I may have written this in some of my previous blogs that both my kids are braggarts. If I wanted to phrase it nicely, I would say neither of my kids have any issues with self-esteem. They both consider themselves the most wondrous things after sliced bread. And since I am their mother and hence responsible for making them presentable to the society, I tell them ‘Don’t say you are awesome. Let the world say it!’ I haven’t had much success in imparting that wisdom to either of them.
So when Ryan comes home and brags about wining the pacer test at Physical Education class, or shooting a good soccer shot at recess or running laps or whatever related to physical activity, I absent-mindedly say, ‘Uh huh, uh huh! What did you learn in class today?’ The conversation kind of dies away right there 🙂 !
Yesterday, I paid attention. He came home elated.
‘Mom!!! Guess what??? I BEAT THE GIRLS AT TRUNK LIFT!! I beat the GIRLS!! Can you believe it?’
I looked up to see if the exclamation was in disdain, but it was not! He was thrilled and happy. He went on to explain:
‘You know how strong the girls are, right? Their cores are so strong because they are all about gymnastics. I beat them in the trunk lift!’
My smile spread to my entire face. It was his birthday, yet he gave ME a gift. The gift of his respect for physical prowess irrespective of gender. In today’s age when we still hear derogatory ‘runs like a girl’, ‘throws like a girl’, Ryan was thrilled to beat the girls. It was a major achievement because, you know, those girls are strong!! They are unbeatable!
I paid attention and congratulated him. I also congratulated myself, my husband but most importantly Ryan’s strong big sister who teaches him every day girls are smart, girls are athletic, girls are equal. To be able to beat a girl is an occasion to celebrate. I also congratulated the little girls who Ryan competed against. Grow up strong, girls. Show the world you are unbeatable! And if a boy beats you, he better rejoice and savor his win because you gave him the competition of his life and who knows how hard the next win is going to be.
As Sage greeted him with the usual doggy exuberance, Ryan bent down to give his nuzzling head a cuddle, he looked up from his dog, his eyes smiling:
‘Mom, I have the best life anyone could ever have!’
‘I am so happy you feel that way. Why do you say that, my love?’
‘Because I have a mother who loves me and focuses on my studies so that I learn. I have a father who loves me and helps me to be the best I can in sports. I have a sister who makes me strong by teaching me how to fight for myself. And I have a dog who teaches me to take care of him so when I have children I will know how to take care of them.’
The evening had been a dismal one for me, for various reasons.
Ryan, however, knew nothing of my turmoil and inner conflicts. And he will never know how his words magically transferred my sadness to one of hope and yes, joy. Words are powerful. They destroy but they can also restore faith – in life, in good, in innocence and in the unfettered joy of living.
Ryan tends to live his life in slow motion. He gets involved with everything that is going on around him and forgets his focus. He gets so wrapped up in the world in his head that I sometimes can not reach out to him. This frustrates me sometimes as chores need to get done, places need to be reached on time. When I cease for a moment to really look at the person that he is growing up to be, I see that he just carries with him a joy, and he chose that moment, unknowingly, to sprinkle his joy dust on me.
I see him say an encouraging word to his discouraged teammate. I see him saying an exuberant hello to a diffident little boy who did not want to come to swim practice and I witness the boy’s face light up with a smile at being greeted by a teammate. The little boy’s grateful mother tells me how relieved she was at Ryan’s loud, cheery hello as she walked in with her unhappy boy. I hear from his teacher that he is a ‘nice boy’, a ‘really, really good child’. And I know he is sprinkling joy dust as he goes along his path in life. He makes me happy and lightens up my soul along with his big sister.
May the splendor of his soul never dim, my wish for this gorgeous boy who turns ten today. Happy birthday, son. May you continue to love, continue to hope and continue to feel!
I will be the first to admit that I am not the most patient person. Every year, I make a silent resolution to be a little more patient than I was the year before. When I feel I am going to lose my temper, I try to reign myself in within me. I close my eyes, breathe deep and if possible, remove myself from the situation. But I fail sometimes. I give in to the angry, red surge that flows through my blood and my temper defeats me. I try again, and again. One day, I say to myself, I will win. I am doing better, I am told, than how I used to be.
