This is not about me. It’s about my mom.
My mom visited us for 10 days. This was quite an achievement because my mom cares for her mother, my grandmother, who turned 100 in March and has been in rapid decline ever since her 99th birthday. Caring for an old person with the level of commitment my mom has put into it takes its toll and I felt that my mom urgently needed a holiday. One of her brothers had once vaguely mentioned that he would come to India to visit my grandmother every three months and the idea of my mom taking off during one of those stints took hold. When I went down for my gran’s birthday, I reminded this uncle of his offer and he immediately agreed to relieve my mom of her duties for a week or so, while my father agreed to shoulder the extra work of running the house in my mom’s absence. My mom managed to wrangle 10 days and landed up in Hong Kong.
I didn’t believe it would actually happen until she was there. A week before my grandmom had to be hospitalized when she took a turn for the worse. The doctors however felt there was no point doing invasive tests and just put her on the drip which seemed to revive her. I even looked into postponing my mom’s visit for a week but later realised that there was never going to be a great time for her to visit at this stage in my grandmother’s life.
I was all set to pick her up from the airport when both V and I came down with the flu, so she had to cab it herself which thankfully is not a big deal in Hong Kong though I know it always stresses her out. Within an hour of arriving, my mom said she could feel the stress of the months past melt off and was already fantasizing about her next trip.
Before grandma arrived, I think I laid it on too thick and whenever I asked Benji whether he wanted grandma to come, he said: “No!” But he went down with V to pick her up from the cab and was quite chatty. When mum entered, Mimi took one look at her and burst into tears. That’s my kids’ way of welcoming strangers, especially those who are not Chinese.
But within five minutes, they were both grandma’s greatest fans. “Where’s grandma?” they’d ask if she disappear for a minute. My mum spent a lot of time with them, even doing stuff like playing catch-n-cook which I’m too lazy to do. She has taken it upon herself to be the most indulgent grandma. So she rarely corrects them. She insists on giving them candy to my irritation (though she does restrict herself because of my disapprobation.) Every day she’d take them to the park, though it was hot and play ball or go hunting for snails. She let them comb her hair and they said she was “Princess Elsa” (they have now graduated to doing my hair, and OMG why didn’t I get them to do this before). She encouraged them to play in the rain and puddles and get soaking wet and then reprimanded me for not bringing enough changes of clothes! Heh. One day she was in splits playing a game with Benji that involved flinging pillows at each other. At one point, she threw a pillow at Mimi who didn’t react, which both mum and I found crazily funny, and she did it three times with us collapsing into laughter before Mimi reacted. V just looked on nonplussed.
That puddle is deeper than it looks and the kids are wetter than they look.
I admire my mother for being totally non-judgmental and non-interfering. I did wonder if I perceive less judgment because she’s my mom, but I honestly think she makes an effort to put up an impassive front. There were times when I glanced around after something the kids did or when V and I were skirmishing and she didn’t seem perturbed, nor did she have anything to say. I can’t help compare this to my in-laws.
On the other hand, possibly for the first time because I’m in a situation where I need it, I felt my mom at my back like a support. I felt that there was someone in the house who supports me unconditionally, and that is a liberating thing. I also realised how having a parent in the house, even one has non-interfering as my mom was, changes the balance of power and why it’s better for new couples to live alone.
My mom and I had long chats late into the night. After the second night, V asked in befuddlement: “What do you talk about?” He just could not understand how we could fill the time between 9 pm and 2 am simply talking on two consecutive days. What did we talk about? Our own lives, our close family, our respective friends, people in our building, our extended family, my mom’s helpers and their problems. We also touched on the situation in Gaza and Sonia Gandhi’s alleged domination of Manmohan Singh (my mom is a fan of Dr Singh, me not so much). Yes, this usually comes under the banner of gossip, but it’s also about knowing and caring about people and their lives.
Since my mom has been to Hong Kong several times in the past, we didn’t do the great tourist round. We did do dinners and lunches out, mostly in our neighbourhood. For once, she wasn’t keen on doing much shopping except for some practical grocery items. But I did enjoy doing a round of the malls with my mom instead of with V or as has been the case lately, by myself. I’m most comfortable shopping with my mom, we shopped with her from our teens onwards and I never had the same comfort level with friends. “Buy it,” she egged me on this time, “You don’t have that many clothes.” Ah, sweet music to my ears! However, the husband’s glowering presence in my mind’s eye and the impended student status, made me buy just one rather expensive handbag.
She also read like crazy something she doesn’t get the time to do in Bombay. She finished two books in 10 days, one of which was The Casual Vacancy. Seeing my mom absorbed in a book, reading through lunch, reading while chidlren screamed around her made me realise who I got the bookworm gene from. I had always thought it was my dad.
My mom is older than before. I have to watch her in case she stumbles and falls. One is prepared for this and never quite prepared for it.
I was sad when my mom left, sadder than I’ve ever been in the past. I realised how lonely I am for that day to day chatter even though I am so used to being without it. When my mom or I leave after a trip to my sister’s, she bawls. I have never been the crying on departure type. I bear it all stoicly. I have stopped hugging and kissing my mom sponstaneously, though we do kiss on arrivals and departures. I know she would love me to be more physically demonstrative but I can’t bring myself to. And yet, I came so close this time.