The messenger ladybug.

Host of memories came crashing down by an inconsequential ladybug. As I turned on the ignition of my car, harried and stressed and late for work, a lady bug landed on the windshield with a light plop. And it brought back memories of a curly haired little five year old girl squatting on the driveway, brows furrowed in fierce concentration, counting the dots on a ladybug.

My daughter was born in India and was raised by not only her parents, but by a village. Her universe consisted of parents, grandparents, a plethora of uncles and aunts, little friends who grew up with her, adopted grandparents (our landlords), adopted uncles and aunts (our friends in the Indian city where we lived), domestic help, who was an integral part of the family. Her life was enriched by the love and nurturing of all – family by blood and family by association and friendship. For the first five years of her life, it was a party every day. Playdates, frolic in the parks with little friends, visits to Kolkata whenever opportunity arose, travels to exotic places with mom and dad. And peacocks and lady bugs. We had three resident peacocks in the neighborhood, who sometimes came to visit us in our balcony. When Sahana, Sean and I went for our walks in the neighborhood, Sean made horrible peacock noises, much to the chagrin and embarrassment of his wife and amusement of his toddler. He expected to get a response back from the peacocks, but his peacock call wasn’t authentic enough and he never heard back from them. The aunties and uncles who walked around our neighborhood always chuckled at the white man’s perseverance.

And there were lady bugs galore. Ladybugs or ladybirds, was a huge topic of debate between me, the native of a former British colony and my husband, an American, the pollutant of Queen’s English. The ladybugs/birds featured a lot in the children’s play. They counted them, counted the dots on them, let them crawl on their hands and laughed at the sensation. Despite the usual sicknesses, Sahana had a fulfilling and happy time. She thrived in the love.

Then we moved. We came to a new country, a new state, a new home and to loneliness. Before we built a new circle of family and friends around us, that is exactly what we came to – loneliness. From the constant buzz of family, we moved to the thrum of crickets outside our suburban home. During this time, one day, I saw little Sahana crouching down and looking at a solitary lady bug in the driveway of our new house.

‘What are you doing, baby?’ I asked as I lowered my heavily pregnant body next to my little girl.

‘Mama, look!!! A ladybug!!! Mama, do you think this lady bug has come all the way from our neighborhood in India to see how I am doing? Do you think it missed me? Now that it has seen me, will it fly back to Anushree and Rohan and tell them about me!’

As I write this today, eight years later, my eyes tear up at the intensity of her homesickness she must have felt then. That was the magical age of unending possibilities and ‘anything can happen’s! I kept the magic alive and said,

‘That is exactly what the ladybug will do, honey! It will take your news back to your friends!’

She turned her attention back to the ladybug and said,

‘Ok, go tell Anu and Rohan, I miss them. And tell the other ladybugs, I miss them too!’

With that she walked away with a stick in her hand to explore other treasures.

She doesn’t look for ladybugs anymore. She deals with the complicated world of high school, she reads “To kill a Mocking bird” and writes papers on “Female infanticide in developing nations”. She is slowly becoming a thoughtful, mature woman. Dreams have changed, magic is dealt with skepticism. But since I am the treasurer of HER childhood memories, I chronicle this faithfully, in my heart and in this post. I do this for her, and perhaps, more for me. Who knows one day, when she turns back, she will look for this little nugget of gold. A forgotten moment, yet etched forever in her mother’s memory.


Supervisor Sage.

I have a supervisor in my house, who I completely love, adore, look up to for guidance/counseling and have nothing nasty to say about. He is perfect or very, very close to being that.

He is handsome and yellowish white. He has a long snout, pinkish brown nose, floppy ears and when he turns on the charm, he gets squinty eyed and irrestistable. He is mostly serious but once in a while, he lets his guard down and shows us his wild side. More about that later, but I must tell the universe why he is the best supervisor in the whole wide world, why I am head over heels in love with him and why someone should write a book on leadership qualities after observing him.

First of all, he is a young man of few words. He guides with his eyes, and sometimes by licking his chops. I like that. Verbosity is not what I need when the children and the husband are out of the house. He lets me have head space but clearly gets the job done by communicating with his beautiful amber eyes. He lets me know when it is time to wake up by standing next to my bed, wagging his tail and blowing doggy breath on my face. Don’t snicker, it is a great way to open my eyes, stretch my arms and leisurely scratch between furry ears. How awesome is it to wake up and be told by silent communing that you are a wonderful human and you are thoroughly loved?

His internal body clock tells him when it is time to wake Ryan. He stands in front of Ryan’s door and tells me with his eyes to do his bidding – ‘Open Ryan’s door please!’ And when I do, he bounds in and nuzzles Ryan’s face, second round of doggy breath exhaled on a human face. Ryan groggily says, ‘Good morning Sage!’ Morning work done!

He doesn’t micromanage yet effectively directs me to important chores like morning walks, feeds, a rawhide bone, toy. His eyes say ‘Yes, I understand you are messaging your college friend via social networking site, and I understand it is important. I will just stand here and look at you with my beautiful eyes and keep the smile on my face! I can wait!’ That works. I am guilted into hastily signing off and fetching the leash.

