My day in 2013.


Trust me, I feel lucky to be alive every day, but then there are days when I take a deep breath, look at the brilliant blue sky and the bright sunshine, I see the fresh green of the leaves and feel the gentle breeze on my face and say in my head, “Man, I am happy to be alive!” Mother’s Day was one such. After gloomy, rainy Friday and Saturday, when I kept my spirits up by constantly chanting, “Self, remember, all this rain is good for the plants. NOW REPEAT’ Sunday dawned bright and gorgeous. Nature smiled and hopefully so did most mothers and mother figures as they woke up to hand made cards, hugs and wishes of Happy Mother’s Day.

I was requested previous night and then threatened that I should stay in my room till at least 7.00 am. I tried to remind the children it was a Sunday and there was absolutely no need for anybody to get up that early. But 7:00 am it was, they had it planned and they were not flexible.

I heard the alarm ring at Sahana’s room at 6:30 am and groaned. I was awake and a captive in my bed. I heard the little brother being woken up. I heard the clash and clang in the kitchen. I flinched at the thought of the mess being made, even though I promised not to sweat the small things at least for a day. I tossed and turned and watched the minute hand drag. Finally, the door creaked open. The boy poked his head to see if I was asleep. He tiptoed over to say a quiet good morning and then seeing my eyes open climbed on to bed to snuggle.

I was invited to the kitchen table and saw this

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Sahana and Ryan stood next to it with brilliant smiles. I have to say my eyes glanced over at the kitchen, smile didn’t waver though. Seeing no imminent disaster, I inwardly sighed a sigh of relief. Cards were opened and read, kisses were exchanged, hugs were given. When I discovered my gift, the first realization dawned. The gifts were four packets of seeds. Two of them basil, which I love, one parsley and one sunflower. They explained the symbolism to me.

“We see you as the gardener, Mom, helping us grow. Nurturing us with your love. So we thought seeds would be a good gift. Also, it is spring, we should start planting!”

I smiled at the thoughtfulness of the gift. The morning was getting better and better. Breakfast was eaten. From my previous experiences of mother’s day breakfasts, I was ready for some crunchy egg shells in my fried eggs. I was also ready to take it in my stride and keep the expression unchanged and chew on bravely. The egg shells were absent. I, then, realized I have an almost fourteen year old in my house who is slowly becoming a competent chef. That was the second realization. Both of my children were growing up. The hand made cards are not mere scribbles but actual thoughts. The hand made gift didn’t quite carry the mark of an amateur any more.

But then things didn’t go as planned. The teenager who has to get up at the crack of dawn every day to catch the bus was irritable due to lack of sleep. Arguments began, and they were sent to their rooms. I went to the kitchen to clean up, only to discover that the dishwasher had been unloaded and the kitchen already cleaned up. The stony heart melted a bit and I went back to find them. Sahana was back in bed, fast asleep. Ryan was lying on the couch with a book. I called MY mother to tell her how much I love her and how much I miss her in my day to day life.

While Sahana slept most of the morning, Ryan and I took a long, leisurely walk with Sage. We held hands and tried solving all kinds of problems so the world would become a more wonderful place than it already is. We talked, also, about fantastic things like eating healthy and exercising. Ryan’s reason for doing so is somewhat different than mine. He wants a prospective wife to check him out at some point. I said eating healthy should be about keeping your health good. To that, he dismissively said, “Oh yeah! That too!”

We planted the seeds and tangled with Sage in the yard while Sahana slept on. I tried to figure out her logic of making me breakfast at 7:00 am and then sleeping the entire day. But who said teenagers were logical? She finally woke up around lunch time. I ended up making their favorite lunch, I ended up taking Sahana to the library to work on her project, I ended up taking Ryan to his baseball game, and then finally, I ended up making dinner for all.

