31 August, 2010

Stay at Home Mom soon returns to being a Working Mom !

(Image courtesy : guinnmc.blogspot.com via Google)

There is a lot of talk about how things are going to be when working women decide to stop working in order to be full time parents. Well, there was a time when we went through a similar phase too. Now, in retrospect, it seems like a very very long time. If you want numerics and want me to be specific, surprisingly, it has not been that long, after all. But it does seem like a lifetime.

A timeline, if I may, that has been filled with irreplaceable memories. Now when I look back, I wonder what it would have been like for me if I’d been a working mom all along, had I missed out on all those milestones. I guess we would still have taken it in our stride but I do thank God for having given me the opportunity to be with Macadamia and Pecan, as a full time mother, during their early growing years.

Quitting my job was, quite obviously not a decision that we made that easily. I guess it never is - for anyone. For starts, there are so many factors to consider – a sudden change from a two income family to a one income family. There is always the fact that one has to reconcile oneself with the idea that colleagues who were on a level playing field when you quit, would advance up on the career ladder and end up where you’d eventually dreamed of being, one day. Despite all these and more, the joy of having been with the kids as they grew up has indeed been a beautiful experience. There have been insane moments when I questioned my own sanity, but to put it simply – it was definitely worth it, it was more than worth it. It has been a journey in itself, a journey that has been most self-fulfilling and gratifying. It has been rewarding beyond words.

I’d taken a break from my career eight years back, to raise Macadamia and Pecan and somewhere along the way, they seem to have grown up. They’re not babies anymore.

Last year was a very eventful one. We made two consecutive trips to India during Jan and Feb of last year. My father passed away in February and even after we got back to HK, my thoughts were a huge muddle. There seemed to be this yawning gap somewhere and I had no clue where. All I knew was it was there. It took a few long months to put those feelings and thoughts in place and sometime around August, I decided to try and get my TESOL done. Last November and December, while the TESOL course was on, were a couple of the most gruelling months I’d seen in a very long time. The kind of demands that the course placed in terms of time, energy and commitment had to be experienced to be believed. The entire family stood by me then too.

Once I got my TESOL certification, I slowly got back to getting my feet wet in terms of starting work. I started working as a freelance English teacher, taking up teaching assignments in various Primary and Secondary schools all over HK. I knew for a fact that I wanted a full time teaching position someday and now that it has indeed materialised, once again, those little seedlings of doubt are beginning to pop their heads up all around my head.

I realize one thing now. The decision to re-enter the realm of a full time working mother is often just as difficult as the decision to quit or leave ones job to become a full time mother. Taking that first step, either way, is difficult.

I always used to tell myself that I would get back to work when the children are independent enough. Now I realize that there is no magic window “timeframe” there either. Exactly how does one decide that the kids are “independent enough”? Trust me, it is difficult. Where the head says “they’re grown up enough to manage with the help of a helper” the heart throws innumerable questions right back “what if one of the kids fall sick ?” “what if they’re not able to have their dinner on time because you get late getting back home from work ?” ... the questions are aplenty.

Another source of discomfort is the fact that I now have to push myself out of what has, over the past eight years, definitely become my comfort zone. We have a steady routine wherein I know that I will be waiting for the kids when they get back home and more importantly wherein they know that I will be home waiting for them when they get back tired from school. All said and done, I had been around for them at any given time of the day or the night, over the past eight years.

I guess the hardest part of the transition from a Stay at Home Mom to a Working Mom is going to be the fact that some of the family duties get left behind. To be honest, I’m used to re working my schedule around the kids’ needs, I’m used to handling the fights that seem to crop up out of nowhere when you least expect, I’m used to kissing bruises away, I’m used to handling their mood swings cos invariably they come back home really tired from school, I’m used to handling their social calendars for them too – dropping them off for a birthday party here, fetching them from a birthday party there, I’m used to spending my evenings doing my Sudoku and Crossword puzzles in the park because I chaperone them to the park and stand guard over their water bottles and other “precious belongings” as they run and scoot all over the place.

Even now, a wee little bit inside my head still says “You’re going to miss all that, aren’t you ?”. Truth be told, “Yes. I’m going to miss all that.” But then again, such is life and like I mentioned to Macadamia in one of my earlier posts, it is nothing but change, it is nothing other than accepting change with grace simply because change is meant to be. Now I’m telling myself that every minute (well, virtually every minute) of my waking hours.

I know that this is going to be just another adjustment phase for all of us, a phase in which all of us are going to have to rewire our past habits and a phase wherein all of us are going to have to crawl out of our comfort zones. Now that is pretty much like pulling teeth – for, a comfort zone is like that quilt you like to snuggle into on cold, wintry days. It is like that quilt you just don’t feel like climbing out of. It is precisely like the warmth that the quilt affords you on cold days. In short, comfort zones are cozy. And all of us are going to have to venture out of our cosy little quilts, little by little, in little bits and parts, starting this very week.

As always, in this endeavour too, I’m vesting my faith on the One Above. For if there’s one thing we’ve realized in all these years of our lives, it is the fact that God never gives people anything He believes one cannot handle. If He has sent something your way, be it good or be it bad, rest assured and take heart from the faith that He has done so because He knows you can handle it.

And I totally second Mary C. Crowley when she says

“Every evening I turn my worries over to God. He’s going to be up all night anyways.”

If you’re reading this and have a couple more of minutes to spare, do wish us luck, will ya ??

30 August, 2010

The Transport Specialist a.k.a Pecan

“Where is Lai Chi Kok ?” was what I found myself asking Pecan, today morning. And that was when the thought registered that whenever I’m in any sort of doubt about the location of a place on the MTR map, I have a ready solution – Pecan !!

He’s like one of those softwares that they have in the ticket dispensing machines in the MTR. He knows exactly which station is on which line and given the fact that the MTR in HK has been progressively expanding their existing lines and adding new ones pretty much like one adds lines in Maths books, this is no simple feat.

