Being a parent invariably makes me nostalgic about my own childhood in the most surreal way. I look at my older child, careless and carefree, frolicking through life without so much of a frown or a grimace on his cherubic face (if you take away the expressions he makes when he has tantrums or just decides to turn the ‘I am the boss’ dial a bit too much over me) – perhaps making commentary on the way I love and nurture him and which I take as assurance that I sometimes get it right. It is in these moments that I realize how good I had it as a child, except I was too ignorant to realize and appreciate the abundance of love and care I was showered on by my own parents and caregivers. To be fair, I was a child. Therefore, I forgive myself.
Perhaps it is a kind of dharmic payback (or karma) but often as a direct consequence of the above, being a parent also makes me appreciate my parents and caregivers and see them in a whole new light. This is especially the case when I am struggling with something. For example, TJ will sometimes keep a mouthful of food in his mouth for what seems like eternity. Unless he swallows that mouthful, I cannot feed him more. So there we sit, in a deadlock and he isn’t even doing this on purpose!! He just sits there, happily, food in mouth, hanging out in his high chair, as if all is perfectly well with the world. IT. IS. NOT. It is not!!!
This is when I remember the many stories my grandmother would tell us, her humorous vent about how stubborn I was when it came to eating. Tickled, she would recall how (not unlike my son), I would just sit there on her lap, food in mouth, neither swallowing nor spitting it out, thus making a 10 minute meal, at least 30. It is so many years after the fact – an amusing childhood anecdote for me to mull over and think back to now, trying to remember the house, her lap, her possible expressions at the time…none of which I can actually remember of course. I was a young toddler or younger, but still, given how descriptively she would narrate her experiences of feeding me, for those few moments of her storytelling, I am actually transported to her lap to savor that reality, just one more time, for just one more bite.
Alas! Those stories will never be told again. My beloved Mamama, my grandmother, who taught me how to hold a pencil, how to write with a chalk on slate, and use crayons to draw the Indian flag that actually won me the first prize in a competition at 4 years, among many, many other things I could NEVER imagine successfully archiving on paper, passed away earlier this year.
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I was a tolerable teenager but I was a worse adult. My late teens and very early 20s made me extremely rebellious with or without causes and usually my worse self was saved for my dearest mother whom I really love a lot. Don’t get me wrong, we also had really, really great times and continue to share a strong and loving relationship. Somehow when I get reflective, the times when I have been the most bitter, nasty, and outrageous is what take up the most space in my diabolical brain’s memoryscape.
These days, as I raise my two kids (my mom had THREE), I often think about just how differently my mother’s upbringing was compared to mine and my kids’.
The story of my mother’s childhood traversed delicately amidst the vicissitudes of life as a little girl raised by a single mother (my Mamama), a little girl who never got to meet her father, a little girl who lived at the mercy of some unloving and downright cruel relatives and a mother who saddened by her own grief at the death of an husband but strengthened by the birth of a daughter left no stone unturned to strictly discipline her daughter lest society call her names as a fatherless child gone wild, the story of my mother’s childhood is stranger than fiction. You cannot make her story up. It has to be lived. One day, with her permission and when she is ready, my sisters and I will narrate it. Or, she will narrate it herself. After all, she IS the original (and famous) published writer in the family.
Today, as I see my kids, but more importantly, as I see my kids as she, my mother, sees them, I am filled with more respect, admiration, and love for her than I ever thought was possible.