It seems rather ridiculous to be participating in a contest that talks of mommy guilt when most of us are trying to put it behind us, yet somehow I find myself tapping out a post on my last night in Delhi, in an attempt to distract myself from the inevitable. Let me start with the memory of a post written long ago.
I had put up this picture of a 7-8 month old Bean clinging on to my computer table, learning to cruise as I worked. I can’t recall the exact words but the caption said something about the Bean learning to entertain herself while mamma worked.
A regular commenter who was also a mother, commented that mommy guilt is all pervasive and told me to let it go. I replied casually that I wasn’t in the least bit guilty and I didn’t know where she read guilt into that. The lady lost her temper and ticked me off rather caustically, and swore not to comment again. I didn’t really care because I didn’t care for her to read into the post, what I didn’t feel, or foist her own sense of guilt, on to me. Maybe I misunderstood her, but she definitely misunderstood me.
Not because I am perfect, but because the moment I get the niggling feeling that I am doing something I might regret (with regard to the children) I rush to make amends. Also, mothers tend to be guilty for various reasons. Some feel working mommy guilt, others feel they aren’t feeding their kids well and so on. We each have our own favourite destinations to which we take guilt trips. Mine mostly tend to be over things that I have absolutely no control over. In short, if its something within my control, I don’t waste time feeling guilty, I do something about it.
Years ago I had my first brush with mommy guilt when I slapped the Brat in a rage, for biting my hugely pregnant belly. I later realised that he’d reacted in pain to a black ant biting his chubby little baby thigh. I learned to reign in my temper thereafter and now I tread cautiously. Be it matters of discipline or general issues, as I feel my temper rising, I force my mind back to that very black memory with the discipline of a self flagellating monk. It always works.
Even so, there are situations that are not in your control and before you know it, they build up in your mind and tend to overpower and manipulate you. One of them happened a few nights ago. Now there are parenting theories and books on every matter but you’ve got to know yourself well enough to know whether you can follow through on it or not. For instance, I know that I don’t have the stomach to Ferberise a child or let him or her cry it out. I’d probably carry the guilt to my grave and so I went through months of sleepless nights, crawled through the days like a zombie and snapped at anyone within ten feet, through a cloud of sleep deprivation all while both my children learnt to sleep through the night. I should have simply let them cry it out and made it easier on everyone but I just couldn’t. Period.
The kids eventually moved together to the nursery and I derive great comfort from the fact that they have each other to curl up against. On cold wintery nights I smuggle them into my bed and in summer I sometimes put out a mattress on the floor in my bedroom for them. Their nursery has a night light and in the earlier years I even used a baby monitor. A child who grew up with a vivid imagination that spawned monsters under the bed, I did my best to smooth the road to a peaceful night for them.
And sure enough once in a while the OA and I have had nightly visitors. Little feet come pitter patter down the corridor and the latch turns in the dark and a small body catapults itself in between us. Of course once one arrives we’re sure the other will turn over in the dark, find the sibling missing and follow suit. Pushing and squirming until they’ve made place for themselves and the OA and I are clinging to the edge of the bed by our fingernails.
Sometimes however, the AC is on and a weird vaccum gets created in our bedroom, making it difficult for the Bean to turn the handle on our door and let herself in. On such nights she struggles with the door and calls out to us until we let her in. I’ve always thought I’d find it annoying but it probably says something for the worthlessness of my life that the simple knowledge that someone tiny has come to seek comfort from me, makes me smile in the dark, no matter how tired I am.
The past few months however, have been rough. The Brat’s school issues, my health, the house moving, the OA travelling and the burden of running the house being on my shoulders, the job, various issues around the house and family affairs. Its reached a stage where I am back to a few meagre hours of sleep and extreme exhaustion. My eyes are puffy, watering and my body moves sluggishly through its daily routine, on autopilot.
Which is why a few days ago when I heard some scuffling through the mists of sleep, I lay paralysed. The voice penetrating through the fog sounded familiar and I stirred, knowing somewhere at the back of my head that it was the Bean and that the door handle was giving her trouble again. I tried to will my legs to swing off the bed but they wouldn’t listen. My eyelids were leaden and refused to open. I tried to kick the OA into wakefulness but my limbs were on strike. And all this while the rattling at the door grew louder, the baby voice more desperate and the panic in my head multiplied. My baby was locked out and scared and I could do nothing about it. My body wouldn’t cooperate.
The baby voice broke. And the footsteps pattered away from my door, moving towards where the maid was sleeping. With superhuman willpower I flung myself off the bed, on to the floor and dragged myself to the door. Just in time to see the Bean crawling into the maid’s bed, crying, ‘Didi, mama darwaza nahi khol rahi hai…’ (Mama isn’t opening the door…). Darwaza nahi khol rahi hai.. ”
I grabbed her, apologised to the maid for disturbing her and took the sobbing child to my bed. And there I held her in my arms and let her sob, sobbing with her all the while. Wondering how I was going to turn back time and wipe out those few moments of terror from her baby life as she stood there in the dark, lonely and scared.
Perhaps I am to blame for it. Actually, WE are to blame for it. The OA too is a bit of a softy and we’re okay with kids wriggling in and out of our bed and crawling over us while we snooze.
And this is the price we were paying for our lack of discipline. Children who don’t know what it is to find their parents’ door shut at night. Who must snuggle into the warmth of our bed. There was no reason for the Bean to cry like her world had come to an end. But she did and somehow, she heralded the end of my guilt free existence too. The monsters crawled out from under my girlhood bed and came back to haunt me in the form of a baby voice crying, “Mamma darwaza nahi khol rahi hai… ”
As we move to the new house, the first thing on my list is removing the lock from our bedroom door… I don’t know about the Bean, but I won’t survive another night of her being locked out of our room.
PS: Thanks to Abha’s reminder – here’s an old post on guilt!