THE MOPPET SHOW: I’m More Than I Thought I Could Be9 min read . Updated: 17 Nov 2014, 11:14 AM IST
Parenting isn't just about the act of being a parent, is it?
Parenting isn't just about the act of being a parent, is it?
This isn’t the usual blog. I can’t write about “Kyra’s world" this week, I need some mental distance from all that is going on, or I’ll be overwhelmed. We’re at a point right now where we know she’s going to need multiple procedures over the next few weeks, and she’s been in tremendous pain over the past few days. I don’t really want to talk about that here, at this point.
So this one’s not so much about Kyra, as about “me", and what brought me to where I am now. Parenting isn’t just about the act of being a parent, is it? It’s also perhaps, about the heart of being a parent, if that makes sense, and making the choices that aren’t necessarily right or wrong, but choices you can live with, and live by, happily.
Many, many years ago, in a different lifetime I think, I was a different person. Not a better one, or worse, just different. I’m remembering that life this week because of recent events — not directly connected to my life, but to proceedings I feel connected to.
Earlier this month, India’s iconic cricketing legend, Sachin Tendulkar, released his much-anticipated book. Just ahead of the official release, a carefully orchestrated release of some excerpts ignited a controversy, and the world I once lived in burst into chaotic frenzy. To my American friends, I always say, Tendulkar, to Indians, is probably a combination of Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan rolled into one, and possibly more than that — he is so much more than sport in an aspirational nation of a billion-plus people. That book release was one event.
The other thing that happened was Natasha Badhwar, a fellow columnist at Livemint, a new friend on Facebook, and someone I’ve admired for the choices she made in life, spoke about those choices at an event for a community group for women, called Sheroes. You can find Natasha’s lovely talk here.
The Tendulkar book release left me strangely unmoved, despite the Greg Chappell controversy. That, by the way, in my opinion —based on the fact that I was covering India cricket at the time this ostensibly happened — is a little misplaced, timing wise. Chappell probably did pop in to chat with Sachin about the skippership, but just logically, it had to be in 2005, not 2007. And that date, as anyone following cricket knows, is the difference between a non-story, and one that is a great big pile of feculent feces.
Apologies for the language; as is my wont, I digress. My point is, while I’ve ordered the book, for old times’ sake, the thought of it leaves me strangely underwhelmed. Natasha’s talk, though, really got me thinking and feeling myriad emotions. And I’ll explain why that was strange. I’ve never had a face-to-face conversation with her despite our sharing more than 15 years in the media. I don’t really know her. I hope to, but I don’t. I knew Sachin, sort of. Not just generically, as anyone who’s Indian knows the persona, but as much as a journalist on the road with the Indian team for many years could.
I don’t claim him as a friend, far from it, but we’ve had a couple of really long conversations, including a very candid one about parents, dreams, children, life on the road and life, generally, one memorable afternoon in a Bangalore hotel. I was there to write a piece for him, for the Hindustan Times, and once we started chatting about his vision for India, talking about life, at a personal level, just seemed a natural progression from there. I also had other friends in the Indian team, friends who spoke about him and gave me an insight into his world and theirs. Logically, I should have been more excited about the book.
I just wasn’t. I will get around to reading it in full, more out of curiosity than anything else, and more academically, than anything. But when I realized how vague my interest was, I also realized how far I’d come from the life I once had, and the person I once was, in just two short years as a stay-at-home mom.
Do I miss cricket, the travel, those heady, busy days and intense work nights in newspapers and magazines, the life I once had in India, one, which in the little world I inhabited, was fairly high profile? To be honest, I did, at first. For the first couple of weeks after we landed in the US, I missed it intensely. I went from having my own identity to being “Mrs. Wade" or “Kyra’s Mom". I went from earning very well, and being (in my head), an equal partner in our marriage, to being a “dependent spouse", leaving my husband to cope with the stress of supporting the three of us and Kyra’s humungous medical bills, while I stayed home. In my mind again only, it wasn’t enough.
The guilt, at the start, in May 2012, was pretty intense and I was always on the defensive, even though Wyly, my husband, didn’t say anything to make me feel that way. We were in a new home in McLean, Virginia. We had no furniture as it was on a ship from India, I had no friends in the area that I knew of then, and I missed my parents and family and friends in India terribly. Heck, I missed India! We had no local support system with Kyra, and to me, it also felt like my husband was working all the time. I felt alone. Facebook was great, but I craved real contact.
