Friday 17 September 2021

16th birthday

Ads turned 16 last month. I had dreamt that his grandparents would be there for his birthday but sadly, that was not to be.  However, my uncle and aunt were down from Texas and a few days before his birthday, we had a family dinner with them and my cousin. Y and I baked a cake and I got him a cute coffee mug from Etsy and also splurged on a fancy cake topper, in addition to buying him a pair of bluetooth earphones.

So all pretty low-key. The day stands out in my mind for being swelteringly hot. We have been dealing with AC issues on the ground (first) floor for weeks now so the frosting kept melting and I had to keep pushing it into the fridge to cool it down! Plus that was the day the whole snake drama happened. A very memorable birthday indeed! 

Hiss-trionics at home

 “Ma……” Ads called as he quickly climbed up the stairs from the basement. 

It was his 16th birthday, a sweltering evening in August. I was in the kitchen, having just popped the cake frosting into the fridge to cool it down before I worked on the cake again. 

Clutching his phone in one hand, he walked towards me, his expression unreadable as always. 

“Don’t panic. But...….I think there is a snake in the basement.”

“What! WHAT! A SNAKE!!!!! Oh no!!! Oh my god!!!!! And what do you mean you think! Don’t you know?”

A picture of calm and poise I was not. So much for asking me not to panic. 

As I started hyperventilating, Ads began to grin, unable to mask his amusement at my absolute terror. He pushed his phone towards me, on which (horror of horrors!) there was a photo of something large and black coiled up in a corner behind a couch. 

My cries brought put the husband and daughter rushing from their respective rooms, convinced that at the very minimum the house was on fire or being burgled by a gang of robbers in broad daylight. 

Let me backtrack here. We live in a nice house with a large backyard and lawn. It’s a side lot so we have no neighbors on two sides, something I’ve always considered a huge advantage. The large tract of land to the back and one side is green and verdant, essentially shutting us off from the outside world and providing a safe haven for all sorts of wildlife - foxes, deer, beavers, squirrels, rabbits and more bird species that we can count.

And apparently snakes too.

This was not the first time we had encountered Mr (or was it Ms) snake? It (a rat snake, non-venomous) had found its way a few times earlier into the garage and slithered under a convenient hole in the wall. On that first occasion, I had displayed some finely-honed maternal instincts by insisting that the kids go out to the garage and get rid of the snake with a stick or broom handle. 

Y was shocked - “This is great, Amma. You’re asking to your kids to go out and handle the snake while you sit inside the house?!!”

“Yes”, I retorted. “If it bites you I know the number of the poison control center. And I can drive you to the hospital, which is more than you guys can do for me.”

(Let’s not dwell on that incident too long. As PG Wodehouse would say, it was the day the scales finally fell from my children’s eyes). 

So anyway, the damn thing (was it the same one?) was now actually INSIDE the house. Which was good, come to think of it, because the county animal control would only come out to help us if the animal was inside the living area (the garage doesn’t qualify). S and Y were dispatched to go down to the basement and keep an eye on the snake and make sure it didn’t run away somewhere while I feverishly hunted for the animal control number. To my relief, they promised to come out within 30 minutes. 

Soon enough, a police van rolled to a stop in front of the house and a very smart policewoman walked in. She was in and out the of the basement within a couple of minutes, and reappeared holding a large bag in which, presumably, the snake rested. 

And then she went out and let it out in my backyard :( 

“What if it comes back?” I asked her, biting back some choice expletives. 

“Oh I think he just came in by accident...he shouldn’t bother you again. Just make sure you plug up any possible points of entry.” she smiled. 

I think she was the bravest person I’ve ever met. Y & S later told me it was a long snake (3 feet or so), black and thick. 

Since then, Amazon saw a sudden uptick in purchase of snake repellents from our zip code :) Apparently those things work only against venomous snake but who cares? At one point we had barricaded the exterior basement door with a couple of small tables so that the snake couldn’t get in. I discovered some suspicious looking poop near the patio and promptly started researching about how to identify animal poop (and of course there’s an app for that!) I am now a certified expert in snake poop and snake repellents...only not on how to stay calm when you spot a reptile. 

Who says city life is exciting? Come live in the suburbs!

Sometimes it’s a family of squirrels making a home in your attic. Sometimes it’s your basement flooding after a heavy bout of rain. Sometimes it’s the burglar alarm going off when you are hundreds of miles away on vacation, waking you up at 4 in the morning. 

And sometimes it’s a rat snake making itself at home in your basement. 

“Ads, I wish this stupid snake wouldn’t come into the house. Why can’t it just stay in the yard?” I complained.

