Monday, 11 September 2023

College move-in

When Ads was a toddler, he was a stickler for routine (he still is). Predictability was key to avoid meltdowns so if there was going to be any disruption or even a minor change to his routine, we would proactively manage it and let him know what to expect. 

I am realizing now that he used the same tactics to prepare us for his departure. Slowly but surely, he has been disengaging himself from us for the last year or two. This summer, between his gym routine, summer job, cricket practice and matches, we barely saw him. He slank in and out of the house quietly and sometimes the only inkling I had of his arrival or (more likely) departure, was the sound of the garage door closing! 

It has now been 10 days since we dropped him off at college. We flew into Madison the previous evening, picked up all the stuff that I had shipped to my friend's place, unpacked and loaded into the car. We also had a nice Indian dinner with our friend. The next morning, we were up bright and early to make our 9 am move-in slot at the campus. The move-in was extremely smooth. We went into the dorm, discovered his roommate was already in the room, and got to work. Lofted the bed, unpacked the bags and in an hour almost everything was in place. Ads is lucky because his residence hall has no ACs in any of the rooms, except for his room! The fan I had ordered from Costco never arrived, so it was a good thing we had AC...I would have collapsed in the heat otherwise. Madison was baking in uncharacteristic 90 degree weather.

We had lunch in the dining hall, and made a quick trip to Target to stock up on essentials, and another trip to get him a credit card. Then back to the dorm, said goodbye and left him to his own devices. He had a house meeting that evening and seemed to want to be left alone. S and I headed to Memorial Union terrace to have some icecream and soon after, whom do we see, but Ads heading our way with some kids! Apparently, we were all going to the same place - a gathering of desi kids and parents on the terrace overlooking Lake Mendota. We parted ways again after that, but of course S always meets and knows people everywhere and there was a catchup of his BITS batchmates (5 of them have freshmen in Madison this year!). By the time we finished dinner and got back to the hotel, it was past 11 pm. It had been a very long day.

The next day, we did a tour of Epic Systems, a Madison institution (started by a Badger). Fantastic and quirky corporate campus. Lunch on campus, another quick catchup with Ads and it was time for a final goodbye before we drove to the airport. No tears, no drama, much to Ads' relief. 

And 10 days later, he seems to be doing well and so are we! Proud he has settled in so well and hope he does well at school, makes a lot of new friends and feels good about his choice. His dorm has been great about organizing events almost everyday so that has helped break the ice (not all dorms do it). He is playing tennis everyday, and hanging out with people. With more than 8000 freshmen, there are a lot of people to meet! 

Tuesday, 22 August 2023

Match-ing matching

6570 days. Of loving safeguarding observing teaching listening and letting go. 

Learning to be vigilantly nonchalant, lovingly tough, fearfully confident; never graduating to beyond the advanced beginner level. Parenting is full of oxymoronic situations!

As Advaith turns 18, I’ve been reflecting on how I (we) did. Did we equip him with everything he needs as he travels to college and beyond? Did we teach him to be independent but not be afraid to ask for help; to be confident but humble; to be kind and helpful but establish the right boundaries; to advocate for himself but spare a thought for others? 

Suddenly, a lightbulb moment-  how could I have missed this!

"Ads," - I yell - "do you know how to strike a match?"

My son looks at me with a resigned expression, which reads - What random question is this woman throwing at me now?

"Of course I know, Ma", he dismisses me.

"Ok, how?"

"I know it ok? You do the thing with the thingy."

"Can you come here and show me how you do the thing with the thingy please?" I insist. 

"When am I ever going to use a match Ma?" He whines.

"I don't know, but please learn how to, right now."

Anyway, it’s clear he’s never used one before but after a couple of tries, he lights a match, throws it down in disgust, and walks off.

Mission accomplished!

Feeling ok with being looked down upon by one’s progeny - literally and figuratively - is also a key parenting skill!

