Wrapping up, with twelve things I like to do

I am working from home today, already done with the mandatory call to the my overseas parole officer, children are busy partying in the pajamas, and husband is taking one last lunch with the men before he gets confined in estrogen central for two weeks. By the way, did you notice? The world didn’t end today. That means back to balancing parents-parenting-co-parent with work and Cliffmas, and of course virtual socialization and writing. This morning, a dear friend shared Marlo Thomas’s article “Twelve things to do when it’s cold outside“.

Marlo says “Closet Cleaning”. Thank you, but no thank you. My closet doesn’t get cleaned in the middle of the winter. There is nothing I can put away, there is nothing I can donate, yet. My closet cleaning will have to wait until we draw curtains on Winter, or for that matter, Summer. End of the season children will have a lot to donate, because they are most likely to outgrow all that stuff by next winter. Also, the bill ‘No More Hangars” was passed into law, thereby controlling clutter. I clean up my pantry before the holiday season starts. By Holidays I mean, when we kick off the Holidays sometimes in second week of October, for Diwali, not late November during Thanksgiving. The deep cleaners clean up the rest of the house, and clean up the pantry, and paperwork. I like a clean pantry, and a clean oven before I start by winter baking. So, that’s not happening now.

Speaking of cleaning, there is one part of the house that I never volunteer to clean. Our fridge. On any given Friday, there will be at least five cups of Nesquick, and three cups of coffee in the fridge. It’s my husband’s job to dispose that stuff. I don’t do it, partly because I am bound by habit. When I was little, I would take a sip of my milk and run to school. My mother would put it in the fridge and give it to our servant’s daughter when they came later for work. It didn’t bother my mother that she gave left overs, and it didn’t bother our servant that it was my left over. On rare days that I was finished, she would get a fresh batch though. She didn’t like it much, it didn’t have cream in it. Same thing with my lunch box. She would wait for me to come from school so that she could eat my left over pastries. Sometimes I saved pastries just so that she could taste them. Last year when we visited India, my children wanted to know if grandma had slaves in the house. Oh no, grandma corrected, they are my household help. But back when I was growing up, Bai was the maid servant, not help/assistance, and Bai was a term used to address servants only until Mallika Sherawat danced “Jalebi Bai”! Moving on, Marlo suggests accent wall coloring. In my opinion, winter is not a good time. First of all, the sun is softer than the rest of the year. Bright and festive atmosphere rules the mood, and you might end up picking a color you will regret later. Texturing won’t give the desired results, some parts drying faster than others. I would wait till Summer, or at least Spring.

But I am inspired by Marlo’s article, here is my twelve for when it’s cold.. no matter what cold means for a Californian.

  1. Middle of the day is my witching hour, but it’s nothing a cup of coffee cannot fix. It’s only in winter that the afternoon is so cold, I actually enjoy the warmth of the coffee. After I pour out my coffee, I leave the lid of the Espresso ajar, letting the steamy aroma of the ground coffee escape, and fill the kitchen. Heavenly!
  1. Colors! Red, green and gold in a shade that complement my olive skin. I don’t like the loud reds and greens of Spring and Summer, but the winter shades exude warmth that I can carry off. My closet is filled with dresses in these colors, though I prefer the legion of my black tops over blue jeans with a scarf on a regular day.
  1. Red. Taylor Swift’s red. Not her album, even though the little one croons “trouble trouble” nonstop! I mean her signature red lipstick. I didn’t wear red lipstick until recently. I am told Merlot is more my color by the Divas behind the coloring desk makeup counter. But, no thanks, this year I will rock the red that I like, not what you think I will like, or people will like on me. Red is RED this year.
  1. Yellow Gold Jewelry! Admit it. If you are an Indian girl, you own a stash of yellow gold jewelry no matter how much platinum you wear now. That’s how we roll in India. I have my fair share, accumulated before/during wedding, and daddy dear adds on here and there, on my birthdays. Winter is the only time where they actually blend in with my clothes, and the surroundings. Bling is not blingy enough when your neighbor is wearing green and gold ornament for earrings!
  1. Those parties is pretty clothes, where they serve an itty-bitty dish on a huge platter. It’s done so well, for a moment you wonder if it’s only for display, or for consumption. But after coming home, hungry girl raids the pantry, dips a piece of Panettone in coffee because a classy dinner is beautiful, never filling!
  1. Cuddling in the bed with my girls in the mornings. The two week vacation is the best part of our winter! There are no extracurricular activities, there is no school, mommy shuttle takes off while daddy plays chauffer. Work isn’t very crazy, and most importantly, California sometimes isn’t that cold, you can actually hit the beach for New Years, and hike most of the days. These are truly the days I relax and unwind without planning the next thing.
  1. Red toes with gold bands! Underneath those boots and soft socks is a beautiful pedicure of red and gold that I rarely get to show off, but I love painting my nails in those festive colors anyway. Christmas begins with the toes, and it only fades and chips after new year’s, right when I take the lights and wreaths off.
  1. Boots! I didn’t wear boots till I was thirty, and when a coworker asked me, I proudly said “Never in my life”. Of course I got a lecture on how I haven’t lived yet, and bought my first pair of uglies. Hooked on since then, the collection is growing. Not just me, all three of us are slaves to boots. In this house where mother doesn’t wait with fresh baked cookies when children come home from school, the mother-daughter bonding happens over shoes!
  1. My skin! I never break out during winter, and all the discoloration of spring and summer thanks to my nonstop outdoor activities fades away, giving that luminous look. I am not the facial and bleach kind, leave alone the botox and filler kind! But winter heals my skin, prepares it for another brutal summer come next year. It’s nice, once in a while not to have my badges of youth!
  1. Pajamas! I love sitting in the house in my pajamas, wearing soft socks, sliding on the wood floor sometimes like a little child, and not worrying about anyone knocking on the door. At six. Reading something on the sofa, relaxing already in the evening, without having to dress decently and stand guard to the children scootering and biking outside. Bliss!
  1. Food. I love every winter food, as long as it’s not meat based. I love the warm creamy sauces, mildly spiced, melting in the mouth delicacies. I love the personal sized cakes in pretty containers, I love the cookies from around the world, I love the Tiramisu in any form, and most of all, I love the Panettone! Religiously I buy every single dessert item at Costco and Trader Joes, and enjoy each one without worrying about the weight they would add. Winter clothes are forgiving, thankfully, and come January I can hit the gym without guilt!
  1. Private calls to my parole officer, Mommy dearest. It’s nice, to go on a video chat with the rest of the family, but there is nothing like mommy-baby time. Dad sleeps early, thanks to the time change, and I get to work from home, thanks to the occasional rain that disrupts Californian life. We talk a lot, sometimes for two hours, and even though we don’t gossip about anyone, it’s nice to have that privacy.

And there I hit the “H U N D R E D”! I have lost many of my Sulekha blogs from 06-09 era, and have completely lost many pre-2003, but here it is, hundredth on the blog spot, before we end 2012. Thank you reading my blogs, and becoming a part of my mundane life, however boring it is at times. I love you all, for loving me.. and encouraging me, especially this special friend who has read each one of my blog and commented..


