Starting Over

Discovering myself, my family and friends in a foreign land, second time around


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My mane girl

I step into her room at 6.45 a.m., like I always do, to wake her up on schooldays. Princess is lying face down on the edge of her pillow with Bobby the stuffed dog peeking out of the crumpled sheets. Her hair is a dark halo around her head. I touch her shoulder.

“Five more minutes” she mutters. As I try to step out, she grabs my hand and pats the space beside her. I acquiesce. I run my fingers through her hair as she grabs the last few minutes of sleep, trying to finish the dream starring teenaged Greek demigods.

A year ago, DQ, Princess and I got haircuts on the day we boarded the flight to Singapore, to join my husband, Princess’ father, to begin life as a new family. At the salon, I noticed how thick her hair was; a legacy from her deceased mother, I assumed. She gamely agreed to the short bob suggested by the hairdresser, pleased with the extra attention. She looked cute, a little older, more sophisticated than her ten years.

DQ has thin, straight hair, like me (and my mother and maternal grandmother). DQ’s silky hair doesn’t tangle even after a rough night. She moved from a short style in kindergarten to long braids to finally settle upon a ponytail as her preferred hairstyle for school. I call her my little pony. One day in the park, a stranger asked her what shampoo she used. I took it as a personal compliment; after all, I was responsible for her general health and shiny hair! We went through a phase where she wanted curly hair. As a birthday treat, I took her to a salon where they twirled her hair around curlers and brushes, blow-dried and sprayed her cascade of hair and generated a few ringlets. DQ’s excitement lasted longer than her curls, which went back to their default position, like a dog’s tail, in less than 24 hours. DQ then started lobbying for getting highlights in her hair. A few streaks of honey blonde, or red – why won’t you let me, she wailed. We have agreed to revisit this issue after she turns eighteen.

In our blended family, the responsibility of caring for Princess’s thick tresses naturally fell on me since HH, like most fathers, is clueless in this regard. With my considerable expertise in this department, I thought this would be an easy task. Ha!

For tomboy Princess, hair care is the last item on her priority list. On good days, it’s a waste of time, similar to daily showers and on bad days, it is an enemy to be subdued if not attacked outright, like the monsters that her beloved hero Percy Jackson tackles. If she could have her way, she would leave her hair in an isolated quarantine facility, out of reach of well meaning but pushy family members. The first time I tried to comb her hair, she bolted out of the chair as if I had pronounced the need for a root canal. If brushing her hair was a chore, washing it was a punishment – for both of us. She hated having me hover around in the bathroom trying to shampoo her hair that had been tortured by basketball games in the humidity of hot Singapore afternoons and twenty laps in the pool.

Some of my favorite memories of childhood involve the time my mother spent rubbing coconut oil on my scalp, trying to cool my head from “all the studying”. I loved to sit on the floor as she combed my hair and braided it. This was my special time with her, time that I didn’t have to share with my brothers, time where I had access to my mother’s complete attention. While my DNA strands may connect me genetically with my mother, my hair strands connect me to my mother on a visceral level. These strands that she caressed and cared for were proofs of her affection and building blocks of our strong bond.

I desperately wanted Princess to allow me access to her tangled mass of hair, initially, to get her into a presentable form. Awful hair is a symbol of a mother’s neglect. With immense patience (and a little bit of pressure from HH), I was able to convince her to sit still while I combed out the tangles. I told about my petite grandmother with waist length shiny silver hair who looked like a character from a fairy tale. She showed me her baby pictures with a head full of hair on her newborn head. DQ shared her admiration for a friend who had recently had her head shaved for a good cause. In the context of bad hair days, Princess told us the story of Medusa. The girls and I tried out a few shampoos and conditioners until we found the right one. As her hair grew, we bought accessories and tried new styles. Over time her hair transformed from battlefield to bonding opportunity. Each morning before school when she asks “Can you comb my hair?” I know we have turned a corner.

