With the birth of my daughter, was born lofty ideas of motherhood. In many ways it felt like a destination was upon me. How could anything else that life had to offer be of more importance than this bit of perfection?! A brand new life, who I would shield from the imperfections of the world and mould with loving care. In my naïveté, I believed it would be as simple as knowing that and methodically going about making it happen.
As parents, we wanted her to have the kind of childhood that we did. My parents never fretted over what I wasn’t or couldn’t do. My mother’s practicality and strength of character, my father’s wisdom and kindness. Their unconditional love. They never denied me the freedom to fly nor the security of knowing they are there to catch me if I fall. That’s what I wanted to pass on to her.
I took on the task with great verve. The midnight feeds, ear infections, potty training and temper tantrums, I tackled with the air of a tired martyr. I envisioned days filled with giggles, dolls and tiny tea parties.
There is usually a hitch in every grand scheme and mine was no exception. It became clear quite early on that my little girl with the gleeful eyes and impish smile had plans of her own. Tiny tea parties bored her and she would waddle off to draw on the walls. She regarded dolls with disgust and fright. Except Barbie. She delighted in using them as drumsticks to beat out music on pots and pans. Mozart, Bach and Beethoven did not seem to move her though she did sway to ‘Barney is a dinosaur..’
The two things she was passionate about were books and animals. Stuffed animals, plastic animals, live animals, books about animals… by 5 she knew names, origin, habits of animals all over the world. She informed me that a Chinchilla is from south America and a Sugar Glider from Australia. ‘WHAT and WHAT?!’ was the thought in my head. At 12, much to my dismay, she decided to become a vegetarian.
Life as a mother became a series of surprises and perplexities. Ballet and Bharatnatyam were an exercise in futility. Ice skating was aborted in a great hurry. She tried the flute, clarinet and trumpet. I started to lose the plot a bit here. She indulged me and suffered through every one of my ideas without a glimmer of interest.
And then like a ton of bricks, the teen years descended upon us. No longer did she indulge me and protests became frequent, as did tempers. Boundaries got pushed daily. Patience wore thin and persistence and tolerance were words I came to despise. My earlier conviction that I could do this and do it well- started to feel like ridiculous notions. Despair about the mistakes I made and the dread that I was failing. In the worst possible way, in my role as a mother…
Life is full of miracles if only we noticed. And if we don’t, situations present themselves that make us notice. Let me call it a blessing in disguise.
We were sitting across from someone in a position of authority. ” I know that in certain…. errrr… cultures…. children feel the pressure of the parents’ ambition….” (apologetic look at me). Sadly, there is much truth in what he said so I waited for him to continue. My polite daughter who wouldn’t interrupt anyone politely did so. Quietly and firmly. ” with all due respect.. my parents are not like that. They want me to do well in whatever I choose.”
I was overcome by a sense of triumph. Followed by a bittersweet mix of emotions. I felt strangely frozen in that moment that I saw the big picture. This moment then was what it all boiled down to. Not bharatnatyam, ice skating or spelling bee.
I look at her and I see a tall young girl, almost 16. She is sensible and creative, a fantastic writer, deeply interested in other cultures and languages. She loves to draw, she loves music and dance. We discuss poetry, literature and life and she stuns me with her insight and well reasoned arguments. She continues to be a vegetarian. She loves stuffed toys and animals. She is a great friend, a kind and compassionate human being. And she is my little girl. I hug her and sadness overwhelms me.
How can I shield her from the world when this world is HER reality. It is time. To let her learn from mistakes. To let her walk ahead because if I continued to walk beside her, I might trip her on the path that is destined for her.
Time to spread your wings little girl. And if you fall I’m here to catch you.