Mothering, Then And Now
Bangla has a few curious words in its dictionary… words that don’t have equivalents in other languages. Take aadikkheta for example. A very difficult word to explain, I just called up Maa to give me an appropriate translation in English or Hindi. She laughed it off, saying that if she had to describe the word to a non-Bengali, it would be safe to say that it loosely translates to ‘over-indulgence’.
Now all my Bengali readers will vouch for the fact that, that is just a mild description of the word. Let me give you an example to explain its usage in a common Bengali household. Take for example, me as a mother. No, wait… imagine me as a mother in my previous generation. What if I was my mother’s sister or sister-in-law? I know it’s quite a fanciful piece of imagination, but then, just during the course of this piece, imagine me in my mother’s generation.
So, it is the first pregnancy. The tiny bun is baking in the belly, but the mom couldn’t sit still. Her husband gets her a driver and a cook. She reduces her work hours gradually, takes a little stool to work so she can really put her legs up and rest! She reads up scores of books to understand what’s happening inside her belly. She takes to her bump, tells stories and sings along. She has engaging conversations with her doctor. Her husband accompanies her on every pre-natal check-up. He wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world!
By the time the baby is born the new mother who dotes over her new-born son like he is Prince George and the world has been waiting for the son to rise! She would click every yawn, every wink, every smile and coo and turn and wave and bath and play like nobody, nobody has seen such a cute (read: featherless, scrawny, new-born) baby! The pictures are not just for her. She would use the power of technology and BBM pictures of the baby to the father who is miles away. So much so, that it becomes nothing less than an obsession! Click, click and click…
The child grows up and it is time to leave his grandparents’ home and go back to Daddy. Normal train travel won’t do, unless it is first class. Baby and mommy travel first class and they never learn to travel any other way.
Mommy returns to work. No, she won’t depend on her mother and mother-in-law to bring up her son. The nuclear family may have its disadvantages, but she will not send her child to a day care. Yes, the child needs his familiar surroundings. So it will have to be a stay-at-home nanny for the boy.
And that is not all. The mother wouldn’t give two hoots to check if the laundry is done, but she would want to know which clothes her son wore all day long. She wouldn’t bother if the pantry is empty and they have to order out, but she would be watchful of her son, sit around creating activities for him. She would read, read and read as much literature available in terms of baby care. Engage with other parents. Discuss parenting and its issues. Read blogs. Write some of one’s own. Discover toddler activities and create some for her son.
She would sniff out crafts stores and art supplies everywhere she would go. She would hoard bottles, scraps of cardboard and go hunting for packaging boxes. Bottles will be used to make rolling pins. Cardboard would be used to make cut out toys; and boxes to make a garage for the ever-growing stack of cars. She would discover her own perfect way of making homemade paints. She would make her own flip board to learn colours. She would buy new books for him and read to him; and let him turn pages and pull some out. She would constantly ideate on how to stimulate him, how to engage him, how to control his tantrums, how to let the discoverer in him take shape.
If I were in my mother’s generation… this indulgence which to you and me seems the modern age recipe for mothering, would be termed aadikkheta. My scheming sister-in-law would have been jealous that my husband supports my mothering fundas and let’s lose my extravagance. My mother-in-law would have sniggered at my indulgence and with a raised eyebrow said, “As if no one has children! Are you the only mother around?” I would have been termed a bad wife for neglecting my husband and household. I would have been considered a radical for not depending on the great Indian joint-family to raise my baby. I would have been a rebel for wanting to have a career.
Maa often apologises to me. She says, “Sorry, we couldn’t do as much for you!” She also regrets that she couldn’t enjoy ‘motherhood’. She didn’t enjoy her pregnancy and post the birth of her baby, life was made tougher when her mother-in-law fired the maid at home. She would cook, clean and bring us up. She couldn’t complain. She could do little more than what others decided for her and her children. Motherhood, Maa says is tougher for us, because we have to handle our careers, lives and homes. I think otherwise.
The TV junkie is back into the idiot box. Besides pretending to be a superwoman between work and family, Rituparna also dreams of flying free as an entrepreneur! Her son’s student, she is learning the ropes of parenting every day. Rituparna blogs at http://onboardthemommyship.