I hear the bus before I see it. My pace picks up speed. I meet neighbors on the way to the bus stop but my mind is on my five-year-old Laddu. The bus passes me and Pattu waves from inside. I am wondering if I should jog the last few meters to the bus stop but I walk instead. I see feet stepping down and Laddu is the first one to appear. In my mind I am running, arms outstretched, folding her inside me. In reality, she rushes past me before I get what is happening. I hug Ammu and Pattu instead and walk back home with their bags. Laddu walks fast, her bag bobbing up and down like she has done this a million times. She gulps her milk down, scarfs a huge croissant and runs off to play. Her sisters follow suit.
I struggle all evening to name this feeling. Disappointment? Let down? Anticlimax?
Past dinner, in my study I replay the evening again in my head. I think the feeling is called motherhood. The constant imagining of outcomes, the outsized expectation of being needed, the fighting for relevance each day, the sometimes incongruous need for days to follow a playbook.
In my child’s head, today possibly felt like independence. It was the first day of the rest of her life. A life that may sometimes include me at her bidding. In the morning, she boarded the bus, her hands linked to that of her sister Ammu. She sat next to her, Pattu sitting in the seat behind her. All through the day, she was chaperoned, watched and delivered safely to her bus in the evening. Leaping off the bus, she felt invincible, unaware of the humungous burden I had hovering over her head.
As I sat and mulled things over, Laddu climbed behind me on my chair, her stubby arms around my neck.
“I had a good day Amma. I wanted to call you when I was in the enrichment room, but they had no phone…” I prompt her and she continues “…I was feeling lonely and scared”. I stay still, soaking, absorbing her need for me in my absence. I nod, hug and stay wordless for fear of losing the moment. She clambers onto my lap. We sit quietly for just a minute before she runs off to her dad.
Tomorrow will be another day. Another day of her exerting her pint-sized independence. Another day when I will let go just a little bit more, hoping, always hoping, she will turn back for me.
This neediness scares me. It chastens me. It reminds me of my obsolescence outside my home.