My 18-year-old mother: It looks so tiny! What is a baby? Mother! Dr Spock! Baby never sleeps, mother never sleeps, and mother-in-law or mother never sleeps. Dad is snoring in a different room and sees me once a day for ten minutes. The 800 visitors a day blame my milk less mother because she probably had a cigarette that one time when she was fifteen and refuses to eat the god-awful ladoos people try to feed her. There are days when she wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater. She clutches the formula and thanks God for it. No one tells her it’s ok to feel this way, alone at 3 a.m., the only person in the world, and so she feels like the worst person on earth. She wonders if the baby will ever sleep through the night; will she ever sleep through the night again.
I’m a new mother at 32. My mother, who knew nothing, has been replaced by Gina Ford, who has put in a schedule for breastfeeding, pumping, and breathing. This is absolutely no different from that one billion-dollar project I managed last year. I know how to swaddle, but the baby pees on my face. I am not getting paid for this. Formula is the devil. Husband burps and changes the diaper. No one sleeps, but at least no one is screaming; life is not that unfair, and all my Instagram posts tell me everyone is going through the same rollercoaster ride of intense joy interspersed by intense anxiety as we stare into the darkness at 3 a.m. We wonder if the baby will ever sleep through the night or if we will ever sleep through the night again.
School medical centre: Your child is sick
My mother: Does she have a fever? If she does, give her paracetamol. Oh, it’s not going down? Wait a little already; I mean, it’s only 102. Children fall sick; that’s what they do! Oh, all right, I will come and pick her up.
My father: Where does she go to school?
Me: She’s got a paper cut. I’m on my way to pick her up.
PTA of a child barely meeting expectations at math but excelling at everything else
My mother: Why is her rank 432? (He slaps my shoulder.) What is wrong with you? Why are you not studying? How will you get into IIT? To the teacher: What tuition does she need to go to? Ranking is everything.
Me and my husband Is there a better way to teach her? That’s ok; she doesn’t really want to be an engineer, but math is important. No, she’s going to do what she wants to. Thank God there is no ranking. (She reads ten articles on why her child isn’t perfect at math and how she has contributed to it.)
PTA of a child
meeting all
My mother: “Good.” Thank you….leaves smiling but says nothing.
My father: There was a PTA? Good marks! She gets it from my side of the family.
Me and my husband: Oh my god, you little genius! We can’t wait to see you build a unicorn, become the next Taylor Swift, and save lives as a cardiothoracic surgeon.
Summer holidays
My mother said, Ok, here’s your breakfast. Take the bike, go to your friend’s house, try to have lunch somewhere, and don’t come till six.
My father, does she have summer holidays?
Me: Here’s your summer schedule. Breakfast is from 8 to 9 a.m., 10 to 11 is free play, and playdates are arranged for every day of the week. Here’s the reading list—no, not Wimpy Kid. Nobokov! Tagore! Shakespeare!
Mom has to travel for work.
My mother: “What work?” Who will take care of you if I work?
My father: “What work?” Who will take care of me if you work?
Me (putting a list of 850 numbers on the fridge as I deal with mom guilt): Didi, pick her up from school at 3 p.m. the fridge as I deal with mom guilt): Didi, pick her up from school at 3. Daddy will come home early for dinner and sit with her for homework every night. Make sure the piano is done at 5. I will video call to double check, but record it and WhatsApp it to me. I have sent the printouts to the EA, who will drop them off. Mom will come by at 4 to take her to the park if needed. Aunt’s number is on the fridge to check what uniform day it is if both of us are in meetings.
Daughter/ Son: Uncle in that house keeps looking at me strange. He reaches out to pat my hair once in a while. The other day he asked me to sit on his lap. I don’t like it.
My mother: Arey, it’s ok. That’s what uncles do.
Me: I hear you. I see you. I will protect you. (Never send a child to that house again.)
Daughter wearing a miniskirt and a crop top
My mother: what will the neighbours think?
Me (most days) I don’t care what people think. Do what you want. It’s your life.
Me (also) Stand there, yes, there, my darling. Tilt your head. What song would you like on this reel? Yes, keep the piano book, not the Shakespeare or the Nabokov, right there on the side for the world to see.
What do we want for our children?
My mother is a good person, well behaved, has decent handwriting, cares what society thinks of them, respects their elders, gets into IIT, marries well—someone not too dark, ideally in the US, but still within our community with Indian values, has children, and has good hair. Coconut oil for that hair!
Me: a good person, an emotionally balanced, compassionate, perfectly fed, resilient, screen-free, socially conscious, body positive, optimistic but not overtly so, stimulated but not too much, academically accomplished but still good at football, swimming, piano, with individually hand-picked friends who meet the perfect gender ratio, never accesses ChatGPT, has good handwriting, thankfully in cursive, not like that other child who writes like a toddler, or that other child who drinks gatorade, or that other child… and of course, great hair. Coconut oil (with a touch of rosemary and ground-up weeds picked by a fairy at 4 a.m.) It would be nice if they got into MIT.
What do we want for ourselves?
My mother: “I have no self.” What is “self”?
Me: I have a self, but is it right that I have a self at all?
Reshma K. Barshikar is the award-winning best-selling author of The Hidden Children series.

Latest news

Related news