Mom learns, baby by baby

Children in a doorway in Jerusalem
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This article originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

The other day I overhead my 4-year old daughter, Ragini and her friend talking about the absence of a TV in our house. Ragini was explaining, “My mom said if I watch TV my eyes would break!”

After a few minutes of silence I heard her friend state authoritatively, “No they won’t! You’ll just have to wear glasses and then you can watch TV.”

Predictably, the rest of the evening was spent explaining to my daughter why we did not have a TV. The incident brought home to me, though, how big a role my daughter’s friends play in her life. My own self-importance as her parent was probably a little misplaced!

My children constantly amaze me with their insight and understanding, which belie their age. Ragini, who is in preschool, is curious. Her whys and whats need to be addressed instantly and are never-ending. Every question, when answered, only leads to another.

The quizzing stage

I must admit that now I approach these marathon sessions with less trepidation than before. Especially as my 2-year old Malini approaches her quizzing stage.

Having two tireless and inquisitive daughters keeps me on my toes. I find myself wondering at times how good a parent I am. And what is parenting all about?

Much as I hate to admit it, we probably make parenting more difficult than it actually need be. When my husband and I first decided to have a baby, I found myself worrying about the whole idea. I had never been around babies much.

I remember my husband laughing off my worries. “This isn’t a test,” he assured me. “There are no rights or wrongs in parenting. All you have to do is love the baby and the rest will fall into place!”

When Ragini finally arrived, despite my homework it dawned on me that nothing really prepares you for parenthood. As my friend Rita, a mother of two teens, was fond of saying, “It’s like swimming. You can study it all you want, but till you get in the water none of it really matters. You get down to it, do the best you can, learning as you go and hopefully remembering to enjoy yourself in the process.”

Once Ragini and I got home from the hospital, I was a cool and unflappable mom. Not! Everytime the baby sneezed or had colic or displaced a lack of appetite, it led to a flurry of calls and e-mails to the grandparents. And, of course countless trips to the pediatrician.

At times, it seemed as if paranoia and parenthood went together. Surprisingly, my husband appeared to have no trouble slipping into his role. He changed nappies deftly, and never hit the panic button at the first sign of the baby being sick. For me, though, it took a while to get into a routine without the nail-biting, hair-tearing and teeth-gnashing.

When my second daughter, Malini was due, I was confident it would be a piece of cake. But I was blissfully unaware of the challenges of raising to children.

Sibling rivalry, insecurity, regression on the older child’s part – the endless list made me recall my sister-in-law’s rejoinder when I fretted over parenting issues with Ragini “You ain’t seen nothing yet, honey – wait till you have your second!”

I was unprepared, too, for how different my two daughters would be. Both wanted my attention, often only exactly when the other wanted it. They wanted the same things at the same time and just as often did not want the same thing. I found myself playing the referee.

More to learn

After years of domesticity, two kids, and wading through the gamut of illnesses, injuries, pre-school jitters and what-have-you, I feel I’ve been through it all and yet there’s more to learn.

When I talk to parents who have older kids, their constant refrain is, “Can’t say it gets better, only that it changes!” Instead of diapers, toys and bottles, you switch to PTA, schooling, computers and other bigger toys.

Parenting seems like rock-climbing except that there is no peak, no summit in sight. And all too often you are just hanging in there by your fingernails, with a load of dirty laundry on your back. It’s an exhilarating, exhausting, exciting, roller-coaster ride with guaranteed downs as much as ups, and possibly some bruises to boot.

But I would do it again in a jiffy.

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