Kyun ke mein ma hoon (because I am the mother).” Growing up, that was the standard response my mother would give me if I asked her why the same rules didn’t apply to her as they did to me. We grew up believing she wasn’t just a regular person, she was a superhuman, because she was a mother. Our mother. She could do whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted and no one, least of all us, could question her. At least that was the impression we got. I couldn’t wait for my turn.
Growing up, that ‘aim’ changed from being a mother to being an adult, because one should take one step at a time. “It’s not fun, there are a lot of responsibilities that come with it,” my mother would say to me and then give me chores around the house to prove her point. “Why are you in such a hurry?” she would ask. I didn’t know how to tell her that it was because I wanted to be all-powerful, just like her. Whatever her ‘job’ was — as a ‘mom’ or an ‘adult’ — she made it look like it was the best thing ever … and we weren’t a part of that club.
I think that’s why one of my sisters rebelled, got married early and had her first baby when she was still a teenager. Marriage, back in the early ’90s, meant independence. Becoming a mom meant that your Club Adult membership was now permanent and, therefore, irrevocable.
Mother knows best...even in the age of the internet
My mother took to grand-motherhood like a fish takes to water. Since my nephew was born in the ’90s, when the internet was around but hadn’t permeated our lives as it does today, mom could still pass on her years of mothering wisdom to my sister without any question or interference. My sister was happy for whatever help was available and basked in the attention she was getting.
I remember the day she was supposed to go back to her home, after spending the first couple of months at ours, my mother was most anxious. “Will my daughter be able to mother her son properly without me?” was a concern that haunted her in those first few weeks as she made regular trips to my sister’s place to check in on her. But a big part of graduating to grandmotherhood also meant learning to let go. Trusting that she’s done her job raising her own child, and to leave the parenting up to the actual parents.
By the time sister number two was due to have her first baby, the world had changed. This one spent her pregnancy reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting and exchanging notes with her friends and, by extension, networks of other expectant or young mothers. Every little thing the doctor said was noted down and everything my mother said was cross-checked and verified by a variety of sources. By the time my niece came round, we were well-prepared — the house had been baby-proofed, the cat given away, supplies stocked at home, etc.
The first few months she spent at home went by fast. Soon, it was time for her to go to work.
In order to create ‘balance’ between the time my niece spent with her paternal and maternal grandparents, my sister would drop her off to my mother before going to work and pick her up after she was done. Not only that, there would be a full list of instructions and if my mother suggested anything different, it would be met with cries of, “But that’s not what the doctor said!”
My mother, an ‘expert’ mom who has raised several children to adulthood, and also now an experienced grandmother, didn’t take kindly to being told how to do a job she was more than qualified for. The list of ‘rules’ given to her would be thrown out the window the moment my sister would leave for her office. As long as the baby was at my mother’s house, her rules would apply.
I wasn’t there when sister number three was going to have her first baby. When I came back, the first thing my mother said to me, as she handed me my baby nephew was, “This is an internet baby.” What does she mean? “Every move we make with the baby has to be checked online,” she said, trying not to roll her eyes. “Baby Centre is a great resource,” said my sister firmly. “The website literally knows what’s happening to me before I even know what’s happening to me,” she added. She wasn’t going to back down from well-informed decisions of what needed to be done. My mother, who by now was a firm subscriber of a policy of minimum interference, has settled quite comfortably in her role as caregiver to the new mother.
Now that my other sisters had their own babies and were quite occupied, leaving me as the main available aunt, for the first time I really saw what it took for my sister to become a mother. It’s a role that is often romantic in books, novels and poetry. But here I was face-to-face with a human whose body had gone through a lot — nine months of constant change, aches and pains, post-birth it was now scarred, broken and still in the process of healing. But rather than take time out to rest, my sister had to wake up every couple of hours to feed her little milk vampire. My mother would be there to help, keeping fluids on hand to ensure her own baby didn’t get dehydrated and got the nutrition she needed. For the first time I realised that this great, fun adventure that my mom and sisters had embarked on was not as easy as it looked.
“How does your husband feel?” I asked my sister as I cuddled my nephew who was wrapped like a little burrito. “He’s over the moon,” she responded, tired but so very proud of this little life she’d help create.“He keeps saying one thing over and over again: thank you.”
Published in Dawn, EOS, May 14th, 2017