Friday, April 25, 2008

Wonder years

The tiny face that peered into mine was full of concern. "Oh Mamma," she hugged me tearfully, "It's because of me that you fell ill." Even as I held her close and wondered how she could have taken over the responsibility for my bout of fever, came words tumbling out, "Today in school, I said a lie and said 'mother promise' and now see what happened." By then tears were streaming down her chubby cheeks and her little chest was heaving under the weight of this imaginary guilt. I had to eschew the temptation to use this opportunity to wean her away from the habit of swearing even as I consoled her that her lie had nothing to do with my ailment.

As she promptly brightened up and ran out to join her friends for play, I realised how precious these first few years of her life are to me as a parent. Because, a few years down the line, she won't be pulling me down to the bed every morning as I wake her up just to curl up warmly in my lap. A few more years and she will stop making me pretty little cards on scraps of paper saying, "I love you Mamma". I won't be loved "as high as the sky, and a hundred thousand times the size of a blue whale". There will come a day when she no longer wants to climb into my arms each time she sees me to give me a hug or kiss, when she no longer brings me half-eaten candies and chocolates carefully re-wrapped in their covers.

Once into her teens, she will be busy with her peers where I'll have little or no place. She may even be embarrassed if I ever mention some of the wonderful things we did together _ such as painting each other's face in a riot of water colours and prancing about the house or punching a pillow after sticking the name of our hate object of the moment on it.

As years go by, no matter how hard I may try to keep things as they are, I know my daughter will eventually wake up to the fact I'm not as perfect as she now perceives me to be. She will be old enough to see the flaws in me; she will find much more interesting things than me to occupy her time and attention.

It is this realisation, buttressed by the twists and turns in a few unhappy lives I have come across, that makes me wish that no parent ever misses out on the first few years of his/her child. I've seen parents who had been too busy when the kids were young. Sadly, by the time they were ready to provide the quality time after ensuring a quality house and a quality bank balance, the children were too old to reciprocate.

I remember being secretly amused when, soon after my marriage, my mother-in-law opened a jewellery box and laid out all those nostalgic letters my husband had written to her from the boarding school as if they were the most precious possession she had. I could never really understand the propensity of my own parents to hang on to those tattered old storybooks, which they used to read out to my brothers and I when we were kids.

Now, as I stash away all those 'love letters' scrawled by my daughter, when each bedtime story read out to her has a fond memory attached to it by way of her comments or questions, I think I can understand them better. It was their own way of not letting go, where each letter, each story was associated with a loving child they missed as we grew up. It is as if they have preserved our childhood in those letters and books, long after we left home pursuing our own lives.

The first ten years or so of a child are the few precious years that will proffer memories every parent will cherish for life. It is important for us to realise that these moments and memories are here for the taking now, and will be on offer for just a few years. It's up to each of us young parent to recognize this and take full advantage of our child's wonder years before it is too late, no matter how busy our schedules are.

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