When the sun hits just right it lightens up a newly minted 16 year old. And mama catches the moment.
I will share in this blog a poem written by my 21 year old daughter. We turned to our own unique ways to deal with this tumultuous period in our lives and Sahana turned back to writing. She shared a couple of poems with me as they capture moments of her childhood and I am the preserver of memories. I hope you like the poem:
Tree Top Castles
The fact of the matter was: the time was simpler.
And the sun faded everything into an even, sepia tone,
Not from film cameras, but a small, portable Nikon,
One I had begged for until it appeared, cherry red, on my birthday.
And the rest of that summer when we got to work,
I memorialized it in the best way I knew.
I took to bossing around the neighborhood kids like a pro,
Construction hat firmly in place where my mother pressed it on my forehead,
Foreman of the foremost building in the entire region,
Or at least in within the perimeter of the territory we had claimed as our own,
Biking around cul de sacs, no hands on handlebars, pedaling hard.
To the spot we chose for our lemonade stand.
We had put on a pasta dinner for our parents, raised money to fund the lemonade stand,
From the forty bucks they put in the hat, we gave half to charity, our good deed of the summer,
And spent the other twenty setting up a lemonade stand made of dreams.
Built of our own two hands and measured glasses, we got lucky
Cop cars rolling up and paying triple per cup,
One radioing his buddies and there were constant cups to pour.
We took the funds and bought nails and wood,
Deconstructing a moldy picnic table hadn’t been enough,
Not enough to touch the architectural wonder I had designed,
Three tiers, bedrooms almost, and a multilevel garage,
Designs drawn out with a careful hand between summer math packets and book reports,
Sketched in journals of elementary angst between pages of nascent poetry.
When the castle came together, months of the neighborhood kids clambering up trees,
Holding hammers and saws in unsafe ways,
Five year olds trying to keep up, dragging planks of wood from pile to pile,
We had constructed a fortress, and our last three dollars bought a cheap “KEEP OUT” sign,
Walking over with the whole crew to the hardware store that had come to know us.
We sat in the shade of the castle and poured out a jug of lemonade.
The memories hit me eleven years later when I saw the last plank fall out of place,
Rotted and unused, no girls spying on older baseball players or hide and seekers,
No pirate ships and scallywags roaming its decks in years.
I watched our treetop castle disintegrate in front of me, wisps of ash close at hand,
Thinking about how our neighborhood gang fell apart after eighth grade,
High school pressure too much to hold.
How we had been so close for so long,
Built something so beautiful,
And walked away without looking back.
I am not going to give you the recipe for Ryan’s perfect chocolate chip cheese cake because he simply looked up a recipe on the internet and followed it word by word. This blog is about Ryan in the kitchen and what all I heard – his monologues, exclamations and yes, a few expletives coming from there as he created his ‘perfect’ chocolate chip cheesecake. I was working from home that day so I tried to ignore his monologues, exclamations, hisses et all, I only yelled when I heard expletives. Ryan responded each time with, “oh sorry!”. Since I was otherwise occupied, I requested Sahana to write down his exclamations, proclamations and questions as he tried to find his way in the kitchen.
He started assembling his work of art by spreading Pam onto the cake pan with a fork! When Sahana laughingly came to me saying, “MOM!!! HAHAHA! RYAN IS SPREADING PAM ON THE CAKE PAN WITH A FORK INSTEAD OF SPRAYING!” He grumbled, “Oh, ok then! Sorry for being sanitary, guess next time I’ll just use dirt.”
Then we heard him yelling at the graham crackers to “just get IN there” as he tried to create his perfect graham cracker crust for his perfect cheesecake.
At one point, after asking for directions on how to work the food processor, he turned it on. I heard an unfamiliar noise coming from my beloved food processor in conjunction with Ryan’s yell, “NOTHING IS HAPPENING”. I jumped up from my chair and ran to rescue my machine from inexperienced and evil clutches of Ryan. He had turned on the food processor with no blade in it. 🤦🏽♀️
We educated him on how to insert a blade for the food processor to work. He inserted the necessary blade required to do the job, he turned on the machine and he….. JUMPED! “Man, that’s loud!” At this point, Sahana and I were laughing uncontrollably. I left him to his devices but Sahana reported that he FLINCHED every time he turned on the food processor.
After a few minutes of quiet humming, we heard, “WHERE’S THE HEAVY WHIPPING CREAM?”
“In the fridge.” Sahana, the fridge organizer replied..
