The first time I left my daughter’s side to go outside was when she was all of two weeks old. My parents-in-law kindly suggested I take a break from the marathon nursing sessions cooped inside the room, and my husband offered to give me company for a walk in the park. Ten minutes of fresh air and I decided I’d had enough to last me some time, thank you very much. I’d rather go back to my wee little miss who might have woken up from her nap and screaming for me for all I know. When we reached home, my Ma-in-law joked about how the little one had been napping so deeply I could have easily taken an hour long break. No sooner had she said this than a sharp wail reached my ears. Almost as if she’d known her Mamma was home, Miss Munchkin demanded my presence and attention. How dare I leave her alone!
To say I had issues with letting go would be an understatement. If I don’t count random five minutes that I stole now and then (and honestly, I don’t, because they actually don’t count) the next time I left her with her Dadda for a longer stretch of time was when she was over a year old. When we were in Dubai, thanks to The Husband, I gradually wrapped my head around the fact that she would be okay without me around, that she didn’t need me every second of her life. Even then, having devoted all of my time and energy and attention to her for over two and a half years, it took me a long time to get used to leaving her and going to work. Broke my heart a little each time I walked out of the door, knowing it would be afternoon when I saw her again. Sadness made way for guilt when I realised I wasn’t even giving her the time I ought to because I would either be too tired once I reached home, or because I had pending work I needed to finish before the next day. But like everything else, sadly, I got used to the guilt too. Tomorrow I’ll devote all my time to her, I would say. Sometimes tomorrow happened. Sometimes it didn’t. I learned to make my peace with it.
Then school started. I remember sitting outside her kindergarten writing about that second day of school and how her face looking at me accusingly, as though I had abandoned her, haunted me. When I started work after the winter holidays this time and had to ask my live-in helper to go pick her up from school, a part of me couldn’t get over the fact that she, and not I, would be the one to see Miss Munchkin’s face peeking through that small window when she came out of school. I wanted to be there, standing with the other mothers, talking about school and what our kids ate and when they slept at night. I wanted my face to be the first one she saw through that window. I wanted to see that smile light up her face as she told me everything about school and her day and what she did and what she learned. I had to make do with the watered-down, distracted description of her day as I chased after her asking questions while she ran around, too busy to answer me. I learned to make my peace with it too.
And then last weekend, because it was a long one, we decided to go to my sister’s and stay overnight. Everything was planned out. We would go to my sister’s on Friday night and from there to our friends’ place on Saturday night and come back home on Sunday. Saturday night, watching Miss Munchkin have a conversation with my nephew while they played with their toy trucks and airplanes and what not, I wondered out loud if she’d be okay for the night without me. My sister and husband were all for it. “Try it out!” they said, while I already regretted saying the words out loud. We asked Miss Munchkin if she wanted to stay at her aunt’s, and if she’d be okay without her Mamma and Dadda around. Without batting an eyelid she said yes, with the condition that she would be allowed to sleep with her cousin. I kissed her goodnight, said bye to her and sat in the cab taking all of it in, telling myself the other alternative was listening to her wail as she refused to say bye to her cousin. My daughter was grown up enough to spend the night away from her mother. For the first time in over three years, I slept without my daughter in bed, and had disturbing dreams all night.
The next morning, when we reached my sister’s, Miss Munchkin looked happy to see us but that was it. No complaints, no “I missed you”s. Said “Hi!” and ran away to play with her cousin. I plonked on the sofa while my sister told me how well behaved Miss Munchkin had been, and how not once she’d asked about us. I know my first reaction should have been something in the lines of “Huzzah to weekend getaways!” but all I did was… well, cry. I had complained for so long that my daughter was clingy and it was getting to not have any time for myself, that this sudden freedom came as a shock. My sister consoled me, saying the only reason Miss Munchkin was independent was because I had made her feel so secure that she knew Mamma would be with her always, that even if I left her it was a temporary situation and that I would be back. I suddenly felt redundant. Did she not need me anymore, then? Was I just another fixture in her gradually growing world of friends? I know, I know, okay? But all I’m saying is that was what I had felt at that moment. Empty and clueless. All mothered-out.
As if that were not enough, Miss Munchkin started taking the school bus since yesterday, and today, when I waved her goodbye, I remarked to my husband how easy it had become, this saying bye to her. I wish I could reach out to myself two years ago and told that harried woman to take it easy because it won’t be like this always. I wish I could take back all those times when I lost my patience with Miss Munchkin because she insisted on being fed by only me, or being bathed by only me, because I miss those moments now. Miss Munchkin has a mind of her own, is very vehement about how she wants things done and sometimes actually prefers my helper over me.
But like my sister said, nothing can change the fact that I am her mother, and most of what she’s learned over these years she’s learned through me. I should be proud she’s independent, because it means I have done my job well. I should tell myself she will never not need me, but her needs will change over time. So for now I will let her decide who she wants to spend time with, and when Her Royal Highness decides to bestow some attention to her boring mother who won’t even let her watch television, I will cherish it, and read those books to her with those funny voices because it makes her happy. I will tell her stories of the purple dragon and burnt grapes and the Sorting Hat and Hogwarts (her personal favourite) and let her sleep with my arm as her pillow because who knows when she outgrows my arms as well?
Being a mother, well, is not piece of cake. You wear your heart on your sleeve, let a piece of your soul walk and run around with danger seemingly lurking everywhere, and when time comes, relinquish all rights over that soul and set it free. Being a mother is difficult. Letting go even more so.