In every way, the day was business as usual, except the morning celebration. But then again, it wasn’t. The unexpected hugs by both the kids made it different, the beautiful note that my husband sent me from a far away land made it different, the runner duo who we met on our walk wishing me ‘happy mother’s day’ as they ran by us made it different, the gorgeous sky, bright sunshine, birds chirping on the trees made it different. As I high fived Ryan on his brilliant catch and double play in his baseball game, he nodded shyly and said, “That was for you mom. Happy Mother’s Day!” That made it very different. I came home with a heart full of happy songs.

Thankful for….


“Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I became aware of this festival of giving thanks after I came to the United Sates of America. In India, we didn’t say thanks, our looks and smiles said it all. Even today, when I thank my parents for a kind act, they get embarrassed and somewhat offended, ‘You don’t thank your own, thanking is too formal!’ I respect that and say how much I love the particular dress/book/babysitting, I don’t utter the word thanks. I show my gratitude instead, with a beaming smile or an extra hug. I have, however, grown to love saying thanks. That, I think, is the beauty of belonging to two countries. I can constantly pick and choose all that I like from both the cultures and discard the ones that don’t make much sense to me.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday simply because it transcends the boundaries of structured religions and all Americans and residents of America come together this day to show their gratitude and break bread with friends and family. There is,indeed, something uniquely beautiful in offering thanks. Is there any other holiday that is just dedicated to giving thanks? Being grateful for all the bounty that we have received? There are no gifts to be bought, nothing to wrap and put under the tree, no tree to trim and decorate.

I started a project of writing down one fact each day for this entire month, for which I am thankful. Good friends, understandably, groaned at my sudden spurt of gratefulness, and I predictably, ignored their good-natured ribbing and marched right ahead with my sparkling positivism. I seriously believe it is important to count our blessings. Not only does that keep those dark, gloomy thoughts at bay which loom large on the horizon when the sun doesn’t shine upon me, but also makes me much more sensitive and compassionate towards others who don’t have much – both in materialistic and non materialistic sense.

But being the impatient person that I am, how could I contain myself to mere one thought a day? How about all those other ones that are constantly bubbling within me as I try to arrange them in sequence and spread them evenly throughout this month of Thanksgiving? I abandoned the project and decided to put my thoughts in a blog post instead. Most days, I try to be grateful for the life I lead, some days………well, I am only human.

The month started with an occasion which was something to be greatly thankful for, my mother’s birthday. How can I even begin to thank two individuals, my mother and father, who gave it their all to love, cherish and nurture their only child, to the best of their ability.

Oh, my list of blessings is endless. It is impossible to enumerate them all, so I will just name a few.

I am thankful for the community where I live that not merely tolerates diversity but accepts it, respects it, promotes it and celebrates it.

My little, cozy house with heat on this cold, cold day, which seems to shrink every year as the children grow up and spread out, and yet, this lack of space brings us closer. Not much space to hide in our remote corners.

I love to be the cynosure of two big brown eyes, and the silent companionship he provides.

The job that I got after fourteen years of staying at home. The children were ready and so was I.

The two little humans that are responsible for my gray hair as well as the deepening laugh lines on my face. Oh alright, go ahead, call them wrinkles, if you must!

The wonderful educators and coaches that have touched the lives of my children, instilling in them the enthusiasm to learn and play. So very grateful to those special people.

My mother-in-law, who treated me as one of her own, since the day I landed at her doorstep with her son, apprehensive and nervous. I willingly left my country and culture to follow my heart. But really, I never truly left. I simply broadened my horizon.

My brothers and sisters in law, who became the siblings that I never had and showered me with love.

So, so thankful for the feeling that I am surrounded by love and good will from friends here and all over the world. Grateful for the friends in my life who held my hand through difficult times and didn’t let go. You know who you are.

And the moments, those little moments when I live a thousand lives.

The moment when my 13-year-old daughter puts her arms around my neck and says, “I am so happy I can talk to you about anything and the relationship we share. Many of my friends don’t feel like they can talk to their mothers!”

The moments when I get a glimpse of her beautiful heart full of compassion through the facade of teenage nonchalance.

