Mom, please behave so daddy doesn’t divorce you!!!

Ryan’s first grade class seems to be a hotbed for romance lately! Wonder what it is? Spring? Anyway, we are getting loads of information at dinner table on crushes, love, couples and singles. And I plan to enlighten you on all those topics. So here goes.

Crushes are ‘when you are in love with somebody but that person doesn’t know about it.

Love is when both parties know that they love each other.

Mommy and daddy are a couple whereas Sahana and Ryan are still single, but when they grow up they will find someone and become couples.

And lately, we have been talking about divorces….a lot. One of Ryan’s friend’s parents got divorced recently, and the friend has to move out-of-state with one of the parents. This incident has hit my boy….. hard. He has started asking me, often, if his dad and I plan to divorce in the near future. If so, what will happen to him and Sahana!

I share a wonderful relationship with my spouse, we hardly have disagreements except when we are rooting for our football teams. At that point, all bets are off. Its war! But, other than that, I never disagree with him provided he always agrees with me:)! Fortunately, we seem to share a lot of similar ideas on different issues that are important to us and there is hardly a discord that doesn’t get solved with a little bit of ‘talking it out!’ Hence, I was baffled by Ryan’s insecurity. Interestingly enough, he always asks ME not to disagree with dad, so dad doesn’t leave us.

A couple of nights ago, I decided to take them for a treat at a frozen yogurt place. Sean was not too much in favor of the adventure since it was late and they had whined a bit. But I had promised them earlier, so I decided to take them anyway. Ryan was stressed the entire car ride. I could tell he wasn’t enjoying himself. Finally, he asked me, “Mom,
do you think Dad will divorce you now, that you took us out when he didn’t want you to?” If I wasn’t driving, I would have wrapped him in my arms and kissed his fears away.

So I did the next best thing, we talked about it. I told him sometimes grown ups don’t get along, they decide to go their separate ways, but they always love their children. That never goes away. And it is never the children’s fault that parents divorce. The grown ups sometimes feel they need to live separately to be happy. But his daddy and I get along just fine and we will not get divorced.

Just out of curiosity, I wanted to know why he always thought daddy will go away since sometimes moms make that decision too. He pondered upon it for a while and said “You are nice!” I knew he couldn’t express his feelings since Sean, for him, is definitely the preferred parent. Sahana summed it up for him. She said, “I think daddy travels a lot, we don’t get to see him much, but you are always with us, you do everything for us, so we can’t see you just leaving us and going away. But since daddy is away a lot, it is easier for us to think dad can leave!”

When we stopped at the yogurt place, Ryan got out of the car, still somber and thoughtful and said, “If you guys do get divorced, I will go with whoever will take me!” My heart just about broke. I got a glimpse into the mind of a child who may be in the middle of a divorce or a custody battle. What torment that young mind goes through – the insecurity, fear, guilt, incomprehension of the grown up world.

I try my best not to trivialize their fears or mortifications. Although they sometimes seem meaningless in our adult world, they are very real in their world! I try to address the fears and try to find an answer (operative word here being TRY)! We do the usual catching the nightmares in a box and emptying it outside, opening closet doors and checking under beds to make sure no errant monster is lurking. When all fails, we sing praises of the monsters and talk about how adorable they are. Who doesn’t love Elmo and Grover? So I dealt with this fear the usual way – talked, reassured! Unfortunately, the fear of monsters are slowly but steadily giving way to fears of more tangible things in life, like poverty, divorces, animal cruelty, abuse, and finally, the huge mystery of death. Ryan is slowly becoming cognizant of the fact that there is a lot of sadness juxtaposed with the happiness in this world. In life, there are a lot of uncertainties, lot of insecurities. He is looking around him and he is not seeing a bed of roses. This loss of innocence is inevitable, I know. I cannot save him from this, probably shouldn’t try to either. But what I can and will do is assure him that his dad and I will try our best to be anchors in his life, TRY our best to keep the real sadness at bay for him. We will do everything in our power to give him a rose garden, but still there will be those occasional thorns in his path. We will hold his hand and help him bypass those, on his way to the grown up world, till he himself is ready to let go of our fingers.


Just a housewife…

I always bite the end of my pen before writing down my occupation in a form. Once, while standing in the immigration line to enter United States, I wrote my occupation as ‘Homemaker’! The young officer squinted at my form and asked, ‘So you are just a housewife?’ It is probably politically incorrect to put the word ‘just’ in front of housewife, as he immediately cracked a smile, an embarrassed one and said, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean to say just a house wife. I meant do you stay at home?’ It broke the ice, he was nicer to us, having made the faux pas, and we moved along.

