Waiting

           “Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite.  Or waiting around for Friday night or waiting perhaps for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil or a better break or a string of pearls or a pair of pants or a wig with curls or another chance.  Everyone is just waiting. ” —- Dr. Seuss


I know I’ve spent most of my life waiting for something. As a teenager, in May, I spent most of the day waiting for my report card to come in the mail. My fingers would separate the blinds and peek out to see if I could see the mailman down the street.

Waiting took other forms when I got older.

When I applied for law school, I remember asking my mom, “Has it come yet? Have you checked the mail?”  Her response determined if I needed to wait longer. I was waiting for the acceptance or rejection letter from the school of my choice. That time was built in and around anxiety, stress and lots of nervous energy. It’s almost been 11 years since that day, but I remember my sweaty palms, the fidgeting of my fingers and my constant need to make the phone my companion. This type of “waiting” continued for at least three months until I finally received that minted acceptance letter.

I reflect on that experience now and realize I’ve engaged in this type of waiting all of my life. Waiting to get into college, waiting to get into law school, waiting to graduate, waiting to take the bar exam, waiting to get that first job out of law school. Waiting to get engaged, waiting to get married, waiting to get my first house, and waiting to have a baby.  What I’ve realized now is that my life is probably a string of consistent series of waiting for something to happened. And what I’ve learned is that the waiting is what steals the breath out of the present. The whole purpose is to embrace what isn’t waiting. It’s in the now, the non-waiting that you derive the most joy.

In the past, I’ve never been fully immersed in the experience. The waiting is what sat on my shoulder convincing me to anticipate what’s next. It’s not the greatest way to live is what I’ve learned. You’re constantly anticipating what may come, instead of what is. For the first time in my life, I am deciding how to wait. It scares me, but my appreciation of what is happening, the experience of living in the now, pushes waiting out of my shadow.

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Do you feel like you are constantly waiting for something? Does the waiting perpetuate anxiety? How do you control your emotions while waiting? 

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These Are The Days I Will Miss

My daughter turned five in January. I think I have to say it again. My daughter turned five in January.

The tick-tock of the clock appear in her face, in her eyes and in her smile. I look at this particular picture again and again, and I am having trouble keeping my composure. There is a genuine quality to this happiness, the particular sparkle that radiates from her eyes. Until I met her, I never knew this kind of happiness. When I am around her, I feel it.  She doesn’t do in-between. She really feels. She laughs with such deep conviction, it sometimes, if I think about it for even a second, moves me to tears. It happens when I say funny things to her, like de-da-do-da and she collapses onto a heap on the floor, the laughter cushions her fall on the carpet. Sometimes we lay together and she asks me to cuddle with her and I tickle her in the middle of her belly and there it is again. Her infectious, joyous laughter. It’s unmistakable. And she always wants me to witness it.

I don’t know when this will pass. But I know it will. These days her comfort is and in her mother. When I am in the house and she can’t see me, I hear her loud voice echo through the house, with one word,  “Momma.” I answer back, saying, “Yes.” And then with a deep breath, she says, “I was just checking on you.” You heard it right, she checks on me.

She loves being in my company and just a few seconds of separation causes her unbelievable angst. When I leave for a meeting or an outing, she rushes to the door, gives me a kiss on the cheek, and says these words, “I love you and I will miss you so much Momma.” I always tell her I will be back soon. Her eyes brew tears even before my car has pulled out of the garage. When she comes home from school, one of the first questions she asks, is “Are you going to a meeting today Momma?” When I say no, the laughter spills out of her body that I can’t help but laugh too.

Some days her attachment is confining because I don’t always understand it. Her angst over me not being there with her all of the time can be irritating, but it is part of her. There is a rawness, both in her laughter and her tears.

I know these are the days I will miss. When I will wish that she was just checking on me.

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Are there moments that you witness that you know you will miss? Does the rawness of your children’s emotions surprise you?

