Children grow up and become individuals, but their essence remains the same
BRUNCH Updated: Feb 16, 2019 23:34 IST
You know what they say when you have young children: the days are long but the years are short.
I remembered this on a wet monsoon day when my daughter turned 13. Suddenly, the colicky, clingy little girl who never left my side wanted no part of me. She spent hours in her room with the door closed, doing God knows what. The sparkling toddler whose every mood was etched on my mind became a polite stranger. She tapped away on her mobile phone, chuckling to herself, lost in a whirl of friends, homework and activities.
Grey clouds rolled past, seasons changed, the Southwest monsoon came and went. I kept waiting for the girl I knew to return. I kept comparing her to the girl she used to be. It wasn’t fair to her. She hadn’t changed. Not in a fundamental way. She had just grown up. Wasn’t that what all of us parents wanted? We wanted our kids to grow up, to become self-sufficient, independent humans, strong enough to face a world after us. And yet… and yet, here I was, watching it happen. It didn’t seem right at all.
So we fought, the two of us. Like snapping, snarling street dogs who knew not when to stop. It was for a whole host of reasons but it all boiled down to one: I couldn’t stop my child from growing up, and she couldn’t wait to grow up.
“The only conversations we have are about permissions,” I cried one day. “Can I go out with my friends? Can I go to this movie? Will you drop me at Rian’s house? I have become your chauffeur and bank, that’s it. No longer a mother.”
“Will you please stop being so dramatic?” she retorted.
Her litany of complaints was different. She was fed up of me barging into her room without knocking, always leaving her door open and snooping around her things when she wasn’t there. I was mad that she was mad about this.
“You know, there is no word for privacy in any Indian language,” I said. “In India, unlike in America, there is no notion of boundaries. We sleep under the same roof, we share everything. None of this yours, mine, ours business. When I was growing up, all of us cousins had to sleep in razais in the living room and share a single bathroom.”
And with that, I became who I had promised never to become: my parents.
Growing up, I promised myself that I wouldn’t tell those stories, the ones I heard from my parents – about walking barefoot to school and studying under street lights, about wearing hand-me-down clothes and taking the third class compartment. I had rolled my eyes when my parents told me their tales of penury and sacrifice. I wasn’t going to pass it on to my kids. And yet here I was, doing the exact same thing.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It is about learning to dance in the rain,” said a quote that she had stuck on her bedroom wall.
Accepting your child for who she is may be the foundation of parenting but it is also the hardest thing to learn and practice
Accepting your child for who she is may be the foundation of parenting but it is also the hardest thing to learn and practice. You fall in love with a tiny being and then she changes. You get used to her and she changes again. Not all changes are pleasing or fun. Some avatars are morose, belligerent or enraged. What do you do?
“Come on, let’s dance,” I said.
It was a rainy afternoon. We were on vacation in my in-laws home in Thiruvananthapuram. Fried onion pakoras emerged from the kitchen with green chutney.
The monsoon in Kerala is something else. It is divine, whipping up earth’s splendour and fanning green leaves.
“Come on, let’s dance,” I repeated. “After all, that’s what the poster in your room says, isn’t it? Don’t wait for the rain to pass. Just go with the flow and dance in the rain.”
I stood up and took my daughter’s hand. She didn’t wriggle away. The rest of the family were glued to cricket. So we went out to the verandah, mother and daughter. We stood under the awning and watched the rain. Stray droplets hit our bodies.
She ran out first. I followed. And there we were under the warm rain, holding hands, dancing – awkwardly at first and then unabashedly with hoots of laughter. And underneath the rain streaming down her laughing face, I found my daughter again.
(This column addresses the issue of parenting our parents, an integral part of This Indian Life and our culture. If you have stories about the weird and wonderful relationships that enrich or enervate your life, write in.)
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From HT Brunch, February 17, 2019