A quick post before I start work. I am not a neat freak although I like a clean house. My only pet peeve is a messy bed. I can not stand it. I always make my bed. Since my kids were little, I made them make their beds. They cheated, of course. Often, they just pulled the top cover on their unmade bed to give an illusion to mom that they had made their beds. And when I found out, I yelled at them. I also took 2 dollars from them (or was it 5?) as payment for me to make their beds if they had not done it.
Fast forward Sahana’s college years. Her bed, in her dorm room, was mostly neatly made. Even now when she is home she makes her bed. Mr. Ryan is a different story. His bed is NEVER made. I grit my teeth as I go by his room. Clothes everywhere, unmade bed, teenage boy funk.
Everyday I resolve to scold him and I never do. His morning, thrice a week, starts at 4:15 am with swim practice, then he goes to school, after school he directly goes to water polo practice and finally comes home to finish homework and study for tests. I just want to mention here that this rigorous schedule is self inflicted. His parents have implored to cut down on activities. The little time he has, he watches mindless tiktok videos. He does not read other than required reading for school. 😭
Now that you have reference to the context, what do you think I should do? Keep urging him to make his bed so it is ingrained in him for future? Close his door if it bothers me?
Do you remember your struggle at 21? Did you struggle to figure out where you are going and where will you end up? Or did you have a clear path ahead of you? I had no clear path. I took up jobs while finishing my education and flitted from one job to another for better pay because my family desperately needed money. None of those jobs required my education but in retrospect, all of those jobs prepared me for the job I do now. All of them honed my customer service skills and today I can say with certain amount of pride that my customer service skills are sharp. I got my Customer Service Specialist job at our public library due to those skills which I developed in the jobs that I took at random in my youth – desperate, directionless. Working at customer service at the library was my foothold, and once I was in, I interviewed for an Instructor and Research position which I was lucky enough to get. Now I use my skills and knowledge in what I do. I also use love. I have said before and I say it again, I love working at a library. My path, in terms of career, became clear later in life, after marriage, after motherhood. That is the story of my life thus far.
I now can look at the young adult in my house, somewhat in a similar position as I was at 21. She landed in this position because of the pandemic that disrupted the plans she had for herself. Being a planner, she had created charts and spreadsheets for the route her life was going to take, the classes she was going to take, her junior year abroad, senior year at campus, perhaps a job in the area or at the university as she looked for grad school. And then pandemic hit which cut short her year in Spain, brought her back home, her senior year was spent taking virtual classes in her tiny room, working a few hours virtually for her campus job. And just like that the path ahead of her became murky. What job was there for her after her degree? What is the path ahead? Where will life take her? Insecurities, uncertainties, ‘am I good enough’ – questions, concerns bog her down.
I look on helplessly at her despair yet I know in my heart and from the place I am in life, her path will clear. This internal struggle and feeling of helplessness will be a distant memory. The uncertainties and her ability to cope with them will infuse her with strength and when she looks back she will see these were essential to her personal growth. Life is hard as a young adult, the lost year of pandemic has thrown extra obstacles in their path with hiring freezes, job cuts. Graduates of 2020 and 2021 have been harshly tested and most of them will come out stronger.
Right now, I stay beside her as she flails and try to project my conviction that this struggle is necessary and temporary. Her path will emerge. She will chart her own course in life because she has what it takes to move forward. Conviction, strength, intellect. She is a mighty girl.
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 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.
No matter what you do, never ever call a 10 year old would-be athlete who is flexing his muscles in a skin tight, two sizes small Under Armor undershirt, looking extremely skinny – a string bean. You will get an uproar of protest and you will be subjected to almost half an hour of persuasive […]
One day, right after Thanksgiving, I caught my husband smiling a Grinchy smile.
‘Why are you smiling like that?’