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Redefining Home Again

Two years ago, I stood in our Houston apartment, wondering how I would be able to sense home again. I occupied the space of uncertainty, not knowing, how to take a step forward into our move to Arizona. I’d never moved outside of Texas and the thought of starting over in my mid-thirties seemed so unreachable, the swirl of anxiety and expectation gnawed at me.

I am notorious for asking my husband these six words, “How is this going to work?” He’s always embraced change, not anticipating it with angst, but welcoming it with ease, almost like changing channels on the television set. The possibilities of the unknown simmer in my mind. I want a guaranteed outcome before I make a decision. There is an obvious flaw in that statement, but the knowledge of this doesn’t alter my pedantic thinking.

Through the course of the last two years, I’ve considered the complicated relationship between home and self. It’s a multi-layered approach for me and one that is in flux. Home for most of my life lingered on Bosque Street where I grew up with my parents. Home was walks down our street, ice cream runs at Braums, and eating veggie whoppers (yes, there is such a thing) at Burger King.  During my summer vacations to India, I felt a sense of home, eating kulfis (Indian ice cream), walking to the street market with my aunt, and drawing mendhi designs with my with my cousin. When I married, home was the connection I felt with my husband. It was saying “his wife” when we were newly married, lunch at Tia’s (our favorite Mexican place), and walking through bookstores after dinner.

And now, home is Arizona. And I am so surprised that I am saying it out loud.

I love the smell of the desert, especially after the rain. I like how the cactus’s bloom pink flowers in the spring. The run through the neighborhood is comforting, especially because I share it with someone who inspires me to act with grace, my friend K. I like waving to my neighbors as we cross paths and our evening impromptu chats. My daughter loves her school and we’ve both formed relationships with the moms and children. She’s acclimated well to the change, almost like she’s lived in Arizona her whole life.

Sometimes I think it is because she is a child, she doesn’t know the anxiety of change, but I’m breathing that same air too. Perhaps it is because I’ve found a home in my writing. Although I’ve written on and off most of my life, I’ve committed to it here, more than any other place. My writing groups are a place where I feel most at home, exchanging ideas and learning about the craft. I’ve made so many connections in this place that I believe will continue for a lifetime.

And the surprising part of it is?  Change was such a curse word in my purview. It’s a word I’ve been scared of for a long time.  But I’ve realized that home can be in change too.

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Has your sense of home changed? Does it surprise you? Do you relish change or curse it?

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Do You Care What People Think?

Don’t let what other people think decide who you are. — Dennis Rodman

At parties, when meeting people for the first time, like most, I’m often asked, “What do you do?” It is an interesting exercise to observe people’s reaction to this question, the sense of how they feel about your answer registers immediately on their face. In my experience, I’ve received three different reactions depending on how I choose to introduce myself, whether it is mother, writer, or lawyer.

This conversation played itself out two weeks ago, when I attended a pool party with several people I didn’t know. When it came time for that popular question, I chose to introduce myself as a writer. The mutual friend that hosted the party interjected and said, “No, no. Don’t listen to her. She is a lawyer.” I was a little surprised that she would, one, speak for me, and two, felt that it was important that her friends knew that I was a lawyer. Did the label of lawyer make me a more legitimate person than a writer? I corrected her and said, “No, I am a writer. I haven’t practiced law for a number of years.”  This conversation lingered in my mind for a few days. What if I didn’t write? What if my occupation was mom? Would that make me less of a person in her eyes or in their eyes? And do I care? And should I care?

The obvious answer is, no, I shouldn’t care. But it isn’t always that easy. Right or wrong, most people base their perception of people on what they do. Here’s the truth. Although I am working on my writing, I may never publish. Does that make me a failure in people’s eyes? I don’t know.

