A penny for two thoughts?

A couple of thoughts that got processed over the past few days, interestingly both related to books in a way –

I was reading a book review (this one) and it made me realize that motherhood has made me weak-hearted in some ways. It’s another matter that I’ve become brave on certain other fronts, but let’s leave that for another day. So this book –  from the review, I could imagine it would be a nightmarish read. The kind that would twist your insides and make you want to curl up in a corner and die. And I’m almost sure it wouldn’t have been so if it weren’t for the mother part in me. Because, and I’ve been noticing this very often, every time there’s a person in pain, I end up seeing my son’s face.

Those child beggars at the traffic stop that we’re so used to seeing that it’s part of the scenery now? I notice them more. And I can’t bear it. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling. The closest description would be someone holding your heart and squeezing it till you feel nothing but an emptiness there. Slowly, that emptiness travels to your gut and there are some moments of weightlessness, like just before a fall. You’re this close to breaking down and then the light turns green, you drive off and remember to breathe.

I don’t recollect being like this before my son was born. It’s a bit like the character May in Sue Monk Kidd’s ‘The secret life of bees’ – she takes empathy to an extreme level wherein she starts to feel sad as if she herself were enduring the pain, even if it was actually happening to somebody else.

So, yeah, to quote what I had written as a comment on the book review, my tolerance for pain or sadness has gone down a lot. It’s probably because of this feeling of helplessness that after that moment when he came out of the birth canal, my son is on his own. Yes, I’m here for him but I can no longer shield his body with my body. I can no longer nourish him with mine. He’s another person – OUTSIDE of me. And he can be in pain, all on his lonesome. And THAT, by far, is the most scariest thing ever for me.

Sentimental, much? Ok, I’m stopping.

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The other one is on this article, about those weirdo children’s books we reading-parents come across all the time. I say ‘weirdo’ because, even though the language is fine, the books themselves are an empty read – there’s nothing to remember or learn, other than the actual act of reading to the little person in your lap. I could identify so much with what’s written in the article! Like this bit –

The problem is that young children have terrible taste and enjoy garbage. Another problem, which compounds the first problem, is that they want to hear the same books hundreds of times in a row. So for all the joys that storytime can offer, it frequently entails a kind of dismal self-abnegation that’s too excruciating even to describe as tedium—an actively painful sense of my precious time on earth being torn from my chest and tossed into a furnace.

It’s so so true. And I also agree with the part that we tend to buy books that we remember from our childhood – but the thing is we’ve forgotten what the book is about and we only have the nostalgia of seeing that book when we were kids. And, honestly, when we come across the stories now, my first response is usually ‘What the heck?!’. Like the one about the goat kids and the wolf – the wolf eats up the kids but the Mother Goat then goes and cuts up the wolf’s belly, takes out the kids and sews it back up, with stones inside. Say what?! I had to change that entire bit to say the wolf stole the kids in a bag and the Mother Goat saved them by tearing open the bag. Why couldn’t the story have used bag instead of belly? Which kindergartner needs that kind of gore?! And how am I to explain to him later that you can’t just cut open stomachs and sew them back up with stones stuffed inside? As if I don’t have enough tough questions to answer as it is.

That said, I feel we shouldn’t THINK too much about the content, as long as it is written in a coherent manner, with tasteful illustrations and without any general bias or prejudice. Just like those umpteen nursery rhymes about old men being thrown down the stairs or little boys indulging in eve teasing (yep, those are rhymes. See this.). The article refers to ‘The little engine that could’ as one of those ‘terrible’ books – I don’t agree! 🙂 It’s a story about how an engine breaks down and the toys in the train try to hail some other engine to pull them up the hill. Most engines give some reason or the other and go away without helping. And along comes a little engine which hasn’t really pulled a big train but is willing to help and try! It’s a bit adorable, actually. I’ve read it many times to my son and recently, in a different context about helping me with chores, he just said, “Like the little engine helps, Amma. I help.”. What more do you want of a children’s book, eh? So, yeah. Let’s just screen the books for language and child-friendly content and let the kids have some fun without worrying about morals and lessons and what not. They have their entire life ahead to deal with that!

To have or not to have

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Motherhood evaded me thrice. The fourth time I prevailed. By then, it had come down to pure probability – the more times I lost, the better my chances of a win. But it’s so tiring. Physically and emotionally. Once that need comes in, that need to create life and nurture it, little else can compensate for the absence.

Sometimes I feel it’s a very selfish thing, wanting to have children. I mean, the child didn’t exactly ask to be born, right? I wanted a child. Me. I wanted to be a mother. Ironically, once you do become a mother, somehow, you enter this whole phase of selflessness where anything and everything you do is for that little person who you brought into the world. Good one, God – we humans must be such a source of entertainment for you! 😉

Where am I going with all this? As usual, nowhere. I have a small presence on Instagram and my next photo there will be my 1000th. Since I’m such a sucker for mostly meaningless milestones (I originally wrote just ‘meaningless milestones’ but who can pass up a chance for a pathetic alliteration, eh? I can’t!), I will make a little disturbance in the otherwise calm surface that is my blog and watch how far the wave travels before returning to steady state. Given how cliched the world is, my 1000th photo will obviously be one of my son’s. I still haven’t decided which one. If you’re wondering why I spend precious time contemplating a photo on Instagram, well, don’t. It’s bad enough I’M wasting time, no reason why you should do it too.

Anyway..long tangent short, I was thinking about the kid and how much the husband and I have struggled to be where we are now. Being childless is like living with a constant pain that just won’t go away no matter what you do to distract yourself or change your surroundings or any of those things you’re told to do by people around you. Oh, as opposed to being childfree, which is a choice and one that I totally respect. And sometimes feel jealous of – you know, during those days when the son is driving me up the wall and it’s all I can do to not lose my cool with him and make things worse (what? I’m human. And I’m just being honest. I dare you to show me a mother who’s all chirpy and happy 24×7, 365.25 days a year. I dare you.).

So yes, getting back, I’ve been on the all sides of the motherhood scene – initially childless, then temporarily childfree and then a mother. Neither of those is an easy place to be in, trust me. If you’re childless, there’s this baby-shaped hole in your life that you can’t fill up. If you’re childfree, there’s all those uncomfortable questions and judgmental glares to navigate through at least till every aunty in a 500km radius and all your Facebook/Whatsapp contacts are sufficiently satisfied that what you do with your life is your business, not theirs. And if you’re a mother, well, it has its own set of challenges, the most difficult of which to deal with is resentment – that others get to do such and such thing while you’re stuck doing the same thing day in and day out (here we are both equal – the SAHM and the working mom) – and it’s never ending. For all of us.

Children. Why are they such a big deal?

Oh wait. The human race. That’s why.

But is that all? Instead of my neighbor and I having one child each, if my neighbor had 2 and I had none – the human race is going to do just fine, no? So it can’t be that.

Then what is it about having children that makes it so complicated irrespective of whether we have one or not?

Is it so we can see little photocopies of ourselves, ours to bring up in our own messed up way? But that doesn’t explain adoption or donor pregnancies. The lengths we go to or are willing to go to, no matter how painful, to attain parenthood.

And why do people look at it as such a bad thing if you decide not to have children?

I don’t know. Tell me, if you do.

Or let’s just wait for an epiphany.