Although I am an impatient person, I like to explain to my children the reasons why I ask them to do certain thing or forbid them from doing some others. I try my best to express my logic in meaningful language that will be age appropriate. My mother in law says she respects us, the modern parents, because her reason to her children was generally, ‘God made me your mother, now you listen to me. Do not ask questions!’
I allow questions. And I patiently reason with them, but only to a certain point. When I reach my breaking point, I let all the reasoning go out of the window. ‘Do it NOW!! Do it because I said so!’ Lately, Sahana has been saying, ‘because I said so is not a good enough reason, mom!’ I tell her that will have to suffice since my reasons only face rebuttals and more rebuttals from her. We have reached a satisfactory compromise. She tries to draw me in a debate for as long as she can. I try my tactics of being patient with her, and as I reach that dangerous breaking point, I use my ‘do it cos I said so’ arsenal. It works. The job gets done. We coexist (not always happily, but oh well)!
Yesterday, after dinner, I said to Sahana, ‘Please clean up the kitchen.’
‘But why me? I have a lot of homework!’
‘You will clean up the kitchen because I asked you to.’ My fifteen year old daughter’s response was this:
‘Precision of language, mama, precision of language! If you say you asked me to do something, you are actually empowering me by giving me a choice. If you ask, I could refuse. You must say, because you said so. In that case my choice is taken away. Since I am your child, I must do what you said I should do. And then I am bound to do it! So yes, precision of language!’
With that long lecture, she happily went to clean up the kitchen chuckling to herself. I also chuckled since we both read and discussed Lois Lowry’s The Giver which talks of ‘precision of language’ and we both decided we must practice it. I also chuckled because each age has its joys and challenges in different forms. Mothers of two and three year olds, if you think your toddlers are fun and frustrating, let me tell you, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Fifteen is kind of toddlerhood of adult age – willful, self centered, irrational yet adorable and sweet. If one takes the time one can get glimpses of the real human that is slowly emerging, always evolving, still malleable but slowly taking shape. I find the whole process fascinating, when I have the patience to see through the husk, that is.
Sage is not a teenage dog, mind you. He is a 35 years old (in human years) dashing gentleman, a convalescing one. He has recently had a surgery on the knee of his right hind leg because he tore it playing amazing soccer (not true, just making it up). But you already knew about that. I already wrote about the surgery, my tears, family’s love, Sage’s bravery and perseverance etc, etc. Now he needs to strengthen his leg muscles by walking on snow, swimming, walking on grass, going up and down the stairs. He needs to do all this but he has to take it slow. ‘Only SHORT leashed walks’ the vet tech warned me. And I am giving him only SHORT leashed walks. And Sage is acting teenagerish – willful, irrational and grumpy.
Every morning as I get ready to take him out, he runs back and forth in excitement, ‘Today is gonna be the day! Today this mean lady, who does not let me have any fun any more will take me for a loooong walk. Today I am going to smell fascinating smells, chase deer, eat or roll in fox poop. Today’s walk is going to be EPIC!’ His eyes say.
I fail him, of course. I walk him for no more than 10 minutes and bring him back. This morning we went in to our back fields but they were full of snow. He started lifting his leg up. So I, assuming his paws were getting cold, brought him out to the streets. He was very happy digging his nose into snow, smelling every mail box and fire hydrant, checking to see if any cats were lurking around or any deer poop that he could gobble up before the mean lady could stop him. But his joy, of course, was short lived. I walked till the end of the street and turned to come home. He looked at me first with disbelief and then stood his ground. The message was clear,
‘YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME, WOMAN!!!!!’
He followed me back but kept turning back, looking wistfully at the path we used to take for our long morning walks before he tore his cranial cruciate ligament. He took extra time sniffing mail boxes that he had already sniffed when we started the walk.
‘Take that! I will take my time and drag my feet and fight you every way without physically resisting you!’
‘Sage, quit it. You are acting like your sister. Very teen agerish! Who asked you to tear your CCL? I don’t want you limping again because of anything foolish like gamboling in the snow or going for long walks right now. Come on now, act your age. We will go up and down the stairs for exercise.’
