Good Thing, Bad Thing, Who Knows?

  Published in Infinitithoughts – September 2018                     

My family moved to Charlotte five years ago from Pune, India. It was a herculean move that drained every ounce of my energy. I left behind a treasure trove of love and connections. Family I dearly loved and friends old and new who filled my life with laughter. The village I created for myself there was thriving. It was my silken cocoon. Breaking away from it bruised me all over. Yet, it had to happen. It was a move we had made for the future of our kids. Their happiness is more important than mine, I told myself.

At the turn of the millennium, my husband and I had along with scores of IT professionals immigrated to the US. Both kids were born in Chicago and had spent the first few years of their lives here. We moved to Pune when my daughter was eight and son was four. To them, America was home and nothing in India felt like their own. They lived as aliens in my homeland. Just as cruelly as I was yanked from the soil that I had sprouted from when we relocated to Charlotte, they had been forcibly transplanted into a foreign soil when we had moved earlier from Chicago to Pune. Except that they were saplings then, tender and supple. Even though they did not like it, they found a way to adapt. When we moved to back to the US, they blossomed but I, on the other hand, stood as an old oak would, rigid and resistant to the strong winds of change

For months, I would wake up every morning with a knot in my stomach, uneasy, unwilling to embrace the day. There was a dull ache I cannot describe, like a thin veil over my eyes that made my vision hazy. We bought a house, my dream home but even that did not lift the veil away. I hung on by a thread, the knowing that I had to get better for my kids. As a mother, I had always taken the role of being ‘Annapoorna’ (the Goddess of food) very seriously. What got me out of bed was a sense of duty to whip up healthy food for them. The cooking did not bother me but a messy kitchen and a sink full of dishes did. The cleaning overwhelmed me, and it is an area I struggle with to date. It is an aspect I cannot handle alone, and I missed all the house help I had in India. So, while putting out an array of dishes gave me transient moments of happiness, they were soon overcome with the misery of cleaning. I was in desperate need of an avenue that would take me back to a cozy bubble that was ‘me’.

The family though settled in easily; like a fish does to water. They were each in their own happy space. My daughter had her music and books, my son had tennis and Lego and my husband, golf. I was lost. Maybe, it was time to go back to work. I had a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and had worked in the industry for a bit before giving it up to be a stay at home mom. The thought of going back to pharma though only made the knotted feeling in my stomach grow tighter. The job and the industry repulsed me. I knew for certain I did not want to go back yet I could not fathom what I wanted. The resistance in my mind to the current situation reflected in my body too. I developed a series of food intolerances which in turn exacerbated the feeling of restlessness. The yearning to feel joyful and healthy again took me back in time to my childhood days. What was it that had brought me unencumbered joy then? Apart from the company of my friends, it was dancing and writing.  I had to get back to it.

As if the Universe heard my pleas, one of those days when I was hopelessly floating around, I came across a wonderful dance institute. The teacher was starting a new batch for adults. It was a sign. I joined and at turtle pace began to find my footing again. The dancing held the key to unlock my heart too. When we had moved I was so full of love and longing for my family and friends that I had shut my world to new friendships. No one could take the place of my old friends, I had decided. The class though brought back into my life the laughter and magic of genuine connections. My heart slowly opened wide to snugly fit in my new friendships alongside my old ones.

The writing took a while to take off. What could I write about, I wondered? Then, magically one morning I woke up with a poem imprinted strongly in my heart. It was a poem dedicated to two of my dear friends who were raising kids with special needs. These kids had always inspired me. They had an unfailing ability to enjoy simple moments in life like a gentle evening breeze, a plate of flavorful homemade food and a genuine smile. Moments that I, despite being a fully functioning adult, had trouble appreciating. These kids may have struggled with tasks that came easily to us but however hard times were, they never failed to open their arms for a hug. I aspired to have the clarity and appreciation for life that they did.

I penned the poem and that was the beginning of a journey that has since brought a lot of richness in my life. As I continued to write with the deep desire to discover what lay beneath the surface of those turbulent emotions at the abyss of our core, I made connections with readers all over the world. The veil then began to lift.  Writing was an anchor that grounded me. However choppy the waves around were, I understood if I held on I would be safe. Nothing was more comforting than a blank screen that I was free to create my art on. Somewhere along the way I discovered meditation too which brought back the much-needed airiness in my life.