For a while, I used to write ‘house wife’, but I find that word nonsensical. What the heck does that mean? Then I wrote home maker, instead. But that made me feel guilty because apart from cooking, my ‘home making’ skills are quite limited. Now I write ‘mother’. Now that is a real job, which includes yet is not limited to being a chef, chauffeur, maid, educator, counselor, confidante, disciplinarian, entertainer – did I leave anything out, fellow mothers? Oh yes, it also includes listening to endless jokes with absolutely no punchline whatsoever and laughing along just to see the joy in those faces! But I still get flustered when people ask me, ‘Now that Ryan is in full day school, what are your plans? What are you doing these days?’

I am doing plenty. But are they worthy enough to enumerate? Cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, running errands, laundering and most importantly, I am making myself available to get my kids off the bus and asking that important question, ‘How was school today, guys?’ And then lending a patient ear!

I am always at a loss for an answer. ‘Er, not much really, doing some volunteering but that’s about it!’ I always say I am volunteering at the library or at the schools, never do I mention, I washed the kitchen floor, I cleaned two toilets, I made a four course Indian meal and then did the dishes, got the homework done and here I am sitting at the children’s sporting activity but what I really want to do is curl in my bed with a good book. But having said all that, I realize my counter parts, the working mothers or fathers are doing all that I am doing AND going to their jobs. Working parents, you truly are my heroes!

I asked my wise friend, Wendy the other day what should an appropriate response be to this line of questioning. She keeps me grounded when I suffer from my ‘home maker’ angst from time to time and lends an ear to my gripes. She said ‘Tell them you are investing in your family!’ That sounded important and professional, I am totally going with it!

I thought of ending the blog there till a dear friend threw a wrench in my plan, or rather my thoughts on stay at home parents. He said when he has children he would continue to work and he wishes his partner would choose to do so too, at least part-time. His reason being that staying at home may not necessarily keep people sharp and on the edge. It can hinder personal growth. That idea got me in a tizzy. What is happening to me then? Am I not reaching my potential by being ‘just’ a mother, baking, cleaning, cooking? After thinking about it a whole lot, I finally decided, I don’t agree with this point of view. I may not be sharpening my business management skills, or my software engineering skills (which, by the way, I don’t have folks), I may not be very useful in the corporate world right now, but I am indeed polishing the skills that are equally important – to me and my young family. I am sharpening my skills to stay one step ahead of two young, bright minds, (and let me tell you, that is no mean task), I am practising empathy and selflessness, which I consider my personal growth. I am meeting intelligent, wonderful fellow mothers who chose to give up their successful careers to devote their time to their children. I am constantly growing, learning and evolving. People, busy in the corporate world, may not rate my skills very high and our materialistic world won’t put any value on them. I am fine with that.

After all, ‘reaching one’s potential’ is so relative!

Play ball, girl!

I was standing in the short- stop position on a beautiful, starlit night in Delhi at a woman’s softball game at the American club. I had my glove on, grit and determination written all over my face, crouched, ready position just like our coach said. I was ready to pounce on the ball if it came my way. And for those who may not be aware of the importance of the short- stop field position, let me clarify that it is a very important position to field at, and generally the best athlete on the team gets to play at that place…. just saying:)! I guess, I also should admit, we ALL had to play ALL positions during the game.

Sean got me into softball primarily to stop a nagging wife from grumbling that he was spending way too much time playing sports. He has this terrific ability of making me feel like I am making all the decisions but when I take a moment to reflect on things, I figure out, I am doing exactly what HE wanted me to do all along. I am sure he will give you lessons on this if you want any! Works out great for him! So he decided to entice me into joining the women’s softball team in the American Club in New Delhi. I am moderately athletic, I had given birth six weeks ago and was carrying a substantial amount of baby weight which I was desperate to lose. I gave in.

Having played some and watched a lot of cricket growing up, I thought, how difficult could softball be. I thought wrong. The bat is a stick, not a paddle, you hold it up over your shoulder at a precarious position, and you swing as the ball comes your way. You miss mostly, and swing around. Not you! You may be fantastic at it, its me! I used to swing at air and go around 360 degrees before coming to a stop. Hilarious really.

We practised a lot. The coach was very patient with me and helped me learn the nuances of the game. Since I was somewhat athletic, I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I played an inning, came out to nurse six weeks old Sahana, handed the baby back to Sean and ran back in the field to play. People saw me and exclaimed ‘This is what women playing ball is all about!’

