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!

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Hope, Change and Jalebis

It’s been 2 days since the nail-biting finish to months of campaign watching, wringing of hands over reports of voter suppression, elation/relief at the gaffes by Romney and team that slowly revealed the truth about them, anger over republican ideas on “legitimate rape”…and I can’t stop smiling and feeling relieved it’s over, and it’s gone the way of the people.

The last time, in 2008, which was also the first time I voted as a citizen of this great experiment called America, we had spent watching the election night coverage at my friend’s house. A whole bunch of us were there, excited for the historical night. We had some doubts, but were mostly optimistic. This time, though I was alone at home, since Raj was traveling and I was dreading the prospect of watching it alone – the stress was killing me!

So, the new me called some friends over. To make jalebis! I say the new me because I’m discovering myself all over again since we moved from the corn fields and cold winters of Muncie, Indiana to beachy, marshy Florida. And kind of surprised at what I’m finding in me! I had left behind some longstanding friendships__ some true, some dysfunctional but all comfortable__and started anew, not knowing a single soul in Florida. Just like 22 years ago when I got married, moved to the US, then quit my job, got pregnant and moved to Muncie. The difference was, we were just starting our lives together then__raising 2 children, a job, a career and building our future took care of any anxiety about making friends.

But last year was different. Our kids were both in college. It was going to be a clean slate for me again__ but this time, I had no day to day responsibility of kids or a job to keep me occupied. I had to find things to do to make myself from going crazy.  But, I’ve realized over the past year, that people are people, and most are good, normal people just like us. Once I got over the mental block of extending my arm in friendship first, it got easier and easier.

I am now happy to report a small group of friends that I can call for almost anything__be it an illness,  to go to a music concert or  desi movies with,  to go shopping, or to come make jalebis with me on a week night and watch Mr. O getting reelected! And these girls have full time paying jobs, and kids living at home!

Well, they came, and we made jalebis and jangiris! I had the batter ready, one filled the ziploc bags to pipe the batter into hot oil, we all took turns making crazy swirls in the hot oil, and one dipped them in the sugar syrup. My husband kept calling every few seconds announcing the latest electoral vote count. It was better than a bar! Noisy, smoky and full of laughs. We finished just about the minute when Ohio was called for Obama and Karl Rove started unraveling on air. We all sat around the tv, and took a couple of pictures with my cellphone to mark the moment. And I instinctively picked up the phone and dialed my Muncie friend’s number – at whose home we had watched the last election. Then noticed that she had posted on my facebook wall almost at the same time!

There is change in me – we are, after all, organic, and without change, we might as well lay down and die. There is new confidence about my ability to start over and a renewed faith in people. There is hope that I will build friendships that will last a long time. Like the ones I have going on, long distance. Best of all, there is at least four more years of (what I am predicting to be) a historical presidency!

O eating a jalebi! Coincidence? Don’t think so!

Here’s a video of a professional chef making jangiris that we found on Youtube. While ours aren’t this perfect, (it is only our first time), they are GOOD! We celebrated Obama’s reelection with fresh hot jalebis/jangiris!

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.

Top 10 reasons I’m glad I married my husband

As several of you know, I recently had a nightmare of a time with the evil kidney stone and the even more evil kidney stent.  This was the first time one of us had been really sick after the kids left home.  This was going to kind of set the baseline of how we would handle these in the future.  And I’m so glad I was the sick one.  Because Raj showed me how it’s done.  The whole episode confirmed my faith in our marriage and love and reminded me of why I am so lucky to have ended up with him!

Since I am always picking on Raj in my blog entries, for a change I decided to publicly embarrass him with this.  Here’s to my loving husband!

(The numbering really is pointless – I just listed all the things that came to my mind.  To his credit, this post only took about 30 minutes!)

Top 10 Reasons Why I’m Glad I’m Married To My Husband

10.  The way he felt bad about having to spray the lizard that got inside the house.

9.  During my recent kidney stone/stent-gone-bad episode when I seriously considered sleeping in the bathroom, gave up his side of the bed willingly so I could be near the bathroom.  We all know what a major disruption that is – you’re all set on your side of the bed with the light, reading material, your night ritual gear, alarm clock, etc. !

8.   Worked full days (albeit from home), and took care of me, and the chores at home, for a full 10 days when I was sick – he took care of me like my mother would have.

7.  He is always the + to my –  and keeps the juice flowing.

6.  When I was too worn out from taking a shower (yes, I kid you not) made me sit down and blow-dried my hair.

5. After 21 years of marriage, still says thank you every time he eats a good home-cooked meal.  That’s several nights a week.

4. Willingly gives up watching football to watch a chick flick with me if I’m feeling down.

3. Believes in me more than I do myself.

2. Never talks about his title, position, achievements or the charity he does.

1. Shares my love of music.

I hope and pray both my kids find someone as good as their father!

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!