In retrospect, 2012

It didn’t feel right to pack up with a sad tone, ignoring all the beautiful moments life has bestowed on me all year, and focus on the darkness of a few moments that occurred last week.  The dark moments have greater impact on our hearts and minds, and linger on forever, coming back to disturb us every now and then, but we forget the beautiful moments that leave a smile on our face and give us the strength to survive the darkness. Here is it, celebrating the random moments of the year, refreshing the mind to receive happiness with open arms, and to chase happiness, again.

In a week, we will celebrate our fourteenth wedding anniversary. I will cut the rhetoric and save my sappy speech for when we celebrate with the bubbly, but after spending all my adult life with one person, literally growing up together, I cannot think of life without him. When I close my eyes every night, he should be the last person I see, and when I open my eyes every morning, he should be the first person I see. My lunch dates are with him, my unplanned everyday dinners are with him, yet each one is so special. We don’t share the same taste in books, but we sit on the sofa, together, reading our own books, without peeking into the other’s book. We don’t share the same interest in movies and TV, but once in a while we make an effort to watch something together. We don’t even share the same parenting ideals, but here we are, successfully partnered for twelve years.

I don’t know about the promise of seven lives, but for this life, I am done.

Coming to the year that 2012 was.. there was happiness. Every day gave me a unique chance to chase happiness in a special way. One day, the blessing was just walking the aisles of Target, without anyone asking me to buy anything. One day, the blessing was to look at the market indices and grin that all that was lost was recovered. One day, the blessing was a call to report to work at the landmark building of my city, with a view, with the luxury of working from home whenever I wanted to. One day, the blessing was a note from a friend that she was proud of me, stoking my ego, stopping my whines temporarily. One day, the blessing was a pair of leather shoes, dear husband funding the buy no questions asked even though we were not there to buy shoes. One day, the blessing was waking up in the bed with two children hugging me tight, and still waking up to go workout in the gym. One day, the blessing was just writing emails to my “Band of Sisters”, and being understood.

This morning, read that people are rushing to buy the survival bracelets turning into 19 feet long ropes with five hundred pound strength in fear of the impending apocalypse on 21.12.12. I am not a believer. The world can end today, tomorrow, or in a million years, and my approach to life will still be the same, I will still love everyone and everything that matter even slightly to me, and care about them. If everything is coming to an end, I don’t want a nylon rope bracelet to save me alone to see the misery that rest of the world is going through. I don’t have any letters to write to tell anyone how much I hate them, or how much I love them. I don’t have the last minute list of things I want to do before the world ends. There is no bucket list, there are no regrets. I have lived, and I have lived happy.

The world around me is busy shopping. For our family, the shop-eat-pray season kicked off with Diwali, and won’t stop until the New Year.  It’s fun, this season of bright lights, red, white and green with gold, and of beautiful boxes with bows on them. It doesn’t happen overnight, all this holiday atmosphere around us. There is a person behind every string of lights hanging, there is a person behind every cookie baking. More often, it’s the mother of the household. We women love to be responsible for everybody’s happiness in the house, and we also love to whine about how hard it is for us to cope with all the frenzy we create in the name of traditions. This year, we didn’t get our picture cards done. No problem, I bought a box of generic cards from the store. This year, I didn’t have time to write my beautiful Calligraphic handwriting on each card. No problem, a ball point pen in legible writing will do. Postmaster understands, problem solved. This year, I didn’t have time to get pretty holiday stamps from the post office. No problem, butterflies are cute too, and it’s only four months until Spring. This year, holidays are all about Plan B, and being happy with what you can do than beating yourself up to do the best.

Last week, as I tried to save myself from drowning into depression on sorts, I needed some time alone. But as a working mother, time alone is impossible. There is always something to do, someone to drop off, and someone to be picked up. When it’s all done, the body is so tired mentally and physically, I slip into coma-isque sleep for the next eight hours. As a parent, it was a stress filled weekend, and it didn’t help that a gunman fired fifty rounds in a nearby mall. But in the midst of all those dark clouds was a silver lining. The little one was chosen for a leadership award. There was a mother moment, where a mother has to push everything aside and attend to her child, finding her matching earrings, matching hair band and a pretty dress with stockings, and make a promise to buy zippered high heeled boots as soon as she turns sixteen. Within that mommy moment was also hope for the future, a hidden message to move on with life, and look forward to that shopping moment when she turns sixteen without worrying about a thousand things.

There is still a lot to say, there is still a lot to do. I have done a lot that wasn’t planned, but I haven’t done a few things that were on the list. I didn’t edit my novel. I didn’t write a blog a day. But the bigger goals of life, the fine balance between Architecture, family (for me it’s not just parenting- it’s parents, parenting and the co-parent), and hobbies is finally happening. In the coming years as kids grow up, I want to get involved into the community more. But as parents age, I will be making more trips home also. The man with the midlife crisis might need attention and the growing career might just take over everything. I can’t plan a lot. Today life is beautiful. Today I will wear my cape, enjoy my unbalanced life, hopping to whichever part of life calls me with a louder voice..

12.12.12 and the week it was

12.12.12. The legendary date came and went without ending life on earth according to the prediction. Last year, when we hit 11.11.11, I wrote a blog about eleven random things in my closet. This year, I had no such plans. Between work, family and holidays, I tried to keep my goals realistic. But, such has been the stress of the string of events that happened all last week, I have to share, and get rid of all the negative thoughts, and negativity that surrounded me. In the next two weeks, I hope that life will be mundanely sane, sans any excitement of any sort, keeping me away from blogging till the year ends, and this becomes my last blog for 2012.

Dad. Dad was hospitalized on Tuesday. Before I said “Hello”, the call dropped in the parking structure that I had just entered. I didn’t worry much. My mother, like a parole officer, checks on me if I don’t check-in in twenty-four hour time frame. Swamped in work, I forgot to check-in on Monday night. But I never ignore her call, no matter where I am, and what I am doing, and I called her back as soon as I got into the elevator. I couldn’t reach her. I texted R to call her and tell her that I was doing fine, but within two minutes R called and began his sentence with “Everything is alright, but..” which meant something wasn’t right, and I would be greatly affected by what wasn’t right.

My dad was hospitalized for severe food borne illness after they attended a series of weddings, house-warming functions, and Diwali parties in the past few weeks. It always happens, you can only pretend to be in control of how the food is served, but you have no control on how the food is cooked at such places. When I was young, I once found a cigarette butt in my rice at a very religious place where smoking is strictly banned. R conferenced me and mom, and we talked. It was a long conversation. Her feeble voice gave me a report of conditions there, and her “Hello” was the indicator of her emotional strength. I mustered up courage, told her to man-up and take care of him, it’s nothing, and that he would be fine in a day.

But I didn’t have anyone to tell me that it was OK. I didn’t go to work, came home and called mom every few minutes all night to keep a virtual eye on dad’s condition. The “Hello” improved by morning, and she had regained her normal happy-peppy tone. Backseat babies came to know about their beloved grandfather during one such conversation that occurred during their pickup, and they started crying, one even wailing to get on a plane and go home, right now to be with their grandmother. I had more people to take care of, more people to talk courage to, and as usual, I put aside my own fears and worries till R came home and gave me a hug, a cue to let go of the guard and share the emotions, as they flow out of the heart. Within hours, my dad recovered, and was clearly out of danger. It will be a long road to complete recovery considering his age, but it’s not a big deal.

