All the room

At the deepest level, my bereavement for my mother feels like a broken link to this world to where I can’t seem to make sense of my place in it anymore. It never used to be like this. I was very sure of my place in the world and how I thought that I fit in. I feel like I’ve lost my bearings. That I need to re-assess what my role is or how to live the rest of my life. The last time I felt like this was when I was 23 and a brand new graduate student in the US. It felt unnerving not knowing how to navigate life without my parents’ guidance and learning things the harder way. It feels like that yet again but now my mother is dead and my father probably is in the same obfuscating fog as myself.

Undoubtedly, being witness to her slow yet sudden passing has brought front and center the triviality of anything pursuable or obtained. Even motherhood feels like a role to be fulfilled until it’s my turn to turn into oblivion. But is it oblivion?

People say you can talk to her, you feel her. And sometimes in a few snatches, when I’m not selfishly self-absorbed in the suckiness of my life situation, when it feels just a little less foggy maybe I do. I don’t know I can’t put a finger to it.

When someone dies, you slowly forget their physical presence. In any case, I’d rather not remember my mother in the physical state of her last few days. But while I examine my inner connection to her, her essence seems to envelope me in an effervescence I can never quite define or hold on to. It’s only fleeting. Sometimes I feel it while watching a tree. Sometimes it’s while driving that I’ll recall her image, standing tall, waiting for me somewhere (she waited on me everywhere – school, coaching classes, parties always standing tall). Or I’ll remember her slouching on the couch, with her glasses perched atop her nose, delving into one of her spiritual books. She had a yearning for the divine and yet she was firmly rooted in the material joys. Even those joys were always connected to her enjoyment of the people that she loved around her. Simone de Beauvoir neatly describes this dichotomy that she had with her mother, a devout catholic who was also vainly conscious of how she looked or her fortune to be in a private hospital in her memoir devoted to her mother’s slow death by cancer in Paris some 73 years ago. How her mother struggled with the weakness of the flesh that was induced in her by her disease and yet after her passing what remained shining was how she grew vaster than everything else in Simone’s life.

The memoir translated from French is eerily reminiscent of my experience.

“When someone you love dies, you pay for the sin of outliving her with a thousand piercing regrets. Her death brings to light her unique quality; she grows as vast as the world that her absence annihilates for her and whose whole existence (I read this as the world) by her being there; you feel as if she should have had more room in your life, all the room if need be.” – Simone de Beauvoir, A Very Easy Death.

Well, I feel now that Ma has all the room she ever needed in my life. All the room I could ever afford her as much as I feel she expands in this cosmos around me. Does that mean I feel less grief in losing her physical sense? No. I’m still at the stage where i want her back. But I do feel grateful that it’s helped me pivot to something deeper inside, something no one else would ever understand or need to know, except for her. Something irreducible to words – just an essence and an experience. While it’s not a recommendable experience to join this club, no – it is painful to emerge through the death of your mother and to date I don’t see the other side of this pain and fog – it is an experience that i wouldn’t trade in just like i wouldn’t trade in the trials of motherhood. It is essential and mandatory and each person will go through it differently.

There are some days that the fog lifts and I feel her and other days just her absence makes everything unbearable. In between the spectrum of these two states I want to give her all the room to remold me and show me how to live out the rest of this exhausting life.

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Air

Someone told me a few lines of a poem today and it goes something like this… “I want to be the air that you breathe, still and unnoticed, essential”.

I never truly saw my mother until she was gone. And like the air that I breathe, she was like an envelope surrounding me. I walked, ate, persevered with that breath and somehow didn’t even realize the essence of it.

I often wonder about why I grieve so hard. I’ve been asked that as well – “why are you so affected?” Or “you’ve taken this really hard”. Or worse, “this happens, parents die, you need to move on”. I don’t know if I’ve taken it harder than expected because to me it felt like someone punched my guts out. The reaction is not staged or pretense it’s visceral and it comes from inside me. And it has changed everything. Everything seems broken, cleaved or cracked. I myself feel distended within, misaligned, off-kilter. It’s difficult sometimes to parse through reasonable information to make reasonable decisions. It’s like I’ve got these glasses on that I can’t take off and the world is just a completely different hue.