When we moved to Charlotte, I thought I was being a martyr, sacrificing my happiness for the sake of my kids. Looking back, I see it was the best thing that happened to me. It pushed me to corners I would have never explored. And once I sifted through those dark turbulent emotions, I discovered buried treasure. The nagging unsettled feeling that I labeled as bad set me on an exciting voyage.

There is an old Sufi tale which goes like this. There was once a poor farmer who lived with his young son in a beautiful valley. Out of the blue, a fine-looking stallion walked into their farm one day. The envious neighbors proclaimed he was lucky as he could sell the stallion and earn a fortune. The humble farmer merely replied, “Good thing, Bad Thing – Who knows?” 

The next day the horse ran away. This time the neighbors hurried over to offer sympathy. “That’s too bad. You could have made so much money.” they said. The farmer’s plain reply, “Good Thing, Bad Thing – Who knows?”

The day after, the horse came back bringing along with it a few more horses. The neighbors once again lauded the good fortune of the farmer. Again, all the old man could utter, “Good thing, Bad Thing – Who knows?”

Then, when the farmer and his son were out grazing the horses, one of the horses kicked the young boy injuring him critically. The boy was crippled for life. The neighbors moaned, “Who will marry your lad now? This is very unfortunate.”

The farmer’s only reaction, “Good thing, Bad Thing – Who knows?” Soon a war broke out in the area and all the young strapping men in the vicinity were drafted to fight in the war. The farmer’s lame son was the only one spared. The only comfort the farmer offered his sobbing neighbors, “Good Thing, Bad Thing- Who Knows?” And so, life went on for the farmer.

Dire times often mask lessons that make us stronger. Our relocation to Charlotte taught me that. So now when things don’t go my way, I try not to think of it as bad. If I find myself battling a storm, I simply clutch on tight to my anchor and ride the waves whispering, “Good Thing, Bad Thing -Who Knows?”

-Vidya.

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YOU & I.

 

621624_523274787688872_678181686_oYou & I…

The rays of the morning sun light up the world around us. We are five years old and dressed in cotton frocks. Yours is white with red straps and a smocking across the span of its bodice.  Mine is yellow with black polka dots and frilly sleeves. We sit in a muddy ditch by the side of the tar road. What were our mothers thinking dressing us up pretty like that? We fill the little pockets in our sun dresses with jagged edged stones and smooth pebbles.

A hop, skip and jump later we are in the garden outside your house. The trimmed bushes and manicured hedges only lure us to pluck some of their leaves off. Our pockets are full, so we gather as much as our little hands can hold. We drop our loot in a nook by the edge of the garden and rush back to the row of trees that line the other end of your garden.

Every morning, a fresh layer of ‘Parijat’ flowers lies scattered on the ground all around the trees. The fragrance of the white flowers with bright orange stems beckons us. These night- flowering jasmines bloom in the stillness of the dark and leave the comfort of their branches when the first rays of the sun fall upon them. Neither our hands nor our pockets are big enough for these gifts from nature that lay strewn around us. So, we turn the hemmed edges of our dresses upwards and in delight, collect as many flowers as we can in our makeshift pouches. Backs crouched, we hurry back in a slow run holding our precious cargo, close to our bodies and hearts. Did we ever walk in those days? There was always so much to do, to explore.

Back in our nook, we put on a show, just for ourselves. This is Broadway at its rudimentary best. We play house and the first scene is of our family preparing a scrumptious dinner. You and I play multiple roles. and the loot we have gathered are used as props. The leaves are vegetables that we chop and sauté into an aromatic curry.  The pebbles are naan that we bake, and the flowers complete the feast as a bowl of saffron rice. The stones are money and we have used it all at the grocery store. Our make -believe world is made up of the elements that truly matter to us. Food does, bills…they don’t exist.

Now, you are raising a family of your own and I am raising mine. Our lives are not as simple as the world we created at five. Bills and worries are a big part of it. You’ve taught me though to remember that I do need sunshine and nature to satiate my heart.

