I am spying Ram across the hall. His face is intense, the kind of expression you see on someone who is lost in what he or she is doing. He has been working diligently on the word search and trivia that Hari had made for him on his favorite video game, Brawl Stars, for Christmas. I then shift my gaze to our picture from Costa Rica on the mantle. I have forgotten the name of the specific location but remember the gratitude I felt when we clicked that picture last year. Hari has photoshopped and presented it to me as his handmade Christmas present. Then I see the hand painted cards (with coffee powder) that Da had made for all of us.
As we inched towards Christmas, I declared that this year we will make handmade presents for each other. Ram was first in line, he rolled up his sleeves, and galvanized into action right away. Paper made football creations for Hari, a story for his mom in which there is a Muffin-man superhero who runs a shop called Muff muff muffin store with his superpower being to catapult humans with licorice and lollipop, and a personalized set of Pokemon cards for his dad. Hari outdid himself with his creations, putting in a lot of thought and time into each of them. Da, in addition to playing santa’s helper and ensuring that there are presents under the tree, made handmade cards for us. For my part, I have committed to gift of time and acts of service for each of them over the course of the next year – cuddle an read, baking sessions, follow TV shows, assume positive intent, so on and so forth.
This year has been less about Santa and more about Family. Less about presents and more about togetherness. It has been about game nights, Christmas songs, and baking peanut butter cookies together.
Hope all of you have had a good start to the new year. We are rolling up our sleeves after a rested, relaxed, and rejuvenating vacation. We sneaked in an extra week of summer by visiting Costa Rica over the holidays. There is a lot that I want to jot down here and I hope to do so over the course of this week. Today being Thursday and all that, how about I get started with some little moments from the trip?
- The novely of visiting a new country, culture, and lanugage. So much to see, observe, and soak in.
- That feeling of namba ooru right from the get go. Costa Rica is a cross between US and India. As we were driving from the airport to our hotel, Da and I kept pointing out how the roads reminded us of 100 feet road (in Chennai), and Attapur (in Hyderabad). There were two wheelers, soda shops (roadside tea shops like back home), banana trees, and christmas decorations. That feeling of being in US and India at the same time!
- And oh the weather, with the right amount of sunshine and breeze, it was just what I was craving for. The mountains were slightly colder and the beaches hotter, but all in all, pleasant, mild, and enjoyable.
- Ripe juicy delicious papayas as part of the breakfast at the hotel. I could not have enough of it! And not to mention the gallo pinto (Costa Rican dish made of rice and beans – really yum). This, I could have enough of, for there is only so much beans the stomach is capable of handling!
- Meeting the super friendly Ticos (as the Costa Ricans call themselves). Our travel agent at the the hotel, the tour guides, the vendors at the shops. Laughters and hugs were exchanged over the course of the week!
- Being so close to nature, be it the rainforest that was brimming with life or the sandy beaches that mesmerised us with its vastness. I just kept wishing I was a botanist, naturalist, I would have appreciated the place at a different level. But even for a novice like me, the beauty of Costa Rica was not lost.
- Shopping, shopping, and more shopping. Costa Rica is known for coffee, wood, and folk art. The municipal artisan shopping center would have had about 100 vendors, all selling similar stuff (like Pondy Bazaar in Chennai). Some retail therapy enhanced the experience, I must confess.
Truly, travel expands our understanding of the world and helps us see it through a fresh set of eyes. Costa Rica, muchas gracias (thank you very much) for the good times! Pura Vida!
“I guess so,” came the reluctant response from Ram when I asked him if he was excited about Santa. “Is it ok if I don’t write a letter to Santa this year? I just don’t feel like it,” said the child. My heart cracked a little. “Of course, you don’t have to if you don’t want to, but how about cookies? Do you want to do the cookies and carrot thing,” I asked him tentatively. “Let’s bake them amma. I want us to bake cookies for Santa,” chimed in Hari who was listening to our conversation. The much needed glue for my cracked heart. “Alright, let’s do that then.”
And so we baked this evening. Ram and I. The child gobbled several and placed one under the tree. No insisting on milk or carrot though. Well, what can I say, much fun was had as long as the magic lasted. Time to let go what we have outgrown and embrace new traditions.
We are celebrating Christmas early this year as we are traveling. There are presents from family and friends waiting to be opened. The kids have gone to bed in anticipation and I know they will be up at the crack of dawn.
Have a jolly time you all!
Today, we are celebrating not only Thanksgiving but also our first born’s 14th birthday. I have to pinch myself nice and hard on this day every year to make sure I am not dreaming. It feels fresh, like he was born just yesterday.
