Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pause For Reflection

Yesterday something unsettling happened to me. I was at my friend's home and her sister's son came bounding in. He and I have a cordial relationship. We greet each other when we pass in the hall and generally wish each other well. Yet, neither of us has really taken the time to create lasting bonds with the other.
I accept my fault, being inept at relating to the younger generation, just as he must own responsibility for being one year old.

Anyhoo, the little man came bounding along. I was lounging on the bed with my friend (his aunt) and we were debating the importance of woollen socks in winter. Generally, the child tends to shoot in & out of rooms at random so I didn't think much of it until he began to climb my side of the bed. I enjoyed watching the struggle for a while (the little bum attempting various wriggle-based techniques to make the ascent) until I realised that life with babies is not a mere spectator sport. I helped the boy up.

He was generally in good spirits having just eaten a boiled egg and taken a hearty dump and was feeling, I suppose, at one with the universe. He decided to jump on me and envelop me in a big hug. I was taken aback. While he wrapped his ridiculously tiny hands around my neck, my own arms were limp at the sides. What is the protocol in such situations? Does one say 'awwwww'? (I did.) Does one pat the child's head in validation? (I did.) Does one attempt to return the honour? Yes, it seems one does.

And so I hugged the little fuzzball back.

You know those National Geographic documentaries with the 3D animation of how neurons behave, with the whooshing of electrical impulses across the central nervous system? Something like that ensued and suddenly I had a vision. No, not of me cradling a brood of babies (it's surprising how many babies one can cradle at the same time in ones imagination), but of my mother saying - "See, doesn't that feel amazing? Don't you want some of that for yourself? Don't you feel the urgency of your biological clock ticking? Have some babies, won'tcha?"

I had to take pause for reflection.

To my vision I answer: Yes. No. No. No thank you.
I won't lie. The babyness of babies is a narcotic high like no other and I'm not immune to it. I'm down with babies. Babies are fly. I can even accept how becoming a parent could impart meaning to people's existence. I just doubt it would, my own. Of course, were I to have children I'm sure I wouldn't remain untouched by the experience. But must I invite this experience into my life when I feel no compelling requirement to? No argument extended so far has made me change my answer of Oh Hell No.

And there've been several arguments.

1. Perpetuation of the race: A relative was an insistent advocate of this argument. He didn't mean the human race either, he had narrowed it down to our specific Brahminical stock. On pressing him further the conversation entered the murky zone of how we Harvard-going, Padmashri-winning types (see how I inserted a show-off bit here?) needed to outnumber the plastic-bag-picking, garbage-collecting types. To which, I responded - I neither went to Harvard, nor does my barely-scraped-through-college intellect imply I'm winning the Padmashri anytime soon. So if he was refering to how valuable my genes are, they're at best Meh.
His argument may hold water if I were to meet & conjugate with a Harvard PhD-cum-Padmashri awardee, who also happened to belong to my gotra. I haven't met any so far, but if you fit the profile & possess a high sperm count, please contact me. Meanwhile, do excuse me, I have to take out the trash.

2. You'll regret it once you hit menopause: The sword of menopause has been hanging over my head since I first started menstruating in the 8th standard. I was told to expect the maternal urge in my mid 20's. It didn't happen. Then they said - wait till you pass 25, it'll happen. It didn't. Ok, talk to us when you approach 35 and realise you're dangerously close to the finish line. Nope, still nothing.
Because here's the thing: If at age 55, I truly wish to be a mother, there are wonderful options to adopt a child that someone else didn't have place for in their lives (Because guess what? Babies aren't a gift to everyone on this over-crowded and over-burdened planet.) In which case, if I indeed wish to keep the option of parenthood open, my only obligation is to stay fit & disease-free so that I can run after the little terrors even when I'm 65.

3. You are incomplete as a woman unless you give birth: Perhaps. But then you're also incomplete as a woman if you don't follow your passion, if you don't travel, if you don't invest in relationships, if you don't indulge your desires, if you don't perform selfless acts, if you don't possess an education and don't build a professional life.
I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted just reading that list (and it doesn't even include the requisite number of hours one requires for time wastage). I'm guessing all of us have dropped the ball on some of these items in order to pursue the others.

4. But babies are so cute!: This is the most persuasive argument so far. It's true that most babies are kinda awesome (even when they're cranky or poopy) and some of the older ones will say things that'll make you re-evaluate your life. Still, the basic problem I have with this argument is that babies grow up and their cuteness declines rapidly. They become, shudder, these things called individuals and tend to become their own sodding people with shocking alacrity.

