As we reopen..

How are you feeling as we take tentative steps towards reopening? I feel, not nervous, but all of a sudden, overwhelmed. We have been in isolation since March 13th, 2020. I write this blog today on June 24th at 9:12 am. I just read some work related documents that I need to remember to do my job effectively. I will go back in a couple of days for a few hours. Truth be told, I am really looking forward to going back. On the other hand, I am apprehensive if my brain, which processed the ramifications of the pandemic for all these months and dealt with the roller coaster of emotions that I was feeling, will be able to handle the myriad of work related and real life related information that now it needs to not only process but remember. I read my emails requiring me to remember information on various aspects of my job and I quickly gloss over. I have started compartmentalizing on what I need to know NOW. I have created folders and sub folders to save the emails, after glancing through them, and plan to go back to refer in a ‘need to know’ basis. I am being kind to myself and hope you are too. How are you dealing with the influx of information that is, all of a sudden, pouring in?

On the home front too, information has started rushing in. My daughter’s college finally gave us their decision that they will open classes for fall semester according to plan. We were in a limbo as to whether she should get ready to furnish the apartment that she leased near campus or consider staying at home if classes went online. Now she is scrambling to find out who has a spare bed, table, chair, dresser and all that a poor student needs to get by for a year. As we make lists for all that she will need, my mama heart worries a bit about her catching the virus far away from home. I hear myself repeatedly talking about hand hygiene and social distancing. She is a responsible person and I know she will try her best. But still….

My son decided to take an intensive Chemistry class over the summer but that conflicted with his swim training. Thanks to the coaches, his schedule got adjusted, which meant ensuring he gets to his practice at 6 am in the morning. I am grateful to have a partner who is still staying at home and silently doing all he can to ease our transition back into life outside the realm of our home. He chooses to get up at the wake of dawn to take Ryan to his morning swim practice so I don’t have to.

All these changes are positive. All these show cautious yet forward progression towards life as we knew it before Covid 19 ravaged the world. My sedentary and anxious brain needs a little transition time, I guess, to function at its full capacity. We are all in the same situation, we all have to take the time we need to get back to being as effective/functional/productive as we were before the pestilence knocked us out of our orbit. We need to be mindful of each other’s unique position in this transition and show as much kindness as we expect to be shown.

Not Olympic material

Have you all seen the Proctor & Gamble advertisements where they thank the moms of famous athletes for their dedication, perseverance and sheer grit as they help their babies and toddlers become world-class athletes? I watch every single video with tears threatening to fall. My children are swimmers so I relate (rather want to relate) to that mom who wakes up at the crack of dawn, gently wakes her tiny little daughter, gets on a bus and takes her to swim practice. She sits there with love filled eyes and patient smile as her baby daughter learns to crawl in water (I either chat with other mothers or read a book or go to the gym when my children practice). Then she watches with pride and joy as her daughter, much older now, wins medals and makes her proud. In these advertisements, mothers of skaters and hockey players teach them how to skate, take them to innumerable practices, up on slopes, take care of their hurts, wipe their tears and eventually the proud moment comes – medal at Olympics. I love those ads. I feel part of a clan of mothers who dedicate their lives to the success of their children. Although I would LIKE to be one of them, in reality, I am not!

Sean wakes up at the crack of dawn to take Sahana to a 5:30 am swim practice. He, then, drives her to school, comes home, gets ready for work and then goes to work. While he does all that in the morning, I sip coffee in my comfy bathrobe, browse Facebook, look at the news and finally, lazily get ready for the day. Sean is an Olympic material dad. I am not. I have made it clear that when Sean travels, there will be no 5:30 am practices simply because I will not wake up at an ungodly hour to take anybody anywhere. But this past Sunday was different. I felt the children were not getting enough practice during the week due to my work schedule and Sean’s travel, so I had been readying myself and the children for at least four days that we will be going to 7:00 am practice on Sunday.

‘You guys make sure you sleep in on Saturday because I am taking you to practice on Sunday morning! Bright and early!’ I said on day one.

On day two, I said, ‘You know you are going to practice on Sunday morning, right? I don’t want to hear any grumblings!’

