Wednesday, August 16, 2017

"Don't Act Too Smart"

I have so many memories of growing up in a small town in India with three sisters and a bunch of cousins. We had impromptu picnics at the Kharkai river near our house, we stayed up all night after exams to celebrate and commemorate with our little parties, we performed plays for the neighbors, and we had weddings for our dolls, long elaborate ceremonies with so much fun, frolic and festivities.
Once, we walked over five miles in the rain and lightning to our aunt’s house and her daughter almost had a heart attack seeing us all wet and shivering at her door but, for us, it was an adventure. The world was our oyster and we were naïve, bold, unafraid and willing to speak our minds. Our parents were not hovering around us as helicopters either. 
One vacation , we were going out of town in an open jeep with the four of us in the back, it was just our trusted driver and us, our parents were already there ( I forget the name of the city but it was somewhere not too far) and we were joining them. A car with three or four young teenage boys who had their windows rolled down started following us and somehow it turned into a race. When we would be in the front we would start singing, “aa dekhen zara, kismen kitna hai dum… (a Bollywood song which means let us see, who is stronger)” and then when they would race ahead we would be badgering our driver Kujur to go faster. It was all meant to be in good fun and after sometime we stopped at a roadside store and we were in the lead and happy about it. Their car stopped right behind us and one of the boys came over to me and said in an angry, menacing way:  “Don’t act too smart, ladki ho, apni aaukat mein raho (you are a girl, stay within your limits)” That was enough for us to back off and leave immediately and thankfully we avoided any harm or retribution from them. 
This incident happened more than thirty years ago and it came flashing back to me when, recently, I read what the Nirbhaya rapists had to say about the innocent victim, how they blamed her for fighting them. It makes your blood boil when you see that these deranged animals have no remorse or regret, they think that a girl should stay within her limits and how dare she has a voice, how dare she stay out late, how dare she have a boyfriend, and, if she speaks up then they have every right to silence her. These comments make me so angry; I did not watch the documentary “India’s Daughter” as I knew I would explode with rage at the unfairness of it all. It is deeply disturbing, disappointing and depressing to see that certain men have such distorted views on women. 
This mean spirited, cruel mindset is a result of the way these men are raised, the way our society either elevates a woman to the status of sati-savitri (pious woman) or immediately labels her a slut if she desires to dress differently or act differently than what is expected. Looking back to the Ramayana, Laxman drew a laxmanrekha (line) around the house for Sita and she got into trouble when she crossed the line. Even though Laxman was very well intentioned and he was looking out for Sita’s best interests, there is still something so symbolic about a man drawing a line which a woman cannot cross. 
I remember watching the movie “Hum Aapke hain Kaun” and the lyrics to one of the Dhiktana songs reads, “Pehli kiran jab se uge, Bhabhi meri tab se jage, sabka pura dhyan dhare woh, sham dhale tak kaam kare” Loosely translated, the lines mean that the daughter in law of the house wakes up earlier than everyone else, works hard the whole day and makes sure everyone in the house is happy. Our religious scriptures, our movies, they all emphasize how women should be models of selflessness, how they should always be serving others. Sons in law, on the other hand, are treated like God. Women fast for the long lives of their husbands, men don’t. It is because of this inequality that most people want to have sons and there have been so many cases of girl fetuses being aborted.
The sex ratio in India is 943 females per 1000 males. Eventually, women will be really important when there are not enough left to find brides for the men! The tides will turn for us, a change is coming and we are so ready for it. 
The status of women is a problem worldwide. Even in America, some men feel that if a girl is drunk, wears short clothes and goes to parties, she is fair game for any kind of violation meted out to her and this attitude makes me fiercely angry. India has been in the spotlight so much but rapes happen with frightening and alarming regularity all over the world. 
A lot of men are decent individuals who respect women and treat them with dignity. Many men took to the streets with the women to protest against the Nirbhaya rapists. Not all men, Indians or otherwise are male chauvinist pigs. Recently, Kailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights activist from India won the Nobel peace prize for his tireless and selfless work against child labor and he got far less media attention than the bad guys did. 
I really feel that women empowerment can happen when women support each other. We have to have each other’s back. You cannot have a chip on your shoulder just because you have a son and you cannot be cruel to your daughter in law. We, as women can be so snarky and judgmental about each other. The stay at home moms look down upon those who work and the working moms sneer and sarcastically quip what the people who stay home do all day! In order to achieve gender equality all women have to be on the same team. Parents have to practice fairness at home by treating their sons and daughters equally. 
The new generation does fill me with hope. Most young people today are bright, helpful, liberal, caring and considerate. My daughter, who usually never talks much when she gets home, was so moved by some videos she watched in her AP Human Geography class that she came in the door and started telling me about it. They had heard stories of young girls in Nepal, India, Africa and Egypt and those girls had been through many hardships and dangers and they wanted to go to school and have an education. My daughter expressed a desire to help these girls and she realized that the things she takes for granted like a safe home, food in the fridge, an education etc. are a luxury for so many girls around the world. 
My two boys aged 10 and 12 treat their 15 year old sister with respect, they even do her chores for her if she has too much homework and they always make sure she is the first one to sample the foods they cook. One day, we were teasing the boys about girlfriends and my daughter said “Mom, if they find girlfriends who are mean or abusive, I will protect my brothers, I will always look out for them, nobody messes with my brothers!” and my heart was so happy that a sister was saying this about her brother instead of it being the other way around. I am really hopeful about a world when a girl or a woman will not be derided for being smart and she can make her own decisions without anybody telling her what her limits can be.