What do I do? Do I return to law because I generate outcomes and revenue? So that I can say, yes, I practice law and win or lose cases. It’s the answer people can wrap their ego around. It’s a tangible response and something that people can understand. And because it generates revenue, it seems more valid, than something that doesn’t.  I am writing, but I’m not generating revenue. I don’t have a series of books lining the shelves of the local bookstore.

For a moment I thought about what others may think and I’ve come to the conclusion, that on a very superficial level I might for a mere second worry some about what people think. But then that thought leaves me. Because ultimately, you can’t let what others think decide the life you want to lead. It’s futile because you won’t achieve happiness by fulfilling someone elses expectations of who you want to be. The people I really care about, my husband,mom,sister and daughter are my personal cheerleaders in my career change. My mom, every few days will read a post and comment that she really loved a line or sentence. My sister will text me about post that really touched her. My daughter, these days, tells my husband that she is going to be a writer when she grows up. I smile every time I hear her as I’m working on my memoir.

The people that I care about the most value my decision, revenue or not. And I think that is the important lesson. You can live your life for yourself and the people that care about you. Or you can live it for the masses. And really, ultimately, does it truly matter what they think? I think Dennis Rodman says it best and it is worth repeating, “Don’t let what other people think decide who you are.”

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Do you care what others think? Why or why not? Have you made an important decision based on what other people think?

Image by jjpacres

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The Qualities Of A Good Doctor

Every year on March 22, the anniversary of my father’s death, I write an email to my father’s oncologist, Dr. M.  In my correspondence to him, I thank him for giving my father options to consider in fighting his cancer. I sometimes ask him questions about death, loss and coping. And you know what? Every year, Dr. M writes back. He is a busy doctor, gathering research for his cancer patients, managing his clinical practice, and living his own life. But he takes time to articulate a response that is thoughtful and comforting. He thanks ME for writing him, grateful that I chose to keep in touch.

Dr. M always knew my father’s illness was incurable. He never hid from that fact. But during our countless visits to him, he explained and tried to help us understand what was going on with the pathology of my father’s illness. Often these visits would last over thirty minutes. A mixture of sadness and reality would penetrate Dr. M’s patient room, but there was always some hope too. He always offered a treatment that he believed would help my father fend off the cancer and buy him some more time.

When my father was diagnosed, he had less than twenty percent chance to live six months. With Dr. M and his treatment protocals he lived four and half years. When my father neared the end of his life, Dr. M wasn’t afraid to say that there was nothing more that he could do. When hope was a possibility he offered it; when there wasn’t any, he was realistic. And through it all, he was humble, gracious and kind.

My conversations with Dr. M happen only once a year. But what I learn from his words are truths he can only offer from his purview. He has emphasized that my father was lucky to have a family that supported him through his disease. There are many patients who have no one waiting for them while they are in surgery or getting chemo or sitting with them while they wait for the doctor’s examination. I never thought that my family’s willingness to be there for my father was a matter of luck. I always thought it was a matter of love. But from Dr. M’s perspective there are many who die alone and that makes it unbearable for the dying.

The second truth I’ve learned from Dr. M is that there are very few things we can control. Although we think every decision we make is in our control, there is so much we don’t know. When treating the dying, Dr. M has acknowledged that we can’t control the disease, but we exercise our educated judgment and hope for the best. And that at a certain point we must let go. That God does the rest. And that may sound trite coming from me, but I don’t think that it sounds that way from Dr. M. The lessons of letting go come best from those who observe it on a daily basis.

I’m grateful that my father and family intersected with Dr. M. He has taught me that a prerequisite for being a good doctor has nothing to with medicine. It has everything to do with being a good person. And those qualities are something we all can learn to do better.

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Have you encountered a good doctor? Have you learned any lessons from these individuals? Do you think my family’s experience with Dr. M is rare?

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What Saves Me

Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life. – Sophocles

I don’t know if this week will flash in front of me in my final moments. I hope it will. It is the week I understood what saves me.

