Every day, my son of 17 months rushes to the door when I walk in from work.
He never fails me. His little feet and little forgiving heart. He will greet me with the biggest grin he can muster and come tottering in for a hug.
He will blabber about his day, dadim-dishdash daatun damdish, he will say and then move on to play again.
He will do this every day.
Even on days when I left before he woke up, because I had deadlines to meet at work.
Even on days I didn’t call during the day because it was “one of those days.” Even on days I am very late coming home.
He will forgive me and come running to me.
He seems to be the only forgiving one.
Never doubt I love
Being a working mother, especially that of a small baby, is like being perpetually perched on a thin, taut line between two high-rise buildings, balanced somehow, sometimes by pure dumb luck.
People from below will pity you, maybe shout out an encouraging word or two, will call you crazy for trying, or shake their heads in disapproval and then carry on with their lives.
Empathy will hardly ever find its way up to you.
Friends will tell you, “babies are not that expensive,” hinting ever-so-subtly at how selfish or self-righteous you must be to work for that extra cash.
Bhabis will feign surprise at dinners when your child is clingy to you and make clever comments like: “How does he even know you enough to be clingy, you are never home.” Such wit.
Even care-givers at day centres you are trying to interview will interview you instead and tell you how you should be raising him.
Relatives will sigh and tell you -- always in a voice a notch lower because it hurts them to say this, of course -- that the behavioural problems your child may or may not have are evidently due to the lack of attention from his mother, and that you should be careful in giving him extra love when you are home to make up for the day, because heck, it wouldn’t have occurred to you to do so otherwise.
It’s a tricky thing, being a working mother.
In a world that equates women with weakness, I need my son to grow up seeing me in my strongest, most fierce self
It’s almost as if it’s not enough to spend every ounce of energy on a day, just a day -- start to finish. It’s not enough to doubt yourself every day. Not enough to earn, fend for, and protect a child.
It’s as if the only way to quantify your love for your child is the amount of time you spend with him. As if a mother’s love is finite and can be quantified.
I have found myself many a time beside his cot at the early hours of the day, when my head is fresh and the world outside is still waking up, and I have wondered if I am really depriving him.
In such epiphanies, it has occurred to me that it’s not the money or the independence I do this for. I do it so I can give him the best of me.
Yes, the money helps. It affords me the backyard he plays in. It affords me the trips and holidays we take. It affords me the big house.
But we could just as easily move to a smaller place and just as easily learn to live without a backyard.
It’s not really the money.
It’s not really my independence either. I know tons of stay-at-home moms who are fiercely independent, who spend their entire days building their children, and are in no way any less than who or what I am.
It’s not a simple tag. It’s not a small box that you tick and say, yes, this is why I work. This is why I leave my child every morning and face the world in more ways than a man has to.
It’s not a simple list of pros and cons that you tick off in your head and then decide on.
It is, instead, who I am. It’s how I see myself, what makes me happy. My best version, if you will.
And I need to give my child this version. This gritty, somewhat tired but intact version. This version that never compromises, that takes on the world, the version that walks tall because she has chosen her path.
In a world that assumes women are helpless, that still regrets having only daughters, that equates women with weakness, I need my son to grow up seeing me in my strongest, bravest, most fierce self.
In a world that expects women to sacrifice it all, to be quiet and homely only, accept a secondary existence, and only be a supporting role, I need him to know we can be self-reliant and bold and are not ashamed of taking what is rightfully ours.
And for me, going to work and bringing in the bread is how I do it.
I might not be saving lives or moving the world at work, but a job adds weight to my identity. It is how I have always measured myself.
This is not to say that being a mother doesn’t affect me. Working does not take away from the pleasures of being a mother. It does not undermine the god-like role that has been bestowed on me.
I simply don’t think it is all-encompassing, that a mother is all I am. So I will work. And I will be a mother. And I will not be apologetic about it.
Nudrat Lohani Nabi is a client service representative at Jagar Ltd in Sydney.