Not Olympic material

Have you all seen the Proctor & Gamble advertisements where they thank the moms of famous athletes for their dedication, perseverance and sheer grit as they help their babies and toddlers become world-class athletes? I watch every single video with tears threatening to fall. My children are swimmers so I relate (rather want to relate) to that mom who wakes up at the crack of dawn, gently wakes her tiny little daughter, gets on a bus and takes her to swim practice. She sits there with love filled eyes and patient smile as her baby daughter learns to crawl in water (I either chat with other mothers or read a book or go to the gym when my children practice). Then she watches with pride and joy as her daughter, much older now, wins medals and makes her proud. In these advertisements, mothers of skaters and hockey players teach them how to skate, take them to innumerable practices, up on slopes, take care of their hurts, wipe their tears and eventually the proud moment comes – medal at Olympics. I love those ads. I feel part of a clan of mothers who dedicate their lives to the success of their children. Although I would LIKE to be one of them, in reality, I am not!

Sean wakes up at the crack of dawn to take Sahana to a 5:30 am swim practice. He, then, drives her to school, comes home, gets ready for work and then goes to work. While he does all that in the morning, I sip coffee in my comfy bathrobe, browse Facebook, look at the news and finally, lazily get ready for the day. Sean is an Olympic material dad. I am not. I have made it clear that when Sean travels, there will be no 5:30 am practices simply because I will not wake up at an ungodly hour to take anybody anywhere. But this past Sunday was different. I felt the children were not getting enough practice during the week due to my work schedule and Sean’s travel, so I had been readying myself and the children for at least four days that we will be going to 7:00 am practice on Sunday.

‘You guys make sure you sleep in on Saturday because I am taking you to practice on Sunday morning! Bright and early!’ I said on day one.

On day two, I said, ‘You know you are going to practice on Sunday morning, right? I don’t want to hear any grumblings!’

They WEREN’T grumbling. Although, I did hear a mumbled ‘That stinks’ from one of them.

I repeated something similar on day three as well – a dire declaration of ‘get your act together on Sunday morning cos we are going to practice’.

On Saturday evening, I made them get their swim bags ready by the front door. I warned them they better wake up as soon as I call them because WE ARE GOING TO THE MORNING PRACTICE ON SUNDAY MORNING!!

They casually said, ‘Yes, fine.’

I went to bed relatively early, sacrificing my reading time so I was bright and chirpy on Sunday morning. I was thinking of the mother who gently woke up her child for practice in the Proctor & Gamble advertisements. I finally felt I was contributing to their greatness in the sports arena. I wistfully smiled at the vision when they will attribute their success to their hardworking mother, who despite all, took them to practice at the crack of dawn and cheered them on as they trained.

My eyes opened the next morning, I looked at the clock – it was 7:30 am. Practice had started half an hour earlier!

My dream to be the sacrificing mother dashed to pieces as I got out of bed chuckling. Sahana woke up shortly, in a fluster. She came out of her room asking,

‘What happened?’

I said, magnanimously, ‘I decided to let you guys sleep in!’ Hey, why not make this faux pas into a generous act by a magnanimous mother? She was happy enough.

The serious swimmer, Ryan, woke up. My ploy of being magnanimous did not work with him though. That one is a work horse, he was unhappy that he did not get to go to practice.

‘I WANTED to go to practice! Why didn’t you wake meeeee?’ He whined.

I hate it when my ploys of being indulgent mother don’t work.

That same morning as I Skyped with the Olympic material father of my children, he wailed from far away land:

‘WHY ARE YOU IN YOUR BATHROBE??? Why are the children not at practice???’

I chuckled, ‘I overslept!’

And since I worked the weekend and he himself was in a far away land he was smart enough not to complain about it! I have written before, that dude is smart. He knows what’s good for him!

Long story short – if you do not see my children on the swimming block of an Olympic arena, it is not because of dearth of talent ( psssst….the older one reads my blogs, I had to write that), it is because their mama is not really the Olympic material. She does not have it what it takes 🙂 !


