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

 

 

 

From Amma, With Love…

Dear Chinna,

As you go through life as an adult, I want you to remember the basics. Everything you need to know about life, you pretty much learned during the first years of life!

Have a productive, meaningful and filled-with-love life!

Love,

Amma

Always be curious.IMG_4013

Have a seat at the table for all kinds of folks.IMG_4015

Be goofy with your loved ones.IMG_4014

Don’t ever stop playing.IMG_4019

Sisters are the best!1422483_3691002970128_1226104493_n

Always listen to amma 😉IMG_4016

Travel as much as possible.IMG_4012

Be adventurous and take risks (check with amma first).IMG_4018

Get out of your comfort zone every once in a while and challenge yourself to face things totally unexpected.IMG_4020

Clean up your messes. Always. Never hesitate to apologize to anyone, and unconditionally if you make a mistake.IMG_4021

Have music in your life. Always.IMG_4017

Remember appa is always there to guide you.10404526_4311216035067_5037209842270875144_n copy 

You will have the whole world in your hands!IMG_4011

For My Kannamma

Happy birthday to my little girl – you gave me the most meaningful role in my life first, by choosing me as your mom.

I fell completely in love with you from the minute I saw your tiny silhouette in the ultrasound.

You amazed me the first time you called me “amma” –you were barely 9 months old, and imitating your cousins, but I knew you meant it.

With the way you recognized my touch, and my voice when you were barely 2 weeks old.

With the way you would pick out my shoes in a gathering of 10+ women and bring them to me when we were ready to leave. You were barely a year old!

When you smiled for the first time, like clockwork—you were 30 days old. We were giving you a bath.

And the compassion and the sensitivity that was beyond your 18 months, when we were in a car wreck, and you tried to console me!

With your uncanny, and slightly spooky ability to exactly say what I was thinking when you were 3 years old.

With your slightly crazy sense of humor.

With your hard work and dedication to anything you commit to.

With your determination and passion in your chosen line of helping autistic kids.

With your sharp mind, and the intellect that goes with it.

With your insanely strong hands!

With the love and bonding you have with Kashew, and the way you are raising him—someday, when you choose to have kids, I know you’ll make a fantastic mom!

Thank you, my baby, for letting me make all my first mistakes as a mom with you, and still loving me.

But, above all, for turning out to be a beautiful, kind and gentle human being!

Love you (and your brother) more than anything or anyone else in this world—even though you both think I love Kashew more than you two!

Happy birthday, kannamma! May all your dreams come true!

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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.

April 17, 2015

My parents in 1963

My parents in 1963

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A couple I’ve known all my life celebrated 52 years of being married on this day. Fifty two eventful years with never a dull moment. Their marriage, like most, hasn’t been a storybook one. It has had its moments of glory and moments of utter despair. It resulted in five daughters—in a land where even a king who has five daughters is prophesied to end up on the streets with a bowl in his hand, they have survived. Gloriously. All five daughters married, with 2 children a piece, totaling ten grandchildren. I am talking about my parents, Jayaraman and Nithyakalyani.

This is my little tribute to their life together. I will follow the order in the phrase “mata, pita” and start with my mother.

She was born to Alamelu (Perambur patti to us) and Venkateswaran (Perambur thatha), with 5 siblings. Due to family circumstances, she had to drop out of school without completing high school to take care of her brothers and sister. She met my dad through her brother, my uncle, Mani mama.

I use the word meeting  loosely here, as it was 1963 in traditional Chennai, where a boy and girl talking in public was cause for a minor scandal. Mani mama and my dad used to work at Binny Mills (or was it B&C back then?) in Chennai. My parents got married at the young age of 23. Theirs was quite the unconventional marriage for those days as mom is the same age as my dad. But, the story I have heard goes like this: my dad said he would marry only my mom, or not marry at all. She married into a huge family of 8 sisters-in-law and became “manni” for not just her “naathanars” (sisters-in-law), but to everyone in the family who came later—including the “maappillais” and the grandchildren.

My mom is an amazing cook, very artistic (she makes beautiful kolams) and has a thing for numbers. She used to tell us stories most days while she fed us.

I love to hear stories about my thatha and how he pampered his daughter. He gave her very unusual wedding saris—a Kanjivaram silk in pistachio green with a dark green border for the wedding, and a gold tissue Banarasi for the reception. I remember the gold tissue sari from my younger days. It was the most gorgeous sari I had ever seen. Unfortunately, it simply became threadbare over time and we lost it. My thatha used to be an accountant for a cardamom estate owner and was able to afford nice things for my mom. From these and other little things she has told me about him, I know she was very much loved and cherished by her father. And that makes me very happy, because my mom’s married life has been no walk in the park.

She used to play the violin and put it away after getting married.