May moved into June. We went to Texas to see my husband’s family and that made things a bit better, seeing family, that is. But Wyly then flew to San Francisco on work — and that 2012 summer derecho thundered into town.
We lost power at about 10pm that night, and because our electric range was well, electric, I realized I had no way of heating Kyra’s milk or any idea of what to do next, if the power situation continued. To any Indian friends unfamiliar with this, yes, it meant there was no gas at all, everything ran on power and we had no generator in our rented home, they’re so rarely needed. So what did I do? I just sat down on our empty living room floor, lit by flashes of lightning, and bawled.
That’s when a little hand came and took mine, and a little person, all of three-years-old, crawled into my lap. Kyra looked enquiringly at me and snuggled up. I snuggled back, holding her really tight, till she bit me — I was holding her much too tight! My tears changed from defeatism to indignation to laughter, and I held her again and mentally kicked myself for wallowing in self-pity. I decided then and there, that I was done feeling sorry for myself.
I had a husband who adored me so much that four years previously, he had given up the life he knew to move to India, a completely foreign country where I was the only person who wasn’t a stranger. He did it to make me happy, nothing else, and went on to embrace my country with unadulterated enthusiasm. I, on the other hand, already had a large circle of loving, supportive family and friends in the US, who, I knew, would be there if I reached out and asked for help, instead of hiding in my little hellhole. And yes, while I’d had a wonderful professional career thus far, I needed to be glad I’d had it, instead of moping that I didn’t at the moment. I needed to move on.
Above everything else, I had a beautiful, loving child, who time and again, over three years and multiple surgeries and illnesses, had shown me what the power of spunk, and grit and attitude, and sheer cussedness and a will to survive could do. And here she was, totally dependent on me and even now, trying to make me feel better, instead of me, the mother in our relationship, doing that for her.
I felt terribly ashamed and very small. I called my husband. He called a former colleague and friend from India, who now lived in Washington, D.C, 20 minutes away. Shortly after midnight, his friend, now mine too, braved falling trees and crazy high winds to pick Kyra and me up. We stayed with the Palacios family, wonderful and welcoming, for three days, till things came back to normal, and Wyly flew home.
The weeks and months that have followed that stormy night of June 2012 have been very hard. There is nothing worse than having to watch your child suffer and not know what you can do to help, or having no idea of what comes next. It is beyond anything I could describe. There is something so inherently wrong, as a parent, to feel helpless as your child whimpers through night after painful night. And even though you know the best doctors in the world are trying to work this through, and you’re holding on to that faith in them, you’re human — so you’re also plagued by doubt, and apprehension, and confusion, and fear.
Yet, these days and months and years have also been a journey of self-discovery for me, as a parent and beyond. I’ve realized how much people can change, and how dramatically. I’ve realized, for all my ambition and achievement as a professional woman, who, in a now very hazy life, did break that proverbial glass ceiling, I’m also perfectly happy to now spend most of my time with my daughter; watch her cope, and change and grow.
I’ve found a balance, where I work on projects and assignments, consult from home, do a bunch of things I’ve always wanted to, yet always prioritize my daughter. I have a newfound respect for women (and men) who made that choice earlier in life, opted to focus on bringing up their children and managing their homes. God knows they generally got little credit or respect for it, but were comfortable enough in their skin to be comfortable with those choices. Believe me, it’s not easy. If you’ve had the luxury of choice, you have to be very strong to choose to step back, and put someone else before you, whoever that someone might be.
Finally, my husband and I have realized each of us has our role in our home, and they sometimes change, and they’re equal. We’ve also come to understand the power of our relationship, our love and marriage, through some really tough times with Kyra. We’re better people for it, better partners, and better parents to our wonderful moppet. And all of this has given us the philosophy we live by, and swear by. Life changes: Sometimes it sucks, often, it doesn’t, and that’s just the way it is. The only way to cope with the not-so-good times is to grab hold of the good, remember the good, feel the good, and enjoy the ride.
The Moppet Show is a blog by Kadambari Murali Wade about her experiences of bringing up a child with multiple special needs. Read the previous blogs here.