Laughter and Tears

Years ago, fresh out of college, I applied for a job at the local library. It was the ideal location and the job requirements were a perfect fit for my qualifications. I was eager to start working, putting my knowledge to good use and earning some money after spending exorbitantly on my education at graduate school here in America. Imagine my over the top excitement when I got the interview call and my enthusiasm when the interview went well (or so I thought!) I got emotionally attached to the job, dreaming about buying a new wardrobe of work clothes, the kinds of library programs I could offer, how I would spend my first salary and so on and so forth.
My husband would jokingly tell me that if I get the job he will quit his and take a break and stay home for a while and he will do a better job of having dinner ready for me than I did for him. 
When I got the call one morning that I did not get the job, I took it very hard and immediately called my husband who was at work and with tears streaming down my cheeks and between heart wrenching sobs, I told him, “Come home right now, I really need to hug you and cry” and he replied “Accha , tumko to job mila nahin, ab mera bhi chhudwa do (Well, you did not get the job and now you are calling me back home so early- you want me to get fired too!)” I do not know if you all find his response funny or not but at that time it made me laugh so much that I instantly felt better. 
That is what uncontrollable laughter does to you; it makes you feel lighter and happier than you did a minute ago. I milked my sorrow for all it was worth, I was treated like a princess for a couple of days, dinner, chocolates, Tiramisu cake, lots of hugs and cuddles, anything to make me feel better and I did feel better soon.
This year, we completed twenty years of married life. On the day of our anniversary, while the kids were at school, we ate breakfast at Panera Bread, relaxed at home for a bit and decided to go to British Bulldog Pub for lunch. On our way, we saw an Irish pub called Tilted Kilt and I said, “Let us try this place instead.” As soon as we entered, we noticed that there were a bunch of waitresses scurrying around in micro miniskirts, bared midriffs and very low cut shirts with everything spilling out. Now there is nothing wrong with such a scene, just that my prudish self was not expecting it at all. I do not know what hole we live in but we had never been to, or heard about this place before. In any case, when my husband asked me if I wanted to stay or go somewhere else, I said, “ We can stay” and he said “Thank you dear, now you have made this anniversary very very happy for me” and he said it with such a straight face that I laughed out loud and I was absolutely comfortable. Laughter does break the ice and the stunned silences and it puts you at ease.
Laughing has not always been easy for me. At 15, I lost my big, strong and loving dad and as soon as I lost him I also lost a lot of my self-confidence and my joy for living. A sense of sadness, gloom and despondency pervaded my being which was easy to disguise but hard to shake off. I also lost my sister who was young, dynamic, beautiful, outgoing, smart, and vivacious and just the loveliest human being, in a terrible train accident. She was 25 when it happened, I was 24. She was my best friend, guide and philosopher. When life deals you these terrible blows it almost cripples you. I had shed a lot of tears and still do and that is important as it purges your grief, but, over the years I have realized that we only have one life to live and despite the struggles, we have to find time to laugh and live life with zest and passion.
Audrey Hepburn has said “I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it's the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills.” I could not agree more. I love being with friends and family who are witty and who can make me laugh. Laughter is contagious and it lifts your spirits up. I love those laughs which start out loud and then turn into silent laughter and ultimately it gives you tears and your stomach hurts. Sometimes, I laugh so hysterically that I lose my balance, fall on my husband and we are both laughing and our pot bellies are shaking against each other in spasms. I think we can all remember laughing so uncontrollably that the food or drink splatters out of our mouths!
Nobody likes whiners. I admire people who may be really upset about something but instead of going into a rant of despair and making everyone around them miserable too, they talk about it in a humorous way. Some of my favorite Facebook updates from my uber funny friends include:
“For those of us who enjoy the challenge and frustration of working out and not losing weight... Cadbury mini eggs are 50% off at Target.” The above quote is so funny, it makes you laugh instead of feeling depressed about your weight and weight loss efforts.
“After being clean, buttoned and zipped (and a little muffin-topped) during Grandma's visit, my house has put on yoga pants!! Namaste.” This update is so relatable and put together in such a smart and funny way than merely saying- “oh well, my house is a usual mess after grandma left.”
“This dress exacerbates the genetic betrayal that is my legacy” Who does not love this quote from a famous movie; we all have hereditary trouble spots! 
I love watching shows like Ellen and Jimmy Kimmel Live. I am really impressed with and inspired by Monroe Martin, a recent contestant of Last Comic Standing. This young African American comic had a horrific childhood, his dad was in prison, his mom taught him to shoplift, he was shuffled between foster homes 14 times in 15 years and he jokes that he was on tour and he came to school with luggage, waiting for his next flight! After this horrendous childhood, he still has the grace to make people laugh by his side splitting spin on those painful incidents. 
Some of his jokes include:
“I went to Martin Luther King High School. Yeah, my school was definitely not his dream. My school was documentary bad” 
“My mom was the type of person you had to pat down after a hug” (she was a thief)
“If a Black Batman came to save you, he would still be the prime suspect”
He wishes he had told a former foster mom who earned $750 a month for keeping him but would not let him watch TV, “I can’t watch TV, B!^#$, I pay the cable bill”
Laughter and tears are both significant. Sometimes people do not cry, they bottle up their emotions which is not beneficial for their health. Men have a more difficult time crying than women, we are better with the water works. Strong men need to cry too, crying cleanses our soul and rids it of toxic and painful residue. However, do not be down in the dumps for too long. 
Life is beautiful: live, learn, lighten up and laugh. Life is a lot more bearable when you approach it with a sense of humor. Laughter definitely is the best medicine.

What is Love?

Few days before February fourteenth, my ten year old asked me for a needle and thread. I could not locate the box where I had stored all my sewing essentials so I told him that I would find it after some time. The box surfaced a few days later under a pile of dirty laundry but by then I had forgotten that Armaan had asked me for a needle and thread.
On Valentine’s Day morning Armaan presented me with a beautiful napkin quilt sewn together by thread. He used rubbing alcohol and markers to write different messages/drawings on four napkins. I gave him a tight hug and asked him who helped him sew it. He told me that he used a paper clip as a needle and some thread to stitch together the napkins. I got really teary eyed that he went to such great lengths to make the card for me. I also felt guilty that I never gave him the needle and I felt proud that he was creative enough to use a paper clip. I gave him some more hugs and cuddles and kisses, and thought “This is love, pure and unadulterated, and I will cherish this card forever.” 
This child of mine is a blessing from God. He loves me unconditionally and I do not remember a day where he has ever been critical of me. One day, while watching a Hindi channel showing a Poonam Dhillon (Bollywood actress) song, I said to my daughter, “Mansi some people tell me I look like this heroine, do you think I look like her.?” Mansi replied, -“Mom, you kind of look like her.” Then all excited she asked her dad- “Oooh dad, is this your favorite actress because she looks like mom?” Dad put a damper on her cute question by saying- “No, not really, not my favorite actress.” Armaan chimed in “Mom is so much prettier than this actress!" He does mean what he says and I love him for it. Love is exuberant and effusive praise. Love is honest and loyal support. 
He wrote me a beautiful poem when he was eight years old.

Love indeed is a special bond between two people, a heart to heart connection! 
Let’s move on to Romantic love or love between grownups. I remember having crushes in my teen years. It would always start with a face popping in your head whether you wanted it there or not. As much as you wanted to kick that face out it would pop in right back like Jack in the box. The good thing about crushes is that they always fade away and more often than not you end up thinking, “How could I ever like that person? What was wrong with me, how foolish was I; he seems so unworthy and undesirable right now!” 
I got married really young and the pinnacle of my ecstatic and euphoric experience of love was the charming and magical courtship period when my husband and I were engaged but not married yet. My heart thumped with excitement when he would call and I would run at 100 miles per hour to the phone and we would talk for endless hours multiple times a day. He sent me cards and gifts and we went on motorbike rides and dinner dates. When he would visit and I wanted to be alone with him, I would ask my sisters to leave the room and they would get really upset because they thought I was rejecting them and was all consumed with their would be jijaji (brother in law). He made me a mix tape of my favorite Bollywood songs and when I would be apart from him, I would listen to those songs, think of him and cry my heart out. I was quite dramatic. 
There is a saying that before you get married you talk and listen to each other but after you get married, husband and wife argue and the neighbors listen! Luckily for us, our neighbors do not have much to complain about (hopefully!! ) but marriage does put a damper on romance because you have to think about mundane things like grocery, laundry, paying bills, driving kids here and there, doing dishes and so on. Criticism from your partner hurts, however honest and well intentioned it may be. One of my single friends told me that she celebrates Valentine’s Day as Independence Day and she will never get married as whenever she sees couples in the mall they are always arguing or not looking too happy together!  However, love is never lost. It gets hidden; we need to take the time to uncover it, nurture it, and make it stronger. Dinner dates without kids always help and we also make a promise that we will not talk about our kids when we are having an evening out without them. When my husband makes me laugh and we are having a good time, it’s the best feeling in the world. Love is when he hugs me close if I am feeling sad and crying and he wipes away my tears, love is when he hands me a glass of wine, and love is when he gets me an Advil and water when I am complaining about a headache. Love is friendship, love is intimacy, love is forgiveness and love is laughter.
Love is quite a phenomenon and my simple blog cannot even begin to unravel or decipher its mysteries. Love is for you all to savor, to experience, to give and to receive. Henry Miller has wisely said, “The one thing we can never get enough of is love. The one thing we can never give enough of is love “

