It is our usual Saturday afternoon ritual: I pack a little bag with a few clothes, diapers and of course, Matilda and then drop Rumi off to my parents’ place. Mum teaches Kindergarten, Abba has his classes and they are generally quite busy during the week so this works as a win-win situation for the grandparents as well as us: they can enjoy with Rumi to their heart’s content and Abhi and I can watch TV and read and write and talk and relax. We enjoy indulgent dinners, silly movies and great conversations and pick Rumi up the next day with a fresh and relaxed mind for the week to come.
This Saturday however, when Rumi left, I said goodbye to her with a very heavy heart. I have been scolding her very frequently in the past few days but this morning, I was particularly harsh. I was sending an “important message” from my phone and Rumi kept trying to yank it from my hands, begging me to play her favorite video. I was talking to her and trying to reason with her but then she started pummeling me and my phone slid from my grasp and fell to the ground. I really lost my cool and held both her fists tight. “Stop it” I said firmly. She looked at me defiantly and started hitting me again. “Just stop it!” I shouted louder. She continued to try and yank my hair with her little fists and climb over me and I really lost it and started exaggerating (You ‘always’ do this! You ‘never’ let me sit even for a minute!). She looked to Abhi for support but even he was firm and stern with her. She cried, we scolded, I sulked, but it was all forgotten a few minutes later when Nana-Nani arrived to pick her up. She cheerfully changed into her best blue frock, let me tame those gorgeous brown curls with a wet comb and kissed me and waved goodbye. She was looking so beautiful, so angelic! My heart just filled with remorse. How could I have used such a harsh shouty voice with this wonderful little child, full of love and light?
I can think of plenty of reasons and excuses to justify my behavior: I had already lost a phone to this kind of grabbing by Rumi, where it had ricocheted off every step in our house and crashed to the bottom in a worthless pile of shards. Plus I was tired out with my allergies that caused me to sneeze incessantly and my eyes to swell up and itch. Plus, we had had several sleepless nights because Abhi was so unwell with the flu. Plus, I was kind of annoyed that Rumi was watching more TV and eating more chocolates than ever, which made her a hyper-bunny. There were so many reasons but which one was really her fault? She doesn’t know how expensive my phone really is. She doesn’t know that incessant video watching or chocolate with every meal is bad. She doesn’t know that when she begs me for a story, I can’t talk because my throat itches so bad.
It is so paradoxical that the angrier she makes us, the more love and acceptance she needs. The easiest way to calm her down is to hug her and kiss her and reassure her that we “love her forever”, that we’re not mad at her. And the worst thing we can possibly do is to alienate her and say “No, you’ve been bad, you need to sit on that chair for a few minutes”. It is easier said than done because sometimes I really need some time before I can speak lovingly to her, especially if I have been hurt physically by her punches or hair-pulling. But even in this time, all she does is rub herself against my legs or bury her face in my lap like a little helpless kitten.
What I need to do is be gentle, be loving, be kind. As far as possible, as often as possible. With Rumi as well as with myself because she forgets and bounces back easily, whereas I tend to judge myself very harshly after such episodes.
I have also been thinking a lot about why I am getting so irritable and angry in the first place. It is not that Rumi is behaving worse than usual, but somehow I am getting more upset than ever at these minor skirmishes. After a lot of careful introspection, what I think is causing me distress is a lack of self-care. And self-care not in the form of lying on the couch and mindlessly consuming daily soaps or newsfeeds on my phone, but self-care in the form of expressing myself in some way, of creating something, of making something. Whenever I do that in the form of a doodle or a baked cake or a sketch or a blog post, I get enough energy to pull through the day with a smile on my face, no matter what the situation is. The art of creating something, anything, is therapeutic and magical. And I have learnt that there need not be pressure for me to create anything ‘perfect’ or ‘worthy of sharing’. It can be a silly story I make up. It can be a few photos taken from the balcony. It can be knitting, sewing, gardening anything. Just that, for a half an hour a day is like an elixir that keeps me brimming with energy. And skipping that or missing it for a few days at a stretch causes a wave of restlessness inside, something that is very small and hard to notice at first but snowballs into a destructive Tsunami at alarming speed.
My husband told me a wonderful quote by Alanis Morrissette: ‘When I’m not ex-pressed, I’m de-pressed’. And depressed Mommies make angry and tired and sulky Mommies. So I need to remember this very simple truth (which like all things simple is the hardest to follow!): time for self-care and expression every single day, and love, gentleness and kindness, always.