For the past 4 months, Arvind and I have been going out for lunch once a week. I pick him up after school at 1:45 and we drive to his favourite dodgy Chinese restaurant and we ask for the “usual” – Macau fried rice for him and Kung Pao beef for me. The proprietor grins and brings us Coke and water without even asking.
We talk. There is no plan, no agenda and inspite of uncomfortable, highbacked chairs, we relax. We talk about everything that comes to mind – what happened in school, what is in the news, salient features of the Triassic age and the Jurassic age, why I should learn Minesweeper. Our words foxtrot effortlessly without stumbling over each other, without awkwardness.
There is the day Anders Behring Breivik is declared insane.
“Does this mean they won’t kill him, Mamma? Or put him in jail? Because I’m sure he is really really sorry that he did something so stupid. Everyone is sorry afterwards, right?”
“I wish it was that simple, love,” I say “but I think he meant to do it. As awful as it is, I think he meant to hurt people and he believed he was doing the right thing. In many places in the world, he would have faced capital punishment. The death penalty.”
“Death penalty?” he says the words carefully before spooning more rice into his mouth.
“Where you are sentenced to die for the crime you’ve committed.”
“Even if you’re very very sorry?”
“That doesn’t make sense,” he frowns. “Why would they do that?”
“It has never made sense to me either.” I tell him.
I tell him about the various forms of capital punishment, about execution squads, about my impressions after visiting the Spandau prison in Berlin and as he turns his barrage of questions towards me, the couple next to us look like they really wished they had ordered take away Moo shoo Pork.
From death by capital punishment, we move onto apple pie, religion and afterlife and I might have snuck in that at least once in his life, he should read Catcher in The Rye because Holden Caulfield? He will stay with you forever.
“You’re sad, Mamma,” he says one afternoon. “You’re smiling, but you’re sad.”
“I am.” I say quietly but directly. I am unwilling to explain this darkness, this desperate suffocation I am feeling. The feeling that the already tenuous centre of my life is unravelling at a pace faster than I could keep up with. I don’t know how to tell my son that I don’t know how I got out of bed that morning.
I try to remember being myself at his age, so much like him. The child who sensed discord and discontent, who picked up even minor distress and made it hers. I know that I want to accord him more credit and respect than I was given in those circumstances.
“You know how sometimes, in school, everyone seems to be having a great time except you and even though everyone wants to play with you, something is just not right? You either feel too much or too little? Or somedays you are sad or angry about something that happened some other day?”
He nods, sombre in the moment.
“It’s like that for me sometimes,” I say. “Sometimes being sad and being angry comes from a place you can’t see anymore, that you don’t really understand. But I am trying to understand. I need to understand so that I can be a better mother for you and Armaan.”
“But Mamma..” he begins and stops short as if a little overcome by the moment and I am ready to hurry in with my effortless guilt.
He pulls out a pencil and paper from his bag and writes
DU ER FIN SOM DU ER.
You are fine just as you are. Just as you are.
There is the 1000 volt realization that no-one has ever said that to me. Not in that way or in any other way. And I have known so much love.
In those moments, a gift so huge, so vastly generous that not a single thing in my life could possibly feel unaligned.
Because I am enough. Just as I am.
“Also, you cry easily,” he says, slightly alarmed by this unexpected reaction.
“But of course I do,” I laugh. “Your mother is an emotional woman. I have tears for the happy and tears for the sad. This is really going to annoy you at your graduation.”
He grins. “IF I want to,” he says, “Maybe I’ll just make lots of money playing and making video games.” And we’re off again.
We still clash, we still fight, but something has changed so fundamentally. We are quicker to diffuse, quicker to get it, quicker to laugh.
Today, on the 17th of January, he turned 9. He awoke to music he’d selected the night before, (“Kiss” by Prince. Spell VICTORY for me.), Super Mario Toad cupcakes, candles and presents.
“Soon, I’ll have to fold you in four if you’re going to fit in my lap,” I joke. He grabs a cupcake and brings his shaggy haired self to the sofa, where he contorts his ever-lankening limbs in to my lap, his head contentedly tucked under my neck.
“I want some Us time today” he says quietly, while his brother clamours that he wants a birthday too. NOW.
So I pick him up right after school, we come home, eat more cupcakes and at the stroke of 2:30, the exact time of his birth, I gather him in my lap again to tell him how lucky we are to have him in our lives. To tell him that he should always be himself, true to himself, no matter what, because nothing in life will ever feel quite as amazing.
You are fine just as you are, I say.
Remember the book All I Really Needed To Know I Learned in Kindergarten?
Well, Robert Fulghum, you were wrong. Or maybe my Kindergarten was just lousy.
All I Really Need To Know I Keep Learning From My Sons.