My daughter was playing in the sand pit when she spotted an older child.
“Hi!” My daughter shouted out warmly. “Will you play with me?”
The child ignored her.
My daughter tapped her on her back to call her attention, when the child turned around and hit her. Not too hard, but the thwack ricocheted and hit me bang in the centre of my heart. Once, twice… I inhaled sharply. When the humungous fifteen (okay, seven) year-old raised her hand to hit my four-year old a third time, I went ballistic. Leaping out of my chair, I ran towards the crime scene.
“Don’t you dare touch my daughter!” I shrieked, fire coming out of my ears. The girl jumped, shimmied to the other end of the sandpit, climbed out and vanished.
“Wasn’t that a little harsh?” My husband asked when I related the incident to him over dinner.
“Maybe,” I demurred, not meaning it at all. What I really had wanted to do was to grab a cricket bat and leap at her waving it madly over my head like King Kong. The only thing that stopped me was that I was too far away and by the time I would have reached her, trudging through sand, she would have hit my daughter a third time. I had to settle for the use of my thunderous voice.
Kids can be cruel, they can be bullies, nobody knows this better than a mom. If anyone is ever so slightly out of line with my daughter, I fly into a rage.
Once my daughter’s friend laughed at her and said, “You’re silly!!”
“That’s not the way to talk!” I’d snapped, resisting the urge to add, ‘You’re the silly one you twat.’
“It’s okay mama,” my daughter had said with a giggle. Her friend joined in the laughter and then they held each other’s hands and ran off, leaving me in utter confusion.
“My daughter gets over a slight so easily. Why can’t I?” I often asked myself. I am normally rational, calm and composed, so why do I turn into an entirely different beast when it comes to my daughter?
When I first had her, I expected I would be an affectionate, doting mother. I was totally unprepared for this furious wave of adoration that would sweep over me, for this savage need to protect her from every fall, every sad story, every bully. But then if a mother doesn’t take up for a child, who will?
Over the years I struggled to get a grip. With every “don’t do that!” I’d add “sweetie.” I’d grit my teeth and bite my tongue to prevent myself from saying something awful. I didn’t want some child to be traumatised by something I said. Not unless they deserved it.
“Oh they do!” the psychotic voice in my head often said. And I believed it – but in my defence, rarely acted on it and managed to rein in my craziness enough to see my daughter grow up to be a normal, happy and always confident individual.
Contrary to general expectations, she doesn’t want me to fight her battles, although I’d be more than happy to. And when I see her stand up for her little sister, I can spot the fierce love from a mile away. She has grown into a protective older sister, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. She, and, I must admit, all her friends — the bullies, the meek, the lot, have turned into lovely kids. I see them often, an enchanting army of beautiful girls, brimming with life, fun and laughter, and when I remember the many times I have bitten my tongue or clenched my fist for fear of punching them, I feel bad.
But not that bad.
A moment later my beady eyes snap open as I see a child throw sand at my younger daughter in the sandpit. I glare at her, she glares back, and my daughter sees an opportunity to get even. She picks up a fistful of sand in each hand, and throws it back at her tormenter. Yes! I high-five her in my mind even as I shout, “No throwing sand, either of you!” My voice booms through the park.
The other child’s hand falters and sand slips through her fingers. She moves away and my daughter, content, continues with her sand castle.
(This was first published in The Hindu, Open Page, on August 1, 2017.)