Of Opinions and Judgments

Dilwale Dulhania le Jayenge is an iconic romantic movie from Bollywood. I had seen it in my teen years and gushed and fawned at every song and dialogue. When my daughter turned fifteen, I decided to watch this movie with her and I was really enthusiastic about her opinion of the much popular film. We sat down with popcorn and soft drinks in our living room, all warm and cozy with a blanket over our knees, just girls’ only movie night in, the boys were out with their dad and my excitement was palpable.
Few minutes into the movie, my daughter says to me, “Mom, can we do something else; I really do not want to watch!” Dismayed and bewildered by her response, I asked: “Why not?” She said, “Well, the hero is such a dumb jerk, he failed school, showed up late for his graduation and he stole beer from the shop!” I was crushed and amused by her response but I know that she has every right to her opinion and I understand that she thinks differently than me. Luckily, she has nothing against Shahrukh Khan; she loved him in Chak De India, in fact that is one of her favorite Bollywood movies. 
Most of the problems in this world arise when people cannot respect each other’s opinions. We have to realize and accept that the way we think and perceive varies from person to person.
If you remember the photo of the blue and black dress which went viral in February of 2015, it becomes a case in point of how people have varying perceptions of the same object. I was amazed at how the discussion reached epic proportions with millions of people arguing over whether the dress was white and gold or blue and black. I wish people could debate over some of the world’s problems and come to some solutions with the same tenacity. 
So often, we are critical of our appearance thinking we look tired and we are having a bad hair day and yet someone genuinely pays us a compliment saying that we look beautiful. Obviously, what they see is not what we see! People see the glass half full or the glass half empty. I wish we all can agree to disagree. Everyone has their own likes, dislikes, moral values and religious affiliations. We have to find amicable solutions to coexist. Trying to impose our own views on others is the worst kind of bullying. 
Let’s talk about judgements. It’s the thought process which goes on in your brain which leads you to decide what you think of a person or a situation. Sound judgements can occur only when you analyze rationally. You cannot judge someone by the opinions of others and you cannot judge a book by its cover. 
We constantly judge people, it’s a human habit. I have this friend who talks nonstop in a high pitch voice and she will not let me get a word in. If I run into her I might think in my mind, “hey bhagwan, yeh kitna bolti hai (oh God, she talks too much), I am getting a headache listening to her, I may have to go home and take an Advil.” I may not tell her that she talks too much as she probably already knows that and she cannot help it. I do want her to be my friend as she is a very caring and helpful person. 
Some people do not hesitate for a second to speak their mind and tell you exactly what’s wrong with you. I put on some extra weight. I was flabbergasted and entertained with some of the comments I got about it on a recent trip to India:
"Kya jabardast personality bana li hai tumne" (wow, you have a big personality now!)
You look so slim in your profile pic, never realized you had put on so much" (implied meaning: how dare you let us believe you are slim and beautiful when you are not)
"Have you put on some weight, you have, haven't you?" (I wish I could reply by saying, no I have not, hope all’s well with you- you are imagining things!)
"Bahut healthy ho gayi ho" (you have become very healthy-this one had me in splits). 
Now these observations do not really bother me, they are very mild and not really stabbing me in the heart but the point is that between my mirror and my weighing scale, I know I have put on weight. Talking about it does not really help. 
However, the comments I received in India are nothing compared to the hurtful and outrageous fat shaming which goes on in Hollywood and the social media. Rex Reed, a film critic called the talented Melissa-McCarthy “a tractor-sized hippo,” “obese” and “obnoxious” among other things. Perez Hilton termed Rumer Willis a potato head for the longest time. I shudder to even think what such derogative adjectives can do to your psyche. I could never understand the saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” I think the wounds from words last much longer than those from sticks and stones. People are so polite and appreciative in the utopian world of Facebook but on other social forums where their identity can be concealed under screen names, they spew sheer venom. 
I am reminded of the Hindi song “Kuch toh log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kehna.” People will talk; it’s their job to talk. We should have the ability to not let it get to us, to shrug it off and move on. I like to remember my mom’s advice that you should never give an opinion unless someone asks you for one. I remember reading somewhere that unsolicited advice is like someone singing out of tune, nobody wants to hear it.  It pains me to see how in parties, some aunties will interrogate the childless couple on why they are not having kids yet  and offer suggestions on how they can be successful if they can only relax and go on a vacation. Spinsters and divorcees do not have it easy either. People are constantly telling them that they need to get married. 
The worst offence is when people judge children, it really hurts the parents. The parents know about their child’s developmental delays and unless you have some kind, constructive solutions to offer, there is no point in stating the obvious and rubbing salt in their wounds. When people tell me that my child looks too thin or has crooked teeth or whatever, they make it sound like they made a big discovery which I am unaware of. 
Believe me, a parent knows their child, they are there to worry about their child and find solutions. If they need help, they will ask you. There is no greater anguish for a parent than when their child is judged. My friend, who is an introvert, was telling me this story of how when she was young, she did not like meeting new people and she was very quiet at a big family reunion. All her relatives kept telling her mom, “What is wrong with X, why doesn’t she talk?” The relatives were not being malicious, they were just stating their opinion but when one too many people tell a parent the same thing over and over again, it worries the parent and pretty much ruins the evening for the parent. 
Some overly judgmental and opinionated people reprimand you, they make you feel small and they try to force their own views on you. Living with such people is stifling, you can barely breathe. I know that when you point a finger at somebody three fingers point back at you. Jesus has said, “Don’t focus on the speck in your brother's eye while ignoring the log in your own eye." When people make accusations, they should pause for a minute and think, “I could just be talking about myself, maybe I have the same flaws." I firmly believe in "Live and let live." Have positive thoughts, nobody is perfect and we do not know their story, we have not walked in their shoes. Look for the positive in people and build them up, do not tear them down. 
Criticism can be constructive if it is offered in a non-judgmental manner (If that is even possible!) However, the choice to work on those suggestions is personal. People should not get deeply offended if you do not act on their advice.  Listen to everyone’s opinion and judgement, but do what feels right to you in your heart.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

