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What A Difference A Year Makes

24 Nov

A year. It’s been a whole 365 days since this happened and I played a cheesy Disney song to announce it.  Clearly, I’m not going easy on the cheese anytime soon, for here’s a letter I wrote my baby today, on his 1st birthday, as I watched him sleep and plotted how to sneak in a few kisses while he couldn’t protest. Thanks for being patient with my absence from this blog and coming along on this journey with me. Things will be more regular around here, fingers crossed, because we have a new series starting on the blog next week!

~

My precious pumpkin, Daddy’s titto tapeto, our babyjaan,
Today is a day I did not dream of. Blame it on your Mummy’s limited imagination. I couldn’t look past my pregnancy beyond the point of your birth. I knew the months that followed would be a whirl, a blur, and require all my resources, so your first birthday wasn’t something I actively thought about. Yet, here we are. And I’m short one infant and tall on a trailblazing toddler.

I have frequently wondered after having you why people (and parents in particular) focus so heavily on the hardest bits of those early months. They go on about sleep deprivation and 360 degree life changes. Nobody actively comes up to you and simply says this:
It will be more wonderful than you ever imagined.

And it has been. It is.
Except for 3 hellish days in the hospital at 9 weeks old, when you smiled at us through a haze of 103 degree fever, every day has been pure joy, every moment a blessing, every smelly diaper as fragrant as Kate Spade’s latest perfume. Okay, I kid about that last one.

From beaming megawatt smiles starting at 6 weeks to calling out to passersby in the park to charming a planeload of passengers, people are your thing. In your universe, there are no strangers, only babies and big people waiting for the immense privilege of showering Your Royal Divaness with attention. First-born much? To steal a line from Plath, you endow the sun with gold, our gleaming California raisin.

Before you arrived, I was convinced you would be your own person, with independent attributes and characteristics. So it came as a surprise (and a burgeoning sense of alarm) to see you were so like me. Not just the shape of my eyes and my poker straight hair and large flat feet, you have a giant dose of your mother’s rather… umm, wilful, voluble personality, and poor Daddy doesn’t know what hit him. Two fire signs in the house are a shade too much roaring for your patient, gentle father, the love of your life and clearly your preferred parent.

I am your dal chawal, your constant, your everyday. You can’t miss someone who won’t go away. But Daddy, he’s your tandoori chicken, the cherry atop the icing atop the butter sponge cake, and my gladdest, most contented moments this past year have been watching the two of you together, mock-wrestling, giggling, grabbing hair and collars and using Daddy’s ears as handles while perched on his shoulders.

You complete us in ways we never thought possible. Physically, Daddy and I are ready to retire and nap for 7 years. As late 30s parents, the relentless exhaustion of it all has taken a toll, to be honest. But we wouldn’t have had you at any other time. Because it is now that we are mature enough to enjoy you without sweating the small stuff, stable enough to be a team and provide well for you, and old enough to know what matters to us without getting into skirmishes with other parents on their opinions and preferences.

With the exception of your refusal to sleep through the night consistently, you’ve been an easy baby, doling out radiant smiles to everything in your path, staying on a schedule like a clockwork mouse, adjusting your own meal and nap times as you grew, and amusing yourself while I tended to chores. You are secure in the knowledge that you can roam free, Mummy is a mere grunt away at any given time, and I love how you look back to check for approval for just half a tick before you hurl yourself into new discoveries or at an unsuspecting person not used to your friendliness.

And this is what I wish for you today, my solitary-candled babe: Fly into this world that so fascinates you, fling your arms around it, I will ardently wish for it to love you back. And when you need the comfort of home, my sweet child, your dal chawal will always be waiting.

Happy birthday, mein Liebling. Mummy’s got the whole world in her hands. ❤

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Monsieur Monster Of The Two (and a half) Teeth

7 Oct

In California a wee monster roams
Waiting to creep into all of your homes
Flat of foot and frugal in teeth
I can assure you his name isn’t Keith

Explorer by day, hell-raiser by night
This shoe-chomping tot is quite a sight
In the home of the brave and the land of the free
He takes liberation seriously

Screeches and wails
To be released
Tries to eat snails
And every odd beast

He knows how to charm
From here to LA
Turns off your alarm
Then makes his foray

Don’t you be fooled
By the coos and the smiles
His parents are ruled
Until they’re slumped into piles

Before his appearance, Mummy would dine
Without the backdrop of a ceaseless whine
How must silence feel, she’d love to know
But when it’s quiet, it’s alas and oh no!

