14th July 1965. When the first rays of dawn broke in all its golden charm and touched down lightly on my window panes, illuminating it with an unearthly glow, I was born again. It was the first time she wriggled restlessly in my arms, suffering conceivably from both fear and fascination for the big, bad unknown world I had led her into. She - my daughter.
I basked in the glory and peace of lustrous motherhood. It was as though a tender flame burned quietly within me, throwing a light never seen thus far. She clung on to me, her little fingers appraising the alien cloth that then seemed to have come between her and me. Did she know that I was her mother? What would I tell her – call me Mom, or Momma, or Mum or whatever? What was she thinking? What was running inside her little mind? Was it blank or was He showing her beautiful dreams as she stirred and smiled?
I held her close to my bosom, her head on my hand, her tiny fingers holding my gown. Oh, how exhilarating it was, I can’t explain. I ran my fingers all over her, feeling the supple and the beautifully tender skin, fresh with the smell of a new born. Such tiny fingers, toes, small eyes that hadn’t even opened completely, a small round mouth, that had broken into just one half smile, a nose that was yet to make its way out, such delicate folds – how marvelously sculpted by the Master Creator. I had carried a priceless gift from God and had delivered it to the world, I felt and hence, beamed with a satisfaction, that was definitely not meagre.
The first time she crawled, the first time she sat up, the first words she uttered (buh, buh for milk) – a long list of unforgettable firsts found a mention in my “My baby book”. One afternoon, while I was in the kitchen checking on baby food, I suddenly turned to see my little honey having taken two steps from where I had put her (it was near the kitchen door). She tottered towards me, carefully lifting her small feet and putting them forward, o-------n-------e, t-------w-------o, th------ree-------, fo--------ur, fiveeeee! I sank on my knees and held her hands. She beamed. I smiled. I cried. My baby had learnt to walk.
It wasn’t long after then that she started running all over the house and the garden, her father, giving her all the company. Vaccines, diaper changes, “Oomy” and “Addy”, baby food, prams, toys, baby clothes; they were symbols that dominated our lives together. Addy dropped her at pre-school and I would pick her up in the evening. “Oomy” she would say, “Colour, colour..”. Colours fascinated her and Addy only pampered her with crayons, colour pencils, more crayons, more colour pencils.
I think the phrase, “And they lived happily ever after..” is destined to find its presence only in fairy tale books. (Oh, how many we used to read out to her – “Beauty and the Beast”, “Cindrella”, “Snow White and the seven dwarfs”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Pied Piper”, “Pinocchio”..), for doom descended on us, like a huge black cloud. When my daughter was barely three years old and me, 25, my husband left us groping in the dark, searching for a future, that appeared to exist eons away. He died of cardiac arrest.
Faced with the huge responsibility of bringing up a child, single handedly, I shuddered. God, what would I do? Where would I begin? The amazing trait of family life is the division of responsibility. Momma would cook, run the household, Pappa would work, take care of financial matters, and both would play an equal part in raising the kid. Suddenly, I had to do it all, all alone. I felt stranded, as if abandoned in an island in the middle of the sea, with no one to help but myself.
She was after all, a child. Her questions were alarming and, never ending. She couldn’t understand why dad never returned home, why momma went to work in a bank while she also made food, why Addy never dropped her at school anymore and only a school van picked her up. Why was Oomy signing report cards, why was Oomy talking to teachers – Oh hell, why was the whole world upside down, why was routine so topsy turvy and was like what it once never was?
I was making tremendous effort; to build up my determination, to walk my way up to my ultimate goal. I sought employment, took stock of our family financial condition and retained our house. (We had bought it just a year back). I was earning only half as much as my husband and hence our lifestyle had to be adjusted to the inflows. Fatigue, work pressures, memories and sometimes despair would drive me to a corner.
