It was July 2001, and I felt the way one feels at the beach when an immense wave catches you while you are not paying attention and whacks you across the face… unprepared and overwhelmed. The little square of plastic that I had just placed a few drops of pee on a few seconds ago was now displaying a bright pink “plus” sign…and my sister who was with me for this momentous occasion must have seen the stinging salt water up my nose expression on my face because she gave me a reassuring hug. I was pregnant. Wow!
My husband and I very much wanted a second child, but the master plan called for a few more years between the second and the first, not the nine months difference that was now staring back at me in the form of that pink plus sign on the white square. I was just beginning to get comfortable with motherhood. It was not a steady, calm comfortableness, but more a sense of “OK, you got this” repeated frantically in times of doubt ,accompanied by deep breaths, as I reminded myself that I had managed to get my first child to the ripe old age of 9 months without breaking her. How in the world would I manage a second one while I was still trying to get the hang of not breaking the first one? I felt unprepared and totally overwhelmed.
Sometime the universe gives you a sign that you are more capable than you believe yourself to be. I usually only see those signs in hindsight. Perhaps this was the universe’s way of rewarding me for the choices I had made thus far in the raising of my first child. An “ Okay you got that first ball in the air, now let’s see how you handle a second ball” sort of challenge. Whatever was in the fates for me, I had to become appropriately whelmed (as opposed to overwhelmed) pretty quickly, because dropping the second ball would not be an option.
So I called my obstetrician and made an appointment. He did the 6 weeks ultrasound to confirm “cardiac activity” (translation:heart beat) indicating a viable pregnancy. When he showed me the fluttering shadows that indicated a functioning early “heart”, I realised I already loved this baby-in-progress with all my own full grown heart…as much as I loved the fully formed baby I had brought into the world less than a year ago. The journey had begun and there was no turning back.
Throughout the pregnancy, I was convinced this baby was going to be a boy. So much so that my older daughter and I began referring to the belly as “baby brother”. Nevertheless, I hedged my bets and bought baby stuff in green and yellow, and my father was set the task of finding both boy and girl versions of Sanskrit names. During the pregnancy, I said many times that this baby is going to be the one that is for me. My older daughter as first child, grandchild, great grand child and niece for both sides of the family was everybody’s baby. She loved the attention, and had no qualms about being carried around, and sung and talked to by all her doting relatives. This second one, I believed was in contrast going to be mine, not everybody’s baby. With each kick, and antenatal visit, my eagerness to meet this little one grew in pace with my belly.
Finally around 2am on March 25, 2002, I was awakened from an uncomfortable sleep by some strange pains in my back, which turned out to be the start of labour. At 11:58pm on March 25, 2002, my husband and I welcomed our second child into the world. It was a good thing my colour scheme was yellow and green, because “baby brother” was actually a girl…a perfect tiny 6lb long haired baby girl. I was exhausted after more than 12 hours in labour, so it was many hours later, in the solitude of my room in the postnatal ward that I had the opportunity to have a long look at this tiny girl that my husband and I had produced.
As she lay in the bassinet wrapped up in the green hospital blanket, the profile of her tiny face looked hauntingly familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure out why. She did not look like her Dad, the way her older sister did…why did she look so familiar to me? Hours later as I cradled her to breastfeed is when it struck me like a thunderclap. She looked like my father. All my life I heard everyone say I looked like him and I never could see what they were talking about. For the first time in my life, I appreciated how much I looked like my dad. This tiny profile was hauntingly familiar because I was seeing a miniature me in another person.
As the tiny baby grew, the other similarities to me became apparent. The physical resemblance was uncanny, as my mother compared my old black and white baby pictures to the living grandchild in her arms. The personality and behaviour comparisons also began to emerge. I think for my parents, especially my poor long suffering mother, this was karma in action for me to be raising a child so much like myself. My mother could now truly say, “now you understand what I went through with you”.
From an early age this child established herself as someone who did things when it suited her, and not at the convenience of others. As her first birthday approached , we were a little concerned that she showed no interest in walking. Then one day, while she and Big Sister were in the care of their Daddy, (because Mummy was out), Big Sister had a potty emergency and had to be taken to the bathroom by Daddy. Little Sister was left sitting on the living room floor, a few feet away, but out of sight of the bathroom in our little bungalow. This child (who thus far had resolutely ignored all previous bribes and exhortations to even pull up to standing, much less walk) apparently felt she was missing out on the action in the bathroom and decided it was time to move. Family lore has it that Daddy happened to look up from sorting out Big Sister, and there was Little Sister standing all by herself at the bathroom door.
Within weeks, the child that we thought would never walk was hurtling through the house at full speed, and we were begging her to slow down for fear she would fall…which she did many times, and chipped both her front teeth. She went on to start karate as a first grader, and was sight to behold, an embodiment of the phrase “likkle but tallowah”. Five years later, the same child that I had begged to take few steps, was teaching me the katas when I too started doing karate.
Around the age of about 2 or 3 years, she developed a phobia for spots. So the old fashioned speckled tiles at my parents house would put her in a catatonic state as she refused to step on the spots with bare feet. The dining table chairs at my husband’s grandparents , where we had dinner every Sunday, would only be sat on if a napkin was spread to cover the spots. If the napkin slipped during the course of dinner, all hell would break loose. No amount of reasoning on the part of her parents could change this child’s position of zero-tolerance for spots. Ten years later, she does not own a shirt that doesn’t have spot or stain as a testament to one of her many projects. The visible parts of her work desk are covered in ink-spots, lead pencil spots, dried glue or paint spots and the likes…and I am the one trying in vain to establish “no spot” clothes and zones.
Similarly, when it was time to start kindergarten, she emphatically refused to go to school. She would hide in the closet every morning and I would have to physically carry her kicking and screaming to the car. I would have to harden my heart to the tears as I deposited her in the class, and repeat the whole process the day after day for at least the whole first term of kindergarten. Sixteen years later, she is the one carrying my stuff to the car with unconcealed impatience at our apparent lack of interest in punctuality for school. These are the souvenir snapshots of our journey that I carry in my internal memory storage.
Raising children is an endeavour guaranteed to test your patience and resolve. Being a stay-at-home mum to two kids under three is an endeavour likely to drive you to the brink of insanity…repeatedly. When one of those children carries your own potentially self destructive traits, the temptation to jump off the ledge into the comparatively soothing embrace of insanity is ever present…but as I said at the beginning, dropping the ball was not an option.