Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Two Roads

Read this article about two paths to marital happiness - either have no kids at all or have a whole bunch of them. Doing something in between apparently does not bode well for a couple's happiness. This is how the plight of folks such as myself is described :
Attempting to balance being an autonomous individual and a social animal produces a kind of incoherence that leads to misery. You're constantly confused and being pushed in different directions.  You can't even explain to people who you are.
I find that to be a harsh indictment. In the modern world where a village is often lacking to help with the raising of our children, bringing up four or more of them is no walk in the park. One has to assume that one or both parents have to go to work to put food on the table -in either case, the time and energy required to raise the children is seriously diminished. I am not sure how a perpetually over-worked, at-capacity couple can have a great marriage - where would they find the time to nurture their relationship ?
The distinction between an autonomous individual and a social individual does not make sense either. To be a social animal (a parent) an adult has to be an autonomous individual first - they have to be functional and competent independently before they can take responsibility for any number of offspring. I am not sure that it is actually possible to be one or the other. As for the incoherence leading to misery - it could be argued that a social animal without a well developed autonomous individuality could be even more so and fall apart under the demands of  parenting four or more children

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Little Knowledge

The other day DB and I were talking about people of a certain age coming to feel inexplicable emptiness in their lives. When everything is functioning on autopilot and there are no big problems (money, health, substance abuse etc) to worry about, instead of feeling at peace they feel lost and miserable. Often a true spiritual guru may be able to answer what ails them and lead them out of it but it is certainly not easy to find one. Is the guru not supposed to seek out the disciple when they are ready ?
The stories of charlatans and false prophets are widely known as are the accounts of the damage they wreck upon the lives of their gullible followers. The conversation got me thinking about another kind of misguidance that parents and other adults may provide a child. In many Hindu families of my acquaintance I have seen adults take a parable or quote from a religious text, translated, diluted and distorted in the final rendition to make a point to a child. 
While they have the best intent, they lack the qualifications for the job they are setting to undertake. So their lesson may be entirely incorrect and do more harm than good. The child might in fact have been better served without the lesson in morality and ethics. The body of knowledge is too vast for an average person to assimilate on their own and good teachers are hard to come by. The oral tradition has been on the decline for a few generations now so the learning parents pass on to their children is a pastiche culled from a variety of sources - not all equally reliable. 
When I was growing up, I often heard adults talk about the misogynistic views expressed in Manu-samhita and how it stymied the growth of the Indian woman for hundreds of years. Manu was held directly responsible for all the social ills of the country. Random quotes would be tossed up and torn apart for the purposes of these discussions. Though I was too young to participate, I itched to ask how many had read the original Sanskrit version of the text, how many had read any expert commentaries to it and finally what was the overall context of the quote that was under fire. 
Similarly, someone would quote a short passage from the Bhagavad Gita or one of the Upanishads and expound on it as if the literal translation was all that there was to it. My childhood is rife with examples of adults with dangerously little knowledge of Hindu philosophy attempting to mold my world view and teach me the art of living. Lately, I find myself trying to rid my system of all that meaningless clutter - become knowledge free so I have a shot of learning something right.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Short and Sweet

When J is in trouble, she launches into a defense that is as improbable as it is convoluted. She is deliberately slow and aims to exhaust. By the time she is done, I might have even forgotten what I was mad at her for and snap at her for rambling endlessly. But there are times when she can be succinct. 

When she reads a new book, I encourage her to talk about it, better still write up a short review. Needless to say, she views these things as  chores she'd rather not do. It is so much easier to get away with "It was really cool !" - a phrase that I hate with passion. This morning, I asked her about The Man Who Counted (a book she has just read) and she had this to say "It is  Birbal meets The Number Devil "

Maybe I can challenge her to summarize books in six non-adjective words. Knowing J, I would be shocked if she does not find a way to wriggle out of that assignment as well.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mildly Complicit

Recently J told me about a profitable little business enterprise that a kid in her class has been running. He makes paper guns and sells them at a quarter a pop. The paper bullets are sold for ten cents a piece. By her accounting, he has sold at least ten guns.A couple of issues were bothering her - is this kind of activity allowed in school and is it fair for the boy to sell these things for real money.
She does not want to be the tattle tale and report him to the teacher because both the gun and bullet are harmless. Apparently, all the kids know about it but no has taken it upon themselves to inform the teacher. I am guessing like J, they must have mentioned this to their parents, and like me, those parents have not recommended that their child talk to the teacher about this. I find this whole situation intriguing at many different levels. The kids are in the least considering this a little outside the ordinary and  likely talking about this at home. They are not convinced that it is bad enough that the boy needs to reported - there is symmetry in their thought process. If that is true about the adults as well,they maybe chalking this up to a kid being silly and creative, having a little harmless fun -  expecting it will go away once the novelty has faded.
J has not talked about this in the last couple of weeks so it is quite possible that all potential buyers have already made their purchases and better yet reverse engineered it to make their own.This incident had me wondering if we as parents are sometimes complicit in bad outcomes in the lives of our children.As a group we failed to call this child's attention to something that may not be entirely cute, creative or silly. Maybe we have provided tacit encouragement as a group for him to up the ante some more.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Comfort Zone

