What Not To Do When Your Grown Children Visit

12307433_10156229259815510_563349262411965976_oLet’s face it. I am an Indian mom. That means, among other things, I am genetically programmed to begin and end every phone call and every conversation with my children and family with a couple of mandatory questions.

Did you eat? (It doesn’t matter what time of day it is)

What did you eat? (If the answer to the above is yes)

When and what will you eat? (If the answer is no)

Sometimes the call may be just about whether they ate or plan to eat.

My kids have accepted that this would always be so. It used to be so bad that I would ask them what they wanted for lunch, as they were finishing breakfast.

These days, when they come home for a weekend, I typically start asking what they want to eat when they’re home a couple of days prior to their visit. Between my two, and my son’s girlfriend, who, incidentally, is vegan and loves Indian food, I look forward to cooking for 3 children, and a husband who thinks I only make special things when the kids are home.

But on a recent weekend with the 3 of them visiting with 2 dogs, things got a little bit crazier than normal.

First, I had my Saturday morning French class (part of my plan on how to handle being an empty nester, blogged here), for which I was doing the homework the night before. Out went the precious “I’ll make all the make ahead stuff before they come home” time.

My husband was getting ready to go to India, and also running around to help pick up my son’s car and get the paperwork and insurance done, all on Saturday morning.

What happened was this: the kids, as much as they helped, couldn’t do it as fast as I wanted them to. We didn’t see Raj all of Saturday which made me pretty mad, as he was leaving for India early Sunday.

And, being an empty nester for the last 5 years, I had gotten used to making real simple meals for me and Raj, and to get back into heavy cooking for the weekend was not as easy as it used to be, how much ever I planned and tried to be efficient.

In the end, there was frustration all around. By lunchtime on Saturday, I was ready to call it a day. And I had three more meals to go.

And that got me thinking: maybe it shouldn’t be all about food. I loved feeding them food I knew they missed and they really enjoyed it, but I was determined to squeeze so much in a 48-hour period, and focused on just feeding them, that I had missed out on the most important thing: being there, being in the moment and simply enjoying their company.

We were a tired and grumpy bunch midway through the weekend. But hey, they were well fed!

After the 3 kids, 2 dogs and 1 husband left, a sudden quiet fell and there was an aching vacuum. Show over, the theater was empty and I had absolutely nothing to do, nobody to feed and nobody to talk to.

As I tried to think back to the last two and a half days, all I had was brief, fuzzy flashes of conversations:

  • my daughter telling me about her school, that I only half-listened to
  • My son telling about all the exciting things he was getting to do in his first job, and how cool Philly was
  • The questions I had meant to ask and never did. The questions I did ask, but was too distracted to pay attention to the answers, leaving them still questions
  • Allison who was a bit ill, and quiet, that I barely noticed that she wasn’t even eating much

And I realized that I had missed seeing the forest for the trees. As much as they enjoy my cooking, they also kept telling me that they would rather spend time with me, maybe play some games, or watch a movie without me falling asleep in the first ten minutes. But I didn’t listen, because dammit, they were going to be fed, the dishes had to be done and the kitchen was going to be spotless.

So, here’s my promise, kiddos (or threat, depending) – next time, we will play Sequence, and watch a movie or two and have some real conversations. And maybe some take out and pizza.

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Bows And Arrows

Blessings to my baby, my sunshine as you embark on the next phase of your life. May you go swift and far and shine wherever you go.

Love, 

Amma & Appa

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

 

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

 

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

 

The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

 

 

 

Metamorphosis

I watch, sitting on the front porch, with my neighbor, as my baby plays. Naive, foolish and happily clueless about the number of times I would let go of my precious baby the rest of my life – each time for a bit longer, and a bit farther away.

He’s 5. And is begging to go around the block, by himself, on his bike. I let him, my heart in my mouth until I see a mile-wide smile plastered on his beautiful face back around the corner.

He is 6. I drop him off at school, walking with him all the way to his class. Is that a lump in my throat as I walk back and, is it raining?

He is in 2nd grade. I drop him off at school, and watch as he walks in all by himself, barely looking back.

He is 8, and is going to ride the school bus. Our days of profound, silly, funny, and sometimes-confessional car talks are coming to an end. I become the crazy mom who follows the school bus on the first day of school, every year.

He’s in 7th grade and is off to Washington, DC for a leadership conference. We pack his suitcase together, planning every outfit. The days he’s gone are a hazy memory. He comes back, having had the best time, and with the biggest smile ever. I’m proud. And happy it’s over. For now.

