Here she is, world!


I read somewhere that we, parents, are building cathedrals as we raise our children. No one remembers the cathedral builders when the building is complete, yet our imprint stays on for lifetime. That thought is lovely and overwhelming in equal measure.

When my tiny daughter was placed in my arms 21 years ago, I was overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising this small human. I needed to ensure that she stayed alive, she stayed healthy, she grew up kind, responsible, happy. Was I up to the task? I don’t know whether I was up to the task, all I knew was that an inexplicable love surged through my heart when I first saw her. Buoyed by this overwhelming love and tenderness, I resolved to give this child of mine all I had. The new born turned into a toddler, a delightful child and willful as well. A child who constantly pushed the envelop. A child who made sure I was one step ahead of the game because she questioned her boundaries – always. A child who fell in love with written words, like her mama, at a very early age. A child who always loved school and loves till this day. Then she became tween: a very creative, bossy tween. Oh, so bossy! And quirky. I remember volume knob on the radio in our car had to be turned to a multiple of 5. Any other number bothered her. Then came the teen years. Like any other teen, she had fits of rage from time to time and felt completely misunderstood. Her father and I watched in despair, unsure. However, the periods of emotional turmoil were often juxtaposed with sweet moments of affection, intelligent conversation, nuggets of random facts that she liked to subject her family to. And poetry! She wrote deep, thoughtful, beautiful poetry during those years which left me wondering about the depth of her perception and thought. The tumultuous teen years, which I lovingly refer to as ‘the lost years’ were mercifully brief. From those raging years emerged a young woman with a certain maturity and sense of responsibility with an analytical and thoughtful mind.

I held this little girl’s hand and waited for her school bus to take her to preschool, I read to her and then with her, I helped her with homework, packed her lunch, kissed her wounds, both physical and emotional, laughed with her, played with her, listened to her thoughts and one day, all of a sudden I realized that her thoughts were spreading wings. She was ushering in new ideas into my horizon instead of it being the other way around. She was reading more complex books on diverse topics and she was slowly opening my eyes to new ideas and possibilities. That is when I realized she has overgrown her mama. She has truly grown up. 21 is just a number.

At first I thought I would write this blog about parents building cathedrals as they raise their children and when they come of age, the building is done. But no, the building, if I use that analogy, is far from being done. My husband and I have built the structure perhaps, but the real building will be completed by the newly minted 21 year old herself. As a parent, my hope is, we have given our child the right materials – in the form of love, support, encouragement, opportunities, values, beliefs and morals to complete her cathedral the way she seems fit.

Here she is, world. Here she comes. Give her a chance so she can shine her light. Spread her empathy. Shower her love.

Happy 21st birthday, Sahana.

An Immigrant and Carl


I was fresh off the boat those days when I landed a job in a downtown hotel as a Select Guest coordinator. New marriage, new job, new country – life, then, was a little overwhelming, very exciting and full of hope. I was trying to understand this new country – its culture, tradition and most importantly, the accent. There were many ‘aha’ moments and then there were ‘oh my goodness, is that true?’ moments. At work I was somewhat of a novelty. In the mid nineties, I was the only Indian in that company so the questions I got ranged from ‘did you go to school on an elephant?’ to ‘are you an Indian princess?’ to ‘are you so quiet because if you talked loudly the tigers will come and get you in your country?’ (yes, I have been asked this question in complete seriousness. And yes, I used to be very quiet once upon a time, mainly because I did not understand what people were saying, the accent, you see!)

They were days when I looked down upon unfamiliar American sports and considered baseball as a poor cousin of the king of sports, cricket and considered American football bestial. Sean tried a few times to expound the virtues of baseball (faster than cricket) and of his team Red Sox but I argued relentlessly to prove him wrong. He made fun of cricket and I made fun of baseball.

As a Guest Coordinator, I had to attend meetings every morning with the Assistant General Manager of the hotel along with the heads of reservation, front desk, hospitality etc. One time, the hotel was hosting a big event where love and pride of Maryland, the star baseball player of the state was going to feature. So at the meeting, I said, “So when Carl Ripken arrives….”. I was cut off quite rudely as the room erupted in laughter. There were loud guffaws all around me. I looked at them puzzled. What caused this eye watering mirth? The Assistant GM said, “What did you say? Carl Ripken? Hahahahaha. Guys, we have to take her to a ball game. We need to educate her in baseball! It is our responsibility!” More hahahahahas followed. I was still puzzled. “What is so FUNNY?” The head of Reservations was a very nice woman who finally wiped her tears and said, “His name is CAL Ripken and he is a legend in these parts!”