He said he had an idea. A wonderful idea. Just like the Grinch, he had “a wonderful, awful idea”. He told me his plan and I gave him a hearty clap on his back for being so deliciously evil. He came up with the plan and I executed it flawlessly. It was a perfect team work.
I bought gifts early this year, right after Thanksgiving because what else am I going to do during a pandemic? As the gifts started arriving to my doorstep, I scooped them up, wrapped them right away, and wrote Sean’s name on each one of them. That was the plan. Sean thought of the idea of addressing each gift in his name so the kids would wonder when their gifts were coming. As the pile of gifts under our Christmas tree grew, Ryan and Sahana grew increasingly perplexed. Why was not a single gift for them?
They did not say anything for a while hoping their gifts will arrive eventually. To make it believable I wrote Ryan’s name in one big package and couple had Sahana’s name on them. They gave each other gifts so Ryan’s gift totaled to 3 and Sahana’s 4. Sean’s name was on 17 gifts. A week before Christmas Ryan started mumbling, questioning if more gifts were coming still. I said I was done.
“What?? NO! Are you kidding me? You can not be done. Sahana and I hardly got any presents. Its all for dad!”
“Yes, I see that! You know, I bought impulsively this year. I did not keep count on how many I was buying for who and I got carried away with Dad’s presents.” I replied with an embarrassed smile. That threw him off guard – for the moment.
Sahana was confused like her brother but she is older now and did not verbalize her thoughts but silently supported her brother’s tirades.
Over the course of the week, discussions during dinner were dominated by different thoughts on the inequality of the number of gifts, questioning my love for certain family members, quantifying Sean’s good deeds to have deserved so many gifts. Sean simply smiled while I said things like, “my love for you is not measured by materialistic gifts, my darling.” I do not believe that placated my son. To be fair to Sahana, she smiled and laughed mostly and said, yeah, yeah’ as Ryan carried on about how few gifts the ‘children’ got. I continued to look shame faced.
“Sorry guys! It does seem a little unfair. I guess I just got carried away!” That continued to be my refrain.
On the night before Christmas eve, when all hope of arrival of more gifts were extinguished, Ryan forlornly looked at his 3 gifts and said,
“I guess I am considered the scum of the family. Only 3 gifts while dad has 18. Even Sahana has 4 and mom has 7! What kind of family is this where parents get more gifts than kids?”
I said his gift was expensive and he will be happy. He was quick to show his gratitude.
“Mom, I thank you for that. But why did dad get so many gifts? How good was he this year?”
Sean and I laughed till we had tears in our eyes in the privacy of our bedroom. Ryan is absolutely hilarious without even trying. And his laments about lack of gifts were in good humor. I laughed helplessly at his funny quips and he laughed loudly too with his broken, teenage voice. It was truly entertaining last 10 days or so before Christmas. Laments and funny quips got more desperate and hence funnier as the big day approached.
Christmas morning dawned. We decided to take photos with our gifts in front of us. Here are the initial photos as I handed out the gifts.
Right before we were about to open the presents, I pretended to look at the number disparity and shook my head.
“I went a little crazy with dad’s gifts and it looks bad for the photos. Here, why don’t we reallocate them and you two help him open presents.”
“No, no! Let all your friends know what you did this Christmas. Make sure you post them on Facebook. Why will we open dad’s gifts? Let him open his. We will wait. I have only 3 anyway.” Ryan said in his fog horn voice.
“Nah! Let’s redo this.” Amid protests from both brother and sister, I redistributed the packages. And then accompanied by unadulterated laughter, we told them about our naughtiness.
I had written Sean’s name in all caps for Ryan’s gifts. Printed his name for those meant for Sahana and wrote Sean’s name in cursive for the ones that were actually his. After reallocating the packages, the story changed, Ryan’s smile returned, Sahana’s weak smile brightened, Sean and I laughed till we cried!
Since he had no idea we had played a trick on them, Ryan wrapped an empty box for Sean with this note in it:
He looked peevish when Sean opened the package with this note, “Jeez, I feel kinda mean now!”