"Indian Summer"

Sometime during the end of May, an incredulous co-worker said to me; “You are going to spend your summer in India? I read in the news that there is a heat wave going on and many people are dying because of the intensely high temperatures!” I calmed her down and reassured her that I was not going to die and I was really looking forward to this visit to meet my family. I was a little worried about my kids though, as previous visits have always entailed the usual tummy upsets and bug bites (Indian mosquitoes do love American blood) and I was hoping and praying that my children stay healthy during this trip. 
I said a little amen in the plane as I was so thankful that my kids are grown up now. I have so much empathy for people travelling with small children. I remember those days when my kids were little and one of them always wanted to use the restroom when the plane was taking off and the seat belt sign was on or when they were babies, they would get ear pain and cry when the plane changed altitude. Coming back to the present I made sure we did some strategic seating so that my 9 and 12 year old boys would not be next to each other. My daughter sat between the boys so that she could be the mediator and referee in their ongoing verbal dueling. Thankfully, there is plenty of technology on the plane to keep the kids and grown-ups busy right from movies, games, songs and what have you from the touch screen in front of the seats. 
 I cannot forget this little boy who must be either four or five years old, who was walking up and down the aisle at night when everyone else was resting. He had his hands out like he was flying and his hands hit the shoulders of everyone on both sides of the aisle. I thought that the poor boy is probably on a sugar high as they serve so much soda on the plane. He would not calm down and he threw a tantrum when his dad tried to pick him up, screaming, yelling and crying loudly and almost falling off his dad’s arms. His poor dad looked at his wit’s end and I was so happy for the little boy’s parents when the young one finally got tired and fell asleep to the relief of everyone on the plane. 
When the announcement came that the plane was preparing for descent and landing in Kolkata, my happiness knew no bounds. All the planning for the trip, the buying of tickets, the shopping for gifts, the packing of suitcases and all the waiting and travelling is worth it when adrenaline is pumping hard, your heart is beating in anticipation and excitement to meet your loved ones and you cannot wait to get out, collect your baggage and meet your family. My sister was waving at us eagerly and it was sheer joy to hug her and my nephews. My kids and her kids were bustling with elation, they were feeding off of each other’s frenzy and that resulted in a state of heightened hyperactive hysteria. We decided that we would let the kids jump on the bed or do whatever they were doing to release their euphoric energy and it is a blessing when they all love each other and cherish their time together. 
The week we spent in Kolkatta was heavenly. My sister asked me what I wanted to eat and when I wanted to eat it and made sure we ate whatever I craved. Mustard fish, chorchori made with fresh vegetables, Chinese food at Tangra, Litti chokha, street side chicken egg roll, sondesh, kaancha gola and many more delicacies fulfilled my stomach’s desires while her love filled my heart. I had a week of pampering and guilt free relaxation. My sister’s apartment is completely air conditioned and she has a bunch of maids to do all the cooking and cleaning. When I am with my sister and mom I feel that my children and I are not judged, we are only loved and it is a very relaxed and stress free experience. I also got to meet many dear family friends, two of my school friends and a college friend. All of them took time off from their busy lives to meet me and time spent with them was soothing and satisfying to my soul. 
The kids did really well with the heat when we went sightseeing in the daytime to Belur Math, Dakshineshwar temple and Victoria Memorial. In fact, they chided me when I was repeatedly saying how hot and humid it was when we were outside. My daughter told me, “Mom you should not complain, Annu mausi will feel bad.” I grew up with my sisters in a house where power cuts were common and we did not have air conditioners. I did three years of college in Kolkata in my late teens and early twenties when we walked everywhere in the blazing sun and the heat never bothered me. This summer, I just could not handle the heat, there was sweat running down my back, perspiration flowing down my forehead, I was feeling dizzy and warm in the sun. I attribute my lack of tolerance to my middle age; I guess in your forties, you just feel hotter! (No pun intended) 
Our next stop was Bhopal, where my in-laws live and this city is dear to my heart. We got married here and we have so many memories here. It is a charming city with lakes and parks and heritage hotels with panoramic views. My husband belongs to a large, loud and loving family and it is always delightful to spend time with all of his uncles, aunts, cousins and kids. They all have a great sense of humor and there is always delicious food and fun when they get together. My husband and I took early morning walks to Shahpura lake which was our place of romantic rendezvous before we got married and it was so nostalgic to visit it all these years later. We watched the movie Dil Dhadakne Do with 150 rupee (two and a half dollars) tickets on fancy recliners where my husband and his older brother promptly fell asleep leaving me and my sister in law to watch the movie by ourselves till we woke them up. 
The kids played carromboard and cards with their grandparents and cousins and they loved to get mangoes from the tree when they climbed on to the terrace. My husband’s older brother (Tauji to kids) would get all varieties of mangoes and excitedly call for my son Arjun to come and eat. Arjun loved the mangoes and also all the attention he got. Tauji also remembered to lovingly and liberally apply odomos (bug spray) on the hands and feet of my boys before they went to the park to play. Nobody can love you like family. The children also enjoyed getting wet and dancing in the rains, there is nothing more refreshing than an Indian monsoon. My husband’s older sister arranged for a family reunion in Indore and took us all sightseeing in a bus to Mandu-a city with majestic forts and palaces.
Rani Roopmati’s mahal at Mandu transported me into a romantic, bygone era. The handsome Baz Bahadur was the last independent ruler of Mandu. On a hunting trip, Baz Bahadur caught a glimpse of a shepherdess dancing and singing with her friends. Enchanted by both her captivating beauty and her melodious voice, he begged Roopmati to accompany him to his capital. Roopmati agreed to go to Mandu on the condition that she would live in a palace within sight of her beloved river, Narmada. Baz Bahadur built her this breathtakingly marvelous and royal palace with a pavilion overlooking water.  I thought to myself, “Men nowadays, they build nothing for their wives or girlfriends!” I was sad to know that their love story ended in a tragedy. A rival suitor Adham Khan was prompted to conquer Mandu partly due to Roopmati's beauty. When Adham Khan marched on the fort, Baz Bahadur met him with his small force and was defeated, Roopmati poisoned and killed herself. 
The children loved the animals in India, the stray dogs, the cows, the goats, the sheep, the camels, the elephants and specially the langurs.
We saw a bunch of them trying to climb a steep cliff and also a few at close view near some trees at Bhojpur. There was a loud noise and the baby langur ran at full speed to go hug his mom who held him tight for a minute and then let him go. It’s amazing to see the mom langurs jumping from tree to tree with their babies tightly holding on to them. My children got to see and hear crows and they loved the parrots and the pigeons. 
My youngest son who is an extrovert and who loves people, loved the vibrancy of India; he loved the noise, the movement and the throbbing, lively, pulsating hub of humanity in this halla bol nation. According to him, Dus number, a small market which we visited quite frequently was the most happening place. He was so excited to see the juice stalls, the flower sellers, the toy vendors and more that he was literally dancing around the whole place! I loved the smells of Rajnigandha, Champa, Chameli and Bela. My middle son is very empathetic and emotional and he always gets deeply saddened by the poverty in India. He always wonders why the super-rich in India do not do more to help the really poor. 
No blog on India can be complete without mention of its traffic. It’s still the same, horns blaring, nobody waits for anyone, if you wait and hope someone will let you merge, it’s never going to happen, you have to push in, its survival of the fittest.
One rainy day, the traffic lights stopped working and it was a mess in Bhopal with the traffic jams. On that particular day, we had to drop my husband’s niece to the railway station so that she could catch her train to get back to college. We knew we could not get to the main station as the traffic was really stalled and so we decided to take an alternative route to Bairagarh , the next station. We were all tensed, my brother in law was driving and we were telling him to be careful, our neice was checking her phone to see when the train would depart the main station and reach Bairagarh and then my mother in law called us on the cell phone and asked “Rukmini (the maid) is here, how many rotis should I ask her to make for dinner?” We all burst out laughing for a second because here we are all anxious and stressed out and the last thing on our minds is the rotis! We reached Bairagarh right as the train reached there. My husband and brother in law ran with heavy luggage on the wet slippery platform with us following and we got her on that train. Phew, what a relief it was, our mission was accomplished and my brother in law exhaled and promptly called home and asked them to chill some beer in the fridge for us. 
Amazingly, my husband feels completely at home driving in India as he does not feel the pressure to follow the rules! Crossing the road while traffic is still moving is the norm and it terrified me and the kids but we quickly learnt how to do it. Once, my husband was driving and this couple wanted to cross the road but they stopped, and I thought, well, they will cross after we pass but lo and behold, as soon as we came closer, they made a run for it and dashed across the road almost giving me a heart attack while my husband slammed on the brakes. 
Our last stop was in Delhi at my husband’s sister’s place. She took very good care of us and it was heartwarming that she got my husband to cut a cake and we all sang for him. His birthday is in October but she planned this as she misses celebrating with him. I told her that I liked one of the karahis (utensil used for frying) she was cooking on and unknown to me she went walking in the heat to the nearby market to look for that karahi for me. We were engulfed and overwhelmed with plenty of love. 
The trip back home is always emotional. It’s very upsetting to see my elderly in-laws breaking down and sobbing when we leave. My husband and I were depressed and all our enthusiasm was deflated on the return trip. We took solace in the fact that we had a wonderful, safe trip and the kids got to see where they come from and what a big family they belong to.  I was amazed that for the first time the kids did not fall sick at all in India. We ate at dhabas (roadside joints) and drank sugarcane juice and they were still fine. 
We flew to Atlanta and then drove home from there. While we were driving past the naturally beautiful and serene landscape of Lake Oconee in Georgia, my daughter told me, “Mom, it’s great to be back, it’s so clean and quiet and peaceful here.” We never imagined that the kids would be so excited to get back home. As much as they enjoyed in India, the kids screamed and clapped and whooped with joy when they saw the ‘Welcome to South Carolina’ sign and as soon as we reached our exit they started chanting home, home, home which culminated with more claps and screams and wohoos when we finally parked in our garage !

