Falling badly sick after decades, and somewhere in between worrying about housework, delays, running out of provisions, and other mundane stuff you normally did without thinking, you lie in bed at some point, unable to sleep, stinking wet with perspiration, hot in a Mumbai summer, and you sink back to your childhood in time, hankering after that old reassuring hand on your forehead, and much needed rubs on your back, a gentle nudge to sitting up , leaning against the pillows, and a magical wipe with tepid water that gets you feeling fresh again, fever or no fever. The little glass of limbupani-ginger, or chaas; the small semi liquidy portion of freshly ghee tadka-ed rice with turmeric and jeera, eaten slowly, under her watchful eye.
Except it is only a memory. Because the reassuring hand as been gone for more than a decade. And with it, a certain way of "mothering".
And then. Her story.
She lost her mother when she was a small child. She and her two brothers, one older and one younger were brought up by their father alone. This was the first quarter of the 20th century, and her father refused remarriage , because of his concerns for inflicting a "step-" relationship on his children.
From an extremely difficult, economically tough background, but with a great dedication towards learning, he became an engineer, and rose to a job in the civil services. He got married, had 3 children, and then suddenly was a single parent again. His only daughter , a middle child, would talk about never missing out on anything the other girls did in school, despite not having a mother at home. He was posted in Mumbai, and they lived in Andheri for a while. This was in the late 1920's , early 30's , and she would often talk about an certain type of hair braiding the girls would do in school; there was no one at her home who would do that. Her father quietly drove her one early morning to Bandra to visit her aunt, who did the braids for her before she reached her school. I recall hearing about an elderly aunt who lived with them, and very clearly , for a girl coming of age, there were some puzzling things you needed to get answers for , and this worked well for everyone.
While he indulged in his children, he was very strict too, and insisted on taking academics seriously. His daughter loved academics , and he encouraged her , not just then but even after she had her first child , in 1945, and suddenly got an opportunity to do a Masters at Columbia accompanying her husband who was going for Graduate studies in the US. He looked after his 1 year old grandson in India while she completed her stuff. There were other family "mothers" around, but few willing to step in like he did . Bringing up his children , particularly a daughter , in those days, when people still sneezed at higher education, he gave her confidence to go forth and learn, getting her married, settled in, and then basically staying out of the picture as she adjusted herself to a another house with another thinking.
Was this "mothering" ? Did the daughter imbibe her mothering concepts there ? Do you need to be born with XX chromosomes to get the magical ability to mother ? Does being a XY combination make you deficient in mothering ? Is mothering all about indulging ? Is mothering all about sticking and following societal mores ? Is mothering all about believing in something, something tugging at your heart, and you moving heaven and earth, to ensure that not only does your child get what you think is the best, but also realizes what went into it , so he/she values what he got?
Perhaps , an XX combination predisposes you towards mothering, but it would be wrong to equate a social concept like mothering, with a goulash of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, Oxytocin, Prolactin , Estradiol, and Progesterone, and possibly others , that we women all automatically get drowned in , as certified "mothers".
That daughter was my mother . While her instincts might be her own, she picked up her Mothering concepts from her father. Those of us lucky to have had both father and mother throughout our childhood , take so many things for granted.
There are so many fathers who mother without us realizing it.
I have known sons who amazingly mothered their own mothers in the evening of their lives. Ensuring after a long day at work, that she didn't feel cold in bed as old people are wont to do, there would always be a hot water bottle waiting for her in bed, and sometimes even giving quick ankle rubs as she lay there, in a quiet chitchat, before he returned to his own different world of kids, projects etc.
And so life continues.
Those who are not yet mothers also mother .
I have had occasion to wake up during the high fevers , to a ready, fresh hot simple meal, cooked by a very young family member; you wouldn't know the pleasure of being given a cold cut apple in a katori, with a glass of something cool to drink, on a hot afternoon , when you don't know if it's the the fever or the weather that is heating you up, and turning over on your side is actually a chore, and you have just woken up drenched in perspiration.
I have also been admonished by the same family member for not closing a tap properly , thanks to my tired finger muscles.
Yes. I think she is learning well.......
And then I often wonder about "mothering", why every single dictionary specifies the inclusion of "mother" while defining it, and things like FB suddenly flare up with mothering "dares", with mothers posting photos with their kids.
Perhaps there are all these imminent Days that we are supposed to celebrate.
Perhaps a presence on social media in an appropriate forum proves something, to God knows who.
And then when everything is done and "posted", and the brouhaha has subsided, some truths still remain.
It is possible to not have a uterus and still mother .
It is possible to have a uterus, but insufficient infrastructure, and still "mother".
Mothering, truthfully, doesn't have much to do how the child was born. It has much to do with how the child was cared for, and is being cared for. What the child has imbibed , and taken forward.
This post is dedicated to such folks who have opened my eyes and pointed me to what mothering really is.
It's tough. Like algebra. Whether you are XX or XY.
But if you try hard enough, there is always a great solution.