He is 17, and is off to college—only a couple of hours away. The couch is my best friend. Does it ever get easier?

His sophomore summer, he drives from Florida to Indiana on a summer road trip. My gift to him. He comes back safe, happy and with a tattoo. (I’m curiously proud of what he chose: an image that combines his Japanese best friend’s family icon and the lion from India’s national emblem). Our relationship seems to have turned a corner. No more angry teen-frustrated mom conversations.

He is 21, and is off for a summer internship. In Baltimore. Two weeks after the riots. The days we spend before he leaves are a crazy mix of laughter, food, unshed tears, my moods, panic, and conversations that run deep. My unraveling is not pretty, and upsets him terribly.

The wings are stronger and the flights longer. But I sense the roots are getting deeper too.

To my sunshine, the one who always makes me feel better no matter what’s wrong.

I love you.

I want my house back!

It’s me again. The teary-eyed, emotional mom who had sent off her youngest to college and wrote about being an empty-nester here.

A strange thing happened as I adjusted to this state. To provide some context, I have never been someone who had enjoyed or even had a chance to experience solitude. Having been born into a big family (four sisters), and lived with grandparents, aunts, cousins through adulthood, the first time I was truly alone was when I was pregnant with my daughter within 2 years of my marriage. I had quit my job, moved to Indiana and generally did nothing but be pregnant while Raj went happily off to work every day. Did not know a soul in the new town. Did not have much mobility as Raj took our only car, the old Ford LTD to work, which I couldn’t have driven anyway. It was a bench-seated monstrosity that my 5-foot tall pregnant self found best suited for sleeping in the back. 

Of course that didn’t last long. My daughter came along, and so did my son after 21 months. And then it was a race. Race to feed them, bring down the fever, get them to sleep, to school, piano and violin lessons, baseball and tennis, get myself to work when I stepped back into workforce as programmer and then software Project Manager,…and then college!

When my son, my baby, went to college, I felt justifiably empty, and lost. This time in sunny Florida. Not unlike a mom feels the first time she steps out without a diaper bag.  Doesn’t quite know what to do with her hands.

So I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do. I made a list. I didn’t quite write the next great American novel, but I accomplished several things on my list. Made new friends, started (and stopped) music lessons, exercised fairly regularly, got very involved in the local Tamil community and did a few skits, started volunteering, traveled with Raj, cooked—a lot and, yes, missed my kids.

In addition, Raj traveled a lot these past two years and I was alone a few nights every week. Initially I freaked out—solitude has always scared me, but slowly it grew on me. I went back to my two loves: reading and music. I cooked only if I wanted to. Lunching with my girl friends, exercising regularly, watching the Real Housewives of New Jersey without any child rolling his/her eyes—this became the new norm.

Moreover, my relationship with my children took on a different dimension. For one, my daughter regularly called for advice! I thought that would never happen considering this was the child who, if she had to make a choice between a blue and a red dress, would ask me which one I liked, and then pick the opposite. (This plan went haywire when I caught on to her little scheme, and would say the opposite of what I liked so she would pick what I liked, then she caught on to what I was doing…you get the point. It all got very confusing as we stood in the stores trying to figure out what we should say…no wonder she decided to study psychology!) And then, she called to get recipes! She who was as lost in the kitchen as I am on any parking lot. And actually ended up making some of them!

 I started to have very mature conversations with my son, who works for the diversity office in his college, and pounces if he detects even a whiff of stereotyping in his desi-parents.

Overall, I was starting to enjoy this empty nest thing.

So when my son moved back home this summer (he’s only a sophomore in college), and Raj quit his job with the local company and joined a UK-based company (there goes the daily commute—thank you, Russell!), my feelings were not quite, how to put it, ecstatic! All of a sudden, my house is not my haven.

My son is parked on the family room couch when he is awake, watching reruns of The Office, Community and The Mindy Project for hours on end. Raj is in the den or in the lanai working—to be fair, he doesn’t make many demands of me, and has been tolerating my jokes about having to make breakfast, lunch and dinner, and supplying endless cups of coffee and tea. Meanwhile, my inner diva screams —I want my house back, bitches!

The real point of this story is not to complain about the milling crowd at home (although it would appear so), but to shine a light on the foreseeable future for all those moms who are getting ready to send their children off to college and dreading the empty nest phase. Stay with it, moms. This is your time. Of course you are going to miss them like crazy. Let yourself grieve for the lost sweetness of children under your roof.  Not for long though—for you need to get out those dancing shoes, or the books, or those craft ideas, or polish your resume for your second act! For it truly is your show this time!

