Dear Future Mother-in-Law,
I haven't met your son yet (at least not that I know of) but lately, as I watch my mother fulfill her duties as the model-perfect daughter-in-law to a mother-in-law-less (my grandmom is no more) family, more and more I have begun to think of you. I have begun to think of you as a real person, with a character and flaws and dreams.
Chances are, you'll be like my mother: working at a "service" job somewhere, higher or lower on the corporate ladder depending on your level of education, your own ambition that did not get buried in the endless rigmarole of caring for your family. And the depth of support provided for you by your in-laws when you were young, when you had passion and when you wanted things from your life that had nothing to do with anyone else but yourself. Not even your husband, my future father-in-law.
Did you want to be a doctor, like my mother did, but ended up working in a bank or the government sector in order to support your husband? Did you also have to wake up at six in the morning, make breakfast/lunch, coffee/tea and other beverages before laying out your son's school uniform carefully, along with the school badge before you woke him up? Did you sometimes miss the morning local (if you lived in a city like Mumbai) and spend the day in a foul mood knowing that those precious five minutes were life and death in your hectic schedule?
I can never call you "mom" or "amma" on demand or because it is tradition -- I already have a mom, my Amma.
Did you spend your 30s and 40s caring and sharing your whole life away: first with your husband and in-laws (if they stayed with you), then your kids, their schoolwork, their schedules, their assignments and projects? Shoving your own dreams into a small drawer that could barely see the light of day. Did you also spend a lot of time praying for your son, my future husband, to finish his education with flying colours so he could do whatever he wanted and not just be an engineer or doctor that the whole family, including your husband, dreamed he would be?
Did you fight wars on behalf of your children that they, till date, know nothing about and you'll never tell them because you're their mom? It's what you do. You protect, you shield and you love. Unconditionally.
Will you protect me too? Will you shield me too? Will you love me too?
But before you answer that, let me tell you something about me.
I am, by all standards of the word, "modern". "Unconventional" and heathen-like. I do not believe in wearing bindis, or touching elders' feet in abject genuflection, or casting my eyes down or lowering my voice while talking to said seniors.
I have opinions. I share them with the world, regardless of who is in front of me. But I am learning kindness and consideration and the value of silence where required. I am learning the art of compromise and negotiation in order to keep the peace within me, in order to focus more on "doing" and less on "feeling". I hope that is enough for you.
Your son is not the first man I have loved and my love is not virgin-white anymore. But I want your son to be the last man I love.
I am also learning to cook. Not to make delicious dinners for your son or six-course meals for the entire family when all of you show up (or if we live together) but because I have discovered a joy, a calmness in cooking that has been missing recently in my life. I love buying fresh veggies for recipes looked up online, cutting them into the desired shapes and simmering the whole concoction together if so required.
There might be days when I will hardly feel like getting out of bed, much less making tea and chiwda for all of us. Will you be non-judgmental and empathetic that day or will you icily talk about how my mother has raised a lazy ass?
I can never call you "mom" or "amma" on demand or because it is tradition -- I already have a mom, my Amma. I call her names I can never share with the world for fear of being called a little girl. And, because, fuck it, it's between her and me. None of you have a claim to my mom. Will that be ok with you? That I love her more than I can ever say, more than all the words I know of?
I hope you do not think of me as that woman who can never leave her family of origin behind while she starts one of her own. I would like to think of it as our families joining, melding and expanding to make more room in our hearts and our last names. This is my dearest wish, Aunty. My other wish is to have such a warm relationship with you that calling you "mom" comes naturally and from the heart for me.
I do not believe in wearing bindis, or touching elders' feet in abject genuflection, or casting my eyes down or lowering my voice while talking to said seniors.
Which brings me to my last point.
Your son is not the first man I have loved and my love is not virgin-white anymore. But I want your son to be the last man I love. And I hope to love him with all my heart, with everything that I am. But I love me too. I have a fulfilling career, a fulfilling life actually, with friends, purpose, excitement and things that you probably might disapprove of, if I go into too much detail. Some secrets are meant to be kept.
I drink occasionally, and I curse frequently (especially when I am writing) and I wear clothes that even my dad and I fight over. I am me. I am me in a way that I can never be your son's wife.
And (amen!) he should love me exactly like that. As a whole person, separate and disparate from him. And yet, someone who will meet him measure for measure in triumph and tragedy and stand with him, proud to call him mine in anything he does, helping to nurture his dreams and his family.
Would it be ok with you if he did the same with me? If he cooked us brunch on Sundays and let me sleep in? Changed diapers or did the dishes or any of the many chores on the nights I am busy writing or just too exhausted from my day to want to do them?
Have you raised him to think that none of these chores are beneath him? This cannot be too much to ask for, can it?
Not when you're a mom. Not when you shield and love and are wise in ways dads never are.
I hope to meet you soon. I hope you do too.
Aarti aka Writer Gal
A version of this post originally appeared on the author's website.
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