Leaning In

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The sambar bubbles merrily on the back stove. The vegetables in the sambar are just done, not mushy, not too hard. The color is a golden yellow. The smell of ghee elevates the whole experience. The only thing missing is coriander. The okra is crisping evenly, specks of brown amid the green. I smile to myself knowing everything is going to plan.

It hits me suddenly that I am my mother. Every inch of me. My Amma leaned in. She gave all of herself to being a mother, a homemaker, a nurturer. As long as I lived with her, the bed was always made, the clothes folded and arranged in stacks in my closet. Food was always ready as I left for school and later work. There was never a question of who would do it. She functioned like an automaton picking up everybody’s slack and complaining loudly every once in a while.

After children flew the nest and my Appa passed on, she is now doing pretty much the same. I see my future starkly. Is this what I want? The question pops unbidden in my head. I turn the stove off, close all open pans, switch the light off and retreat to my safe space, my study.

This weekend, at a birthday party, I stood next to a lady. We made small talk and eventually the question of what we did for a living came up. She was a professor at a well-known university.

“I do nothing,” I said.

She was quick to correct me, to emphasize that raising three children was a full-time job in itself. I smiled and let it be. A year ago, I would explain that I once was a programmer, writing code that computed interest on the money that sat in checking and savings accounts. I came up with the background code that generated bank statements and ensured that federal regulations were met by the bank. Yesterday though, it all felt too much in the past to matter.

I often wonder about what ifs, about years in the future when my primary caregiving responsibilities have eased, what would my day look like. If I were pressed to earn my keep, what would I do? I find it hard to imagine myself doing anything at all. All this reading, writing, cooking, nurturing are not things that translate into skills I can list on a resume. I figure I’d find something to cover my insurance needs and work from there.

In the almost five years I have been home, I realize I have been leaning in a little more each year. In the first couple of years, I coasted along, doing the bare minimum needed to keep the house functioning. This year, I find joy in things that were chores before. I find ways to do things better, quicker, funner. If I am going to call myself a homemaker, why not make the best home I can?

5 comments

  1. I am reading a book that I hope to write about soon. In one of the essays, the author, Mary Oliver writes about 3 selves (our child self; our social self – the do-er, the task manager, the appointment keeper, the background process roles that we do, oh so well; and the third self, which is the artistic self. The hardest and most demanding one) Maybe you will find yourself leaning in more to the artistic self, just as you so beautifully leaned in to the social-self. In fact, your artistic self is already so lovely, that I for one, am grateful for it 🙂

  2. I think raising kids is a hard job and a full time job. And a very important job at that. Be proud to say you are a homemaker, nothing inferior about that! And so many skills that parenting hones are useful outside the house too. Influencing kids and bringing them to see your way or your point is not easy and an essential skill. Ultimately it comes to what we are comfortable with. Love the way you write you should get that book out for us to read!

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