But wonder why I’m so aggrieved. And the only answer I can think of is that she was the essence to my existence. The platform over which I built my life. Yet when i go back to my old writings, I find very little I had to say about her. I was very vocal about the impact of my dad on my life. But my mother receded in the background. And so there she was like the air that I breathed…invisible and essential. The world just feels like a little less oxygen today. Everything else is a passing fragrance.

I was on a flight this week when an elderly woman – she couldn’t have been too much younger than my mother – stood by my seat and buckled to her knees. I first assumed she was drunk but realized quickly she just wasn’t well. Drunk or not, she needed help. With the help of others we heaved her onto my seat and she let out this deathly gasp, her eyes reeling backwards. For a brief few seconds there I thought she was going to die. I was horror stricken and the trauma of watching my mother gasp for breath in her last few conscious hours came flooding back. I recoiled thinking about the moment when she was fighting off an oxygen mask while I was being rushed by the medics to authorize intubation. Watching this woman gasp was a numbing trigger. Eventually she recovered and went back to her seat but I hope she saw a doctor.

On that flight I ruminated a lot about dying and really tried hard to imagine how it would be to die without hurting anyone. I conceded that was impossible. Even though my mother died into her older years, she left behind a wake of sorrow for her husband and her family. There’s just no escaping this sense of loss. As much as I could wish, no matter how i try I can’t protect my own child from this sorrow.

And yet in her death, I’ve given her more love, more outpouring of feeling than I ever did when she was alive. I’ve thought about her every minute of everyday since the day she died. I’ve willed against life and hated this reality where she’s no longer there. Where she can’t talk back to me as much as I beg her to come back and be my mother again. To be standing there waiting, outside a building where I toiled – always waiting for me patiently. Always there. Like the air that I breathe.

House

There is an old house in my mind. A flat in a busy dusty city. In the upper middle class neighborhoods. In a bustling colony. Where I spent hours in the company of my mother, the proverbial stay at home mom. Far from a helicopter parent of today, she was mostly focused on keeping house, me out of trouble and putting dinner on the table.

In this old flat, that my father moved us to in 1997, I grew close to my mother and father. I spent hours talking to them, laughing, crying, disagreeing. In this old flat we saw our family fracture in many ways and in many ways we glued together. In this old flat, I went through the heartaches of first love and grew closer to my mother. We used to take evening walks where I outpaced her (and remembered how as a child she always walked too fast). We would go out to eat or catch a movie. Blissful days. When I see young girls today with their moms my heart skips a beat. On a flight the other day, a mom and daughter separated, clearly exhausted with each other after a trip. I envied their luxury of separation.

That old flat has been up for sale for months now. It preoccupied my mother even in her last few days. She of course died without a will. I had to send a no objection certificate to allow my father to sell the flat. It appears still legal hurdles exist for us to sell it. It’s ironic that her death has held up the sale that she eagerly wanted to complete while she was alive.

There are many slights in the reminders of grief. The work needed to get affairs in place is a replete with grave insults. Thinking about Baba bursting into tears with the bank teller while changing the account information or for him to express despair and loss at the confounding legal hurdles to do something she wanted is agonizing.

More so because I have happy memories in that house with her and him. I exclusively devoted my time to them in those years. Eager to grow up and move out, Little did I know how much I would yearn for those days. While it is a hassle and unnecessary reminder for Baba I’m still reminiscing about the flat in my mind.

And one day just like that it will be gone. Just like her. Drawing another line in the sand of my life, another step closer to ending the chapter in my life. Yet with all this I’ve found that life is not a straight line. We move in circles, squiggles and convoluted criss crosses. Coming back to old memories and turning points, wondering how it could have been.

A different world

Picking up this blog is like picking up a dusty old book from the back of your bookshelf. I haven’t been here in a while. Looking through the posts, it chronicles my journey since I moved to Austin as I navigated becoming a runner, a traveler, a mother. I’ve come back here to now chronicle my journey as a motherless daughter.

My world changed forever on November 3, 2017 when my mother passed away with multiple organ failure precipitated by her end-stage liver disease, that we, ironically as her family never knew was at the end-stage. She died after battling with lung infections, kidney failure and arrhythmia. She died from fluid building up in her body when her kidneys were no longer able to create urine. Acidosis, it was called. The lungs still had empyema and bacterial fluid. The liver had shrunk to a third of its size from a 35 year old battle with hep-C. All this and more – way too much that I know about end-stage liver disease. Way more than I could care to know anymore because none of it can bring my mother back. And because she is not coming back, I, her daughter have forever been changed. Altered. Distended. Wrought with grief. Bent out of shape. Clueless about what matters anymore.