“Ma,” he replied “ Unfortunately for you, snakes don’t respect property rights!”

Tuesday 3 August 2021

First job

Ads recently got his first paycheck. It’s always hard to tell from his inscrutable demeanor whether he found it exciting to have earned money through his own hard work, but he was definitely amused by what he would only think of as my ludicrous over-excitement :) He worked as a cricket coach for a summer camp that his cricket academy was running for 8–12-year-old kids. 

The work started more than a month ago with designing and printing flyers and doing outreach. There were a lot of Zoom calls to discuss the revenues, expenses, and likely profits (how many lanes do we need, what is the daily rental we need to negotiate for, what should be the camp fees, etc). Ads solemnly biked over to the Indian grocery store nearby to stick the flyers in their window and asked me to socialize the camp in my desi WhatsApp group :) The boys made a list of likely prospects and called them to gauge interest for the camp and register those interested. They planned the daily and hourly schedule, including a “Friday Fun Day” that seemed to include playing everything other than cricket! On the days of the camp, they had to go to the academy early to sweep, mop, and sanitize the premises, and they stayed back after the kids had left to clean up again. 

The boys were doing this for the first time and they made plenty of mistakes, which hopefully they have learned from. They will be savvier and more organized the next time around. They started the planning process too late (the marketing effort should have started immediately after spring break, and not in June when most parents have already signed their kids up for various activities). They didn’t have a large enough “pipeline” and struggled to get registrations. They didn't harness social media to get the word out. Finally, they realized that planning something on paper (or a Google sheet!) is easy; on-the-ground execution is much harder! 

I was happy that Ads did things that were completely out of his comfort zone. Cold-calling people, trying to sell them something, doing the grunt work of follow-ups, dealing with younger kids for several hours a day, cleaning and organizing- each of these activities is tough in its own way, and especially so for our kids who are cocooned in a comfortable bubble most of the time.

I'm hoping that in the next few years he will work at other jobs that are not in the comfy white-collar zone, especially those that are customer-facing in service industries. Restaurants, retail stores, supermarkets….I want him to bag groceries, fold clothes, work at a cash counter. I really believe that these are tough jobs that will be a fertile learning ground for young adults, and part of me wishes I had had the opportunity to work at such places when I was younger. So maybe I am projecting all that onto him, but with the best of motherly intentions :)

Summer 2021- it's almost over!

This summer has been a lot busier than anticipated. We renewed the lease on our house, and we are here for another two years. 

In July, we drove to Cleveland, Ohio, for a short vacation. Met an old friend of S's from high school. On his suggestion, went to a place called Put -in-bay which is an island in the middle of Lake Erie. It was a 2-hour drive from Cleveland to the place from where we had to catch a 20-minute ferry to the island.  From the dock, we took a bus to get to the downtown area. The town of Put-in-Bay is small and quaint and entirely dependent on tourist traffic. The kids were able to go parasailing for the very first time. Who would've thought that a cold dreary city like Cleveland would afford that opportunity?!!!! They had a blast that day - parasailing over the lake on a perfect-temperature sunny day, wading and swimming in the cool waters, playing ball near the beach.....Y pointed out that it was the first time she and her dad had been able to go swimming since March 2020.

Overall, I was very impressed with Cleveland. It has a small but nice national park, a couple of good universities, a nice museum and arts district, and Lake Erie (one of the great lakes). We were blessed with very sunny bright weather most of the days so I guess we saw the city at its best. 

Back home, one of my besties visited for the weekend, her family in tow, and the next weekend, we drove to North Carolina to meet her and tour UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University. In a few days, we are off to Columbus, Ohio where Ads is playing in a tournament and where I will meet yet another friend from high school whom I haven't seen in years. In between, we have middle school orientation for Y, and I have been prepping to make sure we have clothes and supplies for back-to-school. Before we know it, the summer vacation will be over. 

Ads recently received his very first paycheck which was quite thrilling for me :) More on that, coming up soon!

Saturday 19 June 2021

Summer 2021 - Rhode island vacation

Cobalt-blue water, beautiful bays, divine sunsets, fancy Marlinspike Hall-esque mansions (get the Tintin reference?), the sun shining on it all...Newport Rhode Island is a paradise. The famous Cliff walk is a moderately challenging 3.5 mile walk along the Atlantic ocean, paved in paths and rocky in others. On one side is the aquamarine water pounding on the rocks, the other side is lined with the mansions of rich and famous (some of them converted into boutique hotels). The Sachuest Wildlife Refuge, the Cliff Walk and all the beaches were close to the airbnb where we stayed. A short drive away was the Fort Adams State Park which claimed to host the best sunset in the area.