When a warm, cuddly, tousled haired, freshly woken up seven-year old boy scrambles up on my lap to be held and snuggled as he rubs the sleepies off his eyes, before he gets ready for school.

The moment when he sheds tears at the prospect of baby birds dying and shows immense faith in my ability to save them and make his world right. It is an overwhelmingly beautiful moment and scary at the same time.

The sight of the dog, the boy and the girl gamboling on green grass.

When Ryan reminds Sahana as she pins him down in a wrestling match, that he is not her punching bag, but that she should get one for Christmas instead, or yells out his new-found wisdom from school, “Sahana, be a buddy, not a bully!” between giggles.

The moments when one of the computer generated noises (Sahana calls them songs) comes on and I am pulled to dance along with them in our tiny living room.

I give a silent thanks every time Sean’s plane does a successful landing in whatever part of the world he goes to.

The remaining tenacious green leaves hanging on to the trees for dear life as the fall wind blows through them, trying to shake them off.

The slices of the dazzling blue sky through the filigree of bright orange, red and yellow leaves of the fall.

The moment when I look outside my kitchen window and get rewarded with the most spectacular sunset, right in my backyard.

For living in an area where I get to see the amazing change of seasons which reminds me of the cycle of life – birth, life, death and resurrection.

And for the man in my life, who doesn’t miss a beat, looks me in the eye and answers my question, “what are you thankful for?” with

“You! I am thankful for you!”

If any of you cynics out there tell me he said that to shut me up once and for all, I am not listening. Tralalalalalala! 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

Respect


Recently I watched a Hindi movie English Vinglish, by myself because my husband flat-out refused to sit in a movie theater for almost three hours. The much talked about English Vinglish, according to the rumor mill, was made by the director to apologize to her mother.

The story line doesn’t include the usual song and dance sequences that are the trademark of most Hindi films. The movie tells the story of a woman – a mother, wife and a daughter-in-law, who constantly puts the needs of her family ahead of her. Her morning cup of coffee cools as she gets up to make breakfast for her mother-in-law, her husband and cater to the various needs of her children. She is the symbol of the quintessential Indian woman, or at least how the society expects them to be- traditional, domesticated, loving…and a martyr. If there is frustration in her, it doesn’t show, she takes care of everyone with elan and also runs a small business of making and selling an Indian dessert – a laddoo.

She wears the traditional dress of India – a saree, and doesn’t speak English, the language of choice of the middle and the upper level of the social strata. Her teenage daughter is ashamed of her non-English speaking, traditional attire wearing mother and screams her annoyance at this social ‘lack’. She wants to keep her mother hidden from her friends and teachers in school. The husband and the daughter ridicule her English pronunciation as the camera zooms in on the woman’s uncomfortable, embarrassed and sad smile.

A lot happens but I will let you go to the theaters to watch the rest. The plot written above is just a teaser which I got paid to write to lure audience (kidding!)

This dynamic between the mother and the daughter paused me to think back and reflect on my relationship with my mother when I was going through the turbulent years which we call teenage. As a child, I remember a sense of wonder filled awe towards this beautiful, strong, opinionated woman, who was my mother. I was her faithful follower. I emulated her laughter, thought the way she did, observed her kindness towards others and tried to please her always. She drilled in me I had to be someone in life, she told me I was bright and smart and I could do absolutely anything I wanted. I worked hard and got good grades to see the brilliant smile that shone on her face as she looked through my report card. She didn’t have a strong command of the English language but she enrolled me in an expensive, English medium school, the fees of which, we hardly could afford. She foresaw the need for English in my future, where a solid knowledge of the language will give me a boost in life. She struggled financially to pay the fees, but both my parents grit their teeth and paved my way for a better future.