He shows me where his rawhide bones are kept. He stands in front of them and shifts his paws in the same place, wags his long bushy tail and intermittently licks his chops, while his eyes dart back and forth to the bag of rawhide bones and my face. His will is done. How can I resist? Am I not a mere mortal?

On walks, when I pull him from clumps of dry leaves, he turns his Sagely, somber, beautiful face and says (just always understand, Sage’s saying is with his eyes, so I don’t have to repeat), ‘Human, I understand you do not want me to defecate in that clump of dry leaves because it is difficult to pick up, but please understand, this place smells just right to do my business. Bear with me, for the sake of love that you have for me.’ I obey.

My supervisor is at his best when I haul groceries from the car. After a weekly trip to a retail store for bulk groceries, I feel overwhelmed at the amount of ‘junk’ we need for our family. I rant about having to carry all the items inside the house from the car, I strategize how I can trick my husband into doing the shopping after work. My supervisor, however, gets very motivated at the prospect of sniffing groceries. He detracts me from my evil thoughts of making the husband do it by the spring in his steps and the wag in his tail as he excitedly sniffs the trunk and urges me to open it. After a good round of sniffing, he accompanies me on every trip back and forth from the car to the house with the hearty assurance that I am doing a fantastic job, I am a strong human and I ‘got this.’ He goes in and out of the house saying, ‘I would help you with this if I could, if only my forepaws could carry, but I will not sit around idly as you trek back and forth, I will be with you every step of the way!’ Once all the grocery is brought in, he jumps in the trunk of the minivan and sniffs each crevice to make sure all items have been removed, before I lock the car.

He spends longer time sniffing and licking chops and showing his approval on those rare occasions that I purchase meat or fish. He is the perfect leader. He is not overbearing, he is calm and reassuring instead. He is not bossy but leads by making me feel I am part of whatever idea he came up with. Giving him a bone, taking him for his walk, feeding him, playing tug of war, belly rubs and rolling ball etc were joint decisions. I feel empowered and appreciated. He indulges me by letting me stroke his soft fur and relax after a long day. He endures my baby talk and squeaky voice and even humors me by going squinty eyed and rolling on his back, babylike. He calmly tells young pups to mind their manners when they jump on his snout. If a fellow dog barks at him, he looks quizzically and moves on, a picture of poise and grace. He herds the children constantly and gently rebukes Ryan if he plays too rough. He keeps a close eye as the man of the house does yard work. And makes sure he recieves the belly rubs and pats when he desires by looking at his man with chocolate drop eyes full of love. He has got us dancing to his tune without making us feel we are doing so. We are happy to do it. We live to do it. A true leader, I say.

When the day is done, he waits patiently for me to place his rug by my side of the bed, just so. Sometimes Ryan sneaks his rug into his bedroom to lure Sage in his room. But Sage loves to sleep with the grown up humans, so he waits till his rug is reinstated in its rightful place. Finally he settles down with a contented sigh and yawn, but flicks an eye open when one of his team members get up to go to the bathroom or get a drink. Ever vigilant, ever caring leader of the pack.

Now, there are wild moments when someone comes to visit. Our gentle leader loses his self control in his exuberance to make the guest feel welcome. He also forgets his size as he tries to crawl on their laps. He forgets himself sometimes when I make sandwiches and pitifully begs, or should I say silently wills a piece of cheese or meat to fall on the ground. But we will ignore that. After all, what is there to strive for if we attain perfection?





Bitter sweet

As I adoringly gazed at my few months old baby girl, my first-born, with sleep deprived eyes, I didn’t feel the transience of time. For a first time mother, the infancy of her baby is such a miraculous time. Every facial gesture of the baby, every grimace, every twinge is a thing of wonder. The reality that she will eventually grow up never crossed my mind. My love for her and my adoration at her tiny perfectness were overwhelming. As I placed my cheek on her impossibly soft, warm cheek when I walked up and down the room while she slept with her head on my shoulder at 2 am, I was filled with a glorious, wondrous feeling of love and a fierce protectiveness that was very new to me indeed. I never thought my baby would be four years old, ever. She would stay little with all her baby fragrance, baby smiles and baby sweetness. But that didn’t happen, of course. She turned four soon enough, and then five, and then….She was joined by a little brother when she was five and I felt that overpowering sense of love and protectiveness as I held his little body close to my chest, second time around.

As a young mother, I exclaimed at every ‘first’ of my babies. The first feel of the rough edge of an emerging pearly white. My infant has a tooth!!! The much awaited rolling over, the crawl, the first step, the first word! Every ‘new’ was an occasion to celebrate, to inform the grandparents, uncles and aunts. Yet, while celebrating and rejoicing the new milestone, a tiny part of me mourned the loss of that time before. I won’t deny that slight little feeling for a split second, ‘Oh, s/he is growing up!’ But I was always mindful not to harp on that feeling because life is, of course, a forward progression in new paths and onto new discoveries.

