Summer cleaning this year was different. My only son was done with schooling and had left home for his undergrad at New York University. Years of moulding him to become a responsible individual, student, swimmer, speaker, leader — everything had come to a grinding halt. The only way I could shake myself off a possible onslaught of an ‘empty nest syndrome' was to clean up what belonged to the bygone era, and get ready for another set of productive years.

Cleaning up Sachith’s room was an emotional challenge. His Lego set, stickers, old labels, Pokemon card collections — all sent me into sniffles and sometimes into occasional wails. I couldn’t get myself to junk them. So they stayed back in his wardrobe along with his first swimming trunks. His textbooks had piled up over the years; we were hoping it could be of use to some needy kid. Nobody seemed needy enough these days to use old textbooks, unlike in my days when they were not just money-savers but also provided valuable pointers through extra information scribbled in it. Unwanted today, they are junked for the paper recycling man. Old clothes and toys went to a nearby orphanage, to make space in the wardrobe.

In the pile of mess in his wardrobe, was his scrapbook full of scribbles, drawings and pictures that he had collected over the years. Out of curiosity I decided to thumb through it wanting to see what my little boy had gone through as he grew up. There were drawings that reflected the cartoons of his age from childhood to teens. Right from Speed Racer and SpongeBob all the way to Simpsons and Samurai Jack. There were phone numbers of his closest friends and bullies. There were also one-liners to God that reflected joy in victory or pain in failure. There were also tiny little poems of crushes on girls or contemplations as to why a teacher loathed him. Science and philosophy fascinated him and he even framed his own theory of time! This scrapbook made me realise that we had allowed our boy to grow free of the shackles of academic demands. He was free to think and dream and grow into a confident young man. I guess this is what eventually earned him a full scholarship at a world-class university, and certainly not his board marks which were just average.

Cleaning up my laptop was a daunting task. Along with a lot of stuff that had accumulated over the years, there were collections of school essays, snippets of online articles in science, social issues or just famous quotes that were once sent to my son. There were recipes that were mostly for quick school snacks, puddings, sweets and savouries all geared to suit a growing boy’s palate. All this was packed into a folder, ‘zipped’ and e-mailed to my sister, who would now need it. From now on my recipe folder was going to be a collection of health foods, low-carb meals, salad preparations and other health tips for the hubby and me who were into middle age. The photo folder was a mad collection of pictures of family, friends and happy occasions that had accumulated over the years after my son came into our lives. They were sorted, cropped and kept ready for Family Album – Version 6.

Exhausted after a week of cleaning, I saw that there was one more task left. Cleaning up my telephone book. My husband never understood why I insisted on using only a pencil in the phone book. To me the phone book was more of a reminder of events that went by, rather than just people who came into and went out of our lives. This book was a flashback of happenings over the past 15 years of our life: the names of people who had passed away were rubbed off with a sigh. Along with them went the grocer who got wiped out with the coming of a supermarket in the neighbourhood, my plumber who took off for the Gulf, and the paediatrician from whom we had weaned away my son. Then there were teachers, tutors and coaches of various breeds. Right from the ones who wanted my boy out of their lives to the ones who hailed him as the best find in their entire career. All of them remained in my phone book. They were all part of my son’s upbringing, priceless assets that had moulded his personality. .

Thus ended my summer cleaning, which also marked the end of my primary role as a mother. I had the immense satisfaction of having wound up this role well. My only duty now was to offer prayers for my child — to keep him close to my Lord, and to give him a sense of duty to his needy fellow beings, however tough the challenge, whatever race or religion they belonged to.

meena.benjamin@gmail.com

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