Today marks five months since she began the process of dying. Of all the interesting experiences chronicled in this blog before, watching my mother slowly slip away to oblivion is not something that will be enjoyable, pretty or exhilarating. No, there is nothing pretty, enjoyable or exhilarating about death. Yet it is a fundamental human experience. More fundamental than learning a new hobby or becoming a parent. All human experiences are optional, except for death. Nothing optional there. Death is the great leveler. No matter how great or awful life is, it ends at the same door. Once you see that, like really see that, everything is altered. Nothing can be the same anymore.

Also, I restarted this blog because the blog we started to commemorate her overflowed with too much of my own grief to really commemorate her. The blog began to cause pain to some of those who wanted to move on quickly or who saw no purpose in reminiscing what it was like to be with her or what a gnawing hole she left. And that’s OK.

This one is my space. It’s where I want to chronicle my journey through grief and questions on life and death and what lies between. I say journey as if there’s a destination, but there really isn’t. All those who have known grief and loss, know it comes and goes but the sense of loss is here to stay, replete with its trappings in pain and sorrow, sometimes happy memories and constant reminder of the eventuality of death. Maybe someday it will feel better. But now it continues to haunt and hurt. And that’s OK.

The ABC of a post partum recovery

At 6.5 weeks post partum, I might not have the visibility into everything. But I wanted to write this because a lot of people who have come to see Arhan have asked me, in a hushed, confidential tone, how I am doing. I say I’m doing great. It’s like, there is an epidemic out there of post partum depression. That’s the image cultivated by the media too. I don’t disagree it’s hard for some more than others. Sure, there’s some physical discomfort, challenges with breast feeding, getting comfortable with the baby etc. But I didn’t expect this to be a walk in the park. I didn’t expect to be miserable either. And more importantly, I’ve had tremendous amount of help and so really, truly, frankly it’s been great.

So here is what I think about having a healthy, positive post partum recovery.

A is for acceptance.

If 10 months of pregnancy didn’t teach you patience and acceptance of a body you ceased to recognize, you better get it straight now. You’re not going to be running marathons just as yet or drinking with friends in the pub. But it will happen, slowly and surely, you will be going back to doing those and more. Moreover, post partum is WAY better than the last 4 weeks of pregnancy, where you’re pretty much a beached whale playing the waiting game. It’s also about accepting that everything is not going to be the way it was. EVER. I am not talking about having the efficiency around housework. Its having to accept that there is always going to be someone and something more important than your immediate needs that will need more attention. And it’s about being happy about it. Pregnancy is like an idyllic time sometimes that prepares you naught for what parenting is really like. There’s nothing glamorous about less sleep, diaper changes, incessant feeding, learning to cope with baby and other aspects of life. But overwhelming that it is, the first thing you have to do is accept it for what it is and only then can you actually enjoy the smaller things. Like the way your baby calls out to you when he needs something. Mine is a man of few words. He just calls once and you will be at that beck. He won’t cry and bring the house down but that one yell can be heard anywhere in the house. He knows he’s boss now.

B is for bonding.

Not just between you and your baby. But also between you and your baby and everyone else. I’ve had incredible support from my husband and mother-in-law. Early weeks into post partum we established a routine of sorts. A neat division of labor. I was responsible for feeds and some diaper changes. Bharath took bulk of diaper changes, bringing the baby to me when he needed feeding, helping with calming Arhan if he was fussy and most importantly, taking care of me. And Amma took care of the household and Arhan during our off times, namely early mornings and afternoons. She is exceptional when it comes to MILs.  I have never felt judged by her and genuinely gives me the same care she gave her own daughter. From preparing my meals carefully, to making sure I had enough food as I was feeding constantly, to  taking amazing care of the baby – she spends long hours babbling to him, she will change his diapers, put him to sleep, calm him. To us, this seems normal. But many people asked me why I didn’t have my mom come help instead. To that my answer was always that my MIL was the best equipped to help. She had seen two recent new borns, Arhan’s cousins and she is one of the most tireless, selfless people I know. My mother, who is coming in later months to help, was missed in her presence but not because I was lacking in affection or care. So I have grown closer to my husband and mother in law like never before.  My FIL had a chance to stay with us too and for the first time in his life, he held a newborn. We have also spent lots of time with my sister-in-law’s family. I feel as a family, this child has already brought us so much closer in these few weeks.

