04/01/2015 8:03 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST

Confession Of A Not-So-Super Mom

Next time you see a disheveled woman, downing an extra strong coffee, with two kids staring at her from the neighbouring table, their faces set in a hint of a scowl, pat your back. You are a supermom today." data-caption="Was shooting last week in the Tenderloin District in San Francisco and took this shot of what I assume is a mother and her child walking somewhere after school. San Francisco's Tenderloin District is one of the worst areas in the City. A few years back I helped to raise some money for the Salvation Army's after school program in the Tenderloin. This program walks kids from their school in the Tenderloin to an after school program above a Burger King. The Director of the Program told me that there is a higher concentration of registered sex offenders per capita in the Tenderloin District than anyplace else in the United States. Which is sad. I've shot the Tenderloin District a lot over the course of the past few years. I've seen people arrested. People shooting heroin on the side of the street. Prostitutes and massage parlors fronting for prostitution. Once I saw a shooting.I followed this woman and her son for a few blocks to take this photograph. In this photograph they are approaching Ellis Street walking down Hyde.At the next corner at Ellis there was an arrest being made. At this point this woman pulled her son closer to her and rapidly turned the corner at Ellis to avoid interacting with the police action as she picked up her pace. Continued..." data-credit="Thomas Hawk/Flickr">

'You are doing such a wonderful job with the boys! Supermom!'

Every time I hear that, I glance over my shoulder to ensure that I am the one my friends are referring to. Mostly, I catch a glimpse of two grumpy teens. I usually brush it aside with a nervous smile. I do not have to dig deep into my conscience to figure out whether they are wrong or not. I know they are. Worst part, I seem to be misleading them! Hence, I feel it is time I set the record straight. I am not a perfectly balanced, ever-doting mother, who is completely obsessed with ensuring her kids turn out well. There is a faint hope of that happening--yes. But there is also an overwhelmingly real possibility that they do not develop that halo of goodness around them after all.

I have my moments. Oh boy, do I have them! There are days that start with grunts and growls, and end in tears. The older one is an inch taller than me, and the younger sees me eye to eye. So it is slowly getting transformed into a battle of wits. And in a battle, the odds aren't exactly in your favour when the other parties gang up. Hence, there are tears, sometimes. And elaborate rants to the man who treads with extreme caution at such times. I am not at my best then. I do not have a ready checklist of things to do in order to turn the situation around. At times I hide in the balcony, and let my dog sit in my laps. I think he understands. At others, there are the unfortunate friends who get their head chewed over a cup of coffee.

The issues vary:

  1. Grunts for a good morning
  2. Sibling wars. More like annihilation bids.
  3. Aversion to homework, Kumon, or anything remotely academic.
  4. First reading rights of books. Bloodshed is narrowly averted every time.
  5. Spikes in level of the teenage rude hormones.
  6. Food preferences--one hates peas, hence the other loves them, and many more such lovely conflicts.
  7. Losing interest in paid-for classes, the moment the receipt is received. Always.

The list would probably go on, endlessly, or loop viciously. The point is, that sometimes my life resembles the broken jar of velvet bugs from three decades ago. As kids, it was a ritual for my friends and me to go around the neighbourhood, looking for these velvet bugs--abundant after rains, back then. We would carefully collect them in a jar. One such day, a hundred odd bugs later, we carried the jar to a friend's house. As fate would have it, the jar slipped from my hands while tiptoeing up the stairs. With a loud crash, the jar was reduced to smithereens, and there were bugs on each step. The two of us tried very hard to contain them but failed miserably. By the end of it, we were sitting on the steps and crying, with bugs scurrying in all directions possible, and a horrified mother standing at the bottom of the stairs.

That is what it seems sometimes. I see myself trying to catch hold of the spilled bugs, and failing miserably at times. At such moments, I resist squishing these bugs. I head out instead. The bugs are bound to get tired and stop whirring around! That is when I would strike. Till then I regroup. I question my mothering skills, doubt everything there is to doubt, think of Karma--basically every negative aspect of the cosmos is pondered over. See? Not perfect. Not a supermom.

Once I have wallowed in self-doubt sufficiently, and cringed more at the confidence displayed by the friend across the table on my skills, I start working on a comeback plan. It takes work, patience, chocolate, and sometimes days of immense focus. Ammunition is carefully selected and deployed. Sometimes peace talks works. Sometimes negotiations. And then sometimes, it is war. The only ground rule--no violence of any kind is used. Gradually I manage to put the bugs back in jar--for some time at least, before it is knocked over again.

'But your writings reflect complete control!' The friend across the table said.

'They do? Damn!' I nearly choked on my coffee.

That is unintended. I am a lot of things, but 'in-control' was never a part of the list. What I write, are the things I compile after the last wisp of battle smoke has been blown away. Those are the things that worked. It is not like I saunter into the war zone, carrying a clipboard with a ready to-do list. A lot of times people feel that having studied Psychology gives an extra furl to my cape. Not true. The theories we learn are mercilessly twisted by each child that we bear. No research report works. Anger doesn't work. Inner-cheek-gnawing, teeth-clenching patience, however, does. And there is no cape. I wish there was.

So next time when you see a doting mother talking softly to her children, who look like tiny angels themselves, know this--she has her bad moments too, and the angels sprout devil horns too. And in the rare circumstance that she does come across convincingly as the mythical supermom, her children have either not discovered the teenage hormones yet, or she is putting on an elaborate facade of being the one in control. On an even rarer occasion, you might bump into the unicorn--a supermom. That is the moment when you turn around, deep breathe and tell yourself, 'that was a delusion. I am the supermom.'

As a mom, I do not let the unicorns effect me. I try to learn as much as I can, and mostly try not to lose it. And I succeed in not getting reduced to a pile of nerves, in not planting a slap across the two teenaged faces, in containing my self-doubt. I am a mum. A human one. Not a supermom with a wand, or a solution to every possible problem. The experiences I share through writing are in the hope that some mum somewhere, sitting in the middle of her broken jar full of bugs darting about, would find it useful, and get a head start in cleaning up the mess. It does not in anyway imply that I have multiple safety nets deployed. Only supermoms have that kind of mechanism in place. And we know now that they are unicorns.

Next time you see a disheveled woman, downing an extra strong coffee, with two kids staring at her from the neighbouring table, their faces set in a hint of a scowl, pat your back. You are a supermom today. For you have your bugs neatly collected in the jar. Hers, on the other hand, just crawled under the cabinet.