Last Friday, the twins went to their very first school. Yes, the youngest of my hearty collection of nieces and nephews, Satvik and Meenakshi, picked up their tiny little knapsacks and water-bottles and marched off to play school.
I was instantly reminded of other tiny feet marching off to school 14+ years ago.
Was it really so long ago?
I remember waiting outside the play school (it was compulsory) while the children alternated between playing and crying and going through several multi-colored stages of distress. Those days there was no candy crush to play, much less 4G internet surfing. It was distressing and boring. I couldn't wait for the kids to 'settle down' so I could get back home.
Oh, 'settle down' they did. They all do.
By and by they stopped crying. By and by they stopped looking back to see whether I was there. Those tiny feet grew bigger, the tread got heavier, the uniform changed, the needs changed until now I can happily say that my children do not need me anymore.
There are times when I cannot believe that I have been married for well near twenty years. My daughters will soon turn 16 and 17. How time has flown on soft winged feet. As I watch these two, Meenakshi and Satvik, and watch their parents and grand-mother fuss over them, sometimes I feel a helpless bout of nostalgia about my girls. And I wonder. Should I have been more patient when they were small? Should I have paid more attention to their hugs and embraces? Should I have not been in such a tearing hurry to get back to work? Should I have indulged them more? Did I do enough for them? Was I there for them when they needed me? Will I be there should they need me again?
And I remember those tiny feet that came running as soon as I returned home. Those eyes that followed me about as I went through my chores. That tiny voice that had declared that "when I grow up I want to be like my mother; I will drive and I will cook!" Those faces that lit up and hung onto every word I said…
Right now our house, as you know, is full of teenage hormones. No one wants to be like me, a creature they love to hate. I am the enemy, the harridan from hell. The one who doesn’t understand, much less care. We are always, but always, fighting each other. And if they are not bickering with me, they are shouting at each other and the house constantly resounds with "shut-ups", "disgusting" (apparently everything is disgusting!) and "I hate you"!
Yet, I know even today as soon as I will enter the house the girls will drop whatever they are doing and come and greet me. I know late at night before going to bed one will come with a comb and a hug and talk about her day. Another one will surprise me with a hug when I least expect it. The thought gives me joy.
But I also know that these days are numbered. All too soon it will be time for them to leave home. In fact I keep prodding the older one about colleges and where she wants to go and keep telling her to find study options outside her comfort zone, outside the city of her birth. I WANT them to leave home and test their wings and stand on their own feet for only then I will know that I have done my job as a mother.
You know, I used to think I was very laid back and prepared for whatever life threw my way. But motherhood changed all that. I became frightened the day I became a mother. And it has gripped my heart tighter as the children grow older and leave home. My heart frets and worries and I have to use every bit of resolve to not let it show.
I'm sure you all have been reading the newspapers and following the news. That kid who stayed back in the restaurant in Dhaka to be with his friends, the other innocent people hacked to death, that young Indian girl on holiday. The suicide bombers in Baghdad, in Beruit. The 7 year old run over by a truck, the ten year old raped, I can't imagine what personal hell the parents of those children are going through. My heart goes out to them, specially the parents of the Bangladeshi terrorists who are trying to apologise for what their sons have done.
Stop, I want to say. As parents we can only do so much, walk with them only for so long. Even then, they are living their lives and we, ours. Who knows where my children's lives will take them? Who will be their friends, what they will do, what choices they will make?
All I can do, as a parent is instill my values in them, educate them, teach them to be responsible, to think for themselves, to be gentle with the world and let them go.
I can never guarantee that the world will be gentle with them.