They WEREN’T grumbling. Although, I did hear a mumbled ‘That stinks’ from one of them.

I repeated something similar on day three as well – a dire declaration of ‘get your act together on Sunday morning cos we are going to practice’.

On Saturday evening, I made them get their swim bags ready by the front door. I warned them they better wake up as soon as I call them because WE ARE GOING TO THE MORNING PRACTICE ON SUNDAY MORNING!!

They casually said, ‘Yes, fine.’

I went to bed relatively early, sacrificing my reading time so I was bright and chirpy on Sunday morning. I was thinking of the mother who gently woke up her child for practice in the Proctor & Gamble advertisements. I finally felt I was contributing to their greatness in the sports arena. I wistfully smiled at the vision when they will attribute their success to their hardworking mother, who despite all, took them to practice at the crack of dawn and cheered them on as they trained.

My eyes opened the next morning, I looked at the clock – it was 7:30 am. Practice had started half an hour earlier!

My dream to be the sacrificing mother dashed to pieces as I got out of bed chuckling. Sahana woke up shortly, in a fluster. She came out of her room asking,

‘What happened?’

I said, magnanimously, ‘I decided to let you guys sleep in!’ Hey, why not make this faux pas into a generous act by a magnanimous mother? She was happy enough.

The serious swimmer, Ryan, woke up. My ploy of being magnanimous did not work with him though. That one is a work horse, he was unhappy that he did not get to go to practice.

‘I WANTED to go to practice! Why didn’t you wake meeeee?’ He whined.

I hate it when my ploys of being indulgent mother don’t work.

That same morning as I Skyped with the Olympic material father of my children, he wailed from far away land:

‘WHY ARE YOU IN YOUR BATHROBE??? Why are the children not at practice???’

I chuckled, ‘I overslept!’

And since I worked the weekend and he himself was in a far away land he was smart enough not to complain about it! I have written before, that dude is smart. He knows what’s good for him!

Long story short – if you do not see my children on the swimming block of an Olympic arena, it is not because of dearth of talent ( psssst….the older one reads my blogs, I had to write that), it is because their mama is not really the Olympic material. She does not have it what it takes 🙂 !

The sport that shall not be named.

I later found out Sahana’s high school friend is responsible for this. He suggested to Ryan that he should play football in high school. And Ryan, who had finally accepted that his mother will not support him playing football, and moved on, suddenly got inspired to try his luck again.

‘Mom, I want to play football.’

‘Sure, I will sign you up for flag football next session if you give up swimming or baseball!’ I responded right away.

‘No! I want to play tackle football!’

‘You know my answer to that! Why bother asking?’ I was calm, assertive channeling Cesar Milan energy.

”Whyyyyyy? I want to!’ And so it started. Back and forth, back and forth. I clung on to my calm assertive energy but felt it slipping away – fast.

Ryan tried tackle football when he was seven. He did not seem to be made for it physically or, more importantly mentally. Towards the end of the season, when he was not put in many plays, he started making excuses for his coaches.

‘They don’t put me in because I am not that good!’ He reasoned.

After that disastrous season, I gave him the option of continuing football or becoming a USA swimmer. And waited for his decision with bated breath. The choice was swimming, hallelujah!

Now after two years, the ghost of football returned with a vengeance.

As my calm, assertive energy completely evaporated, I used a threat.

‘If I hear you want to play football one more time, you will lose your iPad privilege! Your choice! I have had enough!’

He tried his luck with dad, who tends to remain quiet on these issues, playing the good cop. I certainly don’t mind being the bad one. My reputation is beyond redemption so why do I care? I heard him whispering ‘football’ with dad.

‘Do I hear the word football again?’ I shouted from the other room.

‘Noooooo!’ Came a slightly worried response.

The next morning, I woke him up with usual hugs and kisses. While cleaning up he said, ‘So mom, will you get me some books on rules and regulations?’

Football was the last thing on my mind, so I asked, ‘Rules and regulations for what buddy?’

‘You know?’ He said.

‘No, I don’t! How will I know?’ I was perplexed.

‘Well I can’t say the word. You will take away my iPad privilege!!’

And then he mouthed ‘FOOTBALL!’