You & I…

The afternoon sun blazes in all its’ glory. We are ten and dressed in blue denim shorts and colorful tie and dye t-shirts. No more dainty frocks for us, we choose our clothes ourselves. As we get ready to play a game of lagori*, you stack the seven tiles up neatly in the center of the playground. We are on opposite teams. It’s your turn to break the tower of tiles. You take aim and throw the little red rubber ball right at the tower. ‘BAM’…You’ve done it. The tower crumbles. Your aim has always been so precise. I am the sloppy one, the ‘kaccha limbu.’ * As the tower falls apart, your team runs away from us as far as possible. Our team has to hit one of you with the ball now, before you can stack up the tiles again, to score points. I aim the ball and clumsily throw it at you. It grazes your sleeve, I think. ‘OUT’ I yell, a victorious grin on my lips. You shake your head in denial.

“NOT OUT! It didn’t touch me.”

“IT DID. I SAW IT.”

“DID NOT.”

We get into our first major fight. You are the all-time lagori champion, the MVP of our ‘gali’* and get the benefit of the doubt. You win. Tears roll down my cheeks. I walk away to sit on the rock. A stony structure on the other side of our apartment building, our haunt. Despondent and alone, I vow to never play this game again. I find a twig nearby and begin to sketch stick figures in the mud. Just then you come along, with a little steel dabba* in your hand.

“Amma made gulab jamuns*, your favorite. Here, these are for you.” Your big, brown eyes look at me expectantly.

“Gulab jamuns! Yay!!!”

As the juicy sweetness of the spongy dessert fills my mouth, my heart dances again. What were we fighting about? I don’t remember anymore.

Now when we talk, we discuss the conflicts in our real world. Rifts with family members, bosses, jealous colleagues…there is so much to cope with. You’ve taught me though that sometimes the solutions are as simple as savoring the sweetness of a dessert. In tough times, I try to let the resentment in my heart melt into the sugary syrup of a gulab jamun.

You & I…

A gentle breeze brushes against us. The evening sun casts shadows that make us appear to be taller than we actually are. We are on a stud farm which belongs to your family friend. We are fifteen and dressed in jeans and pretty blouses, accessorized with dangling earrings and chic shoes. We are on a farm yes, but don’t we need to exude a sense of style wherever we are? We walk to the lake with Charlie, a lazy, yellow Labrador who belongs to the farm but has been inseparable part of our unit since the time we arrived here. We don’t walk very much as Charlie plops himself to the ground. 300m is his limit. We prod, push, even try to carry him but he does not budge. So, we stand rooted to that spot for a while. There is nothing much to do.

“I’ll tell you a joke.” you say, “Have you heard of the woman with three hairs?”

“No-No. Tell me.”

“There was once a lady who had three hairs on her head. She wanted to style her hair, so she walked into a salon. ‘There’s not much I can do’, said the exasperated stylist. “Ok, then just make a braid.” As the stylist began to do as she was told, one hair broke. “Eh! It’s ok. Just tie a ponytail” Unfortunately for the lady, the second hair broke too, when the stylist attempted to tie a ponytail. “Hmmm. Never mind then, I’ll just leave my hair open.”

We fall to the ground, in splits with laughter. Charlie raises his sleepy head and looks at us bewildered. Not sure if anyone will find this joke funny but we do. We find the absurdity of it hilarious. The world around us comes to a standstill. Only waves of our raucous laughter resonate for miles and miles.

Even now at times when I feel despair, I go back in time to that day…you’ve taught me to laugh at the ironical situations that life metes out to us..

You & I…

We are twenty. You touch up my lipstick and I tighten the clasp of your oxidized necklace. The night is still young as we dress in rustic ghagras and colorful cholis, complete with ethnic, chunky jewelry, ready to play dandiya-raas*. Raas -Lila was a dance that Krishna playfully indulged in with Radha and the gopis. We carry on the tradition today. For the nine nights of Navratri* we dance with friends in gay abandon. This year is extra special though because T is going to be at the dance. He is your first crush. As you turn to me one last time before we leave, your dreamy gaze says it all. ‘How do I look? Do you think he will like me?’ your eyes question.

‘Who wouldn’t? You are the best’ I beam in return.

