Saturday, October 01, 2005

Why Are The First Steps The Most Difficult?

I carried my son, cradled in my arms, out of the house and into the garage. I had his "diaper bag" (a backpack, really, because we were "cool parents" and did not want to be seen carrying a diaper bag in public) with diapers, baby wipes, a changing pad, a change of clothes, plastic bags for soiled clothes, and milk bottles, slung over one shoulder.

I put him in his infant seat in the back of the car and his diaper bag next to the car seat. I got in the driver's seat, started the car, put it in first gear, let it inch forward a little (old Indian habits die hard), then backed out of the garage and headed out.

We were going to the baby sitter's house just fifteen minutes away, but my baby and I were taking our first, faltering steps in a long journey.

We knew our baby sitter's family for years before we had our son. I had met her husband first at the bus stop when I was still a student. They were our neighbors. They had two grown daughters of their own, and my husband and I might quite easily have been their children. Just four months before my son was born, they had become grandparents. We got to know them a little bit and they had teasingly asked us when we were planning to have children, in that unabashedly familiar way that the older Indian generation seems to treat the youngsters. "Don't worry", they would say, "we'll take care of your kids when you're both at work".

So there we were, at their doorstep, my son and I, four years after I'd first met them. I rang the doorbell, baby in my arms and diaper bag over my shoulder. She opened the door with a warm, welcoming smile. Smells of dal, chapati and curry wafted out of her kitchen and hung around the house.

I slipped my sandals off my feet and followed her through a short corridor next to the kitchen into her living room.

Toys and books were everywhere, a cradle off to the side along a wall, next to a maroon sofa. Light streamed into the room from two sliding doors that opened to a balcony overlooking a wide, empty, green space. She spread out a small blanket on the carpeted floor, inviting me to lay my son down.

His eyes were on my face which was hovering over him as I lay him down on the blanket. Then they wandered off to check out the unfamiliar sights, his neck craning so he could see where the unfamiliar voices were coming from.

I was preparing to return to work after my maternity leave. That was the first day of a week of dry runs to see how my son would do with the baby sitter, away from me for a period of time. The plan was to drop him off at the baby sitter's just as I would if I were going to work, but then I would go back home. She would call me if he did'nt do well. The first day, I would leave him for a couple of hours. The next day for a little bit longer, and so on, until we worked up to a full working day (which, for me, as a lawyer, was long and unpredictable).

I settled down on the carpet next to my son. He had his eyes fixed now on a rattle that the baby sitter was jingling. She slowly moved the rattle away and replaced that space with her face, making gurgling sounds, talking baby talk in heavily accented English and broken Kannada (they had lived in Nanjangud for a while). A slow smile spread across my son's face, his hands trying to find each other for a clap, his legs kicking.

I didn't know where to look or what I was supposed to do. I looked around the room, at the sofa that was not my sofa, at the books that were not my books, at the toys that were not my son's, at the cradle that was not my baby's, at the kitchen that was not my kitchen, and through a film of sudden tears, at the baby sitter who was not me.

A wave of sadness washed over me. Something that started at the pit of my stomach made its way up through my chest and my throat and out my mouth. She looked at me, startled. Then reached out her hand and squeezed mine. "It's ok. He'll be fine here. I'm there, na? See, how he's smiling?" she said, in the same voice she'd been talking to my son in. Her husband came down and realizing what was going on, sat down on the sofa to tell me over and over that it would be all right. The kind, gentle, understanding tone of their voices just made it worse.

I sat there and bawled. I was the baby and I was the one that needed consoling.

A while later, I stood up, made my way to the car and left. It was the longest fifteen-minute drive I could have imagined. I went back home and waited for the phone to ring. It never did.

I realized I needed that trial week more than my son did.


When you are getting ready to have a child, you discover many things.

You discover that a healthy diet during pregnancy requires that you eat at least 68 gms of protein a day. You learn about folic acid and how important it is for the baby's spinal cord. You pay attention to the nutrition content of every single thing that enters your mouth. Did you know that even milk and yogurt contain sodium? You learn to control salt in your diet because high blood pressure during pregnancy is a no no. You learn that you need to supplement your diet with calcium because the baby takes all the calcium it needs from your food and if that's not enough, from your bones.

You learn all you can about childbirth so you are prepared for the hours of intense, mind-bending labor your body will go through.

You discover what a miracle pregnancy and childbirth is. You develop a new-found respect for the human body when you finally wrap your mind around the fact that it is capable of nurturing and nourishing a whole another human being - one that will soon be born, one that is capable of living and breathing on its own, one that is capable of growing, laughing, crying, and loving.

You realize, quite suddenly, that your mother too, once upon a time, was pregnant, and that she too delivered children and raised them. You realize that there are a whole lot of ideas, issues and topics that you never had the need to discuss with your parents but now you can't stop talking to them about.

You discover that marvellous invention: the breast pump. No other thing in this world can make you feel more like a cow than a breast pump, but when you have a baby, feeling like a cow is not a bad thing.

