Mia came home with a long face. All afternoon she stayed in her room and even at dinner, she was very quiet. And as soon as dinner was done, she was up, excusing herself from the table. "I ‘am having a headache," she said. "Can I please go up to my room?"
We were all surprised and perplexed to see our happy-go-lucky Mia so gloomy and down. Fearing the worst, I first offered a prayer to my favourite deity, and then went up to her room to see if I could get my darling daughter to talk to me...
I found Mia at her desk. Tapping away at the computer as usual. The minute she saw me, Mia made it clear she didn’t want me there.
"What happened Mia," I asked, "you seem to be very moody today. What's wrong?"
"You forgot today was the selection for debate team, Mum!" She sounded hurt and so....sad.
Usually, Mia managed her commitments well, but lately, she had so much on her plate; that I had volunteered to help her out whenever I could. And now, I had made the terrible mistake of not reminding her of the debate team selection.
"I am sorry sweetie, but didn't you have your math test today too? I, guess, I sort of forgot all about the debate…" I ventured.
"Forget it Mum, I will take care of things on my own from now on!" she said, clearly upset.
I didn't know what else to say. For her, the subject was clearly closed.
A few days later, I met a friend of mine in a bookstore. Her daughter Kriti was Mia's 'bestie' since their preschool days. But my friend mentioned that all was not right with the girls these days. A surprise for me, as the girls were really close as far as anyone knew!
That night when I asked Mia about it, she brushed me off saying; "Yeah, I forgot Kriti's birthday…and she made such a big deal out of it!"
"Oh Mia, how could you! You are practically sisters!" I said, really sad that Mia had forgotten her best friend's birthday; and worried that she was so calm and easy about it.
"I don’t know Mum, I was busy with my project.....I haven't gotten time for all this sentimentalism!"
I was shocked and saddened by this too. My child was changing, and I wasn’t sure I liked this change all that much.
A few weeks later, when Mia refused to talk to Papa citing some lame reason about a project, when he called from a work trip abroad; I knew it was time I had a frank talk with my daughter.
The next day, I took her out to Corner Cafe, our favourite haunt when we wanted to have some 'girl time.'
"What’s going on darling?" I asked her as soon as we were seated at our favourite window seat with my very strong coffee and her hot chocolate.
"Nothing," I got the typical one word answer.
“It’s not ‘nothing’ Mia. You don't have time for anything or anyone these days. You are too busy to spend time with the people you love. It’s either some competition or some project...You have time for all your activities, but no time for your family and friends….no time for yourself, sweetheart….” I realised I was almost pleading now.
I don’t know what overcame me, but I felt tears spring up in my eyes, remembering my Mia just a year before….happy-go-lucky, friendly, warm, sweet Mia; who always had time for me, for her friends…
“Urgh, Mum! You don’t have to get all melodramatic! I am only trying to fit everything in my schedule. I don’t want to miss out on any activities or competitions, you know…I love researching and putting together a project all on my own…I enjoy the time I spend doing these things…I know I don’t spend as much time with my friends and family because of all these activities, but then I have to cut down on some time somewhere na?I want to try everything, Mum; I want to be good at everything! And as for you, my friends, my family - you guys are there for me, I know. I can always come to you whenever I want. I can always spend time with you when I feel like. But if I miss out on one project, or on one competition, I won’t win it! I will lose my position of being the first!”
As I heard her, my heart went out to her best friend and to our family – who all loved her so much! Mia was so keen on fitting everything in her schedule that she didn’t even realise that she was alienating the very people she took for granted!
“Do you remember when you didn’t call Kriti on her birthday, Mia?” I asked her. “And when you didn’t talk to Papa when he called you from New York? You even hurt Dadi that day, when she asked you to go for a walk with her; and you said you had to complete your science project…”
“Mum, I told you…”
“That you can talk to them anytime, I know. But do you think, with this behaviour of yours, they will want to spend time with you when you feel like it?”
“Come on Mum! Of course they will!” she said; and told me to hurry up with my coffee as she had to get home soon. She was preparing for a debate taking place the next day at school.
About a week or so after that, Mia came home very quiet and deep in thought.
“All okay, sweetie?” I asked her as she came to the kitchen table for her evening snack.
“Mum,” she said thoughtfully, “I asked Kriti to come to the library with me in the free period, but she said she was busy. Later I saw her at the library, with Jenny and Rahul! Yesterday too, I asked her if she wanted to come over, watch some TV. But she said no, she was going out with her mom. But then when I went cycling by myself, I saw her at home, Mum; playing fetch with her dog! ”
I was so itching to tell her ‘I told you so’ but I had to wait. Wait till she got it herself.
But, “Mum,” she said then, “Do you know what Rahul told me today? He said Dadi had asked his Granny to walk with her in the mornings because she was feeling lonely….can you believe it? Dadi doesn’t even like her!”
“Come on Mia; what was Dadi to do? As of a few months back, you just stopped going with her for the morning walk, remember?”
That made her defensive. “I have been preparing for the inter-school quiz Mum; it's just temporary…” she began.
But I knew it was time for me to step in now. “It’s always 'temporary' isn’t it, darling? A month for a project, a fortnight for an exhibition – it just goes on like that. And what’s more, every time you seem to get a bit free…”
“…I get busy again. " she completed for me. "…Mum, do you think, they are punishing me?” she asked me then.
“Punishing you for what, sweetheart…?” I asked, almost sure she was getting there...
Just then, Dadi entered the room and Mia ran to her. She hugged her tight and said, “Dadi, I am really sorry I have not spent time with you lately.” I could hear tears in her voice; and I think Dadi could too, because I saw her hug Mia tighter.
“Dadi, when you asked Rahul’s granny to give you company, I realised how lonely I was making you feel!” Mia continued. “I have been very selfish lately Dadi, I owe you an apology." she said tearfully. And then, "I have been wrong with Kriti too," she realised; and with a kiss on Dadi’s cheek, ran to the phone to call her best friend.
I stood there smiling – my girl had finally understood, on her own, where she had gone wrong. Now it was time for redemption...