The first time the words appeared on my screen was a rude shock. I shelved them into a corner of the mind where they lay feeling uncomfortable and unsure.
You cannot blame me. My mom and I have been the best of friends. We talk daily, and about everything under the sun. We have history, and we have memories together. Then one day I was about to board the Eurostar to London. I knew it would reassure her to know that I have boarded safely, so I texted her. She messaged back, “Ok, have a safe journey. I Love you.”
I Love You.
What an uncomfortable way to end the conversation, I thought to myself. Because you see, for all our love for each other, we have never really been the family that expresses it with words or even hugs.
Every morning when I am cooking breakfast, my daughter is in the kitchen with me, pitter-pattering utensils that she manages to get her hands on by opening the cabinet doors whose safety latches she has managed to break open. We go about our business of cooking and cleaning and feeding each other (I usually feed her pancakes; she usually feeds me air, occasionally onion peels, or whatever she finds lying on the floor). Sometimes we do this quietly. Sometimes we scream at each other in frustration. And then there are very rare occasions when after we are done, and after we put away the food, she approaches me with a wide arm and I bend and we hug. It lasts for maybe 5 seconds before she is distracted by something moving or something shiny or something sharp, but those 5 seconds, and that hug, rare as it is, factory resets my life to happy.
I realise though that these hugs are always spontaneous, never when you ask for, and very rare. She is otherwise an outgoing, yet shy kid who prefers being left to her own devices and not being bothered too much with adult affection and attention. Ever since she was four months old, both my husband and I resumed work with vigour and we would often travel for work, leaving one of us behind to take care of her, along with the nanny. Many people have asked me, with patronising and open curiosity, if she accepts being fed and being put to sleep by papa. Insulting as this question is, for the papa especially, the simple and truthful answer is yes. It seems that she does not ‘cry’ for the parent that travels and simply adjusts to life with the remaining parent till the travelling partner returns. Or so I thought till her nanny said, “She eats, and she sleeps, but she does less of it, and by the third day, she just silently stays by my side all the time instead of playing with the other kids. She misses you but she doesn’t express it.”
I know there is truth in what she says because, the only time I can predict a hug from my daughter is when I come back after days of travel from work. I know she only has to hear the keys turning, and she will be there in a second to see who it is. The moment she sees me, her eyes light up with recognition and immediately, the arms go wide open. Our hugs are longest and tightest then.
A family of non-huggers
My daughter isn’t the sole member of this rare-hugs club. My friends tease me that one day they will hug me to death, they know that’s how much uncomfortable hugs make me feel. When my friend was moving countries, instead of telling her I will miss her, I just volunteered to help them with whatever they needed to make the move. It is important to say that I have a maddeningly hectic schedule between a full time job and a two year old, and a household to manage, I barely have time to breathe let alone volunteer time at unexpected hours to do things that could have been managed with or without me. But I needed to spend some time with them, I needed to spend all the time I could spend with them simply because I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye. As I am writing this, I think back and never in my growing up years, have I ever told my mother I loved her, or that I missed her when I went away from home for studies, or that I am worried about her health now that we are living in separate countries. We talk every-day, and we just know what is left unsaid. I know she knows because when I was leaving home for higher studies, she came to drop me off at the station in Jamshedpur. A lot of other parents were there to see off their kids and most of them were crying because this was the first time they would be apart from their kids. My mum looked around, then turned to my friend, and said, “Why are they crying? Their children are going to study and make a life for themselves.”
Which is why I was shocked when I saw the words” I Love You” flashed across the screen. Is something wrong with her health? The thought flashed across my mind, even before I could register what I was thinking. But I talk to her every day and I knew that she was getting older but she was fine. She is happy even, spending time with my sister, taking up new hobbies, and generally, living a good life.
So why now? Why this? I was curious and in a strange way, I felt glad later for those words. I lost my dad very suddenly to a heart attack that came without warning, when I was far from home. In the 24 hours it took for me to get back home, and every now and then ever since, I have thought about what I would have said to him if we had known this was to happen. An “I love you”, when I had never before said it, would have been like a sad reminder that this was a goodbye.
I look again at the words on my screen, and suddenly I get this strange sense of relief and freedom as I type, “Love you too Ma”. Because now, in reciprocating, I would be finally putting to words what I have always known she knows.
It is the truth and nothing more.
Published on Women’s Web