Struggle


Do you remember your struggle at 21? Did you struggle to figure out where you are going and where will you end up? Or did you have a clear path ahead of you? I had no clear path. I took up jobs while finishing my education and flitted from one job to another for better pay because my family desperately needed money. None of those jobs required my education but in retrospect, all of those jobs prepared me for the job I do now. All of them honed my customer service skills and today I can say with certain amount of pride that my customer service skills are sharp. I got my Customer Service Specialist job at our public library due to those skills which I developed in the jobs that I took at random in my youth – desperate, directionless. Working at customer service at the library was my foothold, and once I was in, I interviewed for an Instructor and Research position which I was lucky enough to get. Now I use my skills and knowledge in what I do. I also use love. I have said before and I say it again, I love working at a library. My path, in terms of career, became clear later in life, after marriage, after motherhood. That is the story of my life thus far.

I now can look at the young adult in my house, somewhat in a similar position as I was at 21. She landed in this position because of the pandemic that disrupted the plans she had for herself. Being a planner, she had created charts and spreadsheets for the route her life was going to take, the classes she was going to take, her junior year abroad, senior year at campus, perhaps a job in the area or at the university as she looked for grad school. And then pandemic hit which cut short her year in Spain, brought her back home, her senior year was spent taking virtual classes in her tiny room, working a few hours virtually for her campus job. And just like that the path ahead of her became murky. What job was there for her after her degree? What is the path ahead? Where will life take her? Insecurities, uncertainties, ‘am I good enough’ – questions, concerns bog her down.

I look on helplessly at her despair yet I know in my heart and from the place I am in life, her path will clear. This internal struggle and feeling of helplessness will be a distant memory. The uncertainties and her ability to cope with them will infuse her with strength and when she looks back she will see these were essential to her personal growth. Life is hard as a young adult, the lost year of pandemic has thrown extra obstacles in their path with hiring freezes, job cuts. Graduates of 2020 and 2021 have been harshly tested and most of them will come out stronger.

Right now, I stay beside her as she flails and try to project my conviction that this struggle is necessary and temporary. Her path will emerge. She will chart her own course in life because she has what it takes to move forward. Conviction, strength, intellect. She is a mighty girl.

Book Evangelist


In this blog I will write about my two annoying habits. I am living the age old adage, ‘old habits die hard’ but I am making an effort to change – at least one of them. I will start with the one I am unwilling to change.

The first habit (or perk) is my obsession for checking out books from the library. For my work, I subscribe to different publication houses and I also do a fair amount of handling books – shelving, pulling for requests, scanning. Yes, you guessed it, I work at a library. As I shelve a cart, at least 3 or 4 books from that cart end up coming home with me. Do I have time to read all of them? Nope! But the possibility of perhaps having the time to read them is wonderful. Then after 3 weeks when I cannot fit any more books on my book shelf designated to library books or my bedside table, or the coffee table in the living room, I put some unread books in my work bag, go to work and sadly check them in. I have analyzed this habit and I have decided it is an addiction. An addiction for which I will seek no help. I will live in that wondrous possibility of being able to read all those books that I bring home – one day.

The second annoying habit is showing my disappointment on my face when someone does not share the same enthusiasm for a book that took my breath away. I do quite a bit of reader’s advisory for work and also outside of work. I give completely unsolicited book recommendations to folks who have not even asked for suggestions. If I have read one of THOSE books (you know what I am talking about, the books that you cannot stop thinking about), I make Facebook posts about them. Talking about books and sharing book suggestions is my way of connecting with fellow humans. If you don’t read, I am sorry, are you even worth connecting with? Just joking!!