I pull my fingers out of her hair and Princess stirs to an instant state of wakefulness.

“Good morning. You look like Simba.”

“Why?’

“Look at your hair” I say. She smiles.

“See what I found in your hair” I show her the pink clip that has been in her hair all night.

“In my mane, you mean” she says with an impish grin.

“That’s right. DQ is my little pony but you are my mane girl,” I say as I hug her and pull her out of bed. We laugh.

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A mom who walks

“Walking is a pastime rather than an avocation.” Rebecca Solnit

beach stretch“Are we going for a walk?” asks Princess. She skips out happily when I say yes. For her, it’s a special time to step out once dinner is done, after school and homework and cleaning her room and the countless demands and directions that mark her day. For me, it is the first time I have stepped out of the apartment and possibly the highlight of my day. Our nightly walks have become a daily ritual, a rite that binds our family. When all of us choose to step out, we walk in two rows of two each on the narrow sidewalk. Sometimes it’s just me with my girls, each trying to narrate the day’s events or one monopolizing the entire conversation. On rare occasions, HH and I walk as couple. On days when one of the girls is unusually quiet or deliberately giving me the silent treatment I don’t know whether this is a good idea. Is this helping us bond? Will the girls cherish this routine when they leave home?

As a lanky teenage girl, transforming from a book-loving non-athletic child to skinny young woman, my friend and I walked hand in hand, sometimes wearing identical clothes through the busy Bombay streets, two pairs of braids swinging around our shoulders. Some evenings we walked to the temple, on others we did some errands or stopped for spicy street food when we had money to spend. Traffic fumes engulfed us as we navigated streets crowded with vendors pushing cartloads of bananas, people queuing up at bus stops and beggars lining the pavements. We talked as we walked, trying to make sense of growing up, understanding the world of adults as we contemplated our future. We didn’t know then that she would get married young but remain childless, a lingering regret that she is yet to come to terms with. Neither could we predict the marital troubles that would plague me for several years before I decided to do something about it.

Walking took a back seat during the years I buzzed about the capital beltway to school and back, always in a hurry to get somewhere. The laboratory beckoned. So did last night’s dinner dishes in the sink. I walked in parking lots. From my car to the mall, in Safeway aisles, up the road to the 7 floor parking garage in downtown Baltimore. It was a barren time in my life, a period of intense activity with very little introspection or interaction. As a couple we maintained busy schedules. As an individual, I didn’t have time to make new friends. I didn’t know then that this self-centered upwardly mobile phase was the beginning of an unraveling; an emotional moving apart that put many miles of unspoken distance between us as we lived the DINK lifestyle.

family in the distance on beachI resumed walking in California because I needed fresh air. Stuck in my office or lab all day, mothering a baby in the evenings and catching up on housework on weekends left few options. A lunchtime stroll around the periphery of my beautiful workplace in the San Francisco bay area was the perfect solution. I had 45 minutes of alone time in the mild sunshine as I walked a complete loop around the triangular site. I took comfortable steps in my Easy Spirit pumps, enjoying the light breeze blowing gently across my face. In an era before cell phones became appendages, getting out meant taking a break, from coworkers, computers and chores. I made a new friend one afternoon, a young woman who had moved to America for better opportunities, excited but bewildered by the world around her. Her lack of fluency in English was no barrier to our connection. We spoke about important things, matters that were hard to articulate to others but easier to say aloud to a relative stranger albeit one you met regularly. I didn’t notice how easily my body got back in shape after DQ’s birth or the month when I finally made peace with being a working mother without the debilitating weight of mommy guilt.