See, growing up in a country which was under British rule for many, many years, I knew the language relatively well and I was certainly familiar with names like Tom, Dick, Harry, John, Johnathan, Carl, Bill, William, even Julian (Enid Blyton, Famous Five, in case you are wondering). I was not aware someone could be named Cal. I thought my American mates said Cal but they just pronounced Carl in a different way than I did. And yes, I perhaps never encountered Ripken’s name in written words. There are many excuses I can provide but the bottom line is, I never lived down that story during the time that I worked at that hotel. I was often the target of a friendly banter about ‘Carl’ Ripken.

Cal Ripken is coming to my library for a book talk. I have a baseball crazy almost 11-year-old, who has read Cal’s books and would dearly love to see this legend and perhaps shake his hand, if he is allowed. The tickets to that event sold out in four minutes and I could not get him a seat. His face fell when I told him that. Now our only hope is to try to buy a book and see if he can get a picture with Cal. In between calling the library to secure a spot and trying online, I remembered this story from the past when I did not even know the name of this man at one point. And here I am, getting excited that he will use a room close to my office as his green room before he talks about his book, and I may get a glimpse of him. I have indeed come a long way!

I don’t think about it often, after living in this country for so long, but I realized yesterday what a daunting task it is for immigrants to any country to learn whatever they can about the cultural, social and political history of the land they have emigrated to. The venture is exciting, enlightening and yes, overwhelming.

Kolkata journey – Began.


“Mom, you are in a weirdly good mood! Turn it down to a 5.” Informed my sassy daughter gleefully as we chomped down a Dunkin Donut breakfast at the airport before our plane took off for Dubai. After two weeks of intense schedule, unnecessary worries of health, presentations at work and other issues, we were ready to take off – headed to roost. And yes, I was uncharacteristically chirpy.

After a thirteen hour-long flight to Dubai, five hours layover there and then a four hour plane ride to Kolkata, I was ready to hate the universe. But then, almost magically, the lights of Kolkata appeared beneath us. My hatred melted away leaving an inexplicable joy in its place. The relief of arriving at our destination was compounded by the relief of coming home. Ryan, who was sitting by the window, nudged me to show the lights of the city below us and seeing my ecstatic and expectant face, said in a very characteristic Ryan way, “Your time to shine Mom! Your time to shine! We are coming to your city!” I did have a tiny little pang in a remote corner in my heart – my city, not theirs, never theirs. My city indeed!

I have already written a blog about going home (Almost home) so I do not want to repeat myself, however, I did wonder if there are many cities out there in the world where those who belong feel such deeply personal ownership towards it. My happiness was shared by many of the passengers on board. A ripple of joy and excitement passed through the plane where murmurs like:

“Eshe gechi!” (we have arrived)
“Oi dekh Kolkata!” (See, there is Kolkata)

was overheard over the drone of the plane’s wheels engaging.

Since I am a Bangali, I shamelessly eavesdropped on the conversation of the young couple sitting across the aisle from me (they were speaking loudly). The young woman’s joy was written all over her face and I automatically felt a kinship with my fellow Kolkata lover. She hugged her little son in glee and said, “Babu, eshe gechi, Babu eshe gechi!” (Babu, we have arrived).
The woman’s husband quipped up, “Haa, joto kichu pocha, bhanga, nongra shei shohor e eshe gechi.” (Yes, where everything is nasty, broken and polluted, we have come to that city).

As one can imagine, a big argument ensued. The husband tried to say he was simply jesting but the wife’s Kolkata loving sensibilities were severely wounded,

After a relatively hassle free customs and immigration check we arrived at our designated carousel. I have written before that I find this last stretch absolutely unbearable but a miracle happened. The carousel never broke down like it has done in the past and both our suitcases danced their way to us only after about seven to ten minutes of waiting.

And then came the most coveted moment. The moment that makes two years of planning, worrying, anticipating all worth it. My smiling mother, my beaming father and this time my happy husband as well since he had arrived in India prior to us for work.

The hugs were awkward as usual. We still do not hug comfortably yet the happiness was palpable like you could almost touch it. My America born, very-used-to-hugging children threw themselves at their grandparents and were filled with kisses.

We emerged into the smoggy, dusty outside. I breathed in deeply and smiled. The commotion and complete chaos told me I had come back home. I smiled wide. And promised myself to imprint every moment of my waking time in my memory which then will sustain me till I can come back next time. I promised to feel deeply and meaningfully. I did.

Teen 2.0


I am attending a training for my work. It, sometimes, is waking me up at night. The work is not difficult, it is simply intense. Yet as I turn on the computer, all I want to do is write blogs. So, instead of working on Young Adult’s readers advisory, I am writing a blog about it.

Me: Sahana, I am going to interview you for one of my classes.

Dying pterodactyl groan accompanied with a word I understand: Why???

Me: Because you are a teen and I need to interview a teen who reads and uses the library. You fit the bill.

