the inevitable drama and fuss. I also remember how little Ammu and Pattu resisted anything. They were eager, they were compliant, they were drama free. They were also insecure, unsure of their standing in this new home with new people.
I hear the sounds of a door slamming. Ammu asks to pick out her clothes and draws a long face when I tell her I already picked them out. She walks away in a huff. In the past year and a half, Ammu and Pattu have patented a form of pushing boundaries. They sulk, they slam doors, they lock themselves away and on occasion talk back. They mutter under their breath, give me the side eye and band into one against me.
It hits me today that we have come far. That they rebel should make me proud. That they push boundaries means they are secure. That they talk back means they dare me to push them away. Infractions that make me angry mean that they are being my daughters. They are claiming their space in this house for themselves.
Now all I have to do is to repeat this to myself all day, everyday.