Daughter. Daughter turned six two weeks ago, and by some weird coincidence, she was born on the same day that I had a D&C to abort a pregnancy exactly a year ago. We had planned our second one to be a June baby, so that her sister could stay home the entire summer with her and go back to school when she turned three months old. My due date was 06.06.06. That day when the doctor looked at my chart, ultra sound and projected the due date, she said some people had selective C-sections to avoid the date. But later into the pregnancy, the heart beat stopped and the baby stopped growing suddenly. I didn’t drink any alcohol, and wasn’t stressed, still it happened.

We waited an entire weekend with a dead fetus inside me while my doctor obtained “necessary legal papers” to carry out the D&C. It only occurred to me few months ago that during that waiting time, the body can act up, and the mother can lose her life. But then, the grief of losing a baby was more than the anger against the legalities involved in an abortion. I got pregnant again, and after very stressful pregnancy where everyone felt entitled to express their opinions about my pregnancy, I delivered R2 three days before her due date, on the same day that I had my D&C a year ago. Maybe that was life telling me to move on, but still, on her birthday, I spend a few minutes alone in the bathroom early in the morning, thinking about the unborn. The rest of the family might have forgotten, but a mother never forgets. A mother does move on, wears pearls and tiaras with her daughter to celebrate her special day without a single line of worry on her face about things that happened in the past.

Connecticut. I don’t want to repeat what happened. I don’t want to read one more word about what happened. I don’t want to see the beautiful smiling faces of six year old children who were massacred. I really don’t want to read any blogs about his mental health. No one, I repeat no one has a right to take another person’s life no matter how deranged they are. That day when I read about the incident via Facebook stream, the only thing I wanted to do was,  bring my children home, hug them tight, and tell them their grades, their habits, their manners, their attitude, nothing mattered at all- all that mattered that day was, they waved me bye with a smile when they opened the car door and ran into the school, and they smiled at me as they waved at me from curb side, waiting to be picked up, alive.

I cannot imagine a child going to school one fine day, and not coming back. I wish no parent ever goes through that trauma. Suddenly I want to believe in Santa and ask him to bring a gift of long life to all children on the earth, no matter what their political inclinations. My Facebook stream is filled with articles and statuses about gun control. Obama shed a tear the other day touching the hearts of parents. This is turning political now. From the children, the attention is being shifted to another movement, which I am all for, to save the lives of our children and to stop such events in the future.

But, meanwhile, what is a parent to do? I will admit- I want to lock up my children in the house, home school them, never send them to movie theaters or malls, because it’s dangerous to go to schools, movies and malls. I am over reacting, the New Year is not going to change the way people think, but at this moment, it gives my heart peace to think that they are home, and safe. While I wrote this blog, my younger one sat next to me singing along “it’s the most wonderful time..”. How I wish it was the same for every child in the world. It feels so insensitive to hold my own children and be grateful, but that’s how we are wired.

That day, I wondered how I will break the news to the kids. When I picked up the older one, I turned on the radio, and Rush Limbaugh did the rest. He talked about it while we drove in silence. The older one was worried so much, the moment I pulled into the pickup queue, she opened the door and ran to pickup her younger sister, and for some reason, brought her away from the group of parents that were waiting. Later she explained, who knows, who was standing there, who had what weapon concealed in that jacket. I never had a sibling, so I can never understand that love, and that affection, or that worry. I was preparing myself to answer her questions about how she would go to school come Monday without fearing a gunman, and here she was, worried about her younger sister.

2012 brought in a lot of changes in life, and in lifestyle. I will leave the list of successes and failures and of retrospect for another time, but as I age, life experiences that I go through are slowly teaching me not to take anything at all for granted. If the child comes home after school, that’s happiness. If we go back home from work, that’s happiness. If we all spend a Saturday afternoon cleaning the house, that’s happiness. There is future, and dreams of a greater future where happiness is defined by some other things, but the next five minutes that nothing of greater proportion happened are happiness enough! I want to run away with my family into wilderness, sit somewhere atop a mountain and not worry about schools and malls, but who am I decide that mountain lions are less dangerous than a man with an automatic gun.

What do I remember?

As usual, it’s been a stressful month. Women all over the world have a mile long checklist at this time of the year. Holiday décor, gifts for friends, family, teachers and coworkers, hosting parties, and attending them, and keeping an eye on the pounds and dollars- the list is endless, and not merciful. I have my own items on the generic list. There is a birthday, there are a couple of anniversaries, and then there is a holiday tradition to be created. Then there is work. Then there is Santa Claus rally. Then there is the ongoing quest to find a logical end to the novel I am writing, and edit it, or find an editor. There is no time to document, and there is absolutely no time to dramatize. But then, it’s an injustice to my life if I die without sharing the magnificent moments of our holidays where none of us have ever answered the mundane questions about finding someone to share the life with, or sharing the love with a new life.

The only question people ever ask me during holidays is “What’s your holiday tradition?”. Sorry, writing cards in beautiful calligraphic handwriting, or shopping for gifts, or hanging the lights and wreaths, or taking advantage of the discounts in the shoe store, or trying every little holiday dessert at Costco are not considered a part of a “tradition”. Holiday picture isn’t considered a tradition either. I blank out, trying to come up with a story of my own. There are no traditions when it comes to this family. Or better yet, the tradition is, to do whatever makes you happy and enjoy the season without stressing yourself to repeat something you don’t even remember. I don’t think I can come up with a tradition to follow every year, but I can always make up a tradition to do something new every year.

Today we got ceiling lamps installed. I took the morning off from work. I don’t get that luxury often. I take mornings or afternoons off because there is something else I have to accommodate while I work on the go. There is always something to clean, something to organize, something to take care of. But this morning, the house was clean, the kids were at school, and the husband was tied up with meetings. The installers worked in every room of the house except dining room and kitchen. I had access to coffee, phone and laptop, nothing else. I called my mom, talked to her for over an hour, gathered all details about my baby brother’s new bride, and baby sister’s new groom, and a thousand other things.

Suddenly realized that this year will be the first year in my life that I won’t visit my parents. Otherwise every year either they visited us, or we visited them keeping the tradition of spending time with them at least once a year. There was a tradition, of meeting parents every year, and of calling mom every day, and this year I have broken both. I talked to her after three long days, and I have canceled my trip home thanks to the greenback harvesting program. Catching up on things here and there, I read an email I sent to a group of my virtual sisters a while ago, sharing an article on Huffington Post by Wendy Bradford “What will children remember?”.  What my children will remember is left up to my children.  But I can certainly share what I remember of my mother, snippets, nothing serious, nothing poetic, just ordinary life that we shared, mundane moments of our lives.

I remember..
My mother trying to find her glasses. Every morning. Sometimes they would be tucked in hair because they fogged up while she sipped coffee reading her newspaper. Sometimes they would below her bed because she did late night fiction reading and pushed them below her bed when she was done so that no one tripped on them. They were of gold frame, and were meant for reading only. For a woman who detested gold and jewelry, that was a surprising choice. Some days she would run to class without glasses proudly declaring that its been such a long career, she has memorized the text book. Thankfully she only needed reading glasses. Imagine the horror when your mother says I know my street, it’s been a long life and walks off into a busy intersection without glasses!