The terrace of the duplex house I moved into with DQ was my walking track for several years. The large L-shaped structure that overlooked the frangipani tree in the front and the children’s playground around the corner shielded me from inquisitive neighbors and well-intentioned strangers eager to know why I lived without a husband. The moon would hang low on some nights, yellow and heavy with promises of better days. Dark moonless nights reflected my somber mood when I wondered how my life had transitioned into that of a single parent. As I walked along the edges of the small terrace, I decided to leave my full-time job and create a more balanced work life. I couldn’t have known then that this physical moving out was also the spur for moving inwards to identify my core values and hidden desires.

Walking has always enjoyed “most favored sport” status in my life. But walking is so much more than mere exercise.

I would walk into my parents home, eager to talk about my day.

I have found walking across the room to greet a stranger and walking away from a dangerous situation to be equally terrifying.

We walk in and out of a relationship unaware that it may leave a permanent scar.

We may walk with friends or for a cause.

I walk towards new experiences but hate being walked over.

I find walking on air and walking on eggshells equally tenuous.

I love walking around a new city to get a feel for the place.

I walked beside my father as he learnt to walk again after hip surgery.

I have walked behind DQ’s first pet, a tiny but fierce dachshund who chased larger stray dogs fearlessly.

Walking can be the catalyst for creativity. Wallace Stevens said “I write best when I can concentrate, and do that best while walking”.

Walking provides a means for a moving meditation. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau remarked, “I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think, my mind only works with my legs.”

I don’t know if our family nightly walk ritual will lead to greater unity and fond memories but I would like my girls to walk boldly, and without fear; to discover not just physical benefit but joy in simple things. 

Now shall I walk 
or shall I ride?

“Ride,” Pleasure said

“Walk,” Joy replied.

               
~W.H. Davies

beach stretchWhen alone, I rest my voice and activate my thoughts by walking. I put out silent questions and stay tuned for an invisible but palpable answer. I study what I have read and ponder over what I have heard. When I have company, I share what I have understood and open up about what puzzles me. When I turn around to see how far I have come, physically and metaphorically, there is more ahead to wonder about than what I have left behind. I echo the thoughts of John Burroughs – “I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read and all the friends I want to see.”


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A tale of two names

I have always had two names – two first names, two last names. Many people call me by the name my mother gave me, the one she had decided as a teenager to give to her future daughter. This is the name I share with a soulful melody in Indian classical music. The other name was important for many years; it was the name by which my schoolteachers and college friends addressed me. This name originally belonged to my father’s sister, the one who died young. The name my mother refused to accept, fearful of any misfortune that might come my way by making this choice. Torn between the wishes of wife and mother, my dad did what he thought was reasonable. He made both names official. And saddled his only daughter with dual identities. Although not born under the Gemini sun sign, I felt like that there were two parts of me; complementary, not congruent.

When it was time for me to get married, several years after my paternal grandmother passed away, there came a time to decide. I could choose to rearrange my names and take the same last name as my new husband. I was undecided. Dad stepped in again. I needed a passport to travel abroad to join my husband. With the brand new marriage certificate in hand, he officially changed my name again. My shiny passport had my picture but belonged to a stranger. The two first names switched places but stayed. I now had a new last name.

My new name marked my entry into a foreign country. Here I was a wife. As if that wasn’t strange enough, I was once again a student but now my graduate school classmates called me by the same name that I was called at home. With time, I grew into my name and life grew like a tightly wrapped shell around this central kernel of my identity. I published scientific papers, acquired a green card and later wrote freelance articles for local magazines. As far as my name went, my personal and professional identities finally merged. I was no longer the split twin. Years later, I checked the spelling on the document that the social worker showed me in the hours after DQ’s birth to ensure that the name I picked for DQ was spelt correctly. It was no surprise to see that our new family of three was united in one way; we bore the same last name.

The story so far is a standard one. A life defined by a name, a name conferred by someone other than me. I didn’t get to pick the name but I could decide what the person who bore the name did. Like many women before me, some who kept their maiden name, the ones who agonized about their decision to take on their husband’s name either at the time of the wedding or after the birth of their children, I lived within the confines of social mores, not over-thinking the consequences of my name in a future I could not foresee.