When I was young and naïve, this is how my reader’s advisory played out. I would swoop down on an unsuspecting victim, start talking about the amazing book that I just finished, gush, gush, gush. I would talk up the book so much, the victim would often times read the book just to shut me up. The next time we met, I would ignore the victim’s shifty eyes, not question why s/he was not making eye contact with me but delve right in, “So what did you think?” I would also have a wide smile and expectant eyes. Most folks would simply say it was good (many would have loved it as much as I did) but of course some did not love the book at all. And they would say to me. “It was okay. I did not love it!” Before I became conscious of my annoying habit, I know I showed my feelings on my face. The judgement on my face was evident. You did not love the book I adored? That is it! I am judging you.

I spoke sternly to myself about this as part of my personal growth. Not everyone likes the genres I enjoy, not everyone relates to the story/facts the same way I do, not everyone interprets/perceives the events in the book like I do. And that is completely fine. I loved the book. That should be enough. I do not need to be a book evangelist.

So I want to apologize to all those folks who have been subjected to my judgement because you did not share the same enthusiasm as I did about a certain book. I still love you. We are still friends.

Here are a few (very few) titles that took my breath away. I am not evangelizing mind you, I am simply giving suggestions, and yes, unsolicitated.

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

Once Upon a River by Dianne Setterfield

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

I will stop here…… for today.

Help thy neighbor


We were standing at the check out line when I saw Sean’s subtle body movement in front of me and I knew he is getting ready to help someone. I wrote in one of my blogs that Sean is a giver. His love pours over not only his family but all around him – including perfect strangers. Ahead of us in the check out line was a very elderly woman with a full cart of groceries. Among the groceries were two big bags of bird feed. As the woman slowly put her items up on the counter for the clerk to check out, I could see Sean eyeing the bags of bird feed and I detected the familiar twitch in his body. That is when I knew he is going to leap – to help. And I opened my mouth to stop him. Yes, I tried to stop my husband from helping a frail, elderly woman from lifting heavy bags of bird feed on the check out counter. You read that right. Why? Because we are living through a pandemic. I do not know how people would react if you randomly touch their stuff at this time. But before I could pull at his sleeve, he lifted the bags on to the counter for her. I shook my head. The woman and the check out clerk thanked him and the woman asked if he could accompany her to unload her car at her house – in jest.

I heaved a sigh of relief that no one got upset at Sean touching someone’s grocery. It took a long time for the woman to finish since her hands shook as she slowly wrote her check to pay. The employee helping her was kind and wonderful. Although there was a long line forming behind us, nobody showed impatience. My husband struck again. He zipped around the woman, went to the end of the check out counter and hauled the 2 heavy bags of bird feed onto the woman’s cart. I was wildly gesticulating at this point to stop touching other people’s stuff. The woman thanked him profusely and he offered to take the cart to her car and put the bags in it. She said she could do it and appreciated his offer and help.

When he came back to me I said I truly appreciate how he helps everyone but can he not touch other people’s stuff randomly please since we are in a pandemic? He smiled and said he supposedly had asked the woman’s permission before touching her groceries. I had missed that conversation.

I have known Sean for 26 years now and I have seen him going out of his way to help strangers who cross his path. The help in small scale could be getting luggage down from overhead locker for someone, entertaining babies so harried parents could get some reprieve on a long plane ride, giving up his seat to others in need including coveted aisle seat in airplanes (who does that?) carrying groceries, and in bigger scale – staying with a young mother with an infant in Colombo airport when militants tried to bomb the airport, lying on the ground with the baby between them as bullets passed over them and then accompanying her home safely, holding up a half upturned car (along with a few others) with the driver in it till rescue came. There are zillion instances, big and small, of how Sean helps. And I am in awe of how much he gives. Truly. However, it has fallen upon me to somewhat keep him under control during pandemic. His first instinct is to pick up a fallen glove on the road and shout after the person who he thinks has dropped the glove. I am the one who swoops down to stop him from touching the glove, or litter, which he picks up regularly to throw in a trash can. “DON’T touch!!! Pandemic!” I have been shouting regularly these days.

