As I anxiously and gradually step into a new role and slightly larger clothes in my life, I find myself (re)pondering this role in question – Motherhood.
With little effort, I seem to find the answers everywhere, beginning with my mother, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, my aunts, my neighbor,my co-workers, my friends, the women pushing their prams on the street, the kindergarten teachers leading an impatient line of children, the ladies queuing up in the gynecology and pediatrics departments, the TV and movie moms, the big eyed and bellied cow on the street, the pack of dogs outside my house with its ever growing litter of puppies, The malaria causing female anopheles, the trees in spring with their tender, translucent baby leaves and even the seed bearing oranges that I had for breakfast -All indicating the truckloads of unconditional love that they so easily carry on their shoulders.
But, only a handful of them seem to truly satiate my doubts and calm my worries. The urban parent that I see myself becoming today, seems to be weighing the lighter unconditional love down with a bigger truckload of anxiety and over protectiveness even before the young one is born.
The only thing that appears to break this fear, is the image of a Hornbill feeding its chick. The more I observe nature, outside the human realm, the clearer certain answers get. A couple of months ago, a documentary on the effect of continental drifts on evolution, in this case a rather comical looking bird; caught my interest.
The Great hornbill of the Western ghats, with its heavy looking horn over its beak, and a camera lens-like eyelash adorned eyes, would have hardly made me associate it with its motherliness or attribute it with excellent parenting skills.
After the female lays her egg in a hole in a tree and settles down with it, the male carefully stuffs the hole, so as to cover and protect the mother and her baby from predators, leaving behind a wall, save for a tiny hole, big enough for just the tip of the beak to peck through. As the egg hatches, the male flies in with bits of food, shoving them through the dark pore, for his partner to catch and feed the vulnerable chick.
As the chick grows bigger, there isn’t any space for the mother, who then breaks open the stuffed wall and fills it back. Now, the parents patiently fly back and forth to the nest, feeding the hungry and rapidly growing young one. It is dark inside the hole and the only thing that seems to help them see their child is, the gift of evolution – their comical looking eyes.
Once the chick is large enough, it breaks open the wall, and is ready for its flight. The height of the nest in the tall trees, is dangerously high. A failure in the instincts of the young bird, might make the flight, its first and its last; pulling down with it , the weeks of the parent birds’ hard work.
The latter perch themselves on a nearby branch, watching the first flight of their young one, who tries to spread her wings, but fails, dropping down and landing on the forest floor. This almost broke my heart, and I began to wish that the parent birds could be more human and try to save their little baby.
They do immediately swoop down and on closer inspection find the young one alive, with its fall cushioned by the leaves on the forest floor. All they then do is, to ruffle up a few feathers and with one more attempt fly along with the new flyer to a lower branch.
This really moved me to tears and I realized that parenting is not just restricted to protecting and sharing our unconditional love. It is also a role which needs to fulfilled with a certain amount of detachment, what my father often calls a “detached attachment”; not assuming ourselves to be the sole protectors and “owners” of children’s lives.
We are but their mere caretakers until they go out on their own. They do not really belong to us, much like every thing else we claim to possess; but to the entire world and the universe and we need to trust this universe to take care of its young with a little assistance from us.
With every passing trimester, I hope to carry with me the wisdom of the Great hornbill, and not turn into a sMother that I always fear that I would be.