… And here I am – 31 years old!
It’s been a year since I started work too and I figured it might be a good time to take stock. To begin with – I don’t feel like writing this post. Or any post at the moment, for that matter. I just seem to be so busy living life that the posts can’t keep up with the life. Kids, husband, family, friends, job, home, reading, partying, – just… living!
Last year this time I was high on my new tattoo, nervous about leaving my life as a freelancer and excited about my new flexi-time job. This year, my tattoo is as much a part of me as my eyelashes and nails. I often forget I have one until someone points it out. I still miss my life at home and I have slowly begun to settle down in the new job. Part of the joy of being a journalist is in meeting interesting people. And of course in the world we live in today, things like fastest, biggest and youngest are often feted. Which is why I often find myself talking to people who are the youngest achievers in some field or the other. I admire them. I listen to them and live through them. Dive with them to see the sharks, roam the hills as they work with the underprivileged and stand by and clap as I walk down the aisle with them to receive their awards.
And yet, the moment I shut my notebook and wonder if this is the life I should have chosen, I feel this ache in my belly which is about more than my skipped lunch. It’s an ache that reels me in, that reminds me of two pairs of shiny bright eyes. Of two little faces that recognise my code when I ring the bell. Two pairs of fists that beat down the door waiting for the maid to come and let their mother in. Two little faces that bury themselves in my sweaty kurta, my filthy jeans, hang on to my ink-stained fingers. Two little voices that go ‘Mamma, mamma, mamma, mamma…’
And mamma shuts the door and leaves the world and its achievements behind. All of them somehow paling in comparison to the joy she feels. The beauty of it being that unlike scaling a mountain or winning an award, I can do this everyday and still feel my heart begin to race as I take the last two flights of stairs to my door.
The last time I had a full time job (albeit not flexitime), I was a young newly wed. Meals were out of Bombay’s famous dabbas, our furniture consisted of a few cane chairs, bean bags and mattresses on the floor. All I had to do was look out for myself and the OA fended for himself just fine. This time I’m back at work, almost 5 years later and I leave home each morning with a frown.
Not because I don’t like my work but because I’m ticking off lists in my head. Have the plants been watered? Did I remember to put the Brat’s homework into his bag? What about that boiled potato the Bean’s teacher wanted for their fireless cooking class? I must call the plumber for the leaky tap in the nursery. I hope the new maid doesn’t do something silly while I am away. Even at work, I call up to check as the kids are picked up from school and taken home. And then twenty minutes later – have they had lunch? They’re fussing? What’s wrong? Too much chilli in the dal? Then quickly add some curd to it. And so it goes on.
By the time I get home, there’s homework, a little playtime with them and then it’s back to work for me. Models to check on, photographers to chase, celebrities to keep track of, pages to make, artists to beg… the list goes on.So yes, if I look back on the last year, what is new and special is that I have begun to work out of home. That I am back outside, meeting new people, putting my best foot forward, talking business, being an adult.
Except, that the more I think of it, the more this year has reminded me that there is nothing like rearing my kids that makes me feel like an adult. The rest is window dressing. There is nothing that tries my patience as much as the Brat putting his pencil down and just refusing to pick it up and write the alphabet. Nothing makes my forehead crease as much as one of the kids falling ill. No well written story brings as much pride to my face as being told that my children behaved well at a party. I’ve often had women tell me that they just don’t have it in them to be a mother. I’ve not judged it, but I’ve not understood it either. I nod understandingly and search deep within for a streak that says I am not made to do this, and I don’t find it. Even at my most frustrated, when I rush out to the balcony to take deep gulps of the fresh air, wondering what insane impulse made me tell the OA that I wanted to have a baby… when I eye the ledge greedily, wondering if one little step off would solve my problems, I know deep within that this is just a test. It’s not that I can’t do it. It’s just that I need to put in a little more effort.