This is an ode to my husband. A truly good man. And although there are times when he drives me up the wall, I consider myself blessed to spend my life with him. I am a better person because of him. The world is a better place because he is in it. And today is his birthday.

Woman’s day! What does that mean to you?


Seems appropriate to repost this on this day.

whatmamathinks

I was invited by a friend, director of an AIDS hospice, to speak to a room full of women on Women’s day, some years back. I wasn’t the intended speaker, Sean was. I was just a tag along. After Sean spoke, the director of the hospice, our friend, came towards me with a big smile on her face. “Say something. As a woman, to all these women!” she said. With cold clammy hands and sweat dripping down my shirt, I walked towards the lectern, my mind racing. I was the undeserving cynosure of at least 50 pair of eyes. By accident of birth, I was on the other side of the lectern. My family’s expectations from me were degree, job, good marriage, a happy life, in that order. They worked hard to get that for me. I didn’t have to struggle to achieve anything. The women sitting in front with…

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I failed as an Indian parent.


I knew right away that I failed as an Indian parent when my 16 year old son sent us a video of Greatest Recorded Speeches in American History. Along with the link was a short message “cool stuff”. Instead of math and science, both my kids ended up loving liberal arts. My oldest is a Shakespeare nerd, a poet and writer. She is one semester away from graduating with double major in English and Anthropology. My son loves history and is thinking of pursuing political science. While he is good with numbers and can solve scarily long algebra equations with relative ease he does not spend all his time solving word problems and doing science experiments. He listens to discussions and likes to discuss the pros and cons of issues. He despises the divide in political beliefs that polarizes this country and wants to find a common ground. As I looked at his message of the recorded speeches, there went my hopes of either of my kids getting a 40 dollar an hour internship in a tech company while finishing college and a fat salaried job right out of college. As an Indian parent, I am a total failure. I did not steer my children to exclusively math and science like a parent from my part of the world who told me she wished her child could drop world history so he could take another science course.

The title of this blog is written in jest of course and I am doing a gross generalization of all Indian parents when I say they push their children towards science. However, till date many parents from where I come from, believe their child should study science to get ahead in life, including my father. It was clear from early on that I was a lover of literature. Yet, when I passed my 10th, my dad insisted I take up science in my 11th grade. I believe he still dreamed that I will excel in math, physics, chemistry and biology, sit for Joint Entrance Exam and finally get into med school. In reality, although I enjoyed biology, I struggled in all 3 other science subjects. My grades, as expected, at my school leaving exam were dismal and more importantly, I was very unhappy. My self esteem plummeted and self confidence took a nose dive. At that point, I took a stand and declared I wanted to study English. A degree in English literature was not very promising those days but my parents let me pursue my choice, for which, I am immensely grateful. I was lucky enough to attend a university that was not simply an educational institution, it somehow molded my outlook and view points and helped me become the person that I am today. And while I am never going to be rich, I have a job as a public library worker, where I can use my education and be happy with what I do.

The truth is, when I see Ryan enjoying the greatest speeches of famous men and women, when I see Sahana quoting Shakespeare verbatim, when Ryan discusses difficult issues of life with reason and logic, when Sahana writes beautiful poetry my heart rejoices. They are the progeny of two parents who pursued liberal arts. Instead of building robots in their childhood or conducting fun science experiments or doing mental math, we read to them, talked about Sean’s work about helping vulnerable communities become self reliant through out the world. We did not give them a boost towards science in their early childhood. In retrospect, science may have even taken a back seat because their primary care giver, me, did not enjoy science. That is on us. We should have made more of an effort to encourage them to explore science.

