Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Kandace Chapple’s essay The Single Sentence. We asked readers to tell us about a time they wrote something that caused them to make changes in their life. Below is Vijayalakshmi Sridhar’s response.
The Power of Choice
by Vijayalakshmi Sridhar
I am a working mom and proud of the work I do. When I had my second child though, I decided to take a break. When I was young, I had always been secretly jealous of my friends whose moms stayed at home . My hero was my grandma who raised five of her children all while frequently relocating to places where Grandpa’s job took them. An idyllic image of my mother’s childhood persisted in my mind.
Things slowed down for my family as soon as I left my job. Sleeping in every morning, slow breakfasts with my then two-year-old son and three-month-old baby, chitchatting with my mother on the phone, stopping by the neighbor’s house, going out for dinners even on weekdays—our lives were open to little leisures we couldn’t have before. Everybody around me was visibly relaxed. I could feel it. We no longer had to rush through every moment in life.
While I enjoyed this, a part of me was growing uneasy. I had assumed being a stay-at-home mom would be a natural transition for me. What I did not expect was how thankless and lonely motherhood could be. I wanted to get back to work not because I had to, but because I enjoyed it. But breaking this peaceful bubble of ours seemed selfish.
About this time I was taking a writing course, and I interviewed my grandmother and mother to put together an essay on motherhood across three generations in my family. I was particularly interested in knowing my grandma’s point of view. Her story unfolded in unexpected ways. Raising kids in a middle-class Indian family in the 1950s, Grandma’s life essentially involved back-breaking amounts of household chores. There was no electricity in the house, no running water, and no stoves. From drawing water out of a well, hand-washing clothes, cleaning the house, lighting coal- and wood-fueled stoves to cook, to even fanning her children and husband in 100-degree-Fahrenheit nights—Grandma did everything. When I asked her about how she spent time with her kids, I remember her somewhat hysterical laugh. “What are you talking about, silly child?” Grandma could barely keep up. Her children learned to be independent and took care of each other from an early age. Towards the end of the essay, I wrote, “Interestingly, while I thought it was my grandma who spent more time with her kids as she stayed at home, it is in fact me who has this opportunity.”
Writing down this realization caused a paradigm shift in me. I know that I am far more likely, even as a working mom, to spend quality time with my kids and husband than my grandma or mother ever could. The nostalgia that I attach to bygone days can at times fog up my view on what the present has to offer. I see more clearly now that there is no right or wrong path for motherhood. Unlike my previous generations, I have the power to choose mine.
Viji Sridhar is an engineer by profession who spends way too much time playing with words on her work reports. She lives in North Texas and is the mother of boys aged two and four.