As I keep reminding my kids - your brains aren't fully developed until you are 25. And I have a 30 years head start on you guys!

Sunday, 20 August 2023

Getting closer to move -in day

Ads turns 18 in a few days. I started blogging exactly 15 years ago, just as he was starting preschool in the Bay Area. It feels surreal to know that in less than a fortnight, he will be in college and in his dorm and we will be hundreds of miles away. It feels like he has done a very good job of becoming increasingly independent over the last couple of years, and in some ways, it feels like he has pushed us away ever-so-gently, which will hopefully make the separation process a little easier. As a parent whose primary aim has always been to make herself redundant, this is especially gratifying and gives me the feeling of having been successful. 

Over the past few months, I have been reflecting on my mothering journey with Ads and feeling thankful as I always do for how easy he made it for us. He has always been low-maintenance, a no-fuss, no-drama kid. Very accommodating and adaptable, and in his own way affectionate and caring. All of us grow with our kids and Ads gave me a window into how to be your own person. He is someone who is barely affected by peer pressure and doesn't much care about what others think of him. He doesn't use social media, or play video games. He reads a lot, plays, watches, and reads a lot of cricket, and is a sci-fi buff. We've drummed into him the importance especially now as he heads to college, to be better at social interactions, to network more, to become more interested in other people. I am sure the next 4 years will be transformative for him and I can't wait to see the new version (Ads 2.0, if you will) of this young man!

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Musing on suffering

Over the last year and months, many of my closest friends have been suffering - either the prolonged illness and death of a parent, or scary illnesses and surgeries of close family members, and in several cases a perfect storm of multiple such issues descending upon the family. So much heartbreak, and suffering. Part of it is just all of us hitting middle age and sandwiched between aging parents with health issues, and teenage kids with their own problems, at a time when our own bones are creaking and our bodies in most cases are slowing down. As so many of my friends exclaim - "All we seem to do is talk about health issues and doctors!"

Then just today, I was invited to attend the memorial service of the son of someone I know. This more-than-an-acquaintance, less-than-a-friend, is in his 60s and his 30-something son took his own life a year ago, after struggling for several years with a mental illness. The (Zoom) service began with a slideshow of the son's life. Looking at the happy smiling family pictures, I almost tore up. Even though I never knew the son and don't know the dad all that well, I could connect with the unimaginable pain and the rush of emotions he must be experiencing at the moment. And of course, as a parent, you can identify with the loss at a cellular level. As I was watching the slideshow, my phone pinged, and seeing it was an email from Ads' school, I immediately opened it. The principal was notifying the school community about the death of one of the students today. Even Ads had not heard about it and this was yet another heartbreaking news to top off the day.

I almost didn't attend the service but I am glad I didn't skip it. My friend's eulogy for his son was very moving. Being in solidarity with him and listening to his heartfelt words, even if only virtually, gave me a fresh reminder of how often we just sleepwalk through life, overvaluing a lot of things that don't mean much on your deathbed, even while undervaluing all the little joys and triumphs of daily life. What are the values we want to live by? Is this an issue I want to go to battle over? What will make the other person happy, while making me not-unhappy?

When people around you are dealing with life-threatening illnesses or the loss of a loved one, it's impossible not to feel grateful for all the good things happening in your life. Our life becomes much more meaningful once we practice gratitude so regularly it becomes like muscle memory. 

At the same time, I feel I am also getting impatient with problems that seem self-inflicted, superficial or just plain silly. And that's not a nice empathetic state of being. Edith Eger, in her thought-provoking book "The Choice", has this to say:

I also want to say that there is no hierarchy of suffering. There’s nothing that makes my pain worse or better than yours, no graph on which we can plot the relative importance of one sorrow versus another. People say to me, “Things in my life are pretty hard right now, but I have no right to complain—it’s not Auschwitz.” This kind of comparison can lead us to minimize or diminish our own suffering.