I feel closer also to my friends. We were accepting visitors from day 1. I was so touched with all of our friends who wanted to come and showed so much love for our child.  I can’t say I was this loving towards other people’s babies before. I have a great group of close friends, some of them first time moms. They dropped by with food or just to hang out with the baby and me. Thank god for social media! Thank god for Whatsapp! and Facebook. I am constantly chatting with my FTM mom friends on Whatsapp! about every little challenge. I have 2 or 3 Whatsapp groups with mom friends. Its amazing knowing that no matter what, I am not alone in this. No problem is too insignificant and we revel that our kids will grow up together.

B is also for breast feeding.

Whether it is for you or not, whether you have too much milk supply (I did) or too little (too many other women I know), get help early.  And if you’re not, no big deal. I found a great lactation consultant who gave me solid advice and advice I could work with (she said I could drink yeah!). She was knowledgeable but flexible. I spoke to her several times after the visit too and it’s the best money I spent. I could write a whole different post on breast feeding but the long and short of it is, yes it’s natural and yes, its bloody hard. It’s both. And because it’s not easy, get all the help you can early on. You may exclusively breast feed, pump and feed, breast feed with formula or just formula. Whatever you do, remember the long term picture – too much hullaballoo on breast feeding these days – your baby WILL grow, he or she will have normal brain development and his or her success as a human being in life will not hinge only on whether you breast fed enough. (It does hinge however on who you are). Formula is not evil. So I would ask women everywhere, to stop beating themselves up over breast feeding and just do what works. I for one, had over supply which came with it’s own issues – engorgement, gassy baby from excessive let down (flow), baby in distress during feeds (imagine drinking from a fire hose), hard for baby and mom to feel comfortable feeding. Everyone assumes that its easy just because there’s enough milk and he’s growing well. It’s hard with too much milk too. I remember one night, howling in pain from engorgement, trying to figure out how the pump works. That night my son was my champion. He fed every hour, helping to assuage the quantity and pain. He is such a good kid.

And finally, C is for challenges.

There will be those everyday especially with breast feeding, diaper rashes, baby not sleeping, baby sleeping too much, not enough poop, too much poop, sick baby, sick mommy etc etc. And you will overcome them all with the help you have. So get all the help you can. And no help will be redundant. Challenges also mean sometimes you’re going two steps forward, one step back. For example, after 6 weeks my OB okayed me for exercise. How excited was I after staying homebound for 6 weeks. So i went to post natal yoga (which was fun – yoga with the baby – more on that later) and a long walk with Amma and Arhan in his brand new Bob stroller (love it). I promptly fell ill the next day. So I spent the remaining time in bed, quarantined and handing baby off to Amma. And that’s fine too – I just hope he doesn’t forget who I am. That I doubt – now that he has begun to recognize me and my voice, he makes lip smacking sounds at me. It is extremely endearing.

So if you can let go and just let your baby and life take over, let the days meld into nights of feeding but also spending lots of time looking at your baby’s hands and feet, marveling at how you made something so beautiful and perfect, let everyone who wants to help you, do so in their own way – whether someone brings the baby to you, feeds you, helps with laundry, helps clean the house/kitchen and even when things are in no shape or form the way you want them to be, let it go. Because these days are not coming back. The first smile, that yell he gives us when he needs a diaper change, even him crying when he is fussy – every little thing he does makes me want to crush him with love. I am extremely lucky to have had the support system I have but I am also lucky to have a calm baby who is reasonably fussy. But even if your baby is unreasonably fussy, you still need to hold onto those moments because they’re not coming back.  Always remember, that it’s harder for them than for you. You’ve had a lifetime of coping with challenges. For them, even the basic act of feeding is work. That’s why we laud babies that feed well – they’re doing their job well! For them, things are changing and they’re growing every single minute of every single day by leaps and bounds. And, that’s the first thing I have learned about being a parent. C is for Change. Change is eminent and constant. So live every minute of it well.