Raj Travels: The day I got locked out in the hotel balcony

Okay I am back, but with a post written by my husband, Raj. Boy Oh boy do I have to thank him for providing the best material!

His job takes him out of Jacksonville a lot (at least once a week) and Raj being Raj, always has interesting trips. Remind me to post the Jamba juice story sometime. Now on to the story!

Raj’s night on the balcony – in his own words:

10:30pm – Got done talking to H from H about H

10:45pm – Got back to the room on the fifth floor at the hotel on the beach. Started shedding stuff such as watch, cell phone, wallet etc.

10:50pm –Felt the need to clear my head after the conversation, sound of the waves very inviting and relaxing

10:51pm –Open the door and step out into the balcony. Insects on the balcony, so, close the screen door behind me. It was stuck to the glass door and closed that as well

10:52pm –Hear a click as I turn towards the sea

10:53pm – The click registers and I realize I should check the door. Sure enough, door has locked behind me when I closed it! How did this happen?

10:54pm –Panic hits! I am here in the hotel for the ASAP presentation the following day! On a scale of 1-10, I am at 8

10:55pm – I sit down, take some deep breaths, and bring down panic to 2

11:00pm –After trying for five desperate minutes to open the door, give it up. Ripped the insect screen in the process

11:01pm –Knock on the door to see how thick the glass is. Sounds pretty thick. Lift the chair and realize probably not sturdy enough to break glass

11:02pm –Look over the balcony – drop of 50 feet or more – no chance of survival there!

11:03pm –Scan the ground floor and beach – no entities in sight. Absolutely no one around!

11:05pm –Mentally, chalking up lessons learned from this event – (a) when you go into the balcony, don’t close glass door, just the screen door, (b) always carry cell phone with you

11:06pm – “What are you doing? Need to figure out a way to get out of this balcony!”

11:07pm –Panic goes up to 7. I am going to miss the ASAP meeting!

11:08pm –When is someone going to notice I am missing? Before the meeting starts? When it’s time for my presentation? Will they come to the room or just try to call me on my cell? No one will want to leave the meeting! Will the housekeeping service come before they do? Probably only upon departure?

11:09pm –Panic goes up to 8. How am I going to get out of here??

11:10pm – Sit down again and take some deep breaths. Panic down to 2.

11:11pm -What is the worst that could happen? Sleep on the balcony? Weather seems nice, bugs might be an issue.

11:12pm –Panic goes back up to 8. Reason? Just realized that I had a lot of water to drink during dinner. I could feel the pressure starting to build up in my pea-sized bladder! Look over the balcony – seems like my room is right above an arch – no rooms below. Worst case, a midnight shower should be ok!

11:13pm – Decide it’s time to figure out how to get out. Look over the balcony to the left –can’t see the room. Look over the balcony to the right – lights on, but door closed. Look down at my feet – forgot to wear my spider-man shoes.

11:14pm –Lean over and start waving my hands to attract attention. Start yelling “Hello, hello”. No movement on the balcony.

11:15pm –Look towards the beach and randomly start yelling hello to see if someone can hear me.

11:20pm – No luck so far. Panic is starting to inch up again. Decide to try telepathy with my wife. Concentrate! Deeply! Push the waves! Worked! Phone starts ringing inside the room!

11:21pm –Panic at 10! Just realized that my wife’s going to keep calling until I pick up and she’s now going to go into panic! Look over the balcony to see if jumping’s better than living with the guilt of causing her to panic, again! (Another story, another day, on what happens when she goes into panic!)

11:22pm –Phone stops ringing. Really motivated to figure out how to get out of here

11:23pm –Start waving and yelling at my neighbor again. No luck!

11:24pm –Back to yelling “Hello” at the world again. Reminds me of my first “Hello world” C program I wrote. “Why did Brian Kernighan choose hello world for his example? What a legacy it has created!” Not the time for philosophical thoughts. Need to get out of here. (Refer to this article for more info on“hello world” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hello_world_program)

11:30pm –Alternated between waving at my neighbor and yelling at the world

11:31pm –Heard a “hello” directed at me – I felt excited the way probably Alexander Graham Bell did when he tried his phone for the first time!

