Speaking for myself

A few days ago I was standing at the bus stop and waiting for the kids when one of the mothers showed up with her toddler in a stroller. All of us cooed and fussed over the baby (heck, this is the last year the Brat is in single digits!) and she rolled her eyes. ‘I haven’t slept in days..’ she sighed. And she had an older one in school, so she had early mornings whether she liked it or not.

The other mothers all had one child only.

They turned to me with the usual – how did you manage with two kids and such a small gap?

Honestly, if I had not blogged in those days, I’d have no memory of it. The days and nights are a blur. Off the top of my head I can’t recall when one walked, when the other potty trained. Who started solids happily and who hated them.

I was tired, at times I was frustrated, at times I was sleep deprived, at times I was uncertain. But those were few. Most of the time I was happy, I was content, I was absorbed, I was fascinated, I was proud, I was learning – and that holds true for every single day even now. Be it the Bean creating a beautiful piece of art or the Brat telling me that there are more than 20,000 people over the age of 100 in Japan, everyday they give me something to be thrilled about, something to marvel at.

I look back on how I managed them and I realise that I managed because its what I expected. We all know that babies will cry when hungry or sleepy or wet. We all know they will sleep for short periods of time and eat ever so often. We all know they are curious little mites who pull down low hanging table cloths and put their hand in the toilet bowl. We can laugh, we can cry, we can roll with the punches. But we can’t say it’s not what we expected. Not if we’ve seen even one child grow up among close friends and family. And not even if we haven’t.

On the other hand, there are those who constantly whine about how parenthood has sucked the joy out of their lives, the adventure, the ability to get up and go, the ambition. Who is to deny that adding something to your life will naturally reduce space for other things? And who is to decide which is more important? Only you.

I read this post in the Hindu today, about the lies regarding parenting and while five years ago I would have been enraged at being called a liar, I felt only sorrow for the writer. She’s stating the obvious when she talks of there being good and bad – but I think she is wrong in choosing to speak for all of us and calling it a lie. That parenthood is a joy, a pleasure, a privilege, is the truth for many of us. We also speak only for ourselves.

I understand that a lot of parents (here I speak of both fathers as well as mothers) made their choice under social as well as parental pressure. But of them, a lot of enjoyed the choice. On the other hand, there are so many of us for whom parenthood was a happy and natural choice. I don’t judge those who choose not to have kids, and hope they do us the same courtesy. Many of us have had not just one kid, but gone on to have another and some even a third or a fourth, because of the sheer joy it brings us.

So when I see something of this sort, a rant that many of us might have been guilty of at 1 am, I am a little saddened to see it make its way out of the annoyance of a sleep deprived night into the clear light of day and into print. If anything, these last few lines reeked of a sort of bitterness that made me feel very sad for her and for any kids of hers that might have read the piece.

“At the end of the day, parenting is merely foisting the responsibility of finding your life’s meaning on to someone else. It’s the reason why parents — especially mothers — have to continue with the narrative of “this is the best thing I’ve ever done.” Besides giving them an excuse to do nothing else with their lives, it also gives them a lofty platform from which to preach.”

Is parenthood a cakewalk? No. Is anything a cakewalk? No! Not planting a garden, not climbing a mountain, not building a business empire.

Jobs, relationships, friendships, they all take a lot of work. Somedays they are good, somedays they are bad. I’m in a happy marriage and that takes a lot of work too. But if you ask me what marriage is like, I’d say its the second best thing to have happened to me – the kids would be first!

None of this is a lie. It’s just that the good overwhelms the bad. And if anyone is foolish enough to believe that it’s entirely angels kissing spring and strawberries and summer wine, well then, they’re just fools.

If anything, the last bit seemed like a bit of a desperate attempt to justify one’s own negativity towards parenthood (although I don’t know if she’s a parent). In this day and age of live and let live, when you see such ire against people who are happy with their choices and make no bones about it, you can only wonder – why this kolaveri di?