I believe that each age and stage has a certain beauty, something special and unique to that phase. Teenage years are no exceptions. The drama, the rolling of the eyes, the stomping of the feet, the dismissal of whatever is being told to him… it’s cute in its own way especially when you understand that it does not come from a place of malice but from a healthy dose of rebellion and an illusion of knowing it all. A teenager is a grown up and a child at the same time. He is an extra pair of eyes and an extra set of helping hands that you can count on. He thinks on his feet, problem solves for you, comforts you, and sometimes even nudges you. Beneath all that rebellion, he is still a child who seeks for your approval and validation. “Amma do you want to watch me play trumpet,” “Do you think you can come to see me pitch.” While sleep overs are thing of the past, there is still that need to catch up at the end of the day. “So what’s up amma? Want to catch up?” There is so much you can do with your teenager – watching Sherlock Holmes, discuss politics, share life’s conundrums, be each other’s accountability partners, to name a few.
To my loving, kind, hardworking, smart, sports crazy child, a very happy b’day. Be you, stand up for yourself and for others, practice kindness at all times, work on your daily habits, always give your personal best, enjoy the journey, follow your interests, and pour your heart and soul into them. Seeing you grow up and blossom into the person you are has been a blessing that we hold very close to our hearts. Love you immensely, our precious!
How has your week been? Here, we had a our first week of school and extracurricular activities. That we coped with it without too much grumbling and whining is a major accomplishment. Little moments for the week would be…
- New batch of fourth graders at Sunday school. And they are a sassy bunch! One child took me by surprise by declaring, “I am going to predict what intel processor you have on your laptop,” then there was another who challenged none other than Newton, “I disagree with Newton’s theories.” Then there was one who said, “I love animals. When I grow up, I want to become animals’ advocate.” Love the colorful personalities and can’t wait to get to know them better.
- My cousin and his family visiting. When I think of my cousin, I think of the little boy who was adamant about watching Rajini movies. I think of the times we went “jogging” during summer break. I think of how he was the favorite grandchild for my maternal grandparents. It was very nice to get a glimpse of him as a caring husband and a loving dad.
- Ram got his very own music instrument – a guitar! The child is enrolled in guitar lessons. It was uber cute seeing the child with guitar strapped on his back. The guitar lessons take place in the same school that Hari learnt piano, which was a parent-child class. Week after week, I get to relive those fond memories with Hari as I take Ram for his classes.
- Happy Vinayaka Chaturthi, one of my favorite gods. Have always loved pillayar and a have special affection for him. It is a tradition in our household to make pillayar for Vinayaka Chathurthi. We have made pillayars out of fuse beads, legos, and assorted materials. This time the kids played around with dough and made these pot bellied rider of mouse. Hari took the minimalistic approach, Ram did the more detailed oriented.
I open the calculator on my computer and type in 2018 minus 2001 and the answer pops out as 17. Of course, I knew the answer and didn’t need a calculator to do the math that my second grader can do in his sleep. But one feels the need for validation when the brain tells one thing but the heart feels something else. It simply cannot be 17 years, says my good old heart. But of course, it is, refutes my sassy brain. God, 17 years is a long long time, it does not feel that long ago. It absolutely does not! So goes my heart, utterly in denial, that I have been away from my home country for 17 years.
In the initial years, I remember meeting an Indian who was away from the country for a long time and did not know about Sachin Tendulkar when I spoke of him. I fell off my chair. How could you not? He is practically a God for a nation of over billion?
Fast forward 17 years…
I am very much that person today. I know very little about what is happening in India. Having lived most of my adult life outside of India, I feel disconnected to the dynamics of day to day living in India. The excitement of visiting India is overshadowed by the anxiety over logistics and practical difficulties. The India of today feels so alien to me.
I go an extra mile to go to sunday school to be on time for special assembly to sing the Indian national anthem. I tear up every time I sing Jana Gana Mana. Yes, Every. Single. Time. No rhyme or reason, no exaggeration. I hang out with the desi moms from Hari’s cricket group, and can’t help but notice that the conversation feels intuitive and effortless. I swell with pride when Hari quizzes me on Indian states and capitals and knows more than what I do or when Ram sings, oodi vilayadu papa. I go out of the way to stay involved in the local Indian American organization so we can bring exposure to all things Indian to the broader community. When conversations on Whatsapp revolve around how NRIs, and non-citizens, do not have the eligibility to complain or comment about the Indian state of affairs, it stings. All I I want to say is, I still care. Is that not reason enough?
Being an Indian has become that intangible feeling that does not scream out loud but a subtle and comforting presence that I carry with me at all times.
Happy Independence Day India.