I grew up in a tiny city, on the west coast of India called Bombay. I was a surprise baby – a happy surprise, my mom insists. She raised me in a warm cocoon of love and laughter, with my grandparents helping out when she needed them to step in.My dad did his best when he was around, which wasn’t too much because he worked for an airline. Even with a full-time job, she tutored me and helped me with school projects. An accomplished chef, she made sure I ate a reasonable balance of healthy and junk foods. She joked with me and cried with me and essentially was the epitome of selfless and unconditional love. She was (is) a cheerful soul, taking life’s blows and brickbats with a smile, and she never ever dumped any of her baggage on us. She made it look so easy- my sister and I grew up thinking that motherhood was just a casual phase of life. Easy as pie.
I was proven so terribly wrong after the birth of my son. I was reeling from postpartum depression and an especially difficult pregnancy. I was moody and irritable. I resented other moms and my own mom for having it so easy. When my son was around 18 months old, he was diagnosed to have autism. That started a whole new avalanche of self-blame and anger. I felt like a victim and pretty much sucked at the whole motherhood thing.
A few nights later, I was anger sobbing to my mom over Skype when she told me to stop talking. And listen.
“Motherhood is never easy, Pavi,”, she said. I protested, remembering how breezily she sailed through our entire childhood. “That’s because I worked extra hard to make sure you girls never saw me struggling. Remember, I worked a full-time job, lived with my in-laws and still did all the household work. Sure, I had 2 easygoing daughters, but nothing was handed to me on a plate. Everything I did, I worked hard at.”
I was surprised. This was the first I had had a glimpse of her behind-the-scenes life.She continued, “The easiest part of being a mother is giving birth. Everything after that is hard work. Pure and simple.But that doesn’t mean, you don’t enjoy life. In fact, you enjoy it more. You see everything with brand new eyes and from the perspective of your little child. So stop whining and start taking responsibility.”
She got quiet for a while, as did I. Then she said, ” I only have one regret. I should have shared some of my struggles with you girls. I tried so hard to give you both a good time that I forgot to expose you to real life,”.
My mom taught me so many things. But her best lesson was spoken in her quiet voice. Across oceans and countries, over a tinny Skype call to 28-year-old me, while I rocked my sobbing 18-month-old son:
“There’s no perfect mother. So let go of that illusion.Be who you need to be for your baby. Your role will constantly change and evolve. Sometimes you’ll be your child’s best friend and sometimes you’ll have to squeeze their angry body as they rebel against you. There’s really no right path here. No guarantees. So the simplest and best thing to do is to be your own kind of mother. Let your kids shape your role as a parent. So hang up right now and go live your life”.
6 years later and those words still ring true. My mom is still the same person. She’s the perfect grandma – my kids love joking and goofing around with her.
And I am flawed. So flawed. I still get annoyed and irritated at trivialities. But I’m no less a mother than her. We just have different trajectories. While she worried about cooking and balancing the checkbook, I worry about therapy appointments and milestones. She struggled with in-laws and a regressive society whereas I struggle with finding inclusive schools and social skills groups. She tried to be perfect and shelter us from life’s harshness. Me – I’m pretty open about letting my kids see me fail. And I hope and pray that they’ll learn from me.