When I first came over to HK (waay back in 1994), the MTR had just four lines. But if one were to look at the MTR map today, it resembles a squiggly sheet which one would probably find in one of the kindergartens. A whole range of colours, an assortment of tints and shades running into each other at interchange stations and then diverging again, enroute to their intended destinations.

(Image Courtesy : lmcfood.dk via Google)

To cut a long story short, the MTR map is pretty complicated now. Which is why when the name of any station sounds like a distant memory and when nothing relating to that station immediately surfaces or comes to mind, we have a pretty simple key to the problem. Pecan !!!

He knows the entire MTR system like the back of his left hand. If anyone were to toss a travel related question at him when he is fast asleep, I’m pretty much sure he’d map the route out right then and there – while he’s fast asleep.

And wait ... there’s more.

This penchant of his does not stop at the MTR system alone. The bus system has been and is still under scrutiny too. Every time we are at a bus stop, Pecan has research work to do. Each and every bus stop in HK has a route map that shows the entire route of that particular bus number. It also details each and every bus stop. And someone has been and still is pretty busy mapping that whole thing inside his head.

Today morning, I had to go someplace and I just wondered aloud whether there was a bus route which passed by that place. Pecan, without batting an eyelid, said No. “There is a bus that goes somewhere around that area Mummy, but it does not go to this particular place.” was the response. To double check Pecan’s theory, I did log on to the bus company’s website to check out the route. Sure enough, he was right.

We once decided to go over to the HK Wetland Park. That was about the time this interest in HK’s transport system was developing in Pecan. We told him to map out our route to the Wetland Park. Not that we’d expected him to – but he did. Right down to the smallest and minutest of details.

Even when it comes to the roads in HK, he just has to give a road one look and it sort of gets filed away in memory for future reference. I do this too. File things away for future reference. But in my case, when it’s time to retrieve the file, my mind does not know where to look. Not to mention the fact that I’m horrible with directions.

So yeah, it is good to have this little compass which seems to have a GPS chip implanted in its memory.

Of late, this whole transport issue has been taken to a whole new level. He now pores over airline maps too. As if that is not enough, he is often found with his nose stuck to the huge world map, trying to figure out which country is in what direction vis-a-vis another country. Sometimes those questions do get thrown at me and they bounce right back, for I have absolutely no clue as to whether some state in some country is to the East, West or North East or South West.

I don’t quite know how long this penchant of his is going to last, but it sure is getting to be an interesting ride ! And as long as his affinity for the transport systems in HK continues to grow and flourish, we have a ready reference guide available, right here at home, to transport us to places hitherto unknown.

And Oh ! That ready reference guide is seldom found in one place. It is always found running around !!

Children have to be educated, but they have also to be left to educate themselves.
~Abbé Dimnet, Art of Thinking, 1928

27 August, 2010

The UNO tradition ...

(Image courtesy : toy-tma.com via Google)

Ever had one of those idle thoughts stick to you like a leech ? Well, they do, sometimes !

For quite a while now, this idle train of thought established itself in my mind. The fact that we did not have any particular family tradition, so to speak, to look forward to. Now, don’t get me wrong here. Why does one need a family tradition or a family ritual to look forward to anything ? No, one does not. I agree. Simple pleasures of life come in little things, not necessarily packaged. I do totally agree and we, as a family, have learnt to appreciate the simple pleasures of life. All of us.

We still thought that it would be nice to have some sort of an informal tradition going on. A sort of glue that holds everyone together, in the same place at the same time doing the same thing and enjoying it. To be honest, it even has this sense of security associated with it. Something that says “OK no matter what, no matter the changes in the outside world, there are somethings within the family that don’t change – even with the passage of time.” I honestly believe that a family tradition is one such.

Tall order, huh ? It would give us quality time as a family, a span of time when the whole family is together, with each other, laughing, playing. Somehow, something had planted that seed in my mind – that it would be nice to see the whole family involved in some activity together.

Over the past year or so, what I really missed out on was actually “doing” something together with the kids. When they were a lot younger, we used to read together. That does not happen anymore, since both Macadamia and Pecan are absolutely avid readers in their own right and each has a different taste in books. Macadamia is still a hard core Harry Potter / Enid Blyton  fan while Pecan thrives on non fiction books. Macadamia does not touch non fiction books if she has a choice in the matter and Pecan does not even look at fiction books, if given a choice.

Somewhere along the way, reading to/with the children ceased and each one of us drifted off into our own world of books. Individual paths were laid and as far as the book world went, these paths ran parallel to each other. At no point of time did they converge.  They don't really converge even now.

When the kids were a lot younger, they too used to love to potter around with the craft stuff that I normally used to create odd bits and pieces like homemade greeting cards, birthday cards, bookmarks, pencil jazzers, coasters, rakhis etc ..... They used to love playing with materials of different textures like felt, foamboards, sequins, thread, glue, glitter glue and what have you. We used to form a cosy little band sitting and “creating” things. I don’t see that happening nowadays either. If at all, it is me who still hangs on to those creative craft ideas, because it still brings about a very deep sense of satisfaction to potter around with all that stuff and to create something concrete out of them.

When the kids were a lot younger, when they were in kindergarten and early primary, pillow fights were quite common just before bedtime. The kids’ bedroom would look as though a typhoon had passed right over it. Everything would be askew, yet in the midst of all that confusion there was a definite huge “feel good” factor.
As Macadamia and Pecan have grown, all of these and lots more have sort of faded into the background. “How nice it would be if there were some activity that all of us were interested in, at the same time ?” was a thought that ran through my mind ever so often.

There were commonalities – Pecan and Vic enjoy sport – watching it, playing it on the computer or following matches as they happen. It could be soccer, cricket, basketball. Macadamia and Yours Truly, in the meanwhile, would be poring over crossword puzzles or Sudoku puzzles, in an attempt to crack the whole thing and find the answers.