Love of books

I am not a scholar by any means but I do feel an inexplicable love towards books. I love holding books, I love smelling them, the rustle of pages makes me happy, I love talking about them, I love people who read! I do not know when this love affair started and why it started. I only know that my mother is responsible for it. It is a blessing and a curse. Books bring joy to me, they give me freedom to travel without moving an inch, they help me know the unknown through written words. Books help me dream of a better world, books unveil the layers in human psyche and books teach me empathy. Books are a blessing. The curse? My life relegates itself to an insignificant corner while I devour books. The other day at work, as I was helping an elderly customer we started chatting about the kinds of books we liked to read. After exchanging our mutual interests and cooing over authors we both enjoyed, she said to me in a conspiratorial whisper:

“You know my mother would be very displeased with me, but after I have finished my morning chores, I go up to my room, lay down on my bed and I read. My mother would not have liked to see me lie in my bedroom in the middle of the day with a book. But I tell myself, I have worked all my life, now I have earned these luxurious afternoons with just my books.”

I agreed with her wholeheartedly, and I told her so. My mother, on the other hand, showed me by example that afternoons are for reading books unless you are taking a nap. And what better way to nap than falling asleep while reading, snoozing off while a book rests on your chest?

Kolkata Book fair, since, I was a little girl was like carnival time for me and many of my book loving friends. As a child, I went with my mother, her hand held mine tightly as she ran with me from one stall to another buying books for herself and me with what little money she had. When I grew up and went to college, the annual book fair was a sacred pilgrimage for many of us. We waited for classes to end so we could get on a minibus and head towards Maidan, where the book fair was held every year. They have changed the venue, I hear. A few of us in our naiveté even pledged to come back every year to the Book fair for annual rendezvous no matter which part of the world we lived in. I smile when I think of that promise. How young we were, how innocent.

Sean asked me out on our first date with these words, and I quote verbatim, “So, when are you going to the book fair with me?” Dude was clever. He knew it would be hard for me turn down a trip to the book fair. “What! With you?? No, you are a foreigner, I can’t be seen with a foreigner. I am a good Indian woman, I don’t go out with little known white man! I like your attention and I like you but I don’t want to be alone with you. That is scary!! Wait, book fair you say? Gulp! Public place, what can you do? If you get nasty I will just call for help and have the mob beat you up.” While all those erratic thoughts fired in my head, I said, “Yes, I will go to the book fair with you!” Kolkata book fair saw our first date and the blossoming of our romance 🙂 !

Within a week of us moving to Baltimore after marriage, Sean woke up one morning and said he was going to take me to a special place. I will be very happy there. He would not tell me where.

“Do I need to get dressed up for it?” I asked bubbling with excitement at the uncertainty.
“No, just comb your hair and brush your teeth!”

We walked a couple of blocks from our apartment and came to a beautiful, historic building with arches and big windows. Enoch Pratt Free Public Library, I read with my head tilted way back. I walked in almost in a daze. The old smell and the expansive inner courtyard with natural lights flooding the inside from the skylights took my breath away. I wanted to move in there. Nobody checked my bag, nobody demanded money. All I had to do was mail myself a self addressed envelope for address check, bring it in the next time and got my library card, my gatepass to the land of unlimited books. The winter of USA was bitter for a woman from the land of warmth and sun. The library was my refuge. When I did not need to check out books, I simply roamed the huge building, stroking the antique banisters, smelling the scent of books, getting lost in the stacks. The library and I created memories. The library introduced me to American authors who I knew little of in India. I fell in love with some of them.

Then life happened. We moved. We created a family. We moved again back to the suburbs. I discovered the county library. From a very young age, I took my children to the library because I wanted them to grow up between books. And I secretly harbored a desire to work there – one day. As the children grew, I started questioning my reason for staying at home but I had lost the confidence. I had been out of the job market for 12 long years. I decided to start putting my foot in the threshold by volunteering. I accepted the role of library grandparent (in my thirties) and read books to children. Then I interfiled books and dvds. After volunteering for 3 years while Ryan was in pre-school and kindergarten, I gathered sufficient courage to look for openings. A friend messaged me that a position was available at the library I volunteered in and I applied. The interview went well, the interviewers laughed which I took to be a good sign. In the mean time, I was exploring the possibility of becoming involved in this wonderful initiative Project Literacy educating adult learners who are interested in getting their high school diploma. As I was driving back from one of the final meetings of Project Literacy, I got a call from the HR of the library.

