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Where Did I Go, Guys?

It was raining outside. I had a runny nose and was shivering and gargling on and off the entire day. My son was playing on the floor beside me, and my mother was humming a song to him while cutting some vegetables. Suddenly, he sneezed, making my mom jump and vegetables fly.

“I hope he doesn’t catch a cold, my poor baby!”

When I became a mother, I was prepared for sacrifices, for discounting my feelings without batting an eyelid for the sake of my son. What I wasn’t prepared for was others discounting them, too.

There has been a shift in my identity ever since Ochoa was born. Not in the stereotypical way in which I feel like a softer, more natural nurturer, but in an emptying sort of way. There’s a feeling of becoming less Runa and more mom – even to my own mother, to everyone. I’m wired, now, to treat myself second, and when it comes to my son, I am happy to. But it bothers me, ever so slightly, when others treat me that way, too. Maybe they are taking cues from my own actions and attitude, but that doesn’t make it all right. Not yet, at least.

Don’t misunderstand; there is nothing nicer than seeing your baby showered with affection and care. It would be upsetting if he didn’t get as much attention, to be honest. But on the other hand, when my parents fuss over my kid, cook things he may love over things I positively crave, it seems like an unceremonious dethroning of the child in me; I frankly feel left out.

My in-laws, my dear aunts and uncles, my best friends also know nothing better than indulging Ochoa. My birthdays come bearing gifts for both of us; on sick days, I am only asked to be careful for Ochoa’s sake. These are my people and my days, and it’s bittersweet to share them; to do so feels simultaneously wonderful and strangely like competing with my own offspring.

Feeling overlooked is a very subtle emotion, and it doesn’t override the vast number of positive feelings my son has brought with him. The truth is, having Ochoa has meant new roles for everyone in the family. While I and the husband have been taken up with our own upheaval, it’s been a roller coaster for my parents, too. After focusing on me and my sister for 30 years, there is suddenly a younger, tinier and fully dependent bundle of cuteness that demands attention (much more vociferously).

My parents have brilliantly moulded into grandparents (and my mother may have even overshot the mark); from having me and Ochoa stay with them in Kolkata for the first few months, to travelling to and from Ahmedabad for frequent visits, they have been indispensable to me and doting to Ochoa. The demands of these initial years mean it has been a blessing to raise my child with the help of my ‘village,’ so to speak, but it’s easy to feel lost in the crowd, and I wonder if my parents realise how completely Ochoa has changed our family dynamic.

I think my father does. When I had my cold, he kept making me hot cups of tea and that eventually healed my throat. Every time I visit, he makes it a point to help me for me, not for Ochoa; he lets me sleep by taking Ochoa to a different room after a grueling day, offers to baby-sit when I want to visit an old friend, watches cartoons with him while I finish a movie, or simply make me noodles after making the baby something yummy.

The nicest thing he did was tell a friend, “My daughter works super hard all day, what with the baby and her writing. And she hardly sleeps. So I will give her Maggi if that’s what she wants.” It was a casual comment, but it hugely reassured the child in me. It was like telling me I was still his daughter, not just Ochoa’s mother.

For now, though, to most of my loved ones, I am first and foremost my son’s mom. Feeling overlooked may just be the rite of passage; people’s views of you change with time, and it’s possible when my son gets a little older and more independent, their views will change again to allow for there being a little more to me.

Till then, I am (mostly) happy to be number two, or three, or wherever my people have chosen to put me. And I am revelling in the thought of becoming a grandmother just like my mom, besotted by my chuckling, toothless grandchild while my own child watches, bemused. As long as my father keeps bringing me those hot cups of tea, that future (and the Runa part of me) feels warm.

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