The Martyr

This post is dedicated to my beautiful friends in Chicago who helped me keep my sanity during those crazy sleep deprived baby days.

Seema looked around the house and took a deep breath. Was this the very place she had spent hours cleaning yesterday? The dirty socks lying beside the couch, unfolded segments of the newspaper, a bowl of half-eaten oatmeal and a tea-stained mug on the side table, Skylander figures strewn in front of the TV, the Wii-U gamepad flung on the carpet, the crayons and papers on the center table, a jacket thrown on the couch was evidence enough that she was raising a husband and kids who were messy. Was she the only one in the house who cared about tidying up?

As she picked up the clutter and made her way to the kitchen with the bowl and mug, she was met with a pile of dirty dishes in the sink.

Gosh! This job never ended. To top it all today was Thursday. The day that she had signed up for the bake sale at her kids’ school. The day she had to drive her Dad for the senior citizens meet at the local library. The day her daughter had her piano class and son his tennis lesson and also conveniently the day her husband had his men’s night golf.

As she mentally tried to fit in cooking a healthy dinner and the baking in between running the errands the sight of the kitchen rag right next to the sink reminded her of the three rounds of laundry that had to be done.

Tears filled her eyes. She was overwhelmed as she thought of the envy, she had felt moments ago when she had met her neighbor, Dahlia at the bus stop. Dahlia worked full time and her kids were the same age as Seema’s yet Dahlia looked so in control of her life.

Dressed in crisp formals, puppy dog in tow she had filled in Seema on her most recent business trip to Paris. Seema couldn’t help but compare her own sloppy sweat pants look to Dahlia’s well-groomed one. An indication of Seema’s sloppy life and Dahlia’s fantastic one.

This wasn’t supposed the way it turned out, Seema thought ruefully. She had always wanted kids but in her dreams, she had always pictured herself to be a yummy mummy, one of those women who never age, have oodles of energy to play with the kids, be a master chef, maintain a spectacular house and run a home business at the same time. All this while doing yoga, writing and taking part in half-marathons.

It wasn’t supposed to be the struggle it was right now. All she did was cook, cook and cook, clean, clean, and clean and drive the monkey babies around. Her days were a frenzy of never-ending chores and yelling at her family to keep things going. It seemed like she was the only one to whom having a great family life mattered.

To her dad, her husband and her kids everything she said and did seemed trivial. They didn’t care that she put in a lot of time and effort to try and make a variety of well-balanced meals to nourish her family or took the responsibility to make sure the kids were spending their time in activities that stimulated them physically and mentally.

They didn’t value the fact that they had clean clothes in their closet most of the time. They took her for granted. Or maybe, she just wasn’t skilled at being a homemaker. Every morning her house looked like a hurricane had rampaged it and every evening there was at least one person who complained about the dinner. 

What was she doing with her life? Everything seemed to be spiraling downward into a black hole whose walls echoed time and again that maybe she was not good enough. She even stayed from social media these days because pictures of smiling families, overachieving genius kids and the poetic words that doting husbands wrote for their wonderful wives on anniversaries only endorsed her feeling that she wasn’t doing a very good job of nurturing her family. Before she knew it, teardrops mixed with dishwashing liquid was what she was using to get those pots and pans squeaky clean.

She had barely managed to brush aside the tears when the doorbell rang. Twice! Mrs. Lalitha’s signature style. Seema was in no mood to entertain the elderly lady. She was annoying and nosey. She asked far too many questions probably to get a hint of what was happening in Seema’s life. And her timing was impeccable. She always came when things were a mess or if one of the kids was throwing a tantrum or if something was baking in the oven. Each time she got a flavorful slice either of the cake or Seema’s life.

Unfortunately for Seema, Lalitha had all the time in the world to hang out. She was a widow who lived with her single son, a photojournalist who often travelled. Her other kids had moved out and started lives of their own. In her heart Seema grudgingly felt that Lalitha probably judged her and secretly enjoyed watching the lousy way that Seema handled her life. Maybe that’s why she came often and without prior intimation.

Well, today that would not happen. She would not open the door. Seema hid in the walk-in pantry with her cup of coffee lest the old lady came snooping around the back door whose beautiful French windows gave a clear view of the kitchen. Fortunately, Dad had gone for his 5-mile morning walk or else he would have opened the door.

“Lalitha is lonely and just needs a little of your attention. You will not understand that feeling now.” he had said the last time.
“Not attention, but information!” Seema had barked back.

As she hid in the pantry her imaginative mind began to wander. A day in the life of Lalitha –what would it be like? What would it be like to wake up in the morning and only think about yourself?

Seema smiled at that thought. Just one bowl in the sink, just one set of clothes in the hamper and all the time in the world to meditate, read, write, do yoga and go on leisurely walks. And then what? Ah, of course, she would twirl and twirl about in that spotless house. And as she danced away in that fictitious perfect space her heart slowly sank as if being weighed down heavily by the deafening silence.

She could live that perfect life for a little while maybe but to wake up day after day to that silence? No pitter patter of agile feet, no chitter chatter of shrill innocent voices, nobody to discuss the political circus with and nobody to snuggle into bed with…the emptiness of it all hit. And she realized Lalitha didn’t come over to judge her, she came around to feel the chaos, the true richness of a full house.

For the first time in months Seema felt gratitude in her heart for the way things were. Until now she was thinking from a place of lack. She constantly compared herself and her family to others, whined and complained about the chores and put herself down.

Like a martyr or a sacrificial lamb who had to give up her life so that others could enjoy theirs. Such utter nonsense! She was in fact blessed.

It was just a matter of perspective. If she thought from a place of abundance in her mind, she would have realized that the people she loved and took care of made her life worth living. The list of never-ending chores and the messes just symbolized the togetherness of a busy family. They had plenty to eat hence the dishes. They had plenty to wear hence the laundry. Three active kids hence the chauffeuring. When her heart got a glimpse of the inevitability of the kids leaving, she wished to hold on to the present for a little while longer. The moments they shared now were precious.

And as Seema went about doing the chores with renewed energy, she was reminded of the words she had seen on a plaque in her aunt’s house when she was young.

“Although you’ll find our house a mess
Come in, sit down, converse
It doesn’t always look like this
Some days it’s even worse.”

She smiled as her own mind inspired by its recent a-ha moment conjured up the next four lines:

The mess is just a sign
We are busy being happy
For we are blessed with more than we ask
By the benevolent Almighty

That day it was Seema who dropped in at Lalitha’s house with a giant slice of fudge cake before going to the bake sale. After all the elderly lady had definitely proven the fact that people come into your life for a reason. Thanks to her, Seema’s kids would remember their mother not as the whiny one who went through hell to raise the kids but as the one who joyously cherished the wondrous challenges of motherhood.

Author’s note: Inspired by my elderly neighbor and dear friend – a young mom.


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