One morning I saw two patients back to back, both mothers in their forties. The first woman had a daughter who was dying of hemophilia. She spent most of her visit crying, asking how God could take her child’s life. I hurt so much for this woman—she was absolutely devoted to her daughter’s care, and devastated by her impending loss. She was angry, she was grieving, and she wasn’t at all sure that she could survive the hurt.

My next patient had just come from the country club, not the hospital. She, too, spent much of the hour crying. She was upset because her new Cadillac had just been delivered, and it was the wrong shade of yellow.

On the surface, her problem seemed petty, especially compared to my previous patient’s anguish over her dying child.....

I realized that day how much my two patients, who appeared so different, had in common—with each other and with all people everywhere. Both women were responding to a situation they couldn’t control in which their expectations had been upended. Both were struggling and hurting because something was not what they wanted or expected it to be; they were trying to reconcile what was with what ought to have been.

Wise words. I'm afraid I am not there yet! And sometimes I feel I don't want to be. Some people, I just want to knock them on their heads and say "Get a grip. Don't whine. Just think of actions and solutions, you'll be fine."

Of course, I would never actually say that. But I can't promise not to think it!

Monday, 2 January 2023

Dois Irmaos

I had read about the Dois Irmaos (Two brothers) hike in Rio on many blogs and I pinged our travel agent to ask if he would arrange for us to do a sunrise hike to the mountain. To my surprise, he flatly refused. "Not a sunrise hike, Aparna. We can do a daytime one, though." To get up in time for the sunrise, which in Rio is at 5 am, we would have to leave our hotel by 3 am. The trailhead to the hike is accessed through a Favela (slum) and Adam, our agent, was adamant that it was too risky to go wandering around in that area in the wee hours. He launched into a big tirade about guns/drugs/the mafia/shootouts and how he could not take responsibility. 

So we started off around 9 am with Sergio (our guide for the day). Sergio is probably 15 years or more older than me, but much fitter, as would become obvious later! We took an Uber to the favela. A bunch of guys in yellow reflective jackets each sitting on a motorbike started hounding us for our custom as soon as we got out of the Uber. We picked a mototaxi each and the bikes took off. Up the steep hill, zipping through traffic with abandon and taking corners at great speed, it was quite an adventure! 

The favelas in Brazil don't look like Indian slums. If anything, they look like lower middle-class housing in India. So the sense of abject poverty that you get in Indian slums, is definitely missing. Many of them, at least in Southern Rio, lie on the sides of the mountains so they have spectacular views of the beaches, ocean, and mountains.  We passed through a community football ground where a heated game was in progress. The trailhead lay inside the Tijuca National Forest, the largest urban forest in the world, bang in the center of the city. The Government has taken up a lot of reforestation initiatives, introducing native plants and trees to the habitat.

The trail itself is short (1.5 km only) but belies the distance by being extremely steep. It took us about 45 minutes to get up the hill, Sergio agilely leading the way and me bringing up the rear, huffing and puffing. At periodic intervals, Sergio would look back at me encouragingly. "Almost there!" he would exclaim. I stopped listening to him after the fourth time. Along the trail, there were 2 enterprising lads from the favela who had lugged up ice-cold drinks for thirsty hikers, at captive pricing of course! 

The view from the top? I'll let the pictures do the talking. 

We headed back down the trail, exchanging smiles and Feliz Natals with the cold drink vendors, back through the football ground, another hair-raising mototaxi ride down the hill, to a shop selling what looked like bhaturas (turned out to deep fried cheese puris) and..... bliss....fresh sugarcane juice! I needed that sugar fix and for 5 Reais (US$1), we could get unlimited refills. 

Definitely an unmissable part of the Rio experience!

Brazil #1

"God is Brazilian" - the people of this country like to say. One can almost believe it; that it could be no alchemy of geography and climate, but only a divine hand that could have endowed this land with such an indecently large share of natural treasures. To counteract which, as one of our guides wryly observed "We have our politicians!" 