The 3 things that my mom taught me and my sisters, that still guide me are:

  1. Charity, even, or especially, in poverty—I remember one Vijayadasami/Saraswati puja when I must have been 12 or 13. I came home after some school activity. Mom had new clothes set out, and told me we were giving it to some poor kids (we were, by no means well off then—we got 2 new sets of clothes every year, usually from the textile factory where my dad worked, Anglo French Textiles. They were usually rolls of some fabric, in two colors/designs if we were lucky so that all four of us wouldn’t be wearing the same outfit. We also got used clothes from friends and relatives!) I accepted what she said without a question. That’s when she told me that she was just testing me, and the clothes were actually for us. I often think about this and wonder if I have passed this on to my kids.
  2. Run far away from people who do bad things (“dushtarai kandal dhoora vilagu” in Thamizh)—though I don’t always remember and practice this at the right moment, this has been an invaluable lesson and has saved me from plenty of heartbreak and pain, not to mention wasted energy and time fighting people and things when it’s not worth it.
  3. A corollary to #2: Don’t hit back at people who have wronged you, be it your sisters, your enemies, your friends, whoever—people usually get what they deserve. This one is hard, but the older and wiser(!) I get, I understand that the universe works in very just and fair ways, usually. For the rest, there is my old friend, Karma!

Of late, my amma has become frail and weak.  I wish I could bring her here to Florida with me and give her some peace and tranquility, but she is too tired to travel anymore. She talks about living in an ashram. I am not old enough to bless her, but I wish her peace for the rest of her life, with all my heart. Peace that has been a rarity in her difficult life.

Now about my dad. He is quite a character. Known as “meesai” mama by his nieces and nephews thanks to the military-style mustache he sported.

Like my mother, he too, didn’t finish college, and I suspect regrets it to this day. But, my dad never stopped learning. He has not let a lack of college education stop him from leading a successful life, giving all five of his daughters a decent education, and marrying them off.

He is a constant learner, full of curiosity, and doesn’t mince his words. This last trait has not won him any popularity contests, but I know people respect him for it.

He has great work ethics, is a self-starter and knows how to get work done from people. When I read about people like Jack Welch and Steve Jobs, I honestly think under the right circumstances, provided the opportunities, my dad could have been a fantastic entrepreneur. At 75, he keeps himself as much updated on the technology of today’s fast-paced world as he can, drives himself and mom around in the horrible Bengaluru traffic, and pretty much keeps himself busy with a job he doesn’t need, if only for my mom’s sanity. He left India between 1977 and 1985 to work in Kenya and Nigeria to be able to provide a better financial life for his family. (That’s where he learned to speak Swahili, and still retains some of the vocabulary, especially the swear words!)

The things that my dad taught us girls directly or implicitly, in no particular order:

Obsessive punctuality—I sometimes wish I hadn’t acquired this. While it is painful to be fashionably late to social functions, the pain is magnified by the fact that I am married to someone who is perpetually running late.

Curiosity—I like to think I inherited my curiosity about the world around me from my dad, and thank him for it.

Play—my dad definitely is one who qualifies for a “young at heart” award. He has always been boisterous, fun-loving and loud. His “kaaka” (crow) in the kaka-nari-vadai (crow and the fox) story is probably the only one to sing “chaudwi kaa chand” when the cunning fox tricks him into singing. He cheated on all games with us kids. I suspect he still does, when he plays with his grandchildren. He is also the source of the latest kollywood gossip for me—our telephone conversations include an update on the latest movies, politics and news such as “nalaikku Sridevikku valaikaappudi”.

He is also the proud author of a family lullaby, a classic that’s been passed on to his daughters, all of whom have sung it to our kids:

The song goes like this:

“Thoongu paapa thoongu

Thoongina odane ezhundru

Ezhundha odane saapdu

Saapta odane thoongu”

Translation:

Sleep baby sleep

Wake up after you sleep

Eat after you wake up

Sleep after you eat

Genius, no?

I do wish he would be more patient with himself, mom and everyone around him and generally sit back, relax and enjoy his retirement years. He has earned it.

My parents are polar opposites in everything—personality, temparement and outlook. They bicker, they drive each other mad, and I don’t know how they have survived fifty years together, but I am positive they wouldn’t know what to do without each other.

Happy 52nd anniversary, Amma and Appa!

Then And Now

Then, she was a normal teen.  Sleeping in till noon, didn’t know where anything was in the kitchen (for that matter, anywhere in the house), spirited arguments with mom.  Both my kids at one point believed I was the evil incarnate, and took to referring to me as satan, and Damien (after the evil child in the Omen series).  She recently told me “by the way, I still have your caller id saved as Damien in my cell”.  I seriously wondered how this child would ever survive in the real world.

Well, last week proved that not only she would, but would make us proud doing so.

I’m talking about my daughter, who is a 3rd year student in college.  She called my husband last week to tell him that she had just spent the entire afternoon weeding, cleaning up and planting grass and vegetables in the tiny yard she and her roommates share in the house they rent.   And she didn’t stop there.  She went on to tell him that she only knew how to do any of that because he had “made” her work in our yard.  Oh…you should have seen Raj’s face.  Bursting with pride.  Speechless with emotion.

And, since she was planning on a long 5 hour car trip during the weekend to see her high school friends, she took the car to the dealer, and had them check it out.  Unprompted.  Without us nagging.

Small, but absolutely satiffying returns on 20 years of hard parenting.

So, parents of teens who think they would never again be on speaking terms with their children, take heart.  There is light at the end of this long tunnel.

PS. I was mildly amused when she called me the next day and said “Oh I’m so glad it’s pouring here – I don’t have to water my plants.”  And had the grace to laugh at herself when I said the rain was probably washing away all the seeds she had painstakingly planted.

To my baby who’s growing up. 

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