Recently my son went for a two-day school camp to Fujairah. Like all mothers in varying degrees, I worried about him — had he eaten, was he warm, was he clean, would he wake up at night with a bad dream?
I imagined him chattering with his bunch of friends. I imagined him kayaking, snorkeling or playing in the sand by the beach against the backdrop of Snoopy Island. Since he speaks so sparingly with adults, I wondered if a teacher would take the trouble to talk to him, to find out how he was doing? And if she or he did, what would their reaction to him be? Would they find, like I so often do, a clever, honest and kind 10-year-old?
What is it about parents and children and that special bond they share? What is it about our children that make us parents lose all sense of objectivity? Not only do we think about them as the most handsome and pretty, but their words and expressions, talents and skills seem to us ingredients that have destined them for greatness. We take great pride in enumerating them for our families and friends and seem not to register when they don’t exactly explode in a chorus of oohs and aahs!
The syndrome is most pronounced in the first 10 years of parenthood as the newborn morphs from a delicate, frail little ‘newt’ into a plump bundle of cuteness, then a walking, talking adorable little person who can be easily hoisted onto our hips, their plump little fingers resting reassuringly on our heart. They drive us steadily mad through the day, as we scurry after them to keep them safe, and bend and pick up, wash and clean in a seemingly endless loop. And yet as they lie fast asleep in bed, one can’t help but hug and kiss them to the point of insanity.
That stage passes all too soon, and we find we can no longer pick them up. We can no longer steamroll our way past their objections to the kind of clothes we pick for them, to the choice of haircut, food, friends and activities best suited for their all-round development.
It’s probably this gradually intensifying assertion of their wills that lifts the spell that we parents have so far been under. We finally notice that our child is no longer an extension of ourselves — if he or she were ever that — but another human being with likes and dislikes, that might not sync with ours.
It’s often a rude awakening! Most of us resist, yanking the quilt over our eyes and trying to snuggle in, hoping time would stand still and give us an extra few minutes before we are forced to acknowledge that a new day is upon us and must be faced.
And although our love for our children never abates, we long for the babies they once were. It’s almost like over the years, at regular intervals, while we were lulled by the slow passage of a day, a newer version of our child replaced the older one, the process repeating itself until all of a sudden we find that the baby is gone! Even before we wrap our heads around that, the toddler is gone! And then the five-year-old and then the 10-year-old are snatched away! Before we know it, we are craning our necks to look up at a full-grown adult ready to step out into the world.
As I write this, I bolster my spirits with happy comforting thoughts that I still have a few more years of active parenting left. I am deeply thankful that, while many a parent don’t have the luxury of giving up jobs to spend time with their child, I maxed out on my time with my son, having happily given up my job the day he was born. It is a choice I made and have yet to regret, perched as I am on the edge of a ringside seat observing the miracle that is a child.
Maria Elizabeth Kallukaren is a freelance journalist based in Dubai.