However, as a lover of liberal arts, I am thrilled at their curiosity to learn more about literature, philosophy, history, political science. I may be biased but I firmly believe we need a section of lovers of liberal arts to hold up half of the sky so our compatriots, the science lovers can hold up theirs. And by complementing each other we strive towards completion. It’s just that the other half will do the balancing act with much more bank balance than we will but hey, money can’t buy happiness, right?😜

The witching hour


Last night I found myself ugly crying because Efrèn’s mom got deported. Efrèn is in middle school, his twin siblings are in kindergarten. His apà works constantly to make ends meet. His amà holds the family together with her love, her food and her superwoman abilities of multi tasking. But neither amà nor apà had papers to be here in United States, so ICE raided the place she went for a job interview and deported her to Tijuana, Mexico. I cried thinking of all those children whose parents went to work and never came home. No matter which side of the immigration debate you are on, this separation of families is inhuman and needs to stop immediately.

I was reading a young adult fiction Efrèn Divided by Ernesto Cisneros late into the night. Despite my intense feelings about the book, this blog is not a review of the book or a debate about our immigration policies. This blog is about being one with the book I am reading in the middle of the night when everybody is fast asleep, the night is eerily quiet, all the lights are out except for my bedside lamp. At that time, I feel truly transported into the life of the characters I read about. At that time, I feel the strength of written words most strongly in my heart as it transforms me into a fly on a wall observing and living vicariously someone else’s life. There is a satisfying release in that feeling.

I tried reading Efrèn Divided during evening after work. But there were distractions of my family – talking, fixing dinner, cleaning kitchen, Ryan thumping around the house gathering towel, swim suit, provisions for his swim meet next day. Efrèn’s life had only part of my attention. I was completely invested in his life and the fate of his family once my life was suspended for the night.

I knew it was getting late but I also knew next morning will bring my life to the forefront and the various lives I live through the characters of books that I read will be pushed to the back. So I turned the pages till the last page was read, till I found out what happened to Efrèn’s mom, till I climbed out of Efrèn’s life and sighed at our parting.

Tomorrow night I will climb into another world with Megha Majumdar and go on a journey within the pages of her debut novel A Burning. Night after night, my journey will continue as long as I live.

‘I read so I can live more than one life in more than one place.’ Anne Tyler

Jealousy strikes


The baser instict is bubbling up within me. The green eyed monster is raising its ugly head in the inner recesses of my heart. I can feel its presence every time a relatively young, healthy person posts a photo of himself/herself getting a Covid vaccination shot. The good in me is preaching patience, perseverence, waiting for my turn at getting vaccinated, the evil in me is whispering “jump the line, look s/he did, so why not you? Once you get your vaccination you can get on that plane and go see your parents. Do it.”

I am having a difficult time suppressing the jealousy. The lure of seeing my parents is so great yet I know I will not jump the line. The rule follower in me will continue to follow the rules. And I will continue to be jealous of all those who are getting the vaccine and planning to go see their loved ones or going back to work…..like educating our children. I know, I know they should be ahead in line but I will continue to be…..wistful. Now, that’s a better word than jealousy.

That is it. This blog is about vaccination envy. 🙄

Microaggressions


First off, I feel so naïve about this blog I wrote in 2014:

https://what-mama-thinks.com/2014/06/27/racism/

Some aspects of it are true though. I still can not think of a single incident where I was discriminated against for being a brown woman. I guess I am just lucky. I also have closeness to white privilege being married to a white man. As race talks unfolded in recent years, especially after the tragic murder of Mr. Floyd in 2019, the protests against systemic racism over the summer of 2019 and conversations about racism in my own work place and family, I had time to analyze my personal experiences as a person of color in United States. I have experienced microaggression several times over the years, I simply did not have a name for it. The conversation where microaggression was directed at me left me with an uncomfortable feeling, a sadness and yes, a little angry. I could not pin point what it was. I was almost relieved when there was a name for it. I could say in my head, “Ah, so that is what it was! Microaggression!” A name to that kind of behavior somehow equipped me to deal with it better. Most of the microaggression that I experienced were not intended to hurt me, they generated from ignorance perhaps. And when you take out the intentionality from the words, it becomes a learning moment for the one who uttered them and teaching moment for the one who was at the receiving end of it. Of course, learning can only happen when both parties are willing to listen and speak up respectively. Once I discovered the term, I started speaking up when I encountered microaggression and people I am around on a daily basis, listened. I also self analyzed and learned what not to say to someone that might come off as microaggression. Personally, it was both a teaching moment as well as a learning moment. In my early days in this country, however, I have had aggressive comments directed at me with intentionality to make me feel bad about where I come from and the backwardness of my being because I come from a developing world. I think of those comments now. I wonder why those comments were made. Do people say them to feel superior at the cost of others or truly want to hurt others? I wonder how one feels when their words have hurt other human beings? Is it kind of a ‘high’ like sugar high? Does a ‘low’ come after?