Now here’s the queer thing, this monstrous child
Makes Mummy’s heart sing and her hair look wild
She’ll take no sleep, she’ll embrace a mess
He makes her weep, she will confess
But this ball of Sun, every inch of her heart,
He’s the One, Prince BurpinFart. ❤

Some Dates More Than Others

10 Sep

Apologies for being AWOL! I’ve been cheating on this blog with other social media and should really enter rehab. Or maybe just post oftener. Which would you prefer? I hope you enjoy reading this straight-from-my-bleeding-heart piece. And come back after you’ve wiped off all the mushy goop! I’ve got more posts lined up as penance.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What you’ve been up to, the most annoying thing about last week, your biggest accomplishment since I last posted, to tell me that there’s a universe beyond Baby Pooped Today!!!….or simply to say hi? 🙂

~

As teenagers, we would go shopping and she’d rein me in. “No, you cannot buy all seven tee shirts. Choose two.” And I’d grumble that she was my mother all over again.
When I was between degrees and unemployed, I packed up my life in far too many boxes and landed up to share her little room with an eccentric heater in Philadelphia. Freezing Philly winters were no match for this girl’s warmth.
When the Boy and I decided to get married and all hell broke loose, she gave me the confidence that I was doing the right thing. She spent the night before my wedding holding my hand and the morning of shedding quiet tears as I was dressed and made up.
Her hand was on my shoulder as I signed on the dotted line that would legally permit me to torture the man forever.
Her baby is my first baby. Moving away from him was physically painful. Forever a cheerleader for little girls, he taught me how to be mad about baby boys, setting the stage for the full blown Raja Beta Syndrome I now live with.
I informed her I was pregnant using an inside joke we had laughed about since college.

RRV[Credit: Raja Ravi Varma, Lady Holding a Fruit]

I named my son in her honor.
Considerate even as a zygote, she arrived on the planet 10 months ahead of me to vet the place for suitability. “It’s fine,” she yelled, giving me two baby thumbs up, “head on down!”
This girl I met a month shy of 16, I don’t know how I would have lived these past 21 years without her. But thankfully, I don’t have to know. Because we’re going to grow old and crotchety and annoy the eyeroll out of each other across the continents, an Indian in America and an American in India, for that’s how we roll, her and I.
Happy birthday, my J.
I thank the powers that be for September 10th, 1977.