On this particular night, I was pumped. The field was green and beautiful, the overhead lights transformed the night into day, we had a decent amount of beer guzzling crowd cheering us on. I had a good feeling we were on to something. The best batter of the enemies sauntered in to bat. The captain yelled, ‘She is a hitter! Take a step back all!’ We backed up some. I relaxed a bit, since I knew the batter would hit it either out of the ball park or hit it so hard, the outfielders would be scampering after the ball. This one would be an outfielder’s problem. We, in fielders, were safe! I desperately wanted to gaze at the dandelions growing nearby, but decided against it so as not to get hit by the ball!

The pitcher looked around, saw us in our uncomfortable, crouching, ready position and pitched her first pitch. Ball! For the non softball lovers, that is a bad pitch. She got ready and pitched her second. And the batter let it rip. At the resounding crack of the ball hitting the bat, I moved mainly out of instinct. There was a loud roar from the spectators. I was frantically looking around me running hither and thither looking for the ball, till my team mates ran towards me with joyful faces. What the heck? Why were they zeroing in on me instead of fielding the ball, the batter must be running all four bases now and scoring. The women started thumping my back congratulating me while I screamed, ‘What is going on??? Where is the ball!!!’ A few seconds of silence, before the captain lifted my gloved hand, and showed me the softball safely nestled in my glove! I had caught the ball and got the batter out, and I had no clue! I looked up to see the batter walking back to the dugout. Instead of feeling the joy, I felt like an idiot!

The next bit, I heard from my husband, who almost threw the baby up in the air, when I instinctively made that awesome catch…. without my knowledge! When I picked up the ball, a couple of beer drinking men shouted, ‘Did she f***ing make that catch!!! That is unbelievable! Wow!’ Then, when they saw me looking around frantically for the ball, having no idea that it was in my glove, they said, ‘What is she doing?’ At this point, Sean’s jubilation at having such an athletic wife, albeit clueless was dying down a bit. He turned to the men and said, ‘She doesn’t know she has the ball!’

‘Huh? How do you know?’ They asked, obviously puzzled.

‘I know…. she is my wife!’ My loving husband responded!

It takes a village…

I can see the word cliché flashing in your head as you read the title of this post, but I promise you I have a new thought this time. Just hear me out, it is momentous – me having a new thought, that is! And I promise not to beat around the bush but get to it….soon.

My children are deprived of the love and indulgence of their grandparents and extended family. Having grown up with a doting grandfather who I bossed around as a child, I feel my kids are missing out on a huge part of childhood joy. On Grandparent’s Day at school, Sahana and Ryan are generally ‘adopted’ by a friend’s grandparent for the day. It breaks my heart. At sporting events, grandparents of teammates cheer for my two. I miss my parents and my in-laws at these, they too miss out on so much! Skype and other social media have certainly made the world smaller but it is still not the same as getting a kiss from your Grammy or Didya. Living so far away from family is never fun! While rocking a screaming baby and reading to a demanding five-year old, I often wallowed in self-pity. Where were those extra pairs of hands I needed so badly? Why are my kids growing up without the cuddles of grandparents and all those uncles and aunties far away in India! So unfair that I have to raise them alone with the occasional help of my traveling spouse! Doesn’t it take a village? The discipline of us parents needs to be balanced by the indulgent love that the grandparents shower over the little ones. The grandparents get to enjoy the young ones yet don’t have to bear the responsibility of raising them, in most cases. Win win for all! Or is it?

A friend married into a family where the mother-in-law wanted to have a major part in her child rearing technique. If my friend took away the privilege of dessert from her son for bad behavior, the grand mother took the child behind the couch or table, and gave the dessert in stealth, with a warning not to let the mother hear about it. This is just one occasion of many when the parent’s authority is undermined by the extended family, sometimes blatantly and sometimes behind the back, and often times in my country, India, the parents bite their tongue and stay quiet to prevent family discord.

But this is a new age of parenting amongst the middle class world
wide. Parents are becoming more aware of the effectiveness of good parenting, they are hitting books, taking counsel. Often times,they disagree with the method the earlier generation used for child rearing which involved corporeal punishment and also giving in to unreasonable demands. Authoritarian parenting versus more democratic way of parenting that many practice now. The children were seen, not heard a generation earlier. Now the children are not only seen and heard, but they are the center of the parents’ universe around whom their lives revolve.

