At the beginning of this year, I decided that I would write a series of letters. As it turns out, this has proved to be a rather unreliable process, with the amount of time between letters leading to the (not unreasonable) impression that I am carving them on stone using nothing but a toothpick and a discarded IUD.
Still, here is the second in the series. A letter to my favourite person in the world- my son.
You know what? I was always determined that I would never be one of those parents who said “Oh I wish he/she were a baby again” in reference to their growing child. And to give myself some credit, I’ve been largely successful, always managing to be completely enamoured of who you are, at every age, every stage and through every milestone. Why look back, when the present is so miraculous and the future so full of potential
But now, as we hurtle towards your 18th birthday, I find my heart betraying me and I look at you and think “No, it’s too soon. I want my little boy back”.
I suppose that’s my excuse for how stupid I have been lately. We’ve been arguing about anything and everything, and I know you feel like I am rejecting who you are. But that’s not it, it’s just that, I am now hyper-aware that your childhood is officially almost over and there is nothing much I can do to improve things, change things, do stuff better, make you happier, or take away your pain. Whatever childhood you had is now the official version. My time has run out.
Of course, I will always be your parent, and you will always be my child, but we will soon both be adults and therein will begin a whole new stage of our relationship.
18 years is a long time to look back on. And it is filled with millions of memories. I set myself a little challenge recently. I sat down and started writing down memories of you, I didn’t think about it much, I just let them come, good or bad, as and when, back and forth over the timeline of your life. Here are the first 10.
It is the day you were born. I am lying there and thinking to myself that every woman I know had flat out lied to me about how much childbirth hurt. Personally, I feel like you are going to burst out of me, and that you are contemplating at last three possible exits from which to do so. Your father yelling “I can see his head”. My voice, like it, doesn’t belong to me asking ‘Is he ok? Is the baby ok?’ And then, you are in my arms. In my memory, the room is absolutely silent as I look at you. You seem to look at me too. And at that moment, I make a deal with the divine - Take whatever you want from me, but make me worthy of this child.
I stand in the doorway of your room. You are about four years old. I have been with you every day of your life so far but today I feel like I am seeing you for the first time. There are dark circles around your eyes and your mouth is turned down. It is at this moment that I realize that your father and I, try as we have been, have not been successful in hiding our disintegrating marriage from you. You are an unhappy child. You are not the glue holding us together. You are a tenuous bridge, and we are burning you down.
You tell me you want to help me cook. You love to cut things so we make omelettes packed with tomatoes, peppers, spinach, mushrooms and bacon. You are very satisfied with the outcome and you hug me and say “You are the best ammi I ever had” and I laugh and say “I am the only ammi you have ever had” and you reply “But you’ll always be the best”.
Driving home from school one day (you must be about seven years old) you say, completely spontaneously “Ammi, you know my favourite subject? Composition. Because I can write whatever I want” And I think to myself that you are just like me. And that thought thrills me, not because I want you to be like me, but because it means I have given you one of the better things about me, the joy of the written word.
You are about to go away to your fathers for the weekend. It is the first time this has happened and I am trying hard to be normal, but the thought of not seeing your face for two days is making me physically ill. The doorbell rings. You take my hand and say “Ammi, will you call me to say goodnight?” and I just nod, because I can’t trust myself to speak.
You are eleven years old and have just got back from your father’s house. You are in a bad mood, and I am irritated because I missed you and want a happy evening catching up, and you are giving me attitude. I say as much, and you turn to me and yell “All of thaththi’s girlfriends are more fun than you are”. And my heart. Just. Stops.
I pick you up from school and when I try to take your hand you say “Ammi! Not in school!” and I think – ‘oh no, it’s happened, he will never hold my hand again’! But then the next day you take my hand and chat to me as naturally as you always have, and I am so relieved at this temporary reprieve.
You ask me why I run so much. You say you don’t like running. I tell you it doesn’t matter, that we don’t have to like the same things. And you say “Like I like thaththi, even if you don’t”? and I know I should say something like, ‘a part of me will always love your father’ but I can’t make the words come out, so I just say “Yes, just like that”.
I introduce you to The Man and you can tell from the way I do it (or maybe it is the fact that I am introducing him to you at all) that this means a lot to me and you are so polite, so careful, like you are walking on glass. And I appreciate that so much because honestly, I couldn’t have stayed with him if you hadn’t liked him, and you know that.
You are standing in the doorway of my room. You say that your girlfriend broke up with you. You cry. I feel completely helpless and utterly useless.
Your life, all the memories we have together, they are two stories intertwined, your own, and that of the vaguely wild and rather insecure young woman who became your mother.
I remind the divine of our deal, every day.
All my love, Ammi.