J can be the life of the party at home but will turn into a little mouse in school. This has been her way for the last couple of years or maybe we have noticed it more since that time - DB and I would love to see some of that fun, vibrant and somewhat theatrical personality she displays at home to make its way to the classroom as well. But that has yet to happen. We recently signed her up for drama class and she is having the best time of her life there. 
Even with that, the mouse at school is yet to transform into something bigger and bolder. I spoke with her guidance counselor this morning and she said something that helped recalibrate my expectations about J. 
Ms K said that no matter how hard you push and how hard you try as a parent, there is little you can do to change  what is innately the child's personality. J may never be able to be her most natural self outside the comfort zone of home. She will benefit from us encouraging her to be more assertive, being front and center of things instead of hiding somewhere no one can see her and most importantly advocating for herself. Yes, the drama lessons will help too. She will do a little of everything that we would like for her to do but it may never be to the extent that we believe she is capable of based on what we see of her at home. This is something we as parents will learn to accept and move on. 
Hearing Ms K helped me in several ways - for one thing, I will not be so quick to be disappointed with J when she struggles disproportionately (in my mind) to speak up, assert and advocate herself. More importantly, I will ask her to take on smaller challenges to build up her strength - I will continue to push as I have always done but more in the form of gentle  nudges than a big shove in the direction I want her to go. I hope in time, J will have acquired the confidence to be bring that much bigger personality she has to bear upon the mouse simply because being her natural self would be more fun and relaxing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Delhi Belly

I have not watched a Bollywood flick for over a year now and decided it was time to get caught up. I chose Delhi Belly and was very glad I did. It is a funny, risque and smart little movie  - not your garden variety Bollywood caper. Each character does their part really well in making this movie come together rather nicely. The dude with the Delhi Belly is not the protagonist but his condition directly contributes to many twists and turns in the plot. The fact that I laughed as many times as I did watching this movie, made me realize that the desi in me is alive and well ; not having been back to India in over eight years has not taken that away from me. DB would have enjoyed it too - but his desi-ness is much too worn out for him to get what I did out of it.
What is specially neat about the movie is how well it captures the essence of the Indian experience - we are a people and country that can span centuries and millinea within a day of our lives. There is this dilapidated house with toilet fixtures from the early part of the last century shared by three guys with unremunerative, non-mainstream jobs, the offices are swank and very twenty first century, the electronics on the more well-heeled characters are state of the art , the wardrobes are deeply influenced by the west but not entirely subordinate to it. To that extent we have the ironic tee-shirts with distinctly desi flavor and the zari trimmed vest on a scooped top. There is the kathak guru upstairs from the three guys instructing young girls on a dance form thousands of years old in a setting not unlike what it was back then - very little if anything has changed about their world. The landlord who seeks comfort in the arms of a prostitute visits them in an establishment that looks as old as the trade itself.
The female characters in the movie range between conservative to liberated and everything in between. They are not the one-dimensional romantic interests for the male roles - among other things it was good to see female sexuality being acknowledged without subterfuge.There is a place in India for all of this to co-exist, the multitude of characters and locales that shape our communities grow with the wild profusion of a tropical rain forest. It may not be pretty or well-ordered but it is certainly not sterile and lifeless. All of these contradictions come together to create the Indian and desi experience. I have missed the time travel that everyday life back home can be. Delhi Belly was the perfect Indian sampling platter for someone who has not been home in a while.

Musical Wilderness

I am just about ten years late to the party but better late than never. For all that time I lived in musical wilderness without an idea of where to find new sounds that may appeal to me. In a time when nostalgia should have been indulged in sparingly if at all, I wallowed in it. I drew comfort from familiar music in times of trouble and while the music recreated it's magic, it brought in its wake memories that I was anxious not to return to. From being one of the biggest joys and escapes of my life music became an unfamiliar, uncomfortable relationship. 