I had a full blown, loud conversation with my dog as I walked him back. Neighbors, if you were watching, do not be alarmed, I have not lost my marbles yet, I was just having a conversation with Sage.
But if I have to deal with a teenage daughter, a teenagerish grumpy dog, a feather brained tween boy for long, I can not guarantee my sanity.
Ryan chatters about a lot of things. Constantly. I try my best to listen to most of them, and engage in educational discourses about them. Although sometimes I just say ‘uh huh’ ‘uh huh’ not really hearing a word. I hope there are at least some other mammas out there who won’t raise their eyebrows at that 🙂 !
It was Ku Klux Klan for a while. He finished reading They Called Themselves KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti and then a fiction by Sharon Draper – Stella by Starlight, a historical fiction about KKK. We had animated discussions about hate, segregation, human courage, standing up for human right. I loved every discussion. The latest obsession, however, is proving to be a bit dicey – Jack the Ripper. He started talking animatedly about this mysterious killer who killed only women and whose identity, till date, is a mystery. What else can ignite a child’s imagination than unsolved mystery, murder, gore? I have half heartedly answered questions and did not offer up Google like I usually do so he can conduct further research. I felt I needed to filter the research on this particular interest.
Tonight at dinner, while stabbing half heartedly at his spinach salad, Ryan told the family that he has discovered more information on Jack the Ripper.
Gulp. I waited. Sahana waited. Sean looked at us with questioning eyes – what is happening?
‘I found out that Jack the Ripper only killed roaming women in London. So for example, if you or Sahana decided to take a pleasant walk at night, you would get killed by Jack the Ripper. I think it was very wrong of a Jack the Ripper to kill but more so, kill women who just wanted to take a walk at night? That is very bad. And I am sorry to say, the ladies of London at that time were not very smart. If they knew there was a killer killing women if they walked at night why would they go out for walks after dinner anyway? Shouldn’t they have just stayed at home? At least they would have been alive!!’
I asked if I could write a blog on the information he gave the family about this nasty killer. He agreed I should. This concerns women’s rights. I guffawed, got up from my chair, went around and gave his rosy cheeks a big smooch. Sahana called out from the kitchen, ‘Give him a kiss from me too, Mom. Your son is adorable. You are adorable, Ryno!’ Sean ruffled his hair as he passed by him, chuckling.
After the day’s chore was done, as I was sitting down to write the blog, Sahana came to me excitedly, ‘I know why he said Jack the Ripper killed roaming women. He asked me who did the Jack the Ripper kill and I said ladies of the night. He, of course, asked me who they were. I got nervous because he did not know anything about prostitution so I said ladies who roamed the streets of London at night!’
She shed light on this particular Ryanism and we both giggled out of Ryan’s earshot. Oh Innocence, you are precious and so short-lived!
I collect these Ryanisms to share with friends and family. I collect them also for me, so when he is a man of the world, I will remember his innocence and childhood and perhaps share stories when we are all gathered,
‘Do you know when you were just a little boy, you said…?’
By the way, I think Jack the Ripper is almost on his way out, I feel him fading away. He is being usurped by…….none other than…….Hannibal Lecter!! Oh Joy!!
I was often asked in the early years of my marriage to a man of different ethnicity, how do I deal with the cultural difference. I scratched my head and pondered. Was there much of a difference? Sean and I were different culturally but the core values were (and still are) very similar. We both firmly believe in honesty, integrity, transparency, we are both stubborn, control freaks, we both love being parents. We have similar views on world peace, gun control, liberalism so on and so forth.
There were some cultural differences though. And the differences came to mind as I slit two green chilies and threw them in the egg curry I was making for supper a little while ago. When we were newly married, he called me a hot chick and I took extreme umbrage at the endearment. I lashed out at him for not respecting me as a woman. He was flabbergasted at my reaction to his effort at being romantic and quickly mollified me by saying, ‘Must be a cultural difference, I meant you are attractive!’ After asking around and being laughed at by our mutual friends I accepted the fact that he was genuinely trying to be cool and romantic.
