On Monday the 17th of August, Arvind began school.
On Sunday our home resembled a nuked whorehouse. Not that I am really personally acquainted with whorehouses – nuked or otherwise.
It did not look good. It did not look like the kind of home where a kid could find his homework. Not without stepping into a two-day old, dried up bowl of macaroni and meat sauce at any rate. We did not look like the parents who could be trusted with a schoolgoing child.
This was entirely ludicrous given how much planning has gone into the Excel sheet titled First Day of School. I slept with that sheet. There are lipstick marks on that sheet. All this by way of letting you know that Excel to-do sheets turn me on and…OhMyGod! I must give up the bureaucrat life before I become an even bigger freak than I ever was.
I had it all down.
What Arvind would wear? (Sweater had be bright blue. I knew that by the time he was one) What special, but healthy treat would he have for breakfast that morning? (Pancakes with fruit – duh!) Who would mind Armaan that day? Where would we go to celebrate after? It had to be perfect. There was no way I would risk him turning on me in my fragile old age and ranting, ” A POKEMON sweater in lime green? For my first day of school? ARE YOU FOR REAL?? And cheerios for breakfast?” All topped off with that look. The one of intense betrayal that says, “Thanks for memories I’m too ashamed to share with my kids.”
You get the drift. I leave nothing to chance.
Come weekend and everything (everything=me) started getting unglued. Terrible weather forced us to be indoors all day and a better parent would have made hot chocolate, found board games to play and even gone through a kiddie album or two. Me? I was only inclined to drink cuppa upon cuppa of chai. Occasionally I broke that tedium to run into the bathroom and sob into a towel.
I don’t do weakness well. Or guilt. Or failure. And it has been the hardest thing in the world to admit how hard this rite of passage was. This seemingly undramatic start of school. For me, it was like a hideous neon sign that wouldn’t budge, spelling it out glaringly:
THE SIX SWEETEST YEARS OF YOUR CHILD’S LIFE HAVE PASSED. ARE YOU GLAD YOU MISSED SO MUCH OF IT? WAS THIS THE BEST YOU COULD DO? DO YOU FEEL LIKE A GOOD MOTHER?
I know, I know. With a conscience like mine, you don’t need enemies.
I couldn’t look at him without seeing the time I had lost. Seeing the mother that I couldn’t be for him. The mother I probably should have been, but wasn’t. And every permutation and combination of these sentences rushing in for the final thrilling crescendo of self- flagellating glory.
By Sunday, guilt gave way to a bigger storm outside and the mother of all panic attacks in our home. From going around grumbling “Aargh! the house cannot look like this” to the fullblown meltdown of “Why must our home always be the local pigsty!!?” We pulled through the day; the Viking and kids dodged some bullets of motherly ire and once the kids were tucked up in bed and peace reigned, I did my thing.
My thing, where I potter around our home, straighten up and wash and fix and make pretty. Make pretty was suddenly of the utmost importance because my firstborn child is tremendously appreciative of the pretty bit. He is the boy who will walk into a freshly cleaned home and sigh with contentment. Who will suggest a move as an antidote to the mess. Maybe, like his worn ole Ma, he is just one of those persons who feels a greater sense of harmony when their external environment is neat and organised.
Pottering and making pretty is also one way I can wash away the hostility I have stained myself with. It is when I wash the kitchen counter, pat myself on the back and go, “Ach, you’re not totally crap after all. Look, the counter – it shines! It defies crapness.” Pottering leads to gratitude, jiggly dances, flowers on tables and a bowl of fruit that you never want to eat, but would be content just staring at.
Monday was a lovely day. Well, it rained like a funeral, but who cares when you have pancakes for breakfast? And Arvind – oh dear – so handsome, so tall, so handsome, so clear-eyed, clowning around relentlessly, refusing to let me take a proper portrait…. and I have to stop because suddenly someone is sitting on my chest and all the air in my windpipe froze for an instant.
And the biggest surprise of them all.
A sudden need to pray. To begin this moment auspiciously.
You could have knocked me over with a feather. I am not a religious person. I don’t normally pray. I don’t ask the Big Guy for favours. I veer between a shaky agnostic stance and a vague spirituality which mixes well with gin. Why? Not because there is no world peace thanks to organized religion and LOOK AT THE STATE OF THE FRIGGING WORLD WILL YOU?
Because I always wanted to be able to take care of myself. Be strong without the crutch of religious faith. Yet lately, I crumble a bit quicker; I’m a bit more jagged around the edges and sub-consciously I have been seeking…conversation. Clarity. Quietitude. A place within to hear my real thoughts contra what I think I should be thinking/feeling/doing.
So I think of my maternal grandfather, a classy and spiritual man if there ever was one and I find myself lighting a lamp. It spreads the warmest light into our grey Monday. And from here things become a whole lot wierder – twilight zone wierd – because suddenly I know exactly what to do. And if you’d been granted residence inside my grey matter, you’d know that that never happens.
I scoop Arvind into my arms we join our palms, his little palms nestled inside mine and I ask him to repeat after me.
asato ma sadgamaya (Lead me from unreal/untruth to real/truth)
tamaso ma jyotirgamaya (from darkness (ignorance) to light (knowledge)
mrtyorma amritam gamaya (from death to immortality)
Om Shantih Shantih Shantih
.. and he does so, clearly and flawlessly, delivering me a moment of such complete, quiet purity that I still can’t wrap my head around it or do justice to it with words. Somehow they turned out to be the perfect lines to say at this perfect moment.
They also beat the crap out of “Best of luck at school, Sonnyboy. Now, don’t do drugs.” Oh wait, thats for high school.
He was off without even doing us the basic courtesy of looking nervous. We all gathered in the school auditorium and when his name was called, he sauntered off to line up. Without looking back and without reaching for our hands. Just like a boy who had waited impatiently for a year for this day in his life.
So composed that I can almost imagine him as a high school graduate – a self-contained yet confident young man who is often a million miles away on a planet I hope to visit some day, if he’ll let me.
And whats different with a skoolboy in the house? Well, you’ll get eye-rolled more often for one. You MAY NOT ask how his day was, you may NOT waste your breath, you may as well not bother. Thats how much he’s NOT going to tell you a single detail of his day. If you sigh sadly, he might relent a bit and say, “Ok then, we played a bit. Ok? Stop asking.”
At this point I will eyeball the Viking and communicate silently, “See! We need a chatty girl! This.. this is my brother and a re-run of my mother’s withheld-information-hell.”
So I do the next best thing. I go kiss up to the teachers and childcare staff and they tell me how kind he is, how well he plays with other kids, how some of them ask for him if he’s a bit late, how he’s too impatient to line up, how he eats well somedays and poorly if he’s too excited and how he hates being interrupted while he’s drawing and colouring because he’s telling a story too and THAT requires your stuck-out tongue tip and ALL of your brain – d-uh!
You’re okay, skoolboy.
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