The older generation, often times, disagree with modern parenting. My parents never utter a single word in front of my children when I am disciplining them, but out of their earshot? Oh, watch out! They make it very clear, I am too harsh and I shouldn’t have taken away privileges for not putting away toys even after the umpteenth reminder. ‘They are only children, they will learn!’ Learn how? If I always pick up after them, I don’t see them learning anything! They need to know that action or inaction in this particular case, has consequences. Anyway, I am very grateful, they don’t undermine my parenting but many are not as lucky as I. I have heard stories of how the mother or the mother in law reprimand the parent, in front of the child, for disciplining him or her. What kind of mixed message is the child getting in that case? The child is the real sufferer here since this is what she understands,’I can make a bad choice, if my mom and dad scold me, grandma or grandpa will scold my parents so my parents don’t have the ultimate authority over me anyway! So why should I obey them?’

I live far away from both sets of the family, and I certainly miss the love and affection my children are deprived of. But I am envied by my Indian counter parts that nobody interferes with my way of dealing with bad behavior. Over the years I have made it very clear to my immediate and extended family that what I say to my children is the final word, nobody can override my decision. But that doesn’t mean I am not berated for being too harsh or tough, but that is all said in love and away from the children’s ears! I can take it! The uncles, aunts and grandparents are such an integral part of children’s life and they provide a such a fantastic sounding board to air out the grievances against those mean parents!

So here’s my two cents, finally! Where is the drumroll? I think, while it takes a village to love and nurture a child, the discipline shouldn’t be left to the village to handle. The village Elders, a.k.a parents should be given the SOLE responsibility of that department. What the Elders decide for the child should be followed by the villagers. Ye or Nay, what say, all?

‘You are such a mountain goat!’ My husband’s idea of romance!

Sean has been talking about taking the family hiking on the Old Rag mountains for a few months now, and I, of course, have been stalling. It’s not that I don’t like hiking, I love it, but on the plain surface, by a beautiful river or through the woods. Not any more labor intensive than that! But spring break came around and this guy went berserk on me. Things got so bad that he would dream of Old Rag and scream ‘Old Rag Mountain, here we come’ in his dreams. No, that didn’t happen, I am exaggerating a bit!

Anyway, he started talking more and more about it, he got the kids riled up, it was 3 against one. I gave in. The enthusiasm was slightly scary. I asked him if he planned to take me up and push me off a cliff to collect the insurance. He denied, he said he had no such plans. I was safe…for the moment. He played his trump card, ‘Think of all the pictures you will get from up top!’ I was sold.

I showed my utter indifference to the whole process by not making sandwiches or packing any snack. That was not just laziness, I was making a point. He didn’t mind or take heed, he made everything himself. He just dragged me off the bed at 4:00 am and we were off!

Once we arrived and saw the sun rising, I grudgingly admitted it was a good idea, after all. But I was still very concerned about my physical ability to make the climb – 3291 feet elevation, of which, one mile was pure boulder hopping.

I did just fine and enjoyed myself immensely. In his excitement, that his plan was successful and the wife was actually having a good time, Sean gushed, “Kids, who knew your mom was such a mountain goat, huh?” I was panting hard the first time so I let the comment slide. But after a particularly difficult phase of rock climbing, he said it again, “My mountain goat of a wife!” Then I let him have it! I told him, in no uncertain terms, that I didn’t think calling his wife a ‘mountain goat’ will earn him any brownie points. In fact, that is not romantic at all, he could call me nimble-footed, fit, athletic…something along that line. But mountain goat is the limit. Can’t take it! I will dream of myself sprouting four legs, two cute horns, a beard and jumping around mountains. Ughh! Shudder! He back tracked quickly and said things like, “You always under-estimate your ability. See, this was a piece of cake for you. You are in awesome shape!” etc etc. That mollified me a bit. We walked a total of 8 miles round trip. And labeled my two children as the toughest cookies ever.

Sunrise through the woods.
Moving on.
A view mid way.
Rolling hills.

Looks like we made it!

Changing the world….

While walking the streets of Kolkata with my American boyfriend I mentioned once, ‘When you live with a problem it ceases to be one. I have seen people sleeping on the sidewalks since I was born, I don’t notice them anymore!’ On retrospect, it was such an insensitive comment to make. Sean stopped walking and turned around to face me. ‘I don’t ever want you to get used to people sleeping on the sidewalk. If you get used to it, how will you strive to change it and make it better?’ I knew then, this is the man I want to spend my life with.

I have not done anything to change the world in a major scale. I support my husband’s endeavor to make a difference in the world. I like to think, I am helping by keeping his world together while he does his job. But I also like to think I am doing my part by TRYING to raise two little humans to be worthy citizens of the world. I hope to instill compassion, acceptance, love and respect for others in them so when they grow up and create little ones of their own they pass along these values in a chain reaction. Hopefully one day we WILL achieve social justice for all, we WILL see an end to rape, abuse, hate killings, violence. The cynical you will call me naive, I call myself a dreamer!

