A week before I left for my first solo trip to India with little Amy I was still unsure if I was doing the right thing, carrying a one year old toddler born in Sweden to India for two months.
The fact that her child nurse had issued a list of ten different vaccinations she should receive before the journey had added tons of worries to my already harried self.
By the time I was done packing, I realized the two big suitcases and most of the cabin luggage was overflowing with Amy’s food, clothes, diapers, towels, wipes, cheerio’s, snacks, smoothies, formula and juice bottles. Sam jokingly hinted that I might get caught at the Airport for smuggling Baby food.
But I didn’t care what the custom guys would think, all I wanted was to keep little Amy from catching any bacteria or viruses (which seem to be a little more than abundant in India).
I even bought four huge bottles of Swedish mineral water at the airport just so that her water doesn’t changes drastically as we land.
The moment we came out of the airport, I took her up in my arms, hugged her close and held her slightly high in the air like a coveted trophy and covered her with my cotton scarf.
Amused, my father who had come to pick us up asked, ‘And what exactly are you doing’?‘Nothing dad, just covering her a little, there is so much pollution in the air’.
My father gave me an exasperated look before he signalled the driver to take a right towards the exit.
There was warm welcome the moment we reached home with a few family friends also joining in to receive the star guest ‘Amy’ who was coming to India for the first time.
We were showered with hugs and kisses the moment we stepped out of the car, everybody wanted to hold Amy, pull her cheeks and hug her but all I could think of was the numerous viruses and bacteria’s they would be carrying in their hands.
I wanted to offer few drops of my hand lotion to sanitize their hands before they touched Amy but my father’s stern look stopped me short as he caught me diving into my handbag. I helplessly looked around and displayed fake smiles while my heart pounded with fear. The moment we entered in the privacy of our bedroom, I took Amy to the bathroom and washed her hands and cheek with anti-bacterial soap.
But cleanliness drive wasn’t the only thing I was obsessed with, there was food too! I had to make sure nobody fed her with hand (as they usually do in India) and kept constant vigil to keep her from putting things in her mouth from the floor.
I got mineral water bottles for Amy and much to the surprise of our maid, asked them to be boiled again. ‘But didi (elder sister), this is mineral water’,our elderly house-help we fondly call ‘Amma’ protested. ‘It’s ok, just boil it once again and let it be on the heat for 5 minutes when its boiling’, I instructed avoiding any further questions on the sanctity of my act.
Mom in her nicest way possible pointed out that I needed to notch my‘paranoidism’ down a bit while my sister was more upfront as she called me freaky mommy. Paranoid or freaky, it was all ok, as long as Amy was safe!
Then one evening after sterilising her bottles for the ‘nth’ time as I went around looking for Amy, I heard her shouting in the garden. Hurriedly I sprinted outside, worried she would have fallen and hurt herself but as I opened the door to step outside, I saw her playing with a broken tree branch. She was using it as a broom to dust away the leaves that had fallen from the big oak tree.
I was terrified to see that she had created a mini storm of dust with her small make shift broom. Frightening pictures of her inhaling all that dust covered my senses and I was almost about to jump over her to get that branch out of her hand when the dimpled smile on her face stopped me short in my steps, her eyes were twinkling with sheer joy, she was clapping fiercly to celebrate her small victories and was shrieking in absolute delight.
It was an endearing sight and I couldn’t help smiling as I watched her smear her new pink dress with dust, crushed leaves and soil. Visuals of my childhood days, of climbing trees and stealing guava’s, chasing butterflies and squirrels and building quint little toy houses all through the hot summer evenings, flashed in front of my eyes.
That moment I realized what a really panicky mother I had been all this while (in my sister’s words).
In my urge to protect her, I was keeping her away from the real pleasures of childhood, the joy of experimenting, exploring and discovering,the awe of opening up and experiencing the world around with her own unique senses, the triumphant of a little one in falling down, getting dirty and standing up again…. the most special gift of childhood to be lively and carefree !
My mother’s frequent advise echoed in my head, “Self play helps build coping, problem solving and social skills in children while they learn to combat different situations through self-learning and develop a basic set of life skills which helps them later in their life”.
Amy called me out as she saw me standing at the door breaking my chain of thoughts. She was shouting ‘mommy’ and fiercely waving at me, signalling me to join her. I looked around, found another branch and ran over to assist her in her cleaning spree but this time without a hand sanitizer.
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