“Thank you for interviewing. We would like to offer you the position….!”

Magical words, after 12 years of staying at home. Small dream for many, but it was MY dream and it came true. How can a job that requires me to read and read more not be a dream job? So when the cobwebs hang from the walls and the dinner, on occasion, is a hasty affair, I rationalize to the family – ‘Sorry, I was working!’ 🙂

I will most likely never be rich working at a library but strangely enough I feel richer every day as I finish the last page of a really good book, close it with a contented sigh and look at my untidy bedside table with books piled high. Life is good with books in it.

Gift of my Magi

I don’t often think of teleportation (word press is giving me red squiggly line underneath it. Is teleportation not a real word?) till I board a 13 hour flight to go to India or get in the car to go on an 8 hour trip up north to visit family during holiday times. I love to go places yet I dislike the modes of transportation. What is the point of having such smart people in the world if they can not figure out a way to get to places in the blink of an eye, I ask? Come on MIT, Harvard, Yale and other esteemed colleges, discover it already!!

Anyway, I got in the car like a grumpy cat, settled my ooh- so- comfortable blanket on my lap, buckled my seat belt and grunted at my chirpy husband “Let’s go.” We were going up to Boston to visit family for Christmas. Sean and the children were annoyingly chirpy and I looked out of the window to keep my annoyance at their chirpiness at bay. It almost did not work.

As we passed New York after 4 hours of driving, Sean pointed out:

“Look at the city. How lit up it is!!”

I have already mentioned I was grumpy at the beginning of the journey. I decided to turn it up a notch, I turned downright whiny (good thing my children take mostly after their dad)!

“I have lived in this country for over 10 years and I have never seen New York lights during holiday times. I have never seen the tree at the Rockefeller Center! Hmmmmph!”

“Alright, let’s do it. Let us drive into the city!” Sean enthusiastically exclaimed.

“No000, let’s just go up to Boston and be done with this ride!” I answered.

Then everything was quiet for a while except Veggie Tales singing about God being greater than the boogeyman in the car music system. I may have dozed off for a while when I fully woke up to honking. I looked out of the car window to find that we are entering the congested New York City!!

“You are going in the city???? We are going to arrive in Boston so late! Why did you not just drive on!!!!!!!!!!” I said, exasperated.

My husband’s spirit was indomitable.

“Oh, let us just see the lights!” He grinned.

After battling with traffic and being rejected by two garages in the city (they were full), we finally found parking in one garage. My dissatisfaction and grumpiness were giving away to mouth opening awe and excitement at the lights and spirit of the big apple as I tried to take in the crowd, style and of course, the honking and aggressive driving. After Sean parked, he gave a curt command:

“Take your bags out!”

“WHAT??? Why???” Sahana and I, both whipped our heads around. Ryan was oblivious of everything, as usual.

“Hurry up, get your bags out!” The man repeated. And started pulling our bags out himself.

Still stunned and unaware about what exactly was happening, we did as we were asked to do.

We rolled our bags, following Sean who entered a hotel about half a block away. Sahana and I looked at each other as he opened the door for us. Ryan finally asked, “Where are we going? Why aren’t we going to Boston?” I must mention at this point that we discovered as we unloaded our bags and wore our coats that Ryan had forgotten to bring his heavy winter coat on this trip. He had a sweat shirt on and was freezing at this point. Sean had his ratty, old winter coat in addition to his ‘nicer’ newer winter coat, which saved Ryan eventually. Also Boston turned out to be extremely mild this year.

“Reservation for two nights under …..”, he told the staff at front desk.

Sahana looked at me and mouthed, “Did he just say 2 nights???????”

Sean got the key to our room and looked at us triumphantly, grinning from ear to ear like a little boy. His Christmas gift to us. He planned a two night stay in NYC, couple of blocks away from Broadway, a block and a half away from Lincoln Center, en route to Boston. He planned this for a while and I DID NOT HAVE A CLUE.

And then? Then it was magic. Then it was a dream come true. Then it was the best surprise I have ever had in my life.

