Don’t let anyone kid you. Being a parent is a weird, complex, lovely job. I’ve been one for a little over a year now. How do I feel? Sleepy. Yes, incredible sleep deprivation is the overriding emotion even at the end of 18 months. When I went to my GP with a succession of colds and coughs four months after Nayana was born, he said something that seemed profound to me then, “Most new mothers fall sick, feel tired and depressed because of lack of sleep. That’s a bigger drain on your resources than breast feeding.” My eyes welled up. Here was the truth at last: not hormones, resentment, hunger, or selfishness. It was lack of sleep that was making me so miserable and angry. You see, I’m a seven-hours-a-night sort of gal, and with Nayana around, I was averaging a mere three!
We’ve moved on since then. Nayana’s older and sleeps better, but I’m still on auto-mom-mode. It’s like there’s a watchdog inside me, listening, listening for the slightest sniffle, the tiniest of moans, and the watchdog never rests. Did baby wake up because of a bad dream? Or did an ant bite her? Is it colic? Something worse? That’s when I think of children in institutions and wonder about their care. Even if they are clothed, sheltered, fed and well-tended-to, who hugs them and comforts their nameless fears? That’s the second word I’d use to describe my feelings about motherhood: guilt. Sheer, heart-wrenching guilt about so many children without moms, grandmas, dads to hold and comfort them. With no one to stimulate their growing minds, and no one to coax them to learn that seemingly-simple task of eating well… I always wanted to adopt, believing that it’s immoral to create more kids when there are enough on earth already who need love. But life – and family – has a way of getting around your best intentions.
And there’s another feeling, of course, one that’s the mainspring of our urge to become parents: pride. And a sense of wonder. At Nayana’s many perfections, and at her lovely little imperfections. There must be some atavistic joy we get out of seeing ourselves replicated. How selfish, I tell myself, but oh how nice. She reads books briskly, turning pages with all the concentration and confidence of a Mrs More going thru files in a government office. She sings songs and laughs at our ‘jokes’; loves being hugged and tickled; tells us stories, shortened telegraphically; plays with her doll and becomes their ‘Nayanu chechi’ (or didi), and ‘feeds’ them; has set fears, likes, dislikes. Like me, she loves books, food and talking. Like Amit, she loves music.
But for all that, she is her own person. She has traits of generosity, concern and cleanliness that she hasn’t got from either of us. It is fun to watch a child grow – and to attribute claims of genetics to her… to spot a mirrored feature, a similar reaction. I know that she is a combination of her innate nature and of the things we expose her to. And I firmly believe that if we were different parents, she’d be a different kid. So much for genetics! As someone who’s always enjoyed being with kids, I’d say that watching a child – any child – grow is fun. Even if they aren’t from the same gene pool as you!
PS: Speaking of reading, I found an interesting article by a developmental psychiatrist who is also a dad. It’s not online, so till Amit figures out how to link it, please do mail me if you’d like to read it. Nayana is a passionate book lover! Current chart-toppers are: Dr Seuss, Winnie the Pooh, Goodnight Moon, various Nursery Rhymes books (with singalongs by any present adult), If you give a mouse a cookie…, and many more!