Sometimes I wish I had not succumbed to the power of the smartphone. For instance a couple of weeks ago at 7 AM on a lazy school holiday morning with both kids fast asleep, my WhatsApp mother’s group went off with the following message by a fellow mum asking: “Hey grlz, ma’am asked us to take kids to zoo for holiday homework and take pictures. But are we taking pictures of animals or children or children with animals? Plz help!!!” Within an hour, as is the norm, this question had almost a hundred responses.
I chose to ignore this message and tried to go back to sleep. But the natural academic critic and cynic in me prevented all efforts towards the same and I kept on thinking: “Does it really matter whose pictures we take? I guess the whole point of the homework is to help these little nursery children recognize animals and make them use their tactile abilities in cutting and pasting pictures in their scrapbook. So how does it matter whose freaking pictures they are?!”
Anyway, that evening we sat with my 3-year-old to cut some pictures of the zoo trip we had taken 4 months ago (yes, I didn’t have time to take her that day, I am a busy working mother), asked her to recognize the animals in it and stuck them to her scrapbook. She took the book to school next day, got a smiley face and all was well with the world, even though some pictures were just of animals and some of her and the animals. Seriously.
Cut to another day, another ‘hilarious’ story. One day my daughter’s teacher requested all mothers to come to school and discuss healthy tiffin snack recipes. Although my husband is an infinitely better cook than I am and does most of the cooking (I do the washing up), I agreed to go because as someone deeply invested in healthy nutrition and exercise, I am all for inculcating good eating habits from childhood.
We rightly voice our concerns about equal pay for equal work but turn a blind eye to how much work it takes to be a mother.
So I, in turn, requested my husband to churn out his delicious healthy pasta dish, watched him cook, and carried enough for 20 tiny children to the school, all ready to share the recipe and nutrition facts. To my utter surprise as the ‘bad’ mother who was expecting a large turnout of ‘good’ mothers and many nutritional dishes to learn from, I found just 6-7 mothers in attendance and only 4 of us who had bothered to bring food for the kids.
Just as I was secretly patting myself on the back thinking, “Aha! Who is a good parent now? At least I have my priorities straight by focusing on my kids’ nutrition…” when my train of thoughts was interrupted by a mother who particularly thrives on belittling me. “So dear, what are you sharing today?” “Oh, just a healthy pasta dish…” “Oh”, she interrupted, “is that what you eat to maintain yourself the way you have?”
“Hahahaha” I laughed sheepishly, “actually I also do Yoga…” “What?!” she exclaimed suddenly, “you find the time with 2 kids?!” “Well, I have a supportive husband!” I quipped back. The inner feminist in me slowly died that moment as I realized this conversation and my response was wrong at so many levels and yet I couldn’t think of anything else to retaliate with, but yet I had to retaliate.
Finally, the last straw, a story that predictably ends in tears. This time it involves my son, who we decided to have a ‘proper’ birthday party for when he turned 5. Until then, all birthday celebrations had been low-key that had involved small family dinners with some friends and a simple birthday cake.
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The year five we thought was also special for our boy because this was the first year he had a five-month-old sibling partaking in the celebration. “Simple!” I thought, “my son loves dancing, silly games and sports so I will arrange 3 activities around each at our place, invite around 10 of his closest friends…”
But wait—what? “Is that what he wants or what you want?” asked a friend and fellow mum. “Don’t centre yourself here, think of your child”. I was speechless. This is a mother who 2 months ago had thrown a major birthday bash for her 2-year-old in a luxury hotel.
I stammered, “I mean this is what I think he would like. I mean it isn’t like he is arranging his party, I am, isn’t it? I mean he is only 5. I mean I am breastfeeding an infant, taking my PhD exams (along with a husband in the same boat), have zero support from my natal family, planning 5-year-old’s birthday parties, cleaning, cooking, sleeping 2 hours a night, trying to resemble a human rather than an unkempt chimpanzee and I mean…”
The voice in my head trailed off. I couldn’t verbalize anything to my friend. But that night as I sat on Amazon ordering birthday decorations, I cried—because I had failed both to be a ‘good’ mother and because my friends had failed to be good people who could empathize with all the labour I was putting in to sustain my family.
A few evenings ago sitting in Khan market in Delhi where I had been visiting for work, one of my friends told me, after a glass of wine had freed our minds and loosened our tongues: “You know this whole global warming thing? I seriously wish it happens and we all die! We are seriously so disgusting and what we are doing to this world, we don’t deserve to live as a species!”
we forget that we were once children and young adults who hated school and loved to roll in the dirt.
While we laughed at this and I asked her to calm down, I later found myself thinking—seriously—what kind of a messed up society are we living in? Celebrities like Kareena Kapoor Khan send their 1-year-old to gyms. Instead of criticizing this fad that is wrong at multiple levels (there are better things to do with your wealth Madame Kapoor-Khan), we admire it and some of us even seek to emulate it.
We rightly voice our concerns about equal pay for equal work for women in professions but turn a blind eye to how much work it takes to be a ‘mother’ and how middle-class motherhood is sustained by the labour of our domestic help who are also mothers. We want to make our children into perfect little robots with professional degrees but forget how we too were once children and young adults who hated school and loved to roll in the dirt, have crazy love affairs, dreamt of becoming magicians and had so many dreams that we never share with our children.
I am not denying the genuine joy a lot of women receive in turning houses to homes and rearing children and the immense love and labour that entails. But when motherhood becomes prescriptive and a single formulaic cult to judge middle-class womanhood, morality and a woman’s entire character, then it becomes scary.
I was never a ‘perfect’ human and so I can never be a ‘perfect’ mother. But I never became a mother, accidentally or otherwise, to decorate the ‘perfect’ gingerbread house or to spend Rs 50000 on my child’s birthday party. I became a mother so I could love someone as my own and share intimacies, hugs and laughs now and well into my twilight years.
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Featured Image Credit: Us Weekly