I remember..
My mother telling me it’s OK, I am still young, I will get over it no matter what it was. She said that when I lost my precious Hero pen, she told me that when I lost my ring which was grandmother’s gift, and when R moved back to US after our wedding. It seems big today, but one day, it won’t matter according to her. At that matter it did. I never thought I would agree with her, but been such a long life now, I don’t see the misery in all those things that happened. There are so many pens in the pen stand, yet I don’t use them for anything other than signing, and there are so many beautiful memories with R, I barely remember the woes of our long distance relationship. End of the day it was all OK. I like to glorify each little thing and whine, and she managed her job, her family and her reading/ writing without ever saying a word about how hard it was for a woman to have it all, or to want it all.

I remember..
My mother wore cotton saris, always. It hit me one day that I could earn awesome allowance starching and ironing her saris. So I brought the supplies, and became her personal laundry girl. It didn’t go well with her when I tore her sari trying to separate the folds when it was dry and ready to iron. That was the end of my short dry cleaning/ starch and ironing career. She treasures her saris a lot! Her wedding sari looks like it was bought last evening. Not a single crease, not a single stain, and it’s not even the stain proof, waterproof variety like mine. Her cupboards overflow with saris at any given moment, and so does her suitcase. Packing light doesn’t apply to her.

I remember..
She was not the cooking and cleaning type, but she made holiday delicacies and special items that dad and I loved. When she cooked, I assisted. There was not a moment in my house where everyone else sat down watching TV while the woman of the household made dinner for the family. My dad would sit and talk to her while she cooked, even if it was at 5 am. The pressure cooker went off at 7 am, and the curry leaves would splutter in the oil at 7.15am, and the faint smell of Jasmine soap would drown all that by 7.30am. That’s the smell I associate with her. Jasmine. No wonder my backyard is filled with jasmines of all kinds, and most importantly her favorite Mysore Mallige- Arabian Jasmine.

I remember..
She loved to read. She read every book that was released. Even though I learned in English medium, she made sure I learned enough Kannada to read and write. One proud moment she could never get over was, when I was eighteen, both of our poems made it to a leading magazine called Tushar. It took time for me to get over it because my poem got a special mention, and hers was selected as the best poem. Even now, she buys me every book that she likes, and tries to get the author’s autograph for me. When I was little, there was a corner of the bed that she liked to read on. Her, her specs, and her book, and peace around. Now when she visits us, it’s her, her specs, and her book, and peace around till we wake up. She finds time, in every chaos to spend time with her books. She finds time for herself unlike me who gets lost in the chaos. There is always a stack of magazines and books in every room she occupies.

So many other memories surround me on a cold California evening, and I bring out a sweater that she forgot in my house and wear it. I know, I will stretch it out, but one thing my daughter has taught me is, that’s OK. There will be other sweaters. There will be other shoes too, though I don’t believe in that theory. A shoe gone is a shoe gone and no other shoe will fill that void, ever. Anyway, shoes are not her issues, they are mine, and my daughters will write about it one day in 140 characters or less. May be something like “OMG MOM #SHOEADDICT #FREAKING OUT #MOM MEMORIES”. I don’t know. I can’t do that kind of texting. I will pay a dollar more, but I will use my words.

All these memories of her saris, her starch and ironing routine, and her obsession came up only because she has agreed to be generous enough to donate her sari (a box full that she left behind in my house a couple of a years ago) to the non profit Wishwas – the ladies there will make beautiful items out of them, and repurpose them. Talking about repurposing, there used to be a sari in the family with real gold woven in silk. It was the color of the pomegranate seeds. I wore it whenever my grandmother opened her box and let us touch her treasures. But one day my grandmother was gone.. so was her sari.. taking the memory of her mother with her.. I wish I had, so that I could get something done out of it, and keep it in my house forever, as her memory, as a part of family history.

What’s your tradition?
What do you remember of your childhood?
What was your mundane when you were not leading your life?

A Dozen

Dear daughter,

You turned twelve a week ago, and I haven’t had the time to write a letter to you to document this year of your life. You are growing up, but you should understand,  I am growing up too, and so is my long list of duties and responsibilities. Late, but worth the wait  I hope, here are  twelve little things I want to share on your twelfth birthday..

I don’t print dollars, and mom doesn’t stand for “made of money”. Of course I pamper you, and buy you every little beautiful thing I see in the magazines, but that doesn’t mean you are entitled to it. Learn to appreciate it.

Last Sunday morning you crawled up in my bed for cuddle time, and elbowed me accidentally. Trust me, I saw stars, and I didn’t know what hit me. I think it’s time we moved past the memories of a helpless infant that locked her eyes with me for a brief moment before they transferred her to the NICU.

Ears! They are not just to stick blue tooth and listen to call me maybe. They connect to the other parts of your body, and they should be used to listen. Not just hear. There is sound around you, of your parents, of your sibling, of your friends and of your teachers. Don’t drown us out like a white noise. Listen to us.

Help! The four letter word that you need to use is “help”. It’s OK, you can ask us to guide you, you can ask us to assist you. I know you are a student tutor now, and you are capable of taking care of yourself, but as you grow, so do expectations. Don’t limit yourself to things you can take care of yourself. We are here, to take care of you when needed.

Mirror! Forget the mirror on the back of your bedroom door, and trust my eyes. You are beautiful just the way you are. Even your Direction boy says that. See yourself through my eyes- I know when you are beautiful and when the ugliness creeps in. The smile that comes from the heart, and the sparkle in the eyes that are lit up with love make you beautiful, not your hair or your clothes. They can only add to who you are, not make you what you want to be.

Come back to me, anytime, anywhere. You are taking baby steps, walking into the world without my guidance, but the world is not a beautiful place always. Stuff happens. I will tell you today, I will remind you tomorrow, and I think I talked about the same last night, we are here for you, always. Whatever it is, we will help fix it, or we will fix you.

You tell me about the good Indian girls that have boyfriends in High School and don’t tell their parents about it. I hope you don’t turn out to be a good Indian girl. I need to know the truth, of where you are, and what you are doing at any given time. I am not the kind who will live in a bubble that it won’t happen in our family. So trust me, tell me everything about everyone around you.

You tell me that I signed up for parenting too soon, and every little event we attend is a reminder that things happened too soon for us. But trust me, we have everything under control. I don’t miss driving a luxury car when I listen to you play my favorite Goldberg variation. My trade off is justified, and don’t ever live in the guilt that you redefined dreams and goals. Learn from it, know that your plan can be perfect, but always have a plan b for everything in life.

Again, I repeat, I only care about you, and not your friend, and not your friend’s friend. I don’t care who dyed their hair with Kool Aid, who doused it in beer to highlight, and who uses mascara. Tell me if you want to dye your hair, and I will approve or disapprove of it. Tell me you want to get a piercing, we will talk. You are the center of my universe, and my problem, not people associated with you.

Thank you for the proud moment at Disney. Your dad told the man who dispensed Fastpass about your performance, and the woman on the Boudini counter and Ghirardelli counter know about it too. Excelling in academics or arts is nothing new in the family, but you are the first one to sing, and of course the first one to sing at Disney.  Thousands of schools from all over the country sent their video auditions and only a few were selected.  This was your school’s second outing. Take pride in those moments, and don’t think it’s not special because four of your other friends did it.