Bitter sweet

As I adoringly gazed at my few months old baby girl, my first-born, with sleep deprived eyes, I didn’t feel the transience of time. For a first time mother, the infancy of her baby is such a miraculous time. Every facial gesture of the baby, every grimace, every twinge is a thing of wonder. The reality that she will eventually grow up never crossed my mind. My love for her and my adoration at her tiny perfectness were overwhelming. As I placed my cheek on her impossibly soft, warm cheek when I walked up and down the room while she slept with her head on my shoulder at 2 am, I was filled with a glorious, wondrous feeling of love and a fierce protectiveness that was very new to me indeed. I never thought my baby would be four years old, ever. She would stay little with all her baby fragrance, baby smiles and baby sweetness. But that didn’t happen, of course. She turned four soon enough, and then five, and then….She was joined by a little brother when she was five and I felt that overpowering sense of love and protectiveness as I held his little body close to my chest, second time around.

As a young mother, I exclaimed at every ‘first’ of my babies. The first feel of the rough edge of an emerging pearly white. My infant has a tooth!!! The much awaited rolling over, the crawl, the first step, the first word! Every ‘new’ was an occasion to celebrate, to inform the grandparents, uncles and aunts. Yet, while celebrating and rejoicing the new milestone, a tiny part of me mourned the loss of that time before. I won’t deny that slight little feeling for a split second, ‘Oh, s/he is growing up!’ But I was always mindful not to harp on that feeling because life is, of course, a forward progression in new paths and onto new discoveries.

The first day of kindergarten, every first day in a new grade since. The first time the elder one stayed alone, the first time she offered to make dinner, first day in middle school and then high school, first of many of our book discussions and theological discourses, first time I realized she was thinking independently, making her case, forming opinions. The first time she lied, argued, talked back.

The first time I left the little one at school and made the mistake of turning back. His tear-stained face and one little arm extended towards me, pains me still. The first time HE stayed alone, I drove back into the driveway and saw an anxious little face peering out of the window. The first time I dropped him off at his swim practice and drove away. I saw him sling his swim back on his shoulder and make his way inside to swim, alone. First time he made his own lunch, jumped into the pool without floaters.

There were moments of relief and pride at each milestone and that tiny little twinge way back in the innermost corner of my heart.

They are both growing up, loosening their grip. And there is that ‘push me pull you’ feeling inside me. I mentioned earlier, there is that very tiny pang of ‘oh, my babies!’ In my day-to-day life, I don’t think about this enough, but when Ryan casually holds my hand on a walk and his knobbly knuckles seem to fill my hand, I ask myself, ”When did this happen?’ I remember just a little time ago, that hand in mine was tiny, soft, malleable – resting there comfortably, ready to be guided. This hand today, which grips mine confidently, still needs direction, sure, but his grip has an assurance. It almost says, ‘I can hold you up, mom, if you stumble. I am almost there!’ When Sahana wears my saree, puts my make up on and smiles at me, I gasp ‘She is a woman!’ I have a Rip Van Winkle moment. Did I sleep through time? Or is this the way human life works? The changes are imperceptible yet right in my face. I am simply unaware. One day, I look mindfully and wham, it hits me! Time’s a flying!

Yet, I find their babyhood in the goodnight kisses and the early morning cuddles, in their sleeping faces and innocent questions. My babies are still hidden there somewhere inside. I seek them out when I put time aside to do it. Then we sit a while, laugh together and cuddle and I enjoy this bittersweet flavor that life offers.

Almost home…

The preparation of going home to Kolkata starts almost ten months prior to the actual date. It starts with pinning my husband down to look at his calendar and give me some dates to work with. Then comes the intolerable stress and anxiety about finding the best price for tickets, looking at layovers, working out swim meet conflicts, assuring the competitive son that going to India is more important than swimming in the Divisionals. Finally, when the tickets are bought, thinking about and looking for gifts to bring back home. And while doing all this, pausing suddenly to savor the sweetness of a childhood memory, smiling at some inconsequential snippet of home that is precious to only me, being mindful of the soothing, calming, reassuring feeling that I will go home soon and I will bask in everything that is so familiar, yet somewhat different with the passage of time.