By the by, we’re planning our annual vacation and my parents as well as inlaws suggested for a number of reasons, that we leave the kids behind with them as we did for our trip to the US in 2012. I was inclined to agree with them because we have a lot of work to do on the trip. But the OA, note, not me, the OA – refuses to go without them. After years of taking an annual two-three day trip without them, we’re down to the father cleaving unto his kids and refusing to let go. It’s quite funny, because its usually the mothers who feel that way. Of course once he put his foot down with a firm hand (I love this mixed metaphor!) I was sure I didn’t want to leave them behind at all. I love watching their eyes widen at the shiny newness and chrome of the airport (they’re poor Gurgaon kids who are never taken to the mall), the gasp of breath as the flight lifts off, the excitement of the new and the different.

I read this other article in the Guardian and it made me want to cry. I’ve been hugging the Brat, squishing the Bean… aware that my days as mother to carry-able babies are numbered.  So putting aside that woman’s silly rant that I couldn’t relate to at all, I turned to this one and felt it speak to me. I leave you with the first bit of the article. Do read.
———

There is one song I simply cannot listen to because it upsets me too much – Turn Around by Nanci Griffiths. It is a song about the ephemerality of childhood – the velocity with which you will lose your children to time and growth. Recorded first by Harry Belafonte it begins with this stanza:

“Where are you goin’ my little one, little one? / Where are you goin’ my baby my own? / Turn around and you’re two / Turn around and you’re four / Turn around and you’re a young girl / Going out of the door.”

Even without the tune it brings a lump to my throat. I have watched two of my children “go out of the door” – one is 18 and one 20 – and although my pride in their independence and achievements is overwhelming, knowing that the children they were can never return is sometimes sharper than a serpent’s tooth.

 

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29 thoughts on “Speaking for myself

  1. entirely angels kissing spring and strawberries and summer wine, well then, they’re just fools” Superb lines madmomma. I find it an absolutely NO No to blame everything on others and circumstances. One shouldn’t do that. Love this honest post:)

  2. “Is anything a cakewalk? No!”
    Quite right. Even doing a cakewalk is not a cakewalk – some people work best with gateauxs, some people can only manage with a sponge, some people fake it with brownies. Live and let eat, I say.

  3. Someone posted this article on Facebook, and I let fly a mini-rant there. Main points of my rant:

    1. Aishwarya spoke from her own experience. Given her position, she probably has enough support for childrearing to be ‘exhausting bliss’. Why call her a liar? She never claimed to speak for anyone else or to be doing everything on her own. How can anyone insist that Aishwarya has no right to speak for her personal experience (even if one discounts the fact that Aishwarya was being asked about her personal life at Cannes, a film festival, and probably reached for the safest answer. Little did she know no mother is ever safe.)

    2. Like you, I had two children close together (unplanned but unregretted). In terms of exhaustion, I fall somewhere between you and Aishwarya. I went back to work three months after each child was born and I have two helpers at home who do a wonderful job caring for our kids when we’re not there. Because I am in the priviledged position of being able to afford to make a choice that suits me best, I find I enjoy parenting and my kids and it really is ‘bliss’, especially after the 15 month stage (just in my experience). I was so not a kids person before but I love love love the time I spend with my kids. Sure, there are times when I’m tired, there are sacrifices I have to make, but I don’t feel they’re too bad.

    3. I know people who by choice or circumstance are caring for their kids without help. I see so much exhaustion in them. But they also seem to enjoy their kids more than not. In fact, one of these people wants to have a third kid!

    I did not grow up around young children (and I shied away from any caring for babies duties because I didn’t like them). I wasn’t immune to the narratives about how difficult it is, but I think like giving birth it’s hard to imagine the reality without seeing it up close. I think some of the online forums I read and then seeing my sister who had just had a baby gave me an inkling. Nevertheless, the reality of the early months hit me like a wall. I think I am physically weak and am terrible without sleep also, so maybe I took it harder than others. Even through that, I never regretted my children and things just get better and better as they grow (according to me, some people love the infancy stage).

