An Air Force officer's wife having three children is a rarity. At parties, I am used to the ‘don't-tell-me' expression on the faces of friends. This astounded expression soon changes to one of sympathy. I am sure; the ever-increasing tribe of single-child-mothers takes me for an outdated woman from a non-contraceptive era. With a mix of pity and disbelief in their eyes, they seem to be too eager to hear the usual story of the unplanned, unexpected, out of the blue stork. I clarify that in reality, it was quite the contrary, as we wanted a baby girl after two sons (read brats). All eyes pop out further when they are told that all three are siblings from the same set of parents!
At social gatherings, the woes of single-child parents pour in unabated. Sleepless nights, the cholic, the weaning, and the starting of solid food. Another bewailed on how tiring it was to be on one's toes the whole day or how she's still dealing with the post-delivery depression. A third one would lament on pre-schooling and the unending homework. The list of misery would go on and on… I always felt the odd one out and was at a loss of words, as my problems compounded three times more than what these ladies were experiencing. But by uttering anything I would only be adding to the existing confusion, so I often ended up as a silent spectator.
I know I must be sounding a bit conceited but, over the years, I have turned my awkwardness into advantage. I have learnt the art of reverting the spotlight of conversation on to me. Very cleverly at an opportune moment, I butt in and say ‘I beg to differ'. There is a sudden silence — a pregnant pause. Nonchalantly, I tell them how easy and effortless it was bringing up my three children. It takes no time for the sympathetic and unbelieving look to change into one of awe and wonder. By now they look upon me like a born agony-aunt, a miracle lady, a walking encyclopaedia with solutions to all their problems. I bask in this new-found elevated status and dole out advice after advice trying hard to look like a supermom.
I tell them how wise it is to have three closely born children. How the bottle-sterilising, night-long vigils and nappy-washing — all finish in one go and then you are free. I tell them how I cut costs with one pram, one walker and one tricycle which were hand-me-downs from one child to the other. Not to mention the clothes, books, shoes and the free third haircut on every two!
Bragging about what a hands-on-mother I was, I told them how I encouraged competition between the three so that there was always a child trying to finish off his food quicker than the other two. I would dangle the carrot saying the one who sits quietly will get to watch his favourite cartoon; or the one who sleeps early would get a solo ride on the bike; or the one who behaves himself in a party will be privileged to sleep between mummy and papa; or the one who finishes his homework can go out to play first; or the one who puts away his toys would be the last to get a bath! Trying to look the know-all-grand-dame of maternity, I bragged about travelling alone by train with three toddlers on tow to join my husband, who was on long detachments to either Leh or Guwahati.
Gathering adulation from my awestruck audience, I go on about how fortunate my next-door single-child couple felt to have me as a neighbour. Their spoilt, stubborn, pampered, unyielding brat is often sent to my home, to be trained in manners, etiquettes and team-spirit. I made my home sound like a mini-creche where the neighbourhood kids got their first lessons in finishing their milk, eating on their own or just sitting quietly. My conquest was complete when my listeners came to know that I was a contented stay-at-home mother of three, who never missed going out for work. I made them realise how narrowly they have missed the bus for becoming the proud parents of three. I don't forget to remind them of all the sophisticated star-couples like Brangelina and Beckhams, who have opted for the three-kid formula.
It is strange how for so many years, inadvertently, I made the trials and tribulations of bringing up three children sound like a cake-walk and the coolest thing to do on earth. I am glad that this bravado has helped me forget all the harrowing days of cub-fights, infections, inoculations and hairpulling. Amazing, how I can smile at all the years of vegetating self-doubt, and tears of sheer helplessness. I truly believe that being a busy mother of three were the most thrilling years of my life.
(The author teaches English at Army School, Varanasi. Her email id is:email@example.com)