"Sweet Sixteen"

Growing up in India, I did not know that turning sixteen was a big deal. The only thing I remember about my sixteenth birthday is that it was my first birthday without my loving dad who passed away when I was fifteen. Last December, when my daughter turned sixteen, my first thought was, “Thank you, God, she has a stable, loving and caring dad to celebrate her birthday with and her special day will be much happier than mine”
Sweet sixteen birthday parties for girls are an extravagant affair in America. It is a coming of age party celebrated with pomp and splendor. Ballrooms are booked, DJs are called, and the birthday girl gets a car and a tiara and what not. Thankfully, my daughter is the sweetest and the most sensible sixteen year old I know and she did not want us over spending on a party. My friends had been asking me to have a big affair as everyone was excited for us and they also needed an opportunity to dress up and party! Sadly, I had to tell them that I may not do that as Mansi does not like crowded parties. All she wanted was to hang out with her close friends and a Wii U to play video games. We gave her what she wanted, she has an eclectic mix of friends who got her thoughtful gifts and they chatted, sang, danced and played board games. I got her favorite cake and they all had a good time painting her face with the icing before eating the cake. My husband always tells me that I let our kids spend too much time on electronics and yet every time Mansi’s birthday comes up , he buys her some or the other electronic device whether she has asked for it or not. So far, he has got her a smartphone, a kindle, an iPad, a Nintendo 3ds, a smart watch which syncs with her phone, and then this year he did not disappoint with the Wii U, and then, I get blamed for spoiling our kids! 
Mansi is our first born and we were blessed with her five years after we got married. She was supposed to be born on Dec 31 1999, a Y2K baby and yet she came 4 weeks early on Dec 2, 1999. The nurses called her peanut because she was so tiny and they admired her long eyelashes and head full of beautiful black hair. The day before I went into labor, we had a dinner party at home for some of my husband’s single friends and I had made biryani and other entrees and desserts. Those poor guys were shaken up when they heard that the baby was born so early and they were calling my husband and telling him that he should have taken them out to eat instead of letting me get tired from all the cooking! 
Mansi was the most beautiful chubby little baby and I enjoyed every minute with her. I stayed home the first couple of years and I was always carrying her around, I loved cuddling with her, dressing her, talking to her, just always holding her close to my heart. I wish I could use the rewind button and relive those days again. The day she started preschool was traumatic for me as she held on to my leg, would not part, and the teacher had to physically pull away a crying baby from an equally emotional mom. I cried all the way home and then finally pulled myself together when the teacher called and said that my daughter had stopped crying. I am proud to say that today she is an independent girl who goes on band trips with friends and chaperones and can manage by herself. However, if she does not respond to my text immediately, I start hyperventilating till I hear back from her. 
I am always amazed that even though Mansi is my daughter, she is so different from me. At her age, I was so foolish, I had crushes, I would tell everyone whatever was going on in my mind, I did not know what profession to choose when I grew up and I was not focused. My daughter is very private, she thinks most boys her age are dumb and she does not scream and cry tears of excitement at a boy band like One Direction or anything similar. She knows what she wants to study, who she wants to be friends with and she is very selective and focused.  The quality I admire most about my daughter is that she is her own person and she is not a follower. I always wanted her to fit in but she has no trouble standing out. I remember, when she was in the fifth grade, the teacher said that on one day the girls could either dress as cowgirls or Native Americans. All the girls decided to be cowgirls and Mansi dressed up alone as a Native American and was not worried about that at all. To this day, if I am going to a party, I will call my friends and ask them what they are wearing so that I am not the only one in Western clothes if everyone is wearing Indian or vice versa. The whole high school could be wearing skinny jeans and boots but my daughter will wear comfortable athletic pants and tennis shoes and does not care one bit about what others think and I really admire that about her. 
She is a voracious reader who taught herself the periodic table in fourth grade from library books on Chemistry. Physics has been her favorite subject and she wrote a paper on anti-matter in fifth grade. I could never understand Physics.  In high school I made the mistake of taking science subjects under parental pressure but quickly realized I am terrible at it and do not understand the basic concepts at all. I am very expressive and I can write pages and pages but Mansi takes a long time to write an English language Arts paper. I send her lines and lines of texts on her phone about what’s going on with me and how much I love her and she responds with one word - ok! I worry about the fact that she is an introvert and does not open up quickly but I have learnt to let go of that and love her for who she is. 
My daughter has a great sense of humor. Since she is very quiet, if she ever opens up and has a conversation with somebody, I get all excited and say, “Good job Mansi, that was so awesome, you talked so well, yay, you can do it.” My son will quip ,“What is the good job for, all she did was talk, what’s the big fuss about?” and Mansi will laugh her sweet laugh and say “ You don’t know Arjun, when I talk it’s a magical event, violins play in mom’s head and angels sing!” My daughter never disrespects us or rolls her eyes. She always tells me I am beautiful. 
She is my strongest supporter. I always second guess myself and she always fills me with her quiet strength and confidence. Incidentally, last summer, I was walking on the dam with the kids and a man with three rolls of fat and without a tshirt was running towards us, Arjun kidded: "Mom look perfect flabs" and I said “I wish I had his confidence ,he is inspiring me to wear a bikini but if I do that dad might die of embarrassment” to which Mansi replied “no mom, if you wear a bikini, dad will die of your hotness!” 
Age is just a number, so often our roles get reversed. Just last week I went for my twenty fifth high school reunion and turned into a giggly sixteen year old full of excitement, nerves and exuberation at the prospect of meeting old friends. My daughter told me to go have fun, enjoy and not get into trouble! 
Daughters are the best. She is the only girl among seven boys between me and my two sisters. We joke with her that she will have to look after her mom ,dad and mausis and mausas when we get old since we do not have much  hope from the boys! She is so sweet that she tells us that we are all welcome to live with her. Good luck to her future husband with that, he will have to deal with seven brothers and six live in in-laws! On a serious note, I love my sixteen year old with all my heart and soul and I wish her nothing but a long, happy and healthy life. I know that if something happened to me , I can count on her to be quietly strong for her dad and brothers and she will be there for them.We are so blessed to have her.

