The Authorized Signatory
As my hand hovered over the cheque, I shivered a little. This was the first time I was signing a cheque in lakhs of rupees and, despite my questions, I only understood 10% of what had been explained to me. I shifted, trying (and failing) to find a comfortable position in the lopsided office chair. Then I gulped down my self doubt and signed.
I was 26 years old, and my father had deputed me just weeks before to be the authorized signatory in his absence. My parents, were, at that moment, on a ship off the coast of Alaska, reachable only through an enormously expensive phone call. In the days that followed the first cheque, I would sign many others – often the same ones several times, as the signatures wouldn’t match, a sign that my hand was as inexperienced as I was with authority.
Now, in my 30s, my signature is surer, more stable. I don’t balk at being called “ma’am.” I don’t doubt myself often; I even feel capable enough to reprimand, correct and advise.
Of course, sometimes, that confidence becomes overconfidence – like the time I had five years of official files shredded and dumped to make space for newer documents. (Here’s a tip: Don’t ever do that unless you want your service tax assessment to be a catastrophe.) But even then, I had the confidence to wing it through a difficult time. It is a good place to be in.
But with motherhood, the curve is entirely new, and I am at the bottom, staring up at a steep climb. The first two years have been the parenting equivalent of pushing paper and doing data entry. Cleaning, bathing, changing diapers, burping, feeding, rocking him to sleep – exhausting work, no doubt, but with low stakes. He didn’t have much of a will, let alone the ability to exert it. The decisions were simpler, more a matter of response than planning.
I often feel like a poser, a fraud, because many of my decisions are out of self-interest and not necessarily aimed at a greater good.
Once again, I have graduated to signing (small) cheques. Dealing with a fully verbal toddler, who is full of questions and who is learning to exert his will, means wielding authority on the fly. My son has Opinions – no, he will not eat the banana; no, he does not want to go to the park; and he really, really wants to play with the garbage truck. He is forceful with his will, throws tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.
Even though I have learned to put out the little fires, it continues to be easier to respond than to intend. It is easier to reprimand him for his bad manners than to tell him what “good manners” actually entail. I struggle to explain to him, why, exactly, it is at the same time wonderful he is beginning to tell me he wants to pee, but also not all right to pull down his pants and diaper at will, particularly in public (like he did in the park earlier today). It takes a level of imagination and ingenuity to explain matters of etiquette and hygiene to a boy who is swinging from my arms as I speak.
I often feel like a poser, a fraud, because many of my decisions as an authority are out of self-interest and not necessarily aimed at a greater good. I want him to finish eating so that I can get on with my work, not necessarily because it’s better for his mind or health if he finishes his meal in the time I set out for him.
So, it is all the more surprising and strange to have him come to me seeking permission. It is stranger still to have him obey what I tell him to do. (After all, what do I know?) But I try harder because, now, the stakes are getting higher. Now, his world extends beyond his home and will only grow further.
Still, I feel uncertain about the big-ticket decisions, because these require conscious and premeditated doubt of my response, not just my ability to respond. For instance, I don’t know what I would tell my son to do if he got bullied at school. Would I tell him to fight back (like my instinct would suggest)? Or tell him to complain to the authority? Or would I intervene myself? And what if my son is the bully? I can’t even fathom having that conversation. My hand feels shakiest right as it should be getting stronger.
But all those years ago, I had been deputed to sign cheques for a reason: the wheels of the business had to keep turning, the work could not stop in the absence of my father and, most importantly, he understood that I would make the effort to understand and learn before signing anything blindly.
It is no different with a child. Who will teach the manners, imbue the values, and have the difficult conversations with my son, if I don’t? More than that, I want to – I want to make sure the manners and values he absorbs are mine and his father’s, even if that means living uncomfortably in the skin of a mother for a bit. Someday, that responsibility and authority will come to me as naturally as the decision to throw out five years’ worth of documents. (But hopefully with fewer consequences.)
Until then, I’ll take a gulp and sign, and sign, until I get it right.