At the end, it was indeed a holly, jolly Christmas. There was laughter, there were exclamations, there were squeals of joy and thank you’s. There was acknowledgement that ‘we got them’. They never guessed what we were up to and ultimately it ended up being a fun prank. What we got out of it? Days of endless mirth at their bafflement, the fact that our son is very materialistic, our daughter has matured enough to not harangue us with questions about her gifts.
It was, after all, a joyful Christmas. And if you charge us with bad parenting, we plead guilty. But the laughter and evil planning behind their backs were oh so worth it. 😀
At the beginning of pandemic, we spent more time together than we do now. When work and schools closed, when Sahana returned home from her junior year abroad, we naively thought the crisis was going to be over soon. We played board games, cooked, listened to music and even danced together once in a while. Then the pandemic and isolation dragged on and we slowly retreated into our rooms, our books/emails/trainings/school work…… ourselves. Whenever possible though, we still try to eat a meal together or even if we were not eating we come out of our respective rooms to gather around. And we have conversations on several topics. Without sharing our private conversations, I thought it might be fun to document the topics that feature regularly as we break bread during pandemic or just sit together in our living room. This post will also be a reminder of 15 year old Ryan’s and 21 year old Sahana’s topics of interest at their respective ages. This is what we converse about (or the two siblings discuss, Sean and I mainly listen).
Stability of Y chromosomes…
Matrilineal DNA and height…
World history. A lot of world history. Here is a debate that Ryan wants to have with the world – the great wall of China is a reason for Western imperialism. Have a go at it. It is an ongoing debate in our household, no resolution has been reached.
Paradise lost. And Milton…
Politics, Donald Trump, democrats, republicans…
Race, equity, inclusiveness. A lot, I mean a real lot of conversations on this topic…
“In one of my anthro classes, we learnt….” some esoteric theory from Sahana about anthropology (I admit I tuned out sometimes).
More chromosome talk, DNA, heredity…
Astronomy….lot of discussions about astronomy, which includes getting energy from black hole, anti matter and other topics which escape me..
Food, recipe – a whole lot of food and recipe discussion…
Tik tok – l am made to watch cat and dog videos by both siblings on this forum. They make me laugh.
Pop culture, artists new and old…
Humanitarian assistance work – Sean loves to talk about this topic. I wonder why?
“When I traveled in Europe………” Sahana often begins her story of adventure or her lecture about a certain sight she saw or experience she had in Europe during her solo trip there last year. Ryan rolls his eyes…
Library classes…..and yes, customer experiences..
How long is human race going to last…
How is Ryan still single despite being so good looking (according to him) and our collective eye rolls.
There are other topics which I don’t recall now….
The senior in college who will graduate with double major in English and Anthropology has a LOT of facts/thoughts/knowledge to share. And she shares them freely, primarily to educate her brother but also her parents.
The sophomore in high school is VERY interested in world history, heredity, time travel, animals, politics, slapstick comedy, tik tok and conspiracy theories. He also has the compulsive desire to share his thoughts on those subjects and more. It almost bothers him physically if he can not verbalize his thoughts. He can not seem to hold his thoughts for he fears they will be gone from his head and how awful will that be? If we interrupt his monologs on Ghengis Khan or time travel or….any other topic of interest he says (almost vehemently) “Please…let me talk!”
I realize now that in life before pandemic, I got my kids in installments after they left their toddlerhood. There were school, work, extra curricular activities, sports, dinner, homework, sleep. We came together on weekends for occasional chats however most weekends were taken up with sports, music, homework and then getting ready for the following week. Most of our meaningful conversations happened during car rides from point A to point B. Thinking back on how busy our life was exhausts me. During the pandemic and enforced isolation when we were locked together without sports, activities, regular school, I got to peek into my children’s thoughts and interests. And I realized that while I was not looking their interests, depth of perception and comprehension, their ability to think critically, their debating prowess and ability to cite sources have all changed. They are adults…well, almost, and capable of holding stimulating conversations. This realization is bitter sweet (mostly sweet because they are interesting to listen to when I pay attention).