The birth report

This blog has seen a lot of race reports. Here’s a first birth report. What’s it doing in a blog about running and fitness, you wonder? But this blog has kind of morphed into something which is related to running and fitness but more about my thoughts in general. And there are so many parellels with a race, I think it would be appropriate to write about it here. Anyway, read at your own risk, some gory details included :).

You’re also wondering how do I have the time to blog now, 20 days after birth, the days and nights are melting together into feed times, burping, changing diapers. It’s also full of lovely moments where I nearly crush my baby in my arms, heart exploding with love. I look at him and wonder how he was in my tummy and how incredible it is that we played a part in creating something so perfect. No one is perfect until you give birth to them. Fact. But I can do it because of the incredible support from family (husband and mother-in-law) during these post partum days. My main job is to feed Arhan and bond with him. Cooking, cleaning, laundry is handled by MIL and I help when I can. I cannot even imagine having to do this on my own. So I get some time to blog and internet :).

Anyway, this post is more about my weeks prior to birth and labor. I always wanted a natural delivery but given that I was having a lot of fake contractions through pregnancy I had all but given up exercising in June, my 8th month going into 9th. Also work was terribly busy and I was having 10 hour days. So working out, including yoga was distant in my mind. I rationalized it thinking I didn’t want to go into early labor. Maybe it was prudent. But, I don’t recommend it. Even with frequent and irregular Braxton Hicks (fake) contractions I recommend all to-be-moms to continue some form of exercise routine. Even if it’s at home and about 20-30 minutes of yoga (the best) or walking (second best). Yoga really helps tone the birthing muscles (pelvis, thighs etc.) and bring baby into position. Walking helps in those last few weeks to help baby descend.

I stopped working 2 weeks before my due date. And that’s when I went back to exercise. The baby had dropped I felt (called, lightening) and I felt a new lease of energy. The pressure against the chest had eased. I took to taking 2 mile walks a day interspersed with 15-30 minutes of yoga a few times a week. My baby wasn’t in the right position (right until birth) so that’s what I was doing.

I completely believe he got down to zero station (head on cervix) due to my walks. The walks were exhilirating and inconvenient at the same time with all the pressure his head put on my pelvis. Yet I do not doubt it worked, as my mom and my doctor and midwife told me it would. But it didn’t start labor.

Contractions continued intermittently but not regular. Finally due to a minor complication in the final week of pregnancy, I went in to get induced. I was devastated. I thought this may snatch the natural delivery from me. Oh how I’d researched and studied labor comfort positions, my husband was well prepped to be my birth coach and I shuddered at the thought of an epidural making my lower body go numb. In my head, induction (using pitocin, a drug to induce labor that mimics oxytocin that brings on labor) implied epidural and could lead to c-section. Countless women’s stories had tested this hypothesis. I won’t go into the details. I viewed pitocin as the drug that brought on strong and regular but unnatural contractions and I thought I might not withstand the pain.

But I was also secretly excited. I was finally ready to meet my baby! We were ready with all his stuff and everyone at home was just waiting.

When I went in to get induced, the doctor on call started with non-drug interventions. They started with a foley bulb that helps with cervical ripening. At the end of that procedure (overnight), I was 7 cm dilated. We were elated. Maybe I would start labor! They broke the water and I spent the whole day walking, doing yoga poses to get labor started. But labor did not start. Finally after nearly 24 hours of being in the hospital with no labor (was a great time actually, like being in a hotel, we listened to music, watched shows on Netflix and ordered dinner), they started the pitocin drip at 6 pm on Friday Aug 2.

And  in an hour labor began. I knew this was it. The contractions were spaced 3-4 minutes apart and they came strong. My husband was phenomenal during this time. We used ALL the tools we came to hospital with – the myriad positions, the birthing ball, the yoga mat, and tips from the birthing classes. It was going really well. The thought of an epidural didn’t even cross my mind. I knew exactly when a contraction would come (pitocin doesn’t give any relief like natural labor) and knew how long my breaks were. I’d relax during the breaks and think about eating a burger, P Terry’s in particular. We had hindustani classical music playing to help through the relaxation.

