Playing games; family room

Atongla Rothrong

Being a mother is a bit like living with a Pushmi-pullyu, and they’re hard to tame. Remember the story of ‘Doctor Doolittle’ by Hugh Lofting? It was a childhood favorite of mine. One animal in particular, the pushmi-pullyu stands out in my memory. This creature, as I imagined him, was a sort of Llama, with a head at either end, two sets of legs moving away from each other. According to the story, you would never find the pushmi-pullyu in any zoo because he was extremely difficult to catch, no matter which way you’d approach him, he’d see you; one head was always awake watching.

I think there is a pushmi-pushyu watching me. It was with my elder daughter that I first glimpsed him. Holly has the dubious benefit of many cousins, relatives and a single parent who ‘have been there, done that’. But she seemed determined to rewrite the family script. She crawled early, but for her, walking was fraught with danger: four cousins, relatives and assorted house pets including a monkey racing about. So, Holly waited until she could walk without falling, and I developed a permanent come-on-you-can-do-it! expression on my face. From the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of shaggy heads and hooves. I’ve been trying to get rid of him ever since.

Before children, I was geared up to explore the grown up world of responsibility and achievement. Maturity ground that to a screeching halt. Forget 40hrs a work weeks, coffee breaks and ‘How was your weekend?’ Instead, the joy of motherhood comes with 120hr caffeine- free workweeks days- even if they are around to ask.

So, I began climbing the parental learning curve, pushing aside my own ambitions, and focused on maturing, slowing down and living in the moment. It was the biggest surprise to find that I could feel necessary, even smart; I was every thing to my baby. Perhaps it was sleep deprivation, but the sweet softness of her drowsy face never failed to make my heart lurch. 

Then I’d lay her down and try to snatch a moment of life outside the padded room. Pick up a paper- pack best seller or even sit on the desk to note down my memories. But I swear, two minutes after the sweet face touched flannelette, she’d squirm awake. Her skin would turn scaly, horns would sprout from her head and her red (tear filled eyes), gaping maws would shriek, “how dare you think of anyone but me?” Oinks! The pushmi-pullyu galloped off, braying with laughter.

My thoughts were murderous. So I’d glue to my screams of “momma! Don’t go, echoing in my brain. ‘She’s fine, she’ll be fine, and she’ll always be fine”. I chanted in time with every page I flipped to get more into the story, to merge the story with my destiny;  I might be losing my mind, I rationalized, but at the least I wouldn’t lose my memory.

When Holly was four, she wanted to skate. At the first lesson she clung to me. “Hold me mummy” she pleaded, ‘don’t leave! I hesitated. Then I did something I swore I’d never do; I turned my back on my child and walked away while she stood there alone. A part of me cried, what kind of mother ignores her Childs tears? The other part argued, she’s okay, let her make it on her own.

During the first horrid lesson the pushmi-pushyu played tug-of-war with my solar plexus. By her second lesson, Holly flew past me, waving.

Now, I have two daughters, both in a Montessori boarding school. Where, once I was being pulled and dragged, now sometimes I’m pushed away, and I have to figure out how to be okay with it.

But I’m not to assume it’s permanent, oh, no! Just when I get into something of my own, someone pulls at me. It’s a never ending game. Tag you’re it, plunge ahead, screech to a halt. My feet may be ready to run to my children, yet, poised to face a world without them too. My elder daughter Holly is on the brink of growing up (she’s 7 now) though pushed through ahead by nature and the excitement of change, pulled back into the comforting blanket of childhood by fear.

One day Holly and Thrio would play games; the next day they want their own Nintendo, Barbie’s or whatever. One day they want to go friend, cousin visiting, another day, they don’t want to stay at home alone (I’m a working mother)

I look into the eyes that have always been open to me and I see unreadable secrets. Yet, when I probe gently, they talk to me as they always have. Will it continue? I don’t know. But I do think pushmi-pushyu is here to stay. When my kids grow up, I’ll be feeling all the angst and excitement. When they begin driving, I’ll be with them on every trip until they roll safely into the driveway. Whether or not they need me, a part of my heart will always be facing their direction, watching, never sleeping.

Motherhood is built on the age-old conflict of holding tight and letting go, at the same time. Children pull us with their needs, and then push us away. We’re drawn to nature and repelled by the grinding demands. We’re enticed by our careers, yet shut out if we can’t commit fully. Finally, it occurred to me: maybe this is the way it should be. Opposing forces create strength. Maybe, I’m not supposed to chase the pushmi-pushyu. Maybe I’m supposed to follow him.