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My Greatest Achievement

By Sheila Kumar

Recently, a magazine carried an article on role reversals and their hidden fallout. A working couple decide to have a baby and share parenting 60-40. That is, with the husband doing 60 per cent of the caring and nurturing, and the wife handling the rest. Within months of their baby mouthing her first word (‘Papa‘) and turning to him for just about everything, the writer realises that in reversing traditional roles, she has missed out on something infinitely precious. Yet she didn’t want to take on mothering, full time. And there lay the rub. 

I empathised with her. In my teens, it was my dream to meet and marry a man who would rather travel than have kids. I even wrote an article for a magazine detailing just why I wanted to remain childless in a society that treated childless women like pariahs. However, I married a man who was a born father and would have loved a small brood of kids. Our daughter, now 13, was the compromise solution arrived at, and I use the term deliberately. I went into delivery conscious of what the next many years would entail, but I did not have much confidence in my as-yet-untested maternal skills. I didn’t buy into the adage that motherhood overwhelmed a woman in that magic moment she laid eyes on her child. It took years before motherhood crept in, years filled with doubt, exasperation, ego-deflation, and joy. I was there, as prime-time nurturer and care-giver for my little girl till she was four years old. Then I went back to work, with all the looking-over-one’s-shoulder and the guilt the move carried. 

Years later, the other day, I had an epiphanic moment, as startling as it was revealing. A striking American woman of 45, was asked to name her greatest achievement and without pausing to think, she said, “My daughter.” This was a beautiful woman who wore her Balenciaga gowns with elan, wrote books on women’s rights, was a practising lawyer, and altogether, a role model for younger women. I started to laugh incredulously at first. But I realised that my daughter was my greatest achievement, too. It sounds rather subversive, even paradoxical, to say a woman’s greatest achievement is her child. It implies that, you nor your achievements, amount to much.

I’m a modern, fairly multi-talented woman. I’ve sold many a product in my ad copywriting days. I bake a mean pie and my cheesecakes vapourise among friends. I can dance till the cows come home, if that is a talent. I keep an elegant house and help friends do up their’s. I learnt Bharatnatyam years ago, but can still turn in a sharp ‘thillana‘. I throw fun parties. Small talents, big talents. 

But finally, what weighs in most heavily for me, is that I have produced a lovely child, a girl thrumming with talent, though mostly latent now. It’s not her undeniably good looks, the dimple in one cheek. It’s not her lovely nature — understanding and sensitivity. It’s not her wit, intelligence, or our shared enthusiasm for Heller’s ‘Catch 22’, St Exupery’s ‘The Little Prince’ or Shah Rukh Khan. It’s all of it.

I look at her and see so much of me in her. While that sets off a glow inside me, I have absolutely no desire to live my life over again through her. I don’t want to influence her in any way, now that I think I have instilled what I feel are the right values in her. It’s her life, to live as she chooses to. However, I cannot but help feel excited about the myriad options that lie before her; I cannot but help feel a throb of anticipated joys at the highs to come, a jolt of alarm for the lows she will inevitably face.

My daughter studies away from home. I continue to live my busy life, working and juggling responsibility with enjoyment. I don’t stop to think of her very often. But, should anyone ask me what my greatest achievement in life is, I would have to answer: My daughter. I have come to terms with that, and all that it implies. Maybe some time in the future, I’ll start to enjoy that fact, too.

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