" Forty Five"

Yes, you guessed it right. That is exactly the age I turned this June. I had been anticipating this birthday with some apprehension. Birthdays come and go and the milestones are always those which end in 0’s. People tell you that 40 is the new 30 or 30 is the new 20. Thankfully, 20 is not the new 10. I am sure nobody wants to hear that at 20! When we are younger, we cannot wait to grow up and when we are older, the best compliments are those which tell you how young you look. The decade birthdays are brimming with bouquets and brouhahas while the ones which end in five do not get as much attention.
My youngest son, all of eleven, gets really excited about my birthdays and he kept asking me how I felt about my fast approaching special day. I told him that I was kind of sad as I am getting older. He gave me a hug and said, “Mom, look at it this way, 45 is a good birthday to have, at least you are not turning 54!” He eagerly told me with all earnestness that I look about 25 to which my almost fourteen year old son replied, “Armaan, you are such a suck up, sheesh, Mom looks like she is 38!” I smiled and thought to myself, “How did he come up with 38? 35 would have sounded better but I will take it” My sixteen year old daughter told me, “Why do you care so much about how you look? It’s not even important”
I keep telling my children that I adore chubby and cuddly babies and I may have another one soon and it really mortifies my 16 year old as she does not want a sibling that much younger to her. I am definitely not having another baby, it’s just  wishful thinking out aloud on my part but once I start my monologue on how much I love babies and how wonderful it would be to have a cute little toddler at home while the older three go off to college, she gets annoyed. So, this birthday,my daughter told me in her usual matter of fact way, “Mom, you cannot have babies anymore now, can you? You are 45 and menopause will be soon, right?”
Menopause occurs in women anywhere between 45 to 55 years of age. The Ancient Greek roots of the term menopause are: “men” + “pauein.” The word “men” means month which is closely related to the word for moon, “mene” because the months were measured by the moon.  The word “pauein” means to cause to cease or stop.  At 45, you are definitely beginning to experience perimenopause. As your estrogen decreases you may experience mood swings and fatigue. So the next time you succumb to the urge of crying uncontrollably just know that it’s the side effects of your hormones going out of whack and all is really well with the world. I never had pimples as a teenager and now they are erupting everywhere. I work at the library and I have always worn a light cardigan or jacket there, even in summer as the air conditioning made me cold, but not anymore. For the first time in years, I am not cold in the library. At home, when I say, “Oh God, I am so hot, I feel so hot,” my husband will smile and say “yes, you are, I agree” and I will laugh but there is no pun intended. I go over and decrease the temperature in the air conditioner settings.
45 is a pivot point, half time in the game of life, a time to reflect on how the previous years have been and how you want to live the rest of your existence. I feel an increasing awareness of my mortality, an urgency to live the best life I can because I have wasted enough time already. For the first time in years, I am serious about taking care of myself both physically and emotionally. I had fallen off the exercise wagon and so I went back and started Zumba again. There is nothing more exhilarating and enthralling than dancing with a group of women to catchy songs complete with clapping and woohoos at the end of class. Endorphins are released,calories are burned and camaraderie and companionship is formed. I am trying to eat food rich in omega 3s like fish and nuts and also more of fresh fruits and vegetables. We, as mothers, take our kids to the pediatrician, the dentist, the orthodontist, the ophthalmologist and so on but every once in a while we forget to get our own checkups done. We need to go to the doctor for regular physicals and other recommended exams. We need to have a good intake of calcium and vitamin D to prevent the occurrence of osteoporosis later in life.
I read an interesting quote that in your middle age when your body starts falling apart, your head is finally coming together. That could not be truer. I feel like I have grown into myself, I am stronger,  I am bolder, I know what I want and what I don’t. I don’t have room in my life for toxic people. I have a very low threshold for tolerating other people’s bad attitudes.I feel an impending sense of “what would my legacy be if I were to die tomorrow?” To that end, I wish to do more for my community, to volunteer more, to be a better daughter, wife,mother,sister and friend. In my twenties, I was very insecure and I would get upset when my husband was not expressive enough or when my friends would unknowingly say something hurtful. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore, I really don’t. I have complete confidence that my husband loves me, he doesn’t talk the talk but he walks the walk. He is always there for me, we work as a team and he makes me laugh every day and for that I am so grateful. I have three beautiful children and for that I feel extremely blessed.
In my twenties, I was a cautious driver staying mostly in one lane and I would feel scared driving to new places, fearing I would get lost. Now, I am one step away from getting a speeding ticket and I am more adventurous when it comes to driving to places I have never been before. My patience for irresponsible drivers has decreased. I get really annoyed and say some choice curse words when people cut you off and slowdown in the left lane or when they make a daring/foolish left turn and you have to slow down for them else they would get hit by you.
As I am getting older, I am realizing that time does not heal some wounds. When I lost my dad in my teens and my older sister when I was 24, everyone told me that with time, the pain would get better but it doesn’t. I still miss them a lot and think of them often, especially on my birthdays; I am swept away by the flooding rush of memories. However, I did have a good forty fifth birthday. My children made me some beautiful cards, my middle son baked me a heavenly Tiramisu cake, my friends treated me to lunch and I had dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant with my family. I am surrounded by love and I cherish and treasure those who love me. I am proud of how far I have come, lucky to be alive and excited about the future.
Now that the kids are older, I am also inspired to travel more, to visit new countries and discern more of this world.. My children motivate me; my daughter grows her hair and then gets it cut to donate it for making wigs for cancer patients. She has donated it a few times and inspired by her, I am planning to do the same later this summer. I enjoy spending time with my children as I know that they will go off to college soon and I am also trying to make them more independent and ready for the real world. Going forward, Maya Angelou’s quote comes to mind, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style”