“When was the last time we’d laughed hysterically together over something ? When was the last time we’d fought with each other over something, as a family ? When was the last time we’d introduced that playful competitive spirit into something, as a family ? When was the last time we’d ribbed each other over something common that we’d been doing ?” were questions that found their way into my mind ever so often.

Like they say, things – many a times, happen inadvertently.

Now, when I look back, I cannot recall as to how UNO took centre stage with the entire family. For that matter, I don’t even remember when it happened. There have always been the occasional game of Scrabble or Word Power with the kids but those used to happen on rainy afternoons. Like I said, occasionally.
Somehow, UNO set its sights upon us and slowly but steadily, one by one, the whole family was roped in. Macadamia was shaky when it came to UNO, Pecan did not even know what UNO and as is characteristic with him, he simply did not have the patience to learn.

Yet, in an odd sort of way, somehow, these little bunch of cards with their bright splashy colours and their cheeky “wild” cards and the defiant “wild draw four” cards to add spice to the whole endeavour, wriggled their way into our hearts. It happened sometime before the kids’ summer break began. Timingwise, it could not have been more perfect.

Every night – well, almost every night (unless we’d had an outing and had come back home very late), during
the summer holidays, we played UNO together to wind the day up. It’s surprising, what a little card game can do to make a family bond in those many little ways. Pretty much like a spider web, I’d say – flimsy threads yet so strong. This little “UNO in the night” tradition caught on like wildfire.

For those of you who are shaking your heads in disbelief and wondering what good can a game of cards do – well, there’s plenty good that’s come out of this little tradition that we’ve begun to enjoy as a family.

For one, Pecan used to be such a sore loser. He was one even when we first began to play UNO together every night. Over a period of time, he’s learnt to be a good winner and more importantly, a good loser.

When we play UNO together at night, there are no distractions. Phone calls are not entertained, there is no question of the TV being switched on (for we normally play UNO in the kids’ room) and there is no question of anyone being spaced out, thinking wishfully about wizards flying on broomsticks (or whatever it is they are called). This UNO time gets us to just focus on each other and more importantly, enjoy each other’s company.  The competitive spirit is very much present, yet the atmosphere is very cosy.

Both Macadamia and Pecan have learnt a lot about interpersonal communication. When to talk, when to pause to let the other person have a say, respect what the other person is saying, take it in the right spirit, wait for your turn and the most important thing this has taught them is to laugh at themselves every once in a while. Laughing at oneself is so therapeutic but it is so difficult to get that concept across to kids. We didn’t have to do that with Macadamia and Pecan. UNO did it for us.

While having a UNO night, there is absolutely no need for us to talk to each other. All it takes is to deal the cards and play. But people, you would be surprised to know how easily conversation flows. The atmosphere is much more relaxed than it normally is and under those circumstances, children really really talk. Much more that they normally do. They are more receptive to suggestions, they are more curious and more at ease asking questions, they do let out a lot of information about school – those little bits and pieces that inadvertently get missed out by the time they get back home, invariably surface when it’s UNO time.

Suddenly, Macadamia or Pecan would remember some little tidbit that happened at school and share it with all of us or me or Vic would suddenly recollect some rather tiny but interesting bit that happened during the day or some such.

So much so that even both the grandmothers are now experts in playing UNO, thanks to the nutty siblings.

Bonding over a fun activity sure is a lot of fun. Don’t believe me ? Well, go ahead and give it a try. It’s worth every single millisecond !

Most importantly, a simple card game like UNO is sending across to the nutty siblings a very very important message. UNO is pretty much like life itself. And in the game of life too, it is not as much about being dealt a good hand, it is more about learning to play a poor hand well.

26 August, 2010

Mornings weave their magic ....

(Image courtesy : 36fss.com via Google)

It is quite remarkable – the way in which parents fall into the “vacation mode” when the kids are having their summer break. Well, let me not generalise on that. Let me personalise it ! It is quite remarkable – the way I fall into vacation mode during the kids’ summer holidays.

That was precisely what happened over these summer holidays too. I’d fallen into a rather comfortable routine of not waking up early in the morning during the holidays. I do vividly remember remarking to a friend of mine about a week before schools were scheduled to re-open “I honestly don’t know who’s going to miss the holidays more – we, the parents or the kids”.

School days definitely mean waking up in the wee hours of the morning. The day begins very early, well before the first rays of sunlight make their presence felt. I groaned inwardly the day before schools reopened. For one, it would mean obeying the alarm clock. Not anymore would I have the rather obtuse pleasure of pressing the “stop” button on the alarm clock, give it a rather victorious look and say “I’m going back to sleep. Let me see what you can do about it. Hmpff”. Not anymore would I have the luxury of that slumber that seems to be at its satisfying best in the early hours of the morn. Not anymore could I seek contentment in the fact that I could wake up, knowingly revel in the fact that I could actually go back to sleep, and drift off into snoozeland once again. That has a different kind of gratification associated with it.

It was once I began to wake up early that I realized the little things I’d missed out on – thanks to my slumber parties during the holidays. Little things, which, by themselves, are not be matters of consequence. Little things, which in their sheer triviality, make one miss out on their presence in one’s life.

Now, the church bells toll (that’s the alarm tone on my IPod, just in case you’re wondering) at half past five in the mornings. It is indeed a rather soothing way to awake to the mysteries of the dawn. The skies still dark, yet not so dark. Those first fledgling rays of light would be threatening to break through the dark skies at any moment as the dark skies try to hold their dominance over the horizon.

The little cheep cheep cheeps of the birds outside herald the start of a new day. I don’t know what they cheep about so furiously in the early hours of the morn, but it registers in the periphery of my consciousness and in an odd sort of way, my very soul finds itself revelling in those little cheep cheep cheeps. On a number of occasions, I’ve caught myself smiling when I listen to those birds chirping.