A Comprehensive Dictionary of Parenting for Beginners

3 Feb
  • Diaper: A piece of absorbent cloth Mummy wears between her legs because between feeds and singing and communing with the washing basket, a toilet is a once-familiar entity in a faraway universe.
  • Sleep: Word not found.
  • Blowout: Since we’re in polite company, let’s just say it’s not the fancy things a dryer does to your hair.
  • Midnight feast: Sod Blyton, sod Mallory Towers, it’s a full blown party of one to which a certain someone’s parents are very reluctant invitees.
  • Rocking: Formerly used as a descriptor for parties and weekends, this calorie-burning tool is the perfect substitute for pumping weights.
  • Shhhh: What you find yourself saying to the person responsible for 50% of Creature, because:
    1) That’s the sound you emit most these days
    2) Advanced language is highly overrated
    3) I just may be incapable of sophisticated communication at this point
  • Fun: Non-REM cycles of shut-eye.
  • Schedule: That hilarious entity that people who haven’t birthed a person ask you to share. Also known as “When’s a good time to chat?” Erm, 12 years sound good to you?
  • Jelly: Formerly an edible substance, now an apt descriptor for your mid section. Also, how your innards feel when a newborn smile is bestowed.
  • Sleep: Word not found.
  • Doorbanger: A special kind of Beelzebub spawned for the sole purpose of waking your finally-asleep child.
  • Anticlimax: Fitting into your pre-pregnancy jeans a few weeks after delivery, only to have them puked on three minutes later.
  • Social life: Be grateful you have the latter word. ‘Nuff said.
  • Auto pilot: Discovering yourself swaying side to side long after the baby was put down.
  • Freedom: One whole hour of your body being your own. 60 entire minutes. That’s 3600 seconds of alone time. What Marquez meant when he wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude.
  • Sleep: Word not found. Stop making up lingo.
  • Parenting: An extreme sport designed to challenge every ligament in your body and synapse in your brain. Not for the faint of heart, this lethal activity will put you through the shredder and your entrails will emerge smiling.
  • Spouse: Trusted general of your tag team. Your partner in tasks of increasing difficulty. The one who has your back and frequently rubs it too. Future old age home roommate if you mess up this gig.
  • Luxury: A hot shower. Water! Soap! And preferably no one else in the bathroom.
  • Love: An abysmally inadequate word to describe the tidal wave of tenderness, fierceness, punch-me-breathless-with-mineness, indescribable biologically engineered response that comes with the territory. Universally unique. Uniquely universal. Blabber blabber. Gufhndslsladpoo.
  • Romance: Having a free hand to hold your hubby’s.
  • Spatial intelligence: The higher ability to know your boob from your face. I’ll get there. Someday.
  • Pain: You think you know all about that from going through labor. And then you watch your child being punctured by needles.
  • Blessing: Lying in bed at night, parked between a snorer and a tooter, congratulating yourself on landing two gorgeous men.
  • Insanity: Loving every bit of this existence and not wanting it to change a jot. (Wait…could the poop be less ummm…poopy?)
  • Sleep: Persistent little gnat, aren’t you? Come back in 20 years, I’ll have an answer for you.
  • The Business of Fish

    16 Jan

    This piece first appeared in the December 2014 issue of India Currents magazine. I’d love to hear your childhood food memories! Share? 🙂

    ~

    Among my earliest childhood memories is a shot of thrill up my spine on hearing a certain raspy, faraway voice calling “Paaplet! Kolmi! Bombil-waleeeaaay!”

    That was Moti, our family fisherwoman for three generations, hawking the just-caught contents of her woven basket to a lane of Parsis willing to pay top rupee for their palates. Much hubbub would follow, as someone, typically a domestic or child tall enough to reach the window, was sent to wave her down. “Yete!” she’d screech, with all the decorum of a hurricane ripping through an island, and begin her ascent to our top-floor home, green glass bangles and thumping gait announcing her presence long before she huffingly-pufflingly made it.

    Moti smelled of scales and salt and the sea, odors I came to associate with happiness. In a Parsi child’s life, especially one stereotypically expected to manage her own kitchen in adulthood, an education in fish is vital. The lessons of laal pani versus safed pani, and using your finger to scoop under the gills to check for freshness are Fish Purchasing 101 tips. The nose is your savviest instrument, and one as undiscerning as mine is a serious liability. Then there is a banquet of bliss to choose from—all those varieties of fresh and saltwater fish, seasonal and available the whole year through—bangra (mackerel) and raawas (salmon), boi (mullet marine) and boomla (bombay duck), and the thrill of discovering bonus gharab (roe) in one of your chosen future meals.

    It is a messy business, the selection of fish. Not for those who aren’t accustomed to ooze and blood and scales. Its parts callously lopped into diagonal chunks, its silver-grey body glistening enticingly, a pre-purchase fish is a thing of beauty. It is here that I realize the staggering power of social conditioning, for a joyous childhood ritual that entails a dead creature’s guts can only be that.  Or perhaps it is a lesson in focusing on the end result: the perfect, well-seasoned accompaniment to a meal of dhandar. H.e.a.v.e.n.

    A trusting rapport with your machhiwali is expected to be one of life’s most enduring relationships. And when she moves on to a better place, where crispy-fried boomlas (I’ve mentioned them three times already in 300 words, can you tell they’re a favorite?) are dished hot and fresh by harp-strumming cherubs, you know better than to mess with the line of succession—her daughter or niece will become your supplier. Our Lady of Piscine Perfection is now Moti’s niece Tanuja, who has discarded the colorful nauvaris of her Koli roots and the ginormous beaded nath of Moti’s era, but thankfully, none of the accent or the mannerisms that we almost expect of our fisherwomen.