It has been several years since DQ’s dad and I divorced. I have continued to use the name that was on my first passport, the name that I had identified with in adulthood, the name that I have the legal right to hold on to, irrespective of my marital status. I kept the name for the same reason I had taken it in the first place, it was just easier to do so. As a single parent and the primary one, it marked DQ and me as a unit. As a career woman, it maintained the continuity of my professional credentials. Now that I am remarried, is my name an asset or a liability? Is it a possession that belongs to my ex or a reminder of another time, permanently etched to my identity?

Like GPS coordinates, my two last names pointed to my location on the planet for equal number of years. A name after all is a label; as personal as “sweetheart” that my husband calls me and as distant as “hey you” that a stranger in a crowd may utter to address me. But a name is more than a label. It is an inheritance from your parents that is uniquely your own. It is the primary way in which you respond to the world and the lens through which the world sees you. It defines you, shapes you and grounds you. It is the one right you take for granted, from the time you start interacting with society.

Over 25 years ago, author Anna Quindlen wrote about holding on to her maiden name after marriage “…. it so happens that when it came to changing my name, there was no consideration, rational or otherwise. It was mine. It belonged to me. I don’t even share a checking account with my husband. Damned if I was going to be hidden beneath the umbrella of his identity.” Although she felt left out when she had children who bore the same last name as her husband, she declared, “I made my choice. I haven’t changed my mind. I’ve just changed my life.”

A fellow blogger wrote recently about deciding to take on her husband’s name after having two children. “It will draw me, on paper, into the fold of our little foursome. We will be our unit. I don’t know why it matters to me that the world sees that. But for some reason, it does. I want the world to know we’re a little family of four. That means playing by the world’s rules. That means all having the same name.”

It is not so simple for me. Any change I make will affect the family. If I take on my husband’s name, DQ gets left out. If I go back to my maiden name, it adds more names to the family mix. Perhaps, I should stick with just one first name, like Madonna, but I am no celebrity. The hardest part of this dilemma is that it is one that only I can solve. The name by which I am known is mine alone and any decision that I need to take is a personal one. My father is not around to point me in any particular direction and HH has wisely left the decision to me. DQ does not have an opinion and Princess is unaware of my predicament.

The city I grew up in changed names a few years ago, the Anglicized Bombay was discarded in favor of the original Indian “Mumbai”. The city remained unconcerned – the population density, poverty, chaos and overall entropy continued to increase. Shouldn’t the new name have symbolized some change? An improved version, a makeover, a different avatar perhaps? Change happens as it inevitably does. The Bombay of my childhood and the Mumbai of today are different. The change had nothing to do with it’s name. The city evolved in response to external factors. It had grown, decayed, resurrected and renewed itself in many ways, undocumented by name boards, unsung by media. Mumbai remains a whirring, buzzing megapolis, filled with indomitable energy. It is a testament to the irrepressible DNA of the city that survives, unfazed by natural disasters and manmade terrors.

A name change generally signifies a life change. In my case, my life changed while my name stayed the same. I am not the same young woman who left behind her maiden name when she left her father’s home. I am no longer the sad, bitter person who struggled with building a life after divorce. I am not the single mom mourning the death of her parents. I am the resilient woman who survived and took a chance at building a new family. I am the optimist who can see the long term unity of this family with a mosaic of names. I am more than a combination of words. My personal identity is more than just my name. Like Bombay, my evolution will continue, unseen and unannounced.


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Letting go

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body” – Elizabeth Stone.

I waved to DQ as she passed through immigration and security at the airport and walked towards the departure gate. She would soon board an international flight and return home in two weeks. I was quiet, mulling over this temporary separation from my child. It wasn’t the first time she was flying alone to another country, it was the second time in 6 months. I had been nervous then. This time I was cool. It was my calm acceptance of her ever-increasing steps towards independence that rankled more than the travel per se.

