One Child, Many Mom Friends
The bell rang yet again. My 18-month-old son had decided the day’s third session of play at the neighbour’s house would end after exactly five minutes. My neighbour, Shefali, laughed as I opened the door and let them in. “Runa, Ochoa just comes in and goes out. Can’t make up his mind!”
Shefali’s is a disciplined Marwari home, the kind in which the kids wake up and go to the temple with their grandparents at 6 am, have their lunch by 12 pm, and dinner by 8 — every day. In my home, we’re lucky if even one meal is on time. For Shefali’s three children and Ochoa, who take turns playing in each other’s home, these differences are overshadowed (if observed at all) by play times that coincide. But when it comes to us mothers, it’s more difficult to see beyond chalk and cheese.
Shefali is a housewife belonging to a different culture and religion; and she likes to discuss the food she cooks, which incidentally, is always in sync with the religious calendar; I look forward to pouring myself a refreshing shot of vodka at the end of that night, but that’s as excited by food preparation as I get. She watches the saas-bahu serials on television all day; I revel in re-reading Jane Austens and Harry Potters. She recounts stories about weddings she has attended and the sarees she wore; I appear to listen politely, but wonder when I can go inside and start writing again.
I was, perhaps, what you would call an elitist; my idea of friendship was built on discussions of plots and ideas. The only individual’s daily minutiae I wanted to discuss was that of the main character in whatever book I was currently reading. Combined with my disdain for discussing household issues or any other repetitive pattern of life and appreciation for all the things that happen in the world, from the bizarre to the informative, I ran with what I thought of as a select, more enlightened class. I was happy in my solitude, there, alleviated by the few other elevated people I wanted to be surrounded by.
When I shifted to Ahmedabad after my marriage, time with my best friends translated into hours on the phone. I didn’t go out in the real world anymore – didn’t expect to find the level of connection in my new locale and didn’t feel a need for it, as my remote friendships sufficed.
But my neatly wrapped idea of friendship unfurled itself after I became a mother.
My son, a very fussy eater, had been giving me regular grief over meals. Any activity other than eating held his fancy. It had been going on for months, and I was at my wit’s end trying to tempt him — I danced and pranced around meals; I snuck tiny pieces of chocolate in his rice; I consulted to three different doctors — but he simply wasn’t interested. I was worried sick that he wasn’t getting enough nutrition. Then, one afternoon, Shefali brought him back after an hour of play and told me he had eaten an entire dosa. I was disbelieving – I asked her to call me the next time he ate happily at her place.
That evening, I got the call. I ran next door to find Ochoa sitting with Shefali’s three kids, chomping on a roti. Shefali laughed at my ecstatic face. “Kids like eating with other kids,” she shrugged. “Ochoa is always welcome.” In the coming weeks, she started taking him along when she picked up her kids from school, taking him to the park, sending baby-friendly food items next door and generally doting on my son.
My best friends, who had heard with concern my failed attempts at feeding Ochoa, rejoiced as I told them these developments. But, somehow, they felt in the periphery. It was something they were sympathetic about, but not involved in. Shefali, though – she was in the thick of it. She had even done it three times herself. I found myself standing longer at her door, paying more attention to the food hacks she told me, registering all the baby-friendly trips she had made, tasting more of her dishes. I found myself thinking of Shefali as a mom friend, but a friend all the same.
A growing Ochoa has led to a growing circle of friends, many very different from me and my tastes. Opening myself up to Shefali’s friendship was only the start. My husband’s childhood friends and their wives had been sweet to me, ever since I had moved, but we didn’t have much in common and I never sought them out. But a few weeks back, I realized I had spoken the most I ever had during a dinner party. We were discussing nannies, mothers-in-law, toddlers, our partners. These women may not have read the books I read, seen my favourite movies, or understood my pop culture references, but we were bonded all the same. We spoke the same language now – that of bringing up a child.
My best friends are still an important part of my life, but when I lose it over Ochoa’s fever, it is the newfound mom friends that come to the rescue. When he doesn’t poop or gets hurt, I seek the mom friends around me. I make plans to take our kids out and then regret the decision, just like them, when Ochoa and the other children dirty themselves on the restaurant floor.
Ochoa has stretched my imagination in a way my prejudices never expected. My idea of friendship has become fluid, much like my son’s. For him, it isn’t important if a friend likes cartoons, though he likes building blocks – as long as they play and stay together, they are happy and in sync. As adults, we think our differences are so much more profound, but they are as easily toppled as one of Ochoa’s towers, when we let them.
And now, whenever Shefali rings my bell, or I hers, we stand together — two old mom friends catching up on lost time.