    It is a centuries-old communication, this unique and frequently amusing haggling between housecoat-clad Gujarati speakers and the shrill and shrewd sellers of fish. Odd words fly in Marathi, exclamations peak like stiff egg whites and many an eyebrow does a Prabhu Deva, with flung arms for company. Accusations of looting and starving little children are routinely hurled, as both parties bemoan a time when the catch was fresher, prices cheaper, and their respective communities were pretty much the only inhabitants of Bombay, apart from the Sahibs.

    The last time I was in Bombay, I partook of this ritual gladly. From carrying out round thaals (plates) to pile the carefully-selected purchase on, to washing each piece carefully under running water, scrubbing the scales and poking fingers into icky crevices, anointing each piece with flour and salt, rubbing the mixture in, letting it sit 10 minutes, and then washing everything one more time, I was never more closely connected to my bloodline. It came to me easily, though it was the first time I had actually done it from beginning to end. I was a natural, I felt at ease. I had learned my lessons well from years of bearing witness.

    Here in America, the process is supremely sanitized. Cleaned, deboned and ready to cook, artfully-arranged slices are put on display, eliminating consumer participation in so many crucial steps of the acquisition process. It reminds me of a time when a friend confessed she hated having a C-Section. “I feel cheated of a natural birth,” she had said, “I know I should be grateful for a healthy delivery, but I can’t help feeling duped.” Oddly enough, this is exactly how I feel walking into my neighborhood Safeway or Chinese supermarket—clinical, disconnected, disappointingly sterile.

    I can imagine how hard this must be for vegetarians to comprehend. They are as much products of their socialization as I am of mine, but the human relationship to food is an intimate one, and in a gourmand community like mine, it includes passion, devotion, and obsession. Having incorporated so many elements not quite our own on the long road from religious refugees to a privileged, respected, and still relatively unknown minority, our cuisine and its methods are understandably something we Parsis are immensely proud of. (So if you have considered offering a thoughtless suggestion like “Why don’t you turn vegetarian?” please know we’re already debating how much spice to marinate your brain in for those breakfast cutlets tomorrow.)

    From what I’ve learned in my score and 15 years on god’s bounteous earth, it is that life has a way of presenting precisely what you fight. So a fishless future isn’t the worst fate that can befall me.  (I’m so glad you can’t see my dilated pupils and crossed fingers right now.) But I also know that I am the honored carrier of the DNA of a long line of fin fans, and this—both the process and the end result— is one of my life’s joys.

    For Unto Us A Child Is Born

    25 Dec

    …Unto us a Son is given

    ~Isaiah 9:6-7

    Nope, not referring to Jesus.

    Tunneling through me in record time in a determined bid to flag off the holiday season, our wee Liebling made his entrance into the world last month. Specifically, into a room full of cheering nurses, an ecstatic daddy, a relieved doula,  and our darling gynecologist, who I am convinced is the planet’s most amazing doctor.

    it's a boy

    Was I in the room too? I suppose so. But somewhere halfway through that first wail, as he was lifted out of my body and I lay back relieved and thankful for not pooping after all, I suspect I ceased to exist in the way I had for 36 years. Without moving a muscle, my sense of self took a quiet step back, and I watched my heart float outside of me and lodge itself firmly into that tiny, wriggling body. This feeling, it isn’t love. It’s unadulterated biology. And us, we’re the mere puppets of a flipped switch.

    I’d have burst into song, had I the energy and wherewithal after an intense labor sans pain medication, but this played in my head instead, and since I’m doing such a botched-up job of this birth announcement, I’m going to rely on good old Disney to convey my emotions:

    Over the past month, I’ve been high on happy-making hormones. (Clearly, birthing a human does nothing to change pre-existing alliteration allergies.) Except for the day he turned a week old and I wept that he’d head off to college soon and leave us. Apparently, there are parents who stand outside their kids’ dorm windows and secretly follow them on their honeymoon and I don’t know why you’re looking at me that way, I’m only educating you about the world, really. I’d just watch over him from a safe distance. Of 3 inches.

