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My Turn

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March 2006
My Turn

A few nights ago, I was watching the ‘Tonight show with Jay Leno.' One of his guests was Ron Howard, the talented and brilliant director of blockbuster movies such as Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind. An amusing and interesting t�te-�-t�te was going on, till he uttered something that struck a wrong chord with me. He said that he loved his children very much, but on every one's 18th birthday they got luggage for their present. In other words--please move out.

I know that parents the world over love their children equally, but it seems peculiar that our Western counterparts seem eager, anxious even, for their children to turn eighteen and move out, whereas Indians tend to cling on to our children and want to enclose them in our bosoms forever. This may not be the sentiment of us all, but that is the general emotion for most. I have parents all around me who have college-going brood and though they are proud of their achievements, the thought of their child moving on and moving out is deflating.

My 14-year-old son has a few years yet for college, but the mere thought of him moving away, with no one for me to smother with affection, makes me despondent. I am under the egoistic presumption that he would be lost without me at his beck and call. I am astute enough to realize that kids these days are very resilient and adaptive. He is going to be fine, I know that, I was a college student too, but what do I do about that thought tugging at my heart that when my son is grown, he won't need me anymore. One of my friends ritually treks over to her son's college every week with bundles of clean laundry and homemade delicacies. Acts like these makes us feel wanted, that we are still a part of their lives, that they still need us. All the parents are on tenterhooks waiting for their adorable ones to call, and when their progeny do deign to call, nothing can curb the elation. A visit from them is akin to treatment meted out to royalty. One dad that I know is a big honcho in his corporation with hundreds of people working under him and an organizer of several social events, but the minute his only son and college student calls and says, "Dad, I have two tickets to the hockey game," everything and everyone else goes on the back burner. They are all putty in the hands of their offspring. Another mom lamented that her empty house feels like a silent scream.

Children grow up so fast--we all know that. One minute you are changing their diapers, the next you are handing them car keys. Here you are in tears when they get their first shot, and there you are in tears when they happily pack their bags for out-of-state college. It seems strange that one moment you are scared they might choke on the mashed banana and the next, scared of when they might want to try a cigarette. Bizarre, as in watching the Olson twins as toddlers on Nickelodeon and as anorexic stars on the E! channel.

Where do those years go? I look at the baby pictures and can't remember them so tiny. Did that moment really occur? The photos capture the instant, but don't capture the essence, the warmth of their bodies, the sweetness of their breath, the feeling of fullness while holding them or the silkiness of their soft hair and smooth bottoms. Call me foolish, but I even miss the sour smell of curdled milk spit up. There seems to be a fogginess, a dreamlike quality surrounding the early years. You give up your time, careers, the whole world for them, but it still doesn't seem enough.

Some time back I saw a mother and her 4-year-old son in a waiting room. The boy was constantly talking while holding his mother's hands and face. It evoked tears to my eyes when I reminisced of how my son would relate every incident in his school day while holding my face and persistently snuggling me. How I would admonish him for touching my face and messing my makeup! And now, getting any information from him is akin to extracting wisdom teeth. "Hi, son." "Hmm." "How was school?" "Hmm, okay." "What did you eat for lunch?" "Stuff." "What did you do in class today?" "Hmm, nothing." Gone are the days of relentless hugging and cuddling. These days I have to actually beg and bribe to get an arid peck on the cheek with a mouth full of metal. His friends and the Xbox hold more appeal than li'l old me; I am just the ogre hovering in the periphery.

I also have two little girls. They say girls are with you forever. I hope so. I was one and cherish the relationship with my own parents. Right now my girls cannot get enough of me. I am the epicenter of their lives. They are like sunshine. I cannot prepare myself for the fact that they too will grow up, have a life skirting mine, with their friends, school, and pursuits. I had a hard time when they had their ears pierced?I cannot fathom what my condition will be when they get married. But I also believe that girls (hopefully mine included) are more affectionate than boys and am looking forward for a long life of hugging and kissing and girly chatter with them. I will keep you posted on how that works out.

In hindsight, doesn't it feel futile to have wasted those precious minutes in inane activities or working insane hours when you could have been cuddling your bambino? It will seem like minutes before they are adults and out of your clutches and you are left wondering, "Wow! Time sure flew by fast. Can I rewind it?"

By SONIA SHARMA


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