Also published on Huffington Post India
It was just a few months back when I was tossing and turning, unable to sleep on my makeshift bed inside a darkened cabin, the sky an inky blue outside. I was feeling angry at myself. It had been two days since I had been crying non-stop. This wallowing-in-misery-woman was so unlike me. There’s no escaping misery. But it doesn’t take me too long to bounce back to my normal cheerful self – but not this time.
For weeks I had been telling myself, I’ll be able to cope better this time. But as we got into our cab, ready to fly in a few hours to a country thousands of miles away from our daughter, my dam of resolve broke. The first time was when she had just started her 1st semester in one of the most difficult to get into colleges in Delhi. My husband and I flew off to Australia where he was to take over a new position in his company. Remember the baffling pain you felt as your pelvic bones contracted and expanded to expel your little bundle of flesh? As our plane took off, I felt the same pain but this time it was in my heart.
As a mother there are certain things you must learn. You have to let go of your child even if it breaks your heart. The sooner you do it, the better it is for her. Like the time she came back home crying, complaining about the bully in her school bus who’d trouble her needlessly. As much as you’d want to hunt that boy and beat him to pulp, you’d steel yourself before looking at her and saying – you have to learn to fight your own battles, my love! This is certainly not the last time when someone will try to make you feel weak, feel like shit, but despite the feeling of helplessness, you have to get up and fight.
When at times she’d feel wronged and blame others for her trouble, you had to be harsh and say maybe the problem lay with her and not with others. You cannot cluck protectively around her forever. There comes a time when you have to tell her, not everyone will love you and that’s perfectly okay! That it’s okay not to score top grades but not okay to not have tried your best. Every effort however herculean will not fetch results.
The first time she wanted to go for a late evening party with her friends, you had to put your fears aside and say yes and then overcome the urge to text her constantly to find out if she’s okay. I have kept awake all night, waiting for her to text and say, she’s reached her hostel safely. When I finally did call her, close to dawn, sick with worry, I didn’t know whether to feel angry or relieved when I found out she’d forgotten she was meant to text me! The awareness that she may not care as much as you care for her is heartbreaking. But you learn to live with it.
They say maternal love comes naturally to a woman especially when she holds her baby for the first time. I was too exhausted to feel anything. When she’d lustily cry all night keeping me awake, I felt more terrified than the familiar tug of love. Am I holding her properly? What if I drop her! Why does she poop and pee so much! What if I can never love her! Why didn’t anyone tell me motherhood is so bad!
They don’t because despite the tears of frustration while you haul your sore body to feed your baby nearly every hour, despite the terrible realisation that your life will never be the same again, when your baby who keeps you on tenterhooks all day and night, looks at you and gurgles with pleasure – your heart lurches with a love so strong that it takes you by surprise. Suddenly it’s you and your baby against the world and you have to protect her at all costs.
With her you share a love so primal that when you finally get a few hours off from being a Mom, free to do your own things, you are unable to do anything but think of her. Years later, when she was ten, and my husband and I took our first vacation in Europe away from her, she was there with me when the sound of the alpine horn gave me goose-bumps, when we drove through the majestic black-forest, when I took a bite of the most delicious marzipan pastry….
When we were in Australia, I’d store all our happy memories from a good meal at a restaurant, discovering the most beautiful trail alongside the Brisbane river or standing on top of Mount Cootha admiring the panoramic view of the city and replay them all every time she’d visit us. It’s not happiness till you’ve shared it with her.
The other night when she called me, she was sobbing uncontrollably. Just like me a few months back. When she finally was finally able to talk I knew she was going through the first bout of homesickness. The selfish part of me felt relieved. Just like it was torn between happiness and wistfulness to know her daughter was deliriously happy pursuing her dream subject, meeting new people, being able to relate to them, experiencing the new and the highs in a foreign country, all on her own. Only this time she didn’t have me to share every minute detail of the hours she spent at school, her new crush, the nasty teacher stingy with grades or her tete-a-tetes with her friends.
I am now a spectator to her life, cheering loudly as she sets out to conquer the world but ready to be at her side if she faces defeat.
Yet, when my friends cluck sympathetically, wondering how I’m managing without my only child, I bristle with indignation. Yes, I do miss her terribly but I am happy. There’s so much to discover about myself and my journey has just begun.