“Are you upset about DQ going away? It’s only for a few days” said HH, observing my silence.

“I am used to it” I replied. “These pangs began long ago. From the moment I delivered her” I snapped, a little too sharply.

The toughest part of mothering is letting go. It begins initially with physical separation.

On DQ’s first day at preschool, she held on to my legs and wailed “Don’t go, don’t leave me here.” I went through the workday with intermittent visions of her tear-stained face. A concerned coworker observed my plight and said “Enjoy this clingy phase while it lasts. My teenage boys don’t want to be seen anywhere near me.” I smiled, secure in the knowledge that my little girl would never do something like that. Now I know what parenting a teen means. My coworker was right. In the early years, whenever I traveled for work, I acutely missed DQ. She seemed perfectly happy subsisting on Dominos and Baskin Robbins without my nagging.

It hurt to acknowledge that my child can survive AND function fully without my constant inputs.

A friend tells the story of his 4 year old daughter who would say she didn’t like chicken, having been brought up in a vegetarian household. As she grew older, her response to “do you like to eat chicken?” changed to “I don’t know, I haven’t eaten it yet.” Slowly, ever so subtly, children inch away from being your echo to finding their own voice.

My child has her own opinion which is different from mine and she does not hesitate to say it. Should I admire her or be upset?

DQ and I were movie buddies for a long time, happy to watch romcoms and sitcoms together; until she became a teenager. Birthday parties, movie outings, mall crawls – Mom was no longer the first choice. Between phone, Facebook and face to face with friends, there were no details that needed to be shared with Mom. Unless there was a school-related emergency of course.

The young woman who shares some of my genes and quirks, no longer leans on me exclusively. How can I not feel abandoned?

Children can be our mirror, reflecting us completely, warts and all. Children are also a prism, splitting our thoughts like light beams into many colors. They illuminate our world; add meaning and depth. How does the little person who you care for and coach turn into a free-thinking planet, tethered to your gravity for a while but always in the process of generating the required escape velocity to pull away and launch whole-heartedly into her own orbit?

Life is a series of acquisitions – objects, information, skills, abilities. Life is also a list of losses – objects, innocence, relationships. With life comes the experience of having things move away from your control, voluntarily or otherwise. Logically, letting go should come easily. But it doesn’t. Specially for a mother. Not because we grasp too tightly, but because we remember. The warm baby breath on your neck as your infant falls asleep, the bruise from a fall on the playground, the smile when you cheer enthusiastically for your child, unaware of how embarrassing it looks. We linger on the sweet memories and the terrifying ones. We save the keepsakes for later. We savor the moments. And from this storehouse, we pull up recollections to compare, or to complain.

Watching your child grow up and away is hard because it involves a conscious process of detachment. Letting go involves selectively forgetting what once was. Letting go requires effort to let things be. Letting go is an exercise in discipline. Letting go, paradoxically, is a form of control. I control my instinctive impulse to hold on, I control the flood of memories each step towards independence brings, I control my fear for my child’s safety.

So I let go of my doubts. I set aside my anxiety. I focus instead on how far we have come, DQ and I, on a road that has not always been smooth. I wave her off with a smile, secure in the knowledge that she will travel the world with confidence. There will always be a part of me with her, the part that steadies her hand as she takes off on this adventure called life.


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Boring sounds good

I was riding in the front seat of an ambulance. And I was not dreaming.

About an hour prior to this moment, I had found HH lying on the floor, in pain. I would say writhing, but he could not move, even an inch. He had returned home from a squash game earlier that day complaining of backache. A common enough occurrence, I had learnt, in the few months that I had known him. He knew his weak back and how to nurse it back to health. Some rest, restricted movement, a few stretches and he would be on his feet in a couple of days. His mantra was “absolutely no pain medication”. How ironic! I am in the pharmaceutical business with a fervent belief that my work helps at least some people feel better. Clearly those people do not live in my house!