Don’t feel entitled to anything just because you are exposed to a lifestyle, a community like this. Know about Malala, and know that education is not a right for everyone. Know about the Mideast, and know that the worst thing that happened in the world today isn’t that accident near Trader Joes. Know about pro-choice, pro-life and a thousand other options in between, and know that you don’t have to take my stance on everything. Appreciate the rights, and the privileges, and use them wisely, and know that life is grander than what you know about it already.

The list of do’s and don’ts will continue forever. You will be a teenager soon. You will pretend to be someone you are not, and you will follow your friends and tell me I don’t know anything about what you go through. One last thing I want to remember is, your parents will always know what you are going through, because long ago they were the same misunderstood brats. Teenage is not a disease, or a special condition, and it can be treated with love and understanding. Fortunately for you, we already have the prescription. Just use as needed and be happy.

Until next year, lets’ continue the carefully coordinated and orchestrated mundane life and hope that our biggest problems are the grades the teacher hasn’t corrected yet.

Mom and Dad

Blast from the past:

Eleven Already, A decade.. 

Chasing Happiness #36

This morning, read an article called “The mom stays in the picture” by Allison Tate. “Too much of a mama’s life goes undocumented and unseen”, says Allison.

I loved the essay Allison wrote, but as the writer of the blog that “Documents and Dramatizes” the mundane moments of my life, I couldn’t relate to her thoughts. In this family, mom stays in the picture, always, unless she is wielding the camera. This mom has loads and loads of pictures with her children on every computer and every smart phone in the house. There is us, in our pajamas, hair all frizzed out in a hotel room. There is us, without make up, having breakfast with a backdrop of sink full of dishes. There is us, pillow fighting in unmade beds. Most of the times the hair in not done, nail polish is chipped, and the face is bare. Sometimes, I am just fat. Pictures of us aren’t picture perfect, but we smile and show our big teeth, braced teeth and baby teeth in all of our pictures with pride. I am their mother, and they, my daughters, this is how we are, and there is nothing we are ashamed of! I will go ahead and show up in the pictures, with my children, with my parents, with my friends, and with my husband.

I don’t have a problem being me, but others do, sometimes. One of my friends called me recently with triumph dripping out of her words. Epic fail, she said. I see the silver shining in your hair, you can’t fool me anymore, she added. Oh, OK, you noticed the picture. I am writing blog after blog documenting my transition from youth to middle age, and I am trying to hurt your plastic sensibilities via my words, but if you didn’t read it, that my dear, is an epic fail for me. Anyway, come Christmas, you will receive my holiday card featuring my sun-blessed silver dusted hair and happiness dripping through the ends of my eyes. It’s not fair that you think growth spurts in kids are cute, but my transition from youth to middle age is repulsive!

Pictures in the past decade are on the computers all over the house, and someplace in the clouds too. But I still have a box of pictures like they did in the era of dinosaurs. Those prints have documented our wedding, our life in apartments, our first child, our parents’ first visits. There are pictures of me with my parents, my friends, and with the door of my closet filled with Rahul Dravid’s picture. There is a picture of me wearing someone’s bracelet. Like the sisterhood of travelling pants, this special person left me the bracelet for summer. I wore it like I owned it. Time took its toll on the bracelet and on the friendship we shared, but the picture has sealed that memory forever.

There is a picture of me with my grandfather. He died two months after we took that picture. That’s the one and only picture of just the two of us. I didn’t comb my hair in that picture, but if I had said no that day to the photographer, I probably would have ended up with no time capsule of sorts with my grandfather. I don’t have any pictures with my other grandparents. There are pictures of grandparents, and then there are pictures of grandparents with their grandkids. But we have nothing that shares the special moment between us. Probably that’s the reason I have loads of pictures of my children with their grandparents, documenting their every activity.

I have a picture with my best friend. Everyone has one, but mine is special, because there won’t be another picture with her, ever. She is a Moslem. A few days after we took the picture, she started wearing the traditional wear, Burqa to hide her face. According to the diktats of her religion, she couldn’t take pictures any more. But the picture of us remains as a document of our friendship, and of her beautiful and carefree youth. We grew apart after we chose different career paths, and haven’t seen each other in the last decade. She is not on social media also, so we are not connected virtually. I tried contacting her through friends of friends, but so far it’s been an epic fail. Till I reconnect with her again, that picture will be the only reminder of the relation we shared in our teenage years.

Most treasured pictures of all, they are of a too tired, and worn out from epidural mother who hasn’t had a decent shower with her newborn. When I saw those pictures, I wished that I had freshened up my face or fixed my hair at least, but there they are, stark reminders of the moments after giving birth, full of pain, and pleasure as life progressed and I stepped into parenthood. Happiness of sorts, documented. I never shared them with the world, not even with my mother. They are in the box, one day for my daughters to see and know how their mother looked when they entered the world. But today, after I read the article, I ended up discussing the article with my ‘sisterhood’ and ended up sharing the pictures with them.

Of course my friends told me that I look beautiful with the new mother’s glow. They are left with only one option of applauding the warmth of love between me and my new born when I share such a vulnerable moment with them. I have acne breakout today, because over the weekend, I ate like a teenager. I have acne, I told my husband, and before he reacted, I added that I feel ugly when I have acne. Poor guy, he walked to the other room saying you look beautiful. I leave people with no other option than telling me what I want to hear sometimes.

But not so long ago, the world’s most beautiful woman Aishwarya Rai was not so lucky. Every magazine clicked the picture of her double chin, and the baby fat. They were very critical of her weight gain, called her an elephant, even made a youtube video and compared her with Victoria Beckham who bounced back to her size zero (or is it zero-zero?) immediately after giving birth. Aishwarya reminds me.. I worked near one of the famous portrait studios in Pasadena. One of my coworkers visited the gallery one day, and came back to me with a picture of a woman in peacock blue sari and wedding finery and told me to get my picture done just like that because I wasn’t going to stay beautiful like this always. It was Aishwarya’s picture from Devdas. I think if she had known about this incident before, the youtube video of her picture with elephant sounds wouldn’t have felt like an insult!

But not all moments are filled with self love and confidence..

As a mother, my life also revolves around my daughters. On Halloween, I took exactly forty-seven pictures of my girls using a heavy duty camera. I don’t give that camera to the children to take my pictures, but I have a smaller and easy to use camera for them if they wanted to take good pictures. Then there is the smart phone with a state of the art camera. Technology has advanced so much that I don’t even need anyone to take my picture. All it takes is a touch of the finger to enable front facing camera before I click myself. But I still didn’t document my first tryst with red lipstick.

I have destroyed a lot of my teenage pictures too, thinking I didn’t look good. Now I regret doing so, for ruining the time capsule of the precious casual moments of life. Perhaps that’s why I tell my daughter not to check “fix acne” in her middle school pictures, and ask her to smile with her braces showing- I want her to be proud of all those changes body goes through. Also, when I look at my childhood pictures, I notice that I have more pictures with my mother than with my father. Perhaps my father needed Allison to write a blog for him saying “Dad needs to stay in the picture!” He was young, handsome and I resembled him more than my mother. Maybe that’s why he didn’t feel the need to document our relation? We have professional pictures, but not many casual pictures that documented our everyday life.  I don’t know how I looked taking a nap on my dad’s shoulder, or walking to school with him. That reminds me, I also don’t know how I look with my parents as an adult. Just the three of us. They consider it rude to pose like that. They include the grandchildren in every picture, and we can join in if we wanted to. They have not expressed any desire to take their pictures with only me. Maybe they don’t think it’s cute to document three people transitioning to the not so cute phase of life in one picture?

