Conversations with little Ryan.

Sixth grade conversation about sex.

Ryan: Those who don’t have sex become mountain climbers, right?

Sahana and I stare blankly at him for a few seconds before we ask, “Why do you say that?”

His logic: Well, you know they have regrets and they want to spend time in the mountains, climbing rocks. They could also be divorced. Then the men grow a beard. Uncle ______ climbed rocks till he got married and had a baby!

This was hilarious. Sahana and I could not stop laughing much to Ryan’s chagrin.

Since he could talk, Ryan has had insightful observations on life. They were cute but also poignant. In most parents teacher conferences we were told he brings in an aspect into conversation that is out of the box. And that makes the conversation very interesting. The boy is seventeen now. Constant chatter has given way to grunts and monosyllabic responses to my queries. But I have found if I simply be in his presence without asking questions about school and academics he opens up. I see a glimmer of the little boy who, at the age of 4, sided with an errant pigeon (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Wilhelm) who was making all sorts of mistakes while driving and should not have been behind the wheels. 4 year old Ryan went against the general consensus of other 4 year olds in a book reading session at the library. The pigeon should be allowed to drive because everyone deserves a second chance.

Messy bed

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?

Her boys and her one little girl.

Sahana has been cleaning little faces, feeding little humans, making their beds, sanding cribs, washing laundry this past month and a half. Apart from all the chores I mentioned she is also offering her services as a human jungle gym to 4 or 5 toddlers; her boys as she calls them.

At the beginning of the year, she decided to spend her summer volunteering for an orphanage in India. She was, of course, thinking of college applications. But she was also thinking of seeing a bit more of the world, outside the insular bubble that she lives in. And she wanted to know her grandparents a bit more – from a different perspective, not as an indulgent granddaughter visiting for a couple of weeks.

So she packed her bags, filled her suitcase with text books with the illusion that she will be studying in her spare time, boarded the plane and went to live with her grandparents. The first few Skype conversations were casual:

“How did it go?”

“Fine. I sanded cribs today. My arms are sore.” (Do imagine the casual teaanagerish monotone as you read the line).

“I sanded more cribs. The kids are cute.”

Gradually as the days went by, the Skype conversations became more animated.

“Mom, the kids are SO CUTE! I held hands of two kids and crossed the road to take them to school. I was sitting there being a jungle gym while 4 little boys climbed all over me!”

The monotone disappeared, replaced by squeaky enthusiasm.

“I truly appreciate washing machines now, I spent the morning doing laundry! But Mom, the kids are so cute. I kiss their fat cheeks every day!”

I got to hear of her four boys who she took care of, played with, fed them, taught them and hugged them. I heard about how naughty one was, how quiet the other and smart yet another. One day the naughty one bit the other little dude and Sahana had to discipline him. He cried then, and had to be consoled. She was first called Aunty and then she got ‘demoted’ (or promoted, perhaps) to didi (big sister) as slowly she became a playmate from a care giver. One kissed her on her cheeks and her forehead. Another said he loved her. She talked about a baby girl, abandoned at birth, who, when picked up, curled her little body around the care giver and gratefully sucked any shoulder she got. Sahana held her as much as she could, knowing full well, she may never see her again. She got reassurance from the sisters and caregivers, almost all the children got adopted.

Sahana and another volunteer from Spain discussed the relative good condition of the orphanage compared to what they had expected. The facility was clean, the children were well fed, regularly checked by doctors and even loved by the care givers.

Now there is just one week left for her to say goodbye to her boys and the baby girl. She realizes she will never forget them while they will most certainly not remember her. She said, “I did not realize before I came what a life changing experience really means. I thought I would just go and hang out with some kids. But after coming here, spending time with my boys, taking care of them every day, I know my life has changed in some ways. I will most likely not feel about this as intensely as I do now come January. I will get busy again with school work, SATs, college applications. However, I know for sure during my most busy time, I can reflect back on this month and a half to take me away from MY life at that particular moment and give me a perspective of the fact that I am part of a bigger world.”

I believe this is what I wanted her to get out of this endeavor. A perspective that she is part of a bigger world. The life she leads now is simply preparatory to launch her into a bigger system where she will learn, work, live, contribute, accept and hopefully, find fulfillment.

A rare crowning glory moment.

I am probably my harshest critic (except when it comes to cleaning my house, only then do I give myself a well deserved break 🙂 ). I over analyze my answers to the children, I try to reason with them, I try not to hover (which, unfortunately, is my natural tendency), I give them room to make mistakes and  encourage them to learn from the same. I set myself to pretty high standards, which, most of the times I can’t achieve, then I feel guilty. I know, I know, it is a vicious cycle. Life is a work in progress, I am working on it. I say to self, ‘Self’, I say, ‘Take a deep breath and calm down! If you are late in dropping off your child at a football practice by ten minutes because you had to pick up your daughter from swim practice, it is OK! The world won’t really stop spinning!’

As I parked the car in the football field to pick up Ryan, Sahana asked me a question as she unbuckled her seat belt:

‘Mom, how do you do it?’

‘Do what?’ I asked.

‘Tell us ‘no’ and we listen. No questions asked. How do you make us listen?’

‘No questions asked’ is stretching the facts a bit. Questions are asked and more than I care to answer them. I also explain my reason for saying ‘no’ to certain requests to the best of my ability. When arguments, talk backs start, I put my foot down and say ‘Because I said so!’ Parenting books will condemn me for that. So be it.

‘You guys ask questions before you accept ‘no’s!’

‘Yeah, sometimes! But we know that when you say ‘no’ you mean it and we accept it. How did you make this happen? I want to learn. I want to be a parent just like you!’

I will be honest, that made my heart sing. Standing ovation in a full auditorium can not compare to what I felt in my heart at that moment. I just got my report card and guess what? Straight A’s!

“But when I say no to something you really want to do, you get angry, don’t you?” I probed.

“Yes, but that is just the irrational me then. Now it is the rational me asking you how you do it? Tell me, I will do the same to my children!”

What I said to her is not the main objective of this blog. Some time ago, I wrote a blog about how Ryan asked me if having them was the most difficult decision in my life. I was crushed thinking I made them feel that way by complaining and whining about the stresses in life. Last night, I felt validated. My love was shining through. They saw it! My teenage daughter wanted to emulate my style of parenting.

I know my joy is short-lived. We will have conflicts aplenty and often. But I will look at them as her ‘irrational’ moments. I will cherish these fleeting rational moments for now and garner strength and joy from them to keep my composure when the teenage turmoil flares up and I become the meanest human on earth again!


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’


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!