He called my purse ‘pocket book’, I never figured out why.
“Why do you call this a pocket book? It is neither a book nor is it a pocket!” I exclaimed.
“Well that is what it is called. Not purse. Purses are small!” He countered.
Then we would get into a major argument over it till we decided to let it go by terming it as a cultural difference.
He laughed hard when I swatted at him and said, “Don’t give me that cock and bull story!”
“What is cock and bull?” He laughed.
“What!!!! Don’t tell me you don’t know what that means! You are a native English speaker! Hello!! Do I need to teach you English now? I laughed back at him.
“We call that bull shit!”
“Well, I am classier than that, I guess!” I came right back.
One time we fought over the meaning of ‘karma’ all morning. We both got dressed in a huff and ran over to Enoch Pratt library to look at dictionaries and encyclopedias. This happened at a historic time, pre Google. Can you believe time existed, life existed before smart phones and Google? There you go, I went ahead and dated myself.
And we joked constantly over British English and American English. It took me a while to drop the ‘u’,s in favor, color. But eventually I did. I conformed. I gave in. Although I am still an anglophile at heart.
After 20 years of knowing him we don’t think of cultural difference any more. Now the difference of opinion is in our choices of football teams and baseball teams. So why did I think of the cultural difference as I evilly threw in the green chilies? Because Sean, despite his fondness for Indian food, can not tolerate the smell and spice of green chilies. And I can not ever become American enough to forego my love for it. I put green chilies in dal, vegetable, paneer either as a garnish or I make a puree of it by processing it in the food processor. I assure you, I go easy on the number of chilies I put, but if Sean happens to chew on one, he yelps and hiccups. I feel slightly guilty and decide not to add them next time. But when I see the golden daal simmering beautifully in the pot, the Bangali in me reaches for a lovely, lush green chili (errr…maybe more). It looks so beautiful and familiar, it smells so fragrant and yes, familiar. How can I resist it? Similar with achaar (Indian pickle). I have indoctrinated my two children into loving achaar – lime pickle. Their meal is not complete without it. While Sean can not stand the smell of it.
“You are not a true Indian!” I say to him. “I have failed to Indianize you!!”
“Uff, I don’t know how you can stand that stuff!” He replies.
And then, when he discovers a green chili in his daal, he says to the kids, “Your mom is trying to trick me again. She is trying to kill me! Help!”
You will think of me as very mean, but I will go ahead and confess that I laugh hysterically (although soundlessly) after he bites into a green chili by mistake. What? It has some vitamin or other. It is good for him. As they say in India, you don’t really grow up unless you learn to eat green chillies. I am just helping my husband grow – culturally.
My dog is an awesome football player and perhaps soccer player too. When we all sleep at night he sneaks out of the house and performs crazy feats with Ryan’s football and his soccer ball. You should see his skills, the FIFA and the NFL should video tape him to show the pros. What? You don’t believe a word I say? You should not. I am making it all up.
Sage tore his cranial cruciate ligament. For the uninitiated in vet talk, that is your ACL which athletes tear playing contact sports. After Sage started limping and we started conjecturing the various reasons for the limp, I read up on several pet sites about CCL – the procedure, the recuperation, the rehabilitation of the injured foot and hoped and prayed that his limp was temporary. Perhaps lyme disease? Perhaps a bruise in the pad? Perhaps something that will simply go away?
Well it did not. The limp started getting worse and I had no choice but to contact a surgeon. A check up confirmed ‘Yup, he has torn his cranial cruciate ligament in his right hind leg!’ The dreaded surgery was inevitable. The surgery itself is not that big of a deal however the recuperation is. The dog, after the surgery, is supposed to be in crate rest for at least two weeks with only bathroom breaks. Movement has to be severely restricted so as not to cause more injury to the afflicted leg and to let it heal. The idea of crating Sage made me very distressed because he had hated the crate as a puppy and so we, being the indulgent parents, never put him in it. Crate rest after surgery would be miserable for him AND for us. Sean and I took our nervous boy to see the surgeon, she evaluated him, set up a surgery date and then I broached the dreaded question. Does he need to be crated to recuperate? The doctor became my favorite person as she shook her head. She did not see the need to crate an animal who has never been crated. They are already traumatized and in pain, there is no reason to add to their trauma. “Just restrict his movements”, she said. The surgery was done. We knew Sage would be in bad shape but when Sean brought him home, I started crying. He was groggy, his leg was all stitched up and as he walked blood dripped on the floor. He had the hated (by him) cone of shame so he did not bite his stitches.