So next time I see them, a picture of us, just the three of us! One graying, one platinum blonde, and the other with platinum highlights. That should be a keeper..

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Chasing Happiness #35

It’s a pity that the body clock doesn’t understand the boon of an extra hour. Bound by habit, my eyes opened at the same time as every day, but since we rolled back our clocks last night, it’s an hour too early to start the day. The rest of the family seems well adjusted to the change, all of them are fast asleep, without a single thought about the clock. I ran a mental list of things I could do in the extra hour, and decided against efforts to claim the good mother, good wife and good daughter title. Bring in the to-do list, because if not now, it will never see the light of another day! Chasing Happiness tops the list, something I started on the new year’s with much enthusiasm, but lost steam before the month ended. Also, I am three hundred blogs short to fulfill my commitment of chasing happiness for 3-6-6 days. It’s not like I haven’t chased happiness, I am doing that every moment of my life, but I haven’t documented every happiness that I derived from life.

Next on my list is a certain story that wrote itself for the first twenty thousand words, but the next five thousand took eternity. I closed the file one day to revisit with fresh eyes, but it’s been so long already, the masterpiece doesn’t make any sense today. But, I will not give up. It might take a year, a decade or my lifetime, I will share this story. Here are a thousand words, without a history of what happened before, or a glimpse of what comes next..  Ideally I should upload this to http://www.joshini.com, but it’s been so long, I haven’t just lost interest in this project, I have also lost my password, and the structure of the blogs. That too, when I am blessed with an extra day. Oh wait! This is the year of an extra day. I should claim it before the year ends!

Dressed like a farmer’s wife, covered in oil and slick, I balanced a basket of vegetables on my head and walked towards Pune. That was the final destination. There were no partners in this journey, nor were logical stops. I was supposed to stop when my feet hurt, eat when hungry, wherever and whatever I could manage to find, with not even a single person to take my responsibility. Its wasteful life to live, I wonder, why don’t I have the bravery to take that little knife Pratap gave me to protect myself and end it all at once. There was no one to cry on my grave even if I died. I would just feed a few stray animals of the jungle until the body deteriorates and even they don’t want to touch it. Neither Hindus not Muslims think it is a befitting end to a human life, but everyone will agree that I did not live a life befitting a human being. If I had happily jumped into a fire and killed myself before I was caught, it would have been an honorable life. If I had bent my head and asked the man I had learnt to love to let me rest my soul in peace before I fell into enemy’s hands, it would have been an honorable life. But I have always chosen the cursed path, so be it. Probably sins of a life before need to be repaid.

I walk, I walk, and I walk, with no end in sight.

Every village that I cross, I encounter Shah’s men standing guard at the gates, yet let me pass without taking a second look at me, making fun of my dark skin. They ridicule the dirt on my clothes. They take vegetables from my basket and toss them around and laugh loudly as I pick them up carefully and stack them back in my basket. They think they are abusing me. They mock my Marathi, call me a squeaky mouse. I endure it all, head bent, like someone who didn’t know how to lift one of those swords from them and kill each one of them, or cut their limbs off and see them suffer.

I wonder, if I weren’t so beautiful, if I weren’t born in an affluent and politically influential family, if I had married a man without political clout, would life been merciful? Would life been easier if the only worries of life were to find food and shelter? Naïve I was, I thought the women of the working class led an indignant life, working half clad in the fields, taking care of the manly chores, ruining their skin, not being women enough. As I cross city after city, I am given entry into the cities, I am given food, shelter, without eyes pausing on my semi-clad body, as if by lending my body to physical work, I had become physically undesirable.

The legs ached, every muscle craved for a servant who would bring hot water to soak them, then clean them, massage them in Jasmine oil while I relaxed my eyes under the gentle sun. The nausea wouldn’t let me take two steps at times, and then at times I would feel like I had the energy of a horse. The weather had changed, giving way to the cold winds, and early nights, winter had almost set in. Without fire burning in each corner of the house, and without wrapping myself in the fine wool from Kashmir, I walk in the woods alone, because that is the only hope of survival now.

It was only last year when I met Krishna in the same jungles. My mother thought we went to the temple to pay respects, but that little Nandini and I would run off to the jungle to see Krishna. We would sit and talk for hours, planning our future in the palatial home he would build for me after our wedding, the servants I would need, and the children we would have together. We had even picked names for the first six. It seemed so simple,  and so ordinary to grow up in a household littered with servants and to expect to marry in such a household where you will be treated no less than a queen. I would live and die, and the proof of my life would be my children, I thought. I had never imagined that there would be a tomb bearing my name, carved in black stone,  hosting my body dug deep in the ground, enduring sun and rain, century after century telling people about the person that lived long ago.

A week ago, I was at Athani, still not sure how to go to Pune, alone. I saw ten thousand cavalry, fifteen hundred musketeers, eighty five elephants, twelve hundred camels, artillery cannon crossing the city after they stayed there that night. The generous merchant who gave me shelter that night on the steps of his store told me that a battle would be fought, between Marathas and Shahs, and shared that stories of bravery, of the commanders of the Shah, of  Rustam Zaman, Fazal Khan, Musa Khan, Manoji Jagdale, Sardar Pandhare, Ambar Khan. Intently I listened to every word, adding my own expressions of surprise sometimes, showing my ignorance as a woman of little knowledge. I asked him, he must have plenty of women in his Zenana then.

I knew the answer, but I wanted to hear it, from a stranger who didn’t know the Khan or the Maratha.

Copyright © Meghana Rajesh Joshi

That’s all!