As we head towards the venue hand in hand, I feel your heart pound in my sweaty palm. I tighten my hold over your hand in an attempt to soothe your anxious nerves and let go only when you when we see him approach. You dance with him well until midnight and then you and I talk about it until the wee hours of the morning. You describe his every gesture, his every nuance. I listen, lapping up all the itsy -bitsy details. I wish your love lasts forever.

I know now the tenderness of first loves do not last forever. You’ve taught me though to cherish heartfelt connections.

You & I…

Three years later. We are at the Mumbai airport. It’s 3:00 am. Your family is relocating to America. I am here to say goodbye to you. As I hug you tight, I try hard to fight back tears. I do not want the farewell to be teary yet it’s hard to fathom how my days will be without your presence. I feel your tears drop on my shoulder. There is only one thing that will keep us from breaking down.

“You remember the lady with three hairs” I ask, while I continue to embrace you.

And you giggle uncontrollably.

We part ways. I vow not to dwell on the void created by your absence but to celebrate the joyous moments of our friendship.

You & I…

Twenty-one years later, we are still the best of friends. You are 8000 miles away. We do not talk often yet when we do, it’s as if you have never been away. It’s a bond that will only deepen as the creases on our faces ripen. After all, you have taught me to rejoice the little moments of life. You’ve taught me to live life king size.

 

-Vidya.

 

 

  • Parijat – Night-flowering jasmines
  • Lagori – a game played between two teams involving a ball and a pile of flat stones
  • Kaccha limbu – a weak player
  • Gali – narrow streets of a city
  • Gulab jamuns – a sweet made out of milk solids.
  • Dabba – a box
  • Dandiya -Raas – a traditional folk dance from India
  • Navratri – an Indian festival that is celebrated for nine nights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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F-U-N

 

 

Imagine yourself at the venue of the National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC. You are in the audience seated at the edge of your chair, palms sweaty, brows furrowed and heart thumping. The air is rife with nervous excitement. It is the final round and your child is up on stage with a handful of other voracious spellers. He walks up to the microphone in eager, confident steps. As a parent, all you can do for him is say a heartfelt prayer in desperation and hope that when the soft voice of the ever-smiling Dr. Bailly pronounces the word, it is one your child knows. What you want is for your child to win.

Except you are now told that this next round of the spelling bee is unconventional. Whaaat? The child must not only spell but also define the word. He cannot question the origin or the root of the word. There are no alternate pronunciations. The child is judged on the profundity of his answer. The stage for this round is sprawling. It is life and the voice that announces the word is not of the charming doctor, but it is the gentle voice of God. You still want your child to win.

“FUN” – the divine voice announces. Your child looks perplexed. Such a simple word? The clock ticks away and your thirteen-year-old child, initially hesitant goes on to describe his interpretation of the meaning of the word.

“Fun –F-U-N. It is a vacation with my family and friends to beautiful seaside locations. Fun is a trip to Hawaii or Bahamas.”

Ah- He did it, you think. Your shoulders relax, and a smile graces your face. Only to hear the dreadful bell go ‘Ding’. It’s not the right answer. Baffled, you look around to see the same quizzical expression on the faces of all around. Why is this answer wrong? You are deeply disappointed.

As the next finalist walks up, you wonder what the correct answer is.

“FUN” says the gentle voice.

“F-U-N. Fun is a grand party with dancing and singing and hmmm…plenty of food and drinks?” The child sounds nervous. He tries to put himself into the shoes of every adult in the room and answer and sees this is the most common way to have fun.

‘Ding’ goes the awful bell again.

As the third finalist walks up to the microphone, his grim expression indicates that he is giving this some serious thought.

“F-U-N. Success is fun. Success in academics or sport. Winning is fun” he quips when it is his turn. A ‘DING’ echoes in the hall once more.

Why are these wrong, you wonder? As you look around, confusion is writ large on the faces. Everyone is as perplexed as you are.

“Let me rephrase the question” the magnificent voice announces. Its’ sound deep yet gentle envelopes you with a warmth. “What makes you happy?” asks the voice and the spotlight falls on the fourth child,

“Getting a new video game makes me happy” the fourteen- year-old gingerly announces.

“WHY?”

“Uh- I don’t know” mutters the child.

Ding!

The spotlight moves to the next child. Smiling, he answers “Going to a waterpark.”

“WHY?”