As I thought hard about my feelings, as a teenager, towards my mother, I remembered many emotions I felt towards her over the years. Embarrassment was not one of them. Why wasn’t I ashamed of the fact that she didn’t speak the language or didn’t wear western clothes. First, it was a different age. Speaking in English was definitely important but the disregard for vernaculars didn’t reach to the degree that I see today when I go back. Most of the women of her era wore traditional clothes so I didn’t have anyone to compare her to and be embarrassed about her. But more importantly, I believe she had this aura of self-confidence around her which earned my respect. I never felt embarrassed about her for her lack of another language because she introduced me to a treasure at a very early age – literature in my vernacular. She told me stories, read me books in Bengali when I had no letter recognition. I was taught to read and write in English before I learnt the Bengali alphabets. She cleverly introduced in me this lust for more and more Bengali literature by reading to me works of Sukumar Roy, Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore and numerous other magic weavers. And did they weave their magic on me! I followed my mother around with an open book while she gently reminded me I could read these all by myself if I learnt to read the language. Learn, I did and how! I was like a sponge, I soaked up the language with a determined focus – to read Abol tabol, Buro Angla, Raj Kahini, Shishu, Aryanyak, Pather Panchali, Adarsha Hindu hotel, Bindu r chele, Chander pahar….

She taught me how to think and scratch the surface. Before I read Dr. Seuss’ ‘Horton hears a who’, she taught me a person’s a person no matter how small. Her comment about lack of English was something I tell non-English speakers in this country. She said, ‘I can still speak enough English to get by, most English speakers can’t speak my language. Are they ashamed of it? No? Then why should I be?’ When I grew up and married an English speaker, who doesn’t understand a word of Bengali, he whole-heartedly agreed with her. When a lot of people including my extended family exclaimed how lucky I was to find a husband like Sean, my mother was the only one who smiled and said to Sean, ‘You know you are the lucky one, right?’ Sean said he knew.

I loved spending time with my non-English speaking, traditional saree clad mother even in my late teenage. I remember coming back home early to go see a movie with her and answering friends’ questions ‘Who goes to movies with their mothers?’ with ‘I do!’ When I started to think independently and started spreading my fledgling wings, roles reversed a bit. She started listening to my points of views and nodding in agreement sometimes. She has this amazing ability to learn from anybody so today she can keep up with various generations and speak and understand their language. I started bringing home new music, new ideas, different thoughts. We disagreed often and debated on issues but she realized I was coming to my own. I was her long time companion, and I was slowly letting go and she felt the pain

I am a mother of a teenager now. I often talk to her about the heritage of my land that I am, hopefully, passing on to her – respecting an individual for what they have and not insulting them for what they do not. I often emulate my mother while parenting my children. Sometimes I find myself saying the exact same thing my mother used to say to me. I break down laughing, ‘This is what your didiya used to tell me when I was your age!’ I tell them. This continuity sometimes diffuses a stressful situation when the children smile with me, picturing their mother as a little girl and at the receiving end.

As I narrated how the teenager demeaned her mother, my teenager asked me gravely, ‘Mom, do I ever make you feel that way?’

I asked her back, ‘What do you think will happen if you made me feel that way? Do you think I will take that kind of behavior from you?’

‘I will be grounded till kingdom come? But that is not an issue because I don’t feel embarrassed about you, anyway!’ she responded.

My mother was and still is my biggest fan. She was the champion of my cause, my number one supporter, the sail beneath my wings. She loved me unconditionally, stayed up all night to tend to my sicknesses, nourished my intellectual needs She did all that and she demanded respect in return. I was not allowed to get away by being disrespectful. She was not the conventional mother figure to stay at the background and be a martyr. She is a strong woman who made her presence felt in my life and I am ever so grateful for that.

A life time of love and respect (oh well, alright frustrations too at times:) ) can’t be captured in a blog unless I write reams and reams about it. Unfortunately, some emotions can not be expressed no matter how much one writes about them, those are special feelings meant to be just felt in one’s heart. So I will end my tribute to her here. It is her birthday today and I am physically thousands and thousands of miles away. But in my heart

‘I’m already there
Take a look around
I’m the sunshine in your hair
I’m the shadow on the ground.

