Three Cheers for the Mediocre Mommies


Three Cheers for the Mediocre Mommies

Illustration: Palak Bansal/Arré

When the new Ms World, Manushi Chillar, told the world that motherhood deserves the largest pay packet of all, everyone went all “Aww…” and many stay-at-home moms dabbed at their moist eyes for being acknowledged. We love it when someone famous sings paeans about the loveliness of mothers, especially stay-at-home ones.

Some mothers are selfless paragons of virtue who function like CEOs of a Fortune 500 company, efficiently churning out polite, well-behaved kids who clear the IIT-JEE, baking cakes that belong in MasterChef Australia and volunteering at the blind school four times a week. If that’s not enough, they also grow their own organic vegetables and run their home-based businesses which get them featured in the Economic Times. These moms find a lot of satisfaction in their roles as homemakers but they make life tough for us – the not-so-supermoms.

Let’s face it. Most of us are fairly inept moms. We bungle our way through skinned knees and bad report cards and sometimes barely manage to serve three meals a day. We are the Not-so-supermoms that use mats and table runners to hide stains on the furniture and serve our family two-day old leftovers with a smidgen of guilt. Mothers warn their sons about wives like us who can’t quite get shirts spotless white. Gardening is a distant dream; even cacti will eventually give up on us and transmute into something that no botanist can identify. Takeaway menus are our prized possessions and our full-time job is to constantly wonder where we went wrong.

I recently visited a home where the hostess served a lasagna made with homemade quinoa sheets layered with three types of sauces: tomato, spinach pesto, and alfredo. The tomatoes and spinach were sourced from her own garden and she even made her own bread and cheese at home. While we enjoyed this delightful meal, her daughter, who has her own YouTube channel, serenaded us with some Beethoven on the piano. I returned home filled with the indefatigable desire to tutor my kids Advanced Calculus and bake a hazelnut praline-cherry compote-matcha mousse seven-layer chocolate cake. At least then I could claim to be a homemaker with pride.

As I dragged out the textbooks and baking pans, my husband held both my hands tight and whispered, “It’s midnight. Just go to sleep. The feeling will pass.”

He was right. By morning I was back to serving my family a breakfast of toast and Nutella, although I did go out of my way to purchase this special multi-grain bread from a bakery that serves completely organic products with an oven imported from Switzerland. At that time, I felt pretty good that I was doing something healthy for my family; now I just feel awful.

The hard part to digest is that I chose this life. I chose to be at home with my kids, but domesticity makes me restless. One reason for this could be that the hardest thing in the world is to keep convincing people that you’re smart, when your talents fall in that grey area of not-quite career woman and not-quite domestic goddess. People admire women who fall neatly into those two categories but are quite cruel when you don’t fit into either.

We are the Not-so-supermoms that use mats and table runners to hide stains on the furniture and serve our family two-day old leftovers with a smidgen of guilt.

If I could pick my own category, it would be homemaker trapped in the body of a writer with the spirit of an entrepreneur and the heart of a mom. Confused? I am too and I am pretty certain many women feel like this after being at home with kids for many years. We want to do something other than raising children but we have no clue what. We made the choice to be at home and love our kids to death, but talks about Ikat cushion covers and Bonsai gardens bores us to tears.

I once read about the idea of “Ikigai”. It is a Japanese word used to describe your life’s purpose. It literally means “a reason to get up into the morning”. A homemaker rarely has one fantastic reason: She has several, like attending a PTM one day, attending to a sick relative the next. “Listen To Your Heart” will not be found on the to-do list of any multi-tasking mommy.

There was a point when the only thing that used to get me up in the morning was the threat of missing my daughter’s school bus and I doubt that that’s what the wise Japanese elders were on about. Since I didn’t have a Japanese guru at my disposal, I turned to that other source of spiritual enlightenment: Facebook.

After spending almost two years on the platform, questioning myself and others, I discovered that I had a never-ending supply of random thoughts and could type pretty fast on my mobile phone. For some reason, this made me inordinately happy. Unfortunately, there is no World Championship for mobile phone typing, but 22 years of marriage and motherhood has honed my sense of humour and my funny random thoughts soon came together – first as sentences and later as paragraphs. I began writing quite regularly; some it even made sense and I developed a bit of a fan following. I went on to do a lot of writing: short stories, articles, blogs and even a novel. Finally, I had something I felt I was born to do and it had nothing to do with motherhood.

Don’t get me wrong. Motherhood is wonderful. We give away a big chunk of ourselves to our families and we like to be loved and appreciated for it, but what we really want, with all our hearts, is to keep a little bit of ourselves for ourselves. We don’t want to be glorified for being great moms. There are supermoms in this world – the rare women who are born for this role and excel at it (though I would argue that these women also have moments of profound doubt) but most of us are ordinary women who are doing our duties but will never stop seeking answers to who we really are beyond them.

Women my age are in a strange period in history. We are fully awake to the exciting world around us and the endless possibilities it throws up. At the same time we’re still not ready to let go of home and hearth and outsource it to an army of cooks and nannies. That’s just not how we deal. This schism leads many a frustrated woman to attempt making a seven-layer matcha cake in the middle of the night.

Future generations, I think will make their choices pretty clear and won’t be in the in-between place we are in. But until then, let’s hear it for the not-so-supermoms.  We may not be able to make even one layer on that cake but maybe it’s time to say – hey, we don’t even want to.