If I had to pick a theme to paint my life with, it would have to be 'nostalgia'. Or 'grief for the past'.
For everything new that comes my way, I tend to grieve all that I've had to leave behind. Perhaps this is a consequence of having spent much of my life running away from something rather than running towards something else. If it is, then I also know where this tendency came from. From a lifetime of believing that all my problems would be solved when I've scored that first rank, gained admission into that prestigious college, landed a coveted job. When I've reached that forever elusive horizon.
I've spent much of my early life looking ahead and now, as if to compensate for that transgression, I've been spending the past several years looking back. Steeped in nostalgia. Searching in vain for the things, the people, the feelings I left behind in my haste to get ahead, as if something in that debris of my unlived life can assuage this grief that has settled in my heart like a gigantic rock, which is impossible to displace.
This is what I do every time I encounter change. I romanticise the past. I yearn to crawl back into it. I rebuke myself for time wasted. I plead for some more time to make amends. I get mad and angry because despite all my remorse and promise to do better given a second chance, there is no second chance. I hide under the covers, sometimes sobbing, often sleeping, because to be awake is to confront the relentless passage of time into a different future, and the pain is too hard to bear. It crushes my chest so much I worry my poor heart might simply give up and I might die before I even witness the change, and, I must admit, the possibility of something like that happening gives me much solace. I crave anything that will spare me the pain of going through change.
But time inevitably drags me, flailing and crying, resisting and cursing, into a new dawn, and much to my surprise, I survive. And very quickly, I adapt. And this new way of life, the anticipation of which once filled me with immense terror for weeks on end, reveals itself to be full of unexpected possibilities. And I often wonder why I had resisted stepping into it so much in the first place.
I tell myself had I only known that beyond all my doubts and fears of the unknown and my clinging to the familiar when it was irrevocably slipping out of my hands, there lay a whole new world of entirely different possibilities, I would have trusted more, gracefully accepted the change, held myself and my fears in kindness and compassion, and been assured that whatever presented itself, I'd be able to accept it with equanimity and calm.
So, that is exactly what I will do this time.
After a little more than four and a quarter years of spending my days with my little one D, without having left his side for longer than four hours at a stretch, that magical being is all set to venture into full-day Junior Kindergarten in exactly a week from now. Next Tuesday, he'll spend an hour of Orientation at his new school. On Wednesday, he'll spend a half-day there. From Thursday onwards, he'll spend seven to eight of his waking hours there. Our lives will be ruled by the calendar. It feels as if the idyllic days of childhood are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
My present situation is eerily reminiscent of what transpired two years ago, when I was a wreck in the weeks ahead of D's first attempt at half-day school, five mornings a week. I still remember how I made sure that in the week leading up to his first day of school, I lived by the motto 'Carpe Diem'. I took him to his favourite parks, took him on several bike rides, read his favourite books as many times as he asked me to, played with him for as long as he wanted to without interrupting him. I was so anxious about the upcoming change that I channeled all my energy into making that 'last week' special and memorable and 'perfect' in every way conceivable, anything that would take my mind away from the fact that change was here, and no matter how hard I tried to evade it or distract myself from it, its onslaught was relentless. As it turned out, D had a hard time taking to that school and we pulled him out barely two months after school began. I am pretty sure my anxiety at the time influenced D's experience too, and I was determined to not repeat that mistake this time around.
But, despite this wisdom gleaned from past experience, I have spent the last two to three weeks in angst, worrying about all that is slipping away from my hands. And in doing so, I made the folly of romanticising the past. In remembering only the pleasures and delights of being a mother to D, I had been choosing to erase all memories of struggle and pain and doubt and fear and anxiety that were concurrently present alongside the joys and wonders these past few years brought.
At one point this past week, I was unable to get up in the morning and spend a day of playing and lazing with D because I was mourning that soon these opportunities of letting the day unfold without being bound by the demands of a scripted schedule would be far and few in between. It was unfathomable that I needed to grieve for something I'd miss in the future although it was available for me to enjoy right then and there. "How is it that I can be utterly sad about D starting JK soon and am crying now at the thought of that but I feel completely incapable of playing with him this morning?" I asked KrA.
So this time, I choose to think differently. I tell myself that I did my best all these years. Today, I do what I can. Tomorrow, I will do to the extent possible. And every act will come from a place of awareness and compassion, not only for D and KrA but also for myself.
And so I choose to remember, that after a day or two of dropping D off at school two years ago, I enjoyed the newly available space and time so much, I remarked to Kra, "Why didn't we do this before?" I also grew so quickly used to having some time for myself during the day that when D fell ill and stayed back home a few days later, I had completely forgotten how to spend a full day with him without the support of external childcare.
I choose to remember D was never mine in the sense of possession. He was never meant to be a baby forever with chunky arms and legs, always wanting to snuggle up in my arms. I miss those days of him, sure I do, but if all I had were only those days, I wouldn't have this present time with four-year-old D, who is so imaginative, so resourceful, so creative, so curious, so innately full of joy and curiosity, so eager for new experiences, so sure of himself, so accommodative of the world around him, and so at peace with himself and everything around him.
Let me remember that change is hard, and let me also remember I do have the ability to let go in grace and kindness. I needed to grieve. And so I did. I first resisted it. But now I have come to accept it. I know I can hold myself in this space with much love and kindness, so that D can venture and explore without my anxieties and fears holding him back, without my vision confining his worldview.
As for me? I am a mother. Yes. But I am not only a mother. Like life itself, I will survive and adapt and thrive. As will KrA. As will D.