" Lessons Learnt from my Children"

Yesterday, my fourteen year old daughter told me that she wanted to talk to me about something important. Immediately, my heartbeat went up and I got a little scared as when your teenager tells you she wants to talk, you start fearing the worst possible scenario. Luckily, her life was on track, no girlfriend drama, no forgotten homework or bad grades, no stress issues and no bullies. (Thank you, God!) 
She sat me down, looked into my eyes and said, “Mom, I think you yell too much at dad, he is a good man, he does not deserve that.” It hit me like a bullet that what she was saying was right. I do not scream everyday but sometimes I do get stressed out and worked up, especially when I have had a bad day or I made dinner and my husband cannot come downstairs and eat it right away. Unlike me, her dad is mostly calm and balanced and does not freak out easily. I felt ashamed but I also marveled at how she made me aware that I need to stop shouting. I did learn and now, I always try to breathe and exhale and maybe have a glass of wine when I know I might explode and the floodgates of anger might break open! I told her that I really loved dad (which I do) and I would try my best to be respectful, nice and polite.
Children are extremely perceptive and intelligent beings. Sometime last year, I recall that my daughter came downstairs, all dressed up and ready for school and she was radiant and glowing and so I kissed her cheeks and said: “Mansi, you are looking so pretty, meri raani kitni sundar hai (My queen is so beautiful)" and I was generally going overboard like I always do and she says to me very calmly, "Mom, what would you do if I was really ugly, would you still love me?" and I was totally stumped! Then, at a complete loss for words, I said, "What do you think?" She said, "I think you would love me a lot but you would be disappointed" and I was speechless again! Of course, you would argue that every mom finds her child to be the best looking, that no child is really ugly, but the above exchange did open my eyes to the fact that I can be very vain about outer appearances. 
She loves to tease me about this vanity of mine too. When she was younger, she told me, “Mom, you know, all three of us may get the total package.” I replied with some bewilderment, “Total package? What does that mean?” She said, ““Glasses and braces is the total package and very soon all three of us may have that and we all will look super geeky together,” and she laughed gleefully and hysterically at the look of horror and shock on my face trying to visualize all three of my children wearing glasses and braces at the same time.
My twelve year old boy has taught me how to be creative and have fun. Arjun plays in the forest and the creek in our backyard, he picks up lizards and turtles, he takes pictures of snakes, he makes bows and arrows out of tree branches, he made a pulley on the balcony railing with a bucket attached to it to get stuff from downstairs to upstairs without going up and down the stairs, he makes robots out of k’nex pieces, he bakes cakes and other desserts and he is always up to something.
I want to imbibe his limitless imagination and his sense of wonder. He has exposed us to different cuisines and taught me that cooking can be a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Paulo Coelho has said “A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires.”
Children are very accepting of your flaws. They love people for who they are and they love unconditionally. They are also very caring and forgiving. We can get very critical as we get older. Once, I was feeling beaten down about messing up something important out of sheer foolishness and forgetfulness. I am always very hard on myself when I fail at something and I told my youngest son, “Why do I behave this way, I wish I could be more organized and careful.” My nine year old told me so sweetly “It’s not your fault mom, you were born this way” and in that moment a load lifted off my head and heart and I hugged him tightly. Incidentally, my youngest is very efficient and works in a systematic way. He is an artist and his markers, paintbrushes, glue, scissors, crayons etc. are always lined up in a certain way. Whenever I go shopping, he stops me, gets a piece of pen and paper and writes down a list for me so that I do not forget something. 
Sometimes, when I am too tired or lazy to grocery shop we run out of snacks and on one such occasion my youngest pulled out an amazing snack supply he had saved in his room and I was unaware that he had done that. I said, “Why are you hoarding snacks in your room Armaan?” and he told me, “You need to save for a rainy day mom, you have to be prepared” and boy, did his snack saving come in handy that day, it saved me a trip to the store! 
We, as adults can get rusty and jaded. Recently, at a staff training day at work we listened to a speaker and then at the end very few people had questions. It was the last segment before lunch break and so people were more interested in wrapping things up and heading out to eat. Children are consumed with curiosity; they always have a million questions!
 Do not let the child in you die. Do grow up and be responsible and mature but do not forget to stop and smell the roses or see that pretty red bird hiding on a beautiful tree. My children build my self-esteem as much as I build theirs. I tell them that they are the most beautiful people on this planet and they can do whatever they set their minds to. My son told me that I was the prettiest woman in all the universes and they collectively get upset at their dad if he ever dares to call me fat. When I tell my children that I do have some dreams but I am getting old now, and I never have enough spare time, they tell me that I have many years ahead of me. They tell me that if I want to do some volunteer work or open up a charitable organization, I should go for it and they will help me and back me up in every way they can. In this journey of parenting I have found that I have learnt a lot more than I have taught.