Good food (first time in a while all of us went to a restaurant), long lovely walks, and a side trip to Providence to walk around Brown University. We spent a day in Yale (New Haven, CT) on our way back home. 

The summer holidays have just begun, with a bang :)

Thursday 10 June 2021

3 years of school - recap

3 years completed in the public school system in the US, and the kids have grown and blossomed. Well beyond my wildest expectations. When I think of the anxiety I experienced in July/August 2018, it feels almost absurd that I should have been so scared. But worrying is a parent's prerogative and burden; thank you to Ads & Y for showing me what resilience is all about and for taking the good bad and ugly in your very smooth stride. 

Reflecting on the past 3 years, some strange and some interesting happenings:

1- Y and I standing in line to pick up Advaith's laptop in middle school, the teacher mistaking Y for the incoming student (8th grade) and profusely welcoming her until I corrected her and said that Y's brother is actually joining. Y was happy that she looked taller and older!

2- A horrible afternoon on the first day of school. Ads' bus from middle school was late, and he wasn't on board! Made the driver call the school. They said he had missed the bus. Rushed to his school. Couldn't find him anywhere. In full panic mode now. Realized I was getting late for picking up Y so rushed to her bus stop. Fortunately, she was on board. Quickly dropped her home. By now, am almost in tears and at wit's end. Suddenly a phone call, Ads using some random stranger's phone. He had taken the wrong bus and also got down at some stop that he didn't recognize! Fortunately, it was not far away. Told him to stay put and jumped into the car (again!) to pick him up. All this in 100-degree heat and 90% humidity.

That same evening, marched Ads to Verizon and bought him a phone! Later on, the same kind stranger from whom Ads had borrowed the phone called to ask if everything was okay :) 

Where was S in all this? Travelling as usual!

3- Colonial Day in Y's school where I volunteered for several hours, and watching Y dance colonial dances, play the violin etc. 

4- Watching 4th grade perform a musical based on the Wright brothers 

5- Last week of 4th grade and a lovely pancake breakfast in the classroom. I volunteered and got to meet other moms and make pancakes. The homeroom teacher got sudden back pain/muscle spasms and started crying. Dramatic ending to a fun morning!

6- Y contracting the flu just a day before a much-anticipated field trip to Yorktown and Jamestown. She was so upset. 

7- Proud parents watching Ads make the honor roll in 8th grade, and getting a prize for best student in English 

8- Open houses in 8th and 9th grade, and wandering bemusedly through school corridors, wondering how my kid would ever navigate the confusing layout and crammed daily schedule! He could, and he did :) 

9- Working on the 8th-grade science fair project, and helping make Ads' charts 

10- This year, proud of Y for getting a President's Education Award Certificate for outstanding academic excellence, one of the few in 6th grade in her school. It is given to graduating elementary school students who maintain a certain high level of academic performance (in Y's case, in 5th and 6th grade) and get atleast one "Pass Advanced" in the state exams. It was totally unexpected and a lovely surprise. 

11- Being able to participate in the many wonderful events and activities planned by the school staff, teachers and the PTA, for graduating 6th graders. Car parade, a virtual promotion, a field day, a memory walk etc - truly they made it a very very special send-off. I was very skeptical of all the tamasha initially. What's the big deal, I thought? Much ado about nothing. But it is a cute rite of passage as these kids transition from carefree elementary school to becoming responsible teens. Middle school is a different ball game. No one is going to handhold you or spoonfeed you. You are accountable and responsible for your grades, cocurricular activities, and your schedule. Parents and teachers are no longer going to support you as they did in elementary. In fact, parents will rarely even know what's going on. I am glad that we got to experience this with Y. 

Here's to summer, and new experiences in middle school!

Yard signs for all 6th graders

Memory walk 

Friday 21 May 2021

Speaking my truth (poem)

Don't be angry with me, just wait a sec ...

You know I love you, 

but it's hard to keep you in check.

Your whimsy, that foul temper!

The way you are so contrarian!

My dear, do you remember 

the many times I've thought of something to say, 

and you violently disagree? 

You just have to have it your way!

The pen writes not what I want to express, 

but some proposition of your own.  

You know it leads to a lot of stress

when you won't cooperate and collaborate; 

if you put ideas into my head.  

I think it's very immoderate 

of you, to assign to me a beliefs or feeling

that I had no intention of subscribing to.  

You say you are just revealing 

what lies beneath my well-chosen expressions. 