I wonder how time starts ticking away without even you realizing it. In all those years of my daughter growing up, I wanted to make sure, she didn’t miss her dad but how could that be possible? I was missing my husband and how could I successfully fill up that void he left behind? My daughter seemed to me a mature girl for, over a period of time she realized that life had to go on and that father was no longer a physical presence of support but an entity in the memory, an impression and pillar of strength within our minds.
By the time she was eleven, we had gained ground and established a way of life for ourselves. We were determined to have fun together. After years, we laughed, rolling on our beds, had pillow fights, threw water at each other, cooked together, did homework together, went for picnics, watched horror movies and comedy shows, remembering him all the while, only that this time, we remembered him with happiness and not regret. It’s a lesson that life and time had taught us – to be happy when we could be.
Are anxieties and fears signs of growing old? By the time my daughter was sixteen, I seemed to have all signs of it. I was worrying, to say the least, that my daughter, like many other teens in the country, would lose track of her life. What induced the fear in me, I know not, but it sprouted out of nowhere and was growing to torment me in ways that I had not imagined. At fifteen, she was watching movies with her friends, having late night parties. She was good, she informed me of everything beforehand, yet, I panicked. I feared I was losing my daughter to undesirable ways of life. Drugs, affairs, sex – Oh Jesus, what if my daughter fell a prey to any of these? My daughter’s requests to attend parties slowly met with a cold resistance, which she had never seen of her mother. “Oh Momma, but why?” they are all nice folks, she would say. But I would put a firm foot down.
In the nights, I would see her weep into her pillow and feel terrible about silly notions I was entertaining inside my head. She is my daughter, I would tell myself, Why don’t you trust her? She, she understood but still didn’t understand. She was a nice daughter who loved her mother and knew momma loved her too. But, why wasn’t she letting her go? Why doesn’t Momma trust her anymore?
My fear was driving me to a point of atrocious insanity, bewildering for sure, to my now grown-up daughter. Our lives suddenly seemed to assume the nature of a bundle of contradictions, when each found the other’s attitude a dividing line – to her a fence to her freedom - a fence that pricked when she wanted to jump to her greener pastures, to me the very barricade that rose like a wall between us. In the process of me being protective, and she being assuring, we, like children, were exaggerating the line beyond proportion.
In the end, I trusted my instincts and let her go. She wanted to do her graduation, staying at a hostel. My fears rose in me again but at seventeen, I saw in her eyes, the confidence that had once sparkled in her father’s eyes. I let her go.
It was true I missed her and worried about her but her assurance was not merely words, they were really meant to assure a mother in a distant land, a single mother who had stretched herself to bring her daughter up in the best of comforts. I dutifully collected every single letter she wrote to me, spoke to her once a week over the phone and counted down four months to her winter break and then another four months for her summer break. And my daughter would return, unfailingly every time, to be with her mother.
Her assertion that I was still her best friend warmed up my existence and she spoke of her friends, her college, her professors, her classes and in her final year, her boy friend. I smiled and she sensed the worry plaguing me, “Don’t worry momma, he is a very nice chap,” I will bring him over very soon. I trusted her.
My hair grayed quite a bit over the years and looking at my own reflection in the mirror, I felt the shadow of old age creeping up my physical body. I continued to work even after my daughter was gone for her studies, for it seemed really important to me to keep myself occupied, lest an idle mind would conjure up unwanted thoughts and ideas.
The day my daughter spoke of a new person, a new man in her life, I realized that she was truly grown up and whether I liked it or not, her life would take a different course in which I may no longer be the mainstream personality. She would have her family, her kids to deal with and the ball would just roll on.
I think of the last 25 years in a flash, as my daughter’s latest letter flutters in my hands. She speaks of her work life and discusses her marriage plans. “Momma, I’ll always be there for you, Love you sweetheart” she signs off. Now, I decide, it’s time to see a new phase. It’s time to redefine my goals.
Heart warming victories, silent defeats, ups and downs. It isn’t easy to be a single mother.