I’m the whisper in the wind
I’m your imaginary friend
And I know, I’m in your prayers
Oh I’m already there’

(Lonestar)

The blog is my feeble attempt to show my love and respect that I have for you as my mother and as a strong, beautiful woman of the world. Thank you for helping me to be who I am and sorry for causing you sadness and frustration at some points in our life together. I now fully comprehend when you said to me, ‘Wait till you are a mother yourself!’ I know now.

Shubho Jonmodin, Ma! Happy birthday!

Spare the child, I really don’t care about the rod!


Corporal punishment and its effectiveness have been part of discussion for some time now, since the new fangled parenting books hit the markets. I read parenting books with a grain of salt because there can be no one formula that we can apply for every child. Each child is different, what works for one may not work for the other. I read some anyway because I can always find a new idea that I think may benefit my children and help me be a better parent.

There are some absolute truths in good parenting, though, the first being consistency. Setting out rules and expectations and following them and holding the children up to those expectations. Of course, the expectations should not be unreasonable so the child is set up for failure. While being consistent on the core values, certain flexibility often makes the journey more fun for both the parent and the child.

I do believe, however, corporal punishment is not effective means of parenting. It instills fear and in some cases, it breeds violence. Why do we punish children in the first place? The goal is for children to realize, from an early age that each of their actions has a consequence. Good choices yield positive results and bad choices bring on unpleasant reactions from the grown ups. The end result of spanking or time outs is the same – to make the child realize that they made a bad choice. The parents take the responsibility of ingraining the socially acceptable behaviors in a child when they start toddling around. Most of the parents teach their children to keep their hands to themselves since they cross the threshold of preschool. Children are naturally physical, keeping their hands to themselves is an acquired social skill that are taught by parents and teachers. If the parent uses their hands to inflict physical pain, what message are they conveying? I have seen a father swat at his child to stop him from hitting a peer. What did the child really learn? It’s ok for dad to hit, but it is not ok for me to do the same? Prime example of double standard right there. Children may display a desired behavior for the fear of getting physically hurt, but is that desired behavior ingrained in them? Will they behave well because that is the right thing to do?

Many equate lack of corporal punishment to lackadaisical parenting. Kids get spoilt if they are not dealt with a firm hand – literally. Spare the rod, spoil the child may just be the most quoted line from the bible. I have heard we are bringing up a generation of spoilt adults because we believe in the new fangled parenting of not spanking. That, I think, is far from the truth. If a child is occasionally spanked for some misgiving, yet the parents give in to all his demands at other times, he will eventually grow up to be selfish, spoilt and yes, to some extent, violent. When it is their turn to be parents, chances are, they will continue corporal punishment quoting ‘spare the rod, spoil the child.’ I do think a parent can be strict and effective without raising his/her voice as long as they stick to their guns. Some feel a spank here and there is far more effective than constant nagging. I agree nagging is useless. the children tune you out, it falls in deaf ears but kids get used to spanking too. They know it hurts for the moment but the moment passes. So it is not really a good alternative.

Most spank their children to teach a lesson, and not to really hurt them. Ideally, if the anger element can be kept out of spanking and it made clear to the child that this kind of punishment is being meted out to him for a particular bad behavior, it MAY yield result. But there are parents who need lessons in anger management. Corporal punishment is a slippery slope then, it can lead to a trip (or many) to emergency rooms. It has happened before and happens often, unfortunately. Does spanking in childhood traumatize the child for life? Most cases, it doesn’t. They grow up and live to tell the tale. I was spanked pretty regularly, now I laugh with my mother and give her a hard time about it. She says she made a mistake when she hit me. She has realized later in life she shouldn’t have inflicted pain and I should never, ever hit her grandchildren. Yes, we see some double standards here 🙂 !

Having said all that, I know it is easier said than done. I have smacked my children a few times in their lives. I have come close to spanking them many more times than I care to remember. I have seriously counted till ten to get my anger under control. I have yelled at them, nagged them, and done everything that parents do when they lose control. I am not holier than thou, by any means. But then hated myself later remembering their scared eyes. I lost control. Moreover, I lost control on little people who are completely dependant on me. I am their protector, I would never want them to ever feel I will inflict them physical pain. I am an assertive parent and I want them to recognize my authority over them for making serious decisions but not by beating them to submission. I apologized to them and promised I will never raise my hands again. I have kept my promise.