After cleaning up at the hotel, we went to have dinner at this busy pizza place not too far from Times Square. I had no idea, of course, that we were going to stop at New York. Hence I had no stylish apparel or shoes. I toured NYC in my stylish pink sneakers, ratty jeans and dirty coat. Oh well, little things! 🙂

After a typical NYC pizza and cheese cake dinner, we braved the cold to walk to Times Square and witness the night turned to day. Every one who has been to Times Square will perhaps agree with me when I say it is a sensory overload. It was Ryan’s first time. He had to go in and gawk at the Hershey store, the Toys r US, the M & M store. He had to gawk at the bill boards and the street performers. His mother and sister were not far behind in being mesmerized by all of it. Even Sahana, who reprimands us constantly when we go places as “acting like tourists” forgot to scold us as I clicked pictures.

Typical NYC quick pizza and cheese cake dinner.
Typical NYC quick pizza and cheese cake dinner.
Times Square
Times Square

The following day, we stood in line to get discounted tickets for a Broadway show and ended up with tickets of Mamma Mia. Sean froze in line at the ticket counter while Sahana, Ryan and I stood in line inside a Starbucks to get him (and us) hot chocolate. Then all four of us froze waiting in line for the ticket counter to open. But there was a certain camaraderie with the other excited tourists waiting with us in the serpentine line. We exchanged jokes, we learned how far people have come from, we stated the obvious about how cold it was and once the ticket counters opened the line moved quickly. We did not have much time before the show and we (me) absolutely had to see the New York Public library before the show started. But we also had to have lunch. Due to popular demand (read children’s) we had to find lunch first. After lunch we barely had time to run back to the theater. The library, I consoled myself, will have to wait till the next visit. The show was amazing. We came out singing, “Dancing queen” and “Don’t go wasting your emotion” along with the other theater goers. After meandering around a bit more, the children declared they were tired and can we please go back to the hotel.

Wait, what? Tired? In New York? But…we don’t have much time to take it all in!!! I was shouting in my head as I headed back glumly towards the hotel with the rest of the crew. As we entered our room, Sean whispered to me:

“What do you think of ditching the kids and going for a spin in the city? Just you and I? Are you up for it?”

Am I up for it???Baby, do you even know me? This is New York!! I am in New York. I leave tomorrow morning. I do not want to waste any time sitting in a hotel room watching tv! I want to make every moment count, I want to take it all back in my heart!

So we got McDonald meal for the children who were happy as a clam slurping on shakes and watching Christmas shows on television while their parents waved sayonara and hit the streets.

We walked among the cute shops in Central park, my arm in the crook of Sean’s elbow. We peeked in the luxurious windows of apartments along the park, richly decorated with Christmas extravaganza, we bought warm, roasted chestnuts and walked the crowded streets of the Fifth street, we walked all the way to the New York Public library (which was closed) and got to see the regal lions guarding the gorgeous building. We laughed and pointed at the elegantly decorated windows of the designer stores on Fifth avenue, we saw brilliantly lit tree in the Rockefeller center and happy people skating underneath it, we felt one with the crowd and I reminisced about the Durga Puja in Kolkata, we felt the heady sensation of being in New York during the holidays where everything glittered and everything looked happy. We held hands and I told Sean that this is the best Christmas gift he gave me. He smiled.

Fifth Avenue
Fifth Avenue
New York Public Library. I have to go in next time.
New York Public Library. I have to go in next time.

I read an article that most Americans, as the recession hit the country, are focusing on collecting experiences over material objects. Experiences do not need maintenance. I have always been that kind of person who preferred experiences over material gifts. While it was wonderful to open gifts of scarves and gloves and other things the family bought for me, the experience of laughing together in New York is something I will often turn to when I need some cheer. The memories of the joy at being together in a city that excites me, the thought of Sean planning the whole thing to surprise us, the touch of his hand as he peeled a chest nut for me, the expression of bewilderment in Ryan’s face as he looked up at the huge bill boards all around Times Square, the excited face of Sahana as we entered the theater to watch Mamma Mia will stay in a special treasure chest in my heart. In difficult times, they keep me sane, they keep me positive and they remind me the truth:

This too shall pass, we are here to see you through.