He yelled back, “IT’S NOT WHERE IT ALWAYS IS!!
Sahana responded “It’s on the top shelf, you dummy!”
A few seconds later we heard:
“Jeez, who tightened this thing!!!” Followed by grunts and ah-oh’s.
All good things come to an end and so did our entertainment. The cheesecake went into the oven. It cooked beautifully and came out looking handsome.
The next step was to let it cool, wrap it with cling wrap and then refrigerate it. Ryan, however, had to leave for swim practice. So he gave clear instructions to his dad on the next steps and the last instruction was to “keep mom away from his perfect cheesecake.”
I had a bad baking day. My cookies came out looking ugly, I was dropping things, making a mess so I told the family I had bad energy that day. Ryan wanted none of that bad energy near his ‘perfect cheesecake.’
At the end of the day, delirious with happiness, Ryan clapped me on the shoulder which is his way of showing affection and said in his fog horn voice, “Mom, thank you!”
I thought he was thanking me for helping him in the kitchen, so I said, “You are welcome but what for?”
“For not spoiling my perfect cheesecake! For not going near it!”
Since yesterday, he has been strutting around cockily saying from time to time, “I really think I should take control of this kitchen from now on. Did you all see my perfect chocolate chip cheesecake?”
And here, friends, is perfection (according to our Ryan, of course). All I will say as I end the blog is this: the cheesecake tasted really good. 😃
There is a beautiful, majestic tree in my backyard. I love the tree so much that I have even written a sentimental blog about it.
You can read the blog here.
As a very irresponsible parent, I allowed my 10 year old daughter and 5 year old son to build a ‘tree house’ along with 5 other similarly aged neighborhood children on the branches of that tree. Why is that irresponsible you ask? Because there was no adult supervision there. None! I shudder to think all the accidents that could have happened in the process. But it didn’t and they are alive to tell the story. So there’s that.
The tree house was simply some planks that were lying around in my neighbor’s yard. The children dragged those planks to our back yard, gathered huge nails and hammers. They hammered those heavy planks on to the branches of the tree and created a platform kind of a structure. As I write about it, I envision broken thumbs, pierced skin, flattened skulls – but none of those happened. As they hammered way above the ground, I calmly washed dishes, cooked dinner not worried about their safety at all. My neighbor finished her chores in her house unafraid as well. What were we thinking? Looking back, I think it was summer, the children were little and we wanted them out of the house. And it makes me embarrassed to think I was so calm while they were embarking upon such dangerous activities.
The ‘tree house’ was finished. The unabashed pride on those little faces at their accomplishment was priceless. They announced to the world that they had built their tree house all by themselves without any help from grown ups. Many afternoons were spent up on that tree house. Many picnics were had, many games were played, many imaginary friends were invited. Sahana was obsessed with spy games where she was the main spy with an assistant. The little brother, at that age, was honored to be an assistant and took his role very seriously. I have this precious photo of them as they played on their tree house.
And yes, pictured above is their tree house. To them it was the best tree house that ever existed in the universe and who are we to dispute that?
As they got older, like many things in their childhood, the tree house was slowly forgotten. Sean looked up at the decaying planks and often talked about taking them down but never got to it. Recently, after a major storm, one of the limbs of our beautiful tree cracked and after hanging on an unused wire for a while it finally hit the ground one afternoon along with some rotted planks of the tree house (or tree platform). Sahana and I were having tea on the back deck when it happened.
“Mom, our tree house is falling down.” She exclaimed. “Did you see that? A tree fell on my childhood……literally!”
Since I am the archivist of her childhood, I will put this memory too in the treasure box. She can open it and peruse at her leisure. No tree shall fall on her childhood under my watch! 🙂
We inherited a small grill from a relative. Since we are not big meat eaters and hence, non grillers, the grill collected dust and spider web underneath our back deck. Ryan, one day, excitedly declared he wants to make spicy chicken wings on the grill. I did not pay much attention to him thinking this was a fleeting fancy and if I pay no attention, it will be forgotten. Well, I was wrong. He persevered and requested to be taken to the grocery store to pick up organic wings and accompanying sauces. He had seen this recipe in Tik Tok and could not wait to try.
“Heaven help us! Tik Tok recipe?” I thought, yet I wanted to encourage culinary aspirations thinking I may benefit if aspirations such as these continue like his sister’s has.
“Ask your sister to drive you to the supermarket.”