Are my kids going to be better humans than another who is spanked in childhood? Heck no! I hope they will be happy, successful individuals and so will be the child who was occasionally spanked as a form of punishment. The choice of corporal punishment is more about me as a parent. It is about what kind of parent I want to be. The idea of inflicting physical pain to teach a point does not appeal to me. That doesn’t mean they won’t hate me till they are thirty. And the same fate awaits my fellow parent who reaches for the rod instead of taking away a favorite toy for thee days for a particularly serious misgiving. I just won’t have to say later, ‘I shouldn’t have hit you when you were a child. That was a mistake. But don’t you EVER lay on a hand on my grandchildren!’ 🙂 ! At the end of the day, not choosing corporal punishment is really about who I am and what kind of parent I want to be.

Being a mom ain’t easy!


If that is not the understatement of the millennium, then I do not know what is! On top of that, it has been reiterated so many times that you have probably stopped reading at this point. Or you didn’t even click on it, thinking “There she goes with one of her original thoughts!” Wink, wink!

I am not talking about the bouts of unexplained crying, the dirty, messy diapers, the temper tantrums in the middle of a parking lot, the filching of candy bars that are within reach from the baby carriage as mommy paid for the grocery, and making mommy trudge all the way back to the store from the parking lot with a gooey, chocolaty baby to pay for the stolen Toblerone, the terrible two’s, three’s…sevens…twelves….! Not talking about explaining difficult phenomenons like God, death, angels, Santa Claus, tooth fairy, nail fairy. Yup, in our family, we TRIED to believe in nail fairy and extract money out of her when accidentally a nail fell off after the finger was caught in a door. Nail fairy didn’t pay a visit, though. Not talking about raising your eyebrows sky-high and pointing to your watch when your daughter talks on the phone for more than half an hour! None of that old stuff! Much has been said on that already.

I am talking about how I can’t be naughty when I want to be. Even when the kids aren’t around, I feel like a hypocrite if I do something that I tell them not to do. I can’t seem to turn off my over worked conscience! My mother had no such qualms. Her mantra to me was ‘Do as I say, don’t do what I do!’ Wish I had adopted that dictum instead of ‘Practice what you preach!’ Reading way too many parenting books will do that to you!

Please be under no false impression that I lead my life perfectly to set an example. Heck no! But I do stop myself from using words like ‘hate’, ‘stupid’, ‘shut up’ ‘dumb’ and others that are no-no in the house! I thank the telemarketer for calling “No, I am not interested in your scheme but thank you sooo much for calling!” instead of slamming the phone down because we are already late for some practice or other. I can’t curse if I want to (good thing I don’t want to curse often), ‘What an idiot’ being my limit! The other predicament is I can’t eat chocolates and other desserts in peace. My guilty conscience or mommy conscience stops me from pilfering and devouring a whole chocolate bar. If I manage to quieten my conscience and open the refrigerator with the intention of stealing, I encounter a bag of candies with this written on it: Mom, keep out! Quite unwillingly, I make a fair share of a chocolate bar. Couple of days ago, I felt extremely low energy. I had a lot of errands to run, grocery shopping being one of them. I decided to treat myself to a delectable chocolate mousse cake as a ‘pick me up’ for lunch. Decadent, I know. I came home feeling very naughty and indulgent. But then I couldn’t eat it. I simply couldn’t! I remembered two faces who absolutely loved dessert. I kept it in the corner of the kitchen eyeing it and ‘cursing’ myself for not buying more of those so I could have one.

Finally, I divided the cake to my two children for after school snack when they came home. Dessert is a very special treat in our house. The little faces lit up “Wowza! What got into mom today? How did we get so lucky? Dessert for snack? And we didn’t have to do a thing to earn it????”