All my life I’ve dropped things that I haven’t mastered. In a petulant childish way. Like driving and swimming. They just don’t interest me because I couldn’t master them. This mothering thing is one thing I couldn’t afford to drop. Every time I fail at doing something for the kids and I want to give up in that spoilt way of mine, I know I just can’t. This is one time I don’t have that option. And so I persevere and struggle because I am a perfectionist and if I don’t have the option of dropping it, I have to keep trying until I meet my own standards.
Some months ago I found myself slipping up. I looked around at other parents who were more driven by their professional aspirations than personal and I was slowly influenced enough to let go a little. To let the kids alone a little more, to not come rushing home the second I got off work. And then I read this post by Tharini. She and I come across as such starkly different people through our blogs and yet deep down we’re driven by the same things and have the same values.
She was right. She IS right. We ARE parents. To me, that is my first and foremost job, definition, role. All else comes next. And as I turn 31 I realise that it’s going to be a looooong time before motherhood ceases to define me. If at all it ever does. To quote her, my first and foremost duty is to raise my children and if it means staying at home to do so, I will do it, no matter how it hits our bottom line!! In this one matter, I am very free from conflict.
Her post reminded me of all I’ve been working towards in the last five years. All that I was allowing to slip away. I am not a very ambitious person in my professional life even though I have many personal aspirations. But being the perfectionist I am, I tend to push myself harder at work too. This directly impacts my personal life. As I struggle to make contacts, attend events and do more.
And it was around this time that I realised it simply means pushing myself further on just these two fronts and letting all else go. My friends have suffered undoubtedly, but it’s also shown me who my true friends are. The ones that make the effort to still call. Who know that I have a five year gap in my career to fill. A full time job even if it allows me flexibility with regard to timings. A husband who travels a lot. Two children who are undergoing allergy treatments. A bum knee that makes negotiation stairs difficult. No permanent, safe childcare solution. And no family in town. They don’t guilt trip me. They realise that I have to slowly figure out a balance and this is a tough time for me. They understand that if I don’t make regular calls its simply because I’ve spent the day on the phone coordinating a shoot and have cell phone fatigue and really don’t want to be on the phone while I help my four year old write the alphabet or my two year old put together a puzzle.
This might make me sound like a helicopter parent, but I think turning 30 set me free. I don’t care what people think of me or my parenting. All I know is that this is the one chance I get at parenting them right and this is the one childhood they get. I can’t afford to screw it up for them. Besides I am NOT with them all day. They know I am at my desk working and they run in and out, only bothering with me if they something in particular. And then there is THEIR time when I don’t even bother to take calls and I don’t care who is calling – everything can wait.
I’m afraid this has ended up being more about parenting than my 31st year but I guess that is what my 31st year has been about. Learning to finally juggle. And boy has it been exhausting.
This is how work panned out while balancing motherhood. My kids covering my arms with stickers as I work. That and of course working with sick children spread out around me on the floor!
At the end of this year of being in my thirties and being a working mother, I still have more respect for the mothers who stay home. I still feel that work is a bit of an escape from a bigger responsibility. That staying home was braver and took a lot more out of me and my reserves of strength than this getting away for a break and leaving the daily grind that TRULY tries your patience, to hired help/daycare/whatever else.
On a more positive note it’s taught me to stretch my day. To extend my self. I’ve ended up tired, frazzled, cranky and frustrated with the system, but I come home to the bliss of excited children and a smiling husband and unconditional love. Yes, there are days they throw tantrums and I am tempted to leave them at the door with the garbage, but mostly they’re my refuge.
I thought of digging up last year’s wishlist but you know what – this year I just don’t care. I have all I want. And yes, you guys and the blog are part of it. Yes, yes, you awful, nasty, cranky trolls too. You’re the kala teeka on it all!
PS: I just found this old picture of me – I always got a pavadai for my birthday until I turned about 10 so this is probably my 9th or 10th birthday. And the girl in the blue tee-shirt behind me, with her sleeves pushed up, has probably just turned 30 or 31 the day before – my ma who turned 51 yesterday. I look twice as old as her today and my kids aren’t half as old as hers were! And yes, I had a Barbie cake – that’s the sorta kid I was. Come on, gimme a break – I’d never seen one and an uncle got it for me from UK!