I love children. I’ve never known what it is like to dislike them like many people (including my husband) who don’t particularly like being around them. I’ve taught toddlers when I was around 16 years old and unlike most of my school friends who used to be in shock at my patience (and who are proud mothers today), I always loved being with children. My mother who ran a school in Jaipur a long time ago, and where I did most of the teaching during my school vacations, used to think of me as a savior, promptly sending me to manage chubby toddlers at the kindergarten (sometimes the number was close to 25-30 in one batch alone).
I’ve never known why I’ve enjoyed the company of little kids. I love chattering away with most of my friends’ kids (all in the age group of 3-6) and find it almost therapeutic being with them. “You don’t have to look after them 24×7 that’s why,” feels one friend while there’s another friend (whom I’ve known for the past several years) who’s even more blunt: “Oh, these people who don’t have their own babies think children are all so cute and cuddly.”
I get my friend’s point. She (let’s call her Sonal) was a powerhouse of talent in school and college but didn’t have any regular job as one would’ve expected her to. A writer with a city magazine to begin with, she got into publishing for a brief while but not before trying copywriting at another small firm. Later, Sonal married and moved to LA and there she worked with one of the leading directors on a film that never got made. By her own admission, though the job sounded glamorous, her work was to keep the coffee in constant supply for the director and his guests. And no matter how close we once were as friends, I can’t help but think of how we drifted away; a) by her constant taunts of reminding me that I’m childless, b) her own discomfort at seeing me as a career woman. What I also witnessed over time was her obsession with her child (“It’s a fulltime job, bringing up a baby, but you won’t understand it Abhi” I was told) and this includes her desire to not send her child to school because she can’t bear the thought of her child facing all that heat and dust!
Truth be told, I have gone through my own phase of depression when friends have announced the arrival of the stork, have done their bit of work to have “complete families” in that they have two children and can breathe easy when they go for social gatherings. And without wanting to sound too melodramatic, I’ve cried, even drank out of depression (okay, just twice, but I still have) and felt miserable for myself. Some relatives have advised me to keep “12 bhraspati var vrat” and sleep in a certain direction and do other (too objectionable to be written and read here) things the right way! I used to feel pathetic earlier but I don’t now and I frankly don’t know why.
May be it’s a coping strategy or maybe I’m just so happy to look after Foxie, a stray pup that my husband and I adopted eight months ago. I love readying her breakfast, giving her a bath, cuddling next to her and watching her grow. I could be wrong but it’s a nice feeling to see my maternal instincts get channelized in what I can safely call the right direction. By that, I don’t mean pets can replace children. No, but somehow I’m more comfortable, more at ease with the situation than I was ever before.
It could be because of my friends too and through whose eyes I see glimpses of today’s parenting and understand how — and why — children are such a big responsibility. Sadly, I also find how terrible it is to just “have” children as opposed to “want to have” children. A school friend (I’ll call her Akshita) who remarried two years ago and almost immediately got pregnant (her mother-in-law and her husband only talked babies with her, even discussing her period dates to calculate her “fertile days”) was happy when she delivered a healthy baby. But her pregnancy (she conceived within four weeks of her marriage) was riddled with angst; her husband, she realized, around that time, had a drinking problem and she found herself going through tremendous depression each time he came home drunk and even remembers going over to her neighbour’s place to bring him back home. She’s been slapped and beaten too; all this while she was pregnant. Now, after two years of her so-called marriage, she’s forced to think of separation. And while divorce is still such a taboo in our society, having a child, she thinks, have only weakened her chances to get out of this messy situation.
Then there’s another friend (we’ll call her Khyati) who, having had an extra-marital affair, has moved out and filed for a divorce from her husband but not before willingly giving him the custody of their five-year-old child. The first hearing comes up in two weeks time and the child — who hated the idea of seeing “Mummy with uncle and not papa” is already kicking, beating and even biting other classmates in school. Khyati, a housewife, who had moved out of her home to be with her boyfriend, is now, naturally, pining for her child. She’s confused, “feels like having the baby back with her sometimes” while her former husband is irritable because the personal problems have meant a drastic decline in his project work. And the last time I met them (separately, of course), their first words were: “If only this child wasn’t around, it would’ve been so much simpler.” But the child is there, more cranky as ever and while I’m hopeful that he’ll deal with the situation in the long run, it did break my heart to even hear the parents say that.
So every time I talk to my friends about their children (without thrusting too many of my own opinions and views), I hear just one thing: “You won’t understand because you’re not a mum.” They are right on one account: I’m not a mum. But they’re wrong on another: I understand. And understand it only too well.