I am at the stove deep frying thenkuzhal, a golden extrusion of rice and lentil flours fried and drained on paper towels before being inhaled. Amma stands next to me painstakingly filling the extruder for me to use for the next round. She then walks over to cut cabbage for the evening dinner. She is up before anyone else, making coffee, prepping for lunch. I work alongside her, cooking while she cuts, cleaning when she cooks.
Most afternoons, she naps downstairs in her room while I retire to my room for a brief while. I browse the phone, sometimes, I lie awake staring at the ceiling pondering deep things like filial expectations.
I am at a difficult age, responsible for my children and responsible for my Amma. I wonder what the next few years will be like. Will Amma continue to shuttle between the two countries she calls home? Will she allow herself to relocate lock, stock, and barrel because it will be easier on all of us?
I mull over the fact that I am considering rejoining the workforce after a five-year hiatus. My decision partly hinges on the fact that Laddu will be gone all day from August along with her sisters. My time will be mine for the most part of the day. It also partially hinges on the fact that I don’t have to look too far for help. Amma will be around in the morning to help me get the food ready while I tend to the children. She will be there in the evening as my children arrive from school, feeding them snacks and milk and urging them to go shower. She will tend to the kitchen and to me, absolving me of guilt.
We discuss her travel plans for the year and she mentions wanting to stay a while with my sister. I am petulant, unwilling to let go, placing my needs ahead of hers.
I turn over the thenkuzhal which is now a delicate shade of golden and clarity dawns. I am taken back to the time we adopted our children. I took time off from work. I made lofty claims of not needing help because the children are my responsibility. If I brought children home, it falls on me and Saathi to take of them I told her and to anyone who would listen. I stood on a pedestal judging people of sending toddlers to India to live with grandparents while parents pursued careers. I judged people who ferried grandparents on either side alternately so their children wouldn’t need to be in daycare while still under two years old.
It hit me that my expectations of Amma were not too far off what I accused others of. She has a life. She does more than her fair share of work around the home when she is with me. Why then did I feel like she owed it to me to be there while I pursued work outside the home?
We talk so much about filial duty. We talk about it in a way we talk about burdensome things. The filial expectation though? Not much thought goes into what we expect and the weight it adds to already aging parents.
The thenkuzhal is now stacked in two humongous piles. I tell Amma she should visit my sister and come back when she is ready. She looks diminutive in front of me. I feel overpowering affection for this woman who still mothers me as I mother my children.