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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A day in the life of an imperfect woman

Being a psychologist mom, the expectations run high. But, I make sure I stay human and realistic with my parenting goals. 'To err is human, to forgive divine'. This Alexander Pope saying is my go-to mantra for every parenting glitch; although I think he was talking about forgiving others, I use it mostly for myself

Written by Dr Shwetambara Sabharwal | Mumbai |
March 8, 2021 2:10:56 pm
womens day 2021, international womens day 2021, being a woman, womans life, woman multitaster, day in the life of a woman, woman's life, womens day theme, womens day significance, womens day news, womens day indian expressIt is amazing how kids can completely ignore an exhausted, drooling, sleeping mother in the room. What is even more fascinating is how husbands can snore through such chaos. (Representative photo: Getty Images/thinkstock)

I wish I could start with describing the glorious sunrise in front of my eyes, as I dive deep into a still mind, breathing, meditating in silence and ending my morning ritual with sipping turmeric tea, feeling my cellular health improve.

Instead, I am woken up by my four-year-old tugging at my dog to make him sit on her lap — both occupying the majority of my bed space — and my 11-year-old son screaming for her to take her hands off our mighty Yorkie. It is amazing how kids can completely ignore an exhausted, drooling, sleeping mother in the room. What is even more fascinating is how husbands can snore through such chaos.

Being jolted out of my sleep, I swallow my thyroid pill mindlessly, splash water on my bleary eyes and shush the kids out of the room with me.

I know a warm sun is rising somewhere, coral and gold, bringing with it a new day to be grateful for. ‘It will be a good day’, I self-affirm, muttering my gratitude prayer, pausing sporadically to remind the children to finish up with their milk and fruit. It only takes about four gentle reminders and then a firm threat to take away their TV time, for them to get moving to brush their teeth.

Being a psychologist mom, the expectations run high. But, I make sure I stay human and realistic with my parenting goals. ‘To err is human, to forgive divine’. This Alexander Pope saying is my go-to mantra for every parenting glitch; although I think he was talking about forgiving others, I use it mostly for myself.

I gulp my tea as I sift through the digital pages of the day’s appointments, my daughter’s school time-table, materials for the day and work emails. I stare at an email reminder from my husband for our kids’ parent-teacher meetings, which perfectly overlaps with my patient appointments. I am already missing my assistant who took a 10-day leave two days ago.

The thing about online therapy is I really need to work on rapport building. Through the last year, I have counselled Covid patients, families, teenagers, harrowed parents, doctors, entrepreneurs, musicians, conflicting couples and others, all on virtual platforms. While I am trying to connect with them and get them to talk to me, and eventually help address concerns, guide and add value to their lives — mostly without even seeing them — being late or cancelling on the session does not help at all. Doing either of those with school teachers, as you can imagine, is not an option.

womens day 2021, international womens day 2021, being a woman, womans life, woman multitaster, day in the life of a woman, woman's life, womens day theme, womens day significance, womens day news, womens day indian express It is time to play with the kids, read, paint and catch up on house-keeping chores. So, I let go of feelings of guilt, inadequacy and anxiety over what the teachers and my patients may have thought of me. (Representational photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

Getting kids into their chairs, checking the network, chargers, so the on-screen school doesn’t suddenly die on us, finishing unfinished assignments and getting past breakfast, which has become such a deal during home-schooling. Tiffin was easier.

I log in for my first appointment and explain I may have to cut the session short, as I have “an emergency expected in half an hour”. I don’t even want to think about what my patient would think of this dumb excuse. Maybe she would give me credit for being a talented predictor of situations, foreseeing emergencies. We mutually fix another time in the day.

As I sit with my husband through back-to-back meetings with teachers, amazed at their detailed and accurate feedback – swallowing chunks of my aloo paratha intermittently bending out of view– I glance at my phone and see the message, “Waiting online, are you ready?” I could swear I did not have an appointment at 11! Apologising to yet another patient, I bring myself back to being an attentive mom.

We over-run every meeting, late for the next. We are so late for our art teacher meeting that she has rescheduled and given us another slot. I jump into work.

I log in and out of teacher meetings and therapy sessions, oscillating between scribbling notes as a mom and scribing as a therapist. I finish work around 5 pm, and as I close my laptop shut, my mind races ahead, landing on the kids and the kitchen. “One thing at a time,” I remind myself.

It is time to play with them, read, paint and catch up on kitchen and house-keeping chores. So, I let go of feelings of guilt, inadequacy and anxiety over what the teachers and my patients may have thought of me.

I spend some time with my son chatting about the “sick” feedback from his teachers, over which I feel pretty “swell” (trying to understand their language), encouraging him to keep up the good effort. He sneakily seeks permission for a sleepover — since the next day is a holiday — packs his bag and guitar and leaves (without toothbrush, comb and slippers, which I send later).

As I spend time with my daughter, showering her and the dog, occasionally spraying and splashing, we giggle as I tell her stories of my dog I had in my childhood, a black mountain Lhasa we called Moti. ‘Pink baroque pearls are my favourite,’ I drift.

“Mindfulness,” I whisper to myself, the practice of being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling by staying in the moment. I talk about conscious cognition to my patients often, which is the practice of being aware of our own self-talk, drifting and bouncing around meaninglessly and how to bring our focus back to the present. So I do just that.

womens day 2021, international womens day 2021, being a woman, womans life, woman multitaster, day in the life of a woman, woman's life, womens day theme, womens day significance, womens day news, womens day indian express I log in and out of teacher meetings and therapy sessions, oscillating between scribbling notes as a mom and scribing as a therapist. (Representational photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

I take a deep mindful breath, bringing myself to the ‘here and now’, and glance at my phone only to realise the meeting I had spontaneously agreed to take with the art teacher, was the same slot I had given to my first patient of the day. “How can this be happening to me, given I am usually far more efficient and organised?”

Focusing on the problem instead of ‘being critical about the event’, I send out an apology text to the patient and ask for a convenient time to meet. I go through phone meetings regarding work, appointments, accounts and content work for my social media, and even manage to send a ‘just checking in’ text to my husband, after realising I have not seen him post the school meetings; not sure if he has carried his lunch to work. Acknowledging my growth areas instead of beating myself for my mistakes, I move on.

I amble into the kitchen, cool and composed before the dinner dance. Having managed to order bell peppers at the last minute — cooking and navigating a loaded refrigerator feeling a bit like an octopus, with tentacles in and out of cabinets — I walk into the living room and stare outside: the setting sun, pink, crimson and grey, breathing restoration into the universe.

My heart is filled with gratitude for the sun, for being relentless and persistent, making every day warm, bright, familiar, and yet new.

My husband returns home, gesticulating that he is talking on his pods. After he finishes and sanitises, we hug and he says: “You won’t believe the day I had!”

I smile as I reflect on the commotion, cringe at being late for every meeting, laugh at my absentmindedness, dismiss the baggage of the day and forgive myself, for I am valuable, without conditions, and I persist despite mistakes, willing to learn. I try and never quit. I know tomorrow will be better because I rely on hope and on myself, for I am an imperfect woman, grateful, happy and ready for every sunrise and sunset I miss or make.

(The author is a Mumbai-based psychologist and psychotherapist)

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