When my son has stuffy nose (which is the case almost always given the weather and new set of infections that he has to brave, in this foreign land), I tend to give him the “steam” treatment — let the bathroom fill with steam, and then stand there with him. Given the way 20 month old kids are, it’s almost impossible to to something like that without engaging them in something else.
As it happens, R is a child of routine. So I don’t have to invent new game everyday. On the mirrors, the condensed vapors give an excellent opportunity to draw, with fingers, shapes. We do that everyday. R dictates, I oblige (that’s the sign of changed times). He makes me draw five faces. Aaba (his short for aajoba — grandfather), aaja (his substitute for aaji — grandmother), papa, amma, and finally, himself.
One problem with figures drawn on condensed steam is that they are really, really, transient. The first time I drew them, I watched for R’s reactions as they faded into obscurity. I don’t know what I expected, but I wasn’t ready for his reaction: he raised his arm and waved goodbye.
Kids grow up fast, and it’s these moments, which make you cry, for no real reason, that are hard to capture in words, pictures, or anything really. Even memories. Is it the knowledge that we’ll play this game tomorrow again, or are goodbyes themselves a game for him? It’s hard to say.
In the aftermath of the recent tragedy in Japan, the truth hit home. It’s these moments, that is life. The rest is the great big ‘mithya’ that mystics talked about. Kids probably know it better. Or we knew it better as kids, then forgot it, and then to be reminded again — just as R reminds me every time he bids goodbye to the dissolving figures on a bathroom mirror: that goodbyes are never final, till they’re final.