Timmy the Terrapin would be fast asleep. Even turning on the lights in the bathroom do not wake our dear little Terrapin anymore. For that matter, it chooses not to even open one eye which it normally used to – just to flash me a “are you nuts to be awake at this time of the morning” look and settle back into its sleep mode with what would sound like a very distinct “sigh” to me.

I smile and say “good morning” to Spouty, our water kettle, as it gets around to its job of boiling the first lot of water for the day. My ears would, at the same time, prime themselves – waiting for the soft padded footsteps making their way to the kitchen. That would be Macadamia, who wakes up around a quarter to six. It never fails to bring a smile to my face – the sight of a sleepy, droopy eyed Macadamia making her way to the kitchen to give me a “good morning” hug. Her long hair all askew, eyes rather unfocussed, she reminds me of a kindergartner and not a middle schooler. Those Good Morning hugs are indeed precious. A jolly good way to start the day !

As the first strains of The Gayatri Mantra fill the air, the psyche automatically seems to sense a completeness of sorts, the mind fills and reverberates with the Gayatri Mantra and brings with it a deep, profound sense of peace.

I would be busy packing up snack boxes for the nutty sibs. Then onto the task of cooking and packing their lunch boxes. Interruptions would be aplenty but somehow, in the mist of the morning, stress seems to dissipate.

Just as the CD moves on to the next sector, I wait for what I know I will hear very soon. A rather exasperated sounding Macadamia trying to cajole, cox, command and finally threaten Timmy the Terrapin into moving into its box from the bathtub. I also know that Timmy the Terrapin will steadfastedly ignore Macadamia’s pleas, commands and threats to do so. It is a daily morning ritual that one sees – Macadamia and Timmy the Terrapin sparring with each other. A huffing, puffing and hissing Macadamia would soon plant herself in front of me with a plaintive sounding “Mummy please tell Timmy to get into his box. He’s not listening to me. I have to take my shower else I’m going to be late for my bus.”

In the midst of getting Timmy the Terrapin to walk into his box, Pecan would suddenly appear, looking all bleary eyed and tousle haired, sleep still claiming its rightful ownership on Pecan. Pecan would walk upto us and say “It is too early for me to wake up. So I’m going back to bed for sometime.” In the middle of all this somewhere, I would be gifted a Good Morning Hug from Pecan too. And the little figure would be seen rushing off to bed, snuggling under the warm confines of his summer quilt, which obliges and wraps him up in its cosy cocoon.

Very soon, the whole household will be awake and raring to go. The pedals will be pushed a little harder in order to rev up the speed of the proceedings. The sunrays shine in full glory as I escort Pecan downstairs to meet his school bus. We stop by the letter box on the way to pick up the day’s newspaper which Pecan insists on reading everyday before going to school.

Life merrily falls into a known routine. Pretty much like the old pair of shoes which you know you can slip your feet into at any time and rest assured that your feet will be encased in worn, comfortable leather – leather, which, over a period of time, has learnt to mould itself to the many juts and ridges of the bones on your feet. The feeling is one of going back to a routine which has been but, second nature all along.

24 August, 2010

Raksha Bandhan at the Nutty Sibs'

My Dear Macadamia and Pecan,

The two of you are really something else. Really !

We know for a fact that the two of you put together spell trouble. Make that big, block, black letters. The word ‘trouble”. Cos put together, that precisely what the two of you are. 

The two of you get on each others’ nerves like nothing else in this whole wide world can. The two of you seem to have this absolutely innate knack, an inborn talent and a natural skill to irritate each other to no end. Your propensity towards grating on each others’ nerves is absolutely amazing. When you guys do that, it is almost as if nothing else in the world matters right then. There is but one aim, there is but one goal, there is but one objective, there is but one intention, there is but one target that you set your sights on. And you work towards that objective with a single minded determination that evokes in me, a grudging admiration. I mean, if you are indeed capable of that kind of single minded determination, it should and it well could apply to just about everything else that the two of you do, right ??? But irritating each other seems to bring out the absolute best in you guys.

Honestly !!  What gives, huh ??!!

I still remember that evening when the two of you started fighting over something totally trivial (but naturally !) and inconsequential (it always is) and very soon both of you were reduced to tears. In the midst of all that crying and shouting, me and Dad intervened to soothe the ruffled feathers and calm things down. Half an hour later it was bedtime and the two of you got into your respective bunks with a rather cool “good night” directed at each other. Me and Dad were just beginning to rest on our laurels at having defused a situation that might possibly have turned nuclear (or so we’d thought then), when a spate of giggles from your room brought our thought processes to a grinding halt ! That was soon followed by two resounding “Thuds !!”. That was the sound of our jaws hitting the floor – pretty hard !! If reconciliation was indeed going to be so quick, why did we even bother to intervene ? (sigh) That was one of those moments when I would have planted a kick on my own backside, if I could !

I’ve never had the opportunity to experience growing up with a sibling, for I am an only child. I can only imagine what it would have been like to grow up with a brother or a sister when I see the two of you interact with each other. I’m, in all probability, reliving bits of my childhood through the two of you. And now is as good a time as any to tell you both that I’m loving what I’m seeing :))).

When me or dad pull one of you up, I simply love, love, love the way you guys stand up for each other, the way you guys defend each other. At that point of time, it is almost as if that bond which unifies you as siblings, makes its presence felt in all its glory. There is this invisible aura, which I’m sure exists around all siblings all over the world, that so easily excludes others from its circle, yet keeps siblings cosy, safe, secure and ‘there for each other”, within its circle. It is not something I’ve seen but it sure is something I’ve felt, time and again.

You know, there never passes a day when I don’t thank God for having sent the two of you our way.

Funnily enough, though you drive us nuts day in and day out, I simply cannot imagine living without that kind of insanity in my life. You two drive us insane, but we love being in the midst of that kind of insanity. So yeah, do keep it coming !! Cos you see, there still remain plenty of hairs on our heads, yet to turn silver !!!

