I miss Srishti!

It's exactly 3 weeks that she has been away from me, staying with her dad & his parents. And it will be almost another 2 before she can return. A whole month (or more)!
Reason? I tested covid positive 3 weeks back & got admitted in a nursing home the day after - thanks to my wonderful doctor-friend, Saurabh Basu. I returned after 12 days. But just 2 days later, my father tested positive. Thankfully, he is asymptomatic & quarantining at home. But he is very fragile, given his age. And his quarantining means I’ll have to wait for a longer time before Srishti can return.

This is our longest separation in all her 9 years. May it never exceed this span, I earnestly hope… till she flies the nest! Which is another 9 years away (only 9?!)… assuming she will leave after high school.
My head has been full of these numbers & calculations – of weeks, months, years. But what I have missed most all this while is her touch. I had re-discovered touch after she was born & my love for her ever since has been wholly tactile. How else can one love a child?
Loving a baby is all about loving the baby body – nursing, bathing, cleaning, soothing. Everything has to do with touch. While sound and sight are important, it’s primarily touch that connects a baby to her mother. As she grows to toddler and then child, the hours of contact with the mother steadily decrease, but the importance of touch in the bond remains just the same. And for those who sleep together, it can never be overestimated.
Srishti has slept with me ever since she left her cot (which was placed on my side of our bed, by the way & not in a different room). She has never slept alone in a room. We have thus always begun & ended our days together. She is the first thing I see in the morning & telling stories (or talking about “stuff”) is the last thing we do at night. I call her my “kol-balish” (side-pillow); though, in reality, it is mostly her legs which are on me. Over the night, she turns 180 degrees in bed several times, but whichever angle she is at, at any given moment, she somehow manages to have at least one leg over me – over my thigh, waist, back, tummy, you name it. It is difficult to fathom sometimes whether she is sleeping or doing stretching exercises, with me as a prop. She also, very often, as good as pushes me out of the bed. “Shar-er moto gutosh na to amae”, I shout out involuntarily, breaking my own sleep – for that’s exactly what she does, lean into my back with her head, like a bull with his horns. But there are sweet moments, too; the sweetest being, when she curls up into my torso, in an almost foetal position. I wrap my arms around her – this time, deepening my sleep!

Why am I going on and on with sleeping? That’s because sleep time is the only time of ours together that was not compromised in the past 14 months. The first 6/7 months of work from home last year were cruel, as full time professional work had to be balanced with domestic work without any help, and Srishti’s routine. To that was added my father’s increasingly fragile health, which had to be attended to. With the result that I could give very little time to Srishti, outside of monitoring her online classes & helping with her homework sometimes. We did get to lunch together - the real gift of work from home - but weekday lunches were often very hurried affairs for me, as I had classes after it.
It was very ironic: pre-pandemic, because of long hours at my workplace, I’d never been able to give her much time during the week; but during the pandemic, even working from home couldn’t change that. Even then, I had very little time for her. Meanwhile, Baba seemed to age some 3 years in 6 months & November onwards, I had no alternative but to keep a full-time, live-in, attendant for him. This was a first for him and us. In the next 4 months, 3 such attendants would come & go, even as his health deteriorated beyond imagination. I found myself totally taken up with this: calling up ayah-centres incessantly, talking to possible candidates over the phone/in person, settling them down with their routines with Baba, trying to get the two adjusted to each other (which was the toughest part)… & when they left, repeating the exercise!
November to Januray was one story; from February, it became quite another. Because from 1st February, we were required to take online classes from our campus; & that meant I was away for 10 hours, with an 8-year-old child and an 86-year-old sick father at home, at the mercy of an unreliable help. I remote-controlled whatever I could, calling up several times a day between classes. From March, I got a reliable help; but from April, Baba became totally bed-ridden, even as dementia set in. This necessitated an additional night attendant for him. The 1st left after 4 days of work, the 2nd after a week; & then the 1st came back again. I am hoping she will stay & the current pair will become a stable one. That would be heaven!
Needless to say, all of this affected my time with Srishti. It has been tough for her, this past year… but she has coped with it remarkably well. I’m so amazed by that!