Before the child replies, an angry parent interrupts. “What’s going on? My child was not wrong when he said going to a party was fun. Nor was the other when he said a new toy makes him happy. These are kids, and this is what makes them happy. What’s wrong with it? I demand an explanation!”

“Let me ask you then… What is fun? What makes you happy and why?” the benevolent voice booms.

The parent yells, “A cruise with abundant food, wine and beautiful people! Why? Why? Because it lets me escape from the drudgery of my everyday life!”

Ding!

“HEY! Can You tell me what You are up to? Are You playing around with us? Can you please just leave and let our kids go back to the actual normal game? This is the final and they have worked hard to get here. It’s no joke.”

“Relax,” says God, “A group of intellectuals is where I thought I could make my point. That’s why I am here.”

So saying He shines the spotlight on a three year old in the audience who is seated on his mother’s lap.

“Little one, what makes you happy and why?”

The little boy flashes a beaming smile. He knows. He jumps down from his mama’s lap and with his chest puffed and tiny palms fisted by his side shouts out,

“Playing with my puppy makes me happy because he makes me laugh.”

“What a wonderful answer! You see this child innately know fun is in the simple act of giving love.  A very young child may not share a new toy but walk into a room and he will be the first one to run up to you to give you a hug. All you need is to be like them. Instead you spend the first few years teaching your children to achieve to find happiness and then, they like you spend the next few years trying to escape. Going on a vacation is fun if your intention is to explore a new place and embrace its culture and people, not if you are going to escape the life you created for yourself. Partying is fun if you party to celebrate togetherness not to hit the bottle to forget your problems. Success does not lie in accumulating trophies but in feeling joyful for what you have. It lies in knowing your worth and respecting the other. I’ll leave you now but, in my opinion, the child who understands laughter and connection are what brings true happiness is the winner.”

Wow! You have spent all your parenting life training your children to be adults. You now know you need to un-teach your children so the next time they are in the spelling bee on the sprawling stage of life where they must define fun, they have the right answer.  They say, “M- E. Me – I am fun.”

 

  • Vidya.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gratitude

To my dear family, friends and readers,

This blog is four years old today. A journey that began on a whim on my 40th birthday with the urge to peek below the surface of those mid-life emotions and touch the fragile and tender core of my heart has brought  much richness into my life. Heartfelt   connections with all of you, a published book in partnership with my “chaddi” buddy  fun filled opportunities like author events, reading to precious little children and learning the craft from other fellow writers.  I have always loved to write but shied away from calling myself a writer until now. In this fast paced world where acronyms and emogees  transport your thoughts at a lightning pace, you have taken the time out to read my wordy essays and have truly made me a writer. For every article I  have penned, I have received beautiful personal messages. These words of encouragement are what keep me going. J K Rowling I may never be but I am now in a lovely space and I am where I am and what I am because of you. So thank you for being the wind beneath my wings as I dare to soar.

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Raising a Son in Our Times

 

A couple of years ago, we were invited to a series of presentations by my son’s class in middle school. The children in the class had been divided into smaller groups of five and each group had to come up with ideas to conduct a birthday party for an eight-year-old in a budget of under $20. The presentations were very impressive. The kids had come up with delightful, thrifty ways to celebrate. Slideshows, venn diagrams, charts, convincing speeches – they did it all. Yet, after my son’s group had finished I was disappointed. It seemed to me that out of the two girls and three boys in their group, it was the girls who had put in the maximum effort. They did all the talking while the boys just answered a few questions. It seemed unfair that the girls had to do most of the work themselves.

After the presentations were done, I walked up to my son and the other two boys who were helping the teacher rearrange the tables and chairs in the room. Unable to mask my disappointment, I gently asked them why they had not helped the girls. “We would have,” one of them said wryly “if they had let us. They refused every suggestion we gave. So, what could we do?” My son shrugged his shoulders and defensively pitted, “At least we typed out everything… though it had to be exactly the way they wanted it.” ­­Hurt, from my accusations, was writ large in his eyes. Just then his teacher walked up to me, “I really enjoy having your son in my class. He is one of the most responsible and helpful students I have taught,” she said, and hugged me.

Now I was thoroughly disappointed but with myself. This was my child. I knew him inside out. I knew he was such a helpful soul yet, the belief that women carry the burden in most scenarios was so deeply ingrained in my mind that I had jumped to the conclusion that the boys had not pitched in.