The first day of kindergarten, every first day in a new grade since. The first time the elder one stayed alone, the first time she offered to make dinner, first day in middle school and then high school, first of many of our book discussions and theological discourses, first time I realized she was thinking independently, making her case, forming opinions. The first time she lied, argued, talked back.

The first time I left the little one at school and made the mistake of turning back. His tear-stained face and one little arm extended towards me, pains me still. The first time HE stayed alone, I drove back into the driveway and saw an anxious little face peering out of the window. The first time I dropped him off at his swim practice and drove away. I saw him sling his swim back on his shoulder and make his way inside to swim, alone. First time he made his own lunch, jumped into the pool without floaters.

There were moments of relief and pride at each milestone and that tiny little twinge way back in the innermost corner of my heart.

They are both growing up, loosening their grip. And there is that ‘push me pull you’ feeling inside me. I mentioned earlier, there is that very tiny pang of ‘oh, my babies!’ In my day-to-day life, I don’t think about this enough, but when Ryan casually holds my hand on a walk and his knobbly knuckles seem to fill my hand, I ask myself, ”When did this happen?’ I remember just a little time ago, that hand in mine was tiny, soft, malleable – resting there comfortably, ready to be guided. This hand today, which grips mine confidently, still needs direction, sure, but his grip has an assurance. It almost says, ‘I can hold you up, mom, if you stumble. I am almost there!’ When Sahana wears my saree, puts my make up on and smiles at me, I gasp ‘She is a woman!’ I have a Rip Van Winkle moment. Did I sleep through time? Or is this the way human life works? The changes are imperceptible yet right in my face. I am simply unaware. One day, I look mindfully and wham, it hits me! Time’s a flying!

Yet, I find their babyhood in the goodnight kisses and the early morning cuddles, in their sleeping faces and innocent questions. My babies are still hidden there somewhere inside. I seek them out when I put time aside to do it. Then we sit a while, laugh together and cuddle and I enjoy this bittersweet flavor that life offers.

This is a woman’s store, get out…

Did any of you read the ‘You wouldn’t want to be’ series to your children? You should certainly look into it, it is a great resource and a fun way to learn history. Anyway, I am not here to discuss children’s books, I am here to tell a story that resurfaced in my mind after seeing my friend’s Facebook update. The particular series came to mind because if I ever wrote that series, I would name mine ‘You wouldn’t want to grow up dark, skinny and tall in mid eighties Kolkata’! I was just that and let me tell you, it wasn’t fun.

I tried make up, and ended up as a white apparition in order to lighten my skin. I tried jewelry, nothing looked right. It brought laughter and ridicule. Eventually, I stopped dabbling in the mystery of foundation, rouge, eye shadows, avoided jewelry and fancy clothes, or anything that would bring attention to looks. I found self deprecatory humor as an effective defense mechanism. I guffawed the loudest at being named ‘Big Ethel’ and nodded emphatically to show I enjoyed the joke as much as the jokers. Was it bullying? It, perhaps, was, but I didn’t recognize it then. There were plenty of tears, but they were shed silently, in the privacy of my bed.

But that is not the whole point of writing this blog. I grew up and matured enough to become comfortable in my skin. I didn’t try to change anything for anyone. I chose comfort over style and received enough compliments later on in life to blunt the pain of the few nightmarish years of teenage.

After I came to this country, I primarily wore Sean’s shirts and sweatshirts over jeans and wore ethnic clothes when the ocassion called for taking it a notch higher till I landed with a job as a guest coordinator in a hotel. I had a job and no clothes to wear to it. So my spouse and I went clothes shopping – in my usual attire of oversized shirt, jeans, running shoes and a hat.

We went into an expensive looking store which held rows and rows of black pants, shiny white, blue, grey (there were not a riot of colors in those days) shirts under the glittering store light. As we entered diffidently, a very nicely dressed older woman came up:

‘Hi there, may I help you find something today?’ She asked brightly.

‘Yes, we are looking for some business casual clothes for me!’ I responded.

‘Oh, this is a woman’s store. You won’t find anything here!’ She politely smiled at me.

I still don’t know why we turned around with a puzzled, baffled expression on our faces and walked out of the store. I know why I walked out. I probably didn’t understand her accent and I simply followed Sean. But I don’t understand why my loving husband didn’t stand his ground and say ‘She IS a woman, find some clothes for her! NOW!’

But Sean just walked out and we looked at each other and then started laughing. I said, ‘I should take umbrage at not being recognized as a woman, but this is way too funny. Maybe I should ditch the hat and wear my hair long, since my curves don’t quite send the message I am a woman?’

Sean laughed because he found the expression on my face very comical!

At a party, I told the story to a girl friend, I was kicked out of a ‘woman’s store’ for a mistaken gender identity, I said. She asked the name of the store and the mall, then she laughed too and said, ‘It wasn’t a mistaken gender identity, you silly goose! A woman’s store, in this country means women who wear plus sizes. She saw your size and knew that store wasn’t right for you!’

So that is the politically correct term for women who wear plus sizes – women. They are the real women. So what are we? The skinny ones? Chopped liver? Discrimination, I say 😀 !