Sahana, came back from work and like an obliging big sister, turned around and drove him to the market to buy ‘organic’ chicken wings. That night, I heard a lot of noise in the kitchen and smelled some spicy smells as I read my book. Before going to bed, I went to inspect the kitchen and found everything cleaned up. Without investigating further, I went to bed.
After a busy day at work, I came home to delicious smell of grilling. I went to the back deck to see a smiling boy looking up at me with a tong in his hand, grilling chicken wings for the first time. The father, however, was looking down from the deck, with an indulgent yet exasperated expression.
I heard the story from the father of the grilling man. Since Ryan had never grilled before, he needed some advice from his dad. Sean told him to clean up the grill and then he said he would come down to help him fire it up. As Sean worked on the deck, he heard Ryan doing something underneath. He heard the hose going. Then he got the call, “Dad I am ready.”
He went down to see the grill completely hosed down along with the coal that was in the grill.
“Why did you hose down the grill?” he asked Ryan, exasperated.
“Why not? There were spiderwebs all over it. I was not going to touch spiderwebs!” Ryan replied indignantly. He is deathly scared of spiders.
“How do you intend to light a grill with soaking wet coal? Did it occur to you to empty the charcoal before cleaning the grill?” Sean asked.
“Oh!” was the response.
They had to throw away the wet charcoal, fill the grill with new charcoal and light the grill. When I came home the grill was going strong and the chicken wings were cooking beautifully. When I laughed and asked if he was sure he was ready for sophomore year, he said, “Absolutely. The first lesson a student is taught is to learn from their mistakes. Hey, I learned from my mistake.”
Can not argue with that. Today, he is making burgers and sausages on the grill. Hopefully, the charcoal will be dry if the lesson from mistake was learnt right. I will let you know.
I read somewhere that we, parents, are building cathedrals as we raise our children. No one remembers the cathedral builders when the building is complete, yet our imprint stays on for lifetime. That thought is lovely and overwhelming in equal measure.
When my tiny daughter was placed in my arms 21 years ago, I was overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising this small human. I needed to ensure that she stayed alive, she stayed healthy, she grew up kind, responsible, happy. Was I up to the task? I don’t know whether I was up to the task, all I knew was that an inexplicable love surged through my heart when I first saw her. Buoyed by this overwhelming love and tenderness, I resolved to give this child of mine all I had. The new born turned into a toddler, a delightful child and willful as well. A child who constantly pushed the envelop. A child who made sure I was one step ahead of the game because she questioned her boundaries – always. A child who fell in love with written words, like her mama, at a very early age. A child who always loved school and loves till this day. Then she became tween: a very creative, bossy tween. Oh, so bossy! And quirky. I remember volume knob on the radio in our car had to be turned to a multiple of 5. Any other number bothered her. Then came the teen years. Like any other teen, she had fits of rage from time to time and felt completely misunderstood. Her father and I watched in despair, unsure. However, the periods of emotional turmoil were often juxtaposed with sweet moments of affection, intelligent conversation, nuggets of random facts that she liked to subject her family to. And poetry! She wrote deep, thoughtful, beautiful poetry during those years which left me wondering about the depth of her perception and thought. The tumultuous teen years, which I lovingly refer to as ‘the lost years’ were mercifully brief. From those raging years emerged a young woman with a certain maturity and sense of responsibility with an analytical and thoughtful mind.
I held this little girl’s hand and waited for her school bus to take her to preschool, I read to her and then with her, I helped her with homework, packed her lunch, kissed her wounds, both physical and emotional, laughed with her, played with her, listened to her thoughts and one day, all of a sudden I realized that her thoughts were spreading wings. She was ushering in new ideas into my horizon instead of it being the other way around. She was reading more complex books on diverse topics and she was slowly opening my eyes to new ideas and possibilities. That is when I realized she has overgrown her mama. She has truly grown up. 21 is just a number.
At first I thought I would write this blog about parents building cathedrals as they raise their children and when they come of age, the building is done. But no, the building, if I use that analogy, is far from being done. My husband and I have built the structure perhaps, but the real building will be completed by the newly minted 21 year old herself. As a parent, my hope is, we have given our child the right materials – in the form of love, support, encouragement, opportunities, values, beliefs and morals to complete her cathedral the way she seems fit.
Here she is, world. Here she comes. Give her a chance so she can shine her light. Spread her empathy. Shower her love.
Happy 21st birthday, Sahana.