Sahana: Yes, but I am not your average teen. I will give you deep answers.

Me: How are you not an average teen? What is an average teen anyway?

Sahana: I am just better than your average teen. I have maturity, common sense and lucid moments. Your average teen does not have those.

Me: Do you think you also suffer from the sin of hubris?

Sahana: Nope, I just say it straight. It is what it is. I am not an average teen. I am Teen 2.0. You know? The upgraded version!

My sweet little teen did not realize how very ‘teenagerish’ she sounded in that entire conversation! I was making marinara sauce in the kitchen for dinner. I did not even feel the burn of an errant spot of hot sauce on my hand, I was chuckling so hard. Silently, of course!

🙂

Racism


I have been asked if I faced discrimination for my color when I first arrived in this country long, long time ago. My answer has always been “no, never felt it!” I came with the naivety that in the land of the free racism is found in its past. I came with the belief that there was equality and camaraderie, solidarity and respect for all. The truth was, I was oblivious. I wasn’t aware I was being discriminated against because in India, where caste system still prevails, race was not something one worried about. The complexion mattered for aesthetic reasons(it still does), race did not. We were not segregated due to our race, we were however, segregated for caste. When I think back to some of the comments that I have received in US, with my new found sensibility of race consciousness, I believe I should have taken offense at them. I, however, incredulously pondered upon the ignorance of the person making such comments. I did not take her/him to be racist. As I said, I was naive.

I still live in a bubble. Or I like to think the world that I inhabit is full of people who do not judge me by the color of my skin, but love me for who I am as a human. I do not feel out of place among white/ black men/women because my skin is brown. I have ceased to notice skin color.

But racism exists in abundance. I discovered racism among my children’s peers. I found out it is completely acceptable for children of specific ethnicity to call each other by pejorative terms that is indicative of their race. Children of other ethnicity are not allowed. On a bus to a middle school New York trip with my daughter’s middle school, I flinched every time I heard middle schoolers of certain ethnicity calling each other with a derogatory nickname. I asked my daughter horrified. She explained it is acceptable to do that. As I see my daughter’s friends I find there is certainly a tendency for children with similar background to form a clan. That is not necessarily a negative as long as there is respect for all.

Recently, I watched a Folk tale Celebration of my Third grader, just before the culmination of his school year. As I listened to bright, energetic little voices singing this song with passion, a kaleidoscope of skin colors up there on the stage, I could not help but smile.

Some of us come from a distant land
Some of us come from nearby
But all of us carry a treasure chest
with things that gold can’t buy
And when we share our treasure chest
We all grow rich you see
The riches of our treasure chest
Are what makes you and me.

Holiday games and stories
Languages and songs
Faith and courage and wisdom
And ways to get along, and ways to get along
And when we share our treasure chest
We all grow rich you see.
The riches of our treasure chest
Are what makes you and me.

By Minnie O’Leary

If that song does not describe the essence of America, the great melting pot, then I do not know what does. We come from distant lands, we come from nearby. We all bring our treasure chests full of songs, language, cuisine, cultures and share among each other to enrich our lives, broaden our horizons and hopefully encourage acceptance and respect.

The schools in my community are doing such a terrific job of treasuring diversity. As I sat there and smiled at the enthusiastic third graders belting out this song with animated expressions, I wondered if they will carry the message of acceptance and respect for all as they grow. Will they spread that among the generation that they procreate? Will they, if necessary, teach their parents and family members, dogmatism and superiority hinder social equality and growth?

They filled me up with hope that one day racism will indeed be a thing found in history books. One day skin color will shed all its connotations and become simply what it is – color of one’s skin. Respect will usher in acceptance and solidarity. And the world will put away their guns because there will be no need to kill.

I am a dreamer, you say? Why don’t you join me? 🙂

Mama thought for a year.


This blog happened because of my daughter’s unwavering faith in my ability to write. She started telling me I should write a book.

“Mom, you should really think about writing a book! I think you will be really good at it!” She said.

“I am not creative enough to write a book! Also I have no time to think!” This was my standard reply.

“Then write a blog. I am telling you, you will be good!” She insisted.

“What is a blog?” I asked. To be fair to her, Sahana did try to hide her surprise at my ignorance, she explained a blog post to me with utmost patience and didn’t roll her eyes once.

Ok, ok, I will think about it!”

The conversation generally ended there till she brought it up again. She did plant a seed in my head which started growing. But what would I write about, I thought. My life wasn’t exciting at all. A regular, everyday woman, trying to raise two little humans to the best of her ability. Not creative, not a terrific observer, not a philosopher, not a deep thinker by any means, what would I write about? I read some sites on how to write a blog. One said to write about something that I am passionate about. I wasn’t really passionate about anything. It was discouraging. Nothing in my life was worth writing about till Ryan said something really, really funny one day. I thought I could write about my children. They make me smile with their words and gestures, maybe some of the things they say will make others smile too. I decided to write a blog on their every day lives, their comments, their growing up. I meant it to be like an online journal of sorts, which I hoped, they will read when they grew up. And maybe share a laugh with me at the memory, since that is all I will be left with  once they fly the nest.