There is nothing positive about this pandemic however if I have to see a silver lining in all this, I would say I got this opportunity to ‘see’ and ‘hear ‘ my children without distraction. I got the time. A lot of it.
As a very irresponsible parent, I allowed my 10 year old daughter and 5 year old son to build a ‘tree house’ along with 5 other similarly aged neighborhood children on the branches of that tree. Why is that irresponsible you ask? Because there was no adult supervision there. None! I shudder to think all the accidents that could have happened in the process. But it didn’t and they are alive to tell the story. So there’s that.
The tree house was simply some planks that were lying around in my neighbor’s yard. The children dragged those planks to our back yard, gathered huge nails and hammers. They hammered those heavy planks on to the branches of the tree and created a platform kind of a structure. As I write about it, I envision broken thumbs, pierced skin, flattened skulls – but none of those happened. As they hammered way above the ground, I calmly washed dishes, cooked dinner not worried about their safety at all. My neighbor finished her chores in her house unafraid as well. What were we thinking? Looking back, I think it was summer, the children were little and we wanted them out of the house. And it makes me embarrassed to think I was so calm while they were embarking upon such dangerous activities.
The ‘tree house’ was finished. The unabashed pride on those little faces at their accomplishment was priceless. They announced to the world that they had built their tree house all by themselves without any help from grown ups. Many afternoons were spent up on that tree house. Many picnics were had, many games were played, many imaginary friends were invited. Sahana was obsessed with spy games where she was the main spy with an assistant. The little brother, at that age, was honored to be an assistant and took his role very seriously. I have this precious photo of them as they played on their tree house.
And yes, pictured above is their tree house. To them it was the best tree house that ever existed in the universe and who are we to dispute that?
As they got older, like many things in their childhood, the tree house was slowly forgotten. Sean looked up at the decaying planks and often talked about taking them down but never got to it. Recently, after a major storm, one of the limbs of our beautiful tree cracked and after hanging on an unused wire for a while it finally hit the ground one afternoon along with some rotted planks of the tree house (or tree platform). Sahana and I were having tea on the back deck when it happened.
“Mom, our tree house is falling down.” She exclaimed. “Did you see that? A tree fell on my childhood……literally!”
Since I am the archivist of her childhood, I will put this memory too in the treasure box. She can open it and peruse at her leisure. No tree shall fall on her childhood under my watch! 🙂
Once upon a time a little boy needed help with homework. He ran to his mom and dad asking questions about math or English or social science. Mom or dad helped him figure out his math problem or his English grammar or told him what they remembered about that particular social science question. Invariably and without fail, the little boy turned to his almost six years older sister and asked, “Sahana, is that correct?”
We laughed. Why do you ask us if you need your sister to validate our answers? I believe he asked us out of habit but his full confidence was in his sister. If sister confirmed that the parents were correct, he would accept our answers.
As the boy and girl grew older, there were conflicts. Both of them grew up with their own views on life, society, media and politics. Both of them are independent thinkers (read stubborn). While they agree on basic values like equal rights, social justice, kindness, empathy, honesty, their means to get there sometimes differ. There are arguments, often heated.
I had the opportunity to watch their interactions during this pandemic in close quarters. While bickering still happens and it still drives me insane, I do get a preview of how they will relate to each other as adults. The girl turned 21 and the boy turned 15. They continue to debate policies and political beliefs with the zeal of their convictions. Debates can be still heated and tempers still flare, yet I often hear, “Ok, I see your point. But….”. Lately, I have witnessed more of sharing and laughing though. Often the laughter is directed at their aging parents, but mostly in a good natured and fun way.
I hear, “Ry, I am making pasta for myself, do you want some?”