"The Hardest Job on Earth"

What is the hardest job on this earth? I asked my 9 year old and he said – firefighter. My 12 year old said it was the men in the army on the front lines bravely fighting battles, my fourteen year old daughter said -President of America. All of them are pretty good answers. I asked their dad the same question and his response in his typical, humorous way was “being your husband” and I proceeded to remind him that he should consider himself lucky as many men were vying for that position and he managed to trump them all and get hired. On a serious note, if you have not guessed it already, parenting is one of the hardest jobs in this world. Technically, it is not a job, it is not something we highlight in our resume but being a parent is something most of us do and we really care about doing it well. When somebody tells me I am a good mom it makes me deliriously exhilarated and exuberant.
I had a very rosy picture of what it meant to be a parent. My mind painted a very naïve and Bollywood version of how my life was going to play out with the perfect husband and the most adorable kids who were always happy, healthy and smiling and we would all hold hands and sing songs in our garden. In my dreams, I never pictured us getting ready to go somewhere to eat and everybody arguing about which restaurant to go to or us going on a long road trip where kids were asking us every five minutes how much more time is left till we reach our destination. I never visualized them throwing up one after the other while I was cleaning vomit drenched sheets and comforters. I did not know that the terrible twos/threes would have its share of tantrums and hyperactivity.
It is indeed God’s miracle that they calmed down after that stage and turned into model students by pre-kindergarten. So, whenever I see a frazzled and stressed out mom with a two year old who will not behave in a grocery store I feel like giving her a hug and telling her that believe it or not, he will get better as he gets older and understands the world and its rules, this too shall pass.
When my daughter was born, we were ecstatic but when the euphoria wore down I just felt like a zombie with the massive sleep deprivation. She, like every other baby woke up every three hours to be fed and changed and then you repeat the cycle endless times. I love her to death but those early days were strenuous. It is like God is testing you, he is throwing the worst at you and if it does not kill you, it will only make you stronger. Even now, when I see a new mom I feel sorry for her that she will never get a good night’s sleep for a long time. 
The first child is so special. I wrote down everything she did on a calendar, her first smile, her first big laugh, the day she started crawling and so on. The first time we saw her talking to her musical toy in the crib we nearly died of happiness and excitement. If we were trying to get her to burp and it was taking a while, when she would finally burp we felt so joyful and victorious! She has so many picture albums and scrap books; I took her to the doctor every time she sneezed, if she slept longer than usual I would think she might be hungry (even though she is sleeping soundly!) and I would wake her up and give her milk. If somebody came to the house with a cold I would open the windows and spray down the house after he left. We were and still are very protective of our precious princess. Recently, a boy handed my now fourteen year old girl a piece of paper with his message and phone number and I saved it as the memory of the first time someone gave her a handwritten note. However, she never called him. I was more giggly and excited about the whole episode than she was; she has a great head on her shoulders.
My two sons were born in 2002 and 2005 and we love them all equally but like everybody who has more than one kid knows you stop sterilizing the pacifier and your baby is eating chips off the carpet and you know what over the counter medicines to give your child when he is sick. Unless there is a fever or an ear-ache there is no point going to the doctor and paying the co-pay. The other day I was trying to remember when my youngest started walking but I could not. I know that is shameful but my memory is getting from bad to worse. I do remember that my first born was walking at 10 months and my middle son started walking on his first birthday! 
Parenting does not come with a manual but the oft repeated advice is to be consistent, to love without spoiling them, to establish boundaries and consequences. It is easy to discipline someone else’s child but when it is your own child it is really tough to enforce rules and curfew as they are so good at tugging at your heartstrings and melting your resolve.
Yelling is never appropriate as they are not listening, they zone you out. Over the years, I have learnt to count to a ten or a hundred or whatever I need, to be able to talk calmly and not scream. I still lose my cool once in a while but I have improved tremendously. You have to talk to your young ones and you have to really open up your ears and listen when they tell you something and you have to keep the lines of communication open.
We are not believers of spare the rod, spoil the child and we have never hit our children. We are also very laidback parents and we do not understand the need to be pushy and put constant pressure on our kids to achieve perfect scores and aspire to be doctors and engineers when they grow up. They can follow their own passions and desires. We try not to hover so that our kids can be independent and they do some chores regularly too.
I have learnt from my husband how to play with the kids. I used to read to them every day when they were younger as I enjoyed doing that but I am making an effort to play with them as playing does not come naturally to me. My husband does it effortlessly, he is tickling them and they are all laughing and running around in circles or mock fighting or playing Uno, scrabble, banana gram and balloon volleyball in the house. 
Their dad also swims and plays soccer and badminton with them and they adore him for that. I have also learnt from my husband that if your child falls down and gets hurt and is crying, instead of sympathizing and saying poor baby which will make him/her cry more, try diverting your child’s attention to something else. He is good at making our kids laugh even through the tears.
My sister who is a Psychology graduate taught me a very important lesson. She told me that very often parents are critical if the child speaks too little or too much or if their boys do not like sports or if their girls are overweight. She told me that you have to love your child unconditionally. When you love your child for who they are, when you let them be who they are, when you are proud of who they are, and you accept them whole heartedly as how God made them, it instills in them tremendous security, confidence and capability. You can encourage children to eat healthy or play sports in smart ways without constantly being harsh and hurting their self-esteem.
Did you watch the viral video doing its rounds on Facebook where a Boston company takes an ad out for a Director of Operations job and it entails working unlimited hours 24/7 without any salary or breaks? 24 applicants are interviewed via webcam and their reactions are captured. When they realize it is a fake ad and the employers are talking about motherhood, the applicants talk respectfully about their mothers and realize the sacrifices mom has made. I like the video for the whole surprise factor which gets your attention, but it almost makes mothers sound like poor victims who have such a hard life. Yes, it is difficult and demanding but you enjoy it too! I savor my evenings out just with girlfriends and I have gone on vacation alone. I make sure I take my much needed breaks. 
It is supremely blissful to sleep with a baby and cuddle with your kids who give you the best hugs and kisses. There is no sweeter sound than the pure unadulterated laughter of children. We get to see our babies growing and blossoming into beautiful individuals with their own little personalities and this gives us utmost job satisfaction. 
There is nothing more endearing than the little cards and gifts your kids make for you. I cherish little cards from my children which say things like “you are precious to me like water is to flower” and “you are like the strawberry jam to my peanut butter sandwich” complete with adorable kid handwriting and spelling mistakes.
There is nothing more hilarious than the things little kids say. When my son was younger we decided to pay a quick visit to some friends in India and when we got ready to get up and leave he blurted out “Mom, do not leave yet, I had gone to their kitchen, they are bringing out some snacks and drinks on a tray for us!” I used to babysit a little girl who loved me so much that she told her mom: “Can Miss Mona be my mom and you can be my grandmother!” 
With time, new parents are promoted to the ranks of experienced parents. Worry and guilt are a part and parcel of parenthood but with time, I have improved at managing both of these emotions. Parenting has unlimited perks and everlasting rewards. It is a gift which keeps on giving, in our old age we are looking forward to beautiful grandchildren we can love and treasure. In the present, I enjoy spending time with these little people who teach me and inspire me every day with their wisdom and behavior. They are there to cheer me up when I am sad, if I have a problem, they really give me the best solutions. 
If anybody is critical of me they will stand up and defend me. Our kids love me and their dad equally and unconditionally and teach us every day how to do the same. We are dreading the day they will fly away from the nest and leave us lonely and heartbroken but we will have the immense pride and joy of knowing that we have contributed the best products (humor me on the job metaphor) to society.

"Don't Act Too Smart"

I have so many memories of growing up in a small town in India with three sisters and a bunch of cousins. We had impromptu picnics at the K...