I am the stereotypical Indian married woman. I am mother to a six and a 12 year old. My 75 year old mother in law also lives with us and this is as good as having three children to look after. They are all wonderful people and I love them to the moon and back.
But they also keep me busy in a somewhat overwhelming way. My weeks are a blur of packing lunches, filling in for my domestic help, weekly assessments of kids, catering to a stream of guests at my house and working for my husband's company. Amidst the rush of everyday life, I'd be lying if I said I don't run on autopilot most of the time.
Parenting: If you're not tired, you're not doing it right
Like every mother, my hobbies changed with motherhood. Reading and singing were replaced by sleep and some quiet time. My passion to travel survived from my erstwhile list of hobbies however because of sharing it with my husband. In my fifteen years of marital life, I have travelled to fifteen countries with my husband and children. From infant to toddlers to boys, we have hauled our children, together, in strollers and on shoulders. At times it becomes exhausting. I pack for worst-case scenarios and worry about meal spills on flights. I start planning for their next meal as soon as they are done eating. I'm on an eternal quest for their whereabouts in crowded places. All this somehow interferes with my own experience of the place.
I've been lucky to have a husband who has never stopped me from doing anything and has always been a great companion to me. Despite this liberty, being a typical Indian woman, I tend to seek his consent for every little thing to the point of his annoyance. At times I want to assure myself that I can achieve any kind of happiness on my own and feel responsible for every decision I make. I want to lose myself in unknown streets and not worry about the blame of misleading. I want to eat something new and not worry if my kids would eat it, and grab a drink at a bar at night and not worry about who’s going to baby-sit the children at the hotel room.
Looking for inspiration
I began reading many experiences of women travelling, on their own terms, and most of them unmarried. Adding a wedding ring and two children to the solo travelling equation was definitely going to bring a smirk on the faces of my family from a conservative Marwari background. I knew judgement about my relationship with my children and husband was in order. Like all Indian girls of my time, I grew up to believe that marriage means to let go of the carefree person within us. I think differently now. Relationships should add something to a person rather than taking anything away.
My partner understood this small but significant discontent in my life and he didn’t want me to sit in self-pity. I am almost forty and have already proven myself a good wife, mother and a daughter-in-law. For those I hadn’t been able to, up till now, I couldn’t, possibly ever. It was time to live my dreams alongside as much as everything else, and unapologetically so.
To assure everyone that I would be OK by myself, the choice of destination was critical. US was a country where I had lived for some time. I knew my way around and had a strong network of friends and family throughout the country that put everyone at ease.
Parent's guilt is real and no matter what you do, it has a way of creeping up. I remember my younger son asking me before I left if he could go with me. It took a minute to gather my thoughts. I said, "We have been to many places together, but sometimes you have more fun when you do things without me and I want to give it a try too". I found myself crying again in the bathroom of Delhi airport.
Once I boarded the flight, the guilt subsided. It didn't matter now. If my fort survives these 14 hours of flying time it will be fine for the next 14 days. Sitting by myself even in the cramped economy class, being able to watch movies, drink wine and eat all three meals, felt like a trip to the spa. Going to the restroom untethered and able to change my sleeping position without waking my kids up made me realise how long overdue this trip actually was.
I checked on my kids the first thing after landing. They were fighting, having fun and had a list of things they wanted me to bring. My otherwise inactive mother in law had become mightily powerful in the house. My husband had a plan with his friends for the day and my friend was going to take the children out with her for a movie. Everybody had found their own rhythms in my absence. I felt lighter and shrugged off the weight that I unnecessarily carried like an atlas on my shoulders. Now I wanted to fulfil commitments made to myself.
Finding my own way
I started my mornings with a walk, showered for longer than usual and didn't plan much on how would I spend the day. I rented a bike to explore a city and strolled on the shores of the lakes. I went out with my friends in happy bars, having a little too much to drink. Many times, I would sit in a busy square doing nothing but people watching. I alternated between reading Under the Tuscan Sun and dozing off in the remains of my time. As the trip came closer to its end, I saw the carefree girl back— one who could sing and lie on the wildflowers growing on grass.
Taking this trip was one of the best things I could have done for myself. I’m also convinced that it makes room for more mothers to follow their hearts . We all play many roles and try to deliver our best.
How we hide our wings under the pillow and keep checking them, as one day when we have that little time, we just want to try and see if we still can fly.
I came back fully energized, and ready to engage with my family again. My husband quickly made it clear that it was his turn for a getaway now. Barely after week of my return my boys wanted me to plan another trip for myself. Guess they had their share of freedom in my absence!
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