Today is Raksha Bandhan. The very term Raksha Bandhan means “a bond of protection”. The day, which, as you know, is marked by the sister tying a Rakhi on the wrist of her brother. The brother, in turn, vows to look after his sister. It is a day when siblings pray for each others’ well being and each others’ happiness.

Well, just a small note – those prayers can be said everyday, not just on Raksha Bandhan day ;-)))).

Do you guys know how this tradition of Raksha Bandhan began ?

Well, like all Indian festivals, Raksha Bandhan too has a divine, sacred beginning. There are many versions actually but it is said to have originated when Lord Krishna threw his chakra at Shishupala, to punish him for his various sins. In doing so, Lord Krishna cut his own finger which started bleeding. Draupadi immediately tore off a piece of her sari and bound it on Lord Krishna’s finger to stop the bleeding. When Lord Krishna asked Draupadi what she wanted, she is said to have merely said “Nothing, My Lord. Just your presence in my life, always.” From that moment on, Lord Krishna is said to have promised Draupadi that he would always be there for her. She simply needed to call him and he would be there.
Remember, when the Kauravas tried to dishonour Draupadi after the Pandavas had lost everything, she called out to Lord Krishna who immediately came to her rescue.
That is how the festival of Raksha Bandhan is said to have begun.

Here’s something I’ve always wanted to tell both of you but never really have put it into words. So here goes .....

I do thank God for these two nutty siblings
Who are, most of the time, mind boggling

The two of you have taught me things
The two of you never fail to tug at my heartstrings

You guys are crazy, you guys are absolute nuts
Fact remains that out of the same fabric, the two of you are cut

On this day, as on any other day
I do, to His Almighty, pray

I pray that this innocence you possess
May never decrease in the name of progress

I pray that the affection that you two possess
May increase and grow in its largesse

I pray that you will grow up and be smart
Yet, from each other, may you never grow apart.

Happy Raksha Bandhan to the adorable nutty siblings, without whom life simply would not be the same :-).

Lots and lots of love,


20 August, 2010

Macadamia starts Middle School !!

My dear Macadamia,

Today is indeed a big day for you. Today is the day when you shed the vestiges of primary school and well and truly step into Middle school.

I’ve forgotten how it felt to transition from Primary School to Secondary School. Probably we were busy with scores of other things then and the transition from Primary to Secondary was something that was taken for granted. There was nothing ‘big’ about it back then. It was pretty much like changing plates on the dining table – small ones for breakfast being changed to the big plates for lunch or dinner. No one gave it much thought, except for the fact that the school timings were different. Even the uniforms were the same !

You said yesterday that you are excited about starting Middle school but also a bit nervous. Fair enough, I say ! I can only imagine that feeling – that yearning, that urge to break free of the shackles that held you in Primary school to get a feel of what is definitely a lot more of freedom in Middle School. Yet, there definitely are the flutters of those butterfly wings in your stomach. Those paper thin, flimsy wings which do make their presence felt as they flap around inside your tummy :).

Change – that’s what it is all about. Change,which is the very essence of life. Change, which is as natural in life as is breathing. Change, which one comes across at just about every turn in life. Change, which one needs to accept as a part of life. Change, which one does not have to battle with as though it is not meant to be. Simply because it is. Change is meant to be.

Lots of subjects await you, lots of books wait patiently on the shelves at school for eager fingers to start poring through them to absorb and revel in the secrets and the knowledge that they hold. Chemicals await patiently within their bottles and their jars in the Chemistry lab for curious minds to start experimenting with. The English language awaits for fresh, eager minds to start exploring its beauty. Maths awaits the dawn of a new school year to test and sharpen your mind and brain with its algebraic equations and the Geometric angles and the twists and turns of Calculus and Trigonometry. Psychology awaits patiently, for it is keen to take you on a journey through the recesses of the human mind. Economics awaits tolerantly for its turn to take you on a journey through the markets and financial systems of the world. The list is endless, is it not ?

A whole new world awaits, beckons you with open arms and an armload of homework and projects ;-).

You know, as you walked over to the school bus today, looking all grown up in your new uniform, the image that was still stuck in my mind was the one of the day you started Primary One. Was it really that long back, has it really been 6 years, I wondered, amazed. The image that floated across my mind was that of a wee little girl with her pink Barbie backpack and her blue Thomas the train water bottle, with a shy yet confident, albeit a bit unsure smile on her face waving goodbye with those little hands just before she walked off into her Primary One classroom.

I remember you as that little child whom we have guided and protected so far. I remember you as the baby whose hands we held as you learnt to walk. And I remember the times we walked beside you as you learnt to balance and ride a bike. I remember you as a little child who cried profusely when you grazed your knee. I remember you as a baby who loved to chew on shoes. I remember you as the child who made me cry in the School Assembly hall, I remember you as the baby with a butterfly clip in your hair during your kindergarten years. Yet, you stood before us today, our baby in her new uniform, all set to step into Middle School.

Life, as you’ve known it so far sweetheart, is going to change. Accept that change with grace and humility. Challenges will be aplenty. Meet them with confidence and aplomb. There will be a lot of unnerving moments. Keep your cool and your composure. There will be people who try to goad you, irritate you. Deal with them with your head held high. Life is not going to be a bed of roses. But be thankful for the thorns along the way, for they are a reminder that life is like that. It is not all easy. There will be stumbling blocks along the way, there will be those hidden thorns. But it is indeed those very hidden thorns that teach us to appreciate the roses along the way.

Life does not always play fair. Remember that, for it is a very important lesson in life. There are times when things may not seem fair at all. Those are the times when one has to hold on to one’s grace and strength to not give in to those undercurrents that threaten to pull you down to their levels. Most importantly, have faith in yourself and the ideals that you stand for.

People may talk – around you, even about you. Like I said, life is not always fair. But the important thing is to remember that each person is different. No two people are alike. Even more importantly, each and every person is entitled to their own opinion. You may or may not agree with their opinions, but fact remains that they are entitled to their own. Just as you are entitled to your own. Respect others’ opinions just as you expect them to respect yours. It is indeed a two way street.

