“Mamma, sometimes you talk very rudely with Nani,” my daughter said to me. “I don’t like that at all,” she added after a pause.
We were sitting at my mother’s dining table, next to each other. I tried to keep the expression on my face steady, but I hope she could see how miserable I was feeling as I looked at her telling me the truth.
I didn’t know how to say sorry to either my mother or my daughter. After a while I got up and went into my parents’ room, got into their bed and went to sleep. It was a late Sunday morning.
The house belongs to the children. This sentence has sprouted like a fresh shoot from fallow ground in my head for a few weeks now. It is like a key I have found to a puzzle that I have been trying to solve for years.
The house belongs to the children in the same way that their school and neighbourhood should belong to them. The same way that workplaces should belong to people who work there and the country and land should belong to the people who live there. But the house belongs to the children in a much deeper way than other places that should, but don’t always allow people to belong.
Home is where the journey starts. Home is where the destination is. Home is where the roots get a grip, roots that nourish our soul for the rest of our lives. Home is security and creativity. Home is where the parents are. Home is perhaps the first and last place where we can influence change. Home recharges us.
Invert every hierarchy you know. Smash it, sometimes politely, sometimes with cunning. Start with home. Let your children own and occupy their life spaces. Meet them where they are with intimacy. Put away your repetitive, irrelevant instructions. Interrupt people who interrupt children, starting with yourself.
I have a belonging problem. My insecurities run deep and often catch me by surprise. My blessing is that my survival strategy of plucking a stray beam of sunlight and tying it around my waist like a sash, then putting on a brave front and pretending that “I am okay” works fairly decently most of the time. I rarely miss the deadlines I dread, I usually do well on stage, I always know what to say after the students have filed into my class, and as hosts, we almost always manage to feed everyone well.
Yet, my belonging problem continues to haunt me. It exhausts me. I feel happily at home in hotel rooms, at airports and on roads. I used to find home in churches, gurdwaras, mandirs and the Baha’i temple library. I haven’t reclaimed those spaces in a long time now. I don’t always feel at home in my physical homes.
And I fight with my mother because of this. I want to go back to her and start all over again sometimes. I refuse to let her be comfortable as she is, and then I fight with her for being nervous around us. I want something from her that I get most easily by giving to her (for example, cosy hugs). Most of the time I remember this, and then sometimes I forget.
I take my anger and anxiety about the whole world and go home and dump it on my mother. Be perfect, Mom. Everyone else is flawed, you show me that you are not.
Please feel free to judge me. Write to me and tell me what you can see between these lines that I can’t, even as I leave this all out here. I know for sure that our children will be with us like they see us behave with their grandparents.
The house must belong to the children because we are born to belong, not be uprooted. We live in troubled and divisive times and spaces outside our family are not always safe for us. This makes it urgent for our children to internalize the permission to exist and to flourish. We get our sense of autonomy from belonging. We own our body and mind, our time and work when we have a sense of ownership of the ground beneath our feet. We cannot confront the world if our own home has defeated and diminished us.
Sometimes in the middle of something at home, I want to curl up and say, I just want to go home. My own home looks back at me. We are in a long-term relationship and I remain committed to it.
Whatever it is that your personal history has done to you, draw a line behind you. Step out of the shadow of that history. The times, they have changed, at least in our own lives. You are the new scriptwriter.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three. She tweets at @natashabadhwar and posts on Instagram as natashabadhwar.
Also read Natasha’s Mint Lounge columns