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


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.

Do our children suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder?

‘Last Child in the Woods is the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. More than just raising an alarm, Louv offers practical solutions and simple ways to heal the broken bond—and many are right in our own backyard.’

Richard Louv talks about Nature Deficit disorder in his book “Last Child in the Woods. He writes about how the wired generation is slowly yet steadily severing the connection with nature as they remain glued to their smart phones and tv screens, resulting in rising obesity, attention deficiency disorder and depression.

Children stay indoors, hooked on to their smart phones, busy staying connected with the world, sharing their one liner responses and repartee. They are oblivious to the inconspicuous little violet flowers blooming amidst the green grass, or the bright yellow dandelion growing in their own backyard, or the red breasted cardinal trying to woo his plain brown mate, and the butterfly fluttering around the rhododendron bush. They don’t see these anymore as they are completely submerged in their virtual world. But the virtual world is just that, virtual! There is nothing new that I can say about the lessons of nature! It has all been said before! The great outdoors broaden our horizon, rejuvenates our souls, humbles us in its great expanse, reminds us we are mere specks in the grand scheme of things. Nature inspires us to create, we aspire to touch its beauty in canvas, in written words, through lenses. The changing season teaches us transience of time, the fleeting moments we have in this world and we should, indeed, seize the day. We really do not need to hike the Pacific Crest trail to be one with nature, we simply need to look up and look around.

I grew up in the congested city of Kolkata, far away from nature. Granted Kolkata was greener than what it is now, but it was still bereft of much natural beauty. Sure there were more trees, maybe some more green fields for children to play in; yes, a few more ponds that had not been devoured by man’s growing needs. Kolkata wasn’t sprawling out to the country side so when we took the train outside the perimeters of the city, we could still see the soothing green. So how did our generation, that grew up in big metropolises and far away from natural splendor escape some of the ill effects of Nature deficit disorder? I believe literature and human connection saved our generation – the generation of city dwellers. We still developed the sensitivity to appreciate the great outdoors because we read books and let our imaginations soar. We saw the ‘host of golden daffodils’ along with William Wordsworth and we too, with the poet, rejoiced at the memory, when ‘in vacant or in pensive mood.’ We went on journeys with poets and authors and learnt to look at nature through their eyes and through their words. Their words seeped into our hearts and made permanent tattoos of woods covered with snow and a lonely horseman pondering the miles to go before he sleeps, or the bright star that ‘not in lone splendor hung aloft the night’ (Keats)! We accompanied Apu and Durga of Pather Panchali (Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay) as they lost themselves in the magnificence of nature and discovered the joys of the unknown along with them. We, too, witnessed ‘Starry night’ along with Van Gogh. We named the nameless tree growing next to our window, “Amaltash” because we loved the name in Buddhadeb Guha’s books and imagined ourselves under its shade.

We heard stories of kings and princes and again our imaginations took flight. We fought along with them to bring peace, save the princess and slay the demons. But our children have routine, they have structure, they have practices. They have soccer and swimming, they have piano lessons and dance classes. Their evenings are structured to the very last minute till bedtime. So this summer, I decided to break free. My seven year old didn’t do any summer camps, my thirteen year old was left free to read and listen to music to her heart’s content.

They had time to lay on the grass and stare up at the sky.

And imbibe this serenity in their young minds!

Or soak in every bit of happiness that such a scene can evoke, right in their backyard.

We chased butterflies.

And saw one settle on a flower.

We caused ripples.

And we noticed the wild flowers and the bee.

Our children belong to this age of technology. They will be outcasts if they are not wired but then again, they will lose out so much more if they don’t cast off their wires often and open the door to the great outdoors. At the end of the summer, the children were ready to go back to school. They actually voiced their need for structure and routine in their lives. The seven year old, however,  knew a lot more about spider webs, butterflies and skimming rocks; the thirteen year old surprised me with quite a few songs that she wrote over the summer. And also this poem….

Beauty is nature
The pounding waves,
Scarring immortal rock
Leaves but a grain of sand.

Beauty is nature
Lulling me to sleep.
The darkness surrounding,
The whispering wind.

Beauty is nature
A leafy green tree
Wildlife vastly stretches
As man, a speck of dust, screams his significance.

‘You are such a mountain goat!’ My husband’s idea of romance!

Sean has been talking about taking the family hiking on the Old Rag mountains for a few months now, and I, of course, have been stalling. It’s not that I don’t like hiking, I love it, but on the plain surface, by a beautiful river or through the woods. Not any more labor intensive than that! But spring break came around and this guy went berserk on me. Things got so bad that he would dream of Old Rag and scream ‘Old Rag Mountain, here we come’ in his dreams. No, that didn’t happen, I am exaggerating a bit!

Anyway, he started talking more and more about it, he got the kids riled up, it was 3 against one. I gave in. The enthusiasm was slightly scary. I asked him if he planned to take me up and push me off a cliff to collect the insurance. He denied, he said he had no such plans. I was safe…for the moment. He played his trump card, ‘Think of all the pictures you will get from up top!’ I was sold.

I showed my utter indifference to the whole process by not making sandwiches or packing any snack. That was not just laziness, I was making a point. He didn’t mind or take heed, he made everything himself. He just dragged me off the bed at 4:00 am and we were off!

Once we arrived and saw the sun rising, I grudgingly admitted it was a good idea, after all. But I was still very concerned about my physical ability to make the climb – 3291 feet elevation, of which, one mile was pure boulder hopping.

I did just fine and enjoyed myself immensely. In his excitement, that his plan was successful and the wife was actually having a good time, Sean gushed, “Kids, who knew your mom was such a mountain goat, huh?” I was panting hard the first time so I let the comment slide. But after a particularly difficult phase of rock climbing, he said it again, “My mountain goat of a wife!” Then I let him have it! I told him, in no uncertain terms, that I didn’t think calling his wife a ‘mountain goat’ will earn him any brownie points. In fact, that is not romantic at all, he could call me nimble-footed, fit, athletic…something along that line. But mountain goat is the limit. Can’t take it! I will dream of myself sprouting four legs, two cute horns, a beard and jumping around mountains. Ughh! Shudder! He back tracked quickly and said things like, “You always under-estimate your ability. See, this was a piece of cake for you. You are in awesome shape!” etc etc. That mollified me a bit. We walked a total of 8 miles round trip. And labeled my two children as the toughest cookies ever.

Sunrise through the woods.
Moving on.
A view mid way.
Rolling hills.

Looks like we made it!

Through my kitchen window…..

Here is my loyal companion. I ignore her mostly, glance at her impatiently while planning my to-do list, look at her sometimes yet really don’t look. But she dresses up for me in her green splendor every summer, and waits patiently for me to peek out of my kitchen window to show off her regal form and soothing green. She turns bright red in fall, catches the last rays of the setting sun to shine resplendently. In winter, she spreads out her bare branches and reaches up to touch the gray, winter sky. And in spring, she gives me hope that the long, dark winter is behind us. She tells me stories of new life, new hope, a new beginning. My children hung their swing from one of her branches, they played many imaginary games under her strong trunk, in the dark, cool shade she created for them. They climbed on her and dangled their feet licking Popsicle. They built their tree house on her. She is a trusted friend, a confidante, a playmate.

For me, she is my constant in a busy life. I look out of my kitchen window, she is waiting for me….. patiently.