I consider reading as a means to freedom. Freedom of thought and freedom of expression. Reading takes you places that you did not think existed, reading introduces you to new ideas and lets your ideas soar. Reading sets you free. I was concerned my youngest child did not take to books as my oldest did. After many pushes and shoves towards books I finally realized that I can not shape him into any mold, instead, my job will be to expose him to new ideas via means that appeal to him and let him spread his wings on his own terms – discussion, research, news on television, non fiction books.
If you read my blogs you probably know, my young Ryan is a deep thinker. Since he was little his thoughts were different – he probed deeper. His teacher, in a recent meeting, reconfirmed our perception of him as one who thinks outside the box. Ryan seems to be an exception to my rule that reading sets one free. He has set himself free by observing, evaluating, thinking and reading books that appeal to him.
At dinner, the other night, we were discussing dreams. He was asked, “What are your dreams, Ry?”
“I don’t have dreams, I have goals.”
“Well, what is the difference?”
“You can dream but they don’t seem that solid. But you set your goals and you work towards achieving them. I set goals.”
Coming from an eleven year old, that sounded somewhat precocious. We asked him what his goals are then.
“My goal is to become a neighborhood grandfather.” He solemnly replied.
“Errr…what?!?! A neighborhood grandfather?!?!” His father and I exchanged bemused glances.
“Yeah, you know. I am going to be that grandfather in the neighborhood who is always there for someone who needs help, advice.”
“But you are just a child. Why are you jumping to old age and grandfather? What are you going to do in between?” It was hard not to laugh.
“No, no! There are many goals in between that. Being a neighborhood grandfather is the ultimate goal. Before that I will go to Stanford, swim in the Stanford swim team. I will open my own business and create lots of jobs. I will help a lot of poor people so they can have a good life. I will marry someone nice and have kids. And then I will become a neighborhood grandfather.” The fork rested on his plate as he got a dreamy look in his eyes. “Or maybe I will become a professional baseball player or an Olympic swimmer. I will be famous, I will earn a lot of money and I can help even more people that way.”
Dreams and goals got entangled at this point, but we smiled at our child as he dreamed on and set goals for himself. As I see my two kids grow up, I glance upon the innocence and beauty of childhood. I feel myself a mere observer and perhaps a chronicler of these beautiful times of their lives. I write them down judiciously so I can offer these moments up to them when they are all grown up. When asked about aspirations, a child mentions a profession – teacher, engineer, scientist…..
My child’s aspiration is to be a neighborhood grandfather. Personally, I think that is a superb goal. We need neighborhood grandfathers to bring back the human connection which we seem to be losing fast in our digital age. Grow up to be a neighborhood grandfather, child. Bring people closer. Bring them out to the porch again. Re establish the connection.
It was a regular Tuesday evening – get your homework done, did you get a snack, alright get in your swimsuit, if we don’t rush out of the door now we will be LATE! RYAN!!! These are the sentences heard in my house every Tuesday evening in my shrill, high pitch, annoying voice. This particular Tuesday was no exception. I am not sure what came over me but before we headed out I told Ryan jokingly, ‘Go give your sister a kiss!’ Even as I said it, I jangled the car keys in my hand and took steps towards the door knowing the gagging sound that would follow this command. I expected an emphatic “NOOOOO!” What I got was, “Ok, I will!” I was surprised. This display of affection is VERY, VERY…..I mean, truly rare.
Sahana, from her room indulgently cried out, “No need! I don’t need a kiss!” But I saw her brother go in her room anyway! And then…….
A BLOOD CURDLING SCREAM, “MAMA, HE RUBBED DIRTY SOCKS ON MY FACE! I AM GOING TO KILL HIM!”
The brother ran out giggling with the sister in hot pursuit! “I am going to kill you!!! He rubbed his dirty sock on my face! Uggggh! Gross!”
The culprit was caught, thrown on the couch, sat upon and tickled. There was squealing and laughter as well as a valiant effort on my part to separate them. Clock was ticking. We were late. As I watched them wrestle, I had an out of body experience, watching the scene from up above – two of them laughing, wrestling, squealing and me laughing as well as I shouted above the din to stop and get going ‘this very minute’!
The moment did not last long. I hauled the boy out of the house, into the car and sped towards the pool. However the little moment of mirth made a difference to the Tuesday routine. These little moments are the ones worth cherishing. So these little moments find their place in my blogs.
I see my 16 year old daughter go through life with head phones plugged in her ears. One in, one out to let half of the world reach her consciousness. The other half is immersed in music. The worst thing I can do to her is take away her head phones – life will lose it’s luster. Even if she is not connected to music, she has one earphone plugged in one ear. I have hung up my boxing gloves and given up the fight. With so many issues to lock heads about, I have to be conscious of what is most meaningful to me and her.
