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 I am sure the ever-increasing tribe of single-child mothers takes me for an outdated woman from a non-contraceptive era.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 colic, the weaning, and the starting of solid food. Another bewailed how tiring it was to be on her 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, as my problems compounded three times more than what these ladies were experiencing. But by uttering anything I would only be adding to the 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 turning the spotlight of conversation on 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 among the three so that there was always a child trying to finish his food faster than the others. 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 at 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 the 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 look like a mini-crèche 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 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 look like a cakewalk 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 self-doubt, and tears of sheer helplessness. I 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)