Driving to the airport, standing at the check in line, getting on the flight – I don’t quite mind. There is the hustle bustle of fellow travelers. The energy of others, at the beginning of the journey, energizes me. I see fellow South Asians and play guessing games with the family – which city do you think they are going to? I note with awe, the immaculately dressed and impeccably made up women getting ready to board a long flight. How do they look so good and will they look this good at the end of 24 hour travel, I wonder. Some actually do!

As I find my seat on the plane and buckle my seatbelt, I look around and grin foolishly at whoever catches my eye. My joy is contagious, I get smiles and nods back generally. And every time the flight starts moving for take off, I invariably say, ‘Here we go! Goodbye_______ (my hometown)! We will see you soon!’ The children haven’t chastised me about it yet! They smile indulgently at my enthusiasm.

As I feel the plane starting to descend, I grip Sean’s arm and smile, despite the terrible ear popping, ‘Half the journey is over, dude” The lay over is spent walking around whichever airport we are transiting from, looking at duty-free goodies and eyeing the chocolates. Then it is time to get back on the next plane again. This time, the flight is full of Bangla speaking fellow passengers, saree or salwar kameez donned, brown-skinned, small boned, familiar! I eavesdrop shamelessly, butt into conversations unwanted but soon get accepted. The common topic of discussion, generally is ‘Kotodin por deshe jacchen?'(How long has it been since you went home) ! Desh….motherland…a word that fills me with a warm and fuzzy feeling of belonging.

I bear the 24 plus hours of travel in relatively good humor. I smile and nod ecstatically at the grumpy immigration officials at Kolkata airport. I seem to want to impress upon them that the entry stamp that they so nonchalantly pressed upon my passport is so meaningful to me. They are the gatekeepers who just opened the door to the enchanted land where my past is waiting for me.

I turn into a very disagreeable person at the baggage claim, I confess. Every second there seems intolerable. My husband feels my irritation, he massages my back, smiles kindly, tries to distract with conversation, yet I remain irritated. Each time this interminable wait to retrieve our luggage becomes unbearable. So close, yet not quite there. I politely harass the young airport officials, ‘Bhai eto deri hocche?’ (Brother, what’s taking so long?). Invariably, the carousel gets stuck and I mutter under my breath.

I do all this because just behind the wall stand two humans who I simply can not wait to see. They have been counting months and then days, like me, till our plane touches the ground. I know they have come early to avoid getting stuck in Kolkata traffic and I know that as every passenger goes out of the terminal, their eyes brighten with hope. And then dim again. It’s not me, yet. Not us. They are the treasurers of my childhood and youth, they keep my memories tucked away in their treasure chest and guard them with love and longing. They are the ones who smile wistful smiles at my ‘remember when’s. They are the only two people who ever so eagerly await my arrival and shed tears at my departure.

Finally, when our luggage is gathered we push our cart to the exit past the custom official, my eyes scan for those two beloved faces as the children run ahead. This reunion happens every twelve months and I am parched for their presence. When I see them, or they see us, my father’s face is a combination of relief, joy, excitement, happiness. His face seems just about ready to burst with all these emotions. My mother is more expressive, she smiles from ear to ear, squeals our names, comes forward to envelope the grand children in a bear hug, and then hugs me fiercely with unspilt tears of happiness glistening in her eyes. My father gives me an awkward side hug (hugging doesn’t come naturally to him), he hugs his grandkids and shakes hand with his son-in-law.

He, then, gets busy warding off unsolicited help from airport porters, calls the driver of the rented car that will take us home. My daughter, who is fluent in Bengali, claims Didiya (grandma) and narrates all that happened on the flight. Little Ryan is generally shy, unable to speak the language, stands quietly with a shy, tired smile. Didiya notices and takes his hand. His little hand willingly disappears in her grasp. He nods and smiles mostly while his sister talks nineteen to the dozen. In the car, as we head home, Ryan slowly reaches out and touches Dadai’s (grandfather) shoulder giving him a little nudge. Dadai nudges him back with a conspiratorial smile while I blink away some unexpected tears at this silent communing.

Finally, my two worlds meet.