    Why is it so hard to believe or so derided if someone says that their kids are the best they ever did? Weird! Let’s not even get into the condescension of her last paragraph.

    Her compulsory narrative of drudgery is as tyrannical as the rose-tinted one. Boo!

  4. Hmm…i read that article, MM and somehow it resonated with me…i became a mom at 25..at an age when most of my friends were not even married…i was somehow conditioned by my parents and MIL that motherhood is the best thing in the world…i feel it should be the choice of the couple..whether they want to have kids and when they want to have kids..the hardwork involved in raising a child must also be highlighted by someone!! Motherhood is a journey that must be enjoyed with full knowledge of the consequences..in an age where post-partum depression is so common, i feel even the docs should counsel pregnant women in a positive manner…

  5. Haha, the Hindu piece was sent to with the line “this is something you will totally get” — because I think people take me to be a baby-hater. Possibly because I have stayed away form having kids so far, and make my reasons for it pretty apparent to anyone who is nosy enough to ask why. The article made me wonder about why even though I am pretty clear on my stance about babies, I have more than a dozen mommy-blogs in my reader, why some of the nicest blog-friends I have made are through reading stories about their babies for years on end. Like so much other stuff in the newspapers in India, the piece was a polarised view on parenthood, I felt. Like some sort of forced annoyance where none existed in the first place.

    However, the line you quoted did really hit home — “At the end of the day, parenting is merely foisting the responsibility of finding your life’s meaning on to someone else.” — for entire different reasons. The amount of baby pressure I feel from VCs family, is mostly of this kind — seeing having children as the final tick in life’s task list. And I have them as examples of what can happen if you confine and reduce parenting as an activity to find your life’s meaning. I am sometimes even told “but don’t you want something to do for the rest of your life?” 🙂

  6. To each one her own. I agree with the article. Someone needs to say it as is (maybe the tone could be reduced a little!). Parenthood is exhausting. Especially if you have a full time mentally and physically demanding career, no maids (we do not live in India) and no parental support (yes, a decision we chose not forced upon us). Parenthood is not blissful. Are there moments of bliss? YES. Are there moments that I want to turn back time? YES.
    I don’t think anybody in real life has declared to me that parenthood was the best thing to happen to them. I find this only in the online world. And it makes us moms feel bad especially because we are trying to give our kids everything they need and create a happy environment.
    I think it is okay to accept that parenthood is exhausting, the goodness maynot necessarily overwhelm the bad and it is okay to feel that way. Again, to each her own!

  7. I have already made my views known on this but then the more I think about this rant of an article and my experience as a parent, the more I realize how much I dig it. If not for anything else, its the love I share with my kiddos-one that runs deep, and is unconditional like none other. They drive me crazy, I drive me crazy too but this love we share is unquestioning- no one can touch it, no one can take it away from me or from us.

  8. I love this post, my children are the best thing i have ever done and i am not ashamed by that at all in fact i take great pride in knowing that i with the help of my husband created and are raising 4 boys who will make this world a better place just by being in it. If you have time you should check out my blog mommyx4boys.wordpress.com

  9. Today is my sixth wedding anniversary. Six years, two kids. The younger one is almost seven months old. Before Anna, I had a somewhat romantic notion of motherhood. Her first year was tough for me. But then somehow things clicked and I was back in my ‘I want a baby’ phase by the time she was two. Niki is three years younger than her and now I feel I could even have handled them being closer in age. This time I KNOW that the tough times are so laughably short that I am able to actually laugh through some of them. My babies are my single biggest achievement even though at times I try to cling with all my might to what remains of the other identity – the I am so dedicated and hard working professional.
    Of course it’s tough, of course I do sometimes envy the lives of my childless peers – but the simple fact that we went in for it a second time (this time with more knowledge and with eyes wide open), says something for how rewarding it must be for some of us.

  10. Okay, I think sometimes these articles are written just to attract attention and get a surge in readership. I mean, it is so stupid and written in such bad taste that no one would have read it, so the author mentions a celebrity and then goes on her own irritating spiel.