Things suddenly began going downhill when the nurses couldn’t get the baby HR monitor to stay on my rotund belly. They kept poking and prodding and we were getting very agitated with this unnecessary disturbance. All we wanted to do was work through the contractions. But they kept coming in and prodding the monitor. Finally, my doctor came in and explained we might need internal monitoring. That’s when they insert an electrical thingy and stick it on the baby’s head and the electrical charges help with monitoring the heart rate. We were appalled and against it. But we quickly understood it wasn’t much of a choice between that and being supine to have the monitor do its job. So finally we acquiesced and that’s when she said I had progressed  in terms of dilation. But I was close to 8 cm. That was great. Things were moving.

I tried to sit on the floor on the yoga mat to lie down. The bed was too soft. As soon as I sat on the floor, I felt an incredible urge to go to the bathroom! Yikes, it was already time to push. I’d been in labor only about 2 hours. I kept saying, it’s probably too early but we should call the nurse. I got back on the bed and as soon as I did, I felt the baby was coming. Pushing was the hardest part about labor. The contractions were the most painful and the urge to push was so strong I had to scream to manage the pain. That was probably the only time I might have wanted to epidural. I told myself, it was too late. The midwife came in and began instructing me. She was absolutely amazing. Bharath says my connection with her during this noisy time was quite remarkable. He kept me hydrated and kept encouraging me, saying I was doing just fine. But I zoned everything else out and it was me and the midwife. They got the delivery table ready with what looked like torture implements. I looked away and just kept focus on pushing. I was fading at this time. In between contractions I drank water and the nurse got me an oxygen mask which felt like heaven.

The final push, I will never forget. When we knew it was time,I asked Bharath to change the music to a vedic chant we liked, the Gayatri Mantra. Neither of us are very religious but we wanted Arhan to come into calm amidst the hospital chaos. The music also helped my mood change even though the pain level just spiked. I knew it was time. It felt like a ball of fire came through the birth canal. The midwife told me not to push hard and to calibrate the push. I almost stopped pushing for fear of spilling out the baby on the floor. I tried a little harder and like a ball of fire he came out. Oh my, what a relief it was. There wasn’t a minute to feel anything except extreme relief and exhaustion. The nurses helped Bharath cut the umbilical cord. I don’t know what else was going on. Then they put him on my chest. All gooey from the birth canal in a towel. He came out bawling but as soon as they placed him on me, he went quiet and began starting wondrously at the lights in the room. Everyone kept saying, what a beautiful baby. But I was still too dazed from the whole experience and how fast it happened. Labor of 4.5 hours including pushing! Unbelievable. All the things that I imagined that could have gone wrong with drug induced labor, none of them happened. I had pitocin. I had internal monitoring. But I hadn’t needed the epidural. (Had I been in labor a few more hours I don’t know how this story would have gone I hope I’d have done it without my spine getting numb).

Holding Arhan in my arms was pretty darn awesome. I silently thanked him later for making it easy on me. He was kind to his mother. He was a good baby through the pregnancy but he was especially remarkable for how good he was to me during labor. I’ll forever be thankful for that.

So my continued advice to all to be moms – exercise, eat well, sleep well. And make those last few weeks count – get on the floor, sit on the floor in Indian style, squat, cat-cows and lots of walking. There is no guarantee your labor will be short but these things help, tried and tested!!

arhan

Sitting on the fence of parenthood, and thinking about my parents

In my 28th week of pregnancy, I’m literally on the fence of motherhood. This is not a fence of indecisiveness, but more of a time mandated eventuality. In another 12 weeks give or take, I hope to be a mother. And between reading up on what I need to buy, should I bother setting up a nursery, should we co-sleep or put the baby in his own room etc. etc., it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that parenting is going to be way more difficult than making mundane choices on gear and feeding and diapering.

For instance, what kind of a parent will I really be? If my personality is any precursor, I’m probably going to be loving, stressed out and impatient. I’m going to have to learn a few things about myself. What really makes me sit down and think, a little bit in fear almost, is that I’ve never had to be a role model for anyone until now. I’ve never had to watch how I behave, react to situations but now I will because my child will not just learn from what I say, but from what I do. I don’t think there’s anything scarier than that. Me, as a standard for human behavior.

