Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Of Mothers And Daughters, Of Tea And Tears...

I had been reading those Senior Mother Daughter Tea invitations in the on line school weekly news magazine ever since we moved to Kenya almost four years ago. And though it sounded good I did not give it more than a fleeting thought simply because my daughter was eons away from being a Senior, or as we say in India, a twelfth grade student. Or so I thought...
I saw the invitation a couple of weeks ago too and then I realised WE would be the ones to whom that invitation would be addressed next year! This seems to be a traditional American High School event and we have nothing even remotely like it in India, as far as I know. And then a week ago I got an invite to help for this event. The teacher who invited me explained that they invite a few mothers of Junior girls to help set up and serve the tea and snacks so that they, in turn, can continue the tradition the following year, when their own daughters are Seniors and ready to graduate from school. When it comes to volunteering I am often the first one off the block and if it means a totally new experience, I am more than ready. So I immediately agreed to come and help and looking back I would not have missed this event for the world!
A weather forecast of heavy rain in Nairobi last Sunday afternoon entailed a last minute change of venue from beside the school pool to the Elementary School library. Tables covered with spotless white table cloths, jars and huge shining kettles filled with the prettiest flowers Nairobi has to offer formed a colourful backdrop to the tea party as we quickly set everything in place. Pretty printed disposable plates, colourful paper napkins in pastel shades of pink, green, yellow and blue and flower patterned delicate bone china cups as part of the centre pieces gave it the perfect feminine touch required. The flower filled jars of varying sizes nestled up in colourful cotton Kikoi cloths which were scrunched up in the centre of each table, offering a deep East African connect, as it is from this continent that each young lady invited that day will soon step out into the real world of adulthood, independence, college...
And then the Senior mothers and their daughters began trickling in. A bit of chit chat, mingling, introductions, even as we Junior mothers observed and marvelled at the self possessed young ladies who were so well coiffured and perfectly turned out. Soon after every one had tucked in into the delicious food and fruit punch, it was time to sit back with a cup of tea or coffee and await the unfolding of the main ceremony. It began with a blessing by a Senior mother for all the girls as they entered this last month of their school life before they left this safe and secure world of school and home forever. Then each mother in turn had to say a few words about her daughter and bless her with a small gift, usually in the form of a scarf, a stole or a shawl which signified that the daughter would always be covered with the mother's love, blessing and prayers, no matter where in the world she might be.
Before they began this ceremony, they passed around a basket of small packets of tissues, daintily tied up with yellow ribbons, and each mother and daughter helped herself to a pack. There were three other mothers of Junior girls who were helping out along with me and we were at a table by ourselves and the basket almost by passed us as we were not sending away our girls just yet, but I was quick to grab a pack! I have inherited the most weak lachrymal glands possible. They leak even when I laugh so you can imagine what happens when a situation actually warrants tears!
Each mother, though determined not to shed a tear, was soon crying freely as she, in her turn, spoke about her own daughter and shared her inner most thoughts and hopes for her daughter. Sobs and sniffles dominated each speech. Some mothers spoke extempore, others had flash cards but could not see enough to read through their tears, still others had typed out words on handheld devices but forgot passwords or had to search for their spectacles, clearly spelling out that they did, indeed, have grown up daughters! Most of the girls had tears in their eyes too but were smiling broadly as well, eager to taste a new life. Many held on to their mothers as they struggled to speak, as if to lend them strength, as the mothers spoke of mentally preparing for the fact that all too soon it would be time to say good bye. At our table too, the Junior mothers tore open my packet of tissues as we could see ourselves right there at this time next year...My pretty yellow napkin was already a sodden mess and I, too, grabbed a fresh one from the pack. As expatriate parents at an international school, we send our children  away not just to a college in the same city, or to another city in the same country or to another country on the same continent. We are or will be sending our children to a different continent altogether, often a couple of continents away! So that makes it even harder, especially as the children are just seventeen and eighteen years of age...
There was laughter too amidst the rheum, as a mother spoke of how her own mother had gifted her a towel when she first went away to college! She had had it for many decades and it always reminded her of her mother. She finally threw out the threadbare towel one day but has regretted the action ever since. So she gifted her daughter a beautiful blue, ribbon edged towel and hoped it would soon become a precious item for her!
Another mother draped a colourful African stole around her daughter's shoulders and said the girl's late father had bought this for his daughter and she had chosen to give it to her on that day, as a reminder of the fact that the father would always be a part of his daughter's life...A few mothers spoke of daughters raiding their wardrobes, their jewellery boxes and their shoe closets. These were the little slices of life, as mothers of daughters, that they would miss, as the girls moved away to start their own life.
Yet another lady spoke of how this particular daughter had been born just a couple of months after her own mother's death, leading her to always seeing her own mother in her daughter and she and her husband have even given the baby the grandmother's name. A mother daughter bond that has transcended death...
Whether it was an only daughter, or the first one or the middle one or the youngest one that was going away, one thing was clear to me, that it never became easier and the pain seemed raw and fresh, as was evident from the reactions of even mothers who, by now, had become veterans at saying good bye, having sent older children away to college earlier. It simply spelled out the fact that each child is unique and has his or her own special place in a parent's heart. The fact that they were sending out their precious girls into an uncertain and dangerous world was underlined by the fact that the elder daughter of one of the Senior mothers there had been in Nepal during the earthquake last week. She had been at the airport, ready to leave, when the quake struck, leaving her stranded there till she was able to safely fly out a couple of days later.
And so we Junior mothers sipped our tea in this oestrogen charged atmosphere as we watched the mothers and girls exchange reminisces and hugs, promise to keep in touch, take pictures and pray for each other, even as the little nestlings looked set to fly... Can you blame us if our tea tasted a tad salty?

                                                                     The stage is set!

                                                                          Tea Time!

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