By Vidya Murlidhar
Struggling to make sense of the dramatic changes occurring in her pubescent daughter, Vidya Murlidhar is comforted by the realisation that they were nothing but her attempts to discover her true identity, and as a mother her job was to let her be
I stood outside my teenage daughter’s room, livid. Bang! Maya slammed the door shut on my face. Even though at that moment every cell in my body felt rage, my sharp mind, that could use the choicest of words in retaliation, froze. I was too confused, too tired to voice my anger. From inside the room I heard Maya say, “I hate you Mom. You are so mean. Go away.” I stood there trying to comprehend the situation. What was happening to us? Of late, our fights were a regular occurrence- steadfast as the sunrise. Each time, Maya made it quite clear that I was the prickly thorn in her otherwise rosy life.
Every day Maya came to me with demands that she deemed essential but which I found ludicrous. Yesterday we fought because I had refused to let her get her nose pierced. For God’s sake, why would anyone let a loved one go through the pain of getting additional piercings? Weren’t regular visits to the dentist to get her braces painful enough?
Another time I did not give her permission to let her get her hair coloured. How could I let those beautiful black tresses be colored blue or pink? She could do all that she wanted to when she was forty. (Or maybe never.)
Today we fought because I could not afford to buy Maya the ridiculously expensive skirt she had seen on the online fashion site. When the kids were born, I had decided to be a stay at home mom as I did not want to ever reach a point where I would have to decide whether a meeting at work was more important than taking the kids to the park. The responsibility of a job and the thrill of moving up the corporate ladder came with the consequence of sacrificing a few moments with the family. In my heart, I thought that I would make up for materialistic luxuries or exotic vacations by being a calm, nurturing and stoic presence in their lives. Staying at home would free up precious time to make beautiful memories in their impressionable and formative years. That was true until Maya turned 11.
My living doll’s transformation from a baby that lived in the world of Pooh, to a dainty girl who encompassed every quality of a Disney princess, to a moody pre-teen and finally to a rebellious, loud-mouthed teen happened in the blink of an eye.
How easily Goth had replaced pink. The books lining her shelves changed worlds from fairyland to dystopia. It seemed like yesterday when I had held her close as we read from The Magic Treehouse together, when she had refused to leave my hand on her first day to school, when I could walk into her room and scoop that bundle of love and exuberance into my arms.
When I was her age
As my hand furiously pounded on the closed door, my heart hoped to walk once more into a world of flowers, butterflies and fairy dust. Instead all I heard were angry, loud shrieks heavy with accusations. I wondered how she would react when we reached the discussion on boys, sex, driving, college and life! The coming years were bound to be tsunamic.
Gloom descended on me like dense grey fog on a cold, wintry morning. I turned away from her room, stepping down the stairs that led to the kitchen, a place where I had come to spend most of my time to feed growing bodies with ravenous appetites. I had to eat chocolate cake and drink coffee. These foods fed my soul. I turned on some music too.
As I measured the ingredients to bake the cake, my thoughts wandered to my childhood days. I started to think about how my mother had raised her brood. Had we, as teenagers, ever made her feel as inadequate as I felt right now? How I wish I could talk to her but she was miles away at the other end of the world, probably in deep slumber. Mom always knew what to say to soothe my nerves. So often, just by the my tone of voice when I said “Hello” she could tell how rough my day had been. Would Maya ever look up to me the way I looked up to mom?
As the aroma of the cake wafted across the house, I vividly recalled a few instances when I, along with my buddies, had ruffled a few feathers. Once mom had to face the embarrassing flurry of accusations from a neighbour, Mr Chaddha, when he found out that I was the one calling him up every evening to order 12 frilly chaddhiyas (underwear in Hindi). The absence of caller ID made it easy for us to play such pranks. Or the time when, on a dare, I got caught in a local Hallmark store trying to steal a birthday card. Or another time when I had spent all night with my friends making silly posters and sticking them all over the neighborhood just to spite people. What were we thinking?
Allowing the space for transition
I smiled to myself. The journey had been eventful. From those carefree teenage days, to a young wide-eyed girl with big dreams, to a bride who yearned for unconditional acceptance, to a new mother who realised that life was bigger than herself, and finally to a woman in her forties who had learnt that the only person she had to accept was herself. Even though at every major intersection in life my mother had given me words of advice, she had let me make my own decisions. The joy of learning and growing as a person only came when I had experienced it myself. And yes, I had not always listened. I had fumbled and faltered. Yet every fall had only made me stronger. Every time my heart told me to take a risk, I had leapt simply because deep within I had the faith that the safety net of my parents' love would cushion my fall.
It was time I let Maya go. Her defiance was an attempt to find her own place in the world, akin to a butterfly trying to break open its cocoon. She was ready to soar, yet here I was ready to cut short her flight each time. I nipped her wings to keep her close to myself and protect her from getting hurt. One day she would be capable of making her own decisions. One fine day she would look into the mirror and love herself completely in spite of the bruises and scars that marked her journey. But only if I gave her the permission, the ticket to ride the roller coaster of life.
Ting! The cake was ready to come out of the oven. I felt good already. As I sat on the kitchen table ready to dig into a big chunk of divinity, my daughter came into the kitchen. The chocolate cake had beckoned her. “This is so yum, Mom!” she said as she helped herself to the cake. The silly girl had already forgotten all the nasty words she had spoken earlier and eagerly started to narrate an incident that had happened earlier in school. As I looked into Maya’s beautiful eyes, I saw the reflection of the unsure, naive girl I once used to be. The transition to the eyes I saw in the mirror had been a fun filled one. I could just hope Maya’s journey would be as remarkable.
I hugged her, and as we continued to chatter, the song Patakha Guddi from the film Highway played in the background. What an apt title for any young girl! Maya would always be my doll, my Guddi, but until the time she learnt to unconditionally love and accept herself, she would be akin to a Patakha (a fire- cracker) ready to emotionally explode. And all I had to do was just take a step back to watch her blossom into a beautiful woman she is destined to be.
Vidya Murlidhar lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, two children and father-in-law. When she is not writing, she spends her time dancing, baking and learning about Reiki and energy healing.
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