The phone call came last summer, shortly before I had completed my last course for the degree I was pursuing. There was a spot available in the Infant Room of a daycare that had opened only the previous autumn. We had put ourselves on the waitlist after a visit in April as it had ticked all our boxes. Warm, friendly caregivers. Clean facility. Quiet, verdant neighbourhood. An enterprising founder whose firstborn was in daily attendance there and who was expecting another child that summer. It was her on the line, cheerfully informing me of the vacancy. I should have been overjoyed. Instead, I panicked. I told her I’ll check with my partner (code for stalling) and call back within two hours. A quick consult with him, and I was on the line again with her. Fewer than five minutes must have lapsed.
That was super quick, she said. We’ll pass, I said. Summer, travel plans, family visits were some of the pretexts I tossed in for good measure.
It was the swiftest major decision of my life that I made that summer. Choosing to be a stay-at-home mum. Back then, I told myself that D wasn’t ready to be carted off to daycare. Truth be told, I too wasn’t ready then to send him anywhere away from home, from my side. He was just over a year old that July.
A friend of ours visited from the UK that May. I remember telling him that I wish I had 48 hours in a day; 24 hours to spend with D and 24 hours to do D-less things like going to work, using my brains to solve problems relevant to the world, soaking in a bath at the end of the day, drinking a glass of wine, going to the movies, travelling, sleeping 8 hours at night, if not much more than that. But I am lucky I at least had the privilege of choice; I could have had anything, just not everything.
I wish I could look back and assert that no slivers of doubt sneaked into a year that was supposed to have been full of the certain bliss of watching a life bloom. (Great expectations?) Truth is it was all, and still is, a cat-and-mouse game. Trying to keep fear at bay, fear of having made the wrong decision for the long term, while basking in the joy of the moment. Looking at my peers and cursing myself for not having had the guts (gumption? willingness? trust?) to leave my little one in the care of anybody other than me. (Especially on days when I just want to recover from a bug kindly passed on by the sweetheart who is well on the road to recovery and wants to go play in the park.) And then often feeling guilty at the immense joy and pleasure I derive from the very special privilege of watching the little one grow day and night. Only to again encounter that niggling question, “What on earth am I doing?”.
Perhaps it is D’s imminent start of pre-school, even if only for a few hours a day, that is prompting these reflections. The ‘Back to School’ missive from his school arrived last week. I read it while D napped, and I sobbed. My first thought was, “What am I going to do when he’s gone?” Empty nest? Already? The long list of things I imagine I’d have achieved if only I didn’t have a little being to care for all day and night suddenly seems petty and pointless in the face of the very few things and people that really matter to me.
I feel as if I am at crossroads here. I’m about to be given the gift of Time. To do with as I please. But it feels like a curse, having to take on the responsibility of putting it to good use, making wise choices. (Great expectations, again?) I am clueless. I am terrified of making choices. Of finding I’ve made the wrong one. Of making mistakes. And I’ve spent the last several years sitting on the fence, wishing the fence would disappear from under me and force me to fall one side or the other, I couldn’t care which as long as I didn’t have to be the one making that choice. I’ve carried that fence with me from India to Singapore to Canada to Australia and back to Canada. (I have long since realised that this journey of migration has had little to do with pursuit and more to do with escape.)
Several weeks ago, D asked me to get him an axe. I couldn’t believe my ears. I asked him what he wanted one for. Cut beanstalk, he said. (Phew!)I think I need an axe now. To cut my own beanstalk of past desires and ambitions, of doubts and fears … in the book version of the story that we have, the beanstalk flies away when cut, like a balloon, or a kite, even with the mighty weight of the Giant clinging to it. I like this version of events. Fanciful and liberating.
So here I am now. Making a choice. A choice to once again record my thoughts and feelings and emotions in cyberspace. It keeps coming back to this. Words. All the magic and beauty that words can weave. This is really all I have ever known, although the extent of my knowledge and experience is certainly tinier than a mote of dust. (No great expectations here, mercifully!) Snapshots in words. Of nameless feelings and nostalgia. Of how beautiful my child looks when he is asleep that I spend most of his nap time sitting by his bedside or peering into the baby monitor, tears rolling down my cheeks because of how precious, how fleeting this moment is … So that in some faraway age, I can come back and try to remember that which the eyes may no longer see and the ears may no longer hear … the dance and melody of a child growing up, of a lover growing old, of Time passing by. And even when memory tells me otherwise, especially when memory leads me astray, I can always come back here knowing I will find something worthwhile to believe in.
And perhaps, for the first time in my life, I am writing purely for myself. It is a conversation I am having with myself. You are welcome to listen in. It won’t have lists or tips or advice or life/parenting hacks. But maybe you’ll find a forgotten piece of yourself hidden in here.