I call it squealing and wheeling-dealing,  

a wanton act of aggression,  

to steal my thoughts and lay them bare 

on the naked page, for all to see. 

But....perhaps you're right and I must prepare

to confront that ugliness inside of me... 

Say what I mean, and mean what I say. 

Be honest to the highest degree.


On second thoughts, you are absolutely right 

to have taken me in hand, and asked me 

to reconsider and reappraise and rewrite. 


Where would I be without this rectitude,  

this compass, this unseen and unacknowledged beacon;  

it was in danger of decrepitude. 


I get it now; you love me too,  

my dear conscience, and you won't let me stray 

too far from the truth; I'm grateful to you.

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Random acts of kindness

I took Y to get her first Pfizer dose today and the lady who administered the vaccine was so kind. She patiently explained everything about the vaccine and its side effects to Y, including me in the conversation (unlike most docs and nurses in this country who insist on talking only to the child!). She answered my questions about scheduling the second dose. She also cleverly asked Y a question about what she (Y) was going to do once she went back home, and while Y was thinking about it, deftly jabbed her arm!

She must have seen so many people today. I know she was just doing her job; but nowadays, I am moved by any small display of consideration and kindness. Someone holding a door open for us, or smiling under a mask, or moving aside on the trail to make way for me as I race past huffing and puffing; the tiny courtesies that are so much a part of pre-pandemic life feel novel and unfamiliar. Like a precious gift, forgotten in a dusty corner that I have serendipitously discovered now. 

We just got an email from Y's school principal that an ex-teacher had passed away. Turns out she is the mom of Y's classmate and succumbed to breast cancer. She leaves behind two young kids. Another random act of kindness - this classmate's dad had met Y one afternoon, several months ago, when she had gone out for a run and got lost. He met Y on the road and she asked him for directions and he walked her home. As they walked, he asked her where she studied and informed her that his son was in the same class as Y.  I was very grateful to him that day. That tenuous connection makes me feel doubly sad for him, his 2 kids, and his family now.  How do people deal with losses of such magnitude? Those kids' entire lives will now be coloured by the loss of their mom at a tender age. 

Monday 17 May 2021


The weekend has been spent resting, after our 2nd dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Today I napped for more than an hour, a deep, strangely unsettling period of rest. Immersed in the very depths of sleep, as I fought my way to consciousness, it felt like I was buried many thousands of fathoms under the sea. Laboriously, I pushed my way up into awakeness, hands and legs pumping in the imagination. Even at the surface, the eyes would not cooperate and refused to open and take in the world! It was a process of almost physically having to peel the eyelids apart, so heavy had my slumber been. 

I come out of these naps feeling lackluster rather than rested (S says that's because they are too long, and he is right). There is a heaviness in the limbs which makes me think that this is what it must be like to be very old. One of my husband's (and Y's) "fun" things to do is to click a snap of me while I am sleeping. I am always upset to see how utterly exhausted I look in these photos. Mouth slack and open, I look for all the world like someone who has run a marathon and just plopped herself down to sleep, not at all like an active woman who gets her 8 hours every night! I wonder if this is just one of the many changes that the body experiences, with increasing age.

Anyhow, relieved to have got both shots now and we will be considered to be "fully vaccinated" after 2 weeks. The CDC also approved the Pfizer vaccine for 12-15-year-olds and Ads has already got his first jab.

Sunday 16 May 2021

The present (poem)

 In this alien land, the sense of unbridgeable difference loomed large. 

The very air smelled light; no more the anticipated heaviness of a summer's day. 

The humidity rose and settled in waves around me, burnished with birdsong. 

I strained to hear the familiar sounds of traffic, but only met the thump of basketball against hoop.

My tongue drooled for the annual Alphonso and rebelled at the acid Mexican variety.

Summer brought indecent lushness, a hint of the tropics;

but the tropics I remembered was wilted trees surrendering to the heat.

Strange, unaccustomed land; strange, unaccustomed beings! 

I have to embrace it with open arms; else the remembrance of the absent ones will undo me.  

This is the here and now; the one and only present.

I won't long for the yesteryears and might-have-been;

Welcoming this unexpected gift, I will untie the tangled skeins of an unremarkable life.

Wednesday 5 May 2021

Goals for 2021 and 2020 report card

Since 2019, our family has had a formal goal-setting exercise every December, for the New Year. Since 2020 we expanded to doing a family meeting at the end of every month to review where we are on our goals, how the last month went, what's top of mind of us for the next month etc. 

