Being a mother, you get used to quite a lot of things. You learn the art of doing everything one-handed. You learn to deal with sleep-deprivation like a pro (Sleep is for losers, baby!) You learn to ingest meals rather than enjoy them. You also learn that motherhood is a lot about unlearning as well, because what works one day does not necessarily work the next. But most of all, you learn to live with guilt. Motherhood and guilt go hand in hand, no exception.
I remember when we brought Miss Munchkin back home from the hospital, and how I spent the first night crying because I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing. I mean there she was, this tiny little helpless bundle, entrusting her life on the hand of this utterly clueless new parents, and I had no idea what to do! I remember feeling guilty because I thought I should have, I don’t know, known more? Prepared more? Read a little more (although I highly doubted that) As day melted into weeks the guilt manifested itself in different ways, but it was a constant presence. If she sneezed even a tiny sneeze, I’d feel guilty because maybe I hadn’t wrapped her right and maybe she’d felt cold. If she spit up her meal, I’d feel guilty about not knowing when to stop feeding her. One evening, after a marathon nursing session, when she refused to go to sleep, I whined and asked her (maybe a little harshly) why she hated sleeping. The very next moment I wanted to duck under the covers in shame and guilt.
Guilt made room for itself and decided it was there to stay.
For an entire year, I forgot everything else. Even myself. The first time I went outside without Miss Munchkin strapped to my chest, guilt held my hand and walked along with me. While I focused wholly on the act of bringing up this child, I made the cardinal mistake of neglecting my marriage. I would feel guilty about being too tired or wired up to be the wife a husband would love coming home to. My husband would accuse me of over mothering, and I would tell him that I was just trying to do everything right.
Over the years, as she grew up and I learned to let go, I think I accepted that guilt was something I would have to learn to live with. But I never really did.
The day I went to work for the first time after becoming a mother, I was a terrible mess. I felt as if I had betrayed my very own self; the one who believed in being nothing but a mother. I was missing out on her naps, missing her mealtimes, and by the time I came home I would be too tired to do anything remotely physical with her. I kept telling myself that I had given her three whole years of my undivided attention, and that in a place like Singapore it is near impossible to provide the best education (the only kind of education you want for your child) on a single income, but that provided little solace.
The first night we (the husband and I) went out on a dinner date as a couple and not as parents, I was delirious with happiness, and terribly guilty all that the same time. I mean, we were righting a few wrongs, kicking back and enjoying each other’s company without distractions after a long time, and yet I couldn’t wait to come back home and cuddle her.
And now, after almost a year of working, and countless dinner dates and even a couple of overnight stays without our daughter, I am yet to come to terms with the idea of being half a mother. Because that’s what I feel: that I AM just half the mother I used to be. I look back at the countless hours I spent with just her for company, and how I would cook fancy snacks for her, and think of activities for her, and just be… involved. I knew which TV shows she loved, and which songs she loved listening to, but the best part was that I knew exactly where she was learning all those wonderful new things she picked up every single day. I wonder now how I had even done it: written a book while taking care of her, given up on everything else, even my reading time, and never doing anything for myself. I think about the times when I would do everything around the house and still find time to do something special with just her, about how I thought it was possible to baby wear and conquer the world. I wonder now how I had set aside the rest of the world and put my life on hold for her.
She surprises me even now, by saying things I had never taught her to say, by singing songs I hadn’t even known that she knew, by coming up with dance steps on her own, and mostly by knowing just what to say to make me melt into a puddle of mush. Of course, now that she is going to preschool, I expect her to learn a lot of new things, but what amazes me is watching her develop a personality of her own that has got nothing to do with the way I have raised her.
I know I cribbed when I was the mother I used to be, and I am cribbing now about the mother I have become. I do realise I am being true to myself, finally setting aside time to read books and write, taking care of myself emotionally and physically. Yet, as I sit here in my study, listening to her splashing in the bath tub, spelling out words as if it were a game, singing a song I don’t even know, I wonder if ever I’ll get back a time when I know what happens in every second of her life. I think it’s high time I accept that I won’t.
But then, I’ll get up now, bundle her up in a towel and dress her up and make the most of this beautiful long weekend we have been blessed after a long time. Because being melancholy won’t help, but doing something about it will.