The sweetness
of crumbs

by Vaiju Joshi

Dear sweet child of mine,

In a few hours from now, as the clock ticks and the stars gently doze across the inky sky, you will reach yet another milestone and grow another year older. Every birthday is a signpost but it is easy to forget this behind these facades of pink glitter, butter-cream frosting and sparkling candles.

I tried my best to make you the cake you wanted, but somewhere along the way the best of intentions can go astray. I did what I had always done before but the cake fell to pieces when I tried to lift it out of the pan. We do that a lot, us mothers, we follow the wisdom and the age-old recipes handed down from generation to generation. We try to learn from the wise men and women that walked before us, and imbibe the lessons that our own parents have taught us – sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.

The cake is a sorry but sweet and disintegrated mass of vanilla crumbs. You should be in bed but you are awake – half asleep almost, as you wait at the dining table to see what magic I am going to churn out. You gingerly break off a piece and put it in your mouth. I watch you with a mixture of love and apology on my face.

“It is yum!” you tell me, hugging me tight. There is sleep in your eyes and there is an incredible sweetness on your face.

“I don’t know what else I could have done differently,” I say. Mothers don’t always have the answers to these questions.

“It still tastes nice,” you say. And then you nuzzle closer, you pat me on the head like I do to you and say “The batter tasted so good Mummy. You had the batter perfect.”

I wouldn’t have accepted this a few years ago. When I first set eyes on your angelic little face, your large brown eyes and your mop of unruly hair a few minutes after you were born, I wouldn’t have agreed to stop at just the perfect batter. I wanted to see that promise of perfection delivered every single time – I would not have had it any other way. Second guessing was not a part of the equation then.

Someday when you are all grown up, perhaps you will remember this night and tell your children of how there was no perfect cake for your birthday one year. Will you also remember the other things that I did not deliver as promised? For all my vows to be a better, more patient, and more loving person, there have been days when I snapped at you for messing up the floor, for forgetting your school hat and for climbing onto my lap and asking to talk to me when I was on the phone.

I tried, my child; I want you to know that. I started off with the best of intentions every single time. The recipes we read – for motherhood or for cakes or for doing the right things – they are never a promise, they are a mere possibility. Things that could be, but things that sometimes never get to be. You just never know it at the time.

My mothering may sometimes be flawed, it may have its shortcomings and it may be messy but never for a minute doubt this – this is a mother’s love in its most pristine and raw form. And while neither of us understands this now in its grand entirety, every moment I spend with you is my legacy to you.

When your eyes sparkle and when your words get tangled up because you are in a hurry to say something, I feel like I am suddenly in front of a mirror because I see glimpses of myself some 20 years ago and then I see what you will be like as a grown-up. I achieve immortality in these moments, you know.

This is not the immortality that comes from being granted the power to exist eternally. Rather this is the indefatigable power that comes from looking into your child’s eyes and knowing that you have been redeemed in some part of the grand cycle. That a part of your love will go on living for ever, long after time and death have claimed their stake on everything that once defined us.

The day you were born, your grandpa told me that raising a child is a lot like meditation. It wouldn’t always come naturally, there would be many distracting voices but it paid to persist because parenthood would introduce me to a world far better than any I could ever imagine. You are my key to that better world, my child. Thank you for redeeming me during all the times I presented you with crumbs instead of the sweetness you richly deserve.

Happy Birthday, my darling baby.


© Vaiju Joshi

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

Share your thoughts

* Gloria Steinem