As I said, being a mom ain’t easy, but then again, nobody said it would be! I teach them to behave well and they keep their eyes glued on me so I have to toe the line, most of the times. I guess we help each other ‘grow’!

Mamas around the world, lets raise a glass to the universal mommy hood. Here’s to TRYING our level best to raise some worthy citizens of the world and TRYING to be better humans ourselves, in the process.

There are, fortunately, books on parenting. Really helpful ones which tell us we are not doing this alone. There are others who are trying their very best. Here are some to look at:

Simplicity parenting : using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer, happier, and more secure kids

Minimalist parenting : enjoy modern family life more by doing less

 

Mom, please behave so daddy doesn’t divorce you!!!


Ryan’s first grade class seems to be a hotbed for romance lately! Wonder what it is? Spring? Anyway, we are getting loads of information at dinner table on crushes, love, couples and singles. And I plan to enlighten you on all those topics. So here goes.

Crushes are ‘when you are in love with somebody but that person doesn’t know about it.

Love is when both parties know that they love each other.

Mommy and daddy are a couple whereas Sahana and Ryan are still single, but when they grow up they will find someone and become couples.

And lately, we have been talking about divorces….a lot. One of Ryan’s friend’s parents got divorced recently, and the friend has to move out-of-state with one of the parents. This incident has hit my boy….. hard. He has started asking me, often, if his dad and I plan to divorce in the near future. If so, what will happen to him and Sahana!

I share a wonderful relationship with my spouse, we hardly have disagreements except when we are rooting for our football teams. At that point, all bets are off. Its war! But, other than that, I never disagree with him provided he always agrees with me:)! Fortunately, we seem to share a lot of similar ideas on different issues that are important to us and there is hardly a discord that doesn’t get solved with a little bit of ‘talking it out!’ Hence, I was baffled by Ryan’s insecurity. Interestingly enough, he always asks ME not to disagree with dad, so dad doesn’t leave us.

A couple of nights ago, I decided to take them for a treat at a frozen yogurt place. Sean was not too much in favor of the adventure since it was late and they had whined a bit. But I had promised them earlier, so I decided to take them anyway. Ryan was stressed the entire car ride. I could tell he wasn’t enjoying himself. Finally, he asked me, “Mom,
do you think Dad will divorce you now, that you took us out when he didn’t want you to?” If I wasn’t driving, I would have wrapped him in my arms and kissed his fears away.

So I did the next best thing, we talked about it. I told him sometimes grown ups don’t get along, they decide to go their separate ways, but they always love their children. That never goes away. And it is never the children’s fault that parents divorce. The grown ups sometimes feel they need to live separately to be happy. But his daddy and I get along just fine and we will not get divorced.

Just out of curiosity, I wanted to know why he always thought daddy will go away since sometimes moms make that decision too. He pondered upon it for a while and said “You are nice!” I knew he couldn’t express his feelings since Sean, for him, is definitely the preferred parent. Sahana summed it up for him. She said, “I think daddy travels a lot, we don’t get to see him much, but you are always with us, you do everything for us, so we can’t see you just leaving us and going away. But since daddy is away a lot, it is easier for us to think dad can leave!”

When we stopped at the yogurt place, Ryan got out of the car, still somber and thoughtful and said, “If you guys do get divorced, I will go with whoever will take me!” My heart just about broke. I got a glimpse into the mind of a child who may be in the middle of a divorce or a custody battle. What torment that young mind goes through – the insecurity, fear, guilt, incomprehension of the grown up world.