5. But your mother needs grandchildren: Sigh. The ultimate diss. What a failure you are as a child to not spawn your own child. It eats me up inside, this selfishness I possess. I have tried to make it up to my mother by being a peace-loving citizen of the world and a generally happy person. When that didn't cut it, I offered to buy her a baby. This overture too was spurned.

The pause for reflection having run its course, I snapped back to reality. The boy had dispensed his share of love and was now squirming to get away. I released him after one last squeeze and cheered on as he ran off to chase a fly.


Also read: With Apologies to Nike by @chronicusskeptic

Covered In Love by Chidi Okoye


  1. You 'n me both, sistah.

    When it comes to babies of my own I am a proud alumna of the Oh Hell No school of thought.

    And OH the tricks my mother has tried! If I wasn't so exasperated by them I'd appreciate her creativity.

  2. :D I'd love to know some of them. Thanks for reading.

  3. Wonderful writing. Of course, as a man, I come nowhere close to understanding fully womanhood (and motherhood), but with this I've made a start I think.

  4. Thanks Bharath. I love your writing, so I'm glad you dropped by. Thanks also for that lovely comment. It's always nice when men are interested in female perspectives.
    Also, I'm the theme of parenthood is common to both sexes so I hope men can also identify with some of the ideas expressed in the post.

  5. My own thoughts are a little different to yours on parenthood, but yes, men need to more interested in female perspectives. Men are easily accepting of their stereotype :)

  6. @Rohan: Dang, it's YOU! Why hello!

    @veena: :D Thank you for reading.

  7. What I could never understand is, why don't more women think like you? I mean, isn't obvious that having a baby is a choice like anything else? Are there grandmothers out there who get this?

  8. @Anonymous: I'm not so sure more women (& men) don't think like this.
    When it comes to actually living out the thought, it gets more complicated. Let's not discount the power of societal pressures and conditioning.
    Let's not forget that for a majority of us parenthood is a legitimate aspiration.
    Anyway, point of the post is: I don't understand why anyone should be bullied into parenthood. I hate bullies.
    Good question about the grandmas. Someone needs to conduct a quick poll.

  9. Nice post.
    Interesting for me as well because my mother has said she doesn't care either way - whether I give her grandchildren or not. The decision, it would seem, is up to me.
    Personally I'm leaning towards wanting to have kids one day, but I'm glad this decision rests upon myself, and isn't influenced by societal pressures, or anything you've mentioned above. I don't want to have kids or not have kids because someone tells me to.

  10. :) Lovely writing.. and I say that despite being a mother.. can totally understand your POV.

  11. excellent read... although i dont subscribe to the views in here, the points mentioned here are well taken...

  12. @Devina: Thank you. Yup, you've described the ideal situation, IMO.

    @Archana & @sam: Thank you for reading and for being open to & interested in a different point of view. :)
    Sam, if you feel up to it, do share your views here.

  13. @Aquatic Static Since you asked, http://greensaysgo.blogspot.com/2007/05/with-apologies-to-nike.html.

  14. I'm having trouble reaching this page...can you DM it to me on @_GoneNative?

  15. Splendid, Aqua Static! Becoming a parent (esp a mother)is one hell of a responsibility and sometimes I wonder why couples want to go through it. I had asked my wife the same and she said something about maternal feeling and joy etc. which I never quite understood. There is a social pressure to display an overt sense of emotions on becoming a parent even when it does not exist and it's really worse for the woman because you are expected to feel all maternal, irrespective of what you actually feel.

    Just a few thoughts that I felt when I reached that threshold very recently:


  16. @E Pradeep: Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.
    I read your post early morning and was glad it started my day. It's beautifully written :)

  17. That's just what I say! But you just say it so much better :)

  18. When I father a child, I will connect deeply with my animal existence, penetrating the bubble of civilization and comfort our species has managed to cocoon itself within. I look forward to that (profound but relatively easily accessible) experience of being an organism. This is my primary motivation for wanting to have a child.

    1. Awesome Anaam Maanav. We should totally meet for coffee.

    2. We should do that. Type-type, electrons, packets, routers, fiber optic, ping-ping, blip-blip, message sent on the Internet, connection made, fades from memory, slips into obscurity, connection gone, universe stays.

      Look, have a biological baby. Participate in DNApalooza. Shed your clothing. Be wild on this savanna.

    3. Wow Anaam (can I call you Anaam)...I have no idea what you just wrote.
      But I want to smoke what you're smoking. I want to participate in the DNApalooza...but why go old school? Imma clone myself.

      And yes...ummm...clothing. Shed it. I dig.