After the presentation, while I waited outside the classroom to pick up my son, I saw the two girls whisper into each other’s ears and then point to one of the boys in the class and laugh. They then made a snide remark and continued to giggle.

‘Nasty women!’ I thought, angry blood rushing to my head. On the drive back, I narrated the incident to my son. “Those girls are always mean to him, Mom. They make fun of the way he dresses. They think he has no style.”

“Well, doesn’t he stand up to them? He should! And you should have too, when they didn’t let you guys pitch in for the presentation.”

“He says his mom says to never fight the girls. You say that too! So, we just ignore the girls. Anyway, we already have an A in the class. This project didn’t matter so why bother?”

This was not right. It was never about the marks but the fact that the boys had been sidelined. These boys may not have been suave in the fashion sense or tough looking football players, but they were very good kids who deserved to be respected for who they were. In some way I felt responsible for what happened too. This was a very trivial incident, but it made me think. All these years I had taught my firstborn, my daughter, that there was nothing that she needed to shy away from because she was a girl. She could anything a boy could do. I had been super proud of the fact that she was one of the very few girls in her AP physics class in high school. Yet, until that day we had never spoken about respecting the opposite sex.

I wondered if in our times where abuse and rape made headlines every day, we were disseminating the information that this is how the equation always is? Were we stereotyping the men? We teach our girls to fight, to never succumb, but in our attempt to gain equality, were we planting seeds of superiority in the next generation? Not to disregard victims of rape or abuse. Perpetrators of these barbaric crimes must be severely punished  to bring about change in society, so our girls can pursue their dreams unafraid. But there is a also a new generation of boys, like my son and his friends, who are respectful and responsible, and we need to look after their interests too. Equality is a delicate balance.

That evening, I found myself talking to my son and daughter about how even though it was important that they should not let anyone, whether boy or girl, treat them in a manner that disrespected them, it was also important to treat the people in their lives with equality and respect. At home or the workplace, they always had to leave room for the other to express. All things being equal, if my daughter ever went out on a date, then it was only fair for her that she pick up or split the tab (with her own money of course, not ours) and if she expected flowers and chocolates and the door to be held open for her, them it was perfectly fine if her partner expected her to serve up a plate of food for him. There always had to be a little give and a little take.

Growing up I felt the pressure from society with the expectation that girls had to nurture their families and prove themselves outside the home. I was very careful to not let my daughter feel that way. Both kids were expected to pursue their dreams and help with kitchen and laundry chores. Now, I wondered if my son felt a similar pressure. We expected our boys to be tough yet romantic, competitive yet chivalrous, protective yet accomadative.

As a mother, there was another issue that surfaced in my mind that evening. If in the future, my daughter relaxed and watched TV while her partner did all the chores, I would not think anything of it at all but if it was my son slogging and his partner was on the couch, it would pinch. So much for equality! I had to first learn to let go of my boy. It was not going to be easy but that was purely my problem. I had a lot of growing up to do myself.

-Vidya.

Recently my nephew and his wife welcomed their first baby into the world. My nephew has been wonderful in nurturing and caring for the newborn. Midnight feedings, diaper changes, laundry, talking to the pediatricians, he does it all with pleasure and without being told to. What a gem! This is just one instance. If you have read thus far and know of any wonderful person who breaks the stereotype of misogyny and chauvinism, start a conversation in the comments below to let us know. There is a lot of goodness in the world, we just need to let it surface and acknowledge it so it will grow and hopefully, one day outnumber the evil.

Dedicated to my dear friend Chithra and her lovely son who will always be my son’s best friend, wherever he is.

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The Heart of a Mother

This post is dedicated to Sheila Tzerman, my beautiful friend and guide who passed away last week. She loved that I wrote about everyday stuff and encouraged me to keep writing, no matter what. Sheila was an animal and nature lover and wanted me to write about Leo, my puppy. Today would have been her 65th birthday and the best way I can honor her is with this post on Leo. I will always miss you, my dear friend…

The Heart of a Mother

For the first three years after my daughter was born, we lived in Woodland hills, a suburb of Los Angeles. Every day, in those years, my little one and I would spend a few good hours in the park close to our apartment. Moments in that park were special. Not because of the scenic hills and palm trees that surrounded us, but because of the many friends we made there. The park was a melting pot of cultures. Moms from Bangladesh, Tanzania, Russia, Iran and Mexico joined us. As the kids romped about in the sand and the play structures, the moms discussed the ups and downs of raising them. It turns out motherhood is a universally difficult language, no matter where we come from. The thrill of being a new mother enamored me those days and I could rarely think beyond my child and her needs.