The night, as one can imagine, was miserable for him and for me. He slept on the floor at the foot of our bed and cried all night. I cried with him, stroking him and cooing at him. I decided to sleep on the couch letting my hand rest lightly on his body as he tried to get comfortable. I had done the same thing on the first night that he spent in our house as a little fuzz ball, far away from his mommy and siblings. I had kept my fingers on him so he could rest knowing somebody was right next to him. He cried when I moved my fingers. He slept almost the whole of the next day, exhausted and groggy with pain medication but cried again at night.
Slowly, as days went by, he seemed to emerge from this fog of pain and haze. His eyes cleared, he slept less, he started showing interest in his surroundings, he ate, he went to the bathroom. He had to be leash walked slowly for bathroom breaks and then brought back right away to lie down and rest his leg. His cone came off only when he ate or drank. It was not easy. One day, as I upended his water bowl on our hard wood floor trying to support his leg, untangle his leash and put his cone on at the same time, I cried out in frustration:
“It is only January 8th!!!!!! The stitches don’t come out till January 21st! How am I going to do this????”
My stoic 9 year old consoled me, without missing a beat:
“At least it is not January 1st!”
True. Why can’t I look at things like he does? Why is my glass always half empty and his always half full?
Sage slowly healed. But I watched with love and admiration how the whole family rallied around him and helped him in his healing. The children brought their homework next to his blanket and finished next to him. Sahana read her book with one hand on Sage’s back, Ryan watched his videos and shared the screen with him so Sage could be entertained. Sean lay down with him, after work and gave him innumerable belly rubs. I was the nurse, of course – feeding, watering, comforting, medicating, putting the cone on, taking the cone off. Sage was surrounded by a circle of love. We planned out our family schedule for 2 weeks so one of us was always home to keep him company and see to his needs. Our friends, outside my family, who love our boy sent their best wishes for a speedy recovery. All the wishes contributed to the stitches drying, pain lessening. It had to. And Sage? He taught us acceptance of something that is out of our control by going through this ordeal with his usual patience, kindness, perseverance and love. He just looked at us with his soft, beautiful eyes questioning the pain, his helpless state but never our love. He was always ready to love us with wags of his tail and a quick lick of our hands. When he did not doze his eyes followed us around although he couldn’t for a while. And although we were helpless to take his pain, we all let him know that we are standing by his side, cheering him on to the road of recovery.
After such a surgery, the recuperation is long and painful. But he seems to be doing relatively well. The stitches are gone. He is going for short, leashed walks. He still favors the leg but he is limping less. It has snowed a bit. So he is enjoying pushing his nose down the snowy grounds and coming up with little balls of snow on his reddish nose. His brother takes him out to the fields at the back and they break ice together. He tells me they sit together on a snow covered mound so Sage can rest and they can just look around to take in the quiet surroundings. I ask him to use caution and he tells me he knows he needs to be gentle with Sage since he is still healing. Ryan forgets sometimes and runs around the house. Sage wants to join him and I have to curb both of their enthusiasm. Sahana forgets to do her chores yet she never forgets to give Sage his pain medication. It seems that she has taken over the job of medicating him after his meals. And she is constantly by his side, a calming presence as opposed to her rambunctious little brother. Sage needs them both, one who excites him and the other who calms him down.
We are hopeful he won’t suffer anymore once he heals completely. We dream of taking him on our hikes and letting him do what he loves the most – run free with his human siblings while keeping an eye on his human parents as they bring up the rear. He keeps his pack together and his pack ensures he becomes whole again, with the help of rest, medicine and most importantly, love. And he trusts them and loves them back with all the trust and love that his doggy heart can hold.