The tiny part of the country that we managed to see in a week or so is swoon-worthy alright. Rio's setting is spectacular, a picture-perfect composition between the South Atlantic Ocean, Guanabara Bay, and the Atlantic rainforest.

What really stood out for me though were the people. Our family usually blends in quite well in Latin America, but in Brazil, there is such a wide range of skin tones that no one could tell we were NOT Brazilian (until they started jabbering to us in Portuguese, at which point it was clear we weren't even from the same continent!). It's not that there is no racism in Brazil but there has been such a long history of miscegenation and "racial democracy" is such an ingrained part of their national identity, that race is simply not a part of the national conversation as it is in the US and other countries. 

And the body positivity!!!! I was very impressed with how Brazilians of every size shape color and age own and rock their itsy-bitsy bikinis (I rarely saw anyone in a modest one-piece swimsuit; if I did, likely they were foreigners). Not just women but men too. From 80+ year old grandmothers and grandfathers to tiny kids, from the morbidly obese to the size zeros, whether suffering from postpartum stretch marks or the unfortunate effects of gravity;I guess this is what comes of a lifetime of wearing the minimum of clothing and knowing no one cares or judges what you look like. 

Keep calm, sip a caipirinha and watch the sun go down in Copacabana :)  

Also, even purist Tamilians will find it hard to complain about the coffee :) 


Arpoador. In Portuguese, it means "Harpoon thrower". In the 16th and 17th centuries, this rock was where the indigenous people of Brazil and the Portuguese settlers would harpoon whales. Today it is THE spot to view the famous South Atlantic Sunsets in Rio. 

We arrived well in time for the 6.45 pm sunset, found a good spot, and perched uncomfortably on the hard rock. The husband went to the very edge of the rock to guarantee unobstructed views. Y plugged in her Airpods and immersed herself in a musical world. Ads, irritated that we were a full 30 minutes early for the big event, pulled out his phone as well. 

I elected to people-watch. Next to us, a young couple was cootchie-cooing inside a warm blanket.  A little ahead, another couple was fiddling with some complicated pieces of equipment to get the best shots of themselves with the falling sun. A woman about my age tied her flip-flops around her arm and gingerly made her way down the rock, away from the rapidly swelling crowd, to sit in solitary splendor at a 90-degree angle to the sunset. I would have loved to click a picture of her, so regal she looked illuminated in a glowing haze of yellow. In the water, surfers were riding the waves with varying degrees of competence. In front of me, Morro Dois Irmaos (the two brothers' mountain) leaped up from the waters, their jagged peaks in sharp relief against the orange sky. "Agua, Agua Coco!" yelled a young man walking in between the crowds, paying scant heed to the view. He had probably seen hundreds like this one and was intent on selling his water and coconut water before the crowds dispersed. 

The kids woke up from their phones. "It's really pretty", Y remarked and started clicking photos. As the sun slowly sank into the ocean, clapping burst out all around us. Ads looked at me in wonder "Why are they clapping?"

"It's a tradition here. I read about it", I told him. 

That evening, there were probably 200 or more people on the Arpoador, waiting for the sunset. Yes, many were on their phones, and many were posting about the experience even as it happened.  #stunningsunset 

There were foreigners like us, and Cariocas too. There were rich people from Leblon and Ipanema and poor people from the favelas. There were families, people in love, kids, and people having deep conversations with others and themselves. There were also people making a living selling coconut water. 

But for 45 minutes, all we did was sit on a rock and wait patiently for that most common yet most timeless of daily events, a sunset. For a brief moment, even the avid surfers just bobbed along with their boards, their bodies and eyes turned towards the horizon. And when it finally happened, all of us clapped, in delight and wonder, and okay....because everyone else was doing it :) 

I could tease some "universal human experience" gyaan out of this but what I really learned from it was that one must always always clap for a sunset :) Oh and sunrise too, why not?!  

