She is going away…
I didn’t want to write about this since I already wrote about this last month. But since the last few days it’s all I think about. The thought I sleep with and the dull ache I wake up with. And it is impossible to write about anything else.
My little girl M is stepping out into the BIG BAD WORLD. All on her own. In the nine years eleven months she has been in my life (not counting the nine months she spent in my tummy). I have experienced the best and worst, the happiest and the saddest, the proudest and the most anxious minutes of my existence. And on the cusp of her day of departure for a residential school, they play out like a video tape in front of my teary eyes.
The happiest day of my life: The day I had M. The pictures show the tiny tiny M lying in the arms of a smiling beaming me. There is not a sign of the pain and tiredness I know I felt. Holding my little ‘cookie’ wiped it all away. As soon as M was born I asked the doctor (a dear friend), “How is she?” “How do you know it’s a she?” she asked. “I just know ” I mumbled without a trace of doubt.
I had miscarried twins before conceiving M and thus she had become even more precious to me. “She has to be the most ‘sonographed’ foetus in the world!” my sister in-laws joked as I rushed to my doctor friend each time I imagined I didn’t feel her move or move enough. I was an anxious mom to be. But the only thing I wanted to know was whether my baby lived. I was determined to not lose her. That it was a ‘her’ was never a question I needed an answer for. That, I just knew.
The other thing I knew was that M was going to be a book lover just like me. From the early stages of pregnancy I read to her. I read aloud short little stories that spoke of happy cuddly things, little mushy poems that rhymed and meant nothing and I knew that even as a baby M enjoyed them. Our reading time together became a tradition that’s been with us till now. It has been a joy to see M graduate from listening wide-eyed to classic fairy tales (Her favorite was Goldilocks! ) to lying next to me absorbed in a copy of “I am Malala” . These days she prefers to read on her own while I lie next to her and catch up on my own reading. But our reading time together is still the most enjoyable part of our day. Ten years of ‘reading time’ with M will always be the most cherished moments of my life.
The proudest moment of my life: M was a fast learner, speaking fluently before she was even one. But having no other yardstick to compare her progress by I never attached much significance to that. It was only after she started going to school and I started getting her progress cards that it dawned on me that M was quite special. Her school has a beautiful concept of writing short character sketches along with children’s report cards. These are short notes that the class teachers write about each child in their care. M’s notes always spoke about her willingness to share, to resolve differences, help and adjust. But they almost always also mentioned her shyness and her tendency to prefer to remain in her own zone.
I was thus very apprehensive when she was chosen to be sent to Delhi to represent her school for an inter house quiz competition. The teacher said ” We have never taken such a small child before, do you think she will be able to cope?” Barely Eight, would she be able to travel overnight with a group of senior boys and girls ? Would she know how to sleep in a train without rolling off the narrow seat, use the awkward loos, change into her uniform all by herself? Wouldn’t she be nervous to stand up on the stage and face strange crowds? M is a fussy eater, What kind of food would she get? I was nervous like hell as I accompanied her to the railway station. M must have been apprehensive too, I could see it in the way she clutched tightly to her small suitcase. But as the train blew its whistle ready to roll off she put on a brave smile and waved me off – whispering in my ears “Don’t worry mumma, I will be okay.” That day as I saw her standing on the doorstep of the train bogey, trying to be confident. I was proud of my little girl. She was facing a challenge unlike any she had ever faced before but instead of giving in to doubts she chose to treat it like an adventure. Two days later when I collected her from the station again, she was grimy and tired but bright-eyed with her first taste of victory. On reaching home she ate like a starved puppy and then snuggled into a long deep sleep. To this day , the trophy on her mantlepiece stands in my mind not for her general knowledge but for her ability to put aside her doubts and take on life’s challenges by the horns.
The saddest day, in my parenting memory unfolded when M was three months shy of two. We had welcomed K her younger brother a couple of months earlier into our family. It had been a hectic time for us. K was born in the peak of winters and had suffered from severe cold since the first day. Between tending to a sickly new-born and taking care of the needs of a toddler I was perpetually tired and haggard. That evening as I sat M in my laps for her nightly story and asked her about her day. She began to stammer. My chirpy bird who had been talking fluently since she was eleven months old and had hardly even lisped was stammering! It broke my heart. The next day the stammer was still there and the next and next… Was this genetic? I had a close relative in the family with a stammer. Will my little girl have to face the jokes and sniggers that I had seen my relative suffer? Would it be assumed that she is ‘slow’ in her mind because she is ‘slow’ in expressing herself? Was this a passing phase? My husband and I googled and read every single article we found on stammering. Finding no answers in our small town, we headed to Delhi. The doctors and speech therapists we met were not very encouraging. They counseled us on how to deal with the condition but could give us no clue about the reason for its onset or prognosis. To the best of their understanding the stammer was here to stay.
We returned from that trip heavy-hearted and dejected. Each time M spoke our eyes filled with tears. But we were determined to not give up. We were not going to lose this battle. And we came up with our own theory. We decided that the arrival of the baby had something to do with the affliction. And even though the doctors insisted that ‘insecurity’ due to a sibling did not manifest into stammering at such a young age, we believed otherwise. My mom in law – M’s dadi stepped in and took over the daily care of the baby. K was brought to me only to be fed and bathed, spending the rest of his time with his dadi and dad. A month or two later the stammering stopped. Just as suddenly as it had creeped into our lives, it left us for good. For a year or two we watched anxiously. Wondering if it would claim our little girl again but thankfully it never did.
K and M have had their share of sibling rivalry. But slowly over the years we were able to convey to them that they were both cherished and loved and that in some crazy way our love instead of dividing between the two of them, multiplies and grows manifold to encompass them both. Today, K and M are inseparable. Being just a year apart they understand each others thoughts and feelings better than we ever will. They snigger together about classmates, swap jokes only they find funny and share secrets, that we have no access to. And if there is one person who is going to miss M more than us her parents, it is K her baby brother.
Her going away is a test for all of us. And like all important tests this one too is difficult. But if we pass it and we hope we will, the fruits will sweeten our lives forever.