In less than a year, my life has turned into the mother of all clichés. A fact that keeps coming up every time someone asks me about my midlife career change.
‘From an investment banker to a kindergarten teacher?’ Their speculative eyebrows would taunt me.
‘Oh you must love kids a lot then?’ They would ask in their fake honey-dipped voice.
I don’t bother to explain to them that I was tired of running and I just wanted a change of pace.
“But they wouldn’t understand, would they Molly?”
I turned around and spoke to the four-legged fur ball snuggled close to my feet. She lifted her head, looked at me with her big brown eyes, and then went back to whatever caught her attention on the floor.
Shaking my head at her indifferent response, I chuckled. She must be thinking humans are weird, especially those of the female kind who talk to animals about their problems. I have been doing a lot of that lately overwhelming the poor, little animal. Weird and complicated, indeed.
I bent down and affectionately patted her head and she leaned further towards me pressing on my calf with her whole weight. I love when she does that, like a full body hug.
Molly came to my life at a time when I was going through what psychologists would call an ‘empty nest syndrome’. I had played so many roles in my life—a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother. The last role was the one, which took most part of my life. But suddenly I had this new identity and the thought of facing it all alone scared me. Coming home to an empty house wasn’t something I did very often, or maybe never. I resisted the urge to frequently check on Pari, my little daughter, who is not so little anymore and who wouldn’t need my help with each and everything in her life. All our lives, we encourage them to be independent, but when the time comes – letting it go becomes an agonizing thought.
Needing to keep myself busy, I started thinking. How do I fill the void? A friend suggested that I turn the emptiness into something positive and do the things I had always wanted to do, but never had the time to. I followed her advice and made a small to-do list—decluttering the wardrobe, catching up on the reading and the likes. Then followed the challenges. My wardrobe didn’t have any clutter to begin with, a talent I have always prided myself in. Coming to reading, I never liked books unless they served a purpose, academic or professional. I was never a fan of reading as a hobby. I crossed two items off the list, just like that.
I can call my sisters and speak to them for hours, but I don’t want to smother them with my loneliness and depression too. When Pari came for her visit, she wasn’t happy with what she saw. I would catch her watching me, her face full of worry and concern for my well-being.
“Are you ok mom?’’ She asked, while having dinner together.
“I am fine honey.” I replied, avoiding her eyes.
I knew I wasn’t looking good; my mirror of many years said so too. I looked aged, much older than my forty-five years. The lines around the mouth and the dark circles under the eyes weren’t exact signs of a person who was ‘fine’.
Past years hadn’t been so kind to me. My mom and my husband were taken away from me in a short span of time. I hadn’t lost it then. I held onto what I had, my daughter and the comfort and the support we gave each other. At that moment, at the dinner table, looking at my daughter’s sorrowful expression, I feared I was finally losing it. My sanity…
She left the next day, but not before telling me what she felt about my state. She was even willing to sacrifice her scholarship and transfer to a University near home to be with me. Tempted? Of course, I was. Selfish? No, I am not. This is her opportunity to spread the wings and I wouldn’t snatch that from her.
That leaves with me the third item in my list. Get a pet. Growing up, I had always wanted a pet for myself. Although I wasn’t discriminatory, I had a slight inclination towards dogs. There is something delightfully fussy about them that tugs at my heartstrings. Having a pet live with us wasn’t an option for me when I was a kid, in the cramped house where I lived with my parents, five siblings and a grandmother who was apparently allergic to pet fur. I would stare longingly at one of my friends’ pets and think, ‘one day’. But that day never came. When life got in the way and pushed me along for a ride, longing turned into a stupid idea. With a demanding job, a husband who travelled a lot and a kid to look after, my hands were full all the time. That wasn’t a home to bring another living creature to.
I was busy looking at the animal shelter websites when fate intervened in the form of a tiny ball of black and white fluff. I found her hiding behind the bushes outside my house– looking lost, broken and skittish. She didn’t have a collar or any other identification and was acting unapproachable, so more likely a stray. I would bring her food and water everyday and she would eat, but she never let me get closer. Anytime I tried that, she would growl and back away. As days went by, I had the feeling that she kind of liked seeing me, but there was something stopping her from getting closer, possibly the actions of someone in the past.
A few weeks later, we had a thunderstorm that lasted the whole night. I couldn’t sleep thinking about the helpless animal outside. By morning, I had made up my mind and I went looking for her. After a few hours of search, I spotted her, under an old truck across the street, drenched and shivering. I scooped her up and hugged her tightly and this time she didn’t put up a fight. She was ready to come along.
As soon as I reached home, I gave her a proper bath and then checked for any visible injuries. A trip to the vet and one to the pet shop for necessary supplies later, we were all set. I couldn’t wait to call my daughter and tell her all about it. I was so giddy with excitement that I sounded like someone who won a lottery. Pari was surprised at the elation in my voice too. I heard her squealing with delight when I broke out the news.
She asked me if I had found a name for her. Without thinking, I said “Molly”.
“Mom! Are you serious? That's such an outdated name for a cute puppy!” She laughed out loud.
The puppy reminded me of a friend I had in school named Molly. Both were seemingly hurt in the past, which made them skittish around strangers. But Pari didn’t need to know all the details, did she?
Instead I said, “For an outdated owner like me, a dog with an outdated name would work perfectly fine.” with a cheeky grin.
Our conversation ended with us both roaring with laughter over Molly and her antics. I hadn’t felt that lighter in so many months.
It was like becoming a mom all over again. Am I feeding her enough? Is she getting enough sleep? Am I potty training her in the right way? After the initial teething troubles, we both have slowly settled into a familiar pattern.
My days would start with Molly coming to my room for a cuddle under the quilt. I would kiss on her head not worrying about my morning breath. We would have breakfast together, sitting across each other. After I come from school, I would take her out to the park to meet our ‘dog-walking friends.’ My days would end in convincing Molly to sleep in her cot, instead of mine.
There was a slow tapping out sound on the front door, pulling me away from my thoughts. Molly stood near the door, staring at me expectantly.
“Time to go and meet our friends Molly.” I pushed the door open letting Molly out. She led the way and I followed, her leash in my hand.
The nest I built with all my love isn’t empty anymore. I have someone who will always need me. I have someone I can come home to...