Neighborhood grandfather


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 a 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.

Just another day in paradise


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.

Ethnocentric tendencies


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?

True sense of maturity.


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.

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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.

Her boys and her one little girl.


Sahana has been cleaning little faces, feeding little humans, making their beds, sanding cribs, washing laundry this past month and a half. Apart from all the chores I mentioned she is also offering her services as a human jungle gym to 4 or 5 toddlers; her boys as she calls them.

At the beginning of the year, she decided to spend her summer volunteering for an orphanage in India. She was, of course, thinking of college applications. But she was also thinking of seeing a bit more of the world, outside the insular bubble that she lives in. And she wanted to know her grandparents a bit more – from a different perspective, not as an indulgent granddaughter visiting for a couple of weeks.

So she packed her bags, filled her suitcase with text books with the illusion that she will be studying in her spare time, boarded the plane and went to live with her grandparents. The first few Skype conversations were casual:

“How did it go?”

“Fine. I sanded cribs today. My arms are sore.” (Do imagine the casual teaanagerish monotone as you read the line).

“I sanded more cribs. The kids are cute.”

Gradually as the days went by, the Skype conversations became more animated.

“Mom, the kids are SO CUTE! I held hands of two kids and crossed the road to take them to school. I was sitting there being a jungle gym while 4 little boys climbed all over me!”

The monotone disappeared, replaced by squeaky enthusiasm.

“I truly appreciate washing machines now, I spent the morning doing laundry! But Mom, the kids are so cute. I kiss their fat cheeks every day!”

I got to hear of her four boys who she took care of, played with, fed them, taught them and hugged them. I heard about how naughty one was, how quiet the other and smart yet another. One day the naughty one bit the other little dude and Sahana had to discipline him. He cried then, and had to be consoled. She was first called Aunty and then she got ‘demoted’ (or promoted, perhaps) to didi (big sister) as slowly she became a playmate from a care giver. One kissed her on her cheeks and her forehead. Another said he loved her. She talked about a baby girl, abandoned at birth, who, when picked up, curled her little body around the care giver and gratefully sucked any shoulder she got. Sahana held her as much as she could, knowing full well, she may never see her again. She got reassurance from the sisters and caregivers, almost all the children got adopted.

Sahana and another volunteer from Spain discussed the relative good condition of the orphanage compared to what they had expected. The facility was clean, the children were well fed, regularly checked by doctors and even loved by the care givers.

Now there is just one week left for her to say goodbye to her boys and the baby girl. She realizes she will never forget them while they will most certainly not remember her. She said, “I did not realize before I came what a life changing experience really means. I thought I would just go and hang out with some kids. But after coming here, spending time with my boys, taking care of them every day, I know my life has changed in some ways. I will most likely not feel about this as intensely as I do now come January. I will get busy again with school work, SATs, college applications. However, I know for sure during my most busy time, I can reflect back on this month and a half to take me away from MY life at that particular moment and give me a perspective of the fact that I am part of a bigger world.”

I believe this is what I wanted her to get out of this endeavor. A perspective that she is part of a bigger world. The life she leads now is simply preparatory to launch her into a bigger system where she will learn, work, live, contribute, accept and hopefully, find fulfillment.

Mom, mom! I beat the girls!!


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.

Summary of the first decade.


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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!

Precision of Language


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.

Jack the Ripper and Ryanism.


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!!

Bruce ‘The Spruce’


Two battles ensued. Battle field was our local Home Depot. The family made a pleasure trip to choose the perfect Christmas tree. This is America, there were choices – too many of them. For a woman who has extreme difficulty making choices, it was a nightmare. But I put on my best smile and marched on between rows of rows of fragrant Christmas trees. Then I spotted THE one. A little living Christmas tree standing in a corner. That was the one. I said, ‘Guys, look, what a beautiful little tree!’ And just like that, battle lines were drawn. Kids vs parents because Sean allied with his wife.

‘Nooooo! That is tiny! We want a big one! We can’t have a small Christmas tree!’ Both the little people showed a united front.

We went back and forth. But I won the battle by manipulating the sentiments of two sensitive souls. I was sure of my win from the start. I just had to emphasize on the ‘live’ tree as opposed to a dead tree.

The counter attacks slowly started dying down. They became whispers and quite inconsequential:

‘But how about all the ornaments? How about all the lights we have?’

‘But think! We can plant this one in our backyard once Christmas is over. We can watch it grow!’ Sean made the winning remark.

Bam! Boo yah! Ding, ding, ding we have a winner.

Sean hauled it up to pay.

As we walked behind Sean, the second battle started about naming the baby tree. We are a little weird like that. We name everything. Names were thrown up like juggling balls. Reginald, Nero, Luke and others that I forget. Of course, what Sahana proposed was immediately vetoed by Ryan and vice versa.

This battle was taking a serious turn. Egos were getting hurt. The united front against the parents was cracking and I could hear the cracks. I needed to intervene while keeping the Christmas spirit alive.

‘I got it, I got it. His name is Bruce. He is Bruce ‘the Spruce!’
(Get it? Spruce fir? Yes. I am clever like that 🙂 )

A moment of contemplation, little grumbling and then gradual acceptance. Nobody lost face, nobody had to give in. Mother named it. And it was an acceptable name, fun even.

So Bruce ‘The Spruce’ came home. He is a little guy. He will not be the big, gaudy Christmas tree that we have brought home every year. He will not, perhaps, bear the burden of all of Ryan and Sahana’s handmade ornaments or the glaring, unbreakable decorations and twinkly lights that we put on the big trees every year. But he will live and grow and stay ever green. He is even liked by Sage, who gives it a sniff and looks at us quizzically.

‘Humans, why are you bringing nature inside our home?’ He is questioning us with sagely wisdom.

Most importantly, Bruce ‘The Spruce’ is making me smile as I pass by his corner. It’s that time of the year, right? Ryan even caught me baby talking to the tree.

‘Why are you baby talking to Bruce ‘The Spruce’ mom?’

‘I was just telling him he is pretty. That is all! Don’t mind me. I am just happy!’