My daughter was on Spring Break during these last five days of March. In the past, I’ve always struggled with her days off from school, channelling all my energy on filling her empty space with playdates, outings, and time at the park. Part of it is compensation for having just one child. I never want her to feel alone. The other part of it is providing a distraction for  both of us. It meant that I wasn’t solely responsible in entertaining her. Another factor, I’m certain, is my aversion to silence. My husband and my mom always tell me, “Rudri, you just don’t know how to sit.” In some very real ways that is true, when we are all eating dinner, my thoughts are on the quickest way to get the dishes cleaned. As a result, I am the first one up as soon as I’m done eating, my hands are under the sink, washing the dishes, while everyone else is still eating. I’m notorious for being hooked into technology, either the iphone or my computer, while doing other things. It is obvious that I’m addicted to being busy, but I’m uncertain on why this is the case.

My original plan of “busy”  wasn’t going to work with my daughter because she decided to appoint it “Momma and Me” week. I was a little apprehensive when she first mentioned it. What did Momma and me week really mean? And what was my role in her plan?

She really just wanted me to play with her. I confess that I’m attentive to taking care of my daughter’s needs, but playing with my daughter is not something that comes naturally to me. I rationalize that I am doing everything else for her, so she can play on her own or with my husband or her grandmother. But, I learned, she really was starving for me to do things with her, not for her. We spent Monday coloring together, drawing pictures for one another, played Memory and crafted bead necklaces to decorate our necks. I sat with her and a couple of times I caught her smiling at me. I know she was thinking that Momma was finally playing with her. Not once did she cry, ask to go anywhere, or clamor for anything else. The following few days, we made puzzles together, perused the aisles of the bookstores, went to the zoo, and went for a “Momma and me” lunch together.

As we were eating lunch, I looked over at her. It was the first time I remember sitting, embracing the current space I was in and I recall not being in a hurry to do anything else. She was smiling at me, asking me about when her lunch would come. She uttered the words, “Momma, we are going to eat together. I don’t want Momma and me day to be finished.”

I tried to choke back my tears. I realized for the first time that moment is what saves me.

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Do you “play” with your child? Have you shared some memorable conversations during that time? What saves you?

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Mirror Mirror On The Wall

She says the exact same words every time. “Momma, I’m going to do some magic.”  She utters these words, before steppping into the bedroom and looking at herself in the mirror. And it is something she does at least a few times a day. My five year old girl loves to fix her hair and check her face. Is this normal? I don’t remember the mirror being a part of my childhood.

And I must confess I am a little concerned that she is so worried about her appearance at such a young age. In quiet moments, I ask, “Where is she learning this behavior?” It isn’t from me. I am a pony-tail,  jeans and a t-shirt type of gal. The most makeup I wear on any given day is a dash of powder and some lipstick. And I even apply those things without her watching me.

There are also other things she’s said that have me wondering where this beauty obsession is born. In the last few months, she’s said, “Momma, blue eyes and blond hair are more pretty than my hair or eyes” or “How come I don’t have light skin? It is better.” These statements really baffle me because, at least I thought, my husband and I do a decent job of emphasizing that differences are something that are a part of life and that should be embraced. And that skin color isn’t the deciding factor of everything. It is important to be smart, kind, loving, caring, and responsible. That you should do all those things, no matter what you look like.

Perhaps I’m placing too much emphasis on what she is saying and doing. She is five years old. She doesn’t know everything. It’s a phase, I tell myself. She will grow out of it. She will learn to appreciate what she has, instead of pining for what she believes is “beautiful.” I am banking on that because the alternative scares me. I certainly don’t want to raise a young girl who is consumed by her looks. I’ve always believed beauty is something that is so fleeting, transient, and transparent. I want her to learn that lesson early.

