Monday, 24 September 2012

XXVIII. Mother Lion

Immediately after the birth of my second child my mother in law came to stay with us. This is eight years or so ago now, but an overwhelming sense of hurt still marks my memories of that visit. Her stay lasted four months. That's four months of having a woman I had met only twice before come into my home and spend almost every moment of each day with me. A woman from a vastly different background with beliefs so far from my own, and with a significant language barrier between us.

A pious loving person, who from the outset told me I was not her daughter in law, but her daughter. Who thought it her job, and mine, to cater to my husband's every need. And tolerated his sometimes curt disrespect silently. I had my issues with the way they interacted, it made me feel uncomfortable. I would not let my own mother serve me, wait on me, pamper me, the way he permitted, but their way was different. 

I couldn't really leave the house without taking her with me. I had a shadow, watching my every move. Yes, she was trying to learn, to experience, but I was questioned, not necessarily in judgement, but questioned, on every thing I did, every household chore, every mothering activity, while I learned to balance the care for my new baby, and toddler. 

All that, I could manage, but what was the hardest for me to accept, and it was in no way malicious, she thought she was being helpful, being the best 'Dadi' that she could be, was that, to a certain extent, she began taking over the care of my sweet new baby. I use the phrase 'taking over' because to me, that's what it felt like. He was always in her arms. She would sleep on the couch with him, she would carry him wherever we went. I struggled at times to feel that I could prise him from her arms. I started to feel ursurped in my role, helpless, I didn't get support from my husband, it was my problem, I was being ungrateful for her help, unappreciative of the fact that my son also belonged to his 'Dadi' and she might not get to see him for years again. I understood this intellectually, but inside me was a wounded mother lion crying for her lost cub. I felt uncertain, confused, ashamed about the feelings I was having about seeing my son in the arms of someone who seemed to have such a different world view to me.  Even though it was someone who clearly loved him. My neighbour, without prompting, commented to me one day, in a rare moment without her presence, 'She acts as though he is her baby. I don't know how you can put up with it'. Such relief I felt upon hearing that. I wasn't some crazed jealous new mother, my feelings, dismissed by my partner, were understandable, at least by another woman of my culture. Another person may have stood up for herself, been more demanding, put this strange lady in her place, kicked her back to where she came from after three weeks. But I didn't. I swallowed my bitterness, carried a tension in my body for four months, and tried to not let this feeling of being suffocated in my own home by other peoples values, ruin my first months with my beautiful boy. So lucky I was that he had the nature he did. A calm sweet baby, not demanding like my first charismatic son. His nature allowed me the room to deal with my emotions as best as I could. 

All she was doing was trying to shower me with love and it nearly broke me. It was the only thing that let me hold it together, her intentions were so good, but she had no awareness as to the personal boundaries she was crossing, painfully for me, every single day for four months. I just needed space. To breathe and bond in safety and in peace. When she left, I felt utter relief. But also, in time, remorse that I had not dealt with the situation better. She loved me because it was her duty to do so according to her religious upbringing. I wish I had been better equipped to return that love. In time, and there were one or two lengthy visits after that one, but none that took their toll as this one did, I have found that I can think of her with some affection. 

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