It was at a child’s birthday party, and Gayathri was perhaps four years old. The other girl’s name was Tanya, and she was eight; four years older than Gayathri and when you’re that young, the age difference is important. Perhaps like everything else, people grow accustomed to growing older, and then it loses its meaning. Either way, being an eight year old gave Tanya an unquestionable authority over anyone younger, an authority which she was ready to impose.
“You had picked up a toy,” I told Gayathri many years later. She was thirteen then. “And you were trying to play with it, when Tanya told you in a very snarky voice that you couldn’t, and snatched it away. I felt so very angry and bothered.”
“Why do you even remember this?” Gayathri asked.
“All the while she was being super rude and you were all sweet and understanding, attempting to reason with her. It broke my heart. Why do I remember? You obviously don’t.” I shrugged.
“Of course I do.” She scoffed. “I keep a list of all my enemies. She was number 23. I recall having her assassinated the following day.”
Humour is generally our tool of communication. We don’t end conversations with love you’s and mark reunions with hugs. After a point, I gave my daughter the steering wheel, and, although I occasionally give her directions, she’s learned to navigate on her own. How effective this method is, I can’t be sure. I’ve often been informed that I’m better at bringing up dogs than human beings, which isn’t particularly comforting since we have been informed by multiple sources, including the vet himself, that our dog is completely neurotic.
“At least you don’t bite people.” I say, comfortingly.
However, I have noticed that parents who keep a firm control of the steering wheel tend to be kicked out of the car completely after a point. Gayathri doesn’t assure me that she loves me and then proceeds to secretly sneak out to places – partly due to a lack of places to sneak out to and mainly because of what I’d like to believe is a slight trust developed between us. And so, the freedom I give her is met with rewards in the form of secrets, or rather, a lack of them. Perhaps people also grow accustomed to secrets with age, and the gossip of teenage girls doesn’t shock me particularly anymore.
Of course, it’s far from a faultless relationship – the supposed car that I have unintentionally picked up as a metaphor has its dents. Honesty means lowering the pretense that motherhood is what I was born for, my ultimate purpose in life. When she complained to me, I didn’t hesitate to inform Gayathri that I don’t, in fact, always know what I’m doing.
“I don’t find that particularly hard to believe.” She answered wryly. “But you could at least do a better job pretending.”
In fact, on first embarking on the magical journey of parenthood, I must admit to looking down at the tiny alien-like creature I held in my arms, and feeling slightly worried:
“You were worried that I was ugly?” Gayathri asked with horror.
“To be fair, all babies are slightly odd-looking, and it was my first time.”
“Where’s the beauty of motherhood? The magical feeling of holding a person made out of your actual DNA?”
“I loved you despite your ugliness, don’t worry.”
Another incident I recall is one where Gayathri was four and I had just had a second child a couple of months back, which meant little patience with Gayathri’s tantrums, even the tiny ones. So when she kicked up a fuss at bath time one day, my fuse was at its end. Children are oddly like cats when it comes to bathing, and I didn’t have the patience to cajole and persuade her. I dragged her kicking and screaming, and although she bawled through the ordeal, I got the bath over faster than I would have otherwise. And then later, of course, I felt guilty:
“Well, it’s not like that incident scarred me for life.” Gayathri told me when I reminisced to her. “And you’ve made me cry multiple times – you’re a spiteful person, come to think of it. Why do you remember this occasion?”
“I suppose it’s because of how easily it could have been avoided. You were young, and Samhitha had just been born – all you wanted was attention, really.” I said. “And I do think I scarred you for life, it could be why you still resist the idea of bathing.”
Having a child means that you’re now going to mould a life – everything you say or do can potentially impact the child in ways that a parent can’t sometimes predict. We have the power to impact most everyone we meet really, whether for the better or worse. But the responsibility that comes with this power is tripled in the case of your children. A tremendous chunk of what they are and will become is your responsibility, and the love that you feel towards them is so ridiculously strong that the thought of allowing them to feel hurt without a reason, even if was for a little while when they were four or five, is so very heartbreaking.
In conclusion, car rides with children can be a crappy experience. (Sorry, this metaphor is refusing to go away.) There are disagreements about the music, who’s taking up the most space, and car sickness tends to be a disagreeable experience (and not just for the person suffering from it). When children grow up, their tastes in music might evolve a little, they may learn to settle down, and the amount of vomit will hopefully decrease. If you’ve taught them well enough, they’ll eventually take over the wheel, and give you some time in the backseat.
Perhaps I’ve lost my way every once in a while, I’ve never had the patience for maps. But I find my way back. And it’s a bumpy, potholed ride, but, overall, I’d say it’s almost enjoyable. I even find myself humming along to their music once in a while.
(Not the Skrillex though, that music is insufferable.)