Remember your strengths and keep them close to your heart – for they are yours and only yours to hold and treasure. All the same, do bear in mind that each and every person does have weaknesses too. . Accept that truth with grace. Don’t fight it. Strive to improve upon your weaknesses by all means. But don’t deny the fact that you do have your own weaknesses. We are all fallible in some way or the other. That is precisely what makes us humans.

Friends will soon be aplenty. Embrace them with open arms and with all the warmth that I know you are capable of showering on your loved ones. All the same, also learn to distinguish between the real friends and the acquaintences. For, real friends are priceless.

As you reach out towards your pre-teen and teen years, I know for a fact that you will get more and more independent. As you learn how to deal with life and overcome your fears, it is going to be a learning process for us too, as your parents. Hard as it may be, we will have to learn that it will not always be possible for us to keep you under our wings. It may probably be the hardest thing for us to learn – the fact that we have to let you venture out by yourself and learn new things.

As parents, we will have to learn that though we have taught you what’s right and wrong, we have to set our children free at some point in life and let them follow their hearts. We will have to learn too, that at that point of time, we will still definitely be around, but on the sidelines. We will be cheering you on, rooting for you but not holding your hands. You will always find our hands on your head in blessing but not shackling you down. As parents, we will guide you and we will hope and pray that the choices you make will bring you happiness and satisfaction every step of the way.

As you step into Middle School today, I would like to quote you this poem by Amanda Bradley titled “Don’t forget”

Forget about the days when it’s been cloudy,
but don’t forget your hours in the sun.

Forget about the times you’ve been defeated,
but don’t forget the victories you’ve won.

Forget about mistakes that you can’t change now,
but don’t forget the lessons that you’ve learned.

Forget about misfortunes you’ve encountered,
but don’t forget the times your luck has turned.

Forget about the days when you’ve been lonely,
but don’t forget the friendly smiles you’ve seen.

Forget about plans that didn’t seem to work out right,
but don’t forget to always have a dream.

Last but not the least, do remember sweetheart, that we have always been, we still are and that we always will be very very proud of you. Also always bear in mind the fact that you are one of God’s own nestlings and that He will always be the wind beneath your wings, your ultimate guiding light, your benefactor.

Here’s wishing you all the very best, my precious.

With armloads of love and then some,


11 August, 2010

What is a virgin ?

(Image courtesy : vjcc.com via Google)

“What’s a virgin ?” asked Pecan the other day, looking all wide eyed and innocent as is possible when one is seven years old and all.

“Yeah. I’ve been wanting to ask you too” piped in Macadamia. “What i.s a virgin ?”

This was one of those moments which totally catch one unawares and leave you feeling like a fish out of water. A fish that is desperately tossing itself around, looking for redemption. Flailing, flapping and floundering – only to find that there is absolutely no respite. There is no escape. There is but one way to go and that is to bite the bullet.

“Mummeee ...... what. is. a. v.i.r.g.i.n ?” queried Pecan yet again, this time around the impatience revealing itself.

It is rather uncanny, when they come up with questions like these. One throwing questions at the vulnerable Mommy while the other watches her like one would examine a new insect species under the microscope. Two pairs of eyes focussed on you – waiting, waiting for reactions of the minutest kind – be it facial or vocal. Two pairs of hawk eyes staring at you intently .... while you fumble your way through the muddles of possible answers racing through your head with the speed of cars on a Grand Prix circuit.

“A virgin is pure” said Mommy, not able to believe what she’d just uttered, herself. “Pure ??” thought Mommy, to herself. “Where in the name of God did that come from ?” she wondered. Desperation makes people hallucinate and have delusions. In this case, sheer desperation seemed to be making Mommy delirious too. She couldn’t believe what she’d just said. Mommy really needed to thank The Virgin Mary for popping that answer into her head.

“Pure ????” What do you mean by pure ?” asked Pecan and Macadamia together, since they are never slow on the uptake in situations like these.

“Rain water is pure. Distilled water is pure” said Pecan. “Double distilled water is even purer” said Macadamia.

Mommy crossed her fingers and toes and everything else humanly possible, in the hope that the conversation would drift onto the safe field of “distilled water” from the minefield of “What is a virgin ?”.

It simply was not to be.  Life is like that sometimes. 

“Forget water. What do you mean by saying that a virgin is “pure” ? asked Macadamia, her voice dripping with suspicion. “Are you trying to n.o.t tell us something ?” she asked, her eyes narrowing ever so slightly, reminding Mommy of Hercule Poirot trying to solve a murder mystery.

"Hey ! Check the dictionary !" said Pecan as he leapt off the sofa as though there was some unseen spring in the sofa, assisting in propelling him forward.

“Hey wait !!” cried Macadamia. “I’ll check the dictionary” she cried, all but stopping short of screaming “Hallelujah” !!!

"The dictionary should give us the answer", yelled the nutty siblings, in unison, for once !!

"Don't even go there.  The dictionary will give you a rather complex answer to the already complex situation" said Mommy, her voice all but drowned by the rather victorious bellows emanating from Macadamia and Pecan.

"Absolutely geniuses, these !" thought Mommy to herself.  "Not just one, we have two of them at home." she pondered, as the mind raced in search of a reply that would be palatable to the nutty sibs when they started to throw questions at Mommy all over again, with renewed vigor.

Macadamia came back a few minutes later, dictionary in hand, an extremely quizzical expression on her face.
“The dictionary says a virgin is someone who has never had .... Whaaaa whaat is that ?” asked a genuinely puzzled Macadamia.

Her face was all distorted, her eyes wide as saucers, one hand on her head – to cut a long story short – she looked genuinely baffled and confused. And Mommy heaved a huge sigh of relief. In this case, a few more strands of hair on Mommy's head would have greyed right then and there had Macadamia been bright as a button and said “Oh ! T.h.a.t !”.

