It was innocuous enough. My –three-year-old son spilled a glass of juice on the dinner table. It's not like it hasn't happened before. I wipe roughly two of the five cartons of juice that our family consumes every week from various surfaces around the house. It's no biggie. Except that day, it WAS.
I don't know why, but the blotch of orange on the table was more than I could handle, just then. And so I did something I hadn't done in months. I cried. Not in a quiet, blinking-back-tears way; but loudly-with heaving shoulders and tears streaming down my face.
I saw my daughter, staring at me in alarm. I knew I was frightening the kids. But I couldn't help myself. Right then, they didn't feel like my kids to me. They felt like these aliens that were holding me hostage in a world I didn't belong.
Eventually, the sobbing subsided and I gathered my kids in my arms. "Mama's just tired," I explained to the worried eyes. It was as simple as that-I was tired. I was tired of scrubbing behind two pairs of wriggling ears while the world was out there achieving greatness. And I was scared of believing that this was it. That running behind two kids with pyjamas was all there was to my life.
The thing is, I'm angry. But I don't show it. On the outside, I am the perfect mother-because what else is acceptable? I attend every PTA meeting, arrange play dates, go to science exhibitions... I make the right noises, show up at the right places and look blissfully happy with my life. I love when someone calls me a Supermom or asks me if I'm selling the magic ingredient for my energy.
But in reality, I'm moody, bitter and resentful. The fight to make them finish their greens, switch off the TV, brush their teeth and finish their homework saps me of all my energy. I don't want to talk to my husband when he comes back because I can't get myself to repeat the drudgery that I feel. Sometimes, our evenings pass in complete silence.
It's not that my husband has left the care of our kids to me. He comes back home early on the days I want to go out with my friends. I can leave the three of them and disappear for hours on a Saturday and come back to find them lying perfectly contented on the sofa. Which should make me feel happy and grateful, but it makes me angrier: why should he be able to manage so beautifully when I struggle to barely keep my head above water? The feeling makes me feel like an outsider in my own family. He tries to make things better, but he's stuck in a no-win situation. There's no winning from this snappy, unhappy version of me.
It's not all bad, though. When we're chasing each other across the park, the darkness in me magically dissipates. I feel like a child when my daughter and I play dress up in changing rooms while shopping... Or when my son plants a huge kiss, smack dab on my lips, when he comes home from playschool. Those moments are pure oxygen. They make me believe that I wasn't completely crazy to trade in my footloose and fancy-free life for one that revolves around vaccinations, school tests, and wiping runny noses.
I used to think that I was the only one, that this bipolar craziness was my affliction alone. But somewhere along the way I realised that's not true. The day you become a mother, your personality splits right down the middle. There is a part of you that wants to smother your kids. The one that wants to get everything right, give her kids the best possible upbringing, bowl over her partner with her mothering skills, win over the other moms... And there is the other part that wants to let go and fly... chase the dreams that were hers before the kids.
I've realised there will always be a part of me that will look at those Armani-clad CEOs and wonder, 'What if?' But deep down, I know that if asked to choose again, I'd still pick the same options. I've realised that I may not be going out of the house to conquer the corporate world, but I need to step out nonetheless. Maybe my kids would be happier at home, colouring in their living room, but I need to go to the book store, and the library. Maybe they'd be happier splashing about in the pool in our backyard, but I need to go to the park and sit by the water fountain. Somehow, the trips make it easier to deal with the mud stains, the diaper changes and the spilled juices. It's inexplicable, but these evening outings make it easier to come back to toys and books lying on the floor.
I've realised I need to go into the real world every day so that the two people living inside me don't rip me apart. I'm trying to reconcile the mother me with the woman me. Every day, I get one step closer. I've been pushing my older one to not give up on her Bharatnatyam. She hates the sore limbs and awkward poses. But I'm trying to make her understand that it takes time, patience and perseverance to learn something new. That any new skill feels unnatural and alien at first. Just like motherhood.