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.

Blurry and fading


I have already written a blog about aging. Apart from some physical distress, like diminishing eyesight and creaking knee, I do not mind getting older. It is a natural process and I find it pointless fighting it. This blog is not about aging but about becoming invisible, fading – literally!

I had read in books that women of a certain age start becoming invisible to the world. I have reached that age where I have started fading. People at stores and restaurants, often, look through me rather than at me. Here is the reality though – I love being invisible. As an introvert, I have tried my best to be invisible all my life and on occasion, when I have been thrust into spotlight, I have been most uncomfortable and after, drained. So being invisible to the world due to my age is a boon not a curse. I guess I am more than happy with the world seeing past me because the few people who matter most ‘see’ me.

This aging phenomenon is most interesting. With age, my outward appearance is somewhat fading. The sharp lines of the jaw area have slackened, the skin is loosening in an unattractive manner, the wrinkles on my forehead and laugh lines around the mouth are gaining prominence. The blue black hair of youth has significant strands of grey in them. I particularly love the grey around my temple. I feel it adds a certain depth to my being although my aunt in Kolkata shrieked when she saw me on a video call recently.

“Eki? Tor chul peke gelo?”

(What’s this? Your hair turned gray?”

Even my eye brows are thinning and look sparse. I think the thinning eyebrows are primarily responsible for this faded out look. I do not think about this much. Then why am I writing a blog on my slow fading, you ask? I am writing the blog because I took a selfie which was somewhat blurred by natural light. The irony became clear. My blurry, faded selfie looked beautiful. I don’t think this slow invisibility of a brown, middle aged woman is unbeautiful at all. I daresay this faded phase is rather pretty!

I thought of ending the blog with my photo but upon rereading this post, I felt this one reeked of narcissism although I was really going for the irony. Is this narcissism though, or self love? Anyway, narcissism is a sin, right? Just to take the narcissism angle out of the equation I will reveal that I used an eyebrow liner to fill in my sparse eyebrows.

There. Fixed it. 🤣