Some days we were also joined by a little old lady with twinkly eyes and a charming smile. She always wore a hat and brought her puppy, dapperly dressed to the park. The little beagle sported a bandana on sunny days and when the temperatures dipped, he wore a blue and white striped sweater. The kids loved to play with the dog while the little lady loved being part of our conversations. While the mothers discussed the picky eating, potty training and favorite TV shows of their toddlers, she pitched in with references not to her grandchildren but to the puppy. It turns out he loved to watch reruns of ‘The Andy Griffith show’ and was a quick learner. Potty training was a breeze she quipped, and he was extremely fussy about his treats. It amused me to see her talk about her pet with the same fondness with which we spoke of our kids. I felt a little slighted too. Weren’t our children more important than her pet?

Fast forward sixteen years. We now lived in Charlotte, North Carolina with our two teenage kids. It was the summer before my daughter left for college. For years, the kids had wanted to bring home a puppy but until that summer my husband had not yielded to their pleas. One fine day in July though, he changed his mind. Whether he worried that I would struggle emotionally after my daughter left or if he knew that a dog would be her biggest reason to call or visit home, I cannot say but he gingerly announced we needed a puppy and in a couple of days our little fluffball Leo, all of eleven weeks, was home.

Leo completely took over our lives with the obedience, toilet and crate training. And very soon I began to see subtle and beautiful changes in my family. The kids spent most of their days downstairs to help with the training. I saw them more in that one month than I had in the past two years. This adorable creature was the reason my floors were sparkly clean. An otherwise lazy lot, my family made sure the floor was spotless so that the puppy would not eat anything off the floor. His goofiness ensured an air of lightness, playfulness and laughter in the house. Those big, puppy eyes could melt a heart made of rock. ‘Floofball’ as my kids lovingly referred to him brought out the best in us. Earlier it had annoyed the kids when I accidentally called out to one of them by the other’s name. Now I began to call Leo by the names of my children and the kids ‘pup-pup.’

And then it happened….

One day my young friend, who had her second child a couple of months ago, called to talk about the baby’s quirky and loveable antics. The baby loved his rattles and was a night owl. He was fascinated by the movements and sounds he saw on TV and was trying hard to roll over. The excitement in her voice was palpable and I, without the slightest hesitation, had the audacity to continue the banter with tales of Leo. I went on about how Leo squeaked his new toy to get attention, about how smart he was because he knew ‘Bye’ meant someone was leaving. That he rang the bell with his button sized nose to let us know he wanted to go out, that he now slept through the night in his crate…

And just like that, I turned into the little old lady with the hat and the beagle.

Stories of dogs and how therapeutic they can be to a family are legendary. I am so grateful that my family can now experience it. Beware mommies of young children, this soon to be empty nester might just hijack your conversations about your kids with tales of her favorite furry creature.

-Vidya

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When Your Child Does Not Fit In

A few weeks ago I received an article from a dear friend, an article about young  kids who identify themselves as being agender, neither male nor female and their fight to gain acceptance. Being a mother myself, as I read the article I could not help but wonder all the emotions that transpired through the hearts of their own mothers. As mothers, don’t we worry if our children will be accepted if they deviate, not just in the expression of their gender but in other ways as well? What if your girls hate dressing up or boys hate football? What if your brilliant child decides college is not for them? What if they are the ones in the class who sit alone? What if your children are the small percentage of introverts in this extroverted world?What if your child does not fit into a box? This post is dedicated to all mothers whose children are true to themselves and do not pretend to fit in. It is a story narrated from the point of view of a mother who has just realized her child identifies as being agender and is a work of fiction.

When Your Child Does Not Fit In.

