Raising a Baby… and a Business
I remember the first time I saw the “20-footer,” the big truck that my father had bought for his business. It was parked on the narrow street in front of our house in Calcutta. For a 5-year-old, it was the most exciting thing that ever happened. For the neighbourhood, as well; it was the early 80s and nobody had seen anything like it.
Trucks were a big part of my father’s business, as were “containers,” “bills of lading,” “ICD,” and more. Of course, not all of it showed up in front of my house. Many were just words that filtered through every day of my life, well into adulthood, as my father built a business from scratch in a new city. He was rarely home, working late and travelling often. Even when he was home, he was balancing work and family and he was on the phone much of the time.
As the years went by, a few of my older cousins joined him, and many years later, I did, too. The magic of the 20-footer gave way to dinner discussions on rates and operational snafus, but the intensity of growing business at home stayed constant. Frequently hauled out of home in the middle of the night to deal with some crisis, my father was often angry, stressed, and worried. Diabetes and hypertension were also words I became familiar with.
In time, my father retired, and I quit the field to start something of my own.
And now history repeats itself.
“Dosa Inc truck, Amma!” exclaims my son when he sees my food truck. (Yes, it is not a coincidence that I am in the truck business.)
“Dosai… Vadai… Idly… Uppa…,” he diligently lists out the menu from memory. He knows the names of all my staff, and it is a relief that he likes our food, because it’s often his backup meal.
It has been a tough balancing act (which doesn’t actually balance a lot of the time), balancing work and family. The first time my son rolled over, I was on the phone describing food items to a customer inquiring about catering. She seemed to be an old woman, hard of hearing and slow in understanding, and she asked the same questions over and over as my son rolled over and over and over again. It was the first of the many ‘firsts’ that I missed, even while being right there. I was around to care for my son the first time he got sick, true … but I was cradling him in my arms as I argued on the phone with a VAT officer who had impounded my truck in the middle of the night as the crew were returning from an event.
At all times that I am a mother, I am also the owner of a business. There is not a moment that I am not worrying about both. I go to bed concerned in equal parts about my son’s stuffy nose and about the list of things that need to be done the next day. It is also impossible to keep the two separate; business conversations and phone calls are a part of dinnertime and bedtime almost as frequently as my son is a part of the banking, purchasing and kitchen errands I run for my work. My husband (who is also my partner) and I are often arguing about our business plans, what strategies to deploy, our failures. We are frequently angry at ourselves, at each other, at our staff, at the frustrations of running a business. We are often called out in the middle of the night to defuse crises. We wake up very often with stress at the pit of our stomach, worrying about the future of the business and of our child because to a large extent, those futures are the same.
Every so often, I question my priorities, my ability for balancing work and family; I berate myself for not spending enough time on either. But these moments don’t spring from guilt. Thankfully, I feel free of the guilt that dogs so many other working moms, who don’t get (but still miss) the chance to see their child roll over for the first time. I don’t feel guilty because I grew up like my son and, while I missed my father when he was away, I never felt neglected by him. I understand now, the Herculean effort he must have made to organize his life and work to make sure that he could spend time with me.
No, these moments stem from a vain hope that time will slow down a bit so I can enjoy these lovely years as my toddler learns to walk, talk, dance and do a hundred naughty things. It takes effort to rearrange work and sacrifice opportunities just to be able to spend and enjoy time with him. I am of a different generation and a different line of work and, unlike my father, I work from home. I am around for much more of my son’s life, and my son is around for a lot more of my work. It is a part of his life and a part of his family – normal, like his playschool, his naptime, like the dogs.
In time, he may ask for more from us; he will wonder why our home does not look like the homes of his friends and as our business grows, it will intrude more and more into our life. And while I go to bed worrying about this, too, sometimes, at least there’s some reassurance. Because if history is actually repeating itself, then my son will be all right – in fact, better than all right; he will be happy and loved.
And who knows? In time, maybe he will become a parent and an entrepreneur, too.