I rushed to the floor to hold his hand and asked him if I could give him something for the pain. He said “Yes”. And I knew this was serious. Even before he started screaming. The pain seemed to come in waves, like contractions. He held my hand tightly during that time. He couldn’t raise his head to swallow the tablet I retrieved from my stash of medicines. I knew it was time to go to the emergency room. A friend showed up. So did the ambulance.

With the help of pain medications, muscle relaxants and a night at the hospital HH came home. He is resting now, not too thrilled about the limited mobility, as expected. It is a little strange – having him home on a weekday.

Not so long ago, the hours weighed heavily on me. Each morning after the girls and HH left home, I would settle into my weekday/weekend, morning/evening routine. How slowly the hours would pass! Silent hours. My phone would hardly ring. No white noise from the television. No one rang the doorbell. Loads of alone time at home.

Boring. Boring. Boring.

All I did was wait, for my family to show up, to hear the girls talk excitedly about their school, HH to recount some funny incident from work. The days had fallen into a predictable sameness. I craved some excitement. I hoped for some tension to break the monotony. Something.

Anything.

And that’s what I got. An ambulance ride on a Saturday afternoon.

“On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being no pain and 10 being excruciating, how would you rate your pain?” asked the petite, competent emergency response woman. “Six” replied HH. Really!! 6? I wondered at HH’s pain threshold that enabled him to pick a number below 100 for what I considered was equivalent to full-blown labor that he was experiencing with the recurring muscle spasms.

All that seems like a dream now. I am glad he is home; a little stiff but pain-free. I can hear the television in the other room, sometimes he is on a call. We have lunch together. Mostly I go back to my reading. And writing. I know the girls will get home soon. And there will be conversation, some teasing, some music playing on DQs phone.

DSCN0576Life is once again predictable.

Boring? Perhaps.

But it sure sounds good right now.


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Mindful of motherhood

Image

It’s Monday morning and there is an eerie quiet around the house. No cups of milk and chocolate chip cookies on the table. No pink and purple lunch boxes, no water bottles. No shouts of “I don’t have socks” or wails of “where is my ez-link card”. HH is sitting at the table quietly reading the newspaper. I sit on the sofa watching the last of the darkness melt into the rising sun.

Princess has a two-week break from school and has chosen to spend it in India with grandparents. DQ is off on a school trip to Indonesia. And suddenly, there is no bustle in the house. No “busyness” of a weekday morning with the school rush hour that jump-starts our day. No homework reminders in the evening, no dinnertime tantrums, no night walks as a family – at least for a few days. How dull!

Life with children is a whirlwind, unpredictable and uneven by definition. The best planned pregnancies lead to uprooting of stable routines and a leap onto the first car of a roller coaster. You can see the steep incline and anticipate the dip in your stomach but you can’t stop it or yourself, from staying unmoved. While we may moan and complain about a previous way of life being lost, it is we who are lost.  Parenting fills our days; expands us in ways we didn’t think possible (notwithstanding the flab around our middle). The neat freak learns to live in an untidy house; the rigid disciplinarian gives in to giggles. We are irreversibly bound in a contract that requires us to set our children free. Of all the career paths we may have wished for, parenting is the one we are least prepared for and the one that turns out to be the most rewarding in the long run.

This week we are celebrating the arrival of a new baby in the family. Hold on, I said “in the family”, not in our home. HH’s brother and sister-in-law are proud parents of a little boy. Princess was among the first people to see her new cousin in India. I shared the excitement hundreds of miles away in Singapore. “Babies always seem to make you happy” said a good friend when I shared the news. She was right.

Birth is life-affirming. Every new baby who is welcomed into the world has the capacity to change it, perhaps not in a planet-changing way, but in a life-altering way for his/her parents. Children are symbols of our mortality, they remind us of our age as they grow. Children also contain the seeds of our immortality. They carry forward our words, our deeds, our imprints. They keep us on our toes, allow the child in us to surface, enable us to stay youthful. We love them for who they are and also for what they make of us. I am now more patient, persistent and polite, qualities my mother wished I had had when I was little. It takes a child to raise a parent.