I used to try and listen to the iPod shuffle lists of blogosphere luminaries. Sadly they did nothing for me - apparently our tastes were too far apart. J is itching to discover music just like me at her age - she is constantly looking for recommendations so she can find that magic range of sounds that resonate deepest with her. The music I have grown up with and love is too far away from her culturally, generationally or both - she may grow into it in time but right now she needs to hear something with a modern sound and vibe. Then this past weekend, I discovered Fluxblog (a music blog that has been around since 2002) and I am trying to catch up on missed time. Whatever his criteria and musical sensibility, I am certainly feeling in synch with a lot of Matthew Perpetua's recommendations and that is such a blessed relief -finally someone who can lead me out musical wilderness. I may now be able to help her broaden her horizons as well.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Wrong Lane

I interviewed for a full time position after many years a month ago. This is one of the biggest companies in town and pays better than most other outfits. Post marriage and with J getting ready for middle school next year, I thought it would be best for me to slow down and settle into a regular job, have vacation time and generally better work-life balance. The interview process was like a decathlon - I jumped and cleared all the required hoops and had no less than four different hiring managers clamoring to bring me on board.
Life was good until it was not. A couple of weeks after all these "great conversations" were had, the recruiter came back with an offer that was for a position one level below that what I had interviewed for and had these "terrific" discussions with the different hiring managers.Right after dissing me with respect to the position she threw me a bone - she promised to make up the pay difference by giving me the highest salary they could at the level. In a full time role, position often counts more than salary - I may have settled for the lower pay if the position (specifically, title) was what I needed it to be. 
I found it intriguing how this all worked. I was being low-balled for position and not money (we may have been able to agree on that) because it must have become apparent during the course of the many discussions that the title and where I was in the hierarchy was more important to me than compensation. The whole experience left a bad taste in the mouth - I realized that I had failed some shibboleth that identified me as the outsider I am when they were looking for an insider who could be like one of them, fit in the culture and generally not upset the established order of things.
It has been a while since I have been in the corporate environment as a full time employee - I have forgotten how to swim in the shark tank that it can be.DB tells me that I am being needlessly proud and emotional in making the decision not to accept the job offer - the money I am being offered is still very good. He is probably right but I feel like I would be better off leaving with my dignity intact than accepting less than I deserve. In my single parent years, I never exercised my right to choice about employment - I took the first thing that came along because being employed was the single most important objective - I sacrificed a lot in the process. This time I am exercising my right to choose not to be in the wrong lane and wait until I find what is right for me. As the holiday nears and the job market dries up for the year, my resolve may start to waver - I would feel like I am imposing upon DB if I don't do my part for the family.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lack of Resolution

As soon as I spotted T at the table by the window, I could tell she was bursting with news. It had taken us a week and a couple of reschedules to meet for lunch - it certainly helped for my calendar to be wide open everyday or this would have taken months. I was not wrong about the "news". Even before I had taken my coat off she announced "Do you remember M ?" I had a bad feeling about this one right away. 
M was someone she had introduced me to several years ago in her overzealous effort to pair me up. The guy was nice enough but clearly not right for me. We met a couple of times and went our separate ways. That was the last time T played match-maker and I was in a sense grateful to M for this."Yes, I do" I replied. "Guess who he got married to last month ?" I had no idea. It turns out that his wife is T's boss at work. 
I realized that piece of information in itself was not the "news" she was bursting to share. "Well, he has a profile up on Match pictures and all and another girl I know has been talking to him for months ! What a creep ! I realized it was M when she told me about this cool guy she met online but hasn't met for real yet. He travels a lot on the job - what a load of bullcrap !" T continued without pause before I could ask what was newsworthy about her boss marrying M. 

"So are you planning on ratting him out ?" I asked. "That is exactly the problem. Clearly, I can't tell my boss. I could tell this girl but she is a bit of a lose cannon - I have no idea what she'll do when she find out who his wife is. What do you think ?" T replied.
I was wondering if M's wife already knew what he was up to and was deciding to turn a blind eye to save face and maintain what she can of her dignity in this sordid situation. He was not even taking the trouble to hide his pictures on his profile and was talking to a girl in the same town - he was cheating on his wife with complete impunity. He could not even be bothered to follow the 50 mile rule to spare her embarrassment.
T's boss is a desi woman in her mid forties. She had gone to medical school in India and  earned a bunch of advance degrees in this country. She headed up a research lab in town. According to T, she was very attractive and looked years younger she really was. M is just a run of the mill IT drone with a fairly limited world view and an over-sized ego. It is sad enough that the woman with so much going for herself would have to settle for one such as M but to add insult to injury, one such as M would take her for granted to the point he would humiliate her so blatantly. That is all I could think about.
I had no idea what T should do under the circumstances - maybe turn a blind eye as well and let the three of them deal with it. So here I was, looking forward to lunch with an old friend, wanting to share some of the things on my mind - the feeling of lightness and purposelessness during my time off, not having the wherewithal to enjoy some downtime without going crazy and I am called upon to resolve a moral dilemma.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Finder

