When my first child was born, one of the visitor said, “Congratulations on the birth of your motherhood!” The greeting was unusual; it arrested my attention. But even stranger was her expression. She seemed very concerned. I know she was trying to tell me more than her words said.
She sat down with me, ostensibly to play with my new-born, but actually to talk. She told me things I needed to be prepared for; the sleepless nights, the health issues. She told me not to allow myself to be pressurized by other people’s idea of what a mother is supposed to be, is supposed to do. She warned me not to let this pressure take away my pleasure in my child. She told me not to expect too much from myself.
At that time I was puzzled, I didn’t really understand what she was saying, or why. Expectations? Surely, I thought, there will be expectations. I was too young to take that amiss and buoyantly thought I would exceed everyone’s expectations- including my own. I had no idea what I was thinking. Youngsters are usually clueless, aren’t they?
To hear someone talk of a twenty- four hour vigilance was one thing, I came to understand, than to live it. I was completely unprepared to withstand the onslaught. Many months later, I began to understand what my visitor had been trying to say.
Our perception of a mother is that of a quiet, calm, all-sacrificing paragon whose very presence makes all troubles seem insignificant and petty. She is a person in whose presence no challenge seems too big, no mountain insurmountable. She is as steadfast as a rock. She dispenses advice; wholesome, well-cooked and delicious hot meals and the short end of the stick, with equal equanimity. Her poise is impeccable and she is possessed of a patience which can only be called monumental.
Nothing shakes her; nothing upsets her. She rises to the toughest occasion faultlessly. She always knows what to do- whether it is planning a birthday bash or knowing how to quash a particularly obnoxious boy- whose only aim in life seems to be to make a pest of himself till you are itching to help him locate his self-destruct button- and then press it for him.
I knew such a mother; I had such a mother. She was my mum-in-law. She passed away many years ago.
She was the most perfect mother I ever knew. She was a working mother, teaching in a day school. She had the uncanny ability to unravel the most complicated skein. She understood children perfectly. I saw her with my eldest one. She was an inspiration to me. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t come even close to my ideal. Her boots were too big for me to fill.
This left me feeling inadequate as a mother. She never- by word or gesture- made me feel I was not measuring up. But the role-model I had was so perfect, I never felt I was doing enough for my kids. Until a few years ago, I saw myself as a bad mother. Those questions still raise their heads sometimes. I know I’ll never get rid of them.
What changed me? Well, for that I’ll have to introduce you to my own mother.
My mother was a working mother too- she was a lecturer in a college. Her workday began early and usually ended at 2pm. She was rarely out after that. She broke all the MOTHER laws simply because she knew of none. She was her own standard, her own law.
She was never patient. There was no calmness or peace around her. She fully justified the name her professors had given her in college- HULCHUL (disturbance, the antonym of CALM). She never gave me advice, not because she didn’t know how, but because she preferred me coming up with my own solutions. I don’t remember her ever pushing me for anything- not even studies. If I happened to get a not-so-good score on my report-card, she’d just glance at it, turn up her nose and say, “CHHEEE..!”
I dreaded that expression and that derogatory, single syllable word. She would close the report card, return it to me and promptly forget all about it as if it had never existed. As a result, I pushed myself to perform better. I found that both my parents didn’t give a fig for my not- so great marks; they were an embarrassment only to me. It irritated me quite a bit at that time, I must confess. I felt as if I were an adopted child- a notion all kids fantasize with at some time or the other; as I found later.
When I tell you that the only thing I can say of the meals she served was that they were hot; occasionally wholesome; more often tasty and almost always comprised of something that had the shortest cooking time, I guess you’ll have a pretty accurate idea of her style of mothering.
She was the most unconventional mother I have ever come across. She taught all my friends and I how to apply make-up (when we were thirteen, mind you); it naturally got all of them into deep sh*t with their own mothers. She hated to cook with a passion which could force my poor dad-in the dead of winter- with the hotels nearing closing time… to cajole, threaten and get a meal packed. This would usually happen when she was curled up with a novel and would NOT be disturbed at any cost!
She was a passionate bibliophile. I remember her staying up all night (I was all of eleven years old) to read aloud to me my first P.G. Wodehouse novel. She was exhausted by 3am and went off to sleep, her voice hoarse. She left me reading on, hooked forever to a world of laughter. I slept only after finishing the novel. Naturally I missed school that day, which was more than fine with my mom. She didn’t think schools were for education anyway. She was a rather unconventional EDUCATOR I guess.
It gives me great pleasure indeed to see the stubbornness of an incorrigible nonconformist warmly acclaimed.
~ Albert Einstein
My mom was not a traditional mother. When I was feeling inadequate as a mother, I recalled and relived my childhood with her. I realized that I didn’t remember the haphazard meals, the missed school, the less-than-perfectly kept house. All I remember is that my mom gave me wings and told me that I had an unlimited sky.
To be a good mother, perhaps I needed to create my own style of mothering. I needed to form my own rules; draw up my own laws. I decided to throw away the Standard Motherhood Manual because there is no one perfect way to be a mother. Just as there is no normal for human beings, there was no normal for mothers either.
I decided not to mind too much what went into my kids’ stomach but to worry more about what they allowed into their minds. I concluded that while my kids needed to see me at home in the evening, they needed even more to see their mother live her life on her own terms. I know my kids needed a mother who was patient, kind and calm, but more than that, they needed a mother who never permitted even her own fears to hold her back from doing what she thought was right.
I don’t need to fill anyone’s shoes; I have my own.