I try my best not to trivialize their fears or mortifications. Although they sometimes seem meaningless in our adult world, they are very real in their world! I try to address the fears and try to find an answer (operative word here being TRY)! We do the usual catching the nightmares in a box and emptying it outside, opening closet doors and checking under beds to make sure no errant monster is lurking. When all fails, we sing praises of the monsters and talk about how adorable they are. Who doesn’t love Elmo and Grover? So I dealt with this fear the usual way – talked, reassured! Unfortunately, the fear of monsters are slowly but steadily giving way to fears of more tangible things in life, like poverty, divorces, animal cruelty, abuse, and finally, the huge mystery of death. Ryan is slowly becoming cognizant of the fact that there is a lot of sadness juxtaposed with the happiness in this world. In life, there are a lot of uncertainties, lot of insecurities. He is looking around him and he is not seeing a bed of roses. This loss of innocence is inevitable, I know. I cannot save him from this, probably shouldn’t try to either. But what I can and will do is assure him that his dad and I will try our best to be anchors in his life, TRY our best to keep the real sadness at bay for him. We will do everything in our power to give him a rose garden, but still there will be those occasional thorns in his path. We will hold his hand and help him bypass those, on his way to the grown up world, till he himself is ready to let go of our fingers.

I will give you four pennies if you give me ten dollars.


I often ‘borrow’ money from my children. I am always out of change for lunch money or snack money. So I tell them ‘Just take it out of your money jar, I will pay you back!’ I keep a mental count on how much I owe them and pay them back with a little interest…..most of the times. Sahana has smartened up lately, she puts all her money in a bank account and keeps nothing at home. Young Ryan loves his money jar and he can be seen, often times, sitting in a corner, counting his pennies and nickels. I look at him and think ‘Shylock’ in my head!

Recently, I took three dollars from the above mentioned, precious money jar and asked Sean to pay him back. Since we vowed to take care of each other at our marriage, we fulfil our promise. I take care of his nourishment, his laundry, our children, he takes care of me in tricky situations, like when I have to repay my debt!

The following conversation is a result of my eavesdropping. And I am recording this because I want Ryan to read this write-up when he is doing his Major in Math at Harvard!

Before Ryan’s bedtime, Sean went to return the three dollars and decided to make it a teaching moment as well.

‘Ryan, how much is 10 minus 7?’

‘3! Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, all the way to Japaneze!’

‘Right, big guy! So I am giving you $10 and taking $7!’

A moment of silence, then a cry of desperation,

‘WHY ARE YOU TAKING $7 FROM MY MONEY JAR???’

‘But I am giving you $10 and taking $7! So you get back your $3! Remember you said 10 minus 7 is 3! So 7 plus 3 is 10! You had 7, now I am giving you 10 but taking away your 7! So you see, you have the $3 back that mommy took from you.’

At this point, I believe Sean proceeded to take his $7 back.

Wailing.

‘NO! NO! DON’T TAKE MY $7! I will give you four pennies if you give me that $10!’

More math. More teaching, a few moments of silence and then desperate pleading.

‘Take four pennies dad, for that $10! Not $7…..!’ Sniffles added at this point!

Sean said they will talk about it the next day and left it at that!

The next morning, when Ryan woke up for school, he rubbed his eyes, sat right up on the bed and said in a groggy, morning voice, ‘Can I have my $10 dollars, dad?’

We will talk about it tonight!’ I think Sean was scared to broach the subject…. understandably. He decided to break the ten at a store and give the boy 3 one dollar bills. He also thought of using poker chips or something of lesser value than $10 to teach this complex math fact!

Once, when Ryan was about four, I was trying to teach him subtraction. I made the mistake of saying, ‘Ry, if you have 5 candies and you give 3 candies to Sahana, how many candies will you have left?’ Without missing a beat, he said, ‘I don’t want to give ANY candies to Sahana!’ I debated which lesson to teach him at that moment! The lesson of sharing or subtraction! Decided to go with math, just had Sahana give her candies to Ryan. Things went smoothly from then on!

Tonight, before going to bed, I found Ryan standing quietly in front of Sean’s bedside table.

‘What are you doing here, buddy?’ I asked.

‘Trying to see where daddy put MY $10 dollars!’

Sean and I both looked at each other and then the letter proudly stuck on our refrigerator, saying, ‘Your child, Ryan Callahan has been invited to a first grade Math instructional seminar in school….’ It is an early form of Gifted and Talented program in Math!

Doing math?