I think I want one of these Finders to help me find my all too often misplaced stuff. I would actually go beyond the mundane business of key and phone (and everything in my bag that I cannot find) and use it to locate my spices in the kitchen stuffed two or three layers deep or just somewhere I would not readily know to look. Then there is all the paperwork put away ever so carefully never to be found again. My list of missing, misplaced or forgotten stuff is a very long one - mostly I am dealing in the territory of "unknown unknowns" and that can be rather scary sometimes.

DB's big complaint about my cooking is that there is way too much improvisation going on all the time and no consistency. If he likes how I cooked something for dinner one night the odds of that dish being reproduced ever again are close to none - he jokes that he eats every nice meal I cook like it were his last meal. While that is in part because I cannot curb my need to improvise in the kitchen, but a lot of the "changes" happen as a result of not being able to find the right spice at the right time. Sometimes the outcomes of these bizarre last minute switches surprise pleasantly and DB and J will urge me to write down the recipe so they can have it again.Needless to say, recipe writing is not my forte.The less said about the times things go south, the better.

Now, if I could assemble everything I needed before I started cooking (as DB always encourages me to), we may not run into these issues at all but that mode of operation would be inconsistent with a compulsive improviser. More often than not, I have no idea what I am about to cook until the very last minute so it is impossible to have a fully flushed out plan. A Finder may help me improvise within safe guardrails and not have me switch from a Far Eastern recipe to a Central American one because I was not able to locate what I needed on time - DB and J may be spared that sinking feeling when they see a familiar dish look just a tad different.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Doris The Cauliflower

The blurb on Doris the Cauliflower in this article gave me pause. Were I to run into her in the local supermarket would I choose her over Anon ? Being a frugal shopper the only measure that would steer me Doris-wards would be price. Now, if they were priced exactly the same, I do think I would allow myself to succumb to the cute factor choose a named cauliflower. 
If the trend caught on and every fruit and vegetable started to have a name, it would become unappealing and annoying even - at that point I would not care anymore. I wonder how kids may react to this and if they may be more inclined to try something they may not have otherwise cared for. As a test, I asked J and she said she'd be more interested in Doris than a plain old cauliflower (a vegetable she does not like too much) - it was more fun. She added that the blurb about Doris gave you an idea of how to cook the vegetable without being a recipe - that she thought was interesting idea too. 

Should this be appealing to kids in general, there could be some co-branding opportunities. Baby carrots being Thomas the Train or Dora the Explorer could get our little ones to choose them over chicken nuggets and Cheetos for instance. Parents would likely pay a little extra for the named vegetable in that case.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Living Within Means

In her article Planet Singlehood, Amiee Ginsburg writes "Now I realise there was a price to be paid for being a couple that I could not pay, even though I had had my heart set on it. Now I’m living within my means." A long time inhabitant of Planet Singlehood, I can completely relate to her sentiments. It does take a lot of mental space and energy to come into and sustain a relationship. I had foolishly assumed the same amount of investment would not be necessary in marriage and I am learning I was wrong. While I was unable to extend myself as far as was required to just be in a relationship, I feel more ready, willing and able to do so in marriage simply because my spouse has gone the distance by making a lifetime commitment to me and J - as such, he deserves it. Yet, the effort that goes into the process does make me feel like I am "living beyond my (emotional) means".
Of her single state and its impact on her kids, Ginsburg says "I was not able to show them how to cross adulthood in a healthy relationship, but maybe they’ve learnt something about autonomy and strength, and true love." How absolutely true ! I don't know that I am the best role model for J as far as how to be in a healthy relationship. I have a lot of unresolved issues that are making their presence felt in my marriage with DB. In the end, she will take away from observing me and us, what she will. If it is within my power, I will encourage her to examine our life and decide what parts of it to emulate in her own and what to reject. Enabling her to do that will the best I can do in lieu of being the relationship role model, I have not yet been able to be.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Uncoiled Spring