Or “Sahana, I made popcorn. I left half a bag for you.”
I hear, “Sahana, I can’t find my phone.” And then, the phone is invariably found by sister accompanied by elaborate eye roll and an indulgent, “You dummy!”
It warms my heart to see they often speak the same language – pop culture language.
I hear, “Hey Ryan, did you watch (insert tik tok star name)?” or “Sahana, you gotta see this.”
A few days ago, I overheard a loud broken teen boy voice shouting from his room to his sister.
“Hey Sahana, I have English homework. You gotta help me.”
“I gotta, huh?” She laughs.
Then he saunters over to her room, slouches on her bed:
“Awright, I have to draw a picture between Victorian society and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Whatcha got?
Sahana, despite being in the middle of her homework, smiles and turns around to help.
They are figuring it out. After years of refereeing conflicts between these two, this mama watches from the side line. A warm feeling of love envelopes her as her two favorite humans in the whole wide world come together in their own unique ways.
Do you remember those times when you wrote hand written letters and waited in eager anticipation to receive a reply in your actual mail box? I date myself when I write this that I am one of those people who checked my mailbox in the mid nineties everyday with the thrill of ‘maybe today there will be an aerogram’. These days checking the mailbox mostly involves a slight irritation at how many pieces of junk mail are going to the recyclable. It was not so about 24 years ago. We wrote letters home. We received letters from home. When I first came to United States in the mid nineties, at least twice every week, I gathered my new life in a new country and poured it on several pages of paper, documenting new sights and new experiences. I sealed the envelope, attached stamps and mailed them to my parents with a wistful sigh. In return, I received a white and blue aerogram bringing with it news from my home across the sea. It told me my cat had new kittens, the Krishnachura tree just outside our bedroom is full of new blooms, the little girl next door got into college, a cousin got engaged. It asked me when I was coming home. It told me I was loved, I was missed.
Along with the letters, there was a monthly phone call. I regularly went to Indian grocery store to buy calling cards to call home. I had to dial in what seemed like a thousand digits, the mechanical voice gave directions to next steps, after which I heard the home phone ring….all the way in Kolkata. Ma or Baba picked up the phone, their voice tinged with excitement and anticipation: “HELLO?”
Then came emails, followed by Facebook, followed by Skype calls, followed by Whatsapp video calls. I can call every day if I want. I don’t, due to the time difference, my work schedule and……Ma’s tv serial timing. Many moons ago, when I was naive about the importance of the television serials, I would call sometime in the morning (my time) thinking I will catch them sipping evening tea in the living room, ideal time for exchange of news and let’s face it……some satisfying, old fashioned, harmless gossip. I would call and the TV would be roaring in the background. Ma would answer yet her eyes would be shifty, glancing up towards the TV, responding with a very polite yet clear, “not now, get lost, we are just at the good part of the show” tone. I would say, “Why don’t you turn the TV down?” She would do it, but still the conversation would be half-hearted or she would say, “Here’s your baba, talk to your baba.” and hand over the phone.
After many such thwarted attempts at conversation, I realized what exactly was happening. Loknath Baba (tv serial), Rani Rashmoni (yet another tv serial) were going through important transformations in their lives (not really, these shows are masterful about dragging on and on) and ma was missing those milestones if I called at wrong time. I wizened up. Now I check my time and call right before the tv serials start or after all the shows have ended. If I call then, the tone is so different. It is a “tell me all about your life” tone. It is “I now have all the time in the world” tone.
There is, however, an exception to this rule. Instead of me, if Sahana calls her, she pays more attention to her grand daughter. Most days, Sahana’s call gets precedence over ongoing tv drama. She gets the “I am so glad to talk to you” tone. In Ma’s own words, “the interest is sweeter than the principal” (ashol er cheye shud misti). I am kind of evil. I make Sahana call and then I jump in to talk before the interest wanes and television takes over. 🙂