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I scramble back from my evening walk, panting and out of breath. It is less of a walk and more of a military march. A march that I have subjected my poor husband to for the past nine months, in the wake of regaining my former fitness after childbirth. As I march, the last layer of soft belly fat mildly jiggles under my loose, dark t-shirt : a reminder of my son’s home for nine months in the womb.
Our loving one-year-old son Tejas generally is at the playground during our walk, supervised by his regular babysitter who genuinely adores him. Today is different, he is at home with my mother-in-law, who he has met for the first time. Tejas seemed curious but distant towards my mother-in-law but I gave in sensing her enthusiasm to babysit him. She is the quintessential grandma ready to pamper her grandson and hasn’t gotten a chance to visit us earlier due to the pandemic.
Our walks are precious. This is the time when my husband Adi and I talk about our day, rant about work and other things. We occasionally talk about our long-term dreams that right now seem to have buried themselves under diaper hampers, night-time feedings and a slew of spit up clothes. We often go to a nearby café which has become our favorite. It’s not the café, this part of our day has become something to look forward to.
Today as I sip on my cup of highly flavorful masala chai, I hear a high-pitched voice of a woman trying to soothe a crying baby girl in a stroller. Clearly, the woman is struggling and the kid seemed to be having a mini meltdown, crying and throwing her little limbs in all sorts of directions. I think to myself that I notice a lot more babies around me now that I have one of my own. I think they have a name for this phenomenon. I remember the name as I hold my tea cup : the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.
As I turn my head to look at this woman, half thinking if I should offer to help her, I realize that the baby in the stroller is a playmate of my son from the playground. Her name is Disha, I know her mom. Her caregiver has changed. I introduce myself to the woman and try to comfort the little girl. Disha looks straight towards me for a moment with recognition in her eyes and then starts crying again with double the gusto as if complaining about something.
A tiny stream of panic bolts through me. Disturbing images follow. Images of my son not liking the change of babysitting arrangement and resulting in tantrums. Him fussing and rolling on the well cushioned floor of his play pen. Him wailing in a continuous rhythm, feeling abandoned and throwing up. The masala chai in my stomach makes me feel too full. I can feel a bad aftertaste in the back of my mouth. Adi notices my face and asks what is wrong. I just want to go home without offering much explanation. He gives me a knowing look. We leave quickly and hustle back home. I climb the stairs to our second-floor apartment, panting and out of breath.
I carefully put my house key inside the keyhole in trepidation, mom-guilt already running high. I step into the room, half-lit with the last sunrays of dusk. My eyes take a few seconds to adjust. The first thing I notice is my son’s head bouncing up and down. He is making cooing sounds, ones he makes when he is playing. As soon as my eyes adjust well enough, I see the full picture. My mom in law is lying on her back in the playpen, her hands tucked comfortably under her head . My son is sitting on her big rhino belly and jumping up and down. Both are in their own zone, now interrupted with us coming through the door. I smile at my husband who gives me a” I knew it “look. A dark cloud lifts off my head.
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