A few days ago as we were driving back from a successful swim meet, I heard her sing along to – Balam pichkari jo tune Mujhe maari…… A Hindi song from a popular Bollywood movie. I do not keep up with cinema at all, so of course I was oblivious to the movie or the song. However, hearing her sing a Hindi song at the top of her lungs made me smile and took me back thirty years. I distinctly remember bringing home the latest Bollywood songs to my mother and she disdainfully shake her head at my taste. The songs were not profound or meaningful or classy, they were simply foot tapping fun. My parents denigrated the music of our times, 80’s and 90’s and eulogized the music they grew up with. I personally loved the oldies as well as ‘our’ music. Despite the mock disdain, I would catch my mother humming a modern ditty or tapping her foot to it while a local pujo pandal played the music at an unacceptable decibel level, repeatedly.
When I asked my daughter about this particular song, she said, “You won’t like it mom! It is a Bollywood song.”
I did not show mock disdain for the modern song though, I wanted her to share her playlist of Hindi songs with me instead. Why would I not want some foot tapping fun, zesty music, and hip shaking rhythm? I have my golden melodies to fall back upon and I want these movers and shakers when I sweat on the tread-mill to keep me moving. We are that lucky generation where we have the joy of it all- the past, the present and the future too.
Lastly, I was happy to see the ethnocentric tendencies of my non Hindi speaking, biracial child. She sought out these songs on her own perhaps to cultivate part of her roots, her part-ethnicity, what she can call her own if she chooses to?
My 10 year old son’s thoughts always intrigued me since he was old enough to articulate them. I had a tougher time figuring him out than I did my daughter. His thoughts were different than what I expected. I had taken him to a story hour at our local library when he was about 4. The librarian read Mo Willem’s Don’t let the Pigeon drive the Bus. The pigeon made so many mistakes that it was obvious he should not be allowed to drive. The instructor, at the end of the book asked the children, ‘do you think pigeon should drive the bus?’ There was of course a resounding ‘NO,’ except one tiny voice (my child’s) saying ‘yes!’ The children’s instructor turned to me smiling, ‘Ryan seems to think pigeon should drive!’
I was worried. Does he have trouble in comprehension? Did he not quite understand the story? Was he not paying attention? I asked him as we drove home:
‘Why did you say the pigeon should drive, darling? He was making all those mistakes!’
My four year old’s answer humbled me, ‘Because everybody should get chances!’
I see him trying to justify the reason behind a bad action. What made the man or woman do what s/he did? We talk about the villains in books he reads, movies he watches and I listen to him digging deep to find a cause for the villainy. I think he believes in innate goodness and trying to find a reason for evil gives him some kind of peace. Maybe all children start off this way – believing in the wholesome goodness of all souls around them. And then life teaches them cynicism, skepticism, disbelieve, disrespect. He reads about Nazis and has a passionate dislike for Hitler. Yet he wonders if a lot of human lives would have been saved if Hitler had gained admission to the art school which refused him. What made Hitler do what he did? Why did Jack the Ripper kill the women? What was the reason? What did they themselves go through?
Finding a reason for a hurtful word or action against us can help mitigate our anger and diffuse the burning desire to seek revenge. A human who can attain that state can be truly happy. Most of us struggle to get there. Although in our lucid state we realize that is the ‘right’ course of action, in agitated state, however, reasoning and sometimes maturity evade us. Having said that, while hurting others can never be an option yet justifying their action to stay in a relationship that has gone completely putrid is also unacceptable and leads to extreme unhappiness. One needs to be mindful of the fine line. And here I give an example of Ryan yet again.
In second grade, he got pushed off the lunch bench by a little boy at the behest of another. Ryan hurt his head and had to go to the nurse. I was understandably livid after hearing the incident. My son pacified me by saying it was not really ____’s fault, he did not know his strength, he misunderstood _________’s direction, _____ did not ask ________ to push me. Either he did not want me involved in the situation or he was making excuses for two boys’ bad behavior. That is not maturity or wisdom, that is giving in to bullying. I had to have several conversation with him about understanding the fine line between the two.
Understanding the reason behind a man’s action is a true sign of maturity. Not hurting back is a true sense of maturity but not standing up against a hurtful action or speaking out against it is not. It is easy to blur the line but as parents we need to be ever vigilant that we keep this fine line clear for our children.