I am enjoying a little time off these days after many vacation-less years. One of the pitfalls of having a clockwork routine for a very long time is that you forget how to unwind, relax and do nothing. It took me several days to learn not to look at the clock and let time ebb as is must without being mindful of its passage. I learned to watched the squirrels and birds in the backyard, consider the beauty of the tree that has a creeper covering its trunk and moss encrusting its bare branches. 
Once spring returns, I will not be able to see this unadorned beauty any more. When the day warms enough, I go out for a four mile walk. My route takes me past a high school and sometimes I see a bunch of kids in the schoolyard - if I happen to be there during their recess. Mostly, everyone is inside in the classrooms. The streets are empty, the traffic is light and I enjoy my solitude and music. My idyll was broken rudely one rainy morning, when I woke up feeling that my life was without purpose.
J is a fairly responsible young lady and requires very little supervision. DB is not a needy husband - he is able to give me as much space as I need and does not interfere with any of my plans. His mantra for this relationship is that I bring happiness to him only when I am happy on my own and he is willing to support any and all of my pursuits of happiness. The definition of "my life" outside my two roles in the family of wife and mother seems to be lacking if not entirely absent. 
So while I have a partner who is urging me to expand my horizons and seek out that which will nourish my soul, I don't know that I know what that may be. I use my work to give me a sense of self - with that missing for now, I was grasping for something else that had comparable weight. It was the "unbearable lightness of being" that I was experiencing. The incessant rain was not helping my spirits either. In lieu of waiting for the sun to pick me up, I reached out to my friend T to see if she wanted to do lunch. 
As I was going to find out, tapping into a source of energy outside myself can have some unexpected consequences.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Transformation

I saw the Cassandra Bankson video a few days ago and was amazed by her artistic talent. She was able to transform her canvas in the most extraordinary way - it was like watching artist create a master-price. Her message is straight from the heart - it takes a lot of courage and empathy for such a young person to be able to show a face so badly scarred for the world to see. Most women wear makeup - from a little to a lot of it. It is not unlike children using crayons to express themselves. What we make of our "crayons" can in the end be very different. Cassandra is able to use them as a powerful tool - it frees her from social awkwardness and self-consciousness that an acne ridden face can mean.

She uses makeup to liberate herself and that is a powerful transformation to watch. She is a beautiful person even without the makeup but with her skills she is able to achieve the level of airbrushed perfection that millions of others aspire to. I was left wondering about reality and illusion as I watched the video - which is the real Cassandra. As her face nears perfection, you can almost feel the internal transformation happen - she emerges like a glorious butterfly from its chrysalis. Makeup when done as perfectly as Cassandra's is like a mask infused with life. It enables the person wearing it take on a completely different personality. In her case, a career path that would have otherwise been impossible. It is no longer about simple vanity, it is an enabling force - I don't think I had ever thought of makeup in those terms until I saw this video.

A woman freshening up to go to work would be the equivalent of a child's doodle to Cassandra's Rembrandt. Professional makeup artists do what Cassandra is doing every day; the fact that she uses her own face ( the blemished canvas) to illustrate her art is what makes this a such powerful and personal statement about what is in the realm of possible for anyone to achieve.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Evergreen Toys

This list of the five best toys ever is the best list of toys I have ever seen. J used to love all of them except the last one - dirt. She is yet to outgrow String and Box. Very reassuring to have an expert (the author) share a lay person's (myself) perspective on toys for children. 
J's dance teacher has a four year old boy who I play with when we are there for her class- it keeps him occupied and out of the way of the dancers.The kid has a designated toy room with at least five hundred toys and yet he inevitably wants to play his favorite game that involves none of them. It takes a piece of cardboard, two dice and two plastic sticks. He can spend a good hour creating  variations of games using just those things. I've asked him to show me how some of his toys in the toy room room work. He grudgingly agrees and wants us to go back to playing his game of board, dice and sticks.
It is as if he wants to escape the excess of toys by going back to basics - he could not get more minimal than that.The most J had was four of five toys and her favorite was the empty spool of thread strung with a bright red cord. She could spend a whole day with that thing and some utensils from from the kitchen to bang together and make noise with. She talked to herself, laughed at something only she knew was funny - she was as happy as could be in control of her world and doing as she pleased with it. Her attention span for a new toy was limited to under five minutes and once she had figured what it was about she never came back to it. I bet the dance teacher's son feels the same way about his toys - he has them all figured out and they mean nothing special to him anymore.
That is precisely the reason the list of five in this article are such a big hit with kids - there is an infinite number of ways to interpret them and introduce them to their imagine play. The objects are not meant to be figured out and forgotten, instead they are there to be molded by the child's imagination to become what they are innately not. Reading this article right after my Disney trip was most refreshing.