You find that there is this whole other genre of writing - magazines, how-tos, novels, essays and websites - specializing in pregnancy, childbirth, child rearing during the infant years, the toddler years, the kindergarten years, all the way up to the teenage years.

But none of this prepares you to be a mother.


The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...


A Motley Tunic said...

Hi Sujatha,
I have been here a few times.Very nice blog site! Could totally relate to this post.
'But none of this prepares you to be a mother.'
I think thats is part of the reason people have a second child, to do it all over again, but with confidence, with reassurance that you've been there, done that and can do it again.

karrvakarela said...


This was beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

Sourin Rao said...

Sincerely written and so evocative. Excellent piece.

Sujatha Bagal said...

SF, KK and Sourin, thank you for your nice thoughts and words.:)

Sowmya, welcome to my blog! You're right. The confidence must help enormously.

Anonymous said...

What an endearing post, Sujatha. A big *hug* to you. I can only begin to imagine how heart-wrenching it must have been for you !

How was your first week of work ? It must have been a difficult transition ?

Unknown said...

..yeh sirf ek maa ka hi atooth pyar aur bandhan ho sakta tha.

Ganesh said...

wonderfully written, sujatha.

to me, the mom has to be a home-maker as the child really needs her in the those early years, say after 5/6 or even 8/9,

these days, the children are taught to be more independant than their parents were. so, they can manage by themselves

(infact, i wud say, a child needs her mom back home when returning from school until 14/15). dont get me wrong, i am not

male chauvinistic here.

i have always had the privilege of having my mom with me all the way as i grew up as she was a perfect home-maker. ever since, i had thot abt marriages and all, i wanted my wife to be at home taking care of the kid atleast once we have one. luckily, my wife also agrees with me and now she is as perfect a home-maker as my mom as she quit her job on that day when her pregnancy was confirmed and now my son in 9 months old who is being taken care of extremely well by his loving mom.
i have heard people (girls, more often) argue - would a father sit at home and take care of the kid while the mom goes to work? i, personally, would have. but, its not the right answer to the baby, more than anyone else. you may be 25 or 35 or even 50, you would want your mom, then your dad. very rarely, a dad comes first - doesnt mean that he is loved less, but a mom is a mom, UNDOUBTEDLY.

sujatha, if i am not mistaken, those baby-sitters might be good people, very good people, still no baby-sitter can ever be a mom. "and through a film of sudden tears, at the baby sitter who was not me." - i am sure you weren't just a baby-sitter to your son. you can't be.

all along life, we live making comprises. cant moms make a compromise and take care of their babies. after all, its worth it for all the pain you endured when he/she was born.


fortunately, as i said before, my wife has the same ideas as me and i am happy. unfortunately, i am not a mom to spend all the time with my son.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Ash, thanks. The first week was ok, at best. But it is something that takes a lot of getting used to and some women never do...

Kapil, Sunil, thank you.

Ganesh, thanks.

First off, it looks like your family have arrived at an arrangement that works for both of you and for your child. So good for you.

But I want to say that I'm a mother who's been on both sides of the equation - a working mother as well as a stay-at-home mom. I would be very sad if this post were used to argue that moms should stay home to take care of the children.

There is no one right answer that fits every family. Some families need their mom to work, some families don't.

If moms are able to stay home, good for them. If they can't and have to work and do go to work, then good for those mothers too.

Whether a mother goes to work or chooses to stay home is an intensley personal decision, one that the husband and wife have to arrive at after careful thought regarding finances, their personal proclivities, the child's needs, the available resources for childcare, etc. There is no one right answer. Many, many women work because they have to, they need the second income to run their families.

It is not for the rest of the world to sit on judgement on their choices.

Anonymous said...

this was wonderful, sujatha. I smiled and cried by turns :)

Ramo said...

Hi Sujatha...

I like your blog!
I also wrote a afterpost on your post 'is anyone else afraid'...check this link

Ganesh said...

sujatha, i would be the first person to accept that the woman of the house going to work is absolutely a personal decision based on various factors like you have mentioned. but, my take is that, in those cases, the child *certainly* seems to miss something invaluable.

i know its very tough for moms to take the work pressure and also home pressure. i do *not* criticise working moms. i salute them for their handling of both. but, my view is that those moms can skip the job if the family can run on one income :) also, u can never get back those early years of your child. only in those early days, they want the mom very badly and come to the mom all the time. say after 10, even if you want them to be with you, they wud have other priorities like school friends, sports & games, etc.

Minal said...

Hey Sujatha,
A big *hug* and your litle kiddo will be proud of you no matter what:-)

Anonymous said...

Super stuff. Very nice! Am I glad or what that I paid attention to my wife during her pregnancy? Too much, in fact, that I got several kicks through her tummy from my kids! ;)

khelnayak said...

Hi sujatha,
My first time here! Wonderfully penned. Hope that you get through this period.
Did go through your previous posts. Which radio channel do you play as a host?