That heave of sigh did not bring about any long drawn relief though. Mommy knew that the nutty siblings would, very soon, start behaving like dogs with a bone to chew on. They simply would not let go of this topic until and unless satisfactory explanations were provided. And this simply was one of those issues wherein both siblings could not be given the same explanation at the same time, all in one go.

Call her an escapist, if you like but truth be told - Mommy definitely did not want to venture into this explanation at this point of time – not with both Macadamia and Pecan around. That would be like trying to swim through quicksand or a riptide, for that matter.

“Ok – first of all, tell me both of you, where did this word pop into your heads from ?” asked Mommy, who suddenly seemed to be breathing normally and seemed to have found her voice finally. She also realized that she’d just about sidestepped a minefield, because Macadamia had finally closed the dictionary, for the time being.

“A Scorpio is a Scorpion, A Libra is a Libran, A Virgo is a Virgin, says this book” piped the nutty sibs, together.

If Mommy could have got around to planting a firm kick on her own backside, she would have, right then and there !!

What started off as something as innocent as zodiac signs had almost floundered into unexplored territory – one that would have made giving explanations rather difficult, at this stage in their lives.

In the midst of all this came a telephone call. It turned out to be one of those advertisement calls that we receive. While these calls are normally a constant source of irritation and annoyance, in this particular instance, that call was a boon. It irritated the nutty siblings enough to have them start discussing the phone call. “Where do they get our numbers from ?” piped Pecan and then, much to Mommy’s relief, on and on they went, trying to figure out how exactly this “tele advertising” worked.

Mommy knows that this will come back to bite her one day.  But until then ..... there is the sheer bliss of having gained some breathing space.

While it is utmost necessary for parents to provide the right answers to their children as and when situations crop up, it is also true that not all questions are answerable right then and there. There are some which are age specific, some which may be palatable to one sibling but not to the other (again related to the age they are at), some answers may be downright confusing, some answers may send their imagination soaring to wild levels, some answers might be simply blocked off because children don’t want to accept what they’re hearing.

And in the midst of all this, it does become a parent’s prerogative to decide exactly how much of information to give out at what time. The choice once again comes down to “what is needed” versus “what is wanted”.

Like Benjamin Spock once said

"The child supplies the power but the parents have to do the steering."

Now who was it that said parenting is easy !! ??

05 August, 2010

Mothers, Grandmothers and then some ...

(Image courtesy : fotosearch.com via Google)

The past four weeks handed me a rather unique perspective. One that I’ve not so fully experienced before. Over the past four weeks, I had the opportunity to be a child and a mother at the same time.

I learnt more about motherhood over the past four weeks than I have over the past 10 ½ years since I stepped into motherhood. Like I said before, a change of perspective alters a lot of things :-).

Macadamia and Pecan sure had a lot of fun at my expense, for, this was an extended period of time when they saw me at the mercy of my mom. They saw her “mothering” me (and I mean mothering in all its abundant glory) and it tickled them pink.

It’s not that we’ve not been in this situation before .... we’ve been together before when we visited Bombay. This time around the difference lay in the fact that all of us were at home all the time, free to lick each others’ brains out to our heart’s content and to drive each other nuts (up the wall and over the ceiling and then some) with no restrictions whatsoever. The nutty siblings were having their summer holidays, I was having a break from my teaching sessions and my mom was visiting.

We would have plans to go out somewhere and the nutty siblings would be lazing around with not a care in the world. As I normally do, I would issue gentle reminders (the stress is on the word gentle) for them to get dressed and ready. Over the past four weeks, as I issued “gentle” reminders to Macadamia and Pecan, another “gentle” reminder would come flying my way – from none other than my own mom. Macadamia and Pecan would then end up behaving like a couple of Santa’s unable to control their mirth. Imagine that ! “ho ho ho ho ho ho” ...... a constant stream of “ho ho’s” for a few minutes that seem like a lifetime !!

When I had to go over to the supermarket (which happens to be a whole 7 minute stroll from home), my mom, having peeped out of the window and having sighted clouds hovering somewhere over Beijing or Taiwan, would insist that I carry an umbrella because “It is going to rain !!!!”. If she had her way, she would have had me carry two umbrellas all the way to the supermarket and back, just in case the first one did not work or was damaged in some way, you know. And the Santa’s would be back, making no attempt to hide the profoundly hilarious situation that was unfolding right in front of their very eyes.

“You are not eating enough” is something that has been sprouting out of my ears over the past four weeks. I’ve heard that statement so many times that it feels like I have a banner stating “you’re not eating enough” stuck on my forehead. “Eat !!” my mom would say, time and again, thrusting the jar of cookies (Good Heavens !!) or the tin of biscuits (Oh ! Good Lord). “No !!” I’d say. “I don’t snack between meals.” “Just because you eat one biscuit does not mean you’re going to gain weight” my mom would counter. “It’s not a question of gaining weight. I just don’t snack between meals, as a rule.” I would counter argue, as my hands would suddenly be infused with life. My hand would turn so lively that I had to muster all my will power not to let my hands go over and clutch handfuls of my hair. Macadamia and Pecan, in the meanwhile, would be sipping their cold chocolate milk or their malted soya milk pretty much like cats licking cream. They were seen exchanging rather knowing smiles. What better than a tall glass of cold chocolate milk, a nice chewy chocolate chip cookie or a brownie and some live entertainment. Entertainment where their own mother was being “mothered”.

A speck of dust would, at times, make me sneeze and my mom would proclaim “Uh Oh ! You have a cold !” and a huge tub of Vicks Vaporub would be placed in my hands. Ewwww !! I hate Vicks Vaporub or any of those greasy stuff that is meant to be spread all over wherever one chooses. And my mom happens to swear by Vicks Vaporub for anything and everything right from sneezes to aches and pains. I would steadfastedly refuse to even touch the tub of Vicks and my mom would be heard saying “You never listen to me”. “Ah ha” said Macadamia once “we are watching you” !! with as much of mock seriousness as she could muster, before all hell broke loose and Pecan started to laugh.

