Every time I blow my nose into an inadequate piece of tissue, Avanee comes up and strokes the side of my thigh, looks up at me with comforting eyes, and says, “Amma, OK?” She lays her dolls and animals and birds down in her lap one by one, pats  them lightly on the forehead, occasionally even springs a folded knee in a rocking rhythm and sings them to sleep.  Halfway through the song, she scolds them; “Ah, close your eyes!” and goes back to singing the lullaby and adjusting the blanket over their bodies. She’s 2 years and 3 months old. Where could she have possibly picked up this empathy and maternal instinct?

Three weeks ago, Avanee started with playschool. It’s a wonderful little place—nestled among some tall trees and with an access to a small backyard where kids sometimes eat their snack boxes in the fair season. It’s painted in lovely primary colors on the inside and they have lots of cross ventilation and no air conditioning. There’s a uniform that is worn only twice a week just so the kids get used to the concept. There’s just one sketch book that will be filled with finger prints in mad colors at the end of the year. No other organized learning.

She started with one hour, then an hour and a half, and then finally moved to two hours a day. Apart from the very first day, Avanee has not shed a tear while leaving home or entering the school. The incentive of going to school is all she needs to get out of bed, oil her hair, bathe and eat breakfast. She’s curious about what she’s getting in her snack box, and as she holds her father’s hand to leave the house, she turns back and waves a happy “tata” to me and tells me to go have a shower so I can be there to pick her up on time. On the way back home, in the rickshaw, she tells me all she did in school—the songs they sang, the bubbles they blew, who cried and who didn’t turn up, and how the park that we’re passing by is closed now that it’s raining. And while she’s shaking her two pigtails about and finding correlations between carrots and radishes, and movements of the fan and the washing machine, and talking like a grownup, I am shaking my inner head in disbelief, trying to come to terms with the fact that that the bundle of baby fat I got at the end of 8 months and 1 week of gestational diabetes, is now a walking talking mini adult who does not entirely depend on me for survival. That while I am busy caressing her mad hair and storing away her impromptu hugs and kisses in my heart, she’s growing up to be a young woman with a mind of her own.

Some days, when I see that the majority of Avanee’s classmates are picked up by either grandparents or babysitters, I wonder if I should go grab that full time job. But then, I am lucky to be in a situation that is comfortable enough for me not to do a 9 to 5 job and yet keep my sanity, my skill and my self-respect. Yes, there are compromises on the wants, but they’re miniscule in comparison with the fact that I can watch my daughter grow up into a fine human being right under my very eyes. I wouldn’t trade that for the fattest pay packet in the world.