Click here for shortcuts to regional language blogs and city-specific events.
"here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)"
- e.e. cummings
I often carry my boy. He is 7.
That probably sounds like the intro line in an Inappropriate Child Carriers Anonymous meeting. Yes, I carry my child around a lot. I carry him on my shoulders. I carry him on my hip. I allow him to ride piggy-back on me. In the USA, this probably would have made the local CPS lady make enquiries about my mental condition and parenting abilities. There are even blogs that shame parents who have overgrown children in strollers. In India, it invites the remarks of people who mean well.
“Is Papa your horse?”, a friend asks my boy.
“Isn’t he too old to be carried?", another questions.
My boy usually smiles away these comments. But sometimes, persistent adults will try to break the habit.
“How much longer are you going to carry him?”, the pediatrician asks me with raised eyebrows. “Aren’t you a big boy? Where are your legs?” she continues, looking at him.
My boy has learnt how to dodge that one too. He crafts elaborate answers steeped in Star Wars folklore.“My leg just got hurt in a bad light-saber fight with Darth Maul”. He picks up the doctor’s pen and swishes at the imaginary evil Sith. “This 2-1B medical droid is just helping me out”, he says, pointing at me. The pediatrician rolls her eyes, looking incredulously at the two of us. He deftly changes the topic. “Can I doodle on your prescriptions?” he asks, forcing the doctor to shove her paperwork away from his pen. That ends the sequence of unsolicited advice.
With all the anxieties of modern day helicopter parenting and internet information, “What’s the right time to stop carrying your child?” seems like a Very Important Question ™.
Before I answer that from my perspective, a few facts are apropos. My boy doesn’t live with me and I get to see him rarely. He is relatively thin for his age. He is also quite independent. He does everything by himself when he is at his mom’s. He likes to be pampered when he is with me. I remind myself how my Paati used to spoil all of us cousins when we visited her and indulge him. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit this is also for selfish reasons. Having abruptly missed three years of his life when he was a baby, I feel like I am compensating for that void by continuing to treat him like one. For the time I carry him, I feel like I have discovered all those lost moments together that were stolen from us.
“Papa, will you carry me? I want to tell you a few things”, he says, when he wants to share with me all that he did in the time I didn’t see him.
“Papa, my legs are tired. Can you carry me?” he asks, after we wrap up a long day at Wonder-la.
Sometimes he will just ask to be carried just to plant a slobbery kiss on my cheeks, or whisper in my ears that he loves me "more than infinity", with his hands cupped together to form an imaginary heart.
He has always been like this. As a baby, he would only sleep if I carried him and paced up and down. He was such a light sleeper that my slightest attempt to put him down or slow down the tempo of walking would wake him up. I often drove back home from work during my lunch break just because he refused to nap without me. While he goes to sleep independently now, his favorite wake-up ritual is a second nap on my shoulders.
As he gets taller and heavier, he seems to notice that I get tired more quickly and graciously offers “Papa, you can put me down now. My battery is recharged”. I tell him it is alright, smiling that he is slowly becoming responsible enough to not make it a unnecessary habit.
My mother, who is a doctor, admonishes me when I complain of neck and back pain. “Do you realize what you are doing to your C2, C3, C4?” she says, pointing to my neck, and mentioning scary-sounding ailments.
“Don’t worry, Paati. I will take care of Papa when he is old”, my boy interrupts.
Sometimes, at the end of our Court-ordered time together, he will just refuse to go back, ask to be carried and cry himself to sleep on my shoulders. On other days, he will simply say, “It’s time for me to go, Papa. Can you carry me so I give you a big teddy bear hug?”.
So, to the earlier question, I have but one answer. I will carry my boy for as long as he wants and for as long as I am able to. We have to make up for so much lost time, after all.
Besides, the day when he will outgrow my arms and only fit in my heart doesn't seem to be too far away.
“Papa, we are at School! Put me down now. I don’t want my friends to see you carrying me!” he exclaims, when I accompany him to his exam.
“Weren’t you just telling me yesterday how much you liked to be carried?”
“Not HERE, Papa! If Dee sees me, she will tell everyone!”
I hold him snugly, wait for Dee and her mom to walk up to the gate and smile a silent hello. Dee stares at us and is rather amused. He squirms in my arms and pretends not to notice her. He refuses to talk to me for the next 3 minutes.
“You’re so naughty, Papa! You never listen to me”, he sternly tells me.
“Don’t sound like me, or I won’t put you down”
He wriggles in my arms so much that I am forced to put him down. "You can't capture me, Papa. BYE!", he shouts, as he grabs his backpack and runs inside to catch up with Dee. I see the two of them engaged in an animated conversation where he points accusatory fingers at me a couple of times. "Wait. I can explain. It is Papa's fault..", I imagine him saying.
An hour and a half later, a loud bell signals the end of his exam. As he races his friends to the gate where I am waiting, his first words are:
"Done, Papa! Carry me! Let's go!"