  11. This is a very insightful post. I am a 23 year old female, who is not a very kid friendly person. I also consider myself somewhat incapable when it comes to bringing up kids in future. But, I really liked the manner in which you brought up the bliss and happiness that comes with having kids 🙂 Maybe it can be understood only after you have one 🙂

  12. You know this post spoke to me so much. Hats off to you for putting it so eloquently. Yes, some of us made the choice to have children out of perhaps some pressure(speaking for myself because I was about to turn 30 the next year and worried about being an “old” mother:-)) but then we nevertheless loved the journey vomit and all. And now as I turn 39 in a month with my ripe childbearing years counting down to zero real fast I mourn the second child that was never born, that we decided not to have due to a myriad of reasons, that we couldn’t gift to our son as his very own to love(or to hate) sibling. Parenting is a lot of things and depending on when you ask you’re likely to get very varied answers sometime very contradictory even in the span of a few hours. If you’d caught me in the early mornings rocking my very colicky V I’d have snarled at you and told you kids were the evil idea of the Devil but if you’d caught me after he was freshly bathed, powdered, nappy changed and dozing off to sleep you’d have heard me say he was an angel sent specially to make me a better person:-)

  13. I love reading your blog and am usually nodding my head and marveling at how eloquently you write and describe parenting. This time though I felt I related more to the Hindu article, than your “my kids give my life reason” post – I think they are both at the black/white ends of a debate which essentially has a lot of in-betweens. We all have moments when we hate being parents – and I instinctively doubt anyone who doesn’t.

    The key point I think the Hindu article misses is the “proportionate burden” of parenting – I think the reason more mothers are disillusioned with parenting, especially in the Indian context, is because they find themselves bearing a very high proportion of that burden (especially in the early years). In my experience I was an equal to my husband in all respect before we had a kid (same education, same salary etc.) but motherhood put the skids on so many aspects of my life, without really impacting that much of the husbands. This is an area that I think couples should think about and be prepared to face.

    • I completely completely agree with this. I feel like your views on parenting are on one end of yen scale and the Hindu journalists views are on the other end.
      To each his own, I think. But personally, I dont understand people who say that not having children is selfish. Having children is one of the most selfish decisions you can take, especially when you consider the impact on the planets resources an extra human being has. Of course, we are biologically conditioned to want kids and all…but honestly, the world would be better if fewer people had children.

      • I don’t think this is a question of to each his own. Because that is exactly what she denies other parents. If she’d stuck with saying that she found parenting unfulfilling, I don’t think anyone would have cared. It’s because she dares to make the accusation that others who find it fulfilling are lying, that she no longer deserves that courtesy either.

        I agree though – we need less people on this planet!

  14. “Honestly, if I had not blogged in those days, I’d have no memory of it.” You and me both 🙂 Your blog kept me company through so many nights of a reflux-y infant and a tantrummy toddler. Truly – your positivity through managing Brat while expecting Bean helped give me a lot of perspective about my own situation. So, if I have not said it before – thank you!

    As for the post – speaking for myself, parenting has been my chance at a real education. I have learned so much from and for my kids. Well written, as usual.

  15. Loved your post MM 🙂

    This lady’s article is one-sided, crude and very abrasive. The author could’ve done with a little more finesse and tact because her piece is close to making a very important point – that parenting may not be for everybody. And truly, very few people advise others to think before having children.

    IMHO, whether someone did right in having children should not just be a function of the joy/ meaning in brings to them. Rather it should also be about whether they have been able to (or at least tried their best to) give their child a safe and happy life. It should be about the child and not the parent. That is parenting, in my book anyways.

    I’m a new mom, only 4 months into motherhood so it may be a bit early for me to comment. But I’m certainly very very happy with my decision.

  16. Deviating here to say, I’m guessing you like the Summer Wine song too?

    “Strawberries cherries and an angel’s kiss in spring, Summer wine is really made from all these things”

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