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Chasing Happiness #34

When I opened my eyes and searched for the morning light in distance, there was none today. It was dark, and cold. I heard the usual morning sounds of the newspapers being delivered, of the neighbor starting his car and letting it warm up before he drove to work, and the clanking of the charms on the leash of my neighbor’s dog. I didn’t want to get out of the warmth of the blanket and take on the world and my multiple roles for the day.
On mornings like this, I want to lie down in the bed and wait for someone to make coffee for me. I want to lie down in the bed and wait for the morning light to wash away the darkness of the night. I try to wake up, remembering the schedules that would be affected if I got distracted, but the whole body hurts and I drift back into sleep. I have the rare fortified flu, one that the daughter brought home, one that husband strengthened and gifted me with all his love and affections.
Between Nyquil, Dayquil and Spiced Apple Cider, life hasn’t been fair in the past week, but it’s already November, and we are not allowed to whine about things that don’t matter. Instead, we should focus on the beautiful things in life, and be thankful for the gifts life gave us. I am thankful for the sun, moon and stars for aligning in a favorable way, and earth for completing all its mandatory rotations and revolutions without being distracted, but then, I am supposed to take all that for granted, and move to other things in life that don’t matter on astronomical proportions.  From today to Thanksgiving, it’s twenty-one days, so I will make a list of twenty-one things that I am thankful for.
I am thankful for the Great Housing Depression.
I will not brag about my investment with equity, nor will I brag about the virtue of patience I displayed by extending our sweet life in the townhouse till the bubble burst, but I will share how life has changed after the Great Housing Depression. I am an Architect, but I DON’T design houses. My first and last residential project was done and gone when I was in my first semester. I work for commercial and retail projects, and but when the housing bubble started bursting, we were affected too. Without new houses, there was no necessity to build new shopping malls, and the little remodels and renovations were also put on hold as most companies grappled with the drop in consumer spending.
In the Spring of 2009, my career came to a screeching halt. During the brief time when there were no job vacancies for Architects, and companies that I knew and worked for were shutting down, or merging with other companies, I grew delusional about having any future in doing what I did best. I went on Federal Unemployment Benefits. It wasn’t so hard dealing with what life had to offer, but it sure was hard dealing with the people life had to offer. Many of them who I called friends, felt entitled to brag about their minimum wage job to belittle my new unemployed/ seeking employment and projects status. I refused to be bogged down by such people, even though it hurt momentarily to be put down like that. The economy had the power to take my employment status away, but not my education, and yes, this too shall pass.
Solopreneurship kicked in, and I have never been happier even though things haven’t been rosy always. There are times when I am swamped with work, and then there were periods of lull. I survived on hope, and will continue to do so. It is beautiful, to shut down myself in the home office, and work while everyone at home is still asleep, and the phones haven’t started ringing yet. It is beautiful, to sit in a sky scraper, shift my gaze from the freeway below to the mountains I hiked in the Summer with children. Most of all, it’s beautiful when people talk about layoffs – being the single employee of my company, my job security rocks! 
Patience and hyperactivity can never be friends, and I have always taken it for granted that there will never be a dull moment, professionally and personally. Between the periods of lull, I did not sit and watch TV in my pajamas, munching on popcorn. I did not read a book cover to cover in one go, neither did I go on lunch and movie dates with my friends. I reignited my passion of writing, I even compiled my writings into a book. I was proud when my picture appeared in local new magazines, and shared the television interview date with everyone I knew.  I blogged, I day traded, I wanted to open a motel at one point when my dad gently told me motels weren’t the nicest idea, I wanted to develop technology but my mentor told me that the six million loan, if not paid within a year, will never get paid. From the bucket list of things that I wanted to do, I tried anything and everything.
Looking back, if not for the Great Depression, I wouldn’t have found the courage to lead, and to take charge of my life, my career. Post bottom of housing depression, life has changed a lot. Like the composite indexes of the economy, I have hit personal highs and lows, and with every low, found the energy to bounce back even higher.  So, Great Housing Depression, thank you for letting me climb on the rocks from the bottom, and for teaching acceptance. What acceptance? You might laugh at a Stepford mom who is balancing home, children, beauty and volunteering, but trust me, those women work hard and get very little gratitude. It is hard to look happy and presentable doing a thankless job. Thank you, for baking cookies for my child’s classroom, and for correcting their homework, filing paperwork, and fund raising to bring iPads in the classrooms, calling other parents to support/educate them about Measure S. Schools in my city are what they are because of your efforts, and teachers couldn’t have achieved this success with your day to day help. House prices are inflated because of the good schools. People who love their houses and schools work hard and earn money, rarely commit crimes. So, all thanks to you, we are the sixth most fashionable city in the world, and safest city too.
Thank you to my two girls, husband, parents and in-laws for loving, spoiling and pampering me, and letting me keep the prefix “only” against all titles that you gave me. It means a lot to me to be the only daughter, only daughter-in-law, only wife and only mother to my children – and yes, I understand all of you had other options! Thankful for the friends who have been like a family to me- living in a country far away from my family, their love and support matters a lot.. Thankful to the warm breakfast on the table before I leave to work in the cold and dark of the winter mornings.. Thankful to the smile that lights up on your face when you spot my car pull over… Thankful for picking up my call before three rings, it tells me you waited for the call even though it’s only been twelve hours that we talked last.. Thankful for my some friends that I have never met in real life, but have become an integral part of life..
Most of all, thankful to have that special person in my life for becoming my unicorn while I chase the rainbows..thank you, for believing in me, trusting my abilities and providing me vital insurance coverage of sorts when even I had stopped believing in me. 
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Chasing Happiness #33

The evening sun softly sifts through the blinds of my window, warming up my reading corner. Reminded gently of that time of the year when the sun sets early and dinners are a prelude to the romance with black and white words in imaginary worlds, I smile as I sprinkle the pumpkin spice in my coffee, the aroma transporting me into the season of baking, of nutmeg and cinnamon, of vanilla and orange zest. I love fall, and all the things that come with it. Only a few more days, and I don’t have to hit the snooze button on my alarm that blares in the dark early mornings, thanks for daylight savings.
It’s hard, the life of a working mother who wants the best of both worlds.  I want to have my career, my own identity, and my own life. But I want to park my car at that curb to see my child walk out of the school gate with a heavy backpack, and capture those uncensored emotions on her face. I want to greet Darcy with a smile on my face in the evenings. I want time to read, and write, and if possible, relax. I am a greedy woman. I want it all, and I will do anything to have it all. I won’t call them sacrifices, I will call them trade-offs.
Rolling back the clock reminds me of the discussion I am having with esteemed ladies of my generation about rolling back the clock and erasing the changes that nature bestowed on us, and stress enhanced. Every baby added to the brood gifted a little cushion between the bones and muscles. Every smile added the laugh lines. Every frown added wrinkled on the forehead. Happiness spilled through the eyes, and they called it crow’s landing. Silver dust shines through the crowning glory, like a fairy blessed me. I have submitted myself to nature. Life has been too busy, and too crazy for me, I add more than I can manage, and the tradeoff I did was to never pause in front of the mirror to notice those changes.
Those are signs that I have lived.
But it’s not easy, surviving a visit to the mall, or going to my hair dresser, and sometimes even going to my doctor. Bowing my head in front of nature and accepting the changes gracefully is apparently a sign of weakness. The visit to the mall ends with the lady at the cosmetic counter showing me the fine lines that my unmagnified mirror fails to bring to my attention. The visit to the hair dresser makes me feel incomplete just with a cut and dry, because I sinned, I show the silver on my hair, and I don’t color and highlight the way she wants to. Ear hurts, I tell my doctor, and distractedly he looks at my face, suggests that I visit his spa where they cater to all needs (I changed the doctor, that’s a different story). I am sorry, but I will offend all of your sensibilities by not paralyzing the muscles on my face and chemically altering the color of my hair just to form an illusion about a youth that is on the last lap. I wish I could tell all these people, there is a magic mirror on my wall too, that tells me that there is a Princess in the land, much fairer than the queen, and the queen refuses to be her rival.
I don’t understand this obsession about restoring self, and immortalizing self physically. One of my friends asked “what would you leave behind?”  She is a dentist, so I joked and said the teeth that you pulled out.  Teeth can’t even be cremated, so I am right. As for me, I have a daughter who looks like me, and another one that is me. Between both of them, I am immortalized. Other than that, I contribute to the society in my own little ways. That little strip mall, that chain store, that office where they build new technology, and most of all that building where the rocket scientists work- I have majorly contributed in building them-renovating them, and hopefully in the next thirty years that I plan to be active, my legacy will include a landmark building. But right now, as I struggle in the middle, and try to rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of the great housing depression, I refuse to make the lines on my face a priority in my life.
Don’t mistake me. I don’t roam around with armpit full of hair, and ugly clothes, mismatched shoes. I do take care of myself and shine and sparkle, fill my closet with a thousand beautiful things that I will never need in this lifetime, and the shoe rack is my Achilles heel. On Sunday mornings when the Stepford ladies are busy baking breakfast for their families, I sweat under the Smith machine of our gym. I do wear sunscreen and slap on some lipstick before I get out of the door. What I don’t want to do is live in an illusion that the fountain of youth can be restored. I am proud of who I was, who I have become, and who I will be. Like my mother (and also mother-in-law), with her grey hair, I might look beautiful too.
All this talk about rolling clocks brings my attention to another clock of sorts, the biological clock. It’s not easy being a middle aged woman who is on her last lap of fertility. Don’t say ouch, but it is true. No matter how much you cover your grey, at thirty-six, the chances of having a healthy baby are significantly lower than when you were thirty. But still, there is one more shot at having a healthy baby till a woman hits forty, and then menopause. Surprisingly everyone in my family is taking a second chance, and in some cases a third chance this year. There is enough pressure on me to give it a try too, especially from my grandmother who thinks my life is incomplete without a baby boy- I should experience the pains of motherhood also, she says, not just the pleasures. I tell her I am done, but I don’t know if I am done. I might be done having babies physically, but emotionally there is still some love left to share. Someone special might fill that space one fine day, and at this point I am pretty much open to all adoption, foster parenting, or even mentoring.
But first, let me clear off the items on the checklist for now. The list is too long, and the day is too short!