But I am lackadaisical in everything. So although the good intention of starting a blog was germinating in my head, it didn’t really grow shoots. The plan wasn’t implemented right away.

Then life threw a curve ball.

I got a phone call that turned my smooth, planned out life upside down. Someone very dear to me was diagnosed with the emperor of maladies. It is interesting how one clearly remembers the moment when one gets a devastating news out of the blue. I distinctly remember the glare of the white neon light when my phone rang and I answered. I was sitting at the children’s swim practice, talking to two other mothers when the call came. I remember hearing the sad, resigned tone of my loved one – and the news. My heart stopped beating for a split second and I distinctly remember the cold, gnawing, raw feeling of fear in my stomach. I mumbled ‘Excuse me’ to my company and walked out in the hall for better reception. I heard the news calmly while my head was exploding with ‘WHY?  WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? I THOUGHT I WAS INVINCIBLE? IS THIS A JOKE? IS THIS REALLY REALLY HAPPENING TO ME?” The reality of the situation didn’t sink in immediately, I was in a daze.

The phone call ended. I remember walking  back and sitting down with a numb feeling. I remember trying to come to terms with the dreaded C word. The word ‘cancer’ played in my head, again and again. The word ‘cancer’ has such a definitive ring to it – a strong word, a harsh word, a dangerous word. A word that can appear in your life all of a sudden and can potentially turn your life upside down, can actually rip it apart. I gathered the children after their practice, bundled them in the car and headed home, ‘cancer’ still playing in my head. I remember each minute of that evening, down to the minute detail.

Then the research started. I read up as much as I could  focusing on how worse it could have been but wasn’t. I started counting  on my fingers what were the positives – the early detection, the survival rate, the necessary treatment. I clung to the positives and held on to them for dear life. I couldn’t turn off my thoughts at night and during one of those sleepless nights, I stumbled on to wordpress.com. I needed something fluffy and light and cheerful. I needed balance. I needed the innocence of my children to balance the sadness and harsh reality that I was living. I wrote my first post.

Here we go.

My first step in the blogging world. See if it works. Wow! It did! Hmmmmm! What now? What do I write about? While researching how to write a blog, I read one should blog about something that one is passionate about! Where do my passions lie? That’s a tough one. Once upon a time, I was passionate about a few things, acting, traveling, writing. Then I fell in love, got married, had children. And my passions went hibernating. But this blog is not about self pity! Oh jeez, I lost myself after the kids came. No siree! Loved every minute. Well, you know what I mean. Didn’t really love, love every minute!! That’s stretching it. Didn’t really love the sleepless nights, the temper tantrums, the dirty diapers in the middle of the night etc etc etc. But did love the dimpled cheeks and the chubby thighs. Loved the different stages of growing up and the innocent questions, loved the cuddles and the belly laughs.

Oh dear! This always happens. I frequently get carried away when I start talking about the kiddos. Oh well! This blog, like many other mommy blogs, is probably going to be about the different things my children do to make me laugh. I don’t know why anybody would want to read them or be interested in them. They would be my online journal kind of a thing.

Time to sign off. Warmth of my bed beckons. As long as I can publish this I am set. First time and all.

As I read this post I relived the emotions that were going through me – despondence, anger, depression, fear. I see none of that in this. It is a bubbly, cheerful, happy post – a perfect veneer for my troubled soul. I needed it desperately. The dates of my early blogs show that I probably wrote something each day – as a release, as an attempt to crawl back to happy, cancer free times of my life, as a desperate attempt to hold on to normalcy.

After some tumultuous months of treatment, my loved one was declared cancer free. But I owed it to whatmamathinks for keeping me anchored during that troubled time along with the constant support of some dear friends.

I kept on writing after that. Who knew I had so many stories to tell. I looked forward to writing – in my very ordinary way, about my very ordinary life. And some of you read the musings. Some of you were kind enough to like them and leave comments on them. I thank each and every one of you who visit this blog from time to time and indulge me by reading what I write. I am someone who writes just for the sake of writing, I will never publish, never explain myself beyond what I have written. These are some snippets of my life, my memories, my thoughts, my insight into issues that are important to me.

I often think I will write something deep and thoughtful, something philosophical, something really radical. But that is not who I am; I am not a thinker, I am a mere observer, I can only narrate what has happened, I can infer some. I can learn some and write about what I have learned. I know I can’t change the world with my writing, but if I can bring a smile to your lips with any of my posts, I am happy.

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!