When we found out that we were expecting Rumi, we started making our preparations for her arrival. We read books on pregnancy and the birthing process and breastfeeding and sleep training. All our preps were focused on making my body ready for her growth (nutrition, vitamins, rest), on making room in our lives for her (crib, swaddling cloths, booties), but it seems to me now, that I was ill-equipped for the emotionality of parenting. When I found myself struggling with mild post-partum depression in the initial months, I worried myself sick with the thought that I wasn’t loving Rumi fully and deeply and unconditionally. Once that cloud lifted, I fell in love with her so bad that it is turning out to be excruciatingly difficult for me to let her go.
Her first day of school last week was overwhelming. My husband and I both went along with her and sat cross-legged in her classroom, coaxing her to explore and run about and play. She took in her alien world with wide-eyes. She looked especially frail and delicate in the crowd of kids, most of them older by a few months and much bigger. All of them had some prior experience in a playgroup or daycare and seemed happy to have the parents sit outside while they romped about. This made me all the more anxious about Rumi who was in an environment other than her home for the first time in her life.
The school environment was a bit unchaotic and unstructured (it was only the first day). This meant the kids were largely left to their own devices. Rumi strikes us as the kind of child who is very particular, the kind who would enjoy doing worksheets with letters in neat colors. She seemed a little lost in the open-ended structure, unsure of what to do next. She is also high-maintenance and very particular about her outfits and her overall appearance. She did not seem to like the rivulets of water running all along the classroom or the puddles of mud that sprayed tiny brown dots on her shoes.
I found myself wondering about the choice of school again. We chose Gram Mangal after a lot of deliberation but what if Rumi needed a more structured, regular school to thrive? What if we were making a mistake by sending her into an environment that did not play up to her strengths?
Her face looked small and downcast as she tried to explain to another kid about how it was her turn at playing with the beads. I literally felt as if I would burst into tears right there. There she was, all of three years, trying to speak gently and explain, and then turning to me for help or reassurance. “Who will she turn to, once we start dropping her off?” I whispered to my husband. “She will learn” he smiled. “I don’t know why she has to learn right now” I said agitatedly. I would have happily whisked her off home right then.
But what next? She can happily be home with me for another year. And then? We are sure we do not want to homeschool. Even if we did, I know it is a ludicrous thought that Rumi is always going to be around me, near me, in my line of vision. I need to learn to let her go, period. And I am so scared. Scared of whether she will meet people who will love and understand her and treat her with kindness. Scared whether the school we’ve chosen is the right one. Scared that she might be unhappy and lonely but I won’t be around to comfort her.
I’ve been waking up every morning with a weight on my heart, vaguely anxious about the school day ahead of us. When I remember that it is Sunday, I smile in relief because there is no school. Only to wake up with renewed dread the next morning. I remember having felt like this once before, in the aftermath of a long, sticky, messy dragged-on relationship. In those afterdays of all that prolonged misery, I would wake up in the morning and feel dread at the thought of the long day ahead. My best friend and I had a name for this condition of dread and looming anxiety; we called it ‘Viraan Samaa’ to be roughly understood as ‘Lonely time’ or ‘trying time’ (we took it from a song from the Bollywood movie Lakshya and it seemed quite apt for our jilted-in-love, dramatic teenage selves). It is this dread that I am feeling now, at the thought of an eerily quiet house without the pitter-patter of footsteps behind me, following me everywhere, even to the bathroom. Dread at the thought of feeling lonely and lost without my faithful companion of the last three years.
But I know also that this heartache passes. It happens so subtly and imperceptibly that you don’t notice that the ache is leaving you but it does. Till you wake up one day and you’re smiling and filled with optimism and what lies ahead and you know it has gone. I’m waiting for that to happen, for me to stop missing her, for me to look forward to quiet and peaceful and productive mornings while she’s enjoying herself at school. Meanwhile, I just have to soldier on with a smile on my face, knowing that this little girl is watching me closely and learning from me.