But I am at a loss. I thought I was already teaching her that lesson. These glimpses into her mind, ultimately, is a comment on how we strive to parent the best way we know how, but even then, there are no guarantees. And there is that possibility that we may fail to instill the values that as parents we covet. Because although our children are a product of us, they are individuals. They determine what matters to them, no matter what their parents may want them to think. Or maybe I am obsessing too much. That my husband and I are instilling values in her and she will remember those lessons as she grows older. Right now she is just too young too appreciate those lessons. There is also that chance that maybe as parents we are doing the right kind of a magic.

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As parents do you have these battles? Does your little one obssess about his or her looks? Any advice? How do you instill values that are important to you in your children?

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Ambushed By Laughter

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.  ~e.e. cummings

Last week the depths of my sadness was palpable. As I wrote my post, Tell Me,  honoring my father, the tears dropped on the keyboard. My fingers struggled to keep typing, knowing the words couldn’t hang in my head or in mid-air. They definitely needed a place to land. As I moved through the week, much to my surprise the assault of sadness lightened.

This past weekend laughter surrounded me. My daughter played at the pool, dipped her toes into the water, yelled that it was cold, and then a bright, bellied laugh came from her. It echoed in my ears. During the afternoon, her friends played water games, ate pizza, and reveled in the luster of spring. I recall smiling at my daughter, wanting her to bask in this laughter or at least hoped that years down the road she could recall what this childhood laughter felt like. It’s the laughter of not knowing what is to come, but indulging in it without any hesitation.

On at least three or four occasions this weekend, it seems as if my daughter’s laugh jumped from her to me. As my husband and I shopped for groceries this weekend, we bantered back and forth, joking and teasing, and yes, laughing. We got together with our friends and at least twice during the evening, I remember laughing so hard, that I had to take a breath. And this laughter felt palpable too. I heard the own raucousness of the sounds coming from my belly and I thought about this moment, hours later. It hit me. I was ambushed by laughter.

And I felt the need to acknowledge laughter’s presence.  I spend much of my time honoring my sadness, but I don’t think I treat laughter as its corresponding equivalent. It is so easy to dwell on what you’ve lost, but not appreciate that everyday, there is something or someone that will coax you to laugh. I’ve been chasing the present and trying to analyze the best way to live in the now. Yesterday, for the first time, I realized that immersing myself in laughter is the easiest way to live in the present.

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Do you think about laughter? Do you believe it is the easiest way to live in the present? Do you laugh everyday?

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The Veins of Yesterday

Her small hand presses the light brown wheat dough as she sits in a chair, her fingers married to kneading. The pressure of her palm makes small imprints in the soft dough that look like tiny veins of tree branches.  The kitchen smells of yeast as it lingers in the space. She recognizes that air because it whispers the spices of street vendors outside her childhood home and of her own mother’s poetry.

She is my mother, but I don’t know all of her stories, the ones that she lived as a youth with her parents, two brothers, and two sisters. I look at my mother, as my gaze shifts to my daughter who is playing with beads, trying to string them on a pink shoestring. I can imagine my daughter years from now wondering about her past and asking questions of me about her grandmother.

To capture the current of the moment, my own curiosity prompts a question: “Mom,  as a young girl in India, what did you play and who did you hang out with?” She speaks of the almond trees her legs climbed as a little girl near her street and her best friend R., who accompanied her wherever she went, playing hopscotch out of the courtyards outside their homes. They still talk once every two weeks, although over twelve time zones separate them.

Every time I ask my mom a question about her past, I’m surprised. I learn a little more each time. Just last week I learned that my maternal grandmother gave birth to four children who each lived until age two or three and then subsequently died. It’s hard to imagine that grief, the repeated succession of losing one child after another. She channeled her grief into poetry, often scribing lines of lyrical verses on anything that could be considered a writing surface. She, as my mother says, was very beautiful, the flesh of her face beaming as though she carried the pregnancy glow even when she wasn’t harboring a child.

