(THIS POST HAS BEEN WRITTEN FOR THE MOTHER'S DAY BLOG CONTEST IN INDUSLADIES.COM)
Soon after my younger daughter was born, the doctor came and placed a tiny swaddled bundle in my lap. Even through the sedated haze of the anesthesia, I was amazed to look into a pair of startlingly blue eyes. Which were set in a face as fair as ivory.
I was amazed (nobody in both sides of the family-tree has blue eyes). But, more than that, I was anxious and apprehensive. For nine months, the spouse and I had been preparing our elder daughter about this life-changing event. She had been told all about how God was very happy with her for being a good girl and was giving her a very special gift. She had often touched my tummy to feel her sibling kicking merrily in the womb. Every day, she would come back from school and relate the day’s events solemnly to her yet-to-be-born sister, bending over my tummy to whisper ‘secrets’ to her sibling which I was not supposed to hear. In her imaginings, her sibling would be a younger version of herself. She was prepared for the big day, eager to welcome her brand new sibling.
We were prepared, too. Prepared to understand that occasionally, our elder daughter would feel jealous, or resentful, or left out. That she would need an extra dose of love and attention to cope with the shift in status from ‘only child’ to ‘elder sister’. That we would have to be very careful not to neglect either of our children, nor to compare them in any way. Only, we had not taken into account the ‘fairness factor’ - and the discrimination that breeds in the minds of people.
When our elder daughter sat cross-legged on the hospital bed and took her tiny sister carefully in her ebony arms, our world was complete. The spouse and I fell in equal love with ebony and ivory.
But so many people didn’t. So many people look and do a double take. So many people look at them and say, putting on a wise and circumspect manner, “They look so different from each other, you would hardly think they are sisters.” Some of them look through ebony, altogether. They look at ivory and gush, “Oh, she’s such a doll”. Strangers often bend down to cuddle ivory, “She’s got such unusual eyes.” Ebony waits at a distance with wistful eyes. Well-meaning friends and relations keep on saying, “Your elder one looks so studious, she will grow up to be a doctor. And the younger one should try her luck in modeling.”
I try my best not to flare up. Not to resent such colour-crazy comparisons. To forget those who ignore ebony’s tremulous sweet-shy smiles. To forgive those who categorise fair skin with beauty and dark skin with brains. How stupid can they be? How insensitive to just cuddle one child and overlook another? How ignorant to make value-judgments on the basis of colour?
Of course, children have their own ways of coping. Ebony often says, “Maa, my favourite ice-cream is chocolate-flavoured because I am chocolate-coloured. Bonu (sister) likes strawberry ice-cream because she is all pink-and-white like that. Which one do you like best?” I tell her that I love both chocolate and strawberry ice-cream. And I hope that ebony grows up happy and confident, not minding the stupid colour-comparisons so many people invariably make. And I also hope that ivory grows up to learn that inner beauty is much, much more valuable than any outer shell of prettiness. That both of them realise that chocolate and strawberry are both as sweet and as lovely as each other.
The spouse and I try our best to make up for the imbalance in attention. He explains that skin colour is a non-issue, a mere difference of melanin content. Almost-eight ebony nods wisely, and ivory, all of three but wanting-desperately-to-become-as-old-as-her-sister, nods animatedly, keen on copying her sister (which is why we call her copy-kitten).
When I hug, I open both my arms wide, so that both can run to me at the same time, upturned faces glowing with shared glee. I divide my kisses equally. Same with the scoldings, too. Although, to be honest, an average day usually sees more scolding than hugging. But a bedtime hug is a must. For all of us.
And one of my best motherhood moments (from an unending list of countless moments) is when they fall asleep, ebony cuddling ivory, curled together, arms around each other. I look at their sweet sleeping faces, so peaceful, so precious, so alike in their dreams and hopes. They look so similar.
Of course, I know they are different – they have distinct personalities, separate likes and dislikes which will become even more distinct as they grow up. But the superficial skin-deep difference of colour cannot encompass the depth and complexity of their beings. It does not realize the shared mutuality of love which makes them equal.
And when they get up in the morning, they again look alike with their tousled sleepy-eyed yawns. Then we (the maid, the spouse and I) get them ready. Their reluctance to bathe in the mornings is similar, as is the dilly-dallying over breakfast. Once these initial hurdles are crossed, however, they are ready for school, which both of them love equally. Off to school they go, bright and eager, with identical ear-to-ear grins and matching steps, hand in hand; ebony taking care of ivory like a good elder sister, ivory looking up to ebony like all younger siblings do. Another day begins, full of the promise of exciting, and exhausting, motherhood moments – some to cherish, stamped-forever in memory’s album, some to bear with fraying-patience and gritted-teeth. Through the ups and downs and roundabouts that comprise a mother’s journey, I’ve learnt to embrace both ebony and ivory. And all the shades in-between. A mother cannot discriminate. She would rather rejoice in the rainbow of variety that life offers.