Wednesday, 14 December 2022

2022 Recap

2022 has been an intense and eventful year, possibly the most eventful ever. It started with a lovely winter trip to New York City during the President's Day weekend in February. Later that month, my parents arrived for their long-anticipated visit. We did some sightseeing in DC (including the famous Cherry blossoms) and in April set off for a road trip through the Carolinas. Oak island, NC, Charleston, SC, and the RTP (Research Triangle Park) region all in one week. In May Ads & S went off to Atlanta to play a tournament and Y and I were alone at home. Appa & Amma came back from Seattle and we spent our anniversary weekend in June in Lost River, WV, followed by a wonderful 5 days in NYC. The weather was warm and the city looked beautiful and it was a great pleasure ferrying my parents around the iconic sights. Everyone had a blast at Madame Tussauds!

In the meantime, Ads was driving well and had started his job at Old Navy. Unfortunately, in late June, my mil had a bad fall and S rushed to Chennai to help. Y and I followed suit after S came back. We spent 3 uneventful weeks in Chennai and I started my new job there on Aug 1. By the time we returned, Ads had made tremendous progress with his college essays and in late August we got started with the college process in earnest even as the kids went back to their school routines. September and October were a blur. Y started fencing lessons. I traveled to Portland for a board meeting and detoured to the Bay Area for the weekend to meet my close friend Chitra. We got our green cards (for the second time!), Ads got his driver's license and we sent off his ED/EA applications well in advance of the Nov 1 deadline. 

Fall 2022 in our neck of the woods was truly spectacular. This is the fifth fall we are experiencing and the colors were mindblowing this time. We spent 3 days in New River Gorge NP, WV. New River Gorge is one of the newest national parks and is absolutely gorgeous. Back in VA, it was time for another round of applications for regular decisions. My Diwali gift was one of my poems published in the 2022 edition of NOVA Bards (an anthology).

Y's 14th birthday in early Nov, and then Thanksgiving break later that month, in Puerto Rico. My first time using Costco travel and I am now officially a fan. The resort we were booked in was probably (most likely) the BEST we have ever stayed in. And we've stayed in lots of nice places. Multiple pools and jacuzzis overlooking the Atlantic ocean, a water park inside, an abundance of swaying palm trees, and a lovely ocean-view room made for a vacation that broke the bank (as always!) but left us with a ton of amazing memories. 

A scant 2 weeks later, we are prepping for a vacation in Brazil. Ads has received early admission confirmations from Pitt and Penn State which has been a relief. Sometime during the year, we all got our Covid bivalent booster shots (the 4th shot!), Ads became a National merit semifinalist and managed to score 1530 on the SAT. If there is someone who has worked REALLY hard this year, it's him.

What an action-packed 2022 we've had. Immensely grateful for all the time spent with family and friends, and all the progress made toward our individual milestones. It doesn't get any better than this. 

Monday, 14 November 2022

Finding your passion

My firstborn has always been highly economical with words. Monosyllables do the trick most of the time, occasionally complemented by grunts. Small talk -what's that? Jokes elicit a gentle smile (derisive if it’s a PJ!).

But every now and then, a different creature emerges. Someone I don’t often meet. Someone who talks loudly and boisterously, and laughs openly and often.
This creature is only seen in his natural habitat - the cricket field or in the company of his cricket buddies.

A few weeks ago, we saw this avatar, at the annual banquet of the Washington Cricket Academy. The season is over and next season will be the last one he plays for this club. In the last 4 years, he has made enormous strides - in confidence, athleticism, discipline, and focus. Come April, I inwardly groan at the thought of each weekend for the next 6 months being sacrificed to cricket. The commitment in time (12-hour days), energy, and headspace has been draining for us but clearly energizing for him.

There's so much talk nowadays about "following your passion". But few of us even know what our passion is, much less how to follow it. It feels good to know that, however serendipitously, my kid has found his.