This makes me think back to my own parents, about whom I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. For one, I think my parents were perfect, of course. How else would they have made me perfect? (that’s not an original, it’s from Mindy Kaling). But jokes apart, as it happens with time, you only remember the big important things about your childhood. And mine was a very happy one. Sure I remember not having that Rs. 100 Barbie doll because my father couldn’t afford to splurge on that stuff but look at how Barbie is viewed today! The best memories I have of my childhood is our dinner table. We always ate together and I always finished last and cleaned up the table (not so memorable at this point). But more importantly, when I think back to my parents what I really remember is who they were. My father was always a practical idealist with strong, soft hands. I read a lot about different parenting styles – attachment vs detachment, DIY and what not. My dad was all of that rolled into one. It was almost like he was just born to be a dad. He did it, it seemed like, effortlessly. He was always home by 6 (which became a pain when I was a teenager and wanted to stay out late, he was ALWAYS waiting). He hand-fed us, bathed us and I remember falling asleep on him as a child of as old as 6 or 7. My mother cloth diapered us, because it was cheaper not because it was an environmental fad.  My parents didn’t baby wear but they carried us around for as long as they could (no, we didn’t have strollers or prams, those were for rich kids). And we were forced to finish everything on our plates, which for as long as I remember, was the food that everyone ate.

Despite all that, was I a spoilt brat? Yes, in today’s world if I met myself as a child, I’d think I was an ill-behaved brat. I had tantrums but no one paid attention to them, except my mom. But all I remember being that child, was happiness. I felt loved and smothered with affection and attention every single day.  We grew up with other families and kids so my brattiness was not tolerated eventually. We went to tons of family parties all the time, learned music, art but it was never a big deal. We spent hours playing outside, but always within safe confines. And I like to think that eventually, I turned out fine. I do have friends and family who love me and put up with me. So my parents must have got something right.

I also remember strong parenting, corporal punishment (my dad was picky about the body parts he would whack – usually my butt or pull my ear lobes, more annoying and insulting than painful, which was the purpose). I also remember never being pushed to accomplish anything. Of course I had to have academics under control, but once when I was in sixth grade, I slipped from 2nd position to 7th position and I thought all hell would break loose at home. My father was unfazed. All he asked was why do you think that happened and if you feel bad about it, what are you going to do about it. As a 11 year old I was dumbfounded. I mumbled something about working harder and he went back to his tea and cigarettes. He was no tiger parent. But oddly he wasn’t so casual when he caught me lying about something incredibly trivial. He asked if I drank my milk, I said yes and he found traces of discarded milk. To him that was a major transgression of trust. It became a huge brawl and I went to bed, crying. I just didn’t get why it was a big deal. But I know now that he hated nothing more than lies, however insignificant they were. And that told me he cared far more about the kind of person I was rather than what I would achieve in life.

He never pushed me on any of our big life decisions. We eventually married who we wanted, studied what we wanted. My father always asked questions about why we thought we asked for something we wanted. He even asked me why I wanted to marry my husband! At our wedding, he behaved like he was the father of the groom, was far more jovial and relaxed than my FIL who, was the host in this case!

Yes there were bad memories too, but they somehow don’t matter as much. Of course, there were resource constraints but somehow growing up with those resource constraints, we always knew they were there and we chose accordingly. My mother was a lesson in frugality and saving, although neither my husband nor I are keen savers. Something about growing up as middle class kids in India, when we’re finally on our own, we save enough but we also enjoy the fine things. I know our parents would have wanted to when they were young but they had bigger burdens of worry then. We’re lucky that we are far more fortunate than they were. I learned how to cook, fret and worry about loved ones from my mother. But I learned how to let go, how to really be independent from my father and my sister.

So now when I think how I’m going to do as a mom, I must say I have no idea. Because I’m also one of those over-educated, over-thinking types that feels the instinctive need to Google every thing. That’s the bane of my generation. That’s unlike our folks, for whom becoming parents was not a choice, but a natural progression of life, that continues to give them joy for years into their old age. For whom, it appears to me, that parenting came naturally, that they made us into good people effortlessly. I bet there was sweat and blood and toil behind all that, but like good parents they never let us see it. I just hope that despite living abroad for a better part of my adulthood, being an over-educated, slightly older new-mom, I will always remember how to be a parent like my parents.