In my 12 days in the nursing home - when time didn’t seem to move - I missed her terribly. When we video-called, I would plant famished kisses on the phone-screen, instead of blowing a kiss while saying ‘bye’. She was faintly amused by my desperation then. Not so now. For one, I’ve stopped acting silly: I kiss her by touching her face with my fingertips & then placing them on my lips – social-distancing even over the phone. She grins from ear to ear when I do that. For her part, her kiss is incomplete without her uttering “muaah”.
We don’t talk a lot - I’m simply incapable of that now - but we both wait for the evening video-call. (That’s the fixed one; a second may or may not happen during the day or night). We exchange the day’s updates. From what I hear, I understand that, apart from keeping up with her drawing, she is basically lazing & that what she enjoys most is meditating with her dad – though that is a very small part of her day. She has also just got his Tintin collection – I’ve given her a reading challenge of finishing it before she returns. Hope that peps her up!
She does need pepping up. She sounded listless the last few days. Sometimes she is very quiet, with moments of complete silence… I always break that with “I miss you, beta”. It’s like the refrain of a song that I just can’t help singing. She is less forthcoming about her feelings. But today she said, “I miss you so much, Mamma. And I just wish sometimes I could hold you tight.” I cried. When will I ever be dignified in love?
During those 12 days in the nursing home, in a small room that sealed me off from the world, a video would play in mind, with a lovely background score. In it, images of us would slide by: Srishti & me lazing in the winter sun on our window sill; reading a book together on the couch, her left arm linked into my right, her head nestled on my shoulder; of freshly bathed Srishti, smelling of flowers, suddenly hugging me round the waist & burying her head in my chest as I dry her wet hair with a towel; of her counting stars in the balcony, sitting on my lap; of her curling up into my torso during sleep.

I’ve waited to write this post; I wanted to come at least to the end of my period of isolation at home before writing it. But I’ve also hesitated writing it – or rather, posting it. It is too self-indulgent. At a time when people are dying like flies everywhere & entire families are being wiped out, it’s a luxury to talk of missing a child on the other side of the city. My heart goes out to the bereaved families; I know many myself. But this is my reality; this is what I feel; & this is what the crux of my experience of covid has been, emotionally – missing my child! I can’t ignore or obliterate that.
Of what it has been for me, in medical & physical terms, is a different story. I feel very grateful that I got a bed and medical care when it was required. And though my recovery phase has been mostly taken up with dealing with Baba’s covid, as I gear up to start teaching online later in the week, I just hope that my still low energy levels improve eventually. And that Baba, too, recovers by the end of this month!
Meanwhile, I’m counting days for Srishti….


Peter Leyland said…
That is a very moving blog Rituparna which shows both the the pleasures and the demands of the caring roles you have taken on. I have just recently been reading a book by a woman caring for her father during his years suffering from mental illness and I am thinking of discussing it in my next blog. I hope Srishti will be back with you soon.

Eden Baylee said…
Thanks for sharing this very personal story, Rituparna,

It's good to hear you're recovering and I hope your father will be fine post quarantine too. You are not being self indulgent with your story at all. You've gone through a very difficult time. This pandemic has hit everyone, some in worse ways than others, but we need to express our own fears and sadness and disappointments. Doing so doesn't take away from the suffering of others. By your sharing, I understand how hard it's been for you, and this human connection is so important.

Stay well, and I hope you reunite with your daughter very soon,

I agree with Eden that your story is as important as anyone else's. It sounds as if you've had a particularly difficult time which you've been managing very well - I hope you will make an excellent recovery. Thank you for telling us your story. Best wishes.
Wendy H. Jones said…
Thank you for your honesty and your moving story.

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