An edited version of this article was first published in Child magazine (September 2013). Himanjali is the author of The Stupendous Timetelling Superdog and the mother of two.
I used to snigger at pregnant women till I realised that I am the only mother who does that. Plus, the joke is possibly on me. She will presumably go on to have a wonderful baby who will wear ironed uniforms to school and have a tiffin box that has been put together with love and nutrition in mind. She will not be late for parent-teacher meetings and more importantly not sit and gape at other parents who know exactly when their kids poop and piss.
It is not that I don’t try. I have tried looking excited while swapping cute baby stories with other parents and not said how boring it all is. I have tried telling my daughters that they should do their homework every day even though I don’t see why they should. I have tried to look all worried when parents discuss college admissions and never said that I have been through university and this is not my problem anymore. I have looked as plaintive as possible at parent teacher meetings and not told the teacher that it is her problem if my daughter won’t study hard enough. I mean, it is her job, right? I am not asking her to help out with the writing or editing I do for a living, am I?
I do feel guilty about it all. It is the same sort of guilt that I feel towards my paunch really. A sort of self-indulgent guilt about which I do nothing. Mostly all the women I meet seem to be self-sacrificing supermoms. Mothers seem to be a breed apart. Amazing, beatific creatures. They would not nag their daughters to give up the last piece of chocolate for them. I do.
Yesterday in the swimming pool I realised the extent of my own self-aggrandisement. I felt quite peeved because my older daughter is a better swimmer than me now – this was not the case last year. So I made excuses for myself and taunted her because my back-stroke is still better than hers. As I got out of the pool
I saw a young mother teaching her little daughter to swim. She was so wonderfully encouraging that I felt vaguely contrite. Not only had I just got all competitive with my teenage daughter I also remembered how I had taught my children to swim – “are you too stupid to learn?” is the sort of generous goading I indulged in when they were slow and unsure. Unfortunately, it worked and one is a better swimmer than me already. Damn.
On the vaguely positive side, I have sometimes scored brownie points with my general disinclination towards child welfare. For instance, my daughters wear mismatched socks because, well, it is not something I have bothered with. But it has been hailed as a cool fashion statement by friends of theirs, especially now that my older one is a teenager. And I am given the rare privilege of being told teenage secrets simply because I am not interested in their sordid lives. Teenagers are perverse that way. When I shout, I don’t care about you or your silly teenage traumas, that is when they decide to unburden on me.
Look, I am not all bad really. I love kids and I think they are far more fabulous than adults. And they have imaginations to kill for. It is just that maternal love does not take over my life like it seems to for so many women. I just hope there are other women like me who love their children beyond anything else in the world yet can’t somehow be overcome by their intelligence or hog the conversation at dinner parties by narrating their prodigious achievements.
I wish my daughters to have lives that are unique and fulfilling. I want them to be generous and intelligent and be the best they can be. But I also want them to know that what I want and wish is really not as important as what they want and wish for themselves. I can be a cheerleader (without the pompoms and dance moves) to their lives but I can’t be the player because I am already the main person in one life – my own. If that makes me horrible and selfish I guess I will just have to live with it!