11:32pm –Leaned over the balcony and looked to the right – my neighbor got taken aback and stepped back a couple of steps. I told him “It’s ok” and told him I got stuck in the balcony and asked him to call the front desk and tell them that the guy in 521 is stuck in the balcony. He said he would do it right away.  I said thanks and we parted

11:33pm – Help should be here in 5 minutes. Life was coming back to me. I will make it to the ASAP meeting after all. No one will know the difference. I’ll call and let my wife know I am ok and that she shouldn’t panic

11:40pm –Help should have been here already. What’s taking them so long? I should have told my neighbor to check on me in twenty minutes or so, just in case. Did he sleep already? What if no one comes? Panic up to 4

11:41pm – I take some deep breaths. Panic down to 1. I start mentally walking through the steps. Security comes with the room key and opens the door. Wait, wait, I put the chain on the door! S*&t! Are they going to have to break down the door?

11:50pm – I definitely don’t want to sleep on the balcony. I wonder why my wife hasn’t called again. Has she quit worrying about me? Is this what happens when you become empty-nesters?

Midnight –Anger is replacing panic. This hotel has no regard for its customers! Half hour has passed and no help yet!

12:01am – My anger waves probably reached them – Yoohoo! I hear the door opening and then it’s stuck because of the chain

12:10am –Security comes back and they have a special tool with which they lift the chain and open the door. They open the balcony door and let me in to MY room! Come to find out that there’s an issue with the lock – it seems backwards to me and looks like I would not have been the first one with this issue. They fix the door and leave

12:15am – I decide to venture into the outside world and step out of my room (after making sure I have the room key with me first). A young couple walks past me and they giggle as they go past. The guy looks familiar and then I realize he was the neighbor!

12:16am –Decide to call my wife. She picks up and in a sleepy voice says “What?” Is this the welcome for a guy who’s survived a balcony lockout? I describe what happened to her. She says “Are you ok now?” I say yes and she yawns and says“Ok, I am tired. I am going back to sleep”

12:17am – I am wide-awake now from all the excitement. I try to lay down wondering if I am going to be able to sleep and if I am going to be fresh for the ASAP meeting…

Closing thoughts from “the wife”:

Flash back about 21 years. I am pregnant with my first child, and we have just come back from some event to our apartment.

Decide to step onto the balcony.

Enjoying the nice weather, when Raj decides he’s had enough and needs to go the restroom. I tell him to go ahead, I’m going to stay and enjoy the fresh air. He goes in.

A few more minutes, I decide to go in and try to open the balcony door. “Try” being the operative word. HE HAD LOCKED IT ON HIS WAY IN! This is a pattern of behavior that has taken me about 20 years to modify! Locking me out, turning off lights when  leaving a room (with me still in the room).!! Anyway, I shout, bang (no cell phones back in 1991) to no avail. He takes his time (about 45 minutes) before realizing what he’s done.

And then I hear this story. Ah, Karma, my sweet angel! My faith in you grows every day.

New Year’s Ramblings

Here’s wishing a very happy, safe and healthy 2012 and beyond to my 5 ardent readers, 3 of whom are family – take that, Huffington Post!

My mind is right now too cluttered with all kinds of ideas, thoughts, analyses, etc that I need to clear some of it out or will explode into a 1000 pieces like Vikramaditya’s head would have if he knew the answer to Betal’s puzzler and didn’t answer.

A year-end update from our family:

After a brief, but real scare, my daughter seems to be on the mend from her concussion.  She had to take an “Incomplete” on two of her finals as she was not allowed to study until completely free of symptoms.  But, she rocked in her other two classes with high A’s.  Michigan is a tough school to get B’s, let alone A’s!  We’re very proud of her.

My son seems to have adjusted very well to college life.  Brings home huge laundry loads, and unwashed dishes, found some really good friends and mentors, but still misses us when he goes back to school!  That’s all a mother wants for her children right?  Happiness mixed with a healthy dose of homesickness 😉

My husband is probably tired from taking care of all of us during December – and is back to work!

I have finally adjusted, I think, to being a well-balanced emptynester mom.   I felt sad when my daughter left, and didn’t get up from the couch for 4 hours after my son left yesterday, but have bounced back.  I am happy as long as I know they’re happy and safe.  It took me 3 years to get to this point!  Keeping my fingers crossed it sticks and is not a passing phase in my growth spurt.

The holidays were totally relaxed – no real plans and we took it one day at a time.  Played some carrom, watched movies, ate a lot, just hung out.  My son and I watched all 3 Godfather movies.  It’s one of our favorite things to do.  With my daughter, I like to watch classic chick flick (countless times of Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast), paranormal stuff (still can’t watch Paranormal though).  Started playing ‘Words with friends’ with the kids yesterday.