It is a ghastly sight. A flock of birds, neither ravens nor vultures, (or maybe a species of either one), surrounds the carcass of the deer that lies alongside the road. The feathered creatures, black as a night when the soft white light of the moon does not shine and the twinkle of the stars does not gleam, rip apart the rotting flesh of the dead animal, in broad daylight.

As I drive past the scene on the way home from work, a glimpse of the gore brings tears to my eyes. Just as the birds tear the deer to shreds, I rip my motherly soul to bits. Every fragment echoes “Will my child ever fit in?”

The rant, like the buzz of a honey bee in our ears, infinitely plays ring-around-the-rosies in my head and I think about what you must be feeling, my child.

As I drive, my thoughts drift back to that day in our kitchen, to the time you and I frost your little sister, Lizzie’s birthday cake. She wants her cake to look like a playground with swings, slides and children at play. As I start to roll the dough to make a little fondant figure Lizzie asks me if I am going to make a boy or a girl. “I don’t know. I haven’t thought of it yet. Does it matter?” I ask. When I look up at you casually, you look sad. I know I have touched a painful chord somewhere. That look in your eyes …so much anguish in their blueness. Your thirteen-year-old eyes carry the sorrow of tortured souls. My heart sinks into the depths of the sadness reflected in them.

Agender, is how describe yourself to me later that night. This is the first time you bare your soul to another. You identify yourself as being neither a boy nor a girl. Neither ‘he’ nor ‘she’ but ‘they’ is how we need to refer to you, you add. Tears roll down your chiseled face. Nobody understands yet, you say. They just know you are different. “This is who I am, Mom. Do you still love me?” you ask your voice quivering.

“I do, darling and I always will.” I swaddle you in my embrace just as I did the day you were born

Though what you do not know is I lie awake every night since then, to grapple with this truth. Even though I am your mother and you are a part of me, I cannot fully fathom what it must be like for you. There are many times before today when I have questioned why I am here, if there is an afterlife, if there is a God. There are many answers I seek but the one thing I know with certainty is I am a woman. Every morning when I wake up I feel it in the very core of my being. It is so primal, I do not question it. I realize if I had to, the pain would be intense. It hurts that you must endure this every day. Will society ever understand if you if I, your mother, am struggling to? Will they ever accept you? Every pore on my skin shrivels up, every nerve in my body tightens at the thought that there will be people who dislike you immensely because you are different. Why you? Why does this have to happen to us? I want to go back in time to the day I worried about mundane things like you being a picky eater and not cleaning up your room, to the time I discussed my trivial worries with the mothers of other thirteen-year-olds.

As I reach home, the ravens still linger in my head, the shreds of my soul continue to agonize with the misery of your loneliness and the guilt of my inability to placate your anguish.  I find you in the yard, playing with our pup. As the two of you bounce and frolic, I realize that beneath the veil of sexual expression, you are just like any other kid- full of love and hope. What lies under the cloaks of our masculinity and feminity is a divine light. Does gender really matter? What matters is what we do with the life we have been gifted with. Of what use is gender if we pride ourselves in being a man or a woman, yet use our lives to harm or kill another? Irrespective of our garbs of gender, we need to let our light shine, to love and accept and leave this world a better place. I realize now your soul is just as pristine as it was before your revelation. Nothing has changed. I see the warmth in your being in the way you hold our pup. I see the gentleness in your heart when you hop over the tiny bug to avoid squishing it. Later at your basketball game, I see the grit of your spirit when you shoot a three pointer in the last minute to lead your team to a thrilling victory. You are the same spirited kid who enjoyed the rush of winning. When you smile at me, I get a glimpse of the strength you have within. It must have taken a lot of courage to accept who you are and let the world know. It is easy to hide behind a façade to make yourself fit in. It is hard to stand alone. Yet even as a young person, you realize that being authentic in solitude weighs far greater than being miserable in a clan. It will take the world a while to catch up but some day they will see you in the same light as I do. Until then, I will stand up for you. I see you, my child. I see YOU. Even though as a mother all I ever wanted until now was for children to fit in, I don’t anymore. I realize now I have to lead my children to a whole new world.

The black birds leave the precipice of my thoughts. the fragments of my soul, a mother’s soul begin to piece back together, bit by bit.

 

 

-Vidya.

 

An army of mothers who choose to embrace and accept differences and teach their children to do the same have the power to create a whole, new world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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