“You, you may say

I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one

I hope some day you’ll join us

And the world will be as one.”

Simply couldn’t resist it, you know me!

Of course, the task isn’t easy. I get discouraged when I see meanness in them towards each other. They are rude sometimes, ill-mannered, whiny and oh, so mean. Those are the moments I truly panic. I wonder what I am doing wrong, is it nature or nurture? I plan what to say to them so they change. I search the library for meaningful books, I read parenting books to deal with situations, I lecture too much and they tune me out. Yet, my heart soars when one writes he is going to teach children in poor countries when he grows up and will buy food for them with whatever money he has and the other easily gives ALL her toys to an AIDS hospice in India at five years of age when we move from Delhi to USA. When my father takes my daughter out to buy a special dress for her birthday, she insists a new dress be bought for her little friend, whose mother cooks for my parents. In Kolkata, when a little child begs for money, both of them take her to a nearby sweet shop and have me buy the sweet of her choice. Then the older one laments they gave her unhealthy food instead of something healthy like fruit. They listen to stories of people in vulnerable conditions after the earthquake in Haiti from their dad and give all their money from their lemonade stand to be used for children in need.

I worry that my children, living their insulated, suburban life will not realize there is a whole big world out there where many children, just like them, are going to bed hungry. When I say we won’t buy any video games but read books and play outside, my then six-year-old son says, “That’s OK, I have so many toys, many children don’t!” When middle schoolers use the word ‘gay’ derogatorily, my then sixth grader stands up to say, “Don’t say that, being gay is not bad or good, it is just a way of life!” And then they fight over something trivial like a piece of candy, or torment each other till I am ready to bang my head against the wall.

Our trips to India keep them grounded to reality. They see the glittering malls, the gated communities then they see people sleeping on side walks with their families. ‘Why don’t they have a house? We want to help when we grow up! How can we help?’ I hope they grow up to feel people’s pain and as Sean said to me all those years ago, hope they never get used to the sleeping families on the side walks. Well, that is the HOPE. I am building a cathedral, so time will tell!

My favorite drink is Bud Lite, what else?

‘What is your favorite drink, Mom?’ Ryan asked me as our car passed by a liquor store. ‘I love mango Lassi, what’s yours Ryan?’ I asked politely since I knew he was bursting at the seams to tell me.

‘I love Bud Lite, yup, my absolute favorite!’ answered my seven year old son.

My husband and I exchanged glances. Both our children are very anti – alcohol, so far! Two teetotaler’s son loves Bud Lite the best, that too at age seven!!!

Last night, Ryan watched college football with his father, the games were sponsored by Bud Lite. The dudes drinking Bud Lite were portrayed as the best humans who ever graced the face of this earth. They were good looking, intelligent, good friends, popular. Of course, Bud Lite would be the drink of choice, if Ry could become as cool as those hunks. The power of advertising.

Sahana burst his bubble, ‘Ryan, Bud Lite is an alcoholic drink. You want to drink alcohol? Yuck!’

‘It is ALCOHOL???’ His face fell, ‘I thought it was a type of lemonade! Then I don’t want it!’

I didn’t say a word but I was giving silent high fives to Sahana. She can be a very positive influence on her brother. Once, I heard Ryan singing this song in his loud clear voice

I don’t know where you are going,
Just get your ASS back home!

Very concerned at his song choice, I asked him if he knew what ‘ass
back home’ meant. Without missing a beat, he said, ‘Yes, Sahana already explained to me. It is get your S back home. S stands for self, so they are saying ‘get your SELF back home!’ Oh, the joy! Mama made a mental note to give the girl an extra hug for her presence of mind.

Anyway, when he heard Bud Lite was an alcohol, Ryan was seriously depressed. He had a very unpleasant encounter with alcohol and since that incident he has vowed never to touch alcohol again in his entire life. Hallelujah! I am thinking of recording that declaration and playing it when he comes home after downing a few in his teenage!

Last Christmas, his uncle was raving about the fruity flavor of a certain expensive wine, the name of which I do not recall. Sean and I refused to try a sip despite the accolade but Ryan insisted he wanted to try it. His uncle let him. Ryan took a big gulp expecting something delicious since the grown ups were praising it so. His face turned bright red, his mouth puckered up and he spit the wine out into his sister’s bowl of pasta with a look of utter disgust and horror at the foul-tasting drink. Then he started to cry. He had never tasted anything so distasteful in his life!

That incident hopefully has scarred him for life – against alcohol. And his dad and I always tell him how he could be that special person who his friends will always love and cherish – their designated driver. He is buying  it … far!