Last year's "performance", I am quite happy about actually. My goals were doable, and some I knocked out of the park. And for the rest, well it was 2020....we can be kind to ourselves :(

Learn swimming - Did start classes in early 2020 at our health club, which shut down in March 2020 :( At this rate, I might be pushing 60 by the time I learn to swim like my kids!

Teach Ads some life skills - same as last year. We made some good progress. I don't do much after dinner other than putting the leftovers away, which is great because clearing up after a meal is my least favourite activity. Ads now (most days) cleans the kitchen after dinner. He wipes down the dining table and all the counters, the gas stove, sweeps the floor, and if I am on a call or something, loads the dishwasher. Y is in charge of refilling the water filter and making me my post-dinner cup of green tea :)) I taught Ads to cook things like Maggi but still a long way to go.

Join another nonprofit Board - Done, since April 2020

Work on Ads' college plan - Middling progress. Since he doesn't know what we wants to do, I'm somewhat at a loss on what I am supposed to research on!

Paint more - Accomplished. 

Write more - On this blog and Linkedin/Medium. Accomplished.
Some of the other goals carried over from 2019 were accomplished as well. Exercising and meditating every day, reading a Tamil book, and teaching S how to cook (he has learnt a LOT and very comfortable cooking a full meal now). In addition, COVID gave me the opportunity to resurrect an old hobby - singing.

Goals 2021
Lose weight- This will be the hardest, I think?
Meaningful work portfolio (including my Board work)
(Continue to) paint, sing, write - have targets for each of these :) 
Ads' college research 
Connect regularly with friends and family - something we started doing more intentionally in 2020 when we couldn't travel. I reconnected with school and college buddies and with cousins and extended family a lot more in 2020. Hope to continue this good habit going forward as well.

Spring 2021

The school year is winding down even as the pandemic continues to rage, most virulently in India. I feel like I am living in 2 mental states. One is anxious, upset, and angry at what's happening in India. Concern and worry for parents are uppermost in my mind. The other goes about my daily routine, revelling in the Virginian spring and the warmer weather, Zoom calls, cooking and cleaning and thinking about summer plans. So far, happy that parents, parents-in-law and most friends are well and safe, if bored and completely fed up!

Spring is here and I am discovering so many new trails, to my utmost delight! For example, I didn't know that the Virginia bluebell blooms for just a few short weeks in this season, and many riverside and streamside trails are very popular around this time. I have joined a hiking group on Facebook that gives me such useful information. Armed with their recommendations and tips, we have been on a few hikes, all of them very pretty. In addition, bunny rabbits are much in evidence in the spring, and we have been seeing baby bunnies prancing around in our backyard, in addition to the usual deer, woodchuck and occasional fox sighting. We didn't get to DC for the cherry blossoms this year but got to enjoy them in and around the neighborhood.

I'll let the pictures do the talking. 

Friday 12 February 2021

2021 and a memory

2021 is here! It started with some crazy scary scenes at the Capitol (in our backyard) on Jan 6th, a high with the Presidential inauguration on the 20th (which I would have totally attended if there was no COVID/security concern), and a fair amount of snow for us here in Virginia! We are in February already. The kids are done choosing their core courses and electives for the next academic year. Ads goes to junior year (11th grade) and Y starts middle school (7th grade). There is a heck of a lot of fuss being made about the elementary-to-middle school transition and I have been feeling most amused by all that. Parent orientation night, school orientation for rising 7th graders, curriculum night, and whatnot.  

Meanwhile, Facebook shared this memory- a note written exactly 10 years ago when Y first started wearing glasses. She was about 2 and a quarter years old at the time. I remember random aunties accosting me in the elevator, park, etc, and dispensing free advice. I used to be consumed with impotent rage but rarely had a good comeback to their hurtful comments. What used to drive a spear through my heart though, was the silent look Y would always give me during these times. She was a tiny thing, always clutching my hand, and while not very verbal, could understand that the aunties were talking about her and her glasses. I was SO glad when she grew older and there were lots of kids her age sporting glasses! 

Some really weird reactions and comments to Yukta wearing glasses:
1. You didn't feed her enough carrots and pumpkins. (It's always-always-the-mother's-fault theory)
2. She looks so underweight, I knew some problem like this would crop up (Aah - benefits of hindsight)
3. Chuck the glasses, docs don't know anything, her eyes will correct themselves. (big thumbs-down for medical advances down the centuries)
4. (This is the best one) No need to wear glasses, just pour a tsp of castor oil+honey into her eyes every morning. (Yea for home remedies)
And it's only been 2 days!!! Why are people so judgemental and self-satisfiedly all-knowing????