I miss having my children around. Not just their groans and squabbles and demands but the vibrant life they create for me. In their presence I am more mindful and responsive. I feel more, I show my feelings more openly. I express my vulnerability. They have given me a great gift, the opportunity to be in their life and influence it. And I in turn, have experienced the joy of simply loving, unconditionally.

As Phyllis Theroux puts it,

When I think about why people have children, I realize how little it should have to do with the future. If, before any children were conceived, we knew that our reward for raising them would be perhaps several phone calls a month, a very occasional visit, and the sense of having once been important in their lives, we might not do it. But if we realize that the rewards are given during the raising, we will calculate the cost differently. My children have taught me more than I have taught them, given me more joy than I have given them, and their not being present or even much aware of me now does not alter this.


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Family ties

“Have you made any friends in Singapore? Do you feel settled yet?” asked a well-meaning friend.

The short answer was “no, yes”. But the simple answer was far from the true one.

Now that we have crossed six month milestone as a family, life seems to have taken on a different hue, and its not due to the haze that has begun to descend, thanks in part to the longest dry spell within Singapore and brush fires in the neighboring countries. 

My initial days in Singapore were action-packed, full of jobs that HAD to be done in order to

  •   Make the home livable and functioning
  •   Sort out visa issues – multiple trips, paper work, waiting
  •   Get kids ready for school – books, uniforms, bus routes

Then I had to get the family organized which required me to

  •    Figure out food preferences
  •    Lay down some house rules
  •    Look into hobbies and activities

The third phase was to come together as a unit in spite of our

  •    Personalities (irrespective of age or gender)
  •    Sleep cycles (teenager and others)
  •    Mood swings (irrespective of age or gender)

HH feels like a deer caught in the headlights in a full-fledged household. He has to work at the office and work at home. Was there such a time when he could prioritize a game of golf on a carefree weekend?

I feel swamped with homework, exams, activities, miscellaneous errands, PMS (mine included) and the general chaos of a home buzzing with constant activity. Am I the same person who spent one whole month at an ashram last year, away from “real life”?

Princess feels there are too many rules in this house. Why can’t clothes be stored in a pile on the floor and why aren’t French fries considered acceptable breakfast, lunch AND dinner food

DQ thinks there are too many people in this house. Why can’t she be allowed to study, text and Facetime simultaneously without people looking over her shoulder? 

HH feels there are too many women. Why are we always late everywhere?

I think there are too many demands. Do we have enough milk, a healthy after-school snack each day, clean and ironed clothes?

Some of these questions can be answered and some will linger eternally, each generation seeking answers that are acceptable at that age and maturity level. Till then, we can only focus on our actions, not knowing whether they are permanent solutions or interim management measures. So we set a few expectations.

  •    To eat dinner together, even if the meal does not have the preferred food of each member
  •    To go out for a walk at night, sometimes all of us, sometimes I go alone
  •    To allow each other the space to do what they like, whether it is silence for me to read, or Saturday mornings for HH to play squash
  •   To listen, to speak, to cry if needed, without interruption or judgment
  •   To laugh heartily as we bake cakes and muffins each week and consume whole-heartedly

At dinner we hear that Princess is making new friends since her overnight picnic organized by the school. While walking, I learn that DQ likes the Leadership Series of lectures at her school specially when the speakers are spiritual people who offer insight. I read to HH from a book that lies besides our bed. He tells me how is trying to workout in the gym in the office.

I still pick up towels from the floor. DQ and I argue about the hours she spends online. HH tells friends we are late because he can never herd three women out the door in time. I try to fit some writing into each day.

These have become our bonding rituals. With these we underline our philosophy for our family. These are our family ties.