    In other news, these lines will never mean the same thing again:

    • Our father in heaven (He’s been turning cartwheels between burping sessions.)
    • Blood on the dance floor (Before the poop came the goop. Bleedin’ bucketloads of it.)
    • Ice ice baby (The nicest present the Boy has ever given me is a handmade icepack on our wedding anniversary, three days later. Heaven, heaven!!)

     

    So there we have it. Seven years since the day we met and knew this was to be, we’ve been married four, moved continents, made a home and a life together in a gorgeous corner of the world, and created a person we hope will share our love of bacon and potty jokes. (What? Everybody has their dreams!)

    Now excuse me while I take off to get my fix of milk-and-skin-and-mewling-and-spit-up. We hope you’ll wish us well and pardon erratic blogging behavior. There’s a little babe-on-a-nose that needs all our besottedness.

    Merry Christmas! Joy to the world! Earth today rejoices!

    Little Life, Giant Joys

    5 Jun

    Early last year, I began volunteering for a local nonprofit that supports literacy for visually impaired children in developing countries. This is where I was introduced to Sudha. Whip-smart, thoughtful, and uncannily perceptive, Sudha had arrived in the United States from India in 1998. She worked as an engineer in Silicon Valley (surprise, surprise!) until an event occurred that changed her life. Sudha began to lose her sight. The decline was steady and unstoppable, and soon, she could only perceive light and shade, and hazy shapes. Her condition compelled her to quit her profession and I can only imagine how challenging things must have been for the young family.

    She took refuge in her immense faith in Sai Baba and spent her days supported and loved by her spouse, daughter, and giant circle of Baba devotees who popped in and out of her home all day to check on her, sing bhajans of praise, and volunteer for worthy causes. A magnet who was never short of goodwill or company, Sudha attracted well-wishers to her by the force of her optimism, faith, and incredible ability to deeply listen to words and the sentiments behind them.

    In the course of our work together, we brainstormed, strategized, chatted, laughed and swapped unique cultural nuggets in the manner of people from very different backgrounds. I’d drive her to events, subjecting her to ‘80s American music that must be anathema to someone with a Carnatic vocal background. She’d laugh at my ardent meat-eating ways. I would rant about how most Indians simply don’t consider non-religious charity a part of citizenship. We would talk long and deep about karma, life purpose, and what drove us to believe in an underserved cause. A beautiful singer, she frequently lent her voice and heart to fundraisers for our nonprofit, singing devotional songs that made the audience choke with emotion. I, who didn’t know what a Hari Katha was before we met, was stunned at the energy she generated across the auditorium—not just through her vocal chords, but from a deeper, divine place.

    In the later months of last year, I saw much less of her, engaged as I was with family weddings, visits, and travel. This past February, Sudha went to India for eye surgery and treatment, in the hope of improving her condition. The last few months have been a whirl of the everyday, and we weren’t in frequent touch. Until she called 2 days ago. Patiently, she heard all my news, getting excited over the small measure of positive updates I had to share. Finally, when asked how she was, she stated without fanfare–in typical Sudha style—that her surgery had been successful, and she could see her own hand!

    Between my exclamations of delight and tears of gratitude and her quiet joy at this restored gift, she asked to see me—for the very first time.
    “I want to see you, your face,” she said.
    “There’s a lot to see!” I laughingly warned her.
    And I haven’t stopped smiling since. We plan to meet next week, along with the wonderful colleague through whom we were lucky to be acquainted, and I can’t wait to celebrate this thrilling blessing that has me sniffling in gratitude and wonder and overall bleeding heart foolishness.

    So each time you read about one more horrific rape, or yet another mass shooting, whether the California drought alarms you or the murder of innocents by right wing organizations makes your flesh crawl–or you’ve just had a decidedly crappy day and are perched high on your pity pot–think about Sudha and her miracle, and know that there is joy and justice on god’s good earth.

    If you have a message for my friend and colleague, feel free to leave it in the comments space and I’m happy to relay it to her. Now hand me a tissue, will you? Unfortunately, through boon and bane, the consistency of snot remains exactly the same.

    *deafening trumpet*

    Aah. Much better.