In the blog written in 2014, I wrote I do not see color. I don’t think that is true. I have been extremely conscious of a person’s color in these days. And that has been a progression in my perception of another human being. As a newbie to this country, with only an overview of the history of slavery and white dominance in the Western world, I saw people’s color of course, but I did not comprehend the deep connotations of what experience the person had and/or continues to have due to his/her skin color. Now I am aware. Books on race, conversations, films, webinars – all have helped in raising my awareness about racial inequality.

I have read quite a few books, both fiction and non fiction, on race, inequality, microaggression over the last several months. As I said before, they all helped in my growth but one book that truly made me aware of other people’s experience because of their ‘otherness’ is Yes, I am Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab by Huda Fahmy. I commend this short book to everyone who wants to know more about some experiences of the ‘other’ and examples of microaggression.

Sweet 16!


I woke up thinking about the passage of time. My youngest will be turning sixteen in 2 days. I read some blogs that I wrote in the month of February in years past around Ryan’s birthday and this one brought a smile to my face. I am so thankful I captured some fleeting moments and some pure innocence of my children’s childhood in this blog post. Send some blessings his way for his birthday. I am a big believer in positive energy.

https://what-mama-thinks.com/2012/02/24/you-are-having-a-boy/

Lower the bar


The trick is to keep expectations at a minimum from your husband and children. And maintain the bar low. I was smart, I did just that. I had the kids make their own lunches for school as soon as they started third grade. I kept a loose eye on what they packed. Since I bought the groceries for our house I knew the extent of junk food that was available to them. They got money once a week to buy food from cafeteria but Sahana disliked the cafeteria food so she ended up packing her own lunch all 5 days. The deal was, I would pack their lunches on the last day of school each year. That one day, when mom packed their lunch was a day of jubilation. They were excited, happy and most importantly, grateful.

Similarly, both of them started doing their own laundry since they were 11 years old. Once in a while, when they were very busy I did their laundry for them, for which, I got many words of gratitude.

I like to cook so I primarily cooked for the family yet I made sure my husband simply did not expect me to cook ALL THE TIME. Till date, he remembers to thank me for the meals I cook. During pandemic, I became more of a purist – using natural oil for moisturizer and hair care, squeezing oranges for fresh orange juice, making rotis and recently making homemade paneer from scratch. Sean was extremely grateful and told his family in video calls that his wife was making homemade paneer, his favorite. I got kudos from my in-laws for taking such good care of their son/brother.

I was feeling pretty special about my domesticity till last night when I met 2 other friends who happened to be Bengali. As many of you may be aware, when Bengalis meet two topics take precedence over others – food and politics. We were discussing food. I told them I have recently started making paneer at home and I use lemon to curdle the milk. Both of them nonchalantly mentioned they have always made paneer at home and they never buy it. Store bought paneer is never good and did I try vinegar to curdle milk instead of lemon juice? I was slightly crushed.

The question here is, did I mention to my family that homemade paneer is the norm and not the exception in Indian homes out there? Nope, nope, nope. Why would I? I want to see the glimmer of gratitude in Sean’s eyes at the cooking prowess of his queen wife who makes things from scratch just for him for the love that she carries in her heart for her husband.