My grandmother died when I was seventeen years old. I spent a handful of summers with her when we visited India. I remember following her around everywhere, her presence giving me immediate comfort. Her ritual always included slicing up Indian fruit called  sitapul (sugar-apple) or bananas as I woke in the morning. But our relationship wasn’t dependent on conversations, but of caretaking. She would care for me, my pillow was her lap as she stroked my hair. When she would sleep and when I couldn’t, I remember playing with her skin on her forearm, pushing it back and forth like it was a swing. I didn’t know of the questions to ask then, because I didn’t realize how dependent I was on the answers and of the history she carried with her.

Part of that realization makes me sad, having lost all four of my grandparents, not knowing the riches of their soul. Sometimes I don’t know why I gravitate toward piano music instead of the drums or why Emily Dickinson appeals to me rather than Salman Rushdie, or why I have a disdain for rice, but harbor a secret love affair with the Indian street food pani-puri. I suspect it has something to do with where I came from, the things that I know and don’t, but are shaped even when I am not paying attention.

I’m dependent on my history, the part that is completely lost and the one that lives in my mother. I think we are all dependent on the veins of yesterday.

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Do you think of your veins of yesterday? Do you probe your parents or grandparents of their memories? Do you gravitate toward certain interests even though you may not understand your propensity toward it?

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Tell Me

Tell me Dad, how are you doing? I wonder where you are. Sometimes in my half-sleep, I think you are going to walk into my kitchen, open the fridge and pull out a Pepsi and grab a bag of potato chips. In my version, you tell me you are doing great, that there is an unlimited supply of soda and chips where you are.

Tell me Dad, can you see us? Do you know that Mom lives with us now? We are all taking care of her, just like we promised. She is not the same, but she pretends well. She is so lonely without you and would even pay to hear one of your lectures about how things should be done. She is always remembering every single quirk about you, from how you hated sandwiches, but loved rice and lentils, slurping them, by putting them in your mouth with your hands, eating like only a true Indian. You would tell us there was a certain “santosh” (contentment) in eating with your hands.

Tell me Dad, can you hear us? We have cried tears, loud, silent, in crowded spaces and in the bathroom at three in the morning. People console us, telling us you lived a long life. But I can’t find solace in those voices because they don’t know. We talk about those final days, where blisters covered your body from shingles and breathing was something that didn’t happen naturally for you. It was the vengeance of the cancer that we can’t forgive, the sheer misery of keeping you alive, knowing that the ultimate prize wasn’t the grace of dying in a peaceful way. There will never be personal grace in your dying, because Dad I missed saying goodbye to you by fifteen minutes. What would you tell me if I told you I’m mad that you didn’t wait? Perhaps you would tell me that I should have come earlier. Maybe you would be right.

Tell me Dad, can you hear the laughter? We still laugh. Because that is the way it is meant to be. Dad, really, everyone moves on. When we were all in it, we use to talk about how could we live our lives with one important piece missing. But it happens. I am living my life, laughing at times at your granddaughter’s antics, sighing when she exhausts me. There are times when I tickle my own Mom’s belly. I think that is more for you. To remind you that she hasn’t forgotten to laugh. Even R., your younger daughter and I share laughs over the phone, talking about random happenings in our life. We’ve all moved on, in ways we only know, but each of us won’t ever be able to go completely back. The laughter is there, but sometimes it is a little hollow.

Well Dad, I’ve posed the questions. So at this point you’ve monopolized the whole conversation. But it’s time for me to do some talking. I want you to know that I’m sorry I was late. I didn’t say goodbye like I wanted to. Tell me you meant that to happen, right, Dad? You were trying to protect me, sparing me from watching you gasping for space.

I want to tell you Dad that Mom, Sis and I miss and love you.

We all wish you could tell us too.

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On March 22 of this year it will be two years since my father’s passing. Thanks to my family, friends and readers who tell me everyday how much I am loved. A very hearty and special thanks to the blogger community who have marched with me in March, writing messages of comfort, on and off line. I will never be able to thank you enough. xoxo Rudri

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