Raj and I were pleasantly surprised at a couple of dinners with our neighbors and friends – the kids totally enjoyed interacting with us on grown-up terms (I was going to say “adult” but I think that term has been permanently tainted for me growing up in Chennai where ‘A’ stands for ‘adult movies’.).  We watched, with wonder,  as they made jokes that were not based on body functions or bathroom humor, talked intelligently about all kinds of topics,  and entertained our friends!  Wow.  When did they grow up?

Had a great new year’s party – only Indians, specifically Tamils, can pull off a NYE party where the dress code was black tie, (but we saw everything from saris, salwars to cocktail attire), the food was Chinese and Thai with Indian appetizers, the drinks were punch and Margaritas, the theme Casino Royale,  and end up with a sensational party!  Great job, organizers!  You worked very hard.  As my friend said the next day, I now feel part of this community – only 3 short months ago, I knew not a person here!

Ah…how can this end without mention of ‘kolaveri’.  Let’s just leave it at that.  Yes, watched it, and a few remixes.  Personally thought the one with Shivaji clips was hands down the BEST.  But, whoever has that kind of time to sync it so perfectly?

Happy new year, all!  Mayan end of world predictions aside,  let’s all have a great year!

Home is…

Between September of 2010 and September of 2011, our lives have undergone a lot of changes.  I quit my job of 13 years, my 2nd and youngest child graduated high school and started college making us that dreaded demography, and led us to the much looked-forward to phase of our lives known as emptynesters, Raj took on a position in the senior leadership team of the company that acquired his previous company, and last but the most important of all, we moved!  From the cornfields of midwest which we called home for the last 20 years, to the marshy swamps of Florida!!

It’s been 3 months and it’s finally starting to feel like home!  I had had a mild panic attack while packing up in Indiana about having to start all over and making a new home at this age!

Home!  What makes a place home? This is my 15th home where I have lived more than 3 months – and not permanent as we’re building a house while renting this year.

As I think about this,the  following pop up in my head:

  • I have 2 neighbors who are very very nice, and have made us feel very welcome.
  • Raj and I saw a snake on the beach by the boardwalk but we were so cool, and unfazed.  Now alligators, well that’s a different animal! I have seen one alligator so far, a baby one.  I am not sure I am ready to cohabit in peace with the alligators yet as most Floridians do, but will cross that bridge later!
  • We met a bunch of Tamil folks – one of whom used to work with me back in 1985 – 90 when I first started my career with CMC in Chennai!  What a nice surprise!  We are so happy to be able to converse in our mother tongue, and have our pick of Tamil people – by age, by interests, because we speak the same language, by whatever!  Back in Indiana, there was one other Tamil family.
  • I am kicking off the Cross Cultural Book Club next week with ‘Persepolis’ – a story of childhood in post-Shah, Islamic Iran told from a child’s point of view.  See here for details.

 Okay so my bookclub has only 2 confirmed members (one of them being me) and a tentative one, but hey, it’s a start!  The idea is to read only books on other cultures (other than American) and written by a non-American author.  I am excited to be able to continue this tradition from Indiana, and hope to meet some cool interesting people!

  • Our house is coming up nicely!
  • It’s been a year since I resigned – on the upside, I have not gone insane.  It is, in fact, the opposite of insane!  My kids and Raj can tell the difference – I am more patient and less harried!  My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner, when my kids were still at home!
  • I still dress nice and haven’t fallen into the ‘frumpy housewife’ trap.  On the downside, I have gained some weight!  With such wonderful stores like Publix and Fresh Market so close by, and an Indian grocery store only 15 minutes away,  it’s hard not to!
  • I do exercise more – yoga twice a week, bollyaerobics taught by a fellow Tamil girl – it’s a great workout!
  • And have had one lesson in carnatic music – one of those dusted off dreams of mine!  Also taught by a Tamil lady!
  • But the number one reason,  the king,  the one thing that lets me  know without a doubt I feel at home is, drumrolls please…

 I’m starting to get annoyed at the folks who share the road with me 😉  Initially, it was “oh look at these drivers – so nice, and driving under speed limit.  I really should start driving the speed limit.  Maybe Florida will cure my road rage”.  But now, it’s “ok lady – are you hoping to get anywhere today?” My daughter used to say I need a bumper sticker on my car that says “Angry Driver”!

         Home sweet home, baby!

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