Just before we left home for the airport yesterday, my mom said she’s leaving the tub of Vicks Vaporub behind for me to use !!! Macadamia and Pecan were found rolling on the floor !!

A tug of war would ensue whilst doing the dishes. It is a wonder that all the Pyrex dishes are still in one piece, what with me pulling it from one end and my mom from the other. I would want to do the dishes and she would want to do the dishes too. I would say “you go get rest. I’ll take care of the dishes” and she would say the same thing to me and on and on we’d go until we sounded like a couple of parrots in an aviary. Just once, I was going around muttering to myself “Why can’t parents listen to their children every once in a while ?” and heard a little giggle. Turning around, I came face to face with Macadamia, who gave me a rather smug, self-satisfied smile and said “I wonder, too.”

There was this one time we got into one of our rather ‘infamous’ arguments. Vic called to say that he’d got mom a new cell phone. The message duly conveyed to mom, we got down to the interesting business of having a “debate”, with mom insisting that her old cell phone was in good working condition and me insisting that it was high time she changed her cell phone. The nutty sibs retreated to the safe confines of their room and a good half hour later, were found peeking out of their room pretty much like a couple of mice peeking out of their homes. The “debate” (as the nutty sibs called it) raged for a while, reminding me of good old days :-).

Yet again, there would be times when both my mom and the nutty sibs would give me some respite and leave me alone :-). They would form their own little cosy coterie – the three of them. They would be found chopping veggies sharing a cutting board, they would be found peeling and separating the cloves of garlic from the pod, they would be found playing a game of Uno or The Game of Life, they would be found saying their prayers. Little snippets which leave themselves imprinted on the canvass of the mind.

Yesterday night, there was one hand less to be dealt while playing Uno. It has become a tradition of sorts – the whole family plays a few games of Uno at night before bedtime. Over the past four weeks, my mom has mastered Uno too, thanks to the nutty siblings. Yesterday night, instead of dealing five hands as had become a habit, we dealt out just four.

I did not hear my mom repeatedly telling me to have my coffee in the morning today. I did not hear her saying that a single slice of toast that I normally have for my breakfast, is simply not enough for me. Today morning, there was no chatty conversation flying back and forth, simply going down memory lanes or exchanging recipes or little tips on cooking.

Mom called from Bombay this morning to tell me she’d reached safely and that there had been no problem whatsoever on the way. That was when I realized that I’d missed hearing her voice today.

I realized today what had probably been on my mind for a long long time now.

I realized today that the last time we left Bombay to get back to HK, I had been feeling totally down in the dumps – not because we were leaving Bombay but because my mom was going to be all alone again.

Funny, is it not, the way the penny drops ?

02 August, 2010

The Nutty Detectives

(Image courtesy : countyofsb.org via Google)

It was one of those situations where things simply hang on a thread, where one stands to lose a lot, lose out on something precious.  This time around, the stakes were very high.

So high that Macadamia and Pecan were actually looking worried. They lamented, they moaned, they groaned and they sighed .... but to no avail. The parents simply refused to yield.

The parents’ policy was rather simple. Macadamia and Pecan had to be careful while putting their things away, putting anything away, for that matter. One does not just dump something somewhere and conveniently forget all about it.

Not that this kind of a situation has not been witnessed before. Quite the contrary !!. This sort scene has repeated itself countless number of times before. The nutty siblings would leave something somewhere and forget all about it. Until one fine day, realization would dawn and that very “thing” would be required for some purpose. All hell would break loose. Mommy and Daddy would also be pressed into service in trying to find the elusive item in question. The whole family would be found either with their heads stuck inside the cupboards or wardrobes or rather cautiously peeking under the sofas or the coffee tables.

Nose to the ground, we’ve scared many a ant by simply staring into their little ant eyes !!

This time around, the parents refused to comply. They refused to help. They told the Nutty Sibs not to even think in terms of getting a replacement. Nah ! That simply was not happening. The Nutty Sibs, per force, had to turn into the Nutty Detectives. They had misplaced something which, under the circumstances, was of great value. Like I said before, under the circumstances, the stakes were very very high.

The nutty sibs had to find the “thing” they’d misplaced or else they ran the risk of losing out on something really really important to them. With that parental threat looming large, the sibs were found in a situation that can only be described as “near despair”.

Brows were furrowed, eyes shifted from place to place in a rather desperate, futile attempt to kickstart those memory cells into recollecting where exactly they’d put “the thing”.

The situation was really getting desperate. Hopelessness made its presence felt on their faces, the anxiety showed in their frantic struggle to locate “the thing”.

Just as they seemed to have lost all hope of ever finding “the thing”, just as they thought they would not see the light at the end of the tunnel on this one, realization dawned, illuminating their faces. Akin to a flash of lightning lighting up the skies on a dark stormy day, we could literally ‘see’ the comprehension seeping onto those young faces. Alongwith it came a sense of completion, of having executed something they’d earlier thought impossible.

Now to the question of what it was that the nutty siblings were searching for. I can’t put it more simply than this.

They were searching for / trying to locate a can of button mushrooms !!!

Why the despair over a can of mushrooms ?

Because without that can of button mushrooms, they would not be able to have their Sunday Special.  The same Sunday Special which was on the menu cards specifically because they'd requested it.

Thai Curry !!

And the heartless parents had refused to buy another can of mushrooms. No mushrooms, no Thai curry. And the foodie family that we are, the nutty sibs were aghast at the idea of their Sunday special not materialising – all because they misplaced something somewhere.

True – it was nothing priceless or valuable that they misplaced. But they learnt a lesson. They learnt a lesson yesterday.

Like the saying goes, sometimes things are best learnt the hard way.

Like Abigail Van Buren once said

“If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders.”