And how about adopting one now that you already have a kid of your own? Give it a thought. I know its one's personal decision. :)

Keep up your blogging!

Sujatha Bagal said...

Thanks Charu.

Ramo, thank you for visiting and for linking my post!

Ganesh, kids miss a lot of invaluable things if you look at it that way. In families that choose to live away from their grandparents, they miss the grandparents' involvement, in families where the dad travels a lot, they miss the dad's involvement, in families where the mom does not work, kids miss having two-working parents and the benefits that come from that, in families where both parents work, kids miss having a parent at home... see what I mean? The list is endless. In any situation, there are plusses and minuses. Who is to say any one of the above is more invaluable than the other? Each family gives what it has and that is what the kids get. And only that family knows what they are giving, getting and sharing. There will always be some shortcoming somewhere. But such is life!

Thanks Minal.

Ravi, good for you! Isn't it something else, feeling that kick!

Khelnayak, welcome! Thanks for visiting my blog and your comment. Certainly food for thought!

Furthermore, in many cases, it's not always purely a financial decision whether a woman decides to work or not. Many women feel they have something to contribute not only within their families but also to the larger society. There are too many layers of issues here for a comment. In fact, as I had planned, enough stuff for a separate post.:) :)

Sujatha Bagal said...

Oops! My reply from "Furthermore..." on up to "separate post.:) :)" belongs above "Thanks Minal". No idea what happened there...

Bhaskar Sree said...

the mother's side of the coin.. you have captured it so brilliantly.. as always..
you are well in touch with your emotions and you do have great communication skills.

that said, you seem to have had quite a dilemma.. about the choice between your working or taking care of your son.. somewhere, it seems like you are arrived at a trade-off, but not fully accepted the consequences. i would suggest you to re-think and address and accept that which you havent.

Michael Higgins said...

Hi Sujatha
Very good piece. It reminded me of those times leaving my son at a new place for the first time.

I remember when I took my son to his first summer camp. He had been going to a day care but summer camp was going to be a whole new experience. The first day, he cried and cried. I dropped him off the second day and he was so upset, he threw up. The teacher assured me that he would be alright but I thought I had made a big mistake. I went to work and cound not think. Then the teacher called and told me, "You should see him now, he is happy and playing with the other kids." I felt a little better. Within a week, he was enthusiastic about going to summer camp.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Hi Bhaskar, thanks.

That episode was five years ago. In the intervening period, we've gone through various permutations and combinations and we've gotten comfortable with what we are doing now. No matter what you have decided, you go through the emotions, you feel the sadness, happiness, etc. But because you feel sadness doesn't mean you shouldn't go ahead with what you have planned. This post is meant to document a stage in our lives, a stage I'm sure every family goes through, as Michael's comment suggests. And there are many stages like this one - the first day of school, the first time they go off by is full of them.

Michael, thanks. Thank you for sharing that. Teachers are smart - at the end of the day, they've been with the kids during their waking hours longer than we will have been! I remember being told to keep goodbyes short...

Ganesh said...

As you have said, the list is endless. But, I can find out one thing which is certainly more invaluable than the others - mother's love, care and affection. Working women do love their kids as anyone else, but the care factor is what goes down when you work.

Enough, isn't it...probably, some other time :)

Iyer the Great said...

Wonderful post Sujatha!! As a new father myself, understand it completely.


Sujatha Bagal said...

Thanks Rahul. Congratulations on little Ananya. She is adorable!

Anonymous said...

glad to know that.


Emma said...

Beautifully written... and at the end of it there were tears in my eyes. I am not a mother, and can't really say I empathise with you completely. But as a woman, I think I do understand where you are coming from. Thanks a lot for sharing...

Sujatha Bagal said...

Thank you for your sweet comments Emma!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sujatha.

Love your blog - has lot sof useful info anf interesting thoughts. Happened to venture upon this old post - and have finally decided to comment as this one left me with tears in my eyes..

Sujatha Bagal said...

Enfour, thank you for reading and for (finally) commenting. :)

dipti said...

Hi Sujatha
I'm reminded of the time I dropped my son off at playschool for the first time. I had been a full time mom for two and a half years and was getting back to work . It felt like the umbilical chord was being severed once again (How many more times since, I have lost count). My editor and I worked out an arrangement which allowed me to work from home after playschool ended. Well, after worrying endlessly on that first day, it was hugely embarassing when I went to pick him up from school. He had obviously had a great time and refused to leave!!

Sujatha said...

Hi Dipti, I'm so glad you had an understanding editor. That is such an important component of the work-life balance struggle. And yes, me too. My son cried the first day, but he was fine from the next day onwards, like he was doing it all his life!

Anonymous said...

Ohhhh ... how I wish I had a child so that I cud feel all these emotions.

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Divs said...

Found your blog through Poppins Mom for the first time today. This was the first post I read on it and brought tears to my eyes. I am a new mom too and this was just so beautifully written...almost exactly the same sentiments I have gone through lately. Especially the statement saying "I realized I needed that trial week more than my son did."