Chasing Happiness #32

A week after we moved in together, we drove up to San Francisco from South Bay, and when I saw those houses lining up the hill covered in fog, I turned to my husband and said, that is how our house should be. A house up the hills, every room with a view. It is every girl’s dream, of four walls and a roof, of windows and doors, but mine were slightly different. What was metaphorical for sheltered life for others was figurative for me, four walls were four walls made of steel and stucco, covered in gypsum board. Ever since I enrolled into Architecture and drew the first line for the imaginary project, I have been imagining my own dream.
But life happens. Priorities changed. A pregnant woman couldn’t drive up and down the hill, a young mother couldn’t live far away from the freeways and train lines, a mature woman should know better than buying a house without a good school district. We bought a dream of happiness and promised to morph into Mr.Truman and Mrs.Stepford so that we could live happily ever after with our piano playing, math master mini-mes. But, keeping up with our legendary record of moving every two years, we grew restless after the first two years. I promised myself, it won’t happen this time, I will put pictures on the wall, create memories in the house so that it becomes my time capsule that I will always want to preserve. That was last year, when I decided to be ‘home for the holidays’.
A year later, the restlessness has found feet and a mind of its own, and the low interest rates aren’t helping either. It seems logical, to have another home for the holidays, or after the holidays, or sometimes in the future. We talked. It’s a simple life we have. We talk, and we talk about everything in our hearts and minds. We decided that we will move. Upgrade or downgrade were the only two options. We were not sure which direction to take, and the teenage drama queen wasn’t any help either when she didn’t lift her head from a book she was reading and announced it didn’t matter as long as she didn’t move into an apartment because apartments were crappy. Apparently her friends told her that, because she was too young to remember her life in the apartment.
MLS listing scans told a different story, inventories in my land have reached their lowest in the past five years, and though that time people questioned our timing to buy during the ‘great housing depression’, inventory was at its highest then, and when I looked for a cute little house for my cute little family in a cute little neighborhood, a thousand options came up. It was a bitter sweet moment, to know that you timed it well then, and to know that now might not be a great time. This time it was not the schools that I wanted, and it was not the proximity to the freeways either. I wanted a house of my dreams. A lot that was three times bigger than the house, a lake and a trail for a morning run, a beach or a mountain to gaze at, and living in Orange County, the possibilities are endless.
There it was, my dream house.
Breathtaking views- Check.
Historic/ Character- Check.
Artistically and aesthetically done outdoor hardscape/ landscape- check.
Architectural features inside with state of the art amenities- check.
If the pictures were anything to go by, between the views of canyon and mountain and valleys, I sold my soul to that little cottage with dark hardwood floors and sunlit walls.
Mumtaz Mahal had found her Taj Mahal, and Shahjahan obliged, drove her up the hill, over the cliff and away from civilization where the wide toll road turned into a street made of mud and gravel after cautioning us to turn on daylight headlights. Sandbags lined the houses because the first drop of rain had dropped from the California sky that afternoon. Turkeys, goats and roosters roamed freely in the yards, and as we went up and down as we were strapped to a car ride in Disneyland, we finally arrived at our destination. The house that I, as an Architect would be proud to showcase and had my sold my soul to, based on MLS pictures was at the corner, but the children refused to get down from the car. No one said a word till we got there, because everyone was being very sensitive about the other person’s feelings.  
I didn’t have tears in my eyes, neither did I tell anyone that they were not being supportive. I had my own list of fears and concerns that I kept to myself. The toll road would add up to the expenses. A quick walk to Starbucks would take more than an hour. We couldn’t pull the car in and out of the garage every few hours to go to work, run scheduled pick-ups and drop offs and extra-curricular activities. Dinners out will have to depend on the season and driver’s mood, because rain would lock us down, and so will bad mood. It will be a different life that none of us could adjust to. We won’t own the house, the house will own us. We drove back, and never was I so happy to return to civilization, the safest city and the sixth best place to live. If could, I would hug my San Simeon and say, you are home, really-truly.
That doesn’t mean I won’t scan MLS listings anymore.
A house on a hill awaits, but the hill won’t be that high, that’s all.
Talking about dream homes, this year I built a house. Architect mommy had always felt that only commoners who bought ugly houses with great rooms that don’t heat and cool efficiently gave their children ugly store bought doll houses. I promised myself that I would custom build a dollhouse for my girls. But when I had money, I didn’t have the time, and when I had time, I didn’t have the drive. This year my younger one turns six, and from what I observe around me, she is one of the last six year old girls who still buys posing dolls with hair that can be styled, and plays with them building stories.
One afternoon, when I saw the dollhouse in pastels at Costco, I took a deep breath, and loaded that box in the cart. From the moment that we loaded it into the cart to the time I finished building it, she sat there, with two screw drivers in her hand, asking me “are you done?” every five minutes, without fail. I burned midnight oil, balancing work-scheduled pickups along on a Monday. But when it was done, the happiness on her face, the excitement with which she brought all her dolls downstairs and introduced them to the new house made it all worthwhile. It would matter to me that it’s not unique, but for the person I assembled it for, it was very special.
The “Chateaux” I assembled was a stark reminder of the life I lead. It wouldn’t matter that the builder has passed the same plan through the photocopier to reduce and enlarge so that it brought in maximum gains to him, but inside each one of that house was a unique family, building its own memories. Looking at the dollhouse my mother shared my childhood memories with my daughters, of how they got a local carpenter get some plywood nailed and glued together to look like rooms for dolls, and how I expressed my imagination by coloring them, and adding on to them with the cardboard covers of my used notebooks. “What about you?” asked my daughters, wanting know what kind of dollhouse did their grandmother have for her dolls of Sandalwood. “We didn’t have dollhouses”, said my mother, “We had huge backyards, and we were allowed to play till sun down”.
 I smiled, and told them to go play with their dollhouse, thinking about the people in my city who owned houses that looked just like my daughter’s dollhouse.